Work together, that was all we were trained to do was to work together. We didn’t really know each other, and I don’t think any of us really wanted to. It was by those two that we found some semblance of a group goal. Whether it was a good goal or not, well that’s up for other generations to decide…The Journal of Patch
It took the group four weeks to learn to work together. They clashed swords and staves, climbed up steep rock faces, and swam in deep ocean simulators. They learned to depend upon one another for support. They learned about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to keep those weaknesses from bringing the group down.
The last week they were left in the desert to see how much they had truly learned. The winds howled and water was scarce, but they made it back to the city within a tri-day and were sitting comfortably after a meal provided by McAlister’s staff when he crashed through the door with a gleaming smile and announced proudly that they would begin their journey.
It took them another half week to pack all the supplies that would be needed for the amount of time it would take for them to find the coins.
They dropped in on a pad on top of one of the skyscraper transpoplane ports on Zutana. The city, as they unloaded their packs, stretched out below them like rotting molasses. It went in wild directions and had no formation. Flight cars zoomed in hollow tunnels that led between skyscrapers. People bustled about on the ground, hawking their wares and shopping.
A musty smell of urine, body odor, and dirt assailed their nostrils and the suns, though bright, were dimmed by the smog and dust. A valet robot buzzed up to the group on the deck. It was square and boxy, an old design from the time of the earth explosion. “You may come down to ground level now. Eeech…it is…buzz….here, your Canto,” the robot chirped. It wheeled their luggage to a large freight elevator while the team traveled down to the lobby floor in a glass elevator that descended through the levels of society. Penen mumbled all the way down about how odd it was, the mix between technology and the old ways. That and he did not see a functional use of Ipty using an elevator when they very well could have taken to the sky and met the group down at the bottom.
In the cold, sterile lobby, they retrieved their baggage and went outside into the sweltering heat. Isis could feel the clothes on her back begin to stick as sweat trickled down the back of her neck. She followed Otly under a shade tree as the group waited for their linguist.
It did not take very long for him to show up. He sauntered out of a bakery with a loaf of sourdough bread in his hand. His hooves clipped on the rocky dirt road as he came near to the group. “You must be McAlister’s team,” the Canto said coolly in a gruff voice as he bit into the loaf. Rew let out an exasperated sigh, having discovered that his hoped for harem mare, potential entertainment on the trip, was a stud instead. He should have expected this, for only the males were retained for linguistic purposes, but still, he could hope. They nodded dumbly. The Canto eyed them warily, testing their gaze with his own steely black one. It sent shivers down Isis’s spine.
He picked up a camouflaged pack that had been hiding in the bushes that ringed the shade tree. He slung it on his back, motioned for Wain to begin walking.
The Canto who had been sent with the group was quite tall as Isis observed, having found herself walking next to him through the crowded streets of Higada. The Canto was visually spectacular. Isis had heard about them and seen pictures but never met one. They were a true rarity in the Colga Galaxy; they were typically shipped in from the neighboring galaxy as personal “pets” and tutors to the exclusively wealthy. What was amazing was that this Canto stayed in between a man and a horse – which the galatron had indicated as a difficult shape to force the body to maintain for long periods of time for the Canto. He possessed black pools of eyes that a person could feel himself fall into. His nose was straight and set symmetrically in a pale, blemish-less face. He wore a white poet shirt that covered his arms. Some blue tribal tattoos peaked out through the thin material. His jet-black hair was pull back into a ponytail at the base of his neck with a leather thong. His hair fell down to about the middle of his back when tied back.
“May I ask you a question?” the woman asked the Canto.
It took him a second to look down at the woman. “You wanted something, miss?” The Canto politely inquired. He had been paying attention to a haggling woman and a baker who were bartering over the price of a loaf of pumpernickel bread. It was proving to him to be a grand amusement. These cities were a new experience for him. The conglomeration of narrow roads and tall buildings filled with rowdy people and filth was something the Canto culture had no true function for.
“Yes, ah actually…um, two questions: what is your name, and why do you stay in between a man and a horse? I mean, I had heard that a Canto either stayed as a horse or a human, I never thought that they could stay like a centaur for very long,” Isis rambled, reverting to the Old Earth name for the thought-to-be mythical beasts that had always popped up in legends. She really had no ability to speak with strangers. He glanced at her before sighing heavily, shaking his head. She cringed, thinking she had made him mad through some social faux pas. She looked back to the dirt road and was startled when he began speaking to her.
“My name is Solomon Dacoshi. I – I ….” he stuttered looking for the right word, “What is your name?” he asked, changing the subject quickly. A flush briefly colored his pale cheeks before he was able to control his emotions. It had been traumatic for him as a little boy to learn that he did not possess the genetics to turn full horse and play with the other colts. The boys soon found this out and began to tease him for it. It made it difficult for him to get looked at by the fillies even. They laughed at him for not being a purebred. He was glad that his uncle was raising him somewhere other than his home world, or else he would have been truly ostracized. He had only gone back recently to receive his rank markings and run in the last two stampedes. He had found it difficult to get along with the other studs. He had found himself to be an outsider, unable to participate in most of the events that took place around the stampedes.
“My name is Isis,” the woman answered him, a questioning raise of her well pruned eyebrow told him that she had caught how quickly he had changed the subject. He waited a second, hoping to catch the rest of the woman’s name, but she was not about to reveal to anyone her full name, not yet. Miraculously McAlister did not even know what her full name was when he had put together the team. What can this lady be hiding from me? The Canto asked himself, studied woman next to him. His eyes flowed over her short auburn hair, beautiful nose, pouting lower lip, to her throat, and his eyes were just beginning to travel lower when something else pulled at his mind.
“Question, Isis, why are you the only woman on this trip?” Solomon asked. He would not look strait at her. His face burned a shade of crimson. The thought had occurred to him that she might be a companion sent along for the men on the long journey. After having met McAlister, he would not put it past the man to have thought of doing such a thing. Solomon watched a corgle – a small flighted lizard of sorts, sidle up to another, glancing at the crumb it had. It snapped it up and took to the sky, the other following close behind. They circled around one another. They went up and up until they landed on a skyscraper apartment ledge.
“I actually don’t know,” Isis laughed. She stumbled as a weight in her pack shifted. She smiled foolishly at Solomon while she readjusted her pack and made the comment that made his heart stop, “I’m a for-hire mercenary, not a treasure hunter.” His head snapped around, piercing eyes furrowed, mouth slightly agape. Mercenary? By the Red sun, this cannot end well. He thought to himself. He turned onto a narrow street as the others did and waited for her to catch up. They had to jog to catch up with the group. Isis watched Otly’s back, the giant red circle on the back of his pack, making sure to keep up this time.
“Natural gift for translation and interpretation, right?” she asked him.
“Yep,” he wasn’t sure where she was going with this. It was basic knowledge in the Colga Galaxy that Canto had an adept gift for language.
“Do you know any of Old Earth’s languages?” she pressed.
“Like what? I know a few,” he answered her.
“Do you know Latin and Japanese?” she brushed at her hair. They had come to an overhang of trees.
“I know Latin and most of the Romantic languages. I have a basic understanding of kanji, but more directed at Mandarin then Japanese,” he responded.
“Interesting. Who taught you the principles?” She asked, curious.
“My Uncle, he lives on this planet, used to work for the Council Library as a translator. He would take me with him to see the ancient texts. He had some of his own manuals too,” he supplied.
“Your uncle raised you? Not your parents?” she asked him.
“No,” he answered bluntly, no sign of supplying more information on the topic. “Why do you want to know if I can translate any of the Earth languages?” he asked her.
“It may come in handy later,” she answered.
They walked in silence for a time. The white sun’s warmth brushed at their skin. Givas, similar to flocks of birds on Earth, floated about the trees, calling back and forth. Solomon’s back hurt, and his markings burned. They were probably infected. He tried to distract himself from the pain. “Why a mercenary? You’re a human female, doesn’t that mean you mate early and stay home to raise many children?” he asked Isis.
She snorted dismissively. He thought that was the end of thetopic, that he had in some way offended her. “That may be true for most women. Lisgon seemed to have gotten something screwy in her brain to have picked out 350 of the most damsel like ninnies and 350 egotistical patriarchs to dump in this galaxy. I was raised in a family that participates in these arts, so it never really seemed out of nature when I was trained to be a mercenary. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the best out there, I have my faults, but I’ll hold my own, female or not,” she answered him belligerently.
He was taken aback a little. He had not been expecting such a snappish reply. Apparently domestic women’s work was not her bag. She would make a great Canto. He startled himself with his train of thought.
“What were you before you got sold to McAlister?” she asked.
He swallowed hard. “How did you know?” He didn’t realize it was showing that he had been turned into a slave. It was not like he was in shackles.
“The brand behind you ear,” she pointed out, touching the raised cross on the back of his head behind his right ear.
“How do you know I didn’t get released?” he countered, touching the hard spot. He was not even aware that it had been there.
“If you had been released, you would have had an annulmentmark branded over it,” she answered back.
“How do you know I didn’t just run away then?” he was curious now. He didn’t realize there was actually a slave marking system.
“You would have found some way to have a mark put over it,” she answered bluntly. “So yeah, I know you belong to McAlister. Do you have an arrangement for your release with him?” she asked.
“Apparently not,” he grumbled to himself, realizing that he was stuck serving that man forever probably.
“Don’t worry, the man’s a lot older than he looks, Elivik halflings never look their age. When he dies, the slaves of his estate are freed, unless they are part of an inheritance to another person. He doesn’t seem the type to have family, at least I didn’t notice kids or a wife when we met him,” she told him nonchalantly. She knew McAlister was unmarried. She knew that he had no other relatives and with his demise, Solomon would receive his freedom under the galactic care codes for captured slaves. She stopped. He stopped next to her, looking down at her. She stared up at him openly. “You’re not married, either, and you don’t have any kids,” she made the distinct observation.
His hand went up to his left cheekbone. “You haven’t been gelded either, so you’re still interested in the female, still a stud, yes?” she asked. He nodded mutely. “You have your stampede stripes, at least having done two by the stripes I see on your chest. That would also be a marker I believe for your enslavement, because otherwise you would have some type of marking on your face.” Well, she knew how to find all of his sore spots.
“I’m definitely not going gelding. If I can get my freedom and return to my home world, I can still participate in another three stampedes before I have to resign from the fields,” he tried to be proud.
She nodded, seeing some determination in him finally. So, the pony does have some pride. Maybe I can use that. I thought he was a broken horse. This is good. She told herself.
It took the group about an hour to get through the crowded city. They ended up at a cross road after about a mile out of the city. Looking on the map and checking their first clue to find their coin, they decided to take the left path in which would take them to the Tubi River. They were to find the coin or another clue to it in Bashville next to the Tubi.
They walked for several zines. Huge trees surrounded the winding path. Sunlight filtered through the emerald green leaves. Givas fluttered in the branches and cooed gently to each other. A neon green and brown Sarburder curled around the branch of a tree hissed as the group passed under it.
Before dusk set, they found a clearing and broke out the tents. Isis went down to the stream to see if she could find some crawdads that the group could boil over the fire. She had also left so that she could take a bath and rinse the dirt off herself. In her opinion, Higada was dustier and dirtier than all of Chima’s capital. She found only six small crawdads by the end of her meticulous search. I hope the others are having better luck finding some supper. The group had forgone bringing along food supplies, believing that they could live off the land to reduce their pack loads. It was a good idea, initially, but time would tell if it was the most intelligent move.
Solomon had left the rest of the group behind. He had only had a few weeks to recuperate in the stables, and those had done little but left festering wounds all over his back and his tattoos still stung. After pulling off his shirt and releasing his jet-black hair from the leather thong, he ambled into the creek, feeling the water swirl at his hooves. Finally, he fell to his knees in human form, looked into the clear stream, and let the sobs rake through his naked body. Every tear he shed was for every inhumanity that the human race had brought to his ancestors, his father, his mother, his friends. Each tear ran into the stream never to be found again.
“Humans! Miserable, irresponsible, incompetent creatures, no respect for beauty or serenity,” Solomon spat. “They foul everything with how they have to buy and sell, buy and sell. They should have never been permitted to come to this galaxy, even if their home planet was blown to smithereens. Isn’t that the point? If you can’t take care of your own planet, your own community, your own peace, you shouldn’t be permitted to continue with how you are!” he shouted to the winds and the trees.
He could see life spread out in front of him like the leaves of the Casso tree. Golden veins ran in the purple tree, the symbol of the royals. He could see each path he could take, kneeling there in the stream. The leaf wavered, and the path changed. He was charging over a grassy knoll to his Shi’ibo. The roof peaked to the sky in a copper arc and the white plaster walls reflected the suns’ gold and red rays. His wife lay patiently in the grass, her golden forelegs shimmering in the sun. A foal lay before her, nibbling at the grass. As he approached, she changed to her human form, a sweeping form holding a swaddled baby in her arms. She met him as he came up to her, kissing his forehead, leading him into the Shi’ibo. And the leaf wavered.
Why humanity is so unkind to the Cantos I will never know. A few humans had been kind to them in the past. My mother was one of those humans, probably. She had to have been such a sweet lady, why else would I be here? If she had been Canto, like the harem mares, she would have been able to keep me. The council wouldn’t have sent me to be raised by my gelded uncle otherwise. As for the rest of the human race, for all I care, they could leave and go back to that stinking molten blown up planet they called Earth. He dunked himself in the water, letting the cold water calm his unstable nerves. The cold also numbed the thumping, burning nerves at his back. A headache had started at the base of his neck, leaving him dizzy and close to hallucinating. He stayed under until yellow stars started to flash in his vision. His body floundered as he realized what he had just tried to do. He came up from the bottom of the steam, water running through his hair like tears.
“What is wrong?” a soft voice asked behind him.
With yellow sparks still streaming through his vision he thought he was dreaming of an angel – hoping he might have been successful at removing himself from the physical world and answered it, “My family, my friends, they are lost to me, I will never see them again. I was sold like an animal, whipped like an animal, and bought like an animal. Why is anything not wrong? I am no animal! My back burns because of the lashes bestowed upon me. I have no ointment to heal the wounds that have taken my body. I have no comfort for my starved mind. I will never be able to establish a family. Humanity is a cruel unscrupulous non-civilization that should not be permitted to continue for these intolerable acts!”
It was torment that lathered his voice and that drew her near to him. She stepped one foot into the water, her pants soaking as the freezing water rose around her. She went out to the man with the jet black hair and carefully knelt at his back, putting her palm on his shoulder, letting him know that she had no intention of hurting him. She feared him though, feared his malice and hatred, afraid that the beautiful soul before her would be destroyed by the vehement possessors.
His body shook with sobs as he continued to cry. “Angel, what is your name, for I wish to remember you in my dreams when you leave for your clouds in the sky again. Are you someone who will be able to stay? Please help me, I will never see my family, I will never see my friends, I will never meet my mate, please, stay angel, comfort me,” he mumbled. He knew he was breaking down, his mind finally on the verge of snapping. She stroked his shoulders, wary of every stripe of puss-filled infected piece of scabbed flesh. She ran her fingers through his hair, and then gently laid it over his shoulder. She noted the blue tattoos across the top of his shoulders. He did not have the full back tattoos of a Canto. That was odd. “The auction house was rough” the woman whispered into his ear as her fingers slowly crept along his shoulders.
Solomon started at this. His heart pounded heavily as he turned his head and looked at the woman. “Isis?! Oh, I’m so sorry about this, I – I…” he was at a loss of words, trying to cover his nakedness.
Her glance fell on his back once more. It was cross-hatched with scabs and dried blood. She followed the cuts along his broad shoulders, down the back of his arms, and lower down his back till she lost them in the reddening water.
She took handfuls of water and dribbled it along his shoulder, watched, as it became small rippling waterfalls over the raised welts. He knelt before her, facing into the stream, afraid to look at her. His mind raced as his heart pounded. Who was this woman? What were her intentions? A mercenary and a human. Deceptive creature. She went back to the shore where she had left a small pack inside the crawdad basket and returned with a small bottle of ointment and gently spread it across his back and his arms, carefully rubbing it in.
“So, I have seen you as the half and now the man. What about the horse?” whispered Isis, searching his back for any infections that would cause serious damage. By the sign that he did not possess a full tribal tattoo across his back at this point, it was inevitable his answer. Looking down, a flushed hue of pink crossed his face, a smidgen of shame crossed his face as well. “I am a mutt Canto. I’m only half,” he told the petite woman. He remained ridged in the water, hiding what he could of his nakedness. He had heard her say she was a mercenary, and was willing himself not to shake in fear. She moved around to his front, submerging herself farther into the stream. He shied, uncomfortable at her observations. It was not a part of the Canto custom to allow a human to see their naked form. He could not, however, bring himself to shift to his half state.
“How did you come to read the markings?” Solomon asked, his eyes downcast, trying to avoid looking at the woman. She was checking the few marks that had gathered on his arms and the inflamed tattoos.
“It’s amazing the things one must learn in my profession. You are over the initial mating age,” her finger trailed along a spiral on his left pectoral. “You ran a stampede the first month of your mating age,” her finger ran the spotted path line from the spiral over his breastbone. “You did not find anyone to mate that first month, or the second stampede, or else your dots would have been filled in to a line. You have not chosen a preferred profession, though you are an apprentice librarian,” her finger trailed down a triple series of parallel lines. “You do not own property, or else there would be a square here,” her thumb rubbed a bare spot next to the parallel lines. “And you have not established a mate, male, female, or chosen to become a gelding, otherwise you would have a marking on your cheek. There would be a series of chevrons on your bicep for the number of children you would have if you were mated already,” her hand came up to brush along the line of his cheekbone. He caught her hand, analyzing it. She tensed, suddenly realizing, at her feeling of discomfort, how he must feel with her reading his markings like an open book. “You’re nosey,” he stated, keeping a restraining hand on her wrist. He expected her to try and jerk it back, but she did not provide him the benefit of that sensation. Her clothes clung wetly to her skin and he could see wire lines running up her arms. He could feel her pulse in her wrist, and he knew that she was scared, and hiding it well visually. “I can read you just as well, mercenary,” he sneered. “You might have some good intentions, trying to coddle up to me, being nice, but you’re frightened of me. How do you know that I won’t dispatch you here?” he asked, standing, pulling her up along with him. He had overridden his shame of being seen naked, forgetting it as he stood there looking down on the woman.
He was tall, only about a foot shorter in his human form versus his half-form. He was lean in nature. His jaw was chiseled, hard eyes set over sharp cheek bones. He possessed a distinct masculine beauty that permeated the Canto species in their human form. The blue of his tattoos were vibrant against his pale skin. His black hair clung to his skin. She observed the tensile strength in the muscles that rippled beneath his skin. He was trained in a martial art, he had to be. She could bring him down if she wanted to, but this worked better to test him, to see just who he was.
He stared at her, trying to decide what to do. He finally dropped her arm. “What do you want from me?” he demanded from her.
“You may prove useful to me. I want to know just what you are capable of. Murder, apparently not. Standing your ground, obviously. I’m just glad that you’re not a broken pony. That would be no fun at all,” she told him as she eased her way around him. She fetched her basket and disappeared back down the path. Solomon stood there, dumbfounded.
Isis left back for camp and let him change into some clothes, or back to horse or whatever he intended on doing. He caught up with her just as they entered the camp site once again. His hooves clattering on the trail. He tried to mumble an apology, but she waved it off with a small smile and a knowing look in her eye.
“Dinner’s ready you two,” Wain said as he shoveled a concoction of food onto two tin plates and handed them to the Canto and the woman. Everyone ate in silence, reflecting back upon that day.
Solomon glanced at Isis every once in a while, still a little bit confused on some subjects of her being with them. He shrugged his shoulders and once more glanced at the odd female. She had donned a pair of yellow tinted glasses. He noticed a small green stripe in them. Night vision glasses, excellently designed, but how could she possibly obtain such glasses with such quality. Even a for-hire mercenary can’t make that kind of cash.
Solomon looked at her closer, a slight rise of suspicion building. He noted the thin scar lines running on her hands, the wire scars he had seen earlier, along with calluses on her left hand fingers, most likely from a stringed instrument he concluded. There were several unusual scars though. There was a thicker one in the soft spot between the left index finger and thumb, along with what looked like a few laser and ammunition graze scars on her shoulder.
She looked up at Solomon and noticed him looking at her shoulders. She wrapped her cloak about her a little more tightly, covering the scars. Apparently, she had also noticed that Solomon had been staring at her hands; later she had on fingerless gloves, allowing the scars to disappear from sight. She remembered their closeness, not sure how she felt about him having noticed the lines.
That night, while the fire was still going with hot ambition and everyone was asleep, Isis went and tapped on the pole holding Solomon’s tent up. “Mmmm,” came the answer from within. His head popped out and eyes blinked up at her for a few seconds. “Get up, I’ve got something for your back,” she whispered to him. His brow furrowed, but saw that she was not going anywhere until he complied with her request. He came out in human form with a pair of pants on.
“What?” he hissed as he followed her to the fire, buttoning a few buttons of his, nonchalantly leaving the remaining top few undone. Though he did not look it, he was agitated at being awakened during a decent night’s sleep, the first since his capture.
“Lie down on your stomach here,” she commanded, pointing to a felt blanket spread out on the ground. That was when he noticed the knives in the fire, needles and wire thread, and small bottles of creams and salves next to it. His heart skipped a beat and jumped right into his throat. “What are you going to do with those?” he inquired nervously, suddenly wishing he had taken her comment on her preferred occupation more seriously. She did not reply, rather, she began looking over her instruments of choice, deciding where to begin with the painful torture. He was apprehensive and stood uncertainly before the blanket. “Why should I trust you?” he questioned her.
“Well, you could let me help heal you, or let gangrene set in and lose a limb, or worse, die,” she commented back off-handedly. He reached out to her, grabbing her arm, and yanked her away from her instruments. They were face to face, only centimeters apart.
“I ask you again, human,” he snipped the words between his white teeth, “why should I allow you to do this?” She shrugged his hand off, a look of abhorrent disdain flickering across her face. “For the safety of this mission, and for my own reasons, I find it necessary to see to your health in this matter. Patch, with his medicinal know-how did not immediately come forward to aid you. Therefore, I feel it to be my responsibility as a member of this team, to ensure the safety of this crew. As you are the translator, we cannot function without you,” she answered, feeling justified in its simplicity.
Solomon shook his head. His eyes flashed a seething rage. “Do you know who did this to me?” he hissed, bringing his bruised and battered arm up within inches of her face, forcing her to look at it. “Humans. Your species. You did this to me,” he accused. “And I’m not about to just lay here like a broken toy and passively allow another one to play with my body. For all I know, you’ll infect me with something else, it’s not like that stuff’s sterile.” He waved to the instrument sets.
She huffed, put off. Her eyes flashed at him, defiantly. “You realize that when I say something, I get my way, and as far as I know, I have never been refused by someone like you,” she spat back contemptuously.
“Well get used to it honey, ‘cus I’m not gonna let you get away with this,” he turned to walk away. She grabbed his shoulder. He spun around, kicking out to swipe her legs out from under her. She countered, wrapping her legs around his and using the momentum of her body weight to force him to the ground.
He had landed flat on his back, prone to the woman straddling the top of him. She was ferocious, and his heart was drumming in his ears. His back stung, at every little point of scabs that had ripped from his skin. He watched in slow horror as the female grabbed a wicked looking blade from the fire’s ledge. The air stilled. Solomon tensed, suddenly wary. For such a light little thing, she was quick, and knew how to throw her weight around.
She stood up, carrying him up with her by his throat. He swallowed hard, feeling the rough strength in her hands. He had seen the scars. He had heard her use the word mercenary in passive conversation. He had felt, since first meeting her, that she was dangerous. He had a vision of his death, gruesome and splattered against the tent walls of the camp. She released him slowly. He immediately jumped back, falling into a martial stance, ready to battle for his life. Before he knew it, she lashed out and caught his hand. She stepped close, until their bodies met. In that one fluid motion, she brought his hand up, now clutching the knife, to her throat. He tried to pull away, but she held firm. She held his hand tightly around the blade, close enough to her throat to cause a single drop of blood to run down the razor sharp edge.
Her eyes never wavered, never left his, a hard eye that had accepted mortality a long time ago. “If you do not trust me, hold this blade and heed my word,” she began a ritual binding promise. This introduction was one of the few promises in the universe that was to be adhered to under all costs, a pact of secrets between two, held under rule of the two suns. It had been said that these promises, if broken and not reciprocated, could bring about devastation that would rot the land and dry up the water by the hand of the suns themselves. “I will die if I fail in this mission. If you deny my help, kill me here and now, a more fitting end to a strangled life,” she spoke solemnly, her eyes never faltering. His mouth went dry. He had heard of these pacts, but had never truly witnessed one before, most people had not, a Corianada. It was a pact of life and death, forcing the hand of one by the other, there by the significance of the knife in the use of the pact. “I promise you that I will hold your life in higher regard than my own, that you shall not die at my cost, no matter the circumstances. As proof, and in condition to this pact, you may hold this blade as a reminder and ability. If I would fail in my duties as your protector, I will willingly give my life for you, to make of it as you will,” she sealed the pact with a careful, quick slice of the skin on the side of her throat, leaving an angry red line that would leave a scar of proof. Solomon swallowed hard. He looked down at his hand, the blade still firmly clamped in his by her’s. This woman, this human female was desperate, and willing to die to make sure that he was by her side to finish out this mission. What could have happened to force her into such a position? He looked at the blade, where a thin coat of blood lay on the edge as proof that this was really happening. His eyes jumped to Isis’s face, her green eyes that were too deep to even tempt falling into. It was only beginning to dawn on him, the full impact of what was happening. Very rarely did circumstances arise to warrant the Corianada, very few knew the premise by which to create one. It was a political move, to force the hand of the other, to be able to create a situation that the two could not escape from. It was creating a virtual checkmate. If he died, she was dead either way. To her, it was essential that he be there, to live. It was essential to her, a total stranger and human, that he, a Canto, live that she was willing to hold a life and death pact over him.
She released his hand, but did not move away from him. He could feel her soft, pliant form pressed against him, warm through her clothes. He swallowed again. She brought that out of him, a dry throat and a tightness in his chest. He grabbed her hand, as the contract warranted. It was dawning on him that the pact she was making with him was more binding then the marriage vows amongst the humans. This one could not be broken through a divorce, it was for life. His stomach somersaulted, nervous and afraid. This was a type of trust that one could not break. With one hand on the blade, he placed her hand over his, holding it firmly with his other hand. He brought the other side of the blade, the clean sharp side, to his own throat. “I accept the solemnity of your words, and the severity of this pact. I will hold you to your word, and if you fail, I will do as promised,” he allowed a drop of blood to slowly creep along the edge before dropping her hand. A slight tingle ran along his arms, and he could swear that the old superstitions just might make him keep that promise.
“You felt it that necessary to receive my trust that you would willingly sacrifice yourself?” he asked her, now staring at the knife that lay in his hands. She had already returned to her instruments, kneeling next to the blanket patiently. “You’ll find that not all humans are the same,” she responded indifferently. She nodded to herself after glancing over the stockpile and looked up at him, allowing a slight smile to touch her lips.
He lay down without a word and waited expectantly for her to begin. She knelt next to him, brushing his hair away from his back. It was a heavy fall that she began to braid. He had never had his hair braided before. It was not a typical style of the clan, mainly due to the hindrance it would have in the shape change. He pondered at what could truly warrant this little woman’s dire desperation to allow her to help heal him. Her fingers brushed his neck as she gathered stray hairs. The pounding of his heart had subsided. She handed him a small powder tablet, “this’ll dull the pain for a few hours,” she told him. He looked it over for a second before swallowing.
She took out a pack of high grade anticeptic wipes and iodine and proceeded to clean and disinfect his back to the best of her ability. She took from the fire one of the knives and began opening the whip marks one by one. White puss oozed and bubbled from each one. It was, to Solomon, experiencing the lashes and electrorods all over again. With each swipe of her searing hot blade, another screaming sting washed through his body. He moaned an oath as she found an excruciating wound that went deep. She continued opening each one of the festering wounds, washing away the puss as carefully and meticulously as ever. Once she was completely finished with the top portion of his back and shoulders she began the process all over again until the white puss no longer came out white but came clear. She then washed them out with antiseptics and applied a lathered poultice to bring down the swelling of the wounds.
He was beginning to sweat and his throat had gone dry. He could feel his body becoming heavy. His grip on the blade still in his hand was beginning to slack. She noticed right away and stopped her work. She brought him a water-bag . “I’ll need to stop, for a little while at least. You are going to go into shock if I don’t,” she mumbled as she helped him into a position on his stomach that he could rest on.
This process took several hours. She was beginning to work into the wee hours of the morning when the fire began to fade. She left him to find fire wood, allowing him to get a grip on his pain. She returned shortly, sweat clung to her clothes from her work, causing her blouse to stick to her. Out of irritation, she stripped out of the tunic, leaving herself to work in her wrap. She took a roll of metallic surgical string and needles and began sewing up the wounds.
Once she was finished with the ones on his back, she moved to his arms where she started the process over again. At the end of the process she spread balm across his back. Dawn was approaching with its two golden chariots.
Patch had awakened then. He came out to the fire to start preparing breakfast. He saw the woman and the man at the fire, she with a knife in her hand, him with blood flowing across his back. He let up a cry of alarm, “Traitor, traitor, we have a traitor in our midst!” The woman glanced up to see him. Wain and Rew rushed from their tent, barely dressed.
They took into account what was happening. They had not expected this. With all of their training at McAlisters, they had not placed her as such a sadistic butcher – clean, meticulous, and brutal yes, but this… Yeah, she might have had merit where it came to swordplay and weaponry, but to completely mutilate their translator, that was too much. Wain caught the woman by the arm, rolling it behind her back, sticking the knife to her throat. Rew rushed to the man on the ground, asking “Are you alright, Solomon? What has she done to you?”
“Put that away Wain!” yelled the Sho’ren as he emerged from his tent.
“She is killing him, Fado, come help us with him,” stated Wain urgently.
“She is not killing him, foolish imbecile, let her go. She is helping him. Have you not noticed the stitches yet? He was in a Canto auction house. Have you ever seen the Canto slaves from the auction houses? They are whipped within an inch of their lives and then nothing is done for them! Don’t you see her help! She is not just a mercenary, but she is also a healer. Let her go, Wain,” Fado repeated firmly.
Wain held tight for a few seconds longer, bruising Isis’s wrist, contemplating what the Sho’ren had said. He looked at the Canto, who was sitting on the blanket, looking up at Wain expectantly. The Canto held a nasty looking knife in his hand. He had been holding it all along. In addition, there were stitches all across the Canto’s back and shoulders. The guy was bad off, really bad. Wain had not realized just how extensive Solomon’s injuries really were. Wain released her, still not certain if she was safe. He moved away from the heat of the fire, watching her tensely. “Are you sure?”
“Quite positive, Wain,” Fado answered him. He knelt by Solomon to check his back. The work that Isis was doing was very fine and meticulous. He had seen only such professional battlefield dressing applied by medics trained in the Royal Garrison’s Infirmary Division.
Isis returned for her patient, ignoring Wain and the squabbling of her team. Dizziness hit her. She had worked past her limit, “We’ll finish another day. You need to heal from this first,” whispered the woman. Solomon breathed a sigh of relief. Flames of pain were washing across his back and legs, he was not sure if he would be able to get up the next day from it. Isis provided him with another medicine tablet that he swallowed before heading for his tent to lay down.
The team rested at camp. They went hunting in the forests and fishing in the streams, proceeded in such the manner for the better part of a tri-day. Isis watched Solomon during those days, making sure that the wounds were kept clean and on the road to healing properly. They would leave horrid scars, but they would not kill him.
Solomon, in the noonday sun, lay in his tent to allow his thoughts to roam in and out of the valleys and mountains of his mind. She saw me, myself, and still she accepts me. She’s read my markings and knows my failings. She is an angel. Said one side of his mind. She is human, everything that I loathe, why should it be a human that would save me from myself? Why am I not repulsed by her, like I am to other human females? I shouldn’t even think of her as a potential mate. Mate?! Where did the idea of mate come into this whole thing? She just contracted me into a Corianada. Stated the other side. He was a whirlwind of emotions, not certain what to make of the situation. Every time he thought of her, he was torn in half, his physicality burned for her, yet his mind screamed NO! Never could he accept a human mate.
The next morning they broke camp and started their trek to Bashville. Solomon and Isis walked side by side, as the group trudged down the dusty path.
“Hey, Gotre what is that rare Zutana stone that is worth a so much?” Rew asked as he bent down and picked something up of the ground. Gotre walked up to Rew to see what was in his hands.
“That’s a reta. It is about six karats in weight and is probably worth around one hundred bildollers,” Gotre explained. A six karat reta is only worth about ten cents on our planet, bildollers must be a name for a cent or something in Gotre’s land territory. The stone was worthless but Rew held onto it anyways. It looked like a piece of quarts, being milk clear, about the size of a man’s index finger and it had a sharp hexagonal point at one end.
Rew stuffed the reta in a pocket of his backpack. Isis could not figure out why he wanted to keep such a worthless thing. From the expression on his face she could tell that he had something planed. She put it out of her mind for the time being and continued walking. They had some zines to go to reach Bashville and she could not be worrying over every rock and root that came across the group’s path.
It took the group another three or four hours before they reached Bashville. Bashville was a dusty little town with quaint little houses and large yards. There were a few stores. They stopped at one of the little stores. It was a seed store for gardeners. Inside the store there were bins upon bins of seeds.
“Sir, we were wondering if you knew anything about a gold coin about an inch in diameter?” Isis asked the clerk behind the long plywood counter.
“Shhhh. Not so loud. A lot of people are looking for the coins. I don’t know where they are, but I know that there are some spies after the coins and they will do anything for them,” the clerk whispered as he looked around his shop to see if anyone else was listening. He’s acting very suspicious. His gaze fell on a cloaked and hooded figure that was holding a vase of red and yellow fireweed lilies. He was leaning towards the group, listening.
“Who is that?” Honfu whispered to the clerk.
“I’ve never seen him before,” the man said as he shook his head, “I wouldn’t look for those coins in this town. Those spies would be everywhere. We don’t need this little town under attack,” he said quietly, a little louder he said, “Now if you aren’t going to buy anything then would you please leave and let some of the other customers buy their seeds.”
The group left the little town within the hour and went on the road out of town. They found a small clearing on the outskirts of town and set up camp.
“Wain, are we going back there to find out more about our coin or another clue to it?” Patch asked as he poked at the little flame to get it to catch.
“No, we are not going back there. You heard that man. He said that there would be spies swarming the place for those coins,” Wain said. You don’t know the half of it. Isis thought to herself.
“Yes, but how are we going to find out more about the coins?” Isis complained in a demanding voice. If the group did not get the first clue then they couldn’t get the other ones. Wain hesitated and then just shrugged it off and went back to preparing dinner.
They ate dinner in silence then retired to their separate tents. Isis waited in her tent until everyone that she could hear was snoring. It was hard to tell who all was asleep because Fado was snoring so loudly. She snuck out of her tent and sat down on the ground just outside of it to try and put on her soft leather boots.
The moons glowed brightly overhead, but the cold of the evening had seeped into her fingertips and she was having difficulty tightening the buckles on her bootstraps. Suddenly, there was a cracking sound from behind her. She tensed. A large calloused hand clamped over her mouth. She had the urge to scream at the top of her lungs. A mouth brushed her ear and a voice whispered, “Quiet.” The hand let go of her and she turned around. It was Solomon. “I was going to go see if that guy could help us out but I didn’t realize that you were up,” he said.
“I was also planning to go,” Isis said quietly, thinking of the interesting happenings that were going on. Two people don’t wake up at the same time, thinking the same thoughts, and doing the same things. I think this guy is following me.
“Well then let’s get going before everyone wakes up,” he said as he pulled her onto her feet. The two slowly walked down the dirt road, trying not to disturb any rocks that would cause a lot of noise.
They returned to the city. The shops were still open in which Isis found to be amazing, but Solomon seemed to be unfazed by it. She pondered over why he was not impressed with the lack of business hours here, but she quit thinking over it when they came upon the seed and floral shop. The clerk was still there.
“Ya’re back! What ‘re ya doing ‘ere? I thought that I told ya not t’come back ‘ere,” he hissed, falling into rough speech. “Ya two ‘re s’stubborn s’Cantos in quicksand I’ll tell ya’.”
The old man ushered the two quickly into the back of his shop where it would be more private for talking. He showed them into a dingy room that smelled of organic fertilizer and composting waste. A set of beaten-up chairs circled around an old gaming table that had a collection of cracked and broken pots and tools cluttering the surface.
The owner had motioned them to take seats and had offered them tankards of steaming smiyan – but it smelled rancid. They were sitting around the old card-table; he had just given them the second clue to finding the coins when there was a ring from the front door. “Who could that be? ’ve never ‘d a customer come this late ‘fore even though I always keep me shop open late,” he mumbled as he went to see who the customer was. Isis and Solomon watched from the door that led into the main room of the seed shop. Whom they saw was a surprise. It was the cloaked figure from earlier that morning. They watched and waited. The old clerk came back with the cloaked figure. “Miss Isis, Sir Solomon, I want to introduce you to someone – a friend you might call him,” he said with a sinister look and snarl.
The clerk watched out his back window as the two travelers were thrown to the ground of the back ally, then he closed the shades, turned off the lights to the back room, and returned to the counter up front.
“What do you think you were doing?” The cloaked man asked with a hiss as he flipped the hood down on his cloak. The girl and guy still looked bewildered. “Look, I am a friend. That man in there is working for the spying agents. My name is Yute. I knew that he was working for the spying agents so I used that to my advantage and got you out of there before something really started,” he said as he picked them up off the ground. “I am so sorry about the throwing down part. Only way that I could get that guy to leave the window,” he said hurriedly. Isis was still left speechless; it took someone with training and talent to knock her to the ground, immediately it set up her suspicion of the man. Solomon, aware that something was off if Isis was on the ground, found his voice.
“I thought you said you were a mercenary – and you couldn’t even dodge that,” he glared at Isis. She responded snappishly, “and you wondered why I wanted to go alone – bodies are easier to hide when you don’t have others accompanying you, watching your actions.” Solomon glared at her. It took him a minute to process what she had said before his complexion went pale. He turned back to Yute and continued his process of venting. “Man that hurt. You gave us a decent enough reason, but could you have thrown a little less hard?” he asked the man in the cloak.
“Sorry, had to make it look realistic.”
“That was pretty realistic for me. I think my tailbone is bruised,” Solomon griped.
“Let’s get you back to camp,” Yute ignored Solomon’s moaning.
“Why should we trust you?” Isis asked skeptically, turning serious.
“Hey, you should have seen the three goons that almost made it to the store. You might have ended up as dog meat instead of ending up on the ground,” he told the Isis and Solomon as he looked over his shoulder. He led the way back to the camp.
“How’d you know how to get to our camp?” asked Isis pensively.
“I followed you guys all the way from town earlier,” he said with a smirk. This guy’s getting to be very strange. He is not in any way trustable. The rest of the group was awake when the three got back to camp.
“Where were you guys? We were getting worried!” yelled Wain.
“We went back to the city to see if we could find out more about the coins. We got another clue, but we aren’t sure if it’s a true clue or not,” Isis calmly explained to the infuriated Wain.
“I thought that we had discussed this. Who in the world is this guy ?” Wain demanded of the two.
“My name is Yute,” the man answered Wain, “Who is this guy? Your dad?” Yute whispered in Isis’s ear.
“Thankfully not,” she feigned a giggle.
Wain finally cooled off a little before prime-dawn and since the team was already up they decided to start a breakfast of berries, herbal tea and some starchy, sharp-tasting bitter root that Patch had found. He had called it a cherry-bloom potato. The group agreed that Yute could come along with them if he provided his own tent and helped gather food every night. It was easier to have the man inside the group where everyone could watch him then it was to allow him to follow the group and not be aware of his movements.
They packed up the camp and unrolled the map. Isis gave Wain the clue that the man at the seed shop gave Solomon and her. They figured that they would have to look in a closed coal mine about thirty miles east of where the crossroad was. They began the journey after Yute got back with his supplies from the town.
“So, who is everyone?” Yute asked Isis as the group walked along a gorgeous tree lined path. Solomon and Isis walked side by side. Yute was walking behind them.
“You see the three that look the same? The three short ones,” Isis asked, Yute nodded. “Honfu is the one with brown hair. Penen has the bright curly red hair. Gotre is the other red head,” she said. She had never noticed it before, but their golden skin gleamed more out in the daylight.
“What about the leader and the brother?” Yute questioned. He resettled his pack and glanced at Isis. His stare was lustful and demanding. Solomon noted the glance, his blood boiling, but he reserved his anger for later.
“The leader’s name is Wain. He’s a little pushy-”
“A little pushy?” Yute inquired sarcastically with a quick bit laugh.
“Okay, very pushy. Rew, his brother, at least isn’t as pushy as his brother,” Isis answered, eyeing Yute, the way he walked, the way he held his head. A prickly sensation ran down her neck. The hairs on it raised. She didn’t trust the handsome man. There was something creepily familiar about him. He turned to look at her, his hazel eyes piercing into her green ones. She sucked in her breath and realized that she had quit talking. “The really tall guy is Otly. The one walking next to him, the short, brown haired man is Fado. The man that is walking on his own over there is Patch. He’s shy. He at least keeps us from eating poisonous plants and animals,” Isis ended with a sad smile. She glanced over to the Canto walking beside her. He shrugged his shoulders. She nodded her head towards Yute, wanting Solomon to introduce himself. He sighed heavily, glaring at the girl. Her eyes glittered in the sunlight.
“Fine,” he mumbled and turned to the gaunt man.
“My name is Solomon, pleased to meet you,” Solomon offered across Isis’s path. He glared with all his menace at the man. Yute returned it with a greasy smile. “If you need a decent translator, just ask,” Solomon offered, trying to slather on the niceness.
“Your name is what again, miss?” Yute inquired, ignoring Solomon. Infatuation adhered to Yute like a second skin, and Solomon saw it. He watched the man for a short time, growing more and more envious, for no real apparent reason. Hadn’t he denounced the human race, vowing that he would rather see them fall to their won deaths? So why am I jealous of Yute? He could have the girl for all I care, right? He stopped in his stride, allowing Yute to catch up to her.
Solomon watched her laugh lightly over some joke that the man told her. He wrestled with himself, which felt odd. It wasn’t like she was supposed to be with him or anything. The best they had together was a Corianada contract. As if his body of its own volition outside of his mind, reached his hand out, in a gesture to stop her. “Isis,” he whispered to himself. His gut clenched.
It took the little team all day to get to the coal shafts. The roads were not easy and the air was dry and hot. They set up camp under a grove of shigaru pine just as the second of the moons was starting to rise. Isis flopped down on the cot in her tent and listed to the wind in the trees and the insects chirping happily. Sleep came quickly. She didn’t wake up until she smelled goargut grilling in the early moments of dawn.
I wonder where we got the goargut. Isis found breakfast coming close to burning – apparently the men had gotten distracted with something of more interest than food. Quickly, she flipped the pieces of meat and sizzled it around on the pan before flopping them onto a metal plate. She took the plate with her to the mineshafts where the rest of the team had excitedly gathered. The hole to the shafts was in the side of a kiskisk wall. The vibrant green and purple striations shined in the morning sunlight. Shigaru had started to grow in and around the piles of old milling supplies and mill trailings. The mine was originally used as a quarry mine. The shaft hole that the group was going to be using was an off shoot used for venting and emergency purposes. It supposedly had a metal staircase in it that led down twenty yarlins to a massive hollowed out cavern where monolithic blocks of kiskisk had been pulled out. From the map that they had obtained, the group would need to make their way down the stairs and through the cavern into the back end where a series of tunnels led into smaller off shoot rooms that all connected to one main channel. This ended with a wide mouth exit at a ninety degree angle to the vent shaft with a stone finishing dock and loading bay. From the approach that the group was taking at the vent shaft, they could see off to the east of them large towers of rusting machinery where the finishing dock and loading bays were located, maybe a good 70 shills out.
“Hey guys, who left breakfast to burn?” Isis asked as she passed the plate of burnt goargut over to Otly who had raised his hand weakly. He grabbed a handful of the cooled goargut and passed the plate over to the Ipty brothers. The group was standing around the entrance of the shaft as they began to crunch down on their breakfast.
“We have a small problem. Otly tried out the rocks above the entrance. They are very loose and there are wires that pass all over the entrance of the vent shaft. “Those wires are connected to the rocks above the entrance. If we go through, the rocks will cause a cave in and we won’t be able to get in or out of the caves. Remember, the primary entrance supposedly is more dangerous than this vent shaft, at least, that’s what we’ve been told. We tested a few of the wires by cutting through them,” Wain looked over at the girl for shallow suspense, “and the rocks will come crashing down if we do that. How are we supposed to get passed it?” Wain was standing on a small bolder outside of the mineshaft entrance. He snipped a wire that caused a boulder to come crashing down off the wall face, rolling to a gentle stop in front of Isis’s feet.
Shigaru crowded in on all sides. A song-bird cooed and its mate answered in a high pitched whistle. A stream a few yards away trickled along through the tree roots, adding a gurgle to the peaceful woods.
Wain turned to the girl, puzzled at the lack of response. She stood looking at the cave entrance, gazing wistfully at the opening, almost in a daydream like way. Her soft hair was capped around her ears and stuck up in a few spots from her night’s sleep. Her green eyes twinkled in the reflecting light of the sun. He hunkered down on a boulder to await her analysis. Trust the mercenary to find a way through a booby-trap.
She clambered up the rocks and surveyed the entrance. She stopped at a particularly large boulder and pulled at one of the razor thin wires attached to it. She plucked it to find it twang sharply. The boulder creaked. She stood back up and brushed off her hands. “Hey, Fado? Can you push the larger boulders far enough off so that they won’t block the entrance?” she asked, cautiously testing the sturdiness of the big boulder. The solid Sho’ren nodded his head, rubbing his long braided beard in thought.
They had the largest of the boulders off the ledge within the hour. “Okay, can someone find a staff or a tent pole, or stick or something?” Isis yelled from the top to the entrance. The group turned to each other with a lack of comprehension until Yute ran off. He returned with a thin, young, stripped sapling that looked to be about a quadil long. He smiled at her as he handed it over to Wain. She returned the smile with a smirk of her own. “Now, if one of you could trigger the lines once I get down,” she said as she started climbing down. Yute reached up to help her get down, but she waved him off, jumping agilely down to the ground. Solomon had watched the play between Yute and Isis. A low snarl was ripped from his throat before he was able to contain it. He was becoming more possessive, which was unusual for him. Patch, who had been standing in front of Solomon, turned back and looked at him for a second, and then went to help Otly down from the cliff. Solomon leaned back against one of the trees for a second as he considered his options. A scowl spilled across his face and then disappeared. He slowly drifted to the rest of the group to help move away the rubble.
Another series of rocks tumbled down in a dusty crash with the last of the wires cut away. The group was then able to dig away the last of the inhibiting rubble and cleared the entrance enough to not get buried in. They slowly wandered into the shaft and lit a torch to see where they were going. The mines had been closed for many years. Yute had not been able to locate many maps in town to the mines. They knew that there was the major cavern with the branch tunnel and separated rooms. Supposedly the coin had been left in one of the small offshoot rooms, what had once been established as the shipping and receiving office.
The group searched the shafts for what felt to be hours. At first, the maps seemed straight forward enough, but honestly, more and more rooms turned up that weren’t on the maps. The shipping and receiving office should have been close to the mouth of the old operations end of the mines, but finding the operations end was proving to be rather elusive. The group questioned the betterment of why they hadn’t started at the operations end in the first place. With every twist and turn, a small spike of fear would run through someone’s veins, fearing that they would never see the light of day again.
They finally took a tunnel and stumbled onto a large chamber, one that hadn’t been explicitly marked on the map. The shipping and receiving office was supposed to be a small room, by what the map showed, but this chamber stood to be at least ten or fifteen yarlins high by about two shills deep. The only light that allowed the group to see what was in the chamber came from the small torch that Wain held in front of him. In the center of the room was a round rock table. In the middle of the table, on a small raised platform was a glint of gold. Wain, more than excited to be done with the caves and on into the glory that was the open air hurried up to the table and reached for the coin. Isis, who had been crouching just inside the entrance to the cavern leapt up from her crouch, knocking Wain flat on the coal dust covered floor.
“What was that for?” Wain yelled angrily as he rose up off the floor in a blustering huff, arms rose for a ready fight. Isis gently laid a hand on one of his fists and pushed it down. “It’s booby trapped,” Isis whispered as she studied the ceiling. She walked around to the other side of the table. She dug into a cargo pocket and retrieved a small pocket mirror, which she then proceeded to hold up in the air. It caught the dim light from Wain’s torch and glinted on a clear thread that was hanging from the ceiling, connected to the coin that was in the center of the table. In the ceiling were a series of large spikes about three feet in diameter encircling the stone table. One of the spikes was hanging directly over Wain’s head.
She pointed out the spike to Wain. His face paled visibly in the light of the torch. “Okay, you proved your point, now can you tell me how we are going to get the coin without getting a spike in my head?” he yowled. He was tired of the cave – he just wanted to be outside again. He swore to himself that if there were any more coins in caves to be found, he’d just guard the camp the next time around. He stared at the crumbling ceiling, a tremble running through his fingers. He swallowed heavily, creating a gulping sound that rang through the chamber. The team glanced at him. Honfu hid a smile behind his hand. He had to give the lady credit; she could get her point across quickly.
“There are spikes circling the whole table, not just the one above your head,” Isis hissed at him. She still felt that Wain did not understand the situation fully. “Hey, Yute do you still have that stick?” she asked the man in the signature cloak. He hefted it into the air to show that he still had it. Isis went back around the table and took the stick, sauntered over where the string was most obvious and gently pressed the stick onto to the string. She jumped back just in time. The spikes fell with a clanging crash, encircling the table in yarlins of stone. The stick was now worthless but the group didn’t have to worry about any more booby traps. The table was, however, now covered in tons of rubble. A disheartened gasp rang throughout the group.
Isis strode purposefully over to Wain. He was staring forlornly at the pile of rubble and didn’t realize she was there. She grabbed his hand, and startled, he tried to pull it way from her. She put a piece of gold in his hand before releasing him. He stared at it perplexed. It was heavy, with a brilliant blue marble encased in the center. He looked up at Isis and back down at the coin lying so coolly in his hand. “How did you…?” he began to ask her. “Remember who I am,” she commented back before he could come up with a better question. She easily withdrew the torch from his hand and started to walk back out of the entrance to the cavern. Solomon snickered silently to himself as he fell in behind her. He observed her stance, approving of the efficiency with which the short woman handled herself. It had not taken him long to grow attached, if not infatuated, with the human.
It took them another half an hour to find their way out of the mine; this time around it seemed to go quicker with Isis leading the way. “Well, we were successful in finding our first coin,” Isis said the group, excitement shining in her eyes. She joyfully exited the vent shaft into the fading sunlight to breath in the fresh air. It was enticing to Solomon, to watch her enjoy that quiet moment before everyone piled out of the cave, but his amusement was suddenly cut short when he saw Yute. The man circled round to Isis’s side, his hand creeping to her lower back as he whispered words of admiration in her ear. She giggled and moved away from his touch and started heading for the camp A furious burning moved through Solomon, red blurred his vision.
“Yute’s clue was … correct,” Wain said in shocked disbelief as he peered out into the grove of Shigaru. He kept glancing down at the coin in his hand, seemingly ensuring that it was there and not just his imagination. They had retrieved their first coin, which signaled a true beginning to their adventure.
“What should we do with the coin now that we have it? We can’t afford to lose it,” Otly pointed out. They had made it back to the camp. The fire had gone out and there was wood to be found before they could begin to prepare a dinner. The Ipty brothers and Fado ventured into the Shigaru pine grove to locate some dry wood.
The group ate dinner, and then tried to figure out what they were going to do about the coins. They finally decided to make a small pouch that they could carry the coins in. Otly caught and skinned a zinto and then Wain located a needle and medical thread in the medical pack that Isis had used earlier on in her administrations to Solomon.
He took the pouch with him to his tent that night to work on.
Solomon had watched Isis over the campfire that night. He had seen how Yute watched her, and how she laughed with him. He had to admit that it was never Isis that approached conversation with the vile man, but still, the attention given to him infuriated the Kayo. Solomon didn’t get it. It was so odd to feel that protectively over a simple female human. Still, envy raised its ugly head in him. He escaped into his tent before he did anything stupid. Isis watched him as he left, the smile fading from her face. She turned her attention back to Yute who had made another funny comment about his life as a marauding bounty hunter.
Lying on his cot, Solomon understood the power of envy that a Canto could hold. He had never believed the elders when they warned the colts not to envy over a filly or a woman. They could destroy themselves with it. He shrugged and breathed out, trying to put her out of his mind. He rolled off his cot onto the dirt floor. He stretched out, slowly beginning a tedious liscau position to re-balance himself. His brain though didn’t want to let go of his train of thought. But she is human. Let Yute have her. Why should I care anyway. “I’m being stupid. Just let the man have her. I want a mare anyways, not a human,” he told himself convincingly. “But she’s perfect for me. No human woman should ever be that perfect for a Canto.” He pounded his fist into the dirt next to his cot as he gulped down an infuriated sob. He was furious and moody and uncertain of why he was feeling such mixed emotions. It made no sense to him to be infatuated with his healer. She had forced a Corianada on him, so she had her own manipulative purposes for keeping him alive; it wasn’t just that she had taken a fancy to him. Dust curled up his hand and into his lungs. He sneezed. His eyes burned. He told himself it was the dust that it had gotten into his eyes, that’s why they burned. He clambered back into his cot, crushing his face into the pillow as his brain gnawed at him.
The next morning Wain strolled proudly out of his tent with a well worked looking pouch. It was lovely, even, and perfect in every way. He had already placed the coin in the bag. Maybe he might give Isis a run for her money in suture work. This day was not going to be a day that anyone was going to get him down on.
The group packed up the tents and other supplies then headed on their way. In the mines, attached to the coin, they had found a new clue to another coin. The clue read:
to look in a place of water, sand, a mountain, to look in the depths
of a tree of rock, you would find your prize in a depth so far.
It was fairly vague for sure, and there wasn’t anything else legible on the parchment. It appeared that the ink had been weather worn. This task was going to be a bit more of a challenge. The best they could do for now was to move on to the next town and talk to the elders to find out what they might now of trees of rock.
Their next step in their journey started on another clue and a new coin.
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