THE LAST MIND TRAVELER
By Kate Rothwell
(Chapter One only)
Copyright 2005 by Kate Rothwell, all rights reserved. No portion of this book may be duplicated in any way
without written permission by the author. If you acquired this book without paying for it, please visit
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This is Chapter One of THE LAST MIND TRAVELER only. If you would like to purchase the entire eNovel for only $2.95, please click the 'Buy Now' Button below.
Garbled voices outside murmured, howled, screamed and yanked Numi from sleep.
Damn. She must not have taken her medication.
She swallowed and, sure enough, tasted the harsh flavor of power lingering at the back of her throat. She got out of bed, ambled to the window, and pulled aside the thick silk covering.
When she squinted into the bright morning sunlight she could see out the cause of the ungodsly howling.
They gathered on the pale sand at the beach, several dozen of the ugly buggers. Many of them brandished branches they'd ripped from the scraggly trees growing near the shore. All of them bellowed wordless threats at the horizon.
This batch of hairy, orange-colored creatures looked nearly human, though their oversized mouths displayed teeth like tangled icicles. Dark blood they'd ripped from one another dripped from their curving talons.
She must have had an awful dream.
She yawned and padded to the washroom. At moments like this, she actually appreciated exile. She could brush the bitter flavor from her teeth, comb out her tangled hair and simply wait for the heat of the sun to burn off her congees. No need to frantically help the guard contain the dangerous crowd. No horrid, stomach-flipping fear that the congees had killed or maimed anyone.
She wandered out of the washroom into her dressing room, scratching her backside and trying to recall any details of the dream that brought the creatures to life.
The search through her memory was an exercise, not a matter of survival as it might have been in the time before the Emperor Danru had banished her to the deserted little island.
"Mistress!" Her servant shouted from below. Numi clicked her tongue with impatience. Ahl was no different from anyone else. He tended to be unnerved by many of her congees.
How many times must she explain this? "Yes, Ahl, I saw them. Just stay inside until the sun burns them off. No need to panic."
"Mistress! They are attacking humans."
She yawned again. "Must be more congees."
"No, I beg your ladyship's forgiveness. But they attack two humans. See, Mistress, on the beach."
Ahl was not truly a stupid being, so she would look.
Numi already wore her customary pale flaxen gown. She grabbed her highest caste Omino robe and thrust her arms into it She looped the wide green belt around her waist and tied it as she trotted down the stairs.
Out the wide downstairs window facing the ocean, she saw the excited congees surrounded two slumped figures two humans who did not have the sheen from her conjuring. By gods, Ahl was right. A small boat lay on its side and other congees leaped up and down on it. Two humans had landed on her island at a very wrong moment.
Her heart thumped hard. Were they were messengers from the emperor with word someone had discovered a cure? What if she had at last been granted her freedom? Perfect timing for one of her bad ones. She frantically searched the room.
Fire. Somehow she understood her creations would be frightened of the flames. Numi knelt by the fireplace, pulled a thick stick from the nearly dead fire and blew on its end. She must have still had some residual power, for almost at once flames flashed up from the stick's ashy end.
"Ahl!" she shouted. "We must go."
"Oh no, I beg you, mistress."
"Ahl, you cowardly puke, we must."
The large servant appeared in the doorway. He bowed low and murmured his obeisance. And shook his head. No.
She didn't bother to issue any threats. Ahl had been on the island with her all five years, long enough to know she would not hurt him.
"Fine. Watch, then. And when the damnable congees are blown, come help."
She yanked open the door.
"And if mistress does not succeed?" Ahl, behind her, sounded gloomy.
"Bury our remains."
Ahl pulled a small log from the fireplace. "Please, your ladyship," he said in a fatalistic tone. He held the log out to her.
She blew on the log. Her powers must have been drifting, for it took her strong several blows to get the thing lit.
Ahl stared at the floor, still gloomy.
She waved her flaming stick at him and cursed, invoking her former god. "By Dumapri! Wake up and move."
She gathered her filmy robe with one hand, and took off running as fast as she could, sliding, almost falling, across the sand towards the howling crowds. As she drew near she could smell the distinctive odor of bad dream, rank, like the pus from a wound. But they did not have the true heart-stopping death-stench of her rare nightmare's congees.
Yah, the wails stopped the moment they caught sight of her. She'd guessed correctly: a bad dream, not a true nightmare formed them. Thank gods. She had some sway over them.
A few fell to their knees and groveled. She felt herself blush. She'd obviously turned herself into something like a goddess in the dream. She wouldn't be torn to shreds, and she could influence these congees even more than usual.
They had their destructive, pig-hungry eyes on Ahl, though. Powerful though he was, he had no chance against her congees. The creatures made a wide circle around her, to snatch at him from behind.
"Ahl." She kept her voice low as she spoke to the servant who crept along at the customary distance behind her. "Stay close to me. As close as possible."
"No mistress, I must remain at least five tongs distant. Or I wi -"
"Ahl. Don't be an idiot. They'll eat you. I hereby grant you permission to remain close. Here."
She unlashed a few loops of her gown's green sash, tied it to her waist and tossed an end to him. "Go no further than this. Hold it, and pretend you are a ceremonial train bearer if that will help you feel better."
She studied the two figures sprawled face down in the sand.
"Ahl, can you carry two fully grown men?"
"I believe so, mistress."
"Good. Time to impress these imbecilic congees."
She ignored the unpleasant ripples of sensation in her back, caused by Ahl's presence too close behind her. Numi cleared her throat. Then with a deep roar, she brandished the burning stick in her hand high in the air and jutted her chin in disdain. As she waved the torch, sparks hit the damp sand and hissed.
In a bellowing, imperious voice she called out. "The goddess Numi accepts your sacrifice. It is good!"
From close behind she heard a muffled snort from Ahl that might have been chuckle.
The creatures shifted away from her, bowing and mewling.
She dropped her voice, "We'll walk together, slowly, slowly to the first human. Understand?"
"I will remain upright. You will stay within two arms length of me as you pick him up. Very quietly tell me if any of the congees approach. Do not scream."
"We will do the same for the second one. Then we will very slowly, in a stately manner, walk backwards to the house."
"Give me your torch." She reached behind her and Ahl pushed the oversized stick into her hand. Their hands accidentally touched and she shuddered with distaste, clamping her lips tight to remain silent.
He babbled. "Oh! Mistress! I beg of you to forgive me! I did not see-"
"Ahl. Shut up. They watch you with too much interest when you carry on."
"Please, Mistress, you must speak "
"Yes, yes, all right. Forgiven. Let's go. We need to move."
She held the two torches, one in each hand, high above her and slowly made her way to the figure lying prone on the sand.
When the congees stopped bowing and growled at Ahl, she sensed they wanted some goddess-like activity from her. She improvised pomp and ceremony.
At those moments, she stopped, held the two torches high and intoned something majestic. The motto from her sister's school -- the one she would have attended, had she been normal -- worked well. Had a nice pretentious ring to it.
Ahl stooped to collect the congees' victims.
After nearly a half hour of backing and shouting, she felt her forearms and fingers cramp and begin to shake.
A few bolder congees loped in a wide circle through the sand towards Ahl. Their stench and groaning yips disgusted Numi. Where did she hide such hideousness in her soul?
She stopped to recite a few rules of Cronta, a board game, in a deep ringing voice to the congees. In an undertone she added, "Both men still alive, Ahl?"
"I don't know how much longer I can wave these ridiculous sticks. Are we close to the house yet?"
A pause as he twisted around. "Less than three tongs, mistress."
"By Dumapri, I am delighted to hear it. These congees are among the least attractive I've ever conjured. I'm tired of staring into their idiot faces."
"Yes, mistress," he agreed fervently. Really, he did have a tendency to show emotion of late.
At last they made it inside. She slammed the door and leaned against it, gasping.
Ahl stood waiting, one limp figure thrown over each shoulder. He could not meet her eyes, so he gave Numi's bare feet an inquiring glance.
"Upstairs, I suppose," she said in answer. She tossed the sticks into the fire, unwrapped her damp sand-encrusted belt, and tossed it to the floor.
"Mistress. They are not of Omino caste. It is not fitting for them to be on your ladyship's level if -"
"We are on an island in the middle of nowhere. The men are unconscious and might die. There is more space and better light in my quarters. What difference would it make?" She knew the argument was useless but she made the attempt, purely for the exercise in conversation.
Ahl stared at her feet and managed to look both obsequious and offended. "Mistress. Your ladyship would require my help, and I cannot rise to Omino level. And these . . . men are not Omino. The pollution, Mistress --"
She interrupted again. "Oh very well then. I suppose we can put them in the public area here. Would that suit you?"
He bowed so low the two men's dangling bare feet touched the ground. "Whatever your ladyship desires."
She almost laughed.
Ahl would not allow her to help, and she had no desire to try, at that. She leaned against the whitewashed wall of the open public space, arms folded, and commented on his activity.
"To stop bleeding you must apply pressure, Ahl. Don't just dab at the wound."
Despite his protests, she wandered down the stone passageway to the kitchen she rarely visited. She hunted through shelves for breakfast for them both and even lugged a huge black pot of water onto the stove.
As they waited for the water to boil, she sat cross-legged on the striped cushions of the sofa and ate. "You'll need to wash their wounds. I hope the congee weren't poisonous, but I don't know . . ." Her voice trailed off.
Ahl squatted on the floor, ten tongs away, as was correct. He stopped chewing the stale bread she'd inexpertly hacked up for their breakfast and gave her feet a glance of curiosity.
He had changed during their time on the island, Numi realized. He actually allowed himself to speak without permission. "Your ladyship does not know these beasts' powers?"
"Come now, how could I have suddenly gain new insight into my diseased iano's power? I don't know what I'll produce, and only sometimes sense them more accurately than other people." She sighed. "I am heartily sick of the things. And I certainly hope you are not responsible for last night's episode."
The way Ahl stared mournfully at the well-polished wooden floor gave her to understand he felt insulted by the suggestion. Huh. As if he'd never "forgotten" to give her the full dose of dorron medicine in the hopes she'd have some good dreams for a change. The scoundrel.
Ahl finished his bread, and at Numi's instruction he stripped off one of the men's shirts to wash the wounds. He gave the floor near Numi another censorious frown. "It is not proper for your ladyship to see this man's nakedness."
"Ahl. I will throw you out to what's left of the congees if you say one more word about proper," she replied absently.
She was interested and disappointed to note the stranger's broad back was covered with scars. He'd been punished often. Obviously not a lower-caste envoy for the Emperor, after all.
When it came time for Ahl to strip off the remains of the trousers, Numi agreed to go to her upper level.
"I shall be meditating. And I suppose praying for a cure."
"For the injured men, your ladyship, I add my humble, unworthy prayers."
"Yes, prayers for the men and for stubborn servants."
Again, she thought she heard Ahl's muffled laughter. She almost smiled.
* * * *
Whether it was the prayers or Ahl's care, the men did not die. One lost his smallest finger, bitten clean off, and much of the finger next to it. The other lost an eye. But within a day the puffiness of their bodies, perhaps caused by the congees' poisons, lessened.
As they slept off their wounds, all she could see was that they had dark hair and solid build, and so, of course, were not Omino.
Maybe servant class, she hazarded, though a more common strain than Ahl's. Or middle class -- trader, perhaps? She had been so isolated for so long, she could not remember the appearance of any caste but her own highest Omino and Ahl's rare high-servant class.
She was strolling across the open room on her way to her quarters as one of them regained consciousness. Ahl's strong hands held the man's shoulders down as the stranger raved and cried out.
"It is not right your ladyship to hear this filth."
"Nonsense. My own brain produces far worse."
She raised her voice and put in a trace of iano force to emphasize her words. "You are safe. The attackers are gone."
The man's eyes opened. Both eyes, so he was the one who lost the finger. The man's struggles slowed. He blinked up at the massive Ahl, who still held his shoulders, then he turned to look at Numi. Straight into her face and eyes.
It was her turn to blink. No one did that, unless they were also Omino. And even Omino hesitated to meet The Numironimo's gaze.
"By Dumapri! You presume!" she gasped.
His dark head bowed submissively. "Forgive me, ladyship. I did not see clearly you were Omino."
Ahl growled and shook the man's arms.
"Forgiven," she said, automatically, rather disgusted with herself. She had thought that after five years on the island she had left that nonsense behind. Ah well. She was better than she had been.
Once, when she was young and powerful, she had not said "forgiven." And a servant's hand was sliced off because the woman had accidentally touched Numi's arm. When she recalled that moment of fearful pride, Numi still colored with shame.
When her powers had gone completely out of control, and she had faced the emperor's choice, she had painfully learned un-Omino humility. She no longer even had permission to address Dumapri, that unforgiving god of the Omino, though she often forgot she had lost the right to petition her old deity. She had no new one to replace him, after all.
She gathered her skirts and walked away. "Ahl, feed the man if he is hungry. I go above."
To sulk, she thought. And take medication. Her stomach sank with the heaviness of frustration. Nothing new in that. She hated seeing into other people's eyes. Hated the stark fear and humiliation that rose in her.
"Thank you, your ladyship," the stranger said.
Startled, she turned back at his uninvited words. Her throat closed as she saw his eyes stare into her face again. He studied her. Pure insolence. She flushed, the pale hair on the back of her neck rose. But this time she did not speak. No. She stared him down, using a spark of force to turn him away. His eyes squeezed shut as if he felt pain. He bent his head again, but not before she caught sight of his puzzled frown. Obviously a fool, if an Omino's power surprised him.
She was glad he had attempted to out-stare her. Her revulsion and self-pity had been replaced by something more interesting than either of those useless emotions. She saw a challenge. In the few seconds they exchanged gazes, she learned more than the obvious fact that he had the manners of a savage. The man was dangerous.
His eyes appeared very wrong. And it took too much iano force on her part to push his gaze away. She wished she could understand how those eyes did not fit his face.
The sooner Ahl got these intruders off the island the better. Though she rather hoped he would require her help. She could use the exercise.
She went above without another word.
* * * *
Cor awoke. Unfortunately.
His last thought had been that death by creatures conjured from a bad dream seemed entirely appropriate for a man like him. His last emotion had been surprise that the Omino's survival did not rankle.
But then he awoke to pain and his own ravings. He'd likely done some kind of work on himself when he was unconscious. It had happened before. Damned iano. Disappointing, but he could no more stop himself than he could keep blood from clotting or scabs from forming.
The two who'd been stranded on the island five years earlier left him alone at last. Ignoring the pain soaring through him and the usual discomfort of drawing close enough to perform healing, he hobbled over to Fet and went to work on him. Good thing he was not so badly hurt.
When Cor lay stretched out on the sofa again, he told about his test of the omino. "She's a freak."
"Nonsense." Fet was obviously uneasy to hear Cor, of all beings, speak of freaks.
"She's peculiar. I think she lives by a code of her own. And she is too strong, I tell you."
"No, that's impossible. None of them is stronger than you."
Cor gave up. He managed to push himself back to sleep.
* * * *
The next time he woke to the voice of that jackass of an upper servant. Ahl leaned against the wall near their makeshift beds and brayed on about his mistress. No, he did not know her identity, but she was good, or good enough to spare, he'd stake his life on it.
"She saved you," Ahl said solemnly. His story of their rescue on the beach sent Cor to the familiar edge of madness.
It made Fet snort. "No way. She would not risk her precious Omino skin."
"It is true, sirs "
"Don't call us sir, you idiot," Fet interrupted. "That time is past."
Ahl tapped a large silver-slippered foot impatiently. "Fine. But I am telling the truth. She went onto the beach. She would have gone alone, too."
"No," said Cor. But he didn't feel disbelief. Only horror.
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