The scrawny, black haired neko had been minding her own business, hunting for some elusive mouse people in a small outcropping of rocks when she heard the menacing howls. With a couple squirming neeras already in her stomach her ears shot up and her eyes darted across the horizon. Her tail twitched back and forth anxiously.
Satasha had heard the howls over the past few days but they had up until now been far off in the distance and concentrated mostly in the dark forest she assiduously avoided. Unfortunately, these were much closer and she became concerned. They might have picked up her trail.
She sucked down the last squealing neera quickly and climbed to the top of the tallest rock to see if she could spot anything. What she saw chilled her to her bones. A large group of at least a dozen huge dusk grey wolves were milling about in an area she had passed through several minutes prior. They were sniffing at the ground and nipping at one another in excitement. They had not seen her yet, but they were definitely on her trail.
She quickly slipped down off the rock and began running at full speed away from the pack. She turned towards the dark forest she had been avoiding all this time; at least the trees there would give her cover and if worse came to worse she could climb up one to try and wait the pack out. Out in the open, she had no chance at all.
She had made it just to the edge of the first trees when suddenly the howls behind her grew more insistent and louder. Panting, she risked a glance back and her heart sank when she saw the largest wolf in the pack standing atop the very rock she had jumped from only minutes ago. It was looking directly at her.
She put on a renewed burst of speed, streaking through the dense foliage and farther into the more heavily wooded area. She could still hear the howls in the distance and with a fright became aware they were not just coming from behind her.
Her claws scrambled for purchase on the mossy ground as she quickly changed direction, heading even deeper into the woods. This was not good. The wolves were closing in and she was not sure where she was going. It was growing darker as she continued to dart under the boughs of the ancient trees. The canopy overhead formed a lush umbrella that almost completely blotted out the sun from the forest floor.
Satasha’s heart was pounding in her ears and she was running for all her worth. She knew she could not keep this pace up, she already felt a hard burning sensation in her legs and her lungs felt like they were on fire. Ominously, she no longer heard howls from directly behind, which meant that pack was very, very close. She could not risk a look back for fear of slipping and falling. If she made a mistake now she was as good as dead. She still heard howls in the distance to either side of her position and recognized the wolves were probably herding her straight to her doom.
What seemed like an eternity went by and she had almost reached the limit of her endurance. How far she’d run so far she had no idea. She had been forced to reduce her pace a bit, but the wolves were not gaining as much as she had originally feared. Maybe they were tiring as well.
Even so, she was just about to give up running and attempt to scale one of the enormous trees when she crashed through a large bush into a clearing and then promptly fell into a bed of pure color. Flowers of every shape, color, and smell surrounded her. A sharp pain lanced up her right leg and she realized with dismay that she had hurt her ankle badly during the fall.
A tiny bird of some sort flew directly into her face and scolded her loudly before zipping off. She was so dazed she did not even bother to get up. Panting heavily but trying to remain quiet, she heard the wolves snarling just beyond the bush she had crashed through and scrambled to stand. She made it several steps before her ankle gave out completely. She cried out, slumping to the ground shaking in fear and pain, and closed her eyes to wait for the end.
After a few moments, the snarls and yips of the wolves died out. She could still hear them whining and walking around and then this too faded as they moved off, sparing her from certain death. The silence was overwhelming.
Slowly she opened her eyes and peered around again. She was lying in a large bed of flowers. Their smell was aromatic and calming. She winced in pain as she tried to sit up and grabbed her right ankle. After a few moments of careful examination, she was thankful to realize she had only sprained it.
She was unsure why the wolves had spared her, but she was not about to question her good fortune. As she looked around, she noticed the place did not seem natural. The complete riot of colors was mind-boggling. Everything was too perfectly placed and every single flowering plant was in perfect condition; except of course the ones she had crushed during her fall.
She felt a bit of shame at having damaged them and tried to crawl over to the small path between flowerbeds. After a minute or two, she finally reached the path and quietly lay on her back to rest. She was scratched, fatigued, and her ankle was throbbing in pain; she did not feel much like getting up. She was also still hungry; those three neeras had been the only meal she had found in the past day. The chase of the wolves and the sudden relief she felt when they gave up was almost too much to bear.
She breathed in deeply to try to calm herself; the scents of the flowers were so soothing. Her tense muscles finally began to relax. The only sounds she heard were the buzzing of numerous birds that had come out after the disturbance. They were flitting around the flowers haphazardly. She also heard what might have been a small waterfall or creek nearby, although she could not see it.
As exhaustion set in she slipped off to sleep before she even noticed she had begun to purr.
Satasha awoke slowly with blurry vision and at first could not understand where she was. She had no idea how long she had been asleep but it was daylight. Then it all came back in a flash and she suddenly sat up straight, only to wince in pain yet again as her sprained ankle protested the movement.
“That’s what you deserve for smashing Felecia’s flowers like that, neko.”
The small voice came from nearby. Satasha whipped her head around and quickly wiped her eyes to help clear them. She focused on a small patch of flowers and finally saw him. A five-inch tall male tomthumb was standing with hands on his hips eyeing her suspiciously. He appeared in all ways as a human would, save for his diminutive size. She looked around but did not see any others.
“What’s wrong, cat got your tongue?” He seemed very sure of himself.
“No, but a cat might get your tongue if you aren’t careful.” She slowly sat up, keeping her injured ankle as still as possible.
“You’ve hurt yourself.” The tomthumb pointed to her right foot.
“Thanks for noticing. Care to give it a massage?” She grinned at him, her stomach grumbling.
“Actually, I wouldn’t mind that at all except for one small thing.”
“If I walked anywhere near you I’m pretty sure I’d end up in your belly shortly thereafter.”
“That’s what I thought. So what’s your name kitty?”
She scowled. “Don’t call me kitty you little runt.”
“Well, give me a name and I won’t have to call you kitty. Kitty.” His expression never changed and this annoyed her more than she cared to admit.
“My name is Satasha, you fine little morsel. And what’s your name, or do you even bother with names, being so small and all?”
The tomthumb just shook his head. “Wow, you have quite a bad attitude. My name is Quincy.”
“Well Quincy, if you’d just had your supper rudely interrupted by a pack of slavering wolves many times your size and then sprained your ankle trying to escape them you might be a bit miffed too. I almost didn’t make it. They gave up though I’m not sure why. You’re lucky too you know, those wolves could scarf you down in a second and probably wouldn’t even notice it.”
Quincy appeared unimpressed. “I’m not the one who’s lucky. The wolves don’t come into the homestead and that’s the only reason you’re still alive.”
“Why not? What’s so special about this place, other than the flowers I mean?”
“This is where Felecia and David live.”
“Who are Felecia and David?”
Quincy seemed impatient. “That’s none of your business. Are you just going to lie there all day or what?”
“I might just do that. What’re you going to do about it anyway short stuff?”
Quincy smiled. “I can bring you some food if you like. You know, I think if you weren’t in pain you might actually be sociable.”
“Why don’t you just bring yourself over here instead?” She motioned to a point just in front of where she was seated.
Quincy shook his head. “Because I don’t trust you.”
She smiled. “There’s hope for you yet.”
“I’ll bring back some food for you. Wait here.” So saying, he darted off into the flowers.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” Satasha snorted to his back and looked around some more. The place was quite a marvel to behold now that she had time to really see it all. There were so many different flowers, plants, vines, and small trees she could not imagine where they all came from. It was as if a small piece of paradise had landed from on high, and come to rest in the middle of the scariest forest she had ever had the displeasure of visiting.
She caught herself purring and quickly stopped. What was that smell?
After a few minutes, Quincy returned along with some other tomthumbs. She counted six in all, three females and three males. All of them looked delicious. They had an assortment of small fruits with them. Not risking getting anywhere near her they each handed their load to Quincy who then neatly tossed it towards her.
She had to lean a bit and hissed in pain as her ankle objected to the movement, but was soon munching down on the most delicious fruits she had ever eaten in her short life. When finished she looked up and almost had to laugh at the captivated expressions on the tomthumbs’ faces. They had been silently watching her eat the whole time. “Impressive, aren’t I?”
“Are you still hungry?” Quincy spoke up finally, breaking the spell. A couple of the other tomthumbs ran off, but most stayed put.
“Not really. Those were very good and filling.” She burped a little. “Sorry.”
A female tomthumb said, “They’re also nutritious. At least that’s what David says.”
Satasha asked, “And who might you be, deary?”
“I’m Frisca, nice to meet you. You’re very pretty! Are you really a neko?”
Blushing from the compliment Satasha replied, “Yep, I’m one hundred percent neko.”
“You’re not so big.” Frisca seemed almost disappointed.
“Well, I’m not full grown yet, but mostly. I mean I won’t get a whole lot bigger than I am now.” Satasha caught herself beginning to purr again and forcefully stopped it. What was it about this place? She felt like she wanted to rub herself all over and wallow in the flowers.
Frisca smiled to reassure her. “It’s alright. I like you just the same.”
Quincy turned to the others. “What do you think we should do with her?”
Another male tomthumb gave Satasha a quick glance. “I’m not sure we can do anything, but maybe we should tell Felecia. She’ll know what to do.”
Frisca shook her head. “Felecia is visiting with Stephandra today. And David is doing that boring stuff he usually does; he won’t be back until tomorrow.”
Satasha almost growled. “Hello? I’m right here. Someone tell me who is this Felecia and David you keep talking about.”
Quincy stepped up. “You see those flowers you smashed? Those are Felecia’s.” He pointed all around. “You see this whole place? It belongs to Felecia and David. They made this place, with our help of course.”
“Are they nymphs or something? Who would live out here?”
Frisca piped up. “Felecia is a slug-girl and David is a human. They’re married. She’s also our queen by the way.”
“Married? Your queen?” Satasha was confused.
Frisca nodded happily. “Yes, she’s our queen and we are all her loyal subjects. You can be too if you want!”
“Come over here and tell me that again. I didn’t quite hear you.”
Frisca actually started forward when Quincy grabbed her arm. “Frisca! Don’t be stupid! That neko just wants you close so she can grab you and eat you.”
Frisca looked up at Satasha with a horrified expression. “You wouldn’t do that would you?”
“Right now? No, I wouldn’t because my stomach is full. Besides, you’re pretty cute… for a little.”
Frisca seemed hopeful but cautious. “What about later?”
Frisca gasped and the other tomthumbs took a step back. Quincy just laughed and kept his place. “I told you guys, nekos eat us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nobody believes me because we all have it so easy here. You don’t know what it was like before we came here. That’s why we have to keep our training going!”
Frisca recovered her composure and stepped up next to Quincy. “How can you eat us though, I mean we’re standing here talking. Doesn’t that make you feel bad? You don’t seem like a mean person to me.”
“Why would I feel bad? You’re food. I do talk to my food sometimes, but usually it’s just screaming and yelling back at me.”
Frisca’s expression hardened. “You might be alright doing that out there.” She pointed towards the edge of the homestead and the dark forest beyond. “But in here you better not do that if you know what’s good for you.”
“Are you threatening me?” She looked incredulously at the tiny figure.
Frisca nodded. Quincy had an odd expression on his face and turned to converse with the other tomthumbs.
“What’s so special about this place anyway?”
The tomthumbs seemed to be ignoring her.
“Would you feel better if I promised not to eat any of you? I’d give you my word.” Satasha was growing weary of their chatter.
Quincy whispered something to another male tomthumb who promptly ran off. Even with Satasha’s sharp hearing, she could not make out what was said. The rest of the tomthumbs formed a huddle and began whispering back and forth. Satasha looked on with a sense of foreboding. What were they up to?
After several minutes of discourse, another male tomthumb took off into the flowers. Then the first tomthumb came running back and handed something to Quincy.
Quincy stepped out of the huddle and looked at Satasha. “I should’ve told you this earlier so let me first apologize. This place is a sanctuary in the forest, the only sanctuary in fact. The whole forest is under the protection of a very old and very cranky dryad named Stephandra. Nobody likes her except Felecia. This place she won’t bother, but outside here you are just more food for her, at least until Felecia says otherwise.”
Satasha looked pale. “A dryad?”
“Yeah, a really big one too.”
She gulped. “What about the wolves?”
“Those are Stephandra’s howler wolves. They work with her to bring in all kinds of food, not all of it intact.” Quincy’s expression remained neutral, but there was a glint in his eye that let her know she was still not off the menu as far as the dryad was concerned.
“A couple years ago a really big dridder came through acting crazy; she had to have been a hundred feet tall. She almost made it to the homestead before the howlers dropped her. She screamed a really long time before she died and it upset Felecia badly. You on the other hand probably wouldn’t last nearly that long if they managed to catch you.”
Satasha was a bit taken aback by all this. A dryad guarding a forest was nothing new. She had even seen one from a distance when she was younger. However, a dryad who could control wolves? Or one that made friends with a bunch of tomthumbs, a human, and a slug-girl? That was too bizarre.
She looked down and was startled to see Quincy standing right beside her leg, within easy reach of her arm. He looked fearless and she was tempted to grab him but held back. Frisca was standing behind him looking up at her anxiously.
Quincy moved even closer. “There’s another thing you might want to consider.”
“Isn’t that enough? Nobody wants to cross a dryad.”
The daring little tomthumb actually started climbing on to her and stood proudly upon her left thigh. He looked up into her eyes and she down into his. Under normal circumstances, Satasha would have plucked him up and eaten him on the spot. However, these were not normal circumstances. In his left hand, he had what looked like a tiny thorn, which he held up for her to see. “You see this?”
“It’s a thorn from one of the plants I guess.”
Quincy nodded. “It’s not just a thorn. It’s coated with a poison. I don’t really want to do this but I think I need to demonstrate what you’re up against if you decide to go feral on us.”
Before she could react, the deceitful tomthumb with a single deft motion pricked her thigh with the thorn and slid down to the ground. It stung slightly then all feeling faded as her leg went numb. Fast as he was, she was faster; she reached down and picked him up before he moved out of range. She growled menacingly at him and held him up to her face. She was tempted to bite down on the treacherous little but some small part of her brain was screaming at her to just put him down.
Before she could decide either way, she felt the numbness in her leg spread quickly. She gasped as all the muscles in her body seemed to give out at once and she flopped helplessly back to the ground.
Quincy moved around to stand just in front of her face. She could see him, although her sight was a little blurred, and try as she might her body refused to move. Inside she was panicked. They could do anything to her and there was nothing she could do to stop them. She should have known it was too good to be true; sanctuary indeed. They were probably going to carve her scrawny body up for a banquet meal and celebration.
The little tomthumb motioned past her view to something and she had a vague sense of many, many tomthumbs approaching her. She tried to growl, but it just came out as a whimpering gurgle.
Quincy moved right up to her face, which was at ground level and in a very soft voice said, “It’s alright, Satasha. We’re not going to hurt you. I still don’t trust those instincts of yours though, so this is for the best. The paralysis will wear off in an hour or so but in the meantime we’re going to take care of that ankle of yours as a show of friendship.”
The bold tomthumb began rubbing her cheek lightly and she was aware of Frisca standing behind him with a worried look on her face. “You look like you’ve had it rough. Well, you’re safe here and you can probably stay if you want. I don’t think Felecia will mind. David certainly won’t, nothing seems to bother him. But you have to listen to me very carefully. You can’t be eating anything around here but fruits and vegetables. Got it?”
She tried to nod, but could not, her muscles were completely unresponsive.
Quincy chuckled. “Grunt once for yes, twice for no.”
She grunted feebly once.
“Outside the homestead in the forest and beyond you can go feral all you want, but you don’t want to go out there without Stephandra’s blessing. You got lucky once but her wolves don’t make too many mistakes.”
“Also, we littles are not as helpless as we may seem. I gave you the smallest dose I could of Felecia’s poison. You now know what it can do. Normally that stuff doesn’t retain its potency but David has come up with an ingenious way of keeping it fresh and we have a whole armory full of it. Every single tomthumb here in the homestead has access to that same poison. We have the thorns but we’ve also made darts, javelins, slingshots, and even some bows. And most of us know how to aim.”
Satasha could feel something happening to her sprained ankle but could not tell what it was. She thought she had been scared before with the wolves chasing her. At least there she had choices: she could run, she could climb a tree, she could try and find cover. Here and now she had no choice at all, she was completely and utterly helpless before a bunch of tomthumbs!
She saw Frisca hand Quincy something, which he brought up to her nose. The neko immediately became intensely aroused as he waved it back and forth for her to breathe in the scent. It was a leaf from one of the plants. That was what was causing her to act so strangely. Her mouth began salivating heavily. She felt a purr building up inside and this time could not stop it. She did not want to stop it. Even with the ridiculous situation she was in it felt like she was floating in pure bliss.
She heard laughter from the tomthumbs, and though it was irritating to think it was directed towards her, she really did not care. Every inhalation of that wonderful leaf brought feelings of contentment and happiness.
Satasha vaguely heard Frisca say, “I think she likes it.” For some reason Satasha found Frisca’s voice very pleasing to her ears. She wanted to grab the little and play with her. Of course, she still could not move.
Quincy was smiling at her.
One of the other female tomthumbs asked, “What is that leaf Quincy?”
“David called it catnip but I think we should rename it nekonip.”
“Wow, she really does like it.”
Satasha did not care; she was in heaven. Soon, she could no longer feel any pain coming from her ankle but then she did not really care about that anymore either. A few minutes later, she drifted off to dream about munching on an endless stream of the cheerful tomthumbs, all except Frisca that is. For some reason she just licked the little tomthumb and…
When she awoke the second time, she discovered that it was still daylight, and again she had no idea how much time had passed. She was lying comfortably on her back but she was no longer between the flowerbeds. Somehow, the tomthumbs had moved her body a short distance to lie on a thick bed of moss.
She still felt a lingering sense of euphoria from that leaf Frisca and Quincy had let her smell. Her skin felt tingly and she still had an urge to go wallow in the flowers.
Then she realized much to her dismay that Quincy was once again standing on her, this time on her belly. She found she could finally move so she raised her head and peered down at him. It would be a simple matter to grab him, but Satasha had no desire to do so. Her curiosity about these strange tomthumbs was piqued. “I’d like to get up now, if you don’t mind. And that was a dirty rotten trick you played on me you scoundrel.”
He immediately hopped down to the ground and stood back a short distance. He did not look very apologetic.
She sat up and prepared for the jolt of pain but felt nothing. Alarmed, she pulled her injured ankle up to inspect it. There was no swelling and no pain at all. She carefully stood and slowly put weight on it; still no pain. She looked down at Quincy in wide-eyed wonder while he grinned back.
“It’s good to have resourceful friends, isn’t it?”
“When did we become friends little morsel?” As soon as she said the words, strangely, she knew she didn’t mean them. She caught herself. This tomthumb was food! Nevertheless, he had helped her and this place had saved her life. It was difficult to see past that. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright. Rome wasn’t built in a day is what David would say. But it’s a good start.” Quincy pointed behind her and she saw a large pile of the mouth-watering fruit they had left for her. She crouched next to the pile and fell upon it with gusto.
While she stuffed herself, Quincy kept talking. “I did say I was sorry about having to paralyze you, but it was a lot easier to fix your ankle that way. Plus it got my point across far more eloquently than mere words. I promise none of us will do that to you again unless you try and eat one of us.”
Before long, she had a crowd of tomthumbs watching her from the safety of the flowers. She could see them here and there and now that her mind was clearer she could also hear them scampering about. She ate her fill in silence and pondered her situation. After finishing off the last of the fruit, she began cleaning herself. It had been a long time since she had eaten this well and she had gorged herself. It felt good.
“So what’re you going to do now Satasha?” The ever present Quincy was standing right beside where she was crouched.
“I don’t really know. Thank you for healing my ankle.” The words came out and she felt embarrassed for saying them.
“You’re most welcome, my lady.” Quincy bowed flamboyantly.
His attitude certainly had changed, she thought. “What do you think my chances are if I try to leave here right now?”
“Um, I wouldn’t do that at all. I mean, I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Quincy had a worried expression on his face. “Trust me on that. If you don’t want to stay just wait for Felecia to come back tonight and she can take you back to the outskirts of the forest.”
“I guess that means I’m stuck here for a while then.” She looked around.
“It’s not so bad! Here, pick me up and I can show you around a bit.” Quincy was hopping up and down in excitement.
“You’re going to let me pick you up, just like that? What happened to mister untrusting?” She eyed him skeptically.
“Four reasons: one, you’re full; two, you’re look like you’re pretty smart; three, we told you the rules; four, I like being carried around by giant beautiful females.” Quincy punctuated each rule by counting with a raised finger.
Satasha laughed a deep, heartfelt laugh and with a pang of sadness realized she could not even remember the last time she’d done that. Her existence since her tribe was wiped out almost a year ago by slavers had been lonely, hungry, frightful, and thoroughly joyless. Most of the time she had spent avoiding predators and scrounging for food without much thought for anything beyond mere survival.
“For a little, you sure have a big ego. And you are quite insane.”
“Hey, I’ve been called worse by my own kind. Saying I’m insane is actually a step up from what my mother calls me.”
His attitude was a bit infectious and she found herself wanting to know more about this place. He raised his hands up as if he were some errant child wanted to be carried, so she reached down and carefully picked him up, leaving her hand open and her palm up. He showed an amazing amount of agility by being able to remain standing solidly as she started to walk down the path towards the sound of running water.
As they walked around Quincy was a non-stop chatterbox. Satasha never had to ask any questions because he always seemed to be one step ahead in his descriptions. Everywhere she went she was amazed at the sheer beauty and awed at how much time and effort had gone into the gardens, the fields, the many beds of flowers, the orchards, even the small house that sat in the center of it all.
They finally ended up at the lower pond where, Quincy explained, Felecia often liked to bathe. “She won’t use the upper pond because that’s where we drink, but here it’s alright.”
Satasha sat at the edge of the pond on a large flat rock, with the tips of her feet just above the surface of the water. “How long have you been here Quincy?”
Quincy, who seemed completely at ease around her now, was perched on her right thigh facing her. For some reason he loved staying in contact with her skin and if she did not know any better, she would have sworn he had a crush on her. She brought her tail around to swish near him and he playfully swatted at it. “I came here with my family and a couple others a little over four years ago.”
“Four years? Don’t you get bored around here?”
“Are you kidding me? I cannot even begin to list off the things we do here, let me start…” He went on for a good ten minutes before she held her hand up in surrender.
Laughing she said, “I get the picture, really I do. I never would’ve dreamed of a place like this. I saw the forest about a week ago and decided to stay away. That howling the wolves do really raised my hackles. I was more worried about keeping from starving and finding a safe place to sleep at night.” Her eyes were distant and sorrowful.
“Why are you here anyway? Don’t you have a family?”
Satasha did not move or make a sound, yet Quincy noticed her eyes begin to moisten. Awkwardly, he shuffled his feet. He watched as a single tear rolled down her cheek, followed by another, then more – like the first, hesitant drops of rain from an approaching storm. And still she sat, silent and unmoving. Her reaction to such an innocent question bothered him greatly. Quincy felt so bad at seeing her tears he walked over to her stuffed belly and slowly began massaging it; Felecia always seemed to like it, maybe Satasha would as well. When she finally spoke, it was so softly Quincy had to strain to hear her.
“I haven’t had anyone to talk to in a long time. I had a big family and many friends. I didn’t have a care in the world. I was so naive. You always hear stories about things happening to others but until it hits home it doesn’t seem to matter.” She paused, looking at the ripples in the pond and listening to the gurgle of the water as it drained into the creek below.
“It was human slavers. They came one day at the break of dawn. They were experienced and well prepared, as if they had been planning it for days. There were so many of them, we didn’t have a chance.” She shook her head and stopped for a moment. Quincy kept up his massage and said not a word.
“The hell of it is, if I had been a good little girl and listened to my mother, I wouldn’t be here now; I’d either be dead or a slave. What’s that supposed to mean?” She did not wait for an answer. “I always woke up early, before the sun came up, and went out to hunt in the predawn. I wasn’t supposed to do that. I wasn’t even hungry, but I liked the chase, the thrill of it. I didn’t even eat the neeras I caught that early. Probably scared them half to death, but to me it was all fun and games. They hated me I think. None of the other nekos played with them like that.” Her look grew distant.
“I even had a pet neera. I know you don’t believe me but I did. I caught him when he was just a baby and for some reason I can’t explain even now I wanted to keep him alive. He was special. The other nekos let me; some of them were jealous even.” She smiled briefly, remembering the feeling of his tiny body snuggled up next to her in sleep.
“The day it happened, I disobeyed my mother just like all the other times and went out to play my games and upset the neeras. I hadn’t been gone more than a few minutes when I heard the first screams. At first, I didn’t know what was wrong; I thought it might be something like a naga attacking. I’d never seen that happen before but I heard from some friends in another tribe nearby about one that attacked them. I crawled back towards the village on my belly, trying to stay down but also wanting to see at the same time. Then I heard the gunshots.” She closed her eyes at this and sat for so long Quincy became worried.
“It’s alright if you don’t want to say anymore. The world can be really cruel sometimes. Believe me I know.”
“Please, I want to get this out now. I’ve never talked to anyone since it happened – I’ve been so alone.” She steeled herself and continued. “The slavers that came brought lots of guns. They shot all the males and even the little children. They just lined them up and shot them dead, one by one. They only wanted the females, ones who were old enough for mating. I heard them bragging about it. After restraining them, they marched what was left of my people off towards a bunch of vehicles. They herded them into the biggest one and slammed the door shut.”
“So you the only one who escaped?” Quincy asked.
“I was the only one. They didn’t leave anyone behind alive. I thought the humans were going to just leave with their catch, but I was wrong. A few of them came back and they burned everything we had to the ground. Everything. I watched them do it all and I didn’t do a thing to try and stop it. The village was still burning when they finally left. A long time after the vehicles had driven away, I went creeping back like some kind of sick animal to see what was left. I still remember that burnt, smoky smell. My father, my brothers, and my little sister were all dead and burned. Friends I had known for years – gone. My mother was taken. But you want to know what finally made me cry?” She looked at Quincy with an expression of disbelief, tears falling from her cheeks.
“Nishi, my neera, was inside the hut when they burned everything. I found his little body just outside, like he had tried to run. I cried so hard when I saw him I felt like I was dying inside. I didn’t cry for my parents, or my brothers, or even my sister. I cried for a damned neera!” She balled her fists in anger and Quincy had to grab on to her to keep from falling off.
“I’m not a nice person Quincy. After I saw him dead like that, something snapped in me. I ate neeras before, even after I adopted him. But after that I didn’t just hunt them, I relished killing them and eating them. It was as if I was trying to punish him for letting himself be killed. Every time I did it I felt awful, and then I went and did it again. And when that wasn’t enough, I started going out of my way to be cruel to them. I’d catch them and let them go, then smash them flat. Or I’d pretend to be a friend and then eat them in their sleep. And then I found a neera that looked almost like Nishi had when he was a baby. And instead of letting him go or protecting him I crushed him.”
She was visibly shaking now and Quincy thought for a moment that it might be better to remove himself from her presence. It had been a long time since he had seen someone with such terrible, pent up emotions. Suddenly, like the final stroke of thunder from rampaging storm fading away in the distance, her anger fled.
“I saw the little neera’s body there, crushed in my hand. It was like waking up from a dream. It didn’t seem real. I saw the body and I knew I had done it, but it was as if I were someone else. I died that day Quincy. Something inside me died. After that I didn’t feel like a person anymore. Everything I did I just did on instinct. I ate when I had to, slept when I could, and moved only to get away from predators or find more food. I’ve been like that ever since. I hadn’t laughed or felt anything really since then… until today.”
Quincy was still uncomfortable with the intensity of her emotions, but now that she had calmed down, he began feeling a little more like his old self. Maybe the worst of the storm had passed. “Satasha, I know you had it rough. My own family had some really bad things happen. Heaven knows I’ve done some things in the past I wish I could take back. But you’re alive and you seem like a nice enough person to me. Plus you’re safe here, with plenty of food and people to talk to.” He laughed nervously. “Just don’t get the two mixed up.”
“That’s just it Quincy. If I’d seen you a couple months ago, do you know what I would’ve done to you, without even thinking about it and certainly without any hesitation?” She was looking at him with fear in her eyes.
Quincy quickly moved and placed both his hands on her warm tummy. “But you didn’t and none of that matters. What matters is what you do right here, right now Satasha. If you want to be brutally honest, then so can I. If you had come in here and actually managed to eat one of us you would’ve been paralyzed very shortly thereafter and when David came back he would’ve dragged your body out to Stephandra for her or her wolves to eat.”
Shaking her head, she replied, “It’s no worse than I deserved.”
“No, don’t say that. Don’t think that way. Both of us are lucky that didn’t happen. And now you’re all stuffed full of fruit and you have a whole lot more friends than you had just a day ago.”
Satasha just kept shaking her head in disbelief. “You still want to be friends with me after what I just told you?”
Quincy responded, “I’d be honored to be your friend even after what you just told me. I think I can say the same of all the tomthumbs here.”
Satasha sat for a moment in silence and for a second he thought he saw her wavering, but a quick rub from his hands on her belly caused her to giggle and just like that, her eyes brightened with tears, this time not from sorrow but from hope. “Alright you little charmer.” She held down her hand to him. “Friends?”
“Friends!” he said, shaking the giant hand. “Ha, now you can’t eat me anymore!”
She chuckled and quietly said, “You already have my word on that, even if I didn’t speak it.”
“I can’t wait to introduce you to everyone. Properly, that is.”
Satasha did not know if this would last. However, for the first time in a long time she was full, she felt happy, and she had many new friends to get to know. It was going to take some getting used to. Grabbing him up without asking, she took off at speed back towards the main house.
“Um, where are we going?” Quincy tried not to sound concerned but he was definitely not used to being carried with such swiftness.
“I want you to show me some more of that fabulous nekonip!”
They both laughed.