Part 1: An Unexpected Landing
Something was very wrong. Daiza sat up in her bunk and nearly toppled to the floor. She steadied herself on the porthole over her bed.
She leaned over. Her fingers were really aching now. It looked like Kalaena's rack was empty. "Sis?"
Nothing, not even from the ship. The planks did not groan, the wind did not whisper over the canvas airbag. All she could hear was her own ragged breathing.
She called out sharply: "Kalaena?"
The door opened. A figure appeared. She could make out a mane of tangled hair and bare shoulders. Normally, a naked wild man at the hatch would be disturbing. In this case, however, she knew the naked wild man, so the sight was a relief.
"Ku," she whispered. "What's happened?"
Letting go of the doorway, he walked cautiously to her bunk.
"An unexpected landing."
"An unexpected landing."
"Those were not the words your sister used...but they may apply. I am uncertain."
Daiza rolled her eyes. Kuthaan was never certain of anything.
When he reached her bunk, he raised his arms. She put her hands into his--warm and leathery to the touch--then he hoisted her down.
Gravity and the deck were not in agreement. She steadied herself with one hand on his muscular shoulder.
The airship was apparently beached like a whale.
"Sure feels like a fucking crash to me."
"Me too," Kuthaan whispered conspiratorially.
Daiza smiled. His fondness for riddles may have been irritating, but at least Ku never got on her about her language. In fact, of all the people she knew, the wild man seemed to be the only one who had no opinion at all on how a teenage girl should act.
Together, they moved into the corridor.
"Where is everybody?"
"Kalaena has gone to see what hit us."
"We were hit?"
"I believe so. I didn't see it myself."
"Meditating in your cabin, weren't you?" she asked.
He didn't sense the humor in her voice, or if he did, he chose to ignore it. "I was."
After a stumble or two, they emerged at the forward hatch. Instead of relief, though, Daiza felt her panic deepen. It was worse than night: No moon, no stars--nothing but a weak ambient light that left the whole world in a gray sickly pall.
Straining her eyes at the sky, Daiza thought she could make out the lumpy formations of another island's underbelly. "An eclipsing?"
"It would seem so."
He still held her hand. This realization made her cheeks burn. Without a word, she awkwardly pulled her hand free.
Ku turned. She couldn't see his face, but his voice sounded matter-of-fact, not offended in the least. "You may need my help getting off the ship."
She peered down over the shadowed deck.
The wild man moved with a graceful confidence, even in these conditions. She supposed it was a product of his training, the same training he had once asked her to embark upon. 'Self-knowledge' he called it. Or simply 'Truth.' Others were not so generous, though: tree-knowing, they called it, and not without derision.
She respected Kuthaan, but his was not her path. She might not be as graceful as him, but she got to wear clothes. Also, she could do this:
Closing her eyes, she felt the dji energy around them--this island was heavy with the stuff--then she whispered the words of power and, jumping up from the deck, floated slowly down, settling on the ground beside the ship like a snowflake.
Ku made his way after her, now looking distinctly primitive in comparison. When at last he jumped down beside her, she could feel his reproving stare.
"Don't say it," she told his silhouette.
"Our companions are over there--looks like Gillion has a fire going."
They approached the merry red glow, neither of them speaking. The heat of his touch was forgotten. She resented him again. It was easier that way.
"Whew! That musta been some crash," a voice called raucously from behind the fire. "It knocked your pants off, Ku."
"Glad to see you're alright, Syll," he answered placidly.
The raven-haired woman's dark eyes flicked over his body, painted red by the firelight.
The wild man made no move to cover himself. He didn't even shield his crotch, letting his manhood hang open and free between his muscled brown thighs.
"Shudders, man. Can't you at least put on a damn loincloth?" Gillion--who was shorter even than Daiza--gave the sky a dramatic look, as if imploring heaven for some kind of divine intervention--perhaps a pair of angels carrying between them trousers.
Daiza had long ago learned to deal with Ku's nudity, mostly by pretending he was clothed. If she kept her eyes on his face, it wasn't so bad. Sometimes, she slipped and glanced downward, but as with Syll's deliberate leers, it didn't seem to phase him. Syll and Gillion never ceased to find it amusing though. For one of them, at least, this was probably because it made Kalaena so uncomfortable. Or that was what Daiza suspected anyway.
"Nice fire," Daiza said, warming her hands. She bit her lip, hoping the others would stop talking about Kuthaan's man-parts before Kalaena returned.
"No, it's not," Gillion snapped, adding a log. "It's crackly and weak and entirely too smoky. I assure you though, it's the material, not the maker. The wood here is all wrong."
"It gives us light," Daiza said, hugging herself, though it was not cold. "That's all that matters."
Kuthaan meandered over to the trunk of a dreary-looking tree. He gently touched the bark, furrowing his brow. "You're right."
"Course I'm right," Gillion said, turning his head so the firelight glanced off his nose ring. "Wood's rotten here. Don't need to be a tree-knower to tell that."
"The rot is deep." Kuthaan turned and looked back at them, eyes flashing like an animal in the firelight. Even Syll shuddered a little in his gaze.
"It goes very deep indeed." He turned his bestial glare onto Daiza. "You sense it, don't you?"
Daiza closed her eyes, grasping outward with that perception which no words could explain--not unless you possessed it. 'The Touch' they called it, though that title seemed inadequate for such a vibrant, almost visual, experience.
As always, the shaggy blond tree-knower--that unclothed madman--had given voice to a problem before she even sensed it. The reason she hovered by the fire, nervous and shaking, was because something was wrong with the dji energy here. It felt distinctively unwelcoming, like entering what appeared to be a cheerful house only to find it cold and damp and inhospitable. The dji worked for her--it was kind of potent, actually--but it just didn't taste right when it ran through her body.
"Where in the Seven Skies have we crashed?" Daiza asked, looking at the others.
It was at that moment that Kalaena arrived with a sheen of sweat on her cheeks. She wore her crew clothes now, not her hauberk, and her red-brown hair hung in a loose braid down her back.
"It wasn't a crash. We were just forced to land unexpectedly," she said, raising her hands over the fire.
Daiza rolled her eyes. "Alright. Where did we unexpectedly land?"
Kalaena looked across at her calmly. "Nowhere," she said.
©2015 Christopher Beats. All Rights Reserved.