nd then if you want someone to wait a minute, you say 'par mall', got it?" Kenja looked at him earnestly. Tavis was looking toward the sky. " Tavis, are you listening?"
He wasn't. "Of course I am, you told me to wait a minute so I thought I'd find out what was making that noise."
"Silly, you've got to pay attention or you're not going to learn."
And then it came into view, cresting over the tops of the towering buildings that blotted out the horizon. Tavis had seen pictures of ships before, mostly in books in the athenaeum. But an airship! He sat back in awe as the ship passed across noon-day sky, spreading wings blocking out the sun. He couldn't see much more than the planks of the hull from here, but he caught a brief glimpse of the edges of the sail, and he could make out the subtle turning of the rudder. His ears buzzed with the distant sound of the turbines like an insect hovering nearby.
"…Wow!" Tavis exclaimed faintly standing up from Kenja's side on the steps.
"It's just an airship," Kenja replied. "They fly over here all the time."
"How come I didn't see any yesterday?"
"Because it was Mittlewok. They never fly then."
Tavis continued staring at it until it had disappeared over his apartment building.
"Can we get on with the learning?"
Tavis glared up into Zeyn's red glinting eyes, seething out as much loathing as he could through his bonds and gag. One of the stone-men's faces disappeared from the gawking crowd. In a moment it was back with a ladder which it slid down the hole into the pit where the company were held. The slender stone figure descended. Zeyn followed, floating down into the pit, his wraps billowing slightly as he descended.
The two walked over to Rhoden and Zeyn bent down and pressed a hand up against the side of the conjurer's head. For an uneasy moment, the company sat looking on as the strange, silent dialog ensued. Then the stone-man pulled Rhoden up off the ground into a standing position and Zeyn slipped the gag from his mouth.
"There has been a misunderstanding. The spot we camped on last night is a burial ground for these people." As he spoke, the stone-man began untying Rhoden's bonds. "They attacked us last night to preserve the sanctity of their dead. Zeyn has apologized to them for us. He told them that we did not know and meant no disrespect to them or their deceased."
The group looked on at Rhoden, wary. The stone-man had finished with Rhoden's bonds and moved onto the other members of the group; first Gin, then Tavis, and finally Brogan.
Rhoden continued: "They do not wish do cause us any further harm. We can leave now if we like."
The stone-man removed the BeHemoth's bonds and went over to stand with Zeyn and the conjurer. Brogan stood up, his massive frame filling the small chamber. He was panting and clutching at his sore wrists. He looked at Rhoden.
"Oh yeah? And what if we don't want to leave just yet? What if we want to complain about the service?"
Rhoden glared. "Brogan, do not-"
"Yeah, yeah. I know." Brogan broke in. "One thing though, honestly. Can I talk to the guy that took me down last night?"
"Look, I just want to talk to him!"
Rhoden paused. Tavis and Gin stood together looking on, not daring to move. Rhoden took hold of Zeyn's wispy hand and brought it to the side of his head. Zeyn then turned to the stone-man and chittered to him in the odd language Tavis heard them speaking earlier. Tavis was amazed; Not once had he ever heard Zeyn voice a language. The three then stepped forward and stood before Brogan.
Brogan pointed a meaty finger at the stone-man. "This him?"
"His name is Donix," Rhoden replied.
Brogan stared down at the stone-man before him, the BeHemoth's hard, beady eyes meeting Donix's glassy stone ones. Brogan sighed.
"Pal, I've been in a lot of fights in my time, but I've never met anyone who made me look like such a pug as you did."
Zeyn translated the words. The stone-man stood still, listening.
"How'd you do that anyway?"
Zeyn translated and the Donix replied, chittering and clacking his tongue. Zeyn put a hand to Rhoden's head.
"He will show you if you would like." Rhoden said.
"Hey, I'm not volunteering for target practice."
Zeyn chattered away again.
Brogan sighed again, his enormous form slumping somewhat. "All I'm trying to say is, I got respect for any guy that can sucker me like that." Brogan then made a fist and extended his arm in congratulation. The stone-man looked quizzically at the odd gesture. Zeyn chattered an explanation to Donix. The stone-man nodded in understanding and extended his fist out, lightly striking Brogan's clenched hand, dull sound of stone on leathery knuckles. Brogan smiled.
Then Donix extended both arms upward and placed his palms on the sides of Brogan's head, covering the holes that served as ears on the BeHemoth's skull. Now it was Brogan's turn to look confused. He turned to Rhoden.
"Go on…" the conjurer replied.
Awkwardly, the BeHemoth brought up his own muscular arms, and placed his palms on the side of the stone-man's head. Now it was Donix's turn to smile. The stone man began chattering again, clicking his tongue as he spoke. The words passed through Zeyn and into Rhoden who spoke the translation.
"Donix says he will still teach you the moves if you would like, but only after you have a meal with him and his tribe."
"Who's a good lad, then?" Tavis and Kenja looked up abruptly. The voice came from the street corner nearby. Tavis' eyes went wide and his face brightened into an open-mouthed grin.
"Wiljes!" Tavis exclaimed, running to his uncle.
"Come on, you've got a hug for your favorite uncle, then?" Wiljes leaned down on his hickory staff, spreading the other arm wide to receive the boy. Tavis rushed in to his uncle's embrace, cheering. Wiljes picked the boy up off the ground. Tavis' tiny arms circled around his uncle's ashen beard and thick neck. Both uncle and nephew giggled and laughed in glee.
"Have you been a good lad for your mum then?"
"Yeah, I helped her move the boxes into our new place and everything!"
"Say, you have been a good boy, haven't you? Maybe Uncle Wiljes has got something for you?" The grizzled old man took his arm off the boy, letting him hang as he always did around his neck. He shot his gnarled, meaty hand into a pocket of his voluminous cloak and retrieved a small paper bag.
"This little boy doesn't care for shum-plums, does he?"
Tavis squealed and reached out for the bag, nearly loosing his grip on Wiljes brawny neck. Wiljes reeled his head back laughing. They toyed with the bag for awhile and then Wiljes caught sight of Kenja, still sitting on the steps, looking up at them.
"Here now," Wiljes spoke, "have you got a girlfriend that you haven't told Uncle Wiljes about?"
"No!" Tavis protested. "She's just a friend I met."
"Well, she's a friend of mine then. Go on, introduce us." The uncle let his small nephew to the ground. Tavis bounded over to Kenja.
"This is my friend, Kenja." Tavis announced proudly.
Wiljes beamed. "Afternoon, lass. Are you well today?"
Kenja smiled and began swaying from side to side. "I'm okay."
Wiljes looked to Tavis again. "Are you gonna share some of your treats with her? You can't eat that whole bag by yourself?"
"I could eat the whole thing and ten more after it." Tavis declared. He then turned to Kenja and held out the bag to her. She reached into the wrinkled bag, gently took one of the purplish candies, thanked Tavis and Wiljes, and popped it into her rosepetal mouth.
Wiljes bellowed with a laughter that filled up all the streets for blocks around. "Let's go up and see your mum, then, what d'y say?"
The sun had risen well above the peaks of the Angus Yorl and streaked its way into the training courtyard just behind the soldier's barracks, illuminating the pockets of dust that men kicked up as they trained. Enteroh Nashan strode about the perimeter, noting the clang of spears on shields, giving an obliging nod and a half-smile to any soldiers who paused to salute him. Unhurried, Nashan made his way around to the munitions and medical cabinets and paused to observe two soldiers sitting on a bench, one wrapping the other's ankle with a bandage.
"Now hold still, Streighton, it's got to hurt a little bit," the older of the two soldiers began. The younger soldier grimaced as the bandage was pulled tighter. "All right. See if you can stand on it." Streighton arose from the bench and tested his weight.
"Seems to feel pretty good, sir."
"Good," the senior soldier replied. "On your way back out to the training grounds."
Streighton gave a short salute and hastened away.
Faintly smiling, Nashan sauntered over to the bench. "Morning, Lacondus. Keeping an eye on the men, I see." He paused before the soldier and crossed his arms behind his back.
Lacondus turned and nodded curtly to the Enteroh. "Morning, Sire," he returned. Nashan observed that in this light with the dust all around, the veteran soldier's face had the appearance of sandal leather with a knifecut for a mouth. Lacondus looked on at the king with searching eyes, but remained silent.
"I've been doing some thinking," Nashan began, "about that boy from the other day… The one that Steighton encountered." The Enteroh looked up at the young soldier with the bandaged ankle.
Lacondus cleared his throat with a grunt. "Completely unprovoked. Blow against the royal guard in sight of everyone."
Nashan stared on at the veteran soldier, the sun on his dark face. "Yes… we do want to avoid the appearance of weakness don't we?"
Lacondus nodded. "Of course, highness."
"Very well… Assign someone to prepare an impetus and take it up to Mjorda -We don't want to loose any more men on this waif."
Lacondus stood and saluted. "I shall attend to it, highness."
The Enteroh smiled in return, gave a sideways nod, and strolled away.
Long after Nashan was out of earshot, Lacondus shook his head and frowned. "Give me the leaders of the old days…"
The group climbed the ladder out of the pit and were introduced to the village. The pale light through the overcast sky washed out all the colors of the land, leaving only shades of gray. Tavis surveyed the small settlement and observed that a passing caravan could miss it completely if they weren't looking for it. Many of the dwellings were underground, like the pit they were held in, and those that weren't looked like harmless piles of rocks. Tavis observed that where the stone-men had walked, they left bird-like footprints. Closer inspection would reveal the differences, but at a casual glance, they appeared to be the footprints of a large Ospen or some such fowl.
The village was alive this morning, however. Stone men were moving about, carrying pots and bags here and there, others were starting fires, and little stone children were running about, laughing and squealing.
"Ari-<tok>-<to>." The voice belonged to Donix. He was walking toward a large stone slab, gesturing for the group to follow.
They followed Donix, passing by rock huts where mothers wrapped little stone babies in blankets and wraps. The group arrived at the rectangular stone slab and were each given wooden bowls. Donix then directed them to a simmering pot of dark beans over a fire. An older looking stone-man smiled and served them with a wooden spoon. He gestured them to what appeared to be a woman standing over a pot of jade-colored rice on a nearby stone. She plopped a hearty serving of the dark-green rice over their beans and nodded cheerfully.
"Ka-<te>-chi, ka-<te>-chi." Donix spoke, gesturing for them to sit around the stone slab on slats of wood placed around it at even intervals. The group nodded lamely and sat down.
Gin leaned over to Zeyn. "How do you say 'Thank you'?" she whispered.
Zeyn studied her for a moment. "Tok" he replied at length.
"Then how do you say 'very'?"
Again, the wraith studied her before answering. "Tok-dai."
Gin looked up at their stone hosts and surrendered a wide smile. "Tok!" she announced loudly. "Tok-dai!"
The stone men nodded. Some gave a faint chuckle. "Jad-<te>, jad-<te>," they replied.
"Yeah… Tok's a lot." Brogan said. "Are we gonna get anything besides this ferret food?" the BeHemoth grumbled as he shoveled another spoonful of beans and rice into his enormous, toothy mouth.
"Quiet or I'll pinch you." Gin responded.
Brogan stopped chewing and looked down at her, a queer look on his face. Her comment took him back more than he was prepared. Gin ignored his look, continuing to nibble away at her food.
The company finished their meal in short order. Donix walked to the group carrying a bag in one hand and Tavis' lance in the other.
"Man, that thing gets away from us, doesn't it?" Brogan declared.
Tavis elbowed him.
Donix opened the bag and retrieved the company's weapons and equipment which he quickly returned to them. The stone-man then walked over to Tavis, handed him the lance, and spoke at length, odd syllables escaping around his clicking tongue. Zeyn put a hand to Rhoden's head. The conjurer translated the message:
"Donix says that the chief, eh… elder takes quite an interest in your lance and would like to speak with you about it later if you would entertain him."
Tavis looked up surprised. "Sure." What harm could it do? he thought. Maybe the elder might even have some answers.
Brogan belched quietly and stood up. He walked over to Donix. "Allright, you want to show me those moves." For further emphasis, Brogan held up his hand, made a blade with his fingers and made a poking motion in the air.
Donix gave an understanding smile and beckoned the BeHemoth to follow him to a few nearby boulders. The rest of the team tagged along, eagerness showing on all their faces.
The stone-man held up two fingers. "<t>-oi trek-<t>en".
"He's says: There are two types." Rhoden said from behind them.
"Thanks Professor, I got that one." Brogan replied.
Donix held the two fingers close together and drew them back behind his head. He crouched down low and paused a moment. Then with a violent twisting motion in his hips, the fingers flew like a bolt from a crossbow. The fingertips penetrated the stone and sunk in up to the second knuckle. He then withdrew his fingers, sound of stone scraping on stone, and revealed a smooth deep hole in the rock where he had struck.
Donix turned to Brogan and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. "<t>cha-<te>," he said.
"Shoulder." Rhoden said from behind.
Brogan swallowed hard.
Donix then turned back to face the boulder, crouched low, and retracted his hand, fingers bent back, preparing to strike with the butt of his palm. His hips twisted violently again, and the palm shot forward. The blow hit with a dull rumble. Donix retracted his palm to reveal cracks emanating out from a slight depression where he had struck.
Donix turned, reached around the BeHemoth, and tapped him lightly on the back. "<to>-pi-dae," he said.
"Spine" Rhoden translated.
Brogan shuddered. "I'm sorry I asked."
Mother sat at the small table, cupping a steaming mug in her hands, listening to the sounds of the city outside. Then there was a shuffling at the door and she looked up quickly. Perhaps Jovis was home early…? Tavis certainly sounded excited enough. Then the door swung wide and the pair entered.
"Wiljes!" Mother exclaimed.
"Hello Myrna!" Wiljes replied.
She rose from the table and rushed over to hug him. He returned the embrace, patting her on the back affectionately with one hand, and still clinging to his hickory staff with the other.
"So how are you doing then, dear?" Wiljes inquired.
"Fine, fine." Myrna replied quickly. "I was just having a cup of stroff -Would you care for some."
"Thank you missus, I'd love a cup." Wiljes hobbled over to the table and hunkered down in a chair opposite Myrna's. Myrna walked over to the small stove and picked up a kettle. She poured a hearty mugful of the steaming liquid and walked back to the table with it
Tavis came running from his room, toy in hand, and presented it to Wiljes.
"Look!" he exclaimed, "I've still got your top! It came with us when we moved."
Wiljes looked at the boy and smiled. "Good lad! Have you learned how to throw it then?"
"Watch!" Tavis proclaimed, squatting down on the floor. Placing his tiny fingers around it, he gave it a tremendous twist and sent it spinning in slow circles over the wooden floor. He looked up to Wiljes, beaming.
"Say, that's not bad! But when I say throw it, I mean throw it! Here, let your uncle have a go."
Tavis picked the top up off the floor and handed it to his uncle. Wiljes wrapped his middle finger around the broadest portion and curled it up in his arm. He pulled his elbow back, and then with a grunt and a grimace, sent it twirling out on the floor. The top whined and buzzed on the wooden floor, the metal tip threatening to cut through the planks.
Tavis clapped his hands in glee. "Ooh! I want to try!" He picked his little body up off the floor and scrambled over to it, nearly stumbling over in his rush.
"Here now," Wiljes added, "Why don't you go show your girlfriend how to spin it then, eh?"
"I already told you, she's not my girlfriend!" but Tavis smiled anyway as he picked the top up off the floor and raced out the door and down the stairs with it.
Wiljes turned to Myrna. "Now then, dear, tell me how the family is, what bobs, ay?"
Myrna looked into her stroff. "Well, you know Tavis is still his old self… I'm still getting adjusted." She looked up into his gray eyes. "Thank you for visiting. It means a lot."
"Oh I'm just up about the bend -Probably closer now since you moved. I can't go to long without seeing Tavis anyway. I turn around one day and he'll be all grown up, you know."
"You spoil him," she giggled. "But he needs it."
Wiljes chuckled. "How's your husband doing with his new job?"
Myrna sighed. "Not so well. As it turns out, he needs to spend more and more time at the merchant's yard by the bay to move his leathers. He's doing less smithing and more bartering."
"His eyes show it too; He's tired."
Wiljes held her gaze.
"And you, mum? How are you holding out?"
She didn't speak, just pursed her lips and held it back as long as she could. Then her eyes went soft and the tears came down her cheeks.
"I'm afraid, Wiljes. I'm scared."
The grizzled uncle scooted his chair over to her side. She crumpled onto his shoulder and wailed. Wiljes leaned his staff against the table and put both arms around her, holding her close while she heaved and cried.
"That's it, lass. Let it out."
The day wore on to late afternoon and eventually into evening. The air chilled and at length the sky grew dark. Donix directed the group to the hut of the chief elder.
"Say, Rhoden," Tavis said, turning to the conjurer as they walked, "didn't Zeyn say we were going to meet some Omoz guy this morning? Is that who we're going to go see now? Because if it is, Zeyn's a little late on his prediction this time."
Rhoden gathered his thoughts and then spoke. "I am Rhoden, no? I am also Human." He pointed to Gin. "She is Ginerial. She is also an Elf. Brogan -BeHemoth, Zeyn -Yyyzyzyrn…" he pointed to each in turn, and then finally up to the stone-man leading the group. "…Donix, -Omoz."
Tavis gulped sheepishly. "Notch up another for Zeyn, I guess."
They approached the elders hut quietly. Donix drew back a rugged piece of cloth from the entrance and signaled for them to enter. They sat in a half-circle on the blanket which covered the floor. All except for Brogan whose bulk would not allow him passage. He squatted outside the entrance, holding the cloth up and peering in at the group.
The elder sat cross-legged on the floor at the back of the room. He wore a breechcloth which bore squiggled markings and a collection of beaded necklaces. His stone skin was pale and cracked, jagged lines crawling out of joints and along the long, thin stretches of his limbs. His black, pitlike eyes were sunken deep into his skull, barely reflecting the soft glow of the few candles spread about him.
This hut did not bear the Spartan appearance of the other huts in the village. In addition to the rug the elder and the company sat upon, the walls were etched with pictures and runes, and occasionally patched with pieces of cloth which bore maps and scrawlings that seemed as old as the stone elder himself. Scattered about the elder were feathers, bones, and seeds, glass vials filled with queer liquids, and pastel powders in little stone bowls. Behind the elder and to his right was a small hollow etched into the stone where the elders bedding lay.
The object which attracted the attention of the entire company, however, was a large, opaque, yellowish stone seated right before the elder. It was raised up off the floor slightly on a complex apparatus of sticks and rope lashings. The top of the stone was slightly rounded and smooth. Tavis gazed into it and the cloudy stone seemed to shimmer like water.
The elder then started speaking suddenly, old tongue clacking and scraping in his mouth. Zeyn sat next to Rhoden, fingertips securely pressed against his head on temple, cheek and brow.
"Tak-Hess welcomes you and wishes to greet you all before he scrys your future." Rhoden translated.
The elder Omoz reached out with both hands toward Gin. The young elf girl relaxed as the elder placed his hands over her ears. She returned the gesture, placing her delicate hands on the sides of his large, cracked stone head. The elder continued around the circle, exchanging the greeting with Tavis, then Rhoden, and finally Zeyn. The elder looked long at the Yyyzyzyrn and then spoke a few words in the clattering tongue.
When Rhoden did not translate, Gin spoke up.
"What did he say?"
Rhoden cleared his throat. "He says he has missed Zeyn's company and is pleased that he has come to visit."
"Oh brother," came a low grumble from outside the door. Brogan rolled his eyes.
The elder looked up at the BeHemoth and clicked out a few words.
Rhoden turned to Brogan. "The elder wishes you a welcome greeting, and wishes he had a larger accommodation for you."
"Me?" Brogan queried. "Nah, I'm fine, -see perfectly from here. Tell the elder he can go right on ahead and do his voodoo."
Rhoden scowled at the BeHemoth and turned back to the elder. Zeyn chattered, and the elder nodded in reply. Tak-Hess reached behind him and retrieved a small bowl of powder. He picked up a small pinch in his stone fingers and swept it about the hut in a half circle, the tiny flecks falling on the rug in front of each member of the company. The elder then selected a small vial from the litter behind him and poured thick, syrupy liquid over the yellowish stone. The liquid spread gradually across the stone, making its way to the tiny stick scaffolding, and the rug beneath.
Then the elder began to speak, his voice softer now, more even-toned. His obsidian eyes turned to glass. Rhoden translated as he chanted, but his words were broken, fragmented, scattered. Tavis tried to follow them for a moment, straining to understand the meaning. He felt ill at ease and wanted very much to speak out and ask what was going on.
Then the stone in front of the elder flared to life. Tavis looked deeply into it. The surface shimmered and flowed, inky shapes crawling over each other within the dull yellow. They swam together and finally congealed.
By the heavens, Tavis thought. The first figure to emerge was his master, Endae. He was bent and shrunken with age, leaning heavily on his staff. He's introducing Tavis to Rhoden for the first time. Telling him that they will be journeying together someday soon. That was almost a year ago! Tavis looked to Rhoden and saw him bent low, canting the words of the elder.
The image shifted. He and Rhoden are at the coliseum now, rescuing Brogan from the gladiator pits. The images flare to life with the bright image of Rhoden incinerating the slaving mage. Tavis looked over his shoulder at Brogan outside and saw him staring intently at the yellow stone.
Tavis turned back and saw four of them now trudging through the elven woods. This was just after Rhoden had his dream about Zeyn. Tavis remembered the day: The conjurer woke in a cold sweat, telling them that soon a wanderer would join them. Then Zeyn appeared, and it had been nothing but prophesies from him since then. Tavis felt the Yyyzyzyrn's cold presence from the other side of the hut, like a tangible force.
The images shifted again. Now they were following Mjorda's men, tracking them through their trail of fire and bloodshed. Ginerial is sitting on the grass outside the burning rubble of her home. Her small, terrified voice rang in Tavis' ears: Where are they? Where are they taking my parents? Tavis stole a glance a Gin. Her eyes were wet again with the memory.
The images change. For a moment, Tavis cannot believe it: It appears to be a mirror image of the room they are in now, not a flat reflection like a lake or a mirror, but round. Tavis peers into the stone, seeing himself, peering into the stone, over and over and over, deep well of infinity pooling before him.
Tavis shook his head to be free of it; his mind beginning to close off in the face of infinity. That image is gone now. The figure of Zeyn appeared in the yellowish orb, and he seems to be standing in front of another twisted mirror, his faint ethereal reflection twisted into a bulbous, disfigured apparition. Zeyn's eyes were fixed on the image, expressionless red orbs hovering within his hood as always.
Quickly now, much more so than before, the image blurs. As first, it appears that nothing reforms, and then Tavis sees the dark line of the horizon, and the sun. Then there is a bright speck arching across the skyscape, bright, burning wings cruising, spreading… And the flying creature is also reflected: Strong hull, spanning wings, billowing sails… an airship.
An airship? But why? Where are we flying? It is too late, however. The image has already shifted. The next one is dark. Very dark contrasted with the bright sunlit sky they previously beheld. It's enclosed… a chamber perhaps, long, red carpet stretching toward an altar… or a throne. This image is too clear, though. Tavis is there. He is holding the lance in a battle stance. There is a singe of electricity running along the lance and down through the spearhead. Tavis screams. He charges. There is a man with nut-brown skin wearing a robe and a sash at the end of his charge. With a snap of electricity, the spearhead ignites, and Tavis drives the lance home. There is a beating of leather wings, a snap of fangs and claws.
That image was too clear. Tavis can feel the eyes of his comrades on him. Even Rhoden has ceased his translating. The hairs on the youth's neck pricked up and his mouth went dry. Tavis felt a great pit open up inside. He looked up. Everyone was looking at him. Even Zeyn. Even the elder. He was not sure if they were his friends right now.
The orb faded. The elder ceased his chanting. The images faded completely from the yellow stone. The elder reached over to Tavis and placed his hands upon the youth's head. Not knowing what else to do, Tavis raised his own arms and returned the gesture.
The elder spoke to Tavis. Soft, cracking, earnest.