“Ugh…” I looked at my cloak that was covered in mud, but I was thankful I turned around enough that I didn’t get a face full of mud. “That was hilarious.” Lily chuckled and I rolled my eyes at her as I went to greet my new comrade. I minded every step beside the trench, its water reduced by half as it sloshed back and forth. The pod hissed as the vacuum seal around the door was popped and the door raised just as I reached it.
“Meet your new squad member.”
Once the door was fully ajar, what I saw inside left me completely surprised. Inside sat a beautiful girl, not just any girl, but a beast girl. Two large animal ears rose from the crown of the girl before they rounded off at the top. Long fine white strains of hair rose from the inside of them as they twitched. With each movement of them, I could see the dull orange hair that covered their backs, matching the long silky combed hair that stretched past her neck to come to a stopover her left breast. The bane of her hair was pure white to the roots, but black tiger stripes crossed both the colors.
Besides the eye-catching ears, her lightly tanned oval face with sharp yellow cat was also mesmerizing as they stared back at me as a smile played on her soft pink lips. “Tiger…?” The thought appeared in my head like a large glaring LED billboard in the night escaped my lips before I could even catch myself. “Yes, I’m a tiger girl.” Her smile only grew larger, her voice soft and paced.
I couldn’t respond until she spoke again. “Your jaw is hanging.” She purred as she slowly stepped from the pod gracefully. I quickly adjusted myself. While she was beautiful – no – she was a clear ten out of ten in all manners.
Her chest was covered with a black plate carrier that allowed her a decent amount of clearance with her arms. Six large magazine pouches were attached to her midsection, double stacked, with red shotgun shells peeking out the top of them. A small enclosed pouch sat above them but was zipped and unmarked. Above that on the patch section was a cartoonish tiger with the same style words reading as “Cat scratch Fever”. Black spandex-like shorts started above her, just about where the plate carrier stopped and ended just above her upper thigh. I believed they were called Dance shorts, or maybe it was something else.
Further down, she had thick metal-plated knee pads and black combat boots with small spikes on top of it. Her hand was gloved in black leather with a metal plate over her knuckles, no spikes. She did not wear any sleeves or high socks and her arms were tanned and bare as her legs. If I had to say it, she was quite sexy – putting aside the danger of leaving those areas exposed, I guess.
The tiger smile grew larger, if at all possible, at me while I checked her out and it only became obvious to me that I was a little too… open about it. I felt embarrassed at first, mainly it was quite a crappy first impression to get leered at. If you had to look, at least do it when they weren’t looking man! She turned around, reached into the pod. The sound of metal latches disengaging caught my attention. Her plump rear took my attention briefly along with a long orange tail, but that tail also drew my attention to the rather large knife strapped to her lower back.
She turned before I could admire the beautiful sight a little longer and in her arms was a VERP-12 with a skeletonized stock folded to the side. With a practiced motion, she unfolded the stock and locked the bolt back before she reached into the pod. The next moment, a loaded magazine was pulled out and slapped into the shotgun before she charged it.
“Names Marigold. At your service, Master”
. . . . .
The canopy of trees roared overhead as thousands of trickling lines of runoff danced from off them. Marigold was leading the way through the damp and humid forest as night was slowly encroaching upon us. The forest smelled of fresh bark and crisp cold valley air as the roar of the pelting rain almost masked our footsteps. The tigress slithered through the forest like an elegant cat and with the coming of night and the inclement weather, my visibility was cut short of a hundred feet. On the ridge, it would have been a problem.
However, in the forest, the many dips and raises; it wasn’t that much of a loss. However, when I told Marigold of my situation, she only flashed me a devilish grin.
At the moment, she was only about six feet ahead of me as we made our way through a creek. The remnants of an old wooden bridge remained to our left, but it had long been destroyed. It must have catch fire, either by nature herself or another being. While the bridge had been destroyed, someone or something had built a bridge made from long thick trees, laying them long ways over the dip. It was well worn with nothing but the long worn away bark of the sky facing side.
Her back was to me as she gauged each step, her back now lugging a small backpack with several magazine pouches attached to the back. There was food and water inside the backpack, but only enough for two days if we both rationed ourselves. There was also a sidearm now holstered to her thigh. The sight of it was angelic. The strap that hugged her thigh fat so marvelously combined with the rearview of her butt; I definitely found myself looking forward to each incline.
We stopped at the top of the small creek and she stopped as she did before. Her head turned side to side slowly before it stopped. I noticed a slight glimmer, like a diamond, and I realized it was her eye. Then we both locked eyes. It was awkward for a moment when I figured I had been caught leering at her. “Like what you see?” She purred playfully as her tail swayed side to side. Something I should have mentioned, but that glorious sight of her rear was enough for me to just block it out – not that it was an issue.
I looked away after I figured I didn’t have any other options to unfuck myself from being caught. “Hey, you don’t have to look away. I don’t mind.” She purred. She was soaked and her skin glistened faintly. “Don’t cats hate getting wet?” I blurted the question in my head as I turned back to look at her. “What girl doesn’t like being wet?” She said provocatively before she turned back to the trail ahead and finished clamoring back onto the beaten path that was overgrown with trees now. I was caught off guard by her words but set them aside to unpack later as I chased after her.
The rain splattered mercilessly against the beaten path where the bridge was, the canopy pulled away by the sudden widening of the path. Marigold and I kept to the tree line, preferring to stay out of the direct rain as much as possible.
Aside from unending downpour, we encountered very little hostile wildlife. Animal or monsters. All of which was easily dispatched by Marigold with her quick reflexes and her trusty knife. I wasn’t going to ask why she wasn’t using her rifle, though I did appreciate not having to replenish her ammo. Lily had reminded me to keep a tight leash on my new “Pet” since I was responsible for her equipment as well. Reasonable back draw, but shotgun rounds were actually quite cheap, that is if I kept her tied to birdshot and buckshot. I wasn’t going to go down the route of Dragonbreath or flechette rounds; no matter how cool they were.
That aside, even with the occasional encounter, we were still four hours into our mission. I was glad to have another companion other than lily. Something about having a physical person here rather than the disembodied voice of an Artificial Intelligence program did wonders for my heart. I didn’t feel so alone anymore, afraid to take more risks since I was completely on my own. While I did put a little faith in the knights, hindsight and a week being a temporary guard for the settlement blew that wide open.
Just from the interactions I had with the residents, I learn how horrid the knights actually treated everyone. When there was trouble, it was usually a knight at the root of in there. They resented being there, they hated everyone, and often saw themselves above everyone. That was from the mouth of the others. For the remaining adventurers from the original group, they avoided me like I was death incarnate so asking them about the knights was nigh impossible. It was just a large clusterfuck I found myself in.
Hindsight was twenty-twenty, but that didn’t change the fact I couldn’t change the choices I made. All I could do is put one foot forward and hope I had the opportunity to do better. I was my own person, but I did realize I couldn’t just do whatever. I had to consider if my actions could affect others. It wasn’t a case of being soft hearted or weak, but the fact that what I did back in the settlement left it broken and weak. Should something happen, I don’t think it could weather it, or maybe it could not have even if I hadn’t done what I done. I wouldn’t get the chance to find out.
“Hey… Are you mad at me?” Marigold’s soft voice pulled me from my thoughts and I noticed I had all but stopped moving. Rooted in place I felt the grimace that displayed itself. I quickly wiped it away with a fake perky smile. “No, why?” She looked at me with unsure eyes. Her eyebrows furrowed in concern as each of her large pupils jumped back and forth from each of my eyes. She bit her lip, as if unsure if she should ask me, though she did so anyways in the end. “I thought you were mad at me. You just stopped and stared at me like you were angry…”
Her voice grew weaker with each word, slowly fading away into the clatter of the rain against the muddied ground around us. I shook my head and added “I was just in thought. It’s been a long week.” I patted her on the shoulder. “C’mon, the sooner we finish this – the better we’ll all be.” She stared at me for a few seconds longer as if trying to ascend the truth of my words. In the end, she only nodded and took the lead once again. Be it out of belief or simply to continue the conversation when we got back to the settlement.
The silence between us settled again, but there was tension now, mainly from my end. I could see her tail no longer swayed with the same vigor as earlier nor did her ears stand tall as tall. I felt really horrible without even knowing what I said or did wrong.
The rain seemed colder and the ground slippery. With the added thunderstorm that now hung-over head, the forest had become near unnavigable. “Let’s stop here.” I called out to Marigold. “Everything all right?” She asked with concern as she quickly backtracked to me as I found myself a nice bench made of roots and mud. “No, I can’t see.” I said with a sigh as I brought up the Tactlink. “I was wondering when you would complain about it.” Lily said with amusement. I pulled my arm close to my chest to shield it from the rain and scrolled through the shop until I found a good pair of Night Vision Goggles and purchased them. They were about two-thousand dollars, just with a head harness.
After summoning them and putting them on, I found myself in a green-lit forest.
Marigold’s beautiful face was almost clear as day, dismissing the green tint. I felt my mood lift now that I was draped in darkness anymore. “Better?” She asked with a small smile that almost melted my heart. “Y-Yeah.” Not good. Girls were not foreign to me, but having gone through a week and some days without any allies I could trust – I felt a close bond with her, kind of like… Love? “I know I’m pretty, but we have to continue, Master.” She said. Her smile blossomed more and I found myself enraptured by it.
It took me a few seconds before I could look away and this time, I took the lead. Now both of us were in better moods, so I guess the situation wasn’t that bad.