(I'm too lazy to do chapters. You may flail me later. Read first.)


"Get away from me, Auryx!" The panther cub blinked in confusion, then ducked, its ears flat against its head as the rock went sailing towards its flanks. The small girl threw another, her aim uncharacteristically on target. When a sharp stone had startled a scream from it, the beast shook and changed, shifting like water, until a boy slightly taller than her, with black hair and hurt amber eyes, stood, nursing a gash on his arm.

"Ikana- thats not nice- I don't like this game!" She stood with her fists clenched, her long scraggly grey hair hiding her long funnel ears, and her eyes, which she stubbornly refused to raise to meet his. "Ikana?"

"Go away!" she shrieked, stomping her foot. "I don't like you anymore!" He took a step back, his eyes wide in pain.

"What? But- but what have I- ?"

"I never want to see you again, you disgucting Urgishai filth!" A rock couldn't have hurt him more. His mouth gaped open, and tears formed in his eyes, eyes that would haunt her for the next twelve years. In whispered horror, he said only her name, once, as though to speak it was sheer agony.

"Ikana..." Then his eyes narrowed, and anger replaced the hurt. "Fine. I knew you were just one of those hateful Seye's." Making fists of his own, he picked up the rock he had been struck with, and threw it back at her, striking her in the shoulder hard enough that when she touched her fingers to the spot, blood came away as well. "I HATE you Ikana Sylestri! I HATE YOU!" In a flicker of an eyelid, a panther tore from the clearing, small spots of blood nearly invisible on his flank. Ikana stared after him until she knew he was gone, forever, and then let herself weep, dropping to her knee's on the ground. He would never come back to the forest again, not to play with her on the branches of the giant weeping willow, not to hide in the burrows and frighten the foxes, never to guide one another through the caves of the pitch black darkness, and certainly never again to proclaim proudly that they would be friends forever. He would never return. He would live, instead. That was how much she cared for him, and it was all she knew how to save him.

"What have you done?" demanded her father, for the seventh time that night. The village elders stood behind him, grim, their ears laying parrallel to the ground. Animal fur wound about their thin bodies, they oozed disgust and anger, impatient fury she could feel even six feet from them, standing alone in the face of her fathers glare.

Her mother had been banned from the room long ago, after she had thrown herself on her husbands mercy to stop beating Ikana. Shivering slightly, the little Seye girl stared at the floor, refusing for the seventh time, to answer him. Her father was impressive in his wrath, his ears wickedly upright, his flaming golden hair like a lions mane around his face, eyes of pure blue snapping.

"I found the Urgishai doll in your blanket, hidden in the corner of your bed!" he yanked the tattered thing from his belt, shoving it in her face.

The blank smiling face was faded, its stitches made with care, and it's Urgishai dress was unmistakeable in its crudeness.

"Do you deny that this belongs to you?" He had given it to her, his most precious possession, the last doll his mother had crafted for him, before dying in a Seye raid. It had been hard to give, and hard to accept, but it was the greatest gift she had ever been given, and not one she would easily forget. He forgave her her race, she could not deny his sacrifice for that forgiveness. Mutely, she shook her head, and reached for it. Her father snatched it back, stuffing it into his belt, and circled her.

"Then you do not deny becoming friends with this..lowly creature?" Biting her lip, she stopped herself from yelling that Auryx was NOT a lowly creature, he was the closest friend she had ever had. If she did nothing, maybe she would be punished less severely, perhaps just beaten, or whipped. Her father looked to the elders, then back at her. He squatted and shook her violently.

"IKANA! You WILL answer me! Where is he? Where do the Seye hide now? Tell us!" She glared at him, and shook her head violently. Without a word, he reached back and slapped her hard enough that her ears rang. "I tell you one last time, girl. Speak!" Eyes full of tears, she sobbed, but did not speak.

"Enough Greidn." One of the elders spoke. "She has obviously become tainted by their barbaric ways." Ikana stomped her foot without thinking.

"It's you who is barbaric! You killed his mother! She didn't do anything wrong!"

"Silence!" Another ringing slap across her face. "You would do well to remember that you are Seye! The blood of kings runs in your blood, not filthy animals like the Urgishai!"

"I wish I was Urgishai!" she shrieked. "I hate you! I hate you!" Furiously, her father stormed to the cooking fire, and yanked the worn doll from his belt. Instantly seeing what he meant to do, Ikana bolted to stop him.

"No Father NOOOO!" He flung the thing into the fire, deep into the burning wood, where it caught easily, the cloth going up in a small puff of smoke, the face burning as she hit her father with her fists.

"I HATE YOU!" she screamed, past the point of reason, remembering only how he had cried over the doll as he told her about its value, how she had sworn with her life to keep it safe and treasure it always. Now it blackened and burnt into nothing as attacked her father with hatred. "I WISH YOU WERE DEAD! I HATE ALL OF YOU! I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!"

"SILENCE!" her father roared, flinging her to the feet of the elders. "You have disobeyed even our most sacred laws! How dare you act this way, and shame me!" Hands grabbed her, and through her tears, she saw her father turning from her, and far off, somber voices speaking as more and more hands grabbed her, restraining her, and taking her from the room.

"You know the law, Greidn. She has tresspassed with a Urgishai brat, and refused a sacred order from her elders."

"I understand the law. Do what you will." Blurry faces moved around her, and she started to fight the arms, even more when a new figure entered the room, hooded and carrying a folded peice of hide. Clinks echoed in the room, suddenly so loud, as he put it on the floor, and unrolled it, revealing many blades of different sizes. Her heartbeat deafened her, almost drowning out her mothers frantic screaming on the other wall, the door thumping as she tried to get through. Ikana's mouth went dry.

"Father! Wait!" he ignored her, unlocking the door to leave, shoving her mother back, who reached through to to Ikana.

"No! She's just a child! You can't do this!"

"Get BACK, Vihalri!" her father ordered, shoving her back roughly. Then all was blocked by the hooded man, who grabbed her face in one calloused hand, and squeezed her jaw open. She fought wildly now, terrified beyond anything she had ever known.

"Hold her." Hands restrained her, forced her mouth open wide, and with eyes wider than plates, she saw the glittering blade, seconds before her mouth exploded into excruciating agony. Screaming, she forced the last word she would ever speak, past the pain.

"NOOOOOOO!"

"Ikana? Where are you?" Grey hair was shoved back behind funnel ears, and bright lavender eyes flicked up to see her aid pushing through the tall ferns, their fronds waving gently in her pasing. Ikana sighed and put her basket down, reaching into her pocket and pulling out the small whistle. Hearing the short burst of sound, the aid glanced over and smiled, her face wreathed in age. "AH child! There you are!" She picked her slow way to the young woman, inspecting her handiwork.

"Wonderful! You've nearly got them all picked clean!" Ikana gestured to her basket, filled to the brim with piles of soft flowers, used for the dyes of their clothes. Yes, she had almost finished, and her fingers ached.

(The indigo blooms later this season- we'll have to be without for a short time.) she signed breifly, taking her basket again, and moving down the line of flora. The elderly woman grimaced.

"I got the part about indigo blooming late, but what was the rest?" It wasn't important. The young woman shook her head, lowering her eyes to the ground. Truthfully, she had been daydreaming again, rather than picking the indigo. Remembering the time she and Auryx had gone exploring up the creek, and found that little nest of hundreds of frogs, and spent the entire day trying to build a castle for them to live in, only to find them leaping out and-

"-to the rest." She blinked and stared at her aid. Oops. She hadn't realized the woman had still been speaking. The aid was a good woman, but really, there wasn't much she actually did. No doubt she was merely a spy of the elders, watching her like a hawk in case she managed to get in touch with the Urgishai again. They shouldn't have bothered. Auryx wouldn't allow her to find him again if he didn't want her to. Blinking past the stinging in her eyes, she finished stripping the fronds, and handed the basket to a passing midwife. They'd take it, mash the flowers into pulp and use it to dye their fabrics for the village.

"Ikana, you should be getting back home. It is nearly suppertime, and your father has returned from the trade route to Dreier." Every time someone mentioned her father, cold hatred blossomed within her, and with a slight nod, she picked up the skirts of her long grey dress, and took the longest route back home, her chin held high.

Even if she could speak, she wouldn't have awknowledged him past a glance. Not after he had left her to tend to her terminally ill mother, and gone to trade with the Kilesh clan three weeks travel away. A mute ten year old could do nothing for such a sick woman, and he had returned to find his wife Vihalri buried, and the house in mourning. That's when they had gotten the woman, Jera, to be the aid, and follow her wherever she went, to insure nothing she did, or anything she couldn't do, was taken care of. She had developed a crude signing language, which her father flatly refused to learn, and the old woman could barely interpret.

Children in the village shunned her for being different, and she grew, and they learned why her tongue had been cut from her mouth, she was shunned for associating with an Urgishai animal. None would speak to her, and certainly none would try to learn her language. Entering her home, she began to prepare the meal, as always wondering what they would do if she poisoned him. She knew everything about herbs and flowers- as they needed no language, no words to grow and thrive. She could certainly poison him, if she just dared. But no-she was no killer. Instead she sprinkled salt on the cooked meat, and set the plate down at his place, placing the jug of ale down exactly as he came through the door, dropping his large sacks by the door, and striding across the room immediately to sit.

She ignored him, as always. They would never speak, preferring to ignore the other with disgust. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smiling, sneering more like it, which meant he was pleased about something. Very pleased. His golden hair was dimmer, more like straw these past few years, and his eyes no longer burned as fiery as they had before. Now he was just some aging man, one she no longer feared. She filled her own plate, sliding into her seat without so much as a head nod. Carefuly she cut her meat small, and chewed carefully, the absence of no tongue making it excrutiatingly hard to deal with most foods. She had nearly starved the first year, until her mother began chopping things finely, planning meals of soft foods for her, that she may eat.

"This year is your twentieth year of age." her father said suddenly, breaking the heavy silence. She hadn't thought he remembered, and didn't even know why he was bringing it up at all. Every year she received a new dress, bought from the latest trade route, nothing more, nothing less. "And there is none in this village who would have you for wife." She nearly laughed aloud. So that was it. He wanted to be rid of her.

"Wear the dress I have bought, tonight we have guests, and I require that you look presentable." Face flushed in anger, she bite her cup as she drank, trying not let him get a rise from her. All he wanted was another excuse to hit her. She finished eating, and unpacked his bags, surprised. For what he had taken, he had recieved much more than she thought it was worth. He often traded Seye clothing and craftswork with Dreier, Kilesh, Laruun and Ishak, but never had he gotten as much as this. Usually he returned with new dyes, or jewelery and weapons. Now he had returned with bolts of fine fabric, jewelery unlike any he had gotten before, and many bolts of fine arrows, fletched with feathers dipped in dye. He must have struck some incredible bargain, which explained his general air of satisfaction.

However, when she found the dress he had wanted her to wear, she gasped and went before him, holding it against her body in horror.

(What is THIS?) she signed in rage, momentarily forgetting he didn't know what her hand movements meant. (What is it!)

"Ah, I see you found the dress. Your preference for grey was getting tiresome." He eyed her figure critically in such a way that she narrowed her eyes suspiciously back at him. "I believe maroon suits you well." Aghast, she flicked her fingers against the neckline, nowhere near her neck, and completely inappropriate for guests, then down to the waist, where ribbons were obviously designed to strap the dress to your figure tightly, leaving nothing for the imagination. She gave him a wide-eyed, astonished look.

He got to his feet, his eyes snapping a bit like they used to, and thrust the dress at her.

"You will wear it, and you will serve our guests with all propriety, do you understand? Until you are no longer under this house's protection, you will obey me!" With that, he sat again, and finished his meal, disappearing into his room once every scrap of food was gone from it. She stared at the dress, mouth twisted in dissaproval.

It looked like something a woman from the bigger towns would wear, not a forest Seye girl. Growling at his door, she threw it on her bed, and began making a richer course for the guests. He would beat her if it wasn't something delicious and rich. Luckily she knew herbs, and could make even the blandest dish a delight to consume. Once the bread was rising, and the stew boiling merrily, she reluctantly donned the dress, tying the ribbons around her waist until breathing was more of a difficulty than usual. Mortified, she noted how low the neck plunged, revealing more than she was comfortable with. But, it was simple enough to wear a dress and avoid a whipping, even a dress as embarrassing as this one. When nearly half an hour had passed, she heard the knocking on the door.

"Ikana." her father called. Hurriedly she brushed her hair in a few swipes, and smoothed her dress, and her composure, at the same time, coming from her room face to face with three very large men, obviously from the south, hunting knives and boots, long beards and a smell...by the gods...the smell! She set her jaw so she wouldn't wince, and inclined her head gracefully. Rudely, they just stared at her, appraising her with their eyes.

"Gentlemen, may I present my daughter, Ikana Sylestri, twenty years old this autumn." She nodded to them all seperately, giving her father an odd look.

"And you say she does not speak?" asked the tallest, his voice grating and low.

"Correct, due to an unfortunate accident when she was very young." Accident! Flushing, she led them to the table, and served them, going out of her way not to bend and lean as she usually did. This dress was causing problems already, and she hadn't even gotten their names yet. "Masters Custos, Craven, and Lord Plagow.They are finishing up business negotiations with me tonight." She nodded and finally served herself, aware of their eyes on her, though she never looked up from her own plate. They exclaimed over the food, and her father looked even more smug, though she had no idea why.

"So she cooks, and does not speak." Custos commented through a full mouth. "How are you that lucky, Sir Greidn?" She stiffened in her chair. Lucky! She decided very solidly that she hated these men very much. The tallest one watched with eyes that never blinked, and the other two seemed to find something vastly humorous, sharing looks with each other. With all the pride she could muster, she finished her food in absolute silence, vowing never again to cook anything as fine for her fathers guests. It was like using your best dress to clean the floor.

They all swapped jokes, and her father laughed uproariously once or twice, but nothing out of the ordinary happened until she was cleaning up their plates, and they retired to the front to lounge amongst the soft chairs, and speak in low tones. She just barely hear them if she blocked out the clink of the plates as she cleaned.

"Everything seems as you promised."

"So we have an accord? I am satisfied if you are."

"Will there be any problems?"

"None you cannot handle. Trust me." And with that they all looked at her, in the strangest way. She was delighted to see them leave, and barely waited before they exited, to shut the door on them and shudder. Her father watched her, then retired to his room, locking his door firmly.

What a day.

She cleaned every last plate, then finally was able to go to her own room, locking the door, and opening her little window for the night air. Off with this hideous dress, she thought in relief, and had just barely untied the ribbons, when she was grabbed. She screamed in panic, and a hand went over her mouth, a sac went over her head, and hands, bruising hands, threw her down. Like a lioness she fought, and like a shadow in silence, but she was overwhelmed.

In the dark, she flashed the memory of the tongue-cutting back in her mind, and her panic grew. She hadn't done anything! What were they doing to her now? She tried to call for her father, but only senseless noises came out.

"Quiet!"

"No trouble he said-"

"Just hit her- it will be easier that way anyway." He said-? Sudden pain on the side of her head, and she knew nothing else.

When she came too, her head was throbbing, and sunlight was streaming into her eyes too brightly for her to remain asleep anymore. She moaned, and tried to feel her head. It was then she realized she was bound hand and foot, on the floor of what seemed to be a wagon. A moving wagon. Startled, she jerked upright. Yes- yes she was in a moving wagon, filled with sacks and crates, and a familiar stench she couldn't quite....Those men! She rolled to her knees, and managed to get to her feet, swaying and falling against the wagon wall. Looking out the one window, she recognized the man Craven, easily riding a horse a few feet ahead. She had been kidnapped! She jerked her head back in before anyone saw, and quickly leaned down, untying her feet with her hands, then started to gnaw on the rope holding her hands bound. What wicked twine was this? In her panic, she couldn't seem to get her shaky hands in the right places, and without a tongue, she wasn't able to feel the ropes to bite. At least her feet were freee. Maybe she could sneak out and-

"To the side!" a voice a called out, and several voices replied back as the wagon lurched, paused, and headed to the left abruptly. "Water the horses here!" Where? To her further horror, she realized that she could hear rushing water. Dear Ancients, if that was the river Rein, then she was in trouble. She'd never been outside the forest, and the river was well outside the boundaries of the Seye lands, she remembered once from her fathers recounts of his travels. Suddenly a face passed her, and backed up, Craven on his horse. He stared at her neutrally, then turned on his horse to yell back towards the front.

"Plagow! She's awake!" He flicked his eyes over her face. "He won't be happy Custos got you bloody. Oh well. Not my skin." He left, urging his horse further along, and she'd hardly registered the fact that dried blood was what made her hair feel stiff when she touched it, when Plagow, the tallest, staring one reigned his horse near her. Critically he looked her up and down, frowning at the blood.

"The baffoon. Thats the second time he's damaged my goods. It had better be the last." She stared at him, eyes wide in confusion. What did they want? Ransom? It would be an ironic joke, for them to expect her father to give anything for her. In fact, if he had his way, he would have tra- She froze.

"Everything seems as you promised."

"So we have an accord? I am satisfied if you are."

"Will there be any problems?"

"None you cannot handle. Trust me."

By the gods. She stumbled back, her arms and legs suddenly bloodless and weak. By the gods! Her own father? Plagow peered in after her.

"Don't break anything. I paid quite a bit for you, but I will not tolerate you breaking anything. We are watering the horses. As soon as Craven cleans your wound you are to make my men their mid-day meal." He turned his horse and winked at her crudely. "Then have Craven show you to my wagon, and I can give you further instructions."

The look as he rode off made her skin crawl. By all the nine hells she would! Did he think her a simpleton? The flaps of the wagon were flung open, and Craven climbed up, carrying a rough peice of cloth, and a cup of water. He leered at her and set the things down, glancing out the window once before circling her slowly.

"Your father said you can't talk, which we find very interesting." He lifted her chin, trailed his hands through her hair, and when she snarled at him, he grabbed her face roughly. "You'd better be on your best behaviour. Plagow may have spent alot of good items on you, but he doesn't mind beating his women into compliance, so you'd best learn to take orders."

He released her, and she trembled in rage at his words, his implications. With one hand, he gestured to her, with his other, he pulled closed the flap to the window, sending them into darkness.

"Now I'm supoosed to clean your wounds up, but how do I know if you have any wounds anywhere else? Take off that dress and I'll check." She raised her eyebrows, shocked beyond even panic. Did he truly think she would? He made an impatient gesture.

"Come on!" Her eyes narrowed. Slowly she moved towards him, her eyes locked on his, and his slow leering grin, but when she got near enough for him to reach for her, she reached for the cup, hurled the water in his face, and shoved him against the wall, leaping from the wagon, pausing only when the sunlight blinded her painfully. Then she began to run, in any direction, she didn't care, as long as it was away from them- the whole lot of leering, stinking men.

To her relief, she saw outcroppings of boulders and trees beyond. Forest meant maybe she still had hope to find her way back. At least, she had hope until the thundering of horses behind her made her spin around to face the three, glaring at her, Craven with his face dripping.

"You have a brain," commented Plagow easily, leaning over his horse. "Which your father never warned me about. But you have no escape. You are mine. Bought and paid for legally." he produced a rolled up paper with words in small handwriting. "Which proclaims that the bearer of this, owns you, completely and without question, to do with as he see's fit. Now come here, and I will be lenient." Her heart was pounding so hard, it felt like it was slowly making a hole in her chest.

"COME HERE!" he snapped, so sharply it echoed. A small pebble dropped and tumbled merrily down the boulders behind her. Strange that she heard it. Plagow glanced up, then slowly straightened in the saddle.

"Craven-as soon as it moves- ride back to warn the others." Craven looked up to where she couldn't see, and snorted.

"Plagow, its just an animal." Custos looked in another direction, and his eyes widened.

"There's another!" Ikana, trembling, slowly turned, and finally had to raise her eyes to see. A few feet away, standing calmly on the tops of the boulders, was a wolf, old and grizzled. It's ears slowly swiveled, and with eerie precision, it turned to look at the other animal, a glossy panther- the sight of which made Ikana's mouth go instantly dry.

"Craven. Go. Now."

"But- there's only two of them- surely they-"

"GO!" As soon as Plagow yelled, the wolf leapt. Craven's horse screamed and bolted back to the others as wolves began pouring out from around the boulders, snapping and flowing around Ikana like water. She spun in terror as they seemed to come endlessly in waves, flooding towards the men in yelping masses.

One of them paused to bare its teeth viciously at her, approaching with violence in its eyes, but before she had time to scream, the grizzled wolf tackled it, sending it yelping back to the throngs. Ikana held her head in her hands, sure that at any moment, she'd be torn open by one of the creatures, not understanding why they bypassed her as though she were invisible. Plagow and Custos had fled, abandoning her, but they were overtaken quickly, the horses brought down in squealing terror as death leapt on them in joy. The men disappeared in a choatic mass of fur and teeth, and far off, she heard men shouting from the wagons as the tide of predators reached them and began to create havoc .

The wolves were past her now, seemingly at least a hundred giant animals, and for the life of her, she didn't know why they had left her alone. You don't forget a miracle such as this, however. She took a step back, thanking all the gods she could think of, even inventing some of her own, and turned to run.

Instead, she nearly collided with yet another man, simply watching all of this carnage and fury. His black hair was short and untamed, his amber eyes cold as he stared at her in much the same way as the men had when they came to her home. He wore black, all black cloth cut in the hunter fashion, with belted pants that tucked into boots, and a vest with nothing else but a knife sheath. She took a few steps back when his eyes narrowed angrily over her.

"You are Seye, aren't you?" He reached forward and fingered her hair, the dark greyish charcoal it had deepened to last year. "I recognize the ears." A wolf appeared by her side, making her step aside quickly in fear, earning a withering glare from the man. "They will not harm you while they have no reason. Unlike Seye," he added venomously, "We Urgishai are not barbarians. No matter what you people think."

Now it made sense, as she turned and stared at the wolves, some already changing back to men and women, looting the wagons in the distance. The grizzled wolf was their leader, and here he returned, shifting as he walked, until he smiled jovially, carrying a rolled up paper, his eyes a light amber, as all the Urgishai had. He was very old, but she could tell by watching him walk that he was in no way helpless or weak.

"Well. This was a great haul. They were headed home after a trade-the wagons are full of gifts. Here, we found this on the leader." She recognized the ownership papers, and winced. The man scanned them, quirking an amused smile as he rolled it back up and put it in his belt for safe-keeping.

"Roarke, it seems we've found ourself a new cook!" Face flushed, she balled her hands into fists. If they thought for one second, that she was going to willingly pass from hand to hand like some common object, then they were wrong. Roarke crinkled his face into a grin.

"What's your name, girl?" Seething, she set her jaw. The two of them stared at her, then at each other.

"He asked you what your name was, Seye. I hardly think you are above us anymore. Not by this." he waved the paper again. Hatred ran through her. How DARE he? Roarke peered at her.

"I know you understand, I can see your anger, woman, so don't pretend its that."

"Pity the men are all dead, we may have at least had her name." the other said lightly. From behind them, a younger man jogged forward breathlessly.

"Roarke! Auryx! come see!" Luckily the two had turned towards the boy by the time this registred with her. Blood froze in her body.

Her heart stopped, and nothing worked except her mouth, which parted in horror. It couldn't be. It couldn't be HER Auryx!

They were facing away, conferring with three others, everyone else was looting. This was the perfect opportunity to run. So she did, at top speed, until a panther scream erupted almost directly behind her, and she tripped over the cursed dress, tumbling just in time to avoid being tackled by the irate animal. It had so much force as it slammed back onto the ground, it skidded on the grass, and twirled to block her way, teeth bared.

Slowly she righted herself, standing on weak knees. Who was this surly, outraged person? Where was the boy who had playfully let her scratch his head on warm nights? What had happened to him in all this time, to turn him into this? He hadn't hated Seye this badly, or even at all! Staring into his slitted eyes, the horrible thought struck her, and made her blink back tears. Had she done this to him?

"It's not wise to anger Auryx, woman." She twirled, relieved to see Roarke. He had spared her from the wolves before, she felt that maybe he held more mercy in him than others, to spare her again. She fled behind him, staring at Auryx in amazement. He was completely different, if this was the way he reacted to a girl fleeing for her life and freedom. But, she bit her lip in an attempt not to cry, I'm not a girl to him, am I? I'm Seye. Just like his people are to us. Urgishai.

"Auryx. Calm down. Woman, you better start acting with a little more wisdom. There is one of you, and hordes of us. Now. Let's start over." He faced her, as Auryx shifted back to himself, fists clenched. "What is your name?" Frantically, she cast her eyes about for a solution, finally realizing the loose dirt around them. Dropping to a crouch, she put a finger down, then paused. There was no way in all the nine hells she was going to reveal who she was. She was surprised and grateful he had yet to realize it himself. Roarke and Auryx waited with furrowed eyebrows. Slowly, she carved a name in the dirt, one that she loved, and one he would never recognize. Twisting around, Roarke read it aloud.

"Vihalri? That's your name?" She neither nodded nor shook her head, simply stared at their boots. What now? What would they do to her? A Seye slave.

"Well then come, Vihalri. You belong in our group now, until we decide otherwise." Auryx frowned.

"Do we really want to take a Seye back to the clan?" His friend laughed.

"She's under our protection, no one will harm her. Very much, anyway."

"I was considering more the fact that she might escape and reveal us to the other Seye. I don't want the children burning in their cradles, sinply because we gave mercy to one girl." Blood pounded in her ears, but at the same time, his suspicion was so impossible, she laughed bitterly, roughly scraping her name out of the ground.

"Auryx..." Roarke thoughtfully watched her, and finally placed a hand on the mans shoulder. "Maybe we should set up camp here for the night. I need to speak to you."

"Very well. We can further think about taking her back, or selling her to someone else who likes Seye looks." The grizzled man gave a short nod, and two wolves appeared on either side of her, so close, their hot breath felt like it burned her skin.

"I don't think we will. Lads, take Vihalri to one of the wagons. Make sure she stays there."

The tent flaps opened abruptly. Rubbing sleep from her eyes, Ikana drew away from the figure sillhouetted by the dancing fires outside. It was very late, she could tell, if not the next day already.

"Come with me please. Roarke wishes to see you in Auryx's tent." She was led past slumbering wolves, quietly talking men and women, who gave her thinly-veiled glances of anger. They disliked her here, she could tell. Why shouldn't they? She was Seye, a child of the peoples who had hunted them for years, thinning their numbers, and using their bodies as rugs.

Every eye flicked in her direction, every gaze that hardened on her, reminded her how long it had been since someone had looked upon her with happiness, or even without hatred. One man even spat at her feet, throwing her into stunned surprise. Well...

"Here," the guide said calmly, opening the flap of the large tent, and ushering her inside. It was fairly large, warm, and had only Roarke, Auryx and a small table with a chair beside them both. What were they up to? She couldn't read anything in either the wold leaders eyes, nor her long ago companion. Roarke nodded to the table, and dismissed the guide with a look. Was that good or bad?

"Sit, please Vihalri." She noticed the paper and feathered pen, her eyes lighting up, fear forgotten. Yes! They had figured it out! Now she could write and tell them....tell them.... She sat slowly, her mind a blank. Tell them what? Not the truth. Auryx would be on her in panther form faster than you could bat an eye. No. She mustn't say the truth. Roarke folded his arms, and glanced at Auryx, who in turn cleared his throat uncomfortably.

"Vihalri...I have been informed that all the gestures you make, may actually mean something."

(Yes!) she signed excitedly. (It does! Wonderfully smart men!)

"But, " cut in Roarke, "We don't understand it. Hence the pen and paper."

(Idiots,) she signed, and rolled her eyes. (They are completely idiotic men!)

"You are wrong." She opened her eyes wide. Auryx raised a eyebrow at her, and frowned. "You forget- we Urgishai read body language as well. I can read yours as though you were a book for me to inspect at leisure. Do not hurl insults, slave." he took too much pleasure in adding that last lingering word, and it made her bristle in reply.

"Enough. Auryx, refrain for some time. We are here to gain information, not squabble with a girl who cannot speak." Roarke snapped, and nodded to the paper. "First question, why do you not speak?" Stiffly, and with as must regal pride as she could muster, she quietly scratched a reply.

I have no tongue

"How did this come to be?" asked the wolf leader, frowning. In her mind, she wieghed the fact against a plausible story, and figured the closer to truth she stayed, the better off she would be in the long run.

A childhood event. It is of no concern

"Is that why you were sold? No tongue?" Very well may be.

Yes

"Enough." Auryx stood over her impressively, his arms folded, his face stern, so stern. When had he changed so? "Tell me how the Seye fare."

Well, considering. There are many births, and although many deaths as well, the people thrive, she wrote carefully. Roarke crouched near her, smiling kindly, and soon Auryx copied, looking over her shoulder at the paper.

"Who is on the Elder Council, child?" Hah. They wanted to know how the politics waged then.

Grenen Froastiv, Lios Vaskeler, Brumigdt Tiopioin, Weska Eskali, she hesitated, then forged on bravely, wondering if he would remember...Greidn Sylestri, Hakdanahi Reveles, Qui-

"What?" Her mouth closed, as dry as if she had been speaking to him directly. "Greidn Sylestri?"

"Sylestri..." Roarke puzzled over the name. "I do not know it." There was a long silence, then the young man sighed.

"I did. Continue." Biting her lip, she did.

-lik Azuzi, and Frkekerith Buldosi.

"It is weak then, Auryx.None of those, save Lios Vaskeler, ever fought against us."

"We could certainly take them by surprise-there is no doubt." Now she looked at them both, then snatched up the paper.

What are you saying? Before they could even register what they had read, she was scribbling again. What do you plan to do?

"Do not trouble yourself, Vihalri." Roarke patted her head, and before she quite knew what she was doing, she had growled at him. Both the men looked at her.

"Where did you learn that?" Auryx demanded.

(Learn wh-oh for ancients sake..) she scribbled furiously. Learn what?

"This one is just shrouded in mystery, isn't she, Auryx? First she doesn't speak, and now she very clearly growls a warning in the Urgishai way." Oops.

A friend taught me, she wrote. Long ago.

"And what friend would know even the first thing about Urgishai speak?" His tone infuriated her, so much that she scribbled without regret.

Ikana Sylestri! Auryx growled when he saw this, and whipped away her paper to stare at the name.

"You know her?"

(Well, I AM her, but since you have no idea what I am doing, it hardly seems worth it to sign, doesn't it?) He slapped the paper down.

"You have sealed your fate, Vihalri. No friend of Ikana Sylestri's will ever be welcome in my home, mute or not!"

"Auryx!" Roarke snapped. "You really need to leave this be. That was years ago. This girl couldn't have been any older than you, why do you blame her as well?"

"How well did you know Ikana?" he demanded, completely ignoring his friend.

Very well, she coldly wrote, then shoved the paper at him, refusing to write anything else. (You horrible, twisted boy! If you only KNEW! Well! I'm not going to enlighten you, rage-filled peice of- )

"I think she's angry at you," Roarke chuckled, and stilled her hands. "Young woman, I will ask for him, since he never will. What has happened to Ikana? Is she well?" For a long time, Ikana didn't move, then slowly, she reached for the paper, and cleared her throat before writing a reply in her smooth, elegant handwriting.

The Ikana Sylestri you speak of, is dead. She is no more. Auryx stiffened, then curtly nodded his head once. Before exiting completely, he looked at Roarke.

"Do what you will. There is no way she could reveal our home. Let her see what her people's lapdogs have become."

And that was how she found herself escorted into a mountain, blindfolded and mute, pulled along by a rope around her hands, through infinate darkness, and finally emerging into sunlight, many many voices, and when she was at last allowed to see, she gasped. The Urgishai lived in the tree's!

The tall woods were so reaching, they disappeared into the clouds, layered with wooden houses amongst the branches. There were none on the ground but her and the escorting wolves, Roarke and Auryx, and as she watched, the few wolves with her leapt impossibly to large boulders, from rock to rock until they were high above her, and made one last leap to the wooden platforms leading into the interwoven branches and bridges hung with rope.

There they were greeted by family, she supposed. Roarke laughed as she nearly stumbled backwards, staring up with mouth open.

"Predators, Vihalri. There are Oacar here, but they do not climb."

"Neither do Seye," interrupted Auryx, "Which makes me wonder how she is to gain entry. She cannot stay down here, not without protection."

"I assumed her Seye magic would protect her well enough." Auryx glanced at her, almost in a piteous way, that made her look down in shame. Yes. The Seye magic.

"No my friend. The Seye speak their magic words. Vihalri cannot, and so she has no Seye magic." Anger burnt through her. Not at him, but at her own people. They had taken more than just her words, but the very thing that marked her as Seye, the magic they all had, the link with the air spirits to protect them. Another reason her father had, to sell her as such useless objects he usually did.

"Then I shall stay down here." Roarke pronounced suddenly. "She cannot be left here defenseless. The Oacar would feast on her bones before she even knew they were there." Ikana went white. Auryx glanced to the heavens for strength, it seemed, and shook his head.

"No Roarke. Hedja would kill me if I let you do that. I shall stay."

"My wife does not rule me!" he sputtered. "She just...may voice her concerns. Loudly."

"Let us spare the colony the voiced concerns at midnight, shall we? I shall stay down here, as loathe as I am to do so." He gave her an unfriendly look that made her bristle once more. He would not stop reminding her how much he hated her, would he?

"That reminds me...Joqual!" Within seconds, a pair of animals came racing down the bridges, bouncing from rock to rock in crazed headlong excitement, coming to a rolling stop nearbye, in a large ball of dark brown fur and amber eyes.

"Chidits." explained Roarke, laughing at her expression. "Somewhat like squirrells. These two are very very rare. Orphans in fact. Joqual, Denwit, I'd like you to meet Vihalri, a Seye...guest." The animals crawled closer, about two feet long each, with short, elegant hands and feet, and a long tail with rings around it. They flicked their small ears and glanced at each other curiously before perking up and staring at Roarke.

"Enough you two. They are twins," he explained to her, "Very amusing twins." In a shuddering move, they shed the fur, and were suddenly two handsome young men, with dark brown hair and laughing eyes, dressed in dark green clothes, crouching as they grinned.

Twins indeed! The only difference between them was the jagged scar on the left mans face, curving down his cheek before ending suddenly on his jaw.

"We believe it was his clans way of telling them apart," explained Roarke patiently. 'We do not know to where they belong, but it doesn't matter anymore. They are our clan now. The one on the right, without the scar, is Denwit, the elder. The other is Joqual, the one I really want you to meet."

"Can't this wait, Roarke?" asked Auryx with a sigh. "We have so much to do."

"That is why it is best done now, while we haven't become enmeshed in business. The sooner she starts to learn, the better for all of us." Denwit and Joqual looked at each other, and to her surprise, Joqual made a quick motion with his hands. He was mute?

"Yes Joqual. Vihalri needs you two to teach her your language. She has her own, but I'm afraid its different than what we know. Go with the twins," he told her, "And pay attention. They'll have you speaking something we can understand by the time Auryx and I have finished unloading our spoils from your friends back there."

If she had a tongue to stick out, she would have. Instead she followed the two grinning men as they headed off, Joqual walking backwards, towards a large outcropping of boulders, that didn't seem to lead anywhere, reluctantly looking back at the other two, but they were gone. This was all very strange.

"So, your name is Vihalri?" Denwit proclaimed, turning suddenly, and hopping up on a rock to sit. "First lesson, this-" he pointed to Joqual, who dutifully made a motion, "Means yes. Please copy!" Blinking, she did, and was rewarded with sudden clapping from them both. It was so sudden, and so sincere, she started laughing. Didn't these two understand she was Seye? Their enemy?

"Now, for lesson two- the word 'no'. Joqual please-" he made a motion. Denwit frowned. "Yes! do it!" Joqual made the motion again, a bit harder. "I SAID DO IT, NOW DO IT!" Suddenly they were both animals again, scuffling in loud chittering squeaks as they rolled off the boulders into the dirt. Vihalri burst into new laughter once she realized the joke.

(Stop, stop stop- you two are crazy!)

"Look Joqual, she speaks!" Human, they watched her signing, only making her laugh again as they froze in mid-fight. Joqual rolled his eyes and pushed his brother off him.

"Allright, allright. Let's get serious. Roarke said we'd have her speaking by nightfall, and by golly- we will!" Word after word, they showed her, starting with the generic ones, such as ; tree, rock, food, water,sleep, soon going into the more specific ones, such as; tired, funny, go, stay, dream, take.

Finally, when the sun was setting, and darkness was blanketing them all, she was repeating words such as; very,am, is, was, do, will, can. Joqual was grinning by the time they stopped, and signed slowly so she could understand.

(I can finally tell you- you are very pretty.) At least, she thought that was what he said. She was still trying to get used to their way of signing, so what she saw was- (I can speak you -you pretty) Denwit slapped his face in mock dismay.

"Now it starts! All he does is see one pretty girl, even if it is a chipmunk, and he never stops!" A sudden cry from the tree's interrupted their laughter.

"Oacar!" She spun around in fright, but Denwit touched her elbow reassuringly.

"Nono- its okay. They call out when it gets to be the time of night that the Oacar awaken. We should get up to safety though."

(How can I? The rocks-are animal only.) She flicked her fingers, annoyed that she was sounding like an infant.

"Ah yes, the rocks are there for the animals to leap up. I bet Roarke has a solution though. Stay here Joqual. I'll be right back." Denwit shifted to chidit, and scrambled up the rocks, bouncing back up and into the tree tops, into darkness. The silence was deafening, and it made her shiver, remembering the way Roarke's eyes had mentioned the Oacar. She didn't even know what they were.

(What are-dangerous animals?) He made a sign in reply. She didn't understand, until it finally dawned on her he was showing her the sign for the Oacar. (Oacar- what they look like?) He paused, and thought.

(Big animals. Sharp teeth, and long. Claws very sharp. Dark fur, like- ) she didn't understand the rest of it. He was about to explain, lifting his hands once more, when suddenly his eyes went large, and he suddenly darted forward, shoving her out of the way. Immediately a sharp hiss went past her, and she turned to see a creature as dark as shadow itself burst from the tree's, straight for her.

Joqual snapped at her, towards the rocks, and shifted into the suddenly tiny-seeming chidwit. He wanted her on the rocks- because Oacar couldn't climb- but what about him? No way the small squirrell creature was going to- Suddenly the chidwit hissed like a snake, and nearly doubled in size, its fur fluffing out in such a way that was almost comical, except for the fact that a very large predator was coming at her.

She scrambled to get up the rocks, cursing the stupid dress she still wore that made it harder than ever. A sharp cry, and she twirled again to see Joqual flung aside, weaving hesitently when he stood, and shaking his head for a moment. She couldn't even call for help, or make him see that the Oacar was coming after him, large paws stepping surely and confidently towards the smaller animal.

Casting her eyes about, she saw a rock a few feet away, and ran for it, hurling it with all her strength at the large beast. It smacked him in the flank, and it paused, turning its glowing eyes on her, and snarling, showing very long teeth bared in a menacing grin. And then it slammed into the dirt, and she didn't understand, until she saw the flash of anothers teeth, and nearly fell to the ground in relief. Auryx. The two were black as ink, and in the darkness, she couldn't see what was who until the wolves came as well, piling into the fray with yelps and barks.

Joqual!

She ran to the animal, sucking in a breath when she saw the wound on his face. He blinked back blood, and stared up at her dazedly.

(Joqual!)

"Is he hurt?" Demwit slid next to her from a run, and inspected him quickly. "Oh gods he is- I have to get Iba!" She grabbed him suddenly. It had taken him such a long time to get up in the tree's, she wasn't sure how much blood Joqual would lose if he left again, and he certainly wasn't going anywhere. Pounding her fist on the ground, she tried to think of how she could tell him the plant she needed. Quickly, she drew in the dirt, staring up at him to make him see. Demwit frantically shook his head.

"I don't- what is it- a plant?"

( YES! Find! Hurry!) He squinted at it.

"I- I don't know what it is- hurry- color and smell- tell me!" Intelligent boy! Wonderfully smart boy!

(Yellow flower, smells- smells-) she didn't have the words, then had an idea ( smells after rain) His eyes shut tightly.

"Yellow smells like rain, yellow smells like...Friega's Petals?"

(No No- rain-dirt-sharp smell! ) He flicked his eyes over the drawing, then looked up suddenly.

"Kilkil blossoms!"

( YES! YES! Smart yes! Hurry!) He took off running, and she went back to holding the wound shut as the animal in her arms trembled. Looking over, she saw the wolves limping, snarling at the weary beast, while Auryx snapped at it feircely. Any more and it would flee, she could tell.

(Joqual, change, please) she signed quickly, but his eyes closed in pain. She shook him awake. (NO!) By the gods, why don't these people have a healer closer? she thought in irritation. A chidit-Demwit- bounced down on the ground, shifting so suddenly he was human before she even realized he had returned. Snatching the plant from him, she ripped its stem open, oozing the white liquid over the bloody gash on Joqual's face, smoothing it over with the petals.

"What are you doing?" Auryx limped over, panting. "What is she doing, Demwit?"

"Joqual was hurt- she sent me to find Kilkil blossoms-I think its helping!" Suddenly it was as though this were an event to be watched. Seven or eight wolves, Demwit and Auryx were crowded around, staring at her smooth the sap into his wound.

(Get back!) she signed angrily. (Go away!)

"Do as she says, back away." Auryx snapped, and looked down at her. "You had better know what you are doing."

(I know more than you, I bet.) She had forgotten he could understand now, and only remembered with the rising of his eyebrows. (Flowers help.) she added, blushing. Joqual suddenly shifted, and she hurriedly scrambled back so she wouldn't end up with a full-grown man on her lap.

"Joqual!" Demwit hugged his brother, ignoring the grunt of pain.

(That hurt Demwit! I knew you should have been named Dimwit!)

"I wouldn't snap! I found the plant to help your face, Joqual!" The brother touched his face gingerly, wincing at the feel of sap, and looked around, finally letting his gaze fall on Ikana.

(You...did this?)

(Yes...the flowers...help.) She signed, unsure what his reaction was. Suddenly he threw his arms around her, and kissed her cheek.

(You have saved the beauty of Joqual!)

"Oh for the love of the ancients.." Auryx straightened and walked away, rolling his eyes.

(I am forever grateful!) The wolves started laughing, more relief than anything else, and Demwit rubbed his face in mock weariness.

(Wait- the others. They hurt too. If you bring..) she scratched out another plant. (- these flowers- I help.)

"Auryx! Vihalri says if we bring..what is this Joqual- does this look like Brignane to you?- some of these flowers, she'll help everyone who was wounded!"

"Did you ask about her?" Auryx called back. "Or is it my imagination that there's blood coming from her shoulder?" Everyone looked at her shoulder, including her. To her surprise, there was a small gash on it. Either when Joqual had shoved her, or when she scrambled to climb the rock, somehow she had gotten hurt.

"Here, let me see-,"

(NO!) She scrambled to her feet, shoving away from him. It was the shoulder- where Auryx had scarred her long ago. She didn't want anyone seeing that, or have any chance of him recognizing it. (No-I am not hurt!)

"We don't want to have to waste vast medical supplies on you, Vihalri- let us look at the wound."

(NO.) she signed with a definate emphasis. He took a step towards her, irritated. (NO!)

"By the ancients, Auryx, do you think this child wants you to remove her dress in front of all these men?" Auryx threw up his hands at the elderly woman who hobbled towards them, followed by Roarke.

"Do what you will! I no longer care!"

"Shoo all of you! I will tend to the Seye!" All the wolves trotted off, back to the rocks where they disappeared into their homes. Soon only the twins remained, staring at her with wide-eyed adoration that made her want to laugh or back away slowly. "You two- shoo as well!"

"Nay fair Iba!" declared Demwit stalwartly, Joqual doing a fairly good impression behind him. "We shall remain to protect the beautiful women here from the fierce beasts who wish to consume them!"

"And while you pose like that, the Oacar can snack on two chidits who are very quickly going to find belthas root in their food from now until autumn!" Demwit and Joqual simultaneously grabbed their stomachs in anticipated pain.

"No Iba! We're going! Come Joqual! Let us protect them from high in the tree's!" They turned and bounded off, furry once more, and Ikana could not help but laugh at their retreating tails. Even Iba softened, and chuckled as she opened a bag of odd smelling powders and inspected the scrape.

"Those two. Nearly as old as Auryx himself, and yet they act like children. Sometimes it seems like they dont even remember what happened to them in their youth....until they go silent, and remain in the trees for hours on end." She rubbed a stinging solution into the cut, which made Ikana hiss in pain.

"Its such a shame, really...So much to happen to children. Even Auryx-poor man. Well. It's not my place to say, but what happened to him never really went away." Ikana did not think she could feel any worse, until the noticed her vision was blurring. She lifted a hand to say something, but Iba shushed her by laying her hands over Ikana's.

"Forgive me child, but you needed sleep. Rest, for tomorrow will bring many changes. Sleep now." Ikana thought with amusment, that she hadn't really gotten to go to sleep voluntarily for quite a long time. Then she only remembered being picked up, and nothing else.

"-angry, Joqual, and when he sees this, he's going to bite your tail right off!" Ikana opened her eyes slowly, her mouth dry and feeling full of wool. Ugh. Stupid drugged balm. That woman was sneaky.

"I am serious. Who do you think they will blame, hmm? Poor mute Joqual? Or rugged, handsome Demwit?....oh HUSH! No I will not shush! I want everyone to hear that I was against this totally from the start! No no no- put it to the left- yeah, thats right- and so they won't blame me, when Auryx wakes and sees this..."

She got to her hands and knees, shaking off the slumber, and looked up. Demwit was standing over Joqual, arms folded, shaking his head, as Joqual carefully placed a handful of bright red berries in the crook of Auryx arm.

Auryx who-as she now saw- was asleep,head resting on folded arms across his knees, leaning against a tree.

He must have protected her in the night after all. A bright green twig stuck out of his hair like a flag, while flowers were scattered over him in random places. Joqual was snickering as he added more berries.

"I am going to run like I have no brother, I mean it." Ikana couldn't help but snicker. Hearing this, Demwit glanced over, then did a double take, tapping his brothers head in panic.

"Joqual! A witness!" He grinned at her, not at all startled, and offered her a flower.

(Want to put it on him?) She shook her head, fighting back a laugh.

(No, he hates me already.)

"Tell him! Tell him this is insanity! Auryx will-"

"What?" The berries tumbled merrily from the waking form. Joqual dropped the berries and fled, chidit in seconds, running up a tree. Demwit stared, horrified as the twig fell and poked Auryx in his opening eye.

"WHAT THE-!" He flung the branch away, then shook handfuls of berries off himself, one eye narrowing as flowers fell from him like rain. Then it looked up, glancing from Ikana to Demwit, staring with his mouth open. "DEMWIT!"

"Don't hurt me!" the twin cried, suddenly bolting. Auryx got to his feet and ran after him, one hand over his right eye.

"GET BACK OVER HERE!" The accused sped around a tree, and headed back past Ikana.

"HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLP!" Fur sprouted all over his body, and before she even knew it, he had leapt behind her, holding her shoulders lightly. "Don't let him bite my tail! I am too handsome to mar! My tail is perfect-you must save it!"

(Oh honestly.) she signed, then bit back a startled gasp when Auryx snarled at them both, blinking his red eye.

"What in the nine hells-!" Suddenly a chidit attacked his head, fur bristled like a giant sea urchin. "WHAT THE- JOQUAL! HELLS! WHAT ARE YOU-!"

"My my." Ikana looked over, and met Iba's disapproving gaze. "Demwit, Joqual, is this really what I asked you to do?" The furry attacker froze, and bounded down to the ground. Demwit coughed and looked away innocently. "Well?"

"Um...yes. Yes it is."

"Oh really? What did I ask?" Demwit cleared his throat, and smiled sheepishly, getting to his feet.

"You uh- asked us to wake Vihalri and Auryx, then take Vihalri for lessons and food." Iba turned her gaze to Auryx, holding his eye once more, a stray flower stuck in his hair.

"And what do you call this?" Demwit shared a look at his brother, who widened his eyes to seem as loveable as possible.

"Well..." Demwit flashed an apologetic grin. "He's awake...right? Vihalri's awake and...so lets go Joqual! Lessons time!" Ikana was pulled to her feet by both twins, both human again, and both grinning. Before they had gone two steps, Auryx broke the silence.

"EXCUSE ME. Does the fact that I am now half-blind, cause any concern whatsoever?" Joqual blinked.

(Can you aim?)

"No!"

(THEN RUN DEMWIT! RUN!) The two bolted, leaving Ikana to clear her throat and quirk a smile. Seconds later, Demwit came back and grabbed her.

"Hah- sorry, forgot about you- quick Vihalri RUN!"

"Oh for the nine hells of Acthuron..." Auryx muttered, flinging the last flower away. Ikana giggled as the twins led her far from the muttering man, and the smiling medicine woman. Well. That was one way to wake up.

"Allright," Demwit sighed, hiding his weariness. "Anything else?" Joqual shook his head.

(We have gone through every word I know, and even some I didn't. If she cannot talk now, it is not for lack of trying.) Ikana grinned.

(Oh for the love of the ancients! I am a fast learner. It was not too arduous a task, was it?) Demwit yawned.

"I had to interpret! That is not easy, you know."

(You ARE a quick learner Vihalri.) Joqual flicked his eyes at his brother. (In fact, you are very smart. And very beautiful. And you know plants well. Why would your people sell you?)

(The Seye use magic by their words. I could not speak, so, I am valueless.)

"Who cut off your tongue?" asked Demwit suddenly. At her stricken look, Joqual hit his brother on the arm.

(Very subtle Dimwit!)

"I was just asking!" Ikana hesitated while the two exchanged glares.

(A childhood accident.) The two of them did not look happy, but nodded anyway. That is, until Joqual took her hand, and held it up to his throat, smiling slightly. She had just raised a hand to speak, when she felt the bump that was not a regular bump. It was a hard knob that ought not to be there. Her fingers ran over it, then withdrew and curled in her lap.

(One of the...invaders hit me there.) Joqual signed calmly. (I couldn't breathe for what seemed like eternity. Then finally I could, and realized that my voice was basically gone. I could make sounds sure, but...) he shrugged. (They found it funny, so I vowed never to do it again. That's why I don't talk.) Demwit had gone silent. That was horrible. Hadn't Iba said the two were small children when that happened?

(Invaders?) Demwit cleared his own throat uneasily.

"We ah...we were playing in the trees, when we heard screaming. We ran away, as all children tend to do, but there were men, and women, covered in tattoos all over their bodies, who caught us. They carried us back to our village, and we saw everyone lying on the ground. Dead. Everyone was dead, from the smallest infants to the elders. Joqual turned into a chidit to escape, but they grabbed him, and hit him. Once they realized what we could do- I guess they didn't even know what we were, they decided to take us and sell us as oddities. Pets. Even rugs, they said." Joqual nodded, and continued from there.

(We had gone a long way, when night fell, and the Oacar came, and killed everyone. I hope never to see such Oacar as this. compared to these, the one you saw was an infant. Four of them leapt into our camp, and slaughtered the entire invader party, leaving us be in the tree's, where we had ran. Two days later, Roarke, Hedja, and Weir found us, and took us with them.)

"Weir is their daughter," added Demwit. "She and Auryx are to be wed in a few weeks." For some reason, this made Ikana bristle.

(Really.) Then she shook her head, realizing that they had opened up to her out of trust. The least she could do was level with them, even part way. (My clan cut out my tongue becuase I had defied one of the sacred laws. My father sold me, because the shame of it darkened our family name.) Demwit blinked.

"What did you do?" She didn't answer. They might someday fit this together with Auryx, if they knew more than she thought, and she didn't want it to all come out at the worst possible time. She had to get away from here before Auryx found out she had been under his nose all along, lying to him yet again.

(What happened to Auryx?) she asked curiously. The way Iba spoke, it was as though Auryx had had something else happen besides her betrayel. He honestly couldn't still be hurt from it? The two looked troubled.

(Do not tell him you heard it from us.) warned Joqual.

(Don't worry.) she signed back dryly. (In case you haven't heard, I'm not high on his list of favorite races right now.)

"Auryx was taken as a pet." Demwit said softly, his eyes narrowing as he spoke, two pairs of gazes that bore into her. "Just after he left his clan he-"

( He left his clan?) she interrupted. (Why?) They both shrugged in unison.

(We don't know. He left for some reason, and he hadn't gone far when Seye travelers found him. They were taking him to Ishak, when he turned on them...and killed them.) Ikana felt her jaw drop, and hastily closed her mouth.

Well. That was...She shook her head. Who would have thought?


(I'll be adding soon)