Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: Entranced

The Tergami tribe was a constant stream of visitors and well-wishers. Koreshi of all walks came to congratulate the tribe’s Thral, its Matriarch, and of course Jireni herself. No runner had passed the nineteenth course of the B’Ti in a generation, and Jireni’s accomplishment brought great honor.

Most of the guests came, spoke for a few minutes, and left their own tribes and kin. But a few stayed behind, finding kindred spirits even though they had never met before.

Those who ran the high levels of the B’Ti knew each other, or at least knew of each other. It was rare for Koreshi to specialize; most preferred to develop the general set of skills that would allow them to complete all seven of the Imti’qhaan’s challenges and join the Askar, the Koreshi equivalent of a standing militia. The few who chose to focus on a single competition and achieved at the highest levels of their chosen field brought honor to their tribes, of course, but they were also seen as strange, giving up more than they gained.

It was only natural that the runners who focused, who specialized, who were able to complete the more difficult courses paid attention to one another. Lyta knew all their names, as she had once known the names of every Olympian gymnast. She knew how they ran, knew their strengths, knew which levels they had completed and how long ago.

As the leaders of the other tribes came and went, the elite B’timasti congregated together, joined in happiness and excitement. If Jireni could run the nineteenth course, their own struggles seemed less severe, more easily overcome. They stayed, they talked, they rejoiced. Members of the Tergami tribe brought food and drink for them, taking up their unexpected role as hosts with grace.

There were about fifty of them, a mix of Ratir and Ferah. Some had run courses as high as the fifteenth. Having just completed the twelfth course of the B’Ti the cycle previous, Lyta was one of the less experienced members of the gathering, but she was also the only Jonus Kerasi, which garnered her a certain amount of curiosity and respect.

She did not sit with Jireni, who was twice her age and had her own cohort of Koreshi who had been running the B’Ti since before Lyta was born. Instead, she sat in a clutch of runners her own age who had started on the B’Ti around the same time she had, who had passed the courses together as a group, even though they had never sat together and talked.

They talked now, excited, trading tips and secrets. It was too late to run the B’Ti this cycle – Jireni’s success had marked the official close of the Imti’qhaan – but there was always next time. “How do you get past the waterfall?” Lyta asked.

The man sitting next to her, about Lukas’ age but with longer limbs and a more fluid stride, laughed. “You go behind it.”

“Behind it?”

Mereel was already working on the fourteenth course of the B’Ti. He had finished the thirteenth several cycles before. He nodded.

Lyta shook her head. “What do you mean, ‘behind it’?” It was the part of the course that gave her the most trouble: a tumbling waterfall with no obvious way to descend: no vines, no outcroppings, only a slow climb down the wall at the edge of the course, where the handholds were treacherous and far apart. She guessed it lost her at least twenty seconds, an eternity in the seven-minute race.

Mereel smiled and gestured. “Behind the waterfall, it’s an open cavern. There are handholds. The only trick is to jump out before you’re too far down, or you’ll get caught in the torrent and swept away by the river.”

Lyta stared at him. It seemed so obvious now that he mentioned it. She grinned and took a sip of the wine that had somehow found its way into her hand. “Thanks,” she said earnestly.

Mereel shrugged it off. “We all learn. You’d find out sooner or later. Just like we’ve all found out the tricks for the first. What’s your fastest time?”

Lyta cocked her head. “On the first?”


Lyta didn’t need to think about it. “Five-eleven.”

Mereel puffed himself up and scoffed. “I’ve done four-forty-one.”

Lyta was about to take offence when the woman sitting on his other side, who had been listening to the conversation without providing much input, swatted him. “That’s nothing! I’ve done four-twenty-nine.”

“Four-twenty-two,” came another voice.

Other Koreshi perked up at this one-upmanship, shouting out their times, lower and lower, until an older runner piped up, “Three-forty-two.” Then they were quiet, admiring, wondering how they could beat him, where they could shave off just a few more seconds until they took the prize themselves.

“Jireni,” someone piped up from the back of the gathering. “What about you? What’s your best time on the first?”

Lyta realized Jireni hadn’t joined in the frenzy of competition and leaned forward to see what the world’s best runner would say. She wouldn’t feel bad about losing to Jireni.

The older woman, from the center of the gathering, looked sheepish. “Four-twenty-three,” she said.

The B’Timasti erupted in noise. Nearly a third of them had a lower time. Jireni shrugged. “I haven’t run it in decades,” she said apologetically.

There was a clamor for Jireni to go run the first, right now, just to see what her time would be, but Jireni held out her hands and promised them she’d do it the next time she was in Junira Loresh. “Isn’t one course enough for the day?” she asked.

Conversations split off into their small groups again.

Lyta only noticed the pipe as Mereel put it into her hand. Small, clay, with a wisp of smoke trailing up from the bowl. “What’s this?” she asked.

Mereel blew the smoke out slowly through his nostrils. “It’s good,” he said. Lyta realized it had passed around almost half the gathering before it reached her.

“But what is it?” she pressed.

Mereel leaned back and closed his eyes. “Ammis root,” he said. “Try it.”

Lyta looked at the pipe suspiciously, then shrugged. She put it to her lips and breathed in, felt the smoke fill her lungs. It was hot and sharp, and she coughed on it as Mereel laughed at her. “First time?” he asked.

Lyta nodded and passed the pipe to her right, blinking the tears out of her eyes. “Yeah.”

He laughed again, delighted. “You’ll like it,” he said.

Lyta was already feeling lightheaded, as though her body had lost half its mass. As she watched, Mereel’s features sharpened, his eyes deepened. His laughter seemed rounder and fuller.

Lyta felt the air on her cheeks, rippling and whirling. She ran her hand through the grass, marveling at each blade, how they sprang back after she brushed them, how they were so green and alive. An ant found its way onto her finger and began crawling along it. Lyta stared and laughed as it tickled against her skin.

Mereel was on his back, staring at the sky. “I told you you’d like it,” he said.

Lyta let the ant crawl off her finger and lay down, the grass caressing her neck. Her clothes cocooned her, and she snuggled into the ripples that formed as she moved. High above, the clouds painted pictures in the sky, and she listened to the voice around her, swirling like so many ribbons.

Time passed. The initial edge of the ammis root mellowed and left her alert but calm. She sat up to see that the tray in front of her had been refilled, and she picked up a wrapped leaf, filled with nuts and dried fruit. She felt the veins in the leaf as she held it, the seams where it was pressed together, the tiny bumps where a nut jutted at the side.

It was delicious. She wondered whether she had ever tasted anything so delicious before.

Mereel was looking at her, and she looked back at him. He held his wine cup lightly, the liquid splashing against the sides and catching the light. He seemed very intelligent, Lyta thought.

“You’re Jonus Kerasi,” he said, as though it were a great truth.

Lyta nodded.

He took his time forming his thoughts, but Lyta was in no rush. She took another bite of her stuffed leaf. “So… you can’t train? Can you carry the B’ti’atta alone?”

Lyta thought back to her time with the Bathani Ratir, to when Amaraa and later Grenden would help her set up the jungle gym structure that Koreshi throughout the desert used to train for the B’Ti. She remembered the forms, the intricate weaving motions that Grenden had taught her, circling in and out and through and around…

She shook her head. “No.”

“But you’ve gotten better,” he pointed out.

Lyta considered this, considered her failure in finishing the thirteenth course of the B’Ti, but also that she had only just completed the twelfth. She nodded slowly. “Yes.”

Mereel leaned forward and focused, hunting for truth. “So what do you do?”

Lyta breathed out slowly through her nose, felt the air as it left her lungs and spread out into the world. “I run in the cities,” she said.

Mereel was quiet for a long time. Lyta listened to him breathing, listened to his thoughts working through this idea. Most of the Ratir tribes stayed close to the desert, visiting homesteads and villages. Few of them had ever seen more than a few dozen buildings together in one place.

“Are there B’Ti in the cities?” Mereel asked.

Lyta licked her lips. For a moment, she was distracted by the sensation, before bringing herself back to the conversation. “Not exactly,” she said. “But you can use the buildings like a B’Ti course.”

Mereel put a hand on her knee, his brow creased. “How?”

Lyta felt his fingers through the fabric of her pants, grounding her and pulling the two of them together in sensation. “You just… do. It’s like a B’Ti course that no one designed, with no start or end marker.”

Mereel nodded in profound understanding. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you.”

He leaned back against the grass, his hand falling softly beside him.

Lyta closed her eyes and sat, cross-legged, feeling the wind and the ground. She remembered running above the Prince Gable Trench, the gusts pulling at her like a traitor, ready to grab her clothes and blow her off course. She remembered running in the entertainment strip of Port Arthur, the buildings so uniform she could practically count time as she jumped from one to the other. She remembered Khayr ad-Din’s Caravansary, the oasis towers giving her firm landing points as the heaps of rubble shifted and tumbled beneath her as she slid and surfed down the edges…

Cities had personalities, she thought. Personalities that revealed themselves as she ran. She wondered what other cities might feel like: Peace River or Temple Heights or Wounded Knee. What would the Polar cities feel like? Would Port Oasis be romantic, like Alain? Would it caress her, the stone worn smooth like marble beneath her hands? Would Lyonnesse be aggressive and corporate, forcing her to leap between company logos while dodging the jutting communications antennae that threatened to skewer her?

She let her thoughts wander, forming a city in her mind’s eye, the buildings laid out in front of her as she leapt from one to the other, a balcony always where she needed it, a utility ladder, a decorative pillar. She swung from the ropes of a construction crane, through an unfinished window frame, and raced along a rickety catwalk.

Her hands trailed on the ground, feeling the soft grass and the firm dirt beneath. She breathed slowly, evenly.

In her mind’s eye, she left the construction site behind and found herself in a park, part foliage and part structure. She swung from tree branches, ran along rooftops of tiny shacks, and leapt along the heads of statues in a deep pool, stepping from one to the other as the birds perched on their shoulders took wing in a confusion of blue and red.

The evening air was chilling, and dew formed on her cheeks and lips.

The buildings became larger as she ran, more intricate, more elaborate. The wildlife grew as well, trees as big as oasis towers, waterfalls and cliffs, and Lyta ran amongst them, dancing from one to the other as her hands found the exact right hold, her feet landed perfectly and she rolled and jumped and swung.

‘One day you will transcend into the very heart of it. You will not need the walls or the buildings. You will stand anywhere and dance. This is your true self.’

Someone had said that to her once. She wondered who it was. She wondered if she’d be able to tell them she understood.

“Hippartha.” The voice was soft, rustling into her consciousness like the breeze.

Lyta opened her eyes to find several of the B’Timasti standing nearby. The camp was dark, lit by torches and oil lamps. The gathering of fifty had faded to barely more than fifteen, many of them sitting or lying with their eyes closed, their expressions euphoric. She blinked, letting her vision adjust. She looked up at the women who had addressed her.

“We’re going back to our camps. Yours is on the way, we think. We can walk with you.”

She breathed deep of the night air, letting it fill her lungs with its moisture and the smell of flowers. She stood up, her body limber. She nodded and fell in beside them as they left the Tergami camp. She was quiet as she walked, letting the sounds drift around her, the people and the birds and the cascading water, and all the while running in her mind’s eye.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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