It was getting closer to the beginning of the ceremony, but that hasn’t stopped some of the people to start practicing.
Clara followed Kito closely like he had asked of her before. They made their way out of the washrooms and were now walking through the large number of people who had come from all over. This time more eyes were on her, and it was a grin from a strange tall man with dirty blond hair emerged from the crowd. She catches sight of the pointed canine ears on his head instead of the feline ones she saw on Kito.
The man steps close to Clara and the grin on his face evolves into a wolfish one. He trails behind them. “Oh, a new human! I thought I smelled something new.”
Chayeene never was one who knew personal space. He reaches out to gently touch a piece of her parted damp hair.
Kito caught sight of his arm from the corner of his vision, and he stuns Clara and Kane when his arm triggers fast, his hand fastens onto Xain’s wrist and made the man lose balance when he shoves him back. He falls to the ground and the sound of a growl finishes off the scene. Clara’s mouth widens in alarm, “Why did you do that for!?”
Nobody around seems to stop and stare at the scene, they only glimpse and walked by. Jeez, was this a normal thing here?
She even expected a fight to happen. Yet looking at the strange man laughing made her even further confused.
Xain gives Kito a look of pure excitement instead of anger, his ears perk up once he jumps back onto his feet, “I see here,” he gazes at Clara once over. “What a pretty little human. I think it would be nice to have one that looks like you-”
When Xain’s face moves too close to hers for Kito’s comfort he places his hand on it to push him away. That part Clara didn’t mind. “Enough, Xain. Stay away. I mean it.”
He scratches the back of his neck briefly while he expresses his thoughts out loud, “Oh, Gods. How tempting. Should I press on to finally have a good fight or stop and feel bored again? I need a good fight with someone who can’t be pinned so soon.”
“I do not have time to do that,” Kito dismisses his invitation. “Go find someone else to play with.”
His ears lower, “You and Kai are no fun. How about your little Kikera? Is he good?”
Caji’s head recedes and he looks at Kito with wide, pleadings eyes for him not to. He could see it well, adding on to his innocent and passive personality. Kito shakes his head, “No, he is not a fighter.”
Xain takes sight of Clara staring at his tail with a small tilt of her head and it earns her a smile. “Would you like to touch it?”
She blushes, “Uh...”
Those words made Kito more irritated than him almost touching her hair, and seeing the blush he made tint her cheek ignited fury. He was very close to getting that fight he wants, and from the spark in his eyes, he knew he was pushing the right buttons. Xain was honest with his words, he truly wanted to fight simply for fun and challenge even if he loses. Even if it was bloody and not so fun to the other.
“We are leaving,” he uses his arm to encourage Clara to walk in another direction. Caji made sure to avoid Xain as he moves closer, Kane grabbed Caji’s hand to keep up.
Kito leads her to where all the human women would be, he knew all the females would be in their little section that only mates were allowed in, but it was Mia’s say on who was invited. A large circle with a campfire in the center like the other sections the tribe had placed out were resided at, and the thing about their little circle is that there was a tent to cover it for their privacy. Humans love their privacy.
He could also track Mia’s presence that had been around in this area, and of course, there was Kai.
It was Mia who stood at the entrance, leaving Kito to conclude that Kai must have been inside... After all, he guessed that he was allowed.
This was the first time he can finally Mia in full color. Her hair and her eyes were not as he expected, the color a deep rich dark brown that matches both her features. She possesses light skin, and she was short with a small body. Her body was not as small as Clara’s however.
He also takes in the sight of her Ceremony tunic, the color was so pleasing that he smiled. She wore pink. He didn’t know the name of the color, but he couldn’t help but stare. Kai always convinces her to wear these silk tunics during ceremonies that always flowed to almost touching the ground. Her pink slippers match the tunic.
She turns her head away from the other human woman that she was speaking to see Kito and Caji. That was when her brightest smile appears and steps forward, but her face melts away when she saw Clara and Kane with them. She froze. She never saw these people before, and her eyes lock on each of them like she didn’t know where to begin. What to say. What does one say?
Clara regards Mia with a slightly shy expression.
Caji wasn’t concerned with the strange meeting. He approached Mia and hugged her, his arm under hers as his hands touch her back and his head in her neck as a seldom satisfying purr escapes. Mia was the one that always took care of him in her free time when Kai was gone during times apart. Caji adores her. At least his hug brought Mia from her thoughts and sent a smile on her face again when she returned his hug. She giggled with her chin on his shoulder, “Hello, Caji. I hope Kito has been treating you well.”
When they parted Kito approached, but not with a hug in mind. “Mia, I need to speak with you for a moment alone.”
She bestowed Clara and Kane another observing look, “Zeta didn’t tell me there was more-”
“That is what we need to speak about,” he urged Mia away, stopping briefly just to order Caji to keep watch on the two. He took her to the corner of the large tent and out of earshot from them. Once alone he spoke, “I need you to bring her in with you. It is important to let her speak with the others about this place, let her ask questions-”
“Kito, tell me who she is first,” Mia interrupted but still managed to keep her voice calm. She was always known for her gentle voice. It was what helped others trust her so quickly. “I know that isn’t the human you handed to Zeta, she is in the tent right now and her hair is blonde. Did you find another and not tell?” She said. “Why would you do something like-”
Then she gasps a loud, intake of air and held it for a heartbeat. Kito knew she wouldn’t take long to figure it out. She was similar to Kai in that way. “Oh my goodness it’s her isn’t it? Please tell me it is, Kito. I would take her in the hut with us in a heartbeat.”
His ears flatten and a softness covers his face. It shows in his eyes. “She gave me color, Mia. I never have seen color before.”
It was such a vulnerable thing to say. Yet Mia lends him a soft look that made him feel better about speaking it like she would never judge him. She knew by the brightness of his eyes alone that it was true. “Can you tell me her name? And... About that little boy?”
“Clara,” he found himself almost purring each time he said it. He likes how it came out so easily like he had said it many times before. “The child is Kane, her brother. They have not been taken care of well in the human world, especially her. She took care of him, I want you to take her in there and I will take the boy somewhere to play as a young one should. He has a lot of energy and I want her to have a moment to herself, and if she begins to worry about him just tell her that I am taking him to where the other cubs, kits, and kids are at, even that other human child Bonnie. Caji and I will be with him.”
“Alright,” she glimpses at Clara from where she stood. “She looks shy. And worried all the time.”
Kito dreaded the mere thought of Clara being touched, and he knew she was cautious because of that. He didn’t have it in him to tell it to Mia. Kai will tell her, no doubt he will break and tell everything after this. “I haven’t touched her too long so separation would be fine, I guess.”
“I can feel the tether pulling, I want to touch her but she is not so trusting,” he sighs. “Thank you.”
She smiles, and goes over to Clara and Kane, seeing that Kane was busy speaking with Caji to hear Mia. Clara pays attention, “Hello,” she greeted. “I’m Mia, and if you follow me into the tent I can answer any question you want.”
“What’s in the tent?” She quickly questioned.
“My friends, they’re like us,” she was also quick to answer her, to show her that she wouldn’t hesitate to answer anything either. She wanted her to trust in that. “The human girl’s. You can come in and Kane can spend time playing with the other children. A little human girl is playing with them, too.”
Clara shakes her head, “I’m not sure I want him out of my sight. ”
Kane twirls around and saw Mia. His excitement bubbled at the new face of a stranger, and a pretty one. He stood and blinked for a moment and smiled, stepping forward in between the two women. “Hi, there! My name is Kane.”
Mia was too sweet to ignore him. She leaned forward to get a closer look. The boy had innocence written everywhere, and she saw the Xutashi cub clothes already on him. The little vest and trousers to help him move easily. He looked like he did a lot of movement. “Hi, Kane, nice to meet you. Would you be okay going with Caji to where the other kids are and play with them while Kito and your sister go inside with me and talk?”
“I can play with the others?” He never really had to chance to play with the other children at his school. The girls there were too mean and the boys always left him out of the games. None of that bothered him except for the part that he always played alone. Even at home when Clara was busy. “Are they mean?”
“The boys like to wrestle a little but I think they won’t hurt you, and the girls like to play small games. But none of them are mean, I promise.”
“If they’re not mean then I would like to play with them,” he turned to Clara with a pleading look. “Can I go play with the others? I don’t want to stand around while people talk. That’s boring.”
Kito couldn’t help but grin at Mia’s smooth plot to convincing her to let him go. He could understand that it was hard to say no to a face as innocent as his begging to go play, and truthfully it would do him good with his wild energy. Boys were meant to run around and blow off steam, which was why any parent gladly let him run off and play with the others. They were wild.
Kito could even remember his outrageous adventures with Kai as cubs a long time ago. The trouble they always found themselves in.
Mostly because of Alira...
“Fine,” Clara was in her little moment of thought and decided that she didn’t need Kane upset with her right now telling him no. He always became a handful when he was upset and she didn’t need that now. “You can go. But please, please be extra careful.”
She lowered herself so he could wrap his small arms around her neck, “Caji will be there with me, Sissy. Don’t worry! I’ll be extra careful.”
Clara must have hoped for a long hug but was shocked to discover that Kane was already jumping toward Caji and asked him to lift him onto his shoulders again like before. Caji had the strength to do it, lifting him and placing him in position before they were off again in a direction. Kito could already see her worried face as she watched Kane leave. Maybe even a little hurt that he left so fast.
It made Kito hurt as well, but he knew that this separation would be good. Later, when she sees him return safe and sleepy, she will learn that they are not out to hurt them. He abandons the idea of following Caji and Kane and would remain with her.
He was also proud of Mia for making a spot for him in the tent.
“Follow me,” Mia waves her hand and holds the flap to the side for them to step through first. Clara was hesitant at first until she felt Kito’s presence waiting behind her and she flees inside so she wouldn’t deal with the nervousness. He chuckles and enters second, and Mia joined last.
Inside of the tent seems larger inside than it did outside, a large circle with a campfire in the middle and a hole in the center above. Clara looked around at the furnishings inside, seeing the stone around the fire to keep all the fabrics and pillows safe. The whole ground was covered in blankets to make it seem like a multicolored carpet and was warm under her bare feet. Everyone that was sitting on the floor was leaning against a pillow or in another fashion, the sight was rather comfortable than anything.
What made Clara stand still and stare wasn’t the designs or the fabrics, but of the people who were here. Her mind instantly was refreshed when she saw the faces of all the human women that were here, the faces of Aisha Johnson, Tina Brooke, Nimmie Groagner, Dixie Griffan, and all the others that she had seen on missing papers before this.
And now as she looks over at Mia who made herself cozy in the top, center circle of the ground next to a strange feline man with black features she remembers who she was now. She was Mia Burch, the one who went missing from the mall.
They were all here.
Kito sees the frozen look of surprise on her face and instinctively moved closer without thinking, “What is wrong? Does something you see here upset you?”
“T-These... They are all the missing women from before...” All of the women speaking to each other in the tent were laughing as they filling each other in during their time apart. “They were all missing from around the place I am from.”
She even saw Janice here, the only one in the group who wasn’t smiling or talking. Instead, she sat in a spot a small distance away from anyone, looking at everyone timidly and rubbing her arms. Clara knows her too. Her boss’s daughter that went missing. “Janice.”
“You know her?”
“Well, I don’t know her personally,” she admits. “She is the daughter of my boss who went missing too.”
Everyone finally catches sight of Clara’s presence and turns to look at her. The ones who were talking and joyful were smiling at her now while Janice with a bewildered expression. She knows Clara, she never spoke to her but she remembers her.
“Everyone, this is Clara,” Mia greets her to everyone and she instantly felt like she was in a classroom. She didn’t like the feeling. “She came here last night like Janice and is a little frightened of everything. Clara,” she speaks to her now. “Sit down anywhere you want. And ask anything you want to ask, too.”
Clara did so under the pressure of everyone’s gaze. While she went to sit in an empty spot near the fire. Kito wanted to follow her but restrained himself and stayed in an area close to Mia and Kai, who was laying next to her on the large extravagant seating area with plenty of pillows they shared. Mia was sitting up and Kai, being lazy, was laying down on pillows with his body behind her, and his torso exposed, propped on pillows to support his bent arm holding his head up. His tail gradually moved in content and he remained silent.
Kai enjoyed listening to the little human women’s conversations.
Kito and he wasn’t the only one that was allowed in the tent by Mia. Nuru, who was sitting next to Ivy closely in their little section had an arm around her and a head on his shoulder. Next to Ivy was a little basket and an infant sleeping cub. Their little female Ruvi. The only other small cub that was in a basket was Valarie who was next to Tina. Tina’s cub was awake and was too busy teething on a small durable toy that her teeth were too small and weak to break into. It made for a perfect teether for a baby with fangs, and she was holding that stuffed toy fiercely.
When Clara saw the cub chewing on the stuffed toys are the way she was, her eyes now closed and chewing like an actual feline, munching to ease the irritation of her teething mouth, it made her curious. She never saw what these people looked like as babies... And now she knew.
She even couldn’t lie to herself and say they weren’t adorable. They were.
Kito was close enough for Kai to whisper to him, their good hearing was able to detect the words that Mia and the others couldn’t. “So you brought her here. I was thinking you might take her to your hut and explain everything yourself.”
“She is different than Mia,” he replies. “Why are you even here?”
“Because I want to be,” he purrs lightly as Mia turned to smile at him. It seems like she did hear their conversation. She was close enough to. “Warm blankets, food, and my mate by my side? These are the reasons why I like this place. And I like to listen to what the women talk about. They say the weirdest words.”
“And you don’t?” Mia turns to give Kai a playful smile. “And no more playing with my hair. I need to concentrate.”
Her hair nearly touches the floor and Kai found his hand brushing through it many times and even curl it around his whole hand twice. He never would let her cut it. They even had their first argument being about her cutting it and Kai managed to win it threatening to take off all of his to the scalp. She did like the attention, however, which was the main reason why she kept it uncut for now.
“Lay by me,” he was unashamed by his purrs or that others could hear. Even Clara, who was watching them in silence. She was watching everything. “I have a spot for you.”
“In a moment,” she refuses again, which he didn’t take too kindly too and his ears eased halfway and a small pout.
It was when Kito smells the sweet fragrance from him, and it told him that his brother was enjoying himself a lot more than he thought. He was in the heavens from consuming Yumuja and some other herb he couldn’t decipher at this time.
No wonder he was acting strange.
Xutashi’s did like to take some before the ceremony because of the feelings it gave them, relaxing them, although it did cause them to want to touch soft things and taste the food. It could also lead to other things if one isn’t too careful or took extremely too much, something that Kai and Mia learned before.
He could still remember that secret fight.
It also seems like Ivy was the other who was affected as well with her small hand that was behind Nuru’s head and in his hair, which he accepts with a purr of his own. Clara didn’t understand why the girl was touching him until she witnesses them having a small tasteful kiss publically. The guy, who looked similar to Caji yet different, was kissing a human. Especially one of the missing ones, and the other women didn’t pay them any attention.
Where she was from someone who kissed in public had everyone staring at them. Didn’t they come from the same place? These women didn’t seem like they cared. Her eyes were moving frantically around the room at all the women who seemed to be at peace here. Around PDA.
Dixie, one of the women close to the wall, spoke up cheerfully. “I remember you. You’re Clara O’Haren. I saw you before around the supermarket, and I remember your little brother too. It’s been a while so I can’t remember his name, but I remember him taking off the clothes from the racks and trying them on in the middle of the store. He was four then, I think. We talked then but I’m not sure you remember.”
She vaguely remembered their conversation but she did remember the four-year-old doing such things as that. She was being nice when saying “Clothes”. She meant the “Lingerie” when he was curious about the section he wasn’t allowed in.
“Oh...” She licks her dry lips to moisten them again. “I remember that. I don’t quite remember our conversation though.”
“It’s fine, it wasn’t a long conversation,” she giggles. “But I am surprised to see you here. Like, wow,” she beams. “It’s always the least likely person we’d expect, but met.”
“Don’t you remember me?” Ivy smiles a little lopsided. “At the park, I went there with my grandmother and stepsis and you brought him there too. That other guy was there as well, the one who owned the construction thing? Your stepfather I think? What was his name?”
Kito immediately could see the color change on her skin and she was much paler she became. Ivy’s words were like an arrow that reopened a fresh bad wound and memories. “Uh... Richard Bowing.”
It hit him like a boulder inside as more pieces came into place. The fury that he couldn’t swallow down from that name alone. He didn’t know what my stepfather was, but he did understand the father part. In any form that should not have happened. He could see why she was always on alert now.
Ivy couldn’t read the pale expression on Clara that Mia and Kai also spotted. Kai even pieces it together while intoxicated. Ivy continues without a second thought or feeling like there was nothing wrong. “Your mom was a singer too before, right? In town, no, out of town. I moved away a while back. She used to sing for the church that we went to every Sunday, and she also did songs for the festival’s and took care of kids at Sunday school, I was one of her students then-”
Kito would not let her continue to just bare her past bluntly like that, he could see Clara sitting there more hurt than entertained with the conversation. He couldn’t even stand the deep emotion behind her eyes that Ivy unconsciously was exposing.
Kito went into action to silence her. It wasn’t hard or much action needed, he only grabbed Nuru’s attention with a warning glare before he wrapped his arm around Ivy’s neck to drag her attention off of Clara and to him. They went back to their little world that she fell into it. She was buzzed.
So much relief filled her when she finally stopped. Kito felt it too.
Tina’s hands went into motion and Mia paid attention so she could translate it to the rest, “Tina wants to know if there is something you want to ask us? Janice too. You both are so quiet.”
“I just want to go back home,” Janice spoke for the first time. She must have found this as a perfect opportunity to do so. “I have things I need to get back to, my Dad is probably looking everywhere for me. I don’t have any reason at all to be here, a mistake has been made."
Clara notes the small pause that struck everyone. It was Mia that shortly breaks it, “I know, but first, we just want you to stay with us during the ceremony, and afterward, we will take you back,” it was easier this time when all the tribe was together that if Janice did have a purpose here then she should find it. Or someone else would. She had only been inside Zeta’s hut so far already so no other knew she was here yet.
“What is this place?” Clara speaks out louder than he heard her speak before, her voice now more annoyed than timid. A sudden change of character. He observed every part of her, from her personality and body language. What he knew would be trouble for him is that she gets continually angered when she is feels cornered or surrounded. She was louder when angry. “Start explaining to me that, and why I’m really here. The real reason.”
Luckily Mia was prepared for a question like that, “You were brought here by someone very important. She is one of the Goddesses here, her name is Ser’avi. She brought you here because you needed saving or that something is waiting for you here that you need to find, I know the whole idea of Gods from another world is much to take in,” Kai grabbed her hand that was by her side and was bringing it to his face to kiss it, his lips lingering for a while. It was something Clara didn’t fail to see. “Don’t you think that we were all calm at first in this place? I burst into tears in the middle of the village and Tina stabbed someone.”
Tina read the words off her lips and giggles, and she realized this woman was deaf when she moved her hands. She stabbed someone? And, she is deaf?
“We all decided to stay on our own free will,” Aisha, who Clara saw was the only African American woman dressed in the same clothes a Rhuzeche wore continues. “We all wanted to go home at first, trust me. It is a strange world after all,” she smiles. “But it is nice here, and relaxing in a tribe. And I did find someone who I like a lot.”
“Oh, but I can’t stay,” Janice wants to make this clear again. “I have things I need to get back to. I have a gymnastic class and I am a track manager for my school. I have important things I have going on, plus not to mention my senior project and another seven-page essay I must have done, and I haven’t even started on yet, plus Ethan-”
“You sound like you could use some relaxation,” Dixie burst into laughter at Janice’s fast, frantic words. Kito could sense more stress on her than Clara had. He nor Kai understood her words and now he could see what he meant by hearing their “funny words”.
Dixie adds, “It’s only during the ceremony that we’re asking you to stay, not the rest of your life. Going back home is your choice. Anyone here will take you back if you want it bad enough. I will even send my Jin to take you once it is all over.”
Dixie was mated to a Chayeene, and Jin was the tribe’s trader.
“I’m still not understanding the whole story,” Clara’s smoky eyes went to Mia’s brown ones intending to understand this situation in her mind. “I still have some more questions.”