Saved by the Rakian Scout: Chapter Four

Rhela should have been terrified. The small voice in her head shrieked at her to run, to hide. This couldn’t be right; it couldn’t be safe.

Was this the danger Phaylle had tried to warn her about?

But yet, she wasn’t afraid.

Not of the giant cat, with his golden fur and bright blue eyes, clear as a cloudless summer day.

And not of this stranger, sitting in her kitchen, playing with her dog as if it were the most natural thing in the world, instead of a man who somehow hid a creature with razor-sharp fangs, paws the size of dinner plates, and claws that could shred muscle from bone without a thought.

Still, he’d offered no threat, instead offering only calm.

And patience and ear scritches for a puppy.

She took a soothing breath, pulling the earthy scent of home, of her family, deep into her lungs. She was still safe.

Rhela gripped the kitchen table beside her until her fingers ached, then she released it, willing the strange tension in the room to fade with the pain.

“How did you get here?” she asked, proud that her voice didn’t even shake.

Much. 

No matter what he was or where he came from, that he’d gotten past her defenses and found the hidden valley was of much more immediate concern.

He rose to his feet and turned towards her. In her shock, she hadn’t had time to realize how tall he was, or to notice the slight point of his ears peeking out from tawny hair.

“I climbed over the akro vines and went through the trees.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, nobody can climb that high—” she broke off. Of course he could. She had never thought of making her defenses against the animals of the forest. Her parents had been concerned only about two-legged predators.

He must have read the thoughts playing on her face. “I wouldn’t worry too much,” he said and stretched an arm out as if to encompass the entire room. “You’re hidden well. There aren’t many people who could do what I did. I think your secret is safe.”

His words stabbed at her.

The secret. It had to be safe.

She had promised.

“How did you even find the vines, or know where to go?” She had never been outside the valley, but Phaylle often teased her about the difficulty her parents had made for her every time she wanted to visit. Rhela believed her.

He paused, just long enough for Rhela to notice. “I was following a trail,” he said, “and it led here.”

She held her breath. A trail? Was he following Phaylle? But why?

“Who were you following?” she blurted out.

“It doesn’t really matter anymore,” he shrugged and looked around the room again. “I was curious, and so here I am.”

He really did sound just like every cat she’d ever known, nosy and into everything. The way he gazed around at a room that he had already been in, as if it were new, she wondered…

“Is it different, seeing a place from two different perspectives?”

He blinked and grinned. “Actually, it is. I don’t think anybody has ever asked us that before.”

“Us? Aren’t you and the cat the same person?”

“Us, myself and my brothers.”

She gripped the table harder as her stomach clenched into a tight ball. “There’s more of you? More who can do what you do?”

He took a half step towards her as if to touch her arm, then stopped, walked around to the side of the table, and pulled out a chair for her.

“You may want to sit, I’m not sure if you’ll believe what I have to say.”

“Never lie to me, and I’ll always believe you.” Something her mother had said when she was little and prone to getting into trouble.

He laughed but waited for her to be seated before resuming his story. “My brothers and I came here from another world. We’re the only ones who can change like this, and I promise, my brothers would not harm you.”

Rhela knew she should’ve been more concerned about the number of people who could find her home, but her mind had stopped on a previous phrase.

“Came here from another world?” She leaned forward across the table towards him. “How did you get here?”

“Well,” he frowned, a furrow forming between his brows. “We came here in a starship that landed at…”

Rhela shot up from her chair. “Wait right here. I’ll be right back.” She grabbed one of the lamps and ran into the back room that her father had used as an office. As she burrowed through a pile of baskets on a long work table, she felt more than heard the presence at the door.

“Is everything all right?” the stranger asked.

Rhela didn’t turn to answer. “I know it’s in here, just the last few years I haven’t really done much with his things.”

Even over the bundles and baskets of roots and drying herbs, the strange man’s scent, spicy and warm, overlaid the room. His presence in the small room was almost overwhelming. Rhela forced her mind back to her task.

She pushed a stack of baskets to the side, and he grabbed the top one as it tottered. “If you tell me what you’re looking for, I can help.”

She paused, stopping her hands from flitting over the cluttered surface of the table. Was she sure this was her secret to tell? Phaylle had seen the book, been shown it by her father. But a stranger?

Rhela rolled her eyes at herself. Of course no one else had seen it, there’d never been a chance.

But she hadn’t made any promises about this.

“It’s a small book, about this big,” she showed him with her hands, “with a brown cover and a symbol with two circles on the front.”

She lit another lamp and tried to remember where her father had kept the book. It had been four, no, five years since her father had died. For the first few years, she hadn’t entered this room at all, wanting to keep it just as he had left it, but as the seasons passed, it had felt foolish to waste the space, and so, like her parents’ bedroom, this had turned into another storage area.

Still, through all the baskets and clutter, she could almost see his stooped form bent over one of his projects, always writing in his elegant hand by the flicker of the rushlights.

His large wooden chair still sat here, unused and dusty. She sat, remembering him at work. Trying not to think of how silly she was being, she thrust her hand out between two baskets of dried harva fruit she had put aside to process this winter to the shelf behind them. Her fingers brushed the smooth, cool surface, and she knew she had found it.

She pulled it out. Over the years, she had watched her father make many books, helped him with pulping the paper from bark, smoothing it with hours of rubbing with river stones. Eventually he’d let her help bind and rule them. But of all those books, this was the one he returned to, noting the details of special occasions.

Unlike the books they’d made together, the sheets of this volume were unnaturally smooth and soft, the dark brown cover of a material she’d never seen elsewhere.  “One of the few things I miss, little frog,” he’d said, when she ran her hands over it as a child, tracing the concentric circles with a finger.

She closed her eyes, clutching the book to her chest. This was why she hadn’t organized his papers, had covered over his office with the detritus of day-to-day life. She missed him too much.

“Is that it?” The gentle question broke the spell of her loneliness.

“Come on,” she said as she headed back to the kitchen, taking one of the lamps with her and gesturing for him to take the other, “the light’s better in the other room.” She paused in the doorway and searched his eyes for a flicker of truth, or maybe a lie. “I have a starship I want you to see.”

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