Authors: J. Lilley
“Hi Dad, had a great day, how about you?”
Liar, liar, pants on fire! Surely tomorrow has got to be better? Thank goodness it’s nearly the holidays.
For the second day running, Brios Parde walked along the corridor recognizing the familiar scents of school, thoroughly fed up and ready for the holidays. He shouldn’t even be here; usually after exams he was done. This year they’d decided to bring back everyone going into their higher year and start classes early. So while the rest of the pupils were playing games and doing quizzes, the students in his year were stuck doing their exam curriculum—
As he turned the corner his nose flared.
Shalean. A new Shalean. Here? How?
Brios had sensed something yesterday. He had looked hard and long, but found no one. Today he was determined, and he set his mind to it.
He looked around frantically; the corridor was empty. He shook his head, and smelled that distinctive scent again.
There has to be another one here!
It was definitely someone new.
His sense of a fellow Shalea wouldn’t lie. He knew all his fellow Shaleans in the area, and this scent was different. It called him on a primal level with the promise of a friend. That’s all it could be until he was eighteen. He had nine long, agonizing months to wait before he could act on that promise. Those with Shalean life force lived by the creed: ‘Shift as necessary; fight for the good of all; mate for life.’ He repeated it over and over in his head. Sometimes, like now, the responsibility of who he was—what he was—was almost too much to bear. It was as if someone was sitting on his shoulders, and thumping him, saying ‘Future Patriarch, remember your position.’ Then someone else was kicking his shins and laughing at him; mocking the fact that while he knew what was expected of him, he didn’t always appreciate his particular burden.
It seemed like he had always known he was different; always understood he was a Shalean. Just like some people were Catholic or Native American, it was part of him. As he’d grown older he’d begun to understand more about what being Shalean meant. The first time he’d projected his thoughts to his dad, who was the Patriarch—the head of the Sept—without realizing what he was doing, and his dad had answered in the same way, he had freaked, screamed, and ran to his mum. He’d been five.
His parents had sat down with him and talked. They’d told him how lucky he was to be chosen to have special gifts. Over the years, as more and more gifts were revealed, he’d begun to understand just what it meant to have so many, and at such a young age.
When he’d first shifted at twelve and changed from a gangly boy whose voice had only just broken to a sleek powerful young leopard, he finally knew how great it was to be Shalean; to run and stretch; be a member of a peaceful Sept living in the glorious countryside of Scotland; and have the forest on his doorstep. With other Shaleans his own age to talk, change, and run with his life was good. The only thing missing was the presence of a special partner; a mate. Now, he sensed she might be near.
When he was asked to stand before his dad and the other elders, and was told that when the time was right he would be asked to become Patriarch himself, he’d been humbled— and very proud. It was not usually a role passed from father to son, it had to be earned. From the very first man who had protected the Goddess Shalea from her enemies throughout the years, whoever was chosen to lead the Sept—whether it was as a Patriarch or a Matriarch—was chosen for their strength of character and dedication to uphold the creed. The Sept had never discriminated against someone due to his or her sex.
Looking back, it seemed some of his misdemeanors had been missed; or maybe they were just dismissed as childish pranks. Either way, he had to smile to himself as he remembered the stink bomb in the Home Ec. room, and the superglue sticking his English teacher’s desk drawers together; then when he was older, hiding in a cupboard with Maddy McKellen at a party—that thought made him really grin, she’d been his first real girlfriend. He’d been the envy of several of his friends for the whole two weeks they dated before she left him for the captain of the debating team. He also couldn’t forget his first—and last—cigarette; he’d thought he was going to cough his guts up. No way was he going to persevere with that.
In all the years he’d been at Lochglenn High School he’d never had a hint of any Shalean who was either not related to him, or already known to him. In this part of Scotland everyone knew everyone else; so to scent an unknown was almost unheard of. In fact, he wasn’t sure it had ever happened to him before; but, there was no mistake. There was someone else, someone new; an outsider. He turned his mind inward.
It’s a female; young, not yet sixteen; but in body—an adult
His spirits rose—a friend? It would be nice to have someone he could talk to, connect with, and not have to screen everything he said or did. He could be himself.
True, with his fellow Shaleans he didn’t have to hide any facet of who he was, or what he did; but as he got older and his future role drew closer, those he could totally relax with became fewer. If, as his senses suggested, this new Shalean was possibly his
—the person who would be by his side as he held the Sept together, and followed the wise and trusted tenets of those Patriarchs who had ruled before him—he wanted to see her now.
It couldn’t be someone from his chapter—The Felidaean Chapter—the chapter that was head of all the Shalean Septs. If someone new had arrived he would have been among the first to know; so who, and where?
He wondered if this sense of someone new, someone who might be important, meant his guides had heard him. They are never seen, and are rarely heard; but, a Shalean always knows that in times of great need or important decisions their guides would be there to help. The last time he had felt their presence was when he had to decide whether to accept his role in the hierarchy of the Sept. Now, perhaps they were giving him the opportunity to bond with someone special. If so, he gave his thanks.
He looked behind him.
The thread led towards the cafeteria. Even over the smell of chili, curry, lamb stew and fish he could sense her. When he walked into the room, the din of voices threatened to overwhelm him. He focused carefully and closed his eyes.
There she is.
And bless Leira, his younger sister. She and her friends were sitting with her. They were probably talking about some girl thing; except that Andy Fairmain, a boy his own age was sitting with them; and very close to a girl called Alison, who was a friend of his sisters and not Shalean.
Andy had recently confided to Brios that he was gay. Though he was sure about his sexuality, he was not sure about coming out yet. He knew who he wanted for his partner, but wasn’t ready to take the risk of being knocked back—let alone make a commitment. It was almost as if he was scared that whatever the outcome, things might go wrong for him. Brios could understand that.
He was surprised to see Andy being so friendly with Alison. He didn’t usually cozy up to anyone, let alone a girl who wasn’t Shalean. Although he tended to like everyone, he was inclined to keep to himself.
Brios had assured Andy that whether he was gay, straight or bi it would make no difference to him or the Sept; it was the man inside who mattered. Andy hadn’t been convinced. He’d told Brios that he knew his friends weren’t bothered about what he was as long as he was true to himself, but he felt some of the older, more rigid members of council might not be as open and accepting. So, until he was confident he could stand up to those people who might be antagonistic, he wasn’t saying anything one way or another. Brios felt that Andy was already capable of holding his own, but he knew it was Andy’s right to decide when he came out.
Brios felt a stab of loneliness, as he watched them all talking together. That was something he missed; the chance to chat and relax with his friends instead of minding what he said all the time. From the smile on the new Shalean’s face, he knew they were making her feel comfortable and welcome.
He smiled as he scented her again; a scent he would now recognize instantly as hers. He’d been told by his elders that he would recognize
when he met her. It seemed he now had.
Brios walked purposefully across the floor, his trainers slapping the tiles. From the far side of the room he saw his sister speak to the girl at her side; he saw the girl look up at him; and watched her nostrils flare before she looked away feigning disinterest.
His hopes were squashed temporarily. Maybe they would be just friends for now—or perhaps even forever? In the end it wasn’t up to him. He judged she could use some friends, and to tell the truth, so could he. He had plenty of acquaintances, but true friends were few and far between.
He needed to shift, and soon. To run, snarl, stretch, and rejoice in being Shalean; but, first things first. He needed to speak to the beautiful girl sitting next to his sister; to find out what, if anything, she felt towards him; and to see if she understood any of what he felt.
“Hi, I’m Brios, Leira’s brother.” He held out his hand and introduced himself; old-fashioned, but polite. His moronic sister rolled her eyes and mimed hand clapping behind the girl’s back.
“I’m Rach,” she said taking his hand. “Are people always this friendly around here?”
Next to her, Leira snorted; Brios gave her a puzzled look.
“Dr. McIntyre, Mr. Spedding, bloody Struan Scott and the rest of his crowd. Need I say more?” Leira said. “You think they were friendly? You’re mad then.”
“That was yesterday,” Rach protested. Her gaze swept the room, and then landed back on him focusing in on his hand. “I was a bit worried about moving. Loads of people kept saying I’d be rubbished for being English, but my mum was Scottish so I’m half Scots.”
Brios thought to himself.
An electric current passed through him when he released her hand; he wondered if she felt it as well. Rach didn’t seem fazed, although he noticed she flexed her hand a bit before she carried on explaining all about her move north.
“I mean, I’ve lived in the same house since I was born. We only moved up here this past weekend. My dad used to work for a confectionary company, but now he’s got a job in the whisky industry. There’s not a lot of call for that where we used to live.” She rubbed her hand and giggled in what he thought was a nervous manner as his hand slid back down to his side. “Nice to meet you—er, Breece?”
He spelled his name out, and was loath to let her hand go. He glared at the aforementioned Struan Scott, another Shalean about his sister’s age who had just wandered over.
Struan was one of those people who never seemed to be open about anything. He never walked briskly; instead he always sidled up to people, as if he would perhaps be able to eavesdrop on their conversations. It seemed as if he tried to ingratiate himself with the people he thought might be important. It hadn’t earned him many friends, or respect.
Why was he sniffing around now?
‘Stay away Struan—from Rach and my sister.’
He hoped that projection was received loud and clear; there was no way he would let Struan get away with that behavior. It seemed Struan got the message, because he mumbled something and moved away.
‘Keep your fur on. I was only being friendly. Anyway, I thought you said we weren’t allowed to project at school?’
He projected back at Brios.
He was getting too big for his pelt.
‘You’re not allowed to! I am—when necessary. Remember who you are Struan. Never, ever, forget.’
If looks could kill the one Struan threw over his shoulder as he slunk away would have his mum picking the hymns. Struan’s animosity was growing the older they got. Brios knew that one day soon something would blow. He dismissed Struan from his mind, and turned back to Rach.
“Brios is an unusual name. Is it Scottish?” Rach asked him.
He nodded. “It’s weird I know, but it’s a favorite of my mum’s, it’s Gaelic for a gentle breeze. So you’re Rachael?”
“Yup, I’m named after my mum’s friend. Mum died when I was four, so there’s only dad and me now. But, before you say anything—I might not have a mum anymore, but I’m really lucky to have such a good dad. He’s great.” Her eyes were defying him to disagree.
He smiled. Brios had been brought up to reserve judgment until he had all the facts. So, until he found out what she knew about her heritage that was what he was going to do.
Rach was still talking about her dad.
“He takes me sailing, windsurfing, diving, and he showed me how to ride and fish. You name it, we do it; and, I can talk to him about anything—and I mean anything.” She looked ready to argue.
Brios wondered about Rach’s relationship with her Dad. He couldn’t understand if she could talk to him about everything, how it was she didn’t seem to know about Shalea. Either her dad knew nothing about it, which he found difficult to believe, or he
not to know anything, which was just so wrong.