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Posted 8 March 2011
The Gaze: The Glass Goose
Story & art by Warren Hutch

Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch


   The sun was setting on the horizon, filling the sky over the gently rustling palm trees with a blaze of russets and oranges over the tiny islands of the Nobikini Atoll. A warm glow came from the open windows of the huts on the spit of land between the two forested islets.

    Jane Early stood at the water's edge in the gathering darkness, fuming, her hands crammed into the pockets of her jacket, which she wore over the light, airy sarong that Nolakeli had wrapped around her after that luxurious bath in the ocean. 

    Supper had been strained, with barely a word spoken among those who spoke Westcommon, while the native girls had only exchanged a few hushed phrases in their lyrical tongue, aware of the palpable tension in the room and not liking it one bit.

    Eventually, the rabbit doe could no longer stand it, and had stormed out of the hut. She stood with her toes in the surf, letting the water cool them as the breeze did her head. Her long, white tipped ears drooped, as the remoteness of the tiny ring of islets under the deepening sky amplified the isolation she felt.
Sunset's Light - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.6 MBytes)

    She looked back at the huts, and chanced to see the unmistakable, graceful silhouette of Junko step out of the doorway of the sleeping hut, clad in a light kimono of broad purple stripes edged in delicate faded blues. The usagi paused, looking across the beach at her for a moment, then turned hastily and hurried up the beach toward the northern point of the island, where Gwen and Loretta had taken her and Dorothy to see the "Mermaid's Cave".
    The tan furred doe's long ear cocked in curiosity, and after a moment's consideration, started walking after the beautiful former pearl diver.

    A short while later, Dorothy sat at the table with Gwen and Loretta, peering intently at a map of the Jade Sea heavily marked with a pencil, which she picked up and tapped at one of several wedge shaped demarcations radiating out from the island. "This section looks like it has a lot of islands and reefs in it, so I imagine it will take at least a day to do fly-overs for all of them."
    Loretta nodded, taking the pencil from her feline employer. "Yeah, although there's an airstrip on this island." She circled a tiny speck on the map. "We can refuel there, which will save us having to double-back here."
    The feline looked appraisingly at the map, stroking her chin in thought. "We've got camping gear; maybe we make this a couple day trip. It'll take us right into the heart of the Jade Sea."
    Gwen glanced at the otter girls and the native vixen as they busied themselves cleaning up. "I'll have Kaleia and Junko prepare us some food to travel for a couple of days after we're done here."
    Dorothy looked around quizzically. "Where did Junko go, anyway?"
    Gwen inclined her head toward the northwestern islet. "She goes out to the rocks every sunset to pray for her ancestors or something. She'll be back in a little bit."
    The feline nodded and turned her attention back to the map.

    Suddenly, an urgent cry echoed over the rustle of the breeze, causing all of the females' tails to frizz. Gwen was on her feet instantly, rushing out the front entrance and down onto the beach, followed closely by Loretta and Dorothy.

"Junko's Fllight" - from The Gaze: The Glass Goose Part 17 - story & art by Warren Hutch
Junko's Flight - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.1 MBytes)

    A long eared figure silhouetted in the rays of the setting sun came rushing headlong up the beach. It was Junko, and as she came closer it was clear she was terrified. She held the hems of her kimono clutched in her hands, freeing her pale furred legs for a full out run as she hurried towards them, crying out in panicked Usagineko.
    Junko cleared the intervening distance and collapsed into Gwen's arms, panting and spilling a torrent of words in her native tongue as she pointed urgently toward the northwest. The vixen grabbed her by the shoulders, interrogating her in Spontoonie. As they traded clipped phrases back and forth, a sound of angrily raised female voices could be heard in the direction the usagi had come from.
    Dorothy's eyes flared in recognition. "Jane!" She started running down the beach, turning to call out to Gwen and Loretta. "Come on, something's wrong." She pointed at Kaleia and the otter cousins as they craned their heads curiously out of the doorway of the hut. "Tell them to go inside and stay there until we get back."
    Gwen nodded and shoved Junko into Malakeli's arms, barking orders at the confused females as Loretta ducked into the sleeping hut and came out with a pair of battery powered lanterns, one of which she tossed to the vixen as they rushed down the beach after Dorothy.

    The vixen, raccoon, and she cat ran through the twilight into the sparse forest to the northwest, and the sounds of shouting died down to an occasional shriek of pain or inarticulate cry of rage. The trio stopped dead at the edge of the woods, aghast at what they saw in the light of the electric lights as the sun flared ruddy orange on the horizon.

 "Jane's Fight" from Part 17, The Gaze: The Glass Goose - art & story by Warren Hutch
Jane's Fight - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.3 MBytes)

    About a dozen or more Jane Earlys fought savagely on a churned up patch of jungle floor. Shreds of the light sarong and jacket she'd been wearing were scattered all over, as well as several inert, sprawled tan furred bodies at the feet of the others, who were engaged in everything from intricate exchanges of strikes and blocks to rolling around on the ground biting, scratching and twisting ears.
    Dorothy blinked in shock for a moment, before her fists clenched down at her sides. A roar like a lioness rang out from the tabby's throat as her eyes flared like arc lights in the twilight. "JANE! STOP THIS RIGHT THIS INSTANT!"
    This caused the rabbit does fighting in a more civilized fashion to give a start and turn toward her abashed, their ears drooping in shame. The ones engaged in more primal battles on the forest floor continued to struggle and gnash at each other, too enraged to pause in their fury.
    Gwen and Loretta nodded to one another, and set down their lights and stepped toward the edge of the fray.
    The raccoon glanced at Dorothy with a grim expression on her face. "We've got this, Missus Pearl."

    The vixen nodded. "We had to break up plenty of first-year brawls at Songmark. It'll be like old times."
    The feline's eyes flared as she caught both of them by the arm. "Stop! Any one of these rabbits could wipe the floor with both of you."
    She fixed the standing Janes with an icy gaze, and snapped her finger, pointing at the struggling duplicates on the ground. "You all! Break them up."
    In short order, the identical does had meekly complied, pulling their duplicates off of one another with expertly applied holds and locks and standing them up before the brown furred tabby's withering gaze. The moment they locked eyes with her, they went from furious to abject, huddling close to their former foes as they recoiled from the feline's glare.

    Soon, a crowd of abashed, identical rabbits stood wretchedly in the light of the electric lanterns. Their shivering, tan furred bodies were covered in small cuts and contusions, an ear dangling broken here, a black eye there. Several duplicates lay on the ground, groaning, while others laid quite still, breathing but unconscious.
    Dorothy planted her hands on her hips, and spoke to them in a voice just above a hiss. "Well?"
    A cacophony of voices filled the clearing as all of the identical rabbit does spoke up, some mumbling petulantly, some speaking loudly, angry and defensive.
     Dorothy's eyes flared, and her hand snapped up for silence, causing the babble of explanations and recriminations to die down. She pointed at a Jane with a black eye and a trickle of blood dripping from her nose in front of her, her eyes gleaming in the twilight. "You, tell me what's going on."
    The rabbit swallowed hard and glanced at her duplicates before speaking. "W-well, I... I saw Miss Junko come out here, so I got curious and followed her."
    Another one spoke up, a piteous look on her face as she wrung her hands in front of her. "She was jest standin'... jest standin' thar on th' rocks lookin' so.. so s-sad, an I jest wanted t' talk t' her. Y'know. With what l'il Usagineko I knew."
    At this another Jane spoke up, her ear drooping and broken, a livid bruise at it's root, a scowl on her face. "Talk?" She spat out a little blood on the ground. "Y'all were gonna make a pass at her."
    Another duplicate spoke up from the crowd. "Yeah, and y'all don't even know if'n she swings that way."
    The rabbit with the black eye and bloody nose looked away toward the receding rays of the setting sun with a wistful look on her face, wringing her hands in front of her chest. "She... she's so perfect... Junko's p-perfect, Dorothy. Every l'il thang about her. I... I ain't never felt this way about a gal in all my natural born days..."
    The initial Jane that the tabby had singled out sighed. "So when it came to it, I sorta got in a l'il argument with myself. Part o' me wantin' t' jest ask and git it over, and part o' me scared o' what th' answer was gonna be."
    The second Jane's other ear drooped to match her dangling wounded one. "And, well, I reckon it kinda... escalated from thar..."
    At this, Lorettta spoke up, incredulous. "Escalated? It was like you all were re-enacting a battle out here."
    Gwen put her hands on her hips and nodded emphatically. "Poor Junko was scared out of her wits! I could barely make out what she was trying to tell us, she was so terrified."
    A gasp rippled through the crowd of Janes, then like a patter of raindrops that grows in intensity until it's become a full blown rainstorm, one by one the tan furred rabbits broke down in tears. Each doe stood wretched and miserable as their bruised faces contorted in anguish, their shoulders hunching and shaking convulsively. Some dropped to their knees, slouching despondently on the ground, some turned and embraced, weeping mournfully into one anothers shoulders. Some just buried their faces in their hands and stood huddled in the twilight, moaning like lost kittens.
    Gwen, Dorothy, and Loretta stood transfixed, taken aback by the spectacle of a crowd of identical females pouring out such sadness from the depths of their hearts, each wretched, battered, naked rabbit doe looking so very lost and alone despite being surrounded on all sides by exact duplicates.
    Dorothy's hands went to her mouth, as tears welled in her own eyes. She choked back a sob as she stepped forward into the crowd of crying rabbits, taking the one she'd singled out into her arms and rocking the miserable doe back and forth. "Oh Jane, I'm... I'm so sorry. I'm sorry, Jane."
    The duplicate with a drooping ear wiped her nose on her arm and looked up at her with red rimmed, miserable eyes. "What d'y'all got t' be sorry about? Y'all were right, I shoulda kept my mind on business, then I never woulda screwed everthin' up like this."
    Dorothy stroked the weeping rabbit's close cropped hair. "I could have looked. I could have found out the truth and set your mind at ease."
    The one with the bruised jaw turned from embracing a weeping double, her chest heaving as she struggled to speak between sobs. "It... it don't matter no more anyhow. She's gotta think I'm some kinda monster. She'll probably run off every time she sees me comin' now."
    She buried her face in her duplicate's shoulder, overcome, as the identical doe looked at Dorothy. "Even if'n I knew fer sure she was into gals, I'll never git a chance t' ask. I'll never git a chance t'git t' know her. N-never... "
    The one with her arms wrapped around Dorothy moaned as she shook in the feline's arms. The brown furred tabby reached up and grasped her by the shoulders, pushing back to look her in the eyes. "I've failed you, Jane. You, of all people, should never have to cry tears of grief, if I can do anything about it."
    The rabbit's shoulders sagged as she choked back a sob and looked away. "Y-y'all don't need t' trouble yerself about my problems, D-dorothy. Y'all got enough o' yer own."
    The feline shook her head emphatically. "You've been at my side through countless scrapes, almost carrying me on your back sometimes, without a single complaint. You deserve better than the way I've been treating you. A lot better."
    She tenderly rubbed Jane's shoulders, her bright eyes taking on a kindly light as she gazed into the rabbit's tear stained face. "Come with me, lets see if I can help fix things with you and Junko."
    She turned and looked up at the battered and bruised assembly of tan furred does, who all now stood watching her solemnly, lips quivering and eyes brimming, and two by two they began to vanish, each set of doubles becoming one, and then finding a new partner to coalesce with, their hurts fading with each combination as they offset one another, until a single trembling doe stood before Dorothy, a pattern of half healed cuts and faded bruises under her tan fur. She sobbed, and hugged her feline companion tightly, as Gwen and Loretta looked on amazement.
    Overhead, bright stars came alight in the dark endless blue sky over the rustling palms all around them.

    The group returned in silence to the huts, with Gwen and Loretta in the lead as Dorothy held Jane's shivering form close and led her through the darkened forest. As they paused at the steps of the sleeping hut, they heard the native girls inside, urgently discussing what had just occurred in insistent, singsong voices as they tried to pry details out of a reticent Junko. They fell warily silent as the electric lights shone against the cloth draped across the door.
    Dorothy nodded at Gwen, and the vixen strode up the steps, pulling aside the curtain and stepping inside, addressing the hut's occupants in Spontoonie.
    After a few moments, she appeared again with Junko at her side. The pale-furred usagi's almond eyes flicked across Loretta and Dorothy's features uncertainly, and then she let out a small gasp as her gaze settled on the battered form of Jane.
    She recoiled momentarily, then regained her composure, casting her eyes downward with a hesitant bow, then turned and hurried back inside the hut.
    The tan furred rabbit's face clouded over, and she began to weep freely once more, slouching in Dorothy's embrace and burying her face in her feline cohort's shoulder, shaking with misery. "Y'see? She's scared t' death o' me. It ain't f-fair..."
    A moment later, Junko appeared in the doorway again, with a medical kit clasped in her delicate hands and a folded kimono tucked under her arm. She gave a halting bow, a blush spreading across her face, as she spoke in heavily accented Spontoonie to the quartet of females who stood at the base of the short steps. Behind her, the curious craning necks and cocked heads of the otter cousins and the native vixen appeared, silhouetted in the light of an oil lamp burning inside.
    Gwen flicked an ear and turned to translate, an incredulous expression on her face. "Uh... Miss Early, Junko would like to know if you're hurt very badly."
    The tan furred rabbit doe's jaw dropped, and she straightened up, taking a shaky step toward the pale furred usagi, who stepped lightly down to meet her, unfurling the kimono and draping it over Jane's hunched, trembling shoulders. Dorothy stepped forward as the tan furred doe's knees buckled under her, helping Junko catch her before she fell forward. As the pair led her away to the gathering hut, Jane let out a halting sob, and laid her head on the pale furred usagi's shoulder.

    Soon, the three females sat in the dim light of an oil lamp at the corner of the table, with Dorothy supporting Jane from behind as Junko spread out the contents of the first aid kit and proceeded to dab iodine on the athletic rabbit's open cuts.
    The feline's eyes glimmered in the twilight, as she looked at Junko's aura. A mixture of fear, curiosity, and attraction hovered at the surface behind a studiously maintained detachment, a storm of uncertainty under outwardly calm waters of a Kokoro native's deeply ingrained control of their emotions. This was indeed a brave girl, facing something as unsettling as Miss Early's strange ability could be, despite an obvious urge to withdraw, either by fleeing or by curling into an immobile ball in the manner of her kindred when faced with things too large for them to confront or flee. Dorothy also sensed a measure of frustration. Junko wanted to understand, to make sense of what she'd seen, but was stymied by her lack of a common language.

 "Making It Right" from Part 17, The Gaze: The Glass Goose - story & art by Warren Hutch
Making It Right - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.2 MBytes)

    The gem of the Eye of the Guardians gleamed on Dorothy's bosom, and she became aware of a presence at her shoulder, speaking to her directly to her mind. She glanced back to see the translucent image of one of her predecessors, whose personalities haunted the Eye as guides and advisors. The golden-furred feline shade was clad in dark kimonos layered over white, a pale cowl covering her head and ears, the image of the Eye affixed to a band around her forehead.
    The figure gave a short bow. {Perhaps I could be of assistance in this matter, O Successor.}

    Dorothy responded to her thoughts with recognition, thinking of her by name. {Miyowara Miko, I believe that you can. Help me speak clearly to this girl, so that she may see things in their proper light.}

    The shade nodded with a smile crossing her face. {I shall speak through thee, Dorothy Pearl. Were I to appear, I fear it would be too much for the poor thing to take.}

    With that, the translucent feline drifted forward, melding into Dorothy's body like a vapor. The brown furred tabby inclined her head toward the usagi, her eyes gleaming with a glazed, distant expression, and spoke to her in her native tongue. "<What art thou thinking, Umedaiko Junko?>"

    The pale furred doe gave a start, and sat back on her haunches, looking quizzically at Dorothy. "<I... I am surprised that you speak my language, ma'am.>"
    Jane cocked an ear and looked at her as well. "Since when do y'all speak Usagineko?"
    The brown furred feline responded with a smile. "Since about four hundred years ago. I'm getting a little help from one of the Greymalkins."
    She kept her gaze on Junko. "<That is not the least of the surprises thou hast undergone this night, is it Junko-san? What dost thou make of what thou hast seen?>"
    The usagi twitched her ears, a pensive look on her face as she resumed treating Jane's bruises. "<I do not know what to make of it, ma'am. The work of yokai, perhaps, or kitsune sorcerers.>" She let out a small shrug. "< I have never been much a one to believe the old stories, and Miss Jane-san here seems to be flesh and blood.>"

    Her brow furrowed as she dipped the small brush in the iodine bottle and applied it to a cut along Jane's jawline. "<Or perhaps it is I that am going mad. I have heard tales about ama divers seeing things when they go too deeply, but never when they are on dry land. And if I was seeing things, then Miss Jane san would not be covered in bruises and cuts like this.>"
    She leaned forward to blow on the cut, causing a shiver to run up the tan furred doe's spine.
    Dorothy gave her cohort's shoulders a squeeze and looked earnestly at Junko. "<She is as mortal as thou art, but she is also a very unusual personage. She has been given many lives to live at once, and may choose to be one, or many as her mood and need strike her.>"

     Junko sat back and considered this for a moment, looking Jane shyly in the eyes. "<I... I think I understand, but why was she fighting herself so fiercely?>"
    Dorothy replied gravely to the usagi as she peered at her over her cohort's shoulder. "<There are none closer than Jane-kun and her other selves, for they are one and the same person, but even those who are very close may fight, especially when the matter is weighty enough.>" She let out a chuckle, and stroked the tan furred doe's left arm. "<Count thyself fortunate, that when thou art at odds with thyself that the conflict can never come to actual blows.>"
    Junko brought Jane's scuffed knee up and applied iodine to it, a pensive look on her face. "<So what was she so conflicted over?>"
    A faint smile settled on Dorothy's muzzle. "<Over thee, Umedaiko Junko. She is quite taken with thee, with thy beauty and grace, but she was gravely afraid thou wouldst reject her because thou art both female. Part of her wanted to speak these feelings to thee, part of her had a failure of courage, terrified of thine answer lest it be negative, and thus they fought.>"
    The brown furred feline's expression became grave. "<Her heart was nearly rent asunder with the thought that she had caused thee any distress this night.>"
    The pale furred usagi sat back on her haunches, looking Jane over, her almond eyes gleaming in the semi darkness of the hut "<I... I would not reject her. I left my home village and an arranged marriage because of my... preferences.>" She averted her eyes. "<And... and although I was very frightened, I do not think Miss Jane-san would do me any harm.>"
    A slight blush flitted across her eggshell colored cheeks. "<In truth, I find her to be a fascinating person as well. I am no longer afraid, now that you have explained things to me. I think I would like very much to get to know her better.>"
    Dorothy smiled at her. "<I shall tell her thus. It shall make her exceedingly happy.>"
    As the tabby turned to speak to Jane, Junko cleared her throat politely and gave a small bow, as the feline turned back to face her and met her gaze. A shy smile played across the pale furred doe's lips. "<Please allow me to tell her in my own way.>"
    With that the usagi rose up on her knees, leaning forward, and planting a soft, tender kiss on the startled Sylvanian doe's cheek.
    Jane gasped, and a smile of pure joy spread across her bruised face. She rose to her knees as well, and threw her taut, muscular arms around the usagi's pliant, graceful body in a trembling embrace, burying her weeping face in the delicate cotton of Junko's purple and blue kimono. The pale furred rabbit's delicate hands gently stroked Jane's muscular back as it heaved with the tan furred doe's heartfelt sobs.
    Dorothy reached up and tousled Jane's close cropped orange hair between her drooping ears. A shudder went through the feline's body as the shade of Miyowara Miko receded from her mind, vanishing into thin air with a smile playing across her golden-furred face.

    The feline let out a wistful sigh as she climbed to her feet and walked quietly out of the hut, leaving the two does rocking softly in one-anothers arms. She stopped at the door, looking back with a gentle smile, and pulled the blanket across the door behind her.


        The Gaze: The Glass Goose