kay now, raise it up for me while I put this wrap on -That's right… okay, good. Now just keep it out of water for a couple days and you should be fine."
Tavis liked this ayah better than the one he had when he and Mother arrived. The first ayah was mean. It was bad enough that Tavis hurt his arm when he fell down the stairs in the apartment, but then that big woman had to treat him like he was stupid about it.
"There you go," the ayah stated, finishing with Tavis' wraps, and securing his arm to his body with a sling. She looked at Tavis with calm brown eyes. "You should be able to take that off in a couple weeks, okay?"
"Okay." Tavis replied.
"Allright," mother declared to Tavis. Then looking up at the kind woman, " Thank you, ayah. I'll try to keep him out of trouble."
Tavis grimaced at that one.
Mother took him by his good hand and helped him off the table. Tavis didn't like this dispensary. It was dirty and crowded and there were sad-looking sick people everywhere. He once went with mother to the dispensary back in Piruville when she cut her hand while she was slicing pamoles for dinner. That was a nice hospital, nothing like here.
"How about if we cook sinefish tonight since your Dad's coming home for dinner?"
Tavis grinned giddily. "I love sinefish! Can we have skelly sauce with it?"
"Sure. I'll even let you pick out the fish at the bay mart."
Tavis' eyes brightened. "Really?"
"But only if you promise not to run down the stairs when your father comes home."
Tavis glowered down at his wrapped arm. "I promise."
The group had been hiking for four solid hours since they left the Omoz village. It was past noon when they decided to stop and rest. Each member of the group was sitting or reclining on logs, rocks, or clumps of vegetation, catching their breath and taking the weight off their feet. Gin was lazily carving away at a stick she found, fashioning it into a walking staff. Only Zeyn remained attentive, hovering impatiently a short distance up the trail.
"What do you think those visions meant?" Gin said, the first one to inquire about the elder's scryings since they left the Omoz village.
Tavis did not meet her stare, still to shaken by the final vision, the images of him killing the Enteroh burning brightly in his mind.
Somewhere within the awkward pause, Brogan had pulled out one of the odd traveling rations that the Omoz had given the team in parting. He munched noisily on the pone-wrapped treat, odd vegetables popping noisily as he ate.
"You know what this kinda tastes like?" Brogan announced to the group, examining the half-eaten food in his hand.
"What?" Tavis replied, eager to avoid Gin's earlier question.
"Eeew!" Gin squeaked, scrunching up her face, "I had some of that food once. They used the yuckiest sauce. It tasted like sweet, sicky-sour gravy juice or something."
"Just like Skein food," Brogan continued, ignoring the Elf girl "only without the meat."
"What kind of animal do you think they use for that meat, anyway?" Tavis asked.
"Who cares? It's good." Brogan replied.
Tavis looked down, chuckled, and shook his head.
"See, I got this theory," Brogan continued, mouth full of food. "Everybody likes Skein food, but nobody will admit to it."
"Go on." Tavis reproved.
"No, serious," Brogan defended, "Think about it, Skein restaurants are always full of people."
"They're dirty -They've got to be the most filthy restaurants anywhere -and they're everywhere. Crowded, too."
"Like I said, full of people."
"And it's good food, too."
"Well, it's cheap."
"There you go: Good, cheap food and great service. -That's why everybody likes Skein food."
Brogan turned to the conjurer who had been sitting pensive the whole time. "Rhoden, tell me: You like Skein food?"
"See, what did I tell you," Brogan declared, turning back to Tavis, "Everybody loves it; Nobody will admit it." And with that, the BeHemoth went back to munching the pone treat.
Long after the BeHemoth's noisy eating had ceased, Gin spoke up again.
"What is this place we're going to, again."
It was the conjurer who responded. "Zeyn says there is a lamya in the foothills where we can get more information."
"I believe the Elven word is caern."
"It's like a focus or an anchor."
"One of Zeyn's ancestors is there."
"That's it!" Brogan exclaimed, "I don't want to hear any more." The hulking BeHemoth lumbered up from his sitting place and began to wander off. "I'm gonna go crazy if I hear about that… guy anymore."
After the weeds ceased rustling in Brogan's wake, the only thing heard for long moments was Gin's tiny knife on the long branch she held. One by one, the shavings fell to the ground. After an extended time, she stood and held the stick fast, testing her weight on it and the feel of it in her hands.
"All right!" she exclaimed. "Now I've got a lance like Tavis!" She then began making twirling and thrusting motions with the branch, jousting with thin air.
Tavis observed her for a moment, and couldn't hold his tongue any longer. "No… no, no, Gin, that's not right."
Gin stopped her tilting and looked at him intently. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you haven't got it. That's no way to defend yourself."
"What do you know… What are you saying?"
"I mean look," the youth explained, catching the lance which leaned on a stone where he sat. Quickly he unscrewed the wicked spear point from the top of the haft and set it on the ground by his pack where it would do no harm. He stood up and strode over to her. "If someone comes at you like this-" he brought the lance up and swept it down menacingly toward her head. She responded; Raised both arms upward, tight hands clutching the knotted staff. Metal thumped on wood as Tavis' lance struck. Gin grunted with the impact, retracted one of her hands which stung from the jolt, and shook it madly in the air.
"Ooww!" she cried. "Careful!"
"See," Tavis responded, no remorse. "It takes a long time to get it up there with both hands and it always stings."
"You could've told me!"
"This way, you learn."
She shot him a pouty look.
"Try this instead," Tavis went on, "When I come down, just twist your hands, and hit my lance with the end of your staff, not the middle, and twist your body to the side at the same time."
Gin raised her staff slowly and took a defensive stance.
"Ready… now!" Tavis brought down the lance. Gin did as she was instructed. The wood whistled low in the air met the oncoming blow, and deflected it soundly, twisting her body in time to dodge the lance as it struck the ground beside her.
The Elf paused and cast about slowly, taking in the event. A bright grin crossed her face as she looked up at the young man before her.
"You see?" Tavis said.
"Wait," she said, "now what do I do if you thrust at me with the end?"
"Well, first you've got to learn what to do when I come from the side."
"Well… show me then!"
Rhoden and Zeyn stared on at the two, Tavis advising, Gin questioning, as the pair sparred for the better part of an hour.
Nights in Rhendale were another thing that Tavis couldn't get used to. The unbearable heat made it impossible to sleep. He'd try opening his window for air, but that would only bring in the odor of the Skein restaurant down the street, and the noise of the people that never slept.
Eyes open, staring at the cracked and peeling paint on the ceiling, Tavis lied awake on his narrow bed. He had counted all the cracks the night before, though, and the night before that as well.
Sighing, Tavis slid out of bed, paced around the small room, examined his old astronomy booklets, sat down, stood up, and eventually found himself by the window, hot stark malodor of the night in his nostrils and on his tongue. He had looked out his window onto this patch of street so many times now that the image was indelibly etched in his mind. Nevertheless, he looked on: staring into all the dirty, clouded windows across the street, the light of dull lanterns flickering within. His eyes crossed over the old bricks, the worn plaster, the failing shingles, and finally rested on the cold cement of the street.
Off in the distance he heard a band of people. Young, but not as young as himself. The voices rose as the band drew closer. Tavis could make out some of the things they were saying now, a mix of Delian and Roke. They were shouting, laughing, daring, leering, taunting. Maybe they were shouting to other people, maybe they were shouting amongst themselves.
At the top of his street, the band appeared. They were dressed in odd clothing and had markings on their faces. They were kicking at loose stones and banging on lamps and fences with sticks. They were throwing things now, bricks and stones. Tavis heard wood crack and old glass breaking. They were too close. Tavis ran from his window and dove into bed.
An eruption sounded downstairs. Someone screamed. Tavis cringed as he heard the voices from the street, harsh and cruel. More glass breaking. In his head he saw the shards falling, striking on wood and cement as he heard them fall, so vivid, so stark.
They passed; The voices passed. It seemed like an eternity, but they were gone soon, and fading as the gang ran down another street. Tavis crept out of bed. He checked out the window. They hit Kenja's place downstairs. Tavis rushed out of his room and headed for the door to the stairwell. Mother and Dad were already standing there, holding each other and looking downstairs. Tavis crept up and poked his head around the door frame to see.
Kenja was there at the bottom of the stairwell, sobbing. She was making out words but they were choked and flustered, none of them made any sense. Her Mom was there, pulling hair out of the little girls eyes and speaking calm words to her. All the neighbors were out in the stairwell too, wearing their bedclothes. Some were chattering but most were silent.
"Go on back to bed son, go on." Tavis looked up into his father's face. Dad didn't look strong or sure right now.
"Go on, you heard me, run to bed."
Panting, worn, Tavis and Gin stumbled over to their shady spot by the trailside, hunkered down and dropped their staves.
"That was… so funny when… when I got you on the ankle and you fell down." Gin said, through gasping breaths that gave way to laughter.
"That was only-" Tavis swallowed loudly. "That was only because I was standing on a patch of loose gravel." A few gasps. "If I was on solid ground, you would have never got me down."
"Is that what you're going to ask the next guy you fight with? 'Excuse me? Can we move onto the grass first? I fall down a lot on the dirt.'" Gin laughed again, reclining her small frame back on the grass.
Tavis chuckled as well. He reached down into his pack and retrieved a waterskin, knocking and spilling his belongings on the grass. He popped the cork out of the end, tilted it up, and drank heavily. After some noisy swallows, he pulled it from his mouth and offered it to Gin.
She took it without a word and closed her little mouth around the opening, then tilted back and drank deep. Thin yellow hairs, glowing with perspiration wrapped about her soft, small neck as she leaned her head back. Her defined Elven jaw and cheekbones caught the scattered sunlight through the trees. Tavis wondered how it was that Elf girls always looked so mature even at a very young age.
At length she finished, passed the waterskin back to Tavis and looked around, panting. She caught sight of a few little baubles that had fallen out of a pouch in Tavis' pack: A little white vial like a cup with rounded sides and a narrow opening; A dark, gold-colored flat stone like a coin; And a little figure of a man carved out of jade.
"Hey, what are these?" she said, reaching out and grabbing the little jade man and the white vial, one trinket in each hand.
Tavis turned and saw her. "They're just some good luck charms I keep around with me. They're just things." He paused while she turned them over in her hands. "You've seen them, okay? Now give them back." Tavis reached out to take them.
Gin pulled her hands back, keeping him from the baubles. "Does the little man take a bath in the cup?" she asked, sticking the little jade figure inside the vial.
"No! He doesn't! -Give those back."
Gin giggled and teased, holding them away and rolling over to avoid Tavis' grabbing hands.
"I said, give those back!" He lunged on top of her and pried at her little fingers.
"Ow! Ow! You're hurting me!"
"Give them back, Ginny."
"All right, all right! Here!" she said, tossing the trinkets in the grass by her feet. "Here's your stupid toys! Geez, you don't have to be all grabby!"
Tavis leapt off of her and retrieved the items from the grass. He quickly returned them to his pouch, and pulled at the strings to close it shut.
"You didn't have to be so grabby!" Gin protested again.
"I wouldn't have to if you'd just given them to me."
Gin gave a loud grumble, grabbed her staff, stood up with a clamor and stomped over to Rhoden.
"Can we leave now?" she demanded.
Rhoden looked her in the eye, shot a glance at Tavis, and stood up without a word. He paused and then turned and walked over to Zeyn who was still hovering a short distance up the trail. Gin followed, short legs propelling her forward, stabbing her staff in the ground as she walked.
Tavis looked down at the pouch in his hand, feeling the shapes of the objects through the soft leather, three words ringing in his ears:
Jhaway, Entesah, Moniah.
Brogan stood atop a tall boulder, eyes closed, breathing even. He extended his lengthy arms outward, armspan longer than he was tall. One at a time, he raised his feet and touched his toes to his open palms, knees unbent. He then inhaled and exhaled deeply, and dropped his head forward. Like a crossbow, his body snapped as knees came up, arms clutched round, and his tight, packed form turned over in the air. The callused, leathery feet caught the stone as he landed, a gentle padding scrape, and he was standing upright again.
Tavis hated to disturb the BeHemoth. He loved to watch him practicing acrobatics, and he had a perfect view from the trail.
"Brogan, it's time to go."
The BeHemoth's eyes snapped open and fixed on Tavis.
"Come on. Everyone's leaving."
Brogan leapt off the boulder, landed on the ground with a crouch, and strode over to Tavis.
"You're pretty good." Tavis remarked.
"What, that?" the BeHemoth responded, jutting a thumb toward the boulder behind him. "Nah, just keeping in shape is all. Don't want to lose my ability."
"No, you're better than that. Say, why didn't you work for the circus instead of fighting in the gladiator pits?"
"Long story, kid. You ain't got time." The BeHemoth clapped an enormous hand on the youth's shoulder and gestured up the trail. "Come on, let's catch up with them, they won't wait for us."
It was morning. The sun had edged its way over the distant mountains and was creeping over the rooftops. Orange light rays were already streaking between the buildings, dispelling shadows and casting the city into harsh visibility. The morning sun in Rhendale was never warming or cleansing; It exposed the streets and bared the alleys, taking all the rubbish and refuse from their comfortable hiding places in the dark.
Tavis walked out the front door and onto the steps. He picked up a small shard of glass off the ground. It had been almost a week since the gang had destroyed the window, but he was still finding bits of glass that no one had picked up. He looked up squinting at the slice of orange sun that peered over the buildings on the opposite side of the street.
Tavis walked down to the dirt by the walkway and etched out a Tenkers circle with the glass shard. He straightened the edge a bit, and then populated the circle with some chips of wood and stones lying nearby. He took the shard down low by the edge and began flipping it at the smaller ones. He was feeling skillful today. When the other children woke up, he knew he'd win a lot of their pieces when he played them.
Then he heard a noise. A muffled groan came from the alley; Not the one right by his apartment building, but the next building over. He heard the groan a few more times, louder, longer. He stood up and crept slowly over to the alley that held the source of the noise.
Tavis paused at the corner of the building. The moaning was intermittent now and on the verge of forming words. The boy held his breath and peeked cautiously around the corner. Crates, cans full of trash, and a long pile of dirty rags on the ground. Nothing unusual. The boy blinked and edged into the alley stepping into clear view,.
Then he saw the rags move, and realized what he saw. From within a clump of cloth, a few fingers extended and clutched at the ground. A hooded, bearded head rose, and then rolled to one side. Eyes met his; cold, hollow eyes looked into the boy's, pleading and pained.
Tavis looked down along the stretch of rags -clothing, he realized, dirty, ripped clothing. They boy's eyes scanned the man furiously, eyes darting over and across him, trying to take in the awful scene all at once. The man's boots were gone -stolen, the boy concluded, cloak torn back, purse gone from his belt, just the strings left as a reminder. And… was that mud… or oil on the man's back where he had slipped…
Blood, Tavis realized in a rush. Rich, thick stuff leaking out of the body's lower back, more black than red. Eyes wide, breathing quick and stilted, the understanding came. Left for dead. Robbed and left for dead, but not dead yet. The head bobbed up, the arm stretched out, and the hand reached out to the boy, pleading. Tavis' head snapped down to look. He gasped, turned, and ran.
His arms and legs pumped furiously, his feet beat the cement. Tavis reached his apartment and ran up the steps two at a time. He flung the door open and gasped to see a neighbor woman standing before him. He paused, stared up at her, and then darted around her legs. She yelled after him, complaining and scolding in Delian. He flew up the stairs threw the door open, raced into his room, and leapt onto his bed, shivering.
"Tavis? Tavis is that you?" It was Mother calling.
Oh no, Tavis thought, She saw me, she knows.
"Tavis, have, you been out already? Come on, it's time for breakfast."
Oh no, oh no, oh no. Please don't be mad, mom. Please, please, please don't be mad.
Brogan and Tavis found their friends waiting for them a ways up the trail. Together they hiked long through the afternoon and into evening. In the fading light of day, the group began to see steam wafting out of cracks and holes in the ground. In spots the team spied boiling puddles of mud, bubbles of different sizes popping and belching out steam and odor.
"Eeeww!" Gin exclaimed, holding her nose. "What is that awful smell?"
Rhoden looked at the Elf girl thoughtfully and replied. "These are hot springs. What you're smelling are the elements inside Rone. The water heats them and brings them to the surface."
Gin didn't remove her hand from her nose. "I never knew Rone was so stinky inside."
"How do you know all this?" Tavis inquired.
"I had an alchemist friend once," the conjurer answered. "He used some of these elements in his elixirs."
"Did he get them from here?"
"No, he got them from the foothills along the Anges Yorl farther west. Hot springs run along the whole chain."
"Do they smell as stinky as these?" Gin asked.
"Worse." Rhoden responded.
"I can't believe anything could smell worse," the Elf girl went on.
Brogan cast his eyes about the group. "I can't smell it," he confessed.
"What?" shrieked Gin as she turned to face the hulking BeHemoth, still clutching her nose fiercely.
"I'm serious. I can't smell anything."
Gin turned back around, letting out an exasperated sigh. "Well then you're the lucky one, I guess."
"You know, that's quite a death grip you've got on that nose there. We could make a fighter out of you-"
"Shut up!" Gin screamed, cutting the BeHemoth off.
Brogan was quiet. He smiled, but he was quiet.
The evening wore on, and it was almost completely dark when Zeyn signaled for the company to halt. The last ruddy traces of sunset were receding, gradually being replaced by violets and purples. Stars glimmered faintly, poking out through the growing shades of night.
Zeyn floated over to a large, concave stone that jutted from the ground. Rhoden followed, and the rest of the group, in turn followed as well. Tavis examined the stone before them. It could've been a cave opening, he thought. The hollow was wide enough and large enough for a man to pass through if it were to lead anywhere. Only it wasn't deep enough and no mountain stood behind it. It seemed oddly out of place here, just a lone, hollowed stone standing on a relatively flat stretch of dirt. It looked like it could've even been a portion of a ridgeline on an old mountain. Perhaps there was a mountain at some point which, through the ages, had gradually receded, or crumbled into the ground, but this portion that stood before them had been too stubborn to leave.
Zeyn crouched down to the ground at the foot of the stone, cloak pulling taut around an impossibly thin frame. The wraith extended a threadlike finger downward, just barely away from touching the ground. Tavis craned his neck to see what he was doing and noticed that the soil underneath was a smooth layer of silt, laying like a circular rug at the foot of the stone. Zeyn muttered rasping words and made an elaborate series of gestures over the pool. Tavis squinted and turned his head to catch what the Yyyzyzyrn said, disturbed that the wraith's voice seemed to come from before, behind, and in the back of his head all at once, but always just out of hearing range as well.
Zeyn's incantation went on uncomfortably long. Brogan began shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Gin let out several sighs, and Tavis twisted his lance about in the soil. Rhoden looked on, unmoving. At great length, Zeyn stood up, stepped back, and looked on at the stone.
The group heard the sound before they saw it. Tiny ripples, then bubbling; The pool of silt was seething, stirring and finally boiling. Each member of the company stared now, eyes fixed, the sound of their hearts in their ears. The pool belched, spat, sputtered, and shimmered with an eerie purplish light. The violet glow brought a gloom with it that almost seemed to make the surrounding area darker rather than lighter.
Then a figure rose from the ink, thin, reedy frame like wire, dripping with dark syrupy liquid. Lank arms extended, a hollow hood-like head formed, and two piercing, scarlet eyes glowered out at the company.