Rowen wasn’t certain why he felt uncomfortable, but he was. Sleep refused to come, no matter what he did. It could have been the excitement of the day, but he didn’t think so. Did they make a mistake, allowing the humans to stay? Rowen knew their history, their tendency for needless violence especially against their own kind and against whatever they perceived as a threat. But they were also capable of immense good, and change, and he could only hope that the fate of their planet would have changed them sufficiently. If they didn’t stick together, the Wyrses were going to find it laughably easy to take them down.
He got out of the bed, flinging the bedclothes aside and was out of the house with a thought. The forest was dark, but he could see everything as clearly as if it was still day. It felt peaceful, and he directed his steps to the path which led to the depths of the forest. The forest was quiet at this time and he could think clearly than in the house. It was too loud in there with all the humans and their thoughts which he could not help hearing. They were too loud and too fast, a literal cacophony all jumbled and tangled and he could no longer even tell who was thinking what.
He sensed the man before he saw him. Mark Halley, the leader of the humans. Was he this foolish, to venture so deep into the woods at this time when he knew there were Wyrses and other dangers lurking in here? True, these humans knew nothing of the dangers that could harm them in a forest, but at least he was warned about Wyrses. It was so foolhardy of him, especially after one of his friends had been taken right in front of him.
Mark was standing near a puddle, staring at the water in fascination. Rowen studied the man. He was tall, his dark skin seemed to shine in the moonlight, just like his bald head. For once, his thoughts were full of fascination and wonder rather than fear and mistrust.
“You do know it is dangerous here,” he spoke, but quietly so as not to startle his guest.
Mark whirled around, his gun pointed at Rowen’s chest. It was set to kill. A wise decision. Rowen remained unmoving as Mark relaxed and lowered his gun.
“Your father said Wyrses don’t come out frequently during night.”
“They prefer not to,” Rowen said, moving forward. “But that doesn’t mean they won’t, and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s safe here. Wyrses aren’t the only predators in these woods.”
“That’s why I’m armed,” Mark said, sounding a bit defensive.
Rowen sighed. “I’m not trying to patronise you,” he said. “But I’m used to this place and you’re not. I just want you to be safe.”
A blush rose to Mark’s cheek. “I didn’t say you were being patronising,” he said.
Rowen debated for a moment if he should tell Mark that he could hear his thoughts. It was possible Mark would be offended, but it seemed dishonest to keep it from the humans.
“You don’t have to say it,” he said, looking Mark in the eye. They were the same height which helped. “I can hear your thoughts.”
Mark looked flabbergasted. “You’re reading my mind?” his voice sounded shaky.
“I can hear your thoughts, the coherent ones anyway,” Rowen explained.
“That’s…” Mark drew a couple of deep breaths.
“You don’t have to panic,” Rowen said.
“Can you stop?” Mark asked.
“Stop hearing your thoughts?” Rowen asked. “It’ll be like stopping my ears, and why should I do that? It’s not something we do consciously. A great deal of our communication happens through thoughts, you see.”
“It is… “ Mark pressed his lips together for a moment. “We… for humans, it is considered a breach of privacy and a mark of mistrust,” he said finally.
“But your race doesn’t know how to,” Rowen said. “You can’t hear each other’s thoughts, only words, and they are often dishonest.”
“We believe that people have a right to be dishonest if they want to be,” Mark said, not sounding very comfortable. “It’s true we can’t read minds, but it’s.. it’s not okay for us to have someone else do it.”
Rowen considered the words. Everything he had learned about humanity did point out to an obsession with privacy. He wasn’t foolish enough to think that it was a wrong thing just because it was incomprehensible to him. Not to hear the thoughts of his kind would be strange to him, but to Mark and to the other humans, it was a breach of trust. He focussed on his kind, passing on the message and decided he didn’t want to listen to the humans’ thoughts anymore. The silence was almost deafening and Rowen breathed in relief.
Mark was looking at him intently, his dark eyes holding an expression of enquiry.
“I’m not listening to you any more,” Rowen explained. “It is a relief to be free of the thoughts of your kind.”
“I’m sorry,” Mark said after a moment. “This can’t be easy for you either.”
“Easier than it is for you,” Rowen said, adding. “I don’t blame you for your thoughts.”
“And why is that?” Mark asked.
“You’re human,” Rowen said. “Your experience of power and corruption are similar, so you mistrust it. It is natural after all. You have no other yardsticks to measure us by but your own.”
“That’s…” Mark huffed out a laugh. “That’s actually pretty insulting, but okay, it’s fair.” he paused. “I’m sorry I’ve been a jerk, even if it was only in my head.”
“I didn’t say it to make you apologise,” Rowen said. “And as you said, I shouldn’t have listened to your thoughts. I’m sorry for that.”
“No, it’s…” Mark looked distressed. “You’ve been kind to us… you helped us, your father saved our lives and you healed us, and fed us, and your people has allowed us refuge, saving us all, and I…” he sighed, but it was an unhappy sound. “You’re right that I judged you based on what I know… but… I forgot all the good that has been in humanity… that still is… and I judged you from a place of fear and mistrust instead of gratitude, and it was wrong of me. I’m sorry.”
Rowen nodded. “I accept your apology,” he said. “And at the risk of being rebuffed, I would suggest that you return to the safety of the house.”
“Wh-” Mark started as a growling sound reached their ears. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said, taking a step closer to Rowen and taking his gun out again.
“It’s not near enough to attack us,” Rowen said, judging that the Revetar would take another five minutes to reach them. “But be prepared to run.”
Mark laughed softly as he fell into step beside Rowen. “What is that anyway?”
“A Revetar. A predatory animal. It can move very fast, so,” he turned his head and was reassured that the Revetar still hadn’t reached the path. “It feeds on flesh.”
“Is that how?” Mark gestured vaguely towards him, and Rowen’s hand crept up to the scar on his neck.
“Oh no, this is Bodell. It happened when I was a child.”
“The leader of the Wyrses. He’s been trying to get rid of us for ages. Targets the young. I was lucky to escape with only this.”
“I thought Wyrses couldn’t kill you,” Mark said, sounding confused.
“They can’t use us, but they can kill us, and they have.”
“But you have all these powers!” Mark said.
“They don’t work on Wyrses. But weapons do, and we’ve become quite adept at using them over the centuries.” Rowen smiled at Mark. “You’re right that your arrival may shift the balance of power, but there’s no telling which way the scales will tip.”
The Revetar’s growl was closer now, and Rowen placed a hand on Mark’s back.
“Remember I told you to be ready to run?”
“Run,” Rowen said, and took off, Mark following close behind. He was fast, keeping up with Rowen easily, and they reached the house before the Revetar could reach them. Rowen could hear it slink away, growling disappointedly.
“Doesn’t your magic mojo work on that thing?” Mark asked, panting slightly.
“It does, but we don’t use it against them,” Rowen said. “That wouldn’t be right, would it?”
“I guess not,” Mark said, a small smile on his face.