Koani counted the days as they went by, untill sunless day melted into moonless night, and she lost count. Each morning, Ropu’s chest would bumb out to them, and they would practice their gifts for a while. Then Ropu himself would show up, and pace inbetween them, barking tips, and commands.
She was pleased with the progress she was making. Not only could she lift objects weighing as much as she did, but she could lift them higher, and farrer away from her person.
At the end of the day, Pel would show up with food; their only meal of the day, and his invigorating words.
Koani began to forget her past life. The jungle with its heat and leaves and steam was growing more and more difficult to remember, along with her tribesmen.
She tried to picture them all.
Soraline, Leppy, (what was his brother’s name?)
Koani couldn’t remember their faces.
“Do you miss the heat?”
Koani thaught. Honestly, her answer was no.
“Not really, Matina.”
“Do you miss the noise?”
Again, her honest answer was no. The quiet stillness was so soothing, and so easy to get lost in.
“What about the light?”
“Yes, Matina. I miss the light. Do you?”
“Do you miss the people, Koani? Can you remember them?”
“Some of them. The ones I can remember, I miss.”
“I remember them all.”
Matina was holding the candle, and was lounging in the air. However reluctantly, Matina, like Koani, had gotten better. She could fly now.
“I want to go home, Koani.” Matina’s voice was trembeling. “I want to go home.”
“Maybe this was meant to be our home, Matina. Maybe we were meant to become Albatoris ourselves.”
“Koani, we’re Shiana. We’re the people of light. I hate this world of darkness. I hate it.”
Her eyes narrowed suddanly, and she twisted to face Koani.
“Do you like it here, Koani?”
“No, of course not,” she said hurriedly, not wanting to sound like a traitor.”
“Good.” said Matina. “Lets ask Pel again. You should, Koani. He really likes you, you know.”
This last part was true. Pel did seem to really enjoy talking to her, almost as much as she enjoyed talking to him. She loved what he had to say, and was captivated by his happy, confident personality, and easy-going, cheerful grin.
“Okay. He’ll come soon, I think.”
It was that time. Ropu had left, recently, and had said that he, as usual, would be sending Pel.
Sure enough, before ten minutes had passed, Pel appeared.
“Hi, Ko, Mat!”
Pel sat down cross-legged in the air in front of Matina.
“Looking good, Matina. Practice makes perfect, just ask Koani.”
“You don’t know how fast you’ve improved. I mean, you’ve been here two seasons, and you’re as good as me!”
Koani blushed, and mentally tugged the candle away, so Pel wouldn’t see.
Pel laughed, and they had a tussle over the candle. Pel won, of course, but Koani held on for quite a while.
“Pel,” she said, changing the subject, “When will we get to go meet the rest of the Albatoris?”
“When you’re ready.” he said, simply.
“And when’s that?” she pressed.
“Do you still remember your jungle?”
“Yes.” said Matina.
“Do you still miss being there?”
“Yes.” said Matina again.
“And I know as a fact that you, Matina, arn’t ready with your gift. You don’t practice enough, and you still arn’t as good as me.”
“Do I have to be?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Pel, “Better, in fact. Well, than I am now. But by the time you’re better, I’ll be better too, so really you just have to be good.”
“How good is that?” moaned Matina, getting on Koani’s nerves. Why couldn’t she just drop it?
“Better than you are now.” Pel snapped. He turned to Koani and his little frown melted away.
“You’re almost ready though. You’re almost as good as any Albatoris your age. Hey, would you be interested in learning to do somthing else?”
Koani was stunned for a moment. She hadn’t thaught that was possible.
“Can I?” she asked, forgetting about Matina for the moment.
“Yes. And I’d be your teacher, too, if you want.”
“Yes, please.” she said, only afterward realizing how lame it sounded. “What are my choices?”
“You can’t do anything out side of your category. So, you can never fly, but you can change things. Objects, I mean. Like this!”
He picked up a pebble from the floor, and held it in his hand. It glowed red, as if it were molten on the inside. Koani moved to touch it, but found it incredibly hot. She gasped, and jerked her hand back.
“How can you hold it?”
“Same way you can hold stuff up. You just can. But since you weren't born with this, it will take a lot of practice.”
“Is there anything more...practical?”
“This is plenty practical, Ko. They make good night lights, if you can keep them hot that long. They can start fires. Combined with your lifting, you’d have a lantern.”
He let the rock fall, and the glow faded.
Pel picked up another stone. By the flickering light of the candle, Koani watched it expand. It grew to the size of his fist, than shrank to a grain of sand.
Koani and Matina stared shamelessly, hypnotized.
Another rock turned into a gem, which Pel gave to Matina. He went through several variations of transformation before conceding that Shiana could never learn to do that.
“That one,” he smirked, “is only for the Albatoris.”
The next pebble floated up to eye level then exploded with a bang.
Koani grinned. She had made her choice.
“That one, please.”
“Nope, not that one. As if I want you doing that to Ropu’s head.”
He frowned comically.
“Not that I don’t want to sometimes.”
Koani chose heating objects. Not only did it provide heat and light, but Koani figured that hot rocks only she could touch could make an emergency weapon if necessary.
Matina was unexcited. She still regarded the Albatoris with fear, and hatred, and seemed to think Koani was being a traitor to her, and the Shiana.
Pel began to teach Koani the art of heating over the next few weeks. It was difficult for her, like learning a new language. She had to discover the parts of her brain that so far had been neglected.
Her potential astounded her.
Not only was she working with Pel every night, but her lifting training continued, as did Matina’s flying.
“Matina!” barked Ropu, walking of the darkness, and suprising Koani, who lowered the chest to the ground.
“Good going, Koani, by the way. I was watching that.”
He turned again to Matina.
“Matina, if you don’t practice, I’ll give up on you!”
Matina shrugged, looking sullen. Ropu’s air softened.
“Matina, you’re good! I want you to get better, like Koani is.” Matina glowered at Koani, as if it was her fault.
“Keep practicing, okay? And stop thinking that, girl. I’m not that bad.”
They did as they were told for an hour, with Ropu sitting on the ground. Koani lazily zoomed the chest around them.
Suddenly, a shout punctuated the dark.
Ropu turned quickly toward its origin.
“What’s going on-”
“Hush.” Ropu whispered.
It came again, quieter, and echoing, as if it was spoken inside a maze of pipes.
“You stay right there!” he shouted back, already disappearing into the blackness.
There came a banging, and more shouting. The sound of rocks falling, then footsteps.
“Ropu?” Koani called tentatively.
“Koani?” It was Pel’s voice. He came into the light, panting. His tunic was torn, and his arm was bleeding.
“Ko, Mat, we’ve got to get out of here! There’s been a cave in! This whole segment's unstable!”
Pel turned over the chest, dumping everything out. He grabbed the box and the keys.
“Stand back.” he said. Pel smashed the box. Inside was a glowing sphere that lit up the place around them. He tucked the keys into a fold of his tunic.
Another rumble shook the cavern.
“Time to go.” Pel said.
He threw the orb at Koani, who, understanding, lifted it above them. It gave off light better than a candle.
“Where are we going?” asked Matina, panting and jogging to keep up with Pel’s brisk strides.
There was more shouting in the distance. Pel turned the opposite way from where it was coming from.
“This way,” he said. “Ropu is trying to get everyone else out of here, but I think some are trapped. We might need you two’s help.”
Matina shook her head stubbornly.
“I won’t help someone who kidnapped me.”
Koani was appalled and angry at her friend. How could Matina be so selfish?
Pel shook his head, and kept running. They could see a wall in the distance, molded out of sheer rock. Strange crystals glistened in the light of the orb Koani was carrying.
More rock sounds, closer this time, and a tremor of the floor, like an earthquake.
Pel stopped, and squinted into the distance.
“Hello?” he shouted.
His voice echoed enormously.
There was a return call, Ropu’s by the sound of it. Koani could barely hear it, but knew Pel wouldn’t have any trouble.
“Pelaris! Get Hallis and his lifters! Thirty are trapped, and someones been injured!”
“Where is he?” Pel yelled back.
“How should I know?” came Ropu’s unhelpful answer, “I’m to far away to sense it!”
“Come on!” Pel grabbed Koani by the wrist, and tugged her onward. They reached the wall, and ran beside it, untill they came to a rectangular opening. Pel ducked into it, closely followed by the girls.
They were in another cavern, not nearly as monstrous as the last one, but still quite large. It was colder than the outside, and a thin stream of water trickled down from a hole in the cieling.
“You can wait in here untill the spasms stop. I’m going to go find Hallis.”
This prospect did not excite Koani at all. She admired Pel’s leadership, and didn’t want to be alone with Matina.
The ground shook violently, throwing Koani to her hands and knees. She heard Pel’s yell, then the sound of falling rocks very near.
Then, as she was picking herself up, something very hard connected with the back of her head, and she was plunged back into darkness.