The first section from the first chapter of Book 3: Crow – Vindication – after first revision and first editing pass. A lot of firsts. This is the third story in the Crow series.
SPOILER ALERT: There may be some spoilers if you have not read the first book yet – Crow – The Awakening. Be forewarned…
Steven has been accepted by Syagria, the planet that is home to his biological mother and to his life-mate. But most of the rest of the Cooperative is still terrified of him, in spite of his demonstrating that he was not the rabid monster that they considered him to be. However, he does make some progress towards demonstrating his benevolence, until things go dreadfully wrong…
Who Am I
“I’m an Elf. I am… an Elf. An… alien Elf.”
Steven leaned forward and made a face, then opened his mouth wide. He pulled at his lips, then sighed. The mirror wasn’t revealing any hidden clues. He smiled big again. His canines were a little prominent, but nothing like those of the Elves in his life. And yet, he was supposed to be an Elf. “I’m a…” Steven started again then stopped, sighing again. “I have no idea.”
“Of course you do, silly,” Asherah thought to him. Steven winced and rolled his eyes. He looked in the mirror again and made another face, crossing his eyes. Asherah laughed out loud and Steven looked out the bathroom door into the living room. What he saw sitting on their couch was indeed an Elf. She had short, soft fur, real canines, the cutest tufts of fur on her ears, and large eyes that seemed to just suck you in. A classic Elf. Steven sighed and looked back in the mirror.
“I’m an Elf?”
“I thought you believed.” Asherah came bouncing in, pouting.
Steven glanced back at her then shrugged. “Oh, I believe alright. I… I’m just trying to own it.” He looked back at the mirror. “I mean, if my skin were black and I had thick fur, scary teeth, and big claws, I could say I’m a Camdyn.” He grinned and made teeth with his fingers, growling into the mirror. Asherah snickered and glanced over her shoulder at Migalo who was just then walking in from a hunt, carrying a deer over his furry shoulder. Steven’s adoptive mother started yelling at him about the mess he was bringing in, making Steven grin even more. He looked at Asherah with his finger-fangs and growled again.
“Shh… you’ll make him mad.” Asherah giggled as she swatted at his hands.
Steven turned around and crossed his arms. “You… even your skin is creamy caramel under that fur. Me… I practically glow in the dark.” Steven looked at his arm. “Hair. Jacob said he saw fur on my arm, but look. Fur?” Steven held his arm up.
Asherah grabbed his hand and pulled his arm down. “You’ve seen Enos’rel’s scans, Steven. Your heart is on the correct side.”
“Right side,” Steven said, correcting her.
“That’s what I said.” Asherah looked at him wryly. She put her hand on his cheek. “You have the same skeletal structure as us. Your hair stops growing when it gets… this long.” She pulled at his hair.
Steven had never had a haircut and never missed it until he saw his adopted mother trimming his adopted father’s long hair. Jonah had some long black hair, too. He looked around at the mirror at his own much shorter hair. “It’d be cool to have canines, though.” Steven snarled at the mirror then cracked up into an embarrassed giggling fit. He sighed and looked at her. “You even purr.”
“Okay, what about the chocolate?” Asherah said, crossing her arms.
Steven frowned and looked down. At the end of his eighteenth birthday celebration, in the wee hours of the morning, his adopted mother brought out a death-by-chocolate cake. He had never really eaten chocolate before. Just little candies and rarely at that. But he got positively cake-faced that night. And… he got positively drunk from that chocolate too. Steven blinked and rubbed his neck. “My head still hurts from the hangover.”
“Right? Elves get intoxicated on chocolate.” Asherah nodded, satisfied she had made her point.
“Yeah, well.” Steven threw up his hands. He glanced in the mirror. “At least, can’t I even look the part?”
“You look fine to me, Steven,” Asherah said softly, moving up against him. He swallowed and looked around at her. She played with the hair at the nape of his neck, sending shivers down his spine.
Steven took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. “They’ll all be there, won’t they?”
“As many as can come.” Asherah kissed his cheek, her lips lingering as she traced the curve of his jaw.
“They know what I am, right?” Steven licked his lips, trying not to get distracted. Asherah nibbled at his earlobe. He winced as she poked it with a canine. “Oh, that’s going to leave a mark.”
Asherah snorted then giggled and put her forehead on his shoulder. Steven grinned as he ran his fingers through her hair. She took in a breath and pulled back a little. “You’re bonded to me. Of course they know what you are.”
“So, only Elves can bond?” Steven looked at her cheek and caressed the fur on it. He already knew the popular answer but wanted to hear it again.
Asherah was quiet for a moment and Steven looked at her harder. He saw her fleeting thought as she tried to hide it from him. “Others can?”
“It’s very rare, Steven. Extraordinarily rare. So rare that it’s safe to say only Elves can bond,” Asherah said quickly.
Steven shook his head. “That’s just great. They’re going to think I’m one of them… those rare people, aren’t they? I mean, look at me.” He looked in the mirror. “I’m a bald Elf.”
Asherah laughed then covered her mouth when Steven frowned at her. “Sorry.” She tried hard not to grin.
“Laugh it up, fuzz-ball.” Steven scowled as he looked back in the mirror.
“Oh, Steven.” Asherah grabbed his face and made him look at her. “This isn’t about what you look like.”
Steven looked back at her, trembling a little as she read right through him. Of course she knew his deepest thoughts. They were bonded. He couldn’t hide anything from her.
“They don’t think you’re a monster,” Asherah said firmly.
“Some do. My waiver is limited to Syagria,” Steven said, blinking and looking down. “They get their very own deviant.”
“No. I get my very own deviant. They get us.” Asherah smiled.
Steven sighed and looked back at the mirror. “At least if I looked like an Elf, maybe they’d forget about what I really am.”
Asherah pursed her lips, then shook her head. “No. No, they wouldn’t forget.”
“Well, that was helpful.” Steven frowned, looking back at her.
“You don’t want them to forget, Steven. You saved Senin because of what you are,” Asherah said softly. “The Faeries have their world back.”
Steven looked at her as he contemplated the ramifications of what he had done. That fact was still a little overwhelming. A deviant had rendered Senin a global ball of superheated magma. He was able to drain away the excess energy. But it didn’t seem like much at the time. He looked down at the tiled floor beneath is feet and extended his senses down into the ground. Senin was a little bigger than Terra. And yet, it felt impossibly small to him. So did Terra. “It wasn’t… I mean, it was easy. Not like I’m a hero or something,” Steven said quietly.
“You may think it was easy. But the end result is what they see. The Cooperative core planet has been restored.” Asherah put her arms around his waist.
Steven shrugged. “Well, it’s not yet. I mean, the Planet Builders still have to go in and turn the slag into something useful, right? New oceans that need their salinity back and their fish. Islands and forests. There’s still a lot to do.”
Asherah shrugged. “They do that all the time with various worlds. That’s just logistics, Steven. They couldn’t even hope to get back to work until last night.”
Steven nodded, feeling sheepish. “I wanted to thank Sirel for helping us. For believing in me even with what I represented to her.” He looked at her. “To her people, I was a monster.”
“Oh… I think you got your point across.” Asherah giggled. She looked back out the bathroom door at the ceiling of the living room where Sirel sat cross-legged. Except for sitting on the ceiling, the Faerie looked like any budding adolescent girl, even though she was many thousands of years old. She had pulled up sensor logs and data from her computer of Senin’s sudden transformation and placed them around her in the air so she could monitor them. Asherah could see her peering closely at the solidification of Senin’s crust. The Faerie sensed she was being observed and looked down at Asherah and Steven. Steven waved timidly at her and Sirel smiled, showing her rows of shark-like teeth. Steven grimaced.
“Every time she smiles, she goes from looking like a cute young girl to… that.” Steven pointed.
“Be happy you’re an Elf, then.” Asherah grinned. She winked at Sirel then grabbed Steven’s hands. “I know you’re not having second thoughts.”
Steven shook his head. “Of course not. We get our own tree on Syagria.”
Asherah shrugged. “We’ll stay in my parent’s tree to begin with. No one really owns the trees after all.”
Steven looked at her. Asherah smiled. “We all live together as a big family. When we need more room, we’ll expand into another tree.”
“Oh. I never really thought about it.” Steven made a face. He had access to all of Asherah’s memories, but had yet to dive in fully.
Asherah shook her head. “You’ll need to make use of our bond, Steven. It’s a survival mechanism after all, and we are stronger because of it.”
Steven nodded. “Yeah… It’s still a bit much for me.” He looked at Asherah and brightened. “Ooh, I just had a thought… They’re blessing our bond. I’m joining the Syagrian family. All of Syagria.” He took in a breath as he looked at the ceiling. “This is so cool.” He shook his head. “I’ve been looking for my parents alone and now we’ll have a whole planet behind the search.”
“They already are, silly,” Asherah said. “Lelana and Meruk are also part of our family and we all want them back too.”
Steven shrugged, looking at her, subdued. “It doesn’t feel like it. Every time I start getting somewhere, something happens and…” He shook his head. “I feel like we are so close, and then so hopelessly far away and alone. I want to find them and be done with this. We’ll be home and be a family and…” Steven trailed off.
“They’ll get to play with their grandchild?” Asherah batted her eyes at him coyly.
Steven blushed and looked up at the ceiling again. “Well, we don’t have to rush into that.” He flinched as Penipe goosed him when she walked by. She dropped her clothes and stepped into the open shower. Lorei followed her, elbowing Steven as she walked by. Steven sighed and looked at Asherah. “Your mother and my aunt are having way too much fun with this.”
“Joining us?” Penipe asked.
Steven looked at Asherah. “You first this time. We really need to get a larger shower.”
Asherah winked at him and skipped to the shower as Steven stood there brooding. The intimacy of Elves worried him. They did everything together. Steven even had to get over his aversion to other people’s teeth and help Asherah clean hers, simply because that’s how their culture was. There was no sense of modesty or selfishness, even when it came to hygiene. They all showered together. Ate together and off each other’s plates. Slept together in common rooms. Steven glanced over at the open shower. Penipe, Asherah’s mother, was rinsing off. She looked nearly as young as Asherah did. Elves did not show their age.
Penipe noticed Steven’s attention and tossed him a washcloth. “Your turn, you bald Elf.” She giggled as she stepped out of the way while Steven sulked and got into the shower.
“At least I don’t look like I rolled through the forest.” Steven mumbled as he walked by. He really did like their fur patterns, but he could think of nothing else to tease them about at the moment.
After the shower Steven helped them work their natural oils back into their fur. He looked at Penipe and she smiled kindly back at him as she put her clothing back on. “You’re nervous. I can sense it.”
Steven nodded. “This… our little circle. Even Tor’eng and Enos’rel… this is one thing. I know you. You’re all family. But… what about when I’m there and it’s everyone?”
Penipe handed Lorei’s clothing to her. “And you’re the monster they used to be afraid of?”
“Yeah. That.” Steven nodded, pulling his black hair out of his eyes. “I’m going to be sleeping in the same common room as, what, a dozen others? More?” Steven looked at Penipe, seeing her memories, and nodded. “More.” He sighed and looked at Asherah as she handed him a dental pick. He squinted and worked on her teeth. “I’ll be doing all of this with strangers who were terrified of me. Are terrified of me.” He looked back at Penipe. “How do I process that?”
Sally walked in then quickly walked back out. “You guys really should close the door.”
Steven blushed and put his clothes on, grimacing as he grinned at Asherah while she got dressed. “Sorry, Mom. But hey, you’re going to live there, too.”
“Yeah… save it for Syagria,” Sally said as she peeked back in. “I feel like I’m in ancient Rome or something around you people.”
Steven looked around the bathroom. “No communal toilets or farting competitions.”
“Just wait.” Asherah giggled.
Sally elbowed past them to the sink, pushing Steven out of the way. “Okay. Make a hole. Let a woman pass.”
“I’m surprised you’re up already.” Steven smirked at his adoptive mother. He looked at Asherah. “I always was the early riser of the family.”
“Your friends from Eyes Open are coming to supper and Migalo’s making a mess out there.” Sally grumbled as she put her long blond hair up in a bun. She looked at Steven and sighed. “I can see you’re worried.”
Steven gaped and looked at Asherah. “Is it really that apparent?”
Steven sighed and looked at Sally. “An entire world is going to be giving us their attention for the Blessing.”
“Most of the Cooperative, actually,” Lorei said as she finished helping Penipe with her teeth. She waggled the pick at Steven. “They get to see you as a person, Steven.”
“Yeah. That’s me. A person,” Steven said ruefully. He looked down. “They’ll see a deviant and you know it. They’ll wonder if I’m going to snap and destroy Syagria or something.”
Penipe put her arm around his waist and pulled him close. “They’re going to see the one who restored Senin. And Lorei is making sure they see the one who relentlessly sacrificed his own safety for ours.”
Steven chewed his cheek. “All I keep seeing are the people that I hurt. Why should I expect them to see differently?”
“A deviant wouldn’t care,” Asherah said as she leaned forward and pulled Steven’s chin down. She worked his teeth with the dental pick and Steven tried hard not to flinch. He raised an eyebrow at Sally who stood at the sink grinning at him with a toothbrush hanging out of her mouth. Asherah shut Steven’s mouth and gave him a kiss. “And a deviant would not be bonded to four Elves.”
Steven nodded, not really convinced. He didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at Syagria. He had been there before, but not on officially sanctioned circumstances.
When he turned to leave the bathroom, he came face to face with Lohet. “Ah. Our resident vampire has returned.” Steven grinned. Lohet looked at him coolly. Steven shook his head and glanced at Asherah. “He’s laughing inside. Honest.”
“The Chaser guild has been appraised of the Blessing,” Lohet said, ignoring Steven’s barb. “Your waiver now includes Endard, Terra, Syagria and the training planets.”
“I’m so honored they’re allowing me to live on my own planet,” Steven said sarcastically.
Lohet frowned as Steven walked by. He glanced at Asherah who smiled timidly at him then followed Steven. “Senin may also be included in that waiver.”
Steven looked at Lohet. “And that’s it? There’s, like, over a thousand worlds in the Cooperative, and I’m limited to just a handful?”
Lohet put his hand on Steven’s shoulder. It felt like a stone statue was grabbing him. Cold, hard, and impossibly strong. Steven licked his lips and looked up at Lohet. He was a Keratian, but his people were obviously the inspiration for the vampire lore that permeated Terran culture. Steven still couldn’t suppress an involuntary shiver when the Keratian touched him even though he knew better.
“The Cooperative thrives on unanimity. It is just a matter of time,” Lohet said. He looked at Sirel. “Senin will be seen as a huge stride in your acceptance into the Cooperative as a whole.”
Steven sighed. “I grew up as a regular kid that everyone just… I had no one who hated me.” He looked down, moping as he ambled over to the dining room, kicking at the loose floor tiles. “Now most of the populated universe think I’m some frothing manic monster looking for planets to destroy.”
“What they see is colored by what they know from experience, Steven. At the very least, you now have the opportunity to inject some new experience into their lives.” Lohet sat down next to Steven as he sat down at their rustic dining table. Jonah had just placed a large bowl of scrambled eggs on the table, next to Migalo’s supper project.
Migalo scowled at him and Jonah as Steven pushed the chopped venison away from him. “Hands off, Steven. That’s for your guests.”
“They’re not my guests and it’s raw anyway,” Steven said sullenly as he reached for the bowl of scrambled eggs. Jonah handed him a bowl of dried figs, too, and Steven piled up his plate as he smiled wanly at his adoptive father. Asherah sat down next to him and started eating some eggs off his plate. Steven looked at her and she put a finger-full of eggs in his mouth. He grinned as he chewed then glanced at Lohet. “Syagria likes me. Isn’t that enough for them?”
Lohet shook his head. “Sometimes it takes a while for the Cooperative to become unanimous. You just need to be patient.”
Steven sighed. He looked down at his plate, then at Asherah. He was about to say something when she put a fig in his mouth. He held her hand as he bit off a piece, then she ate the rest, giggling. He could tell what she was thinking, however. He looked at Lohet. “I know. I just…” He glanced at Asherah. “She has a lot she wants to share with me. To show me.”
Asherah looked at Lohet, grinning as she chewed. Steven slumped. “I don’t know. I grew up on one world. I really shouldn’t be… I mean, I just… I grew up on just one world. I should be content, right?”
Lohet looked at him, quizzically. Steven shrugged. “I didn’t know about aliens until a few months ago. I was prepared to spend my days here just like everyone else.”
“Being content is important, Steven.” Lohet nodded. He sighed as he leaned back against the table. “But I understand your impatience. I was stuck here for nearly twenty years, after all.”
“I can see them, Lohet. Asherah’s not helping any. She’s out there exploring all the time now. Seeing the worlds and pointing them out to me.” He scratched his head. “Being a gatekeeper really can be distracting sometimes. Not long ago, I wouldn’t have even cared. I didn’t even start looking until… until she inherited my abilities.” Steven tried to frown but he couldn’t help but grin. He remembered Asherah’s reaction the first time she gated. Jumping up and down, screaming in excitement. Asherah giggled as she remembered with him and Steven looked at her. His girl in the meadow. And an avid explorer, now.
Lohet coughed and Steven looked at him. “Lorei, Aradia, and Tor’eng have been working nonstop to rectify this. I suggest you do not do anything that would… usurp their efforts. Stay within your waiver territories.”
“Oh. No. I’m sure we’ll behave.” Steven couldn’t imagine doing anything to make Syagria angry, or that would alienate the Cooperative. It is soon to be his new home, and his new extended family.
Book 3: Crow – Vindication is still under revision and editing, however Book 1: Crow – The Awakening is available at…