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On the porch, she felt safer. The warm light high on the wall, next to the rocking chair that was cradling her seemed to tell her so, with its golden reassurance.

Inside, though...

Imustnotthinkthat, she repeated in her head, pressing her eyelids shut. Daddy will be good, hepromisedhepromised. She'll be all right.

She hugged her legs as a scream and a bark came from inside the house, making her flinch. Daddy?
"Daddy?" she called out, already forgetting that he had asked her not to make noise. The silence extended until she could no longer stand it. She stepped down from the rocking chair and went inside the house, walking slowly, her steps and breath on a single beat.

The living room door swung open, her daddy coming out of it and hurrying to close it back with a gasp once he saw her; he didn't want her to see, even she understood that. He's scared. "Daddy, are you okay?"

He sighed. "Yes, sweetie, I'm fine."

"But - but I heard you scream..."

"I got scared. She... she tried to bite me... " he started, and her eyes swelled up in acknowledgement of what that meant. "I'm sorry..." he said, kneeling down beside her and caressing her cheek. The girl thought he looked so scared and small for some reason, like the puppy they had found a couple of nights ago. The puppy had slept with her and been with her the whole day, they had played and laughed and played again and she adored her and the puppy felt the same for her, she knew it.
But then she had tried to bite her, (playfully!) and her daddy said she wasn't safe to be around. So he took her puppy and tied her in their unused barn. And the next day he didn't even let her go outside to see the puppy! In fact, he didn't let her go outside at all. She thought he was punishing her for taking the puppy in, but what should she have done? It was so tiny, hiding from the rain under a bush near the fence of their sheep's barn, looking so hungry!

"She was just sad, Daddy, because you took her away from me and she knew you were punishing me! Why didn't you let me see her today?" she blurted out, crying desperately and clenching her fists.

Her dad lowered his head, hiding it in his hands. She knew her daddy was sorry, but she didn't care, clad in that childlike selfishness that was her age's privilege. "I will never talk to you anymore!" she cried, and ran upstairs to her room sobbing hysterically.



As soon as his six-year-old slammed her door shut, his wife came out of another door. "She didn't take it well, did she?" she said, frowning.

"I don't really care right now, Anne. You've no idea what -- what happened..." he replied, struggling for breath, his hands trembling. I killed her... I killed her... I had to, but I didn't know...

Her hands went to his shoulders, questioning. "It was the right thing to do, you know that. You know it was that puppy that killed our sheep and bit the horse and who knows what it would have done to our daughter!"

He was shaking as if dancing, again and again and again. Youdontunderstand, he repeated in his head, crying, eyes shut. And she finally seemed to understand something was wrong. Thank God, I can't tell her what I had to do but she can see for herself, she'll see and understand, she doesn't now but she will when she sees it...

She got up and he followed her shadow with his eyes as it entered the room. Her stifled scream made him run as if a spring was under his ass, forcing him to jump up despite his terror of what -I've done- was inside there.

"Where the fuck is the puppy, Ed?! Where is it?" she whispered, her voice the faintest he had ever heard it be, her hand still over her mouth. What am I going to do now? he asked himself.

"Anne, darling... as-as soon as I k-k-killed it..." he gulped, his insides torn. He made himself look at the tiny body lying on their carpet, naked and innocent. "It transformed..."

His wife looked at him with huge eyes, aghast. Pleasebelievemeohgodplease

"This is impossible. What did you do, Ed, we can't call the authorities or say anything, they will take Lisa away from us..." she said, her hands through her hair, looking at the body. Looking for, Ed hoped, confirmation that that was indeed the puppy once... against all odds... It's there, can't you see that it's not just a girl?

The young girl's neck was redder where the collar had snapped when she freed herself from the barn. Her hair was the same deep brown of the puppy's and her teeth, still glaring from her lifeless mouth, were dark with dried blood; and one of her fingers was missing. I thought it was just a puppy, god forgive me, god forgive me.

"We have to get rid of it, Ed."



She couldn't help but look at the night sky when they went out the house, towards the trees at the end of the fields in front of them. Fuck you, she thought towards the full moon, you and this monster you created to hurt our daughter.

She looked at her husband, who was carrying a sack tied at the ends in his arms, tears streaming down his face. I don't know what I would have done if it had been me killing that puppy, seeing it transform into a little girl. God, I hope nobody finds out what we've done...

As if reading her mind, Ed spoke up. "What if somebody sees us? What if the body is dug up by someone?" he asked. She had never seen him scared but oh boy, today his fear made up for all the times he hadn't been and she had. It was palpable, and she felt sorry for him, but they both had to hold on a little bit longer. They would be back home soon, to apologise to their daughter for putting down the puppy, and hug each other tight in bed and pretend it had all been just a dream.

They stopped right after the first line of trees. "This is our land, dearest, our trees, our fields. No one will dig anything up unless we tell them to. And you know there's no one but us around here."

It was hard work, but they helped each other and in just over a couple of hours they had dug the hole, placed the body and covered it back up. Thank heavens it's fall. All the leaves will cover this spot nicely in just a few days...

She held onto him as they walked back. The moon shimmered red, almost mockingly. I know, I know, it shouldn't have ended like this. But we didn't know...

They were halfway back when Ed stopped abruptly. She turned to look at him and saw fresh sweat coming out of his forehead. A few seconds more, and she knew why -- a howl.

They came for us, oh god they came to get their revenge. Tears came to her eyes as the howls multiplied, nearer. "Run, my love." she said, squeezing Ed's hand as hard as she could, thinking of their daughter sleeping in her bed, of her eyes and hair and beautiful laughter. One of us must make it there...

She looked at their house, a lonely warm light showing them the way. "Run."
Entry for Memnalar's All Hallows Tales 2014 contest. The picture I was given was this: Rn 02 - Burning Bright by LacedShadowDiamond.
I had started with a very sci-fi entry but I couldn't really get into it, and today this came to me. I've been reading The Shining, sue me.

This was my first literature Daily Deviation, and I'm so thankful to IrrevocableFate for featuring it. :heart: I'm not the best prose writer and this small "recognition" helps me feel a bit more confident about my prose.

That being said, if anyone has some feedback on the piece, not because it got a DD should you feel less inclined to do so! I'm not a native English speaker, and I'm always working on my writing skills, so any help is appreciated.
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A Kitsune friendship [TEASER]

Several years ago I became the only person in my family; I lost my mother when I was very young to cancer. It was so long ago that I didn't really understand the concept of death so I was confused at first. Then by the time I was old enough to understand I had pretty much forgotten her so I was never sad until I was hit by the next fatality.

My father was in the army and was consequently sent to Iraq to fight in the war that was going on at the time. I was only fifteen when he left, he wrote often but it was rare when I could speak to him on the phone or on the computer. Eventually I didn't hear from him for a few days, at first I just thought that he was too busy but then I received a letter saying that he had been killed in action. To start with I didn't believe it but after tearless sadness I just had to accept it and move on.

I continued to finish school then started work, alone. My first job was a fairly decent job at a local garage but then my boss said that there was an opening for a job that I might have been interested in. He looked after me well as he knew my father and was equally shocked to hear the news so he treated me with far more respect than most people. He handed my some papers and told me that he had applied for an interview for me. I was told it was for a place in the Subaru rally team pit crew, exited and very grateful for his gesture I was slightly sad to leave my cushy job but I knew that I would be moving up in the world from now on.

When I did the interview they knew that I was nervous but they saw potential. Several days later they replied saying that I was hired, since I had nobody around to make me feel embarrassed I could not help but shout and jeer for joy that I had achieved something good for once. The work was tough but fun and very rewarding at the end of the day. I was paid very well and even got a free car out of it, a 2004 model Subaru Impreza WRX and I loved it very much. I worked for nearly a year before the season needed and I could rest for a little while.

Or so I thought.

One night nearly two years ago I returned from work ready for a vacation but as I turned the TV on it would not work. Giving up quickly I then tried my computer, it worked briefly then packed up like the television did.

Then she arrived.

Like something out of a Sci-Fi movie the screen started to materialise a small green ball. I was scared at first but when it started to speak I was just plain baffled.

After a while it told me it was hungry so I found something for it to eat. After it had pretty much emptied my house of any food I had something rather odd happened. She started to glow then much to my surprise she started to grow. Doubling her size she then changed her name and even her personality slightly, by this time t was so late at night I decided it was best to just give up and go to bed. Leaving her beside me on the pillow I then very quickly drifted off.

In the morning I was convinced that I had dreamt but then I opened my eyes and looked over, shocked and terrified I rolled out of bed onto the floor. Standing up I rubbed my eyes when I saw her lying there, she had changed again overnight.

This time she was the same size as me and absolutely beautiful, easily the most elegant creature I had ever seen in my life and when I woke her up she just became even more stunning. Her eyes were as green as the Asian jungle and as black as an obsidian cave. When she stood up she was much taller than me but I was no longer frightened of her.

Even though I had her follow me for the entire day I just carried on as normal like she was just an ordinary friend.  By the afternoon I sat on the beach, I watched her run up and down the shore enjoying the exercise. That was when I found the device that would make us partners, a small watch that apparently was called a Digivice.

She told me that she was devoted to help me protect the world from a 'Dire time'. It wasn't until the next day that we would find out what it was. When we returned home I decided to sit down and relax for a while, I turned on the TV and the same thing happened again, but this time it was worse.

The same colours that flashed when she appeared the night before were now on the screen once more, I blanked out not long after being dragged through the portal and the next thing I remember is waking up in a field. This was the place where we both were introduced to my best friends, Owen, Alex, Takeo, Lando and their Digimon Guilmon, Betamon, Gabumon and Gatomon.

However Betamon didn't stay the same for long, a few weeks later he turned into the giant serpent Seadramon, a truly great warrior. When we were together we were forced to fight some of the worst creatures to have ever lived, the covenant brutes, jackals, skirmishers, hunters and the worst of all, the Arbiter.

The reason I hated him so much was he injured my partner on two separate occasions, the first time she was at deaths door and the second we all used our combined strength to take the Arbiter down for good. But despite the bad things that happened in that time one thing brought the two of us closer together. She managed to split her powers and made my half Digimon and immortal while she became half human and gained some of my knowledge.

After the excitement of the battles had gone but they were replaced by mobs of furious paparazzi begging for photos and for us to tell our story in front of the cameras, we were bombarded by them for many weeks until the story eventually died down and they moved on to other newer news stories.

By now the two of us were exhausted, we needed a break but we did not get our wish. I was called to the office by my boss; he then presented me with a very unusual yet incredible offer.

"After much thought I have decided to ask if you would be willing to try and become one of our drivers" he said. "You would be given a few trials and if you prove to be a rather good driver we will consider you to be in some of our actual races"

"I will do it on ONE condition" I said to him.

"Anything, what is it?" he asked.

"Can I choose the co-driver?"

I was given permission and I chose my partner. The two of us did the driver trials and we passed with flying colours, this opened the flood gates for even more income. We were asked to be a driver for the next rally in Africa and we managed to climb from third place to second overall which helped Subaru to win the championship. However while in Africa we were stalked by two very unpleasant men.

They lured us to an abandoned building and the last thing I remember is waking up behind bars. The entire group had been captured and were forced to fight in an arena for the entertainment of the owners and an invited audience. When my partner fought she was spared by her opponent, Varan the giant reptile but she suffered several injuries.

Sadly I wasn't quite so lucky, I was forced to do battle with Salamandora and I was completely annihilated. I can't remember what happened afterwards but my partner told me that they had found a way of escaping and releasing all of the other prisoners. The two men were killed and everybody fled but Salamandora followed. Seadramon and Varan managed to drive him off and we were safe once more.
A few months later me and my partner had organised a meet up with our friends but we were yet again thrown into a trouble as another portal opened and it sucked us through into another world. The Digital world.

There our entire group met up again and we were forced to survive in the barren wastelands, it was there we met Chris and his Digimon Plesiomon and met up with an old friend from the arena, Bryan. He had since become a tamer himself and his Digimon Ravickmon was odd because he looked almost exactly like my partner only more muscular, had two tails, orange fur and had a male voice.

I and she fought through thick and thin side by side, against Digimon, the elements and even when I had a violent attack from a poison that made me actually physically attack her. I still hate myself to this day because of that moment when I injured her.

We were there for weeks before we could open another portal and when I did we were sent to yet more strange worlds the first was a place that was cursed  by after duck monsters. Every time the sun went down we were bombarded by un-dead zombies, skeletons, giant spiders and several other horrible creatures. One of which we could not even look at without it attacking us, when we did actually look we nearly lost Takeo as it attacked.

The next world was a strange planet infested by terrifying monsters of many shapes and sizes, the worst of which was a gigantic half crocodile half plant creature with over a dozen tentacle vines which was the worst enemy we have had to fight. My partner came so close to death in that battle my heart almost stopped but she made a miraculous recovery.

We finally were returned home by a very strange man and his assistant, the strangest part was that his craft was a blue police box that was far larger inside than it was outside. As soon as we walked inside he stared it up and we then walked outside to find ourselves back in our home country.

Now we live quietly together in our large modern house, I have taught her the many ways of being a human and about our world and she showed me how to keep my body in shape. I have never felt better now that I have a new body, powers, partner and family.

My name is Kyle and I am the tamer of Malachimon, the Digimon who fell in love with a human.
An introduction to the story that will come up after I have finished Galaxy. This is my first ever story to use the first person perspective and to star only me and Malachimon.

I also took some advice from my friend Brydog23 and add just a little romance between us two. Also another new character you may have heard of from me will be making an apperance later on.
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When I woke up I saw that I was in a hospital bed, groaning I looked around and saw Malachi and Sapphire by my side, Malachi was gently stroking my hand with her paw. "What happened?" I asked as I was still dazed. "You were stabbed by Harry yesterday, remember? You were unconscious all night and all morning" she said. "The nurse says you will be ok by this evening" Sapphire added.

"Are you two ok?" I asked as I sat up.

"We are both fine" Malachi said before adding "I think Sapphire has something to say to you"

"What is it you want to say?" I asked her.

"I just want to say, thank you" she said humbly. "You saved my life and kept your promise. I will never have to worry about Harry again thanks to you"

"You're welcome I guess" she then leant forwards and hugged me tightly. "Ok you're very welcome" I said as I pushed her away, my wound was throbbing badly. "Malachi? I said.

"Yes?" she replied.

"I need to ask, what happened to me yesterday?" I said to her.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean that blue glow from my hands and why on earth was I so strong?" I asked her.

"Well, my best explanation is that several years ago I shared my powers with you, right?" she said and I nodded. "What happened was your anger must have triggered something that made my power and yours combine in such a way that your were able to use one of my old attacks. Power paw"

"So that's why I shouted Power paw as I hit him" I said, I was surprised by what I was hearing.

"It must be" she said. "It's the only explanation I can think of that makes sense"

"So I have access to your powers?" I asked.

"Not quite, I think you just became so angry that the power built up enough for you to use it. I expect the same would happen to me if I was angry enough" Malachi explained.

"I'm the only one here who can use their powers" Sapphire added. "But I try not to as they are really only good for finishing off or fatally wounding an opponent"

"Why is that?" I asked her.

"They are very powerful but they sap most of my strength. Even using it once was enough to make me tired" she said.

"I nearly had to carry both of you back by myself" Malachi added. She then stroked me a couple of times on the top of my forehead and said "Visiting time end soon. But we will see you in a few hours" she then kissed me on the cheek before telling Sapphire to follow her out.  I was left alone; the only person who came to see me was the nurse who constantly checked my readings. The last time we met that day was when she then removed all of the equipment and said "Somebody wants to talk with you. I will let him in"

She opened the door and a Police sergeant entered the ward, the nurse left us to talk. "Now then" he said. "I want to have a word with you about yesterday"

"Why? What have I done?" I asked, I was scared that he was going to arrest me.

"Nothing" he said. I breathed a sigh of relief and he then explained. "What I was going to say is that you and your two friends are off the hook now. We decided that the evidence was so strong towards Harry being a killer and now that he is dead we can close the case"

"But we killed him" I said.

"We understand it was self defence" he replied. "As for the girl who was killed, we have spoken to her family and asked them not to talk about this. We don't want the press to get hold of this story. As for her belongings the family decided to give a third of her money to her fox"

"Sapphire?" I said.

"I believe so, she will receive a third of Lucy's money and will remain in your care from now on. I also asked if she wanted to attend the funeral but she declined. I trust you will take good care of her and I also have one more thing to give to you" he said and he gave me a small box.

As I lifted the lid I found it to be the Balisong knife that Harry had used to stab me. "Why have you given me this?" I asked the sergeant.

"We have no need for it anymore so we thought you would find a use for it. Maybe as a self defence weapon in the future or as a memorial" he said as he stood up again. "I will leave you now. The doctor will take you home soon and try not to mention this to anybody from now on"

"I don't want to mention it so that's not a problem" I said as he left the hospital ward.

Later that day when the sun had gone down one of the doctors took me back home in his Audi; helping me out of the car he said "You will be fine in a few days. It was just a flesh wound. Now you go and have a good night's sleep"

"I suppose it's another scar to add to the list" I said sarcastically as I rang the doorbell. The doctor went back to his car as I watched Malachi run downstairs and open the front door. She draped her arms around my shoulders and kissed me, she then said "I'm glad you're back. I was so worried about you"

"It's good to see you my love. I was only gone for a few hours and I missed you so much" I said before kissing her again. She lead me upstairs and helped me into bed, "You don't need to fuss this much" I said to her. "The doctor said I will be fine"

"Nonsense. You need to rest" she said pulling the covers over me before sitting down on her side of the bed. "Sapphire said she will make hot chocolate"

As soon as she finished speaking the door opened and Sapphiremon walked in holding a tray with three mugs upon it. Handing me and Malachi one she sat on the end of the bed and said "I hope you will be ok soon. You saved my life twice so saving you was an honour"

"Thank you" I said. "Looks like we are even now"

"Does it matter if we are even?" she said. "You are my tamer; we are supposed to protect each other"

"Both of us are" Malachi said. "Sapphire and I decided while you were in hospital that we should share the duties of protecting you"

"I thought you already did" I said.

"I must confess that I was not trying hard enough before. I never needed to protect anybody in the past, not even Lucy until she we attacked. My fighting skills are also very poor so Malachi offered to help train me up" Sapphire said.

"But what if you don't need to fight?" I asked.

"I'm afraid we will" Malachi interrupted. "With our immortality we will most likely run into danger again"

"I hope not for a long time" I said as I finished my hot chocolate.

"I think you should get some rest Sapphire, you need your strength for tomorrow" Malachi said.

"Very well" Sapphire said, as she was about to leave she turned back and wished us goodnight. Malachi took off her gauntlets and left them on the bedside table before tucking herself in beside me. She leant over and kissed me on the cheek and said "You need to rest now" before she turned over and switched the light off.
After waking up again Kyle is reunited with his vixens.
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I woke up in the morning to see Malachi lying next to me, her eyes closed and a light purring sound as she was breathing in. We decided to buy a double bed and sleep together from now on; she seems to be more comfortable when she knows she is always close to the one she loves. I did not want to disturb her so I just lay there watching her sleep, she always looks so peaceful in her slumber.

Several minutes later she stopped purring and her crystal blue eyes started to flicker open. She looked at me and smiled softly.

"Good morning" she said quietly. "How did you sleep?"

"Beautifully" I replied.

She sat up and reached over to lightly kiss me on the forehead before pushing back the sheets and standing up. I then did the same, pulling back the curtains it was a wonderful crisp frosty morning outside. Malachi took her dark purple gauntlets and slipped them on while I got myself dressed ready for the day ahead of us.

Leaving the bedroom I saw Malachi doing her usual morning stretches on the balcony as she did every day. So I decided to go to the kitchen and make her favourite breakfast, Eggs Benedict. As the eggs were poaching I cut an English muffin in half, it was then I felt a familiar set of arms wrap around my shoulders and chest.

"What are you making?" Malachi asked.

"Your favourite" I replied with a smile on my face.

"Eggs Benedict?" she asked with a very pleased tone.

"Of course" I replied. "It will be done in about five minutes"

"Good, I'll wait downstairs" she said and she kissed me on the cheek.

Leaving me to finish off the breakfast she waited patiently at the dining table. After stacking the muffin, ham, eggs and sauce onto the plates I placed them on the table. Malachi started to eat straight away; I sat down on the opposite side of the table to have mine.

"So how did you sleep?" I asked casually.

"Just fine, that new bed you decided to get is wonderful" she replied while cutting her egg in half.

"What did you want to do today?" I asked.

"Anything you want" she said. "I don't mind what we do. Although might I suggest that we do something that doesn't involve going out too much, it's very could outside" she said before finishing her breakfast rather quickly.

"Ok" I said. "I have an idea"

"What is it?" she asked while crossing her knife and fork to show she had finished.

"How about this for today" I answered. "First we will go for a brisk walk to blow away the cobwebs then maybe a drive around the countryside before maybe playing a game of badminton or something"

"That sounds just fine" she said. "I will go and get the coats"

"And I'll get the NSX out" I said collecting the plates.

Malachi rushed upstairs and I left the plates in the kitchen and then walked through the door into the garage where our cars were stored. Walking down the stairs I then pressed the button on the side and the main door raised up. Then I started up the car we would be using, a dark silver Honda NSX. Starting the engine I slowly moved it out into the gravel path and waited there for my partner. She opened the front door and ran over to the car clutching my Subaru coat and her purple sleeveless jacket, tossing them behind the seats she sat down and buckled herself in.

"So where are we going then?" she asked as we pulled out of the drive.

"I thought that we could go somewhere I haven't taken you to for a long time" I said as I changed from second to third gear.

When we turned a corner we started to drive down an old dirt track, Malachi perked up, she seemed to remember the place. Once we stopped next to some sand dunes covered in tall green Marram grass the memories then hit her.

"This is the place you brought me when we first met!" she said with a very surprised voice.

"I can't think why I haven't been here for so long" I pondered. "But at least it still looks just as quiet as it first did"

Locking the car we climbed over the dunes to get to the wide open beach. One we were at the top everything came flooding back to me, the stormy night when Malachi first arrived and the day after where she transformed into the beautiful creature she was now. We sat down on the soft cool sand and just watched the sea and Brent geese flying past.

"Tell me, what do you see in me?" I asked.

She then looked at me with a very confused expression and said "What do you mean?"

"Well" I said. "I'm a terrible example of a human. When we first met I was not very smart if I'm honest, I wasn't very strong or fit and I'm fairly certain that I'm not very good looking either. Why did you then, fall in love with me?"

She paused for a moment then smiled slightly. "You know what I am going to say. Do you want reminding?"

She was right, I knew exactly what she was going to say but it always made me feel good whenever she says it to me. "You caught me" I said jokingly. "But if you insist, say it again for me"

"Of course" she replied. "It's because we are partners. You cared for me so much and looked after me for so long, after a while I just couldn't help it. Also as for the way you look, it doesn't matter. As long as your personality is good, the way you look has no meaning to me"

I chuckled slightly before speaking. "You never fail to impress me. Sometimes I think I am the luckiest man alive"

We sat on the beach for a good hour or so before we decided to move on. Getting back into the Honda we left the coast and headed back into the town towards the sports hall. We pulled up in the car park and took the gym bag out from the trunk before walking to the door. Entering the building we were instantly greeted by the man at the desk.

We were regulars at the place so we knew the people there very well; booking a court for an hour we then made our way to where they were. Unzipping the bag I took out the rackets and Malachi took off her jacket and gauntlets. She replaced them with some purple wrist bands while I handed her a yellow and black badminton racket.

For the first few serves she played in such a way that I would have an even match but as the game progressed it became harder for me to keep up. By the time the hour was up I had sweat pouring off my brow and I was so out of breath I was ready to collapse. Ren on the other hand was looking completely normal. Slipping her gauntlets back on I collected the gear and we left again.

We took the country roads back so we could enjoy the drive back; the roads were quiet and slightly icy so the rear wheels became very skittish as I flexed the throttle more. One corner I sent the back of the car sliding around till it overtook the front. Recovering from the spin quickly we turned around and carried on moving, this time slower.

When we arrived back I opened the garage doors and reversed the car back to where it was normally parked. Walking back inside we then put the heater on and I started to cook dinner for the two of us. I decided to make a simple pasta dish as I was so exhausted I could not find the strength to make something abstract. After dinner we sat down and watched a movie, Pirates of the Caribbean. We lay on the sofa together; Ren had never seen the movie so she just sat quietly with her head on my shoulder and watched. I put my arm around her and placed my hand on her shoulder, I slowly ran my fingers through her soft spikes.

By the time the movie was over I could hardly keep my eyes open so we both decided enough was enough for the day and we had an early night. Closing the curtains I leaped into my side of the bed while Malachi took off her gauntlets and laid them on the radiator before tucking herself in. It was only a few minutes before we were both asleep.
Malachimon has fallen in love with her tamer Kyle after being with him for two years.
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I felt my wound throbbing all through the night so I struggled to sleep a wink. When the light of morning started to shine I begged for the night to be over but Malachi did not wake for another hour. I felt her paw stroke my hair back and I looked over to be met by the comforting sight of her eyes. "Had a bad night I see" she said.

"Not even you by my side helped to ease the pain" I said.

"Maybe this will cheer you up" she said before kissing me on the cheek but the pain in my side dulled the pleasure of the moment. Malachi saw that I was not enjoying her company as much so she then broke the kiss and sighed. "You're wounds are hurting aren't they?" she said as she looked at me in pity.

"It's agony" I said. "I can't even enjoy your company with it"

"I wish there was something I could do to heal you faster" she sighed. "I miss having my sweet partner's cheerfulness around"

"I know, but it has only been two nights" I said.

"Two nights too many" she replied. "I want you to get better again"

"I hope so too" I said as I stroked her cheek. "I miss the feeling I get when our lips touch"

"The doctor said a few days so we should maybe avoid this for now" she said. "That way when you do recover it will feel even better"

"What a good idea" I said.

As I sat up I heard the front doorbell ringing, I thought it could be the mail so I left the room to answer it. When I opened the door I was surprised to see a man whom I did not recognise. After I asked him who he was he then replied "I was wondering, is Sapphiremon here? My name is Luvini in case you were wondering" He sounded very South American.

"Sure she is here" I said. "Shall I say it's Luvini or just a friend?"

"Just a friend will work" he said as I let him in. I shouted upstairs to Sapphire that somebody was here to see her; I heard the bedroom door open and she started to walk down the stairs. As she was about to walk down the second flight of steps she stopped and starred at the man for a moment. Luvini held his arms out and said "It's good to see you again Sapphiremon"

Sapphire dashed down the stairs and ran into his arms; Luvini picked her up and swung her around before gently putting her back down onto her feet. "I haven't seen you in ages!" she said. "Where have you been?"

"I had to go back to Brazil to work" he said to her.

"I only wish Lucy was here" she said in a slightly sad way.

"I heard about that" he said. "I went around to see her but her sister told me what happened. I'm sorry"

"It's fine" Sapphire said. "At least you are here to visit me for a while"

Luvini then looked slightly bashful and said "Well, not quite"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well how can I put this?" he pondered. "I was kicked out of my apartment so I was hoping to stay with Lucy but I was then told to come here. The problem is that this doesn't seem to be your house"

"Sadly no, I only live here" Sapphire said in a disappointed way."Kyle owns this house so he is the one to ask"

She then looked over to me and gave me a very endearing stare, I tried to look away but every time Malachi looked at me like that I could never resist. "Fine" I said. "He can stay" Sapphire's ears perked up before I said "On one condition"

"Anything" Luvini said.

"If I ever ask for help or need a job done you must do it as soon as you can" I said folding my arms.

"That sounds fair" he said.

"So he can stay?" Sapphire asked.

"Yes, he can stay" I said.

Sapphire turned around and hugged me tightly to say thank you. She took Luvini's hand in her paw and led him upstairs to her room, there was only one bed in the room so later that morning Sapphiremon told me she would sleep on the sofa for a while. I sat down next to her on the couch when she was making up a bed and I asked her "How did you meet Luvini then?"

"He was a friend of Lucy's" she said. "I have known him for many years but I haven't seen him for a long time"

"I see, is that why you are so happy to see him?" I asked.

"Not quite" she sighed.

"What other reason then?" I asked.

"Well if you must know. I feel the same way about him that Malachi feels about you" she said. "I have known him as a friend for so long I couldn't help but have a small crush on him after time. I was going to tell him but before I could find the courage to say anything he left and I never saw him again until now"

"Well, why don't you tell him how you feel?" I suggested.

"I can't. He has only been here a few hours" she sighed. "I don't want him to say he doesn't feel the same way about me this early"

"You will never know unless you ask him" I said as I put my hands on her shoulders "While the thought is in your mind you should say something to him"

At that moment Luvini walked downstairs and walked outside the glass doors to the pool. He sat down on one of the deck chairs and started to text somebody; I looked back at Sapphire and said "Tell him now while you can"

"But" she said but I interrupted and said "No buts, just tell him"

"Very well" she said and stood up. She took a deep breath and walked outside and stood next to Luvini. I couldn't hear what they were saying so I just watched, I saw him put his phone away and he stood up, he put his hands on her shoulders and nodded. The two then wrapped their arms around each other and hugged, I then heard Malachi say "Very well done"

Startled I turned to see her standing behind me with her arms crossed. "I'm very impressed by how you handled that" she said. I then looked back at the two and I saw Luvini kiss Sapphire on the cheek before walking back upstairs, she stood by the pool for a moment before walking inside. She sat down on the sofa rubbing her cheek and said "Thank you. I would never have had the courage to say anything to him"

"No problem. Why don't you two get to know each other a little better? I will make the bed for you" I offered.

"Good idea" she said and thanked me again before running upstairs after Luvini. I then looked at Malachi and jokingly said "Looks like we will need to buy another double bed" she giggled and said "Too true"

I then paused for a moment and said "I have an idea" I then took out my phone and started to dial a number. "Who are you calling?" Malachi asked. "A friend who can help me with something" I said as I started the call.

I then made my way upstairs to Sapphire's room; I knocked on the door before entering and when I did I smiled. Sapphiremon was sitting on the bed next to Luvini; they jumped when I walked in. I then said "Sorry to interrupt anything but I bring good news"

"What is it?" Sapphire asked.

"I have organised dinner tomorrow for you two" I said to them.

"Well how kind" Luvini said. "I have only been here for a few hours and you are making me feel right at home"

"I trust that you two are happy together" I said as I winked to Sapphire. She nodded and winked back before I left the room, Malachi was standing outside but for some reason she did not respond when I passed. I looked back and said "Are you feeling ok?"

She stood there for a moment before saying "Did you hear that?" She seemed scared for some reason. "Hear what?" I asked.

"That voice" she said.

I was about to ask what voice but then Malachi went silent, I stood and listened. I was horrified when I could actually hear a disembodied voice, it was very hissed and airy but I could make out that it was saying "I will find you. You can't hide. Time to die" As the voice stopped I stood there and looked at Malachi before saying "What the hell was that?!" she looked at me and said "Kyle..... I'm scared". She was shivering with fear.

"Why? What was that voice?" I said.

"I have heard stories about it" Sapphire said as she left her room. "Was that the voice I think it was?"

"It must be" Malachi told her. "If it is, we are in great danger"

"Why?" I asked.

"That voice was the only thing that every vixen Digimon fears. The voice of the Kaiju Digimon, the Digimon who despises our kind" she said. "I'm afraid we are not safe anymore"

"The Kaiju often possesses a powerful Digimon then forces it to Digivolve into its strongest form. It then will try to kill every vixen it finds until they are either all dead or its possessed body is destroyed" Sapphire explained.

"Why can't we have a quiet day for once?" I said. "What are we going to do Malachi?"

"I don't know" she said.
Say hello to a new character who you might know.
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As I woke up I looked over to see Malachi still sleeping, her paw resting on my chest. I gently moved it away but she still woke up, she twitched her nose then opened her eyes. She then put her paw back on my chest and said "How are you today?"

"Just fine" I said casually before I then put my hand on her side. I gently stroked her fur up and down, she started to purr slightly and she seemed to enjoy it. Moving my hand around to behind her back I pulled her in close and I we kissed just like the day before but then she started to hesitate. "What's the matter?" I asked.

"Can you hear that?" she asked.

"Hear what?" I said as I listened.

"Did you leave the shower on?" she asked.

It was then I noticed the sound of the plumbing working and running water. I then got up and walked downstairs to the bathroom, slowly opening the door I could see a familiar figure behind the curtain. It was Sapphiremon.

I calmed down and turned to go back upstairs but then I could hear her voice. I looked back into the bathroom and could not believe my ears, she was singing. I recognised the song, it was games without frontiers by Peter Gabriel but I couldn't understand why she knew it. But the thing that got my attention most was that she was singing it beautifully. I never knew that she could sing but it then got me thinking.

Could Malachi sing too?

I then saw her turn the water off so I then shut the door and made my way back upstairs. I got back into bed and Malachi then asked "Did you turn it off?"

"No, Sapphire was using it" I replied.

"That's ok then" she said "Now where were we?" she then added in a feminine voice.

I then put my arms around her and she did the same, she nuzzled my cheek before we kissed. We kept moving in closer the longer we embraced each other. I then remembered what I was going to ask her.

"Malachi?" I said. "May I ask something?"

"Of course" she said.

"This may sound strange but can you sing?" I asked her.

She then looked at me very confused and asked me why I was asking her this. "I was just wondering" I said.

"I don't actually know" she said. "I never actually tried singing before"

"Then try it" I said. "You never know, you might be good at it"

"What shall I try to sing?" she asked.

"Anything you know the words to" I said.

She hesitated at first but then started to attempt to sing for the very first time. The song she had chosen was somebody to love by Jefferson Airplane, she seemed very nervous at first but I could see that she could indeed sing just as well as Sapphire. The whole time I lay there listening to her in amazement until she had finished all she could remember of the song.

We looked at each other for a few moments before she said "Well? How was that?"

"That was amazing" I said. "Your voice is truly beautiful"

"I never thought that I could sing. I never really tried though" she said as she sat upright.

"Well, at least I was right. But now let's carry on with the day" I said as I got out of bed.

I could hear Sapphire walking upstairs and the balcony door open, Malachi left the room to meet her outside. Leaving the bed I made my way downstairs, it was Sunday so it would be a quiet day for us. I walked out the glass doors onto the poolside terrace, I sat down on one of the deck chairs and gazed into the water and reminisced the night before. The time me and Malachi were alone together in the pool was pure bliss for me.

I heard somebody walking down the stairs slowly; I turned my head to see Sapphire carefully balancing on the cane on the steps. She sat down on the sofa and started to relax as Malachi made her way downstairs. She walked out to meet me on the patio, as she walked past she brushed her tail against my chin before she sat down beside me.

"Any plans for today?" she asked.

"Nope" I said to her. "In fact I was too busy just relaxing"

"What a good idea" she said. She then placed her paw on my chest and pushed me back until I was lying down on the chair beside her. I put my hand on her stomach and gently stroked her fur while we lay beside the pool. Spring was not far away so we would soon be spending much of our time outside together. Sapphire then left the house and sat down nearby and asked "What are you two doing?"

We sat up and looked at her for a moment before Malachi spoke. "Just relaxing for a few minutes" she said to her.  

"I found this by the front door" Sapphire said as she took a small letter out from the top of her sleeve. She handed it to me and I look at her confused.

"But, we don't get post on Sunday" I said as I ripped the top of the letter off. As I read what was written on it my eyes shot open, my thoughts went from calm to very nervous.

"What's wrong?" Malachi said as she tried to look at the letter.

"Listen to this" I said nervously before reading out what the letter said. "It's says, I have been watching you for a few days and I know she is hiding there with you. I saw you together and I want to have her back so I can have a talk with her. There is no point in trying to hide Sapphire, I know you are there. Harry"

Sapphire sat there shocked by what she had heard, Harry was the man that had attacked her and now he knew where she was. I tightened my grip on the paper and screwed it up into a ball before dropping it. "How dare he?!" I said furiously.

"What's going to happen to me?" Sapphire said very nervously.

"Kyle, what are we going to do?" Malachi said to me.

"I don't know what to say" I said. "How did he find you?"

"Don't ask me!" she shouted. "I thought you said you were going to protect me"

"We will" I said. "But I just don't know how"

"You can trust me when I say we will make sure you are safe" Malachi said.

"If I see him, I will kill him!" I snapped. I stood up and kicked the scrap of paper over the wall surrounding our garden before marching inside. The thought that somebody was spying on us made my blood boil.
The two vixens have hidden golden voices and they revive a horrible letter.
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We pulled up beside a small lake and I told my two vixens to put on their jackets and follow me. Leaving the car we walked a small way before stopping on the lake shore and sat down, it may have been cold but the crystal aqua water was still stunning to gaze into. Schools of Minnows flashed past the bank as the three of us sat having a picnic on the grass.

"It's beautiful" Sapphire said.

"I thought you would like it" I replied. "How does your leg feel?"

"Better, but it still hurts now and then" she said.

Malachi sat next to her and asked to see her wounded leg, lifting it up to show her Malachi then started to remove the blood stained bandages. When they were all off I could see the stitched up wound on the back of her leg, remarkably it had already started to heal.

"That's much better" she said. "Letting the air get to it feels so much nicer"

"I would keep using the cane for today and tomorrow but after that you will be fine" Malachi advised her.

"I still wouldn't run or strain yourself for another week" I added.

"I'll try not to" she said before lying on her side and closing her eyes.

Even though it was mid February Sapphire and Malachi both tried to soak up as much sunlight as possible. I would have tried to join in but without any fur I would get too cold, so instead I kept warm by walking around the shore. I picked up some rocks and skipped them across the lake surface until Sapphire came over to watch.

"May I try?" she asked.

"Sure you can" I said and I handed her a rock for her to try and skip.

Watching me do it a few more times she then pulled her arm back and threw the stone. I watched in amazement as the rock jumped on the surface over ten times before finally sinking. "How did you do that?" I asked her.

"Very easily" she giggled before doing it once more. Afterwards she turned back and sat down next to Malachi again.

All of a sudden her mood changed, she went from peaceful to looking very upset. I looked back to see her holding her head low, as I kneeled down in front of her I noticed that she was crying slightly for some reason.

"Hey, what's the matter" I asked her gently as I placed my finger on her chin and tilted her head up.

"I can't help but remember Lucy" she sobbed. "I never enjoyed myself as much as I am now"

I softly shushed her to calm her down; I gently hugged her as she continued to weep. "Shh, I know how you feel" I said into her ear. Malachi put her paw on her back to try and help comfort her but it was no good.  I could feel my right shoulder getting damp as she kept crying.

"I-I wish I could have spent more time with her" she sobbed.

"It's ok" I said. "I know exactly how you feel but I'm afraid you will just have to let it go"

"H-how can I?" she said. "And- and that horrid man still hates me. He is going to kill me if he sees me"

"You are in safe hands" I said.

"We promise we will protect you" Malachi said.

"We can do better than that" I added. "I vow to you that if I ever find that man I will make sure that he will need surgery afterwards"

"You would really risk your life for me?" she asked.

"I would rather die than see either of your hurt" I said while wiping he tears away from under Sapphire's eyes.

She gave a very weak smile as I gave her a handkerchief so she could dry her eyes. I looked over to Malachi, without actually speaking she told me that it was best that we headed back home, I told her I agreed using our telepathic link and we made our way back to the car. Sapphire said nothing the journey home; she was too busy thinking about her last tamer. She still could not believe that she would never see her again.

She was still upset when I entered her room several hours later. I handed her a bowl of stilton soup and said "I brought you this, in case you were hungry" Taking the bowl from me I noticed a single tear drop landed into her soup, she was still crying. "Please don't cry" I said placing my hand on her shoulder. She looked up and said in a much calmer tone "I'm sorry if I'm being any trouble"

"Of course you're not" I said. "I know exactly how you feel right now"

"How come?" she asked curiously.

"I lost my family many years ago" I said. "All I have left is Malachi and you"

"Looks like we are in the same boat" she said. "At least you haven't hurt yourself"

"I have in the past" I said. I rolled up my right sleeve to show her my scar.

"How did you get that?" she asked as she looked at the mark in horror.

"It's a long story which I will tell you eventually" I said rolling my sleeve down again. "But now you should rest, you must be tired"

With that I left her however as I left the room I noticed that Malachi wasn't downstairs. I checked the other bedroom and she wasn't there either but as I walked downstairs I could see her outside in the pool. I sat down on a deck chair and watched her swim under the moonlight in the crystal clear water. She swam over to the side and crossed her arms on the edge. "Want to join me?" She asked in a feminine voice to try and tempt me.

"Isn't it cold in there?" I asked her.

"Not at all, it's surprisingly warm" she said.

I couldn't resist it; I dashed upstairs to change then ran back again. In one move I dived straight into the water next to her. "Wow, It's warmer than I thought" I said before diving under the water again. As I surfaced the two of us swam around the lit pool together, meeting in the middle of the water we wrapped our arms around each other and kissed.

It was times like this that made me think that I was probably the luckiest person alive; Malachi then shook off the water from her head before flipping backwards in under the surface. She disappeared for a moment before re appearing behind me, grabbing my shoulders she spun me around to face her and we then kissed again.

Afterwards we then swam over to the side and both got out of the pool. After drying ourselves off I then looked at the time, we had been outside for nearly an hour. "Wow, time flies" I said. "I think it's time we thought about turning in" Malachi said as she walked upstairs.

"I will be up in a minute" I said before walking into the kitchen. I made three mugs of hot chocolate for us, as I was about to add the cream on top I had an idea. Picking up a bottle of Irish cream liquor I poured a small amount into each one. I sometimes add it as I know it makes an excellent sleeping aid.

I took one mug up to Sapphiremon before then taking one to Malachi. After changing my clothes again I then lay beside her on the bed, she was reading a book when I looked over. "What are you reading?" I asked her.

"Adolphus Tips" she said. I had read it before but had forgotten I had the book, after half an hour or so she finished her drink then put the book away. Turning off the light I then kissed her goodnight and we both fell asleep a few minutes later.
Sapphire is still upset about her loss.
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I was woken by the feeling of Malachi's tail wrapping around my waist, as I opened my eyes she moved closer and nuzzled me until I was awake. "How did you sleep?" she asked.

"Perfectly, as usual" I said. I then leant forwards and pressed my lips to hers; wrapping my arms around her I pulled her in closer and stroked the back of her mane. She did the same, placing her paw on the back of my head she then also pulled me closer into the kiss. I could feel my problems or bad memories melt away the longer we kissed each other.

When the embrace broke we both smiled, we had not kissed like that in many months and it felt just as good as before. She pushed the sheets off and sat up, stretching her legs out she then stood up. Slipping on her gauntlets she then left the room to do her exercises, I decided to get up myself. As I left the room to make breakfast I remembered Sapphire.

I opened the door to her room to check if she was ok, she was still asleep so I did not disturb her. I decided to make eggs Benedict again as I had three eggs left, one for each of us. When I was stirring the sauce I felt some paws cover my eyes and a fuzzy nose nuzzling my ear.

"Guess who" Malachi said.

"Hello petal" I said. She giggled slightly "Making my favourite again?" She asked.

"I thought I might since I have three eggs left" I replied.

"I will wait downstairs" she said.

I dished the food up and cut a slice of toast in two, after spreading a small amount of butter on them I then poured some orange juice into a glass and placed everything onto a tray. I took the tray upstairs to Sapphire's room. When I opened the door she woke up, I placed the tray on her lap.

"Breakfast time" I said.

"Thank you" she replied. "I have to say I have never been treated this well in my life"

"Not even by Lucy?" I asked.

"I'm afraid not" she sighed. "But I must try and forget that now"

"Very wise" I said as I left the room.

Grabbing Malachi's and my breakfast I placed them on the dining table. She started to eat as soon as I gave it to her. "So what are we going to do today?" she asked.

"I need to go to the supermarket, while I'm there you take care of Sapphiremon" I said.

"Very well, but what about after that?" she asked.

"I'll think about it" I said since I wasn't sure what to do. After I took the plates and tray back to the kitchen I made my way into the garage. I took the keys to the Mazda and I left the house to buy more groceries, as I made my way down the aisles in the supermarket I noticed something. As I was about to pay for what I had bought I decided to buy something for Sapphire, so o the way back I stopped off at a clothes store and I bought her a gift and I also got something for Malachi.

When I returned I found Malachi and Sapphire sitting on the sofa. I took the food and drink upstairs before returning to the car to collect their gifts. As I entered the house again I was carrying a large plastic bag.  

"I have something for you Sapphire" I said holding up the bag.

"A, gift? For me?" she said, she seemed very shocked.

"Sure, close your eyes" I told her.

She closed her eyes and I took out what I had bought her. "Ok, open your eyes now" I said. When she did she was thrilled by her gift. I had given her a black sleeveless jacket just like the one Malachi wears, I handed it to her and she tried it on. She looked up at me and smiled "Thank you so much" she said. "It feels so amazing"

I then looked at Malachi and told her to close her eyes. She did as I said and I then gave her the gift. I clipped it to her tail and told her to open her eyes again. When she did she looked at her tail in amazement, I had given her a purple Amethyst crystal bracelet that clipped half way up her tail that made it look like two separate parts.

"It looks beautiful" she said. "Thank you Kyle" She then kissed me on the cheek. I then looked back at Sapphire before reaching into the bag and pulling out yet another bracelet. This one was made of black Hematite I clipped it to her tail just like I did with Malachi. They both seemed to like their gifts very much, especially Sapphiremon.

"I never had such nice gifts before" she said. "I, I can't believe that a human could be so kind towards someone like me"

"I treat Malachi better than I do myself, I don't see why I shouldn't treat you any different" I said.

She smiled, her emerald green eyes lit up like little fireflies. Malachi then turned my head to face her and she kissed me on the lips before standing up. "I must say you outdid yourself this time" she said. "This clip is just stunning".

"Not as stunning as the person wearing it" I said.

Malachi's eye streaks blushed "It's very nice for you to say that" she said.

I then decided on what we would do that day, I told both of them to get into the car and I would take them somewhere special. I thought that I would show Sapphire what life could be like with us, despite her injury.
I bring gifts for the two vixens of the house.
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Drip. Drip.

The strange feeling came over the tigress Penumbra once again. Her paws tingled, her charcoal hair rose as if electrified, and her body felt faintly as if it were being constricted by the air around her. She flicked her ears in irritation, but she was too used to the phenomenon to express actual alarm. She didn't even bother to raise her head off of her single broad foreleg. The sensation would pass, as it always did, and she paid little mind to it.

     It was the water leaking from the rusted pipe above her head that caught her interest, though. She had been absent-mindedly watching the pure water fall, drop by drop, from the peripherals of her vision. Now the rhythmic, predictable dripping slowed until it stopped. Then, in defiance of every law of fluid dynamics that Penumbra knew, the drops of water began to rise from the floor and slip back into the pipe. Penumbra stiffened and swivelled her head to watch.

     Drip. Drip.

     The pace of the reverse drips slowed before stopping all together. Water resumed leaking from the pipe in adherence to the traditional laws of physics, and the odd, tingling sensation in Penumbra's extremities went away. For long moments, she refused to tear her eyes away from the pipe. When she did, reluctantly, it was only to observe the Barbarian mechanics on the decks below her. She had watched the animated monkeys from the catwalks all morning and was intimately familiar with their mannerisms and routines. Nothing seemed amiss. They went about logging salinity readings, monitoring electrical panels, and banging on reticent gauges with wrenches as usual.

     Of course, it was natural that Penumbra would be the only one who noticed the phenomenon. She was, after all, a god. And it was in the realm of the gods to notice things, to see what was hidden from the mortals.

     Snorting, Penumbra scrambled to her feet and slunk down the catwalk. She had to speak with another god.

The golden tiger was not a god, but he carried himself like one. Physically, he was not a man to be trifled with. His iron-hard paws, each tipped with deadly talons, were wider than most other tiger's heads and could rain strikes more powerful than the blow of a hammer. His yellow teeth were wide and as sharp as awls. He regarded the white and grey rat before him with disinterest that was teetering on the verge of either mild annoyance or amusement. The rat, sensing her tenuous position, fidgeted for a moment before speaking.

     "I have a private correspondence for a rogue tiger by the name of Silence. Is that you?" Her voice was high-pitched and her spoken syllables ended abruptly in a staccato rhythm, but her eloquence and fluency in his language piqued the tiger's interest.

     He was, despite himself, impressed. "You speak Tiger very well, rat. I'm curious where you learned?"

     "We couriers are known to breach the species boundary from time to time. Now, if you will, sir, are you Silence?" the rat insisted.

     The golden tiger yawned, deliberately, exposing two rows of yellowed teeth. The rat shrunk back, almost imperceptibly except to the ever observant cat. "Yes, that's me. Speak quickly. I'm not a patient man."

     "And I am not a patient rat," she countered. "I bring an offer from my employer who wishes to procure your, ah, services."

     Silence's emerald eyes widened and flashed like polished jewels. "Oh?"

     "A game is being held twenty cycles from now in the Telom District, ninety-eight frames due outboard of Machinery Twelve Lower Level. There is a man who will be competing in this game. At any cost, he must not win."

     Silence listened intently as his intended mark was described. He chuckled. "My services are very expensive, rat. A quarterling tiger could handle this."

     The rat sniffed. "My employer warned me that you would say that. He also instructed me to tell you this: do not take this man lightly, under threat of your life. Now let me tell you what your target is truly capable of."

     As the rat described the target's talents, Silence took notice. What had at first seemed like a laughably simple and routine request for his services had suddenly taken on a more dark and questionable undertone. For the first time in his relatively long and experienced life, Silence felt the sting of uncertainty. As faint as it was, it was so foreign to his existence that its presence could not be ignored. A growl rumbled in his chest, rolling like boiling water. "This is more complicated. I'm going to need help, and it won't come cheaply."

     "My employer has anticipated this as well," the rat said. "Go to the compartment numbered '14-758-8-E.' It is an alleyway for the condensate system for the 090 plant, and it is almost never occupied. You will find a locked box beneath the main condenser. It can only be opened by spoken password, and that password is your name. It contains a generous down payment as a show of good faith. If you find the amount acceptable, leave your mark behind. The rest of your payment will be held in trust in another location, and you may collect it once the job has been completed." The rat paused and frowned. "This is all of the information that I have been given. If there is anything else that you require, be it information, assistance, or equipment, you must procure it on your own."

     Silence rumbled and committed the information to memory. "Very well. I will see your… down payment before I decide."

     The little white and grey rat nodded assent and, barely containing her excitement at the prospect of leaving the company of the great cat, scrambled up a nearby conduit and disappeared into a ventilation duct. Silence watched her leave, her wire-thin tan tail slipping through the duct grating. For a long time he continued to simply stare into the darkness, contemplating.

The Vesper Facility was born innocuously enough as the pet project of a brilliant mechanical engineer and physicist who was convinced of the applications for nuclear power generation in maritime vessels. A hybrid of aircraft recovery unit and battleship, The Vesper was designed to be the largest seaworthy vessel in the world, capable of patrolling the oceans for decades without ever tasting pierside waters. In the intervening years between its conception and completion, however, the shipyard bay where The Vesper was dry-docked fell into a state of disrepair. Dredging was halted and lighthouses were shut down. On her maiden voyage, The Vesper ran aground on a sandbar and, with her electrical and mechanical systems irreparably fouled with mud and detritus and blooming Pfiesteria, was towed back into dry-dock. Her captain resigned in disgrace, and her inconsolable designer killed himself. The Vesper was relegated to a shameful, derelict corner of her shipyard, tied permanently to her berthing pier.

     The Vesper lay in disrepair for many years. Her pipes rusted and her reactor plant systems slowly cooled until they neared the point of brittle fracture. It was this very neglect, though, that made her the perfect candidate as a test facility for the newly founded Council for Emergent Technologies. The Council appropriated the ship as part of a funded research venture into exploring nuclear technologies, and began to busily restore her into operative condition.

     Over the course of many long decades, The Vesper was overhauled, refitted, renovated, and added on to so frequently and zealously that she ceased to be a ship at all. Finally unable, physically, to even raise her keel above the silt line, she became the land-based, seaside Vesper Facility. Industrial corporations, eager for easy access to rare and expensive machinery and power-generating plants, began to bid for contracts to build annexes onto the existing structure. Private individuals and research organizations vied for permission to use its laboratories and equipment. When the Council of War and Defense became involved, though, the budget allotted for the Vesper Facility's operation and expansion became near limitless.

     Thus the Vesper Facility grew, almost organic, until it sprawled across an immeasurable swath of coastal area like a great black blot.

     Penumbra had only seen a minute fraction of the immense facility, and her home territory was even smaller still. Although the Vesper housed many different types of areas, from cramped seawater bilges to cathedral-like ammunition magazines to lush greenhouses, Penumbra preferred to roam the lower level mechanical spaces of Plant 056. The simian Barbarians under her care dutifully maintained the equipment that kept their spaces cool and ventilated, and they often brought Penumbra treats of meat or chicken eggs or algae. In return, Penumbra aggressively defended them against invaders, both other Barbarian divisions and other tigers that were more interested in a meal of simian flesh than in overseeing a labour force. Although she felt uncomfortable leaving her own little realm without her protection, she couldn't shake the suspicion that the alarming reversal of what she believed to be immutable laws of physics was an omen of something. She was certain that powerful forces were at work, but whether they were benevolent or malignant remained to be seen.

     The grey tigress moved slowly but confidently across the catwalks that spanned the entirety of her territory, her movements mechanical and practiced. Despite missing her left foreleg just above the elbow and her tail at the base, she ducked beneath low hanging pipes and valves with ease. Even the ladders that stretched up into the higher levels of the facility were no match for her will and the power of her spring. Penumbra's mother had told her long ago that she had been born without a leg and tail to challenge her evolving powers as a god, but Penumbra's earliest childhood recollections held faint, strange traces of the smell of blood, the cracking of bone, and the feelings of immense pain. These memories had all of the hazy, illusory qualities of a fading dream, though, and she could never quite grasp the details.

     Penumbra did not dwell long on the extra hardship that she faced. If anything, it had forced her to be more cunning and opportunistic than her tailed, four-legged brethren until she developed the power and dexterity to physically compensate for her missing limbs. Her rivals always underestimated her, to their imminent demise. More than one interloper in her territory had been patiently, determinedly shadowed until they lay down to sleep. They never woke up. In calm, quiet moments, Penumbra recalled these killings with a pang of guilt, but the world around her held no margins for error, no room for weakness. Where resources were scarce, competition was brutal. Besides, she had her Barbarians to protect.  

     Despite the constant, vicious territorial disputes that waged in the machinery spaces, Sunder peaceably allowed Penumbra's territory to overlap his own. Penumbra knew that this was because he held out hope that she would one day acquiesce to being his mate, even though she had told him in no uncertain terms that she had no intention of ever doing so. The thought of birthing and raising a family, although not particularly repulsive, was not interesting to her, either. When she imagined intimacy with Sunder or nursing potential offspring, it had the same emotional sterility to her as envisioning watching the needles of gauges twitch or dust motes spiral into the air. She felt a greater sense of duty toward and a desire to protect her Barbarian mechanics.

     Even though they were on friendly terms, Penumbra stopped just outside of the portion of the Auxiliary Machinery Rooms where Sunder held his territory, uncomfortable with the thought of crossing his border without permission. She raised her lips in the semblance of a snarl and breathed in, allowing the surrounding air to flow over the olfactory organ in the roof of her mouth. Sunder's smell was thick and musky between her teeth, and she could sense that he had patrolled this section of his territory recently to renew his scent markings. Penumbra had heard once that many generations ago, tigers had marked their territorial boundaries by spraying urine or feces along the borders, and the thought of this made her lift her lips again in revulsion. The more modern, civilized gods simply rubbed the scent glands on their faces along surfaces in their territories, thus preventing rust, contamination, and other unhygienic effects of flinging bodily waste across their small home ranges.

     Penumbra paced momentarily to work up the courage to advertise her presence on Sunder's borders before filling her lungs with a great expanse of air. She released it again, allowing the air to vibrate against her larynx. "AH-UHNNNN. AH-UHNNNN." Her roar echoed, bouncing across the metallic surfaces and rolling across the deckplates. The ultrasonic tones vibrated the pipes over her head, dislodging rust flakes that had built up over time. Dust from the shaking ductwork fell around her in a cloud, and unseen small creatures both above and below her dashed away in panic.

     Emboldened by her own vocal display, Penumbra crossed over into Sunder's territory. She allowed her footsteps to fall heavily on the metal deck grates beneath her paws, and it echoed like the steady pounding of fluid hammer against the steam pipes overhead. She did not want to catch Sunder by surprise and thus inadvertently provoke him to aggression. Although Sunder's realm housed a number of Barbarians that owed to allegiance to both him and Penumbra, the majority of the denizens were beautiful golden tamarins, and they swore fealty to Sunder alone. The tamarins did not descend from the pipes and vents overhead, but Penumbra could feel their presence keenly. Their suspicious gaze burned holes into her psyche as keenly as acid on skin. Although she could hear only faint whispering and scratching from above, she knew that they were spreading word of her arrival from one to another. It was no surprise then that Sunder appeared within what seemed like mere moments of her passage into his borders. Information travelled quickly in his territory.

      Sunder leaped languidly atop a pump casing at the other end of the machinery room, just in Penumbra's field of vision. He was not much taller than her, although his build was slightly heavier, and he had a flap of pudgy flesh that hung down in a fold over his abdomen. His stripes were a rich grease black set against the bright rust colour of his coat. Penumbra always felt a faint twinge of jealousy when she saw him; he was the quintessential tiger. His strong build and vibrant colouration were a stark contrast to her slim build, missing appendages, and drab grey pelt.

     Penumbra called to Sunder in friendly greeting, blowing air from her nasal cavity out in a rolling puff. It was the softest sound that she could manage, a gentle "chuff." Sunder responded in kind, his chuff emanating from deeper in his throat and rumbling like vibrating metal. He gleefully raised his tail in a handsome arc, and Penumbra bounded across the room to meet him. They nuzzled, and Penumbra ran her head along his shoulders to his flank.

     As they turned to face one another, Sunder spoke first. His words were ritual, the traditional greeting between two tigers known to one another. "The god in me honours the god in you."

     The tigress dipped her head low and replied, "And that honour will return to you."

     "This is a pleasant surprise, Umbra," Sunder said. His voice was dark and rich, dripping from his lips like oil.

     Penumbra rocked back on her haunches and frowned. "It's Penumbra."

     "Of course, Penumbra." He emphasized the first syllable, and the grey tigress flicked her ears in annoyance at his teasing. "I wasn't expecting to see you again until later in the quarter. Are you having problems with the second shift mechanics supervisor again? Or is there a lack of chickens this quarter? You are always welcome to hunt here." For a price, he left unspoken.

     Penumbra shook her head. "No, no, it's not that. It's just…" she faltered for a moment. "It's probably nothing, but there's been this weird thing that keeps happening."

     The tigress hesitated slightly. She felt awkward admitting that there was something troubling her that did not have a name or tangible form. For the first time, it occurred to her that she might be imagining everything, and the thought of that frightened her. But she was already standing before Sunder, another god in the same image as her, and it was too late to turn back now. She bowed her head and explained everything as best she could manage, from the unusual physical sensations to the mystery of the rising water droplets. Sunder's ears pricked forward in interest as she described the water that dripped up into the pipe. His upright tail lowered and began to slowly wave from side to side.

     "Interesting," Sunder said. He was quiet for a long while. Penumbra felt discomfited by his vague response and stretched her right forepaw out to groom it. "Have any of your Barbarian's noticed this? Have they mentioned that anything seemed awry?"

      "No," Penumbra replied. "The third shift supervisor seemed surprised that I was leaving the auxiliary machinery room, actually. And I haven't heard any odd gossip or anything like that… I think it's probably safe to assume that I'm the only one that is seeing this stuff." She shifted on her good foreleg and stared morosely at her foot. "I was pretty certain that I was the only one to notice this because I'm a god… but now I'm not so sure. Is there something wrong with me?"

     Sunder's expression was unreadable, and neither his body language nor his scent gave Penumbra any indication of what he was thinking. When he spoke again, his words were more subdued and measured. "I don't think it's just you. I have heard of this sort of thing before. It sounds like someone is altering the flow of time."

     Penumbra's eyes widened. "That can't even be possible!"

     Sunder grunted and twitched his ears, a godly version of a shrug. "I'm not entirely certain that it is. At least not normally. But I am certain that you are just as healthy and sane as I am. This isn't in your head, and if there is another explanation besides time manipulation, I don't know what it could be."

     "Should I be worried? Is it dangerous?"

     "I can honestly say that this is a bit outside my area of expertise," Sunder admitted. "The uakaris and tamarins over in Memoria are probably our closest contact for information. They have a sizable library and several experts in the realm of the gossamer arts. It's been years since I last visited, but maybe I can convince them to let us inside their hive. It's just on the border of my territory through the portside turbine room. Do you want to come with me?"

     Penumbra shook her head. "No. If you don't think that it's anything worth panicking over, I would prefer to head back to the machinery room. I left my Barbarians without much of an explanation, and I don't want to worry them. I would still be interested to hear what you find out, though. If you do go and manage to get some information from Memoria, would you mind sending one of your men to let me know?"

     "Of course. Although I do admit that I'm a little disappointed that you are leaving so soon."

     Tension, as subtle but perceptible as static electricity, hung between the two gods. Penumbra spoke finally. "Tell you what. I'm going to check on my Barbarians, and, if everything is running all right and there are no upcoming evolutions, I will try to catch up with you on your way to Memoria."

     "I'll hold you to that, Umbra," Sunder said, purring.
Part 2: [link]

Part 1 of an experimental writing project devoted to exploring the history, environment, and strange creatures of the Vesper Facility (the setting for Soldier and Pull Down Heaven).

I am not a great writer by any stretch of the imagination! This is just a writing exercise to help me contemplate the nature of the facility and its inhabitants, and I thought that I might share it for those that might be interested in it (and masochistic enough to blunder through my ramblings.)

Only the first part will be uploaded to my main gallery. Future parts will be uploaded to :iconthe-vesper-facility:.

As this is a work-in-progress, some portions of it may be retconned as the story progresses. Please feel free to comment with any grammar, HTML, or spelling errors that you might notice, or let me know if portions are confusing or oddly worded. Although writing improvement is not my main focus (I'm certainly no writer!), I appreciate any help offered.

Story Information

Synopsis: Penumbra, a tigress, seeks an explanation for unnatural occurrences in her domain

Genre: Science fiction/fantasy, "talking animals"

Word Count: 3,266 words

Content Warning: None for part 1; later parts may include violence and adult language

Themes: Immortality, acceptance of failure, and awakening

Character Notes: As written, the characters are intended to simply be sapient animals in their natural forms, rather than were- or furry-type hybrids

Miscellaneous Notes: Project is currently untitled. Completed word count for all parts unknown. No estimated completion date.

Preview image is a photo manipulation made with my own photos.

Written work and preview image are *MoonsongWolf
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