Devryn - "Let Them Rest"
One of the advantages to traveling across the Restorae Steppes was the lay of the land. Consistent stretches of passable trails when wanting to avoid anyone on the main road. And right now, I felt the need to hide from the world.
I watched Seth have one of his odd episodes, attempting to break the monotony. In the soldier’s uniform he liberated from the camp, Seth skipped between steps, poorly whistling a quick-paced tune. If memory served, it’s sounded similar to “The Ferryman’s Wife”. I heard it plenty of times on the road as a child, a reminder of a distant past. Perussians enjoyed filling their evenings with song and dance when on those never-ending roads, and a way to share and teach our traditions. At this point of my life, I could believe Seth more a Perussian in blood than I.
Next to Seth walked the stranger, since an introduction was not forthcoming. Her dark hair laid in waves down her shoulders, the soft hiss of her supple leathers in rhythm with her pace. I hadn’t quite got a read on her, but she was quick with a blade and buckler combo. Only spared words were shared between anyone after our hasty exit. Exhaustion held our tongues to this point since after walking through the night, putting distance from the camp… and that crazed spell-slinging elf.
“You sure you know what you are doing?” Seth spun on the ball of his foot in the sand to look back at me.
Our course remained steadily westward, towards Inna Bogarta. I used a trick I learned when crossing here a few times before to make sure that was the case. Take a landmark and make it your guide. At night, find north and pick one of the brighter stars as a marker, keeping it resting on your right shoulder. Clouds can make that difficult, but the Fates blessed us with a clear sky last night.
“Yes. Navigating this barren rock pile is simple enough… if you know how to look.”
The packed sand continued to crunch under foot as we made our way. Looking north, I could not see the actual road but knew it lie not far off, maybe over a mile. The land laid flat enough to get a decent line-of-sight at larger distances, but the numerous sand and briar mounds fashioned a maze-like underworld. Only the peaks sat visible, a sea of drab browns and greens, a desolate sea rimmed with rock-faced mountains.
Earlier this morning, before the sun rose, I began to feel a pinch in my left hip. When I had the chance, I checked the spot for a wound or bruising during a brief pause. The ache, just above my beltline, felt warm to the touch and pressing on it was slightly annoying. It also marked the location of a tattoo, a black-inked lizard spiraling inward with its tail spinning outward.
Behind a nearby mound, the remnants of a covered wagon came into view. Perussians must have either passed through or camped here at some point. The back end and top were missing, leaving short strips of iron, used to reinforce the frame, pointed skyward. The cart’s body sat on two pillars of gathered stones, wheels removed on either side. The once colorful exterior stripped of its painted menagerie from the wind-blown sand and time.
“One of your people? Someone you know?” Seth looked over while thumbing the decrepit wagon.
“Yes, Seth. All Perussians know one another.”
Seth’s mouth broadened into a wide grin, teeth whiter than you would expect of a Tressian city-dweller.
“I’ll remember this when we get to Inna Bogarta,” I chided back.
“Well, it’s time for a break,” the stranger’s sharp words gave no room to disagree. Seth shrugged his shoulders and backed into a seated position on a mound.
Suddenly feeling the exhaustion leach into my legs, I sat with a low moan. Since the fight and fleeing, everything passed quickly in succession, leaving my recollection a blur. An uncomfortable knot in my stomach left me feeling uneasy about everything that happened.
I centered myself and played out everything again in my mind, only pausing and replaying the parts I felt needing further attention. Tressian soldiers, for whatever reason, camped at the surface entrance to an underground city. To add, a pair of elven mages aiding in their endeavor to explore the city. Or, could be the other way around. I could not recall a house emblem or a tattoo. Maybe rogue mages?
“Seth, do you know why the prince’s soldiers were camped there?”
Seth dropped his gaze to his dark-haired friend, who in turn looked up at him. “Lookin’ for something is what I heard. Those hairy monster were making it tough, though.”
His friend’s stare returned to me, looking for a reaction or something. Or, something more. For the first time, I got a chance to take in the ill-disposed lady’s details. Her hair framed a face darkened by the sun but still softer than I would imagine. No notable age lines to guess an age and her hazel eyes betrayed her Tressian heritage. Her leathers fitted her body proportionally, definitely fashioned for her frame. Wealthy or a prized soldier?
Seth continued, “You find anything interesting? Lovely jacket and blade you got there.”
“Thanks,” I grabbed at the lapel. “Just some left behind junk.” Never for being one to show proper grace, “What’s your name?” looking to her steely eyes. “We haven’t been introduced.” I tried to give a pleasant smile. “How do you two know each other?”
Seth laughed awkwardly as she answered, “Raina. From years back in Trevista. We grew up on the same streets.” Her voice, finally not in a commanding tone, sounded lighter but still firm.
“That must have been a treat. I barely know him and have almost died… too many times. Has he always been this way?”
My sore spot jolted me with a tweak. Standing up, I lifted my shirt.
“So, I don’t remember you having all those tattoos, Devryn,” Seth’s eyebrow raised in inquiry.
“No, you shouldn’t. Not even sure where to begin… or how.”
Raina pointed at the sore spot, “I’ve seen that before. They use those on messengers.” Her serious tone did nothing to help.
“The ladies use those to insure messengers pass along their reports. I understand they are deadly if you don’t...” She looked away, “If you believe what those snake-tongued harpies want you to believe.”
“I wasn’t given any message.”
“No doubt,” she retorted. “It’s magic. You have to be in front the person the message is meant for. Then you gab whatever they wanted you to say, not remembering a thing afterwards.”
Wanting to change the subject, “Where did you learn to fight?”
She looked up from her hands as they tore a leaf along the center seam, “Trained in Prince Mesra’s army.”
“They are quite adept at swordplay, I see. And hire rogue mages?”
“I guess. And you? Where did you learn?”
“My father,” I lied. Might as well, since she probably was.
Seth broke in, “What happened to Tae? He in the camp?”
“He should be. We came in pretending to be messengers and they sent us off to check in.” I left out the incident during the night with the company. Tae-gron took a hard hit, but he should heal up fine after the earthen channeler’s attention.
“So, you were down there?” Seth asked with a bit of excitement. “See anything? Find anything?” His glib tongue said more to his true nature.
Looking past her, I noticed a wagon wheel half-buried in the sand. Getting up and walking over, legs a little wobbly, two more at the base of the next mound. The rotted wood arced upward, iron tacks and pitted bands with a coat of rust. A prickly bush with delicate yellow flowers, swaying in the cool breeze, contrasted the grim significance of the wheel.
“Woah, weird,” Seth exclaimed as he went to pass.
I shot out my arm, “You shouldn’t step further. These are grave markings.”
“My people use the wheels to honor the dead. To also symbolize the turning from this world to the next, the underworld. And, said to be bad luck to step on. The Fates do not take kindly on those who tread on their memory.” A pause. “Something like that…,” I added, smiling to Seth to lighten the mood.
Raina, now standing to the other side, placed her hand on my shoulder.