The sky was like the dander splashed coat of a freshly brushed black cat. The moon was large and the stars cast shadows as the grizzled old sslik took his nightly constitutional. After so many years as a warrior and a healer, battling the withered aegis who always threatened to overrun the land he holds so dear, he didn't even have a mate or children to show for his heroism. True, his tribe welcomed him as the elder and as the protective benefactor his deeds had prepared him to be – but at the end of his constitutional, his abode would be as empty as his heart. In the midst of his musing, some sense of danger, some leftover intuition caused him to raise his head and listen closer to the sounds of the night. That howling – no wolves came this far into the jungle! And no spider made that harsh barking sound – that was the cry of the undead minions that the WA used as shock troops! The old sslik broke into a run, heading for the sounds. As he draws closer, he hears the frightened purring prayers of a saris. Although it had been many years, the old warrior well remembered his feline friends, and realized that the female prayers were for protection – not for herself, but for the small bundle the sslik was in time to see the very young saris stash quickly into a hollow in a tree as high as she could reach. The young female had only enough time to place the bundle relatively securely before turning to the horde of skeletal dog-like creatures that surrounded her. The sslik tried to put on more speed while hastily running thru some spells he could use that would not harm the saris, but arrived in time to see the young female pulled under the swarming pack. A rain of bright blood fell on the sslik as he waded in with sword and spell – but the old fighter knew is was more a sign of ending than of rescue. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only 15 or 20 minutes, most of the skeletal wolves were dead, once again. However, the sslik was worried about the safety of his village – at least 2 of the pack had escaped and the WA would know about this new inhabited area within days. Turning to the ruin that was left of the young saris, the sslik instantly recognized his healing skill would be pointless. It was impossible to even know the species of the battle wrack seeping into the jungle floor. What fur was left unshredded was so bloodstained, the color was all the shade of drying blood in the dark. The old sslik could not even recognize enough to tell if he knew the child from one of the saris villages a day's run away. Whatever weapon the female had used was gone, and the only thing miraculously untouched was the gold and lapis lazuli headpiece. The old sslik leaned in to claim it as the birthright of her kin, and was startled by the starlight gleaming off two emeralds. Somehow, small shreds of life still clung to the almost dead female. "Little Velveeta…..so like her father…..only one….could save…..my babies……." The old fighter looked up to the bundle in the tree. As he did so, he heard a long drawn purr and felt the sudden relaxation and lightening of a body that has lost the will that drives it. Muttering a prayer to Merrasat to keep the young female under her care in the afterlife and to save her the fate of becoming WA, the old sslik gently removed the headpiece and reached up into the tree to check the bundle. Opening the blood and sweat stained blanket wrapping the squirming form, he almost dropped it as 2 tiny claws whipped out and latched onto his hand, all ferocious and ineffective. He recovered and continued, until he revealed a black striped white coated face, everything small, small, small – his years with saris told him this kitten was the runt of the litter. But something told him she would be stocky as well, and strong. Small and compact, he could almost carry her in one hand. He placed the headpiece carefully into the blanket and headed back to his village, to warn them that the WA would soon be here. And the old fighter proved to be correct. The day after the village learned that 4 saris villages had been slaughtered to the youngest kitten, a contingent of WA came to test the strength of the sslik. Under the old sslik's guidance, the villagers won the day, but an infant sslik was left orphaned when his parent died defending. The old sslik took in the child, and raised both the saris and the orphan as brother and sister. Both children seemed to take to the warrior lifestyle, and the old sslik taught them both what they would learn. Velveeta, the saris female, was much like her people – she enjoyed hunting and playing in equal measure, and would suffer nothing less than the highest luxurious quality in goods. She was lazy and sensual, but loyal and loving and when needed, she would work hard without complaint. Her brother, Snake Eyes, was strong and capable, willing to be taught and to learn and to be social. He enjoyed making things, and talking to the beings that found their way to the isolated village. People often preferred the sslik to the saris, as Velveeta was egotistical and vain when Snake was grateful and accommodating. The old sslik, being Gifted, realized that, after many years and much too soon, the time had come to set the foundlings on the path. Many times over the years, the children had been tested and the old fighter was sure they were Gifted as well, but only the true test would prove it. Having always been honest with the orphans, he was so now – he told them it was time to go out into the world. One last journey would they take together. The journey was uneventful and within a few days, the sslik led the children a large portal. "Today, my beloved children, you must make a life for yourself. Step thru this port and you will embark on a new way to be. Seek out my old friend, Stewart Pratt on New Trismus. He will give you tests to perform. Complete them well, as I know you will. One day, when you are old and tired like me, you can come back and we will once again share food. You can tell me the tales of your life and I will be even more proud of you! Try to stay together, somehow, and always remember you are kith and kin!" The old embraced the younglings in turn and kissed their heads, bestowing his blessing and hoping it would help. Velveeta rubbed her cheek against him in that purring way he knew he would miss, her flashing emerald eyes smiling as she adjusted her mother's headpiece. She strode confidently and happily to the port, turning to wait for her brother as Snake warrior clasped his foster parent's arm. Silently promising to keep an eye on his clueless sibling, the young sslik turned from the wet eyes of his foster parent and took his sister's hand. With one last look at the being that was, in some very important ways, their god, the two stepped thru the port and into Blight history.