Excerpt from Elf Stone of the Neyna

Chapter 7

Beri

Beri watched Yanda across the table, her unusual amber eyes catching the shine of floating orbs that hovered over them. His throat tightened at the gaze she gave her nursing baby, snuggled under her robe.

She looked toward Merne and Shouma, who spoke quietly at her left—the elders. He followed Yanda’s eyes around to Vatu who curled in the seat to her right, head-nubs upright and bright blue-green, as she spoke animatedly with was slight male Romden, delicate face tattoos disappearing into a slim, dark beard. His arm rested on the table as he angled toward her, toying with fruit slices on his leaf-plate. His teeth sparkled with jewel insets when he laughed.

Quick sketch of Vatu

Yanda smiled, maybe listening. Beri thought back to when they’d first landed on Terlond and he’d been separated from his only friends. He recalled the day he’d been at his leather working apprenticeship—more indentured servitude—and felt her mind-tap from two streets away in the slave Citadel. “Shouma’s teaching us to shield,” she’d told him. “You have to learn, too.”

“How do you do that?” he’d asked. Yanda’d taught him to listen to others’ minds, to hide his thoughts and to mind-speak from a distance, during work when he could spare the concentration. He’d had no one to practice with, or on, knowing no one else with mind powers, until he met Gisli. The solemn purplish-brown Tellotian, barracked closeby, had walked into Café Selene where Beri sipped kran. Surrounded by deadheads, their eyes had widened as they caught each others’ thoughts. It had been careless, but that’s how they’d found each other.

They practiced their mind skills whenever they both had time off, Gisli from the fataqs, Beri from leather-work, over the eight or so months since.

As time went on, Yanda’s strengths grew. Soon she could communicate with him from the Citadel across town to his digs in the rooming house. Like when they’d been captive in the domes on the airless planet of Farn, meeting secretly at night, talking through the bars of her cage, now they spoke in the silence before sleeping. But Yanda had the women of the Citadel to talk to, and her baby, so those times had become less frequent. Still, with her lessons, he developed greater capacity to read others and keep his thoughts hidden. He and Gisli tested their growing abilities, until Gisli got caught and had to run from the military, joining the fugitives.

Chin and the Jejods, at the far end of the table, ate swiftly, then started teaching Joli one of their dice games, their shouts rising until conversation became difficult.

Yanda lifted the now sleeping Kirti. “Time to get this boy to bed,” she thought to Beri, since no one else was listening. She grinned at the tall group, laughing and slapping thighs, the Jejods’ feathered heads hovering above the rest, almost as high as Joli’s.

“There’s another sleeping chamber,” Merne told Yanda, getting up. And with that, the clearing of the fifteen-foot table began.

Beri watched Merne lead Yanda from the long cave room that channeled breathable air through mysterious unseen vents, toward the room they’d all bathed in earlier that day, a subterranean grotto of heated falls and pools he’d enjoyed more than anything in his two long years of captivity. For the moment they were free, though Shouma had said she detected Krid’s mage spies unifying their efforts. Apparently, the hunt was on.

He hoped Yanda would mind-speak with him before sleeping and let him know if Shouma said they’d been discovered.

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