Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Discarded Chapter 16
When the earth shook, tossing off the immortals, from sheer panic Chan’s hands clawed into the rock. Even as his feet dangled in the air, he felt the cold, hard granite around his fingers like a farmer’s sturdy gloves. A series of yanks jolted his body as each of the immortals reached the end of their section of rope, but his fingers dug deeper, holding on for their lives. The hardest shock was from Keramos falling from above him, and he felt the rope bite into his skin.
He looked down and counted his companions. Everyone was still there, but they were so high the bottom was hidden by darkness. He took a breath for courage, regained his footing, and eased one of his hands out of the rock. He stared wide-eyed at it.
His hand was the brown of long labor under the sun, but had the strange shimmer of snake skin. The fingers ended in small claws, and when he rubbed them together they felt scaly.
The dragon is keeping me alive. I hope it is as helpful for my friends.
He was relieved to be alive, but unnerved by how easily and quickly the dragon had asserted itself, reaching out through his skin.
He waited for his companions to reach for the cliff face and pull themselves back, then they resumed their ascent. He kept at least three limbs in contact with the mountain at all times, using his claws like grappling hooks. Keramos caught up to him easily. “Thank you for holding on for our lives.”
“My life, too.”
“What happened to your hands?”
“What you think happened.” Chan hoped he sounded pleased, but heard a nervous edge in his tone. When they reached the top, every one took a turn examining his hands. Meramix looked fascinated, Sohemus calm, the rest appeared worried, but while most of them looked away, worried about themselves, Mysis looked at him, more concerned about his life than her safety. He knew that look from climbing trees with Drifting Lily as children, up off the ground where he was weaker and she surpassed him in agility.
He realized he’d been thinking less and less about Drifting Lily. When he did, the pain and determination returned quickly enough, but by the gods, his life had become a series of surprises. A new world made demands upon him, and he wasn’t just an ordinary, if unusually strong, farmer. Even the immortals around him weren’t sure what was going on, since their world had started changing rapidly just when he arrived.
Perhaps because I arrived, thought Chan. I brought an unwelcome dragon soul into their lives, and my journey gave Lord Apulia his excuse to leave the city without attracting attention. He’d needed that head start to escape Lady Emeth.
“Can you pull those claws back in?” asked Mysis.
He tried to command them, but nothing happened. “Not yet.”
“Perhaps your dragon soul does not realize it is out of danger,” suggested Sohemus. “Calm yourself.”
Breathing slowly and evenly, Chan imagined himself relaxed, and then returning to normal. Slowly, the scales faded and claws retracted into his fingers. Once they were back to normal, he flexed and straightened them, testing the joints, but they felt fine. “Thank you.”
Sohemus stared at his face, probing for the truth. “Perhaps. For now your dragon soul and human soul are aligned. Self-preservation is a universal desire. The real test will come when your souls have different wishes.”
“I do not know what my dragon soul wants,” he answered, finding it strange to speak their formal, silted language.
“Then you had better master it before we fall afoul of trouble,” said Meramix.
As they hiked into the darkness, Meramix and Sohemus walked ahead of him, discussing his future spiritual education. Mysis and Nithas walked right behind. Again, Keramos struck out ahead, leaving Lord Apulia falling into their marching order next to him. Chan didn’t know what to say to a lord who had abandoned his people to save them. Be it either treason or heroism, Apulia’s decision was beyond his simple way of looking at the world. So the two of them walked in silence, carrying their extra souls.
They walked down a tunnel made wide, then narrow, then wide again, by unseen, so slow forces of nature, the stresses of weight from above and heat from below. Startled by the realization, Chan stopped and crouched down to touch the tunnel floor with a bare hand, feeling the slightly greater temperature. “How hot does it become as you descend?” he whispered so his voice wouldn’t echo.
Everyone else bunched up in the tunnel too narrow to surround him.
“We are capable of tolerating greater temperatures than immortals,” said Meramix, “but found our limits attempting to answer just that very question. The blood of the earth is molten rock.”
“How did you find your way so low?”
“In the face of steam rising from where water fell upon it, and rose again. On the distant rooftop of the Doomra Sea living things cling to the earth, the plants, for lack of a better word, living off the steam and gases, while the animals live as they always do, but more precariously, always at risk of falling to their deaths.”
“Hard to imagine such a life.” But he wanted to see it, if only for awhile. Once, mere weeks ago, he would have been contented to live in his village forever. Now he knew the world was wider and stranger than he had ever imagined, and home no longer had the hold over him that it once did.
“Life seeps into every crack it can,” said Mysis. “When cities fall, plants grow into the ruins.”
“Talk as we walk, if you must,” said Keramos. “We do not want to lose our lead.”
But they didn’t. Chan kept one hand sliding across the rocky walls, feeling the earth’s strengths and weaknesses. When he felt tremorous footsteps, he reported them to the others.
“Those are why we avoided the Fungi Jungles,” said Meramix. “The greater monsters from older ages roam there. There isn’t enough food elsewhere, so as long as we stay away from the flora we should be safe from the fauna.”
“Wait,” hissed Apulia, and the group halted instantly. Apulia revealed the infected spirit gem, and the light rippled. “The Hive is near.”
“How do you this?” asked Meramix.
“We studied the gem for decades. Soldiers and workers in the Hive communicate by scent but the Queen is telepathic. She must be communicating with a scouting party in the area.”
“Cinyui’s gem can detect this?” asked Keramos.
“So can their Queen detect the gem?” Apulia’s hesitation was all she needed. “Wonderful. This Enyan has led us into a trap.”
The Kazans turned on the Enyans.


Log in

No account? Create an account