Garden 4 pt1

Fox-form, Tyrel crouched under a flowering bush, all senses alert.

The scents of honey and fruit syrup and a sort of bread made from germinated grains, which Dayo had assured them would be sweet even without the dried fruit in it, were so strong to him as to be faintly nauseating. Dayo had raided the order’s food stores without compunction, loading his new partners down.

The trickster had, more than once, displayed behaviour that suggested to Tyrel that it needed or at least craved sweet foods. Given Dayo’s description of it as acting like a poorly-disciplined child given entirely too much candy, not something Tyrel had much direct experience with but could imagine easily enough, that made a certain amount of sense.

Would it notice the bounty laid out in the partly-walled pavilion at the centre of the wildflower garden? Would it come after it before morning? Would it walk into the trap, or would it question the presence of the bait? How smart was it, really? The information available pointed towards a mischievous cunning, but none indicated that it was genuinely intelligent. That information was, however, extremely limited.

What if I’m wrong? What if this fails?

Then it fails. And we either give up and leave them to it, or we try something else. Just like any other plan. Stop thinking and just keep watch.

They didn’t have all that much longer before the moons began to set, which would force them to abandon the trap for the moment. Tyrel and Kaveri could both spend another day and night without sleep, but he was sure fatigue and hunger were already creeping up on Madoc; while he knew his brother would ignore it and stay at his side, he had no intention of pushing him into this kind of hunt while edging up on Sanur’s dark. By the time Sanur was bright enough for comfort again, rapidly-cycling Talir would be very near dark, though Lirit with her long cycle would be only halfway there.

Was that motion? No, just a bat. Besides, the trickster got around using those insanely long leaps, so they probably wouldn’t see it coming.

The moonlight flickered, shadowed for no more than the blink of an eye, and the trickster landed in a crouch in the clear area in front of the pavilion. It sniffed at the air, head thrown back, and took a lurching step towards it, then another. Tyrel saw it lick its lips.

In the shadows, but clearly visible to his eyes by the faint auras of greengold and violet against the background pale yellow that was his world by moonlight, Madoc and Kaveri waited as well. They only needed the creature to step through the single open side and into the interior… Continue reading

Garden 3 pt3

(chapter continued from previous post)

Where did they find all these weird plants? Tyrel wondered. Here, the ground had been built up with coarse sand and small riverbed gravel, with only the paving stones of the path offering secure footing. It looked too dry for anything to grow, yet peculiar plants with thick fleshy leaves, some of them adorned with alarming spines, seemed to find it just right. He didn’t much care for the smells here, either: at least some of these plants had strong odours, and they weren’t all pleasant.

One gardener, at least, hadn’t gone to the screaming peafowl. He prowled cautiously, watching not only his footing but his surroundings alertly. Tyrel recognized him by both sight and scent: that was the one who’d been up the tree earlier that day, the one who had left a female scent on it.

No matter how watchful he was, he was human, and that was probably why he seemed absolutely unaware of the creature stalking him.

It looked rather like one of the furry bipeds that lived in the miniature castle, but perceptibly larger, and the grotesquely long legs with their disproportionate muscle in the thigh made it at least roughly average human height, though not by much. It moved like a long-legged wading bird, one ungainly step at a time, the body bobbing and lurching. It was all-over dark, and would have been just a black silhouette in the night without Talir’s yellow light helpfully highlighting it for Tyrel. He didn’t really need to hear Kaveri’s low warning whistle, nearly blending with the background of nocturnal insects and a few birds and yet, since it was the one he and Madoc had been using for years, one sound Tyrel could never miss.

It was bigger than him, but Tyrel was the closest, and he could at least keep it from hurting the defenceless and oblivious gardener. If he could take it down, or at least keep it busy until Madoc could join in, that would be better yet.

It seemed unlikely that the creature counted as “born of earth,” but so what? Real danger was more familiar than the moons-given alternative.

Besides, he wasn’t entirely certain that his death wouldn’t be the best solution all around. Continue reading

Garden 3 pt2

(chapter continued from previous post)

The rest of the orchard was easy, but it got more complicated when they reached the broad lane along the edge of the orchard and turned along it. They weren’t the only ones responding to the uproar. Tyrel, shadowed by Madoc’s greater size, managed to duck into the darkness along the fence and thought he’d avoided being seen, and Kaveri scurried up the nearest tree, spiralling so she was on the far side of it. Madoc’s normally extremely effective camouflage, however, was scant use on an open lane in full bright moonlight.

Unable to discuss it, Madoc decided instantly: he spun in place and bounded back the way they’d come, and his top speed was a lot faster than any average human was going to be able to match. Four gardeners followed at a run, holding a variety of gardening implements that would probably double as weapons quite adequately, at least three of them talking over each other so badly Tyrel didn’t bother trying to understand them. Madoc could lose them easily and catch up, Tyrel had no doubt.

Meanwhile, once that quartet were gone, Kaveri climbed back down headfirst and Tyrel emerged from the deep shadows, and they went on.

The increasing density of gardeners travelling in the same direction made it more and more difficult to move without drawing attention.

Something about this doesn’t feel right. I think we’re being manipulated.

After ducking into the shadows yet again, Tyrel slunk over to the base of Kaveri’s chosen tree. As soon as she came into reach, he caught the scruff of her neck carefully and tugged her towards the fence. She chittered at him and jerked away, but went with him, under the dense hedge and out the other side into the nearest garden… which actually seemed to be a vegetable garden, from what Tyrel could smell. But that made sense: the gardeners had to eat.

At least there was nothing between them and the moons here. Tyrel shifted back to human, though he stayed crouched near the hedge, hoping not to be seen if anyone came into the garden.

Kaveri also changed, and gave him a questioning look.

“Think about this,” Tyrel said, keeping his voice low. “They’re all going to the same place to see what scared the birds. Those birds are probably one of the few things here that could make sure absolutely everyone hears them and knows they’ve been disturbed. Which means there’s probably few, if any, possible observers anywhere else in the valley. That sounds to me like a decoy.” Continue reading

Garden 3 pt1

The night garden had a few visitors enjoying the night-blooming flowers and the nocturnal moths and the bats swooping overhead, but compared to the daytime crowd, it was pleasantly quiet.

Kieran led them to a corner bathed in moonlight, that was nonetheless sheltered by a tall wicker lattice heavily overgrown with vines bearing large white flowers like five-pointed cups. Tyrel rather liked the scent of them, even from several feet away.

“I won’t fit through the fence in either form,” Kieran said. “I’ll be here if you need me, but I can think of no reason you should. Leave the knives with me.” Long-fingered hands rapidly wove a bag out of yellow moonlight, one with a broad shoulder-strap; he held it out open, waiting.

Kaveri, her gaze on nearly-full violet Lirit already, only shook her head and sighed. A few heartbeats later, her belt and its pouch thudded to the ground, the raccoon moving adroitly out of the way to avoid being struck by the latter. She stood up on her hind feet and made the chirping chitter that was the main raccoon vocalization, clearly impatient to get moving.

Madoc and Tyrel exchanged glances and shrugs, and obeyed. They couldn’t carry them in their other forms anyway. The collection of small weapons, two daggers and three throwing knives and two sets of bronze knuckle-guards, one with claws, rattled rather forlornly in the bag—it was a lot locally, Tyrel knew logically, but it felt dangerously vulnerable, let alone handing over even that. Once they finished, depositing belts and pouches on top, Kieran gathered up the bag, retrieved Kaveri’s things, and nodded. “Best hurry, before Kaveri leaves without you.”

Changing still felt strange: that brief moment of being nothing but yellow light could have been terrifying, without the constant sense of Talir’s love and reassurance. He didn’t envy Madoc: with Sanur on the downhill side of half, there was still enough moonlight to use, but the farther from full the relevant moon was, especially when waning, the more time and discomfort came with changing. Talir, though, like Lirit, was strong and bright and approaching full, which made it quick and easy for Tyrel.

The bobcat who was his brother was half again Tyrel’s mass, an exaggeration of the size difference in their human forms, and was several inches taller at the shoulders. The black spots in the dull tawny-grey fur were a more pronounced reflection of the subtle Forester stripes in his light ash-brown hair. Kieran said he’d seen bobcats bring down prey many times their size, and Tyrel figured Madoc could tackle a human successfully if he needed to; he was much less confident of his own ability to fight anything much larger than him in fox-form, but he was fairly sure he could defend himself long enough to escape most situations, with little harm to anything but his pride.

On the other hand, Kaveri scrambled up the bronze fence and over the top effortlessly, and Tyrel slipped between the bars with no trouble at all, but Madoc had a bit more of a challenge in squeezing through. Continue reading

Garden 2 pt2

(chapter continued from previous post)

They lost Madoc to a miniature stone castle, complete with tower. Strange creatures lived there, rather like gangly long-limbed humans no more than two feet tall, covered with fur but no clothing, who vocalized only in screeches and chattering. Kieran assured them that they were not any type of spirit, but living animals from a bit further south and east. Nonetheless, there was something intriguing about the whole large group of them living in a castle scaled to their size, and Tyrel could understand why his brother wanted to linger to watch them longer.

From Madoc’s chosen vantage, he couldn’t really see the gardener diligently scrubbing one outer wall clean of a sloppy mess of reds and yellows and greens, but the others could as they went on. Several of the odd creatures were attempting to get involved, but whether that could be considered useful assistance or not was unclear. The gardener seemed fond of them and treated them with remarkable patience, but Tyrel had the distinct sense that he was annoyed or frustrated, possibly not with his helpers.

“Fruit?” Kaveri said, puzzled. “Someone gathered a lot of bright fruits and something green, maybe duckweed, and flung it all over the wall? Another prank?”

“I suppose it must be,” Kieran said, but Tyrel saw how thoughtful his expression grew as he regarded the soiled wall.

Within a maze of tall dense hedges, they paused to discuss which way they should go. Kaveri insisted that, according to her direction sense, they should go left; Kieran, with amusement strong in his voice, suggested that she and Tyrel go left and he’d go right and they could all see who found their way first, and that if it was them, they shouldn’t wait for him.

If any mischief had been worked in the maze, they didn’t encounter it while happily wandering around. Tyrel didn’t know whether Kieran beat them to the exit, but he wasn’t there. It didn’t seem worth worrying about him, so they went on.

They paused in a sort of building that had no sides, only a wood-shingled roof with poles supporting it and a railing around most of the circumference, to buy a cup of sweet tangy juice, and sat there in the shade to share it.

Kaveri’s eyes were bright, her gestures animated, as she spoke about what they’d seen so far and what might yet lie ahead. To Tyrel, her obvious delight was far more important than anything about the garden, but he felt enough genuine interest to at least offer more than monosyllables in response. Continue reading