Adrift: Arden’s chapters: Scene 01. Rizu Mui Baths

Mirrors bounce and twirl from the ends of hundreds of branches; nine hundred ninety-nine mirrors of different shape and size. It’s the holy day, Kao Wol. The home trees glint. The family is radiant. Bast’s light as she nears the horizon is a blinding yellow, even diffused by stacked orchards of malanga and cyree. Behind closed eyes her splendor leaves a black spot on the translucent flesh of eyelids.

The air is thick with the smell of resin and blossoms, soil and marsh, rain and fire. Stew bubbling over a flame pit. Family gathers in the space between firelight and Bast’s last rays sparkling between 999 shards of silvered glass. Our own galaxy of tranquil light and colloquy. A hot pot and chilled nectar keep the conversation flowing until Nemet’s glow relights the mirrors – his cool white touch greedily covers Bast’s still warm kiss. Nemet’s radiance ignites anew the intimate galaxy of friends and family.

A reverent hush as Maiah stands, leading a small clutch of cousins to a grassy stage behind the fire. With a bellow she breaks the lustrous peace to reshape her own. Voices join the buzz and hum of the insects. They all follow Maiah’s song.

The faces of family float by on the surface of memory, then sink back into her murky depths. Arden holds on to the memory of his sister’s face, then his father’s in turn, and then Maiah’s — though her music is more tangible in memory than the simple lines of her face. She is his third mother by succession, but first in his heart. Arden longed to hear her sing, speak, laugh… Maiah radiated tranquility. Ill for home, Arden meditated on his mother’s calm, Reylyn’s passion, and his father’s strength.

Steam filled the air around Arden with a heady balm of dew that licked his face and slid down his neck to land in the pool below. He stretched a kink from one shoulder, then shifted so the water covered more of his aching muscles. A warning rumbled, then a pleasant rain began to plop all around him. Arden hummed a traditional song to himself as he tried to find his way back to that Kao Wol night before Ishra changed his course and drew a young Yl’nura’s life away from his family and home.

Soft footsteps roused Arden from a languid reverie. He croaked inwardly at the intrusion. The baths of Rizu Mui Station maintained the freshest waters in all galenga’he. Simply inhaling from the doorway was enough to transport Arden home to Kobai on the trails of memory. This would be his last visit for an age and he was feeling greedy for the tranquility. Arden directed his attention to the large portals ringing the ceiling. They offered a vista of stars and other bodies viewable from the station painting a sky over the baths that was both true and incongruous. Centered and magnified to fill half the screen was a star from the system adjacent to Bast’s spiral; the blessing to this viewing angle was that it brought his home star into visibility — even if she was just a bright point in a field of black. The overall atmosphere in the baths was ideal for contemplation and necessary spiritual realignment. He did not want to break his rest and leave the placid pool…the footsteps were almost upon him. Disappointed, Arden mentally prepared to leave. He preferred to be alone with his thoughts for now, but social rules would press him to engage with the stranger.

The adjacent pool sloshed softly with the sound of a bather stepping into the water. Arden submerged himself to the eyes, stealing a few more sutsu of serenity. He fully submerged and spent some time listening to the light splishing of wavelets born of his motion. When he felt the need for dry breath, Arden slowly allowed his head to breach the water to his nose.

“I say, would you be the tripper of that magnificent Oni Modab in the Waystop?” The stranger spoke loudly, as though his first attempt had gone unanswered.
“I am Arden,” replied the Kobailin, raising himself a fraction to lift his lips above water, “and I am the tripper of an Oni Modab. I find her to be magnificent, but if there are more of the Modabi attending Rizu Mui you may find another to challenge her splendor.”
The man in the other pool chuckled. “Not likely. I’ve been enamored of the Modabi since I was a child, f there were a collection in the docks I would not be here. The one I saw is marked ‘Oni’tsuki’ in the logs at the Waystop. She glows with a lavender radiance tinged in cobalt and rose.”
Arden did not claim her; he took delight in hearing how others described his Tsuki.
“Five stalks peeled away from a central trunk? Tentacles and tendrils flow from the barrel ends?”
“Tendrils?” Arden croaked softly in the back of his throat – a tease to underline his tone. “She must have found a tasty food source if you saw her extending those.”
The man nodded. “The Waytenders were reflecting photons her way. She spun and danced to catch them. It seemed as though she was having fun.”
“Oni’tsuki does love her dance,” Arden capitulated.
“Hah! So you admit she is yours. I saw on the schedule that you are traveling to the Reach when you leave here,” the man stated.
“Yes…” Arden replied.
“Perhaps I should start over. My name is Kah Oreckwa. I need passage to the Reach, Brakkana in particular, and I have never in my life traveled with a Modabi but have always dreamed of doing so. Do you still have an open berth I might charter for the trip to the Reach?”
“I do,” Arden replied. “Though I warn you, Oni’tsuki is glorious on the outside, but the interior vessel she carries is merely utilitarian. It is clean and in as good shape as the day she broke free of Mwezi, but our life is focused on transportation and cultivation. There is no call for luxury.”
The man Kah Oreckwa grinned happily. “You won’t scare me off for lack of luxury. The next thirty days will be most memorable. I will require one sleeping berth and I have a fair amount of cargo to bring along.”
“What is your cargo?” Arden slowly rose from the pool, moving a small stone that freed the heated sluice of a waterfall. He allowed the clean water to flow over him, delighting in the sensation. Arden used a handful of damp moss to scrub the sittol down his sides and around his neck. He inhaled deeply then exhaled, sputtering small droplets from the ultra-fine gills. Arden completed his soak with a guttural murmur of thanks to Nemet and Ru’ool, then stepped out of the pool onto the warm moss of the path.

Kah Oreckwa had not responded to his question promptly. Arden turned to the man and tilted his head to the right in expectation. Wraps of soft dry moss that smelled of harvest season were stacked behind the waterfall outcropping of each pool. Arden thoroughly wrapped himself in the moss blanket and squatted a polite distance from Kah Oreckwa.
“I’m delivering seven surgical beds, two therapy beds, and a moderate assortment of diagnostic and treatment equipment as well as medicines and some grow pods for healing herbs and plants.”
“Why do you take it there personally?” Arden asked. He stood, returning the moss blanket to a protrusion in the rock and withdrawing his outwear from the shelf.
“It’s an opportunity to spend time with one of my downline on Brakkana – she is a physician as well as a researcher. They have so little medical technology in the settlements of the Reach and official support from the Twelve Moons Alliance is too slow in coming, people are dying waiting for treatment. The locals have even resorted to cutting people open in order to help them. I can’t imagine! Flibiyan and her mates are building a small clinic in their village to help alleviate some of the more dire statistics.”
“A noble undertaking.” Arden lifted his chin and flexed his primary vocal sac to a moderate bulge, then opened his mouth to release a quick succession of notes. He gestured under the aural breath to wave it in Kah Oreckwa’s direction. “May Bast’s light illuminate her endeavors.”
“With gratitude, Arden. I hope your blessing finds her out there in the dark.”
“We can take it to her, as it happens,” Arden said agreeably as he fastened the first band of his outwear to the thickest part of his calf and began wrapping it, hand over hand around his leg. The gaudi silk cloth clung to itself by wispy gossamer loops woven into the edges of the wide band. Above his knees, Arden wove the criss-crossing bands loosely for ease of movement. Allowing the loops to find each other and mesh together. He secured the end of the first band one third of the way up his torso – just below his sittol. He slipped a loose, mesh tunic over his head, then began wrapping a wider band of outwear up from his other leg. This one he brought around his hips, folding the silk over itself to secure it, tucking in the mesh tunic, and draping the excess cloth loosely over both shoulders. Below the recess of his vocal sac, Arden secured a carved wooden kheru in the image of a Bolombo, taking care that the double wings pointed out and the thin head pointed up. To wear such a charm oriented to the ground was bad luck.
He looked up at Kah Oreckwa, the man was floating slightly in the pool with his head back and chest bobbing up from the murky waters. Arden studied the man’s pale features. Age was evident in the folds and creases around a face as wan as deep-sea dweller. Most of his head had quitted itself of the bristly hair his kind was plagued with, but for some reason Kah Oreckwa held onto a thick brush of yellowed whiskers between his sniffer and his mouth. The weasel tail was not improving the lines of his face. He had random spots in shades of brown; Arden had encountered enough men in his life to know the spots were not a part of the natural coloring. Pity that, the spots gave his bland features a little character.

Kah Oreckwa blinked gummy eyes the color of beach pebbles at Arden. “Did you say something?” The man asked.
“No.” Then Arden asked in turn, “You are of the Laupmada?
Kah Oreckwa bobbed his head in affirmation.
“I am grateful for your peace. On Kobai we are connoisseurs of quiet contemplation.”
The man did something with his face that made the weasel under his nose curve upwards. “Kobai was my home for a time. My first two downlines were born there, in the city of Spring Lacryn. The customs of your people have merit, I respect them even though they are not my own. Impressions there are better made with a still tongue and receptive posture. You have my apology for being so eager to book passage with you that I disturbed your mediation in this peaceful place.”
Arden bobbed his own head, mimicking the Laupmada affirmative, then twisted his head to the left.
“Your apology is received and welcome, Kah Orekwa. I have an appointment to keep, is this your Flit unit?” Arden pointed to a slim curving gadget left beside Kah Oreckwa’s folded outwear. It was a courtesy to ask. Arden knew the device and the owner was obvious; they were the only two people in the baths.
“Yes,” replied Kah Oreckwa without looking. “I may have left it on, I was tracking you through the Rizu Mui’s people finder.”
Arden chuffed a laugh from a quarter-full vocal sac. “I’ll tap it to share the ticket and must-reads for the journey as well as the cargo rates, packaging security…. Did you need a container with pull force?”
“I had it all secured for no-pull just in case,” the man replied.
Arden shifted absently as he tapped some screens on his Flit. “Have the berth payment made before you arrive to board, and make sure the cargo is ready for loading by the time specified. Will you bring your own food or pay for the meal service? There is no chef or fresh cook, only a machine; though I do have some recently harvested raw food in storage.”
Kah Oreckwa considered sutsu then replied, “I’ll pick up some staples in the market and take the food service for the full trip.”
Arden tapped his Flit a few more times then passed it over the other man’s unit until he felt the rolling rub of forces that indicated acceptance of the exchange.
Arden tucked his Flit into its headpiece, an open circlet that rimmed the back of his head keeping the Flit handy and safer from nimble-fingered thieves. Then he pulled the draped fabric over his head forming a dramatic cowl.
“Bast’s blessings until tomorrow, Kah Oreckwa. I look forward to our journey together.”

Author’s note.

As always, this work and all of the writing contained herein is protected by Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No derivatives international license.

I have been hesitant to share this latest installment of my novel Adrift because I am still shaping the character of Arden so I am writing with a focus to get to know him while trying to be mindful of moving the story forward. I am also experimenting with peppering Arden’s side of the book with words from his own world, while being cautious of confusing the reader with gibberish.

I appreciate likes if you like it, but as this story is still developing I also need the kind of feedback that will help make it a better story. Tell me if it’s confusing, stiff, lack-luster – what raises your interest, what kicks you out of the flow of the story. Feel free to ask questions. This work has been on my mind for many years, I may forget to tell the readers something I’ve known for so long I am now taking it for granted.

Also, I’m terrible with punctuation so advice on that score is welcome. Just understand it going in and don’t give up on me for bad comma placement and the like.

Creative Commons License
Adrift by t.s.wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.