“Does that mean that you have been inside my head?” Malik asked. It was late in the night and Malik could sense that Orric was tiring. Malik had a feeling that having another presence in Orric’s mind was exerting a lot of strain on him. They had fallen into a sober silence after Reniko nearly plunged to the water below and Malik saw a need to break it now.
“Of course not. It doesn’t exactly work that way. All people feel. The person who is feeling that specific emotion knows it and if the emotion is strong enough they can emit waves of it to others. Tordaskan Teoko are very receptive to these waves; we feel them more acutely than everyone else. Even you can feel them. I know you do when you ask a fellow human what is upsetting them. Have you never wondered why excitement is contagious? A person can emit their feelings and even those who don’t prove themselves to be Engagers feel the strong ones, like you. Most people never think about it that way. As an Engager, distance sometimes doesn’t matter, if the feeling is strong enough.”
“So if it’s just a matter of feeling someone else’s emotions, how did Reniko get caught up in your subconscious?”
“Well that’s where it gets a little tricky. This connection works differently between beings that both exhibit the trait. It’s hard to explain.”
“Try me,” Malik said leaning back for a long explanation. Malik could feel Orric’s flight speeding up as he occupied Orric’s thoughts.
“When two people feel the other’s emotions, they are somewhat aware of the contact. It allows us to touch minds if we wish to go deeper than just the feelings. It’s like grabbing someone’s hand: you can reach over and touch them, but you can’t keep the contact unless they reciprocate. Engaging only works if you are invited in.”
“If that’s the case, how did Reniko engage your mind?”
“You’re not thinking in the right terms. When dealing with the mind there is no speech. Reniko is my friend, therefore when she touched my mind I showed no barriers. Her touch, as I said, was subtle. I was used to her presence, I didn’t guard against it. I didn’t think I had to. Like I said only Engagers can touch another’s mind. There is no reason to close off your mind when there is no one nearby that can enter it.”
“So basically you’re telling me that your mind is like a castle.”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” Orric said.
“Well either the draw bridge is up or it’s down. When it’s down anyone that has the means can come in if they are a familiar presence. So say most of the time you have the drawbridge down but there are sentries checking who comes and goes. When the drawbridge is up, even friends can’t enter. That must mean there is no drawbridge at all for those who don’t have the ability to engage, all you get is what you can hear people shouting over the wall.”
“You grasped that better than I thought you would.”
“So that would make Lyss, what, in your mind, a princess? To come and go as she pleases, unchallenged?”
Orric tensed at the metaphor and said nothing. Malik felt uneasy with this strange and sudden silence.
“You respect her that much?” Malik asked.
“Like I said, I have a connection with her, I can feel her emotions. I know the person she doesn’t show anyone else. I also never thought it necessary to keep my wits about me.”
“A Teoko with his guard down, that is a rare sight.”
“And it may cost Reniko dearly.” This sobered Malik severely and he glanced down at Reniko’s still frame.
“She’ll be alright. She’s Lyss for a reason.” Malik said, the smile he offered with his words filled with bitterness. Malik looked back at Orric, his silhouette fading as the clouds hid the light from the moons. I wish I could understand this whole connection better. If I had the ability maybe I could delve into Orric’s mind and exhume those secrets he has from me. And maybe I could understand Reniko a little better. Maybe I could understand how she affects people the way she does. Malik shook the thoughts from his head. Why do I care so much? He looked down at Reniko, holding her tightly in hopes that the more tightly he wrapped himself around her the less of her would escape. If only I could grasp hold of the only part that needs holding onto. With a sigh of resignation, Malik got comfortable for the long flight ahead. Holding Reniko in his arms he was unable to sleep and so instead lay against Orric’s body and looked up into the sky watching the lights of the stars above wink in and out as the clouds passed overhead. He spent the entire night like that, glancing down every once in a while to see if there was any change to the still frame he held in his arms. He finally fell asleep shortly after dawn came and didn’t wake until Orric landed and the constant motion suddenly stopped. Another day was coming to an end when Malik awoke. He was thankful to see that although Radalean Lake was still swelling close by they had landed on firm ground. An endless sea of wheat stretched before them, which was swaying gently in the breeze. It had not seeded yet and was not very tall and therefore Malik could see the farmhouses in the distance that kept watch on the generous food source. We must be close to Crosshatch, Malik thought as he untied both his and Reniko’s safety lines. Balancing Reniko’s weight, he gently slid from Orric’s side and landed firmly on the soil below.
“Malik, watch over her. I’m going to see if I can bring her back to us. This may take a while,” Orric said, his voice strained and weary.
“No need to talk, Orric, just go to sleep. I’ll do what I can.”
With Malik’s reassurance, Orric slid instantly into sleep, something that he had long been awaiting. Malik was surprised by this; he had never seen Orric fall into sleep so suddenly or so deeply before. He instantly realized how foolish he was being. This wasn’t a sleep of rejuvenation. It was a rescue mission.
Reniko, when Orric found her, was not Reniko at all anymore, not in the way that he and Malik knew her. She was barely there, just another presence in his mind slowly being absorbed by thoughts that were not her own, but his. She had in all essence become flight. Orric didn’t know how long it had taken to find her, but it was longer than he would have liked. Her essence was being absorbed by him and what little remained had been stretched thin and had been very hard to find. He was relieved to have found her when he had; any more time in here unguided and she would have been absorbed completely, become nothing more than background noise. As it was, she barely resembled the human he had known. He tried to confine her, separate his self from her and succeeded only in the extent of forming a dreamlike world around her. She looked strange to him, something between human and Teoko. Instead of arms she had wings and instead of human feet she bore Teoko talons, long and lethal. She seemed content flying in the world Orric had constructed for her. He came up alongside her trying to touch her essence as little as possible, afraid that any more contact would absorb her completely. This was a delicate situation, one he had never been in before. He wished that one of the Teoko elders was here to help guide him. Instead he was left to figure it out for himself. So many things could go wrong and it was Reniko who would suffer. This is all my fault, he thought, which caught the attention of Reniko. She looked over at him curiously, now sensing his presence as something separate from her.
“Do you come to enjoy the thermals as well?” she asked smiling.
“I came here for you,” Orric replied, uneasy with how quickly she had heard his thoughts.
“I am already had. You seem to be quite comfortable with your flight, what need of me do you have?” She sounded very unlike herself and this made Orric uneasy.
“Do you know who you are?” Orric asked.
“I am what you see. Every being knows who they are.”
Orric gave a sigh. This was going to be very hard on both of them. “What is your name?”
“What use is a name?” Reniko replied gliding stealthily through the wind.
“Every being alive has a name, whether it is one given by someone else or by themselves. How do you define what you are?”
This made Reniko stop and think for a moment, pulling her out of her effortless flight. “I’ve never thought about a name,” she replied.
“I know your name,” Orric said.
“Please, if you know my name, tell it to me so that I can once again enjoy myself.”
Orric shook his head. “That’s too easy.”
“You refuse to give me my name? I refuse you the right to fly,” Reniko said, anger flaring from her. This statement puzzled Orric until he realized the extent of Reniko’s control over his subconscious. Suddenly he was no longer flying but falling, plummeting to the earth below. He no longer had wings; they had vanished at Reniko’s bidding. This terrified Orric more than he wished to admit. However, here in this dream world, Reniko knew what Orric felt without him having to tell her at all. She slowly glided to his side as he plummeted to the ground below. He suddenly realized he was no longer in control of this situation.
“Are you ready to tell me now?” The creature asked. He couldn’t think of her as Reniko any longer, she was something else, something powerful. I have to contain her, he thought trying to find a solution to his current problem. It was a new sensation, falling, something Orric had never experienced before and hoped never to experience again.
“Will it mean anything if I have to tell you?” Orric asked as he watched the ground growing closer and closer.
His descent slowed and came to an abrupt halt as his words sunk into the strange creature.
“I guess not. Do I at least get hints?” He tried to suppress the smile that was spreading across his face, at least she still retains her inquisitive nature, he thought as his wings reappeared and they began their flight once again.
“Do I look familiar to you?” Orric asked trying not to sound desperate.
“Why of course, you are Orric of Tordaskar,” she said.
“Do you remember my traveling companion?”
“A young man, Malik of Tordaskar. Where is he?” she asked glancing nervously around, suddenly aware of the absence of other life.
“There was another, a female I traveled with. Do you remember her?”
The question threw her off for a moment and she grinned. “You’re teasing me. I’m the other traveling companion. Reniko of Earth.” With the name came the being and Reniko’s face flooded with memories and conscious awareness of herself. Suddenly she no longer harboured wings and taloned feet but became fully Reniko, purely human. No longer capable of flight she began to plunge toward the earth, letting out a shrill cry of surprise. Orric dove and caught her. She landed softly onto his back and she hugged him tightly.
“What happened?” Reniko asked still slightly aware of what she had been only moments before. “I’ve never felt so scattered before. Where’s Malik?”
“Malik is safe Reniko. Right now you have to worry about yourself.”
“I don’t understand. What happened?”
“I know this may be hard for you to understand Reniko, but we are not flying right now. We are both asleep on solid ground. Malik is caring for us.”
“Then where are we?” Reniko asked confused yet somewhat aware of the truth behind Orric’s words.
“We are in my mind. I would love it if you would kindly remove your presence from it.”
“How did this happen? I don’t understand.” Orric felt her trembling with fright. He suddenly realized they were going to connect again and, unable to stop it, Orric cried out a warning to Reniko.
“Whatever happens, do not forget who you are. You are Reniko, remember you are Reniko!” Like a wave, the dream was washed away and they were linked, sharing thoughts and memories. He tried to guide Reniko as she struggled to retain her name and herself. He explained without words Engaging, explained what had happened and what was happening. They understood at the same time that Reniko knew what she needed to do and just as quickly and silently as it had begun she disengaged and Orric was left alone in his mind. Immediately he shielded his mind and fell into true sleep glad that Reniko was safe back in her own mind.
The whole ordeal threw Reniko into mental chaos. Unable to sleep yet lacking the strength to wake she stayed suspended in her comatose state, contemplating everything that she had experienced. She was disturbed by this newfound talent and not completely understanding how it functioned she wanted to discard the whole thing, or given time, explore it more fully. Not having the time or the resources to explore Engaging more fully, she resigned to putting it far away from her, banishing it from her mind, blocking all access to that portion of her mind. With this done she slept deeply.
Malik had watched the whole ordeal in silence. Not knowing the battle that had raged between Reniko and Orric, he stood over their bodies restlessly annoyed that he was unable to do something constructive in this situation. At one point, the farmers from the nearest fields had come to investigate the rather large foreign body that was lying at the edge of their fields. It had taken long hours of persuasion for them not to go into town and inform the Rük of the presence of a Teoko so close to town. Lucky for Malik, the farmers had little contact with the Rük and found no truth to their lies that the Teoko were dangerous. After having told them thoroughly that Orric would cause no harm and that he felt a great love for humans, they had asked him about Malik’s travels with the great lurking presence and were quite satisfied to trust the word of a fellow human over the word of the oppressing Rük. Malik had complimented them on their reasoning and had told them that there were not many humans left on Vespen that distrusted the Rük. It had led into a conversation about the resistance.
Reniko awoke as the farmers were leaving. It was late in the night and the only light in the small camp was the fire that burned low near her. Malik’s back was turned to her and she watched as he bid farewell to the two strange men. When he turned and saw her awake he smiled and yawned.
“What time is it?” Reniko asked as she gave a stretch and sat leaning against the still frame of Orric.
“Late, almost dawn.”
“How long has it been since I Engaged Orric?” Reniko asked tensing at the phrase.
“This is the second night since you fell unconscious on Orric. What happened, Lyss? Why isn’t Orric awake yet?”
“I’m not sure exactly, I only know what Orric showed me. I wasn’t me for a long time in there. Orric contained me and broke the contact, but he showed me what I was doing, what I was involved in, but it’s not something I can express in words. A lot of it I didn’t understand. It had a lot to do with the Teoko and I don’t quite understand everything that they do. They are quite different from humans. All I know is that what I did was very dangerous and Orric helped me to find that place inside me and lock it away.”
“So what does that mean? You can talk with Orric in a way that I can’t and he told you never to use that power again? That doesn’t sound like Orric. I thought he would explain to you how to control it, how to contain it, so that you can use it properly. Are you sure that’s what he told you?”
“Well, you obviously know him well enough without sharing this link. No he told me how to use it, I just can’t.” Reniko looked away from Malik embarrassed.
“It’s alright to be scared of something new Reniko, but don’t deny it all together. You were born with this gift, you just didn’t know it.”
“You don’t know what it was like in there!” Reniko yelled.
“Don’t pester her, Malik.” At the sound of Orric’s deep voice the two of them stopped their argument and Malik made his way closer to the Teoko. Reniko looked abashed, frightened even, and when Orric met her eyes, she backed away from him. Orric himself flinched. Malik saw the whole thing and he too shared the fright they felt. Orric was scared of Reniko and that made Malik uneasy. Orric was scared of nothing, not even the female Rük that could kill him with one small dart. He didn’t, however, understand why Reniko shared the terror that Orric felt. Did she in fact feel the actual fear he felt toward her, or was it her own fear she felt?
“What’s going on?” Malik shouted into the still night air.
The next comment was not, however, directed at him, but at Reniko. “Do not fear the power you held over me, young one, learn from it, put it to good use.”
Power over him? Malik glanced at Reniko who was now standing, tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” she shook slightly, hugging herself yet still looking directly at Orric. As terrified as she was, she wouldn’t run away. Malik watched the conversation in confusion, unable to find words to convey the rising questions in his mind.
“Don’t lock yourself so tightly, Reniko. It’s like there is a dark hole where your presence used to be. I don’t want that.”
“I don’t know if I could keep myself together otherwise,” Reniko replied still shaking.
Orric looked disheartened by this, but just sighed and nodded.
“When we get to Tordaskar, I’ll take you to see the Teoko elders. They will help you. You have my word.”
Take her to see the Teoko elders. Malik couldn’t believe what he was hearing. No human had ever been taken to see the Teoko elders, it just didn’t happen. The only Teoko that Malik had ever seen were Orric, his mate Variss, and Orric’s son Lorri. He had never been to the Teoko’s home even though Tordaskar shared a border with it. They had their secrets and were powerful enough to keep them. Malik had always wanted to go to Orric’s home, but Orric had made it clear that that was a request he could not fulfil. This is different. Orric knows it and so do I. Reniko has a talent that only the Teoko have ever displayed. Even if humans aren’t to enter the Teoko home, they will have to make an exception. If they don’t, by what I can tell, Reniko’s a lot better at this Engaging thing than Orric is and that could mean trouble for the Teoko if she doesn’t learn to control and use it properly.
“I can’t,” Reniko said.
“I won’t force you, Reniko,” Orric said. Malik could see the worry on the Teoko’s face, worry that if he pushed her too hard too fast she would break, and that was a risk not only to Reniko but to Orric as well. Well if he can’t push, I will.
Malik stepped forward directly in front of Reniko, his face stern. “Reniko, so help me, you are going to see the Teoko elders if I have to drag you there. Don’t you understand that if you don’t go, if you stay like you are, you’re hurting yourself? Not to mention what would happen if you did lose control again, you could kill Orric. Kill him. I know you don’t want that, so what’s wrong with you? You wanted me to move on and accept that the goddess is mortal, this is no different. Accept this. Accept that you need to control it. I’m not asking you to embrace it or like it, just accept it.”
Reniko looked at Malik horrified. “Kill him. I could kill him.” She wasn’t talking to Malik, instead she whispered the words softly to herself, a revelation of how serious this situation was. Malik looked at Orric who stood by watchful but silent. He confirmed the truth of Malik’s words and at that moment Malik hated being right.
“I think we all need to get some rest,” Malik said. That was a mess, he thought as he stoked the small fire before him and curled up in the blankets that he had laid out before the farmers had arrived. Reniko mimicked his movements, crawling back into the blankets she had been in earlier. However, instead of remaining by Orric’s side, she moved to the opposite side of the fire. Malik felt terrible. He wasn’t sure if what he had said had made things worse or better. The uneasiness that both Reniko and Orric felt toward one another was palpable and there wasn’t a thing Malik could do to change it, at least not tonight.
He watched Reniko until she slid into an uneasy sleep. She fought it off, visibly scared that if she slept truly she would cause harm to Orric, or herself. When she was safely asleep without causing harm to either her or Orric, Malik gave one last stretch and he too settled into sleep. Orric’s voice caused him to awaken from his half asleep state and he sat up to listen more alertly to his companion.
“Thank you, Malik. I was scared for her,” Orric said.
“I don’t understand what happened, but I do know that both your life and hers were in danger. Why didn’t you force her? What happened?”
“She is unusually strong, she has a raw talent. I lost control for a while. When she came to herself, I think what she had done terrified her. It terrified her because it terrified me as well. Thank you. I think she will listen to you.”
Malik looked at Orric then at Reniko, this small woman held so much hidden power in her, deadly with a sword and now deadly with Engaging. “She had control of your mind?” Malik asked suddenly.
“In a sense, yes. But at the same time, my mind had control of her. She was just able to use its influence to her will. She wasn’t Reniko in there, she was purely an entity of flight. She was able to nudge my mind into the direction she chose. I could keep my thoughts, but I couldn’t control where they were directed. I knew who I was, but I couldn’t control what I did. She had my mind, but my body was dead to her.”
“So, it’s the same as a sword. I mean for Reniko. She’s like a child that has picked up a sword. Of course they can use it, but they don’t know how, and because of that they can hurt themselves and others. They can use it for good or bad. It’s no different from any other weapon or thought or action. It’s just how you use it. I wouldn’t worry too much, Orric. She’ll come around and we already know that she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. If she keeps that thought in mind nothing will happen.”
“You are a very wise human, Malik.”
“Not really, just perceptive.” The two shared a solemn smile and closed their eyes accepting sleep.
Reniko, who had also awoken to the sound of Orric’s voice shifted slightly in her covers. A child with a sword? I made the decision once, and I can do it again. Malik’s right, it’s the same as what Dertrik always told me, “A person is always a weapon, they choose every moment whether to stay in their sheath or join in a fight”. This is just another part of me that I can choose to unsheathe or shield. I don’t need to be afraid as long as I make the right decision. With a smile of relief on her face Reniko slipped into a dreamless sleep, now ready to face this newfound talent.
Morning came and passed as the small group slept on. It wasn’t until the sun had reached midday that any of them awoke from their dreams. Reniko was the first to awaken, having been the one that had had the most sleep, and to keep her mind off the events of the previous days she slipped into routine and began her warm-up. When Malik finally awoke and saw that Reniko seemed content and ready to train him, he joined in, and the two of them began to spar. Even with Reniko’s broken concentration, Malik was unable to best her. Smiling, she called for a halt and the two of them broke fast together. Orric sat nearby, silent, having woken to the first sound of wood hitting wood. Reniko cast an uneasy glance in his direction, but tried to ward it off by giving him a plaintive smile. Orric returned it, his more genuine. Malik noticed and let out his breath in relief. They seem to be on the mend.
“So how far away is Crosshatch?” Reniko asked as she helped herself to another bowl of the steaming porridge.
“Half a day. We could travel there this afternoon and hole up in an inn, or we could stay here until tomorrow and leave at first light. It really doesn’t matter either way,” Malik said.
“Well, it would be nice to have a bed to sleep on. And I would hate to waste the rest of this day just sitting around here,” Reniko spoke.
“May I offer a suggestion?” Orric piped in.
“Of course, your opinion is always valued, Orric,” Malik said.
“I think you should spend as little time in Crosshatch as possible. The town is overrun with Rük and those in charge here are worse than other places. You won’t see many women in town and for good reason: the Rük have kidnapped most of them and those that could, fled to the farms. Reniko would not be safe there. And as it is, they have other reasons for wanting her if what that hologram said was true.”
“Wonderful,” Malik muttered.
“Have you never been here before Malik?” Reniko asked.
“Orric has, sort of, but not me, no. This causes a problem. I can’t carry all the supplies we need myself and Orric can’t help me.”
Orric felt silent and Reniko looked in his direction. He was seething with unbridled anger. “This is madness! If only the Rük hadn’t destroyed Mountain Side, we wouldn’t be in this trouble.” Old wounds made fresh, he clawed the ground bitterly.
“Well, we can’t change the past, no use looking to it now. As long as they don’t see me, we’ll be all right. I’ll just keep my hood on--it’s not like they can see through fabric. We’ll be very careful. If all else fails, we have our weapons,” Reniko said with gravity.
“I really wish there was a way around this. If only Radalean was closer. It’s close enough to the Lake that the Rük avoid it.”
“I was going to head to Porsshash, but this was the fastest landing spot,” Orric said.
Reniko looked at Orric. “I’m really sorry.”
“We both are. What is done is done. I’m not worried about it, Lyss, you should not be either.”
Reniko nodded and spoke again, “I could always wait outside of town.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Malik said brightly. “In fact, I think that will work just fine. That is, as long as you stay put.”
“Are you saying that I can’t?” Reniko asked.
“I’m saying that trouble seems to find you no matter where you are. I was merely suggesting that when you see trouble coming, that you have the sense to leave it alone.”
“Depends on the trouble.”
Malik sighed and turned to Orric. “Maybe you and Reniko should just go to Crosshatch Forest and I’ll manage what I can on my own.”
Reniko glared at Malik. “I can only do what I can do. I won’t promise anything, but I will try very hard to stay out of trouble. Is that good enough for you?”
“If that’s all I can get, then yes.” Turning to Orric he finished, “We’ll need a bit of time to gather supplies. Once we are prepared we’ll start toward the A’barra Mountains. Give us three days and come join us again.”
“I’ll scout out the road to the A’barra Mountains. That should give you enough time. I’ll see you then. Good luck. Oh and Reniko, if you two get into any trouble –” Orric hesitated and Reniko tensed.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Reniko whispered with less fear than the night before. Orric nodded and took to the air.
“Keep yourself out of trouble, Orric,” Malik shouted as the hulking figure became a speck in the sky.
“Well we should be off as well,” Reniko said as she began packing up the remains of the small camp, tossing piles of dirt onto the cooking fire.
“Do you even know how to keep still?” Malik asked joining Reniko by the remains of the cooking fire.
“I’ve kept still most of my life. I don’t like being patient when I don’t have to.”
“So be it. I think if we leave now, we can be at the outskirts of Crosshatch before sunset.”
“Malik,” Reniko said suddenly causing Malik to stop his motions and look in her direction. She was kneeling over her pack, her back to him. “I just wanted to tell you that you were right, about everything last night. I’ll accept it. I have to. Thank you for making me see that.”
“Just returning the favor,” Malik said smiling.
Reniko turned and looked at her companion, a smile breaking over her face. “So we’re even?”
“I bet that’ll change shortly,” Reniko said, packing the last of her bedding into her pack.
Malik puzzled over the statement and decided that he couldn’t figure out what she meant by that. “What exactly does that mean?” he asked as he, too, finished packing his things away.
Reniko just grinned.