Collected in Gone Hunting and other stories of Vardin. Available in paperback and ebook editions.
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Portrait of a Butterfly
Casal is already glimmering. She is dangerous.
A hunt gone wrong, a child’s uncontrollable power manifested, and a horror about to be unleashed. A young hunter, Pesheneh, must join her father and his team to rescue the child from capture and her nation’s secrets from being revealed.
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
Rohth hears Aysha when she crunches over the Russian snow toward his lookout perch in the rocks. As she climbs above their hidden encampment, he feels the tang of smoldering clomen fires and electricity. Now he hears her breath bite through the chilly air of a northern winter.
“Casal is almost seven.”
He does not answer her.
“We’ve been on this hunt for too long.”
He angles his shoulder to allow Aysha into his line of view. She is his helmsman and knows better than to distract a lookout standing watch. His senses are stretched to their utmost to feel the scattered thrumming from distant lands, his cousins, the kahtchen. The mãenet people, the plain, are a sea around them, ever shifting into streams and lakes, rivulets and droplets. He can pick out an approacher well in advance of any arrival.
Rohth stares into his helmsman’s eyes, stretches himself taut and rasps, “I know.”
Aysha is red, Mereta—red hair, red radiance, with burning in her eyes. The burning goes out, leaving behind a normal brown. “Kehelen,” she finally names him. Hunter. She accents her words in the familiar unfamiliarity of the native Vardin tongue. He has tasted the languages of kidayet, the outsiders, for too long. “She’s not like you.”
He looks toward Casal, sprawled under a mound of blankets in his tent. Golden hair brushes against her chubby child cheeks. Beneath that skin, he can feel the hum of power, thick enough to taste when he tries, thin enough to keep her a child. Her mother manifested when she was nine years old, a late bloomer; he did not until his twenties, a true latent. But Casal— Casal is already glimmering. She is dangerous.
He turns to his helmsman. “We finish the hunt.”
Aysha’s eyes light again with burning. Her jaw tightens, but she lowers her gaze in acceptance of his authority. If she keeps a double watch, Rohth declines to comment.
How do you sketch a hundred faces upon one span of skin? How lightly must you draw, how many nuances must be captured, to include the householder, the hunter, the rogue, the plain?
There is a voice in Vardin that is neither householder nor hunter, gifted nor plain, bound nor free. It speaks through the throats of our children, those few brief days when they straddle the worlds of all. It looks through the eyes that cannot brighten with radiance, that cannot be innocent of the sight of it. It flows in the knowledge and skill wielded even by the very young.
Casal was born on a hunt. She has spent her life switching parents when they meet, knowing Vardin only in the heat and season of summerlight. She is hunter more than householder and maintains a professional silence as the team stands guard around an old, shambling Russian house. Freedom fighters, the clients say they are, holding a very important meeting. Rohth has stated he does not care, only that his team is here to ensure no blood is spilled this night.
An easy enough task.
Russia has myths about the kahtchen. They whisper in the night to their children of the immortals, the mindreaders, the fire-breathing dragons who stretch their souls under the skins of men. The Russians speak of wolves in sheep’s clothing, the gifts for hire to black-bearded Soviets and Mother Russia operatives. The whispers grant them freedom to do their jobs and let the officials laugh at reports that spout these children’s tales.
It is three nights before Casal is seven. Three nights and her palms are itching. She keeps them away from technological equipment. She keeps her eyes on the southwest quarter, cannot see when those brown Alyón eyes turn green.
The not-yet-seven never manifest, only glimmer. She has heard of future telekinetics who reach for an object only to have it slide just beyond their grasp. She has heard of the future mindreaders who hear whispers they cannot make out. Small things, inconsequential. She stands watch.
Trouble comes like shadows coalescing out of the dark. Eleven operatives—no, twelve. They are live currents in a sea of electricity, a keening whine she does not understand.
“It hurts,” she cries softly to Bren, who stands watch beside her.
He puts his hand on her back, tucks her closer to his side, and silently signals a warning to his companions. “What hurts?” he whispers in her ear.
She tries to answer, shakes her head. “It hurts.”
Bren hears the whine then. He frowns, cocks his head, then snatches Casal into his arms and throws them out of the way an instant before the electrical wiring in the wall behind them explodes and a shower of sparks cascades out into the street.
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