Chapter 28: Life's Lessons
Experience is the best of instructors. — Proverb
The rabbit scrambled over a fallen log, trying to reach a pile of greens heaped in the nook. The rain drizzled down, soaking the grass and leaves as a light breeze drifted through the trunks of trees.
Kanéko held her breath and pulled back the bow string. The string cut into her fingers. Rain ran down her face. More water dripped from the arrow as she aimed for the rabbit.
Next to her, Maris crouched down behind a trunk, her tail rocking back and forth as she wiggled her body. She kept her hands clamped over her mouth as if it could stop the whines escaping her throat. She looked excited despite her best attempts to remain still.
Kanéko hissed at her. “Maris, calm down.”
The rabbit’s ears perked up. It stood up on its back legs, and Kanéko swore under her breath.
The rabbit shot off in the opposite direction.
Kanéko swore even louder in Miwāfu and stepped away from the tree. The bowstring twanged as she launched the arrow at the rabbit. Knowing she missed, Kanéko fired a second. The two shafts whistled through the air. The first snapped on a rock, but the second caught the rabbit right in the back of the head, killing it instantly.
She stared in shock, and then screamed out with triumph. “I did it! Only a day with this bow and I did it!”
Maris cheered, hugging Kanéko before racing after the animal. Her tail bounced as she bounded over the stump and scooped up the kill.
Kanéko followed, beaming happily. She stopped and picked up the ruined arrow, sighing as she snapped the arrowhead off the ruined shaft and jammed the head into a loop of the fabric over the back of her hand.
Maris handed her the second arrow. “Here you go. Unless you want me to do it?”
“Do you know how to skin it?”
The dalpre nodded. “The womenfolk cook for the mill all the time.”
“I’ve never done that, you go ahead.”
Returning to the camp, Maris sat down heavily next to their fire. She reached over into Ruben’s belt and pulled out his knife.
With a look of disgust, Ruben got up and walked away.
Kanéko motioned for him to follow. She led him to a spot a chain distance from the fire and plopped down. “Now, teach me.”
Ruben sat down in front of her. He pointed to his eyes and stared into Kanéko’s. “Telepathy is about memories and concepts. To communicate, you bring up a shared memory. For example, say I want to transmit the idea of looking over a cliff, I will pull up these…”
In Kanéko’s mind, she found herself recalling the cliff where Maris fell over as she was peering over the side. The memories were bright and sharp.
Ruben continued. “Now, you can read. So I can also bring up letters or words.”
As he spoke, the words he used also appeared in Kanéko’s head, but it took her more effort to focus on them. It felt like an obscure thought, one that she struggled with.
The vomen nodded. “You’ll notice it is harder. Abstract ideas will always be more difficult to imagine than something personally experienced. So, what we do is we build up a set of images and memories that we both know to make it easier. So, the more we share experiences, the more I can project…”
A series of images, of Kanéko climbing the cliff, the fight in the inn where Kanéko dodged the men attacking her, and a picture of Damagar’s eyes combined together into «climb the rock to avoid Damagar.»
Kanéko grew elated as she saw how he pieced it together, somehow combining parts of her memories and splicing them together. “How do I, um, respond?”
“The same way. Picture something in your head, and I will read it. You can’t project, but if I am scanning your surface thoughts, I can pick up the visualization.”
Kanéko thought for a moment before she brought up images of Boar Hunt Inn, their shared wagon ride, and the picture of Lurkuklan Tower. She found herself struggling with the tower, as if she couldn’t remember the idea, and switched it to the Rock River village, which came clearly.
Ruben grinned, “Riding a wagon from the inn to the town?”
“Yes, but I tried the Lurkuklan Tower first.”
“I’ve never been there, so I cannot remember it.”
“Oh, that makes sense. But, I remembered things I’ve never seen when Damagar was in my head.”
“Powerful telepaths project the needed memories. It is one of the most powerful magical and psychic beings in the world.” His voice trailed off and he looked to the west.
Kanéko sat there, watching the sadness on his face. She reached out and rested one hand on top of his.
Ruben looked back with his eyes glittering.
Kanéko favored him with a smile. “Don’t worry, I don’t know what I can do, but you can trust me to help however I can.”
He smiled. “Thank you, Great Kosobyo Kanéko.” Ruben had a flat, featureless accent, as if he learned from books.
Kanéko felt her heart fluttering. She never heard anyone speak in terms of respect for her, and she didn’t know what to say.
Maris plopped down between them. “Hi!” She set a piece of bark on Kanéko’s lap. The cooked remains of a rabbit steamed in the rain. Roasted tubers and some of the remaining cheese completed the meal.
Rain splattered her face, and she looked beyond Maris with surprise. The storm clouds that were on the horizon were now above her. Underneath her, a puddle of mud soaked her rear, despite the ground being dry when she sat down.
“Time is meaningless while learning.”
Kanéko shook her head and sighed ruefully. “I’m used to it. I would lose a day trying to figure out a gear. Papa says I’m obsessed.” She turned to Maris, “How long?”
“Hours. And now we eat!” announced Maris.
True to her word, Maris did know how to cook. The rabbit tasted like ambrosia, and Kanéko found herself polishing off her portion almost as fast as Maris. “Thank you, Maris, I don’t think I ever ate so well.”
The dalpre beamed. She licked her fingers and panted happily.
Kanéko nodded with her own pleasure. “I think I’ll actually sleep well tonight.”
Maris gestured to Ruben, who ate his own vegetables slowly, “Are you going to think at him again?”
Kanéko shook her head. “No, actually, I need to teach you something.”
Maris’s ears perked up. “Me?”
“Yes, but I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but you need to have some basic training on your magic.”
“You mean like when you stamped on my foot? And I got angry and hit people? That was scary and cool and fun and it hurt.” She paused. “And I like you again.”
“Well,” Kanéko blushed, “that was, um, let’s say advanced training. My father used to tell me stories of how his master first taught him combat magic. What I did was close to those stories as I remembered them.”
“And that is how you learn magic?”
Kanéko giggled. “You are supposed to learn by moving a feather around. Then, learn how to pick up paper. You move to heavier and heavier items until anything you can pick up with your hands, you can do with magic. Once you do that for a few years, and then you learn how to do combat magic.”
“But, it was easy to hit people.”
Ruben spoke up. “Because you are a violent dalpre who strikes first and kicks second.”
Maris glared at the short teenage boy, and Kanéko choked on her laughter.
Maris pouted. “And I don’t like you.”
Kanéko reached over and grabbed Maris’s tail to get her attention.
Maris tugged her tail free but turned around to put her back to Ruben. “And you’ll teach me?”
“Yes, I will. But we might skip a few lessons if we get into any fights. But, let’s start with the basics: make some wind.”
Maris tugged on her dress. “How? Besides eating a lot of cabbage?”
Kanéko stared in shock.
The dalpre smirked. “How?”
“Remember what it felt like when you were looking for the Jonahas flower? You sniffed in all directions? Could you do that again but think about the wind coming from the north.”
Maris frowned, but she closed her eyes. A breeze rose up, tinged with ozone, and drifted through the camp from the south. It tugged at Kanéko’s hair and fluttered Maris’s skirt.
Ruben smirked. “The other north.”
Maris cracked open one eye to glare at him. Then the wind rotated around to come from the north, blowing past Kanéko and Maris. It increased as it focused on Ruben. Dust and dirt kicked up, peppering Ruben. After a second, it died down.
Ruben casually plucked a leaf from his hair and tossed it aside.
Smiling, Kanéko pictured the lessons from her own books as she spoke encouragingly. “Okay, now slowly turn it to the right…”
A moment later, Ruben helpfully added, “… your other right.”