Felia stood among the corn, beans, tomatoes, and other crops her family grew to feed their neighbors, brought to the public market in Rochester, and supplied for themselves. Leaning on the hoe, she looked at the sky, feeling the heat press against her. When magic returned to the world during the Event, it caused summers to grow hotter.
Wiping a hand across her forehead, Felia flipped the braid of her brown hair behind her. It fell forward each time she leaned over to remove the weeds growing between the crops. The sounds of her family working the fields drifted towards her as she basked in the warmth. Her male cousins, father, uncles, grandfathers, and the other men and women willing to work the fields meant the chores to keep the crops healthy would be finished before darkness spread across the land they owned.
Felia smiled. She knew once she finished and joined her family for their evening meal, she’d have time to herself. Felia’s plans involved hurrying to the waterfall and diving into the pool at the bottom. Having private time wasn’t something she had often, knowing how large her family was and how they involved themselves in anything the others wanted to do.
“Felia! Stop staring. Your mother won’t be happy if you make us late for dinner.”
Laughing, Felia lifted the hoe and waved it towards her father and cousins, who looked at her from where they weeded, watered, and tended the crops. “I know.” She wasn’t sure what caught her interest beyond the heat washing over her. Felia thought she noticed flying overhead, but when she looked for it, she saw nothing.
Returning to her weeding, Felia took the time to remove the plants which threatened to destroy their crops. With the way magic influenced flora, sometimes they found plants which snapped as those who came near. Others pulled themselves from the soil and chased those who dared to remove them or fled from the person. The taller plants might hit someone or find other ways to defend themselves.
Looking away, Felia stared at the bushes planted along the border of the land they used for their crops. She frowned, seeing how the green leaves rustled. It appeared something nestled among them, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to learn what caused the movement. Sighing, she raised the hoe into a threatening manner as she glanced towards the others who worked the fields.
Seeing they were occupied with their tasks, Felia sighed again. She hoped they’d notice she was in trouble if she screamed if something attacked her.
Walking with slow steps towards the bushes, Felia kept her make-shift weapon ready. When she was close enough, she stopped and peered into the dense foliage. She couldn’t see what caused the leaves to move, but whatever was hiding inside was large enough to rustle the bushes.
“Hello?” Felia shook her head, causing her brown braid to swish across her shoulders. “Smart, Felia. You’ve heard and read enough stories to know greeting something never turns out well for the person who draws attention to themselves.”
Keeping the hoe raised, Felia’s brown eyes locked onto a pair of large amber ones. Staring, she noticed how they were feline-shaped, which made sense because the animal causing the bush to quiver was the largest cheetah Felia had seen.
“Lower World!” As she cursed, Felia landed on her ass, having falling from the surprise hidden in the bush. Holding the hoe before her, Felia threatened the cheetah with it as the feline pushed its head free of the sanctuary it found. “Back off, cat!” Felia’s voice lowered, filling with the fear which rushed through her when she tripped and made herself vulnerable.
Felia’s eyes widened as the cheetah pressed its nose against her dark skin. Before she knew it, Felia’s laughter burst from her when the cheetah continued to sniff her and rub the sides of its head against her.
She swallowed as the cheetah stared at the woman who found it when Felia’s father’s voice rolled across the field as he noticed how his daughter rested on her ass and the large cheetah appeared to threaten her. The sounds of her cousins and the women of her family adding their concern made her watch the animal with concern. “Felia! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. My recent friend and I are getting to know one another.” Felia smiled without taking her gaze off the cheetah who was inches away. “Right? You will not eat my face off, will you? No, you’re not going to.” Felia hoped this was the truth, but it appeared to be the truth. Smiling, Felia nodded as the cheetah tilted her head to the side, giving Felia a searching gaze.
The sudden deep purr coming from the cheetah caused Felia’s smile to grow as she laughed. Her mirth stopped as the cheetah licked her, causing Felia to grimace. “Gross.” Wiping at the saliva, Felia looked at where her family stood watching. Their worried gazes hadn’t stopped, but some smirked, laughed, and commented on the strange scene when they saw how the cheetah reacted to what Felia said.
“It’s not amusing!” Looking away, Felia focused on the cheetah. She made an annoyed sound when the feline licked her again, leaving wetness across Felia’s face. “Stop it!” Felia shook her head before wiping away the fresh round of saliva.
Peering around her, Felia frowned. She wondered where the animal came from. Were there more of them? Did it have cubs? What about a mate? It wasn’t often a cheetah was found in this part of the world. Jaguars and cougars were the largest felines found in what remained of the United States. Smaller felines were also native. However, once magic returned during the Event, unfamiliar types of cats roamed the land. They were animals not seen in centuries or ones no one knew existed because magic created them.
“Are you alone?” Felia focused on the animal. Frowning, she realized the cheetah acted with an intelligence not found in most felines. “You’re not normal are you?”
Swallowing, Felia stared at the fangs the cheetah revealed as it lifted its lips into a smile while it tilted its head again. Scrambling backwards without standing, Felia kept her gaze on the cheetah, making sure it didn’t attack her. When she was far enough away, Felia shook her head. “All right. It appears you answered my question. What am I going to do with you?”
She cringed as the cheetah rushed towards her, licked her a third time, and padded across the field. Turning, Felia stood and stared at the cheetah as it reached the barn and slipped inside. “Hey! You can’t -” Felia’s words trailed off, knowing she spoke to herself. Plus, the laughter and gossip coming from her family members caused her to glare at them.
After she wedged the hoe between her feet and allowed it to lean against her and wiped the saliva from her face, Felia placed her hands on her hips. “All of you are not amusing. I’m sure you haven’t thought about the problem of having a cheetah resting in the barn. The other animals won’t be thrilled, will they?”
Shaking her head as she watched gazes pass among her family members, Felia returned to weeding the crops. Dealing with the cheetah would wait, unless she wanted her mother upset with her for not finishing the chores Felia agreed to when the family had breakfast together.
Running the bandanna she pulled from her head across her face, Felia smiled as she wiped away the sweat. Her weeding was done, which meant she could hurry to the waterfall. However, she had to have dinner with her family before leaving, unless she wanted her mother to chastise her. Felia didn’t want her mother to transform her into a rabbit to punish her daughter.
Having a witch as a mother sometimes wasn’t amusing. Those who had a parent who didn’t use magic never understood how frustrating it was to have your mother shape-change you when you disappointed her. Plus, Felia’s mother wasn’t the only witch. There were Felia’s aunts, grandmamas, great-grandmamas, and a smattering of men who accessed the elements to fuel their power.
However, the one who scared the family the most was Baba Yaga. Sure, everyone in the family called her grandmama, but they knew she was their oldest living relative. No one disagreed with their grandmama when she spoke. To do so meant any member of the family learned their lesson.
Shaking her head, Felia stuck the bandanna in a pocket as she stepped into the barn. Peering along the length, she frowned. Where had the cheetah gone? It had to be in here somewhere. Unless it snuck out sometime while Felia was focused on weeding the fields assigned to her earlier in the day.
Placing the hoe with the other tools, Felia stepped away. With her frown in place, she took her time walking between the stalls. She reached out, rubbing the heads and necks of the horses and donkeys who hung their heads over the openings. When she found the other places where they enjoyed being touched, Felia focused on them long enough for them to bask in the pleasure.
Upon reaching the end, Felia stared at the cheetah. Shaking her head, she grinned when she saw how the feline claimed the last stall as its own. She saw how the cheetah found the blankets used to cover the horses and dragged them into the stall to build a comfortable nest. The feline stretched out, making use of the room inside.
“Made yourself at home, have you? I suppose you staying here is better than you being in the house. My mother wouldn’t be pleased to have a large cheetah living in the main house.”
Walking closer, Felia paused in the entrance as the cheetah opened its yellow eyes to stare at her. Swallowing from the fear which washed through her with a suddenness Felia didn’t expect, she looked away. Felia sensed something about the animal which alarmed her, but she wasn’t sure what it was. The cheetah gave off an energy which reminded her of the power her mother, aunts, grandmothers, and other members of her family wielded. The same power escaped from her family members who gained the power to shift their shape into wolves and other large predatory animals.
She envied them. Everyone told her to have patience. It wouldn’t be long before she gained powers of her own. However, Felia thought it should have happened by now. Most gained their powers when they reached puberty, but she was past those changes.
“Is it okay if I join you? I don’t want to invade your territory.”
Felia laughed, watching the animal tilt its head, mirroring the curiosity movement animals did. Her amusement ended when the cheetah stretched out to cover Felia’s face with saliva. Using her hand, Felia wiped her face. “Gross! Why do you keep licking me?” She shook her head, half-amused and half-disgusted about what the cheetah did.
Seeing the animal shimmy to the side to make room for her, Felia stepped inside. Felia grinned as she felt the deep purr coming from the cheetah after she settled against the animal’s side. She peered into the yellow eyes when the cheetah looked at her. The smile the feline gave her caused Felia to swallow. The fangs alarmed her, although the large predator didn’t harm her. “Don’t you dare lick me again!”
A chuff sound escaped the cheetah, filling the barn with its amusement. Shaking her head, Felia heard the horses and donkeys move in their stalls from the terror they experienced. Having a predator resting among them and releasing its call wasn’t something they enjoyed.
“Quiet. You’re disturbing the others.” Felia stroked the tawny fur, feeling its softness as the cheetah continued to stare at her. “You’re beautiful. I’m sure you know it, don’t you?” Felia winced, feeling another round of saliva cover her face as the cheetah licked her. “Dammit! Stop licking me!” Wiping away the liquid, Felia cleaned her hand on her leather pants. “See, I knew it. You know you’re beautiful.” With her hand moving over the fur, Felia listened to the purrs coming from the large predator. Felia felt herself being pushed forward and backward each time the feline inhaled and exhaled. The soothing movements and sound relaxed Felia enough to slip into a doze. It was later when she said, “What I’m wondering is what you’re doing here.”
However, the cheetah couldn’t answer beyond licking Felia again, causing Felia to complain about the feline’s actions.
Resting against the cheetah’s side, Felia basked in the pleasure of not having any chores to finish. The companionship the animals allowed her to have caused Felia to doze long enough for her to enjoy herself. Plus, the constant purrs coming from the cheetah helped Felia relax. Nothing disturbed the two until Felia’s mother stood outside the stall. Looking over, Felia stared and smiled at her mother. Felia’s worry about her mother’s reaction eased once she saw how she gazed at the scene with an amused expression.
“Mother. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Your father and other members of the family mentioned the cheetah. I decided it was time to learn if my daughter had been eaten. It appears this isn’t the truth.” Felia’s mother shook her head with slight movements. “Dinner’s ready, if you care to join us. If you don’t, I understand the reason.”
“All right. Thank you for telling me.” Felia sighed. She was hesitant about leaving, but her hunger made itself known as her stomach rumbled. She worked hard at weeding the fields, which meant she needed to eat. “I’ll join everyone soon.”
“Okay.” Felia’s mother turned away but not before she gazed at the animal who watched her with a steady gaze. “Lady, please keep Felia safe.”
Felia frowned, wondering what her mother meant. Before she could ask, her mother strode from the barn. Another grimace spread over Felia’s features as the cheetah licked her. The distraction was enough for Felia to climb to her feet as she wiped her face. “Stop licking me!”
Feeling another hunger pang spread through her, Felia gave the cheetah a lingering gaze before she followed her mother to the main house. Hurrying towards it, Felia hoped the animal would be in the territory it claimed when Felia returned to the barn after having dinner with her family.
Keeping to her plans, Felia jogged along the trail. She was eager to reach the waterfall and the pool. She paused, seeing the flash of tawny color among the greens and browns of the vegetation. Spinning, she glared at the area where she noticed the strange sight. Pushing her braid behind her, Felia waited to learn if the cheetah would reveal itself or if it was playing a game where it believed the prey it hunted didn’t know the animal knew they were being hunted.
“Come on. I know you’re here.” Felia glared while she kept an amused smile in place. “Show yourself!”
Waiting, Felia sighed when it appeared the cheetah would not reveal itself. With a shrug, Felia turned away to continue towards the waterfall and the pool. She was eager for the private time she desired, which meant waiting for the cheetah wasn’t something she was interested in doing.
Frowning as she heard splashes coming from her sanctuary, Felia stepped into the clearing. She stared, taking in the sight of the naked woman enjoying herself in the pool as water covered her from where it fell over her. Felia gazed at the dark skin, brown hair of various shades, and the curves of the stranger.
Shaking off her thoughts, Felia crossed the space between them until she reached the edge of the pool. “Who are you? What are you doing on our land? This is my private place!”
Felia gasped, feeling the power washing over her as the stranger looked at her. The woman’s large yellow eyes had the same cat-shape as the cheetah. The longer she thought about it, the more Felia realized they were the same!
“You’re… You’re the cheetah! Lower World! Who are you?”
An amused smile curled the woman’s lips as she continued to splash in the pool and allow the waterfall to pour over her. “Guess.” The stranger’s voice rolled across the space between them with a deep purr sound.
Blinking, Felia shook her head. “What? No. Come on. I don’t enjoy guessing games. Tell me!”
Shaking her head again as she heard the delighted laughter, Felia stared at the woman. The longer she did, the more Felia remembered the title her mother used earlier. Frowning as she stepped to the edge of the pool, Felia removed her clothing. Nudity was something her family overcame a long time ago. Dancing naked during the nature celebrations to honor the world and their deities overcame the embarrassment of removing their clothes. Plus, there were members of her family who shifted shape, which meant they were naked when they returned to their human forms.
Sliding into the water, Felia breathed out a sigh of relief and pleasure. The cooler water felt wonderful on her dark skin. After she pushed her dark hair away from her face, Felia floated on her back as she stared at the woman who kept her gaze on her.
“Are you a deity?”
A sly smile spread over the stranger’s features. “I might be. If I am, do you know which one?”
Drifting in the water, Felia relaxed. “There aren’t many feline deities connected to my family. Let me think.” Felia made slight movements to bring her closer to the waterfall and the woman standing under it. “I can think of two. You’re either Sekhmet or Bastet. I don’t believe you’re the first one, which means you’re Lady Bastet.”
Felia watched a wide smile form on the stranger’s features as her yellow eyes filled with joy. “I knew you’re smart. You’re correct, I’m Lady Bastet.”
Having reached the waterfall, Felia tilted her head back to allow the water to wash over her. From where she stood close to the stranger, she peered into the yellow eyes. “You’re serious? Why are you here? I’m sure it has something to do with me.”
Bastet nodded. “It does. There’s something I want to ask you, but I desired to meet you before doing so.”
Felia frowned before she sighed. The game the goddess played with her wasn’t something Felia enjoyed, but she understood it wasn’t wise to annoy a deity when they were interested in a mortal. “Are you going to explain?”
“Patience.” Bastet grinned, mirroring Felia’s movement. A deep purr escaped her chest as the goddess enjoyed the waterfall. “The water here is wonderful.”
Releasing another sigh, Felia closed her eyes and opened her mouth, allowing the water to fill it before she spit a stream towards Bastet. However, Felia didn’t put enough strength into it for the water to hit the goddess. A grin spread over her features as Felia heard Bastet hiss at her. “I’m patient, but not when you’re playing games. Tell me the reason you’re here.”
Felia gasped, feeling the energy coming from Bastet as she placed her hands on Felia’s shoulders. A shiver ran along her spine, but it started slow when it did. Felia’s dark skin pebbled with goose bumps as she stared into Bastet’s yellow eyes as the two stood inches from one another.
“Fine. You want to know why I’m here?”
“I do,” Felia whispered, the rush of being in Bastet’s presence overwhelming her. Although her family worshiped the deities connected to her family, they didn’t visit the way Bastet did when she arrived at the farm.
“I want you to join my family. I’m forming a group of women dedicated to advancing my desires. You’ll be my Daughter. If you agree, you’ll gain the power to shape change into a cheetah. However, you’ll gain other powers, depending on what I need from you.”
“Are you serious?” Felia’s thoughts raced. She returned to what she pondered earlier, how her family gained their powers while she waited. They didn’t treat her like an outcast, but she felt distant from them. However, this might be the reason she wasn’t the same as the others. Plus, Felia dreamed of leaving the farm and moving to Rochester. If Bastet needed this from her, Felia was eager to answer Bastet’s desires.
Bastet nodded before she tilted her head to allow the waterfall to cover her. “I am. If my offer wasn’t enough, I’ll tell you one more thing. I know you dream of finding your mate. You’ll find her in Rochester, but it’ll take time. When it happens, I’ll need you to help teach her how to use the powers she’ll gain as my Daughter.”
Felia glanced away, staring towards the main house where her family lived. Although she couldn’t see them from here, she worried about their reactions when she returned to tell them her decision. She loved them, but Felia knew she wanted to experience the world beyond the family farm. Turning away, she looked at Bastet who stared at her.
“All right. I agree to be your Daughter. What do I need to do?” Felia swallowed, knowing she changed her fate by committing herself to Bastet.
Smiling, the Egyptian goddess placed her hand between Felia’s breasts. “Nothing, my Daughter. You don’t have to do anything.” Bastet paused. “Except you might curse or scream.”
Felia’s brown eyes widened as she thought about what Bastet said. Before Felia answered, she felt heat spread through her as Bastet’s power flowed into her. “Fuck.” The curse was all Felia had time to say before pain flared inside her. Felia felt her skeleton, muscles, and everything of her human shape flex and arrange themselves into an unfamiliar form.
When she panted, Felia felt her tongue hang from her mouth. After she stretched and flexed her claws, Felia’s tail flicked behind her. Her surprise at having a cheetah shape was something she’d need time to grow used to. Lifting her head with slow movements, Felia peered at Bastet. It was strange, standing on four feet to gaze at Bastet. Felia’s yellow eyes widened, taking in the sight of how Bastet shifted to the image the Egyptian’s used when they created artwork of the goddess. The half-human and half-feline form was something Felia would see often when interacting with Bastet.
“Welcome to the family, my Daughter.”