Malik’s shouts had awoken Reniko from her mental chaos only to find herself in a state of panic as she realized she was free-falling toward the earth below. She looked up at Orric and saw that he was making his way down to her. Jekkah, who caught him in the side and sent him spinning in the air, however, thwarted his efforts. She heard Rimca scream as she was tossed about on the end of her rope and she watched Malik clinging helplessly to Orric’s back trying to keep from ending up in Rimca’s same position. I’m on my own, Reniko thought. She looked down at the closing gap. I’m going to die. Too terrified to scream, she just watched as the ground came steadily closer. Her view, however, was suddenly obstructed by cloth as a guest of wind sent her cloak flying into her face. My cloak, of course! Untangling the fabric from her body, she grasped the fabric firmly in one hand and unlatched the clasp that held it around her neck. Grabbing all four ends of the fabric, she let it billow full of air. Please let it hold, she prayed just as her body came to a thundering halt, her arms burning with fire from the sudden decrease in speed. Trying to keep her hold despite the amount of pain that was searing through her arms, she opened her eyes and glanced up. The fabric was under a lot of stress, but was still holding. Her descent was no longer life threatening, but her position was still undesirable. When she again glanced down, the ground was much closer, so close in fact, that she could see the treetops of the forest below dancing in the wind. A few minutes later, her feet were grazing those treetops and she was amongst them, her cloak no longer offering the support she needed. With a terrified cry, she fell, crashing through the trees and landed bruised and broken on the forest floor.
“Rimca stop screaming,” Orric said as Rimca bounced against his side.
“I’m sorry, but I’m a little afraid of heights,” Rimca said as she scrambled for any sort of hold and finding none went sailing once again through the air as Jekkah made another attack.
“What on Vespen are you doing on my backside?” Orric asked as he narrowly dogged Jekkah sending Rimca bouncing around once again.
“It was either ride on you or get raped by the Rük, I thought I had a better chance on you,” she shouted angrily and began screaming as Jekkah nearly missed the rope holding her securely to Orric.
With a sudden jolt, Rimca felt her line ease upward and she scanned overhead and watched as Malik laboured with her rope. He had loosened the leeway on his own and as Orric continued to evade Jekkah’s offense he found it easy to help Rimca back to her seat.
When Rimca was finally seated again and her rope shortened, she finally stopped screaming.
“Thank-you, Malik, you saved my life,” she said. Her chest was heaving with fright.
“We are not out of this yet. Did you see what happened to Reniko while you were down there?”
Rimca’s immediate reaction was to glare at Malik, however, when she saw his concerned look, she sighed. “I was a little busy getting thrown about. I’m sure she’s fine. I think if she can survive falling from the sky once, twice shouldn’t be a problem. Why are we flying straight?” Rimca asked as she realized that the chaotic manoeuvres of evasion had suddenly stopped.
“Because Orborok’s true goal just fell into Trenasa Forest,” Orric replied.
“We have to find her before they do,” Malik said.
“For now let’s just hope she survived,” Orric responded.
Raindrops spattering her face woke Reniko up. As she came back into consciousness, she felt like she had experienced this once before.
“Pen?” she mumbled as she opened her eyes. However Penumbra was nowhere in sight and the pain she now felt was testimony to the actuality that she was not in fact in Sortaia Forest. Pointed spears greeted Reniko as she awoke, but she barely noticed them, too concerned with the pain she felt radiating from her legs. I think they’re broken, she thought as she cried out in pain with each movement that she made. Spears? She finally registered, her eyes finally taking in the full of her surroundings. Four spears hovered over her abdomen, four men with charcoal coloured skin stood behind them. Well at least some humans on Vespen are armed.
“What sort of demon are you that you fall from the sky?” the man closest to Reniko’s head asked. His face hovered above Reniko’s as he glared down at her intently.
Did he just speak in my native tongue? Reniko thought registering the fact that the man had indeed spoken French. She replied as such.
“I am no demon, sir. I and my friends were passing overhead. I merely fell and landed here.”
The man looked shocked that Reniko had known what he had said and he gestured for his men to stand down.
“Any woman that can speak our tongue can only be friend. We will assist you in any way we can.”
“You have my gratitude,” Reniko said. Wincing she added, “I think the fall has broken my legs.”
“I think you are right. We will take you back to our village. The women there will be able to tend to your wounds. My name is Takka’nui, you may call me Takka.”
“I’m Reniko Dorsalin, you may call me Reniko. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
Takka gestured for his men who came forward with a stretcher.
“That was handy,” Reniko said and noticed that the stretcher was loaded down with animal carcasses. They were hunting.
“You will tell me how you came to fall from the sky on our way back to my village,” Takka announced.
“It’s the least I can do in payment for your kindness, though to be fair I have to warn you, it’s a rather long story.”
“Well we do have a long trek back to my village, so there is plenty of time.”
No sooner was Reniko loaded onto the stretcher than Takka began questioning her. Reniko answered all of his questions openly, and because of her candour, Takka answered Reniko’s as well. She learned that Takka and his men were a hunting party from a nearby village called Tresca. They were isolated in the woods and dealt little with outsiders. The Rük were known to them, but avoided. The Rük were tough adversaries and although they had hunted and killed Rük in the past, they had stopped as killing one always brought many more and they were fiercer combatants than they liked. Takka had told her that their village was well hidden, and that despite the Rük’s attempts to find it they for many years they had been unable to locate it.
Well hidden it was. No roads led to Tresca, merely game trails, which if not used frequently became overgrown. No one path was used to go to the village, instead many were. The surrounding area was overgrown, a natural wall of undergrowth that was virtually impenetrable unless you knew where to look. They carried Reniko to what she thought was the densest part of the enclosing bush only to find that her eyes had been deceived. It wasn’t until they were standing directly upon the entrance that she could see it, a weaving path through the bush. It took another few hours for them to reach the village and Takka hailed the watchman closest telling him that they had an injured visitor and to alert the medicine woman as well as the elders. The young boy in the tower complied and took off into the trees. Reniko glanced around at the forest floor and saw no signs of habitation despite the sounds of life she heard all around her.
“Where is your village that I can hear them but not see them?” Reniko asked.
“Look up my child and you will see,” Takka replied. Reniko did so and as she gazed into the tall trees around her she saw a village suspended and growing in amongst them. A real tree house, Reniko thought as they were hoisted into the foliage up above.
“Why have you built your village so high above the ground?” Reniko asked as their ascent brought them hundreds of feet off the ground about midway up the trees, which still loomed high overhead.
“When the rains start you will see,” Takka said.
“When the rains start? When do the rains start?” Reniko asked.
“Any day now. You were lucky you fell from the sky before the rains started or there would have been no one out hunting or gathering to find you.” Takka paused as the lift reached its destination. “Welcome to my home Reniko, this is Tresca village, home to my people.”
Reniko looked around the bustling treetop village and watched as the villagers all went about their various duties, most of whom stopped to gaze at Reniko who stood out amongst the dark skinned people. A young man around the age of thirteen caught Reniko’s attention as he came running through the crowd, his obvious destination being Takka and herself.
“Takka’nui!” the boy shouted as he reached Takka’s side. Out of breath and clearly excited, he stopped only to inhale hurriedly. Ignoring Reniko completely, he rushed to tell Takka his message. “Takka’nui I just came back from the elders, you’ll never believe what I saw up in the lookout tower. A dragon! Two dragons actually, and they were fighting. I’ve never seen dragons fighting before.”
Reniko listened intently, there was no doubt that these people had origins from Earth, they were using the word dragon instead of Teoko.
“You didn’t happen to see what happened to these… dragons did you?” she said stumbling over the word having been scolded by Orric the last time she had used it.
The boy finally turned his attention to Reniko and looked at her with complete surprise. “I’ve never seen a woman with such pale skin before.”
“I can imagine,” Reniko replied, “the dragons, did you see what happened? Are they still fighting?”
“No the fighting has stopped. The yellow one flew off toward something that fell from the blue one’s back, and the blue one raced in the opposite direction, deeper into the woods.”
“When did that happen?” Reniko asked confused that Orric would abandon her so.
“No more than few hours ago,” the boy said and suddenly his eyes widened. “You are what fell from the blue ones back, aren’t you?”
“Indeed,” Reniko said. She shifted her position slightly wincing from the pain this caused her.
“You have forgotten your manners,” Takka’nui interjected nudging the boy.
“I am Usso. I am pleased to meet you, pale one from the sky,” Usso said bowing slightly.
“You may call me Reniko,” Reniko replied smiling slightly but not returning the bow fearing it would cause her more pain. Usso smiled and turned his attention back to Takka.
“The elders are seeking you Takka. They will want to know about the pale one,” Usso hesitated looking at Reniko and added, “Reniko.”
Takka looked hesitantly at Reniko and at the rest of his hunting party. “Bring her to the elders' lodge, so they can see her condition before they try to turn her away.” Reniko remained quiet as they traveled through the city toward the elder’s lodge. She was worried now, not only for what the elders would say to her staying here, but also for the danger she so obviously had brought upon this peaceful village.
They carried her stretcher into the hut, leaving her in a small waiting area outside the elders' meeting room. Takka sat by her silently until he was summoned, and turning to her, he quickly gave her a small smile and began to leave. He stopped as he reached the doorway and spoke to Reniko. “Your pouch is blinking,” he said and moved deeper into the building and out of Reniko’s sight.
“My pouch is blinking?” Reniko repeated confused by Takka’s departing words until she noticed that there was indeed a light pulsing out from the pouch that was still securely tied around her waist. She glanced around the room and noticed that only Usso had remained. Noticing her glance in his direction, and her obvious hesitation to open her pulsing pouch, he stood to leave.
“Tell me when you are done,” Usso said.
“Thank-you,” Reniko called out as the boy disappeared out the door leaving Reniko alone in relative privacy. Opening the pouch, she dropped the glowing object in her hands. It was the sphere from Reflaydun which was glowing softly blue.
“Access active program,” Reniko said. Instantly the sphere opened and a pale glowing figure emerged suspended in the air. It was the hologram in Shyma’s form once again.
“We have been trying to contact you for some time. When the sound alert failed to alert you we were troubled. Have you met with some misfortune?” the hologram asked.
“Well a lot has happened since we last talked, most of it misfortune, but right now I seem to be in good hands, that is if they decide that I haven’t brought to much trouble with me.”
“I seem to have found myself in a small village secluded in the woods, they call it Tresca. We have to be near the north end of the Trenasa woods, maybe near Tresca Lake, at least that was where we were when I fell.” Reniko added.
“I fell off Orric and landed not too softly on the ground below.”
“Have you sustained damage?” the hologram asked.
“You could say that. I think my legs are broken, maybe some ribs.”
“Are you able to hold your arms out?”
“I can, why?” Reniko asked.
“We can activate an internal scan if you get the sphere far enough away from your body, we’ll assess the damage and see what can be done.” Reniko held the sphere at arm’s length and felt the contents of it shift into place. After a few minutes, a white light emanated from the sphere and worked its way slowly from the top of Reniko’s head to the tips of her toes. When it was done, the holographic Shyma re-emerged.
“The damage is quite extensive, but reparable.” The hologram announced.
“Extensive?” Reniko quested.
“We’re afraid that both your legs are fractured in many places, and more than a few ribs have been broken. It also seems that there is some internal bleeding,” the hologram said analytically, which caused Reniko some panic. She didn’t like to hear that her wounds were so severe and it bothered her even more that the hologram was unable to show the emotion appropriate for the news she had just received. Survive the fall only to die from the wounds sustained.
“I don’t think that these people are prepared to deal with those kinds of wounds,” Reniko said wincing from the pain her sudden agitation was creating.
“We never expected they would,” the hologram replied. “Boy,” the hologram said suddenly in French turning to face the doorway through which Usso had gone. Usso startled by this emerged from his hiding place and stepped into view.
“I am sorry Reniko, I did not mean to listen in,” Usso said bowing his head ashamed to look Reniko in the face.
“It’s alright. Did you understand anything that was being said?” Reniko asked since her conversation with the hologram had been conducted in Vespian.
Usso shook his head.
“It does not matter,” the hologram interjected, “boy, if you would be so kind, could you please make sure that this woman receives food and water. She is going to be unconscious for a few days. However, it’s important that she receive food and water during this time. Can you do this for us?”
Usso was still looking curiously at the hologram, baffled by the appearance of such a small person. However, he managed to nod his head in consent and raced off immediately to find the requested items.
“Unconscious?” Reniko asked when Usso had left.
“Do you remember that flash of energy that healed Malik when you were in Reflaydun?” Reniko nodded.
“It was an activation energy encoded with instructions for the nannites that we injected into your blood stream. We have had them set as an immune booster. We will reset them now to work on the injuries you have sustained. They work with your body, healing it faster, but this will also mean that you will need to take in many nutrients and fuel and your body will need to go into a state of hibernation. You will be unconscious until the nannites have completed the repairs. When they are done, they will return to immune booster and you should wake.”
Reniko stared dumbly at the hologram. “You injected machines into my blood? What else can they do?” Reniko asked suddenly frightened as to what would have happened if she had chosen poorly in Reflaydun.
“Yes, we have injected machines into your bloodstream, however, do not be alarmed. The only function of these nannites is for medical purposes. They can do no harm. They only enhance your body’s natural defense and repair systems.”
“What about the black mark on the back of my hand?” Reniko said defiantly.
“That was accomplished by a chemical secreted into your blood stream that was charged by the energy flash. It recoded your genetic structure in an accelerated form. Its sole purpose was to give you the Levanith mark that you now bear.” Reniko lay down on the stretcher easing the pressure she had been exerting on her ribs. Her ensuing silence confused the hologram.
“We do not understand the sudden silence, please elaborate.”
“I don’t like that you are playing with my body. Who gave you permission to change my genetic structure?”
“The Levanith have given us such authority,” the hologram replied evenly.
“Apparently the Levanith were not the wonderful beings everyone on this planet thought them to be. They had no morals, messing with a person like they are nothing more than a canvas to be worked.”
“There is no time to debate this,” the hologram said.
“I’m guessing I have no choice in this matter?” Reniko asked.
“We are unable to allow a being to come to any harm, it’s in our programming.”
Reniko nodded, “I guess I’ll give you my consent and be done with it.” With these last words an arch of energy shot from the sphere and hit Reniko in the chest.
“Activation complete,” she heard the hologram say as she slipped into unconsciousness. Reniko’s last thoughts were of Takka and how he was faring before the elders. Suddenly she was very afraid to awake from this slumber.