The night was silent and warm along the sandy waterfront. It had been many hours since the sun had set and the surrounding jungle was alive with life. Chirps and droning filled the darkness. The occasional rustle in the undergrowth could be heard as unknown animals played a dangerous game of hide-and-seek. Fearsome predators prowled the forest floors at night. It would be a foolish and fatal mistake to be caught off-guard.
Yet, this did not faze the lone figure lying on the shores of the inland sea. His breathing was sightly erratic but his mind was dreaming. A long bloody gash extended up the side of his ribs. His clothes were tattered and torn and one of his boots had gone missing.
A moan erupted from his dried and cracking lips, his eyes fluttering. As his senses slowly returned to him, an unknown fear shook him awake. He sat up suddenly and opened his eyes wide. He placed a shaky hand on his chest, his breathing growing feverish. He sat for a moment, scanning the horizon carefully, methodically moving his eyes along what inky silhouettes he could make out.
Frustrated, he laid back down and covered his head with his hands. As he did so, he become aware for the first time of his wounds. He clutched his side in pain and grunted slightly.
“Where the hell am I?” He mouthed silently to himself.
The lapping waves of the lake were almost enough to carry the tired man back into sleep.
No, not now.
Another sound from the lake drew the man’s attention, twitching his ears. Painfully, he forced himself to sit back up and once again scan the surface of the inland sea, but there was very little visible on the water's surface, even with the full moon.
“…And thank God,” he spoke aloud once more, looking up at the night sky. It was only then he realized he was plainly lit up by the moonlight. The beach being the only thing not reflecting blackness. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Another sound from the water. A sudden feeling of great peril washed over him.
With tremendous effort, the man forced himself to stand, laying heavily on his knees. He stood on the beach, placing most of his weight on his left leg. He couldn’t take his eyes off the water. A terrible sinking feeling overwhelmed his desire to leave the beach leaving him momentarily unable to move in his fear. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to turn around and face the prospect of entering the jungle.
But his thoughts were jumbled and incomplete. He wasn’t thinking straight so he shook his head a bit. This only inspired a sharp pain to rocket through his brain like pins and needles. He immediately stopped in his tracks and tightly closed his eyes, opening them wide a short moment later then closing them again.
Should I build a fire? Maybe I can signal for help? What do I have on me that’s useful? Am I being followed? I’m fucking hungry. Am I hungry? The only thought he could muster that made any sense was that he was in danger. Though he didn’t know why, he just knew, this was no normal jungle.
“I wouldn’t go that way if I were you.” A soft voice came from the lake.
Terror gripped the man’s heart. The voice was alluring and peaceful, but some other instinctual part of him sensed great danger. A very carnal sense of danger. The man turned around slowly, bracing himself for what he may see. But there was no one standing there. The sea remained calm, continuing only to gently lap at the shores.
Determined now more than ever to get away from the water, the man began to scurry up the beach, ignoring his wounds. A sudden splash from the shoreline followed by a single loud thud could be heard, but the man was determined to continue.
Don’t stop. Dear God, don’t look back.
Just as the man was halfway up the beach and a significant distance from the water, a massive shadow blotted out the moonlight. Drops of water rained down on the man from above. A rush of hot air bared down on the nape of his neck. Without looking up, the man felt the overwhelming presence of an extremely large predator. This was it. His life was over. He’d made a mistake somewhere along the line and he would now pay the price.
Looking up, he saw two large blue eyes staring at him from above. The silhouette of a humanoid face surrounding them.
The monolithic figure said only one thing, “Boo!”
Completely startled, the man fell backwards onto his rear. The figure erupted with laughter.
“Oh, you are too easy to scare!” Sliding partially back into the water, the massive creature let the man out from under her shadow. Now, completely visible in the moonlight, the man could see the mermaid for who she was, the gigantic guardian of Jadong Lake.
“You’re… a mermaid?” He said with a bit of uncertainty.
“Well, you sure are observant, aren‘t you? I’m Anko. Pleased to meet your acquaintance. What’s your name?”
The man looked down for a second then said, “I… I think…”
“You think? You don’t know your own name?” That’s when Anko seemed to first notice the state of the man, “Hmm… someone looks like they've seen better days. You’re a mess!”
“London!” The man said triumphantly, “My name is Cedrick London!”
Anko looked unimpressed. “Did you hit your head or something?”
“I can’t remember… I don’t even know where I am.”
Anko eyed him for a moment, placing her head on her arms and crossing them, burying her fingertips in the sands. “Hm... you must have hit your head pretty hard.”
“Yeah, I guess so. I remember I was sent here to do something… and there were others… and... and something went wrong. Yes! I remember the panic... Then I… I woke up on this shore.”
Anko’s eyes were half closed. She puffed her lower lip out comically, clearly disinterested. Towering over the tiny man before her, she yawned loudly, giving the man a shadowy view into her massive maw. The sight of which made him tense up and take a step back. She was truly colossal. She would have no problem eating him if she so chose.
“Weird… what kind of name is Cedrick, anyway? I mean, for a neko.”
Cedrick was dumbfounded, “Wha-…?? Are you blind?” He almost laughed, “A neko? I’m clearly a human!”
Anko just laughed, “Right. You're not a neko. You’re a stupid neko. You bumped your head and now you think you’re a human! Trust me, if you were human, you’d be in my belly right now.”
Stunned, Cedrick stopped laughing and took another, much larger, step backwards.
Anko giggled, closing the gap Cedrick had made between them in an instant, “It’s a good thing for you you’re just a stupid neko!”
Cedrick took another even larger step backwards, tripping over a rotting log. Falling on something hard, he reached to inspect it with his hands. He found it was furry and long. Running his hands along the length, he traced it back to his own rear, it ended attached just above the small of his back.
Fear and panic having gripped him, Cedric stood up and grabbed at the tail. Pulling with all his might he frantically tried to remove it from his body. For the moment, he forgot about Anko.
“No, no, no….”, he yelped.
In his struggles he stumbled and tripped again, this time landing into something soft and wet. Pushing himself away, he realized he had tumbled into Anko’s gigantic lips, who had been watching the spectacle unfold just below her. She grinned widely.
Partly out of curiosity, the giant mermaid poked her massive tongue out from between her blue lips. The slimy muscle skimmed along her top lip then the bottom then receded back inside her mouth. Smacking her lips animatedly, she refocused her eyesight on Cedric.
“Odd… you taste like a human.”
This was almost more than Cedric could handle right now. “But… I… I mean, I’m just a neko!”
Anko didn’t laugh, but she smirked as she leaned in closer to Cedrick, “That’s not what my tongue is telling me.”
Cedric took off down the beach as fast as his feet could possibly allow. Head and side wounds be damned! He didn’t bother to look back. He didn’t care to see if Anko’s hands were about to grab him and thrust him into her hungry mouth. He may have lost part of his memory, but he knew hungry eyes when he saw them.
Or so he thought.
The sound of bellowing laughter caused him to stop and turn around. He was a good hundred or so feet away from Anko who hadn’t budged an inch.
“Ahahaha! Stupid Neko!” She remarked as she retreated back into the deep waters of Jadong Lake.
“Cedric the Neko, trying to pull his own tail off! Ahahaha!”
“Hey!” Cedric yelled back. He placed his hands on his hips, only to be painfully reminded of the long gash on his side. Perturbed, he watched the massive mermaid sink below the waves. Before disappearing forever, she waved one last time and shouted to Cedric, “Perhaps we’ll meet again… Nekoman!”
Cedric did not wave back. He was once agan alone and left even more confused than before. Amnesia or not, he knew damn well he was a human. What the hell happened? What kind of magic could do this? At least his encounter with Anko told him one thing, he was pretty sure he knew where he was. A small portion of memory had been unlocked. He was in Felarya, this much he knew. How much he could remember of the place would be seen. It only meant he would be in constant danger until he found somebody he could trust.
Not remembering one’s name was enough of a burden. However, to have been transformed into a neko and sent to Felarya was just plain awful news. Cedric knew the odds were completely against him.
As he set out along the beach, the morning sun was rising and the ferocity of the jungle night was calming. With absolutely nothing but the rags on his back, Cedric would have to survive in one of the most dangerous worlds in the known universe.
Cedrick continued his trek down the beach. Judging by the position of the sun he was headed East. If that were true, than the wild undergrowth in front of him was Bulvon Woods. He knew he had to find a way around them. They were far too dangerous for him to travel through in his current state. With little more to go on, he trudged in what he assumed and hoped was East.
His wounds grew more painful with each step, slowing his pace. After taking a better look at the gash in his side, he noted that it was fairly deep and could be susceptible to infection. He desperately wanted to somehow clean and bandage it. Approaching the shoreline, however, was out of the question. Never mind entering the waters.
But I'm in Felarya, he remembered. This place is crawling with magic. The soil itself is magical.
Any chance of infection was greatly diminished because of this, but his risk of attracting a predator who saw an opportunity in weak prey was greatly increasing with each step. Which raised many questions in his mind about Anko.
Why didn't she eat me? Was she really only interested in fucking with me?
At this point in time, it didn't matter what the giant mermaid's intentions were. The sun had been up for about an hour, allowing enough morning light for Cedrick to really take in his situation. He found that he couldn't walk very far with only one boot. It was not because of any hindrance to walking, but because his booted foot felt cramped and uncomfortable. Much to his chagrin when he finally looked down, the light revealed that his feet required no boots, as they were furred and padded with four toes touching the ground and a fifth thumb-like extension separated from the other four toes. He removed the uncomfortable boot.
This did not sit well with Cedrick. Upon this discovery he thought of drowning himself in Jadong Lake or running madly through the jungle until something ate him. However, a very real will to survive and recover his memory kept him from doing any of that. So he merely sighed and accepted what he could not currently change, trudging forward down the beach with no real direction.
After about a mile down the beach, Cedrick heard a rustle off in the undergrowth. He had been walking close to the treeline. Immediately, he hid behind a nearby boulder. Peering over its top, he noticed smoke was rising out of the dense foliage just a few feet into the woods. The smoke grew suddenly darker before finally a bright spark erupted in the distance followed by a series of yelps and loud cursing.
Moving in closer to investigate, Cedrick started to climb a tree for a better view. Having a bit of trouble he was about to give up when he felt a new sensation in each of his toes. Looking down, he noticed claws had extended into the tree bark, allowing him to more easily climb the tree. Cedrick frowned then hurried up the tree.
The air was full with the potent smell of burning rubber. Reaching a high branch, he got his first glimpse at what was going on. A man was waving an arm in the air, coughing and sputtering a bit as he tried to avoid the smoke cloud. His voice returned to a low pitch and Cedrick couldn't hear what he was saying, but it sounded angry and strained.
Feeling no threat from this lone man, Cedrick decided he needed to meet him. Without thinking, something in his brain suggested he merely jump. And so he did, fifteen feet from the ground. Terrified and unsure of why he did that, Cedrick braced himself for a painful landing. Surprisingly, some other instinct took over and caused him to roll as he hit the ground like a spring. This action only agitated the already open wound on his side but otherwise left him unscathed.
The man however was frightened into a panic. “He ey! Stay back!” He said loudly, pulling out a rifle.
Upon seeing Cedrick, he low his rifle and slit his eyes a bit. “Oh, the hell do you want, neko?” The man spit disdainfully pointing the rifle at Cedrick. He older than Cedrick expected, with graying hair and a grizzled white beard. He had goggles resting gently on the top of his head and a tattered scarf around his neck. The old man was wearing a brown leather suit that was semi form fitting and almost resembled overalls with their large straps coming over his shoulder and across his midsection with some kind of dingy cloth attire underneath. Hard black leather boots and gloves adorned his feet and arms. The man looked like an engineer of sorts.
Cedrick got his first look at what was billowing all this smoke into the air. He recognized it immediately as a Felarya VTOL Jetbike. Albeit, a bit busted up. All the smoke was pouring from one of the turbine engines.
“You ever see anything like this, cat?” The man said gruffly.
Cedrick looked the man squarely in the eye, “First off, I have seen plenty of Jetbikes in my time,” he felt odd saying this, having no way to know for sure if it was true, “and secondly, I'm not a neko.”
The main raised an eyebrow, “Well... Okay then! Regardless of your apparent identity crisis, you reek to high heaven of neko. Heaven and Hell! Why did you come over here? It's bad enough I'm basically signaling all the predators in the area to come eat me. I mean, you damn nekos get eaten all the damn time because you're clumsy. And here you come, falling out a trees! Mercreti knows what's trackin' you!”
Cedrick felt an incredible rage bubbling up inside him. He was about to curse at the man when another flashback hit him. Jetbikes. He had experience fixing Jetbikes before. Not entirely sure of himself, he replied to the older man, “Well then, I was going to offer my expert services to help you fix your Jetbike, but I guess I could be going on my way.”
The old man laughed a bit, “You look professional. You from Negav or somethin'? They're the only nekos I know that care to understand human technology in the slightest bit.”
“You could say that.” Cedrick lied.
“Well, look kid, I really don't care where you're from and I doubt you know much more than me about VTOL Jetbikes.” The man stopped a moment, looking at his smoking Jetbike, and then at the surrounding woods, “but... I'm pretty much screwed anyway. So I guess you can take a look if you really want to.”
Cedrick wasted little time. He approached the the turbine engine and opened some of the panels. As he was poking around inside, fragments of memories came flooding back. None of them really made much sense. Mainly just memories of tinkering with machinations, magic artifacts, and dimensional portals. The last thought sent a chill down his spine. There was good reason to be fearful of dimensional magic. It was highly unstable, unpredictable and not well studied.
Cedrick felt for the first time how unpleasant a feeling it was for a neko to have their tail grabbed.
“Here,” the old man said, letting go of Cedrick's tail. Cedrick pulled his head out from the turbine panel. The man was handing him a small ring. “It's a very basic artifact. I usually carry an extra on me for good luck. It reduces the strength of your scent trail.”
Cedrick thanked the man and slipped the ring on, it fit nicely, but Cedrick could tell the magic was weak. He wondered if it was even working or if it was even of any use now that he'd already walked a few miles.
“By the way, my name is Dunali of Negav City.”
He had an uneasy feeling. They needed to get out of these woods as soon as possible.
After a few more minutes of tinkering. Cedrick popped up, “Aha!”
“What is it?” Dunali came rushing over. Cedrick held in his palm a piece of charred wire.
“Spark plugs are all in the wrong place, and some wires are making the wrong connection. Either you're an awful mechanic or this turbine has been tampered with. ”
Dunali took his hat off and wiped his brow of sweat, “Damn it... You've got to be kidding me. A damn sabotage?”
“Luckily it seems like all your sensitive instruments for flight are just fine, but you may have lost some weapons capabilities. Just another moment and I'll be done!”
“Damn it! Damn it all to hell!”
Sticking his head back into the guts of the bike, Cedrick finished toying with everything, “Looks like flares should still work but you're smoke grenades and you're rear-mounted 0-VM Hot Rifle appear to both be tampered with and unusable. Luckily, the scalar visual distortion field and sound dampeners are still intact. Ooh, what's this?... holy hell!” Cedrick pulled his head out, “You got an AID Grenade?!”
Dunali was looking seriously angry. For a second, Cedrick thought he was mad with him.
“Alright, that's enough, neko. I get the picture. Well, I guess I'll be on my way!” Dunali slammed shut the compartments Cedrick had opened and jumped on his Jetbike.
“Wait! What the hell! Where are you going?”
Dunali sighed a bit, as if hoping Cedrick wouldn't ask. “I need to get back to Negav city and I've been sitting here for far too long.”
“Please, you gotta take me with you. I'll never make it on foot. I have zero supplies. And I just helped fix your Jetbike!”
Dunali looked displeased at the prospect. He took a deep breath and let it out, eying Cedrick suspiciously.
“I'm not a neko.”
Dunali rolled his eyes, “For the love of Mercreti! Hop on the back already!”
Cedrick nodded and was about to get on when his ears twitched backwards. His actions did not go unnoticed.
“What is it, neko?” He said in a whisper, slowly moving his hands over the controls in preparation.
Cedrick focused hard, it was a very quiet rustle that caught his attention. Now with his ears trained backwards, he could pick up the faint sound of something breathing.
“We're being watched.”
“Get on. Quickly. We'll have a better chance fighting off whatever it is in the air...” Before Dunali could even finish his sentence, Cedrick had scampered on to the backwards facing passenger seat and strapped himself in. Cedrick primed the engine and the turbines roared to life. As he did this, Cedrick watched the treeline intensely for any movement.
As they began their vertical ascent, the ground fell quickly beneath them. The turbine engines were making a ruckus and rushing air all around the intrepid duo. Yet, only they were trapped in the noise cloud as Dunali activated the sound dampeners and visual distortion field. Cedrick felt a rush of relief wash over him. He hadn't realized how tense his body had been on the ground.
Looking back down at the ground, no creature showed themselves in the clearing.
He felt Dunali's hand grab his shoulder. Looking back, Dunali was speaking, but his words were drowned out by the noise of the twin engines. Finally, Dunali handed Cedrick a plain looking helmet with a sun-reflecting visor. Understanding, he put it on his head, but not without some difficulty. Cedrick cursed his awkward neko ears that cramped up painfully inside his helmet. Seeing this, Dunali none-too-gently smacked the top of Cedrick's helmet. This cause two conveniently placed slits to open at the top, allowing Cedrick's furry neko ears to pop out and for the helmet to sit more naturally on his head.
“There's a built-in headset in the helmet, so you can hear me talk. Keep your damn cat eyes useful and scanning the horizon for harpies and other predators.” Dunali's rough voice cracked on the intercom. “And I swear to the Guardians, if you give me flees, you'll wish I'd left you here to be eaten alive.”
With that, Dunali initiated regular, horizontal flight and zoomed off south across the Bulvon Woods. The expanse of forest was huge. It would probably take an hour or so to cross. Cedrick began to wonder if they'd make it back to Negav by nightfall. He also began to wonder if there was anything waiting for him at Negav. It struck his memory hard, something was on the tip of his tongue. He just knew that there was at least something worthwhile there that might jog his mind up a bit.
“What a terrible place.” Dunali remarked.
Cedrick looked down at the forest, “You mean Bulvon?”
Cedrick couldn't remember much about the Bulvon Woods except for one specific, terrifying beast. The disgusting Chorygate. Resembling a monstrous flatworm, the smell of the thing was said to be so overpowering you'd pass out from nausea.
“I lost a good friend in those woods.”
Cedrick didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.
The Jetbike sped out a hundred feet above the treeline of the expansive jungle below. Its rapid pace and roaring engines masked by the powerful magic crystal supplying the sound dampers. Still, Cedrick knew these bikes were capable of going much faster.
Cedrick watched the terrain fall away from him. Scanning the horizon, he saw nothing.
“What is it?”, he rapped.
“What were you doing out here anyway?”
“I was on a delivery, what do you think? I'm a member of the Jetbike Pilot Guild of Negav.”
Cedrick paused for a moment, “What were you delivering?”
There was a sharp grumble over the intercom, “I don't know. It's kind of unprofessional to just rip people's mail open, don't ya think?”
Rolling his eyes a bit, Cedrick refocused his attention on the receding landscape in front of him. The bike lazily droned on above the endless canopy. The shadows and turbid colors of Bulvon Woods slowly gave way to lusher jungle and greenery. Far off in the distance to his left, Cedrick spotted the Giant Tree.
“We're headed east?”, the intercom cracked.
“Yeah, just until we can see the ruins on the horizon, then we'll head straight south. It's the safest and fastest route, taking us over Safe Harbor and through the rest of Tolmeshal forest to Negav.”
“You mean Ur-Sagol?”
“You said 'the ruins'. You mean Ur-Sagol?”
“What in the hell else would I mean? Are you doing okay back there or are you having some kind of concussion induced delirium?”
Cedrick didn't respond. He was still having difficulty with his memory, but he was merely grasping at anything that hit a nerve. “Ur-Sagol...” He whispered pensively.
“What?!”, Dunali's rough voice cracked through the white noise.
The two were making great headway. It had been about three hours since they first took flight and there had been no incident. A couple of times Cedrick would scare Dunali, shouting there was a giant naga or some other land predator. Dunali would laugh and ask him if he thought they could jump several hundred feet into the air and grab something they didn't even know was there.
Cedrick would calm down and resume staring endlessly across the sky, dreamily observing clouds and the creeping of the sun as it marched on its path towards dusk. After a while he became comfortable in his seat and was even so brazen as to allow his eyes to droop a bit. Dunali would see this and yell back at him.
“Hey, no cat naps on the Jet Bike!”
Then suddenly, the roar of the turbine engines slowed to a hum. Cedrick opened his eyes, unsure of when he'd last closed them. He remembered seeing Ur-Sagol fading in the distance as they were rushing south.
“Hey, kid,” Dunali's voice rang into Cedrick's ear, “We're taking a quick pit stop.”
Shaking the grogginess from his head, Cedrick ventured a wary eye downward. He could see buildings and people moving about, one of them directing Dunali where to land. The turbine engines were flaying the grass wildly about as Dunali maneuvered the vehicle safely to the ground, flipping switches and levers as they descended.
Finally, with a light bounce, the craft landed. The engine's roar slowed to a stop and only then did Dunali turn off the distortion field and sound dampeners.
A rotund man with a jolly smile approached Dunali and shook his hand, “Dunali! Back so soon from your delivery? That must be a record!”
“No, Giles, my machine broke down just outside of Bulvon.”
The man's eyes widened, “Broke down? Your machine broke down?”
“Yeah, I know, and I picked up a straggler along the way, too.”
“You picked up a hitch-hiker?!”
“What can I say, I have my moments of charity.”
By now, Cedrick had dismounted and was standing upright, leaning heavily on the jetbike. Dunali's friend smiled and extended a hand to Cedrick, “How do you-... Oh my! What happened to you?!”
“Yeah, I was hoping you guys could give him a hand with... well, with all that.” Dunali gestured at Cedrick, who looked down at his ragged clothes with a sullen face.
“Of course, Dunali, anything for you!” Giles put a gentle arm around Cedrick, “Come along now, I'm sure you're dying to get out of those rags. My name is Giles, nice to meet you.”
“Cedrick, and yes, that would be fantastic.”
“Ah, Cid! Do you mind if I call you Cid?”
Cedrick shrugged then turned to say something to Dunali, but he was still at the jetbike talking now to a young woman. He stopped to watch curiously as the woman nodded her head at Dunali. She said something in reply and then with a few quick incantations, the Jetbike seemingly vanished. Only a faint glow of its outline remained, shimmering and then finally dissipating.
“It's invisibility magic. Easy for a skilled mage to cast on inanimate objects.”
Cedrick partially ignored Giles' reply. His mind was racing. He was twenty three years old, newly arrived in Felarya. One of his first sights was a merchant demonstrating an invisibility potion. He told the interested adventurer that it would make anything and anyone invisible, lying that it was a prized resource among all the best Felaryan adventurers. What he didn't tell the poor soul was that its rate of decay was based on the amount of movement of the target as well as a basic timed rate of decay. If used on any living thing, it would only last a few steps before breaking.
“Hey!” Dunali snapped his fingers in Cedrick's face for a second time, “You still asleep, neko?”
Cedrick scratched his head, “Yeah... uh, I mean, no...”
Giles stared concernedly at Cedrick. Dunali replied, “He hit his head or something, says he can't remember anything past last night.”
“Oh dear, let's get you inside.”
Safe Harbor was a very calm little village, especially considering its location. Deep in the dangerous Tolmeshal Forest, the village was established by an intrepid Giantess who made it her duty to protect all that inhabited it.
Dunali was well-known here, as were most Jetbike Pilot Guild members. Of course, most were not welcome. Dunali was different. His kindness and reserved attitude had earned him respect among most of the inhabitants of Safe Harbor and his presence was thus tolerated by its guardian Giantess Jade. Still, she was wary of him.
Recognizing his Jetbike, she immediately groaned a bit but didn't take much interest in him until she noticed Cedrick. As she was eying the odd pair, Dunali took notice of her gaze and waved comically at her.
Cedrick looked over to see what Dunali was waving at. The sight of a hundred foot tall giantess standing calmly off in the distance was more than enough to startle him. It took a few seconds for his memory to catch up with his instincts and calm his fears. Giles was quick to reassure Cedrick.
“Don't worry, Cid. You never heard of Jade? She protects us here in Safe Harbor!”
The three made their way to Giles' house where Cedrick was promptly bandaged and given a bed to rest. Headed back out to the porch, Giles grabbed a flask he kept in one of the cabinets in his kitchen. Seating himself across from Dunali, he poured himself a glass of amber colored liquid. Dunali laughed, “It's barely afternoon, Giles.”
Giles peered at Dunali from behind his glasses, readjusting them on the bridge of his nose before replying, “Lemme pour you a glass.”
“No thanks! Besides, I got a long ride ahead of me.”
Giles raised his eyebrows, “You really shouldn't be headed anywhere, Dunali. Not with your friend in the shape he's in.”
Dunali was staring off to the south. “He's not my friend. I was going to leave him here.”
Taking a sip of his stiff drink, Giles didn't reply immediately. He methodically took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt, sighing a bit, “You sure you don't want to just stay here the night? I'm sure you're not expected back in Negav until tomorrow night the earliest.”
“What do you have there?”
“Got any ice?”
Giles got up and entered through the front door of his house. In the kitchen, he found Cedrick just entering, “You should probably be lying down. It's only been a half hour at most.”
Cedrick's side had been bandaged and cleaned. He now wore a clean garb donated by one of Giles' slimmer neighbors. “You know,” Giles said, “it's not very often a wound needs to be bandaged in Felarya. I can't remember the last time I saw a wound like that.”
“I know,” Cedrick replied.
“Well, hey, if you're feeling better, come have a drink with me and Dunali.”
“I don't drink.”
Giles proceeded to grab one glass out of a cabinet. Heading back towards the door, Cedrick followed him. Once outside, Giles took his seat across from Dunali, retrieving a vessel of water from nearer the railing. Pouring some of the water in the glass, he waved his hand in front of the glass, causing one of the rings on his pudgy fingers to glow. Instantly, the water inside the glass froze solid. Smiling, he then filled the glass with a generous amount of scotch.
“One scotch on a rock, Mr. Dunali!”
Dunali nodded, turning to Cedrick he motioned for him to sit.
“So, here's the deal, neko. Since you're all banged up and dragging me behind, we're gonna stay here a night.” He took a deep sip of scotch, finishing half the glass, “Understood? Good. You're lucky my friend here is so kind a host.”
With that, he finished the other half of his glass and headed inside. Giles smiled awkwardly, “Well, cheery Dunali as usual!”
Cedrick frowned. When Dunali was well out of ear shot, Cedrick leaned in towards Giles, “Can I ask you something?”
“Only if I can ask you something.”
“Uh, sure. What does Dunali have against nekos?”
Giles' smile faded. He let go a seemingly exaggerated sigh, putting one hand behind his back. Finally, he said, “Look, kid, it's nothing personal, but that's not my place to talk.”
“Okay, so now, what happened out there? Dunali told me about you, but what about that bike?”
“Well, it looks like someone tampered with it. Does Dunali have any enemies? I mean, anyone that would want to see him dead?”
“Does he?”, staring at the wall of his house as if at a loss for words, Giles replied, “I think this conversation is done.”
Confused, Cedrick stood up. “Don't worry, but I'm sorry,” Giles continued, “You're fine to sleep here. I'll set up a cot for you. But if you're feeling fine and you wouldn't mind doing me a favor, why don't you take a look around Safe Harbor? Say for like... twenty minutes?”
“Fine,” Cedrick agreed none-too-happily. Giles thanked him and went inside to find Dunali. Left on his own accord, Cedrick found himself a bit nervous to take a step off the porch. Dunali and Giles were pretty much the only people he knew, and although Safe Harbor was familiar to him, he could not place why or how, making it feel just as new and unknown as his first day on Felarya.
Fourteen years ago. Yes, it had been roughly fourteen years since he traveled to Felarya as a young man. Cedrick smiled at this memory. It was like a single pin point of light in a dark night sky, giving him hope that he could eventually recover all of his memory.
Cedrick past many buildings, taking his time to meander through the streets. Humans and nekos worked together, gathering wood and tending to crops. Something about humans and nekos cooperating made him feel a bit at awe.
He passed the landing pad for the Jetbikes, a very discreet grass patch. The main building next to it looked only like a normal house. He also passed many plots of land dedicated solely to gardening purposes. Mostly though, Safe Harbor was made up of several houses in a hodgepodge arrangement.
While walking along the path, something caught his eye. It was a stone statue of a little human girl. He recognized it immediately but couldn't remember the name.
“Mercreti.” Came a voice from behind him, “Do you like the statue of her? Some people think it brings good fortune.”
A neko girl stood behind Cedrick, carrying a basket of freshly picked vegetables. She had dark black hair and lightly tanned skin, wearing a simple garb. Cedrick found himself taken aback by her eyes in particular. They were a deep ocean blue and seemed to lock onto his.
“Mercreti?” Cedrick managed to say.
“You don't know Mercreti?” She laughed lightly, giving an inquisitive look with her captivating eyes, “The legendary human guardian, Mercreti. Said to walk among humans from time to time, unbeknownst to them. You never heard of her?”
“Oh yes, she's said to have very striking eyes.” He blurted, as a piece of information hurtled into his brain from some unknown location.
The neko grinned a bit, “Tired eyes, hon, not striking. Are you saying I have tired eyes?”
She was clearly enjoying this. Cedrick realized the girl was flirting with him, a thought that made him very uneasy. Though he wasn't sure why, she was very pretty after all, “Um,” he laughed awkwardly, “No, of course not.”
“Well, I would hope not, I only work as hard as I play.” Cedrick swore he heard her meow, “I must be going, though. Maybe I'll see you around?” With that, she smiled and continued on her way. Cedrick couldn't help but watch her leave, her long dress swaying in tempo with her tail, something that made him very uncomfortable.
He could hear someone purring nearby. Confused, he thought maybe it was her, but the neko girl had already turned a corner and was out of sight. Turning around, there wasn't another neko anywhere nearby. That's when he felt the warm vibration in his chest. He was purring.
“Gah!” He jumped a bit at this realization, but the purring was like hiccups, it just kept coming back. It wasn't until he made it back to Giles' house that the purring had receded. Upset and tired, Cedrick took a seat at the table, the scotch flask still sitting outside. Raising an eyebrow at it, he took another second to think about it then took a swig straight out of the container.
“Who do you think would do this? What about Lyzur? He's had it out for you ever since...” Giles stopped himself.
Dunali huffed a bit, “No. Lyzur's a dick, but he wouldn't try to murder me.”
“I'm just sayin', ya know?”
“Yeah, I know. I just don't see how anyone in the Guild could do something like that to another pilot.”
“But you still have to consider the possibility.”
Dunali and Giles were sitting inside. Giles had poured Dunali another glass of scotch. This time, Dunali was drinking it more casually, “Of course, but I can't ignore the reports.”
Dunali hushed his voice a bit, “Listen, you're a good friend of mine, Giles. Don't take this the wrong war. But Deborah swears she saw... him." Dunali paused a moment before continuing, Giles shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He let go a sigh. He knew what was coming next. "People have been talking... They say Saumatullen's been hanging around some of the pubs in Negav. The fleabag skulked away when Deb spotted him, though.”
“Dunali... not this.” Giles shrugged and looked away.
“What do you mean?”
Giles looked Dunali hard in the face. “Saumatullen is too fucking scared of you to come back to Negav. Even if he is back, he's not going to come after you. How would he even get into the Jetbike docks?”
“Listen, I'm just telling you what people have been saying. Some of the other pilots say they think he's been renting a place in Nekomura for a few weeks now. Don't you think it's odd the second he shows his face around the city, my shit gets fucked up? I could've died in those shitty fucking woods, Giles! For fuck's sake! I swear it's no coincidence!”
Giles sat for a long moment contemplating what he had heard his good friend say. His finger slowly tapping on the rim of his cup, his eyes gazing intensely at the floor as his mind searched for a response. Finally, he spoke, “Look, Dunali, you're a good old friend of mine, but you have got to be more rational here. I understand you're upset about what happened in Bulvon, but none of that has anything to do with Saumatullen!”
“I'm just telling you; I'm gonna find out who did this to my bike, and if it was Sauma... I'm gonna do to him what every damn neko in Negav blames me for seven years ago. Mark my words, Giles.”