Her being with humans was a better idea than he could have hoped for.
Every question she asked Mia had an answer to, something that she had practiced for something like this and now it was all coming together perfectly. She explained everything to her and Janice, about the Xutashi’s and the others, the rules that each tribe had and honored. The Warriors that each had. Mia even added about Kai and Kito being Warriors themselves that usually took turns training young cubs, a job that Kito had been lacking to do for some time.
It was something he could see himself doing once again. This time he will take on the challenge of training young cubs Kane’s age just so he could be the one to teach him. He would make it happen if everything played right at the end.
Time passed until he looked up and saw the stars that shone in the sky through the hole made for the smoke to escape through. Kai saw it too and was the one to announce it, “I think the time for questions is over. It is night time now and the Celebration will begin in moments.”
The inside of the tent was becoming hollow as each of the women left to return to their mates for the celebration. Mia was kind enough to take Janice with her and back to Zeta who was the one officially watching her. Kito didn’t care, he made sure he remains inside until Clara was ready to go. He left the tent when she left, which she was the last one to even get up.
Outside seems like a different world at night than it did in the daytime. The flowers slightly radiating brighter being close to torches that were tall and stuck up from the ground to provide light. Everyone stirs around excitedly, seeing a larger group gather closer to the Great Fire.
“Where is Kane?” She glares at Kito and a worried look on her face forms that yanks at his chest like a thread. He instantly knew where he was when he detects him in a group of a section of the small cub, kits, and pups. He points to them to show her, and once she saw him she instantly eases.
Caji was even with him. He was resting near a campfire while he was covered by each of the children. Kane hugs his neck while the others were tugging curiously at his vest and another had his bag open and digging through the contents. It surprises Kito how much patience he had for them. Then again Caji didn’t have any feral part of him that the others had. He was just an overgrown cub himself.
Clara notices this too. “Could... Could you tell me why he doesn’t talk?” Maybe this is probing too much behind someone else’s history. She would never get the spotted man to tell her when she never heard him say a word.
Kito inhales deeply, silently deciding what to tell her about poor Caji.
No point in holding back now after she finally was calm enough to even ask him the question in the first place.
“Caji is the last bloodline of the Kikera leaders,” he would speak to her with only the same information she knew so far in this world from Mia and the others. “But he is not mentally ready to hold a position like that so Shinto has been taking over, and Mia has been trying to help him. You might meet Shinto tonight,” he began to lead her toward a direction that wasn’t where the rest of the people were. “Shinto is his father’s brother. Caji had his words taken from him during the Dark Times, he was forced to watch his mother and small sister...”
The word burns on his tongue. He hated the word. “He has watched them be abused and raped, and then killed. From what I was told by Shinto, he watched his father take and his own life. He showed Mia his family’s grave. He has been through so much in his life and many had tried to teach him to say anything but nothing worked. He carries the small doll on his belt as a reminder to his little sister.”
He froze suddenly and looks at her remorsefully. “I didn’t mean to put that in so much detail. I just... Believed that you should know. Not many understand him, but he is a broken heart.”
Her stormy eyes were enough to make him want to stare at them a little longer and memorize each detail. Her eyes still were grey, a familiar color he was used to. It amuses him that it was the color of her eyes. Her hair was fully dry now, and long. Gods, she could have Mia beat with the length of her own thick wavy black hair tinted with blue, her fringes thick and with one side parted thinner than the right. He needed to learn the name of these colors soon. He wanted to use them.
“Well, thank you,” she was a bit happy about him telling her everything like that easily. She didn’t have to press on, something she didn’t want to do now. If he didn’t tell her then she wouldn’t have known that little bit of extra information she didn’t have to ask for. “Could you tell me where we’re going?”
“Oh,” his eyes moves forward and then slightly up. He found them attached to her again. She always managed to bring his gaze back to her. It was hard focusing on something else, he had no interest in the world around him. “The Ceremony will start in a moment and I thought that you would like a better spot to see everything. You can even see Kane too if you would like.”
He always wanted to give her the choice to say no.
“What is this ceremony about anyway?”
He roams just a little further until they meet a large, thick tree covered in vines and flowers. He grabs a section of the tree with one hand and kept his feet on the ground to see her again. Always catching his gaze. He found himself liking the look of her and craved to take every feature in. “All of our Gods. We have other smaller celebrations for each God or Goddess, but this one is for all of them. It happens only every couple of summers and it can last for days,” he grins and held out his hand to her. “I can get us a better view up there, I have this perfect place to sit at when things like this occur in the village. You will like it.”
She tilts her chin up the incredibly tall tree. Was jungle trees even this big in her world? “Uh... I’m not sure if you are aware of my hands but they are small and I can’t grab into anything. I will fall halfway up that tree. So no thank you.”
“Who said you will have to climb?” His humored chuckle was like honey dripping from a tilted jar. She imagined it that way, even seeing how honey could also match his hair and other strange features if it was in the light. She was so weird. “Hold onto me and I will pull us up.”
“Pfft,” she made a noise that was new to him. “Absolutely not. You could drop me or I will still slip.”
“I won’t drop you.”
“How do you know that?”
“Many reasons. I have been climbing since I can walk and I have carried things much bigger than you in trees taller than this.”
“That’s only two reasons,” she crosses her arms. “And what about getting down?”
“I can carry you down too,” his hand was still waiting. “My kind is gifted in these things, and if you give me a chance I may even impress you. ”
She was giving that that once overlook and thought she was going crazy that she would actually accept his invitation. She was also interested in why he was so proud of himself and his climbing abilities. Monkeys can climb good too. “Fine. I will trust you this one time but if you drop me or even pretend to do so just for the thrill I will take your weird tail.”
His mind immediately went to the time that he had done that with Mia when she had first come, and about three times afterward, and he liked to hear the women scream in fright that made him chuckle. But hearing her speak of it like she already knew his history of the little trick made another grin force itself in his face. The last thing he wants to do now would be to lose her trust over a small tease... Or losing a tail.
“I won’t drop you,” he confesses to calm her. “You can even keep your eyes closed on the way up. Now, let’s hurry before the celebration starts.”
She waits a bit longer to give this another thought. She also wants to know what made this spot so special for him to want to take her to it to get a better view?
“If you don’t want to go up, I understand,” he mistook the look on her face and stepped away from the tree. “We can stand in the crowd.”
“I want to know what makes the high spot so special to climb that high up,” she holds her elbows, her body turns halfway to convey the impression of timidness.
“That’s what I want to show you,” he decides to give it another shot and held out a hand, something inside of him was pleading for her to take it just so he could have some contact. It was like he was starving for it. Greedy. He knew it was his tether to her. He could see why Kai always seems to want Mia’s attention. It was addicting. “You will like the view.”
It was the sound of the village instruments that played that urges her decision quickly, she nods hesitantly. “A-Alright. Just... Don’t drop me.”
He went back to the tree and grabbed a vine with one hand, “Wrap your arms around my neck and hold on.”
“I certainly can’t carry you from the front,” male humor. “You won’t hurt me. Hurry before it’s too late.”
She already said that she would go with it now so she couldn’t take back her word now. She stepped forward towards him, her eyes seeing the tattoo that was also seen a little further around his arm and shoulder than she thought before. He even lowered himself slightly more so her height could at least reach him.
She was still hesitant, resistant to even touch him. The men here wore vests and others wore no shirts as all with paint. It was something that Clara also saw walking around the village, how there was not a single overweight being here. None. The ones Kito’s ages had muscle and the slightly older ones were still far from out of shape. It must be proof of what Kito meant of everyone climbing here. Everyone seemed to be active here.
She chooses to do it quickly. She wraps her arms around his neck and squealed slightly when he stood. Her feet rose off the ground when he straightens and he used his hands to grab her legs and help them in place for her to get a tighter hold on him. She kept her eyes shut and buried her head beside his to keep from looking at anything. She didn’t want to see anything.
Gods, the temptation to purr almost made his head ring when her bare hands touched him for the first official time. He had to hold his breath a lot to conceal it, trying to focus on getting up the tree and to his spot before anything happened. Her body was small and weighs nothing to him, and although she was holding on tight it didn’t bother him. No, he wishes the tree was just a little higher just so he could continue feeling her holding him. Her skin on his was something he knew he would be craving more of soon, and he knew that this was the starting process of the bond.
He made it to the branch, climbing slightly higher so that he could lower her safely. He had to convince her to open her eyes and let him lower her first, which surprises him that she did it without saying a word. He figures it was just a test to her to see if he would drop her.
What a risky test.
When her feet were planted firmly in the ground she stood on the surprisingly thick branch with enough width to walk on without needing to balance. There was a handmade hole in the side of the tree that she curiously looking into, unaware of Kito that simply fell on the branch rather than the safe route she took. He was used to chances, however.
“What’s in this hole?” She asked curiously. He stepped close behind her and moved his arm around, sending the nervousness she felt with his close presence, and put his hand inside the hole and bring out a rolled blanket that remained dry inside from the rain. “Step to the side. I want to put this down so you don’t get wet.”
She moves in a spot so that he could lay the blue patterned blanket down, sections of it was hanging off the edge of the large branch. Now that he could see it... It was rather ugly. He sat down with his legs dangling over the edge, “Sit by me,” he invites with a smooth, soothing tone in his voice that made her unconsciously bite her lip at the small warmth that filled her veins at the sound of it.
It was an abnormal reaction she didn’t know what to make of it, but she ignored it. She didn’t say anything as she sat down and cautiously slid to the edge until she settles herself at the edge with her legs dangling. She looked over the boundary just to see how high she was.
It wasn’t too high but there was still a good view of the whole middle of the village was inside, the Great Fire lit a good distance from it as everyone surrounded the middle. It was a crowd, but it wasn’t a loud crowd.
It was silent for a time as they waited for the celebration to start. Her legs swinging as they dangled, looking at all the decorations that surrounded her. She wished she could say it was awkward between them, that the silence made the setting strange and his presence eerie. Like Richard’s. Yet when she looked at him she saw he was leaned back on his arms with his face to the stars and his eyes closed, enjoying the cool night air that fell over his skin that was now slightly heated.
Ever since he saw her his skin has been heated and cooling down was a challenge. Before he saw her actual beauty, he was getting warm. The breeze made the heated skin harder to forget.
She was sure she was safe looking over him when he had his eyes shut. It gave her a chance to see parts of him that she didn’t dare stare at when he noticed, like the dagger on his side and the bag that he had his medicines with him in case of emergencies.
She also couldn’t help but find herself wanting to stare even longer at his arms, chest, and his muscles she couldn’t believe that someone with cat features could have. He had to work out a lot to be able to climb a tree this height like it was nothing and not a drop of sweat on his body.
When his eyes open she looks away immediately. She would be horrified if he caught her looking at him just to see what he looked like, staring was rude. She was sure that applied here too. He knew she was staring at him with how his skin burned in the same places she looked, it was like his body knew that hers was watching. And even taking an interest in it.
“Why are you so nice to me?” She gazes at him and chooses to ask a question. There was no awkward tension to break which made her words come out easier.
His blue eyes compel her own to stare. His eyes were like the rest of him- strange yet oddly compelling. “Why would I not be nice to you?” She saw his ears lower. She didn’t know what it meant. “Why are you asking me that like you are surprised?”
She found the simple task of averting her eyes from his harder than it should be. She manages to however and glares at the crowd to see if she could see Kane. She did, catching sight of him playing with another little Xutashi boy slightly bigger than him. Seeing Kane smiling and playing made her a little happy. It was nice to see at least one of them having fun.
“I bet you can tell not many people are nice to me,” she put her hand in her lap innocently. “I am surprised the girls in there remembered me. I always kept to myself because a lot of people are always mean for one reason or another.”
“Have any of them ever been mean to you before?” He questions with the intent of talking with any of them later about apologizing. He will not let her worry about anything here. Especially about past situations.
“Well, no,” she sighs. “But trust me, I met some nasty people before.”
It was the look on her face alone that proved her words weren’t a lie and it saddened him. Everything about her past saddened him, and he wished that they were close enough for him to hold her without making her awkward. No, he somehow knew she could never be uncomfortable if he held her. They were two halves of one whole, it would only frighten her that it did feel relaxing. That was what she wasn’t ready for yet.
“I won’t lie to you, there are bad things here,” he did not want to be like Kai in one area. He wanted to tell her about the bad things here as well, the haunting memory of Fang burned in his mind. His roar. By the Gods, that roar. “We took care of a big problem a while ago now but there are also other things here that are not as nice as some may make them sound.”
“What is here that is bad?”
“Hmm....” He lifts his head to the jungle surrounding the village. “The Jungle is a dangerous place. Only Warriors who are trained in walking through it can go in it and even further, but the problem that we watch out for that lives in the deeper part is the Naghua. We haven’t seen one for many moons and one we did see was just passing through. It is still a concern but one has never been known to enter the village. That I can say.”
“What is that?”
He opened his mouth to explain but was interrupted by the louder sound of the music that caught both of their attention. The celebration was near to starting. Each of them can see that the people moved away from the Great Fire to allow the Chiefs of each Tribe to stand with each other. He explained everything to her and he saw all of them, “They are all the Chief’s from all the tribe.”
“What are their names?”
“The one you can see as the one with long ears is Skaal, he is the Maurea Chief. He’s kind and has a lot of kits. About eight,” he chuckled at her reaction. “The Maurea are known to enjoy having a home full of kits,” he even showed her where all of his children were playing. She could see each of them a different height and age, some older than others. One was even a teenager who was watching over the other little ones. “The eldest of his is Ferix. Ever since their mother became ill and passed he had been helping his father with them.”
“Oh,” she looked at all of them again to see how small and cute they were. They could definitely relate to the normal bunny in her world, which was beginning to prove her thought earlier of this being another strange dimension.
He then pointed to a tall, reddish-brown Ruzeche with large curved horns on her head that started from the side. The woman was tall, wore furs, and the closest thing to a shirt that had darker colored beads to the one the Xutashi had. This was the first time Kito saw them as well in his way, the color that they had rather than the bland world he walked in before. “That is the Chief Nayla, she is mated to Rufiki. The women have a higher power in the Ruzeche Tribe due to their being more of them, but they never complained. They are more peaceful and keep to themselves mostly other than trading.”
Nayla was probably the one amongst these whole lands that despised Pippie. He wasn’t even allowed within their Tribe when they broke a jar containing invading bugs that infested their huts. They had to burn and rebuild every home, and he ran off to keep the Chief from beheading him. Kito knew this because Pippie ran and left him behind, and he took all the punishments.
Nayla was lenient on him. The jar broke during wrestling, a fight Pippie started, and the jar fell. And it broke. And the bugs were fast. They only stayed in that tribe a day.
The next was one he knew well and that was the spotted Chief of the Kikera. What would make explaining things much easier was that Caji had walked out of the crowd and hugged Shinto, Kane was by his side and was now in the presence of all the Chiefs. Of course, the boy had to greet himself to each one of them. Clara was at least relieved to have him still in sight, “The spotted one is Shinto, the one I spoke of before. This is the first celebration that the Kikera has attended for a long time.”
She didn’t see his ears reduced in sadness but she still had to ask. “Did you all not invite them?”
He sighed heavily, “After the Dark Times the Kikera was lost in their hate for a while. It made travel over certain roads impossible because they would attack. I even was attacked by them twice before,” it was strange seeing them so passive now ever since they destroyed the Jamati tribe and everything that it once was. It was nothing but ash now. The section of the swamps was even burned. They left nothing behind.
“They... Attacked? Even Caji?”
At first, she thought she meant the Jamati since he was deep in thought about it, but shook his head to rid the assumption. She couldn’t read minds. He shrugged, “I am not sure if Caji was a part of the revenge, Shinto never said.”
He showed her the couple to refresh her memory of who they were. “He decided that going down that path would not make them better than the ones that twisted them that way, so Kai agreed to take in the remaining Kikera that they couldn’t look after any longer that was still sane. Nuru and Caji are one of them along with two others, but the others burned their old village and started another one in another place. I haven’t seen it yet but Shinto has said it should be ready enough by the time Caji is ready to take over.”
He knew what she would ask then. The question of when Shinto would think he was ready, a question he didn’t want to get in right now due to the fact it would lead to mating. Caji needed to find a mate before Shinto could step down and give him back his birthright place in the Tribe, even if Shinto was wilting due to his ongoing heartbreak of the past that he couldn’t let go of. Caji knew that but always managed to keep a smile to hide his emotions.
He changed the subject by pointing to the Chief he wanted to reveal last, “The Xutashi Chief is Ruro and his mate is Zeta, she is a medicine woman. Zeta is the Chief bloodline but Ruro takes the highest rank for being her mate, which in the Xutashi Tribe the male does.”
She could see them below talking to Kane. Especially the woman Zeta, who was kneeled on the ground fawning over him just like Nayla was. The two females thought the boy was adorable and Kane was soaking it all in like a sponge. It made Clara lightly giggle. Of course, he would.
“Do the two have children?”
She looked at him when he chuckled a little louder than he usually did when he found something humorous. She blinked and tilted her head, “What’s funny?”
“Nothing really,” he shook his head. “But they had cubs. Two.”
“Can you show me?”
He pointed to Kai who was walked through the crowd with Mia’s hand in his. He didn’t even want to know why or where they had disappeared to previously. “That’s one of them, his name is Kai’Riba. He has to carry a staff slightly similar to what Ruro is holding. It is supposed to show their position in the tribe and they can even use it as weapons. The woman behind him is Mia, they are mates. ”
“Wait, wait,” her hand shook like she was telling him to stop. He didn’t understand that she was signaling him to stop when he wasn’t moving. “They were in the hut before, and they’re together for real?”
“Yeah,” he knew she would be confused with that. Who had ever heard of the two together in the human world? “How they met is a complicating story, he stumbled into her world and she found and helped him. Mia can tell you the story better than I can, but they have been mated for a time now.”
She remembered seeing him laying behind her in the tent now, lazily laying on the covers and spending every moment touching her one way or another. Her hair, her arm, an exposed part of her back. Always touching. Why didn’t she slap his hand away? She assumed it was just an annoying fool she kept scolding for touching her.
“Does he... ” should she even be asking this. Maybe this was too personal that he didn’t even know. “Hurt her?”
If only she knew how much that question pained him. He even placed a hand over his chest with the heavy and ruthless twisting sensation under the surface. Did she assume that all men hurt others the same that she was? Even his kind? Even his brother? He didn’t answer right away because if he didn’t have the time to collect himself his voice would be too shaky for her not to notice.
“By the stars, no. Not Kai’Riba. He worships her. They disappear many times than I can count with each hand to do whatever they want to do together,” mating was a big one for that matter. “If you see her around it is a great possibility that he is near unless he is busy. But intentionally hurting her is something he always tries to avoid.”
She was deeply embarrassed by asking her question now. She knew she shouldn’t have said it yet something in her thought it was okay too. She immediately felt too vulnerable. “I’m sorry... I shouldn’t have asked that. That was very wrong of me. I’m sorry.”
He knew that if they weren’t in this tree she would have run. “It’s alright, Clara,” maybe using her name would make him out closer than simply a stranger. Closer than being a stranger was better for him. “You’re safe with asking anything you want with me, I want to help.”
“Not questions like that, not personal ones,” she was rubbing her hand over her arm to soothe herself of her embarrassment. “Could you tell me who the other kid they have is so we can change the subject?”
This time he kept his humor contained. He grabbed her attention with a small movement of his hand that he was using to place to his chest, “me. That is my mother and father, and Kai’Riba is my older brother.”
She winced, “He’s your brother? Oh, jeez... And I-”
“No, do not concern yourself about it,” he laughed rather than chuckle this time and felt the itch to move closer and he did. Just a bit. “I do not take any offense. I know the reasons behind it. Not wholly but I have a good thought. He would think the same way if he knew,” he showed her one of his best smiles, fangs and all, and it amazed her how it fit him so well. Or she was nuts. “But I will not tell him. Our talks are between us.”
“You two look completely different though...”
“Zeta says that I have my color from her side,” his tail curled. “Her father was like me, Kai has more of Ruro’s blood. He is also the one who has to become Chief in the future, not I, so while he spent time with Ruro and Zeta training I went with my friend Pippie to other places.”
“Oh?” Her brow raised and for the first time, even if it was only a small crook at the edge of her lip, attempting a smile. “So while he gets stuck with all the work you went off to have your little celebrations everywhere else? Partying?”
He didn’t know what this partying was but he knew celebrations and that alone humored him. “I won’t lie it was fun when it came to meeting others, making friends, and helping people. But then there were scary times that it felt like work than anything else,” the scenes were dull and everything he has seen there wasn’t as entrancing as the colors he saw before him now.
He knew he would enjoy her hair and could now understand why Kai is so insistent to keep Mia’s long. Xutashi women kept their hair short other than Alira and he was beginning to like long hair. It was glossy and he even would wager that it was soft as silk now that it was cleaned.
“Why would it be work?”
Her question was never answered when the sound of Ruro’s voice overpowered everyone else’s into silence. They looked his way. Kito knew the celebration was beginning.