Emal approached them and tilted his head with an inviting smile.
"My dearest friend. I was hoping we'd meet today." The newcomer purred.
"Were you." Iadin responded tersely and folded his arms.
Emal's black eyes glanced down and his brows pinched a fraction. The action almost had a wounded quality to it, but in the next instant his golden face smoothed and his chin lifted, smile back in place.
"I see you finally wore your father down and was gifted some pets." Emal said with a condescending smirk.
Iadin's mouth tightened and his eyes flicked briefly around the room, before settling back on Emal.
"I have a third, but he's resting." Iadin bit.
Finn felt a niggling of worry for the purple feline and looked at Noni. The feline returned his look with troubled eyes and his ears twitched.
Emal quirked a brow and his gaze swept over the smaller boys.
"An Ytra. Very nice. From the north too. But what's this?" He stepped closer and stared down at Finn curiously. "He's smooth. How obscene." Emal reached out to touch Finn and Iadin smacked his hand away.
"You can look!" The Zithan snapped.
Emal flexed his long fingers.
"Still stingy with your toys." He huffed and Iadin's glowing eyes narrowed.
"He is a Human. That's all you need to know."
"From where?" Emal persisted.
"I don't know and I don't care." Iadin shrugged and turned away, clearly done with the conversation.
"Fine." Emal tugged on his chain and dragged his pet forward.
"I don't think you've met my newest addition." Emal baited and Iadin glanced back dismissively, only to gasp and do a double take.
The boy was taller than both Finn and Noni. He had tiny tipped ears on top of his head and a thick white tail falling limply to the floor. His clawed fingers were unnaturally long and seemed to contain an added joint. White hair curled softly around an angelic face and his eyes, shielded by icy lashes, were milky white with a faint dot of watery blue in the center.
Those eyes seemed vacant. Empty. A shatter of glass sounded nearby but the boy's tipped ears never twitched.
Finn's throat tightened with sympathy and something akin to fear.
"A Fith!" Iadin exclaimed. "How did you get one?"
"I have my ways." Emal smirked, liquid eyes sparkling as Iadin scowled.
The Zithan clearly didn't want to indulge Emal, but his eyes inevitably strayed back to the Fith.
"Does he communicate with you?" Iadin asked reluctantly.
Emal shrugged and his red brows furrowed.
"No, he's put up a barrier. I've tried isolating him and limiting his meals, but he only seems to withdraw further."
Iadin scoffed and fisted a hand on his slim hip. "Of course! Fith are a pack species. I made sure to purchase two Ytra to retain their sanity."
"A pack only strengthens their shields. I wanted to see if I could alter his mentality. Perhaps learn something new." Emal said.
"You can't alter the nature of a living creature. Not without breaking it." Iadin shook his head, turquoise hair sliding over his shoulders, and Emal's eyes took on a hungry gleam.
"We'll see." Emal murmured.
Iadin scowled and glanced back at the Fith. "Looks like you broke it al..."
"There you are!" Iadin's mother strode towards them and the crowd seemed to part around her. Her creamy skin was once again gleaming with oils and she was barely concealed in an iridescent gown that shone with a constellation of gems.
She paused before her son. They were exactly the same height but Iadin hunched his shoulders ever so slightly, making him appear smaller.
"You haven't announced yourself and the initiates are already preparing." Her voice was pitched low, but cut like a blade.
"I was intercepted." Iadin murmured and glanced at Emal, whose gold complexion noticeably paled.
His mother's eyes narrowed to gleaming slits.
"Never blame others for your actions. Take responsibility, anything else is cowardly." Glowing eyes raked over him. "Merciful goddess, would you straighten your spine? You're not a weed to be trampled!"
Iadin hastily straightened and nervously tucked a lock of shining hair behind his pointed ear.
"Stop that! You may look like a Priestess, but you certainly shouldn't act like one! This is precisely why I've had to resort to..."
Finn watched the interaction with sympathy. For all his power and arrogance Iadin was still just a boy being scolded, if not bullied, by his mother. He found himself wondering about his own mother. If he had one...
The empty sensation he'd been battling returned and left a feeling of panic. He looked hurriedly around for Noni, but instead his gaze was caught by Emal.
The gold alien was a full head taller than Iadin and Finn had to crane his neck back to meet those tilted, black eyes.
He thought he had never seen such utter darkness. It seemed endless. Bottomless.
Suddenly he found himself reliving memories; The Hallway of Ancients and his intimate moment with Iadin. He remembered Liler's embrace and the agony as he was pierced. Acitu's long fingers caressing his stomach.
Blurred instances of Keafule came next. Noni's sweet smile and Liler's hard grip. Constant fatigue dulling every moment.
And finally he remembered waking up and seeing Myrina. And then....then...
He was suddenly staring into liquid darkness. Emal's eyes slitted and the darkness expanded once more.
There was a faint tug in his chest, just below his diaphragm. A little light was nestled there and emitted a warm glow. Tiny, spidery threads shimmered through it and Finn flowed into them.
He had an unbelievable sense of his being stretching and then narrowing. As if he was traveling at great speed, yet standing completely still.
Faintly, he heard voices. The volume was low at first and then increased until they became deafening.
A female voice rang out clearly amidst the racket and it was as if the delicate thread tugged. There.
The voice sharpened until all other sound died out.
"No, Aaron, we're not abandoning the search! It's only been a month! They can't have looked everywhere or he would be home by now!"
A new voice. Male. But just as important.
"Darling, a month is a long time. We need to start accepting that he might never be f..."
"No! Don't you say it! Don't you dare! He's our baby! He's my baby boy and I would know if he was gone! I would feel it! What if he's hurting, Aaron? What if...what if someone has him...what if he's scared and alone and..." Her breath hitched, "What if he's calling for us and we can't hear him!"
The voice dissolved into heartbreaking cries of despair.
"Darling..." The second voice cracked weakly on a sob.
"Get out of his head!" Iadin shouted and Finn was suddenly back in the banquet hall and tears were flooding down his cheeks.
Iadin had Emal by the shoulder and his blazing eyes were furious.
Finn's chest heaved and warm arms wrapped around him, a velvety ear sliding against his cheek.
"Finn? What's wrong?" Noni asked, voice soft with concern.
He didn't know. He didn't know what was wrong. He could no longer remember the voices and his head was pounding.
All he knew was he had a gaping, empty hole in his mind and chest and it was wrong. Something was deeply wrong.
He choked out a ragged sob and looked up into the saddest eyes he ever hoped to see. The Fith had lifted his head and was staring at Finn.
Astonishment briefly took his breath, but his heart hurt. It hurt.
"I understand." A thin voice, like a feathered touch, breezed through his mind. Leaving behind an impossible sensation of frost without the chill.
Finn's eyes were so completely filled he could barely see and those clouded eyes blurred into faint dabs of anguish.
"One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel." The voice breathed and Finn had an impression of endless snowy landscapes and a cold wind howling.
Pain, that wasn't his alone, was tearing him apart and in that moment all Finn wanted was to wrap his arms around the shattered soul in front of him and hold the pieces tight.
"Finn?" Noni's voice was faint.
"He's in shock!" Iadin said, as if from far away.
"No! I'll handle him and you'll ready yourself for the ceremony. Now."
Arms wrapped around Finn and sudden weightlessness let him know he was lifted. The moment he broke eye contact with the Fith he was overwhelmed with exhaustion and stared sightlessly up at the ceiling.
There was a pause while footsteps faded and then the female Zithan spoke again.
"I meant no disrespect." Emal spoke lowly. "The pet's past was erased and I located its origin."
Another pause, followed by a sharp prompt.
"All living entities have a spirit connected to another. I simply traced it back to its source." Emal said carefully.
Iadin's mother breathed in sharply.
"Your offer. I'll consider it." She finally spoke and Emal gasped.
"I'm very pleased to hear it!" He spoke fervently.
"Blessings to your father." Iadin's mother responded solemnly.
"And to you and yours, Lady Diamin."
When Finn came to he was situated in someone's lap and a hand was running through his hair.
"...don't know why he needs so many and one so fragile. He doesn't have any claws either." Diamin was saying and Finn looked up blearily.
He wasn't at all comfortable being in her arms and his head smarted. He hissed out a pained breath.
Diamin glanced down at him with a bored expression.
"He seems out of sorts. You should give him a drink." A new voice spoke.
Finn warily looked away from that frighteningly perfect face and saw three Zithan females lounging by a low stone table. Two watched him indifferently but one smiled.
Iadin's mother reached for a crystal cup and made to bring it to his lips.
"Not the Isa! That's not for hydration." The smiling one scolded.
Finn glanced uneasily at Diamin, but she only lifted her sharp brows and stared at the speaker through half closed eyes.
"Perhaps you would care to watch over my son's pet yourself, Nizeva?" She spoke dryly.
Nizeva's face brightened and she eagerly stretched out her shimmering arms. Her face was thin with sharp cheekbones and her pale blue hair was interwoven with gems.
Diamin passed Finn over and his temples stung with the motion.
Nizeva settled him comfortably against her and poured a new glass. She held his nape and carefully guided his mouth to the rim. He drank down what tasted like fresh water with a hint of mint and sighed as the pain eased a fraction.
The Zithan smoothed back his hair and he thanked her softly.
"I think he's charming!" She exclaimed.
One of the female's snorted indelicately.
"In a twisted sense it resembles one of our youngsters." The stranger mused.
"Precisely." Diamin murmured, cocking a brow before sipping her drink.
Nizeva ignored them and continued smiling down at Finn, stroking his hair and cheek.
He felt sick to his stomach and squinted up at her through bleary eyes. Nizeva frowned.
"Diamin, did your son feed his pet today?" She inquired.
Diamin raised one shoulder in a delicate shrug and lounged back on the dark green chaise.
"Why don't you ask it yourself? I believe it speaks." She replied breezily and made a point of engaging the Zithan beside her in conversation.
"Are you hungry little one?" Nizeva cooed and gently cupped his face.
Finn did not appreciate being treated like an overgrown baby but the kind face staring down at him was far preferable to Iadin's mother. His stomach growled eagerly and he licked his dry lips.
"A little." He croaked.
The Zithan immediately stretched her hand out and retrieved a sticky fruit, that she held to his lips. It was extremely sweet, like mango dipped in honey, but as Nizeva continued feeding him he began to feel better.
When he was finally full, and had quietly expressed his thanks, Nizeva's glowing eyes lit up further and she turned to her companions.
"Oh Diamin, do you suppose your son is interested in selling him?"
Iadin's mother frowned slightly.
"He mentioned it in the beginning, but I believe he changed his mind." She spoke thoughtfully.
"I'll ask him. He would look just darling beside my Sana. Their coloring is similar."
The heartache, that had dimmed to a bearable sorrow, re-ignited full force at the mention of the word "darling" - and Finn didn't have the faintest idea why.
Shouldn't he be focusing on the fact that they were discussing selling him. Selling him. But why was he shocked? It had happened before. Wasn't this the norm? Would Iadin give him up? Hadn't he felt love? Was that love? Would he be forced to leave Noni and Liler?
His thoughts were scrambled and chaotic. Stuttering. Incomplete. He sucked in a strained breath and brutally forced the tears away, until a dull numbness replaced them.
The aliens around him were completely oblivious to his ordeal. To them he was a product.
The lights suddenly dimmed and the Zithans stilled. Nizeva smiled down at Finn, mistaking his wide eyes.
"Nothing to fear. The ceremony is only starting." She explained softly.
A/N: In case it's confusing, let me clarify what's happening to Finn. His memories were erased and his body was rebelling against it. If the Natki erase memories they never remove all of them or the pet won't function.
That's why Finn remembers everything except his family and friends. Like flavors, emotions and objects. But those things are still connected to people. Sensory memories (like taste and sound) are often linked to experiences with people and if you remove those people the memory becomes disconnected - and that can result in disorientation, depression and (with enough resistance) brain damage.
Finn has always been emotionally intelligent and in touch with nature, people and the energies around him. He wouldn't think of himself as strong, but he is.
When Emal (who's a telepath) connected to Finn's spirit he traced it back to his mother. Finn was briefly forced to remember but then the Natkis treatment overruled. But his spirit knows. Everything we touch in life leaves an imprint and Finn's love for his family, and connection, is rock solid.
The Fith's words are taken from one of my favorite quotes:
"Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel." - Graham Greene