We can only breathe when we’re near plants. We learned from the namiccians, who learned from the tache, whose intersun ships had to carry a belly full of forest in order for the warriors to breathe when they sailed from one world to the next. The tahori who go to Nami Ka bring back stories of namiccians who have learned to fly, but they can only go so far from the plants on the surface of their world before they, too, can’t breathe any longer. There is an invisible dome around our worlds, a sphere wherein which life exists, and the plants somehow create it.
Between the worlds, there is blackness. Void. Nothingness. There are winds, currents – the tache used them to sail to us – but we cannot breathe them. There is no weight, no up or down. If the winds move you like they move the great ships, you don’t know it; you have no way to tell if you’re moving.
I learned to teleport in tiny steps. Inlanlu almost never have that ability, and no other tahori were friendly enough to help me learn, so I taught myself. I discovered my talent as a child, startled by my brother’s surprise pounce; I vanished and reappeared two feet over, wide-eyed and stiff-tailed. I explored it, learning to move one foot, five feet, fifteen feet. I learned how to pop back in a few inches above the ground and avoid getting my feet stuck in the dirt; I learned how to drop onto a sturdy tree branch twenty feet up, and only once did I miss it and fall all the way down. I learned how to move by inches only, enough to dodge a strike with hand or paw or stick.
In time, I learned how to go to places I couldn’t see from where I was. That was harder – I had to remember how everything looked and hold that in my head – so, instead, I started trying small distances again with my eyes closed. Once I got the hang of visual memory, I could do longer jumps easily. By then, I had met Tari, a fast-talking young man with a brilliant smile. He, too, could teleport, and if my packmates were uncertain to have me spending so much time with a non-inlanlu, they didn’t stop me from meeting with him. Together, we explored our abilities.
I was two years from adulthood when I first tried putting myself into the sky. It worked– I started falling, the ground an uneven patchwork of greens and browns below me. I didn’t have time to think: instinctively, reflexively, I teleported back to the safest place I could think off, three inches above the ground where I slept. It was still a hard landing, my momentum half-preserved. I was shaking.
Tari’s father took him to Nami Ka, enough times that he learned how to go on his own. That was exhausting, he told me, making a jump that far – but he got better, and without his father’s knowing, he took me. I met namiccians, heard their language, smelled their air, drank their water. I tried to remember what it looked like; after I went with him three times, I tried to go by myself.
I didn’t make it.
The distance was too great, and inlanlu don’t have the sheer amount of qki flowing through our bodies that Tari’s people do. I hadn’t known that I needed to develop such a flow, let alone how to do so. I hadn’t known how much was needed.
So I found myself in the void between worlds, bitterly cold, weightless, and unable to breathe. My lungs seized up, and my heart fluttered like a bird inside my ribs. I couldn’t feel my skin within moments, but my bones hurt from the deep chill. As before, I didn’t have time to think: my reflexes tried to take me back to my safe place, where I slept, where I could breathe.
But I was exhausted. Going halfway and then back again was like going all the way, and I couldn’t do it. Panic rose in me as my eyes felt like ice; I couldn’t close them, even to blink. My mouth felt fused shut. I couldn’t feel my hands, my feet, my tail, my face– and, swiftly thereafter, my arms and legs.
At some point, only a few eternal seconds past the realization that I couldn’t teleport home, I realized what I was seeing. Our sun was a tiny ball of fire, making a triangle’s third point with my home and Nami Ka; I was on the invisible line that linked Nami Ka and my world. The worlds were discs, huge in comparison to the sun, facing its warmth; behind them, I could see the cloudy underside of a third world, Ayunra Ka. The sun must swing a circle around all three, once every day. That’s why our nights are longer than our days.
My back was to the sun, and I kept my eyes away from it but for the brief glance over my shoulder; but, even so quickly, the frigid chill lessened, and I could blink again.
I’m in the middle of the universe, I thought to myself, calming. I was surrounded by all we knew, ka, the sum of everything. It was not a bad place to die, even young, even alone.
But the word die scared me again, and reflexes kicked in, trying to take me home, to a safe place–
I woke up a week later, cradled by my brother in his black-furred sanero skin. My pack had gotten so scared when they found me comatose in my sleeping spot that they actually allowed Tari’s family to come onto our territory to look at me. Tari’s father told them that I had used up more qki than my body had in it, an impossible thing, a fatal thing. Having no qki means your body shuts off: heart stops, lungs stop, head stops. You die when you do what I did.
No one was sure how I survived. But, as the years wore on and I learned more, trained more, and did more, I could do it again and again – I could use more qki than my body had and still not die.
Five years after I saw the center of ka, I was the most powerful warrior in my pack.