Dark Panther Cuts - Feral Magic
"The baby Chief has vanished, my lord regent," the nursery guard said.
Rage flooded Dak, his scalp prickled as his hair thickened to mane and his claws snicked out of his human hands, not good signs. The guard flung himself on the floor, beyond the desk and Dak's anger-fixed vision. Good. If the man was out of sight Dak might be able to control himself enough not to kill him. The guard was his cousin, after all.
Dak's roar, more panther than human, echoed against the paneled walls of the small, richly appointed office of royal red and gold. He only found his voice after he'd let the grief-fury challenge-to-the-death roar out, then spoke softer than a purr.
"You refer to the Chief, the heir to this throne and all the panther klatches, my late brother's child?"
The reek of fear rose from the guard, instinctively pleasing Dak. The guard whined in submission. "Yes, my lord regent."
"Vanished how and when and from where?" The first heated red wash of anger subsided inside Dak, but he itched to lash out.
The guard gulped, and spoke in a rug-muffled voice, "From the nursery. How, we do not know. We think, we think–"
"We?" snapped Dak.
"The nursery nanny and the guards and I."
"Where is the nursery nanny? The babe was in her care? Why is she not here?" Dak asked silkily, though he knew the answer. This cousin of his, the head of the nursery guards, wanted to mate with the nanny. He sought to protect her.
"The babe vanished an hour ago from his pen in his room. We don't know how. The nursery nanny was in the adjoining kitchen warming milk and meat for the heir. One guard was with her, the other was at his post outside the door. Vaynk and Murst."
More cousins Dak valued.
"The nursery nanny is still having fits."
A poor excuse, and Dak's nose told him the words bordered on a lie, but one he would accept. "What do you and the nursery nanny and the guards under your command think?"
"We think the heir crossed dimensions."
Dak's mind went blank. Only the sound of the guard's shallow breathing disturbed the chamber. Finally, Dak said, "That should not be possible."
"The babe's magic is very powerful. His dam came from a klatch of dimension walkers."
"You choose such a defense!" Dak's roar was back, so rough and loud it hurt his throat.
A pause of a full minute before the guard answered, "There is no sign of forced entry, no magical trace of anyone, the windows are barred, no one came through the windows. No one got past Murst at the door. No sound heard by Vaynk or the nursery nanny. They were gone from the room less than a quarter hour!" More fear-sweat rose from his cousin.
"I do not believe this."
"There was a hint of otherworld tang."
Dak slid his claws from the holes he'd made in the thick wood of the chair arms, forced them to retract. His chest pumped raggedly. He had failed to protect his kin, a babe. Guilt rose to heat him more than his rage.
The babe was gone, unprotected, vulnerable. Anything could happen to him. Terrible things would happen to him if the klatch's enemies found him. Dak must track and find and safeguard the child. Dak's heart would shatter if the baby was harmed.
Then every nerve twanged as he began to think of the terrible consequences of this event. "They will say I killed him," Dak whispered. "That I wanted the throne and disposed of my beloved brother's kit, a babe I love. That is the worst."
Then the blackness of this situation hit him like a dark bolt of magic. "Our enemies will gleefully circulate that rumor. All of our klatch will be smeared and outcast and shunned. We will have trouble courting mates...we will diminish and become a lost klatch." He dropped his voice. "Once a babe has been rumored to be missing, if he is found by unfriends, he can remain...missing." Cold swept through him at this disaster. He could not sit, so stood and saw the lower half of his prone cousin, trembling legs. That satisfied an atavistic need in Dak.
"You will take me to the nursery and tell me everything. You will tell it to the archivist. After that you will get out of my sight along with Vaynk and Murst and the nursery nanny. I must find my nephew."
"Yes, my lord regent."
"I will see the nursery now."
* * *
The nursery was bright with sunlight against the yellow walls and red tiled floor. Cheerful voices of guards training wafted through the open but barred windows. All too surreal.
Except for the odor of piss in the room. Baby piss, female fit-piss, and piss from two men of Dak's klatch. The guards' released bladders when they'd understood what had happened.
Everyone had given reports to Dak. No one gone past the guards. There was no feel of magic, black or white. They told him the babe had been awake, growling and nipping at his cloth dog. Happy.
Unwatched for a quarter hour, then gone.
Dak examined the room in detail, called upon and extended all of his senses until he could see individual motes of sunshine. Not the slightest scent of any intruder on the floor, at the threshold of the door, at the windows.
He lifted the lid of the pen with human thumb and fingers clumsy under his claws that had extended again from fear. Let everyone think he remained angry, better than terror that his nephew would be harmed.
Concentrating on the mat, he inhaled lustily, touched his tongue to spots of baby the scent of his nephew. Grief gripped him and he shoved it away. He could not afford to be distracted. The odors were recent, not more than forty minutes old. Just forty minutes ago all was well with the world.
With a flex of his claws, he let his magic pour to the sensitive tips of his fingertips, gently drew them across the mattress.
The touch of otherworld, a hint that a hole through dimensions had opened and closed and a waver of alien atmosphere remained.
He inhaled with all his senses, let the otherworldness brush each hair on his body, flow across his skin, sink into his bones so he would know that other world, coat his tongue so he tasted the dimension.
If any sense failed, he would remember with others.
He did not like the background information about the strange world that spiralled through his senses. The place seemed too much of pitiful always-human beings, rare shapeshifters, and a lot of metal.
Adrenaline surged as adventure beckoned, fear followed that his helpless nephew was lost in a strange land.
Dak was the regent, but he was also the best tracker in all the world. He would go.
Without looking at the four lined up against the wall, he said, "You, my cousins and the heir's security team, contact Dyr. I step down as regent and name him. He is now regent." Dak's older brother wasn't a great warrior, but he was a wily strategist and administrator. If anyone could prevent a catastrophe, he could. "You take orders from him as of this moment. Tell him everything, every detail you saw and heard and smelled and felt and sensed. He decides your fate. I will equip myself and head to the portal."
The one portal connecting to only two other worlds – and neither of those two worlds was the one he sensed his nephew had slipped into. He stopped at the nursery threshold and swept a glance over the miserable quartet. "Tell Dyr that I will find our nephew, and tell him that he left fur behind, so the child did not cross to the other world as a human babe, but as a panther cub."