They arrived in lines marching upon the yellow grasses, their figures dwarfed between the towering palms. Madam Kimbe scanned them discerningly. There were those that did not fit. Outsiders, strangers, a kink in the formula. And she expected them.
She held a flask up to her eyes, letting the swishing fluid paint melancholic march in a translucent pink. She speculated upon their response when they would see her concoction. Happy gratitude? Doubtful. Surprise? Possibly. Yet more likely than not, suspicion. Always suspicion.
Madam Kimbe knew it from how they kept their eyes low and glancing. It was a nervousness spawned from circumstance. They walked between columns of soldiers, yet without manacles. They tranced into a village, which, she surmised, they knew had damned them. And what for if not at the behest of the soldiers who kept them in chains that did not clank.
Then came Inyande and the calls of the synergists aghast by her capture. Their hero trudged behind the main body of the troupe, her wrists bound in chains that very much did clank. Her head was raised and her eyes plastered. Kimbe remembered the first time she came and the calm confidence she had about her. She had proclaimed herself ‘the strongest woman in the world’, knowing full well that was a lie. The true holder of that title would not be dethroned so easily.
But that did not matter. To the people Impeh village, Inyande Ita might as well have been just as she claimed. She was their protector and, perhaps unknowingly, they had betrayed her.
The betrayers roared in despair. Men and women stormed the momentary railings of the military parade, crying out for injustice. Children pointed and asked the question while the smaller ones wept.
She wondered if they knew. Theirs was a culture of silence after all, of unsung policies that bled into every aspect of the village. That uncanny silence was what made her leave to begin with.
She studied the crowds as they continued their cries, particularly the swirling sands that made up their skins. Synergists relied on sand. It was their shield since first they learned to shape sands. Given that ability from an early age those same untested children were expected never to bruise or bleed. Until, inevitably, they did.
They were wounds that would not be healed. A good synergist kept their troubles to themselves. A good synergist hid their wounds. A good synergist would never rely on the techniques of outsiders to cure the ailments that would heal naturally. And should they die? Well that was how Eighth Hour demanded of them, according to age old scriptures that is. A wound was a failure upon flesh and a failure was meant to be learned from.
So she followed those scriptures in her own way. The paths of her people had become the failure and she would learn from their mistakes. She traveled to Kura, reached the thirtieth level, acquired a doctor’s degree and apprenticed under the best of doctors until any synergist who should suffer from ‘failures of flesh’ would have an option other than pain or death.
Her eyes tracked to the front of that troupe as it paused unceremoniously to the behest of one man. Oke. The fool bowed to them low and his village silenced. They stared at him in horror.
“Thank you for your aid Salamon-dara,” he said as gratefully as he could muster.
The short full turn nodded tactfully. “The honor is mine, Chief-a-tain,” he said in his shrill voice. “Your village is safe, yes.”
“Yes, we’ve suffered no assaults in your absence.”
“Oke-dara!” bellowed a woman from the crowd.
“Chieftain?!” cried a man.
“Why?” asked a child.
Kimbe eyed the girl who had shrewdly asked the question, as did Oke who knew he needed to answer it.
He did so with a heavy breath, “I only did what I thought best for the village.”
“Fool!” the voice was feminine and mocking. Pushing through the crowds, close to where Inyande lay, Chireke burst from out of the wall of blue jackets. Her wedding covers were dirtied and one of her sleeves tattered.
“Fool of a grandfather that you are, you’ve doomed her! We succeeded, grandfather, we got away and then… and then they came.”
“No. You’ve damned fool, I don’t want to hear it. I should have known you mistrusted her.”
“Go ahead,” commanded the short man at the front, turning to Kimbe and greeting her with familiar tilt of the head.
Kimbe had known captain Salamon for years, but she had known Oke all her life. Several villagers joined in the man’s denouncing, showering Oke with words he could not deny.
Kimbe sighed, hiding her flask. Oke was a practical man but he was too practical some times. He lacked faith when he needed it. Both in those he called his friends and his granddaughter. Kimbe shifted. Their grand-daughter.
Feeling the need to intervene on her fragmented family, Kimbe attempted a step, but was cut short by a sharp and directing voice. The villagers went silent.
It was Inyande, “This? Shi shi. This is nothing, Chireke. Be out in no time, promise.”
“Inyande-dara…” trailed Chireke.
“For now enjoy the company of your family. Make your choices and live with them,” Inyande smiled and snickered behind closed teeth. “I’ll see you soon.”
Chireke nodded to that, watching as her role model from whence she was girl get tugged away by chains.
The granddaughter stood there, eyes glazed and strained, and with a shudder of her shoulders she marched on with the chained Inyande. The village followed, the chorus of mourns and jeers along with them.
Only then did Kimbe notice Kwake stumbling after them, his eyes sternly fixed on Chireke.
“Poor boy,” muttered Kimbe. She had always been a supporter of the ignored dredges of society. To be kept in silence was worse than to receive the dreaded answer and Kwake would be denied his answer so long as Inyande burned as bright as the sun in Chireke’s eyes.
“Poor girl,” she corrected herself as she thought on the girl. Now only the first half of the company of blue coats remained. Salamon and his outsiders eyed her patiently.
“Salamon-dara,” she greeted him, “I see your quarry is the same as mine.”
He cocked his head at him, “Why are you here Kim-bey?”
Kimbe swished the flasks ahead of her, drawing the attention of the gathered outsiders, “It was for my granddaughter you see, but upon learning of a most particular poisoning,” she smiled, “I felt the need to cure it.”
Kimbe mixed the last batch of the pink fluid as her already stuffed quarters became choked with bodies.
“The prince went ahead to the boat,” explained Salamon, the first of those bodies. Salamon had taken to sitting upon her clay top counter, much to her displeasure.
“I see, so he was here after all. Any injuries?”
She caught Salamon in the corner of her eye, fluids trickled into a new flask. “So he did not fight? Smart. I wonder where he gets that? Certainly not his father,” said Kimbe.
“The trade prince has been a vital supporter to cap-i-ton, yes.”
Kimbe puffed, tapping the counter with the finished product, “Only because your cap-i-ton happens to possess the shrewdness his eminence lacks. Perhaps your ‘cap-i-ton’ is the boy’s true father.”
“Cease your words Kim-bey! Cap-i-ton only loves the Empress, and she alone.”
“Not true,” she said turning to the others gathered there, “He loves his ambitions more.”
She tossed the flask and the Cantinio boy caught it with a fumble.
“For that friend of yours back in Kura. Is that all of those poisoned?”
The boy with blue moons in his eyes nodded, “It is, but I fear he may injure more if given the chance.”
Kimbe took a second scan of the gathered company, stopping tellingly on the white furry man. He had been coddling an unopened bottle of rum for the past half an hour.
“A Trimbly, a seawolf, a Veracian noble, a cantinio and a rabbit. Remind me, what does Mor’de want with them?” she asked.
“It is his utmost desire to see them, yes.”
“Yes but why?”
“Pardon my ignorance,” began the Cantinio boy, “But we’ve never met Mor’de. Isn’t he an admiral? I promise I would not soon forget that encounter.”
“Clearly we have,” said the seawolf.
“But when and where?” added the Trimbly. “If he is truly a witch doctor, surely we would have… oh. Oh.”
Both the seawolf and chitik snapped to each other as they reached the same conclusion.
Kimbe grinned at their matched reaction. Albeit, the girl’s revelation had teetered into a yawn.
Off in the corner, the noble soldier muttered a few muffled words with her eyes fixed on Kimbe.
Kimbe sighed, “My ears must be blocked. Speak up, girl.”
“I…I am not with them,” she croaked.
It was a strange admission. For the trip to her laboratory, the administration of the elixirs, and the lengthy process to concoct another, the girl remained. She was either pre-occupied with some secretive task or idiotically stubborn.
“Then why are you here?” said Kimbe with slight agitation.
She tilted her head slightly at the rabbit man before lapsing down. Kimbe squinted at the rabbit, the strangest of the lot. She had assumed him to be of Tarus descent, perhaps an albino given his fur and stature, but the more she studied him, the more she realised he was not. He was different. More so he had barely turned if at all.
She felt an awful curiosity stir in the recesses of her mind. Discerning what he was and considering even the faintest possibilities of an undiscovered species, brought about something in her she had long since buried. Mechano biology. The hidden capabilities of organs turned to machines, to use turned organs as instruments of advancement. Recombination, application, experimentation… she shook her head, instantly willing those thoughts away.
“It take it then you will follow at their side up into the sky whale?” asked Kimbe attempting to draw herself away from the anomaly of a man.
She did not need to answer for Kimbe to know.
“Well then,” continued Kimbe. “See to it my patients come to no harm.”
“I will, Kim-bey.”
“That was towards the girl, Salamon-dara.”
“I…” the girl fixed her gaze ever downwards and pressed her shoulders up.
“The elixir should cure any lasting effects. Should anything… strange happen in the after math while you are up there, inform me by written spell immediately.”
“And what you, Kim-bey?”
“Yes, yes,” she waved him off. “Now that my granddaughter is safe and the prince found, I will see myself to Al’tof.”
“Very well, then we shall depart immediately,” said the captain.
Just as the man leapt of the table and gestured for guards stationed outside to come in, Kimbe spoke up, “A word, Salamon?” she asked, gazing about her, “Alone preferably.”
Salamon saluted, drawing his hand out a moment later, “Take the guests and Cadet Le’Ricci to the ship, I will be with you shortly.”
Kimbe kept her sights squarely on the back of the rabbit man as the outsiders shuffled out. When at last the door shut in their wake, she took a long warranted breath.
“I’ve been reading a lot on Divine Beasts lately, those worshipped by the above landers,” she started. “Given that the poison used and its subsequent cure was named after Zanae, I had to think upon the connection. To put it frankly, captain, that connection, Zanae, is one of the Great Beasts of the uplanders, the butterfly whose wings sprout petals.”
She paced along her bookshelf, running her sand fingers along the uneven spines of the works gathered there, “I had long thought the Divine Beasts myths made for worship, much like our own Hours, but what if they weren’t?”
“Does this concern the cap-i-ton?”
Kimbe stopped, “It does,” she said turning, “Now more than ever. Dog, lion, butterfly, dragon, owl, tangatta, rat, whale, fox, cow, curse and rabbit… If I were you, I’d best watch the one that coddles the bottle, and damn close at that.”