family gathering (part 8)
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)
Fast Friends, Fast Fun
A few passes later, Cal and Kylie found themselves largely alone in the dining shelter, watching the clearing up. “Thank you, Cal,” Kylie offered, nuzzling into him. “You … you are just … so wonderful to do this for me. How can I ever pay you back for a gift so wonderful?”
“Just be you, dear Kylie, and be with me,” he replied softly as he held her.
“Nice answer,” she offered. “Want to go on a walk around the lake with me? I’m sure that we could find some nice … private spots.”
“I would love to, dear Kylie,” he told her, “but I believe someone else needs a walk around the lake with you more.”
She opened her eyes and followed his gaze to Liana, sitting alone at a distant table. Beyond, Tallen, Tresk, and the other males had started an impromptu game of whisk with the sticks and balls Tallen had brought with him. “Oh, I see. What’s she feeling?”
“Very, very alone, Kylie. I think she feels abandoned because of my being with you.”
“Right,” she replied. “I knew we were going to have to be careful. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to go play a little whisk, or at least, try to ‘learn’ how to play. Social games are good for building community,” he teased.
“Alright then,” she replied, reaching up and kissing him on the side of the muzzle for the first time. “Dammit! I even like the way you taste! Oh, I’d better go right now!” she exclaimed. He held her tightly for a moment and then licked her on the side of the muzzle, drawing out a sigh from her. “Oh, she had better appreciate the sacrifice I’m making! Be gentile with them, okay?”
“I will, Kylie.”
Liana sat at a small stone table positioned under some trees, getting just a little space around her. Initially, she felt a need to be by herself, but as she sat, she could sort through her feelings enough to know she was afraid. Kylie’s new interest had completely enthralled the Vulpi, and as she watched the group trying to get organized for a game of whisk some distance away, she felt very alone. She could imagine her current benefactor quickly needing for the Faelnar who had been dropped into her lap to quietly disappear so her new romance could charge ahead unfettered. She would have to go back to Vanarra and plead for help, but the mixed blood had helped her so much already. “I … I should be able to support myself,” she breathed, “and not be a burden to anyone else.”
She looked back to the field where the sticks were being given out and saw Tresk stop dead in his tracks and look for her. In a few ticks, he saw her and then waved her over, encouragingly. She smiled weakly and nodded. “I guess you’re right, Tresk. I can’t complain about feeling lonely if all I do is sit by myself.” As she stood and walked over, Liana made for the small group of females that was setting up in beach lounges to watch the males compete. However, as she got closer, movement in the corner of her eye told her someone else was making the same trek. Glancing over, she saw Kylie and Cal, but Cal was moving towards the field and trying to attract Tallen’s attention. Kylie, however, was making straight for Sahnassa, and as she came near the group, she heard their conversation.
“Hey, kit, I was going to take a walk around the lake. Do you need anything?”
The Nephti shook her head and grasped Kylie’s paw. “No, dear. It’s okay. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I’m okay. Thanks.” Turning around, Kylie looked for and found Liana and asked, “Hey, kit, would you like to go on a little walk with me? I thought it would be fun to go around the lake and just talk, maybe.”
The invitation made Liana feel included, and she instantly replied, “Sure. If that’s okay?” she asked, turning towards Vanarra.
“You’re not on the clock out here, kit,” Van said, covering her head with the shade of the beach chair. “I think some of us were going to try to do the boat thing in a little while; I just thought we should be entertained first.”
“Is that all we are?” Flint asked, sourly, having strode by at that exact moment.
“Well, you’re that, at least,” Saletta shot back with a smirk.
“We’ll see you later then,” Kylie replied and gently took Liana’s paw in hers. “Thanks for doing this. It’s going to get really loud when they start the game.”
“I’m surprised, though,” Liana answered, confused. “I thought you would want to be around Caloinath, er, uh, Cal, right now.”
“I have to confess, I do, but … honestly, he and I have talked about you a little bit, and I’ve even talked to Sahni, as well. I want you to know I’ve made a promise to Sahni on your behalf, and Cal understands it. He even suggested it, actually.”
“What kind of a promise?” the Faelnar asked, curious.
“You have a home with me, Liana. It’s a home you need, and a home I’m happy to share with you. If Cal and I did anything … permanent, it’s going to be at least one full season in the future, maybe longer – probably longer, actually, because of my schooling. I don’t want you to feel any insecurity at all about the fact I have someone I’m hunting, and he doesn’t either.”
“I’m … grateful,” Liana replied, “but why would he care? He’s only just met me.”
“Because, if anyone can, Cal understands what it means to be alone. He was alone for a very, very long time. It will take him some … adjusting to have someone with him constantly, or at least as one who was mated would expect. He also knows how much it can hurt to be alone, and … he feels a very deep sympathy for your situation.”
“How much … did you tell him?”
“Only what you’ve told me. It isn’t much, but … I can tell, that part you can’t tell me about really hurts you. He could see how lonely you were, just by looking at you. He also said that you looked worried.”
Liana sighed, “I am or … I was, at least. I like sharing your lair, Kylie; it’s one of the nicest places I’ve ever lived in and … you – you’ve been very good to me. I’m starting to feel like … I don’t know, like I belong. If I lost that right now—”
“You are not going to lose that!” Kylie said firmly. “You’ve lost enough, Liana, and damned if I’m going to be the cause of you losing anything else!”
The Faelnar stopped and looked at her, dropping her paw. “You mean that, don’t you? You really … mean that?” Kylie nodded, and Liana just stared at her. “Did Vanarra or Sahnassa tell you how they found me? What I lived through?”
“No. They haven’t told me.”
“But you’re being so nice to me, protective even,” the Faelnar observed.
“Kit, I’ve seen enough that I know something bad happened to you. You’re … shattered, just a bit. I can tell that, more than anything money could buy, you need a stable place to shelter and a chance at finding out who you are, all over again. You can’t be the Faelnar you were before, can you?”
“No, I suppose not,” Liana answered as they started walking again.
“So, you’re going to have to sort out who you want to be. For that, you need time. You’re going to have that time. I’ll tell you another truth, as well. I need you. I could just lose myself in Cal right now, but … that wouldn’t be fair to you or to him or anyone else who depends on me. I need someone to help keep me grounded.”
“By loading you up with my issues and problems? You’ll be grounded for sure, then,” Liana teased gently, and Kylie laughed.
“Whatever works, kit! Whatever works!”
They walked in silence for a few more moments as Liana took in this new reality. Finally, she took a deep breath and let it out, almost as a sigh. “You’re … you’re so right, Kylie. I used to be able to cope with being slung from one assignment to another, from one lair to another, and now, I just can’t. Even the thought of trying scares me. I … I have barely got my hind paws back under me. The future … is terrifying for me.”
“That’s why we live in hope,” Kylie replied, but the statement struck Liana so hard she stopped, her paws over her muzzle, her fur standing on end.
“What … what did you say?”
“Hope,” Kylie stated gently, but then noticed Liana’s distress. “Kit, what’s wrong?”
“Vialla used to say that,” Liana muttered, but the Vulpi’s keen ears still heard it. “You … you speak with her voice, almost. You really do.”
Kylie closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, kit. I don’t mean to bring up bad memories for you, but … if any part of her could become part of me, I think I would be honored by that.”
Liana turned and walked away, but only a few steps. As she faced the lake, watching the whisk game which was now some distance away, she breathed, “She said to hope, but now she’s dead. How can there be hope?” Turning back to Kylie, she almost growled, “That precious kit cut my rope! She let me go free while she dangled helpless from the wall of the keep. She made sure I’d go free and that she…” Liana turned away again and finished, “She would die.”
Kylie came beside her and looked out to the lake, as well. “Then, she really did live in hope, so much so that she was willing to sacrifice herself to protect it. Perhaps, she hoped … in you.”
“But why? Why me?”
“Because she … cared about you. Her last act on this world was caring for you. Dammit, Liana, that’s got to be powerful! That’s got to mean that she hoped … so much for you.”
Liana collapsed to the ground, on all fours, crying deep, heaving sobs. “Oh, mange, Cal, Sahni! What have I done?!” Kylie screamed in her head.
“It’s okay, Ky. You’ve done a good thing,” Sahnassa’s voice called back in her thoughts. “The stone is sure of it. Just kneel beside her and put your paw on her back. Support her. Hold her if she needs it.”
“It’s far enough away that the sound of her crying isn’t carrying,” Cal added, “but I’ll put measures in place to make sure it’s not heard over here. I would guess that privacy would be reassuring to her.”
Now doing as Sahni had suggested, she replied, “Thank you, both.”
“Vialla … Vialla … no … words enough … to say … thank you,” Liana sobbed.
“Yes, kit, yes there is. She said it – hope. Let that be a memorial to her in your heart, that word. Don’t run from it. Embrace it, because she did.”
Liana looked up at her then and softly uttered, her lips trembling, “Hope.” Kylie’s nod and open arms welcomed the Faelnar into an embrace that she desperately needed. “Oh, Kylie! Oh, Kylie!” she whispered. “You just … you just don’t know …”
“You are healing her heart, my love,” Cal whispered in the Vulpi’s thoughts. “You are her miracle.”
Kylie then let her own emotions flow out, and the two of them, kneeling, held one another and cried.
A few passes later, Kylie and Liana continued their walk around the lake, and Kylie had noticed that Liana had been silent for a long time. “You’re quiet.”
“Sorry, just … thinking.”
“About what, if I may ask?” the Vulpi queried carefully.
“How you are pledged to Sahnassa. It’s … unusual – I mean, de Caterra never did that. You had loyalty to your family and no one else, ever, but … for you, with Sahnassa, it seems … so appropriate. It’s strange, but when I see how you two talk and how much she respects you and … honestly, takes care of you – well, you take care of each other like – I’m … I’m not making any sense.”
“It makes good sense to me, kit. Thank you for understanding. It is unusual, I’ll admit, but yeah, for me. It’s … it’s how I show my gratitude.”
“It almost makes me wonder,” Liana mused, “if I should pledge myself to Vanarra or … even to you for that matter. You’re both doing such amazing things to help me.”
Kylie made a negative sound in her throat before saying, “Not now. Kit, it took me getting completely over what had happened to me before I came to the point of realizing what I wanted to do. I had been to therapy, I had talked to a lot of others, and I had spent time discussing it with my family – I must have spent intervals on the LineCom with my sister. I can tell, kit, that you’ve got a long way to go before you are ready to make that kind of a decision. Don’t worry. No one expects you to pledge yourself – like I said, I still get weird looks and questions from time to time. It’s not for everyone; it may not even be for you – and there’s no dishonor in that.”
“Thank you, Kylie,” Liana replied, taking the Vulpi’s paw again. “I’m just starting to appreciate how much work I have to do, but I could see it. I was so … zealous for my house and its goals at one time in my life. I feel like I could be that way again, have a purpose, but this time it’s only going to be for someone who deserves it.”
“That’s a good way of thinking about it, and about a mate, too.”
“Oh, please – that’s definitely not a subject I’m ready for,” Liana groaned and let go of the Vulpi’s paw.
“Sorry, kit. I am happy to see you making friends, though – even if it is with Tresk.”
“Tresk isn’t bad,” Liana replied a little defensively. “He just grew up hurting, and … he feels left out and like he can’t depend on anyone. Maybe, well, I hope that will change.”
“Maybe so. The truth is, I don’t know him that well. Hey, what’s this?” Kylie asked as the path forked with a sign for a dock pointing off to the right. “Let’s go see. We might be able to see the campsite from there.”
“We probably ought to start back. It’s not like we’re going to be able to walk around this lake – all the way, I mean. It’s huge!”
“Ah, no,” Kylie agreed over her shoulder as she headed down the dock path. “That would take like maybe two sols.” The pair emerged from the forest and soon found themselves standing at the end of a dock, looking at the campground a surprising distance away. However, much closer to them and slowly drawing nearer was a sleek-looking boat.
“I’m going to walk back and see if I can’t get Tresk to look at this damned thing!” Vanarra groused loudly from the helm of the craft. Sahnassa, Saletta, Solana, and Saiphar were with her.
“Van!” Kylie called. “Something wrong?”
Seeing the pair of them, Vanarra pointed the nose of the craft towards the dock and it slowly made its way over to them. “I thought this was a runner of a boat, but instead, it only baby-crawls. I mean, I could walk faster than this!”
Liana called back, “Most Honored, you’re all standing up. It’s not going to engage its primary drive like that. It’s only on maneuvering jets.”
As the boat slid up to the dock, a very frustrated Vanarra said with resignation, “At this point, kit, if you can make this thing go faster than like one course a season, you are welcome to take the helm.”
Throwing them a rope, Sahnassa asked, “You’ve had experience with this before, Liana?”
“Part of my training,” the Faelnar replied and then went silent.
“Well, if you would be so kind, come aboard and take over,” Van groused. “Camping’s lovely, but I haven’t gone fast in way too many intervals, and I’m feeling the need – a need which this floating log seems bent on denying me!”
“Would you help us, Liana?” Solana asked.
“Sure,” she replied as she took Saiphar’s paw and stepped aboard, followed immediately by Kylie.
“Alright, then,” Van said, “you’re in charge.” She stepped towards Liana with the activator in her paw.
Smiling a little, Liana took it and nodded. Turning to the group, she said, “I need everyone to take a seat and belt in. There should be five-point harnesses in the bags behind the seats.” To her surprise, the group – everyone, Kylie included – did exactly what she asked. She extracted her own harness and fastened it to the seat, after helping the others with theirs.
“So how fast does this boat go, Liana?” Saletta asked, a little nervous.
“It depends on the model, but most of them truly do have a need for the harnesses.”
In a couple of passes, everyone was secure and seated. Saletta seemed more than a little nervous. As Liana finished her inspections, she said, “Okay, everyone. All of the harnesses are in and the safeties are in place. When I belt in, I should get a blue light on the console, indicating it’s ready for high speed. If it doesn’t turn on, then someone’s disabled the engine.”
Liana took her place, clipped in her harness, and looked at the panel. “We have blue,” she announced.
“Yes!” Van replied, victorious.
“Should I just take us around the lake?” Liana asked.
“Kit, you can do whatever you want to as long as it’s fast!” Vanarra replied expansively.
“Oh, mange,” both Sahni and Saletta said under their breath.
Liana smiled. She enjoyed the high-speed boating runs she had done in her training, and they had made her feel like she was flying over the water. “I get to fly again,” she thought to herself, and smiled, realizing that this was true in the rest of her life, as well.
Keying the primary engine ignition, a whole different sound permeated the decking and frame of the craft. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Van cursed, feeling the might of the engine come to life. “Congratulations, Liana, you just made you boss look like an idiot!”
“Sorry,” the Faelnar replied, suddenly worried she’d offended her benefactor. “Do you want to take over?”
“No, kit! I’m just sore at myself. Go ahead. Take us out!”
Liana nodded and fell back on her training. “Moving away from the dock on maneuvering thrusters.”
“Great,” Van fussed quietly as the lines auto-retracted, and the sleek craft started drifting away from the dock at the same speed it had first approached it.
“Changing aspect to deep water,” Liana continued. The nose of the craft rapidly slipped around and faced towards the open lake. “Moving to get clear of the dock wake danger zone.” Gently and quickly, the craft sledded forward.
“That’s not too bad,” Saletta noted. “Just fast enough.”
“Sorry, but that’s idle speed on the main drive. Hold on, now. I’m going to run through some maneuvers just to get used to the controls.”
“Used to the controls?!” Saletta replied, worried.
“Oh, this is going to be good,” Van chuckled. “Go ahead, Liana! See what she can do!”
Smiling wider than she had in a very long time, Liana replied, “Yes, Most Honored,” and shoved the throttle control slowly forward. As if a predator starting its charge, the craft slipped forward on the water, its engine sounding as if it, like Van, was frustrated and finally finding relief. Steering into open water, Liana clicked the control for the stabilizers, and the rest of the riders watched as outriggers slipped out from the sides of the craft.
“What are those for?” Saletta asked, screaming over the wind.
“To go fast!” Liana replied.
“We’re not going fast already?!” Saletta shouted, but Vanarra’s laughing drowned out any response the Faelnar at the controls would have made. With the throttle not even at one quarter of its full range, Liana gave it an abrupt shove up to fifty percent, and the g-force of their acceleration made them all shout, or in Saletta’s case, nearly scream. The wind was a gale in their faces, and the craft listed to the left and the right as Liana acquainted herself with how this pair of outriggers felt. The steering seemed as responsive and supple in her paws as she remembered, and smiling even wider, she reached for the foil control.
Glancing back to Vanarra who was obviously enjoying herself, despite the bounce and chop, Liana expressed the claw foils beneath the surface, and the craft almost instantly lifted out of the water, drawing a shriek out of Saletta and a whooping cheer from Vanarra. With the ride stabilizing, Liana could nudge the throttle higher, so long as she kept an eye on the collision sounder readout. She steadily increased the power, and the craft gleefully kicked its speed up to a full run. Liana circled the huge lake, gently turning with the shoreline. Reaching the far side of the lake, she pulled back on the throttle and let the craft settle back into the water, and then, finally allowed it to drift to a stop.
She unlatched her harness and stood up. “Everyone okay?” she asked, looking back at the group. Sahnassa, Kylie, Solana, and Vanarra looked like they were having the time of their lives, and they cheered Liana heartily. Saiphar and Saletta, however, looked a little haggard and, in both their cases, perhaps a bit nauseated.
“I’ve … I’ve never been in a boat that went that fast!” Saletta breathed.
“Neither have I,” Van replied smiling hugely. “Loved it! Awesome Liana! Thank you!”
“Look at this view!” Saiphar breathed in wonder. The peaceful beauty of the lake ended some distance beyond with the forest snuggling right up to the water’s edge, but in the distance, the Yarvea mountains towered ahead of them.
Off to the right side, however, Sahni noticed something. “Look up there. Is that … smoke?” she asked.
Liana reached into a compartment just beside the pilot’s station and pulled out a set of high powered viewers. Van looked at her quizzically, and she explained, “Uh, they’re part of the standard equipment.” After giving them to Vanarra who whispered her thanks, she added, “It’s a lot of smoke, but it’s right on the top of that … mesa? I’m not sure what to call it.”
“I know what to call it,” Van replied darkly as she focused the viewers and increased the magnification. “Sahni, come here a tick.” She gave the viewers to her friend and asked, “See anything you recognize?”
“Oh … my … gosh!” Sahnassa breathed as she focused the viewers. “It’s the Meeting Den!”
“What’s left of it,” Van added as the others came over.
Sahni was surprised by how much the impact of seeing the place where they had struggled to survive struck her. As she pushed the magnification to its limit, she could see small cranes and tents and heavy moving equipment at work – in addition to an enormous bonfire of burning material. “Oh … wow! They must be still clearing it up.” She gave the viewer to Liana and then said, “I … I’m going to sit down.”
“Yeah, I know,” Van agreed quietly.
“This is the closest you two have been back to this place, I take it?” Saiphar asked, straining to look.
Van nodded, but Sahnassa replied, “In all this time, I haven’t seen any pictures of it or kept up with what was happening to it. I … I just kind of left it behind.”
“Salvage operation,” Liana observed. “They actually have airlifts coming in – sky carriers.”
“Probably still trying to get the hovers and everything else worth something out of there,” Van commented. “And there were some nice hovers up there when they got cut off. I wonder if they got all of the bridges removed. Those came down in pieces.”
“That might have been the first thing they removed,” Kylie commented, watching a flyer move slowly off the mountain and descend into the valley. “It would have thawed down at lower elevations first.”
“I don’t know,” Van commented. “From what Sahni and I saw, they were a mass of tangled metal at the bottom of a ravine.”
Liana gave the viewer to Saiphar who focused it and breathed, “The … funeral pyre.”
“Inspiring, love?” Solana asked, putting her paw at his back.
“In a very … dark way. Van, do you think we could see the camp you and Sahni made from here?”
“I doubt it,” she replied. “If my memory is right, we’re seeing the Meeting Den from the athletic field side, where the airlift happened, but our camp was down the trail in the other direction, down the ridgeline away from the entrance on the other side.” Van stepped away and sat down beside Sahnassa as the others took turns looking. “Hey, kit. You okay?” she asked quietly.
“Just … a little overwhelmed at seeing it. I saw one of the flyers landing, and I … had a momentary flash of what it was like landing there that first time. I think I’m fine seeing it here, but I’m not so sure I want to get a closer look, and I’m definitely sure I don’t want to go back – at least not for awhile.”
“Never,” Van almost growled. “Certainly not in winter. We had enough of ‘spectacular views’ from that location, didn’t we?”
“You know what they ought to do?” Sahni asked with a smile. “Every season, on the anniversary of the rescue, they ought to shoot fireworks from it or something, in memory of Vanarra Anasto’s famous signaling fireworks!”
“That almost shot down our rescuers?! Nice, Sahni,” Van huffed, elbowing the Nephti.
“Come here, you,” Sahni said and pulled her dear friend into an embrace. The two chuckled and then wept a little, the others on the boat giving them the time they needed. After a moment or two, however, Van’s PawLink rang.
“Hello? Oh, hi Buck! Yeah, we’re still out on the lake. Yeah … we’re still on the same lake – we weren’t moving that fast! Oh, they’re here? How long? Okay, we’ll head back. We should be back … real fast! Ta!” she said brightly, hanging up the call. “Alright everyone! Fun’s over. Tedarri and his family are at the camp, and I don’t want to disappoint them.”
“Uh, especially given the mill biscuits,” Sahni replied, nearly licking her lips. “I don’t want to get there last, exactly.”
“Oh, mange!” Van spat. “Okay, everyone, belt in quick! You can’t keep this Nephti from her mill biscuits – you don’t want to see her when she’s angry! Liana, there’s going to be two children there—”
“I will be most careful, Most Honored,” Liana said apologetically as she stowed the viewers.
“Well, yes, but get us there quick and give us a … flashy entrance, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, no,” Saletta groaned. “I don’t think I’m going to like this.”
“I’m certain you won’t,” Saiphar whispered to her. “Me either.”
“I’ve got blue on the indicators. We’re ready to go,” Liana announced, turning the craft around and looking back to Vanarra.
“Then give us a kick in the tail, Liana! Make this sweet little kit run!”
“As you order, Most Honored,” the Faelnar replied, smiling happily in a way that made Kylie nearly cry, until the powerful acceleration of the boat forestalled any other emotions than simply hanging on for dear life.
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