Chapter 1

After dropping their passengers back at Tortuga, Leiko and X’lithia left for their next job. Thankful to finally be rid of the ones who had caused her so much trouble… and got her arrested… Leiko smiled and stretched her arms above her head. “Yo, Z. I’m gonna go take a shower, Alicia knows where we’re goin’ so she should be all set. You can do… whatever it is that you do… um… clean your knives or something… Oh! I have a good war flick if you’re interested.” Leiko smirked as she waited for X’lithia’s typical response.

“I don’t understand how you can find amusement in pictures on a screen.” She sneered at Leiko, “I have some emails to write before we leave.” As she walked off towards the bridge she muttered a Drow curse under her breath.

“Say ‘Hi’ to Rafe for me!” Leiko called down the hall at her before chuckling and making her way to her room.

When the door slid closed behind her Leiko dropped the act, locking the door and sitting on her bed. Her head dropped into her hands, “krr’k chalaka rakt’shka” she cursed, grimacing in pain. Slowly sitting up, she yanked her shirt over her head and looked at herself in the mirror. Her torso was riddled with scars from her many battles, but none were as gruesome as the one that drew her attention now. On every Kiltaran’s left side, below the ribs, is one simple scar. The scar is supposed to be one line, approximately four inches long. Where that scar was supposed to be was instead a mass of scar tissue spreading about eight inches across under her ribs, and seemed to drip down from there, leaving an uneven expanse spreading down along her abs. Her right hand came up to cover the scar as Leiko closed her eyes. Occasionally her old wound still pained her, but it seemed the stress from the last group of passengers had worsened it. In typical Kiltara fashion, no one knew about the wound or the pain, as it would show weakness. She also refused to purchase any drugs for it for the same reason.

She took off her boots; then, with a slight twitch she stood up to undress. Looking at her reflection again she sighed. She was no longer a welcome member of Kiltara society, and she no longer felt like a true Kiltaran. Despite these facts she still clung to the traditions and her old habits that she had fallen into before her exile. She didn’t know any other way, and saw no reason to change. Nonetheless, it still saddened her immensely whenever she saw her reflection, or silently observed a Kiltara holiday. She reached up and undid the simple clasps that held the wrappings around her chest in place. She had begun wrapping her chest as soon as her breasts began to appear, she was trying to be as a son to her father, and breasts would be counter-productive. Because of the strips of cloth she tightly wrapped around her chest every day they weren’t very large, but she wasn’t nearly as flat chested as she appeared to be. Every morning she questioned herself as to why she still did it, every morning she had no answer beyond ‘I’m used to it… it’s what I always do’. Perhaps someday, when she’s ready to settle down, she’ll stop, but that day doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon.

After undressing she left her clothes in a pile on the floor and went into the bathroom to start the water and let it heat up. As it warmed she leaned her forehead against the cool wall of the bathroom and tried to will her wound to stop throbbing. When the shower was sufficiently hot she stepped in and the water rushed over her fur. She raised her head to meet the spray. As much as she fought it, the memories rushed through her mind as the water ran down her face.

(The dialogue in the memories is translated from Kiltaran, Leiko was taught well in her own language, it’s only Common she butchers)

“Why do you bother?” Prince Thrakus glared into the room.

A 9 year old Leiko was strapping on the leather practice armor, she stared at the straps she was buckling so her father wouldn’t see the sadness in her eyes, “This is a warrior house, why is it so unusual that I should desire to be a warrior?”
“Because you are not a male. You should be spending your time preparing yourself to be a child-bearer. As you are now there isn’t a single Kiltaran who would want you.” The tall Kiltara warrior’s brown and red mane bristled as he stepped into the room, his tail twitching.

“I only wish to please you; I want to do this by becoming the best warrior in the house.” She busied herself with tightening the straps, avoiding his gaze, her tail submissively weaving slowly around her ankles.

“The only way you could possibly please me is to leave this house and never return.”

At this Leiko looked up at her father, she was unable to hide the shock and hurt in her eyes before he saw it.

“See? You are weak. A true Kiltara shows no emotion, no reaction whatsoever to taunts or insults. You would never make a proper warrior… I’m not even sure you make a proper Kiltaran.” He turned to leave but was stopped by Leiko’s mother standing in the doorway behind him.

“Must you speak so harshly to our daughter? You walk out of any room she enters, how could you gauge whether or not she is a proper Kiltaran?”

He glared even harder at Elbereth “It’s simple. She is your child, like daughter like mother.” With this he shoved past her, pushing her roughly into the wall, and stormed off.

Leiko turned towards the window and pushed her claws into her palm to keep herself from crying. She managed to keep her composure as blood dripped through her fingers to the floor. The morning sun streaming from the window made the droplets shine a brilliant red. Her mother crossed the room to stand behind her. She wasn’t very large, but she had a strong motherly presence. She raised her hand as if to touch Leiko’s shoulder, but stopped short and slowly let it fall to her side. She felt the need to comfort her daughter, but knew it would be unwanted and rejected. When Leiko felt her mother’s presence she sighed and looked down. “I’ll become strong enough… I’ll become strong enough to make him regret those words.”

Elbereth straightened her simple dress and slowly responded, “Child, why are you punishing yourself like this? He would be satisfied if you prepare yourself to be a proper mate and mother so you can catch the attention of a male from a good house. You only anger him more when you continue training to be a warrior”

Clenching her teeth, Leiko growled, “No. He’s bitter because I’m not the son he wanted.” At this she opened her hands and looked at the four holes she had pierced in each of her palms. “I’ll show him.” She clenched her fists and turned around to face her mother, a determined look in her eyes “I’ll show him I’m tougher than any male not yet blooded.” With that she ran off in search of her father, leaving her mother alone in the room. The blood on the floor was illuminated like little jewels. It seemed to Elbereth to be an ominous sign of what was to come. She hated that her daughter was so hot-headed; she knew that it caused her to make many bad decisions. However, there was nothing she could do but worry, so she sat down in a chair near the window and waited for Leiko to return.

After some searching, Leiko found her father in his weight room. Out of breath from running all over the large house she looked down at him as he lay doing bench presses, “prepare the blooding ceremony,” she panted.

The barbell dropped into the rack with a loud *clank* and he sat up and stared at her. With him sitting and her standing they were face to face. “You are four years away from the proper time, what makes you think you are ready?”

“I will prove to you once and for all that I am a proper Kiltaran, and a proper warrior.” She ignored the rules of status and looked her father straight in the eyes.

“No Kiltaran has survived the blooding this young.” He stroked the graying area of his mane around his chin as he eyed the young, but fit, Kiltaran female defiantly staring back at him. “Your arrogance could very well be your downfall, but if you wish to risk your life I won’t stop you.”

Understanding the intended meaning of her father’s words, Leiko paused for a moment, considering the alternative. Making a claim such as this and backing down was a worse dishonor than making the claim and failing. She gritted her teeth, looked her father straight in the eyes and growled, “I’m ready.”

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