Mace Black, Page 342-348 by Wolfenshire ()
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Mace Black, Page 342-348
Sern had managed to figure out how the harness fit on Saeber, though it hadn’t been easy. The cramped confines of the wagon made it difficult to sort out which strap went where. The dual saddle bags with medical supplies, mainly bandages, splints, and a few common ointments, was now fastened securely over the tiger’s back. It had taken awhile to figure out the buckled section in the center. Sern finally realized the center section was a saddle, but only intended to carry an injured patient and not for long distance riding. There was even an extra attachment that would enable Saeber to carry an unconscious patient prone on her back.
Saeber’s eyes had a wild look to them; she didn’t like the wind. Sern sat with her head in his lap and stroked her neck. Sern’s backpack had come preassembled and the only thing he had to do was tuck his new anatomy textbook safely inside. He wished he had a light so he could read his new book. They listened to the wind and waited.
The storm didn’t last long, the wind died down and nearly as quickly as the storm had started, it was over. They crawled out of the wagon and checked on the Trader, he was already getting the wagon ready to back out of the rocks. They left the Trader to his task and walked out to the road. Other than a few puddles, the desert was already soaking up the water.
“That wasn’t too bad,” said Sern.
“Saeber not like storm,” she replied.
“Here comes the wagon,” said Sern.
The wagon almost made it to the road, but bogged down in a muddy spot. Saeber got behind the wagon and helped push while the horses, led by the Trader, pulled. Sern was amazed at how someone so gentle like Saeber could be so strong. There was no doubt her pushing got the wagon unstuck.
“That’s a mighty fine tiger you got,” said the Trader. “Alright, mount up, we’re almost to the village.”
Sern sat on the back of the wagon with his legs dangling over the edge, and Saeber next to him. They had only been back on the road for maybe ten minutes when Sern started hearing something like a roar. He stood up and looked around, but couldn’t see anything. The roaring was getting louder, like a jet engine warming up for take-off.
The wagon came to a stop and Sern jumped down with Saeber. They ran around to the front of the wagon. About a hundred yards in front of the wagon a river of water was rushing across the road.
“Is that a flash flood?” Sern shouted over the roar of the river. He could see people running back and forth on the other side of the flood. “Hey, someone’s out there in the river. See, on that rock.”
The Trader jumped down from the wagon. “It’s a Mathor boy, he’s in trouble.”
“Why aren’t those people doing something?” asked Sern.
The Trader shook his head sadly. “They can’t do anything, Mathor’s can’t swim, and even if they could, there isn’t anything anyone could do. The current is moving too fast, anyone that goes out there will be swept away. The river is going to take him, all we can do is wait and help search for the body.”
“We have to do something,” shouted Sern, unwilling to just stand and wait for the boy to die.
“Darai can’t swim either, there isn’t anything you can do,” said the Trader.
“If I only had my wings I could get him,” said Sern.
“Sern, get this down,” shouted Saeber. The Trader and Sern looked at Saeber. She was tugging at a coiled rope hanging from the side of the wagon.
“Saeber, that won’t help, it’s too far to throw a rope to him,” said Sern.
“Get it, get it, no talk time,” roared Saeber. Sern had no idea what Saeber was planning, but she was trying to help and anything would be better than doing nothing. He rushed over and pulled the rope off the hook. “Get on, hurry,” she shouted.
Sern jumped on the tiger’s back and she leaped into a sprint. He could see the boy didn’t have much time left. The water was pouring over the top of the rock and he was now on his hands and knees, desperately trying to cling to his last few seconds of life. Saeber didn’t head for the boy, it wouldn’t have done any good, he was going to be swept away by the powerful current any second. Saeber headed down river at a full run, her powerful legs kicking up mud as she ran.
She stopped two hundred yards down river from the boy. “Tie rope around Saeber,” she shouted, watching the boy carefully.
Sern shook his head. “I can’t swim.”
“Saeber swim,” she shouted, then shouted again. “NOW!”
Sern looked up just in time to see the boy as he was swept off the rock and disappeared into the river. Sern looped the rope around Saeber’s neck, and she jumped into the water. He concentrated on unwinding the rope so it wouldn’t be pulled out of his hands. He watched Saeber swim, expecting her to be pulled away by the flood, but she was strong and fought the current. He wrapped the end of the rope around his wrists while he scanned the river for the boy - there he was, a hundred yards from Saeber, but she wasn’t going to make it to him.
The boy passed Saeber by less than five yards. She changed directions and swam after him. Sern held the end of the rope and ran along the edge of the river to keep up with her. She was just behind him, almost there. The boy frantically reached out for the tiger - and then she was next to him. Saeber twisted around in the water until the boy was on the upriver side of her.
The boy was in panic survivor mode and didn’t need any coaching to crawl onto her back. She turned in the water and started swimming back, but the current was against her now, and she had the extra weight of the boy. Sern pulled on the rope, but it was like trying to pull a house. The current was pulling her away. Sern leaned back with all his strength and pulled, but she was too heavy and the current too strong. He started sliding through the mud towards the river, then the Trader was there and grabbed the rope. Sern stopped sliding in the mud for a moment, but even with both of them pulling, the current was still too strong to pull Saeber to shore. Sern and the Trader started sliding. They needed more people to help, or the horses. The Trader should have brought one of the horses, but maybe there hadn’t been time to unhook the horses from the wagon.
The rope was cutting into Sern’s hands, he looked down and saw blood seeping between his fingers. His eyes fell on the tattoo on his wrist Master Aestar had changed to the shape of a tiger. Each of the night tattoos, a gift from the Night Goddess, represented the different powers of an elemental and gave Sern the ability to use those powers. Maybe the tiger tattoo gave him the strength of a tiger.
He concentrated on the night marking of the tiger. The tattoo burst into a dark flame. The world spun and there was a moment of vertigo and he stumbled and let go of the rope. The Trader was sliding faster towards the river. He was going to lose Saeber. Sern stood and stumbled, something was wrong. He looked down at his leg, maybe his new metal leg had broken. He stared for a moment, uncomprehending what he was looking at.
Sern twisted his head and looked at his body. He wasn’t a boy anymore, he was a tiger, but not a white tiger with black stripes like Saeber. His fur was Raven black with white stripes. It only took him a moment longer to realize. The Elementals had the ability to change their shapes at will, but the Night Goddess hadn’t given him that power. Master Aestar had changed one of his night tattoos and gifted him the ability to change forms as the Elementals could…well maybe only to change to one form, a tiger, yes, Master Aestar had called him a shadow tiger.
He jumped up and ran in front of the Trader. If the Trader was surprised to see a black tiger suddenly in front of him, he didn’t show it. “Loop the rope around me,” roared Sern, surprising himself with how deep his voice suddenly was.
There wasn’t any slack in the rope to loop around, so Sern leaned against the rope and the Trader walked it around him until Sern was taking all the weight; the Trader acted as the anchor from behind. Sern extended his claws and dug them into the mud and started walking. Saeber and the current was still heavy, but not as it was before. He walked, step by step, pulling Saeber from the river.
The weight against the rope lessened, and then was gone. He looked back at the river, Saeber was just stepping out of the tumultuous waters. The Trader quickly grabbed the boy from Saeber and she collapsed on her side. Sern ran to her and nuzzled his nose against her.
“Are you okay? I thought I was going to lose you,” whispered Sern.
Saeber opened her eyes. “Black tiger very rare, look good.”
Sern shook his head. They weren’t actually talking, they were growling, but the growling was words. All this time that Batheba and Kabath and Saeber had been growling and roaring, it had been words he couldn’t understand. He could understand tiger talk, or was this the Sherata native language?
“We should get away from this river.” Sern looked up, the Trader was carrying the Mathor boy towards the wagon. Sern could tell the boy was exhausted, the boy’s tail was dragging across the ground behind him.
Saeber rolled over and pushed herself to her feet. The two tigers followed after the Trader. Saeber leaned against Sern as they walked. He felt good, strong, powerful - he liked being a tiger. He wanted to sprint and see how fast he was, but he stayed with Saeber. He was taller than her, and bigger. He stumbled a little as they walked - it would take time to get used to having four legs. Sern looked back at his right leg and was startled to notice it was a silvery metallic leg from the knee down.
“Hey, my leg is metal,” he said.
Saeber glanced back at his leg. “Not can make what not have,” she replied.
“Yeah, but I got a tail now also and I didn’t have that before,” said Sern, and almost immediately changed his mind. “No, wait, I guess I do have a tail as a Darai, sort of. I have a tailbone, and that’s what’s left of our primordial tail. I guess I have lots of little parts leftover from my primordial beginnings. I have my fangs, my talons, my wing-blades – I guess all that stuff helps make the extra tiger stuff. I wonder if I can turn into a tiger on Darai, or does it just work in a quantum universe? I wonder if this affects the way I think?”
Saeber nudged against him. “Saeber think you still smart like Raven.”
“You don’t seem surprised to see me as a tiger,” said Sern.
“Sherata been in Apeirogon, know what Sern tiger mark mean,” said Saeber.
“Oh yeah, Batheba said your species found the Apeirogon a long time ago, I guess you would know about the Elementals, but I just got this tattoo.”
“Saeber see it when Sern still sleep from leg fix, Saeber very happy when see tiger mark, Sern be Saeber mate now.”
“Umm…I have a mate…I mean, I’m promised to be Jasai’s mate.”
“Not problem, Saeber challenge Sern female, kill her.”
“What? No, you can’t do that.”
“Why not can do?”
Sern wasn’t sure if she was just mad and didn’t really mean she would kill Jasai, but he also didn’t have a good answer for why she couldn’t. On Darai it was legal for any female to challenge a Clipping in single combat up until the actual mating. By Darai law, it was Saeber’s right to challenge.
“Hey look, I’ve been unhappy with Jasai for a long time now, but I don’t want her hurt.”
Saeber stopped walking and stared at Sern. There was a dangerous look in her eyes. “You think Saeber animal, not person.”
“No, I didn’t say that at all, and it’s not fair for you to say that. I’m a Darai, and we are not xenophobic, believe me. Darai have mated with just about every species in the galaxy, and nobody on Darai thinks it’s weird. If you want to see a xenophobic race, you should see the humans on Raunu. We had to send a whole Battle Group to evacuate our people because the humans were so xenophobic.”
Saeber’s eyes narrowed. “Sern try change talk, confuse Saeber.”
“Oh come on, you’re being irrational.”
“Now Saeber not rational.”
“What? No, I didn’t mean it like that.”
Saeber growled and stomped away without another word.
“Hey, come on, why are you mad at me?” He tried to run after her but got tangled up in his own feet and tumbled to the ground. It was going to take some time to walk like a tiger. He concentrated on his night marking of the tiger and extinguished the flame. There was that moment of vertigo again as he shifted back to Darai form. He ran after Saeber. She stomped past the Trader standing at the back of the wagon. The Mathor boy was sitting on the end of the wagon and had a blanket wrapped around him.
“Is he going to be okay?” asked Sern.
“Yes, he’s working on throwing up all the muddy water he swallowed,” replied the Trader. “We’ll wait for the flash flood to recede and then head into the village.”
“Okay, I’m really beat, I feel like I need to sleep for days,” said Sern.
“It takes a lot of energy to shift forms,” explained the Trader. “The Elementals have unlimited energy to draw from when they do it, but you do not. You need to take it slow at first. I don’t know how long you’ll eventually be able to maintain that form, but for now, keep it down to maybe five or ten minutes.”
“Okay, thanks,” said Sern.
“So, I saw you and Saeber fighting, is that your first fight?” asked the Trader.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Sern.
“Yep, the honeymoon is over, now it’s time for the long road learning about each other. Do you want some advice?”
“Yes, please, I don’t understand girls at all.”
“You need to do what every guy in the universe already knows,” advised the Trader. “Go pick a bunch of her favorite flowers, then tell her you’re sorry and that it was all your fault.”
“That’s not fair, it wasn’t my fault at all,” protested Sern.
The Trader shrugged.
Sern sighed and walked off. He followed along the edge of the road until he came to some dandelions. Why did everything have to be so complicated? He still loved Jasai, but not the way he once did. They had Clipped too young, and so many things had changed since then. The anatomy textbook was in his backpack, all he really wanted to do was curl up next to a candle and read and study medicine.
He bent down and pulled up a bunch of the dandelions and arranged them the best he could, then walked back towards the wagon. Saeber was sitting next to the Trader, and she had the hat back on her head. He could see hair clips holding it to her fur. The Trader must have helped her fasten the hat so it wouldn’t blow away.
He took a deep breath and held out the dandelions. “I’m sorry, it was all my fault.”
Saeber’s expression didn’t change and she just stared at him. Sern narrowed his eyes in frustration then shoved the entire bunch of dandelions in his mouth and started chewing. Saeber’s eyes widened in shock.
“Stop that, Sern make Sern sick, take those out you mouth. It not Sern fault, it Saeber fault, not should say kill you mate, bad Saeber.”
Sern spit the dandelions out, they tasted horrible. “It’s not your fault, it’s just…well…with me and Jasai it all went too fast, and it was a different place. So much has changed. I don’t want to be Clipped. That means promised to someone. I never felt about Jasai the way I feel about you, but can we just be best friends for now?”
“Saeber, it’s time you show him,” said the Trader.
“Show me what?” asked Sern.
“This isn’t the universe you came from,” said the Trader. “The rules are different here, and you have only scratched the surface of the true nature of The Land of the Ancestors.”
Saeber stood and faced Sern, then she…blurred…and…a Darai girl with long flowing white hair stood in front of him. Sern’s jaw dropped open.
“You’re the girl I keep dreaming about, but how?”
Saeber held her arm out. Sern looked at it and understood. An Elemental marking in the shape of a Raven was on her wrist.
“Your two species are not compatible as you are,” explained the Trader. “Master Aestar has gifted her with the same ability to shift her form so that you two can…meet in the middle. I only need your answer now.”
Sern couldn’t pry his eyes away from the white haired girl; she was so beautiful. “What answer?”
“Are you ready?” asked the Trader.
Sern sighed. “You know, it isn’t like a Raven to agree to something before they know what it is, but, yeah, whatever happens is fine, as long as I’m with Saeber.”
“Very good,” replied the Trader. “You have both now stepped beyond the confines of what you were, you are something new, and with it bring much promise for both the Darai, and the Sherata.”
The Trader waved his hand and the world broke away like a dream and they were standing in Master Aestar’s blacksmith shop. Sern realized they had been there the whole time, it had all been an illusion, a test, though Sern wasn’t sure what the test had really been about, but apparently he had passed. Master Aestar was standing next to a very detailed skeleton hanging from a rack – there was a small desk in front of the skeleton.
“Saeber, you will go with Mr. Tolo to a classroom prepared for you in the main house,” said Master Aestar, waving a hand at the Trader. “You have not had the benefit of any education. You will begin with reading, writing, and mathematics. Go on now, you will see Sern at dinner. And shift back to tiger form, it is taking you too much energy to maintain that form.”
Saeber shifted back to a tiger and followed the Trader without a word. Master Aestar looked at Sern next and gestured to the small desk. “Sern, have a seat and open the textbook I gave you to chapter one. We will begin.”