Chapter 11: Visions and Explanations
* * * * *
A cool breeze rustled silver fur and Grey Wolf's eyes opened a crack as he rose out of slumber. However, it had not been the slight drop in temperature that had awakened the lupine monster, but rather the soft noise he thought he had perceived through its hushed whisper.
Raising his head, he listened intently for a few seconds. Somebody was crying quietly and Grey Wolf quickly got to his feet to investigate. Picking his way past the dozing forms of his companions, the silver-furred lupine took a quick, silent count of his friends, and soon figured out who was missing.
Therefore, he wasn't too surprised at whom he came across sitting some distance away from the others, head in his hands
The tawny-furred bunny stiffened, then whipped around to stare at Grey Wolf with widened brown eyes. The lupine couldn't conceal a vaguely amused smirk at the child's expression. The young rabbit appeared absolutely stunned by the fact that somebody else was awake, temporarily unable to make any attempt to hide what he had been doing….as if it wasn't obvious enough to Grey Wolf what was going on.
* * * * *
Tiger of the Wind stirred in his sleep, golden eyes slowly drifting open as he gradually became aware of the fact that his little brother was no longer at his side. The two lupine monsters had curled up next to one another when the Searchers settled down for the night, mostly out of a habit remembered from their childhood.
The fact that Grey Wolf was no longer there bothered him. Getting quietly to his feet, Tiger looked around the campsite, at first glance, all of the rebels appeared to be present save for the silver lupine.
Suddenly, Tiger's eyes narrowed as his sharp hearing picked up on the sound of a familiar voice speaking in muted tones nearby. Creeping toward the source, the blue wolf was mildly surprised to see his younger brother sitting beside Hare. The young rabbit seemed rather upset about something and kept his head bowed as he spoke to the silver wolf in a bare whisper.
"…Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up, Grey Wolf…"
"…It's okay, you shouldn't keep things to yourself so much, you know…"
"I know...I just…"
"…So why were you crying…wait, I think I already know…it was because of Tiger, right?"
"You're still blaming yourself for that? Hare, it wasn't your fault that..."
"Yes it is, how can you say it wasn't? If only I'd acted faster, then Tiger wouldn't be..."
Tiger blinked, confused by the course of the conversation. Why were his brother and the younger Hare talking as if something had happened to him? True, Vurm had temporarily managed to get his claws in the blue wolf during the fight, but hadn't had enough time to do any serious damage before getting blasted away – by the little rabbit, out of all of the Searchers. So why was Hare acting as if he'd failed to….
Then comprehension came crashing down upon the blue wolf all at once, these rebels were talking about the Tiger from their world, not him.
"….But what in the hell happened to me that they're so upset about?" he muttered under his breath, edging closer.
Neither one appeared to notice that someone was listening to them, Hare was too caught up in depression and Grey Wolf too busy trying to bring the younger monster out of it.
"We'll find a way to save him" the silver lupine said in a soothing voice.
"And what if we don't?" Hare inquired, staring up at his companion with wavering brown eyes.
Tiger fought back the urge to step forward and demand to know exactly what they were talking about. Part of him wanted to back off before learning something he might regret hearing later, while another part was too curious about his counterpart's fate.
"…If we don't find a way, then…" Grey Wolf paused, taking in a shuddering breath before continuing softly "Then we'll have to ki…kill him"
What?!? Tiger thought, golden eyes widening with astonishment.
"I-I don't think I could…even if he is…"
Hare's already soft voice dropped even further, yet Tiger was just able to make out what the young tawny-furred bunny mumbled next.
He immediately wished he hadn't been able to hear it. Golden eyes widening with horror, the blue wolf took a few shaky steps backward, mouthing a silent denial. Still unaware of his presence, Hare and Grey Wolf continued their whispered conversation.
"…Know it will be hard, but it may be for the best, I…don't want my brother to suffer anymore and if…"
A pause, then a muted rustling as the silver-furred lupine got to his feet again. Recognizing this, Tiger backed away, returning to where he had been lying before. Closing his eyes, he pretended to be sleeping, yet opened one eye a crack to watch as the two other Searchers walked back into the camp.
"Get some sleep" Grey Wolf advised Hare, gently nudging the tawny-furred rabbit over to where Scaler was resting "You'll likely need your energy in the morning"
Tiger quickly closed his eyes again as Grey Wolf turned around and walked over to his side and the blue wolf carefully slowed his breathing to give the illusion of peaceful slumber. The silver-furred lupine yawned, stretching out beside his older brother and soon fell asleep.
As soon as he was certain that the younger wolf was out, Tiger slowly opened his eyes again. He would spend a great deal of the rest of the night staring off into the darkness, thinking about what he had just overheard.
* * * * *
Hare blinked, he was standing in the newly created ruins of a village, then he saw Golem blocking off a canyon, running towards him, the little rabbit could see a hole in the stone giant's chest which lava was starting to trickle through.
Hare watched, horrified as Golem's body shifted into a vine entwined disc, but didn't plant itself in the ground where it could be engulfed by the lava, it floated, surrounded by a silver-white aura, suddenly it gently flew to the top of the canyon wall.
Hare looked up, the same woman who had helped him heal Coal stood on top of the canyon as her eyes glowed silver, then Golem's disc alighted on the opposite top of the canyon and it re-planted itself.
"Be safe until your awakening, gentle one" with those words, the woman swiftly turned, then walked away, fading into thin air as she did so.
Flames burst from Golem's disc, forming into a bird, the firebird hovered for a minute and took off across the countryside.
The scene shifted, then Hare suddenly found himself standing among the sleeping Searchers of this reality, as the firebird hovered above them, it seemed to be searching for something....or someone. Suddenly it dived right at the sleeping form of a female Mint, turning into a steady stream of fire as it did so, the stream of fire surrounded the sleeping pixie hybrid for a minute and disappeared as if it entered her body.
Hare stared at the Mint's peaceful face for a long moment, astonished. He remembered her from another vision….she was the one who had touched hands with him, causing an image of the Phoenix to appear....
"….We are alike, you and I…." he whispered, echoing what she had said to him then.
Slowly, he reached out toward her with one trembling hand, only to pull it back and gasp in shock as she faded out of existence, along with the rest of the campsite. Plunged into darkness, the tawny-furred bunny stumbled backward, losing his balance and landing on his back. He cried out sharply and struggled to right himself.
Hare sat up straight with a start, eyes snapping open. Sunlight blinding him for a moment, the young rabbit blinked a few times and rubbed at his face before gazing around at his surroundings.
He was back in the campsite – not the one in his dream, but the one in real life. The other members of the rebels appeared to be sleeping at the moment, not even Genki was awake. Instead, he was still curled up beside Moochi, snoring faintly.
Immediately, Hare turned toward Scaler and sighed in relief. The green rabbit appeared to be just fine, chest rising and falling normally under the folds of his leather cloak. There were no lingering signs of the fact that he had nearly choked to death the previous day, thankfully.
Hare turned to gaze around at the others, searching out each of his companions from his own reality. Grey Wolf was lying beside Tiger, both sleeping peacefully. The bond forged by their brotherhood managed to ring true, even though they were not even from the same world….
Serinity had ended up lying between Blue and Browny, leaf-like wings wrapped tightly around her shoulders like a flimsy green shawl. Hare smiled as he noticed that somebody, most likely Blue, had laid a blanket over her as well.
Eboni…she had curled up next to Coal, insisting that she wasn't about to let the older Evil Hare out of her sight. Considering all that had happened to him during their short time here, Hare could certainly understand her concern. Of course, he couldn't help but get the feeling there was another reason she worried so much about Coal, but that was none of his business…
Hare sighed, bright brown eyes wavering as he shook his head slowly and turned away.
On one hand, he was happy to see that his friends were getting along so well with the rebels of this world, for the most part. But, at the same time…
"This isn't our world" he whispered to himself, clutching at his pendant "This is not where we belong..."
His gaze rested on where Nancy was sleeping, her baby daughter cradled gently in her arms and Hare slowly got to his feet and walked over to them. Reaching out, he carefully ran trembling fingers along the dozing Willow's cheek.
"You deserve to have your father here for you" he whispered, fighting back tears as his thoughts drifted back to his own lost parents "You shouldn't have to lose him just because I'm here…"
Sniffling slightly, he took a few steps backward, then turned away.
"…Is that what you really think?"
Hare froze, startled, then whirled around to see Nancy propping herself up on her elbows and gazing at him. The older female rabbit smiled slightly at the astonished look on his face, then her expression softened.
"Is that what you really think?" she repeated softly "Because if it is, you should know that nobody blames you for what happened"
"…Maybe they should" Hare muttered, sitting down and hugging his knees to his chest as he deliberately avoided looking directly at her "…After all, it was my stupid plan which got us here in the first place….trying to teleport to 'where my friends are' without any real ideas where they could actually be…shouldn't be surprised that it all went wrong like this…"
"But you never would have known if you hadn't at least attempted it" Nancy pointed out, sitting up and holding Willow in her lap. The baby Searcher yawned and stirred as her mother went on "Things will work out, you'll see"
"If I had just left well enough alone, then none of this would have happened" Hare insisted stubbornly "Now, because of what I did, Tiger doesn't have his mate with him, you don't have your husband and Willow's lost a father!"
"They're not lost" Nancy reminded him gently "Just in your reality, we'll figure out a way to get things back to how they were"
"I hope so…"
Silence fell between them for a few moments, as Willow woke up and began to fuss for attention. Hare watched silently as Nancy comforted her daughter, failing to see she was watching him closely out of the corner of one eye, frowning slightly at the clashing emotions shining in his wide brown eyes.
"…Something else is bothering you, isn't it?" she observed.
"Yes…no! I mean…maybe..." Hare hedged, quickly looking away.
Nancy's frown deepened and she muttered "You're not a very good liar, are you..."
She saw the younger rabbit tense visibly at her comment, but he said nothing. Nancy's frown deepened and she continued to watch him carefully as she turned back to the baby in her arms. After a short pause, she noticed Hare opened his mouth as if to say something, just to fall silent again.
"Yes…what is it?" she inquired.
Hare looked down at the ground and mumbled something so softly that she barely caught the fact that he was saying something.
"A little louder, okay?" she half-teased, smiling "I can't help you if I don't know what you're saying"
"I was wondering…during your journeys…did you…"
"…Yes?" Nancy prompted gently.
Hare took a deep breath, then raised his head, locking gazes with Nancy.
"Were you ever in a village that…was flooded by lava?" he asked, bright brown eyes searching her face for any sign of recognition, then he plunged on, blurting out "And did…Golem d-di…sacrifice himself to save everyone?"
Nancy gaped at him for a long moment, honestly stunned by the question. She had been expecting something far different than this, that was for certain…the younger rabbit stared intently up at her face, as if looking for some answer.
"…Yes" she admitted gently, sensing there was little chance of hiding the truth from him "That happened…some time ago, we were trying to defeat an enemy who had kidnapped two of our friends…"
She explained what had happened slowly, not wanting to upset the younger Hare, but knowing it was best to tell him everything. Hare just listened in silence to the tale, nodding from time to time to show he understood. However, Nancy couldn't help but notice how he fought for control while listening, biting the inside of his lip and struggling to conceal the faint shudder that ran down his back as she haltingly related the events in the canyon.
"So…it was true then…" he whispered after she had finished, bowing his head.
"What was true?" Nancy inquired, gazing at him sympathetically.
Hare shook his head, then suddenly looked up and locked gazes with her again and she saw that his eyes were bright with withheld tears.
"You should know….you should tell the others that he's alright" he informed her bluntly.
"What?" Nancy asked, blinking in surprise.
"Just tell them…that it's alright, Golem…your Golem…his lost disc wasn't destroyed by the lava…it made it out okay"
"How…how do you know…"
"Please" Hare interrupted her, pleading with her with wavering brown eyes.
Nancy stared at the youngster for a long moment, then nodded slowly. In her arms, Willow began to wiggle and fuss as she sensed the change in her mother's attitude and Nancy quickly started comforting her.
"Hush, hush, it's okay darling, don't cry" she cooed, rocking the baby rabbit back and forth gently in a cradle formed by her loving arms.
As Nancy hummed a calming lullaby to her daughter, Hare simply watched in silence and turned his head away. He hugged his knees a little tighter to his chest and gently grasped the Phoenix's Tear in one paw. When Nancy looked in his direction again, she could see that he was trembling slightly, though most of his face was obscured by his dark brown bangs.
"…Hare? What is it?"
The younger rabbit made a shuddering sound that reminded Nancy all too much of a choked-back sob and rubbed the back of his paw across his face before glancing back at her.
"It's just…when I saw you looking after Willow like that…it reminded me of my own mother" he confessed softly, forcing a lopsided and obviously fake smile, then that false expression faded and his voice dropped into a bare whisper as he continued "What I can remember of her, anyway…"
Bowing his head further, so he didn't have to see Nancy's sympathetic look or the way she hugged the cooing Willow a little closer to her chest, Hare went on "We've got to think of a way to fix this as soon as possible, I…I don't want to be responsible for Willow losing one of her parents…just like I lost both of mine…"
He closed his eyes, knowing his tears would only upset his counterpart's family if they witnessed them. However, when something draped over his shoulders, he blinked and looked up to see Nancy attempting to hug him with one arm. The other still supported Willow, who stared up at Hare with wide brown eyes and giggled, pawing at his kerchief and the Phoenix's Tear again.
"It'll be alright" he dimly heard Nancy murmur "We'll find a way to turn everything back to the way it was…"
Hare wanted to say something in reply, but found he could not, the grief he had been suppressing came out as an anguished sob and he flung his arms around Nancy's neck, burying his face in her fur. Nancy just cradled the two younger rabbits, her own daughter and her husband's counterpart, holding both tightly and wishing she would never have let go of either one.
* * * * *
In the other reality, the Searchers were just starting to wake up as well. Myst was up first and the blue pixie stretched her entire body, wings and all, in a languid movement. Suppressing a yawn, she rubbed the corner of one ice blue eye as she surveyed her sleeping companions.
It was odd, how comfortable she felt here. This was not her home world and she only really knew the Searchers she'd been transported here with, the Genki here was much younger, far less mature, for one thing. These were not the rebels she was familiar with…yet she felt at ease with them.
Myst wasn't entirely certain this was for the best, after all, if she and her friends became too accustomed to living here, it would only make it harder to return home later. And if they lost hope in returning home…
Of course, that would never happen, Myst quickly reassured herself. After all, they all had so much to return to. Tigress had her mate Tiger, Hare his wife Nancy and daughter Willow, Minette had Blue and all her other friends…
...And as for Myst and Rialto…
She was jolted out of her reverie by a loud yawn and looked over to see Genki sitting up and stretching. Despite his grogginess, the boy managed to move carefully enough to avoid upsetting Moochi, who was lying almost directly against his partner. Detaching himself from the pink monster, Genki gazed around the campsite and soon spotted the pixie hybrid. A sleepy smile formed on his face and he waved in her direction.
"Good…morning" he half-yawned, rubbing the back of his head and ruffling his already disheveled brown hair.
"Good morning, Genki" Myst returned the greeting, a slight smile on her face "Sleep well, I presume?"
"Yeah, kinda…" Genki got up and stretched out, then turned toward her with a somewhat wider and more aware grin "C'mon, we'd better get these sleepyheads up, the sooner we get going, the sooner we can get things back to normal, right?"
Myst nodded and started toward him, suggesting "Perhaps you should wait a while, after all, I doubt the others will appreciate being…"
Abruptly the pixie hybrid froze in mid-step, staring beyond the others at something none of them could see. Genki looked at her in concern, wondering why Myst had stopped short. Getting up and walking up to face her, the youngster sucked in a surprised gasp. The Mint's pale blue eyes had glazed over slightly, causing them to resemble sheets of ice even more.
"Hey, um…Myst? Are you okay?"
The pixie hybrid failed to hear the boy's query, as her mind was currently far, far away from the campsite.
Instead, she envisioned herself standing in the center of a dark crystalline chamber, its proportions lost in the shadows surrounding her.
Myst shuddered, running her hands up and down the sides of her crossed arms in a futile attempt to warm them. A cold, cutting wind swept from an unknown source to slice at her skin with a thousand tiny knives of ice, she shivered again, curling her tail round her knees and wishing that her half-Tiger blood entitled her to more fur.
Myst slowly looked up, there was a dark titan with horn-like protrusions on each side of his head standing in front of her and its red eyes were filled with malice. Then she saw a familiar blue wolf within the base of the shadowy figure, it was like he were trapped inside.
Quickly falling to her knees, she plunged both arms into the titan, locking her fingers in Tiger's mane and gently pulling him forwards. She had gotten his head, front legs and chest free when the figure raised one arm and struck Myst to the ground. As she attempted to right herself, dark tendrils wrapped round Tiger's throat and pulled the blue wolf back inside.
The pixie hybrid found herself staring into the blue wolf's face, seeing despair, helpless rage and resignation in his deep golden eyes.
Then they, the blue wolf and the dark titan just faded away to the sound of the shadowy giant's deep chuckling. Alone in the darkness, Myst buried her face in her hands and wept.
"Hey, hello" Genki said, waving one hand in front of her face and getting no response, turning toward his companions, the boy pointed in her direction and queried "What's with her?"
Rialto looked down at the puny human boy with a disdainful expression as he snarled "She's having another vision, idiot"
"Vision?" Genki repeated, blinking in surprise "You mean like the kind Hare has?"
"Uh…if you mean your Hare, then…I suppose so" Hare replied slowly, sweatdropping a little, he still wasn't used to this whole concept of what his counterpart was supposed to be like…
A single tear slid down Myst's cheek as her lips moved. Genki leant closer to catch what the Mint was saying, it was barely above a whisper.
"Tiger...has been taken by the darkness"
Genki stiffened, clear brown eyes widening slightly as he stared at the blue pixie.
"You…you know?" he breathed, a horrified expression on his face.
"Know what?" Hare inquired, stepping forward.
The adult rabbit had overheard Myst's whisper, thanks to his sharp hearing and been temporarily too stunned to react, before he had been able to say anything, he had heard Genki's soft query and the implication was clear.
"Genki, what's going on?" he demanded, glaring at the brown-haired boy "What do you mean 'she knows?' Knows what?"
Minette and Rialto also stared at Genki, confused and curious. Tigress averted her gaze, having a pretty good idea what they were driving at. She had already found out some time before, when Coltia had let slip that Tiger was missing…
Genki shot a pleading look over at his fellow travellers, knowing he was trapped. Alan simply crossed his arms and glared at him, sapphire eyes filled with exasperation, while Coltia and Holly glanced awkwardly away. Suezo also averted his gaze, while Moochi just looked a little confused…and sad.
"…Remember when we told you guys our Tiger's been missing for some time?" he asked after a long pause, turning to face the newcomers.
"Yeah…" Hare replied, studying the boy's solemn expression carefully, alarm bells starting to go off in the back of his mind.
"Well…that isn't…" Genki paused and took a deep breath before continuing, "That isn't exactly the whole truth…"
Tigress winced and bowed her head, eyes closing in a sort of resignation. Minette glanced over at the lilac wolf, then felt a strong grip on her hand and looked up to see Holly standing beside her. The young pixie gazed up at the human, wondering why tears brimmed in the girl's soft bronze eyes, then nervously turned her attention back to Genki.
"Not the…Genki, what happened to him, then?" Hare asked, staring at the boy "What's going on?!?"
"You don't want to know" Tigress murmured, causing the brown rabbit to whip around and stare at her.
"Yes, we do" Hare insisted, despite the fact that part of him was now inclined to agree with the lilac wolf's statement.
"You do not know what you are asking" Myst told him softly, giving the rabbit a sorrowful look and briefly, her gaze flickered to Tigress' averted face, then the pixie hybrid turned to Genki and went on "However, it is their story to share, not my own, if they do not wish you to know what…"
"…No, Myst, we'll tell them" Holly spoke up, stepping forward, her bronze eyes swept over the confused and worried faces of the newcomers as she continued "Like we should have done from the start…we'll tell you…everything…"
"…I don't understand" Hare mused under his breath, studying the tense faces of this world's rebels carefully "They already told us about how I'm supposed to be a child and a pyrotechnic…what else could they hide from us?"
He would soon come to regret that question, once he had received the answer to it.
* * * * *
Chapter Twelve: Revelations - pt 1
* * * * *
A faint breeze sent ripples through lilac fur and Tigress tilted her head up slightly as she gazed up at the clear blue sky.
"Strange" she mused "How this world can seem so peaceful…so tranquil at times…"
The slender lupine, however, had learned long ago that appearances could all too easily deceive and that a serene scene could mask the chaos waiting just round the bend, true peace and tranquility was fleeting – if it even existed at all, perhaps all such moments were merely eyes in a never-ending storm, glimpses of a world that could never last for long.
Yet for this seemingly jaded outlook, Tigress could still be surprised sometimes when the calm gave way to chaos again.
Her arrival in this world was one such shock, Tigress had never seriously entertained thoughts of the possibility of other, alternate universes existing, the closest she had ever came was when she was but a pup and wondered if there was a place somewhere where her father might have survived…
This world she and a handful of her friends and companions had been thrust into, however, was undeniably a sharp contrast to anything she might have imagined. Magical powers controlled by the child counterpart of her mate's rival…tales this world's version of the Searchers had told her of some of their own unique members, such as a rabbit skilled with blades and a gentle pixie healer…
When she had first learned from this world's Holly what had become of her mate's counterpart, Tigress quite simply had not believed it, her initial shock from the girl's gentle confession quickly gave way to denial – perhaps she had somehow misheard her or misinterpreted her words in some manner, desperation drove the lilac lupine to come up with the theory that Holly was mistaken in her beliefs.
Unable to deal with the dark possibilities, Tigress just flat out decided that they did not exist, it was impossible, she silently assured herself, that something that…horrendous had occurred, Holly had to be wrong.
Those flimsy excuses and refusals to face what she had learned had just come crashing down upon her – blown away by one simple sentence uttered by one of her own companions.
"Tiger…has been taken by the darkness…"
In that instant, when the seer Myst had whispered that sorrowful proclamation, Tigress knew she was speaking the truth, the female wolf could blow off anything the Searchers of this world had told her, passing it off as some cruel game despite their seeming convection in their words (and the fact that surely none of them would dare make up such a dreadful scenario for a prank), but she could fabricate no reason for the Mint to lie to her.
As if to further ensure that Tigress could no longer deny the truth of the matter, Hare then confronted this world's Genki on what he had overheard, demanding to hear everything that had been kept secret from them, at that moment, Tigress found herself fully sympathizing with her mate's general view of the rabbit.
The expression of pure shock that twisted his face as the truth was revealed to him seemed to indicate to her that just that knowledge was punishment enough, however.
"Ignorance is bliss, after all..."
It was too late for apologies, however, for the damage had been done, Tigress had the face cold, harsh reality…she could no longer ignore the truth, no longer dismiss it as fallacy, the female wolf had seen the tears glimmer in Minette's eyes, the shock and disbelief that twisted her companions' faces…knowing she had already gone through that stage.
However, now that she could no longer dismiss the matter as mere speculation, it was as if the entire gravity of the situation was crushing Tigress under its weight, feelings of utter despair that she had forced away before with her protests now came rushing back with a vengeance to engulf her.
Even the wind's gentle caress seemed a mocking reminder of what was currently far beyond her reach.
But what could she possibly do about it? Was it even her place to try if she had the slightest chance of changing matters? This was not truly her world, the Tiger who was trapped in this horror was not the same one she had given her heart to, once they discovered a way of returning to their own reality, Tigress would leave behind this wretched nightmare and once more be by her lover's side.
…However, she would likely remain haunted forever by memories of what this reality's Tiger had been twisted into by cruel fate.
The grass behind her whispered in the cool wind, then rustled slightly as an intruder walking up behind her disturbed their melody with his footsteps, Tigress did not have to spare the newcomer the slightest glance to recognize them instantly – not only did she know the familiar scent, but there was only one monster she knew of who would dare approach her when she was like this.
"If you don't mind, I would like to be alone right now" she informed her new companion curtly, focusing on the blue skies above her rather than turning to face him.
Hare just shrugged to himself and sat down, keeping several paces' distance from the lilac wolf, the tan-furred rabbit was far enough away that if Tigress abruptly turned and attacked him, he could easily evade, but not so distant that she wasn't aware of his presence.
She grimaced slightly, not really wanting anyone else with her at that time, but decided to let him be, she wasn't about to act like her absent husband and chase Hare off because of her current bad mood.
Of course, that didn't mean she couldn't ignore him…
Keeping her back turned firmly on the rabbit, Tigress continued to gaze up at the blue heavens, she needed to find something else to focus on, anything else that would take her mind off cold reality…
Like, for instance, just how strikingly clear the sky was today, from where the lupine monster lay, all she could see was azure radiance stretching out in every direction, with only wispy white clouds rolling along slowly to add color to the sight…
"Blue on white…like sapphire fur edged with snowy highlights…"
Tigress' eyes unfocused for a moment as her thoughts began to drift, however, she quickly shook herself out of it, more than a little annoyed at herself, why was it that whenever she attempted not to think of something that invariably that was where her mind strayed?
"…You're thinking about Tiger, right?"
Tigress' only reply was to stare off into the distance, acting as if she hadn't heard Hare's query. he slight tensing of her back muscles, however, indicated to him that she was listening, whether she liked it or not.
"Don't be like that, it's only natural that you'd be worrying about him, especially after what we found out…"
"You make it sound so trivial" Tigress snapped , resisting the urge to whirl around and snarl at the rabbit "I found out that my mate is…"
"You know that the Tiger in this world isn't actually YOUR mate, right?"
Tigress stiffened, taken a bit off guard by the seemingly casual comment.
"…What do you mean by that?" she inquired, keeping her voice low and as steady as possible.
"Just what I said" Hare shifted his weight and folded his arms thoughtfully over his chest "From what I gathered from the Searchers here, their Tiger doesn't even have a girlfriend… that they're aware of" he amended carefully, though he secretly doubted the blue wolf could keep such a thing secret from the others "They never knew any 'Tigress of the Wind' before we arrived…"
The lilac wolf swallowed slightly in an effort to conceal the painful lump rising in her throat at Hare's words, she had also noticed that, but ignored the signs as best she could, not wanting to add further insult to injury.
"…If…I never met Tiger" she breathed, unaware she had spoken the thought aloud.
"Hey, for all we know, you may not have a counterpart in this world at all"
Finally Tigress whirled her head about sharply to face him, stunned outright by that statement.
"What does THAT mean?"
Hare just looked at her calmly as he went on "Just what it sounds like, you didn't switch with your direct counterpart like I did, just one of the Searchers from this reality that doesn't have a double in our world, for all we know, there is no Tigress here…or, if she exists, she's vastly different than yourself"
Tigress blinked, mind swirling with the vast possibilities, without Tiger by her side, however, she could find none of them she liked.
"I suppose that goes for the rest of us" she asked coldly, unable to keep an edge of steel in her voice as she added "Like Myst, Minette or Rialto? Like Nancy and Willow?"
She expected him to snap back at her at the mention of those two names, but to her astonishment and consternation Hare merely gazed back at her and nodded.
"It's very possible" he replied simply "In fact, considering what I've heard my counterpart is like, it seems extremely unlikely that Nancy is the same here…"
"If she even exists" Tigress added bitterly.
Hare just nodded again, and for a moment the lilac wolf was blinded by fury, how could he just sit there and say all these things – make all these theories – about this reality and remain so calm? How could he comment that his wife and child might very well not even exist here and remain so detached?
Then the flames of anger parted and abruptly faded away as she got a closer look at the tan rabbit's face.
His expressive brown eyes were misted over slightly and she could see tiny moist tracks tracing down his furry cheeks…like he'd been crying earlier, with a guilty start, Tigress recognized that he wasn't as unaffected by the whole mess as she had initially thought.
As if reading her thoughts, Hare dropped his gaze to the ground, as if finding the grass far more interesting than the expression on the female lupine’s face.
"…I somehow doubt that Willow exists here, since there's no chance of her being born to the same parents" he murmured softly and Tigress felt her chest tighten at his sorrowful tone.
"…How…did you come up with this theory, anyway?" she inquired, wanting to steer the subject away from that path.
Hare glanced back up at her and managed a faint, lopsided smile.
"When I heard about one of the Searchers that got sent over when we arrived here" he explained.
"Scaler, they described him as being sort of a guardian to my counterpart here and that they used to live in the same village when they were both younger, I racked my memory for some time, but couldn't recall ever having a friend like that. In fact, I don't remember any scaled hares I'd ever seen like that – especially with the eye color they described"
"Hmm, yes…I can see where that would kind of catch your attention" Tigress mused, shaking her head slightly.
"Anyway, if Scaler has a counterpart in our world, I've certainly never met him" Hare continued "And considering he apparently considers my younger self as a friend of sorts and someone he needs to protect…well, I think I would remember having someone like that hanging around all the time" Hare paused, then shook his head before looking back at Tigress again "Point is, things are vastly different in this world from the one we come from, most of our fellow rebels and friends aren't even acquaintances here and vice versa for the ones who got sent back in our place, we have different problems, different enemies…I mentioned the Shadow-Walker while talking with some of their Searchers and none of them recognized the name, Coltia even wondered if I was trying to tell them some horror story"
Tigress bit back a laugh, shaking her head, however, she quickly sobered again, and turned away.
"…I would think this world has enough horror in it as it is" she commented quietly, a shadow falling over the top half of her face as she bowed her head.
Hare nodded sympathetically, then hesitantly reached out and patted the lilac wolf's back, she stiffened a bit at his touch, then relaxed, recognizing that he meant no harm.
"What I'm trying to get at is, what's happened to this Tiger doesn't affect your husband" he said softly "We're not going to get back and find out he's…changed like that…"
"But for him to even be…this way…"
"I know" Hare took a deep breath, sighing "Believe me, I know how much it must bother you, I couldn't believe it either when I finally heard, it's… something we never dreamed was possible, that could ever happen…"
"In a way, it's the same in our reality" he added "None of these Searchers seemed to believe what little I told them of what the Shadow-Walker had done, I didn't mention too much, since I didn't want to upset them, but…they heard enough to quickly decide that somebody with those sort of powers would be a total nightmare to face"
Tigress nodded slowly, beginning to see the rabbit's point.
"Each of us has our own problems to face, it doesn't matter which reality we come from, there's always plenty of things happening, lots of things we have to face and work out as best we can…"
"Not the least of which is finding a way back to where we belong" Tigress put in.
"Exactly" Hare nodded, then smiled, it was a bit less forced than before, the wolf noticed.
"We'll find a way through this, though, don't you worry, we always seem to survive when the odds are against us, right?" he winked at her, a roguish grin on his face and Tigress couldn't help but smile back.
"Now come on" he prodded, turning away and motioning for the lilac lupine to follow "We'd better get back to the others before they get worried sick and send a search party after us or something, best not to give them anything else to worry about…"
Tigress nodded and followed after him as Hare led the way back to the campsite, the foremost thought on her mind, however, was not merely easing the others' minds, rather, it was the fact that the sooner they got back, the sooner they might be able to discover some method of returning to their own world.
The sooner that happened, the sooner she could wake up from this nightmare and reunite with Tiger.
Even if she knew memories of this place and time would forever be burned into her memory.
* * * * *