Chapter 31: Cabin Fever

Spirits cannot learn or evolve. They are only personifications of tales and stories, unable to improve beyond the words repeated around fires. — Tamis Glindour, Finding the Spirit’s Home

Even after two days of recovery, Kanéko couldn’t get clean enough. She sat in the heated water of the cave, scrubbing her skin with a rag. The scrapes she acquired from getting into the redoubt were cleaned out, but no matter how much she scraped against her skin, she couldn’t get rid of the Damagar nightmares, the fear of being chased, or the realization they could be caught at any moment.

Dropping the cloth in the water, she grabbed some of the hair conditioner—it was made from the oils of local plants and stored in air-tight jars. Pouring a measure in her hand, she reached down for the cloth. It fluttered on the bottom of the water, moving with the waves of her movement and the heat rising from the bottom. Kanéko’s mind latched on it and she poked it, ignoring the oil that dripped from her fingers.

She had an idea. Delving into the water, she swirled the cloth for a moment, and then used her fingers to hold the ends, watching it billow out when she dragged it through the depths.

Kanéko recalled the pictures she grew up with. One stood out, a three-masted ship with massive square sails. She wanted to get to the ocean to see those boats and now it gave her an idea of how to get home. Then, she remembered that she didn’t have her tools to build a boat. She filed the idea in the back of her head and finished her bath.

She dressed in a fresh set of clothes from Cobin’s pack and wrapped cloth around her feet and hands. On the shelf near the door, she picked up the last of her Jonahas root and tucked it into the cloth on the back of her hand. Taking a deep breath, she headed outside.

She found Ruben first, sitting on a rock as he tended their cooking fire. Kanéko held a hand over her eyes to shield from the sun before she sat down heavily next to him.

Ruben whispered without looking up. “Ready to depart?”

“Yes. This is nice, but I’m getting a bit stir crazy.”

Ruben pushed fried eggs, strips of rabbit, and some heated rations on a plate and handed the overflowing plate to Kanéko.

Kanéko took the tiny vomen plate, it looked like a saucer to her, and started to eat. “How is Maris doing? She wasn’t in the shelter. Still sulking?”

“No,” Ruben grinned. “She is being stubborn. She is trying to fly trees and branches around to build up her strength. But she can’t carry much more than me. We tried six times to include a pack one-tenth your weight, but she can’t handle the additional encumbrance. Maximum distance was fifty feet before critical failure.”

A smile formed across Kanéko’s face. “She doesn’t give up, does she? Where is she?”

Ruben gestured across the plains. Kanéko followed with her eyes, across the rolling hills covered with grass, to where Maris flew low to the ground, kicking up a plume of dust and grass as the dalpre followed a ridge leading to the north. The girl’s dress snapped in the wind like a black cape, fluttering as Maris banked sharply and came into a large loop before reversing her direction and rocketing toward the south.

Behind the dalpre, the air flattened the grasses and left a trail behind her. When Maris rose from the ground, the trail ended but Kanéko could still see loose gravel, dust, and grass following Maris’s wake. Maris dove back down and accelerated, moving faster than any horse Kanéko ever saw, almost as fast as an arrow.

“I never saw an air mage before. I know from the books they can fly, but most air mages never have enough skill to do it that fast or that steadily. Hovering is the best most can do.” Kanéko watched Maris banking straight up, rising into the air until she turned into a little dot. “That is part of the wind witch training, how to fly like that.”

Kanéko felt Ruben’s eyes on her, his mind tickling hers. She glanced over and stared into his blue eyes.

Ruben pressed forward with thoughts of his own and Kanéko let them drift through her consciousness. «Did you know Maris could fly? That night at the Boar Hunt Inn?»

Kanéko opened her mouth, and then decided to answer in kind. «Yes and no. Most mages experience their limits in the first days after manifesting. After that, their mind grows accustomed to the power and gives it focus, but also limits how much energy they can use at once. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I was hoping she had the power to burn.»

«You improvised.»

The last word came spelled out since Ruben and she didn’t share a common memory. Kanéko pulled up parts of her past, when she struggled to assemble the water screw with Jinmel, her father’s blacksmith. She showed the endless attempts to get the water screw designs to work, puzzling out the ratios and rod lengths and moving away from the printed words into things that worked. It only took a moment, but when she finished, she and Ruben shared a new experience of her efforts.

«You are very adaptable, Kanéko. That is a talent even if you just see yourself as being unable to use magic.»

Kanéko blushed and turned away, pushing Ruben from her mind with the shame of being mundane compared to Maris’s and Ruben’s abilities. She resumed eating, not looking at the vomen.

“Kanéko?” She tensed at Ruben’s whisper, “I actually… have a favor to ask you.”

Surprised, Kanéko peeked at Ruben. He turned to face her, his small arms and legs straining as he slipped off the rock and sat on the ground.

Ruben cleared his throat before he whispered, “The… votim and kotim don’t really give me the ability to understand things. I know things but I can’t put them together. They don’t fit. I know the technique that Maris is using, though no vomen can use the Crystal Spheres methods. I have no ability to associate the individual skills that consist of an air witch, knight, or smith’s abilities.”

“It’s easy. A knight just—”

“Kanéko Lurkuklan, that isn’t it.”

She closed her mouth, watching as he worried his hands together. He picked up a twig from the ground and started to shred it with his fingernails.

“Lopidir wasn’t destroyed.”

When she thought about it, she wasn’t surprised. Ruben did the same with Stubbornness. “You absorbed the spirit, didn’t you? He’s in your head.”

Ruben jumped, and then he chuckled dryly. “As I said, you’re rather observant.”

Kanéko gave a hesitant smile, unsure what Ruben wanted.

The vomen tossed the twig into the fire and picked up another. “The problem is… he wants to help. He was guardian spirit of these lands, but the tribe that created and worshiped him has been dead for centuries. This is the first time any spirit I have consumed has responded this way.”

“And, he wants to help?” She felt dizzy.

Ruben nodded. “I-I wasn’t expecting that. When I absorbed Damagar’s Stubbornness, all I felt was rage and anger. He rants at me from the back of my head. Then, he stops talking but I can feel him sulking. But, Lopidir didn’t do that. He wants to help like he used too, but I don’t know how.”

“You know what he is, yes?”

A nod. “The kotim remembers him. Vomen would meet with the local spirits and other mental creatures before they moved in. Even with the crystals shielding the redoubt, there is too much risk not to become allies with the local. That was a long time ago, before Lopidir lost his tribe and the vomen… perished.”

Ruben reached into the fire. Kanéko started to stop him, but the tiny hand didn’t even blacken when Ruben picked up a handful of coals. Rolling it in his hand, he looked at Kanéko. “I know he can do this, but I don’t know what else he can do.”

Kanéko let out a nervous giggle, staring wide-eyed as the coals poured from Ruben’s palm. “Um, Ruben, could you take your hand out of the fire. It’s kind of, um, nerve-wracking.”

He pulled his hand back.

She reached out and took it, feeling heat coming off his tiny palm but no damage, not even a scorch. The only sign she saw was black marks from the ashes. “How did you figure this out?”

“Because I was cooking. It was a common memory, something that he could communicate with. But, we just have that one memory.”

“Can’t you just, um, spell to him?”

Ruben shook his head. “It doesn’t work. He never learned how to read or write. He can bring up things we’ve seen since I absorbed him, but there isn’t enough…” He sighed with frustration, “I can’t talk to him. I can feel him. I know he wants to help, but I can’t figure out how.”

Kanéko thought. Her eyes moved back and forth as she mentally walked through the cloudy scene, trying to find some way that she—as a non-telepath—could help. “C-Could you… no. Does he know his legends?”

Ruben frowned at her. “I don’t understand.”

“He can’t write, but spirits are created by their people. They tell stories about their adventures and they, well, become real. That’s how most spirits like these small gods are created, right?”

The vomen nodded slowly. “Affirmative.”

“Can he tell you those legends?”

“I… not really.”

Kanéko shifted into a different position, setting aside the tiny plate. She nibbled on her lip, and then brightened. “Can he show you what happened in a place? If you ask him?”

Ruben’s eyes glazed over for a moment, and then he nodded. “Yes, but like the kotim, I have to ask for it.” Another frustrated sigh. “He can’t volunteer information. And I don’t have the right access names.”

“You said that the kotim, no, the votim, identifies things that you look at. Can he do the same thing? Say, that hill there,” she pointed to a large hill, “does he know it?”

A nod.

“What happened there?”

“I-I can’t.”

“Fine, was there, um, ever, let’s see, lightning that hit it?”

“No.”

“A fire?”

Ruben looked surprised. “Yes! There were two prairie fires that came through here.”

Kanéko grinned back. “He’s about legends. The tribe must have had stories about him. Start with the first one. What did he, Lopidir, do?”

“I… he…” Ruben frowned, and then his eyes glazed over, “he saved a child there. It was a girl of six years, three months, and she got caught under a burning tree which was set on fire during a raid. Lopidir took the shape of a bear and walked through it. He used his claws to hack at the wood and picked it up.”

“Okay, now how did he take the shape of the bear?”

Kanéko watched Ruben experiencing the crafted memories of the spirit, told a thousand times by an entire tribe. The voman’s mouth would open, and he would describe scenes from some half-forgotten dream. Whenever the words trailed off, Kanéko asked a question, and then another, probing into Lopidir’s past until Ruben started to tell stories again.