Party Time is a novel set in the World of Zekira. Copyright 2004 Lethe and Droppin the Fork Productions. All rights reserved, no copying for any reason.

Party Time chapter 2

The couch Haesh and Amaranth sat on was surely the most comfortable thing on the planet, he thought. But it was more than the softness of it, than the build of it. It was the woman beside him.
She was so easy to like. They had so much in common, as well: they were both born in the same season of the same year; they were physically similar with the hoof-feet that neither had any trouble balancing on them much though everyone would think that would be the case. They also seemed to have deeper similarities. Through their conversation they discovered that they both could detach themselves from their body and drift consciously around -- that was the source of Amaranth's attraction to Haesh. Called magic in times past -- long past, longer than either of them knew -- these powers they could use had shaped the whole of Zekira, and they seemed to have enough between the two of them to suit each other nicely.
Haesh told Amaranth of his new Bonding jobs, that he'd considered going into his father's profession but found his hoof-hands to be the greatest hindrance to woodworking. He was best suited to the softer lands and less active country life, but she assured him that there were great advantages to living in the deepest cities.
She told him about her work, the long years of studying that were going into her Breeding degree. She had been born High Holder, and still could qualify for it, but she had spent her time and money on her education. And why not, when taught by the best? Morgontain and she had always been close, but there were other things she needed to learn.
Things Vanya could teach her about genetics and splicing, things that another somewhat more conventionally known Breeder named Darkhanis could offer regarding visual choices and matching pairs up. Amaranth spoke excitedly at first, but slowly became more deliberate with words, choosing things to say that her companion would respond to differently. Haesh thought possibly that she was moving closer to him with every sentance, when she was describing her Breeding hall.
All of this Haesh listened to very nearly in a daze. Her voice was music, and she kept doing little things with her fingers over his arm or hair, and that tail...
"You've got the most beautiful tail," Haesh finally muttered, as it waved somewhat hypnotically by his knees. He reached out, took the end of it as gently as he could within his stubby fingers, and wished he could feel more of the soft fur-hair on its end.
"It's lovely, isn't it?" She replied, with a giggle.
"You think rather highly of yourself, don't you?" Haesh asked, knowing that most others he might say that to would become offended. He knew better with Amaranth. He was clearly getting the hang of this socializing thing. Amaranth's response was gratifying and led to a quick kiss on his cheek.
Momentarily stunned, Haesh attempted to regain some composure but it stayed at bay. There was the scent of wine on her breath, but it would have been sweet without it. There were darker and more mysterious scents on her, as well, but he suddenly doubted that she was wearing any perfumes this day. Scents that were undenyably sexual in nature. They were working magic on him.
Haesh wondered briefly what in the world was possessing this beautiful woman, Mirage's daughter -- High Holder and Breeder in her own right -- to come to him, a Membayar just out of his classes? He cleared his head and changed the subject -- dragged it to where his own confused thoughts were wallowing. He knew too that Amaranth would have an answer even though it was more than personal.
"Amaranth, are you certain you want this?" Haesh said, quietly. She slightly jolted back, the long black of her thin eyebrows moving into a concerned wave. "With me? Isn't it more ... Appropriate to be at, I don't know, the facilities for --"
"Oh dear," Amaranth said, suddenly. She looked around as if for the first time, then fully into Haesh's orange-dark eyes. "If I'm -- and you don't want to -- I mean --" He wasn't sure if she was trying to move away from him, her arms were suddenly stiff, but she was also attempting to jump out of her own skin and into his lap for comfort.
"I don't want to ruin anything," Haesh said, unsure about this reaction. "I just mean, if you're going to be--"
"Such a Membayar," she finally muttered, grinning and gaining her own ability to back away from him after her initial panic. "Haesh, there's something strange going on. It isn't your fault, it isn't anything I can control, I guess."
Haesh's only response was a blank stare.
"My mother doesn't use contracts or Breeder sites to make her children," Amaranth said oddly. "I know that for sure. Juvon and I were both Naturally born, Shatter was done by Vanya there and he always told me it was only because mother promised him more later on. She's told me it's easy." She paused, looked out at the huge Pin Gulf and the darkly gathering clouds found there. "Now I think I know why." Sighing deeply, "it controls me, this need."
Haesh couldn't find words. Amaranth was apparently getting into a confused, scared mood, and he just didn't have the experience with such things to attempt to comfort her. What need? Haesh wasn't sure at all what she meant. It was usually very difficult to Breed, his parents had gotten very lucky with having two children, but their mother was unable to produce another, try as they might even with the assistance of their own Breeder, Enash. If Mirage had already had three and they were as successful as this... Something was clearly different about them, these beautiful women of her bloodline. Compelling, Haesh thought, another mystery. If only he could think clearly about it through the desire to have Amaranth...
Music started downstairs, loudly. And with a distinct crackle of fried electronics, it stopped suddenly. Both in the Brown room heard someone's voice swearing at that fact, from the other room.
"Ouch," Haesh said. "That's going to cost someone a lot to replace," he turned to Amaranth, who was still gazing without emotion out at the sea. "Amaranth, can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm ... just fine. I didn't realize what was happening. No wonder Vanya was here for so long."
Suddenly it became clear. Scent and sound, actions mixed together, if this was what Haesh's need was like, how could it be for her? And another realization: not the least of that primal reaction he was feeling regarding that other man was because they could be rivals? Over her? The BreedMaster was elegantly better looking than Haesh, and of a far better Status, obviously the better choice for any... "He would have--"
"He would never have stopped me," Amaranth said with a twisting grin. "But that's just the way he is. Not that that would be bad but..." She laughed finally. "I'd prefer to stay with you and be frustrated if that's your game."
"I might remind you that I'm not the one playing any games," Haesh said. "This isn't a game at all, Amaranth. If you want we can talk about it my way," he grinned, "with a contract in hand."
Hard music suddenly blasted below, vibrating the thin glass window in the room, even though the source was half a house away.
"So you're still willing to contribute but you're going to make me wait?" Amaranth ignored the sound, snugged herself down next to Haesh's side again, tail delicately curled around his knees and her fingers playing on his chest.
He blinked several times. She smelled so delicious that he was unsure that waiting was the best option any longer. But... Clearly the effects of whatever strange affliction Mirage and her daughter 'suffered' from were doing this to him. He put his arm (complete with the stubby hoof-fingers that she seemed fascinated by) around her soft shoulder, and stared out at the Gulf himself.
"How often does this happen to you?" He looked at that shoulder, and the fact that she'd worn a dress which could be slid off it so easily...
"It's only happened this once, but mother says she gets like this once a year," she cooed into Haesh's ear. "She says she loves it, how about you?" Haesh was only considering saying something in response, more of him wanted to display exactly how he felt.
Abruptly, and without his attendant child in tow, Vanya re-entered the room with a hand exaggeratedly clutching his ear, moved directly to the corner of the room with the low soft bag-chair and sat, unmoving and pained, in it. Half a moment later (and because he'd been intent only on the chair and his clearly damaged hearing when he was on his way in), he looked suddenly and curiously up at the pair on their couch and examined them with obvious distress -- more at the fact that he'd broken in unannounced and had distracted them than that they were snuggled together the way they were.
Amaranth curled tighter into Haesh's side, and made a noise which clearly affected both men, to which Haesh's only reaction was to deny that he was going to do anything with this woman on his lap until they'd signed an agreement of Breeding Rights. He gulped back fear at the overriding lust climbing into his body and the woman strangely writhing at his side, and at the man sitting in the corner of the room. Open mouthed and silent, Vanya stared suddenly at Haesh's eyes with a knowing and almost apologetic cast to his expressive face, and then sighed, turning slowly back to his examination of the sea.
"Don't mind him," Amaranth hissed. "Unless you really want to wait."
In the reflection on the glass window, Haesh saw Vanya smile to himself and look wistfully into the waves below.
"Yes, Amaranth," Haesh said. "We wait."

Osh and Kyoh stood with deafened happiness directly beside the failing amplifier. The taller of the guitarists, a dramatically dressed man of striking green-yellow skin and blood-red hair, kicked at it until it began humming with the sound he wanted, rather than crackling with static.
Bepa joined her favorite friends momentarily. "Where's Haesh?" She shouted, and Osh pointed disgustedly at the side of the room with the hallway. He had no intention of trying to speak over the din, it was a wonder to him that he'd heard the woman's voice at all.
"Do you know how much people normally pay to hear this group?" Kyoh yelled, "more than I can afford," he winked at Osh.
They moved with the sounds, soon enough, and though he had to be more careful with his horns in the way, Osh was actually quite a good dancer. That fact attracted attention to him from another trio, the most from the silver-skinned and haired gent with the amazing angle on his hair. Bepa remarked to herself that he probably had that fruit Shalen do it, something with magnets. She giggled furiously, and watched as the static toned man dragged Osh into their circle. Bepa and Kyoh exchanged a deeply meaningful glance, smiled to one another, and backed into a smaller calmer corner.
Osh, Juvon and a strangely-eared man named Vionn danced largely to impress themselves and each other, rather than the rest of the partygoers. Their other member, an older man named Tain, moved into another circle in need of a partner. Vionn had amazing crimson and gold skin, which faded together on his long ears, distracting people from the fact that they were nearly two spans long! Osh said nothing, he planned on comparing them later to his horns, if he and these others were going to remain together. That the pair dancing with him were doing so because they wanted to look good with Osh had not yet occurred to him, but it would soon enough.
The only reason Osh saved himself from embarrassment was that he refused to take the 'female' role in this dance: he led and he continued to do so, even though Juvon had started the dance himself. There were roles in everything, Osh thought with a wine-sodden lurch. Not the least of which was choosing who to be seen with even though they're hitting on you. Lords and Masters, who does he think he is? Osh thought, but they danced until the song was over.
When they bowed to one another and the rest of the groups around them, Osh had to restrain himself from showing off the fact that with those long horns he could gut someone at a distance. Even with the polite in-society bow, he could be deadly. Juvon reached for Osh's horn, staring at it through mirrored glasses.
"Nice," he commented. "I'm sure we could arrange a new dance with them."
"Could you," Osh said, as if disinterested.
"If you don't mind," the mischievous grin that played across the man's face made Osh wonder what he was up to. He wasn't being played a trick, but he was still slightly uncomfortable with this man's hand around that horn. It was much too suggestive. And it meant that he had to maintain a slightly bowed stance.
There was something about this Juvon, perhaps the slight appearance of fangs within that small mouth, and the way that even though no one (including Osh) could see through those small rounded glasses he wore, anyone he was looking at knew it. Unnerving well described this strange man. He continued to fondle the horn, possibly attempting to determine if Osh could feel the surface.
Long-eared Vionn had other plans than to let his friend abuse the poor Membayar. "Juvon, tell them to play that song about tides, would you?"
"I've heard it, it's terrible," Juvon replied, still intent on Osh's horn.
"I'm sure they'd love to hear you say that," Vionn said, and went to ask himself. Juvon watched Osh squirm when left alone with him, but shortly removed his hand and went back to smiling to himself oddly. Over the feedback on the huge speakers the band had brought with them, they watched Vionn and the Lord in a Lord, Two Bonders and their Mistress speaking to one another. The red-haired Lord Micri glanced out to the crowd, spotted his friend Juvon, and looked over their newest with the horns.
He seemed to approve. He started the 'tide' song, which was a lot better than Juvon let on. It didn't matter much to Osh what was playing: he was at HighMistress Mirage's Telva Mansion, and suddenly able to make points with one of her prize offspring! As long as that offspring of hers kept his hands to himself (delicate and sensitive though they were) they'd surely become the best of friends.
The 'tides' song was slower than most, swelled occasionally, but still had the group's signature beat to it, and Hask on the drums wouldn't have had it any other way. She was dangerous on them, and was currently on her fourth set of sticks (the others being broken during the sound check, and another three on that first great riff before now). Rather than attempt to compose a new dance to this tune, Juvon forcably led another dance with his favored companions Vionn and Osh, apparently to the envy of those others around them. A trio of women swirled by, a mix of white and grey skin.
Eager to control the floor, it seemed, Juvon tossed his head and challenged the women -- one of whom was his mother, to a ritual dance right then and there.
What was he thinking? Osh's mind cried out.
I'm thinking, dear boy, that if this song can't be saved, perhaps the dance can.
Frozen briefly in mind, but thankfully not in body, Osh realized that the man had not only just spoken to him through his mind, but that he'd clearly been reading his thoughts before hand.
That, he thought as clearly as he could while holding the warm fingers on either hand beside his own, was extremely rude. If he only knew that that feeling ran in his family.
Juvon smiled, baring the fangs, and they whirled to the music in a bold immitation of the tree-flier's mating dance. Mirage, Lam Fimel, and Kenya Dahash watched this with interest, and at a flirtatious giggle and wink, Mirage allowed the men to dominate the dance floor after that.
It was the only polite thing to do after they'd gone through all the trouble of trying to impress people, with that dance.
The music shuddered and vibrated to a stop, finally, and moved into a quieter but faster song which others could more easily dance to in pairs or alone. The men left the floor partially out of exhaustion and more because the trio of women had done so as well.
"They declined the challenge, my friend," Vionn said, panting. "We lost anyway."
"She declined it," Juvon said, of Mirage. "That's like her, I suppose."
"Lies," Mirage said, momentarily stunning Osh with her presence. "All lies I say. And you're new here, aren't you? Don't let this child near your neck, young man." She teased Osh's long deep green hair away from his neck, and he noticed with a pounding heart that their skin was so close to the same shade of white they could have been taken from the same stock. She was taller than he, save for the horns, and her face was that of an angel... A deviously clever and fiercely loving angel. If she was a moment older than newborn with that skin, he would have been surprised.
"I'd already decided that was the case," Osh finally found his voice. "But thank you for the warning. I'll be sure to heed it, should the need arise."
Juvon only laughed, darkly and without hesitation. His mother glanced over him, met his eyes, and then smiled herself. Her beautiful violet eyes then moved over Osh.
He very nearly melted, the way his brother had regarding Amaranth. It was one thing wanting the attention of a woman so beautiful and powerful as Mirage or one of her descendants, it was something else entirely to get that attention, for its focus was intense and undeniably wonderful. The other two women watched with smiles on their lips, Mirage was known for this kind of behavior and they'd both been wanting to see it for some time. Kenya was still panting and laughing from the dance, but then she turned to their third and watched in a kind of awed daze.
Lam was taller than the other two women, but considerably thinner, with a heart-shaped face and hair which combined a dark nut brown with violet at the ends. It split over her forehead in frayed elegance, and there was a strange slit or scar in the middle of it, which suddenly opened and betrayed the fact that the woman had a third eye! Yellow like the other two, she stood watching something with it other than what the others could see, and Osh attempted not to stare.
He failed.
Mirage moved her warm hands over his jaw, turned his head away gently to avoid any further embarrassment, and said nothing at all about it. Her silence indicated that he ought to be that way as well, and he took the cue, barely.
"Lam?" Kenya, said. She was the darkest grey of the three, closer to Haesh's black skin but not quite. Long limbed and seemingly more sure of her surroundings than the older Fimel, she held on to the seer's arm, when it looked she was going to sway. "What are you seeing?"
Vionn and Juvon moved behind the woman, casually but with the purpose of blocking the view any others might have of the woman. Practiced, Osh thought, they've done this before. She was seeing something that none in the room could ever, with that eye. Osh attempted to distract himself from its oddity by wondering how it worked at all. When he was allowed by Mirage's gentle fingers to look back, he did so carefully, and with a concern on his chiseled face.
"Will she be all right?" He whispered to Mirage. The woman nodded, once, but seemed as concerned as the rest.
"She usually... says something by now." Mirage said haltingly. Osh was struck suddenly by the fact that here was Mirage, the Mirage, who by all rights ought not to care how anyone fared because she was at the absolute top of the heap... She was watching her friend with an intensity that said volumes to Osh. Said that she was genuine, that her action of turning Osh away and making him obey her whim wasn't because she wanted to dominate him, it was simply that she didn't want her friend Lam embarrassed by something she couldn't possibly control.
It made Mirage more wonderful by half, Osh thought.
Finally, after a very long minute and a half, as the others around her attempted to look like they were merely appraising the view outside and being silent as they would, Lam Fimel's eye closed and she visibly relaxed.
"It was... someone I didn't expect to see again," Lam said, her voice barely heard over the music.
"They have a name?" Juvon asked, and Lam looked down, nodded once and said nothing.
"Come," Mirage said, tossing her full, dark hair with the gesture that showed Osh which way to go: he was invited with them, having already seen enough. Apparently being with her son had more advantages than he realized. "We can discuss this in private."
They filed out, carefully and clearly watched by some others at the dance. Though none stopped to verbally wonder where they were going, once some of them saw Lam in the group, they simply went back to dancing and playing. Lam was apt to see anything at any time, she'd done so while in court, at races, any time. Apparently being at Mirage's party had no effect on her powers.
Walking down a brightly lit hallway which broadened out into a display foyer of Mirage's photographic arts, the group finally entered a large, square floored room with tall walls and a high, narrow window on the wall opposite the white doors. The walls in this room were decorated with art: photos Mirage had taken, paintings others had done, there were two sculptures in the far corners, and matching them in the near-door corners were a pair of antique vases filled with dried flowers and ribbons. A long, flat white cushion lay around the perimeter of the room, about a span away from any wall, a scant handspan above the floor. It was to the far end of the room, nearest the window, that Lam was led.
The group sat, appraised the situation. Lam was clearly disturbed by what she saw, but she would currently say nothing. It occurred to Osh that Juvon might be able to read her mind, and at that realization, the silver-colored man simply turned and shook his head once at Osh.
The music in the other room shook the walls again, shortly, but everyone in this white room ignored it. Osh was swept up in a strange feeling, suddenly. He wondered at first if it wasn't someone else thinking at him, but then no, it occurred to him that it was just the moment: whatever it was that Lam saw, it would be including him in its scope.
At last, the slender woman sighed, blinked hard several times, and turned to Mirage.
"It was the exile, again."
The bitter expression crossing Mirage's face frightened Osh, she was a mask of power, he thought. Someone with the kind of preternatural beauty she had, of course when she was angered or afraid she would be able to convey it perfectly if she so wished. This expression then, it was that she was at once disappointed, disturbed, afraid, and outraged.
"I thought he was dead," the HighMistress finally said, her voice flat.
"Wishing," Lam said, "doesn't make it come true."
"The exile should have," Mirage said quietly over the music. "It should have killed him and he ought to be a bad memory, not a bad current affair."
"Ever since that Owner's Land came up for auction," Lam said quietly, "he has been becoming a problem, more a visible one than he ever ought to be."
"Has anyone seen him?" Mirage said, her voice was as dangerous and low as Osh thought it could be. "Or is he just a rumor?"
"He's clearly not a rumor," Lam said, looking down and seeming oddly affected by this exile. "Aeroch said he'd heard something mentioned behind the curtains, nothing official of course."
Lam Fimel was known to be a vicious politician, and court lawyer for large estates and Land sales, even Osh had heard of her though she wasn't Holding in any of his own Lands. Saying something in the presence of this woman could prove dooming to someone, should they say the wrong thing. He'd heard the name Aeroch before, too, another law official or somesuch. Word apprently traveled fast regarding this exile of theirs. Osh wished someone would tell him what was going on.
"Then he's still alive and about," Mirage said, and her eyes had gone so hard and cold that Osh wanted to hide. "And that means someone has got to be helping him survive."
Juvon's eyes moved around the group, invisible behind the glasses. "Mother," he said, and Osh wasn't sure that it was all voiced or partially mentally sent, for just that word struck deeply. "If he's alive we mustn't allow--"
"I know," she said abruptly. She turned her violet eyes to Lam. "Where did you see him? Where was he and who was he with?"
"He was still in the company of the High Holder's child, Avaur."
Mirage looked away, sighed hard. Then she looked over the group around her. Her son, she knew and passed over quickly. Lam, she dwelled on briefly, then moved to Kenya. Onto Vionn, where she tilted her head a bit, then to Osh. He felt odd, as if those eyes were moving into his mind and senses, feeling out the realms of his abilities, and retracting.
"We'll have to stop him from doing anything further," Mirage said, oddly.
"We haven't the legal --" Lam began but Mirage tightened her pale fingers on the grey-toned woman's shoulder.
"It doesn't matter to him." Mirage spat. She added very quietly, "and I wasn't thinking of using laws to stop him."
"He's exiled, Mirage," Lam said. "It should be--"
"He considers himself above the law, Lam, not below it. That is the way he's always been, you know that. That's why he became exile in the first place. But exiled or no, he's a threat still."
"It would be easier to stop his helper than the exile," Lam reminded her friend.
"What was he doing when you saw him?" Kenya asked, appearing to Osh to be slightly confused, at least he wasn't alone.
"He was mixing something," Lam said. "The girl was bringing him objects and substances, and he was obviously using them to create ... something. I don't know what."
"Is this happening now?" Osh asked, unclear on it.
"Possibly," Lam said. "More likely it will be soon. It was so intense, I suspect it would be this day, if not tomorrow at the latest, the scope of my visions is not more than that. But it has not yet happened."
"Where?" Juvon asked, staring hard out the narrow window into the darkening western sky.
"Juvon," Mirage said, holding her son's elbow gently, "don't. Not alone, not until we can find enough people to--"
Lam gasped, her eye opened again.
They all watched, enthralled, for as long as it was open. It was a strange amber color, Osh saw, and had no pupil that he could see, it looked like a gemstone glistening and rested into her forehead. It wasn't ugly, he thought suddenly, it was too amazing to be ugly.
Momentarily, though, it closed and she sighed, exhaling and panting with effort. Clearly this power of hers came at a cost. Osh was going to summon a servant to offer her something, but it appeared that Juvon had already done so. Another of the green-skinned yellow-haired girls (a third to Osh's eyes) came into the room bearing a pitcher of chilled water, dark bread, and cheese, put the tray down onto the floor before the gathered Holders and such, and disappeared back through the tall doors.
Lam took a long drink and finally appeared to relax.
"This has become far more disturbing, Mirage," she said. Though she spoke mostly to the woman to her side, the words stung deeply to the group as well.

Bepa and Kyoh danced rough and with wild smiles in the main room. The hall and the windows throbbed with the beat, and either of them were given to wonder if the noise might shatter all the glass in the house.
They didn't care. If it did, they'd help clean it up but they'd be dancing around the pieces.
The other dancers left both of these people room. Clearly having the time of their lives, the dancers around Bepa would give her quite a berth anyway, now that she had a sizable partner they waited for the eventual domination of the huge dance floor which had to come.
Neither Bepa nor Kyoh suspected this, they were just having the proverbial great time. Neither of them were expert in the finer points of slow movements, they were wild and energetic, that making up for their lack of practice.
Finally, after what Bepa would later describe as the 'best song ever written about fire', she and her Bayaran companion slunk to another corner of the huge party hall. Through her association with the Chanay brothers and their family, she had come to appreciate certain things: woodworking, wines, and Kyoh. She sat down on one of the beautifully carved seats by the huge fluted windows overlooking Pin Gulf, and ordered herself a wine in as large a glass as she could think of.
Because she could, of course. The thrill would never wear off, at least not at this moment. It could possibly get old for her friends, but Bepa was invited down to the racing lands below the Mansion, where who better (she'd come to like that phrase) would be racing against the formidibly crazy rider Tika, and others she'd not gotten the names of. Who Better's Daughter Shatter would be annoucing the race, that was her chosen profession. Bepa rattled off some Steed names, which clearly went over Kyoh's head, but he still smiled and nodded at her statements.
She told him everything, they'd always had that to share. She had not been a Slave in the Chanay household, but the one nearest their Quman homestead. Raised on a large Steed farm to a High Holder retiring for the long season of his age, and finally Raised into the new and ever-so-wonderful Animal Master status she was so proud of. Kyoh and she had seen each other but rarely in the last few years, but guessed they'd be seeing more of each other since she now had the option of simply coming to him.
They mutually agreed that that was a wonderful thing, too.
With drinks in hand, they watched the huge storm darkly gathering on the horizon, and listened to the music (as if they had a choice?). A group of the Animal Masters in attendance came into their view, they practically begged both the pair to accompany them to the race park before dark fell and the storm arrived. When Bepa decided that she wanted to pay attention to her old friend Kyoh instead of her newest acquaintances in the racing circuit, they understood: most of them had been in similar situations with their friends and many still didn't much have the option to visit.
"Strange thing, friendship," Rachael said, last to leave. She was the violet and yellow skined woman, whom Morgontain introduced Bepa to earlier. Bepa still had to get used to the woman's four arms. "It is so rewarding, in its obvious ways, and so many others. It's sweet from you, Bepa. You're fortunate to have such good ones. Come down later, promise me," she said. Her hair was soft and also two-colored in red and violet, and went to her waist, and she pushed it away from her shoulder with the lower of her hands.
This unnerved Kyoh but he was still trained well enough in social situations to hold his tongue.
"You know some amazing people now," he said.
"Yeah," Bepa said. "But I'm happy with the ones I already know." She grinned.
When one of the small attendants nearest them tapped them on their shoulders, both friends turned.
"Your presence is requested in the Treasury," the girl said. There was a worry to her eyes, her round face, which both people responded to.
"Is something wrong?" Bepa asked.
"That isn't for me to say, BeastMistress. But if you'll follow me, please? The matter seems urgent."
She began walking away, and the pair were forced to rise and follow lest they be left behind.
When they arrived to this Treasury room they discovered Osh in the presence of those dancers he'd been with, and Mirage. The Slave girl bowed and waited only a moment for unspoken instructions, then disappeared out of the tall doorway.
"Osh?" Bepa said, he indicated her to be silent, softly.
It was the first time Kyoh had seen him looking concerned over someone other than himself. This object of concern, too, was interesting and strange. The woman on the low seat was unmoving and Mirage by her side was intent on her face (which the others couldn't see), they spoke but in words too low for others to hear.
"Something is happening, and its possible that we can help out," Osh finally said, wandering to the center of the room and to his friends sides. He explained carefully what he knew, quiet and halting.
"What'd this guy do to deserve Exile?" Bepa asked, and several of the others in the room turned hard eyes on her. She noticed this and, shocked, shrank with the shame of a Slave.
"They don't want to talk about it," Osh said, "until they gather people who do know what to do about this all. That won't be too long, I think."

When it seemed that Haesh wasn't playing along with the desire in Amaranth's soul, she considered moving to Vanya's lap and both men could clearly tell that. But that would be rather rude, her sensible mind said. She could watch them fight over her, it'd happened to Mirage before, and with predictable results: Vanya would tear anyone else in half before he'd lose one of them to a lesser mate. It seemed, however, that the BreedMaster wasn't playing along, either, since he hadn't moved since he entered the room, and though she could tell that he was easily the most responsive to her condition, he was allowing Haesh to keep her to himself. How sweet, she thought, I'm an object.
Rather than further embarrassing herself, then, she rose and bowed to the pair of men. She excused herself softly to another room where she could sulk and keep herself occupied other ways than having mad sex to satisfy this base urge.
Haesh watched her move away from the doorway, the tail seemed to linger in it and finally the curtain swayed shut. He looked at the drink in his hands, took the last of it into his mouth, and worried about the man in the corner.
Finally, mostly to break the oppressive silence (that being a relative term -- there was still loud thunderous music coming from the party), Haesh asked, "will she be all right?"
Vanya pondered, moving his long fingers around his chin. "I believe so. She's already halfway out of this ... mood," he pronounced the word like it was an offensive curse word. "Most likely she'll sleep it off." He turned his vibrant blue eyes to Haesh. "It's what Mirage usually winds up doing."
"She said they had it in common," Haesh said.
"They are blessed with it," Vanya smiled, mostly to himself.
"I couldn't pretend to understand it," Haesh admitted, "it's clearly Breeder material."
Vanya nodded, simply, and then watched the other. Uncomfortable with the long, silent expressionless stare the man offered, Haesh finally began to squirm. Seemingly rewarded, then, Vanya stopped and turned his attention back to the sea, which was getting increasingly choppy. He stood, rising tall and dark against the still-lit window.
Bravely, Haesh stood and looked out, as well. The home was situated directly on the cliffside, north facing rocky shore below and nothing but sea to this view. Waves moved more than half a kilometer below, onto the dark rocks. The sun's slow fade glanced yellow and orange across the water, but soon would be blocked by the bulk of the storm which still gathered.
"It won't be as good if you wait," Vanya finally said, smiling.
Haesh shook his head, suddenly. "What?"
"The sex," Vanya said, still looking straight ahead. "It's really fantastic while they're like this. Only if you don't want to offer your services it gets old really quick, you noticed that."
He didn't like talking about this, even to a Breeder, but Haesh had to admit that he thought the man could be right.
"She'll get over it," Vanya continued. "But I believe she'll keep on you."
Worried about it again, and slightly confused still, Haesh said, "why me?"
"Why not you?" Vanya said, looking down through narrowed eyes. "Good colors, solid Breeding on you. I personally would have removed those," Vanya loosely indicated the hoof-hands. "But whoever did you was clearly looking for something pretty specific, and usually removing something has en effect elsewhere, not always a good one."
"Lucky me," Haesh groaned. But Vanya didn't seem particularly like he was amusing himself with this revelation.
"Yes," he finally said. "Yes, you are and you ought not to forget it, young man. Amaranth is just starting out, and she hasn't finished her Breeding degree yet. But when she is finished," Vanya turned his attention fully onto the small man beside him, "I'd expect you to be one of her first projects."
"P--projects?" Haesh stammered. "I'd rather be a father, BreedMaster, not a project."
Vanya laughed, full and with an honesty that surprised Haesh. "If she catches you at all, it would be up to you anyway. A sensible law, one I tend to break with alarming regularity. But... Do you imagine she would marry you? Fatherhood might suit you."
"I don't imagine she even loves me," Haesh said. "It's clearly this... thing happening to her making her want me so much. She hardly knows me, even though we have so much--"
"In common," Vanya muttered. "Yes. But it's your seed she wants, actually just her body wants it, she'd learn to love you eventually," he suddenly drew his long finger across Haesh's jaw, startling the man, "it's your power I want."
Haesh said nothing. Thoughts spun in his mind, however. What power?
At last, he asked.
Vanya looked away, softly.
"You haven't used it, yet, have you. That shouldn't surprise me," he said. An uncomfortable sensation crawled around in Haesh's gut. "I would bet that most people with it never have the need or the chance to use it at all, unlike Ten." He smirked, licked his thin lips, and looked back at Haesh. "The ability to produce pain, dear boy. It's an acquired taste, but a taste I have none the less. Unfashionable, disgusting, rude to some people, but Lords it's an addiction and I simply can't deny it." He stared at his long hand, Haesh wondered what he saw there.
"Pain? Sir," Haesh shook his head. "I don't think that's--"
"It is in you," Vanya said, "I assure you. When you first came into the room I knew you could do it, I seem to be attracted to the people who can. Distressing, isn't it?" He flickered his eyebrow, and all Haesh could do was agree.
"Wh... Where is your little friend, anyway?" Since the Breeder was being so informal, Haesh decided to emulate it. The wine he'd been drinking had more of an effect than he realized, as well. "Shouldn't he be here to... provide for that?"
"Only when he wants to be," Vanya sighed. "He ought to be here to keep me in line now, too," he laughed. "But since he's downstairs flirting with the rest of the party, I've been abandoned." The sinister grin on his face made Haesh more nervous again. "Lucky me."
When Haesh made a small movement, backed away briefly, the BreedMaster nearly jumped out of his own dark skin. Vanya exhaled in disgust and looked away.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I really don't mean to do this, either. He wasn't joking. Nor was Amaranth, when she said I was touched."
"You heard that?"
"Of course," he said darkly. "I hear far too much. And I've seen far too many things." His eyes betrayed the truth of that statement, to Haesh.
"You are insane, aren't you?" Haesh breathed, before he realized he'd done so.
"Yes," was the answer, and it came far too honestly to be denied by either. They stood and watched the gathering storm, for a moment content to be silent.
Vanya looked to the side, concentrating on something else that Haesh couldn't have heard.
A servant entered, bowed, and asked them if they could come to the Treasury.

Vanya reached the room first since he knew the way (and because he moved much too quickly for the Membayar to rush after), leaving Haesh to follow the small servant. Haesh was disgusted with himself for allowing such subjects to be breached by this man, but those thoughts left his mind quickly enough. When he arrived to the Treasury the Slave left his side, and Haesh was stunned. Here were the gathered cream of this crop, and--
"Osh?" Haesh said, "what--"
"Now that we're all here," Mirage said, standing, "I am afraid I have some less than encouraging news from Lam."
A moment between Juvon and Vanya passed: Osh noticed the vampiric man moving his attention on the dark one, who then reacted with shock.
"Mirage," he said, sweeping across the wide floor to her side, "how is this possible?"
"You thought he was dead too," Lam muttered, flatly. Osh explained again, offered introductions and such as per usual to his brother who seemed incapable of knowing anything before Osh. "But as I pointed out earlier, wishing..."
"What have you seen, Lam?" A stranger said, suddenly at the tall doors of the white room. He was familiar to Haesh, suddenly.
"You were--" The Membayar started, but was interrupted.
"Darkhanis," Mirage said, "you've made it."
"He was here already," Haesh said, suddenly wanting to assert himself. Darkhanis turned to him and gazed with darkly red-orange eyes.
"Have we met?" He had an accent of highland Stetil, faint but detectable. His pointed eyebrow raised itself into an arc, watching Haesh. Vanya watched Darkhanis with what any other of their friends would say was undisguised amusement.
"No, but..." Haesh wondered and then his own orange eyes fixated on the small but ornate pin on the Breeder's collar ruff. "I've seen that, you can't hide it."
"He knows something," Bepa sang, smiling.
A tiny snarl crossed Darkhanis' face, and then a graceful smile. He too, like many of Mirage's lovely contingent of friends, had a dark grey-black complexion and deeply shining black hair. But he hadn't when Haesh saw him in the dance room near them, wandering the edge of the party alone. He had had yellow-orange skin, and brightly red hair over a considerably different face. The face he wore now had hair on it, trimmed neatly around his lips and chin -- all but unheard of on Zekira, for body and this kind of animal-looking facial hair were rare. This then must have been a mutation like his own horns, one Darkhanis wore smashingly well. The Breeder stood his ground and appeared to want to disagree with Bepa's sing-song words. But that tiny pin was exactly the same, no matter what Darkhanis and his charming eyebrows might indicate, or how much he could disguise the object's appearance from others.
"I keep forgetting you can do that," Vanya said. "That's your fault too, isn't it?"
"He saw through the clouding, as well," Darkhanis grunted. "It's a shared power, I suspect, and it's a dangerous one to have laying around unused. It indicates a measure of immunity."
Vanya turned to Haesh and nudged the other Breeder. "Just ignore him, Haesh Chanay," he said slowly and smugly, "he's worse than I am sometimes."
Darkhanis was silent, not overly angry at the BreedMaster, but not happy either. "As I was saying, what did you see, Lam?"
"It was his Healer," Lam moved her slender finger at Vanya. "She's been -- or is going to be -- captured."
Vanya seemed disturbed, but remained silent.
"By the exile," Lam completed and the man was given to a deep scowl.
"Which Healer was that," Darkhanis asked, and Vanya provided him an answer.
"The poor girl who's been trying to make sense of the insides of my head: Mihr," he said, "I don't think she can take care of herself around him, Darkhanis. He's so much more powerful than she is, she's been half-lost in me. She's barely able to take on what I have, I can't see her able to defend herself from his abilities."
"Psyche Healer?" Haesh asked, and Vanya nodded. "Brave girl," Haesh said below his breath, suddenly sure that the BreedMaster would hear it.
"Why are we all standing around," Juvon said, harsh. "We've got to do something, and soon. If Lam's right, this might be happening right now."
"Can't we prevent it?" Bepa asked, "I mean, if it's the future she's seen, why don't we just get in the way?"
"Everything I've ever seen has happened exactly the way I've seen it, young BeastMistress," Lam said, quietly. "It's been tried, many many times."
Vionn leaned into his silver-skinned friend. "A rescue, then, is in order, is it not?"
Bepa brightened, she was the only one.
"We need to know where this is happening," Osh said. "I can arrange travel, if that's needed."
"So can I," Juvon said, suddenly in another corner of the room. Vionn stumbled at the lack of his friend's shoulder to support him.
"Don't tire yourself," Mirage scolded her son. "If you're doing anything of that sort it must be when you're already in proximity."
Juvon gulped and nodded, looking down. He walked back to his friend's side, whom he'd abandoned with his power to teleport. They watched the others, as they reacted upon realizing this.
"Has anyone the slightest idea of where he might be hidden?" Mirage asked, and Lam nodded.
"As I said, he was in the presence of the girl Avaur--"
"That is High Master Zerrik's daughter, isn't it?" Darkhanis said.
"Yes," Lam said, "yes she is. I believe we can assume that he is being sequestered in one of his Holds, perhaps?"
"He's got a number of them," Vionn said. "But so does his wife, and she's one of my suppliers."
"Can you get me a list of the sites they control?" Mirage asked, sweetly but with a darkness that none present liked. Vionn asked if there would be a problem with him using her communication room, and Mirage shook her head. "Perhaps we should continue this there, anyway. We might need your transportation after all, Master Chanay."
Osh was getting to feel important, his three friends thought this at once.
Juvon sensed this, it was so overwhelming from all three of them like that, he only laughed on their way out of the tall white room.
As a large group, they then moved into the halls and followed Mirage and her son. Lam walked slowest, accompanied by Kenya who insisted on holding the tall woman's arm. The rest wandered in between, some of them knowing where to go, the others following blind.
The room where they all finally gathered again greatly resembled a small Betting hall, with all the screens set into banks with controls easily reached at table level. There were in fact other people at some of them, using them for just that purpose. The racing this evening wasn't going to be hindered by that storm (which was actually displayed by a satelite picture on one of the weather maps Mirage was fond of: she had an eye for angles, and was so pleased that she could use this one that was so physically impossible for her to reach...) so the betting was still coming in. Racers were arriving as well, it wasn't going to be much of a private thing after all, Bepa found.
She had expected that race to be between the eldest Kshau and the up and coming Tika, and the others be damned. But there were some fifteen riders in this race, and she was getting a knot in her stomach. She wanted to help this poor Mihr get rescued -- it was so exciting! But she also wanted to get her foot in the racing ring, too, here she was at this party because of it and all...
She took a deep breath and watched as the others in the room were politely but firmly asked to leave. Mirage promised those who were betting that there were smaller comm stations in other parts of the house, wouldn't they be dears and find them?
Finally she sat Vionn down before the main console, and he went to work. Actually he just leaned back and placed his feet onto the edge of the table.
"He's got ten Holds, six of them in Zerin, and the biggest in Ka, Emer. Mountaintop retreat mansion. Six hundred units, man. Place is bigger than this house, Mirage."
"Hold your tongue," she said, gently.
"How are you doing that?" Kyoh asked, and before Osh could silence the Bayaran, he turned and wondered as well. The screen above the man's nicely shod feet had finally come to life, with the very same information that he had just told them. The information scrolled, and what was known about each Hold flickered briefly as a picture, map locale, and other more mundane legal gibberish that his brother knew more about than Osh. But Vionn hadn't touched a button on the controller, hadn't started typing in queries. He just sat down.
"He's just able to," Kenya said, turning a chair for Lam. "He's showing off, too."
"Everyone does," Kyoh said, looking away.
Bepa paid him the most attention, knowing that he was feeling slightly left out. She knew he had abilities, like many Bred folks did, but he was still young and they hadn't surfaced. Perhaps they would here?
They all turned their eyes to the screen when Vionn began his search in earnest.
"Gambling house. Network broadcasting building. Mansion. Racing lands, gambling house, betting office, gambling and steed boarding. Gambling and Bonds. Another mansion. And one tiny-ass homestead. Man, this guy's set."
"Fixed gambling," Darkhanis muttered. "Bad steeds, mansions bought from murdered hosts."
"Bad news," Juvon said. "Zerrik's headed for the Area Lord spot, too."
"He's buying the Area Lord spot," Darkhanis reminded him.
"Maybe," Lam said, smiling for the first time in half an hour. "Maybe he's just a nice guy everyone wants to vote for."
"Where, what Area?" Juvon asked, but it was Mirage who answered.
"Zerin, Ka. He's got a lot of land, it wouldn't be hard for him to just win, Darkhanis."
"Not if I could help it," he growled.
"Now now," Lam said. "Be fair. Who hasn't ever bought their way into an Area Lordship? Come on. We must find a way to save your Healer."
"And fast," Vanya reminded them. "If he does get ahold of her, there's no telling what he would do." To Haesh, the BreedMaster's tone said he knew, and was desperately afraid of it.
"He was only keeping her," Lam said. "When I saw it. But it was traumatic for her, or it will be -- Lords and Masters, it's difficult explaining these things."
"You don't have to," Mirage said, cooing. "All that counts is that you see the truth and that we need to do something about it."
"What can we do?" Kyoh asked, suddenly. "I mean, we can get somewhere, but then what? Break into this High Holder's mansion? That's ..."
"Crazy?" Vanya said, wildly grinning. "Yes it is. And that is precisely what we'll do. Right?"
Juvon nodded, his hair spiking the movement.
"Oh, speaking of crazy," Vanya said closer to Mirage, "your daughter's in heat. Thought you should know."
"Sengihr," Darkhanis said, hard, "that's no way to--"
"It's perfectly true," Vanya defended, a dark and loving growl to his voice. "What else ought I call it?"
"Is she with someone now?" Mirage asked, worried. Haesh shook his head.
"She left to sleep," he said. "At least, that's what he said she'd be doing."
"And he would know," Mirage said, moving her dangerously hard painted nails over Vanya's chest, something he seemed to enjoy much to her disgust. "She could be with anyone now."
He took her hand, kissed it lovingly, and looked like he wanted to do more than that. "She's alone," Vanya said, tilting his head the way Haesh assumed meant he was listening for the tailed woman. "Besides, who would she be with? She had her sights on poor Haesh here," he waved long fingers at the young Membayar, "and other than myself and possibly Darkhanis who in the world would be worthy of her attention? She's pickier than you. She does have some taste, Mirage."
"Strawberry wine and cat fur," Juvon said, and Mirage bit her lovely lip to hold back whatever curse she could utter at that. "Well she does."
"I cannot comment on that," Mirage finally said. Only they knew for sure how close her first two children were to one another, and frankly it only bothered those who didn't know they were only joking. Mirage knew that Juvon vastly preferred men for his sustinential delights.
"Don't you think you could use a slightly different word for that, Vanya?" Kenya asked, "it's terribly rude to say a person is ... you know."
"What, in heat?" He said it again, and Haesh nearly laughed. "For a woman who has a tail and purrs at you, I'd say that's heat. Besides, you know I cannot resist that charm of yours." He watched Mirage and her eyelids fluttered in slightly embarrassed response. "It runs in my line as well, dear. And it is a wonderful addition. Only I don't yeowl to get attention."
Haesh found himself agreeing, but had to keep it to himself. He didn't want anyone's wrath here at this his first party. He watched Vionn, to distract himself.
"Vanya, where does Mihr live?" Vionn said, and it was then that Haesh noticed that he only had three thick fingers on each hand, and a thumb.
"She's got a small place in Osini," he said, still grinning outrageously at Mirage and Darkhanis over that heat comment. "But she could have been anywhere. Lam, could you describe the surroundings where you saw her being taken?"
"Clean," she said. "I think Mihr's mind calls out strongly for help when this happens, why I was able to see it at all. She was peaceful before. The setting is," she closed her eyes and Osh halfway expected that third eye to open again. "Brightly lit, sunlight on pale walls. Large window--"
"Can't be my place," Vanya muttered.
"Black furniture, mostly, with a chrome and glass table."
"That could be half of our homes," Juvon said, looking at one in the room beyond the communications center.
"But it isn't hers either," Vanya said. "I don't recall anything like that. Her place is bricks and glasswork, wooden furniture. Great textures in there."
"This one had a vase," Lam said, suddenly looking at Haesh. "A large ceramic vase, with a Stryosh flower in it."
He thought of asking why she was looking at him, when Juvon's mental voice broke Haesh's reverie.
You have a pretty good ability with psychometry, Haesh, he thought -- Haesh turned and then softened his gaze. This was perfectly acceptable, the situation was an emergency after all, and it wasn't like other times when people were talking without speaking words without including him. I think she wants you to figure out where the vase is.
"Through her mind?" Haesh said, abruptly, and the others only vaguely had an idea of why he had said it. Lam nodded, her thin violet eyebrows furrowed.
"It won't be easy," she said.
"I believe that," Haesh responded. "But let's try it. I'm only new at doing this, though."
"But you're clearly good at it," Darkhanis said, examining the small studded pin on his collar again. "Give it a try."
"He'll need your help," Lam said, to Mirage, and then turned to Vionn and Juvon. "Or yours. Or all three, perhaps that would be best."
"They can join your mind with hers," Darkhanis promised the young Membayar. "You've got to relax, from what I've heard it's difficult thinking to Lam."
She laughed, apparently this was the case. Osh remembered Juvon's strange shaking head when he'd thought of it before, it was surely more than difficult being in the mind of a woman who could see into the future. How could she get along, able to do just that and at not even a moment's notice?
But Osh was curious, as were the others, to know what in the world they would be seeing.