The First Sdhlain: Sdhlai 6
Walks-in-Shadow did not rise
from her contemplative trance when Jam'ee gently shook her.
Memories of her last hunt washed over her, images of her last run
with her kha. It saddened her that that would probably be her last
hunt ever. Her mind ran over those images, caressing them like the
cover of a well-worn book, resisting the growing pull of
Jam'ee shook Walks-in-Shadow harder, concerned. The Khur woman's
eyes opened slowly, focused on nothing. To Jam'ee, they seemed
dead. She yelped, then backed away, hissing softly.
Walks-in-Shadow restrained the smile that threatened to dance
across her face. It was an old tactic--use someone the prisoner can
relate to for obtaining information--and Walks-in-Shadow could
hardly believe that the Master thought she'd fall for it.
The older woman licked her lips slowly and focused her eyes on
Jam'ee. "Sorry," she said, adding a slight slur. "I was . . .
The young girl's inner eyelids flicked once, twice. She walked a
little closer to Walks-in-Shadow. "That's . . . that's all right.
You just . . . you just scared me."
"I'm sorry." Walks-in-Shadow did feel bad about it, although
not for any reason that she could tell Jam'ee. She hated having to
use the young girl as a tool. Desperate times call for desperate
measures, her inner voice told her. I agree, she
responded, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
The room fell silent, punctuated only by the soft sound of the two
women breathing. Walks-in-Shadow listened closely. Jam'ee's
breathed quite a bit quicker than Walks-in-Shadow; whether it was
from an elevated state or simply the natural speed of her race, she
had no idea.
She could find out, though.
"So, Jam'ee . . . the Master ever . . . make overtures to you?" She
tried to look concerned.
The young girl's rate of breathing immediately sped up
considerably. "N-no, not at all. He's not . . . he's not like that.
Besides, Lee'sar would . . . would keep him from hurting me." The
girl paused, then continued. "I know he would." She nodded, as if
Something there seemed off, seemed out of place. Walks-in-Shadow
expected the young girl to go off-balance, to be sure, but not
quite so far. Indeed, her breaths were coming nearly twice as fast
as before. Despite knowing little about the physiology of Jam'ee's
race, Walks-in-Shadow felt that the girl's response was more than a
typical response to a personal question.
The Khur backpedaled. "I'm . . . sorry. I just . . . wanted to make
sure that you were okay." She smiled. "You're too nice of a girl to
be treated badly."
Jam'ee smiled wanly, her heart still racing. "Th--thanks. You're
nice too." She paused again, obviously considering what to say
next. "So . . . so I hear you really gave Red Star a good
Ah. Safe territory. She's trying to re-establish control of the
conversation. All right . . . it can't hurt. Walks-in-Shadow
doubted that anyone here had much love for Red Star. He didn't seem
the caring type. "Yes. Yes I did." She smiled, and dropped some of
the languid speech. "I threw him over the Cliff. Don't know how he
managed to not dash his brains out on the rocks at the bottom, but
Jam'ee shrugged. "He probably used one of those grapply-hook
things. All of the Thul have them, in their guns. Gork showed me
once . . ." She trailed off. Walks-in-Shadow wondered if Gork had
died, and if he had, if Jam'ee knew about it. He had been a
half-decent Guard, if that counted for anything. Even as she
wondered about Gork, she smiled inwardly. A grappling hook, eh?
That could come in handy. She paused. Too handy. Is this
still part of the game? Are they deliberately feeding me
misinformation, trying to trick me into believing half-truths and
lies? She glanced at Jam'ee, but the girl showed no signs of
malice or truthlessness; indeed, the emotion she displayed seemed
to have shifted from discomfort from the Master-Lee'sar affair to
concern about the fate of Gork.
"I . . . hope he's all right," Walks-in-Shadow said. Inwardly, she
gritted her teeth. Would the girl buy it? For a Khur to admit that
they were concerned about a Guard was akin to admitting to mating
with a sibling. Walks-in-Shadow shook her head, unwilling to follow
either of those paths.
Jam'ee brightened a bit. "He looked lots better when I saw him in
the 'firmary earlier today." She paused again, and Walks-in-Shadow
concentrated. Is she gathering her courage? The girl spoke
again, slowly. "So . . . Walks-in-Shadow . . . what does T'thup
mean? It doesn't . . . sound like any name of your people I've ever
Walks-in-Shadow froze. "It's . . . it's my personal name. The name
we use for really important things. It . . . it doesn't sound like
a name of our people, because the word isn't ours. It's . . . from
the tongue of another race."
Jam'ee looked surprised. "Oh? You mean there are other races
besides humans, us Sari, the Thul, and . . . whatever you are?"
Walks-in-Shadow smiled tightly. "Yes. Yes there are." How close
she is. How close . . . "They must not let you read much here,
huh?" She took a mental note of the name that Jam'ee called her
people. In case she ever managed to return to her pack, she would
ask the Elders, and perhaps even get permission to check the Hidden
Jam'ee shook her head. "A few reading primers on the 'pad, and
that's about it. I don't know anything about the stuff
that's out . . ." she waved her hands in the air, expansively. ". .
. there." She paused again, and Walks-in-Shadow could sense the
girl's pulse quickening. "Could you . . . could you tell me?
Something? Anything?" Another look crossed the girl's face, one
that Walks-in-Shadow knew well in its many forms.
Jam'ee thirsted for knowledge.
Walks-in-Shadow smiled. What should I tell her? What should I
keep from her? How can I use this? "Sure . . ." Her head spun.
What can I tell her? I certainly can't tell her the
The master paced the holy-of-holies--four strides forward, four
strides back. . . . fuckitfuckitfuckit . . .
The tiny cubicle was barely large enough to hold the surveillance
equipment let alone an enraged human but it was all he had. Nowhere
else could he indulge his anger without betraying the core of his
weakness. Without the Key he was virtually powerless and his
ability to compell rested on the shaky bluff that all was well,
that he could if he wanted to. Already Lee'sar and Kordim,
the Thul shaman, were growing suspicious, wondering why he didn't
just force the truth out of the Khur bitch. Not that they'd said
anything, oh no, they were much too smart for that. But the doubts
were there, he could feel them in every guarded look, every
diplomatic silence. They both knew that the Khur people's continued
obediance depended on the Key but neither one of them knew that the
Thul's single-minded devotion to him was the work of the Key
Almost beside himself with frustration, the man called the Master
drove his fist through the static-covered screen in front of him.
The glass shattered and sparks ignited the twilight of the
surveillance room for a second or two before fading away. Panting
heavily the Master stood in the near dark. Destroying the monitor
had been a stupid thing to do but it was the first spontaneous act
he had allowed himself in a long time, and it felt good. Besides,
with the camera in Jam'ee's room no longer working there wasn't
much point in having a monitor.
Calm now, his mind cleansed of its anger and panic, the Master
absently sucked the cuts on his fist while his uninjured hand
gingerly swept the console free of glass. He would have to do some
housekeeping soon but for now there were more important things to
do, like replaying the lastest audio recording from that creature's
room. There was something about the conversation that was bothering
him. Flipping the switch to rewind, he shook a few left over pieces
of glass from the chair and sat down to listen, again. There . . .
near the end . . . that hesitation. The Khur bitch's reaction
signified something, he was sure of it, but nothing in the
conversation gave him a clue as to what it might be. For a moment
his anger spiked again at having to use halfwits like Jam'ee but
then it subsided. Jam'ee might not be 'all there' but at least she
elicited a reaction. Now it was up to him to work out why.
Settling himself more comfortably, the Master flipped the rewind
switch yet again, this time going right back to the beginning. It
would be a long night.
Walks-in-Shadow loped along behind Jam'ee into
the same room where she'd first seen Lee'sar. Now there were only a
few occpuants, and they were more than happy to ignore
Walks-in-Shadow and her female guide. Jam'ee indicated the far end
of the dining room.
"To the caf?"
"What?" Walks-in-Shadow started.
"Caf," Jam'ee explained, "means cafeteria." She smiled at
Walks-in-Shadow's perplexed expression. "I guess they don't have
cafs where you come from." She shrugged. Walks-in-Shadow nodded
"What's there to eat?" she asked of the little blue haired girl.
Jam'ee waved vaguely at the dish a young man was eating from. On
its metalic surface sat a foul smelling pile of green strings and a
fat piece of meat. Walks-in-Shadow cringed inwardly.
"And you eat this?" She asked huskily, bringing a hand up to her
nose. Jam'ee shot her a disgruntled look.
"Only when there's nothing else to eat. When there's money, one
sixth of it goes towards better food, when there isn't any money to
spare, it all goes into--" Jam'ee gestured at nothing in
particular, "other things."
"Other . . . ? Ah, never mind." Walks-in-Shadow pursed her lips and
sat down at the table nearest to the 'caf'. Jam'ee padded over to
the counter and spoke to a woman serving there. Their language
sounded like a collective group of 'hisses' and 'clucks'. The girl
returned to Walks-in-Shadow with a hot drink of some sort. It
"Umm . . ." Walks-in-Shadow stirred her lunch slowly. "You wanted
to know about the outside world, yes?" She could almost see
Jam'ee's mind sifting through the possible things Walks-in-Shadow
"Yes. Tell me, oh, well, everything." The girl laughed
Walks-in-Shadow launched into the story of her first family trip
into the trading cities, where all the people of the land came
together to bargain their goods with one another. Jam'ee leaned
"So, what happened when you got there?" She asked, the rapt tension
in her features smoothing out a little. Walks-in-Shadow smiled
"Well . . ." She let the word hover on its own for a moment, then
the memories seemed to rush out of her, tying up her tongue. "We
held camp outside of the city gates for a day, then took up in a
Trader shelter where we could keep our goods locked up safe."
"When was the Trader Fair supposed to be?"
"Two days later." Walks-in-Shadow said. "So I had free time until
"Ah!" Jam'ee cried excitedly. "What did you do?"
Walks-in-Shadow grinned cheekily. "Hmm, you mean what didn't
I do?" Her grin broadened a fraction.
A slight rush of blood crawled up the length of Jam'ee's long neck.
"Go on, tell me!"
"Ok, so I went off to admire the city people. They're very
extravagant, you know, with their glamorous clothes and strange
fashion styles. Especially the Bornio McFays."
"The what?!" Jam'ee laughed.
Walks-in-Shadow leaned forward into whispering range and said,
"The Bornio McFays--we just call them the Bornios--look like tall
bronze reeds with hair the colour of blood. They wear black
drawings on their bodies like clothes and sometimes they even walk
"Black drawings? Oh, you mean tattoos." She smiled brightly.
"Lee'sar has a tat on the left side of his hip. Looks like a
"Really?" Walks-in-Shadow looked at her quizzically. "Ok . . . So,
anyway, what else do you want to know?" She asked, but a small part
of her mind stored away that last bit of information for later.
Musical notes . . .
"Oh, more!" Jam'ee gasped. "Tell me more about the other people.
The stranger the better."
"Ok." Walks-in-Shadow smiled. "So, you now know about Bornio
people. Then there are the Anglays--"
". . . Yes? . . . Can I finish?" Walks-in-Shadow snapped. The
girl's mind seemed to flitter from thought to thought, however
abstract or random it was. "So, the Anglays are the small people.
Sometimes one might refer to an Anglay as an Onga. It's a racial
"Oh, ok." Jam'ee said slowly. "Anything else?"
"Yes." Walks-in-Shadow narrowed her eyes a fraction. "The
Anglays are shorter than me, and tawny all over, hair, skin, eyes,
the lot. They like loud sounds, so you can always tell when you're
in an Onga part of town because there's usually some sort of party
or band going on. They're like that, you know, very active people.
Most are a little on the tubby side--"
"Tubby compared to your people you mean?" Jam'ee butted in.
Walks-in-Shadow hadn't really thought of it like that. True, her
people were rather slender in comparison to other races.
"Yes, tubby compared to my people. They jiggle and sway their
bodies around unashamedly."
Walks-in-Shadow studied the girl across from her for a moment,
noting the fractional shifts in her expressions as she processed
this new information. Then, quite suddenly, she snapped her head up
"T'thup . . . have you ever seen any of my kind before . . .?" The
girl's eyes brimmed, paused, then spilled tears down her sallow
Walks-in-Shadow, startled by this unexpected show of emotion, shied
away into the back of her seat, mouth ajar in shock. Looking around
furtively, she said, "No, Jam'ee, I haven't seen your kind
The girl wiped hastily at her wet face and managed a weak smile.
"Ah, that's ok. I didn't really think . . ." She looked past
Walks-in-Shadow's shoulder and a warmth touched her pale cheeks.
Rising from her chair in greeting, she spread her arms wide and
cried, "Gork! You're better!"
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Last Updated: 2003.01.18.2201