Written/HTML by: Lorna Appleby
Underhill is a dimension filled with pocket realms. Between these realms is the unformed lands. While it is possible to travel between the realms by traversing the unformed lands, none with wisdom do such. The unformed lands feed of the dark energies of one's fear and dislikes to create real things in the mists. The mists also hide portals to strange an unknown places. It is through these mists strangers have said to come to Underhill.
The residents of Underhill use the portals created by the old ones to travel between many of the established realms, while the newer realms have weaker portals that tie to the portals of the old ones.
There is no map of Underhill, no guidance to how to traverse the realms, the children of Underhill learn the gates needed for their duties and station and no more. Few are familiar with more than two gateways and where they go. Fewer still ever leave the pocket realm they were born to. The High-Elves, self-appointed rulers of Underhill are perhaps 1% of the population and only they travel from the realms they rule to the great courts.
There are two types of Elves, or Shidhe (pronounced "Shee") as they prefer to be called, those of the light, and those of dark. To an outsider, they appears little difference in the peoples as a whole, each rule with iron fists, cold hearts and cruelty to their lessors, but to an elf, an insider the differences are great.
* * *
Kattarina made a face in the mirror. Why did she have to be so ugly? Her mother was beautiful, her half-brother was handsome, why was she so ugly? Were the rumours really true? Was her father really one of the dark Shidhe? One of the ugly, deformed ones? Those who dabbled in the blood magics and sacrificed little children? She shuddered at the thought. It was said that the dark Shidhe hated all that was beautiful because they themselves could never be beautiful. It was said they tried to hide themselves from that beauty. She tried to braid her hair in another fashion, it didn't help.
She put on a different outfit, this time a pair of leather breaches and a loose blouse. While it made her body look less like a boy's, she just didn't have the beauty and grace of her mother. It could be worse, she mused, she could have the rat-like faces that the dark Shidhe were said to possess.
Giving up on trying to look like a lady instead of a plain boy, Katt grabbed her boots and pulled them on, all the procrastination in the world wasn't going to prevent her daily lessons. No matter how much she wished she didn't have to, she knew she had to attend. It was better to show up, get harassed, try and learn the complex lessons and come back to her rooms again than have Yeralanor show up and drag her to the lessons, humiliate her, beat her up and then send her back to her rooms.
The lessons were held in the courtyard of the Baron's castle. The Baron, of course, was her step-father, although she was to call him Father. Not that he tried to convince people that she was his child, but it was to show his power over her. He was one of the most handsome men of Underhill, not that she could ever look like him, that would be disrespectful. She tried to avoid him, he scared her and did nothing but criticise her.
The courtyard was a beautiful garden, oaks and elms greeted her warmly. She was pretty sure she was the only one who paid attention to them these days, with the upcoming anniversary of the realm. Realm Watermark would be nine thousand years old in another two years, everyone had to prepare. Everyone, other than Katt, of course, since she was considered much to young for responsibility. She was the youngest female in the court by almost twenty years, the only male near her age was her half-brother. The illusionary sun beamed down on the garden softly. Katt had heard about the human realm where they had a real sun. She wished that one day she could get to see it.
A foot tripped her and sent her sprawling, she barely had time to roll before her face skidded along the cobblestones. "Oh, look, the poor young ape tripped over its own feet again." Yeralanor had taken to calling her an ape, a slur for humans, since he said she was ugly enough to be one.
Katt climbed to her feet cautiously, keeping her head lower than Yeralanor's. "I apologise Master Yeralanor, I should not have been so careless."
The backhand sent her flying. "You are late," He said in a monotone voice. Yeralanor was the Baron's cousin, close to two hundred and fifty years old, he could afford to treat her in such manner. Katt wouldn't have been surprised if her step-father had told him to 'teach her humility.'
"I apologise Master Yeralanor." She repeated. It would do no good to protest or offer an excuse, that would only provoke another beating.
"Fine. I suppose I should earn my keep and yet again try and teach you how to use a sword properly. I don't know why anyone bothers with you." Katt very cautiously raised her head to see Yeralanor summon his sword and armour. She waited until she had permission to do the same.
"The reason is," a new voice broke in, a younger male voice. "because my mother would make my father's life a living hell if he didn't put up with the child. I say they should have thrown her to the mists aeons ago. Of course, the enlightened Elven courts do no such thing, do they?" Katt's Half-brother dropped down from one of the trees. He was as dashing and handsome as his father, long blonde hair flowed past his shoulders, and his leather armour was intricately carved and styled. Katt had never been given such wonderful clothing, she had to get by making her own.
"No, of course they don't." Yeralanor responded, eyeing Paranathis, wondering what his younger cousin wanted.
"I do hope you'll excuse the intrusion," Paranathis began, "I just came to see how my beloved younger sister was fairing." Katt could feel the dripping sarcasm.
"As poorly as ever." Yeralanor smirked. "I work what miracles I can." Katt really wished they wouldn't talk about her like she wasn't there, but what could she do? She already felt the swelling of a black eye from where Yeralanor had back handed her, and she guessed she had twisted her ankle when she originally fell. "Well, what are you waiting for you little toad? Summon your armour and sword! You can still do that, can't you?" Katt sighed, and summoned her armour and sword.
She hated the feel of the armour, it brought home the years of 'lessons' Yeralanor had been giving her, it was much to beautiful a set of armour for her, it made her look even uglier than she was. The armour was snug fitting and covered very little, she had yet to figure out what the point of it was. Males wore decent, covering armour, but hers barely covered anything. The chain undercoat covered her upper arms, and her torso to just above her bellybutton. She had a plate bra like thing that covered her chest, barely, and the shoulder guards and arm guards were all that protected her arms. They protected the outer side, but not the inner. Her legs were covered with shin guards and thigh guards, but little else, a leather and fur almost loin cloth with a chain over garment protected her lower torso and gave her freedom of movement, but for protection it was useless. The only advantage to the get out was it showed off her legs, even Katt in her lowest of moments knew she had nice legs. Not great legs, not Marilyn Monroe (whoever she was) legs, but nice legs.
The sword she enjoyed, it was a long sword, thin and strong. The runes of the Elven metal ran down the blade a faint steel-blue against the silvery finish. The hilt was that of a silver western dragon with emerald green eyes, the same colour as Katt's. The sword was supposed to be a reflection of her own innerself. Apparently, in the days of the old ones, they could call forth 'soul swords,' a weapon that was created from the very soul of the being who called it, created it and shaped it. The most legendary of these swords supposedly still existed even after the wielder had 'passed to the mists'. Katt found that hard to believe, those swords were supposed to be able to communicate with people and choose their wielders, what a very strange and unlikely concept.
A *thwack* across her behind and male laughter brought her back from her daydreaming. Yeralanor yawned. "Kattarina, you could at least do me the honour of paying attention." Paranthanis snickered.
The rest of the lesson went as abysmally as it had started. Yeralanor did his best to humiliate her and hurt her at every turn while her brother sat, watched and laughed. She remembered years back when her brother and her had been friends, had played together, she couldn't remember when that had changed, but she knew it had hurt terribly when it had.
After the lesson, Katt sat in the courtyard snuffling and applying bandages to her various cuts and bruises. No one came to see if she was all right. No one ever came. No one had even remembered today was her thirteenth birthday. She knew that a birthing day so close to barely a decade old wasn't much of importance to the court here, but she thought at least her mother would have remembered. She was officially a woman now, soon, oh so soon she would be an adult and could leave this horrible place.
"Hello there," a chipper voice greeted her. Katt almost fell into the fountain in shock. She hadn't heard anyone come in! She hadn't heard anyone at all! The voice chuckled, most likely at the look on her face. She looked around and found a fox-man standing in front of her. Two of his tails wagged happily while six of them sort of played with each other.
"You're a Kitsune!" She declared surprised. She had heard of the fox-spirits, but she had never had the honour of meeting one before. All she knew about them was they were fascinated by technology, they had computers (something no one in Realm Watermark had) and they were not to be disturbed by young elves. (The last told to her by her father.) The Kitsune were supposedly one of her father's strongest allies.
"What?!" The Kitsune held out his arms in shock, he was wearing a pin-strip suit of human design. "By the Old Ones! I am?! When did that happen?!" Katt giggled. The Kitsune grinned a fox grin. "I'm Dances with Credit Cards," he introduced holding out a paw.
Kattarina nodded shyly and shook the paw. "I'm Kattarina Delshard, daughter of Baroness Delshard."
If the Kitsune noticed that she went by her mother's name not the Baron's, he was too polite to comment. "Ah, a pleasure and an honour graceful lady. What doth bring you to be alone in this courtyard?"
Katt never knew what caused her to dump all her problems on the friendly spirit, maybe it was because he asked so genuinely, maybe it was because he had such a friendly smile, or it might have been because he had such kind eyes. Before long, the Kitsune was sitting beside her, hugging her and rocking her back and forth while she spilled out the tales of woe. The tales of the cruel teachers who looked after her, her father who would point out every fault but not once tell her she did something right. She told him as well the only time her mother spoke up for her was when the topic of her being sent away into the mists was brought up. Eventually the Kitsune let go and handed her a hanky.
"Feel better?" He asked.
Katt nodded slowly, wiping her eyes. "I'm sorry I cried all over you.." she began.
"No apologies!" The Kitsune said rather sternly. Katt shrank back into herself. "Oh, I'm not mad at you, little one. I'm mad at the people who would treat you so badly. I wish I could help more.." Dances with Credit Cards started to look thoughtful.
"Could I, maybe, uhm.." Katt began, Dances with Credit Cards tried to look encouraging. "maybe have another hug? I've never had one before today, and I think I really like them." The Kitsune quite happily provided her with that hug.
* * *
"And so you see, my lord," The Kitsune started to wind down from his long speech, "I think it would be to the advantage of both our peoples if one of your children studied with us."
The baron blinked a few times, he had almost started to nod off. The thing that prevented him from telling this Kitsune to hurry up and shut up was the fact that the Kitsune was not only his greatest ally but outranked him technically. An eight tail Kitsune was the equivalent to a great duke. The only Kitsune who had more tails were the heroes of legend and their rulers. "So, you're asking for what?" The Baron asked trying to focus.
"I wish your daughter Kattarina to study with us." The Kitsune repeated for the fifteenth time since he had entered the throne room. If he could save that poor little girl from these people, he would. He would make sure she was raised in an environment were her differences could be encouraged not frowned upon.
"She's not my daughter, she's my wife's daughter." The Baron replied absently. The entire comment drove home to Dances just how the poor girl must feel, the Baron wouldn't even call her his daughter. "If you really wish the child, and trust me you could choose a lot better, then fine. I will see she is packed up and ready to go by morning."
"No, her youth and lack of knowledge are advantageous to this teaching." And let him make of that as he will, the Kitsune thought viciously.
"Very well. Is there anything else?" The Baron clearly wanted to get to his dinner.
"No, that is all." Dances bowed to the Baron and withdrew, cursing the Baron's Elven heritage all the way back, or at least as far as he could remember. Unfortunately he needed them as badly as they needed the Kitsune. The elves had the magic, the Kitsune the science. Together these things could be a very powerful and dangerous thing.
* * *
Katt wasn't quite sure what to make of the news that she was being sent away. All she knew was she was left a note to pack her things and be ready to leave in the morning. No one even came to say goodbye.
Another sunny morning in Realm Watermark, it was always sunny, it only rained at night, had a young Elven girl sitting by the drawbridge waiting for someone to tell her where to be. "Hello!' said the chipper voice of Dances with Credit Cards.
"Oh! Good morning, Sir." Katt said, rather glumly.
"Are you ready to go?" Dances said, looking about. He didn't want to spend another minute in this godforsaken realm and the sooner he could get her out of here, the better.
"Go, sir?" Suddenly Katt's face lit up. "I'm to go with you to Furrhold? I'm to live with the Kitsune?"
Dances with Credit Cards couldn't help but laugh at her turn about. "Yes Ma'am, that's where we're headed."
Katt jumped up and gave the Kitsune Lord a big hug. "OH! Thank you! I promise I'll be good! I promise to learn the best that I can, I promise I'll do everything you ask!"
The Kitsune hugged her back gently, "Come on then, lets take the portal out of here." Katt very enthusiastically agreed. She would start her life a new with people who would appreciate her and teach her things her Elven kin would never know. She would also never have to see another beautiful male face hit her, again, Not Ever, not in Furrhold. She felt sad she would be leaving her home behind her, but surely she would be able to come visit? It didn't matter! She told herself sternly, no more lessons with Yeralanor, no more of the court mocking her, no more being lonely. She looked over her shoulder one last time before following the Kitsune to the gate.
* * *
The pair disappeared in a flash of blue light into the portal and no one even came to say goodbye.
* * *
(Just a comment, Katt was as mentioned, 13 in this story, she's 21 now, so she's had 8 years to find love, acceptance and become the happy go lucky person she is now.. She just still have a *slight* problem with Handsome men. It wasn't originally intended to be posted since I thought it was a wee bit angsty..)