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)
Into the Field
The sol before the trip, Vanarra returned to the office in her hover. Other than Tallen, who had been logging in from either his or Sahni’s lair, Celebrations by Vanarra had been on a very thorough hiatus. Looking to the side of the building, she saw an immense pile of refuse stacked for pick-up. It took her a moment to realize what it was. “Our shelves! Crap! If that’s all out here, where’s all our stock?”
Quickly, she bounded out of her hover the moment it was secure and keyed into the office. As she walked in, a smell hit her nose – a little oily, but clean. “Hey, who is that?” Tresk shouted.
“It’s Van!” she replied as she strode back towards the warehouse area at the rear of the building. Entering the warehouse, she gasped. “What the…” In front of her were new shelves, strong – almost industrial looking, and they reached all the way up to the roof. All of the shelves had attached ladders on tracks, traversing lift pads, full safety equipment, reinforcement supports, and small computers at the end of each row. They were also fully stocked, in as much as the prior inventory was capable of doing so, with perfectly arranged and organized supplies.
“So, how do like your new shelves, boss?” Tresk asked with a smug smile on his muzzle.
“Tresk! How … how did you get those? I know what kind of a budget we talked about, and I know it couldn’t have covered this!” she exclaimed, pointing at one of the smart-looking little computers.
“Well, it wouldn’t normally, but that new friend of Kylie’s – Caloinath, I think – learned about a liquidation sale. Seems like Wondrous Festivals Incorporated is no longer around. The bank called in their debts and is selling off the pieces. We got this for a steal, Van – top notch stuff, every bit.”
“Wondrous is out of business?!” Van asked, surprised that one of her chief competitors was no longer around. “I hadn’t heard that!”
“I talked to the guy there – a de Oterbythe, by the way, and he said that they had been trying to keep the business going after de Caterra fell, but the family money in de Oterbythe dried up, and they had to close.”
“So this was all from Wondrous? No surprise they went out of business! This stuff must have been expensive!”
“It wasn’t very easy to set up, either. Took Liana and I working up until the small intervals several nights running.”
“Is she here?” Vanarra queried.
“No, I told her to stay at Kylie’s lair and rest. She was just about sleep-walking, the poor kit. I didn’t want her to hurt herself. She worked hard for you, Van – real hard.”
“You did, too, Tresk, I can tell,” Van said appreciatively. “What was the total cost?
“Seventeen and a half, like you and I said. I hated to use all of it, Van, but I figured we were getting something really good. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, that’s fine, Tresk – wow!” Vanarra was walking around starting to truly take in the phenomenal amount of work that had been required to fully install and organize such a nice upgrade to her warehouse. “Tresk, you and Liana – damned, I can’t figure out how you did it! It should have taken a moon to get all of this done!”
“That kit works so hard, and she never gives up. I only sent her home when she was so tired she almost fell off one of the ladders.”
“Is she okay?”
“Mostly. I think she pulled a muscle in her leg trying to catch herself. Kylie called me – said she’d be fine.”
“Good, good!” Vanarra went up to one of the shelf computers and tried some keystrokes.
“It’s all linked up, so we can plug it into the wired network here and have it read up in your office or in Flint’s or wherever. It was weird, Van. When we went into the place where they were doing the sale, the organizers didn’t want to even talk to us. That kind of made Liana a little bit mad, and she told them where we were from. Well, everything changed then!”
“Really? How so?” Van asked, curious and now a little giddy appreciating what a score her business had just made.
“Well, the guy who was running the sale was a de Oterbythe, and the moment Liana lit into him, telling him where we were from, he like … I don’t know; he got scared.”
“What exactly did she say?” Van asked, curious and a little concerned.
“Something about us working for the Most Honored of all Matrons, Vanarra de Gonari. She said something like if we weren’t treated with respect, you would hear about it.”
“Well, that … is true, I suppose. The Most Honored title isn’t exactly official, but … it’s not my place to try and stop her from saying that.”
“But that guy was about to brown the underside of his tail, Van! What’s up with that? He gave us this stuff at a bare bottom price, and he seemed really honored to do so.”
Van sighed a little. “I … I haven’t told everyone, but … we found out that it was a dame of the de Oterbythe family who was responsible for the slice that was put out on me. Because it was a dame going after a matron of another house, there were some … pretty serious consequences. You can expect that anyone from de Oterbythe will probably be very respectful to me. We shouldn’t abuse it. I mean, you two didn’t know in this instance, and that’s fine, but we need to be really careful about it. I … I should have told you all, but I didn’t think it would extend much beyond them bowing to me. It’s clear that’s not the case.”
“Oh, okay,” Tresk observed, and Van could see him thinking it through.
“Tresk, I’m serious. This can’t be abused,” Van warned evenly.
“No, no, I’m not thinking of it that way. Do … do you think that Liana knew?”
“I doubt it. I haven’t told very many. What are you thinking?”
Tresk hesitated for a moment, but finally said, “She’s kind of a really messed up kit, Van. I mean, she works hard, but I get the feeling that she’s not only working for you, she’s kind of … serving you. I mean, like there’s nothing else! I also noticed that she’s got zero interest in the opposite sex.”
“Tresk, you didn’t!” Van groaned. “We talked about that!”
“It wasn’t me, Van. I just watched her as she talked to different males – Faelnar, too. There were some who didn’t look half bad, and they were really interested in her – I could tell. She … she didn’t react. There was no flirt, no tail loft, no blush furs, no … no nothing. I didn’t say anything to her about it, but I did notice. I just wanted you to know. Maybe … maybe she needs some help … like Saiphar got.”
Van gave him a half smile and replied, “Sure, Tresk. I appreciate the heads up. So, she’s okay to work with?”
“Quiet, works hard, does what you ask, and even steps in to save your tail – she’s good. Just … it bothers me – it’s like she’s just … surviving, barely making it through the sol.”
“She’s new. Hopefully, some of that will settle out in time.” Van changed the subject. “So, you coming on the trip with us? I mean I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to skip out after doing all of this.”
“I suppose I’ll come. Liana’s not going to be able to hang around Kylie the whole time, and who knows, you may want us to build you some shelves or something.”
“Or something,” Van replied, her smile broadening. “It’ll be good to have you on the trip, and you two can count on some nice bonus pay coming your way for pulling this together. If you hadn’t jumped in right now, we would have been in serious difficulty for like a moon.”
“I can see that, but … you know, don’t give me anything for this, Van. You’re paying me, and I’m really doing okay. Whatever you were going to give me, give it to Liana, okay? I don’t think that kit has more than a paw-ful of clothes to her name. Don’t tell anyone, either, especially her.”
“You really think of her as a friend, don’t you?”
“Well, we went through all of this, and she stuck it out, stood right beside me and worked every interval that I worked. What else would I call her?”
“A friend works, Tresk. Thank you for taking an interest in helping her find a place here. I’m sure it means a lot to her. Now, can you train me on these real quick so I know what I’m doing and what to watch out for?”
“Sure, boss. Not a problem.”
“So, are you ready for your camping trip,” Kylie asked Caloizar over their mental link, “and our first face to face meeting?”
“I am. I believe I have the equipment that we’ll need, but I’ve intentionally left out a few things. These are items I would expect others to be bringing in abundance.”
“Trying not to looked too polished, huh?” she teased, giggling.
“That’s a skill I’ve actually had to use in the past. Everyone likes and is amazed by someone who is impressive, but if I never make a mistake, not even a slight one, it can draw suspicions. You can expect, therefore, that I’ll have a few flaws, but based on your psychological make-up, you’ll actually find them … attractive, as well.”
“Oh, I am so looking forward to this. I can’t believe you haven’t even let me see an image of yourself! It’s driving me mad!” Kylie complained. He only chuckled.
“I haven’t gone camping much,” Tallen admitted to Sahni as he rode beside her in her hover. “I mean, I’ve been in some interesting places before, doing rescue work, but we were always in a tent set up by the house or by the organization we were working for.” The afternoon was rapidly folding into evening as they drove.
“This won’t be that different, Tal,” Sahnassa replied as she steered the hover down the twisty dirt trail leading to the designated campground.
“Well, this is kind of different in one regard – there are a bunch of Thurians I work with every single sol.”
“You’re nervous?” she asked as she slowed the hover, approaching a couple of security hovers stopped ahead. Faelnar guards stepped out and started walking over to them.
“Just a bit,” he replied, swallowing as the guards took their positions on either side of the vehicle and motioned for her to set down.
Sahni did as they asked, and then retracted the window. “House de Gonari security, matron. Your identification, please?”
“You’re … Kest, aren’t you?” Sahnassa asked, smiling, as she pulled out her matron’s badge and gave it to him. With a claw-tip, the other guard was tapping on Tallen’s window, indicating that he, too, had to present some form of identification.
“I am,” he replied as he looked over her badge. “I haven’t seen you since the raid. How have you been, Most Honored of All Matrons?”
“Kest, please,” Sahnassa begged him. “Matron is just fine. I’ve been well. Matron Vanarra’s told me about your upcoming joining. I’m very happy for you!”
“Thank you, Matron,” he replied, blushing a little as he returned her badge. “She’s a real nice kit, and very grateful, too.”
“Former de Caterra?” she asked. Tallen was nervously waiting while a much burlier Faelnar reviewed his documents with a suspicious eye.
“Yes. One of the first ones disavowed when the purges happened. She’s anxious to start a new life.”
“I want to meet her, Kest, if that would be alright. My parents were thinking about throwing an honorarium at their house for some of those who served and … sustained losses because of the Hallows. Do you think she would come?”
“You couldn’t keep her away,” he replied, smiling. “Thank you, Matron. Could you please open the doors and back?”
“Certainly,” Sahnassa replied, touching the correct controls. The Faelnar who had been giving Tallen a close look finally returned his ID and walked towards the rear of the craft. “Is there any specific threat, Kest, your house is responding to?”
“I believe it was the fact we were caught so unprepared at the Hallows. Matriarch Amyra is not going to permit that same mistake to happen twice.”
“So how much has been cordoned off?”
“You have the whole lake and one full course in each direction from its banks.”
“That’s … that’s a lot of territory!” Sahni observed, and Tallen’s eyes went wide.
“It is, but we’re up to the task. House de Dothnar has added in a few of their assets, too, and we’ve pulled in a few military patrols out of our allotment. If nothing else, it will be a very good training opportunity.” The rear door closed gently, and Kest added, “You’re all clear, Matron. You both have a good time. You deserve it.”
“Thank you, Kest.”
“Thank you,” Tallen told the other guard who was now walking around to the front of the vehicle.
When the pair had stepped away, Sahnassa put the vehicle back in hover mode and slowly drifted forward. “Thank goodness,” Cal breathed. “I thought I was going to get a full search.”
“Like under the tail?” she teased. “That’s reserved for me!”
“Sahni!” he complained. “Now, you know why I’m nervous. I can just imagine the sort of questions Tresk is going to ask about what’s going on in our shelter!”
“Don’t be worried about Tresk, Tal, or any of the others. We … probably won’t go all primal while we’re out here. Honestly, the last time my dad took us camping, we stayed up so late it was almost sunrise before we went to bed. This is about being with our friends. That’s all.”
“Anyone not coming?” he asked.
“A few begged out, for medical reasons, but I think nearly everyone is going to be here. That’s part of the fun, though – who doesn’t show up and who does show up, expected or not. Hopefully, this will be a time we remember for the rest of our lives – a good time.”
“I hope so,” he replied. They continued down the long and sinuous forest trail for what seemed like another quarter interval before Tallen spotted a large campfire surrounded by several round-topped shelters. “I think we’re here. Wow, there are quite a few out here.”
“Well, we aren’t exactly early,” Sahnassa groused a little.
“Sorry about that. I just had to take care of some things; you know how Van is about her order back-log.”
“I know. Oh, there are all the other hovers, over there by the transport,” Sahni said as she put her forepaw out the opened window and waved back to Vanarra as Buck stoked the fire. “Sorry we’re late!” she called out to Van. “Tal blames you!”
“Sahni,” he growled, but she giggled, especially when Van raised her paws in a shrug, feigning innocence. Carefully, Sahnassa slipped her hover alongside the others and landed.
Shortly, the hover came to rest alongside Flint’s, and Sahni and Tal opened the doors. Getting out, they found a large crew making their way over. Tana and Mauft, Buck and Van, Saletta and Flint, Saiphar and Solana, Tresk, Liana, and Kylie were all coming over. “Wow! Hi there everyone!” Sahnassa called.
“Sahni!” Flint shouted, although several others did, too, but his voice rang out over them.
“Come here, you!” she called and reached out and hugged him. “I am so glad to see you two!”
“And you, kit, and you!” he said, but then gave way for his mate to come and hug her, as well.
“Oh, Sahni, it’s so good to see you.”
“Dame Saletta—” Sahnassa started, but Van interrupted.
“Oh no you don’t! We have a rule out here: no titles! Out here, there are no rankings whatsoever. We are all just friends!”
“Absolutely!” Saletta agreed.
“I like that, oh how I like that!” Sahnassa replied, smiling. While Flint and Buck were greeting Tallen, Tresk walked up.
“It’s good to see you, Sahni. You’ve done really great,” he offered.
“Thank you, Tresk. Come here,” she directed, and he hugged her.
“Hey, look here,” he said, breaking away. “Kylie brought a friend. This is Liana – she’s new in Van’s office.”
“I know. We’ve met before,” Sahnassa explained, reaching for the somewhat shy and withdrawn Faelnar.
“And I will thank you for that for the rest of my life, Most Honored of All—”
Kylie jumped in, overhearing from where she was talking to Tallen. “Now, now, Liana. No titles.”
“Oh, sorry,” Liana replied as she broke the embrace.
“It’s no problem, Liana. I’ll probably have to be reminded quite a few times. Tana! Oh, kit! I haven’t seen you in … forever it seems like.”
“You look so very good, though,” Tana offered as she hugged. “Mauft told me you’ve been by the office a few times.” She then whispered into Sahni’s ear, “I know Van has appreciated the support. You’re such a blessing to her.”
“As are you, kit, don’t forget that,” Sahni told the gold-on-gold Faelnar. “And you, Mauft … something’s … different about you.”
“It’s good to see you, Sahni. I’ll … if we can talk later.”
“Sure,” Sahnassa replied as she hugged the big Nephti-Lupar mix.
“Hi, Sahni,” Solana offered, her paw in Saiphar’s. “It’s good to see you.”
“You, too, kit! And Saiphar … what’s that grin about?”
Saiphar’s blush furs rose. “I’ve been accepted by de Kestrick – it just came through this morning. We’re … we’re going to be joined, Sahni. I asked her, and this … this lovely kit said yes.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Tresk’s grimace and saw him turn away. Nevertheless, she congratulated the pair. “Oh, you two! Come here!” As she hugged the couple, she said, “It is so wonderful with all that you have been through, that you two have found each other. I’m so, so happy about that!”
“Thank you,” they replied, but Saiphar added, “I … I was wondering if you would come in some time and do a sitting for me? I would love to paint you. I’ve been thinking of the perfect background—”
“Saiphar is feeling very … inspired,” Solana explained. “He says I’m responsible.”
“And why not, kit? You’re … a miracle – a walking, talking miracle.”
“Who can sort, file, and chat up new clients with the best of them!” Vanarra replied. “Come here, kit!” The two best friends hugged, long and hard – the others stepping back to give them their moment.
“I’ve … I’ve missed you, Van,” Sahni said, getting a little choked up.
“Yeah, kit. You, too, kit,” Vanarra replied, sniffling. Pulling back, she asked, “What’s kept you so busy?”
“We are pulling so many mixed bloods into our house right now, and … I am matron for just about all of them!”
“Including one from my office, Sahni,” Buck noted as he reached out to hug her. “Troseph is a whole new individual. I’d swear it’s like he just came alive in the last few sols.”
“Troseph works in your office?!” Sahni asked, surprised. “He didn’t let on.”
“You’re going to find that out about him. He is very, very humble and won’t brag about anything, but his work’s always been great.”
With Flint, Mauft, and a few others helping Tallen unload and carry their camping gear, Sahni was content to walk with Van and Buck back towards the fire. “I could guess. So, how are you two liking being joined?”
“I don’t know,” Buck replied.
“Oh, here he goes again,” Van groused.
“I just … I just don’t feel that different. I’ve loved Vanarra for … seasons. Being joined – I mean it was an amazing ceremony, but I’ve felt like this, for her, for a long time.”
“That makes me sound like such the slow tail,” Van complained. “I, on the other paw, love it, and it is very different for me. I mean, we’re still both the same busy individuals we were before, but … just that time laying next to him in bed – I … I wouldn’t trade that for anything. There’s no better pay for a hard sol’s work.”
They reached the fire, and Sahnassa replied, “I think you both have good perspectives.”
At that moment, Kylie walked up. “So, kit, is there anything you need?”
“I think I’m fine, Ky. Thank you, so much,” Sahnassa replied, reaching over and hugging the Vulpi. “Thank you for asking, though.”
“Why don’t you tell her about our mystery guest!” Vanarra teased.
Kylie shot Vanarra a bit of a scowl, but confessed, “I’m … meeting someone out here. He’s coming in tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, really?” Sahnassa asked, already more than aware of the situation.
“Yes. His name is Caloinath de Vassa, and … I’ve kind of been talking to him for awhile now. We’ve talked over LineCom, and I’ve written him, but I haven’t actually … like seen him yet.”
“Do you like him?” Sahni asked.
“I do. He’s … very gifted at knowing how to … talk to me,” she replied, a little quieter.
Sahnassa leaned over and hugged Kylie, but whispered in her ear, “I’ve seen him, and he’s perfect for you. I’m so happy for you two.”
“He’s made me pretty happy already,” she whispered back. “And, he really, really knows how to show me a good time.”
“Well, I can’t wait to meet him,” Sahni replied, breaking the embrace.
“Thanks. I’m going to help Tallen set up; give you two some time together.”
“I’ve actually got to help Flint with the food,” Buck replied. “You two take some time,” he told Sahni and Van. “Don’t worry about any of this. We’ll take care of it.”
“Ouch! Dammit!” Tal swore from their campsite.
“And, we’ll take care of him,” Kylie offered, and the two left to go find out what had caused Sahni’s beloved to cry out.
“Tal, are you alright?” Sahni called.
“Fine, just fine! I’m okay. Don’t worry about it,” he called back, obviously frustrated.
“Come on, Sahni,” Van bade, grasping her paw and walking her towards the lake. “They’ll take care of him.”
“He said it’s his first time really camping,” Sahnassa replied, by way of apology.
“I think that’s kind of obvious,” Van chuckled. “He’s been nervous for the last few sols. You should see my TransNet mail.”
“He’ll do alright. Wow, it’s … it’s beautiful here,” Sahnassa said, looking out over the peaceful lake.
“It is. It’s also … a little odd for me,” Van offered, nervously.
“What’s wrong, Van?”
“See that platform, that floating thing in the middle of the lake? Before I got here, I had never seen it with my eyes, and I haven’t put my hind paw on it, ever, but I … I knew it was here. I knew there were two hammocks on it. I bet when I check it out, I’ll already know what every board and nail looks like.”
Sahni tightened her paw around Van’s. “What is it? What’s got you so … spooked about that platform?”
“When I was abducted by de Caterra up at the Meeting Den, I had this … vision. I’ve told you about it, I think. It was Theo telling me Agari and I had been captured, and that I was unconscious. He told me … all this stuff about every one of my captors, like not to try to cozy up to Talnar, and he told me about Tana. It all came true. I … I just accepted it as a gift, but now that I’m here…”
“It seems more real and not so much like a vision,” Sahni offered. Van nodded, and so her Nephti friend continued. “Theo is … different. You and I have experienced that. He has skills and abilities that just aren’t quite average. Does that bother you, Van?”
“In a way, yes,” Vanarra admitted, looking down at the water. “I suppose that if he wasn’t that way, I never would have made him my adopted father, and I might have never found my own father. I’m glad he is who he is; I just wish … I just wish I understood him more.” Vanarra looked at Sahnassa with an almost hurt expression, “Like you seem to.”
Sahnassa sighed, “I know. I hate having secrets from you, but he has to decide what he wants to reveal to you. I can’t make that choice for him. Just as you are sworn to secrecy on so many things, I am honor-bound by this.” Hearing Van’s sigh, she continued. “I can tell you this. Knowing him changed my outlook on Thuria and the future. It gave me a hope I’ve never had before. That someone so profoundly wise and good exists and isn’t just sitting in an office every sol or driving a transport – that Theo de Allarrae exists and roams … everywhere making life better for others heartens me, Van. It makes me want to do the same.”
“Does he scare you, at all?” Van asked.
“Terrifies me, a little – to be honest, but … that’s only because when you realize all he knows and all he has the ability to accomplish – let’s just say it makes me grateful that he’s a force for good.”
“I wonder what his intelligence test scores are like?” Van mused.
“Off the charts, without a doubt,” Sahnassa volunteered. “Whenever he’s around, I promise you, he’s the smartest one in the room.”
“So it really wasn’t all that surprising that he could cough up a Covering of Pardon for Tana or that he was Star Drifter, the famous computer hacker.”
“Nope,” Sahni offered.
“But if he’s so smart,” Vanarra asked, “why mess around with me or with you, for that matter – no offense.”
“He sees something in us that … is important. I think he’s right, Van,” Sahnassa explained. “I’ve tried hard to live up to that, and I’ve made more of a difference for my house and, well, for Thuria, since then. Maybe, he saw something in us when we were up on that mountain or … later in the shelters. Nevertheless, we got his attention, and I guess he thinks we’re a couple of individuals worthy of his time and investment. I know you are just so special, Van. It doesn’t surprise me, at all, that he saw great things in you – things worthy of being nurtured, protected, and honored.”
“But to what end, though, Sahni? Are we supposed to do something specific for him?”
“I don’t think so,” Sahnassa replied. “Just do the best at whatever it is we’re doing, treat others with respect – help when we can. I don’t think it’s any more complex than that.”
Van paused for a moment as she thought, but then confessed, “You know I find myself, more often than not, helping my dad and Fillesse. Vattar’s so far out of touch with houses and house politics and all of those things that … he just can’t help me.”
“But then there’s Theo,” Sahni noted.
“But then there’s Theo,” Van agreed. “I wonder if he’ll come. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. Tomorrow evening, I’m going out to that platform alone, and I’m going to lay in one of those hammocks.”
“You think he’ll appear like he did in the vision?” Sahnassa asked.
“Maybe, but with de Gonari security, he might have a bit of a problem. Did you contact him?”
“Is he not … welcome, Van?” the Nephti asked carefully.
“No, he’s welcome. Oh, Sahni, I’m sorry. I am so hung up on him, aren’t I?”
“Well, a bit, and perhaps no more than I am,” she admitted.
Van was quiet for awhile before she asked, “Is … that why Tallen’s not – I mean why you two aren’t…”
“No. I … I think we’re very close to that, Tal and I, but … it has to be his timing. That’s one thing I certainly can’t choose. I just hope that … eventually, Tallen de Dothnar chooses me.”
Van chuckled. “Honestly, Sahni, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Just give him a little time.”
“Excuse me,” a soft voice called from not too far away. Looking back, they saw Liana. “May I join you?”
“Certainly. Are you enjoying this little outing of ours?” Vanarra asked.
“It makes me … just a little nervous, but yes. Having all of you around … helps, honestly,” the Faelnar admitted. “If there’s a thunderstorm, though, I’m going to need someone close.”
“I’m not a big fan of storms either,” Van sighed. “I almost got struck by lightning not long ago escaping the Hallows resort. Not a fun time.”
Sahnassa closed her eyes, raised her nose, and sniffed the air. “You’ll both be happy to know that … I don’t think we’re going to have any storms.”
“How do you know?” Van asked, curious. “The weather was kind of half chances last I checked.”
“Just a feeling in my gut. Both of you won’t have to worry.”
“You developing Theo’s talent, then?” Van queried.
“I’m sorry,” Liana apologized, confused. “What’s Theo’s talent?”
“A friend of ours who has a real knack for knowing what’s coming down the trail,” Vanarra explained.
“I wish I could be that good,” Sahnassa replied.
“You two are magical,” Liana stated. “You both can do things ordinary Thurians simply can’t.”
“Oh, please. Look, kit, if you’re going to keep this up, I’m going to do another fore-paw stand,” Van huffed. Liana chuckled, and Sahni looked at both of them, confused. “Long story,” Van offered, but then turned to the Faelnar. “You settled okay?”
“I was coming to let you know Flint is asking for you. He wants to know if you were going to give a speech or something since everyone was here now and settled in.”
“Oh, he would,” Van groused. “If you don’t mind, Liana, please go back and tell them we’ll be there in a few passes. He can go ahead and call everyone together.”
“Yes, Most Honored. Thank you,” Liana replied, bowed, and walked away.
When she was out of hearing distance, Sahni asked, “Another one devoted to you?”
“It would seem. Tana and Liana, now, and the two have met. I think … I think they’re even starting to become friends, but for reasons you and I know about, Liana is still very guarded. She’s actually warmed up a little to Tresk, and vice-versa. It seems to be mellowing him out a bit.”
“So, because we promised each other, how are you making sure you don’t abuse Tana and Liana?”
“I am, and I appreciate the check in. It’s odd, though – the more freedom I try to give Tana, the more she wants to be around me, help me. I … I have to admit that I’ve had her over to our place, just so she could spend time with us. She … really seems to need that time with me.”
“I know what you mean. In many ways, Kylie is the same way. She … just lights up when she sees me. She’s got a romantic interest now, and that’s good, but it doesn’t seem to have taken away from her attachment to me one bit.”
“I really hope this new hunt of hers will be understanding. Can you imagine the conversation? Hey, cub, I really like you, but there’s this Nephti kit I’m hopelessly hung up on, too.”
“Maybe, it would be better if she explained it in the context of a dear friend?”
“Perhaps, perhaps. Oh, that I could get Tana interested in a hunt, but … no. She won’t even consider it. She seems … happy, and I just don’t want to push her in a direction she doesn’t want to go – even if I think it would be better for her if she did.”
“Solana seems a little more balanced,” Sahni noted. “Her joining with Saiphar means that I only see her once every few sols, but I get the sense that no matter when I call, and no matter what for, she will always be there for me. If I can get Kylie to the same place, then I think that would be a better arrangement.”
“If you do, Sahni, could you please come over and talk to Tana? Every sol, I see this beautiful young kit – gorgeous eyes, stunning figure, and a huntress through and through – that could have her pick of any Faelnar, and she won’t … even … try! Will she stay with me forever and go gray with me, staying loyal to me alone? Is it her destiny to sleep beneath my hind paws for the rest of her life? It … it doesn’t seem right!”
“It’s her choice, but … I hope there’s a way she can find a better path.”
“Me, too,” Van replied, but then gently put her paws on Sahni’s shoulders. “You are still such a good friend and getting better all the time. Hey, I’m sorry I’m hung up on Theo. I don’t want that to come between us.”
“If anyone can understand, Van, it’s me. If he does show, perhaps there’s more he’d be willing to tell you, okay?”
“Okay,” Van agreed warmly. “We’d better get back. Flint’s probably going to start bellowing for me any time now.”
“Yeah, let’s get back before that happens. Poor Liana probably wouldn’t tolerate his thundering voice very well.”
“Oh, see your point. Come on now,” Van said, and then grasped Sahni’s paw. Enjoying just being together again, the two walked back silently, paw-in-paw, to the campsite.