Having the ability to shapeshift, Sophia is familiar with change. But even she feels the rising tension in her homeland.
A shadowy male and deadly beast reside in their midst. The births of the newest Kynzesti loom. Hostile Mercesti continue to hunt for the Elder Scroll, and a traumatized female is too afraid to use her abilities to stop them.
Topping off Sophia’s stress is Quincy, the male she’s convinced can’t stand her. She rues the loss of their friendship, but can’t figure out how to move past it. She’ll soon learn, however, that mending that rift bears more significance than she ever imagined.
The search for the Elder Scroll takes on unexpected urgency, and Sophia finds herself in a race across the mainland. To stop the Mercesti led by Eirik, she and her companions must get past their differences and unite against them. If they don’t, Eirik will acquire the immense power he seeks, and two of the beings Sophia loves most will die.
In the form of the panther, Sophia stalked her target. The forest provided many shaded and grassy nooks, and Domino was an admirable opponent. The three-year-old panther could remain still for hours. His spotted fur also gave him excellent camouflage, so Sophia used her heightened sense of smell to find him.
When she got within springing distance, she lowered into a crouch, her back legs digging into the ground for better purchase. Then she pounced.
Domino sensed her the moment she left the ground. He shifted to accept her weight as she tackled him. Her paws wrapped around his torso. Then she opened her powerful jaw and went for the soft part of his neck.
He quickly flipped their positions, using his greater strength to dump her onto her back. Her feline instincts had her wrenching herself to right her center of gravity. This resulted in them taking a long, tangled tumble down the side of a grassy hill.
At the base of the hill rested several of Domino’s siblings. They watched for only a moment before leaping into the fray.
She froze, her ear caught between Domino’s teeth. Rolling her eyes in the direction of her mother’s voice, she tried to ignore the heavy weight of Domino’s haunches where they rested on her right side. The panthers around her also grew still, hearing the maternal censuring tone and paying it heed.
Busted, Sophia thought.
She rolled out from under Domino and rose gracefully onto all four paws. Her mother stopped at the edge of the walkway leading from their home into the surrounding forest. The rose-colored sundress she wore swelled over her very pregnant belly and stopped just short of her bare feet. Her long, curling brown hair, worn with just a few loose daises tucked into it, gave her the look of a woodland goddess from the human fairytales she used to read Sophia as a child. Her lime green eyes held a warning that her curving lips belied.
Knowing she would get a lecture, Sophia padded closer. When she spotted Quincy watching in the distance, sunlight gleaming on his wavy blond hair and the many silver markings tattooing his muscular arms, she wanted to sink into the earth. Thank goodness panthers didn’t blush, she mused, ignoring the racing of her heart that she considered normal when Quincy was involved.
She obligingly sat near her mother’s feet and looked up. The light green and dark blue leaves decorating the outside of her mom’s eyes gave her beautiful face a gentle appearance, but Sophia was only too aware of the fierceness of which her mother was capable.
Fortunately, her mother was a sucker for animals.
Even as her mom opened her mouth to speak, Sophia leaned forward and nudged her hand with her muzzle, urging it to the top of her head. She paired the nudge with a blink of her wide, panther eyes. As she intended, she succeeded in distracting her mother, who lowered herself to her knees and rubbed Sophia’s head.
“Don’t think this gets you out of a tongue lashing,” her mother said in her soft, pleasing voice. “You ditched your training session again.”
Figuring it couldn’t hurt, Sophia licked her mom’s cheek. That provoked a laugh.
Sophia huffed, knowing what was coming.
“I know you prefer to spend your time in your laboratory or here with the panthers,” her mother continued, “but weapons training is so important. Not so long ago, you saw just how important.”
She referred to the recent experience that shook their usually uneventful lives. About two months before, Sophia’s cousin Tate snuck away from the protected area encompassing their homes and ended up getting snatched by the kragen, Nyx. It took almost two weeks—and a battle against some truly scary Mercesti—to get her back.
Sophia had been among those who left in search of Tate. She didn’t think it would help matters to point out that she fared just fine without a weapon of any kind. Her mother probably wouldn’t take kindly to the reminder of the danger she’d been in, regardless of the outcome.
“I know that there will be things that happen outside of our control,” her mother said. “Tate didn’t plan to get herself stranded so far from home, but she was able to rely on the skills we taught her to survive. I want you to be able to do the same, and that includes having the ability to wield weapons effectively to defend yourself and others.”
Sophia huffed again. In her mind, there was more than one way to defend against threats. Weapons were the most archaic way and of no interest to her. She felt that she could solve any number of issues through the equipment in her lab much better than could be resolved on a battlefield.
In point of fact, she was working on developing a serum to combat the effects of Nyx’s toxin, a serum that could be administered to anyone who would be around the kragen on a regular basis. Now that Nyx was a seemingly permanent resident in th