Author Topic: Part 25: Blasted  (Read 7083 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 25: Blasted
« on: November 07, 2022, 12:41:47 AM »
A tremendous thunderclap echoed through the Arbormass, shaking everyone out of their rest. Qars screeched and chittered in fear, sending more signals into the air and into their treqars. Moss felt a wave of heat pass through him, and then his sides were being bombarded by something he couldn't identify at first.

Bark and leaves!

There was a gap in the network now, where Char had been. The noise had been similar to her explosions, but a lot louder. Had one of her experiments disconnected her? Moss hurried to get his qars out there to find out. They turned back right away, though. The air was far too dry, and too hot!

That explained why he hadn't been able to sense what was happening for himself! There was a fire raging out there, consuming the dry grass to the north of the Arbormass, and spreading outward. It wouldn't get far: there was open rock to one side, and the river covered the other two. Trying to get some kind of image through the smoke and heat, Moss made sure to keep his qars in their hollow. He could handle a few flames, and they couldn't.

Before long the nearest flames had moved away, and the wind dispersed most of the smoke. Moss finally could see over there, and a burst of shock rippled into the network. Char was… gone! Not just from the network, but from the grove itself!

A blasted hole filled with roots was all that was left of her position. From the amount of bark and branches and leaves all around the Arbormass, Moss knew that there was nothing left of her. She'd died, instantly. Not burned to death like so many of their fellow citizens, but blasted apart in one moment.

Moss went numb in the network. He didn't respond to any of the messages from the others, so they looked for themselves. Mostly, the reaction was the same for them. The twins recovered fastest, naturally. They were accustomed to death, being the only ones who'd actually studied battle, and heard all the reports of destruction from the front lines. Moss still couldn't believe it!

A secondary explosion burst out at them from out in the field. Their motion machine, which they had built just a few days ago and successfully tested yesterday, was now in pieces in the field! It had been left there when prayer time came, and the fire must have burned underneath it. Moss supposed that eventually the heat caused the remaining fuel to go up. It was nothing compared to losing Char, but it was another blow. She had helped create it, so in a way this was like losing a part of her as well.

The ground was still too hot to send any qars out, but the fire wasn't an immediate threat to anyone. Other than its first victim. Aysa sent out a burst of encouragement to Moss especially, and then started assembling a message to grove Heirach. Moss only paid scant attention as she dictated the message.

How had this happened? Char was a Combustor professional! She would never have kept anything close enough to her trunk or roots to be a risk to herself. She'd already learned that lesson the hard way, back at her home. And the motion machine out there had carried fuel, but not nearly enough to cause it to explode like that! Moss could only sense melted and twisted metal fragments at this distance. Someone had done this on purpose.

Could it have been Eli? Doubtful. He'd been hostile enough towards Char, Moss had learned from others as well as his own interview, but he'd been gone before the machine had even taken shape. The trejuns? No, if they knew about this place, they would have sent juns to kill everyone, not just Char. Unless they wanted it to look like an accident for some reason. If that communication root he thought Grace had seen really led to one of their agents… If it was even there. No, the trejuns had much more covert ways of communication. A single jun could pick up or drop off enzyme messages and there would be virtually no chance that anyone here could detect it. It wasn't them.

That left only the people here.

Only the Arbormass treqars knew how to handle these explosive mixtures. Only they would know that it would take packages of explosives running almost her entire height to blow her to pieces like that! And only they would know when Char would be dormant, and therefore less likely to detect any intruding qars.

Rax had held onto his suspicions about her for the longest, but skepticism was a long way from murder. Or what about the twins? If the Chancellor really believed that Char was a traitor, despite the completed investigation, she might have ordered Lars and Lens to eliminate the threat!

Had… she done it to herself? Moss knew she still felt guilty about all the damage she'd done back home. It was masked behind her anger and resentment against the people who hated Combustors, but he knew her well enough to feel it. No, she'd been happy. He'd felt the satisfaction from her, at a job well done. He'd felt her joy as she tested that machine herself! She wouldn't kill herself, not without some kind of warning sign first.

"Rest assured, Chancellor," Aysa continued, "the project will only be delayed by a few days. Each of us has a full copy of the motion machine's design, and we have more than enough raw materials here to build more. Despite this… accident, you will have mobile treqars within days. Ones equipped with thunderers, within a week." With a wave of sorrow, she dispatched one of her qars with the package. It would likely reach the relay point by dawn, and the message would get to grove Heirach by the afternoon. Even after the investigation, their security restrictions were still in effect. Even Moss' letters to his father and friends were no doubt being read before delivery.

The fires continued to burn out overnight, but were mostly gone by morning. Time usually passed quickly for Moss. Like everyone else, he had the ability to just let his impressions fade away until some external stimuli like the Core's light. He kept sensing Char though, through the network. Every time he double-checked, she wasn't there.

If a qar was injured and lost a limb, sometimes it behaved as if it was still there. Equity, one of Moss' old qars long dead now, had sent images of pain from the tip of a limb which had been ripped off in an accident. How could he feel pain if it wasn't there to feel? Right now, Moss was feeling pain in the tip of his Char.

The new light showed a field burnt black. Treqars had a limited sense of colors by comparison to qars and other animals, but even Moss could see that much. The ashes had crumbled, and he sent his qars out with all the others to look for clues. Among other things, any sign of that communication root from earlier. Not that there was much chance of finding it now after a fire this size. He kept Strength and Prudence back though, to gather… her remains. There wasn't much bark left—not that she'd had much undamaged bark to begin with—but there were traces of sapwood and heartwood here as well. What little hadn't been consumed by the fire, he collected in the hole she used to call home.

Normal funeral rites for a dead treqar varied from place to place. In grove Praska, it was customary to disassemble the departed, placing them piece by piece in a large circle around the grove. It sometimes took seasons, especially for the oldest treqars. Moss had heard of elders dying just before winter, and their funerals being held in spring. To have a corpse just standing there for a season, unattended but still noticed, put a chill in his sap.

The departed's qars were also doled out to friends and family. There was no need for that now: all of Char's minions had died in the same blast. She hadn't treated them badly, exactly. More like brusquely. Impersonally. It was one of her flaws, and that was why he'd lent her Grace in the first place.

Patrol after patrol reported back with no sign of foul play. Skepticism within the network was strong at first, but faded steadily. Before long Aysa ordered the patrols to stop. They had work to do, which had been set back by the explosion. Reluctantly, Moss helped out with the new construction.

He had thrown his support behind Char, one hundred percent, and then she'd been murdered. It was possible that he was next. Feeling a bit like she must have, Moss arranged for three of his qars to keep a constant watch for any signs of trouble.