Kathalla nal Van
June 1, 1995
I woke up and stretched my mind, then my body. The spring air smelled lovely, and the tiny beads of the string-curtain almost hissed as they rubbed against one another. Bathed in sunlight, I rose and went to the center of the room so I could stretch my wings. Pulling on some loose blue shorts, I pulled aside the skins that served as door to my room and made my way to the entrance of my family's treehome.
As was becoming painfully common, there was a pile of offerings and gifts from potential suitors. N'Derr, why did I have to be the daughter and heir of the second Mother of the Council? Sure, the power that came with such a distinguished bloodline was fun, but egads, every male and half the females of four forests and a few mountains wanted me for a mate... With a sigh, I gathered up the junk and carried it back to my room.
As I walked through the main room, I passed my mother, who clucked in disapproval of my dress, *You can't just walk around without a top like that, dear one... What if someone were to see?*
I chuckled at the thought, as usual. *Come on, mom, it's not like I'm ugly or anything... What's the point to hiding beauty?*
*If you wish to display beauty, why don't you commission some nice, married, artisan to make you some nice clothes?*
We'd had this conversation on at least a weekly basis since I'd turned twelve, and nothing was about to change... Without another word I continued to my room, dumping the offerings on my bed and starting to sort through them. Flowers <toss>, meatrolls flavored with the rare benteth herb <toss>, someone's... WHAT?!? Some fool sent me their Familiarity Stone... That alone is enough to bind someone to matehood for life, if accepted! And judging by the mental signature of the stone, it's someone who hasn't even met me. Of all the nerve...
I know the assassination stone matrix is forbidden, but this idiot male (yes, it's a male, the stone's aura absolutely reeks of it...) has gone too far, and it's not like I'm using lethal force... There. A few moments concentration for the Atunement (that part's easy, as the stone's nearly a direct copy of the owner's mind) and the Activation, and a little mental energy to charge it kinetically, and it's ready. I set it aside, I'll put it where it can reach its target later.
I finish sorting through the offerings. There's actually some decent stuff in there, such as the necklace of naturally-faceted blue stones someone handmade, but I can't keep any of it; it would imply that I'm actually considering someone's offer, and I've yet to find someone that's not an insufferable boor who's just after me for my position.
That's part of why I have this exhibitionistic streak, I guess. I suppose I'm trying to get noticed for some reason other than my status as a future CouncilMother, however little an improvement being noticed for my body would be...
I dump the whole batch of offerings down the refuse chute to the forest floor, except for the Stone, which I tuck into a fold of my shorts. After (reluctantly) putting on a matching top, I headed out to the dining area, where I was joined by my father for firstmeal.
"Is Mother gone already?" I asked.
*Yes,* he sent, rubbing absently at his wrists. I noticed that the fur's been rubbed thin there again, he and Mom must have made love last night. *You know how it is when the Council's in session, you were lucky to have caught her at all.*
I nodded and sat down at the table, 'feeling' out and selecting part of last night's roast from the pantry and levitating it and a plate to the table. *So,* I sent, making small talk while I cut up the meat, *has the Council reached any conclusion about the expansion of the Others?*
Father made a rude noise, "You think they'd tell me? I may be the only thing between your mother and terminal boredom, but I'm still just a male... I just hope we don't have to go through another Migration this time."
I grimaced at the memory. About four years ago, a good portion of my race had had to relocate in an effort to maintain the traditional separation of our people from those we shared Deral with. I hadn't been directly affected, but my family had been part of a much smaller, if less planned, move away from the Hoosnor mountains, as the Others called them. To me, they'd just been "home".
I ate quietly, thinking about politics and discussing inconsequential matters with Father. Cleaning off my plate with a mental swiping motion, I put it back and got up, sending an affectionate burst of emotions in my dad's direction as I pushed the skins aside and went outdoors.
There was still a slight chill to the morning air, but a few minutes of flying and I would hardly notice. Walking to the edge of a treeway, I spread my wings and jumped off, letting gravity do all the work as I rushed towards the forest floor. Mother had always called me a "lazy" flier, but she didn't understand it at all... The sense of danger, the thrill of exerting only the minimum control over my course, added up to produce the sensation that I was actually living, not merely existing. I pulled out of my dive, losing a little fur on the ground brush, and took the "low road" to the next village, casually dodging trees as I went.
I reached the village of Nerra with an inverse swoop, 'popping' up in the central square, clearing the treeways on either side by inches. I hovered there long enough to toss some love struck idiot's Familiarity Stone into a small flower garden in the middle of the square. This was his home village, and he was bound to step into its detection range eventually. I just hope he knows a healer who's good with concussions...
Dropping back down between the suspended walkways, I picked up speed and started winging my way towards my favorite private place. This time I flew just above the trees, seeing just how low I could keep myself without crashing or tangling a wing or something. After about an hour of flight, I reached the lake whose location I'd carefully guarded ever since I'd found it three years back. If my mother knew I was here, I'd be sent packing to relatives in the mountains. This was much too close to the settlements of the Others for a sensible young girl to be, she'd say.
I hovered over a large rock protruding from the center of the lake and shrugged out of my clothes. Okay, so I cheated a little... But I'd like to see you get undressed in midair without any help from telekinesis... Dropping the silks on the rock, I grabbed a little more altitude and dived into the lake, swimming deep under the surface like some strange, water-borne bird. It's not easy to swim with wings, it even hurts a little, but I can't think of a single better exercise to build flight endurance. Several years of water-flying had given me a body to be proud of, and I knew it.
The cool water was refreshing and relaxing, and it was hard to fight the temptation to just float on the lake and take a nap, but memories of the last couple times I tried to float while asleep kept me from even giving it a second thought. There's something about having buoyant wings on one's back that makes it hard to float in a position that allows breathing, without constant corrections.
I swam for about half an hour, ending up at the big rock in the middle of the lake. I climbed out onto the rock and climbed the handholds I'd carved years ago to the top where I lay down next to my clothes to dry out. The day had warmed in the hours since I'd left home, and without a cloud in the sky, nothing looked better at the moment than a nice, long sunbath.
I opened my eyes and yawned. Either I'd fallen asleep, or the sun had taken to moving in 3-hour jumps. I was now in the shadow of one of the larger mini-spires of the main rock, and a pebble was wearing a hole in my hide someplace I'd rather not mention. Feeling a little stiff, I got up and dressed.
My stomach rudely informed me that I may have forgotten lunch, but it hadn't, and I'd better do something about it before it rebelled and started eating its neighboring organs. I took the threat seriously, taking off and flying towards the nearest place I knew I could get a meal.
If my mother would be angry knowing where my lakeside retreat was, she'd explode if she knew where I was about to go... There was a small house of the Others', not much more than a hut really, located on the extreme fringe of their nearest settlement. It had been abandoned a couple years back, and the garden that the resident had maintained had gone wild, taking over quite a bit of the nearby land. Three or four times now since I'd discovered it, I'd raided that garden for a quick meal, as I intended to do now, but as I neared the little building, two things struck me.
First, like a blade of ice run through my heart, I felt sadness. Someone nearby had suffered an incredible loss, and their pain shot through my mind with such force that my wings locked and I tumbled to the ground. Second, the garden had been tamed and there was a light on in the building, implying strongly that the hut's abandonment was at an end.
Cursing under my breath, I threw up the mental shields I should never have been without and dusted myself off. Creeping low to the ground, I approached the window and peered in.
Inside, sitting on a chair in front of a tapestry, was a male of the Others, which a nagging thought in my mind reminded me called themselves Velans. He was holding his head in his hands and sobbing for all he was worth. The tapestry in front of him was ornate, even exquisite, with a heart-wrenching rendition of two Velans, one male and one female, gazing at each other in obvious love. Neither of the people pictured was the one sitting before me, however. I looked him over more closely... He was young, I'm sure he couldn't have been any older than me, even though I don't really have enough experience with the Others to judge. If what I'd heard was correct, his fur was a little lighter than normal. Like all Velans, at least all the ones I'd seen, he had no wings, a ridiculously long tail (my little stub didn't get in the way nearly as much as that thing obviously did), and a curiously elongated muzzle. Just then I noticed that he wasn't wearing anything, and I blushed a little at the thoughts that provoked. Certainly this, of all people, would honestly not care about my being a Councilheir, but that was beside the point. I could never even let him know I existed, much less get to know him in that way.
I got to thinking about what could have happened to cause him the pain he was now experiencing, and my heart softened. My shields must have followed suit, because he stopped and looked around, and I know I hadn't made any noise, physically. I ducked down and started crawling around to the side of the house that didn't have any windows, where I got up and took off running as quietly as I could. So, my little fox has some talent mentally... I filed it away with the rest of what I'd learned of him no matter how useless it seemed. I don't know why, but I felt an affinity for this man of the Others. Perhaps it had been the overwhelming feeling of alone that he'd been broadcasting. In my own way, I'm very much alone, myself.
Growing up as the only child of a CouncilMother, with more than enough strength of the mind to qualify, it had been clear since a very early age that I'd eventually take her place. From that point, every aspect of my life was overshadowed by that future. The friends I had slowly drifting away, afraid of winning in childish games or pranks against one who would eventually be a rulemaker for the entire race. Those who approached me to become new friends seemed genuine at first, but without fail an ulterior motive would surface after some time, and they usually left quickly after that. The situation with my suitors was similar. I'd even found, through conversations with the other three Councilheirs that were of mateworthy age, that a few of those suitors had approached all of us, in the hopes that one would consent. It took a few rather blunt lessons, but when the bones had knit, most of them went back to courting one person at a time...
Still immersed in my self-review on loneliness, I took off and headed for home, arriving by early evening, famished. Mother would still be in Council, and Father was out somewhere, probably working on someone's furniture, being a passable carpenter. I dug around in the pantry, physically for a change, emerging with an armload of vegetables, leftover meat, and a bowl of the kata-berries that were in season. Setting it all down on the table, I dug in.
About an hour and a half later, as I was relaxing on a cushion in the main room, telekinetically sculpting some river-clay into the shape of the Other I'd seen today, my Mother returned home. Stamping down a guilty thought or two behind my shields, I squashed the clay into a shapeless mass and greeted her, *Welcome home mom.*
She smiled wearily, dropping her body onto a cushion with an air of exhaustion. Staring up at the ceiling, she spoke, which in itself was mildly surprising. "What a day... I don't think the Council's groupmind has ever been this confused. It feels like if I tried to send, not even a Listener would hear me. My mind feels so... so numb..."
I was privately relieved at this as my mother was one of maybe three Deralli alive that could wrest a secret from my mind if I wanted to hide something, and I definitely had something to hide. Just getting near an Other without a direct order from the Council is among the greater crimes as our people saw them.
"How was your day, Kathalla?" she asked.
"Not bad," I replied, "I went to Nerra to give someone a gift, and I went swimming, and I found a new friend who's into gardening."
"Oh, how I envy your freedom, young one..." she said, then stifled a yawn.
"You've had a rough day, I can tell... Why don't you go to bed? I'll tell Father to be quiet when he gets home..."
"That," she said, struggling to her feet, "sounds like an excellent idea..." She went to her room and shut the hide door. After a couple minutes of shuffling, the room fell silent and stayed that way.
I was feeling none too spry myself, so I grabbed a Messagestone from the basket of them that sat by Uncle Freyhla's crystal and imprinted it with a message for my father that he should be quiet about getting into bed tonight. Leaving the stone in the doorway of the main entrance, I went to my own room, stripped, and got in bed.
Try as I might to fall asleep, I lay there tossing and turning, thinking about my day, and the current Council matter involving the Others, and my suitors, and any number of little things that bugged me. Finally, my thoughts gave my mind a break and I was able to sleep.