Chapter 11 - Tricksy
The other path was long and winding, and eventually Mikaen and Jeronem had to stop and set up camp for the night near a body of water their map referred to as 'Yuna Lake', just as One expected. He sat on a thick branch high above the lake, watching as the two would-be adventurers approached the area in which they'd likely set camp.
"Right on schedule." Nodding, he turned his attention to the other side of the lake and watched for the arrival of another pair of travelers.
He ended up waiting an hour, and had almost fallen asleep by the time the two tigreth women strolled into the clearing. While commonly referred to (often in derogatory fashion) as cats, tigreth only shared a few features with their feline ancestors, most notably their fur, their tails, their ears, and their retractable claws.
One watched them silently as they pitched the tent. It was hard not to; both of the young ladies were quite lovely. The first had dark brown hair coupled with auburn fur, save for a patch of white. The other had blonde fur so light that it almost looked white, her hair a darker shade of blonde. The pair wore just enough clothing for modesty's sake, typical of the furred tribes of Longshore, though the blonde's clothing seemed slightly more modest than that of her companion.
"Well, I guess I'd better get started." One said a few minutes after the pair pitched their tent. He fished the wile out of his pocket and activated it.
Max was a master of blending technology, magic, and even dream energy into extremely useful (and occasionally unpredictable) tools and devices. One had used the 1-up generator on a few assignments, and most Dreamers still carry a blipper, an extremely innocuous little device that allowed the user to alter small bits of reality such as locks, buttons, and switches. The wile seemed just as useful, as a portable holographic emitter could serve as a makeshift blind, a convenient distraction, or a personal cloaking device.
One glanced down and saw nothing but the branch beneath him. Shaking himself at the strange sensation the sight brought him, he carefully climbed down the tree and approached the tent of the two tigreth. As he drew near, he listened to what the tigreth were saying.
"… another day in this Creator-forsaken forest. Next time, Dad can just get his lazy ass in gear. Hmpf."
A gentle voice reproached, "You shouldn't speak of father like that, Teria. He sent us because he thought it would be a good learning experience."
There was a loud snort. "I still can't believe you fell for that."
During the brief moment of silence that followed, One carefully peeled back the tent flap so he could get a view of the inside of the tent. The blonde tigreth was sitting on one of two quilted sleeping bags, looking a bit downcast, while the auburn tigreth with the white patch on her chest was rummaging through a backpack. They were both in their nightclothes, which consisted of little other than their undergarments and short shirts that ended just above their waists.
After an uncomfortable pause, the auburn-furred tigreth let out a sigh. "I'm sorry, Tirinia. I didn't mean to snap at you like that. I'm just annoyed that he dumped this on us. I mean, he could have at least made up a better excuse."
"Did mother say anything about it?" Tirinia asked, twirling the end of her long ponytail with her fingers.
Teria gave her sister a look. "Have you spoken with mom lately?"
"Not since she gave me the medicine for the thrall." Tirinia's cheeks burned red beneath her blonde fur.
One glanced down at Teach's list and double-checked his objectives. Teach had included a fairly in-depth explanation of exactly what One should do and exactly why he should do it, but One didn't really need it; he had prior experience with the tigreth and their mating rituals from previous assignments.
Since the beginning of their recorded history, there have been significantly more males than females in tigreth society. In what is probably a natural reaction of the abnormal male/female ratio, female tigreth engage their potential mates in combat until defeated. Potential mates are identified by attractiveness, strength, and certain psionic cues that the female can sense with a natural minor telepathic ability that manifests after maturity.
When a tigreth female comes of age, she will enter her mating phase, known among the tigreth as 'the thrall', once every four months. According to Teach's information, Tirinia had entered her thrall three days ago. The medication she had received from her mother was more than likely formulated to suppress the mating urge, a wise idea seeing as she was heading to Muonsol.
"Well, I guess it's too late to do anything about it now. Oh, speaking of medicine …" Teria set a small red pill on the small stack of books that sat beside Tirinia's sleeping bag before returning to her backpack. Tirinia glanced at it a moment before continuing to brush her hair.
Seeing an opportunity, One willed the pill to appear in his hand. Of course, as I've already mentioned, his skill at teleportation is iffy at best; he missed the pill, instead snagging the silver necklace laying on the same table. Wincing at his mistake, One glanced at the pendant. It was a very pretty piece of jewelry: seven silver turtles surrounding a crystal of a greenish hue. Something about it tugged at his memory, but trying to remember made his head hurt.
Hearing movement within the tent, he forgot about the pendant and looked back inside just as Teria pulled off her sky-blue shirt, revealing her lingerie and the rest of the wide streak of white fur that started at her mouth, spread across her chest and stomach, and ended just below her belly button.
One's stared as her shirt fell to the tent floor. Somehow, he just couldn't look away: her face, her body, even her tail seemed strangely alluring. His face growing hot, he tried to put Teria out of his mind and focus on the pill.
The blouse appeared in his hands moments later. He almost dropped it before he caught himself. His face burning, One set the blouse inside the tent flap and looked back at the nightstand only to see Tirinia slipping off her blouse as well.
Attempting to maintain his focus on the pill, One tried again. This time, the lamp from the table materialized a few feet away and fell to the floor of the tent with a muffled thump.
Teria whirled around in alarm. Tirinia, probably thinking she had accidentally knocked over the lamp while her vision was obscured by her blouse, blushed and said, "Just me. Sorry."
One decided that was enough failure teleporting for one day; the way he was going, next time he'd probably end up teleporting Tirinia herself into his hands instead of the pill, and … well, it'd be a fine mess if he returned to Teach bonded with Tirinia.
That was assuming that he'd be able to defeat her without the use of his Dreamer abilities. If he lost, he knew he'd probably be ripped limb from limb. As a Dreamer, he couldn't technically be killed (his physical shell would reform back at the Elsewhere moments after death), but that wouldn't stop him from feeling the pain of being torn to shreds.
There was nothing for it; he'd have to get closer. Glancing down to make sure the wile was still active, One ever-so-quietly peeled back the tent flap and tiptoed inside. There was no tarp; tigreth hearing is more sensitive than most, and what anyone else would hear as slight crinkling would no doubt sound like people wadding up handfuls of paper to tigreth ears, making sleep difficult if not impossible. This was good for One, as making even the smallest sound was likely to give away his presence instantly. Nevertheless, he was careful to not disturb so much as a single blade of grass as he slowly made his way across the tent to the makeshift nightstand beside Teria's sleeping bag.
Unaware of the Dreamer slowly tip-toeing through her tent, Teria snapped her fingers and said, "Oh, and let me know if that idiot Jek starts harassing you. As long as you take your medicine it shouldn't be a problem, but I don't want that twit as a brother-in-law."
Tirinia giggled. "Don't worry; he's definitely not my type."
"Really? And just what is your type, Tyr? Ooh, let me guess," Teria clasped her hands together and batted her eyelids, her voice sickeningly sweet a she said, "You're looking for someone tall, dark, and handsome to come along and sweep you off your feet."
Tirinia laughed as Teria pretended to swoon. "No! Well, maybe. I don't know. I just feel like there's someone out there waiting for me." She bowed her head, a lonely look on her face. "I just wish he'd hurry up already."
"Are you sure he's a he?" Teria asked, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"Creator's grace, not this again." Tirinia said.
"You and Nelvana have been spending a lot of time together lately, I'm just saying."
"She's my best friend! Besides, she's going out with …"
Teria's right ear twitched ever so slightly. "With …?"
Tirinia narrowed her eyes at Teria. "No one."
Teria approached her sister, her eyes alight. "Is it Devron? Mikah? It's Mikah, isn't it?"
When Tirinia refused to respond, Teria tackled her and started tickling the sides of her sister's stomach.
"Tell me!" Teria commanded as her sister erupted into laughter. "She's been smirking for the past month, and I just gotta know!"
"Never!" Tirinia said defiantly between fits of giggling.
With the two sisters occupied, One hurried over to where the pill lay, pulling a pill of an identical color out of his pocket. It was just a placebo; a sugar pill with a bitter coating that supposedly tasted identical to the real thing. He quickly swapped the pills and started toward the tent flap. As he passed the lamp, however, it began to flicker. With a surge of panic, he realized there was a thin, faintly visible stream of energy flowing from the stream-tech lamp to the Wile.
One quickly lifted his right hand. To his relief, the pull of the Wile wasn't strong enough to draw energy from the lamp. Sighing inwardly as the lamp stopped flickering, One took another step toward the door.
Snap. One's eyes riveted down to the stick he had just carelessly trodden upon. Across the tent, Teria looked up, her ears twitching.
"What was that?" She asked, her eyes wide and searching.
"What is what?" Tirinia asked a touch breathlessly.
Teria quickly rose to her feet and turned to face the rest of the tent, her eyes far too close to One's position for the Dreamer's comfort. "I dunno. I could've swore I just heard something."
"An animal, probably." Tirinia crouched down and started sneaking toward her sister. "We are in the forest, after all."
"I dunno. Maybe." said Teria, but she didn't sound convinced. Her eyes swept over where he stood, making One's heart leap into his throat.
One didn't dare move a muscle, not with Teria on full alert. He knew perfectly well that even the slightest noise would give his position away, even something as quiet as his clothes rubbing together. Teria took a tentative step toward him, her eyes still searching.
Tirinia tackled her sister to the ground, missing One by mere inches. Pinning her sister to the floor, she growled triumphantly. "Time for some revenge!"
"No, Tyr, wait a-" Teria's sentence was interrupted with her own laughter as Tyr's hands began a relentless assault armed with the sisterly knowledge of Teria's weak points.
One took a few more steps toward the tent flap. He was only a few feet away from his escape when Teria managed to slip out of her sister's grasp.
"All right, I give! I give!" Teria pleaded, her hands up defensively. "Nelvana will just blurt it out sooner or later, I'm sure."
"Good." Tirinia popped her neck and let out a sigh. "I think I'm gonna take a bath before bed."
"What, in the lake?" Teria asked, surprise in her voice. "Just gonna go skinny-dipping where anyone who happens to be nearby can see you?"
"I'm not going to sleep without a bath first. Besides, it's a cloudy night." Tirinia replied, the blush in her cheeks faintly visible beneath the thin blonde fur.
Shrugging, Teria waved her off. "Fine. Oh, hang on! Your anti-thrall medicine!"
Tirinia hesitated a moment before returning to her sleeping bag. She picked up the pill and flipped it into her mouth.
Turning back to her sister, Tirinia made an exaggerated gulping noise before asking, "Okay?"
"Yup. Have fun with the whole voyeurism thing."
Tirinia made a face at her sister before leaving the tent, a towel in hand. One tensed as Tirinia passed, bracing for the worst, but she walked by without a moment of hesitation.
Still smirking, Teria lay down on her sleeping bag and grabbed one of the books they had brought.
As One continued toward the tent flap, it suddenly occurred to him just how lucky he had been; he had just snuck through a tent with two tigreth, both female and one of which was in the thrall. The odds on anyone, even another tigreth, doing what One had just done without being caught were impressively slim.
As if in response to One's sudden cockiness, Teria suddenly looked straight at him. "Who's there?"
One froze solid, his heart beating a speedy cadence against his ribcage. How had she found him? His scent? Did he make some noise that her heightened hearing detected? However she was doing it, it was clear from the way she slowly closed in on his position that she was aware of his presence on some level.
As Teria drew nearer and nearer to One, his mind raced madly for a way out. His pride over being undetected was gone now, replaced with a level of panic so intense that Jeronem, who was well over a hundred yards away, momentarily felt a pervading sense of unease that he couldn't explain.
Teria finally came to stand right in front of One. He had long since nulled himself to dealing with the beautiful people; heroes and heroines often were fair of face, if not of spirit. Still, as he stared into her green eyes, he found himself momentarily breathless at the sight of her.
"Knock it off!" One thought to himself fiercely, quickly averting his gaze. "Mind on the job. We need to get out of here!"
He considered a madcap dash toward the tent flap, but decided against it; she would be able to move through the forest much faster than he would, and he wasn't about to risk teleporting with his earlier difficulties. The CPD was his best bet, but he needed to get out of her line of site before he could call it.
She suddenly leaned toward him, her arm outstretched and her eyes narrow. One reflexively started to step back but quickly stopped before his foot could hit the ground and give away his location. As she continued to reach toward him, he leaned as far as he dared to stay out of her reach.
After a few moments, she let out an aggravated snort.
"Get it together, Teria." she muttered as she started to lay down on her cot.
One let out his breath slowly, relief flooding through him. As he turned to leave, however, he managed to trip over his own feet and land face-first in the floor.
Teria was on her feet in an instant, thin claws emerging from the tips of her fingers as she moved toward One. Panicking, One reached for something to use as a distraction. There was a loud clang as the wile on his right hand hit the side of the fallen lamp.
With direct contact, it took the wile less than a second to suck the stream battery of the lamp completely dry, effectively snuffing out the light and leaving the tent shrouded in darkness.
"What the-" Teria said, but One was already on his feet and running. He hit the flap and dashed into the dark forest as fast as his legs could carry him.