Chapter 22: Flight

The most common use of Jonahas, a small flowering plant, is to dull the pain of over-imbibing alcohol. — An Introduction to the Wild, A Survival Guide

“I… can’t… breathe,” Maris panted.

Sweat pouring down her face, Kanéko slumped. She said, “If you can say that, you can breathe.”

Maris looked up with her ears flat on her head. “And I don’t like you.”

Kanéko tried to chuckle and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. She crawled over to Maris and sat down next to her.

Maris looked at her, and then at the shivering teenager in her arms. “Is Rub going to wake up?”

Kanéko grunted, “Yes, I think he’s stronger than we, um, I thought. We just need to get him to the Boar Hunt Inn. Virsian should be able to heal him enough to recover.”

Scrambling to her feet, Maris hefted Ruben. “Then I want to go now.”

Kanéko stood up and brushed the dust from her thighs. She couldn’t get the glowing red eyes out of her head. She watched Maris walking ahead.

The dalpre had stopped a distance away and turned to her, panting heavily.

Kanéko gave a false smile and hurried after the girl. “Come on, let’s save Ruben.”

Together, they walked along a series of animal trails. In the sweeping hills, their desperate flight turned into a heat-baked trudge. With Maris’s sense of smell, they easily headed toward the Boar Hunt Inn but exhaustion took its toll on them.

They reached a ridge that stretched out in both directions as far as they could see. Without a word, Kanéko held out her hands for Ruben.

Maris looked at her, and then shook her head curtly before she turned back to the hill. A stubborn look crossed the dalpre’s face and she mounted the hill.

“Maris,” said Kanéko.

“You’re the hurt one, Kan. You need your strength.”

Kanéko followed after Maris. “Come on, let me help.”

Maris turned around, swaying for a moment before she glared at Kanéko. “I’ll sleep later.”

Kanéko stared in shock, remembering when she used the same words.

Maris’s tail curled. “Don’t worry, Kan. And I can carry Ruben as long as I have to. All day, all night, all year. He’s my friend and I will not abandon my pack.”

Kanéko didn’t try again. She just walked after the dalpre, trying not to the think of the summer heat bearing down on her. She prayed for a wind, anything to relieve the sweat pouring down her face and chest.

A rushing noise rose up behind her. She looked to see a breeze rippling toward her.

She almost let out a sob of anticipation. “Maris, hold on.”

Maris continued over the hill to a boulder just under the ridge. She leaned her shoulder against the rock and cradled Ruben against her chest. Her tongue flapped as she panted. Turning her head, she looked up at Kanéko and rested her head on Ruben’s head. There was pain in her eyes, and Kanéko felt it tugging on her heart.

Kanéko gazed longingly at the smoke in the distance. Only an hour at most. She turned back to the breeze, closing her eyes in anticipation.

Maris called out from below. “Kan?”

“Just a second,” said Kanéko, desperate for the wind.

“Ruben is shaking again.”

Kanéko lurched around, her heart almost skipping a beat.

Ruben shook in Maris’s arms, a line of drool dripping down the corner of his mouth. To her surprise, blue light leaked through his eyelids.

Kanéko rushed over and dropped to her knees in front of him. “Ruben!?”

His eyes cracked open, just the smallest sparkle of blue. Remembering how looking in his glowing eyes brought up memories, Kanéko lowered herself to match gazes with the nearly unconscious boy.

The image of the Jonahas plant grew sharp in her mind. Then her attention returned to the glowing red eyes of the creature which faded as the plant seemed to grow over her vision. For a moment, it looked like the eyes would fade but then the plants crumbled. The image of the roots came back.

It took her a moment to piece the images together. The sap from the root was wearing off and the presence was coming back. She needed more to protect Maris and herself.

Kanéko’s eyes snapped open, breaking the mental communication between her and Ruben. She turned around, hearing the sounds of the wind in a different light. It came rushing up, but it wasn’t the anticipation of relief but something more dread. With Ruben’s memories fresh in her mind, she could sense something evil about the wind.

“Maris,” she said, standing up, but it was too late.

The wind kicked her in the chest and alien thoughts punched into her mind once again. The memories burned into her mind, filled with fresh rage, anger, and pain. This time, they were more focused. Words came flooding into her mind, written across her thoughts as much as bellowed into her memories. «We are Damagar.»

The creature had somehow named itself, not dredging up memories like Ruben, but burning its identity directly into her. She screamed, barely aware of her knees hitting the ground. It picked through her being, forcing her consciousness until she could only think of one person: Ruben.

Images of herself and Maris standing on the ridge came into her mind, forced in by the foreign thoughts. The details were incredible, down to the pulse in her neck and the sweat under her shirt. She could sense every bit of mud dried on her skin and the sweat under Maris’s armpits. Every detail seared her mind except for the missing boy in the dalpre’s hand.

The creature couldn’t see Ruben, even though the boy lay right next to her. Damagar’s mind tried to follow her thoughts but somehow slid around the very memory of Ruben himself. No matter how much the creature tried to direct Kanéko’s mind, it couldn’t force her to picture the telepath. «The Broken Thought must die, Kosobyo Kanéko, Kanéko Lurkuklan. We will find him and destroy him as a threat he will become.»

Kanéko couldn’t stop crying as its presence pummeled her. She grabbed the ground and scraped her nails through the dirt. She felt violated from the alien ripping through her consciousness. All she could imagine was his burning red eyes and its search for Ruben. Shuddering with the effort to breathe, Kanéko tried to regain control of herself and her mind.

She dredged up memories of her own life, tugging on the good and bad. It didn’t work. Her efforts to remember were sluggish, and the images refused to come up; instead, the image of Damagar’s eyes replaced any thought she had.

In desperation, she tried to find anything to push back the eyes of Damagar. Memory after memory refused to come up, until with a flash, a single image came up: the water screw. Weeks, even months, of obsession brought the designs into perfect clarity. The thoughts of Damagar dimmed as Kanéko focused on pulling apart the water screw in her mind and assembling it mentally. She traced through the gears and pistons, mapping out every pipe and joint.

When his thoughts slammed into her, the images blurred. She concentrated harder, forcing months of thinking and dreaming about the screw to shield her from Damagar’s mind.

She ground her teeth together and concentrated harder, focusing on every screw and gear. The more she concentrated, the more the alien thoughts faded. Suddenly she sank completely into her designs, exploding the individual parts in her mind and rebuilding them. Damagar’s mind ripped away from her with an audible pop.

When she opened her eyes, she could feel the tears streaming down her face. Holding herself still, she waited for Damagar, but its presence was no longer in her mind. She had evicted Damagar from her mind and felt a rush of excitement at her accomplishment. She stared down at her ragged fingernails and wondered if it was pain or obsession shielding the terrible creature from her consciousness.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Maris whimpered next to her. The dalpre laid on the ground next to Ruben, curled up in a tight ball. Maris’s shoulders shook with her tears and whimpered, “Make it stop, make it stop, make…”

Kanéko raced over to her, unwrapping the cloth around her hand. When she found the sap soaking the loop of fabric, she squeezed out a few drops on her fingertips. Crouching down, she ran her sticky digit along Maris’s lips.

The dog girl jerked away, but then turned back to lick her fingers.

Kanéko squirmed at the strange heat inside her as the dalpre licked her fingers clean. After a few seconds, she leaned back and re-wrapped the cloth back around her hand. She spotted a few droplets on one finger and licked them herself, she wasn’t sure if her obsession would be able to keep out Damagar without help.

Like before, the sap worked quickly on both of them. Maris stopped whimpering, and her gaze slowly came into sharp focus.

Kanéko smiled with encouragement, whispering to Maris. “Come on, bitch. Come on, we need to go now. We need to go.”

Maris whined pitifully. “Kan?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t like Damagar. And he wants to hurt Ruben.”

Kanéko held out her hand. Maris took it. Grunting, Kanéko pulled Maris to her feet, and together they picked up Ruben. The smaller teenager had calmed down once Damagar’s thoughts moved on, but he still had a line of drool in the corner of his mouth. Kanéko wiped it with her hand, and then pressed a palm against his heated forehead.

Maris held Ruben tightly, hoisting him up. Her ears flattened on her head as she glared at Kanéko. “And I won’t let him have Rub.”