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 reality.

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 . . . thinking."

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 convincing herself.

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 whack."

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 he did."

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 heard."

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 Library.

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 truth.


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 as well.

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 slowly.

"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 smelled healthy.

"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 might say.

"Yes. Tell me, oh, well, everything." The girl laughed breathlessly.

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 forward.

"So, what happened when you got there?" She asked, the rapt tension in her features smoothing out a little. Walks-in-Shadow smiled wistfully.

"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 then."

"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 around naked."

"Black drawings? Oh, you mean tattoos." She smiled brightly. "Lee'sar has a tat on the left side of his hip. Looks like a musical note."

"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--"

"Huh? Ong-lays?"

". . . 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 term."

"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 and moaned.

"T'thup . . . have you ever seen any of my kind before . . .?" The girl's eyes brimmed, paused, then spilled tears down her sallow cheeks.

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 before."

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