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Chapter 1 Part 3

“And, Ku’Aya.” Semiramis turned to face her. “It sounds like it wasn’t really a big deal to you. Were you just trying to get your older brother in trouble?”

“It’s Ku,” she murmured. “And he’s not my brother.”

Semiramis raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?” There was that tone again. She could be very scary when she wanted to be.

“You were the one who asked about my day,” she mumbled only slightly louder.

“Honestly, Ku’Aya.”

“Ku,” she muttered again.

“You need to learn to get along with everyone in this house, and not just when you want to.” Semiramis shifted Gouyen to her other arm as she continued. “I know you have it in you. You just have to work on communicating. Next time, try talking to your siblings before coming to me.”

Ku kicked a rock with her shoe.

“Won’t you?” Semiramis asked.

“Fine,” Ku gave in, her voice filled with annoyance.

I looked around the room. Menna was still setting the table one item at a time, Setti was pouting off in a corner, and Ku was kicking the rock around the room. Tensions were too high.

“Semiramis, can I help with dinner?” I asked.

“Thanks, but it’s still about ten minutes yet.”

I nodded. “Then, you think I have time to toss an orvin around a bit?”

Semiramis squinted her eyes at me. A small corner of her lips rose into a smirk. “Very well. But remember, we’re eating soon. No getting dirty or sweaty.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I bowed my head.

My plan was simple. The seed of the Orvin tree was a mid-sized ball with a thick, fuzzy outer exterior and a hard, solid interior. It was perfect for kicking around or bouncing off your feet. Ten minutes wasn’t long, but I didn’t need long. Within a matter of minutes, I had Setti and Ku laughing and playing along. Even Menna came out after finishing setting the table. By the time Semiramis called us in for dinner, things were back to normal… well, normal for us.

Ku and Setti took their places across the table, and Menna sat down in her seat next to me. Semiramis always took the head of the table.

“You still smell like wolf.” Menna plugged her nose and glared at me.

I formed the mental image and focused on tapping the limited essence. I leaned forward, my face elongating into a snout, and I nipped at her shoulder feathers.

She screamed and fell out of her chair.

I quickly relaxed, allowing my face to return back to normal.

“No transformations at the table!” Semiramis ordered.

“Yes, ma’am.” I may have smirked, but I meant what I said.

Menna got back into her seat, but it was obvious she tried distancing herself from me by sitting on the far end of her seat. She also edged her plate over a few inches. That made me grin all the more.

Semiramis’ stew wasn’t palace food, but it wasn’t bad in any sense of the word. I could eat seconds or thirds of her cooking any day. If only we had that much. I usually only ate half a portion, at best. We always made the most of it, though. I would never complain about it.

Semiramis finished her bowl and began feeding Gouyen. “So, you can partially transform now.”

I looked up, secretly happy for the interest she showed in me. “Well, I’ve been practicing. It’s not like I’ve mastered it or anything.” My face felt flushed. Why was I being shy about this? “I still can’t augment.” Stupid. Stupid.

“Patience. It will come.”

The heat in my face relaxed. She always knew just what to say. I wished I had that wisdom.

“Any luck with… any other skills?” she asked.

I looked up, surprised she’d brought it up. There were many secrets in that little question. “Um… no new developments, if that’s what you’re asking.” I tried my best to follow her lead.

“Very well.” She didn’t seem disappointed. “You’re going into town tomorrow? I don’t think we need as much this time, so take some time for yourself, okay?”

What was that? I was pretty sure we were running out of food, as usual. What did she mean, ‘not as much’? I made sure not to show my apprehension in my face. “Okay,” I managed to say.

“If he’s going to town, could I go too?” asked Ku.

Menna stood up with her empty bowl. “Ha, and what would you do in town?” she asked. She flicked Ku’s ear as she walked by. “You probably couldn’t even keep up with him. Why go?”

Ku clenched her fist, and I noticed the tips of her ears and nose started turning red.

“Careful, Menna,” I interjected before Ku could move. “She’ll put a tarantula on your pillow again if you keep teasing her like that.”

Menna put her bowl away, turned, and set her hands on her hips. “She does that, and I’ll kill her little bawl.”

“You better not!” Ku hollered, jumping to her feet.

Semiramis sighed. “Enough, girls.”

“Then you’d better not mess with me,” Menna threatened.

Ku scoffed. “You started it. Stop messing with me!”

“Maybe I would, if you weren’t so weird.”

“Girls, enough!” Semiramis said in her stern voice.

Ku stomped her foot. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be such a stuck-up, little brat.”

I put my head in the palm of my hand. Now she’d done it.

Menna put her hand to her mouth and her face flushed orange. “Stuck-up-”

Before she could say more, Gouyen began crying. The child’s scream rang out, amplified by his power. Everyone immediately put their hands to their ears. It was so loud it was painful.

Semiramis hollered over the scream, “Abirami, take Gouyen outside. I need to settle this here.”

I looked at her, longing for a different decision. I sighed, my shoulders drooped, but I nodded my head. My ears were the most sensitive in the house, but it was also true I’d had the most success in calming Gouyen down in these situations.

I walked outside with Gouyen in my arms, his torturous scream ringing in my ears. I pictured my father’s calming voice and focused on it. I began to hum, rocking Gouyen back and forth while I continued to walk away from the hovel.

I knew the further I walked, the easier it would be to calm him down. He was a Neulahdian, after all. I hadn’t known much about Neulahdians before we took in Gouyen. They’re typically feared because no one knew much about them, and they kept to themselves. Whatever powers they had seemed related to their mental abilities. Some said they’re telepaths, while others said they’re just empaths. Either way, their abilities could be very powerful, at least my definition of powerful. Gouyen’s screams had made my ears bleed before. The other thing I’d learned about Neulahdians was that they developed much slower than most races. Gouyen was probably close to three years old, but his body and mind were more like where a one-year-old would be. Perhaps they lived longer to offset this. Who knew? Either way, he was a bit of an enigma. A cute enigma, but one nonetheless.

Gouyen finally stopped crying, and I gave a sigh of relief. I looked back, barely able to see the lights of the hovel through the trees. “I’m going to have to board those up better,” I said out loud. My eyebrows bunched, and I could feel a headache coming on.

Gouyen reached up and touched my chin. Suddenly, my anxiety over the lights, along with the pressure in my head, vanished. I looked at the little one in my arms, tilted my head to the side, and smiled. “Did you do that?”

I laughed at myself. What a silly thought. I started walking back. Surely the fight was over by now.

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Trip Williams
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