Chapter 3'Seeds, spices...humm...what else?' He muses. Then he remembers what it is and snaps his fingers. 'Ah! That's right!'
The grass beneath his feet changes from that to stone as he enters the southern plaza area of Jidoor, passing by stores, houses...pedestrians. He glances around himself, taking in the view while still moving towards his first stop: the flower nursery. On his way to this tucked-in shop on the lower level, he passes by a large, burly man with multiple scars and tattoos running over his arms, body, and face. They barely acknowledge each other as they pass, Jinari going on towards the shop and Manny marching steadily towards Owzer's mansion.
He tosses a small bag of money up and down in his hands, walking up the steps to his mansion's level stiffly, with much purpose in his gait and lots on his mind. He crests the last step and marches forward, walking into a crowd of three men waiting out front.
"Well, what'd you get for 'em?" One asks.
Another adds, "Lots, I hope."
He holds up the pouch of gold and shakes it, making the coins inside jingle. "Two hundred GP."
The three men whoop and cheer, reaching for the gold that he quickly pockets. "Come on, ya putzes."
They gripe and moan, following him into the mansion. He looks around himself, glancing over the artworks casually and then looking up to his right and left, to the upper levels where Owzer usually mills about. A voice calls down, "About time you showed up."
He looks over and composes himself while Owzer walks down a flight of stairs. "I got held up when I sold our other furs."
"You always get 'held up', don't you? Always late, never on time, keeping people like me that pay your bills waiting," Owzer says, then holds up a hand and shakes his head, closing his eyes. "Never mind that, just...what've you got for me today?"
Manny grits his jaw, holding his tongue, and looks over to one of his men and nods. He nods back and swings a large bag from off his shoulders onto a table nearby; then unties the end and opens it up, uncovering several large sections of tail fur and a small bag filled with ivory spheres. He steps back and gives Owzer room to look at them, which he does by taking them into his hands and turning them over, inspecting each side and stripe. Finally he tosses them down softly and faces Manny. "Pretty standard fare...I'll say, uhh...one hundred GP apiece."
"One hundred? Are you kiddin' me? For the work we put in, these should be one-fifty," He protests.
"For all the work you put in, you should've gotten something better than these!" Owzer replies, gesturing to the furs.
"We could have, actually," One of his men starts.
Manny cuts him off, facing him and pulling his finger across his throat. "Shh!"
"What's that?" Owzer asks.
Manny looks between him and the man, then sighs and answers, "We were after a really good one a couple weeks ago...could've gotten more than five of these together, in fact, but she got away from us."
Owzer asks, chuckling on each word, "You? Lose a prey? Why...that's extraordinary!"
Manny sighs and rubs his forehead between two fingers, his other arm on his hip, while his men snicker at him. "Look, it's never happened before and it'll never happen again. Now, about the ivory?"
"Ah, yes," Owzer says, reaching into the sack and taking out one sphere, tossing it up and down and looking it over in his palm. "I'll give...fifty GP for each."
He drops it back into the sack and looks down at the furs, running a hand across the soft tail section hairs. "And I'll give you one-seventy-five for these," He says, then walks past Manny, patting him on the shoulder and half-whispering in his ear. "I think you'll need the cash."
He leaves them and returns to the second level, calling back from the stairs while walking, "I'll have my people get to work on them soon. As usual, just wait for my messenger to contact you with your payment."
"Whatever." Manny turns around and glances over his men, who stop snickering as soon as he faces them. "What're you standin' around for? Go home."
He leaves the house and marches down the steps leading to and away from Owzer's mansion, not caring whether his men are following him or not. He passes by Jinari on his way out, who's exiting a shop and turning around to thank the owner one last time. Jinari then looks about himself and tries to remember what else he wanted to buy...then snaps his fingers and walks briskly over to a street peddler. He stands in front of the cart for a while, trying to decide on what he should buy, then holds one item up and shows it to the merchant. "Say, I wanna buy something for this girl I know...you think she'd like this?"
She looks back at him and smirks, "Ohhh, a lady friend, huh? Special occasion?"
She gives him a wink, which makes him look between her and the item and stammer, "Oh, nononono, it's nothing like that!"
He laughs and adds, "I just want to buy her something special. You know, as a friend."
She chuckles back at him and replies, "Whatever you say. Yeah, I think she'll like it."
He frowns sarcastically at her and looks at the item again...then says, "Hmmm...all right, I'll take it."
"Seven GP," She says, and he pays just that.
He then pockets it and slings his bags over his shoulders, settling them better and heading home.
The low-hanging morning sun of earlier is soon replaced by the sun of high noon, though not much time has actually passed by. He plods straightforward through the forest, walking on an old and beaten trail leading back to his little cottage and giving little thought to his surroundings. Instead, he randomly floats from one image to another, thinking about cooking, practicing her language silently, concocting new and absurd recipes for potions and drinks, calculating his finances...
But a soft, distant voice shakes him from his thoughts. He slows down to a stop and stares through the brush ahead in the voice's direction, listening intently...then smiles and keeps walking after he realizes what he's hearing. A few yards later he emerges from the trees and into his front yard; then he looks off to the side, where he sees Ikiiri...kneeling down in his gardens, tending to flowers with her back turned to him, and singing.
He crosses his arms and walks quietly over to her, while she keeps singing in the softest, most beautiful singing voice he's ever heard. He gets within two meters of her before she hears his footsteps and turns around. "--Shishe oriiii--...oh, hi, Jinari."
She starts to get up but he holds out his palm and motions for her to stay. Instead, he kneels down next to her and removes the bags from his shoulders, looking at the plants. "I didn't know you knew anything about gardening."
She smiles and answers, "I watched you."
She points to the windows and goes on. "I read your books, too."
He nods. "Ahh. Mikaylu chahe kivre ju mika kishye." ('You're getting better with your speech.')
"You, too," She replies.
"Thanks," He says, giving a small smile.
She nods back and replies, "You're -- welcome."
He grins at her, then rises to his feet and offers his hand to her, smiling like he's got a gift...which, actually, he does. "Let's go inside...I've got some stuff for you."
Her ears perk up and her eyes brighten along with her smile. "Really?"
"Yeah." He takes her hand and pulls her to her feet, then leads her inside, taking her over to the table and setting his stuff down there.
"I just went and got mostly seeds and things. Just odds and ends. But, I did get you something else..." He says, rummaging through one sack.
She clasps her hands together with a light gasp and waves her tail happily, bouncing up and down on her toes. "What you get? What you get?"
He smiles and pulls out a...bra. She takes it in her hands and turns it over, inspecting it carefully, confused. Her ears droop down to normal again and her tail relaxes. "...What is it?"
"It's a bra. You wear it on your chest," He tells her. "You wear it over here, like this. It holds up your, uhh...your uhh...ummm..."
He motions with his hands back and forth across his upper chest area, pointing a few times at hers, too. She watches him blankly and asks, "Breasts?"
"Yeah, yeah, breasts," He stammers.
She looks down at her bra again, holding it against her chest curiously. His robes rustle and she looks up in time to see him remove something from a pocket, holding it inside his palm.
"And this," He says. "Is a present."
He reaches out with his hand towards hers, turning it over midway and placing a small object there, then pulling his hand back. She opens her palm and looks at the golden trinket, her tail rising back up and flapping happily, once, while her ears also perk up again. She gasps and exclaims, "Jinari...it's pretty!"
She sits down in a chair and sets her bra down in her lap, then unfolds the necklace and strings it out, watching it catch the sun and glimmer along its whole length. "What is it?" She asks in an awestruck voice.
"It's a necklace," He answers. "You wear it around her neck. See, you close the clasp on the end and it stays in place."
He gestures to the small loop-shaped clasp, which she studies and toys with. After testing it out once, she wraps it around her neck, trying her best to toss her hair out of the way and putting it on. She adjusts her hair one more time and then looks down at herself, taking it in one hand and playing with it. He watches her with a smile on his face and remarks, "It looks good on you."
She looks back up at him and grins. "Thank you."
He chuckles once and looks at his stuff on the table. "Oh, well, I'd better put this stuff up and work."
She nods and points to the gardens outside. "Okay. I have work, too."
With that done, he starts gathering his stuff together while she leaves the house, returning to the gardens to pick up her work...but first she turns back around and snatches up her bra on the way out; then tries it on outside, after a few sloppy attempts. She puts her shirt back on and moves her arms in circles, feeling it out. She then grabs her own breasts and moves them around, saying out loud to herself, "...Feels loose..."
Finally she shrugs it off and goes back to work, eventually totally forgetting that she's wearing a bra at all as she gets used to it. At one point, he glances out the window at her and watches her work, dropping what he's doing and walking over to see her better. He feels a bit proud for her, learning all the things that she is at the rate she's learning them at; speaking his language, wearing clothes, learning to cook his food (and vice-versa), learning to tend gardens...
Finally he turns away and goes back about his work, leaving her to continue singing and till the gardens outside. Occasionally, he'll catch a verse of her songs and stop to listen for a moment, where her voice floats inside like a soft carpet riding a gentle wind...
Hours pass, noon becoming late day. Sometime after three an old woman passes by their area, carrying some assorted goods back to her house. In passing near to his cottage on the old trail, she begins to pick up her voice; softly at first, but getting louder the farther she goes. She pays it little mind at first, lost deep in thought herself, until her singing breaks into her consciousness and makes her turn to face in its direction.
She blinks and stares blankly ahead, listening to the floating melody; then finally moves in its direction, her curiosity piqued. She pushes through some light brush and steps into his clearing, then follows the sound over to the side gardens, where she sees and hears an odd-looking person sitting in the dirt and singing, working idly.
"Lina pro kye, jun yoshiiiii--...
Fa pro tiari sha jeshya-faaaal--...
Lina pro kye, shishe oooo-riiiiii--...
Kri mika jenri sha vijri vaaaal--..."
She walks in a semi-circle while she sings, trying to see her face. When she's finally facing her fully from her front side, she sees that she actually isn't human at all. Ikiiri looks up, still singing, intending to gaze at the scenery but instead seeing the old woman standing there. "Lina pro kye, jun yoshii--...uhh...?"
She stands up and brushes herself off, walking backwards a few steps. Jinari comes out from his house just then, holding two drinks in his hands. "Ikiiri, thought you could use some...oh."
He glances between her and the old woman, then hurries forward and stands in front of her. Not sure what to do or if she's a threat, he licks his lips and says, "Hi, I'm Jinari."
The old lady glances over his shoulder at her and nods her head slightly. "I'm Judith. I was just passing through when I heard this...umm...her, singing."
She nods over his shoulder at Ikiiri, who peeks out from behind him and peers at her timidly. She keeps her hands on his shoulders until she raises her right hand and waves weakly. "Ikiiri."
He turns his head backwards at her, then faces Judith again. "Yeah...she's got a nice voice."
"Yes, she does...though, I didn't expect to see any of her kind singing songs..."
He squints his eyes at her critically and asks, "What do you mean...'her kind'?"
Looking puzzled, she answers, "I mean, she's just not...human..."
"No, she isn't..." He says. "But...it's more than that, isn't it?"
"Um, well...you mean you don't know?"
"Know what?" Ikiiri asks.
Startled, Judith stammers back, "Oh, uh...your, y-your fur and ivory, dear." She glances at him again, and seeing the blank look on his face, she adds, "You really don't know..."
Ikiiri runs her hand across her ivory knobs and through her hair, asking quietly, "What about them?"
Judith looks between them nervously, then at the sky and notes the time. She fumbles around with her bags and says, "Well, um, I have to be home soon. Harold won't like it if I'm late again, hah!"
And with that, she turns and hurries away, looking back once to say, "It was nice meeting you people!"
"Yeah...nice...meeting you, too..." He says, looking at the ground.
Ikiiri then turns him around by his shoulders and asks, "What about my fur, Jinari? Jinari? Look at me!"
His eyes snap up and look into hers, both of them feeling shocked and confused...and cold. "What about my fur, Jinari?!"
He stares deep into her eyes and studies the pain in them, watching as a tear starts rolling down her cheek. She whispers, "Tell me...please..."
He thinks she already knows the answer, and so puts a hand on her shoulder and rubs it around to her back, whispering, "Let's go inside."
She nods, slowly, then turns and walks with him inside.
He sits across from her on the floor in front of the fireplace and hands her her drink, then watches as she takes it and cradles it in her hands.
"Thank you," She says, looking up at him and then down at her cup. She feels its warmth through her hands and stares into it blankly, nearly closing her eyes before taking a long drink from it. It flows down her throat and into her belly, filling her chest and body with a slow warmth that calms her down somewhat. "Nisha shivra."
"Ikiiri...tell me what's going on." He looks into her eyes when she looks up and adds, "What's so important about you?"
She stares back at him for a while, then drops her head and sets her cup down. "I...I don't know..."
"I think you do," He says. "Please, tell me."
She looks up and her eyes meet his for a long moment, where she appears to be caught between telling him and not telling him. Her mouth moves a few times, but always hanging open, and her eyes are drawn into an almost sad expression...finally she glances away and down at her cup again, fingering its rim absent-mindedly. "Jinari...when the men -- came, for me...they...they...want to hurt me..."
She picks her head back up and gestures with her hands to herself. "Kill -- me."
He shifts to one side and sets his own cup down, too. "...Why?"
She shakes her head and looks away. "I don't..."
Then she looks over to her side, where she sees some blank papers and books on the coffee table. She bites her lip and scoots over, grabbing some books and papers and bringing them onto the floor, then flips them open and searches through them. She turns the pages over continually, starting to get frustrated that she can't find what she's looking for, when finally she flips over one page and starts to go to another, but stops herself and goes back to the other one. She looks at the page for a second before pointing at it and saying, "There. What he does...he..."
She's pointing to a picture of a hunter readying his bow to fire at a rabbit across a grassy field from him, with a serene forest in the background. He looks at it for a moment, then suggests, "Chasing? Hunting?"
She shakes her head and says, "Not chase, but...chase, to kill..."
He nods his head. "Hunt."
"Hunt. Yes. Pro jovri yautash eni...meshra yarun e shuk eni." ('The men hunted me...they wanted to kill me.')
He nods again, but suddenly the realization of what she just said sinks in and his face seems to blanch. His head drops down and his stomach jumps into his throat, making him want to throw up. He looks back up at her slowly and stops at her tail, then gestures for it and asks, "Your tail? Can I see it?"
She glances down to her side and back again, bringing her tail around her side and taking it in her hands, presenting it to him in her lap. He takes hold of it gently and runs a hand down its length, feeling the fibers of hair and running over her fur's patterns. A flash of vision strikes him, and everything suddenly makes sense...why her ivory was familiar to him, why her tail's patterns seemed to strike him in some way he'd seen before...
He looks back up at her and into her eyes painfully, whispering, "I know why they're hunting your people."
She remains silent, shivering from the affect of the revelation. "Ikiiri...they're hunting you for your furs and ivory. They make carpets and clothes from them...jewelry."
Her heart skips a beat and she lets out a shaky breath. She feels nauseous now, too, and puts a hand to her stomach, then leans forward and falls subconsciously into his arms, pulling her hands up into balls and holding them in the air by his chest. 'How can they?'
He lets her fall against his shoulder and wraps his arms around her, leaning his head on her top of hers and rocking gently. He can't think of anything to say and so says nothing at all...but at length she whispers, "Jinari...what do you call yourselves?"
"Huh?" He whispers back, looking down.
She nuzzles his shoulder closer and pulls her fists in a bit. "Your people...what do you call yourselves?"
"...Humans," He answers after a short pause.
"We are Sheni. We live in the forest...but, we do nothing to you," She whispers, looking up into his face sadly. "Why do humans hurt us?"
He tries to fight back a tear, but loses the battle and lets one roll down his cheek. He shakes his head softly, then presses her head against his chest again and his face into her hair. "I don't know...I don't know...I'm so sorry, Ikiiri..."
She closes her eyes and fights back a sob, sniffling. "Lishra til e ji nal." (We have to do something.')
He nods softly, whispering back, "Lia...lishra jin..." ('Yes...we will...')
He glances down at her, shivering in his arms, and adds, "Na la trelol. Mikay jru fre." ('But not tonight. You need rest.') He adds to himself, 'And so do I.'
She stares blankly past him at the couch pillows for a moment, but finally nods softly and whispers, "Okay."
She stands up slowly and waits for him to rise and escort her to her room.
The arrow comes within centimeters of his head and buries itself into the tree with a "thock" sound. He gasps and whirls around to glance back, seeing four men with bows running towards him, their leader reloading his. Panicking worse then before, he stumbles over the tree's roots in front of him and makes a frantic run for the brush ahead, pushing aside tree branches and brush as he goes. Behind him, Manny loads his bow and aims it while running, carefully lining up his sights. Just as he runs and leaps into the air to clear a thick fallen log, Manny skids to a halt, aims, and lets his arrow fly.
The Sheni male cries in pain and falls to the ground, the arrow lodged through his right thigh. He grasps one end of it and writhes on the ground, grunting and screaming for mercy. He rolls over and looks up to the sky, but instead sees Manny standing on the log and looking down at him, dagger in hand. He sits up on his hands and tries to scramble backwards, but Manny hops down and walks over to him, kneeling down next to him.
A dozen images flash through his head while he stands and walks over there, visions of her on that fateful day. Never before that time had he ever lost a prey, and she was nothing special, and yet she'd gotten away nonetheless. His record and his pride had been tarnished that day, and just to be looking at another of her kind again brings up old memories too powerful to be simply recollections. His heart pumps harder and faster, beating with the strength of a Rhinotaur and the fury of an enraged Veldt creature, the sum of all his anger contained in that one moment.
He pulls his dagger high to strike, but the Sheni man quickly swings at him with a fist, knocking him across his chin. Manny reels backwards, then recovers and dives on him, who wraps his arms around him and rolls around. They roll over and over into a shallow ditch until they finally untangle, Manny ending up on top. The man squirms in a last, futile attempt to break free, and Manny raises his dagger high into the air and slams it down into his chest with all his might.
He tries to scream, but his voice drowns out in a gurgle quickly while the life drains from his body. His head slowly settles the ground and his eyes shut, then his body becomes limp and lifeless. Manny straddles him for a long time, gripping his dagger with white knuckles and ignoring the sweat pouring off his face. He breathes so hard his head feels light, and his body trembles.
He suddenly snaps to and spins around to look at his underling. "What?"
"We gonna clean him up or wha?" He asks.
He breathes deeply again and slowly looks away, then glances back again and says, "...Yeah, in a minute."
"Okay, boss." He says with a nod, backing away.
Manny watches him go and turns around again, looking at the dead man on the ground. If it weren't for the interruption, he might've stayed that way the whole night, just staring at his lifeless corpse. He looks over him once more, imagining what it would be like to kill her, then stands suddenly and removes his dagger, wiping it off on a handkerchief. He pulls his eyes away from him reluctantly and walks back to his party, re-sheathing his weapon and consciously keeping himself from looking back at him once more.
A dark cloud falls over the house when morning comes. Jinari wakes first, though in no great mood. He stretches as always and rises, but halts in place when he glances into her room, feeling a wave of emotion come over him. He debates with himself for a moment whether he should let her sleep or wake her early, but he sighs at length and goes to the kitchen to make breakfast.
He cooks for the next half-hour, cutting and boiling vegetables in pots, all the while thinking of nothing but her...about how terrible this must be for her. Two rooms away, Ikiiri stirs in bed, awakened by the aromas floating in from the kitchen. She opens her eyes and looks towards the kitchen, sniffing the air deeply and taking in the scents. She sits up and stretches, then swings her feet over the side and rises, walking through the house with nothing but sleeping shorts and a baggy, ragged old shirt on.
She peeks in the kitchen and sees his back turned to her, busily attending to something on the stove, then leans in a bit and asks quietly, "Ready yet?"
He turns his head around to face her and answer, "Almost."
She nods and stretches one more time, yawning widely and sitting down in a chair. "Good morning."
"Morning," He says, almost on reflex. He turns around then with a pot in one hand, removing it from heat and placing its food onto a plate. "Sleep well?"
She nods, staring at the tablecloth. "Lia."
He grabs a couple plates of food and starts to bring them over to the dining table, but pauses and looks at her. Watching that blank stare, he knows she's just saying words right now...she didn't really sleep all that well. He bites his lip and walks over, setting her plate down in front of her and sitting across from her. "No, you didn't."
She glances up at him and then down at her food, sighing. "No."
"Bad dreams?" He picks up his fork and knife but keeps looking at her.
She nods her head and reaches for her fork, looking down still. "I had a dream..."
She starts to try picking up something, but her hand starts shaking softly and she sets her fork down quickly. "I don't wanna talk about it."
He slides a morsel in his mouth and chews, never taking his eyes off her. "...All right."
"Jinari..." She asks suddenly, picking her fork back up. "What are we going to do?"
He looks in her eyes, then casts his own down at his plate, twirling his food around thoughtlessly. "I don't know..."
"...People have to know. They have to know or they won't stop," She tells him, locking her eyes dead on his face. "They have to stop."
He looks back up at her, watching a lone tear roll down her cheek. "The people...right, we have to tell the people..."
He stares past her distantly for a moment, thinking over all the possibilities he can come up with...then snaps to abruptly and sits up straighter. "Owzer."
"Owzer. If anyone's gonna know anything about it, it's him." He scoots his chair closer to the table and sets his fork down. "He's the one we need to talk with."
She nods her head and replies, "Okay. We talk with Owzer."
They stare at each other wordlessly for a bit, then he glances between her and her plate, and motions with his hand. "You gonna eat? It's no good cold."
She blinks and looks at his plate, then points at it, too. "Are you?"
"Huh?" He looks down and chuckles. "Oh! Yeah, yeah...heheh."
Jinari comes out of the bathroom later on, drying his hair with a towel and looking for Ikiiri. He doesn't have to look far, because she comes out from around the corner with his robe in her hands, already fully dressed to go out herself. "Ready yet?"
"Almost," He answers, tossing the towel aside and taking his robe.
He throws it on while walking through the bedroom and into the living room, pulling and tossing his hair free once he's got it all on, then glances at her and pauses, studying her.
She stops once she notices him staring and draws her hands to her chest. "...Ra?" ('What?')
He steps closer, placing his chin in his right hand and his right elbow in his left hand. "You can't go walking around like that in town...not at first, anyway. Can you...hide your tail, maybe?"
She looks down at her feet and watches her tail's end flick once, then back up at him. "I think so."
She pulls her hood over her face and curls her tail up, rolling it like a carpet up into her robe. It disappears from view quickly and she shuffles her feet, hiding those underneath the bottom edges of her robe, also. She peers out from under her hood and asks, "How's this?"
He looks her over once and nods approvingly. "Good, good...if you keep your head down and don't move your feet too much, it's great."
He pauses as something occurs to him, though. "But, uh...we'll kinda stick out like a sore thumb, two people in big robes..."
She looks down at herself and shrugs. "But it'll work, won't it?"
"I hope so." He glances out the window and stares into the trees beyond. "C'mon, we should hurry up while the day's still young."
She nods and follows him out of the house and into the forest, unrolling her tail and tossing her hood down, since they're still a few hours away from town. They walk wordlessly through the forest, both of them knowing what they need to do. Without conversation to keep each other occupied, they entertain themselves with thoughts and mental games, passing the time silently and barely noticing their progress until the forest starts thinning out. Finally they arrive at Jidoor and she rolls her tail up inside her robe and pulls her hood over her face again, then clasps her hands together inside the other's sleeve. She also lowers her head and walks close behind him, relying on his feet to guide her way. It's unbearably hot and uncomfortable, but she makes do.
They walk through the town like so, trying to remain inconspicuous, though two people in dark robes -- with one's hood covering her whole face -- are hardly inconspicuous. Nevertheless, they make it all the way through town without attracting too much attention, and after he asks some questions about him, they arrive at Owzer's house and ascend the steps leading up to the front door.
Owzer comes downstairs after an incessant knocking is heard, following his butler and muttering under his breath. Right on his butler's heels, Owzer walks off the last step and yells at the door, "Yes, yes! It's open, you know!"
His butler gets to the door and opens it, stepping aside and allowing them to enter before closing it and leaving discreetly. Owzer looks between the two of them impatiently, then throws up his hands to them and says, "Well?!"
Jinari throws his hood off and stares him straight in his eyes, while she removes her hands from inside their sleeves and throws off her hood, revealing her striped, furry face, ears, and hands. Behind her, her tail unravels and dips below the bottom of her robe, unveiling its fluffy end. Owzer looks her over from head to toe, totally shocked and confused and with his jaw agape. Jinari then states flatly, "We need to talk."