Thanks to *Aviator33 for the cover image. Hint: perfect example that these chapter images can be as simple as a drawing of the character.
Lynn returned nearly every day after that. Sometimes she brought small supplies of food for us to share, but usually she would just join me by the river and we would talk. I wanted to know so much more about the Tuann, why they were so different and what their culture was like. A part of me knew that I was only so fascinated with the tribe for a distraction, for something new in my life to keep me going. But the more Lynn and I talked, the more I wanted to know.
She kept hinting at a major god in her culture’s religion, whom she only ever referred to as the Bas
. But whenever I asked her more about him, she would clamp up and claim that she could not tell me. The religion seemed to be one of utter devotion, to the point of self-sacrifice and fire lit rituals that could last for days. I found it interesting that I was comfortable with the human child, whose culture was so prone to violence, and felt threatened by the more civilized city folk. Nonetheless, I knew Lynn would never attempt to hurt me, and I enjoyed her company.
The moment I feared did come however, when Lynn turned to me with her clouded eyes watching as her hands fiddled with a blade of grass. She asked me softly what I was doing that day we first saw each other, why I was holding a massive boulder above my head. It was a question I had been desperately hoping she wouldn’t ask, but I couldn’t just ignore it. I told her more about Story, that he had been discovering his Balanced element of Earth and Dark. I explained how parasitic a Dark element can be, how it crowds the other and can be detrimental to a Shinlai’s health. I even began describing Daila and how she kept the Dark and Balanced elements from her creations and how Darius founded the Darkbloods. Lynn just listened, nodding every now and then at my remarks.
“Could be,” she said when I had finished, “Daila knew the Dark was hurting.” I looked at her in puzzlement. “Could be that Daila keep the Dark from the Shinlai to protect. Darius is not good for bringing the Dark.”
It was a notion I had humored once before, but found myself wondering why someone would be so cruel as to bring about such a powerful, unhealthy element. But I remembered my readings from the Clipso library about the Darkbloods and thought about all of Darius’ dark deeds. Perhaps Daila was only trying to protect the Shinlai from the powerful encroachment of the Dark element.
“Balance is no good either,” said Lynn. “Balance is hurting too. Too much for one Shinlai.”
I argued that Balanced Shinlai aren’t always paired with Dark and another element, but Lynn shook her head in disagreement. The burden of two elements must be painful, she said, and for Story to be paired with Dark was even worse. It was strange hearing such words of wisdom from a small child who hadn’t known much about Shinlai politics to begin with. But I took her words to heart and we sat there for a moment in silence while I pondered them. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Lynn had a point—Daila was in the right. She had kept the two most stressful elements from the Shinlai for fear that they would destroy us. At the same time the underestimation of our strength might hit a sensitive note. But she was only looking out for us.
So who did this Darius think he was? Sure Daila didn’t want the Shinlai to worship her, but that didn’t mean we had to turn on her as our creator, as the one who guided us to our elemental existence. Without Daila, Darius wouldn’t even be here. So why was he opposing her so much?
Here I was, just entering adulthood and only now beginning to ponder my position in Shinlai politics. Was I a Dailan? No, I didn’t feel the kind of devotion to Daila that my parents quite clearly had. But being neutral about the whole situation seemed wrong to me.
Suddenly I realized Lynn had moved to play with my tail. “So…” she wondered aloud, searching for the right word to express her thought. “So…smooth.” I told her I had what was referred to as a weeping tail, characterized by the long silky fur that swept to the ground. She dug her fingers through the chocolate-colored fur, smiling to herself. I couldn’t quite see since she was directly behind me, but I felt her pause.
“Different color.” I tried craning my neck behind me to see what she was talking about. “Brown on top, white beneath.” She was right; there was a layer of cream-colored fur beneath the smooth outer layer. It shimmered slightly when caught by the light, and Lynn smiled. “Much prettier.”
I gazed at the layer of fur for a moment before reaching into one of my pouches and pulling out a knife, one I had made to replace the one lost in the river. I pushed it across the ground toward Lynn and told her to cut away the brown fur. When she asked if I was sure, I nodded and said that I was ready for a change, and that I like the brighter color anyway.
Lynn smiled and picked up the knife, clutching a lock of fur from my tail in her other hand. She cut lightly at first, then once she got comfortable with the feel of hair loosening under the blade quickened her pace. I stared calmly out across the water as she cut, tucking my paws beneath the creamy fur of my underbelly. After a while, Lynn spoke up. “I leave some at the top.” When I turned to look, my tail had been transformed into something very different: silky white fur topped with cropped brown fur. It looked nice. But I asked Lynn why she had left a good lock of brown fur at its normal length, serving as a stripe to the cream beneath it. Lynn smiled. “You need symbol, more than the feather.” She motioned to one of the feathers tied to her necklace, a wren feather. “This is my symbol.” I tilted my head in confusion, but soon realized what she meant as she began to braid my fur.Characters (c) =SashaWren
Drawing (c) *Aviator33
Shinlai (c) *AlanaRoseheart