Arana’s Visitor

Book 1 of the Vadelah Chronicles

Web Bonus Chapter

A Matter of Trust

The soft moist wind toyed with David’s curls as he gazed out at the shimmering blue expanse stretching to the horizon. Arana’s sea seemed to breathe its unique scent upon him. How could he describe it? Salty, fresh, and yet with an aroma that reminded him of new leather. Perhaps, for a short time, he could forget his upcoming trial. The one that began tomorrow for attempted murder. He rubbed his eyes, wishing he could forget. Did Gyra die? If not, would his friend ever recover? And would Pendaram Ariphema believe David’s claim of innocence?

“So, are you going to swim?” Brusaka asked beside him. The black-feathered phantera blinked in the morning light, his orange eyes ever watching David.

“That depends on how cold the water is,” David remarked. Stripping down to his underwear, he folded his clothes and carefully laid them over his shoes on the sand. Hopefully they’d stay fairly clean. Then he fitted his flying goggles over his eyes. They doubled nicely as swim goggles.

Glancing down at his pale skinny legs, David approached the water. The sand and waves looked similar to the beaches he once frequented near Los Angeles, but here, no cigarette butts littered the ground, and the water glowed blue instead of green. A wave flattened out and rushed like glass over the smooth sand, nibbling his feet. The water drew back, beckoning him.

“Are there fast currents here?” David asked Brusaka.

The phantera scanned the shoreline. “I have seen you swim in the pool. The current should not bother you, but the waves might push you over.”

David walked cautiously towards the receding water. “Any dangerous dalam?”

Brusaka bobbed his head. “Dala, there are deadly sibellas in the shallows.”

Springing back, David raced for the dry sand.

“Why are you running?” Brusaka asked as he flew casually beside him. His black cloak fluttered like a banner between his wings.

David stopped on the edge of the wet sand, panting as the phantera landed lightly on his bird feet. “You said there were deadly sibellas!”

Raising his glossy bill, the phantera broke into a cooing laugh. “Only if you eat them!”

“Oh,” David answered, feeling very foolish. “Are there any other dangerous dalam?”

“No stinging torlems have been sighted, it is not the season for burning tides, and the spiny garilets are buried too deep in the sand to concern you,” Brusaka informed him.

“Are those the only dangerous dalam in the sea?” David asked. It seemed too good to be true.

“Myute, but the large predatory dalam rarely venture into the shallows.” The phantera cocked his head. “I see you are afraid. I will join you and keep vigilance.”

Setting his jaw, David returned to the water. Sharks, stingrays, and jellyfish didn’t keep him out of the water on Earth. He knew Brusaka’s sonar could spot trouble from far away, giving them plenty of time to escape. The water was cool, but not cold. He waded in and let the foamy shore waves buffet him. Further out the blue breakers roared. He’d swum in higher surf. Glancing back, he saw Brusaka stripped of his cloak, wading out to him. The great bird leaped nimbly over a small wave and kept coming.

Water swirled around David’s chest. Setting aside his fears, he fitted his goggles in place, imagined himself back on Earth, and dove under the on-coming breaker. He felt the wave rush by, curling onto itself like a silvery steamroller as it thundered toward shore. Light danced on the golden sandy bottom.

Surfacing, David gauged the time until the next wave rolled over him. He swam out to meet it. As the swell curled before him, he dove down to the bottom and looked up. The surface shimmered bright as a molten mirror until the wave crashed, spinning like a tornado on its side.

A series of clicks behind him made David turn around. His eyes searched the hazy blue that darkened to indigo as the seabed sloped down to the depths. A large shape glided back and forth, nudging the sea floor from time to time. David began to wonder what Brusaka’s definition of “the shallows” entailed. Did it extend beyond the breakers? Surfacing, David took a breath. Brusaka was nowhere to be seen.

 David submerged and looked back toward the depths. The creature hovered above the seabed. Sleek and lithe, it had to measure a good twenty feet long. Swinging the oval fin at the end of its strong tail, it turned and faced him. Once more David heard rapid clicks, originating unmistakably from the creature.

Flicking the paddle-like limbs along its side, the sea creature burst for him. David screamed underwater and tried to back up. Knowing he couldn’t out-swim the beast, he decided to face the creature and fight. It pulled up abruptly and stopped six feet away. The creature rolled sideways, opening its long mouth to reveal a full set of triangular teeth. But its actions did not strike David as aggressive, merely curious. Perhaps it was merely sizing up the strange human, trying to decide if David was edible.

Running out of breath, David surfaced. “Brusaka!”

A black head popped up behind him. “You see the nadrea? Good! I told her to only look at you so you would not be scared.”

“I thought it was a dangerous dalam!” David sputtered.

The phantera frowned. “Myute, she is too smart to be a dalam. She is a chelra.”

Fighting to catch his breath before the next breaker came, David forced out, “But she doesn’t know what I am. She could have thought I was a new food!”

“Myute,” Brusaka said in a firm voice. “Chelra know their normal food. Have you forgotten that other aliens frequently visit Arana?”

Grimacing, David dove so the next wave wouldn’t tumble him like a washing machine. The nadrea was still there, watching with a greenish glow reflecting from her retinas. Her clicking changed in speed and he felt it pulsate through his body. After the wave rumbled by, David surfaced, panting. “I guess I got carried away.”

Brusaka smiled. “The nadrea do not mean to startle, but they are full of curiosity.”

David stared at the black head bobbing in the water. “How come your body doesn’t float more on the surface?”

“I could if I wanted to, but I would have to replace the air in my feathers.” The phantera tasted the salty water. “The river silt is weak today.”

Shaking his dripping curls, David said, “I don’t understand. How do you replace the air in your feathers?”

“I fluff them up, but that does not work when I am in water. My feathers trap air." Brusaka gave a curious yawn. "If I want to swim underwater, I squeeze out the air between my feathers to decrease my buoyancy.”

“Oh.” David looked underwater with his goggles, searching for the nadrea. All he saw was the sandy bottom sloping into the depths. He raised his face from the water. “She’s gone!”

“I sent her away.” Brusaka frowned. “Are you disappointed? I thought she was scaring you.”

David felt a potent mixture of relief and disappointment. “Now that I know she wasn’t dangerous, I was going to take a second look.”

“Shalar Brusaka, if I had only known,” the phantera apologized. He plunged his head into the water.

David ducked another wave and surfaced.

Brusaka came up beside him. “She has gone out of range, but a group of linervins are swimming this way. They are harmless. Look, there they are!”

Pressing his face into the water, David spied a school of barracuda-like creatures with pink spots on their shimmering green sides. They may have been harmless, but their hooked beaks made David keep a respectful distance. His heart nearly stopped as a big black shape darted past him—until he realized it was only Brusaka. The agile phantera snatched one of the fish and brought it over to David. They both surfaced.

“See? They are harmless,” Brusaka cooed.

David still wasn’t convinced. “What about that mouth?”

“This?” The phantera prodded the beak with his scaly fingers, bending it this way and that as if it were rubber. “It cannot hurt you. Did you forget, or not believe me?”

Shame made David look away from the orange eyes. “Shalar David, I did not believe you.”

“Do you trust me?” The phantera’s question was spoken without a hint of offense.

“Mostly. It is hard for me to trust completely,” David confessed.

Gently releasing the fish, Brusaka said, “Time for you to dive.”

David barely submerged before the wave growled by. The sea was barren now except for Brusaka. The phantera flew underwater like a grebe, barely opening his wings as he darted about. He looked much thinner with his feathers collapsed tight against his streamlined body. Coming up for a breath, David made his way back to shore. He’d seen enough for now and was ashamed of himself.

Brusaka’s dark shadow moved around David, encircling him occasionally. When the water was waist deep, the phantera rose up. Flapping his wings, he shook off the excess water. “I tried to find some drunith shells, but they were buried too deep in the sand.”

“I’m sorry, Brusaka. I feel bad.”

The phantera aimed his black bill at him. “Are you ill?”

“I’m embarrassed. I wish I had believed you.” Stopping, David squeezed the excess water from his hair.

The great bird looked at him with searching eyes. A look of compassion softened them. “Oh, David, you have so many fears. Here you are, far from Trenara and your own kind, ignorant of what is dangerous and what is harmless—it must be very hard for you.

“Most of my guests arrive on Arana already well acquainted with our flora and fauna. Travelers do not tend to drop in without first learning about the planet they are visiting.

“But you landed here completely unprepared, ignorant, and helpless. Look at what you have done! You have dodged the shartaras, survived two melcat attacks, and learned to speak Ramatera.” He swept a purple hand over the water. “And now you have swum in Arana’s sea.”

David winced. “And let a nadrea and that fish-thing terrify me.”

The phantera bowed his head. “Shalar Brusaka, I should have been more sensitive to your fears. Normally I would be.”

“I know, but you’re forbidden to do rhutaram,” David finished.

Brusaka looked at his bird hand and flexed his fingers. “It would help me to understand you so much better.”

Sighing, David continued to wade out of the surging water. “Well, you’ll just have to rely on my words for now.” He reached the dry sand and stood there, dripping.

“Why do you feel you need to trust me more?” Brusaka asked.

The question caught David off guard. He didn’t have a reply.

Stretching a sleek wing, Brusaka postulated, “Perhaps you crave someone you can trust, someone who will make you feel secure.”

“I trust Philoah,” David added quietly. “In time, I could trust you too.”

“Ah, time, experience, a chance to see if I am trustworthy. Deep trust does not usually happen in only two days.”

David chuckled. “And you didn’t exactly trust me until Rammar made his little . . . pronouncement.”

“I was instructed to be cautious because you are to stand trial for Panagyra’s injuries.”

Wincing at the reminder of his upcoming trial, David rubbed his wet forehead.

“I do not know what you have done,” the phantera continued. “But I do believe what Rammar has spoken.”

David looked up at Brusaka.

The phantera waved a four-fingered hand, “And do not worry about trusting me. Trust is built in time. I am not offended.”

Sighing, David felt a peace settle over him. “Your words ease the burden of my heart. I can say one thing: I would like to take that time, learning to trust you more.”

Brusaka bowed. “I am honored.”

Seeing his folded pile of clothes, David decided he’d better dry off more before he put them back on. A flying lizard chirped and swooped over the water like a gull. “Let’s go for a walk,” David suggested.

The sun warmed his skin, drying it until only a faint powdery layer of salt remained. The sea crashed restlessly beside him. Tomorrow was the day he would stand trial. How would he defend himself? How could he prove he didn’t harm Gyra? Brusaka didn’t seem to be concerned about it. Of course he wasn’t the one whose hide was on the line.

David’s feet stopped. Trust. Where was his trust? What did it mean to trust God in this circumstance? Trusting God didn’t mean He shielded you from injustice or pain. No, it had to do with His character. Did he believe God really did love him, really did have the best in mind for him, even if it meant going through a time of intense suffering?

Turning around, David walked back towards his clothes. Brusaka’s feet padded the sand beside him, but the phantera left David to his thoughts. David drank in the fragrant breeze. Lord, I’ve known You for most of my life, he prayed silently. You’ve always been there for me. Help me to trust You even in this.

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