Chapter 6: Germudrir Mill

Today is the day that all dalpre can look back and know they have a voice! We are no longer slaves! — Tibrus Kalsain

As they approached the mill, Kanéko’s excitement grew. She had never been to the mill. She knew her father visited every year to gather taxes, but she had never seen a reason to go with him, and he made little effort to include her in his duties ever since that fateful day with the letter. The mill paid the largest share of taxes in the bartim because of the profitable lumbering of old-growth forests to the south. The cut timber was shipped down the Logjam River to Jinto Panzir before being exported to the rest of the country.

When she saw a plume of smoke rise above the trees, her heart skipped a beat. “Is that it? The core saw?”

Garèo shook his head. “No, the smoke comes from the other four saws. They are wood burning, using the scraps from the timber. The fifth only produces steam.”

“What kind of core saw? Is it a Silvers-Hasan? Or a Torp?”

Garèo shrugged. “I don’t know. You can ask Salcid Germudrir when you have a chance. He’s the mill’s alpha.”

Kanéko wondered why Garèo said “alpha,” but she didn’t want to sound foolish.

“Gar! Gar! Gar!” A little girl’s voice called out, interrupting her thoughts.

Kanéko looked around for the speaker until she saw a child run up to the wagon.

Garèo chuckled and the wagon slowed down.

“Gar! Gar!” The little girl ran up to the wagon and bounced up the side, her dress fluttering around her as she seemed to move in all directions. The wagon shifted with her weight as she scrambled up to the top and then flung herself into Garèo’s lap to hug him tightly. “I missed you so much!”

When Kanéko got a better look, she inhaled sharply. The girl wasn’t human; no, she wasn’t entirely human. She was covered in short brown hair instead of bare skin. She had longer hair on her head, like a normal girl, but it matched her fur color. Two ears, wedged and ending in tufts of fur, stuck out from the side of her head.

Kanéko’s breath came faster as she stared at the little girl. There wasn’t one thing that made the girl look unnatural, but a combination of things: her ears were too high to be human, the eyes were large and reflective, and she had a tail. Every little detail scraped against everything Kanéko had seen before and the only thing it left was a rapidly growing sense of unease. The girl sounded human, but there wasn’t anything natural about her appearance. She was a dalpre, a race of human/animal hybrids.

She looked away for a moment. On paper, the dalpre were written in sterile terms about their limited magical abilities or their natural tendencies to obey others. They were slaves, or had been until five years before Kanéko was born. She stole a glance back. It was one thing to look at the precise, medical drawings than to see one moving in front of her.

As the little girl crawled over Garèo’s arm, the muscles in Kanéko’s jaw, neck, and shoulders tensed up. She knew that it was only a matter of moments before the girl focused on her and then they would be in close contact. She gripped the back of the bench, trying to figure out some way to avoid the little girl.

“Tivlin!” cried Garèo and hugged her back, “You’ve gotten so big!”

Tivlin wiggled around and planted her rear on Garèo’s lap. A tail popped out from between Garèo and her and smacked against his arm. She panted with her long tongue sticking out the side of her mouth as she looked up at him. “Mar is almost ready. And she is getting pretty. And mommy is making lunch. And are you staying for food?”

Garèo chuckled, and Kanéko found it easier to focus on him instead of the unnatural girl in his lap. His green eyes sparkled as he squeezed Tivlin until she giggled. “Of course, Tiv. Have you met Kanéko?”

Tivlin peered at her under Garèo’s arm. Her bright brown eyes widened along with her smile. Barking, she shoved Garèo’s arm up and scrambled toward Kanéko.

Kanéko backed away, trying to avoid the girl’s embrace. She forgot that the wagon bench didn’t have an arm until she sat back into air. With a shriek, she fell off and slammed into the ground. Pain radiated from her tail bone and cuts burned along her palms. She looked around just in time to dodge out of the way of the wagon wheel rolling past her.

The girl’s ears were flat against her head, and she whined. “Are you all right, Kan?”

Humiliated, Kanéko scurried to her feet. “Yes, I’m fine,” she answered sharply.

Garèo asked, “Kanéko, do you want to get back on?”

Kanéko peeked up at the girl watching her from the wagon. At the sight of the Tivlin’s tail wagging back and forth, Kanéko shook her head sharply. “I’ll walk.”

Tivlin, who Kanéko guessed was only four or five, spun around. The girl’s tail narrowly missed Kanéko’s face. “Gar! Say that again!”

Garèo smirked. “Kanéko, do you want to get back on?”

The girl barked and clapped her hands. “And you talk funny!”

“You are beautiful, adorable, little dog girl.”

Tivlin barked again and launched herself at Garèo to hug him tightly around the neck. Her small body swung back and forth. “And I love you!”

Garèo looked over Tivlin’s head at Kanéko. He gestured for Kanéko to catch up.

Kanéko brushed the dust off her rear and limped along the side of the wagon. As she drew even with the seat, the horses resumed walking. She followed, glancing at Tivlin when the little girl wasn’t looking at her.

They came out from the trees, and Kanéko got her first look at the mill itself. It was a large barn, about a chain in height and five chains in length. There were large openings in one side. Inside, the machinery was shadowed but Kanéko could pick out furnaces and belts driving large saw blades. Four of the five chimneys belched out dark smoke, but the fifth only had a thin streamer of white steam rising up despite the loud buzzing erupting from the furthest door.

Tivlin hopped off the wagon and sprinted ahead. Kanéko followed her with her eyes, then lifted her gaze to the rest of the mill grounds. Surrounding the barn were three long, flat buildings with dozens of numbered doors, dormitories. At the far end, a white, two-story house looked remarkably cozy compared to the rest of the industrial buildings. In front of the house, womenfolk and children set up long tables of food.

They were all dalpre. Some had fur covering their entire body while others could pass as human if it wasn’t for their ears and tails. They all carried themselves like normal humans, on two feet and erect. Most of them had various shades of brown hair, but she spotted a few with white or black fur among the crowds. A number of them had muzzles but the bulk of the mill workers had human-like faces. She knew the dalpre appearance was cosmetic, they were bred from humans, but the animal trait sent a wave of revulsion and nausea through her stomach.

Kanéko glanced around, trying to find another human. She couldn’t. There were hundreds of dalpre at the mill and none of them were sitting. Everyone was hauling, cutting, or hurrying somewhere. And the noise was deafening: the dalpre barked and yelled and laughed and argued until Kanéko could hear nothing but incomprehensible sound.

A mostly human-looking dalpre in the center of the yard bellowed a command. He had white-streaked black hair that blended into white ears and tail. He carried a writing board in his hand as he strode toward Kanéko and Garèo. Around him, a pack of children circled around as they squealed and barked. Non-humanoid dogs joined the mess as they intermixed with the children into a sea of movement and fur.

As the older dalpre approached, the children peeled off to let him walk the last few steps alone. He held out his hand. “And well met, Garèo.” He had a low, rumbling voice.

Garèo hopped off the wagon and took the hand, grabbing the dalpre right underneath the elbow. “Salcid, how are you? You look good. Got over that flu?”

“It took a while, but yes. And I’ve been working ever since.” Salcid’s hand caught Garèo at the elbow but it wasn’t as confident as Garèo’s movement. “We finally got ahead of schedule this year. And we have dry air. And good sun and a flowing river.”

Garèo smiled broadly and gestured toward Kanéko. “Have you met Kanéko, Ronamar’s daughter?”

The dalpre held out his hand and Kanéko’s skin crawled.

Salcid smiled broadly, his canines predominate in his expression. “No, I have never had the pleasure. And welcome to the Germudrir Sawmill, Lady Lurkuklan. Or do you prefer to use your mother’s clan, Kosobyon?” He mispronounced her mother’s clan name, just like most native Lorban speakers.

She hesitated, and then held out her hand, mimicking Garèo. “I… I use… I mean, I’m Lurkuklan.”

Salcid took it and held her firmly for a second. For an old man, he was very strong and it startled her. “Well met, Lady Lurkuklan.”

As soon as he relaxed his grip, she yanked back her hand. “Um, well met?”

“Garèo!” cheerfully screamed a female voice Kanéko didn’t know. She saw a flash of a red outfit and black fur before another girl slammed into Garèo. To Kanéko’s surprise, Garèo fell back and the girl pinned him to the ground.

She crawled on his chest and knelt down. Her tail wagged back and forth as she stared down at him, both hands pinning his shoulders. The tail came from a hole near the waist of her skirt.

Garèo gasped and struggled to escape. “Maris! Let me breathe!”

Maris would be a little shorter than Kanéko if she stood up, but where Kanéko was slender and lithe, Maris was plump but beautiful. She had curves, large breasts, and wide hips. She wore a flowing red skirt that kissed the ground and a matching top that strained over her large breasts. The fabric showed signs of being heavily repaired and the top was a few inches too short and revealed a heavily-tanned belly and the curve of a navel.

The more she looked at Maris, the more her stomach churned. Maris was more human than most of the dalpre, with skin instead of fur covering most of her body, but Kanéko could see that her flesh had lighter patch over one eye. Her floppy ears matched Salcid’s, sticking out except for a little flip at the end. Kanéko glanced down at the tail sprouting out from the skirt; the shaggy limb wagged back and forth as Maris bounced up and down.

A flush began to warm Kanéko’s cheeks, but she didn’t know why.

“Maris!” snapped Salcid.

Maris shoved herself away from Garèo and stood up. She tugged her shirt back over her belly and hopped in front of Salcid. “Yes, Daddy?”

“Stop acting like a puppy,” growled her father.

Garèo stood up. “I don’t mind.”

Maris looked back at him, her ears perking.

“I do,” said Salcid.

“Then I mind just as much.” Garèo grinned as he winked at Maris.

Maris stuck her tongue out at Garèo. It was longer than Kanéko expected, like a dog’s tongue.

Kanéko gasped. She flushed when Maris glanced curiously at her.

Garèo held out his hand. “Maris, meet Kanéko, the bartim’s daughter. She’ll be joining us on the trip.”

Maris’s tail wagged, and the teenage dalpre smiled broadly. She rushed forward to hug Kanéko.

All Kanéko could think of was how much she didn’t want the dog girl to touch her. Panicking, she staggered back. When Maris kept coming, she shoved at the dalpre as soon as Maris was in arms reach. “No! Don’t touch me!”

Maris stepped back and dropped her hands down to her hips. She cocked her head. “What? And why?”

“Not right now, please? I don’t want you to—” She tried to be placating, but she knew it was the wrong thing to say when Maris’s ears flattened against her head and the corner of the dalpre’s lip curled back. Kanéko looked at Garèo for help, but Garèo just held up his palms and shrugged. She thought she saw a smile on his lips.

“And what’s wrong with me?” growled Maris.

“Maris…” Salcid growled.

Maris took a purposeful step closer. Her lip peeled back to reveal sharp teeth, and she balled her hands into fists. “What? Am I not good enough for you? And you can’t stand to touch me? I can see that look on your face. And I disgust you, don’t I?” With each word, her voice grew sharper and more pronounced.

Kanéko held up her hands and looked at Salcid and Garèo for help.

Salcid’s ears were pressed against his head. His own lips pulled back in a snarl, but he was focusing on his daughter. He started to reach for Maris, but then Garèo stepped next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Salcid stopped and looked at Garèo quizzically.

Kanéko opened her mouth to say something, but Maris interrupted her by covering the distance between them and shoving Kanéko back with surprising strength.

“I said, I’m not good enough for you?”

Kanéko thought furiously for some answer that wouldn’t further antagonize the dalpre. “No, I-I’m not comfortable with hugging.”

“That isn’t it, is it? It’s because I’m a dalpre bitch, isn’t it?” Maris’s eyes blazed with fury.

Kanéko backpedaled. “Look, I’m sorry. Just… just leave me alone. Just go away.”

Maris held up a fist. “I’ll teach—”

“Mar!” Salcid rushed forward. He grabbed the teenage dalpre by the shoulders. Maris gave Kanéko a parting growl before her father spun her around and shoved her toward the house. “Get into the house, girl!”

Garèo strolled forward with his hands in his pockets. “Well, that was embarrassing.”

“What is wrong with her?” She glared at him. “She attacked me, Garèo!”

Garèo shrugged. “Yes, but you started it. And made a fool of yourself in front of her and her pack. If you thought before you responded, you would have figured that out.”

“You did this on purpose.”

“Yes, I did. You said you were able to take care of yourself, but you obviously failed. Later, Maris will help us—”

“Like hell I’ll work with a damned dog! I’ll be damned—”

“Girl!” Garèo’s voice interrupted Kanéko’s diatribe.

Kanéko stepped back but Garèo followed her. He leaned forward and whispered, "More importantly, what would you say is the dalpre’s most obvious feature?"

Confused, she answered, “Their ears and tails, I guess.”

“And do you think they would have better hearing than normal?”

A prickle formed in Kanéko’s gut. “M-Maybe?”

“Then you might want to duck.” He stepped back rapidly.

Kanéko turned when she caught sight of Maris’ swinging fist. Kanéko threw up her arm and caught the roundhouse with her left shoulder. The impact threw the surprised Kanéko to the side, and she dropped into a roll to escape. She came up a few feet away. She remembered Garèo’s lessons and held up her arms ready to defend herself.

Maris growled as she launched herself at Kanéko. Her dress flared behind her as she covered the distance and reached for Kanéko’s throat.

Kanéko caught Maris’s hands and rolled back. When she hit the ground, she jammed her knee into Maris’s gut and flung the dalpre over her head.

Maris hit the ground in a cloud of dust. She remained on the ground, panting hard as she blinked in confusion.

Kanéko turned to Garèo. “Do something!”

Garèo stepped forward. Then, he dug into his pants and pulled out some paper money. “Two, no, three, crowns on Maris!”

Kanéko gaped in shock but it quickly turned to outrage. "You, horse-fucking, shit-eating bastard!"

In the corner of her eye, she saw movement and stepped back to avoid another of Maris’s wild attacks. As the girl passed her, Kanéko kicked out her foot and tripped Maris.

The dalpre hit the ground again but surged to her feet quickly. Her dress fluttered as she spun around.

The other dalpre gathered around, calling out bets and holding money.

Maris charged. Kanéko sidestepped to trip her again, but Maris’s arm caught her in the throat. There was an explosion of light and agony. She collapsed to the ground clutching her neck.

“Rot in hell, you bitch!” screamed Maris. She grabbed Kanéko by the hair and yanked her to her feet.

Kanéko tried to regain her balance but couldn’t with her hands covering her bruised throat.

Maris slammed a fist into her side.

Kanéko staggered from the blow. Dazed, she swung back but missed.

Maris grabbed her wrist and yanked Kanéko in a circle. It was a maneuver Kanéko remembered Garèo used once. Unbalanced, she couldn’t get her feet on the ground to stop herself as Maris swung her in a wide arc before releasing her.

The crowd of dalpre melted away, and Kanéko stumbled toward the barn wall.

The impact with the red wall rang in Kanéko’s ears. Her legs failed and she collapsed to the ground. Gasping for breath, she flipped over to see Maris stalking toward her. Shaking, she pushed herself up.

Behind Maris, Kanéko spotted an older, female dalpre step out of the crowd. She was entirely white, from ears to tail. She glared at the dalpre around her and then took a deep breath.

To Kanéko’s surprise, the dalpre around the old woman suddenly dropped down and clapped their hands over their ears.

“STOP!”

It came out as a wall of sound, deafening and high-pitched. Kanéko covered her ears from the sharp pain that overwhelmed even the agony of her throat. She bit the tip of her tongue but kept her hands clamped tightly to her head until the echoes faded. Cracking open one eye, she noticed the old dalpre remained standing. In the distance, the woman’s yell continued to rumble through the trees.

The older dalpre regarded everyone through a tiny pair of glasses. She tugged her top over her waist before she spoke in a normal, motherly voice. “If you encourage Maris to ruin her dress, none of you are eating.”

Maris got up from the ground, her ears flat on her head and her tail up between her legs. “Sorry, Mommy.”

The woman let out a huff and gestured to Maris and Kanéko. “You two, shake hands and stop acting like spoiled pups.”

Humiliated that Maris won, Kanéko forced herself to hold out her hand as ordered. Her jaw muscles ached from the effort to keep from matching the snarl on the dog girl’s face.

Maris glared at it until both of her parents growled at her. Reluctantly, Maris shook Kanéko’s hand, holding below the elbow like adults. She squeezed down tightly, and Kanéko, feeling a challenge, did the same. It only took a second before Kanéko had to fight to avoid wincing.

The older dalpre growled. “Maris, come.”

Maris snatched her hand away and stormed off, her dusty red skirt flowing behind her.

Kanéko used the back of her wrist to wipe the blood from her lip and glared daggers into Maris’s back.

"Yes," said Garèo walking up to her, “you two are going to be good friends. Good thing that Mamgum stopped it.”

“What did she do?”

"She’s got a good voice to start with. Her magic just makes it impossible to ignore."

Kanéko stared at Garèo. "Dalpre have magic too?" Even as she said it, she knew dalpre had magical talents like everyone else. She read about it in Emerging Wizardry even though she never imagined she would experience it. She also read it was weak, but the Magnum’s yell didn’t feel weak.

“Of course. Almost every living, competent person does.”

She bristled at his comment. “I’m better than her.”

“No, you’re not. Just different.” His voice was suddenly tense before he looked away.

Kanéko cringed at the sudden change of tone. She said the wrong thing again. Looking at his face, she could almost see his plans to make her miserable on the rest of the trip. A shiver of fear ran down her spine and she knew she had to make amends. She bowed in the manner he wanted and then spoke deferentially, “I am sorry, Great Waryoni Garèo.”

Garèo turned back and smiled. He slipped an arm around Kanéko’s shoulder and guided her toward one of the long tables. "Forgiven, child. Now, you made two very useful mistakes here. First, you didn’t take into account that the dalpre have better hearing than you. You shouldn’t have insulted Maris when she could hear you."

“And the other?”

“Always insult people in a language they don’t know.” Garèo grinned, “That way, you can speak the worst of insults with a honeyed tongue and they will never know the difference. They might even think you’re being nice.”

As they approached the nearest table, the nearby dalpre got up and moved to other tables. Garèo set her down on the bench and sat down next to her.

Kanéko looked around her. There wasn’t another dalpre within arms length of her. Feeling embarrassed, she focused on the table in front of her. Piles of food filled the center of the table, mostly meats and potatoes, more than she ever saw at once. She reached out for a plate, but Garèo grabbed her wrist. "Wait for Salcid," he whispered.

Kanéko spotted Salcid standing at the end of the middle table, Maris bounced on one side, smiling and waving to people. It was as if the girl had not just been in a fight. Mamgum stood by his left arm. Salcid held up his hands and the noise quieted noticeably but didn’t stop.

Mamgum looked around, and then she inhaled.

Maris and Salcid quickly took a step back behind her, a grin on both of their faces. The nearest dalpre looked up to see what she was doing and dropped their heads to the table and covered their ears.

Remembering the loud sound before, Kanéko clamped her hands over her head to protect her hearing.

Mamgum’s bark tore through the noise. “Shut up!”

The volume of her voice punched Kanéko in the chest. Even with her hands over her ears, the sound brought tears to her eyes. When the ringing stopped, Kanéko was amazed—she heard no other noises but the sounds of the forest.

Salcid stepped forward. “Three pieces of news before we start eating. First, thanks to Garèo, Maris’s suspension has been lifted. And she will be allowed on the trip. Even if she broke Pahim’s arm.” He glared at his daughter.

Maris looked bashful and toed the ground, but there was a grin on her face.

The dalpre barked once, raising their hands in the air as they did.

Salcid grinned and held up his hands. “Second, we just signed a contract for three hundred chains of heavy timber. It means a lot of work in the next month, but it also means that the Summer’s Eve festival is going to be very good.”

From the crowd, one of the workers yelled out. “Going to have more than a hogshead of ale this year?”

Salcid chuckled. “If we finish a week early, I’ll purchase a tun from Panzir.”

Another cheer, a single bark from all the dalpre.

Salcid waited for the noise to die down, and then held up his hands. “And, finally. I want to welcome the bartim’s daughter, Kanéko Lurkuklan, into our midst.”

Kanéko felt a blush rise on her cheeks. She looked around, not sure what to do.

The leader of the mill continued. “So, why don’t we welcome her with open arms?”

Silence.

Kanéko’s blush of embarrassment turned into one of discomfort. She glared at the dalpre at the tables and not a single one looked at her. Then three dalpre barked. Surprised, Kanéko looked around until she saw the source: Salcid, Mamgum, and Maris.

Maris looked genuinely happy with her arm in the air. After a few seconds, the other dalpre gave a single bark, but without the enthusiasm as the first two points. No one raised their arm.

Salcid cleared his throat and the tables grew silent again. “Let us pray.”

As one, the gathered dalpre bowed their heads. Kanéko looked around, still not sure what to do, and saw that Garèo also bowed his head. Not wanting to be the only one, she lowered her head and listened as Salcid spoke out one of the prayers of the Divine Marriage, one for blessing food.

Kanéko’s father claimed to follow the Divine Marriage, but he didn’t pray at dinner or anywhere else. Her mother and Garèo were bound to their clan spirits, just like the rest of the desert clans. In her mother’s case, it was Kosòbyo; Garèo followed Waryōni.

Kanéko didn’t feel a calling for any divine or spiritual power. She had read a few essays that suggested her inability to use magic was the reason.

Salcid’s prayer ended with “And bless us all.” As soon as the last word passed his lips, the dalpre attacked their food in a fury.

Next to her, Garèo dove into the food, hauling two plates in front of himself.

Kanéko reached out for a plate, but someone grabbed it before she could. She tried again, but it was also stolen.

Garèo came to her rescue by grabbing another plate, yanking it out of someone’s hand and dropping it down in front of Kanéko. A dalpre went to grab it, but Garèo jammed a fork in the table between the furry paws and the plate.

Kanéko jumped at the viciousness of his attack, but the dalpre left her alone.

Gingerly, Kanéko ate in silence, peeking at the others around her and feeling very alone. Kanéko tried to follow the conversation, but it was too loud, too chaotic, and no one even made an effort to let her join. Everyone started their sentences with "And", "Or", or “But” and the conversations wove together in a confusing morass of words and topics.

After a few minutes of being ignored, Kanéko had enough. She snatched up her plate and held it for a moment to see if Garèo would notice. When he didn’t, she slipped away from the table. She didn’t know where to go, so she headed toward the mill and the core-driven saw.

Inside, the noise died down sharply and Kanéko let out a sigh of relief.

When she heard someone whispering, she froze for a moment. The sounds didn’t get louder, so she sneaked for a closer look.

A pair of dalpre, a male and female, were on the walkway above one of the saws. A stack of plates rested on the grill next to them, but they were more interested in each other than their food or even the saw. When Kanéko saw that their limbs were intertwined as they kissed and touched, a flush grew on her cheeks and she ducked under a conveyor belt. She heard the rustle of fabric behind her and hurried faster along the lower aisles. When she got a better view of the mechanisms, she stopped caring about the dalpre behind her.

Kanéko had read about mechanical devices before they found out she didn’t have magic, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they seemed like a way of proving herself to her father. She only knew about most of them from newspapers and magazines. No one told her there were such things in her father’s lands.

She admired the designs of the pump around the saw, from the wide aisles and the thick, sturdy pipes. Pressure gauges and vents were put in places she would have never expected, but it made perfect sense when she thought about it. Clumps of sawdust tickled her bare feet, and she breathed in the smell of freshly cut wood.

Despite never seeing the machine before, Kanéko recognized some of the pipes and machinery from her blueprints and illustrations in Emerging Wizardry. It only took her a few minutes to find the fire chamber, the source of power that functioned like the core she used on the water screw.

Reverently setting down her plate, she padded closer. She could feel the heat rolling off the iron chamber. Inside, she knew there would be a foot-wide rune carved into the floor. Charged with power, it would burn for a year or more until the last of the magical energy faded. Like the urn, the chamber was rechargeable as long as the mage who created it was available to pour more energy into it. Above the heavy, sealed door, a small plaque held the name and lineage of the mage who created the rune along with the name of the mechanic who built it. Kanéko peered at it, her excitement rising. “It’s a Farimon Chamber,” she whispered reverently.

She had read about Farimon in Emerging Wizardry. He was one of the pioneers of rune magic and the inventor of the fire core and chambers. With his artifacts, those with a little or no measure of magic could use power indirectly. The saw at the mill and her water screw were just two applications of Farimon’s inventions and Kanéko couldn’t help feeling more than a little respect for the man who had given her a chance to prove herself to her father.

Kanéko looked over the machine, and then traced the pipes and tubes that spread out from the core. They were similar to her designs, but the ones she worked with were based on gears, the saw blade used only a few large wheels attached to rods and bearings. The rest of it consisted of pressure pipes and gauges. It was simple and refined, far beyond what Kanéko had learned.

She smiled to herself as she sank to the ground, crossing her legs underneath her and peering up at the pipes and gauges. She followed each one, memorizing the network of pipes and struggling to learn from a man who lived on the opposite side of the continent.

When she hit the limits of what she could see, she got up and shifted to the other side of the saw blade. Sitting back down, she inspected the pattern of pipes and release valves. When the copper pipes stretched out of sight, she recalled the ones from the other side of the saw. It was relatively easy to imagine both sides at the same time. She could picture them in her head, a three-dimensional model of the entire mechanism that traced out every pipe, bolt, and joint.

As Kanéko puzzled through Farimon’s designs, she wondered if she would ever get another chance to see a design like the saw again. She knew the itinerary planned for the trip: a long ride to the coast near the capitol, a few weeks of trips away from the beach, and then a return home. All of the stops along the route were cities highlighting the magical prowess of Kormar. None of them highlighted the only thing Kanéko could do, build machines.

She sighed. Only the nearest large city, Jinto Panzir, had anything resembling folks with mechanical skills. There was a growing community of engineers that she read about in Emerging Wizardry. They would understand her plight and maybe even accept her. She dreamed of heading there instead of the ocean.

“Lady Lurkuklan?” Salcid’s voice carried through the machines.

Kanéko jumped at his voice. She looked up as the older dalpre walked toward her, his boots thumping on the wooden floor. He carried a plate and a mug. She felt a shiver of disgust at the half-human creature walking toward her, but she remembered Garèo’s advice and forced herself to remain sitting on the ground.

Salcid stopped a few paces from her and set down his plate. Holding the mug in both hands, he leaned back into a cold water intake. “She isn’t a bad girl, Lady Lurkuklan. My daughter, Maris.”

He sighed before continuing, “She can be hot-headed and impulsive, but she’s a good girl. And she just…” He let out a soft growl. “She just has to prove so much to those in town. And she gets teased so much at school for being a dalpre. And she started school almost ten years after everyone else. It’s been less than a year. And she didn’t think, she never really thinks. But… I…” He grumbled in the back of his throat before he drank from his mug. “Could you give her a chance, please?”

Kanéko remained silent, a sullen anger burning inside her.

Salcid set down his mug next to his plate. “I’ve served your father loyally for my entire life just as my father served your grandfather. And Maris will serve you. And I don’t want bad blood when that happens.”

Kanéko looked up at the ceiling and she thought about Garèo’s words. She had an idea of what to say, what to do, but she wasn’t sure. She cleared her throat. “Salcid?”

“Yes, Lady Lurkuklan?”

“I-I’m…” It was hard to get the words out. “I’m sorry for insulting your daughter and your pack.”

At his relieved expression, Kanéko felt a surge of relief herself. She only half meant it, but Garèo was right. She had to admit that it was her fault, even if only her initial words were offensive.

Salcid’s tail tapped on the pipe and his ears perked up. “Thank you, Lady Lurkuklan. You’ll find she is very loyal and friendly if you—”

He continued to speak, but Kanéko stopped paying attention. She realized that he expected her to follow in her father’s footsteps. The only problem was her father made his name in multiple battles and becoming a Fourth Circle knight and a mage known throughout the lands. She could never step in his footsteps, not without magic.

Kanéko had to prove herself with the only skill she appeared to have: her mechanical skill. She needed to learn more and to find out how to create devices like the Farimon device above her instead of her fumbling efforts in the stable. She needed help and the only place she knew to find it was Jinto Panzir.

Garèo would never allow her to leave the rest of the students to go to Jinto Panzir. She suspected it also violated the Silver King’s law that all teenagers must travel at least a hundred leagues before their twenties. But she could always do it later, once she proved herself to her father and the world.

Inside her mind, she started to plan a way out of the trip and to Jinto Panzir. Garèo would probably hunt her down, but she only needed a day or two to prove herself. Three at the most.

She realized Salcid was still talking. She held up her hand to halt him.

When he stopped talking, she spoke. “I’m sure it will work out. And I look forward to that day.”

It was a lie, but a good one.