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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - [Interludes] [Fic] Amends [Complete]

z-The Morrigan

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March 24, 2027

The letter had been ambiguous but polite, asking in polite terms if Tahir and the Morrigan could come over to her apartments for a discussion and tea. The oddity lay in the fact that the last time she’d seen Tahir, he’d been almost dry-humping her leg and the last time the Cherry Blossom Princess had seen the Morrigan, the Screaming Fury had been threatening her and offering protection in turn.

Still, Sakura was eager for company, even if she wasn’t sure about the company itself. So when the note had arrived via a small, brightly-colored bird, she had accepted the invitation. She still wasn’t sure what to expect.

When the knock came at her door, Sakura answered, only to be greeted with servants bearing teas and biscuits instead of Tahir and Morri. They followed only after the servants had left the food and drink. Morri bore, oddly, a bundle of clothing in her hands. Tahir carried nothing, but he looked at the floor with a clearly contrite expression. Morri was the same distant, wary person she remembered from that fateful breakfast, though she seemed more… stable than their last conversation, too.

“Afternoon,” the Morrigan said when the door closed behind the servants, leaving the three of them alone. “And Tahir offers his own greetings. You should know that I have explained what you told me, and he understands what happened and why. You need not worry about more inappropriate behavior. He wishes explain himself to you, if you will accept his apology.”

She looked awkward for a second, then said, “Would you like to have tea or the heavy discussion first?”

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Sakura motioned to her guests to sit (or at least arrange themselves comfortably around the table) as she poured Morri a cup of tea with a practiced hand, hesitating before filling a shallow bowl that had been brought along with the tea set, for the lion she presumed. The sleeves of the cream-colored dress she was wearing brushed against the cups, but never managed to get a spot of liquid on them. As always, she was barefoot, though the hem of the dressed was low enough to conceal her feet for the most part and almost brushed the floor as she moved. "Please, sit first. We can drink in silence, if you prefer, or talk as we dine."

"Tahir," she adressed the lion directly, her expression contrite, "you should not apologize. What happened was my fault, even if it is something I cannot control. I should have warned the king before leaving my room or going to breakfast. I am thoughtless, sometimes, and...well, enough excuses. What happened happened and you have my deepest apologies for...for what happened."

She eyed the bundle of clothing curiously, but said nothing, waiting for her guests to explain if they were so inclined.

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The semi-shaggy head shook back and forth, and odd expression for a lion. It was then that Morri noticed her affinity for shaggy-headed blonde males in her life. I wonder if that is what they call a fetish? Except not in the sexual way, of course. Tahir was about as sexually appealing to her as burnt toast and Ein was… well, Ein. And the less she thought about Ein and sex together, the better. The thought twisted up her guts in a way that she didn’t want to explore because it scared the hell out of her.

Morri took a sip of tea and a bite of biscuit, mostly to help settle her nerves. She looked to Tahir, who nodded to her. Morri tensed further, but she sat back on the couch and closed her eyes. Sakura frowned, but movement from Tahir drew her eyes back to him. He was shifting into a new shape; before her eyes, he became a young man of fifteen or sixteen. He was golden-haired and skinned with the same shocking blue eyes he had as a lion. Quickly, with fumbling fingers, he pulled on the clothing and took an awkward seat on a chair. Smiling a bit shyly, he said, “Hemnh.” The smile faded.

Morri had sat up and opened her eyes at his voice. She looked uneasy and pale, but her voice was steady as she said, “Try Feliod.”

That seemed to go better; whatever noises he made made Morri nod. “He still sounds like a Wookie, but I can understand him.” At that, the transformed Tahir tilted his head at her and frowned. “Bad joke from a worse series of movies. I’ll still be translating-” Tahir interrupted and Morri sighed. “It’s ‘I am sorry.’ “ The feral pronounced each word carefully.

Tahir spent several minutes trying to duplicate the words until they were more or less correct. Then he turned to Sakura and said, “I am sorry.”

“So, I’m sure you have questions about Tahir now,” Morri said. “He’s not a nova with a tendency to remain shifted into a lion, but rather a lion who is a nova.” Sakura didn’t look that surprised, so Morri added, “From another world. He is to be King of his people, someday, though he is a king in his own right already.” Tahir growled something and Morri frowned. “He said that he still finds you alluring and would make you his queen, but he will also be a good lion and keep his paws to himself. Oh, and he understand English and some French, so feel free to just speak to him. He hasn’t managed to pick out the English with this tongue, and lion mouths aren’t suited for it.”

Nodding, Tahir rose to his feet, only to freeze and sink back into the cushions when Morri tensed. Sakura could see the fear-response as clearly as if Morri had told them she was afraid. After a moment, he slid off the seat, keeping his movements slow and non-threatening. He crawled to Sakura and, kneeling in front of her, took her hand in his rough ones. “I am sorry,” he said again, and licked the back of her hand. It wasn’t sexual; he was grooming her as contrition, but left it at the single lick.

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Sakura blinked in surprise at the lick, but didn't pull back like most humans would have. Her eyes were soft and her voice was full of compassion, "I-Tahir, please, sit up. Sit on the couch, you don't have to kneel. I already said it wasn't your fault. You don't have to apologize, you don't have to be sorry."

"This...this thing...it's happened to me before, people falling in love with me before they even know me. At best, it's just lust and it can be dealt with, one way or another. At worst..." She sighed, "At worst, I leave and make sure they don't follow me. I can't leave here, so I don't really know what to do." She met Tahir's eyes, trying to make him understand, "What you're feeling, even if you do like me, it's probably very out of proportion from what you really feel - what you normally would feel, I should say. That doesn't mean it isn't valid, but it does mean that you need to think about it, about me, and you need to do so away from me and the influence my presence can have on you."

She'd taken in Morrigan's uneasiness with Tahir's transformation, even his attempt to stand, but had no idea what the cause was so she simply noted it and moved on. She smiled at Tahir, though she focused on that stretching she had been practicing to make herself less overwhelming; it didn't seem to take care of the bulk of her problems interacting with people, but she had noticed that sometimes it took the edge off. "I'm from another world, too," she shared with her guests. "My mother brought me here when I was young because of....family issues. My home was much like this one, except that what you call novas - we called them Kami no Ningen in my Japan - started appearing during World War II, around eighty years ago in this timeline. I was born about four years after the war ended, in 1951, and brought over here when I was eight. On this Earth that was in 2009, which was a very interesting change for me - so many new inventions and so much history to learn or relearn."

She sipped at her tea and glanced back to Tahir with that same friendly smile. "Why did you leave your world to come here, if you don't mind my prying?" she asked curiously. How do you be in line to be a king and be a king already? Perhaps he already has a kingdom and is gaining another one? She had completely sidestepped addressing the statement about him wanting her to be his queen; Morrigan had already accused her of being a crown-seeker and she certainly didn't want to rile the dangerous and feral nova sitting just across from her again. She did have to admit that Tahir was quite handsome as a human, but that sort of compatibility made their relationship even more complicated now. Before, she could simply insist on the different of their species, but as nova and a shapeshifter, the young lion-man had neatly sidestepped the issue of nature.

You need to get laid.

Didn't I tell you to hush a while ago?

Does that ever work? Look, there's Darrik - if he comes back around again -, Einherjar - and yes you can say his name, avoiding it just because could come to actually like, even care for him, is just stupid -, Chang and Lucrezia - both of whom seem like the sex without messy attachment types -, Tahir...okay, I'll admit that that could get troublesome and complicated pretty easily, so we'll put him on the 'maybe' list, or even just some random people in the palace that would bed you in an instant and release all this pent up frustration. Get laid.

Get bent. I'm not going to jump everyone I meet just because I'm...frustrated.

You're repressed, is what you are. What's going to happen when you finally can't hold it in any more? Orgy in the west wing?

That won't happen.

Says you. You've never had such a long dry spell before.

Just shut up, okay? This isn't the time or the place. We have guests and I'm not going to ruin a chance to make friends because you can't think above the waistline.

Hey, you're just talking to yourself, remember.

Fine. I'll get bent.

The internal dialogue took only seconds, though Morrigan and Tahir could both smell the shift in her emotions from curiosity to some internal annoyance, and then forcefully back to a friendly inquisitiveness as she turned her attention back to Tahir to listen to his explanation of the Primal Lands.

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Tahir looked at Morri. Without really meeting his gaze, she said, “I’d rather do this in your words.”

The man-shaped lion nodded and began to speak. Morri listened and then turned to Sakura and said, “Tahir comes from a place called the Primal Lands. His people are the Tribe of the Sun, who smiles on the Primal Queen as on us all.” She made a bemused face and said, “That means his people believe that the creator goddess of their myths still resides in the lands. The Suns can get wordy, please bear with him.” Tahir rolled his eyes before continuing, “He is the Omore of the Suns, the next to claim the throne. His people are the most populous of the kingdoms; even the Grays cannot claim as many people. They hunt the three-horns and carrion-dukes without fear, and deny the Scales or Grays passage into the Golden Fields.” Morri shrugged and said, “These are his words, sorry.”

“That tells me where, but why are you here?” Sakura asked, smiling a little.

“Tahir is bound to the Blood Queen – that’s me,” Morri said, adding the explanation to forestall the necessary question. “The Blood Queen has the pride of the Reth, the King of the Suns, and Tahir seeks to reclaim that pride for his father and his people. The Blood Queen is also a friend.”

The expression on Morri’s face changed suddenly and she stopped translating. Tahir spoke again, Morri replied and then he answered along with a ‘do it’ gesture. Morri’s reluctance was clear as she translated, “Tahir says that the Blood Queen is his friend, and he wants the Blossom Queen to know that though she doesn’t understand the Blood Queen, her heart is true. He’d like us all to become friends, to all hunt and eat together.” Tahir added something and Morri shook her head. “No, not that. You go too far.” She seemed agitated but not violent; whatever Tahir was growling at her was clearly not agreeable to her. “Fine, then I will tell her this: he wishes that we were as close as a family-pack. It will not be that way. It can’t.”

Tahir opened his mouth and then shut it, frowning. He just gazed at his friend, disappointment clear in his gaze.

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Blossom Queen? Apparently I've been promoted.

Sakura sipped at her cup, knowing that this would have to be handled with the utmost delicacy. Morrigan seemed to be making an effort with her, but Sakura could tell that she made the "Blood Queen" nervous. "I would be honored to spend time with you, though I admit that I am not a hunter. I....avoid...violence." She smiled at Tahir to soften the rejection of the particular activity he had requested and said gently, "But I would enjoy sharing meals with you, and with you, Morrigan, as friends. Let's let anything more than that come in its own time, if it does."

Let's keep the conversation genial, shall we? Morrigan's already threaten to kill us once; I'd hate to give her a reason to act on that just because Tahir is pushing for something she doesn't want. She changed the subject subtly again, steering away from conversational landmines. "Your world sounds interesting, though I'm not sure who these other groups are. Are they other tribes of lions like you? Or are other....mmm....what would be considered animals here, other types of creatures in your world like you?"

She silently and deftly refilled empty tea cups, pouring a proper one for Tahir now that he was man-shaped and had the hands to hold it. As always, there was an air of sensuality around the blossom-haired nova, but more than that now was a sense of friendliness and serenity. Her brow furrowed as a thought occured to her, something that might at least mollify Tahir's pride for the moment and perhaps provide the first stones of a bridge of friendship between her and Morrigan.

She interrupted her previous line of questions with, "Tahir, I do not know if you intend to make your abilities known here, but if you do, might I offer you a gift? I can create a substance, very much like what is called eufiber, that bonds with your quantum signature. It would allow you to form clothes any time you shifted to a human form, and could easily be transformed into a necklace or other unobtrusive item that could be kept on your person while in you lion form - or any other forms you may be able to take. It responds to your thoughts and you can even store quantum within it and learn to shape it for other limited uses." She offered him the cup of tea and added, "I could teach you the skill of shaping it, as well, if you accept."

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Morri’s eyes narrowed. She made eufiber? Oh, she could call it not-eufiber, but if it had all the qualities of eufiber, why not just name it as such? With effort, the feral pushed those thoughts away. She’d agreed, for Tahir’s sake, to try to get along with the Green Woman – Blossom Queen, whatever. It annoyed her that Sakura’s title started so similarly to hers, and after a second, she acknowledged – if only to herself – that she was actively looking for reasons not to like the woman at this point. Such self-awareness was not unheard of for the nova, but usually that awareness brought about some change in her actions. She wasn’t so sure there’d be any change from that bit of knowledge this time, and that she wasn’t sure about, at all. Still, she looked away from the woman and to Tahir to see his reaction.

“Yas,” he managed to say in English, his expression lighting up at the gift. So he can spend more time with her, Morri thought bitterly, then wondered again why that thought was so bitter. It wasn’t like to her be so personally invested in not liking someone, not like this.

“That is very kind of you,” Morri managed to say, her tone polite and as bland as her smile. Years of being the King’s daughter had taught her how to be congenial especially when she didn’t want to be polite. But after causing Ein no end of trouble, she’d forced herself to learn how to function in the staterooms, at least enough to not cause offense.

“Noah?” Tahir asked, then looked cross at the words coming from him.

“Now?” Morri prompted and he confirmed her suggestion with a sharp nod. As his Feliod request, she told him, “It’s ‘Thank you.’” Doggedly, the lion slurred out the words until they sounded the same, looking pleased at himself for having gotten it right. He was such a teen boy, with his shaggy mane and golden shadow of a beard, grinning and proud for having gotten something right.

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Sakura held out a hand, concentrating on it and again ignoring Morrigan's cool reactions. The woman didn't seem to want to be Sakura's friend, merely to tolerate her presence, and Sakura wasn't want to push where she wasn't wanted. She banished the thoughts from her mind as she focused on her palm; slowly nearly invisible strands of silk began to emerge, weaving together in a complex pattern that began to turn and twist as more silk was added to it. A ball took shape over perhaps a minute and half, shimmering in the shafts of sunlight in the room. Once it filled her hand, she reached for Tahir's and placed it gently in the golden-hued nova's own hand. "Now, concentrate on it. Pour some of you own essence, your quantum, into it until it feels like a part of you. Then tell it do so something. Start simple, like a...mm...a braid around the wrist, maybe? Then work you way up to simple clothes like what you're wearing now. It shouldn't take long to get the basics."

She smiled, giving him room and time to experiment and understand the silk. She'd made such gifts before, for novas that had come to her for fertility and for the children they were bearing when they left. Like her other powers, it was gift she could share with the world, though this one was much more a part of herselfthat she gave away. It only took a few minutes for Tahir to attune the silk and morph it through dozens of shapes, grinning like a child as he played with Sakura's gift. Eventually he stood up and quickly stripped out of the clothes Morri had brought for him and flowed the eufiber from the golden cuff-like bracelet he'd had it in and formed a white t-shirt and cammo pants he'd seen Morri and Ein favor so often around the palace. He turned and grinned triumphantly at his friend, proud of his accomplishment and totally unaware of the social gaffe he'd just committed. Sakura hid a smile behind her hand and tried not to think too hard about just how healthy and well developed Tahir was as human-shaped nova.

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Morri stiffened again as Tahir stripped out of the clothing; for a moment, the urge to call out her Blood Weapons stirred in her. Then he was covered and the moment passed – but her heightened fear and heart rate had not. Tahir’s delighted smile faltered as he beamed at her and saw her face. “I am sorry,” he managed in English.

“It’s alright,” Morri said, forcing herself to her feet. He looks so much like Einherjar, dressed like that. It was that thought that let her step forward and put her arms around him for a hug. Tahir stood awkwardly, then put his arms around her. After a moment, he shifted so that only one arm circled her and gestured to Sakura with the other. Clearly, he wanted to give her a hug, too. Morri slipped away from Tahir; though he was disappointed, he didn’t argue.

His hug to Sakura was gentle and warm; she could smell the wild on him and his arousal; he was enjoying the hug. But when she stepped back, Tahir released her. The three sat back down and got comfortable, then Sakura asked about more details of the Primal Lands again. Tahir laid it out for her – the Suns as a unified pride, and then family-prides within that. The Sky-callers and their deification of the great open sky; the Scales and their long-lived tyrant-king who had ruled the Nir River Valley with fear. Tahir wanted to tell the story of Morri’s defeat of him, but she distracted him onward to the Grays. The great wolves in the southern woods with their massive packs, running like silver shadows through the ancient timbers. Then they talked of the dinosaurs: the carrion-dukes and the three-horns; the packs of the feathered-kickers hunting anything and everything; the great bat-birds which somehow weren’t part of the Sky-callers. The tea was cold and the biscuits gone before Tahir was done telling Sakura via translation – with a great deal more enthusiasm than he’d had for telling Ein, Morri noted sourly – about his home. When he asked his final question though, she merely sighed; she’d been expecting this. So she asked, “Tahir wants to know if you’d like to visit and see it. Carefully.”

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Sakura blinked, surprised by the invitation. "It sounds...interesting, though, yes, a little dangerous. How do you think people would respond to me?" And how would I handle not being able to talk to so many...well, they're people, I guess. I just won't know the language. I've been there before.

"Also," her brow furrowed, "how do we get there and back? And how long would be gone?" Her hesitation was understandable; the Congo was her sanctuary and she'd only been her around a week. The feeling of being hunted, of always being in danger, hadn't faded enough for feeling safe to have really set in.

"It would be nice to get out a little, though..." she mused quietly to herself as she waited for Tahir and Morrigan's answers. Perhaps going would give me some time to talk to Morrigan, too. She really doesn't seem to like me and I think it's just because of Tahir's....reaction to me. I hope. She seems like a nice woman - or at least trying to be a nice woman - if a little jumpy at times.

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“I can take you there and back,” The Morrigan said, though her voice was far from reassuring. “That is the only way to pass to the Primal Lands. There is no other way. For how long… well, how long would you want to be there? There is no limit on when I come and go. I can use it like an other-worldly teleport, actually.”

Tahir spoke for a moment and Morri nodded. “I suspect that the people there would treat you exactly the same way that Tahir did. Like all people do. For all their fangs and claws and fur, they are remarkably people-like. Whatever it is that you make people feel, you would continue to make them feel. Tahir is a youth among his people, younger than I appear to be. About… fifteen, I guess. That made his reaction to you the reaction of a young man. His father would no doubt handle it differently.” Her slim shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “Again, it depends on each person, as a person.” Privately, she wondered what the Crane would make of her; how he would react.

“Do you wish to go? We can go whenever we all three have free time.”

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That made her a little uneasy, that her only means of transport would be a woman who did not seem to like her, but Tahir's earnest, hopeful expression was simply too much to resist. "Alright," she relented. "I would go, but let's make this first trip a little short, perhaps? Just an introduction. Maybe a few hours or one night?"

She tapped her tea cup in thought, "As for when we could go...." She shrugged, "I have no plans, nothing to do here but, well, sit around. We could go now, if you wanted."

Better now when I have the courage than in a few days when I'm just terrified of the idea because I've had time to think. While her nervousness could be felt, the young nova had agreed to the trip. She watched the other two, waiting for their answer to a time and place.

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"I will need to attune you." The thought flitted through Morri's mind to not give the young nova any warning. That would be rude. That would be beneath her. Those are the things that stopped her, though she was not very happy about it. Her dislike of Sakura was deep and instinctive; it was difficult for Morri to see anything other than an intruder who would insinuate herself deep into everything Morri loved if not stopped. Yet Morri couldn't have named what exactly had triggered this response. "Many find my attunement... unnerving."

Reaching out, the Morrigan caught Sakura by the arm - the grip wasn't friendly. It was the iron-hard hold of a guard on a prisoner. Sakura frowned in concern, wondering if the woman was going to yank her arm out of her socket. That frown deepened when blood began to ooze from Morri's pores. Her shoulders hunched protectively as that blood began to roll up Morri's arm toward Sakura. The young woman had heard of this before, but never seen it and it was an effort to not flinch at the first touch of the steaming fluid. Green lips pressed together as the Blossom Princess held herself still and forced her face to be impassive as the red fluid crawled up her arm. It slid under her clothing and pressed against her skin and then sank into her very being.

Tahir stepped up to Morri, back in lion-shape. His head pressed against Morri's hand, and the blood covered him as well. He didn't react; he was long used to this. When Morri was sure both were ready, she reached inside and triggered that release, stepping between the worlds. To Sakura, it was no longer than a blink and they were no longer in her room, but standing on a low hill, with sandy soil stretching before them. Behind were more rolling hills. "This is the Primal Lands," Morri said in a flat voice.

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The air was fresh - fresher than anywhere Sakura had ever been, except maybe in Anteus' gardens. Her eyes roved of the pristine hills and senses roved father, feeling the soil and the plants and the small creatures and the larg-

"Um, Morrigan?" Sakura asked shakily, "Are there...um.... dinosaurs here?"

The Morrigan grinned, remembering her own first - sort of embarrassing - moment of seeing the dinosaurs for the first time. "Yeah, there are. You sense them?"

"Yeah...there's a herd of...something," she gestured vaguely towards the plains that Morrigan knew were just beyond the hills towards the Sun lands. "It's hard to tell, I'm not used to them yet."

She grinned at the two of them and Tahir grinned back, all youthful exuberance at getting to show off his homeland and his people. Morri tried not to roll her eyes at him, but it did damper her momentary good humor. "Well, I guess we'd better get going."

She headed towards the hills, inching her pace just a bit faster and faster to make Sakura have to run to keep up. She nearly snarled when the verdant young nova stepped up off the ground, winds picking her up effortlessly, in an effort to stay apace. It was effortless for her, just like it was struggle for Morri. She almost sped faster, but she'd have left both of them behind at that point and Tahir would just have a field calling her on her snit. So the three ran (or flew) towards the Lands of the Sun.

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The herd was the typical mixed group of elephants and triceratops that Morri was used to seeing around her cave. As the three settled and slowed on the crest of the hill to see the herd, Tahir grunted and pointed his nose off to the side. "Hyenas?" Sakura asked, wishing they felt like the animals she was used to back home.

"They're called Laughers here," Morri explained, crossing her arms as she watched the pack fan out in the tall grass not far from the herd. From their vantage point, the dark shapes were clearly seen, circling toward an isolated three-horn. The male was young and arrogant, moving away from the safety of the herd to hoard a patch of first-growth green clover. The darting Laughers were snaking toward him, using a low rise to hide from the rest of the herd. "And it looks like they will eat tonight."

Sakura frowned, but she knew this was the way of life. Silently, the three novas stood and watched the attack. The first rush sent the young male spinning toward the herd with a surprising burst of speed but he was already cut off. With a bellow that sent the rest of the animals into a panicked run the other way, the male charged a hyena, horns lowered. Before he could connect, a dark shape darted toward him, distracting him. He turned to charge the new threat, only to have another threat menace. The pack ran him down with feints and dodges until he stood on shaking legs, his breath rasping in and out of his lungs. A final charge from a Laugher and then they all fell on him, latching on with their teeth and pulling him down to the ground. The end came soon after.

Morri was silent as their guest watched, wondering what she would want to see or do next.

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Sakura watched the hunt and the kill with a surprising lack of...well, anything. She watched with a touch of curiosity to see the far more modern (on Earth) and smaller animals take down the pre-historic, well armed and armored lizard. She reached out with her sense, feeling the pain and the death of the triceratops, but nothing from the hyenas - Laughers, Morrigan had called them. She did what she could to ease the pain and terror of the dinosaur as it died, but did not interfere with the actual kill. Predators must eat. She shook her head in amazement, "They're people here, too? The Laughers? I could feel the dinosaur, but they're...blank to me. Like Tahir."

She blinked and realized that could be taken the wrong way, "I mean, I couldn't feel their emotions or thoughts, like I can with animals and plants."

"Yes," Morri nodded. "Peoples here have proper names, animals do not."

Tahir turned away from the Laughers. "We should go," he said in Feloid. "We only have a day and I'd rather not spend it watching those eat some three-horn."

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"So on to the Sun lands?" Morri asked him, expecting a yes. Instead, Tahir shook his head. "Why? And where are we going?" the dark-skinned nova asked the cat.

“I thought we’d slip into the Crystal Caverns,” Tahir told her.

Morri stopped short, surprise on her face. “Are you sure?” She glanced at Sakura, her expression a little concerned.

“What is going on?” Sakura asked with a touch of nervousness.

“Tahir is reluctant to take you to his people,” Morri said, refraining from toning that statement with any emotion. “So he instead wants to take you to the most dangerous place in the Primal Lands. The Crystal Caverns are full of pitfalls and hidden dangers, including creatures made of pure crystal that attack interlopers.”

“Sounds… fun?” Sakura managed.

“The interior of the caves are quite beautiful.” Morri shrugged. “I believe that Tahir wants to share them with you.”

“I can’t take her home. You’ve met my father,” the lion said simply.

“Taking you to the Sun Lands would probably be unwise,” the red-eyed nova added for Sakura’s benefit.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sakura blinked, a little surprised at that. She'd thought the reason for coming here was to see Tahir's home and meet his people. "Uh, well, the caves sound beautiful. I...I won't be any help in a fight, really, though."

Morrigan gave a snort that clearly state 'I knew that'. She and Tahir spoke in the language of growls and feline sounds for another few moments before Morrigan finally shrugged and said in English, "Fine. The Caverns are this way. We should move quickly."

They set off in another direction, away from the Sun Lands, and Sakura once again called her winds to keep up with her guides. She thought for a while before offering, "If time is really an issue for getting to the Caverns...I could speed us up. I have some control over the flow of time...but, well, if something were to happen to me, you would need to find another person with similar powers to slow yourself down. Caroline said that that was odd, that usually the effect faded over time, but it never has for me. I've always had to adjust back and forth." She gave a nervous little shrug, "I just thought it might help...to avoid some of the dangers you mentioned and to have more time here."

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"We're almost there," Morri said softly, her voice tight. She didn't like taking a non-fighter into the caverns, but Tahir had made a very good point. Unless Morri wanted to fight the Reth again, this time to stop a fight between Tahir and his father, the caverns were a better idea. And the caverns Morri had picked were safer than most, having been cleared out by her and Tahir a few weeks ago. It should still be relatively safe. Of course, the emphasis was relative.

Morri led the other two into a deep valley, scampering easily over the steep slope to pause at a shadow. Tahir hung back to help Sakura, handling the terrien better on four legs than two. He solicitously lent his aid to Sakura as she needed it. The shadow turned out to be a hole in the ground; once they had caught up with her Morri ducked into the hole and crawled forward. It was cramped and dark, but she ignored that as she scampered forward.

It was a short downward path that ended in a cavern. Morri waited only until Sakura and Tahir were in the room before beginning to pick the path further down. Though it was totally dark, she moved easily following the path they'd made before. She didn't bother pulling out a source of light; soon it'd be unnecessary. Soon they'd have all the light they needed.

The first sign that they had passed from stone to the caverns was the glints of crystal in the rock. Like the precursors of doom, those bits of light warned of what was coming. The particles of light expanded until they were all around them. For a moment, it was dark. Then the plane of crystal under their feet started to glow, very faintly: green for Sakura, golden for Tahir and red for the Morrigan. Smiling for the first time since joining Sakura this morning, the Morrigan reached out and touched a wall. With a pulse of power, she attuned as much of the wall as she could. Light flared up and down the wall, a dancing, spreading nimbus of soft red light that reached far ahead and behind them. "They respond to quantum," Morri said softly. Many feared the caverns; she loved it here. "Touching is enough; expending quantum speeds up the process."

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Sakura's eyes widened as the caverns lit up with the red glow of Morrigan's quantum energy and she laughed. What a wonderful place! I wonder what this crystal is, to respond like that? She trailed her fingers over smooth plane along the wall and pushed outward with her own quantum.

Green flushed out from her touch, a stir in the air carrying the scent of leaves and morning dew along with Sakura's own ever-present cherry blossoms; the green raced through the caverns, somehow bathing the three in a light that came from the green but felt like mid-day sun. A hum followed behind the light, reflecting off the angles and planes of the crystal until it broke into the thousand different sounds of the forest. Beneath them, all three pools of quantum light stretched and smeared until they melded together into a rainbow-specked river of white. It took the three of them only a moment to understand that was exactly what it was: underneath the clear crystal a subterranean river had come to life, carrying the traces of their quantum nature further down the tunnel and out of sight. Without life or sun, deep beneath the earth, they were standing in a forest made of crystal and quantum. Sakura laughed again.

"Wow," she breathed, grinning at Tahir and Morrigan. "This place...it's amazing."

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  • 1 month later...

The Morrigan no longer looked as amused. Some of the tension was back in her expression, as if she were no longer pleased. Her red eyes were pinched with annoyance or anger or perhaps something else, but she said nothing as she watched the streams of light and smell and sound. The urge to kill Sakura was rising in her again and it was once again ugly jealousy driving it. Morri had loved the way the caverns responded to her, but they only gave her light.

Why does she get so easily everything I love? The question burned itself in her mind, surging out of the depths of her subconscious like a vengeful missile darting into the sky. The stony expression on her face remained in place as she watched Tahir and Sakura play with quantum to make beautiful shows deep in the caverns. Invitations to join just made her shake her head in silence.

After they were tired of playing, the three novas headed back for the surface. The Morrigan led the way back out, eager to get back in the sun and away from yet another thing this woman was tainting. When she stepped out of the opening, she stiffened. The Crane was waiting, his head high and his white feathers gleaming in the midday sun. "Crane," she said in the human language, dipping her head in a gesture of respect. Tahir and Sakura joined them a moment later, and the bird's black eyes settled on Sakura as if she were a particularly interesting worm.

"Greetings, Blood Queen, Golden Prince, and another I do not know," he said, mirroring her nod to him.

"This is Sakura, the Bloosom Queen," Morri said, not taking her eyes from the Crane. Switching back to English, she said, "Sakura, this is the Crane, leader of the Sky-Callers. He's the equivalent to a wise man, so treat him with respect."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sakura bowed deeply, her hands pressed together in the traditional Japanese greeting of respect. She tried to reach out to him, but as with Tahir there was simply nothing, no feeling of a mind or sense of being that she received from animals or plants. She hadn't expected to be able to sense him but it was still disorienting. "It is an honor to meet you, sir Crane," she murmured in English.

She'd felt the tension that crept back into the Morrigan's countenance in the caverns, but she still couldn't understand what it was that she did that seemed to constantly irritate the red-eyed woman. Disrespecting a wisem- wiseperson in the Primal Lands, even by accident, would probably do more than irritate her though, and Sakura was keenly aware that Morrigan was her only way back to the universe that she'd grown up in. People are so complicated! she fairly whined in her mind, her head still bowed respectfully and her expression carefully kept neutral.

The Crane tilted his head, black eyes unreadable, and then stepped carefully in a circle around Sakura. He took in the flowers growing from her hair, the living silken nature of her simple and feminine sundress, and the petals that trailed behind the three back into the caverns from her quantum play. Once he had completed a full circle he took up the exact position they had found him in upon emerging from the caves. Several heartbeats passed, but he simply stood silently still regarding her with those inscrutable eyes; Sakura had remained perfectly still herself during the slow scrutiny, head still bowed respectfully and waited with only a slight tremor of apprehension of whether she had passed his inspection or not.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Crane stared at the three Royals. He was greatly unsettled and attempted to soothe himself so that his scent wouldn’t tell them how upset. Morri could smell all of this in the air; she and Tahir traded a worried glance that told her that he smelled it as well. She wanted to speak, but remained silent, waiting for the Crane’s words.

“Take her home,” the Crane said briskly, his squawks coming out softly. “Do not bring her back here. Ever.” He dipped his head to the three of them, then spread his wings and flew away. The snap of the large white limbs blew Morri and Sakura’s hair around; a few blossoms pulled loose from the Blossom Queen’s hair and drifted to the ground.

Best news I’ve heard all day, Morri thought, but for Einherjar and Tahir’s sake she rapidly smoothed away the flash of smug delight that crossed her face.

“What did he say?” Sakura asked. There was distress in her eyes as she asked, “Why did he leave?”

“Morri,” Tahir whined, “why would he ban her?”

“I don’t know, but we need to get her home,” Morri said quickly in Feloid. She wasn’t quite good enough of a person to hide all of her pleasure at the thought. “We can find out later. He might tell us more if she’s not here.”

“Guys, I can’t understand you,” Sakura reminded them softly. Her green eyes were wide and Tahir bumped his head against her hip in a reassuring way. Absently, her fingers curled into his fur, taking the comfort he offered.

“Crane said you have to leave the Primal Lands and not to return,” Morri said honestly. She didn’t try to sugar coat it, but her tone was not overly cruel. Firm but not malicious. She was feeling magnimous knowing that even if Sakura took away everything else from her, Morri would still have the Primal Lands as her own. Part of her felt small and selfish, but another more feral part of her was simply glad that this was something Sakura couldn’t claim, no matter how well the caverns had responded to her. “Come, let us go back to where the gardens will be.”

Sakura looked like she’s been slapped and Morri even felt a little bad for her as the green-eyed nova turned away. The most ridiculous impulse to hug her and offer comfort washed over her and the feral shook off the bizarre maternal feeling. They were silent as they walked back to the point where they’d crossed into the Primal Lands. Tahir continued to hover close, offering support to the obviously hurt nova.

Morri’s quantum still suffused them, so she merely took Sakura’s hand and slipped her fingers into Tahir’s half-grown mane when they were at the right spot. In an instant, they were back in the Palace, with Sakura’s half-wild gardens around them and her doves singing overhead.

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All of the joy of the day - even with Morri's steady annoyance and odd fits of jealousy - came crashing down around her. What had she done? Was bowing rude? She let Morri lead the three of them back to the transfer spot, numbly running her fingers over Tahir's back as the large feline leaned against her in silent support. Once they were back in her gardens she pulled back in to herself completely.

"I'm sorry for...whatever I did to offend the Crane," she said, the smell of her cherry blossoms almost completely muted. "I think....I think I'd like to be alone now. Thank you for showing me your world, Tahir. I'm sorry for...I'm sorry."

She stepped back and bowed, formal and low as a silent apology, and then she disappeared into the brown and greens of the garden.

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