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Chapter Five


Alexandria and I quietly walked the streets of Shapeir, making the necessary odd turn here and there.

I looked over to my sister. As sappy as it may sound, I truly do love her - she's my best friend, and I owed her everything. She knew my secrets and kept silent about them.

While I was lost in my thoughts, she turned to me with a slight smile.

"What?" She asked as she stopped walking. She must've seen me with my 'thoughtful face' on.

"I was just thinking about what you said earlier," I said rather matter-of-factly.

"What's that?" She crossed her arms and stared at me, earning a laugh from me. Always defensive, she is...

"You know, about you avoiding guys, 'for the most part'."

She stared blankly, clearly not amused. "What do you mean by that? I'm am a girl, you know."

I laughed more. "I just find it hard picturing you with someone."

"Humph..." she looked away. All my life I'd pictured her as a tomboy, even at times more like an older brother than a sister. That's not to say she didn't look feminine... She had an athletic, slim build, and she was stronger than she looked.

"So, who is he?" I raised an eyebrow on purpose.

She narrowed her eyes as she looked back. "Nobody." She sighed then, "I just meant that should the opportunity arise..." I got the feeling that she had somebody in mind, but didn't know how to approach them.

I nodded and continued walking without her. It took a few seconds, but I finally heard her jog to catch up to me. "Must be nice to have somebody, even if you have to hide it..."

She was right - I didn't want to think about being without Serra. "Yeah..." I glanced over at her. She had her head down, watching the street as we walked. I suddenly felt bad for her. Here she was keeping my secret, when she probably wanted somebody to hide for herself. I couldn't help but chuckle at the thought.

"It's not funny..."

Another laugh escaped me. "I was just thinking how Dad would react if you started hiding a relationship from him, and he found out about both of us."

"Heh." She didn't seem talkative as we turned down the street heading to the Gates Plaza.

"Hey, why don't you stay for dinner at the Inn. Shema's honeyed lamb is delicious!"

She welcomed the change of topic. "That sounds like a plan." I saw her look at me out of the corner of my eye.

We reached Gates Plaza just as the few merchants still set up were taking their booths down. The setting sun cast an amber glow across the plaza. Xandy mumbled, "It's been ages since I've been here. Not counting this morning..."

"Guess I can't say the same," I tried to hide my grin. "It's like a second home."

She let out a soft laugh as we reached the door. I opened it and let her in first, both of us putting our hoods down as we entered.

Shameen beamed at us as soon as we went in. "This is a very pleasant surprise!" He said with a bow. "It is good to see you again, Princess."

She smiled and returned the bow. "Likewise, Shameen."

He nodded, quickly directing us to my usual table in the far corner. "Dinner is not ready just yet." He looked at me with a knowing smile - I never made any attempts to hide my hunger for Shema's wondrous culinary delights!

"I shall go inform my Shema of your arrival," he said with another bow before heading to the back.

Things got quiet rather quickly. Xandy kept looking around, probably trying to familiarize herself with the place again.

"So, I didn't ask," she said, breaking the silence, "what did you think of using a sword?" She was in the process of shrugging off her cloak. "You seemed pretty comfortable using it." After her cloak was off, she sprawled out along the cushions, her back against the wall. It amazed me how feminine she looked at that moment, a side of her I rarely saw. Scratch that - a side of her I've never seen before.

"I don't know, I've nothing to compare it with really. Half the time it didn't feel like my actions at all."

She smiled slightly. "Maybe that's a good thing. If you can act naturally, then there's less need to think about what to do."

"I suppose... I'm just still curious as to why all of the sudden. If he wanted me to use a sword, why now?" I sat back against the wall myself.

"Dunno, Runt. Maybe there's word of a rebellion or something." She shrugged.

"I don't want to think about something like that." I don't think there'd be any need for an uprising. Father did an excellent job at ruling... for the most part.

"I was just saying." She closed her eyes and let out a sigh, trying to relax. I did the same, taking a deep breath, inhaling the pleasant mingling of the aromas wafting in from the kitchen with the smoky incense.

"So, maybe I can show you some things Sherem taught me. Things Issur doesn't know." She was looking at me from just one eye, and I gave a chuckle.

I was about to reply, but was distracted by Shema making her way to us, a tray full of food in her hands. I hungrily licked my lips, getting a smile from Shema.

"If you both do not mind, we would appreciate it if you would stay for a while after dinner."

I smiled. "You know I'll be staying, Shema." I glanced up from the food to her, getting a caring smile from her.

"Of course, I'll stay," Xandy was looking at the food. "After this, I doubt I'll feel like going anywhere."

"Your words flatter me, Princess!" Shema's said with a smile. "Please, enjoy the food." With a quick bow, Shema turned to head back to the kitchen. She didn't seem to be as talkative as usual, which struck me as odd.

I watched her until she disappeared past the hallway then turned my attention to my sister. She was already eating, and looked up at me from her plate, swallowing fast. "What? I wasn't going to wait for you to stop fawning..." She had already placed a bit of the herbed parsnips in her mouth and left out a soft moan of delight.

We chatted throughout dinner, talking about training, magic, how insane some of the people were at the Palace (us included)... Our meal was finished quickly, as we were too wrapped up in conversation to pay attention to how fast we were eating.

One of Shema's nieces came out with a fresh pot of spiced tea and cleared the table for us, giving us a bow before she left.

I leaned back against the wall and let out a sigh as I rolled my head on my shoulders. The Katta's Tail Inn was one of the few places I felt I could truly relax at.

I lowered my head back down to see Xandy staring at me. "What...?" I muttered.

She smiled. "Just realizing how much you've grown. That goatee makes you look older, you know."

I ran my hand over my chin and upper lip, rubbing the slight growth of hair I purposely hadn't shaved for the past few days. I was undecided if I liked the look or not, as I've let it grow a couple times in the past, only to shave it in less than a week.

"At least it's not a full beard like Dad's," she added.

I shrugged, my reply was lost as the lights magically dimmed. Xandy looked at me, and I quietly explained that there must be a performance tonight. We both watched as a middle aged Katta male came out, carrying a flute. I recognized him as Serra's uncle, Sitar. He gracefully sat cross-legged on a small half-circle stage against the wall, which was there specifically for his performances.

All eyes were on him as he closed his eyes and began playing a soft tune. The lights dimmed more until they were out, leaving us in just the candlelight from each table. A hooded figure walked in from the back rooms. I noticed Xandy look at me from the corner of my eyes. I gave her a quick glance, and turned to watch as the newcomer - now at the center of the floor - slowly, almost nervously, crouch low to the ground as Sitar held his note.

My heart almost stopped beating when Sitar began playing a faster melody, the shroud was thrown from the performer, revealing Serra! My eyes didn't want to leave her bikini-clad form as she stayed crouched low to the floor, slinking along it, looking almost like she was prowling. Her brilliant green eyes met mine, and my heart kicked into gear, beating twice as fast, trying to catch up for the lost time.

She rose to her feet, hips swaying to the melody I couldn't hear from the blood rushing in my ears. She raised her arms in the air and spun around slowly, hips not once stopping. I didn't know where to look! Her long tail was swishing behind her as she began swaying again with her back to me. The metal chains holding the cloth together shimmered in the dim candlelight. I had to remind myself to breathe as I watched her dance. She began spinning quickly, but it still didn't match the speed my mind was going.

Her dance ended way too quickly. Even as she gathered her cloak and walked off, my heart was pounding hard enough that I could feel the blood rush through my body. She turned quickly and gave me a wink before disappearing behind the wall.

I slowly caught my breath, blushing deeply when I caught Xandy's smirk. "I'll let Mum and Dad know you won't be home tonight." Her grin went from ear to ear, and I knew she was holding in her laughter. I was too flustered to care!

I hardly got a foot into her room before she pushed me to the bed and pounced on top of me...

I could have stared into her eyes all night as we lay in bed together, her warm body pressed against mine. She ran her hand through my hair, her claws scratching lightly at my scalp, a sensation she knew I loved.

"Erik..." her voice was soft, "I have something for you. I wanted to give it to you earlier, but..." her voice trailed off almost shyly.

I moved closer and softly kissed her. She was trying to apologize over something she didn't need to. "I'm here all night, Kitten, there's no rush."

She smiled and sat up, letting the covers fall from her body. I looked her over for not the first time, and my heart skipped a beat. She reached over to the stand beside the bed, grabbing a small box before turning to face me. I sat up myself, looking at the small box in her hand.

"It's not much, but I'd like you to wear it..." She lifted the lid to show me a small sapphire set in silver. "It's a symbol of friendship, of a bond among the Katta, and since we're... you know... um... unofficial mates..." She trailed off again, and I put my hand on hers.

"What are you so nervous about? Why wouldn't I wear it?"

She beamed at me then. "I love you, Erihkam!" I pulled her to me and kissed her again, delighting in the soft gasp she let out.

"Shall I put it on you now?" she whispered against my lips.

I nodded, resting my forehead on hers. "Earring, right?"

"Mmhmm," she answered, moving to straddle my lap, giggling as I pet her sides. She kissed me again, brushing my hair back. I knew what she had in mind as she deepened the kiss. I felt her trace her finger around my left ear, then I flinched at the sharp pain of her claw pressing into my earlobe. She then pulled her lips from mine and smiled playfully.

"I love you, Serra." She smiled even more, running her finger over my chin, reaching beside us for the small box. She took the sapphire earring out and carefully slipped it into the piercing she'd done with her claw.

"We can clean it out in the morning," she whispered. I shook my head, moving my hand from her hip to my ear, focusing Mana as I chanted in my mind, curing the 'wound' with a simple mending spell.

She licked her lips. "Mmm, that spell could come in handy..." Her hands were on my shoulders, pushing me to lay back on the bed.