The quiet persisted for about an hour or so. We floated down the river, went through rough patches of water and still patches, but for the most part it was an enjoyable trip. The air was cool as it wicked upward off the water, and Doctor Lee would sit on my shoulder humming a way that only a beetle can. It was buggy but soothing. Eventually some real music started being sung. Plink, Brew, and Shishu led the pack when it came to real singers, and they taught me a few classic Umbili songs.
Their music had a gruff gritty sound for the most part, but every once in a while it would switch to smooth melodic tones with sharp percussive beats thrown in. Whatever the case it was interesting to listen to. The subject matter ranged from the Higher-ups, to nature, to partnerships, to playing sports. It went all over the place. Some songs were funny, others were thought provoking, and others had no lyrics at all, but the music shook up emotions inside your stomach, leaving the feeling of them in your throat.
The music went on a while and the sun passed into the late afternoon so that there were long shadows across the top of the water. It was about that time that the river suddenly stopped. A large dirt dam had been built across it, bringing the river to a halt suddenly, and it looked like a completely random spot for a dam. Across the top of the dam was a smooth dirt road, with grass descending down the sloped sides into the river. In the center of the dam, next to the road, was one of the huge metal spires that we used to communicate with the Higher-ups.
We all piled out of the river onto the dam. On the other side, the river continued on at the same level as on the upstream side. Evidently there was plenty of spillway between the two segments of river, and I looked around for some sign as to why there was a road there. I couldn’t see any apparent reason, as the dirt road disappeared into a forest of trees on the right side of the river and into an open desert heading toward the canyon wall in the distance on the left. As everyone disembarked, Chak started to speak.
“Alright everyone. We made good time today. Keep it up. Let’s set up camp quickly while we still have natural light. You know what to do.” Everyone set about the task of setting up camp. Plink and Thrump had the tents up almost instantly, Brew had the kitchen spread around with Flye’s assistance, Shishu had jumped to the top of the spire and was looking for an invisible someone inside it, and Chak busied himself cleaning out the bottom of the boat and flipping it over to drain. Again, I felt out of place and pulled out the time seed. I looked at it, nodded, satisfied that it was still there, and put it back in the pouch.
After finishing with the boat, Chak went into the spire through a small door. A few minutes later he emerged grumbling, “I think we might be wrong about having mediator Umbili. They’re never there! We might as well just plan on sending and receiving messages directly!”
I glanced over at Thrump, who had also overheard Chak’s complaint. I remembered Thrump’s similar assessment of the communication spires, and he winked at me.
Once camp was set up, we ate dinner, and, as promised, Brew had made a strange meal that was in the shape of a cube. It was a swirl of green, brown and yellow and had the consistency of a dense, moist cake.
“It’s crampshue!” she said enthusiastically as I poked at it. I hesitantly broke off a corner of the cube and placed it in my mouth. It was wonderful.
I smiled broadly and said, “Brew this is absolutely delicious! What’s in it?”
“You don’t want to know. It’s even strange enough to weird out Teleon,” she said.
I coughed a little at this remark, but the crampshue was so good I didn’t much care. It tasted like a sweet sort of beef dish, with a bold flavor. It hit you when you took a bite. We were all sharing the same meal tonight, and a few of the Umbili obviously didn’t appreciate this menu choice.
“It’s the same reason I can’t eat hotdogs,” grimaced Plink as she poked at her meal without eating it, “I know too much.”
“What’s a hotdog?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” came the answer. I practically quoted along with her.
We finished our meals and retired to bed. Fwish and Fwik were on the first watch. They were eager to stay up playing with the fire they had built. Chak told them to keep their whips holstered unless a threat appeared.
“I don’t want you keeping everyone awake with whip-cracks all night. Understand?”
They both snapped to attention and saluted.
“Cross his heart and hope to die!” said Fwish, as she drew an x with her finger across her brother’s chest.
“Stick a needle in her eye!” said Fwik and he jammed his finger into his sister’s eye. She let out a howl of pain then punched her brother in the face.
“Maybe then you’ll learn to cry,” she said as her brother regained his composure.
“I’m glad you got the message,” said Chak sarcastically as Fwik body slammed Fwish into the ground and they began to roll around. Chak leaned down to where they were and grabbed them by the hair, each in one hand, and lifted them into the air. “Because one more sound out of you two and you’re going to need Brew out here with her medical bag. Got it?”
They both mimed zipping their lips shut and locking them in perfect unison. Chak dropped them back on the ground and walked away to his tent. Fwik and Fwish proceeded to make faces at each other. I followed him in and we each dropped quickly into sleep.
I didn’t know how long I had been asleep before a bright light flashed in front of my eyes. I opened them and saw Chak, standing over me.
“We’ve got to go,” he said tersely.
I jumped out of my hammock and pulled my armor on. It was still dark out. I looked around after him, but he was out of the tent in a flash. He was running from tent to tent telling the group to assemble. He was scared. He was being quiet in his attempt to get everyone out. He said to ditch the tents because we wouldn’t need them anymore. He grabbed the backpack, flipped over the boat, tossed it into the downstream side of the river and ushered everyone in. The rest of the group was being quiet and complacent as well. I followed suit and hopped into the boat and we were rushing down the river. It was incredible to me how fast we were moving.
When we were far away, another bright light flashed back at the campsite, and I heard a war cry. I looked back and a fiery cloud rose alongside the metal spire. It lit the sky. Then the spire creaked. It was falling. It was falling fast and it was falling towards us. It was only then that I realized we had stopped moving all together. The spire hit the water and the sharply pointed tip came down right on the stern of the boat. It flipped upward and we all were scattered into the night. I could hear the boat shattering at the impact. I saw Pathena’s face hanging in the sky lit by the moonlight. I was headed back down. I could see the metal spire waiting for me at the bottom. I closed my eyes and braced for the impact, and just as my body whipped against the hard metal, I woke up.
It was early morning in the tent, but there was a little bit of light in the air. It was the sort of dim light that you might confuse with late evening if it weren’t for the cool air around you and the serene quietness.
I looked over at Chak. He was still asleep, so I slipped on my boots and breastplate and snuck out of the tent. I glanced around at the quiet campsite and at the different tents, and that was when I saw my first clue that something was wrong. One of the tents had been destroyed.
There were three firm canvas boxes standing proudly around the campfire, and one dilapidated pile of rubble, twisted metal sticking up from the mess, with little shreds of tent material scattered around it. It was such a shock to see the tent that way that I tried to let out a little yelp, but no sound came out because it was too early in the morning. My voice wasn’t yet awake. It was one of the female’s tents, but I couldn’t remember if it was Brew and Plink’s or Flye and Fwish’s. I ran over to the crime scene and searched for where the entrance flap once stood. I pulled the canvas up and away as best I could to reveal the floor of the tent.
There was a strange glowing grey goo spread here and there around the tent floor, and I realized with horror that it was Umbili blood. Brew’s blood. I searched around for any sign of similar pink blood but found none. They weren’t there; Brew and Plink were gone.
I processed the information as quickly as possible. Someone or something had kidnapped Brew and Plink. Someone or something had injured Brew, which, from my understanding, was a hard thing to accomplish.
I couldn’t wrap my brain around the situation. It was all too much to handle. I closed my eyes and opened them again; my vision was blurry. I was about to pass out. I had to stop it. I took a few deep breaths, but it didn’t help. I gained my composure the best I could, opened my mouth, and screamed.
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 13.”