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One of the more unusual exhibits in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is a wooden figure of a tiger pinning a soldier with its teeth at his throat. According to its Wikipedia Article:
Tipu’s Tiger (a.k.a. Tippoo’s Tiger) is an automaton, representing a tiger savaging a European soldier, or employee of the British East India Company. It is currently on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Tipu’s Tiger was originally made for Tipu Sultan in Mysore, ca. 1795. (Tipu Sultan used the tiger systematically as his emblem, employing tiger motifs on his weapons, on the uniforms of his soldiers, and on the decoration of his palaces.) The operation of a crank handle powers several different mechanisms inside Tipu’s Tiger. A set of bellows expels air through a pipe inside the man’s throat. This produces a wailing sound, simulating the cries of distress of the victim. A mechanical link causes the man’s left arm to rise and fall. This action alters the pitch of the ‘wail pipe’. Another mechanism inside the tiger’s head expels air through two pipes. This produces a sound simulating the roar of the tiger. Concealed behind a flap in the tiger’s flank is a small ivory keyboard; depressing these keys expels air through a series of organ pipes.
And what does all this have to do with this story, I hear you ask? Good question.
Why don’t you read it and find out?
Tipu’s Tiger photos by Leem, available for use under Creative Commons licence.
A Solicited Testimonial
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Some months after finishing Part Eight I posted a link to Ketrin on the Pages Unbound site (a now sadly defunct portal to numerous web novels), where it garnered the following review:
Alternate Earth Meets Mowgli, Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Written by Morgan O'Friel
Overall rating (weighted) 8.3
Story Appeal 9.0
Technical Quality 6.0
I Liked: The prose is wonderful. It flows nicely, and even the lupinoid characters have an amazingly detailed thought process. Realistic in its own way, and lovely.
The plot progresses nicely, the sex is laid out as a natural part of the society, and the futurisitc elements give this primal story a nice twist.
I Did Not Like (Optional): At times the content was out-right preachy. Even though I agreed with the message (and it made sense in terms of the story), it still wore me down after awhile.
Also, you can tell that the website was originally created in the '90s. The lack of a site-wide nav bar, as well as the '90s concept of putting as much bang into the buck of webspace applies to the site.
I Would Recommend This To (Optional): Kinksters, adult fans of "The Jungle Book," and anyone looking for a good story with environmentally-friendly morals.
Other Comments (Optional): The different parts/chapters are long, so make sure you have a block of time to devote to reading them.
OK, so... I’m obviously pleased and flattered that the reviewer likes my prose style. Too preachy? Well... maybe. I do tend to get a bit carried away at times. I really don’t mean to preach, and I’m certainly not trying to wear readers down. Anyway, I’ve tried to tone it down a bit in this part. As for the comments on site design, I would be the first to admit that it’s not my greatest skill. If there are any professional web designers out there who’d care to give my sites a first-class makeover for free then please get in touch!
The story takes place several hundred light years from Earth in about AD 3502,
give or take a century or three.
You can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the boy.
Oh, come on, I think this is getting needlessly messianic.
--Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (radio version)
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan
We be of one blood, ye and I.
Rudyard Kipling, Kaa’s Hunting
Daddy, Where Did I Come From?
The village square was a quagmire, churned up by the prancing lupinoids’ feet. Most of the villagers were also dancing for joy, casting off their clothes and letting the rain cleanse their bodies.
+My creator?+ thought Ketrin. +But I thought I was born of a human female.+
+Yes, Ketrin, you were,+ thought Ral-ne-Sa. +That’s not what I meant. But you were raised by lupinoids, and while I did not create them from clay like the gods the villagers believe in, I did play a very large part in making them what they are today. You see, I may not be a god in the true sense, but I am far older and more powerful than any human, and I have spent millions of years influencing the lupinoids’ development, in preparation for the day when humans would encounter them.+
+So I was right,+ thought Ketrin. +Humans did come to this world from somewhere else, just as Whitebrush saw.+
+Yes, Ketrin. All of that was true. Humans are not native to this world, and only by accepting its ways can they continue to survive on it.+
+And my part in that,+ Ketrin thought, +is to be a go-between for humans and this world’s native life? Is that it?+
+That is correct,+ thought Ral-ne-Sa.
+And so,+ Ketrin went on, +you “created” me by making it possible for the lupinoids to raise me, a human, as one of their own,+ thought Ketrin.
+Exactly.+ The huge lupinoid gave an almost human grin. +The milk was the most important part of it. It gave you the pack’s ancestral memories, as well as your telepathy, rapid healing and most importantly the ability to think like one of them while retaining your human instincts. Just as importantly, you also retained the ability to develop human emotions and intelligence. I think I can say without false modesty that lupinoid milk was one of my most brilliant inventions.+
+All right, I concede that you’re brilliant,+ thought Ketrin, +and I suppose I must thank you for making me what I am, even though I’m not always sure which ‘pack’ I belong to. But if you had a purpose in creating me, just now it’s hard to see what that purpose is, unless it’s to remain paralysed as the idol of Third Hill.+
Ral-ne-Sa chuckled. +No, little wildling, that is not your whole purpose, though it is a small part of it. Besides, I know you don’t mind being worshipped all that much. But you’ve seen how these villagers aren’t like the humans you knew up north. You know them well enough to like and respect them, and more to the point, so do Sun and Fire. Third Hill is proof that humans and lupinoids can live side by side, and you are the one that summoned the lupinoids here. Even without the ability to move a muscle, you have already begun to set in motion events that could save this world from a terrible evil.+
Ketrin was nonplussed. +What evil? I don’t understand.+
+It would take too long to explain just now. Suffice it to say that Borvinn was only a minor player in its game. The Maiden is well aware of the threat, and will do all that she can to help you and your friends fight it. For the moment I cannot help her directly, but I trust her as you do. After all, you do have something in common - she can’t move either, and yet she is far from powerless.
+And now I believe I’ve told you enough for the moment. It looks as if the villagers are getting ready to worship me through you, and I don’t want to distract you from their devotions. Farewell, little wildling. Until our next encounter.+
The giant lupinoid licked Ketrin’s face tenderly and vanished. To the villagers it had never been there in the first place.
Ketrin heard a little girl ask, “Mummy, can we play with the lupinoids?”
Sun and Fire were still howling and dancing through the rain-soaked square.
Her mother replied, “No, dear, they’re too excitable right now. They might bite you by accident. Wait until they’ve calmed down a little, then I’m sure they’ll let you pet them. Now come along, let’s give all the grown-ups some room. We’ll go over to the other side of the village and you can let the rain bathe you.”
As the parents hustled the children off to the other end of the village the rest of the adults began embracing and kissing each other and Ketrin.
“Give Lord Ral-ne-Sa some room,” said Tolar. “There will be plenty of time for all of us to worship him.”
One of the women had the privilege of being the first to worship Ral-ne-Sa for his gift of rain, and she caressed his seated body tenderly. As always Ketrin could not make the slightest voluntary response, but his involuntary response was immediate and impressive.
The next few hours were spent in a blur of orgasms. Ketrin couldn’t move, so the villagers did all of his moving for him. By the end of the day he had been on top, underneath, side by side, in between, lying, squatting, standing, kneeling, sitting and held upside-down, with almost every adult man and woman in Third Hill, all the while luxuriating in the warm, refreshing downpour.
Lord Ral-ne-Sa could have no complaints about either the quantity or quality of worship he was receiving through Ketrin, and nine moons hence the village would have several more mouths to feed.
And the rainy season was only just beginning...
Mavrida’s small pack continued southward, following the river downstream while still searching in vain for a way to cross the impassable gorge. Lendrin made a couple of crude spears and spent some time teaching Mavrida and Suvanji how to hunt with them.
To her surprise Mavrida soon became quite proficient at spearing small game, although she could never hope to match Suvanji’s jungle-trained reflexes. Once the game was caught, skinned and cleaned Mavrida had to admit that it didn’t taste bad at all. Maybe the knowledge that she had caught some of it herself did something to improve the flavour.
Suvanji was beginning to pick up speech from Lendrin and Mavrida. Lendrin had been speaking to her since he had first met her, of course, but now that she was no longer paralysed the wild girl was able to understand the context of words and to imitate them.
The true miracle of the wildlings, Mavrida reflected, was not that they were able to run and hunt with the lupinoids, but that they were also able to learn human speech and customs if they chose. Their bodies were gloriously human, but their minds were a fascinating mixture of wildness and sapience.
Late one afternoon Mavrida and Lendrin were walking by the gorge with Red and Grey, waiting for Suvanji and Nipper to catch up, when suddenly in the distance they heard Suvanji cry: “Lendrin! Mavrida! ’Umans!”
A split-second later Nipper came tearing out from between the trees with Suvanji hard at her heels. A spear streaked toward Nipper, but the lupinoid darted aside at the last moment and it clattered harmlessly on the rocky ground.
The spearman emerged from the forest just in time for Nipper and Suvanji to knock him to the ground. Under other circumstances he might have enjoyed being thrown off his feet by a naked girl, if she hadn’t been accompanied by an angry lupinoid, and hadn’t been just as angry and feral herself.
Mavrida raced toward them, fearful that they might do something rash. “Don’t kill him,” she barked in the most commanding tone she could muster. “Leave him to me.”
The girl and the lupinoid reluctantly withdrew, and the man rose shakily to his feet. He turned to face Mavrida and would probably have tried to bluff his way out of the situation if Mavrida had not immediately slapped a crystal on top of his head and thought: FREEZE!
The spearman instantly found himself paralysed. Helplessly he pleaded with his eyes as Mavrida faced him angrily.
“You’re lucky you didn’t harm the lupinoid,” Mavrida told him. “If you had I would have let Suvanji tear your throat out. For the moment, I’m just going to keep you paralysed so you can’t alert your friends. If they try anything they’ll find themselves frozen right alongside you.”
He had no way of knowing that Mavrida was bluffing. With only three spell crystals in her possession, she could only paralyse two men. She needed to be holding the third crystal to control the other two.
“More men coming,” growled Suvanji.
“All right, Suvanji, stay calm,” said Mavrida, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “We won’t let them hurt you or the lupinoids.”
Though she was obviously far from happy, the wildling nodded and took a deep breath.
Another hunter burst out of the trees and was astonished to find himself confronted by three snarling lupinoids, a renegade hunter, and two armed women, one of whom was almost naked and the other completely naked. He was even more astonished a moment later when the almost naked woman stepped forward and clapped him on the head and he discovered that he couldn’t move.
“Let’s just hope there aren’t another ten of them,” Mavrida whispered to Lendrin.
“Not very likely,” Lendrin replied. “There’s probably only three or four of them altogether. We can handle the rest.”
Suvanji was still breathing heavily, and there was a darkness behind her eyes as they darted back and forth between the two frozen men. The wildling was afraid for herself and her friends, and Mavrida knew that her fear might turn to violence.
Mavrida hugged Suvanji. “It’s all right,” she said. “These hunters aren’t going to harm us or our lupinoid friends. And we are not going to harm them. Do you understand? We have to avoid violence whenever we can.”
“I understand,” muttered Suvanji, returning the embrace. “Be careful, Mavrida. We not wanna hurt them, don’t mean they not wanna hurt us.”
Mavrida nodded. At that moment that the leader of the hunting party chose to walk out of the trees, carrying a heavy sack on his back. Momentarily distracted by the sight of a scantily-clad girl embracing an unclad girl, the hunter soon found himself facing three snarling lupinoids and a man with a spear.
“Clever,” said the hunter. “Using the women as a distraction so you could sneak up on me.”
“Wasn’t exactly planned that way,” said Lendrin, “but, whatever works.”
Looking around, the hunter noticed his companions for the first time.
“Sarlin! Jerrond!” he cried. “What have you done to them, you bastard?”
“Calm down,” said Lendrin. “They’re perfectly safe. They just can’t move for now.”
“What, are you some kind of sorcerer or something? You got power over wild beasts too?”
“No,” said Lendrin. “I just treat them with respect. If you people spent less time trying to kill them and more time trying to understand them, you’d realise that lupinoids could be our allies instead of our victims. And I know what I’m talking about - I used to kill them too, until I learnt better.”
“Yeah, well, that’s all very well,” said the hunter, “but understanding won’t get us the bounty that’s been placed on their pelts.”
The lupinoids were sniffing his discarded sack. Lendrin stepped between them and opened it, revealing two fresh lupinoid pelts. Suvanji’s eyes darkened again, but this time she just sighed and turned away.
“Well, understand this,” said Lendrin. “You won’t be collecting any bounty on today’s catch.”
The hunter muttered something under his breath, but made no attempt to escape.
Suvanji no longer looked as if she wanted to kill the hunters, although given the chance she would probably have given them all memorable beatings.
Mavrida soon found ropes in the hunters’ packs, and Lendrin tied the hunter firmly to a tree.
“So how come you need ropes to tie me up with?” the hunter taunted. “What happened to your magic paralysing spell? Could it be that your powers are more limited than you’d like us to believe?”
Mavrida ignored him.
Lendrin picked up the sack, walked to the edge of the gorge and threw it over, watching as it plummeted into the river far below.
“Are you mad?” cried the hunter. “Don’t you know how much those skins were worth?”
“They’re worth nothing to me,” said Lendrin. “They were worth a lot more to their owners.”
Mavrida and Lendrin used the rest of the rope to tie Sarlin and Jerrond to trees, and then Mavrida removed their paralysis and recovered the crystals.
“You’ll never get away with this,” cried Sarlin. “Tell them, Jeylin! You can’t just go tying people up and destroying their hard-earned catch!”
“Oh, shut up,” said Lendrin. “You’re lucky we only destroyed your catch. You tried to kill our girlfriend’s lupinoid. If we were vindictive we could have let the two of them kill you, like they wanted to. Instead we’re just going to walk away. I’m sure we’ll be very happy to never see each other again.”
“We won’t forget this,” growled Jeylin. “We’ll follow you to the end of the world if we have to!”
“Suit yourself,” said Lendrin. “Just remember, we can command lupinoids, and we still have the paralysing spell.”
“In any case,” Mavrida told them. “By the time you manage to free yourselves it’ll be getting on for dusk. You can try and track us in the dark if you like, but we’ll have had a long head start by then, and you don’t have lupinoids or a wild girl to help you negotiate the forest.
“Alternatively, you can either set up camp or try to reach a friendly village before nightfall, in which case we’ll have been travelling the whole night by the time you’re up and moving again and you’ll never catch us. So I suggest you forget about revenge and just put this down to experience.”
And then, much to his surprise, Mavrida kissed Jeylin on the cheek.
Without further ado Mavrida and her pack strode off into the forest, leaving the hunters to strain against their bonds as the sun slowly descended.
As soon as Mavrida’s pack reached the cover of the forest they turned south. Mavrida instructed Suvanji to tell the lupinoids to find the fastest route through the forest.
“Do you really think it’ll take them until nightfall to escape?” asked Lendrin.
“Probably not,” Mavrida admitted, “which means we’ve got to make the most of our head start. We have to run all evening and all night and keep our rest stops as short as possible. I’m pretty sure they won’t be able to catch us in the dark, so by morning I’m hoping we’ll have left them so far behind that catching up with us will be too much effort.”
“I just hope you’re right,” said Lendrin. “Even so, I’ll be happier once we find a way across the river. My biggest worry is that if there is a bridge we’ll go past it in the dark. We’d have a better chance of finding it if we ran closer to the gorge, but...”
“...But then we’d run the risk of straying over the edge in the dark,” concluded Mavrida. “Suvanji’s terrified of heights. She wouldn’t thank you for sending us that way.”
For two nights and part of a second day Mavrida and her companions headed southward, scarcely pausing to eat or drink. Suvanji made no complaint, but it was clear that even she was beginning to tire from their relentless pace. She reported that the lupinoids had scented striagons in the distance, but none came close enough to threaten them.
Around noon on the second day they finally rested beside a narrow stream. The lupinoids had brought down a wild vorn calf, which provided quite enough meat to go around. After eating the humans slept for a while, and then made love in various permutations, while the lupinoids watched appreciatively and felt telepathically every sexual sensation that Suvanji was feeling.
In the afternoon they headed south again, risking the open space between the forest and the gorge for the sake of a quicker passage. From time to time Lendrin would walk to the edge of the gorge and look for any signs of a crossing, but there was none. Mavrida’s crystals continued to lead her east of south, so there was nothing to do but keep going.
In the middle of the afternoon the lupinoids picked up a scent.
“They say three, four lup’noids come this way with a ’uman,” said Suvanji.
“Lupinoids and a human?” said Mavrida. “Travelling together, like... like us?”
“Yes,” said Suvanji. “T’gether.”
Mavrida’s heart leapt.
“Are you sure the lupinoids weren’t attacking the human?” said Lendrin. “If it was a hunter...”
“No fear-smell,” said Suvanji. “No blood on ground. See.”
“Then there’s only one answer,” said Mavrida. “It’s Sherinel. My son’s lover. Who else but us would be crazy enough to travel with a pack of lupinoids?”
Mavrida laughed and hugged Suvanji and Lendrin. “You know what this means? We’re going the right way! All we have to do is follow the scent and sooner or later we’ll catch up with Sherinel. Then we can all search for Ketrin together.”
Lendrin thought about it for a moment. “Well, if it is Sherinel it looks like he’s going in the same direction as us, so we’ll be following in his footsteps anyway. All right, Suvanji, you can tell the lupinoids we’re following the scent trail.”
Suvanji passed on the message and the lupinoids began trotting along with their noses to the ground. The humans followed, keeping watch for predators and hunters.
“Of course,” said Lendrin, “you realise that when we do catch up with Sherinel it’s going to be quite a crowd. Six or seven lupinoids and four humans... if nothing else, it’ll make our little search party a bit more conspicuous.”
“Well, we can worry about that when we catch him,” said Mavrida. “For now, we can be thankful we found his trail in the first place. If we’d stayed in the jungle we would have missed it.”
“You’d almost think someone or something was guiding us,” muttered Lendrin.
The following day the lupinoids’ noses led the party to an unusual structure set some distance back from the gorge. It was shaped like a large boulder, but its landward side had an opening big enough for two men to enter, with stairs leading downward. From within came an almost overpowering stench of leatherwing guano.
“They go in,” said Suvanji. “Too smelly in to scent more.”
“Do you think it leads down to a bridge?” asked Mavrida.
“One way to find out,” said Lendrin, walking past the structure and out to the cliff edge.
Lendrin spent a few moments looking down into the gorge while Suvanji fretted nervously.
“Don’t worry, he won’t fall,” said Mavrida. “He’s very sure-footed.”
When he returned, Lendrin’s expression told Mavrida that his news was not good.
“There was a bridge,” he told her. “A really big one, too. Now all that’s left are some wooden fragments scattered down the cliff face. You can see all the holes on the far cliff where the support beams must have slotted in. It must have been an impressive sight in its day, but it seems it was abandoned gods know how many years ago. Without constant repairs it would have just slowly rotted away until it was ready to collapse.”
“But Suvanji said the scent trail ends at the entrance to the stairs,” said Mavrida. “That means the bridge must have been standing when Sherinel and his lupinoids came this way. Do you suppose they tried to cross it, and... and it wasn’t strong enough any more and...”
Mavrida sank to her knees. “Oh, dear gods,” she breathed. “Sherinel... and Ketrin’s lupinoid brothers... all of them...”
As if blown by fate, the threatening clouds chose that moment to blot out the sun.
Lendrin held her. “We don’t know that,” he said. “If they did cross it they may have made it across before it collapsed. Their weight might have just weakened it so much that something else would have made it collapse later.”
He sighed. “The thing is, there’s no way to find out what really happened now.”
Grimly, Mavrida nodded. “We thought we were so close to finding them, but now we don’t even know if they’re dead or alive.”
“Right,” said Lendrin. “And even if they did make it to the other side, we can’t follow them now. All we can do now is keep heading south and hope there’s another crossing. I’m sorry, Mavrida.”
Suvanji still was not proficient enough in human speech to follow their conversation, but the tone of their voices informed her of its gravity.
Before they moved on Lendrin suggested blocking the entrance to the stairs in case anyone should blunder in, slip on the guano and fall out into the gorge. The three of them carried numerous large rocks to the doorway and piled them up, covering it completely. When they were done it looked like just another rock-strewn boulder. Or, as Mavrida thought, like a funeral cairn...
They had scarcely finished their labour when the long-delayed rains finally began, drenching them all through and through.
“Let’s try and find some shelter,” said Lendrin. “We can rest for a while and then decide what to do next.”
Mavrida sighed and nodded. Gloomy and bedraggled, the waterlogged searchers made their way back beneath the jungle canopy.
The rain was already churning the soil into mud, making the going difficult. Fortunately they had not gone far before they discovered a crack in a vine-wreathed stone cliff face that was just big enough for all of them to squeeze through. Once the lupinoids had assured them that there were no striagons or rival lupinoids lurking within they entered the cave, dried themselves as best they could, and took turns trying to sleep on the stone floor while thunder shook the walls.
That same thunder rumbled ominously in the south. The rains were only days or hours away, and making headway through the dense jungle was hard enough already without all of the problems that the deluge would add.
Silverpaw and Shadow had soon got over their resentment at losing to Night and accepted the younger lupinoid as their leader, but Sherinel was sorry to see them looking so subdued. Defeat had quashed their rebellious spirits, and Sherinel missed them.
Now that Sherinel was leader of the pack, he had the lupinoids tell the two wildlings of his plan to follow the river south and find Ketrin. Since they and their lupinoids knew this part of the forest he let them choose the route, and told them if he thought they were deviating too far from the river.
From time to time they encountered other lupinoid packs and there were some fangs bared in challenge, but in the end the residents grudgingly allowed them to pass. On one or two occasions the lupinoids scented striagons in the distance, but none of them came within sight.
Although Sherinel was still able to communicate with the lupinoids telepathically, the ability was weakening again. He was receiving their thoughts less sharply, and there was no telling how long it might be until he could no longer receive them at all. It would have been hard enough to control four lupinoids without telepathy, and now he was leading six lupinoids and two wildlings.
Sherinel gave the matter some serious thought. He remembered Ketrin telling him that he had become what he was through suckling lupinoid milk as an infant. Presumably the same would happen to Sherinel if he were to drink lupinoid milk, but there was none to be had, and even if there were it would not be easy to persuade a nursing lupinoid to spare some for an upstart two-leg.
The substance that conferred telepathy was clearly contained within other lupinoid body fluids as well. So far as he could tell, Sherinel had gained what little telepathy he had from accidentally ingesting lupinoid saliva. Drinking more of it was hardly an appealing prospect, but what were the alternatives? Drinking urine would be even worse, and semen was unthinkable.
That left only blood. He felt sure that ingesting lupinoid blood would reinforce his telepathic bond with them, perhaps permanently.
Lupinoid blood was easier to find than lupinoid milk, but it would be just as hard to obtain. If he tried cutting the lupinoids to get some of their milk they would probably see it as a betrayal and turn on him.
It was going to have to look like an accident.
Over the course of next few nights Sherinel and his pack made their way southward. The dense vegetation made progress slow, as well as providing lots of potential cover for any striagons that might be lurking in the vicinity. By the time the sun rose they were usually too tired to do anything but sleep, taking it in turns to keep watch.
While they were struggling through the forest Sherinel happened to notice Night observing him critically.
+Something wrong?+ thought Sherinel.
+Dunno,+ thought Night. +Are you shedding? That smelly bit of fur between your legs is gone.+
Sherinel realised that Night was talking about his waistcloth. At some point he must have taken it off to urinate or fornicate, and then left it off without even thinking about it. He had been travelling for hours, or even days, without realising that he was naked.
+Yeah, doesn’t matter,+ he told Night. +I don’t really need it any more.+
A few days after that while they were resting Sherinel greeted the twins with some rough shoves and thought: +Let’s play.+
The young lupinoids agreed readily, and Sherinel soon found himself in the midst of a furry mêlée. During such play-fights the lupinoids tried to avoid using their fangs and claws, but Sherinel was well aware that in the heat of the moment participants could still sustain nips and scratches.
That was what he was counting on. He had concealed a long thorn from a bush in his hand, and while the mêlée was at its height he took advantage of the confusion to scratch one of the Twins on the rump. The Twin yelped and reflexively snapped at Sherinel, catching the human’s hand.
+Hey!+ thought Sherinel. +It was an accident, all right? Come on, let’s have a look at that cut.+
Sherinel bent down to inspect the lupinoid’s wound, placing his own bleeding hand against the welling cut so that the lupinoid’s blood would mingle with his own.
+Yeah, nothing serious,+ he thought after a long moment. +We’ll both live.+
The Twin curled up to lick his own wound, and then did the same for Sherinel’s.
+Thanks,+ Sherinel thought, stroking both Twins’ backs. +I guess we’d all better cool off now. I dunno about you, but I could use a nap.+
Sherinel was feeling drowsy. He remembered Ketrin telling him that a human who drank lupinoid milk could never be completely human again, and he suspected the same was true for blood. He wasn’t sure if the amount he had obtained from the Twin would be enough, but he felt as if something was happening to him.
Muttering a prayer to whatever gods might preside over the lupinoids and their wild human packmates, he lay down beside the Twins and soon drifted into a fitful sleep. His dreams were filled with dreams of running figures, howling, pointed sticks and strange creatures with high and low voices.
Eventually he woke with a start, shivering in spite of the humidity.
+You all right, Big Feet?+ thought Silverpaw, padding over to examine him.
+Not sure,+ thought Sherinel. +I took some of the Twin’s blood into me and it’s doing something, but I don’t know what. I feel really weird.+
He reached up to wipe his brow, and then spent some time staring curiously at his hands.
+I keep expecting to see paws,+ he thought. +The blood’s trying to make me think like a lupinoid. I don’t know if I can handle that.+
+Nothing wrong with thinking like a four-leg, Big Feet,+ Silverpaw assured him. +You’ll be just like the two-legs-raised-by-four-legs.+
+Just as long as I don’t forget my purpose,+ thought Sherinel. +Ketrin. We’ve got to find Ketrin...+
+Hey, Big Feet... I mean, leader...+ Silverpaw thought, +we’re all getting hungry. Is it all right if we go and hunt some food? One of us will stay and watch you.+
+Oh, right,+ thought Sherinel drowsily. +Yeah, go hunt. Getting peckish myself.+
And then once more he drifted into restless slumber.
When he finally woke again his mind was clearer. Yawning, he sat up and began massaging the stiffness out of his limbs. Indefinable thoughts and emotions continued to course through his mind, but he no longer felt like a stranger in his human body.
This time it was Shadow who greeted him on awakening.
+Hey, two-leg brother.+ thought the black lupinoid, licking his face. +Feeling better now?+
Sherinel was astonished by the sheer clarity with which he was now able to receive Shadow’s telepathy. He had thought he had understood lupinoid mind-speech, yet now he realised that what he had experienced before was the mental equivalent of a mere whisper. He was now able to feel the fierce love and concern underlying the lupinoid’s thoughts.
+Yes,+ he replied, hugging his four-leg friend. +I’ve got a lot of knowledge about lupinoids in my head now, but it’s all tucked away safely where I can reach it when I need it.+
+Huh,+ thought Shadow. +I know your head’s big, but I don’t know how you can fit all that stuff in there.+
+You’d be surprised,+ replied Sherinel. +Come on, I’ve got to talk to the two-legs.+
With that, he rose and set off with Shadow at his heels to find the male and female wildlings. He found them in a grassy clearing, dividing up the spoils of the hunt with the other lupinoids.
+Hello,+ he thought at them. +I’ve mixed lupinoid blood with my own and taken some of its substance into me. Can you hear my thoughts now?+
+Yes,+ they thought.
Just like that. No surprise or elation. Like lupinoids they simply accepted whatever their senses told them, and then decided what to do about it.
+I was just about to wake you,+ thought the female. +As leader you eat first.+
So thinking, she handed him a large chunk of meat that looked as if came from a wild vorn. It must have taken all of their combined efforts to bring down such a large creature, and it was enough to sustain all of them for several days.
+Good hunt,+ thought Sherinel, taking the meat and tearing into it with his teeth. Beforehand he would have been less enthusiastic about eating raw meat, but under the influence of the blood he found himself devouring it like a starving lupinoid.
The others took this as their cue to join the feast, and while they ate Sherinel told them of his search for Ketrin.
+Like you, he was raised by lupinoids and knows the forest,+ he told them. +But his enemy used some unknown power to render him helpless.+
+If he’s helpless he’ll get eaten,+ replied the male, with simple lupinoid logic.
+I don’t think so,+ thought Lendrin. +As far as I know, when this power is on him he can’t move but nothing wants to eat him, and he doesn’t need to eat or drink. So unless anyone can free him he won’t get hurt, just bored.+
+He can’t do anything?+ thought the female. +Just stand like a tree?+
+That’s right. That’s how Silverpaw here left him, near the big waterfall downriver. If nobody else found him since then he’ll still be standing there. On the other hand, if anyone did find him and move him we can track him from there. So, that’s what Ketrin’s brothers and I are doing. If you four want to stay in our pack and help us look, your knowledge of this part of the forest would help us a lot.+
+We’ll stay with you,+ thought the male, without a moment’s hesitation. The female, Night and Ash all agreed.
+All right, then,+ thought Sherinel, feeling more relieved than he had expected. +I’m glad to have you with us. As soon as we’re rested we’ll get moving again.+
And that was that.
After Mavrida’s party had rested they took stock of their surroundings. A dim light filtered through cracks in the ceiling, allowing them to survey the structure of the cave.
“You know, I don’t think this is a cave at all,” said Mavrida. “The walls are straight, and the floor would be too if it wasn’t for all the rubble that’s fallen onto it. I think it’s a house.”
“A stone house?” said Lendrin. “Who would build such a thing? And look at the size of this place. It’s huge. Who could possibly live in such a big room?”
Nipper yawned hugely. +There go the two-legs, yapping again,+ she thought.
+Yeah, they do that a lot,+ agreed Suvanji. +Just be patient. I’m sure we’ll be moving again soon.+
“I don’t know,” Mavrida admitted. “Maybe it was made by the people who built the bridge. If this was an important place they would have built the bridge so that people from over the river could visit.”
“What people?” asked Lendrin. “And more to the point, why would they come here?”
Mavrida shrugged. “Why does anyone visit a place? To worship, maybe, or to trade. There might have been a lot more people living in this part of the forest at one time. Why else would they need a bridge in the first place? Lendrin, I believe this is part of the lost city that the legends talk about. A place where not tens or even hundreds, but thousands of people once lived and worked together. And now it’s abandoned and overgrown. Where could they all have gone?”
Lendrin thought about it. “I’ve heard legends about the lost city as well,” he said. “And you know what else the legends say about it, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Mavrida. “They say the city contained a vast treasury, filled from floor to ceiling with gold and jewels.”
“And do you believe the stories?” asked Lendrin.
“I believe my son. He told me he found lots of shiny things too, but he wasn’t interested in them because he couldn’t eat them. The only thing he took was a jewelled knife, because he’d seen villagers using knives and he realised it could be useful for hunting.”
Lendrin exhaled. “So if you’re right we could be sitting above a big pile of trouble.”
“Right,” said Mavrida. “I just hope to the gods those hunters don’t track us here. If they find the gold you can be sure it won’t remain secret for very long. Then everyone with a glint of gold in their eyes will fall upon this place and they’ll fight each other to the death over the treasure. Whole villages will empty of their best hunters and providers, and many of them will never come back again. And if any of them do make it home with their hands full of gold, it will only make matters worse for those villages.”
“Now hold on,” said Lendrin. “Aren’t you getting a bit ahead of yourself here? Remember, we haven’t found any gold yet. For all we know, this might not be the city in the legend. The treasury could be somewhere else altogether.”
“Well, I hope you’re right,” she said, “but I have a bad feeling about this place. There’s something not right about it.”
”All right then,” said Lendrin. “We won’t stay here a moment longer than we have to. We’ll head back to the gorge, and if there is anyone following us we’ll lead them away from here. Come on, Suv - oh, now where do those two think they’re going?”
Scenting something unusual, Nipper had set off to look for it. Mavrida and Lendrin just had time to catch a glimpse of her tail as it disappeared through a previously-unseen opening in the wall, swiftly followed by Suvanji’s. Red and Grey were all for following, but the humans restrained them.
“Suvanji!” called Mavrida. “This is no time to split up! Get back here with Nipper, we’re leaving right now!”
“Oh, come now, what’s the hurry?”
Lendrin and Mavrida started. The voice had come from behind them.
“I’d like to invite you to stay a little longer. There are things I want to show you both.”
The figure that Mavrida and Lendrin turned to confront looked like an astonishingly aged and decrepit man, wreathed from head to foot in a patchwork of filthy robes.
“Who are you?” Lendrin demanded.
The stranger chuckled softly, causing chills to run down the spines of the two humans. The lupinoids crouched defensively and growled deep in their throats.
“Please allow me to introduce myself,” said the old man. “I am... let us say, a business associate of your friend Borvinn. He has been something of disappointment, though, I have to say. Still, no matter. My plans will reach fruition, one way or another, and no mere statue-Maiden can possibly stop me.”
Red and Grey were still snarling at the intruder. Like the humans, they sensed something unnatural about him.
“Oh, be quiet, you ridiculous fleabags,” he muttered, gesturing vaguely in their direction.
Instantly two studs bearing blue crystals appeared in the lupinoids’ ears, freezing them into helpless immobility.
“You!” cried Mavrida. “You’re the one who froze Suvanji and Nipper and gave Borvinn the crystal to freeze Ketrin with!”
The old man sneered. “Oh, very good, Mavrida. A brilliant piece of deductive logic. And yes, Mavrida, I know your name, and Lendrin’s. I know a great many things of which ordinary mortals, not to mention stone Maidens, are blissfully ignorant.”
Taking a step forward the old man pointed a skeletal finger at Mavrida and said, “Would you like to know what really happened to your husband?”
“What do you mean, ‘what really happened’?” Mavrida demanded. “Borvinn told me Ruthyar was killed by a striagon, but I’ve always suspected that it was Borvinn himself or one of his cronies who really killed him. Is that what you’re talking about?”
The stranger laughed softly. “Oh no,” he said. “It might surprise you to learn that Borvinn was telling the truth when he said Ruthyar’s body was never found. But I must say I’m surprised you’re still interested in him, judging by the way you’ve been going at it with your beast-girl and this peasant here. Your vows of fidelity didn’t last very long once you had the opportunity to fuck two people who were half your age, did they? I bet your precious Maiden’s laughing her stone arse off about that.”
“That’s enough,” said Lendrin, drawing his knife and snarling like a lupinoid. “One more word and I’ll kill you.”
An instant later Lendrin cried out as his hand was engulfed in red-hot agony. The knife clattered to the stone floor.
“It’s no use threatening me, boy,” said the old man.
Lendrin examined his hand, and was astonished to find it unharmed.
“Pain by nerve induction,” said the old man offhandedly. “Got the idea from an old story. No point causing you physical injury - at least, not until I’ve exhausted all other options. Anyway, heroics aren’t exactly your style, are they? I’ve seen you crying your eyes out over the poor little lupie-wupie whose brains you bashed in.”
Turning to Mavrida the old man said, “Of course he’s told you about how he killed the beast, but I can do better than that. I can show you as if you were actually there.”
Even as he spoke a section of the wall behind him seemed to vanish. It was replaced by a small clearing in which an elderly lupinoid was prowling slowly with its nose to the ground, looking for small game. A moment later the lupinoid seemed to catch a new scent. It looked up just in time to see a bipedal figure emerging from the bushes just in front of it.
Lendrin wanted to look away but found himself unable to do so. The old man’s powers forced him to keep watching as the lupinoid in the vision took a step toward the image of his earlier self. The image of Lendrin started in alarm as the creature approached him, then took a step back, reached down and picked a large stone off the ground.
Mavrida was also transfixed by the image. Just as the lupinoid crouched in what Mavrida recognised as a non-threat gesture, the image of Lendrin brought the stone down upon its head.
Unable to turn away, Mavrida shuddered as she watched the wounded animal fall, whimpering horribly and convulsing in agony. Lendrin’s image dropped to his knees in shocked recognition of the enormity of his actions.
Shaking and muttering prayers and apologies, the Lendrin image fumbled for his knife, then struggled to hold the thrashing creature down and avoid its jaws. After what seemed an eternity Lendrin’s knife found the lupinoid’s throat, and a few moments later it lay still with the traumatised human kneeling beside it.
At last the vision faded, releasing Mavrida and Lendrin from its spell. Lendrin screwed his eyes shut as if vainly trying to erase the image from his mind.
“Well, that was entertaining, wasn’t it?” chuckled the old man. “Perhaps you’d care to watch it again.”
“I don’t need to watch it again,” breathed Lendrin through clenched teeth. “I see it in my mind every day.”
“Ah, well,” said the old man, “at least both your girlfriends got to see it as well.”
“Both of them?” muttered Lendrin. He turned just in time to see Suvanji, looking confused and distressed, standing in the doorway with Nipper.
“Oh,” said the old man, “that’s unfortunate. When your little beast-girl returned she couldn’t see you watching from the shadows. She could only see the image of you that I projected, and of course she doesn’t realise that that was only a memory. So she thinks you only just killed that fleabag for no reason, and now she’s scared you might do the same to her and her pet.”
Even as he spoke Suvanji turned and ran with the lupinoid at her heels.
“How awkward for your relationship,” the old man continued. “She might never trust you again now. Life was so much simpler for you when she was just your paralysed fuckdoll, wasn’t it?”
“Suvanji!” cried Lendrin. “Suvanji, wait! Come back!”
“Oh, let her go,” purred the stranger. “She and her furball will be halfway to the forest by now. Even if you can find her in the jungle without getting eaten by something first, you’ll never be able to explain what happened because she doesn’t have sufficient grasp of the language.”
“I’ve heard enough,” growled Lendrin. “Come on, Mavrida. Run.”
“But... he has Red and Grey...”
“We can’t help them now. Come on!”
Mavrida hesitated for only a moment longer, and then ran toward the doorway after Lendrin - only to slam head first into an invisible wall.
Once the sparks had cleared from her eyes Mavrida tried to force her way forward. There appeared to be nothing stopping her, but the barrier was impenetrable. It was as if the air between her and the doorway had become harder than rock.
Just on the other side of the barrier Lendrin was trying to break through to Mavrida, with as little success. She could see his mouth moving, but no sound penetrated the impossible wall.
Gesturing frantically Mavrida mouthed, “Go. Leave me. Find Suvanji. Find my son. Forget about me. There’s nothing you can do.”
Then she deliberately turned to face the old man. If his cruelty was focused upon her it was possible he might overlook Lendrin and Suvanji for the moment.
Mavrida did not turn back, but she sensed the moment when Lendrin’s eyes turned away from her.
“I must apologise for detaining you, Mavrida,” the old man said, with all the false grace he could muster.
“Yes, you must,” she replied icily. “Tell me, does it give you pleasure to hurt and humiliate people?”
“Oh, yes, Mavrida, it does,” he replied without hesitation. “More pleasure than you can imagine.”
“You’re not human, are you?” said Mavrida. “The lupinoids sensed it, I’m sure. Are you a god, or a demon?”
The old man chuckled softly. “You can’t possibly conceive of what I am, nor what I am capable of.”
As he spoke he led Mavrida across the stone room, past where the two Lupinoids stood like guardian sculptures, toward a doorway she had not seen before.
“Now, apropos of our earlier conversation,” said the stranger, “there is somebody I would like you to meet. Enter.”
Warily, Mavrida stepped through the doorway. Red and Grey watched helplessly, distressed at not being able to defend her.
The room beyond was suddenly illuminated by a bright, cold radiance whose source Mavrida could not discern. It was unlike sunlight or lamplight, but it revealed every detail of the room in unforgiving clarity.
At the centre of the room stood a dais on which a macabre tableau was displayed. Mavrida might have mistaken it for a statue if she had not known of the paralysing crystals.
A huge striagon stood with its forepaws upon the chest of a near-naked man, its jaws beginning to close on his throat. Both the man and the beast had blue crystals attached to studs in their ears.
The instant she saw the figure Mavrida knew with horrible certainty who the man was, but her feet compelled her forward to confirm what her heart already knew.
He was just as she remembered him, young and handsome with long brown hair. His eyes were open, staring at his attacker with grim determination. His jaw was set, and he showed no apparent fear at his impending death.
“Ruthyar,” she breathed.
“There, you see?” said the old man, moving to stand at Mavrida’s shoulder. “I told you Borvinn was telling the truth when he said Ruthyar’s body was never found. The reason it was never found was because I froze him and the striagon at the very moment it struck, and then brought them here. And here he has been ever since.”
Suvanji and Lendrin
Lendrin followed Suvanji and Nipper’s muddy footprints out of the stone ruins and into the forest, but soon lost their trail in the rain.
“Suvanji!” he cried. “Suvanji, please come back! I won’t harm either of you, I promise. Please let me explain. Suvanji!”
Concealed behind a nearby boulder, Suvanji and Nipper could hear Lendrin perfectly well. Nipper was all for greeting her male two-leg friend, but Suvanji ordered the lupinoid to be silent.
Nipper looked up at Suvanji and huffed quizzically. +You like him,+ projected the lupinoid. +Why don’t you go to him?+
Suvanji looked back at her furred companion and replied in kind: +Because I don’t understand him any more. I don’t know if he is friendly or hostile.+
+He was never hostile to us,+ Nipper replied.
That was true. Until this day Suvanji had never seen Lendrin show any aggression toward four-legs. It was true that he had seemed distressed for some reason when Mavrida had first introduced him to her red and grey four-legs, but he had shown no sign either then or since that he wished to harm them or Nipper in any way.
So, then, why had he so viciously attacked and killed the old four-leg in the cave? Had the four-leg threatened him in some way? Suvanji had only walked in on the end of the incident, and so Lendrin’s motivation remained a mystery to her.
Nipper was right: Suvanji did like Lendrin, not just as a mate but as a companion. Losing him would be just as painful as if she were to lose Nipper. Yet if he really had killed the four-leg out of malice, there was no way she could ever trust him again.
Suvanji sighed and folded her arms beneath her breasts. She knew that the only way to determine the truth of what had happened was to question Lendrin herself, but as yet she had insufficient understanding of two-leg mouth sounds to ask the right questions, let alone comprehend the answers.
If only she could share thoughts with Lendrin, the way she could with the four-legs. Then there could be no misunderstanding between them.
Weary from her inner conflict, Suvanji rolled onto her side, telling Nipper: +Gonna take a nap now. If he comes back this way wake me up.+
The wildling immediately fell into a deep sleep while her lupinoid friend kept watch.
At that moment Lendrin was sitting beneath a tree. He felt like burying his head in his hands, but half-lost and alone in the forest as he was, he could not afford to let his guard down.
He might never see her again, his beautiful wild goddess. But then, she had never truly been his to begin with. She was just as wild as a lupinoid, and just as impossible to tame. If she wanted to go, there was no way he could force her to stay. If he tried, he would be no better than whoever had paralysed her.
If only he could explain to her that what she had seen in the hidden city was not the real Lendrin, that he wished to atone for his past sins. Even the thought of losing her was less painful than the thought that she believed him to be an evil monster.
“Suvanji,” he called. “Suvanji, if you can hear me, please come back. I swear I won’t hurt you, or Nipper. I only want to talk to you. I only want to try and make you understand me.”
Lendrin waited, and waited, but there was no reply. He supposed it had been a forlorn hope anyway. By now she and Nipper could be thousands of cubits away. If Suvanji was gone there was nothing he could do except try to find Mavrida and continue the quest for her son.
In fact Suvanji and Nipper were less than a hundred cubits from where he had been sitting, and only the density of the vegetation had prevented him from seeing them.
+Hey, two-leg friend, wake up,+ thought Nipper. +The male two-leg’s nearby. He’s been howling - for you, I guess.+
Immediately awake, Suvanji sat upright and scratched Nipper’s studless ear. Her sleep had been brief, but filled with meaningful dreams.
+I know what to do now,+ she told her lupinoid sister.
And without further explanation she set off to find Lendrin.
Lendrin sat beneath a tree and considered his options. He had finally resigned himself to the fact that he wasn’t going to find Suvanji by blundering around aimlessly. If she chose to, she would find him. If she did not...
He sighed and shook his head. There was nothing for it but to keep moving, and pray that she had not abandoned him forever. Blinking away tears, Lendrin stood up, gathered up his weapons and supplies and prepared to set off into the jungle.
By his reckoning he was several hundred cubits southwest of the lost city. It seemed his best option was to head back eastward to the river and hope that he could find Mavrida.
He was well on his way back to the gorge when a lupinoid stepped out of the trees in front of him. Mindful of his earlier fateful encounter with a lupinoid Lendrin swallowed nervously. Attempting to look as non-threatening as possible he crouched down and lowered his weapons. Then he saw the metal stud in the lupinoid’s ear, and realised that it was Nipper.
The lupinoid bounded forward and greeted Lendrin as an old friend, but the hunter’s heart was pounding.
“Nipper,” he breathed. “Is Suvanji with you?”
His question was answered immediately. The nude girl emerged from the forest and stood before him. Her stance was relaxed, but her purple eyes held an expression of quiet determination. She had reached an important decision.
Lendrin stepped forward slowly, uncertain what to say or do, uncertain of the wildling’s intentions. Finally he managed to say, “Suvanji, I... have you... have you come to...?”
Suvanji stepped forward, looked Lendrin in the eyes and said: “Blood.”
Sherinel’s pack had been travelling for two days when they heard a mental call from nearby. The call emanated from somewhere within a cluster of vine-strewn boulders. Clearing away some of the vines they uncovered a naked young man, and a pale grey lupinoid with a dark face and stripes.
+Another wildling,+ thought Sherinel. +I was right. There could be many tens of others that we don’t know about.+
+They’re like your lost packmate,+ the female wildling thought. +Not moving.+
+That’s right,+ Sherinel told her. +They’re paralysed. See the blue jewel in the lupinoid’s ear, and the one hanging from the man’s neck? I don’t understand how, but those things are keeping them frozen and alive.+
+Hey,+ thought the paralysed youth. +You mean if you take the blue things off us we can move again?+
Sherinel tried to remove the human’s pendant, but it would not budge in the slightest.
+Sorry,+ he thought. +They won’t come off. Who put them on you in the first place?+
+Dunno. I just got a glimpse of something - might have been a two-leg covered in dark furs - and then we were both here by the rocks with these things on us and we couldn’t do anything. Dunno how long it’s been. Seems like a long time.+
+From the length of those vines on you,+ Sherinel thought. +I’d say it must have been two or three rains.+
+Huh. So you can’t help us?+
+I’m sorry. I would if I could. All we can do is clear away the vines and make you as comfortable as possible.+
+So where you lot going to anyway?+ asked the wildling.
+We’re looking for a two-leg friend of mine,+ thought Sherinel. +He’s probably paralysed too. If we can figure out how to free him we’ll come back and free you.+
+Well, good hunting,+ the wildling replied, then had another thought. +Hey, two-leg... wanna play with me? I can’t move most of my body, but I can still get hard. See?+
Sherinel was momentarily taken aback, but then smiled. +Yeah. I do see. All right, let’s get the rest of those vines off you so I can see what the rest of you looks like. And feels like.+
Sherinel and the wildlings freed the paralysed stranger and his lupinoid from the vines and then spent the rest of the night performing sexual acts on him and each other. Meanwhile Night, Silverpaw and Shadow took turns mounting the lupinoid. They slept through the next day, and then spent the next night playing with their new friends again.
Finally at midnight on the third day Sherinel reluctantly announced that it was time to move on. The rains were approaching, and when they arrived the going would become even more treacherous than it was.
So Sherinel and his pack said farewell to their paralysed friends, who watched them depart in a haze of post-coital euphoria and wondered if they would ever see - or feel - them again.
A Question of Life and Death
The old man grinned, displaying his horribly decayed fangs. “Imagine it, Mavrida. All these years you thought Ruthyar was dead, when actually he was lying here in the dark with a striagon’s claws at his chest and its teeth at his throat, forever experiencing the moment of his death, yet forever unable to die - or to live.”
Ruthyar’s eyes moved to stare directly into Mavrida’s.
Her emotions were in turmoil. There were a million things she wanted to say to him, and she scarcely knew where to begin.
“Ruthyar,” she whispered. “Oh, Ruthyar, I’m sorry. If only I’d known - Ruthyar, I still love you. I’ve always loved you. You must know that. And there’s something else I have to tell you.”
Wiping her tear-stained eyes, Mavrida looked into Ruthyar’s and said, “Ruthyar, our son - Ketrin - he is alive, Ruthyar. The striagons didn’t kill him. The lupinoids found him and raised him as their own. He’s tall, and strong, and beautiful, and wild as any lupinoid, and the lupinoids are his brothers. Oh, you should see him, Ruthyar. Someday you shall see him. Somehow I’ll make this right. Somehow I will free you.”
“Very well said, Mavrida,” purred the old man at her shoulder. “Only just how do you imagine you’re going to do that? Take a good look, Mavrida. The striagon’s fangs have already crushed his throat and pierced his veins. Now, you could use one of the crystals you hold to release him from the spell, in which case he would die very swiftly. Or alternatively you could just leave him as he is, in living death in the striagon’s jaws. At least he now knows that you and Ketrin are still alive - for now. But those are your only choices, Mavrida. You can never have your husband back the way he was.”
The sorcerer grinned. “But then, it’s not like you need him any more, is it? Not now you’ve got two new lovers. That young hunter may be a snivelling wretch, but I’ve seen how he makes you scream for more. And as for that wild girl - well, Ruthyar, you’ve always known that Mavrida was for girls as well, and with tits like that how could your supposed widow possibly resist?”
“Gods damn you,” breathed Mavrida.
“Your gods can’t hurt me,” chuckled the sorcerer. “Not even your precious Maiden. Anyway, why condemn me for telling the truth? Ruthyar should be grateful that you’re finally fucking real people instead of just root vegetables.”
Mavrida’s vision narrowed to a small circle, through which the sorcerer’s grotesque face leered at her. She thought she might be going mad. There was a part of her that wanted to pick up a large stone and smash it into the old man’s face until it was a bloody mess. Another, more rational, part of her kept reminding her that he could not be stopped so easily.
The worst of it was that he was undoubtedly revelling in the emotional maelstrom that churned within her.
“Well, I dare say you’ll want to be alone with your husband for a while,” he said. His smile was sweet insincerity.
Walking away, he spoke again: “Just remember what I told you, Mavrida. Use a crystal to free him from the paralysis and he will have a swift, merciful death. Leave him as he is and he will remain helpless and in agony forever. The decision is yours.”
Mavrida knelt beside Ruthyar’s frozen body and tried to think. She did not for one moment believe that just because the old man had left the room, he could not see and hear everything she said or did. For all she knew he could read her mind as well.
“I’m sorry, Ruthyar,” she whispered. “I never meant to be unfaithful to you. If I had had any way of knowing, of guessing, that you were still alive... The old man twists things, Ruthyar. He doesn’t care about people’s true feelings. All he wants is to cause as much suffering as he can.”
A new resolve came over her. “Well, I can’t let you suffer any more. I have always loved you, Ruthyar, and I will not let the old man keep you in this half-dead state any longer.”
With trembling hands Mavrida reached for the crystal that would put Ruthyar out of his misery.
Suvanji and Lendrin
“Blood?” muttered Lendrin. “I... I don’t under...”
The wild girl fixed his eyes with her intense purple gaze. “Share blood, Lendrin. Scratch our paws, put them t’gether. Stuff in my blood gets in yours. See?”
Realisation was beginning to dawn. “Yes... yes, I think so. You believe that if we mix our blood then we will be able to share thoughts? Your blood will give me that ability?”
“I know this,” she said. “Dream showed me. Lendrin, I must un’erstand,ask you things, but I don’t know the words. This way, I see your thoughts, then I know what to do.”
“Yes,” muttered Lendrin. “You’ll know what to do about me.”
For a long moment Lendrin looked the wild girl in the eyes, then nodded and drew his knife.
“I pray that this works,” he told her. “I want you to understand me. I’ve done bad things in the past, but I’ve never intended harm to you or Nipper. Let’s do this.”
Lendrin drew the knife across his palm, making a long shallow cut, then handed it to Suvanji who did the same, and then Lendrin and Suvanji clasped their bleeding hands together. Nipper watched, curious about this strange two-leg ritual.
“Will this be enough, do you think, or will we have to do it more than once?” asked Lendrin.
“We see,” said Suvanji. “You feel an’thing?”
“Not sure,” he said. “I feel a bit dizzy, but that might just be anticipation.”
Suvanji removed her hand and called Nipper over to lick their wounds. Within moments the lupinoid’s saliva had staunched their bleeding.
Lendrin was drowsy and feverish. Unable to stifle his yawns, he laid down in the undergrowth and soon fell into a restless sleep, watched over by Suvanji and Nipper.
Lendrin’s dreams were a confusion of images, sounds and scents. Running feet, the scent of prey, strange two-legged beings, huge striped predators, the taste of fresh meat, small cubs tumbling over each other in an attempt to establish dominance... the memories of generations burned within Lendrin’s fevered brain.
There was one image that recurred over and over again. Two strange two-legged beings with weirdly reflective skin, like nothing the four-leg kind had ever seen before...
Eventually Lendrin woke. Nipper was sleeping beside him, which meant that Suvanji must be standing guard nearby.
The lupinoid felt Lendrin stirring and was instantly on her feet.
+Hey, two-leg, you’re awake.+
Lendrin started. It was as if somebody had just spoken inside his head. They had not used words as such, but rather had projected concepts that his mind automatically translated into words.
+Nipper?+ he thought. +Was... was that +you?
+Yeah, course it was me,+ came the reply. +Female two-leg told me she got you to share blood to see if it would make you able to share thinks like us. Guess it did.+
+Yes,+ thought Lendrin. +It certainly did. This is amazing.+
Behind the lupinoid’s thoughts Lendrin could also sense her fiercely protective loyalty and friendship for him.
+Is that really how you feel about me?+ he thought. +Well, I’m grateful for your friendship, but I guess it’s up to Suvanji to decide if I’m still a member of this pack.+
+Yeah. I’ve called her,+ projected Nipper. +If she’s gonna challenge you, you’d best face her while you’re fresh.+
+It won’t be a fight,+ thought Lendrin. +At least, I hope it won’t.+
A few moments later Suvanji arrived. Kneeling before him, the wildling gazed into his eyes.
+Lendrin,+ she projected. +Can you hear my thoughts now?+
+Yes,+ he replied. +It’s so strange to be able to talk to you without words.+
+You know what I need to ask you, Lendrin. Why did you kill that four-leg in the cave? Did it attack you? I have to know why.+
Lendrin nodded. Behind her thoughts he could feel her confusion, her desperate need to understand.
+First of all,+ he told her, +you have to understand that what you saw was a memory. It did not happen today, but years ago. Somehow the old man took the memory from my mind and turned it into a moving picture, and that was what you saw.+
+An old two-leg?+ thought Suvanji.
+Yes,+ thought Lendrin. +It was dark in the... the cave, and he was wearing dark robes and a hood, so you probably didn’t see him.+
Suvanji looked thoughtful. +So,+ she projected, +What I saw... did not happen when I saw it?+
+That’s right,+ he replied, +it did not happen then.+ He sighed and drew a deep breath. +But it did happen, Suvanji. It happened before I met you, before I understood lupinoids like I do now. I was hunting in the forest when I stumbled across a lupinoid in a clearing. It might have growled at me - I really don’t remember now. Anyway... I panicked. I thought it was going to attack me, so... I attacked it first. I hit it with a rock and mortally wounded it.+
Suvanji saw the image in Lendrin’s mind, and felt all of the grief and remorse that the memory aroused. Not all of the dampness on their faces came from the rain.
+Of course, it hadn’t been attacking,+ Lendrin continued. +It was just curious about me. When I saw how much suffering I had caused it, I wanted to die myself. My second impulse was to run away, but I didn’t. I finished it with my knife because I couldn’t stand to see it in such pain. Anyway, that’s what happened. I attacked that lupinoid because I was a coward and a fool, Suvanji, and that was what you saw. The old man showed that memory to both of us, knowing that it would cause me to relive my shame, and that it would make you hate me.+
+I don’t hate you,+ she told him. +I wanted to understand, and now I do. You are not hostile to four-legs. You are not hostile to me.+
+Oh, Suvanji, I could never be hostile to you,+ he thought, embracing her fiercely. +When I thought you’d left me... the thought of never seeing you again really did make me want to die.+
+Don’t die, Lendrin,+ she thought. +I won’t leave you. I know I can trust you now. I want you to be my mate and friend. I want to have your cubs.+
He laughed, wiping away his tears. +Well, in that case you’ll have to stop eating thaal leaves for a moon or two,+ he told her.
+Oh, those,+ she thought. +I never ate them. Mavrida neither.+
+What? You never... and Mavrida never...? Oh, gods. I think I’d need to sit down if I wasn’t already.+
+So,+ thought Nipper, licking his face, +you two friends again?+
Lendrin laughed again. +Guess we are,+ he replied.
Then another thought struck him. +Mavrida!+ he thought. +She’s still with the old man. There’s no telling what he might do to her. We have to get back to her quickly.+
+This way,+ Suvanji told him.
They ran back through the forest as quickly as they could, but their original trail was nowhere to be found and dense vegetation kept blocking their way. It was almost as if the old man had the power to twist the forest trails to obstruct their passage.
Eventually they found themselves, bruised and exhausted, back at the rocky edge of the gorge. The ruins could not be too far away, but there was no telling in the dark whether they lay to the north or south.
Lendrin sighed. +All right,+ he thought. +I guess we should split up. You and Nipper go that way and I’ll go this, and whoever finds the ruins will howl to the other.+
Suvanji made a small grunt of assent and was about to set off with Nipper, when a sudden bolt of lightning split the rock between them and threw them all off their feet.
Half blinded and momentarily stunned, Lendrin rolled onto all fours, thinking: +Can the old man summon lightning as well? Then why didn’t he just kill us with it?+
Crawling forward he reached out to pull Suvanji away from the edge, but the crack was widening. Before he could grab her there was a sickening noise of tearing stone, and the section of cliff on which Suvanji and Nipper lay broke loose and fell.
Over the sounds of Nipper’s howl, Suvanji’s scream and his own anguished cry, Lendrin was sure he could hear the old man’s mocking laughter.
December 2007 - January 2009
This is where I go all Dan Shive on you again and expound upon the minutiæ of the writing process. I really hope you’ll take a few moments to read and ponder it and not just skip it.
Once again you may notice that the title character of this story doesn’t get much of a look in, and you might think it should be retitled The Adventures of Everybody Else in the story Except Ketrin, or possibly No Need for Ketrin. But that doesn’t matter. He’s still the catalyst behind the other characters’ actions, so as far as I’m concerned it’s still his story.
The scene in which Ral-ne-Sa explains exactly how he “created” Ketrin was originally a lot longer, and gave away much more information about who and what Ral-ne-Sa is and how he made the lupinoids what they are ‘today’ (ie 1500 years in the future). I finally decided it was too much information at this stage of the game, so I’ve replaced most of the exposition with broader hints which hopefully will encourage some informed speculation amongst the readership.
The more obsessive amongst you might notice that the timing of Sherinel’s storyline in this instalment doesn’t seem to sync with Mavrida’s. Sherinel and his newfound pack seem to take several days on their quest, possibly as much as a week, whilst Mavrida’s simultaneous journey only appears to take three or four days. Well, in this instance I can only invoke the MST3K Doctrine: It’s just a story. Relax. The dates will all work out at the end, or they won’t. Either way, the story should be entertaining enough that that’s only a minor consideration. In fact now that I mention it I’m not really sure why I brought it up in the first place.
The reason this instalment has two cliffhangers is that the final chapter was originally intended for Part Ten, but I wrote most of it before adding the cliffhanger to it. That was one of those things that just came to me one day. What is the thing that Suvanji is most afraid of? Heights. Therefore what should happen to her? She should fall from a great height, of course.
Authors are such horrible sadists, aren’t we? If we did half the things to real people that we did to our characters we’d get lynched.
And of course Suvanji and Nipper’s fall is such a major cliffhanger - or rather, cliffdropper - that I couldn’t possibly waste it on the middle of an instalment, and placing it at the end of Part Ten would have been out of the question, so I had no alternative but to move it to the end of Part Nine, despite the fact that I’d already written a major cliffhanger for Part Nine. So that’s why you get two cliffhangers for the price of one.
As for that other cliffhanger, the “Question of Life and Death” scene is one that I’ve had planned since the very beginning, and I’ve been throwing in references to Ruthyar and his mysterious disappearance throughout the series in order to keep his name fresh in readers’ minds. The vital clue that I’ve been throwing in there at regular intervals, which the clever amongst you should have spotted, is that HIS BODY WAS NEVER FOUND. Which in fiction is usually a dead giveaway that the person is still alive (unless it’s a deliberate subversion).
The scene wasn’t actually inspired by Tipu’s Tiger, but the resemblance occurred to me while I was at the V&A photographing a statue, and turned around and saw it in a glass case just off the sculpture court.
So now I’ve got not one, not two, but three major characters in mortal peril. Am I really going to kill off Ruthyar, Suvanji and Nipper, do you think?
The answer is only a click away!
--Leem, April-June 2009
In Our Next Impossible Instalment...
We’ve got thrills and shocks, supersonic fighting cocks
Leave your hammers at the box, move along, move along
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