Gladialis removed the washcloth from her nose, smiling. “Well. As long as I’m not being attacked, then I suppose we should go to the library, hmm?” She watched as Kitten blushed and nodded, then stepped back to let her walk past. “Lena, set an alarm for ten pm, please. Make sure that we can hear it.” Lena chirped affirmatively, and Gladialis led the way and gestured at a chair as she walked in. “Have a seat, Kitten.” Taking a seat herself, she watched as Kitten climbed up into the chair and sat on the edge. “Well, there are a lot of stories about the Terra That Was. But none of them are so prevalent and misunderstood about one specific creature. I am, of course, discussing the horse. Everyone has a thought about what they were, what they looked like, what they ate, everything. I’m sure that you’ve heard a few of them yourself, yes?”
Kitten nodded. “I’ve heard that they had long necks, they were the result of a mad scientists experiments on Terrans, had fur, and loved honey. Some of these kinda contradicted each other, unless there were different types.”
Gladialis nodded. “There WERE different types!! You are completely correct, Kitten. There were different types, and we can see that from the different stories from around the world. The sophonts of Turkey had the Tulpar, the Norse Valkyrie had winged steeds, Scottish folk lived in fear of Kelpies, and Greek people had Pegasus, while the French had the Ardennais that they used in combat. I theorize that there were different breeds of horses, many that had adapted to their living environments, and evolved to look and act differently. But I get ahead of myself. So before I met you, I was exploring on Terra, and I found the ruins of a small private museum in what was once the Isle of Manhattan. Before the Great Drought and Flood of 2245, it was an island, and a center of commerce, in what was once the United States of America, which was a precursor to the Terran Accord. When the Great Storms broke out, they were able to take some, but not all of the collection, and they abandoned quite a large number of artifacts. Thankfully, these particular artifacts were in hermetically sealed cases that withstood the ravages of time. I was able to slip inside with only a small modicum of difficulty and some excavating drones. Which in and of itself was a bit of a wonderful tale, but that’s for another time, especially since quite a bit of the island is now underwater and becoming marshland. I found some wonderful things, but nothing quite as wonderful as this.”
She got up and walked over to the ladder after bringing a small end table over to Kitten. Climbing up a few rungs and using a vine to push her to the left a little bit, she looked around, and then gave a small sound of glee. Pulling an object off a shelf, she brought it down, carefully cradled in a few vines and brought it to the table. “Come, Kitten, you can see. Come closer.”
Kitten jumped off, and walked over, eyes wide. It was a small-ish cube, clearly electronic as a light flashed inside the metal. Or at least she thought it was metal, there was no way to be sure. Inside was a pot, and painted on it was a Terran. Curly hair, muscles that could never have been real, and holding what looked like a mass of snakes. No, she realized as she looked closer, her face practically up against the cube, it was a head. A woman's head, with snakes for hair. Standing next to him was a…a creature. It had four thin legs, a barrel body with an oddly shaped neck and head, and were those…wings? She looked up, confused. “What is that?”
“That, Kitten, is Pegasus, a winged horse from Greece. Now, this horse appears in numerous stories, especially the legends of Theseus and Bellerephon. And while one can look at mythology and say that THIS particular horse was merely a legend, the fact that there are so many legends of winged horses from different regions is impossible to ignore. So I believe that when people are discussing horses, this is what they are discussing. And the reason why we never see them anymore is that they were hunted to extinction. Pegasus feathers are mentioned in history as marks of valor, the conqueror Alexander the Great supposedly sported a Pegasus feather in his helmet. I imagine that, based on their body, they were not having more than one child at a time. THAT, and as humanity expanded, their hunting grounds and places to live were encroached upon.”
Kitten was listening, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the urn. It was amazing. “How…how old is this??
“Well, it’s from around five hundred B.C, according to the information on the crate that I found it in. I’ve already videoed, pictured, and uploaded everything about it to the Overnet, so that any other sophonts that want to see it can do so.”
“Five…Five Hundred B.C…are you telling me that this is over three thousand years old?”, Kitten said, looking up at Gladialis. “That’s…that’s….”
“I know, right? Something this old, this fragile, and not only did it survive, but it’s here now. On a ship hurtling through space, a tiny piece of a culture that’s survived and is teaching us about it. It’s safely in a stasis cube, so it remains safe. But I wonder, did the person who made it, who painted and fired it, did they think that it could happen?”, Gladialis asked, unsure why Kitten was looking at her like that. “That there were other worlds besides theirs, did they look up at the stars and wonder if there was life out there? They gave names to the constellations, they believed that their legends and deities lived on amongst them. Did they imagine us? What were their names, and what did they look like?” she asked. “So many questions…and all we have are stories, and pots. Some weapons that somehow survived. And stories, many of which aren’t even fully known anymore. Fragments, really.”
Kitten just stared, blinking as she turned the cube around, seeing the rest of the painting. There was another creature there, something that…it looked unsettling. “Ummm, you mentioned something else before. A…A Kelpie? What is that?”
“Ahhhh. THAT is an interesting one. So a kelpie was a creature that hailed from the lands of the Scottish peoples, which were called…?”, and Gladialis gave a teasing grin. “Can you guess, Kitten?”
“Ummmm…I have no idea. Umm..Scotland?”, she said, shrugging. And then was floored when Galdialis nodded, a grin crossing her wooden face.
“Exactly!!!! Good job, Kitten!!! Here, if you want to look at the globe”, and Gladialis walked over, and turned the globe, pointing at a spot on an oddly shaped island, “That’s where it was. A rugged, mountainous land full of beauty and mystery, according to the stories. A numerous search through some of the other literature suggested that the Terran sophonts living in that land were all attractive and ‘rugged’, whatever that means. There were…numerous pieces of literature devoted to them, and more than a few television shows, some of which were saved and we can actually watch them, if you like. One that I saw a few snippets of was called Inland? No…that’s not it…Outlander!! Yes, that’s the one. An…interesting premise, to be sure. Something about time travel and men taking their shirts off.” Gladialis shrugged. “The people of Scotland were also known for creating some of the finest whiskies, such that even today, when Terrans discuss the finer alcoholic beverages, they call them ‘Scotch,’ Even though it’s not the real thing anymore and the particular strains of yeast were native to that region and didn’t survive. But I digress”, Gladialis said, waving a hand. “The Scots had the legend of the Kelpie, which was a horse that lived in the water. It would entice Terrans onto it’s back, and once in the water, would take them to deeper water and then kill them. Presumably to eat”, she said. “Kelpies were said to enjoy the human liver, probably for its rich iron content.”
She looked at Kitten, who looked fascinated, not horrified as she had expected. “So this was a meat-eating horse?”
“Well, yes. I theorize that it was a species of horse, distantly related to the sea-horse which was a submerged variety and eats tiny sea creatures called plankton. And its hunting grounds were this region”, and a vine circled a small region. “This area, around Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, and Iceland. Each one has tales of a similar being, whether it was called a Kelpie, the Nykur, The Nuggle or Noggelvi, just to name a few. So while it’s entirely possible that these tales were all brought by sea-faring tradespeople, all tales have a kernel of truth. Like the tales of the giant sword-tooth tigers, which were found to be real. Or the gigantic creatures with an arm growing from their faces that we now know are elephants. I believe that these creatures existed.”
“That’s…wait…sea-horses? So there ARE horses that lived in the sea?”, Kitten asked, completely absorbed in the lesson.
“They aren’t actually horses, but in reality a type of fish”, Gladialis said, getting up and walking over to the bookshelf. Scanning quickly, she stretched a vine up and to her right, pulling a thick book from the shelf. Rapidly turning some packages, she put the book down enough of a distance that the Terran girl wouldn’t be nervous. “Here, Kitten, take a look. So the Greeks of the area called this ‘Hippocampus’, which is a joining of two Greek words, ‘Hippo’ which means ‘horse’ and ‘kampos’ which meant ‘sea animal’. And it”, and then she was interrupted by a very excited Kitten who was bouncing up and down on the seat after she’d gotten up to see the book.
“Wait a minute!! That sounds really like…the hippocampus!! Yes!! that’s a structure in the human brain, and they named it….so THAT’S what it’s named that!!”, Kitten exclaimed. Pulling out her tablet, she tapped quickly, and then frowned. “But it doesn’t look anything at all like that”, she said, confused as she pointed to the picture of the sea-horse. “Why did they call it that?”
“I’m guessing that when they discovered it, they thought it did and the name stuck, Kitten. but good job for spotting that!! I’ll have to add that to my research”, Gladialis said, shrugging. “Now…back to the Kelpies. Interestingly enough, there are some tales from the land of Australia, which is here”, and the vines turned the globe, pointing at a spot nearly on the other end. “This area, here, was a very hot, dry, and dangerous place. and that we BEFORE Terra became so polluted and decimated. As far as I could tell from a cursory read through, Australia had the highest number of venomous, poisonous, aggressive, and deadly animals and plants, per capita.”
“You mean for the amount of land it had?”, Kitten asked, curious. She'd never learned anything at all about this stuff when she was in school, since they’d focused on more immediate concerns. Not things that happened on another planet over five hundred years before.
“No, I mean for the planet. Some quick searches of literature called it the deadliest place on Earth, and likened it to its own Death World. Among other things. The reason why I bring it up is because they had tales of a creature called a ‘Bunyip’, which is an amphibious, carnivorous beast that resembles a kelpie. Perhaps a breed had adapted to the warmer waters?”, she said with a shrug. “Who knows, at this point. Sadly, I don’t have the ability to be in more than one place at a time, and my research has me mostly pinned down in this particular region. But as soon as I'm done, I think I'm going to take a trip to the Land Down Under, as it’s called. Or at least the parts that are able to be reached, since quite a lot of it is now underwater. Explore some of its mythologies. It should be a few years, so there’s plenty of time.”
Kitten blinked, still trying to get over the fact that Gladialis was planning a trip to Terra. To TERRA!! She couldn't even imagine what it looked like, the pictures that she’d seen in school were of devastated lands, shorelines that had flooded and lands that had become dessicated as the mountains that fed their water sources no longer had snow. The massive self-sustaining storms that continually traveled over the parts of the lands that were once North America certainly didn’t help.
“So…yes”, Gladialis said. “Horses had wings, and there was an aquatic subspecies. Who knows, perhaps there was a subspecies that lived on land? Like an…an ost-rich, a flightless bird that lived in the deserts and plains of Africa . So now you know. Pretty impressive, yes?” The look on the Terrans face was worth it all.
“I still can’t believe it. I mean, it makes sense, and you have that, but…I mean, wow. It’s a lot to take in”, Kitten said. She blinked and looked at the pottery jar again, amazed that something so old could teach so much. “Ummm…So…so there are no more horses? At all?”
“I don’t think so. If there are, I certainly haven’t seen them, not that it means anything. Perhaps there are wild horses living somewhere, keeping hidden.. Maybe there are kelpies alive in the oceans somewhere, the rise of the seas possibly helped increase their natural habitat.” Gladialis shrugged, and sat down, picking up a book. “It’s not like there are alot of Terrans that are exploring the oceans, so who knows? I like to think that maybe there are, and we simply haven’t found them yet.” She smiled at Kitten. “Keep a bit of mystery alive.”
Kitten thought about it, and nodded. She curled up on the chair, and looked around, amazed at the books. She sighed a bit, and then jumped as Gladialis made a sound. “Umm…huh?”
“I just realized that I don’t know a lot about you, Kitten. I’d like to rectify that situation, if I can”, she said. “For instance, what do you like to do in your spare time? What hobbies do you have?”
“Ummm..I…well”, she said, blinking. “I liked to read. Horror stories, mostly, but also fantasy. Like vampire stories, but also wizards and stuff. You know, escapism. Movies too, when I have the credits for it. Umm…I like to climb, I like to play DnD.” She thought, and then shrugged. “There’s not really much else. I didn’t really have a lot of time to do anything else. Between school and work, that’s really it.” She thought, and looked at Gladialis. “Umm…what about..umm..you?”
“You enjoy reading and seeing scary things? Can I ask you why, little one? Why deliberately scare yourself?”
“Escapism, like I said. and..umm…I don’t know. It’s just fun. And..umm..I guess because it helps me deal with…with the anxiety of work and stuff. You know, my situation isn’t that bad because I'm not the one being chased by a rampaging horse. Or..umm…i could imagine being chased and wooed by a vampire who…umm…”, and she blushed. “Yea. It’s a Terran thing, I guess. So…umm…your hobbies?”
“Me? Well…I enjoy traveling”, Gladialis asked, pleasantly surprised. Not many sophonts asked, especially since her research often took her to remote, out of the way places. It wasn’t uncommon for her to be alone for weeks at a time. “I enjoy cooking, spending time with friends, and reading, as you can see”, she said with a smile. “This is what I do, but it’s something I very very very much enjoy. I also enjoy learning new skills, something I learned from Leiara. One Bloom I took up woodworking for a few decades. The cutting board that I used to make your supper is one that I made. I try to learn something new every few years, some new skill or hobby. Keeps the mind from getting stale, you know.” She smiled, and thought. “Well….I DO have something you might enjoy. Actually, quite a lot of somethings. The Norse had something similar to a vampire, called a Draugr. The Celtic peoples also had a similar creature. The Greeks had something called a ‘vrykolakas’ that resembles ….hmmmmm. I know I’ve seen something…hold on a minute, Kitten”, and she got up, muttering to herself.
Kitten watched with some bemusement as Gladialis looked up, then to the left, then back up and then climbed halfway up her ladder before pulling the ladder and herself to the right. “Ahh Haa!!”, she heard a triumphant shout, and then Gladialis simply dropped. Kitten watched with amazement as some of the vines that made up her arms and legs separated, showing themselves. There was a small thud as Gladialis landed, and the vines tightened up, absorbing the shock.
“See? Isn’t it fun?”, Kitten snickered, and Gladialis’s flowers all closed as she shrugged her shoulders, some sort of huffing sound made. “That’s why I do it.”
“I…umm…I have no idea what you’re talking about”, Gladialis quickly said, and smiled. “Now…this book was written in 1897. It quickly became the seminal story regarding vampires, and was what many considered to be THE work on them. One of the most iconic of the vampires, if not THE icon. Purely fictional, of course, it borrowed from several non-fictional elements, such as a Wallachian prince who had lived some years before, a truly barbaric sophont, if the stories are to be believed. This book spawned so many different works, and breathed new ‘life’ into the genre. Give it a try.” She put the book down on the table, and retreated a distance.
Kitten picked it up, marveling at the cover. The title was in some sort of shiny gold, the edges of the pages crisp and smelling of…of something. Some sort of sweet smell, that Kitten quickly determined was the scent of Galdialis’s flowers. “Dracula, by Bram Stoker”. She recognized the name, but had never read the original, and here it was. In an actual book, no less. Smiling up at Gladialis, she curled up on the Affini sized chair, (which was big enough to curl up on) and opened the book. She was mesmerized. THe first chapter opened with a description of the trains, the ride to Transylvania, the scenery. She kept reading, breathless as she was taken back to 1897, to an old castle and the nefarious Count. She could almost see things as they happened, even as some things described were confusing. For one thing, what did a carriage look like? Some sort of conveyance, and pulled by HORSES, no less. Must have been quite sturdy to deal with winged creatures. And what was a Catholic? Must have been some kind of religion.
Gladiali watched as Kitten quickly got absorbed in the book she was reading. To be truthful, it WAS a delightful story, but watching this was far more delightful. Gladialis watched as Kitten read, pages slowly turning as she became engrossed in it. Lips partially opened and her tongue peeked out, and her blinking became slower. This was one of the cutest things Gladialis had seen in this Bloom, a sophont so involved in a book. She pulled out a book of her own, and they both began to read. Both so completely engrossed in their books that they didn't stir until Lena flickered the lights and blasted some guitar music that had them both startled.
“Sorry, but it’s getting late and you asked me to make sure that you knew when it was time to call it a night, Gladialis”, Lena said, sounding not the least bit sorry.
“Thanks, Lena”, they both said at the same time, and then looked at each other. Then burst out laughing at the same time. “Kitten”, Gladialis said as she was able, “you can use the bathtub if you want. In fact, I insist. Take as long as you’d like. Lena can help you run the bath if you’d like.” She thought for a moment, and nodded to herself. She didn’t have any of the xenodrug-laced bath products, so she didn't have to worry about that. “There’s towels and washcloths and everything else that you’ll need, including a robe. If it doesn’t fit, let me know.”
Kitten nodded, and then looked at the book. “Umm..is there a placeholder, or something that I can use? I don’t want to lose my place.” She looked as a small vine brought over a small item, putting it on the table before her. It was a small, flat piece of metal, and as she put it on the page and closed the lid, it stuck up. Showing her where her spot was without damaging the precious book. Carefully placing the book on the small table, she jumped off the chair, ignoring the sigh that Gladialis gave. “Thanks, Gladialis. for the book, and for…ummm…for everything.”
“You’re very welcome, Kitten, but there’s no need to thank me. It is a genuine pleasure to get to know you, and to help you along on your journey.”
“Thank you. I really…umm…it’s really nice of you”, Kitten said, blushing. She was still sure that there was either some angle that she wasn’t seeing. There had to be, because…because why be nice to her otherwise? Who knew? She’d learn more by staying quiet and watching.
“You’re very welcome. Do you need anything else?”, Gladialis enquired, wanting Kitten to be comfortable.
“Ummm…No, I..umm…I think I’ll be ok.” She blushed, and then edged her way out of the room. She ran to the room she was sleeping in, still not sure that she could call it hers, she hadn’t done anything to deserve it, and grabbed what looked like a long t-shirt that could cover everything from neck to knees. Left her plushie there. ‘Huh, Leiara really thought of everything’, she thought to herself, grabbing another pair of the odd under-shorts.
Tip-toeing to the bathroom, she closed the door behind her and locked it, and let out a breath. Then looked at the tub, which was more like a pool, and realized that she had no idea how to work the dizzying array of knobs and handles. And she couldn’t waste Gladialis’s time asking her. Which left….“Umm…Lena?”
“Yes, Kitten? What can I do for you?”, the AI chirped.
“Umm…can you umm…fill the bathtub for me?”, she asked. The simple fact was that she’d never had a bathtub like this. Many homes in the colony had a shower, but they’d all been retrofitted for the sonic showers that the colony had converted to about forty years before. Something about water being at a premium, and they needed to save money. That, and they’d lost a tank and they’d nearly all died waiting for the next shipment of water.
“Sure thing, cutie!! How do you like it? Cool, cold, warm, hot, scalding?”, Lena asked.
“Ummm…I’m not…umm…hot”, she said, figuring that if she found it too hot then she’d just ask Lena to make it cooler. Looking into the tub as water began to jet in from vents on the side, Kitten realized that there was actually a wide step inside the tub, about halfway down, about three feet wide. And she noticed that there seemed to be rings in the walls also, and she frowned, unsure what they were there for. Shrugging, she got undressed, and then waited as the water began to creep up, carefully making sure not to look at herself.. She was amazed at how much water was there, and how quickly it was rising. Stepping back, she looked, but didn’t see steps or a ladder. Thinking, she grabbed a few bottles that smelled the best, unable to read the Affini script on them, and hoped she’d grabbed the soap. AND that none of them were some vine-exfoliant. She stared at the tub, still in shock. There was so much water!! She still couldn’t believe that she was about to just…just bathe in it. to sit and waste it all. It seemed…She looked around, but didn’t see a shower stall at all, not that she expected to see a sonic shower here.
Swinging a leg over the lip, she held her breath as she could feel heat coming off the water. hissing as she dipped a toe in, she waited, getting used to it, before slowly slipping the other foot in. It was hot, but not too hot, not unbearable and as she slowly slipped into the water, she couldn’t help it. A loud sigh, “Ahhhhhh” escaped, and she blushed as Lena asked her if everything was ok. “Ummm…yea. It’s…I’ve never been in a bath-pool before”, she said, hunching down before she remembered that Lena couldn’t see her. “Or a bath in general.”
“Oh. Well, enjoy the experience, cutie!! Just say something if you need something!!”, Lena said. The Terran cutie didn’t say anything after that, so neither did Lena.
Kitten sat there, letting the warmth and the feeling of all this fluid around her just…it just sort of melted into her, feeling good and new. She’d read a story a while ago where one of the characters had soaked in a tub, and she’d never understood the appeal until now. “Lena?”, she asked, and smiled when Lenas asked her if she needed anything.
“Do you think I can just live in here? Like, in this nice warm pool for the rest of my life?”, she asked, and was surprised when Lena chuckled.
“You’d have to ask Gladialis, but they do make mods for that, cutie. Fins and gills and all sorts of things. There ARE aquatic Affini and sophonts, after all.”
“Oh. I…umm..I wasn’t serious, but that’s good to know”, she said, sinking back down until only her head was out of the water. This was a new experience, and she was determined to enjoy it. Waving her arms, she grinned. It was hard!! Well, not hard, but her arms and legs moved slower than she thought they would, the water slowing them down. ‘This is fun’, she thought as she pushed up with her arms, and sent a wave of water moving over the surface of the pool. Laughing, she did it again, and then again.
Gladialis smiled as she heard the faint laughter coming from the bathroom. Seemed like Kitten was enjoying her bath. Humming, she finished scrubbing the last of the pots that she’d used to make dinner, and set it to dry. Kitchen cleaned, she made a pot of tea to drink while she sat down in the living room, turning on the tv to some Affini show. Something about a floret named Timmy in danger, stuck in a well, and the Affini who needed to save him.