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author: naoko kensaku ([livejournal.com profile] mistressnaoko)
e-mail: beta.read.edit [ at ] gmail dot com


The Rat looked at the Tiger, its nose twitching.


"I promise to wake you, if you would but carry me to the meeting place," the Rat offered. There was nothing in the Rat's gray body and long pink tail to suggest nervousness, but the Tiger thought there was a tiny whiff of fear.


"But if I do so," the Tiger rumbled, sitting casually on the floor, front paws crossed and tail swishing gently from side to side, "You would jump from me to the front of the line. So my efforts will be for naught."


"This way, we would beat the Dragon and the Phoenix," the Rat pointed out, whiskers twitching violently now, "For if they ruled the Zodiac, then the humans will suffer."


They were sitting just outside the Tiger's lair, a cave hidden in a bamboo grove. The Rat had been most insistent this morning to speak to the Tiger, and so had awoken him uncharacteristically early, the Tiger thought. Still, the Tiger was in a good mood today.


"The Phoenix is longevity, little one," the Tiger's tail, the Rat noticed, was still swishing idly, which meant the Tiger was in a playful mood, "And the Dragon is power. I can see the benefits of such strong leaders in the zodiac."


"Your eyes must be keener than mine, then." The Rat's head shook, and a paw came to clean the sharp nose. "For I cannot see such a benefit. If what the Enlightened One says is true, then Longevity and Power in the Zodiac Cycle would be miserable for humans." Large black eyes stared at the Tiger with ferocity.


"Oh? How so? Is that not what humans want?" the Tiger was amused by the Rat's reaction.


"You have not heard what I have heard, O Tiger, and so you speak from ignorance. Nay," the Rat raised both forepaws to forestall the Tiger's anger, having been warned from the way the Tiger's eyes narrowed and nostrils flared, "I do not mean thee to be a buffoon, but merely one who does not have all the information needed to make a sound decision."


"So tell me what it is that you know that I do not?" the Tiger's growl warned the Rat.


"No matter whether the Phoenix or the Dragon is first, the result will be the same. The ones who want power, desire it to oppress their fellow humans. Imagine if they were given several lifetimes to do so? Or greater strength to rule over others? Think of the tyranny that would be sure to follow! Have we not learnt from our own mistakes, to want to repeat them with the humans given to our care? You may desire it so, but I do not."


The Tiger was impressed by the Rat's fiery speech. "You have a plan, then?" The Tiger's temper had died down almost as soon as it had flared, and the Rat nodded.


"This is what I propose," the Rat climbed up the Tiger's fur to whisper the plan. The Tiger's eyes widened in surprise at the audacity of such an undertaking. Perhaps this was not such a crazy idea after all.


"Well?" the Rat asked afterwards.


"It is a workable idea. What should we do if something fails?" the Rat was gratified to hear the Tiger saying "we."


"Then we will readjust as necessary. I will tell you more details once the date approaches."


"Very good, because I feel some parts of your plan can be improved upon."


And so the Rat and the Tiger bent their heads to discuss the kinks in the Rat's plan. When they were in agreement with all the details, they split up; the Tiger to gather the materials and the Rat to convince the other animals of the feasibility of the plan.


Soon, the appointed Race Day came. Many Animals were there, from a trio of monkeys to the Wild Boar that everyone avoided to the Singing Nightingale. The Enlightened One himself sat atop a dais that overlooked the gathered Animals. He winked at a few of them, including the Dragon but not the Phoenix, leading most to think that these had his Divine Favour. To the Rat sitting atop the Ox though, all he had was a frown.


It was a majestic gathering of animals, perhaps one that would never be seen again. All kinds of animals were there, from the guarded Kilin to the curious Dog. The Snake was slithering quietly among the crowd, edging ever closer to the Horse, who was busy pawing the ground while trying to make a point to the Ram. In another corner, the Panda and the Yak spoke quietly with each other, trading bamboo and snacks. The Turtle joined them after a while.


Dawn soon came, and the Cock crowed, as he was wont to do. The Enlightened One raised his hand, and so all the animals went to take their places at the Start Line. Several, including the Nightingale and the Phoenix, joined the Enlightened One on the dais. He did not say anything at this forfeiture of their places in the Race, though he smiled at the Nightingale, who twittered nervously before taking a deep breath.


The Enlightened One spoke softly when all the gathered Animals were at the start line, but even so, his voice carried across the field and beyond.


When the Enlightened One's hand fell, the Nightingale released a long, pure note of song, the longest ever sung without the death of a Nightingale. The Animals took off with a great rush, some flying, some slithering, and quite a few running. They generated so much dust, the Enlightened One coughed.


As the Ox took off with the Rat between his horns, the Rat began to play a flute. The melody rang clear and loud as the Animals ran, even above the stampede of their feet. When the start line was almost empty and the notes of the flute began to die away, the Phoenix harrumphed.


"What is it, o Beautiful One?" the Enlightened One asked as the dust began to settle.


"Hmph, that Tiger told me not to race, for adding any longevity to any trait of the Calendar would result in misery for the humans. Yet I see no hint of the Tiger's presence," the Phoenix had turned towards the Enlightened One, a frown on her brow.


There was suddenly a loud roar, and the sound of heavy footsteps. The footsteps were so heavy, the Phoenix could feel the dais jolt, bouncing up and down with the movement. She looked up to the Enlightened One, who smiled enigmatically.


"Perhaps you should have been a little bit more patient," the Enlightened One gestured to the field, and there was the Tiger, three times larger than before, running towards the starting line, and then disappearing from it in a blink. The Enlightened One waved his hand.


"You may have your advantage till you catch up with the last of the runners," he whispered.


The Tiger, had, as the Rat predicted, woken up late. Forewarned by the Rat the night before, the Tiger had slept stretched out with all four legs pinned somewhat spread. This had given the Tiger the extra size needed to run to catch up to the leaders. The Rat's song had woken the Tiger up, and so now the Race was begun in earnest.


As the Tiger ran along the course, the Rat's song played. Soon it grew louder, and the Tiger knew that the Rat would be close by. If everything went to their plans, the Tiger would find the Rat between the Ox's horns.


And he did, coming up behind the Ox, who was labouring mightily as all the animals made a sharp turn to the left, coming into the last part of the Race. The Tiger roared in challenge, and the Ox panicked. With the Rat's song playing, the Ox put on a burst of speed to escape the Tiger, remembering the times the Tiger gave chase in the paddy fields. The Tiger did not notice in the rush of adrenaline, but when he came in sight of the Ox he had dwindled in size to his original self.


As the Ox ran, he stepped on the Rooster, who was trying to keep up mightily with the Dragon. The Rooster tripped, squawking with indignation as the animals pulled away. The Rat was not the only animal who had thought to ride the Ox to the finish line; on the back of the Dragon sat the Rabbit, whispering encouragement to the Dragon.


The Ox brushed against the Dragon in the confusion, causing the Dragon to trip and spill the Rabbit, but the Rabbit was fleet of foot and nimble, jumping off the Dragon's back to land well.


The Tiger roared past them, uncaring of the chaos being caused. Fear was what drove the Ox now, and as they grew closer to the Finish Line, the Tiger kept up a low growl, terrifying the poor Ox even as the Rat began to play a frenzied tune. All three closed in very quickly on the finish line, and instinct began to overtake the Tiger.


The Rabbit hopped onto the Tiger's tail and hung on for dear life. So intent was the Tiger on chasing the Ox that it ignored the extra passenger on its tail. Suddenly, the Ox's head lowered, preparing for a charge, and the Tiger put on a burst of speed to stop him.


As they approached the Finish Line, several things happened:


The Rat jumped off the Ox, limbs outstretched as much as possible in order to be the first.


The Ox tripped at the final stage, tumbling into a heap but across the finishing line.


The Tiger gave a mighty leap to latch onto the Ox's neck, but the Ox's tumble caused his horns to scratch the Tiger instead.


The Rabbit let go at the last possible moment, and so was thrown when the Tiger leaped. The Rabbit did find a soft landing on the Rat though.


And then came the rest of the Animals.


When the dust had settled and the Order announced, the Tiger glared at the Rat. The Rat at least looked guilty, but did not speak to the Tiger. The Tiger was disappointed to have come in third, but to the Rat, at least the plan had been successful.


When the Tiger reached its lair, the Rat was waiting there, with a stoppered bottle that looked suspiciously human.


The Tiger, on seeing the Rat, roared and pounced onto the Rat, who squeaked and dived to hide in the shadows of the Tiger's lair.


"You promised me I would be first!" the Tiger roared in anger.


"I made no such promise, o friend Tiger, only that you would finish with me," the Rat's voice squeaked from somewhere, nervous.


The Tiger paced angrily around the lair, muttering and growling. The Rat attempted to placate the Tiger.


"At least we are among the first three! And we get first pick of every harvest!"


"What use is the human harvest to me?" the Tiger growled in reply. "I only desire their fresh meat to devour!"


The Rat was silent for a long time, before asking in a pensive tone, "Perhaps you have not discovered the beauty of being a human yet?"


"What cause would I need to be as soft as them!" the Tiger was offended.


"Oh, but there are many delights to be had as a human... and with a human, beyond the flesh!" the Rat piped up, sounding pleased. The Tiger pounced on a shadow next to the wall, surmising where the Rat might have been hiding.


What the Tiger discovered was not a tiny little Rat, but a long-haired woman with almond-shaped eyes instead. The Tiger quickly moved off the woman, confused. The woman smiled, got to her feet, and then walked into the centre of the lair, sitting on her ankles. When she spoke, it was with the voice of the Rat.


"Come, friend Tiger, and I will show you some of the pleasures to be had as a human," the Tiger came cautiously close to the woman.


"Put your head on my lap, friend Tiger," the woman said, and the Tiger did as bid. There was an incredible softness to doing so, and then the Tiger realised where the woman's hand was.


"I'm stroking your head, as the humans stroke their cats, your cousins. Does that not feel pleasurable?" the Rat asked.


The Tiger muttered softly, less of a growl now.


"I did not hear you," the Rat said, a smile on her lips.


"Tis not something to give up being a Tiger for," the Tiger replied a little louder.


"No, but it is useful, is it not?" the Rat continued to stroke the Tiger for a long time. Her hand strayed a little too close to the wound the Tiger had been given by the Ox, and the Tiger suddenly got up.


"Is this all there is?" the Tiger hid his shock behind outrage.


"Oh no! Now take the form of a human male," the Rat asked.


"Why?" the Tiger glared at her, wary.


"Just do it," the Rat insisted, and then got to her own feet and made her way to the corner the Tiger had chased her off earlier.


She returned with a bottle. The Tiger assumed the form of a male, though one with hair that reached to his shoulders instead of his waist, like the woman's, and his eyes were a bright grey instead of a deep brown like hers. He saw that they shared the same deep brown skin tone, but she had curves and a pair of round balls on her chest, while his were hidden between his legs.


"What a difference," the Tiger did not know there could be such between humans.


"Are their bodies not amazing? Come, have a sip of this," the Rat opened the bottle, and gave it to the Tiger.


"What is this?" the Tiger took the bottle but held it as though he was afraid the dark bottle would bite him.


"A drink the humans make by fermenting fruits. You will like it," the Rat promised. The Tiger glanced at the Rat, and then put it to his lips and taking a quick sip.


"It is delicious, but the smell... it is odd," the Tiger noted, giving the bottle back to the Rat.


She drank deeply of the bottle, and then looked at the Tiger with mischief.


"There is something I would try," the Rat's tone tipped the Tiger off.


"I do not like what you are planning."


"You haven't even heard what it is!"


"I know enough not to trust you when you smile like that."


"It will be fun, and is something the humans do."


"What is it?"


"Let me give you a sip of this wine from my mouth. It is supposed to make it taste better," before the Tiger could stop her, the Rat took a deep swig of the bottle and then pressed her lips to the Tiger.


The Tiger opened his mouth to accept the bounty, swallowing as much of the wine as he could, but somewhere along the way his tongue had found the Rat's. It was a very pleasurable sensation, and suddenly the Tiger felt the Rat's hands on his body and his were on hers. No more words were exchanged, as their bodies did what humans did, allowing Mother Nature to take a peek and smile at the ease they slipped into each other.


The next morning, the Tiger awoke to find himself and the Rat still entangled with each other, in their human forms. He hurriedly untangled himself and reassumed his Tiger form. The Rat, awakened by his movements, squeaked when she saw him and rolled away, assuming her Rat form as well.


"No one must ever know of this," the Tiger said.


"Agreed. But what if there are children?" the Rat sounded worried.


"Then we will take care as best we can," the Tiger replied.


"And that," the storyteller recounted to his listeners, "Is why there are no cats in the Zodiac, for they are the relatives to the Tiger."


The men and women gathered around him in the bar merely stared at him uncomprehendingly as he beamed.


"You're nuts!" said one of the men, getting up and walking away in anger. The rest of the Tavern's patrons jeered at him, and some chased him out of the Tavern.


The storyteller shrugged and picked up his flute, a small book and a tuft of the tiger's tail. He pulled his pigtail and clipped the tiger's tail to his hair, where it would blend in with his orange-red hair, and began to sing as he walked the empty streets of the town. Someone opened the windows of their house to throw water at him. He jumped back, offering only a large, sharp-toothed smile as an apology.


Being the son of a Mother Rat and Father Tiger usually made for interesting stories.
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