Betwixt and Between

Part One: Chapter Six


"Now crossing to his fortune: while enchanted by the queen, a lone, shady shelter stood, beckoning his lean.

In the time it takes a pillow to figure out a face, out from in the white trees, she rose to take its place."


"Wait," Emmat said, confused. "He flies? What is he? An Ave? Like in the last version of the song?"

Tavarez sipped calmly from his glass. Despite all the wine, ale, and whatever else he'd downed, he still seemed completely sober. "No, not an Ave. You've probably never heard of what he is. They're not from anywhere you've been, or would even have heard of."

"What, another continent over?" Emmat had never been off his own continent, though he'd always wanted to. He hadn't imagined that there would be other species in those distant lands, though!

"Something like that," Tavarez said evenly.

That made Emmat pause, frowning in thought. " ... Another world?" he amended in a small voice.

If Tavarez heard him, he didn't comment on it. Instead, he just continued his story. "I knew him the moment I saw him, there on that river, when he dove into the river and came back up right next to my boat, the fish I'd apparently just hooked in his mouth."

"What did he look like?" Emmat asked, still in the dark about what kind of Fleshshifter-- if, after all, that's what this Nightling fellow was-- he could be.

"Small," Tavarez said neatly. "Not even two and a half feet high. Black, with eyes a shade darker than that lovely wine you've been drinking. That's what most people told me about him, as he usually looked: the strange color of his eyes. That was the same, no matter what form he took."

"Wine red?" Emmat repeated skeptically. He'd never seen such a thing, not in a natural creature.

Tavarez smiled. "Yes. Thankfully so, or I might not have recognized him. And when I saw him climb into my little rowboat-- almost overturning it, I might add-- that's when I knew what he was, and I was very glad I'd left Yula on the shore, at that empty hunter's hut, when I went out to fish...."


There didn't seem to be any reason behind running, not so far. He was quite relaxed, sharing the fish he'd caught with the Rattai in his little boat. The river sang quietly, happy to have a two-member audience rather than just one, and the suspicious sun beat down on his coat, drying it rapidly. They spoke little-- which was good, because he really wasn't sure what his voice would sound like-- sharing out the raw meat without having to share words. His catch plus what the Rattai had already caught made more than enough meat for both of them.

Fly away, fly away, the sun kept trying to say, but its voice was a whisper, too faint to pay heed to.

The Rattai-- there weren't very many of them, he realized idly, but he had no idea why-- was a small, wiry man, black-furred and neat, with bright little eyes above his roundly pointed muzzle. He was, quite simply, rat-like, but somehow he made the generally negative connotation come across in a clean and friendly sort of way. When the Rattai spoke, his voice was gentle, as if aware that his listener startled easily, in this new and strange situation of sharing a meal with someone during the summer.

This is not right, the sun muttered.

It is right! the river sang, drowning the more serious voice out.

Meal vanished and belly comfortably full, he lay in his side of the little boat, wings spread over the sides so that their tips brushed the river's gently-flowing waters and eyes shut. The Rattai was leaning back in his side, as well, hands folded behind his head and long, hairless tail dragging in the water, letting the river, apparently, take the little boat where it would. He only made occasional adjustments to the rudder or the oars, and the latter slowly enough so as not to splash. Both of them black, they soaked up the heat and lazed in it. It was a novel sensation to laze in the sun with the sound of someone else's breathing right beside him, the scent of another person strong and close.

Novel and good? the wind wondered.

He wondered, too, not sure anymore why he always ran.

The little boat ran aground not much later, right as he was starting to think he should get up, take another dip in the river to cool off, and then be on his way. He lifted his head to blink, momentarily dazzled by the sun, until the grassy, cattail-scattered bank formed itself before him. In the distance he could see trees, promising cool and quiet in their shade. The Rattai hopped out, taking the remains of their lunch with him, and looked over his shoulder at him, cocking an ear quizzically, an obvious invitation to follow.


He sprang out of the boat, gave himself a vigorous shake once all four feet were planted in the grass, then trotted amiably after his newfound friend. Maybe there would be fish for dinner, too. What a wonderful prospect! Dinner of fish, in the shade, with company who didn't seem to want to talk, but didn't mind the silence.

He faltered, then, when he realized there was a little hut, a cottage really, at the edge of the trees. That, he knew suddenly, was where the Rattai was taking him, not just the soothing patch of forest in the middle of the open plains. That was much less of a wonderful prospect. The thought of walls, a roof, constriction, trapped, stopped him in his tracks. He didn't want to be inside. He didn't want to be trapped.

This was a bad idea!

The Rattai didn't seem to notice he wasn't being followed anymore. He went into the little building, hid inside for a moment, then poked his head out, finally noting there was no one behind him. His ears flicked forward, whiskers twitching, as his eyes fell on his trembling and frozen follower. The Rattai came back out and approached, but at one step taken backwards and away, stopped immediately and dropped to a couch, head tilted in what looked like confusion and concern. He held out a hand, patient and reassuring.

It's a trick! Don't let him trick you! Run away while you still can!

The Rattai was speaking, now, low and soothing. "It's all right. I'm not about to hurt you. I've been looking for you for too long, for that."

Trick! Trick! He'll change everything!

"I just want to talk, that's all. I'll even grill up that fish you liked so much. Just talk, share dinner, that's all."

Run away!

"It's cool inside, and quiet. No one's going to hurt you."


Step by step, the Rattai led him to the house, coaxing and soothing the whole way. There was something that just seemed right, even though his instincts were screaming at him to flee. He didn't know what he wanted, but at least for a few minutes, he knew it wasn't to be alone. It was unusual, unaccustomed, unnatural, but it still led him, step by step, into the little, square, one-roomed building, under a roof, inside walls, even in the summer.

He stood up, felt the clothes on his back and home-made satchel on his shoulder again, and blinked dazedly in the dim light, trying to see after stepping into shadows. The room slowly came into shape: a pile of fish just inside the door, warped wood floorboards, a rickety shelf and a table missing a leg, propped up against the wall, a cot....

Whatever feeling of "right" that had lingered suddenly evaporated. There was someone on the cot, someone familiar, who he had left--

He whirled, but found the Rattai closing the door behind him, locking him in. Trapping him.

"Hello, Nightling," Yula said.


Chapter Seven



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