PART 11 - DARKNESS, DAWN, & DREAMS
Dorothy Pearl looked around her in a receding mist as she found herself standing on the marble steps of the grand old church in Vale. Shadowy figures with indistinct faces gathered on either side, dressed in their best as they applauded and filled the air with clouds of rice. There was someone holding her arm and she looked over to see the smiling face of Edison, looking at her with love in his eyes. She looked down at herself, seeing the gleaming white folds of an elegant wedding gown, a bouquet of flowers in her satin gloved hands as a flowing lace veil trailed between her ears.
A sob caught in her throat, and she looked up at the shade of her husband with a low moan escaping from between her clenched teeth. "No. Please, not again. I... I don't want to have this dream anymore. Please."
Edison just smiled at her, leaning in to kiss her on the cheek. She tried to pull out of his grasp, but was held in a gentle grip like iron. They walked arm in arm down the marble steps in the bright June sunlight, the skyscrapers of Vale standing like angular, ivory mountains over the nearby splendor of Promontory Park. Dorothy quailed as they walked closer and closer to a gleaming black limousine parked at the base of the steps, but it was as if her shoes were walking with her feet inside them.
She began to thrash in her husband's grasp. "No! Not again. I won't. Stop it!"
As they approached the vehicle, a smiling figure in a limo driver's uniform opened the door for the newlyweds, the interior of the car yawned like a black cave before them. With a snarl on her face, she tore out of her husband's grip, staggering to the side as he continued down the steps toward the door, arm in arm with no one.
As Dorothy's ice blue
eyes flared, a figure moved inside the limousine, looming out into
the summer daylight. A thin, mangy looking weasel in a sharp
pinstripe suit and slouch hat, brandishing a tommy gun in black
gloved hands, set his equally black polished shoes on the tarmac with
a predatory grin. Edison recoiled in alarm, pushing back protectively
at a figure beside him who wasn't there, as the tabby stood with wild
eyes and bristling tail and shoulders on the steps above.
She let out an incoherent shriek, and with a flick of her wrists her pistols appeared in her hands. "NO! NO YOU DON'T! NOT AGAIN!" She fired the tiny handguns in tandem, striding down the steps with a feral grimace on her face and her ears laid back and her eyes flaring. The bullets slammed into the weasel's face and chest, each impact a grisly blossom of blood and bone.
He didn't fall, didn't even flinch, but rather crouched on the edge of the limo seat and pointed his dully gleaming weapon at her husband with a leer on his shattered face. "Da Syndicate sends der regads, Mister hotshot D.A."
The automatic weapon barked forth a hail of leaden destruction, driving her husband's body back and into her arms as his weight bore her to the marble, pinning her to the ground. She dropped her pistols and cradled him to her chest, as a red stain spilled inexorably across the white of her gown.
Her face became frantic as she shook him. "NO! PLEASE! NOT AGAIN..."
Her husband looked up at her with the light fading from his eyes, and with all his remaining strength, reached up and caressed her cheek, his voice a whispered rattle. "D-dorothy. I... I... lo... love you..."
With a choked sob, she pulled his lips to hers, drawing his last breath into her mouth in a final kiss as tears streamed in rivers down her face, her eyes clenched tightly shut.
When her eyes fluttered open, she found herself kneeling with empty arms on a cracked tile floor splattered with blood and strewn with broken furniture, her pistols back in her hands billowing smoke from their barrels. She was dressed in her dark suit and veiled hat.
A wailing snapped her into focus, and she looked up to see her husband's assassin in front of her, lying in soiled underwear and a wide open bathrobe, staring at the ceiling with sightless eyes and an empty pistol clenched in his hand, as blood flowed in rivers from the wounds in his chest and face, staining the torn nightgown of a female weasel who crouched beside him, rocking him in her trembling arms. The yellow furred female's face was streaked with black lines of mascara, and her nasal voice grated on Dorothy's ears as she poured out her despair. "Oh Izzy. Ohhhh no. Oh please no. No, Izzy. No..."
With a grimace of agony, the feline dropped her pistols and covered her ears, curling forward into ball on the floor. She let out a gasp, her body tensing, as the tiles melted beneath her, sending her tumbling into blackness.
WIth a jarring impact she found herself plunged face first into black waters, releasing a gout of bubbles from her throat in the icy cold depths as she kicked and thrashed, desperately making her way toward a dull red light above.
She broke the surface with a cry, and looked around with flaring, panicked eyes. An angry red glow filled the air under a canopy of billowing smoke, as the scents of salt water and burning diesel filled her nostrils. Fire bloomed high like writhing grass in a gale from slicks of oil on the surface. Shattered bits of debris floated in the dark waves around her. A tumult of roaring flame and panicked cries assailed her ears, as she cast about desperately to orient herself. Her eyes went wide as the looming hulk of a ship's hull foundered before her, boiling waves surrounding it as it slipped into the depths. The name on the prow read the SS Palomino Bay. Beyond the stricken ship, through the billowing smoke, a long black shape, a low boat with a tower amidships and an undulating white serpent painted on its side, slipped beneath the water.
A wail sounded nearby, and she whipped her head around to see two figures bobbing in the water. Almost a featureless silhouette against the curtain of flames behind her, she saw the face and shoulders of Huakela, her white teeth flashing and coppery eyes wide in a grimace of terror and grief as she hugged the inert body of a tan furred male wearing a blue denim shirt and a lifejacket to her bosom. His handsome face was slack, and Dorothy couldn't tell if he was alive or dead. The tabby gritted her teeth and swam for the feline couple, her ice blue eyes flaring with resolve.
When she reached them, the terrified eyes of the leopardess looked up into her own with a shock of recognition. "<Outlander guest of my hearth Dorothy Pearl. Why art thou here in this place of death?>"
The smaller feline reached out to her with a hand as she treaded water. At her throat, the gem of her brooch gleamed like a small star. "Take my hand."
The panicked leopardess looked down at the male in her arms and back at her, eyes brimming with tears as she gave a small shake of her head.
Dorothy's eyes glowed brightly as she held her hand out insistently. "Take! My! Hand!"
Reluctantly, Huakela reached up with a dripping, black furred arm, and clasped the tabby's hand in her own.
Dorothy awoke with a jolt as she landed on the woven reed mat with a thud. After a moment's disorientation, her glittering eyes focused on the svelte form of Huakela facing her, lying limp on her side, her copper colored eyes wide and staring, streaming tears, as her breath came in rapid, panting gasps. Their empty hammocks rocked back and forth above them, blankets trailing over the edge where they'd been dragged by both felines' sudden fall. The brown furred tabby crawled across the woven reeds and took up the larger feline in a hug, rocking her gently on the floor of the hut as the leopardess clenched her eyes shut and buried her face in Dorothy's shoulder.
The tabby whispered in her ear. "Shh. It's all right. It was a dream. Just a dream."
The leopardess shook her head vehemently as she pushed the smaller feline back, holding her by her shoulders as she looked at Dorothy with haunted eyes. She started speaking in Spontoonie, stammering as she remembered to speak instead in Westcommon. "'a'ole! Ia 'a'ole moe'uhane! N-no. Not just a dream. A p-prophecy? Or a vision of what has come to pass already? Such it is and has always been with females of my clan." Her expression melted into tears as her shoulders began to shake, panic rising in her voice. "What if it has come to pass? What if my husband is dead?"
She released her grip on Dorothy and slumped back on her haunches, her eyes wide black circles ringed round by copper, cupping her hands over her muzzle as a whimper of despair sounded from her throat.
Dorothy Pearl's ice blue eyes flared as she grabbed Huakela by her arms. "NO! The Eye of the Guardians doesn't show me visions if I can't do anything about them! It was a warning! And for me a reminder! I promise you, Huakela Jones, I will not let you become a widow."
With that, she pulled the trembling leopardess to her again, stroking her flowing black hair with a gentle hand as the larger feline crushed the tabby to herself with her muscular, rosette dappled arms and sobbed.
Dorothy's ear flicked as a rustling sounded from above her, and she looked up to see the sleepy face of Jane Early peering down over the edge of her hammock with her long ears cocked in curiosity. "Mmmh... Whut's up?"
The feline looked up at her with a faint smile. "We had a bad dream. Go back to sleep."
The rabbit doe rolled over with a sigh, while a tan furred duplicate appeared and dropped over the edge of the hammock, crouching down beside the two felines. She looked gravely at her cohort as she laid a hand on the feline's brown striped shoulder. "Yer hubby again?" Dorothy nodded with a look of resignation on her face. "Yeah. Same as ever. Rice, bullets, blood, and tears..." She fixed her partner with a deadly serious look. "This time with a little coming attractions reel of what the stakes are if we screw this job up."
Huakela stirred in her arms and pushed back to face her and the rabbit, her face awash in confusion and fear. "That was YOUR nightmare, wasn't it? Before... Before my... my beloved and the ship and the flames... a female in white, awash in red... a b-black avenger weeping tears of lead... Oh how... how terrible..."
The tabby took the leopardess' hands in her own. "That was the past, signposts along the road I'm walking. Pointing me toward the future. I swear to you, Huakela, it is a future I will work to avert with all my power."
The rabbit doe at their side nodded solemnly. "Her n' me both, darlin'. Y'all don't worry none, we're on th' case."
The leopardess gave her a wavering smile with a furrowed brow, choking back more tears, as she pivoted on her knees and drew the rabbit doe into a tight hug, sobbing in Spontoonie. "<O sisters from far off lands come to my hearth, I can see thou bear the shield and conch shell in thy hands. The grateful feast of my hearth is laid before you from mother to daughter to granddaughter as long as land sits atop sea... May the gods bless thee in all things and in all ways.>"
Dorothy knelt beside them and threw her arms around them both, at once comforting their hostess and showing her gratitude to her steadfast partner. The trio of females huddled together on the floor of the hut that way for some time, as the rustling of wind and the chirping of jungle insects sounded softly from outside.
A rich, alto voice raised in song drifted into Dorothy's consciousness as she awoke to find herself back in her hammock once more, nestled in the enveloping canvas and soft cotton of her blanket. Slashes of light filtered into the warm darkness through slats in the windows, filling the room with a sweet, golden haze. The tabby rubbed her eyes and stretched a leg down to the woven reeds on the floor, pulling the blanket off with her and wrapping it around herself as she padded softly across the floor to the doorway of the hut. She stepped down the wooden steps and into the cool sand, walking cautiously around the side of the hut with ears perked.
The feline stopped as she rounded the corner of the hut at the sight of Huakela, standing on the crest of a dune facing to the east as fresh light from the first rays of the sun washed over her, turning the charcoal grey of her pelt a deep, dusky brown as her rosettes played across her svelte curves like a field of flowers, their bottomless black matched by the luster of her flowing hair. She held her hands high in welcome, her sinuous body and tail swaying to the rhythm of her song as the sea winds played at the bit of gleaming, gold and white native patterned cloth knotted at her hip.
As Dorothy listened, she heard other voices rising on the wind, singing the same song in a harmony so sweet she felt tears starting in her eyes. She became aware of a presence at her side, and turned to see Jane Early standing beside her, hands on her hips, eyes closed, and ears raised as if she were drinking in the music, her taut, tan furred body made golden in the sunrise. The feline blushed slightly when she realized her cohort had probably just climbed out of bed as she had, but had neglected to bring anything to wrap around herself.
The rabbit doe breathed in deeply through her nose and let it out in a sigh, speaking softly to her feline companion. "Mmmm. That's even' purtier than the one they sang last night."
Dorothy cleared her throat self consciously and leaned over, speaking in a low whisper to her cohort. "Um... should... shoudn't you cover up a little?"
Jane popped an eye open and cocked an eyebrow at her. "Y'all wanna lend me that blanket thar?"
The feline blushed a bit hotter and tightened her grip on the cotton wrap. "N-no! Of course not!"
The rabbit closed her eye and nodded archly toward the sunrise. "Then shut yer flappin' mouth an' lissen t' the song, darlin'."
The pair watched in silence as Huakela swayed and raised her deep, mellow voice to the clear morning sky. As the sun crested over the horizon, the far off voices faded out one by one, leaving the leopardess' voice singing alone.
She drew her upraised palms together and clasped her hands before her, sinking slowly to her knees as the tone of her song changed. Neither she cat nor rabbit doe understood the words, but they could sense the depths of heart from which they came. The black furred female ended her song in a clear, trailing note, as she fell forward on her face, her black hair pooling on the ground around her.
After a pause, while the wind and the hiss of the ocean waves filled the silence, the leopardess climbed smoothly to her feet, brushing the sand from her forearms and chin. Her face lit up in gleaming copper and white as she turned and spotted Dorothy and Jane standing at the corner of her hut watching her.
She approached them with a broad smile on her face, her hips swaying as she walked through the soft sand. "Good morning! I added a prayer to my song this morning, for the protection of beloved wayfarers, and lo, the gods' answer stands before me."
Dorothy smiled softly to their hostess as she came to a stop in front of them. "You have a beautiful voice, Huakela. I'm sure whoever might be listening out there would be moved by it."
The black furred feline smoothed back a stray lock of her flowing hair, blushing slightly as she dug her toe in the sand. "We move them, they move us, and that is how the world turns. You flatter me with your praise."
The rabbit doe snorted with a wan smile. "Shucks, darlin'. T'ain't flattery if'n it's th' straight-up truth. I jest hope some o' that protection y'all were askin' fer rubs off on us." She looked gravely across the ocean and crossed her arms. "I reckon' we're gonna need it."
The leopardess nodded solemnly. "Yes. You have a serious task ahead of you. One upon which my home and happiness..." She looked down at her gently curving belly, tenderly rubbing the downy fur with both hands. "...and the home and happiness of my child greatly depends."
She looked back at her two companions with the glimmer of a white toothed smile spreading across her features. "So serious, in fact, that I cannot possibly send you on your journey without filling your bellies with a fine breakfast."
Dorothy smiled warmly as Jane's face broke into a grin. "I like a gal who's got her tactical priorities straight. Let's git to it."
Huakela led them into the hut and crossed over to the chest of drawers, pulling out a fresh sarong that she wrapped around herself and then belted with her hip pouch. Taking out the key, she crouched down and unlocked the bottom drawer, then drew forth a few of the colorful shell notes from beneath the grimacing little penny eyed tiki.
As she folded the money and tucked it into her pouch, she looked up and smiled at her guests. "I need to go into the village and get some things. Please treat my home as if it were your own while I am gone."
Dorothy stepped forward with an earnest look on her face. "Huakela! You mustn't spend your money on us like that! We should be paying you for a night's lodging and meals!"
The leopardess held up a flattened palm, furrowing her speckled brow. "Ut! Only tourists pay for food and lodging here. Never guests of our hearth, and especially not friends."
Jane looked up from slipping on a pair of boxer shorts from her duffel bag and cocked an ear. "At least let me fire up yer stove fer y'all, and if'n y'all don't mind me messin' 'round in yer kitchen, I can git some coffee a'brewin'."
The black speckled feline paused at the door with a warm smile. "That would be most kind of you, Jane. I'll be back shortly."
With that she left, stepping into the early morning sun with her tail waving gently behind her.
Soon, the stove was heating up and Huakela's cast iron pot was simmering atop it, and the she cat and rabbit doe set about straightening up the hut, folding up blankets, piling cushions, and untying the hammocks and hanging them neatly back on the walls.
When that was done, Miss Early pulled out the large bundle she had obtained the night before and opened it, laying it's contents out on the woven mat for her feline companion to see.
There were two bedrolls, a pair of mosquito nets, two mess kits stamped with the gryphon and unicorn of the Westinglish crown. two 1 liter canteens, a box of blue tip matches, two canvas and leather backpacks, and a first aid kit from the Sylvanian Navy stocked with bandages, a small bottle of iodine, a suturing kit, and a bottle of aspirin. Jane cocked one of her long ears and smiled at her cohort, as she pulled out the clothing she'd gotten her. She laid two rather plain navy blue knit bathing suits on the mat.
Dorothy held one up, looking at it quizzically. "Bathing suit, huh? Jane, this isn't a vacation, you know."
The rabbit pursed her lips and nodded. "Wearin' waterlogged satin n' lace all day after fallin' in th' drink ain't no picnic either, darlin', and this'll wear better'n a whole clothesline full o' lingerie."
The feline conceded her point with a shrug and the tan furred doe continued to produce clothing from the bundle.
These consisted of a sturdy pair of dark leather boots, a few pairs of cotton socks, a pair of dark grey canvas women's trousers with a leather reinforced taillet, a pair of military cut short sleeved blouses, one in grey and one in light blue, and a light shell jacket in a dark, olive green.
The feline nodded her approval. "Good. Plenty of room for my gun rigs."
The rabbit grinned at her, as she rooted through the bundle. "Y'all might like this as an alternative, fer when we're out in th' field." With that, she produced a dark stained leather harness with ammo pouches hanging from the belt and two small holsters hanging from the hips, their leather snap tabs hanging loosely over them and rattling as the doe handed it to her feline companion.
Dorothy held it out in front of her and examined it. "Very nice. Where'd you find it?"
The tan furred rabbit shrugged. "I had t' do a li'l diggin' t' find a good campin' shop, since most of th' joints over on Casino Island seem t'be more about sellin' beachwear n' souvenirs. Turned out thar was this perfect l'il pawn n' surplus shop jest offn' the ferry port from Eastern Island. Old Westie fella and his missus ran it. Had some guns in stock too, and did shoe n' boot repair, so fer a l'il extra they adjusted this thang and added th' holsters." She pulled a few more packages out of the bundle with a grin. "Plus I got y'all a fresh box o' twenty two cartriges, and these were in yer size too, so I nabbed 'em."
She laid a cardboard box with the Holt emblem on the lid in front of her cohort, along with a pair of leather shooting gloves. Dorothy picked up the gloves and slipped them on, clenching and unclenching her fingers to get used to the fit before smiling across at her companion. "Nice work, Miss Early. I hope you got a few things for yourself as well."
The rabbit doe grinned and pulled a canvas baseball cap out of the bag and placed it on her head. A grimacing embroidered tiki face peered out from the beige fabric between her cocked ears. "All they play is some kinda weird variation on cricket out here. I oughta leave a couple o' me behind t' teach these poor folks the true way o' baseball."
Dorothy gave her a wry smile, and then looked over the pile of goods around them. "So, how much to you have left over from petty cash?"
Jane shrugged. "Mmm. 'Bout forty bucks worth o' Spontoonie shells."
The feline got to her feet, clutching the blanket around her as she looked down at her companion. "Give it to me, quick."
The rabbit cocked an eyebrow at her and rose to her feet, walking over to her duffel bag and digging inside until she produced a handful of colorful notes. The tabby took these from her and crossed over to the table, lifting up the souvenir ashtray and slipping the bills underneath. She gave a conspiratorial wink to Jane. The rabbit's ears drooped as she looked past her through the doorway.
Dorothy started guiltily as an outraged voice called out from behind her, and turned to see Huakela standing there, her coppery eyes flareing with a hand on her hip, the other holding a bulging burlap sack down at her side.
The leopardess stamped her bare foot on the doorstep. "What do you think you are doing, Dorothy Pearl? I will NOT accept your money!"
The smaller feline's striking blue eyes flared back, and she crossed her arms in front of her. "Well, maybe I'm not giving it to you!" Her expression softened as she walked up to the indignant leopardess and gently touched her midriff with her fingertips. "Maybe it's a gift for her..." She looked up at her hostess with an earnest expression. "Would you accept that?"
Huakela's expression softened as a shy smile spread across her features. "That... that is different. I am most grateful." She looked wryly about her neat but threadbare little hut. "Every little bit helps."
She stepped forward and took Dorothy into a heartfelt embrace. When the two disengaged, the leopardess smiled brightly. "Now come, we must start the first day of your journey properly."
As Jane and Dorothy brushed themselves down and got dressed, Huakela proceeded to get to work in her small kitchen, and soon laid a fine breakfast before them. The three females enjoyed succulent sections of sweet, slightly red blushing grapefruit, followed by tangy, mildly fermented two finger poi served with slices of breadfruit fried on a skillet with coconut oil, as well as fresh eggs cooked sunny side up, washed down with rich, dark coffee infused with coconut cream.
After they'd eaten their fill, the rabbit doe leaned back in her chair and snapped her suspenders, grinning from ear to ear in satisfaction. "MmmMMmmmm. Darlin', I thought my granny was th' hands down world champion with a cast iron skillet, but y'all might be a contender in the Pan-Orient league."
A low purr came from the brown furred tabby. "I understand why you wouldn't take our money, Huakela. Food that good is priceless." The leopardess merely beamed as she collected up the broad banana leaves they had eaten their meal off of and set them aside.
With a curt nod to one another, Dorothy and Jane got to their feet and started to gather their luggage. The tabby buckled on the harness over her blouse, strapped on her hideout rigs and put her pistols in place, then shrugged into the jacket, concealing them from prying eyes. She then knotted a scarf of dark gauze around her throat, attaching her mystic brooch, and tied a black kerchief on over her tightly bound hair.
Huakela looked at her approvingly. "You certainly look the part of a bold adventuress, Dorothy."
The feline gave her a fragile smile. "Well, lets hope we can play the part as well." She walked forward and took the leopardess' hands in hers. "Thank you for all your hospitality, Huakela. We'll do our level best to make sure your husband, and the mates of countless other females just like you, come home safe to their families."
The taller feline leaned forward with a solemn expression, and kissed her on the forehead. "Go forth bravely, with the strength and wisdom of the gods before you, behind you, and beside you. I will pray for your success at Morning Song, and for your safety at Evening Song."
The pair of them rubbed faces, and Ms. Pearl stepped back to let Jane throw her arms around their hostess in a warm embrace. "Y'all don't fret none, darlin'. Jest keep th' home fires burnin' an' take care o' yerself."
The dark speckled feline nodded, and kissed her on the forehead as well. "I will. Aloha."
With that, the two travellers shouldered their packs, and headed out the door.
Huakela leaned in her doorway, her tail curling and swaying behind her, idly caressing her belly with a wistful expression on her face, as she watched them disappear up the trail toward the other side of the island.