Vibrations: Harmonic Magic Book 1, page 28
Nalia dragged Thad Altiri to the others by his collar. He had a massive bruise on his head, looking suspiciously like the outline of the flat of Nalia’s shrapezi. “I left this one alive. Maybe he feels like talking.” As she spoke, she touched the tip of the curved and razor sharp end of her hooked sword to his throat. He raised his head to try to keep from being cut.
“Anything,” he whined, “anything you want to know, just ask. Just please don’t kill me.”
Rindu stepped up to the man, face-to-face. “Why did you lead us into this trap?”
“The Gray Man, he gave us orders. We are to take the old man and kill the protectors. I don’t know why. I just follow orders.”
“What does he know of us?”
“I don’t know anything except what I told you and that he knows you are heading toward the Gray Fortress. Honest, that’s all I know.”
Rindu looked to each of the others in turn to see if they had anything else they wanted to ask the man. Dr. Walt stepped up from his position at the rear of the cul-de-sac. He had not been injured, probably not even been in any danger during the fight. “What does he want with me?”
“I don’t know. He just said to take you alive if possible. That’s all I know.”
Dr. Walt looked thoughtfully. Then he nodded to Rindu. The Zouy leaned over and touched the man at the base of his neck and Thad Altiri dropped to the ground, unconscious.
“You really have to show me how to do that,” Sam said to the Zouy. “That seems a very useful thing to know.”
Rindu’s smirk was his only answer.
The party found their way out of the maze of alleys to the main street and then out of the city. They would be pursued, to be sure, so they traveled the rest of the day and into the night, only stopping around midnight to sleep for a few hours before continuing on.
A day and a half later, they came to The Grinder.
Dr. Walt explained. “This area is called The Grinder because it takes all who try to travel through it, grinds them up, and spits them out of the other side. If they survive. It is a difficult land, with mazes of canyons and heavy vegetation. There are several types of nasty creatures here. Bandits have taken up residence in some areas, not so much to attack the few who pass through, but so they can retreat into the maze when being pursued. We must be careful.”
Rindu nodded morosely. Nalia, too, was nodding. She had been through the Grinder, she explained. She passed through twice, once on the way up to the Gray Fortress and once, alone, on the way back. That second trip through was after all the other Sapsyra with her, including her mother, were killed. She almost didn’t survive the return trip through the area.
She was the only one with firsthand information of the area and so would likely take the lead. Sam joined her at the head of the party, continuing her language education as they moved forward.
Looking ahead from the slight rise where the party had stopped, Sam scanned the miles of twisting canyons hemmed in by ragged cliffs jutting up sharply from the ground. In between the dirt and stone walls, the deep green of closely packed trees and underbrush smeared jade over the landscape for as far as his eyes could see. It was the type of landscape where they could get lost and never find a way out. Well, at least there seemed to be plenty of water, and he was sure his companions could find edible plants, so there was no real risk of starving or dying of thirst, even if they did get lost. He gulped. “This is the only way?”
“The only way without going fifty of miles out of our way through treacherous mountains,” Nalia answered.
“Well then,” he responded, “what are we waiting for?”
Before traveling even a quarter mile, Sam was hopelessly lost, his sense of direction completely befuddled. Rindu noticed Sam scratching his head, looking to and fro.
“You have lost your sense of direction.”
Sam nodded, embarrassed.
“Perhaps it is a good time to teach you something new. It will be too difficult as we are moving, but when we take our next food break, I will show you.” With that, he walked past Sam up to Nalia and began speaking softly with her. Sam had dropped back so as not to distract her from leading the party, their language lessons postponed for the moment.
Travel was difficult for more reasons than just his foiled sense of direction. The vegetation, as thick as it looked from the rise, was even more congested when they were in it. There were so many types of plants, Sam could not begin to count them. Trees—he really should learn to identify different types of trees—were crowded close together and had some type of vine hanging from many of them.
Between the trees, there were ferns—he could recognize those well enough—as well as many different types of bushes and what looked like small trees, trying to push their way into the space between the larger trees but failing.
As they made their way through, the passage they took varied in width, from thirty or forty feet or more down to less than five feet, forcing them to walk single file. The truth was, they were in single file more often than not anyway because clearing a path for the width of one person was much easier than clearing a path for two.
The rakkeben, seeming to be casually wandering behind and around them, would sometimes stop, Sam noticed. When they did, their ears would prick up and they would raise their noses. He would hear them snuffling and sniffing, trying to catch a scent, but they always relaxed and continued on without anything else happening. It was all very disconcerting.
The narrow gully in which they were traveling widened out suddenly, the sixty foot high walls on either side curving outward to make a roughly circular area that was less crowded with plants. Nalia led them to some boulders that were half obscured by bushes and suggested that they stop to eat. She didn’t have to convince any of the party, who were more than happy to stop, even if just to break up the monotony of the constant bushwhacking they were doing.
Rindu came over and, through mouthfuls of dried meat, said to Sam, “Apologies for my snack, but I am very hungry. It is not meant as a lack of respect to you.”
“It’s fine,” Sam said, suddenly realizing he was hungry too.
“Good. Join me.” He patted down a small patch of grass near the rock on which Sam sat, gesturing to a large patch of moss just in front of him. Sam took his place on the moss so that both men sat in the familiar, cross-leg posture they always used for rohw training.
“Now then, I have taught you about ley lines and vortices at the junction where they cross.” He paused for a moment, looking at Sam, only continuing when he saw Sam nod. “When one is sensitive to the rohw, he is able to distinguish the major ley lines, one from the other. It is like hearing an old friend’s voice. It may be similar to others, but it is distinctive because of your familiarity.”
Sam sat in rapt attention as Rindu continued. “If you pay attention, and you learn the feel of these lines, then you will be able to sense them, and sense where they cross other lines. They may pulse more strongly, or less, depending upon interaction with other lines and other things. This can be used for location. Do you understand this?”
“What?” Rindu cocked an eyebrow and looked at Sam, trying to determine if it was a joke.
“GPS. Global Positioning System. On my world, there are machines that we put in the sky, very high up above the ground. We communicate with them to triangulate position.” Rindu’s face was painted with confusion.
“Let me try again. These machines allow us to ‘paint’ a grid system on the ground, all over the world. Like ley lines, except that they are numbered. At any point, we have coordinates, the numbers of the lines that cross at that point.” Sam broke off the stem of some succulent plant next to where he sat and used the sap to draw several straight lines on the rock next to him. Then he drew several more perpendicular to the first, and crossing them. “Like this.”
Understanding dawned on Rindu’s face. “Yes, yes. That is the same, but without numbers. We simply feel the uniq
Knowing what he needed to do, Sam settled into his posture, closed his eyes, and assumed the khulim. He could assume the “almost trance” instantly now, after all the practice he’d had. He sat, body feeling detached, mind at ease, just on the brink of leaving reality. Once there, he waited for Rindu’s instructions.
“Good.” He heard, though it was muted as if he was underwater. Strange, it hadn’t ever done that before. He allowed his mind to settle into rest again, thinking of nothing.
“Now,” Rindu continued, “extend your senses. Feel the ley lines closest to you. See them in your mind if that helps, but you must feel them as well.”
Sam tried. Nothing. He tried again, harder. Nothing. He was beginning to get frustrated, knowing that it was counterproductive, when he heard Nalia’s voice, muffled as Rindu’s was, “Focus on the ground. Touch it.”
Sam reached down and put his hand on the patch of moss on which he sat. It felt as if he was shocked or stung. He immediately pulled his hand off the moss. The feeling was not painful as much as it was surprising. He had felt some kind of pulse, some kind of charge, that he was not expecting. Trying to maintain his calmness, he slowly lowered his hand to the ground again and touched the moss. Being ready for it this time, he felt something travel into his hand, start to make its way up his forearm, and then fizzle. What was it? A buzz? A glow? Some bit of both? He couldn’t decide.
He turned his internal eye toward the energy source. He sat and just experienced it. It was like when he “softened his gaze,” letting his eyes go out of focus so as not to be distracted by sharp details. When he did so, he realized that he could see, in his mind’s eye, a glowing path wider than his body and angling off from where he sat toward his left side. Straining his inner eye to follow it, he saw that it continued in that direction until it was out of sight.
“Good,” he heard Rindu say. “Now open your eyes.” Sam did. “Now, Sam, which way does the ley line on which you are sitting go?”
Without thinking, Sam pointed off to his left. Rindu nodded and smiled at him. “Very good. I want you to practice identifying ley lines, getting familiar with them, whenever you meditate and practice strengthening your rohw. Soon, you will be able to identify them when you are walking, talking, doing anything else. When you have learned more locations, we will work more to refine your sensitivity. Coincidentally, that line travels almost directly north, so we will be following it, generally, for some time. For now, though, I think it is time we moved on.” He got up and headed toward where Dr. Walt was sitting on another boulder.
Looking up at Nalia, he smiled. “Thank you,” he said to her. “Your suggestion really helped.”
She reached down and squeezed his shoulder as she walked toward the others. “You…are…coming well,” she said in broken English, and he didn’t have the heart to correct her. Instead, he gave her his best smile. There was no way he could tell, but he would swear she was smiling under that mask as they walked back toward the others.
Sam tried to catch the sense of the ley lines as he plodded mechanically behind the others, but was unable. That night, after practicing with Rindu first and then Nalia, with a short study session with Dr. Walt, he tried again, sitting in his meditation posture and focusing on what he had felt earlier. He was able to recapture the feeling, but it was weaker. He spent long minutes just absorbing the feeling, becoming familiar with it. With this new ability, Sam tried again to transport himself home, hoping that he would be able to find the specific vibration he needed to leave. Again, he failed. Finally, he went to his tent and fell asleep quickly, happy with his progress with the ley lines, but not so much so with his ongoing problem, that of trying to get home.
A touch on his shoulder woke him instantly. He couldn’t believe he was sleeping so soundly that someone was able to get into his tent and actually touch him. “Is it my turn for watch?” he asked blearily.
He could just make out Nalia’s face in the darkness. She was not wearing her mask, which shook him out of his grogginess. Her slender finger was touching her lips in shushing gesture. Then, when she was sure he saw it and understood, she motioned him to get up and follow her.
The camp site they had chosen was a large clearing, large enough for them all to pitch their tents. Because it didn’t have a tree canopy over it, the stars were visible in the open sky. The full moon shone down and lit the clearing so that Sam could see almost as well as a cloudy day. Nalia pointed to one side.
At first, Sam didn’t know what she was pointing at. The far edge of the clearing was a good hundred feet away and at that distance, things were indistinct. He closed his eyes, opened them slowly, and forced his eyes to focus at the edge of the trees. Then he saw it.
Stooped on a rock, motionless, was what Sam had first assumed to be a man. In fact, his heart jumped when he first saw the shape, preparing for battle. Nalia’s light squeeze on his arm let him know there was no danger.
Looking more closely, he saw that the thing on the rock was not shaped exactly like a man. It was larger, much larger, and squatter. At first, Sam thought that he couldn’t see the color of the thing because of the distance and the low light, but he realized that it was actually black, or some very dark color. And hairy. It was covered in hair. Leaning in to whisper right next to Nalia’s ear, he asked, “Is that a gorilla?”
“Kuwpo,” Nalia whispered back. “Sentry. Stay still and watch.”
The two remained motionless for several minutes, watching the kuwpo sit as still as if he was part of the rock. Just when Sam was going to ask what they were watching for, he noticed more movement. His eyes had become more accustomed to the moonlight and his vision keener, but he wasn’t sure at first if he really had seen the bushes move a few feet from the kuwpo. They moved again, and he was sure. Something else was just inside the trees.
A figure smaller than the kuwpo on the rock, but still bigger than a man, slowly edged out into the light. As it left the bushes, it seemed to be dragging something. A moment later, Sam realized what it was. The kuwpo was holding the hand of a smaller kuwpo, a young one that was probably the size of a ten-year old child.
The smaller kuwpo was chittering softly, tugging on the other’s arm, trying to break free. What Sam assumed was the little one’s mother tugged his arm towards herself and lightly slapped the top of his head with the back of her other hand, whisper-chittering something commanding. The little one ducked his head, playing role of the chastised child perfectly. Sam covered his mouth so he wouldn’t laugh out loud, eyeing Nalia from the corner of his eye. Her eyes were wide with wonder and her mouth wore a smile as big as his. Sam felt a warm glow within himself from his affection for this tough warrior woman. It was like a fire being stoked deep in his chest.
The mother and the young kuwpo passed the sentry, whose foot the child patted while passing, and made their way another twenty feet to enter the trees again. Others, some young, some older, even one that looked elderly or infirm, passed through the edge of the clearing, clearly on their way somewhere else. Some of them snatched fronds from nearby plants and chewed them as they went.
Sam and Nalia watched until finally, the sentry noted the passing of another kuwpo as large or maybe a bit larger than him (Sam assumed it was a “him’). He then hopped down from his rock and began to follow where the others had gone. Just before he disappeared into the bushes and trees, he looked back toward the humans. He seemed to look Sam right in the eye, held his gaze, and made an almost imperceptible dip of his head. Shocked, Sam looked to Nalia, seeing surprise also written on her face.
“He knew we were here the whole time?” he asked.
“Yes. The kuwpo are very smart. They are a social animal, remaining in tight family units. They eat only plants and so are not a danger to u
“They are amazing. They’re like the gorillas in my world.”
“Smarter. Dr. Walt has told me of these gorillas. They are similar, but different, too. I have never seen them from such a short distance.” Her eyes were still shining, like a child at an amusement park.
Sam reached over and swept a stray bit of hair that was hanging over her face. Looking into her eyes, he suddenly realized just how much she had come to mean to him. “Thank you for waking me, for letting me share this with you,” he said as he scanned her face. “And for feeling comfortable enough with me to let me see your beautiful face sometimes.”
Even in the moonlight, he saw her skin flush. She was probably the toughest, most competent woman he had ever met, or even ever heard of, but some things were uncomfortable for her. Trying to change the subject quickly, he said, “Do you want me to take watch now? Would you like to get some sleep?”
“No.” She was looking at him, saying nothing else.
Sam continued to look at her, memorizing anew every little curve of her face, every feature. It should have been an uncomfortable moment, but somehow it wasn’t.
Their eyes met and the next thing Sam was aware of, he was kissing her. Holding her close, pulling her into him, their lips met and he felt energy course through him. Her lips seemed to fit perfectly with his. They were soft, so soft, and tasted of…what? They tasted of her. That was the only way he could describe it. It embodied everything that he saw and thought and felt about her. It was simply her, and it was amazing.
She broke the kiss and put her head on his shoulder, hugging him tightly. They stood like that, barely breathing, afraid to disturb the perfect peace they felt at the moment. Idly, he rubbed her back, enjoying the feel of her. She was so fit, so muscular, that he could feel hard muscle underneath his hand, but it was soft, too. It was perfect, as she was, and he never wanted to let her go.
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