Alain Harper and his companions arrive as Keely the Cougar’s guests and face off against Aven the Eagle, while Nicholas finds and masters the Genesis Ring.

“Hey, get your paws off him,” Amethyst shouted. The other cats stepped back, Alain turned in surprise. Amethyst had never reacted this way before, not even on Mahe’alani where the affection of the local Adami and Enoshi women to visitors was almost embarrassing at times.

“You OK?”

“I’m fine,” she snapped back, then realized she’d been rude. “Sorry about that, Alain. From the time we arrived on this world, I’ve been having trouble controlling my mood.” Without warning she transformed into her other default form, that of a gray short-tailed cat, and back again. “And controlling my shape-shifting, too,” she added in embarrassment.

“Something’s messing with your head?” Autumn asked.

“Sure seems like it.”

“If there is,” Alain remarked, “then it’s not something that we primates are equipped to pick up on easily – even Slate. If it were really dangerous then I’d know, but so far…” Alain left the statement hang deliberately.

In due time the visitors were brought to one of the perfectly square buildings, which turned out to be a pub. “My name is Keely,” she said when they arrived. “Eat and drink as much as you wish, on my account.” The feline barkeep nodded in confirmation.

“A free meal?” Slate smiled. “Maybe someone should tell her how much Archons can eat. Or don’t need to eat, really.” He chuckled. “Or better yet, about Blondie’s appetite.”

As the four sat at table, Keely served them. Amethyst refused to deal with her more than she had to. She reminded Alain and Autumn alike of a house cat sulking in a corner.

Alain turned to Slate who was wolfing down some food. “I have never seen Amethyst’s animal side manifest so powerfully before,” he whispered.

“I have, but usually only in bed…” Slate stopped. “Oops, Blondie, TMI.”

“For the husband of a traffic-stopping Enoshi? Oh, skip it. It’s surfacing now,” Alain went on with a glance of concern at Amethyst, “and she seems a bit lapsed on her usual controls. Without them her ability to get us home and to help us in a fight will be impaired. And without a target, even the Locus’ Ring can’t get us out of this Realm the way she can, not yet. I’m not yet that much of a master of it.”

“My guests, this is purr-fect.” Keely laughed childishly as she brought more food to the table. “On the morrow you can watch the play we are putting on. I love theatre. Do you love plays?” Keely was excited and speaking quickly.

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