Her Other Soul

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“Shelarya!” David called out. The Peresi was sitting on a bench around one of the magnificent fountains nestled in Treshaddi’s branches. He ran down a thinner branch that connected the bough he was on to the plaza. It was only about a foot thick, and he had to hold his arms out for balance as he ran.

She glanced up when she heard her name, but when she saw David, a confused expression fell over her face.

“How may I assist you?” she asked. She was clearly trying not to look at his ears, like most Peresi did the first time they met him. This was more than a little confusing, since the first time he spoke with Shelarya, she didn’t bother to hide it and stared openly.

“I just wanted to say hi,” he said, panting a little from the run.

Her mouth tightened. “I will forgive you your rudeness this time. You shouldn’t use ‘varay’ to greet people who are not your lira… that means close friends.”

“I know what lira means,” David said. Why was Shelarya acting so strange? “We’ve been lira for months now.”

“I think I’d know if I’d met the Human before, much less given him the name of my home-tree. I don’t believe I have any lira on Treshaddi.”

If this was some kind of joke, David thought, it wasn’t funny. “You’re from Nyemia. You told me so yourself.”

“That’s not my home-tree,” she said, sounding irritated. “You must be…” She trailed off. “I’m sorry. I guess I must have a twin.”

“How do you not know if you have a twin sister?”

“I don’t know you well enough to share that story. I wasn’t told I had a twin. Let’s leave it at that.”

David rubbed at his forehead. “I’m missing something. I’m guessing Peresi treat twins differently than humans do.”

“Don’t Humans separate twins at birth?”

“Only in soap operas,” David said, smiling weakly. This just got him a chirp of confusion. “Human joke,” he said, “but no, twins are usually raised together.”

“Maybe it’s different with Humans, but with Peresi, we separate twins so the two halves of soul they possess can grow. One child is selected and sent to another home-tree.”

“I see,” David said. He said that whenever he had to force himself not to judge the Peresi based on his own preconceptions. He was fairly proud of himself for not having to say it in some time. “And they don’t tell the children they have a twin?”

“The child is normally told when they’re old enough. Circumstances prevented my parents from telling me. If you know my sister, I would be honored if you would introduce us.”

“Sure,” he said, “but this sounds like the kind of thing I should talk to her about first.”

She nodded. “Yes, you should. I might need some time to process this myself. Shall we meet here tomorrow?”

“All right.” David turned, already trying to figure out the best way to tell Shelarya about this, when a thought struck him. “I never learned your name.”

Shelarya’s twin chirped. “But you already called me by name.”

“I called you your sister’s name,” he said. “Is this a coincidence, or do all Peresi twins have the same name.”

“We do,” she said.

“You realize that’s just asking for confusing encounters like this, right?”

The other Shelarya laughed, chittering just like her sister did.

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Elven Scavengers

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“None of you had anything like this at your home-trees?” David asked the gathered elves. A chorus of low whistles and shaking heads gave a clear “no.”

The crowd had started to grow. It had really started with just Shelarya. She was fascinated by Earth culture, and always wanted to see more. The elves that shared their dorm would often poke their heads in, too. Word must have spread, though, because it seemed that every time he was giving a demonstration of something from Earth, more and more people showed up.

“Peresi children do not have possessions, David,” Shelarya told him.

“It’s not about… that’s not important, I guess.” He held up a piece of paper, with a list of items written down in his clumsy, but legible Peresi. “The game is called a scavenger hunt. You form into groups, and you have to find as many things on this list as you can.”

“And you just take them?” one of the elves asked. She was young, if David was guessing her age right, and looked timid. “Is theft not a crime on Erth?” Her face suddenly turned a purplish shade of red, and she added, “I didn’t mean to offend!”

“No offense is taken,” David said. He decided not to correct her pronunciation of Earth. She was embarrassed enough. “It’s usually played with cameras these days… a device that captures images. We’ll be using the Memory Sight spell, instead. Make sure at least one person on each team knows it.”

“And whichever team finds the most of these wins?” Shelarya asked.

David nodded. “Yes. Let’s say one elya,” he said. That was roughly eighty minutes. “After that, you all come back here and show me the sights you’ve captured.”

“What is the prize?” It was Preya. He often kept company with Vennesul, but wasn’t so bad if Vennesul wasn’t around. He was right, too. Games like this required a prize for the winner. Usually candy or some small privilege, since, as Shelarya had reminded him, Peresi children didn’t have their own toys.

He tried to think of something suitable for a group of college students. “The winners can drive the remote control car,” he offered. He’d gotten a lot of requests to try out this non-talisman.

There was a general assent to this, and David started handing out copies of the list to the groups.

“Any advice?” Shelarya asked quietly, when he handed her a copy. She had teamed up with the young elf, whose face had almost returned to it’s natural color.

“All items are worth one point. Finding a licretia crystal is worth just as much as a Watchful Rune, so start with the easy ones.”

He glanced down at his watch. “Everybody ready? Go!”

A Car in a Tree

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The tiny car gave out a tiny buzz as it sped down the hallway. Elves gasped. Some jumped out of the way, while others froze as the alien contraption zipped effortlessly around their legs.

Shelarya let out her chittering giggle as the car slowed to a stop in front of her.

“It’s fascinating, David,” she said. “And you control it all yourself?”

“It’s just a toy,” David said. Pretty much every elf there was staring at him. He was starting to think getting this stuff sent over was a bad idea. The elves of T’reshaddi’s halls (T’reshaddi was the name of the tree) had finally started to get used to him. Five minutes with the RC car, and he’d probably spent the next few weeks getting as many stares as he did when he first arrived.

In for a penny, he thought to himself, and he pushed the remote control car back into action.

It hadn’t gotten far when a booted foot slammed down right in front of it. The small car’s back wheels lifted off the ground from the impact.

“What is this nonsense?” Vennesul said. David had problems identifying genders of the Perresi most of the time, but Vennesul was definitely male. He was well over eight feet tall, and broad-shouldered, for an elf. He probably weighed more than David did, which for an elf, put him squarely in the heavy-weight division.

David slammed back on the control, but Vennesul’s hand snatched the toy before it could escape. Its wheel’s spun impotently in the air.

“It’s a toy, harrasi,” Shelarya told him. David was still trying to get the nuances of ‘harrasi‘ down. It sort of meant ‘clansmen.’ Shelarya and Vennesul came from the same tree, Shalruun. But there was more to it than that. Hundreds of elves lived in that tree, but they weren’t all harrasi to each other.He was pretty sure you had to be born within the three years (twenty months, by Earth standards) of each other to be harassi. Harrasi were charged with looking after each other, almost like brothers and sisters.

And like brothers and sisters, just because two elves were harrasi that didn’t mean they had to like each other.

He examined the car. “It’s ugly,” he declared.

“It’s cute,” Shelarya insisted.

“It has too many straight lines. It’s a bad talisman.” Peresi magic was quite strict any magical symbol or device could have no more than three straight lines involved. More than that would apparently call out to bad spirits. As a result, Peresi avoided straight lines, even when magic wasn’t involved.

“It’s not a talisman,” David told him. “It doesn’t matter how many straight lines it has.”

“’A monkey may speak, but it does not understand,’” Vennesul said. It was a Peresi phrase, although it didn’t actually say monkey. The word was ‘lorura‘, but since a lorura was pretty much a chimpanzee that could parrot back phrases it heard, David mentally translated it as ‘monkey’. Vennesul liked to compare David to loruras whenever he could.

“You dishonor my lira,” Shelarya snapped.

“He is not your lira.”

“We have shared food and knowledge. I have given him the name of my home-tree and he’s given me his. We are lira.”

“He wasn’t born in a tree. He cannot be lira

David cleared his throat, cutting off Shelarya’s response. She had tried to argue that a human town was effectively the same as a elven tree many times before. Vennesul wasn’t going to budge, since accepting David as Shelarya’s lira would mean he’d have to be polite.

“It’s not a talisman, because it’s not run by magic,” David explained, in as patronizing a tone as he could manage.

“I find that hard to believe. How can it run? How does it listen to your commands?”

“The levers send electric signals in the remote control that are converted to radio waves. The antenna on the car receives the radio waves, which cause electric signals in the car to activate different parts of the motor, spinning the wheels and making them turn.”

Vennesul stared in confusion. He wasn’t alone. Shelarya was just as bewildered, as was every elf listening in on the conversation. He’d had to use quite a few English words, since Peresi didn’t have words for “radio waves” and things like that.

“Mo-tor?” Vennesul repeated. David was strongly tempted to echo the line about monkeys, but he held his tongue. To openly insult Shelarya’s harrasi could either be construed as an insult to her, or an admission that he didn’t qualify as her lira.

“Watch,” he said, and he handed the remote control to Shelarya. “You try.”

“But I don’t understand how it works,” she protested.

“And if it was a magic device, that would be a problem,” he grinned. “Just push the levers there. You’ll get the hang of it in no time.”

She frowned, but she pushed forward on one of the levers. The RC car’s wheels suddenly spun, and Vennesul dropped it in surprise. It bounced and landed on its side, but a nearby elf nudged it back on to its wheels.

It jerked forward in small bursts. Shelarya seemed surprised every time the car actually moved forward, but she was smiling. The rest of the elves stared in amazement.

David threw a wicked grin at Vennesul. “So who speaks, but does not understand?”

Human in an Elf Land

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David stared at the paper in front of him, the thin writing seeming to shimmer in front of his eyes. Surely a sign that he needed some sleep, but if he didn’t get this assignment done by sundown, his grades were going to suffer.

Besides, as tired as he was, maybe he could actually sleep through the entire night. Two months here and he still wasn’t used to the thirty-six hour days.

“You look like you could use something to eat,” Shelarya said.

“I could use a few extra hours on this project,” he said with a wry smile, “but failing that, food sounds good.

“I’ll get you something,” she said. At least, David thought Shelarya was a ‘she.’ It wasn’t always easy to tell with the elves, and it seemed far too rude to actually ask.

She returned with a wooden plate piled high with licretia – violet honey crystals that tasted vaguely like raspberries. His teeth ached just looking at them. Honey was a staple for the elves, and David privately thought he’d be lucky if he had any teeth left by the time he returned to Earth.

It must have shown on his face, because Shelarya frowned.

“I’m sorry. Do you not like licretia? It’s all I have, I’m afraid. I’m still not used to preparing food on my own.”

“It’s fine,” David said, chuckling. “Some things transcend worlds and species, it seems.”

“Do most students live off of licretia on Earth?” she asked.

“Top Ramen,” he replied. The words sounded odd after months of speaking Perresi. “But the same basic principle. Cheap and easy to prepare.”

“Is it difficult, being so far from your home?”

He bit into a piece of licretia as he thought about that. “It’s not so bad here, at the university. I stopped going down to the village.”

“Why is the village so different?”

“Because everyone here is here to learn. Most elves I run into up here are excited to meet a human. I’m likely to get inundated with questions the first time I meet someone, but that’s only mildly annoying.” Shelarya flushed at that (a slightly more violet shade than a human girl would). When they had been first assigned to work together, she had a seemingly endless list of questions for him.

“How do people respond to you in the village?”

“It… varies. I get a lot of stares. Some people intentionally avoid me. Others talk down to me like I’m some short, ugly…” he trailed off, trying to think of the Perresi word closest to ‘retard.’

“I’m sure they don’t mean to,” she said, albeit without much conviction. “Most of them probably aren’t expecting to see a human.”

David’s reply came out more bitterly than he intended it to. “Whether it’s malice or ignorance, it doesn’t make me feel any less like a freak. I’m much happier here, where I’m a novelty.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I knew things would be weird when I came here. I’m the only human in this entire world, after all. Maybe once I’ve been here longer, or when more humans have made the Crossing, I’ll be able to go down without being ostracized. And if not, I can set a record for the longest time spent in a tree.”

Sheralya chirped in confusion.

“Earth doesn’t have trees big enough to build cities on,” he explained.

“How odd.”

David popped another licretia crystal into his mouth. “We’d better get back to this assignment if we’re going to have it done by sundown. What’s this rune? It looks familiar, but I can’t seem to place it.

She laughed, a squirrel-like chittering noise. “You’re holding it upside-down.”