Chapter Five- Shocked Syllables.
:Stop shouting at me, stupid bird!: The angry voice echoes through my skull and I rock back on my heels as my face freezes in an expression of shocked surprise.
Besides me, Reeka mantles his feathers and retorts. :Called Reeka!:
“It—she—“ I can vaguely hear Dawnfrost’s stuttering voice behind me; she must be hearing this too.
:I don’t care!: The Changeling’s tail lashes from side to side and her ears flatten close to her head.
:Bad shout cat!: Reeka makes up for my stunned silence by loudly admonishing the feline creature before us.
A feeling of annoyance edged with something unidentifiable flares briefly around me and green cat eyes narrow. :You’re the one that started it bird!:
:Name Reeka!: My Bondbird is practically vibrating with annoyance and is softly chittering to himself under his breath as his claws score deep grooves in the padded chair that he is currently perched on, catching at the loose threads and playing merry cob with the woven fabric.
The brief— if very vocal— mental spat seems to be over and Reeka and the Changeling seem to be content to trade filthy looks with each other. I’m still frozen in place, my body locked in a half crouched position, hands still balancing themselves on the same blue-covered bench/chair effort that Reeka is unintentionally destroying, whilst my mind runs around in incoherent little circles.
She talks. She talks. She talks… She talked. She talks! She talks!
The tiny bit of me still connected to the dyheli King-stag standing below my ekele is only registering the same blank shock and surprise that seems to be becoming very fashionable in these parts.
Silence becomes all pervading in my home, so when Dawnfrost hesitantly touches my shoulder with one trembling hand the highly undignified squeak I produce as I jump sounds very loud indeed.
I flail my hands and arms as I loose my balance and tumble backwards, landing on my rump and banging into Dawnfrost’s legs as she stumbles backwards across the room. Reeka squawks and skitters sideways, and the Changeling tenses and hits the ground so fast I don’t even see her move… Of course that might have more to do with me suddenly finding myself sprawled on the rug-covered wooden floor than with her speed of movement… but then again, maybe not.
:Bad Shadowstar.: Reeka mutters his further disapproval as he flaps his wings and lumbers over to his perch, where he begins to preen his ruffled feathers.
I blink and look back to the corner of the room containing the bench, over which I can just make out a pair of extremely suspicious emerald eyes, framed by silver and black fur. A small part of me notes that her ears are now completely pinned back against her skull.
Someone should say something— other than Reeka who is currently informing me that I am a Very Bad Bondmate— and after another long moment I manage to come up with a phrase that I feel sums up the situation perfectly.
Long, graceful whiskers twitch slightly and dark pupils focus completely on me, which is somewhat un-nerving.
“I think I second that.” Dawnfrost’s voice is not much above a thin and uncertain whisper from behind and above me— a whisper that fades out to nothingness as my fellow Tayledras also finds herself the subject of the strangely intense stare of the Changeling.
Right, now I need a reply. Or a conversation starter, or a something… Something diplomatic, intelligent, witty, clever and guaranteed to make everything happy and good.
I manage; “Um…”
:Stupid Bondmate, stupid cat-: Reeka’s muttering becomes clear for a moment before fading to a background rumble in my mind once more. From the look of the Changeling, she’s hearing him too and I hope fervently that another shouting match doesn’t start up. I don’t think my nerves could stand it.
After a brief glance at my sun tail hawk, I find myself once more the subject of a bottomless green stare. Actually, if I’m managing at all at reading the expressions on the alien face before me, ‘bottomless green glare’ would be a more accurate description. “Um,” I manage again, “hello…”
Feline eyes narrow and I silently kick myself. You already know that she doesn’t understand Tayledras, stupid scout!
Let’s try another way then. :Um,: I sound just as much a daft fool in Mindspeech; having sentient Changelings careening about one’s ekele does that to a person, :hello.: A brief, pregnant pause follows my pitiful attempt, which I use to pull myself into a proper sitting position, one hand straying to tangle in my leaf litter strewn and blotchy dyed brown and green hair in a futile attempt to dislodge some of the debris. Also, to give me something to do as that stare is very un-nerving.
:Look, I know you can understand me.: A long, slow blink that somehow manages to convey mountains of scepticism. I slowly and carefully begin to shuffle myself towards the clawed bench behind which the Changeling is sheltering, provoking a rumbling growl. :I’m not going to hurt you, none of us are.:
Flat silence, but I make it to the reclined chair and now I’m sitting on my knees, hands fidgeting awkwardly in my lap as I stare at the tense and un-co-operative feline sitting on her haunches opposite me. An absent part of me notices that we’re in remarkably similar postures.
:Please talk to me.: My Mindvoice has a pleading tone to it and I try to lock my own blue eyes with the disconcerting green ones opposite me. She has a curiously expressionless face, and I’m not entirely sure whether it’s because she’s… well… not human, or because she’s very good at maintaining a neutral mask.
Another pause, and I sigh inaudibly with frustration and close my eyes briefly.
I almost topple over again as I jerk my head up, eyes flying wide open in surprise at the soft and suspicion laden word that echoes in my mind.
:!: I manage to exclaim without words— sounding more like Reeka than myself.
:Yes?: The same voice, this time with a cold frosting to the sending, an iciness that is matched by the narrow cat-eyes that are still fixed unblinking on me.
:Shadowstar not talk good.: Reeka pipes up with an accompanying mental sniff. :Cat get no sense from Bondmate, silly human.:
:I’d noticed that.:
I’m being ganged up on by a Bondbird and a Changeling. Gods.
:Reeka—: I try to admonish my wayward bird and receive an unflattering mental picture and a rude sound in response, before the hawk in question busies himself with preening one wing.
:Umm…: I try again, returning my gaze to the Changeling, who is still staring at me.
:What?: The really disconcerting thing is that although she is speaking— and is obviously intelligent— there are no signs of it on her face. If you look at a kyree or a dyheli, or even one of the Herald’s Companions, then you can see the intelligence in their eyes. Not so here, but I get the faint impression that this is a carefully orchestrated act.
:One doesn’t exactly blame her.: Nadran quietly observes in the back of my mind and I reply with a feeling of a nodding head.
:You said that already.: The Mindvoice of the Changeling is quiet low pitched and husky sounding— although definitely female in overtone. It also sounds distinctly unfriendly at the moment.
:Well I’m not exactly versed in methods of friendly communication with m—Changechildren!: I burst out, before I really think about it.
A snort breaks the silence of the ekele and I sense Dawnfrost starting behind me. :You mean ‘monsters’.: The Changeling points out flatly.
:I do not!: I retort. So… we’ve moved on from my Bondbird arguing with the Changeling to me arguing with the Changeling. Not really much progress.
:That is what you were going to say before you corrected yourself.: The observation is made in a flat tone.
:I—well I didn’t mean it—it was just an…: I trail off before my idiotic sputterings dig me an even deeper metaphorical hole to jump into. Somehow I think I should have shut my mind up before it even started that sentence. I cough uncomfortably at the mixed look the Changeling is giving me.
:An instinctive, knee-jerk response? Oh, I know all about them.: Her Mindvoice is dark and low and carries a hint of things that I desperately do not want to know about. Scratch not starting that sentence; I should just have never opened my big fat mouth in the first place.
:Sorry?: I venture after an uncomfortable moment of silence in which I fiddle with a scrap of my hair again. A wall of darkness and scepticism is the only response I get. Maybe a different tactic…
:What?!: I can taste the thick surprise— almost bordering on shock and the green eyes that are still fastened on me widen momentarily, before narrowing once more with suspicion. I’m probably deluding myself, but I think maybe a little less suspicion. I hope so at any rate.
:For pulling me out of that stream, I mean.: I elaborate slightly. This is good; a conversation is happening. Conversations are good things. Much nicer than arguments.
:You were hardly going to drown.: Her tone of voice is now slightly derisive and a depreciating snort accompanies the sending. :Besides, it was the only way to get the bird to shut up.:
Instead of jerking my head around to stare at my Bondbird again— who I can sense rumbling in the back of my mind— I keep my attention fixed on the Changeling and catch the slight twitch of the left side of her mouth. If she were human or hertasi, I’d say that she was maybe suppressing a smile. For some reason I feel the side of my face twitch, almost as if I’m responding— until, that is, Reeka begins to grumble at me again.
:Stupid cat not know Reeka name, make Reeka mad!: The endless complaint is underscored by vocal chirrs and chirps of disgust. :Why Shadowstar not do something?:
That is a very good question, why don’t I do something? I sigh and rub my head with one hand, I think I’m starting to get a headache. Another one.
“Shadowstar?” The half whispered word in Tayledras abruptly reminds me that Dawnfrost is also in the room and I half turn to look at her out of the corner of one eye.
“Mmhmm?” I try to sound as non-committal and unthreatening as I can as I keep a weather eye on the Changeling, who has returned to silently watching me.
“Was that… I mean; did I hear—?” Dawnfrost sounds confused and un-nerved. Funny that. I don’t blame her at all actually, I mean she barely has enough Animal Mindspeech to talk to her Bondbird, and suddenly having irate Changelings blistering the inside of your head with arguments is bound to be unsettling.
“Yes,” I say simply, while my mind works furiously. Maybe… introductions? “Dawnfrost, come over here slowly and sit next to me.” I keep my voice low and soft. Look; unthreatening Hawkbrother… see how nice he is?
A nervous laugh. “If you’re sure,” her voice wobbles ever so slightly and I can hear her as she sidles her way across the wooden floor of the ekele towards me. I keep my attention on the Changeling— every muscle tenses and she begins to divide her concentration between myself and Dawnfrost, her eyes narrowing slightly.
A light touch on my shoulder and Dawnfrost slides downwards to sit next to me, both legs curled off to one side so that she is leaning towards me. She swallows, “so…” an uncomfortable cough. “What now?”
“Introductions.” I reply, before reaching out again with a thin tendril of Mindspeech.
:Uh,: yet again, another astounding beginning to the conversation from me, :I’m called Shadowstar—:
:I gathered that from him.: An impression of Reeka. Ah, yes… he has been flinging my name about, hasn’t he?
:Oh right well… that’s Reeka,: I ignore the fact that certain hawks have also been flinging their own names about regardless, :and this is Dawnfrost.: I touch Dawnfrost on one shoulder with a hand. :Uh, do you have a name?:
A fluid, almost shrug. :No.: Oh… right… well… that shot down that idea then.
“Well,” I switch to vocal speech again, “that didn’t really work, um, Dawnfrost this is— Cat, I guess.”
“You just made that up, didn’t you?” Dawnfrost raises one eyebrow at me and sniffs, before turning her attention to the Changeling. “Hello.”
“Maybe.” I say guardedly. “But she said she hasn’t got a name so I… uh… improvised.”
“That is obvious.” Dawnfrost points out, attention still on Cat. I think that they’re trading… well; non-hostile looks with each other. I good thing I guess.
Belatedly I remember that Cat can’t understand Tayledras. :Dawnfrost just said hello. Uh, she’s not really got Mindspeech except for with um animals.:
The Changeling blinks slowly and I catch a faint hint of bemusement ,which elicits a resigned sigh from the Healer seated next to me. “Shadowstar, are you fluffing things up?”
“I thought so,” Dawnfrost brushes a trailing piece of her hair out of her eyes and elbows me solidly. “How about I speak and you just translate?” I rub my ribs and refrains from muttering. She managed to find one of the many sore spots I’m currently nursing— what happened to her being all shocked then? The answer to that is, she’s got something to concentrate and focus on; namely herding me about.
I think sometimes that Dawnfrost is the sister I never had, unless all women are like this? You know, I’m glad I’m the only one privy to my internal commentary.
“Shadowstar,” I’m being subjected to a crispy skin glare, “pay attention.” Dawnfrost focuses her attention on the Changeling behind the padded bench. “I guess Shadowstar already said hello and tried to convince you that we don’t mean you any harm. Given that you're still looking worried, I’m guessing he wasn’t that convincing.”
“Hey—“ I start to protest and get another nudge in the ribs for my pains so I give a resigned sigh and begin reciting Dawnfrost’s words in open Mindspeech.
It occurs to me that control is not something I have over my life…