Awakening, Part 8

There was a lesson Tari’s sensei had tried to teach her during her training in the Celestial Courts. When sparring with an opponent, do not move, but wait for the opponent to move, and then move first. He’d insisted that it was an important lesson. A lesson that, like many others at the time, she’d not fully understood. How could you wait for someone to move, then move first? It just didn’t click.

Before her now was not one but two difficult opponents — time and gravity. And they’d moved.

And Alecha moved first.

There was no grace, no finesse, no delicacy in her movement. She dropped to one knee, pressed her palms to the deck, and rapidly yelled a phrase Tari barely understood — A plea for strength. A prayer, perhaps? The floor rumbled from within, green energy spilling out between the tile seams. Within seconds, half the polished outdoor floor was gone, ground up and reduced to sand.


Or dirt?

Tari, on an impulse, pulled out the small pouch of seeds she’d kept in a hidden pocket — a collection of vines and other quick-growing species. She’d quietly gathered them in her trips to the J’Ruhn’s hydroponics bay, hoping that by spreading them through the ship she could choke off vital systems from within. Get enough plants plugging up enough ventilation shafts and something interesting was bound to happen.

But the plan never quite came together, not with everything else that’d happened. And now, all those carefully saved seeds were scattered across the newly broken ground, soaking up the energy Alecha still was pouring out —

Every kernel burst at once, stems and branches and vines spilling forth. Growing at a breakneck pace they twisted and braided together, a gigantic, writhing column of living vegetation clawing its way into the sky. With singular purpose, the mass of woven vines lunged out beyond the railing ahead of Nesoli’s freefall, unceremoniously funneling him away from the heart of the volcano below and toward the solid ground of the terrace.

With a yelp, Pakar darted forward as if she thought she could catch Nesoli as he tumbled down the vines. Instead of hitting the sand at a steep angle, he slammed into her instead. A shared grunt of pain left the two as they fell, sprawled near each other on the ground.

“What — That — You — It —”

Tari glanced at the panicked medic sitting in the sand. Everything had taken place in a span of mere seconds, and somewhere he’d fallen down. Like the true professional he was, he was scooting on his rear in a direction generally away from the quickly wilting plants.

Alecha gulped for air, her body quivering from adrenaline and exertion as she crawled to the tangled heap of drekiran bodies. “‹Medical emergency.›”

She woke up screaming, then stopped to ponder why. What had just happened?

The expanse of blue sand once again filled her vision, her mental self-preservation measure firmly in place. Hadn’t she’d removed that just before losing consciousness? She’d seen something, something important, something she desperately needed to remember. But why? And what was it?

After a seeming eternity of sitting in the sand and failing to draw forth the memories of what she’d seen, she gazed at the protective reality around herself. The mental bombardment was not present, but in the prior times she’d found herself awake the exhaustion simply appeared with no warning. Removing the illusion would let her get a sense of her true locale. But was it safe to do so?

Taking a deep breath she knelt in the sand once again, concentrated, and mentally peeled back the veil. There was nothing else to be done. The answers she needed were beyond this facade. A disconcerting sense of vertigo assaulted her as her senses realigned…

She was sitting in a small room, strange alien panels surrounding her. Medical readouts on one, detailing the ongoing monitoring of a patient in the next room. Mostly gibberish, but she did recognize something like a heart rate. On another, the text of a novel. The language was different than that of the medical readout, yet still completely intelligible.

Left sitting on top of the console, a lukewarm cup of some variety of tea had been abandoned. She reached out for the mug, drew it in to sniff at the contents — and nearly dropped the ceramic vessel on the floor as she saw her hands.

Everything was wrong. Of the little she could see —

“Everything okay here?”

She squeaked in surprise as the skunk lady breezed into the office. T’bia, she reminded herself. At least she remembered that. There seemed to be enough other holes in her memories that remembering even one name felt like a huge achievement. But —

“You fell asleep, didn’t you?” she accused with a smirk. “Can’t say I’m surprised with what Tari put you through.” T’bia stopped at a cabinet, popped the door open, and tugged out a large emergency medical kit. “Do at least try to stay awake? Have a shot of brandy or something. Should keep you going for a couple hours. Anyway, I have to shoot down to Piroranan.”

And the skunk was gone, enveloped by a vibrant green haze as she vanished.

Looking back at her hands, she swallowed hard as the morning returned to her. There was no remaining question of where she was. How and why were important questions, but at the immediate moment, irrelevant. T’bia was in a hurry — so much of a hurry that the AI hadn’t noticed a stand-in. Something was wrong.

Pushing the novel to a second display, she stumbled her way through the interface and found a notepad of sorts. After entering a quick few lines of text, she took stock of the office around her. On a nearby datapad, a stylus had been laid neatly across the screen. Not exactly sharp, but nothing else was at hand. If she was right, all it would take to put things back in their correct place for now was one solid —

Jadyn let out a yelp as his left hand blazed in pain.

He found his right hand already wrapped around the offending object — a stylus, the dull point jammed against his palm. It hadn’t broken through flesh but it was bound to leave a mark for a while. No one else was in the medical office. He’d somehow done it to himself in his sleep.


He’d fallen asleep. The caffeinated tea hadn’t helped. Nor had the book, which no longer resided on the display before him. Instead, a short message took its place:* T’bia took an emergency kit and transported away. Don’t doze off again.

*Squinting, he pulled up the timestamp — less than a minute since the note’s creation. The terminal claimed his own geneprint as the author of the message. Rubbing his face, he let out a quiet sigh. “Bee, what’s going on?”

We’re sorry,” Aerin replied flatly. “The AI you are attempting to reach is presently unavailable. Please leave a message at the sound of the tone.” No tone of any sort followed.

“Bee,” he repeated. “Did you really just walk out of here with a medkit?”

No,” she replied. “I transported out of there with a medkit. If you must know, I’m checking on Ness. Just… Keep an eye on things there. Okay? Okay. Nice chat, gotta go.

Tari turned her head as the hum of a transport sounded behind her; T’bia squinted at the scene as she appeared within the glow. “Spirits, what happened here?”

“Nesoli fell out of the sky. Pakar tried to help catch him and took a hard hit. Alecha managed to keep him from taking a lava bath, but she passed out right after calling in the medical emergency.”

“Mm, succulent broiled drekiran. You know, I could have sworn this whole thing was tiled the last time I was here,” T’bia observed, crouching down and running scans on the three. “Always thought it needed a volleyball court. Too bad there wasn’t a net handy. Pakar — you have three cracked ribs and a fair amount of bruising but that seems to be the extent of it. Probably saved Ness from breaking his fool neck.”

“I’ll be fine,” the emerald drekiran grunted from her supine position on the sand. “Isn’t that his line?”

“Tari, give me a hand here.” Together, T’bia and Tari gingerly turned over the unconscious red drekiran. T’bia nodded briefly at a group of medical personnel emerging from the complex while expanding on her cursory scans. “Any of you have experience with emergency surgery on drekirans? No? Too bad Doctor Jahr went home. See that Councilor Tubor’s ribs are taken care of, at least.”

“I’ll wait for an expert,” Pakar mumbled, groaning and standing up.

“I need two antigrav carts out here,” T’bia went on. Two of the group immediately ran for the door. “Best find a cargo-rated one for the Speaker,” she yelled to them.

“Any head trauma?” a feldaran queried, crouching down at Nesoli’s side with his own scanner. “He’s… He not unconscious?”

“No. They’re so thick-skulled, a little bump like this is nothing. He’s just sulking.”

Nesoli snorted, but otherwise remained silent.

“However, he does require surgery to reconnect several flight-critical tendons in his back. You are…?” T’bia prompted.

“Doctor Lenil Denargum, ma’am,” the brown and gray tabby greeted.

“Ah, yes. Chief overcoat here. I should apologize for treading on your authority in your own territory —“

“Not at all, ma’am,” he reassured. “I’m familiar with your prior work on the Speaker. Our facilities here, such as they are, are at your disposal.”

“Thank you. I have my own tools, but we’ll need room to work inside —“

Alecha groaned, her eyes fluttering open. She took a brief time to focus, relaxing when she found T’bia leaning over her. “‹That was completely irresponsible of me. These people don’t know about the Art, do they?›”

“‹No. We’ll deal with the repercussions later. Your scans don’t show any lasting trauma. How do you feel?›”

“‹Dizzy. It’s not the first time I’ve overexerted myself. Remind me to tell the other Artisans not to push themselves so hard this soon after waking.›”

“‹You are from the J’Ruhn?›” Nesoli queried. Alecha frowned, gently sitting up with Tari’s help to see who was speaking.

“‹Yes,›” she replied. “‹I wasn’t aware anyone else spoke our language here.›”

“‹I have known Jadyn for many years. Your language… I would not call myself fluent.›” He made a motion to sit upright; with no more than a single look from T’bia, he immediately abandoned the thought — much to the amazement of the other medics.

“How —“ Doctor Denargum pondered.

“I’m the only one here that is not potentially on his menu,” T’bia explained, as two antigrav gurneys emerged onto the deck. “You can’t intimidate someone who, at their core, appraises you as a lunch entree.”

“‹You can’t be serious.›” Alecha glared around the medical facility as she was wheeled inside. After some insistence on her part that a gurney was not necessary, a young intern delivered what Tari thought a wheelchair might look like if it didn’t need wheels. The hover-chair seemed to work well — little effort was required to maneuver it around. “‹This is the state of medical care here?›”

“What’s wrong?” Pakar questioned Tari, leading them down the hall. She too had dismissed the medics that’d tried to help her, insisting they look after someone who was actually in need of help. In the meantime, several others had helped Nesoli onto the antigrav cart brought out for him. Another one of T’bia’s stern looks had ensured he boarded it without resistance.

“I don’t know. Alecha?”

“‹How’s anyone supposed to recover in a prison?›”

“It’s not a… Well, the medbays on the J’Ruhn and the Serin aren’t exactly prime vacation spots, either.”

“‹They’re illuminated with lighting that’s at least comfortable on the eyes. They don’t smell like… like… Like sterilized death. This place is cold, it’s unwelcoming, the acoustics are atrocious… And… And what exactly is that contraption supposed to be?›”

Tari followed Alecha’s gaze to a piece of articulated equipment in the process of being relocated by a pair of maintenance workers; the chair-like device, with stress grips for the hands and raised supports for the occupant’s legs, disappeared into a nearby room labeled ‘MATERNITY’ in Standard.

“‹That almost looked like… well, on my world, that’d be a rather advanced birthing table,›” Tari whispered.

“‹That’s… That’s absolutely barbaric…›”

“Hm?” Pakar questioned.

Tari explained, “Appraisal of the local medical tech.”

“State of the art,” Pakar put forth, not noticing Alecha’s grimace of distaste. “Excuse me, nurse — where’s the Speaker’s room? I have some things to drop off.”

“Of course, ma’am. This way.”

The nurse led them to a large, sterile room before returning to her station. A single heavy-duty bed waited for its drekiran patient to return. Several blank medical monitors dotted the wall; otherwise, the smooth white was unblemished. There wasn’t even a window. Alecha eased to her feet, gently prodding the mattress.

“‹Need a nap?›” Tari questioned. Alecha chuckled to herself and shook her head.

“‹Actually, I’d like to watch T’bia work. If she hadn’t asked me to watch after Pakar…›” She laughed. “‹I’m sure she did that to keep me out of there. If I was in any sort of condition to assist, I’d have insisted on helping.›”

Tari shrugged and turned to Pakar. “Any chance there’s someplace we can observe the surgery?”

“Not really.” Pakar laid down a pair of datapads on the tiny desk at the bedside, then stopped to adjust the sheets. “This is supposed to be more of a recovery facility. They’ve expanded a little since there’ve been requests… Parents wanting their children born over a volcano for whatever reason, the like… It’s really not equipped for major medical emergencies. Bee doesn’t tend to use the local hardware, though, so it doesn’t really matter. Nnh…”

“Are you sure you don’t want someone to look at that?” Tari questioned, watching Pakar wince and touch her abdomen.

“After Bee is done with Ness, it’ll take all of five minutes. Like she said, it’s just a couple of cracked ribs.”

Alecha shut one eye. After several seconds of scrutiny in Pakar’s direction, the salt-and-pepper vixen eased around the bed and stopped beside her. No small amount of confusion danced on the drekiran’s face as her belly was suddenly prodded and poked.

“Aside from violating my personal space, what’s she doing?”

Tari listened to Alecha’s immediate response. “She says she can’t do anything for Nesoli when he’s out of surgery, but she might be able — What? Oh. She says she definitely can take care of you.”

“With what J.T. has done for me in the past, I’m sure it’s a specialty of the Val’Traxans — but I don’t exactly need massage therapy right now.”

Alecha smirked and shook her head. Delicately, she touched three points on Pakar’s stomach, making the drekiran flinch and gasp.

“The breaks are there, she says. Not just cracks, either. They’re definitely broken.”

“I think she’s right,” Pakar muttered. “She really doesn’t have to.”

“No, but she wants to — if you’ll let her.”

The drekiran sighed. “Fine. Go ahead and do… whatever it is you think you can do.”

Alecha traced her fingers over Pakar’s stomach in a far more deliberate fashion, leaving a circle of eight faintly glowing symbols on her green-scaled flesh. “‹Tari…›” she whispered, appraising her runic drawings and adjusting them ever so slightly. “‹I think I need a little help with this. Please don’t relay that.›”

“‹What can I do?›”

“‹Are you at all familiar with transferring elemental energy?›”

“‹Not extensively. Jadyn offered me some of his reserves when I needed a boost, but I don’t really know how. I managed to do a little transfer recently but I used a physical medium to help pull it off. If you need me, though, just tell me what to do.›”

“‹Right hand flat in the center of my back. No, a little higher, just below my shoulderblades.›”

“‹Definitely different than what he did,›” Tari noted. “‹Now what?›”

“‹Relax. I’ll draw from you what I need as I need it. It might be a little uncomfortable, though. If it’s more than you can handle, tell me to stop.›” Alecha raised both her hands, palms forward, hovering inches away from the scribed symbols. Quietly, she broke into a low, droning chant:

‹Sooth her ills, relieve her distress. Restore the balance that has been lost.›

While the language felt similar to the Val’Traxan’s native Kametian, Tari sensed it was far more than just words ringing in her ears. She knew the words spilling over and over from the vixen’s lips, likely from the same method she’d learned Kametian, but they were as foreign as they were familiar. The more she listened to the chant, the more she questioned if speaking those words aloud was a terrible idea. Something powerful lay within the phrase, something she only could remember sensing once before — the very single time her true and full kitsune name ever was uttered aloud.

The glowing symbols on the drekiran’s stomach brightened, the recital increasing from a whisper through her normal voice and beyond. Soon the glyphs hurt to look upon, yet Alecha’s gaze did not turn away. Tari wondered why no one outside the room had come to investigate the ruckus. Half the building should have been able to hear her.

With a final, ringing recital, Alecha fell silent and spread her fingers, making contact with each symbol. Each glowing glyph lifted away from the drekiran’s flesh as she touched it, coalescing around her finger and stretching over her hand. And then, as the tendrils of light drifted up her arms, she pressed her hands flat against the green-scaled hide.

Pakar inhaled sharply, her eyes snapping shut. Tari watched in awe as the timeless energy flowed down Alecha’s trembling arms and into her patient. It was the purest essence she’d ever felt. But where was it coming from? As far as she could sense, Alecha had sourced energy only from within. So she asked, hoping she wouldn’t disturb the vixen’s concentration with the question:

“‹Why aren’t you using my strength?›”

“‹I was wrong — I don’t dare. Back in the woods, what you had available was incredible. Here… You’re weaker than I am right now. I’d just wind up hurting you.›”

“‹Don’t worry about me.›”

“‹I’m sorry. In good faith, I can’t —›”

“‹You’re straining to keep this together. Even I can see that. Please… Let me help.›”

Alecha sighed, briefly eyeing her own hands before refocusing on Pakar. “‹Brace yourself.›”

Her warning was not meritless. There was no gradual ease-in; Alecha merely flipped the switch on some sort of spiritual vacuum. The sickening sensation of something not quite tangible forcefully being drawn from Tari’s person nearly made her retch.

Now that she was a part of the procedure and not merely observing, the process was somewhat less opaque. Several discrete threads of different elemental energies flowed together, forming something far different than any of the individual strands. That new product was the regenerative energy streaming down Alecha’s arms into Pakar’s chest. Alecha’s own strength — as well as what she drew from Tari — strictly fueled the force of will required to draw forth the individual elements and transform them within herself.

Existing even as a simple energy source was incredibly taxing. Maintaining her shapeshift — one she was comfortable with, at that — took a measure of concentration. As well, her gifts were always muted when she wore any form but her kitsune body. If she really wanted to benefit the process in a meaningful amount, there was only one way. As terrible an idea as it was… It was the only idea she could come up with.

“‹Alecha, don’t turn around.›”

The vixen squinted. “‹Why?›”

“‹Don’t worry about that. Just don’t look at me.›” Taking a deep breath, she let her concentration go. Instantly, her body changed. Flat feet returned, costing her a few inches of height. The fifth fingers appeared once more, momentarily feeling out of place after so much time with the val’traxan four-digited hands. And, most importantly to the undertaking, her pair of tails emerged. If a val’traxan could possibly think of her as resembling one of their religious icons with only a single tail visible, her true form wouldn’t help matters at all.

Alecha gasped at the sudden increase in Tari’s offered energy, turning her head to find out what had changed. Only a sharp word stopped her from looking.

“‹No! I told you… Don’t. Please, don’t.›”

Obviously torn between finishing what she’d started and finding out what had just transpired behind her, Alecha faltered for the briefest moment before her professionalism returned in full force. The energy shop-vacuum kicked into high gear, eliciting sensation far more nauseating than the promised ‘discomfort.’ But what else was there to do? Alecha wanted to help Pakar despite her own condition, and she absolutely needed the boost to do it.

Not until Tari felt on the verge of blacking out did Alecha finally bring her efforts to an end. Her quaking hands eased away from the drekiran’s green-scaled hide, quickly moving to the bed’s frame to steady herself. Tari’s first instinct was to force herself back into a val’traxan form, regretting the attempt the moment she tried. Lunch nearly escaped to the floor. The failed shapeshifting effort left her head reeling; she parked herself on Alecha’s former chair to catch her breath.

“Wow.” Pakar took a deep breath, first prodding then slapping her abdomen. “Thank you.”

Alecha smiled and touched her own forehead. “‹I’m going to pay for this tomorrow… Tari, how are you holding up?›”

When she didn’t get an answer, Alecha turned to see what was wrong. Tari, slumped in the uncomfortable antigrav chair, had fallen fast asleep with her head propped against her palm. While drained, her aura was thankfully stable — and decidedly different. Gone was the weirdness telling her senses that Tari was and was not Val’Traxan; all that she could now see in the white vixen’s aura was completely alien.

And then Alecha noticed her second tail.

4 Responses

  1. Tsunari says:

    Poor Tari gets confused with other things by Alecha.

  2. typhoon says:

    Major Freak-out in 3 … 2 …

  3. Tsunami says:

    Also you know that’s a horrible saying, it just means predict your opponents actions and then counter them before they actually begin.

  4. Tsunami says:

    Or that the body’s subconscious can react faster than the conscious mind can complete an action.