Of Khromats and Kings
A story of the F'Staa Universe by Lisa Jennings
The imonlar appeared much larger than Branek had thought from the outside. The sorceress feline managed to `whip up' (as she called it) a costume suitable for her guest, while she made several `calls' to various beings by way of a visual phone. Branek had heard snatches of English along with several of the more exotic tongues Trica used, and such words as "Langlator", "councils" and "holopics" were interspersed with phrases of "hold responsibility for--" "get idents for--" and "No! No more bringing opposing shanai teams!".
While Trica bustled about making contacts about Branek and simultaneously preparing for the party, she gave the human a pile of disks and showed him how to use the reader. Among the information was a general history of the khromatai, the biological differences between humanity and khromatai, and some human history tapes. The latter group had made the least sense of all.
Branek wandered through the indoor garden as Trica set out some cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. The human was standing on the west porch admiring his new clothing when the guests started arriving. It was a little difficult to feel decent in the soft, breezy robe of flowing emerald silk and its matching trousers. Trica had explained that khromatai considered clothing more of a decoration than protection, and the humans who lived on the planet tended toward the lightweight and loose style of the kimono in evening, as the area they were in was very warm all year round. Silk, she said, was also a great insulator for magics and other energies, so he could continue to heal. So decked out in his green silks with a white dragon embroidered on the back with a smaller emblem on front right side, and equipped with a large pendant that sparkled at any sound and sent the translation on to a small bead in Branek's left ear, he had his first look at the variety of beings that the sorceress had warned him about.
Some long tailed rabbits, a large wolf with antlers, and several small butterfly-winged animals mingled with cats in Arabic veils, rabbits in mint and coral sweaters, foxes in kilts, rats in familiar caps and vests, along with many others who wore even less. One otterish female was decked out in a tiara and arm, leg, and tail bracelets, and nothing else. All stood bipedal, and most had that crown of longer hair like Trica, although in many different cuts and styles. Colors flowed from both fur and clothing as the fascinated human watched two squirrels hug and turn matching shades of lavender. Everywhere there was the happy chatter of a language reminiscent of rats squeaking or otters playing or squirrels chittering, and everywhere Branek turned he found beings whose color patterns were unusual or completely off from the normal. Normal? Branek reminded himself not to judge normality in a place that wasn't home. His mind kept returning to the stories of the faery realm, and he told himself to stop thinking about that. And stop downing unknown alcoholic drinks just because they tasted good and were an interesting shade of pink......
Something drew Branek's attention towards the sun deck on the other side of the building. Other heads turned moments later as the smell of ozone wafted over the room. A small sonic boom rolled over the partiers as a bright light flashed over the sun porch. In the afterglow, a dark human shadow stood on the dais as the crowd fell silent.
Hair of crow black, eyes of shining onyx. His immaculate black pants and vest contrasted with snow white shirt. Around the newcomer's neck hung an octagonal pendant of ruby framed in silver, which was mirrored by a matching belt buckle. His raven feathered hair was crowned by a chimneystack hat, its crimson band matching the crimson-lined black cape. The neatly trimmed mustache and beard of curly coarse black and the large wiry eyebrows that overhung the deepset eyes gave the man an imposing demonic aura.
The crowd parted as the mistress of the house strode through. Her hair sparkled with a silver tiara set with sapphires, her wide eyes blazed like the gems. Before she reached the ramp's edge, the newcomer swept down and bowed with a flutter of cape and lowering of hat.
"You must be the fair lady Trica Fiirasta, sorceress of great power and kin to the Blazing Element." The stranger's voice was not so much heard as felt, the sound rich and as deep as the voice of earth.
"I am," The feline replied. Her voice sent thrills through Branek. Magic? "And who am I addressing, who has entered my home and celebration?"
The man stood up and returned his hat to its perch. "I am called Octo, a fellow magician from N'Inverness who had been asked to attend the happy occasion of your return. I believe my companion and inviter should be arriving presently to better explain."
At that moment, a steady beating sound was heard outside the sun deck. A massive eagle with wings that spread over several meters landed on the porch and ducked its head to allow a large mink to slide off. Patting its great head goodbye, the mink strode indoors and down the ramp, his short black cape fluttering behind him. Dipping his own hat down, he was accosted by several females, including one silver-haired ermine who chirped, "Wiggle!"
"Ahm..Ah, permission to join the party a little late, Trica-roa?" The mink seemed hard pressed to keep his hat as the white weasel and a polychromatic otter hugged him from either side.
Trica broke out laughing, and the rest of the partiers resumed their various chattering. "Permission granted, Wiggle-sahn. I almost thought you would miss my party completely! Now, Micole, could you and Chroma leave him alone so Wiggle can explain who his partner is and where he found him!"
Branek lost the explanation of the mink as the live band started playing on the kitchen level (which appeared to have sunk into the floor to allow a flat space). He could not fail to see where the trio was heading, however, as the male was well over six feet tall in Branek's quick estimation, and towered over the majority of the partiers --including those few other humans who were interspersed among the furrier beings.
A slinky sable with frosty hair and a high hairband of ivory offered Branek a crystal glass filled with a dark ruby colored liquid. Thanking her, the sable grinned and looked the human over. Feeling more than a bit embarrassed, Branek noticed an intricate rune in gold was inlaid on an otherwise plain ivory armband above her elbow. That and the harem-slit pantaloons in a gossamer ivory were the only things she wore.
"So you are the hapless young man Trica scooped out of the river." The Langlator's pseudo voice didn't sound that fluid or lilting: the sable had spoken English. The sabeless smiled up at him as he realized he had been staring at her gentle cleavage.
"Uh," was all he could immediately think of. Recovering, he tried a little more manners. "I am Branek Pendragon, and who am I being graced by?"
The sable laughed in a musically flowing voice. "I'm Senchena, and I'm honored, but you don't need the formality. Such high language is part of the protocol between the magic makers," she nodded at the direction the three had gone. "Trica asked me to be your guide and introduce you to everyone, since I am fluent in English and most all the Khromat languages, along with several other tongues I'm afraid that poor Langlator would choke at."
With that, Senchena glided down the west porch with Branek in tow, and he met many of Trica's friends: Ch'Shen the Altani, a bipedal fox of a ruddy orange color who turned out to be of another species entirely (Branek noticed later that the fox stayed the same color and had no crest hair); Twizstar the wifferet, a strange creature the size and shape of a terran river otter but with large multi-colored butterfly wings and antennae permanently intertwined together; Teressa, a short and well-endowed human and her two-meter tall kangarooid buddy Himfiram the Faharafar; the short, bouncy, and silver-haired Micole the Ermine (who's really only half ermine, Senchena gossiped, which is why she doesn't act like the rest of that high-and-mighty bunch.); Chroma, the otter that never stayed the same color more than 10 minutes; another sable named Frances to whom Senchena gave a sexy hug to on passing; and even a tall tigeroid named Arris who was busy playing a game on Trica's computer in the game room against a shorter cougar fellow who answered to Tarryn.
Later, when the party started to get quieter in the waxing evening lit by Trica's magical ornaments, Branek was surprised when the cat sided up to him with a hand in tow --the body that belonged to the hand came a few seconds later was that of a a short and dark human female, garbed in a low-cut dress of bright red and black, forcing her considerable bustline to bounce in vain attempts to break free of its constraints. Trica motioned Branek to follow, and the female gave a boy-scout salute to him as he groped along through the crowd of fur to an ascending ramp.
Branek found himself in a study with a massive window that commanded a view of the entire main level. Several beings including the two magicians were already lounging among the assorted pillows, and Branek spotted the glittery pale hair of Senchena in a darker corner. Trica gestured the human to sit anywhere and as he picked his way over pillows and fur to sit beside the sabeless, the black feline padded over to a deep shelf and pulled out a large jar whose label Branek could see said "Kaers" in a flowing script. Delicately pulling a pea-sized blue fuzzy ball with her claws, Trica dropped it on the floor while returning the canister to its place. The little blue ball dropped to the floor in a dulled *FFThump*, then expanded in a blue haze to form some large ovoid bagchair, which pleasantly purred when the cat reclined onto it.
"Just so everyone is aware of it," Trica began, "Branek Pendragon can only speak English. The langlator is the old human-khromat model, so only H'Tosslii, S'Chasslii, or English can be spoken for him to understand us."
The tall foxoid Branek met earlier spoke up in a rolling, incomprehensible tongue. Trica shook her head and replied, "We already had him tested before I got the Langlator, and he can't speak L'Doran either."
"Tsa'dite!" the Altani responded in a curiously high-pitched, gravelly voice. His reply sparked giggles from around the pillows.
Trica continued, "To make Branek more comfortable, how about everyone introduce themselves. I know not all of you have met everyone else here, too."
"Okay, Okay, I mite-asvell star-taulf der-intros," The fox drawled on with a smirk on his muzzle. Obviously, this must be the comic relief, Branek mused. "Mawnam isa-- *ouch!* Okay! Stop poking!" The skunk wifferet giggled and fluttered back a few feet. "My full name is Chen Ir Sain, but all this group may call me Ch'Sain."
The fox poked back at the flying skunk. "Me Poppycock!" the little skunk squeaked while doing a loop in the air.
"<Chirp!> I'm Carrnia," A river otter peeped out between two brightly colored pillows. Her shoulder length hair of dark gold was tussled around her ears and muzzle.
The pillows moved again and a small cinnamon bear appeared. "Uh, hi, I'm Wenspur," he murmured, brushing his strawberry hair away from his eyes.
"I am Senchena," the sultry sable next to Branek spoke.
"I am called Shrylar," came a thickly-accented voice from near the window. Branek turned to see a butterfly-winged purple unicorn who stood two feet at the shoulder, if he were standing. Shrylar was currently sitting, munching on something in a bag marked 'Popcorn'.
Next to the unicorn was a icy-white weasel. "Iilyah Hrymmica if you please." The ermine's hair was lavender with a dark purple fringe, and her violet kimono matched the unicorn and her hair nicely.
A high vibrant voice chimed in, "and you can call me Chezzy," as a three-foot tall rat swept his pointed hat to the floor. A flash of silver on his back showed the rat-sized claymore in its studded black leather scabbard. The rat wore matching black studded leather vest and breeches, a forest green skirt billowing out from his shoulders.
"I am Aaron the Karokuan," came a harsh voice in the shadows. It took Branek several seconds before he could see a man-sized hawk leaning against a bookshelf, polishing a dagger with one taloned hand. The human stifled a small shudder at the artillery being displayed by the 'karokuan'. Daggers lined his brown vest and pants like feathers, including several throwing dirks bound to his massive wings.
The short and dark woman that Branek followed to the study stood up. Her garishly bright carmen red and black skirt was ruffled and embroidered and her scarlet blouse had matching embroidery along the ruffs at her wrists. Her rounded hips matched the rounded cleavage that was trying to escape her black bodice. Brown eyes watched from between kohled lashes and smiling exposed a set of snow white teeth with unusually large canines. "Hellow all. I'm Gypsy. Jus' Gypsy." She tilted her head slightly to swing one long black braid of hair back around to rest with its mate and she slid back down onto a white pillow. "Trica brought me in for triangulation."
Wiggle the mink leaned over and touched his hat. "I am the Wonderful Wiggle!" Several girlish giggles issued from around the study.
The other human nearly stooped over to avoid the ceiling as he stood up. "I am Octo of N'Inverness, and I am honored to be included in this meeting."
With Octo's introduction, Trica sat up in her furry beanbag. "Okay, gang. Most of you know why you are here, with the significant exception of Branek, the purpose of this meeting. Branek, you have been pushed here from another time and place. With your arrival came several magical disturbances, and in my juristidiction. The source of these events has not been located yet, but we have good reason to believe that they come from your timespace. We need from you information to pinpoint when and where you came from so we can send you back and remove the being or beings responsible for your dispacement, if possible."
Gypsy shuffled a large deck of cards, carefully separating and then restacking the heavy embossed vellum plates. Several others moved the scattered pillows away from the center of the room. Branek could now see a familiar and yet alien pattern etched into the wood-like flooring. Gypsy came over and placed Branek's hand onto her cards.
"Think of home," she said, all humor gone from her face. "Remember where you were and what you were doing before the door opened and sucked you here."
Branek opened his mouth, but Gypsy put her hand against it. Her palm was warm and dry, with a slightly electric feel to it.
"No talk. Just feel. When you are ready, nod your head once and we will start asking questions of you. Then you will answer with the first thing that comes to mind...."
Branek heard her voice drop into a near monotone as he felt the room warm up, like a fire in the hearth back home. Home. He felt like drifting to sleep and waking up finding this all a dream, that he was really so drunk from the Samhain feasts that he was walking between the worlds with the ghosts and the sidhe... For a moment he was back at his home at Tintagel in autumn, the chill winds off the sea sweeping in the castle, his father trying to look cheery in the shadow of war coming, his mother patiently working her magics to guard her family and the countryside.
Still drifting, he opened his eyes. He saw the dim room was brighter now, but lit with an inner light as the circle of people were now joined by a gossamer green glow, a spider's web of light linking everyone to him and he to Trica, Gypsy, and Wiggle. His vision of home was still there, but now ghostly, a faery illusion over the room. The quiet voice was still there, weaving the spell. He nodded, slowly.
Branek found himself standing at one of the points of the etched pattern on the floor. Trica and Wiggle stood along the edge of the pattern. Gypsy was before Branek, at the next point on the pattern, holding one of her vellum cards. The card showed a wheel with runes over it.
"This is the wheel of fortune, The Great Wheel the seasons dance, The symbol of the fates and the turning of chance."
Gypsy's voice took on a tone that resonated through Branek, tingling with power. She laid the card at her feet, then moved to the next point and held up another card. This one showed a crystal mirror surrounded by the four elements, with runes runing along the mirror's frame.
"This is the mirror of truth, The great Divining Well, The giver of all visions and guidance to this spell."
As Gypsy continued to move around the pattern and place cards at its points, the cat and mink started a low chant. Branek could see a pattern form in the center of the etched floor, a three-dimentional representation of the floor's star-like design. The spiderwork lattice was anchored to the floor at the card-laiden points, and wavered gossamer at his eye length. The webwork became sharp and sturdy as Gypsy stood at the last of the points holding a card showing a man working metal with hammer and tongs, his face a black window with stars showing through. Another wheel design hung behind the blacksmith.
"This is the farrier, Destiny's Hand, The force of the cosmos we have yet to understand."
Gypsy moved back from the design and faced Branek from directly across the center of the pulsing magic.
"We come seeking knowledge, We ask in truth's behest, We close now the circle and so begin our quest."
The web in the center lit the room in its blue-green glow. Gypsy's voice dropped to a more normal tone. "The circle is complete. The will of the quester shall be our guide, to show us his home and the path we need follow."
Who are you? A voice whispered in his head, whispered through the glowing latticework surrounding him.
His voice sounded strange in the not-silence. "I am Branek, son of the Goddess, foster son of the Lady Lionors and Sir Gareth of the Companions. My mother Niniane was a priestess to the Goddess and daughter of the High King, my father Gwydion was druid-trained and son of the Merlin."
What is your age? The web trembled in question.
"I will be seventeen the moonrise after Mid-Winter's day."
Where did you live? The whisper of voices asked.
"I live at Dyn Tagell, the castle of Tintagel. My home is Avalon of the Mists, in the Summer Sea."
What names are the land you live in? The murmur of voice became louder.
"The land is Kernow, on the great isle of Briton."
What is the year you last remember?
"Five Ninteen, as the priests measure it."
"The worshippers of the Nazarene, the White Christ. Most folk don't deal with them much, but the High King tolerated them, so they stay."
Who is the High King?
"There is no High King now, not since grandfather died."
Who was your grandfather?
"Artor, of the Great Dragon."
The questioning halted suddenly amid shushing and heated whispers. Branek stood still frozen in the glowing net, watching the stream of images appearing in the center of the room. The vision of his home faded into white, then grey. Suddenly, in the center of the patterned floor another person appeared. Human, and yet not-human. The female stood facing Branek, her stature tall and frail as a willow. Her platinum-white hair was braided in front and loosely floating behind, her braids reaching the coptic belt draped at her hips. Her catlike eyes changed colors, first leaf green, then violet, then dandelion yellow and back. She visually wavered as she turned slowly about, studying the room. As her eyes passed by the ebon cat, Branek could see Trica's eyes widen, then darken. Finally the lady faced Branek again and pointed.
"Beware, little dragon, of women born of the Goddess who are not her servants. The storm draws closer, the worlds are drifting apart. One of my people is tangled with your life, and I fear to counsel you but do not harm her or her fetch. Remember, magic is passed through the line of women."
The strange woman faded as she spoke; the last sentence was barely a whisper of wind through the room. With her disappearance, the not-silence was swept away, releasing Branek and the room from the spell. People were muttering among the cushions as Trica walked unsteadily back to her bagchair. Gypsy helped Branek move his stiff legs and sit among the cushions as the lights brighted again.
"Stranger and stranger," Trica said," this is getting rapidly more complex. Branek, did you recognize that one?"
"No," He answered, "I've never seen such a person. The fairy folk are small and dark, with bird bones and black eyes."
"To be more precise, the fairy folk of your isles as you imagine them are such." Octo's rock-deep voice quieted the room. "There are as many tribes of the Sidhe are there have been of human, maybe more. I remember my training: She was one of the Fair Ones, called by many names but always considered part of the High Court of the Sidhe. I also seem to recall that they were more active in Ireland and the norselands than in Britain." He turned to face Trica. "If what Wiggle told me is correct, than we may be seeing more than one Thread being interrupted by this intrusion."
Trica thought about that, then turned to Branek. "Well, we did get a good reading on your true place, and you are very much farther away than I had thought, both in time and laterally across the web. I'd say at least 10 to 20 hmarlae from our Thread. Gypsy and I will have to cross reference to made the distance more precise." Trica pulled something up from alongside her chair and held it up. A miniture of the latticwork spun slowly in an oval glass before her. At a command, it zoomed in at one of the threads of light, separating it from the others, until only a space eight threads wide filled the oval. Everyone could see that in central area was blurred in red, the threads looking like a distorted loom with a burned hole. Trica continued while holding the oval, " There are at least three threads tangled at this juncture, though I cannot tell if it was accidental or intentional. If I can't get a better resolution, we may have to look at all three to determine which is Branek's true thread."
"Excuse me," Branek spoke, "can you explain to me what is happening? I have little training from my father, but this is very new to me."
Octo chuckled, "That's not surprising, son. You said your natural parents know of the religious forms of magic for their sect. This is a different magic, native to the people you see about you. Everyone has a different focus, and there are many forms the magical energy takes."
Wiggle sat up at looked at Branek with his wide mink eyes. "Don't concern yourself about us, Branek. The main thrust is we can see history as a sort of woven cloth, with weft and warp being individual timelines. Where there is a pivotal choice in history, there is a crossroads of time-space threads. We prefer to call them 'lateral lines' but it's actually a good deal more complicated than that. Where we sit now is significantly in the future of time from where your line and our link. We can't tell you how much you line would differ from ours at our time-space location, but we can tell you how many crossroads-back you came from based on our line. You're telling us that you are the grandson of Arthur Pendragon, but we know through our legends that Arthur had one son who died childless before Arthur did. 'Without Issue' is the term. So we know you must be from a major pivotal point earlier than that, which is a good ways away from the here-and-now. Does this make any sense?"
Branek nodded slowly. "The Merlin told me once that the thoughts of man remake the world. What you are saying is that the choices of man change the universe, too." The room nodded approvingly. "You say your legends. Does this mean that the tale is already like our own hero-stories, that little facts blur and fade and untruths embellish to where no bard can tell what is truth and what is not?"
A lilting voice caught Branek's attention. "In a very real sense, what the legends say and what the original story was are two different timelines." The ermine cocked her head to Branek. "A legend survives through the retelling, and each successive age adds more layers to the tale. History is simply the core of a series of stories, as there is no such thing as a true tale. What little information we have on your time comes mainly through legends, compiled and compressed into a tome called The Matter Of Britain. Unfortunately, such stories are colored by the victory of the invading tribes and their beliefs. Christianity, as the ruling religion, rewrote or removed parts to suit their worldview, and so the other side of the story is lost. Since the time your world was distroyed, we have only these tales and others to look at to see what Terra's people did through the millenia. Even your fellow humans often dream to return home and uncover a lost city or buried treasure, but those quests are forever closed for them."
"Branek," Chezzy the rat spoke up, "how exactly are you the grandson of Arthur. How are you related?"
"Ah, well, my mother Niniane is the daughter of Artor and his half-sister Morgainne through the kingship rites of the Great Marraige to the land. My granddame kept Niniane and raised her on Avalon as a priestess of the Goddess, as generations of her mothers before her. I was sired at the Beltane rites by the son of the Merlin, and was fostered out until I was old enough to come to Avalon for training."
Wenspur scratched his tousled head and asked, "Well then, how did Artor die? In our timeline it is said that he died of treachery at the hand of his son."
Branek thought about that a moment. "The High King was always the target for ill-meant plots, but never from among his kindred. He fell at the battle of Camlann of numerous wounds, although he did succeed in turning back the Saxons for a few years by that war. He asked that they take him to Avalon, and when his Companions arrived at the shore of the Summer Sea, a boat of Avalon was already waiting and the Lady of the Lake herself took him to the island. The peasant folk claim that She sent him to the fairylands where he reigns in Underhill until he is needed on earth again." Branek stared at the floor. "My mother says that Artor was tended on Avalon until they knew they could not save his life and then he was given a choice. She never told me what the choice was, but she has told me that Artor will never return to rule the land as High King."
Trica shifted in her bagchair as all eyes turned to her. "We now have two distinct problems. I had no idea his time frame was so far into the past, let alone that far off our thread. Getting Branek home safely is going to take some doing." Trica's sapphire eyes burned the air between her and Branek. "I'm certain that your adversary didn't care much where you fell, Branek, as long as it was someplace dangerous. We, on the other hand, need to prevent that from occurring. Second, we must neutralize this being who risks havoc among threads just to get rid of an opponent. I'm fairly sure that was the reason the Sidhe showed herself, although her warning needs to be considered as well. The best way to disarm this sentient would be for someone to go with Branek and that is just as risky since we'll need to bring that person back." The sorcerous feline turned to the purple unicorn. "Shrylar, how are they doing with the wefter?"
The miniature unicorn flicked his tail. "We've been pretty successful on bringing back subjects, but we've only been working on sending them to specific points within the past 6 lilhae. Then again, we're using completely grey subjects. If a meija or high-psi would go with him, there would be increased tracking and power to get out that far. The main problem would be that we would need to shift him twice to ensure getting him to the precise locale: one shift to his time in our thread, then one to his thread."
The ermine Iilyah nudged the unicorn briefly and muttered something in his cocked ear. Shrylar nodded and looked back at Trica. "Ah, right. The wefter has been proven capable of an area effect, so more than one being can be moved by it. As we have a perfectly good personal model, we've been working on a vehicular model. Final testing should be done by the Baccestian Festival."
Sounds of approval and excitement rippled through the study. Octo spoke up in a voice that was so quiet that should not have carried across the room but did. "Forgive a Human with Human knowledge, but I thought your people could cross the dimensions by themselves?"
The assembled Khromatai mutually turned grey and quieted. Wiggle gravely answered his friend, "It's true that we have a history riddled with the tales of Khromatai walking the web, but for hundreds of generations it was believed such folk vanished forever. A rare few weftwalkers actually returned to tell their tales, but most of them required significant recovery before they were willing to mention their adventures. To this day there is much superstition about the Disappearing Simurei, though we have a better idea now why they were occurring."
Wiggle and Trica exchanged glances. Trica started pacing the room, addressing nobody in particular. "The reasons for the disappearances were unknown until the Khromat Cshastei met the Maropsi (nodding to Shrylar) who appear to have a similar attunement to the Web. More accurately, Shrylar's people are self-aware of the multiple threads that permeate this illusion of time. With their help we discovered that these vanishing people were actually to another location on the Web. We learned that wefting required psionic and meijic power, which is why so few have ever experienced it, let alone return from whence they vanished."
Iilyah spoke up, "But the key to wefting has always been strong emotional power." She glanced at Branek then Octo. "We didn't know until some twelve of your years ago that psionics and magics were two separate energy sources, or how emotional energy would interact with the other two. Emotions are a catalyst. A Khromat doesn't have to be a mage to have the potentiality of magic anymore than a Human or other sentient needs to be psionic to have magic or wild talents. They are all different channels to differing energy forms and everyone can possess any level of them."
A giggle sounded from the pillows. Carrnia piped up, "And since many of Khromatdom's brightest minds were also high psi-types, there was a concern that too much stress would make them blip out!" She giggled again as Wenspur threw a pillow at her. The otter ducked as a pillow suddenly appeared above Wenspur's head and landed squarely over the bear's muzzle.
"Yes, and now our wefters prove that it was a simple matter of combining the three in varying degrees," Wenspur added, holding onto the offending pillow while waiting for Carrnia to poke her muzzle up out of the cushions. "That is, if you call that simple.
Gotcha! Otter:1, Bear:1."
A whistle sounded above the pillow pile. Both combatants looked up to see a copper sword in a crimson scabbard floating above them and pointing up and right. Promptly two beanbags landed on their startled targets as the sword and crowd laughed.
"Hey!" Poppycock burst through the laughter. "Party is virkt away, yes? We try wefter then, yes?" The little skunk wifferet was juggling his remaining beanbags.
Shrylar nodded his head in thought. "Hmmmmm.... well, that's not a half-bad idea there, Poppycock. I'm sure Iilyah and I can convince the big lady if she needs any convincing at all. Thea's got a lot of horse sense about her, and they've been meaning to find some other destination targets besides Astraea within the last century and Erubus IV of forty years ago.
"I can get back to you about that Mankai, Trica. You know how much the boss appreciates her weekends."
Trica grinned back. "Yes, she's definitely not your workaholic kind of scientist, is she? Now, so Shrylar's got some names to back him up, I'm willing to go. I'd like it if Aaron and Chez come with me." The artillery-laden pair nodded ascent. "Right. Now does anyone else want to volunteer?"
Wenspur muttered, "You'll need an engineer. Everyone needs and engineer." His smirk belied his humor.
"I don't think you'll need Xenopologist," Carrnia spoke seriously for once, "But as we'll be going a fair distance into the past, the linguistic divergence is going to cause a real problem, so you'll need a xenolinguist. I'll tag along." Her usual ending giggle was cut short as she turned to Branek with startlingly blue eyes. "Branek, if you're from 1380 b.a.a. Britain, how are you speaking Modern English?"
Branek blinked at her then looked around at the startled faces. He blinked again and looked back at the otter. "I don't know what you mean, but I have noticed my speech is a bit strange to my ears, like I think one thing and say something not quite the same. I don't know how I do it or why, however." He shrugged.
Carrnia stood up and gestured Branek towards her. He was caught offguard by her outfit, a woven mesh like chainmail only much finer draped across her torso in large lozenges, ending in a dagged short skirt. No cloth draped under the mail, and no other ornament was visible except a diamond brooch on a gold chain. Carrnia locked eyes with him and said, "What color is my pendant?"
Branek felt the mental touch, like someone looking over his shoulder. He was rapidly getting used to the idea that everyone in this room could read his mind if they wanted, although they all appeared to let him keep this privacy. Now he felt the inner opening of a new door and heard his voice and the multiple shadow echoes as if he was the looker over someone else's shoulder.
"White." <[White]><<"Wenna">><<<swans flying over the snow>>>..........
"How strange," Carrnia commented vocally and mentally, filling Branek's mind with colors that had no name, "he's right. Somehow he's got a translating layer patched between his first and second levels." Images of an rainbow-colored onion drift through Branek's mind, causing a chain reaction of more exotic ideas to float to the surface. Several voices highlighted with colors echoed in his mind. Suddenly the door closed, and Branek's mind was his own again.
Carrnia was a distinct shade of coral pink. "Sorry, Branek, I forgot. You know, you've got a large potential waiting for training. If you'd like, I can spend this week with you working on your telepathy. A little control will help you and us."
Trica spoke for Branek. "An excellent idea, Carrnia. And if his Avalon training is anything like our meijakonae then he'll pick up telepathy quick."
"Well, I wish I could go, but somebody's got to watch the equipment." Shrylar looked almost blue in disappointment. Then he shook out his mane and eyed Branek. "Of course, we can put a PEG sensor on Branek. We haven't tried the wefter on Humans, but the grey subjects have a lot less energy than non-telepathic Humans. It would be interesting to see his responses."
Octo cleared his throat. "If it would not be too much trouble, my lady, I would like to come along. This journey sparks my curiosity." The Human looked embarrassed as his face flushed. His onyx eyes, however, were alive with fire.
Trica made a small bow to Octo. "I would be honored to have another meija on this trip."
Branek felt awed by this strange group so ready to risk their lives for him. "I-I.. don't know what to say to all of you. Thank you."
"Don't mention it. We're always thirsty for knowledge, and I know chances for adventures like this are all too few and far between," Gypsy grinned, exposing her snow-white fangs. "Heck, if I didn't have a thriving business I'd go along , too. As it is, I'll have Poppycock to keep in touch with Shrylar, so Wiggle and I and the rest won't be in the dark." With that, the short Human gathered up the cards and slowly folded her hands with the deck between them until her palms touched. Cat-like, she then stretched and stood up, showing a darkly hairy pair of legs under her flamboyant skirts. The cards were nowhere to be seen. "Now if the mistress of the house doesn't mind, I'd like to get back to the party. I want to "talk" to Kershan. You know, the red-tabby Femiliren." She gave a wicked smile and muttered, "What a tail..." as she motioned the door open and stepped down the ramp.
* * *
Soft music played from the kitchen floor. The only lights about were the magical decorations that lit the room like multicolored fireflies. Noises and snatches of conversation were still in the air, but subtly changed in tone. As his eyes adjusted to the new darkness, Branek spotted a pair of furry bodies snuggled in one large satin pillow. Over to the side, he saw Senchena's frosty hair as she melded onto another weasel, presumably Frances, and sank to the floor together. Stopping to watch, Branek stared as he realized what the sables were doing as they vanished into the darkness.
It occurred to the Human that he was witnessing what the Romans had called an orgy. The disks of information filtered back to his consciousness and he remembered more about the Khromatai, this time with visuals he could understand. Embarrassed, he walked out onto the west balcony. The three moons of Pallmarrica were rising near zenith. He relaxed more as he was aware of the multitude of stars blanketing the sky, some constellations familiar looking, many more were unknown. Absorbed by the exotic sight, he didn't notice the hand that fell lightly upon his shoulder until a voice was heard behind him.
"You find the stars more attractive than the party?"
Shocked, Branek swung about to stare at the beak of the Karokuan.
"I--..I'm sorry...I've never--"
"Pay it no mind, then," Aaron's voice was soothing. "I can understand that such everyday occurrences here may not be to the liking to a non-Khromat, from the past or not." The hawkman gestured with a taloned hand towards a deck chair on the porch as he sat in another. Branek glanced back into the imonlar, then sighed into the indicated chair.
"Let me tell you something about the Khromat people, son," Aaron gestured to the open portal behind them. "They live on paradoxes. For being technologically advanced, they prefer the more archaic means, be it in weapons or transportation or what have you. They are hedonists to the point of decadence, yet I met very few races that I felt were as civilized." He sighed heavily, looking up into the sky. "Ah, it is a lovely night. Look! You can even see Imar, my home sun. It's the yellowish one near the horizon." The hawk gestured towards a cluster in the southwest. "How old are you again, Branek?"
``I will be seventeen around MidWinter's eve. Why do you ask?"
The Karokuan muttered something to the stars, then cocked his head to look at Branek again. "Oh, I was just wondering how many millennia old you are."
Millennia? You mean thousands?" Branek swallowed hard.
Aaron chucked, a squawky parrot sound. "Yes, lad, I do mean thousands. Three thousand, two hundred and fifty, to be exact. Did Trica mention that Terra's been dead for centuries?" Branek numbly nodded. The history disks had mentioned that his land was just a small part of a globe called Earth or Terra. "Ah, well, old Terra was destroyed in 436 a.a. -- I believe that was 3315 in the old calendar you used. About 2 millennia after your time." The hawkman noticed Branek's face paling in the moonlight. Aaron grasped the man in his talons and gently shook him. "Here, here! I didn't mean to put you in shock, son!" The hawkman handed Branek a kerchief, dipped in water from the nearby table laden with bowls of fruit surrounded by ice. "You will be going back to your own time in a Khromat-week, so don't worry about it."
Branek took the proffered cloth and rubbed his face. "You're right, I suppose. No wonder all of you were staring at me so. Has anyone ever been to my time before, as these Khromats are suppose to be able to do?"
The large hawk shook his head. "As Shrylar explained in the meeting, they've only tested the wefter back to about a century on our thread of time. Not that there hasn't been critters who blipped farther in time, it's just that so few of those accidental blips returned to their own or similar time frame that our knowledge is pretty scarce."
Aaron pulled out a dagger and began polishing it. "If I remember my Humanity History right, however, your timeframe has never been thoroughly documented. Even in the 11th Century a.d. of your time, the legends of Arthur and his Companions were considered largely myth, and the only records pertaining to your century that anyone's ever found were written two to three hundred years after the events! Let alone what was lost when Terra died, considering that the archaeologists were still finding artifacts up until the last years of the Terran Empire. So even if a Khromat had blipped back to Arthurian England, we have no records of such a trip, nor of that time in general to know if one did!"
A small servant that looked like a cartoon pentagonal star walking on two fiery points appeared from the doorway, bearing a gold tray with glass goblets perched on it. "Drinks for Sahnei?" It asked in a steel-drum voice.
Branek lifted one of the crystal goblets filled with a quicksilver liquid. The Human felt worthy of numbing himself with alcohol after all this information. Aaron looked equally interested although for certainly different reasons. The little fire-star waddled back to the party, chittering like a metal musicbox.
Aaron raised his glass-filled talons to Branek and toasted, "To the grandson of Arthur Pendragon, may this adventure be as legendary as the Quest of the Holy Grail."
Branek quirked an eyebrow at the reference, but replied instead, "To Aaron Karokuan, the first hawkman I've met, and the most helpful at that."
Grinning each in their own manner, the two downed the slippery fluid. It felt like a sliver of ice, then a silent fireball, warming every nerve in their bodies. Both sighed appreciatively and Aaron began pointing and naming more stars than Branek would ever remember.