Awakening, Part 4

Forward progress remained a mere fantasy. It didn’t matter where she went, she wound up arriving back at the same place every time. The woods boxed her in, her path growing smaller and smaller until there was absolutely no place to go other than where she stood. Alecha tried to placate the energy of the area, but her calming attempts to reach out using the Art were scuttled, deflected. Nature wasn’t interested in resolving whatever transgression she’d committed in coming here.

She finally sat down, nervously appraising the land around her. She could feel it watching her, the rage simmering on the edge of her perceptions. The unspoken threat of harm lingered in the eerie silence of the wildlife staring her down. She didn’t dare lean against a tree for fear a branch would take that moment to break off and fall on her head. Her muscles ached and her limbs were covered in mud from all the falls.

“What did I do?” she questioned aloud, wiping her eyes with the one clean spot left on her arm. “Why am I not welcome here? First his mate snaps, and now - And now… Wait…”

That was it. That had to be it. The rage was the very same - instinctive, territorial, protective, confused. His mate’s aura held such a strange quality, an echo of something unlike the Art, yet in some way integrated with the heartbeat of Nature itself. The forest’s energy resonated like the vixen’s own. She felt distressed by Alecha’s unexpected presence. Therefore, so did the forest.

“I’m thick… I’m utterly thick! Goddess, I should have sensed this before I ever stepped foot in here… Please, hear me! I apologize! If you’ll permit me, I’ll leave and not return… Just show me a way, and I’ll follow it…”

For a long moment, nothing happened. Her plea was utterly ignored. Then, suddenly, the underbrush rustled behind her. After brief study, a small opening was evident that definitely hadn’t been there before. Taking a deep breath she set out along the narrow path, gingerly picking her way over unstable ground. All around her the forest quieted, the ire of nature gently giving way to the peace and tranquility she’d always been treated to in her element. A sense of unease lingered, but she couldn’t determine if it was also the forest’s, or purely her own.

The uneven path suddenly gave way to a well travelled trail through the woods. Giving a glance both ways, she went with her gut and turned left. No sooner had she turned the next bend, the white vixen came into view, jogging up the trail.

“No, wait!” Jadyn’s mate called out, as Alecha turned to quickly retreat the other way. “Please, I owe you an apology. My Gods, are you all right? What did this place do to you, steal everything down to the clothes on your back?”

Alecha sighed, gazing at the canopy of branches overhead. Daylight was once again sparkling through the golden leaves. “I lost those after I took them off to stop them from getting snagged on everything I walked past. My bracelet vanished somewhere along the line as well. Didn’t even feel it slip off. Not entirely sure how it could have ‘slipped off,’ either. I suspect some assistance was involved.”

“It’s my fault. I’m very sorry,” she apologized, bowing her head. “This whole experience has been completely overwhelming and I’m having a great deal of trouble keeping myself in check. The forest picked up on everything I was feeling and tried to help in the only way it knows. I honestly don’t know how you can go through this your entire life and stay reasonably sane.”

“It takes a couple seasons, but you eventually get the hang of it. Or you just… don’t. There’s really not much middle ground.” Alecha eyed her new acquaintance carefully. “You’ve really never experienced a mating cycle before?”

“No,” she confirmed.

“How is that even possible? Jadyn said you’re a hundred and fifty. You look younger than him. Even so, that’s nearly two hundred and sixty seasons if you were a very late bloomer.”

“Well… That’s a rather involved thing to answer on the spot.” She scratched her neck, appraising the woods around them. “You know what? There’s a little spot nearby we can talk at length in a little more comfortable a setting. Unless you’d rather get out of here… If I’d just been assaulted by every plant, animal, and insect in the woods, I probably wouldn’t be able to relax here either…”

“No, it’s… It’s all right. In fact… Mm.” Alecha shut one eye, appraising the vixen once more. In the cabin her aura was simply confusing. Here, in the woods… She was downright intimidating. Where her aura ended and that of the forest began was impossible to discern. As far as she could tell, the vixen before her and the woodlands around her were a single entity, no longer upset - just very concerned for Alecha’s well-being after all that transpired. “Incredible. I do accept the apology, miss…?”

“Call me Tari. It’s Alecha, right?” Tari gestured up the path, Alecha falling in step at her side. “You’re a friend and Guildmate of Jay’s. He trusts you. While that should be adequate, I just don’t feel that I know you well enough to tell you everything you probably want to know. I will try to explain what I can.”

“Such as?”

“Well… I’m not sure where you’d prefer to start. Why not tell me so I don’t have to guess?” Tari scrunched up her nose. “Was that overly hostile? I’m sorry.”

“You know, there’s this little trick that sometimes helps -“

“The ‘friend’ mantra? I’m still chanting it to myself. I’d like to think that it’s not working and I’m actually winning with willpower.”

A wide grin spread on Alecha’s muzzle. “I stopped telling that particular lie to myself when I turned nineteen.”

“Hm. In here.” Tari ducked through a small passage in the brush. Alecha followed her through, her breath catching in her chest. It wasn’t more than three dozen paces up the trail from where she’d emerged - a steaming pool lay in wait, wisps of warm vapor hanging in the cool air above the spring.

“Will this help?” Tari asked, an ember of hope in her voice.

“Oh, you’ve no idea… I should go rinse this mud off in the creek over there and not dirty up the warm water.”

Tari shed her own clothes, hanging them on a post. “How do you deal with it all?”

“With what?”

“The… urges,” she questioned, her ears flattening back slightly in embarrassment.

“Everyone finds their own way. I’ve tried the suppressants on and off over the years and really, really dislike them. They completely destroy my circadian rhythm for weeks. I wake up at weird hours, I’m constantly tired… They do work wonders for some, but always carry the risk of -“

“Future immunity, right… Wait… How’d I know that…?” Tari questioned under her breath, finally shaking her head. “Why is that, anyway? My… Er, that is, some local friends. There’s a family planning product on the market for their species, and they don’t have to stop taking it until they want a child.”

“It’s just our biology. Mind you, I’m talking about suppressing the whole cycle, urges and all. The lightweight version that merely prevents conception does not change the rest of the experience and carries little other risk. In any case, my personal preference is to just lock myself in a room with my mates and lose three or four days instead of being miserable for better than half a month.”

“Mates? As in, all at once?”

Alecha frowned, stealing a glance over her shoulder as she rinsed off the last of the mud. These were the kind of questions she’d expect from an off-worlder back home, or perhaps a child - not from a fellow adult val’traxan. “It depends upon their moods and their schedules. See, in your case, you only have Jadyn to help get you through. It can put an incredible strain on a single partner, but they’re also usually aware how difficult it can be for us. They may go completely out of their way to make sure we’re comfortable - presuming you’ve found someone who truly cares about you, like he does. Sacrificing sleep and personal sanity… It really can suck the fun right out.”

“He seemed in good spirits this morning…”

“But he’s absolutely running on empty. I could see it in his eyes and aura - he spent the last few days putting your needs ahead of his own, even at the cost of his own well being. I bet he’s sound asleep right now.” The salt-and-pepper vixen walked back from the stream and eased into the heat of the pool with a pleasant murmur. “Choice… So. In my case, I have a mate and two co-mates asleep on the ship. We spent nearly two years together during the training program. That’s three females in our family unit, each going through roughly four cycles in that timeframe. In one case, two cycles overlapped.”

“So how do you work that out?”

“He couldn’t completely deal with Cait and Isol on him at once, so they took turns. I spent time with one, Kaler with the other. Two members of the family in the heat also means -“

“Two are not… Right. Sorry.”

“I’m sorry if this is making you uncomfortable.”

“No… Well, a little, but… I don’t know. I suppose I’m not used to this being a casual topic. I sort of should be… It’s normal for him, I guess… Bits and pieces are coming to me, but it’s… It’s just…” Tari snorted. “It’s uncomfortable. Yeah.”

“All right. If you prefer, let’s talk about you.” Alecha offered a gentle smile. “Or we don’t have to talk at all. I’m content to just sit here and soak in the warm water.”

“I think I owe you at least a little in the way of explanation.”

“Tari, you don’t owe me a thing. I’m deeply curious, yes, but I am no more comfortable with you relating things you’re not willing to share than you were with me talking about a natural biological process. That alone tells volumes about you, by the way.”

“It does?” Tari queried uncertainly.

“Sure. I’m fairly certain you did not grow up surrounded by our values and beliefs. Had you been raised among us, as one of us, I suspect your line of questioning may have gone a different direction. Even if it had not, the answers would not have embarrassed you to the extent they did.” Alecha gave her the one-eyed appraisal once more. “Adding to that… Your aura is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. On a passing glance, I can’t tell where the forest ends and you begin. You’re a hot spot within the ambient energy, but otherwise it appears seamless. To me, at least. I can’t speak for what a non-Nature Artisan might perceive… But honestly, this isn’t normal.”

Tari panned her gaze around at the surrounding foliage and let out a quiet sigh. “Where to start…”

Awake again.

She knew she’d been asleep, just as now she knew she was awake. There was no sense of how long she’d been out, nor of what prompted her to wake. The nothingness was gone - mostly.

The darkness over the landscape persisted, more akin to the twilight long after dusk or early before the dawn. Air flowing in her nostrils remained devoid of scent. Beneath her toes, however, came the sensation of cool, damp sand. Far above her head, nine stars dotted the otherwise featureless night sky. A single center star shining brightly, surrounded by eight dimmer points of light in a rough ring, each slightly different in hue. Yellow, blue, silver, red, green, white, violet, and another silver - or was it a stony gray? The difference was slight at best.

“What is this place…?” she questioned aloud, gazing at the odd constellation. As if someone heard her, the constellation shifted. The white star suddenly detached from formation, shooting across the sky, followed closely by the silver light. After a moment, the bluish star also left and followed the first two as they made a wide arc overhead. Suddenly, they all swerved, their luminance increasing -

As they got closer?

She didn’t have time to think; suddenly they were there, coasting around her much as they’d done with the bright star in the sky. And then, the lights were gone, replaced with three fellow kitsune wearing delicate, nearly-transparent silks -

No, these weren’t kitsune. Velorians? The body structure wasn’t quite right. Jadyn’s people, the Val’Traxans… But also not quite - the prehensile, serpentine curiosity he’d called a tail was not shared by these three. Theirs were clearly more static in structure, more like her own pair but in the singular -

Until that moment, she’d not given much thought to her own appearance. Discovering where she stood was more important. After that one thought, the consideration of these strangers’ tails, she realized a tremendous change occurred and she’d failed to notice. A pair of tails no longer adorned her backside - only one remained. Whatever transpired in restoring Jadyn to his own body, the cost - most likely to Tari as well - was truly severe.

“Well.” A young-looking sky-blue fox leaned in, eyeing her curiously before poking at her shoulder as if to see if she actually existed. “This is new.”

“Not ‘new,’” a gray vixen replied, traces of the white light still flickering about her.

“You’ve never mentioned it before!”

“You did not ask.”

“Am I supposed to ask about every deviation this new timeline takes? How am I supposed to keep track of what’s actually a deviation if you don’t tell us all of what happened before?”

“You are the master of Time. Go look for yourself,” she replied coyly.

“Oh, shake the sand out of your tail -“

“You’re reading too much into it, is the problem.” A light red vixen, a splash of white on her chest, stretched out a curious web of silver strings between her fingers. “One small shift introducing events differing from expectations has predictably cascaded in a new direction. Even so, certain points are strong enough to draw events toward them, even if not precisely when we expected them to occur.”

“What -” the white vixen began, immediately finding herself interrupted.

“It speaks! Not simply a mindless echo of the original? Awake and self-aware?” The sky-blue fox moved uncomfortably close, grabbing her by the cheeks and turning her head to stare into each eye. “Yes, it certainly is… This could be a problem.”

“Stop that,” the red chided, roughly dragging him away by the ear. “They need some one-on-one time. Let’s go.”

“Ow! Stop it! But we just got here!” he protested, even as ethereal light enveloped the two. The blue and silver stars quickly ascended into the dark sky, taking places back in their prior formation.

She flinched as a hand landed on her shoulder; the silver vixen with the flickering white aura stepped into her line of sight and smiled. “Congratulations are in order. You will either make our task somewhat easier, or infinitely more difficult. Do you have a preference?”

“I imagine you have at least some idea who you resemble.”

Tari gave Alecha a slight nod. “I’ve a fair idea, yes.”

“Is it intentional?”

“You say that like you expect I have some choice in the matter.”

“Do you?”

Tari chuckled. Alecha was certainly a perceptive one. If the other Artisans were even half as aware, she’d have a problem on her hands. “To a degree. My appearance didn’t change a great deal between this form and what I call ‘normal’ but I did willfully change away from ‘normal.’ So… Intentional? It depends on your interpretation. I think my normal form would be more emotionally disturbing to you and the others up there than this is.”

“So what I’m seeing - this is an illusion of some sort.”

“Not… precisely. At this moment I truly am a Val’Traxan just like you. I simply have the option of not being one at a later time of my own choosing.”

“A natural shapedancer?” Alecha questioned, receiving a confirming nod. “Interesting. If that’s the case - why bother walking around as one of us when there’s so many other choices?”

“It was easier to claim an immigrant val’traxan heritage in entry paperwork, rather than trying to explain where I’m really from. Suffice it to say that my real homeworld is far more local than where you departed, but also extremely implausible for most record-keeping purposes. That’s all the specific detail I’m comfortable sharing right now.”

Alecha raised an eyebrow but nodded acceptingly. “So you freely admit that you’re not actually one of us.”

“Only to you, and only because I trust you won’t abuse that knowledge.”

She laughed. “Abuse it? No, no. You present a puzzle - a vixen who both is and is not a val’traxan at the same glance. As I said, I can’t tell where your energy ends and the forest’s starts. I’m primarily aligned to Nature Elemental - has Jadyn explained any of the Guild to you?”

“Some. I’ve seen a rather harsh demonstration of his abilities, along with a lesson on lockpicking, indoor weather modification… Oh, yes, a brief unpowered flight that I’d care not to repeat. My own attunement is what my people call ‘Forest.’ It puts me in touch mainly with flora in an area, but also in some cases the wildlife as well.”

“I’d noticed. The creatures here definitely seem in tune with you.”

Tari’s ears dropped slightly in embarrassment. “Again, I’m sorry. I’ve never seen woodlands act like that on my behalf. Usually all I can do is speak with trees, encourage things to grow and bloom, maybe look through the eyes of nearby creatures if they’re close and willing to share their vision with a transient half-spirit.”

Half-spirit…? Alecha wondered to herself.

“But you know what? Let’s test my luck today,” she continued, climbing out of the warm water and gently shaking out her fur. Placing a hand on the trunk of the nearest tree, Tari shut her eyes and fell silent. Alecha studied her aura, watching the blended energy flicker with whatever exchange took place between vegetable and animal. Shortly, Tari smiled and pointed at the opposite side of the clearing.

Alecha turned her head, smirking at the native raccoon that lumbered out of the underbrush with her bracelet in its mouth. Emitting a nervous chitter, the creature dunked the soiled bracelet in the hot water, as it might wash something otherwise on its breakfast menu. Alecha reached out to pet the small mammal, accidentally spooking it; her bracelet sank to the bottom as the raccoon shuffled quickly back into the woods.

“Well… It’s a start,” she quipped, fishing around for the device. “Where did it land… Here we are. Thank you.”

“Your clothes are pretty well tangled into the brush just off the path a little way to the cabin. I can run and get them if you’d like,” Tari offered, retrieving her own apparel and dressing.

“No rush. I’m definitely not putting them back on, as muddy as they were.” Slipping out of the pool, Alecha shook out her pelt in a flurry of water and slid the bracelet on her wrist. “I’m sure I’ll find something when we get there. Normally I wouldn’t bother, but I don’t think you’d approve of that today.”

“Please, don’t go out of your way for me. I’d rather not cause more problems in your life.”

“No, no,” Alecha insisted. “It’s your home, yours and his. I’m just a visitor and I should be mindful of your comfort zone. I’m very much aware what most offworlders thought of us back home. I never really cared too much… But now, in this new place with a damaged ship… We’ll need help, and I don’t think ignoring others’ modesty issues like we’re all used to doing is going to help us solicit that help. I will apologize in advance - if I do cross the line, it’s not intentional. My perception of the line is far different than I expect you see yours.”


“Hm?” Alecha turned around, a smile touching her face as Tari stripped once more and tossed her clothes over a shoulder. “Thank you for the gesture… I still think it might be wise for me to show some restraint until you’re completely clear of the heat. I don’t want you to get the sense I’m… I - Hold on.”

Tari paused at the path leading to the main trail and turned around with a curious glance. “Yes?”

“A shapedancer… This was your first cycle. And not just as one of us, but whatever your normal existence is, you don’t experience something similar?”

“Not remotely close… Uh… My species, in our natural form… Well, times of fertility are generally hidden from others… And from ourselves as well, if we’re not keeping track of… certain signs.”

“Signs…?” Alecha pondered, enlightenment appearing after several seconds of thought. “Oh! You mean, rather than an estrus cycle, you experience a -“

“Yes, we do,” Tari hastily interrupted. “The exception is that if I’m taking another form, I’m subject to the advantages and limitations of that form, which in my current situation includes a shift over to… all this. I’m not entirely sure where this experience fits just yet in terms of limitation or advantage…”

“But… You could have completely avoided putting yourself through this unfamiliar territory. Why didn’t you?”

“As I told Jay, it’s not fair to you or any of the other females aboard that ship if I just suddenly duck out to avoid an overall minor inconvenience while you endure it all your lives. If I’m going to keep using this appearance, this body… It’s the least I can do to show some respect to the form.”

Alecha stared at Tari for a long minute, a wide smile finally spreading over her muzzle. “I think I’m going to enjoy your company.”

“Who are you?”

“A friend. You desire more than that, I am certain… But it is not necessary.” The gray vixen tilted her head back, gazing at the eight stars remaining in the sky. “What do you see when you look up?”

“A dark sky, one single constellation I do not recognize. Nine stars in the constellation until you and the other two arrived. Now that they have returned, there are eight, with a gap.”

“Are there really so few in your eyes? I see thousands. Thousands of lights waiting to find their way home… Thousands of precious lights that will forever be extinguished if we fail. We will not allow that to happen. We cannot… Not after all we have endured…”


The gray vixen held out her hand. After a brief hesitation, the kitsune gently lay her own on top. The ground fell away beneath her feet, a steep sensation of vertigo assaulting her as they rose toward the constellation. The center point of light grew, expanding in her vision until the truth was clear - not one, but many small stars comprised what appeared as a single bright star from a distance. Two very close shining brilliantly… But most in the immediate vicinity flickering and dim like candles burning out.

“There once were more,” the gray vixen whispered, melancholy tinting her voice as she they drifted among the stars. “So many more… So many lost to such senseless mayhem… But the loss was necessary to ensure any would ever exist. And now… Now we have the opportunity to ensure these precious few shine once more. Not hidden away, protected in this place… But once more in the open.”

“I do not understand.”

“Tell me about your father.”

The white vixen blinked at the sudden shift in topic, even as the stars fell away from them. “What?”

“Anything. His face, the color of his eyes, the scent of his skin and sweat, his name… What was his name?”

“His name…” she repeated, suddenly at a loss. Her father - Tari’s father. Their father. Why would it not come to her?

“I see,” the gray vixen solemnly spoke. “Enough recent memory to give you a sense of self, but not so much to truly make your new existence difficult, burdened by a past you have lost. I wonder if that is by design…? As I have come to understand the nature of your kind, I suspect you, as you are, should not exist as an individual at all. I am more or less speaking to an intelligent virus.”

“What are you talking about? What is going on?”

“You will forget that I was ever here. A sad truth, but unavoidable. I do hope you remember the stars, the lights that must shine. They will need your help, someday. Yours… and his.”

The cool sand touched her toes once more. She glanced down, confirming that she once again stood on solid ground; by the time she looked up she was alone. The shining white star had taken its place back in the constellation.

With a deep breath, she struck out across the bluish sand. Wherever the white star had briefly gone when it vanished from the sky, she could only wonder. A smile touched her muzzle as she gave another glance skyward. For some reason she couldn’t put her finger on, this strange place didn’t feel quite so alone anymore.

“Just like I said, sound asleep.” Alecha grinned, walking past Jadyn’s snoozing position on the swinging bench, and went directly into the cabin with her muddy clothes in hand. “T’bia? Where can I find a change of attire?”

“Hm?” The pass-through opened a crack, just enough for the skunk to peek through. “What the Void happened to you?”

“I did,” Tari replied, shutting the front door behind herself. “Long story.”

“If you say so. Breakfast is almost ready. I’ll wash those up after I’m done in here. Toss them… Wherever, I suppose. In a heap in a corner is par for the course. Unless you actually want something now…?”

Alecha gave Tari a glance; the white vixen shrugged. “I’m not getting many random urges to rip off your head. Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you. Do let me know if you suddenly find repressing the idea difficult, and I’ll make myself scarce -“

Alecha was interrupted by the sound of the pass-through’s shutters snapping fully open. To a great deal of fanfare and off-key trumpeting, T’bia lifted up a yellow-frosted cake and placed it in view on the counter.

“Ta-da! Breakfast. T’bia’s Carnivore Special. Told you it was almost ready.”

Tari gave Alecha a confused glance, getting a shrug in return. Approaching the cake together, Tari burst out laughing. What appeared at a distance as yellow frosting with some sort of brown nuts for decoration turned out to be carefully sculpted scrambled eggs dusted with chopped bacon. One slice had been removed as a reveal - inside the ‘frosting’ lay a pair of inch-thick layers of meatloaf, separated by another thin layer of the scrambled eggs.

Alecha leaned in, sniffing delicately at the creation. “Well… I’ve never seen breakfast done in this particular format before. Smells good.”

“Thank you.” T’bia passed the missing slice out on a plate and delicately carved a second. “Tari, here you go… Go wave that under Jay’s nose a couple of times before you dig in, see if he comes around.”

As before, the sudden drowsiness caught her completely off guard. She was tired - exhausted, really. But why? She hadn’t walked far. And for it to come on so suddenly… Resisting the fatigue was difficult, but perhaps there was an alternate method to address it.

Gently lowering herself to the cool sand she sat down cross-legged, knees lightly brushing the ground. Laying one hand in the other and letting the tips of her thumbs touch, she closed her eyes.

Quickly, she felt her meditation working. The exhaustion, as she examined it, was not physical. Some outside force was actively pressuring her into slumber. Tracing outward… It was everywhere. The very landscape itself was at fault.

Just where am I?

A wide smile lit Tari’s face, glowing behind a proffered forkful of meatloaf. “Care for a bite?”

“Maybe one,” Jadyn replied sleepily. On the second chew his eyes shot to the plate in her hand. Defensively, she clutched it to her chest and moved toward the door. The fact she wore nothing was not lost on him - nor was Alecha’s scent, coming from inside the house. Apparently they’d come to an agreement while he was asleep.

“Mine!” Tari exclaimed. “Get your own!”

“I don’t believe it,” he muttered, following her inside. “Bee… I wish I understood your fascination with cake.”

“Everyone likes cake. It’s the universal symbol of intelligent society.” T’bia pressed a plate into his hand and grinned. “I’ve been led to believe it’s also rather delicious.”

“I’m not debating that at all. Well… No, I question ‘symbol of intelligence.’ Seriously, you looked at what I’d laid out to prepare and thought ‘this would be awesome as a cake?’”

“You seriously hadn’t? You looked at all that and thought ‘this would be a great omelet?’ You are absolutely boring.”

Jadyn smirked and shook his head, taking a seat at the table with the girls. “Alecha… I think you’re the lucky one here.”

“How so?”

“I think I’d rather have slept through a couple of centuries instead of dealing with… her.”

T’bia snorted, grabbing the plate out of his hands and stalking back into the kitchen. “You can eat cold cereal. See if I cook breakfast for you again, mister grumpy-no-pants.”

“Look at you three…” Alecha spoke quietly, her gaze moving between Jadyn, Tari, and briefly even T’bia through the kitchen passthrough. Faint tears held back at the corners of her eyes as she smiled at them. “I hope I get the chance to put up with my family again…”

“Alecha -“

“Jadyn… I have a favor to ask.” Placing her fork beside her plate, she focused on him across the table. A deadly seriousness descended upon her, one that’d been playing havoc in the depths of her aura since he’d first seen her awake. “I’ve been worried since I watched them all go under. It’s worse knowing exactly how long we’ve been frozen. The fact I’m alive… It feels like a fluke. I shouldn’t be here. But… I am. And there’s a chance we’ll be able to revive a few of the others. The prospects aren’t good… Way worse than our original predictions… But I’m sure a few will beat the odds.”

“We have to try,” Jadyn insisted. “We can’t just leave them there. You’d prefer sooner than later?”

“Yes. Protocol says that with the massive failure of the ship and how far off course we’ve drifted, the project lead should be revived, or one of the next in command if he can’t… Engineering teams, to manage repairs… A few of my techs to help with the other revivals… I’d… I’d like to add three others to that list… But… I don’t… I’d rather not be there… In case…”

Jadyn leaned over, resting his hand over hers and giving it a squeeze. She didn’t have to say what was on her mind. The shadows playing in her aura told enough. “This afternoon.”

Alecha’s face softened and she shook her head. “You’re exhausted. Get some rest. It doesn’t have to be today.”

“Yes. It does,” he insisted, a slight grin coming out. “You won’t be able to sleep until you know, one way or the other. I, however, can sleep when I’m dead.”

“… Thank you.”

“I… realize it’s not really in the mood of the discussion…” Tari voiced, gaining the attention of the two and immediately looking uncomfortable. “Before you get too far into another project, Jay… I need a little stress relief.”

Letting her thoughts drift beyond herself through the meditation, the truth that’d been before her the entire time she’d been alert became undeniably apparent. Everything she’d seen was an illusion, one created solely for her own benefit. An illusion delicately drafted… by her own psyche.

Knowing that particular truth, that she’d done all this to herself, allowed her to unravel the illusion. As her perception of reality faded, so too did the sand, the stars, even her sense of possessing a physical form. She was once more as she’d started - a collection of independent thought, otherwise formless, but undeniably self-aware.

Yet, with the dissolution of the lie, so too left a protection she’d not realized it provided. An extreme pressure bombarded her thoughts, compelling her into slumber. Had she still thought she possessed a physical form, she might have perceived herself trying to stand up under several times Earth’s gravity. Instead, she redoubled her concentration, willing herself to remain awake, while trying to sense beyond the forces acting upon her consciousness.

And for just a second, one fatal second… she glimpsed an image of herself in a mirror, her blue-furred arms wrapped around Tarioshi as they embraced, silver eyes gazing ever so briefly into that mirror before stepping away.

In the moment of shock, her mental barriers collapsed, and conscious thought ceased as she fell asleep.

6 Responses

  1. Tsunari says:

    So a sort of Jaydn boost?

  2. Tsunari says:

    Oh and i vote for infinitely harder and more interesting.

  3. typhoon says:

    I add more complicated, nerve wrecking, exciting … Roller coasters anyone?

  4. AmigaDragon says:

    Has anyone actually attempted to make Carnivore Special ‘cake’? Its border-crossing attitude makes me think of something I came up with a few years ago (and so far only tried once), a Brat Split (brat for banana, mashed potato for ice cream, etc.)

  5. Derek says:

    At some point my family switched from confectionary birthday cakes to Norwegian meatballs. Occasionally we’d be lazy and throw the meat into a loaf pan, which we jokingly called meat cake. That’s what came to mind when I was letting T’bia play in the kitchen. That seemed too mundane, though, so I searched for ‘meat cake’ and was presented with a proper start for a carnivore cake by Black Widow Bakery.

  6. Dsquare says:

    Meet cake…I have no words