The Astor Chronicles are currently being written and you can read an excerpt from book one below:
Chapter One—Who am I?
Light. Glorious, blue prisms of light sparkled off every leaf and branch. Thick, powdery sap burbled slowly inside the crystalline structures, giving the tree life. It was a life that went back nearly three thousand years—back to the dawn of creation. I marvelled at its immensity, even as I appreciated yet another opportunity to look upon it in solitude: the Great Sapphire Tree of Jaria. It wasn’t like other trees, those with bark, green leaves and infested with bugs and lichen. Nay. This was a tree of the most unique element on Chryne. Its leaves were hard and thick as sapphires, its branches like iron bars.
I stopped here often to observe the mysterious tree. Today, it was part of the route my adoptive father Bessed had requested. His needs, as the village quartermaster, were many and varied, sometimes sending me miles away from home. And that was the way I liked it—away from Jaria and the expectations and demands of such a close-knit community. As much as I loved my people, I had never truly felt like I belonged in Jaria, but neither did I belong in Tasset, Tez or Sarm, the closest neighbouring cities.
I had travelled to those cities on several occasions, but only a few families knew me by name. Most of those I had talked with in my travels were convinced that the sapphire trees fed off the light in the sky, but the people of Jaria knew better. We knew there were sapphire trees underground, hiding in caves where no light ever touched them. There were certain forbidden texts in our sacred library, written by explorers of times past who had harvested the trees to make weapons and objects of power from them. What fed the sapphire trees was something other than light or water. It was the Lightmaker’s magic.
Light from the waning day-star glittered in the Sapphire Tree’s leaves, shining down on me like tiny, rainbow-coloured messengers. I lifted my arm to watch the sparkles dance on my skin and as I remembered the tree’s incredible history, my own story also came to mind.
I had warm, brown skin, a shade lighter than my father’s and many shades darker than my mother’s. Thinking of my parents brought a muted sensation of anger and loss. It was like tapping an old scar to see if it still pained me. Born nineteen summers ago, I was their only son. I still lived in the town where they had raised me, Jaria. I worshipped the same god as them—the Lightmaker—but in my own way. Another man might have asked what kind of god would let a four-year-old lose his mother, then at twelve years of age his father, and finally his sister just one more year later.
My hand strayed involuntarily to my mother Kerra’s sapphire tree leaf pendent that hung on a metal chain around my neck. Roukney had been its name, back when it had still been alive. It used to have a voice of its own, even though no life blood had ever coursed through it. Some days I didn’t mind that none of the gifts of the Astor had come to me. What would it be like having some other being listening to your innermost thoughts and secrets?
I cinched my belt a little tighter against the hard muscles of my belly. A dozen pouches hung from the belt, jostling with every step I took. A large pack lay flat against my back, containing necessities like my woollen blanket-roll, cooking utensils, a saw, hammer and nails, netting, an oil lamp, trapping wires and more. My shirt and fur-lined overcoat hung from the top of it. Although it was cooler up in the mountains than it was in Jaria, the day’s travelling had overheated me. I was accustomed to travelling alone and being able to take off my shirt whenever I felt like it. Still, I did have a job to do.
Reluctantly, I turned from the Great Sapphire Tree and continued westward up the rocky path. It was more of a water run-off than a path, but I had come this way many times before and knew it well. I’d been out gathering for most of the day and there were a few more stops before I could put down my gear and rest.
The next stop on the route Bessed had requested was in a hidden copse of ferns, fallen trees and ground mulch. Crouching down by the largest of the logs, I peered into a dark recess beneath it. The thought of spiders made me hesitate for a moment, after which I plunged my hand in and scooped out the prize.
Rows of tiny, pink mushrooms lay like a noble lady’s buttons against the dark, earthy mulch. It was a little early to harvest fairy shrooms, but I knew Eldarfy’s tamarin would never forgive me if I didn’t bring some back. I collected the mushrooms in one of my pouches, adding a sprig of zantemin from a cluster nearby for freshness.
The next stop was a few miles on, past a gorge covered with wildflowers and large, volcanic boulders. A squat, dark tree trunk was home to a hive of elder bees. The honey was a much sought-after delicacy in Jaria and many of the animals loved to eat seed-bread dipped in it. It was also used to treat wounds and sore throats. My sister Ella had once used it in a bran poultice on an injury of mine. I had slipped at the top of a cliff, while trying to sneak after my father on one of his expeditions, and sliced open my knee. She never told him the real reason I’d been up on the cliff.
I pulled an oiled leather bag from my pack, shrouded my head with gauze and donned gloves that reached to my elbows. Even though I had been collecting elder bee honey for more than six years, I was still not completely impervious to the bees’ sting.
With a marble-hilted knife in hand, I slowly approached the tree trunk. I put my hand into a hole about the size of my palm and soon encountered the tough wax of the hive wall with my blade. It coated the inside of the tree trunk, probably reaching up much further than I could lift my knife so I cut around the inside of the trunk as high up as it would go. Dark yellow and orange bees swarmed around me. A few stung me through the gauze hat, but most were clinging to my gloves or circling angrily.
I was certain there was some meaning to the pattern they danced in the air—before they could muster more of their fellows against me, I withdrew. I twisted my shoulder as I pulled my arm out in haste. Then, with some difficulty, I collected the honeycomb I had severed from the hive and stowed it in the leather bag.
As the bees began to follow, I rolled the bag shut and hurried on my way. Putting aside the pain in my shoulder and the many small bee stings, I trekked up a steep incline. There was a cave a few miles on where milkvines grew. Bessed had trained me where to find it and how to cut the rock away from its base to find thick white roots, also known as milkbulbs. The soulbound bear-kin of Jaria loved to eat it on special occasions. Ground up and mixed with water and honey, it made a thick, sweet paste that we could smear on toasted bread and eat with hot apples and roasted almonds. Sometimes the people got to it before the animals did.
This made me think fondly of Verlisa, my father’s treelion. She had once complained to him of not getting her share of the milkbulb from one of my expeditions with Bessed. Though I couldn’t hear what she was saying through the telepathic “wave” she shared with my father, he had relayed her thoughts to me. I had promised to make a special trip to find more for her, but my father forbade it saying I was too young to go off into the wilds on my own. He had died not long afterwards, and Verlisa along with him.
I’d marvelled at the soulbinding of animals even though it was common to our people. It was one of the four gifts that had been given to the followers of Krii at the beginning of the current age, the Age of Astors. All of Jaria worshipped Krii, child of the Lightmaker, creator of all things. The Astor gifts were just one of Krii’s many legacies. His visit to Chryne had changed everything and brought light to the world.
The first of the four gifts were the Anzaii, a special, empathic group who possessed items of power rendered from the leaves or branches of a sapphire tree. My mother had been one, which was why I now wore the pendant Roukney. It was made from alvurium, the most expensive metal known to man, gold in colour, but far more resilient. Set in a tear shape in the middle of the alvurium was a sapphire tree leaf, brilliant blue, but no longer shining as it had done when it was still alive.
In ages past, it was said that all people had communicated telepathically via the waves, the dimension of the supernatural. The holy scrolls described a time of confusion when most lost this ability, instead making up spoken languages with which to communicate. Nowadays, human-to-human telepathy was extremely rare. There was only one Anzaii currently residing in Jaria, Feera, a lady who was very much in demand for her peacekeeping, communication and discernment abilities. Yet even she could not exchange words telepathically with another person.
The second of the four gifts was that of the Sleffion. The first of the kin to appear on Chryne were the skyearls. Those that became soulbound with a human were called Sleffion-kin. Before time began, magnificent creatures flew and frolicked in circles at the throne of the Lightmaker, worshipping Him. Among them were the skyearls, and the greatest of them was Zeidarb.
Although they enjoyed the most stunning view of creation and the exultation of being in the Lightmaker’s presence, some of the magnificent creatures became proud of their own beauty and talents. The evil they birthed was an opposing force to the perfection of the Lightmaker and the two could not co-exist. As a result of their rebellion, the creatures were cast out of the Lightmaker’s presence. Hundreds of years later, some time during The Before Time, a few dozen of the fallen skyearls begged their creator for forgiveness. They were released from the service of Zeidarb and instead sent to Chryne as mortal creatures.
When humans later came to the sunken, ash-swept land that was to become Tanza, there were many conflicts between them and the ferocious skyearls. The Kriites prayed for peace for many years, and eventually the Lightmaker granted their request. He raised up an Anzaii woman by the name of Sleffia who was able to communicate with the skyearls on the waves and introduce the concept of bonding.
The first of the skyearls to serve Kriites became aware of a new mandate from the Lightmaker, to protect all mortals still loyal to the creator. Their mortality became intimately linked with that of their destined Sleffion. Thus began the relationship that formed the basis of the almighty nation of Tanza.
Though I had seen skyearls once with my own eyes, in Sarm City, I still found it hard to believe they really existed. They were magical, flying beasts that soared effortlessly across the sky. Weaving their water magic and dancing with their own created clouds, they were the most beautiful creatures I could ever imagine. They had multi-coloured velvet fur, stout horse-like bodies and heads, the claws of a tiger, a lizard-shaped tail and large, ivory horns of various hues. Most magnificent of all, however, were the immense eagle-like wings. Some skyearls were tiny, like a kite or an osprey, but others were as large as a tower, with a wing-span of up to fifty feet.
In Tanza, people learned to ride skyearls and use them in great battles with their enemies, the Zeikas, followers of that ancient fallen skyearl, Zeidarb. Although mortal, the skyearls maintained some of their magical powers from before their fall, including the ability to breathe out magical vapours to create platforms in the sky. From below, they looked like clouds, but legends spoke of entire cities up there. It made me giddy just thinking about it. I was used to seeing mist in the mountains and I knew that it was just like clouds floating low to the ground. How could anyone build a city on mist?
The third gift of the Astor was the soulbinding of weapons, or ‘Tolites’. In the year 50 PE, a number of Kriites populated the faraway city of Watercrag. It was here that the famous object and weapon-making artisans Bremed, Abost, Tafren, Klant and Zchen combined their knowledge and learned to harvest sapphire trees with which to imbue their weapons and artefacts. Many of these weapons would become kin—soulbound to their masters. Those that didn’t were still formidable in battle and were highly valued. And so began the official Tolite and Anzaii cultures. Many Tolites and Anzaii migrated to Tanza to escape the persecution of nearby Kaslonica, which was renamed Reltland after the Zeikas established themselves.
Almost a thousand years later, Krii was born and at the age of twenty-three began his journey across the mountains and through the catacombs. It was there that he met a sentient wolf who was the very first Rada-kin, Sy-tré. After that, Krii and Sy-tré travelled the lands reminding people about the history of the world and the deceptive nature of Zeidarb. He also taught the gifts of the Astor to those who had it in their blood and desired to use their power to serve the Lightmaker.
Following in Krii and Sy-tré’s footsteps, Rada appeared in Watercrag, Tanza and in other pockets of land, using the waves to find and bond with their special animal. This was the fourth and final gift of the Astor. Those Kriites with a special affinity for animals looked after all the domesticated animals and searched the wilds for sensitive animals as potential kin for their children. Many wild animals were captured and if they didn’t turn, were released or killed for food. A tradition developed in their culture for higher animals to be addressed with ‘the unwild turn’ and if the animal turned in a circle then it was known to be an animal-kin and taken home to be cared for until it found its human-kin.
Journeying far across the lands, the Rada settled as far away as Anzaiia (naming it Jaria) and in most towns there were some Rada, Sleffion, Tolites and Anzaii. Often becoming special servants and lieges to the rich and powerful, the most gifted of them were held in high esteem by many.
These days, most Jarians stayed very close to home. Only forager-hunters like me and herders journeyed away from the village regularly. So few were the expeditions to other realms that I had never been further away than Sarm City or the Catacombs of Krii. Jaria had once been a large, respected nation and had made regular trips to recruit new followers of the Lightmaker and animal-sensitives to their ranks. Those practices had all but ended years ago.
When my father had been in his prime, he had lead Jarians in battle for the nation of Telby. But Telby had spent Jaria’s warriors like silver coins, throwing them out into the war, heedless of the cost to our people. Now our numbers were few, and Telby was an aloof ally.
My footing slipped as I clambered over a large boulder that was blocking my path, snapping my attention back to the task at hand. A cave loomed ahead of me, the view inside obscured by grey-green vines that stretched across its mouth like strings of saliva. A single bee buzzed haphazardly around me. I shooed it away and put down the honey bag with the gauze hat and gloves on top of it. I fished around in my pack until I found the oil lamp, a small pickaxe and two spare axe-heads. It would probably take all three to get to the roots of the milkvine I knew I’d find deep inside the cave.
Pulling the ropey green vines down from the mouth of the cave, I ventured within. I held the lamp up against the cave wall, waiting for the glow worms and other dark-dwelling bugs to retreat. The aggressive milkvines had scraped a path down through dark green moss.
I cut away dozens of the thickest vines, coughing when those I pulled from the roof of the cave showered me with dirt and small, noxious berries. Muttering and blinking dirt from my eyes, I collected some of the berries in one of my pouches. Though poisonous to me, the berries were good sustenance for the lemurs, monkeys and bandicoots of the village. Once I had cleared the most immense of the vines from the cave wall, I started with the pickaxe.
A strange scent wafted through the cave, reminding me somewhat of Verlisa. I did not recall sensing that smell in here before. In the four months since I had last been here, any number of wild beasts could have moved in. Caves like this were ideal homes for the many wild cats, bears and wolves of the Kiayr Ranges. I paused at my task with the pickaxe and peered into the darkness. My heart pounded from exertion. If there was an animal inside the cave, it would be able to hear my heartbeat and know I was not afraid.
Sy-tré, the Lightmaker’s wolf persona, was with me. I could sense him deep inside me—his calm and regal presence giving me the impression of a white wolf standing on a precipice overlooking his domain. My body was his domain, just as these wilds were my domain.
Having traversed the forest and mountains in this area so many times before, I was confident I could defend myself if the need arose. Even some of my fellow Jarians who had Rada-kin didn’t travel this far alone. And they had even less cause to be afraid than me. Someone with a Rada-kin had nothing to fear. The animal could change shape to defend them, transforming their body into any other creature whose form they had mastered. Most of the Rada could also shapechange, and if that wasn’t enough, the Rada-kin could communicate across distances on the waves, the spirit realm. Some could reach further than others; most wouldn’t have had any trouble reaching other Rada-kin in Jaria from here. I didn’t have any of those benefits and I had learned to find my own way around the wilds. What good would a Rada-kin be if you couldn’t get by without them?
I continued attacking the wall with the pickaxe, pushing aside the knowledge of my aching muscles, sprained shoulder and beading sweat. I distracted myself with thoughts about the animals I had encountered.
Fortunately, most wild animals avoided people. It was usually only the old and sick that preyed upon livestock or humankind. These beasts were swiftly put down by the Rada or their kin. The only wild creatures I had come into close contact with were the ones I caught for dinner or the ones that turned.
This latter kind were those animals that had spotted me somewhere in their territory and came to watch as I went about my business. Because I was out of Jaria so often, it was common for me to be the first human being a new Rada-kin laid its suddenly self-aware eyes on. Thus far, I had proclaimed ‘the unwild turn’ to at least half a dozen animals that had turned. None of them had been my kin, of course, but having turned in a circle at my words, it was clear they could understand me.
Whenever I was finished my gathering, I would lead them back down to Jaria, where hesitantly, they would pick their way between the groups of people there, searching for their kindred spirit. There had been a nyno lizard, a wild horse, two wolves, a duskcat and an owl. Jarians believed each creature was chosen by the Lightmaker and destined for just one person. The lifespan of a Rada-kin was far greater than that of their wild counterparts. Some said this was because they lived a life of luxury and providence, others that it was all part of the Lightmaker’s divine blessing.
In any case, I decided I wasn’t afraid and chose to explore the cave. If there was a wild cat of some kind in here it was most likely a new Rada-kin. Otherwise, wouldn’t it have attacked me by now for trespassing into its lair? I lifted the oil lamp a little higher and took a few steps forward. Most of these caves went for miles beneath the mountains. An entire network of catacombs was said to weave its way from north to south, the entire length of the barrier mountains and perhaps even deep into the range itself.
I leaned down with the lamp, sniffing the air and straining my ears. A soft scuffling noise reached my ears. Heart continuing to thump, I withdrew my iron knife, sticky with honey, from its sheath.
‘Who’s there?’ I asked.
A faint growling rumbled off the wall of the cave. It was too deep and throaty to be a treelion.I guessed it was something more like a rock panther or maybe even an icetiger. I held my breath. Even if it was truly wild, the opportunity to see one of those magnificent creatures was not to be missed. There were plenty of rock panthers in Jaria, but not a single icetiger I could think of. There had been one long ago, but he and his Rada had moved away to live at some noble lord’s manor near Sarm City.
I held the lamp up higher, throwing light into the recesses of the cave. But still I could see nothing. Sniffing in mock disinterest, I turned back. Before I reached the wall where I had been working, I pulled a pair of spicy dried sardines from one of my pouches and lay them on the floor of the cave behind me.
I resumed the backbreaking work of tearing down the rocks around the vine’s roots. Before long, the axehead broke and I attached another. Blisters formed on my hands, the lamp oil ran low, the wild cat smell gradually grew stronger and on I worked. After a while I could see the white bulbs peeking out from behind the loosened rocks. A scuffling noise came from behind me. I turned ever so slowly to see a large white paw retreating into the darkness, fish in tow. Then there was the faintest sound of its jaws smacking together and a large tongue cleaning its muzzle.
A surge of excitement passed through me, but with my heart already beating fast, the great cat may not be able to sense it. Breathing hard, I rubbed a hand across my forehead, smearing the sweat with dirt by accident. If I trusted that glimpse of a white paw, then the creature in this cave with me was indeed an icetiger, largest of the wild cats aside from the amani sabre, the most ancient of all cats. Either way, I was convinced it was sentient—somehow, I just knew.
‘How long have you been here?’ I asked it.
If I was right, then this was some fortunate Jarian’s new Rada-kin. And mine were the first human words it had ever heard and understood. When the great cat still did not show itself, I sighed and went back to work. It would come out when it was ready. Besides, night was not too far away and I wanted to get this finished and start a fire. My arms were the sorest part of my body and I longed for the chance to sit down with a mint oil salve to soak into my muscles.
I was on the third axehead when the rocks around the milkbulb finally gave way. About two feet into the cave wall was the biggest cache of milkbulb I had ever seen. It would be fortunate if I managed to carry it all back to Jaria. I used my knife to dig away the rootlets and dirt around the bulbs, then I severed their cords and hauled them out in pairs.
Having lined them up at the mouth of the cave, I collapsed down in a heap and lay panting for some time. Eventually I recovered enough to retrieve the mint oil from my pack and rub in on my sore muscles. The sun hovered right on the edge of the horizon now. From my vantage point on the side of an incline, I could see over an expanse of forest. The dying sunlight made the balls of mist that were rolling down from the mountains glow like fire.
Wild geese flocked across the sky to the east. Harmless though they were, I turned my eyes away from them, barely suppressing a shudder. Of all the animals in the world, birds were my least favoured—better they were roasting on a spit than flying rampant through the sky. Lying on my back with my head propped on my pack, I rubbed at the claw-shaped scar on my left wrist. It was the source of my nick-name and of my one true fear.
‘Who?’ The word came as an interruption to my thoughts, jolting me out of my reverie.
‘Talon,’ I replied, without even thinking. My mind supplied the full story of my name before I could even question who I was talking to. ‘At the age of three I had been seated on a leather throw on the ground playing with Verlisa’s kits when a hawk descended to carry one off. I threw up my hands to protect them and the hawk’s talons hooked in my wrist. Not strong enough to lift me from the ground, the hawk thrashed free, leaving me with a deep wound.’
‘Nay?’ I said aloud, starting to wonder if I had worked a little too hard that day. Now I was arguing with myself.
‘Nay,’ it repeated, with a fierce edge to its voice. ‘Not “who are you?”. Who am I?’
I sat up suddenly. This wasn’t my imagination. It was real. That voice in my head … could it possibly be … a voice for me? A Rada-kin, finally … for me? My soul soared and I had the distinct impression of Sy-tré the wolf running and leaping for joy. My time had come—like my parents before me, I was a Rada!
‘Enough about you!’ the voice accused, ‘What have you done to me?’
I got to my feet slowly, feeling dizzy. There in the shadows behind me was a huge blue and white icetiger, its fur standing on end; puffed up it was even more immense and frightening than I had pictured. It’s back was level with my thigh, large yellow fangs gleamed in its snarling maw and the tail thrashed like a farm cat’s. Thick blue-grey stripes and myriad black and blue spots covered its luscious pelt—no wonder these creatures had been so hunted that they were now rare.
‘How dare you?’ the voice shrilled. The wild cat ran forward several steps and seemed about to pounce on me. I held my ground. A drawn out yowl escaped the cat’s lips. ‘Speak prey! What am I?’
The joy I had felt was joined by a thrill of fear. The great cat’s raw ferocity and mental power stunned me. I blinked, trying to clear my senses, which seemed to have expanded. Smell, hearing, sight and touch vibrated outwards with a depth of perception I could not have imagined. I was suddenly aware of other creatures, plants, watercourses and wind I had not noticed before. Their sounds and smells were all around me and the icetiger. Each whisker and hair on her body seemed to be receiving and processing these impressions with rapid ease.
Frustrated by my distraction, the icetiger growled and lifted its paw to strike.
‘Who am I?’ the cat shrieked.
‘Apparently you are a Rada-kin’, I replied. ‘And for whatever reason be known to Krii, it appears that you are my Rada-kin.’
The cat stared at me for a long time, seeing and hearing far more than the words I spoke through the waves. I racked my brains trying to remember if the other Rada-kin I had escorted to Jaria had been so affronted. I hadn’t been able to hear them in my mind, but I knew the body language of animals well. Most had seemed confused at first, then grateful, not only for the longer life, but also for the sentience and fulfilment that awaited them. It was a special gift for an animal, most of which were destined to live out their lives oblivious to the gifts of the Lightmaker.
Pulling thoughts out of my wide open mind, the icetiger responded with a menacing tone and a sharp flick of her tail. ‘Easy for you to say. You’ve had plans and purpose all your life. Imagine me awakening one day to find a question in my mind: “is there more to life than hunting and sleeping?” It’s unnatural is what it is.’
‘Indeed,’ I replied, smiling at the first hint of the tiger’s sense of humour. ‘You are no longer a natural animal. You are now a being of three dimensions.’
The icetiger padded slowly into the light and walked in a circle around me. She sniffed me from in front and behind, eyeing me up and down with a look in her eye like I was prey. She growled and licked her lips.
‘Everything is prey to an icetiger,’ she told me, reading so basic a thought with ease.
Her fur had settled down a little, but it was still gloriously thick.
‘What is this “life” and “death” you define yourself by?’ she asked.
‘I don’t define myself by them,’ I replied. ‘What makes you say that?’
‘“I am alive”, “my parents are dead”—are these not thoughts that define who you are?’
I supposed that at the most basic level I did define myself as alive and those I had lost as dead, but to explain the intricacies of life and death to a Rada-kin was surely like speaking about it to a child. I hardly knew where to begin.
‘I am not only alive physically,’ I began, ‘but spiritually as well.’
‘Three dimensions...’ the icetiger replied. ‘Body, mind, spirit?’
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘But I prefer the word “soul” over “mind”. It is what links the body to the spirit, more than just one’s intelligence, thoughts and desires.’
‘Your body is alive. Your parents’ bodies are dead, but their spirits are alive?’ She was smart, and quicker to understand novel concepts than a child.
‘Yes. There are three domains to our existence, each layered atop the other. The domain of the body is where we are here and now. The domain of the soul is the waves, through which we now converse. The domain of the spirit is harder to define and reach, but it is the part of us that exists despite all else, and the part that persists after our bodies die.’
‘What happens if the spirit and soul are dead?’
‘The spirit cannot die,’ I replied. ‘But we are all imperfect and our bodies die.’
‘I don’t want to die,’ the icetiger murmured, ‘now that I know what it is to cease existing.’
‘There is hope—you now have a spirit, which can be resurrected if you accept the free gift of life from the Lightmaker and serve him henceforth.’
‘I know this Lightmaker already,’ the icetiger said with conviction. ‘Somehow I have always known him.’
‘Perhaps all animals know him in their soul,’ I suggested.
‘And now I have a spirit, like yours?’ the cat asked, with the first hint of being impressed with her new circumstances. ‘Body, soul, spirit.’
I bobbed my head, blinking slowly in a feline gesture of trust and approval. She allowed me to edge slightly closer.
‘Even though their spirits linger, it hurts that your parents left you here alone,’ she said curiously, delving deeper in my mind.
‘I try not to think about it.’
‘You try …’ she retorted.
The icetiger was picking up things all the time, meanings behind words I rarely even thought of. My very thoughts and memories seemed to be open to her so I wondered if I could reach into her mind likewise.
A surge of wild instinct filled me. For a moment all I could think and feel was the need to fight or flee. The icetiger’s experiences were so alien to mine that I found myself sinking down to the floor. It was a carefree life she had given up. Not without pain and struggle, but free from the burden of sentient thought. Until now, her soul had been that of a natural animal—simple and pragmatic. Now, it fired with the spark of the spirit, and emotions she had never tasted before were rioting within her.
Crouched on all fours, I locked eyes with her. She stared straight back at me with shocking blue eyes the colour of sapphire tree leaves. She raided my memories, springing and pouncing on them, devouring the happy times, sniffing and licking dispiritedly at the sad. Some kind of understanding passed between us. Despite our rocky start, we found each other worthy. She looked at me and saw me for everything I was. It was the first time I had felt so connected with another living being.
‘Well,’ she said after a while, ‘if I am stuck with you, then how about some more of that fish?’
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