Half Shaman, 23
|Silver Storm on its Way|
A storm threatens, Lotor has invented a new torture. Can Jeb convince her people in time?
Links to Previous Chapters:
Chapters 1-5 Chapters 6-9 Chapters 10-14 [These links send you to the archives for January, Feb and March. Read from the bottom up.]
15: Ant's Idea 16: The Automatic Transponder 17: New Chief, Old Shaman
18: Walking ... 19: The Meridian 20: Girl Questions 21: The Village Square
22: AZ, Ship to Shaman
23: The Silver Storm
I am lying on the stretcher and it is swaying. “How long are we under way?” I croak.
“Lithe and Limber, we are your third pair,” one of them says.
Something about the air feels abnormal. “I’ll need to sit up, breathe better.”
Limber carries at the front. “Clouds started forming the moment the Earth-born walked into the sand."
“Sometimes we forget the power of the totems,” Thyalsene says. “Once you sang Tayne his totem, he accepted his fate.”
“What the fuck are you having me lug?”
Young voice, I remember it. That’s Jackdaw following Thyal?
“You’ve been promoted and you complain?” Limber says.
“Carrying Thyal’s pack is a promotion when the Earth-born did it before me?”
I don’t know whether Jackdaw’s audience will be sympathetic. I grin. To me Jackdaw’s complaints are a distraction.
“The magnet is the heavy bit,” Thyal says.
He sounds like he is teasing.
I hear Jackdaw shrugging out of the pack’s harness and dropping the pack—thud!—on the path. “I’m not carrying a ruddy magnet! Some ship flying by will think I’m the Shaman!”
The stretcher shakes in time to Lithe and Limber laughing.
Thyal does a little dance getting past Lithe under the stretcher and past Limber. He holds onto Limber while walking backward. Allows himself an ironic, wintry smile. “That could be a useful belief to encourage.” He winks.
I bestow them all a glimmer of gratitude for trying to cheer me up, then hang over the side of the stretcher. “Is it the magnet that’s causing that weird pattern in the sand?”
Everyone bends to get a closer look.
Thyalsene’s pack with the magnet in it sits in a circle of ordinary-looking dun-coloured sand. The red, meat-eating parts of the sand are in retreat. “Lotor doesn’t seem to like the magnet,” I say. “Did you know that already, Shaman Thyalsene?”
Thyalsene straightens. His eyes pop. I stare where he stares. The east. He lifts the magnet by the bag and tosses it onto the stretcher.
I bend and surround it with my arms. A steely stony clump the size of two big fists lying in the folds of its bag that is going to save me.
The wind-front hits. The meat-eating Lotor sand in the wind cascades off me.
Lithe and Limber set down the stretcher in a hurry. They draw the sticks from the stretcher’s fabric sleeves, two from each side. A little circle around me remains sand free. Lithe sets the sticks bundled together behind my back. Limber helps Thyalsene sit behind me. We two press back to help each other keep the sticks upright. More bed-rolls get tossed toward us.
I help one-handedly to unroll the bedding to their doubling folds. Thyalsene and I stabilise them with our feet and legs. Lithe hooks the hoods of three cloaks one over the other over the top of the sticks, Limber helps loop this with rope and tie it tight. Others lash the cloaks each to the next.
More people crawl onto the bedding. More cloaks are tied into the cover, every which way to get the expansion necessary. An outer circle, I see Limber and Lithe and Puma, Eider and Vulture, sit on the lower edge of the cover.
Puma counts. Everyone is present, he signals with twice two hands, one hand and two fingers.
Mongoose pushed through the crush when it was still fluid until he found me. He’s sitting in front of me and so I feel safe though twenty seven people are crowded in a shelter smaller than my cell in the prison, and the air is already breathlessly hot.
Outside, the wind screams across the sand slopes.
Once the tent is complete, it’s totally dark inside and it seems private enough to take a chance. I lean forward, to touch Mongoose. Kiss his back maybe.
Cries of alarm forward of Mongoose.
“Cover is drooping!”
“Don’t let the sand build up in the bight!”
Mongoose chuckles. “I’ll fix that.”
He’s up and in a half-crouch, I feel with my hands questing.
He whispers. “Let’s do acrobatics, Jeb.” He’s laughing. With his hands between his legs on my shoulders and neck, he helps me bend down my head, and stepping over me, he backs into the place that isn’t a place, against the sticks holding up the tent cover. While he slowly slides down between me and the sticks, he lifts me, holds me, pushes at me until I sit between his legs.
“Cover good?” he inquires into the dark.
“He’s still the Mongoose.”
As if they know how he fixed it. I worm myself around until I’m kneeling against him. We both sigh, hold tight. I feel everyone of his finger tips, hot spots, fanning over my back. We kiss.
The unbroken wind is only the first part of a storm. Gusts roaring like beasts come from every direction. Thyalsene calls the quarters where he expects the wind to hit next. People directly in that path help to hold the cover anywhere they can.
“Sit down, Jeb,” Mongoose says against my mouth. “I’m tall enough to reach the nock. Need to help hold it down.”
I hoped that by concentrating on Mongoose, I could resist Lotor.
When Mongoose pecks me on my chin the planet is warring in me already. I subside to where the nightmare awaits me. A maniacal voice laughs in me. After the gusts, it tells me, will come a quiet of silver.
The gusts ease. I hear glad voices, people planning what next to do. Luggage needs to be retrieved from along the path. I try to warn them. “No! No! Don’t go out there! The silver is coming!” Does anyone hear me? Am I thinking it or am I saying it?
I thrash, trying to escape the mingle-mangle of metallic threads, as sharp-edged as the steel knit of a stone-floor scrubber. Hands flutter at me in the distance.
I see a flying horse flying fleeing hurrying home. Its wingspread is greater than an eagle’s and it displaces more air with a downstroke than a windmill’s vane. Its colours are more glorious than a sun setting through vapourous cloud. Spots, stripes, contrasting blacks and whites. Reds. Greens. Yellows. I wish I wish I wish I could save the pegasee to see it every day again, so glorious.
It flies under a silver-grey cloud that drops out of the sky, onto its back, and envelops its suddenly screaming form. I scream too. All I see of the pegasee’s beauty are vapours and red glints among the silver. Blood and bone splinters patter onto the titanium-skin of a shuttle caught in the extruded stone below. I sob in the here and now but the nightmare does not release me.
I see a man hurrying back to a camp at the edge of the Yellow City. During the unbroken wind, and then the gusts, he hides in a broken-down shanty. The calm of the storm, Lotor’s eye, twists above him. He’s hungry. He decides to make a dash for it.
I try to hold him back but he’s more frightened of me than the strange atmospheric conditions. He thinks me a ghost, a devil and he screams right by my ear. I sacrifice the stranger for a friend and I wake up a little, I hurt someone in the tent? What am I what am I?
Lotor wants me for talking with the ship. She’ll take everyone around me with the silver. Lotor wants the ship for an engine. Lotor’s engines were disabled and she wants to travel again. I scream I scream I scream. The silver comes.
Mongoose, holding up the nock of the tent, cries with me, he spatters tears of empathy and shouts for help. “Need a Dark Swan! Please! A Black Swan for Jeb!”
Limber comes crouching and bundling over people. He kneels, drags me up against him. Gathers my arms from flailing. I shudder shudder against him. Babble what I can get out. “The shredding comes. Silver. Nobody go out. Magnet up. A dome of good.” He repeats them with me. He helps me make them a mantra to fill my mind. Finally I whisper them. Finally I sleep.
I wake lying cushioned against a mound of packs, I discover by feeling all around. The magnet sits on top of the packs at my head. A couple of cloaks cover me warm. I open my eyes. The sky is the blue of late afternoon. The desert sands lie quiet, its wrinkles smoothed.
People scurry to and fro along the path hidden under a new layer of sand, searching with mummy-wrapped hands and arms through the mounded-up places for abandoned luggage.
I count people. Twenty six, with me making twenty seven. I feel soft, relieved. No one went outside. They listened.
The biggest mystery to think on, how did Lotor process the … what did Tayne call it … the bio-silver? Harvested from all the Earth-born brought to be reconstituted. How would they even have silver in them when they were just patterns? Surely it must be Lotor’s own silver?
Limber comes with the sticks and the stretcher hammock. “We go on, Shaman Jeb. We can still reach the city before dark.”
Lithe comes. His hand is bandaged, four shortened fingers. “Don’t fret, Shaman Jeb. I held an outside-edge of the tent. I don’t think anyone in this troop will doubt you again.”
Another thing to wonder over. The silver took only Lithe’s fingers? Not the tent, or the people sheltering beneath?
Mongoose comes to help lift the end of the stretcher, me and the magnet on it, onto Lithe’s shoulders. “You all right?” he asks. “No nightmare threatening? Tell one of us right away. Lithe or Limber or me.” He strokes me while he passes the stretcher to go take up his load.