Supper wasn’t spectacular, but with the addition of the greens from the hydroponics bay, it went from something that only kept us nourished with all the appeal of cold, soggy toast to something that was nutritious as well as tasting half-way to passable. A lot of that had to do with my access to a massive cooking database, but I was more than happy to do whatever I could to make the rations taste better than they normally would. Just because I was a cyborg and could subsist on rations indefinitely didn’t mean I liked it. The better tasting food wasn’t just for Tohan’s benefit.
Effie didn’t eat any rations, preferring to eat the remainder of the guy that had surprised us coming out of the secret passage. That was fine by me as it would stretch the food supply by several days, which was a good thing. I also didn’t actually want to see Effie eat, which Tohan assured me was rather gruesome to not only watch but hear as well since when he ate something, he ate everything, bones included.
With supper done and the plates and cutlery cleaned and put away, I could put my sensors into a more sensitive mode for the fun I thought Tohan and I could shortly have. I assumed he’d like a little time for his meal to digest, as would I, before we started with the more physical interaction. A little conversation over some coffee didn’t sound like a bad way to pass a little time before becoming more intimate. I didn’t need to get to know Tohan better, but I wanted to.
He said to ask him how he ended up with Effie in his life and that it was, by his words, a cool story. I had to admit to some curiosity about how Effie ended up with Tohan since there was literally nothing in any databases about that event, and I’d been quite thorough in my search. That Tohan had a hy’prae companion was just a side note in the data on him. Given the relationship between the two I thought it had much more importance than that.
“You said to ask you to tell me how Effie came to be in your life. So, how did Hy’prae end up with a hy’prae?” I asked as I handed Tohan a mug of coffee and settled next to him on the couch with one of my own.
Tohan looked warily around the room for Effie even as he held the mug of coffee close to his chest. I pointed across the room near the door to the locker room. Effie crouched over a small bowl and delicately lapped up some coffee I’d set out for him. I hadn’t given him much, but I thought it would be enough to keep him from trying, and probably succeeding, in stealing Tohan’s.
“If he comes over here and tries to get all kissy-face with me because he’s hopped up and super horny on this stuff, it’s going to be your job to deal with him,” Tohan warned.
“I didn’t give him much. Just enough so he wouldn’t try to steal yours. Hopefully, he won’t get quite the same intense reaction if he has much less than what he generally seems able to steal from you.”
“You are one devious guy, Warrick,” Tohan laughed. “Good thing I think that’s pretty cool. Sure, I can tell you how I ended up with Effie. I think it’s an awesome story. Get comfy.”
I nodded at Tohan and waited for him to begin.
“Kushaiah wanted to take the kits out into the forest to get them more... I guess used to the dangers of Awh’an in a controlled situation is the best way to put it. Not that Makis and Mered were coddling them from everything. Well, back that up a statement. For the longest time Makis had it bad when it came to coddling the girls. I mean, it’s a good parenting thing that you want your kits to always be safe. But it’s a not-so-good parenting thing when you want to protect them from every single bump and scrape that comes their way. I’m not a head healer, but I think it was because Namir and Nusair were so totally unexpected that it sent Makis’ protective instincts into expert-level, god-mode. Honestly, he was pretty neurotic about it for a long time.”
“Is it not a common thing among your people that children are able to fend for themselves, if necessary, when they’re six years old? I understand it rarely happens, but they can do that, right? At least, that’s what the data Moswen gave me indicated. I’d assume that would mean Awh’anise children are less coddled and more self-sufficient than many other species,” I said.
“Yeah, we’re fairly independent at an early age. We pretty much have to be because death comes frequently on Awh’an. It probably wouldn’t be so much a thing if Awh’an wasn’t such a dangerous place and if we were further removed from our animal ancestors. It was pure survival back then, and that hasn’t really worked its way out of us at this point. That’s probably a good thing for us as a species as far as survival goes. Generally, there aren’t a lot of heavily dependent Awh’anise kicking around. They tend to quickly end up dead. I love Awh’an, but it really isn’t the place for you if you’re not always alert to random danger.
“Namir and Nusair were about three when Kushaiah said it was time that the girls got some real experience under their tails with some of the less dangerous flora and fauna of our world. Makis was massively apprehensive about the whole thing and tried to change not only Kushaiah’s mind but also Mered’s mind as well for a week straight. He was pretty boned from the start because once the girls learned they were going to go out into the forest on a weekend trip, they damn near bounced off the walls in excitement for days. Qetsiyah was a little nervous but excited as well. It was actually kinda funny to see how torn Makis was. He wanted to make the girls happy, but at the same time, he wanted to keep them super safe and he knew he couldn’t do both things at once.
“He finally caved to the inevitable because he always wants to see his girls happy and he’s a huge push-over when they turn up the cuteness factor on him. Qetsiyah threw in her charm as well, and to be one hundred percent truthful, I’m not entirely sure she didn’t manipulate his emotions just a little, probably at Mered’s urging, to get Makis to give in. Honestly, Makis’ objections never stood a chance. He just refused to admit that right away. Makis is sometimes slow on the uptake.”
I laughed at the mental image of an adult giving in to a child’s demands simply because said child was being cute. I’d never had anything even close to parents since I’d been created in a lab and nurtured in a tank until I was ready to begin training. But I’d been created in a batch with two dozen other cyborgs and we all trained together, ate together, slept together, and shared down-time together. It was likely similar to having many brothers and sisters even though none of us were actually related genetically. The doctors and trainers were nothing like what I understood parents were, so I had no reference for that on a personal level.
“Because I’m very close with them, I invited myself along for the fun and they were totally cool with that. I did it mostly to tease the shit out of Makis and watch him try to be super protective but not interfere with the girls exploring a semi-dangerous place because that’s just hilarious. I also wanted to do some test flights in difficult terrain with a new drone I was working on. While the place we were going to go wasn’t the middle of the Awh’anise wilds by any stretch of the imagination, there was a lot more wild flora and fauna than I’d find if I stayed in the city.
“Qetsiyah’s partner, Kamau, was coming along as well because wherever she goes, he goes and visa-versa. We were only going for three days, and it was actually to a national park so kinda wild but not too wild. Don’t get me wrong though. You could still end up dead fairly easily if you didn’t pay attention to your surroundings or assumed you were safe because it was a national park. It was just less dangerous to go there than heading out into true wilderness, which would’ve been crazy to do with young kits.”
“You have national parks? Considering how dangerous Awh’an is, why would people willingly go out into said danger? I understand that even living in the cities, dangerous things will still enter and cause problems and deaths. It seems counter-intuitive to actively court death by going out where you know it’s more likely to occur.”
“I’d say we’re not savages, but that would be a lie,” Tohan said with a laugh. “We like danger and fighting not only each other but also the world around us. It’s probably fair to say we’re adrenaline junkies as a species. Generally, we really like the thrill of the hunt or the chase. We love to fight physically and do it at the slightest provocation. We’re stupidly good at it, too. The number one export from Awh’an are mercenaries, and we’re in high demand across the galaxy. That’s just regular Awh’anise fighters I’m talking about. Shal-hazal are a whole other level of in-demand fighters. And Awh’an really is a beautiful place although I’m probably massively biased in that opinion.”
I thought about that and referenced the data I had. Fighting was a huge part of an Awh’anise’s life, and it frequently wasn’t about resolving a dispute. They saw it as a way to strengthen bonds, set a hierarchy among individuals, and in general, just have fun with one another. I knew Tohan could fight. I had his military records, and I’d seen him fight with Moswen. I’d also seen how quickly and lethally he reacted to the man surprising us when the guy had emerged from the secret passageway.
Awh’an was a beautiful place. A good portion of the planet was lush jungle with trees in all manner of colours. The grasslands looked like seas, the typically waist-high blue grasses undulating like gentle waves. The desert had a stark beauty to it, the black and gold sand seeming to shimmer with silver streaks. Most of the oceans were red, but there were also pink lakes, purple seas, and even some lakes that were so dark a blue that it looked like the water was black. The mountains were imposing and topped with palest green snow. Visually, it was a stunning vista that hid the deadly nature of the planet.
“Would you like to spar with me sometime? If fighting is such an ingrained thing for your people, I’d assume you’d miss being able to do that over the next two weeks or so.”
Tohan grinned at me before leaning toward me to kiss me hard. He barely managed to keep from spilling his coffee over both of us in his excitement.
“That would be fucking awesome. You do know that we often use a fight as foreplay, right? I would totally be up for that sort of scenario to happen sometime. We do enjoy rough sex sometimes although if that’s not your thing, no worries. It’s not a must-have for me.”
I smiled at him. “Noted. Please, continue with your story.”
“So, we set up camp a little off the beaten path—not so deep that we were into the wilds but we were definitely off the safe trail. We weren’t trying to get killed or even seriously injured, but the idea was to expose the girls to some of the more common, low-level dangers of Awh’an that they could be expected to encounter. Keep in mind that nearly everything on Awh’an will try to eat you, which includes a rather impressive number of plants, too.”
“I’m aware. It’s both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. It makes me wonder what happened during the evolution of your planet to create such an overly hostile environment.”
“Not my area of expertise, so I’m no help there. Apparently, the highly aggressive nature of the life on Awh’an is why we developed as a multi-birth species. Greater chance of overall survival for the species in general. But I digress.
“So, we’re all doing our thing when we see the leading edge of a storm rolling in. The area of Awh’an that I live in has a rainy season, and it really, really rains. Like a ridiculous amount of water falls out of the sky. But, we were still several weeks away from the start of that, so we weren’t too concerned about the approaching storm. We knew we had the potential to get soaked, but it would be a normal sort of amount not the you’re-now-breathing-water sort of storm that we get in the rainy season.
“I saw the storm as an awesome opportunity to test my drone in poor weather conditions. The drone was something I was developing for the military, and I’m sure you know they can’t wait for perfect conditions to send things or people out. It’s been my personal experience that the shittier the conditions, the more likely it is that you’re going to be marching your ass out in said shitty conditions.”
I laughed at that but completely agreed with Tohan. I’d been sent out to train in hellish conditions because I needed to be prepared to do what was necessary regardless of what was going on around me. I utterly understood why I’d been sent out into freezing cold or burning heat with no real protection. I hadn’t liked it, but I understood the logic behind it.
“We got the girls and Kamau all squared away, moving the tents into the trees just in case the rain went all freaky and caused flooding. We were pretty sure it wouldn’t flood where we were but better safe than drowning, right? The trees were some of the larger varieties that grow on Awh’an. The branches were probably about twelve to fifteen feet in diameter, and the trees themselves were huge. Like easily three hundred and fifty to four hundred feet tall and around thirty or forty feet in diameter. Some areas that are prone to flooding have people building their homes or entire settlements in the trees. Some of them are pretty big, too. Like several thousands of people. It’s really cool actually.”
That did sound pretty cool. I knew what those settlements looked like from the data Moswen had given me, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that for myself. Truthfully, I would really like it if I could see Awh’an with Tohan.
“Anyway, once the kits were secured, I grabbed my drone and headed out. I’d seen a rock outcrop over a creek about five minutes from our camp, and it would be the perfect place to launch the drone and monitor it as I flew it into the oncoming storm. I was gonna get wet, but I’m not made of sugar and won’t melt, so whatever. It was for science and it wasn’t like the water was going to hurt me.”
As soon as Tohan said that last bit, I knew things were going to take a turn for the worse as far as his story went. It was like saying out loud, “What’s the worst that could happen?” At that point you were basically asking for the universe to stand up and say, “Challenge accepted.”
“You did realize that the creek would likely rise somewhat with a storm, didn’t you? You weren’t just standing on the rock outcropping and ignoring the very real possibility of the danger below your feet, were you?”
“Uhhh, well, you’ve seen how focused I can get on things when I’m working. I didn’t think the storm would be as intense as it was, and I was high enough to not have to worry about the creek possibly rising to danger levels where I stood. To be fair, the creek was pretty small and shallow and I was about six or eight feet above the water level. The creek was maybe fifteen feet across at its widest, and it was barely up to my hips at the deepest point. It wasn’t fast moving water either. We’d played in it earlier in the day and had a blast.”
“You’re an intelligent man, Tohan. You had to know that those thing could and probably would change rapidly with regards to a storm and what the run-off from the storm could do to not only the size of a waterway but also the speed of the water in said waterway. A creek in non-flood mode is not the same at all as a creek during a flash flood.”
“Yeah, I know that. I was just intent on what I was doing and kinda ignored the whole flash flood possibility thing in that instance. I know to avoid creeks and rivers during the rainy season because that is dangerous as fuck and only an idiot with a death wish goes near those then. But we were still weeks away from the rainy season, and that shit is regular like clockwork. Swear to all the gods above and below, you could damn near set a watch with how regular the season starts as well as the downpours of the day. I’m totally serious about that, too.
“Everybody in my city knows that you need to seek shelter at about fourteen in the afternoon and be prepared to stay where you are until about seventeen in the evening or risk getting soaked to the skin in under two minutes if you step outside. Rain gear doesn’t help a lot unless you wear something that literally covers you from head to tail and even then, you’ll still end up wet from sweat because the humidity is just gross when it rains.”
I had a moment of pause when Tohan mentioned how long it rained until I remembered that an Awh’anise day was thirty-two hours long. Still, three hours of constant rain coming down hard was a lot. I checked my database, and the average daily rainfall for Tohan’s area was roughly six inches with it sometimes going as high as ten inches. That was staggering. And dangerous if you happened to get caught in a bad spot.
“So, there I am standing on this rock outcropping, flying my drone into the approaching storm, and everything is going fine. My drone is doing great, and I’m getting awesome pictures of the power and fury of the storm. That probably should’ve been my clue to scramble my ass out of there and get to higher ground, but the shots my drone was taking as well as the stuff from the live feed were too good to stop. And my drone was working better than I anticipated, so I wanted to see just how good it was.
“I was actually surprised that my drone was doing so well considering how hard it was raining and that it was still a prototype. It even took a lightning strike and went down, but the camera kept working, which was awesome. I was bummed that the drone went down, but I had a tracker on it, so I wasn’t too worried about finding it later after the storm passed.
“I got totally freaked out when I saw myself on my datapad spin by from the still active camera of the drone. It took me a second or two to realize that the drone ended up in the creek upriver, and it’d just been swept downstream past me. The clue stick was hitting me pretty hard in the head to get the hell out of there, but like an idiot, I moved closer to the edge of the rock to see if I could spot my drone in the creek.”
This was definitely going to be the point in the story where the universe said, “I see your challenge and raise the stakes.” I could feel it. Obviously, things had worked out in the end because Tohan was beside me telling me the story. It was still probably going to be bad though.
“I think my weight on the edge of the rock was all that was necessary to send the outcropping into the creek. The fast moving, rising water had probably undermined the rock over the years, and I just happened to be standing on it when it reached the tipping point. If I’d have stayed where I was originally standing or even moved further away from the creek, I’m sure I’d have been fine. Instead, I went for an unexpected swim although it wasn’t really swimming that I was doing. It was more like flailing madly as I tried to keep my head above water and not swallow half the damn creek. I’m incredibly lucky that I didn’t get knocked unconscious or break anything when I went in.
“The water was just deep enough that I couldn’t touch bottom and keep my head above water at the same time. It was also moving wicked fast. I’m a decent swimmer and frequently swim in the ocean at the edge of the city I live in. There was no possibility of swimming in what was tossing me around like a piece of fluff in a gale. Nearly half the time, I wasn’t even sure which way was up. I was knocked to the bottom of the creek, dragged against the banks, tossed into the air a few times, and spun in circles more times than I could count. I was being battered pretty hard, and I seriously started to wonder if I was going to die.
“Me and my drone weren’t the only things in the creek either. Debris had been washed down as well and was churning around me, randomly hitting me in addition to my getting tossed into things. I had the wind knocked out of me a couple of times, and I got slammed into a big rock jutting out of the bank, shoulder first. That crash dislocated my shoulder and made my survival rate go to maybe fifty/fifty if I was stupidly lucky. I’m sure I did the most awesome landed fish impression ever when the current spun me around and threw me hard into a good sized tree branch that was caught up on some rocks. It felt like I was gasping for breath for minutes although I doubt it was that long.”
I wanted to laugh at the mental image of Tohan gasping like a landed fish, but I was unsettled at the idea that he could’ve easily died at any point during his wild trip down the flooding creek. A cold shiver trickled down my spine at the thought that I’d have never met Tohan if he’d come to an unfortunate end in that creek.
“I threw my good arm around the branch and hung on for dear life. I knew if I could just hold on long enough, the water would go down to a point where I’d be able to slog out of the creek. I wasn’t far from the bank but the current was still wicked strong. I didn’t want to chance making a try when I thought the odds were pretty shitty that I’d succeed. If my shoulder hadn’t been dislocated, maybe I’d have tried for it, but even then my odds of making it out of the creek wouldn’t have been the greatest.
“I couldn’t call Moswen or Tyh or my mom for help as I’d need to be either asleep or knocked out to do that through the Dream World. There was no way in hell I felt safe enough to knock myself out while clinging to a branch in a flash flood. I wasn’t in a position where I could just fall asleep either, so I needed to wait and hang on tight. My wrist comm was beyond done so that wasn’t an option either. It was waterproof but not whack-repeatedly-and-forcefully-into-rocks-and-debris-proof.
“I couldn’t tell you how long I was hanging onto that branch before something smacked into me hard. I screamed like a frightened kit when I felt a bunch of somethings wrap tight around my chest and waist. I might’ve even peed a little when Effie rested his chin on my shoulder, breathing hard, and I saw what the thing hugging me was.
“Effie was a juvenile then, probably just barely old enough to be out of the nest, if that. But even a juvenile hy’prae is very dangerous, and he could’ve killed me without a whole lot of effort especially given the position we were in. Juveniles bites are typically more potent than adult bites because they haven’t learned yet not to inject their entire store of toxin in one go. A juvenile has enough toxin stored to kill an average adult Awh’anise a couple of times over.
“He was exhausted though, and even though it was my first time ever seeing a hy’prae in real life, I could just tell he was scared as fuck. Hell, I was scared, too. He was breathing hard and peeping so pitifully, that as scared as I was of him and what he might do to me, I felt bad for him, too. He never tried to bite me or hurt me in any way as he clung to me. It was like he knew that doing that would guarantee that we both would die. He clung to me for what felt like forever but probably wasn’t as long as I think it was. I was hurt and tired, and I was still getting hit by random debris now and again. I’m sure Effie was getting hit, too, since he was clinging to my back.
“Then I felt his legs start to loosen. That wasn’t too bad as the water was pushing him against me and my ribs fucking hurt from getting hit by all kinds of stuff before Effie was gripping them in a death lock. Something hit him hard and knocked him sideways mostly off of me. He screamed in terror. I swear that’s what it sounded like. It was an awful, heartbreaking sound. I don’t know why I did it, but I grabbed one of his legs as the water started to sweep him away and pulled him between me and the branch.
“That hurt like fuck as I had to grab him with the arm with the dislocated shoulder. There was definitely some screaming on my part when I did that, but I just couldn’t let him be taken. I don’t know why. We were pressed belly to belly with his legs wrapped around me again. He hung on for dear life, peeping, and shaking and sounding more scared than anything should ever feel. We hugged each other tight, and I prayed to any of the gods that might’ve been listening to keep us alive and safe.
“I dunno why, but I started talking to him, telling him we’d be okay and just needed to wait for the water to go down enough for me to stagger out of the creek. I talked about my family, projects I was working on, the pretty female intern that kept trying to get in my pants despite my telling her I only fucked men. The words didn’t seem to matter. It was sort of a calming thing for both of us, so I just kept talking.
“The storm had already passed over us when Effie was almost swept down the creek, so it really was just a waiting game at that point. Eventually, he stopped peeping so brokenly and completely shocked me by licking my cheek and petting my hair. He snuggled his head under my chin, and while I couldn’t hear it over the sound of the rushing water, I could feel the vibrations of him purring against my chest. That was the very last thing I expected.
“As far as I know, there’s only a few other species on Awh’an that purr aside from us. Hy’prae’s are one of them. If I was really close to another Awh’anise that was purring, it would be super hard for me to not start purring, too. That weird impulse to purr back apparently extends to purring hy’prae, too. It was only a few minutes before I was purring back. Effie hugged me tighter when I did and would cheep every now and again. It felt like forever before the water went down enough for me to safely get us out of the creek. I’ve never been so glad to have solid land under my feet in my entire life.”
“The two of you must’ve been exhausted. It can take several hours for a waterway to go back to mostly normal levels after a flash flood. You’re extremely fortunate to have survived. Both of you,” I said.
“Yeah. I’m very aware of that. I think Effie is, too. Hy’prae are wicked smart. You’ve seen that yourself. Of course, at the time, I had no idea just how smart hy’prae really are. I mean, I knew in a general sort of way that they were intelligent, but I didn’t have any baseline to understand or put into context in reality of what they are capable of as far as reasoning and thinking go.”
I nodded. That made sense. The amount of data on hy’prae was not terribly large and relied heavily on anecdotal pieces from people who’d had hy’prae enter, and usually leave, their lives. When the contact could be as brief as a few hours, there wouldn’t be all that much information to share to begin with. The information gathered also relied on people coming forward with their interaction, and there was no mandate or law that demanded people detail their experience with a hy’prae.
“Once safe on land and well away from the creek bank, I tried to get Effie to let me go. He was having none of that. Even as young as he was then and how tired he was, he refused to be budged. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I needed him off me so I could try to pop my shoulder back into place. Awh’anise heal really fast and if we purr, it actually speeds up that healing process even more, which is pretty cool when you think about it. It’s not instant healing or anything, which would be wicked as fuck, but the longer I left my shoulder dislocated, the harder it would be to fix it later. I couldn’t have done anything while I was in the creek keeping both of us from tumbling further downstream, but now that we were out, I needed to try. It was also gonna hurt like fuck.
“I managed to push Effie down my body to about waist level. Keep in mind that he was a lot smaller then than he is now—like maybe a third of the size and weight he is now. I ran at a tree to try and jam my shoulder back in. The first two times, Effie hung on to me, and I’m sure I was confusing the hell out of him with what I was doing. Those times didn’t work because I didn’t want to hurt him and my angle was wrong. When he saw I was going to do it again, he let go and just watched me. I’m pretty sure he probably thought I was fucking crazy to be doing what I was doing. It took another two tries before it went back in because of the swelling and that it had started to heal while we’d been in the creek. I damn near puked from the pain, but it was a good pain if you get my meaning. I sat against the tree, closed my eyes, and tried not to barf as I waited for the pain to ease.
“When Effie realized that I wasn’t going to run at the tree anymore, he climbed into my lap, patted my cheek and started purring again. I don’t know how long I sat there with my eyes closed. I was exhausted from everything that had happened, and I hurt everywhere. I don’t know why, but I ended up petting Effie, which weirdly enough, made me feel a little better. He liked it, too, because he purred louder and snuggled into me. I woke up to Effie patting my face and a partially eaten something on my lap. That was the first time he shared a kill with me. I didn’t eat it, mostly because I had no idea what it was. Just because Effie was okay to eat whatever didn’t mean I’d be okay eating it. But it’s the thought that counts, right?”
I chuckled at that. “Maybe he felt he owed you for saving him and feeding you was the only way to show his appreciation.”
Tohan shrugged and smiled. “Probably. I didn’t know how far down stream I’d been swept, but I was pretty sure I was well out of the relatively safe area we’d been camping in. The water had been moving damn fast, and with the amount of tossing and spinning it had done to me, it was impossible to guess where I was. I was covered in bruises, cuts, and scrapes, and I ached everywhere. Miracle of miracles, the only really serious injury I had was the dislocated shoulder, which I’d managed to pop back into place, so even that wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.
“It was going to be a bitch of a walk back to camp though. I’d lost a sandal in the creek and the one left was hanging on by one strap so was pretty useless. My clothes were ragged and torn, and the knife I’d had strapped to my forearm was long gone, too. And it was starting to get dark. Unarmed in the Awh’anise wilds was not someplace you wanted to be if you intended to stay alive. You really didn’t want to be out there in the dark without a weapon. Yeah, I have claws and fangs of my own, but that would also mean I’d have to get up close and personal with something to use them, and I was a hurting unit. Some of the really nasty shit comes out once the sun goes down, and it’s super easy to walk your ass into some of the more aggressive flora because you can’t see shit.
“I wasn’t the only one hurt either. Effie was favouring a couple of legs and limped when he walked. He had a nasty gash on his side that was still bleeding sluggishly and a lot of cuts, scrapes, and probably bruises that I couldn’t see through his hair. He growled at me when I touched near the gash, but he still didn’t try to take a swipe at me. We had to get the gash taken care of because nothing attracts predators like the scent of blood.”
“It’s a bit of a miracle both of you survived, isn’t it?” I asked.
“The gods watch over kits and fools, and we apparently had both things covered,” Tohan laughed. “I knew of some plants that could stop bleeding and some that had antiseptic properties. The trick, now, was going to be finding them while I still had the light to look for them and hoping there were some nearby. They’re very common and relatively easy to find, but they also require specific types of areas to grow. Adult Awh’anise know basic survival skills through their military service, which is mandatory, so there was that saving grace for me at least.
“Effie followed me around damn near stepping on my heels the entire time. He even tried climbing onto me several times, but my body hurt too much to let him do that. I finally wrapped my tail around one of his legs, and he settled down. I think he was afraid I was going to leave him. It might’ve actually been the first time he’d left his nest, and he was unsettled about being away from that protection.
“I eventually found the antiseptic plant as well as the one that would stop a wound from bleeding and pretty much stripped them bare. I needed the antiseptic one, too, with all of the cuts and scrapes I had. I wouldn’t say the creek water was dirty in the sense of pollution, but I wasn’t feeling like pushing my luck with infections from whatever else might’ve been swirling through the water with us.
“Good thinking. Major injuries are dangerous, but infection, once it takes hold, can be even deadlier.”
Tohan nodded. “Effie didn’t want me to touch the gash on his side, and he really didn’t like the smell of the plant once I crushed it up. To be fair, I wasn’t in love with the smell either. Frankly, it smells gross. Kinda like dirty, wet socks mixed with mouldy bread and a dash of sour milk. But it works so whatever. I wasn’t going to fight him on smearing the plant on him because I didn’t want to provoke an attack. I smeared that shit over every part of myself that I could reach that had a break in my skin.
“He watched me intently, and when I was almost done, he came over and grabbed my hand, bringing it to one of his cuts. That’s when I realized that hy’prae were a lot smarter than I assumed based on what I’d read about them. He’d figured out what I was doing by watching me and even if he didn’t understand why I was smearing that shit on myself. He understood that I was treating my wounds with the plant and made the logical leap that his wounds could be treated, too. That’s some pretty impressive reasoning from an animal in my opinion. Especially one as young as he was.”
“That is impressive. I hadn’t given much thought to the statement about their complex problem solving abilities, but it would appear hy’prae are very intelligent—possibly more so than the data I have indicates. Would it be fair to say they learn quickly, too?” This was fascinating, and if I wasn’t careful, we’d get completely sidetracked by the subject of hy’prae intelligence.
“Oh hell yeah. Effie watches me do stuff, if he thinks it’s interesting and then copies what I’ve done so he can do it too. That’s how he learned to work locks. And how he learned to make rhith-goah in the thermal. He really likes rith-goah and started watching me intently when I’d throw some in the thermal. It’s a hugely popular snack where I live so there’s actually a button specifically for it on the thermal.”
“Effie can cook food?” That was astounding. There wasn’t anything about that at all in the data I’d read about hy’prae.
“It’s only putting a pre-packaged thing in the thermal and pressing a button, but I guess, yeah, technically he’s cooking something. He does it on his own, too. Little bastard doesn’t like to share the rith-goah he makes either.”
“Before we get sidetracked into just how smart Effie is, please continue with the story,” I said with a little mental regret. We could always come back later to the subject of hy’prae intelligence.
“Right. So, I doctored us as best as I could and looked around for a suitable place to sleep that would be more or less out of any danger-paths of nocturnal predators. That meant finding a suitable tree that would be easy for me to climb. Usually climbing a tree wouldn’t be a problem, but my shoulder was giving me hell when I wasn’t doing anything, and it would’ve been stupid to aggravate it so soon by climbing after popping it back into place. Too easy of a climb, which my shoulder would appreciate, would also mean other things could climb up, too. I finally found a tree that was mildly hard to scale, climbed up, had Effie join me, and we both passed out.
“The next morning we started walking. That didn’t last long for Effie though. I think his legs were hurt more than he let on, and it was very awkward for him to try to walk. I tried to get him to grab on to me like he had in the creek, but he didn’t seem to have the strength to do that. I carried him for a bit, but my shoulder still ached, so I was only carrying him with my good arm. He weighed around twelve pounds or so then, and carrying that in one arm over rough terrain gets tiring really quickly.
“I think I lasted about forty-five minutes before I needed to stop and put him down. My good arm now felt dead, and I didn’t want to risk messing up my other one by trying to carry him. Tearing up my clothes to make a sling for him wasn’t a good idea as I needed some protection for my already scraped up skin from the plants we were walking through. The only vines I’d seen that would be useful were on a tree I didn’t dare approach because it was carnivorous. We needed to keep moving back to the camp because the longer I was out in the wilds, the greater the chances were that something would try to make me its dinner. Likely Effie, too. My family was probably going nuts as well since I’d just disappeared without a trace in the middle of a storm.
“Effie was confused at first when I stopped and put him down. He tried to climb back into my arms, but they were dead and I just couldn’t hold him any longer. It never occurred to me to just leave him. He survived the flash flood with me, so he was coming back with me to where I’d started from. I didn’t know where he’d started from, but I’d take him as far as where I’d gotten dumped into the creek. After that, well, I’d done what I could for him to get him mostly back to his nest.
“I highly doubt he understood anything I said to him then. I can’t be one hundred percent sure, but given how young he was at the time, I was probably the first Awh’anise he’d ever interacted with. I still talked to him though. I told him I couldn’t carry him any further because my arms were too tired but that we needed to keep moving. We sat there for probably a good twenty minutes before he moved a little away from me and started spinning some webs.
“Hy’prae webs are wicked strong given how thin they are. I know now that they’ll spin specific patterns and twist multiple strands together to make even stronger threads depending on what they need. Effie knew he couldn’t keep up with me walking and that I couldn’t carry him any longer so he spun himself a sling sort of thing. He brought it to me, settled it over my good shoulder and across my chest, climbed into the sling, and chirped at me. To say I was shocked at what he’d done would be a huge understatement.
“The sling thing worked great. I know now that it was just a quick, modified nest design that hy’prae use if they’re away from their nest and want to rest for a while. It probably took him about fifteen minutes to spin. It was okay at first, but the part that went over my shoulder was thin and started to press into my flesh in an uncomfortable way pretty quickly. I stopped again, and something made me show him that his sling was hurting me. He got out, picked at it for several minutes, obviously thinking, and then spun more web making the strap over my shoulder wider and thicker. He got back in and chirped at me again. Damned if it wasn’t way more comfortable.
“We walked that entire day and aside from needing to be on alert the whole time and me being hungry as fuck, it was actually kinda cool. When I slept that night, Tyh came to me in a dream. He was relieved and worried as fuck. He said Moswen would come get me right away and bring me home. I said I needed to bring Effie, although I hadn’t given him a name yet, back to the camp site because he needed to go home, too, and that was as close as I could manage for him since I didn’t know where his nest was. Hell, for all I knew, we could’ve passed the area his nest was in and he just hadn’t wanted to leave me yet so he hadn’t.
“Tyh forced me awake, and Moswen scooped us up shortly after that. Effie was instinctively afraid of Moswen, and he tried to protect me from him, which was cute but pointless. Moswen brought us back to the camp like I asked, and when I tried to shoo Effie off to go find his nest, he wouldn’t go. He clung to me and made pitiful peeping sounds. I tried to get him to leave for like ten minutes, but he wouldn’t. I just shrugged at that point and assumed he’d go when he was ready to go because that’s what hy’prae do.
“Effie came back to the city with me. He was wary at first but curious about everything. He was also wickedly protective of me and territorial. He still is as you’ve seen. With that curiosity, he got into everything. It was like living with the most intelligent three-year-old you’d ever seen. I started a hell of a lot of sentences with the words fucking hy’prae before cleaning up yet another mess he’d made as he explored my condo and the things in it.
“I was watching the twins one day for Makis, Mered, and Kushaiah. I’d had Effie with me for about two or three weeks at that point, and he was with me while I was kit-sitting because he was always with me in those first few months. I couldn’t even be in another room alone for more than five minutes before Effie would freak out at being alone. I hadn’t realized just how much I was saying fucking hy’prae until later that night when Makis called and asked me to watch my language a bit more carefully around the girls because they were now running around the house shouting ‘fucking hy’prae’ constantly and laughing their asses off. I started calling Effie an effing hy’prae after that, and it got shortened to Effie, which became his name.”
“Wow. That is some story. And he’s never left you since?” I asked.
“He’ll take off for a few days now and again, usually to hunt. Or just explore. Hy’prae are very curious. He might have disappeared a few times to breed, but I honestly have no idea about that. We know very little about the reproduction of hy’prae. The longest he was gone was two weeks. No idea what he did while he was gone, but he looked skinny as fuck when he came back. He acted weird, too, for several days before he disappeared again for another two weeks. He was back to normal when he wandered back.”
“You love Effie a lot, don’t you?” I asked with a small smile.
“Shhhh. Don’t let him hear you say that. He knows that word, and he knows it’s a special thing. He goes all stupid and super clingy when he hears it attached to his name,” Tohan said as he cast a quick look around for Effie. “Found that out the hard way.”
I laughed at that. Tohan scowled at me briefly before he laughed, too. He was a really handsome man when he laughed. I held out my hand for his empty coffee mug and brought both of ours to the little kitchenette. I’d clean them later. Tohan’s story of meeting Effie had taken some time in the telling, and I figured now was as good a time as any to put my plan into motion. From everything I knew about the Awh’anise, Tohan would enjoy it a hell of a lot.
I went back to the couch, grabbed Tohan by his vest, kissed him hard, and flipped him over my shoulder. I was fairly sure he’d land on his feet instead of flat on his back because the Awh’anise were generally nimble, but if he did land on his back, I could still continue with my plan. I spun in time to see Tohan more or less land on his feet, one hand on the floor to steady himself, his tail whipping to help him balance.
“What the hell, Warrick?” Tohan asked in confusion as he stood and eyed me warily with a little chaser of arousal. Excellent!
“Fighting is sometimes foreplay for your people. Fight me. Loser gets his ass fucked however the winner wants to do it. I don’t intend to lose, and I’m going to ride you hard.”
Tohan’s mouth actually dropped open in shock before he snapped it shut and grinned. “You are seriously awesome, Warrick.”
“Don’t think about throwing the fight either, Tohan. You do, and I won’t fuck you,” I warned him.
“As much as I love the idea of you fucking me hard, you challenged me out of nowhere for no reason. It’s fucking on, Warrick. You’re getting a serious fight out of me.”
“Good. Fight me,” I said as I gestured for him to come at me.
An odd, thrilling sensation rushed through me when I saw his cock start to rise and tent his pants. I’d never used physical violence as foreplay before, but seeing Tohan get excited by the prospect was exciting to me for some reason. Tohan growled low in his throat, and his tail swished from side to side. He started to slowly circle me, likely looking for an opening to make his attack. The intense look in his eyes was thrilling, and the subtle shift from civilized person to aggressive individual wanting to fuck was incredibly arousing.
This was going to be amazing.
Rhith-goah: Snack food commonly eaten by Sub-tropical Awh’anise, particularly those settled around/near the ocean. An aquatic insect that lays eggs in the ocean and exists as a nymph in the ocean for the majority of its life until the final moult that produces a winged adult, mero-te’ra, approximately 5”-6” long that lives for only a few days to breed and spawn the next batch of insects. Both forms of the insect are eaten although the cooking method differs.
Rhith-goah are cooked quickly at high temperature, usually in a sealed pot or thermal cooker. The moisture in the nymph causes the internal meat to gelatinize while the hard outer shell keeps the meat inside until steam pressure causes it to burst (like popcorn). It has a taste similar to bacon drizzled with maple syrup.
Mero-te’ra are typically battered and deep-fried and have a flavour like sweet potato and bacon.