I would have lost myself to my memories again if Ku hadn’t brought me back. “You coming?” she asked.
Spinning around, I found she had that amused grin on her face once more. I took my garb off and grinned back at her. She turned toward the forest, blushing.
Jogging forward, I threw my garb at her and leapt into the air. I formed the mental picture, tapped into its essence, and felt the warmth of change overtake me. My legs turned in, and my joints shifted. My head shrank and elongated. Fur spread across my chest, arms and legs. The fabric of my gaaban shrunk with my size, and a tail sprung out from it. That was the most awkward part for me, but it wouldn’t be complete without a tail. I landed on all fours, the transformation complete.
Ku gave a little squeal of delight when I padded up to her. “You mean it?” she asked.
I gave a small yip and jerked my head over to the side. Ku climbed up on my back, and I started off towards home at a fast clip. I couldn’t transform into a full grown wolf yet, but I was strong enough to carry her. She was fast approaching the age of twelve, but Aelacrins were a small race, and she didn’t weigh too much. She grasped my grey fur a bit too tightly, but I didn’t mind doing this for her every once in a while. As long as she didn’t get obnoxious about it later…
As we approached the house, someone screamed out my name.
Setti jumped off the branch of a tall tree. His elegant cyan wings spread out behind him. He was still too young to fly, being only six years old, but he’d just learned to glide recently. As would be expected, he took every opportunity he could to test his limits. This time, it was from the highest branch of the largest Orvin tree he could reach.
I howled and picked up my pace. Ku cried out in desperation, trying her best not to fall off. As I came closer, I quick-stepped, set my hind feet, and pounced as high into the sky as I could muster. Ku fell off my back with a cry, and I released the essence of the wolf. I successfully transformed back into my usual self just as Setti slammed into me, and I wrapped my arms around him. The both of us fell to the ground laughing.
Ku picked herself up, rubbing her head. She glared at me, but I didn’t care. I kept laughing with Setti giggling in my arms. I ruffled the pin feathers on top of his head. “That was pretty high, wasn’t it?”
“I was waiting for you,” he exclaimed. “What took you so long?”
He gave me his best pouty face, so I nipped at his nose. He giggled and pushed back. His bare hands on my chest reminded me I had just transformed.
“Ku-” I called as I turned toward her.
She threw my garb over my face as she walked past us toward the mid-sized hovel. Setti continued to giggle brightly. I shook the garb off my head and smiled at him. “Come on, let’s get inside. I’m hungry!” Then I nipped at his long, semi-curled ears. He let out a squeal and got up off my lap. I raced him to the run-down structure we called home and leapt out in front of him before he could get through the door. He squealed in delight again, laughing as I picked him up and shook him in a bear hug. He tugged at my rattail in return, short as it was. I walked into the hovel with him in my arms and set him down on the other side of the entrance. He ran off laughing, his arms and wings stretched out as if he was flying through the room.
Menna walked into the room, preening her shoulder feathers with the talons she called her fingernails. Although she was Setti’s older sister, I didn’t think I'd ever get over the differences between the two. Evianians were the strangest of races, in my opinion. Sure, I wasn’t familiar with all the races, but I was positive I’d never seen a race where the male and female genders were so physically different. The females, unable to fly, had feathers decorating their shoulders and arms like garments. If only the differences were just physical! Evianians were a matriarchal species. It just made the females more uppity, in my opinion. Setti was much more amiable. Regardless, Menna was a beauty, even as a fourteen-year-old. Not that I’d ever be into an Eviani. Like her brother, her feathers were predominantly cyan. However, her plumage showed a much greater array of tints - some bluer, some greener - in a kaleidoscope of color that mesmerized the eyes similar to a mirage.
I looked away before I got sucked into the colors. She didn’t need any more attention than she usually demanded. “Dinner ready?” I asked.
She looked me up and down. Her upper lip curled into a grimace. “Not for a sweaty fur ball like you. Go clean yourself up. You smell worse than Gouyen’s diapers.”
I grinned and walked toward the back entrance, getting as close to her as I could without touching. “As you wish,” I said, leaning in.
“Ugh.” She turned her face away.
I laughed and continued on my way, pulling the curtain over and walking outside. Thankfully, there was still some lather left in the bucket. I threw my garb up against the hovel’s outer wall and grabbed the ladle. One douse of water over the head, scrub the lather all over, make it stretch as much as possible, then rinse with only what’s necessary. Preservation was key. Having the most to clean, not to mention being the eldest at seventeen, I needed to be the example for the others at all times. I dried myself off, spending a little extra time to make sure my gaaban was as dry as I could get it before putting my garb back on.
My gaaban was special. One couldn’t find it in any of the shops in the city's agora anymore. Not since the fall. I had long since outgrown my first gaaban, but this one… this one was Father’s. I shouldn’t dwell on it too much. I needed to help Semiramis with dinner. The table wasn’t even set.
I stepped inside to see Menna callously setting the table one utensil at a time. I chuckled. It would take her all evening at that pace. Walking over, I helped her by taking six plates and spreading them across the table. With a harrumph, Menna stomped back to the kitchen counter, which was the mantel over the fireplace, and grabbed one more utensil.
Semiramis waved the partition over and ducked under the fabric as she entered the main area. I always admired her stature. Even before she saved my life, I’d always thought she was so refined. Well, perhaps that’s because she was a Maunin. Mauninians were known for their tall elegance. They had long ears that pointed toward the heavens, and a strong affinity for plants. Some said they could commune with or even control plant life. But Semiramis was more than that to me. She was… well, she was like a mother to me.
“Abirami, what’s this about you throwing Ku’Aya off your back?” she asked. She held Gouyen in her arms.
I walked up to her and bowed my head with two fingers from my right hand pressed to my sternum.
“Oh, stop that. How many times do I have to tell you? We're far from palace etiquette here.” However, she still walked up and placed her two fingers to my forehead.
I came out of my bow smiling.
“She let go,” I told her. “I didn’t mean to throw her off, but Setti was falling again, so I caught him. I hope Ku wasn’t hurt. Was she?”
“You know good and well I wasn’t hurt,” Ku said, walking in from behind Semiramis.
“Setti,” Semiramis called out behind her, “is this true? Were you climbing again?”
“I wasn’t falling…” Setti slowly followed Ku into the room, nervously holding his own hand. “I was flying!”
“You mean falling on the wind,” Ku interjected. She smiled at her own joke. I shot her a glare, and she rolled her eyes in response.
“Setti, I told you, no gliding while I’m not around.” Semiramis was using her stern voice. “What if you were hurt? What if Abirami wasn’t there to catch you? What if someone saw you? Do you have any idea the dangers that could bring?”
Setti’s shoulders slumped, and alligator tears formed in his eyes. “Sorry, Ramis.”
Semiramis sighed. “Come here.” He walked over, and she gave him a hug with her free hand. “I’m not angry. I just don’t want you getting hurt, okay?”
“But my wings…”
She kneeled down and placed her hand on his cheek. “I know, you really want to fly. Just give it some time. You’re going to need to be patient.” She smiled at him, and he wiped at his tears and nodded.