Vibrations: Harmonic Magic Book 1, page 21
“We will discuss this further later on. Are you well enough to travel? We should leave this place in case the men regain their courage and come back.”
They mounted their rakkeben and traveled for several more hours before leaving the path to find a clearing in which to camp. Still weakened by what he did, Sam didn’t train that night but instead went straight to sleep, still confused and unable to remember clearly what he had done.
For several days, Sam was grateful for the heavy trees surrounding their path. As close as he could tell, it was late summer, and it was hot. The shade of the trees were a welcome relief from the merciless sun beating down upon them.
“Consider the weather fortuitous, Sam,” Dr. Walt told him. “When we get further north, we will have rain to deal with. You’ll wish for the sunshine then.”
The morning of the day they were to arrive at the next town, the weather was milder. When Sam woke up and poked his head outside the tent, he felt the cool air and smiled. There were thin wisps of morning mist that hung over the ground, but it wasn’t thick enough to obscure his vision. He hoped the change in the weather boded well for their visit to the city.
He had just enough time to shave his four-day beard with the ceramic knife Dr. Walt had given him before the others emerged from their tents. Soon, they were eating breakfast and talking about what the day would hold. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, as Sam was.
“We should reach Bayton within a few hours after starting off,” Dr. Walt said. “We will need to resupply, but perhaps we should stay the night in one of the inns. I would not object to sleeping in a bed after traveling for so long.”
The others discussed it enthusiastically. “We must be careful,” Rindu cautioned. “There are many more people in Bayton than in Raihar, and we had trouble there. We must be wary at all times.”
“Of course, of course,” Dr. Walt said. “So then, it’s decided. We will allow the rakkeben to go off into the outlying areas to hunt and then meet up with us again in the morning. Well, there we have it. Let's get started. The sooner we get to Bayton, the sooner we can enjoy a bed in a shaded room.”
Two and a half hours later, the party left the last trees on the outskirts of Bayton and Sam got his first look at what passed as a city in this world. It was different than a town, he had to admit. Sitting alongside what in Telani would be the San Francisco Bay, the city spread out along the shoreline, crooked yet graceful, like a stretching cat. It was the largest group of buildings Sam had seen since he arrived in Gythe.
It was surreal, looking at the mouth of the bay and not seeing the famous bridge. Did the people of this world build a bridge connecting the fingers of land when their civilization and technology was still advanced, before the cataclysm? If so, he could see no sign of anything that remained of the support structures.
The city itself, housing more than 3,000 people according to Dr. Walt, was an eclectic mix of buildings. Most of them were made of wood, which was reasonable considering the forests surrounding the area. There were some that were built of stone as well, in addition to a handful that appeared to be built with some type of concrete or adobe.
Sam scanned the cityscape as they walked toward it, already separated from the rakkeben. None of the structures were more than three stories, and there were precious few with more than one floor. Smoke wandered lazily up from chimneys, giving the city a homey feel. Everywhere he looked, people were moving about the streets, most of which were dirt, but some of which were paved with flat stones carefully placed together to make a relatively smooth surface.
The clothing of the Baytonites was drab and functional. It may have been a large city on Gythe, but people still seemed to make their living by the sweat of their brow. Sam smiled to think about a city with several thousand people and no class distinction. He wondered if it was really so.
This is a city? Skitter's voice interrupted Sam's thoughts. The hapaki wanted to stay with the humans, being more than a little uncomfortable with a pack of rakkeben. Sam was able to carry him in a large backpack, the others cooperating to split up and carry some of his items in their own packs. Most of their supplies were still strapped to the rakkeben. With their permission, of course.
Yes, Sam sent back.
I didn’t know there were that many humans in the world. It’s...impressive. That last bit was probably closer to “intimidating” but he knew that Skitter would never admit being intimidated by anything.
You should see the structures and cities in my world, Sam said in response. He sent images from his memory of when he visited Los Angeles and then New York. Skitter’s frightened mental jump amused Sam. His surprise was elevated even more as Sam shared images of the San Francisco Bay and its famous bridge, while they were looking at the same bay in this world.
“Right,” Dr. Walt said. “Let's be cautious. We don't know who are spies or agents for the Gray Man. Let's keep to ourselves, not stand out, and pass through peacefully. Sam, please make sure Skitter is hidden at all times. It wouldn't do for him to be seen.”
The party made their way down the main street of the city. An occasional glance was directed at Rindu's robes or at Nalia's mask, but people in general didn’t seem to be too concerned with their presence. Strangers passed through the city often for trade.
They wended their way through several smaller streets until they stopped in front of what appeared to be an inn. There was no sign on the front of it, but the eaves of the building and the door was painted bright green. Looking around, Sam saw two more buildings with doors painted the same color.
Dr. Walt saw Sam's head swivel and spoke before Sam could ask about it. “Signs are not really used on Gythe. Instead, murals, painted walls, or specific colors of doors are used to distinguish the different businesses. As you no doubt have guessed, the green doors mean an inn.”
Sam nodded, considering.
Leading the others, Rindu opened the door and entered. Inside, the common room looked just as Sam would have expected from the fiction books he had read. A large fireplace dominated the corner of the room furthest from the door. There were tables spread throughout the room, though in no apparent order. Most were square, but there were a few larger round tables interspersed.
There were people sitting at only four of the tables. It was early afternoon, and apparently the slow time of day. Three of the tables each had two men and the fourth had a woman and two men. All were engaged in soft conversation and did not look up as the party entered. So far so good.
Rindu went up to the innkeeper behind the bar that dominated the wall directly across from the door. On either side of the bar, there were doorways into what appeared to be halls, and there was a doorway behind the bar as well, no doubt leading to storage areas and the kitchen.
“We would like three rooms, please,” the Zouy said to the man.
The man, a rather short and well-fed man in rough brown trousers and a light blue shirt that buttoned up the front with wooden toggles, eyed Rindu and then each of the others in turn. As he swiveled his pudgy body, the buttons on his shirt strained and threatened to pop. The sour look on his face seemed to indicate that one of the many things he had eaten recently had not agreed with him.
Before the man was able to say anything, Rindu produced a small stack of metal squares. They appeared to be made of iron. The man's face lit up.
“Of course, fine sir, of course. Phano Bleep, at your service. Finest inn in the entirety of Bayton, yessir. You will be comfortable here, good sirs. That will be one ounce per night. How many nights will you be staying.”
“Just one.” Rindu handed one of the iron squares to the man. As if by magic, the man had a simple scale in his hand and was comparing the weight to a standard he had produced from somewhere.
“Almost one and a half ounces. The remainder should cover dinner and baths for all of you. Would that be acceptable?”
Rindu nodded. Phano showed them to three rooms that were next to each other down t
“No, thank you,” Dr. Walt said as the man headed back toward the bar.
As Sam watched the man’s large back disappear back into the common room, he turned to Dr. Walt. “Is that iron?”
“What? Oh, yes, the coins. Iron, yes. We have discussed how iron is softer here on Gythe than on Telani, how it is too soft to make adequate weapons. It is also not as common for some reason, perhaps because of Gythe’s vibrational frequency. In any case, here, it is used much like gold was back home. Small coins are made and used as currency, it all being based on weight, as you no doubt noticed with Phano and his scale.”
“I see,” Sam said. He hadn’t thought about it before and didn’t notice when they bought their supplies in Raihar.
After everyone had their chance at the bathtubs, they met back in the common room. With the evening approaching and the smell of food drifting through the air, the room was filling up. Sam left Skitter in the room, with strict orders not to destroy anything. He was the last to arrive at the table where everyone else had settled in.
No sooner had Sam sat down than the food arrived. Three large birds—turkeys Sam guessed—bowls of some type of stew, and three large loaves of bread were brought and deposited on the table. The barmaids dropped off the food, along with mugs of some type of alcoholic beverage and a pitcher of water without stopping, appearing simply to be in one place one second and then in another the next. Sam was impressed.
He was also impressed with the food. After eating nothing but travel rations in the last few weeks, he dug in with fervor and before he knew it, he was pleasantly full, leaning back against the wall toward which the table was situated. His first priority fulfilled, he took the time to scan the room and to listen to little snatches of conversation.
“…I tell you, Horis, it’s bad. He’s taking over towns and villages, one by one. The cities are next. There’s no stopping…” the deep voice intoned.
“…and the soldiers just went in and took over…” another voice explained to her companion before being drowned out by other sounds.
“…and if something is not done about the Gray Man, we’ll all be in danger.” This from a thin man sitting at the next table. Sam watched the man’s mouth and focused on what he was saying, trying to pick it out of the general tumult.
“He is spreading south, taking control of all the towns and villages as he goes, installing his own people. Those who deny him access, well, he sends soldiers in and forcibly takes control, killing many of the citizens as an example.”
Sam looked to Dr. Walt, noticing the old man also listening intently to the gossip flying about the room. “Oh my,” he said. “We must hurry. We’re running out of time. Perhaps it would be best to avoid towns and villages if possible as we head to our destination.”
The party agreed. Finishing up their dinner—Sam took a whole loaf of bread and another partial one with him for Skitter—they went to their own respective rooms: Sam to his, Rindu and Dr. Walt to another, and Nalia to the third. They had agreed to leave early, after buying more supplies. They would try to keep from being noticed, get their supplies, and leave as quickly and quietly as possible.
Skitter curled up next to him on the bed. He thought of the Gray Man’s actions and hoped they didn’t get caught up in it. He still hoped that he would find a way to get home without having to confront the villain, though he knew the chance of that was small. He was too tired to climb out of bed and get into his normal cross-legged position, so he meditated lying down, trying to duplicate his travel to his world, but fell asleep while trying.
Sam’s sleep was relatively untroubled and he woke in the morning feeling more refreshed than he could remember since he arrived in Gythe. Without training the night before, however, he felt as if he needed to do something to exercise. There was nothing for it, though. His room was too small to do anything complex and he couldn’t very well ask Nalia to spar in the middle of a city. He did some quick calisthenics, washed his face in the bowl provided, and headed downstairs.
After a quick breakfast and a trip to the provisioner—Sam spotted the blue door this time before they reached it—the party set off from the North side, opposite from the way they had come in. They shouldered the supplies they purchased until they met up with the rakkeben, loaded up the supplies, and were on their way once again.
Eight days later, the party arrived at Tramgadal. Sam had started seeing the enormous mountain above it two days before and had anticipated getting to its base. On Telani, it was called Mount Shasta, but here, the mountain was Kokitura, the home of the Zouyim and the location of their main temple. Rather, it had been the home of the Zouyim. The order was all but destroyed by the Gray Man eight years before.
The mountain was just as jagged and majestic as when he had seen it on Telani. It was hard to believe that the Zouyim traveled up and down the stone monster without the aid of motorized vehicles. Even in late summer, light danced off the cap of snow on the mountain, making it look even more intimidating. No matter how high Sam focused his gaze, the mountain dominated his vision.
Tramgadal, the doorway to the Zouyim temple and the mountain proper, was an outpost. An abandoned outpost. The buildings, dilapidated and uninhabited, were deteriorating and a metaphor for the order itself. Sam felt as if his chest was being compressed as he dropped his gaze and sighed.
He looked from the center of Tramgadal up the path that wound up the mountain face, wishing they had time to go see what was left of the temple. Rindu had told him that the peak of Kokitura was a place of concentrated power and Sam would have liked to have gone. Sadly, they didn’t have the time. Climbing the mountain only to come back down before continuing on with their journey would take many precious hours they could not afford to squander.
“After we are successful, perhaps you will have time to visit it with me and I can show you that, even now, there are more glorious things here than just the ruined structures of the temple,” Rindu said, looking toward the peak with a faraway look in his eyes. Sam could see the longing and the sadness there.
“That would be nice,” Sam said, knowing as he said it that it would never happen. They would either all die trying to defeat the Gray Man or they would succeed and he would leave immediately to get back to his world and his mother. He took one more long look at the mountain peak before dismounting.
Sam was erecting his tent when a man suddenly charged at them from behind one of the buildings. Screaming incoherently, he jumped toward Rindu, who was closest to him.
The man, emaciated and haggard, wore torn robes that appeared to have once been the same color as those Rindu wore. His deeply etched face was lopsided and filled with rage as he flew through the air toward the Zouy, executing a flying kick with perfect form, long white hair flying behind him as if it was chasing him.
Rindu simply stepped a half step to the side and touched the man’s lead leg as he passed, somehow spinning the attacker so that he windmilled through the air. Sam was almost afraid to see what would happen to the man, but his fears were not realized. Somehow, impossibly, the man righted himself in mid-air, performed a lazy somersault with a half twist, and landed lightly on his bare feet on the hard-packed road that bisected the outpost.
Again, he screamed and charged, attacking Rindu with lightning fast kicks and punches, as well as different types of open hand strikes. He was so fast, Sam could barely track the man’s limbs as he struck at Rindu.
Rindu, for his part, moved even faster, blocking with his hands, elbows, knees, and feet. One particularly complex barrage was blocked aside by kicks, the Zouy kicking so fast that he turned aside three punches and a kick before his foot settled
Finally, Rindu yelled: “Torim Jet! Desist!” as he waved his hand in the direction of the crazed man. It was like a tidal wave had hit him. He was swept off his feet and violently thrown with invisible force until he crashed against the side of one of the buildings, making the entire structure wobble precariously. The man slid down the wall and slumped for a moment.
Then, shaking his head to clear it, he looked at Rindu. “Rindu? Rindu Zose? Is that you, my brother?”
“It is. How fare you, brother Torim?”
The man got to his feet and sheepishly shuffled forward to within two feet of Rindu. “Oh, my brother! My brother! It is good to see you. I did not know anyone else survived. I am sorry for my…attacking you. I have not been myself lately.” He closed the gap and enfolded Rindu in hug.
After introductions, the party sat around a fire Sam had built. Sam looked the man over more carefully as he chatted with Rindu and Nalia. He was of a height with Rindu, but much frailer looking, no doubt because of lack of food. His face, now that it was calm, was still awkward, as if the halves were made from two different people. It had the look of a poorly designed mask to Sam. He was easily the ugliest man Sam had ever seen. But now that he was sane, Sam found in him the same calm power that Rindu radiated, and that drew Sam to him. He edged closer to listen.
“I have not seen you in years. I know not about the others. The Gray Man began sending his assassins and soldiers after them and I do not know who survives yet. I have been living here in the ruins of Tramgadal and of the temple itself, assuming that the Gray Man’s forces would not look for me here. It has worked, to a limited degree, but it is a lonely existence. At times, with only myself to talk to, fearing to interact with others lest they report me, I feel that I am going insane.”
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