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Chapter 31

Atop the Chacoan Staircase

North and East of

Atalen ya Doaka

June 2008

“How much further, Davic?” yelled Ian from fifteen feet below him.

Davic shifted the backpack and placed his right hand in a new handhold. “I think it’s only about thirty or more feet above me.” He looked down below his feet, down the cliff face along the hand carved holes the Anasazi used to climb up to the Great House on the summit above them. His toes were in similar holds. “Marta!!” he called to Ian’s girlfriend even further below. “How’s it going for you?”

“I’m glad I don’t have to do this several times a day with gallons of water on my back!”

Grunts of exertion punctuated the climb. He held on to the stone walls at the top of the toe holes. One more step and the larger, rectangular foot holds started. They were much easier to climb. Soon they slanted forward allowing him to stand and walk the rest of the way, with almost stair-like precision. When Davic reached the top, he slung his backpack over him.

He opened a bottle of beer and handed it to Ian as he finished the climb. Then he handed one to Marta. He drank a strawberry lemonade and ignored Ian’s disgusted looks.

“How many times have you been up here?” asked Marta looking out over the gorgeous view. The vista, sprawling over to the horizon, included the top of the school below, another ruined Great House nearly two miles further south and a mesa that the former inhabitants held sacred.

“This is my third time,” said Davic. “Nice view, eh?” He rolled the cold bottle across his forehead and then wiped the sweat and condensation off with his sleeve.

“It’s my fifth or sixth,” said Ian between swallows of beer.

Marta sat next to him but didn’t snuggle, their perspiration precluded that. “I’m glad you brought me up here.”

Ian just nodded. He’d finished his first beer but really didn’t want to open another.

“So, what did you think of Jolene’s visit to your brother’s wedding?” Marta asked.

“I could not believe she crashed the wedding like that!” Davic had a lot of anger in his voice. “Frankly, Marta, I had thought you were exaggerating the case. I thought that they might have been Earth-Bounds that had stumbled onto your location. But Jolene is LeDuc’s daughter. She’s the one who married Dr. Johnson’s son and whose divorce caused all this animosity.”

“I think the animosity was already there,” said Marta. “Eric LeDuc has severe issues; he’s got a toxic relationship with everyone he’s near.”

“So, why did Jolene come and menace us?” asked Ian. “And not Davic?”

“I think LeDuc wants us to know he can reach out to us at any time,” she said.

“My question is why Jolene,” said Davic. “Females aren’t as strong as males as Mages.”

“What a sexist thing to say!” said Ian.

“No, Ian,” Marta said. “That’s not necessarily sexist. Is it sexist to say that Earth-Bound men are generally, physically stronger than women?”

He frowned and didn’t say anything at all.

“No,” said Davic. “As long as you don’t imply that men are better than women because of that.”

“Right, if it’s just a description of reality, it’s not sexist. But, if you say that all men are stronger than all women, or that men are better than women, then it is very sexist. And yes, on average, male mages can channel more mana than women. But did you see that Jolene always had two male mages with her?”

“Right,” said Ian. “She brought them as muscle.”

“Not in the way you’re thinking,” she said. “I just started using mana this month and Dr. Locminé has been tutoring the girls. Do you remember a class on working In-Concert?”

“Concert?” Ian snorted. “That doesn’t work.”

“Why?” asked Davic? “Just cause you couldn’t get it to work? Retta and I almost got it to work.”

“I think I know why you didn’t,” she said.

“It’s because of your mom!” said Ian.

“I think he’s right,” she said looking at Davic and touching his arm lightly. “When Retta voices her opinion, she’s quite aggressive, not as much as your mom, Davic. But you remember the feelings you get when your mom nags you. Was she a single mother?”

Davic was very uncomfortable with this whole conversation. He gritted his teeth and nodded very slightly.

“She had to be both mother and father, then, right?”

He nodded again.

“And your mother blamed you for all the bad things your dad did, merely because you were also a male.” She forced eye contact with him. “I am using a type of mana override on you now, Davic. Men can do this and some of them very well, But mostly it’s thought of as a woman’s override. This is what we are taught. The best at this type of override are women. Retta was rather good, but, frankly, not as good as me.”

“What are you doing to me?” he asked, looking down and seeing mana pulse through her hands into his arm.

“Helping you get past some of the trauma in your life,” she said. “I actually think you and Retta would make a good couple if you could both get beyond some issues! You still love her, don’t you, Davic?”

“You think so?”

“Except...” she gazed out toward Tsin Kletsin in the distance.

Ian nodded.

Davic looked from one to the other and back. “Except what?”

“Except I don’t know which camp she’s in, in her head.”

Davic raised his eyebrows, and paused in thought.

“LeDuc initiated her mana sense, taught her about what mana is by his definition and then sent her here. She then left and went back to his school. Who has her loyalty?” she asked.

After a few moments drinking his second beer, Ian said: “So what is this Concert override supposed to do, again?”

“What is the largest mana spike you’ve ever thrown, Ian?” she asked.

“Sixteen, almost seventeen p/b.”

“My god!” she cried. “That’s huge. But it’s still not enough to make a lightning bolt and I have heard that LeDuc’s men can cast lightning. I think it’s because Jolene uses an In-Concert override and they can throw a larger spike.”

“What?” asked both men together.

“Ian, I think the reason you have never been able to come close to using the In-Concert is because you think that the women you are attracted to are stupid. They’re not, but you think they are. So you are never able to trust them enough with your mana sense to go In-Concert. And you, Davic, have issues with aggressive women. So when Retta started to make this work, you remembered feeling pressured by aggression and you slammed tight, backing out of the In-Concert override.”

Both men nodded. “Okay, sure.”

“I think you both trust me enough to try this. Ian, you throw as big a spike as you can and you, Davic, cast a shocking override. You have one, right?”

He opened the library in is wrist crystal and found a little-used mana program which he showed his friends. “You could electrocute someone with this. But it’s not powerful other than that.” He cast the small bolt of electricity and was smugly proud of it.

“Nice. But acting In-Concert, we should use all of our mana sense, throw a spike five or six times bigger than Ian has ever thrown and channel all that mana into an actual lightning blast. Are you game?”

“Yeah, sure.” “Why not?”

She took them each by the hand and lowered her head. “Do you feel the combined mana sense?” Davic could feel his own experience with the mana expand to include Marta and then through her left hand he felt Ian. He shivered a bit and nearly shut down. But Marta’s mana filled him with warmth.

“Be calm, Davic.”

Soon, he felt Ian open up and join them. Suddenly it felt like the three of them were standing in the light of a brighter sun, just the three of them, no cliff, no school, no LeDuc. They were the sun; the sun was them.

“Throw the spike, Ian,” she said.

Davic felt the interior of the earth join them in the bright light. More power than he’d ever felt before was available to them.

“Cast the lightning, Davic,” said Marta in the Voice-of-God..

They were the cloud that cast the bolt. They were the bolt that shot forth. It was as big as any from the biggest summer storm he’d ever experienced. And as loud. The bolt of lightning struck the face of the cliff a mile and a half away, causing a minor landslide.

“That was intense!” said Ian.

“And intimate,” said Davic, shaking his head and shivering just a bit. “I may try this again, maybe. But not with you two.”

“So, you wiggle your fingers like this...” Ian said, looking deeply into Zoë’s eyes. She blinked her lashes slowly --languidly-- and smiled. He took her right hand and tried to move her fingers in the appropriate manner, but hers slipped between his and she held onto them.

He looked from his hand to hers and then to her face, her mouth, her eyes. And back to her mouth. He leaned in toward her. And she toward him. Their faces were fractions of an inch apart and moving slowly, ever so slowly together.

“Ian!” came a screeching voice as piercing as a cat with its tail stepped on. “What the f...!” It was Marta.

“Who is this...” said Zoë. She actually began to hiss.

“I leave you for a tiny second, one little, teeny second and you start to...”

“You said you broke up with her!” cried Zoë.

“You said that? You ¡Don Juan!” She picked up a ceramic mug and threw it. “¡Borracho idiota!

Ian barely had time to call up a shielding override. As it was the mug shattered inches from his left eye and shards flew everywhere.

“You’re such a lying loser!” Zoë ran from the room and she could still be heard screaming three room away

Ian sat in the cafeteria, slumped over his beer, trying to blot out his misery. He heard footsteps behind him. ”Sarah,” asked Ian. “Could I have three more beers?”

“First of all, Ian,” said Davic, the one who approached. “I’m not Sarah and second, you’ve had way too much. And most importantly, I need you to help. Ta’u has been attacked.”

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