Going Deeper – Catilen’s Day

Going Deeper – Catilen’s Day

I’ve been exploring the art of connecting to a character’s headspace using writing prompts to delve into their psyche. I enjoyed the exercise with Domerin, so I decided to give Catilen another go. Here’s a small story that takes place shortly after the events of Island of Lost Forevers.

The days were difficult enough when she didn’t have to move the island. Catilen may have filled some invisible void when Sentomoru died, at least in the eyes of the island’s people, but she hadn’t gained his knowledge of ruling the dimension-hopping kingdom. She thought college students were difficult to manage; she wished she could go back to five classes a day and a quiet evening at home.

Even the island’s adults acted like children. They needed her approval for every little thing. If someone wanted to paint a wall, they asked about the color. If Tenolin wanted to add a new flower to the garden, he needed to know which spot she liked best. When she told him she trusted his judgment, he got flustered and upset. Guests wanted her to appear more often at the various bathhouse activities. The chefs wanted her to approve the daily menu. At this rate, she needed three clones to accomplish anything.

She wished she could lock herself in her purloined office on days she didn’t have to move the island, just to hear herself think. If the island inhabitants’ daily lives weren’t intrusive enough, she had new problems to deal with every time the island jumped. She never knew if she would stumble into greetings or threats.

She and Damian hadn’t been the first to notice Sentomoru’s sinister nature. They had only been the first to successfully act against it. Some were so taken with the island’s old master, they wouldn’t abide the island’s presence without him. She had run out of ways to explain that she needed time to recover before she moved the island again. Those were tense nights, where the overwhelming need to sleep often overrode her exhaustion, keeping her awake until the wee hours of morning. And yet, those were the less stressful greetings.

When they found a world willing to accept them, especially an uninhabited world, Catilen wished they could stay forever. Only uninhabited dimensions allowed her to get work done. Without the constant need to tend guests, she could assign managers to choose paint colors and arrange menus. In a few weeks, she might even convince Tenolin he was a much better gardener than her.

But the island had a personality of its own, including a deep sense of wanderlust. When they lingered too long, the island’s presence welled within her, urgent and insatiable. If she didn’t move the island today, it might drive her mad. She tried to keep her fingers from shaking as she pressed them against the solid wood floor of her office.

Just take us somewhere they’ll accept us. I don’t know if you can include that in your criteria but I don’t want another incident like last time. She shuddered. She had shifted the island three times in rapid succession during their last move. Each time had grown more difficult. By the third, she had prayed only for an uninhabited world, thinking she would die if she had to move the island one more time. A day or two to recover wasn’t enough. The island must have agreed with her; it had only given her one option.

As with all her other attempts to move the island, it presented her with more choices than she could reasonably consider. She had learned, by now, she could narrow them down with simple queries; somewhere the island goes regularly, somewhere warm or some place without people. But if she asked for another uninhabited dimension, her guests would revolt. She didn’t know what would happen if people stopped being willing to stay at the bathhouse, since the primary form of trade was not money, but she thought there would be unpleasant consequences.

She trusted the island to choose their destination. It was faster and less taxing, and the island knew far more about the universe than she did. All she had to do was hold the destination in mind while she untethered the anchor. The island, and the ley lines on which it traveled, did most of the work. At least the massive, tidal forces of the universal ley lines had grown less daunting the more she interacted with them. It was the people on the other side she feared.

The moment she came out of the trance, she always braced for explosions. Some part of her still feared they would end up back on Earth, just after the island disappeared, when the jets were intent on littering the small island with their explosive payloads. She shivered uncontrollably for several seconds before she slid to her feet.

Even if they appeared within view of land, it would take several hours for anyone to arrive. Catilen had made a habit of eating and sleeping during that time, just in case. She had never tried to move the island quicker than forty-eight hours after an arrival. Her biggest fear was being unable to calm the locals that long.

By the time she woke from her first nap, her fears were confirmed. Damian shook his head slowly when he brought her the news. “The island is completely surrounded. The boats look small and simple, but they must be more advanced than they appear to have arrived so quickly.”

She drew a deep breath and tried to keep her voice steady. She was going to need that false confidence when she got down to the docks. “Let’s move down to the beach and see if their leader comes to greet us.”

A large crowd had already gathered on the sun-warmed sands, watching as the sun slid below the horizon and one of the boats threw ropes toward the dock. It was larger than it had seemed from the windows, but distances in flat areas could be deceiving.

“I come to see your leader,” a gruff man announced. He was the size of a train engine, shaped like box and he held a hammer at least twice Catilen’s size. She always understood the new arrivals. She assumed it was a gift of the island, since a dimensional-common language made no sense. If such a thing did exist, she had never learned it.

“I lead here,” she said, softly, but with an air of authority.

“You not rule island,” the man retorted with a snort. “Send real leader. I have business with he.”

She braced herself. How many weapons were pointed at her island right now? How powerful were they? Something told her it would be worse than the US Air Force jets. The island would have let her sense them, if they were within its range, but she was too scared to try. She needed to be able to talk to this man.

Silently, like a feather on the wind, she extended her secondary senses. Mage sight was useless at a time like this, but her empathy often proved priceless. Anger flowed from the tank-sized man in waves, tinged with determination. He had been waiting for this, she realized, a long time.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her tone sincere, “but the man you’re looking for – Sentomoru – is dead. He died six months ago and I took his place. If your business is associated with the island, it must now be conducted with me.”

The man set his hammer on the dock. The worn wood groaned beneath the weight. He leaned forward, peering out from beneath one shaggy eyebrow. Catilen waited calmly while he looked her over. He could have snapped her in half with little trouble.

“Don’t want to conduct this business with you,” he growled. “That bastard know what he done. His payment long overdue.”

“I assure you, Lord Sentomoru paid for his mistakes before the end. I was there. I will tell you, if you like. But I cannot bring you to him, unless you wish to see his grave. He’s buried up on that hill.” She pointed to a hill not far beyond the beach.

The big man turned and conferred with one of his fellows. Catilen couldn’t tell what weapon he bore, but she guessed they were all armed. A closer look at the runes drawn across the hammer’s head made her guess these weren’t primitive weapons either. These men can undo us if they want to. She put her hands behind her back and wiped the sweat from her palms against her shirt, hoping no one noticed.

“You take me to this grave,” the man said at last, lightly dinging his hammer against the dock. Catilen thought she heard a crack. “I spit on it.”

That brought her up short. “I… I’m not certain that’s a good idea. The people of this island still mourn his loss-“

“I spit on it or I split it.” He hefted his hammer.

Catilen reached out one more time. She didn’t sense malice from this man but rather sorrow, resignation. His business with Sentomoru would have to go unresolved. She laid a hand on her stomach and drew a deep breath. “And that will satisfy you, sir? You will leave our island in peace if I let you do this thing?”

He lowered the hammer again. Something about him softened, if a man that looked like he’d been carved from brick could be said to soften. “After, I get to know you. Have dinner. Talk. Then we see if I like you.”

Catilen risked one gentle wave of camaraderie directed at the newcomer. “If you disliked Sentomoru, we already have something in common. Follow me.” She motioned as she turned. She sent a silent warning ahead to Damian to clear the islanders from the area. It would be best if they didn’t witness the man’s actions.

She set a slow but steady pace, not to stall, but because walking was growing increasingly more difficult as the days passed.

“You need stop?” her companion asked as they mounted the hill. It felt steeper than usual.

“I’m fine,” she replied with a smile. “Don’t mistake slow for weak, my friend. I’m tough as they come.”

He made a soft sound deep in his throat. It took several seconds for Catilen to identify it as laughter. “That, I see. Think, already, I like you. You have strong little one soon, I bet.”

Catilen ran her fingers along her bulbous abdomen, allowing herself a wave of relief when she felt a small bump beneath her hand. With care, she could handle the negotiations from here. Her empathy would lead the way. She’d better get used to all this hectic insanity soon. It was only going to get tougher when the baby arrived.

“I’d like to think she’ll have at least a spark of her mother’s fire,” she agreed with a smile.

Her companion laughed again. When they reached the top of the hill, he bid her wait while he did his business. He was quick and, when he came back, he said his name was Emold. Sentomoru had stolen his daughter and several other children when he last brought his island to their lands, disappearing before they could be recovered. Catilen offered to help locate them if they remained, but she hadn’t seen anyone built like the rest and she doubted they could be found. How long ago had Sentomoru come?

She and Damian feasted that night with a delegation. She told the story of Sentomoru’s death and it seemed to satisfy them, even if she sensed the lust for retaliation would forever go unanswered in their hearts. Sometime in the wee hours of morning, Emold laid a hand on her shoulder and told her the island was welcome in his lands so long as she ruled. Catilen slept better that night than she had in ages.

***
You can read more about Catilen here.

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