Two of a Kind Ch. 07byCia81©
"It's nice to meet you Bashta."
Velaku extended his hand.
Bashta kept glancing at the Falcon's snowy white wings with crimson tips. He carefully shook Velaku's hand, noticing the sharp talons on the small man's fingers. He wasn't as large as his mate but even he towered over the leader of the clans in the western territory. Bashta saw absolute assurance of himself in his eyes though, and lowered his gaze.
"Um, you too."
The small falcon moved on. "Cavel. Always a pleasure."
"Likewise Velaku. Will we be meeting your mate? I have heard... interesting things about Natham. I've been looking forward to meeting him."
"Looks like you get your wish." A deep voice belonging to a large cat Carthera with long dark hair startled them when he entered the room. He walked over to Velaku and wrapped his arms around the small man. He kissed his neck before he turned to smile at Bashta and Cavel.
Velaku patted the man's arm. "Natham, this is Cavel and Bashta."
"Nice to meet you both."
Bashta stared at Natham. The man was golden all over except for his long, dark hair and eyes. He should have looked strange standing against the small pale Velaku but he didn't. They were mates and something about the two of them was just right. Bashta knew from their earlier talks that Cavel could see on the surface why some of the clans had issues with the pair but he wasn't one of them.
He would keep an open mind as well.
"You too. Thank you, for helping us with this. I know this has been an unsettled time for your clan."
Velaku waved his hand dismissively. "You know how worried we were about your clan and how sick they were. I wish we could have helped before this but finding those who were responsible was the right thing to do, for everyone."
Velaku pulled away from his mate and moved to some chairs, gesturing for everyone to sit down.
"I'm sorry we weren't able to find them before your brother and his mate were harmed. We already gave our doctor the medicine you brought and the instructions from your Dr. Waddel for the kitling."
Bashta's ears twitched at the mention of the young jaguar he was supposed to be related to. "Thank you. We weren't sure if she was sick but thought it best to be prepared and the doctor said that dosing her if she wasn't sick wouldn't hurt her."
"Is The Snake here?" Cavel asked.
"No. Urgent business of his own came up and he's unable to be here for this meeting. There isn't much more he could say that we haven't already discussed over the phone. He did leave something for you though."
Velaku picked up a book off his desk. It was black with a silver scroll work across the cover. He handed it over to Bashta.
"What is this?"
Velaku settled back in his chair. "We don't really know. It was found in the same cell as the kitling and the mother."
Bashta closed his eyes. The fact that she lost her parents the same way as he did affected him almost more than the fact the kitling was his only blood kin in the world. He didn't want anyone to feel the pain and loneliness he had felt.
"The book has writing in it but nothing we could read. I was considering having a specialist look at it but I wanted to get Bashta's permission first." Velaku took a sip of the water his assistant had gotten for him.
Bashta's fingers lightly stroked the warm leather cover. He traced the silver leaves that decorated the front and he bit his lip before looking up at Cavel with wary eyes.
"Open it. If you can't read it we can always ask Velaku's specialist to research it."
Bashta knew he was right but the idea of touching something his brother, a brother he'd never known he had, was surreal. His hand trembled slightly as he gingerly flipped open the front cover. His sharp teeth worried at his bottom lip and he squinted at the page. He touched the page here and there, his mouth moving silently. All three of the other men in the room watched him. His finger began to tremble and he pulled it off the page. His eyes were flicking over the black script faster and faster.
"Can you read it?" Natham asked in his rumbling voice. "Bashta?"
Bashta didn't appear to hear him. He flipped the page and his eyes widened as he gasped.
"Bashta!" Cavel reached out and shook his shoulder a little.
Bashta jerked a little and then looked up, his eyes unfocused. He blinked a few times and then looked at Cavel. Tears began streaming down his face. "I can read it."
"His name was Djavan. He was my brother. According to this he left the year my litter was born with his mate."
"You can really read that?" Velaku asked this time.
"Yes. It's a language used in our clan. A mix of symbols and words like your English language." Bashta looked up. "Why didn't I know about him? Where were his litter mates?"
"If he was your parent's eldest then he wouldn't have had any," Natham said. "Cat Carthera only have one kitling in the first litter, much like most human pregnancies."
"Why didn't you say tell me that?" Bashta looked up at Cavel. "I told you I had littermates. Why didn't you question why I didn't have an older brother?"
"I didn't think about it, honestly. Any mention of your family was so painful for you; I didn't want to add to that." Cavel looked over at Bashta. "I would never have guessed that you had a brother alive out in the world somewhere.
"What else does the book say? Does it have any information about what happened or the men involved?"
Bashta looked back down at the page, tapping a mark here and there. "This early stuff is just about my family. He argued with my father. He felt that the modern world was beginning to make itself felt in the jungle," Bashta paused and looked up, "and he was right too. Over the years we saw more and more humans in our area of the jungle. We used to be able to travel for more than a week in any direction and not see the end of the rain forest. When we left it took just a few days. I saw more and more humans.
"He believed that we needed to learn to coexist with the humans to protect our sacred places. We couldn't hide forever. He doesn't say what finally made him leave but he took his mate and left after he was sure that my parents had another heir to lead the clan and be alpha. I can't believe that. They were so young, just my age when I was left after I was born."
"Can you skip to the end? See if he said anything about the smugglers or their operation?"
Bashta flipped to the end of the book and began rifling back through the pages.
There was a knock at the door.
Natham stood up to answer the door, turning back around with a large tray in his hands. "I asked Velaku's mother have some brunch prepared for us. Airplane food is close enough to cardboard to be inedible and you must be hungry. We haven't eaten yet so I thought we could all breakfast together."
"That looks good, Natham. Thank you, my mate." Velaku cleared some space from his desk for Natham to put the tray down."Remind me to thank her later."
Natham smiled back at him and nodded.
"Bashta, do you want to eat?"
Bashta was reading intently and he barely looked up. "Just save me something please."
Cavel, Velaku, and Natham made quiet conversation about their clans and at the variety of foods available as they ate. Natham and Cavel ate more of the breakfast meat while Velaku savored the succulent melon and berries available along with the whole grain toast.
About a half hour later another knock at the door pulled Bashta from his intense reading. His nose twitched. "Chocolate?"
Cavel laughed. "I see your nose is working just as well as ever." He looked at the other men in the room. "He loves anything with chocolate in it."
Bashta blushed and shrugged. His nose was more sensitive than many of his new clan's; he was too used to relying on his senses to survive and paid more attention than they did. It wasn't always a good thing; many things in the modern world did not smell good but he loved chocolate. The flavor and the smell.
This time Velaku answered the door.
"I thought your guests could use something sweet, dear."
Cavel and Bashta both stood when Elalera moved into the room. The woman was small as all bird Carthera were but she held herself upright with the dignity of the wife and mother of the Falcon leader, both old and new and seemed taller for it. She passed Natham the tray with four cups of steaming hot chocolate. The rich smell filled the room and Bashta couldn't help but take a deep breath and sigh.
"Thank you, my lady." Cavel bowed over the hand Elalera held out to him and kissed it. She blushed and laughed a little.
"You are entirely too smooth for your own good," she said with a smile. "It's a good thing you are mated."
"I think my mate likes you better than me right now anyway." They all laughed at Bashta who had already picked up his cup and was taking a cautious sip and then savored the rich chocolate and cinnamon flavor. An ecstatic look crossed his face and his eyes sprang open as he looked at Elalera.
"This is wonderful!"
She reached up and patted his cheek. "Thank you my dear. I make it from scratch. I'll make sure you get the recipe before you leave."
His beaming smile caught everyone by surprise as he grabbed Velaku's mother in a hug. "Thank you!"
Cavel chuckled. "Like I said, he really likes his chocolate."
"Well I'll leave you gentlemen to your business. I think someone needs me right about now anyway." A cry from a young one could be heard faintly in the room with the door open. Bashta's breath hitched a little and he jerked, looking out at the hallway. Elalera squeezed his arm.
"I'm taking very good care of her."
He bit his lip and took a deep breath. It was hard but he restrained the urge to leave in search of the kitling that made that sound.
The men remained standing until Elalera left the room and then sat back down. Bashta drank his chocolate and ate some of the food Cavel saved for him as he told them about what he read. Filling his stomach eased a bit of the nervous nausea he was feeling.
"Basically they were looking for the Temple. The humans who were holding Djavan's family hostage wanted him to lead them there so they could steal the treasures in the offering rooms. Djavan's intentions were to lead them into the rainforest and then have our clan force them to release his pregnant mate.
"He... Well, his reaction to the village was horrible," Bashta refused to close his eyes, knowing he'd just see the last glimpse he had of the empty village, full of plague and death, "and that's just what he wrote on paper. He tried to lead the humans away when he saw the signs but all they saw was a chance to loot. They forced him into the village. He had to watch as they pawed over the dead bodies of people he had known and stole anything they thought they could sell to collectors."
Bashta couldn't help but tense speaking of such a thing was even harder than reading it. He knew it had to have happened but it was just very immediate with the words being written and spoken. Cavel rubbed his shoulder and urged him to drink a bit more of his cocoa. Bashta knew Cavel hated it when he was upset but as much as it hurt to read his brother's journal it might have answers they needed.
He was the only one who could.
When Bashta calmed down a little he went on.
"He didn't get sick right away but by the time they came back to the United States he was showing signs of the fever and coughing. They forced him to return to the jungle about two weeks after they returned, this time to find the Temple. He never got to see his mate or their newborn daughter. He wrote that he would have refused even if the humans had allowed; he knew what the plague markers around the village meant. He was going to die. He did bribe one guard to slip this book into his wife."
Bashta blushed a little. "The last few pages were private messages for her."
"Was there anything about who was behind all of this?"
"He only mentions humans. He was forced to submit to them when they grabbed his pregnant mate from a doctor's appointment while he was at work. He couldn't risk her life or that of their unborn kitling." Bashta looked sad as he stared at the door, remembering that faint wail earlier.
"Turns out he lost them both anyway."
Velaku leaned forward and put his hand over the one clenched on Bashta's thigh next to him. "Losing a parent is hard and losing both is tragic. I know how much pain you must carry with you. But your niece will have you; she will still have family, a clan. She will have parents and love."
"You're right. I just can't understand why people do this. Why do humans hate us so much?"
Natham spoke up. "It's not just humans, there are good and bad Carthera just as there are people. Was there anything in your brother's book about who was in charge? David killed a few guards to get in to the building and your brother's mate killed the man outside her cell but they were all killed too fast to question."
"I just skimmed it really."
Bashta ran a hand through his hair as he tried to think.
"I do remember one thing that stood out. He said that he overheard a phone call one day when the humans left the small slot in his cell door open. He said the humans seemed very afraid and the voice over the phone sounded strange and he could hear animal sounds in the background but unlike anything he'd ever heard before."
Velaku looked thoughtful. "Your brother probably wasn't exposed to that many different clans as a loner. He might not have recognized the sound of the voice if he didn't know the type of animal the Carthera was."
Natham nodded. "Davis did say he thought that a Carthera had to be behind this. There were artifacts in that building that weren't just from the Jaguar clans. They are targeting holy places to the clans, places that no outsiders would know. Temples, ancient worship halls, hidden villages... no human would be trusted with that knowledge, much less from the four clans we found that had artifacts stolen from them. It has to be someone who is close to many clans in order to still be concealed from discovery."
Cavel raised an eyebrow. "You think this went beyond what Bashta's brother knew?"
Velaku stood up and paced around the office a little. "I do. I don't want to seem paranoid but I've wondered if we managed to catch all of the Carthera involved in plotting my father's murder. There have been other things happening to clans in my territory that don't seem significant when taken alone, but all together?" he shook his head, "I just have this feeling there is something we are missing."
Natham stood up and stopped Velaku in his pacing. "That may be true but we can't see it right now. We have to wait until we have more evidence and a direction to investigate. We have done all we can right for the time being."
Cavel nodded his head. "My clan has only prospered under your family's rule."
He stood and held his fist to his chest in salute to Velaku. "You helped my clan and dealt with the Snake so that my people would be safe. You eliminated the danger to us from the artifacts from Bashta's village and you have cared for his niece in your own home. If you ever have need, call on me. Anything my clan or I can do to help will be done."
Bashta hurried to stand beside him and copy his stance. "My mate speaks for both of us."
Velaku saluted him back. "Thank you, my friend."
There was a moment of silence. Very faintly a cry was heard through the closed door and Bashta's ear twitched.
Natham smiled at Bashta. "I would guess you'd like to see your niece now."
Bashta took a deep breath and nodded. "I think I'm ready."
Velaku led the pair deeper into the house to the personal living space areas.
"I'm sorry Natham couldn't join us, he was scheduled for another modified Jintue lesson with Dorvan. My best friend, Alseliol found his mate and bonded as well so they can take turns replacing me for the lesson. We've found the combination of our fighting styles, cat and falcon, is particularly lethal."
Cavel looked impressed.
"Bashta has been showing us his techniques for guerrilla style fighting when time allows. He's almost impossible to spot when he actually tries to blend in with the natural environment; it's eerie."
Velaku looked at Bashta with a thoughtful expression. "That may be useful. Perhaps we should consider pairing our fighters for some cross training. Now that my clan has seen just how much more effective Natham and I are we might be able to get the more conservative warriors on board. Then Bashta could teach our men at the same time."
Cavel looked over at Bashta, who shrugged. "I'm willing to help however I can. If there is someone out there, some unknown Carthera plotting against the clans here, it would be good to be able to work together. The easiest way to defeat an enemy is to isolate him."
Velaku nodded. "Very true. I will make sure to bring that point up at the next council meeting." He paused outside a door and Bashta was suddenly extremely nervous. Cavel wrapped his arm around him.
Bashta took a deep breath and nodded.
Velaku opened the door and the first thing Bashta saw was a small body on hands and knees on a soft rug. The baby was playing with a soft block and her long black hair hung in ringlets almost to the floor. When her chubby little face turned toward them Bashta fell against Cavel as his knees gave out.
Cavel held up his mate as he stared in shock at the little baby sitting on a fuzzy rug on the floor.
Tears streamed down his face and he rubbed at his eyes to clear them. He didn't speak as he continue to stare, mesmerized by the little girl. Cavel rubbed his back and soothed him with a deep rumble in his chest. He began to get worried when it felt like Bashta wasn't breathing.
Bashta didn't answer Cavel, barely blinking as he stared into space with a frown. Cavel could feel the same sadness that had permeated Bashta since they mated, but blanketing their bond was a profound sense of shock.
"Bashta, what is it?" Cavel shook his shoulder a little and Bashta finally blinked and drew in a quick breath before letting it out in a small sob. He shuddered and then pulled away from Cavel to drop to his knees a few feet from the solemn baby. The two of them seemed to be ignoring everything and everyone around them.
Suddenly the kitling crawled over to Bashta and began patting his arm as she babbled nonsense at him. Bashta held out his hand and she pulled herself up onto her feet while clutching the slender fingers with both of her chubby little hands. When he scooped her up and pulled her into his chest and began rocking her, she cooed and grabbed his shirt in a firm grip to snuggle in even closer. Velaku, Elalera, and Cavel just watched the intimate scene that was so clearly a reunion of two family members, even if they had never met before.
Elalera moved slowly to avoid disturbing Bashta who was singing under his breath in a strange language to his niece. He dropped kisses on her head and spoke to her in broken whispers. The baby's eyes closed and her small body went limp.
Wordlessly, Elalera urged Cavel forward as she and Velaku stepped back and moved away to give them some space.
Cavel took a step toward his mate and the beautiful baby he had snuggled in his arms. He sat down behind Bashta and gathered his mate into his embrace. He slid his hands down Bashta's arms and together they held the baby that already meant so much to both of them.
For a moment Cavel didn't realize Bashta was speaking to him.
"She looks like my sister Velli," he said in a broken whisper.
"She does?" Cavel used one hand to gently smooth the curls back from her face. Her little rosebud mouth opened and shut a few times as her lips smacked together and her eyelids quivered at the touch before settling back into sleep with a small sigh.