"Forward offers a fresh and imaginative view of magic and mayhem in this first book of a projected trilogy."--Library Journal
Young Alex is a slave. But recognized for his potential as an Animist, he is bought by his college and begins rigorous training. Now, Alex must begin his quest for his Anim-the animal with whom he will bond.
Alex hopes it will be an extraordinary creature that will help him earn the money he needs to buy his freedom. Unfortunately, his Anim turns out to be . . . well, not nearly what he had hoped. But as Alex finds himself caught in one misadventure after another, he will learn-and learn to appreciate-that there is more to his Anim than meets the eye.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||947 KB|
About the Author
Eve Forward lives in the state of Washington.
Eve Forward is the author of Villains by Necessity and Animist and lives in the state of Washington.
Read an Excerpt
It was night, dark over the island of Highjade. The sea shifted in the blackness, more felt than heard.
Flickering torches marked the walls and towers of the College of Animists, riding a ridge above the jungles and the sea. On the slowly rising slopes, the thick rustling night marked the forests of the Lemyri. Here and there, the canopy glowed with fireflies, or the lamps of a crownhome. Beyond the College, along the coast, were the brighter and wider lights of Humani dwellings. On the border of Humani and Lemyri lands, a downhill walk from the College, was a sprawl of particularly bright lights, and noise, and music.
The tents spread out like skirts around the trunks of the massive trees, to protect the revellers from anything dropped by the Lemyri in the branches above. They also served to concentrate the smoke and smells of the cooking fires, and the noise, and the people. Humani and Lemyri and even a few Rodeni moved from tent to tent, talking, drinking, bartering, shouting. It was Trade-Meet, a festival held to celebrate the many differing species of the Archipelago, and to encourage them to work for their mutual benefit.
Right, thought Alex wearily, as he watched a small but spry Lemyri artisan proceed to deliver a thorough and painful beating to a Human who'd been too drunk to avoid crashing into the Lemyr's display of dried fruits. Other Humani came into the fray, and then more Lemyri, and soon a mass brawl of fur and skin and profanity was raging in the ruins of the stall. Meanwhile, a Roden hopped cautiously up and started shoveling thespilled fruits into a sack. Maybe Trade-Meet meant something on other islands, where it was held with religious significance, but here on Highjade it was only a tradition, along with such other traditions as insults, prejudice, and blood feuds. Alex wished he'd stayed at home, at the College.
"Whaaoo! Party!!" shouted Jocin, right in his ear. She was walking along next to him. On his other side, his other friend, Phyl, laughed as Jocin flung her drinking gourd. It splashed somewhere into the melee, but went unnoticed. All three of them were already very drunk. Alex, being the cause of the other two's celebration, was even more so. Jocin and Phyl had to help him stagger along to the next drinking-tent. Since they were fairly tall, and Alex quite short for a Human, they looked like an unsteady W as they wove through the crowds.
"T'kren, I think we ought to go back now," Alex managed to protest as he was dragged along. "I've got a lot to do t'morrow ..."
"Ah bisht you do," snorted Jocin, dragging him into a tent. "Listen to some babble, get your pendant, and then off you go, and we'll never see our favorite takre again."
"He's graduating, not being executed," Phyl protested gently, helping Alex to collapse onto a smooth wood bench, while waving a hand at the frazzled Lemyri drinkseller. "He'll come back after his spirit quest, won't you, Alex?"
"I'll have to," mumbled Alex. He wasn't feeling well. Even though he was sitting down now, the room still seemed to be staggering around him.
"Even so, he'll never have another chance to get drunk with us, his bestest takren," Jocin insisted. Graduated Animists were forbidden to drink alcohol or, indeed, take intoxicants of any form. Alex felt he'd already had enough for a lifetime. "Takren" meant "siblings" in the Lemyri language; but these three were not related, as a casual glance revealed. All three had their hair cut short, as was the tradition for students, but there the resemblance ended. Phyl was tall and graceful, older than Alex by a decade. Jocin was a year younger than Alex and seemed to bristle with wild energy. Alex himself was barely five feet high, almost frail-looking, with the pale skin (tanned now from Highjade's endless summers) and the dark eyes and hair of a northern clime. He was sixteen, and despite the difference in their ages, he was graduating tomorrow, and his two friends would still have some years to go.
"Drinking contest!" Jocin shouted, grabbing a ceramic mug and pounding it so hard against their table that it shattered. She threw out a string of polished bone beads in trade-payment. "Run a tab! Drinking contest! Get out the hard stuff, m'tosho tak-takuni! Tik!" she added in slurred and rather rude Lemyri to the proprietor. The Lemyr pinned his ears back angrily, but turned to fill new mugs from the casks.
"Hard stuff it is, then, pestilent Human," he grumbled in his own language to himself, as he poured.
Another Lemyr dropped down from the branches above and landed lightly on their table. Phyl and Jocin drew back warily, even as the smirking proprietor set a tray of mugs on their table, in front of the furry spiderlike toes of the newcomer.
"Drinking contest, is it?" purred the Lemyr, its golden eyes set in the black foxlike mask of its face, giving it an air of menace. The thick fur was piebald in black and white and brown, and the long, erect furry tail waved like a cat's. The Lemyr was the same size as Alex. Its hands and feet had long, thin fingers, without claws, but a lift of its lip showed the sharp white teeth in a parody of a Humani smile. Most fearsome of all was the thick ruff of fur around its neck and shoulders that indicated it was a female, the dominant and more aggressive gender of the species.
She sat on their table, a breach of etiquette asking for trouble, and grabbed one of the mugs while she stared fixedly at them. "Apprentices, by your shorn pelts. Does Kataka know you are here?"
"Well, furrfu, why should the Head Animist care? We're not from that dumb College, are we, takren?" Jocin lied quickly. Alex and Phyl shook their heads. Alex fell off the bench and had to climb back up.
"No students allowed to sneak off. 'Specially me," he explained drunkenly, as he clung to the table.
"Only because you try to run away at least twice a year, takre," Jocin chided him. "Anyway, we're not from there."
"I should hope not," rumbled the Lemyr. "To have some of her students involved in a disgraceful drunken incident at Trade-Meet would cause a great dishonor to Kataka."
"We're just travelers," put in Phyl.
"Musicians," suggested Alex.
"Idiots, is what you are," snorted Jocin, giving them a shove, as she grabbed her mug. "You can drink, too, fuzzbutt," she invited the Lemyr. "Us Humani can outdrink our throwback primate cousins anytime." Alex almost threw up in fear as Jocin thereby likely bought herself an instant death-duel for her insubordination, but the Lemyr seemed more amused than offended and, with no more than a restrained twitch of her tail, raised a mug, and they all drank.
Alex was rather thirsty, despite his already drunken state, and the new drink was actually very good, with a fruit-juice tang to it. It couldn't be very strong; he couldn't taste any alcohol in it, and it was much better than the palm wine and fermented coconut milk they had been drinking. He had another taste.
The female Lemyr's name turned out to be Hashana, and it turned out that she didn't much like Kataka any more than the three studentserm, travelersdid. Despite their earlier attempts at deception, they found themselves chatting with Hashana like old friends, even telling her about Alex's upcoming graduation.
"Well, congratulations, then," Hashana said, tipping her mug to him. They'd all been matching each other drink for drink, though Alex, who had been talking less than the other two, noticed blearily that the proprietor seemed to be using a different pitcher to refill the Lemyr's glass. Probably giving her better stuff than this fruit juice, he thought to himself, but since Hashana had offered to pay for the rounds he didn't say anything. He realized he'd had more than enough to drink already, and was glad to be slacking off now. He still felt really drunk, even worse than before, really. It must be sitting down that was doing it.
"Yeah, not bad for a slave-boy, huh?" Jocin said, punching Alex on the arm and knocking him over again.
"Jocin!" cried Phyl reproachfully. "Come on, we weren't going to mention that, remember?" Alex climbed back onto the bench, his face in odd shades of white and crimson and green.
"Aw, blow, I'm sorry," Jocin swore. "Here, have another drink." Alex took it and took a big gulp, to hide from the fixed yellow stare of Hashana.
"A slave, really? At the College?" she asked, her tail waving. Alex nodded wearily, to drunk to care. Reality seemed to be fading in and out anyway, so it probably didn't matter.
"Yeah, his parents were so poor they had to sell him," explained Jocin, waving her mug around. "But a talent scout for the College spotted him and bought him. Once he graduates, see, then he'll go on his spirit quest."
"And then once I've got my Anim, then I come back here," Alex added, bunking one finger on the tabletop for emphasis. "Here. Finish my training."
"And then he'll get bought," Phyl said, giving Alex a chummy pat on the back that made him bang his head on the table.
"Hired!" protested Alex from face-down on the table.
"Hired, right, to pay off his slave-debt ..."
"Lemyri do not keep slaves," Hashana said coolly. "I am surprised that Kataka allows it."
"Shhh! It'sa sssseeecret," Jocin hissed, winking broadly. "He's the only one. My father paid my way in."
"Mine, too," added Phyl.
"What do you think about it, boy?" Hashana asked, her thin furry fingers gripping the short wool of Alex's hair and lifting his head off the table so she could look at him. "What is it like, to be bought and sold so?"
"Don' like it," Alex grumbled. "All this time and I'm a thing. Six years of shit and work and sweat and lessons and getting bit by things, and at the end of it all I'm still a ... a thing."
"You're a thing worth a lot more now, though," Phyl pointed out to him.
"Not so much," Alex argued, finishing his drink and attempting to get to his feet. "Look at me. Short. Scrawny. Human. I'd have to bond a fanglion or something to get any respect. Ha!" he shouted, and passed out, falling over backwards into a party of Lemyri, who did not take his intrusion kindly. Jocin and Phyl attempted to pull him out and found themselves embroiled in a screaming brawl, in which the rest of the bar quickly joined, except for Hashana, who retreated quietly back up into the rafters, and Alex, who regained enough consciousness to crawl away blindly.
Something was very wrong, he realized dimly. Obviously the fruit juice he'd been sucking down was indeed alcoholic, and very much so. He couldn't walk, could only crawl. He fumbled through the tent fabric, and out into the mud and loam. People of all races stumbled over him, swore, kicked him, and he fell, and rolled, and threw up. It didn't seem to help. He kept crawling, but everything was dark.
"You gave tilka to Humani?" Kintoku asked incredulously. The Lemyri Animist had been summoned from the College when Jocin and Phyl had at last been pulled from the brawl by the Lemyri police. Both were unconscious and breathing hard.
"They asked for strong drink," shrugged the proprietor. "It was the strongest I had."
"Were there any others? I know these two. There would have been another."
"Another, a male I think. Small. I do not see it now," the proprietor replied.
Kintoku swore. "Alex. Curse you, if you've cost us ..." He pulled a leathery bundle from the fur of his back, and it unfurled itself into a small fruit bat. The other Lemyri drew back, muttering and flattening their ears against this display of the Animist's power. The Animists were the only type of magic the Lemyri would tolerate, but they still remained wary.
Kintoku exchanged a glance with his Anim, stroking the soft fur with a fingertip, and the bat chirped softly in response. "Miska, go, find Alex." He sighed. "Again." The bat launched itself with a flapping storm of wings, barely clearing the door opening.
It was all a blur for Alex; crawling through something stinking and then falling down a gully. He had suddenly realized he was alone, and for a moment then, free. Even through his drunken sickness the feeling was intoxicating. He thought he could hear the sea; if he could find the shore, maybe he could find a boat, maybe he could find his way away, off the island, away. The thought that tomorrow he would have been allowed to leave anyway didn't stop him.
He'd run away before, as Phyl had said. It was futile, always futile. The Animists could always find himwith their Anims, animals of all species that could run faster and see farther and track him by smell and sound. And the people of the College would come and collect him, trying to be understanding but never quite managing. The Humani seemed to think he was ungrateful, that since they'd given him shelter and food and education and care, he had no right even to want to escape. He'd never been any more harshly dealt with than any other student. And yet he wasn't free.
He made it to the beach this time, before the chittering squeal of a bat sounded overhead, and furry shadows materialized out of the palm trees. As Kintoku stepped up, eyes almost glowing with anger, Alex managed to throw up over him and then passed out.
The sky was growing lighter, and with it came the noise. Usually the singing tree-apes started it, with short hoots that peaked rapidly into high-low screams of such volume that they carried for miles and effectively woke up everything else. The great cats would break in, with great hollow, sawing roars in round chorus, and the hyenas would begin to whoop. The canines began then, as though in protest at the noise, barking, yapping, yowling, with the wolves howling low and deep below it all. Shrill whistling came from the mustelid pens, and roaring barks from the pinniped colony down on the beach below. The cockerels in the feeder pens crowed loudly and repeatedly, and the striches gave their hissing honks, and the native parrots either imitated one of the other beasts or else did their own free-form raucous screaming. Some of the hoof stock gave belches or bleats or barks or brays or bellows in general contribution, while myriad smaller creatures stayed silent through the cacophony, in response to their secretive instincts. Finally, as the sun at last broke over the horizon, burning gold over the sea, the College's Lemyri population gave their eerie, structured chorus of chattering ululation in ritual salute to the dawn.
Alex moaned and tried to wrap a pillow around his head to shut out the sound. It didn't work. It hadn't worked in all of six years, but the fact that today he might have actually slept inat long, long lastmade him try. The hangover wasn't too bad, at least; the College's allopathist had forced him to down a lot of purging draughts, in preparation for today.
His two roommates had already abandoned their hammocks and were shrugging into clothes with the sleepwalking air of long practice. Phyl, also wincing from his hangover, had a black eye. The other roommate, Mikel, grabbed hold of Alex's hammock rope and started swinging it back and forth. (Jocin, of course, was in the girl's dormitory ... unless she'd already sneaked out again on some other mischief.)
Mikel swung the hammock harder and harder. It would have made Alex throw up again, if he'd anything left to do it with.
"Aaaalex, get uuuup," sang Mikel.
"M'graduating. I don' hafto," Alex mumbled through his pillow.
"Smug little puppy," Mikel snorted, and spun the hammock. Alex was used to this, though, and didn't fall out, though he ended up hanging upside-down from the hammock, like a sloth. "If you were a real student, they'd have expelled you after that stunt last night. They'd have done it years ago." On the woven roof above their heads, a series of thuds marked the leaping progress of the Lemyri, moving from their dawn-worshipping perches to the day's work.
"Leave him alone, Mikel," said Phyl, wincing. "None of us got expelled. Even the Director was young once."
"Kataka was plenty upset, though. And Kintoku looked like he wanted your hide on the wall, after what you did to his. You'd better get out there before he comes looking for you." Mikel started pulling on his boots. "Or are you just going to make another run for it? Furrfu, Alex, the least you could do is learn to escape successfully."
Alex swung underneath the hammock, trying to right himself, but not quite managing. "I'm getting out of here today, Mikel, and that's more than you'll do for a looong time, you clean-shirted first-year," Alex muttered. Mikel pretended not to hear.
"You might as well get an early start, Alex," Phyl suggested, not unkindly. "If I don't see you again before you go, good luck."
"Yeah, don't get killed or something," Mikel added, pulling on his oiled-canvas coveralls for the morning cleaning. Phyl had already dressed in simple, loose cotton robes, for his meditation classes. Mikel still had many long months of hard work, cleaning out and watching over the animal pens of the College's menagerie, while Phyl had advanced into the more metaphysical aspects of Animist training, though still continuing to work with some of the species on the campus.
The College of Animists was not prestigious, nor was it easy. Many students left after having to deal with the hard, filthy, endless work. Others were expelled for failure to adhere to the strict rules, or failure to live up to the expectations of the instructors. Some left for other reasons ... but that was their choice, as free persons. Alex didn't have that option. He was property, and couldn't leave. Failure meant punishment, sometimes very stricthe still bore scars from being caned by a Humani professor. The Lemyri hadn't bothered last night, or else were saving something else up for him. Alex didn't realize that the Lemyri, who prized their own freedom above all else, secretly admired his spirit.
He let go his failing grip on the hammock, and thudded gracelessly to the basalt floor. Mikel rolled his eyes and Phyl gave him a friendly pat on the head as they left the small dorm room, the wicker door banging behind them.
Alex grumbled mentally as he dressed and packed. Technically, as a graduate, he should have been entitled to respect from the underclassmen, even though they happened to be older, and taller, than himself. In practice, though, it probably wouldn't happen until he returned to the College with his Anim. Hopefully, it would be some particularly impressive and exotic creature, and they would all feel very sorry that they'd acted this way. And all the girls, too, would be impressedthe College's Humani students were female in the majority, which should have meant improved chances for the few males.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Animist started out quite interesting. The world building was fascinating and it made for a good background. Unfortunately the story couldn't keep up. The villains of the story were mostly women and / or royalty. So while the world was quite original, the tired tropes were not, nor were the fake cliffhangers very interesting.