Instinctively I threw myself into a state of metamorphosis. As I did, I was astounded to find that the speed of our fall seemed to slow drastically. I put one hand on each of Deran’s `horns and made a mental connection. As his emotional map unveiled, I saw that the connections from thought to thought were completely severed and frayed. None of his emotions were connecting to his thoughts and everything I saw glowing brightly before was now dimmed to a point of near obscurity. His mind was dying.
As I saw what I had done to him, I felt tears well up in my eyes. I didn’t know how detrimental the attack had actually been until now. “I’m so sorry Deran,” I whispered as I brought his head forward and kissed his forehead. I looked down and through the translucent emotional map, saw that our death was almost upon us. I closed my eyes and, as I did, my consciousness entered the emotional map before me.
I floated through Deran’s thoughts as an ethereal ball of light and could see glimpses of memories and repressed thoughts. As I passed by the broken connections of his mind, all I could think about is how badly I wished I could fix them. Then, something extraordinary happened. The severed connections in his mind began to entwine and reconnect. I thought even harder until my head began to ache and throb. In just moments, his mind appeared completely healed and I was forced viciously from my metamorphosis.
“Ground floor, with haste!” Deran’s voice rang in my head, still pounding from the experience. As it did, I felt the gravity shift and our descent stopped. We hovered over to the platform and I clawed at the floor, pulling myself as close to the wall as I could. Deran ran over and helped me up, then hugged me close. “Sha’ayr, are you okay?! I am so sorry, I don’t know what happened!” I clung my arms around Deran and waited for my panic to subside. “I am fine Deran, I should apologize to you. I had no idea how bad I had hurt you. I am so, so sorry for what I put you through! How are you not more upset with me?” He let go and looked me in the eyes. “Sha’ayr you had every right, reason, and ability to end my life during our fight, and many Wilvaroks, especially already in metamorphosis, would not have been capable of showing the restraint and the mercy you did. I am just glad to be alive.”
After pausing for a second, he let go of my shoulders and his look of sincerity faded to one of cautious concern. “I feel… better. Completely better, as if nothing ever happened. What did you do?” I looked at him, somewhat puzzled, but then realizing my ability was possibly not the norm. “I entered your emotional map and repaired the damage I had done.” I said it nonchalantly and without emphasis. “I didn’t want you to suffer anymore, so I just thought about how much I wish I could take back all that I had done and your emotions and mental connections began to regenerate. Is… is that not normal?” He seemed genuinely confused and thoroughly intrigued. “What is this emotional map? You mean, like an actual map? I have never heard of such a thing. I have heard that once you get to eight or nine thorns, your ability to judge emotions can sometimes cause you to see glimpses of thought, but I have never heard of anyone having an emotional map. What else could you see?”
I hesitated to respond, wondering if the information could somehow be used against me or could make me into a pariah, but I decided to confide in him. He seemed to be trustworthy and was one of the only Wilvaroks I knew. True, we didn’t have the smoothest of interactions when we first met, but I could tell he was genuinely sorry for his initial behavior and deep down I did feel I could trust him. Perhaps he could help me better understand just how different my metamorphosis was than other Wilvaroks. “Well, as soon as I go into metamorphosis, everything slows down drastically and if feels like I am moving in slow motion, but still on a faster plane than the world around me. I seem to go through an ephemeral disconnect from reality and my vision widens. That is, until I make a mental connection with someone. Once I do, I see a translucent map of their emotions overlay in front of me. I can see which emotions they are feeling most strongly, which they are feeling most weakly, and can catch glimpses of which ones are actively being used. Whenever I connected with you, I could see some of your thoughts and memories and feelings. I could see that you love Jushara and saw when you first kissed. I could see the fights you have had, the times you depended on one another, everything. Every emotion powerful enough to leave a set imprint in your memory I could see in full detail, though to be honest I tried not to look. I felt it was an invasion of your privacy.”
His intrigue faded quickly into panic. “Did you see anything about our mission?” I tried to read his thoughts, but much to my surprise I was unable to hear anything. “No, just the thoughts of Jushara… why? Is there something I need to know about the mission?” His eyes dropped and he seemed to relax. He shook his head and replied, “No, not at all. I just didn’t want to be blamed if some bit of information was seen that you had not yet been made privy to.” I could tell he was hiding something, but since I was unable to use my clairvoyance, I decided to ignore it for now. He decided it best to change the subject, so he motioned for the door on the opposite end of the hallway. “Well, shall we?” I nodded and followed him out of the tower and into the center of Shellentar.
When we exited the building, we were facing south through Shellentar. I was still overwhelmed by the size and development of this city. It must have cost a fortune to build, it is almost illogical that it could exist outside of the knowledge of the Council. The Pitrinium which made up the buildings gleamed in a bright, artificial light. The walkways were made of metal grates and the air had the smell of freshly melted ice: clean and crisp. The strangest part for me still was seeing so many Wilvaroks. I knew that there were other Wilvaroks out there, but growing up it always felt like more a story than an actuality. What more, all the Wilvaroks and Tilverhans treated one another with respect implementing their own sets of social rules and manners.
I noticed that as the Wilvaroks approached the designated landing pads for the Tilverhans they would always stop and look around to ensure that no Tilverhan was trying to land and, if they could, walk around the pads entirely. I also noticed that some Wilvaroks stopped at the jump pads. “Deran, what are they doing?” He looked at the group of Wilvaroks I was pointing at. “Oh, some of the Wilvaroks prefer to ride on the backs of Tilverhans to and from the markets and their apartments if they live a good distance away and do not feel like having to go through the HUB just to get from one spot to another. A number of Tilverhan thoroughly enjoy giving them rides as a way of showing off their strength and generosity, so they will wear a red-dyed silk headband to signify they are offering rides to any Wilvaroks in need.”
I nodded hesitantly. My qualm with this practice did not go unnoticed by Deran. “Something bothering you, Zetha?”
“Isn’t this depersonizing to the Tilverhans? I mean, to treat them as a vessel for transportation?” Deran responded quickly, as though he had rehearsed his speech in his head time and time again. “How is this different than how you behave with Brindel?” I interrupted, “But that’s Different.” He cut me off there with a slightly raised voice. “Fahreet, Sha’ayr. It is in no way different. Were you aware that Brindel is the one who came up with this idea? He is the one who spoke to the Tilverhans and said he thought it could help inter-species relations. He said you were the one who gave him the red headband that represents this symbol of cohesion between the species.” I thought back almost a full turn to a gift I had made for Brindel and dyed in berry juices. My apprehension must have been fading visually, as Deran’s tone shifted to one of compassion. “Brindel has done much to help the cause and some say that he is the Tilverhan leader of our mission. He always refutes this title, however, because he claims it is ‘inconsistent with our ideals of integration.”
He was right. I had no reason to be upset by this. If anything, I should be excited that the Wilvaroks and Tilverhans were interacting so well together. “I apologize Deran. I have only read about or heard stories about Wilvarok and Tilverhan interactions. In most of these stories, Wilvaroks are using the Tilverhans for their own gains and agendas, so I was a little wary of us repeating history.” He had established a smug look, but was hit with a crashing wave of sympathy as I spoke. “So, how does it work? They just do this all day?” Deran shook his head and smiled slightly. “No, not all day. More or less, if they are on their way home or to work or whatever else, they will leave a little early and will offer rides for a little while beforehand. Many of the Wilvaroks return the kindness by braiding their hair during the rides or by giving them gifts of silk, special garments, sometimes even some Feryhns. Most importantly, though, it creates friendships and bonds between our species. Would you like to see something that the Wilvaroks do for the Tilverhans? Would that make you feel better about this?”
I smiled and nodded my head. “I already feel better, but I would love to see anything and everything this place has to offer.” Just as I had replied, my head started pounding and my body started feeling weak. “Actually Deran, could we get something to eat first? I am feeling pretty drained from our, uhm, fight earlier.” It felt strange to think that just hours ago we had been in a battle with one another. I really liked Deran and could tell he had a kind heart and just wanted what was best for this movement. I now had trouble thinking about him being as assertive and aggressive as he was when we met. “Well,” he replied thoughtfully, “There are a few places on the way we could stop, or we could go northwest and hit Rivystrrome if you wanted something more familiar.” I was surprised to hear mention of Brindel’s restaurant here. “I thought that was only on Fortitude.” Deran smiled and replied excitedly. “I sure am glad Brindel met you. Their food is amazing! After Vea’ayr had mentioned you would possibly be joining the Thorns, Brindel opened a location here as well to ensure that you would always have a familiar place to go with him. It was a huge hit immediately and is one of the most popular venues in our city!”
I shook my head and replied, “No, we can’t go there then. Brindel would be very upset if he wasn’t the first to take me there.” Deran looked at me apologetically. “I didn’t even think of that! I am so j’karn insensitive, sorry! There is a juice bar that serves some fantastic food to the south in route to your apartment. We could stop there. It is also close to the place I wanted to show you.” I nodded my head and we began walking. As we walked, I took advantage of the time to ask him some questions about the revolution. “So, Deran… what exactly decides how many thorns we are awarded for each of our talents?”
“Oh, it is a pretty complex system,” he replied, “but if you are willing to listen I can detail it for you.” I nodded my head, sincerely intrigued. “Well, we have different tests set up by Vea’ayr and her technical team to help push the limits of each Wilvarok or Tilverhan. There is a combat simulator right back there.” He pointed behind us to a solid pitrinium building between us and the HUB. “This simulator can help train in use of a magnearch, blades, whips, anything you desire. Now, initially you will train in instructor mode where one of us will be in there helping you learn the basics and hone your initial skills. After that point, you will be equipped with an ERTI suit.” I looked at him, puzzled. “What is an ERTI suit?” He jerked his head back slightly, rolling his eyes at his own presumptions. “Oh, right. An ERTI suit is an Electric Response Total Immersion suit. Basically, if something in the training simulator stabs you, whips you, or shoots you with a rib you will feel an electrical jolt which corresponds with the amount of force said injury would produce.” I furrowed my brow and raised one eye. “That sounds a little… intensive. Is that really necessary?” Without missing a beat he responded, “Oh it is EXTREMELY necessary. Without accountability for our shortcomings, we will never grow and will never fix our faults. This is one of the key points we live by and it applies universally across all aspects of life. If you are training for battle but never feel the pain of battle, can you really claim that you are fully prepared? You must experience pain and exhaustion to be able to combat pain and exhaustion.” I nodded my head then went on to my next inquiry.
“So, you have a pretty thorough training method with the simulator, what then were the training grounds for?”
“Those are for strategy planning and inter-species development. They are also for practicing mind flaying and thought blocking. Without strengthening our minds against other Wilvaroks and without the Tilverhans learning to protect themselves from thoughts, we can never win this war.”
I looked at him, somewhat disconcerted. “Is it not premature to call this a war, Deran? We are trying to promote change, but isn’t there a peaceful alternative before this war takes place?” His eyes saddened and tears began to well up, but he pushed them back and reestablished his composure. “We’ve been past that point for a while now. When we sit down to eat I can go into details about that.”
Obviously he did not want to continue discussing this matter until later, so I continued with my list of questions. “So the training I will be going through, Vea’ayr said that the schedule for the training had already been sent. Would you mind letting me get a glimpse of it?” He smiled and reached into his satchel, pulling out his multi-board. “Let’s see… Cycles one and two you will be with Jushara, working on mind flaying and blades. Cycle three you will be with Damerion learning how to use whips, or defend against whips. Cycle four you will be with Fhandrick for Magnearch training. Five, Vea’ayr for tech stuff, six will be Jushara again for Subterfuge and Sabotage…”
I cut him off before he could finish. “That is fine, I just wanted to know where I would be starting… It seems like I will be getting to know Jushara. She must be thrilled about that.” Deran looked at me, almost judgingly. “This revolution is more personal to her than to any of us. She just wants to see it succeed.” I felt somewhat ashamed for inadvertently speaking ill of Jushara. “I didn’t mean to imply anything negative about her, I just meant she didn’t seem to like me much.” Deran let in a deep breath and stopped walking. I stood still and the air grew tense. “We’re here.” He pointed at a small diner whose sign was embellished with giant carvings of fruits.
We went in and I immediately felt out of place. The diner was full of Wilvaroks and did not appear to have any seating to accommodate Tilverhans at all. I scowled as I looked around and forced eye contact with Deran. He laughed and responded to my stern glare. “Relax, Zetha. Tilverhans can’t digest the Gratta Berries used as a base for all the drinks here in Grattuity. It isn’t any sort of statement against them, they just don’t eat here because it makes them sick. Much like Wilvaroks will never eat at Therillo due to the fact that almost every meal has Dullag in it. It isn’t some sort of political statement. If anything it is a positive step to realize that we are different from the Tilverhans and always will be, and that we embrace our differences as opposed to rejecting them. Wouldn’t you agree?” I slowly nodded my head and smiled as I realized what he said rang very true. “Thank you Deran for your patience with me, this is all so foreign to me and I am glad someone is willing to talk to me about this.” He nodded politely and professionally. “Of course, Zetha.”
We sat down and ordered some Gratta juices with some bread and dipping oils. The juices were delightful and the bread was soft and sweet with a crisp outer crust. The oils ranged from spicy to sweet to savory and were all very unique from what I had tasted before. Of the eight sauces we sampled, I would say two of them tasted good and two others were edible. Deran laughed at the faces I was making tasting them. “Something wrong with the food Sha’ayr?” I shook my head, trying not to spit out the less palatable sauces and also trying not to laugh myself. As I forced myself to swallow the last bite of what I could only describe as tasting like fermented fish fahreet, I managed to put a sentence together. “I… I guess I am… am just used to Tilverhani food… What IS this?” He took the small bowl of sauce and poured it over his entire loaf of bread. “My favorite!” He ate the bread quickly then explained to me how it was made.
We sat for at least an hour discussing Shellentar and how it was built, how it was planned, when the revolution began. Eventually we both realized that we had been dancing around the inevitable topic that Deran had avoided earlier. “Deran?” I said, cautiously sympathetic, “why can’t we have a peaceful movement.” He sighed deeply, but this time with less apprehension. “Alright, first I need to know what Vea’ayr has told you about our revolution.”
I explained the best I could. “Well, more or less she just said that we are harmonists and are fighting against the purists who think we should be separated and are trying to have the government enforce laws to keep us separated.” Deran looked at me with a look that was either horror or disbelief, perhaps a perfect melding of both. “That… that is what she told you?” I nodded slightly, not breaking our stern eye contact. “How bad is it, Deran?” My voice shook as I asked him. He looked down and shook his head, unable to make eye contact for a moment, then he looked up with watering eyes and replied, “Worse than you could imagine. Let me tell you about the true condition of our Council.”
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.