Serpentine Prince

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The scent of flowers wafted heavily through the air and the verdant green canopies of the trees filtered sunlight down to the plain stone bench in the clearing. Looking through the emerald undergrowth, a small gibbon darted over the heavily leaf-strewn logs and plants for the watching eyes of the man who was seated comfortably on the bench. Running his fingers over the stone, Thiri turned his gauze upwards to the golden sunlight that was quickly receding and with it the heavy scent of sabae that had been filling his head with thoughts of a woman's perfume.

The fading sunlight so early in the day could only mean one thing, however, and Thiri pushed himself off the bench to stand upright. He struck an imposing figure and was known by the village beneath his house as "the prince on the hill". Still young, he was yet unmarried though there were many mothers who had sought negotiations with him and his mother. They had all been disappointed so far, told that Thiri was not yet ready to marry, and that was the truth of the matter but it did not stop them from trying. He thought on this bitterly, their determination to paint him as more of a man than he was only served to bring him shame.

It was lucky timing that allowed Thiri to make it back to his home in time for the rains, which began to patter against the roof of the house almost the second that he had closed the door. Holding his head in his hands, he braced himself for the familiar pain so as to not make a sound. Within the eerily silent confines of the room, a transformation took place that he strove to hide from anyone in the village. Locking his jaw and inhaling deeply, Thiri watched as his legs began to fuse together beneath his robe. From the hips down, his lower body became a sleek single limb supporting him, the tail of a snake trailing off behind him. His great length as a snake was more impressive than his human height and covered in scales as green as the leafy foliage surrounding the house. His curse was again upon him.

From the next room, he heard the tinkling of a cup and not seconds later, an older woman with beautiful jet black hair pushed open the door. Her neat braid fell down her back and its streaks of silver were visible as they ran through the plait. She had a tray with cups of tea on it and her expression was sympathetic. It was all that Thiri could do to not throw the cups of tea across the room in frustration. Before he could speak, however, his mother spoke instead.

"We have a visiting representative from a revered temple. He needed a place to stay and I thought that perhaps he could help you, my child..." she frowned, knowing the helplessness her son felt as the rains came down. He did not feel fit to be a man when he could do nothing in the storms. He had seen many things in his young life, and was to the age where most young men married, but he refused to take a bride he could not protect from the rains.

"I don't wish to see him."
Said temple representative was lingering on the other side of the door Thiri's mother had used to enter the room, listening to their conversation and chewing carefully on his words before he voiced them.

Even with all his training and his excellent physical condition, Sein was sore from navigating the local terrain on his pilgrimage. The temple he called home was on flatter ground than he'd realized. Despite his fatigue, he could appreciate the upside of pushing himself to his limits; his muscles stretched until they nearly snapped, then mended themselves, emerging stronger than before. He wished he could feel his mind expanding the same way. Mental and spiritual exercise wasn't so simple.

Benefits aside, he was still very tired. He hadn't slept under proper shelter in nearly a week, so he was very grateful when one of the ruling family's maids took pity on him just hours after he'd wandered into the village. She'd been out on an errand when she'd discovered him eating his lunch alone, and after some idle conversation with her and her fellow servants about who he was and where he'd come from, he'd eventually found himself in an audience with the queen… after a quick bath, of course.

Sein's temple was a beautiful place, with glittering gold pagodas scattered across the compound and images of his patron goddess carved into the walls, but he was awed by the opulence of his host's home. It wasn't enough to distract him from the conversation at hand, which quickly turned in the direction of a curse the men in the family had endured for many years. The poor woman was obviously greatly distressed by her son's condition; Sein had noticed the streaks in her hair, and wondered if they were more from stress than age.

Naturally, Sein said he was more than happy to help. That relaxing bath had been enough to put him in sufficiently good spirits to negotiate with his host's obviously sensitive son, despite his inexperience.

This is already going well. Sein couldn't help the private aside that automatically sprang to his mind, but he took a deep breath to clear his head before he partially opened the door. "If you do not wish to see me, Prince Thiri, then might we talk from here?" Sein inquired, his tone quiet, but direct. "If what your good mother told me about your heritage is true, then I may be able to render some assistance. I am knowledgeable about matters such as curses and magic like your ancestor's."

At the sound of a voice at the door, both Thiri and his mother's heads whipped to the side to stare at the door and it was only a few seconds later that an unreadable expression graced Thiri's face. His mother blanched a little bit, her lips twitching down into a small frown. She had hoped that there would be some way of breaching the topic that did not cause her son's face to contort as it was doing. She had hoped perhaps that the young man would have a little more tact than that, but it wasn't as though she had asked him not to mention it.

"I see that you have been speaking at length with Lwinmya. She has overstepped her boundaries, I am afraid, in telling you about such personal matters. However, since you already know about this and you have information that might be helpful to me, I will allow you to talk with me. I am curious about what you have to say, young bhikkhu. Since you already know about my... affliction, I suppose that I will allow you to view me in my current indisposed state."

There was a cool anger in Thiri's voice and his expression had yet to become any less disapproving. His mother dipped her head at his words, the tray of tea still in her hands, before retreating back in the direction of the kitchen. Another mug was needed for the guest, and she wished to be away from the sour gaze of her son, whose eyes clearly communicated his feelings of betrayal that she had shared with another the details of his curse.

Thiri turned his full attention to the newcomer when his mother had moved from between him and the door. He was shamed to have another man see him in such a state, since this half-form meant that he was only half a man. It was difficult for Thiri to even face this temple representative, knowing that the man's eyes would more than likely be glued to his serpentine lower body. Shamed, Thiri motioned that the man could enter the room.
Privately frowning, Sein stepped out of the woman's way before letting himself into the room, securely shutting the door behind him. It pained him to see someone berate another for trying to lend a hand, but for the lady's sake, he held his tongue. He'd caused her some discomfort with his inelegant introduction, and it wasn't necessarily his place to step in to advocate for anyone who didn't ask for it. He wasn't here to meddle; he was here to advise the man in front of him.

And it was clear to Sein that Prince Thiri was a man, even if he currently had no legs to speak of. Sein had never seen a naga in person, but he didn't give the massive tail anything more than a quick once-over before he made eye contact. He'd already known what to expect, thanks to his studies and to the mother's description, and he didn't need to make the prince more uncomfortable than he already was. The awkwardness and irritation radiating from the other man made it difficult for Sein to think clearly.

He cut to the chase. It might have been ill-mannered, but judging from the prince's demeanor, Sein suspected he wasn't interested in small talk. "A great deal of willpower is needed to produce a curse that stalks an entire bloodline. It is perverse, deep-rooted magic that can be difficult to track to an existing source and even more problematic to fix. Your family, at least, remembers who cursed them and why. Has your line tried to address the curse before? And if so, how?"

Thiri could tell just by looking at the man as he stepped forward that he felt sympathy for Lwinmya and the way that Thiri had spoken to her. The fact that he did not say anything raised his regard at least a little bit. The bleeding hearts could not stymie the flow but the least that they could do was not drip their blood all over the houses of their fellows. He made a small mental note of approval, at least thus far. Getting to the point seemed best and the temple boy seemed to pick up on it as well.

"It's no secret who cursed the bloodline, it never has been. That sour old hag refused to remarry and couldn't take on the throne, and so the power went to the covetous younger brother of her husband while she cursed the seed of his loins. It's a few generations old and still as virulent as it's ever been. The bloodline runs to my mother, here, so it was not an issue in that generation. My mother's father died shortly after fathering her, which led to her grandfather resuming the throne until she was of age and married... My grandfather tried many things, but all he could discover was the need to retrieve an ancient relic used to curse the family."

Crossing the room in fluid movements, grace gained only from trying to make the best of his ungainly body. The weaving motions of green scales was hypnotic to his sometimes, as much as he hated his half form, and today was one of the days that he could barely stand to see the glittering emerald but still found twisted beauty in the way that they slithered quietly over the stone floor. A deep pool, filled with chill water from the rain, sat at the far side of the room and Thiri lowered himself into it was a muffled grunt. With one hand, he beckoned for the man to draw closer.

"The water makes me more comfortable" he explained simply, glad to have temporarily relieved himself the weight of his tail. "What all do you think you know about curses and how to help me, now? I've told you all that I know save for some locations. Now I want to know what YOU know."
He watched the prince coast across the floor and slide into the pool. Because of the water's distortional effects, it almost looked like his tail continued to writhe. He was, again, careful not to let himself get distracted.

When summoned, Sein crouched by the pool, moving the hem of his white robes away from the water's edge. An impractical color for someone on a cross-county journey, to be sure. He kept them as immaculate as he could, taking care to polish the protective charms he'd strung along his chest, but he inevitably ended up covered in dust every few days.

Sein wasn't offended by Thiri's demand for more information. He was a younger bhikkhu, after all; it was natural to assume he was less experienced. "I know that a curse is often cast in an attempt to teach a 'lesson', no matter how backward or inane it may be. If the lesson is not learned to the caster's satisfaction, then the spell must be broken by force. Considering your situation, it would most likely be by exorcising Nagisa's spirit.

"The relic does sound vital," he noted. "Such items are at least important in a symbolic sense, if not because of any actual power stored within them. Whatever the case may be, you will undoubtedly need to make a visit to your ancestor's shrine for an audience, either before or after obtaining that relic."

Pausing for a moment, Sein tilted his head. "My hope is that my knowledge of magic will provide you with some insight, if nothing else. If you're amenable to further assistance, we might plan the logistics of your trip to retrieve the artifact and visit Nagisa."

Pondering the words of the young bhikkhu for a moment, Thiri rubbed his chin thoughtfully. The stubble of a black beard, cut often with a blade, rubbed against his fingers as he did so and reminded him of his frequent assertion that he was no man if he could not overcome this curse and protect his family from the rainfall. It was this that tipped him into agreement with the temple boy, even if he did seem quite green. Still, Thiri was curiously examining his white attire, muddied by his travels.

"This is acceptable to me, but do you not have some purpose to your travels? I am uncertain how long the journey will take and would not wish to cause hindrance." From the other side of the door she had disappeared through, Lwinmya listened to the conversation and felt relief wash over her that the temple bhikkhu was willing to help her son and that her son was willing to accept his help. While he had every noble protective notion and sense of justice in his heart, Thiri could be stubborn and headstrong.

Stepping back into the room, mugs of orchid tea in hand, she presented them to her son and the guest. While it made him feel like less of a man and was no doubt cumbersome, she could not help but feel a bit fond of his half-serpent form. He'd been this way since infancy and she had lovingly help him through the storms, fascinated by his scaly tail.

"If you wish to leave as soon as possible, I can have Nyunt and Phyu begin to pack rucksacks for you to carry this evening. Come, now, though, if you would... the table in the next room is set and Phyu is setting the mats out while Nyunt gathers the dishes. We're eating steamed rice, mohinga, danbauk with mutton, and shwe yin aye. Will you come eat now, Thiri, or wait until later?"

"I will take my food here, mother. I don't know when the rains will stop and eating at the mat is difficult without knocking things over." He looked oddly, inexpressibly sad. He could no longer eat dinner with his mother and their guests. Often, when they were alone, she would bring her mat to sit near her son and eat together with him, but it was not proper etiquette for having guests and she wouldn't have it.

She presented the mug to her son and nodded - a portion of the meal would be taken to Thiri so that he could eat in the comfort of the stone bath.
A small, subtly cheeky smile grew on Sein's face when he noticed Thiri appraising his robes. Sein might not always look particularly acceptable for refined company, but he was useful in most situations, or so he'd been led to believe. He had to confess that he wasn't missing the impromptu face-washings from the nuns at the temple. A little dirt never hurt anyone!

"I have been traveling for many weeks now, your Highness. A few more will cause me no trouble. A monk's life is to serve; helping others is my calling." He paused to accept the tea Lwinmya offered him, nodding to her gratefully. "My own goals are merely to absorb the world around me and further my studies."

The meal Lwinmya moved on to describe sounded an extravagance to Sein. At his temple, they lived mostly off of mountain vegetables, whatever they could grow themselves, rice or gruel, and the occasional donation from the local villagers. They lived at the mercy of others just as much as they pledged to bring it into others' lives. Plus, he very rarely ate meat. Killing animals was against his code of conduct.

As Thiri and his mother spoke of dining arrangements, Sein found himself unsure of what action to take. He debated with himself as he sipped on his fragrant, floral tea. He'd be insulting someone no matter what he did- either Thiri's pride, or Lwinmya's careful efforts to be a good hostess, were at stake. Ultimately, Sein decided he couldn't abide letting the man he'd just pledged to help rot away in a lonely pool while he enjoyed himself in a fine dining room, pride or no pride. Just how much of his time did he spend brooding, alone?

"I would eat in here, if neither of you mind. If we are to depart expediently, then we should have a good conversation over dinner before we leave. We have much to learn from each other, I am sure, particularly if we'll be traveling together for a while."

Though Lwinmya turned a bit pink and looked to Thiri as if she were on the verge of positively fretting, he was grateful for the thoughtfulness shown by the stranger. Inclining his head a little to her, he gave her a rare and indulgent smile. It seemed to calm her somewhat, though she fluttered a bit about. It would be embarrassing if the little temple boy told anyone that instead of a beautiful table and dining room, they had eaten gathered around a small pool. Still, she thought, the cause of the stone pool wouldn't be revealed so she supposed she had little to worry about when it came to Sein divulging any embarrassing information. He had, after all, been entrusted with the family secret.

Stepping carefully over to the door she had been passing in and out of, she had soon gotten the attention of Nyunt and Phyu so that they could help her move the dishes and draw out the small table for them to eat at, as well as two mats. Nyunt gathered the mats and aided Phyu with the table while it feel to Lwinmya to carry the bowls of food. Within a few minutes, a little seating arrangement had been settled next to Thiri, who smiled appreciatively.

"If I am to be leaving early tomorrow, mother, I am glad that I will get a chance to have dinner with you anyway" Thiri told her, filling himself a small bowl of rice and danbauk. The smell rising the from the food was making his mouth salivate, but true to form he would wait until his mother was eating to begin. Though he was the man, he at least honored her at the table as his elder. She mixed a bit of the danbauk with her rice to create a thicker soup with the grains of rice in it.

"We follow Buddhism in this household" she pointed out, taking a bite of her meal. She was watching Sein curiously out of the corner of her eye as she sipped a bit of the broth. Thiri had begun eating, his all rice and meat dishes proving faster for consumption and easier as well. The transformation always took a lot of energy from him. He let his mother finish her explanation before chiming in himself.

"So there's no beast of burden in this meal. What does your family think of your traveling like this?" He was eating his food like there would be none left, taking small but quick bites since they were more polite. He was more hungry than he had thought and tried to slow down and chew while he waited for Sein's response. The slender bhikkhu was interesting to him, so vastly different than anyone that he had known. His face was gently featured, like a much younger child's and he looked as though he'd never had to have a beard at all.
Allowing himself a small sigh of relief when the situation worked itself out to an ideal conclusion, Sein settled in, watching Thiri and his mother exchange looks and then the latter scurry about getting their dining situation ready. It was nice to see that the two had a good relationship, despite Sein's reservations on how had Thiri treated her before. Sein tried to be optimistic about the sorry state of gender relations in their country, chalking it up to a lack of understanding of women's hardships, rather than a mere lack of empathy on the privileged men's part. People could learn to care about others, and to understand them, when properly given a chance to. Unfortunately, most people did not see the need for change that he wished for.

A warm and contented feeling was filling him before the food placed in front of him even touched his lips. Sein loved the street foot he often ate on his journeys, nor did he mind cooking for himself, but eating food carefully prepared by a tender, attentive set of hands, and then eating in the company of others, held pleasures all its own and made him nostalgic for his own temple's cooking.

For his own dinner, Sein chose the rice and mohinga. He ate slowly and with purpose, eating everything and savoring each bite to properly convey his appreciation for the meal. He told Lwinmya as much. "Thank you for this food, and for welcoming me at your table."

When questioned, he returned his attention to Thiri, offering him a smile. He was admittedly slightly awkward around other men, but he could "talk shop" and answer questions about himself without saying something ill-advised or backpedaling and tripping over his words. "I was raised from birth in my temple; the nuns are my family. They actively encouraged me to seek enlightenment outside the temple's walls. Do you often travel, your Highness? Or is your condition something of a hindrance?"

It was obvious that the guest was trying his best to be as polite as he could be, as well as open, and Thiri supposed that he could have at least as much honestly in return where he could manage it. Especially, he considered as he swallowed another bite of food and washed it down with tea, because this bhikkhu was agreeing to help them free of charge.

"I would like to travel, but my condition is somewhat bothersome. There is also the matter of ah... how others react to seeing a man with the tail of a serpent approaching them in the rain. It often lends itself to panicked peasants attacking me with farm tools. It's not particularly pleasant, so I hope that the parts of our journey that bring us near others are mostly dry." The sun had long since fallen, soft sounds from the outdoors echoing around them and crickets were chiming most distinctly near the doors. The meal was nearly over and Thiri was finished the the main meal. He tipped some of the shwe yin aye into his empty bowl and spooned a bite into his mouth, savoring the flavors. Sago and seaweed agar with coconut milk and some pure can sugar. Lwinmya had even sliced some duran into the mix.

After he had finished eating, Thiri settled back against the cool stone and pat his stomach contentedly. "The meal was marvelous, Lwinmya. Most satisfying to the taste." Heaving himself out of the pool using an surprising amount of upper body strength, his full height of approximately six feet towered over the other two, especially since they were sitting.

"I am going to pen a few letters for you in my absence and make sure some of the matters in the town are taken care of before I leave. I bid you, then, goodnight. On my way, I'll make sure that Phyu has prepared the guest bedrooms." Thiri slithered across the floor, turning to face them once more just before he exited.

"Phyu will show you where to go when you're ready to sleep. We will wake early tomorrow to begin our journey - I hope that is palatable to you."
"That is fine with me," Sein told Thiri. "I will meet you here in the morning. May you have a restful sleep."

Sein's heart had sunk a bit when he heard of Thiri's troubles, though the other man hadn't acted particularly bothered by it. Still, being reacted to- and attacked- like that had to have some detrimental effect on the psyche. If it happened again, Sein was capable of defending them both; he just hoped it wouldn't need to come to all that. He was strong and quick enough to get Thiri to shelter quickly if the clouds began to darken unexpectedly, but the prince would be less easy to guide when there were several extra feet of him trailing behind.

It was difficult to argue with fear. Sein personally saw no reason to be afraid of snakes. Though they crawled low to the ground, seemingly to hide from braver, more upright creatures, and were often armed with deadly poison, they were no more inherently evil than any other animal. It was hardly a comforting thing to say to someone cursed with an unwanted tail, however.

He was reflecting on such thoughts well after he'd excused himself from the after-dinner conversation and for a time as he meditated in his room. Being hosted in such a lavish setting was somewhat embarrassing and foreign to a monk like him. Once he'd emptied his mind of unnecessary worries and trivialities, he slept soundly.

When he woke, it was early to the point where the sun hadn't yet fully risen in the sky. He always woke up very early. The first thing he did was gather his things into his rucksack. Once that task was accomplished, he made his way back to the room with the pool, sitting by the water. He'd suggested this place for a reason; he didn't want to explore the rest of his home when he hadn't been invited to, let alone when most everyone wouldn't be awake.

The sounds of morning thrummed through the air and created their own melody of the morning, a pleasant mix of the starlings greeting the morning and the hum of grasshoppers no doubt frightened by the starlings. The noise was one that had calmed Thiri throughout childhood and continued to provide him with a certain sense of peace when he woke up to it. The rain, he noticed, had ceased some time in the night and he was once again in possession of the legs of a man. He was glad that the change had occurred while he slept, that way he did not suffer the pain of his tail splitting into legs once more.

From the sounds issuing nearby, Thiri could safely assume that their guest had already risen and was moving about. Following suit, Thiri gathered all of the things to be put into his own rucksack, including a pouch of money. He had never set off on quite such a journey before and he was nervous but with the thrill of adventure nibbling at him. This was going to be an adventure and hopefully by the end of this, he was going to be freed of his curse. He would be a normal man for the first time in his life.

This was an especially powerful thought for Thiri, since he had even had to take considerations with his clothing and the room in his rucksack. On days when the rains were imminent, he had to clothe himself in robes because the transformation of his tore his pants to shreds. He was giddy with the idea of what it would be like to not have to plan his attire around the weather and have to replace so many articles of clothing because he had predicted incorrectly. For now, for the freedom of movement, Thiri was wearing plain black pants and a simple long-sleeved shirt in deep purple. His rucksack completely packed with things since he had put in another pair of pants and a plain robe in forest green. He tucked the preserved food inside his bag, nestled against the clothing. Fortunately, he could wear his sandals for now on his feet and even grabbed his wooden walking stick. The journey of a lifetime was soon to begin.

Making way way back to the room with the stone pool, Thiri was not surprised to find his mother and the guest already standing around. His mother had prepared them a parting breakfast - rolled balls of sticky rice and sliced salak served with a bit of alpaca cheese and small cups of guava. He was grateful and ate it quickly in large bites, excited to be leaving. When he had finished, he gave his mother an awkward embrace.

"I will return as soon as possible. Please try not to worry about me. Are you ready, bhikkhu?"
"Certainly," Sein agreed, throwing a smile over his shoulder at Lwinmya as a farewell after he turned to face the door. The food had energized him, and he was pleased to be on his way towards making a difference in someone's life, besides.

Now Sein was seeing the prince in his natural form. His legs were long and powerful, much like his hated tail; his physical form in general was quite fit. The man certainly stood out. He didn't seem the type to tire easily, but Sein would need to keep an eye on him nonetheless, as he'd mentioned he wasn't used to long journeys. The only other problems Sein could foresee were weather-related and possible confrontations.

Before they left the village, Sein stopped to pick up several skeins' worth of water. Once they were at the outskirts, he paused, turning to face Thiri.

"My suggestion is that we begin by locating the cursed relic you spoke of. I would like to study it, and having it in our possession will leave us better prepared for an encounter with your ancestor." He wanted to avoid a messy conclusion. That was what everyone wanted in situations like these. Nagisa was a powerful witch, and her magic was not to be underestimated. Sein went on, producing the scroll in question from his rucksack and offering Thiri a piece of charcoal. "Depending on the terrain, we will need to invest in different supplies and travel at different speeds. I trust you won't mind marking the location on my map?"

Once outside the hospitality of the prince's familial home, Sein was far more assertive than he had seemed to the prince formerly. Thiri was unsure if this knowledge bettered his opinion of the man or not, and considered it for a moment. Though he had seemed meek and mild, having a sense of decorum when in the home of another was at least admirable and for that, Thiri would give him respect instead of consider him and his personality weak. This decision, once made, bolstered Thiri's hopes for the trip since it was all the better to travel with someone that he could at least grant a modicum of respect.

Moving to the map that Sein had pulled out and accepting the stick of charcoal, he looked over the features and examined the small lettering neatly naming the places next to which they were written. Taking care to hold the willowy stick gently between forefinger and thumb, he followed a path not marked on the map with his eyes, one he simply knew to exist. It was through the trees, a walk of several days away and an uphill climb but it was a place that he had been told of by his mother and grandmother, one that he had caught a glimpse of as a child when his mother had lain his father to rest with their ancestors, since her family had taken him in when he had no family of his own.

"There is no path marked on this map, but I know the way through the trees. The home of my family was built almost in the shadow of the shrine where we honor my ancestors. Despite her venom for the family, Nagisa had loved her fallen husband very much. She was often seen at his grave after his death and it has been whispered that if she were to have lived anywhere after fleeing from the family home, it would have been at the shrine near the grave of her husband."

With that explanation given, Thiri motioned for Sein to follow him and strode to the trees to the side of the path. They would travel up, mainly, but also west to arrive at the temple. Picking his way neatly through the plants, Thiri came to a barely visible path worn from walking that wound upward through the flora. It would not go all the way to the shrine, of course, since it was not often traveled that far up but Thiri himself had worn down some of the path on his morning walks and was knowledgeable about at least the area that he frequented.
Sein watched Thiri's quickly retreating back for a moment before he began to trail behind, leaving him plenty of space as he ventured into the forest. He imagined the other man had been thirsting for something like this: adventure and absolution. A quest to clear his family name. It was all very poetic. He didn't question his devotion, just wondered about his mindset and how much his princely pride might get in the way.

He wondered about Nagisa, too, and how well he'd be able to relate to her. That was usually one of his strengths. Sein had never experienced betrayal, and he could not experience love. It was another rule he lived by, and not one he had ever had a problem with, despite some worries. He was surrounded by women at the temple he came from, but nothing beyond familial affection had ever touched his soul. The prospect of passionate love was dangerous, anyway. The sheer damage it wrought! He had never been the one to counsel those who had approached their temple in search of romantic advice, and never would be, at this rate.

Their hike was long, with few breaks. Pacing was important, of course, but Thiri was obviously invigorated and inspired to push forward. Sein saw no reason to damper on his excitement, or earn his ire, by nagging him about how sore he'd be in the morning. They hadn't truly begun to forge their way uphill yet, either. When Thiri started to look parched, Sein shared his water with him, and Thiri likewise gave Sein food when he was hungry. It was getting close to dark before they reached a point where there was enough clear space to accommodate two grown men.

There was no need for a fire this night- no practical reason, anyway. The weather was warm and humid, and it would stay that way. They had enough light left to roll out the mats they'd sleep on- and talk in, if it came to that. How was Sein supposed to speak to him? Moreover, what was he to speak of? Talking about their journey and the plan of action was easy enough, but… they came from different worlds, and Thiri was a man. Sein supposed he should have thought this out more carefully, but this trip wasn't about staying within his comfort zone.

"Tell me more about your family, Prince Thiri," Sein suggested, pulling his mat out of his rucksack. "Or, if you don't mind, about yourself. I'd like to know more about the ins and outs of your condition- about your life, really."

The warmth of the night was augmented by the humidity, which kept them nestled in a warm if sticky blanket through the night. It was easy enough to rule out the idea of starting a fire with this kind of heat, especially when there was as of yet no need to cook any hunted or foraged foodstuffs. Thus far, the walk had been in silence, not an uncomfortable one but rather an amiable companionship. It was pleasant, in his opinion, and he had enjoyed it but now that it was time to settle down he wasn't sure how to talk to the other man.

It seemed, though, as soon as they slowed and began to look around for a place to roll out their mats, that Sein wanted to talk some. Thiri was not averse to this, and he tried to form the right things to say to show that he was happy enough to speak about his life. He just didn't know where to start, with his family and himself. Focusing in, Thiri decided to answer about his condition first of all. It was the most direct question and he could answer it with some factual ease. He did this as he began to roll out his mat in an area with sparse growth and relatively flat slope.

"My condition prevents me from being much use as a man, as a protector. The monsoons and heavy rains that plague this country leave me in a state where I can not run or jump. The transformation is triggered by the rain, that is when I am needed most and can do so little. This is why I have yet to take a bride" he sounded a bit bitter now, finishing unrolling his mat and sitting down on it. "I have no right to forge a family when I cannot protect them in the rains. I've known this since I was a much younger man; this affliction has been with me since I was born and my earliest memory is of the pain of the transformation, which is great."

"I want to know more about you, though, as well. Tell me about yourself, Sein?"

It was a friendly way to pass the time, to talk until they fell asleep. Thiri was reclined on his mat already, resting his tired muscles. He would sleep soon, but he wanted to speak a little more with Sein.
Sein finally decided to address Thiri's complex out loud- not out of pity, but because he felt his assessment of himself was incorrect. Perhaps it would provide him with some comfort, or at least something to think about, until he was rid of his tail.

"You are as much a man as any I have met. Moreso, perhaps. To have endured your condition for this long means your will and inner strength are ironclad. Others might not have been so resilient." He paused for a moment, thinking. "I don't think being a man is defined by what you look like, or what you are physically capable of. It is a mindset. More important is what you do with the resources you have… Ah, I am ranting." He broke off, smiling sheepishly, and stopped talking long enough to roll out his own mat. "One of my faults. In any case, to aspire towards protecting others is admirable. It is one of my goals, as well. And I'm sure the ladies of your village are waiting eagerly for the day you decide it is time to marry," he added, with a less embarrassed grin. He'd learned a while ago that men and women alike appreciated a compliment.

He sat down upright, legs folded. When they finished speaking, Thiri would meditate. For now, though, he had a question to answer. "I am but a simple monk. My passions are learning and teaching others. Beyond that, I am not much to speak of… I suppose my origin is somewhat curious. I told you I was raised in the temple, yes? One of the nuns is my mother, but I do not know which one. I apparently don't look like her. I never met my father, but I once overheard a conversation about him, and I believe I am better off." That story had been the one that inspired his confusion about other men in general.

Sein struggled to think of what else he could say that might catch the prince's interest. Some kind of common ground would help them bond, and surely they'd work better together if they established some sort of rapport. "I, like you, might like to start a family someday, albeit not in the traditional sense. Many children are abandoned and unloved, desperately in need of a home. Is there anything else you would like to know in particular?"

Yawning, Thiri reclined on his mat, his eyes beginning to feel heavy with sleep. He understood that the bhikkhu wanted to talk some, and he could agree that he would like to know more about his traveling companion, but neither one of them seemed particularly forthcoming with any information. Not that either was hiding anything, or so he assumed since he couldn't be certain about Sein or his motives. There just did not seem to be much for them to connect about. Sein made a valiant attempt at it, though, by talking about adopting children. The sentiment seemed oddly sweet to him. Thiri propped his chin up on his hand with his elbow resting on the mat.

"I think that you seem like a very temperate and pleasant man. I think that you will make a good father and that the children you raise will be lucky indeed." Not knowing what else to say, Thiri let his eyes flicker closed for a moment. He was considering the possibility of never breaking the curse, as well as what Sein had said about him seeming like a man already. It was honestly a boost to the prince's confidence to have someone else comment in such a manner. He had rarely spoken to anyone about his condition, which limited how candid he could be with them in general. He felt, perhaps because of this, oddly close with Sein for their thus far open communication.

The fact that Sein had been raised around all women surprised Thiri, though he supposed that the same could be said for himself, in part. He'd had male figures with him, however, unlike the bhikkhu, apparently. Thiri yawned again and tried to think of something that they could talk about but his mind was mostly drawing blanks. Moving his arm so that he could lay on the mat fully, his shoulder blades both making contact with the soft but sturdy material, Thiri tried to make himself comfortable.

"I'm very tired, but we can continue talking tomorrow if you would like" he responded as he closed his eyes. Hopefully by then he would have drawn some sort of inspiration for a conversation or at least they could begin discussing their destination and goal. They were still a ways away from it, but he was growing somewhat excited. This was the most adventurous thing he'd ever really done.