Story by James Todd Lewis; Chapter and section breaks by Kat Miller!
An extension of the story told in The Summit (available as an eBook from Amazon)!
(c) All characters copyright of James Todd Lewis (2015)
Vanarra slowed and landed her hover in front of Kylie’s lair just after work. “It looks nice,” Liana said softly.
“Well, it’s not bad, certainly,” Van agreed.
“I … I was once in a training barracks at de Caterra. I … I only had like a space that was eight tracks by ten tracks, and the walls only went up six tracks or so. They had so many of us sleeping like that. Later, they … they moved me to a small apartment. It … wasn’t as nice as this. Are you sure we have the right place?” the Faelnar asked nervously.
“I’ve been here before,” Vanarra replied. “This is Kylie’s place. I had to visit it once to bring a … well, a peace offering. That’s a long story,” Van quickly said, changing the subject. “Come on. I called her, so she’s waiting for us.”
They lifted the doors and stepped out, and Liana retrieved her small bag from behind the front seat. “I … I can’t thank you enough for taking me shopping last night. That was very kind.”
“You didn’t have any clothes, kit! What … what else could I do?” Van replied, a little dismissively, but stopped and looked at the Faelnar’s face. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were quivering. “What’s wrong, kit?”
“Clothes. If it was de Caterra, they would simply expect me to do without. If it was what happened after … I … didn’t have any clothes. You … are a miracle to me, Most Honored of all Matrons.”
Van looked at her, smiled, and put her arm about the Faelnar’s shoulder. “Come on, now. Let’s keep the miracle going, kit.” Carefully, she began to walk Liana forward, painfully aware of how difficult these moments were for her. After going up a few steps to the path in front of the second-level lairs, they came to a door where the side windows showed pleasant candlelight and had soft music playing inside, barely audible behind the thick door.
Van rang the door chime, and almost immediately it opened, Kylie smiling at her guests. “Van, Liana! Please, come in.”
As they stepped in, Vanarra’s PawLink beeped. “Oh, it never fails!” she groused. Picking it out of her robes and looking at it, she huffed, “Kinnessa, or rather Dame Kinnessa. She has some questions about the next few sites planned for the negotiations and needs answers tonight. Wants me to come to the keep for a few passes. Oh, Liana…”
“You have duties, Honored Matron, I understand.”
“I feel like I’m just dropping you off. I wanted to spend some time with you, help you get settled in.”
“It’s alright, Van,” Kylie offered. “I think we’ll be fine.”
Looking at Liana, Vanarra wasn’t so sure. The Faelnar was gazing around the lair’s den with a mixture of grateful disbelief and uncertainty, and perhaps, just a little fear – especially when her eyes landed on the impressive row of fighting arts trophies and awards adorning Kylie’s wall. As Liana drifted away to look at them, Van motioned Kylie over and whispered, “Ky, she’s real … skittish right now. She’s still like … in culture shock or something. I’m afraid she might like run off in the night.”
“Don’t worry. I have a security system, and the control panel is in my bedroom. I think it will be alright.”
“She’s still anxious about you being a Vulpi, too.”
“I know, but—”
Van’s PawLink beeped again, and Van silenced it without looking at it. “Damned if I don’t have two jobs!” she groused quietly.
“I can manage this, Van. Please. Go take care of your family business, and I’ll help her settle in.”
“Okay.” Speaking a little louder, Vanarra stated, “Liana, I’m going to go. You’ve got a new PawLink now and my number is programmed in. It’s the first one. Please, if you need anything, call me.”
“Yes, Most Honored,” the Faelnar replied.
Van, still not assured walked over and gently hugged Liana. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, okay? No matter what, I want you taken care of. You promise to call me if there’s anything you’re worried about or afraid of or –”
“Yes, Most Honored.” Liana broke the embrace and replied, “I will be strong, for you. I will see you tomorrow morning at work.”
“Good. Alright, you two. I’ll see you soon.”
“Take care, Van. Have a good night,” Kylie offered as she walked her to the door and said goodbye. When the door was closed, the Vulpi turned and looked at her Faelnar guest, who was, without doubt, still nervous. “Come and sit, please, Liana. Do you like tea? Aster tree, perhaps? I just made it.”
“That … that would be kind, thank you,” the Faelnar replied as she sat on a nearby couch, her bag still in her paws.
“Can I take that for you? I could go ahead and put it in your bedroom.”
“I … get a bedroom?” she asked, not seeming to believe that such was possible.
“Of course!” Kylie replied, putting her paw on her hips. “I told you Solana was moving out, and you were taking her room, right?”
“Oh, yes. Oh, I … forgot,” Liana replied, looking down, slowly setting her bag on the floor.
As Kylie gave her the tea, she carefully stated, “You know, I have to say that my first impression of you is … well, that you’re a lousy liar.”
The Faelnar looked up at her in confusion and surprise. “What? I’m—”
Kylie sat down opposite her on the couch and raised her paw to forestall Liana’s question. “Now, don’t worry. I’m not upset, and I’m not even sure you fully realize what you just did. I’m going to make an observation here, and I want you to be honest with me. You … you don’t feel like you’re entitled to anything right now, do you?”
“I’m disavowed; I’m former de Caterra. No, I … I suppose not. We received classes, as children, telling us what it meant to be avowed and disavowed. I … well, I kind of expected to be roaming the streets, trying to find a safe place to sleep and food to eat. I would have never expected to have been taken in, by anyone.”
Kylie shook her head, still not understanding. “Even after you were rescued by Vanarra? Even after all of the care you received in the hospital? You didn’t think that someone would help take care of you?”
“No, truthfully. It’s … perhaps just a little crazy, but a part of me is sort of disappointed, in a way, that I’m not … suffering more, I suppose,” Liana replied as she nervously took a sip of tea.
“We’re always disappointed when the ones who raised us tell us things that aren’t true,” Kylie observed. She had a long conversation with Caloizar – mind to mind – about how she could best take care of Liana, and Cal had predicted this situation. “A part of us expects for the threats they made to come true, like my mom telling me that if I ever applied for the architecture program I would most certainly be tossed out of the family. Well, I applied, I got permission, and I’m taking courses, and my family seems happier than ever. Now, it wasn’t that she was wrong, exactly; it’s just that right now, since things have changed, what she said was wrong. Believe me, kit, she’s happier than I am that her threat didn’t come true. Perhaps the same is true for what de Caterra said about being disavowed. At one time it was true; now it’s not. You’re allowed to be okay with that, you know?”
“Yes … Kylie,” Liana replied, not looking at her, and the pause almost seemed like she was searching for an appropriate title to give her Vulpi benefactor.
“Liana, do I … intimidate you?” Kylie asked carefully.
“I suppose you do,” the Faelnar admitted. “I saw the trophies and read them. They … they’re impressive, and you certainly are, as well. I can tell you work out, a lot.”
“But I’d never hurt you, kit. I want you to believe that, have confidence in that,” Kylie almost pled. “You shouldn’t be afraid of me. If anything, those trophies should tell you that I can do a pretty decent job of protecting you, if I have to.” The Faelnar nodded, like she was trying to believe her, but Kylie was still not convinced. “Tell me what you’re thinking, kit, please. I want to understand.”
Liana hesitated for a few moments before she answered. “It’s just that … you’re a Vulpi, and a very strong one. If you wanted to, you could take your revenge out on me for what my family did to your kind, and I probably couldn’t stop you. I’ve had a little fighting arts, but nothing like you. I suppose … that’s where my thoughts are.”
“I refuse to hold you accountable for what others did. They got my father, Liana. He’s had some very tough sols trying to recover from what they forced him to do, namely help ship mixed-blood corpses out to sea so they could be disposed of in a mass, undersea grave, away from any prying eyes. Am I angry at those de Caterra who did that to my father, humiliated him and used him to do things he never would have dreamed of? Yes. I am, but that wasn’t you.”
“It could have been-” Liana started.
“But it was not,” Kylie answered firmly. “Records confirm that they were killed in the assault on the de Caterra estate. So, if that’s true, Liana, I can’t blame you for putting my father into rut trance. Someone else did that, and they’re gone now.”
“It’s very kind,” Liana observed. “I guess part of me thinks that if situations were reversed, I wouldn’t have it in me to be as forgiving as you.”
“Well, I have my reasons. Speaking of rut trance, I should probably let you know that I had it done to me, actually.” The Vulpi’s blush furs were raised. When she looked at Liana, she saw that all of the color seemed to have drained from the Faelnar’s nose and mouth. “It was actually not a de Caterra who did it to me, accidently. It was a de Orturu, namely Matron Sahnassa de Orturu. When they gave me the Reticin, as you might guess, I kind of lost it. I … jumped her at her lair and beat her up. I … beat her up pretty bad.”
Kylie paused and drew her hind legs up and crossed them, and put her head into her paws as she continued. “I … my memories at the time were so … damned screwed up, but I couldn’t tell it. I thought she’d done it to me on purpose, when it was really just an accident – poor timing on my part, and poor judgment for that matter. We patched things up, but … I still feel so guilty about that night. I was an idiot. I lashed out at someone who was innocent, someone who was trying to help. Never again, Liana. That night taught me a lot.”
“I … I can understand, though,” Liana replied, now seeming as if she wanted to comfort Kylie. “They gave me a Vulpi, and she was already drugged and shot full of hormones. I cheated, though, I … disobeyed. I made sure that, in the conversion process she still kept her free will when we were alone. It was hard for her, but she was … grateful, I could tell. One sol, she came down with Altian-B, and I gave her the so-called vaccine. She went mad. If I hadn’t tied her to the bed, I’m sure she would have killed me, or tried to. She … forgave me, after the madness passed. She … she helped me escape, made sure I would – even when she couldn’t, even when she … never would. She taught me so much. I … I wished I could of saved her, or … thanked her, at least.”
The Faelnar was very still now, looking at the floor, her mind awash in memories and regret. “On behalf of her, on behalf of all Vulpi, thank you.”
“For what?” Liana asked. “She … she didn’t survive.”
“You showed her mercy, and you let her keep who she was. You didn’t have to, did you? You could have easily made her your pet slave, and you didn’t,” Kylie replied, a tear dropping down her cheek fur. “Liana, I’ve heard story after story of de Caterra who subdued Vulpi, and none of them, not one, let them keep any part of who they used to be, any free will. For whatever short time she had with you, she was alive and freer than if she had fallen into the paws of anyone else. So, yes, Liana. For Vialla, thank you.”
“If … if you speak on behalf of Vialla, then … hear me, for her sake. Thank you, Vialla. I live now only because of you, and I will do whatever I can to make up for losing you. I do not know how, but … with the right help, perhaps I can make amends.”
Kylie reached across the table and offered her paw to the Faelnar who, albeit somewhat timidly, grasped it.
As Kylie was lying in her bed a few intervals later, she thought back over the things Liana had said as they both cooked their evening meal and helped her get settled. The Faelnar’s fascination and disbelief that Solana had left so many things to her had her thinking about Liana’s mental state, and she felt it was quite fragile. “Cal?” she called out in her thoughts. “Cal? Can you hear me?”
“Of course, my love.”
“What’s Liana doing?”
“She’s sitting on the side of the bed, staring at her reflection in the mirror. The music player is on, playing broadcast classical music at a low volume.”
Kylie sat up and asked, “How long has she been doing that?”
“Almost since the moment you told her goodnight.”
Kylie glanced at her bedside timepiece and breathed aloud, “Cal that was like nearly a full interval ago. I’m … I’m worried about her. She needs to sleep. Would you please help her?”
“Her mind is very active. It will take some time to get her to sleep naturally. If I make her tired too quickly, she’ll suspect she was drugged.”
“Good point,” the Vulpi replied. “I wish I knew what she was thinking.”
“In this circumstance, I think that could be allowed. Let me sample for a few moments and see what I can come up with.”
“Thank you, Cal,” she replied, but then she smiled slyly. “So, how’s your little project going?”
“Oh, I’m up and around, living on the surface, just like you are, but I’m still establishing myself. It appears I was an orphaned Vulpi from the de Vassa family – one of several who were captured for the sake of creating slave labor. I was not controlled with rut trance, but worked in a de Caterra slave camp for many seasons. Eventually, I was promoted into work camp administration, which is where I was when de Caterra fell. My name is on the list of rescued Vulpi, and I am almost to the point of having my honor reinstated. Then, I’m thinking of moving to Shanandrae and looking for work.”
“And perhaps a little romance, as well?” Kylie asked, smiling.
“Most definitely. Ah, I have sorted her thoughts enough to come up with several basic themes. She is very anxious about the future, and fearful of what she sees as her rather fragile existence. She is afraid of mixed bloods and Vulpi, not because of anything she did, but because those groups might take out their rage on her. She feels out of control and lonely. She’s also afraid that something would happen that would take you away or cause you to force her out, and she would be left alone.”
“That’s probably going to make it hard for you and me,” Kylie noted. “If you stalk into my life too quickly, Liana could get pretty anxious.”
“I might be able to do it in a way that wouldn’t worry her. You should know that she feels a very powerful reverence towards Vanarra, and to a lesser extent Sahnassa. So, Sahni could be brought in to help her. She’s been asking after Liana’s status, and yours, as well.”
“Mine?” Kylie asked, curious. “Shouldn’t I be the one worried about Sahni?”
“Since you have pledged yourself to her, Sahni feels responsible for you. She cares about you, profoundly. I can tell.”
Kylie simply hugged her legs and enjoyed how that sounded. “She’s wonderful, Cal. I love her. What did you tell, her, anyway? I guess I should ask, how much did you tell her?”
“Just enough for her to know that you and I are … doing well together, even though we haven’t met quite yet,” Caloizar commented. “My gentle work on Liana’s lymphatic and nervous system has started to show some results. She has pulled back the covers and slipped into the bed, after a quick trip to the facilities.”
“Does she still have the music player going?”
“She does. What are you thinking?”
“Can you slip in some of Sahni’s music? That Lullaby for Myths might be just what she needs.”
“Interesting,” Caloizar commented. “However, you should know that it is the stone, working through the music, that does the work of healing the soul.”
“So, just playing the music won’t help her,” Kylie replied, a little disappointed.
“The music has power in its own right, since it was created by Me Sha. I think it’s still worth trying. Allow me to ask Sahnassa’s permission.”
In her thoughts, there was silence for awhile. “I hope Sahni’s okay with this.”
“Of course I am,” the Nephti’s kind voice echoed back to her.
“Sahni! Bless you, kit! So, is it okay for us to play that for Liana?”
“I actually have a better idea. I’m on my own tonight, so perhaps we can do something … a little special.”
“Well, I’m putting my paw-gloves on now, if that gives you any indication,” Sahni’s voice chuckled back in her thoughts.
“You are actually going to play lullabies for her until she goes to sleep? That’s very kind of you.”
“Maybe a little more than that,” Sahni replied. “The stone is calling it something like a psycho-sympathetic resonance support, but let’s just say that Solana’s old music player is going to do some tricks for Liana it hasn’t ever done in the past. Alright Cal, I’m ready. Let me know when I need to start.”
“You should begin your introduction in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
“I am Corellianadurini de Caterra,” the Faelnar told herself as she stared in the mirror, looking at the image of a very tired female with haunted eyes, flattened ears, and a lifeless tail. “I was a proud daughter of my house, true and loyal to it without question. Our house was the wealthiest, the most honorable, and the most zealous about the old traditions that made our world great, until one sol, I found it was all a lie. My house was crippled, corrupt, and hollow. We enslaved and destroyed innocent life with no empathy and with no honor. Now I … I …” She couldn’t go on. For more seasons than she could count, she had told herself things like this when times were hard before she went to sleep, but tonight, even though she had grown tired, she knew sleep wouldn’t come.
“I … I am just Liana, now, and I live on the kindness of strangers and those my house used to hate. If it weren’t for their pity I would be dead,” she cried. “If it weren’t for their mercy, I would be in prison. I owe my life to an Anati. I owe my shelter to a Vulpi. I …” The thoughts and regrets were simply too much for her at that point, and she fell to her knees and wept, with her head on the sink. She had stayed there for awhile, only a moment or two, and then pulled herself up and shuffled towards the bed. Lying down, she tried to settle herself and listen to the music playing beside her.
As she stared at the ceiling, other fears came to mind. For the rest of her life, mixed bloods would look at her and wonder if she was one of those who stalked and killed their kind. Perhaps some of them wouldn’t be content to simply wonder; some of them might come after her – hope to exact some revenge with her as the target of their rage. Then, there would be the Vulpi. Those males and females like Tresk would always wonder about if she was one of the ones who broke the will of their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. They, too, would wonder what sort of role she might have played and decide to claw her apart for the sake of vengeance.
“My … life is a terror,” she thought. “It’s so … damned fragile! If Kylie gets tired of me – if Vanarra disowns me or fires me, I … I have nothing. I … I will be out, alone, and … I won’t last.”
Just then, the music changed, and soft orlure started coming from the player. Unlike the complex melodies and refrains of the prior piece – obviously impressive for its technical aspects – this one sounded like a single individual, playing the instrument, but proficiently, beautifully, and simply. There wasn’t even the normal voicing, a kind of singing that the player could intermingle with the notes as they were played on the strings. It was just the strings and a single melody. As she listened, the music mirrored what she felt – alone, fragile, and mournful. Tears formed in her eyes and slipped down into her fur. “Yes, so … true,” she breathed.
Then, slowly, the music increased in pace, and its tone brightened slightly. It was the same solo player as before, but now the music seemed to have a little confidence, more of a foundation. “Perhaps,” she wondered, now following the music’s tonal mood with some interest. Even now, she realized that while she had little if anything in the way of possessions, she was sleeping in a large bedroom, alone, in a bed that was, indeed, very comfortable. As she moved, she realized that her own body could actually enjoy such a space now, since it didn’t have the welts and cuts and other abuse she had gathered in her captivity.
Now, Liana noticed that slipping into the music every now and again were the subtle humming and harmonizing of the player, a female by the sound of it, adding her own voice to that produced by the strings. It gave the song more solidity, and it no longer felt as if the music was searching for a way to end. On the contrary, it sounded as if it had a distant goal it was trying to reach. In parallel to this new alteration to the music, Liana tried to look forward, think about building a new life. She tried to think on the good now in her life. True, she was destitute, but there were others who seemed passionately committed to helping her establish a new identity and slowly, begin to stand on her own once again.
As the player’s voice became more a part of the wonderful melody which seemed confidently moving ahead, other instruments joined in, coming in alongside, giving support. Vaguely, she realized that was already happening. Kylie, in her mind, was a dear, and kinder than anyone from her own house had even been to her. Solana, who had left her so many things, Vanarra, and even Sahnassa were faces that came to her mind. These Thurians had saved her, protected her, and now, they cared for her.
Now, the orlure led a whole orchestra, all joined alongside it, complimenting and counterpointing it in graceful perfection. Perhaps, Liana thought, that in time, there might even be a last name for her, a true family name, attached to her first name. That partial relic of her former identity, Liana, could become Liana de Gonari or de Mistral, perhaps. It was possible, something to dream of. Then, the sad chapters of her life spent as a child of the de Caterra could be forgotten, never spoken of – non-existent.
The orchestra stepped back a bit from the embrace it had given the orlure, but the orlure player’s music and voice were sweeter than ever, and to Liana’s delight, a second, stronger orlure began to duet with the first. One sol, not too far in the future, perhaps in a couple of seasons, she could even be in the hunt with someone. Perhaps, when all of these new beginnings were part of her past, there could be someone for her. It was something to dream of.
Liana yawned slightly as the pair of orlures started to bring the song to a close, the orchestra supporting them from a distance, but still fully undergirding the last trailing notes of the piece. As the last few notes of the orlure began to fade, the Faelnar’s eyes closed, and for the first time in many nights, she fell asleep.