Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 13
Despite Luuko's best efforts to soothe
the nightmarish worries of the other Dimar, tensions ran high around the
camp. With the advent of the knowledge of English, the Dimar had become
aware of nuances of the colonist situation, details and dangers for which
they were not prepared. The firebreaks all along the north and west were
failing, despite the nighttime efforts of 3 full ranks - including the
currently most skilled rank, Liur's Tinar Rank 1, as well as the exhaustive
efforts of the six hundred and seventy new and old colonists. The tiny
colony that had imperiled all of Dimar was itself nearing a fire crisis,
and loyalties in every rank stationed there were divided. To make matters
worse, the stormy Kiralla had not come down with the colony ship the day
after the revelation of the hole in space. The Dark Hope had not been
operable when the smaller transport shuttle had arrived to collect her.
Rakal's usually level temper was becoming increasingly uneven as the time
wore on, and with the new colonists arrivals, he and Tara needed to be
more Leaders than ever.
If the colony did ignite, would the Great
Mother still extend the branches of the Telka Barryd openly to the human
and Arrallin people, as agreed at the council? Luuko's slumbers were plagued
with images of the charred remains of the tiny creatures, as he struggled
alone to halt the fires in his dreams.
Aching from half a night at the firebreaks,
he called upon the Wind to gently lift him to his chosen perch next to
the nest of tiny numu. Forlorn, he settled on the wide, flat topped branch,
listening to the young nuMulkai chattering with annoyance as he settled.
Sighing, he let his eyelids droop, shutting out the dim light of Dimar's
one waning moon, as the wind, and the Wind lulled him to sleep.
A voice touched his dreams, calling him
back to the land of the living. It was Goothib, resting as he always did
in the branch near Harmon's tent.
Yes, Goothib? Is there a problem? Luuko
flicked an eyelid open to survey his tree, but all was fine.
No...well, yes, in truth. It's Harmon.
His voice had a guilty, pained ring to it.
Is she sick? Did you do something you shouldn't
have? Luuko's mind slowly churned over the possibilities, reaching out
to probe Goothib mildly.
No, no...it's nothing like that. I haven't
taken her to the Water, or done any more than the most basic and important
lessons for her Seventh Class studies. Goothib's tail was visible in the
dim light, flicking back and forth thoughtfully. I just...I would not
like to lose her. I am considering sun-bonding with her. Is this wise?
She is, after all, an important member of another barryd, and would add
diversity to Telka, as is preferred.
Bond? You mean the Sun Ceremony? With a
human? I would think it could not be done. She would add much diversity,
that is true, but, well, it's never been done, Goothib. It could kill
her, or burn her mind. Luuko's thoughts turned grave, imagining the tiny
human trying to encompass all that was Goothib with her mind, and him
hers, while dancing the whirling, dangerous dance of the sun ceremony.
It was not for the faint of heart - a bond more true than even physical
mating, and the most complete sharing of souls two individuals could endure.
And, it was a luxury lavished on only the most precious of minds in a
barryd, as it provided a permanent active record of the experiences of
each individual in the other. It would take twenty or more major Talents
to oversee the procedure, and could be costly to them too. I do not think
you could get the acolytes to agree to it. From what I can sense, they
do not yet understand the colonists, and they fear them and their hole
in space, as do we all. They would not want Harmon having your knowledge
of both Tinar firefighting and Telkai engineering, and they would not
find Harmon's mind useful, as she is not a member of the human and Arrallin
Inner Circle Council.
Oh, but Luuko! You have not seen the worlds
she has! Admittedly, many are fantasy, but she has traveled the stars,
as well as both Earth and Arralla, and she understands much of her worlds
- the interactions between people, and their metal ship engineering too.
If you had touched her mind, you'd be drawn to her like a kiMulkai bird
to the fruits of the highest trees. Goothib's tone was flooded with admiration,
rippling through the images in waves of blue and green.
Luuko wiggled his ears in the darkness,
Goothib, not that I speak from experience, but it is not a Sun Ceremony
candidate that you have found in Harmon. He suppressed the yellow and
orange colors of mirth that ranged through his response.
She is worthy of the Sun Ceremony! She
is the most powerful mind I have ever encountered, even more resonant
and strong than the starborn psis, and many of our acolytes. Goothib was
indignant, and in the dim light, Luuko could see him raise his head and
lay his ears back. Well, if she is not a Sun Ceremony candidate, then
what is she? You tell me now.
A mate. You're in love. Luuko felt his
shock, but didn't know how to cushion the blow. Goothib was in love, but
was not yet ready to admit that he wished to spend his life with Harmon
as a partner. He wanted Harmon with him, in his thoughts always, and thus,
he thought he wanted the Sun Ceremony supposing that he had perhaps been
sun-struck by a Great Mind. Luuko chuckled again. What Goothib really
wanted was a mating ceremony. Harmon was not a Sun Ceremony candidate,
that much Luuko knew truly. Sun Ceremony candidates were like brilliant
powers, more commanding than Leaders, braver than Tinar heroes, and as
intelligent as Telkai herself. Harmon had only had this effect on Goothib,
and no other Dimar in the camp or out of it had noticed her at all. It
was a sure sign that only Goothib was love struck.
Feh! Goothib sent an annoyed farewell,
with a troubled undertone, and returned to his restless thoughts.
Luuko returned to his disgruntled slumber,
a bit jealous that the only mate he'd found yet was the Wind, and that
even it's constant contact was not enough to sate him. He watched the
night colors flash across the sky, letting the patterns mesmerize him
into a light sleep.
An explosion, followed by another even
closer, rattled Luuko's perch. He came fully awake, and looked for the
moon. It was well set - much time had passed since he had settled and
the sun would rise soon, but Rank 5 and Liur's half of Rank 1 were not
back from the fire line. He reached out curiously to find out how they
Liur? Why aren't you back yet? The light
will hit this valley soon, and the other Leaders may be watching. He reached
out toward where he thought Liur would be, shocked at the images that
flooded back to him.
No time to talk, Luuko - we just lost the
last line before the Valley. IT'S GOING UP!! Rouse your half, and get
Rank 4 in the air now! Summon Telka - the colony will not survive without
help! Liur's panic was more than just his fear that he would fail in his
Tinar - he too had come to see the waters-lost of the colony as his own
barryd. Luuko's own fear sent him blasting up through the branches of
his tree and into the air, bugling a summons to all Ranks and Telka. Looking
west, he could see the valley, with no stream bed in it, that ran alongside
the valley in which the colony lay. Gouts of fire burst out along the
walks of the canyon, moving toward where the two valleys met.
Spinning, he assessed the colony valley
condition. The dry season had progressed even further, and the few storms
that had passed through the region had missed Telka and Mulkol provinces.
It had been a very bad year for early rains. The stream that protected
the swath of green around the ship and membrane-buildings was barely a
trickle, and the plants at the top of the ridge were brown and had dropped
much of their foliage.
Humans and Arrallins streamed out of the
ship, stumbling toward the clearing that served as a center for communication.
Tara, dressed in her ripped fatigues, burst forward from her tent and
swept the dark encampment with a hand-light.
Luuko angled his wings and swept in to
land on a branch near the encampment. "Honored colonists! The valley
of which we warned you has caught fire now, and you must prepare yourself
to defend this ridge." He swung his head toward the sloping, craggy
rise that separated the colony from the dry valley. Fire was already climbing
the ridge, igniting the trees along the top. "We will fight with
you! Our ranks are coming to help!"
With that, he swept over a ridge and took
his place in the newly forming fire line. In faltering transports with
water-cannons mounted on the front, human and Arrallin teams swept along
the top of the ridge, soaking the trees with water. Other crews foamed
the ground, smothering the fire as it blazed through the underbrush that
had not yet been cleared by the crews.
Relieved, Luuko could feel group after
group of Telka's Tinar ranks assemble at the barryd and move south toward
them. The Great Mother had awakened to guide the effort personally, and
many acolytes were flying in the honor guard that would bring the foam
and Water litas to aid the final effort to stave off the destruction of
the colony. This would be a firefight worthy of a mural in glass, but
Luuko knew that even with all the ranks Telka could spare, the colony
was not well enough prepared for many long days at the fire line. He scanned
for storm clouds in the dawn light, listening as colonists and their dogs
herded their frightened animal charges into the pen at the nose of the
ship for protection. It took the largest dogs to keep the morraks from
trudging up the far ridge to move away from the fire, as they instinctively
wished to do. The other side was just as perilous - but it had not caught
fire yet. It wouldn't, providing the barryd...not barryd, he corrected
himself, colony, could find time to fortify that side before it ignited.
Sweeping in on gleaming silver wings, thousands
of Dimar took positions along the walls of the burning valley, sweeping
down to douse fires as they blazed into walls 40 meters high. The heat
was stifling, even from the valley in which the colony lay, but the ranks
held the fire line. Luuko slipped himself into the front line with Rank
23, bolstering their faltering upper edge.
A scream punctured the roaring of the blaze
as a hovercar smashed against the ridge and into the flames. He did not
know the people aboard well, but he knew them. Against all training, he
ripped himself free of the 23rd's fire line, blasting out a burst of Wind
to hold the flames as others of the Rank closed in to seal the line again.
Like a hatchling burning velvet, he swept into the flames, grabbing the
unconscious bodies of the four pilots, two Arrallakeeni, two human, in
his front legs. The heat nearly melted his scales to his sides as he shot
up into the burning air above. Reaching out to locate Liur, he blindly
pulled himself through the flames and flipping on his back, he shot through
the wall, through the fire line and into the clearing. Gently, he placed
each of the four figures on the ground, calling the honor guard.
They did not answer.
Furious, he screeched out for them to come,
scanning the horizon for the honor silks. Honor Guard! WE HAVE INJURED!
I will personally flay you alive if you don't get here now!
A single guard flew in from the west, dropping
a half full lita of Water on the ground as she skidded to an exhausted
halt. What? Do you think these four are the only injured? We come as fast
as we can, but we have lost three members of the honor guard as it is
already! I left the other four in a dangerously weak line to go through
the flames to you here. Flay me if you like - the blame will be on your
head. She was gray-brown with charcoal smudges all along her sides. One
wing was partially burned, and in serious need of the Water itself Still,
she poured the water on the four on the ground.
Only one Arrallakeeni awakened. The other
three - two humans who were mated and an Arrallakeeni of Rakal's family,
were dead. And it was only the start of the firestorm. Luuko could not
hold back, releasing a fervent mourning song into the air and he returned
to his position in the 23rd to hold the line. His 'mates to either side
did not acknowledge his return, they were so focused now on the fire that
Roars caught his ears as parts of the fire
line fell away to the south and west.
Liur - I can't get to Rank 1, and Rank
23 needs support, so I'll be staying here. What ranks fell back? How many
have we lost? Luuko took advantage in a momentary lull in wind, and a
strong surge in the Wind to project to Liur, who was coordinating the
effort of the ranks with four acolytes.
He could feel that Liur was also having
difficulty settling the line and holding it back, but that they were succeeding.
The five ranks fell out of the south to re-enforce the flank. It seems
to be working. We'll lose that grazing area for the animals, and some
of the membranes to the far south, but that wall will hold, I think. We
lose a battle, but win the war. Even through his physical strain, Liur's
strategy was clear and well thought out. Luuko could catch echoes of respect
from the acolytes that echoed his fire line orders, outlining the design
to rank after rank. They might just survive the day.
As the sun reached it's zenith, the fire
line was well entrenched, and the colonists, although exhausted, had honed
their spot-dousing navigation to exceed even the exploits of the honor
guards. Luuko reached out toward Telka to see how the barryd was holding
out, knowing that the lines there too were severely strained, but could
read nothing from the mind-tones of the few acolytes he was able to reach.
Luuko wavered in his place in line as a
set of newly-burned hatchlings emerged from a wall of fire in the distance.
They choose to burn their velvet NOW? Who allows this? The line is not
yet fully stable! Luuko echoed his concern to Liur, hanging at the top
of Rank 1, visible occasionally when the smoke blew away from the colony.
I allowed them. We are settled here, and
they know not to target the side near the colony. I've also cautioned
them about trying for a Firebirth - having a flaming hatchling smash into
a fire line in it's dying breath would cause some difficulty. Liur was
impassive, but a fleeting spark of respect flickered through his thoughts
about the young daredevils from Telka that would shed their velvet on
this historic day to become full blooded Dimar adults.
Oh, Liur! Be serious. You know at least
one of them will try for a Firebirth. Knowing that lot, probably half
of them will. And most of the appropriate flame-wells are near the lines.
You should have told them to wait until tonight or tomorrow. Flying at
night is considered more daring anyway. Luuko snorted with irritation,
watching another pack of youngsters dive through wall after wall of flame,
exposing the rich pearlescent sheen of fresh firescales.
As if it was injured, one dropped down
into the heart of a fire geyser, screaming as the intense heat and roaring
rise of air ripped layers of velvet off her sides. She had to veer off
before she could touch the source of the geyser, and she shot toward the
cooler portions of the flaming field ahead of him. Luuko chuckled. She
had been very close to hitting the heart of the flame. He wondered if
any of the others had done that well. Liur, I JUST saw a female - looks
like she'll be a golden-brown, go for Firebirth, right in front of my
already taxed line. Like I said, this perhaps should have been scheduled
Liur's answer was distracted, Yes. Right.
He let out a mental cheer that rippled through the ranks. Tewi's sister's
hatchling did it! She made it! She's fireborn! Now, we'll see if she turns
out to be acolyte material.
Luuko chuckled, torn between pride for
Tewi's family and the little one who had managed to touch the heart of
the geyser, and irritation with the lightheartedness with which many in
the line were treating the situation. If it was YOUR barryd, you'd fight
harder. He growled inwardly, careful to shield it from his 'mates to either
side. A burst of flame ignited to his left as yet another tree burst into
flames. The tent near it began to crackle and melt from the searing blast
of air that ripped at it's sides. Furious, he moved his segment of the
line back, smothering the flames, but the tent was lost. It had been a
medical tent, stripped and abandoned because of it's proximity to the
encroaching fire, but Luuko was enraged that the 23rd had let even it
Sullenly, he redoubled his efforts in the
line, bolstering his 'mates to either side, who truly were struggling
against the heat and force of the flames before them.
The day passed, and the line held well
into the evening of the second day. The cool air had brought some relief
to the remaining 23rd, but not in time to prevent dire injuries to the
line. Out of the 40 Dimar that flew in the 23rd, which was a much larger
Rank than the 1st, only 14 were left holding the fire line. Luuko had
been seared twice, but not badly enough to warrant a break, and using
his strong grasp of English, he rallied the now exhausted human support
forces to re-douse the fire line and take some of the strain off the 23rd
and 30th ranks that held the southwest portion. Screaming, of both Dimar
and colonists, filled the air as the fire took it's toll up and down the
seventy kilometer stretch of flame, but the line was holding. Luuko pointed
his nose skyward, focusing on the now rising moon for strength, when a
scream from the southern portion of the large 30th rank broke his reverie.
That was not a scream of one who has been
burned... he commented to Ruulamar, the smoky green Dimar to his right.
Craning his head around, he could barely make out in the dim moonlight
the silvery glimmer of wings gliding in from behind them. A foul current
in the Wind reached his senses, and he bugled a war cry in response.
Mulkol!! Mulkol at the southern flank!
Liur! They're attacking! The pain of the exhausted Dimar that fell one
after the other to the tusks of the war Oolars shot through the line like
a spike. Furious, Luuko and his 'mates broke formation and sped toward
the battlefield that was forming to the south.
Instinct grabbed him as he came upon the
first black and gray striped Mulkol warrior, who was struggling to dislodge
his tale-blade from a fallen Telkan. Luuko shot a blast of Wind at him,
momentarily stunning him, and landed with all four legs on his throat
as the thick, heavily scaled head snapped back. He whipped his own tail-blade
into the open mouth of the Mulkol, striking surgically where the base
of the skull met the spinal column. The heavy warrior's body went limp,
and fell back upon the Telkan beneath who had already expired from his
injuries. Luuko let out a cry of fierce triumph, and leapt into the air
to seek another victim. A female, flanked by two war Oolars hung back
from the massive Mulkol front line. She was a deep blood red, visible
in even the dim light of the new evening, striped with brown and black.
She wore honor war silks, and the sight of her made Luuko's blood roar
in his ears.
He ducked down into the flaming forest,
under the top canopy, and stealthily moved in on the female, hoping that
the burning smoke of his chosen route would mask his smell and movements.
I too can fly in from behind, you Mulkol pustule. The smoke was both blinding
and choking him, and the heat sapped his energy as he moved, but he pressed
on, avoiding the corridors of cool, uningnited forest. Finally, he looked
up, and felt he was in position. He buoyed himself on a blast of Wind
and shot straight up through the canopy...
As he rocketed into the clear air, the
target he expected to find in front of him was not the back of the female,
but the back of her second Oolar, perched in a treetop. He knocked the
beast into the flames below and turned just as she grabbed him by the
throat. He lashed his tail, cutting a swath in her dark, mottled wingsail,
and his tail dug into her side between two firescales. As she pulled him
closer to her gaping jaws, he worked his tail in deeper and deeper into
her side, prying apart the scales to cut through her thick war-toughened
hide to reach her second heart. Luuko realized that she could, quite cleanly,
bite his throat in two, and he needed to make more time to finish his
work on her side. He snapped his wings open to generate a blast of wind
to stun her, but the second Oolar latched onto one wing, snapping it at
the elbow. The first Oolar survived the flames and had climbed back up
the tree. It was working furiously to pry his tail out of her side. As
he screamed in pain, the female's jaws clamped down on his throat and
began to rhythmically saw through his firescales as if they were the bones
of a fish.
You dare challenge me, stripling? I will
devour you and hang your head on my wall... She ripped into his mind as
he lashed out mentally for some form of help, giving one final mental
and physical scream before she closed off his windpipe with her jaws.
As if to answer, a thousand stars shot
up from the forest below, ripping through the Oolars, but missing him
and the female. Distracted, she hesitated in making the final few bites
that would fully lacerate and sever his head from his neck. As she raised
her head and turned, a hovercar, with what Luuko knew to be a watercannon
rose up out of the forest below, but instead of water, a glob of intensely
hot material shot forward and charred her head right on her neck. She
fell, dragging Luuko down as the hovercar pursued them into the canopy.
He grabbed onto a passing tree branch,
wrenching his tail from the side of the female as she fell crashing into
the flaming jungle beneath him. The hovercar slowed, and Tara, of all
people, leapt out carrying a lita of Water. She had an expression that
gave Luuko chills - she had the look of a Mulkai that had made first blood.
"We sure showed that fuzz-lizard who's
boss of this place, eh Luuko!" She grinned down maniacally at Luuko
as the Water worked to mend his lacerated throat and tail. "Go pick
off a few more and come back for me, Susan. I want to take out another
general myself!" She waved as the hovercar sped off, faltering as
it passed low over the trees toward the still raging battle. Her expression
softened as she regarded him. "That was a brilliant maneuver, Luuko.
I could see it on long-range, the way you used the fire to sneak up on
her like that. Taking out the boss often sends the ground troops running,
same way as if you cut off the head of the snake, the body..." She
looked at Luuko's neck and patted his side. "Well, never mind. Bad
choice of example." She smiled.
"Tttsssank oooo" he managed in
a barely audible whisper, struggling to translate her words through the
pain of his wing. He felt the order to retreat ripple through the Mulkol
ranks as thousands of Telkans descended upon the field, backed by a tiny
but fierce contingent of Ekal warriors. "Tssssey gooo now" He
pointed toward the fleeting silvery glimmer of wings beating the air toward
"We won the war, but lost the colony."
Tara muttered, kicking at the branch with one foot.
Luuko's spirits sank as he imaged the tiny
membrane-buildings engulfed in flames, and he warbled a high-pitched painful
note that whistled out through the slowly closing holes in his neck.
"Hey, hey, hey, there, Luuko. It's
not that bad. Most of our supplies are still starborn, and guess what?
We'll be taking that offer to move to Telka. You get to go home!"
She smiled, but Luuko knew enough of human expression to sense that it
He could barely hear the orders being broadcast
by the acolytes, but he could hear the frightened screams of the colony
animals as Dimar swept in to recover those that had survived the fire
and the battle in the interior parts of the ship.
The honor guard swept in to douse the base
of the trees next to Luuko's, and a band of Ekal warriors from the tiny
barryd to the northwest landed to gently lift him and carry him back toward
Telka. The war leader dipped his shoulder to Tara, who hopped aboard,
and together they sped off ahead toward the northern barryd. Luuko suppressed
a surge of jealously that he would re-present himself at Telka not only
injured and unable to fly the Leader back, but in disgrace at having lost
the fire-fight to save the fledgling barryd that she and Rakal had forged.
Rakal? A pang of worry filled him, making his wing burn. He wished Tara
had remained so he could ask what had become of the Arrallin during the
battle, but allowed the Ekal war-party healer to lull his mind into a