Wake. Rachel rolled out of her blanket and was on her feet in an instant. Sedgewick had woken her up enough times on their little trip west through the desert that she was getting good at it.
It is time to depart. The Sundlin forces made an early start of things, it seems.
She looked around. Xavier was missing, but with a moment's focus she thought she could sense the mononoke that he kept with him to the south-west. It seemed like it was moving her way, though, so probably not worth worrying over. She stepped over to Sumiko and nudged her awake with her toe. «Rise and shine, Sumiko.»
The racoon woman rolled over, growled something unintelligible, and glared up at her.
«Sundlin's on the move, so we don't have much time to pack. You coming with us, or heading back to civilization?»
Sumiko crawled out of her bedding, stuffed it into a nearby backpack, and shoved it over toward Rachel. «I don't know why you're asking, when you convinced me to go back last night. Where's Zabi-kun?»
Rachel waved to the south-west. «Headed this way, far as I can tell. Sedgewick says the Sundlin forces are trying to loop around from the north, so if you head back the way Xavier is coming, that will be your best chance to bypass them. Not sure how you're going to get past their camp, though.»
«I can always backtrack and go over the cliffs.»
Rachel shrugged, and didn't offer any commentary. She couldn't think of any better ideas, and Sedgewick seemed to think that Sumiko would be perfectly capable of dealing with or evading the lesser kami that were lurking around near the upper edges of the canyon. She kind of hoped Sumiko did run into Bafubani. They were quite different, but she had a feeling they'd get along really well.
«Sumiko-san, Rachel, wake up, there's—oh.» Xavier stumbled up at a partial run.
Rachel shouldered the larger of the bags they'd liberated from the Sundlin army. «Ready to go, Xavier?»
«Uh, yes. I guess. Uh, Sumiko-san?»
Sumiko walked up to him, and before he could react pulled him into a hug. «I guess this is good-bye, Zabi-kun.» She pushed him back to arm's length. «If things don't work out, come back to the Confederate States. I'll make sure you have a place in the Society for Progress.»
«Right. Uh. Thank you. Look, Sumiko-san, can you—» Xavier appeared to be having trouble forming a complete sentence.
«I'll let everyone know what happened, and why you're heading back to the Tachigare.»
«Thanks. Thank you for everything. Look—I'll miss you. Tell Kahina-san and Yukio-san thanks, too. And good-bye.»
Sumiko smiled at him. «I will. Now you'd better get a move on. You do not have a fun trip ahead of you.»
«Yeah. Right.» Xavier backed up, located his bag, and started somewhat frantically trying to jam his blanket into it.
«Sumiko,» said Rachel. «A human named Malken and a bakuhito named Bafubani accompanied me out of the desert. If you happen to find them, please tell them good-bye for me, too. I don't know what this Society you two have been talking about is, but they're a very capable pair, and they're going to need somewhere to live.»
Sumiko eyed her. «I will keep that in mind.» She grabbed the small pack that she'd prepped the night before from some of the Sundlin supplies. «I should go. Zabi-kun—keep warm at night.» She waved, and started across the sand to the south-east.
Xavier raised his hand like he wanted to stop her, but then let it drop when she didn't turn around. «Good-bye, Sumiko-san! I'll miss you!» he called. She raised a hand in acknowledgement, but kept moving.
"She has the right idea," said Rachel. Boy did it ever feel good to fall back into English. "We need to get a move on."
"Yeah," said Xavier, still watching after Sumiko. "Yeah, I guess we should."
While she walked, Rachel went over her assets; it was pretty obvious Xavier wasn't going to be much for conversation for a while. They'd scored blankets, and enough water containers to last them a day, maybe a day and a half without refilling. That wouldn't have been nearly enough when she'd first set out from Henka, but the river made for an easily accessible source of potable water, and she'd had a month of practicing with Sedgewick. If they needed, deriving enough water to drink from plants would not be a problem. It would just slow them down a little. They hadn't been able to find much in the way of food, but again with Sedgewick's help she was confident that was a manageable issue. Depending on Xavier's physical capabilities, and how soon they could shake off pursuit by the Sundlin forces, they could probably make pretty decent time, particularly because she'd just traveled this whole stupid valley going the other direction and had a very good idea of what areas the Sundlin troops were occupying. Perhaps if the main bulk of the army headed back down this way they could be caught in the middle, but unless they arrived within the next day or two she and Xavier could just loop around out in the desert proper. The cliff walls should be much more navigable as they got further from where the valley gave out into the Confederate States.
As for what the narrative might throw at them, she was honestly unsure. At this point, they were in uncharted territory as far any of the reference material she'd read and Bill's speculation went. An army marching right into their face certainly would be the most likely way to mix things up. Or maybe an attack by some of the kami in the desert? Neither of those seemed like problems she and Xavier couldn't surmount, though, and the main things tying Xavier to this place were back in the Confederate States—excepting his mononoke, of course. And Sedgewick, for her, she supposed.
Which reminded her…Sedgewick, you're really fine with helping us get back to my world?
Of course. I would have enjoyed coexisting with you longer, but by my best estimate separating from you will require quite a lot of my excess nima so I may in fact be able to exist on the surface of the world without issue once you are gone. This has been a profitable partnership.
That was a load off, at least. She'd have to pick Xavier's brains about the mononoke, though. She'd noticed that it was constantly in physical contact with him, which could mean any number of things. None of them good.
Perhaps tonight. She had a feeling there was a lingering problem there; he and the mononoke had been quite far off from the camp when she'd woken up in the morning.
In the meantime, she paused and looked back. Dust hung in the distance where a chunk of Sundlin soldiers were scouring the valley for them, but she didn't think they would catch up. Sedgewick had laid a few false nima trails out into the desert when they'd started, and by stirring up a slight breeze behind them was erasing most physical signs of their passage. Not that there was anywhere for them to go but up the valley at this point, but it couldn't hurt. Xavier also appeared to be doing alright, although at the moment he was slogging through the sand with his head down. She'd have to suggest a break soon. It had become increasingly clear as she traveled with Bafubani and Malken that Sedgewick was slowly increasing her physical capabilities. She'd have asked him to stop, except it was so damn useful. She wondered idly if the changes would persist once they were back in their own reality. That could be fun.
The sun rose higher, the sand heated up, and Xavier and Rachel walked on.