For their remarkable ability to tap into the incredible records of the Vo, the vomen lack the ability to craft new ideas or plans. Infinite stores of knowledge no doubt hampers creativity.
— Jamlatu Rasmifor, Vo, The Silence of Evil
Ojinkomàsu flew more than galloped along the road from the mill. His unshod hooves struck the ground with dizzying speed, a drum beat too fast for any human to match. The wind tore at Kanéko’s face; the only reason she could see was because she still wore her stolen goggles. Ojinkomàsu’s mane snapped at her face like tiny whips, cracking as the world blurred around her.
She saw a horse ahead of her galloping toward the keep. Even from a quarter mile back, she recognized the rider. “Garèo!” she yelled out.
When she woke up in the river, Kanéko thought Garèo would come to save her. But, he never came rushing to her side. Instead, the most unlikely of friends had come to her rescue. And with their help, they did the remarkable. She didn’t need Garèo, her mother, or anyone to protect her. She only needed herself and her friends. A smile crossed her lips with the realization she was far more capable than when she left home.
But, she was still happy to see Garèo safe. She had some questions to ask.
He turned his head but didn’t slow down his strawberry roan. Ojinkomàsu sprinted forward to catch up, and then matched the pace. Together, they raced along the dirt road toward the tower.
Kanéko peered over at him, and then called out over the drum of hooves. “Great Waryoni Garèo, well met.”
“Kosobyo Kanéko, I must thank Tachìra for keeping you safe.”
She smiled, but he continued.
“But, from what I heard…” His eyes twinkled. “…you haven’t needed my help for quite some time… Great Kosobyo Kanéko.”
Kanéko blushed at the compliment; Garèo rarely used her full name like that, it was a sign of respect in Miwāfu.
He gestured back the way she came. “I felt Ojinkomàsu fighting at the mill. Is everyone safe?”
She shook her head. “Maris was hurt, and Virsian is healing her. Tagon is—” she pictured a startling clear image of Tagon rising up in a caricature of a knight standing over both of them, “Tagon is protecting them. The mercenaries are all dead, I think.”
He nodded once. “Your Miwāfu is considerably more sure.”
“It’s easier to fight one’s enemies when they can’t hear the words you say.”
Garèo cocked his head as he looked at her, an unreadable expression on his face. Then he nodded. “Close. I’ll teach you the proper song some day.”
She shivered at the thought. She looked away, and then stopped. Turning her gaze back to Garèo, she inspected him closer. She saw scars of battle that she didn’t remember before. His dark skin was shadowed under his eyes, and fresh blood and cuts traced his skin. She could see someone, probably Virsian, had healed injuries, but the blood was too fresh to be more than a few hours old.
“What happened?” She gestured to his arm where a slash cut through his shirt and the ragged edges of a freshly healed wound puckered in a line.
Garèo’s eyes darkened. “My past and my mistakes. An enemy named Cobin attacked Rock River in an attempt to draw me into a fight.”
He tightened his jaw and gripped his mount’s mane tightly.
She thought about the letters she found in Cobin’s pack. There would be another time to ask about Cobin’s letters that said Garèo killed his family. She looked into his eyes and saw a challenge for her to ask him. She shook her head, and then said, “Is Cobin…?”
“Dead.” He grinned suddenly. “And you’ll be glad to know that Pahim was arrested with the others. He is awaiting a trial and sentencing from your father. I hope he isn’t fair.”
Kanéko felt a surge of fierce joy at hearing about Pahim, but then shame and guilt crashed into her as she remembered the way the dalpre attacked the mercenary in the woods. She had felt sick when Sinmak’s body smoldered in front of her and she didn’t think she could wish the same fate on Pahim. Even with his betrayal, she couldn’t stomach the idea of her father’s punishment. She turned her eyes away from Garèo, not wanting to see her doubt, and focused on his horse.
The strawberry stallion looked like Ojinkomàsu in lines and in the chest, but where Ojinkomàsu was the image of a perfect horse, Garèo’s was more like the horses she saw in the pictures. A desert equine with a strong body and just a hint of golden eyes. She thought it might be a descendant of Ojinkomàsu, but it wasn’t the time to ask.
She turned her attention back to the road and watched as the trees blurred past them. She let her mind wander for a second, alternating between the worry she felt for her parents and reliving the fight with Sinmak.
“Kanéko? What is at the keep? Ojinkomàsu has been pulling me there since this morning.”
She turned back to him. “This morning? He was… I was riding him then. We were miles away.”
Garèo held out a hand in apology but didn’t explain. He pointed ahead. “What’s at the tower?”
“Damagar. A giant toad with magical powers.”
“Why?” Garèo’s face darkened. “Why is that creature there?”
“Ruben. He wants someone to kill Ruben.”
Garèo stared at her incredulously. “Why Ruben?”
She ran her hands through Ojinkomàsu’s mane to gather her thoughts. “Ruben can kill Damagar. When Ruben thought Maris was in trouble, he yelled loudly and… something cracked. Part of Damagar’s mind, Stubbornness, was torn away and swallowed up by Ruben. Damagar is afraid of what will happen when Ruben… um, matures, I guess. Cracks out of his shell.”
“Ruben!? Ruben can do that?”
Kanéko gave a tired smile. “You said you got the special cases. You have a dalpre that can do fire and wind magic. A vomen who can tear apart the minds of other telepaths. And… me.”
He opened his mouth with surprise, but Damagar’s roar beat across the air. Miles away, flocks of birds burst out of the tree tops and flew away in a cloud. When the rumbling faded, silence filled the forest.
Kanéko gulped and looked sadly at Garèo. “Damagar’s Self-Preservation is willing to do anything to make sure Ruben dies. And he won’t stop until we are dead.”
Garèo stared at the rapidly approaching rise to the tower. He turned back to talk to her. “Damagar is a behemoth. One of the most powerful magical beings in existence. Armies have failed to kill behemoths. Why do you think you and I have a chance?”
“He isn’t fully awake yet.”
He looked confused until she tried to explain. “When he was in my mind, I felt his thoughts. There isn’t one personality in there, but many. Most are sleeping and Damagar can’t access their powers. He is as weak as he can be right now, which means we have the greatest chance of driving him away. If Mama and you can do enough damage, I’m thinking—”
“Girl, there aren’t enough knights in this country to defeat Damagar, no matter how much we try. There are enough warriors of the desert either. The last one to do so was the Puzzle King, and he had a sands-damned army with him!”
Kanéko felt a surge of anger fill her. “I have to try, damn it! I have to do something and I won’t sit on the edge of a fight, just because I’m a sand-damned barichirōma and can’t use magic!”
He pulled back. He opened his mouth to speak, but then a second roar shook the forest. It echoed loudly across the trees and shocked both of them into silence. The sound of it faded after a few seconds, and Garèo’s horse came to a stumbling halt; Ojinkomàsu stopped neatly next to him.
“You know,” said Garèo, “running away is an option. Toyomìsu…” He patted the horse he rode. “…can outrun Damagar. He is Ojinkomàsu’s get.”
Ojinkomàsu snorted and bumped his head against Toyomìsu’s neck.
Kanéko shook her head curtly. “No, no it isn’t. I can’t run. I refuse to run.” She tapped Ojinkomàsu who took off.
Toyomìsu followed suit, and soon they were galloping again.
Garèo sighed. “You’re right.” He reached back to the empty sheath in his hand. “Father, I need you again.”
Sunlight exploded in his fingertips, spears of it stretching out from beneath his palm. Kanéko was glad for her darkened goggles as she saw a dagger materialize in his hand. He unsheathed the weapon and held it tight.
They passed the boulder that marked the edge of her father’s private lands and came to a stop as they looked down past the fields to Lurkuklan Keep.
Damagar, the massive black and crimson toad, crawled up the side of the tower. One foot braced on the surrounding keep wall, his front legs wrapped around the base. His mouth opened and his tongue snapped out to rip hunks of rock in a rapid-fire pounding. His eyes looked in all directions, rolling in his skull, but one always remained focused on the woman on top of the tower.
Mioráshi could be seen from a mile away as she perched on the side of the tower and leaned over the edge. Her entire body bathed in a spear of sunlight that reached up into the sky and pierced the clouds. The spear flashed every time she fired her bow, a brilliant arrow of solidified sunlight streaking out from her weapon and slamming into Damagar’s face and eyes. The air rumbled with the sounds of her bow shots, a beat of pressure followed by a crack of noise. It looked just like the dream Damagar threatened her with.
“Mama?” whispered Kanéko. She had never seen her mother shoot so fast or with anything besides normal arrows, but she could see how her mother spun sunlight into an arrow and fired is less than a second.
“The Kosobyo hóri, your clan’s bow magic.”
“I-I’ve never seen it before.”
“When Kosòbyo rejected you, your mother decided not to break your heart by showing magic you could never use.”
Kanéko watched as her mother stepped back from the attacking tongue. She leaned back and fired half a dozen arrows straight into the air. As the arrows shot up, Mioráshi pulled back her bowstring for a seventh shot. Sunlight gathered into the head of an arrow that formed in the bow. The six arrows reached their apex and then rained down in a hail of light. Just as they struck Damagar’s head, Mioráshi fired with a massive bolt directly into his left eye.
He fell, smoke rising off his body. His front claws gouged the side of the tower, and he slammed inside the courtyard.
Kanéko saw her father charge out of the tower, a massive sword in his hand. The blade was longer than him, but he swung it easily and slashed into Damagar’s foot.
The behemoth roared loudly and grabbed the tower, pulling himself up. His eyes flashed with magic, and large stone claws burst out of the ground to attack Ronamar.
Her father swung his sword, and the stone shattered into a thousand pieces. The resonance between Damagar’s and her father’s earth magic crackled the air, and dust plumed out between them. Ronamar flung his hand up and the shards he just broke fired up into Damagar’s belly, peppering the creature with a thousand sharp edges.
Kanéko gasped. “That’s Papa!” She yanked on Ojinkomàsu’s mane and dug in her heels. “I have to get down there!”
Ojinkomàsu reared and bucked once. She let out a scream as her grip slipped and she fell back, slamming hard into the ground. Pain radiated up through her rear as she stared up, open mouthed.
The horse stepped to the side and slammed into Toyomìsu. It wasn’t a mild bump.
Toyomìsu responded with a slam back as he bared his teeth.
Ojinkomàsu took another step then drove into Toyomìsu again.
Garèo yanked his foot up as the two horses crashed into each other.
Toyomìsu lost his footing and squealed as he fell.
Garèo jumped off his back to avoid being crushed and landed heavily on the ground next to Ojinkomàsu.
Ojinkomàsu pushed against Garèo, who shoved back.
“I can’t ride you!”
The horse tried again and Garèo punched him with a right cross, his lips pulled back in a snarl. “You aren’t my horse and you never will be!”
Kanéko looked back and forth between Garèo and Ojinkomàsu, but neither moved. She focused on Damagar and stood up sharply. With an exasperated sigh, she stormed over to Ojinkomàsu. “I’ll ride him if you—”
Ojinkomàsu spun into her and threw her into Toyomìsu just as the younger horse managed to regain his footing. She ducked and rolled over, but Toyomìsu clipped her shoulder and she hissed as she stumbled to the ground. Regaining her feet, she stepped back unsteadily. “Ojinkomàsu? What are you doing?”
Garèo growled. “He wants me to ride him. He always wants me to ride him.”
“Why not? You said he’s Tachìra’s.”
“No! Tachìra gave him to Hebòmu, not me. I won’t ruin Tachìra’s or Waryōni’s reputation by riding Ojinkomàsu. So stop asking me, you damn horse!” He balled his hand into a fist and punched Ojinkomàsu again.
The horse reared back, squealing. Shoving forward, he butted Garèo in the chest.
“Garèo, who is Hebòmu?”
“My son! He was the horse king, not me.” Tears ran down Garèo’s check. “I don’t deserve Ojinkomàsu. I killed my father… my grandfather. I’m a poronēso. I shouldn’t have the greatest horse in the desert. I should be… Ojinkomàsu shouldn’t be with me.” The dark skinned man sighed and leaned against Ojinkomàsu as a sob ripped through. “Just go with Kanéko, Ojinkomàsu.”
Frowning, Kanéko struggled with a response. Her eyes flickered over to the tower.
Rocks rained down on Damagar as the creature slammed into the stone building. He pushed on the keep wall with his back feet. Blocks the size of Kanéko’s head fell from the other side and the entire tower bent in the middle. Her hand flew to her mouth as she watched the tower starting to tumble, more blocks falling every second.
“Garèo, look!” she screamed, unable to tear her eyes away from the falling tower. Her mother jumped to the highest edge of the tower, balancing on the top and still firing arrows with inhuman speed. She didn’t seem to notice the tower leaning dangerously except for the controlled hops she made to remain on top and in sight of the attacking behemoth.
Garèo’s voice shot through her senses. “Drown in the moon-cursed sands!” The vehemence of his swearing caught Kanéko’s attention.
Kanéko rushed over. “Garèo! Just ride him!”
He turned to her, his eyes flashing. “I will never!”
Seeing his hands still in fists, Kanéko let out a hiss of annoyance. She reached out for Ojinkomàsu who reared away. With a growl, she stormed over to Toyomìsu and leaped on him. Kicking her heels into his side, she set off toward the leaning tower with no idea of how to save her mother.
Kanéko couldn’t take her eyes off the tower.
Damagar slammed into it repeatedly, each blow knocking tons of rock from the crumbling structure. Her bedroom window shattered, papers and dust poured out of the widening gaps in the rock. Crenelations tumbled off, plummeting with incredible clarity as the world slowed down, her heart beating a thousand times for every jerk of Toyomìsu’s body. Moments later, the top of the tower sheared off and Kanéko’s heart lurched as she watched her mother finally succumb to gravity.
Painful seconds later, she heard a horse racing behind her. She held her breath, knowing that Ojinkomàsu would catch up. Nothing prepared her for when the sunlight beating down grew incredibly hot and bright. The air choked her as Ojinkomàsu rushed past in a blur, centered in a pool of liquid sun. Blinded briefly even with her goggles, she shielded her face with Toyomìsu’s neck, blinking at the spots. When her eyes cleared, Ojinkomàsu had covered half the remaining distance between her and the tower.
Garèo was riding the magical horse, his swears fading with every passing heartbeat.
Ojinkomàsu moved faster than Kanéko thought possible, his feet not even visible on the ground. The sunlight formed a wave around him, spreading out across the fields and kicking up a wall of dust, dirt, and crops. It rose with every rod Ojinkomàsu covered in a blink of the eye. It obscured Kanéko’s view of the tower as the stones started to hit the ground, shaking the earth, and her heart lurched when her mother’s bow fired one last time and went dark.
She tried to scream, but her voice locked in her throat.
Before her, Ojinkomàsu and Garèo ignited in golden flames. They surged forward, piercing the dust cloud rushing at them. Ojinkomàsu’s impact cracked the air and sent out a shock-wave that kicked up boulders the size of houses out across the field behind the tower. The horse burst through the rubble and out the other side, carrying rock and dust after him in a giant vortex.
Kanéko gasped and slowed Toyomìsu near a charred scarecrow, lifting up in hopes of seeing her mother and Garèo on the back of the burning horse.
Ojinkomàsu curved to the left, his speed carrying him a quarter mile past the tower before he could fully turn around.
She couldn’t breathe as she held onto Toyomìsu and followed Ojinkomàsu’s movement with her eyes.
When the first golden arrow fired from the back of Ojinkomàsu, Kanéko slumped forward with relief. Somehow, Garèo and Ojinkomàsu had rescued her mother.
Mioráshi’s arrows shot across the fields, piercing Damagar’s skin in a precise line leading up to his eyes.
The obsidian behemoth roared and turned around. Crouching down, he ignored Kanéko’s father who just slashed into his back leg, and jumped after Ojinkomàsu. He missed the spirit horse and spun around in pursuit. His eyes flashed crimson and stone claws burst out of the ground, narrowly missing the glowing horse.
Kanéko panted and sent Toyomìsu toward the tower. She could feel Damagar’s thoughts pounding against her shields, but she kept him at bay as she rode into the courtyard.
The tower was ruined, rubble everywhere. Her eyes went first to the stables in the back, where she spent nights working on the water screw. Underneath a light layer of rocks and dust, she spotted the boiler still leaning drunkenly toward the back of the keep. No one had cleared the timber from the mouth of the tank since she left for the trip. Then again, it had only been a few weeks—it seemed like so much longer.
The rest of the keep fared far worse. The tower smoked from the still burning stoves from the first floor and the magic that had felled it. Dust rose up and billowed over the courtyard of the keep. When she slipped off Toyomìsu, she felt it tickling the back of her throat. She coughed and looked around for her father. Not seeing him, she called out. “Papa?”
From near the tower, she heard her father’s surprised but distracted voice. “Kané? Is that you?”
She hurried through the dust, picking her way over the shattered stones. She saw her father crouched over the rubble, his sword balancing on one knee as he peered over his shoulder at her. She stumbled as she ran over, excited to see him.
She came to a shuddering halt at Ronamar’s icy voice. “P-Papa?”
Ronamar stood up and swung his sword over his shoulder. It landed with a dull thud and his body jerked slightly from the impact. He strode over to her, the ground rippling beneath him. A wall of liquid stone formed between him and the fight.
“Kanéko,” he said with a low growl, “leave. You aren’t safe here.”
She felt the ground boiling underneath her and a swell of something rising up underneath her feet. She stepped back and the bulge followed her, pushing her back. “Papa? What are you doing?”
He let out a low sigh and turned his back. “I don’t have time for this.”
Kanéko stepped on the ridge, reaching out for him.
Ronamar flung his hand at her.
She flinched, expecting him to hit her, but the blow came from below as the ground surged forward. It threw her back as the earth crested in a berm. She hit the ground with a thud, but after all of her climbing and falling, she continued into a roll that brought her back to her feet.
She glared at his back, feeling more shut off than ever from him. Her jaw tightened into a hard line. A thousand things flashed through her mind; Damagar’s thoughts reached out for her and she raised her mental shield. She felt him withdraw from her mind, and she redoubled her mental shields by increasing the complexity of her mental designs.
Then, between one heartbeat and another, Damagar slammed down between Kanéko and her father. One crimson eye focused on her as the immense frog leaned over.
«We are Damagar!»
As her father dropped to one knee clutching his head, Kanéko stood strong. She snarled. “I know.”
«Where is the Broken Thought? Where is his body!?» The force of his mind slammed into her, cracking the designs she used to protect herself. She felt his mental claws digging into her mind, trying to pluck the memories from her head.
In a flash of insight, Kanéko decided to give it memories. Drawing on her ability to picture things, she built up an image of Ruben sneaking around the far side of her father’s lands. She poured all of her concentration in it, carefully letting flashes of images leak out through her mental shields.
Damagar’s mouth opened, and she felt its fury rise. The pressure of his mind crushed her, but she bore back, standing against the incredible strength threatening to destroy her sanity.
Then, Damagar closed its mouth with a snap and yanked one leg from the ground. Black blood sprayed from his leg and splashed across her face. A growl shook the ground.
Underneath the creature, Ronamar finished stepping through his swing. Blood soaked his weapon as he spun around.
Kanéko stood there, the creature’s blood soaking her clothes.
Her father did a double-take. “What are you doing here!? Get out! You can’t be here. I said it isn’t safe!”
Damagar roared above them as it hopped to the side to aim a kick toward them.
Ronamar rushed forward, bringing the massive sword into a powerful blow.
Kanéko’s heart skipped a beat when she saw the pitch black claws and her father’s sword coming toward her. Her body froze, the world slowing down. She saw the blade, picturing how it would strike into Damagar’s foot just a moment too late. She saw a way to avoid both and took it.
The world snapped into real-time once again. Kanéko took a step to the left. Her father’s sword cut the air above her head, slicing through a few copper strands before crashing to Damagar’s foot that missed her by an inch.
Kanéko caught a look of horror on her father’s face as he stared at the blade. His eyes focused on her, and he let out a sigh of relief. She pulled the gun from her belt. She never took her eyes off her father as she aimed it point-blank at the joint of Damagar’s foot and then pulled the trigger.
Compressed air exploded from the muzzle, firing the lead shot into the thick hide of the behemoth. Flesh and blood exploded in all directions and she heard the shot bouncing off the ground on the other side.
Above her, Damagar lurched forward, shadowing her world in darkness.
Then light and heat crashed into her.
Damagar let out a bellowing roar as he jumped backwards. Fire dripped from his face and chest, raining down on Kanéko.
She let out an inarticulate shriek and rolled away. She caught a ridge of rock flowing underneath her and used it to jump to her feet. By the time she could look again, Damagar was hopping toward the far edge of the fields. She noticed that he aimed directly for where she pictured Ruben sneaking around and a smile crossed her lips.
Turning around, she looked up to see a flaming streak cross the sky, rocketing past her and after Damagar. Without a doubt, it was Maris using both wind and fire magic. Continuing her movement, she spun around and watched Maris circle Damagar with a burning trail behind her.
Maris hovered for a moment and raised her hands high above her head. A vortex of wind energy dropped from the clouds above, igniting into bright white flames. It shot down and splashed into Damagar.
The giant frog slumped to the ground from the force of the blow.
Ojinkomàsu circled Damagar with Mioráshi shooting from his back.
The behemoth roared, spinning away from Maris to take the arrows on his side.
Light burst around the sun horse and his body disappeared with acceleration as the Ojinkomàsu charged Damagar. The horse slammed into the unsteady Damagar and the behemoth staggered back, barely keeping his balance.
Damagar jumped at the last minute to retain its footing. Its eyes flashed brightly and the yellow-green glow radiated around its wounds. They sealed back up as the healing magic spread out across its body. Its crimson eyes flashed again and the ground buckled, firing spears of earth into the air at Maris and along the ground near Ojinkomàsu.
Maris dodged them, leaving a trail of flames behind her, while Ojinkomàsu charged through them. The magical horse wove around the remaining spears of stone and quickly distanced the magical attack.
Kanéko felt something looming over her. She turned just as her father grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. His hand came down across her face, the crack of his palm deafening her. She blinked back tears and staggered back.
Ronamar grabbed her shoulders with both hands. His fingers dug painfully into the flesh. He pulled her close and yelled at her face-to-face. “I said leave!”
Kanéko’s tears ran down her cheeks. “I can help, Papa!”
“No, you can’t. You can’t do anything.”
His fingers continued to dig into her skin and she felt her joints creaking. She fought back the tears when he shook her.
Her father shoved her back, away from Damagar. “You can’t do anything,” he repeated with a growl.
He turned his back on her and grabbed the sword from the ground. Pulling it out, he shook the pebbles from the blade and walked over the rubble to the remains of the keep wall. Ronamar didn’t even look back at her.
Kanéko sniffled as she stared at her father. Tears ran down her cheeks as she prayed for him to turn around, to treat her as anything besides just an inert and helpless girl.
She sulked as she stormed back to Toyomìsu. The strawberry roan looked nervous, tapping on the ground as his eyes followed Ojinkomàsu’s brilliant form. Kanéko sighed and grabbed his reins. She pulled herself up and settled into place, taking one last look at her father.
Ronamar was reshaping the wall into defenses.
Anger filled her. After everything she survived, even Damagar’s attack, she wished he would do anything else. Kanéko’s hands gripped tightly around the reins until her knuckles hurt. She stared at the fight beyond, with Maris and her mother and everyone fighting with incredible powers. Jealousy and despair strummed inside her heart, reminding her of one inescapable fact.
She couldn’t fight like the others.
Kanéko yanked at the reins. Toyomìsu turned around and Kanéko took one last look at the ruined courtyard of her father’s keep. Her eyes focused on the boiler and the water screw, still standing in the ruins of the old stables.
An idea flickered through her thoughts.
Unwittingly, she brought up the plans for the water screw, the designs coming clearly after hours of using it to defend against Damagar. Hours of thinking, planning, and preparing. And now she saw something different in the brass and iron ruins. She yanked on Toyomìsu’s reins to stop him. The idea grew in her mind and she saw the boiler as a weapon. A cannon, much like Sinmak’s gun, but on a much larger scale. Something she could use to hurt Damagar.
A smile crossed her lips. Kanéko slid off Toyomìsu and hit the ground lightly. She circled around the keep toward the boiler. The designs already formed in her head, pulling apart the components of the boiler and the water screw and assembling into a weapon. At the same time, she could still feel Damagar’s mind pounding against her thoughts. She projected her ideas on her mental shield, using it as a drawing board while shielding him with the opposite side.
Damagar’s mental claws skittered against the designs, but the creature gave no hint that he saw them as anything other than random images to keep him out.
Grinning, she dove into the rubble around the boiler, pulling rocks and shattered timbers away as she looked for damage to the tank.
It didn’t take long before the sweat rolled down her back and her muscles ached. But every time she heard the scream of her mother’s arrows or the boom of Maris’s attack, she realized she couldn’t give up. Her fingers bled as she tossed aside rocks. She found her old magic book, her precious childhood primer, and tossed it aside. Underneath, she found a rent in the copper shell and she inspected it.
Hissing with annoyance, she set part of her mind aside trying to figure out how to repair it as she continued to inspect the boiler for more damage. A large timber blocked her way and she found a heavy pipe to use as a lever. Grabbing it with both hands, Kanéko strained to pull it out of the way.
As she struggled, she heard someone walking behind her. Rocks scattered down through the rubble, and she tensed up, waiting for her father to stop her. She felt the presence, and then a tickle in the back of her mind as Ruben settled into place.
He grinned at her, and his eyes started to glow their bright blue. Kanéko could actually feel Lopidir coming to Ruben’s help, increasing the boy’s strength. Ruben reached under the timber and lifted.
Kanéko bore down on her lever and together they pushed it aside.
The timber had covered up another hole. She sat down with an angry sigh. “Drown in sands.”
Ruben rested a hand on her shoulder. «What are you trying to do?»
Kanéko looked up, and then over to her father. Her eyes returned back to the boiler.
«I don’t know, but I think I can make a weapon out of this. If we repair all the holes, and then increase the pressure, we can fire that,» she pictured the timber still inside the mouth of the boiler, «toward Damagar.»
«It would be hard to aim that. You have a high probability of missing.» Ruben’s thoughts came with images of Damagar and the fight. Kanéko plucked them from his mind, adding them to a growing idea.
Tagon crouched down next to her, not touching either Ruben or Kanéko. “I was unable to prevent my offspring and the relentless dalpre from helping you.”
Kanéko grinned. She reached out for Tagon.
He yanked his hand back, but Kanéko grabbed it. She felt his mind touching her own, filled with fear and terror. On the other side of her thoughts, Ruben’s own mind mirrored the fear. But, in the endless seconds that followed, nothing happened.
«You are magically inert,» came the relieved thoughts of Tagon. «You are also an insulator for us.»
«Father?» Ruben sounded surprised and hopeful.
An intense joy filled Kanéko as father and son finally heard each other in their heads for the first time in over eighteen years.
«Approximately eighteen years, five months,» project Ruben.
Kanéko drew their attention to her plan. «We can do this. Can Damagar read your thoughts?»
Ruben shook his head. «Not us, as telepaths we are adept at shielding. But he can read everyone else. I feel his personalities scanning their thoughts, using it to anticipate their attacks. And we, even with Lopidir, don’t have the strength or time to repair this.»
She thought about Damagar. She could feel one of the countless fragments of his personality assaulting her, claws scratching at her mental shields. The more she concentrated on it, the more she could feel Damagar cracking through it, its mind reaching for her own. She closed her eyes and explored the pattern; it grew like a flower with useless pipes and pistons, mechanics that did nothing. It reminded her of the plans she bought for the water screw—overly complicated and incapable of working. Damagar’s presence faded from her mind.
Her eyes came back into focus to the short voman in front of her.
«What if we build two weapons? Say one that is impressive and scary and then this,» she started to gesture toward the boiler, but aborted her action to picture it in her mind, «If we don’t tell people how it works, Damagar won’t be able to tell, right? If they don’t understand, he won’t.»
Ruben cocked his head for a moment, looking at his father, and then both vomen shook their head as one. Tagon’s thoughts drifted through her mind. «It won’t work. Damagar is centuries old and far more intelligent. Even with a few functional persona fragments, it will figure it out.»
«But, he doesn’t—»
Tagon projected, «Damagar has the minds of hundreds in its head. You don’t know what memories each one has. It just takes one mistake for it to unravel your plans.»
Frustration filled Kanéko. «We can’t win? There is no chance? I will not give up.» Images of their fight slammed into her and she felt a sob rising in her throat.
Tagon rested his hand on her knee. «No, we can, but you need to be smarter than Damagar, all of Damagar’s personalities.»
Tagon sent a wave of helplessness.
She fought her annoyance. Her mind spun furiously, and then she got an idea. «What if we include everyone?» She pictured everyone fighting Damagar but excluded her father. «And not just build a single thing. Create as many alchemical and mechanical devices as we can imagine. Make everyone else believe they are creating the real weapon. If we spread out the tasks to everyone, Damagar will have to pluck the components from everyone else and puzzle it together. He can’t just put things together, right? Just like you two can’t. All the knowledge but unable to understand it? Hopefully, by the time we finish, he will be defending against the wrong one.»
Tagon’s hand tightened on her knee. «That won’t be enough. That timber,» he pictured the timber in the boiler, «would just stun him.»
«If Ruben used that distraction to let himself loose—»
Tagon inhaled sharply and withdrew his mind at the thought of his son cracking his shell. «You can’t release him! It will kill him, me, the kotim!» Fear poured out of Tagon. It choked Kanéko and she felt years of pain pouring into her heart.
She formed a shield between them, cutting Tagon off from her mind as she focused on Ruben.
The tiny teenager stared back at her, his face blank but his mind spinning as furiously as her own. He nodded without a single thought.
Kanéko felt Tagon intruding so she thought furiously. «Ruben, he will try to kill you. You know how much he fears you. I need you to be a threat. When I, we, the weapon fires, you must attack his mind with everything you’ve got.»
Ruben looked nervous and the emotion colored his response, «I trust you, Kanéko Lurkuklan. You’ll do it. You’ll stop Damagar.»
Tagon’s mind cut into them. «I will not let you—»
A crack of intense thought shot across Kanéko’s thoughts. She looked up to see Ruben’s eyes glowing and focused on his father.
Tagon stumbled back, fear naked on his face, but his hand didn’t leave Kanéko’s skin.
«Tagon, I trust her.»
He sighed. «My fault,» the memory of Tagon telling Kanéko to use her strengths came up. «What do you need?»
The speed with which he changed his mind was staggering, but she didn’t have time to marvel at it. Kanéko held on to both telepaths and began to build. She yanked knowledge from both men, pulling it into separate designs and patterns. Weapons pulled up from the recesses of their minds and assembled in her head. She built up the plans for catapults and alchemical bombs, objects of destruction that could be crafted by everyone fighting Damagar. All of them were missing critical components, but she gave as detailed instructions as she could.
Then, she split the plans apart, assigning tasks to everyone including herself. Plan after plan layered on top of each other, with contingencies if Damagar responded in a certain way. She mixed in the lies and misinformation she planned on giving, dredging up every fantastic article she ever read in Emerging Wizardry. A headache pounded in her head from the effort; it was impossible to keep track of so many things, but Tagon and Ruben took on that task and let her focus on just planning their attack.
Finally, she assigned who gave the tasks to those currently fighting Damagar. It had to come from different people, at random times. She took advantage of Tagon’s and Ruben’s ability to memorize the exact order. She left herself the critical task of retrofitting the boiler into a weapon. For all their abilities, neither Tagon nor Ruben understood how to adapt to the unexpected. But, they could memorize instructions with a clarity that she could never match.
She finished and looked back at her plan. Hundreds upon hundreds of directions and tasks, each one interleaved with each other. It was filled with lies, deceptions, and would tax all of their abilities to keep it coordinated.
Complicated but workable.
It was a good plan.