The cheetah’s sword met air as his opponent spun to the side. Each blow that did meet its mark forced him back a step with the impact before he once again found himself on the defensive. Then their blades twirled a number of times and the cat almost faced defeat but he recovered and held out against the onslaught until his boot reached a physical barrier.
Stealth breached the rope barrier that encompassed the sparing ring. Though he didn’t succumb to the blade, the session still ended in his defeat.
Padraic sheathed his sword, “That was good Stealth, but you lost too much ground.”
The cat nodded to the brown lop, “I was going for a defensive strategy.”
Since meeting the lapin at the Harvest Festival the two would scarcely find time to engage in some sort of activity like a mini game of Die Ball or a good old race. Today the Long scout showed the scout-in-training how to fight. They did so in a courtyard in Metamor town, outside Padraic’s brother’s house. The aroma of freshly baked muffins filled the yard. The smell originated from a kitchen window probably from the oven of Amanda – Padraic’s sister in law.
All the good places in Long House were taken but the rabbit preferred fresh air anyway. They had lots of room to move and what better way to impress the ladies then with a little outdoor sword play?
The burly brown lop shook his head, “There will be times when you won’t have that luxury and you will need to attack!”
“It’s not that easy...” Stealth cringed.
“No it isn’t but attacking isn’t the same as using brute force, you have your speed and it more than makes up for my strength. Learn to use it.” Padraic insisted.
The cheetah sheathed his sword, “Give me something to chase and I’ll catch it, learning to use that speed in a fight though, that will take time...”
The rabbit sheathed his sword, “No rush.”
Stealth’s ears twitched at the familiar jingle he’d been trying to ignore thus far, “Why are you still wearing those bells?” He asked.
“Why take them off? I like them!” The Long said proudly and shook his head making them ring even louder! “And the ringing will make a useful distraction!”
The cat narrowed his gaze and reached for the bells on Padraic’s ears.
The rabbit nimbly leaped backwards. “HEY! Those are my bells!”
“And I’m taking them!” Stealth lunged at the bunny.
“Oh?” The rabbit taunted. “You have to get them first!”
The cheetah went into a predatory feline stance though he tried not to spook the prey animal, “Damn you! Get back here.”
“Now, now!” Padraic said calmly. “You want to take something from this warrior you have to earn it!” With that he lunged at Stealth with his weapon upraised.
Stealth nimbly moved to the side and grabbed Padraic’s sword hand, pulling the rabbit forward while reaching for his bells with the other hand.
“Hey!” Padraic said surprised by the move. He shook his head and Stealth’s hand missed grasping a bell by mere inches.
The cat drew back then lunged with his own sword. He moved in an arc and feigned attacks while waiting for an opening. Yes, now he had a quarry to chase. No more defensive strategy, now he will attack!
The rabbit blocked the blow and watched the cat circle him. “You surprise me Stealth! Your skill is better then I expected. Edmund has been teaching you hasn’t he?”
“And he’s very thorough.” Stealth informed through grit teeth with another swipe. Though a useful incentive, his curse fortunately didn’t dampen the lessons from his time sparing with the paladin cheetah.
The rabbit dodged the block and lashed out with his own blow. “So I see!”
As the feline parried the blow he held his sword against the rabbit’s, after a moment he moved to the other side and reached for the bells again.
The lapin used his elbow to block the cheetah’s reach. “Persistent aren’t we.”
“But they move... I’m compelled to chase them!” Stealth informed as he tried to bat at the offending bells.
“You cats are so easily distracted!” He joked staying just out of reach.
Stealth grumbled but didn’t hide his smile, “But we’re not stupid.” He said and more patiently looked for an opening.
“Or it’s another feline trait, you’re loosing interest.” Padraic mocked.
Stealth grumbled again without any humour and went in for another attack.
Padraic dodged the cheetah’s blow easily and slid his blade past. “Got you!” He shouted and just touched the tip against Stealth’s chest.
“Forgetting something?” Stealth grinned and held one of the bells in his paw.
“Hey!” Padraic exclaimed and used his free hand to check both of his ears. “How?”
“You don’t just have those annoying things on your ears.” Stealth pointed out, “And I’m a FAST cat!”
Padraic patted his belt and found an empty place. “OH! So I see! Nicely done but with my sword point at your chest I win!”
“But I could have armour!” Stealth argued. “And if I had a dagger it would be in your gullet under your belt.”
“I could be wearing armour too!” The rabbit countered. “But let’s call it a draw. Now give me back my bell!”
“You want it back?” He taunted. “Come take it!”
Padraic sheathed his sword and then took off his belt. He tossed the belt and sheath into a corner. “Lets fight the proper way! I’ll wrestle you for the bell!”
“Very well,” Stealth removed his own gear and threw it into a corner, “But you can’t take it till after the fight.”
Padraic nodded. “All right. Who ever gets pinned first losses.”
“Deal!” Stealth grinned. He grabbed his tail and placed the bell firmly on the black tip to irritate the Long. Stealth crouched low, the cat’s tail jingled as it swayed... back... and forth...
Padraic snarled and lunged at the cheetah. The two grappled and tumbled to the floor fumbling and groaning as they wrestled. Above the other noises came the faint tinkling of bells.
Later on Stealth travelled down the main street of Metamor’s Lower Ward through the market square. The cheetah felt tired and battered from his sparing session with Padraic but it was great fun so he didn’t mind the aches. He was on his way home when he spotted a brownish-gray bunny talking to a merchant.
At first he idly compared the Metamorian to Padraic, though he quickly remembered that the proud Long appeared as a brown, lop-eared bunny. This morph didn’t look anything like his friend. He then flinched upon seeing that this rabbit had a black right-hand paw and knew where he’d seen it before. He remembered the kite, the race... the accident.
He didn't know wether to make amends or instead keep out of the rabbit’s ears; from their last encounter the poor guy would probably be a bit distant. Then again, was this Cathal? He could scarcely be sure.
"Cathal?" He asked to the rabbit who may have already seen and smelt him approach.
Cathal momentarily paused in his negotiations when he noticed the approach of a very familiar feline from his left. He was not about to panic unless he had damn good reason, but he pawed his sword and carefully watched. The cat had nearly killed him not a few weeks prior, and he was understandably weary. He only hoped the cat was not once again on Pascal’s cold concoction.
Then the cat inquired as to his name, his physical appearance had changed slightly owing to his emerging winter coat, so confusion on this front was understandable. Cathal had heard that the Cheetah was a relative newcomer to the Keep and he may not yet be used to the seasonal changes of so many of her inhabitants. Cathal's own coat looked somewhat shaggy at the time, owing to his emerging thicker fur.
The cat seemed ill at ease to the rabbits' silence.
“Yes Stealth, though I may look somewhat more unkempt than our last encounter, I am Cathal.” The rabbit answered impassively.
As he looked directly in the cat’s direction the cat seemed fidgety, perhaps a little nervous. A market goer bumped into him because he was not watching where he was going. But the cat paid the stranger no heed as he approached. His fidgeting at first put Cathal’s nerves on end, but he realised that this behaviour was due to the cat’s own nervousness, not any overt aggression.
"I want to apologise for the trouble I've caused." Stealth bowed and his ears folded. He looked back up from his chest at the jack rabbit with a humble expression and an open muzzle though he soon closed it tight to hide his sharp fangs.
Cathal realised the cat was trying to make amends, but he maintained hold of his sword, more out of reflex than anything. The Merchant inquired as to wether there was going to be a problem, and Cathal assured him that there would not.
“Your humble apologies are accepted, though the trouble was far greater than just trying to kill me.” He answered calmly.
Stealth flinched at the words.
Cathal continued, “I couldn't walk of my own accord for three days after that; bouncing you off that tree nearly caused me to brake my own legs.”
"I'm really sorry." He turned his head down again. "I almost killed us both due to my own stupidity." He admitted. "You were clever to use that tree."
Cathal smiled in his ridiculously cute manner. “Well, I have always been able to maintain a level head in bad situations. One does not live as long as I have in this business without that ability. I understand you were out of commission for a few days yourself.”
"Aye, you had some good moves of your own." Stealth smiled shyly. "If things came to worse, I don't know what I would have done; I wouldn't have been able to go on."
"Mighty good thing that is. I was running on pure fear after the tree. I only made it about a hundred paces before collapsing in a thicket of brush. It took George better than a half hour to find me. I tore tendons and muscles in both legs when I bounced you off that tree."
The cat laughed despite himself, "Now why does that sound familiar to me?" Stealth explained, "Not too long ago, I had an accident and became feral, I hid in a thorn bush. Took Misha hours to find me. I was torn up pretty bad, the pain wasn’t as bad though, as when the healer patched me up, she had fun I could tell..."
The merchant started to assist another customer as the two talked. Cathal began to relax a little, maybe the cat wasn't such a bad guy after all. He was mildly curious as to the cat’s story. Cathal had never gone feral before, and he would likely never voluntarily go full form either.
"Well, it would appear that we both have stories to tell. Perhaps we should share a few of them over a drink?”
“Ah, yes. I never did buy you that drink." Stealth remembered.
The rabbit smiled mirthfully as he responded, "Just give me a few minutes to finish my business here and we can take care of that today."
Hearing the rabbit’s comments, the merchant quickly turned back to him. "Your dried fruits and nuts will only be three gold, my fine fellow."
"That seems a little pricey, does that include delivery to Metamor?" Cathal asked.
“I have a caravan coming in two days with which to complete your order, but I’m afraid you will be responsible to take it from the market on. It is very difficult to find anyone to go even this near Metamor, much less straight to her doors.” The merchant answers, eager himself to spend as little time as he could before he had to leave as a she.
"I would have thought that price included delivery. But...” Stealth paused as he turned to the rabbit. "Cathal, I can handle it from there," He offered. "It is after all my job."
The offer took Cathal somewhat by surprise; he had expected to have to rent a cart and horse to get his supplies for the coming winter to his home. “That’s very kind of you Stealth, but it isn't necessary.”
The cheetah’s ears perked at these words, but he wasn’t about to back down now. “You were laid up for three days because of me, three hours of moving food won't set me back to nearly the same extent as I have you." It would probably take the scrawny feline much longer than three hours to actually perform the task, though he didn’t say as much to the rabbit, ‘bah, my friends will help me with the cart.’ He thought idly.
Cathal could certainly understand the cat’s generosity; he knew that Stealth was offering a substantial labour to him. He also knew the cat was still feeling somewhat guilty about the whole affair, so he decided not to protest this generosity at the time. "Ok then, but the drinks are on me...”
"NO! I made the bet with you before that race; I lost, even though I cheated. I need to fulfil my side of the deal or I won't let myself get past it." He insisted.
This whole conversation convinced Cathal that the cat was definitely not a bad guy (when he's off the nip anyway). "Alright, if you insist. But After the first drink, the rest are on me." Cathal said as he dug out the coins from his purse for the merchant. "I will expect the supplies on time, no more than three days hence."
"On my honour I swear that your supplies will be here." The merchant responded. All the while Stealth waited for the hare to finish his business.
"Very well," Cathal turns to the cat. "Now, bout those drinks, do we have a deal?"
"If you insist, agreed." Stealth replied as he smiled, though he quickly closed his mouth again just in case. These sharp teeth take some effort to hide when a prey type keeper is around.
"So," Cathal inquires, "How bad were you after that tree incident anyway?" The conversation faded from the merchant’s ears as the duo headed to the Mule.
"I was stuck as an animal for observation." He cringed. "Cathal, I hope you don't mind me asking, but, why were you buying food in the market?"
“Because the food in the mess is absolutely awful. It seems every time I stoop to eating there, I get sick.”
"Ah, right. You're lucky then, not too much out there for a carnivore. Meat is expensive."
"Well, Good produce isn't cheap either.” The Rabbit responded. “After nearly a year in this form, I finally became comfortable with foraging in the summertime. I had to forage while travelling with my friends in the great mountains. But in winter there isn't a whole lot to forage on, so I have to spend some money, or go hungry. I have discovered that I save much by foraging during the summer and fall months though. So in the end it isn't really that bad."
"I've taken to finding my food in the wild, too. You don't need to worry about plants running away, though." The cheetah chuckled. "I still eat meals in the mess hall quite a bit though, the food is bad, but the veggies still look like they should to me. Not like the pink blobs they pass off as venison."
"Heh, the veggies always smell off there. Usually too ripe. But occasionally just this side of rotten," The rabbit illustrated with his thumb and forefinger spaced about a centimetre apart. "And don't forget the strange odours that permeate them there. I swear they sometimes smell of Lutin."
"The keep does rack up a lot of lutin corpses, perhaps they get served up in the mess hall." Stealth joked.
Cathal seriously considered that possibility for a few moments. "It would go far to explain a few things."
"Hah, sometimes I wonder." The feline laughed.
Momentarily, they approached the keep proper, the markets having been left in their wake nearly a mile back. Within a few short minutes they would be sharing drinks and a decent meal at the Mule, and would regale each other and those who couldn’t help but overhear with stories from their lives well into the night. The unlikely duo would become regular fixtures at the Mule over the coming weeks and months.