♪ Caro Emerald - Pack Up The Louie (Caravan Palace Remix) ♪ CS Enchiridion, Docking Bay - Opportunity's Knock, Lounge It had been a couple of days since the departure from the Acala system. Days in which compounded emotional and physical exhaustion had encouraged Mau to spend most of her time sleeping or eating. At present, however, she lay stretched across back of one of the couches in the OK's lounge watching idly as Taela played a game involving some sort of street race on various bike-like vehicles. Curiously instead of simply racing Taela was having to fend off attacks by competitors armed with chains, various bladed and blunt implements, and in a few cases, improbably, anti-armor rocket launchers. Stretching out as she watched Mau idly kicked her feet while reaching out with her left hand to gently begin batting at one of Taela's springy curls, taking some small joy in the way the mahogany hair bounced and danced under her touch. Taela responded to this by bunting Mau's hands idly while she stared at the screen and caused a 16 bike pileup through some tricky maneuvering, which the game rewarded her with a pleasant pinging noise and a notification popup. "Hey Mau," Taela asked, not taking her eyes off the screen. "Wanna try some jar cake?" Invigorating her harassment of Taela's hair as she was acknowledged, Mau inquired curiously, "Jar cake? What is jar cake?" "It's cake layered into a jar. Bought a huge supply of it before we flew off, figured it'd be tasty. And it keeps better than cake cake since, y'know, jarred." Taela, in one fluid motion, passed the controller to Mau while curling up over herself, demonstrating her flexibility by rolling backwards off the couch and onto her feet. "Be back in a jiffy," She said. True to her word, she returned about five minutes later carrying two small jars of red and white layered confectionary. In the time that Taela had been gone Mau had done her best to keep up with the game, however she had lost Taela's significant lead in first place, and was presently near the back of the pack of hyper-aggressive racers. In Taela's absence Mau's casual position on the back of the couch had been abandoned, Mau now perched on the edge of the couch sitting up and in a slight panic was trying to fend off nearly two dozen aggressors making it unclear if she had noticed Taela's return. "Eh, don't worry about that," Taela assured, tapping Mau on the shoulder with a jar. "I already got the achievement for this level anyways." Taela stepped over the back of the couch again and slid back into place. She twisted the jar's lid off, and then through clever package engineering folded it into an oddly-shaped metal spoon, digging into the moist goodness that was jar cake. After her first bite, she casually took the controller back from Mau. "But..." Attempting to complain was futile as it was clear that things were going to go poorly for Mau if they went any further. Relinquishing the controller to Taela, Mau stole the spoon and carved her own portion of the cake curious about how Taela's choice would taste this time remembering the poor experience with the MAN GRITS purchase earlier in their trip. Turning her attention back to the screen, Mau noted with a mixture of envy and respect that Taela's experience had allowed her to not only dispatch the harrowing horde of enemies, but that she was already rapidly climbing in position. Pouting at Taela briefly, Mau put the spoonful of cake into her mouth and took what solace she could in the jar cake. "It's pretty good, yeah?" Taela asked. "Definitely worth the bulk buy, I think." She opened her mouth and stuck her tongue out, prompting Mau to give her some while she focused on the game. In the midst of a pleased hum Mau playfully teased, "I suppose I can give this one a pass. Maybe after five or six I'll even forgive you for trying MAN GRITS." Scooping out a large bit of cake, Mau gently prodded it at Taela's mouth prompting her to eat it. The first spoon full became three, then ten and Mau found herself looking down into the depleted jar before giving herself a second spoon of cake as she commented, "You're really great, you know that?" Taela, without skipping a beat, gave Mau her own jar. "Yeah, aren't I?" she said with a fanged grin shot to Mau. *** CS Enchiridion, Docking Bay - Opportunity's Knock, Deck 2 A week had passed since the pair left Acala. Taela strode down the halls on deck 2 in workout gear, and decided to stop by Mau's room. Knocking on the door she said, "Hey, gonna work out and I need a spotter. Want to come with?" Powering down her communicator, Mau quickly made her way to her feet and winced as she realized that her legs had 'fallen asleep' while she sat. The weird sensation caused her some inconvenience as she wobbled toward the door, forcing a warm smile as she opened it to greet Taela. "I'd love to come." Was the instant reply given, Mau stepping through the door while casually straightening her shirt before motioning for Taela to lead on to the Rec Room. Taela happily led Mau to the rec room into the side dominated by workout machines. "You know, you should do some of this too. Last I checked, you're not in your super-robot body and you gotta stay in shape especially since we're just floating through space not doin' anything special." Taela said, laying out a pair of mats. "Now C'mon, well do stretches together." There was a brief phantom of confusion which rippled across Mau's mind as Taela mentioned that Mau had previously been in a 'super-robot body.' Despite it feeling familiar Mau couldn't place ever having had something like that, though she did instinctually agree that her present body was no her own. Eventually Mau forced herself to discard her momentary worry as pointless, instead nodding along in agreement with Taela's offer before settling down on the offered mat along side Taela. "I have been trying to work out and keep myself healthy. Though it isn't really showing..." Looking between Taela's physique and her own, Mau sighed wistfully before asking. "So what do we start with?" "Well, first we gotta do warm up stretches, get the muscles nice and primed for the actual workout so we don't pull anything. I mean, I PROBABLY don't need it, but I don't want to take the risk because I don't know this body nearly as well as I should." Taela walked Mau through the basics of the stretches, all the while correcting her posture directly with her hands. When all was said and done, Mau would feel more flexible and receptive to the workout imminent. Frowning slightly as Taela mentioned not knowing her body as well as she should, Mau repeated the phrase in her head several times in part out of a wonder if she had misunderstood, and in part to ensure that she would remember it for later. Contemplation of Taela's comment was however cut short as Mau was directed in a series of stretches which were largely only briefly demonstrated by Taela and were more often simply orally instructed. This process had the effect intended, Mau could feel the stretches and often she did feel a bit more relaxed as they finished. Unfortunately however, Taela's hands on teaching and corrective methods had unexpected side effects. Most prominently, Mau was somewhat crestfallen every time she failed to perform a stretch correctly feeling that she was letting Taela down. Beyond this however Taela's voice coming often from angles Mau couldn't see as well as the unexpected, warm, firm, feeling of Taela adjusting her body and pressing her slightly beyond where she was presently proved to have a potent effect on Mau's mind. As the stretches came to a close, Mau found that as much as she was likely limbered up, her breathing was much heavier and she could feel a heat in her face which had nothing to do with working out. Smiling in spite of her discomfort with how much her body reacted to things without her input, Mau had to admit that she was more than happy with things as they were and was looking forward to repeating the experience in the future. Taela led Mau to the weightlifting bench and gave her the rundown on the process of how it worked next. She stacked weight after weight onto the bar, culminating in something comically stacked. As the cat laid down, she breathed carefully, in and out repeatedly until Mau saw the green energies coalesce on her fingers, and then up her arms again. Before she could ask Taela, however, the routine began and the cat was performing reps with the obscenely heavy bar with admirable speed. Soon enough, Taela reached her last rep and put the bar back on its holder. The green energy died down once again as she vacated the seat and patted it for Mau to go down. "Your turn!" Watching the process of Taela applying weights to the bar, then beginning to work through the reps in a manner which Mau was fairly certain was either magical or psionic in nature, Mau wondered what exactly her role would be as a spotter. She doubted very much that she could lift even one side of Taela's weights, and eventually she contented herself with the theoretically simple task of trying to pull the weights out of line with any part of Taela before they hit her. When the workout drew to a close, and Taela suggested Mau go next there was a brief moment of trepidation before Mau casually went to the side and set about laboriously removing the weights from the bar one at a time. After setting the majority of the weights aside carefully Mau settled on the bench, noting that it was still warm, and with a bit less of a work up, started to slowly and carefully perform a much smaller set of repetitions. Doing her best to focus on the task at hand rather than contemplate the monumental gulf between her own, and Taela's physical capabilities, Mau worked her way through five sets of five reps before humbly vacating the bench as she knew she wouldn't be able to finish another set. Smiling a little apologetically at Taela, feeling she'd let her down some how, Mau inquired, "So what's next in our self improvement adventure?" Taela smiled and showed Mau to a complicated looking machine with levers and bars all over. "This thing pretty much can encompass everything else you might want out of a workout, but it's like, super easy to get tangled if you lose focus. I've had Armor pull me out of it once or twice." the cat informed, switching some bars and levers around to adjust the weight for herself. As Taela got started on this machine, Mau suddenly became aware of the fact that there was a significant likelihood that Taela was mostly doing this to show off to Mau. From the leg-lifts that showed off her thighs and glutes to the various arm-related weight pulls that showed off her arms and chest, Mau distinctly got the 'putting on a show' feeling from Taela. Observing the machine which Taela introduced to Mau, she wondered how exactly one would manage to get tangled in it. Sure there were some cable like portions but they did not seem like something which would ordinarily tangle. Perhaps Taela was just teasing her with mental imagery? Distracted from the idle musing about the nature of the rig, Mau found herself paying close attention to the shift of Taela's muscles beneath her skin an admiration being given for the way in which Taela's body worked backed quietly by the knowledge of just how much weight Taela was moving around with each motion. While it was clear that Taela was intentionally working for the sake of making Mau watch, Mau admitted that she didn't particularly want to look away, the entire display both fascinating and in some way deeply comforting. Soon enough, Taela was done with her set and readjusted all the weights for Mau's level, indicated that Mau should take a seat. As indicated, Mau traded places with Taela once again acutely aware of Taela's previous presence as she settled in. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, a somewhat counter-intuitive act, Mau began with her own cycle of repetitions. As the minutes passed, Mau found herself wryly aware that while Taela had been working for the sake of showing off, and catching her attention, she was on the other hand working simply to complete her allotted workout routine. As she finished up Mau noted that she felt exhausted in a way which loosely paralleled the endeavors which had occurred on Noir with her shuttling back and forth across the lunar globe. This time however she hadn't had the exoskeleton to do the bulk of the work for her. Breathing heavily, covered in sweat, and feeling like her limbs were made of wet paper, Mau gave Taela a bright smile and pushed herself off of the seat, stumbling only once before straightening and grinning at her lover turned work-out coach. "You look like you had fun," Taela remarked with a grin, guiding Mau back to the mats for cool-down stretches. These, while normally not much effort, felt like the weight of the world being channeled through Mau's body. But when all was said and done, it was a relieving experience. "So then, whaddya think?" Taela asked she walked over to a nearby vending machine and punched a button twice to dispense a pair of sports drinks. She tossed one to Mau, aiming low so it didn't hit her in the face. Fumbling the catch, Mau picked up the bottle from the floor and replied as she opened it, "I think I could get used to this... It is rather enjoyable. Same time again in a couple of days?" *** After a brief hunt around the Opportunity's Knock, Mau found her way down to the first deck and into the garage where the muted sound of activity signaled that she had finally found Taela as initially desired. Skipping across the room Mau paused at a point where she could see Taela's partially obscured form working diligently on the engine of her skimmer. Here she listened to the sound of Taela as she interacted with either a component of the engine or one of the many tools that went into maintaining the prized vehicle. After a minute passed, Mau set off again making sure to make plenty of noise to signal her approach. Quickly closing the gap Mau stopped a few feet away from Taela and rocked from heel to toe as she watched for a moment in curious silence before asking, "Hey Taela, would you mind if I ask you something?" "Ah? Sure," the cat responded, pulling herself away from the skimmer and wiping her hands off on a handy towel. Taela wore a coverall for this excursion, but wasn't as necessary as one would think, as her skimmer was electric - not gas powered. Still, it kept her from getting too messy, though her face bore smudges. "Knock yourself out." Smiling Mau spoke as prompted, "Back when we were at the One-Stop station, you mentioned that we barely knew each other. While I may know all sorts of things like what kind of food you like, the clothes you prefer, what weather you like and don't like, and stuff... I am not sure that really covers it so... I was wondering if you'd do me the favor and flat out tell me what I need to do so that you feel comfortable and like I'm really familiar to you." "Huh, I guess you know more about me than I thought," Taela mumbled, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. "I guess- I s'pose- I mean, I hardly know anything about you other than you worked with. . . those people? That we did the thing with? Don't get me wrong - I love the attention you give me, but like. . ." Taela made a grasping motion in the air, as if to grab a thought that was escaping her. One fist clutched as a look of comprehension dawned. "I want to know you, right?" she finally concluded. "Then ask me things. Anything. I'll answer honestly." As she spoke Mau casually settled into a crouch and then after a moment of indecision sat down keeping herself out of the way but trying to convey that she wasn't about to go anywhere. Taela pursed her lips trying to think of a good place to start, and settled. "Well, where are you even from?" *** Taela was the one to wander the ship on this particular day in search of Mau. Eventually, she had to get more and more creative in her searching, given both of their penchants for hiding in cupboards. Eventually, she found her girlfriend in a storage room connected to the rec room on the Opportunity's Knock itself, laying on a box. "Soooooo, Mau. . . Hi," Taela mumbled, fiddling with her tail awkwardly. Blinking at the unexpected sound of Taela's voice Mau took a moment before groaning as she willed her lethargic body to move with a grimace of distaste. Rolling onto her stomach, Mau propped her head up on her hands and smile at Taela while kicking her feet idly as she studied Taela's posture. Pausing Mau's smile faltered briefly before she asked with some concern in her voice, "Hey Taela, everything alright?" "Oh yeah, everything's fine. Just fine. So. Um," Taela continued to futz around with her tail. Her eyes nervously darted from side to side, avoiding Mau's gaze. "So I haven't uh. . . drunk anything for a week now. . . anything alcoholic, I mean. So, um. . . Would you. . . like to. . . Ah. . ." Taela's gripping of her tail grew stronger, a blush growing on her face. Even though Taela said that things were fine, Taela's unusual mannerisms were enough to cause Mau further concern as she watched her girlfriend. As she watched Mau did her best to keep her concern from showing on her face, not wanting to make things more difficult for Taela since it was clear that she was already nervous. In spite of her best efforts however, Mau wasn't confident that she'd managed too well and was greatly relieved when Taela's words allowed her to transition from concern to confusion. Sitting up on the box, Mau thought on Taela's words, slowly she pieced together what Taela was getting at realizing that she wasn't seeking praise for staying sober but rather intending to pick up on a subject which Mau had turned her down on previously. Realizing what Taela had intended Mau's disposition changed from thoughtful confusion to one of joy, enthusiasm, and energy as she slipped off of her box. Taking a step toward Taela with a warm smile Mau spoke softly in contrast to her over-excitement, "I would love to." Taela breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank fuck, I was worried I'd be stumbling here for an hour trying to get the words out." The cat wrapped her arms around Mau tight. And then whispered, "I think you'll like my bed. It's really soft~" in a temptatious voice. A twitch of Mau's lips was the only betrayal of the bubble of laughter that Taela's exclamation of relief had inspired. Managing not to ruin the moment with inappropriate laughter Mau instead focused on slipping her hands under the back of Taela's shirt to massage at their back idly while considering Taela's words. "Careful~" Mau warned with a whisper of her own, "If you say things like that you might struggle to keep me from taking up permanent residence." Taela casually removed Mau's hands from her shirt as she moved away, a saucy grin on her face. "Who says that wasn't my master plan?" *** Taela stubbed her toe on one of the cloth-covered VR machines for what seemed like the millionth time on the journey. The cloth, of course, was there to keep it from getting dusty. "Mau, we ever gonna do anything with these?" She called to the not-a-fox on the couch nearby, eyeing the pods like they. . . had stubbed her toe. Looking over to where Taela stood Mau tilted her head to the right, her now fairly long brown hair falling over her face before she spoke up, "Well, I've been working on stuff for them for the past few months. I could show you now, if you want." "Sure, why not? It's not like I've got anything better to do than stubbing my toes anyways," Taela said, pulling the cloth off the culprit to reveal the pod in all of its shiny glory. Pushing herself up from the couch, Mau crossed the space between Taela and the loosely cylindrical glossy white pod. Passing its neighbor, Mau pulled away a second sheet revealing the matching pod which completed the pair as she moved to a cushion she'd set upon on the floor next to a small monitor and some basic interface equipment which marked a sort of outpost from the small city of computer hardware which had eaten a chunk of the OK's lounge floor space. A couple of minutes passed with Mau busily typing before she waved Taela way from the front of the pod, and with a finally keystroke, the front of the pod opened upward on silent electric motors. As the VR pod opened, an interior looking something like black satin was revealed. Walking over to stand near Taela, Mau pressed her hand against the material demonstrating the way her hand sank into the material in away somewhat reminiscent of foam padding. Looking to Taela, Mau smiled and spoke, "So what you do, is you step up onto the step at the bottom," She illustrated with a point of her finger, "Then you just lean back against this smart-padding stuff and it conforms to your body to keep you safe and comfortable. I think there was something about helping with circulation and stuff so you don't feel stiff coming out of it with long term use or something... But that isn't something we need to worry about since we'll be sorta quick." Stepping aside, Mau motioned for Taela to step up into the pod and spoke reassuringly, "I'll get you comfortable and then join you, okay?" Taela took in Mau's explanation pensively, nodding a the demonstration. "Well, at least it's as cushy as the amount of money these things cost," Taela remarked, daintily stepping into the vessel and settling into a reclining position. "So this won't hurt, right?" "No pain at all. Could even turn off the sensation of pain altogether for the simulation if you want, but that can be a little disorienting." As she spoke, Mau watched as Taela's body settled into the material until she was more or less outlined by it, her body having sunk its entire width into the black material. "So. When I start it, you'll be in the dark for a few seconds, but after that I'll be there with you. Are you prepared?" Mau waited a moment to let Taela come to terms with things and give her answer not wanting to rush her into the unfamiliar. "Yeah, just gotta keep calm and all that. Slow breathing. I'm ready when you are," Taela responded, closing her eyes and focusing her breaths in and out. "Okay, I'm starting it. Just a second." Moving quickly to not leave Taela sitting for too long, Mau keyed the initiation, and watched as Taela's pod silently closed, while her own opened in anticipation for her own entry. Stepping into the pod and leaning back into the curious material as it hugged her body, Mau watched the pod close and plunge her into darkness. At which point she simply thought 'start.' From Taela's perspective, things were a little disorienting. She could hear the VR Pod opening again, and then Mau was taking her hand gently and speaking to her, "Things may be a little disorienting as they calibrate, but just step out of the pod." The strangest thing was that it seemed like nothing had changed, she was still in the lounge, laying in the pod, and there was Mau again, just as she had been moments before, only now she was asking Taela to get out. "Wait what? That was it?" Taela asked, gripping the sides of the pod to hoist herself out. "I was expecting something to happen." "It's only just begun really." Mau smiled warmly as Taela stepped out of the pod, "I'll admit I've been a bit mischievous, but my first project was to recreate the OK. We're actually in the simulation now..." As she trailed off Mau held her hand as if she was about to grab a bottle, and then before Taela's eyes a clear bottle with a familiar label indicating it was a bottle of Telvrosh spirits began to materialize, glowing motes coming together to create the object. "OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST EVER! YOU CAN MAKE BOOZE OUT OF THIN AIR!" Taela exclaimed, grabbing Mau's arm happily. But then she stopped herself. "But. . . does it taste like booze? And does it still get you drunk?" Smirking Mau offered the bottle to Taela, "Try it for yourself." Taela took the bottle and took a hearty swig of the spirits, nearly going cross-eyed from the stuff. "Y-yep!" she coughed, offering the bottle back to Mau. "It's real-ish!" Looking at the bottle with some concern, Mau asked, "Real-ish? Did I fuck up?" Taela shook her head. "No I mean like, it's real enough but obviously I'm not gonna be like, real-real drunk and hurt my real-real liver, you know?" "Oh. I understand." Casting a final skeptical look at the bottle, Mau gently tossed it into the air, letting it dissolve into a small flurry of short lived motes of light before leading Taela toward the OK's pool, before spreading her arms and opening the Lounge's canopy. Instead of the cold void of space, and certain death, the paneling opened to reveal clear azure skies, a cheery yellow-white sun, and white-sand beaches on the edge of a verdant landmass of some sort only a short distance away from where the OK sat off-shore floating idly in the ocean. With a smile Mau commented, "I also made us a beach." "Mau, you are a gem," Taela said, happily smiling on her girlfriend. After a moment of thinking, Taela snapped her fingers and her outfit changed from lounge-wear to a two piece swimsuit. "Race you to the beach?" Not bothering to change her clothes, Mau hopped up over the edge of lounge onto the hull of the OK where she began scampering down the black hull to dive into the lazily rolling ocean. She had no illusion that she'd be able to beat Taela in the race, but at least by starting suddenly she might make it a little fun. *** Sitting in the lounge while enjoying another dinner diligently produced by Taela's potentially unnamed armor unit and re-watching the Magical Girl Aeternalis-Glaxy Rider Handsome crossover for the twentieth time, Mau found her attention wandering and looked over to Taela before abruptly asking, "Hey Taela, why do your limbs glow green sometimes?" Taela looked over to Mau from her upside down position on the couch from her attempt to see if the crossover was any better upside down than it was right-side up. So far, the jury was out on the verdict. "I haven't told you? Huh. Weird. Thought that would have spilled out when I was confessing every little thing that's happened in my life," Taela said, kicking her feet in the air. "Anyways. . . I'm a psionic. That's crazy psi-energy stuff." Shrugging in turn Mau replied, "Next to all of the trauma and learning how to make you happy, I guess I sorta glossed over the pretty glowy-stuff. I assumed it was probably something cool, rather than a need-to-address sort of thing." "So basically you can bend reality with your mind... Huh. If I were the sort to get nervous, I suppose now would be a great time for some retrospective discomfort." To punctuate her words Mau stuck her tongue out at Taela, while she idly reached over to rub at Taela's stomach affectionately. "Retrospective discomfort? About what? Besides, I'm not THAT kind of psionic. I just. . . I think those mindeye weirdos call it Infusion but I enhance my body and its abilities through it. I can also do a couple other things, but not like, setting fire to objects with my mind or anything like that nonsense. Just more. . . tangible things. Like turning my anger into strength, or literally draining the life force from other people." Taela said, conjuring up psionic energies into her fingers. Considering Taela's response Mau waited a moment before replying, "Well I mean... I've known for a while that you could probably bench-press a bus if it somehow didn't fall apart when you tried to pick it up. But, I don't know I think most people would find some discomfort in their girlfriend being able to use superpowers with their brain when they're just a short noodly limbed poser." Sticking out her tongue at Taela again in an attempt to show she was being playful Mau continued, "While you sort of implied that you can't read or control my mind, which is in a way a little disappointing, or light stuff on fire, knowing that my girlfriend could probably tear me in two or drain the life out of me would be a little worrying if I didn't like you so much." "I mean..." Mau laughed a little, "I can safely say things like, if it was you I wouldn't mind having my life force consumed. Sounds like a cute date night activity. A dinner-date even. But I suppose that I'm also aware that from a self preservation angle I should be afraid of my ridiculously attractive girlfriend." "Should be." Mau echoed, "Unfortunately for you, however, you're stuck with me. Unless you get a craving that only the life-force of your cute girlfriend can satisfy." Leaning over Mau gently kissed Taela for a moment before sitting up and smiling down at her feeling a curious appreciation for Taela's patience. After all another might not have been so forgiving with Mau's at times taxing habits and activities. "Hey, careful. I might take you up on that offer sometime!" Taela playfully retorted. "Still, I prefer drinking blood with my tail, you know? Much nicer than ephemeral life-essence. When I do that sort of thing, I mean." As if to punctuate the statement, her tail flicked towards Mau tantalizingly. For a moment Mau wasn't sure how to respond, however the motion of Taela's tail set Mau in motion her hands finding themselves once again upon the fluffy extension of Taela's spine as Mau happily stroked and massaged it, running her fingers through the soft fur. Focusing on indulging in Taela's tail for the moment Mau was slow to respond, but eventually she teased, "You can drink with this? But it's so cute and fluffy~ Though I suppose you're pretty cute and here you are suggesting that you can suck the life out of people in not one, but two ways! How's a girl like me to stay safe when all the good girlfriends are so dangerous?" After one flick the tail's end went from furry and soft to metallic, then a large needle with several prongs slipped out of it. "Through liberal application of deadly girlfriends as defense?" Taela helpfully posed. As the tail changed, Mau's eyes widened and she set about exploring the tail-turned-weapon in her hands, her fingers tracing the smooth, hard surface before carefully tracing the needle, careful to avoid touching any of the points. As she explored this new facet of Taela, Mau noted with some discomfort that she had started blushing and carefully removed her hands from Taela's tail to rest in her lap. "You know," Mau began, "If you say something like that I might start looking for excuses to watch you 'defend' me from people. Or something..." Tearing her eyes away from the tail, Mau focused instead on Taela's face watching her curiously, wondering what she thought of the exchange while trying to ignore the warmth of her blush. "Mau, I will defend you any day of the week," Taela said, reaching for one of Mau's hands and squeezing it with her own. Her tail retracted the needle, leaving it to be nothing more suspicious than a regular catgirl's tail. "I know." The words were spoken softly as Mau squeezed Taela's hand in return, "I guess I'm just feeling really lucky right now and sort of babbling. Thank you for liking me. Thank you for letting me love you." *** ♪ Donkey Kong Country OST 20 Ice Cave Chant ♪ Mau found herself in the valley again. The mega flora surrounded her and shimmered, more surreal and translucent than the last time she saw them. Twitching her inky tail tips in a sequential left to right pattern, Mau blinked and gazed about herself once again taking in the awe inspiring, and this time somewhat familiar landscape. Once again, she spotted the egg-shape that housed the valley's main resident before - but this time it was etched with lines up and down and around the sides rather than the perfect smoothness Mau was familiar with. The egg's sections floated off it, revealing Merril lounging inside it on a chair made of the egg-material. The massive woman beckoned to Mau, a smile splitting her face. Her eyes fixing on the odd egg-like structure, Mau had tilted her head to the right as she attempted to understand the significance of the gridded egg in the brief moment before its curved panels drifted out of the way. The motion served to reveal a curious entity which Mau had the privilege of calling a friend. Blinking as Merril beckoned Mau closer, no hesitation was given as Mau set into a casual skipping gait, rapidly eating the distance between herself and the amusingly literally colossal woman. Settling to a stop a couple of Merril's paces away, Mau waved and cheered brightly, "Hello Merril! It's good to see you again~" While Mau was truly happy to once again see her friend, she was also very much aware of the memory of Merril's predisposition toward unexpected predatory actions, as such Mau kept herself ready to move should she need to. This she realized was an odd decision due to the somewhat dream-like nature of her surroundings, the semi-real transparency to everything around her on this visit. While the unreality of her surroundings was curious, Mau was fairly certain that carelessness would prove to be just as uncomfortable as on her first visit to Merril's domain. "Good job Kitten, you're learning!" Merril guffawed. One lusciously long leg extended out of the egg to barely graze the ground, and then as if pulled by a rope the rest of her followed. "It's nice that I got a hold of you again." The monster lowered her front to the ground, her face a mere foot away from Mau's. Her tongue lolled out and licked at Mau's face as she said, "You've made friends with a neat person." Holding her position as Merril moved forward Mau was curious about Merril's choice of wording as she commented on getting a hold of Mau, and even further at the comment of Mau making friends with someone. These observations however were at war with the fact that Mau had found herself in intimate contact with Merril's rather large tongue in spite of her wariness. Twisting to free her face from the slick contact with Merril's tongue, Mau inquired, "What makes them so interesting?" "Well, they're. . . like you. But not the way you might think. You'll get it, eventually," Merril said, rolling her tongue back into her mouth. "But, I got a job for you. I know where you're headed, and you're the only person who can do this for me." Merril lifted herself off the ground and stood straight up, placing a fingertip to her forehead. Pulling the finger back, a silvery strand attached itself - and subsequently detached from her forehead, pooling into a small silver pearl on her fingertip. "I've seen your head, so this will be tucked in with all those little secret things you can't quite see yet," she explained, returning to a crouch over Mau. "But, if you do this for me, I'll give you. . . something that ain't value-able. It's something nobody else can give you." Blinking slowly at Merril, Mau wiggled her ears as her head once again tilted to the right as Merril spoke, non-answers apparently being the flavor of the day. As Merril created a silvery pearl, Mau's head shifted tilting instead to the left as she focused on the curious object and Merril's promise of a thing that no one else can give, and further speaking of things she couldn't quite remember. Distrust and caution nagged at Mau, but as she gazed up at Merril, considering both her situation and eventually Merril's, Mau found that she was... Sad. Sad that she had worried, after all Merril's situation was difficult, she couldn't do things easily and people were cruel towards her, something which Mau understood intimately. These thoughts led quickly to a tempering of Mau's intent and she smiled happily up at Merril in spite of her saliva slicked face as she spoke happily once more, "I'm glad that I can do something to help you, you're an important friend and I'd hate to let you down." Merril's smile split her face once more. "Good for one free boon on delivery!" She said with glee, reaching her finger down and connecting the silvery pearl with Mau's forehead. On contact, Mau got flashes - a home world, a farm, a strange creature. But then they were gone, in the same fuzzy place her current destination was. "Thanks kitten," Merril said, using that same hand to pet Mau on the head. Blinking as she was pet Mau leaned into the affection her smile content as she wrestled with the strange nagging sensation that she was forgetting something while simultaneously experiencing the rewarding warmth of knowing that she was helping one of her few friends. Murmuring a "you're welcome" Mau allowed herself to relax, simply existing in the moment only dimly aware of the heavy vibrations in her chest and throat, and the loud rumble-purr that sounded in time with her breathing. "You really are a kitten," Merril said with a pleased lilt as the edges of Mau's vision began to dissolve inwards, the dreamscape erasing itself before her before she was greeted by the sight of Taela's bedroom. Blinking awake Mau stared up at the dark ceiling overhead. She could dimly remember a pleasant dream and a familiar warmth. Absentmindedly putting a hand to her forehead Mau was oddly surprised to find that she didn't feel feverish, blinking again she slowly propped herself up in Taela's bed. Holding her position Mau glanced over at Taela's still sleeping form, smiling to herself Mau fidgeted for a moment before carefully wiggling her way across the length of Taela's bed to silently drop off the edge. With a final glance to ensure that Taela remained soundly asleep, Mau crept across the room and slipped out into the darkness of the Opportunity's Knock to hopefully relieve the tension which plagued her following her dream.