Chapter 21: Landslide
The valleys around the Boar Hunt Inn are famed not only for hunting but also for rock slides and sinkholes. — Kormar Hunting Guide
“I’m tired of walking,” wailed Maris.
Kanéko rolled her eyes. She leaned on the ragged rock wall in front of her and tried not to think about the sweat prickling her skin or the baking sun that made it difficult to breathe. She waved her hand at the ever-present bugs that swarmed around her. Drawing in a long breath that tasted of dust, she looked down to where Maris paced back and forth at the foot of the cliff. “I know, Maris.”
The bare skin of Maris’s face was red from the sun; Kanéko wondered if Maris burned underneath the fur on her ears and tail. Maris pouted. “My feet hurt. And my tail is knotted. And it is really hot! And I’m tired of climbing. And I don’t like Ruben!” The last bit came out in a high-pitched scream aimed straight up the cliff.
Kanéko winced and peeked up to see Ruben’s response.
The short boy shrugged without looking back. He reached up and grabbed the next rock. He smoothly pulled himself up, his short stature looking more like an animal than human.
Kanéko smirked and shook her head. Turning on her heels, she peered down. “Come on, Maris, the faster we get over these hills, the faster you get to sleep in a real bed.”
Maris stopped her pacing and pouted at Kanéko. Her ears flattened to her skull. “But you won’t get to sleep in a bed. If they catch you, we won’t be able to help you.”
Kanéko crouched down on the edge of her rock. “I’ll rest after all this. In my own bed at my papa’s tower.”
Maris’s ears perked up, and her tail wagged faster. Dust from the trail scattered off her skirt with her rear shaking.
Kanéko gazed to the rocky face above her. She reached up for the next ridge, and then winced as the raw rocks scraped her lacerated palms. She pulled back her hands, frowning at the cuts and scratches. Gloves would have been useful. Getting an idea, she tore off a length of the stained fabric from her calves and wrapped them around her hands like finger-less gloves.
Protected, she grabbed the ridge. Her palm caught the edge of the rock, and she took a deep breath before pulling herself up. Her makeshift protection held, and she crawled up the rock face with less pain.
Sixty feet looked like a short distance. By the time she reached the top of the rocky ridge, she had to stop and gasp for breath. She focused on Ruben, balanced on the cliff edge like a gargoyle.
He looked back at her and smiled. There wasn’t even a droplet of sweat on his forehead.
Kanéko glared back. “And I don’t like you,” she announced, trying to match Maris’s tone.
After a second, Kanéko grinned herself. She started to laugh, and Ruben joined her, laughing quietly with his shoulders shaking.
She leaned on a ragged tree to catch her breath.
Ruben pointed, and Kanéko turned to look in the same direction. In the far distance, she could see plumes of smoke rising up above the tree line.
She sighed. “It’s so far away.”
“One league, four chains,” came Ruben’s quiet response, “At this rate, about three hours, twenty-two minutes. The climbing is slowing us down significantly.”
Ruben shrugged again. “Our rate is relatively predictable.”
She waved in his general direction. “I know, I know. Just seems overwhelming at this point.”
“Just take it one step at a time,” supplied Ruben.
Kanéko chuckled. “Mother always said, archery starts with one arrow. And Garèo said just keep moving.”
“Same inspiration expressed with idioms from different cultures.”
From below, Maris’s voice rose up. “Um, help?”
Kanéko shoved herself from the tree and ran to the edge. She leaned over it to peer down.
Maris hung from a rocky outcropping. Her fingers were slipping off the edge despite her white knuckles and flailing feet. Her large breasts were crushed against the cliff, spilling over another edge. A high-pitched whine filled the air. “H-Help?”
Kanéko dropped to the ground to reach down for her.
Maris grabbed her wrist with her free hand and pulled down, the weight almost dragging Kanéko off the edge.
Kanéko grunted as she pulled the dalpre to the top.
Ruben padded up to her. “Are you injured?”
Maris looked humiliated, her ears and tail flat against her body. She rubbed the bottom of her breast. “My tits hurt.”
“Why were you hanging there?”
“I thought you left me.”
Kanéko sighed and fought the urge to pat Maris on the head. “Why?”
“Because you were talking about how long it would take. And walking. And then you both were on top. And you were laughing. And I didn’t see you, and then… I got lonely.”
A fly landed on Maris’s ear, and she flicked it to chase it away.
“L-Lonely?” Kanéko fought the smirk.
Maris whimpered, “Yes.”
Kanéko patted her on the shoulder. “I’m not going to leave you, Maris. I’m lost without you and Ruben.”
Maris watched her, a confused look on her face.
The dark-skinned girl sighed and leaned back on the tree. “I’ve never really been outside the sight of my father’s tower. And in the first trip, I made a complete weed of myself, treated you and Ruben like hell, and ended up falling for a blond snake who just wanted me for the reward money.”
Maris cocked her head, and her ears perked up. “Who’s the snake?”
“Pahim,” snapped Kanéko, “That horrible bastard. I mean… We slept together, and what does he do?” Kanéko’s voice rose up as rage filled her. “He kidnaps me and tries to sell me off like some slave!”
Maris gaped. “You fucked Pahim?”
Kanéko gasped, and then blushed hotly. “No! Not like that. I mean, we were in the same bed but we… didn’t do anything. I swear!”
Maris snickered. “Right. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Are you sure—”
“Maris,” interrupted Ruben, “cease teasing.”
Maris closed her mouth but didn’t stop smirking.
Kanéko let out a sigh of relief. She never knew anyone her age who teased her. It felt strange but good.
Ruben hopped off his rock and pointed to the north-east. “If we follow this ridge that way, we can meet up with the next one, and then over to there,” he swept his finger as he spoke, “and then there. That way, we only will have to climb down at the end. However, it will reduce the shortest travel time by thirty-three minutes.”
“Good,” said Kanéko and Maris at the same time. The two girls looked at each other before Kanéko looked away with a smile. Ruben walked past them and Kanéko gestured for Maris to follow. The dog girl hopped after Ruben, her tail wagging and a skip to her movement.
Twenty minutes later, their cheer faded, and Kanéko struggled to put one foot in front of the other. Exhaustion sapped her strength, and she couldn’t stop panting for breath.
In front of her, Maris struggled, stumbling occasionally as she followed Ruben.
The path dipped into a tiny ragged ditch only a few feet deep.
Ruben ran down the middle and up the other side. He casually stepped off the game trail and perched on a rock. When he stopped moving, he looked like a statue atop the fancy buildings in her magazines.
Maris tripped and lurched down into the depression. Kanéko rushed forward. She grabbed Maris by her tail and the back of her shirt before Maris hit the ground. Together, they came to a halt at the bottom of the dip.
“Are you all right?”
Maris tugged her tail and shirt from Kanéko’s grip and turned toward her. “I think I’m…” Her voice trailed off as her ears perked up. She glanced around her before returning her attention back to Kanéko. Her ears were flat against her head and she looked sad. “I think I broke it.”
“Broke what? I don’t—” Kanéko never finished the word as a loud crack shook the air. The rock lurched underneath her, dropping a foot. She let out a scream and crouched down, looking around frantically for the source of the movement.
Fissures spread out from underneath Maris and her, spreading out up along both edges of the ditch.
“Sands!” Kanéko spun around, looking for a spot of safety. In a few heartbeats, she saw the path separate from the cliff as the rock began to slide down. Scrambling, she pulled herself up to the steadier side and turned around to give Maris a hand.
Maris hadn’t followed her. She remained in the center of the buckling rock, ears against her head and tail between her legs. She stared at Kanéko with wide, tear-filled eyes.
“Maris!” called out Kanéko. She stepped on the unsteady rock, but it crumbled underneath her. She braced herself and held out her hand. “Come on, damn it!”
“I’m sorry,” whimpered the dalpre.
The cliff around Maris collapsed, and she was swallowed by a cloud of dust that billowed up. The rumble was deafening, and it shook the ground and air.
Kanéko screamed as she dropped to her knees. The impact left pain rocketing up her legs, but she pushed past it to reach into the cloud of dust. “Mar!? Maris!” The cloud choked her, coating her face as she tried to find anything besides sharp rocks and sheared off roots. She touched something slick and pulled back her hand. It looked like thick, black oil and burned. Whimpering, she wiped her palm off and shoved her hand back in the cloud.
An acidic, fishy scent of whatever she had on her hand swirled around her. She wrinkled her nose and concentrated on reaching back into the boiling cloud.
The rock underneath her knees shuddered. She gasped and peered over her shoulder. A fissure ran behind her, and she felt her perch separating from the cliff. Swearing, she scrambled back and launched herself to safer ground.
Her former spot broke off the cliff, and a boulder the size of a wagon plummeted out of sight into the dust.
Kanéko jumped at Ruben’s surprisingly deep and loud voice. As she clutched her handhold and kicked the cliff to find footing, she looked up at him. She couldn’t see him at first but then caught sight of his eyes. Their brilliant blue glow reflected an azure halo in the swirling dust, highlighting his body and drawing her attention to his intense look.
His voice echoed in the valley, but it was too clear through the dirt. It seemed to be inside her head, bouncing around her skull. She tried to push her thoughts away, but they drew her back in, replying the two words endlessly.
She closed her eyes as the image of Maris being crushed to death slammed into her thoughts. Intensely detailed and graphic, the horror of it choked her, and she clutched a thick root until her knuckles turned white. It was too much for her and dizziness grabbed at her.
A blast of air slammed into her face and chest, pushing her back from the edge. She barely caught herself before she fell.
Movement caught her attention. Cringing, she looked up to see something large and dark shooting straight up. A plume of dust trailed after it, marking its path as it sailed hundreds of chains into the sky.
Kanéko frowned. She couldn’t identify what flew above her. It didn’t look like a creature of any sort, it spun but otherwise had no movement other than straight up.
The object slowed and seemed to hover in the air.
She gasped, it was the rock that had just fallen into the ravine, her former perch. Somehow, it had been launched high into the air. She glanced at the boiling dust cloud below her and then back to the rock.
It began to plummet. The dust behind it marked the curve of its path. She could see how it would fall on the far side of the ravine.
Kanéko lurched forward. “Mar!”
The boulder punched into the opposing cliff. An explosion of rocks turned the cliff into a smoking crater. Large hunks of stone rained down into the cloud, disappearing out of sight. It took seconds for the clattering to fade.
She screamed out. “Maris! Mar!”
Kanéko scanned the settling dust for any sign of Maris. When she didn’t spot any, she focused on the rocks instead. Spotting a steady-looking outcropping, she tested it with her toe before dropping down on it. She landed on all fours and crawled over the edge. “Maris?”
From her vantage point, she could see where the side of the cliff had crumbled and filled a rock-filled gorge. The bottom was about a chain below her. Dust stung her nose and the back of her throat while she waited impatiently for the last of it settled down.
The long seconds passed with the rapid beating of her heart. She clutched the edge of the rock until the sharp edges dug into her palms. Only the cloth over her hand protected her from bleeding.
Finally, the air cleared enough. She spotted Maris immediately. The dalpre was on her back in the middle of a crater. She looked untouched by the avalanche that fell around her, but there was a thick trickle of blood coming from the corner of her mouth.
“Maris!” screamed Kanéko. She spotted another rock to jump on. Before she could jump over, she did a double take on the crater. Even with her meager experiences, there was something wrong about it. The desperation to get down to Maris fought with her curiosity and concern. Biting her lip, she took a longer look.
She wasn’t expecting to see even radial lines spreading out from Maris’s impact. The rock beneath her was blasted clean with waves of dirt, rocks, and dust forming a halo around the unmoving dalpre. A few weeds were straightened out, as if someone had pulled each one away from Maris at the point of impact.
It didn’t look like a crater from the rocks hitting the ground but more like the many explosions she had seen while struggling to create the water screw in the stall.
The sense of wrongness rose, but she couldn’t identify why the crater looked so differently. She glanced over her shoulder toward the top of the cliff and called out to Ruben. “I-I’m going down, she’s hurt.”
Without waiting for a response, Kanéko climbed down the side of the rock. Her cloth-wrapped feet and palms protected her from the worst of the sharp rocks, but she still scraped herself before she hit the ground. She ignored the pains as she raced over to Maris and knelt next to her.
The dog girl didn’t move and Kanéko felt a sob catching her throat. She brushed off the dust that had settled on Maris’s body.
The girl groaned and clutched her head with both hands. “Owwie…”
“Maris!” Kanéko grabbed the girl in a tight hug.
Maris whimpered and Kanéko froze, unsure what to do.
Maris opened one eye, and then the other. Her tail wagged weakly. “I hurt my head.”
Kanéko started, and then smirked. “Your hard head broke the cliff.”
“Can you sit up?”
“And I… no. Help me?”
Kanéko grunted and slipped one arm underneath Maris, using their combined strength to slowly ease her into a sitting position.
Maris leaned into her, panting.
“Maris, are you all right? Do you feel any sharp pains?”
“Only my tail.”
“Is it broken?”
“No,” croaked the girl. “You’re kneeling on it.”
“Oh!” Kanéko blushed as she shifted position.
Maris gave her a weak grin and grabbed her tail and cradled it in her palms.
Kanéko looked her over, surprised to see only superficial damage and most of it to Maris’s dress. Dust clung to Maris’s furry ears but otherwise the dalpre appeared unharmed from falling so far.
“Um, we should check for broken bones.” An uncomfortable feeling fluttered in her stomach. “Could you, um, do that? I don’t want to touch anything… painful.”
Maris started to feel her arms and legs, testing each limb. After a few minutes of anticipation, the dog girl shook her head. She licked the blood from the corner of her mouth with a surprisingly long tongue before she spoke. “Nothing really hurts.”
“Good. Can you stand?”
The dalpre strained for a second and then sighed. “Help me up?”
Kanéko crawled over and helped Maris stand up. The weight was almost too much for her, but she was able to get to her feet while still holding the dalpre.
The dog girl swayed, and Kanéko kept her arms around Maris’s waist, holding her tight until the girl regained her balance. The torn dress ripped further with Kanéko’s effort.
Maris swayed before slumping against Kanéko.
Kanéko muttered under her breath, “Worst trip ever.”
Maris giggled then winced. “But, you’re with me, so it isn’t bad. And I’m having fun.”
Kanéko stopped, the dalpre’s words in her head. She sighed. “You know, I never read about this part in the Nash stories. He loses, rips off his shirt, then picks himself up and goes into the next adventure.”
Maris’s ears perked up. She regained her balance but didn’t move her head from resting against Kanéko’s shoulder. “Nash the Dragon Slayer? I have that book.”
Kanéko smiled. “Really?”
“Yes, the pack likes it when I read out loud to the puppies. We’ve gone through that book so many times that,” Maris coughed, “the binding broke. We use string to hold it together.”
“Did you like Nash and the Turtle Shrine? I think that was the best one.”
Maris whimpered and looked at Kanéko with confusion. “Turtle… Shrine? There isn’t a turtle in that book. I know that much.”
“There are close to fifty Nash stories.”
“F-Fifty? We only have the one,” she paused, “I guess the first one?”
“Yeah, I…” Kanéko’s words trailed off as she stared into the brown eyes of the dalpre. She was at the crux of their relationship, and Kanéko didn’t know what she was supposed to say. She worried her bottom lip, and then took a chance. She reached up and brushed the dust from the girl’s hair. “I have a lot of them. When we get back, I’ll give you the ones I don’t read anymore.”
Maris’s tail started to wag.
Inside, Kanéko felt a bit of relief at her response. It was the right thing to say and, to her surprise, she realized she meant it. Somehow, the dalpre was growing on her. She liked how she knew exactly what Maris thought about her, unlike the snake Pahim and his lies.
As if reading her mind, Maris said, “And I like you.”
Kanéko replied, “I think I like you too.”
Maris squealed and grabbed Kanéko, hugging her tightly. Then she groaned. “Um, owwie. No more hugging today?”
“Deal,” grinned Kanéko.
Maris turned around, “Hey, Rub, guess… um, Rub? Where are you?”
Kanéko looked back up the cliff. “I don’t think he came down.”
She pointed to the side of the collapsed area of the cliff. It had rough outcroppings and ridges compared to the sheered-off part that had collapsed. “I think that is the best place to climb back up.”
“And, knowing Rub, he’ll be making a rope. After telling the woods how each strand should be perfectly aligned.”
At Ruben’s name, Kanéko’s mind brought up that deep voice that rumbled across the valley and the disturbing image of his glowing eyes. “Um, Maris?”
“Did Ruben’s eyes ever… glow?”
Maris smiled cheerfully. Her fall and injuries appeared not to bother her. “Oh yeah, they do that.”
“When he thinks really hard, his eyes get sparkly. And then his daddy gets really upset at him. Ruben is not supposed to think hard or speak loudly. But, when his daddy isn’t around, that is how he finds me.” Maris started hobbling toward the spot on the cliff. “He can find people from really far away, but they have to be really scared or angry or happy. Or fucking. And then he whistles, and I hear him. That is how he knew I got into town… back at Rock River.” Maris rubbed her ribs again.
Kanéko followed after Maris. At the foot of the cliff, she pointed to the spots for climbing before she asked another question. “Before I dumped paint on you?”
“Yes, I knew he was in trouble because of the whistle. Three quick and then one long means come fast. And he uses that when Pahim corners him or someone else is picking on him.”
“Does Garèo know that?”
Maris looked at Kanéko guiltily. “Um, actually, none of our parents know the whistling or thinking. We’d both get in trouble. I’m not supposed to fight and he’s not supposed to think, so we kept it secret. Last time was when I broke Pah’s arm. He was beating Rub in the corner, and I had to stop it. So I broke his arm. I was afraid Daddy would get upset, so I said I just punched him instead of throwing one of the tables at his head. Would you… please don’t tell?”
Kanéko felt overwhelmed. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.” She turned to the rock and to the closest ridge. “Look, if I boost you up, you should be able to pull me up. If you are up to it.”
Maris sighed, and then she looked around. “Better get started?”
Kanéko nodded. She knelt on the ground and intertwined her fingers together to give Maris a foot-hold. Maris lifted one foot and put it into her palms. Her movements brought the smell of Maris’s fur and dust past Kanéko. It also caused the skirt to ride up.
Kanéko looked away. “On three. One.”
Maris crouched down, her brow furrowed in concentration.
Kanéko felt Maris tensing with anticipation.
Maris surged up and something slammed into Kanéko’s face.
Kanéko saw a flash of Maris’s foot before the back of her head cracked into the rocks behind her. Her entire vision exploded with white light. Blinded and dazed, she slid to the ground.
It only lasted a few seconds before Kanéko could see again. She groaned and held the back of her head, feeling for blood, but her hand came away clean. Relieved, she staggered to her feet. Looking around for blood, she spoke blindly, “Maris, are…”
She was inside another blast crater. Like the first one, there were radial lines spreading out from where she had been bracing herself for Maris to jump. Dust hung in the air, swirling in eddies and vortexes around her.
Looking up, she saw a distinct wake of dust being pulled up into the air to form a line that reached the top of the cliff. Frowning, she looked down again. Even the weeds were uprooted by the force of whatever hit her.
“That wasn’t her foot,” muttered Kanéko. Still holding her head, she limped away from the cliff face and looked up.
She didn’t see Maris. “Maris? Where are you?”
At the top of the cliff, Maris’s head peeked out.
Kanéko’s eyes widened. It was too far for anyone to jump much less cover the distance in a second.
Her heart pounded faster, and she felt a sour taste in the back of her mouth as she realized there was only one answer to explain it, magic. She took a hesitant sniff of the air, this time looking for the telltale scent of energy in the air. It was there, a sharp scent like when lightning struck near her father’s tower one morning when a visiting air knight had a nightmare. She took another breath.
When she smelled the fishy scent, she rubbed the stain on her hand before trying again, breathing deeply as she tried to sort through the intense smells.
Her eyes scanned the center of the crater, seeing only the results of an explosion, not a fall. After the number of times the water screw’s boiler had blown up, she had learned the difference between an explosion and something falling apart. And now, she stood in the center of something that had burst. And only one thing could have produced it: Maris. Maris had used air magic to jump to the top of cliff. She probably also used it to prevent injury when she fell.
Kanéko wasn’t sure what type of power Maris was manifesting. If she could do only one thing, jumping and buffering a landing were both the same skill, then she would be a talent. If she could do more, different distinct powers, then she would be known as a mage.
Most teenagers manifested power in moments of crisis.
Maris just gained her powers.
A surge of jealousy rose inside her throat, choking her as she imagined she had just been granted power.
Kanéko’s head snapped up and she groaned at the pain from her neck.
Maris stuck her head over the cliff. “Ruben is lying down!”
“And?” Kanéko had to claw her way out of the ruined fantasies playing her head.
“He’s just shaking around and twitching. And I can’t wake him. And he’s drooling. And it’s all foamy.”
Memories rose up in the back of Kanéko’s head. She had read of seizures in her books. They were dangerous. Shoving her emotions aside, she stepped closer to the cliff and peered at the top. She raised her voice and yelled back, “Can he talk?”
“No! He’s just mumbling.”
Kanéko’s mind spun furiously. “I think he’s having a seizure, I read about them. Just… keep him comfortable, I’ll be right up there!”
Maris’s head disappeared. Kanéko looked around, her lips tightening into a thin line. “Worst trip ever.”
She took a few steps back and regarded the cliff. Her eyes scanned the ragged rocks, gouges, and exposed roots. She picked out a path up the cliff: spotting places she could climb, where she had to jump, and even places to avoid. To her surprise, it was like the designs of the water screw and the core-driven saw, just instead of pipes and gears, it was rocks larger than her head and life-threatening falls. Except for the first step which required a running leap, she could easily scale the cliff. As she planned her route, Kanéko re-wrapped the bandages on her hands.
Taking a deep breath, she took a running leap up the cliff. She grabbed the first ledge with her fingertips. Panting, she pulled herself up. Dust clung to her sweat-soaked, dark skin. Kanéko didn’t stop, following the map that she had built in her head and jumping blindly to the next ridge. She almost missed it, but she caught it at the last second. She found the next ledge and continued to climb.
It only took a few minutes to scale the cliff. By the time she reached the top, she panted heavily. Her arms and legs shook with the effort of standing. As soon as she saw Ruben on the ground, shaking violently, spittle dripping from his mouth, adrenaline flowed through her once again.
She dropped next to him. Maris tried to hold him still as he shook. Kanéko started to do the same, but then she stopped. Ruben’s eyes glowed from behind his closed eyelids. The color seeped through the sparkling tears that ran down his cheeks.
His eyes cracked open and she saw only pure sapphire. She felt his attention focusing on her. As their eyes met, the world spun around her, and she clutched the ground. In her thoughts, images blasted through her, dredging up long-forgotten lessons and books: pouring over Emerging Wizardry in her bedroom, walking around her father’s lands, gazing across the forests on their wagon trip, and then a blur of more images of her travels. It felt like she was reviewing her life, looking for something, but with an intense clarity and purpose.
Kanéko gripped Ruben tightly, panting as her memories rushed through her head. Each one came rapidly, dredged out of forgotten places in her mind before being plastered across her consciousness.
It stopped as quickly as it started. She was ten and sitting underneath her father’s dinner table while reading her new book on herbs. One page had a hand-drawn illustration of a white-petaled flower. She didn’t know the words at the time, but the intensity of the memory allowed her to read about the plant’s medicinal properties. Jonahas could ease aches and dull the mind against mental intrusion.
Kanéko gasped and gulped. She stumbled forward to push Maris’s hands away. The dalpre resisted, but Kanéko yanked her away. “Don’t stop him from shaking. Just make him comfortable and be sure he doesn’t hit anything.”
“But, he’s shaking. I think he’s hurt.”
“Yes, but I need to find…” Kanéko worked through the fresh memories and remembered the lessons associated with them. Then, she remembered the flower. It grew in the area. “I need to find Jonahas root.”
“I know that one. And it smells like sweet, stale beer. There is a patch near the back of the barn. And some of the kids would eat it when they drank—”
“Can you smell it here?”
“It will help Rub?”
“Yes, it dulls the senses. I’m—” she struggled with understanding, “—I think Ruben needs it.”
Maris stood up. “I’ll find it.” She sniffed the air twice.
Kanéko paused as she felt a breeze kick up, sending the smells of dust and plants to her. The wind circled her, first blowing from the west, but then from the north-west, north, and around to the north-east. Maris’s skirt waved across her vision as the breeze came from the east.
The jealousy returned. The changing wind was too deliberate; it came from precisely the direction the dalpre had pointed her nose. She was already demonstrating a second, distinct trick with magic which meant she had more than a simple talent. Maris was an air mage. With enough training, she could be as powerful as her father.
Tears burned in Kanéko’s eyes. She struggled to contain the rage and sadness that flooded through her. She was supposed to be the one who had powers like that.
“Found it!” cried Maris. She ran to the south and climbed over the ridge of the hill before diving out of sight.
Kanéko watched her for a moment then shifted her attention to Ruben. She sniffed and wiped the tears from her face. She shifted her position underneath Ruben’s head, cupping him with her thighs.
Her thoughts turned to the wind that responded to Maris and even to the explosion that had thrown her back. She sniffed the air, tasting ozone again. There was no doubt about it, there was magic in the air.
She fought more tears. Shaking her head, she gazed into Ruben’s glowing eyes. “It isn’t fair. I spent my entire childhood praying for the day I would manifest a talent. I remember almost drowning myself in the river because most people find their magic in times of stress. Then,” she tensed at the memory, “I found out I can never use magic. So, what happens? Your sand-damned girlfriend ends up finding wind magic. She has a strong talent, at least.” She gave a bitter snort, “And with my luck, she’ll be a mage and have all wind magic.”
Kanéko barked out a bitter laugh. “Damn it. I’m never leaving home again.” She looked down. “And look at you. Your eyes are glowing. Damn the sands to the darkness and fire, why are you two so special when I’m not? Why do you have such strong powers?”
Ruben continued to shake and shiver. One arm came close to a rock, and Kanéko reached over to push it aside, making sure he could move without injury. His eyes cracked open and spears of blue light leaked out from the opening.
Kanéko stared for a moment, and then reached down to steady his head with both hands. His twitching was stronger than she expected. She leaned over his tiny form to regain her balance. When she looked up, she accidentally looked into the bluest light she had ever seen.
Another blast of images crashed into her. This time, she half expected them and found some way of cramming them into one corner of her mind, channeling them to project on a mental wall instead of consuming her own thoughts. The scenes were familiar, as if they were her memories being pulled from her subconscious.
The first ones were disjointed images and scenes of her childhood. None of them made sense but they were intense in their detail and clarity, despite being long forgotten.
Memories of the inn and the road flashed through her mind. They retraced their trip to the edge of the village. Kanéko recalled seeing a small, wilted Jonahas plant right outside of the Boar Hunt Inn. She didn’t even remember seeing it. A transition and she was six years old again, paging through an illustrated book. She concentrated as she recalled the entry on Jonahas Root. It could be dangerous to telepaths—fatal to Ruben—but it was used to defend against psychic intrusions.
Then the memories became more recent, replaying the world as they entered the valley, then fast forwarding to the cliff before slowing down to show the details of the cliff collapsing underneath Maris. Her eyes blurred as she relived the experience.
Then she realized the images were being distorted by whatever caused her to relive her memories. She tried to concentrate on the foreign thoughts, but the images grew hazy and broke up. When she relaxed, they faded, but she quickly found a mental state where she let the images flash across her thoughts but maintained her focus enough to keep them in her mind.
She knew it was Ruben directing her thoughts. It wasn’t a specific thought, but there was only one reason for sudden recollection when they matched gazes.
Ruben focused her attention on the opposing cliff of the ravine, near where the boulder exploded. With a gentle guidance for him, she opened her eyes and stared at the spot.
Between the earthquake and the boulder, a deep fissure had formed down the side. It was too dark to see into it but small whorls of dust continued to swirl in the opening. A few rocks bounced down both sides where the stone had buckled.
Her memories welled up again, directed by Ruben. He was trying to tell her something about the fissure but no intense images came. Instead, it was just a general sense of foreboding driven by memories of when she was a little girl reading about the arcane horrors in her books. They were vague, formless terrors but the sense of danger was palatable.
Kanéko’s heart beat faster and sweat prickled on her brow. She gulped against her dry throat. The details grew more focused to when she tried to rescue a cat out of a tree. She remembered how it scratched her, but it was only the beginning as a rapid series of flashes of animals biting, scratching, and hissing at her came blasting across her mind.
A large rock fell from the cliff. She stared at it even as Ruben guided her to look away. She couldn’t help but stare at the rocks buckled even further. Streams of gravel poured off the cliff as more cracks broke open in both directions from the first one.
The fishy smell grew more powerful, wafting across the ravine. It mixed with the scent of rock dust, sweat, and blood.
A prickle of fear ran down her spine.
She sniffed again, but the blood smell was more powerful. She frowned and looked around for a moment before the scent drew her attention down.
There was blood leaking out from the corner of Ruben’s glowing eyes. His entire body was tense, the muscles standing out as he shuddered. More spit foamed at his mouth but it was bloody.
Swearing in Miwāfu, she scooped Ruben off the ground. Staggering under his weight, she found her balance and stood up. She stumbled up the trail and away from the fissure.
Then she realized the ever-present buzz of insects had died between one heartbeat and another. A horsefly fell from the air, rolling on the bare rocks at her feet. Somehow, she knew it was dead before it hit the ground.
The compulsion to turn around slammed into her, powerful and overwhelming. She tried to resist, but a pressure bore down on her, squeezing her chest as she even considered disobeying. Shaking with the effort, she twisted her hip and peered across the ravine to the largest fissure.
This time, there was something in the darkness, a crimson light the size of a door or wagon.
Panting from the effort to resist, she found the urge to look directly into the light rising up inside her. Like the command to turn around, it pummeled against her thoughts like fists against her chest. She fought it, clutching Ruben tightly as tears ran down her cheeks.
But for all her hopes, she couldn’t stop herself from opening her eyes wide and staring directly into the blood-red light. As she focused, a connection thrust into her brain with a bright light and stabbing pain.
Unlike Ruben’s flash of memories, the creature’s mind came as a punch to her gut. Kanéko heard herself screaming as she felt a tidal wave of pure thoughts crush her. Blood dripped from her nose as parts of her mind burned from the intensity of the images that crashed into her.
She couldn’t move. She tried, but her body didn’t respond.
Kanéko sobbed as the creature’s mind burned away at her own consciousness. She only got brief glimpses of wars and battles. Unlike Ruben, the new images came from memories she had never experienced. They were being carved directly into her mind, not recalled from her past.
Then, darkness and silence. Kanéko blinked as something blocked the line of sight between the eye and herself. She gasped as her vision came into sharp focus. It took her a moment to realize she was staring at the dalpre’s chest.
“Kan? Your nose is bleeding. And did Ruben hit you? And why is he still foaming? And why is he bleeding?”
Kanéko lifted her hand to her nose. When she touched sticky heat, she pulled it back and looked at the bright crimson on her fingertips. “N-No, he didn’t.”
She focused on a large handful of flowers Maris held out to her. They were exactly the type she had pictured. They weren’t for Ruben, it was for the two girls. It would shield her and Maris from whatever horror was inside the cliff. She grabbed one and squeezed it. The thick sap coated her fingers. Dredging through the memories, she remembered the best way to take it and lapped at her fingertips.
Tentatively, she lapped at her fingertips. It tasted sour and bitter. Within seconds, it pushed back the burn of the creature’s thoughts from her skull.
“Kan! I thought they were for Rub.”
“They’re for us,” she said. Standing up, she shook her head. It would take too long to explain and there wasn’t time if the creature got out. She held out her sticky fingers. “Lick.”
“Lick!” Kanéko yelled.
Maris shrugged and leaned over. With her long tongue, she licked at Kanéko’s fingers. The movement was fast, but Kanéko felt a strange heat flutter in her stomach.
Clearing her throat, Kanéko hefted Ruben. “We need to run!”
Kanéko shoved Ruben over to Maris who easily took him. Then Kanéko grabbed the rest of the flowers from the dalpre’s hand.
The mental pressure returned. She felt the urge and command to turn around and look back at the fissure. With concentration, and the Jonahas in her blood, she could resist with supreme effort.
The dalpre’s eyes grew glassy and she started to turn toward the far side of the valley, no doubt to look around, and Kanéko screamed out shrilly. “Don’t look!”
Kanéko slapped her. “Just run!”
She wrapped her hand around Maris’s free wrist and pulled her along the path away from the cliff. With every step, she could feel the creature’s mind casting out for her, ordering her to stop and turn around.
Maris finally stopped resisting and ran next to Kanéko. “What are we running from?” she gasped.
“The worst damn trip ever!”