Dawn of the Flame Sea (14 page)

“Taje Halek! Puna! Eruk! Tulan—
anyone
! Djin-taje-ul needs you! Shorno? Shorno, get the hunt mistress and the warriors up here!”

Jintaya swayed in part from the pain she was experiencing in a foggy version of Lutun's secondhand injuries, but also in part from the lung power on the Shae man. Righting herself, she winced a little and pressed her hand to her stomach. Like Rua, she was now the equivalent of seven months along, and her center of gravity was off-kilter.

At least this world had similar spans for its moon cycles and its gestation periods, Fae and Shae alike, so that calculating when she would be due was easy. It did nothing, however, for her sense of balance, or for the fact that this fetus, just like her previous children, had a habit of kicking now and again. Reluctantly, she eased back on her awareness of Lutun's endangered life-spark, but doing so eased much of the nausea and disorientation.

Needing to move, to do something while she waited for helpers to arrive, Jintaya made her way down to the entry hall. The stone benches down here had no cushions stuffed with straw or wool, but they did have comfortable curves to their seats and backs, but she couldn't stay settled for long. Not when it took several minutes to gather anyone, for it was early afternoon, hot in the midspring sunlight but still bearable for hunting, gathering, herding, and plant tending.

The handful of men and women slowed when they entered the hall, gawking at the sparks still floating in front of her, following their creator while she paced in her agitation. Zitta, joining them, hurried to explain. “These are the anima life-sparks of each member of the tribe, and this one out here is Lutun; he is being injured by several strangers, so we need to discuss how to rescue him,” he said to each one when they arrived. Grateful, Jintaya focused on keeping her awareness balanced between close enough to know Lutun's condition and distanced enough not to be affected by his pain, while still projecting a detailed terrain map for the tribe's handful of warriors to view.

When Halek arrived, several of the warriors were debating how to as swiftly as possible get out to the distant valley where Lutun's spark was located. In his wake came Éfan and Adan, with Tulan trailing behind. As soon as the animadj explained the situation to her, Tulan raised her young voice, cutting through the discussions of the others.

“No! We do
not
send every warrior and bow wielder we have after these people.” Her hazel eyes stared hard at some of the more agitated men. “I know that valley. Lutun is nearly three selijm from here. Two if you run partway, and it is the hottest part of the day. If the taje-ul's information is right, that they are harming him at paced intervals, then they are torturing our tribesman.
Think
,” Tulan ordered the others. “
Why
would they torture him? To get information.

“Why would they want information? To find out how rich these wadijt are, and how few warriors we can spare. They are seeking our weaknesses to plan for an invasion. Need I remind you that my
uncle
was a hunter like Lutun, found with many wounds upon him, tortured to death shortly before the Spider Hand warriors started raiding us in earnest?”

“Your words are a grim wisdom, but they are still wise,” Halek praised her. “Lutun is too far away for a rescue, but we may be able to find the tracks of his attackers. We will spare three . . .” He trailed off as the two male Fae whispered to each other in their own tongue.

Jintaya heard their words. Adan was asking Éfan if they could open a gate, a local portal connecting this hall with that spot near Lutun, and Éfan was replying what she already knew: no, they could not. The aether was just sufficiently strange enough in this world that it was actually easier—by no means easy, but easier—to open a tunnel between two different universes than it was to open a tunnel between two points on the same world. The anima itself would resist such a connection, like how a coil spring resisted being compressed.

Using the Fae tongue herself, she spoke. “Enough arguing. Adan, can you grab one of the others, get a pair of slip-discs, and get out there quickly?”

He gave her a guilty look. “Everyone else is gone for the day, Jintaya-ul. Kaife and Parren went north to shape more of the valleys with cistern caches, and to bring various ores up to the surface for future mining deposits. Fali and Rua are north as well, looking for more wild goats to add to the herds. Even Ban is gone; he said he was going to explore to the east to look for oases among the dunes. He took his discs to make his journey swift.”

“Then it will have to be you and I. Fetch my discs,” she ordered.

“But, Jintaya, in your condition . . .” Adan protested.

“Fetch. My discs,” she repeated, and stood with as much dignity and authority as she could. Switching to the human tongue, she stated, “Adan and I shall rescue Lutun. Éfan, you will stay here and devise a perimeter ward with warning spells, to give us advance notice of when a large group of strangers approach. If Tulan is right, then there may be a large force on its way to raid us. In order to stop it, we will need information. Adan—my
discs
and my
armor
,” Jintaya ordered him, giving the younger Fae an annoyed frown for the way he hesitated and lingered. “Do not forget my
madouk
.”

“Ban will
never
forgive me if harm comes to you,” Adan muttered in the human tongue, not Faelon, but he bowed and turned, leaping into a run that startled the humans around them with its swiftness. His soft-soled boots made only the faintest of patters on the magic-smoothed stone of the entryway.

“Forgive me, Djin-taje-ul,” Taje Halek stated, recovering from the shock of the blond man's quick disappearance, “but you are in no condition to travel swiftly. Perhaps a few months earlier, but . . . Well, you cannot run easily, and if you were to trip and fall?”

Jintaya held up her hand, cutting him off. “The Fae have more ways of traveling than you. We can find Lutun faster than any of you, and if he is . . . still alive when we reach him, I will be able to heal him immediately. More than that, Halek. I am your taje-ul. It is
my
responsibility to see to the safety of our combined people. Zudu and Zitta have tested and proven that Fae magics are stronger than yours, and if magic cannot touch me, then their weapons certainly won't.

“You will all stay here and coordinate with Tulan and Éfan on setting up sentries to watch our borders. Even if he shapes the anima to stand guard for us, a clever animadj could notice such things and find a way around them. Right, Zitta?” she asked the brown-haired former apprentice.

“That is correct. With time, Zudu can even counter some of the magics Éfan has shaped out of the anima, unless he is vigilant,” he agreed. Not many, and he knew that Jintaya knew it wasn't many, but he was wise enough to gloss over that fact.

Shifting the map, Jintaya displayed a detailed illusion of the local canyons, valleys, and ravines. She had taken the time in past months to look at as much of it herself as she could, and as a part of her daily exercise tried to explore a bit more, up until her fifth month of pregnancy, when the roundness of her stomach started to affect her sense of balance. Linking hands and powers with Éfan, she gave him control of the terrain-map spell.

Even as he accepted it, Éfan frowned and switched to Faelon. “You are starting to feel like Kaife does when he has spent too much time absorbing and sustaining himself on the local anima. Yet you have not cast even a twentieth of the greater magics he has.”

“I have been keeping a life-link to each member of the tribe all this time. It is small, but it is constant . . . and no, I will not cease tracking all these lives,” Jintaya told him. “I accepted responsibility for these people. I also accept responsibility for the consequences of how I choose to monitor their safety.”

Sighing, Éfan moved over to the young woman, Tulan, to elicit her advice on how to monitor all the ways one could approach their settlement. Halek took his place, while the warriors moved to join the tall Fae.

“I have heard you speaking your Fae tongue before,” the stocky middle-aged male stated. “Is there a name for it?”

“We call it Faelon, which literally means
Fae-tongue
.” She opened her mouth and tapped the tip of her tongue. “This is a
lon
.”

“Then . . . the language we speak is
adanjé-lon
. Flame-tongue.” His mouth curved in a smirk. “It is ironic that we sound like a fierce tribe, the Flame Sea Tribe, yet our most daring ‘warrior' is our pregnant, gentle-minded leader.”

“We are thinking beings,” she reminded him. “This means we can always be more than just a mere word or a label. I do not like violence, but I can fight. It is regrettable, but sometimes the only way to stop an attacker is to strike back. I will hope that we will not have to do so, but I will not ignore the possibility of it.”

“Your fierce shadow-man is named Death, your own name carries the title of leader within its embrace, and even Adan there, his name means
fire
and he deals with magics that cause things to grow hot or cold—fire and ice being opposites,” Halek observed. “It was he who showed us how to make tall towers to catch the wind and cool our homes, and that domed place he says will make ice without anima next winter. Are you
certain
you are not fated to—”

Something swooped into the animadjet hall, scaring and scattering the humans. Even Halek stumbled back a step, though he did place himself between Jintaya and the perceived threat until he recognized it. Adan, carrying a sack bundle on his back and bearing two gold-wrapped staves in one hand, floated a forearm's length above the ground, his feet resting on the flat sides of golden half eggs connected by a length of stiff-looking golden chain. Jintaya reached up to steady the tribal leader as he gasped a second time, knowing the natives had never seen a floating person before.

Hopping off the contraption when it came to a stop, Adan snatched at the chain while the egg halves bounced up, no longer pressed down by his weight. A snap of his wrist, and the halves folded together, forming a seam-split egg with the stiff chains forming a loop. Tulan recovered first, licking her lips, eyes wide and wondering.

“What . . . what
is
that thing?”

“Fae magic. Help me get the taje-ul into her armor,” Adan stated, setting the bag on the floor.

It took a few minutes, but most of it went on easily enough with a bit of pointing and murmured instructions. Greave-covered boots for her lower legs and vambraces for her forearms, cops for her knees and elbows. The scale mail shirt had to have its side clasps loosened to fit over her belly, but it was designed to be modular, with extra layers overlapping at the seams, so in the end there were still no gaps.

With the pauldrons buckled over her shoulders, the slightly flared “horns” at the end made a perfect carrying spot for the strap of the waterskin one of the humans handed to her. “The taje-ul should not go anywhere without water,” the young man stated, his brown eyes somber. “I would go in your place, but I will follow your command and stand guard instead.”

“Good man,” Jintaya praised. Accepting the helm Adan passed to her, she muttered a spell that swept her hair up into a coil that would cushion her skull from any blows and pulled the helmet into place. Though the physical openings for mouth and eyes were narrow enough to protect from direct strikes, the moment she tightened the chin strap, the full-vision spell woven into its making activated.

Immediately, she could see everything as clearly as she had without the helm. Clearly, and then some, for the spell picked up on the emotional states of each person around her, briefly making each new face and figure glow amber for a moment, before shifting to green for friendly-toward-her. The Fae knew how to wage war properly, discerning friend from foe. The latter would glow red if they were hostile, and remain red tinted. The helms would also give their wearers the advantage of seeing in the dark, though there were still several hours to go before nightfall.

Drawing on her gauntlets, she accepted both madouk and waited while Adan was helped into his own armor. Once clad, he stooped and pulled the last item out of the sack, an egg to match his own. Tossing it at her, he caught the staff she tossed to him at the same time, and pulled his pod off its hook. Jintaya in turn caught her pod by the chain handle, and both of them snapped the devices open. Wisely, Jintaya tapped hers with her staff, nudging it down to a height where she could simply step onto it, rather than jump up as Adan did.

“Halek, you are in charge in my absence. I suggest you send runners after the other Fae. They will be vital in defending our home from any intruders,” she told him. “Adan and I will return as soon as we can with news and hopefully return with Lutun alive and well.”

With a dip of her head, she tilted the foot-pods a little and drifted forward. The others, wide-eyed, parted around her. Once free of the crowd, she pressed down with her toes a little harder, picking up speed. Adan followed.

“To the west-southwest, was it?” he asked.

She nodded and pointed at the rim of the canyon wall in that direction. “I can still sense him in that direction. Set your wind shield and fly up fast and high. I will lead the way until we get close enough to see them. Remember that we will need information. Do not attack to kill unless there is no other choice.”

“As you wish, my taje-ul,” he quipped, using the local honorific.

***

Bone cracked. The sharp sound accompanied a high-pitched, harsh scream. Kuruk ignored the still naked, bloodied youth's agony in favor of contemplating his contradictions. His pain-babbled claims of “The
féj
will hurt
you
for this!” made little sense.
Féj
wasn't a word. It was a part of several words, but it of itself was not a word. It had no meaning to Kuruk, though it clearly had a meaning to this Lutun fellow.

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