Tainted White

"Each of us has a gift. To not use the gift, is to not be complete."

Part I: Those Called Rebels

l—Year 9817—l

Chapter 1: Kale'Athan

There was nothing. I searched, but did not find. I cried, but did not hear. I sniffed, but did not smell. I squeezed, but did not feel. Nothing.

Dark. Empty. No voices floating on the wind. No stories told to the curious. No memories to catch hold of, for there was nothing alive to remember.

I slipped out of the darkness, still crying. Eyes wet, cheeks burning, I still did not see. Sitting up, curling into a ball, tucking my knees under my chin, I began to feel.

The grass underneath. It was wet.

The wind in the air. It was harsh.

The hair on my face. It was rough.

The uniform on my skin. It was torn, ripped, and prickly.

My parents, my brothers, my friends…their thoughts were missing. Even when they slept, I was supposed to feel them. Even when they slept, they still had memories in mind.

But there was nothing.

Slowly, I opened my eyes away from the darkness, and I began to understand. I understood why I could feel no memories. Why I could hear no voices, see no colors, hear no songs in my mind.

Dead people did not remember. They were gone. Everyone, everything was gone. There was nothing.

Tears ran down my face as I realized I was truly alone. How I could survive a battle, I did not know. Why the Riahlt left me alive when so many others had been killed, I would never know. It made little sense.

Of course it made little sense. I had a rare Anon power, a mind-reading power. That was why the rebellion wanted me, accepted me, even though I was so young. Why did the Riahlt leave me alive? I knew they feared us; Anon with mind abilities were not supposed to exist. It was religiously wrong for a slave to have a High Ranger power.

So, why?

"Such a strange Anon, to have two abilities. One to find and read memories, another to shield your mind from even the greatest Riahlt Seekers. If any survive this foolish rebellion, it will be you, young 'Athan."

Shielding. That was why I survived. I could shield.

Aton Varak had been the one to discover me, to teach me to control my power. I would miss him. My village's greatest Aton, eldest teacher. Varak had such wonderful memories, wonderful and terrible. I wonder if he had a family. I never had been able to catch his memories of his first home, his family home. No one in the village had even known his family name; we all settled for calling him Aton, teacher.

But shielding was an Elf ability. Why would an Anon have an Elf power? I did not regret having the ability. I was simply curious. Not even the High Ranger family had the ability to shield. So why did I?

"Only the spirits know, child. They who give us meager slaves our powers, our magic. If you ever see one, ask them why."

My memories were running wild. I could see Varak laughing at my questions, even now. I could see the old cabin, the burning fire, the bad, overly spiced vegetable soup – Varak knew much, but cooking was never his greatest ability. I could see the rocking chair where he would sit and remember, knowing I would find his stories without him having to say a word.

But Varak was gone. My Aton would never teach again. Fresh tears spilled at the memories.

Everyone was gone, and their memories with them. Not even I could find stories from a dead man.

Where would I go now? What would I do? I was an Anon without a master. A child from two runaway slaves. I had never known a master besides my Aton. Now, I had no one to run home to, no one to serve.

I didn't even know where I was at now. The forest, the trees, the grass…none of it looked familiar. With the rebellion forces, I had marched to an unknown base, planned to attack the Riahlt unawares, demand to be given freedom. But it had been a trap; the Riahlt set up a fake operation to lure us; a traitor had warned them about our rising rebellion.

I knew the traitor. He had been a friend. I thought I could trust him.

"I can tell when people lie to me. At least my master never lied…"

His excuse was that the rebellion leaders were lying, promising something impossible. "Freedom will never come. Even they know this. We should try it one step at a time. The issue the Riahlt has with our kind is that they don't trust us with power. How are they ever going to trust us if we attack them?"

I would remember him. He was a fool. A child. He didn't understand. To Sheik'Alar, everything was about truth and lies. Trust.

But I knew it was bigger than that. Nothing could be that simple. And now Sheik had betrayed his own people, betrayed their trust to the Riahlt! Believed a Ranger over an Anon!

Anger began to fight my tears. Clenching my fists, I closed my eyes and searched for the colors of my own memories. Red. Very red. When I thought of Sheik, I thought of betrayal, and blood. It was his fault my parents, my friends, my Aton, all of them were dead. His fault. The colors danced darker and darker as I lingered against the memory, feeding it.

Then a bright color intruded on my search. A green, and a yellow. Two colors. Memories.

Branching out, I found a memory of a stranger. I saw two children running through trees, up a hill. A girl, and a boy. The boy ran ahead and laughed while the girl struggled behind and fumed. Then the boy, dark hair falling in front of his eyes, tripped and tumbled down the hill. I saw the girl rush forward faster, beginning to panic because the hill was rather steep and the trees and rocks made the falling dangerous. But the boy dug his fingers into the ground, and I saw that the Ranger-looking child had long claws on his hands, claws that did not belong on a Riahlt. The girl seemed to see this too, for when she reached her brother, she crossed her arms and said "That's why you run faster. You must have gotten it from mother."

A strange memory. But it was there. Someone else was coming.

"I'm going to beat you one of these days, Altin! I swear it!" A female's voice. From behind. I sat still but curious. They were coming into the clearing.

A boy laughed. "I doubt it, Eme. You can barely breathe and I was going slow."

The girl laughed back but then halted suddenly with a gasp. They had seen the destruction, then. Seen the dead bodies littering the clearing, bodies dead with not enough blood on the ground. The Riahlt had killed harshly, used not only their daggers and arrows but also their mind powers, breaking minds of the Anon rebels.

"Altin, go to Father. He must know of this," the girl commanded, her voice stern, unfaltering. So strange for a female. Where was the crying? Where was the mourning? Did she care?

"Eme, there's a boy."

At the words, I pulled tighter on my legs, willing myself invisible. No one had such a power, though all wished for it. I wanted to be alone. I wanted them to leave. I wanted to sit and search for memories long lost; surely someone else would find me. Someone who would care.

My wish was not to be granted. A hand touched my shoulder, delicate, soft, and I whimpered, realizing my body was sore, hurting. "I don't know what happened, but you can come home with me. Father loves children. And Sthera is the kindest person in the world. You'll be safe with us, Anon."

I shook my head, rocked forward, winced at the pain in my feet.

The boy from the memories suddenly appeared in front of my face. He must have snuck around in front, not listening to the girl's command. "Ignore her; she thinks she's some important 'Lady' even though our city is the reject of Riahlt society."

I looked up, then. Blinked at the dark hair that was wild and rough instead of the typical Riahlt smooth, at the strange grey—and slightly yellow—tint to his blue eyes. "You aren't…Riahlt?"

"Of course we're Riahlt!" The girl snapped. I winced at her tone, glad her hand was no longer on my shoulder. "Would I be able to tell you're Anon if we weren't?"

"The Riahlt will have you believe their females are the most behaved, most intelligent women on this world. But trust me, most our just spoiled children that never grow up."

I could see what Varak meant, now. It was good to know that Varak was right and Sheik was wrong. Riahlt were not the "greatness" they said they were.

"Eme, you're not helping," the boy muttered. Looking at my frown, he gave a shrug. "Like I said, ignore her. Yes, we're Riahlt, but we're not your normal group. We disagreed with the way things were run, protested, and were rejected by our own people."

"You're just saying exactly what Father says."

"Well, Father tells the truth."

"Most of the time."

"Not everyone tells the truth all the time, Eme."

"Except Sthera."

The boy sighed. "She's different," he muttered.

At first, I was confused by their bantering, but then smiled when I recognized it as silly sibling arguments. My brother and I had done much the same. I had no idea what they were talking about, but the tone of voice in each reminded me of home.

"This is pathetic. We're Anon. We don't have a home. It's just a lie. You're living a lie, Kale."

Tears came again without my permission, angry at Sheik for his betrayal, sad for losing the life I had enjoyed. Whatever home we had was now gone, wiped away the same as this slaughter. Only I survived. Home was gone. I would never have a home. Sheik had been wrong. There had been a chance. But it was gone now. Gone with everyone else.

"I don't know what to do," I whispered, ignoring the two Riahlt above me.

"You could come with us," the boy whispered back, his face so close I could feel his breath on my wet cheek.

"Listen, young 'Athan, if you ever end up in the company of a Ranger, or if for some unlucky reason become trapped as their servant, promise me you won't be a troublemaker. Maybe you'll be lucky and get nicer folk. Just remember to be nice back; being rude and disobedient never helped anyone. Those of us here were just lucky. The spirits guided us to this place. You can't force it. If for some reason, the spirits want to put you under a Riahlt, don't fight it; things happen for a reason."

Lifting my head, brushing the hair and tears from my face, I looked up at the male Riahlt. I would do what Varak had made me promise. These two didn't seem too bad. I could treat them like my new family. Maybe I could have a new home…

"Anon don't have homes. We live, we wander, and we serve. Homes are for important people. Don't lie to yourself."

Shaking away Sheik's words—why did I constantly remember him—I licked my lips and lowered my eyes. "I…I was born free, so I don't know what to do, but…"

The Riahlt male grinned. "It's all right. Father is nice. He tries really hard to be equal, too, so not many Anon complain in our city."

"Liah doesn't complain at all," Eme said.

The boy made a face. "I would if I had to deal with you all day."

"But you do deal with me all day."

"And I complain, don't I?" He said with a laugh. While she grumbled, he stood up and then offered a hand in my direction. "My name is Altin," he said. "Hers is Emelin. What's yours?"

Once I understood that the hand was meant to help me stand up, I took it, feeling awkward at being treated almost like a new friend by a Riahlt – a very strange one, but a Ranger nonetheless. "I'm Kale'Athan…" I paused, thinking of how best to make a good impression on my new masters. "I am…honored to be accepted, Master Altin, Mistress Emelin," I said with a short bow to each of them.

The words left a bad taste in my mouth and I felt clumsy and awkward even without looking at their astonished faces. Altin shrugged and laughed. "See? You'll learn. Father will like you a lot, but don't worry about all that bowing and calling us 'master' and 'mistress.' At least when we're playing together."

Playing together? He means us to be friends?

Gripping my hand, Altin began to lead me back into the forest from the direction they had come running. Emelin, however, stood back a bit, arms crossed and huffing. "Oh yes he does! Don't you know the rules, Altin?"

Still walking, he turned around to face me, rolling his eyes. "Okay, do all that show for her but not for me. It's too awkward and doesn't make a good playmate."

"He's Anon, Altin. He's not your playmate."

Stopping suddenly, Altin turned around to face his sister. "I don't care what you say. I found him first. He's mine, and if I say he's my playmate, then he's my playmate."

Emelin seemed appalled by such a statement. I felt like someone had just placed a collar around my neck.

"I found him first. He's mine…"

"But, it's just not natural. Father would never allow it."

"So you think you know what Father would want?"

"Of course! I'm the first born; I'm the daughter; I'm the favorite."

"That doesn't mean you understand anything. Gods, don't you listen to your teachers? Haven't you learned anything?"

"I know quite a lot. I want to get our city back into good standings with the White City and the High Rangers so we can be allowed decent trade and so we don't have to hide anymore. If that means banishing you for your absurd notions, then so be it!"

Altin looked like he had been slapped. Even though he was taller, Emelin seemed to be towering over him. The lack of a dress seemed to make her appear stronger, more capable of leadership than the girls he remembered back home. "You don't have a home. It's a lie." Instead, she wore a tunic and leggings, still frilled around the edges with a cloak to protect from prickly bushes, but though different it seemed to add to her image of dominance over her little brother.

"You would banish me?" Altin whispered, fingering the mud and leaves on his simple shirt and trousers, seeming to notice that she was indeed first born and he would inherit nothing but what she gave him.

"Yes, Altin, for our people, I would. I might even go so far as to drop you off near Catrek lands instead of the desert where we usually send those people." Even I winced backwards at this. How could his own sister do something so drastic? Surely it was just words.

After a pause, I found myself flung forward roughly, falling on the ground between the two siblings. On my knees in front of Emelin, I looked up, shaking, as Altin delivered on his anger. "Fine! You take him to Father then. See if I care. I was just trying to do something good for once anyway!"

"Now, now, now, what's all this about, children? Take who to see me?" At the voice, I stiffened. At the words, I froze. Here was the man who would decide my fate.

I expected Altin to say something, but instead, Emelin spoke first. "Father, we found this Anon out in the clearing. He was alone amid several broken Anon bodies – I suspect it was the rebels we were hearing about. He was the only survivor."

"What's his name, Emelin?"

I watched as one of her feet took a step backwards. She hadn't expected the question. Neither had I, for that matter.

"Uh…Kale, I think."

"It's Kale'Athan, Father, and he's quite shy." Altin decided to speak up, but his voice was far away, as if he had started walking off before their father appeared.

"Well then, Kale'Athan, I do hope you can excuse the rudeness of my children. They are still learning the finer arts of communication with strangers, you understand." As their Father – a lord of their city perhaps? – spoke to me, I trembled in the grass, listening but not speaking up, too scared, too nervous to stand up and see the man behind the voice. "I expect you've been through quite an ordeal, and Avairean must be watching over you to save you from such a disaster."

Avairean? Who is that?

"But come now, I can understand if you don't want to talk or show good manners right now, but you can at least stand up and face me while I'm talking, eh? Stand up and come here and then we can go get you some nice food, a bed to rest in, and we can sort out all the other less important issues later."

At the mention of food, I could feel the emptiness in my stomach, and had to admit it sounded good. He didn't sound bad. Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I pulled myself up from the ground and slowly turned my feet to face the man who had offered me comfort, even though I was Anon.

The wolf creature standing beside him made me turn around and run for my life.

A/N: I wanted to write a story from the Chronicles that held more politic action than flash-bang-whiz action, as well as introduce a strong female character. What better way to do so then to bring in the story of the Rangers who were banished from the White City (the Ranger capital)? Not only do I get to explain the Rangers, but I get to delve into an Anon and even a Wulfcon mind! Oh, so much fun!