Content Hosted By Cayzle
Jason Lomeli sent me this story to host on my site -- the tale of a human psionist raised by wemics. Thanks Jason!
by Jason Lomeli
Jin-Siek began life in the middle of a scream.
His mother screamed with the pain of childbirth. The newborn screamed lustily with hunger. And the midwife screamed with undisguised horror, for she was the first to see that the child had six fingers on each hand. An innocuous, even cosmetic little error of nature—but under the laws laid out by the emperor, a fatal one.
The midwife could have, and indeed would have, taken the child from the world right then and there, but for the mother's next scream, this time at the midwife herself: "Let me see my baby!" The woman was already struggling to extricate herself from the blankets wrapped around her and get off the birthing table, so forcefully that the midwife was afraid she might injure herself further. The harried midwife quickly pressed the child into the woman's arms to appease her.
Min-Hwan gazed at her son and cried. How cruel was fate! She knew she would not let her son, her only child, die at the hands of some absurd law. Yet to defy the emperor's will meant death—either her son died, or both of them did. No, this was unacceptable. She must flee the city and be far away, away from the reach of Emperor Kyunghyun's law...
She looked up to see the midwife edging toward the door. As soon as the other woman had closed it behind her Min-Hwan tore the sheets free and crossed the small room, snatching towels to wrap her baby. Everything from her ribs down was a mass of fiery pain, and she could barely lift her arms, but she forced herself past the agony and moved quickly. She had absolutely no time to spare—the midwife must surely have found somebody by now and told them. They'd come for her and … She slipped out of the temple infirmary in a daze.
Miraculously, she found herself striding along the street unchallenged. She cooed at her baby as she walked, trying to appear calm and unconcerned, surreptitiously wiping away the beads of sweat on her upper lip. She casually adjusted her cowl to hide her flushed brow and turned a corner. She was almost home. A patrolling guard brushed by a little too close, almost making her cry out, every muscle taut with fear. Min-Hwan could not relax even as the distance between her and his departing back increased. As she crossed the threshhold of her house it finally occurred to her that the baby in her arms had not made a single sound the whole way home, making her peer down at his face in a cold fright. Law or no law, unexplained infant deaths were not unknown—but the baby gazed at her with brilliant obsidian eyes and gurgled. Breathing thanks to the gods, the woman moved swiftly across the house toward the stables. She would make far better time on a horse.
It did not occur to Min-Hwan to think about what they would do once they were out on the savanna.
It did not occur to Min-Hwan to think about where they would go.
It did not occur to Min-Hwan to think.
All of her willpower was focused on dulling the searing pain that threatened to overwhelm her body. She could barely hold on to the reins. Every step the horse took so thoroughly jounced her aching body that she was terrified of dropping her bundled-up baby. It was an effort just to stay upright in the saddle, and she hadn't had time to adjust the stirrups for her shorter legs. The short distance from her stables to the city gate was, in a way, worse than the hustle home — had she been stopped, she might have escaped wanted for murder as well. As with the guard, she did not relax as the city walls receded behind her. She led the horse as best she could across the gold-and-green plains stretched out before her, keeping the sinking sun on her left until at last, when she looked back, she could no longer see the Kyungchul. She rode on still, the light failing further and further as the sun's crimson disk vanished below the horizon. By what little light there was left she led the horse to one of the few trees scattered across the landscape, dismounted, pulled down the one pack of food she had found in the kitchen, and ate a piece of bread with some cheese. She had not brought any water. She forgot to tether the horse as she cradled herself against the dusty roots of the tree, cradled her baby against her breast, and slept.
In the morning the horse was gone, but Min-Hwan did not care. She would have found it grazing serenely a few hundred yards away anyway, if the first thing she had seen upon waking had not been three tawny-skinned creatures with the body of a lioness and the upper body of a slim, hard-muscled woman. All three were wearing woven mantles that just came down to their ribs, and carried feathered spears. Min-Hwan gulped, her mind racing. She knew of these creatures—wemics. Gentle, if uncivilized folk. The Emperor did not particularly care for wemics, but neither did he persecute them. More than one citizen of To-Si Kyungchul reported being nursed back to health by the nomads, where otherwise they might have died out here in the savanna. Perhaps they could take care of her baby. Yes, of course! He would be safe here. The wemics never went near the city; people very rarely took it upon themselves to cross the savanna, for there was much better hunting to be had in the Sup Sangkin, a forest to the southwest. Now, she only hoped they'd agree to her request …
She took a breath, faltered, took another. Her voice trembled more than she expected when she finally said, in a slow clear tone, "Uh, hello." She swallowed, then continued in the same slow tone, "I need your help."
"So it appears," one of the lionesses responded, in highly accented but faultless Common. "What are you doing here?"
Min-Hwan almost giggled despite herself—somehow she'd been expecting the wemic's voice to be much deeper; in actuality it had a fairly high timbre and made her sound almost like her brother's wife—but she regained her composure and told them, haltingly, her reason for being in their territory. It did not take very long. At the end, before they could say anything, before she lost her nerve, she asked them for sanctuary.
The lionesses were silent for a moment or two. Then the one that had spoken before told her, "I think you had best come with us to see the chief. I assure you that, were it up to me, I would gladly help you, but this decision is not mine to make. Come along, it is not far." The lioness turned to lead the way.
"By D'thar, Su'Kima, can you not see that this woman is exhausted?" one of the other lionesses admonished, seeing Min-Hwan's struggles to rise to her feet. Her strong arms seized the human woman and gently lifted her to her feet. "She can barely stand on her own!"
The lioness Su'Kima padded back to Min-Hwan's side. She appeared flustered. "I apologize," she said sincerely. "Please, allow me to carry you —"
Min-Hwan's fastidious upbringing immediately swung into place. "No, no," she breathed, waving a hand dismissively, "I wouldn't dream of it —"
"I insist," Su'Kima said firmly, pressing her belly to the ground so Min-Hwan could easily climb onto her back.
Min-Hwan hesitated, then gingerly sat herself sideways just behind the wemic's forelegs, saying meekly, "I do have a horse…"
"Ge'Taum will bring it along presently," Su'Kima stated, glancing in the slender lioness's direction. The wemic nodded, then trotted away in a different direction than that in which Su'Kima was headed.
It was, indeed, not a very long ride, but it was so much more comfortable than the horse—the wemic's gait barely even rocked the woman— that Min-Hwan twice very nearly fell asleep, and therefore off the wemic's back. In the end Su'Kima simply asked the other lioness, whose name was Su'Niak, to walk alongside her and make sure Min-Hwan did not fall off. Min-Hwan did not almost fall asleep again, however, and in a few minutes the two lionesses and the woman were approaching an elder wemic who Su'Kima claimed was the chief of the tribe.
The wemic nodded to Min-Hwan. "Welcome, human," he said, bass voice rumbling. "I am named Nlan'Raziv. What brings you among us?"
Min-Hwan repeated what she'd told the lionesses, with only a fragment more confidence. The wemic chief was not threatening, but he certainly was intimidating. If the lionessed towered over her—Min-Hwan was not a big woman—then the chief fairly loomed, standing a full head taller than any of the wemics around him. But he listened to her kindly, attentively, without comment. After she finished Nlan'Raziv was silent for much longer than the lioness Su'Kima had been.
"Please you to tell me, Min-Hwan, why does Emperor Kyunghyun want to kill your son?" Nlan'Raziv asked at last.
Min-Hwan told him.
The wemic chief was aghast. "An outrage," he growled. "I had no idea the Emperor… By D'thar!" Nlan'Raziv bristled, his tail lashing in disgust. "Certainly we shall help you. Remain among us as long as you wish, and we will protect you both as best we can."
The wemics' nomadic life, Min-Hwan found, was not altogether unpleasant. There was always plenty of food, and the traders that wandered across the edge of the wemics' territory were usually willing to trade their wares for a pelt or two, or perhaps a piece of woven cloth made by the wemics themselves. Min-Hwan grew to be very close friends with Su'Niak, and popular with the rest of the tribe, for although the wemics could and sometimes did cook their meals, Min-Hwan's skill with the fire, cooking spit, and herbs was unparalleled. Min-Hwan rather regretted that even her otherwise superb cooking skills could not overcome the sad limitations imposed by the lack of ingredients; she could only do so much with meat, oil, and herbs. She simply could not bake bread over a bonfire, for it was no substitute for a proper oven, or make dishes that required pots and pans she did not have and could not get. Even if the few traders that came by had had those implements, the wemics could hardly pay them in barter, and she knew she could not very well return to Kyungchul for them, even if she knew she'd come back. At least the wemics were able to obtain all sorts of fruits and vegetables, always a welcome change from eating meat.
The wemic tribe migrated slowly in a cycle from north to south, moving with the seasons. The savanna was their home for most of the year, and they left it for the warmth of the foothills of the Tol Chom-t'ap Range —which the wemics called the Ibronak'Liul— only during the cooler winter months and the beginning of spring. Still, Min-Hwan had been very lucky to find the wemics.
She only visited the foothills twice. Her baby, whom she named Jin-Siek, was two-and-a-half years old when Min-Hwan died, hundreds of miles from Kyungchul and the clerics that could have saved her life. She did not suffer. She died suddenly and was buried with brief but appropriate ceremonies. Too, she seemed to have known that she was going to die—for what other explanation could there be for her having sought Su'Niak the night before her death, to make her last request? Su'Niak was shaken at the woman's death, and determined to honor her wish. Quietly, she confided in Nlan'Raziv what Min-Hwan had asked of her: "Please don't tell Jin-Siek." There was little doubt as to what she meant.
Jin-Siek cried all day that day. It was as if he knew …
Nlan'Raziv and Su'Niak took it upon themselves to raise the boy from that day on. It did not prove to be difficult: Jin-Siek was generally quiet and well-behaved, though somewhat disinclined to do physical work. Nlan'Raziv privately held himself to fault for that, for he was convinced that humans were rather weaker beings than they, being used to the life of ease afforded by cities, and thus indisposed toward many of the hardships encountered by nomads. So he coddled the boy, and the tribe followed by example.
The youth did enjoy playing, as is healthy for human children to do, but he shied away from the rough-and-tumble of the cubs. Nlan'Raziv soon discovered why. The rare instances when Jin-Siek agreed, however reluctantly, to join in the cubs' romps, he invariably came out of them quickly, covered with large and spectacular bruises all over his slender body. Some of them took many weeks to fade. The chief particularly recalled one instance in which, for some reason or other, he had seen one cub throw a punch at another. Either he missed or his target dodged, but the cub's fist connected solidly with Jin-Siek's shoulder. A displeased "Unh!" later, the boy was flat on his back, scrambling to his feet and walking quickly away from the scene. The chief himself had expected the boy to come away with a dislocated shoulder at least. By that evening he had two large, fresh bruises, one on his left shoulder, the other high on his back, but his shoulder was intact. The little cub was quite contrite, but Jin-Siek made it abundantly clear that he understood it had been an accident and held the young wemic at no fault whatsoever. For all his soft skin, he knew how to laugh at himself, and that was quite all right.
As Jin-Siek progressed through his fifth spring, Nlan'Raziv grew more and more convinced that the long-haired, six-fingered youth had some kind of power. He was always kind and compassionate, never failed to see when someone was angry or sad, and even sometimes seemed to know what the wemics were thinking. Although he could do no more than a passable To'wemic, the chief was certain that none of the cubs in the tribe had ever learned to speak in a mere four months. After fashioning a wooden sword for the boy, it had taken him not more than twelve days to master the basics of swordfighting. And it had happened more than once that he had gone to tell the boy something, only to find him doing precisely what he had gone to ask him to do. In short, the boy's behavior puzzled him. Suspecting that Jin-Siek might possess some limited form of telepathy, Nlan'Raziv searched out the only two wemics in his tribe who possessed any kind of psionic ability, Wi'Ruan and Brel'Pargo. Neither was particularly talented, commanding at most one or two powers, but that would suffice.
In the evening, during the meal, Wi'Ruan and Brel'Pargo tried to Contact the boy as he sat chewing on a hunk of roasted venison. The older wemic attempted first, trying to be gentle. Shocked, she found that not only could she not penetrate the mental defense around the boy's mind, but she was also suddenly looking into his obsidian eyes: he knew! He knew who was trying to Contact him! Wi'Ruan broke off abruptly, trying to look innocent, but she was visibly shaken. Perhaps it did not show after all, because the boy calmly returned to his venison. Several moments later, however, she saw his head jerk up and point in the direction where she knew Brel'Pargo was sitting—and this time the boy got up and walked over to the young wemic. Nervously, she paced around the fire far enough so she could hear what they were saying. Curiously enough, there was no arguing, no shouting. Indeed, Jin-Siek had arranged himself comfortably by Brel'Pargo and was discussing something with him in a low voice.
"… known that you could touch my mind?" Jin-Siek was asking.
"I had never tried until just now," Brel'Pargo confessed. "Truth be told, it was Nlan'Raziv who asked that I seek out your mind this way."
Jin-Siek finished a bite and swallowed. "Please to tell me, then, why Nlan'Raziv asked this of you at all?"
"He believes you may have some abilities like ours," Wi'Ruan answered, coming around to settle herself on the grass near the two of them. "As do I."
Brel'Pargo nodded in enthusiastic agreement, but Jin-Siek merely looked puzzled. "Abilities?" he echoed. At the moment he could feel excitement emanating from the two wemics, but he failed to understand why.
Between the both of them, Wi'Ruan and Brel'Pargo managed to explain the inner power of psionics to Jin-Siek fairly successfully. No sooner were they done than Jin-Siek asked for a demonstration of their own powers. The wemics thought this an understandable request, so they obliged. Brel'Pargo made the flickering fire-shadow of Jin-Siek's hand dance across his own bare muscled chest; Wi'Ruan took his hand and then seemed to vanish and reappear, laughing, three feet away—still holding his hand tightly in her own.
Jin-Siek was impressed. "And what can I do?" he asked eagerly. Wi'Ruan and Brel'Pargo looked at each other soberly, and confessed that they didn't know.
But with their help Jin-Siek was able to discover exactly what he could do. He also discovered that he wielded not merely one or two powers, but four distinct powers in addition to the Mind Blank he had cloaked himself with that night at the evening meal. He began to understand why he could sense what the wemics were feeling, or thinking, and to decide for himself when he wanted to sense their feelings or thoughts and when he wanted to shut them out. After a little experimentation —and this did not happen until he was well past his eleventh summer— he found a way to touch a mind and hold an entirely silent conversation using only the space between their ears. He tried this first with Brel'Pargo, to be sure he would not be overly frightened. He did end up startling the young wemic, however, and received an unnecessary admonishment from him never to Contact that way without warning. Jin-Siek looked righteously indignant and said only, "I know that." But he did not Mindlink with any of the other wemics only because he found it unnecessary. Jin-Siek rather enjoyed sharing a secret with the wemic that could move shadows, and nobody besides them knew that he could talk to others inside their heads until one fine day when Wi'Ruan caught them looking strangely at each other, whereupon Jin-Siek let her in on his not-so-little secret. Nlan'Raziv and Su'Niak found out soon after that, but beyond them it did not spread. Nlan'Raziv was of the opinion that it would not do to let the whole pride know that there was one among them, a human no less, who could speak into their minds at will, which would surely frighten them all beyond repair. It did not matter to Jin-Siek. He hardly saw a use for this silent speech of his, other than amusing himself with Brel'Pargo. What was the difference if it was no more and no less effort to speak aloud? Out in the plains conversations did not carry well. Privacy was not exactly an issue anyway. As for his other power, his ability to catch glimpses of thoughts, however, he was of a far different mind. Privacy was certainly an issue here, precisely because he knew exactly how he would feel if someone went about looking unabashedly into his thoughts, so he refrained from using ESP except in the most dire of circumstances—of which there were naturally few and far between. He kept using his Empathy ability without restraint simply because now that he knew how to shut it off, he saw no harm in looking out for the emotional welfare of the pride… not to mention that it helped him know when he ought to stay out of the way.
Another year passed this way. The winter of his thirteenth year was not a particularly pleasant one for Jin-Siek. The Ibronak'Liul foothills suffered a severe cold snap that blanketed them with two fingerswidth of freak snow that did not melt for weeks. It was freezing cold and Jin-Siek, lacking the thick pelt of the wemics, very nearly got frostbite on more than one occasion.
That was also the winter when they went to war with the dwarves. It wasn't really a war, actually; it was just the kind of furious disagreement that tends to happen when a wemic hunting party accidentally kills a dwarf after mistaking her for a boar. The wemics were forcibly ejected from the foothills three weeks too early, sent out into the thicker snow and scant cover of the north plains. Jin-Siek survived those three weeks only by a miracle, a thick woolen miracle woven with expert hands by Su'Niak that covered him from brow to knee. She had begun it at the start of winter, when she had seen that it was unusually cold and Jin-Siek (lacking the thick pelt of the wemics) would benefit from it. It took her longer than she expected, and when they were forced out of the foothills she had to give it to Jin-Siek unfinished —otherwise it would have reached his ankles— but Jin-Siek was infinitely grateful, promising to keep it with him no matter what happened. Su'Niak had laughed gently and said nothing, believing it had been a spur-of-the-moment promise and he would likely discard it when summer was in full blaze. But as the last three weeks of winter ended, spring fell in, and the rivers ran again, Su'Niak was both surprised and pleased to discover that the boy did indeed keep both his word and her cloak, wrapping it variously around his shoulders and waist, wearing it now as a cloak, now as a toga, now as a sarong.
Before the pride began its seasonal cycle from the foothills out to the south savanna and back again, Nlan'Raziv tried to negotiate the possibility of returning the following winter. Unfortunately the dwarves were refusing to have anything to do with wemics and did not even listen to his pleas. The following year was a tense one. No matter how hard he racked his brain Nlan'Raziv could not come up with any other place for the pride to spend the winter. The foothills had always been their winter home and he had always expected them to remain so. The poor wemic chief grew ever more and more depressed, and the pride grew ever more and more concerned. Not only for their fate in the approaching winter, but for their leader as well. If he failed, another would lead; but none of them had any wish to see Nlan'Raziv fall from chieftaincy after a mere two decades of leadership.
Jin-Siek, of course, could hardly fail to notice this as well, but such was his confidence in the wemic chief that he trusted him to come up with an answer presently. When Nlan'Raziv did not, and continued not to, and grew depressed because of it, Jin-Siek was most concerned of all. Not only for the same reasons as the wemics, but also because he felt he could be of help.
One fine day when a few wispy clouds tempered the sun's blaze and the pride had some leftover buffalo to eat in the evening, Jin-Siek found Nlan'Raziv lying out on the plain, watching a point somewhere past the horizon. Jin-Siek felt the chief oozing anxiety like a fountain whose spigot has broken open.
"Ghar," Jin-Siek called as he approached. 'Chief' was one of the few words he could say well in To'wemic. This was a time to shine in the chief's eyes, Jin-Siek thought, for he knew that even though Nlan'Raziv would never say so in his presence or out of it, the wemic chief considered the boy in some ways a weakling, despite all his attempts to rationalize it by reminding himself that he had himself coddled the boy too much and he spent most of the day working on his mind-powers anyway. Now at last Jin-Siek had found a way to prove himself useful to the pride.
"Jin-Siek," the wemic returned as the boy came to stand beside him, and rose. "What concerns you, obern?"
Jin-Siek winced inwardly. He disliked still being called 'child' —he was thirteen, by D'thar!— but he could not let that bother him now. He looked up into the wemic's golden brown eyes. "My concern is yours, Ghar," he said. "If it is difficult for the pride to miss your concern for us, it is nigh impossible for me. I had hoped that you might have thought of somewhere else to stay this winter, but I see you have not, and the pride worries." Jin-Siek paused a moment, brushing his lips with his tongue, choosing the words for his next thoughts. "I remember that the Ibronak'Liul dwarves would not speak with you at your last meeting. But I also suspect that you are considering returning to the foothills again this winter and attempting a second negotiation with them, since even dwarves surely do not hold grudges for so long. Am I right?"
Nlan'Raziv nodded once, listening with rapt attention. He motioned to the boy to continue.
"It is my thought that, whether or not they still hold a grudge, the dwarves might possibly be willing to speak to a human, if not to a wemic. You also know that I can sense feelings and sometimes thoughts, two things that might help to find some way to appease the dwarves—You are eager to attempt this," he said with a smile, as a wave of the wemic's optimistic hope and growing excitement washed over him.
"Certainly I am!" Nlan'Raziv said. "It would be prudent to reach the foothills a few weeks early, so that if our talks should prove fruitless, we may have enough time to find another place to pass the winter. Jin-Siek, my deepest gratitude to you. I am sure you can imagine the weight that is gone from my heart."
"I can," Jin-Siek agreed simply, uplifted by the radical turnaround he had been able to cause in the chief's empathic emanations.
"Let us tell the pride," Nlan'Raziv said, kneeling to let the boy vault onto his muscular back. Together they went back to make an announcement of hope.
As it turned out, Jin-Siek had been wrong on one account and right on the other. The dwarves did indeed hold a grudge for a very long time and were not pleased to see the pride return, much less weeks early; but they were more willing to deal with Jin-Siek than with Nlan'Raziv, and by careful use of Empathy and ESP, Jin-Siek somehow managed to convince the dwarves that their comrade's death last winter had been nothing short of a disastrous accident, that the wemics responsible had been taken well to task for it, that the pride as a whole eagerly wished to make amends, and furthermore that the pride truthfully had no other place to pass the winter, and could they really live with sending an entire pride to its death simply to justify the death of one dwarf? Not, he hastened to add, that he thought that dwarf's life was unimportant —quite the contrary, upon that statement he had to close himself to a fresh attack of anger and grief and indigantion from several of the dwarves present— but that in the grand scheme of things this particular accident was hardly any different from any other accident that could befall dwarf and wemic alike, pointing out that surely there had been other dwarves who had succumbed to equally undesirable accidents over the course of this year. A tentative brush revealed a murmur of sorrow laced with a fine shiver of guilt. Oops. Jin-Siek drew back. He hadn't meant to make them feel guilty, altough it would serve its purpose. Gently he probed for a truce, and received it fairly easily. What came next he had half expected: just so it wouldn't seem they were giving in too easily, the dwarves demanded that the wemics be constantly observed, and regular reports from Jin-Siek and Jin-Siek only throughout the winter. To their first demand Jin-Siek agreed heartily, as it would hardly be noticeable to the wemics, and the effort was entirely on the dwarves' part. To their second demand Jin-Siek also agreed, though he did not relish the idea of climbing halfway up the mountain once a week or more just to tell the dwarves that the wemics weren't doing anything, as the dwarves put it, 'untoward.' Shaking but pleased, Jin-Siek returned to the pride to tell them there was no need to search further.
The whole pride sent up a wild cheer at that, a cheer that virtually did not let up for a whole week of celebration—with Jin-Siek as its focus, of course. At the end of that week the boy made the climb up the mountain to meet some dwarves, explained the reason for the hubbub, and generally reassured them that the pride was behaving well. When he was finished the dwarves nodded, turned on their heels, and left. Without saying a word. Shrugging, Jin-Siek himself turned to leave.
Almost precisely the same thing happened the following week. The dwarves said nothing, only nodded and left. The journey up and down took two hours each way, and Jin-Siek thought, as he climbed down, that he might as well send up a homing pigeon with a written note (except that he had no assurance the dwarves could read).
When this happened a third time Jin-Siek was really disgusted. When he pleaded to the dwarves' retreating back if they could not send one of them down for once, instead of making him climb up and back down, he received only the answer, "That wasn't part of our agreement." Jin-Siek made his way down in a huff. As soon as he was back in the pride he went looking for Wi'Ruan.
"Will you show me how to use your power?" he asked when he found her.
Wi'Ruan was agitated. "I am not certain that I can teach it well enough, or that it can be taught at all," she said apologetically, "but I will make the attempt."
For nearly a week she tried to teach Jin-Siek to Displace, without success. It was only when she explained to him how she thought the power worked that he figured it out.
"I do not actually make a physical movement," she told him. "I merely project an image that, in all ways, appears to be me."
"Oh!" was all Jin-Siek said. Then, "I could do that."
After that it took Jin-Siek only a few tries to create an image of himself a few feet away. There were three significant differences from Wi'Ruan's Displacement: first, Jin-Siek himself did not disappear when he created the image. Two, the image was obviously an image, rather translucent and shimmery, very much unlike the otherwise virtually real image Wi'Ruan could create. And three, Jin-Siek could project the image considerably farther than Wi'Ruan ever could. Not long after the first few tries, Jin-Siek was projecting a dozen, a score, a hundred paces away. The day before he was once again supposed to make his report to the dwarves, Jin-Siek climbed up the mountain for the last time. He reached the ledge where he met the dwarves, turned around and looked down. He could hardly see the pride from here! He hoped he could project his Messenger far enough. Taking a deep breath to calm his mind, Jin-Siek concentrated. He experimentally projected a few hundred paces down the slope. Yes. Now by that ravine. Yes. Now by that strip of forest on the ridge. Yes. He was surprised at how little effort it took. Feeling adventurous, he doubled the distance and managed it easily. His last attempt was a projection all the way to the pride, near where he knew Nlan'Raziv and Wi'Ruan would be. The pride seemed to stir like windblown grass when his Messenger popped into semiexistence by the wemic chief, but that was precisely the point: if the pride saw their chief was unafraid, they would know there was no cause for them to be afraid either.
Satisfied, Jin-Siek climbed back down the mountain for the last time.
The next day at the appointed time Jin-Siek stood where he could see the ledge and projected his Messenger, delivered his report, and summarily ceased concentrating on the projection. It gave him a thrill of satisfaction at how quickly and easily that had been accomplished. Now he could turn his attention back to what he had been doing before: a section of buffalo ribs.
That winter was more like all the others: a bit chilly, but no snow. Jin-Siek enjoyed wrapping himself in Su'Niak's cloak more than ever. That winter she finished it for him. Life was peaceful again, and Jin-Siek was happy.
Before they left that spring Jin-Siek and the dwarves agreed that there was no more ill will between pride and clan, and that the dwarves were not averse to the pride's return the next winter. Even a friendly pact was struck between the boy and the dwarves, who had rather grown to enjoy his projected Messenger, that each winter the reports would continue, albeit less often and with far less stringency.
The snows melted and the rivers ran again.
The summer when Jin-Siek turned fifteen there were no storms. A light drizzle now and then was all the rain the savanna got. It was also the same summer that Jin-Siek got his sword. Just before sunset, fifteen years to the day after Jin-Siek had arrived to the pride, she presented him with a double-layered belt made of buffalo hide. It didn't have a buckle, but it did have an odd-looking loop placed at an apparently random spot. Jin-Siek was pleased but puzzled, even more so at the barely contained nervous excitement he felt from the lioness.
"Thank you," he told her sincerely, "but I cannot imagine why it occurred to you that I need it," he continued, half laughing.
"You will see," she answered with a mysterious smile.
Jin'Siek tied the belt on, his curiosity barely held in check. When he looked up, Nlan'Raziv was coming forward with a short sword held out on his outstretched palms. Jin-Siek gasped.
"It has been fifteen summers since you came to the pride, Jin-Siek," the wemic chief told him solemnly. "I have heard it is common to present human cubs with swords when they come of age." Nlan'Raziv turned the sword so its hilt pointed at Jin-Siek.
Hesitantly, the youth reached out to grasp the sword and lift it from the wemic's palms. The sword was fairly light, well made and well balanced. The wemics gathered around cheered, and Jin-Siek couldn't hold back a smile. Suddenly, impulsively, Jin-Siek thrust the sword high in the air, threw back his head, and let out a scream of raw euphoria, a cry that was answered by an enormous roar issuing from every wemic's throat.