Author Topic: Chapter 47  (Read 9017 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Daen

  • Administrator
  • We Don't Care
  • *****
  • Posts: 525
  • Karma: +1/-0
Chapter 47
« on: April 12, 2022, 01:41:02 AM »
Chapter 47

They exited the Fishbowl in darkness as usual, and Jaas directed him where to go from there. A few minutes later they’d arrived in a neutral patch—the same one he’d used to meet with his sister, in fact. It was well after noon now, so there was little chance she’d be dropping in on them. Together they stepped out of the threads and were suddenly facing… a very familiar-looking set of ruins.

Arico stopped dead, looking them over. Everything looked exactly as it had been back there during his skirmish with Heartbane. Hazra. The walls were in the same places, as was the wooden door. From experience, Arico knew the threads were just behind them as well, just like they had been back in Yeggin patch.

“Do you like it?” Jaas asked excitedly. “I wanted everything to be perfect, so I got Sabra and some of the dwarves to help me recreate everything. I hope I got it right; I was only there once, and I was a little distracted.” She gripped her palm again.

“It’s… impressive,” Arico admitted slowly. “But, why did you set all this up? I don’t understand what this is for.”

Jaas nodded, with a small smile. “Since it’s pretty clear that Cartwright won’t help you, I figured I would. We’re gonna figure out this thread-pulling ability of yours. Not just so you can sleep alone again,” she said wryly, “but because I think there’s more to it than just you vanishing into thin air. You brought me with you when you did it the first time, which means you can probably bring large objects with you as well. Tactically, it could be very useful to the Hauld and to the movement.”

Arico definitely couldn’t argue with that, or perhaps he was just too tired to. He shrugged and gestured for her to continue. “You once told me that Sustained navigators,” she said excitedly, “whether they’re Ascendants or not, control their emotions while they’re in the threads. They’re trained to not feel much of anything inside the threads. That’s how they can navigate safely from one to another, right?”

“That’s right,” he confirmed suspiciously. “Emotional control is critical for soldiers—especially soldiers who can navigate. The dwarves use similar training for their own navigators. The only exceptions are people who are self-taught, like me.” Arico grunted to himself. If only he’d known Alzhi back then… it would have made his experience much easier. Unfortunately he’d only discovered that Endu was part of the movement—and that Alzhi was her husband—a few years back. Far too late for Alzhi to help him learn how to navigate.

“Self-taught,” Jaas said musingly to herself. “That might explain it. Tell me, how many navigators are self-taught like you? That you’ve heard of, I mean.”

Arico thought about it briefly. “None. I mean young children sometimes start their training alone, but they’re scooped up pretty quick by older navigators. Durhu couldn’t help me other than giving me a few simple pointers about how the threads worked, and he wouldn’t let any of the Hauld’s navigators help either. He still didn’t trust them back then. It was years before he was even comfortable in that temporary dwelling for us in the Fishbowl.”

“What about the training methods?” Jaas insisted. “Have they changed much since the Threading itself?”

“Not really,” he shook his head. “Once a new navigator’s comfortable transporting himself and knows how much he can bring along with him, his training’s pretty much complete. But that still takes years of practice, mind you. It was no different for me, either.”

“I think that might be why you can move the threads, Arico!” She said with another excited smile. “Think about it. You weren’t trained like the Ascendants or the dwarves. You learned your own form of emotional control, which I’m betting is a bit less restrictive than the rest of the navigators. Besides, there’s also your bloodline to consider. House Fisher has been breeding more and more powerful navigators every generation for centuries now! You—and your sister I guess—are the culmination of their efforts so far! Put those two things together…” she trailed off briefly.

“You did something back in those ruins that was supposed to be impossible! Whenever there’s a new accidental breakthrough in magic, or alchemy, or medicine, or any other field, the best way to figure it out is to recreate everything as closely as possible and try to duplicate what happened.” She gripped her hands together as she explained, as if hoping for his approval. “We can’t go back there, so I set things up here so we could practice. That’s why I wanted to do this near the threads. It has to be as close to the original as possible!”

She’d certainly done that much, at least. Just being in these brand-new, yet old-looking ruins sent a shiver down his spine. It really was like being back there. Even the time of the day was the same, he noticed. Definitely not a coincidence. Come to think of it, he’d been pretty tired back there, too. Jaas had put a great deal of thought into this.

Apparently taking his silence as permission, Jaas took his hand again and led him to the wooden door, reaching into her bag as she did so. She pulled out a gun from her pack and handed it to him. Then she stepped behind him. “All right. Here we were, just about to leave Yeggin patch. We both heard rocks fall to the left. You stopped moving, and a crossbow bolt hit the wall in front of you.” She smacked the wall to illustrate. “You tried to get us behind the wall, but then bam-” with some surprising force, she jammed a dagger into the wooden surface. “I was pinned to the door.” It wasn’t Heartbane’s real dagger of course, but it was a close likeness.

Not knowing what to do, Arico just watched as Jaas abandoned her position behind him and ran about twenty paces to the left. “You turned and saw a figure-” she pulled out a crude-looking skull mask, probably the best she could get in such a short time, and put it on. “The assassin, Heartbane.”

This was all feeling a little too creepy. Still, Arico felt it was best to play along. “I pulled my gun out, aimed it.” He choreographed the motion, aiming the weapon she’d given him.

She darted forward. “I kicked your gun away.” Jaas grabbed the gun from his hand and tossed it to the right a good distance.

“I charged her—uh, Heartbane, knocking us both down,” he continued, and Jaas ‘fell’ backwards onto the ground with him above her.

If Jaas felt uncomfortable, she didn’t show it. “You loosed my hair, and found out I was a woman. Then I slipped free and rolled away.” She did as she said, though not nearly as easily as Hazra had done. “All right. Pause that moment right there. You stopped fighting at that point, and ran back to… ‘Jaas’. Why?” She lifted the mask and looked at him inquisitively.

Standing up a little stiffly, he thought back. “I knew I was no match for Haz—the assassin. I decided we both needed to get out of there, quick.”

“All right,” she ran back to the door, and placed her hand above the dagger, resting it on the flat of the blade and winced a little as she did so. “You ran back to Jaas and pulled on the dagger. It didn’t come loose.”

He did as told, moving back and putting his hand on the dagger. It wasn’t buried as deep as before, but it was close enough.

“Jaas told you to leave her, but you refused.”

“Damn right I did,” he said proudly.

Jaas gave him a slight smirk and then ran back to her old position, slipping the mask back on. “You saw Heartbane again, with your gun. She pointed it at your chest. Pause there again. What were you feeling, right there?”

She pulled out her own gun and aimed it at him, and he tried to relive what he’d felt. “I was scared, of course.”

“Scared of what?” Jaas demanded sharply, lowering the mask again. “Jaas is behind you, trapped and bleeding badly. You can’t fight Heartbane, but you can’t leave without Jaas either, and you can’t pull her free, can you? What were you feeling, Arico? The first thing to come to mind!”

“I… I was scared I was going to die! That you—that Jaas was going to die, or be captured!”

Jaas nodded behind the mask. She gave a piercing laugh—much like Heartbane had done—and pulled the trigger.

Something struck him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him as a muted pop echoed through the ruins. Arico flinched back against the door, rubbing at his chest. “Ow! What in the Shemra was that for??”

Jaas pulled off the mask, revealing a horrified look. She darted over to him, dropping the gun. “Sorry! I’m so sorry! Are… you all right?”

Arico looked around for a bit before spotting the wadded paper she’d used as ammo. It was a practice round, just as he’d used years ago during his training. At least she’d been thirty paces away, or it would have hurt a lot more.

“I’m fine,” he said irritably. The paper had dampened the noise of the shot and his tunic had lessened the impact, but it still stung a lot. “I think. What were you thinking, firing at me like that?”

“You were supposed to disappear into the threads!” She exclaimed, wringing her hands again. “We duplicated everything, including the shot itself. It should have worked!”

“Well it didn’t,” he grumbled, slipping a hand under his tunic and gingerly feeling for a bruise. He felt sore, right in the middle of his chest. Ironically, her aim had gotten a lot better. “At least you weren’t using a normal bullet.”

Jaas apologized several more times, almost to the point of babbling, but he held up a hand. “No, you’re right. We need to try this again.” Together they set up the scene again, with him next to the door, and the ersatz Heartbane across from him.

Closing his eyes, Arico tried to relive the moment just before Heartbane had fired. It was very similar to his dream trips with Odjes—just a matter of focus. Jaas kept quiet, and he slowly put himself back there. When Heartbane had raised the gun and laughed at him, he’d been scared for sure. But he’d also felt…

Angry.

Yes, that was it. He’d been furious. There they were, trying to educate and help people who’d known only oppression their entire lives, and out of nowhere this… thug had come with every intention of murdering him! Sent by an entire culture of thugs who just wanted to stay in charge of this—this sewer of a city! It wasn’t right! Or fair, or decent, or any of the things he’d learned from Durhu and the dwarves! He had every right to be angry! That was it!

Smiling, Arico opened his eyes to the roiling white chaos that was the threads. He opened a window, and could see a distant Jaas smiling back at him.

-.-

It was nearly daybreak by the time Velya finally made it to one of the Smith family’s villas on the edge of Barros patch. One of the Deathwatcher women named Yeshri had been in labor all night, and had only given birth a few hours ago. Fortunately both she and her baby boy were all right, but Velya felt exhausted. And grimy, despite the brief shower she’d just taken. She’d just drop in, wish Boska and his wife well, make a brief appearance to the party-goers, and then return home to get some sleep. Most likely they would all be asleep as well, given how late it was.

That was strange. There were no guards posted outside the villa. Velya shook her head. They’d probably gone inside for the party as well. It was foolish of them, but then Velya wasn’t in any position to tell Boska how his guards should behave.

The front doors were barred, too. From the outside. With a rising sense of dread, Velya lifted the bar and slipped inside.

There were a dozen or so figures inside, all sprawled on the ground. The nearby foyer showed a few more, also on the ground. Silently removing her dagger from its hiding place in her dress forearm, she moved closer to check on them.

When Velya put her fingers to the neck of the nearest guard, she could tell that he was breathing and his heart was beating. Most likely drugged, then. The others were in the same condition. Grateful that she’d chosen to wear her soft-soled shoes, Velya silently made her way from room to room trying to find anyone still awake. Room by room, her hopes faded.

The dining room was the worst. People had apparently slumped over right as they were eating, including Ornos himself. Judging by the mostly-untouched food, Velya suspected that whatever had done this had been in the drinks. Once the toast was done, it would have taken only a matter of minutes for the entire household to fall unconscious. The staff, too, would have been taken in. Boska’s toasts usually included everyone, children and servants alike.

Velya froze. There was a groaning noise coming from the kitchen. Slipping past the servants on the ground, she pushed open the kitchen door. Boska’s wife Shaana was on the other side, partially blocking the door and rocking feebly back and forth. There was a fresh scratch on the side of her neck, in a straight line.

Just behind her in the kitchen was Boska himself. He looked unconscious like the others, but he had a tiny dart sticking from the side of his neck. Velya plucked the dart out, knowing that it was probably already too late. It was one of Ta’anu’s all right, and probably laced with the same stuff he’d used back in the fields. At least Shaana didn’t look any worse than the rest of the household.

Sighing, Velya dragged the poor woman away from the door and propped her up against the kitchen wall. There was another dart on the ground nearby, probably the cause of the scratch on her neck. Velya guessed that she’d been grazed by the dart and gotten a smaller dose. Enough to knock her out, but not to keep her unconscious for long.

“Velya…” Shaana moved her head slightly, peering up at her. “I’m… sorry. It’s my fault. All… my fault.”

“What is?” She demanded, still keeping her voice low. Whoever did this might still be nearby. “Did Ta’anu do this?”

Shaana nodded feebly. “Ta’anu and Boska had a plan,” she said a little more clearly, her eyes coming more into focus as she looked up at Velya. “They stole it together. They… hid it away, where no one would think to look.”

She grimaced at the sight of the others on the ground. “But Ta’anu tricked us. He must have put something in the drinks. I didn’t drink anything because of the baby, and neither did Boska, but then he just shot us! He only grazed me,” she said in a wavering voice, her hands cradling her abdomen. “For the sake of my baby. He… always was a good shot.” Her eyes rolled over to the dart on the ground.

She was rambling. Velya grabbed Shaana’s head with both hands and shook her a little. “Stay with me, Shaana! What did they steal?”

“Forgive me, Velya,” she continued faintly. “Boska wanted to use it on the people who deserve it most. The Ascendants, the Council, some of the Penets. We only planned on taking a few barrels—enough to do that. But it was Ta’anu’s job to destroy the rest, and I don’t think he did! I’m so sorry.”

Dread gripped at Velya’s chest, and she had to force herself to breathe normally. “The nethrit poison. Aquun have mercy; that’s what they stole!”

Shaana nodded weakly. “You have to stop him!” Velya stood up slowly, her heart beating like a drum. With that much nethrit, a navigator like Ta’anu could do a lot of damage.

Nearly all of the Thornes were here, unconscious, and she didn’t know how to find the rest, wherever they were. The Thornes had always been kept separate from each other for security reasons. Shaana was no good right now either, even if she could be trusted to help. Velya was on her own, and Ta’anu probably had help from his own patch.

There was no time to waste. Velya leaned down towards Shaana again. “You and your husband have a lot of explaining to do, but that will have to wait. Where did they hide the poison?”

Shaana’s eyes were closing again. In desperation, Velya shook her again, hard. “Wake up, Shaana! Where would Ta’anu take that much poison?! Where could he hide it safely?”

“The… city wall,” Shaana finally replied. “Krellik patch, right where the Waters enter the city. It’s… abandoned now, but Ta’anu was asking about it before the raid.”

She was right. There was a tower there by the wall, originally built by the Millers to store the Waters before they realized it wouldn’t be of any use to them. It wasn’t much, but at least she knew where to go now. Gently lowering Shaana back to the ground, Velya flat out ran from the villa towards the nearest threads.

-.-

Quite a crowd had gathered in the early-morning light to watch Arico work. Dwarves had gathered even from other patches, putting their work on hold to see this novelty. Even Endu and the boys were there, amidst the sea of short, bearded folks. There’d been no sign of Jaas yet, though.

It was a pity she wasn’t there, but not really a surprise. He’d stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her the other night at Terres’ place, while the smuggler chief questioned Jaas in detail. Jaas had risen to the challenge as he knew she would, but he’d gotten a weird sense from her as they left. And later, when she was helping him work out how to manipulate the threads, he’d gotten that sense again. Perhaps it was because of Terres’ obvious feelings of jealousy. For a moment back there, he’d even been tempted to put on a show with Terres, to see how Jaas would react. Terres certainly would have gone along with it.

No, that wouldn’t have been fair to either of them. Terres deserved someone who felt the same way about her, and Jaas deserved the simple truth from him. His lies had been what had ended things with Nouma, and he wasn’t about to make that mistake again.

Arico’s concentration slipped for a moment, and he sighed. After getting some much-needed rest yesterday, he’d gone back to the stone wall she’d used as a duplicate of Yeggin patch, and started practicing again. It had taken the afternoon and most of the night, but now he was finally gaining some comfort with this… threading ability. All the same, it was still easy to distract him from it. He tried to focus on the task at hand, and not on feelings that may or may not exist.

It wasn’t that easy to put Jaas out of his mind though, especially while using abilities that she’d effectively given him. Without Jaas, none of this might have been possible. Arico freely admitted to anyone who asked that it had been her plan to unlock his new abilities, and that it had worked. Unfortunately his attempts to do the same for the Hauld’s navigators had so far gone nowhere.

Perhaps Jaas was right. She was convinced that it was a combination of his bloodline and the fact that he was self-taught that let him do these incredible things. On the other hand, it could be the difference in kind—dwarves even thought differently than men—but Arico suspected it was also a matter of sheer power. Both sides of his ancestry had been bred for navigational skill for generations, making him and his sister possibly the most powerful navigators alive. That could also explain her own unique ability to track people through the threads.

Every day since his visit to Terres Huun’s place, he’d been sticking around that cabin at noon, hoping Hazra would show up. Also hoping she came alone, and not with a squad of Ascendants to arrest him. There’d been no sign of either so far.

As to his new abilities, Jaas had presented another theory just this morning. There had been an earthquake when she had first arrived. She was wondering if her arrival might have weakened the threads themselves, opening up abilities that wouldn’t have been possible before. Whatever the explanation, Arico was just grateful it worked.

As the crowd watched intently, he tried to concentrate. He knelt down on the dirt plot set aside specifically by the Hauld for this project, and reached down to touch the earth. As he did so, Arico began again to focus on the repetitive phrase in his mind.

Stunties come to break and paw; stunties come to take it all.


It was what Jaas had called a mnemonic device. As a kid, he’d heard that phrase being chanted by other children in Tellek patch. To them it was a simple rhyme, not something meant to denigrate the dwarves, but because he’d spent years with the dwarves, learning to respect them, hearing it never failed to anger him.

It was precisely that anger which he needed to call on his new abilities. As he thought the rhyme out in his head, sure enough that hard knot in his stomach reappeared, and with his eyes closed he could see the threads appear at the tips of his fingers. Unlike the flatness of the walls separating the patches, these streams of white light had formed into a sharp point. A spike of white light coming from above, with a tip that ended just as it reached his fingers. And then another spike, and another. Soon there were dozens of them, all overlapping to the point where it almost looked like he was wearing white gloves made of threads!

The streams of light within them were still just as random, though. When he moved his hands, the threads moved as well, as if he were pulling on them without even feeling them. It was quite amazing, really. Instead of using that access to jump into the threads, he pushed the threads into the earth, digging deeper and deeper with his hands. It was exactly the same as the hole he’d dug weeks ago with Alzhi, but this time he was nowhere near the threads! Before long he released his control, and the threads snapped back to their original position. As he’d spent hours discovering, it didn’t seem to matter where in a patch he was. He could call the threads to himself no matter where he happened to be. The further away he was calling from, the harder it was to maintain, but whenever he let go they had always returned to the straight vertical shape they’d been before.

For now he had to be careful, though. He was sure to only pull the threads from very high up. That way they came down from above, instead of parallel to the ground. It was to keep the crowd safe, actually. Only a few of the watching dwarves were navigators—the rest were at risk if the threads touched them. And it also made it easier for him to dig into the ground. If he’d been pulling the threads from the side, he would have cut vast swaths of earth, but he wouldn’t have been able to dig very far down at all.

Arico opened his eyes and looked down at his handiwork briefly. He’d dug nearly a full span into the ground. Without shovels, and leaving no trail of dirt.

Granted, any digger could have done as much in the same time. There had to be a way to speed it up. He could call the threads to him very easily now, but actually using them to dig was something he’d need to practice. Jaas had assured him that any mental device could be honed with practice. Apparently that was how her spells worked (or would work, anyway, if she ever got out of the city again).

On an impulse Arico removed his leather shoes and stockings, and laid them next to the hole. Standing in the gap he’d made, he focused once again and called the threads to him, but this time to his feet. It was a strange sensation. If he closed his eyes, he could see the almost-vertical spikes of threads passing through his body and down to his toes! But he couldn’t feel any of it. There was no sign it was happening except for the effects. As he carefully stepped down, the threads around his right foot eliminated all the dirt below it. Before long he had to stop and switch to the other foot.

It was hard going at first: switching control like that. It reminded him of the first time he’d tried to climb the long staircase inside the keep. Or riding a horse. The dwarves had a stable on the far side of the Enclave. While most of them preferred walking or navigating, there were a few who had learned horsemanship. The Hauld had wanted Arico to learn the same, just in case his undercover work required riding at some point. Practice and confidence were the twin keys to this, just as they had been for riding.

As he worked at it though, it became easier. He could do this with shoes on as well, but that would slow things down. Direct skin contact was the fastest way to thread stuff. Step, stop, switch. Step, stop, switch. Stunties come to break and paw…

When he opened his eyes, he found he was literally in over his head. The dirt had collapsed in around him, burying him all the way up to his shoulders. After freeing his arms, he reached up and a dozen or so arms lifted him out of the hole he’d dug for himself. Cheering and clapping resonated through the crowd, and he allowed himself a small smile as he shook hands all around.

Jaas was finally there as well, pushing her way through the crowd. Otrul was at her side too, for some reason. He waved at her. “Jaas! Did you see that? You were right; it’s just a matter of practice. Imagine how quickly we can dig a well now!”

“All righ’, all of ye!” Otrul shouted out. “Ye’ve seen tha show; now ge’ back ta work! Off ye go!”

A few of the crowd grumbled at his proclamation, but they dispersed easily enough, heading back downhill in several directions. The navigators spread out as well, to help them get back to work in the other patches. As the crowd split up, Arico caught sight of someone else behind Jaas. It was Velya. Boss Bloodeye’s aide and advisor.

What in the world could she be doing here? How had she even gotten here? The Deathwatchers had no navigators, and he doubted the dwarves had been too happy to see her, even though she’d been in the Enclave once before. Just after that near-disastrous summit of stra’tchi leaders.

“We need your help,” Jaas said once she was close enough.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 03:14:35 AM by Daen »