Chapter 8:

The First Exit Point

EXIT POINT: Homeworld

Kas woke to Miri nudging his chin with her nose. He murmured something unintelligible, stroking her scaly back, then tried to roll over. A twinge of discomfort brought him awake at once. His arm thrummed with heat and he whimpered at the jostling. He glanced around for the ingestible patches the healer had given him, then realised they were still in his pocket.

“Excuse me, Miri,” he said, and sat gingerly upright so he could reach his pocket. Miri let out a demanding hiss, batting at his stomach with one claw.

Kas realised she hadn’t come back to sleep after all, but to demand food.

In the middle of the night.


“Let me get this first--”

He fumbled the pouch open one-handed, which took longer than he’d care to admit. Before he could raise it to his lips, Miri batted it away, sending the contents splattering in an arc across the floor.

“Miri, no! Bad ziga. I don’t care how upset you are, I needed that.”

She stalked away toward the kitchen, tails waving in syncopated rhythm, the picture of unconcern.

Kas pulled out the second pouch, then closed the bedroom door before opening it. He didn’t have another replacement, and if the growing pain was anything to judge by then he would deeply regret Miri’s revenge.

He swallowed the cool gel and felt it beginning to leach away the pain almost immediately.. The bed called to him, a siren song of rest and warmth, but he opened the door and walked into the kitchen. He’d neglected Miri’s dinner, after all, and it was only right that he make it up to her.

“We’ve both made mistakes this past day,” Kas said as he went about slicing the fish and adding her favourite spices. “Can we put it behind us?”

He set the plate on the floor, and she stalked around it in a circle, watching it from the corner of her eye as though anticipating its attempted escape. Then she pounced, pinning the pile to the plate with both front claws before nibbling daintily at the edges.

Kas shook his head, a faint smile playing at his lips. He bent down to stroke her fluffy ear tufts fondly, and she growled, but not unkindly.

“I’ll be in the bedroom,” Kas said, turning out the main light on his way. The twinging in his arm had died down to almost unnoticeable now, and he thought he could probably get back to sleep. He certainly needed it. Tomorrow would be a dull office day, and he hadn’t had a break in over a tenday now.

He lay down again, and had almost managed to drift off again when Miri’s gentle weight bounced onto his stomach, fluffy tails curling gently along either side of his arm, and her chin resting just beneath his own.

Kas smiled and put a hand on her back, glad that at least one thing was going right in the world.

[Exit Point B-237/73:591/12-KY unlocked!]
[Integrating retainment ‘Miri’...]

[Please verify--]
[Verification bypassed, Exit Point B-237/73:591/12-KY activated.]

Lightning crackled, magic hissing and snarling as it gathered in a circle. Kas sat bolt upright in alarm, and Miri yowled and ran under the bed. Blue and purple light clashed and sparked as an orb of power gathered around Kas. He tried to jump up to run, but the edges of the orb were solid and impermeable. He bounced off painfully and fell back onto his bed, rubbing his forehead.

“What in the—?”

Then he was falling. Golden light left streaks in his vision, clashing with the storm of blue and purple that surrounded him. The roar of the power, the hiss of compressed magic, the crackle of lightning; all of it combined into a cacophony so loud he couldn’t hear himself think.

He twisted as he fell, orienting himself upright, ready to absorb the landing. Old instincts from basic training coming back. How to land, how to fall, how to survive.

The longer he fell, the more he questioned that last. Perhaps the tower had collapsed. That didn’t explain how he continued falling. Beyond the lightning and the sphere of magic, he saw nothing. No city lights, no hint of dawn on the horizon.

This could be Maesik’s revenge. They’d found a way to snatch him away from his own home, just as he’d snatched away their treasure from their hidden closet.

Then the orb of madly swirling power released him. He hit the ground hard, driving him to his knees, and the golden light at his arm blinked in warning.

[Unknown area. Scanning…]

Kas' mana dropped sharply, rapidly drained away until nothing remained.

[Insufficient mana.]

Then Miri landed on top of Kas’ head and they both shrieked. Miri jumped down and hissed, then waved her tails in the air as though this had nothing to do with her and rubbed up against Kas’ legs.

The power behind him receded, the blue and pink lights it threw beginning to fade, leaving behind an overwhelming impression of green. Kas stared around, blinking away afterimages of the intense light.

He was not in Zha Doya any longer, not even close to it. Nor was it nighttime. Instead, he stood on irregular flagstones amid crumbled stone blocks, like the sort used in historical construction from forgotten eras.

Vines, moss and trees grew in profusion, above and through the stone. All but a perfect sphere around Kas, which had been violently decimated. Ash and dust drifted in the midday sunlight, the worn and ancient stones upon which he stood fully exposed.

Kas glanced up and behind him, where the sphere had flattened out into a circular pane that continued to recede and shrink.

He jumped for the shrinking portal, reaching out to snag it before it could disappear, hoping against hope that it worked both ways.

It did not. The hovering disc felt like a solid pane of glass. His fingers slid away, unable to get a grip.

Then it vanished entirely, leaving him stranded.

Miri hissed at him as he landed. Kas carefully picked her up, wary of jostling his bad arm.

‘Exit Point.’ So that’s what it meant. A nigh-instantaneous transportation system.

No wonder the client wanted to steal it. If you could transport your people around the globe in seconds, you could do… anything. Shipping, warfare, tourism, resource gathering… Kas was hard-pressed to think of anyone who wouldn’t want access to instant transit.

Kas stared up at the sky, what little remained visible beyond all the foliage. Judging by the difference in brightness, they’d probably been transported very nearly to the opposite side of the world. He closed his eyes and tried to remember back to global geography. There were three continents spread across the globe, Zha Doya (with its capital of the same name) being the smallest but most advanced and highly magical.

That must be why he felt so empty, why his mana reserves weren’t refilling. He was used to living in the most mana-rich city in the world, not some forgotten ruin on its far side.

If his guess was right, he had probably landed in Ervirna. Fortunately, Zha Doya was at peace with everyone, being a welcoming centre for magical and technological progress. True, there were tensions with its more aggressive neighbours, but no one could afford to upset the biggest exporter of magetech.

Ervirna, though... they had only minimal contact with Zha Doya, even in modern times. It held deep traditions of magic, and tended to be distrustful toward magetech.

Kas grimaced. Between the slower recovery of mana, the loss of anything he wasn’t carrying on his person, and the low chance that anyone local would have a relay orb he could borrow, he might be stuck here anywhere from days to months.

Clear patches interrupted the foliage here and there, the ancient pavement preventing nature’s complete incursion. Below the canopy, the ruin spread out around him, overgrown with brambles or decades-old trees.

Beside him stood a wall - an enormous one. Too smooth and even to be natural, huge blocks of stone each taller than Kas himself somehow fitted together as many as twenty high. Though obviously long abandoned now it must have once been a mighty stronghold. Aside from being overgrown the wall had crumbled in places, with some of the blocks tumbled down leaving lower sections, yet its sheer solidity and craftsmanship stunned even Kas, used to Zha Doya's spires.

Miri’s tails twitched as she stared up at something behind Kas. He turned to see a glittering bird, feathers tipped with what looked like crystal knives, perched above head height on another, smaller fortification behind him, looking down at the unfamiliar intruders into its realm.

Kas squinted at it. He’d never studied enough global fauna to recognise the creature, and couldn’t guess if it would be passive or aggressive. Those wings looked like they could do some serious damage, and he was already injured and unable to fight well.

“I should have saved up for a personal pocket storage sooner,” he lamented to Miri, as she rubbed her nose against his cheek, her eyes still fixed on the sparkling bird. “This would be so much easier if I had my relay and tools.” It had never been a high priority in the past. But now that he’d been dumped in a ruin in the wilderness, possibly as retaliation by Maesik, he decided that as soon as he got home it would be his next major purchase.

Though still tired, the adrenaline spike of fear at the unexpectedness of his surroundings would have prevented him from sleeping even if he was inclined to try.

From what Kas could see, trees surrounded the ruins in every direction, branches blocking out all but dapples of sunlight. If this were a settlement once, it had been hundreds of years ago. How long would it have taken for so many stones of such size to have crumbled and fallen? How long to be so nearly concealed beneath the moss and vines?

“I don’t think anyone has been here in a very long time,” he mused, not sure if he was still talking to Miri or just himself.

While the gravity of his situation continued to grow, he was glad the ziga had come with him. Worried that she mightn’t survive the wilds having been in cities all her life, yes, but Kas was glad not to be alone.

Miri crawled up onto his shoulder, watching the blade-winged bird. It warbled a descending tune in a low key, leaning forward to take off, then made several quick repetitions of the same deep tone before fluttering off in a flash of crystal-bladed wings.

Miri leapt at it, almost knocking Kas off-balance with the force of her jump. He staggered, recovered, and turned to watch. His ziga landed on the stone barrier and immediately leapt again, claws extended. She snagged the tail, but her claws skittered off with a ringing shriek instead of gaining purchase, and Miri fell out of sight on the other side of the slab.

“Miri!” Kas looked around for a way to get through, but the facade extended in both directions far enough that he lost sight of it in the trees. Each block was nearly as tall as Kas himself, which would make climbing them difficult, especially with his injury. He tried grabbing the moss and vines, but it all tore away easily and left him with nothing to hold onto.

“You okay over there, girl?”

“Kkkksskk,” Miri replied, and Kas relaxed. Ziga were excellent hunters, but that vulnerable belly made him worry about her falling.

He didn’t stop trying to find a way over. Miri had jumped onto the lowest part of the wall, but it was still two blocks high. If he could reach the top, he could drop down onto the other side safely enough.

He missed his tools. He could have carved handholds easily. Too late to think about might-have-beens.

Instead, he searched for anything he might have missed on first glance, any sturdy vines or young trees suitable for scaling. There were plenty growing throughout the courtyard, but none close enough to be useful.

Then Miri’s small body appeared at the top of the wall, jumped lightly over onto his shoulder, and began growling happily.

“Hah, right. You’re light enough to climb the vines with your clever little claws. Of course. I shouldn’t have worried.”

Miri batted his cheek with one paw, then jumped down onto the ground and padded about exploring the massive courtyard.

“Don’t get too far,” Kas instructed her, then set out on his own explorations.

EXIT POINT: Homeworld