Lyle brought his head up to meet the greeny-yellow eyes that faced him. They weren't like the panthers, however - these eyes were sharper, more focused. The owner of the eyes held out his hand. "Atticus, by the way."
The man's penetrating gaze broke into an uneasy smile as he saw Lyle's expression.
"Panther boy?! What do you...do you...what do you mean by that?!" Lyle stumbled over his words, trying to keep calm but clearly failing. If someone found out what had happened then he had a big problem on his hands.
"Relax! Just calm down, I'll explain everything." Atticus' voice was patronising, but strangely calming. He took Lyle's shoulder and guided him to a spot nearer the end of the meadow, where they were more hidden from view. "Let's talk."
The stopped, surrounded by trees. Before the man spoke, Lyle had a chance to examine him. He was tall and slender, with almost perfect features. He donned a black blazer that accompanied a white shirt, slightly open at the top. Covering his silvery hair was a black trilby, the rim lowered down so that his eyebrows were concealed beneath it. Lyle met his gaze, and Atticus continued.
"Now, why do you think I called you panther boy? Any idea?"
Lyle was hesitant. He wasn't sure how to respond. If the man had some other reason for that name then stating that he was a panther would be a bad idea. However, if the man was in the know then Lyle would look pretty stupid covering it up. He opened his mouth and tried to say something vague. "You know exactly why."
"Of course I do. I just said it." Atticus was playing with him. He spoke again, his voice tainted with threat. "Now admit your little problem to me so we can carry on this conversation the way it was intended."
Lyle looked down, shocked that the man's attitude could change so quickly. He composed himself back into his laidback yet ready approach and replied. "So you know about the panther incident, huh?"
The man's mouth curled into a smile. "You're cooperating again. Slowly but surely. Well, it's a start. And yes, I do know about your 'incident'. I came to see you about it, actually. I figured that you might want to know what actually happened."
"Wait just a minute." Lyle interrupted. "How did you see all this in the first place?"
"I was standing on a lamppost above you." The man's response was too casual for something so absurd. "Good view, I might add. Now let me continue. Actually, tell me what you think happened. I'm intrigued."
"I turned into a panther, I guess." Lyle was no longer attempting to sound cool; he just wanted answers.
This guy is a joke, but it seems he knows more than I do.
"Close, very close, but WRONG!" The man shouted out the last word, his eyes gleaming with enjoyment. "It wasn't just you that turned into the panther. Oh no, there's something else that you need. Heard about a panther in your neighbourhood?"
"That panther was there, that same night. He'd been looking for you, which was why he'd appeared in the first place. Animals are naturally attracted to those they can form a close bond with, and this panther had a feeling about you. So when he found you, everything began to happen."
Atticus paused, as if to create a dramatic effect. The glare he received got him quickly back to the point. "Think of him as your familiar, like witches and wizards are said to have, only much more powerful. With his familiar, a soul-sharer can increase his power to it's maximum point!"
"That's right! You're a soul-sharer, Lyle! You can merge your soul with another animal, to create a shared being with combined powers! And you can do this any time you want!"
Lyle bit his lip, and stared down at the floor, his pulse quickening.
This is just another problem I have to face. And no one can understand this, no matter how I explain it. Sure, it'll have it's benefits, but can I really be expected to combine this with my daily life?
Atticus, sensing Lyle's worry, spoke again. "Come on, what's so bad about having a secret power that no one else has?" He then spun round so he was in front of Lyle, and lowered his head. This time his tone was more sincere. "You're not alone."
Lyle brought his head back up, and looked Atticus up and down. It was only then that he noticed the feathers stuck to the man's blazer. "When you say, I'm not alone...does that mean you can too?"
"Just watch." Atticus jumped back, and held his arms out wide. There was a loud screech and a large bird appeared in the sky, it's vision pinpointed towards Atticus, who hadn't seemed to notice it.
It swooped down to his level, and flew into him with terrifying speed after only a few seconds of appearing. It had all happened so fast, and Lyle would have been worried that the man had been hurt...if he was actually there. In Atticus' place was the bird, a lot larger than before. Sensing Lyle in it's presence, it started to run towards him, lifting itself off the ground with it's huge wings.
"Oh, great!" He tried to run, but tripped when the eagle pushed it's talons into his shoulders. He fell to the ground, flattening the grass. The bird jumped off him again, and landed beside his face.
"Ow..." When Lyle got back up, the bird was nowhere to be seen, and Atticus was once again present.
"Heh...sorry about that! It's hard to greet somebody when you're a falcon..."
"That...that was you?!" Lyle's mouth opened in shock. "How did you...?"
"Exactly the same way you did," Atticus smirked. "Just...slightly less painful."
Lyle, realising his mouth was still open, quickly shut it and asked his next question. "Why did I hurt so much? It felt like...like I was about to explode."
"Well, you've never done it before, have you? Soul-merging takes some getting used to. Plus, you weren't exactly expecting it!"
"So...it won't hurt anymore?"
"Well, not if you put your mind to it!"
Maybe this isn't such a bad thing, Lyle thought. But what will everyone else think?
"Oh, I don't think you'll be telling anyone about it." Atticus' smile faded, as he answered a question Lyle hadn't even asked yet. "No one will believe you, and if they do then you could end up with problems. Think of it as a secret weapon. If someone knows about it, then it's not as effective. Got it?"
"So, basically, I have the ability to turn into a panther, yet I can't tell anyone. Brilliant."
Hm...that's gonna be hard. Not sure I really want to cross him, though.
"Wait a sec," Lyle began, "surely I need an animal to do this?"
"Ah. That's what I wanted to show you." The man took his hat off, and pointed towards the trees standing to his left. "Lyle, say hello to your familiar!"