Daniel sat in the slider quietly, feeling physically and mentally exhausted. He fiddled with the bubble, readjusting it to the cuff of his shirt. Sundown hadn’t said anything since returning to the slider. How had she known that he had magic?
“I take it you’re going to strap me in once we get to the Junction?” he said after a moment.
“Why, are you forfeiting?”
“You mean I passed your second test?”
Daniel went over the events of the ride thus far. The Grid question, then – what? Was it really a test to see if he had magic, or was there something else? What else could his partner have gleaned from pitching him out of the slider? What a question, he thought.
“We’re almost there, so you do want to keep playing or not?”
“Are you going to throw me out of the vehicle again?”
The sidewalk felt strange under Daniel’s feet. Maybe it wasn’t so much the concrete of the sidewalk but the knowledge that below the sidewalk was, quite literally, merely ground. The skin of the world. Solid was, perhaps, a better word than strange. The sidewalk felt thoroughly solid underfoot. It was an unnerving sensation for a man who had spent the entirety of his life in the himmelburg, the city in the sky.
Just one of many to come, Daniel decided.
So far, everything his brothers had warned him about the bodenburg seemed to be true. It was incredibly hot, smelly and occasionally sticky. Just like any long-unwashed body.
The badge that hung from his neck beeped, indicating that it had found his target – his partner. Well, his soon-to-be-partner. They hadn’t actually met yet.
“Tell me,” he said to the device.
Parker’s paws stung with each step. The cold, cold rain had made her pads raw. The earth was not soft anymore. The two-leggeds had turned it to hard rock that tore at her feet as she loped through the forest of metal and cement. A sharp stone caught her in between her toes, stumbling her, but she did not whimper. Her people were all but gone, and such sounds would only attract predators.
The rain seemed to be breaking against the cement in the same way the ocean once broke against the earth, trying to push it back maybe, or perhaps trying to destroy it one drop at a time. She did not know for sure. The rain beings and nimkee birds only brought storms now. She would not have been able to find her way if it wasn’t for her nose, the rain was so thick and violent. The acrid scent of the fire tugged at her nostrils.
The problem, of course, was that the fire hadn’t started yet.