Fortunately for her, even though the vehicle had been designed for wenths and thus did not aid her breathing, it was the fastest vehicle in the known world. She could cross from Eshkal to the edge of the Eighth Circle in just under ten minutes. It was much easier to breath the sea-tinted air.
Upon arriving at the shore, Makai parked her sand pod haphazardly on a high dune and walked down the high slope to the cold surf. She sat in the gentle waves, disregarding the cold in favor of the freedom touching the water offered her. A lifetime in Eshkal had not been enough to completely rid her of her of her longing to be farther inward. She had no real idea where her homeland was, and yet she still found herself longing for it. She imagined it was warmer, the air light and soft. She imagined a red sky, and not the bleak gray of Eighth Circle. She’d heard rumors about the sky being brilliant oranges and reds the farther inward one traveled, but she could hardly imagine what that would look like. The ocean, with its pale blue-green, was the most color she had ever seen nature offer.
Perhaps that’s why she so much enjoyed laying in the frigid surf, the color surrounding her body. It felt funny when the water got in her ears, especially with how cold it was. Makai smiled. The world around her, the wind blowing over her face, sounded hollowed out and resounding.
So did the words, “Nice day, isn’t it?” that Makai thought for sure she was imagining.
She sat bolt upright, shaking the water from her ears in a quick twitch. She didn’t have to turn around to know that someone was standing behind her. And she didn’t have to see his face to know exactly who it was.
“Taukh. Sir,” she grunted, not turning to face him.
The dark form of the wenthian emperor stood over her, his long, scaled tail flicking at the shallow water around his ankles. The black mark over his head seemed more sinister out here with the sunlight shining around it. “Makai.” His voice was gentle, as if speaking to a child. It made Makai’s blood run cold. “Why have you run away from me again?”
She tried to make her breaths even and slow. The Taukh would be able to sense any panic. She didn’t want to panic. “I haven’t, my Taukh. I just needed sunlight.” It was true. She knew she couldn’t escape Wenth Country. She was going to return home after just a few hours of freedom. There was no need to panic, she repeated to herself. She was telling the truth.
The Taukh sat down in the water next to Makai and looked out over the long ocean. “Ah yes. Sunlight. I forget that you like the infernal heat so much. I sometimes forget that you are not one of us.” He lifted his brow slightly and eyed her cream-color skin. It was pale as a ghost, having never truly seen the sunlight, but it was dark compared to the wenth’s skin.
“I forget sometimes, too, sir.” Her throat felt like it was closing.
The Taukh nodded. His eyes flitted to Makai’s forehead. “It’s been a long time since you first came here to us, hasn’t it, cheen?”
Makai had to keep focusing on her breathing. She hoped the Taukh couldn’t hear her heart pounding. “Very long, Taukh.”
The wenthian emperor nodded again. “You’ve had a lot of time to learn how things work, haven’t you?”
Makai affirmed that she had.
“Good to hear, cheen.” The Taukh made like he was standing up. Makai watched him closely without lifting her eyes. Her chest burned from holding her breathing steady.
Without a flinch of warning, the Taukh’s heavy tail whirled around and struck Makai once in the side of the head. She spun, her neck wrenching painfully beyond its intended scope, and collapsed in the waves. A poorly timed gasped leaked sea water into her lungs. She lifted herself from the water, the gash across her left cheek was bleeding, the red dripping down from her collarbone and vanishing in the ocean.
She heard the Taukh’s voice growl, “Come home.”
She put a hand to her cheek, pressing hard against the soft flesh. Her head was spinning, her throat burning as she coughed the water out of her chest. Each cough made her face sting worse.
Closing her eyes, she tried to swallow and calm her heart rate. She braced herself, too, prepared for another strike from the Taukh, but none came.
When she was able to move again, she sat back and washed her hands free of the blood. She was beginning to form a response, something to say in her own defense, or perhaps to offend him, when she gazed over the beach. Besides the sand pod, still parked at a crooked angle some distance away, she was alone. The Taukh was nowhere to be seen.
So I wrote this story, habitually, using all male pronouns. Right before I was going to post this, I remembered that I had, in fact, changed Makai's gender and I went through and changed all the hes to shes and hims to hers, etc (Sorry if I missed any, btw. I don't think I did).
When I did that, I found that the entire tone of the story changed. Changing those pronouns not only changed Makai's anatomy, it changed the Taukh's character. Before, he was beating up on his insubordinate minion. He was clearly a bad dude, but not that big of a deal. Now? I feel like he is was colder feeling, more sadist and probably sexually repressed. Am I crazy? Try re-reading it, reading Makai as a male and see what happens. I'd like to know what you think. Does a character's gender really affect our views of those who interact with him/her?
Please feel encouraged to leave your thoughts behind!