The bone egg's whisper helped her go inside and then outside, but this time, not back to Hyalin. One place was safe, had sheltered her once before when she'd lost herself, and was still open to her.

If it wasn't, then everything had gone too wrong to be put right again.

Without her body, Copper Springs was only a thought away.

Sanovas and Aerfen were alone in their own apartment, just finishing a meal of meat and vegetables and wild rice and herbs all cooked together, talking about Aerfen's current weaving project that was near completion and what she intended to begin next.

Sano broke off, holding up a hand to pause Aerfen as he scanned the room, and spotted Vixen effortlessly.

“Vixen? You look troubled. What is it?”

Though Aerfen couldn't see her adopted daughter, her forehead furrowed in immediate concern.

Vixen dropped to her knees next to the low table. “I've been very foolish, and I don't know what to do now.”

“Less is unforgivably foolish than you tend to believe, daughter,” Sano said. “As for what to do now, suppose you tell me what was so foolish and we'll see if we can find the best path, hm?”

“And rather than my hearing one side, or Sano trying to repeat everything,” Aerfen said, “I'm going to leave you to talk alone, but only for that reason. Whatever it is, we're here and we love you and we'll do what we can. I'll make sure you aren't interrupted.” She gathered up the empty bowls and the larger pot with the leftovers, got to her feet, and left the main room of their household in the direction of the kitchen area.

“Tell me,” Sano said.

Vixen poured out the whole chaotic mess: her mission to Hyalin, the journey there, and everything since then. Early on, she heard Aerfen at the door out to the heart of Copper Springs.

“I sent Dayr away,” she said miserably. “He was trying to tell me what I should have seen for myself, but I didn't want to see it. I was having too much fun playing with the clothes I spent two-thirds of my life wishing I could have, and enjoying being accepted as a woman among women, the way I used to wish I could be. And I had Jared's attention, completely, the way I wished I could have it when we were at the University. But I started not being me. I started acting the way everyone expects. And if Jared can give me... that thing... then it's all been hollow anyway. But what can I do now? Dayr's must be halfway to Willow River, and I'm here, and I don't know if Willow River or any other hill would want me after whatever Dayr tells them, and I wouldn't blame them, I'm a very poor excuse for a shaman...”

“Slow down,” Sano said. “One thing at a time. My beloved daughter, at what point have I ever said to you that a shaman is to be perfect? There is a reason why we ask a shaman from another hill to help when our own emotions are deeply involved. To see a situation from multiple angles and from a little outside is essential, but it is not always possible when you are within it. You were offered nearly everything that, had it been offered before, would have meant you would never have reached a point of seeking death. Of course you responded to that.”

“But it's so... so shallow!”

“Yes, but then, I don't believe anything deeper, anything in conflict with the things that matter the most to you, could have reached you successfully. In fact, it failed to. You immediately rejected a beautiful gift that violates what is truly important to you. It stopped being shallow.”

“I... suppose so.” That was a way to look at it that hadn't occurred to her.

“In and of themselves, clothes are only clothes. If you had decided that you preferred to dress like a lowlands woman every day, Copper Springs would not have cared. Nor would Willow River, I suspect. If dressing in any given way gives you pleasure, how is that a bad thing in itself? Everyone enjoys feeling attractive. You grew up there, and the images in your mind of what a woman should look like are those of your earliest years. You chose to move beyond that, but those images remain, and they are not innately good or bad. Playing with that when you were given the opportunity, and when it did no harm to your ultimate goal, doesn't make you any the less. What's life without play?”

“They're incredibly impractical clothes that make it impossible to do anything useful. No one would put up with them in a hill.”

“Not in that form, then, but it would not be about the clothes as such, only about perhaps the timing of them, or the specifics, as it applies to your responsibilities. As for that attraction to Jared and being willing to change yourself to gain his attention...” Sanovas laughed, which made Vixen start. “Oh, dear one, you and countless other creatures of all kinds.”

“What?” She was feeling mortified, and he was laughing?

“Desire and reason rarely coexist, and the number of times I have had shyani of all ages weeping on my shoulder because they did something foolish to gain the attention of someone they desired or admired... it's beyond any counting. And some of those have been shamans. That is an old, old story, one that I haven't the slightest doubt shyani and humans have in common despite cultural differences. Shall I go ask Aerfen to tell you about my courting her and my frequent despair that I'd embarrassed myself beyond redemption? My great good fortune is that she is patient and forgiving, but some of my behaviour was, by any standards, ridiculous. Now you know how it feels, and you know how it feels when the frenzy breaks and you have to look at what you've been doing. When you have a young shyani in tears before you, certain that they are the most stupid person ever to live because of what they did while infatuated, you can sympathize.”

“I... oh.” Vixen bit her lower lip, turning that over in her mind. “There are lots of mad things creatures do in mating season, or to attract a mate, aren't there?”

Sanovas nodded. “Countless, from a great stag to a tiny bird. To lose some perspective under those circumstances, especially with other factors involved and reinforcing it, means only that you're alive.”

“I think I need to think about that. But... even if that part was forgivable... what do I do now? I drove my best friend away because he was worried about me and I didn't want to listen. I'm not sure I still have a home to go to.”

“You always have a home right here. But I know that Dayr loves you very much. He chose to stop wandering and stay with you. He decided that you need him.”

“He was right. I do.” Several days without him, and the expectation of an entire future without him, had left her with an emptiness she'd been trying her best not to dwell upon.

“Any love that deep doesn't break easily, and don't underestimate the vast healing power of an apology. I think he is very unlikely to say hurtful things about you. I think it's more likely he'll simply tell them that you made a choice about where you'd be happiest. And I think the odds of Willow River replacing you before you can get there are very low. I've heard nothing to suggest that they've been displeased with how you've been doing your job, so I imagine they'll be perfectly happy to welcome you home. Shall I ask Nuriel to send Irisan a message that you're coming home? That should reach them before Dayr, or at around the same time at the latest.”

Vixen bowed her head, mind spinning.

Who, exactly, are your people, shaman?

Where lies your heart, fox-daughter?

In Copper Springs where I was born, and in Willow River, and in Rainbow Falls with Shabra, and in any other shyani hill.

“Please,” she whispered.

Sano nodded. “That is a small thing, and he'll do it happily to bring you some peace of mind. So, night falls, not the best time for you to travel. What will you do?”

“Stay where I am overnight,” Vixen said slowly. “I'm going to have to sleep after this, and I need to do more thinking, and I need to tie off a few loose ends here. I may not make it out on the road until the day after.”

Sano smiled. “And that, love, is why you are an excellent shaman. You will not drop everything and run for home, no matter how badly you want to catch up with Dayr, because you will not simply walk away from people whose lives you have touched until you are sure nothing is left unfinished.”

“I can't finish entirely,” Vixen said sadly. “There's a woman here with pain in her past and a shadow across her spirit. I think her spirit animal could help her, given enough time, but she doesn't trust me and there's no way she'd let me do a calling and healing for her.”

“We can't fix everything. It is her choice to make, whether to accept help or not. You can, however, bless the entire household, as you bless Willow River each year. Perhaps that can lead some good into her path. You know from your own experience that sometimes spirit animals find their own way in. Do what you can, and keep yourself safe doing so, and then come home. We'll make plans to come visit you soon. We haven't seen you in some time and Aerfen is starting to grumble about it. Now, back to your body. Try to keep this in perspective, as a mistake of judgement that has no catastrophic consequences and has taught you something and has brought good to some others. And never forget that we love you.”


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Heads up: I do not plan to release any new fictions on RR, since it seems to be a poor fit - but I do plan to finish Transposition here. I'm not abandoning anything in mid-story! For other work (lots of it, ongoing), try Scribble Hub or my website.

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