Author Topic: Part 36: Shotgun Wedding  (Read 1527 times)

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Online Daen

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Part 36: Shotgun Wedding
« on: February 10, 2023, 06:37:05 PM »
"Moss. Moss! Wake up!"

Slowly, he came back to himself, from… wherever he'd been. The first thing he realized was that the tank was empty. Had been for a while, given how impaired he felt. It was a shame, too. He'd just started to like those new branches he'd been growing. "What is it?"

Strangely, he realized that he could communicate with her coherently. That shouldn't have been possible anymore. Somehow, he was hydrated! It wasn't much—just a trickle—but it was enough. "Wait, we're alive?"

"We're alive," she responded with a burst of relief. She didn't connect her senses to him right away, but waited for him to better allocate this water and get used to the new situation.

When he did connect to her senses, he could tell that they were still in the desert. Dunes stretched out all around them. Where was the water coming from, then? Wait, there it was. She was providing it, through her body, just like she'd threatened. And she was getting her supply from somewhere down below them. "Whoa, that's pretty weird," he admitted.

She didn't waste any time getting to an explanation. "This is what we call an aquifer. It's connected to the larger underground cavern filled with water. Sharpcrag is very close. Literally right beyond that ridge. My ancestors dug a shaft down here, to provide their communication roots with water. We're tapping into it for a while to recover. Or I am, anyway. You… might need a little more time."

"Yeah, I think you might be right about that," Moss conceded, reveling in the tiny trickle of water that was now keeping him alive. Still, he resolved to grow his own root down there as his first priority.

It was a good thing they'd stopped here. The Core was almost set again, Moss realized with some chagrin. He'd dropped off and left her all alone all day. So much for being a reliable companion.

They spent the night in slow conversation. Or more like communion, actually. Words weren't really necessary as he recovered. The phloem and cambium slowly absorbed the water, seeping new life into him over time. It was terrifying to realize just how close he'd come to the end. As usual, Char felt that terror, and sent out her own comfort to counter it. But then, she'd been nearly as close herself, and he felt her own fear as an echo.

Finally, partway into the next day, Moss switched back to words. "All right. I think I'm good now, at least until I can put down roots for real, into actual soil."

"Good, because now that we're not going to die of thirst, we have another problem," she said grimly.

Her attention was directed south, over the ridge towards Grove Sharpcrag. Or whatever they called their villages. Reluctantly, Char brought her attention back to him. "I've been racking my mind for days now about what to do with you if we did survive. My people are paranoid, like crazy levels of paranoid, even by Union standards. The only thing that's kept them united and alive for thousands of years was the fact that no one knew they existed. Or so they tell themselves. I don't know if it's true or not."

"And you told me about them."

"Exactly! It'll be a miracle if they don't girdle you on the spot!"

"Can you just leave me here, and go break the news to them to get them used to the idea first?"

Char sent out a negative. "It'd be the same result. There is no breaking this news gently. And I can't leave you out here without telling them, either. They'll find you eventually. I'm afraid I can think of only one way to increase your chances of survival. The two of us have to be bonded."

Moss had also been reviewing a bunch of possible options in his mind, but that hadn't been one of them. "Wait, what?"

"Bonding is extremely rare here, Moss!" She said urgently, almost desperately. "When two sandkin bond, they become legally indistinct. What one person does, both people face, in every way. When one of them is given an order, they both are!"

He tried not to envision his father's presence, telling him to bond someone already. "But you said you'd get into trouble just by bringing me here. How would us being bonded change that?"

"It might not. But I was ordered to join the Arbormass. I was ordered to help you all build defenses, and mobility devices. Then, when they thought the risk was too great, I was ordered to leave, and get to safety. If you and I had been legally bonded back then, my superiors ordering me to leave, would also be them ordering us to leave! Together."

"But we weren't bonded, Char. Then, or now."

"They don't know that! My reports to my superiors were limited to my work only. I could tell them that I bonded with you, and that I couldn't leave you behind. They'll be angry, but at least the law will be supporting me. It might be enough for them to spare you."

It sounded crazy, but it might just work. Or… "If they don't decide to just kill us both, you mean. I'm not a sandkin, either! Would they even recognize the bond?"

She let out some nervousness. "That is a risk. They'll want to know what I know either way. I can stretch out my debriefing; give them time to get used to the idea."

He couldn't lie to himself and say this wasn't something he'd thought about. Idly, in passing perhaps, but it had been considered. Moss wasn't sure he was ready to take on that responsibility, but given their sharply limited options, it seemed like had little choice.

"All right," he felt himself say, with a sense of detachment from reality. "How will we separate and attach the cuttings? The articulator limbs on this thing can't do that—I'm sure of that at least."

Bonding ceremonies had always involved an exchange between both parties. A permanent reminder that they were connected. In ancient times it had been passed by for survival reasons, but nowadays, it meant removing a part of yourself and giving it to your partner. Their cutting would then grow as a part of you, and as a symbol of the bond. But then, that was in areas which still had qars to actually do the cutting and attaching.

Char hesitated. "Sandkin bonding ceremonies are a little more… involved than the ones you're used to, actually.