Chapter 12

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Amates 20, 1277. Town of Banye, early evening. Working just inside Mikasi’s half-open forge in the back of his workshop. The best time for a stupid idea.

 
 
     Ki stood outside Mikasi’s forge, hands folded over his chest, his expression a thundercloud.
 
     “You call this a plan?” he grumbled while he watched me adjust the buckles for the tenth time.
 
     “No,” I told him. “I call this ‘making it up as I go along’. Besides, this is only part of the plan. You’re in the other part, remember?”
 
     I didn’t blame him for being a worrywart about this. It really was a stupid idea. But given the situation, none of the good plans were going to work. So, all we had were the bad ones. But even Ki had agreed that my calculations made sense after hours of debate.
 
     My idea? To borrow Mikasi’s ‘wing pack’ to give me a little silent boost over any Crimson Company sentries at their camp. I thought of the wings and cloth backpack as a ‘wing pack’ since I wasn’t sure what Mikasi called it.
 
     The weight of Mikasi’s invention felt off balance across my shoulders. It had to be modified from ‘halfling sized’ to ‘human sized’ so I would fit into the thing. The ‘getting it to fit’ was a work in progress.
 
     I slipped off the wing pack, then punched another set of holes into the right strap to adjust the buckle. After that, I put it back on. It felt better with the pack not tilted to the left.
 
     The device wasn’t heavy at all, even though it contained a large set of folded bat shaped wings with thin wooden wing ‘bones’. It was a little bulky though, but nothing uncomfortable.
 
     Mikasi had done good work. The oiled cloth was thin, almost silk-like, and the ‘bones’ were hollow wooden tubes. The weak point was the joints. I made a few adjustments there to shore up their strength. Hopefully, they would hold.
 
     I twisted side to side to test the balance. After that, I tugged on a pair of rope and leather pull handles to extend and retract the wings. Everything seemed to work as expected. That was a good sign. I noticed Ki’s expression was getting more concerned by the moment while I checked the device.
 
     He shook his head, then massaged the base of his horns. The dry evening Planus winds had picked up in volume like always and stirred the grass outside the covered forge.
 
     “I can’t believe I’m helping you do this,” he groused. “You could literally fall to your death. I don’t see why we can’t just sneak out there in the dark.”
 
     “You are,” I replied. “Along with Justicar Copeland, Tyre, and a couple of others, so I have a way to get Mikasi out of there in a hurry.”
 
     Ki rubbed his face before he blew out a long sigh.
 
     “Right. True.”
 
     He reached over to a bag on a nearby chair and produced a small buckled leather pouch that he handed to me. It was one of his alchemy field bags. Inside were four vials. Two held a bright red liquid and the other two a thick, brownish-red oil.
 
     “Medicine and elixirs?”
 
     “Just in case,” Ki replied with a shrug. “You know, to make sure everyone comes back with all their correct parts. I brewed and enchanted those up while you were sleeping. The liquids are for drinking and the oils are for burns, cuts, and so on. The usual arrangement.”
 
     I closed the alchemy field bag, then slipped my belt through the loops on the back. It rested snug against my hip. In the meantime, Ki walked outside a few steps away from Mikasi’s half-open blacksmith shop.
 
     The moon was bright again that night, and already high in the evening sky. Ki produced a spyglass from a pouch at his belt and searched the eastern horizon with it. I watched him lower the spyglass after a moment to scowl at the view.
 
     “What is it?”
 
     Ki glanced at me, then back to whatever had his attention. Pale, ghostly clouds dotted the sky, and one sparked with distant lightning. Grass and shrubs waved in the evening breeze. He shook his head.
 
     “I’ve been thinking about this ever since Tyre told us what he learned from that mercenary.” He gestured to the dark skyline. “There’s nothing, and that’s wrong.”
 
     I stepped partway out of the blacksmith forge to join Ki. The midlands of Planus were mostly a flat prairie, interrupted by the occasional rocky badlands or banded mounds of stone made from ancient lava flows. The eastern side of Banye was just typical prairie, or an ‘ocean of grass’. I squinted at Ki.
 
     “What?”
 
     He shook his head.
 
     “If the Crimson Company set out of Ishnanor about when we did, they would have been moving in our same direction. Especially since they came here for Mikasi.”
 
     His frown deepened as he waved a hand at the skyline.
 
     “Where is the dust? We should have seen dust from buffalo, horses, or whatever they are using to move across the prairie. At night, like now, where’s the campfire? There should be at least a dot of light. The night’s clear enough we can see for miles.”
 
     I blinked, then looked out again. He was right, there was nothing.
 
     There had been other windwagons that left Ishnanor when we did. Those were either headed north to the kingdom of Jata, or south to the Belari water-towns after a day traveling alongside us. We were alone after that. At least, it looked like we were alone.
 
     “No campfire might just mean they’ve set up a cold camp with no fire. You know, so they can keep out of sight,” I suggested.
 
     “Maybe,” Ki said before he pursed his lips. “But that doesn’t explain the lack of dust. Planus is dry this time of year. Herds of buffalo, teams pulling windwagons, most anything kicks up some dust. Sure, the wind carries it away pretty quick, but it’s been days. We should have seen a hint of something moving in our direction by now.”
 
     “Magic, then,” I countered slowly.
 
     The words tasted bad in my mouth. Magic to hide a group moving over the prairie for several days didn’t come cheap, and it wasn’t common. It was also sometimes unpredictable.
 
     “Again, maybe… even probably.” Ki sighed. Worry lines creased his forehead under his horns. “I worry a lot, probably too much, but that’s me being a physician. Now? It’s me being a friend. Be careful, Tela. You’re my oldest friend. Something about this just sits all wrong.”
 
     I smiled a little and glanced down at the wing pack’s straps across my shoulders.
 
     “I will, even though it doesn’t look like it.”
 
     Ki returned my smile.
 
     “Fair enough.”
 
     I adjusted, or really fiddled, with the buckles on the wing pack again. This time, I made sure the waist belt was attached.
 
     “Now, if I’m right, I’ll get there pretty quick,” I said while I buckled the waist belt around me. “They probably have most of their guards along the west side of their camp to watch for anyone coming from Banye. So, I’ll try to reach land along the southeastern side.”
 
     Ki nodded while he put away his spyglass.
 
     “We’ll have horses, or whatever we can find, in that south running stream bed waiting for you once you get Mikasi out of there. The rise of the land on either side of the stream should mute the sound of the horses.” He folded his arms over his chest, then gave me a half-shrug. “I hope, anyway.”
 
     My smile bloomed into a grin.
 
     “It’ll be fine, Ki, and I’ll meet you there with Mikasi. We won’t have any new bruises, cuts, or anything that needs tending.”
 
     Ki arched an eyebrow at me with a deadpan expression.
 
     “You say this now.”
 
     “Ready?” Evi asked from the street in front of Mikasi’s workshop. She held up a long coil of rope. “I’ve got the rope.”
 
     I took a deep breath, then straightened my back. The wing pack creaked in response.
 
     “I’m ready. Let’s get Mikasi back.”

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