From my window I can see a tree with two magpie nests.
Earlier this spring I watched them bring in twigs and bustle with fixing up the crib for the little magpie offspring. At the time, the branches of the tree wer almost bare, and the nests could easily be spotted from afar. Now, they are well hidden among the green leaves, and only a darker color marks the spot if you know where to look.
High up there, precariously perched in the fork of a branch, they are subjected to the rain, swerving and bobbing with every strong wind, but they are also well out of reach of cats or any other earthbound predator. The things,
people birds will do to keep their young safe, right?
Other than that–we have a new chapter. Have fun!
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 19 Part 2
Abbida frowned. This was the second time she’d caught Li Xiao watching her. What was his deal? Was he plotting his escape? Maybe turn the tables and take her hostage, so he could make a run? He probably thought he could take her out more easily than Cole because she had no gun. Well, I’ve got news for you! She flashed Lian’s knife. There, see? I’m no easy target!
Next to her, Cole chuckled. She elbowed him and hissed, “What?!”
“Oh, nothing!” he said, still grinning.
“Well, good!” She frowned, but then decided they had other things to worry about. “So what do we do? Go back and try a different route?”
“Too risky. For all we know, the jungle could be swarming with soldiers by now.”
“So we sit it out here? I’m not sure Lian can handle that, she looks awful.”
Cole made a face. “Well, I don’t like it much either. But I am not going to stick my neck out for one of them.”
“Come on, Cole, that’s not fair and you know it! Lian never did us any wrong. And if it wasn’t for her, neither of us would have ever found out about the ship, and we would have been caught at the village with everybody else.” She took a deep breath. “Also, it was Rona who shot her. We owe her.”
“I don’t know how this ship ever did us any good,” he muttered. “What do you suggest?”
To that she didn’t know an answer either.
“You know…” Cole said, suddenly looking sheepish, “maybe, if you stick closer to her she will feel better. I hate to admit it, but the air is a bit fresher around you.” Pointedly he nodded at her bare forearms.
Startled, Abbida sucked in her breath. Her skin was glistening and even emitting a faint glow! And now that she was paying attention, she could feel the tingle of tiny air bubbles rising from her pores. With a worried glance at Li Xiao she pleaded, “Don’t tell anyone! He’s already been staring. If he found out about my skin producing oxygen, he’d really take me for a freak!”
She didn’t know how to answer that. All she knew was she felt uneasy about telling her secret to outsiders. Nevertheless, she edged closer to Lian, hoping to give her some relief without revealing the cause.
Cole winked at her and wandered off towards the waterfall, where the stream lunged endlessly into a water hole so dark one couldn’t see the ground. Rubbing his chin he crouched, peering down.
“How are you holding up?” Abbida asked Lian.
“Do I look that bad?”
“Almost as green as me.”
“That can’t be true.” Lian snorted, then broke into a cough. Once she’d recovered a bit, she said, wheezing, “I get the point.”
They stood side by side for a while, with Abbida lifting her sleeves just so it wasn’t too obvious, hoping she might bring some relief to Lian’s condition. She coughed again, but not as painfully, it seemed. After a while she visibly relaxed and her breaths came more evenly.
Squinting she looked down at the hems on Abbida’s sleeves. “You know,” she said, “that’s a nice trait you got there.”
“What are you talking about?” Feigning ignorance, Abbida tucked her hands into the pockets of her jacket.
Lian gave her a lopsided smile. “Don’t worry, I am not going to rat you out. And I really appreciate your concern. I’m feeling much better.”
It couldn’t be that much better, and it would only be on short term, but Abbida knew well enough by now that Lian didn’t like to show weakness. Maybe especially not around one of her own people. She glanced at Li Xiao. But for once he was not paying attention, instead he was preoccupied with examining the cave.
Lian pushed herself off the wall and walked up to Cole who was still hunkered down by the waterfall. Peeking over his shoulder, she rasped, “I wonder how deep it is.”
For a moment he looked uncomfortable with her standing close. Then he shrugged and started unbuttoning his shirt. “Only one way to find out.”
“You can’t do that!” She grabbed his arm. Cole flinched and pulled away, but she didn’t budge. “It’s too dangerous.”
Realizing what Cole was planning to do, Abbida cried, “Listen to her! There could be a current. What if you got sucked in? It could go on for miles. You might not be able to come up for air!”
His gaze flickered, and he hesitated. Only for a minute, then he asked Lian, “Your gear doesn’t happen to contain a lifeline, does it?”
Lian exchanged glances with Abbida. She bit her lips. Behind them, Li Xiao cleared his throat. “Naturally, it does.”
Fiddling with one of his uniform pockets he produced a cylindrical device about two fingers in diameter and as long as Abbida’s forearm. He pulled on one end and started uncoiling a thin cord no thicker than the thread Ilka used for sewing tent sheets and such. But Li Xiao’s cord was made of a completely different material, more like the cables they had used earlier to bind his hands.
Doubtful, Abbida said, “How is this strong enough to carry Cole’s weight?”
“You’d be surprised.” He chuckled. It was actually the first time his face wore anything other than a frown, which changed his whole appearance considerably.
Struggling to focus at the task at hand, Abbida looked to Lian for advice. The woman looked tired and pursed her lips, but didn’t object. Abbida still didn’t like the idea. “Why would you help us?”
His smile faded. “Sooner or later you will be caught. Until then, I’m trying to find out why a highly decorated security officer like Major Huang Lian would betray her people’s cause to help you.”
“My people’s cause, my foot,” Lian muttered under her breath.
Li Xiao frowned.
“Alright, it’s settled then,” Cole interrupted. “I’m going.”
Li Xiao tugged on the other end of his device, unfolding two arms–and making it look a lot like a crossbow! With a gasp, Abbida pushed Lian out of the way. Without acknowledging her alarm, Li Xiao tucked in a metal hook with a loop.
“Step back,” he ordered, aimed and pulled the trigger.
There was a loud plop, followed by a thudding impact of metal into rock: the hook was sunk deep into the edge by the waterfall, and only the loop jutted out. Abbida exhaled audibly.
Calmly, Li Xiao took out another hook, pulled it through the protruding loop and grabbed it from both sides. Bracing himself against the ground, he pulled hard. The hook didn’t budge. With a satisfied grunt, he got up and installed another hook much the same way.
They watched on in silence while he pulled the cord through both loops so it wouldn’t chafe on the rock. Finally, he tied the cord in a complicated knot and lashed everything together with a special clip. One more time he inspected everything and stepped back. With a defiant look he folded his arms and tugged his hands under. “There.”
Abbida looked at Lian for reassurance. She nodded.
Cole clapped his hands. “Alright, let’s do it.”
He was about to fasten the cord to his belt, when Lian stepped in again. “Not that.”
From one of her own uniform pockets she pulled out a carabiner and a figure-eight hoop that looked a lot like the climbing equipment Abbida and Cole used to make at the smithy. Without stopping to ask his permission, Lian clipped the carabiner to the front of his belt, threaded the cord through the figure-eight hoop and hooked it into the smaller of the carabiner hoops.
“It’s not ideal, but we only get two carabiners per uniform. We’ll have to split between the four of us.”
Abbida caught herself biting the back of her hand. Obviously, Cole’s belt was the weakest link in the chain. Li Xiao, too, furrowed his brow, but Cole didn’t seem to notice the unease. He tugged off his boots and stuffed them into his satchel along with his shirt.
“If my sister could see you like this she’d have a fit,” Abbida crooned in an awkward attempt to hide her worries.
“There, there,” he said, patting her back gently. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
He gave her the thumbs up, turned towards the edge of the waterfall and took a deep breath.
“You’d better,” Abbida whispered again, only to herself.
Tarek, Rona and Ole were following the ground troops’ tracks. In the soft dirt, still mushy from the last rain, the giant, self-propelled vehicles left imprints as prominent as those of a whole herd of cattle. Following them at even half a day’s distance was child’s play. Besides, from the outset Tarek was having a feeling where the trail led. So, when he found himself at the rim of the cursed marshland he had hoped to never see again in his life, he was not in the least surprised.
Following the stolen aircraft, the pursuers were obviously headed towards the ship wreck. Though for the life of him, Tarek couldn’t figure out what Cole or Abbida hoped to accomplish there. Other than the communication device everyone was after, he didn’t think there was anything left of use.
Either way they were looking at the wrong place altogether, Tarek thought with grim satisfaction. The device was hidden well. He hadn’t even told Rona the spot. Her initial plan to ensure Noushka’s safety by playing into the hands of the enemy, had backfired spectacularly, and it had knocked her off her stride. Tarek couldn’t recall ever seeing her so unsure of herself, and he hated it.
Marching on in silence, he readjusted the gun he was openly carrying slung around his back now. No need to hide this time. Trudging through the reeking mud, swatting at mosquitoes all the while, he was ready to shoot at anything–or anyone, should the need arise. Tough luck if anything got in his way with his current mood!
By the time night fell, Tarek was ready to curse everyone. Well, besides Noushka. And maybe Rona, although that was only due to the fact that he had always been hopeless that way.
He’d been pressuring Ole and Rona along at a much higher pace than the first time, when they had to make allowances for Abbida’s bad condition, because he was determined to make it out of the swamps during daylight. Even Ole, who was not used to this kind of physical exertion, seemed to understand the need to get on dry land on a very instinctive level.
Once they actually reached the jungle, though, none of them could go on any longer. Ole flopped on his back, much as Abbida had on their first trip, “So what do we do now?”
“We rest,” said Rona. “The sun is setting. Not much we can do without a light, anyway.”
“Not me.” Tarek pulled the gun from his back. “You get some sleep. I’ll keep watch.” He almost expected her to object, but there really wasn’t anything she could have said to change his mind.
Unexpectedly, she smiled, ever so faintly, startling him. She pulled her blanket from her satchel and gave another one to Ole, that probably used to belong to Cole or maybe Abbida. With a sigh, she pulled her legs closer to her body and lay still. Only a moment later she was fast asleep.
Tarek sat next to her, where he could watch over the little makeshift camp and keep an eye on the surroundings. Straining his ears, he settled in for a long, vigilant watch. All around, the crickets were clittering noisily, and the nightly sounds of the jungle appeared peaceful enough. If things were different, he might even have enjoyed himself. He cast a glance at Rona and caught himself wishing there was only the two of them.
~ to be continued! ~
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