Fel (James Galloway)
It was one of those times when there just wasn't very much to do.
They'd gotten him up early, perhaps a bit too early. The night before had been relatively boring for Tarrin, since everyone else was getting ready for the big day today. The day when the Sha'Kar were going to use powerful magic to transport all of them to Suld. The Sha'Kar had been busy packing, and since Tarrin only owned one pack, for him it took about five minutes to get ready. Triana had gone back to Suld to talk to Jesmind, so he'd been left with Kimmie most of the night...which in itself wasn't a very bad thing. Tarrin chafed at them hovering over him, but Kimmie seemed to understand how it made him feel, and strove to make his forced restriction as entertaining as possible with stories, conversation, and even games and books. Tarrin didn't understand what they were talking about most of the time, but he had the feeling that the Sha'Kar had some kind of ability to talk to the Sorcerers in Suld. But just because they could didn't mean that it was a good idea. He heard Triana telling Kimmie before she left that the Sorcerers back in Suld were still in shock that the Sha'Kar were alive, and the Sha'Kar had decided that it would be best for them to only communicate with the Sorcerers in charge over there.
That had been quite a surprise. Triana had told him rather curtly when she woke him up that because of poor health, the Keeper of the Tower, some woman named Myriam Lar, had stepped down from her position as ruler and given the position to his sister. Jenna was only thirteen years old...what business did she have being the ruler of the katzh-dashi? But then he remembered that she was actually fifteen, nearly sixteen, and she was one of those sui'kun people. The Sha'Kar said he was one, and they all fell over each other to be nice to him and ask him what he wanted them to do. They thought of these sui'kun people as kings or royalty or something, and some calculating part of him saw the advantage in making Jenna the Keeper. If the Sha'Kar were as quick to obey her as they were to obey him, they'd need her in that position of power to legitimize her authority in the eyes of both the humans and the Sha'Kar. There were bound to be some problems in bringing the Sha'Kar back to the Tower after a thousand years, so maybe the Tower was taking steps to make sure that thing went as smoothly as possible. Maybe this Myriam Lar really wasn't sick. Maybe that Goddess woman had told her to step down and stand aside for Jenna, for the good of the Tower. If the woman had half the reaction to that Goddess that Tarrin did, she'd walk through fire at her request.
Of course, thinking about that gave him a headache. It delved into those areas where Tarrin's lost memory tried to bubble back up, and that invariably caused him pain. Especially every time he thought of Myriam Lar. Odds were, there was some kind of history between the two of them that the others hadn't told him about, but Tarrin couldn't remember it. He only knew that for some reason, her name sent strange feelings through him that he couldn't explain, nor could he really identify them.
There were other things to think about, though, things that made less sense and caused him as much a headache. For some reason, he was of two minds about Auli. He liked her alot, since she was alot of fun, but her blowing in his ear had completely scrambled his idea of her. He'd only known her that one day, and he'd had a great deal of fun with her. He thought of her as a good friend. But when she flirted with him that way, she seemed to cross some kind of line in his mind. He'd noticed that she was very pretty and had a very appealing figure, but hadn't thought of her that way until she went and advertised the fact that she was interested. Once she had, she'd let the chickens out of the henhouse, and now he was thinking about it.
And that was the core of his dilemma. He felt he had some kind of an obligation to Kimmie, because of who he had been and how she felt about him. But he wasn't that person anymore, and there was no guarantee that he ever would be again. Kimmie represented who he was, but Auli's invitation urged him to continue on as he was, to not just stop in his life and try to regain what was lost. From what he'd heard, he hadn't been a very happy or nice person, and he was just starting to consider whether or not he wanted to go back to that.
He did want his memory back, though, and once he got it, he'd look back and decide what he wanted to do. But until then, he wasn't just going to sit and wait. There were many things to see, many things to do, many things to experience. He had to keep living, keep going. He didn't want to hurt Kimmie, but he didn't want to become stagnant as Triana wanted him to do, to just sit and do nothing, see nothing, be nothing until they could return him back to what they thought he was supposed to be. He did want his memory back, he wanted to know who he had been, what he had done, and what kind of life he had been trying to build for himself. He wasn't going to turn his back on who he was, because that would be dishonoring his own memory. But on the other hand, he wanted to see things, experience things as he was now, and when he got back his memory, hopefully the combination of old and new could come together and make the best decision for his future.
Auli. He liked her, and he wondered just how interested she was in him. From what Dar had told him about her last night, as the two of them played chess, Auli had been the island's hussy back when all the Sha'Kar were being mentally controlled. Was her flirting just an echo of that past, or was she truly interested in him? What level of interest did she really have? She'd flirted with Dar too, was she only interested in playing with them, or did she want a relationship? It was too much of a gray area. Tarrin wasn't going to hold her past against her, since she couldn't help it from what he'd been told. The mind control had made all the Sha'Kar act like Auli to one degree or another. He could certainly see it in them when they went out. The Sha'Kar would blush a little when they met members of the opposite sex, probably past romantic interests. The Sha'Kar weren't half as morally strait-laced as the people in Aldreth were--after all, they did bathe in company and weren't quite as set against showing skin as where he came from--but some of them had seemed to cross some line in their culture that was not to be crossed back when they were under control. He knew they were a bit embarassed about it, but he hoped they didn't dwell on it too much. One couldn't beat one's self over the head over things over which one had no control. They should just forgive themselves and others and then move on. It would be best for all of them.
Held against her or not, Tarrin couldn't deny an attraction to Auli. She was very pretty and she had a very attractive figure. But until he felt more comfortable with everything, he decided that maybe it was a good idea not to pursue things with her. He'd be a friend to her, though. She was too much fun to be with for him to avoid her. Besides, he needed to talk with her, get to know her a little so he could figure out if she was just flirting for the fun of it, or if she'd been serious. That look she gave Kimmie certainly looked serious, but then again, not only was she a girl, but she was a non-human girl. Girls were mystery enough, but one from another culture? One that wasn't human? She'd be ten times harder to figure out.
That seemed the best course of action.
The boredom of waiting for the Sha'Kar to get up and get ready at least gave him plenty of time to think about all that. They were all standing just outside the fences in a large open area on the outskirts of town, and they weren't alone. Excited human servants were around them, gabbing excitedly at the times to come, when they would be free of the island. All of them had agreed to serve in the Tower as they gradually adjusted to freedom, since none of them were prepared to deal with the radical shift in lifestyle that would come with freedom. At least they were wise enough to understand that. There were also many Sha'Kar there, gathered with their trunks stacked in the center of the mass. The youngers looked extremely unhappy, since they were about to leave a life of pampered luxury for the demanding life that would come in the Tower.
That had been a rather amusing little event. Some of the youngers had actually tried to rebel the night before, stating flatly that the island was their home, and they were not going to leave it. The elders among them had debated, argued, shouted, even ordered them to give up on the idea, but they were all adamant. They were happy on the island, and they were not about to leave. They would continue with their lives of parties and fun, and not an elder was going to tell them that they couldn't do it. Ianelle, that clever fox, gave in to their demand and told them that they were more than welcome to remain behind, where they would be forever exiled from the culture of the Sha'Kar, and not be visited. For any reason. And then she told them quite absently that since the servants were technically still slaves, and they were owned by the patron or matron of each house, who all happened to be elders, that meant that all the servants would be leaving in the morning. All the serving girls, all the cleaners, all the pages, all the farmers, all the food gatherers, every single human servant. The youngers were more than welcome to remain behind, but they'd have to feed, clothe, and support themselves. They could have their grand houses and their parties, but not much else.
It had been a devastatingly effective tactic. Faced with the prospect of having to grub in the dirt to feed themselves, the youngers had the wind sucked right out of their sails. And the human Sorcerers that had sided with the youngers quickly jumped ship, knowing that any human left behind, Sorcerer or not, would be seen as a servant in the making. That ended that rebellion faster than any other thing possibly could have done so.
For that reason, the Sha'Kar around them weren't all that good company. The youngest looked very put out and surly, and the elders all looked very aggravated with their children. That gave the place a feeling of hostility that put Kimmie and Triana a bit on edge, making them pull in a little closer to Tarrin, which made him hostile. The others with them hadn't come out yet, staying behind with Arlan, Iselde, and Allyn to make sure they'd gotten everything from their manor house that they wanted to take. The only one there was Dar, who in the days since his loss of memory had become one of his closer friends. He liked all the others, and Allia was probably the one he liked the most, but Dar was about his age, and he just felt comfortable with him. Besides, Allia spent alot of time letting Allyn fawn over her. Tarrin had never seen a man more totally enslaved by a woman than Allyn was with Allia. Allia seemed to enjoy it, and Allyn wouldn't take his eyes off of her even if she told him to.
Tarrin looked around and realized that he didn't see any babies among the Sha'Kar. There were plenty of very young Sha'Kar, no more than teens, but very few children and no infants. The youngest he'd seen looked to be about a six year old boy.
Only about half of the Sha'Kar had arrived, around two hundred or so standing or milling around on the grass, muttering or talking with one another. Tarrin stood near to Kimmie and Triana and watched them, listened to them as the older ones talked about the work to come and the satisfaction and eagerness to return to the life so long abandoned, and the younger ones growled and sulked over losing their homes, losing their decadent, pampered lifestyles. Though he'd been there, Tarrin couldn't remember the Tower, so he had no idea what kind of place was waiting for them there. And he was interested in it. It was just one of the many things he was interested in learning.
Tarrin spotted the others, helping the three Sha'Kar with them carry out five large trunks. Azakar carried two, and each of the others was being carried by a Sha'Kar and one of their friends. Dar came right up to him with his single pack slung over his shoulder and greeted him, and they stood together and watched as the trunks were set with the others and the group reassembled. Tarrin saw the remaining Sha'Kar converging on the field from around the large, spaced town, moving in large groups, and he realized that they'd be leaving very soon.
"It looks like we're about to go," Dar noted, mirroring his thoughts.
"It's about time," Tarrin said in Arakite. "Triana got me up at sunrise."
"I know, Dolanna woke me up not long after," Dar said, switching to Arakite himself. "A little packing and a whole lot of waiting."
"Truly. They didn't even have anything to eat," he complained. "Triana had to use magic to get us food today."
"We'll live," Dar chuckled. "They'll have all the food you can eat in the kitchens at the Tower."
"I'm going to feel lost there," Tarrin said. "Except that they won't let me get lost."
"It's a big place, Tarrin," Dar said with a grin. "It's easy to get lost."
"Good," he said with a conspiratorial smile.
A human woman stepped up to them, and it was a very strange looking woman. She had blue hair. She was very tall, buxom, wearing a dress that looked to be made of millions of tiny little blue scales. Her eyes were amber, like Keritanima's, and there was a sinister quality to them that put Tarrin just a little on edge. She smiled when she saw Tarrin, and reached out and took his hand. "I see you're well, little friend," she said, and Tarrin recognized Sapphire's voice.
"Sapphire?" he said in surprise. "Is that you?"
"Do you like it?" she asked, turning around for his benefit. "It was the best spell I could find on such short notice. Am I looking human enough?"
"Well, the blue hair and the yellow eyes are a bit unusual, but yes, you do look human. That's a magic spell?"
She nodded. "Dragons find it useful to sometimes go see what the humans are up to, and it's much easier to move around like this. When we arrive in our true forms, it always causes a panic for some reason. You humans are such jittery little things," she said absently.
"I think little is the key word there, Sapphire," Tarrin said. "It's hard to be nice to someone when they can step on you by accident."
"Probably," she said. "Was your night well?"
"A little boring, but otherwise fine," he said. "Are you going to be staying in the Tower?"
She nodded again. "For a few days. I'm still trying to track down my two youngest, and it'll be easier if I stay in one place. Once I find them, and I'm sure you're going to be well, I'll return to my lair."
"I'll miss you," Tarrin said impulsively, and it was accompanied by a slight flash of memory, him holding her in his arms, cuddling her, and that also brought a small shock of pain.
"I'll miss you too, little friend," she said, squeezing the hand in hers gently. "I never thought I'd feel so much kinship with a biped. The world is a funny place sometimes."
"If I told my friends one of my best friends was a dragon, they'd lock me in the cellar," he said with a wry smile. "But from what they tell me, I had all sorts of very strange friends. Wikuni, Selani, Knights, Sorcerers, Wizards, Amazons, Faeries, Were-cats, even Demons and dragons. I wish I could remember it all," he fretted.
"Give that crazy Wizard a chance, Tarrin," she said sedately. "He seems a bit addled, but I heard his mutterings and carrying on when he examined me. He's an excellent Wizard. I think he's better than I am, and that's no slight complement."
"They say Phandebrass is good," Tarrin agreed. "I haven't seen him for a couple of days, though. I think he's still on the ship."
"Where is that Sha'Kar that was with you?"
"Probably being punished by her mother," Dar snickered.
"She seems the type," Sapphire agreed with a smile. "I can't help but like her, though."
"Me too," Tarrin agreed.
The rest of the Sha'Kar arrived, and then a complement of about thirty Sha'Kar and five or six human Sorcerers split from the host and headed south, towards the ship. Ianelle stood up on one of the trunks, and her voice carried all the way across the field. "Everyone gather as close to the trunks as you can," she called. "The less space we take up, the easier this is going to be. Tight together now, don't be afraid to bump into someone!"
"Well, this should be fun," Camara Tal grunted from the far side, picking up her pack and her shield.
"Let's pull in," Triana ordered the others.
The large host of people gathered closely together around the pile of trunks, as Ianelle ordered, and Tarrin felt a little jostled and just a little uncomfortable for some reason. He'd never been squashed up with people like that before, and it wasn't an entirely fun experience. Kimmie was pushed up against his back, Triana just in front of him, and Dar and Sapphire were on either side of him.
"Do you think they're waiting for us at the Tower?" Tarrin asked Dar.
"I think they are. Ianelle's been talking to your sister through the Weave. I think they already told her where to have us appear on the grounds."
"I wonder what's going to happen," Tarrin said nervously.
"Me too. Guess we're going to find out," Dar said with a grin.
After everyone was scrunched up together, Sha'Kar and some of the human Sorcerers surrounded the area around them. They all looked towards Ianelle, and when she raised both her hands, all the others did the same. Tarrin felt something very strange happen then, some kind of magic that seemed to flow between all the Sorcerers taking part in the spell. All their hands suddenly began to glow with a strange wispy light, and Tarrin felt the magic build up all around them. For a moment, he got the impression that there were a whole bunch of little strings or threads or something flying around them, bobbing and weaving around one another so fast that it was hard to keep track of them, and again he saw those strange faint white lines that seemed to be all over the place flare up. Keritanima told him that he was seeing the Weave, but he ignored it most of the time. But now all those lines seemed much clearer, much more visible, even overlaying over the real world instead of the real world overlaying them.
It was terribly anticlimatic. One moment he was watching Ianelle's hands, which were glowing more brightly than all the others, and he could see the forest behind her. Then the next second, her hands and the glow didn't change, but in a fast shimmer, the area behind her did. There was absolutely no sense of moving, no flash of light, no sign of any kind that they had just done something, mainly because the sun had jumped across the sky in dramatic fashion. Where it had been early morning a second ago, now the sun was at its zenith, marking it as noontime. But he could see behind her, and it wasn't the woods. It was a huge tower made of white stone, stretching almost impossibly high into the sky, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of spans. That huge spire was surrounded by six smaller towers, also of white stone, and some of them had slender bridges spanning from them to the main Tower so high over their heads that he couldn't see if there was anyone on top of them.
Tarrin was quite shocked by it, and the silence from the host told him that he wasn't the only one. He could do nothing but gape up at the Tower like a rabbit staring down the gullet of a wolf, awed at how impossibly high the thing was. Pristine and white, shining in the summer sun, the Tower was a gigantic monument to the lost power and majesty of the katzh-dashi. How could anyone look up at it and not feel overwhelmed?
"I never thought I'd see it again," he heard one of the Sha'Kar say in a reverent tone. "After so long, we have come home."
Home. He could see how a place like that could be home to so many. It was so big!
They weren't alone. He realized that as he looked down the Tower's wall, and saw a large complement of robed humans standing between them and the Tower. In the very center of them, flanked by Sorcerers in colored robes that seemed to mark some kind of rank, was Jenna. But this wasn't the Jenna he remembered. This was a much older, taller, and filled out Jenna. Not the pre-teen girl he'd left behind in Aldreth, but a very pretty young woman with long dark hair falling over her shoulders straight and true, curling up as it touched her shoulders. She had grown into a very pretty young lady, with dark, full lashes, dark liquid eyes that seemed to shine, and her mother's cheeks. She stood regally, as if she owned everything and everyone, wearing a simple dress made of some kind of sheer fabric, like silk or satin, but then she abandoned that austere poise when she saw Tarrin, crying out his name and running forward. Tarrin stepped up and nearly got bowled over when she slammed into him, hugging him tightly and calling out his name over and over again.
"Look at you!" Tarrin said with a smile, pushing her out to arm's length. "You're almost full grown!"
"Look at you!" she said with a teary smile. "You look just like you did when you left! Triana said you can't remember anything at all. Is that true?"
He nodded. "Phandebrass is trying to cure me," he told her. "Is he here?"
"He's coming with the ship," Triana told him from behind as she looked down at them.
"They said you're the Keeper now," Tarrin said.
She nodded with a grin. "That's me. The regal ruler of this realm," she said with a wink. "Not that I take it very seriously. The Council keeps trying to tell me what to do, but they're going to find out that I don't think this is just for show. The Goddess told me that it's my throne, and I'll run this Tower as I see fit, not how they want me to." She looked around. "Where's the First? What's her name? Ianelle?"
Ianelle stepped up to her and gave her a very deep curtsy. "Honored one, as promised, we have come home," she said with a nod, in the most formal mode of Sha'Kar speech. "Is all prepared?"
"I've got everything ready for you," she replied in semi-formal Sha'Kar, a sign to Ianelle that she preferred to do without the flowery, formal speech. "The West and Southwest towers are yours, and as you requested, the servant staff there has been given those orders you passed to me. For now, until we sort things out, your Council is going to sit with the current one, and after we adjust, we'll choose a new Council."
"Those are good choices. Small chambers, frugal. That's what we need," she said with a slight smile. "Perfect."
"You've been here before?" Jenna asked in surprise.
"I was once on the Council at this very Tower," she said with a nod. "I was the Divine seat."
"Well, I'm sure we can sort things out. Do your people speak Sulasian?"
"Only some, and it is the Sulasian of a thousand years ago," she said with a rueful smile. "I'm sure we have terrible accents, but we will adjust."
"Well, you're going to have to learn," Jenna said with a frown. "Only about twenty of the Sorcerers here have managed to learn Sha'Kar. All of the Council does, as well as some of the more prominent Sorcerers among us. But all of them are learning as quickly as they can."
"We will help them along, and they will help us along with Sulasian," Ianelle said. "Sha'Kar was always the common tongue within the walls of the Tower."
"Until we can get the language barrier out of the way, I'll assign those katzh-dashi that have learned enough Sha'Kar to communicate to you to act as translators. Please don't be offended, but your translators may not know which form to use. If they speak to you informally, don't take it the wrong way."
"We appreciate it, honored one, and don't worry. We fully understand that Sha'Kar is a second language for them, and we will be very patient. May we settle in now?"
"Please, don't let me stop you," Jenna said with a warm smile. "You know where the Council chambers are?"
"Yes, honored one."
"When you get settled in, let me know, and we'll seat both Councils and have a conference. It's going to be nice to speak to you face to face for a change."
"Speaking in the Heart has its own charm, but there is much to be said for face to face conversation," Ianelle agreed. "It shouldn't take us long to move our trunks into the towers and assign chambers. Two hours, I would say. May I call on you then?"
"Ianelle, you're the First. You can call on me any time you feel it necessary," Jenna told her calmly. "My door is always open for you."
"You honor me, honored one," Ianelle said with a curtsy. "By your leave?"
"You don't have to ask me for permission to withdraw, Ianelle," Jenna smiled.
"You are the honored one, Keeper," Ianelle said brusquely. "To us, you are a queen. We will treat you as one."
Jenna fretted. "I was afraid of that," she said. "Well, if that's the way it is, then that's the way it is. You're dismissed, Ianelle. I look forward to getting to know you."
"And I you, honored one," she said, giving her one more curtsy, then scurrying off to bark commands to the Sha'Kar.
"Queen, eh?" Tarrin said with a smile.
"That's right," she said primly, tossing her hair a bit. "So you'd better treat me like the queen I am, or I'll throw you in the dungeon."
"Yah yah yah," Tarrin retorted, slapping her lightly on the arm. "To me, you're just my little sister."
"Well, come on then, big brother," Jenna said with a smile as she took his hand. "Let's go in. Jesmind is bouncing off the walls to see you."
"Why didn't she come out here?"
"She didn't want to cause a scene," Jenna winked.
"Is she really that upset?" Tarrin asked nervously. From what he'd heard of Jesmind, she was emotional, short-tempered, and somewhat high-strung. He'd been worrying about meeting her for a while, because he had no idea what she was going to do when he met her face to face.
"Not really," Jenna laughed. "She just didn't want to bring Jasana out here. She was afraid that Jasana may cause a scene."
Jenna paused to greet the others warmly, and that told Tarrin that she knew them. Dolanna and Dar bowed to her, reminding him yet again that Jenna was now technically over him, that she was very much different from the little girl that still existed in his memory. Keritanima didn't bow to her, but from the way they talked, it was obvious that they knew each other. Keritanima was a queen herself, and Tarrin wasn't sure what kind of protocols existed for when one monarch met another, and those monarchs happened to be friends. If there were any.
It was times like this that Tarrin felt his loss of memory most keenly, looking at Jenna, watching her talk to the others. They all knew each other, they all knew so many things that he'd forgotten. How did Jenna come to know Keritanima? When did they meet? Were they friends, or were they just being nice to each other? He saw Jenna hug Allia like a sister, and saw the happiness in Allia's eyes. When did Allia meet Jenna, and why was she so friendly with her? Allia rarely showed that kind of emotion, he'd come to find out. She was a very cool, reserved woman, only showing emotion when she was with him--when her uncertainty and pain over what happened to him was evident in her eyes--and when she was with Keritanima or Allyn. But even then she didn't show much if there were others around. When she was alone with Tarrin, or with Keritanima or Allyn, she acted alot differently than she did any other time. But she would show emotion to Jenna. That meant that she truly favored his sister...but when did they meet? How long had they known one another?
He wanted to know. It drove him crazy that all those things that had happened were buried in his mind, and it was being denied to him. It was an entire lifetime of experiences and adventures locked away, and even though there were things there that he probably wouldn't want to remember, what he would gain would more than make up for what it would cost him to remember. He felt lost like he was, surrounded by people who knew everything, while he floundered around behind them, depending on them for almost everything.
And if any one thing ate at him more, it was that. Tarrin was a fiercely independent young man, having been cut loose from his parents' watchful eye when he was twelve. They had trusted him to be careful, and he hadn't violated that trust more than a few hundred times. But they'd never caught him. He hated having them hovering around him, but he hated the fact that he had to depend on them even more than that. To someone like him, who was so used to doing for himself, being by himself, managing to make it by himself, being dependent on another was humiliating, aggravating, and intolerable.
There was very little that could be done right now, but he'd feel alot better after he established a little space for himself. Once he learned his way around the Tower, he'd feel more secure. And he knew that there was a fight coming over it, but he was going to demand his own room. He liked the Were-cats, but their stifling overprotectiveness had just gotten too irritating. It was a big Tower, and he was sure they could find him a room somewhere to himself. And since it was the Tower, they'd have absolutely no reason not to give him that room. It was one of the safest places in the world, the Tower was. He would be surrounded by Sorcerers, Knights, and servants, all of whom would keep him from getting lost and keep a wary eye out for intruders. Triana would have no valid excuse to giving him his own room. And if she refused, well, there were ways around that. He wasn't quite so intimidated by her now. She said she loved him, and he could use that as a weapon against her if necessary.
Holding Jenna's hand, his sister led him away from the Sha'Kar gathering with the others. Tarrin looked around and saw that though there were Sorcerers and servants standing around the Sha'Kar, there wasn't a large greeting party there. He asked Jenna about that, and his sister chuckled before she responded. "It was Ianelle's orders," she told him. "She doesn't want any fuss raised at all over their arrival. The Council did want to have a ceremony, but Ianelle refused."
"It's because she's trying to break the younger Sha'Kar of their habits," Keritanima told him. "She doesn't want them getting any idea that they're special or anything like that. Ianelle's even making them carry their own trunks, without using Sorcery or anything," she added with a snicker. "Ianelle can be brutal."
"She has alot of bad training to undo," Triana snorted. "I'd take a much more direct approach."
"I think she'd like to keep them alive, Triana," Kimmie said mildly.
"They can have more," Triana shrugged.
Jenna led him so fast that he didn't have much chance to take in things. They approached a side entrance of the main Tower and entered into a wide, carpeted hallway that had white stone walls and strange globes of light that seemed to hover in midair just at the ceiling. They gave him a strange feeling, and he realized they were products of Sorcery. Servants and Sorcerers stopped in the tracks and bowed or curtsied to Jenna, who looked a little uncomfortable about it, nodding to them as she led them past. They then reached a huge circular staircase and went around and around and around as they climbed it, so high that Tarrin was starting to feel just a little tired after a while. "Where are we going?" Tarrin asked with a little huff.
"Out of shape, brother?" Jenna teased.
"I didn't expect to climb up this far," he admitted.
"We're almost there," she assured him. "Just two more floors."
That reminded him of where they were going, and he started getting nervous again. He was going to meet another one of these Were-cat girlfriends of his, and this one had a daughter by him. A daughter, a child of his own. It was almost unbelievable. He wondered what she looked like, he wondered how she acted. He wondered if he would remember her when he saw her. If he didn't, he hoped that it wouldn't make her cry. He didn't want to upset her. They'd told him that she was as big as a seven year old, even though she wasn't even two. He was curious about that. Thinking about Were-cat children made him glance at Kimmie, whose belly was just starting to expand a little to show signs of her own pregnancy.
He was so caught up in worrying that he was a little surprised when they stopped before a large, ornately decorated door. Jenna wasted no time in opening it, revealing a large sitting room with a fireplace and three couches. Tarrin was pushed into the room from behind by Kimmie, who just grinned at him, and when he looked back into the room he saw them.
There was no doubt who was who, since they'd been described to him in detail. The tallest one was Jesmind, and he was amazed at how pretty she was, looking like the graven image of a younger Triana. She was her mother's daughter, that was for sure, but she had a thick mane of very wild red hair, poofing up at the top of her head and tumbling down her back in massive waves, and her fur was white. She was even taller than he was, wearing a simple white linen shirt and canvas breeches like what sailors wore,and her expression looked intent, but he wasn't quite sure what it meant. The smaller one was Jula, his--what did they call it?--bond-daughter. She too was rather pretty, with a sharp chin and a pert little nose, but her fur was black, and her blond hair was tied behind her in a single thick tail. She wore a sleeveless doublet of sorts and a pair of black trousers, and her expression was very guarded. The child had to be Jasana, and if Jesmind was the image of Triana, then Jasana was the image of her mother. She hugged her leg shyly, a darlingly adorable little girl with white fur like her mother and strawberry blond hair, wearing a vest-like half-shirt that left her midriff bare and tattered leather breeches that had been given the rough side of her claws.
Dislodging her daughter, Jesmind charged across the room before Tarrin had much chance to get past the door, and Tarrin found himself swallowed up in her arms, face crushed against upper chest as she literally picked him up and squeezed the air out of him. She was half a head or so taller than him, and he was a very tall young man, but she seemed much bigger when she hauled him off the floor with absolutely no effort, threatening to break his ribs.
"You're going to break his ribs, girl!" Triana snapped quickly. "Ease off!"
"I'm sorry," she said in a strangled tone, setting him down and putting her paw-like hands on his face, his chest, his arms, feeling him for injury. "I'm so relieved you're back, my mate," she told him with her heart in her eyes. "Even though you come back to me a little indisposed. Any word from that crazy Wizard yet, mother?"
"Give him time, daughter," Triana replied. "This isn't an easy problem to solve." She came over and put a hand on his shoulder. "Tarrin, as you may have guessed, this is Jesmind. My daughter, and one of your mates. Do you remember anything?"
Tarrin looked at her, and he did recognize her. This was definitely the woman who attacked him in Torrian. He didn't feel any fear, however. They told him that it had been that collar controlling her, and he remembered the collar. He'd noticed she was pretty then, even while he was trying to avoid getting killed. Seeing her with clothes on and not infuriated drove the fact home that she was very pretty. But outside of that, there was no memory, only a short flash, seeing her in the kitchen back at home, if that was possible. The pang of pain that accompanied that made him wince just a bit, which made her put her paws to his head, like a mother checking a scrape on a child. He felt like a child, looking up at her like that."I remember her," Tarrin said. "But only from Torrian."
"It's a start," Triana grunted.
Tarrin felt a tugging at his belt. He looked down, and realized that Jasana had crept up on him and was tugging to get his attention. He looked down at her and marvelled at how cute she was, but he couldn't remember her. There was a flash, though, looking down at the top of her head as she turned the pages of a book in her lap. "Are you my papa?" she asked in a tiny voice.
"They tell me I am," he told her in a serious voice, kneeling down and looking into her eyes. "Did they tell you that I'm not like I was before?"
She nodded. "Mama said you lost your memory and that you were changed into a human. I think you look stupid like that, papa," she said seriously, looking him up and down. "You need to be you again."
"I guess I do look a little strange to you," he chuckled ruefully. He struggled to remember this darling child, anything at all, but he drew nothing but a blank. Only that one flash of memory, obviously looking down on her from behind as she was reading from a book. But despite not knowing her, just knowing that she was his daughter did make him feel something for her. A protectiveness if not a love, at least not yet. This was his child, and even if he couldn't remember her, he had a duty to her. Even if he couldn't remember her, even if he was an entirely different species now, he was going to try to be a father to her.
"Do you really have to be human?" she asked. "Mama said not to bite you, or I'd get in big, big trouble. Doesn't that mean that if I did, you'd be alright again?"
"No, he won't, cub," Triana warned. "He needs to get his memory back before we can change him back. If we changed him back before that, he'll get sick. You don't want him to get sick, do you?"
"No," she said hedgingly.
"Then remember, cub. No biting. You bite him, and you'll be in so much trouble that you'll forget what it was like when you weren't. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Gramma," she sulked.
"I'll have your word, cub," Triana said in a blunt tone. "I know you too well to trust a statement like that. Promise. No biting. I want to hear it."
Jasana actually glared at Triana for a long moment, then she lowered her eyes. "I promise I won't bite papa," she finally said, though it was very reluctant.
Tarrin was surprised. Was this little girl that dangerous? So dangerous that Triana forced a promise out of her? Tarrin knew what promises meant to Were-cats, so making her promise was setting it in stone that she wouldn't do it. Would she really have tried?
Then he realized that she was just a child. Children had a much different concept of the world than adults did. She would probably be more than capable of biting him if she felt that him being as he was was wrong.
"We're not there yet," Triana said. "No letting your spittle or your blood touch him in any way, and no touching any cuts or open wounds your father may have. Promise."
With another short glare, Jasana promised not to do any of those things. Tarrin could see the defeat in Jasana's eyes with those promises. Triana had just cut the legs out of from under any plan Jasana may have had to change him back. He was a little surprised that she would have thought of it, but Triana's words told him that it was in her character.
The other Were-cat, Jula, stepped up to him. He stood up and was surprised when she gave him a gentle hug, patting him on the back. "It's good to see you again, Tarrin, even if you are like this," she smiled.
"You're Jula, right?"
She nodded. "Your bond-daughter. I take it you don't remember me?"
"I'm sorry, but no," he said with a sigh. And he didn't. Not even a flash of memory, nothing at all.
"Well, don't worry about it," she smiled. "I'm sure they'll find a way to get your memory back. Until then, I'd be happy to get to know you all over again."
For some reason, that statement relaxed him quite a bit. He felt much more comforatable with Jula than he did with that penetrating gaze that Jesmind was giving him.
"Well, I'm sure we can make you at home, Tarrin," Jesmind told him. "I--"
"I'm sorry," Tarrin told her. "No offense, Jesmind, but I'd like to have a room to myself until I get my memory back. I hope it doesn't offend you."
Jesmind looked a little taken aback, but then she seemed to understand. "You don't remember us at all, do you?" she asked with sad eyes.
"I'm sorry, but no," he admitted.
"Well, we can put you in Jasana's room," Jesmind said. "She can sleep with me."
Tarrin screwed up his courage, rising up to his full height, and then said it. "I want my own room," he said firmly. "Like not in this apartment."
That got a reaction. Both Jesmind and Triana snapped at him almost at the same time that there was no way that they were going to let him out like that. "No way you go around without someone watching over you," Triana grated as Jesmind rambled "you think you're going to wander around in this condition, you're crazy!"
But it was Jenna who rescued him from having to shout at the Were-cat females. "I think Tarrin does need a little space," she said calmly, but in a brisk tone that brooked no argument. "You want an apartment like this one, brother?" she asked.
"Nothing quite this grand," he replied calmly, relieved that someone was going to side with him. "Just a room somewhere."
"There's an empty chamber beside mine," Dar offered.
"It is just down the hall from me," Dolanna added. "I assure you that I will keep an eye on him for you, Mistress Triana."
"Well then, there we go," Jenna smiled, then she fixed Triana with a very stern look. "Dar, why don't you take Tarrin down and show him his new room? In fact, why don't all of you drop off your things in your rooms, then we can all go get some lunch."
"You mean breakfast," Dar said.
"Lunch," she said with a smile. "Remember the time difference, Dar. It's noon here."
"Oh. I forgot about that."
"I would like to get something to eat," Keritanima agreed. "I haven't had a thing to eat all day."
Both Triana and Jesmind looked a bit put out that the subject had been changed on them so quickly. "I'm not letting Tarrin roam like this," she said flatly. "In this conditon, he's all but helpless."
That caused Tarrin's pride to rise up. "I can do for myself, Jesmind," he said with a short look. "I'm sorry to break it to you Were-cats, but I'm not helpless, and I don't need protecting."
Jesmind actually looked a bit chagrined, but Triana's expression didn't change. "If you're taking that room, fine. But I'll be there," she declared.
"No, Triana, you won't," Jenna told her bluntly. "This is the Tower, if you recall. He'll be quite safe here, so long as he doesn't leave the grounds."
"Who are you to order me around, girl?" Triana said with an ominous glare at Jenna.
But Jenna didn't seem to be very impressed. "I'm the Keeper, Triana," she replied in a stiff tone. "If you don't recall, you happen to be my guests. If you don't feel that you need to obey me within the boundaries of my own Tower, you're more than welcome to leave at any time."
It hung there for a long moment, as the Were-cat matron and the young woman, barely half her height, locked gazes and refused to look away. But then Triana blinked, and her stiff posture softened slightly. "As you say," she growled in acknowledgement.
There were more than a couple of shocked expressions among them. None of them had ever seen Triana bow to anyone's authority before. Even though Tarrin had no memory of Triana, even he understood that he just witnessed something along the lines of the sun rising in the west, or the Skybands turning sideways in the sky.
To his surprise, Tarrin realized that that had settled the matter. Jesmind's hostile expression softened, then she glanced at Jasana and her eyes became calculating for a moment.
"Now, let's all get settled in, and then have some lunch," Jenna said briskly, so the silence didn't fester in Triana's mind. "Dolanna, Dar, make sure Tarrin finds the main dining room," Jenna said with a smile. "Let's all meet there in an hour, alright?"
There was a rumble of assent, and then the others began to file out. But Tarrin hesitated to say goodbye to the Were-cats, to make sure they weren't very mad at him. "I'm sorry, but I just need some space to myself," he explained to Kimmie as the others listened. "You've been hovering over me ever since I woke up, and if you didn't know, that really aggravates me."
"I should have known, it aggravated you before," Triana grunted. "Alright, cub. If you want a little space, we'll give it to you. But you'll still come sit with us and spend time with your daughter," she declared.
"I'm not abandoning you all," he said with a laugh. "And I want to get to know my daughter and my, uh, girlfriends. I just want my own room, that's all."
"Actually, it may be for the best," Jesmind said calmly, glancing at Jasana again. "All this has to be rather traumatic. And it's not like you're going to move across the city."
"Exactly," he said with a nod. That wasn't what he expected from Jesmind, but it warmed him to her rather quickly. If she was willing to see his side of it, maybe there was hope that they could be good friends. "You can come see me whenever you want. I'm not going to shut you out."
Jesmind tapped Triana on the shoulder, then nodded towards Tarrin. Triana nodded. "Jula, why don't you and Kimmie sit with Jasana a bit," Triana ordered. "We're going to go with Tarrin to find his room."
"Sure, Triana," Kimmie said quickly, picking up Jasana. "Hey there, halfling," Kimmie said with a grin. "Want to meet your brother, or sister, or whatever it's going to be?"
"Mama said you were having a baby," Jasana told her. "Will you come back, papa?"
"We'll see each other at lunch, Jasana," Tarrin told her.
Dolanna and Dar led Tarrin and the two Were-cats out of the room, then back down the stairs. "I don't like the look in Jasana's eyes," Jesmind explained to Triana as they descended. "I think putting Tarrin out of her easy reach may be a good idea. You know how she is."
"I know too well," Triana grunted.
"Giving Tarrin his own room is going to keep Jasana's evil little mind from dwelling on it too long, and besides, I think he really does need a little space of his own. We're all strangers to him, and I think it would be uncomfortable for him to live with us."
Jesmind did understand. He nodded with a relieved expression, and impulsively reached out and took her hand, feeling the soft-rough pad on her palm on his fingertips. "Is Jasana really that bad?" he asked.
"Yes," both the Were-cats said in unison.
Tarrin laughed. "I think I like her already," he admitted.
"She can be so sweet and adorable that everyone loves her when she wants to be, but when she wants something, there's no such thing as going too far," Jesmind explained. "She's a real handful to manage."
"It sounds like it," Tarrin agreed. Jesmind squeezed his hand very gently, and she smiled down at him when he looked at her. He decided that he liked Jesmind right about then. She wasn't half as bad as the others had made her out to be. "I guess there's little doubt that she's my daughter," Tarrin chuckled. "Mother always said my children would be impossible to control."
"Ah, then it's all your fault," Jesmind grinned.
"You were just as impossible when you were a cub, daughter," Triana told her. "If anything, Jasana's the fault of both of you."
Tarrin tuned the others out a moment as Dolanna told Jesmind about the Sha'Kar to be very, very relieved. He thought that Triana and Jesmind were going to fight him about him wanting his own room, but thankfully, Jenna had intervened on his behalf, and Jesmind understood better than he thought she would. It wasn't that he didn't like the Were-cats, or he wanted to avoid them, it was just that he didn't know them. He wanted space, a little privacy for himself, and a chance to come to terms with this strange situation without someone looking over his shoulder every moment of every day.
He was still a bit surprised over Jasana, but he guessed that he shouldn't have been. Kimmie described her to him, and her thinking about biting him to turn him Were would definitely be within her character. He found that he was very much looking forward to seeing her at lunch, and sitting with her afterward and spending time with her. She was his daughter, after all, and he wanted to get to know her.
"...don't think they're going to be much of a problem," he heard Dolanna saying as he started paying attention again. "The youngers are a bit rebellious, but they are Sha'Kar. I think that when they get accustomed to the daily routines in the Tower, they will find them to be not nearly as bad as they believe. The respect and preferential treatment they will receive from the human katzh-dashi will soothe their egos enough for them to meld with the Tower customs."
"As long as it doesn't make their heads big," Triana grunted in reply. "Ianelle's going to have to pay close attention to the wildest of the children."
"She won't have to look far," Dar laughed. "Her daughter has to be one of the wildest."
"I heard all sorts of stories about her," Triana chuckled humorlessly. "If even half of them are true, I'm shocked Ianelle doesn't have gray hair."
"Here you are, Tarrin. Your room," Dar said as they stopped in front of a large oak door with a bronze handle. He opened it and stepped aside just enough for Tarrin to look in, and he found himself staring into a rather large bedchamber with a big four-poster bed dominating the left wall. It had a stand on either side of it, the curtains tied at the posts, and there was a huge chest at its foot. There was a writing desk on the right wall, directly across from the bed, and there was a pair of bureaus on the far wall, both to the left of a glass-paned door that led out onto what looked to be a balcony of sorts. There was an actual full-length mirror in the corner behind the bed, a real silvered glass one that had be dreadfully expensive. Tarrin stepped in just enough to see a washstand on the same wall as the door, with a very expensive-looking porcelain pitcher and washbasin, white with elegant wavering blue lines circling the lip of the basin and the neck of the pitcher. A glowglobe hovered over the foot of the bed, in the exact center of the ceiling, shining milky white light down into the room.
"Wow," Tarrin said in surprise. It was big. Much larger than his room back home, and he had the largest room in the house, since it was the attic. The furniture all looked antique, Shacèan in style, with sculpted, curved legs on the chairs and burnished, tapering posts on the bed. Even the furniture looked expensive.
"It's not half as nice as our apartment," Jesmind sniffed. "You sure you don't want to stay with us?"
"I thought you said you wanted to separate me from Jasana for a while," Tarrin reminded her.
"It sounded like a good idea at the time," Jesmind grunted. "You belong with us, my mate. If this is what you want, I'll agree to it, but I want you to know that I don't like it."
"I'm sorry that you don't like it, but I need some space to myself, Jesmind. I'm not used to being so stacked up with people." Tarrin dropped his pack on the bed and sat down on it tentatively. It was a feather mattress, almost criminally soft. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all this space. I felt absolutely lost in that room back on the island."
"You could get lost in that room," Triana snorted.
"I think Tarrin could use some time to settle in," Dolanna announced. "Dar's room is just to the left as you come out of the door, and my room is at the end of the passage past Dar's room, dear one. If you need us, we will be there."
"Alright," Tarrin said with a nod.
"We'll see you at lunch, cub," Triana told him with a level look. "If you need me, just call my name. No matter where I am, I'll hear it, and I'll be here before the sound dies off."
"Even if I'm just saying your name?" he asked.
She nodded. "So don't name me unless you want me to come to you," she warned.
"Alright, Tri-uh, mother," he said.
"See you in a bit, my mate," Jesmind told him, leaning in and kissing him on the cheek chastely. Her lips felt strange, and it triggered another flash of memory, one that was rather intimate. Something about Jesmind kissing him.
They all said their farewells, and Tarrin closed the door behind him, leaned against it, and sighed in relief. All in all, it went better than he expected. Nobody fought about it--at least not too much--and what was more important, he'd gotten to meet Jesmind and Jasana. Jesmind wasn't half as bad as he thought she would be, and all in all, he rather liked her. He wasn't sure if she was just acting to try to keep him at ease or not, but regardless of why, he liked her. Jasana was adorable, and he found the idea of being her father pretty good. She was smart, cute, and he rather fancied her. She sounded like a real handful, but in actuality, he preferred having a child like that. At least one knew what to expect from a child like Jasana.
He just wondered how long their giving moods were going to last.
The meal to which they went at lunch looked more like a banquet, given the number of people that were there. All his friends were there, naturally, but there were also others there. Ianelle attended with her Council, and Jenna's Council was also present. There were a few Sorcerers Tarrin didn't know there that Dolanna told him he had known, the Lord General of the Knights, an elderly man named Darvon, and a few of the Knights with which they said he'd been very good friends, and there was also a merchant family from town present that Tarrin was told were very, very good friends of both him and his family. Tarrin couldn't remember any of them except the little girl, Janette. Seeing her brought several flashes of memory to him, the strangest of which was looking up at her like she was some kind of a giant. The little girl, about nine or so with dark curly hair and wearing a very fancy lace-lined satin dress, invoked any number of very unusual feelings in him, a powerful protectiveness paramount among them. Tarrin knew that he looked at Janette like a daughter, like a member of the family, but he couldn't remember why he felt like that, when he met her, or how long he'd known her.
Tarrin felt a little lost again as name after name was given to him, face after face passed by him that he was told he had once known, yet now couldn't remember any of them except Janette. He sat rather firmly entrenched between Kimmie and Jesmind, and the two Were-cat females made him feel rather stifled. He felt again the loss of his memory as he looked out over the many people, knowing that he'd once known almost all of them, knowing that he'd once known the Tower grounds like the back of his hand. It was a strange feeling to see them, to know that he'd once known them, but have no memory of them. It was a helpless feeling, an aggravating feeling, and those were feelings that Tarrin did not feel often at all.
But the others didn't let him dwell on it too much. During and after the meal, they came over and talked with him, smiling and acting in a reassuring manner, trying to make conversation without bringing up the past. It wasn't easy for them, and it was plain on their faces that the way he acted now was much different from the way he'd acted before. It seemed to puzzle them somewhat...they'd been ready to see him as a human and knew he'd lost his memory, but a change in personality was something that they hadn't expected. They did cope, however, trying to be light and chatty, but without his memory, there was little they could really talk about outside his impressions of the Sha'Kar and the Tower and the weather. And those subjects got old after a while.
At least he wasn't the main focus of attention for long. The Sha'Kar present stole the thunder from Tarrin, at least among the human Sorcerers, and after they came to talk to him, they invariably ended up with the Sha'Kar. Sapphire too attracted a great deal of attention, for though she looked like a rather exotic human, just about everyone in the Tower knew that she was actually a dragon. Sapphire had come over early in the meal and told him that she'd been given a very nice room, and she was going to remain as a biped, as she called it, so as not to panic the city and also because it was much easier for her to move around the Tower grounds in a form for which the grounds and structures had been designed to accommodate. She still had had no luck in magically tracking down her two youngest children, but she was still trying.
After the meal, Jenna basicly thumbed her nose at her secretary, Duncan, who was rattling a sheaf of papers for her to deal with meaningfully and took Tarrin out on a tour of the grounds. They went alone, and as she showed him around, from the gardens to the kitchens to the library to the Heart, the center of the Tower, to the training grounds of the Knights, they talked. She told him all about everything that had happened to her and their parents during the time he'd forgotten, told him about the tutor that had died in a Troll raid on Aldreth, and their move to Suld. Then she told him about her time in Ungardt after the Doomwalker attacked them, her getting to know their mother's side of the family, and then her crossing over and becoming a Weavespinner. Then she described the move back, the battle at Suld, and her eventual rise to power as the Keeper of the Tower in Suld.
"We all thought that Myriam was really sick," she explained as they walked along the pristine pathways of the gardens, a place that was much cooler than the other parts of the Tower. Jenna had told him that a magic spell was placed over the gardens that kept them at a level temperature all the time, making them delightfully cool in the summer and nice and warm in the winter. "She lost alot of weight and she looked really pale, and she was coughing all the time. After she stepped down, she told me that her sickness was just a spell that Duncan had cast on her to make her look sick, and give her a valid reason to step down. It was as much a surprise to me as it was everyone else when she literally hand-picked me to succeed her."
"I didn't think it worked like that."
"It doesn't," Jenna chuckled. "The Council is supposed to choose the next Keeper, and the Council did object. But then the Goddess manifested directly in the Council chambers and told them in no uncertain terms that I was her choice. Nobody objected after that."
"It must be amazing, having a god talking to you that way," Tarrin mused.
"Mother doesn't really seem like a god most of the time," Jenna said as she ducked under a low branch from a cherry tree that was hanging over the path. "She seems more like a friend than a god. It makes it really easy to talk to her, and in a way, I guess it makes it easier for me to follow her orders."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, if she came down with flashes of lightning and all that fanfare, I'd be too afraid of her," she explained. "She's more personable than that, but I never forget that she is the Goddess. It's hard to explain."
"You obey her because you love her, not because you're afraid of her," he said sagely, then he blinked. Why did he say that?
"Exactly," she agreed. "So, what's it like?"
Tarrin knew what she meant. "I really can't say," he replied. "Since I don't remember anything from before, I don't have anything to compare it to."
"I guess I should have realized that," Jenna chuckled.
"What's it like being Keeper?"
"Well, everyone bows to me all the time, and that annoys me," she said. "And you wouldn't believe how much paperwork there is to do. I never dreamed how much time I'd spend sitting at a desk reading papers. Kings and queens may rule the land, but the paper rules them."
Jenna laughed. "I've been sorely tempted, but then Duncan would be dropping stone tablets on my desk, and that would murder the finish."
Tarrin chuckled. "Imagine trying to store them."
"I'd have stone tablets stacked up like bricks," Jenna said, holding her arms before her to emphasize the image. "They'd fill up my office until I had nothing but a little hole in the stone."
"You could build little houses out of them. Not only would you be storing your records, you'd be housing the homeless."
"At least until I needed it back," Jenna laughed.
"What exactly do you do as Keeper?"
"Well, most of it is just diplomacy," she answered. "I answer flowery letters from kings and queens with similarly flowery replies. Sometimes I have to go to the palace and talk to the regent, because of the treaties between Suld and the Tower, and the rest of it is just administration of the Tower. I have to direct the Sorcerers in their tasks, which is kinda silly since they already know what to do, and I send Sorcerers out on missions out into the countryside sometimes."
"Well, last ride I sent ten Sorcerers to the Citadel of the Hill to replace the Sorcerers that had been pulling a yearly rotation there," she answered. "I have some others out searching for children with the talent, and I also lent Shiika fifty Sorcerers to help her clean up some parts of Dala Yar Arak."
"Shiika? The Demoness?"
Jenna nodded. "She's actually a pretty nice woman," she said. "I like her. She's already asked if I'm going to build a Tower in Dala Yar Arak. Before the Breaking, there was a Tower there, and now that the Weave has been restored, she's already sending treaty offers to me over me building a new Tower there. I hate to tell her, but I can't make that kind of a decision. I just rule this Tower. The Goddess is the one that has to order the building of a new Tower. I talked to Alexis about it--"
"Alexis Firehair is the Queen of Sharadar," she answered. "She's also the Keeper of the Tower of Abrodar, the capitol city."
"There's another Tower?" Tarrin asked in surprise.
Jenna nodded. "The only two that survived the Breaking. There were five others, but they were all destroyed. There was one in Dala Yar Arak, one in Arathorn, one in Nyr, one in Telluria, and the last one was in the Utter East, in a city called Xu Shen, which is the capitol of the largest empire in the East, called Shen Lung."
"I didn't know there were other Towers. Everyone talks like this one is the only one."
"The other one is all the way across the world," Jenna chuckled. "The Conduit that the Tower was built around comes out of the earth here in Suld, but it goes into the earth in Abrodar. It's on the other side of the world. Dolanna is from the Tower in Abrodar, didn't you know that?"
"No, I didn't," Tarrin said. "Why is she up here?"
"Because the two Towers send Sorcerers between them, so we can keep in touch and so we don't grow too far apart," she replied. "That way our purpose is always the same, even if we're on opposite sides of the world."
"There's alot more to this than I thought," Tarrin admitted. "I wonder what it looks like. That other Tower, I mean."
"I saw an Illusion of it that Alexis made for me," Jenna replied. "It's not even half the size of this one, and it only has three splinter towers, instead of the six we have. This Tower was the main one, Tarrin. Before the Breaking. Think of this Tower as the capitol city of the Sorcerers. It was the largest, and most of the greatest katzh-dashi lived here."
"I didn't know that."
"Not many do," Jenna nodded. "I didn't myself until Spyder gave me all her knowledge."
"Oh, that's right, you don't remember that," she sighed. "Spyder is another Sorcerer, the oldest and most powerful of us all. When we were here at Suld getting ready for the battle, she came to us and taught us some of the old magic. She also taught me about the history of the katzh-dashi, so I could restore it to the order. So we'd know who we used to be and what our purpose is in the world."
"What is the purpose of the katzh-dashi?" Tarrin asked curiously. "I don't think I ever heard anyone say."
"To serve," she said simply. "We served the Goddess, and before the Breaking, it was our duty to watch over the world and make sure that the power of magic flowed seamlessly, and help other magic-users when they needed our assistance. Back then, magic was very powerful, and our primary job was to maintain the Weave. Repair damage caused by runaway magic and keep the Weave healthy. When we weren't doing that, we helped Wizards and Priests create magical objects, since Sorcerers can prepare an object so that it can hold a permanent enchantment. We also spent alot of time helping the common people, providing healing and such for those too poor to afford hiring a Priest and such. The Weave is back to normal now, but most of the knowledge of those ancient magics has been lost, so we may not be called on to do most of what we used to do for a while. Until then, we're going to learn. Learn all about who we once were, so when the time does come that we'll be needed again, we'll be ready."
"You said only Sorcerers can make magical objects?" Tarrin said. "I heard Kimmie talking about some flying device that the Zakkites use. Didn't they make that themselves?"
"Well, I didn't say that exactly," she pointed out. "Wizards and Priests can make magical objects, but it takes them a really long time, and it can cost them alot in terms of money and effort. A Sorcerer can prepare an object in a fraction of the time and cost. What may take a Wizard a year to make, he could do it in a month if a Sorcerer helped him. Wizards and Priests do make objects that they don't want us to know they have, but in the past, for most other things, they'd bring it to us and ask us to prepare it for them. We'd do it for them because it's our duty to support magic in all its forms. Remember, brother, we're the followers of the goddess of magic. All magic, not just the Weave. So when other orders of magic need our help, we give it to them."
"I didn't know that, but it makes sense," Tarrin said after a moment. "If we helped them, why did they cause the Breaking?" he asked. "I mean, Dolanna told me about that. She said that someone killed the sui'kun, and that caused the Weave to tear."
"Nobody really knows who did that," Jenna answered. "Or Spyder didn't. Some people think some renegade Priests did it, some think that Wizards did it, but some think that some other group did it, some group that hated magic. Nobody really knows."
"It's too bad."
"I doubt it'll happen again. Not even the most rabid magic haters would want to cause another Breaking. Not now that they know what would happen if they did."
"Have you written to mother and father lately?"
She nodded. "Yesterday I used magic to talk to them. They're doing fine. Oh, they wanted me to tell you that they're a bit ticked off with Jesmind. She was living in our house, and she rearranged things. You know how mother is."
Tarrin laughed. "I didn't know she was living in our house."
"She was, while we were here in Suld. Mother said that if she comes back, she has to build her own house somewhere in the meadow."
"I wonder how Jesmind is going to take that," Tarrin said with a chuckle. "She doesn't seem like how the others described her to me, but if she really is like that, it's likely to start a feud."
"Jesmind is pretty much like how people describe her, but she loves you, brother," she said. "When you're concerned, she's capable of acting way out of her character. She's already established a pattern of doing that for your benefit."
"Well, did they tell you about what happened when the two of you first met?" Tarrin nodded. "Okay, well, when you ran away from Jesmind, she was supposed to have to kill you, because you rejected the Were-cats and became a Rogue. But she didn't do it. She kept trying to talk you back, even steal you back a few times, and she wouldn't do what she was supposed to do. She even seduced you, which was really against what she was supposed to do," Jenna giggled. "When she got pregnant and left, she continued to rally for you with her mother, Triana, and that intrigued her enough for her to come and look you over before deciding whether or not to kill you. If Jesmind hadn't been so adamant about it, Triana would have just killed you and been done with it. I think Jesmind's loved you from the minute she saw you, Tarrin. Ever since that first day, she's gone way out of her way for you, in more than one way."
Tarrin was silent a moment as he considered that. And it made him want to talk to Jesmind, get to know her, even more.
"I feel bad that I don't remember her," Tarrin admitted with a sigh.
"I know it's not easy," Jenna said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "But she's here now, isn't she? Just talk to her, brother. Get to know her again. And when you get your memory back, it'll just give you another aspect of knowing her. You have a rare chance here, brother. You and Jesmind have always had a very stormy relationship. Jesmind loves to fight, even with you, and never a day went by when the two of you weren't shouting at one another over something insignificant and stupid. But now you get a chance to get to know her all over again, when she's not going to fight with you. She wouldn't dare, because she doesn't want to scare you or push you away."
"Why were we always fighting?" Tarrin asked. "If we did love each other, why fight?"
"Because of the Were nature," she answered. "Were-cats base most of their society on strength. Jesmind fought with you all the time to establish herself in your eyes, to show you that she wasn't weak. That she was a good mate that would produce strong children. And you fought back to retain your dominance over her, because among the Were-cats, only Triana was over you in their society, brother. You were above all of them but her, and sometimes you had to reinforce that dominance."
"That sounds, bizarre," he said.
"It's very simple, if you remember that you had cat instincts as well as human ones," she told him. "The Were-cats are part animal. Never forget that. Were-cat society is based on strength, first and foremost. And there were none stronger than you, Tarrin," she said proudly. "You bowed to Triana only because you saw her as a mother figure. And since you bowed to her, that put her above you in the eyes of the rest of the society. Don't think of the Were-cats as humans with fur, brother. They're very, very different from humans."
"I'll try," he promised.
"That's why you and Jesmind fought. But you and Kimmie didn't fight that way."
"Because Kimmie's not the average Were-cat," she replied. "She knows her place, and unlike the others, she doesn't constantly try to reinforce it. She was turned, just like you were, but she's alot more human than any other Were-cat, even you and Jula. You and Kimmie really got along. I think that's why you fell in love with her."
"That is so strange," he said. "I was in love with two women, and they didn't hate each other?"
"Were-cats don't marry, Tarrin," she said sedately. "You don't really have any obligations, you know, so you were free to love anyone you wanted. Jesmind didn't mind Kimmie, and Kimmie didn't mind Jesmind, because Were-cats can't stay together forever. Triana explained that to me, that Were-cats get increasingly aggravated with mates as time passes, and that their instincts and natures as independent creatures eventually overwhelms the desire to stay together. So Were-cats part ways after a time after they've been mates for a while. Jesmind and Kimmie don't mind each other because they know that the other one can't hog you. After you get tired of one, you can just go to the other. They can share you, and since they can, they don't really see each other as rivals."
That actually did explain quite a bit. "Hold on, Kimmie mentioned someone named Mist," Tarrin said. "Is she really the mother of my son?"
"She is," Jenna affirmed. "I've never met her, but I heard Triana say that she was going to go get her a few days ago. I think she's coming to Suld. I really want to meet her son. She named him after father, you know. Father's so proud of that he's almost walking on air," she giggled.
"I don't remember her at all."
"Every time you say that, just remember that it's only temporary," she said, patting his arm. "You will remember again. But until then, don't dwell on what you've forgotten. Just look at it as a chance to do it all again, to meet everyone again, to experience things that used to be commonplace to you and see them for the wonders they really are. This is your chance to get to know all of your friends in an entirely new way, and when you do get your memory back, it'll make those friendships that much richer and deeper. Don't dwell on the negatives, brother. Try to make something positive out of it."
"When did you get so smart, brat?" he asked with a smile, putting an arm around her shoulders.
"Blame Spyder, Tarrin," Jenna giggled, leaning her head on his shoulder. "She made me this smart."
"I'd rather kiss her," Tarrin told her.
It didn't take the others long for them to find his room. After lunch, he settled in, but was rarely alone. Allia and Allyn came first, and as Tarrin put his clothes away in the trunk, they talked. Or, more to the point, occassionally ignored them during those silences when they were either kissing or staring into one another's eyes. After that, Keritanima joined them, bringing in another Wikuni she named Rallix, her husband. He was a badger Wikuni, with a dark band of fur over his eyes that made him look like a bandit. But where badgers were bulky creatures, this Rallix was rather thin and scholarly looking. He was a soft-spoken fellow, and Tarrin rather liked him. He was quiet while Keritanima talked about how Ianelle had taught her how to Teleport, and now she could jump between her duties as Queen of Wikuna over there and come see him when she wasn't very busy. Rallix seemed a bit casual about his wife's magical capabilities, but all in all, what else could he do but silently accept it.
Camara Tal came in just as Allia, Keritanima, and their men were about to leave, and Tarrin found himself, to his surprise, playing the role of sympathetic ear. Camara Tal had just had another fight with someone named Koran Dar, the Amazon man that was on the Council, who happened to be Camara Tal's husband. The proud Amazon was surprisingly girlish as she lamented her woes to him, as she admitted that she loved Koran Dar, but he wouldn't come home with her because he didn't want the restrictions of a life as an Amazon man around his neck. There really wasnt much he could say or do more than assure her that things were going to work themselves out, and hint that perhaps the best way to get Koran Dar back would be to give in to some of his demands. That seemed to scandalize Camara Tal, but she did have a somewhat thoughtful look in her eyes when she left.
He was only alone a few moments before Sapphire knocked on his door and invited herself in. They had quite a nice little talk, and he kept finding himself staring at her and remembering how she had looked when she was a dragon. He had her tell him all about her lair in the desert and what it was like there. Then he told her all about Aldreth, and the life he at least could remember before leaving home. He was in the middle of that when Azakar and a Knight that Tarrin didn't know arrived, a dark-haired knight named Ulger, who had been Faalken's best friend. Ulger didn't know that Sapphire was a dragon, which was probably for the best, for the man started flirting with her almost immediately. Sapphire seemed a bit shocked, but she almost seemed to be enjoying it as she excused herself to make another attempt to contact her missing children. She did reveal that fact just before she left, probably to see Ulger's reaction. She wasn't disappointed. Tarrin was surprised that the Knight didn't wet his trousers. He'd never seen a pair of eyes bug out that far in his life.
Azakar and Ulger had just stopped by to see how he was doing, and they left not long after Sapphire did, to go down to the training field and work out the cadets. After they left, Tarrin left also, going up to Jesmind's apartment. He spent the rest of the afternoon with Jesmind, Jasana, and Kimmie--Triana was gone again--and he had a very good time. Jesmind didn't push him or prod his lost memory too much, content to just let him play with Jasana for most of the time. He taught Jasana how to play chess, and read a book with her that she'd gotten from the library, a book about the seven thousand year history of the city of Suld. He found Jasana to be quite intelligent and very affectionate. Tarrin found having her sit on his lap with her hair just under her chin to be quite pleasant, and it made him realize just what that flash of memory meant. She seemed to fit perfectly in his lap, and being that close to her, even though she was a Were-cat and he couldn't remember her, he just knew that it was right. It only took one afternoon for him to find love for his adorable little girl. After they finished reading through the book, she put her arms around his neck and put her head against his shoulder, and it completely wrapped him around her furry little finger. He just sat there and held her close for a very long time, marvelling at the fact that she was his daughter.
She fell asleep like that, and after they put her down to bed for a while, Tarrin sat with Jesmind and Kimmie and they told her about the Sha'Kar island, and Tarrin listened while Kimmie told her about the parts that he didn't remember.
Jesmind growled a little after Kimmie finished, and it was an eerie sound. It was not a sound that a human throat could make. "If only that crazy Wizard would finish already!" she huffed. "Where is he, Kimmie?"
"He's still on the ship," she replied. "He's going to move up here tomorrow, but he didn't want to leave the ship until he finished the book he was reading. He didn't want the distraction that moving up here would cause him. Don't worry, Jesmind, he's hard at work on it. I don't think he's slept for three days."
"I should go down there and make him go faster," she said with a frown.
"The more you bother him, the longer it'll take," she said sedately. "I'm going to go down and help him move up his books tomorrow, and then I'll see what I can do to help him in his research. But that's as far as anyone's going to be able to go to helping him. Usually it's just best to stay out of his way."
"Why is it taking so long?" she demanded.
"Jesmind, a god couldn't undo what was done to Tarrin," Kimmie said pointedly. "Does that give you an idea of how difficult this is going to be?"
"Are you serious?"
"Would I lie about something like that?" Kimmie countered.
"I guess not," she snorted. "It's just--you know."
"You can't stand seeing him like that," Kimmie said. "I know, Triana said the same thing. I can't wait to get him back to normal either, but I have to admit," she said, giving him a smile and a wink. "I think he's kind of cute as a human."
"Of course he's cute, but I can't touch him like that," Jesmind said shortly.
Jesmind looked at him and laughed. "I haven't seen you do that since we first met," she told him. "Since we met in the forest, after that Wyvern sank the riverboat you were on."
"Dolanna told me about that, but she didn't know what happened after we got separated," Tarrin said. "She said that I never really told anyone much more than I'd met you in the woods."
"Oh, she knew what happened," Jesmind said with a sly grin. "She just didn't want to tell you."
"What happened?" he asked.
"Well, I taught you how to shapeshift," she said, ticking off her fingers as she spoke. "Then we had our first fight. Then I seduced you the first time, then you pulled that stunt that separated us on either side of an impassable gorge. That's the short version of what happened after the Wyvern sank the ship."
"I, don't remember any of it," Tarrin said after a moment of trying to recall.
"Don't worry at it, my mate," Jesmind told him calmly. "It'll come back to you. You just have to be patient."
"I think I'm more patient than you, Jesmind," Tarrin told her.
"Probably, because I'm not particularly known to be a patient woman," she agreed. "But we just have to have faith. Besides, I think that Wizard knows that if he doesn't find a way to restore your memory, he'll have about ten angry Were-cats hunting him down. I don't think he wants to take that risk."
Kimmie laughed. "I don't think that's occurred to him quite yet," she said. "If it does, he may decide that running away is the better idea."
The apartment door opened, and Dar stepped inside. "Mistress Jesmind, I'm going to take Tarrin to go get something to eat," he announced. "Do you want to come with us?"
"No, that's alright, Dar," she told him. "I'm not really hungry right now."
"I'm fine, Dar," she said with a smile. "Thanks for asking. You and Tarrin go ahead."
Tarrin wasn't particularly hungry either, but Dar looked like he had some other reason to come to get him, so he stood up. "I'll be back later," he promised, then he hurried over to Dar and let the Arkisian lead him out the door.
"Did I get here in time?" he asked in a hushed voice as they walked down the hall.
"Time for what?" he asked.
"To save you from them," he said with a grin.
Tarrin laughed. "Actually, we were having a good time," he answered. "But I can go see them again later. What did you want to do?"
"Eat," he said simply. "Then afterward, maybe we can go do something. Did Jenna show you around?"
He nodded. "Most of the common places. Kitchens, dining rooms, library, gardens, and some places on the grounds."
"Well, we could always take a shot at the baths," he grinned.
"What, you want to see me naked?" Tarrin teased.
"I already have. I'm more curious to see how you handle seeing girls naked," he countered with a wicked smile.
"You're evil, Dar."
"I had a good teacher," he said, slapping Tarrin lightly on the arm. "Seriously, though, you do need a bath. You smell like moldy fur."
"Then Jasana needs a bath," he noted, sniffing at his arm. "She was sitting in my lap most of the afternoon."
"How did that go?"
"Pretty well," he answered. "I like her. She's pretty smart, and she's completely lovable. I think she's got me pretty firmly in hand," he said ruefully. "It's a hard feeling to describe, Dar. She's my daughter. I mean, that alone is enough for me to love her. I look at her, and I don't see the fact that she's a Were-cat. I just see my daughter, and I find that I love her."
"I should hope so," Dar told him with a smile. "I thought she was going to try to bite you or something."
"Everyone thinks she will," Tarrin mused.
"Jasana's got a reputation, Tarrin. Did you know that she first used High Sorcery in an attempt to keep you from leaving her behind in Aldreth? She heard you say that if she used magic, you couldn't leave her. So that's exactly what she did."
"Nobody told me that," he said in surprise.
"Jasana's a very dangerous little girl, Tarrin," Dar told him seriously. "She loves you, but don't drop your guard around her. If she decides she wants to turn you, she will. Be very careful."
"She can't," he told her. "Remember what Triana made her promise? There's no way she's going to get around that. Triana took away every possible way she could do it."
"You talk like she'll keep that promise."
"She will," Tarrin said seriously. "Trust me, Dar. She'll break her own arm before she goes back on that promise, more because she knows how much trouble she'll get into more than the fact that she honors her word. Even Jasana has to know that the trouble wouldn't be worth it, no matter how bad may want me to be a Were-cat again."
"I hope so, but I still say you keep an eye on her, Tarrin," Dar said soberly. "She's the most dangerous thing in this Tower, of that there is no argument at all."
"I'll be careful," he assured him. "Now I'm getting hungry. Let's go raid the kitchen."
With a kitchen like the one in the Tower, raiding it was a rather easy task. The cooks were very quick to offer up any food they wanted, as the katzh-dashi kept no regular schedules and came down to the kitchens whenever they were hungry. Tarrin enjoyed some roasted goose, a few slabs of roasted pork, and some spiced potatos and a thick meat and vegetable stew. Dar took a huge bowl of stew as well, but took some of the strange grain dish that they called rice, something not very common in the West. He filled a bowl with it halfway, then poured his stew over the rice. Tarrin tried it after he saw Dar do it, and he had to admit that the rice did make the stew taste better. They washed it down with some hot spiced wine, something of a specialty of one of the cooks in the kitchens, and after that rather large goblet of wine, Tarrin was feeling a little more adventurous, a little more daring.
"Alright," he said, rolling up his sleeves like a housewife about to tackle the dishes, "let's get this bath out of the way."
Dar looked at him, then nearly fell out of his chair laughing.
The wine did help. Dar led him down into the cellars, and showed him the baths with a grand sweep of his hand. It was a massive pool, about a hundred spans long at least and fifty spans wide, with one end of the pool steaming. The air was hot and muggy, from the hot water, and it smelled slightly like sulfur. Dar told him that the baths were fed by a hot spring, which was why the water was hot and it smelled like that. It was just after sunset, but the late hour didn't make the baths any less popular. About thirty people were currently using them, as Novices in white shirts or dresses scurried around with towels in their arms, staring at the two Sha'Kar who were drying their hair without wrapping towels around themselves. Tarrin already had an understanding of the Sha'Kar, and knew that that was in their character. Sha'Kar weren't too modest.
Tarrin would have felt alot more self-conscious if he hadn't drank the wine. But he did feel a little trepidation as Dar got towels for both of them and led him to one of the many stone benches that surrounded the pool, many of which had robes or clothes folded neatly atop them, slippers or leather shoes tucked under them. Dar grinned at him as he undid the belt of his robe, but Tarrin didn't give him any satisfaction. The wine had bolstered his nerve, and he boldly removed his clothes, even paused to fold them up neatly and set them on the bench, then he stood there without putting the towel around himself and waited for Dar to finish undressing.
"I shouldn't have let you drink that wine," Dar laughed as they slipped into the pool.
The pool was about waist deep on one side, but got deeper as one moved towards the other side of the pool. It had steps descending into the water at the shallow side of the end closest to the stairs leading back up to the main part of the Tower, but the far end of the long pool was empty, for the water was just under boiling and was much too hot for anyone to use. Tarrin and Dar had slipped in along the side of the pool on the shallow end, then they moved out into the middle into warmer water, which also moved them out more or less by themselves. Dar went back for some soap, and then they went about the business of cleaning up.
As Tarrin was scrubbing his face with soap, he was startled when someone literally jumped onto his back. The sudden weight nearly toppled him forward as arms wrapped around his neck from behind, and he realized that he was hearing laughter through the soap that had gotten into his ears. He spat out soap that had gotten into his mouth, and then realized that he was feeling the naked breasts of a woman pressing against his back. The mystery woman tightened her grip on him and jerked him to the side. She was trying to dunk him into the water! One of her legs dropped down and got between his ankles, and then she hooked the back of her heel around his leg and tried to yank it out from under him. She continued to laugh, and Tarrin finally got his ears cleaned out enough to identify that voice.
"Auli!" he barked, twisting aside and managing to make her slide partially off of him. The soap helped in that regard. He broke the grip she had with her hands around his neck, then pushed her out and away. He whirled around and got a face full of water as she splashed him, and as he tried to clear soap and water out of his eyes, she grabbed him by the arm, stepped her leg over his, then pushed him. Her leg kept him from catching himself, and he went under without much resistance.
He came up with an angry expression, but all Auli did was laugh even more. At that moment, the fact that Auli was with them in the baths hadn't impacted on him. "I'm going to show you an Illusion of the expression on your face!"she said with a riot of giggling.
"That wasn't funny!" Tarrin said accusingly, tilting his head to the side and palming his temple to shake water out of his ear.
"I thought it was," she grinned shamelessly. "What are you two doing?"
"What does it look like? We're taking a bath," Dar told her. Tarrin noticed that he was up to his neck in the water. Dar had bent his knees to let the water conceal himself. Auli, on the other hand, had no such reservations. Tarrin had wondered what had been under that dress of hers, and since the water only came up to her waist, he got a good view of some of the things he'd been wondering about. And he had to admit, they looked even better out of the dress than they did in it. She seemed to notice where he was looking, but instead of crossing her arms over her breasts to hide them, she thrust her chest out and advertised the fact that she knew he was looking.
Tarrin did flush a little at getting caught staring, but Auli only grinned at him and splashed him again. "It's about time I found you two," she told them. "What's the matter with you, Dar?" Auli asked.
"Nothing," he said with a blush. "We're taking a bath here, Auli. Can you go over there?"
"I saw you get in the pool, Dar," she grinned. "I've already seen it. You don't have to hide it anymore." She winked. "By the way, did anyone ever tell you that you have a cute butt?"
Dar turned a shade of purple Tarrin had never seen before. That only made Auli laugh harder.
Tarrin wasn't about to amuse Auli. He stared right into her eyes and didn't bend his knees like Dar was. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction the same as he wasn't going to give Dar the satisfaction.
"Thank the Goddess I found you," Auli said with a sigh. "It is so boring!" she complained. "Talk, talk, talk! That's all anyone has done all day! Do this, don't do that, go here, you can't go there, this is your room, this is what you can do, this is what you can't do, I'm tired of it!"
"There's alot you have to learn, Auli," Dar told her. "It's only helping you to learn it."
"I know that, but did they have to spend all day boring me to tears?" she huffed.
"Are you done for today?" Tarrin asked.
"I am," Auli said adamantly. "I haven't had a chance to do much of anything. I came down here to take a bath, and I guess the Goddess favors me, because you two are here. So, what do you want to do?" she asked with a mischevious grin.
"I want to finish my bath," Dar said in a slightly hostile tone.
"Don't let me stop you, Dar," Auli grinned at him. "Want me to scrub your back?"
"I can manage," he said in a sullen tone. "I'd just be more comfortable if you went over there."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because you're a friend of mine," he told her.
"You told me that you bathe with your friends back in Arkis," Tarrin told him.
Dar glared at Tarrin. "Well, they're not Auli," he said.
Then he understood. Auli's flirting with Dar had unbalanced him, and it made him a little uncomfortable to be in the pool with her. Auli seemed to understand it as well, and she laughed lightly. "Oh, is that all?" she asked him, turning around. "Alright then, I'll talk with Tarrin. You go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do." She reached out and snatched up a cake of soap floating on the surface, then waded up to his side and circled behind him. He allowed her to put the soap to his back and start lathering. "What have you done today?" she asked him.
"Not much," he answered. "I moved into a room, and I spent most of the day with my daughter."
"The Were-cat?" she asked.
Tarrin nodded, pulling the braid over his shoulder again after his nodding made it slip behind him. "Sounds like you had a better day than I did," she grumbled. "I've never been so bored!"
"It'll get better," he assured her.
"It better, or I'm going to run away," she said in a slightly sulky tone. Her hands were very gentle on his back, thoroughly lathering every finger of skin above the waterline. He didn't jump when her hands slid down under the water, dangerously close to his backside, but she went no further. She put her hands on his shoulders and pushed, and he realized she wanted him to rinse off. He did so, and when he came back up, she was already halfway around him. "Your turn," she said with a challenging smile. She was daring him to refuse to wash her back.
But Tarrin wasn't one to back down from a challenge. Without batting an eye, he put the soap to her back and started lathering her dark skin. He found it not hard at all to wash her back, mainly because those challenging eyes weren't locked onto his, and he couldn't see anything that would make him feel uncomfortable while he was behind her. He did notice that her skin was very soft, very silky, and her blond hair stood out against it in a very appealing manner. She was very slender, but the flesh under her soft skin was surprisingly firm. He remembered Dar telling him that Auli wandered around alot, and he realized that she was probably in better physical shape than the other Sha'Kar. All of them were thin and looked very soft. Auli had she-softness, but she was in better shape than the others of her race. He scrubbed her back all the way to the waterline.
"Don't be a coward, Tarrin," she said in a light, soft voice. "Do my whole back."
Without a word, he slid his hands under the water and scrubbed with his fingers all the way to the small of her back. But just as she stopped, so did he.
"Are you done yet, Dar?" Auli asked, looking at him as she rinsed off.
"I'm done," he answered. "What do you want to do after we get dressed?"
"We'll find something to do," Auli laughed.
Curiosity getting the best of him, Tarrin reached up and gently pulled Auli's hair away from her ear. Sha'Kar ears tapered up to a definite point, and they gave her a very exotic appearance, much more than her ethereal features. He'd seen their ears all the time from the front and the sides, but had never seen one from the back before. Auli tilted her head and allowed him to look. "What are you doing, Tarrin?" Dar asked.
"I'm looking at her ear," he replied calmly. "I've never seen one from this close before, or from behind."
"Just remember, I get a turn," Auli told him in a teasing voice. "And I won't be looking at your ear."
"Right," Tarrin drawled as he let go of her hair.
"Well, if we're done, let's get dressed and go do something," Auli announced, wading towards the lip of the pool. Tarrin moved to follow her, thinking she'd turn towards the steps once she reached the edge, but he was wrong. She put her hands on the edge of the pool and hauled herself out. Tarrin paused at the edge of the pool and looked up at her as she climbed out, and his view of her left absolutely nothing--nothing--to the imagination. She turned around and looked down at him with that same slow smile, seeming to be aware that him looking up at her that way all but made him look right at her most intimate charm. "Yes, I'm a natural blond. See?" she said with a wicked smile, pointing to the proof.
"Auli, you're nasty!" Dar said in a shocked voice, then he laughed in spite of himself.
"I'm not nasty. I'm beautiful and I know it, boys love to look at me and I like them to look, so why not show off a bit for boys who'll appreciate my beauty?" she countered with a wink and a teasing smile, striking a little pose for their benefit, a pose like some of the sculptures he remembered in Arlan's room back on the island.
"The eyebrows proved that you're a natural blond," Tarrin said dryly as she hauled himself out of the pool. He was not going to give her the satisfaction of thinking he'd be afraid to come out of the pool with her standing there. The cup of wine he drank gave him more courage than he'd usually have, but that almost broke down as well when Auli made absolutely no pretense of excuse. She grinned at him then boldly looked down for a long moment, then looked him in the eyes again and winked.
"You're a natural blond too. And by the way, it should be a crime to cover that up," she said with a very sly little smile, then she turned and sauntered towards her towel. Tarrin was glad she missed him blushing.
Auli's boldness took Tarrin a bit aback, but he knew her, thought he had an idea of her personality, and realized that such behavior would be somewhat normal for her. Auli was Sha'Kar, from a different culture than him, and it was a very different, permissive culture. The others had told him about that. Sha'Kar found the nude body to be a very beautiful thing, a work of living art, so they had very little reserve about showing it off, especially Sha'Kar who were very beautiful. All that nude sculpture in Iselde's house certainly proved that to him. For Auli, looking was no big deal, either boys looking at her or her looking at boys, because it was little more than the appreciation for the beauty of the form. That's why it didn't bother her to have both of them see her nude, even to have them see everything, and it was why she wanted to see all of them in return. Because to her, it wasn't only alright for them to look, she wanted them to look, to see her beauty and appreciate it, and she wanted to look at them in return and appreciate the beauty their forms could offer. Many of the Sha'Kar were like that, he realized. The two who'd been there when they arrived weren't making any attempts to cover themselves up either.
When he understood that, he suddenly did not feel uncomfortable at all in Auli's presence. After all, she was only admiring him, all of him, and what could be wrong with that? She only made the remark to tease him. Were she not in such a playful mood, she wouldn't have said anything.
Dar wasn't quite so quick to grasp that concept. He jumped out of the pool and literally ran to his bench, wrapping the towel around him as quickly as he could.
They dried off and got dressed, Auli in a dress-like robe that was belted at her waist, and then set out to do mischief. Tarrin had enjoyed the last time they'd been together, and Auli did not disappoint this time. Dar showed them around the Tower, and it wasn't ten minutes before the Sha'Kar youth used Sorcery to trip a servant trundling down a hallway with a bundle of folded sheets in her arms. They scrambled out of sight before the plump woman could right herself and cast an accusing gaze across the passageway.
They ranged from the roof of the main Tower to the lowest cellar they could find, from one side of the fence to the other, sneaking around in the darkness and seeing what doors were unlocked and where they could go. They ended up walking in on quite a few sleeping Sorcerers and servants, and even Auli wasn't brave enough to invade the barracks of the Knights on the grounds, but aside from locked doors, they spent most of the night, well past a reasonable bedtime, skulking around just to explore. Auli made it fun to wander around, telling jokes, harassing hapless passers-by with Sorcery, and always speculating what they may find behind the next closed door. Auli had a rich imagination, if a bit lurid, but she could infuse excitement into every closed door, sparking Tarrin's imagination at what they may find on the other side. Auli had turned something as simple as exploring the endless hallways of the Tower into something very fun, very exciting, and very rewarding. When Auli wasn't joking or flirting with Dar, they would all talk, revealing what life was like where they came from and getting to know each other much better. Auli wasn't bashful about her past, admitting it to Tarrin with a straight face, but she did mention that the mental control that had been put on her had made her like that. Tarrin assured her that he knew about it and that it didn't bother him, and when he said that, Auli seemed to relax a great deal. They all found themselves sharing some rather embarassing secrets with one another, even Dar admitting that he had a huge crush on Tiella, something that he hadn't outright said to anyone, but none of them felt very self-conscious about it. They were all friends, very good friends, and he felt very comfortable saying very personal things to both of them. Every hour that passed brought the three of them closer together, until Dar stopped blushing when Auli flirted with him, until he felt completely comfortable with her.
The best part had to be when they crept into the Novices' quarters. Auli gave both of them a roguish grin, then used Sorcery to open every single door along the long passageway. Tarrin watched in amused dread as the doors hovered open for a moment, then they all slammed shut in perfect unison, sending a shockwave of startlingly loud sound echoing up the long passage. The three of them darted away as they all struggled to suppress laughter, laughter that would give them away as Elsa Gaarnhold, the Mistress of Novices, came barelling out of her private chamber wearing nothing but an angry scowl. One Torian Novice staggered out of his room, a boy that looked no more than thirteen, and he gaped at the tall Ungardt in all her unclad glory until she raged at him to return to his room and if she saw his face again before sunrise he'd be sorry he was ever born. They did manage to get out of Elsa's hearing before erupting into gales of helpless laughter.
The exploring did manage one thing, if nothing else. By midnight, Tarrin knew the passages of the Tower so well that he thought he'd been living there all his life. They must have gone up and down every single one at least three times. They had to have walked twenty longspans in the hours that they'd been wandering around, and his feet were starting to get a little tired.
It was well after midnight before any of them started getting sleepy. They had been sneaking around the cellars, trying to find a secret passage that everyone said a building as old as the Tower had to have, just to see if they could manage to do it, when Dar yawned widely. "I think it's about time to turn in," he said. "We can always try again tomorrow, and I'm starting to get sore feet."
"Me too. Let's call it a night. You can show me where your rooms are, so I can find you easier from now on," Auli agreed.
They took her back to the hallway on the fifth level, where their rooms were, and Dar pointed at the doors. "That one's mine, and this one is Tarrin's," he announced. "I'll see you two tomorrow. Night," he yawned.
"Night Dar," Tarrin said as Auli gave him a kiss on the cheek by way of farewell, and he shuffled to his door and went in.
"Well," Auli said, leaning against the wall opposite him and looking at him. "I'm really not that tired. I just wanted to make sure Dar didn't think he was holding us up. "Want to play some chess?"
Tarrin remembered what happened the last time, when she offered to teach him to play...and part of him wanted to see if it would happen again. But the rest of him discounted that. Auli was his friend, he doubted he flirting had been anything more than what it was with Dar. Just a way she played with them. "I hate to say it, but I'm a little tired myself. I don't think we have time for chess, but you can come in and sit for a little if you want," he told her.
"Sure," she said with a smile. "I want to see if your room is better than mine."
She followed him into the room and looked around as he went across and opened the drapes that hid the door leading out onto the balcony. "Good Goddess, did I get raped over the rooms," Auli complained. "My room is like a closet. This one is bigger than mine, and it has better furniture." She plopped down to sit on the bed, and bounced up and down on it a few times. "This is a nice bed," she noted. "Not as soft as mine, but on the other hand, I don't like sinking into my bed like it was quicksand." She looked over at him and patted the bed beside her. "Come sit down," she invited.
"Are you going to blow in my ear?" he asked bluntly.
She looked at him, then laughed. "Only if you want me to," she said with a sly smile.
"Well, I don't," he said to her, and he sat down on the bed by her. "What are you going to do tomorrow?"
"I'm not sure yet," she replied. "Probably more talking."
"What are the Sha'Kar going to do after the talking is over?"
"Teach," she replied. "The humans here are woefully undertrained, and none of them can speak Sha'Kar. We're going to teach them up to our level. I think that's going to take a few decades," she grunted sourly.
"If anything, we have time," Tarrin said.
"It's going to be boring," she complained, flopping down onto her back. "Day after day after day of nothing but teach, teach, teach."
"Before, it was nothing but day after day of party, party, party," he pointed out.
"But parties are fun," she said with a sour look at him.
"Then make teaching fun," he said simply.
"If only it was as easy as saying it," she huffed, looking up at him. "Besides, before I was doing what I wanted to do. Now I have to do things I don't want to do."
"Welcome to the world of growing up," he teased with a chuckle.
"I'd rather be back on the island," she admitted. "I liked it there."
"It was a gilded cage, Auli."
"Maybe, but what a gild," she grinned. She propped herself up on her hands and looked at him in a slightly different way. "I have a question."
"Do you remember anything at all from when you were a Were-cat?"
"Not really," he replied. "Sometimes I get these flashes, but they're more like images, pictures, or feelings. Nothing really solid."
"So you don't remember your girlfriends or your daughter at all?"
He shook his head with a sigh. "I feel sorry for them," he told her. "I know it kills them to see me like this, and it must hurt that I don't remember them. I know it would hurt me if my sister suddenly couldn't remember me."
"I can understand that," Auli nodded, sitting all the way up and turning a little towards him. "I have another question."
"What would you say if I did this?"
And then she leaned forward, put an arm around his shoulders, and kissed him.
It was not a chaste, friendly kiss. There was a passion in it that curled Tarrin's toes in their boots, and he suddenly couldn't remember how to make his arms work. Auli pressed herself against his side more and more as she kept kissing him, pushing at him until she was literally in his lap with her hands on either side of his face to keep him still, continuing to kiss with with that same unbridled passion. Tarrin had never kissed a girl like that, or been kissed like that, at least not that he could remember, and she effectively paralyzed him with her sensual lips. The only way he could seem to move was to put his hands on Auli's shoulders, but he couldn't find the strength to push her away. He didn't want to push her away. He began to kiss her back as the passion in her kiss started working its magic on him, and all his careful plans to not get involved with Auli went up in smoke as soon as the passion of her kiss told him that she had no intention of stopping.
Depending on how one looked at it, what happened next was either good luck or bad luck. Tarrin had no idea the door had been opened, but Jesmind's rather angry shout startled Tarrin so badly that he nearly fell off the bed. Auli whipped her head towards the door so fast her hair smacked Tarrin in the back of the head, and was about to stand up. She did manage to shout in a rather unpleasant voice. "This is a private room!" she said angrily. "Excuse yourself!"
"Just as soon as you take your hooks out of my mate," she said in a vicious tone.
"He can't be your mate," Auli said in a hot tone. "I asked. That means he's available."
"Not for you, Sha'Kar," Jesmind hissed, extending the claws on both her hands meaningfully. "You have a choice. Walk out that door now, or they'll carry you out in six seperate buckets. Decide."
It hung there for a very long moment, and Tarrin used it to try to regather his wits. He'd never kissed a girl before--at least not that he could remember--and he never knew that it could have so much power in it. All he could think of was how nice it felt, and a part of him was furious with Jesmind for barging in and ruining the moment. But that other part of his mind that told him that getting involved with Auli would probably be a bad idea managed to resurface, at least now that Auli hadn't clubbed it into silence with her powerful presence, and he felt a little abashed at having been so easily wooed. He thought that he had a little more self control than that, but then again, he'd never met a girl quite like Auli. Tarrin didn't think many men at all could say no to her, not if they were kissed like that.
With all the grace of a queen, Auli stood up and smoothed her skirt. "I'll see you later, Tarrin," she promised with an inviting smile. "Count on it."
Jesmind glared at the Sha'Kar woman as she swept past her, not even bothering to look at her, then glided out of the open door. Jesmind slammed the door behind her, then stood before it giving him a withering look. "And just what do you think you're doing?" she demanded.
"Well, I certainly didn't plan that," Tarrin told her.
"She did," Jesmind snapped. "You should know better than to get mixed up with a girl like that, Tarrin. She doesn't care about you. She just wants to conquer you."
"Isn't that what you did to me when we met?" he asked pointedly.
Jesmind spluttered slightly, looking a little embarassed, then she cleared her throat. "That was different," she said waspishly.
Tarrin had been a little grateful that she'd interrupted them before it got too serious, but now he was having third thoughts. What was Jesmind doing outside his door? Was she following him around? And what right did she have to barge in that way? His life was his own, and he didn't appreciate Jesmind trying to interfere.
He looked her right in the eyes. "It seems awfully convenient that you just happened to be walking by at the right time," he said in a dangerous voice. "Or was it more than coincidence?"
"I was following you," she admitted without batting an eye. "I'll give you space, Tarrin, but I'm not going to let you wander around alone. This Tower isn't as secure as Jenna likes to think."
Her admission surprised him, yet it didn't. But it certainly made him angry. "I don't need protecting, Jesmind!" he said hotly. "When I moved down here, it was so I could have my own space, my own time. You and Kimmie and Triana aren't going to get around that by standing outside my door and following me everywhere I go!"
"Until you're back to normal, I'll follow you around if I damn well please," Jesmind snapped. "You're too vulnerable like this!"
"I am not a child!" Tarrin shouted at her, jumping to his feet. "Why won't you Were-cats get that into your head?! I don't need a nurse, I don't need a bodyguard, and I damn well certainly don't need you three hiding in my closet!"
"You're in no condition to dictate terms," she said in a seething tone. "Until we can change you back I'll--"
"Whoever said I wanted to be changed back?" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "This is my life! Ever since I woke up, everyone's been telling me where to go, what to do, and you're all trying to plan my life for me, and I'm sick of it! Do you hear, I'm sick of it! It's my life! If I want to change back, I will, but if I want to stay like I am, then that's what I'm going to do!"
The sheer vehemence in his angry voice took Jesmind aback. She stared at him in shock, putting the back of her large, furry hand to her chin and gaped at him with wide eyes. "T-Tarrin!" she said in a startled tone. "I--"
"I don't care what you think!" he shouted, cutting her off. "I like you, Jesmind, but I don't need you treating me like I'm another one of your children! So if you don't mind, kindly butt out!" he said in a mighty crescendo, shaking his fist and stamping a foot to emphasize his ultimatum that much more. When she didn't say anything, he shooed her with his hands. "Go on! Get out of my room! And if you don't want me to avoid all you Were-cats completely, then stop following me around! Do you hear me? Stop it! Just leave me alone!"
Jesmind stared at him in shock, and, to his surprise, fear. She was looking at his hands, and she took a step backwards when he raised both arms to look down, to look at where she was looking. He nearly jumped back himself when he saw that both of his hands were glowing with a strange magical light!
It made him feel something inside, a power, a force that had filled him. He'd been too angry to notice it before, but now he could feel it. It was a very warm energy, a very strong one, and it was like the light of the sun boiling around in his belly. He had no idea how it got there or what he was supposed to do with it, but it simply drained away by itself as he was trying to fathom how it got there to begin with.
He understood. He'd gotten mad, and in his anger, some part of his mind that still remembered had reached out and touched the power of Sorcery. Even if he couldn't remember how to use it with his conscious mind, some other part of his mind could, and had done so.
"I--We'll talk tomorrow, Tarrin," Jesmind said in a hesitant voice as the magical light faded from his hands, and he stared at them in surprise. "When you're calmer."
He heard her leave, but he didn't look up at her. All he could do was stare at his hands in wonder.