Betwixt and Between

Part One: Chapter Five


"While riding with an eagle, and laughing with the sun, he spied an old, hairy, fairy man upon the river Young.

Sol said, Fly away, fly away if you can. But he settled next to the oarsman, said, I'm my own man,

And this is my life."


"So you just missed him!" Emmat exclaimed.

"By mere hours, yes," Tavarez chuckled. "But I wasn't about to let that stop me. I'd been going for far too long to give up that easily. Nor was I about to let him disappear for the whole summer while I wasted another season looking for him. I did have other things I could have been doing, after all."

Just what those things might have been, Emmat had no idea, so he simply refilled the rat-Shifter's glass and waited for him to continue.

"I had already expected I would be too late; summer was in the blooming, and I'd already learned how often he leaves around storms. It wasn't hard to discern which building he'd stayed at: two were too full for one, one two poor, and of the three left, only one had a red-eyed girl tending to the garden."

"Yula," Emmat guessed.

"Indeed. I recognized the look in her eye; this time, he'd picked the wrong girl to run away from. She would be determined to track him down, or die trying. I decided she and I needed to have a chat, before she disappeared, herself, possibly to never see him or her home again."


"What do you mean, he's three hundred years old?"

"Probably older, actually. That's just as long as people remember him going from town to town here, on Mythicalae."

"But-- but he doesn't look any older than I do! And he certainly doesn't act like he's--"

Yula's cheeks suddenly flushed and she broke off. Tavarez pretended not to notice. "Every autumn, he finds a house to stay at, he works until spring, and then every summer he disappears again," he explained. "I've been tracking him ever since I learned how long he's been at it."

"What for?" Yula asked, looking a little suspicious.

That was a question he'd been prepared for. "Curiosity, mostly. I have very accurate instincts when it comes to people, though, and this one seemed like he would be... interesting." She gave a startled little twitch at the word, more hare-like than she looked, in human form.

Still, she was a fierce sort of hare, Tavarez could give her that: "So you spent a whole winter just asking people about Nightling? So you could track him down? And do what?"

He was prepared for that one, as well. "Ask him why he leaves," he said simply.

The answer deflated her, and she was once again the very young woman who had offered her life to a man on the day before he vanished. She rallied quickly. "I'm going with you."

That, he also expected, and he started his reply cautiously. "Your father--"

"Doesn't need me. He didn't need Nightling, either, he just didn't want to turn him away with snow on its way."

"You've never been without a roof over your head."

"I can learn. I'm tough. If need be, I'll just shift down and travel on my own four, furry feet."

"And be captured by predators," Tavarez pointed out.

"Not if you're with me," came her retort.

Since he'd anticipated bringing Yula along, Tavarez just scratched behind his ear and frowned. "I don't know...."

"He won't know you," Yula persisted. "He might run away. And what if you need to-- to trap him?"

"He's not a wild animal, Yula."

"He acts like one, sometimes, he's so shy. You'll need help," she insisted.

He sighed and pretended to give in. "I probably will. All right. But we are taking every precaution we can think of; I don't want to have to come back here to tell your father and brother that you died on this foolish adventure of mine."

"It's not foolish," Yula replied, sounding smug. Tavarez hid a smile.


The sky sparkled, veined in quartz that shone with the sun. The air was unbearably sweet and warm, the wind teasing at his wings as he dove around it, playing with it, courting it with dips of wing and turns of tail. Breezes sang to him, shadow and light wove around each other, and he simply chose a direction and flew.

This way, this way! the wind sang.

He didn't know how long he'd been free, because he didn't count the days, but it wasn't long enough that he hadn't finished reveling in it yet. It was summer; that's all that mattered. There was no need to think of when, for every day was new and different. Why bother remembering back or planning ahead, when right now was enough to experience? He soared higher. The sun felt wonderful on his back and wings, and he wanted to soak it up from as close as possible.

Feels good, doesn't it? laughed the sun.

The land below spread out in rolling hills and patches of forest, a wide plain of yellow and green pierced by patches of darker green and a river that reflected the sky and the sunlight. From such a height, it looked like a child's drawing, all colors and shapes, or a painting, simple and clean with textured brush strokes. The grass waved and rippled in the wind, obscuring whatever animals ran beneath it. He passed over a herd of plains deer, dove down long enough to set them running, and then soared back up to watch them leap along, like dusty brown fleas on the great, rounded back of some massive creature. He wasn't large enough or strong enough to hunt them, but all they knew was that he was a predator, approaching swiftly, so they fled.

Help! Attack! Help! they cried, and the sun laughed again as he rose towards it again, laughing, too.

The idea of chasing them, however, reminded him he hadn't eaten recently. Distracted from the freedom of flight and open air, his stomach rumbled. He drifted back, away from the herd, and over the river. Fish sounded particularly delicious, and they were much more readily available than leaping deer!

Do you hear? I'm singing, too! Come listen! the river called.

It was singing. Singing like another river, one he couldn't hear in this world, real or not real. 

Singing, it was. Empty, it was not. He hadn't been the only one interested in finding a meal from the river: there was a small boat on the water, with a single furry occupant, and a line flung out into the water. He nearly veered away, deep habit warning him to keep his distance, keep hidden, keep anyone from seeing him. The river was long, and broad, and there would be room for him elsewhere, instead. He was disappointed, though: this stretch of river, he could sense, had the best fish.

Fly away, the sun said as he started to rise again, suddenly serious. Yes, fly away, little singer, like you always do. But why?

For the first time in more summers than he could remember, he did wonder, briefly, why he always fled. It was just something he did, without thinking, without challenging the urge. He stared down at the small, furry figure in the boat.

The figure who had his muzzle turned upwards to watch him. Who had seen him.

Too late to run, now, the wind teased.

Might as well come down, I'm too full of fish, anyway! You can hear me sing better! the river commented.

Fly away, little singer, the sun suggested, but he was already descending.

It was his life, he decided, and he was going to do something different this time.


Chapter Six



Song borrowed from Five for Fighting's "Two Frogs", on the Message for Albert album

Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera