Atalen ya Doaka
“I thought there weren’t any springs in the Chaco area,” said Marta as she and Ian hiked down a steep trail.
“Well, the aquifer is too deep, which is why the cliff face is so high above us. The Chacoans had a very small number of shallow seeps. So, we made this small spring.”
“Small is right!” she said upon catching sight of a small circle of darker soil. The trail dipped lower and the humidity rose. “This is it? It’s not much bigger than a wash basin!”
He took off his shoes and waded in. The pool itself was about eight by six feet in a rough oval and about a two and a half feet deep in the middle. The water was very clear, however. He took off his backpack and shirt and tossed them in a pile on the sand, with the thermal bag he’d carried their lunch in. The floor of the diminutive pool was sandy and smooth. So, he sat down and the water covered up to his chest. There was no vegetation in the pool or around it, no algae and no weeds. The walls were too close together and too high to allow direct sunshine on the floor of the canyon. The only light entering had to bounce off the walls several times. A thin strip of blue was visible high above.
Ian lay back, immersing himself in the cool, clear water. He sat up and little rivulets poured out of his hair and off his beard. He shook his head and his hair curled up in tiny ringlets. “Come join me.” He reached out his hand in a beckoning motion.
“Alright,” said Marta at last. She took off her shoes and definitely got Ian’s attention when she began to take off her blouse.
He smiled sardonically. “Cute bikini top!” It was a yellow print and stood out against her very tanned skin. She distracted him by getting two bottles of beer from the thermal bag. She reset its crystal and then waded in. He took one bottle and opened it with a slight golden glow in his hand. He took a sip. “Ummm, this must be from my reserved stock!”
She nodded and let him open her bottle. He took her by the hand and gently pulled her to a sitting position next to him. Then reached around her and began to snuggle. He nuzzled his face against the curve of her neck and kissed her gently, barely more than a rub of the lips. She smiled almost shyly and leaned back into the embrace.
Suddenly she stiffened up. “What is that?” she cried.
“It’s just me,” he soothed, running his fingers across her back along the strap of her bikini.
“No! up there!” She pointed with her bottle up to the top of the cliff, nearly eight hundred feet away. “There’s someone up there.”
Ian turned his face from the nape of her neck to see where she was pointing. “I don’t see anything.”
“No,” she insisted. “Look there – now!”
Sure enough, two men were staring back down at them. Ian flinched. “Who are they?” He gasped a bit and splashed over to his backpack. He pulled out a small cabochon crystal and tapped its rounded surface. It glowed a deep maroon. He placed it on his wrist crystal and linked the two. He pulled open a mana window and activated the controls. The smaller crystal lifted off his wrist and shot upward with a zooming sound at a high velocity.
He rotated the controls and the view the spy crystal was sending back rotated as well. It was now at the rim of the canyon. There was a parked Subaru with three people.
“Those are the same creepers that we saw at Tsin Kletsin!” he said.
“That man and that woman, yes.” She pointed. “But, not that man on the left.”
“Right.” The normal mana glow if the man on the right began to glow a bit brighter golden.
“He’s operating a mana override!” cried Ian.
The man raised his hand and the glow strengthened to a bright ball. It left his hand and rushed toward the spy crystal. The image in the mana window filled completely with its light. “No!” shouted Ian slamming his hand on his wrist crystal. He tapped a complex pattern, then slid his index finger down his arm, across the crystal, and down his hand.
The window broke apart, or rather the light exploded in shards that looked like fireworks had gone off. “That was close. They tried to hack my crystal!” He was agitated.
“We’d better run!” cried Marta. She splashed out of the puddle and grabbed her shoes and backpack.
Ian caught her beer bottle before it splashed back into the pool. “They could run a mana trace on one of these and get our conversations for the last month!”
“Open a portal to the institute!” she cried.
“The water table is too high here. Run back up the trail.”
There was a zooming sound as three crystals descended, glowing in the shade.
“Oh man!” It was more of a hiss than words. Ian tapped his crystal, pulling out a defensive pattern. Suddenly, it began raining gravel and cobbles from the cliff face. They circled around the pool in a cyclonic column. One by one the crystals were shattered. Two fell into the pool and one was impacted into the face of the northern cliff. Ian scooped up a handful of shards and dumped them into a small pouch he’d pulled from one of the side pockets of his backpack.
“Let’s go!” cried Marta. He gathered up his things and followed her up the steep trail.
“Now why can’t we just open a portal home?” she asked huffing from exertion.
“It’s the water table. It interferes with creating a spike.”
“I thought mana could come up through water.”
Ian had to use more of his breath to walk so his response came out in pieces. “It can bubble up through it. But, you can’t get a spike, to form down through a fluid. That’s why we had to hike in.” He paused to catch his breath and also to examine the ridge of the cliff. “We’ve about a mile to go before I can get a good enough spike, to open a portal. You’re good to go, aren’t you?”
She slid the blouse back on her lithe body. “I’m sure I’m in better shape than you.”
He didn’t take it as an accusation but as an honest appraisal of the situation. He rubbed his slightly overlarge tummy. “I think we can make it.”
The echo of a zooming crystal sounded loud. The two turned to look then hurried on as the echoes faded again. “We’d better turn our crystals off, they can track the mana emissions.” He tapped his crystal and all light winked out. Marta complied and then pocketed hers. Ian tapped the crystal on the thermal bag and it deactivated.
“Anything else?” Marta asked.
“No,” I think we’re good.” A few more steps and they were up out of the hole the pool was in. It was the most strenuous part of the hike and they were out. They stood panting for a few moments then looked up the seven hundred feet to the cliff top. “We don’t have to climb all the way up,” he said.
“Good!” she said. “We should make good time back, though.”
“Yeah, we’ve got about .8 miles left. Let’s try and go faster.”
“We’ll have blisters when we’re done. But, better that, than capture.” A faint zooming sound came, then faded.
“They don’t have our free mana to follow, even though they know where we’re going.”
The trail dipped every so often, but generally, it rose at a slow and steady pace.
They, however, ran.
Quite often it ducked under one of the cliff faces or the other. “This last part is probably the most dangerous.” He pointed ahead to a wide part of the trail, large enough to play rugby in. “We’ll have to run for it.” He took his wrist crystal and reactivated it. The zooming sound suddenly became louder.
“Ready?” he asked.
She nodded and he said, “Three, two one, go!” She lit out of there like a freshman leaving school for summer break.
Ian followed. Marta was right. She was in much better shape than he was. They ran up and over a small rise and across what might have been a dry creek bed. They went through a patch of sand that threatened to rip off their shoes and a patch of woody sage that tore at their shins. With six crystals less than fifteen feet from them, Ian threw down a spike and opened a portal. They jumped through. He closed it while he was horizontal and flying in. None of the spy crystals made it with them.