I wanted to write this. So I did. Kahvi's opinions on Skywise are not to be confused with mine, I am very much a fan of his but Kahvi isn't. Which is why this was so much fun to write.
I recommend everyone to visit the official Elfquest forum (pm me for link if you don't know it), where they can view the two awesome illustrations made by stargazer that accompany this story.
Beyond Mere Flight
Chapter One: Master of the Palace
Kahvi cursed as she walked, but they were silent curses now, in her mind only, she didn't have breath to waste.
Tyldak! What an arrogant stupid utterly brainless troll-hugging maggot of a cave bat!
They'd been travelling – how long, Kahvi couldn't say. A very long time. Many turns of the seasons. They'd been lovemates to each other, and Kahvi had to admit it had been pleasant. Then, just yesterday, Kahvi had sensed the sudden appearance of the Palace just over the next ridge of hills. Felt it, like she hadn't felt it in ages. It was close… just an hour's flight on Tyldak's wings.
And the arrogant fool… he'd told her he wasn't coming with her. He'd told her he didn't know who was Master of the Palace, and feared it would be Winnowill, or someone like her. He wasn't going to risk it, the yellow-livered coward! And when Kahvi tried to convince him of how important the Palace was to her, to her whole tribe – the stubborn idiot simply flew away and left her there, standing in the snow shouting curses at him.
Kahvi grimaced. An hour's flight on his wings it would have been, but a day's walk now or more, and most of it uphill. And she had to hurry, couldn't rest enough, she didn't know how long the Palace would stay in place.
She wondered if Rayek was still Master of it.
She thought about what she'd do if she met him. It involved a sharp spear in a very painful part of his anatomy. Perhaps a knife and one quick movement, too – she wouldn't kill him, just make him wish he was dead. There had to be some things even a healer wouldn't be able to fix.
Kahvi reached a turn on the path, and a new vista opened before her. She saw the Palace now, still far ahead, and sparkling. It called to her, she could feel its pull with her whole body. She forgot thoughts of Tyldak, thoughts of Rayek. This was more important than love or hate. This was the Palace.
It sang in her blood, it whispered in her bones. It looked – Kahvi had to admit it didn't look like much. Like a piece of troll jewelry, like a pink-tinted glacier, like a crystal found in a dark cave, brought to sunlight. It sparkled too much. It was pretty, and Kahvi had little use for pretty things.
However, it was the Palace, and how it looked didn't matter.
Kahvi walked faster now, the path turned downhill. The last steps she ran, yelling a battle cry.
And the wall of the Palace opened, like she had known it would. A figure stood there, silhouetted in light. Others surrounded him, among them Timmain the High One, and Cutter, for whom Kahvi still found some fond feelings in her stone-cold heart.
"Welcome home, Kahvi of the Go-Backs." The light shifted, and Kahvi could see this being was not Rayek. To her surprise, she felt a slight disappointment.
"Where's Rayek?" She asked.
"Far from here. Was it him you sought?" The Master of the Palace asked him. Kahvi recalled his name had been Skywise, perhaps it still was. It had all been so long ago.
"I sought the Palace, but if he had been here, I'd have had some sharp words and cold steel for him." Kahvi answered. In the edge of her vision she caught Cutter smiling at her, looking far too smug for his own good. Perhaps Nightfall had told him? That'd be embarrassing. Better not think of that now. Other fish to fry.
"I see. Why do you seek the Palace?" Skywise asked her.
"Wouldn't you? Anyways, what are you doing here? There's nothing interesting in this part of the world, and the humans are particularly annoying." Kahvi countered his question. She decided Masters of the Palace, all of them, were extremely frustrating to talk to.
"We came here for you. And Tyldak. We found you in the Scroll of Colors."
Kahvi groaned. "Can't you steer this thing any better? Tyldak didn't want to come. So I had to walk a whole day and night. You could have landed a bit closer." She complained.
Skywise shook his head. "I could have landed anywhere, but I chose to land here. I wanted to give you and Tyldak the choice of coming to us, or staying away."
Kahvi started yelling at him: "Choices and freedom – that's wolfrider talk, and rotten! Thanks to you, my lovemate has flown off! Another one! Next one I take to my furs won't be able to fly anywhere on anything, I'll make sure of that!"
Skywise grinned, and Kahvi remembered he was indeed one of those smug guys who thought that if a female talked to them about furs, that meant she was interested in sharing those with them.
Not in a million years. I'm done with Masters of the Palace.
Kahvi promised herself, as Skywise spoke:
"You've come to the wrong place for that, Kahvi. This is the Palace. We are all about flying, here."
A thought seemed to occur in his oh-so-exalted brain.
"Would you like to try steering the Palace?"
Kahvi stared at him. Steer the Palace. Her eyes lit up. He might be annoying as dung on a boot sole, but this was the Palace. This was what generations of Go-Backs had lived, fought and died for. The mere idea that she could steer it, like a stag, like a Giant Hawk…
"I sure would." Kahvi smiled. "Lead the way."
Skywise led her to a room that seemed to be only half there – the outer wall of the Palace had been made transparent, even the floor was transparent, and she could see the snow, crushed tight under the weight of the Palace.
"Touch the wall and think of a place." Skywise instructed her.
Kahvi stared at him in disbelief. Was that all there was to it?
**That is all there is to it, child. Your touch and your will. But only because we allow it, so don't expect the impossible.** This was Timmain, sending to her. Kahvi growled, and touched the wall.
And beheld the Frozen Mountains. There was no Go-Back Lodge where she remembered it, and many of the peaks had changed, the glaciers had moved… and yet this was her home. Here, she'd been chief.
"Where are all my people? I didn't see Go-Backs in that big hall." Kahvi asked Skywise.
"Some of them are with Ember, the rest are with Venka. Venka started a quest to find you."
"Hmph. And you thought you'd show her who's better and find me before she does?" Kahvi asked in a surly voice.
"Nothing of the kind. I was going to let Venka find you herself – but then she met Lehrigen."
"A human who claimed he had killed you. Venka believed him, because he showed your braids for evidence. Braids I note you aren't wearing anymore."
Kahvi sighed. Of course she couldn't wear the braids, not after a human had managed to cut them off her head. Even after the hair had grown back she'd not braided it again. She felt she'd lost her right to be chief when she lost that battle.
"That stupid trophy-gatherer? A fighter like him, I'd have expected him to make sure I was really dead. I'm sure he really did think he killed me. But I'm not that easy to kill. Got an ugly scar, though."
"If you like I can ask Leetah…" Skywise began.
"No healers! I've never needed healers and I'm not going to start needing healers now!"
"All right, all right. Where shall we go next? I was thinking we could go to Venka and show her you're alive."
"Venka is with the Go-Backs?" Kahvi asked.
"Then I shall have to braid my hair first." Kahvi stated.
"Because you're going to be chief again?" Skywise asked. He wasn't sure what he thought of this, but decided not to comment.
"No. Because me braiding Venka's hair has no meaning unless I wear the braids myself when I do it." Kahvi explained to him.
Skywise didn't argue. "Do you want to see something else first, then? Have you ever wondered what the surface of Child Moon looks like up close?" He offered, a Master of the Palace eager to entertain his guest, however blunt her manners might be.
"Only daft stargazers wonder about useless things like that." Kahvi told him. She sat on a bench in the room, at least she thought it was a bench, but it was so soft it felt more like a bed. Typical of soft-bellied wolfriders and useless Masters of the Palace, she thought. Only a cloudhead like Skywise would put a bed in a steering room. Probably for when he was too lazy to walk to his actual bedroom. Or when he brought maidens over to let them have a go at steering the Palace.
There was something wrong with that thought. He'd brought her here.
"Has everyone here tried steering the Palace?" She asked casually, while she started braiding her hair.
"No. Most of them are too worried that they'd do it wrong, or simply not interested in that kind of thing. Some even say being in this room while the Palace moves through time and space makes them feel queasy." Skywise explained.
"Why did you ask me if I wanted to try it?" Kahvi asked him.
"Because you've done so much for the sake of the Palace. I thought you deserved it."
"And who are you to decide if I deserve the birthright of my ancestors?" Kahvi stood up and stared at him, her fists ready to punch that smug smile off his face.
Skywise spread his arms. "They call me Master of the Palace. They call Sunstream and Kimo that, too. If you want, you can be Master of the Palace too. Timmain will teach you everything you need to know. Sunstream will teach you a bunch of things no sane elf in my opinion needs to know. And I'll teach you some things about the stars that Sunstream finds very boring and not important at all."
Kahvi looked him in the eyes with pure hatred. "You dare… you dare offer me the Palace as a gift, as if it could be owned? You dare call yourself Master, here in this place? Do you know how many lives have ended for the sake of this piece of magic stone?"
Skywise didn't blink. He stared her back.
And the Spirits came out from the walls. Go-Backs Kahvi had known, Go-Backs Kahvi had never met. Skot… Vaya… they were all here. Some she hadn't known had died, but they seemed quite content to be here.
**Kahvi… Kahvi… Kahvi… finally you have come!**
A child spirit, so tiny it could have fitted on the palm of her hand, danced all around her like a preserver in the air, only faster, fast as thought. Its mother chided it.
**Come here, my pearl. I know, I know, she's the one we followed to our deaths… but all is well now… she is here. All will be well now.**
There were tears in Kahvi's eyes. She knew the mother. She'd been a warrior. She'd never given birth to a baby. She'd died in the great Palace War, fighting alongside Kahvi and Cutter… and their tribes.
They were all here. The warriors, and the ones who weren't warriors. Tiny spirits of unborn children, tall spirits of warriors who'd lived in Two-Spear's time…
And then they melted back into the walls. But not before Vaya had whispered something into Kahvi's ear. Her spirit did the whispering gesture, but the voice came in locked sending:
**You deserve the best, mother. And you shall have it. Whether you want it or not.**
Kahvi looked at her as she too was gone. And then she turned to Skywise:
"I don't know what you've done… but you look like you're guilty of something. Those were spirits, yes, and they may call you Master – but I don't, and I won't!" She declared.
And he just kept looking her in the eyes. With a smile on his face as if he knew a secret.
Kahvi stared back, growling under her breath.
She felt as if she was falling into his eyes, falling through him, into a world full of stars. She felt as if snow had turned hot, as if winter had turned into summer overnight, as if she'd been thrown off a stag and had landed on a cloud. She felt lost among thoughts so alien to her own, she could not understand them at all. She saw a light, and reached for it, and it was a star, it was a name, and the name was…