Land Out of Reach
The fog hung over the ocean, clinging to the frigid water like a flea on the hide of a Uni. Penepiko poked her head out from under the waves and looked around for the shore. She was supposed to meet her brother, Ruathra, on the northern beach of Mystery Island for some sort of surprise. The Christmas Peophin had a sneaking suspicion that her brother wanted to see what she thought of his newest toy or something to that extent.
He's gonna need to make his toys waterproof before I can do anything about playing with them, she thought. Penepiko didn't like going on shore. There was something about having to drag oneself across the ground like a crippled Slorg that was demeaning and embarrassing. She'd make an effort for her brother, since she didn't see him very often. Although, she thought, I'd be able to see him and my family more often if I had some hind legs. I could see them and Shenkuu and Meridell and-- She stopped that line of thought in its tracks before it could spoil her mood. Once again, she looked around to see if she could spot Mystery Island.
"Ech, fog's too thick." Penepiko muttered a spell under her breath and a small gust of wind whipped about the Peophin blowing some of the fog back. In the few seconds she had before the mist regrouped, she saw the faint outline of a beach. To her surprise, it wasn't that far off. Penepiko frowned. She hoped she'd be able to find her brother in this mess of a mist.
Once she reached the shore, she dug her hooves into the sand and dragged herself along. It was hard going, for she slipped often. At last, she spotted the red scales of her Hissi brother as he moped near a pile of something-or-other. As Penepiko heaved herself up the beach, the contents of the pile became clearer. Large chunks of steel lay before the red Hissi, and bits of wire stuck out of the metal at all angles. A few loose bolts were scattered across the sand. Penepiko caught a bolt as a wave tried to tug it away.
"Ruathra? What happened?"
The Hissi looked up at his sister, tears in his eyes. "It-It broke. The pair of legs I was making for you... They rusted up in the fog and they broke."
It looked as if Ruathra was about to sob, so Penepiko dragged herself closer and drew him into a hug. She had no idea what to say; she was shocked that Ruathra would go so far as to construct mechanical legs for her and disappointed that they should fall apart so easily. That would have been really neat, she thought. I could've run faster than most pets if those legs had lasted. She tried not to show her disappointment lest her brother become even more discouraged.
"It's okay," she ventured. "Stuff like that happens all the time. And... And thank you for building the legs for me in the first place."
Ruathra pulled away from his sister's hug with a quiet "you're welcome" and looked dolefully at the pile of broken parts. He turned over a metallic hoof with his left wing.
"I shouldn't have been so stingy when buying parts," he said. "Got them all from robot pets that were throwing away their casings. No wonder; so much of it was crumbly and old..." He sighed. "Well, Myorza's here too, as back-up. She said she knew a thing or two about magic if you want to try that."
"Sure," said Penepiko, "as long as it's not that levitation spell. I've tried it so many times over the past five years I'm sick of it." The spell itself was quite elegant and easy to cast; it was the product of hundreds of generations of Peophins casting and perfecting the enchantment. What irritated Penepiko most was how her rump would float in the air for a few seconds before crashing back into the sand. No matter how hard she tried, she could never seem to master it.
Ruathra scratched his head. "She said it wasn't a levitation spell, really. It's... different. Anyways, she's relaxing a bit further down-shore. She's near some water, so you don't have to drag yourself all the way there."
"Alright," said Penepiko. She began to push herself back into the sea. "Thanks again for thinking of me."
"No problem. Me and Myorza want you to visit us on the mainland. You want to visit Shenkuu, right?"
"Of course," said Penepiko as she slid into the ocean. "More than anything else."
It turned out that Myorza was in a small cove near the end of the beach. The red Xweetok lay on her side on a rock that jutted out above the water. She looked up as Penepiko swam near.
"So I suppose Ruathra's contraption didn't work?"
"Broke before I got there."
"Told him he shouldn't have taken parts from the scrap heap." Myorza shifted a bit, allowing her tail to dangle over the edge of the rock and dip into the water. "In any case, I came over with Ruathra to tell you about a new spell that I found. More like a whole sub-set of magic, really, but you get the idea."
Penepiko swam up to the rock and leaned her head against it, her ears perked and turned toward Myorza. "I'm listening."
Myorza, in turn, reached behind her and lifted a book into the air. She took her tail out of the water and rolled onto her belly to look at it. "I interviewed several Peophins that I saw wandering around Shenkuu, asked them how they managed to go about on land. Most of them said they had learned a levitation spell when they were younger. It was the same one you've been trying to learn, so I tended to ignore them.
"One fellow paused for a bit and then said, 'Well, it's hard to explain,' and handed me this book. 'My whole family had to use this,' he explained. 'Among Peophins, it's like being born left-pawed. Most levitate their back ends, some use this.' The book itself is quite interesting, actually. Apparently, this one Pteri discovered a magic powered by willpower alone. You don't even have to say any sort of incantation."
Penepiko put her hooves on the rock and pulled herself up a bit. "You mean this whole time I could've been walking on land because I wanted to?"
"No, that's not it."
"Then what do I do? How do I focus on it?"
"You don't. I mean, if you focus on it the whole thing will never work. You have to focus away from it. That's the hardest part of the spell, especially if you're learning it for the first time."
The Christmas Peophin stared at her sister, unable to wrap her mind around the concept. "Can... Can I see the book? Maybe it explains it in simpler terms."
Myorza shrugged and handed the book to Penepiko. "The author made use of terms of which even I was unaware. You have a dictionary, yes?"
"Yeah," said Penepiko, taking the book in her mouth. "Fank 'oo."
"Ruathra and I are staying in the area for a while. We'll come down and visit you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay." The Peophin waved her sister good-bye, then sank down into the depths of the sea.
The sun set and the fog drifted eastward, leaving the sea naked and calm. Penepiko was nestled in her bed far below the surface with her Kazeriu, Taliat, curled next to her. The book lay open on her pillow; the Peophin had been trying to decipher it for the past three hours. Penepiko scanned the page one more time before she shoved the book away from her and sighed. Myorza was right; the Pteri's method of explaining things was buried under florid language and words that she couldn't even find in the dictionary. Figures as much, thought Penepiko. Can't even do the ruddy levitation spell. Why'd I think I could manage this? Even reading it aloud to Taliat didn't help...
Outside, the sea began to get rough. That meant that a storm had rolled in to take the fog's place. Penepiko swam to the entrance of the cave that served as her home and peered out at the water outside. She could see very little in the encompassing dark, but she could feel the water as it rushed past her nose. It is a storm, she thought. Maybe watching it will cheer me up.
"Hey, Tal," she said, prodding her Kazeriu. "Come on. Let's go up and watch the storm." The petpet looked sleepy at first, but perked up at the word "storm". He nodded and curled himself around Penepiko's neck, letting his head rest on hers.
Penepiko drew a few runes in the air with her hoof. This summoned a protective bubble that would divert the strong currents. To help light the way, Taliat lit up his orbs and had them float next to his owner. Thus prepared, she set off from her cave toward the surface.
Penepiko and Taliat swam in slow circles just below the surface of the sea. Taliat's orbs circled above them, lighting up the waves as they tripped over themselves to crash on the shore.
"Oh man," whispered Penepiko. "It's really going strong tonight." She halted in her circuit, letting the rough currents drift past the bubble. On most nights sitting in the midst of all this chaos and watching it pass her, unable to sweep her up in itself, would soothe the Peophin. Tonight, however, she felt restless: the frustration of her inability to understand what her sister had told her was building itself up within her, begging to be released. Penepiko watched a large wave barrel past, only to hit the shores of Mystery Island at full speed and break apart.
"You know what. I'm going up there. I'm going to ride the waves."
Taliat held on to Penepiko's mane as hard as he could. He figured that at a time like this, there was no convincing his owner to change her mind. Best thing to do was hold on and pray they didn't crash into any rocks.
Penepiko swam against the waves at first, looking for a nice, big wave to ride upon. She could see one swelling just ahead of her. With a grin, the Peophin surfaced, turned the other way and began to swim as fast as she could. Within moments, she could feel the wave bulging up under her, lifting her into the rainy night.
She swam faster now, trying to keep up with the crest of the wave. Wind and rain struck at her eyes, but she didn't care. The most important thing at that moment was riding the crest, watching the world fall below her, insignificant, as she surged forward. She yelled out into the storm, but the wind drowned it out. Her heart pounded and her eyes were open wide. Land was flying toward her faster than she could react. She stretched her legs out as the wave crashed upon the shore; the inertia carried her up the beach, all four hooves kicking up sand.
Wait, what. In an instant, Penepiko's rump crashed into the sand and she fell onto her side. Taliat uncurled himself from his owner's neck and looked the Peophin up and down to make sure she wasn't hurt.
"W-was I...?" Penepiko could hardly talk between gasps. "H-How far am I... up the beach?" She pushed herself upright and looked around. The Cooking Pot met her eyes and her jaw dropped.
Did that wave really carry me this far? The ground below her, though muddy, wasn't entirely flooded, so that wasn't the case. That meant, then, that Penepiko had been running. On land. Without even thinking about it.
"How did I...? How did that even work?" Her thoughts raced back to the moment the wave hit the shore. She hadn't been thinking at all at that point, letting the wave and sheer adrenaline carry her along. Later on, she had noticed four hooves thudding against that the sand and that's when she--
"Ah," she said, her voice weak. "It's just like Myorza said. I didn't focus on it and it... worked." A wide grin spread across her face, and she looked hard at the sand. Try as she might, however, she could not clear her head; she was too excited about her first success. Even after the euphoria died down, not thinking about walking always lead her back to thinking of it, making the point moot. After an hour of trying, she finally managed to get herself standing when she let a happy little yes! float across her mind. Her hide came crashing down again.
What a frustrating spell! she thought. She was beginning to feel the same frustration she had felt with the levitation spell. When she thought about it, however, she had gotten much farther with this whole willpower thing than she had with the levitation. It was enough to keep her from giving up.
She was just wondering what she should do next when Taliat tugged at the red bow tied around her neck. It was frayed and torn from riding on the wave and crashing, but it had managed to hold on. Taliat tugged on it hard enough to untie it. Penepiko looked at him, startled.
"Hey, what are you doing with that? Give it back!"
The petpet ignored her and waved the ribbon about a few times, as if taunting the Peophin. He then stuck his tongue out at her and darted away, raindrops pelting him as he went.
"Why you! Get back here, you Snorkle-headed punk! Give my ribbon back!" Without thinking, Penepiko rose once more and chased after her Kazeriu. This time, the hoofbeats on the ground didn't distract her, for she was wholly focused on her ribbon.
Taliat halted at the southern end of Mystery Island. As Penepiko approached, he held up the ribbon and grinned.
"Give it back," said Penepiko. "I'm warning you!" The Kazeriu floated over toward his owner and nuzzled his head against her neck before lying the ribbon upon it.
"That's better." Penepiko sighed and was about to sit down. As soon as the words "hind haunches" crossed her mind, however, she fell to the sandy ground. "O-o-oh. That's why you stole the ribbon."
She looked over at Taliat, who winked at her and nuzzled his head against her again.
"Thanks little guy. I think I've got this almost figured out now." She nuzzled him back before staring out at the ocean. I don't think it's only not thinking about it. Even if I try to clear my head, I still have the intent of walking. Of course I'd have the intent, because it's not something I usually do.
Something clicked in her head. That's it! I have to accept it as "normal." When I think of what I'm trying to do, I think of it as "abnormal" and that messes up the spell. She took a deep breath and thought as hard as she could, walking on land is normal. I do it all the time. I can do it because that's what I do. All the time.
"Bah," she said, giving up. "That's not as convincing as I'd like. I need something else to get it out of my mind."
Taliat seemed to consider something for a moment. Then, he took Penepiko's ribbon once more. He grinned at her for a moment before darting away.
"Oh, not that again." Penepiko shook her head, then smiled. "You want me to chase you? You don't know what you're in for, pal!"
With that, Penepiko did her best to focus on Taliat and Taliat alone. Despite her efforts, thoughts about walking leaked into her mind and kept her on the ground. It's easy, she told herself. Just get up and walk. It took a while longer to clear her mind, but she managed it in the end. Her mind wandered, but she directed it toward breathing, toward feeling the rain upon her back, toward finding her petpet.
Her tail lifted into the air as if by some ghostly device and she sped toward her Kazeriu. The two ran all over Mystery Island that night, Taliat stopping every so often when his owner crashed to the ground. Penepiko didn't mind, though. She now knew what it took to walk on land and that was the gateway to the world.