(click the title to see the entire chapter)
A full moon, large, white, and speckled, hung heavy in the sky on the last night of the gathering. The revelers, both men and beasts, bayed, clawed, and stroked the darkened air with hoarse songs of praise. It was the Sanga Harvest, the time of change, the time when roles reversed, and those who loped across plains and nested in rainforests exchanged places with those who walked on tar and concrete.
Long haired four legged beings, rolled and frolicked in the high grasses that surrounded the lengthy oval shaped pool, its blue, blue water roiling and rolling as though propelled by some motor hidden deep under the brightly colored mosaic tile that covered its floor and surrounding ledge. Sleek, thin-skinned figures in flowing silk robes lingered poolside fingering long stemmed glasses half full of a sweet green liquid. They sipped and spoke softly, heads bobbing and nodding, an occasional laugh floated upward, soft and pleasant.
The lofty grasses whirled and bent as the beasts and their mates rubbed and stroked each other. Paws wrapped and clinging, buried in heated crevices, fur to fur, groin to groin, one last embrace, one last coming together before the change. The thin-skinned ones placed their emptied glasses on a tray held aloft by a large manservant in black livery. As each deposited an empty glass on the tray, they formed a circle around the pool, hands at their sides, nearly touching. Robes moistened by the mist and ruffled by the flow of air and energy floated about their ankles, the power of the water pulling at the nearly transparent cloth.
The mating whine of the beasts rose, whimpers and soft cries riding the breeze just as the low hum around the pool began. On the far end of the lawn where the stone steps to the mansion met the long grass, a lone beast sat. He was all caramel and gold, long curling fur and a longer tail that tapped a soft steady beat on the ground, a hollow thud that punctuated and seemed to hasten the growing whir of sound.
He was Va, the lone one. It hadn’t always been so. At one time, he’d rolled in the long grass with his mate as the energy transformed them, but one early autumn she, Cen, didn’t come to the Sanga Harvest. It happens sometimes, a being loses a mate to nature or man’s treachery. Once the carcass is recovered, there is a time of grieving, a time of pain and sorrow, of wrenching one’s hair and slicing one’s skin, of howling one’s anger at the universe. This time passes, however, and a celebration of the lost one’s breath is held and its soul is released. After a time of healing, when the novices practice their arts of restoration on the grieving one, he or she is encouraged to wander among the new ones in the hopes that the soul will have found a new home or that a compatible spirit can be found.
However, for Va there was no such ceremony. The carcass of Cen was never recovered. So he was left to await her. He made the pilgrimage to Sanga every seventh season to hover in the grass or under the eaves awaiting Cen’s return. Some said that it was his fault, that she had fled him because he had not pleased her, that he was unnatural, that his soul was a shadow.
He had always been different, slow to rejoice in the change, a moody soul to Cen’s joyous one. It must have been he, they whispered. He had done some wrong to her, made her unbearably unhappy, else why would she conceal her glow from the seekers. They had sent out seekers each cycle since Va’s first cry had remained unanswered. He had seemed so forlorn that first time, his seductive cry morphing into a sorrowful moan as he lingered alone on the edges of the clan’s gathering. There was great sympathy for him then, and the seekers were dispatched, but no scent of Cen emerged. All knew that if she were no more, the seekers would have caught her scent or seen the glow of her carcass. Therefore, she must still be breathing and willfully concealing herself. But when Va was called before the Council and questioned, he had no words and his sorrow was so great that none could consider punishment.