We left the restaurant and Deran showed me back to my quarters. The apartment that Vea’ayr had set up for me was directly south of the HUB building. The apartment building was much taller than I had noticed from a distance and was almost intimidating to stand beneath. Deran extended his hand to shake mine. I moved past his hand and hugged him tight. He hesitated for a moment before hugging me back, his arms awkwardly draped around me. “I am so sorry about your family Deran and again, I promise I will do everything in my power and more to help. Let me know if you ever need my help with anything.” I let go and looked at him. He smiled at me, the exhaustion of the rotation apparent in his drooping eyes. “Thanks for your time Sha’ayr and for your understanding.” He turned to walk away as I turned to go into the apartment. Just as I had opened the door to the lobby area of the building I heard Deran shout out. “OH I almost forgot. The… uhm, healing thing…” I faced him with an inquisitive glance. “You definitely need to look into that. Jushara is the best at practical application of metamorphic abilities, but Fhandrick is definitely the most versed from an academic standpoint. Between the two of them, they should be able to help you understand it better, maybe even eventually teach it to others. You have a gift Sha’ayr, a powerful one. Don’t undersell the importance of that, and don’t let just anyone know about it either. People fear what they don’t understand and would rather eliminate a possible threat than embrace a plausible benefit.”
I nodded to Deran and replied, “Isn’t that what this is all about on one level or another Deran? I will heed your caution though and I will be careful. Make sure that only the officers are aware of what is happening with me.” He nodded back and went on his way.
As I entered the lobby of the apartment I was surprised by the interior architecture and design. The lobby went all the way up to the top floor and had three clear elevators going up and down on the sides, forming a perfect equilateral triangle. Between the elevators were balconies that went around each of the apartment floors. The upper balconies were much taller than the lower ones. From what I could tell, these were for Tilverhani tenants and the lower were for Wilvarokan tenants. The only exception was the top floor which was barely noticeable. The only way you could even tell there was a floor on that level is the elevator shafts ran up through the floor instead of stopping at the top. The walls directly beside the elevator were made entirely of the mesh jump pad material designed to grip Tilverhani claws. I walked up to the desk in the middle where a very slender and short Wilvarok sat.
“You must be Sha’ayr! I am Aumina. I just need you to verify your voice command for the door. Just speak your name into the box.” I looked at the box and cleared my throat. “Sha’ayr”. Nothing happened. Aumina quickly realized the problem. “Oh, I need you to say your full name.” I felt a tinge of pain as my chest tightened and my throat clenched. I had almost forgotten I had a last name. With my father gone and my mother a pawn of the Council, I didn’t feel any connection to that name. “Sha’ayr Ellehar”. The box let out a chime and Aumina smiled at me. “You are all set! Do you need me to show you up?” I stood still a moment and then shook my head. “Which apartment number is mine?” She shifted her eyes from a cheery, bubbliness to a daft confusion. “The penthouse doesn’t have apartment numbers, it’s just the penthouse. There’s only one up at the top you know?” I lifted my brow. “Oh, of course, thanks Aumina.”
I got on the elevator and said, “Penthouse”. The elevator asked for a confirmation of my identity and I resounded my name to the speaker. The same ding from the box rang out and the elevator took off at a surprising speed. Within seconds the door flung open and I was facing the inside of my apartment.
The penthouse took up the entirety of the top level and had an entire glass wall overlooking Shellentar. The ceilings were quite high, at least three times my height, and the floors and walls were designed from polished black stone, clean enough to see my reflection as I entered.
I walked around the apartment, taking in the spectacle of it all. The kitchen was centered in the middle of the penthouse with three bedrooms shooting off in corners opposite of the elevator ports. I entered what appeared to be the biggest bedroom, assuming it was the master room. I was once again astonished by the layout.
The ceiling ran upward with the contour of the roof and had a large skylight taking up over two-thirds of the ceiling. There was a large bed positioned with the head against a large window looking out toward the apartment building northwest of mine. Beside the bed was a large armoire which was left with the door open, revealing various outfits tailored to fit me. On the other side of the bed was a large closet door.
I took my vestments off and stepped onto the cold, stone floor for the first time. My legs shook as a pang of cold bliss shot up through my calves and thighs, then all the way through me to my fingertips. I stood with my back to the bed for two full minutes before falling backwards and into the pillows.
As I did, I was surprised to realize how sore I was. I must have just been forcing myself subconsciously to ignore the toll the rotation’s events had taken on my body. Now that I was alone and in my room, though, I could feel every bruise and scrape. Furthermore, I could feel a sort of emotional and mental weakness from mending Deran and processing his stories. I closed my eyes tight as the aching pulsed through me. Surprisingly, even with the pain I felt and the commotion in my head—or possibly because of—I was out in moments and slept a much deeper sleep with much more vivid and lucid dreams than I had known before. My heavy heart sank quickly into a sea of dreams. Dreams of other worlds, of Deran’s past, of my father’s death, of giant beasts fighting horrendous machines, of science I had never even studied, yet fully comprehended.
I was laying on my stomach in a pool of blood, trying to crawl to a switch. My vision blurred in and out as death tried to pull me to the void, but I fought back, my demise growing closer with each grasp. A siren blared on with a recorded voice warning of a destruct sequence. Just as I was about to grab the switch I was reaching for, I felt a sharp pain in my ankle and looked down quickly. The bladed whip of a Tilverhan was wrapped around my ankle. I tried to look past the whip to the Tilverhan holding it, but there was too much blood in my eyes to get a clear view. As my vision faded entirely and I gave into death’s calling, the emergency siren changed its message. Sha’ayr, you have a visitor, would you like to receive “Brindel”?
I sprung up in my bed, still in a panicked haze. Sha’ayr, you have a visitor, would you like to receive “Brindel”. I realized the situation and quickly responded. “Yes, yes I would. Sha’ayr Ellehar.” I could hear the elevator in the other room zooming up and the doors open. Brindel walked up to the door of the bedroom and shouted in. “Hey Sha’ayr, you alright? I’ve been waiting for approval on the elevator for about twenty minutes.”
“Yeah, I am fine, I was asleep.”
“Oh, j’karn! Sorry. Do you want me to let you sleep?” I laughed a little and replied, “no, you’re fine, come on in and talk to me.” He came in the room and laid down on the floor beside me. “You must’ve been tired.” I stretched and yawned. “A little bit, rough rote you know. How long was I asleep?” He looked at me with a worried seriousness in his eyes. “You have been out for almost a full cycle Sha’ayr.” I felt my heart stop in shock. “Almost a full cycle?! How is tha_” I was interrupted by Brindel laughing. “Just kidding, it has been about eighteen hours since Deran showed you back. He is still sleeping. You must have really done a number on him when you guys fought. He should recover quickly though, he was a lot more mentally fortified than I realized.” I glanced to the side and Brindel immediately noticed something was off. “What’s wrong Sha’ayr?” I took a deep breath and told him about the walk home.
“Oh… are you okay?” I smiled and hugged Brindel’s neck. “No, I’m not. I can’t even pretend to be, but still I have to be. My father is dead, my mother is a spy, and in the course of a cycle I have gone from living at home to being in a private penthouse overlooking a revolution against the Galactic Enforcement Council. I would be more concerned if I was alright with all of this.”
“Well if you need time to let all of this process I can talk to Vea’ayr and we can see about having your training postponed.” I snapped back at Brindel, “We don’t really have that luxury do we Alpha General? We have to see this through without delay, and who would I be if I said I needed time to process this? I am expected to be stronger than that, better than that.”
Brindel looked at me with quivering eyes, but replied without malice. “You’re still a person before anything else Sha’ayr, they will understand if you need a few rotations to yourself.” I continued with an even harsher tone. “And what about you ‘General’? You just watched your father die to the hands of your own rebellion! You watched your mentor die to the hands of your father! For the depths of the Void, you’re two full ranks below me, so surely you need at least a cycle to process all of this right?”
Brindel had enough and, for the first time since we met, truly raised his voice to me. “THAT is more than enough Sha’ayr. Do you really think anything has changed between us? Why are you acting like this? I know you are hurting and all I am trying to do is be your support, but you are acting like a pre-silking pup. Why are you even upset with me? I tried to fight Ygorn. I was ready to die, and I will, for the rest of my life, every single rotation, blame myself for your father’s death. I am sorry he died, and I am beyond sorry that it was my fault, but you have to know that I truly never wanted any of this to happen. You know that, don’t you? You know that if it were up to me I would have told you TURNS ago about the Thorns and would have been training you. I would have never let your father die. He should be here with you, not me.”
I looked away from Brindel in shame of my reaction. He continued on his outburst, naturally sensing my shame as weakness. “But you’re right Sha’ayr, you do outrank me. So tell me Lieutenant Commander, what do you want from me? From us? You just give the command and I will be whatever you need me to be.” During his speech he had stood and was now towering over the edge of the bed. His top two hands were pressing against the sides of his head, his nictitating membrane wiping tears from his eyes as he stared into mine. His bottom two hands rested on the edge of the bed, his arms tense and the sheets bunched in his fists. All I could feel was a flurry of emotion: misplaced anger, rage and resentment, love, fear, sorrow, happiness. My chest ached as I saw looked into his eyes. Even through his rage he was never angry at me. His eyes never shifted. All I could see was love and concern.
I stared into his eyes unable to respond for almost a full minute. Finally, the tempest of emotion inside me exploded outwards in a sudden physical flash. I shifted up to my knees and wrapped my arms around his neck kissing Brindel deeply. I pulled myself up by his neck and felt his large hands wrapping around my torso, pulling me in close to his body. As he did, I spun my feet out from under me and nested them under the front corners of his wings. His other two hands moved from his own head to my cheeks as he gently caressed me. They slid slowly down my back and buttocks, barely making contact with the skin, then gripped my thighs firmly and thrust my body against his. I began breathing more rapidly and let out a soft moan as I became lost in his embrace.
We stayed entwined for twenty passionate minutes, until my energy was spent. I ran my quivering hands down his neck and he hugged me close to him, his lips right next to my ear. “Sha’ayr, I need to know what you want from us.” I squeezed him tighter then whispered back to him, “All I want is to win this fight seated on your back. I want to be yours, and you mine, and I want us to see this through together. I am sorry about my temper before, I am just so overwhelmed. I know I can do this though, with your love and patience.” He pulled me away from him so he could look me in the eyes and met my gaze with one of determination and authenticity. “Then you shall have it.” With one last kiss, he lowered me to the ground. “Your first two cycles are with Jushara, working on your metamorphic abilities and blades. Whenever you are ready she is ready for you. She will be at her apartment right there.” He pointed out the bedroom window at the penthouse of the apartment building in direct view of mine.
I got dressed and Brindel picked me up and sat me on his back. “Are you ready?” I nodded my head and waited for him to get on the elevator. To my surprise, he took off running toward the large window of the bedroom. As he did, the window slid down into the floor panels and he leapt forward, flying out the window at high velocity. He spread his wings and began gliding for a moment, then flapped them a few times to gain enough lift to correct his trajectory.
We soared over Shellentar toward Jushara’s apartment and it felt truly serene to have the air between the webs of my toes again. As we landed, Brindel sat me on the ground, gave me a hug goodbye, and took off toward the Markets. I walked in and boarded the elevator, going to the penthouse floor of the apartment building.
As Jushara welcomed me in, I realized that both our penthouses were set up the exact same. “Are all the penthouses set up this way Jushara?” She smiled and nodded. “Yes, and each one is occupied only by Thorns Officers. North point is Vea’ayr, South is you obviously, West is Damerion, East is Aurilianni, Northwest is Brindel, Northeast is Fhandrick, Southwest is yours truly, and Southeast is Cesylla. Each penthouse has an emergency cable connecting them to each of the other apartment buildings and to the HUB for fast access. Or, you can just do what Brindel did if you have giant wings and an unrestrainable desire to try to impress everyone you meet.” I started to laugh until I realized her statement was not in jest and instead simply nodded. “What is on the agenda torote Jushara?” She walked to the elevator and motioned for me to join her. “We will need to go to the training grounds and decide where you are even starting out at.” I nodded and we stood on the elevator. “Floor five, doors and shutters, Jushara.” I looked at her, surprised that the elevators had numerous commands. “I always have to say my full name.” She smiled and said loud and clearly, “Jushara, reprogram voice command.” A chime sounded and she continued, “Thorns of the Rose”. The chime sounded twice in close succession. “That’s all you have to do, and you can do it at any apartment building or at the HUB.” The elevator came to a stop and the doors remained shut. Metal shutters came down around the cabin, letting light in only from a small gap in the top and bottom where the cable attached. “Sha’ayr, Deran told me what happened… Thank you for saving him. I need to ask you to do me a favor though.” I nodded my head, slightly reserved. “What is the favor, Jushara?” She let out a quick breath and continued, not making eye contact, “Don’t tell anyone about what happened. Don’t let anyone know that you healed Deran and don’t let them know that you had damaged him that badly. If you tell Brindel, or if you told him, I trust he has the good sense not to tell anyone right?” I nodded my head slowly. “Good, then make sure no one else knows.”
“Why not, Jushara? It seems like a power like that could be useful, especially if any of the Thorns get hurt during the revolution.” She finally looked up and made eye contact. Her eyes clinched onto mine with an intimidating ferocity. “I just don’t want anyone to have a misplaced fear of this ability before we even have a full understanding of it. Part of our training will be to figure out what it is, just the two of us, then we can decide how to share the information with the rest of the Thorns. Trust me, this is the best way to proceed.”
I nodded my head in understanding and replied, “Of course, Jushara. You have my word. I agree, we should know as much as we can about what is going on with me and see how this all develops. Who knows, maybe it was a one-time thing. I mean, I really didn’t do much besides fix what I messed up.”
Her eyes fluttered and I saw them glisten with the hint of tears, but she kept them from escaping. “You did more than you could know, but that is a discussion for another rotation. Torote, we find out what you are capable of on the battlefield. First Floor, Thorns of the Rose.” The elevator started moving again and took us quickly to the entrance of the apartment. As we walked to the training grounds all I could think about is what she meant. I did more than I could know… What does that even mean? And why so much secrecy about me healing Deran? There had to be something else going on, something big, and I decided that over the next two cycles and the rest of the turn I would get close enough to Jushara to find out.
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.