Ascendant: The Kacy Chronicles, Book 2
By A.L. Knorr & Martha Carr
Eohne lay with her back in the dirt and a cloth bag under her head to serve as a pillow. She munched on a piece of grass as she gazed at the stars sparkling down over Charra-Rae. The Arpaks had left that morning—Jordan and Sol. Though Eohne felt a surprising amount of loss for two people she’d only just met, she figured it was probably a good thing. Jordan had been a welcome distraction. It would be too easy to get involved in Jordan’s search for her mother, too easy for Eohne to abandon her own mission—the mission Sohne had charged her with.
Find a way to synthesize the fungus, had been Sohne’s command. Eohne had documented all One-hundred-seventy-three attempts. All had failed. Eohne was the Charra-Rae Elves best inventor, smartest deductive mind, supposedly the most adept (other than Sohne herself) at understanding the language at the root of their magic. Yet, so far, she hadn’t even come close to success. She was able to remake the fungi so that it smelled, tasted, and had the identical texture to the real thing, but it had none of the healing benefits. It was an impotent forgery, a perfect likeness in every way except for the way that mattered.
A small collection of glitter flashing through the air drew Eohne’s eyes to the treetops at the edge of the glen. Here they came—her messenger bugs, back from their delivery to Allan, Jordan’s father. Eohne reached for the jar sitting in the grass by her hip and tapped a fingernail against the glass.
Clink, clink, clink! Her messenger bugs plopped themselves into the jar as Eohne counted the sounds of their bodies hitting the glass. Eleven, twelve, thirteen…
The glass went quiet. Eohne frowned and sat up, looking into the starry darkness yawning overhead. She waited, but it took mere seconds of silence for her to deduce that something had gone wrong. The messenger bugs were tethered together by magic, it was impossible for only some of them to return and not others. Wasn’t it? She picked up the jar with the little glass balls nestled inside, their legs tucked away. She recounted, but it was a useless exercise. It was easy to eye-ball that almost half of her bugs were missing.
She withdrew the syringe she had used to inject the bugs with Jordan’s vocal vibrations and plucked a bug from the jar. Inserting the needle into the belly of the bug she drew out the liquid. Normally, she would discard the juice, it had served its purpose and it wasn’t bringing any return message. But there might be some information hidden within that would help Eohne work out what had happened. She sprayed a small amount of the liquid into her palm and pressed her middle finger into it. She closed her eyes, shutting out the night. But there was nothing. No vibrations to pick up, no information. The liquid was dead.
She wiped the dampness away, huffed with frustration and screwed the cap back on the jar. She got to her feet and tucked the jar into her sack. She brushed the leaves out of her hair and dusted the dirt from her clothing. She made her way down the hill and into the forest, winding through the narrow loamy path towards home. Her footfalls were silent, her form a ghost in the woods, but her razor-sharp inventor’s mind was racing. What could this mean? What had happened to the rest of her bugs?
The music of flutes and drums drifted through the ferns and leaves. The bright blue fire of the Charra-Rae Elves had been lit and the smell of elvish cooking reached Eohne’s nose. Her stomach complained about being empty but she was too distressed to think about food. She reached the outskirts of the gathering and combed the faces for Sohne. The copper-haired Elf wasn’t difficult to spot. She was talking with two elders and drinking from a wooden chalice. Sohne was lounging in an elaborately carved wooden chair while the elders stood around her. Eohne crossed the circle and approached. The elders burst into laughter at something Sohne said.
“Do you have a moment?” Eohne asked in the tongue of Charra-Rae, her head bowed.
Sohne’s laughter died away and she turned cool eyes on her inferior. “What is it?”
“May I speak with you alone, please?”
Sohne pressed her lips together but nodded to the elders. “Give us a moment.”
The others moved away toward the food. Sohne got up from her seat and the two women turned away from the crowd and moved towards the outskirts of the party. Eohne stayed just behind Sohne, the way she knew Sohne liked. When they were out of earshot, Eohne waited for Sohne to face her and signal that she could speak.
Keeping her eyes down, Eohne said: “I allowed Jordan to use my messenger bugs to get a letter to her father.”
“That was foolish,” answered Sohne, crossing her long forearms over her stomach. Her voice was not disdainful, simply matter-of-fact. “Did it work?”
“Partially. Not all of them have returned.”
Sohne cocked her head at Eohne. The shadows on her face sharpened in the fire-light. “Where are the others?”“That’s why I came to you. This has never happened before.”
“That’s why I came to you. This has never happened before.” Eohne wilted as Sohne’s face hardened but she forged on, forcing her voice to sound stronger than she felt. “I can only assume they remain on Earth, though I’ve no idea why.”
“There was no information returned with them?”
“Nothing. The juice is flat. Dead.”
Sohne let out a long breath. “But you don’t know if its dead because the missing bugs were destroyed somehow, or if its dead because the rest are still trapped on Earth?”
“No.” Eohne dropped her eyes to Sohne’s feet. “I don’t know.”
“You had better hope that its the former.”
Eohne finally looked up with an expression of surprise. “Hope is not enough in this case. I need to get them back. It might have been foolish for me to send a message to Earth, but it would be even more foolish to leave them there.”
A look of understanding crossed Sohne’s beautiful features. Her sapphire eyes glimmered in the blue light. “You want to know if you can leave Charra-Rae?”
Sohne shook her head. “Your assignment is too important. I don’t want you diverting your attention away from it.”
“What do you think would happen to Charra-Rae if the fungus stopped producing?” Sohne asked, an edge to her tone.
Eohne’s mouth had gone dry at the denial to her request but it didn’t stop her from challenging Sohne again. “How likely is that to happen?” The fungus dying off at random seemed near impossible to Eohne. True it was their most important export, but they’d never suffered a serious dearth of it before, only the same slower growth cycles that any other crop had.
“We don’t know, do we?” Sohne answered with frown. “We can’t cultivate it, its chemical makeup and magic both remain elusive to you. You can replicate every other substance so perfectly that there is no discernible difference between yours and nature’s. Why not the fungus?” Sohne cocked an accusatory eyebrow. “If you had solved the problem already, I would be happy to let you go. But-” She shrugged in a way that said, this is on you, not me.
Eohne frowned at her senior. “The fungus is not in short supply. We haven’t had a deficiency in over eighteen years. But if those bugs are trapped on earth somehow, we’ve just knowingly left someone the ability to make a new portal.”
“Not we,” interrupted Sohne. “You.” She dropped her arms and jabbed a long finger into Eohne’s chest. “This was a risk that you decided to take. Live with it.” With that the red-headed Elf turned her back on Eohne and returned to the fire. She looked back over her shoulder once to say: “Eat, Eohne. You need your strength.”
Eohne turned away from the fire and walked the faintly glimmering path to her home, seething. Sohne could be a brilliant leader, she could even give the impression of having compassion at times. But Sohne never did anything that didn’t strengthen, protect, or position the Elves of Charra-Rae for a safe secure future. What did she care if some random Earthling accidentally found his or her way through to Oriceran, or got trapped in the in-between?
Maybe Sohne didn’t care, but Eohne did. Eohne cared very much.
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