Mother Superior was the leader of the Wild Felids. Her guild was made up of bounty hunters, treasure hunters and tomb raiders. Few of them liked technology very much preferring instead to be surrounded by nature as much as possible.
Zaniyah had become their main tomb raider recently.
“Hunter,” the queen’s voice sounded out, “you’ve returned at last.”
Mother Superior was not taller than Orithia, but she was bigger. Her muscles were less defined due to her having more fat, though one would never call her overweight. Her curves were voluptuous, not in an elegant way that observed the right angles men desire, but there was still a lot of body to her and, despite having reached fifty years old, there was nothing old about her. Her green eyes flickered with enthusiasm and adventure still, the same energy that had first captivated Zaniyah in the past, relaxing her predatory instincts and enabling a relationship to begin. More notably, she was almost bald, her hair cut short and greying.
The Hunter stood in wait.
“I’ve heard very disturbing news from the east. I imagine you have a lot to report, but I know you,” she smirked and stretched a hand out to her. Zaniyah bowed her head to hide her blushing in the scarf as she reached into her pouch and retrieved a scroll. She had written her report so that she had no need to say it all out loud. She always used the excuse of secrecy and privacy but they both knew the real reason.
Mother opened it and moved to sit on a tree root. She read, quietly, for long seconds. Hunter knew she was bothered when her eyes went from adventurous to sharp, and when she took a fist to her lips.
“Is this true? The Shadow reported they were cutting the world out of the shadow stream?”
The Hunter nodded and Mother looked truly worried. She knew what they were then, Zaniyah was not aware she was privy to the so called Shadow Arts and what they were.
“And they think going after the amulet’s the best you can do. Any word for me?”
She shook her head.
“I will contact them,” she said as she closed the scroll. “I have some of the most physically fit individuals on the planet at my beck and call, I doubt having you raid a tomb is the best we can do.”
Again, one more person who just accepted it all. This was a real threat and they had to work together. In truth, it was one more person putting their fate in the hands of the Shadow Conclave.
In my hands.
Mother sensed her apprehension because she had a sense for those things, that’s why she was the Mother. She had the talent to gauge what the heart doesn’t want to say.
“You will procure this amulet. I doubt it will make much of a difference, I don’t put much stock in supernatural myths, but I’m sure not having the world ending over us not being superstitious enough.”
Zaniyah smiled at the comment and Mother smirked at her. Ever happy and joyful and energetic.
“Have you eaten, Zaniyah? Are you hungry?”
Thinking of it, it had been more than a day since her last meal. Just the thought of it made her body suddenly realize the fact, waking up from what had kept it distracted to smash its metaphorical fist on an imaginary tavern table and go that’s right, what’s going on here?! The result was that her stomach grumbled in immediate protest.
Mother giggled and briskly walked towards the exit, waving at her to follow.
“Come. We’ll have an early meal today in honor of your successful return.”
“I didn’t win.” The words hurt her to say, perhaps that was why it sounded so awful to her, more than before. But Mother just knuckled her shoulder, almost punching her out of her footing.
“You didn’t lose, either.” She winked and carried on.
Zaniyah massaged her shoulder, feeling warmth in her heart. Feeling at home.
Once out of the tent, Mother yelled out, calling everyone to attention.
“The Hunter has returned from representing us in the great Shadow Conclave!” She held a hand on her shoulder, proudly presenting her. “In honor of her never-disappointing performance, I declare we’ll forget about rations today! Let’s pig out, everyone! Like we’re crazy, irresponsible kids having their last meal!”
People cheered. It was rare to have any kind of festivity since they hunted and gathered for all their resources by hand and led a very discrete main headquarters. But that day, Mother Superior had decided to let loose.
It was a good thing she had not eaten in a while, her stomach was thus smaller and so she couldn’t quite eat as much as she wanted to. She would probably die if she ate as much as she wanted to right then. Still, the guild was really very close. It wasn’t like other guilds, it was more akin to a clan or a big family. That is probably why she thought of them as her tribe so often. Almost as frequently as she had to tell herself they weren’t, her tribe was gone.
Fireplaces were set up and spoils were spread across the very large group, from animals to fruit and a great big number of jugs of drinks split into two groups: water and alcoholic. The Hunter drank water, she would be leaving for the amulet as soon as she was able. She ate a lot, however, mostly in Josh’s company.
“So there we were, right? Her foot deep on the ground, the sound ‘tak tak tlak’, just yelling ambush, you know?”
“He blames me bunfh he wath the oneth who pshuehds me.” Josh and company. Josh’s friends never left Zaniyah alone with him, they knew better. Manuela was there, eating hearty.
“I just tapped you to be careful, you lost your footing randomly!”
“We’re in the middleth of ath–” she swallowed,”we’re in the middle of an ancient dungeon inside a secret underwater cave! You don’t have to tell anybody to be careful, you idiot!”
“Anyways, what matters is what happened next. I grabbed an arrow off the air!”
Manuela rolled her eyes, flame from the big fire flickering off their almond hue.
“You smacked it.”
They were friendly, and moreover, they didn’t care she wasn’t much of a talker. Josh, in particular, was attracted to her, physically, so maybe his company didn’t mean much, but the rests’ did. And despite whatever secondary motivations he had, Josh was still good company.
Until he had too much to drink and became a bit too…passionate. Leaning on her, grabbing her hand, trying to kiss her. A lot of the people there were very…open about physical contact. Hunter, for reasons she had never explained to any of them, wasn’t.
She guessed Mother knew why, she knew everything, and knowing where she came from, you could guess, but not easy-going happy-go-lucky Josh. He saw the others making love often and felt it should be easy. She didn’t blame him for his expectations but that didn’t mean she would enable him, either.
“Please,” she pushed him apart a bit, alerting him to what he was doing.
“Oh!” He pouted, “right, sorry, Zaniyah. It’s just…you know, you’re–”
Zaniyah stood up, interrupting him. Manuela snorted but then was surprised when Zaniyah extended a hand to Josh. She gestured towards a circle of people dancing.
He smiled and took her hand. She let go of it as they walked into the dance, so she could unwrap the large scarf. She dropped it as if it was heavy.
She loved dancing. It was odd, she knew, that someone who was so silent would be outgoing, but that’s who she was: wild and different, a visible contrast of the civilizations that had shaped her personality. There was nothing wrong with dancing, there never had been and there never would be. She shook and moved to the tumultuous sound of the drums and strings, trying not to think about the sentries who, at the very edge of the noise, would be feeling sad to be missing the small party. She didn’t have to try not to think of the end of the world – when you’re dancing, nothing will ever end.
Josh was a clumsy dancer but he was quick to let loose and just have fun, he didn’t care what he or others looked like and that was why she enjoyed dancing with him. Despite his goofy attitude, he was as physically fit as any other member of the Wild Felids. About her height and his hair combed in such a way it curved a curtain over his left eye.
The truth was, however, you didn’t really dance with anyone to that kind of music. There was only one dance going on, you just kind of blended into the pit of people, expressing yourself and how the sounds made you feel, truly alone and liberated while in the midst of a constricting crowd.
The sweat ran as if it was worries leaving the body, the heart beat faster and stronger, vibrating across the blood with every ounce of life that was real. In there, in her, forever.
No matter how much real time you spend having fun, it had a way to be over in just one short moment, while at the same time, feeling everlasting.
She had yet to decide whether that made her happy or sad.
What was clear however was that she could not dance for long, she had eaten too much. When indigestion gave her a suggestive nod in the depths of her belly, she promptly stopped and headed back to sit with others. Josh kept at it, hardly noticing she was gone.
“Zaniyah,” she was greeted. “Hunteeeeer,” she was cheered. It was an odd feeling for her, she had been ignored and unseen for most of her time in the guild. She was just another cub, one more youngster trying to make it big in the bare-bones simplified world of the Felids. She was weird, too. In the beginning, she couldn’t talk or even understand most of what people said, on top of lacking social instincts. Only Mother Superior had known how to communicate with her back then, and teach her.
She had hardly reached her thirties and yet she thought of five years ago as another epoch. She could think back to ten epochs, but there she was, still very young when compared to most the world. She sat down and leaned back on her hands, bending comfortably to stretch her back and chest. Thoughts nagged at her now that she had slowed down, now that no one was engaging her in conversation, and with that, her mood grew melancholic again.
“What is the matter, mighty Hunter?”
She looked to the side and smiled up at Hannes, the youngest of Mother Superior’s lovers. Athletic and tanned, he towered over her. She shrugged at him. He rolled his pretty gray eyes and crouched down, giving her a good view of his curly red hair. And clavicles – she tried not to gulp.
He was very handsome.
“Tell me of your woes, mighty Hunter, so that I may squash them for you. A party with you looking gloom is no party at all.”
She thought for a moment. Hannes, knowing it was common, waited. She loved it when people waited for her to be ready.
“The fate of the world might be in my hands.”
He opened his eyes in surprise.
“Whoahf…” He sat down next to her, as if in a daze, “yeah, that’ll rattle anybody. Is that because of the Shadow Conclave?”
“One of us will be responsible,” she explained with a heavy nod. She gave no further details as she thought that was enough.
“Well I hope it’s you,” he said without much hesitation, “I wouldn’t mind having my life in your hands. Few of us who know you would.”
She reflexively reached for her scarf, to cover her face in case she blushed, but found she had not retrieved it after dancing. That only guaranteed blushing, she felt the heat in her cheeks.
“It’s true,” He one-arm hugged her, very easily. It felt strong around her back. Firm. “And that you worry about it is part of it. I’m not going to pretend I can make it better, that is some huge responsibility. But bah, I’m not gonna tell you might not be the one either, I sure hope you are.”
She glanced at him annoyed.
“I’m sorry,” he looked at her back, “I know that’s selfish of me,” he gave her a light headbutt and let her go. She was terrified for a moment there when his face had come close and had yet to turn, she had frozen. Yet now they were apart again, close but apart enough she could keep her cool.
“That’s me, Zaniyah. I want to live a lot longer. I want to dance a lot more. I want to eat many more times.” He pulled her in close, expecting her, correctly, not to say anything.
“So you be the mighty Hunter, greatest of the Shadow Conclave! Or are any of the other thieves any better than you?”
She wasn’t sure about a couple of them but she wasn’t about to lack confidence in the face of Hannes. She shook her head in indignation that he would suggest such a thing. She had gone to the competition to prove she was the best in the world and one thing was for sure, she had not been proven not to be.
“Then there you go,” he winked, “and when you do, then we’ll party for real!”
Surprisingly, he didn’t just leave her then. She expected him to just get up and get on with socializing, but instead, he stayed.
Others flocked to them and, pretty soon, she was silently observing others having fun.
It was a good feeling: to belong, and she rarely felt bad that she didn’t participate in the conversations, she felt like she did, by listening. She giggled a few times, too, her mood had considerably improved. Once she felt her digestion settling, she stood up and went dancing some more.
She wanted to sweat the pressure away, even if just temporarily. She wanted the next day’s problems to go to the next day and leave her alone. Her mood at an all-time high for that week, she did a few more rounds of listening and dancing before passing out somewhere under a tree as the moon was going down, utterly successful in the quest of leaving those concerns for the next day.
It worked too well.
When that next day came, the worries were there waiting for her, but they weren’t alone.
The misty weather was also there, waiting for the sunlight. The fresh smell, the wet air, it all felt wonderful to her. But Mother Superior was there too, sitting next to her, looking away thoughtfully. The shades of the tree leaves seemed to be brushing against her skin.
She sat up in the certainty that Mother knew she was awake the moment she took her first conscious breath.
“It is an odd thing,” she said, and yes, she had picked it up from her. “To leave it to someone else. Up until today, I have been hoarding responsibility. For everything and everyone, I have…taken it all and accomplished a lot.”
Hunter reached and grabbed her hand, and Mother Superior squeezed it, endearingly.
“I trust you, but it is an odd thing…to leave it to you.”
“It is odd,” she concurred, cringing slightly at how her voice sounded. She had just woken up and had barely spoken the previous night. It was back to being hoarse from lack of use. “For me also,” she added nonetheless.
Mother Superior looked at her with fondness. She leaned in and kissed her forehead.
“It is odd to see a girl become a woman. But then, becoming a woman is odd no matter what,” she joked, “men have no idea the changes we have to contend with. That we grow with.”
“They sure like them, though.”
Mother Superior flashed her a look of pure astonishment before belching out one of the most sincere laughs Zaniah had ever seen her react with.
“Who taught you that?”
“Hm?” The Hunter was confused, she looked away a bit timidly, reached a thankful conclusion, and then turned back to give the response. “Their eyes?”
Mother Superior laughed.
“I mean to joke! Who taught you to–” she cackled, apparently too beside herself to talk properly.
Then she suddenly hugged Hunter in a spasm of…well, of love.
“You be safe, Zaniyah. You bring back that amulet and all the rest of you intact!”
She didn’t hug back, she felt too uncomfortable to do so, but she couldn’t help but smile.
Slowly, but firmly, she brushed against her Mother’s face with a nod.