Kalaena stood by the fire with crossed arms and debated with herself how much she should tell the others.
Gillion's usual cheer was gone. "We have to be somewhere," he muttered, hugging himself.
"That's Obergroull," she told him, pointing up. "This island--" She pointed down. "I've never heard of."
"There's lots of uncharted isles in these parts. We've just discovered a new one," Gillion said, the beginnings of a smile playing at his lips. "We're unintentional explorers. We should make a map while we're here. We'll get to name everything! First mountain we see shall be 'Mount Gillion.' I'm calling dibs."
"All islands are known--to the creatures and plants that dwell on them," Ku reminded them quietly. "We have discovered nothing."
Gillion gave Kuthaan a sideways look.
Ku ignored it.
Kalaena glanced over at Syll and Daiza. Her younger sister looked rattled, though maybe that was the crash. The dark-haired beauty, meanwhile, was gazing as she always did--at Ku's manhood--and smirking to herself.
When Syll noticed Kalaena looking at her, she winked.
With effort, Kalaena swallowed back her rage and cleared her throat loudly. "There's more."
"Where's everybody else?" Daiza asked suddenly. "Has anyone seen Arth?"
"Arthizu is with his master, surveying the damage to the ship. They've got the squires with them, for labor."
"What about Ruadd?"
Kalaena took a deep breath. "I was getting to that. After I sent Kuthaan to help you, sister..." She glanced at Daiza, as if to underscore her concern for the girl.
Daiza just sighed impatiently.
"...Ruadd and I traveled to the edge of the island to study what hit us--or, to be more precise, what we hit. You can actually see it from here, if you look to the east." She pointed.
The others squinted into the gloom.
"Nothin'," Syll announced, turning back to the fire. "Just more dark."
"I can see it." Kuthaan blinked and shook his head in disbelief.
Gillion nodded. "It's long and silvery...like a...a..."
"A chain," Kalaena finished for him, glowering into the fire.
Ku looked back at her. "Impossible."
Gillion glanced at the naked man. "So why are we seeing one then?"
"What's impossible?" Syll asked. "What does our well-endowed friend mean?"
"There is a chain running from this island to the island above it," Gillion explained.
"It's impossible," Ku repeated. "No metal could withstand the forces involved. Nothing can tether two islands together."
Across the fire, Daiza shook her light-brown locks. "He's right. The dji energy's levitating effect drives islands apart. It's why collisions are so rare in the habitable islands. In addition to the problems of mass and inertia, a chain would have to be stronger than the repulsive force of the dji."
"Chains," Kalaena corrected. "Plural."
"You saw others?"
"No, but I bet they're out there. A series of chains--four at least--would explain why this place is so dark. It's caught in a perpetual eclipse."
All of them looked around at the darkness except for Ku--who Kalaena suspected was looking around, just not with his eyes.
The ground was mostly barren, with only the occasional stunted weed or bush. Even these were brown or pale gray, never green. And the trees--by the Heavens, the trees! She'd walked through acres and acres of them to find the chain--all of them leafless and dour, with twisted, warped boles and knobby, crawling roots. They reminded her of torture victims writhing in silent agony.
Even with Ruadd the Knight-Seeker, a well known hero beside her, she had felt a vague sense of terror, like a little girl stumbling through a midnight graveyard.
But Kalaena was no little girl. She was a Swordsister, trained in the long blade, and a veteran of many battles. It bothered her that this place could frighten her--it bothered her even more that it seemed to unsettle Kuthaan as well. Everyone else could be out of their wits with fear for all she cared, but not Kuthaan. Though he was only in his thirties, Kuthaan was quite old in knowledge. Steeped in the cycles of Nature, things like death and pain did not bother him. Yet this place did.
That was terrifying.
The manner of their crash didn't help. She'd been in air-battles. She'd watched ships fall after they'd damaged their precious shoma keel or when their airbags were punctured. Those type of crashes may have been grim, but they were comprehensible.
But hitting a chain? In the open sky?
No one could anticipate that. As Kuthaan said, it was impossible.
There had been contrary winds over Obergroull and the night crew had agreed to drop altitude and pass under the island rather than over it. They'd given the jagged bottom plenty of room, never expecting to strike something in the skies below.
Kalaena could still remember the horrific sound as the portside strut sheered off and tumbled into infinity.
The craft had immediately begun to lose altitude. Because they also had an airbag--a necessary feature for any ship that traveled into the lower regions, where the dji was thinner--they were still buoyant enough to land safely.
Or as safely as one can, missing a jammer-strut.
She broke from her inner reverie to find Daiza staring at her. She straightened, calming her visage as best she could. "Ruadd is still investigating the tether." She tried not to shiver at the memory of coming back by herself through the forlorn wood. "In the meantime, we need to repair the vessel and, if there's a settlement nearby, find supplies."
"Oh!" Syll stood straighter, thrusting her ample bosom out. "I'll go. I'm good with people."
Kalaena eyed her black leather bustiere and bit back a retort.
"I would see this tether," Kuthaan said, rubbing his stubbly chin.
"I figured you'd want to. I'll show you the way in a minute." Kalaena turned back to Syll. "I don't think Ruadd would want you to go by yourself."
At Kalaena's elbow, Gillion suddenly perked up. "I'll go with."
"It's not just a matter of being alone, it's that I don't think he wants her out of his sight."
"I'm out of his sight right now," Syll pointed out, putting her hands up innocently. "Besides, Ruadd is always saying that the only way to teach me is with trust." She dropped her hands and smirked at the Swordsister. "So trust me, Kal."
Kalaena had to admit it sounded like something Ruadd would say. "Don't call me 'Kal'," she said.
"What about you, Lil' Sis?" Syll asked, bumping Daiza with a curvy hip. "Wanna see the sights with Shorty and me?"
"Who's short?" Gillion demanded.
Daiza glanced up slowly at her sister.
Kalaena tried to keep her face impassive but it was a failure. Somehow, when Syll was affectionate with Daiza, it bothered her even more than when she stared at Ku.
It's not that strange, the Swordsister thought to herself. Because I hate her and don't want her influencing my sister. She frowned. Was it that? Or was it because deep down, she wondered if Daiza might like Syll more than her?
When Kalaena looked up, the object of her loathing suddenly smirked as if she could read Kalaena's thoughts.
Another fresh wave of rage poured into her.
"I'll go with these two," Daiza said after a time. "That chain sounds interesting and all, but I haven't seen a town in days." She turned apologetically to Ku, but the wild man was too preoccupied to notice.
Syll put an arm over Daiza's shoulders and smiled. "It'll be fun."
Kalaena had to stop herself from grinding her teeth.
Kuthaan suddenly looked up, as if noticing them all for the first time. "You'll need a disguise, Syll. Something more subtle. The locals may not be as enlightened as we are towards your attire." He indicated the pale tops of her breasts pressing up out of her bustiere like fresh cream.
"Says the naked guy!" she protested with a laugh.
"He speaks true," Kalaena said. "A lot of peasant-villages prefer their women covered. I've been run out of towns just for wearing breeches. If they saw me in that, well..."
"Well, nothing. I like it." Gillion put his finger in the air as if that settled it.
Syll struck a demure pose and winked at him, making Kalaena shudder. It always bothered her when Syll did that, since Gillion had the size and build of a twelve year old boy. She shook her head. "And what about you?" she asked him. "They'll think you're a spell-freak for sure."
"But I'm not a spell-freak. I keep telling you guys that."
"But you're so short," Daiza whispered. "How else could--"
"I think it's cute."
"Shut up, Syll. No man wants to be 'cute'."
Kalaena heaved a sigh.
"How do you know I'm not normal and the rest of you--your ancestors I mean--weren't giantized in the cataclysm? Huh? How do you know?" He crossed his little arms and glared at each of them in turn. "You don't."
"That may be true, Gillion, but the fact remains most humans are our size, not yours. You'll stick out."
"And what happens if this time they're my size, eh? It could happen."
"We'll sneak away and send you in by yourself," Syll answered him. "Then they'll make you their king."
"King Gillion," he said. "I'd like that."
"Can't Syll make you look like an adolescent?" Daiza asked. "We've done it before."
"I'm not a damn tween."
"My beard's comin' in!" he said, pointing at the slight shadow over his chin. "I can't--"
Kalaena spoke over him: "All of you will go in peasant garb. Something that doesn't attract attention, something...modest." Her eyes swept over to Syll. "I assume you have that in your collection of disguises?"
"It's a wardrobe," Syll sniffed. "Not a 'collection of disguises'."
Kalaena looked to her sister now. "And we don't know how they feel about sorceresses here, either, so you'll need to dress down as well."
"No reports of Witch-Hammers in this area," the girl responded defensively. "They might welcome a sorceress with open arms. A lot of towns like my kind."
"Better safe than sorry."
Syll pinched the girl's cheek. "You're going make one cute little dairy maid."
Kuthaan just stared at the fire and rubbed his chin.
©2015 Christopher Beats. All Rights Reserved.