Authors: J. Lilley
‘Rach, this is your real world.’
She shook her head, and her dad looked at her curiously.
“We’re going back in Chicken. Don’t worry, there’s a lot for you to learn. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you more.”
Rach gave him a hug. “Dad I love you, and whatever anyone else says, you did everything right and you’re the best. Er, what’s with the menagerie?”
There was a growl that sounded a bit like a laugh. There were probably a dozen leopards surrounding them now. Rach wondered where Melinde had gone.
Now she was hearing people she didn’t know, as well as people she did.
Next, dad will be in my head; and the guy in the paper shop, my teacher, and probably the dog from next door!
‘No, they’re not Shalean.’ Brios sounded amused.
‘Argh! Go away!’
‘Rach, please … not long now. Come inside with everyone. It’s time.’
“Come on Rach, It’s time to face the music.” Her dad sounded defeated and sort of tired.
“Dad, what do you mean?”
“I failed you; I left out so much I should have told you; although for the life of me I don’t know what I would have said. Oh well,” he gave her a hug. “Come on.”
There was no way they would all fit in that tiny stinky room. There was no way she was going back into it anyway, not even kicking and screaming; It was too small and smelled really bad.
‘We won’t go in there, don’t worry. Just go with your dad.’
She didn’t mind the fact that she was hearing the Melinde woman in her head if it meant no disgusting smells; just wet fur and whatever.
She held her dad’s hand tightly and followed him through the windows, and into the big airy room they’d left the house by.
It was full of people; not an animal in sight. Thankfully, Brios and his dad were near the window and they came across to her and her dad. She saw Leira standing to one side next to her mum, and Donny across the room scowling at Leira. There were a lot of faces she didn’t recognize. Apart from her and Leira, and she guessed Brios and Donny, the rest of the people present were adults. There was a big oval table in the middle of the room now and people began to take seats at it. She noticed Leira sat as far away from Donny as she could, and he was glaring at her across the table. She realized something big was wrong there, but now wasn’t the time to find out whether it was to do with Donny and the Rogues Chapter; or something else.
Mr. Parde was talking. “We’re happy for you to explain Tony; it’s time.” He was ushering them to seats as he spoke.
Her dad nodded and smiled, although he looked sad. Rach was getting really worried. She sat down with a thud and realized that she was near the sharp end of the table with Brios on one side of her, and her dad on the other; that made her feel a bit better
‘You’ll be fine. I’m here for you.’
‘Thanks—though I’m not really sure what I’m thanking you for yet.’
‘Be patient and know your dad loves you.’
“I sort of hoped we wouldn’t need to have this talk yet.” Her dad looked straight at her as he searched in his pocket.
“Dad,” she said exasperated, “you gave up smoking ages ago.”
“Phe… yes, well … I’m nervous.”
She had a random, scary thought. “You’re not dying are you?”
“What? No of course not. Well, no more than we all are.” He put his hands on the table. “It’s about mum.”
“What about her?” Rach needed a hug, so she leaned into him. She just knew something horrible was going to happen. Maybe if she cuddled into him he could make it go away; like he did the monsters in the cupboard when she was little.
He gave her a quick hug and she relaxed; not for long though. She saw the shudder that ran through him and watched him tense up.
“Dad, tell me already. I’m getting scared here. I love you; it surely can’t be so bad?”
“Nope, I guess not love. Are you sitting comfortably? Then, I’ll begin.” The oft-said phrase from her childhood made her smile. Beside her, she felt Brios take her hand and squeeze. Even though she was scared his touch was reassuring. She wanted more.
Oh my god, what am I thinking? Hell, I hope I’m not projecting
‘Listen, Rach, just listen to him. Oh, and I want more too someday.’
‘Argh! Get out.’
Her face was red; she bet she was red to her toes.
Stop thinking about Brios; and concentrate
The room was silent; each and every person seemed to be holding their breath, and waiting for her dad to continue.
“Your mum,” he began, “was a very special lady. Full of life, ready to kick ass if needed; and she always, always stood up for what she felt was right. We met when she was seventeen and I was twenty-one at an open-air concert. It was raining, and I shared my umbrella.” He laughed. “It had a hole in it, so I stood under the hole and got water down my neck. Mum gave me her scarf to mop up. I fell in love then and there. She did too, lucky, eh? The trouble was, her parents both had—shall I say—special talents; and so did your mum. She was supposed to marry someone with the same talents, but met me instead.”
There was a hiss somewhere in the room.
So someone knows all about that then?
‘Gregor Grier, he was the man.’
It was no wonder she didn’t know where the hiss came from; there was no way she could match leopards to their human persona.
‘You will, one day—no you didn’t project, but I still sensed your question; now listen to your dad.’
Her dad was still speaking.
“When we realized there was no way her parents were going to agree to us getting married she snuck out of a few weeks of her Uni course, and we came back up here to Scotland; where you could get married without your parents consent. They never forgave us, even after you were born; their loss.”
Rach gave her dad a kiss. “Stupid,” she agreed, “fancy doing that to your kid.” A thought struck her. “What do you mean special talents?” She wasn’t going to mention this projecting lark. “Like, she was able to sing in tune? Guess I didn’t luck out there then.”
“Yeah, you got that non-talent from me,” her dad agreed, “but no, more unusual than that; very unusual. Did you ever know your mum’s mother’s surname?”
Rach shook her head.
“It was Parde.”
What the heck?
“You mean the same as Leira and Brios, are we related or something? Like cousins?”
She looked at Brios.
‘Not too close a relationship, but there is a connection.’
Her dad answered her with humor in his tone. “It means they have the same talents mum had; and to a certain extent that you’ll have now that you’re older. I don’t know enough to tell you what. I’ve failed you, and let mum down by not helping you explore them, but really, I didn’t know how. Besides that, I was scared I’d lose you; now I don’t think I’ve a choice. That young man is going to show you whether I approve or not.” He looked at Brios who nodded.
Rach hugged him again, and leaned up to kiss his cheek. She held on to Brios’s hand, needing his warmth and strength. “Dad, you
never let me down. That’s cra … er, silly. Come on get real. So what’s this deep dark secret you need to tell me?”
“You can shift!”
“I can shift? What, like you did, or my furniture? Like, I can move my desk to the other room?”
There was a ripple of laughter in the room. Rach noticed that even the grim one, Gregor whats-it, almost smiled.
“Yourself; Mum was a Damerian Shalean. It’s a Chapter of Shifters that shift into leopards. That’s where the surname Parde comes from—Shape Shifters—that’s what all these people here have in common, I guess. I’m not one of them, I’m an outsider. Mum broke all the rules imaginable when she married me. Boy, did she put some trust in me. She cut herself off from her family; or rather they cut her off from them. She was a future Matriarch, due to be mated to the future Patriarch of her Chapter. When she married me it screwed up the Chapter and the Sept’s pedigree. They couldn’t take her powers and talents from her, although she rarely used them. They’ll have passed to you; probably a bit diluted, I don’t know. What I do know is now that you’re a woman and not a girl you should be able to shift; I don’t know how though. Even though I’m not any sort of Shalean, I could tell that Brios was. Well, he’d have to be with a name like Parde; and I think he sensed what you are. He’ll show you.”
Rach looked at him.
So, that means Leira’s a Shalean? What about Donny? He must be as well. Help—is the whole school weird? Is this a sort of Twilight Zone?
One look at his face told her it was. He looked sad and worried, as if she was going to freak out and run around screaming and throwing things; but actually, it all made perfect sense; even though she didn’t know why. She gave him a kiss and an extra big hug.
“Sheesh Dad, I knew it was something scary. Do I have to? Can he make me?”
‘Hello … I’m here you know. I can answer for myself.’ Rach ignored Brios.
Her dad looked in her eyes, and she could see her reflection in his. “No and no; he can’t make you do anything you don’t want. Although I guess he’ll try and persuade you. It’s up to you if you decide you want to shift. The other thing you’ll learn now though, if you let yourself, it to see inside people’s minds. Mum said that is a gift not to be misused. It is one only certain people have to the fullest extent. She did; and I guess you will too.”
Whew, that’s something to think about. That’s what all this voices stuff is about then.
‘I told you.’
She heard his amused laugh, and choosing to ignore it, she concentrated on her dad.
“So, if I’m only half—what did you call it again?”
“Right, Shalean, how come I get all the stuff then? Do you have any of it?”
Her dad shook his head. “Nope, just ordinary dad type sense. But mum would have been very powerful, very high up… if she’d followed the path mapped out for her. I was so blessed she didn’t; but I know it was hard for her. Her parents just ignored the fact we existed; even when she died they didn’t come to meet you. I’d have thought they would have wanted to see if you were anything like her at the very least.”
“I’m glad they didn’t. They sound horrible; fancy ignoring your kid. That’s terrible, you can’t make your children do what you want. Huh, aren’t you always saying the way to keep your children is to let them go; make their own mistakes; follow their own path; but, be there for them if you’re needed? That makes sense to me.”
Brios let go of her hand so her dad could cuddle her.
“You’re very special, and wiser than your years. I’ve done well, eh?”
She grinned and cuddled him back. He sure had.
“So, as far as I know, a Shalean meets their mate quite young; and it is up to the woman to agree to be partnered. Mum didn’t agree, so she left to be with me. I really don’t know much more; but I bet Brios will be happy to tell you anything you need to know.”
Rach studied her dad’s face. In his eyes she saw his love and trust for her. “You don’t mind?”
He shook his head. “I’d be failing as a husband,
a dad if I did.”
She wanted to tap her foot. Brios had her hand again, and he was squeezing it in a warning grip.
‘Hold on; let me do my bit.’
Before Brios could stand or speak Gregor Grier stood up. His hands thumped the table hard.
“She is one of us—ours. What right do you have to speak of such things to her?’
“We are all Shalean.” Mr. Parde was standing in his rightful spot at the narrowest end of the table. Rach realized that Mrs. Parde was at the other end; it seemed like a head of the family sort of thing. That thought bought her up sharp. Beside her, Brios was now up on his feet, and so were Leira and Donny. People were muttering and arguing and the noise was increasing.
‘Wow, a fight?’
‘Behave! This is important.’
Even though Brios seemed sort of busy, he was still tuning in to her.
‘I always behave.’ Rach was enjoying herself, even though the moment was important, it seemed to have some humor in it.
‘If you say so. Now
, stop trying to make me laugh.’
‘If you say so.’ Rach parroted his words back to him.
‘Just listen.’ Brios held up his hand.
“Rachael is her
person; not yours, ours or anyone else’s—yet. Her father has allowed her to grow and develop without any worries of what her mother’s heritage may have given her. Now, it’s time for her to discover those things—
she wants to. It’s her decision to make.” Brios’ voice was full of authority, and she noticed he didn’t even raise it. The mutterings had stopped.