Roar of Sky – Beth Cato

Hide me! Now, now, now!” Ingrid whispered, her gaze on the man across the street. She scarcely had the chance to ready herself for the jolt as Cy rolled her wheelchair off the cement walkway and onto the hard mud of a small park. The seat bucked as the wheels thudded over dozens of small roots that spiraled out from the trunk of the wide banyan tree. Once she was hidden, he lifted the chair briefly to turn it around. The metal frame squawked in protest. She slowly leaned forward to peer across the macadamized street. Ingrid understood quite well that her visit to the Hawaiian Vassal States included the risk of potential capture and abuse by Unified Pacific soldiers, an immediate death in the event of an earthquake, or that her now near-constant pain might actually trigger a seismic event, possibly resulting in volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. And so, of course, she had encouraged Cy to escort her to one of the most dangerous places for her to visit in Honolulu: the local geomancers’ auxiliary. The Hawaiian Isles Auxiliary looked far different from the other auxiliaries she had known. With its white paint and three tiers of ornately styled porches, the building resembled a magnificently frosted square cake. Everything about it stood as testament to the wealth created by a consistent harvest of earth energy. The consequences of that constant flow had almost given her away just now. “There,” she said in a breath. A short man in a suit sat on a landing along the exterior stairs leading down from the second floor. A young man squatted beside him and fastened lengths of metal to his legs.

Ingrid ducked behind the tree again as the seated man glanced up. Her heart threatened to gallop away in terror. “Who is that?” Cy asked. “Warden Hatsumi. He can see auras.” As a child, Ingrid had been trained to recognize him by his photograph in case he ever made a surprise visit to San Francisco. She didn’t dare linger around a man who could possibly observe her ability to hold energy—a skill no woman was supposed to possess. “What?” The word sounded strangled. “You didn’t mention there was anyone here who—” “He often travels around the islands doing contract work for the Unified Pacific, but I had hoped he might have been sent to the mainland or even Vesuvius. This is a hard place for a geomancer to live.

Hear that sound?” Cy casually leaned on the tree to gaze at the street. “Leg extenders? I’ve only seen the like in book diagrams.” The metallic ping of springs announced Warden Hatsumi’s every footstep. “We kept a pair at the Cordilleran Auxiliary as part of the boys’ training. I used to wear them for play, too. They are damnably difficult to walk in, worse than high-heeled shoes, and for me that’s saying something.” She struggled to reach into the pocket where she had kept her empty kermanite. Her fingertips met the small crystals, and immediately the energy she held was pulled away. “He can never walk on the ground here or even linger on the first floor of a house.” “Ingrid, how much power were you holding?” Cy said this in a way that implied she might be in big trouble.

In the past, his patronizing attitude would have irked her, but she knew he was right to be wary of her in this regard. “Barely anything, in truth. Scarcely enough to cause a rise in body temperature, but enough to tint me in blue. The energy here . ” She frowned, struggling for the words. “I have never felt such a potential flow of power, though there’s no miasma over the ground.” “Are geomancers constraining the outflow?” He kept his voice low, his gaze across the street, where Hatsumi departed with springing steps. “No. The temperamental geology requires that geomancers avoid most direct contact with the ground and take special care during seisms.” She grimaced, realizing that she was quoting a textbook.

“When energy emerges here, it lashes out as fast as a whip and as heavy as a boulder.” She peered around the tree again. Warden Hatsumi had bounded to the end of the block. The shiny orichalcum extensions to his legs bowed at an angle, like the hind legs of horses, granting him leaping strides and several feet of additional height. An extra-long walking stick helped him maintain balance. The young man scurried in his wake, a briefcase in hand. “Let’s cross the street. This time of the afternoon, we should catch Mrs. Kealoha preparing for supper,” said Ingrid. But Cy didn’t move to position himself behind the chair.

“Is there anyone else here who sees auras?” “No. I say that with certainty. It’s a rare skill.” “You didn’t think that man would be here either. Good grief, Ingrid. I don’t like this. Every time we visit an auxiliary, something awful happens.” “You met me at an auxiliary, remember?” she murmured in a teasing tone, her head tilted to one side. Cy couldn’t help but smile at that. “And meeting you’s been one of the great blessings of my life.

Hardly your fault that you’ve been dogged by chaos and misery ever since.” “Some of that woe is my fault,” she said softly, looking down at her lap. Her left calf tingled. Loud footsteps announced other passersby. Two young men strode into view. They were attired as many local dandies had been around downtown, wearing white linen suits and broad-brimmed straw hats. They caught a glimpse of Ingrid sitting there and simultaneously burst out laughing. “Is it the time of afternoon to take your pet kanaka out for an airing?” one asked, gesturing to Cy and laughing again as he strolled along. Cy remained still and quiet as the men continued on their way. “I don’t know what that word means, but I gather that I should take offense.

” “I recall Mr. Kealoha saying kanaka is actually the Hawaiian word for ‘people.’ Not a bad word among Hawaiians, but when used by others—yes, it’s meant to be derogatory.” Her explanation sounded clinical to her own ears, and she realized she hadn’t even been offended at the slight. She felt a kind of detached fascination, really. With her deep brown skin, she was accustomed to being sneered at for being Mexican, Indian, Filipino, even in the relatively tolerant San Francisco. The people who mocked her likely didn’t care about her actual ethnicity; they simply needed to look down on her for being some sort of dark-skinned other. If anything, this was the first time an epithet had carried a degree of accuracy, by recognizing that she was part Hawaiian. She almost smiled at that. “I see.

” Cy was tense, his fingers clenched in a way that made her afraid he might actually pursue the two men. “Cy . ” She gently touched his hand, smoothing the tension out of his fists. “I’ve been called far worse.” She shrugged. His anger faded to sadness. “You’re a lady and should be treated as such.” His fingertips stroked her cheek as he moved to the back of the chair. Ingrid’s lips quirked in a small smile. Cy had such a big heart.

Maybe someday the world would follow his example. Then again, maybe someday mermaids would swim in the sky and politicians wouldn’t lie either. The chair shifted as he placed his hands on the bars, but he still didn’t push forward. “You’re certain about this visit, Ingrid? We’re taking a terrible risk by crossing the street.” “I know,” she said softly. “But we need information, and I have faith that Mrs. K can help us.” She wondered if he’d resume the arguments they’d already repeated a dozen times over the past day, but instead, the chair rolled forward. She grunted as the wheels rocked over the banyan roots and walkway. “It’s a wonder there aren’t soldiers here to guard the place, considering what’s happened at other auxiliaries of late,” he murmured.

“I suppose the way they see it, if everyone here died, it wouldn’t be a public safety catastrophe like in San Francisco or Seattle,” Ingrid said, tone bitter. “This auxiliary functions more for military support—to keep airships and naval ships moving around the islands and across the ocean.” “A layperson likely wouldn’t know that.” “True.” She leaned forward as he heaved the chair up onto the sidewalk before the auxiliary. The wicker seat back creaked. “But the heavy military presence around the islands also helps to discourage attacks. Japanese law holds here, not American. Guilt is presumed and trials are fast. I imagine the system is all the more ruthless with martial law in effect.

The security measures at the dock seemed effective at keeping out personal weapons.” He grunted. “It bothers me to walk around without so much as a Tesla rod.” Any guns, rods, or knives with blades longer than four inches had to be left aboard vessels or checked into lockers at the gates into the docks. Though Ambassador Roosevelt’s people had informed Cy of a particular dock to utilize and a certain superintendent to request for ease of entry, that access hadn’t precluded them from the weapons restriction. Ingrid craned back her head to take in the looming presence of the building as she rolled through the gate. She pointed to the right. “I know the kitchen is in an outbuilding. Let’s follow our noses.” The smell of roasting chicken lured them around the building and through a lush fruit and vegetable garden growing a bounty that Ingrid couldn’t fully identify.

Flower-laden bushes lined the back wall. An entire garden bed overflowed with a rainbow array of squashes. A nearby rosemary bush stood taller than her chair and radiated a powerful scent that complemented the cooking chicken in a delicious way. She was surprised to see bananas growing in a massive upside-down cluster from a tree with leaves broad enough to function as umbrellas. Another tree held a heavy burden of deep green alligator pears, most of them larger than her fist. She wouldn’t want to linger beneath that tree on a windy day. A tin-roofed cook house stood on stilts set about five feet high. White-painted plank walls looked austere against the surrounding greenery and blooms. The windows that wrapped around the building were covered by tight netting, not glass. A solitary figure bustled around inside and glanced up at the noise of wheels on pavement.

Ingrid could sense Cy’s tension. “She’ll keep our visit in confidence,” she murmured over her shoulder. “I’ve known her for over ten years through correspondence and telephone.” “There’s likely a reward for your capture,” he returned. “Matters of trust aren’t what they once were.” “Mrs. K holds no magic of her own, but she effectively runs this auxiliary and she knows these islands. She’s better than a library. It’s worth the risk.” The screen door squawked open, ending their conversation.

Except for new strands of silver hair, Mrs. Kealoha looked as she did in the photograph that her husband had kept on his desk. She wore a loose, waistless dress in the Mother Hubbard style, as many women had throughout downtown. Flour powdered the chest and belly of her blue attire. “The auxiliary’s shut for the day. You need to come back tomorrow if you are looking to buy kermanite.” Mrs. Kealoha squinted as she looked down at Ingrid. Her face paled as recognition crossed her features. “You—you’re—” Her hand went to her mouth.

“Hurry, get her inside the kitchen,” she hissed, holding the door wide. “I intercepted the missive, but there are bound to be more. If one of the men looks out a window, they’ll see you on the path. Wikiwiki!” Cy rolled Ingrid to the base of the stairs. She pushed herself up, giving the six steps ahead a gimlet eye. “Do you want me to—” he started to say. “No, let me. We’ll stand out even more if you pick me up,” Ingrid said. He had all but carried her down the long staircase of their docking mast. This was the first chance that she had to try stairs for herself.

“I’ll be fast.” She eased both feet onto the ground and stood, bending forward as if bowing. As she levered herself upright, she felt terrible tightness in both legs, though it was far worse on her left. The magnitude of magic she had wielded in Seattle had caused infinitesimal damage to the nerve endings in her extremities; both Pasteurian and Reiki doctors had speculated that the harm was permanent and recommended a life of convalescence. To hell with that notion. Ingrid had spent much of the Palmetto Bug’s weeklong trek across the Pacific doing laps up and down the airship’s corridor, at first managing only a pathetic shuffle, but eventually learning to lift her knees higher to avoid dragging her toes all the time. Blum’s tainted healing of her had undoubtedly aided her recovery beyond the physicians’ expectations, but Ingrid wasn’t sure how much more improvement she could expect. That made it especially vital for her to somehow make it to her grandmother; and if anyone knew how she and Cy could endure that dangerous trek, it’d be Mrs. K. But first: surmount these damned stairs.

Ingrid clutched the low railing as she lifted up her right knee in an exaggerated motion. Her bootencased foot landed on the step, the partially numb sole prickling as if she stood on pins and needles. She cringed as she brought her weaker leg up to the same step. Cy hovered right behind her. She sensed his impatience, his desperate need to help, and wanted to swat him away, though she knew that was foolish. She needed him there more than she needed her stubborn pride. “Are you hurting much?” he asked, low enough that Mrs. K couldn’t hear. It was impossible to look him in the eye and lie. “Enough to aggravate locals, if they could be aggravated.

” His tight-lipped concern showed that he knew exactly which locals she referred to: nearby geomantic fantastics, creatures who empathetically shared in her pain, to disastrous results. That was the other reason he had insisted on acquiring a wheelchair for their errands in Honolulu. To act as a minor buffer between her and the earth. “If my presence was going to rile anything, I think we would know by now with the energy flow here as present as it is,” she mumbled, panting slightly as she made it up the final step. “Oh, Ingrid. In God’s name, what happened?” Mrs. K stared at her with wide, moist eyes, both hands to her flushed cheeks. Ingrid accepted her help to make it to a rattan chair beside a battered wood table. Cy latched the screen door behind him, his bowler hat held to his chest. “Ma’am, excuse my familiarity, but it’s best if I simply introduce myself to you as Cy.

Is this a good place for a private conversation?” “This is my kingdom. None of the men dares to come here or into the gardens, or they’ll meet my rolling pin.” With pressed lips, she motioned to a wall that held numerous kitchen implements. “You said there was a missive?” Ingrid asked, consumed with dread. She took off the simple straw hat she’d bought on her way through town. “Yes. A telegram from the Unified Pacific, asking the auxiliary to be on alert for Ingrid Carmichael, ‘a dark-skinned woman who might be traveling in the company of a tall, white man known to use aliases.’ I’d show you, but I burned the letter straightaway.” Mrs. K appraised Cy with an uplifted eyebrow, and Ingrid didn’t mind giving him a once-over herself.

He towered near six and a half feet, his body slim and face bookishly handsome with a pair of pince-nez perched on his nose. He’d made an effort to alter his appearance by growing a mustache and beard, both of which had developed a surprisingly red tint. Over the past few weeks, his brown hair had grown long enough for him to style it in a samurai-like topknot positioned to accommodate his hat. “Ma’am, was this note specific for the Hawaiian auxiliary?” asked Cy. “I don’t believe so, sir.” It made sense for Blum to put auxiliaries on alert for Ingrid; she would eventually need more kermanite to help her cope with energy flow. A number of wardens and adepts worldwide would know her by sight, too; San Francisco’s auxiliary had been one of the largest in the country, and had trained and hosted many geomancers. “See, Cy? I told you it was fine to visit the auxiliary. Now we only need to worry about the thousands of military personnel here perhaps being put on notice, too,” Ingrid said with a flippant wave. Cy’s expression did not reflect amusement.

He stood at the corner near the door, positioned to monitor the screens that faced the house and the main path through the garden. “What kind of pilikia you gotten yourself into, Ingrid?” Mrs. K asked, her eyes filling with tears again. Ingrid didn’t know the word pilikia, but the meaning seemed clear enough. “Everything started with the explosion at the Cordilleran. That day, your husband . ” Ingrid struggled to find words. Warden Kealoha had been one of her mentor Mr. Sakaguchi’s dearest friends, and she had come to love him, too. “I think I poured him five cups of coffee during the meeting that morning.

I’d made his favorite shortbread cookies, too. He had a handful for his breakfast. I had to tell him he had crumbs on his suit jacket.” Mrs. K’s face crumpled, the sheen of tears in her eyes. “Good. I’m glad you were looking after him. I’ve made your mother’s shortbread recipe for the men here as well, but I never had the chance to make it for my husband.” She paused a moment to control a sob. “I have missed him so much.

” Ingrid had to look away in an effort to check her own emotions. Mr. Kealoha hadn’t been approved for a visit to the Vassal States in over five years. He had reached the high status of warden due to his geomantic prowess, but as a native Hawaiian, he was looked down upon, judged to be primitive and untrustworthy. He had not been allowed to travel beyond San Francisco without proper paperwork and an approved adept as escort. The kermanite that he filled was even priced lower than that of more esteemed white and Japanese wardens. Meanwhile, Mrs. Kealoha had been refused annual passes to visit the mainland to see her husband, even as she continued to manage household functions for the Hawaiian Auxiliary. “I talked to Mr. Sakaguchi right after the Cordilleran explosion, when he called regarding the urgent need for geomancers in San Francisco,” Mrs.

K said, her voice hoarse. “I was so relieved that you two had survived. What a miracle that was. Then the earthquake occurred days later, and since then the news from the city has been confusing at best.” “It’s been confusing for us, too.” Ingrid took a deep breath. Cy wouldn’t approve of her next words, so she avoided looking at him. “I . I have something to confess. I’m a geomancer.

” She felt strange saying the words aloud. “A powerful one. That’s how we survived the explosion. I used my power to shield myself and Mr. Sakaguchi.” She paused, briefly overcome by despair at the thought that she might have saved Mr. Kealoha, too, if he had been close by. “After that . I tried to hide what I could do, but the Unified Pacific became suspicious of us.” She thought of the horrid, arrogant Captain Sutcliff with a shudder.

“And then an ambassador became involved, and—” “Roosevelt?” Mrs. K cut in sharply. “No.” Not at that point, and she would not implicate him in this telling. Nor would she speak Ambassador Blum’s name aloud and risk attracting her attention from afar. Ingrid had recently learned a great deal about the magical potency of names. Her hand formed a fist on her thigh right above where she’d burned the kanji character for “earth” into her own flesh. Ingrid had almost died from the effort of infusing that magical ward against Blum; the life force she’d expended in that act was likely what had damaged her legs. However, the ward should prevent Blum from tracking Ingrid. Should it fail, the distance between Hawaii and the continent would strain even Blum’s mighty powers.

And surely Blum was bound to stay in America right now, with her Gaia Project ready to go public. Ingrid continued, “Amid all of this, I discovered my father wasn’t dead. He lived in hiding until late last year. He somehow ended up in the custody of Thuggees—” “The Indian rebels are involved in this?” Disbelief rang in Mrs. K’s voice. “Yes, ma’am. The papers blamed the Chinese from the start, and that’s exactly what the Thuggees wanted everyone to believe,” said Cy. “I assume you knew Warden Thornton at the Cordilleran?” “Thornton? Of course. He even came through Honolulu a time or two. You’re telling me that pompous windbag was a Thuggee?” She barked out a small laugh.

“The dime novels certainly don’t depict that right.” No, the cheap paperbacks preferred to romanticize an insulting cliché—dark-skinned pagans with swooning white women in the backdrop. “The Thuggees had stolen an unusually large piece of kermanite,” Cy continued. “They needed energy to fill it.” “Therefore they needed the guardian geomancers gone, leaving San Francisco vulnerable to an earthquake.” Mrs. K accepted the logic behind her husband’s death with a stoic expression. “There were stories about your father, Ingrid. He was . said to be profoundly gifted.

I take it the Thuggees knew this and used him to channel energy?” “Yes. He died soon after the quake.” Putting it so simply felt like a lie. “The Unified Pacific now knows that I’m a . profoundly gifted geomancer, too. They want to use me in their war against China. I want no role in that. I fled. They’ve chased me.” Mrs.

K would assume that the Unified Pacific wanted Ingrid for her ability to channel energy, which was fine with Ingrid. There was truth in it. But most of all, they wanted to use her as they had Papa: as a weapon to level whole cities. “You, a geomancer.” Mrs. K studied her. “It’s never set right with me that only men are supposed to have that skill, that training. But I wouldn’t have wished that burden on you, Ingrid. Women like us, women who think . we’re seen more as tools than people.

” She shook her head, her gaze resting on Ingrid’s legs. “You haven’t mentioned the whereabouts of Lee and Warden Sakaguchi amid all this.” “They are both missing right now,” Cy said in his gentle way. Again, a statement so simple and misleading it felt like a lie. The last time Ingrid had seen Lee, he had been on the verge of death, evacuating Seattle via submarines with other Chinese refugees—and a captive Mr. Sakaguchi. “I’m sorry, keiki.” Mrs. Kealoha stooped to hug Ingrid in her chair. “We are steeped in grief right now.

” Ingrid braced her head against Mrs. K’s soft shoulder. “Now. You took the risk of telling me all of this for a reason. How can I help you?” “The best place for me to hide is where no geomancer is expected to be, on the Big Island.” She paused, taking in Mrs. K’s aghast expression. “While we’re there, though, I want to do something more. You know my father’s origins have always been a mystery to me and everyone who knew him. I think .

I have reason to believe that his mother might’ve been Pele.” At that, Mrs. K physically recoiled, her face darkening like a storm cloud. “Ingrid. You’re in the islands now, not reading some geomancy textbook. You call her Madam Pele.” “I—I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect, to Madam Pele or to you. I’m ignorant.” She ducked her head in chagrin.

“That’s why I came to you for advice, Mrs. K, because when we go to Hawaii Island, I—” “Oh no. Oh no. Only Hatsumi is foolish enough to go there and he’s paid well for it, and no one goes near Kilauea. The energy always flows there. Leg extensions aren’t enough of a buffer. Geomancers in hovering airships can absorb power. And you think you can waltz in there for an audience with Madam Pele?” Mrs. K rolled her eyes and looked toward heaven. “I won’t help you commit suicide.

I won’t.”

.

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