THE SLATE OF VALE PART 16
Eleven, oh thank God, at least it shows I am moving towards the right direction. Jeff heard himself say as he watched the flame card with a haggard, yet hopeful looks. His eyes had long mastered the rhythm, boring as it may seem, he had no choice but to keep staring, as a close perusal made him discern the additional beep, the more he moved deeply to the west. He had decided to find his way to Ema on foot, as soaring with his H-Board had made him lost the signal once; he wouldn’t take such chances again.
Another slap from the green hands of one of the many leaves, made Jeff curse and slowed his paced, this time he wondered what time of the day it was. The sun was still high up, but it was difficult to tell, because the numerous shed from the plant growth, gave the forest a glooming evening look, with a lukewarm temperature. Hours has passed since they left the humus smelling tunnel to this fresh one, how many he had spent looking for Ema, was still indeterminate. The red beeping of the flame card was the only companion and direction he had, a contrast to the green vegetation.
Jeff’s shoulders were burning hurt from the heavy burden, but he chose not to stop until he finds his friend, even if it meant running himself to death. Ema’s disappearance still registered like a mystery to him. He should have known that the forest was not safe and stayed close enough, at least they would have had a chance against…whatever it was that had attacked. But, what had attacked her? Those dead keepers said a little part of it. Someone surely must have ordered the deadly attack. But who? Who wanted them dead so badly that they had sent a flame card keeper? Was it the school? Jeff shook the thought off his mind. The school would never send the keepers after them. They would have sent something clever. Say an upgrade. Who else knew about their exist from school? Jeff swallowed the betrayer with whatever saliva remaining in his mouth. It couldn’t be Raz or his friends. No, it wasn’t anyone back in the academy. Jeff tried not to think about the possibility that Raz might have sent them to this fool’s errand just to have them murdered. It could be that they have been sold off. Anything could be possible, but Jeff chose to remain neutral, he needed to focus his mind on finding Ema’s captors.
The tears of sweat strolling down from the temporal side of his head, made him swallow again. He nearly stopped to unburden his bag, he was sure he had water there. But the fear that a little pause in his trek could make him lose the beeping signal, made him continued. This was the only shot he got to finding Ema, his taste could wait for now. The beeping of the flame card was now intense and Jeff descry that he might be close to whoever or whatever was with his friend.
The air changed together with the environment. He was out of the forest, into an open field whose grass blade was almost touching his gray belt. No tree stood here as far as the eyes could see and the heat of the sun seemed to be at the epicenter of his head. The green pigmentation on the tips of the grasses seemed to have faded like the sand of a beach, they all lacked life in them.
Letting his eyes wander, Jeff found a small house seating a stone throw from him. The house was so small and insignificant, it could have gone unnoticed if he was viewing it from a distance away, as the house seemed to be built from the fading pigmentation of the grasses. Jeff remembered Raz telling them about this house. A thatched house under a tree, with green grasses surrounding it. Those were Raz description, and it was a wrong one. The green on the grasses were off to holiday and there was no tree above the house. What made Jeff actually doubt if the description were ever correct was that the roof of the house were not made from thatch, but old brown roofing sheet, whose materials were too obscure to identify. Jeff walked towards it however, as the flame’s beep seem to be pointing to that direction.
The walls of the building were too old and some of them that couldn’t bear the brunt of adverse weather condition; were lying half way to the ground or in the ground already. Inside the building were series of straws, arranged in pile over each other. Whoever owned the building was certainly from a Gray linage, as this place looked everything like a farmstead. Jeff hurried towards the straw, with a silent prayer in his stomach; he hoped that this time Raz’s description should be at least correct. His eyes searched the place, not actually knowing where to look, but knowing what he was looking for. Thick untouched dust lined the area; a little wind could make the dust roar like a hurricane. Behind the straws, just at the foot of the floor, on the wood of what appeared to have been a door, he saw the shape of a brown circular object, almost unnoticed from the heavy dust.
Jeff felt his stomach lifting with happiness as he picked up the object and blew off the dust. It should have been black, but the years of lying untouched with nothing but dust, made it brown. The HB55 carved into the circular object was still visible. Jeff walked outside with the HB55 device, with a fragment of doubt.
Placing the HB55 device on the ground, Jeff tried to turn the center clip, but it was all too stiff, that the first five trials yielded no result. Swallowing hard with frustration from his burning fingers and expressing his disappointment, Jeff decided to continue without the device, but a thought popped into his mind and he found himself ransacking his burden as quickly as he could.
The beeping of the flame card was getting weak.
Jeff brought out his water can, and emptied the content on the device, hopping to lubricate the rusted area. It worked, as the clip finally turned when he applied pressure. Jeff smiled and rubbed his palms together. He still could feel the burns underneath the gloved fingers but at least it was not all for nothing. The shiny hopeful smile immediately turned to a frown when he found out that nothing was happening, the clip remained the way it was. Nothing happened.
Jeff shook his head out of frustration for the wasted time, and repacked his bag. What vexed him the most was that the water he should have drank earlier were now wasted on something useless. He picked the flame card, but noticed that the beeping of the card had stopped entirely.
Out of frustration and anger, Jeff picked up the HB55 clip that was on the grassy floor and smashed it as hard as he can. He blamed the clip for making him lose the beeping signal.
BELOW IS THE MAP OF ANADAN
What was that? Jeff asked himself. He picked up the HB55 clip which had made the clicking sound and stared at it with wonder. Above the turning clip was an empty space almost the size of memory chip. Unsure if it will work, Jeff inserted the flame card inside the space and pushed it back inside. More clicking sound followed as Jeff dropped the HB55 clip on the floor and watched as the clip transformed into a hoverbird.
For what seemed like the first time that day, Jeff heard himself laughing as relief flooded him. It was too good to be true. He stared in awe at the stripes of blue, running from the side of the yellow hoverbird, reflecting the scorching sun. It appeared brand new. The speedometer dark screen attached to the front and the version of HB55 in red letters, were the only contrast. At the two sides were strong yellow wind stiffly attached to the yellow body. This seemed to be the latest model. The best hoverbird ever made.
Jeff walked toward it as his eyes caught the beeping signal on the screen, just beside the speedometer. That must be Ema’s captors. Jeff hurried and picked up his bag, Raz had instructed them to soar eastward into the capital of Balom, to report to the Zone 3. Too bad, the signal was pointing to the west, d–n Raz and his friends. Jeff spat and walked towards the Hoverbird.
Jeff sat astride on the hoverbird, with his feet resting on each side of the wings; his burden behind, he turned the ignition to life. The engine coughed at the first two trials but roared to life at the third. Jeff accelerated and soared westward.
The wind rushing pass by, dried the sweat on his face but the adrenaline vibrating inside him, was heating his body that he felt the pleasing sensation he had felt that day on the entrance examination. The flow was intense and loving this time. Nothing seemed to matter as it course through his vein. Everything in him was very alive and active. He could see the glowing of his hands and his body as the power filled him. He was one with the air. Without knowing how he did it, Jeff’s eyes adjusted and he could see thousands of miles clearly, not even the murky white cloud obstructed his view.
Just somewhere ahead, he saw three hoverbird quite identical to his own and sitting in one of them, with hands tired to the back and mouth gag with black cloth, was his red hair friend, Ema.
Jeff accelerated urgently with all his might. He could fell the sweat under his palms, even those under his pinky shirt. He had his eyes ahead trying to pick out the people who had his friend. They were all in black jumpsuit and helmet, with purple cape fluttering in the wind. Jeff leaned in trying to gather more momentum. He could feel the heat inside of him trying to burst open his skin. His head was still spinning with confusion even as he tried to catch up with the people ahead.
Everything seemed to fit now, the betrayer of Raz and his friends. First, it was Raz accepting to train him and Matt, the news about the king, and the theory that only two people would go to Zone-3, And the flame card activating the hoverbird. Why had this people kidnapped Ema? What did Raz and his friends want with them that they had lured them out of the academy? Jeff bit his lips with anger but stop when he tested blood. Raz and his friends would pay dearly. Just hang in there a little Ema, I’m coming for you. Jeff thought, wishing for once in his life that he could communicate with people using his psyche.
Jeff shifted the hoverbird’s gear and accelerated to the highest speed. Just when he felt that he was close to the kidnappers, the earth shook greatly and Jeff crashed.
“Ema!!!” Jeff heard himself call before the cold arms of the void claimed his consciousness.