Thursday, March 30, 2017

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter X: Tandem

"You ready?" Lyta stood with her hand poised on the pull for the starter.

"We shouldn't be here."

"But we are here. Too late to turn back now."

"Janus Kerasi..."

Lyta smiled, an eager, anticipatory grin. "Annnndddd... go!"

With a sharp tug on the starter, she was gone.


Four hours ago...

“Thalan!” Lyta practically ran into the building. Jonas was seated at the far end, a blanket about his shoulders and a low table at his side. She could not wait to see him. She rushed forward…

And stopped.

She realized he was not sitting in a chair but a wheelchair. A cloth held lightly in his hand was stained with red flecks. He was thin, so thin. She could see the outlines of his bones through the skin. She could practically trace the paths of his veins.

“Thralan,” she repeated, her voice barely a whisper.

Despite it all, he was smiling at her, a beatific smile that might have been more in place on an old-Earth saint. His hand trembled as he reached up towards her, not quite succeeding in the attempt.

Lyta took his hand and knelt down beside him. She leaned in until their foreheads were touching, silent in the quiet room. She felt his breath against her cheeks, the thin skin of his forehead against her own. She closed her eyes, letting the moment stretch, letting his presence ground her.

At length, she pulled back and settled herself on the floor. For once, she could not bring herself to speak first.

“The winds of the desert have called you to me,” Jonas said. His voice was as weak as the rest of him, but there was conviction in it.

Lyta tried to smile, to bring back some of her initial enthusiasm. “A particular wind by the name of Tom Chambers, maybe.”

Jonas waved his hand as it lay against the armrest of his wheelchair. “The desert speaks through the minds of men.”

Lyta closed her eyes for a moment. “I’m so sorry, Thralan.”

“Whatever for, my dear?”

She could not bring herself to meet his gaze. “I knew you were sick after we got out away, but I thought that if you came back here, if we got you to the healers…” Her voice trailed off. She shook her head. “I didn’t know. I would have… I don’t know. Looked harder. Tried to find something to help you.”

“The seed falls from the tree, and from it the new trees grow. So it is with plants, and so it is with us, Hippartha. We all fill our role in the Great Cycle.”

“Maybe you could fill your role a little later, though,” Lyta suggested. She could feel the tears forming at the corners of her eyes.

Jonas laughed, a joyful sound marred only when he had to stop and cough into his handkerchief. “You must tell me about yourself, Hippartha. And of Titan, and your brothers. It has been too long since I last saw you.”


They were scant seconds into the course when already they’d encountered an obstacle that would have been all-but-impossible alone: hanging vines draped across the canopy, high overhead. There was no way to continue forward at ground level, but seemingly no way to climb the vines; Lyta had tried grabbing onto one, only to find the entire length spooling down into her hand. But as it did, she caught sight of a vine on the far side of the course rocketing upwards.

She took hold of another and tugged lightly, her eyes fixed on the tangled mass on the far side. “There! That one!”

She felt the vine in her hand go taut as the weight counterbalanced her own, and they began climbing up together.


Two hours ago...

“Torgath has given us an account of what is transpiring beyond the veil of the Great White, but you understand that the Janus Kerasi do more than bring information to the thrals regarding the turning of the Great Cycle?”

The candles were burning lower on the table. Lyta wondered how much longer Jonas could stay awake, but he seemed unwilling to stop the conversation.

“What else, Thralan?”

“The world beyond the desert is vast, and grows with different flowers than the ones in Junira Loresh. So too with ideas. The Janus Kerasi are like birds: they swallow the seeds of foreign trees and bring them home. Sometimes the soil is not suitable, and they never emerge from the ground. Sometimes the young shoots are trampled, and they die as seedlings. But sometimes, they find the conditions are right, and they bloom, a new growth in the jungle. In this way, diversity is maintained and Junira Loresh blossoms.”

Lyta considered this for a long moment. “And you think I’m bringing these ideas with me? New ideas from the outside?”

Jonas merely regarded her, smiling encouragingly, waiting for her to continue the thought on her own.

Which ideas, Thralan? What am I supposed to show people?”

Jonas’ expression did not change. “You do not need to worry, Hippartha. Simply living in two worlds, you bring the soil of thoughts from one to the other, and both are changed because of it.” He blinked slowly. “Now, perhaps you will be so kind as to help me to my bed? I should rest before we speak again.”

Lyta rose from the floor to help him, thoughts swirling. She had so many questions, and so little time in which to ask them. She shook her head. She could deal with that later, after she’d helped her Thral settle in on his sickbed.


The vines continued the length of the canopy, unanchored and tenuous. One wrong grasp and they would plummet. Lyta tried not to think about that as she grabbed one and then another, until finally she reached one that seemed to be tethered at the far end, though there was barely enough length to tie it at this one. “Okay, grab this,” she instructed. “I’ll go across, and then I’ll find one on the other side so you can come after.”

It swayed slightly as she put her weight on it, the whole length quivering. “If you drop me, I will never let you hear the end of it, so help me!” The vine went taut. The tension held.


One hour ago...

Junira Loresh was not a large place, at least outside of the summer competitions. Without the thronging masses of ratir, the entire city could be walked in its entirety in barely an hour. It was inevitable that she would meet people she knew.

There were three of them, sitting beside the waterfall: one man and two women about her own age. A wisp of smoke curled upwards from a pipe held in the man’s hand. His face broke into a smile when he saw her. “Hippartha! We’d heard that we had received a visit from the Janus Kerasi, but we didn’t know it was you!”

Her own smile was more wistful, still caught up in the conversation with Jonas. “Mereel,” she greeted him. “Tanitha, Besni.” She touched cheeks with all of them. “It’s good to see you again.”

“And you,” Mereel replied. He held out the pipe to her. “Will you join us?”

She paused, but only for a second. She realized she did want to join them, to get away from the massed, conflicted emotions that threatened to drown her. She nodded.

As she had done two cycles ago, she took the pipe from Mereel’s hand and breathed in the smoke. The amis root was as she remembered it: a euphoric bliss in which all her senses were sharpened until it seemed like she was seeing the world for the first time.

She let the initial high pass until she was left relaxed but alert, her mind drifting through conversations and memories, connecting them anew, building them up to new meanings. She thought about the last time she had been in Junira Loresh, how she had sworn that she would beat the thirteenth course of the b’ti the next time she arrived in the jungle city. She thought of her runs in the cities, of dancing across rooftops and balconies. She thought about kuritra, and how she had rejoiced with the Humanist trainers when they solved a puzzle together that none of them could accomplish alone.


Her ferah counterpart was staring at the waterfall, contemplating its course as it fell. He turned to face her. It seemed like he would be content to face her all day, observing the tiny movements of her expression.

Lyta admired the dimple on his cheek before pulling herself back to her thoughts. “Can I… try something with you?”

Mereel’s eyes went wide, and Lyta suddenly realized what he must have thought she was proposing. Her laugh echoed off the rock-face. “Not like that! I have a boyfriend!”

Mereel looked at once relieved and disappointed. “Then what?”

She rose to her feet in a fluid motion and held out her hand. “Let me show you.”


The canopy was thinning. Soon there would be nothing left. They had to make their way back down to ground level, but already the branches were few and far between. Lyta evaluated them: sturdy, but almost impossible to reach alone. “If you throw me at the first, I can catch you, and then we can leapfrog. Can you do that?”

Mereel nodded. “If you drop me, I will remind you about it forever,” he said, his eyes focused on the first of the branches.

Lyta grinned. “Deal.”


Thirty minutes ago...

"It's cheating."

"Think of it like a rules variant."

Mereel still hesitated, looking out at the entrance of the course.

Lyta could feel the amis root coursing through her. "Look, we've both passed the twelfth, right?"

Mereel nodded, not looking at her.

"So we don't have anything to prove. We've already done it. It's just for fun."

Mereel drew a long breath. "The b'ti is run one person at a time. That's how it's always been done."

The wind rippled across Lyta's cheeks. She could almost feel the sand of the desert, and beyond it the dust of the cities where she had run atop buildings and through parks. She could smell the chalk of the Oxford Institute of Physical Advancement, where the trainers had first exposed her to the idea of tandem running. How her mind had been opened to the possibilities! And how much, now, she wanted that experience for Mereel.

She smiled. "Just once. If it doesn't work, we'll go back and smoke some more. Okay?"

Mereel fought some inner struggle for several seconds, then finally shrugged. "As you wish, Janus Kerasi."


A wall blocked their path, three meters high with barely any handholds. They hardly slowed as Lyta crouched, turning her hands into a sling as Mereel stepped into it and allowed himself to be boosted upwards. Once he’d reached the top, he extended down an arm and Lyta grasped it. A moment later, they were both over and sliding down the far side.


Twenty-four minutes ago...

They slammed their hands down on the course-end button at the same time. Lyta could see Tanitha and Besni waiting by the finish line. Their eyes were turned upwards, towards the course timer.

Lyta was breathing deep, the warm air of the evening filling her lungs. She closed her eyes, focusing on her body, on the ground beneath her feet, the swirling currents around her face. It's okay if it didn't work, she reminded herself. Just for fun.

She faced the counter and her lips twitched upwards. "That's less than six minutes," she pointed out, as though Mereel could not see the obvious marker lines.

"Yes," he agreed. His eyes were as fixated as hers.

"Have you ever heard of anyone running the twelfth in less than six minutes?"

"...Maybe Jireni?" His voice was uncertain.

Thoughts spun in Lyta's head, connecting themselves in ways they never had before. She turned away from the clock and took Mereel's hand in hers, staring deep into his eyes. "What if we tried the twenty-first?"


The river blocked their path, swift and wide. There were vines that they might have used to swing across, but they were all on the far bank. Lyta cast her eyes around the course, frustrated that they had come so far only to be stopped now. Were they supposed to swim across?!

Her gaze landed on a fallen branch and a tall stone. She rushed towards it, hauling the one towards the other until she had a makeshift see-saw. She stood on the lower end.

For a moment, Mereel just watched her.

“C’mon, jump!” Lyta insisted. “We’re never gonna get to seven minutes like this!”

With the prompting, Mereel realized what she had planned. He pursed his lips but otherwise said nothing, angling himself to get the correct trajectory… and then Lyta found herself airborne, whooping as the river passed by underneath her.


Twenty minutes ago...

"No. Absolutely not."

Lyta did not release his gaze.

"It's forbidden," Mereel insisted. "Neither of us are entitled to it. No one is entitled to it."

The smile had not left Lyta's lips. "Who would know?"

"Hippartha, we can't--"

"You can blame me," Lyta insisted. "I take full responsibility. You can say I filled your head with forbidden outside thoughts. What's the worst they can do, exile me?"

The Ferah b'timasti blanched, and Lyta felt her heart tear for him. How difficult he must be finding this, she thought.

For herself, nothing had ever been clearer. No idea had ever been stronger. The amis root gave her the boldness to push forward. "Please, Mereel! No one has run the twenty-first in more than a century. Maybe no one ever will. Haven't you ever wanted to try it? Just once? To see what it was like?"

Mereel hesitated.

Lyta reached forward and grabbed his hand. "Come," she insisted. "Please."

She pulled him away, towards the later course, and he could do nothing but follow her, with his tribe-mates trailing along behind.


They must be close now, Lyta thought as they broke through a gap in the foliage and stopped short. The river they had been tracing rushed below them, narrowed but still fast enough to be menacing. Rising up from either side were nearly sheer walls of stone. There were no banks on the bottom and no way to reach the upper canopy. The ravine was not quite wide enough for her to reach both sides with her arms extended. Not alone, anyway.

The took a deep breath. “Okay, you’re on that side, I’m on this side, and we’ll brace against each other. It’s not so far. We can make it.”

Mereel looked like he might say something, then set his jaw and nodded. “If we fall to our deaths, they will say it was my fault, Janus Kerasi.”

Lyta gripped his hands in hers, twisting so that her feet would find purchase on the stone. “Then we better not fall to our deaths.”



It was several seconds before she took her hand off the end-course button. She felt better than she ever had. Every muscle was loose, every limb was warm and tingling. She could not stop grinning. "That was amazing," she whispered.

She had still not looked at the clock. She almost didn't want to. She didn't want to know the impossible challenge was still impossible; she just wanted to run it again and again and again.

Just beyond, she could see Tanitha and Besni, their eyes upwards as they had been after the twelfth. Lyta could not read their expressions. Slowly, she twined her fingers through Mereel's and took them off the button. She realized he was already looking up at their time, and with trepidation, she looked as well.

Seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds.

Her grin burst into a full-fledged smile. It was not a success, but they could shave thirty seconds off their time if they practiced -- she was sure of it. They had been clunky in parts, the transitions not as smooth as they should have been, and while the amis root had heightened her senses, she had to admit it probably slowed her down at least once or twice as a new thought struck her mid-step.

She turned her eyes back to Mereel and realized he was no longer looking at the clock. The three ferah b’timasti were looking at each other, none of them willing to speak first. “That was amazing,” Lyta said again, breaking the silence. “You’re amazing.”

Mereel pulled his hand away from hers, slowly. “We could do it,” he whispered. “We could really do it.”

Lyta bounced lightly on the balls of her feet. She wished she could run it again. She wished she could run it right now. “We could really do it,” she agreed. “You could really do it. I have to leave soon.”

Mereel looked down at the ground, then at her face, and then exchanged glances with his friends. Lyta had no idea what to make of any of it. Finally, he put a hand on her shoulder. “We should take you back to your thral,” he said at last. “You should be with him.”


Three hours later...

Lyta sat cross-legged on Jonas’ bed, as she had when she was a child hiding in his tent. He bore the same expression now that he had then, the gentle teacher with a truant pupil. “You had an eventful afternoon, I hear.” A smile played at the corners of his eyes.

Lyta traced the stitches on the bedspread with her fingertips. Most of the effects of the amis root had worn off by now, and with them the certainty and boldness it had given her. “I hope Mereel isn’t in trouble,” she said softly.

“After speaking with the thrals, he has volunteered to take extra scouting shifts for the next two weeks,” Jonas reported. “He seemed most contrite.”

Lyta relaxed. It was a particularly light penalty, given the taboo they had broken. She had not entirely been joking about exile. “I told him he could blame me,” she said. “That I’d take responsibility.”

“I said more or less the same thing.”

Lyta’s brow furrowed. “More or less?”

“More, in the sense that you should not simply take the blame, but that you are to blame.” His voice remained soft, but there was a fatherly edge. “But also less, because your thral gave you metaphorical licence to do something like that mere hours before,” he added more playfully as a broad smile shoved wrinkles to the corners of his lips.

“Hippartha, the Koreshi must reverse the decline that centuries of rigid isolation has brought. If we are to preserve our heritage, we must explore new paths.”

Lyta fidgeted on the floor. She could tell a lecture when it was coming. She would listen, of course, because it was Jonas, and she might not have another opportunity to hear his wisdom. But in her mind all she could think of was the course she had just run.

Thankfully Jonas spared her the mental anguish of choosing between her mind and her heart. He leaned forward in his seat, eyes sparkling. “And? What was your experience, with the untrod soil beneath your feet and the untouched vines in your hand?”

Lyta couldn’t help the smile that came to her lips. “Thralan… it was amazing.”

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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