Rarely does reality match the beauty of the imagination.
— Tsukarefu Mabúza, Tears of the Stone Raven
By the time the sun kissed the horizon, Kanéko was tugging the final rope into place. Her fingertips were rubbed raw as she let it scrape along her hand. The fabric and wood looked like it wouldn’t work, but they managed to bind it together into something that held in place. Grunting, she forced it down and let it go; she hovered her hand over it in case it broke free. When it didn’t, she let out a sigh of relief.
“And we have the sail!” announced Maris. The dalpre brought the billowing fabric over to Kanéko. She had sewed it from the vomen blankets and other supplies while they were traveling to the river. As Ruben and Kanéko tied the logs, Maris finished attaching the blankets to a crossbeam of Kanéko’s bow and a sturdy stick. She held it up and Kanéko admired the neat stitching that combined the thin fabric into a single sail.
Kanéko smiled as she fought the urge to crawl on the raft and go to sleep. “Looks wonderful, Mar.”
Maris beamed happily. Her entire body jiggled with her energetic wagging. “Is it ready to put on?”
Kanéko shook her head. “We still have to get the mast on.” She pointed to a hole she had cut in the middle of the raft.
“And where is the mast?”
Kanéko padded to the cliff. Ruben sat on the mast, the vomen ax dangling from his hand, and watched with mute amusement. As Kanéko approached, he stood up. She paused in front of the log and stared at it with trepidation. Her back and arms hurt from dragging logs over the gravel. The idea of one more, even the last one, didn’t appeal to her. The only thing that got her to kneel down and grab the end was the hope that she would be heading home in a few short minutes.
The wood bore down on her, and she staggered backwards toward the raft. The end dragged through the pebbles, scraping loudly.
Maris rushed over and lifted the other end. Groaning, she hefted it on her shoulder. The dalpre took the bulk of the weight, but Kanéko didn’t have the energy to insist on taking more. Inching back, they carried the mast over to the raft to set it in the hole.
It didn’t fit.
Kanéko frowned. She strained to hold the mast in place as she twisted it around. The ragged hole refused to accept the end of the mast. She swore under her breath, and then said, “Mar, can you get it?”
Maris grunted and reached down, but the wood began to tilt. She caught it with both hands, and then inched down to kneel on the raft. She tried to twist it around, but it threatened to fall as soon as she let it go. After a few seconds, Maris’s ears flatted against her head. “Sowwie.”
“Repositioning,” whispered Ruben as he knelt down between them. He carried the vomen ax, but when he tried to chop out an opening, he couldn’t get the angle to cut. “Please raise the mast three links.”
Kanéko and Maris strained to lift it, but their flagging strength couldn’t raise it more than a few inches. It dropped back down with a thud that shook the raft.
“Sorry,” gasped Kanéko.
Ruben glanced up. “That makes it difficult to widen the opening.”
Kanéko glared down and threatened to kick him. “I know that, but we’re trying.”
“Fine,” Ruben said, “attempt to lift it as high as you can for seventeen seconds.”
Kanéko looked at Maris who nodded. Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her arms around the rough wood and hauled up. Her muscles screamed out in pain as she shook with the effort to hold the log.
Maris did the same.
Out of sight, she heard Ruben scraping at the hole. The smell of freshly cut wood drifted up and the raft shook beneath him.
The mast slipped from her hands and plummeted down. It hit the gravel with a thud. Gasping, Kanéko backed away and looked at it. It fit inside the hole perfectly. She grinned, and then caught sight of the ax to the side.
Ruben looked up from next to the mast. He held out a glowing blue hand with five spectral claws sticking out of his fingers. He said, “Lopidir,” as if it would explain everything.
Kanéko grinned nervously.
Maris bounded next to her and stopped. “Great, and now we just drag it to the river? And why do you have blue fingers? Do you have blueberries?”
Kanéko’s grin froze on her face, and she blanched. She looked at the raft where they built it on the rocks for easy access. Half a rod away was the shore of the river and, by her best estimate, they had to drag it a rod from its position just to find out if it floated in the shallow waters. “Sands.”
Maris giggled. “And you forgot that?”
Kanéko blushed and turned away. “Yeah.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll just push it into the water. Come on!” Maris padded around the raft. Kanéko and Ruben joined her. Kneeling down, all three pushed at the raft, but it didn’t budge.
Kanéko felt frustration rising as she tried again, straining with her might but she managed to push it only an inch. The weight of the wood against the gravel kept it firmly in place. Her feet dug into the pebbles, skittering uselessly. Her knuckles turned white with her effort. She felt her muscles burning with the effort, but she didn’t want to tear apart the raft just to move it. She slumped against the raft and dropped her head to the rough wood. “Sands, sands, sands!”
Maris and Ruben stopped pushing the raft. Maris rested a hand on Kanéko’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Kan. We can move it.”
“But,” Maris said with her tail against her leg, “we have to take it apart to move it. And that will take all night.”
“No!” cried Kanéko. She dug her feet into the ground and tried again. She screamed out with the effort to shove the raft. It shifted a few more inches, but then she lost her balance as her feet slipped and she hit the raft with her chin. Her back and arms screamed out in pain, and she felt the tears threatening to break her resolve.
“Damn it!” She turned around and sat down hard on the gravel. “I just wanted to go home.” She felt broken and shattered. For all her imagination, she made an obvious mistake that would cost them a night or even a day to recover.
But even in her sorrow, she was planning to take apart the raft. She learned from her mistakes in building the first one, the second would be closer to the raft in her head.
Maris rested her hand on Kanéko’s shoulder. “It’s all right.”
Kanéko took a breath and let it out with a shuddering sigh. She stared up at the cliff, trying to remember if there were more supplies that she missed. “I know, I’m just…”
Maris patted her on the head. Kanéko waved her hand at Maris to stop her, but the dalpre just patted her again. Then, Maris paused. “Um… Kan?”
“Ruben is pushing the raft into the water.”
Looking around with bleary eyes, Kanéko stared as Ruben shoved the raft across the gravel. His eyes were an intense glow, the same blue that surrounded his body. The edges of his form blurred and a frog-like creature had superimposed itself over his body. It was Stubbornness, Kanéko recognized it from Damagar’s memory. The raft left a path through the gravel as Ruben drove it through the rocks. Water welled up from the shallow gouge behind him.
She could only stare in shock as the tiny teenager moved the heavy logs by himself. When he reached the river, he gave it a final shove and it slid across the surface. Before it could move far, Ruben lifted one foot and stomped down on the corner. Despite his small stature, the corner sunk to the bottom of the river as the far end stuck up out of the water.
“Are you,” his voice rumbled with an angry croak, “going to just give up? Just like that, you pathetic little girl? I thought you were supposed to be someone interesting. Instead, you are just walking away because of a little—”
“Ruben!” Maris stood up, her hands balled into fists.
Ruben and the ghostly image of Stubbornness turned to Maris. Large eyes narrowed and the frog creature reached out to his side. Energy crackled and a spear began to form in his webbed hand.
Wide-eyed, Kanéko surged to her feet. “No!”
Three sets of eyes stared at her. Kanéko blushed at the attention, and then took deep breath. “No, I was giving up. Thank you, um, Stubbornness.”
The frog-like creature grunted without amusement. Along with it, Ruben’s eyes ceased to glow, but the croaking voice hovered in the air for a moment. “I refuse to let the Broken Thought stop here, Kosobyo Kanéko. Not until Damagar takes his revenge for this… thing,” he gestured down at Ruben, “killing me.”
Ruben closed and then opened his eyes. They were no longer glowing. Resting one palm against his forehead, he sighed before he spoke in his normal voice. “He is very angry, Stubbornness.”
“Is he serious?”
“Yes, but he can’t hurt us.”
Maris rushed over and smacked Ruben on the head. “Don’t you dare talk to Kan like that!”
Ruben looked up at Maris, a hurt look on his face. “I did not do that.”
“You were rude, Ruben Habor Kalis! And I don’t care if you are pretending to be a giant frog!”
Kanéko turned away to avoid Maris seeing her smile.