Xenolith, Page 83A. Sparrow
Chapter 71: Gi Again
Seor’s fingers slipped from Ara’s grasp like a fistful of minnows. Ara lunged back in vain as force of the xenolith accelerated her through the convergence. She entered Gi in a cloud of icy needles, tiny crystals aglitter, floating, tumbling.
She splashed into cold water, plowing into Canu’s back, shoving him into the door of a small, red car that dipped one front tire into the bog as if testing its temperature with a toe.
Vul watched expectantly from a clump of reeds. “Where is she?” he said, looking past Ara and Canu, palms upraised and trembling.
“She’s not …?” said Canu, looking about, flushed and frantic. “I thought we had her.” His gaze lingered on the smears of Seor’s blood staining Ara’s hands.
“She slipped away … when you pulled,” said Ara.
“You left her?” Vul stepped into the open bog and started wading towards the shimmering column, already narrower and shorter than it had appeared only moments earlier, like a tree grown younger.
Pari turned abruptly from tending to Ren where she lay in the tall, tufted grass at the edge of the bog. “No, Vul. That’s a bad i-de-a,” she said, sing-song.
“What are you doing?” said Canu. “The portal’s closing.”
“It’s already closed,” said Ara, moving to intercept him.
Vul splashed out of reach and charged the portal, bouncing off as the field repelled him. When he started to fall, the polarity reversed, and a powerful surge lifted and twisted him out of the bog. His head and shoulders penetrated the column and stuck. He dangled just above the surface of the bog, his legs kicking and splashing as if dancing on the water.
Ara slipped behind Vul, using his bulk to shield herself from the portal’s influence. She flattened her hands against his waist and knifed them up his back into the convergence. The field plucked at the fine hair on her arms and stung her skin like nettles. Her feet sought leverage on the slippery floor.
Canu waded over and grabbed Vul’s flailing legs. Pari came and braced him, to keep him from joining Vul in clogging the portal, once the convergence inhaled.
“Pull, when I say,” said Ara. She read the oscillations of the portal’s rim, waiting for its contraction to reverse. She felt its repulsion ease. An icy mist hung still outside its maw for a moment, the swirled back into the widening gap.
Like ungentle midwives, Ara pulled hard on Vul’s shoulders, while Canu tucked both legs under his armpits and hauled. A shoulder slipped free, but the portal had clamped firmly around his head. With each tug, Vul’s strangled yelps filtered through the field.
“Don’t hurt him,” said Pari.
“Worry about the portal,” said Ara. “Not us.”
Vul ceased kicking. His body went limp. A ripple shuddered towards them from across the portal, rolling like a bulge in the belly of a snake. Something had disturbed the far end of the field, now gone almost completely opaque.
“Get ready to pull hard,” said Ara, wrapping her arms tightly around Vul’s hips.
She waited until the bulge came to perch over Vul’s head like a halo, then a crown.
Ara tugged Vul’s hips. Canu and Pari each had a leg. The portal matched their efforts with an opposing force, as if reluctant to give up Vul. Something shifted. Vul popped out like a slippery seed, and they all fell back into the bog. Pari cradled Vul’s head above the water. He breathed in ragged gasps, face bruised, nose bloodied. Canu rose and pulled Vul up by his shirt, helping him crawl into the tall grass beside Ren. Vul bawled freely, his tears etching clear channels through the blood dribbling from his nose.
“I saw her,” sobbed Vul. “She was alive, but so pale, like a painted doll. She looked at me. I reached, but she didn’t even try to lift her hand. She said: ‘go home.’ We should have made her go first.”
“She wouldn’t have let us,” said Pari. “Seor always went last. I used to think it was fear or privilege, but I know now it was for our safety. First ones through are always the safest.”
Ara suppressed a remark and forced a smile. Pari wasn’t accounting for ambushes, or displaced xenoliths. She should know better, given her group’s experience, though Ara could see how the sentiment of the moment might displace logic.
Canu patted Vul’s shoulder. “No worries. We’ll go back for her when the convergence comes around again.”
Canu’s words jolted Ara. Surely, they could allow no more convergences to appear through this stone. They should know that, Seor or not. Too many Urep’o had witnessed it, not to mention Baren and Baas and the rest of her cadre mates. But this was not the time to broach this topic. They would come to the same conclusion, she hoped, once the edge of their grief had dulled.
Ara watched what was left of the convergence descend into the bog until only a patch of mist-filled bubbles remained, lapping at the front tire of the Prius. She noted the location, planning to retrieve the xenolith once the others had directed their attention elsewhere. Her new friends would understand. She hoped.
Canu sat huddled with Vul, trying to calm his sobs with assurances that were hopelessly optimistic. From what Ara could see, Seor’s wounds seemed grave, and the shooting had not yet ceased when they passed through the portal.
Pari had returned to Ren’s side on a bed of tall grass she had folded over and matted down. The moss she had applied to stanch Ren’s wounds was soaked and dark. Blood still dripped onto the reeds.
“How is she?”
“Weak,” said Pari. “I don’t understand why I can’t slow her bleeding.”
“Thinners,” said Ara. “Baas dips his bolts in extracts that make his victims bleed without end.
“I was afraid of such,” Pari said.
“I don’t know,” Pari interrupted before Ara could finish. “Depends how badly she’s cut inside. Some wounds are un-mendable.”