family gathering (part 1)
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)
Finding a New Home
In the den of the lair the two Vulpi friends had shared for moons, Solana offered sadly, “I hate doing this to you. I … I don’t want to abandon you—”
“Now stop it right there, kit,” Kylie replied firmly. “You met someone! You fell in love! How can I be mad about that?”
“But I’m leaving you all alone! It just … feels wrong. We’re … we’re so connected by our pledge to Sahnassa. I – do you think I’m betraying that by wanting to be with Saiphar?”
“No! If Sahnassa called you, needed your help, would you come?”
“The moment she asked!” Solana replied.
“Well, then! There you have it. Please, kit, don’t worry about it. I talked to Sahni about this, and she doesn’t expect us to live lives of lonely service. She wants us to be happy! As for me, I just ask one thing.”
Solana nodded and replied, “Anything, Kylie.”
“Have Vanarra talk to one of the Vulpi houses to get Saiphar back in good standing, and then, please, get joined under the covering of honor.”
“Covering of … honor!” Solana replied, standing up and walking away a few steps. “Ky, you know me! You know what I did! I … there’s no way that the phrase ‘under the covering of honor’ could even begin to apply to me, even given my family name!”
“I know what you did, and you weren’t in control of yourself when you did it. The de Caterra are the ones who should be punished, not you!” Kylie argued, even though Solana had turned her back on her. “Don’t you dare, kit! Don’t you dare make your life with Saiphar harder than it needs to be by continuing to abuse yourself for what you couldn’t control!”
“Oh, like I’m the only one who does that!” Solana almost growled as she turned around. “I don’t exactly see you roving the hunting grounds. Do I – wait, why that look?” Solana was suddenly interested as Kylie blushed and wouldn’t look at her. “Hold it a tick, why … exactly … did you know that Sahnassa was okay with us hunting for a mate? Is that because you’re on the hunt already?”
“I … I don’t know, exactly, Sola. It’s a little confusing and … complicated, even though it’s not, I suppose.”
Solana looked at her friend and simply walked over and sat beside her. “And you love him. You’ve totally fallen for him, haven’t you?” Her eyes unfocused, Kylie nodded. Solana then asked, “Okay, so, like who is it?”
“Promise not to laugh?” the fitness instructor requested quietly.
“I never would, you know that,” Solana contested, feeling a little hurt by the suggestion of such.
“You might when I tell you … it’s Cal.”
“Cal? Cal who?” Solana asked, not making the connection. “That’s a short name for a Thurian. Sounds more like an … Izar. Ky, do you mean to tell me that you are … hunting … an Izar?”
“Maybe, well, yeah,” came the soft admission.
Although Solana could see the humor in it, she chose to honor her word and push any amusement to the side. “Uh, how is that like … even … possible, long term?”
“I don’t know exactly. He’s like a crystalline being, and I’m definitely not – I mean I get that, but … on a relationship level, he’s … he’s so kind to me. I feel like we actually both benefit from being with one another. He’s … been very lonely in his life.”
“Which is like what, thousands of seasons? More?” Solana queried, skeptical.
“Sahnassa fell for Theo, at first,” Kylie countered. “Who knows what’s possible, but yeah. I … love Caloizar. I … I haven’t even seen him yet – images of what his kind looks like but … not him exactly.”
“Is that why you spend so much time on the Torleon?” Solana was clearly very curious, and a little concerned now for her friend.
“I … suppose. I enjoy being around him, and he’s not just like a computer with voice recognition and the ability to speak – he’s more. I can sense feelings from him – concern, empathy, gratitude, and … well, love. Sola, let’s face it. My world, to this point, has been the gym and the sparring rooms. It’s really not the place to find a compassionate, loving soul. It didn’t bother me that much because I wasn’t all that interested in settling down, and I had Tallen as a friend, before he and Sahni got together. Now, well, I don’t have Tallen around as much, and … it’s been lonely.”
“How will you two be joined … under the covering of honor, if this goes … well, you know?” Solana asked, carefully. “You wouldn’t spend all your time on the Torleon, would you? Wouldn’t your family – your sister especially – get real concerned about you?”
“Oh, Sola, I don’t know any of those answers, but … I get the sense that Cal does.”
“Well, Ky, you should have those answers, too, before this goes much further,” Solana asserted firmly.
“I know, but … that makes my point to you all the clearer. Next to mine, your relationship with Saiphar isn’t so incredibly complex! You both have guilt over what you’ve done in the past, and honestly, his family should be willing to accept the progress he’s made. His artwork is really starting to gain some renown, and if they were smart, they’d realize that,” Kylie argued. “In fact, if he were the vengeful type, he could do what I’ve seen other disavowed artists do, sign their work as ‘disavowed unjustly from’ whatever family.”
“He’d never do that!” Solana protested. “He’d never do anything so low and crass!”
“That’s because he … has … honor, kit,” Kylie insisted. “And if he has that, then why wouldn’t you two do everything in your power to get him back under the covering of a house’s honor?” That line of thinking caused Solana to clamp her muzzle shut. “Why, Solana? Do … do you want him to remain disavowed?”
“Maybe,” Solana answered honestly, after a moment. “I … I just like how we are now. I don’t want to change it.”
“What if, one season from now, both of you are joined under the covering of honor? Will you have slightly higher house dues? Well, probably. Will you be visited by a matron every couple of moons? Yeah, probably,” Kylie observed. “Still, what other changes are you worried about?”
“I … I don’t know,” Solana admitted. “I could talk to him about it, I suppose, but Ky, I’ll only go through with it if he’s willing. I won’t push him on it. If it’s going to be too painful for him, open up too many old wounds, then … I can’t.”
“That’s why,” Kylie told her, nodding assuredly. “That’s the reason – you don’t want to hurt him. You may even want that for yourself, but … you don’t want to hurt him. Sola, you need to understand that you are a kit worth making sacrifices for, and I believe Saiphar would understand that. Just … just think about it, okay?”
A beeping tone sounded on Solana’s PawLink. “I will, Kylie. I will.” Silencing the device, she looked at it and frowned. “I’m going to have to go. I’m expected at work soon.”
“Can I come with you? I haven’t seen Tallen in forever or Van, for that matter. I can just take the public transport home.”
“Just so long as you promise not to mention anything to Saiphar about what we talked about. I want to bring that up with him in my own way, when I’m ready.”
“My promise,” Kylie stated firmly.
“And I will bring it up … before the next moon, okay? I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Kylie reached over and hugged the shoulder of her soon to be former roommate. “I just want good things for you kit, but I’m not going to even try to guess what the right answers are. I certainly don’t know that for myself right now.”
“Hey, and don’t ever imagine that I’ll forget you or fail to remember how grateful I should be that you took me in. You … you took such good care of me until I found my hind paws again,” Sola offered gratefully. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m sad to see you go, but if that means that you’re recovered enough to take this kind of step, then … I’m honored to have helped.”
The two hugged again and were soon on their way to Solana’s workplace – Celebrations by Vanarra.
“It’s going to be fine, Liana,” Vanarra assured the nervous, dark-furred Faelnar with golden eyes sitting on her office sofa.
“Your … admin seemed very … unsure of me.”
“That’s Mauft, alright,” Van replied softly. “The individuals in this office are good, solid Thurians, Liana. They expect to be respected, and in turn, they will respect you – if you are genuinely kind to them. Start off working hard in a humble position alongside them, and you never know. Great things can happen.”
“I hope so. I … I have to find some way to make my own way. You’ve been so kind, but … it feels wrong to keep taking from you,” Liana, the former de Caterra, admitted.
“Morning Vanarra!” Solana called as she walked by Van’s office door, someone at her side.
“Sola! Can you please come in here? Who do you have with you? Ky! You’re here, too? Oh, it’s so good to see you!” Van exclaimed, coming to her hind paws. Liana watched as the two Vulpi came into her office and hugged the mixed blood she had come to revere. The Faelnar, however, was very anxious. The two Vulpi were obviously quite fit, and, if they wanted to, Liana was sure they could easily do her in – if vengeance against a former de Caterra were in their hearts.
“Hi there,” an orange-furred Vulpi with blue eyes greeted her warmly – far more so than Liana would have expected. “My name is Kylie de Kestrick,” the Vulpi said, offering her paw.
“Uh, Liana … it’s just … Liana,” the Faelnar replied, nervously as she stood. She gently grasped the paw of the Vulpi and averted her eyes down, an obvious show of submission and lower status.
“I understand,” the second Vulpi said softly, but with concern in her eyes. “My name is Solana de Kestrick.” Her paw, too was offered just as eagerly. “I know a lot of Faelnar who are trying to get a new start. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
“You’re both so kind to say that,” Liana replied, still averting her eyes from them and looking at the floor. “After what was done to the Vulpi by … some Faelnar, you are very kind to … well, just to speak with me.”
“Oh, kit. Everybody hurt,” Kylie offered tenderly. “It’s over now. We’re just going to move forward. I … for one, am very glad to see … ones like you who are trying to find a new way. It’s … difficult, but still … honorable.”
Liana had to blink back a tear at that comment. “Kind of you to say. Very kind of you,” she replied.
“Well,” Vanarra interjected, seeing Liana’s obvious difficulty, “Sola is actually going to be training you, Liana. You’re going to be taking over her stocking and loading duties. Sola, I want you to transition into the customer meeting role we talked about last sol. I want you to come with me when we meet potential clients.”
“She’ll make a fine bodyguard,” Kylie said, smirking. “We’ve been sparring, and to be honest, she’s just about taken my tail off a couple of times.”
“I do have to be honest here,” Van confessed, “that wasn’t completely out of my head when I made this decision, but it was something else that made me want to pursue this. Solana has really developed a rapport with everyone in the office very quickly—”
“Except Tresk, I’d bet,” Kylie whispered.
“No, we actually do work together well,” Sola told her. “We came … to an understanding.”
“Ancient Nephti nose hold?” Ky asked.
“Well … yeah,” Solana admitted.
“Oh, if you two would please give it a rest for a moment!” Vanarra complained. “My point is that Solana strikes a very good balance, and I think that with her organizational skills and quick thinking nature, she would be excellent at meeting with our prospective clients. I’ve got to teach you a few things about making a sale, of course, but still—”
“You finally telling her?” Flint leaned into her office and asked.
Liana simply fell back into the couch when she saw Flint work his way into the room. This huge gray mixed blood was beyond anything she had ever seen before, even in the de Caterra archives. “I guess so,” Solana replied. “It sounds very interesting, but … weren’t you doing that, Flint?”
“I’m done with that part of it, unless I absolutely have to,” he confessed. “The running and the organizing aren’t a problem, but … meeting a client for the first time can create some … barriers – well, my size can, that is. It takes almost an interval for them to stop being afraid and start talking about what they want. It … well, while you were out Van, it was a painful waste of time.”
“I know, but it was very good of you to soldier through it, and I can’t thank you enough, big guy,” Vanarra replied, walking over and hugging him. “But no, Flint’s right,” she said when they released, “initial customer meetings are about impressing, involving, including, and informing. All of that I’ll teach you, kit, if you’re interested?”
Solana smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Van. I’ll do everything I can to not disappoint you.”
“Ha!” Van retorted. “Don’t worry about disappointing me! Worry about impressing our clients! Sometime in the next few sols, you and I are going shopping, on the company’s money! We’re going to snazzy you up so the moment you appear, they’ll know you are the walking picture of courtesy and credibility. Before we do any of that, Liana needs to be trained in your duties – back of house. I’ll want you free and clear of those before the next moon.”
“Yes, Van, and … thank you,” Solana said and then hugged her boss. “Thank you, too, Flint.”
“No, thank you, Sola,” the big mixed blood replied. “I would have gone feral – well, even more feral – if you weren’t such a help. Now, I think we can put your talents to their best use.”
“You’re very kind. So, Liana, would you like to get started?”
Instantly, the Faelnar looked to Van, and Van nodded. “Okay,” Liana replied shyly and then stepped forward to follow Solana out the door.
When she was away, Kylie stated, “That kit’s hurting, Van. Really hurting. Is she one of the de Caterra who was disavowed?”
“They’re all disavowed now, Ky. Yeah, you’re right. For reasons I can’t go into, she’s looking for a job, a place to sleep, you name it.”
“Well,” Kylie offered, “Solana’s leaving me – moving out. She’s really gotten close to Saiphar, and, I think with a little encouragement, they’ll probably get joined fairly soon. I could take Liana in, Van, if you want. She seems nice enough.”
“She’s very, very hurt, Ky, and she went through a lot. She may be … fairly difficult.”
“Well then,” Flint added sarcastically, “she’d be the perfect match for you, Ky.”
“Shut up, Flint!” Kylie complained. “Come on, Van. I realize it may not be the best roommate arrangement ever – a former de Caterra and a Vulpi – but … something tells me that, yeah, she went through a very hard time. She deserves a chance to start her life over again.”
“Okay, Ky. I’ll ask her. She may say no, but hopefully … she’ll agree. Can you help her out on the transportation side, just until she gets going?”
“Sure, Van, not an issue and she’ll actually find that most of the time she’s got the place to herself. I’ve been spending a lot of time with … well, with a new friend.”
“Oh, really?” Vanarra asked, her grin a little predatory. “Someone nice, I trust?”
“Nicest I’ve ever met, and very … patient with me.”
“He’d have to be,” Flint prodded her.
“Dammit, Flint! I promise I will kick your tail right here and now if you don’t lay off!”
“As a … well, matron, of house de Gonari, I’d be forced to respectfully ask you not to, but if I wasn’t, I might just sit back and watch,” Vanarra interjected, smiling.
The Faelnar once known as Corellianadurini de Caterra meekly followed the Vulpi from Vanarra’s office to the back warehouse area, which thankfully, was fairly quiet. Tresk, however, was sitting at one of the tables working on a chafing dish, trying to fix a support that had been damaged when a tipsy guest bumped into the serving line at their most recent function. As they passed, he didn’t acknowledge them, but kept working. Instinctively, the Faelnar knew something was wrong with him, but she didn’t say anything; she simply followed Solana and listened as she explained how the shelves were organized. Liana was almost through saying the shelf orderings back to Solana when the Vulpi’s Paw-Link rang.
“Just a tick, let me see who this – oh, well now! Kit, I have to take this. I’ll be out back just for a moment. If you want, you can take a good look at the inventories at the end of the row.” Solana darted away, and, as instructed, Liana took out the inventories and started to leaf through them. Given the Faelnar’s prior intensive training, the work wasn’t going to be difficult, by any stretch of the imagination. The work, after all, wasn’t what was hard – regardless of the specific task – it was living again, free, but disavowed. The weight of all she had lost still was heavy on her, and overcome by memories and regret, she leaned forward and held onto a shelf for support.
As she did this, she was able to peek between the packages stored on the shelves, and she could see that other Vulpi sitting and working. However, this time, she noticed and understood what she saw. When they had come in, the Vulpi had raised his ears and lifted his tail a little to disguise his mood, but now, when he thought no one was watching him, his real feelings were showing through. He was sad, very sad, and she even thought she heard him sniff.
Carefully, she made her way around the shelves and quietly sat down at the other end of the table with one of the shelf inventories. She kept to herself, but let him notice her. He tried to ignore her, but it seemed that, after a few more moments of tinkering with the chafing dish, his curiosity was nagging him. “You’re new here?”
“I am,” the Faelnar replied quietly, turning to look at him.
His scowl softened a bit, seeing something in her expression that echoed his own feelings. “You starting … over?” he asked.
“Hope so,” Liana confessed.
“Can you slide over here and hold onto this part? I can’t keep my grip on it,” Tresk asked, evenly. Without any other prompting, the Faelnar stepped down and held the pieces he indicated, not meeting his gaze. “Good. Hold it right there.” Now, he seemed far more able to cope with this particular device, and he pried the bent spars back into place. As he worked, he observed, “You don’t talk much.”
“You have a name?”
“Liana. You?” she asked.
He sighed, “It’s Tresk. Just Tresk. Always just … Tresk. You disavowed?” She nodded. “Me, too. Looks like that’s the way it’s going to be, now.”
“What happened?” she asked, seeing his lip nearly quivering.
He bent another spar back into place and answered, “De Kestrick … they said … no.” He was almost able to control his voice, but he slipped a bit – enough to tell her his heart was broken.
“I lived without families this long; I guess I don’t need one. What about you? You going to try for another family?” With a hopeless expression on her features, Liana shrugged. That was further in the future than she’d dared to dream. “I guess this is still my family – a bunch of mongrel misfits and disgraced castoffs. Here, at least, your past doesn’t matter.”
“That’s … good to hear,” she said, nearly at a whisper. His eyebrow fur raised a bit as he sat the chafing dish down. For a moment, he just stared at her, and she added, “Sometimes, being found undeserving of a house actually means they were undeserving of you. I’m in no rush to make that mistake again. They wasted … so much of my life up until now.” The Faelnar bowed her head and closed her eyes in shame. Tresk looked at her, somewhat amazed by what she had said.
“Liana?” Sola’s voice called from the shelves, but then she stepped around to see Tresk looking at an apparently downcast and humiliated Liana. “Tresk, what are you – what did you say to her?”
“I didn’t say anything bad, Solana! Unlike you, we two were being useful! See, here’s your chafing dish, all better,” he groused, angrily pointing at the fixed piece of equipment.
Solana knelt over and took a look at it. “Alright, fine,” she admitted. “This and its little friends have to be buffed and shined for tonight’s function.”
“I was getting around to that,” the male Vulpi replied, annoyed.
“Just taking a spare moment to terrorize the new kit?” Sola replied. Liana could tell that the two Vulpi obviously had a history, and it was one that wasn’t very smooth.
“Solana, it’s alright,” the Faelnar offered. “I was just helping him. It seems we’re both are living through … challenging times right now.”
“Yeah,” Tresk admitted, a little sadly. “You can say that again.”
“We have to go,” Solana told the Faelnar. “Van’s called us back to her office.”
“The help was appreciated, Liana. I think you’ll do okay here,” Tresk offered as she stood.
“Thank you, Tresk. Thanks … for listening.”
“Yeah, and you,” he said, uneasily. Then, the two females walked away.
“I hope he didn’t really say anything bad to you,” Solana whispered as they walked.
“He was fine. I take it you two have had a rough past”
“Well, you probably won’t have the same problem I did. You’re not a Vulpi kit, and it took some convincing for him to see I wasn’t interested. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me for it. Ah, here we are.” Solana knocked on Van’s door, and Van called for them to enter.
As they entered, they saw Kylie sitting on the couch beside Van, but Van was getting up. “Thank you, Sola. Could you give us a moment please?” Van asked as she pulled her office chair around in front of the couch.
“Sure thing,” Solana replied, and patted Liana softly on the back before she left and closed the door.
“Everyone is … nice here,” Liana commented, seeming a little unsure.
Van actually chuckled. “You seem surprised by that, kit! Please, sit down.” Van motioned to the couch, and the Faelnar sat down.
“It’s … not what I’m used to.”
“That’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” Kylie noted grimly. “Many of the former de Caterra have had a very difficult life, even when that family was at the height of its power.”
“Buck has mentioned that, too. He … wasn’t really happy until he was disavowed,” Van added.
“I hope that’s how it goes for me,” Liana agreed.
“Well, dear Kylie here has suggested something that may help you get there. Solana is her current roommate, but Solana is moving out, and Kylie is offering the space to you, if you want it?”
The Faelnar looked at the Vulpi, who was – surprisingly – looking back at her, hopeful. “But, why? You … you don’t really know me, and … I’m from de Caterra, and I have … absolutely nothing.”
The Vulpi nodded and replied, “That’s true, but I can size up Thurians very quickly, and I can tell you’d be just fine. I won’t have any problem covering all of the rent and other expenses while you get back up on your hind paws again. My residential complex is really good, and we have several other Faelnar roommates bunking with other species. Even with all of the Vulpi, mixed blood, and de Caterra mess, we haven’t had any incidents at all. There are a fair number of de Gonari and de Mistral living there, as well. So, no one is going to try anything.”
“If they do, just step behind Kylie,” Van suggested. “That will be the last time they ever tried something.”
Looking at Kylie with a curious expression, Liana nonverbally asked a question that Kylie quickly answered, “Oh, I’m a level ten fighting arts champion.”
“I … I studied a little, before,” Liana offered. “I … made it to about five or so.”
“Well, if you have an interest, I could teach you again. It’s kind of a good way to get your head into something else, especially if you need to.”
“And … you would do this? The honored matron didn’t ask you to?”
“It was Kylie who suggested it,” Van answered.
“If … you sure I wouldn’t be a problem for you?”
Kylie smiled at her in a kind way that Liana didn’t truly understand. “Kit, it would be my honor to help you, and I mean that. Also, I expect there will be problems, for both of us, but I’ll do everything I can to work with you and get them resolved, okay?”
“I guess,” Liana agreed, smiling though a little uneasily. “If you’re sure?” Kylie nodded, and Liana turned towards Van. “Is it like this with everyone else? Was de Caterra really … that lost?”
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that everyone you find will be as kind as Kylie is, but I do know and have quite a few friends who are just as willing and open to help as she is. Just make sure that you do everything you can do to be deserving of such trust.”
Liana nodded. “I know this will be difficult for me, and … I am grateful for the opportunities both of you are granting me. It may have been for a lost and fruitless enterprise, but … I hope you’ll find that I have a close familiarity with hard work. Just please, don’t assume I know what I’m doing until you tell me. I’ll … I’ll probably offend someone unintentionally. The more I … see of the world outside of de Caterra, the more I see how little I understand it.”
“I’ve been through some very tough things, too, kit,” Kylie offered. “Believe me, I understand, at least a little bit.”
“Thank you, Kylie. I’m very grateful to you.”
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