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Chapter 4

Lightning fills a purple sky, as Ki searches for other reys


          Curled into a fetal ball, Ki fell through the floor of her world. Only her most primitive life-support systems functioned now, in a self-induced trance. She was deeper in the pressure cooker of the planet than any rey should ever be, as the narrowing funnel carried her inexorably down and northward, away from familiar circulation patterns. The plummeting flow had somehow veered out of the main convective body; Ki would have otherwise certainly died. Still her body struggled to remove excess heat, and to counter the mounting pressure that would crush her. But the greatest pain of all lay buried in her mind. Alone! She was utterly, desperately alone, abandoned. She had always considered herself independent and self-assured. Yet she had never before been separated from her tribe, from the nurture and validation of her parents and comrades. There were no social crutches to support her here. Panic echoed through the corridors of her comatose soul. How could she survive? How could she even exist?
          Only a tiny corner of peace persisted in her subconsciousness. She struggled toward it, to squeeze inside its cool core. Had she not confronted the choice between life and death, when death would have been the easy way? And had she not opted for life? Or did she now fear living alone even more than she feared dying?
          The vortex at long last dissolved into the trackless sea, and left Ki spinning aimlessly deep in the southern fringes of a new plume system. Her internal buoyancy sacs filled to capacity, and limply gliding under autonomic control, she slowly rose from the bowels of her world. When a dim consciousness returned, Ki found herself slipping upward beside a fountain bearing the sweetest manna she had ever known. But she could hardly eat. Muscles stiff and unresponsive, her entire body ached from heat shock. Worse, she was emotionally dead, and almost welcomed the physical pain as a distraction. Dazed and confused, Ki rolled a feeble sound beam in all directions. No familiar echoes returned; the nightmare was real. Yet naked instinct eventually overcame despondency, and seized the honey smell of the manna lapping her skin. Her filters cracked, and Ki sipped a small amount. She promptly vomited it all, before blacking out.
          Back and forth Ki drifted through the coiles, between semiconscious despair and dreamless stupor. The manna thinned as the fountain lifted. Ki at last forced herself to eat a little and hold it down, against a malignant desire to surrender and die. Her body responded mercifully, and she drifted into a deep and peaceful sleep.
          When Ki next awoke, she rose into a gentle storm. And panic rose again within her. She saw herself moving further and further from her tribe, her lifelong anchor, disappearing into the night sky. If only! If only. She cried, not for her lost parents and comrades, but for herself. The past willed to devour her.
          A crack of thunder intruded into Ki's delirium, as the immediate external world demanded attention. On instinct she tested her muscles, and found them functional, though impaired from heat damage. Hopefully (dared she hope?) the damage was reversible. As she turned into a spiraling bank that skirted the storm cell, Ki forced herself to recite an ancient poem:

Updraft strong, You sweep me up
to witness yet another dawn.
Pray fill my barren womb with love,
and change my lonely fears to Song.

Soon by warm rain may I be kissed
and by its gentle fury blessed.
Into Your sweet embrace I come;
may I be faithful to Your call.

          One quad later, Ki glided east, down from the top of the first passage in her new home. Alone and numb. She fought a nagging instinct to turn south, back toward her old range. For Ki sensed that the local currents were inexplicably flooding northward. In her weakened state, any attempt to return home against this prevailing flow would likely prove fatal. It was already a miracle that she was still alive. Her present bearing, directly away from the cluster of towering clouds to the west, was the only viable option. Far to the northwest, she thought she spotted the higher fringes of the great storm that had brought her here.
          Ki fell off to a fitful sleep in the frigid air, dreaming relentlessly of her imperiled tribe. She had to return to them, but how? Confused thoughts and emotions tumbled through her semiconscious mind. She could not rely on luck to bring her back again. But it was impossible to return. Then how could she ever have children? Her poor unborn children! Beneath it all, she was so lonely.
          The strength of the fountain where she had first regained consciousness confounded Ki. Surely such fountains were commonplace here; popping up near one was otherwise too coincidental. Could the great vortex be involved? Might it be the very source of the manna's strength, channeling currents from below? Or did any of this matter at all?!
          She must seek out a local tribe. They would have answers she needed, not to mention help allay her loneliness. Other tribes must exist, must have traveled the currents from one river complex to another. Tribal legends told of several encounters with alien tribes in the distant past. Ki's own tribe had split off new bands in bygone times, when the manna was rich and the population grew unwieldy – an almost incomprehensible concept. There was an even older legend of a great passage from a distant realm across wild storms.
          How could she locate another tribe? Ki's parents once told of hearing in their youth the eerie low tones of what could easily have been an approaching tribe. They had of course steered clear. There was no need for competition, faced with a limited food supply.
          Ki's parents. Gone. Ki awoke from her dreamlike musings with a start, and an internal emptiness. The void was no longer outside, but filled her, gnawing through her gut. It was still so dark! A tribe was normally awash in a warm, collective acoustic light by this time. Her body convulsed, heaved in sorrow. She began to repeatedly thrust her small rostrum against a vision of the serpent that had devoured Trah, mercilessly beating the specter into a cloud of rancid debris. Her mind ached. She would dive into the depths forever when she reached the fountains again. She must.
          Though she listened intently, desperately, through the descent phase of the passage, Ki heard nothing. Famished and exhausted, she dropped into the feed layer. Ki was stunned by what she encountered. Fountain after fountain laden with warm, rich manna rose to greet her. Flying as quietly as possible to avoid detection by imagined legions of serpents, she approached a particularly inviting spring. Ki supped her fill, and was almost happy for a moment, before an inevitable onslaught of guilt. Her poor, lost tribe. Utterly deprived, on the edge of starvation, when such bounty existed only a passage away. But such a passage.
          Shaking off a fatalistic mood shift, Ki moved on. She would not have been surprised if a succession of healthy tribes had materialized in this Eden. But Ki saw and heard no one. She rose again into a storm, alone.

          Ki awoke early in the next passage from a vivid dream. She had never left her tribe; everything was back to normal. The manna had recovered, and Trah was joyfully preparing to name her son at the end of the coming community chorus. Ki's parents were together again; in fact, Ki was going to have a baby sister.
          Ki fought to hold onto the unraveling threads of the dream. Perhaps she could pretend that the dream was true; that she had merely taken a short excursion from the tribe, to test her inner strength. This ploy did not work for long. Her bottled emotions tipped, and began to roll uncontrollably – from suicidal despair to numb paralysis to quiet to hope to excitement to guilt, and back. Were even her feelings her own? What horror had she committed to deserve this? Had Indura killed her father, in order to have her all to Himself?
          The dream reminded Ki again of her own barrenness. A typical rey pregnancy lasted about 12 cycles, or one gyre. Ki vowed then to continue her search for a local tribe for at least 22 passages more. If still unsuccessful at that juncture – a double gyre of 24 cycles, the typical span between a child's conception and independence – she would attempt to return home on her own, surrendering to the unknowable will of the Goddess.

          As Ki approached the feed zone later in the passage, she detected an unusual aroma, one that she had been taught as a child to avoid. Some fountains bore tainted manna, which would numb the senses and dull or otherwise alter the emotions. While not normally toxic, the contamination could cause a dangerous loss of reflex and response time. Worse, although the change in mood and perception induced by the broth was usually pleasant, it was somewhat unpredictable. Normally Ki had only contempt for reys who intentionally fed on such drug, and treated it like a scourge. But now she was desperate for a reprieve from the onslaught of emotions that had buffeted her for a seeming eternity. Rather than turning from the currents that bore the strange odors, Ki followed them, down through the murky sea. Only when the flow thickened to the head of a great fountain did she swerve away, to feed tentatively along the borders. Slowly, she felt smooth fingers of calm spread across her mind, and she kooted inwardly. My Mother and Father have been kind to me, to carry me to this oasis, she thought. How could I be bitter toward Them?
          Drifting into a dreamlike vision, Ki beheld the great vortex as the Father God of all things, joining the poles of heaven above and below. Down the swirling core poured the pure cool light of Coel, the Mother Goddess of the world, drawing spouting fountains of steaming manna from the depths of Her womb. Around the vortex and fountains circled a legion of reys and other living things, as if without number, rejoicing in the Love that gave them birth. The luminous face of Maddee brightened overhead, drawing Ki into Itself, until all else paled to insignificance. Maddee, the center of all things. Ki became one with her world, a blissful union with whatever was. The vision was slow to fade.

          Passage followed passage. Deprived of the usual wash of tribal sensory stimulation, Ki's mind began to play tricks on her. It first happened during a second quad, normally a period of intense social interaction. A murmur from a transient eddy suddenly morphed into a phantom image of a swooping rey. Ki instinctively ducked, only to quickly realize she was still alone. A short time later, a gust of wind momentarily became a ravenous serpent. This was something new! Ki countered by forcing herself to pay extra attention to what little there was to see. Without the incessant babble of other reys, she began to really listen to the world around her. The new discipline proved to be a welcome distraction from the angst of her isolation. She soon observed subtle patterns she had not noticed before.
          Each time Ki awoke, she was almost surprised to find that she still existed. But the fact slowly proved itself – she survived. Her core of peace grew, albeit ever so slowly. She still experienced waves of undirected anger, profound rage, and hopeless anguish, but these invariably passed. The ordeal was becoming a pilgrimage to the center of being – both of herself and of her universe. Ki no longer craved death. But neither did she yet quite want to live. She found herself in a kind of purgatory, neither here nor there.
          One cycle, as she spiraled down through the ocean atmosphere, Ki stared into the undulating darkness, and whispered: "Maddee, why did you bring me here? What should I do?" She listened patiently for a response, craving a rey-like voice. Some hundred turnes passed before she felt a reply, with her inner rather than her outer eyes: To fall; fall.
          What sustained Ki most from that time forward were the constancy and strength of the wind and currents. They buoyed and nourished her, both literally and figuratively. Ki was learning to lose herself in the embrace of Maddee. She found herself talking more and more to the clouds, the gale, the rain. Although they would not respond in any rey-like manner, Ki came to appreciate that they had a persona and language all their own. Perhaps she was merely going mad, but Ki did not think so. Steady and reliable, the surrounding physical world was becoming her very real and personal parent-companion, not merely the face of the abstract deity she had formerly known. The storm fed her, protected her, taught her, graced her, even while it promised to destroy her if she failed to follow its ways. Ki came to accept this as inevitable and right; how could the world's children exist at all, without such consistency? She would do what she could within the scheme of things. Beyond that, what was meant to be would be.
          A more subtle change had also come over Ki. For all her apparent independence, Ki had before been ultimately submissive to the will of her parents and elders. But now it was the wind that she held closest to her heart.

          By the 23rd passage – in human terms, more than 22 weeks after her fateful encounter with the great storm – Ki had discerned a pattern to the manna-bearing fountains in the feed layer, and returned to a particularly active region. There she tarried, quietly grazing and avoiding serpents, struggling to remain awake while awaiting the alien tribe she both prayed and feared would eventually pass. She spoke silently to the animated currents. After an extra quad of dreamy musing, her patience bore fruit. A low monotone, rumbly but distinctly rey-like, carried from a far corner of the sky. Ki snapped to attention and rushed in that direction, desperately studying the sound. How distant was its source? She had no idea, but pressed faster.
          Ki held a slowly veering course toward the apparition for the next several coiles, seemingly falling in place behind it. The intensity of the sound barely changed; catching up was painfully slow. Her prey was swift. Deeper and deeper Ki slipped into the feed layer. How far down did this tribe go? Or was she following a mirage? A practical joke by Maddee? Did Indura at last want to claim her as His mate? Then the sound suddenly grew louder. They must be feeding! Ki gulped a few pockets of manna herself in a mad rush toward the phantom presence. Another coile passed.
          Up! They lift into the sky! Nearly hysterical that she might lose her quarry, Ki searched the currents for the storm cell they would most likely take, and followed into a strong updraft. The rumblings merged with incessant thunder, but still she held the faint signature in her senses through the ascent quad. Ki was at last spewed out the side of one of the highest thunderheads she had ever known, into a thin, pitch-black heaven. Looking down, she thought she glimpsed a warm, fleeting V-shape against a cloud layer far below, even as it disappeared into the frigid mist. She programmed a deeper course, hoping to intercept near the end of a typical slumber period, and then tried to sleep herself.
          Ki awoke to the sound of the wind, and an utter silence in the part of her mind that listened for the others. Had she been dreaming after all? Perhaps she had at last gone insane. Calm. I do all that I can, she whispered. The others, if they exist, are still sleeping, their muted call too weak to hear at this distance. I will continue as I planned, as they would do. She fought to hold back a constricting circle of despair.
          It was coiles before the monotone returned, ahead and below. Reinvigorated, Ki angled, pitched and dove, absorbed and determined once more, willing herself to overtake the invisible objective. She tumbled more than once, even as she beseeched herself to concentrate.

          Time passed so quickly that Ki was startled to find herself entering the feed layer. Abruptly conscious of a gnawing hunger, she scanned the area for an appetizing stream. A distant glint appeared – a blurred speckle in her sound vision; then a distinct image, and another. They were real! Weaving between the fountains coursed a billowing array of beautiful wings. Her own wings, taut with excitement, rippled in response.
          The alien tribe was absorbed in its own concerns. A serpent pack had initiated an attack only turnes earlier. The adult male reys swarmed around the main group, fighting off their assailants. These reys were small by Ki's standards, only 80% familiar size, but very quick. Acting on impulse, Ki hurled herself high into the sky, then plunged straight down into the midst of the foray. The lead male rey nearly flipped when Ki materialized beside him, killing an equally surprised serpent with a single sharp blow. Ki screamed a cry of exaltation as the sinuous carcass tumbled into the gulf below. Almost as quickly, a wave of nausea washed over her. Ki had never killed before. It had all happened so fast. The male defenders moved aside, allowing Ki to gratefully limp past into the protection of the tribe.
          Ki was immediately nearly run over by a bevy of adult females and children. The nearest gaped in consternation as they whipped past. Remarkably, Ki failed to detect any hint of audible speech. Why can't I hear them? Ki gasped, frantic to understand. She had no trouble hearing their low frequency, long-distance calls. And she could both see the other reys with her eyes, and autonomically sense the locations of those ahead of her. But without ordinary hearing, a swarming tribe was a most dangerous place to be. Soon a new group approached rapidly from the left, and Ki struggled to get out of the way. The lead female seemed to be shrieking an alarm in Ki's direction, but Ki was deaf and blind to any word sounds as the reys passed only a wingspan away. Now Ki realized that she wasn't detecting any visual speech, either, and could only barely hear the strum of rey emotional cues. She fought a sudden urge to bolt back into the relative security of the outside. How could she be experiencing these feelings? If she offended her hosts, how could she ever hope to return to her own people? Everything was happening too fast. Why couldn't things slow down?
          Ki's attention was quickly drawn to yet another cluster of reys bearing down from the same direction as before. This time she surged forward with them, attempting to join the group. Relying solely on her own vision and acoustic senses for guidance, she fell into an uneasy cadence with the others. As she glanced nervously around, Ki realized something was very odd. The children! Almost without exception, each mature female was carrying or otherwise attending to one or two agitated young. The number of children was a shock to Ki. Even this small group held more than she had seen in her entire lifetime.
          The other adults were equally shocked by Ki's appearance, and skittered respectful distances away. They dared not speak aloud, but stared at her in bewildered disbelief, and wonderment. Where had this strange yet kindred being come from? Was she a vision from the Beyond? Not a sound came from her odd bellon. Was she mute? Any anger at her dangerous silence gave way to confusion and apprehension. So large, so overwhelming, yet she made no threatening gestures, even appeared frightened herself? As the others swam on in indecision, Yu, one of the older male children, suddenly darted away, and hurried toward the assembly of elders at the tribe's core.

          Yu swam with an excited frenzy that he had never known before in his short and lonely life. He had heard stories of other tribes, but never of an actual visitation. Yu expertly avoided the seemingly endless streams of reys as he made way. His reception by the elders was not quite what he had envisioned.
          "WHAT are you doing, child?! HOW could you break rank in the middle of a serpent raid!? Come here at ONCE!" shouted Gyss, the female elder who spotted Yu first. "WHERE is your mother? HOW could she let you do such a thing? Have you learned NOTHING in your lessons?" Yu froze, averting his vision downward, as Gyss sidled next to him.
          "Gyss, the youth is the orphan Yu Ko-Mi," offered Luug, a younger male elder. "His sire and dam were killed defending the tribe several cycles ago."
          "Yuk? Well that explains part of it," Gysss shot back. "A bit slow, isn't he? Can't speak clearly? A wonder we let his kind live at all. A drain on the entire tribe."
          "But Gyss, his parents were courageous," Luug replied cautiously.
          "Probably trying to make up for their defective offspring. I heard they committed suicide, out of shame. Is it not said, 'Cleanse yourself before the coming of Coel; for your blemishes will burn in Her gaze'? BOY, WHAT do you have to say for yourself?"
          Yu moaned secretly. He hated whenever one of the elders quoted the Holy word, with their own "correct" interpretation. He stuttered, "Ma- ma- madam …"
          "SPEAK UP, boy! I can barely hear you." Gyss made no attempt to hide her contempt. "Don't mumble so! WHY should you not be punished?"
          Yu tried again. "Ma- madam … Please, you must come … A strange visitor has—"
          Gyss slapped the boy's cerebral hump with her wing tip. "And WHAT do you think would happen if ALL children were allowed to run wild? You MUST be taught your—"
          "Gyss, let the lad finish," Luug interceded.
          Yu's bellon trembled. "Sir … Madam … A visitor has dropped from the sky!" Once he started, the words poured out in a hoarse torrent. "She is huge! The others think she is mute, but she whispered strange images to me. Could she be sent by Maddee??"
          "What foolish garble is this?!" Gyss replied scornfully. "Are you so stupid that you think these lies will save you? Don't you realize how much trouble you're in already?"
          Luug looked puzzled. "Gyss, a cryptic message was in fact received from the outer shell a short time ago, about a 'holy vision' of the Great One. We attributed it to … over-stimulation." A fog of uncertainty briefly blurred Gyss' vision, but it quickly dissipated.
          Turnes later, the serpents broke off their attack. They seemed to be tearing something apart, though it was impossible to tell if it was the remains of a rey or another serpent. Gyss and several other elders hurried toward Yu's clutch, led by the youngster at breakneck speed. When they arrived, they found a mob of bewildered reys churning a safe distance around a strange giant, gliding enigmatically at their center. The crowd immediately parted to let the elders through, many casting a disparaging buzz at Yu as he passed. Soon Gyss confronted Ki, not knowing whether to treat her as a divine messenger or an evil monster.
          Gyss addressed the stranger stiffly. "Welcome … Holy One." There was no response from Ki. Gyss glanced nervously at the other elders. She didn't want them to know how terrified she actually felt. Perhaps the intruder didn't know their language? Gyss flashed an image of a rising suol in her direction. Ki didn't even flinch.
          Ki was utterly frustrated. She hadn't foreseen anything like this. The diminutive female before her postured as if speaking, but Ki saw and heard nothing. Exasperated, she sprayed an image of a violent storm toward the entire group.
          Yu jumped at Ki's low whisper. Spinning around, he was surprised to see no one else react. A few of the elders accompanying Gyss were now making their own ineffective attempts at communication. Yu knew he should keep quiet, but blurted the words out. "Can't you see? She speaks of the Father storm!"
          Gyss exploded. "SHUT UP! How can YOU see or hear what the elders cannot? We've had enough of your impudence."
          "Wait – I can prove it!" Summoning his courage, Yu gyred toward Ki, flying backwards, and began babbling with both auditory and visual speech whatever came into his mind.
          Ki whirled at the garbled falsetto, to see an unassuming rey back in the soaring crowd. She couldn't understand a word he said, but caught a few images, and burst through the line of elders to settle face to face with her blessed contact.
          A hush fell over the group as the other reys realized Yu spoke truth. Gyss glared at Yu in disbelief. Who was this outsider, to favor the likes of him? Thoroughly shaken, she retreated from the scene, rather than confront what she refused to believe.
          Yu felt both intoxicated and confused, and he too fell silent. Gazing into the strange female's immense face, he sensed the throbbing strains of similar emotions. And more – gratitude? relief? hope? Entranced, he offered anew the tribe's symbol of welcome and friendship – an image of a rising suol. The giant visitor blinked, then returned the greeting with rumbling maroon overtones.
          What followed seemed more dream than reality. Oblivious to the cloud of curious reys that swarmed around them, Ki and Yu doggedly struggled at communication. Falling back to the most primitive language and nonverbal imagery, they nearly forgot their need to eat, and gulped manna only sporadically. Not knowing what else to do, the elders dispatched a squad of guards to watch over the pair. One by one the other reys, bewildered by the bizarre pantomime, returned to their normal activities. Only when the tribe swept into a turbulent storm band was the intense exchange interrupted. Ki hung close to Yu during the rough ascent, relying on him to relay any directives from the tribal leaders. As they finally drifted down from the cloud tops, Ki allowed herself some sleep, secure in the rhythmic echoes of her autonomic location system telling her that Yu was nearby.

          Ki and Yu resumed their broken dialogue as soon as they awoke. They had become instant companions, to the extent this was possible. Most of the other reys began treating Ki as either an untouchable Goddess, or a treacherous demon to be shunned. The elders were equally divided. Unable to reach a consensus, they maintained her "honor" guard, but otherwise strictly left Ki alone. This ambivalence allowed Ki and Yu the opportunity to weave the rudiments of a shared symbolic speech. The pair identified visual pictograms that seemed to hold common meaning, then stylized them to create picturesque symbols, and associated these with audible words. To their mutual surprise, it was becoming easier to hear one another and to see each other's visual speech, as their communication systems passively adapted to each other. Ki was even beginning to faintly detect the chatter of a few of the other reys, while Yu found their voices somewhat more muffled than usual.
          After several cycles of continued effort, Ki and Yu could discuss basic, elemental matters such as flying or eating. The more complex issues of social custom and belief proved considerably more difficult and frustrating to relate. While there seemed to be significant overlap in religious beliefs, the social structure and governance of Yu's tribe was much more regimented and authoritarian than anything Ki had known. Individual reys had actually been banished from the tribe – to almost certain death – on several occasions during Yu's life, for merely disagreeing with the elders, or some other "improper" behavior.
          The more Ki heard and understood, the more alien she felt. How could the elders here think the way they did? Feel the way they did? They were so certain of everything (except her, for some reason), and prone to such violence. Were they so afraid to face the night? Or were her own beliefs any more secure? Ki felt herself growing old. And for what? This tribe wasn't home. Of course, Yu was already like family. But he too was an outcast here.

          Ki finally broached the subject with Yu at the first opportunity the following cycle. "Friend Yu: Ki no fly here more. Heart die. Elders make sick. Ki find old home. Yu fly with Ki?"
          Yu did not know how to respond. With Ki, he at last felt potent. But the tribe was his life, his existence, even if it was intolerable. He had long feared he would eventually be banished. But never voluntarily. Thoughts of violent darkness filled his mind.
          "Yu scared. Serpents eat Ki and Yu. Need tribe." He hesitated. Tribes sometimes split, when they became too large. "Yu ask friends come? Ki like. Not elders. Make own tribe."
          Ki's voice quavered. "How think Ki get here? No have tribe, only self! Ki not eaten."
          Yu warbled, as he shifted his gaze. "Ki different. More brave. And fly alone. Two more noisy. Call serpents."
          Ki hadn't considered that obvious fact. Alone, she could fly in nearly complete silence through the feed zone. With a partner, it would be necessary to maintain some level of continual contact to avoid collision or separation.
          "Ki sorry. No more brave. Have no choice." Yu had spoken previously of several friends, all compatible misfits. Why not? "Yes, friend Yu. Ask others come. But no tell elders. Ki worried. Make trouble."
          Yu slipped away, to discretely enlist his old comrades. He wished he hadn't neglected them so shamefully over the last few passages. Or had they been avoiding him? Yu had been obsessed. He prayed he could convince the others that Ki was mortal, yet someone they could rally around to form the nucleus of a new tribal family.

          The first erstwhile friend refused even to look at Yu, or acknowledge him in any way. The other members of the pod also shunned him. Dismayed, Yu fled to a neighboring group. He was filled with relief when Yo, an old chum, hailed as he approached.
          "Yu! It is you, isn't it? Some say you have been bewitched by the she-devil."
          Yu replied with a twinge of remorse. "It has been much too long, Yo. But Ki – that is her name – is no devil. I have simply become enamored with her. She has given me reason to hope."
          Yo koooted (the rey equivalent of laughter). "But Yu, she is so large!"
          "And you are still so superficial. Though it is true, she does not fit in here." Yu hesitated, then decided to be direct. "And neither do I. Or you. We are planning to leave, to found our own tribe. And we would like you to join us."
          Yo calmly faced his friend. "Why am I not surprised? You have always been a bit crazy. But do you really expect me to just up and follow you? Good or bad, this is my home." He paused, then continued in a low voice. "You should know that you may have no choice now but to go. The elders are displeased with your behavior. They may even try to separate you, and ban you individually."
          "Our respected elders should be relieved to be rid of their defectives at last. But I do not intend on telling them anything in advance."
          "My bellon is sealed."
          Yu swam more tentatively to the next pod. An old comrade there first excitedly agreed to join the proposed exodus, then balked. He could barely hear Yu any more, and became terror-stricken at the prospect of being separated from the nascent group while sleeping. Yu tried to explain that this prospect was not enhanced by the communication difficulty, but his friend would not listen. He could not bare the thought of facing the end alone.
          Only four of Yu's acquaintances – two disgruntled adolescent male-female pairs, all with unusually adaptive acoustic systems – would ultimately choose to leave. It would be said that the youthful sextet simply vanished in the night. The she-witch had dragged her weak victims back to her dark lair – an object lesson for all good reys.