Chapter Fourty Three - Summit Run
At the end of lunch, Zalibar had an announcement. After the longest time spent as noviate that anyone could ever remember, he was promoting Jenko to transitor. I only just managed to squish down a squeak and I wanted to give him a hug… but I just about managed to contain myself there too. They just didn’t do that sort of thing round here.
But my cheerful mood didn’t last long. Zalibar called me over to tell me that Rhiannas had sent word down from the Edifice. From now on, I’d be riding neck guard for him on his night patrol… twice a week… starting tonight…
Riding neck guard and trying not to let my thoughts about him leak out.
He was even going to come and collect me… which meant I wouldn’t get to miss the run that afternoon…
And it was just starting to rain!
I volunteered to do the meat run on my own that afternoon. By using my will as well as my muscles, I could just about manage one of the little wagons with a double load. Maybe I’m just too kind hearted but it did give me the chance to chat to Psion as I trudged along the storm-lashed cliff-top path. I mean… there wasn’t all that much he could do about it but it was nice to be able to talk to someone who understood.
Besides, I had a job to do. I had to go and see Iola. I didn’t want to but I just needed to do it.
I had this horrible empty thing going on in my tummy as I trudged through the rain up the track from the bridge into the village but I forced myself to step into her little store.
I couldn’t bring myself to apologise. I mean… both Carodoc and I had known that only one of us was going to survive the day… and she knew it too. I guess they’d all been living with this sort of stuff for much longer than me.
But I just needed to tell her how appalled I was at what I’d had to do to a friend.
There were tears, of course… from both of us… but, once it was over, I was glad I’d done it.
And I hoped I’d made her feel a little bit better too.
By the time I made it back to the academy, the sky was starting to darken towards dusk and there was already a gang of students gathered in the cold, wet quad, trying to find what shelter they could against the wall of the mews. I could pretty much taste the waves of dejection coming off them.
I dumped the meat wagon and my cloak in the mews and made it back out just before Zalibar appeared.
“Peak,” he said simply and there was this quiet groan thing. I mean… nobody on their own was loud enough to be heard but, all together, you could sort of hear it.
“I can make it a double if you like,” he responded with a bit of a grim grin thing. “These are the days that the training really counts. At this moment, your opponents are tucked up by the fire with a warm drink…” he let us enjoy that picture for a second… “and, because of that, when the time comes, you’re going to have their guts wrapped around your sword.”
I guess there might be something in that.
He hopped onto Lippit’s back and, with a sort of mental shout, he sent us on our way.
Because I was already about as wet as I was ever likely to get, I didn’t really have to waste time getting used to the horrible weather so I was one of the first people out of the gate and, by the time we got to the stupidly steep, slippery bit of the track down to the stream, I found I’d built up a bit of a lead with just one guy on my shoulder. I couldn’t take my eyes off the path as I used both my weight and will to keep myself balanced but I felt back towards him with my mind and was medium astonished to find it was Jenko. His promotion must have given him a new burst of strength or something.
The little stream at the bottom had basically turned into a raging torrent so I pulled in my will and just jumped the thing. Then I turned right up the path and, all too soon, I was out of the shelter of the woods and exposed to the full force of the storm as I toiled up the hill. The smock flapped annoyingly in the violent wind. I mean… I knew it was an exceptional privilege for a tyro to be allowed to wear the House mark and everything but I still wished I was just wearing shorts and a t-shirt!
A couple of times, on the steeper bits of the climb, I pushed on, trying to dump Jenko, but both times he struggled like a mad thing and he was still on my shoulder when we reached the top of the climb. Here we were hit by the full force of the storm.
“This is going to make the flute path interesting,” I said to him. I mean… I didn’t even bother trying to use words… there was no point with that wind. I just put the idea straight into his mind. “Think yourself lucky that you can still use the outside path.” Now I was a prime, I had to use the stupidly precarious inner path.
“I didn’t go through all that on the way up,” he replied, “to let you get away from me by taking a shortcut…” He slipped in behind me and followed me onto the narrow path that led to the mouth of the Edifice. It was gaping in front of us like some stupidly fancy volcano.
The path passed between the Hendon and Sharfroi flutes then led onto the fancy stonework round the Edifice’s mouth. I eased back for a moment, getting a feel for the wet stone under my feet, before racing on along the first of the narrow struts. Though, in a way, I knew about the stupid drop to either side, I kind of shut it out of my mind and just concentrated on keeping my footing.
There was a short jump, not all that tricky but the landing place was stupidly slippery and the drop unthinkable. After that, the path hit a particularly fancy bit of the rim and you had to stretch out your arms and use your will to help you balance. Then came the stomach clenching long jump which needed a boost of will and then, after a couple more narrow struts, we were slithering back onto mud. As we started our descent, we passed Quaro-Deryn who was just about to make his own way onto the rim. He carefully avoided meeting my eye and, I noticed, he was masking his mind very carefully.
“Keep it going,” I called across to Wast-Bethan, as she toiled on up the hill, a little way ahead of the rear markers and Zalibar. “Nearly there now!” But Jenko must have noticed I wasn’t concentrating. He slipped past me then pushed on and managed to open up a lead of a couple of yards.
“No slacking!” came Zalibar’s harsh shout as he passed us. But he was concentrating on a couple of nonda back-markers who were still labouring up the climb so we were spared most of his attention.
Jenko staggered in front of me, hit by a sudden wall of wind as we rounded a spur. So I dodged past him and, by the time he’d got his balance back, I’d opened up a bit of a lead. Then, after checking that Zalibar wasn’t about, I eased off a bit to catch my breath and, when we reached the main path, I let Jenko catch up with me.
“Listen,” I said, “I’ve got reason to believe that Quaro-Deryn might try to attack me in the next couple of weeks.”
“Nothing new there!” he gasped back.
“Seriously, there’s even a chance that he might try to use you, somehow, as a way of having a go at me.”
“Great… I’ll be careful!”
“Rhiannas is going to be dragging me out on patrol every couple of nights, from now on, so you’re going to have to keep your wits about you. Make sure you have a blade on you whenever you leave the dorm. I’ve got a spare dagger so you can borrow that.”
Jenko didn’t have enough breath to answer but he managed a quick mental nod.
With that, I pushed on down the track and, by the time we got back to the compound, I’d stretched my lead out to a couple of seconds.
“I’ll have you soon!” he gasped when he could talk again.
“It’ll be a while yet!” I answered… but I wasn’t quite as confident as I was trying to sound!
Then, as evening wore on towards night, I put on pretty much every item of clothing I owned as I got ready for the night’s patrol. I even put on the high-tech Outsider jacket I’d been wearing when I arrived, though I hid it carefully under my cloak. I didn’t exactly know what the rules were about Outsider clothes but I was guessing that, as long as they didn’t see it, nobody would be bothered.
And I needed to do whatever I could to stay warm.
But still, within a couple of hours of the start of the patrol, I was basically frozen solid. I perched on Rhiannas’s shoulders as he flew on implacably into that stormy night. I mean… it was as if he just didn’t realise how wet and miserable it was… or how wet and miserable I was! At least I didn’t have to worry excessively about keeping the wrong sort of thoughts out of my head. I was basically too frozen to think!
I was staring numbly out over the inky blackness of the sea, using his eyes, when my attention was caught by the faintest glimmer of light on the horizon. I quickly forgot all about the cold and my aching muscles as I pointed it out to him. Wordlessly, he swung around to head towards it.
As we drew closer, I could vaguely make out the outline of a fishing boat. It’s engine must have packed up or something and it was being tossed about at the mercy of the rough sea and the storm.
“The wind is driving them towards the island,” Rhiannas observed coldly. “They must be eliminated.”
I felt down towards the boat, tasting the foreboding in the minds of the two fishermen. They both knew the stories about the stretch of water they were being driven towards.
I didn’t even try to hide the fact that I was using my will to warm my muscles and drive the water out of my clothes. I knew I had to be ready and I just couldn’t do that if I was frozen solid! Rhiannas saw what I was doing, of course, but he didn’t bother saying anything.
We circled for a while, studying the boat, and I shared in the anticipation that spilled from his mind as he decided where best to strike. “Gather your will,” he told me. “We dive.”
One of the men on the boat had latent cerebral capability and, as we dived, he realised that we were there. He instinctively pulled in his will to make a primitive cerebral scream so I casually wrapped him up in my will, as if I was throwing a blanket of silence over him.
As his talons struck, Rhiannas unleashed our combined will which blasted the boat to pieces with the force of a bomb. I crouched low over his back as we flew through a cloud of splinters and debris.
“The alacrity with which you silenced that mind was conspicuous,” he observed coolly as he circled round, inspecting the wreckage. “I do not believe I could have achieved such precision.”
“It was a human mind,” I replied simply.
We dived down a couple more times, lashing out at the larger pieces of debris with the power of our combined minds.
And, when he was satisfied with his destruction, he circled once more, coolly surveying the shattered remains. Then he slipped into a dive before skimming low over the waves and plucking the two survivors out of the churning water. “Patrol duty, though onerous, has its occasional compensations,” he commented as he ripped into the sky with the two frantic fishermen thrashing desperately below him in his talons.
And I felt a twinge of guilt as I realised that my mouth was watering in anticipation of what was to come.
When it was all over, he resumed his flight and I spun up a small protective shell around myself. It was based on the one that Psion had taught me to help me to dive in the gates race, and it would keep the worst of the weather off me. Rhiannas was in such a high after feasting on the fishermen that he’d never notice…
And I had heaps of cerebral capacity to spare now!