According to the bearfolk woman, her people, specifically the males, can generate quite strong defensive barriers. I snorted a bit when I heard that. Mika and I had, after all, killed about twenty bears by now.
“We understand your small minded thinking. Bearfolk are a very proud race. It wouldn’t sit well with our pride if we didn’t give you a chance.” She waved a paw… hand? Claw? Paw? It was like a hand with long sharp nails. I suppose paw would be the best term. She waves it dismissively at my snort.
Her words catch my attention though. “Wait, I thought you were going to say we could use the bears somehow, but bears are bearfolk?”
“Darling, don’t be dense, of course they are. The males have that wonderfully big and intimidating frame,” she licks her lips before continuing, “and in return, we get the beauty and the brains. Oh, don’t get us wrong, the men are smart too, but also quite prideful.” She poses for me, showing off her… uh… body.
To be fair, the closest I can relate her to was a tall woman’s basketball player, but packaged in a shapeless onesie. She has no curves… well, that’s not right, she’s a bit round in the belly… and does have a small chest… But my sense of feminine appeal does not match her looks… even slightly. Compared to the rest of her body, her face is much more human, other than the fur. Well, except for her nose. It’s black, wet, and cut back at the edges like a dog’s. Either way, it won’t do well to insult her here. Let’s keep that to myself.
Despite being married for a long time in my previous life, I can’t say I ever mastered the act of faking a convincing smile, but I can say practicing it got me out of many a tight spot. I let out a calming breath and relaxed my face. Next step was to think about myself being clever, and finally, I smiled lightly.
“I see, yes, indeed very pretty.” I hope that was a convincing lie? Maybe it isn’t a lie for someone else? I mean, I’m sure someone… probably in her own race… thinks of her as pretty.
It just so happened that Lilia walks up behind her at that moment, wearing a scary smile on her face.
“Oh, is she? Where is my food, Tristain?” Her leaves-as-skin were peeling and curling, showing flesh underneath. I don’t think she is doing that intentionally, and it is a bit frightening. To be honest, what could she be thinking to cause this sort of reaction? Perhaps it means she’s mad or something… Wait… Is she mad I kissed her? I’m having mixed feelings about that myself! Ulg, why do I have to be so impulsive sometimes… Can’t stall here though, must placate her.
I quickly change modes and start to generate ice in my hands. I can feel cold sweat from my hands sticking them to the ice I am creating. “Ah, hah, hah, right here, making some right now!”
I have become adept enough at ice creation, it is almost a subconscious process now. I’m quite proud of that, and it’s currently serving me very well. When did Lilia become this scary? I don’t remember her being so intimidating in the past. I swear, I meant nothing inappropriate with that kiss!
After giving Lilia the ice, the bearfolk woman and I continued our conversation. Lilia sat beside me, leaning her back against my shoulder as she ate. She is taking her time on the ice, playing with it as it melted. It is somewhat unusual for her, and very distracting. “So, the male bears, er, bearfolk, can create a decent barrier? You think that can block the sleep… thing… what do you call it?”
I look over my shoulder at Lilia for confirmation of the name. “Sleep is sleep. It’s not like Food Source, called Tristain. It’s very simple,” she responds without even looking at me, before continuing to play with her food.
The bearfolk woman just shrugs. “We haven’t seen it, it was simply written in books. We don’t know anything except a male bearfolk wasn’t affected during a mating fight. We suspect it was because of their barrier.”
I am a bit taken back. Are they animals instinctually? I mean, I guess they did act like animals when they repeatedly attacked the fort Mika and I created. “So your males fight over who gets to mate?” I try to confirm my guess.
“Heavens yes, darling, they’re so many, we can’t possibly care for them all. After proving their worth, we then beat them into submission to verify their strength. That they can protect us and our children. Those brutes need to be kept in check, after all. It’s best to know where their weak points are.” She smiles a toothy and possibly cute smile. I shudder a bit. Or is that a shiver of fright? Something tells me this is a flag.
There is another interesting bit that needs to be addressed, though. “You have books?”
“Of course.” She replies as if it was a silly question. “We’re not heathens, nor are we animals.”
I’m not sure I’m hiding my thoughts well enough, because she reaffirms her statement. “How rude. We’re certainly not animals.” She frowns at me. Do you mean that maybe you are heathens by exclusion?
“N-no, of course not. I was just thinking, I would love to go read through some of the books… after this, of course.” Whew, excuse — get.
She stares at me for a moment, gauging something about me. “Hoooo? If you serve us well in this operation, then we can discuss the possibility of you visiting our library.” She seems a bit lost in thought, then raises her head and continues. “Well, these problems won’t solve themselves, darling. I need to go borrow a few males for this. I’ll be back soon. Dryad, dear, keep our Hume here safe.”
“Of course, I can’t have food if Food Source is dead,” Lilia reassures, then stuffs the last bit of ice in her mouth.
I watch the bearfolk woman’s back as she trots off into the forest on all fours. Thinking back on our conversation, these ursine might actually be more advanced than the Enclave in many ways. They have literacy, and a sense of keeping historical knowledge as valuable. It will serve me well to befriend them, perhaps I could learn why this world is so strange.
Lost in thoughts, I had forgotten Lilia next to me. She happened to stop leaning on me, and was now staring into my eyes. I tried not to jump out of my skin. “Tristain, Mika is suffering. It won’t take long, right? I don’t like my food to spoil.”
“We will help her soon.” I hope.
Thanks for the support! I am in your care! Hopefully this chapter answers more questions than it raises.