The next morning, Reniko, Malik, and Rimca departed from Tresca. The hole that Jekkah had opened up in the canopy accommodated Orric perfectly. He had come the moment he had disengaged with Reniko, and over the few days that Reniko had been unconscious, Malik and Orric had made an uneasy alliance with the elders. Although they were now nervous about the fight that Reniko had inadvertently brought to them, they had respected the spirit that Malik had shown in fighting the intimidating creature. Reniko’s strange appearance on the platform announcing the arrival of Jekkah caused the villagers to revere her as a goddess. Upon her awakening, the elders had formally announced their allegiance to her, which Reniko humbly tried to refuse. Malik and Orric laughed at her feeble attempts at trying to make the villagers understand that she was, in fact, a human as they were, for she was still not privy to the incident that marked her as otherwise in the villagers’ minds. No amount of explaining could convince these humble people that she was not someone to be worshipped. Malik assuaged the problem by merely telling the villagers that it would appease the goddess if they would treat her like one of their own. Therefore, they all left on a rather good note, having acquired from Tresca all the goods they needed for the flight over the ocean to the continent of Mo’an Delar.
Reniko was quite relieved when at last Tresca was hidden beneath the tree canopy and they were flying above the low clouds that were raining on the forest below. No longer wet, or constantly bombarded with reverence, she was content to just lie back and enjoy the ride.
“What on Earth did I do that caused such a stir amongst them?” Reniko finally asked once they had been in the air for a good while.
Rimca laughed and was about to respond when Malik reached out and yanked gently on her hair.
“I think it’s best if Lyss doesn’t know,” Malik said as Rimca rubbed her head and stuck out her tongue at Malik.
Reniko reached out and hit Malik in the arm. “Stop calling me that.” Malik just grinned.
“You and your secrets,” Reniko replied to his cocky smile and squeezed his hand. Rimca, who had noticed the playful exchange, tried to pull her gaze away only to find her eyes meeting Reniko’s. Reniko gave her a guilty look and tried to apologize, but Rimca shrugged her shoulders and turned away.
“It’s easier this way,” Rimca shouted to the wind confusing Malik and causing emotion to stir in Reniko. Life is so complicated, Reniko thought to herself, if falling in love with someone that doesn’t even live on the same planet as me isn’t hard enough, I now get to live with the fact that Rimca has feelings for him and I’ve totally disregarded them. Why can’t things just be simple for a change? This is going to be a long flight.
It took Orric three days to reach the Port of Denvas. The Rük had destroyed the seaside city centuries ago, and the small group was left to make camp amongst the rubble, which was now covered in clinging plant life and moss that grew abundantly in the wet climate that they were now in.
“I don’t think it has stopped raining since we left Tresca,” Reniko said as she erected a small shelter amongst the ruins of a nearby building.
“It won’t, not in this region, until summer has passed,” Rimca said as she dropped her most recent load of semi dry wood, “this is all I could find that wasn’t completely soaked through.”
“A lot of your cities were never rebuilt I see,” Reniko said glancing around the area, sickened by the devastation that the Rük had wrought.
“Not enough people left to rebuild, it was easier to relocate,” Malik said.
Reniko sat on the ground with a sigh and helped Malik light the tinder.
“I wonder how much of your history was lost when this city fell.” Reniko pondered.
“A lot of technology no doubt, but the knowledge is probably safely stored in Reflaydun, Fharlasina, or Tordaskar,” Orric answered.
Reniko nodded. “How long do you think before we reach Tordaskar?”
Malik sighed but did not answer. He avoided most of Reniko’s questions about Tordaskar.
“Well I’d say it will take about seven days to cross the ocean to Mo’an Delar and reach Manaker. From there, another day and a half to Rimca’s home in Corbasin, and another two or three days on top of that.”
“You’ve made this trip a lot I assume?” Reniko asked.
“It’s the fastest way from Tordaskar to Edonal Eclith. And we are not lucky enough to have a communication device with the capabilities of the one that you received from Reflaydun.”
“Well when we get there, maybe we can change that,” Reniko said.
“I have no doubt you will be able to make great changes at Tordaskar, Lyss,” Orric said grinning. Malik, however, did not share his enthusiasm.
“If they let her speak at all. No one really hears anything in Tordaskar, they more take what you say to mean whatever they wish it to mean.”
Reniko looked at Malik, who was stirring the contents of the pot on the fire with a fierce scowl on his face, then looked at Orric and shrugged.
Orric just sighed. “He thinks Tordaskans are stubborn, but sometimes he forgets that he is one of them.” Rimca started laughing at this and Malik gave her a warning glare.
“He does have a valid point Malik,” Rimca said.
“We don’t have to take you along,” Malik threatened.
Rimca glared back at him and gave him a shove. “You wouldn’t even think of leaving me behind.”
“Of course he wouldn’t, Rimca. Besides, Orric and I wouldn’t let him,” Reniko interjected. Malik scowled at her, but his expression eased when he saw Reniko smiling at him solemnly. With Malik’s gloomy mood somewhat broken, Reniko made her way nearer to him, leaned her head on his shoulder, and hugged his arm. The contact had a calming effect on Malik and he immediately settled. In the silence that proceeded, the small group listened to the rain falling on the canopy overhead.
Orborok stormed around his room, his mind filled with dread and foreboding. He had to contact Trokar, and with all the recent blunders that Jekkah and he had endured, he knew that Trokar was not going to be happy about what he had to say. How could he tell him that the Earthling had escaped his grasp once again? This was intolerable. Heads were going to roll and Orborok had to makes sure that his was not one of them.
The orb on his desk began pulsing rhythmically and Orborok realized his time for excuses was up. Grabbing the orb, he activated it and waited as Trokar’s shadowy image formed.
“What have you to report, Orborok?” the powerful voice asked.
“My lord, I –” Orborok suddenly had no idea what to say to his lord. His words, for the first time in his life, were locked in his throat. His lack of response irritated Trokar.
“By your silence I understand that things did not go as you foresaw them. This Earth human is proving much more troublesome than I had hoped for.”
“They are heading to Mo’an Delar, sire. Their only possible goal could be Tordaskar, behind Ocean’s Wall. As soon as Jekkah is well, Sire, we will make our way there and cut them off before they reach the stronghold.”
“There will be no need for that Lord Orborok. Remain on Edonal Eclith and make sure that this rebellious spirit does not spread to your people. As for the Earthling and her companions, I will see to them personally.”
“My lord,” Orborok said bowing his head in submission.
“Now tell me all that has transpired.”
“As you wish, Sire,” Orborok said getting comfortable for the painful report to come.
When Reniko awoke the next morning, the moons were the only things that lit the sky. Dawn had not yet broken, but the clouds had. Restless, she pulled out the maps that Malik harboured, and using her torch, she scanned their route.
“Can’t sleep Lyss?” Orric asked.
Reniko shook her head, and turned back to the maps. “Why is it going to take so long to cross the ocean? By my calculations, we should be able to cross it in no more than three days.”
“It’s not the distance, it’s the air itself, it’s unpredictable over the ocean. I have not once been able to travel a straight line over the water, I go where the air takes me, and that unfortunately takes me off the chosen path.”
“I’m not used to that sort of thing. I don’t really know the physics of flight. We fly on my world, but in machines that can force whatever path they choose. Variation in speed is calculated in hours, not days.”
“You must live in a marvellous world, Lyss. Maybe one day you can show us all.”
Reniko looked down cast. “I doubt that. Even if I do find a way back to Earth, my people aren’t so accepting of things that they do not know.”
“I guess every world has its own problems to overcome.”
“Of that I am sure,” Reniko said as she folded up the maps and shut off her light. The first rays of sunlight were cresting on the horizon and Reniko watched the new day dawn.
They left the Port of Denvas and began their long flight over the sea shortly after the sun had broken on the horizon. Red streaked the sky, casting an ominous outlook for the day.
“There was an old saying on my world,” Reniko said, “that said ‘red sky at night sailors delight, red sky at morning sailors take warning’. I never really paid attention to if that was true or not.”
“We have something similar here, not so poetic of course but the same message nonetheless. I have a feeling that this pleasant weather isn’t going to last long,” Rimca said.
“Well if it comes from behind us, at least we can try and outrun it,” Reniko replied.
They flew for half of the day without incident and Reniko began to think that her predictions might have been wrong. That was, until Malik pointed to the horizon off to their left, where a dark mass was covering the sky.
“So much for positive thinking,” Malik said.
“Orric how long before it hits us do you think?” Reniko asked.
“I’d say we have another hour or so before that storm is upon us.”
‘Don’t worry, Lyss, we’ve traveled through storms before. Orric’s a master of flight, he is a Teoko after all,” Malik said with confidence.
Reniko looked in the direction of the looming clouds with apprehension. She could see flashes as lightning arched from cloud to cloud and occasionally to the water below. “I understand Orric is deft at flying, but have you ever flown through an electrical storm?” Reniko asked.
“This could be a problem,” Orric and Malik said at nearly the same time. Rimca and Reniko looked at one another. It was never a good sign when both the people who had done this before agreed that they had a problem.
“We need to land,” Rimca shouted.
“Quickly,” Reniko added, “are there any small islands around here? Anything we can land on at all?”
Malik pulled out one of his maps and began scanning the surface of it, struggling as the wind kept catching it and nearly ripping it from his hands. Reniko leaned back and grabbed the edges of the map, stabilizing it so that Malik could have a better look.
“Thank-you,” he muttered as his eyes flew over the surface of the map, using Reniko’s compass to figure out their path.
“Anything?” Reniko asked desperately.
“Nothing, nothing for more than a day,” Malik said. The group sat in silence watching the storm inch closer and closer. They all knew that no matter how fast they flew or what direction they went, they would not be able to outrun this storm. All they could do was hope.
It hit faster than they had expected. The winds buffeted Orric and tore at the membranes of his wings. He tried in vain to ride the wind, only to have it suddenly change direction, ebbing and flowing like the tide. Reniko, Malik, and Rimca were left clinging desperately to his back. Worst of all were the clouds that reached so low that Orric was flying right through them, unable to tell how close to the water he was, or what direction he was going. Reniko, however, was not so worried about the impaired vision, but the electrical charge she felt in the air. She was even more horrified when she heard a distinct humming in the air around her and realized that they were carrying a large amount of metal with them. She watched as a flash of light arched past them with a thunderous boom and for a moment no one could see or hear. The hair on her body was standing on end, as was Malik and Rimca’s, and another flash roared above them, too close for anyone’s comfort.
“Orric we have to get out of here, the metal we wear is attracting the lightning. We are going to die if we stay here much longer. If we can’t fly around it, can you fly above it?” she asked anxious at every arch of light that came near to them.
“I can, but I fear the air is too thin for you and Malik.” Orric replied.
“Rimca would be okay?” Reniko shouted.
“I’ll be fine,” Rimca replied.
“We have a better chance of surviving with thin air than with bolts of lightning,” Reniko shouted.
“Are you sure Reniko?”
“You just get us above these clouds and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Malik looked at Reniko curiously as she took out the sphere that the hologram at Reflaydun had given her. “What are you doing?” he asked as Orric lifted higher into the air.
Reniko ignored Malik’s question as she concentrated on the sphere. “Opening communications with Reflaydun City,” Reniko shouted over the roaring thunder. Reniko was relieved to see the image of Shyma flickering above the sphere.
“We seem to be experiencing some interference,” the hologram said her speech broken and choppy.
“No time for that,” Reniko shouted impatiently. “Is there any way that the nannites in my and Malik’s blood can oxygenate it?”
“Are you saying you require more oxygen?” the hologram asked.
“In a few minutes, yes, or else we’ll pass out or worse yet, die.”
“This can be accommodated,” the hologram said and disappeared. Instantly a sharp sting of electricity surged through both Malik and Reniko. At that same moment, Orric shouted that he could see a break in the clouds. Reniko looked up relieved. However, a bolt finally found its way to them just as they were breaking through and struck the sphere that Reniko was holding in her hand. Their screams were drowned out by the noise of the thunder. This is the end, Reniko thought and realized that she was, in fact, still breathing, and that there was now sunlight washing over her face. She looked at the orb in her hand. It had gone silent.
“Did that sphere just absorb the energy of the lightning bolt?” Rimca asked incredulously.
Reniko looked at the orb in her hands. It was still cool to the touch, even after the jolt it had endured.
“I think it did,” Reniko said, “but I don’t know if it’ll still work.”
“That thing just saved our lives,” Malik whispered.
“In more ways than one,” Reniko replied.
“We must be lower down than you thought Orric. I feel fine,” Malik said as he shivered with cold.
Orric laughed, “I didn’t misjudge, Malik, I think Reniko had something to do with your current condition.”
Malik looked at Reniko and watched her breath come out in smoky puffs. “I guess it’s time to tell you what that hologram did to us back in Reflaydun,” she said stuffing the now dead sphere back into her pouch.
Orric found a place to land early the next day. They spent the whole morning trying to find out how far off course the storm had blown them. It was a considerable distance, and since the wind was blowing in a north-easterly direction, they were in even more danger of drifting off course. Things were not boding well for their small caravan.
“This will add two more days onto our travel time at the least,” Malik said concurring with Orric.
“Do we have enough supplies for that?” Rimca asked.
Reniko was pacing. “We’re going to have trouble with fresh water.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” Rimca said.
“Are there any islands on the way that have fresh water?” Reniko asked.
“Just one that Orric and I know of, but it’s not exactly on the way,” Malik said.
“Show me,” Reniko said. The three of them pored over the map arguing about what to do next until Orric interrupted.
“Since it is I who am doing the flying, let me decide,” he said. The three of them agreed and Orric made his announcement.
“We’ll stop for water, since I can’t fly that long without water myself. We’ll just have to endure the longer route.” With the decision made, they took to the air, leaving the small sandy patch of land behind.
The rest of the voyage took eight days. They passed it by without any more incidents, the weather being mildly cooperative. Most of the day was spent with the four of them joining in some sort of game or song. Reniko had fun trying to teach them songs in English that were popular back on Earth. Rimca learned them quickly and her melodious voice made them sound unbelievably beautiful. No one in the group tired of hearing Rimca sing. It was the first time in their travels together that all four of them had been together without some sort of strife following them. They enjoyed each other’s company immensely, forming a bond that seemed for the moment unbreakable. Malik was happy to see Rimca and Reniko sharing a friendship. He had worried about them being together since they had met in Mistfall where Rimca has showed such a loathing for Reniko. Her bitter feelings seemed to have vanished and instead she had formed a bond that even Malik didn’t understand. Rimca seemed to readily confide in Reniko and Reniko did the same. The tear had been bridged and that made everything seem so much brighter.
It was on the last day of the journey over the sea, as they saw land form on the horizon, that Rimca’s friendship with Reniko changed once again. They were sitting together, their backs facing Malik and Orric, talking in hushed tones. Malik watched as Rimca spoke and Reniko became tense and relaxed giving Rimca a hug and whispering something in her ear. Rimca smiled, said her own piece, and they sat in silence until Reniko nodded her consent. When they shuffled back up to sit with Malik at Orric’s behest, Malik noticed a distinct difference in the way that Rimca treated Reniko. It was like they had established a bond like those of brothers in arms. Warriors respecting one another, but for Rimca it was more than that, it was a soldier respecting her general.
When Reniko sat down in front of Malik, he wrapped his arms around her protectively and she turned around and kissed him tenderly.
“What was that all about?” he asked her softly.
“Nothing you need to be concerned about,” Reniko replied teasingly.
“Seriously, are you and Rimca still okay?”
“Better than okay.” Which Malik realized, was all that he was going to get from Reniko.
After following the coast of Mo’an Delar for half a day, Reniko could see a city looming in the distance, which could only have been Manaker. Orric landed on the outskirts using the cover of nearby orchards to conceal his bulk in the dying light. Reniko, Malik, and Rimca made their way into town, arriving just as the sun had set completely. The town was gated and Malik pounded heavily on the closed door in front of them. A hatch in the door opened revealing a pair of annoyed eyes.
“No entrance inta’ the city afta’ dark,” the gruff voiced man said.
Malik looked equally annoyed.
“That’s ridiculous. You’re just going to leave a group of travelers out here on their own with no place to stay? Just let us pass, we seek lodging at the Mer’s Lagoon.”
“Been here before ‘ave you?” the voice asked.
“On a few occasions,” Malik replied.
“I ‘ave orda’s from the Rük to let none pass through at night,” the man said, the fear evident in his voice. No human dared to defy the Rük, not in an occupied town.
Reniko stepped forward shoving Malik to one side. “I know you have your orders, but we’ve traveled such a long way, we have nowhere to sleep.”
“I’m real sorry miss, but you mad at me is not like to see me dead in the morn’. If I let ya in, that be a different story.”
“We understand,” Rimca said and placed a hand on Reniko’s shoulder, a signal for them to leave. “We wouldn’t want to cause any trouble for you.”
The man gave a heavy sigh and slammed the hatch shut. As the three travelers turned away from the gate, they heard the scrapping of metal on stone and turned to see the door opened slightly, the gruff man’s head poking through the small slit.
“It’d be unneighbourly of me to turn away a Le’a’to, now wouldn’t it. Come in ‘fore someone raises the alarm,” he said wildly gesturing for the three of them to enter. They passed through the gates, and as soon as Rimca was safely inside the wall, the door was shut and barred.
“‘Urry to the Inn before someone catches you out past curfew,” he said and turned to Rimca and gave a shy bow. “Me father had a life debt to the Le’a’to, he never got to repay it ‘fore he passed on, so in turn his life debt is mine.”
“I’m sure your father would have been proud, sir. We owe you our gratitude,” Rimca said bowing her head.
“The name’s Garver. Anything I can do for you, Miss, I will do gladly.”
“I may hold you up to that Garver, until then, stay out of the Rük’s way, and keep yourself safe.”
“I be good at that, milady,” Garver said bowing to Rimca as the small group slipped into the still streets of Manaker.
The Mer’s Lagoon was a rundown shack near the ocean. With the streets deserted, and Malik in the lead, the three travelers made their way without incident to the entrance and secured a room. After sharing a meal in the tavern, they headed off to bed happy to finally have a worry free night.
The next morning, Reniko and Rimca went shopping for provisions while Malik went to the local resistance faction for information. They had decided before they had parted ways that they would meet again where Orric waited. Reniko and Rimca headed back to Orric’s position late that afternoon, heavily laden with the various things they had purchased in town. When they arrived, they were both relieved to see Malik there in conversation with Orric.
“Well that was an uneventful day in town,” Reniko said as she stepped into the clearing and laid down her burden. “Quite a difference from the norm, wouldn’t you say?”
Malik smiled. “Your normal, Lyss, not mine.”
“Find out anything useful while you were there?” Rimca asked.
“A lot has happened in the three years since I have been to Mo’an Delar. We’ve gained more supporters, but I fear not enough. The Rük have been rooting out the resistance in a lot of the towns, mostly to the south. The people here haven’t heard anything from the resistance in Tresc’helo, Tembal, Tradorner, or Evla, and from what they’ve heard, Lrac is occupied again.” Malik looked downcast. “Worst of all, the Rük have cut off access to Tordaskar. Surrounding encampments have the plains around Ocean’s Wall swarming with Rük. I think they may be planning an attack, though how, no one seems to know.”
“Are you worried about Callum? If Lrac has been taken, surely your brother is in trouble,” Rimca said.
Malik looked at her with a pained expression. “I do fear something terrible has happened, but there is nothing I can do until we’ve reached Tordaskar.”
“Your brother? What is this about?” Reniko asked.
“My brother Callum led a revolt against the Rük in Lrac ten years ago. He and the Rük signed a treaty of sorts that ensured that Lrac would be an unoccupied city as long as the residents obey the rules outlined in the treaty. If the Rük have taken the city again, I fear they may have killed Callum.”
“Maybe we should go there and find out. Your brother's life is much more important than reaching the archives in Tordaskar.”
“That’s very kind of you, Reniko, however, I think that we need to reach Tordaskar soon, and warn them of the Rük’s coming attack. They wouldn’t be camped outside Ocean’s Wall if they didn’t have some sort of plan. And if Tordaskar does fall into the hands of the Rük, I fear that the resistance will fall apart.”
“I’m sure Callum is all right,” Rimca said wrapping her arm around Malik’s shoulders and giving him a reassuring squeeze.
“He can take care of himself, I’m sure of that.” Malik said brushing aside his worry. “We should leave for Corbasin City in the morning. I’m sure the Le’a’to will have more insight into this than the resistance here.”
“Of that I’m sure,” Rimca said. “Looks like I’m finally coming to the end of my journey.” The words were spoken with pain and all Reniko could do was lay a reassuring hand over Rimca’s.
The next morning, as the sun crested signalling the beginning to a new day, the four of them took to the sky, refreshed, renewed and ready for another lengthy flight.
Manaker was constructed on a peninsula which isolated it from the rest of the continent. Its closest neighbour was Corbasin City, which lay southeast of Manaker across Mestal Bay. Impassable mountains surrounded the capital city of the Le’a’to homeland; or so the Rük thought. Few people knew of the hidden passes that riddled the mountains allowing the Le’a’to free passage to Mo’an Delar from their own isolated home. However, on a Teoko, as Malik, Reniko, and Rimca now traveled, access to Corbasin City was as easy as flying a path to it, which Orric had done on many occasions. Once again Rimca was glad that the Rük could not fly, for if they could, not only would her home have been destroyed, but also Malik’s, and she could not imagine a world where there was no opposition to the Rük, for that was a world without hope, and without hope, no one could survive. Wishing away her sorrowful thoughts, Rimca resigned herself to her fate and instead dwelt on the time she had to spend with her friends, old and new.
Orric reached the mountain range just after dark. Stopping on a low shelf, he settled in for the night while Reniko, Malik, and Rimca cooked over a small fire and talked. Rimca was solemn as was Reniko, and Malik was confused with the sudden mood change. He didn’t understand how the two of them could be so morose, even with the unsettling news he had brought back from Manaker.
“Why so sullen?” Malik asked.
“Rimca’s just not ready to say goodbye,” Reniko said.
“Good-bye? You’re not coming to Tordaskar with us?” Malik asked.
“I can’t. It’s time I faced up to my duty. When we get to Corbasin, I’m afraid we’ll have to say goodbye. You’ll forgive me won’t you?” Rimca asked.
“Forgive you? Forgive you for what? You’ve done more than enough for us Rimca. We are in your debt, now and forever. That is nothing that needs to be forgiven.”
“You don’t know how much that means to me, Malik,” Rimca said wiping away tears. “I wish I could go with you and Reniko, but my people – ” she let her sentence trail off.
“Are a lot like mine,” Malik said. No resentment was hidden in his voice, only understanding. Rimca looked up from the fire she had been staring at and smiled at Malik.
“How come you always know just what to say to make me feel better?” Rimca asked.
“It’s a gift, shared between friends,” Malik said returning Rimca’s smile.
“I’m glad we had the chance to meet, Malik, Reniko. You both have made the things I must do so much easier. I have no regrets.”
“You have much more strength and courage than I have Rimca,” Reniko said. “Let’s save our goodbyes though and instead share one more night together as companions.”
“I second that motion,” Malik said, “Sing us a song Rimca. We never tire of your lovely voice.”
“All right, a song both our worlds share in common,” Rimca said staring at Reniko warmly as she broke into song, the lullaby that had bridged the gap in their small group.