Ka’cha sighed in faint disgust as she strolled from the Bazzar to the small room she had rented. As much as she enjoyed the music Kala managed to coax from the panpipes, the githyanki was painfully aware of the lack of her own musical skills. While the bariur could inspire beings into fits of battlerage or passion, all Ka’cha could ever manage were painful squawks.
As if a living echo of her thoughts, a cheerful melody from a flute wafted past. She turned, searching for the origin. She found it in a tall young man with sandy blond hair, highlighted with flickers of orange and red, cut short save for the thin braid over his shoulder. She watched him play for awhile, studying his finger movements as well as simply savoring the delightful music. Noticing her interest, the bard hopped off his perch on a sundial and strolled around her. She continued watching until he resumed his seat and finished his song.
“That was nice. How do you do it?” she asked. While Kala was her teacher, if she could pick up something – anything! – to improve, she would gladly learn something from another.
“My father would say ‘practice and concentration’, but I prefer talent and imagination,” he replied flippantly.
Not what she was hoping for. She frowned, trying to discern the man’s meaning. “Is there a great difference?”
“Absolutely! The ability to improvise and still sound good is one of the hallmarks of a truly gifted artist!” She could tell that she had set off a well-practiced and fervent debate.
“But what if you just wish to play something...?” Damn. This was beginning to look more complicated than she’d expected. And Kala had mentioned that there was much more for her to learn....
“Then all it requires is the learning and the teaching and the practice. And the knowledge that it is mere imitation of sonorous melodies that have echoed through the ages, stirring hearts or numbing minds. Playing someone else's music can be the most profound tribute, or the most disgraceful parody.” He looked down sheepishly for a moment and paused in thought. “Sorry about that, music tends to set me off, I’ve had this argument many times with my father.”
She tried to hide her relieved look. “Oh. That’s all right. I just... well, that is....” She blushed and ducked her head. “Iwasjustcuriousandwantedtoknow. Thanksfortheimformation,” she blurted in a rush.
“No, it’s okay, I really need to be calmer about this kind of thing... do you play an instrument?”
She squirmed. Wonderful. She’d managed to put her foot in her mouth again. “Well... I’m learning.” Sort of. Technically.
He carefully eased himself off the sundial and gave her an interested look. “Which are you learning? And from whom?”
Oh, gods! “Ah, the panpipes. From Kala the bariur. She and her husband Jax are the Indeps that entertain at Nel's food stall....” She trailed off, partially hoping he would have no idea of who she was talking about.
He nodded, apparently satisfied with her answer. “Speaking of which, I'm a little hungry myself.” He looked around and sniffed the air, then grimaced. “Hmm... know any good places around here where the food doesn’t bite back?”
Finally. Safe territory. “Yes. Do you prefer meat or vegetable?”
“Meat's all right as long as it has stopped moving, but right now I'm not that picky.”
She nodded. “Floyd’s isn’t too far.” She led him to a small, dingy building that looked close to needing severe renovation. He gave her a dubious look, but followed.
The dark inside was separated into small tables and booths, with a long bar across the back. The man looked around. “Looks good to me, what do they do the fastest?”
She blinked. “Steak.”
He laughed and nodded. “Yes, I suppose that’s probably a good idea.” He sat down at a table.
In a few minutes Lena came by, nodding to Ka’cha. “Yeah?” she drawled.
When she turned to him he said, “Steak and whatever else is good. Water, please.”
Lena raised an eyebrow, then jotted down the order. “Any particulars ta that?”
“Yeah, drinkable water.”
She snorted and stormed off, swiftly returning with plates of rare steak and glasses of water, which she thunked down before striding back to the bar.
He shrugged and began eating, sipping tentatively on the water until he was sure it was good. “Do you know how hard it is to get drinkable water in this town? You'd think with all the different types that people would accept someone not drinking spirits, but noo-oo, there's always the bloody raised eyebrow, like someone who doesn’t drink isn't trustworthy....” He trailed off and looked around. He spotted a half full glass of something alcoholic sitting on a nearby table, evidently left behind. “This is why I don’t drink.” Then he breathed into the glass, setting the whiskey on fire.
“How...?” Ka’cha gasped, staring at the flames.
He looked up, grinned, then winked. “I’m not sure exactly, and my parents never really talked about it, but I’ve always been able to do things with fire. My mother always got upset and left the room, though... eventually she left me and my dad here. Nobody knows where she went. Anyway, watch this.” He looked back at the glass and tilted his head. The fire moved up the side and danced around the rim. He held out his hand and a tongue of flame jumped onto his palm.
“That’s amazing! I’ve never even seen fire priests do something like that.”
“Fire priests?” He looked puzzled.
“Yes. Priests of Fire. They don't seem to be that common away from home, though.” She looked down at the table for a second, wincing at the memory of the crabby kreen, but regained her composure quickly.
He looked interested. “Oh? Where are you from?”
“Athas. It’s a prime world, mostly desert.”
He leaned forward. “Tell me about the people...”
“It’s... a harsh place, with harsh people. Mostly humans, with elves and dwarves and lots of the similar races you’ll see on other major Prime worlds. The one I know best are the thri-kreen.”
“Tell me about the music,” he asked softly.
Something in his voice brought back clear memories of the slave pens, and then the pack. “Like the people: hard, pained. Mostly whistles or similar instruments, or ones that could be strummed, all made of bone or rarely wood. Never metal. I never heard a metal flute before I left.”
“Wow, sounds like you miss it, even though you describe it like that. Sigil is the closest to a home I’ve ever had. We never stayed in one place long, but we always came back through here. There’s so much vibrancy and variety here, a new culture and new music around every corner. So much to discover and experience.”
She grinned. “Yes, I do miss it, but, as you said, there is so much variety here.” He understands. I miss the pack, the clutch. Maybe it’s time to start my own. Taking a firm mental grip, Ka’cha decided to take the risk. “I am Ka'chadras-trin of the Ch'gythtek.” She held out her hand.
“I'm Alexei, of no place or clan in particular.” He reached over the table, and then hesitated. He blew on the flame in his palm and it winked out, then he shook her hand
“It is a pleasure to meet you. I've found many consider Ka'cha easier to get out, so if you would prefer to call me that, feel free to do so.” She grinned. “Klik was the only one to call me that anyway.” Silly kreen, so proud of his non-kreen clutchmate.
He chuckled. “I think I can handle Ka'chadras-trin, but I hope you don’t mind if I avoid your clan name.”
She smiled faintly. “It's all right. They're dead anyway.”
“Oh, I'm sorry. It sounds like they're the ones you really miss on Athas.”
She shrugged. “Death is a part of life. It's inevitable. Yes, I miss the pack, but if you linger on the past you'll end up joining it.”
She shrugged again and turned her attention back to her steak, unused to the praise.
Alexei finished his steak and leaned back in his chair. After downing the rest of the water, he took out his flute. The young man closed his eyes as he assembled the flute and swayed gently in his chair. He began playing a soft, slow song, with lots of low notes, but every once in a while a high note popped in, like mica glittering in sand
She sat back and closed her eyes, savoring the sounds the young bard coaxed from his flute. It reminded her so much of the pack, late at night when the prey was hidden so the kreen stopped, spending their time talking or practicing their hunting skills while she fell asleep to the sounds of their chatter.
The song continued, rising in tempo, then falling again with sharp, staccato notes. It ended with long, mournful notes, before it faded away.
She stayed silent for a moment, content to remain in the peaceful memories. Then she sighed and opened her eyes, gazing at the man in awe and gratitude. “That was beautiful,” she said softly. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome. I'd name it after your clan, except I can’t pronounce it.” He smiled and beckoned the waitress, asking her how much for dinner.
The waitress comes over, slightly friendlier upon seeing what he did for her friend. “Just a gold piece.”
He dug through his purse, finally coming up with half a gold piece and five silver. Lena gave him a sidelong glance and took the silver.
When she left, Alexei turned back to Ka’cha. “So, you know anyplace around here that would be safe to stay at for a night or two?”
Ka'cha looked at him for a second, then nodded. She had a good feeling about this. Alexei seemed to have the good makings of a clutchmate. “Yes. Well, so long as you don't snore.”
He grinned, “I wouldn’t know, whenever I do, I'm asleep. Why, where did you have in mind?”
“I... have a spare bed.” She managed a small smile, aware of how that might sound. People seemed to have so many silly taboos about things like this. “The rent is pretty low.”
“That’s a definite plus, my income is not quite stellar right now. I'll have to go get my stuff from where I stashed it.”
“All right. Let's go. That is, whenever you're ready.”
He chuckled again. “Okay.” They wended their way through the streets of Sigil back to the sundial where he was playing earlier. Alexei bent down and fiddled with something on the column holding it up, until a panel popped open and he drew a bundle out of the column and the ground.
“Huh.” She gave the sundial a suspicious glance, then led the way to a small, run-down building. The landlady, an old biddy of uncertain race who was eternally sweeping the steps, glared at Alexei and sniffed with disapproval when he followed Ka'cha in. She led him to a small apartment, sparsely furnished with pillows and throw rugs. There was indeed a bed, uncovered and pushed into a corner. She’d never had reason to use it.
He cocked his head curiously. “I thought you said you had an extra bed?”
She glared at it and made a face. “It's right there. Nasty thing, too.” She nodded to a slightly thicker pile of blankets in another corner. “I’m fine with that. Anything more and I can't sleep.” She shivered faintly at the memory of the luxurious beds in Streg’s harem. No, the ground was more than fine with her. The pile of blankets was almost sinfully comfortable from what she was used to.
“Hey, I'm perfectly accommodating to other peoples sleeping habits, especially if it affords me a place to rest my head.” He smiled, then looked around thoughtfully. “Do you know somewhere around here where...” he muttered to himself.
She tilted her head to the side, giving him a curious glance.
He suddenly realized he’d said that. “Oh, sorry, just thinking out loud about how unfamiliar I am with this part of the city.”
“What are you after? I might know.”
“I was just looking for some open space for my exercises.” He unrolled the bundle to reveal a sheathed bastard sword, a staff, and some clothing.
Her face lit up. “Tik-dul!” she exclaimed happily. A clutchmate that already knew – or at least seemed to – of dance that mirrored the Hunt! She had chosen well. “Of course. Out back there's an empty lot.”
“Umm... yeah, something like that.”
“Will that work?” she asked anxiously, already thinking of this man in terms of a clutchmate. She’d been on her own far too long.
“It should be fine... say, you're awful trusting of someone you just met on the street. You know, just inviting me to sleep in your room, with my weapons....” He looked up with a wry grin. “Maybe I should be the one who's scared. Do you invite strangers in all the time?”
“Ah, no.” She flushed. “It's....” She milled her hands, looking for something to say but not seeming to find it. How to explain her need, the kreen desire to belong to a family.... “It's about the pack, the clutch,” she finally managed lamely.
He looked slightly perplexed and definitely unsatisfied by her answer, but apparently decided to drop the matter. “So, what do you do for fun?”
She grinned faintly. “Not much. I'm still adjusting to the concept of spare time. It’s odd. Very odd.”
He looked curious, then it seemed to dawn on him. “It was a full time job to survive in the desert, huh?”
She nodded. “There's the Hunt, travel, and when the pack stopped for the night, sleep.” She shrugged, aware of how empty it might seem to him, yet how wonderfully full and simple it had been to her. “There is more to it than that, but that covers most of it.”
“I’m sure you'll come up with something, like your panpipes. You're already adjusting to civilization. Well, I’m gonna do some exercises, then hit the sack.” He took a towel, his sword, and his staff downstairs and out into the courtyard.
She followed part of the way. “May I watch? Or do you prefer for this to be private?”
He shrugged. "You can watch if you want, its not that remarkable."
Ka’cha settled back on her pile of blankets with a soft, contented sigh. For the first time since she’d come to Sigil - hells, since the death of the pack! - , she felt whole. She was well aware that she was a githyanki, not kreen, but after three years and much effort to exorcise Tora the slave girl, she had whole-heartedly embraced the mentality of the Hunt, and the Pack. It was good to have someone to trust nearby, a clutchmate. She chuckled softly at the thought of what Alexei would say to his new standing, but she didn’t really find that important. She drifted off to sleep on the memory of her pack, accompanied by the song her new clutchmate had given her - and them -, for once content with the sound of soft breathing in the same room.
Get me out of here!!! A.K.A. Home
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