Authors: Alexes Razevich
Copyright © by Alexes Razevich 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author. Requests for permission should be sent to [email protected]
Many thanks to Dan McNeil, Meg X, Paul Dillon, Randy Jackson, Richard Casey, Sue Marschner, Alfred Martino, Cathy Bruhn, Mary Lou Reed, Janet Reiner, and Nadine Trenton, wonderful writers all, for their help in shaping Khe and her world.
Much gratitude to Tony Honkawa and Martin Davidian, for their creative visions.
Much love to Chris, Larkin, and Colin Razevich, who make every day a joy.
Cover art by Tony Honkawa, Honkawa Design
Illustrations by Martin Davidian
Map by Martin Davidian and Chris Razevich
OUTSIDE CHIMBALAY KLER
Shun the sweetly fragranced flower of desire, for the fruit is poisoned
--The Rules of a Good Life
Behind me, the beasts whistle—three short, low-pitched notes—the pack members on the hunt, calling to each other. There are seven of them, each one half again as tall as me. They run faster than I can, moving with a cruel grace on feathered, thickly muscled legs, a blur of red and white, like two-legged flames. If they’d seen me earlier, before I’d made it down the hills and this close to the gate, I’d be in their bellies.
I know the stench of the beasts’ foul breath. The calculating looks in their large black eyes. I’ve seen the damage their barbed teeth and pincher-clawed hands do to flesh. Beasts like these hunted me when I first came to the wilderness and thought it would be my sanctuary. I know better now.
My breath, harsh and ragged, makes white puffs in the air. Thin sheets of ice crackle beneath my feet. I spread my toes as wide as they will go, for balance. My cloak flares behind me as I run across the plain.
The city is tantalizingly near, agonizingly far. Chimbalay rises straight up from the plain, its black-glass towers protected by a massive stonewall and a silver-metal gate, ten-levels high at least. The gate is closed. I have to get inside. For safety from the beasts. To find the orindles, who are my only hope.
The beasts whistle again, their call changed, a sound so low, it’s almost a rumble. They’re spreading out. All twenty-four emotion spots on my neck tingle. I run, my heart knocking against my chest.
A sound, like a great rising storm, tears across the plain. I'm both afraid to look and afraid not to. I slow a little and glance toward the sound. Down the plain, something hard-edged and solid is moving in my direction. I can’t tell its speed or what it might be. I focus on the gate, on running fast and faster, concentrating on my goal.
Beasts whistle to the right and left. Two run past me, to get in front and press me back to their companions.
The sound of the wind grows louder, the moving
coming nearer. The whistles of the beasts change, rising in pitch and coming closer together. The calls come so quickly that they are almost a continuous sound—one voice springing from seven points, fighting to be heard over the wail of the raging wind in the still air.
I don’t want to slow again to look, but anxiety makes me. I must know what the beasts are doing. Glancing over my shoulder, I see one and then another beast stopped, staring at the thing coming down the plain. The thing hovers a hands-breath above the land, streaming toward the open space between Chimbalay and me, the way vehicles move. But this is no vehicle. It's close enough now that I can make out the protective outer mud wall and some of the buildings behind it.
My breath sticks in my throat. I’ve never seen one of the mobile trading villages on the move before. I’ve never been in an anchored one. Simanca made sure we were protected from that evil. I can’t worry about the corenta now. Reaching the gate is all that matters.
The gate is near enough that I can see the words Chimbalay Kler—Region Seat, Gambly One Region carved on it in letters nearly as tall as I am. The beast between the corenta and me suddenly stops, throws back its great shaggy-feathered head and howls in fear. I keep running.
The corenta keeps coming. The beasts wail and scatter. I would flee from the corenta too, if the safety of Chimbalay were not at hand. I pound against the closed gate, shouting, “Open up!”
The corenta, tiny compared to the massive ring of Chimbalay, settles itself on the plain, not far behind me. Not nearly far enough for comfort. They say not only the doumanas, but also the plants, beasts, and structures in a corenta are alive and conscious. They say the doumanas there have no faith in the creator. The skin on my neck burns as my emotion spots flare gray-green in revulsion. I bang my fist against the gate.
What will I say if someone opens the gate? Perhaps, “My name is Khe. I’ve come from Lunge commune to see the orindles, in hope that they can cure me.” Which is the truth, though saying it will probably get me taken for a babbler and driven away. Who could believe that a country doumana who’d only been off her commune for mating and one other time could find her way to Chimbalay?
Snow begins to fall, swirling around my legs. I pull my cloak tight around me. The creator, in its wisdom, made us smooth, without hair, fur, or feathers to come between us and the touch of the world. The beasts and birds are luckier. They are warmer during Barren Season.
The corenta at my back makes me nervous. My emotion spots flare blue-red, showing how I feel to any who might see me, though no one does. The corenta gate begins to open. I bang my fist harder against Chimbalay’s massive one, calling, “Let me in! Let me in!”
Metal hinges squeal gently as the two halves of the huge gate glide apart. I shove my body through the opening to get inside and am driven back by dozens of doumanas shoving their way out. They push against me, seeming more irritated than alarmed at the sight of a ragged female standing in the gateway.
My neck feels alternately hot and cold. My emotion spots flare gray-brown, showing my horror. The doumana’s emotion spots can’t be seen at all. Each wears a high-necked stiff collar that except for a slim V in the front completely covers her throat. The collars hang down below the hollow at the base of their throats and extend at the sides out over their shoulders.
The creator gave us emotion spots so that all who see us would know the truth of our hearts. To cover your spots is anathema. What manner of place have I come to?
The place of the orindles, I remind myself. I fight my way against the flood of doumanas and into the kler.
Are any of these doumanas orindles? Does this one passing me now hold the knowledge for my salvation? Is that one pushing her way through the throng she who can return my life? Are the orindles the best among us, as Simanca said, or evil, as the babbler claimed?
Am I mad as a babbler myself to have come to Chimbalay? A sharp loneliness stabs my chest. I miss Lunge commune, where my sisters still rise each morning and go to the fields. The place I ran from, and yearn for.
The place to which I can never return.
“In life, there are two great tasks—serving one’s community and mating during Resonance, thus ensuring the continuation of our kind.”
--Simanca, in her lessons to the hatchlings
The sun was hot and my back was sore. My fingers were stained green and yellow from picking the long, oval leaves of tiko that filled row after row of the field. When I was standing, the tiko’s thick brown stalks reached chest-high, but their valuable leaves grew low, never more than knee-high up the stems. I crouched among the plants, my back toe pressed flat against the soil, taking care to remove the leaves close to the stalk.
A quiet grunt and the
of a harvest basket being dragged across the dirt gave away Thedra’s location in the row next to mine.
“I’ll finish first,” she said cheerfully. “Again.”
“Good for you,” I said without looking up. I pulled my basket close to my knees, and went back to pulling the fragile but stubborn leaves from their stalks and laying the leaves gently into my basket.
“Someone should invent a mechanical harvester for tiko leaves,” Thedra said. “We have them for every other crop.”
“Keep complaining,” I said. “Maybe you won’t finish first after all.”
Thedra pulled her back straight and sang,
Who is she, the one called Khe
Working with her sisters three?
Plucking tiko, sad to see
That Thedra gleans more leaves than she
I picked up a small dirt clod and heaved it at her. It hit her arm harmlessly and broke apart.
Tiko gathering was always assigned to first-year doumanas precisely because it was a difficult, unpleasant job. Once you had successfully hand-harvested tiko, nothing else would seem too hard a task to accomplish. That’s what Simanca had said. She was our commune-leader. She knew about these things.
Simanca was good about providing life lessons like that, and backing them up with a saying from
The Rules of a Good Life
. I admired her knowledge of the Rules and her skill at quickly calling up the one she wanted on the textbox she always carried—the small, silver square tucked into a special holster on a leather belt strapped around her waist. The Rule quoted with the tiko assignment was,
The hand callused by hard work strokes a heart made glad by accomplishment
. My heart must feel absolutely elated, given how callused working the fields had made my hands.
I went back to plucking leaves. When one row ended, I took a new basket and started down another.
Finally, the day-ending colors, red with stripes of pale green and deep yellow, filled the sky. All across the commune, my sisters in the fields would be putting down their work. I set the handful of tiko leaves I’d just plucked into my basket, wearily stood up and stretched. Thedra was standing too. She was much further along her row than I was mine. She waggled her fingers, just to make the point. She needn't have bothered. The bright pride colors on her neck had already said everything.
Lunge was a medium-sized commune with seventeen fields, though not all of them were planted. With a population of only fifty-three field sisters, food preparers, hatchling tenders, and beast herders, there weren’t enough of us to make use of all our fields. Our small number was Simanca’s greatest sorrow. She prayed daily for a harvest bountiful enough to earn Lunge the credits needed to buy extra hatchlings. As yet, the creator had not granted her request.
Thedra wiped the sweat from her face with the back of her hand. Her skin was naturally a darker shade of red than mine, and the days in the field had darkened it further to a reddish brown. Except for our skin color, Thedra and I looked mostly alike, heads shaped smooth as eggs with ear holes on either side; medium foreheads; large dark eyes; flat, broad noses; wide thin-lipped mouths. She was taller than me, though, and her neck was longer. Her usually thin arms and her normally flat chest showed, as mine did, the effects of the extra food we’d been eating in preparation for Resonance.