Chapter Test Drive
From: Book 4, “The Machine”. Chapter 8: Racing With Waft
THE MACHINE is the second installment in the Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy. The book deals with Lord Kabyl of Blanchefort’s quest to recover the three pieces of an ancient machine known as the Oberphilliax and his growth from an unsure boy to a confident young man.
In a desperate attempt to force her love, Lord Kabyl of Blanchefort, to improve his sadly lacking Gifts, Lady Sammidoran of Monama created three powerful manifestations from Nightmare magic, each representing one of his three Gifts (Waft: a teleportation, Cloak: invisibility, and Sight). While on the planet Xandarr, Kay is visited by the manifestation of Waft. Waft will put Lord Kabyl to the ultimate test, and, if he fails, he will die.
Waft: A manifestation of Nightmare magic
Judge of the Trials: A giant bronze man also created of Nightmare magic. Within his hollow chest sleeps Lady Sammidoran. She will not emerge until the Trials are complete.
The Setting: Xandarr Keep, nighttime
In the far distance, he saw something moving through the air. A chariot, floating on the wind, pulled by three naked women and driven by a tall, statue-like bronze man, approached.
Soon, Kay was backed into the room, the tall man looming over him in his chariot. The orange eyes of the three women pulling the chariot glowed in the dark.
“It is time for your first test,” he said in a flat baritone. One of the women unharnessed herself from the chariot and stepped forward. “This will be a test of Waft. Remember, Lord of Blanchefort, this test tonight is a mortal one—fail, and you will die.”
“Where is Sam?” Kay asked.
Without answering, the chariot turned, and the remaining two women pulled him back out into the night air. He was gone as quickly as he came.
Kay and the woman stood there staring at each other. Her mud-like appearance cleared up. Now, with the exception of her orange eyes, she looked just like Sam. Her mane of black hair went down to her ankles, and her naked body was inviting if he allowed his mind to wander.
“Get dressed,” she said finally. “Or we can do this naked; it’s your choice.”
Kay, remembering the night in the Grove, started dressing.
“She must really like you, to go to this extreme,” Waft said watching him dress. “In any case, make no mistake, I really don’t care whether you survive this or not—it makes no difference to me. I am here to test and expand your abilities with the Waft, and I will not be a gentle teacher. You will progress to my satisfaction tonight, or you will die. I hope that’s clear to you.”
“I’m not helpless,” Kay said pulling his boots on. “I’ll defend myself.”
“Oh, going to fight me with your CARG are you? Go ahead, take my head off with it—won’t make a difference, I’ll just put my head right back on. I am a creature of the NIGHTMARE, and you cannot harm me with your weapon. The only way you’re going to beat and be rid of me is with your Waft. Understood?”
Kay finished dressing and saddled his CARG. She looked him over.
“Now,” she said, “your test has begun. First, I want you to Waft out to the courtyards below.”
Kay went to the terrace and peered over the side. He was two stories up, about sixty feet to the grass below. He decided it was best to try and get this over with and comply with her wishes. He stood straight and began to Waft. Slowly, he could feel the usual funnel of air begin to build up around him.
“No!” Waft screamed, incensed. “Too slow! Too clumsy!” She strode up to him as the wind began to blow and punched him hard in the stomach, doubling him over. She then picked him up with one arm and threw him over the side of the terrace like a sack of laundry, where he landed in the grass below with a cry.
Kay lay there blinking up at the stars and moons in a daze. He was in great pain, but he didn’t think anything was broken. After a moment, she appeared in front of him, naked as ever. “Your Waft is pathetic,” she said standing over him. “Your concentration is terrible, and your technique is laughably bad. This could very well be the last night of your life, and that will make her very sad. She’s doing this because she loves you. Why, I really don’t know.”
She helped him up. “Anything broken?” she asked.
Kay checked himself over. “No, I don’t think so, but …”
She took his left hand and savagely broke his pinky. Kay reared back and choked down a scream.
“I’d Waft away if I were you,” she said breaking the next finger in a grotesque fashion. Kay tried to pull his hand away, but her grip was unbreakable.
“Waft, Kay!” she yelled. Pain and nausea flowed through him.
Just as she was ready to break his long finger, there was a rush of wind and Kay was gone. He had Wafted back up to his terrace. He stood there holding his hand, agony throbbing through him. The room began to fall to amber. He could see his broken fingers. He could see the snapped bones under the skin—nice clean breaks. Nothing that couldn’t be repaired. Incredible pain. He concentrated and pulled his Sight back to normal. Now wasn’t the time.
She appeared a moment later and smiled. “That’s better,” she said. “Pain, unfortunately, is a fine motivator. I’m sorry, and there’s nothing personal. Look how fast you Wafted up here—that’s what I’m looking for: fast, effortless, with a minimum of wind and noise. A lot of wind and noise is the hallmark of a bad Waft, contrary to popular belief. Let me see your hand.”
Kay didn’t want to give her his hand, but she took it anyway, examining his broken fingers. “Good. In the morning, should I not have to kill you, the King’s Hospitaler will be able to fix you right up. For now, you need this dose of pain. If you can do what I think you can, then you can virtually fly. Great Wafters can Waft so fast, they can fly through the air—you can do that. Not even your father can Waft that fast.”
She stepped out onto the terrace and pointed to a distant mountain. It was the tallest of a sturdy range, shaped like a crooked shark’s snout. Kay thought he could see a dusting of snow at its gentle rounded peak. “You see that mountain, the big one?” she asked. “We’re going to have a race right now, you and I. We’re going to race to the top of that mountain, and either you beat me to it, or you’re going to die. Understand?”
Holding his hand, Kay walked to the edge of the terrace and gingerly looked out. The mountain seemed far off in the night. “How far away is that mountain?”
“About sixty or seventy miles—what difference does it make? Here, I’ll give you a head start.” She picked Kay up with one arm and threw him off the terrace again. This time he Wafted with a quick blast as he tumbled through the air and appeared several hundred feet away, landing on his feet. He looked back. She was standing there on the terrace, her pale body framed by her black hair. “Better move!” she yelled, her voice echoing. He was standing on the ground, surrounded by tall trees, he couldn’t even see the mountain from where he was. Using the moons overhead as a directional guide, he started running. He’d taken a few steps when he was roughly clothes-lined by Waft’s soft but strong arm. He hit the ground holding his throat.
She was irate. “If you’re going to waste my time running, I think I’ll just go ahead and kill you now!”
She pulled a medium-sized tree out of the ground and made to slam it down on Kay. He jammed his broken fingers, creating a spray of pain and Wafted several hundred feet away to the top of a distant tree. She threw the tree aside and followed in a blast. The race with Waft was on in earnest.
copyright 2015, Ren Garcia