Valo, page 1
Luza, Volume 3
Published by Manning Lake Press, 2018.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Keira looked down into the rushing water. Even in the darkness of the cavern she could see the pool of blood, a wooden bow and Luza’s faint paw prints. Where did they go?
Glancing back in the direction of the obsidian table, Bilal’s body was in a crumpled heap. The teen shook her head. Several tears rolled down her mountain lion face. Furrowing her eyebrows and twisting her black button nose, Keira looked away from what she had done. She closed her eyes, wanting to remember what happened.
Before she took his life, wasn’t she on the cold slab of rock taking her last breath?
Keira couldn’t shake the image of the menacing hunter slashing at her with his curved blade before drawing his pistol. She sought to jump out of the way, but the bullets came too fast.
Still, she managed to survive. Whether it was the Great Mother answering her prayers, she could not be certain. Yet, she rose from the ground intact and was no match for the broken, wounded hunter. She yearned to figure out what happened but she saw farther back.
There was Luza leaping from the stone table. The Arctic fox dove at Bilal and his drawn bow. Keira heard the whack of the long bow striking Luza. She watched the arrow ricochet off the cavern wall as she transformed from her lanky human self to a full size mountain lion with sharp jagged teeth and deadly claws at her disposal.
Leaning over the broken rock ledge, she felt the warmth of the water wash over her head. She wasn’t sure how she felt, save strong and powerful. Opening her eyes, even in the water, Keira could make out the flickering light down below. Her ear perked up. Tilting her head towards the water, she did her best to drown out the dull drone of the falling water and focused on a familiar voice.
“Are you kidding me? Really?” Luza’s voice was unmistakable.
Keira let out a sigh of relief.
She bolted down the passage to reunite with her friends.
* * *
“It’s not that bad,” Riley said from the water’s edge.
He soaked in the pool, as Bilal’s slash and stab wounds finally began to close over his body.
“That’s easy for you to say. What will my mother say?”
“Go change back.”
“Like it’s that easy,” Luza whined.
“How is it not?” Riley asked as he floated in the center of the pool. He didn’t have to do anything to stay afloat. Layers of warm water kept exploding beneath his hooves, keeping his massive buck frame upright and his head above the water line.
He looked over at Luza who had climbed out of the water and over to the series of rocks where Keira had placed her bag.
“First of all I already asked to change back and nothing happened,” Luza admitted. “I don’t see any buttons to get me out of this misery.”
“Oh come on, it can’t and won’t be that bad. Come back here and let me see.”
“Sure to let you see and laugh. I thought Keira had a long mane. What is this white dangling mop?”
“I can’t make a judgment until I see for myself.”
“Down boy! I already feel weird enough without my fur.”
Luza rummaged through Keira’s knapsack. She pulled out the oversize letter jacket taken the night before. Finding a long sleeve turtleneck, she put that on as well. The buttons of the coat confused her the most.
Luza couldn’t stop looking at her porcelain almost pale white hands.
“If you don’t hurry up, I’m getting out,” Riley called from the water.
“Why such a rush? Really? Can’t you give me a minute here? I did just save your life.”
“Oh here we go, you manage to give me one extra push and now you’re a life saver.”
Riley lowered his head, antlers and all into the water. He didn’t want to hear her rebuttal.
The truth was Luza wasn’t in the mood to gloat. She was proud of saving the Prince of Perucica, but she felt different. It was more than just joining the likes of the two legged, but inside she felt the changes swirling around her.
The indigo light from the crystal had all but faded until she fell into the pool. Then it was like nothing had happened. Luza had heard the gunshots as she pushed free of Riley. Her faith never wavered in Keira, especially as more time passed and Bilal had failed to appear from the depths of the cave.
Yet the longer it took Keira to appear, Luza wondered if the task was complete. Pulling the turtleneck over her head, Luza didn’t expect the shirt to be so long. It dropped down past her thighs. Even the coat she wore, the sleeves dangled several inches past her hands. She thought about pulling them up to her wrists but her hands were the last thing she wanted to see.
“Riley? I don’t think I put this on right.”
Luza waited for a response but heard nothing.
“Hey deer boy, stop ignoring me. I was the one that took the hit to the head, not you.”
“Fine, I’ll come out. There better be a good reason for the silent treatment.”
Luza listened intently as she stepped out from behind the rocks to the water’s edge. She had been too focused on her new shape and form to hear the approach of the four legged battle-tested cat.
The teen stepped out and saw Riley with his eyes downcast bowing to the lioness.
“Oh it’s just you,” Luza did her best to be nonchalant. “I don’t suppose you got something in my size?”
Keira smiled. She nodded once more to Riley and then looked at her other traveling partner.
“Typical — no going to ask what happened to Bilal or so happy to see you? Instead, you just draw the attention to you little fox.”
“I’m sorry did you want a hug? At least you look cool. I didn’t ask to join the two legged army.”
“Just turn back,” Keira said.
“That’s what I told her,” Riley added.
“I’ll turn back as soon as you turn back.”
“Talk about melodramatic. I would turn back but didn’t have time.” Keira looked away from Luza and over to Riley. “I should have known it was you all along.”
“You wouldn’t have let
Keira offered her paw to the deer.
“Probably true. Still, I’m thankful you are here.”
Luza stepped in between the two animals. “Ahmmm. What about me? Or are we fixing on the flirting angle now that you have the cat mojo?”
“You would think after all we’ve been through you would shut that mouth of yours.” Keira transformed back into her human form.
Gone were the claws, the long pointed tail and her whiskers, replaced by a statuesque frame with long curly black hair and alluring amber blue cat like eyes. Keira was no longer covered in fur. She wore a purple long sleeve turtleneck with her LL Bean vest and a pair of olive green corduroys with black boots.
Riley grabbed onto to Keira’s outreached hand and climbed out of the water in the same clothes he had put back on in the cabin. His jeans were a little worse for wear and his mustard colored sweater fresh with several new slash marks.
“Aren’t you two cool.”
“Clearly you want the attention because I only had to think about how much I wanted to strangle you with my bare hands.”
“Not true,” Luza ran her fingers through her straight white hair. Her hair was thick like her Arctic fox fur but longer, as it fell down to her waist.
She looked liked a little person next to Keira and Riley, perhaps the size of a normal nine or ten year old girl.
The three teens looked one another over.
“Okay Luza you can change back the joke’s over,” Keira said.
“The joke is on me. Why would I subject myself to moving along on two feet? I have no idea why you would want to. I have thought over and over about how to turn back, but nothing,” Luza said.
“When did you transform?” Keira was concerned.
“He’s dead right?”
“Do you really think she’d be down here right now otherwise?” Riley said.
“This is the same girl who challenged – ”
“Don’t go there paws. He’s dead.”
“Paws? Is this some new nickname.”
“Would you prefer Albino?” Keira asked.
“Hey now, Red Eye is the only one who can call me that Princess and even that is annoying.”
“And I’m the sensitive one?”
“Maybe Keira if I had known the full prophecy I wouldn’t be.”
The feuding princesses both turned to Riley looking for his support.
“I’m glad I bought you time to do what you needed.”
“Needed? Good golly, you got stabbed Riley and short of me rushing to your aid –”
“I had it covered,” Riley smirked.
“When did it happen?” Keira focused on the former Arctic fox.
Luza looked down at her pale stocking less feet. “I asked the Great Mother for a helping hand to get Riley over the edge and into the water. Right before we fell, I felt my paws change and when we hit the water, this was blocking my eyes.”
Luza pushed several strands of hair away from her face.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to change back eventually.”
“That’s the spirit Keira. Want to get back on the table for another round?”
“Neither one of you needs to go back up on that slab of rock. What’s done is done.” Riley’s face was rigid.
“I’m going back up there. You can’t stop me, maybe not for the table, but I’m going to make sure that man is dead.”
“I know he is.”
“Did you check?”
Before Keira could add another word, Luza stormed away from the duo and directly to the cave. She was intent not to be told what to do.
“Luza at least wait for us to come with you.”
“I thought you said he was dead,” Luza snickered.
“He wasn’t moving when I left.”
* * *
Luza couldn’t place the feeling on her feet as she walked up the long tunnel towards the dim blue light. She knew it hadn’t been more than a few minutes since her padded paws were racing up these steps. Now her feet were wet and clammy.
“How you walk like this is beyond me,” Luza gasped.
“No comments from the deer. No wonder you never wear shoes,” Keira said.
“It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s more a matter of convenience. They tend to get ruined quickly.”
“I’m getting something when I get out of this hole. I’m not cold, far from it.”
“Luza, what’s the problem?”
“It just feels disgusting like those golden salamanders are feeding on my skin.”
“That never happened,” Keira corrected.
“If it did, this is what it would feel like...Oh great, now I’m walking on blood. You had it covered all right.” Luza glanced back at Riley.
The teen lowered his head and his downcast eyes not so much out of shame but from remorse. He had done his best, and yet he still couldn’t believe he was so easily surprised by Bilal. The second time he had at least done some damage to the old man.
“It could have been worse, you could be right there,” Keira pointed to the shadow in the center of the cave.
She cut around the two teens and walked to the obsidian table where Bilal’s body remained. Luza looked down at the thirty foot drop.
“I’m never doing that again, even if it did save your life. My feet already hurt. This sucks.”
Riley gently cupped his hand on Luza’s shoulder. “I am thankful.”
“You better be.” She shrugged off the gesture. “Now let me see this son of a newt.”
“That sounds ridiculous,” Keira added while looking at her handiwork.
“And you turning into a big mean cat isn’t?”
“It’s not like I had an option. It just happened.”
Keira looked at Bilal’s twisted frame and wondered if it had to play out that way.
Riley saw the two-shot pistol and examined the weapon.
“Did he hit you?” Riley asked.
“Of course he did. He was a killer. He got me with that too.” She pointed at the glistening jagged knife blade, glowing in the blue light.
“Pick it up Keira.”
“Why? I don’t need it.”
Riley glanced again at the gun before grabbing it off the ground. “It’s yours now. You killed him.”
“Oh great, so I get a prize for taking someone’s life.”
“Don’t start with the you didn’t mean to do it, you meant to run away shtick. Give me a break. This is a war,” Luza said. She picked up the hunter’s bow. “You don’t look so big now you stupid... How do you like this?”
Luza beat the bow several times against the wall.
“Feels good, doesn’t it?” she said.
“Luza stop it!” Riley stepped in. He reached for the bow.
Luza turned away from Riley’s grasp. “I will not. This piece of wood is not making it out of here intact. Pick up the knife Keira or I’ll stab you with it when I’m done.”
“What is wrong with you?” Keira was concerned.
“Wrong? The last thing I felt as a fox was this thing hitting me in the head. I hate this thing.”
With one final whack, the bow snapped into two pieces. Luza let the wood fall from her hands. She fumed and breathed heavily as she looked at the obsidian table.
“No Keira, I don’t.”
“Need help?” Riley said.
“Cute four legs. I can still lift myself up or maybe I can jump.”
Riley frowned. He slid the pistol quietly into his pant pocket.
A loud thump echoed through the chamber as Luza managed to plop herself on to the top of the table.
“Pick it up!” Luza pointed to the knife.
“Or what, you’ll make me use it with you up there?”
Luza wanted to smack Keira in the face. She was so upset. Beneath her white hair that kept dangling in front of her eyes, Luza glared at the teen.
Keira kicked the blade. “I don’t want anythin
“Then you are stupid.”
“Luza just stop. Enough already.” Riley picked up the knife. “She doesn’t know the history of the blade. How could she?”
“You don’t need to defend me. She’s just pissy.”
“I am not.”
“Ladies,” he put his hands up in the air with his left holding the jagged blade. “I’ll take it with me.”
“No you won’t Riley. Put it down. She killed him. It’s hers. You don’t care though so leave it. Act all pretentious now. You got the animal inside. I know it well. You can fight it Princess, but it’s there. Taking his knife or not will not change you back.”
“Leave me alone. Why don’t you talk to a crystal or something.”
“Why don’t you —”
“Enough. Hold this, I need to see something.” Riley gave the blade to Keira.
She reluctantly took the blade, feeling sick to her stomach with each passing second.
She had no choice but to kill the hunter. It was kill or be killed. This blade meant something else to her. It felt evil, if that was such a possibility.
“What are you doing?” Luza said.
“Lose your eyesight too?” Riley quipped.
“Thankfully no, I can hear her heart racing since you had her hold that knife.”
Riley glanced up at Keira who was shaking under the dim light.
“Another few seconds, I need to check his clothes.”
“I want his socks and boots,” Luza added.
“Luza!” Keira’s jaw dropped.
“He doesn’t need them anymore and it’s the least he can do for chasing me all these months.” Luza pointed at the crystals. “What good are you to me now?”
She jumped down from the table. Keira’s hand trembled uncontrollably so much so that the blade fell from her grip. Unmoved, Luza grabbed the blade unceremoniously off the stone cold floor.
“Go have a seat.”
“What is wrong with me? It is just a knife.”
Keira couldn’t understand her conflicting emotions. She was shaking. Part of her wanted to change back into the lion to feel more powerful and controlled, but she shook instead.