Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 30
Tara beamed with joy as she caressed the
glistening pod. It felt like smooth warm marble under her hands. The giant
egg-shaped seed pod was twice her size, and she knew from Mason's calculations
that it weighed nearly a ton. She wondered if the filigree sails tucked
above the pod in the chute-casing would be enough to carry it a full two
days north in the driving rains of the season. She fingered a rough spot
in the speckled green surface, wishing that she would have more than three
trustworthy Mulkol to help guard the few Telkans who had volunteered to
be part of the new barryd.
In the hour, she would separate from the
two Barryd plants that had become her second home, giving them each back
to their communities in return for the fleeting hope offered by this Pod.
Celebrations were being set all over both Barryds, both desperate to get
back to a semblance of normalcy, and to see the alien that had taken command
of them back in her proper place as a guest. She wasn't bitter about it.
It meant she'd have more freedom to do what she knew had to be done. Just
less resources. She thought of her meeting with Rakal and wondered what
the future would bring for them, now that he had taken such a separatist
track for his Hive. Well, the Golden Hinde was her ship, and she'd have
that for the Academy. And she'd trade with him to help him keep going
until he came to his senses and choose a Dimar-based site for a Hive.
She listened north, toward Ekal. The deadly
quiet meant that preparations of another kind were indeed underway. There
might be a fight, if she couldn't convince them that her intentions for
Dimar were honest.
Freia appeared in the doorway to the spire.
"Leader, it's time to get ready." Freia was already in her best
finery, with traditional Mulkol leader cuffs and long red, blue and black
silks trailing from her spiked horns. She would take Mulkol from Tara
first, over at the Mulkol transfer chamber. She was a good compromise
as a Leader for Mulkol. Her friendship with Karti hadn't made her popular
with the older Mulkol factions, but Tara knew she'd settle in. Freia understood
and respected the ancient ways of the Mu, and always had, but she also
understood the need for a new way of thinking.
Tara turned toward the door to follow Freia
down to Tara's room. She saw no sign of Olitar, who normally guarded the
pod when not performing her duties as first Acolyte. Olitar had outgrown
her ability to tolerate the status quo of Mulkol life and had refused
Tara's offer to be the new Matriarch of Mulkol. She wanted adventure -
she wanted to learn and take to the stars. She was Academy bound.
Freia waited by the door, tail twitching
with excitement as Tara changed. Toweling off the cool rainwater from
the spire, she slipped out of her wet green pantsuit and wriggled into
the black dress set out for her on the bed. She slipped the iron cuffs
around her wrists and smiled as they clacked shut. This would be the last
time she'd have to wear these brutally heavy bracelets! Flipping the horned
headdress up onto her head, she buckled the chin strap. A wave of her
arms verified that her silks weren't tangled. Checking herself in the
mirror, she smiled. She didn't feel like wearing a black dress today...she
wished the traditional transfer color was Mulkol's red. This was going
to be fun.
Matching Freia's huge strides was difficult,
but together they marched out to the balcony to join the procession to
Telka's artisans had rigged a special umbrella-cover
for Luuko's back to keep Tara as dry as possible, and even with the wind
resistance, they made good time to the west spire of Mulkol. Tara could
feel the anticipation radiating out of both Barryds - almost boosting
The transfer of Mulkol to Freia went by
in a blur, mostly due to the special pain-numbing drink they'd concocted
for Tara to prevent the amount of injury and shock she'd received in the
last unplanned transfer. Peacetime transfers were much easier than wartime,
as all participants involved were willing and well prepared.
Emerging from the tangle of white tentacles
on the dais, Tara could really tell just how much connection with Mulkol
had affected her. Mulkol she saw seemed flat and lifeless, whereas the
Telkans around the room observing the procedure seemed to glow warmly
in her mind. Luuko was nearly neon as she smiled at him, leaning on his
shoulder as the drink continued having it's effects.
"Tara, how are you feeling?"
he asked quietly as she giggled and tugged on his elbow fur.
"Drunk as a skunk, Luuko. I'm great!"
She buried her face in his fur to keep from laughing too loudly. Mulkol
around the room snorted in disapproval, but didn't comment. They understood
what was wrong, and were just glad to have a Mulkol leader again. They
would tolerate an inappropriate noise from someone who could have chosen
to kill their Barryd completely.
Freia was still inside the mass of tentacles,
joining with every branch of her home. Only the very tip of her tail-blade
was visible through the mass of white anemone-like arms that writhed around
The movement on the dais slowed, and then
one by one, the snakelike tendrils retracted.
She watched as Freia emerged from the tentacles,
as they reluctantly released their hold on their new and rightful Matriarch.
A cheer and a thunderous deep song rang out all through Mulkol - the transfer
was successful and complete.
Tara could feel Luuko's unease right through
his fur. In a detached drunken thought, she wondered if the Mulkol, now
that they were free of her, wouldn't just kill her and the Telkans once
and for all. She peeked out from behind Luuko's elbow at a dark red elder
who had been watching from the back. As Freia descended the dais, the
elder moved forward, brandishing a gray blade. Tara listened intently,
but they were communicating on a private frequency.
Luuko reared back, keeping himself between
Tara and the red Mulkol, roaring and hissing in defiance.
"Oopsie...there's definitely trouble!
Shoulda transferred Mulkol...SECOND...I guess..." Tara stumbled out
from behind Luuko, trying to reach the door. The other Telkans leapt toward
her, blocking any Mulkol who tried to move on her. She toddled between
them, leaning on one and then another. A roar behind her made her stop
"MULKOL KEEPS ITS PROMISES! The Telkans
will not be harmed." Freia, like Tara had never seen her before,
leapt forward, all fangs bared. Tara noticed through her fog that the
crimson Mulkol was in the process of chewing off Luuko's side as he desperately
tried to protect Tara from his sword. Luuko had shed most of his scaled
protection for winter, and his shoulder skin fell away from him in a sheet
Freia's jaws clamped around the crimson
Mulkol's neck, right behind his head, snapping his spine audibly. He fell
away from Luuko limply as she turned and faced each Mulkol in the room.
"None of you may presume to speak for me. None of you may presume
to act for me. I am MULKOL. Any dissenters will be treated in accordance
with traditional law. Am I CLEAR?"
All Mulkol heads in the room bowed, but
one gray in the back growled as she reluctantly lowered her head. Tara
had always had trouble with that gray while she was Leader, but had tolerated
her. Freia was not as forgiving. Without so much as a word of explanation,
she flew forward, knocking the gray back. With ruthless efficiency, she
slit the gray's belly lengthwise with the blade of her tail while biting
through her neck. A final gurgling cry from the gray was the only noise
in the room. Freia had made her point crystal clear to the other Mulkol.
Rising from her kill, Freia strode toward
Luuko, who struggled to rise on his injured three legs. "Telka, you
may leave in safety. I will accompany you personally." Pivoting so
she was under his wing, she helped him toward the door. Noiselessly, a
Mulkol healer glided to the doorway, pouring a lita of Water on Luuko,
who only winced as the water did it's painful work.
Tara was stunned into sobriety, and did
her best to aid the process, holding the sheet of muscle and fur that
had fallen away in place for Luuko. It was risky - her genetic information
might confuse the Water, but she needed Luuko in one piece for the next
transfer. He was supposed to take over Telka, to provide the Academy with
a strong ally in the coming years, as well as to continue his mother's
His bleeding stopped as the strong military-strength
water did it's job. Tara chuckled, reaching out to him, "You're one
tough fuzz-lizard, Luuko."
Luuko wiggled his ears feebly as they stopped
to prepare for the flight that would take them back to Telka. He managed
to stand, but knew not to even attempt to use his left foreleg. To save
his strength, he quickly lowered himself back to the ground. Tara could
feel his strength coming back as the skin sealed and the muscles began
"Tara...Tara...I won't be strong enough
to take Telka," Luuko moaned to her through his receding pain as
Freia herself prepared a sling from her honor silks to carry him out of
the war Barryd spire. A Leader's body had to be in good condition to take
a Barryd, or the injury and illness in the Leader's body might trigger
weakness in parts of the Barryd. Tara felt unshielded relief emanate from
Luuko in waves - not from the pain, but from the prospect of becoming
Telka's new Leader.
Olitar glided out of another Mulkol hallway
to join the group, roaring a singsong warning as she approached. In English,
for security reasons, she reported: "There's a mass of Dimar forming
at Ekal. Movement's been spotted all along the perimeters. I think every
winged resident of the planet is involved judging from the trails left
on the wind as far out as the Twin Continents. For non-Mu, those farmer-lizards
can be pretty sneaky. There were no warnings of the traffic until now."
She growled, pawing the ground with a foreleg.
Tara, grabbing the long mane on Karti's
back, just shook her head and laughed. It was a desperate, wild laugh.
She clambered aboard Karti's narrow shoulders.
"Still on that berry-wine they had
you hopped up on, good Leader?" Mason was already in the air, hovering
next to where the group would launch. It would be an interesting race
back to Telka for the second transfer. That was certain.
"Olitar, you know what you have to
do. Launch the pod. Hide it if you have to, and prevent it from rooting
- just get it out of here. Take the volunteers, and take Luuko."
She was emphatic on that point. The poor guy had been through too much.
He deserved to chase the pod and live his one dream. "Mason, you
go too. I'll catch up with you when the transfer's complete. I have my
own promises to keep." Tara waved them off, knowing that this was
possibly the last time she'd see them all. Looking back at Freia, she
hid her anguish, "Are you ready for this?"
Olitar gently looped herself into Luuko's
hastily constructed carry-sling and lifted him off the balcony.
Freia nodded grimly, the tatters of the
ends of her silks waving like war banners behind her.
"Luuko cannot go! He has to be Telka..."
Karti turned his head back, looking at Tara with alarm. Karti was the
only other acolyte first for Telka, and he didn't hide the fact that he
didn't want the Leadership position either, especially with a force massed
on the border ready to try to destroy both Barryds. Every strike to the
walls of the plant would be a strike to his own body, and Karti never
had been much into athletics, let alone pain.
"Don't all volunteer at once."
Tara crossed her arms with frustration racking her brains for someone
to take the post. She was running out of first acolytes.
"You wimp!" Freia barked in English
as she smacked Karti's hindquarters. The strike sent him, with Tara on
his back, skittering off the ledge and into the air. Her ears were wiggling
with amusement. They'd obviously been exchanging words on a private channel,
but Tara didn't see the joke as she struggled to remain on Karti and avoid
falling a quarter mile into the Barryd basement and to her premature death.
"Dammit, you two..!" Tara righted
herself, as Karti apologetically turned his head back.
"I will take the Leadership of Telka.
Chicks will dig me." Karti wiggled his ears as he spoke the words
in his slightly stilted English.
"Well, I promoted you two because
you never failed to find humor in a BAD situation. This is about as bad
as it gets." She shrugged and laughed. "Let's get going. I've
got a pain in my leg that says that our visitors are moving in."
She rubbed her calf, which corresponded to the northernmost prefecture
of Telka's territory.
Karti and Freia shot up the war Barryd
spire so fast, Tara knew Freia must be using some Wind enhancement trick
she hadn't learned in her time as Leader. She chuckled... "So much
for teaching tricks at the Academy. Will have to have Freia visit and
lecture" Her head rocked on her neck as they shot into clear, wet
air and took an arching path toward Telka's easternmost spire. To the
north, the sky was dark with the wings of massing Dimar.
Freia and Karti both gasped and looked
back at her.
"We can take 'em" Tara laughed
maniacally, wrapping her hands in Karti's long mane. As they passed into
Telka territory, they slowed, lacking the augmented Wind. "Freia,
use that trick!" She opened her mind to Freia, allowing her to take
partial control of Telka. Angry wings of Telkans, sensing the invasion
by a Mulkol, rose out of their homes, but stopped midair to watch as the
shadow to the north grew.
The pain in her leg had reached her knee.
The force was moving in quickly. She gave a Barryd-wide order to run and
not resist, but the force might be slaughtering them as it moved ahead.
Telkans below her scattered, flying headlong toward the sea. They would
take Telka first, and then Mulkol, she suspected.
Tara got a glimpse of the billowing golden
sail, as the ungainly seed pod for the Academy launched itself during
their approach. A raggedy group of Mulkol and Telkans streamed out behind
it, guiding it as best they could. The onrush of the shadow was making
movement above the treetop level difficult, especially for the delicate
seed-wing, designed for flight only in the best circumstances.
She clamped her legs around Karti's neck
as he dove wildly for the spire. Rocketing down the spire, they looped
upside down and flew into the Hallway to the transfer room. Karti slammed
directly into the mass of waiting tentacles. Tara leapt from his back.
Landing on her feet, her right leg gave way completely with a vicious
cramping pain. Frantic, she broadcast the command to flee Telka to everyone
still left in the main city. The cacophony of panicked cries that rang
through her mind as the swarm moved in stunned her, and she grabbed her
ears. Freia grabbed her by her dress and flung her headlong into the tentacles,
careful not to contact them herself and disrupt the transfer.
The spire shook as the transfer took place.
Winds from the north lashed the Barryd. Pain raced through her body as
the tentacles linked with every nerve she had. The tentacles felt like
ice at first as they slithered along her skin seeking their corresponding
nerve ending. When they linked with her, they sent waves of fire through
her spine. As tendrils slithered up her dress and into her sleeves, digging
into her skin, she cursed. Being asleep for this was much easier. She
shut her eyes as the tentacles dug into her neck and her face, and finally
her eyes. She screamed and nearly blanked out as the final tendrils took
root, but once the link was complete, she could see with the eyes of the
Barryd again. Adrenaline pumped through her as she half-felt, half saw
the furious swarm of Dimar in her mind. She reached out to Karti, who
was also linked, sensing his thoughts mingling with hers, and that of
the panicked Barryd.
"It feels like they're simply crushing
Telka as they fly over it. I don't feel individuals fighting...just a
crushing pain." Tara winced as she felt Karti take up the pain in
his right hind leg. The transfer was not going to be pleasant for him.
They had to find a way to stop the wall before it reached the heart of
the city and crushed them all to death. When the Barryd died, Karti died.
Tara felt like a coward, giving up the ship to a subordinate when she
should be going down with it herself.
"I can handle it, Leader Tara."
Karti reassured her, "This is not your responsibility. You must protect
us all, even if Telka falls."
She probed him...he knew about the Academy,
"Of course I know. How do you hide
a pod from an Acolyte First? We don't get to these positions of power
by just cracking jokes and sitting on our hindquarters you know."
She could hear him laughing through their mind-link. Tentacles began to
retract from her. She could feel the pain in her leg recede, along with
her augmented Psi abilities. Karti grunted a muffled grunt through the
tentacles as the pain reached their hips.
Desperate to stop the onslaught, she called
out to Kiralla, using all the power the Barryd would allow her in transfer.
"Kiralla! The Pride... Please have
Rakal send a pilot to provide a distraction! Please...can you hear me?
Don't let Rakal fly it...he can't risk himself." She couldn't sense
Kiralla's reaction or emotions, but did get a curt reply.
"He will fly it. You want the Pride
to chase the Dimar out of Telka territory?" Kiralla answered in a
flat monotone which got weaker as more and more of the barryd reverted
to Karti's control.
Tara felt him boost her transmission, and
managed one last instruction before she lost contact completely "If
not out of the Territory completely, then keep them to the outlying areas.
The twin spires of Telka's main city must stay up."
No answer. The link was lost. Tara felt
the pain in her hip subside completely, and could hear Karti whimper through
the muffling tentacles.
She jumped off the Dais and threw a cushion
from the spectators area of the transfer room across Freia's scaly back,
lashing it in place with a strip of tapestry from a wall hanging. "She'll
send Rakal to pilot the Pride, but I've got to be the one. He can't risk
She carefully grabbed some of the long
black mane that tufted out from under Freia's spine-covering, and held
on as best she could. She was already covered in lacerations from the
hasty transfer, and didn't want to gain a new set of injuries from Freia's
rough combat scales. Together, they bolted from the room, Freia's long
gallop was smooth enough that she managed to hang on with only minimal
cuts to her hands.
They screamed up through masses of fleeing
Telkans, and felt a boost of wind rocket them into the clear air - a gift
Tara looked out north, and could no longer
feel what was going on out there. She could see the Pride screaming in,
glowing with heat as it's plasma weaponry armed and the atmosphere resisted
its speed. The sonic boom hit them, knocking Freia backward momentarily.
And then another, and another. In the dimness of the twilight, Tara could
see Rakal dropping in and out of the speed of sound, buffeting them with
"Genius!" She screamed as the
wind raced by her. Freia continued on, not hearing.
Like a swarm of bees after a firefly, she
watched the blackened mass turn to follow the Pride.
"If they catch him, he's dead. I don't
know how we'll reach him, Tara!" Karti's voice sounded in her mind.
"We have to distract them from him."
Tara could feel the fury of the swarm even
with her weakened psi abilities. If they caught that ship, there wouldn't
be anything left to recover, and these Dimar dragons had proven them more
resourceful in combat than Tara could have ever imagined.
He watched him turn the swarm west, inland,
instead of choosing the easier route north. Tara knew he was protecting
the Pod. Kiralla must be coordinating his efforts from orbit. They approached
the swarm, followed by a defensive swarm of Mulkol death machines, which
had emerged the moment they realized their new Leader was risking herself
at the front lines.
"Freia, can you control your people?
Can we reach the Leaders of the swarm?" Tara reached out to the distracted
Leader, who was working to channel the open fury of Mulkol warriors as
the west-moving swarm crossed the line between the two Barryd territories.
"It will be hard, but yes. They will
not attack...they will only hold their lines." We have to reach the
instigators. Ekal will ally with us. Find the green one and orange silks.
We have to find their Leader. Telka will help." Freia's voice was
strong in Tara's mind, bolstered by the group will of the Mulkol as they
fell into rank behind a rightful Leader. Freia hissed as a young warrior
broke ranks and rushed headlong into the first line of Dimar. He was instantly
crushed by the force of their approach, and fell to the ground like a
Tara could hear Freia's commands ringing
out; she was using the warrior's fall as an example. "We have to
stand together. You must stay in your rank, or you'll be crushed!"
The machines lined up and meshed, generating their own wall of force,
and the writing mass of furious furry Dimar stopped. The Pride faltered
as it passed over the line, and Tara gasped. The Wind from this many agitated
Dimar would disrupt its lift generators! If he remained over them, he'd
fall straight into them.
Freia passed over the mass, as thousands
of angry Dimar eyes looked up. The fear from the Mulkol lines was palpable.
The heart of their city was a few hundred feet from a thousand individuals,
each who would gladly die to take her life. She roared out for the Leaders
of the mob to show themselves so that they could talk.
In the center of the swarm, figures swathed
in silk rose up. Tara looked over her shoulder to see how the Pride was
faring, and was relieved to see it rocketing toward an orbital path well
out of harms way, back toward Kiralla where and the orbiting ships where
it, and Rakal, belonged.
"I have sent our thanks to the Starborn
Hive, Tara. Now, let's see how we do against the Leaders." Freia
showed no fear as she approached, even though her own forces were nearly
a mile away at this point. Tara couldn't help but ask.
"If they even do so much as raise
a breeze against me, there will be no controlling my forces. Mulkol will
be dead, and with it, any reason for it's residents to live except revenge."
Freia sounded like a conquering warrior coming to accept their surrender.
"Frankly, I think they can take you,
Mulkol." Tara cautioned her to be a little less proud and a little
more cautious. Having all of Mulkol's pride and fear running through her
was probably doing strange things to Freia's judgment at this point. "Never
underestimate the fuzzy farmers." She pointed out all the defensive
weaknesses she had found with Mulkol in her time there, and compared them
to the strength of the current force on their doorstep.
Freia acquiesced, and took a more communicative
tone in her calls as they approached the knot of leaders, choosing a place
closest to the brilliant green Ekal leader, in his green and orange silks.
A large white Dimar with brown marbled patches came forward, wearing silks
festooned with tiny platinum circlets. Even in the dim light of the oncoming
night, his white coat was easy to see. He was the Leader, Tara knew not
only from his decoration, but from the way the other Leaders deferred
to him. His mental accent showed that he was from the far northern island,
near the Pole.
"We have come to restore order in
these territories, Leader Mulkol." He announced as a chorus of approving
songs rang through the mass below them.
"Order is restored, Leader Elakolul.
Telka belongs again to the Telkan. Mulkol belongs to the Mulkol, and the
Colonists, as agreed, have taken to the Arts themselves as children of
the Waters." Freia's tone was flat in Tara's mind; she had her shields
"And why should we not raze your homes,
now that you have the secrets of a fine Tel Barryd, like Telka."
Elakolul's voice was tinged with curiosity, which gave Tara hope.
A voice behind them brought the Leaders
forward, but they were careful to stay well out of Freia's tail range.
"Because they will not use our secrets against us, the Tel, the Ela,
the Barryds of peaceful arts." Karti had arrived, still a little
shaky from taking on the Barryd. His right hindleg hung down limply, slowing
his flight speed. He took a position among the invading Barryd leaders,
not next to Freia and Tara, to emphasize his bond with them and their
ways. "We have their secrets now, Leaders. It is time for the secrets
to end and for all of us to take up a new Cause to save our Dimar."
"Yes. You all have lived in fear of
the Starborn instead of taking arms against them. This foolishness will
lead to our joint demise!" Freia's scathing tone was meant to bolster
Karti's introduction to the Academy idea, but caused the swarm below to
change from singing approving tunes to roaring in fury.
Karti flew forward, putting himself between
Freia and the furious Elakolul Leader, who was growling audibly. Karti
bapped Freia's nose with his paw. "As usual, I should do the talking."
Freia reared up in shock at Karti's disrespectful
strike. Tara desperately grabbed at her thin mane to stay onboard, suffering
more cuts to her hands on the serrated edges of her scales. Tara screamed
out, "He's kidding Freia! He's kidding!" but she had already
gotten the joke and her ears were wiggling. She nodded to him and deferred
her position as speaker.
The Leaders watched, immediately suspicious
of two Leaders that were this friendly with each other, but they did listen.
Karti outlined the Academy plans in great
detail, using the stored knowledge hidden in corners all over Telka to
clarify where the Leadership was unsure. Tara was glad she hadn't had
time to clear the planning banks before she reverted control to a Telkan.
Karti was a brilliant statesman, and armed with the plans, he was slowly
bringing them around to see her idea.
They agreed that Dimar had been spared
a worse fate by the colonists, who had never intended to make a War machine.
With some convincing to overcome the ancient taboo against Starfaring,
they did agree that it was fine and good for the Colonists to make a defense
for their combined home, but Mulkol must not be involved.
"Not involved in the defense of the
planet!? What kind of morrak refuse is this? For centuries, we've been
defending against the worst both war and non war Barryds could devise,
and now this?" Freia was furious, and turned back to Tara for some
sympathy as she was her only warrior companion in this discussion.
Tara just pointed down to remind Freia
of their current predicament, as the mass of angry Dimar slowly rose toward
Freia quieted, but all eyes were still
on Tara. She cleared her throat and began, "I propose, good Leaders,
that a Mulkol must never hold Leadership of this new Academy Barryd. However,
their skills as pilots and fighters are needed. We need the best Dimar
can provide, and the Mulkai would be ineffective as farmers, Telkai, artisans
and guilders, or for any other purpose." Tara racked her brains,
trying to find a way to reassure them that destroying Mulkol, or locking
them and the other Mulkai Barryds out of the program. She chattered on,
listing all the things Mulkol weren't good for as she searched for an
Earth corollary or solution.
Freia interrupted, "Well, you don't
have to be that detailed about it, good Tara. We are good for something,
you know!" The big Mulkol snorted, looking back at the tiny charge
on her shoulders. Her ears wiggled slightly, and the other Leaders suppressed
Tara decided on a compromise, and offered
"The Mulkai may never have Leadership of the Academy - only Mulkai
Barryds and Barryd townships." She wondered how Olitar would handle
this news. She'd been guarding the pod with the expectation of being the
new Barryd Leader of the Academy. She shook the thought from her mind
and continued on, as she sensed her audience liked this idea very much.
"However, in return, you all need to agree to fortify your residences
more. Just a bit. Mulkai may be sent to serve as consultants for this
purpose, and in payment, you must agree to trade knowledge of other Arts
with them if asked. Academy Barryd seeds may serve as strong additions
to your existing plants, giving a living space that can accept both Mulkai
and others as members. They can form a living web of protection around
all Barryds, which will be protectorates of higher study of their chosen
arts." Tara reached out, sharing images of ways Academy seeds could
be integrated to provide war-shelters and defensive fortifications. She
tried to remember a simulation she'd run of an Earth attack on a fortified
Ela Barryd - one of the most spread out and weakest in design, but couldn't
remember all the details. Karti chimed in, taking over displaying the
files for her.
"Mulkai would serve us in these Academy
Barryds? Preposterous. They will just overrun us." One of the southern
island Trade Barryd Dimar moved toward Freia, growling. Others hovered
over to his side in agreement.
Freia answered his challenge in a quiet
voice. "That would not serve our purpose. For centuries, we've been
losing territory because our artisans and farmers have no skill. We need
to be supported by those who practice other arts so we can continue to
survive. But, you need us as well. We wish to pursue our arts, and as
the arrival of Tara and her kind proves, we are needed by planet Dimar
as much as the Plan is." Freia drifted forward into the center. "If
you do not believe me, then you can scan me."
There was silence. Tara wondered if the
Dimar were ready to know the secret history of the Mu. She also wondered
if Freia wouldn't drop out of the sky like a rock, with Tara on her back,
if they scanned her now.
"Scan me first. It will help you understand
better." Tara offered. "I have seen both Tel and Mu, and I come
from a world where there is very little separation between the Arts. And,
Tara knew from her time in the Barryds
that if even one of the Leaders who scanned her decided to, they could
leave her mad or dead. They could leave suggestions, ways to control her.
Letting Freia, no matter how strong her mind was, risk that with all of
Mulkol's power at stake was too much.
"I will oversee, to make sure none
of you try anything. However, there must be preparation. This is not the
place for this procedure." Karti nodded back toward Ekal. "Do
we agree that Ekal is a neutral site and will make the appropriate setting
"Agreed. Ekal, do you agree to this?"
Elakolul turned toward the stunned face of the smaller green leader.
"I would be honored!" He dipped
"We shall disperse, but we'll keep
Tara as collateral. She will be scanned first, and then you Mulkol."
Elakolul grabbed Tara off his back with both paws.
"Wait, Elakolul. If we are going to
offer up an active Leader of one Barryd, and a former Leader of two...three
Leaders must also agree to be scanned." Karti interjected. "An
Ela, a Mir and a Olu."
There was a long pause, but finally, the
ringleader bowed his head. "Agreed. I will serve as the Ela. I could
not ask of you if I was not willing to undergo it myself."
The leaders of Mirkal, an animal breeding
barryd and Olunali Barryd, an arts barryd, agreed to scans, sealing the
"Agreed," Karti nodded in final
agreement. "Now, get all these Dimar off my foot." He pointed
down at his limp leg, chuckling. The leaders laughed, and called for the
swarm to disperse with singsong cries.
Groups of Dimar broke off from the huge
mass as it slowly dissipated. Many had days of travel ahead to return
to their home Barryds, and all had stories to tell.
Tara looked down, preferring to sit astride
a Dimar rather than be carried in their paws. Elakolul raced along the
treetops, but was careful not to let his paws drift too low to the trees,
which might injure his charge. The ground beneath where the swarm had
been was crushed flat, but only the animal life and some trees seemed
to have suffered. As soon as the force of the crowd was off them, many
plants sprang back to provide cover for those animals that would soon
As the long-haired Dimar cruised in toward
Ekal to the north, they flew over some of the worst damaged parts of Telka.
Dead morraks, and even a horse, were being quickly recycled by the various
scavengers of Dimar. Tara was glad to see that the horse wasn't Tzarina.
The predators of Dimar may have made short work of the herd, but Tara
still had hope of one day finding her horse. She promised herself she'd
go for a ride again, if she survived the scan.
As if the Leader had been listening, he
gently lifted her up with one paw and placed her on his back. "My
apologies for the rough handling, Lady Tara."
"Thank you. It's nice to have something
solid between myself and the ground." She winked, careful not to
show any teeth as she smiled. His ears wiggled with amusement.
Tara was glad to be with at least one Leader
with a sense of humor. Even with their shielding and her weak Psi, she
could hear the arguing between other Leaders near them as they flew into
the tiny single Ekal spire.
"Why are no E barryds, like Ekal,
submitting for the scan?" Tara asked. She half knew the answer, but
figured she should make some pleasant conversation.
"Before a Barryd chooses it's art,
it has the designation of E. Ekal is too young to have chosen one art,
although they seem to heavily favor both Ela and Tel, Farming and Engineering.
It will be interesting to see if they choose Ela. The Leader of Ekal is
a most amenable fellow, not unlike yourself." The Elakolul Leader
kept one eye on Tara, and one eye on where he was going.
Tara patted him on the neck, smiling at
Their conversation was cut short by their
arrival at their designated rooms. Residents of the upper levels of Ekal
had offered their living space at the tiny Ekal Barryd to the Leaders
for the time, to allow the Leaders more privacy and a proximity to the
spire chamber where the scans would take place. The greeting songs echoed
up the Spire, soothing Tara's nerves.
She was rooming with the large brown and
white Elakolul, probably to make sure she didn't slip away in the night,
but she didn't mind. Trust would be a long time in coming. She gave the
Elakolul a little privacy by exploring the other rooms of the apartment,
taking advantage of a Lita of Water they had left in one of the grooming
chambers to repair her lacerated skin. She'd need to be in one piece to
survive 30-odd Leader minds scanning her.
As the liquid did it's painful work, she
enjoyed the apartment's finery. Paintings from as far as the Archipelago
and statuary cut from solid stone decorated each room, leading Tara to
assume that they were in a first acolyte's chambers, if not, possibly
the chambers of Ekal himself. She could hear her roommate rustling about
in the sleeping chamber, but didn't disturb him. She knew how hard it
was being away from a Barryd when you were linked to it.
She slipped into the sleeping room and
hopped into her hastily prepared cot. She could hear the big white Dimar
snoring, and it quickly lulled her to sleep.