One Year Ago, Africa
Blake's father raised the camera, snapping shots left and right. "Oh look, a rhino!" His mother cried, then looked to the other side. "A giraffe! A sort of deer-looking thing!"
"It's called a Bongo, mom." The young man from the back of the jeep replied in a half hearted tone. He'd not wanted to come on this safari in the first place, but his father had agreed to subsidise his car fund if he did, which had pretty much made up his mind. He never made a commitment to be enthusiastic, and even now, with the setting sun orange on the horizon, casting a beautiful shimmer over the flatlands spotted sparsely with what appeared to be dying wilderness, he was doing his best not to be.
"Funny," His mother remarked, confused. "I thought bongos were a type of drum." She shrugged, and went back to pointing out the various bits of boring, mostly herbivorous life forms. Blake sighed and re opened his comic book.
"Son, you're nineteen. Aren't you a little old for those things?" His father asked. Blake sighed, closed the book slowly, and pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. When he opened them, he stared into his father's own light brown eyes, a mirror image of his own.
"No, father, I am not too old for graphic novella. Especially not when some of these guys are global heroes and celebrities." He remarked, attempting to open the comic before his father snatched it from his grasp and jabbed a finger at the man on the cover, a silver haired man with a murderous expression who appeared to be tussling with a large gorilla-lion hybrid whilst a rather small man cowered next to a machine in the background.
"This guy, what's his story?" Blake's father demanded.
"That's Mattersuit. Real name: Adam Mercer. He's a soldier for the U.S. government. He's a mutant. Power to deconstruct matter and reform it as an armor suit." Blake responded in an emotionless tone. "In this particular issue, a mad scientist has released an army of cybernetically upgraded Lionrillas upon Washington D.C. in a bid to take control of the capitol." Blake snatched the comic book back. "And in the part I'm up to, Adam is just about to rock into town on his sweet motorbike to kick some cybernetic monkey-cat hybrid backside." Blake finished with a smirk, opened the comic book and continued reading. Most of the remainder of the evening passed in silence, and Blake decided not to even eat with his parents, and simply crawled into his tent and went to sleep.
Night grew dark, but not quiet. All animals that rose at night were loud, and most were dangerous. But nothing was as dangerous as tonight. There was the start of a coyote howl, then a strangled cry, then a yelp. The sound of heavy breathing passed by the camp twice. Blake didn't even stir, not even when the growling breathing...thing stood in front of his tent. Why he did wake up was because the shape on the outside of his tent blocked the calm, cool sliver of moonlight that had been shining upon his face through the fabric of his tent. He looked up, furrowed his brow in concentration, then sat up. It may have been the last mistake he ever made. Claws bit down, tearing through the tent with a RIIIIIP! as the beast lunged forward, catching Blake across the chest as he pulled away. He began to scream and curse loudly, as the claws had burned whilst they cut his flesh, before his head began to swim too much too actually comprehend doing much of anything. A loud CRACK! filled the night air, and he heard a deep voice say "Begone from this place, dog of the devil!" Then he felt slim hands at the back of his neck whilst the beast, of which he'd never gotten a clear look, yelped loudly, hissed at something he couldn't quite see, and ran away, too fast to follow. He refocused his gaze on the person - no, people, there were two of them - near him. It was his mother and father. She was crying. He was, too.
Blake's chest burned like hell, but he smirked. They knew that smile. It was reserved for when he felt especially reckless and cocky. "Hey, what are you cryin' at? It's nothin'. Just a...f*ck...flesh wound. I'll be up and about in no time." He grinned. His mother laughed at that. He saw two more figures approaching out of the dark night. They looked like shadows against the dark background, at least, until they stepped into the light. They were dressed oddly. One was quite small, about his size, 5'2 and scrawny, the other a man mountain. They knelt by him, and the small one traced his wounds lightly. His fingers were like ice upon the fire of his wounds.
"He is marked by the Puma." The small one said. "He will die, maybe." The voice was full of no emotion. It was flat, as though merely stating a plain fact.
Blake's father gripped the small one by the shoulders. "Don't you say that about my son! My Blake'll pull through, y'hear?" He turned his attention to the groaning Blake. "Y'hear me son? You're gonna get through this. You're tougher'n a box of hammers, and as stubborn as a mule." Blake's father grinned, even as the big one pulled him away.
"Yes sir." Blake grimaced. "Hey, you. King Kong. Put my dad down, or I'm gonna get up and kick your a$$." He laughed, then coughed, then seized up in pain.
"We can take the marked one to our home. There they can fix him, maybe." The small man responded. "You are welcome to come, too. This is a dangerous place now. The Puma cannot be held away for long. My charms will hold for another few minutes, I think. Then we must be gone from this place. Carry the marked one." He gestured for his friend. Blake hissed in indignation.
"Screw being carried. I'll walk there. Just try and...keep up." He responded with a grin, trying to get up. He felt strong arms pick him up, and hold him just so tight that he didn't fall.
"You are too weak. You would slow us down. You will be carried." The talkative one responded.
"Alright, alright." Blake responded. "Geez. Everyone in this damn wilderness is a critic." He smiled and leaned back. He felt the rush of cool air. It felt good. It made him relaxed. He went limp, allowing himself to feel the motion, allowing it to lull him into a slight doze that turned into a gentle sleep.
The Village of the Puma
The village was a loose collection of huts. The magic man shook his head when Blake was brought to him. "These ones. Marked by the Puma. Always, brought to me dead or dying. He is, no doubt, in the jaws of Death, but I will do what can be done." The spirit man waved his staff, threw his powders, called upon his deity or deities, willing it/them to purge the man's blood of the Puma's taint, begging for them to release Blake's soul from the hold of the Puma's evil, death-black claws. Even as the charms began to fall, Blake took a breath. The shaman widened his eyes in shock. "Of a strong will to live, is this one. He has been recalled from Death's door, after the Puma left him there, by depriving him of his soul. Perhaps the Spirit is merciful, and has returned Blakedonahue's soul to his physical body. Whatever the case, I know not. All we can do, is thank our gods." The shaman remarked. He continued to call upon his deity/ies, to heal Blake's injury, to remove the taint the Puma had left upon soul, and body, and mind. For some reason, though, his stick clattered from his grasp, and flew to the ground. As Blake's parents looked, one of the shaman's sons stepped from the shadows, wielding a bow.
"The Puma, is to be respected. All the Puma does, it does to survive." The boy bowed to both of Blake's parents, then to Blake's prone form, and walked out of the tent. A loud uproar started a moment later, and Blake's father scooped the injured young man up, and the three ran for the back of the tent, and began to run away from the village, towards their jeep parked just outside. As they reached it, Blake was placed across the back seat, and his father started the vehicle, driving away rapidly. As they left the village, Blake began to stir, and slowly, he sat up. However, the scarred young man got the eeriest feeling that a fourth soul had joined them in the vehicle.
Blake ran his fingers down the lines of the suit, tracing the three slash marks on the chest thoughtfully. "I...made this?" He asked, unsure, admiring a set of claws set in one glove, which had been set aside. He pulled the glove onto his hand, clenched a fist, and flicked his wrist. The claws shot out. He flicked his wrist the other way and the claws retracted. He removed the glove and put it down.
"Nooot yoooouuuu..." A voice said. Blake turned slowly, and the anthropomorphic puma, its light brown fur almost the exact shade of his new suit. "Weeeee maaaaadddddeeee iiiiiiiit...Toooooggeeeeetttttthhhhheeeeerrrrrr..." It hissed slowly. "Thhhheeeeee purrrrrrrfect team, yooouuu aaaaand IIIII, eeeehhh, Blakey?" Its face twisted into a malevolent grin.
Blake was pressed up against the wall, trying desperately to get away. "NO! NO! NOT YOU! GET AWAY FROM ME!" He turned and began to run from the room, but the Werepuma was in his path.
"Buuuutttt Blaaaaakkkkkeeeeyyyyyy...Weeeeeee'vvvvveeee coooooovvvvvvveeeeerrrrrrrreeeeeed ttttthhhiiiiiiisssss...IIIIIII aaaaammmm yoooouuuuu...Juuussssst tttthhheeee ssssssiiiiiiddddeee tttthhhhaaaaaaaat doooooeeeessssssn't geeeettttt ooooouuuutt muuuuuccccchhhhh." The Werepuma grinned as it approached. Blake fell backwards and crawled away, hissing like a threatened cat.
"No, no! You can't be me! I'm me! You're what did this to me! What made me into this!" Blake screamed in terror. If anyone had come into the room, they would have seen Blake being menaced by, and screaming at, thin air. The cruelest trick, the Puma played, was convincing the world Blake was insane. Blake saw the Werepuma, but no one else did. Of course, no one would walk in. Blake lived alone. Well, not really alone. He was never alone, not with the Werepuma there.
"Blaaaaakkkkkeeeeeeeyyyy...Diiiidd yooouuuu evvvveeeerrrr tttthhhiiiiiink 'wwwwhhhhyyyyy thhhheeee 'Claawwwweeddd Puuuummmaaaaa'?'. Iiiiiitttt'ssssss rrrrrreeeeaaaallllllyyyy vvvvvveeerrrrrrryyyyy sssssssssiiiiiimmmmple...Yooooouuuuu sssssssseeeee, IIIIII haaaaaavvvvvve mmmmyyyy claaaaaaawwwwwwws iiiiinnn yoooouurrrr mind...aaaasssssss weeeeellll aaaaasssss yooooouuuuurrrrrr boooooddddddyyyyyy!" The Werepuma grinned, then began laughing in malicious hilarity. Blake curled up into a ball and began whispering softly to himself, tears beginning to stream down his face.