Amates 19, 1277. Somewhere on the Planus continent, aboard the Sheldrake, moving northeast of Ishnanor.
There had been a lot to think about in the four days since we left Ishnanor.
I untied the canvas shade, then rolled the cloth up to the top of the window frame to let in some air and clear my head. There were too many thoughts fighting for my attention. I needed them all to be quiet for a while. The soft prairie wind rushed through the window, so I pulled the tie from my hair to let my dark braids fall loose in the breeze. It felt good.
Outside, the wagon’s sailwings fluttered and creaked. Rigging between the wagon and its pontoons softly complained, while Tyre’s Planus buffalo team towed the floating wagon along over the tall prairie grass.
I took in a long breath. The wind, which almost never stopped blowing across the Planus prairie, was filled with comfortable, earthy scents. The smell of sweet flowers mixed with faintly bitter dry dust and prairie sage moved in the surrounding air. The tension behind my eyes melted, then slid off of me.
Another few seconds wandered by while I watched the flat landscape. I sighed, then opened my worn leather journal to leaf through the hastily scribbled notes I took down in the Windtracer Records Hall.
Ihodis had left out a few details, but not many. The book he had shown me and the papers he bought off the spice merchant had cleared up a few questions. Neither one was a complete study, but they held some interesting details.
The book was a copy of a cartographer’s journal who had explored the ruined city of Elka in 977 AGC. This cartographer, one Foldor Gilstock, had found what he thought was an alchemist’s workshop. Among old reagents that nearly blew his head off was a diagram of an ‘Automatic Crystal’, thumb-sized studs and all. Foldor wasn’t sure about the drawing, just that he felt it was important.
Then there were the papers. These were written by a woman named Nilna Sestoros about a century ago. She was an herbalist who had been roped into more dungeon delving that she wanted to by her brother.
On one of their trips, they explored the tombs around the Samat Pyramid in the Oniruuru Desert. There, much like old Foldor, she found an alchemist’s workshop with diagrams as well. But as a bonus, with these diagrams was a crude explanation of how the Automatic Crystal did, or might have, worked.
This last was how Ihodis had learned how the crystal might be for communication or be some device that generated lethal rays of magic. But thanks to both accounts, I now had a better portrait in my head about the Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse.
I used both Foldor and Nilna’s accounts to fashion my own sketches of an Automatic Crystal for reference. This inspired my own conclusions, or really theories, about the relic. I didn’t think this was a weapon at all, but something else.
A device that could be used for communication but also be a weapon with ‘deadly magic rays’ just didn’t work for me. Foldor and Nilna’s accounts made the ‘for communication’ part pretty clear. My own theory was that the things were for academic study.
As for those ‘lethal rays’, it could be the Crystal was missing a component to make it work? Now that made more sense to me. After all, not everything dug out of a ruin was a dangerous weapon. In fact, most things weren’t.
After four days, I still had questions with no answers and not enough information to fill in the gaps. But puzzling over all of this had kept my mind busy while we traveled. I really needed the distraction.
I was so buried in my own thoughts I didn’t hear Ki walk up behind me. That was a bad habit I really needed to fix.
“Reading your notes again?” he asked.
I jumped, or really twitched, in surprised before I turned around. Ki was freshly scrubbed and dressed in his usual traveling attire, complete with a denim blue shirt that offset his tiefling sea-blue coloration.
“Can’t help it,” I replied. “Ihodis is really onto something here. This could be a major find if it still exists.”
Ki folded his arms over his chest and nodded.
“It could. Especially if you’re right about your idea that the crystal is really some sort of academic teaching tool.” He pursed his lips. “How are you doing?”
I gave my left eye an experimental blink, then opened it wide. That last made me wince.
“Better. Still sore, but better. The awari root helped. Thank you, Ki.”
A faint smile, almost sad, crossed his lips.
“I didn’t mean the eye, not entirely. What I meant was you.” Ki tilted his head to the side just a hair. “I saw that shaking fit you had in the Records Hall when you thought no one was looking. It had me worried.”
I looked away to stare at the window frame, then the grassland rolling by outside.
“It’s nothing. I just needed to get my head together after the fight.”
Ki was quiet for a time, then sighed.
“All right. Just remember, when and if you want to talk, I’ll listen. Either as a physician or your friend.”
That made me smile, if even just a little.
Ki joined me at the windwagon’s window. I propped myself against the side of the window frame while he leaned against the windowsill. The view of Planus trailed by at a steady pace while we floated several hands high over the wheat-tall prairie grass. The tug of Tyre’s buffalo team on the wagon kept a methodical rhythm.
I ran a hand over my journal, then opened it to where the drawing of the Crystal filled an entire page. To be honest, my thoughts weren’t on theories about the relic and why the Ancient Order made the thing. When I looked up from the page, I saw Ki watching me.
“So, which is it? Your theories on the Crystal? The Crimson Company?”
“What? I’m that transparent?” I asked with a faint smirk.
Ki shook his head with a wry smile, then looked back out the window.
He took a deep breath.
“We’ve been friends a long time, Tela. As your physician, I’ve patched you up more times than I care to remember. Something about your notes is chewing at you as if you had a Gelpa ichorworm on your back.”
I raised by eyebrows and glanced down at my journal.
“No, not a Gelpa ichorworm. Not again.”
Running my hands over the leather binding of my journal, I rattled my brain for the right words. A long moment later, I used the best ones I could string together.
“It isn’t about the relic.” I pursed my lips, then continued. “Sure, I’m thinking over my theories. I can’t help that. What little we found mentioned more about the Ancient Order using Automatic Crystals for teaching and to talk to each other than hurting people.” I shook my head. “But no, not that. Not even the Crimson Company. They’re a big problem, but we’ve dealt with that barrel of rotten spike-fish before.”
“So, it’s the baron, then?” Ki asked in a soft, concerned tone.
“Yes. The baron.” I sighed. “There were only three references to him and one of those we had to pry out of a thieves' guild. The other two just didn’t make any sense.”
“Some people do live to be three hundred years old or so. People with an elven bloodline for one.”
I lightly slapped the journal against my hand.
“But he’s not an elf. He’s human, or supposed to be human.” I paused, as my thoughts lost the tug of war against my frustration. “Just a normal human.”
Ki pursed his lips, then squinted at the prairie outside.
“A three hundred-year-old human,” Ki said. “With possibly two birthdays on record, if that thieves' guild was being honest about it. I mean, they also kept calling him everything from a vampire, to a lich, to a dragon.”
“I just wish we could have learned more about him.” I sighed. “Just to know who we’re up against. He gives me a bad feeling I can’t put my fingers on.”
“But we’ve already learned a lot,” Ki replied. “We found there is nothing about his lineage, who he owes his allegiance to, or any of the details that the nobility wear openly like jewelry. That says volumes, Tela. All we have is that he’s a three hundred-year-old human who lives in the city of Sol. That means he’s spared no pain to keep a low profile.”
He glanced at me with a concerned look.
“In Sol, of all places.”
I nodded slightly, even though I didn’t feel any better about the entire situation.
“Then it’s good then we didn’t collect an entire crew for this expedition. Just you, me, Tyre, and his first mate, Eviera.”
“Four in a race against the Crimson Company and their odd backer.” He stood upright, then rapped his knuckles on the windowsill with a faint grin. “With four, we should be nimble and draw almost no attention.”
“That’s the idea,” I replied in a tight, low voice.
“Town ahead,” Tyre shouted from the front of the windwagon. “Place called Banye. We’ll be stopping to rest the buffalo, trade, get some rest for ourselves and supplies.”
Eviera trotted past us from the front of the windwagon. The centaur was pulling back her copper-gold hair in a tight braid. I’ve known the lady for about as long as I’ve known Tyre. Her eyes were hard and shoulders tense, like she was back in her pit-dueling days.
“Evi, what’s wrong?”
The lady centaur paused at my question and finished her tight braid.
“There’s a lot of smoke rising from Banye,” she replied.
Her tone has always been deep, with a matter-of-fact edge to the words. The edge was sharper this time. “Far too much to be chimney smoke. Something’s wrong ahead.”