Friday, November 20, 2009

Little Cat's Sixth (and Final) Lesson

Written while listening to Lions! by Lights.
((If nothing else, listen to the song at least. It's totally sugar pop adorable and a very good fit for this character as a whole. Anyway, the title up there says "(and Final) Lesson" not because I am done with Xere, but because she is changing and so the titling, frequency, tone, et cetera of her stories will be changing with her. The first scene with the death knight is from in-game RP with Celuur of Moon Guard, and the scene with the Farseer is greatly abridged from in-game RP with Umbraan of Moon Guard, with a paragraph added at the end with creative license. (More than half the credit - I insist - goes to him instead of me.) I also wanted to include another bit where Xere meets Toxis and her death bear and apprentice shaman Daoloth, but I forgot to screencap those AND thought this was getting awfully long. This story finally brings Xeremuriis's timeline concurrent with Valdiis's. Where things go from here, we'll see.))

. . . . . As the Little Cat swept the air shrine’s terrace where Farseer Nobundo and Farseer Umbraan did their meditations, she practiced asking the dirt to kindly move itself along for her. Sometimes it worked. Today, though, the dirt was being stubborn. She was too busy fussing at the dirt on the rugs to notice the large armor-plated draenei man come up the ramp until she heard him mutter, “Damn you, Umbraan.”
. . . . . She turned quickly, her broom stilling at the unexpected voice. “Farseer Umbraan?” she asked the plated man.
. . . . . “Yes.”
. . . . . “He is away right now.”
. . . . . The plated man shifted his weight, but the Little Cat couldn’t even tell so much as the direction of his gaze. However, the dryness to his voice did not escape her. “Well evidently. You do not look like him.”
. . . . . She leaned the end of her broom on the floor. “I should hope not! He’s old.” She wrinkled her nose, and then smiled at her own joke. “I can take a message for him, though.”
. . . . . “I beg your pardon. He is old? I am the same age as Umbraan. Older, perhaps. Are you saying I look old?” The draenei’s voice echoed strangely inside his helmet.
. . . . . The Little Cat looked down at her hooves, her cheeks going purple with embarrassment. “Sorry! I didn’t mean… It’s just that… Well, he says so himself that he’s an old man!”
. . . . . “Hmph. If he wishes to feel like an old man, that is his business. Tell him that Celuur has arrived and is looking for him.”
. . . . . Somewhat oblivious, she continued to babble, “Besides, I can’t see how old you are inside that helmet anyway. So I would never be so rude as to call you old, sir! But I’m not sure when he’ll be back. I promise not to forge-…”
. . . . . She stopped as Celuur removed his helmet and tucked it under one arm. “Old enough,” he rumbled. “And also, let him know I am looking for a woman.”
. . . . . Her eyes narrowed with concern and she stepped forward, looking curiously at his face. “Oh dear… You look like you’re sick. Should I get you some tea?”
. . . . . “Sick? Not at all. I look sick?”
. . . . . “Your eyes are sort of…sunken in a little. Like you don’t sleep. And your cheeks are hollow like you haven’t eaten. Sick people don’t sleep or eat. So you look like you’ve been ill.” She popped her hand over her mouth, a horrified expression settling on her face. “Oh no! I forgot my manners again. I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to call you old. Or sick.”
. . . . . Celuur snorted. “I am dead. What do you expect?”
. . . . . The Little Cat blinked repeatedly, momentarily at a loss for words. She tilted her head to the side and regarded the draenei man for a moment. “You don’t look like any dead person I’ve ever seen before. You’re moving around, for one.” She stepped closer, peering up at Celuur’s face. “You sure look more animated than a dead person. And you’re talking…”
. . . . . “Yes, I am a dead person.” The expression on his face clearly said he thought she was something of a moron.
. . . . . The Little Cat frowned. “You probably shouldn’t be so hard on yourself…”
. . . . . With an irritated shake of his head, Celuur attached his helm to his belt, pulled out a small notebook, consulted it, and went on, “Ask Umbraan about me when he returns. I am looking for a woman with dark hair and sky blue skin. Have you seen a woman of that description?” He paused for a moment. “Well… Stupid that I ask you, who cannot even recognize a dead person.”
. . . . . Flicking back a piece of her thick black hair and then holding her broom sideways in front of her with her sky blue hands, the Little Cat gave Celuur a look that clearly said she thought he was the moron. “You do smell like a dead person, though… Run that description by me one more time, sir? Slowly?”
. . . . . In a voice full of annoyance, he repeated himself. “Dark…hair… Sky. Blue. Skin. Slow enough?”
. . . . . The Little Cat arched a dark eyebrow. “Well, it certainly sounded clear to me.”
. . . . . Celuur glanced down to the notebook again. “Answers to the name of…miniature feline.”
. . . . . Her hooves clattered against the floor as she took several swift steps backwards. “What are you looking for her for?”
. . . . . “My junior officer is looking for her. A sort of grumpy dead draenei woman. Her niece, or something. I doubt she is even here, but I promised I would try.”
. . . . . “Are you so hard on all your friends? Calling them dead all the time?”
. . . . . Celuur blinked at her. “She is dead. Dead. Unliving. Without life.”
. . . . . The Little Cat’s knuckles paled as she tightened her grip on her broom in front of her. “Dead people generally lie still on the ground with their brains leaking out.” Her voice was flat, the memory of the dead crash victims rising too close to her mind’s eye.
. . . . . The large draenei man in a full suit of dark plate armor held his hand out over the tile floor of the shaman platform. A nauseating sensation swam up from the tile, followed in short order by an even more nauseatingly rotting humanoid corpse climbing up out of a swirling dark purple rune. The ghoul shivered and shook, standing next to Celuur and dribbling small bits of rot on the tile floor.
. . . . . She jumped back so quickly and so far that she bumped into one of the orbs for the air shrine behind her. “Th- THAT looks like a dead person!” A note somewhere between terror and panic, with a symphonic harmony to hysteria, had crept into her voice.
. . . . . “Now do you believe me?” He pointed to the skull motif adorning his plate armor.
. . . . . As the Little Cat began to babble, “A really long dead per-…” Celuur snapped his fingers and pointed at her. The ghoul leapt several feet and landed on the air orb behind her. “ACK!” She ran behind one of the walls of the shrine and cowered low, her knees only barely strong enough to keep her standing.
. . . . . “So yes,” Celuur went on. “This woman is looking for the miniature feline lady.” He nodded at the ghoul and it leapt around the wall right next to the young draenei girl. She screamed again and ran, tearing across the platform and bumping straight into Celuur.
. . . . . “Ow!” she cried out as they were both knocked backwards by the collision. She rubbed her head. “You’re cold… And snarly.” Bumping her head into the man’s freezing cold plate armor seemed to knock some of her fear out of her; he was solid and real and not as slimy-feeling as the thing he was sending after her.
. . . . . Celuur glared at her. “What are you doing up here anyway? You do not look like one of the shaman. They can generally identify the walking undead.” With an impatient gesture, he returned the ghoul through the dark purple rune and it was gone. The Little Cat shuddered and tried not to think too hard on what sort of mess she was going to be cleaning up.
. . . . . “I’m sweeping!” she protested, gesturing to her broom, fallen on Farseer Umbraan’s rug. “And I’m just an apprentice shaman…”
. . . . . “An apprentice?” Celuur laughed boisterously. “Apprentice of who?”
. . . . . Quickly, she fumbled with the tangle of charms and totems around her neck and pulled out the small apprentice’s totem. Without removing it from around her neck, she held it out to show him. “See. I am too an apprentice.”
. . . . . Celuur looked down at it. “No way…” He grabbed the totem around her neck and looked closer, ignoring the impatient stamp of her hoof and the quavering of her knees at being so close to this cold, intimidating man who commanded corpses.
. . . . . The Little Cat sniffed and tried to lean back, tethered by the totem around her neck. “Okay, so you really do smell dead…”
. . . . . For a moment, Celuur’s grip tightened on the totem. “Umbraan?!” He released the totem and began laughing again.
. . . . . Her face clearly showing hurt feelings, she frowned. “Why else would I be sweeping his rug? Of course, Farseer Umbraan. He’s not so bad!”
. . . . . “He would never take an apprentice. Did you steal that?”
. . . . . Tucking the totem gently against her chest, the Little Cat looked down at her hooves. “I did not! He gave it to me! Maybe it took a staring match and some convincing… But he did give it to me!”
. . . . . Celuur snorted. “Well, ask him about the death knight named Farseer Celuur. And keep your eyes out for a ‘little cat’ lady.” He turned and began to walk away.
. . . . . “Why do you want her?” she called out to his back. “Is your friend snarly like you?”
. . . . . “I told you. My junior officer is looking for her. Corporal Valdiis.”
. . . . . With a soft clatter and a louder thump, the Little Cat sat on the tile, her face stricken. “Valdiis?”
. . . . . “Yes. Can you remember that, little girl?” Celuur was nearly at the ramp to go down the platform.
. . . . . “Of course I can,” she said quietly. “She’s my aunt.”
. . . . . Celuur spun around and looked at the girl. She appeared to have been hit between the eyes with a mace – completely stunned. “She-… You are the little cat? You?!”
. . . . . She nodded slowly. “That’s what my mother calls me. My name is Xeremuriis, but my family doesn’t usually use it.”
. . . . . “I see… Well then. I have found you. You are alive. Congratulations. I will inform Corporal Valdiis.”
. . . . . Still seated on the tile, she looked up – way up – at Celuur. “She’s your…‘junior officer’ you said? Did you take over Firefly Company?”
. . . . . Celuur blinked at her. “Firefly? I do not know what you are talking about. She is an officer of the Knights of Menethil.”
. . . . . “Firefly! The marsh-guard unit she was wi-… Knights of what?”
. . . . . “Menethil.”
. . . . . “What’s a menethil?”
. . . . . Celuur rolled his plated shoulders. “Named for a human king. A noble order of death knights.”
. . . . . The Little Cat propped her chin on her hand. “Why would Val work for a human ki- DEATH knights? What in the Nether ARE you?” Her expression was part worried, part panicked, mostly confused.
. . . . . The death knight sighed. “There are issues of life and death which are better discussed with your mentor.”
. . . . . She scowled up at him. “You sound like everyone else around here. Poor Farseer Umbraan. You all dump questions you don’t want to answer on him!”
. . . . . “He is your mentor for a reason.”
. . . . . Bracing herself with a hand on the tile, the Little Cat pushed herself up to standing and faced the death knight intently. “Well, you listen to me Mister Snarlypants… I will not be told off! This is my family you’re talking about here! What happened to Firefly Company? Why do you keep saying Aunt Val’s dead?”
. . . . . “I know nothing about the Firefly Company. But Valdiis is, indeed, dead. She fell at the hands of the Scourge, and was raised from the dead in their service.”
. . . . . “What did you do to her?!” A purple flush covered not just the girl’s cheeks, but her entire face as her temper rose.
. . . . . Celuur looked offended. “I have done nothing to her!”
. . . . . “You say dead and Scourge, but then you say ‘noble order’ and speak about ranks like a marsh-guard unit…”
. . . . . “This discussion is really best left to your mentor…”
. . . . . Her voice rose. “You’re putting me off! You don’t want to answer my questions so you’re going to make Farseer Umbraan do it.” She began to pace back and forth.
. . . . . Celuur sighed and walked over to one of the rugs on the shaman’s tier. “Sit down.” He gestured to the rug.
. . . . . Hooves clicking on the tile, the Little Cat continued to pace. “So Aunt Val is alive. Or, um, ‘dead’ as you say. And she sent you to look for me?”
. . . . . “SIT!”
. . . . . The Little Cat thumped down on the rug. “You do sound a little like him sometimes…”
. . . . . “We know each other well.” Celuur shook his head. “Your aunt died. She was killed by an evil called the Scourge. They raise the dead to serve them. She broke free of their control. As I did. Since then, we have joined a group of free former Scourge agents.”
. . . . . “So you really are dead…” A furrow of worry formed between her eyebrows.
. . . . . “Yes, indeed I am.” Calling upon the skills of a death knight, Celuur smirked as a rush of unholy energy flowed over him, leaving its presence upon his own energy.
. . . . . Eyes wide as saucers, the Little Cat leaned away on the rug. “Ew! All of a sudden, you’re all…slimy! Gross!”
. . . . . Celuur frowned and called upon an ice presence instead.
. . . . . “Aunt Val sent you to look for me, really? I guess – other than the ‘dead’ part – is she okay? You aren’t being snarly to her in this ‘noble order’ of yours are you?”
. . . . . “I beg yo-…” Celuur stood scowling. “‘Snarly?’”
. . . . . The Little Cat stood up too, an expression of fierce protectiveness settling on her face. “Yes, snarly! Grumpy! Prickly! Mean!” She pointed her finger at Celuur with each word. “You’re not being mean to my family, are you?”
. . . . . Celuur snorted. “No. And I am regretting having made this promise to your aunt!” He turned and began swiftly walking away.
. . . . . “Hey!”
. . . . . For a moment, the draenei man ignored her, his concentration on calling up a gate to Acherus. Once the gate stabilized, he turned to look at the girl, glaring fiercely. “What?”
. . . . . “You didn’t tell me she’s alright…”
. . . . . “She is fine.”
. . . . . “Why didn’t she come?”
. . . . . “The Exodar makes her uneasy, apparently.” He pointed towards Umbraan’s rug. “Your mentor can answer your other questions.” Behind him, the gate winked out.
. . . . . The Little Cat scowled at him. “Pff! Fine. Snarly male…” She stalked over to the Farseer’s rug and picked up her broom. “I’ll tell him you came.”
. . . . . Celuur nodded and turned his back on her. “Great! You have made me miss my gate!”

. . . . . The Little Cat paced the length of her room, her hooves clicking on the tile floor. Six steps, stop, turn, six steps again, stop, turn. A sour expression sat on her face as she muttered to herself, “Rotten dead guys… Snarly males… Mysterious death knights… Confoundedly difficult people!” Each word came with all the emphasis of a sailor’s curses and was punctuated with jabbing hand gestures as if the Little Cat were shadowboxing with the stressors and fears in her mind.
. . . . . On her bed sat the tangle of charms and totems she normally wore around her neck, a rolled-up leather case, a shiny new steel mace, and a large brown leather pack. The apprentice’s totem still bounced against her chest as she punched the air. Halting mid-pace, the Little Cat faced her bed and scowled, lifting both hands to plunge them into her wiry hair. The quiet scream of frustration she let out was muffled by the thickness of her door and the constant tapping of the miners’ picks down the hall. She turned on her hoof and flopped onto her bed with a sigh. “Get yourself together,” she spoke sternly to her ceiling. “This isn’t doing you any good.” For a few moments, she lay there on the bed and continued to wallow. But inactivity had never really been one of her weaknesses. Continuing to lecture herself silently, she sat up and started packing her bag.
. . . . . The Little Cat had been sheltered at the Exodar for nearly two years, protected from the larger world of Azeroth, oblivious to the danger and adventure waiting for her at the end of the dock. No more! It was well past and more time that she set out. She had family to find!
. . . . . As a young child, she had helped her father pack his bags for his marsh-guard excursions. She still remembered the basic supplies he carried. On the floor at the foot of her bed lay a pile of supplies she had purchased with money earned from helping the murloc researcher at Blood Watch. The Little Cat carefully rolled up a stack of heavy linen bandages as small as she could make them and tucked the roll into an outside pocket of her bag. Little vials of those awful-tasting red and blue potions went on top of the bandages. She clipped a skinning knife to one of the shoulder straps. A heavy woolen blanket folded up at the bottom of the pack. A slim case of needles and fine thread for patching her armor. Oil to keep the leather armor and pack supple. A canteen of water and an extra empty one. A large package of dried jerky. She reached a hand into the pack and pushed down, trying to compress everything so she could fit more in. Flint and a small metal box of tinder. A packet of mild spices. Fishhooks carefully tucked in a leather pouch and a line. An exceptionally sturdy shallow pan made of lightweight tin. The Little Cat growled and tried to compress the bulging pack again. There wasn’t much space left.
. . . . . She picked up the rolled-up leather case and set it across her lap, letting the mélange of scents drift up to her nose. It wouldn’t fit in the pack. But she couldn’t leave her oils here! Even with the swirly blue hearthstone she’d gotten from the innkeeper here, she didn’t expect to be using it to return home to the Exodar often until she’d found her father, her aunt Valdiis, and her uncle Zunaadrin. These oils had travelled at her side for nearly a hundred years now, since her aunt gave them to her as a coming of age gift in Zangarmarsh. They would stay with her somehow. She eyed the pack, trying to decide what she could take out. Nothing came to mind as nonessential. “Blast it,” she muttered, grabbing one of the coils of leather thongs from the tangle she’d pulled off her neck. She tied the thong around the case, creating a makeshift harness to attach the case to her belt. “Problem solved.”
. . . . . Letting her leg swing absently from the edge of the bed, the Little Cat surveyed the supplies left – all things she planned to wear or tie to her pack. All that remained to do was to attach it all. Now it was time to tell Farseer Umbraan she was going. And her mother… She grimaced.

. . . . . The conversation went about as well as expected. Habii listened expressionlessly as her daughter told her about the grumpy dead draenei male who had come to visit her child’s mentor, the news that her sister-in-law was dead – sort of – and her daughter planned to go find her uncle Zunaadrin with the Argent Dawn to learn about these knights of death, and then go find Firefly Company or the Knights of Menethil, where her husband might still be dead – sort of. The Little Cat finished explaining her plans to her mother and looked at the woman’s soft, blank, sky-blue face. Minutes ticked by.
. . . . . The Little Cat ducked behind a chair a full three seconds before the blast of heat splashed outwards, her temperamental mage of a mother at the center. “Have you lost your wits, Xeremuriis? Did that Farseer steal your sanity away and replace your brain with crystal dust? Do you have any idea of what you will be facing out there, Xeremuriis? Was that dead thing not enough to scare you sensible again? Where did your father and I fail in raising you? Did the crash knock your senses clean out? Do you not remember Zun’s last letter ten months ago, Xeremuriis? You are not a warrior and Naaru forbid you ever become one! I will not let you follow your father’s footsteps! I should have you shackled by the ankle to a Shield of Velen!”
. . . . . Another wave of flames burst across the room as her mother’s voice rose. Her full name had been used three times. She was definitely in trouble. Crouched behind the chair, she held her hand out an inch or two from her face and concentrated on the moistness of her breath, recalling a basic lesson on water she’d gotten from Farseer Umbraan. “Please?” she whispered, calling to the water. A small ball of water coalesced in her hand and she set it to spinning around her. Amidst all the flames of her mother’s temper, not really any protection, but it helped to keep her calm.
. . . . . The Little Cat waited out her mother’s temper, wincing at each new question her mother shouted, each new threat of locking her away in the Vault of Lights. After her mother finally ran out of words, she waited a full minute before peeking up over the edge of the chair. Steam wisped up from her mother’s skin and the edges of the furniture were all a little crispy. “Oh, get up, my little cat. I’m out of mana now. You’re safe.” Her mother’s lyrical voice sounded weary and drained.
. . . . . The tiny water shield still spinning around her waist, the Little Cat stood up. She brushed a bit of charring off the back of the chair and looked at her mother. Habii dropped into a chair across from her with a sigh and raised an eyebrow at her daughter. The Little Cat said nothing. “None of that got through to you, did it?” Habii asked wearily.
. . . . . “I’m still going,” was all her daughter said.

. . . . . The first thing she did when she saw Farseer Umbraan the next day was to tell him about the death knight Farseer Celuur’s visit.
. . . . . “Celuur was here?” Farseer Umbraan snorted. “I have been trying to get him here for days…”
. . . . . “He said my aunt sent him here! Wait, why have you been trying to get a dead person to come here for days?”
. . . . . “Indeed? This is good news, is it not?” He ignored her second question entirely.
. . . . . The Little Cat sat back on her hooves on the Farseer’s rug, her brow creased with worry. “I don’t know, revered one. He said my aunt was like him…kind of dead. And he sent a dead thing after me! It stepped on the air shrine!” She pointed at the orb behind Farseer Umbraan.
. . . . . The Farseer chuckled. “It is his way of being intimidating. Do not be troubled.”
. . . . . “For someone who was supposedly doing Aunt Val a favor, he was awfully upset about it… Maybe she’s not actually his friend. He never did say that. He just said ‘junior officer.’”
. . . . . “He is a grumpy person, but he is difficult to call ‘friend.’ I doubt he would make any efforts for someone he did not consider a friend. He keeps himself…closed off.”
. . . . . A sudden realization struck the Little Cat and she gasped, jumping to her hooves with excitement. “Aunt Valdiis and my dad were in Firefly Company together! Maybe my dad is one of these death knights too! Maybe I can find him!”
. . . . . Farseer Umbraan let out a hacking cough and shook his head. “Do not jump to conclusions. Few of our numbers were made into these knights.”
. . . . . She tilted her head to the side. “But if Aunt Val… She wouldn’t have left Dad behind…” With a dejected thump, she sat on the rug again. “I forgot to ask Mister Snarlypants where she was before he ran away!”
. . . . . “I will ask Celuur for that information and see what he says.” The Farseer regarded his apprentice for a moment, then spoke again, “How do you feel about this situation?”
. . . . . The Little Cat looked wary. “Frustrated. Confused. Annoyed. Scared. Worried.” She blinked. “How can I have all of that in me at the same time?”
. . . . . “We are complex creatures, made of many elements.”
. . . . . She clasped the apprentice’s totem around her neck as if drawing comfort from it and sighed. “Maybe I was too hard on Mister Snarlypants. He only came here to look for you and pass along Aunt Val’s request that you look for me… I am sorry I chased him off, Farseer Umbraan. I didn’t mean to. I was worried about Aunt Val and my dad.”
. . . . . “Do not be concerned. I will track him down and force him to return if necessary.” Farseer Umbraan stood slowly. “Come. You have the pure water?”
. . . . . The Little Cat gasped. “I hadn’t even said anything about that yet!”
. . . . . “I am a Farseer…” He led her down to a pool around the water shrine in the Crystal Hall.
. . . . . For the next hour, Farseer Umbraan engaged his apprentice in a Socratic discussion on the element of water. He seemed satisfied with what she had learned and how she chose to apply it. The Farseer reached into a pocket and pulled out several pieces of leather bindings wrapped around themselves, with a small section for water to be poured into. The leather had draenic markings around it and appeared expandable. “Take this and, with it, make your water totem. Seek out Nobundo with this. He will be pleased.”
. . . . . The Little Cat took the bindings from him. “Farseer Nobundo? He’s… He’s sort of intimidating, revered one. Are you sure he won’t be bothered by me?”
. . . . . “Don’t be intimidated by Nobundo. He is a great man.” Farseer Umbraan let out another hacking cough. “However, it may be wise to be intimidated by me. You are my apprentice after all.”
. . . . . She smiled, but she was slightly ahead of the Farseer as they walked back up to the shrine of air, so he did not see it. “Of course I am intimidated by you, Farseer Umbraan. You are scary.”
. . . . . “Good!” They reached the top of the ramp and Farseer Umbraan gestured. “There he is. Go!” As he walked past his slightly-trembling apprentice, he grinned discreetly at Nobundo.
. . . . . The Little Cat shook some of the water off her hooves from having stood in the water shrine’s pool. She gathered her courage, nodded to herself, and approached Farseer Nobundo. Holding out the totem bindings she had been presented with, she quickly recounted the tale of her search for pure water to clean up a contaminated river on Bloodmyst Isle. Farseer Nobundo nodded and patted her shoulder, then looked very bemused when the apprentice impulsively hugged him before hurrying to the edge of Farseer Umbraan’s rug to work on crafting her totem.
. . . . . She spread the leather bindings over her knee and studied the markings on them and the small section for the water to pour into. At first, she tried to put the closed vial of leftover pure water into it, but she quickly figured out that wouldn’t work.
. . . . . Farseer Umbraan simply watched his apprentice think it through. Her previous two totems had also been small puzzles, but she had gotten them quickly enough.
. . . . . Biting her lip with concern, the Little Cat carefully opened the precious vial and tipped a few drops of the pure water onto the leather bindings. She closed her eyes and murmured a quiet, heartfelt request for the water’s help. A soft gasp escaped her as the leather bindings glowed with a gentle blue light and transformed into a small water totem. “I did it…” She stood and stared at the small totem as it tipped from side to side on the ground.
. . . . . “Congratulations, youngling.”
. . . . . “I did it!”
. . . . . “You did.” Farseer Umbraan chuckled. “Soon, you will face the fourth and final of your elemental instructions. But you are not yet ready. Once you have successfully acquainted yourself with air, I will take you to your meeting with the Ring.”
. . . . . The Little Cat appeared to be bouncing on the front edges of her hooves. “What’s the Ring?”
. . . . . “The Earthen Ring. When you know all the elements you become eligible to the title of shaman, and membership in the Earthen Ring. An Azerothian group, but the Kro’kul have made a heavy contribution to them since our arrival.”
. . . . . “You’d really do that for me? I’ve really done a good enough job so far that you would take me to see them some day?”
. . . . . “I appreciate you not making me regret taking an apprentice. You have done well. If you continue to succeed, yes.”
. . . . . The Little Cat beamed. “Oh, thank you, Farseer Umbraan!” She bounced forward a step, then stopped dead, realizing she was about to attempt to embrace the old Broken sitting on his rug. “Intimidated. Right.” She nodded and stepped back again, her cheeks turning violet.
. . . . . The Farseer gave her a dark glare before breaking into a small chuckle. “You came to tell me you are leaving the Exodar, did you not?”
. . . . . Her eyes widened with surprise before she murmured, “Right. Farseer… You Saw.”
. . . . . He chuckled again and nodded. “Go. Learn. Come back with something useful. Return when you can for lessons.” He waved his hand at her. “Go on, then!”
. . . . . As she practically skipped away, Farseer Umbraan regarded her back for a moment before allowing a small smile to tug at his lips. “Be safe, apprentice.”

. . . . . It was long, long past time. She had half an hour to catch her boat. The Little Cat buckled her mace to her belt on her left hip, then tied the rolled up case of scented oils to her right hip. She scooped up the tangle of charms and totems, looping the cords around her neck; along with her apprentice’s totem – which had never come off – her earth, fire, and water totems settled against her chest. There was a tiny compass on a cord; a very small, very sharp knife in a sheath decorated to look like a tiny scroll case; a miniature pennywhistle; a tiny clear crystal vial with a sprinkle of green dust and a faintly glowing mushroom; and a piece of copper wire intricately coiling around a darkly iridescent stone. Three cords with no charms and two plain silver chains went around her neck, the rest of the cords into a pocket of her pack.
. . . . . The Little Cat looked around her room. It would remain hers while she was away – her mother had agreed to look after it. The broom she had carried for nearly two years was propped up in the corner. A small part of her considered bringing it with her, but the time for invisibility had passed. If anything around here needed dusting off, it was herself. She shut the door to her room with a soft click.
. . . . . At the top of the ramp to the surface, the Little Cat wasted ten of her remaining thirty minutes haggling with the elekk handler over the price of a small – for an elekk – grey mount. She ended up handing over one of her precious few gold coins for both the beast and a good saddle, and made it to the docks just as the boat was casting lines onto the pylons. She patted the young bull on his tough flank. “I think I’ll name you Yuuta,” she said quietly to the beast. The elekk reached to his side with his long nose and snuffled at the Little Cat’s hair. Several silver coins purchased passage for her and her new elekk. As luck would have it, the ship was the same one which had carried the Little Cat and Seung on their journey to Astraanar – by way of Auberdine – to fetch pure water to help cleanse the contaminated river on Bloodmyst Isle. The captain was happy to see the Little Cat again and gave her a good price on her boarding.
. . . . . Once all the cargo was aboard, the passengers beginning to settle, the boat cast off across the Veiled Sea for Auberdine, where she planned to meet up with Seung in a week. The Little Cat stood on the deck and watched the crystal spires of the Exodar recede from sight. There was one last thing for her to do… She gathered up her sense of self, the family nickname she called herself, the persona of the helpful and awkward girl-child, the curious, invisible cleaner who lurked in the corners and alcoves…and she tossed it all overboard into the vast ocean waters.
. . . . . Apprentice shaman Xeremuriis turned her back on the shadow of Azuremyst Isle on the horizon and the little girl she had been. The young woman planted her hooves firmly on the deck of the ship, let the wind whip through her coarse black hair, politely called upon the lightning to provide her with a shield, and grinned at the world rushing towards her.

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