When Mela agreed to go on a diplomatic trip to the island nation for her mother, she didn't expect to be roped into saving the base of her worlds population from having their home turned to iron.
Armed with little knowledge of survival in the wild, she has to join six other children of nobility, five of which have never slept outside a night in their lives, teach them to fight, and teach them to live.
translations for this chapter:
Nuevo solabon, tu shockai :: Good morning, my shockai.
Meit :: Mother
Shockontal :: Above deserter.
Shockonte :: Below deserter.
Shoke :: Desert lily
Demeit :: Grandmother
It was a chilly day. Not unusually so, but enough to wake Mela from her sleep. Goosebumps had stretched across her grayish skin in the night. Its wasn't a problem, the Shockonte, the people of under the desert, were used to the cold. The underwater caverns they lived in and the rivers that were their life sources were startling icy, and Mela, like any other, was used too it in its entirety. But coming out of her rest freezing was something she'd never been able to grasp.
Mela rolled over on the cool stone, standing carefully. The cavern was lit with the same, eerie, yellow light, but today was decidedly different from every other day so far. Mela's mother was leaving as diplomat today, separating her and Mela from Mela's father and brother, as the matriarchal society presiding over Shocka called for women diplomats, with daughters. Mela was nervous too leave her father and her brother, the two were practically another extension over her soul.
Speak of the devil. “Mela! You're up!” Que shouted happily from the river, where he was playing with the children. Mela adjusted her breast band and loincloth quickly, striding to the riverside at the same time, and she decided that sitting on the rocks, and dipping her feet into the chill water, would be better than a shock from jumping in. They said the waters at dvel were warm, but every water she'd ever come acrossonteorontalhad been icy cold. She imagined warm water for the briefest moment. It must be the highest of luxury.
Shava appeared next to Mela suddenly, her little black curls glinting, her wide, toothy smile dominating her tiny face. Shava was dripping wet, and she gave Mela an enthusiastic, damp, good morning hug. If Mela weren't awake before, she definitely was now. “Greetings, Shava.” She said kindly, and the little girl smiles in return.
Shava speaks tentatively, her words slow and steady. “Nuevo solabon, tu shockai.” She says, her voice growing confident as she finishes the old Shockenese sentence. Good morning, my shockai. As Shava's mentor, a teenager guide for a child, Mela had one of many duties to teach Shava Shockenese, the ancient language of their culture, which was supposed to link fluidly with the Frackei Shava was born speaking. It was an effort.
“You're getting really good, Shava!” Mela praised, and as her attention is turned to her, Que lumbered over, shaking out his long, ratty hair all over Mela, dotting her with second hand water. “You jerk!” She squealed, pulling her legs up, and attempting to kick Que, attempt being the key word in the sentence.
“Morning, little sister!” Que yelled, throwing his dripping arms around her for good measure, and picked her straight off the rock and into the air.
“Put! Me! Down! Que, stop!” Mela shrieked, but its lost on him, and he dragged her out to deeper waters of the river amongst her protests, finally dumping her in the chill water. “I hate you!” Mela squealed after surfacing.
“You secretly love me, Mela. Just admit it.” Que said, smiling his signature smirk. “And you love me even more for making sure you were awake on your big day.”
Mela splashed him quickly, before diving under water and swimming away. She got to the shore faster than him by a lot, but she was always the quickest swimmer. She shook herself off, and waves her hair around to free it of dampness, before dashing up the rocky shore and up to her mother and the other adults, plopping herself down next to her mother a little less than gracefully.
“Good morning, Mela.” Her mother said, her voice masking her disapproval just slightly. “I have some shellfish today. Your father traded them from ashockontallast night as a special treat.” She says, cracking one of them open skillfully with a knife, as she spoke of her father's trade with his own, the people of Shocka above the ground.
“They look delicious,meit.” Mela says, sinking into customs as she speaks the formal word for mother. She grabbed a silver dagger laying at her mother's side and shelled a oyster in the pile open a crack, sucking out the meat through the crack noisily.
“You know Mela, the Dvelen will not appreciate that, dear. This is a lot of what they eat, and as an ambassadors daughter, they would expect you to eat like a lady.” Her mother said disapprovingly, as she stabs the meat of one she has pried open with the tip of her knife, pulling it off the dagger in a manner almost considered dainty. “They will, of course, have forks in Dvel, though.”
“I understand,meit.” Mela said, finishing her meal carefully with the dagger in silence, as the last she needs today is to split her lips, and somehow, the food wasn't as enjoyable and special anymore.
“Father!” Mela squeals, sinking into the Frackei language with ease. Her father approaches slowly, throwing his arms around his daughter when he gets to her, hugging her firmly.
“Good tidings,tu shoke.” He says, sitting down slowly. He always preferred Shockenese pet names, this one meaning “my desert lily”. Her father had been raised as ashockontal, and within the wanderer group he lived in, nobody could speak Frackei, seeing as nobody had left but once to attempt to learn the strange language, a simplified mesh of Caratian, Dvelen, and their own Shockenese. Her father's Frackei was shaky at best, having jumped into learning it through total immersion on his wife's part at the age of twenty five. They had met in one of the largest city springs, Afrekaa, when Mela's mother had been visiting the city too see friends. She eventually brought theshockontalhome, teaching him the twists and turns of the underground pathways. And ask their children grew, he explained that he spoke Frackei better with his loved ones, and they practiced Shockenese with him, in return for him getting to practice Frackei with them.
Mela scooted over too sit closer into her father, breathing in the eternal scent of cinnamon that seemed to cling to his skin. Pele, her father, was a hardly skilled sorcerer, and everyone knew that somewhere within him he had a touch of Caratian sorcerer blood. They said the ground in the Caratian forest of Mekcrut was dripping with magic, and the sons of the forest would pass on the gift. But Pele's magic was subtle in nature, a sense of charisma that made him attractive as a being and a smart trader. It wasn't something Pele liked too flaunt.
After the meal, it was time to say goodbye. Pele would accompany them to the port, and the journey would be a quick one there. They'd make it too the ships, meet the shockontal representatives, get on board and be on their merry way to Dvel. But why was Mela so nervous?
Goodbyes were rough. The part that hurt Mela the most was Shava, innocent little Shava was losing her mentor early. Shava was carrying something heavy wrapped in plant fibers when she came up to Mela.
“Shava! Thank you!” Mela gushed, and Shava smiles, handing the package to her guide with a manner almost resembling caution.. Mela untied the root knot, unearthing a clay charm. It's been shaped into a diamond, dotted with punctures. A charm for protection from bad spirits. Tradition said the evil ones would be confused by the punctures, and believe that another was already occupying this body, and they would turn away.
“It's mine.” Shava said, almost bashful. “But there are more demons the farther you go from home, so you should need it more.” Shava said, picking up the charm and tying the string around Mela's skin, the brown knot resting on grayish skin. “Promise me you will stay safe, Mela?” She asked, clasping Mela's hands.
“Always.” Mela said, squeezing her hands reassuringly, pulling the little girl in a hug. “Actually, I have something for you. To say goodbye.” She said, and Shava's eyes lighted up.
“A present?” She asked eagerly, pulling away and smiling that impish grin at Mela.
“Of course. Ah, here it is!” Mela said, pulling it out of her traveling cloak. Its was a toy made of Caratian wood, carved into a galloping horse. A gift from her father.
“Mela, its beautiful.” Shava whispered, cradling the horse. “Thank you.”
“There is no need to thank when you deserve what you have been given.” Mela said, tangling her fingers in the girl's soft, ashen hair one last time. “I love you, Shava.” She said.
“I love you too Mela. Nobody could be a better mentor than you.” Shava whispered, wrapping her bony arms around Mela one last time, before Que picks up his sister from behind, and she started screaming all the way.
“Que! Put me down!” She shrieked, and he plops her feet first back on the cave floor, where she adjusted herself quickly. “What is it with you and throwing me around, you freak?” She screamed dramatically.
Que just punched her in the shoulder playfully. “It always gets you worked up,” he grins, and Mela just grimaces, as their mother distantly shouts, “be kind, Mela!” While saying goodbye to her girls.
“Aw, you know you love me, little sister.” Que said mocking her, ruffling her hair, and Mela just scowls.
“You keep telling yourself that.” Mela decided, slugging her brother in his own shoulder, and somebody tugs on her traveling pants. “Oh! Hello Po!” She said, turning around to greet her brothers mentee sweetly. Po is younger than Shava, because Que's old mentee got to old to have a mentor. Po was short and chubby with baby fat, and his teeth weren't all grown in yet. Mela plucked the toddler off of the ground, who giggled and pulled her hair. “Ow.” Mela said, swatting his hand away gently. “I see you're teaching your mentee well, Que.” She sighed, and Que grinned.
“Hey, gotta get 'em young.” Que laughed, pulling Po away from his little sister, balancing the child easily on his shoulders.
“Goni must be so pleased with this.” Mela smirks, bringing up Po's strict mother, and Que laughs heartily.
“Well, she's the one that wanted me to take on her kid!” He says mock defensively, because honestly, Goni had no other choice, and Po laughed and clapped his hands quickly, before taking his own grip on Que's long and shaggy hair, and tugging. “Ow, you little jerk!” Que exclaimed.
“Well, you know, you get whats coming for you, Que. You just got it in the form of a two year old.” She says, before blowing a kiss to Po, and hugging her brother, and walking back to her mother, who's beckoning her over.
With one last wave goodbye as she shouldered her pack, Mela watches her favorite people in the world disappear as she makes a bend in the tunnel.
After they made a short walk, they had boarded a river boat through a much deeper spring that would take them to the shore city of Gosha. Gosha was a shock to Mela, the dazzling sunlight suddenly seemed so strange in comparison to the lightest desert visits on day trips the group sometimes went on. Everywhere, people tried to sell her things, and in a moment of weakness, Pele bought his daughter a sword.
It was average, really, gilded in the amethyst so often found in Shocka, with a gleaming blade. It was a light sword, but the tip was very sharp, slicing the samples the shop keeper showed Pele and Mela with ease.
Mela handled the sword like an extension of her arm, trying to recall the advice a trainer called Asu had given her and Que all those years ago, balancing her body and tuning out distractions. She knew what this sword was though, this sword, it was hers.
Her father handed the shop keeper a sack of gold coins, and he helped Mela position the sword in its belt. With this, Mela suddenly felt so much stronger.
They kept walking through the cobble stone streets until the met the shore, and the steamboat. The Dvelens were eager to show off this new innovation of theirs, and for this first embassy they were providing all the ambassadors with free transportation via steam boat. That was when Mela met Drackai.
Drackai's name wasn't really a name, it was a word. Smart man, in Shockenese. Drackai's skin was dark as night from hours laboring in the desert, but seemed a little skittish, even with his brutishly muscled body, that came from hard manual labor. Mela was surprised it was a boy at all, usually only women and their daughters went as ambassadors. This meant the ambassador had no daughter. Just this Drackai, as his mother had introduced her too him.
When his mother walked over too talk to one of the Dvelen sailors, Drackai finally spoke. “Don't call me Drackai.” He said, his voice slightly rough, brown eyes narrowed. It sounded like he didn't use it much.
“What should I call you then?” Mela asked, trying to be kind with this strange, aggressive boy. He was a wild card in the truest sense of world.
“Ckai.” Drackai said, his voice a little steadier now, but this time he held out a roughly calloused hand. Mela grasped it gingerly, and he shook roughly, but it didn't feel sincere, as if he was trying to seem tough, dangerous.
“If that’s what you want.” She said decisively. “Call me Mela.” She said, remembering that she had not introduced herself before.
“That’s a pretty name.” Ckai said, and he seemed a little nicer now, Mela mused, but he still seemed so painfully lonely. She had a feeling that Ckai was used to being pushed around—the matriarchal society they lived in tended to favor more feminine mannered boys, and the shyer, less talkative boys ended up even more excluded than their more brutish piers.
When Mela got to her cabin, she marveled. The seats were lined with soft fabric, and a funny little switch in the wall flooded the room with artificial light. She touched the ball of yellow the light emanated from, and almost burned her fingers, but she just laughed. It was so interesting! She had always know Dvelens to be inventive, but this was just beyond inventive—it was amazing. She undid the clasp to the neck cuff, she wore for the status symbol, setting it on a marble table top jutting from the wall and removed her travel shoes, when there was a knock on the door.
“Hello?” She called out sweetly, letting down her hair from its knot and fluffing it down her shoulders as she spoke, awaiting the response.
“Um, Mela, is it okay for me to come in?” Ckai asked his voice a little higher in awkwardness, and Mela knew the reason he even asked instead of just barging in, he was really asking, are you decent?
“Yes, you can Ckai!” Mela calls, opening the door quickly, and Ckai appears through it, his short hair so different from Que's.
Mela sat down on the bed as Ckai spoke. “I was just wondering, do you know why we're going to Dvel? Its the wrong time of year for the usual conferences.” He asks, and sits right down on her couch. “Sorry for not talking before, by the way.”
“No, I don't, Ckai. They wouldn't tell my mom anything, I just figured it's because its her first time as an ambassador, since my demeit died. And its alright, I didn't mind. You just seem shy.”
“Sorry?” Ckai says, unsure where to go from there. He definitely didn't seem to be much of a people person, but Mela figured he must have had a bit of a soft spot for her so far, and he's not sure to react to the news of her grandfather's death. Its almost... sweet. “And yeah, I am kind of shy. Sorry.”
“Don't be. On both accounts.” Mela says, “I never met her for more than a couple minutes, really. She spent all her time in Gosha. She honestly wasn't a very good representative of the Shockonte.” Mela finishes, and Ckai smiles.
“She did seem kind of behind the times when I knew her.” He says with a smile. “Me and the others used to call her the witch lady.”
“The others?” Mela asks, straining with curiosity. She knew the children of the other head ambassadors would be there, but if Ckai could tell her about them it would make it that much easier.
“Well, I can't give a very good representative of them, seeing as I don't really like most of them, and they think I'm an antisocial weirdo, but I can tell you a little about them.”
“Please?” Mela asks, smiling a little bit, and Ckai looks like he's trying to smash down a grin as they gossiped like old women.
“Well, there are three Dvelens because one of the Dvelen ambassadors has twins. The girl is named Mnvenia. She is Mnvenie's twin sister. The other boy is Charstk.” Ckai says, struggling too say the last one's name. It was decidedly harder to say Dvelen words with a Shockai accent, because Shockenese names and words so heavily relied on the vowels over the consonants. “Charstk and Mnvenia are engaged for an arranged marriage. They're friends, but last I checked they both kind of resent the engagement. But in Dvelen marriages aren't love bonds. They're a political scheme.” Ckai says, and Mela broods over this information thoughtfully.
“That's interesting.” Mela says. “Its very different from here,” she continues, “I suppose that marriage is more of a lawful institute there than it is here.”
“It is.” Ckai confirms. “They treat marriages like we treat partnerships between the women. They live together, share money and bills, and can represent each other.”
“Oh, I get it now.” Mela says decisively. “I feel kind of bad for... Ch-charsttick and Mnveniah.” She says, struggling to get out the words.
Ckai grins. “Like this,” he says, demonstrating “Chaars-tuk, and Mmmvenia.” He says, climbing onto the bed and grabbing Mela's wrists, all inhibitions with shyness lost as he gets more comfortable. Its nice, simple.
“Charstk and Mnvenia.” She says, smiling when she wrapped her tongue around the foreign names. “Now tell me about the Caratians!” She says excitedly.
“Sandre and Megar.” Ckai says thoughtfully. “They're kind of... dim, I suppose. They have trouble wrapping their heads around new things. Somewhere on another Dvelen steamboat, those boys have probably killed themselves with these new appliances already. They're a little younger than us, and very excitable.” Ckai says, his voice laced with a little more contempt as he described the Caratians.
“You don't like them very much.” Mela comments, and Ckai blushs a little bit.
“Do I make it that obvious?” He laughs, and Mela grins, as the conversation drifts away as they grow tired, and Mela falls asleep in Ckai's arms. And it feels safe.