Flight of the Scions 38: Enthusiasm
> On every journey, there are paths a person must walk alone. --- Mifúno proverb
"Daddy!" Maris's scream startled Kanéko. She scrambled to her feet, heart pounding and looking wildly in all directions as she tried to get the nightmare of Damagar out of her own head.
Maris stumbled back. One foot reached out over the logs.
Kanéko was too dazed to reach out.
The dalpre fell back and plunged into the river. Water splashed in all directions, soaking Kanéko and Ruben.
Unperturbed, Ruben stood up. "Careful, you are near the edge," he called out.
The dalpre bobbed to the surface. Her ears and hair were plastered against her head as she flailed at the edge of the raft before grabbing one of the thicker logs. Her grasp shook the wooden frame and Kanéko grabbed her edge for balance.
Maris sputtered. "They're going to kill daddy! And mommy! And the puppies! And I saw them! And I don't like you, Rub!"
She tried to pull herself on the raft but slipped off, splashing again and shaking the logs. With a whine, she attempted again but only managed to pull the corner under the water and force water to seep through the gaps.
Ruben pointed to the side. "We are at the shore, just walk around."
Maris continued to paw at the raft, either not hearing Ruben or too panicked to listen.
Knowing that Maris wouldn't stop until she either got on the raft or destroyed it, Kanéko got on her knees and crawled over while reaching out with her hand. Her feet remained on the rocky shore.
The water-logged platform tilted precariously until Ruben stepped on the edge.
The shorter teenager grabbed Kanéko and held her tight. "Please, Kan! My parents are in trouble. And Cobin is going to hurt them!"
"It's okay, just get up. One foot... one foot, there you go. Now put your foot down on the bottom and step up." Kanéko helped Maris up on the raft.
"Sure, it wasn't a hallucination of stress?" asked Ruben, his face dripping wet.
Maris spun around, whacking Kanéko with her tail. "It wasn't a dream! I saw it! They burned down the mill. I... oh." Her ears flattened. "I dreamed it? It was so real."
Kanéko flipped her damp hair over her shoulder and wiped her face. "It wasn't a dream. I think it was Damagar. I felt his thoughts in my head just now. He threatened my papa and mama."
"But, it was so real. I saw the barn and the path and even Bor and Daddy and Mommy."
Ruben sighed. "Damagar would be able to pull those memories from you."
"Could he negotiate without us meeting him?"
"Yes. If he left a programmed personality in both of your heads, it could be triggered by your perception of time passing, a failure for certain actions to happen. For example, if I'm still alive at this point, your dreams would include the next step."
"But," whimpered the girl, "he said that if we don't hurt you." She looked at Ruben with tearful eyes. "He would burn down the mill. It was..." She tugged on her ear. "...so real."
"Creatures with such a complex mind are capable of predicting probable actions and therefore have contingencies in place to manage those threats."
Kanéko started. "It can plan that far ahead?"
Ruben shrugged. "Most intelligent creatures are rather predictable, given enough information."
Maris sat down heavily on the raft, her tail smacking Kanéko's foot. She folded her arms across her chest and ruined dress. "I don't like Damagar. He's mean! And he wants to hurt my pack. And he has nasty red eyes." A pause. "And I think he has rabies."
"R-Rabies?" Kanéko stared incredulously at Maris.
Maris's ears flattened as she looked away. "Or something like that," she muttered.
In the silence that followed, Ruben yawned and wiped his face. He looked around. "Where are we? I don't have a reference point to locate us."
Kanéko shrugged, but Maris spoke sullenly, "Sixty-one miles from the mill."
Ruben cocked his head with a silent question.
Maris gestured up the river, about a quarter mile ahead of them where someone had attached a bright green sign to the side of a tree. The lettering was large, almost a meter tall, and even from the distance Kanéko could read "494 mi".
"Five hundred miles from where? What is that?"
"A mile marker. There is one every..."
"Mile," supplied Ruben.
Maris glared at him. "And they start at Ice Point Fortress. And that is where the Logjam starts. The mill is at mile 433. We have a surveyor's spike right underneath the sign on the road. And the sign is on the dock."
Kanéko breathed out a sigh. "Sixty miles from home. It seems so close, but so far away. I wish we were going downstream, we'd be back by tomorrow."
Ruben spoke up, "Sixty one miles, four chains." When Kanéko looked at him sharply, he shrugged. "I found a reference point."
Maris whimpered. "Kanéko? What about my family? Is Cobin going to hurt them?"
"I don't know. I don't know if Damagar lied, but he threatened my family too. He showed me Sinmak's men attacking the tower."
"Is it real?"
Kanéko turned toward Ruben. "Is it?"
Ruben shrugged. "Natural telepaths can lie just as well as you and me. However, with a sufficient mental scan, it could identify probable methods for plans, even before we make them."
Maris said, "I want to go home. And now."
Kanéko scrambled to her feet. She let out a long sigh. "That's what we've been doing for days. We are going as fast as we can."
"I want to be home." Maris glared and folded her arms over her chest. "Now."
A breeze flutter around them with the dalpre's impatience.
Kanéko reached down and grabbed her stolen pack. She had been using it for a pillow while she slept but a few of the pages were scattered around from when she woke up. She rescued them and filed them back into place before returning everything to Cobin's canvas pack. "Come on, we need to leave now."
Maris hopped on the raft. She shoved the other packs near the mast, and then spun around to look at the other teenagers. "Let's leave now?"
Ruben groaned and hopped off. He headed in the opposite direction.
"Rub? Where are you going?"
"I must defecate. I will be one minute, thirty-six seconds."
"I... I..." a whine rose up, "Please hurry."
Ruben disappeared up the trail.
Kanéko reached out to drop her pack on the raft, but Maris snatched it from her hand. The dalpre jammed Kanéko's stolen possessions near the mast and looked back. Kanéko felt a small prickle of annoyance as she stepped out on the raft. She had to reach out with her hand for balance because of Maris's pacing.
Maris grabbed the sail and tugged it smooth, spreading it out. A breeze rose up behind her, billowing out the fabric as she inspected it.
Kanéko watched Maris in silence, trying to stay out of her way as the dalpre paced back and forth.
"Where is Ruben?"
"Still going the bathroom, give him a second."
"I am, but I want to go home now."
"We all do, Maris," Kanéko snapped. "We are going as fast as we can."
"I know, but---"
"Sit down at least."
Maris glared at Kanéko but she sat down heavily on the raft, splashing water in all directions. Folding her arms over her chest, she looked away from Kanéko and growled softly.
Ruben crawled down the path, his short arms and legs struggling with the slope. Kanéko wondered why he was having trouble now when he didn't earlier. "I have returned," he said in a deadpanned voice.
Kanéko released the ropes. Ruben helped her push the wooden craft into the river, and they hopped on. The raft swung out, floating back down the river.
"Maris, your turn."
Maris crawled up on her knees and held out her hands. The smell of ozone floated off her body as ripples of water stretched out across the surface. Kanéko felt the air growing tense around her, a pressure that beat on her skin and made it hard to breath.
Despite the pressure around them, the raft continued to drift toward the currents and away from their destination.
It took a moment for Kanéko to realize Maris wasn't using her magic to move the raft but the pressure continued to build. Her ears popped. "Um, Maris?"
The dalpre said nothing, her brow furrowed in concentration and her tail perfectly still.
A rumble rolled through the air. Kanéko looked around and then up. Dark storm clouds rushed toward her, coming from an almost perfect circle that appears to be five hundred miles across. Beyond it, the mid-morning sky was a brilliant blue. It was a stark contrast to the boiling darkness surrounding them.
The rustle of winds grew louder as the first eddies of moisture-ladened hair tugged at Kanéko's copper hair.
"Maris? This doesn't feel right." She couldn't take her eyes away from the gathering storm. She remembered something about air mages being able to affect the weather, but it was rare because of the raw power to affect anything thirty feet away much less thousands.
The wind increased, blowing harder. It filled the sail with a snap. The raft shuddered violently, slowing down in the center of the river. As the wind speed increased, the wooden craft pushed up the river. Water welled over the front of the trunks, rolling down the cracks and soaking Kanéko's rear.
"Great, that is just the right---"
Another rumble coursed through the clouds. Lightning flashed. The first splatters of rain struck Kanéko's face. She cringed at the sudden wind that buffeted her body. Wiping the water from her face, she said, "Maris, slow down."
Maris frowned as she held up her hands. Shimmers of energy rose off the dalpre and more wind buffeted the sail. The raft surged forward.
Kanéko glanced down and saw a wake forming behind them. She held out her hand, "Slow down. The sail and the mast, the raft, can't take this."
"No," the dalpre growled, "it's all right. I can get us home."
"Maris, trust me, just go slow." Kanéko reached out and the wind blasted her hand back. Blood welled out from a sudden cut. She frowned and shoved her hand back, trying to grab Maris but the wind howled shrilly and deflected her grip.
"Maris!" She yelled as loudly as she could, but Maris ignored her.
Kanéko balled up her fist and tried to punch Maris, but her hand couldn't pierce the rushing air. She grunted and tried again, somehow bruising her knuckles on the wind that almost threw her off the raft. Rubbing her hand, she looked over at Ruben for help.
Ruben reached for Maris. His hand wavered as he pushed through the wind. His blue eyes started to glow, his form blurring along the edges and the shape of Stubbornness wavered on the edge of her vision.
Before he could touch Maris, Kanéko heard cloth rip. Her eyes widened as she stared at their hand-sewn sail. A large rent formed along one of the seams, snapping threads spreading open as it tore wide open.
Swearing, Kanéko grabbed the mast with one hand and tried to stop the tear with her other. Her fingers slipped on the rain-soaked fabric.
"Stop her, Ruben! She's going to ruin everything!"
She wasn't even sure if her voice reached him. She tried to shield the sail with her body, but it was too late. Another blast of wind slammed into her, throwing her against the wooden beam. The impact along her spine drove the air from her lungs before lifting her and tossing her through the sail. Fabric tore loudly around her as she fell down on the far side, hitting the boards with enough impact that water splashed on her.
Kanéko opened her eyes in time to see the snapped-off end of the mast plummet toward her. She rolled to the side, losing a chunk of hair to a rough-hewn log, and managed to dodge as the mast slammed into the raft edge.
Everything tilted for a moment before the carved wooden pole rolled into the river, yanking the remains of the sail with it.
She scrambled to her feet. Splinters tore at her hands but she ignored them. "Okay, you damn bitch, I told you... to... stop!"
She swung with all her might but aimed upwind from the dalpre. The wind caught her hand and started to push her away, but Kanéko threw her entire body into her punch. It cut her face, throwing her to the side, but she managed to slam her shoulder into Maris's chest.
Her momentum carried her over the edge of the raft. Letting out a shriek, Kanéko spun around in time to see Maris flying off the opposite side.
She plunged into the water. It flooded her nostrils and open mouth. She swam for the surface, flailing for fresh air as she choked on the water rushing into her lungs. As soon as she surfaced, she sputtered and coughed.
It took a moment for her to regain her wits. When she pulled her soaked, copper hair from her face, she didn't see the raft. Treading, she turned around to see it and Ruben had floated down the river. Maris wasn't on it as the raft slowly moved toward the center of the river and the faster currents. In its wake, the heavy rain planted circular ripples along the surface of the river.
Muttering to herself, Kanéko swam after it. "R-Rub... Ruben!"
"I do not have control over this."
When she reached the raft, she flailed to catch it. As soon as she could, she took a deep breath and coughed to clear her lungs. "I-I got it."
Kanéko tried to pull herself onto the raft but her makeshift clothes weighed her down too much. She gave up after the second attempt and just pushed it toward the edge.
Ahead of her, Maris reached the shore. She crawled out of the water dripping wet. Her dress hung down off her shoulders. The fabric had torn to reveal most of her other shoulder and parts of her thigh. Her ears were down as was her tail. She didn't look back as she stomped toward a large rock a few feet away.
As soon as Kanéko's feet touched the bottom, she shoved the raft toward the shore and stormed out of the water. Her vision was blurred by the rain and wind that continued to blow against her. She stopped in front of Maris trying to tug her dress back into place. "Why are you being a sun-bleached idiot!?"
Maris shivered, her dress sticking to her soaked fur and water rolling down her face. "I'm sorry, Kan, I just---"
"You just wanted to dump us in the river!?"
"No," Maris whimpered, "I just wanted to go home." Water running down her face made it look like she was crying.
"I told you to stop blowing. We would have made it if you were patient."
"No, buts!" screamed Kanéko, "I want to go home also. That isn't an airship or a fancy boat. I told you it couldn't handle it. It just would have taken us a few days but we would have made it!"
"I'm sorry." Maris stood there, her ears against her head and her chin pointed down.
"Damn you. Now we have---"
"Kanéko, please desist," said Ruben as he hopped off the raft.
The wooden craft bobbed in the water, falling back from the shore. It had already began to break apart, the ropes holding the logs trailed in the water behind it as it separated into pieces. Kanéko started after it, but then she saw that Ruben had tossed their supplies on the shore. She spun on the balls of her feet to glare at Maris again.
Ruben stopped in front of her, standing between Maris and Kanéko. "Kanéko, she is sorry."
"I, I," Kanéko tried to calm herself, but the anger continued to fill her. "Damn it! I wanted to go home! And that stupid, idiotic, and unthinking little---"
Maris jumped to her feet. "I said I was sorry!"
As if to respond, the wind rose up around them. Raindrops splattered against Kanéko's face.
"It's too late! We could have been home in two days. Now, it's going to take another damn week! We---"
Ruben raised his hands. "Kanéko. Please stop."
Ruben's eyes flashed blue, glowing brightly. He spoke with a deep, rumbling voice. "I will not shut up!"
"Drown in sands!" Kanéko balled up her hands to strike.
"STOP!" The bellowing croak stunned Kanéko from her tirade. Ruben's eyes glowed an intense blue. Over his body, a shimmering shape of Stubbornness loomed over her. The frog-like creature glared down at her with the same blue eyes. The command echoed though her mind, repeating endlessly.
She staggered back, reeling from the force of his words and projection. Forcing her hands to relax, she looked pointedly at Maris. "Go ahead then."
Maris looked suddenly hurt. "Kan?"
"Get out! Just go. Fly away and go rescue your damn family. I don't care!" Tears burned her eyes.
"Kan, I can't---"
"I said leave! You can't wait, so don't!" Kanéko grabbed a rock from the shore and whipped it at Maris. It stopped in mid-air as the wind plucked it from its flight. It spun twice and shot out over the river, away from the three teenagers. Droplets of rain flew after it.
Kanéko grabbed another rock.
Ruben stepped back, his eyes still glowing. He turned toward Maris. "Let's go." He still spoke with Stubbornness's croak.
"W-We can't leave Kan, Rub."
"Now," said the croaking voice.
"Okay," whimpered Maris. She rushed over and grabbed Ruben's and her pack. Coming back, she looked at Kanéko. "A-Are you sure, Kan? I didn't mean to break---"
"Go away, you stupid fucking, rotted cesspool of a bitch!" screamed Kanéko.
Sniffing, Maris reached down and picked Ruben up. She shifted her position slightly, and then rocketed up in the air. Wind shoved Kanéko back from the force of the takeoff. Her blast faltered and Kaneko watched as Maris strained against Ruben's weight. After a few seconds and a stubborn look on the dalpre's face, she managed to regain her flight.
Kanéko blinked at the dust that stung her eyes and she wiped the tears from them.
Maris hovered a few hundred feet above her, and then shot out to the east, disappearing in a heartbeat.
Kanéko stared at the bright blue sky. In the back of her mind, she could imagine Damagar laughing at her. One moment of anger and she was utterly alone.
The rain stopped instantly. One moment it slammed against her face and head, the next there was nothing. Looking up, she could see the disc of dark storm clouds breaking apart as fast as it formed. The morning light peeked through the clouds and soon bathed her in sunlight once again.
The anger drained away in an instant, leaving only a sick feeling behind.
She sat down heavily.
"Damn the shitty sands."
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