Magnificent. It was spectacular, a throne laden with the most exotic of gems. And then there was the tapestry covering the wall behind the throne. Not an ordinary tapestry, I knew. It was Shayla's bloodline, a colorful depiction of every form of weretiger in existence.
I was human, the only human attending Shayla's coming of age gala. As all tigers do sooner or later, Shayla had contracted the mating bug. I would have preferred it to be later--selfish, I knew. But she's family, sort of a sister. My father and Gunther, Shayla's father, were the closest of friends, so, we practically grew up together. My father's dead now. My mother had left us years ago. She hadn't accepted shapeshifters. Then again, she hadn't accepted much of anything.
I couldn't bear the thought of losing Shayla to the clan. If mated, she'd be one of the elite, and since few humans were tolerated in their social hierarchy, seeing her would become quite difficult.
Of course, I had tried to talk her out of attending this spectacle but it didn't work. Instead, she convinced me to stand by her side as one of her maidens. Magda was her second maiden. I liked Magda.
She's a childhood friend that I've been able to count on whenever I've been in need. She's also an enchantress, although, on occasion "witch" suited her better. Tonight she was the enchantress. A power web glowed about her like a lacy glove. Charm.
Breathe slowly, I told myself. I could barely take a breath thanks to the wiring beneath my crimson gown that was obviously designed to tuck, lift, and keep me together in a way that distorted my natural build.
Still, from the look of it, I wasn't the only one suffering, 'torture' seemed to be the theme for this evening's attire--for females that is. The males, however, weren't constrained to any particular attire. Well, those who weren't in their natural state. Fur doesn't need any covering.
Filled with excitement, I looked about the Great Hall. The walls were white with five archways to my left and right. On the other side of the archways large colorful plants glistened in the moonlight. Above me, I could see the full moon through the glass dome roof. Luckily, its glow showered light throughout the Great Hall making it easy for me to see.
Then my eyes fixed on a sculpture. Every single strand of fur was delicately carved within pure white marble. And his muscle formations ... my, they were so defined ... and further down so explicit--heat rushed into my face.
I touched Magda's arm. "Is that an Astof original?"
Excited, she bubbled. "He is here tonight."
He was a famous weretiger sculptor whose pieces were worth their weight in gems. I couldn't afford any of them. Not many could, except for a Lord.
She turned about, her neck gracefully gliding from left to right. "I cannot." She grabbed my arm. "Oh, there he is." She pointed. I looked.
Mmmm. Oh, my. He was large, paws twice the normal size of a weretiger. Seemed impossible for him to be able to carve such delicate details until I saw his finely shaped claws. They weren't thick and clumsy, but thin and sharp.
She pulled me toward him, then stopped abruptly. She stomped her foot. "I have lost him." That was fine by me. We were standing in front of a table covered with delectable goodies. When she noticed my distraction, she huffed, turned from me, and went in search of Astof once more.
I couldn't resist the tantalizing aromas. I'd only eaten a nutritionally balanced bar this morning. A weresparrow chirped excitedly as she slipped a small circular yellow piece of fruit within her beak. Something I should try.
Delicious. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and bursting with flavor. I ate a few more, then I ventured over to the next table. There was a lot of satisfied grunting going on. Several weretigers were indulging themselves. I passed them by, repulsed at the smell of fresh, bloody meat.
I continued to the next table. A few more weretigers were indulging themselves as well. How I enjoyed their woodsy scent. I took a deep breath only to choke a moment later. Not all werecreature scents appealed to me. Wererats tend to disturb my stomach. The sight of them in their natural state, matted fur and all, didn't help matters.
Two passed by, one actually bumping into me. His nose twitched. He jumped back, coughed, and turned his back to me. I heard an ailing, "excuse me." Then he was gone. My human odor, it seems, has the same effect on them.
My hand reached out only to fall short of a delectable piece of dried meat when two muzzles strayed toward my arm. I held still.
Their whiskers lightly brushed against my skin, and my arm twitched, not from fear but from the tickling sensation the fine whiskers caused. They sniffed, then, a purr coursed through their throat. Two seconds later they were back at their feast and I was long forgotten.
I'd just gotten a tasty piece of meat in my mouth, chewing it with my eyes tightly shut, when I heard Shayla whisper, "it is time."
Slowly, my eyes opened and a sigh of pure satisfaction left my lips.
"I'm ready," I said.
Shayla and I went in search of Magda. We found her charming Astof. Even if I wanted to meet him, now wasn't the time. When Magda uses her charm, the recipient of it is oblivious to anything or anyone else. Shayla, naturally, interrupted by grabbing Magda's arm and pulling her away. And so, we found ourselves waiting for the main event.
We didn't have long to wait.
Within seconds the room grew silent. Daison, Lord of the Weretigers, was suddenly standing in front of the throne, his body covered by an exquisite black and red silk robe. In the next moment, he was seated. His robe flapped open and I noticed the sleek black clad body beneath.