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Bunny moved through the woods, occasionally holding back branches for Amy who was picking her way quietly behind her. "Why are we here again?" she asked her silent companion.
"To get permission to travel the woods." Amy looked around and frowned. "Where is he?"
"Who?" Bunny glanced at the trees.
"Finch. He's supposed to guide us to the Malevolent Council."
"What do you call a group of Malevolent?" Bunny mused. "Are they a pride, like lions? A pack like dogs? Maybe a dignity, like dragons?"
"A group of Malevolent are called a tribe." Finch dropped from a tree to pace in front of them. His whiskers quivered. "Amy-kitten!" He tackled her, knocking her to the ground and rubbing his head against hers, purring all the while.
"Tag said you were with Jo," Bunny said after the greeting concluded and Amy stood up. "Who's watching him now?"
"My littermate, Squirrel." Finch switched his tail. "I was not leaving Jo alone. Are you ready?"
They nodded.
"Follow me but do not go off the path. You are only here as my guests." He led them down a path that Bunny hadn't noticed before.
The woods grew thick around them, the silence of the elven woods became a riot of noise and color. Birds flew down, scolding Finch as they went past brambles covered with blackberries and bushes weighted down with flowers. "I don't understand," Amy watched butterflies dance across the path. "There's all sorts of life here. I always though the elven woods were empty."
"A trick." Finch swatted at branch. "The pixies' magic keep the elves from coming onto our lands. Nothing there worth taking so they would leave us alone." His tail swished, ears perked up. "We are here." Head high, he led them through a a dense wall of trees.
"Wow..." Bunny stopped in her tracks, her mouth hanging open.
Cats of all colors and sizes ranging from striped kittens to adults the color of midnight filled the grove. Some napped in piles in the sunlight or sat in groups, talking quietly. A few drank from the pond in the center of the grove. Kittens wrestled, occasionally cuffed by an adult, and pounced unsuspecting wildlife foolish enough pass though. Finch led them past the others, pausing to exchange greetings and pounce kittens.
A tiny ball of orange and white fur grabbed Amy's ankle. She fell backwards to avoid stepping on him and laughed as he bounced off to hide behind a larger version of himself. The mother purred and smiled at Amy, speaking in something similar to elvish but almost like a housecat's meow.
Finch bounced up, answering her and adding a yowl. The mother gave a laughing growl and herded her kitten away.
"What was that about?" Bunny looked confused.
"She was asking where you are from." Finch sat, smoothed his whiskers. "Neither of you smell like elves or pixies. The little one thought you were my hairless littermate."
Amy accepted Bunny's hand and let the ranger help her to her feet. "THIS is the Council? Looks like some kind of party."
Finch rubbed his ears and stood. "They are the elders of their families. Some of the others you see are just here to listen." He nodded his head. "We are a curious people, after all." He gestured with a paw. "Come, Meh waits for you."
"Meh?" Bunny asked, nearly knocked to the ground when a Malevolent the color of a stormy sky nosed her arm. The cat bumped her head against Bunny and dropped a tiny version of herself in her arms.
The cat said something and walked away, her tail twitching. "What was that about?"
Finch laughed. "She said this one is trouble, wants you to care for it before she eats it. The prey cares for the hunter!"
Bunny glared at Finch, which caused him to double over in giggles. "Weren't we supposed to be going to see Meh?"
Amy scritched the small cat's belly. "C'mon, Prey. We have work to do."

The Council sat on flat rocks under shade trees. These were older cats, some with battle scars and tattered coats. All stopped their conversation when Finch led Bunny and Amy to the rocks. He sat at a respectful distance and meowed.
A cat big enough to tower over Ogre, padded to him. His ears were ripped in one spot and had a rip across his face. He sniffed the humans, pausing to lick the kitten. He made a series of growls, yips and purrs.
"Meh says he knows of you both from my stories of Tilldae." Finch folded his tail around him. "He says he has a favor to ask of Amy-kitten."
"Me?" Amy stepped back.
Meh flopped over on his back, paws in the air and revealed his white belly. Amy swallowed her laugh and solemnly rubbed the big cat. She was rewarded with giant sized purrs that nearly shook her teeth loose. He wiggled away and sat up, smoothing his whiskers in a effort to restore his dignity. He yipped at Finch.
"He asked why you have come to him."
Amy fought the urge to run as Meh sat in front of her, too aware of the giant paws hiding razor sharp claws and the fangs behind his grave face. She reached into her pouch, took out a ring and slipped it on her finger. "Forgive me, Elder. This way you can understand me."
Meh's ear twitched. "Why did you not use it before?"
"The magic sometimes does not work." She reminded herself not to pet him. "We come to ask your protection and permission as we go into the elvin city to take back one of our kits that were taken by them."
"A tall order, Amy-kitten." He rubbed a paw over his ears. "Why should we help you and yours? The elves have left us in peace since before my great-grandfather's time. If I break that peace they may come here and then our kits will be in danger. Why go through all of this for one kit?"
"If your kit was in trouble, would you not burn down these woods to get her back?" She countered. "If this small one," she gestured to the gray kitten in Bunny's arms, "happened to be taken to the city and made to act like one of the voiceless cats that chase silly mice would you not go and bring it back to the woods where it could grow and run with the others like it?" She knotted her hands. "I have not the grace my father has to speak. You would have helped him in a moment because he asked." Her tears choked her. "I come and ask in my very rough way for you to help me save someone else's kit. I know not why my elders sent me and not someone else. Please help me."
Meh's paws circled her as he sat up to hold her close. "Your elders were wise in choosing you. I will help you for you as Finch's littermate. That makes you one of my kits and so my responsibility. As this kit is your littermate, then he is also of my family and therefore I will indeed burn down the woods if I must to bring him home."
"I don't understand, Elder," she said through her tears.
He patted her back. "Amy-kitten, stories of you ring through the woods. Mothers tell their kits about the human woman who treated one of us as a person and not an animal. I adopt you into my family with pride and hope to one day meet your mother so I may thank her for bringing you to us." He rubbed his cheek on the top of her head. "You will need to take Menace with you. I do believe his mother will eat him if he does not learn manners soon."
She laughed and wiped her face.
"Is there a plan?" he asked, looking from her to Finch.
"There is," Finch answered. "First we have to go to the pixies."
Meh's laughter echoed through the grove. "I was not told this was an adventure!"
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August 2011


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