18-3

To the others, Tel appeared to be napping against a tree. He could feel his surroundings in a removed way, the scents of the fire and food wrapping around him and dispersing unsmelled, the ground beneath him there for support and not for comfort. His body remained, but his mind was far gone.

The sunset tonight would be brilliant and fiery, orange and gold at the horizon, pink above, and the clouds a deep blue-purple. He knew this because the sky sang to him, its song unique but familiar to the many other nights he’d traveled across the clouds.

He moved northeast past the thick forests of Ashven and the plains across the southern part of Courmet. There was a thrilling sense of abandon as he leapt off the coast and onto the waters, twisting in the air, dashing through clouds. It would only be a few more minutes before he reached Ervaskin.

This was vraska, one of the first things he had learned as a kiluid, but also one of the more difficult to master. At it’s core, it was being able to sense everything around him without using any of his senses, to see without looking, to listen without hearing, to feel without touching. It had been difficult for him to grasp that concept. Then again, he had started training at five years of age, barely old enough to talk, still diapered and tripping over his feet every few hours. Once he had learned how to grasp nature in the palm of his hand, things grew easier. He could use the wind to feel, the sun to see, and the wildlife to listen.

It took a inherent grasp of the universal for Telbarisk to be able to understand the situation in full. He knew Nourabrikot so well that it took little for him to perceive the tiny changes that pulled at the fabric and made a new, momentary tapestry. The way the wind was blowing, what the sea held, the heat from the rocks rising, what the clouds brought, how many animals were nearby, if there had been any trees felled, all this added to the particular semblance of the ever-shifting life of his home. There was something that seemed a little off and not something that was temporary, either. He’d check on that in a moment.

He found his mother in the gardens at what Raulin had called the palace. (While it was his family’s home, he nor anyone else he knew had ever treated it with the reverence Ghenians did for their castles and manors.) She was cutting the ice blossoms, which meant that Akilshta, the celebration of the coming of winter, was only a day or two away. He loved that holiday.

His father was inside, speaking to some men. He could try to find his sisters, but they were all married and with children, each in their own home. He had watched Seisuka and his nephews play just before his feverish days, when it had been so hard to keep still, his body beyond agitated at the volcano’s impending eruption.

His brother, the king, was at a banquet with other men. There were a few that were much smaller than the others, diplomats from some country. Raulin had been trying to explain to him the good and the bad of having them there. Tel had thought he was bad at gauging those kinds of situations, which worried him about returning and helping his brother rule, but Raulin had explained that politics was a very complex subject for even a devious Noh Amairian. It still felt strange to see strangers in his home and he still didn’t know what it meant, so he appreciated Raulin’s reassurance, but he doubted he would ever be ready to deal with people like the Ghenians, with their double-speak and provisions and loopholes.

The vraska drifted and tugged him in another direction, out of his home and towards the hills in the north. There a woman who was crouched low to the ground, picking the last harvest of herbs before the lands were blanketed in thick snow for months. The moist coastal air held it back today, but he could tell that snow had already touched Nourabrikot and melted many times.

As she placed a bundle of valaditra in her basket, he swirled the air around her hair. She froze and stood. He pressed the air slowly around her face in as close as he could get to a caress. She closed her eyes and touched the place where the wind had blown, then raised her other hand in front of her. This was their game. She would raise her fingers one at a time and he would brush the tips, not knowing how she felt other than it made her smile. He warmed the air and placed it as a mantle over her shoulders. She reached up and touched the sensation. It was his way of pretending that he was wrapping his arms around her from behind, as he had done so often when they had been together.

He touched her face again and found a tear running down her cheek. She hunched down again and made a few motions in the dirt. Grivfia was hard for non-native speakers to read. It appeared as circles with thin or thick lines in different orders with a character in the center. The letter represented one of their many hundreds of genii locorum they worshiped as gods and the lines told how their embodiment reacted with the people and things involved. Some were intricate, many lined circles that expressed complex thoughts. Others, like what she wrote, were so simple it didn’t take much more than a quick pass to know what she had written.

I miss you.

She stood again, hugging herself, the tears falling more freely. He brushed her lips and pressed them gently. She touched her fingers there before he swirled the air around her hair in a goodbye.

He didn’t know if he should do that anymore. Each time it was sadder, more painful. She cried harder. He pined for her more. At least he could tell her, in some way, that he was still alive and he still loved her, but the cost was getting to be too high, the anguish at parting stronger.

Telbarisk rose higher, much higher, and breathed in the atmosphere. There was something off. It wasn’t threatening nor was it bad, but there was something different that he felt was significant. He moved off of Ervaskin, back the way he came, until he came back to Gheny. He trailed the curiosity until he found it concentrated just northwest of where their camp was.

Ash and smoke still spewed into the atmosphere from Mount Kalista, thickening the clouds. It projected west, but the air generally traveled in an easterly way, often tipping up to the north but often enough to the south. Perhaps on its own, and because of the time of year, it wouldn’t be a major thing. But there was already ash in the air from another eruption earlier in the year. Together it was enough to change things drastically. He spent a quarter to a half hour surveying the area, working with what he knew, before he opened his eyes. He looked around the camp and saw Anla napping. A short distance away he sensed two people moving around a short area, one more still that the other. He also heard them pretty well, too.

“…it again,” Raulin said in a patient yet determined voice. “You trained yourself without my guidance, so I’m having to crack some of your bad habits, like re-breaking a badly set bone. It’s going to be painful.”

“I feel like I’m going to fall over.”

“You do now, but don’t practice and wait and see when you’re in a battle and you do that move with your current posture. Feet, hips, shoulders, head.”

“It sounds like a child’s song,” Al said. “’Eyes and ears and mouth and nose…’”

“Ten of each. Focus.”

Al did three before dropping his ax in frustration. He said something Tel couldn’t hear.

“Come on, you have twenty of each now.”

“Twenty! But, I wasn’t complaining!”

“You were grousing, and grousing is an unpheasant thing. Twenty.”

“I wasn’t grousing, for the record.”

“Are you complaining about complaining, ’cause that will get you forty-three times.” Before Al could say anything, Raulin said, “Compounded interest is a sour flower, now get to it.”

Tel stepped into their clearing. “Raulin, there’s something we need to discuss.”

He watched Al for a minute more, then walked over to his friend. “What is it?”

“We might have an issue as far as our journey is concerned.”

Tel gave him his quick synopsis. Raulin nodded in thought, then said, “All right, Wizard. You get a reprieve. We need to go have a group discussion.”

They woke up Anla and stoked their fire. “Tel tells me that the volcanic eruptions, both Kalista and Eruska, are playing havoc on the weather. The ash in the air is going to make the weather colder and we might have some travel issues if it’s a wet season.

“My original plan was to have us travel along the western border of the Great Gheny Bay, through Ekistol, Ailetol, and Anistaf, then to Tektorn for my contracts there. But, if we have to slog through feet of snow to get anywhere, that’s going to be a problem. We could risk that or we can backtrack a few miles to the crossroads we passed and try for the Sharkan Peninsula.”

Al pulled out his book that had the map of Gheny. “We could also try for the water. Libsin is a small port city on the northern shore of the bay. Maybe we could catch a ship from there to Riyala or Acripla.”

Raulin clicked his tongue. “Not a bad suggestion. I’m going to side on ruling that out only because of the time of the year. If they do have ships available during winter, they would likely just be barges for supplies, which are slow and make frequent stops. It would delay us too much.”

“Hanala to Acripla by ship?”

“Less likely to have the same issues, but possibly. I think that problem is more that the travel time is much longer due to the islands off of Genale. It could take two or three months.”

“So, by land then. Wouldn’t Sharka suffer the same problems, though?”

“It’s always raining in Hanala,” Anla said. “The weather is overly moist compared to the other side of the bay.”

“The choices, then, are snow or rain?” Al asked. He looked at Tel. “How strongly do you feel that the weather is going to affect us?”

“Pretty strongly.”

“Put a number to it.”

“Um, eight?”

“Eight out of…?”

“Four?”

Al blinked. “Right, I forgot about the math. Sorry.”

“It comes down to rushing down the coast and risking the snow or taking the slightly longer way and risking the rain.” Raulin poked the fire. “The former will require us to move at a rapid pace to try to beat any storms. We can moved more deliberately in Sharka. Personally, the latter has my vote.”

“I think we’re in agreement?” Al asked. “Sharka it is.”

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