Everything was sharper and yet displaced in his Fera form.

There was a need to survey his territory and kill the intruder.

The scent of moss and tree bark reached his nose and he leaped out of the way.

A large black figure soared past him and landed in a crouch in the middle of the rocky area.

Twisting around he met eyes with a black behemoth of rolling muscles under a shiny black pelt that had a dark violet sheen.

The large creature stared with luminous twilight eyes and yawned, mouth wide and showing off long and curved canines and powerful jaw muscles.

Taking the smug display for what it was, he shook his thick mane of molten gold, crackling static dancing among the fine gold strands. Immediately, he leaped forward, sharp elongated claws glinting under the sunlight.

Avoiding the swipe with a reflexive contortion of muscles, the other snapped at him with his jaws.

A thunderclap rang out in the rocky arena.

He lashed out at the offender as he felt the painful tugging on his mane.

They both retreated a distance from the other.

The next second two nude young men stand in their place after making instantaneous shifts.

“That smarted you know!” The dark skinned young man exclaimed first, holding onto his side where a red blister slowly healed itself.

Ariel ran a hand through his luxurious golden mane, as beautiful as it had been in Fera form, but coming away with a few broken strands.

“You’re lucky I didn’t smack you into a rock outcropping, Rhys.” Ariel stared without expression at the broken strands before moving to put on his clothes. It was a slight pain that Fera transformation destroy clothes if one did not take it off before doing so.

“Hey! Is that any way to treat your best pal since kitten days?” Rhys complained.

“Why were you distracted anyway. That bite normally wouldn’t have landed.” Rhys asked in curiosity.

Ariel’s normally sharp viridian eyes seem to mist over and he spoke lowly, almost unconciously. “I met the man in my dreams.”

Rhys eyebrow shot up and whistled, “Does the iron tree finally bloom?!”

Ariel smacked the back of his head in irritation and retorted, “Please pay attention to the use of prepositions. I said in my dreams, not of my dreams.”

“Like there’s a difference.” Rhys rolled dark indigo eyes and brushed back sweaty chocolate brown hair. “You’ve been obsessed with ‘the man with cold eyes since puberty.”

“Gotta say, I didn’t expect you to have such a masochistic side.” Rhys added thoughtfully when the other ignored him.

“Be a good kitty and shut up.” Ariel strode forward, picking up the speed and leaving the other behind.

He never regretted anything more than telling such an annoying guy about those dreams.

❂❂❂

“Clancy! Clancy! I brought you a gift! I caught the big fella myself! No deer can outrun me!”

“Clancy, you accepted my courting gift so that means you’re mine now!”

“Clancy? Clancy! Don’t ignore me. Look at me.”

An image of a vivacious golden haired Fera woman appeared as if summoned from the back of his mind where the dreams seem to live. Breathtaking in her wild beauty and eerie in her similarity to his own appearance. She could have been his twin with how similar they looked.

Scenes of her life, from a young girl to a grown woman flashed through his mind like a movie.

But unlike with movies he could feel her emotions and thoughts on a visceral level. Understanding her as if they were the same person. Or maybe a past incarnation or alternate existence.

So he could feel it.

The joy and sorrow, the love and hate. All of it tied to the man with apathetic silver blue eyes that was called ‘Clancy’. As if her (their) emotions were strings that could only be plucked by the man.

As a child and teenager, the dreams had been a source of confusion and even distress that only he ever carried. He dared not tell anyone, even Rhys who he only shared the barest of details.

It had been troubling when he practically lived a different life in his dreams. But it was not until clear, reflective silver blue eyes began to haunt his dreams that he had needed to divulge some of it.

It was not in his nature to live in dreams no matter how realistic and unrelenting they were.

But there was just something about the mysterious man, whose features he couldn’t even make out, that threaten to pull him under the flood of emotions.

He believed they were not truly his emotions but that of the woman from his dreams he seem connected to.

In habit, he rubbed at the strange birthmark on the back of his neck which always burned at the thought of the mercury eyed man. The birthmark was a deep red and looked like someone had taken a brush dipped in cinnabar and left behind a vermillion round dot that appear as a strangely colored mole. 

It was quite obvious that even in a world with several Eximius races possessing of fantastic abilities that there was nothing normal about these dreams or this birthmark.

But it was not a mystery he spent too much time dwelling on. While he could not control his mind when unconcious, it was another matter when fully awake.

That was until he met Clarence Light.

He could brush off the similarity and sense of deja-vu as just a coincidence.

But the bittersweet taste in his mouth, the burning of his birthmark and tightness in his chest when he laid his eyes on him were not things he could ignore. 

He could not take his eyes off the other despite the roiling emotions barely trapped under a facade of normality and civil veneer.

Inexplicable excitement overwhelmed him when the other looked his way.

It was the first time he had felt anything remotely similar to a crush or attraction or whatever it was.

It was not a good sign.

As the only male heir to the Fitzroy main family branch and future head of one of the four ruling Fera clans that have dominion in American Federal, he had a responsibility that stretched beyond obsessing over strange dreams and a strange man.

He doesn’t believe in love at first sight but he wanted those distant eyes to focus on him. He wanted to see strong emotions color eyes that appear as untouched by worldly affairs as the snow that settle on the highest mountain peaks.

He found himself blocking out everything, his vision tunneling, blood rushing in his ears and all he could do was approach the other. His original motive for showing up at The Magpie became inconsequential to speaking and looking at the man.

“Are you still thinking about your dream man? What are the odds that he actually exist outside your imagination?” Having caught up with the other Rhys examined his childhood friend.

“No. I know it’s the same person.” Ariel said with certainty.

“Call it the workings of fate if you will.”

Rhys was left behind once again as he stopped in surprise to stare after his childhood friend.

“Since when do you even believe in fate?”

❂❂❂

Ariel stopped outside the office of the old general, his grandfather Alaric Fitzroy.

He nodded to Kline, his grandfather’s personal guard and head butler of the Fitzroy residence standing just outside the door.

The older man smiled kindly at him and opened the door, “The General is waiting for you inside.”

Stepping through the thick and heavy wooden doors, Ariel entered a spacious circular room lined with shelves.

A large fireplace dominate the spacious room but was currently unlit. He did not find his grandfather in one of the armchairs by the fireplace but behind the large desk piled with papers and reports.

He settled behind one of the high-back chairs in front of the desk and waited as the older man finished signing the papers in front of him.

Ariel looked at the older man sitting across from him and warmth colored his eyes.

Stern and indomitable, the whole of American Federal respected the General. There were many Fera clan heads but only the Fitzroy patriarch was deserving of the title and position of the General of the Armies.

The Fitzroy clan had been deeply intertwined with the country’s military since its founding. The members were taught combat from a young age as well as to place importance on loyalty, honor, and defending the nation from enemies. Every male member and even some female members have dedicated their lives to military and defense.

And his grandfather Alaric Fitzroy stood out even among the long line of illustrious Fitzroys who achieved glory and honors on the battlefield.

He had grown up hearing of his grandfather’s feats and accomplishments during the Early Machine Age in the first half of the 20th century when countries indiscriminately employed alchemical weapons in a power struggle with each other.

Despite appearing as a middle aged man with a few grays in his bright golden hair, his grandfather was nearing his 150th birthday. His own age of 22 in comparison was just a fraction. But no one would make the mistake of dismissing him as just an aging lion.

His grandfather could thrash him in a brawl if he liked.

Indeed, his own father was often at the receiving end of the General’s mauling in Fera form.

The warmth in Ariel’s eyes cooled as he thought of the man called Albert Fitzroy. His father.

His love and respect for his grandfather came not only from his heroic feats but also because he was raised personally by the man himself as the two people who should have were too irresponsible and self absorbed to care much for their offspring.

“Thinking of those two featherbrains again?”

A deep, gruff voice interrupted his thoughts and Ariel looked up.

Meeting amber eyes he twitched a corner of his lip in response.

His grandfather never did have much respect for winged Feras. It was an open secret that the General of the Armies does not see eye to eye with the General of the Air Force, held by the Volant patriarch. Hence the preference of using avian related insults for anything he doesn’t like.

“You wanted to see me, grandfather?”

The atmosphere instantly became much more somber.

“It would seem to be the case that your attack last weekend at the Duralls was not an isolated attack from rogue Eximius.” General Fitzroy said without much expression.

“Several younger members of high ranking Fera clans have been targeted.”

Ariel frowned. “Is it the Cruors?”

The Cruors and Feras have the most tense relationship out of all the races with a long history of conflict.

General Fitzroy shook his head, “Not likely. The attacks have also affected the Cruors. Cases also include the Sylvas and Magus.”

“What would be the motive?”

“Kidnapping.” A dark and displeased response.

Ariel raised a brow, “For ransom?”

“It would have been simpler if it’s just for money.” General Fitzroy tapped the table with an index finger in thought.

Silence.

“What do you know about the Athanatos Society?”

The sudden question took Ariel off guard. He furrowed his eyebrows in thought.

History texts and scholarly articles have made many mentions and studies of the secretive criminal group.

Unlike other criminal groups or terrorist groups, the Athanatos Society was made up of highly educated people with respectable social standing.

At first it was created by New Alchemists to discuss their experiments and make studies on ancient alchemists whom they dubbed the Old Alchemists, in contrast to the New Alchemists that they defined themselves with.

Though they call themselves Alchemists, modern day Alchemists were more like Norm inventors and engineers. While they can create truly fantastical devices and objects that aid Norms in leveling the power balance against Eximius races, but what they were capable of was nothing in comparison to the true Alchemists of ancient times.

Those were beings who could truly bring about salvation or destruction with just a thought.

Quite impossible to believe when they had just been Norms, the weakest and most mundane of all the races.

Of course, that was until they learned the art of alchemy. True alchemy that allowed them to transmute and manipulate the natural world in their favor. Converting rocks into jewels or base metals into gold was just the most trivial of their abilities but was enough to incite kingdoms into a frenzy.

But it was their accomplishments in touching upon the secret of immortality that truly elevated Alchemists to the ruling race millennia ago.

While Eximius have long lives in comparison to the measly 100 year average life span of Norms, even they would not dismiss the prospect of immortality and eternal youth.

But it was also that very same thing that lead to the destruction of empires and civilizations, and eventually the Alchemists themselves.

It was well recorded in history that infighting amongst alchemist factions later known as the Alchemist War caused great devastation and lead to their decline. Since then, their numbers have disappeared from the world stage.

Especially with other races forbidding Norms from practicing alchemy; the art was considered all but lost.

Whether those ancient Alchemists have truly gone extinct or not, it was a fact that no one had seen a true Alchemist all these centuries.

It was not until the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries when the Norms calling themselves New Alchemists rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution. The new faction lead a number of revolutionary movements against the Eximius later known as the Race Wars, bringing about the Age of Revolution which lasted until 1849.

No longer were Paranormals the absolute dominant power of kingdoms and states but forced to cede power and share authority in representative governments with the larger number of Norms.

Since then, New Alchemy had become quite popular among Norms and even amongst Eximius. More and more, wars were fought with New Alchemical weapons.

The indiscriminate creation and use of New Alchemical weapons eventually lead to widespread destructive wars and increased crime rate during the Early Machine Age in the early 20th century.

General Fitzroy had fought in several of the period’s wars and Ariel had grown up hearing stories of his grandfather’s experiences with New Alchemical weapons created and utilized at that turbelent point in history. 

The Fitzroy family even had a collection that was kept and maintained in a private viewing room of the Fitzroy estate that he had spent much time in as a boy.

Eventually, peace was finally attained and a 5th international council, the Alchemist Council was created. But of course, there were certain groups that were discontent with the regulations and control the Council and governments place upon them and believed in the freedom of practicing New Alchemy.

The most notorious was perhaps the Athanatos Society who were obsessed with bringing back ancient alchemy and committed many illegal and inhumane experiments on Eximius and Norms alike.

Later studies had documented how the group took advantage of the turbulent times to commit numerous atrocities that did not come to light until the group’s last leader was apprehended.

“The Athanatos Society was exterminated with the apprehension of the leader, Gideon Elkhart and the other high ranking members.” Ariel narrowed sea glass greens.

General Fitzroy let out a sigh and rubbed at his temple. “There is reason to believe that there might have been surviving members. Or it might be a copycat criminal group with the same aspirations as the Athanatos Society.”

“Either way, preparations must be made.”

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