Redwood Regional Park
She was leaning up against her wolf. They were sitting on the lowest branch of an old oak. Her other companion, Tomiroc hung upside down from an upper branch in front of her gently swinging in and out from her. When he got close enough, he would playfully lick at her nose. She giggled at his antics. One of her more pleasant dreams surfaced of this moment. And she turned a little to look up at the handsome wolf that was part of her and Tomiroc now. She made eye contact with Mathias, and he responded by wrapping his strong arms more firmly around her.
She smiled at him. She felt their branch shake a little as Tomiroc dropped down onto it. He had convinced her and Mathias to climb the tree. He thought that the wolf should be able to climb since he was part human. After some encouragement and some basic climbing lessons, he found that he could, indeed climb. At first, Mathias wasn’t too sure about the height, but once he found his balance, he discovered to his great delight that he could see the sunrise and the world from a new perspective that he didn’t know existed. Together they had watched the sun crest the distant mountains high up in a large old oak. They climbed back down to the lower bowels of the tree to settle in and eat the last of the smoked pig meat.
Tomiroc straddled the branch facing her. She turned back to him, nose to nose. He pushed forward at her, rubbing his cheek along her jaw. He purred at her contentedly. She reached out and ran her clawed paws up and down the side of his ribs. He shivered and purred louder.
Seeing his reaction brought back the events yesterday afternoon. They had carried the bore back to the place they had left their belongings, Tomiroc climbed the tree and dropped their clothes. Rather than getting dressed, Kaniko fished out her long bone knife and small pocket igniter that she carried with her. The igniter had been a gift from her father when she was twelve seasons old. He had said that a good hunter would always keep it handy in case a hunt took him or her far from home. Like a precious treasure, she had carried it every day since then. Now, she was grateful for it. She went about gathering down and dead wood in the underbrush and bringing it back to the small clearing. With Mathias’ help, she broke the wood into manageable pieces and constructed a teepee of wood. Tomiroc started on the slaughter of the pig, while she directed Mathias on what to collect to make a bird’s nest, to start the fire. She showed him how to shave cedar bark and rub it into a soft fuzz. Using small dried grass and twigs, she formed a bird’s nest and placed the cedar fuzz in it, placed the whole thing into the teepee of kindling. She took the small igniter and placed the nose of the extendable rod into the nest with the cedar and touched the activator. A bright plasma arc flared, and the fuzz burst into flame. Within minutes the teepee of wood was blazing. She added larger pieces of wood to build and stabilize the fire.
With the fire done, she took the cedar limbs she had shaved the bark from and fashioned a tip on three of them. Tomiroc handed her the first few chunks of meat to put on the skewers. She handed the first one to Mathias.
He looked at it and asked, “Are we cooking the pig?”
She turned her head sideways a little and looked at him. After a minute she answered, “It’s not a clean animal like a rabbit or deer. It could make you sick if you don’t cook it.”
His yellow eyes grew a little larger, and he looked from her to the meat on his stick. He nodded his acceptance of this and tilted the stick and pork over the fire.
Later with their bellies full, they lay around the fire letting their dinner settle and watching the flames slowly grow small. The stars were bright in the night’s sky. The moon wasn’t due to rise for another few hours and even then, it was in its last phase, and only a sliver would shine down on them. The sounds of the night forest around them were alive with chirps and quiet chitters, as the small animals moved around in the underbrush.
Kaniko sighed contented and rolled from her side onto her back and looked up through the branches at the stars in the clear night sky. She heard Mathias near her feet shift a little and scrub his back on the ground to get at an itch. She said quietly, “Come here babe and I’ll get that itch.” He moved to sit up. She sat up as he moved close to her and settled down next to her with his lean, and strong back to her. She ran her claws down his shoulder blades and to the middle of his back till he wiggled when she hit the right spot. She noted that his skin under his pelt felt dry and was most likely the cause for his discomfort. She wished for some of her mother’s lemon grass oil for his coat and skin. It made his fur shine and smell so nice. The water they had bathed in their first day in the forest was clean, but she hadn’t found any plants with the right oils to rub into his coat. She breathed in his scent. She had grown familiar to his wolf musk and now discovered that she missed it, when he wasn’t near her.
With his itch taken care of, she lay back down and punched at her rolled up clothes and long jacket under her head to make them more comfortable. His eyes glowed in the orange light of the embers from the fire as Tomiroc watched her from across the fire. After the meal, she had considered getting dressed again, but then realized it was a silly notion after having been naked shortly after arriving, making love the first night and even gone on a hunt. But now he was watching her from across the fire, she felt both exposed and excited. She could only see his eyes and only his shadowy outline of his form. She assured herself that he saw the same, then smiled at the ridiculous thought. He knew her form, for he had explored her body only the night before.
His quiet tenor voice floated across the fire to her. “Are we sleeping on the ground or the trees?”
She looked over at the wolf. He was on his back again with his head closest to her. She said, “Mathias doesn’t climb trees.”
“You didn’t answer the question?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Fine, we sleep on the ground. But, I’m teaching Mathias how to climb trees tomorrow.”
Mathias lifted himself up on one elbow and rolled on his side towards the fire. “I will try it.”
She watched her wolf roll back onto his back and looked up at the stars. She wanted to lay next to him, with his warm, strong arms holding her and his warmth against her back. She fugitively looked over at Tomiroc. She realized that she wanted him too and would not feel complete without him.
He was still watching her. The dying embers of the fire cast an orangey red tent that was reflected in his eyes. So much so, that she couldn’t tell what his thoughts were. He seemed to know this and sat up and moved next to her and Mathias. Now, so much closer and the firelight behind him, she could see that his eyes were dilated with desire. His paw rested gently on her thigh, where he kneaded her leg muscles. Tentatively, she leaned into him and licked the edges of his lips. He still tasted of the wild pig they had roasted on the open fire. Mathias stirred behind her, and she felt his paws on her back. His wet nose touched the back of her neck, and she felt him nip at her mane of hair that cascaded down her back. A shiver ran the length of her body. She reached for them both and pulled them to her. She let them touch her and purred with their attentions for her. She felt the warmth as passion flow through her whole body and out to encompass her two lovers. A rainbow of color softly circled at the edges of her vision. She closed her eyes and opened them again. She now could see their auras as well. She realized she could feel them. The sensation was nothing like she had ever felt before. She wondered briefly, why she hadn’t experienced this last night. Was it because she was not sure about the outcome that first night and she held herself back? Tonight she had no such reservations. She gave herself over to them completely that night as she felt their auras come and twist together, completely blending into each other.
Back in the present, she reflected on her ability to see her own and mates’ auras. She hadn’t spoken to either of her lovers about it because she wasn’t even sure she had actually seen it. She decided that given a quiet moment when they returned to the Inn that she would meet with her brother, Domic and asked him about it.
Tomiroc was nuzzling her cheek. Her own desire was surfacing, and she knew his had already risen. She took his face in her two paws and held him back, so he looked into her eyes. With Mathias’ arms still holding her, she said, “I want to love, I do. But we should be headed back to the city. Nonna said two days. Time is up. Besides, we’ll have tonight.”
He smiled at her and lay back on the branch they sat on for a moment before he rolled off to fall the short distance to the ground. She turned to the wolf behind her and gave him a quick lick before springing from the branch to follow Tomiroc. She gathered up her clothes and watched as Mathias, a little less gracefully slid off the branch and dropped to the forest floor. He dropped to one knee with the impact and squatted there for a moment before standing and retrieving his own clothes.
She inquired, “You alright?”
He looked at her and gave her a wolf smile and nodded. “Just realized, I needn’t be concerned about heights.”
She smiled. “Good, we’ll have to do more tree climbing till you feel comfortable enough to sleep in a tree.” She watched that thought sink into his consciousness. When she saw his eyes widen, she added, “I’ll teach you how not to fall in your sleep. Don’t worry.”
They finished getting their city clothes back on and made their way towards the road when Mathias turned abruptly. Kaniko nearly ran into him. She looked up and saw that he was smelling the air intently. She touched him and silently asked, “What’s up?”
Without glancing down at her, he replied in her mind, “Something is behind us. Watching, stocking us.” She turned and looked down the game trail and perked her ears forward listening intently. She was aware of Tomiroc taking to the nearest redwood and climbing its bark to the lowest branch for a better view. Mathias’ paw tighten on her shoulder, and she felt him pull her back protectively. Then like a ghost they appeared. Five of them from both sides of the trail. She saw their yellow predator eyes first. The dark gray and brown fur blended well in the early morning gloom of the underbrush. They pushed through and revealed themselves.
Kaniko noticed three stood more to the front and two fell to the back. One was a nose ahead of another. He was larger than the others, and his ruff of fur on his neck was thick and dark. The one next to him was a little smaller, and her fur seemed softer and lighter. The third wolf in the front ranks looked like the big male. The two in the back were more like the lead female. Kaniko began to assess their situation against two large males and three mature females. She didn’t count their odds to be too good on the ground. She and Tomiroc could easily get away in the trees, but Mathias couldn’t. As fast a runner as he was, she still didn’t think he could outrun a pack of wolves.
She didn’t know how long they stood stock still staring at each other, but finally, the alpha male sniffed the air in front of him and took a half step forward. His mate and his lieutenant stayed in place as if they had been given some silent command. The male took another half step forward. Kaniko felt Mathias shift and pull her back some more. He moved around her and stepped slowly toward the alpha male.
Mathias dropped to one knee and slowly stretched the backs of his paws out to the male wolf. The others stood behind their alpha as he took another half step forward and sniffed at Mathias’ proffered paws. To Kaniko’s wonderment, the wolf licked her lover’s paws and sat down in front of him. Mathias reached the short distance and tentatively brushed his paw across the wolf’s head. She hadn’t realized it, but she had had her paws on her lover the whole time. He said to her silently, “His scent is familiar to me, and I must be to him. I don’t understand how this is.”
She squeezed his shoulder. “You said yesterday that this wood seemed somehow familiar. Maybe these are your family.”
He looked up at her, not seeming worried about taking his attention off the big male sitting right in front of him. He spoke aloud in a quiet tone, “I think he is my brother as is the one behind him. The moment I smelled them, I had visions of our den.” In her mind, his memory played before her, his true mother was a brown and black wolf, his father a gray and black. He had five sibling pups.
Suddenly her wolf lover sat heavily down on the ground and reached out to the big male. He still shared the memories with her, and she watched a scene of horror. His mother and father were attempting to defend the den against invaders. She watched the broken images flash in her mind of teeth and blood. The very scent of blood filled her mind. She saw a face. A human face. A female face. Then his next images she knew all too well. But now they both knew who was on the table outside his kennel.
The wolf before him must have sensed his feelings, for he reached his nose up to Mathias and licked him in sympathy. The other wolves gathered closer and together made whimpering sounds. Mathias wrapped his arms around his brother, put his head down next to him and gently pet his back. The others of the pack raised their collective noses to the air and let out a long low howl that reverberated through the forest around them.
Kaniko felt tears burning the edges of her eyes and deeply felt for his and his brothers’ loss. She sniffed and quietly stated, “Mathias, I’m so sorry. We’ll find the people who did this, I promise.”
Reasonably, he replied, “No, Kan. We can not undo what has been done to my pack and me. But I wish to stop them from hurting anyone else.” With that said, he stroked the wolf on the jaw and felt his velvety ear. He looked deep into the wolf’s eyes for a long moment. He stood, and as if that was the signal, the pack of five wolves turned and disappeared into the underbrush.
They were left standing alone in the quiet of the forest. The silence was broken by Tomiroc, where he still sat on the tree limb above them. “That was wild.” He dropped down next to them and asked, “Mathias, was that your pack?” He saw his wolf brother nod slowly.
Kaniko said, “Their presence unlocked more memories.”
Tomiroc could tell by her expression that they weren’t all good.
She continued, “He saw who took him and two of his siblings. One we know now died on that table.”
Mathias turned and regarded his mates. His expression was unreadable, and he stood looking at them for so long that Kaniko began to worry.
Tomiroc spoke up, “It’s okay brother. It’s a lot to process.” She watched her childhood friend and now lover step up to the big wolf and offer his open arms. Mathias accepted his cat brothers offer, and they held each other. Over Tomiroc’s shoulder, Mathias looked at her with deeply sad eyes. Her heart labored in her chest, feeling his sorrow over the discovery of the truth of his past.
She moved close behind Tomiroc and placed her paw on Mathias’ jaw. “You should be happy as well, my love. You have found your family today.”
He nodded and Tomiroc released him. “Now you have two families.”
He looked in the direction the wolves had gone and sniffed the air. “I know where they are now. That is good.” He turned back to his two lovers. “We should maybe get back. I wish to stop these people from hurting others and perhaps, we might find my sister.”
“Sister?” Kaniko asked.
“Yes, three of us were taken, a brother and a sister.”
“All the Ōkaminingen have been male that we know of. Shouldn’t be too hard to find a female, right?”
They turned and headed again towards the road. As they neared the road, kaniko said, “I guess we should try and call for a ride.”
Tomiroc replied, “I already talked to Hazel. She said she’d be along shortly.”
Kaniko asked, “She said she’d take us all the way across the Bay?”
He nodded and qualified his affirmation, “I offered to buy her lunch at any place of her choosing.”
“Ahh, yes there’s the bribe.” She smiled at Tomiroc.
They made it to the road and started towards Oak City. They hadn’t gone more than a couple of kilometers when Hazel came around a corner towards them. She turned her taxi around in the middle of the two-lane road and pulled up next to them. She rolled the passenger window down and asked, “Do ya need a ride?” She smiled big at them, and they climbed in the back. She looked up in her rearview mirror and asked, “Catch anything?”
Tomiroc smiled big, “We took down a wild pig on the second day. It sure was good to eat.”
She asked casually, “So what are you up to now?”
Something in the way she asked the question bothered Kaniko. Maybe it was just an innocent inquiry and had nothing to do with anything. But Kaniko quickly echoed in both her lovers’ minds, “Don’t give her any unnecessary information.”
Tomiroc, who was poised to answer the cabbie’s question, gave Kaniko a questioning glance. He shifted what he intended to say to, “We’re just headed to Candlestick Inn and then maybe home. We don’t have any real plans.”
Hazel offered, “Well if you want to see some sights or something, you have my contact information.”
Inwardly Kaniko sighed in relief. So the human’s question had been an innocent one. She was just interested in securing some additional income from them. Kaniko said, “Thanks, Hazel. If we decide to hang around and see the sights, you’ll be the first we call.”
“Thanks, deary, I really appreciated it.”
On the way to the docks, they stopped and ate lunch. The spot the cab driver chose wasn’t far from the port, so it wasn’t long after their lunch that Hazel was parked on the lower deck of the Bay Ferry. Once the barge like boat got underway, the Wolf and two cats went to the prow of the ship. Kaniko tried to connect with Nonna and couldn’t find her media access code anywhere in any of the networks in the Bay area. She wasn’t worried, figuring there must be a reasonable answer.
When they landed on the opposite shore and Hazel drove them to Candlestick, and she still hadn’t been able to connect, she began to worry. Tomiroc thanked Hazel for the lift and gave her a generous tip. The woman smiled brightly and reminded, “Give me a call if you want to see the cities.”
Inside the Inn’s lobby, Kaniko looked around the for Nonna or her friend Robert. The young Otokononeko checked VS again and still she couldn’t find her. She went to the front desk where Jenny stood busying herself with something. “Mrs. Marston?”
Oh, hey Kaniko. Please call me Jenny. My mother-in-law is Mrs. Marston.”
“Uhm, okay. Have you seen Nonna? I can’t seem to find her.”
Jenny looked down at the glass screen in the countertop, different screens rose up and moved aside. She stopped at one screen and then looked up at Kaniko. “She hasn’t been back since you guys left two days ago.” Jenny could see concern written all over the young lioness’s face. “Is something wrong hun?”
“I don’t know.” Kaniko looked around at her two friends. She reached out for Adrian. In VS they met. “Adrian, have you seen Nonna?”
He looked immediately concerned. “No. I got a quick message from her the other day about the Neo-technics being involved. She said she’d be in contact soon.” He hit his fist into his other palm. “I was busy and didn’t give it much thought about what she meant by soon. I should have made an inquiry yesterday when she didn’t show.” He frowned hard and asked, “Have you tried Robert Polonius?”
“No, I wasn’t sure I remember his name correctly. Nonna kept calling him Pol, and I couldn’t remember what his real name was.”
While she was talking, Adrian made an inquiry and discovered that he was no longer listed in VS. His MAC was completely disabled. He looked at the Otokononeko. “I have a dreadful feeling that something bad has happened. Did Nonna say where she was going when you last saw her?”
“No.” Alarm started to fill her voice with the realization that Adrian was worried. “What do we do?”
“I have already contacted the police. They will do a navguide trace on her back-ranger and locate it. Then we’ll see. I will keep you informed.” He could see her worry and he added to try and assail her concerns, “Don’t worry. She’s smart and old Robert is quick too. She’ll be fine.”
She Said, “Thanks, Adrian.” She dropped from VS, and he turned and looked south in the virtual space.
He reached out. “Keelee.”
Her voice spoke next to him, “Yes?”
He didn’t know an easy way to break it to her, so he just said it, “I think Nonna maybe in real serious trouble.”
In an instant, Keelee was standing next to him. “Where is she?”
He took her virtual paws in his hands. “I think the Neo-technics have her. If they do, it can’t be good.”
She looked at him hard and could see he was holding back vital information. “What are you not telling me?”
Outside of virtual space, Kaniko focused on her two lovers. Their eyes were expectant. She shook her head. “Adrian hasn’t seen her and only had gotten a brief message of what we learned. He has called the police to trace her vehicle.” She sighed heavily and continued, “He said not to worry, but I can’t help but think she is in some terrible danger.”
Tomiroc said, “We should go look for her.”
She asked, “Do you know how to access a vehicle’s navguide?”
A defeated look crossed his worried face, “No.”