Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)
The siblings took some time to get settled into the wagon. It was, as they had been warned, crowded. The wagon wasn’t a large one, and it was still piled with bags and bundles — though at least all the boxes had been removed.
When the small caravan moved out, the wagon the siblings rested in was at the front, just behind the screen of guards. Normally, the wagons would have been further back, but then the siblings would have been breathing in the dust and dirt kicked up by everyone else.
The wagon, small as it was, filled most of the narrow road, leaving little room to either side. Nobility Bethania rode behind the wagon, as did Abdal, close enough to speak if the siblings wished to. Abdal’s squad ranged around and through the woods, guarding against both bandits and local authorities.
When the nobility first joined them, Dalma had wanted to immediately demand the answers Abdal had said they could ask for. But Lilah, knowing eir sibling, had anticipated this. Before even Dalma could burst out a question, Lilah met eir eyes and asked, “Wait, please. There will be time. And we still need rest.”
So for a time, they rode quietly. The siblings rested as best they could in the jolting, jarring wagon. Even with the rough ride, Lilah found emself slipping into another doze. The nobility watched them rest and guided eir horse on the rough ground, saying nothing of why ey was there. Dalma and Sherzod watched (and in Dalma’s case sometimes glared at) em, but kept silent so Lilah could sleep. Eventually, they drifted off themselves.
When Lilah woke a few hours later, it was well into evening. Seeing Lilah sit up, Bethania said quietly, “We will be pushing on tonight, traveling as far as we can safely. No one wants foundered horses, but we also don’t want to risk trouble with the local guard.”
“Yes,” Lilah said. “I would rather not see the guard again myself.” Ey smiled grimly. There was a moment of silence, then:
Both Lilah and Bethania spoke at once, but Bethania waved for Lilah to continue.
Rested now and ready for — needing — answers, Lilah said, “You were right. About the collar, lady. But you said it was only temporary. I worry…”
Bethania looked at Dalma and Sherzod, still apparently sleeping. “The pack will help you,” ey said. “I don’t know what you have been taught about… what you are. But you are not a monster, nor incapable of self-control.”
Not sure what to say, especially with two others who might wake at any moment, Bethania looked at Abdal.
Abdal saw the nobility looking and nodded back. This was something for Pack to speak on. Ey gestured to Dalma and Sherzod. “They will learn sooner or later. You know that, do you not?”
Lilah swallowed, then nodded.
“Alright.” Abdal took a deep breath and seemed to settle deeper within themself, never looking away from Lilah. Their jaw and nose lengthened into a short snout, their eyes turned golden.
Lilah cringed away, only stopping emself from crying out for fear of waking eir siblings.
Abdal held the partial shift, giving Lilah a chance to see. But while Lilah battled fear, the beast within em yearned, reaching for the bonds of pack and security and place.
When Lilah had calmed a bit, Abdal spoke. “Pack is family, cub.” Eir voice had lightened, taking on a breathy, crooning quality. “It keeps us safe, keeps the madness at bay, so we never become what you fear.”
The beast’s sadness and grief in their isolation wound through Lilah, bringing tears to eir eyes.
“Soon,” Abdal soothed, allowing his face to shift back to its human-seeming. “There are not enough of us here to anchor you, cub. And we don’t dare run freely in this land. But we will be home soon, and you will be one of us.”
The words soothed the beast, soothed Lilah.
Whatever else Abdal might be, ey was not an out-of-control monster, attacking all in eir path. Nothing like the monster that attacked and damned Lilah.
With the beast calmed inside em and Abdal riding nearby as if nothing was wrong, Lilah believed for the first time that Bethania was right, that ey might be okay.
Unknown to any of them, Sherzod had woken when Lilah first spoke. Ey had not moved, wanting to get as much rest as ey could. And then ey had not moved because ey wanted to know more and was not ready to confront Lilah with eir secrets.
It is likely that if it had been Dalma listening, the conversation would have gone a great deal different than it did. But Sherzod was a quiet one and more willing to wait and think and plan than eir sibling. So ey listened and thought and waited. And what ey did when ey were done waiting is a story for another day.
Not knowing eir sibling listened, Lilah thanked Abdal. Still scared, but seeing for the first that the beast within them might, in fact, be more than a beast. Abdal, aware that ey had scared Lilah, road ahead to give the cub some space.
Lilah watched em ride away and listened to the beast who whined in fear to see em leave. Still afraid but trying to push past the fear, Lilah thought at eir beast, “Ey will be back. Ey is not leaving us; ey is riding ahead to keep us safe.”
The beast seemed to hear em, to settle. Not relax, no, it remained alert and nervous. But it was willing to wait and see. Lilah sighed with relief and thanked any god that might be listening for bringing Bethania and Abdal to rescue em and eir family.
First Came Trust Finale