A Walk in the Park of Lup
by Fur and Fantasy
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file
The shuttle was set up for the autopilot approach to Haloeth, leaving Charolais with some time to review her notes on the native culture she was supposed to observe. Rolling onto her side slightly, the light-tan Kavin rested her head on her forepaws, and focused on the computer's telepathic receptor.
"Display data on the Loup Maru," she projected to it. After a moment of processing, the pictures started to appear on the screen.
"Loup Maru," it stated, "the dominant race of Haloeth. A shifter species, with forms varying between the standard forms of the two other key species on the planet, the Maru and the Luprani."
"Stop audio feedback," she requested mentally, interrupting the computer and focusing on the textual details.
'Interesting,' she thought, 'a species that seems to incorporate aspects of both mice and wolves, or at least the local equivalent. Predator and prey alike, something to look into. Strange, though....'
'Their culture indicates more of a predatory drive, yet the form that's more like your typical sentient species is the mouse form. Bipedal, with opposable thumbs and greater manual dexterity, as opposed to the Luprani's quadruped movement and apparent inability to use tools. Maybe they developed something similar to the mental input devices we use?'
"Display projected itinerary, computer."
'Good, they arranged for me to visit the Luprani first, like I wanted.' She rumbled slightly, remembering the surprised discussion she'd had with her superiors when she'd told them that part of her plans, but they'd listened.
"Resume audio and display all data on traditional greetings and etiquette amongst the Loup Maru, specifically the Luprani," she ordered.
After all; it never hurts to make a good first impression, she thought to herself as the computer picked up the new topic.
"Greeting Luprani is similar to social canines of many worlds and is comprised a vocal, sent and posturing component to establish identities and relative ranks. Lower body postures are submissive, raised ones dominant. The exception to this is when the head is lowered so the Luprani's half helix horns are vertical to the ground. This is a challenging posture."
"Is there any data regarding which would be appropriate in a first contact situation," Charolais asked, making note of the differences and similarities between the new system of body language and the one she was used to.
'Sounds like the posturing's mostly up front at least,' she thought to herself while the computer accessed the data.
"That data was only provided for the Loup Maru."
"What is the data for the Loup Maru then? That much would be good to have, at least."
'Okay, a fifty-fifty chance, since challenging certainly wouldn't be the way to go off the bat. Maybe something about the Loup Maru could help with that. Or maybe they'll give me a clue when I get there,' she thought hopefully.
"The greeting ceremony data provided indicated you should disembark after the dust has settled and the three representatives of the Edgewaters have come into the clearing. The Alpha, or leader, of the pack will greet you with a general indication of welcome and introduce herself. You respond with your name and association, and thank her for the welcome. The other two, the Den Alpha and a Teacher, will then introduce themselves to you. A head bow is an appropriate greeting to each."
"Good. Maybe they'll be able to give me some more concrete information. Any information on what form they will be likely to greet me in?"
"The Lumari," the computer replied, bringing up the strange mouse-werewolf biped with a dense shaggy reddish pelt and double helix silver and gold horns. Along side it with a size comparison to her five-foot long, three-foot tall frame that made her look like an appropriately sized snack. "Female horns are gold on the outer helix while males are silver on the outer helix."
A slight shiver ran down Charolais' spine looking at the massive predator, but she overcame it quickly.
'They're just like any other predator, girl; even if the biggest one could probably bite you in half with one snap.' she scolded herself. 'Don't do that when you meet them!
"ETA to the meeting point?"
"Is there any other information in the database that I listed under the pre-contact review?"
"Yes," the computer replied as it correlated what hadn't been covered yet. "Racial overview:
"Maru: By most appearances the Haloeth Mouse, or Maru, is the dominant race on the planet as they have the apparent numbers and are the obvious biped intelligence present. They have a prehensile and extremely strong tail used both as a third hand and a whip-like weapon.
"Marska: A relatively recent and rare variant of the Maru, the Haloeth Lion, or Marska, isn't actually counted as a separate species by many, including the Loup Maru who have the final say in such things. They can breed with Maru, producing a mixed result of Maru and Marska kits, though so far never an individual with the features of both. They do not have prehensile tails, but are larger on average and much more aggressive with small saber-fangs and claws.
"Luprani: Also known as Razorwolves, this intelligent quadruped is the other half of the pairing the Loup Maru are raising to inherit the world, they make up for their lack of hands with a well developed telekinetic talent.
"Loup Maru: The oldest race on the world, the Loup Maru guided both Maru and Luprani from finger-sized beginnings to today, with the intent of handing over the world to them when they were ready.
"The Loup Maru have three subspecies, for lack of a better term. The Garou are full shapeshifters with access to all five forms, and the only kind that can take the Lumari form. They comprise roughly twenty five percent of the total population.
"Marupu are born in Maru, the biped mouse-like form, and can only take it and the Marki; a more burly Maru-type. They comprise roughly 37% of the Loup Maru population. The remaining 37% are Lupar, who are born in Luprani and can shift into the dire wolf, or Lupki.
"Marupu will only give both to Maru kits. Lupar will only give birth to Luprani pups. Garou may give birth to either, and on rare occasion a kit will be born in Lumari. What a kit is born of has little effect on whether they will be full Garou or not, though those born in Lumari almost assuredly are. A mating of two Garou has a much higher odds of producing Garou offspring, but a much lower chance of conception.
"These three races share a primary connection in the translucent antennae they all have that is their psychic connection to the world around them and each other. With few exceptions, they are touch telepaths, with the touch of antennae the most effective means.
"The color, texture and translucency of the antennae do mean something about the state of the individual, though exactly what is not in the database. It was listed as 'extremely complex'."
Not the only thing that is, it seems. And people think we're hard to keep track of sometimes, she thought, shaking her head slightly. "No observed or predicted interference between their racial telepathy and Kavin spell telepathy, correct?"
"Good. That could be a major problem to discover suddenly. Continue."
"Culturally, the Loup Maru have two primary groups. The ForestBlood represent the older of the two cultures and are the primary caretakers of the Luprani and the wilderness they call home. The Edgewaters pack that you are meeting first is of this group. The Maru and their cities is the primary domain of the NobleBlood. The entire system is coordinated by the Grand Council."
"Do the Luprani and Maru have governing systems of their own, or are the Loup Maru completely in charge?"
"The governing and legal systems are integrated." The computer responded un-helpfully. "While many of the upper levels are currently reserved for Loup Maru, lower leadership positions are held by both Maru and Luprani and there are provisions in place for how they can qualify for the upper ranks. At the current time the Forest Law of the Luprani and Noble Law of the Maru, both in government and legal forms, do not interact much beyond acknowledging the other exists and has authority in its sphere."
"Different laws and styles, or just don't like to deal with each other?"
"Different legal needs and little interaction between the two systems. The Maru and Luprani are indicated as not having evolved to the point where they actually cohabitate socially."
"Odd, but I suppose it's to be expected. Anything unusual in the Luprani laws? Meaning different from the usual limitations on violence and personal property rules," she clarified.
"Violence, particularly in challenges, is much more permissible in Luprani and Loup Maru society than in most in the database. They do not permit grievous damage, however. Overall, the Forest Law is very primitive in appearance and very simple in design. Cubs are the responsibility for all, as is making sure all have enough to eat if anyone does. They do have some understanding of personal property, and the Loup Maru more, but it is primarily personal effects, rather than locations or animals. The Maru do have a few laws concerning owning things you do not carry on your person, but the sketchy details indicate they are not only new but little used."
Similar to our law in some respects, she observed with a nod of her head. A refreshing change.
"Types of punishment allowed legally? Or was that not elaborated on?"
"Most punishments are some form of a social response ranging from extra duties to remedial training with ostracizing and death for severe cases. Murder, abandoning duty and acting against the pack are listed as 'severe'. Exile seems to be restricted to an inability to socialize when the individual has not committed a great crime. There are mentions of imprisonment, but it is uncertain what leads to it, if anything."
Something to find out about, possibly, Charolais mused. "Any other key information, or data on the local plant life?"
"Edible, poisonous or decorative?"
"Edible and poisonous, particularly related to Kavin physiology."
"Plant life is typical of the world type, with the majority being edible. As all three dominant species are carnivore-inclined omnivores, little in depth information is available. Two families are listed as very dangerous, NeverWake and Ikkukula." It brought up images of two reasonably distinctive ground-growing flowers, one a deep red and the other an unusual violet and white stripped pattern.
"Symptoms of poisoning?"
"NeverWake causes drowsiness then respiratory failure, typically within four to six hours. Ikkukula causes nausea, internal bleeding and hemophilia, typically taking effect in twelve to twenty four hours."
Charolais shivered slightly, her stiff fur rippling. Definitely going to avoid those.
"What level is medical technology at?"
"Predominately magical. There are few details, but the reports would suggest that they have sufficient skills to stop most plagues and reduce infant mortality to minimal levels."
"Excellent; there shouldn't be much need to worry about medical conflicts if anything goes wrong. Is there any further information I need to go over?"
"Details on the Edgewaters pack." The computer replied.
Charolais drew a deep breath as she focused on settling herself for the meeting with the three Loup Maru. It absolutely would not do to reek of prey-fear when greeting top predators.
You are more than a snack to them, she reminded herself sternly, pushing down an instinctive denial that came to mind. She'd dealt with predator species before, and never had any trouble. This time wouldn't be that different. Focusing on the door's control mechanism, she put a little more effort into punching the controls telekinetically, rather than using the normal interface.
Might as well practice using it now, it'll be all I have for the rest of my stay. The doors started to open, and she took a deep breath of the fresh, cool forest air, glad to be getting out of the shuttle.
As her eyes adjusted to brighter golden sunlight of the temperate zone in late summer the greeting party, two in the giant Lumari forms and one in the quadruped Lupki, bigger than Luprani, but not nearly the size of his companions and standing on four legs rather than two.
"Greetings from the Edgewater's pack." The larger of the two Lumari, the one in the center, rumbled in their native canine language and took a step forward with both her hands open to the sky. "Welcome to our territory. I am Kioshen Rumbles-At-Stars, Alpha of the Edgewaters."
Charolais bowed her head politely to the nearly black Lumari with the blond splash over her left eye, before trying to speak to them through her mind-voice.
"Greetings, Kioshen Rumbles-At-Stars. I am Charolais, explorer of the Dancer's Grace herd. Thank you for having me here."
"You are welcome," the smaller Lumari dipped his head slightly and smiled, showing sharp fangs against dark brown, gray-tipped fur despite the friendly intent. "I am Gura, Den Alpha of the Edgewater."
"I am Summer's Wind," the tannish-blond Lupki introduced himself. "Teacher and Lorekeeper of the Edgewater."
"Did you bring anything with you?" Kioshen asked politely.
"Not much," Charolais said. "My pad, and some nutrient supplements, but I try to bring as little into an area as possible," she added with a slight rumble. "Is there anything in particular extra I should find some way to put together?" She asked, cocking her head curiously.
"No, no need." Kioshen smiled and dropped into Luprani to be more on eye level with their guest. "How do you manipulate things without hands?" She asked with intense curiosity.
"Magic, actually," Charolais explained with a mental smile as she lowered her head to the more comfortable level. "Our technology is designed to respond to mental input, much like many races have voice input, and we use something like telekinesis to handle things that aren't keyed for it. It does, however, lack some of the detail control that hands have. Do your Luprani have a similar system?"
"We bred them to be very strong telekinetics," Summer's Wind explained as he and Gura slipped into Luprani as well. "While it may not technically be a requirement, being able to easily manipulate the environment does assist in the development of intelligence, and definitely helps when interacting with creatures that do have hands."
"Yes, it does," Charolais agreed. "Actually, it's largely the reason we were developed with our abilities. It made us more useful to start out with. Are you more comfortable in your Lumari forms? I wouldn't want to inconvenience you."
"It is not an inconvenience," Kioshen assured her easily and turned into the forest. "All our forms are part of what we are."
"Interesting," she said, focusing for a moment to lift her 'saddle bag' from the floor of the shuttle next to the door, and fasten it to her back before she followed. "Most species I know of that shift are more comfortable in one than in others."
"Really?" Summer's Wind swung his head over to look at her. "Each form has tasks it is best suited for, but no form is better suited for everything."
"Very true," Charolais agreed with a brief nod of her head, "and that's largely the reason they could shift, I think. But, in general, unless they had a specific reason, many of them preferred one form over another."
The three horned canines with silky furred mouse tails glanced at each other before Gura spoke.
"Some do, but I haven't met anyone that would find it an inconvenience to be in any given form for a walk in the forest." He commented. "Luprani covers terrain like this most efficiently, but they are all reasonably good at it."
"Maybe 'inconvenience' was the wrong term, then," Charolais said with a mental chuckle, before letting curiosity take over again. "Are your tails prehensile in all forms?"
"Yes, they are," Kioshen smiled. "They are not as dexterous as hands, but they are much, much stronger. We bred it into both Maru and Luprani so they would have something in common in manipulating the world."
"A wise idea," Charolais nodded as they walked at a leisurely pace through the temperate forest. "A common point of reference is always helpful. Do you really plan on letting them help run the planet once they've advanced far enough?"
"They already are, to a limited extent." Gura smiled at her. "Eventually they will take their place at our side, or they will move on to another world, as some children do."
She made a soft sound as she thought about it a bit, something similar to a mumbled squeak. "Odd," she said eventually. "A pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. Of course, you did raise them naturally, rather than accelerating their development, correct?"
"We selectively bred both for their intelligence and other traits," Summer's Wind said a little uncertainly. "I'm not sure if that's what you mean though."
"I would say that's natural," Charolais explained. "They evolved through natural means, though with selective breeding involved. Our own species was more created more artificially, and the results differed greatly, along with the motives it seems."
"What would be the point of creating something that nature did not prepare for existence?" Gura looked at her in bewilderment.
"We were intended as a servitor species with enough intelligence to be able to work without constant supervision," Charolais said, her teeth clicking for a moment on reflex. "It was generations ago, but a memory that has been passed down very clearly. We were created as beasts of burden, from animals suited for our environment. Another species, common house pets of our creators, were altered to serve as domestic servants, as bipeds."
"Very odd," Kioshen shook her head. "Not something that makes much sense to me, but I expect many races do not have the difficulty."
"More than our early history suggested," Charolais said, with a mental tone of relief. "The idea of enslaving a species isn't a popular one. It's just that some with the ability to create one seem to have a harder time viewing the results as people, rather than things. The idea of having them fully equal at some point, though; that's rare."
"Perhaps the difference is in the why of the creation," Summer's Wind suggested. "And the nature of the creators. We are nurturers, protectors. We are following Haloeth's will in raising the Maru and Luprani, and the others that are no longer with us. It is not truly for us, but for Her."
The Kavin turned her head towards Summer's Wind abruptly as she thought about that. "Haloeth's will? You have a world-spirit?"
"Yes," all three Loup Maru stopped to look at her.
"You didn't know Haloeth is alive?" Kioshen asked in surprise.
"There's a difference between a world being alive and having an active spirit, at least the way we've always thought of it," Charolais said, her ruby eyes flashing as she blinked for a moment. "We knew this was a living world, but the spirit is something different, to us."
"Oh," Kioshen nodded and stepped into their walk again. "Can you explain how you see 'alive' and 'with spirit' as separate conditions in a world?"
"I suppose it's a question of activity," she said, trying to remember her lessons in that particular gray area. "A world with an active spirit is one you can interact with; the world itself can be contacted with the proper training. A living world is one that has a living, vital force of its own, outside of whatever life forms live on it, but it isn't necessarily one that you can interact with. It doesn't necessarily have to have a soul, in order to have life energy."
"Not an effect we have encountered, but I understand the theory." Summer's Wind nodded. "Are many worlds alive without a soul?"
"They seem to be," she said. "According to our shaman, it's not uncommon to find a world with its own life force, but finding one with an active spirit is far harder. They find smaller spirits anywhere they find life, the spirits of the life forms on a world, but a world spirit is different somehow."
"Something like the difference between a plant and an animal?" Summer's Wind asked.
"In a way," Charolais agreed. "Actually, that's probably a very good way to explain the difference, since we have found some plants that had spirits, just as we've found some worlds. What sort of spirits do you have around here, aside from Haloeth's?"
Summer's Win paused, organizing a list in his mind before speaking. "Elementals, animals, ghosts, Gafflings, Jagglings, Avatars and Celestians mostly."
"Must be a very noisy part of your lives," Charolais observed. "Or do they not interact with your people often?"
"Some do, some don't." Kioshen chuckled low in her throat. "Celestians tend to stay in their realm and send Avatars when they want to do something noticeable. Most of our interactions are with ghosts, Gafflings and Jagglings, and the occasional elemental or animal spirit we make a deal with. Most are restricted to the Umbra, though we can go there easily enough."
Charolais cocked her head curiously, looking at the larger Luprani. "The Umbra is your term for the spirit world, I take it? You can travel there yourselves?"
"Yes, and yes," Summer's Wind nodded easily. "It is very much a part of what we are as Haloeth's chosen. We belong to all her faces."
The Kavin frowned mentally, trying to sort that out. "If you don't mind my asking, then how do you determine the difference between your spiritual leaders and everybody else? A matter of skill?"
"Spiritual leaders?" Kioshen scrunched her canine brows together, making her ears twitch and horns move slightly. "What do they do?"
'That could explain it,' Charolais thought to herself. 'If they don't have them, I suppose they wouldn't need to worry about it.'
"They're usually the ones who speak with the spirits," she explained. "They help members of the herd or pack interpret spiritual matters, typically, and keep the legends. I suppose it would be less important if everybody could speak with the spirits, instead of it being a gift restricted to a few."
"As a Teacher, Summer's Wind keeps and teaches our knowledge and ensures that it remains correct. He and Gura, as the Den Alpha, tend to do most of the talking and spirit dealing." Kioshen considered uncertainly. "Spellweavers and Seers know the most and have the greatest power in the spirit realm, but we don't have anyone who interprets such things for us."
Charolais considered that, nodding mentally. "No religious authorities, then? Not necessarily an organized religion, but ones who help when you have doubts, or ethical conflicts?"
"If the three of us are unsure to the point of indecision and other Alphas do not know better, we speak to Haloeth about it." Kioshen explained with a touch of uncertainty. "Religious?"
Charolais blinked, and frowned slightly, trying to think of how to put it. She had a feeling this might be one of the things she spent a fair amount of time studying during her stay. "It's a hard concept to define," she explained. "I think the best explanation I could give of religion is faith in a higher power or philosophy, something sacred and worthy of worship, or at least great reverence. Not something you have?"
The black Luprani blinked, flashing the blond splash over her left eye. "Not with any of those words," she answered with a deeper frown. "Many did not translate well. We have a purpose in our existence; we serve Haloeth's vision and purpose. Haloeth is a higher power. She is the world's soul."
"It's not too surprising that some words don't come across too well," the Kavin said with a slight nod. "Actually, thinking about it, with what you must know about reality here, it makes sense that you wouldn't have much emphasis on that area. For most cultures, religion is a means of explaining the universe they live in, when they don't have any other way of doing so. Since you know what you are meant to do, and you actually interact with your higher power, you probably don't have many of the needs it usually fills; you have a fairly direct truth instead. Does that sound about right?"
"Yes, that does," she nodded and relaxed a bit. "So many peoples don't know why they were created?"
"Many peoples don't even know how they were created," Charolais nodded. "It's really quite amazing the level of creativity some races show when explaining some of the simplest phenomena. Then there are a few races like my own; we know how and why we were created, but feel that there is something greater for us in the universe. A philosophy seen more often amongst former slave races," she added.
The canines exchanged bewildered looks and shifting body language for several seconds before Summer's Wind spoke.
"What does 'slave' mean?" He tried to reproduce the word with reasonable success.
"The way I meant it, forced labor, without choice for those performing it, or reason to take the choice from them," Charolais said, glad to hear that was a concept they didn't have. "What I was referring to earlier, about why my people were created, was a form of slavery. Unfortunately, there are a number of races in the universe that believe they have the right to force anybody weaker than them to do whatever they please."
"Not for the benefit of all?" Gura asked for clarification even as Kioshen growled softly.
"No," Charolais said, focusing on not getting worked up about it herself. "Strictly for the benefit of those in control. They usually provide the minimum necessary to keep their slaves alive, and rely on force and intimidation to maintain control. One of the few things my people will actually meet with physical force."
"Even food gets better than that," the Alpha snarled, her fur bristled as she shifted upwards into the more powerful forms by reflex and Charolais reflexively shrunk back a couple steps.
Kioshen´s anger was met with a submissive nuzzle and licking to her muzzle by Gura that quickly calmed her down, though the anger-scent was still heavy around her and her fur would remain fluffed for some time.
"I'm sorry," Charolais said, trying to recover her composure but still noticeably rattled as Summer's Wind stepped between her and the Alphas and gently rested his jaw on top of her neck with a slightly awkward nuzzle. "I don't think I should have brought that up."
"It is all right," the Teacher almost crooned. "Hunting Alphas like Kioshen have fiery tempers. It's part of the mentality of the position. You said nothing wrong."
"Thank you," she said, calming down quickly. "Still, I think that's going on my list of things not to bring up without a very good reason," she added with a weak chuckle as he slowly stepped back to move his head, though he maintained his position between the females.
"It is something I would like to discuss further, in private sometime." He said quietly as Kioshen continued to fume a little despite Gura's best efforts, though she'd shifted back to Luprani and was shaking her fur out. "Did you see what Gura did?"
"Yes," Charolais projected, shifting her mental speech to focus more on Summer's Wind. "When she was calming her down, right?"
"He," he corrected quietly with a nod. "It's a submissive puppy-action. The licking is actually asking for food. It works well on almost everyone as a distraction when there isn't real danger around, and will lessen the reprisal at a minimum. What I did to you was both a reassurance to you, and a reinforcement of your lower ranking status. That you let me kept her attention from you as a threat."
"I'll keep it in mind," Charolais nodded. "And thank you. I understand the anger at the idea; I just wasn't expecting the reaction to it."
"She is Alpha," he chuckled softly. "They're a bit hyper-protective."
"Yes, they are, no matter the species it seems," Charolais agreed with a slight chuckle of her own. "One of the more endearing traits, until it looks like you're about to be on the receiving end of it."
"They´re one of the more frightening concepts around, short of a mother defending her cubs."
"Unless it's an entire herd of them doing the job," Charolais nodded. "Fortunately, not something that's seen often."
"No, fortunately not," he nodded and nudged her shoulder as Kioshen stepped into their walk again, and she started following them again as silence descended, though it was the kind of comfortable silence for the predators who were used to passing travel time without talking.
Charolais heard and then smelled the well-inhabited den-area well before she saw any sign of it. The sounds and personal scents of over two dozen Loup Maru of both genders and all ages, including the squeaking yips of young pups. She smiled mentally, wondering what they would be like. Meeting pups was one of her favorite parts of the job. She raised her heavy square head to sniff the air more carefully to take in the individual scents while still keeping up with her hosts.
The excitement in the air was electric and as the puppies realized their leaders were returning with a guest the sounds matched the scents and general feel. The yipping greetings of young voices and sounds of activity in the clearing escalated until Kioshen and Gura stepped into the open to be assaulted by a half dozen puppies of various ages with little spikes for horns.
Charolais held back a bit, waiting to be introduced and watching the pups. 'So much like the ones back home,' she thought and watched the smell and licking heavy greetings that progressed through the pack members present. Only when all were reassured that all was well did attention turn to their strange guest. With Summer's Wind standing next to her, the Kavin was quickly the center of attention of the pups, some nearly grown and some not even weaned yet.
"What is it?" A cinnamon ticked gray adolescent male asked, his focus on the Teacher though his attention never left the creature that instinct and experience told him might be dinner, but probably wasn't.
"This is Charolais, a Kavin." He explained patiently with a slight smile for the intense curiosity of the young. "She is here to stay with us for a time, to learn."
"Not meat then?" A younger gray female asked curiously with a sniff towards the large rodent.
"No." He stated firmly. "A guest."
'This might be an uphill battle,' Charolais thought. 'At least I won't have to convince all of them.'
"Hello," she said, hoping she came across as friendly.
Several startled yips greeted the word, followed by more curiosity and understanding in the older ones.
"It think-talks?" The gray female asked with a partially open mouth in shock.
"Yes, Jenna," Summer's Wind grinned at her. "She think-talks. She uses think-do like the Luprani as well."
Several of the older pups nodded apparent understanding.
"Are you a Teacher?" The oldest male pup asked with more boldness than most of his age-mates.
"I'm more of an observer here," Charolais explained. "My people want to know more about yours, so I'm here to learn about you."
"Like when Keliroth SciKry came to stay with us last summer." Summer's Wind explained more easily.
"Oh," he nodded, and then grinned. "An adult playmate."
"Something like that," the Kavin agreed, chirping with a mental smile that was met by the pups and younger adults with a matching, though canine, look.
"What are you good at?" The charcoal female asked intently.
"That depends on what you're asking about, I suppose," Charolais thought, trying to come up with a way to explain it. It was unusual, being on the receiving end of the questions, not that she minded. "If you're wondering what I do, then I suppose the answer would be finding out about people, but I'm not sure that's what you mean."
Pups and adults exchanged curious glances, the heaviness of telepathic activity thick in the air around the den.
"Like Wanders-The-Darkness-Never-Alone?" Someone in the back asked.
"I believe so," Summer's Wind nodded slightly, and then turned to Charolais. "He is one of those rare Loup Maru who wonder the Umbra and Outer Realms. He comes back occasionally with fantastic stories, and sometimes powerful items for us to use."
"That sounds about right," Charolais nodded. "Though more often stories, and I usually send them back, rather than go back with them. As far away as home usually is," she chuckled mentally, "it's easier than going back after every trip."
"You don't return to your den?" The oldest male asked, a look of utter incomprehension on his face that was shared by many.
"But why?" A young, nearly blond female not half grown asked. "What did you do to deserve that?"
"I do return when I can," she explained, thinking that she was rapidly heading into one of those areas where there wasn't any major common ground. "But I've been doing this long enough that my assignments are far enough away that it really isn't that practical. I keep in touch with my people other ways."
"How?" Summer's Wing and Kioshen were suddenly very interested in her.
"I'm not entirely sure how it works," she explained, "but it's something similar to how I'm speaking with all of you. I can project a message from my ship that can get back home much faster than I can, though it's generally one-way unless somebody back home has something to say to me specifically. Do you write letters back and forth between places here?"
"Sometimes," Kioshen nodded before a pup could say no. "Though usually we communicate by voice or in person."
"But the idea of communication that isn't immediate is there, correct?" She had a feeling they meant something different from what she did, but wasn't entirely sure how it was different.
The Loup Maru had to consider that one for a while before a general nod greeted her. "It is rare, but yes, we do have that. Writing and recordings meant to travel great distances in space or time."
"Yes," she nodded. "It's like that, but more of a telepathic recording, rather than a physical one. It's easier than sending a physical communication that far." She chuckled a bit. "If you were talking to one of my friends back home, he could probably go on for about a year explaining how it happened, and you wouldn't understand it any better than I do."
"Kato might," Kioshen chuckled with a nod towards a red and tan male just entering full adulthood. "He understands everything." She added as the youth ducked his head in embarrassment.
"A rare gift," Charolais smiled. "One worth nurturing."
"Indeed," the Alpha smiled at him.
"Depending on how things go," she continued, trying to focus her message so that only Kioshen heard it for now, hoping she wouldn't end up breaking some local rule by doing so, "he might get the chance. But that's something for the future, more than here or now."
"That will be ... interesting." She replied the same way without a hint of it being inappropriate or unwelcome. "He can be quite the handful at times."
"We'll have to discuss it in the future," the Kavin nodded mentally. "It's something interesting, when it comes up." Switching back to a more public 'channel,' she chuckled slightly.
"Don't be embarrassed, Kato, it's something that folks will probably keep noticing."
"Great," the teen muttered quietly, though it wasn't hard to miss the appreciative way he looked at her for the encouraging words.
"Will you desire a private place?" Kioshen asked politely, almost too politely.
"Not unless that's the norm, which it doesn't seem to be here," she replied politely with a mental smile. "We usually live with the herd at home, so I'm used to not having that sort of privacy. I will have to head back to my ship to make reports once in awhile, but not too often."
"Cool," the pups grinned at each other and started to come up, wagging tails and sniffing her everywhere a nose would fit and amazingly enough, not a single poke with their short, sharp horns in the general melee.
She laughed privately to herself, sniffing back where she could, though she was sure she'd have ample opportunity to learn their scents while she was here. This was definitely something she was used to; even if it weren't for the many times she'd gone through it visiting races, she got the same treatment every time she visited the pups back home.
And just like those pups, these were intent on playing with this new member of the pack under the amused and general watch of the adults. Even as some of the younger adults and older adolescents jointed in, one of the leggy youngsters made a springing leap onto her back with an excited yip.
The reference was lost on Charolais, though she hardly noticed that fact. What she did notice was something jumping onto her back, and that shut down just about everything else. Letting out a loud squeak, she half-rolled, holding onto just enough control to keep from trying to bite as she threw off the pup with a yip of its own and a scattering of the others.
Coming back up on her feet, shivering and trying to back into a space with more room as the canines cleared away from her, even as she tried to calm herself down enough to react more rationally.
"Sorry, sorry," she projected, the tone of the message loaded with panic she couldn't control.
"Shu, shu, it will be all right." A strong, nurturing mind-voice she didn't recognize came with a physical crooning that eased the panic somewhat just by its nature and the soothing presence behind it.
Taking a few deep breaths and shaking herself from nose to rump to burn off the extra energy, she calmed down enough to look around and try to see who was talking to her.
"I'm sorry," she said, more relaxed now as an elder Luprani walked up to her slowly through the respectfully parting pack. "Reflex I'm still working on."
"Sorry." A very small, very young voice said from a large female's arms. "Didn't mean to scare you."
"It is all right." The Healer told them both, her dark fur turning gray with age. "No one was injured."
"Just give me some warning next time," the Kavin chuckled weakly.
"What was that about?" Gura half demanded, her great Lumari form shielding several youngsters.
"I'm sorry," she explained, "but usually, when something jumps on a Kavin's back, it's a predator. Not sure if it's from the species we started out as, or something that we had to deal with more earlier on, but if something's dropped on our backs, we panic. Some warning and it's okay, for most, but the sudden jump set it off. I should have warned somebody, with pups around, but it's not something I've had come up very often."
"I can see that," Kioshen nodded slightly as the den calmed down in general.
"You okay now?" A fawn and black female youngster asked.
"Yeah," she smiled, giving her own tan fur another shake. "Like I said, just a little warning. And it's easier if somebody on my back is on two legs," she added with a chuckle.
"Understandable," Gura nodded as still nervous pups came out from behind her. "I can see this will be anything but a dull visit." She chuckled softly and slipped into Luprani.
"I'd be just as surprised," Charolais chuckled. "I don't think it's ever as dull as anybody thinks it will be."
"Charolais, would you care to come on tonight's hunt?" Kioshen offered as the double moons rose, bathing the wilderness in shadows and silver.
The Kavin looked over, slightly surprised at the invitation.
"If you don't think I'd slow you down, I'd be honored," she nodded. "I wouldn't want to be an inconvenience."
"No inconvenience," she nodded with a slight smile on her canine face. "Tona has agreed to run with you if you fall behind."
"Thank you," Charolais said with a mental smile. "Is there anything I should keep in mind on the hunt?"
"Just that when it's time for the kill, hang back a bit." She said softly but very seriously. "That is not a place for your kind to be. The pups can get very excited on these hunts and don't always watch where there teen and claws go."
"Understood," Charolais nodded. "This is a training hunt then?"
"We do need the meat, but a litter is at that age now where they hunt, but haven't grown out of puppy hood yet." She chuckled softly. "Every hunt is a learning experience in truth."
"Just like gathering any food," the tawny-furred Kavin chuckled with a nod. "There's always something more to learn. I'll be sure to stay out of the way."
"Good," the Hunt-Alpha smiled and shook her thick pelt out. "We will be leaving shortly."
"I should be ready whenever you all are," Charolais smiled, standing and stretching out briefly.
Hours later, after the hunt was finished and she'd finished cleaning up, Charolais was wandering through the pack's den area quietly, trying not to disturb anybody as she looked for Summer's Winds. Spotting him, she started working her way over with a mental greeting.
"You and Gura usually stay back here during hunts," she asked, when she was a bit closer.
"That is not part of our place in the pack," he smiled and waved her over to where he was lounging in Luprani in the shade of a large tree overlooking the general commotion of the post hunt den. "Come lay with me and be comfortable while we talk." The Teacher suggested.
"Thank you," she nodded, walking over and settling down next to the canine smaller than herself. "I've been on hunts before, but that was the largest one I've seen."
"Edge Water is a large pack," he nodded slightly and rested his head on his forepaws in relaxation. "But sometimes there are much larger ones, when packs gather at a Sept for some reason."
"That would be something to see," she mused. "Most hunts I've observed are a just a handful, if not solitary. Seeing most of the pack involved was impressive, especially given how well they worked together."
"It is necessary," he smiled slightly and stretched his forelegs out without really moving. "Unity of purpose is what keeps us strong and healthy."
"Something it does for most peoples," she nodded. "At least when directed properly. The pack seems to be very important here. If it's not a problem to ask, what happens when individuals don't behave that way?"
"I do not mind any questions you have," the Teacher smiled at her welcomingly. "Punishments for misbehavior are varied, and depend on many things. Could you be a little more specific about what you are curious about?"
"That list could go on for several days," Charolais chuckled mentally. "However, some races with packs like this take a dim view of individualists, people who don't believe that the pack is as important. I take it that it's not a big problem unless they commit a crime?"
Summer's Wind thought for a long time, reaching into the racial memories before he answered. "I can not say it is a mindset we have encountered, though I have seen it among the Maru occasionally. But as long as they did not harm us, I can not see why it would be a problem. It would be a very difficult life, without a pack."
"It can be," she nodded. "Though some races seem to thrive on it, oddly enough. They work together when they have to, but hate doing so under any other circumstances."
"I can understand that," he nodded. "Many races here are solitary. It is just not our way."
"Not ours either, most of the time," Charolais nodded. "I'm a bit of an anomaly that way," she chuckled. "Do the three races here live together anywhere, or do they live in separate settlements for the most part? I noticed that it's all Loup-Maru here," she added, motioning towards the den area with her head.
"Largely they live separately, but there are several communities where they co-mingle. To a great extent it is a preference in territory. It is rare for a territory to be someplace all three want to live, and is able to support it."
"They all have different requirements? Or all too close to the same?"
"Requirement, not really." He considered it carefully. "But we have different preferences. It is part of why having three races here works well. We are not in much direct completion for resources."
"Makes sense," she nodded. "Are any of them herbivores?"
"Maru are omnivores. They've taken quite a liking to tending plants and some animals for food, rather than the hunt." He chuckled softly. "It's odd, but it works well for them."
"And it's more reliable," she chuckled. "You usually know where you can find food when you're growing it yourself. Hunting and gathering, you can't always count on a good trip."
"Very true," he nodded. "It still seems very strange to me."
"It's probably going to become more common," the Kavin pointed out. "Most cultures we've met developed it to some extent. Harder with races that move around a lot, of course."
"Yes," he nodded. "A stable food source would cut down on the number of young lost in winter, though it also increases the number of less than fit individuals."
"That is an issue," she admitted. "And it does tend to take up a lot of space, eventually. I'm sure they'll find some way to balance everything out, though."
"That is part of our duties, to ensure they do." He said simply. "To be unbalanced is unacceptable."
"Unbalanced how," she asked. "It might not be entirely avoidable, in the long run."
"The world has a balance. Life and death, production and usage, hunter and prey. If any part goes out of balance with its companions, everyone suffers. It is our duty to ensure that things remain balanced in the long run."
"Good luck to you then," she nodded mentally. "I don't know that I've run into any world or race that actually managed that, or that any of our explorers have, really. They usually decide that the price is too high, after awhile."
"The price?" He looked at her in confusion. "I do not understand that."
"You said yourself - a steady food supply helps keep the young alive, keeps the infirm from dying. Medicine, foods, some technologies can lead to things that could upset that balance. When given the choice between maintaining a planet's balance in the long run and advances that could keep your family and friends alive... it's not a choice that many cultures make in favor of the planet's balance. And that's assuming that the culture was trying to maintain the balance from the start. Many don't realize what they're losing until it's almost gone."
Summer's Wind looked utterly horrified. He couldn't even muster the will to wave off several adults, including Gura and Kioshen, who quickly picked up on his distress.
Charolais watched them nervously, not sure what was about to happen, of if there was any way to stop it.
"What's wrong," she asked, hoping that might help him focus, if nothing else.
"I ... I think ... I don't feel well." He managed unsteadily. "To sacrifice your world for a few more years in the flesh." He shuddered in uncomprehending horror at the concept even being possible, much less common.
"They usually figure things out in time to try and fix things," she explained, hoping it would help. "We've seen worlds that were unbalanced, but not any that were lost just from that."
"How ... how could anything be so fixated on the flesh of a single body?" He pressed, struggling as the other adults listed to the exchange intently.
"Not everybody knows about spirits, or if they'll come back... some species honestly don't believe that they'll exist at all outside of that one body," Charolais explained. "And a few are just so arrogant that they don't care... they're the exceptions though, like the ones who created my race. Most species just don't think of things the same way; don't have the same connection to anything but their bodies. It's like being blind; you might know there's something there that you could see, you might not, but even if you do, sight won't matter as much to you as what you can sense."
Summer's Wind tried very hard to correlate that, and had a little success. It wasn't nearly enough though. Not to shake the shock from his system or the horrors from his mind. "I think ... I am glad I have not met these worlds."
The Kavin didn't really know what to say to that, at least not at first, just hoping that she hadn't screwed something up badly.
"If the others on Haloeth are like you are here," she said softly, "it may never be a problem for you. Probably won't be," she added, trying to be reassuring. "And the universe is a pretty big place... good chance you'll never have to meet them."
"I do hope so." He nodded. "It is a warning well met. That is not an idea we can let poison this world."
"Sorry I brought it up," she said sincerely. "I didn't mean to upset anybody."
"I should not have been so surprised, to learn that others are so very different when World Souls are so rare."
"That could be a part of it," she agreed. "Some races had no idea that they could harm their world, and it's a lot easier to find out when your world has a spirit of its own."
"And is quite active in your society," Summer's Wind nodded, calming down slowly. "It is difficult not to listen to her, when she appears at every Great Moot and many others to speak and join our calibrations."
"Very difficult," Charolais chuckled slightly. "It must be interesting, knowing your god exists and meeting them fairly regularly. Or is that the wrong term," she asked, cocking her head curiously, wondering how they would refer to Haloeth.
"God?" Summer's Wind regarded her curiously as he thought about it. "She is a Celestian." He said simply, not sure how the two correlated. "Our World's Soul."
"A term a number of races use for an incredibly powerful being that's worthy of incredible reverence," Charolais explained. "It sounds like Celestians would qualify, but I'll remember to use the right word from now on."
"Ah, a generic term then?" He asked to be sure. "Like Ooka is for any of the many races of hard footed meat animals."
"The way we use it is," she nodded. "Some species use it to refer to a specific being, but that's not too common. Usually happens when they can't agree on another word, or somebody convinced them that they're not supposed to use the 'real name' for some reason."
"Those would be races that don't get to communicate with their God," he guessed.
"At least not often," she nodded. "Though they usually come up with names if they aren't given any."
"Such a strange existence," He shook his head a bit. "To not be aware of so much of what is around you."
"It can be strange," she agreed. "Especially when you realize that it's there, but you can't sense it. A lot of superstition and religion comes from that, trying to explain all of it."
He nodded as the others drifted away, realizing that it was merely something their visitor had said that had upset Summer's Wind so much and it was now not their worry.
"As a Lore Keeper, I understand the desire to be able to explain everything, but at the same time, to make up a reason and pass it off as the truth ..." His skin rippled in distress. "It is like turning my back on my oaths."
"Well, sometimes they just get the reason wrong, but I can understand the objection. More offensive is when they know they're lying, but don't care - that is something we've encountered less often, but still far, far more than we like," Charolais muttered, clicking her teeth disapprovingly. "Still, many mistakes come from incomplete knowledge. Eventually they fix most of them."
"I am beginning to appreciate how ... easy ... I have it as a Lore Keeper." Summer's Wind said quietly. "Haloeth would never leave such problems for long and I can speak to those who were there, should I have questions she does not answer."
"Even then though," she pointed out, "you have to deal with the spirits. That, from what I understand, can be far more difficult, especially if they're not friendly."
He thought about that for a time, and then nodded. "I have encountered a few," he admitted quietly. "They are rarely the ones that answer our calls for attendance, though."
"Glad to hear that," she chuckled slightly. "I've seen enough of what the unfriendly ones can do that I would really rather not see a repeat of that incident."
"I take it not all spirit summoners are as lucky?" He looked at her curiously.
"Our Speakers deal with spirits intentionally much of the time," she explained, "but we don't always invite them to where they decide to make themselves known. One settlement I was at was destroyed by winter-spirits we didn't know were there until they were on top of us."
"That... it must be frightening not to be able to see such things, yet know that they are there." Summer's Wind spoke softly and gently.
"It can be," she nodded softly. "On the other hand, from what our Speaker said, it was probably best that we couldn't. Never was quite the same after that, though we did rebuild the herd over time."
"How was it different?" He focused on their unusual guest, curious what the spirits had done beyond destruction, if anything.
"The settlement was abandoned," she said, shaking her head a bit. "He convinced the spirits to spare the survivors, but I doubt they would have let us stay there much longer than we did. I meant that he was changed, somehow. Some days he's perfectly normal; others it's almost like one of the spirits followed him, though no other Speakers have been able to tell anything is odd. It may well just be me," she shrugged mentally, "but he can be surprisingly dark at times."
"It would not be the first time I have heard of such things." He nodded reluctantly. "Like people, some spirits are very unpleasant. Haloeth keeps the worst away, as few would risk her wrath by tampering with her children in her own home."
"No doubt," she agreed. "The spirit of an entire world would likely dwarf anything that encountered it, especially an angry one."
"Very true," he smiled fondly. "She is a wonderful mother."
"Which would only make her more dangerous to cross," Charolais smiled mentally. "It's good to see a creator-being taking an interest in her children, caring about them."
"When her nature is that of a nurturer, I expect it is more common," he said softly. "She created us very much in her image."
"And did a good job of it, it seems. You raised the Maru and Luprani to the point they're at now, and have kept sight of your purpose at the same time. The fact that you expect a day to come when they'll be equals, or nearly so, with your own people puts you ahead of many mortal 'creators.'"
"Thank you," he smiled, pleased at the praise from an outsider. "It is a great effort to raise such different children and not loose sight of what she intends. It is even more effort to insure they understand what is happening."
"Raising children of any sort isn't easy, even with all the help in the world," she chuckled with knowledge born of experience. "Raising races? It's simply incredible."
"Particularly when they get to the state where they start to ask hard questions and want to think for themselves, wise or not." He chuckled softly. "It is a difficult balance."
"Teenagers," she nodded with a fond smile. "The time when any parent needs all the help they can get."
"And it's usually not enough to keep all the disasters from happening," he nodded with an equally fond chuckle. "But we all survived it somehow. I'm quite sure by shear luck on occasion."
"Luck favors children," the Kavin smiled, making an amused chirp, "if it didn't, the universe would be a very lonely place."
"And the females much, much more grouchy." He rumbled in deep amusement.
"But busy enough running around to keep their pups out of trouble it wouldn't make a difference," Charolais chuckled. "They're worth it though."
"Very true," he grinned down at the den area with its variety of sleeping pups and adults among the activities. "They all are. Every last one."
"The more things change," she smiled softly, a wistful tone to her mental voice. "Almost makes me wish I spent more time with the pups back home. It's a worthwhile job though."
"Not one everyone is well suited for," he said understandingly. "Bearing or raising them."
"The raising part is easier when everybody helps," she smiled. "Bearing is much, much more difficult," she added, shaking her head slightly.
"So many females have said." He nodded slightly. "Some find it an incredible pleasure to have new life inside them. I have never understood why the difference, but I assume it is as all things. Some are more suited for it than others."
"Most likely," she nodded. "Though not more than doubling in size in the process probably helps," she added with a chuckle.
"More than doubling in size?" He repeated, more than a little stunned. "How big are your pups?"
"About as big as they are, relatively," she said, nodding towards some of the younger pups. "We have litters though, usually between two and six. More than that and even with tech, magic, and our powers, the mother's life is in as much dangers as the pups'."
"Ah," he nodded understanding. "Your young are very large then. At least to us. Those pups are several months old already, and almost three times their birth size."
"It wouldn't surprise me," she agreed. "They're born almost fully developed and ready to follow the herd if we have to move as soon as they've figured out how their legs are supposed to work, which isn't very common from what I've seen."
"It seems quite common among herd animals, though I do not know of one who has a litter and they must be able to move within hours." He considered it a bit. "Usually, the more developed the young will be at birth, the fewer the mother will carry. More than one or two would be a real rarity for a herd animal. It is the small nest builders and predators that tend to have more young born less developed."
"It's a holdover from our base stock," she explained, not really knowing too much more of it. "We've had scientists trying to figure it out for ages, but they aren't really sure why we developed that way. When we were given our current form, it was a handy feature that our creators kept; it made replacing fatalities much easier for them."
"Yes, that... situation... your kind were in," he nodded stiffly.
"Sorry," she said, ducking her head a bit. "I remember you wanted to talk about it though?"
"Yes, with the others away," he nodded, though it was clearly an unpleasant thought for him. "As ... difficult as the idea is, I do wish to understand."
"Would you like to try now, or somewhere more private? I noticed that they did pick up that you were upset earlier."
"Yes," he considered, then stood. "I have a place nearby that I keep a few things the pups should not get too close to. It should suffice."
"All right," she nodded, shifting back onto her feet, ready to follow. "Lead the way, please."
A Walk in the Park of Lup
62 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written March 7, 2004 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann
Setting: Haloeth, Kavin
Primary Races: Kavin, Loup Maru
Contents: Furry. Gen.
Blurb: When the Dancer's Grace herd of Kavin make contact with the Loup Maru of Haloeth, they send on of their best explorers to learn about this culture of predators that shift between Mice and wolves.
Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.
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