Amates 19, 1277. Town of Banye, on the Planus continent, northeast of Ishnanor.
I was covered in soot. Wood smoke, which stung my eyes, was everywhere.
Where there weren’t spots of soot on me, there was grime. I smelled burnt hair, which I think was mine, but I hadn’t had time to check. Overall, I felt like a dusky-skinned Chivit smudge leopard in a bad need of a nap.
The fire, bad as it was, hadn’t spread very far by the time Tyre pulled the Sheldrake into Banye at a hard gallop. One building at the edge of town was already a bonfire, and the one closest to it was smoldering. Kiyosi and I were out of the Sheldrake before Trye had his buffalo team pulled to a full stop.
It took a solid half-hour of hard work to get the fire under control. Banye, like any town, used a fire brigade to haul water by bucket from the ancient fountain in the town square. To my surprise, they also had a small hydraulis pump on a wagon. I had only ever seen those pumps on a ship, and the ones used aboard ship would never work on a wagon.
Tyre and I took turns hauling buckets with the fire brigade, or helping people escape the smoldering building before the flames next door grabbed it. Ki and Evi took turns on the hydraulis pump lever with the Banye locals.
But now it was over.
I leaned against the side of the hydraulis pump wagon and stared at the charred skeleton of the sole building that hadn’t survived. Orange motes rose from the ruin like scattered rain falling up to the sky. Nearby, at a hastily erected tent, Ki was treating locals for everything from burns to smoke poisoning. Evi stopped next to me while I was getting my breath back.
“This is one way to get welcomed into town,” I joked dryly as I glanced over at her.
Evi let out an amused snort. The lady centaur was as grimy as I was and looked no less tired.
“I’d prefer a quiet drink at a warm tavern myself,” she said, folding her arms over her chest. “Anyone say what caused it?”
I shook my head.
“No. I haven’t heard a thing.” I sighed, then pointed at the makeshift physician’s tent nearby. “Ki might've though. He’s been seeing to the locals long enough. Someone might have said something by now.”
Evi stared at the charred remains while she let out a long breath. I followed her gaze. Orange embers winked from the broken timbers while flecks of black, bitter wood dust few off in the light breeze. The building next to it was intact, but the wall that faced the burnt ruin had warped slightly from the fire’s heat. That alone would take some repair.
Towns out here are built using adobe mud but relied on wooden timber frames and sometimes even wooden walls. That Wafer Willow wood was always dry. Fires on Planus are often lethal because of the winds and dry air pushing the fire across buildings. More than one town had been destroyed in minutes that way.
“Thank the Goddess of the High tides that fire never left the first building. I just hope no one was hurt.”
“Not a bit! The only thing hurt was my pride, and that’ll recover.”
Evi and I turned around toward the cheerful, scratchy voice behind us. It was a balding, older halfling man, slightly short and stocky, who was walking our way. Most Banyians I had seen so far wore a simple linen shirt, trousers, and a short sleeve knee-length outer tunic. It was typical Planus clothing style, as best I knew of it. But not with this man.
In place of the outer tunic, he wore something like a wool and leather surcoat. It was covered with a collection of pockets and tool loops. I had never seen a thing like that in my life. But, given the well-cared for tools, writing stylus, and a journal peaking out of a book pouch at his belt, I guessed he was an inventor of sorts. Maybe even the local tinker or blacksmith.
His grin was as bright as noonday. A large, white spotted charcoal cat as tall as my knees wandered next to him. A Planus smoke cheetah if I remembered the breed right. The man stopped short of us, looked over at the ruined building, and sighed.
“It was just my workshop. The older one.” He sniffed and tried to pat the soot from his own clothes with little success. “I’d be tearing it down and rebuilding it soon, anyway. I shouldn’t have put it off so long.”
I swapped a quick, suspicious look with Evi. She folded her arms over her chest again, then pawed a little at the ground with a front hoof.
“Sorry about the workshop…?” She let the obvious invitation for introductions hang in the air.
He looked back at us, eyebrows raised. “Hm? Oh! Just caught up in my own thoughts there.” The man placed a hand over his chest and smiled. “Good winds. I’m Mikasi Zenia and this over-sized ball of fur at my feet is Nicodemus. He’s a lump, don’t mind him.”
I placed my hand over my own chest.
“Yoi T’kalo. I’m Tela Kioni, this is Eviera Zerveli. We just arrived on the Sheldrake.”
“Tyre’s windwagon! So I saw.” Mikasi squinted at me. “You’re a Windtracer from the Windtracer Company, aren’t you?”
I blinked in surprise, then realized I was wearing my old locket with the Windtracer Company heraldry on it. The locket had fallen outside my shirt during all the fire-fighting. Ki always did tell me that I was as subtle as a hammer when it came to keeping a low profile. I tucked the locket back under my shirt in a fit of self-consciousness.
“Ah, yes. Yes, I am.”
Mikasi rubbed his hands together.
“Wonderful! I have some ideas and notes on a few devices I’d like to share with you. Water pumps, a device that uses lights for sending messages, that sort of thing. I would love to get your thoughts on them.”
The little man waved a hand at the rest of Banye and its tiny sprawl of buildings.
“Once you’ve cleaned up, I’ll be at the Buckhorn down the road.”
I blinked and looked over at Evi. She glanced in the direction Mikasi had waved.
Mikasi nodded once.
“Exactly! Though around here, we call it a boardinghouse. Buckhorn Boardinghouse. It’s a fine place. We’ll talk and get something to eat if you’re hungry. I’ll bring my journal!”
With that, he was off down the road with his smoke cheetah trotting happily along beside him, tail raised. I rubbed the sides of my head.
“Wait! What about your,” my mind stumbled over itself for the right words. I blinked and pointed at the ruin. “Workshop?”
Mikasi didn’t even pause. He simply raised a hand and waved.
“I’ll rebuild later! That old place needed a good cleaning, anyway!”
A headache was trying to worm into the back of my skull. I rubbed the sides of my head again.
“What just happened here?”
Evi raised her eyebrows at me and smirked.
“We got invited to a mid-day meal. I wonder if it’s formal?”
I shot her a pained grimace. Evi just laughed.
Two young men wandered by, thanked us for the help, then left with the wagon and its small hydraulis pump. Tyre, sooty as the rest of us, walked over right after that while five or so Banyians finished tossing sand on the last of the burning rubble. He gave us a bright grin, then hooked his thumbs in his broad leather belt.
“So. I saw you met Mikasi.”
I shifted my look from Evi to Tyre.
“Yes,” I replied slowly. “He’s… a lot.”
Tyre’s deep chuckle rumbled in his broad chest.
“He is, but that’s just his way. Can’t be still that one. He’s always inventing one thing or another.” He waved a hand at the burned ruins. “That was probably the result of some new device he dreamed up. Cresting Tides knows what it was, as I’m sure the fire claimed it.”
“He invited us to a meal and some conversation.” Evi explained. She nodded slightly toward me. “I think mostly because he noticed she’s a Windtracer.”
Tyre added a chuckle to his grin.
“Oh, count on it. Probably means he’s got some idea he wants a second opinion on.” He jerked a thumb at the retreating wagon with its hydraulis pump. “Could be an improvement to his hydraulis pump there, or some device to let a person fly. Who knows?”
I pursed my lips and resisted the urge to fidget. The race to the relic was on my mind. There was no way to know if the Crimson Company had found transportation and where they were right now. Were they behind us? Or ahead?
That last thought made me grimace.
Tyre spread his arms wide.
“Oh, come now. We won’t be in Banye long and Mikasi is only dangerous to mostly himself. You, my lady, need to relax while you can. Besides, we’ll be with you.”
He gestured at the physician’s tent.
“I’ll even go harass Ki into coming along. He’s so uptight, he’s ten years overdue for a truly relaxing meal.”
That last comment made me grin despite my list of worries. Tyre had a point. What could it hurt? It might even help.
“Hells, Tyre,” I said with a dry laugh. “All right. I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to be clean first and not feel like an over sized soot-stain. Besides, you’re right. If your Mikasi friend invented a small version of a hydraulis pump that fits on a wagon instead of only a ship, maybe I can learn a thing or two. I might even relax.”