Bosque de Las Almas Festival of Jaguars
#1
It was approaching evening. Late winter and early spring forest sounds echoed as Asha parked.

And then, breaking the serene.

"Indira Chechi!" she yelled her greeting from outside the little camper house as she emerged from her car with two bags of Food and Things, piledriving her moody ass into staunch... loudness, mostly, but with the promise of an edge of positivity! Or something!

"I thought you said you'd be ready!" Her voice echoed outside somehow, and also sounded scratchy with the effort of yelling this hard.

This was all a sisterly sort of tease for Indira not actually being outside already.

Her sister was soon to discover the joy of shifting and sustained pain for many minutes, so Asha had to get what love she could before that all ruined everything! And also whatever temperament of jaguar she was destined to be.
#2
Indira felt like shit. Every noise seemed prone to drive her into fits. She had barely slept all night since Asha had left, despite her best attempts to calm herself down after the whirlwind of revelations that had preceded her departure. Her head was pounding with unpleasant fever; her mouth felt full of cotton, and she couldn't quite get a handle on her electricity. If this feeling of unpleasant, feverish anticipation was what it meant to be a -- whatever it was she was about to be -- then she'd pass on the entire ordeal, thank you very much.

Not that she had much of a choice. Asha had told her to report outside in old sweats, with a change of clothes stowed away, and Indira was nothing if not a rule follower. She emerged from the front door of her little electro-bastion with a grimacing smile on her face. Her hair was tied back into a ponytail to hide what a frizzy, unkempt mess it had become over night. Static electricity was dumb.

"Hey, Shasha," she greeted, doing her best to hide the note of weary fear in her voice. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
#3
She looked a hot mess, and Asha offered a little half smile, remembering the entire fucking month of utter misery she'd lived before her first full moon. Only... she only remembered the parts were she was alone, really. But that was still most days.

"Ī alasayāya peṇkuṭṭi!" she scolded with still that little smile, one fist balled up against her hip. "Come on. Lucky for you we only have to hike a little bit away from the house so your cat doesn't wreck whatever mine didn't. Hungry?"

It sounded like she was asking, but actually she was pulling out a container of mawa gujiya anyway, offering it to her to start. It was not meat and it was not protein and that was okay because. It was Holi.


(in malayalam) "this lazy girl"

#4
Indira rolled her eyes at the admonishment. "Lucky for me," she echoed with a half smile. She didn't feel particularly lucky, but tonight wasn't the night to make an issue of that. This was inevitable, by Asha's own words; Indira simply needed to grit her teeth and fight her way through it. She reached for a pair of pastries, devouring them in short order as she began to walk behind her sister's right hip.

"You are a saint for bringing food," she said with an appreciative nod. "I've never been this hungry in my life. This goes away after -- after the thing happens, right?" She still couldn't bring herself to say 'the thing' out loud.
#5
"Mmm... slightly less hungry than you are now. But consider what all your normal meals and- triple them," she decided on going with. That was about right. Oh, and- "Lot more eggs and fish in your days now too."

Since her sister was pescetarian and all.

She paused slightly, listening for any indication that they were straying in someone else's shifting area, then continued to lead the hike at a slight turn.
#6
Indira groaned. "Triple?!" she repeated with a grimace. Slowly, she reached for another dumpling. It wasn't the same kind of brutal investment as rubber-proofing an entire apartment, at least -- though Indira almost wished that it was. That would have been more or less a one time thing. Triple the calories every day for the rest of her life, though?

Asha's pause caused a distracted Indira to stumble over a root. She sighed. "Nervous about something?" she asked, eyebrow arched as she watched her sister glance about.
#7
Poor Indira. Costco was about to become her best friend. They could share a membership!!

"Mmm, not really nervous. More just don't want to come across anyone else. There's a lot more weres around here than you'd think, and... If any of them scratch you up before your first change, there's a chance you could. Uh. Turn into what they are instead."

Yeah. Were trivia!! Welcome to her problematic world, Indira.
#8
"Is that something that these 'other weres' would do?!" Indira stared at her sister incredulously. "They would just -- what, find me on their territory and mess me up? That seems pretty fucked!" The more Indira was hearing about the way this thing worked, the less she liked the sound of it. To make matters worse, she didn't even know what this 'thing' was! A curse? A disease? Some sort of weird genetic manifestation? Half of Indira's fear stemmed from her inability to put names to things. Academically inclined as she was, the ephemeral nature of it all was brutal.

"Is that a -- uh. Permanent thing?" she asked. "Or am I locked in once tonight is over, so to speak?"
#9
Well. Yeah. Asha nodded with an unfortunate sort of sigh — it was kinda fucked, and yet if she saw a person wandering the woods alone without a were chaperone and came to find out they were infected, she would do the exact same fucking thing. Who was she to assume anyone else would even care she was there?

"Locked in," she assured.

One more pause after walking a bit further, and then Asha decided this was it. She set the bags down, looking for one of the blankets in her Things bag. Pulling it out, she set it up.

"Shifting outside in the winter blows, but during the full moon, it's a bit easier to manage it because we stay shifted through the night. So... lots of hunting we can get done. Otherwise, fod the Cove — we have a secret were side. But I don't allow shifts there until people are conscious during their shifts. That usually takes a couple months to nail down."
#10
Indira relaxed a bit at the reassurance. Sure, it wasn’t exactly good news, but it was still something certain that she could cling to. She walked behind Asha until Asha stopped in her tracks, setting her bags down with a look of finality.

This was it, apparently.

"So not to get all ‘public worker’ on you," she said, choosing her words carefully as she watched Asha set up for… Whatever it was that they were going to do. Was there some sort of ritual? "Do all of the jaguars usually do this together? Do you go to the same places every time, or do you switch it up? …Also how does being a pescatarian jaguar work?"
#11
"Um... no, actually. We kinda pair off so it's not too like. Too many cats in one space? But yeah, always gonna have someone with you in case something goes wrong." That had been a learning curve sort of thing. Jaguars could sometimes get testy when they were feeling piled up on.

"But yeah, we switch up where we go. Have some favorite spots, but it's good to keep moving. And it works like... being real picky about what dead animal you wanna eat, but cats like fish, so... I don't think it'll be too hard. Costco's good to us."

She smoothed the blanket out, then withdrew some actual meaty foods. Fish meaty! Chili shrimp and broiled spicy codfish and rice wrapped in banana leaves.

And she also brought out a tin thali, and laying it down, began pulling out a bunch of different-colored Holi powders in plastic packages. She'd thought they could sort of celebrate.

"We should start eating before it's time for... tag."

A girlish smirk.
#12
Indira couldn't help but laugh. To think the solution to such an impossible problem would be as simple as a Costco membership! "A good excuse to sign up, I guess," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Honestly, you make it all sound so mundane."

The appearance of more food earned a happy little rumble from the still-starving jaguar-to-be. She reached down without waiting, scooping up a handful of the shrimp. She hesitated for just a moment as the smell hit her nose with far more intensity than usual, wincing as the heat of the chilis seemed to stick to the roof of her throat for far longer than they should. "Ech," she huffed to herself, shaking her head to dispel the strange association before chowing down all the same.

The thali caught her by surprise. How much food had Asha brought, Indira wondered? But no -- this was meant for something quite different. The elder sister's eyebrows shot skyward. "Asha!" she laughed, lips spreading into a grin. "I had almost forgotten. Is it really today?!"
#13
"Mhmm," she grinned, carefully pouring neat piles of powder out. But she was hungry too — reached for food as well in between. Careful not to mix the powders and eating, best she could.

But she hadn't missed Indira's expression to the food, so she decided to placate there.

"Once you get used to it all — you'll adjust to your senses and everything. It never really stops, it just becomes kind of a... new normal, I guess."

Yeah. Yeah, something like that.

Wiping off her hands of shrimp and sauce, she reached for rice, scooping it up with her fingers, unapologetically Indian. Then from there, a bit of the broiled fish too. It was a good smattering of flavors. Some calm before the eventual storm of the full moon.

She was content to eat with her sister, though she kept a mischievous eye on the thali, waiting to see which one of them would make the first move.
#14
Asha continued to explain her little tips and tricks, and the powders sat there all the while -- tempting her. She groaned softly under her breath. "And here I was just figuring out the last new normal," she laughed quietly. "At least this one seems to have a bit more of a support system. And I bet vampires will be a bit more hesitant to mess with someone with a cat lurking inside. Or -- nearby. Or however it works metaphysically."

She shrugged her shoulders at that... But her eyes lingered on the powders. "Do cats like games?" she asked, doing her best to keep her voice measured. She moved very carefully, doing her best not to spur any sudden leaps towards the powder pouches.
#15
Well, that was the ultimate hope of it, wasn't it. In reality... Abraham had kind of changed her mind on that. The idea that vampires wouldn't mess with a jaguar. It was right in many respects, but it just meant she was more at risk if the wrong kind of vampire stumbled on her...

Asha shoved that away. No one would dare to cross her anyway, would they? Even Beauregard and her had some kind of... secret peace treaty or something. She hoped.

So she grinned, watching where her sister's eyes were watching.

"Cats loooove games," she huffed with mischief, and... with purposely human speed, she rushed to dab her fingers in the pink powder and get it on her sister's cheek.


miss

#16
Indira didn't even bother fighting it -- mostly because her other hand was already into the orange, messing about in the powder before reaching up to place a big ol' handprint on Asha's cheek.

"That so?" she asked with a grin. "Well, I've never been great at games... But I guess I could make an exception. Get a little bit outside of myself for once... I dunno."

The notoriously introverted, work-minded Indira, suggesting stepping out a little bit? It almost seemed incomprehensible.
#17
ORANGE ON HER FACE?!

"The cat will show you how to play," she decided. Actually the cat's version of play was a bit violent. Hand still pink, Asha flicked an extra bit of retaliatory purple at Indira's nose before scrambling away in a giggly attempt to escape.

Getting outside of herself was a thing that was genuinely about to happen. She only hoped they could have some fun until then.
#18
"You know I was always a dog person, right?" Indira rose to her feet, grabbing the orange packet as well as a handful of blue before dashing after Asha through the underbrush. She giggled girlishly, flinging a spray of blue at Asha's behind -- and managing to trip over a root and nearly fall flat on her face in the process. Luckily, she regained her stride a few seconds later, though she just couldn't quite catch up with her sister.

"You're -- really fast -- you know that?!" she huffed and puffed as she did her best to close the distance.
#19
She was angled backwards at least some of her run, and nearly tripped over her own feet in the process of escaping Indira — luckily both made it.

"What!" she yelled, "you're saying you'd rather be a dog now!"

But mostly just being mean. And meaner, she stopped very suddenly, aiming to smash them into each other in a whole train crash of a hug. And obviously get pink and purple all over Chechi in the process.
#20
Indira hadn't been expecting it, and the sudden tackle-hug from the very strong Asha nearly put Indira on her ass. It certainly took the wind out of her; she laughed soundlessly as she wrapped her own colored arms around Asha, holding her close. Once her air returned, she burst into a fit of giggles.

"I love you, Asha," she exclaimed once she got control of herself again. "If this means getting to spend more time with you -- to really be a part of your life again... Maybe it'll be worth it."
#21
It was... in a sort of sad way, absolutely that. She embraced her sister through the dying laughter. In her head, her cat crooned for one that didn't exist yet. Not truly blood — adopted and all — but close enough to it. Imagine being related to another jaguar like that.

"You're gonna get soooooo annoyed with me," she promised. "I'm gonna be sooooooooooooo annoying."

Doubly so now that Abraham was on the STF's radar as a... correspondent or whatever it was, now.

She ruffled color into her sister's hair. "Tag, you're it again!"
#22
"So annoying," Indira echoed with a grin. She moved to push some powder off of her face, only to earn a mane full of the stuff courtesy of Asha's latest action before her sister began to bound away once more. "I'm counting on it," she mumbled to herself, smiling wistfully as she watched Asha go. She gave the other woman a small head start before pulling another handful of powder and giving chase once more.

And so they went, exchanging technicolor blows until the horizon threatened to eclipse the last of the sun's eventide rays. Indira thought she would feel tired by then, yet energy coursed through her with more fervor than ever. She felt restless and anxious in equal measure, not to mention starving despite having just eaten some hour or so ago.

She came to a slowing stop behind Asha as the pair approached a clearing, laughing quietly from beneath her veneer of multicolor splendor.

"I feel weird," she admitted, lips pulling into a somewhat taut, grimacing smile.
#23
They were a complete mess, and honestly, what else as the point of Holi? Well like. Religious stuff and all that too, but in the end Asha was mostly still a child exploring all of this with greater interest.

But now Indira was feeling weird. It had to be about that time.

Asha turned, hearing that and feeling her heart break a little for the further loss of this precious humanity to her, and moved to wrap her arms around her. "Okay. It's okay. Just gotta... lean into it. Do you wanna let these clothes shred out or save them?" "Saving them" meaning like. Taking them off.

She did not need to go first. Actually, she really wanted to wait until Indira began, so she could hold her hand until it turned into a paw. Claws. What kind of jaguar would she be, Asha wanted to know so badly, despite the bittersweet impending loss of Indira Rao the mostly human.
#24
"Is there a third option?" Indira offered Asha a baleful grin, a gentle flush on her face from a combination of fever and sudden sheepishness. She tugged at the hem of her shirt, looking nervous. "I mean, I don’t want to lose these clothes," she said. "But…"

She trailed off, giving Asha a little shrug. She did not really want to point out the obvious barrier she had run up against. It wasn’t even really about the physical boundary, though that was certainly part of it; being self-conscious about one’s bare body just seemed like a very human impulse to lean into. Indira’s mind, not wishing to give an inch on that front, seemed to have picked this battlefield for its final stand.
#25
Hmmm.

"I can hold a blanket up, make sure no one peeks," she teased softly, but there she was nonetheless. Freeing up a blanket and holding it up, if Indira wanted to let a tree trunk or two cover behind her.
#26
"...Would you? Is that okay?" Indira flashed a shy, appreciative smile. Slowly, she moved towards the trees in question. After a deep breath to calm her nerves, she began to strip down to nothing.

"And so you do this every time?" she asked, her voice growing a bit unsteady. The moment had begun to creep in upon her, sitting on her shoulders like an unpleasantly weighted blanket. She reached down to pull the waistband of her sweatpants down over her ankles, kicking a few times to get the garment off. "Come out to the forest, strip down, and--"

Snap.

For a moment, Indira stared in confusion. Had she stepped on a twig or branch? Free of one leg of her sweatpants, she put her foot down only to crumple immediately down on one knee. Her ankle had snapped where her hand had brushed against it.

Indira flopped back onto her rear, a dazed expression in her eyes as she stared in confusion down at her foot. The appendage hung limply from useless ligaments -- and the sight of the broken bone was enough to finally allow the pain receptors to do their proper work.

"M-My foot," she stammered in a horrified whisper, staring down at her mangled ankle. A wound like that would mean amputation in most hospitals; there was no coming back from that break. "Asha, my foooot...!"

Of course, her foot had other plans. It had already begun to reshape, her ankle practically evaporating as one of her toes pushed back up and into the flesh of her leg. Her nails grew thick and black as she watched, transfixed and horrified.
#27
She was happy to help give her sister any sense of modesty. She understood it, even if it meant she'd lose at least some of her own current outfit. Though she did help herself along by removing her shoes before anything happened.

She was going to nod, make a joke, try to help this feeling of mutual dread along. But, well. Snap.

There it was.

She lowered with Indira. The cat hissed forth from her mind, surging forward, sending her eyes orange. Be a jaguar before her. Just in case. "It's o- fuck-" she tossed her head back as the wild, faster pain reached for her. "Is- iss okay-"

She reached out to Indira's shoulder. She was so sorry. She was going to black out, and...

"Dun' figh-ih," she managed through a thickening tongue.

She'd be a jaguar in under a minute. Indira would take what would feel like much longer, but she hoped her consciousness snapped out before that.
#28
Indira would cling to that garbled missive like the lifeline it may as well have been. Asha had prepared her for what was coming; she knew that the pain would only last a little while before she ultimately lost hold of herself. Though the fear of losing control to someone – something else was great, she couldn’t help but be grateful for the impending reprieve. She hardly realized that the hand that reached out to grasp at Asha’s shoulder had lost its thumb as she tried to pull her sister in for a comforting hug. She certainly did not realize that her eyes had changed, her pupils becoming eerie slits surrounded by a color that could best be compared to strawberry jam with a live current running through it.

The hands and feet went first, the careful digits snapping in macabre rhythm. Elbows and knees followed next – soon, a sisterly embrace ceased becoming an option in a traditional sense. Indira whimpered and sobbed as she found her limbs forced under her; bipedal locomotion would defy her for the rest of the night. The snapping of her neck into something longer and more powerful proved to be the ultimate mercy; the whimpering stopped abruptly, replaced by meager hisses and angry cries of pain.

The great jaguar eventually stilled. The world around it was rife with sights and sounds and smells – but despite the curiosity that burned in the newborn creature’s heart and mind, the pain of the shift still took a few moments to recover from. She flopped ineffectually onto her back, kicking paws at the sky and loosing a loud, curious roo.
#29
What a color. What a color. It reminded her of rat guts, but in a way that appealed to the emerging queen jaguar. For Asha, she just tried to let herself find comfort in it. Selfish, considering how much she was causing Indira to suffer.

The hug was so dear to her.

It was so ugly. So deeply ugly, watching someone change, especially the first time. She moved to keep her felinized head close to her, at least until what seemed human in her went out quite suddenly.

It wasn't much longer and was also far too long when the new jaguar finally flopped down, seemingly complete. She watched her warily, tail curling around her thigh and waving some at the tip. One paw lifted, claws sheathed. But it hovered above the new cat, poised with the threat of a playful welcoming pap.

A sister jaguar. How different that felt.
#30
The jaguar that had been born of Indira scrunched up her nose at the sight of the hovering paw. She sneezed, turning her strawberry gaze to consider the source of the strange appendage. Only once she saw Asha properly did she roll back onto her front and rise to her feet. Predictably, she was smaller than Asha by a fair stretch – which made it all the easier for her to step forwards, shoving her flat, whiskered nose into the crook of Asha’s neck. Smoosh.

Of course, a mere shift could not dispel the powders of Holi quite so easily. The jaguar that stood before Asha now was still covered in the stuff, and much to her apparent consternation at that. Another sneeze rocked her body; she took several steps back and reared onto her hind legs, batting at nothing as if some foul ghost or demon had sprayed the powder onto her thick, water-resistant fur. She spat and hissed in frustration as she pawed at herself, desperately trying to cleanse the powders from her person.

The new jaguar had little sense of self to speak of, and had certainly never seen herself with any degree of awareness that would allow for cross-referencing. Asha, though, who had done this who knew how many times? Who had grown and fought and led and cried on four legs nearly as often as she had on two? She may as well have been staring at a body double, save for those impossible eyes. They were identical, down to every last rosette.
#31
Asha was so used to being the small jaguar. It always surprised her that they could get smaller, when many others tended to be so much larger. She snorfed at this littler thing, wanting to scoop her up and groom her and also maybe hiss at her.

She marveled at the delicateness of the other cat's facial features, the same stubbiness of her legs and body, the curious way they all seemed so familiar. Had she ever seen this cat before? (Yes, but in reflections).

The jaguar was beyond that kind of thought, though Asha herself lingered on it. Instead she bounded towards the other, seeking to knock into her. Nicely.
#32
Indira’s jaguar took the bump like a champ, bracing herself against Asha’s encroaching person before rising to her feet and taking a few loping steps away. She flicked her tail in Asha’s face as she turned around to face the other jaguar once more. Once reoriented, she canted her head curiously at the strange mirror-image of herself.

She loosed a quiet chuff, sneezing again before moving to rear up and bat playfully at Asha’s face. No claws – that much was clear, at least – though she didn’t pull her punches beyond that. Who did this random cat think she was, getting up in her personal space?
#33
What a wondrous moment. It would only be harder, in the future. But tonight, and during shifts...

Anyway.

She squinted her eyes and inclined her head up to the batting, mouth hanging open as she huffed out hot cat breath at the other cat. Tail curled up at the tip, twitching this way and that.

She was weighing whether she wanted to bowl into her and teach her a lesson about... nothing, but it was okay! She wanted to. That was the whole point. But Asha didn't want to hurt her, still so protective. And so she reared also, seeking to grapple the other cat and basically failing to do that as she fell back onto her front paws.


miss

#34
Indira’s jaguar stared blankly at the other jaguar’s maneuver. What was that supposed to be? Perplexed, she tried the same thing – and to similar effect. Back on her hind legs she went, only to lose her balance and flop onto her back once more.

She mrowled her displeasure, tail flicking obnoxiously up in Asha’s face as the cat postured her paws out in front of her like a drunken boxer squaring off with a speed bag positioned above their bed.


Big Miss

#35
Clumsy cat. (As if she didn't fall around all the damn time herself.)

Asha's face turned snarlier, wrinkling at the tail. And then she went for a rude mouth grab just below the tip. Hello! Annoying sister checking in.

This cat was funny. Fun. Maybe about to get angry fun.


hit >:[

#36
Indira's jaguar loosed a wild, mournful yowl, tearing her tail from the maw of her assailant before flopping over onto big feet and padding over to the base of a nearby tree. There, she curled her tail under her feet, licking at the tip as if it had been sliced clear off.

She then turned her maw skyward, loosing a trio of soulful cries that were loud enough to spook the birds resting in the canopy. Were Indira a crocodile instead of a jaguar, there would no doubt be tears aplenty. The dramatic newborn cat continued her apparent hysterics for several minutes -- only stopping every so often to glance behind her, in hopes that Asha would look suitably reticent.
#37
What a complete baby. She watched, panting with heavy huffs.

Asha loved her. The jaguar was equally enthused by the racket, which only meant... she launched wildly forward, aiming to place a chomp on the curve of her rump, above her tail.

Mean sister. Full on queen. Asha couldn't contain herself — there was frenzy to it.


hit

#38
Indira loosed an affronted roar. She plucked her rear from Asha's purview, leaping forwards before scampering around and bringing herself to bear in front of the queen of the prowl she would soon be joining. Playfully baring her fangs, she rose up to her tallest height -- before simply falling onto Asha, forelegs criss-crossed over her neck as she somehow managed to get the jump on the playful, mischievous queen.

With the advantage in positioning, Indira's jaguar proceeded to utilize her secret technique; gnawing and slobbering all over one of Asha's ears until the larger jaguar decided she had had enough.


Hit >:3

#39
TERRIBLE. Her tiny ear was harassed with slobber and The weight of the other cat held firm. She writhed and wrinkled to and fro, freeing herself.

And then bolting away towards the rest of their stuff, turning to offer a single showy hiss.

She was positioned over the powders. :3
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