coronaviridae: (voldo without faith)
[personal profile] coronaviridae
For the shop Welcome to Our World on Gaia.

---


Kanden had been out from Lextose a bare week when he stumbled across fresh sign. At first, from the single set of footprints, he'd assumed it was another lonesome traveller. He'd followed the trail for the better part of a day before he came across a scattered campfire, the site strewn with shed feathers. Large feathers, the biggest longer than his palm and nearly as wide--Kanden was no idiot, and knew very well what those meant.

Angelicani.

He supposed he had no reason to be afraid of them. Even when he was still with Lextose, the Angelicani didn't pose a problem unless crossed. You had to worry more about another Monstros putting a knife in your back; the Angelicani at least pretended to have honor. Still, he couldn't escape the cold prickle of fear at the back of his neck; not for their race, but for their number. He was one, and the footprints around the campfire made them at least four, probably six, only one of them grounded.

Letting the feather flutter from his fingers, Kanden traced the lone set of footsteps that departed the campsite. They were headed the same way he was; had been, or otherwise he wouldn't've detoured to follow their backtrail. Angelicani--well, he suspected his own kind might not have him back once word spread from Lextose, nor was he interested in going back. And unless he wanted to run wild with the half-mindless Faemer or become a hermit (the thought made him shudder), it was the Angelicani or the Muses.

Or the Gate and the gods, a part of him murmured. Again, Kanden shuddered. Maybe not that far, not yet (but some of them surely knew a cure for dreams of dead white eyes and squirming black shadows), but some day, if they would have him... Without really thinking about it, he began walking, choosing his cover and staying alert for any sign of the party up ahead.

It wasn't until dusk that he had any sign he was gaining on them: A campfire, twinkling through the gathering gloom. He spotted it first while picking through poor cover, looking for a concealed spot where he could let down his guard long enough to empty his bladder. Finished with that, he beat his way back to the trail to collect his pack and make a more leisurely survey of the journey ahead.

They weren't doing a hell of a lot to conceal themselves, he noted. But, supposing he had wings and could be in the air, out of danger in the blink of an eye, he wouldn't worry quite as much about being spotted.

He still thought it was damn stupid.

That night he came within a few hundred yards of the Angelicani and made a cold camp. Close enough, with the wind in his favor, that he count them by the sound of their voices--which made five, maybe six, given he'd heard a name that didn't attach itself readily to a voice. A mute, maybe, or he was mishearing something. Either way, Kanden thought, he was outnumbered. He settled himself into a watchful doze curled around that comfortable thought, and snapped out of dreams of white eyes before dawn had even pinked the horizon.

His quarry was far more leisurely, waiting until the sun was well above the horizon before breaking camp. Kanden bolted as much breakfast as he dared and refilled his waterskin, checked his weapons and was quite ready to be on his way before the last of the Angelicani had rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Then he waited, damned frustrated at their slowness, and frustrated at himself for being a godrotting coward and not getting any closer.

Finally they were on their way in a flurry of wings, with Kanden trailing behind like a hyena after vultures. He had no concrete idea of what he intended to say when (if) he (ever) caught up to them, pushing the thought to the back of his mind and focusing on trailing them. They made a little more than eight miles that day, moving from scrubby forest to marginal plains. The lack of cover made the space between Kanden's shoulderblades itch fiercely, and he spent the night huddled uncomfortably behind a boulder a third of his size, head between his knees and hair wrapped around his body so he wouldn't give himself away.

The next day, and the day after that, and the day after that were spent in the same way. Each night Kanden moved his camp a little closer to theirs, at a pace that would put him with the Angelicani sometime late the next year. They, in turn, had been drifting from an unhurried east-by-northeast course to true north.

Kanden found, to his disgust, that some part of him was trying to get caught--realizing it only as he discovered himself collecting wood for a campfire. That night he very nearly turned his back on the whole business, but that same traitor part of him made him stay. Even if he did scatter the wood every which direction, as violently as he dared.

The night after that, he realized someone was following him. The instant he did he stopped dead in place, then kicked himself back into motion, then dropped his pack and began building camp right there. There was very little point in running now, and-- Gods! He hated how badly mistreated he'd been by fate, and how poorly his own mind was taking it. It was that--or the constant paranoia had been eating at him, and he had to stop and restart his beginning of a campfire two, three, four times his hands were shaking so badly. White eyes and black shadows seemed everywhere he turned, and--gods, it would be good to get caught if only he wasn't alone with his thoughts!

By the time the Angelican swaggered into his camp, Kanden had at least managed to get a fire going. Between that and the fact his tail was alone, he gathered courage enough to feel a little like his old self. "Took you long enough," he rasped. His voice was faring poorly for want of use.

Hardly waiting for an invitation, the Angelican took a seat by the fire and smirked handsomely. Was nothing those people did not handsome? "Oh, we knew you were following us since you got on our trail two days ago." The smile turned smug, as he folded his wings behind him. He wasn't the one who'd been shedding feathers, Kanden noted--his wings were little more than airy structures of light.

They looked ridiculous on a man his size, but he probably was much more intimidating sweeping around with a flaming sword or whatever it was they did. "Six."

"Excuse me?"

"I've been following you six days."

A look of surprise, then disbelief, knocked the smirk of the other man's face. "And I'm to believe a Monstros on that?" he spit out.

Kanden heaved a great sigh, somewhat against his own will, and offered his empty palms to the Angelican. "You're to do whatever pleases you. I'm in no position to stop you either way."

The look of surprise was back. That also looked ridiculous on a man his size, and Kanden said as much: "And stop gaping. You'll catch a flying pizzle and choke to death."

Surprise contorted to anger. "Why were you following us, dog? And why shouldn't I kill you before you report back to your masters!"

"If I had masters, they would have ordered you dead before you caught me." Some things never seemed to change. "I was following you because I have nothing else to do." Now that Kanden had started in on the truth, it seemed to flow from him, unfolding itself before he could check his tongue.

"I have nothing else. Either you kill me here, or you set me loose, or you take me with you wherever you're going to be killed or set loose or let alone, and whatever way you choose I won't be the worse for it." A pause, and he added: "I don't ask that you care."

Anger to wariness. At least wariness meant Kanden had gotten him to think, and perhaps if he were thinking, this big Angelican with the ridiculous wings would be a little more pleasant. Or he would kill Kanden before the Monstros could say much else. Either option would be acceptable. "You're lying," he said.

"What would I gain? If I am lying, I've also talked long enough you could kill me before I could report back to the masters I don't have. If I'm not, the truth can't hurt me any." Kanden leaned back, folding his arms across his chest and staring at the Angelican. "Do they not teach you this kind of thing in your cities? It seems too important to neglect."

This won a full thirty seconds of silence from the man across the fire. He folded his arms across his chest as well, but remained sitting up painfully straight, staring back at the Monstros as if seeing him for the first time. Perhaps, Kanden thought, he was, since he was certainly not making all that bluster and threat at someone who posed no apparent danger. It was enough to make him wonder if his own people and the Angelicani might not be fighting for the same thing in the end--black shadows and white eyes... Kanden swallowed his shudder, unwilling to look any weaker before this stranger.

"A truthful Monstros." A log in the fire popped, showering sparks. The Angelican placed his hands on his thighs, leaning forward and squinting at Kanden.

"There does seem to be something different about you, yes. Even if it is slight--tell me, why would you bother saying all this?"

Perhaps there was a brain, albeit a small one, in that thick skull after all. "I don't want to be Monstros any longer, Angelican. I have seen the end of the road my people are walking down, and I want nothing of it."

"Then what do you want?"

What DID he want? Kanden thought about this, tapping his fingers against his upper arms--looking away from the Angelican at length, out into the gathering night around them. "I want to go to the Gate. Take me to Sviit, and I'll make certain no one else follows you. You could use the help."
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February 2012

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