Summary: Three years ago, in the poor country of Corando, a star fell from the heavens. The young glassblower’s apprentice who found it had it encased in glass. People wondered whether that star might be the key to unlocking supernatural powers or bringing about miracles. But when a criminal took the lives of a king, a queen and many other people in a neighboring country overnight, then disappeared, and noone could determine just how the massacre had been possible, the king and queen of Corando feared that the culprit would come for the star next, leaving more destruction and terror in his wake.
9-year-old Isadoa is a sickly orphan who, thanks to the massacre, has lost everything. But she is a dreamer who hopes to turn her life around by proving herself worthy of being named an elite knight - a ke-sweii. With the help of friends who have the same dream and some magic, will Isadoa be able to stand up and save her country and those of her friends from further destruction?
In the middle of the Fitana River, the river that flowed between Mareydland and Uniosen, was a colossal lake that was known as Treasure Basin. In the center of that lake stood the Temple of Ruhenan. Mareydland and Uniosen had cooperated in the building of the Temple centuries ago. Since its construction, it had served various purposes - in its early days, monarchs and ambassadors had convened within it to discuss matters of diplomacy and religious faith, but these days, that practice had fallen out of fashion for the most part, and the Temple, although it was still held sacred, had become more of a place of worship for the elite among priests and scholars, a place where important celebrations and ceremonies could be held and a tourist attraction.
The Temple of Ruhenan was an incredibly-large, beautiful, elegantly-turreted square building of mist-grey stone. All four of its walls and all of its towers were bejeweled with stained-glass windows. It had two entranceways, one on its south wall, the other on its north wall, and from each entryway, a broad arch-shaped stone bridge, roofed and thickly-railed, rose up above and stretched for more than a hundred miles across the waters to connect the lake shores to the Temple. The Temple was spacious enough to accommodate fifty thousand people with difficulty, and on any given day, those who hoped for the honor of kneeling within it were creating a steady flow of traffic on the bridges and the waterways.
The heart of 16-year-old Silmani Shin Jandal was hungry for the sight of the Temple. For her and her two travelling companions, however, the knowledge that, as of today, they were only a few days away from Treasure Basin was bittersweet. They were all kesweii, and they had all abandoned their respective home countries not long after the assassinations of King and Queen Shan Sitsuke of Mareydland. After sailing the Fitana River, then through Corando by way of the Marian River, they had crossed the Desanitrian Mountains to enter and settle down in the tiny, lush valley-country of Desanitria. There they had stayed for nearly two years. News of trouble, however, had alarmed them enough to bring them back. They were headed for Mareydland, where they hoped against hope to secure an audience with King Ragama.
Silmani hailed from Mareydland, 16-year-old Onstan Shan Jirosuki was a native of Uniosen, and Ikari Shan Sharisa, the same age, was from Corando. They had been travelling for weeks on their little boat. Dawn was breaking, and the trio stood side-by-side on the deck of their craft now, watching as the smooth, clear, rolling river waters all around them took on the pearl-pink, golden and lavender hues of the horizon. Because the morning mists that gathered over and around the rivers and lakes of humid Mareydland were always so thick and took such a long time to clear away, the young travellers couldn't see ahead of themselves beyond a short distance. Still, the Mareydian mists were beautiful; streaks of soft, but vibrant color - sparkling silver, rose, burnt orange and lavender - chased and mingled with one another, and the rays of sunlight that got caught in the mist veils glittered like specks of gold dust.
Silmani was a slender young woman and on the taller side. Like most Mareydian people, she was fair, almost pale of complexion, dark-haired and dark-eyed. Her long hair, catching the wind to go streaming out behind her, looked a little like an ink-black river itself. To her right stood Ikari. In his own way, he was a handsome young man, as brown as the Corandian sand, with dark brown hair that was as long as that of Silmani, albeit much curlier, and an angular face that, when he was silent, appeared as grave and as still as that of a stone statue that had been erected in honor of one of the saints of the past. His eyes were his most striking feature - they were strangely, startlingly black and seemed to assail anything and anyone upon which they landed with their fierceness.
To Silmani's left was Onstan. He, too, was a rather funny-looking young man, though not at all in the same eerie way that Ikari was. He looked as though the being who had created him hadn't quite known how he'd wanted to design him. Neither very lean, slim, visibly muscular nor fat, he was somewhat stocky of build, with an oval-shaped face. His great big owlish eyes and his mane of thick, unruly hair, which he wore in a ponytail, were the same amber color.
A sword was strapped to the back of each young kesweii, and on their breasts shone the emblems that signified that they bore the title of kesweii - steel-edged badges with flat, sapphire-blue stones in their centers. The badges belonging to these three were unique, though, for, unbeknownst to most other people, Silmani, Onstan and Ikari possessed supernatural powers, and these powers resided within the badge stones.
Ikari was the first to break the silence that they had maintained. "Silmani, Onstan, I still think we're on a fool's errand. By coming to Mareydland, we're putting ourselves at risk of having our powers discovered - one of the very things we left our homelands to avoid. And why should King Ragama listen to us, anyway? We're only three so-called kesweii who got the titles by birth, and we aren't even from high-ranking families. Kesweii aren't valued anymore."
"Ikari." Onstan's gaze didn't leave the water, but his face was set with determination. "Kesweii may not be valued anymore. But that wasn't why we left. We left because people weren't being valued the way they should be. We've grown up since then, at least a little. Things may be getting worse now, and hiding away in Desanitria won't help. Someone's got to do something. Even if noone else will, we have to try to talk to King Ragama before a war breaks out that could destroy our home countries."
After a pause, Ikari muttered, "Mareydland and Uniosen might be your homes, but Corando has never been a home to me. I'd sooner have spent the rest of my days in Desanitria. At least people treat you like you're a human being there."
These words silenced his friends, though they'd already known of his feelings on that subject.
"Ikari." Silmani's voice was soft with sadness. "I know that things were hard for you in Corando because of your sickness. . . and you have every right to be angry about the way people treated you. But people are ignorant and scared. Can't you feel some mercy towards your people now that they could be in danger? Aren't they victims, too?"
Ikari's voice hit back like a whipcrack. "Why should I care about people who don't care about me? Why should everything we do be about other people? Why is everybody so desperate to put something - a person, a flag, an ideal - first in a world that puts us last?"
"I don't know, Ikari," Onstan was forced to admit. "All I know is that - Silmani and I - we care about you. We're a team now. We're all in this together, and we're all getting out of this together."
"Yes." Silmani placed a hand on Ikari's shoulder. "And after that, if you really never want to live in Corando again, you can go back to Desanitria for good, and we'll go with you. No matter what, we'll always be together, just as we swore we would before."
Ikari's gaze moved from the smiling face of one of his friends to that of the other. His shoulders rose and fell. "Why do you two like the countries you were born in so much, anyway? What's with you and this idea of a homeland? Onstan, you had to grow up without parents who cared about you, just like I did. And, Silmani, once you lost your parents, the government left you to fend for yourself, and your family life was no festival, either. I wish I could. . .but I don't get it."
Silmani spoke quietly. "It's hard to explain. But no matter how much life's hurt sometimes, no matter how I feel about the choices King Ragama has made. . .my love for Mareydland. . .it beats inside of me just like my heart. . .just like my love for Mother and Father. . .and even for the rest of my family. And, like a person's heartbeat, sometimes. . .more often than not these days. . .it hurts. But there are all the memories I have of being a little girl who got up at dawn each day to pray with my parents, then ran out onto the riverbanks to watch the sun rise and paint the morning mists pink and lavender and crimson and gold - just like it's doing now."
"I did the same thing when I was a kid," Onstan remarked. "The fairy tales used to say river fairies were only a thing in Mareydland and 'didn't exist' in Uniosen because the air wasn't damp enough. But whenever the sun rose or set over the river, I still wandered out into the fog, hoping to catch one of the river fairies I'd heard stories about. They used to say that river fairies came out whenever the mist rose and that they ate fruit, especially juicy, watery fruit, so, whenever I could, I'd take grapes or pomegranate berries with me. I always hoped if I stood still and closed my eyes, a fairy would come eat out of my hand. It never happened, so I gave up and settled for tossing the fruit into the water. But even though I never saw anything, I always had a feeling of happiness out there - like I really wasn't alone, after all."
Ikari listened to his friends' reminiscences without a word. There was a time when they would have all avoided the topic of river fairies as much as possible. The existence of these beings wasn't only a myth; all three young friends had come to know that, but Ikari had become acquainted with fairies at a much earlier age and in a far more painful way than Silmani and Onstan had.
The creatures that were known as river fairies lived beneath the surfaces of bodies of water. Their bodies were made up of mist and light. Because of this, they could not survive in environments that were hot or low on moisture. According to myth, however, they sometimes emerged from the waters in which they lived at dawnbreak and at sunset in Mareydland, when the damp air was much cooler than it was when the sun was out, and went flitting and frolicking through the mist, over the riverbanks and through nearby forests.
Every little boy and girl on the continent had heard the story of the fairy maiden who had risen from Treasure Lake and stolen into the pomegranate orchard of a young Uniosen man. The tinkling sound of her silver-bell-like laughter had alerted the young man of her presence, and, as she'd taken a bite of a pomegranate, which had still been on its branch, he had managed to come up behind her without drawing attention to himself. He had gently plucked the fruit from its branch. The appearance of the orchard's owner had mortified the fairy, whose teeth had still been buried in the pomegranate even as he'd taken it into his hand. As an apology for her thievery and her uncouth behavior, she had offered to fulfill one request from him.
When the body of a fairy was exposed to a significant amount of heat and was destroyed, its spirit was supposed to retire to the realms of the afterlife. The spirit, however, could not be harmed by heat or aridity and therefore could choose to remain on earth, roaming wherever it pleased. Moreover, a spirit that chose to enter hot, windy Corando could take on a new form - that of a creature known as a hot-wind devil. These creatures, who traveled on the wind with grains of sand and clouds of dust, had the power to torment and even take the lives of people and animals by sucking the water and moisture out of their bodies.
A hot-wind devil had been the cause of the sickness from which Ikari had suffered back in Corando. The devils could not maintain their forms outside of hot climates, however. The devil who had tormented Ikari had caused him no more pain when he and his friends had gone to stay in cool, verdant Desanitria.
The trio had also befriended a young river fairy, Farasha Shin Yahiko. With her aid, they had reached Mareydland twice as quickly as they would have otherwise. The feelings of fear and animosity that Ikari had once harbored towards river fairies in general had begun to fade. He could allow himself the barest hint of one of his rare smiles as Silmani and Onstan went on about the magic of their childhoods, for, although he would never admit it, he only broached the subjects of home, of family, because a part of him loved to listen to their stories. And, though Silmani and Onstan would never grind it in his face, secretly, they knew that he loved it, too.
Ikari sat down on the deck and was joined by Onstan. "Heh. You say we'll get out of this together. I'll hold you to that promise. When I go back to Desanitria, I want to study medicine. I've always wanted to, but never could. For once, I want to forget about this so-called sickness of mine - all the misery it's caused me - and even about these powers. I can spend my life treating and healing people who couldn't get the help they needed before." There was a faraway look in his eyes. "I've spent my whole life fighting and being tough. They say that life's about getting up over and over again and fighting the good fight. Well, good or not, I don't want to fight anymore. Silmani, Onstan, let's do everything we can, but make this our last fight. When we go back to the valley, things are going to be different. For me, it will be like a fresh start. That's a promise I've made to myself."
"I love the sound of a fresh start." Silmani opened and rummaged through the contents of one of their knapsacks. Her findings - rice, dried meat, dry beans and bread that had been baked two days ago - made her face fall. "But at the moment, I can't help but wish we had some fresh food!"
"We're on a river, and you've got water powers," Onstan pointed out. "There's probably enough fish all around us for us to eat like kings for at least a week!"
"Maybe," Silmani sighed, "if you aren't so sick of the smell and taste of fish that you could vomit." She produced a pouch that was bulging with grapes. "This is the only fresh food we have in our bags."
"This cold, clammy Mareydian air's probably the reason those grapes haven't gone moldy yet," Ikari observed.
"They're for Farasha. I'd better give them to her before they spoil. We've been travelling nonstop for days, and she's been carrying us as fast as she can. I think we can afford to stop for a little while, and heaven knows she deserves the rest and a little reward."
Onstan wasn't enthusiastic about the suggestion. "I'm not so sure that's a great idea, Silmani. I don't want to push Farasha, but our plan is to get to the kingdom city as fast as we can. We aren't that far away now. The sooner we get there and try to talk to King Ragama, the better."
"If we're already close, what difference could one hour more or less mean?" Ikari said. "It's like Silmani said; even fairies deserve rest, even if they are made of water. Don't forget Farasha's doing you two a favor. If you treat her like a servant, I wouldn't count on her helping you again. Anyway, maybe there's a grocer or market nearby where we can buy something that doesn't taste like dirt and cardboard."
"All of that talk about fairies' rights isn't fooling me. You're just thinking of your stomach!"
"It'd be more accurate to say I'm thinking of my tastebuds. Unlike Silmani and me, you don't have tastebuds to think of, so you wouldn't understand." Ikari's eyes smirked. "I wouldn't mind a chicken or some stew with vegetables in it. For all your talk about fish, you'd live off of bread, rice and boiled noodles if you didn't have us to cook for you."
"Honestly, with the way you eat, it's a miracle you're still alive, Onstan," Silmani couldn't resist pitching in. "If you don't change your diet, you'll never have the physique of a true kesweii like Ikari does!"
Onstan's face pinkened. "So maybe I'm not as sharp and trim-looking as you two are. I'm still strong enough to pull a little weight around here! With all we've got to worry about when it comes to our home countries, who has time to think about trying to look like a Greek statue, anyway?"
"You'd have more time to worry about taking care of yourself if you didn't spend every waking moment thinking about fairies and what King Ragama might do." Concern had replaced the mischief in Ikari's eyes. "You're always going around trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, Onstan."
"Ikari's right, Onstan. You know we only pester you about because we care about you, not because we're interested in Greek art. Whether he's a fairy or a human, noone can keep going all of the time without a break. You'll only burn out if you try."
Against the gentle chastening of his friends, Onstan yielded. A faint blush crossed his face. Even if they all had been friends for more than a year, he wasn't altogether accustomed to being "fussed over" in this manner yet, and it embarrassed him a little. "Okay, okay, you guys. If you're set on stopping, I guess there's nothing I can do about it. Just make it quick."
The boat swerved, headed in the direction of the nearest strip of riverbank. It drifted over, then came to a gentle stop against the bank. The travellers, one by one, disembarked, came to stand in the dew-sodden grass and took their surroundings in.
By this time, the pale outline of the wan-faced, still-waking sun could be seen through the veil of morning mist. From where they stood, Onstan, Ikari and Silmani could make out the silhouettes of the trees on the other side of the river. This was a forested area, and on either side of the expanse of water, the cliffs of the mountainsides climbed over one another past the treetops and into the sky.
The first thing that Silmani did was kneel in the grass and remove a handful of grapes from the pouch she'd saved for their fairy friend. She dropped the fruit into the water below.
"Here you are, little one. Thank you for all of your hard work. Eat up."
The surface of the water rippled. A moment later, Farasha emerged from it, bunch of grapes between her tiny hands.
Farasha was a beautiful little river-fairy maiden, around eleven or twelve years old. She was slender, delicate, and all made up of pink mist - except for her big, coy, laughing brown eyes, her dark brown tresses, which framed a strawberry-shaped face, and the oversized, long-sleeved lavender robe in which she was clad.
"Thank you, Miss Silmani." The voice, as always, was so soft as to sound bashful, but Silmani, Onstan and Ikari were all well aware of the mischief that lay beneath the long, downcast lashes of those sweet eyes. As she buried her little button nose into the bunch of grapes, Farasha's gaze drifted in the direction of Ikari. Silmani knew that Farasha was quite taken with her friend, though how and why in the world a river fairy would ever be attracted to a human she couldn't begin to imagine. While Silmani possessed the ability to understand the speech of river fairies, and Onstan, who had the ability to sense the presence or nearness of a fairy, had learned to understand them by reading their nonverbal cues, Ikari, had only recently warmed up to Farasha and was still learning to understand and communicate with her. However, he didn't need to know the language of fairies to understand that look in her eyes.
"Hey, quit staring at me like that, will you? I'm not interested in you; just forget about it! Even if I wanted to start courting girls, you're still just a kid!"
Farasha's eyes danced over to Silmani and Onstan, then back to Ikari. Her lashes fluttered. A very discomfited Ikari did his best to hide behind his friends.
"God, I think I'm going to be sick!"
"Farasha, stop that," Silmani scolded as the impish little creature leaned over to try to peer around her and at her target. "Don't give Mister Ikari a hard time; you know better! This is no way for a little fairy to behave."
"Be a good girl, Farasha, will you?" Onstan pitched in. "Cut it out! We're not afraid to tell your mom and dad on you, even if you are helping us get to the kingdom city!"
For the moment, at least, Farasha left Ikari alone. One by one, with rapid crunches, the grapes vanished. Silmani handed her the last of the fruit, then reached down to pass a hand over her head - as well as one could pass a hand over the head of a creature who was made of mist, that is.
"You love grapes, don't you? We'll try to find more fruit for you while we're out and about, sweetie. Will you control the water and keep our boat from floating away?"
Onstan gave the tiny nose a prod or two, eliciting a giggle. "We won't be gone that long. Stay put and try not to get into any trouble, little one. Hey, I can feel it starting to get warm. You'd better get back underwater."
Farasha disappeared into the river once again. Leaving the boat in her care, the trio went off in search of an end to the stretch of forest. Ikari voiced his relief with a shudder as soon as they were out of hearing range of the little river fairy.
"That little rascal's antics give me the creeps! Silmani, Onstan, you'd better do something about her!"
"You know how little river fairies are," Silmani made excuse. "They don't mean to be naughty. They just like to act on their whims and entertain themselves. Sometimes reacting only encourages them when they're teasing."
Onstan rubbed the back of his head. "You'd never guess by looking at their angelic faces that the kids could be such little pieces of work. Thankfully, they're supposed to grow out of it."
"They'd better," Ikari retorted. "I don't need a couple of angry, suspicious river fairy parents on my hands. I'd almost sooner deal with the hot-wind devils again!"
As they walked on, Silmani consulted their map. "This says that we're on the outskirts of the town of Aidan. Let's keep going north. We're bound to come across a little fishing or farming village soon. We can buy supplies there."
Onstan hooded his eyes with his hand. "Yeah. I think I can see some sort of a clearing up ahead."
"I think I see the same thing, but it's hard to tell. Even though the sun's risen, it's still too foggy to see for very far."
"It's foggy, but warm," Ikari observed. "It feels far too warm for the weather to be as cloudy as it is."
"Isn't it always that way here in Mareydland, though?" Onstan remarked. "Foggy, but humid?"
Silmani slowed, then came to a stop, as did her friends. She found herself wiping a bead of perspiration from her face.
"No, I think Ikari's right. This is strange. The sun's barely out. Now that I think of it, without a clock. . . I'm not sure whether it's a cloudy day or whether it's still early in the morning. In either case, it shouldn't be so warm right now - not in Mareydland."
Onstan frowned, concerned and pensive. "I'm glad Farasha had the good sense to go back underwater."
They continued to walk, proceeding on for a little distance before they stopped once again. It was Ikari who had called the halt this time.
"Silmani, Onstan, I'm telling you, something's not right. I feel it. I may not know much about the climate in Mareydland. But this warmth. . . something about it feels off - unnatural and wrong."
It took a moment for Silmani and Onstan to register Ikari's words.
"You don't think we have to worry about hot-wind devils, do you? Not in Mareydland!"
Ikari was visibly troubled by Silmani's suggestion, but he pondered the question, then shook his head. "No, I don't think the heat has anything to do with hot-wind devils. Like you said, that isn't even possible in Mareydland. But I know it's SOMETHING. This warmth is eerie. Even as we speak, it's becoming more intense, and there's an edge to it - a threatening edge."
"Right, then I think we'd better turn back around." Onstan's tone brooked no arguments. "If you've got a weird feeling about this, then we shouldn't keep going, at least not till we've figured out what's going on."
"Onstan, you can sense not only living fairies, but the spirits of fairies, can't you? If there were hot-wind devils around, you'd be able to detect them." Silmani placed her hand over her heart. Her kesweii badge began to glow on contact, emitting a moon-white light. "Water is a worthy opponent of heat. I can fight them with my powers!"
"Don't be a fool, Silmani!" Ikari spoke sharply. "If all this fog wasn't enough to destroy a hot-wind devil, what makes you think your powers will be of much use? If you try to attack them with water, they'll just fly away!"
"But if they really are hot-wind devils, they don't belong here," Silmani protested. "They're dangerous. I can't just do nothing and let them roam free! Even if we ran away, they could come after us!"
"Hot-wind devils don't belong ANYWHERE. I'm from Corando. Hot-wind devils roam free there all the time. When I think one of those creatures may be nearby, you know what I do? I get away from them! Our powers are supposed to be a secret. Do you want to risk blowing our cover with some huge battle?"
"Hey, stop it, you guys!" Onstan remonstrated. "Don't start arguing before we even know what's going on. Besides, you're making it hard for me to concentrate! Noone should start using badge powers yet. Start moving in the direction of the boat. There's probably nothing to worry about, but I'll scry the area above water just to be safe."
Onstan, Silmani and Ikari began moving at a fast clip. Onstan's step was clumsy, however. Whenever he activated his spirit-sensing, his focus turned to the area that he was surveying. The pupils of those great, round eyes became large with concentration, but because his mind must be elsewhere, he couldn't exactly see what lay before him; in other words, while in sensing mode, he was virtually blind. Silmani and Ikari had to guide him along.
At length, Onstan's pupils returned to their normal size, and he broke the silence to report his findings.
"It's like I thought. There aren't any strange spirits around abovewater as far as I can tell. But I did sense one spirit - Farasha!"
Silmani gave voice to what they were all thinking. "Farasha's outside of the water! But why in the world?"
Without another word, the three friends picked up speed and broke into a flying run. If Farasha wasn't safely below the river surface with the weather as warm as this, something was certainly wrong. All the while, the warmth of which they'd complained became heat.
Midway between their stopping point and the spot where they'd left their boat, the trio were encountered by Farasha. By this time, the river fog had all but dissipated. The only mist that could be seen now was Farasha's soft, rose-and-lavender little figure. The sight of her hovering there, unprotected by any other mist, was jarring.
A bewildered, angry Silmani accosted the young fairy. "Farasha, what in the world do you think you're doing? Get back underwater! You know better than to come frolicking around up here when it's warm; do you think this is some sort of game?"
There was no playfulness or cheer in Farasha's face, however. There was only distress in those big brown eyes and urgency in that small voice. "I was looking for you! I had to! I brought your boat. Miss Silmani, Mister Onstan, Mister Ikari, please get in. We've got to get away from here fast! Please just listen to me. Something's wrong, and I'm scared!"
Onstan read her expression and her gestures and responded immediately. "Get back in the water, Farasha. We'll get in the boat. You can tell us what's going on later. You're a good girl; just stay calm, okay?"
Farasha vanished beneath the water surface. As her human friends got into the boat, she began to stroke and stir the water. The motions of her hands caused the water to roll together and condense. Sinews of water were formed. Farasha wrapped them around the bottom of the boat, then pulled at them, guiding the vessel in the direction from which the travellers had come.
Silmani, Onstan and Ikari could feel the boat moving, being carried off by Farasha. Scarcely had the water begun to tug on it, however, before they saw what they would recall as the burst of blinding light that drowned out the shining of the sun.
The light filled the horizon in flashes of lightning-white and hideous smoke-scorched yellow. Along with it came a colossal rush of hot air. It was as though all of that heat had been pent up in a container, leaking out through cracks, waiting for the chance to free itself altogether with an eruption.
The boat was torn free of Farasha's grip and went spinning off on its own course. On instinct, Onstan, Ikari and Silmani dove for and clung to one another.
The river had become tumultuous. The boat teetered and swayed, threatening to tip over and rid itself of its passengers. The young people fell to their knees, still holding onto one another, to avoid disturbing the boat more by standing. Noone spoke. Everything was happening all at once, and there was scarcely enough time to form a thought, let alone for questions or answers.
The water was beginning to bubble and gurgle. Silmani, kneeling on the deck, felt the vibrations of the boat. A moment later, she was forced to scramble to her feet, and Onstan and Ikari followed suit. The deck had begun to heat up beneath them, almost scalding their unprotected knees. Then a large bubble broke on the river surface. Ikari felt the dampness of the steam on his cheeks. He was the first to come to the horrifying realization.
"Onstan, Silmani, the water's boiling!" Ikari touched his badge to activate it. "We've got to get out of here!"
Silmani activated her own badge. In her desperation, she cupped her hands, and a stream of water materialized. She sent that water pouring down, followed it up with another spurt of water, then another, hoping against hope that its coolness would counteract the heat of the river.
"Farasha! Farasha, little one, please, get out of the water. Please! Come up!"
"Silmani, stop it!" This was from Ikari. "It wont help. We've got to get out of here! All of this steam - the river's evaporating. If we don't move, then we'll be next!"
The color left Silmani's face. She stared ahead of her, then at her hands, as though she were coming to terms with the fact that those hands - that all of that space - was horribly empty. There was only evaporation - only steam. She shook her head again and again as if to will reality away.
A few feet behind her stood Onstan, who, in spite of Ikari's remonstrances, hadn't budged for several moments. His cheeks glistened with the wetness of steam and of tears. He had scried their surroundings once again, and he knew that Farasha was not above water.
Still, Onstan rallied himself. As Ikari had said, the water levels were plummeting. The water was taking the brunt of this heat, but it was dissolving quickly. On both sides of the riverbank, trees were catching fire. The flames devoured the midsections of trunks, allowing the burning treetops and torsos to break free and come hurtling down into the river.
Ikari acted quickly, employing the powers that the badge had granted him. With the motions of his hands, he carved colossal blocks of earth out of the inner sides of the river. Chunks of rocky earth came together to create a platform onto which they could jump.
"Onstan, Silmani, come on! Move!"
Onstan grabbed Silmani's hand. Although she still appeared to be in a trance, Silmani jumped for safety. They all made their landing on Ikari's earth platform, and Ikari pulled the largest pieces of earth together over them to form a protective cave. Outside of its walls, burning tree branches could be heard sizzling as they landed in the water. httpshttps