Category Archives: 2.08
Chaff wanted to puke. He staggered upright, his head spinning, grasping for support. He had let Loom take her tabula. He had let it happen.
He stumbled to the big guy’s side, clutching the camelopard’s tabula. The big guy sat up immediately, his eyes wide open and reflecting the sparse star light. An electric hum raced over the beast’s body that jumped through to Chaff as he sat astride his friend.
“Up, up, up,” he said, trying to clear his spinning head. This wasn’t the city, this was the plains. This was the hunt.
Chaff had survived four years by being on the hunt.
“Go big.” Chaff felt lightning in his hands, an energy that woke him to full consciousness. “Go big! Go big, big guy!”
Sparks flew as the big guy ran, the pounding of his hooves like thunder. Together, they were the oncoming storm.
Chaff leaned forward into the big guy’s neck, holding on tight as the tabula continued to writhe in his hands. His anger bubbled up hotter and brighter inside of him. How could he have been so arrogant? He was Chaff: the part that was thrown away. The part that wasn’t valuable.
Loom had never wanted to sell him. She had always been looking at the bigger prize.
Almost pulling hair from the big guy’s back, Chaff screamed. No one came out at the sound. A king had died and the sky was falling.
Chaff did not see Loom, but he could hear in the distance the steady rumbling of the wagon on the road. Chaff tensed, and the big guy blew past the statue of Fra Henn. The dead duarch’s outstretched hands gestured as if to command Chaff to stop, but it was nothing more than a statue in the end. It didn’t mean anything.
The big guy’s hooves cracked the cobblestone pavement as he landed, but he did not stop. Chaff heard, over the rushing wind, a sudden increase in the rumbling of the wagon. A second set of hoof beats joined the big guy’s.
They ran through the city with the smallest streets in the world, a Shira Hay race with nothing held back.
The big guy lurched; the boy clung on. Ice streaked the path ahead of them, a slippery frost that was already beginning to melt on the fringes. Wheel tracks in the ice indicated where Loom’s heavy cargo had slid on their sprint.
Towards the river front. Towards Kharr Ta.
“Come on, big guy!” Chaff shouted, pressing on his tabula. “Come on, let’s go!”
A fire surged through Chaff’s body, as the camelopard pounded on. Where his hooves touched the ice, it shattered, spider web cracks spreading from the impact. There was no magic to it, no summer tricks: it was raw strength, and strength alone.
Chaff didn’t feel drained from using the tabula. Giving the big guy strength made him alive. It made the stars brighter and the wind colder and his anger sharper.
The river emerged around the bend like the border to the end of the world. Beyond, pale lights shone behind the silhouettes of shadowed buildings. But on his side…
“Loom!” shouted Chaff, not slowing as he approached the wagon. Advantageous the ice may have been, but it had not made the burden of Loom’s wares any lighter. Deppash was slow and exhausted.
The big guy was neither.
They slammed into the cart, tipping it over. Chaff leaped off the big guy’s back as the camelopard skidded to a halt in front of the winter ox, bellowing. The boy landed on the spilled carpets, rolling onto the street and standing straight with his hands balled into fists. The repaired tarp on the wagon had been torn by the impact.
“Kid!” shouted Loom, getting off Deppash. She stood with her back to the ox, her eyes reflecting the light as they darted from the big guy to the boy. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“You took her,” Chaff grunted, chest heaving. “You took her!”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about-.”
“Give her back!” shouted Chaff, and suddenly he was running. He punched Loom as hard as he could, again and again, but Loom did not hit him back. “You took her, you took her, you took her!”
“Get off, kid, you’ll wake the whole fucking street,” snarled Loom, grabbing Chaff by the collar, trying to push him away. “By the Lady Summer and Spring, I thought someone was trying to raid me in the middle of the fucking city-.”
“You knew!” shouted Chaff. “You knew it was me, you knew I was coming, you knew because you took her!”
“Stupid fucking kid, I said get off me!”
Chaff’s head snapped backwards. He fell into the street, blood flowing openly from his mouth. It did not even come close to stopping him. He sprang upwards, punching and kicking any part of Loom he could find.
“She’s not yours to keep! She belongs to herself!” screamed Chaff. “How dare you-.”
“Alright.” Loom shoved Chaff away with a single foot, and held up a single amber disk. Her hands shook so much Chaff thought she was going to break it. “Alright, you fucking shit! I took your sweetheart’s damn tabula, OK? Now that you know, are you happy?”
“Give it back,” said Chaff, wiping blood from his lip.
“I can’t, I need this deal,” snarled Loom. “Pash, come on. We need to go if-.”
“It’s not yours to sell!” shouted Chaff.
Loom’s voice rose. “Then it’s not yours to keep, is it?”
“I’m going to give it back,” said Chaff. “I got to give it back.”
“Are you fucking for real, kid? You didn’t even know where a whole fucking city was and you think you can find one person in all of Albumere?” Loom grabbed Chaff by the shoulders, and her voice cracked with desperation. “Grow up, kid! You’ll never find her.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Chaff snatched at the tabula, but Loom pushed him aside and held it out of reach. “I got to give it back.”
“Are you even listening to me? I need this trade. If I don’t…” Loom took a deep breath. “If I don’t, I’m dead. I’m fucking dead.” She bent down on her knees, almost as if she was begging, or praying. “What’s more important, Chaff? A girl whose name you don’t even know, or the person who gave you yours?”
“I trusted you,” said Chaff. He blinked rapidly, but made no move to wipe the tears away. “I trusted you. You were my friend.”
“I still am,” said Loom. “Think about it, kid. Chaff. Once Vhajja’s fixed, we’ll…we’ll be a family.”
For a moment, he saw it. The three of them, eating tarts and touring the city and keeping the stables. It was warm and bright and wonderful.
She’s got a mommy and daddy and I’m still not sure how to send her back. Chaff shook his head. “No,” he whispered. “No, Loom. I won’t break a family to make one.”
“Well, then, fuck it.” Loom stood straight, and Chaff could not see her face for the dark of the night. “You think I need your fucking permission? Get back. Get back to the fucking house. Get back to the fucking grasslands for all I care, you piece of shit kid.”
There was nothing else to do. As Loom turned her back, Chaff leaped and attacked.
The harnesses tying the ox to the wagon stiffened and snapped. Deppash charged, bellowing, horns like winter icicles, cobblestones cracking from the cold under his hooves as he moved to defend Loom, but before he had stepped two paces the big guy swung his neck like a whip and slammed into the ox from the side.
Loom backhanded Chaff into the street, but Chaff had enough focus to roll out of the way as she made to pin him down. He leaped over the fallen wagon, still holding the big guy’s tabula in his hand. The vibrations shook his whole arm.
And then the big guy went big.
The camelopard kicked Deppash so hard that the winter ox was sent skidding into the river. Deppash bounced on water that turned to ice the moment he touched it, and stood unsteadily on a rapidly growing ice floe in the middle of the river.
Loom’s step faltered as she reached for her tabula, but she was distracted by Chaff as he darted past.
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” shouted Loom, trying to grab Chaff’s collar. “Would you just listen to me?!”
Deppash began to charge across the river, freezing the water inches ahead of him as he barreled forward, his momentum reckless. The big guy reared and met him head on. Chaff shouted as the ox’s horns grazed the big guy’s underside; the flesh had steamed before turning raw pink and white. The boy ran to help, although how he did not know.
A mistake. A rough hand caught his collar and Chaff fell to the ground, squirming. “Now, you listen,” growled Loom. “I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to break your fucking heart, kid, because that’s just the world we live in. You gotta grow up some day, and better here than somewhere out there where you got no one to watch out for you.”
Chaff spit in her face. “I always got someone to watch out for me.”
And the big guy slammed into Loom so hard that the girl’s tabula went flying. Chaff stood to catch it, but Loom recovered quickly, tackling him to the ground. “No!” Chaff cried, as the tabula hit the street, but the hardy thing held and rolled with a soft clink.
Loom grabbed Chaff by the collar, looking from him to Deppash’s prone figure to the big guy and back to him. The big guy circled Loom, whinnying, unable to hit her without fear of hitting the boy, too.
“Now you listen,” snarled Loom. “I made you. I gave you everything. I gave you a home. I gave you an education. I gave you a name. I gave you your fucking life. It is mine to-.”
And Loom froze. She blinked. Slowly, her hands let go. She slid off Chaff, head held in her hands, breathing in great shuddering gasps.
Chaff rose to his feet, watching her. Hesitantly, he nodded to the big guy to back off.
Face buried in her hands, Loom didn’t say anything. Hesitantly, Chaff backed away. Loom looked so frail now. “I let it happen,” whispered Loom, shaking her head, staring at the ground. “I let it happen. Vhajja, what did you do? What did you do to me?”
He took each step carefully, and slowly, as if moving too fast would attract Loom’s attention. He found it lying to the side, a little thing, gleaming in the night. Aside from the single crack that had already been there, the girl’s tabula seemed unharmed. Chaff wiped it off and tucked it away, gently.
“Please,” said Loom, suddenly. Chaff turned. Her eyes were red, and she could barely speak. “Please. If you take her, you’ll kill me.”
She made no move to stop him as he clambered onto the big guy’s back. She looked too lost to move. Chaff searched for the right words to say.
“Sorry I broke your wagon,” he muttered.
As he rode away, he thought he heard Loom sobbing. When he could hear her no more, the night felt suddenly quiet.
He was alone.
He looked up. The camelopard had cantered back into the empty plaza with the dry fountain. He circled around the statue of Fra Henn. Its arms were still out-stretched, but now it looked to Chaff as if she was embracing him.
He turned away. It was just a statue. It didn’t mean anything.
“We can’t go back there no more,” he whispered, as the big guy made towards Vhajja’s tiny street. “Turn around, big guy, come on.”
The big guy tossed his head.
“I don’t know where we’re going to go,” said Chaff. He sniffed. “We go forward, yeah? Always go forward, that’s right.”
Chaff stared numbly at the tabula in his hands, slowly flipping it over as he rode. The exhaustion that he had staved off was coming back in waves, crashing into him until he felt so tired he would fall and just lie in the street.
For once, the boy did not feel like talking. He clung to the big guy in silence, watching the moon, watching the stars, trying to shut out the buzzing in his head.
His eyes slid down to a dark alley. “Stop here,” he whispered to the big guy. He slid off and stumbled inside, barely making it to the dank walls before slumping against them. “I know it’s cramped. But we got to get out of other people’s way, yeah?”
The big guy, for his part, did not protest. He trotted with his head down into the alley, and folded his legs underneath him without a sound.
The boy turned the tabula over in his hands, tracing the crack with his thumb. He had strength enough for this. Just for a little bit.
He focused on the tabula. “Show me,” he whispered, and the amber shadows danced.
It was still dark, still muddled. He could barely see her silhouette, in a place where he could not see the sky, with shadows shaped like teeth above and below her. His stomach turned. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was his escape, his fantasy, his perfect world. The girl was in a place better than this.
He had to give it back. That was the only way to make things right. He had to find her.
“We found the way to the city, big guy,” he said, to the slumbering camelopard. “We found the only way, yeah? And now we got to find her.”
He leaned back into the wall, letting the sweat run down his face. “We’re going to look over the whole city. And if we can’t find her, we go on to the next city. And we keep going and going until we find her. We’ll go until we’ve gone over the whole world twice if we have to. That sound like a plan, big guy?”
There was no response.
Chaff turned over, letting fatigue claim him. He was going to find her. It was going to be worth it.
It had to be.