They would have stayed together for a while longer, and talked about other things, but they were living days where such wasn’t reasonable. The Beasts would arrive soon and there was no telling what could happen then, so there were more people to meet. And possibly say goodbye to.
Zaniyah left Mother Superior. Signs of a mourning party could be seen already, well, a mourning party that would also serve as a celebration for those who were soon to die. Fires were being propped up, even amidst the still present daylight, and the mood was yet reticent. Some people were happy to be alive, and that others were alive, but most seemed to be suffering the spiritual taxation of introspection.
With the world ending, and so many allies and friends dead, there was much to consider.
Zaniyah walked by a big pot, containing food drowned in boiling water, and kept walking, intending to find Thunuk. Despite being talkative, he had proved to be reasonably embarrassed to venture out without her help to translate. She had left him in an abandoned department store where he had seemed happy. A lot of the tools could be weapons, in his mind, and he wanted to see them all.
When Zaniyah last saw Thunuk, he had been trying out a rake, waving it around like a spear. She caught herself, then, and quickly wiped the smile off her face before sighing.
He really makes things weird, Zaniyah thought.
Despite everything she had gone through, it was messy and confusing to decide what to do with him, or how to act with him. Zaniyah hadn’t forgotten that the only reason she hadn’t killed him had been for the appearance of the wild cat, and yet now, they cared about each other’s feelings? It was crazy. Thunuk wasn’t old enough back when she was a prisoner of his tribe to have personally participated in what they did to her, but he was old enough to have been around. Also, perhaps, he had done it to others. He was, after all, a man with wives.
Had he seen her, back then? Was he at all aware of who she was, or would he know if she were to give him details of her stay with his tribe? Zaniyah had been remiss to ask, for obvious reasons.
Thunuk had, as well. From what information she gave him, he could have said something about it, but he hadn’t. Was it out of concern, for bringing up a painful past? Or was it out of concern that her knowing would break apart the friendship they had forged?
And they had forged it.
Nature forgive her, they had forged a relationship.
Crazy, Zaniyah thought, admonishing herself.
It made her think of the Circus Freak and his attraction to the Shadow. It was insanity, in its own way, but from her experience, such things were unstoppable. Only women could put a stop to it, really, Zaniyah had spent most of her adult life keeping men from making mistakes such as those. But what happened when the woman wanted to make a mistake? She was usually allowed, not to say welcomed, to make it. And more.
On the other hand, Hugo seemed to have run away. So maybe Zaniyah was wrong and they could put a stop to it. On yet another hand–because you needed a third non-existent hand to explain the Circus Freak–he was crazy and liable to do the unusual.
Manuela spotted her again but Zaniyah waved to gesture she would be back, and kept walking.
Soon enough, she got to the store, and to her surprise, she didn’t find him playing around with the items in it. Zaniyah saw signs that he had, there was an ax left out of place, as well as hammers and other implements of construction, but Thunuk was nowhere to be seen.
The Hunter sniffed, catching his scent, and followed it around the shelves to the corner of the store, where she found the unexpected.
Thunuk was sitting against the corner, seemingly sobbing.
What? Zaniyah asked herself in the secrecy of her mind.
The sight of it was certainly not expected. Thunuk himself was already an unexplained event in and out of himself, but to be in such a sorry shape? Zaniyah had never seen him display anything remotely close to sadness. She crouched, to be at his level, and kept her distance, as she would of anything she didn’t understand.
“Thunuk?” Zaniyah called out.
He shivered and glanced back at her, only then noticing her.
“Argh,” Thunuk reacted, trying to clean his eyes with his arms, but it only got worse, “look at not me, damn you! I just.”
Zaniyah nodded and looked away, sitting against the wall that was leading to him so that she’d have her side turned to him.
“Not looking,” Zaniyah said.
“Sorry,” Thunuk said, “I am sorry, is just insane. I–”
He choked on the words and sobbed for a few moments longer, which Zaniyah allowed, feeling thoroughly out of sorts. In the time it took Thunuk to speak, she tried to think of why he would be sad. Once Zaniyah reminded herself he was, deep down, just another person, it wasn’t hard to arrive at a multitude of reasons that he would have to be sad about.
“I miss friends,” Thunuk confessed, coughing and whining, “I miss family. I leaved them all to die, I just–”
Zaniyah let him talk.
It made sense, of course. The really unnatural thing was for her to expect that Thunuk would not care about his life or his tribe, no matter what they did to her in the past.
“I was prepared to leave the wives, but not to nothing or no one,” Thunuk explained. “Never to those…things. I left them all. I looked everywhere, among people going into boats, but my tribe…all tribes, nobody here. They just stayed…they stayed there and died.”
Thunuk hugged his own head in an agony that couldn’t be described, which couldn’t be explained or understood by anyone who hadn’t suffered the same. It made Zaniyah consider about how many people were in that situation.
“I should be with them,” Thunuk said. “I should be gone with them–you are blameless, I hate not you, the mistakes are mine,” he quickly added. “I…I miss them.”
The Hunter and the Shadow Conclave had spent the entire time working and fighting. Time had flown by, and with it, consequences. The Wild Felids, Kagekawa, House of Magni, the Scavengers, they had suffered losses but not anywhere near the scale other people had. What was left of humanity could fit in a city, large as it was.
Most had, indeed and without a doubt, lost everything they knew. Everyone they loved and cared about. Thunuk was one of many.
“I am true stranger now to everyone,” Thunuk said, still trying not to stutter. “I am able to talk only to you, mighty Zaniyah. I try learning. I will be strong, but can’t now. Just cannot be strong now, I am trying.”
“Thunuk,” Zaniyah said, sincerely sad, “I feel sorry for your situation.”
Thunuk whimpered and she considered her words. So many people had experienced ultimate loss, but there was only one way forward, and that was with each other. With what remained and with who survived.
“I have no words to save you from that pain. All I can say…” Zaniyah trailed off looking away slightly embarrassed, “is that though I am sad for your suffering, I am happy you live still,” she said. “I am happy you are here.”
Thunuk looked up at Zaniyah, she could feel it, and sniffed, a tiny bit more under control than he was a minute before.
“You not say that for no reason?” Thunuk asked, “or for sake of pity?”
“No,” Zaniyah said, looking at him apologetically, “you have been good man. I trust you.”
Thunuk snorted helplessly and let his arms fall, and his body relax, though still crying.
“Thank you, mighty Zaniyah,” he said, sincerely. “I feel guilty for this display.”
“Do not,” She said. “I understand.”
She wouldn’t stop him, the same way Mother Superior hadn’t stopped her. Zaniyah would stay there by Thunuk’s side until he calmed down and was ready to get up again, and she would listen to whatever he wanted to say.
She didn’t want to admit why, but the facts were pretty damning. Zaniyah cared about Thunuk.
However, silence did settle after Thunuk told Zaniyah about his infancy, covering some events involving his parents and brothers and sisters. The first time he hunted, a few times when his life was saved by someone else, and when he saved someone else. After long minutes of that, silence did settled for a moment that extended itself abnormally.
“You have experienced this, yes?” Thunuk asked, breaking the silence, unable to stop himself. “Your tribe was–sorry.”
“It is okay,” Zaniyah said.
“I just wished to question,” Thunuk ventured. “How did you keep on?”
“It is hard not to live in the past,” she replied, “but that is what I have had to do.”
“I wish to know how to do that,” Thunuk said, wishfully.
“Apology, Thunuk. I manage it, but I cannot explain how,” Zaniyah said, not without compassion.
“No,” Thunuk said, shaking his head in apology, “I understand.” He brushed the last of the tears off his eyes and added, “there is to be party, correct?”
“Correct,” Zaniyah said.
Thunuk sniffed and stood up, at last.
“I could use party,” Thunuk commented, finally smiling.
“Okay, but remember they will not understand your words,” Zaniyah told him.
Thunuk smirked at her, fists at each side of his waist.
“That will not stop me,” Thunuk announced, making her chuckle.
Zaniyah stood up. “I would be shocked if it did,” she admitted. “Come.”
They left the store, heading back to the fires the Wild Felids had set up.
“What is partying for?” Thunuk asked. “We party before battle so we do not die unhappy.”
“It is similar,” Zaniyah said, thoughtfully. “It is actually not smart, partying like this before a battle, as some will later not control themselves and may then be unskilled fighters. We party in case we get no chance again, and also as celebration for died ones.”
“You celebrate that they died?” Thunuk asked
“Hm. Celebrate that they lived,” Zaniyah corrected. “We already mourn enough in private so we see no need to have special event to be sad about died ones. Mourning ends by celebrating that we knew them.”
Thunuk smiled at the concept, apparently liking it.
“I like that,” he let her know, of course. “I like that very much. That is good thinking.”
“Mother Superior is wise like that,” Zaniyah said.
“Your tribe leader?” Thunuk asked.
“We are not tribe,” she corrected, a bit faster than she should have, “we are guild. And yes.”
“A woman tribe leader,” Thunuk went on, not really interested in the difference between a guild and a tribe, if he even saw one, when in comparison to having a woman as a leader. “Does she fight? Does she protect you?”
“Not so much anymore, she is too seasoned,” Zaniyah said.
“True village elder,” Thunuk remarked, glancing up. “Interesting. We always assume it is dangerous since women take to strange moods every month. That it would mean bad decisions. Also that women act by feeling. Leader must be just, justice must be blind to feeling.”
“You trust them with everything else,” Zaniyah simply stated.
Thunuk laughed at the fact she would destroy his argument so simply and completely.
“Yes, of course,” he said, almost to himself. “We leaving babies with women no matter the moon time. Even some women running clans and family, but we make exception for tribe leader. Stupid.”
“I make not the case that women make better leaders,” Zaniyah said, “that would also be stupid.”
“Some be,” Thunuk nodded.
“Mother Superior is definitely,” Zaniyah said.
Music started permeating their surroundings. It was daylight so the fires weren’t very visible, but clatter and chatter was getting audible.
“It is much simpler, I think, to have no group rules. I think then, we make more correct judgements,” Thunuk said. “It is best to judge individuals.”
“You like thinking about such things?” Zaniyah asked.
“You have carried me along great adventure. Great new world. People live very different existences. To not think about things…who has that ability?”
“You would be surprised,” Zaniyah said, not holding back a smile.
Zaniyah herself wasn’t that interested in any of those topics; how societies worked, how they could work better, how communities could be set up, and so on. The Hunter observed and learned how things worked. She lived from the outside, always had, and respected one hierarchy alone, and that was the one defined by the Wild Felids. Zaniyah felt no need to change anything about that.
In any case, they finally hit a sizeable mass of friends and other members of the Wild Felids. Zaniyah officially introduced Thunuk and, through it all, did her best not to leave him alone. He, contrary to how she had been like in the past, did not create any awkwardness by not understanding what was being said, or being incapable of saying anything that could be understood.
It was a gift, really. Not only had Thunuk learned some words already, so that he could actually make some comments, but he had done it way faster than she had. Simply, he had decided to have fun, and his kind of personality just found a way to do that when it set its mind on it.
The Hunter belonged to a different camp of personalities. She managed, somehow, to speak less than him. The only reason she wasn’t off-putting was because people knew her already and were used to her quietness.
Regardless, that time, there was no dancing, because everyone was waiting for Mother Superior to show up. As much as they were eating and drinking, it was merely a warm up to the actual party.
Eventually, Mother Superior showed up. She emerged on a roof that was right next to the city square where they had set up on, and called them to silence.
She would use no megaphone, nor any other voice than her own. She stood, clad in a fur coat that she left opened at the middle to show off a big colorful skirt made of leather and patches of fur and a sleeveless top that accentuated the curves on her torso.
Mother Superior stood above them, looking huge in a powerful and commanding way, and yet stunning. “My…Wild Felids,” she announced.
They cheered but Mother Superior waved them down. This would be her speech, possibly the last speech she would ever give and even more possibly the last words anyone would hear from her, in an official capacity. She wished to waste no time.
Everyone obliged and quickly quieted down.