Ka’cha – no, she reminded herself mentally, it is Toralana Tilvander, daughter of Kelvix Tilvander, not Ka’cha anymore. Sigh. Then why does it sound so odd? – wandered down the ornate hallway of an equally elaborate castle floating in the midst of the Astral plane. Other githyanki strolled or hurried past her, generally giving her a wide berth when they bothered to notice her at all. She didn’t look too differently from them; she had the same rough, sallow yellow skin, slim – almost gaunt – and angular build, and sunken, inhumanly dark eyes as they. But while even the lowest of those passing her wore elaborate, multi-layered clothes in bright colors, Tora was dressed in dusty, somber brown pants and yellow vest, covered by a mottled poncho. Instead of the almost gaudy silver and gold jewelry they wore, her only ornaments were a choker of undeterminable fiber holding mismatched stones, a dagger of black stone sheathed at her thigh, and a tri-bladed, crystalline thing hanging from her belt. Her skin was rougher, sporting wrinkles induced by long exposure to a sun the like of which would never shine in this silver void. Even her raven-wing dark hair set her apart: instead of the swept back braids and ponytails the other sported, she wore hers in a loose, shoulder length tangle.
“Toralana!” an imperious voice called behind her. It took her a few seconds to recognize the target as herself, then spun around. An elderly, stately matron was striding towards her, set with a purpose that made Tora wonder wearily what rule of etiquette she’d broken this time.
“Yes, B’neeza?” The name rolled off her tongue with depressing ease, painfully like the thri-kreen she was so used to speaking.
B’neeza sniffed as she halted in front of Tora. “By the Queen, what possessed you to dress in... that?”
Tora bit back her annoyance. It was her fault, after all, she’d allowed the fussy elder to dictate her clothes and habits for the first confusing days here. After getting orientated and completely fed up with the ridiculous outfits that denied her movement and freedom to fight, she’d returned to her normal habits. But B’neeza was determined to take back control of her protégé’s lack of taste. “Everything else was dirty,” Tora smoothly lied. It was a point of fascination to her; some of her kinsmen had an almost obsessive need to bathe at least daily, while she had been lucky to stay near an oasis long enough for a quick dip once in a green moon.
B’neeza sighed and turned on her heel, forcing Tora to hurry to keep up. “Well, I suppose it will make the ceremony all the more symbolic, but really. Wasn’t there anything else you could wear?”
“Ceremony?” What ceremony? She hadn’t heard about anything.
The elder sighed again. “That’s what I came to fetch you for. It was decided that you could take back your holdings. All that’s left is a ceremony to prove your loyalty to the Queen. It’s all just a formality, really.”
“Ah.” There wasn’t much Tora could say to that. She followed B’neeza to a doorway leading to a small, candlelit room. She hesitated for a moment, unwilling to enter the place that reminded her so strongly of the slave pens, then entered.
The low-ceilinged room was lit by dim torches arranged around the walls in black iron scones that left Tora with the uneasy sensation of something leering at her, while remaining just out of sight. Two officials, dressed in flamboyant silver robes and clutching piles of papers stood, obviously bored out of their minds, next to a low stone slab that took up much of the space. Tora had time for a single shocked glimpse of channels carved into the edges and chains from the corners before the man with the larger pile of paper moved in front of her, blocking her view.
“Name?” he asked in an uninterested tone.
“Ka – Toralana Tilvander.”
“Between twenty and thirty, closer to thirty.”
He finally looked at her, an annoyed glare. “Age?” he growled again.
What? What’d I say wrong? It’s true!
“Twenty-eight,” B’neeza quickly filled in.
The official motioned to his flunky, who moved forward and held out a finely wrought steel dagger with the exaggerated caution of one unfamiliar with anything sharp. Still not certain what she was supposed to do, Tora took the dagger and moved past the men.
There were indeed chains at the corners of the slab, as well as channels near the sides. The chains held a man; gagged, battered, bloody, nearly unconscious, and stripped to the waist.
“Who-?” she gasped in shocked horror. With yellow skin, black hair, and gangly build, he might have been able to pass as a long lost relative.
“What,” the first official corrected. “It’s a githzeri. Our ancient enemies, like the mind flayers. It’s simple really, you simply ram the dagger here, cut up - ” he reached out and traced a line up the githzeri’s chest, ignoring or not seeing the way the man twitched in a futile but sincere effort to escape the official’s touch – “and take out his heart. That would be over here.” He tapped the spot, grinning ever so slightly as the captive’s muscles spasmed in an unconscious attempt to get away. He stepped back, motioning for her to proceed.
Tora stepped up to the slab, almost absently reversing her grip on the weapon as she looked down at the victim. He glared back, gray eyes trying to hide fear beneath hate and helpless anger. She studied him for a moment, letting him look her over as well.
He looked like her.
The githyanki’s fingers tightened over the dagger hilt. “What was his crime?”
“He is a githzeri!” one of the officials nearly screamed with exasperation behind her.
‘Why bother hunting?’ she’d once asked Klik, soon after she’d joined the pack. ‘There’s a caravan coming through tomorrow. We have enough ceramic to buy food, more than you’ll get hunting.’
He’d paused, fingers dancing over the shaft of his gythka as he thought. ‘Why do you sleep?’ he finally asked.
The question had taken her by urprise. ‘I told you before. I have to. It’s something I was born to do.’
He’d nodded, antennae waving in satisfaction. ‘Exactly. We are kreen. We hunt.’
“Oh, for the love of-!” The official moved forward, coming up behind her.
She raised the dagger high, watching the reflection in the githzeri’s hateful eyes.
We are kreen, so we hunt.
The steel blade darted down, skimming over the githzeri’s chest to slam into the official’s stomach, then ripping upward with all of her not-inconsiderable strength. He toppled with a gurgle as she spun with grace and speed gained from harsh years of simply surviving on a harsh world, tossing the crystal chatkcha with practiced ease at the other official. It found his throat even as she leaped from the slab to B’neeza, slamming the elder to the floor. The obsidian knife pressed into B’neeza’s throat, creasing but not cutting the skin.
But that does not dictate WHAT we must hunt.
“Give me a reason not to kill you,” a cold, emotionless voice rasped.
B’neeza stared up at the child who had gone against all beliefs her people had ever had. “It is a githzeri! You would betray your people for a stinking, scum sucking githzeri?! ”
The hunt is all.
“I’m sure he has the same opinion about you. Give me a reason not to kill you!”
When I left the slave pens, I said I’d rather die than call another being master.
“You are a traitor to all our – !”
The dagger sliced down and across.
I would still rather die.
She stood, wiping the weapons clean on the clothes of the fallen. She studied the steel dagger for a moment, then stuck it in her belt. She patted down the dead, taking their money and jewelry, as well as a small key. As she hoped, it fit the shackles holding the githzeri.
When she released all but the chain holding his left wrist, he yanked off the gag. “You killed them!” he hissed.
She looked up from the chain, glanced around at the dead bodies, then turned back to the key, which was sticking. “Yes.” That was rather obvious.
She paused, then forced the restraint open. “I was a slave once. It’s something I swore never to be again.”
He obviously didn’t understand. Perhaps he simply couldn’t understand: if she had followed the orders to kill him, she would be giving up her life as surely as when Streg’s slave mark had been branded into her flesh.
The githzeri was holding his hand close, trying to rub circulation back into his wrist while glaring at her. “So. What now?”
“Now we escape.”
Ka’cha stared in unashamed wonder around her, marveling at the simple and uncountable wonders of the city called Sigil. The dirty, dark street was filled with all manner of beings, talking in a million different tongues as they moved past the small alley she and the githzeri had taken shelter in. She knew she was making an obvious mark, staring about in wild wonder, but she was almost beyond caring. She could see every type of being she could imagine; everything from a few humans to a creature she was frighteningly sure was Galug, the guardian of the frozen world awaiting thri-kreen after life.
She turned to ask the githzeri if he had ever seen this many people. Seeing only the empty alley, she sighed. He was gone. Not much of a surprise, really, but still... they’d managed to make it this far without killing each other, perhaps....
Ah well. Ka’cha took a deep breath and strode into the street. Surely in a city larger than Tyr and Glug combined there would be a place, a home, for her.
Get me out of here!!! A.K.A. Home
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