Telepathy leaves fragments in other minds. For non-telepaths, this inflicts night terrors as the host rejects the foreign thoughts.
— Gaston Bermes, Legal Ramifications of Telepathy
Kanéko’s eyes snapped open.
Maris crouched over her, holding her hands on Kanéko’s chest.
Kanéko’s heart continued to beat rapidly against her ribs, painfully thudding despite the fading memory of Damagar’s agony.
“Kan?” Maris leaned over. “Your eyes are open. And does that mean you are awake?”
Panting, Kanéko waved her hand. “I-I’m all right.”
Maris sat back with an expression of relief. Her tail waved back and forth. Looking over her shoulder to the left, she called out. “Kan’s good!”
Ruben chuckled dryly. “I determined that when her screaming came to a halt.”
Kanéko blushed and sat up. “Where am I?”
Maris pointed to her right. “We landed by a pond. And it smells like wet plants. And dead fish. And that green stuff on the top doesn’t taste good. But it is good to clean up. And then Ruben found some food. And he made a fire and he’s cooking food.”
Kanéko followed Maris’s gestures, first to a pond of water with insects lazily buzzing above it, and then to where Ruben roasted tubers and onions over a small fire.
A rumble came from the sky above where gray clouds boiled. Kanéko could see darker clouds to the west, moving toward them. A gray haze below the storm indicated rain.
Maris interrupted her thoughts with a hurt tone, “And I don’t like you.”
Kanéko returned her attention to Maris. “Why not?”
“You hit my foot. And then you slapped me. And you kept on hitting me.”
As Maris spoke, a breeze rose up around her. The grasses waved back and forth and her black hair danced in the breeze. Kanéko caught the scent of ozone in the air, the acidic smell of magic.
Kanéko blushed. “Well, I was, um, improvising.”
Maris looked confused. “Impro… vising?”
Ruben, his voice a whisper again, called out from the fire. “Defined as: to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation.”
The dalpre’s ears perked up. “Making up stuff? That’s what happens when daddy and Bor get into a fight and Bor keeps trying to come up with new reasons why he shouldn’t be in trouble.”
Kanéko crawled to her feet and looked over to the pond, trying to find a private spot. “Something like that, um, is there a place I can get cleaned up?”
Maris pointed to the near edge of the pond. Kanéko’s eyes looked down and traced a damp trail to Maris who still dripped water on the ground. The wet fur underneath her dress caused droplets to roll down the black fabric. The material stuck to the dalpre’s breasts and hips. It reminded Kanéko of when Maris was naked in the shower.
Kanéko felt a blush rising. “Somewhere private?”
Maris cocked her head. “Private? Why do you need private? Do you have to shit? I did that over—”
“No, to clean up.”
The dog girl cocked her head. “But, I don’t understand.”
Ruben stood up and circled around the fire to put his back to Kanéko. “Bring your attention here, Maris Germudrir, and help me finish cooking this food.”
The dalpre bounded over to Ruben and sat down heavily on the ground.
Kanéko stared at their backs for a moment, expecting Ruben to peek over. When neither did, she walked over to the pond. At the water’s edge, she spotted a ragged square of fabric still dripping wet. Picking it up, she flipped it over in her hand before she recognized it; it came from Maris’s patched dress. Guessing as to its purpose, she took it as a washcloth and circled around the pond to put as much distance between her and the two others before sitting down to properly clean herself.
When she came back, her clothes clung to her dark skin but she felt a thousand times cleaner. She had spread out her copper hair across her shoulders to let it dry before she would tie it back.
Ruben didn’t look over his shoulder, but he spoke out as she walked up to them. “The preparation will be complete in one minute, seven seconds.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Maris cocked her head. She looked around and the silence filled the clearing. Then, Maris pointed to the pack that Kanéko stole. “What’s in there? Ruben won’t let me look. And I smell meat. And underwear. And cheese. And I want to see inside it.”
Not knowing herself, Kanéko opened up the bag. She saw clothes and felt a rush of proving Maris wrong. She pulled the bundle of fabric out. It was heavier than she expected, so she shook it twice. Three large hunks of cheese and salted meat rolled out, bouncing on the ground before stopping short of the water.
“The dalpre does possess an acute sense of smell.”
Kanéko blushed, knowing that Ruben had read her thoughts.
“And I told you!” Maris grabbed the food and brushed it off. “Rub! Kan found food! And real food that doesn’t taste like dirt!”
Ruben looked over his shoulder and smiled. When Maris showed him, he thought for a moment. “Bring it over here. We will combine it for breakfast.”
“What about the next meal, Rub?” asked Maris. “Didn’t think of that, did you?”
“Then we will store half for dinner.”
Maris nodded happily, tossing the spoils over to Ruben who caught them without looking.
Kanéko watched him break off a chunk of cheese to add to the cooking vegetables, and then returned her attention to the clothes in her hands. Unfolding the bundle, she found a dark maroon uniform of the mercenaries. On the right breast, a small patch said “Starisen.” She frowned as she stared at the name. She had seen it before.
With a start, she realized the bag she had stolen belonged to Cobin, the man who had led the effort to kidnap her. She took a deep breath and felt a point of bitter joy that Cobin would suffer after everything he did to her. She set aside the uniform and pulled out two more sets of clothes, including trousers at least three sizes too large for her and five pairs of men’s underwear. She made a face at the underclothes and tossed them aside.
At the bottom of the bag, she found a number of travel rations—oil-wrapped packets of tasteless, dried vegetables and meats—and a thick leather envelope. Pulling it out, she spotted something on the bottom and let out a soft gasp of surprise.
A kasói, a curved dagger with a narrow point. She unsheathed it and looked for a name—her mother said every desert blade was named. To her surprise, she couldn’t find one. She frowned. “Why would Cobin have a Mifúno blade?”
Ruben glanced at it. “It is a Kyōti weapon, not Mifúno. Mifúno is the name of the desert spirit, Kyōti is the region which includes the desert. If it is made in that area, then it has been blessed to take on the name of the first creature it kills.”
“Okay, why does he have a desert weapon?”
When neither Ruben or Maris had an answer, Kanéko shrugged. She strapped the dagger to her thigh. It felt better having a weapon next to her, even if knife fighting terrified her more than archery. She glanced over to the bow she had grabbed, a Kormar short bow. She wasn’t comfortable shooting it, but she didn’t have much of a choice. She only had a dozen arrows; it was enough for hunting… if she didn’t miss. She worried her lip, remembering how many times she failed during Garèo’s archery tests.
Ruben suddenly set food in front of her, and Kanéko jumped. She looked around and then did a double-take as Maris finished licking her plate clean. Kanéko hadn’t noticed when Maris started eating, but it only took seconds for the dalpre to finish. She looked down at her meal, vegetables covered in cheese with a few strips of salted meat next to it. She thanked Ruben and started eating.
Maris bounced impatiently as Ruben and Kanéko ate. She toyed with the frayed ends of her dress, and then counted her fingers out loud. Eventually, she started to let out long sighs while looking forlornly at the other teenagers. When neither responded, she sighed even louder.
Kanéko felt it prickling on the edges of her annoyance. Between bites, she spoke up. “Why are you bouncing?”
“I’m done eating. And you are slow.”
Ruben chuckled into his food, the same as Kanéko’s but without meat. “At the mill, the consumption rate is six times faster than average. And pausing between bites is a foreign concept for the dalpre.”
“It is not,” Maris spat, “Ruben Habor!”
Ruben got a pained look on his face. “That was not mannerly.”
Kanéko glanced over at Ruben. “Your name is Ruben Habor?”
Maris’s tail wagged back and forth as she spoke, “No, his name is Ruben Habor Kalis Bomen Tater. And I remember that much. But there are seven more names I can’t.”
Kanéko cleared her throat. “That’s a very long name.”
Maris giggled. “Yeah, it is. But we use the short form because we don’t think loudly. But Rub’s daddy uses the long one. Because Rub’s daddy has to.”
Kanéko shot a questioning look over to Ruben who shook his head. When he didn’t explain, she asked him, “Ruben? Why?”
He whispered angrily, “We do not need to go into details.”
Maris spoke up, “It’s because he ran away from Vo.” She pointed one direction. “He ran away from home—”
“The Isle of Vo is in the opposite direction, to the west,” snapped Ruben.
Maris pointed to the west and continued, “And he’s not allowed to think loudly because something bad will happen. His daddy says so.”
The smaller boy toyed with the last of his food, and then set down the rock he used as a plate. Standing up, he stormed off.
Kanéko bit her lower lip, thinking back to her nightmare and the scene where Stubbornness was consumed by the crack. She called out after him, “Is that why you woke Damagar up?”
Ruben froze in mid-step, and then continued walking.
Maris looked confused. “Ruben didn’t wake him up. It was the rock falling. And it made a loud noise. And I screamed and that woke him up, right?”
Neither Kanéko nor Ruben answered her.
Maris whimpered and looked back and forth between them. “Right? Right?”
Kanéko watched his head bobbing in the grass. She stood up and yelled after him. “What is the Broken Thought?”
“Terminate discussion!” yelled Ruben in his deep voice.
“What is going on!?” Kanéko snapped.
Ruben spun around, his dark hair barely visible over the grass. Kanéko felt a tickle in her mind, and then he yelled out with his full volume, the surprisingly deep voice shocking her. “Terminate. This. Discussion!”
It rumbled through the air and Kanéko heard it echoing in her thoughts. She screamed back. “Get out of my head, damn it!” Remembering how she broke the connection with Damagar, she imagined the wall of gears and pistons. The details flowed across her mind and Ruben’s echoes faded.
Kanéko stalked toward him. “Tell me.”
“No!” yelled Ruben without the echoes inside Kanéko’s head.
Ruben backed away but Kanéko covered the distance between them, shoving past the grasses to grab the small teenager. She picked him up with both hands and glared into his face. “Every time you yell, he hears you, doesn’t he? Every time you yell, that crack thing happens, right?”
He started to say something, and then closed his mouth with a snap. He whispered sadly, “Yes.”
When Ruben said nothing, Kanéko set him down and pointed back to the fire.
Ruben hesitated, stepping back, and Kanéko balled her hand into a fist. “Really want to do that?”
He stormed back to the fire. He stopped at Maris’s pack and pulled out a ball. Maris gasped, bouncing to her feet as Ruben tossed it into his other hand. He threw the ball.
It flew a surprising distance as it arced across the field.
Maris squealed and ran after it.
When he turned around, Kanéko pointed to the ground. “Explain. I just had a nightmare where Damagar showed me the cliff collapsing. He asked for you. Now, why? What is the Void Child? Why does he see you as a crack? How did you destroy Stubbornness?”
With a sad expression, Ruben held up his hand. “I’m… damaged. My mind was sealed by my progenitors and Vo. If it opens fully, then every telepathic, psychic, and spirit within leagues will cease to exist. However I suspect the seal is cracking with my proximity to Damagar and the stress of our current situation.”
“Is that why Damagar is vulnerable? He has multiple personalities? A crowd working together?”
“Affirmative. I’m surprised you were able to perceive those details. Most giant creatures have multiple personalities due to the complexity of coordinating their physical form. Those with high degrees of power also have additional forms to handle each aspect of crafting magic.”
“But why aren’t you a danger to me and Maris? You recall my memories easily.”
“You are not telepathic. You possess a large body of knowledge and memories, but more importantly, you have the analytical mind and creativity to form new thoughts. But, ultimately, you are seated in one body, one mind.”
The muscles in her back tightened. A small part of her hoped that the lack of magic Damagar perceived in her was just a lie. She would have taken telepathy as something to show her father. She closed her eyes and fought back the tears. When she calmed herself, she opened her eyes and said, “What happened to Stubbornness, that frog creature? Did you destroy it?”
Ruben sighed and frowned. “No, I can feel him in my head. He is a difficult thought to handle. He fights. He argues. He threatens.”
“But, it will fade, right?”
Ruben shook his head. “No, not for me, not for a while. Stubbornness is a part of me. If I keep him separate, as Damagar did, the rest of my mind will fracture into a similar arrangement of personalities. If I accept him, he will merge into my thoughts, but I will retain a single consciousness.”
“And it only happens when you yell?”
The voman pushed his rock away. “No, projecting is a reflex, like raising my volume. The more I project, the more it cracks. It will seal up over time, but if I crack it too often, the seal will shatter forever.”
He sighed. “And minds will die.”
“Well,” said Kanéko, “I guess we need to keep you away and silent, huh?”
Maris came running back with the ball. She held it out to Kanéko. “Please?”
Kanéko grabbed the ball and stood up. She spun around and threw it as hard as she could. It sailed over the grass and Maris chased after it. Kanéko saw the wind building up behind her as she sprinted, leaving a wide “V” in the grasses. She promised herself she would teach Maris at least something about magic as soon as they had a chance.
Sighing, she turned back to Ruben. “Teach me.”
He looked surprised. “Instruct you in what field of study?”
“Teach me telepathy. Teach me to keep Damagar and you out of my head.”
“You cannot. You do not have the ability to project.”
“Look, I read the books. I know there are techniques I can learn to keep Damagar out. I also know there are things I can learn to make it easier to communicate with you. There is something beyond you pulling up memories. It takes too long and if you have another seizure, I need to know what is going on.”
“Yes, but it requires working together. We have to share experiences to make—”
“Then teach me with what we’ve already done. You are teaching Maris Miwāfu so you can teach me telepathy.”
Ruben stared at her with confusion, but she could see a bit of excitement in his gaze. “Why?”
“I’m tired of running. Everything is chasing me. There are ones I want to find me and others who I don’t. I can’t do much about them, besides stay off the road, but if I can keep Damagar out of my head, maybe I can help you.” Kanéko held out her hand, palm up. “Look, we have to help each other, otherwise we’ll never get home.”
He smiled and stood up to take her hand. She felt a tickling in the back of her mind as he smiled. “Deal.”
Maris crashed back into the area around the fire, panting happily and her tail wagging. “Home? We’re going home?”
Kanéko nodded confidently, feeling a bit more in control of her life. “Yes, we’re going home.”