Phoenix of the West
This is when our clan was injured by the Dynasty, and when we began to plan our revenge.
Osol had discovered that she could make the collar sing.
Its tortured voices carried no joy, it was true, nor love, but Osol was raised as a shamaness, and she knew many hymns and dirges. As she sang them in her mind, the collar sang with her, composing hearbreaking counterpoints in the languages of the Old Realm and the Delzahn. She could tell that it was unnerving Lyeshe, and he certainly hadn't realized that she was the one causing it, because he hadn't yet threatened her to stop. So Osol and her choir sang in brief snatches, in the moments of silence when they stopped for breath or provender, or whenever a new song bubbled to her mind.
Lyeshe had stopped to take a bite of bread when he turned to Osol. "I am bored of this bread, girl."
"What of it?"
"I wish to eat of pomegranate and fig." He threw seeds on the ground, and spat on them.
"If you wish to wait three years for those seeds to bear fruit..."
"I wish to test your power." Pain crept into Osol's consciousness, delicately, only to remind her that it was there. Lyeshe pulled two things out of his little bag: a crystal sphere with lights turning inside, like a tiny Heaven, and a gold-and-silver string tied in odd knots. He set the orb in Osol's collar, and handed her the string.
"You feel the shape of the Essence in here; I know you can. Shape the same pattern, and tie it round those two seeds.
Osol glumly obeyed. She wrapped the cord around her left wrist, and poured energy through it until she could feel its shape. She felt light bloom on her forehead, then envelop her whole body, copper down the left side and indigo on the right. Symbols of fire orbited her hand; she picked up a handful of soil and it turned moist and black. It felt strange in her hand, as if she were holding a handful of joy. She placed that on the seeds and watched as the coppery sigils fountained into a pair of trees, and when the lights faded, ripe fruits bent their branches.
Where are they? Sanan had been trying to track down Lyeshe for hours, and already the trail was cold. She sat down on a rock, and idly drew a map in the sand, as though she were going to predict her master's route. "What am I going to do?" Her waterskin was nearly empty.
Stay here with us, Sanan.
"What?" She looked around, but there was nothing there but the stone she was sitting on, and a stand of trees to the east. Heat-haze blurred the horizons.
Here in our pool is water for your throat; drink, rejoice.
This time, Sanan didn't reply. With every bit of skill at her command, she crept silently to the trees, and looked for the speaker. No one was there. The stand of trees was curiously lush, she thought; she could feel the air becoming cool and moist when she entered. The trees all ringed one white-barked sapling whose roots arched over a still, oddly shining pool.
Taban rolled to his feet and checked under his bandages. Good; the wounds has closed. He glanced around the newly broken ruin, and smiled when his eyes fell on a packet of soldiers' rations; Oteitani must have dumped them out when he packed up the armour. The mercenary must not have needed them. Taban picked up the food and a few other items that had been scattered over the square, and tied them into his shirt, which was hardly worthy of being a garment any longer anyway.
Taban saw a column of orange-and-violet light pierce the sky, and watched ribbons of secrets twist around it. For a moment, even the sun seemed dim.
Then he began to run. A glance at his patron in the sky told him what direction he went, and as he passed through the grasses yellow fire gathered at his heels. He told the stones and sand a heartless tale of a maiden pursued, of desperate and devouring need. With each word, his feet fell faster. Soon the earth fell away behind him, forgotten, and he raced toward his home, borne on wings of flame.
"I do not wish to call you 'girl' any longer," Lyeshe said, "so from now on, you shall be il-djohaar, the jewel; you are the loveliest of all the Anathema I have captured."
Osol didn't look up from the ground, nor did she reply. The name's meaning cut her heart; before she had taken her adult name, she was Horizon Ruby, for the sunset on the day she was born. She thought of the things she had done when she was younger; playing with the flower nymphs, listening to the stories of Takiyyudin and the many little gods of the land. The collar sang an ancient funeral hymn; its attenuated voices rang false in the hot light.
Lyeshe didn't have patience for Osol's brooding, and the dead music coming from the slave collar was making his skin crawl. He turned to the ragged remnants of his guard. "We'll reach the shore tonight, and a Ragara ship will have arrived by the receding tide of tomorrow's afternoon to retrieve us. Once we have arrived, you have the run of the port until it is our time for departure."
Osol wrote notes to the earth with her toes, telling Takiyyudin and the other friends of her clan of her foolishness and her doom.
Oteitani leapt from stone to stone, careful not to step in the sand. He had found Sanan's tracks in the sand, diverging a little from Lyeshe and the girl's trail. He wasn't going to make it easier for her to figure out where she should be going, particularly since she'd seen what happened between him and the Anathema.
It wasn't long before Oteitani caught up with Lyeshe. The Dynast's skin was beginning to turn red and peel; the frost on his lashes had turned to dew. He was not doing well. Lyeshe looked at the hunter expectantly.
"So he didn't kill you."
"We came to an agreement." Oteitani pushed back his sleeve to show the bandage on his arm. It was obvious that it was torn from Taban's shirt. "I think I got the better end of it."
Osol bit back tears, unnoticed. Meanwhile, Lyeshe was rummaging through his bags, searching for something. He found a scroll tube and pulled out out. "I believe we had agreed to this fee?" He proffered the scroll. Oteitani examined it and nodded. "Unfortunately, your mount was lost in the assignment."
"I can live with that."
"You can claim your fee from any Ragara bank, or have them store it in a Realmwide account if you wish; any banker will be glad to tell you the details." Lyeshe looked disinterested.
"Then our business is done." Oteitani pushed the scroll case through his belt and started to walk away. As he passed Osol, he winked at her, too quickly for Lyeshe to notice. She narrowed her eyes and smiled. The collar started to sing again.
Sanan appeared some time later, injured and upset. She asked where Oteitani was, and went looking for him.
Taban had reached the oasis a little distance away from the Granite Mantis campsite, so he stopped to let the fire of his heart recede, and to drink until his thirst was sated. Once the phoenix danced only in his eyes, he washed the dust from his face and feet, and went to see his adopted parents, and tell them of what had happened and what he would do.
Khadka and Tuluy paled when he entered, as though they beheld a ghost. "Mother, Father, I need your help."
"Sit down." Tuluy pointed him to a chair.
"The Dynasty have captured Osol; they have learned that she is Chosen as I am."
"Bird Fire Brother, where is Osol?" Dusk Flower had climbed out of bed. Taban picked her up and hugged her.
"I think that the Ragara has taken her to the port. Can I ask a favor of Osprey Horn clan, and have them delay the ships that are due tomorrow morning? If we can do this, then I will have the time to free her."
Khadka nodded. "I will speak to the chief; he likes you well. We will send our fastest rider."
"Will you stay for dinner, Taban?"
"I can stay, but only briefly. I must give chase."
Tuluy was holding back tears; her voice quavered. "When Black Grass returned riderless, we feared the worst."
"Don't worry, mother. Your daughter will someday be the wisest shamaness the clan has ever seen, and before I die, I vow to be its mightiest warrior. Besides, we are too valuable to them for that." He tried to smile.
They ate and then Taban began to run again.