V.O.C. of the People

The Deceiver

After the battle, Farrah left her smoldering machines to feel the sea air on her face. She never thought the sea could give her comfort, that cold wasteland between her and home from which destruction was delivered to her people. But the cool spray calmed her nerves, cleared her lungs, and washed away the sweat of her brow.

Below the waves, above the waves, all around the ship were enemies. But as father used to say, “The army may surround the desert, but crossing through it fells them one by one.” She would be a desert, searing passion and intellect to burn away their opposition. Even the greatest enemy could not kill that fire, even should she die. Allah would not allow it.

And Tamir Lin did not betray her – yet. He had survived the battle. If he did not lie, he would present himself to her soon to receive his punishment. What punishment would the deceiver earn from her hand? Even he didn’t have the power she truly craved, the power to split the world in two and safeguard all humanity from Chaos.

But he had much more power than her. The power of base deception. The Book of Muhammad claims Allah as the greatest deceiver, one who turns every scheme of men against them. Tamir Lin was a demon, but even his schemes could be of use to a devout believer.

Farrah breathed deeply, salt on her tongue. Tamir Lin would be hers to use, to atone for the destruction he brought upon her family.

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A Conversation of Importance
Between Mother and Daughter

Hello, daughter dearest. I have searched far and wide for you, and it pleases me that you are well, speaks Iures.

“You tried to kill my friends!” Avi shouted, finding no need to think the words.

“I did not mean to cause you pain. I am not used to my daughters becoming attached to lesser beings. Please, excuse my misgivings. I meant only to clear a path to you.”

Avi’s head shakes in desperation. “You could have asked! So many are dead because you chose violence!”

After a moment of hesitation, Iures speaks again, “I apologize. I did not realize you were so fond of these creatures. You are so precious a find for me, I did not consider the consequences of acting in haste.”

“What is so important about me?”

“You are my daughter. “

“I don’t even know how that’s possible.”

Iures chuckled, “You have forgotten much. There are many rules in this world that define how things work — rules from which I am exempt.” She smiled, motherly, at Avi. “Come home with me, and I will explain everything to you.”

“Where is home?”

“I have heard the creatures here call it Vandagen, though to us it is known as Mu.”

Avi’s expression fell, her eyes shifting, torn between staying and going. “I can’t leave them,” she finally decides.

“Your pets?”

“They’re not pets, they’re my family,” her words coming out hard.

Iures look becomes derisive for a moment before becoming motherly again. “Oh, my child. Yes, you may bring them if you wish. But it is not heir home, there will be many dangers awaiting them there.”

“I cannot come with you. At least, not right now.”

“Then your sisters and I will stay here with you. We have much to share with you,” she says, hiding a disappointing expression.

“Uh… on the Songbird?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“The ship”

“The vessel your… friends… attacked my mother with?”

“Yes!” Avi laughs, a little nervously.

“If that is where you will stay.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna work,” she says, quickly.

“Then we shall occupy the harbor instead. I do not wish to be long or far removed from you, Gamayun.”

“Gamayun?”

Iures’ face grows concerned once more. “You have forgotten even your name? Oh, my child, forgive me for leaving you so long to this horrid place. Never again will I allow this.”

This time, Avi’s expression turns, offended. “My name is Avi.”

“Of course it is, my dear,” she replies, very concerned.

“I guess, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.”

“I will not. Your sisters are very excited to see you, however; they will struggle to remain calm under the circumstances.”

Avi looks around to notice all the others like her circling and staring at her in awe. “Right now, Kharrakh needs me more,” with that she began to fly back for the Songbird.

Do what you must. I will be waiting. Return to me when you are ready to learn your truth. Bring your friends, too.

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Fear, As Told by Avinnia
When all she needs, is for him to wake

There was blood everywhere. The bodies, of my lost kin, piling up, around me. They were trying to kill my friends, but I could not hurt them. Kharrakh had left my side, to fight, I knew he had, I did not need to look. My mind continued to pound against my skull, searching for the words, with which I could end the fight. At last they came, and with them, my sisters retreated, with the being claiming me as her daughter.

I could breathe, for the briefest of moments. Then there were two splashes. I had to lift my head, to see. Hurrying, to the railing, and grabbing on when I caught sight of him. Kharrakh. He was swimming out, with Rhaxdi, to continue the fight. The feeling of fear returned to me. But this, fear, is unlike any I had felt before. I could feel my heart throbbing against my chest. I could not help him in the water.

The minutes dragged on like hours, until I see him once more, but he was not moving. He was floating, on the surface of the water. Was he dead? Fear, stronger than ever, surged through me, and I had to go to him. I had to reach him. I had to save him.

I pulled myself up onto the railing of the Songbird, and took flight. No one knew what I was doing, everyone was too distracted to stop me. My fear pushed me through the air. I was coming, Kharrakh.

Dipping myself down into the water, waist deep, the cold ocean wrapped around me. I had to get him back to the Songbird, to Alan. He was not moving. I would have to carry him back, yes, whatever was necessary. My arms slipped beneath him, and with the aid of my powers I lifted him out of the water, with ease. Taking flight, once more, I made my way back to the ship.

Kharrakh had not awoken. My talons barely touched the ground, as I propelled myself quicker with my wings. I see, but have no time to acknowledge the new crew member, his head and sword tipped to us, as I pass.

There were many below deck, Alan was busy, treating them all as I come inside.

“Al-Alan,” the words came out of my mouth, so quietly, so fearful. “Alan, I need your help. Kharrakh needs your help.”

Alan continued to work for several more moments before he seemed to hear my plea. “Alan, please!”

He took Kharrakh from me and began to work on him with the care he showed everyone. After too many minutes he finally turned to me.

“He is stable. I must tend to the others,” he said. “You should let him rest.”

“I am not leaving!” the words passed over my lips before I knew I had thought them. If Alan thought to object, he did not say. He must have understood.

For several hours, I have been sitting at Kharrakh’s bedside, afraid that he might not wake. Stable but not here, with me. The commotion of the medical bay calms down, around me, as I wait. The minutes seem endless, the fear tells me that he will not awake, but I must hold onto hope. I must not let him go.

My hands, once not able to hold anything, just feather and wing, keep my fingers coiled, ever so tight, around his hand. My head droops over his, not because of exhaustion, but because of the sobs I can no longer qwell. The fear is overwhelming. I need him to open his eyes, to look at me, to know that he will live. The night is growing so long, so dark, and a pain in my chest will not end, like this night.

“Kharrahk, please, please wake up,” I whisper, uncaring if he could understand these words. “I need you to wake.”

My plea seems to go unheard. He does not stir. Many of the less injured crew leave the medical bay while I wait. A few of them stop at our side. They do not speak, but look at us in silence. They are thanking him. Thanking him for fighting alongside of them. Thanking him for fighting to protect their lives. If he wakes, the fear of who he was before may now fade away. He is a part of the ship, this crew, this family that I have made. The Song Bird is his home, like it is mine.

I want him to wake, I want him to stay. Somewhere, deep inside, I fear that now that he has tasted battle that he will leave. He has his freedom, what I have been fighting to get him, but with it, he has the right to leave. I would not think to force him to stay. I fought for my own freedom so long, but somewhere the fear remains. Will he wake? Will he stay?

“Kharrahk, I need you,” I do not know the full extent of those words. I feel them, in my bones, where they make my body quiver and my heart catch.

There is movement, in my hands, and I stop breathing, as I open my eyes. He is looking at me. My face, fully damp with tears, and I do not stop a sob of relief.
“You are awake,” I began.

Thank you, he speaks with tired words. For allowing me ker-thin. It has made me happy, to bring you and I such great honor.

The fear fades. The pain begins to ease. He is with me. And he is….happy.

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Tale of a Lost Sister

Sisters, Sisters, Gather Round,
Come Hear the Tale that I Have Wound.
Among the Humans of Avalon,
Lives a Sister Long Since Found.

Her Colors Match the Sky and Sun;
Half Azure, Half Dandelion.
She Speaks the Tongues of Mortal Men,
And Seeks Their Thoughts for Deeper Sins.

She Travels by Both Sea and Air.
Strangers by Her Side,
Birds On Her Wings,
And Rumor Has, A Fish to Guard Her.

Sisters, Sisters, Gather Round,
Come Hear the Tale that I Have Wound.
In Avalon A Lost Sister Lives.
To Avalon, We Go, To Find Her.

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Siblings and Squabbling
In which exposition is spouted in a wild and carefree manner

“It is good to see you again, brother.”

The voice rang gently through the damp alley, moss and stone muffling the echoes into whispers. At the edge of the alley, a man, dressed in fine Dutch fashion, stepped into the silent causeway, tapping his cane softly as he walked.

From the shadows under an awning, Rhaxdi stepped out, clad in the plain dress of a serving girl. “I’ve been expecting you for a while,” she continued, a concerned look on her face, “you’re very late.”

The man let a grin spread across his lightly-whiskered face. “Yes, well, I got held up dealing with our sister’s little mess.”

Rhaxdi brought her eyes to meet her brothers’, not allowing her concerned expression to fade. “This isn’t the time for joking.”

“I’m not joking,” he responded, holding his hands up defensively, “Iures decided to cause some real problems! People died! I was trying to help clean it up.”

“Clean it up?” Rhaxdi asked, her expression changing to one of skepticism. “You can’t stem that tide.”

“I had to try. One of my girls had family there.”

“One of your toys,” Rhaxdi corrected. “That’s all they ever were to you.” The man turned away, chided by his sister’s remark. “Besides, we have much bigger problems.”

The man turned back to face her. “Bigger problems than you deciding to just show up after thirty years?”

“Lin.” Rhaxdi replied.

“Fine, I’m sorry. Continue.”

“When Iures came in, she left The Door open behind her. Best I can tell, it’s still open”

Lin’s face snapped into an extremely serious expression, as he met his sister’s gaze. “What?”

Rhaxdi nodded slowly. “Yes, and I think mom has already crossed over.”

Lin let out an exasperated sigh as he paced about. “This wasn’t supposed to start for another century. Avalon is not ready for our family.”

“Yeah,” Rhaxdi said, letting her gaze fall to the cobblestone walkway. For a moment, silence hung between the two as they contemplated the weight of what lay before them. Rhaxdi spoke first. “She’s going to be coming here.”

Lin nodded, his back turned as he studied the harbor in the distance. “Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. She has every reason to come here. Any word on dad?”

Rhaxdi shook her head. “No, and I’m not expecting to yet; it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than The Door to let the King in Chains into Avalon.”

“Do you think Seven could do it?”

“Hell I hope not. That’d be a bad day for everyone.”

Lin turned to face his sister. “But do you think Seven could do it?”

Rhaxdi studied her brother’s face for a moment, her breaths shallow. “I don’t know,” she finally said, shaking her head. “But I do know that mom is on her way here, and if we don’t do something right now, a lot of people are going to die." She sighed gently. "Seven can wait.”

Lin nodded in agreement. “Death rides for Batavia,” he said, straightening his jacket. “What do you say we roll out the welcome mat?” He let a grin crawl across his face as he offered an elbow to his sister.

Rhaxdi stood and took her brother’s arm, allowing herself a smile. “Tamir Lin, I hope you never change.”

“Dear sister, was that a joke?”

“Shut up and walk with me.”

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The Bleeding Edge
A People Obsessed

The glass and metal orb sat precariously atop a mess of Orichalcum hubs and clicking gears. Sometimes, a sporadic flickering would illuminate the walls of the engine room, and the newly lined face of a sleeping girl.

Across the world, a doctor sat down at her writing desk to transcribe the rushed notes taken during her last surgery. More and more frequently, her days were spent not in healing the sick, but modifying the living. What the popularity of these new mechanical body parts meant for society, she couldn’t say. But today she had learned more about the technology and about the body. Perhaps that would be enough. She hoped what she did was not against God, but there was little time for prayer these days.

In a shadowed room, little more than a hut, an exiled scholar wrote yet another letter to a lost girl he once admired. Though his recent travels were not chosen, they had enlightened him in many ways. All his years at the University were not enough to show him how the world could turn on a dream. Paupers and prisoners (and refugees) could feel strong with hope. Was that not a gift from Allah? Wherever she was, if she was still alive, she was hope for him. He wrote down anything he found in his trek that might be of use to her. And on the way, he whispered hope into the ears of the powerless.

The factories churned on.
The Orichalcum mines dug deeper into the earth under the watchful eye of the VOC.
Brilliant minds strained against what was possible and known to bring the world into the murky lands of invention.
Everywhere in the world, the bleeding edge of discovery stained the palms of its worshippers.

And the girl muttered in her sleep, cheek pillowed only by the thrumming metal of an engine, always on the brink of waking from whatever nightmare chose to visit that night.

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Carrots and Cutlery
In which snacking is not permitted

The smell of boiling carrots filled the galley. They weren’t being prepared with a purpose; Fabio just liked to boil carrots. They were easy to do, smelled good, and gave him an easy out whenever someone tried to get him to do something. “Just started boiling carrots,” he’d say. They usually left him alone after that.

It was a smell that always took him home, back to when he was a young Arighetti in Italy. His mother never had much, so most dinners were primarily carrot or tomato in composition. Occasionally, they’d have potatoes or pasta, but those were usually reserved for special occasions. Being the oldest of seven, he was often enlisted to help with making dinner — a chore he eventually took over completely once he was comfortable with the knife. It came natural to him, making food for others, so becoming a ship’s cook was almost a matter of course. He didn’t mind.

The sound of rope hitting the deck nearby brought him back to the moment. “Ey Cookie,” one of the deckhands called out as she walked towards the galley, “how’sabout givin’ us an early supper, then? I’ve worked twice as ‘ard as any other today.”

Fabio didn’t even bother raising his head. “No snacking, Joan. I just started boiling some carrots.”

The stock excuse didn’t seem to faze Joan. “Come on, cookie. Jus’ an apple. I’ll eat it secret-like.”

“No snacking, welp.”

Joan, eyeing Fabio, stopped her approach just outside the galley’s door. “I’ll not bother ye, then. Just an apple for me’self,” she said, reaching her arm towards a bushel on a nearby counter. “Nothin’ to bother ye wiAAAAAAA!”

Her scream came on the tail end of Fabio slashing her arm with his cooking knife. She gasped, grabbing the wound defensively as she eyed the cook. Fabio, emotionless as always, simply wiped off the knife and resumed his work.

“Yer crazy, then!” Joan shouted. “That punishment t’weren’t fit fer pinchin’ an apple!” Hatred filling her vision, she grabbed for her cutlass and pulled it from her belt. “I’ll have your ‘ead for that!”

She lifted her cutlass, as though prepared to charge into battle, but felt a hand grab her wrist from behind. She turned, startled by the sudden grapple, to see Captain Borrow restraining her.

“There’ll be none of that,” the Captain said, his voice reminiscent of a father scolding his child. “Besides, you wouldn’t last two seconds with the cook.” He gestured with his head that she look ahead.

Where Fabio had previously stood working, now there was only empty air. Instead, Joan felt the flat of a blade tap against her ribs. She looked to see the cook, crouched silently at her side, holding the kitchen knife against her ribcage. “It’s a shame,” Fabio muttered, standing back up, “not much meat out on the open seas. Be nice to get some protein back in our diets.”

“We don’t eat deckhands for being rowdy, Fabio” The Captain chided.

“Quite right you are, Captain,” Fabio responded. “Not since we resupplied in Suez.”

Joan went pale at the implication, but calmed a bit upon hearing the Captain’s chuckle. She lowered his arm, and sheepishly returned the cutlass to her belt. “I’ll return to my duties, then, sir.”

“Captain,” Philp interjected.

“Yes, Captain. I’ll return to my duties, then, Captain,” Joan reiterated.

“Yes you will. And when we arrive in Batavia, you’ll be looking for another ship. I’ll not have deckhands attacking my cook because they’re hungry.”

“Yes, Captain.”

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Once Burned, Twice Shy
Four years ago

Cullen gritted his teeth and held Pip tightly in his left hand. The alley had finally grown dark in the clouded cover of night, and the time to execute had finally come. Any other job would have been a cakewalk, an easy in and out. But this was not his usual job. This was not his idea. The plan was one he had to learn, not lay out himself, and it made him uneasy. While he trusted Devon, he did not trust his logic this time. The VOC were not someone to be reasoned with, and infiltration was not something that had ever occured to him. The idea of taking down the ones pulling the strings was tempting, certainly, but the execution was not in his usual playbook.

A series of sparks lit momentarily in the alley across the street before extinguishing. It was time. Cullen closed his eyes and let out a sigh, and climbed atop the crates stacked next to him. He’d get one shot. His sixty seconds started now.

Cullen jumped and aimed a decisive blow towards the second story of the building opposite him. Pip connected with the stone and let out a concussive bellow that resonated through the district. A moment later, he was standing in a dark office, surrounded by files stacked high around the walls. Fifty five seconds.

He made his way across the room to the stack closest to the door, and began digging through the stack, frantically looking for the building plans he was told would be there. And as he was instructed, the plans for the newest Bordeaux Orichalcum Refinery sat about halfway down the stack. He grabbed them and exited the office, and carefully closed the door behind him. He was in a long hallway. Forty Seconds.

He turned right, and made for the stairs at the end of the hall, but took the ones going up to the top floor, against his better judgement, and headed towards the roof. With twenty seconds left, he reached the roof. The door was not locked. So far, so good. He turned and locked the door with the key he had been given. To anyone trying to evaluate the scene, it would appear he had no possible way to escape the building but the way he came in. Now for the difficult part.

He turned to the roof neighboring and braced himself to jump. Below he could hear a commotion coming from the base of the building he was jumping to. Devon must be doing his job well, Cullen thought to himself. He tried to push his friend from his mind, and took a deep breath. He jolted to attention, and felt every muscle in his legs respond as he surged from his braced stance, and sprinted towards the ledge. As he approached the side he lept, and looked down. The height only briefly registered in his mind as he fixated on a spot in the wall in the building below him. He wound up, and threw Pip with all his might. Pip connected directly with the wall, letting out another thunderous bellow. But a mere second later, a massive bolt of lightning erupted through the hole and into the first hole he had struck. Out of the corner of his eye, right before landing, he saw a familiar form jump between the two holes in the opposite direction, heading for the office he had just vacated. Devon was right on time. Perfect.

Cullen stumbled on his landing, a mixed feeling of accomplishment and anxiety. On the one hand, the plan was going perfectly. Anyone pursuing Devon would have assumed that the bolt he let off fired through both walls, and that there was never any target in the office, just the jewels he was currently making off with. He and Devon both knew that Devon’s lightning could never break through a wall without an outside power amplification, but the beauty of strangers was the misunderstanding of the outside world. On the other hand, Pip lay below in the ally, knocked free of the debris by the lightning. They would be reunited soon, but first he had to finish the job. And that part depended on no complications. He bit his lip, and made for the access into the building.

Once in the building, he waited carefully a few seconds, listening for sounds of any further guards pursuing his companion. Once he was sure that the building was empty of all unwelcome, he made his way to the instructed door, and opened it. It was only once he entered that he realized something was wrong.

Sitting in a desk opposite him was a man he knew only as Guisarme, whom was not entirely unexpected. He wore an eye patch over his small, piercing eyes, and had a long, pointed face topped with greasy, long black hair. The unwelcomed guests, however, flanked him on each side. One was a large, beefy man covered from head to toe in burns, completely bald, and gripping two stones in his left hand, which he turned over and over methodically. The other was a slight woman, dressed in robes of deep black, and hooded so as to shroud her face. All that was visible were her thin, pale lips.

“Greetings, Cullen O’Dunnel.” Guisarme mused lazily.

“Ye never said ye were bringin’ guests.” Cullen said stiffly, edging back towards the door.

“Didn’t I? It must have slipped my mind.” Cullen took another step back. “Now now, there’s no reason to leave when we’re so close to completion.”

The hooded woman waived her hand, ever so slightly, and the door shut behind Cullen. Great, Cullen groaned internally, more Strangers.

“Now, it would seem you retrieved the documents, would you be ever so kind as to hand them over?”

Cullen didn’t move.

“Come now, time is of the essence, we need that file replaced in a timely manner. We wouldn’t want anyone to miss them, or this whole facade has been for naught.”

Slowly, Cullen stepped forward and dropped the file on the desk. Promptly, Guisarme took the file and opened it.

“There’s a good lad” Guisarme smirked, reaching up to his eye patch. He lifted it and revealed an orb of sky blue, which began to glow eerily in the gloom. He quickly flipped through the pages, and within moments shut the file and replaced his eyepatch. “Excellent, I should be able to replicate those perfectly for our benefactor now.” He handed them to the woman on his right and said, “now, would you be a dear, and replace those for me?”

Cullen interjected. “I believe that was my job.”

“Ah yes, well plans have changed slightly.” Guisarme continued lazily. At that, the bulky man on his left separated the two rocks into separate hands. In the light streaming in behind the window, they flashed and revealed themselves as flint and steel.

A scream of a man resonated from somewhere outside. Cullen turned around abruptly. It sounded like Devon.

“Our benefactors in the VOC have determined that loose ends should most likely be tied up. They feel terribly about the jewels lost in the process of obtaining these documents, and cleaning the smut willing to steal off of the street would make them feel quite right in the addition of a VOC representative apprehending the thieves responsible. All about image you see. And so, I will bid you adeiu, and leave you to my colleague here.”

“Ye’ll have a good time of it. You should know I don’t go down easy in a fight. Even with brutes ugly as this sport.” Cullen spat venomously, rage beginning to boil.

“Ah, yes, I did some research about you, mister ‘Grey Gale’, was it? From your record, it sounds like you are nigh unstoppable. Fortunately, we have, what you might call a speciallist on the matter. You see, stones may not break you, my good lad.” At this, he stood and put a hand on the woman’s shoulder. In a blink, they were gone. But as the enormous man grinned and struck his two stones together, Guisarme left two words ringing in his ears.

“Everyone burns.”

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Note_23.01.1712
The first official note on the A.L.A.N. project by one Aart Driesen. Authorized personnel only.
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Dinner with Kharrakh
During Which a Gift is Given

Avinnia took her plate of food down to the brig, deciding that she would enjoy spending the evening having conversation with their captive. She set her plate down on the floor and proceeded to sit beside it. She always placed herself in front of the bars, carelessly close, but she was not afraid of her Ker. Though her visits were not as often as she wished, she did find herself spending more of her free time with him.

She did not speak, at first, her thoughts drifting to the crew. While Phillip found her useful and was having her go with him nearly everywhere, Farrah seemed to want less and less to do with her. It was not just her, however, Avi had noticed Farrah’s attitude continue to change the longer they were away from Christmas Island. After what happened in Cairo, Avi did not blame her. She could not imagine seeing Reykjavik burning, her family nowhere to be found. She did not know how that could affect a person. Farrah was only a few years older that her. Perhaps, this form of loss, caused more reckless behavior. Farrah was acting out against the captain, though, as she thought about it, Farrah had never really taken orders or even advice from any of them.

Avi? Kharrakh’s voice broke through her thoughts and she lifted her head from her plate. He had moved to his normal spot on the opposite side of the bars. His eyes, endless like the night sky, were staring at her. He always kept his eyes on her.

Forgive me, I was lost in my thoughts. She looked away from him to check that he had been fed. His plate was empty but there were small traces of the meat he had been given. I am sorry that you are still stuck in there. Captain Phillip is still hesitant to trust you. I think he worries that you will hurt me.

I would not harm my Okraik. Avi thought she heard an offended tone in his voice.

I know, Kharrakh. I trust you. I know you will only protect me. However, after what you and your brothers did, I understand everyone being afraid of you.

Do you fear me, Avinnia?

His question took her by surprise and she looked at him, again, before answering. Her gaze was steady, fearless. Had there ever been fear since she first saw him? No, no, there had not been. If they had not met in battle she would not have even attacked. Her curiosity had been the strongest emotion she had felt. He was so different from those around her, he could understand what it was like to not look human. He had lived in Vandagen. He had seen others like her.

No, she finally answered. I do not fear you. She shoved one of her hands into the pocket of her dress and withdrew a polished aquamarine gem stone. She stared at it for a long, silent, moment. Kharrakh’s eyes, for once, moved from her face down to the stone. He withdrew the shell, that she had previously given him, and looked down at it. It had a similar polish to it. He looked at her as she reached through the bars and stretched out her hand. The stone sat on her palm and her eyes were fixed on him.

A gift, she said.

What is ‘gift’? He asked her. He stretched out his pale hand. His fingertips brushed her warm skin as he lifted the stone.

Humans give gifts to show affection to those they care about. Birds have a similar tradition. Though we prefer objects that shine and shimmer. I polished this myself. She was smiling when he met her gaze once more.

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