Those who survived the flight from Vo created a small island of shared memories to stave off the approaching insanity.
— Balam Jidir, The Escape From Vo
Noon came, and Kanéko was lost in thought as she considered Cobin’s letters and the revelation that Garèo was far more monstrous that she could ever imagine. But she couldn’t picture the crass, self-centered man as a murderer, despite the contents of the letters. Her mother would have never let Garèo teach her if he killed his family.
She trudged behind Ruben as they followed an animal trail along the rolling hills. To the south, she could see the rocky hill curving out of sight.
Ruben walked in front of her, holding the map Kanéko found. He added information of his own, drawing in details from his memory. Hours of practicing telepathy with him had given her better insight into the small man’s thoughts. When he talked to her, she could tell the difference between the votim’s stark recollections versus his own experiences. His personal experiences projected with a vibrancy so intense she almost imagined being there herself, the others felt dull and sterile.
A thud drew her attention from Ruben to the side of the trail. Panting heavily, Maris bounded from one rock to another. Each leap carried her forward a chain. As she blasted by, the whirlwind assisting her jump battered Ruben and Kanéko, shoving them back. She landed on a tree branch, windmilling her arms until she regained her balance. The dalpre crouched down on the branch, her tail wagging, and then jumped across the trail to another tree.
Kanéko wiped the dust from her face and called out to Maris. “Don’t cross the path! Stick to one side.”
Maris stopped and spun around. She lost her balance. Falling off the limb, she plummeted to the ground. Kanéko covered her face as an explosion of air caught Maris inches from the ground, blasting dust and splinters in all direction. Maris’s rear hit the ground a moment later.
Kanéko uncovered her face. “Want to stop?”
Maris scrambled to her feet. She shook her head and jumped up. The wind blew up but died quickly, and Maris fell to the ground. This time, she landed on her feet. Whimpering, she pouted. “I got tired again.”
Kanéko held out her hand for her. “Take a break. You need to regain your strength.”
Maris skipped over to the trail. She took Kanéko’s hand and trailed next to her. “I lasted longer this time, didn’t I?”
Kanéko smiled warmly. “You did, but you still have a long way before you can fly again.”
“But, I flew before. Why is it so hard now?”
“You have to build up your reserves. When you flew, days ago, you were unskilled and you had no control. You used everything you had and drained yourself. It could be days, weeks, even months before you recover.”
“But, I carried you. It was so easy.” Maris pouted.
Ruben spoke up, “Fear is an excellent motivator.”
“But, if I could fly us, we could go home sooner, right?”
Kanéko felt a pang in her chest. She smiled, but didn’t feel it. “Yes, which is why you are going to practice. If you get that strong, you can fly us the rest of the way.”
Maris’s tail began to wag happily. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Kanéko asked, confused.
“For teaching me. And not stepping on my foot again. And not being mean.”
Kanéko stopped and turned to look at Maris. “I’m sorry I was a spoiled brat. It wasn’t fair of me.”
It didn’t surprise her that it was easier to swallow after the confession. Maris’s openness was rubbing off on her.
The dalpre said something, but Kanéko spotted movement over the dalpre’s shoulder. She stepped to the side and peered at the plains behind her. A line of force rushed toward them. It was curved like the edge of a ripple spreading out in a pond. Her eyes sought the center, following the curve where it radiated from a single point, a dark blot far in the distance. She thought she saw red flickering in the darkness.
She felt an itch growing in the back of her mind. It was the familiar touch of a telepath, but it wasn’t Ruben trying to connect to her. Instead, it felt like a dread gathering in her stomach. “Sands! It’s Damagar!”
Ruben spun on his heels. His eyes were wide and sweat prickled his brow. He started to shake, looking around for a moment. Then, he crouched down on the ground and closed his eyes tightly. He whispered tensely, “My earlier statement was incorrect. My defenses against Damagar will not be sufficient this time.”
Kanéko dug into the wrappings on her hand and dug out the Jonahas root. She shoved one into Maris’s hands and hurried to Ruben. “Take that and hold him. He’s going to have another seizure.”
Maris took the root and shoved it into her mouth. She stumbled forward to grab Ruben.
Turning around, Kanéko chewed on a bit of the root she had kept. As she did, she looked at the growing ripple of power. It moved faster as it drew closer and she felt her stomach clench with anticipation. Her eyes scanned along the grasses ahead of the wave, looking for something that would miraculously save them from Damagar. She knew that nothing would defend her, but she hated not being able to do anything.
She spotted an unmoving spot in the rushing wave of invisible force. It was a widening gap in the ripple of power. Curious, Kanéko saw it spreading apart like the spokes of a gear. Her eyes trailed back but she couldn’t see past the wall of wind that rushed toward them.
Then, the wave was upon her.
She brought up images of her designs, working through the mechanics when it hit her. She pictured them forming a shield—a wall of gears, pistons, and boilers. The force of Damagar’s thoughts slammed into her chest, staggering her physically, but she could feel his questing probe crashing on her mental shield. Mental claws reached over her, but Kanéko brought up more images, combining the gears together and building in her head with obsessive focus.
For a moment, she thought Damagar would still break through, but then the haze of the Jonahas root draped over her thoughts and the pressure subsided.
Kanéko found herself thinking about the pond they slept near two nights before. However, she could also picture Damagar standing in the pond, trying to track them down. She wasn’t surprised when the image of the giant toad came through her thoughts. It looked at her through her shield of gears. Dozens of personalities, all using the same crimson eyes, regarded her and something—the name Observation drifted through Kanéko’s head—reached through the shield, pulling up memories of the land around her. No matter how hard Kanéko tried to obscure her thoughts with designs, she felt Damagar’s Observation forcing her to recall the memories of her location: the path she had taken, the position of the sun, and even the route that they planned on taking.
The thoughts cut off sharply, but Damagar left Kanéko the impression he was coming for them.
She swore violently in Miwāfu and raced back to Maris and Ruben.
Maris held Ruben as the smaller teenager shook with a seizure. Tears ran down Maris’s cheeks as she clutched Ruben tightly.
“Maris, are you all right?”
“I hate Damagar,” came the whimper. “Hate, hate, hate it.”
“Yes, but it’s coming, and we have to run.”
Maris unwrapped herself from around Ruben, who foamed at the mouth and shook violently. She looked up at Kanéko, refusing to let go of the Voman. “Where do we go?”
“I, um,” Kanéko stood up and peered at the gap in the force. The force of Damagar’s thoughts affected the world, but there was a wedge of untouched grasses leaning back toward a copse of trees a mile away. She pointed to the trees where the triangle converged. “There.”
“I don’t know. If there is something that stopped its scan, there might be something that can shield us.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, but I don’t see another option right now. Damagar’s coming and it’s going to be in a hurry.”
Terror made short distance of the distance. The last few chains were soaked by a squall of warm rain. By the time they crawled up the deceptively tall hill, both Kanéko and Maris panted for breath and were dripping wet. Kanéko’s side ached and her legs trembled. Without pausing, they dove into the trees and out of sight of the plains.
“Kan? What are we looking for?”
Kan pushed the branches from her face. “I don’t know. Something!”
“Then just hold Ruben. I’ll look for it!”
“What are you looking for?”
Kanéko’s voice reached a high-pitched scream, “I don’t know, damn it!”
Crashing through the underbrush, Kanéko looked at every shadow and crevice, trying to find something that would stop Damagar’s thoughts. The trees towered over her and the rain dripped from the leaves, but she didn’t see anything besides plants and rocks.
Frantic, she ripped out plants, scattering dirt everywhere. She pushed at the trees and dug into the ground with her feet, and then her hands. Something was different, something would protect her.
“Kan? I see Damagar coming!”
The teenager’s head snapped up, her copper hair flying across her vision. She stared through the trees at the dark shape hopping across the plains. The ground shook with each impact, and Kanéko felt her heart pounding painfully in her chest.
Swearing, she tore at the ground, flinging clods of dirt and rock in all directions. When she came up to a wind-blasted part of the trees, she stopped. Whatever prevented the wave of power had affected that spot. Standing up, she raced around a curve. At the far end she smiled. Whatever it was, it would be in the center of the curve.
She grabbed rocks and flung them with all her might to where the curve would have been centered. It only took a few throws before one of the rocks rang out against something metallic.
Kanéko froze, listening to an unnatural noise fade. She spun around, not sure what set it off. She felt the ground shaking from the incoming behemoth. Picking up a handful of rocks, Kanéko systematically started throwing rocks as she approached.
One hit Maris’s shoulder.
“Ow!” came the whimpering cry.
Kanéko ignored her as she kept throwing. Rocks bounced off the trunks of trees and scattered along the ground. She threw them faster, tossing handfuls of pebbles in a cloud and strained to hear anything ringing out. When she heard the pebbles hit metal, Kanéko stopped and tossed more rocks in the direction of the noise, and then sprinted toward it. She found the source after a few more tosses, a pipe sticking out of the ground and covered in moss. The rocks scraped the lichen away to reveal silvered metal beneath.
Kanéko raced around it, looking for some entrance or opening. She called out to Maris. “Come here, now!”
When Maris came rushing up, clutching Ruben to her chest, Kanéko pointed to the pipe. “Shove air in there!”
Maris hastily dropped Ruben and ran over to the opening. She closed her eyes, no doubt working with the lessons Kanéko had taught her. Wind rose up around her, forming a vortex in her palm.
Kanéko wanted to scream at her to move faster, but she focused on crawling in a circle, digging at the ground. She felt her nails splinter on the ground, but desperation drove her to dig faster.
Wind howled and Kanéko looked up to see Maris feeding the tail end of a tornado into the pipe. It disappeared inside with a painful screaming noise. Underneath Kanéko’s feet, the ground buckled. She spun around until she saw plumes of dust rising up from a scree of gravel.
“We need to dig there!” Kanéko rushed over. She dropped to her knees and scooped the gravel away as fast as she could. Her hands ached and her body trembled, but the fear of Damagar kept her digging.
Maris dragged Ruben down a few feet away, his tiny form shaking and jerking, before she joined Kanéko. As the dalpre dug her hands into the sharp rocks, a sudden wind slammed into Kanéko. It plucked the smaller rocks away from the scree and blew a cloud of rock dust high into the air and away from them.
Kanéko opened her mouth to order Maris to stop, and then closed it with a snap when she realized the wind blew away the dust and smaller rocks. She returned to digging through the gravel, trying to find whatever opening Maris’s tornado had found. As the wind whipped past her, her nails scraped on something solid. “Here!”
Both girls dug into the gravel and the wind focused into a visible stream that blasted away at the rocks until they exposed a metal door set with a crystal mosaic.
Feeling the ground shake from Damagar’s impact, Kanéko didn’t have the time to look at the picture. She grabbed the handle on the door, planted one foot on the side, and hauled up with all her strength. The door creaked open and revealed a pitch black tunnel. It was short, only four feet high, but the edges were smoothed as if it was shaped with water or, Kanéko hoped, something magical.
“Maris, get Ruben!”
“Got him,” barked Maris as the wind died down. She ran over to Ruben, picked him up against her chest, and dove into the darkness.
Kanéko followed, closing the door behind her and praying it would open up from the inside. As the heavy door slammed shut, the darkness swallowed them.
Kanéko hissed sharply, “Quiet!”
The ground shook as Damagar landed close by. The ground buckled by its landing. A moment later, another impact sent dust streaming down on Kanéko’s face. She clapped her hand over her mouth and sneezed into it.
Maris let out a high-pitched whine.
Her heart pounding in her chest, Kanéko tried to hold still. Something scraped the ground and she heard trunks cracking. The dull thump of timbers hitting the ground shook through the earth. She reached out in the darkness, and her fingers found a smooth stone wall. Trembling, she held her breath as more trees hit the ground.
A light cut through the darkness. Kanéko snapped her head around and looked at the glow. Ruben’s eyes glowed indigo as he stared out into nothing.
Maris gasped, “K-Kan?”
Kanéko turned to gape at Ruben. She whispered in a broken voice. “I-I see him.”
“But,” whispered Maris, “what is that?”
In the light, Kanéko saw Maris point away from the door, and she followed the gesture with her eyes. They were in a short tunnel slightly over a rod in length. At the far end was another short door, sized for someone Ruben’s height, but without the intricate crystal mosaic of the outer door leading into the tunnel. Instead, there were crystal lines in it; they were arranged like slashes on a line. Kanéko didn’t understand their significance.
Multicolored lights boiled off the door. It looked like moonlight reflected off water, but the energy was tangible and almost within reach. If it wasn’t for the vertical wall, it looked like a pool of rippling water.
Kanéko gasped and she felt her body tingling with fear. As she watched, a droplet of energy popped off the door. It sailed down the tunnel, and Kanéko knew without a doubt it was heading straight for Ruben. “Maris!”
Maris yanked him out of the way. “Mine!” she growled.
The droplet splashed on the door next to Kanéko’s hand. She yanked her hand back as the energy dissipated with the smell of burnt wood.
Whimpering, Maris whispered, “Is this Damagar?”
Kanéko crawled to her knees, the highest she could get in the tunnel. “N-No, I don’t think so. Damagar is… loud, and he has red eyes.”
She watched as another droplet splashed out of the door and raced toward her. She looked around for something to block it, but when she found none, she tried to catch it.
It flew through her hand, leaving only a tingle. Maris swung Ruben around again, his head hitting the side of the wall with a dull thump.
Kanéko snapped. “Be careful!”
Maris whined and clutched Ruben to her breasts. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Don’t hate me, Rub!”
The energy bulged out and a dozen droplets of energy streamed down the tunnel. Kanéko stood in front of it, hoping to stop them. They splattered against her face and chest with the tiny prick of something passing through her, but she couldn’t stop them.
Kanéko tasted burnt wood in her mouth. Then she was aware of an itch in her mind. It felt like when Ruben taught her telepathy, but less focused. Seeing more droplets heading toward her, Kanéko opened her mind and tried to project her mental shield.
Something hit her mind, and she felt a spirit body thud against her mental shields. Her senses merged with it, and she felt a new, ephemeral body becoming one with her own. Its name imprinted across her mind, Lopidir. A howling psychic wind plucked at the spirit, peeling it away from her impenetrable shell of gears, pistons, and complicated diagrams. Beyond was a glowing rip in reality itself, the same blue fissure from Damagar’s memory; it was Ruben. She felt the spirit being sucked into depths and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
The connection between Kanéko and the spirit snapped. Nausea slammed into her, and she slumped forward. Before she could stop it, her stomach heaved and she felt acid burning her throat. Swallowing hard, she looked up to see more of the energy being pulled off the wall. It streamed down into Ruben and sank into his body.
“Kan… Kan, I can’t avoid it. And I hurt Ruben.”
Kanéko wiped her mouth and leaned back on the side of the tunnel. The energy had turned into a river as it poured into Ruben. Kanéko knew that the vomen was absorbing and destroying it, just as Ruben said he would. Sadness rocked her and she turned away. “L-Let it happen, Mar.”
“Ruben woke something and… and… we can’t stop it.”
A whine. “Is he going to be all right?”
Kanéko thought back to the crack in reality, a psychic storm that threatened to destroy everything. She sighed as she tried to find an answer. When she couldn’t, she went with a lie. “Yes.”
When Maris relaxed, Kanéko felt guilty. She closed her eyes and let the tears flow. She wanted to swear, but she knew Maris would hear her no matter how quietly she spoke. She just imagined Lopidir’s crumbling spiritual energies as they poured off the door and disappeared into Ruben.
As the last of the spirit disappeared, Ruben closed his eyes and the tunnel was once again plunged into darkness. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears as she stared into the darkness.
Kanéko realized that she could feel the thump of Damagar, but it was faint and fading with every impact on the ground.
“Kan? I think Damagar is leaving. And Rub stopped shaking.”
Another sigh of relief. Kanéko reached out for Maris and hugged her tightly. “I hate this trip.”
Ruben’s whisper filled the darkness. “I do not know about you, but I find the seizures to be quite pleasurable.”
His sarcasm caused Kanéko to smile.
Maris snapped out. “They aren’t fun, Rub!”
“Quiet,” hissed Kanéko.
The three teenagers said nothing for a long moment.
Maris broke the silence with a soft whimper. “Where are we?”
Ruben rubbed his head. “In a kotim, a redoubt of Vomen who fled the Isle of Vo. It has food and water and shelter.”
“How do you know?” asked Kanéko.
“I can feel it. Here, let me…”
A soft, green glow filled the tunnel. Kanéko looked around, not sure if it was a trick of her mind, but crystals on the inner door were the source of light.
Maris asked, “Can we open that door?”
“Probably…?” Ruben didn’t sound sure.
Kanéko crawled past Ruben and reached the door. She held her hand over the glowing surface for a moment, and then fumbled around for a handle. “How do I open it?”
“I’m trying, but the mechanisms are not functioning properly.”
Kanéko watched him. “You project into it? How does it work?”
“Affirmative, but there is a counterweight that is jammed. Up to your right.”
Kanéko crawled to her knees, the tunnel brushed the top of her head. She fumbled in the dim light until she felt a few ruptured pipes in the junction of the wall and the door.
“Can you make the light brighter?”
“No, this is the maximum illumination possible.”
Kanéko ignored the rusted edges of the opening and stuck her fingers in the pipe. She felt around, trying to find the jam. When she couldn’t, she gave a disgusted sigh. “Damn it! I can’t reach it.”
Ruben groaned and sat up. “It’s about a foot above your hand. I cannot tell you how to release the jam.”
Kanéko looked up and a smile crossed her face. “Can you describe it?”
“Yes. It is a circular disc that is pushed down by sand. When you activate the mechanism, it releases sand into the pipe which push the disc, and the chain attached to it, down and makes it easier to move the door.”
Kanéko tried to picture it. “Do you know how it works?”
“No, I just know what it is.”
“You may not have the knowledge.”
Kanéko gave him a grim smile and held out her hand. “It’s a machine. I can figure it out.”
Ruben pressed his palm into hers. There was the familiar feeling of their minds touching. Kanéko looked for the remains of the spirit that faded, Lopidir, but she felt Ruben block her with a wave of embarrassment and humiliation.
Unwilling to press, Kanéko returned her attention to the tunnel. In her mind, she could picture it in incredible detail, from every whorl of stone, to how the crystals were placed in the door. She could see the reason for the slash marks and lines, a language, but she could find no shared meaning to understand it. She could, however, picture the door correctly. She brought up the image of the tube leading to the mechanism, but when she tried to picture it from the inside, the images faded.
«I’m sorry, Kanéko. This is as much as I can show you.»
Kanéko shook her head. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine it again. Like the tower before, the images refuse to form in her head. She tried different images, different mechanics. Her mind spun as she flashed through the various gears, joints, and devices that she saw in Emerging Wizardy. Months of fantasizing over pictures of machines. She felt like she was flipping through the papers while admiring the pictures. Then, one image stuck, as if she was looking directly at it.
Shock and surprise radiated from Ruben. He sent a clear thought, «You are good.»
Elated, Kanéko tried to picture the next part that would logically attach to the first. She didn’t have an image to remember but she could guess on its shape. It came in clearly. She continued to picture the image, rolling through the parts as the design came to life in her head. She could imaged how it worked, split it apart and put it back together. It was simple, once she figured it out.
She opened her eyes. “I got it.”
Maris jumped with a start. “What!?”
Kanéko giggled at the line of drool that glistened on Maris’s chin.
Wiping it, Maris glared back. “You’ve been holding hands for almost two bells. And I’m bored! And tired.”
“No, no,” Kanéko held out her hands, “It’s all right. I need you now.”
Maris’s ears flattened on her head. “You do? And what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing. Just come here, please?” Kanéko lead Maris to the corner with the broken mechanism.
Kanéko motioned Maris into the corner. The dalpre crawled into it, reaching up into the hole. After a second, she announced, “I can’t feel anything.”
“No, close your eyes.”
“Go on, trust me. Close your eyes.”
Kanéko spoke softly. “Imagine your finger. I want you to think about reaching up into the pipe, just feeling around.”
“No, Maris, use magic. Use that power. Just reach up.”
A breeze blew against Kanéko as Maris concentrated. A whistling sound rang out form the ruptured pipe, filling the tunnel with a high-pitched noise.
Kanéko smiled. “Now, reach up until you feel pressure. Just feel around.”
“And… I… I feel something.”
“Just explore it, try to picture it in your head. It should feel like a circle, right?”
Kanéko glanced to Ruben, who stared curiously back. She returned to whisper encouragingly to Maris. “Now, take a little wind and blow it around the disk. You are following a rod with a little screw, and then it takes an elbow turn.”
The wind grew louder in the tiny cave-like opening. Maris frowned and screwed her face in concentration.
“You are doing great, Mar, now around there I want you to try finding something jamming it. It will be a rock, little pebbles between the edge of a… block and the side.”
“I… I can feel something between the circle and the edge. A few, they are big and jammed in tightly. I can’t move them.”
Kanéko smiled. She knew exactly where she needed Maris to concentrated her powers. “All right. Work on one of them. Just use your magic like you were pushing it aside. Find a direction that it can move and rock it back and forth.”
Maris’s tail dropped between her legs with concentration. She closed her mouth with the tip of her tongue peeking out from the side of her teeth. She worked at it for a long moment, and then she gasped. “It moved!”
“Great, now push it up until it is free. We need to get it moving again.”
“And… I moved it.”
“Now, focus on the next…”
It took almost another hour to free the mechanism. Kanéko spoke Maris through every step, using every trick she remembered from her books on the Crystal techniques, assisted by her understanding of the mechanism. But, when they heard the device shifting, she let out a gasp of joy. “By the Divine. Ruben, can you move it now?”
Something changed in the air, and they heard sand filling a canister. Metal scraped on metal, and the door swung open with an ear-piercing squeal.
Maris cheered, grabbing Ruben and Kanéko in a tight hug. Together, they entered. The door screeched as they shut it but it didn’t latch.
The redoubt looked like a cave about two chains in length and a pair of rods in width. Curved shelves lined one side while the other sparkled with crystals that glowed with an inner light. Papers and supplies were scattered everywhere, including a few floating on the surface of a steaming pool. The smell of ozone mixed with the heated humidity, almost choked Kanéko, but it felt safe and quiet.
Kanéko hurried over to the pond and plucked the papers from the surface. She shook the water off, and then looked at the strange lines and cross hatches that covered the surface. She held it out to Ruben who explained them.
“Volis, it’s our language. It tells me what memories the kotim has.”
“Oh, that might be useful.” She hung it up to dry, “But, what about food?”
In ten minutes, they found most of the shelter’s supplies: travel rations, bottles of water, and clothes sized for Ruben’s tiny frame. They also found papers, maps, and books in some of the shelves. More importantly, they found camping and travel supplies on other shelves. It was enough to supplement their supplies for at least a week of traveling.
Kanéko regarded the bounty, and then up to the pipe in the ceiling where sunlight filtered down through the opening. “Do you think we should wait a while, maybe a day or two, just in case Damagar is waiting?”
“An excellent proposal which would also enable Maris to recover energies and us to heal from our flight.”
Maris perked up. “And we’re staying?”
Kanéko looked over at Ruben who nodded. “Yes.”
Maris squealed with joy. She raced to the water while stripping off her dress.
Blushing, Kanéko spun around moments before the dress came flying back to land on Ruben’s head. Kanéko’s blush grew hotter when Maris landed in the water. “Is she, um, naked?”
Ruben pulled his head from the dress and set it aside. “Privacy is a rather foreign concept at the mill. The high dalpre population density for eight acres means that—”
“Kan! The water’s hot! Come on in.”
Kanéko didn’t dare peek. “I-I can’t. It isn’t right.”
“Come on, it’s water and a bath! And you need a bath. And you smell.”
Ruben gave her a quizzical look. “Turning down a hot bath?”
“No, I, um, I—” Kanéko stammered, not sure how to explain the blush that burned her cheeks. She peeked over her shoulder at Maris splashing happily in the water. She didn’t think she could explain it herself.
The dalpre swam through the surprisingly deep water to a shelf. Her tail jerked back and forth, sending droplets in all directions. The water slid off the dalpre’s skin and Kanéko was reminded that Maris looked almost human except for her furry ears and tail. Maris squealed with surprise, “Soap! And I’m going to be clean!”
Kanéko moaned at the thought. She turned back to Ruben, worrying her bottom lip.
Ruben smirked and handed her the dress. “I shall be in the entry hall. Please inform me when you are dressed once again.”
Kanéko nodded and watched Ruben walk outside, closing the door behind him. Kanéko, feeling nervous, worked at the buttons of her stolen shirt as she walked toward the heated bath.