It was always the smell of the vines, even before the blooms, that spoke to me of the Huntlands. The flowerswere everywhere in Kaitiiraan’s Keep – the scent of the blooms floating in tubs, sitting in delicate porcelain vases, wound around beds and the columns in the grand hall…..nay, there was no way to miss the stink of them, even those planted up into pots seemed dead, rotting flower corpses that blocked up my nose to all other scents…

“Maybe why my baths always reek of rosewater, and the dinners are so drowned in sauces, the story of the meat is befouled along with the taste.”

I spun around, heart battering my breastbone with the warning that came, always, too late…

But I could smell the vines, now – green, alive with leaves and buds that had no place in the Keep, roots sunk into lush forest soils, cushions of moss, powdering remains of bark, composting scat. So long as I could smell this life, I was safe to speak such thoughts aloud.

Freedom ran and skipped through my feet, carrying me to my favorite place, in the thicket just off the Merchant’s Road, where only a small body could easily fit….my place to shed the bindings of Mother’s world, and settle into the wild life of the Tacivaarii, before I joined them.

Only here was I in my own place, where I could simply be as I was, without the pulls of Tribed and Untribed tugging me two directions, at once, feeling forever part of each, and yet, neither….

“I want to simply be MYSELF!”

Again, my thoughts escaped my errant lips…but it was true. What matter if I was Trueborn, or Kaiess? Why did those things have to hold and pull at me?

“Am I not more than those things? Am I not myself, and my own?”

~You are, my daughter.~

I listened…the voice was within me, but from everywhere, too, sighing through me, carried in the breeze, the birdsong, the buzz of the nectarflies as they sipped at the arytana that grew afresh, quick as a tantaa bird’s strike – nay, quicker! – surrounding me, cocooning me within my lair as though I was a caterpillar readying for my Change….

“What is happening?” This morning’s overcooked and overspiced stew mixed with the lingering scent of rosewater from the forced bath, twisted my belly and threatened to climb up the back of my throat with stinging clutches and grabs.

Curiosity danced through fear; my soul alive with new, wilder energy, drawing me at once into the embrace of Aletris, the motherworld, and, at the same bloodpulse, flinging me away to soar through the always-night of Everdeep….

“Aletris?” I asked, although I knew it was she, however impossible it might seem.

The blooms’ fragrance caressed me, as the glittering dartwings came to feast and fight one another for the choicest blooms….

~Yes, Niaan my daughter. Rest, now, and know that you are enough. Just enough, just as you are. And that you are not alone, so long as I am here, and he is there.~

I grew sleepy, of a sudden; odd – I had been ready to Run, less than a sunlength, since….Now, though, the vines shaped themselves, the blooms stroked my bare skin to trembling life, and I was gentled down into my furs…

“He?” I yawned, mind muddled with arytana, with wanting, with the songs without and within me….”He who?”

~ Your body is safely sheltered here, daughter. Follow where your soul leads….~

And then, I was Running across the rich darkness of Everdeep, the always-night and dancing lights playing along my senses, filled with tantalizing awareness….how can I be Running, here?

But what matter?

A scent among many, twitching and tingling into my nose, exciting me, drawing me….to a hot, dusty, red place….a place such as my tutors in the Keep called “child’s nonsense”, with their minds full of creeping old terror they wanted to unfeel….in that strange place with its sharp-edged, gritted smells and tastes….a boy.

He lay upon sand, hidden by rock, sleeping. There was the spore of rotten fruit about him, but, on his lips, in the breath he breathed softly and hotly at me, only the freshest, sweetest juice…

His mind lay untended….beckoning me, singing in harmony to the music, his notes strange, and yet, not…without knowing how, I slipped within his mind, his soul….

Dark eyes reflected me, tiny, but aglow against his strange red night. He was almost as still as a waiting Hunter – or the fearfrozen ferndeer.

I set myself to wait, for whatever sima garo provided…and then, between one breath and the next, in the vulnerable waiting instant, our souls flowed together, as though we were two streams merged, blending, swirling….

We belonged, as we never had, to each other, in the next breath.

“This is our home.”