narrator change: Mackalla Ammh

There was a warmth pressed against me when I awoke at false dawn, unable to move. The chalky greyness that stained the sky betrayed itself, for when Ghrayu rises, the deep violet of our planet’s roof is tinted golden, not pale silver. Of course, I noticed that only after I realized that, despite the healing trance that lasted much of the night, I had not managed to heal more than superficial flesh wounds. Deep aches and bruises on muscle and bone alike still radiated pain in rhythmic waves, matching my faster-than-normal heartbeat. And there was an unusual grogginess that made it hard to reopen my eyes after each slow blink.

I finally took a deeper breath than before, forcing my lungs to accept the extra oxygen. I had never before felt my body reject my will in this way, so reluctant to even obey the simplest command to help it heal; once I realized that, it was only a few more seconds before I swore in the deep silence of my mind. Poison. No wonder I hadn’t been able to keep up when fleeing the battle last night; some of those Ajoitéi must have coated their sharp-edged pincers with natural toxins. It was hard to even think – my mind was unnaturally blank.

I made an effort to focus outside my body on what my senses were perceiving. Unable to open my eyes again, I breathed briefly through my nose. The scents were reassuring; bodyheat, renewed and restored health, and several familiar smells close to me indicated the relative peace and safety of the early morning. My hide was half-numb, but the pressure and warmth against my back was still tangible; I sifted the scents in the soft, cool wind until I found the human girl’s once-alien smell. Shane must have fallen asleep against me. After my momentary surprise, amusement surfaced and I had the urge to grin. Did she think me a furry brown pillow?

Thinking was finally becoming easier, thoughts lubricated by my awakening will and flowing swifter. My body, however, was in no way able to respond. Trying to give myself time, I checked my last sense – hearing. The high-pitched chirping of Eleis, coupled with a few far-off hunting cries and the predatory sirens of Lavanian birds, made me realize how different these sounds were from those of Earth. I had to wonder what Shane saw in Lavana that made her so eager to return; it was such a drastically different, more deadly planet than her own.

No one else was awake, or so my senses told me. Motionlessly, I again sorted and categorized scents that happened to brush my muzzle, tingling down my whiskers and wafting into my nose. Though I could smell herbs that I’d learned as a pup possessed healing properties, none were a one-shot, ready-made medicine. I breathed deeply again, mind now fully awake and aware. I flexed a half-numb forepaw, blunt claws dragging loudly (to my ears) against the rock. I felt Shane jerk against me, and she sat up as I cracked open one eye, watching her silently. What months ago was an unreadable alien face transformed quickly into what I recognized as a happy expression, despite the human lack of ears, whiskers, sharp teeth, or a muzzle to display such emotions.

Thankfully, she kept her voice very low, an almost inaudible whisper. “Mackalla! Are you feeling better now?” I half-lidded my one open eye and jerked my muzzle an inch back and forth; the human style of saying no. Her greyed blue eyes narrowed and she frowned. “What do you need?” Amusement surfaced briefly; the human girl was quite perceptive, especially considering her species.

I couldn’t force my muzzle to enunciate enough to speak Kalash, so I reverted to very simplistic Heifian, trusting she’d understand enough. “Healer. Some plants nearby. Poisoned.” She flinched, brows furrowing and lips tightening into a thin line; a new expression that I didn’t recognize and couldn’t quite read. But the girl nodded and rose with creditable quiet, stalking towards Kemohi’s sleeping form. The once-Lavanian boy woke up after two steps had been taken in his direction, hand on the hilt of his weapon before he relaxed slightly upon seeing Shane. She crouched and relayed my message.

Meanwhile, I was trying again to move my extremities. My right forepaw could twitch, but the other three limbs were numb and as heavy as carved rocks. Even my tail couldn’t twitch. I was thoroughly annoyed with myself. Normally I can smell poison and avoid it; blast those Ajoitéi frantes. But then, we killed enough of them to pay them back for any revenge I might’ve wanted to take. Heh.

Shane returned, fingers curled around some small object. She knelt at my head and put her face close to my ear, still trying not to wake the others from a much-needed sleep. “James says this’ll help. It’s some sort of healing bean that he used to have in his territory. It’s not enough to kill a Vemeh, he said, so it shouldn’t kill you.”

Worried eyes watched me for a response, and I managed to nod minutely. “Works,” I gutturally hissed, voice cracking mid-syllable. The girl got that strange expression again and dropped the little bean into my parted jaws; I managed to swallow, eyes closing briefly. Would this hurt as much as healer flakes do, or not at all?

I was wrong on both counts. It hurt far worse than healer flakes. My entire body convulsed, thankfully not loudly at all, and I was momentarily unable to breathe as agony drowned me in cruel waters. But the pain lasted only about ten seconds, and then I was gasping as silently as I could. I rolled upright, flexing each limb to test for soundness; finding myself completely healed (and slowly regaining my breath), I shot a look at Kemohi… and slowly nodded my thanks. His pale face contorted into a wry grin and he rolled over again, apparently going back to sleep. I was faintly amused as I glanced again at Shane – and found myself being strangled by surprisingly strong human arms.

Humans are very strange if an attempt to choke someone is supposed to be a display of affection or happiness.

I suppressed the urge to thrash my way to freedom and, instead, tolerated the uncomfortable pressure on my throat, an area every Lavanian is sensitive about. Knowing that she meant well helped somewhat, and I patted her shoulder with one paw as she let me go. I was surprised to see tears sparkling in her eyes as false dawn’s greyness became golden, the horizon lightening enough to see fairly well. “Sorry,” she muttered sheepishly, rubbing at her eyes. “I was worried.”

I couldn’t help but grin, baring sharp fangs. “Don’t worry. I don’t die easily.”

She swallowed relieved laughter, clamping a hand over her mouth in the process. “I noticed.”

I looked around, rather surprised we’d not woken anyone up with our movement and conversation. I knew Tahos, propped up nearby, had stirred at first, but no one else had. This boded ill for the health of our companions. I took the moment to examine each of the prisoners. The Eshay, a lean male older than I but still in his prime, was seemingly healed and sleeping in a tightly curled ball of gold-tipped white feathers, his compact frame small for his race. The Night Cat was curled up near a half-grown Shugaray, his cinnamon-furred frame already dwarfing hers despite his youth; the two felines smelled like they’d been together for a while. She’d probably raised the cub, though she didn’t look much past adulthood herself.

The sixteen-foot Nickimiss was sprawled on the rock, looking unfortunately like a jade-furred corpse; that race has such oddly-jointed forelegs that most Lavanians are amazed that they can even stand and walk. Hmm. Considering I’m now recording my thoughts in Shane’s Book, I should inform those who don’t know what a Nickimiss is, as I think the girl’s been describing each species in turn. Lean beasts, Nickimisses have a shallow chest, narrow waist, and long torso. Their heads are canine with large eyes, saberteeth, and pointed ears. Their hind legs are Koratian, complete with the longclaw held off the ground and three other very sharp claws. Their forelimbs, however, are many-jointed, slender yet strong, and end in cloven hooves. As I said, they’re strange, even by Lavanian standards.

Challna, the teal-hued Icza, was knotted into a ball at Dize’s side, the wood-brown warrior sleeping uncomfortably on the tough rock. Creators know Tlaemaes are arboreals, living in trees nearly all of the time; flat land had to be tough on the famous beast. The Aye’s massive body was scrunched into a surprisingly ‘small’ ball of cream-furred muscle, his huge tailblade carefully angled to lean against his haunch. The young sixty-foot predator had learned how to be careful around smaller Lavanians, thankfully. Last but far from least, my eyes turned to Ana’s motionless ebony form. The Korat was the one whom I was really worried about; Originals aren’t easily captured, and I was blatantly shocked that we hadn’t woken her up earlier. Though she appeared to be healed, I could smell pain still clinging to her Koratian scent. I wondered how long, in the time-warp between Earth and Lavana, she’d been captured… and I wondered what exactly those dyone’d frantes had done to her.

I stirred myself from dark, vengeful thoughts when Shane moved slightly. Resuming my visual inspection, I glanced over. She seemed fine, not that I’d expected any less, and my eyes briefly settled on the other girl, Randie. She was still asleep with her hand lightly resting on the hilt of her sword. Kemohi was obviously healed from whatever wounds he may have taken in last night’s battle, and though Tahos smelled heavily of exhaustion and pain, he was physically healed as well. Lype’s too-white form had finally been dirtied and bloodied a bit, I noticed with a slight grin, but the Olashi had barely taken any hurt whatsoever in either battle.

I rose on silent paws and padded over to my friend, ears pricking. Fire Eater had been badly wounded when we fled the first battle, yet by the gory scent surrounding the area near the narrow path, he had fought again. The lean Blood Cat was the only one of the fifteen creatures in my group that still had open wounds, though the flesh underneath had mostly healed. I stopped and settled to my haunches near his head, patiently waiting for my scent to wake him. One slit-pupiled gold eye opened almost immediately, a rueful grin creasing his cattish muzzle as he slid himself into what Shane calls a ‘leonine sprawl’.

Now near eye-level with the twelve-foot feline, I cocked my head wordlessly. He returned a Lavanian shrug, twitching his pelt lightly for emphasis. Using his native tongue, he rumbled out a single quiet phrase. “The girl needs a new form.” I suppressed a reluctant expression and resigned myself to the truth; I nodded and he continued. “Though the Night Cat would probably offer hers, I doubt it would be enough.”

My eyes widened slightly and I canted my ears back, not quite flattening them, in an expression of startled disbelief. “You’re going to offer her yours?” I replied, Heifian accent tainting my words. Fire nodded calmly, apparently having already thought this through. I ignored the urge to cringe and glanced at the girl in question out of the corner of my eye. She was cross-legged next to Tahos, her eyes closed and breathing steady; if I didn’t already know humans couldn’t sleep in such positions, I would’ve thought her napping.

“Seems humans know some ngran-kre arts.” The Blood Cat grinned toothily at my surprised blink. “I think the race isn’t all bad. But I wouldn’t know. You’ll tell her for me?”

This time, I gave in to impulse and snorted. “Not talking to her yourself now?” Fire snorted as well, gold eyes half-lidding in what resembled amusement. I grinned, “I’ll tell her. Once I tell Ana and she has a chance to break my skull.” The lean cat snickered under his breath, an odd sound coming from a species that rarely laughs. “Heal yourself. I’ll wake the others,” I said quietly, then eased myself to my paws. The Blood Cat closed his eyes and slipped into a healing trance as I padded easily to Ana’s side.

I waited for a pelash or two, but she didn’t wake, despite my closeness. It took a gentle touch on her shoulder to rouse the sleeping Korat, and sapphire eyes locked on me with pupils dilated. I held absolutely still, knowing that, should she panic, she could easily kill me, but the frenzied emotion that whirled in those jewel-like eyes vanished after one blink. Tense muscles eased, and I sat down as she pulled herself upright to match me, body slow and weak to my eyes. I struggled to keep the concern out of my voice and eyes as I spoke, this time in Koratian. “You are healed?”

Ana dropped her sculpted muzzle in a shallow nod, but after a moment she smiled wanly. “Worry not, Mackalla. I will recover by the end of this day. But you have something to tell me; I can see it in you.”

I subdued an irrational feeling of resentment, that this female could read me so easily, and simply nodded. “Fire has offered to give Shane an Blood Cat form.”

Ana was silent for a long moment, her so-blue eyes calculating and distant. There was still a certain alienation in them, a bit of a glaze over the clear color that worried me, but when she again focused on my face, that subtle strangeness was gone. “This was Fire’s idea?” I nodded silently, unable to take my eyes off her, so intent was I on finding that hint of oddity again and pinpointing it. “I saw her fight. How much did you teach her?”

I choked on a laugh, managing to stifle the sound before I could wake any others. “I taught her the very basics. The girl has talent with that ring. She becomes more and more Heifia with each morph…” My eyes darkened as I remembered how close to death she’d come during the battle, surrounded and not even realizing it. “She still needs to learn to keep some intellect about her, instead of drowning in instincts. But I believe such deftness will come with practice. And Heifias aren’t the best when it comes to rising above instincts.”

The black looked faintly amused, the ghost of a smile creasing her muzzle before smoothing again. “Agreed. Do you think she can handle the power of an Blood Cat form?”

I thought only briefly, a grin baring my fangs. “She could easier handle that of a Korat,” I murmured, hoping that Ana would relent. While on Earth, Shane had shown me the wealth of information she had on Korats, and I knew that such a form would be the best we could possibly let her have.

But Ana shook her head, “I have already decided that, should such measures be necessary, that her fifth form will be Korat. But not before.”

I concealed my disappointment with an accepting nod and answered her original question, “Then yes, I believe she can handle it. Either way, she needs something stronger than Heifia.”

Ana slowly nodded, the movement easier and more graceful than the ones before. She must have initiated a light healing trance during the conversation, but I hadn’t noticed when. (Or had I? Was that when the strangeness that hid deep in her eyes disappeared?) “I have no objections.” She glanced around with brilliant cerulean eyes. “I will wake the others while you take care of that.” I nodded my assent and rose, turning to rejoin the human when I felt the cool flat of the Korat’s scythe-shaped tailblade briefly rest against my shoulder. “Worry not,” she repeated in a very quiet tone, and I nodded without looking back. Shane snapped out of her… trance?… when I sat near her. Ana’s tenor rolled out, calling everyone to wake and rise, as I grinned.

“Gift for you,” I said in painstaking English. Blasted language. “From Fire.” She blinked once, uncomprehending, before glancing past me at the probably-grinning feline. Her eyes widened and her mouth shaped into an ‘O’, but there was caution and disbelief in her face; she knew how unlikely this gift was.

“Ana said okay?” were the first words past her lips, her eyes flicking to the proud form of the black. I nodded and the girl very nearly hurt herself with a full-body spring from the ground into a run towards the waiting Blood Cat. I chuckled under my breath, turning to watch the procedure, and noticed Kemohi wandering over to supervise. Arrogant once-Vemeh.

“Mackalla.” The soft voice spoke Kalash, a language I, for one, was happy to hear after my multilingual morning. “There are healing herbs nearby, are there not?” I glanced at Tahos and nodded, raising a furred brow. He smiled quietly as he rose, apparently in a serene mood rather rare for his kind. “I’m going to collect them. Even if they’re not needed now, keeping some on hand cannot be a bad idea.”

Lype’s sharper, higher-pitched voice suddenly cut in, “Not a bad idea, cresh.” The half-casual, half-jokingly-insulting name was taken in stride by the grey Nila as he stretched briefly. “I’ll go with you,” the archer finished with a toothy grin. Tahos simply nodded and padded down the narrow ‘bridge’ that led to the forest from our ledge, followed by the swaggering Olashi. I watched wide-eyed as the two vanished into grey, green, and gold foliage; their races tended to be mortal enemies, and here they went off herb-picking. Very strange, bipeds are.

I finally shook the surprise off when the rest of the group began moving about, with the notable exception of the Aye, whose name I somehow remember hearing as Galyent. With a ‘hmmph’ noise in my throat, I meandered forward to stand next to Ana, soaking in the names tossed about. The Night Cat was Aria, with Radiaf being her Shugaray companion; the Eshay was Palan; and the jade Nickimiss was Jairnay. That name rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite remember where I’d heard it before; I don’t normally see the strange beasts. Ana, too, looked long and hard at the taller canine before shrugging it off. She must’ve remembered it… or remembered hearing the name before. Either way.

I found Challna suddenly staring up at me, huge eyes with thin golden irises rather unnerving when they’re an inch from your muzzle. How she’d gotten so close so quickly was baffling, and I involuntarily backpedaled a step. There was a hard look on her teal-skinned face, but that softened very briefly when she spoke in a hard voice. “Dize wants to speak with those who responded to the call all the way from another planet.” Then, the ice returned to her gaze, “He doesn’t believe that you came here to flee Equitor.” I nodded silently, an irrational grin tugging at my muzzle. Had we not been forced to come, Shane would have wanted to come anyways to try to help. Foolish little human… but apparently one very famous Tlaemae appreciates foolhardy beings. I followed Challna, and Shane joined me, her morphing ring still processing the Blood Cat blood by the look of it. Hmmph. Technology.

Creamy amber-gold eyes locked onto my face as the brown-furred Tlaemae tilted his streamlined muzzle upwards from where he lay, still very tired. But the force behind that gaze was enough to bely any exhaustion evident in his posture. I bowed my head and Shane bent her torso in a human bow, or something of the like. “Who are you, you who heard and came?”

I dropped my eyes, knowing Challna expected us to tell him the truth… but Shane spoke in flawless Kalash before I could open my mouth. “My name is Shane Myers. We had no choice but to come here, for our own safety.” Her eyes flashed as she added, “And there was nothing else to do but try to save those captured.” Leave it to the human to make a bad thing sound good.

“I am Mackalla Ammh. The girl speaks the truth.” Much more eloquently than I would’ve, I mentally added. Though I’d figured the smaller warrior wouldn’t notice my use of a last name (although so few Lavanians have one), his gaze switched to me like the crack of a tailblade.

“Mackalla… Ammh. Ammh.” A glint shone in his eyes as he looked up at me. “The Ammh line still exists?” I nodded, suppressing a grin at the eagerness in his face. “That, my friend, is good to hear.” Abruptly, a glaze swept over those almond-shaped eyes and Challna let out a low, serrated growl. I backpedaled without any thought for my dignity and Shane scrambled backwards as well, leaving the small Icza room to reach Dize as he swooned, near unconsciousness.

“Jezz. How much poison did those morons use?!” the girl hissed under her breath in English as we removed ourselves from the immediate area.

I growled thickly in response, tossed my muzzle and narrowed my eyes in a shrug, then sighed. “It would explain why everyone is so hard to wake up, and why many still have wounds left.”

With surprising suddenness, Shane stepped in my path and knelt so she was eye-level with me, eyes narrowing. I blinked. “Why didn’t you tell me you were Of the Line, Mackalla?” To my chagrin, she sounded more hurt than angry. I splayed my ears backwards and couldn’t muster words for a moment; why had I hidden that little facet from the girl? She knew most else about me.

After a long, awkward moment of my silence, Shane sighed and stood, turning to rejoin Randie. She didn’t speak to the shorter girl, but folded her arms and leaned against the rock, gnawing on her lip. I scowled at nothing in particular and made my way to a still-cool part of the ledge, curling up with my muzzle resting on broad paws.

Why hadn’t I told her?

Ammh was the Non-Maned Heifia Original, a male of such stunning skills that he was thought nearly invincible, even compared to the Nine Originals who came before him. But it has been over two thousand years since his Creation; no one knows if he still lives. His Line is scattered and diluted; only through me is it worthy of being recognized. I am the only Heifia alive who can claim my last name. It’s a thing of honor, of pride, deserving of respect and admiration. So why had I avoided the subject with the human?

I shook my muzzle, dispersing my thoughts, and rose again. She would get over it, like she usually did when I unintentionally slighted her. Heifias are not the best at dealing with finicky species, and humans classify as finicky in my eyes. Glancing around, I returned my attention to the present… just in time for the Aye to stand very suddenly, startling or flat-out scaring most of us smaller cretts. I stared up at the huge beast in surprise as he snarled loudly; the Eshay rocketed into the air, presumably running on instinct, and zipped above the male’s head. A loud, shrill whistle echoed out, but not from the feathered one – Tahos came pelting full-speed up the path while Lype swooped overhead and landed just before the Nila reached us. Olashi speak a whistling language, but that was no word from his jaws; it was a warning.

Palan’s voice drifted down to us, sharp and apprehensive. “I see masses of Evils approaching! We’re almost surrounded! No way out!”

There was silence for a long moment, horror shining in the eyes of those who had been down to Equitor’s caverns and survived. The inherent knowledge that we would not be killed outright, here on the surface, seemed obvious to us all.

I felt my eyes glaze as I remembered. When we had been captured, Ana, Za-shen-sai, Shane, and I had been separated… the human and Trahe left together, but I had fought as much as I could. The half of an ear still cocked on my head attested to that. Ana fought more, I knew, but she also was wounded worse and treated worse than I’d been. I’d seen the human’s theological hell and lived through it… somehow. But a second trip there would be my death. It would kill us all.

Better to die above it, in the sunlight and where the wind can still touch your body, where the flowers’ faint fragrance can make your last breath sweet.

Ana snarled in a rippling voice, breaking me out of my dark thoughts. “Those who can escape, do so.” Her eyes flicked to Fire, “Try to get the humans out of here.” I saw Shane glance at her morphing ring, but judging by her expression, it was still processing the Blood Cat form. She couldn’t morph. Even Kemohi didn’t argue, swinging onto Fire’s back and helping Randie up. Shane followed, grabbing fistfuls of red fur, and suddenly I regretted the fact that I was going to die without having apologized to her.

“Sorry, kid,” I muttered under my breath in English, a split second before a shrill scream tore at my ears. I turned my muzzle upwards to watch as the Eshay, some sort of metal stake plunged into his chest, plummeted from the sky. It has begun. Forceful now, I threw myself forward as I heard scrabbling claws, Evils beginning to drop from the sheer rock that made a ‘wall’ to our ledge. Back to Kalash. “Nickimiss!” I snapped, gaining the female’s attention instantly. “Should I die and you live, there is a book in the humans’ possession. Record what happens in that through ngran-kre.” I knew her mind was strong enough to do as I had been doing. “There is dire need for this record.” She nodded her lean muzzle once, then ripped off an attacker’s head and crushed it in the same fluid motion.

I spun and, knowing my Line would die with me, attacked.

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