In Jena's light - part two

Ameriana concentrated. The magician knew that her adversary would leave her little time to react. Before her, the elementalist Zoraï entered into a trance, rising into the air with all the grace of a dancer. He turned, crouched, then suddenly relaxed to release a spell. The young Matis felt a wave numb her body and mind. Her incantation was broken. Calling upon the mystic forces of the lakes, the Zoraï had weaved a stun link. Ameriana was tangled in her enemy's web like a panic-stricken butterfly.

She was at his mercy! An intense terror overwhelmed her.

The Kamist sorcerer prepared to call upon the lightening a second time. Powerless, the magician could make out his cruel smile behind the pale mask.

The Zoraï raised his arms. Suddenly, he gave a cry of a pain. A figure had leapt out behind him and drawn two bloody lines across his back, breaking his concentration. He turned round. Fyler daggers cut into his ribs. The sardonic face of a Tryker could be made out behind the non-stop ballet of the two daggers. The sorcerer tried to call upon the elements, but his adversary was too fast. The repeated blows and burning pain made any incantation impossible.

The stun link lifted. Ameriana came round, paying thanks to Jena. She channelled the strengths from the depths. An acid projectile flew towards the Zoraï. The Kamist tried to flee, but it was too late. He collapsed beneath the combined assaults of the blades and the magic.

The Tryker juggled his knifes with ease.

"I permitted myself to interrupt the course of your debate with the no-face, fair lady. I hope that you will forgive my intrusion. But you seemed to be running out of arguments."

He burst out laughing. Ameriana felt her face flush.

"I see nothing funny about the situation," she replied coldly, "I almost lost my life!"

"Come now, death is but a passage, a painful parenthesis in the glorious story of your destiny! And the bosom of the Goddess is quite a hospitable place…"

The magician frowned. This Tryker was so impudent! She was about to reply, but the knife-wielding Tryker began to move away.

"We'll continue this discussion later! The foragers need our protection, or else the building work won't make any progress. Come and see me at the encampment after nightfall, honourable intentions only, of course. I'll try not to stun you like that crazy Zoraï did!"

With these words, he disappeared behind a dune. Ameriana looked for the body of the Kamist sorcerer, but it had already been recalled by its impious masters.

A group of Karavaneer gatherers was approaching, in search of wood and resin. The magician headed towards them to offer her help. She glanced behind her. There was nothing to indicate that a fight had taken place just a few moments earlier, and that she had almost been killed.

She didn't even know the name of the homin who had saved her life.

"Caugan the fylerist? He pitched his tent in the north of the camp, near the energy barriers."

Ameriana thanked the guard and approached the yurts. Stars dotted the night sky like golden threads on black brocade. It hadn't been difficult to find out the Tryker's name. His reputation as a ferocious fighter preceded him. He had been one of the first Karavaneer warriors to back the project to build temples for Jena. He had left for the Dunes of Aelius and put his daggers at the service of the Goddess. Ameriana believed that her encounter with the Tryker had been down to more than just chance.

Sparks danced like fireflies above the camp's fires. Homins were talking, warming themselves round the fires, drinking big glassfuls of dandelion wine. The majority of them came from the forests or the lakes, but among them were some Fyros, followers of Jena, encased in their kostom armour burnt by the desert sun. They seemed to be preparing for an expedition. It was a still night, but the magician knew that the calm was deceptive.

The tent flap was rolled back, revealing the silhouette of a Tryker sitting cross-legged before a fire. He seemed to be busy examining a cube of yellow amber.

"May I enter, Master Caugan?"

Ameriana adopted a deferential tone, which she wasn't accustomed to using when addressing homins who weren't of Matis sap. But she was aware that she was speaking to a person of considerable merit, to whom she felt indebted.

"Well, well, if it isn't our young follower of arcana! I'd given up on you. Come closer, don't be afraid, I'm as gentle as a gnoof!"

The magician tensed. Caugan certainly knew how to get on her nerves.

"I haven't been a fledgling for many cycles. That Zoraï took me by surprise, and I would have been quite capable of…"

"I didn't mean to offend you, Lady Ameriana of the Verdant Heights. Have a seat, and join me in a few mouthfuls of lake beer. A spoonful of honey sweetens the bitterness."

Caugan stood up and bowed to her, inviting Ameriana to sit upon a cloth cushion. The two homins sat down by the fire. The warrior picked up a pitcher and filled two goblets with a bluish liquid.

"This beer is brewed by my friend Naroy, who runs a bar at Avendale. It's one of the best bars in all of Aeden Aqueous! Its distinctive colour is the result of a secret mix of berries and algae."

The young Matis timidly took a sip from the wooden goblet.

"I was just reading a cube of amber which was given to me by the Fairhaven intendant," continued Caugan. "We can learn interesting things from it about the origin of our money…"

"I came to thank you for your intervention this afternoon. Your help was timely."

Ameriana looked the Tryker straight in the eye. She expected a snigger, but Caugan was not a predictable homin.

He crossed his hands in front of him, saluting in the manner of the Matis nobility.

"It is the Goddess who wished our paths to cross, fair lady. I am at her service, just as I am at yours."

Ameriana smiled. She took a closer look at her host. Locks of scarlet hair fell onto his forehead, giving him a pugnacious air. His green eyes were small for a Tryker. His round cheeks were embellished with winding, red and green tattoos.

A few minutes passed, punctuated by crackling from the fireplace. Caugan stirred up the embers then began to talk again.

"We didn't finish our previous conversation. Allow-me to ask you an indiscreet question, Lady Ameriana. Have you ever felt the breath of death upon you?"

The magician lowered her eyes.

"Jena has not seen fit to recall me to her."

Ameriana raised her head to meet the warrior's gaze.

"…and for that I thank her. For sometimes I'm afraid that I won't be good enough, and that I won't return from the darkness to which death sends me."

Caugan twirled the goblet in his hands, looking thoughtful.

"It's natural to be afraid of the unknown. But you have nothing to fear. The strength of your faith will bring you back to Atys. The Goddess grants us a certain amount of time, and yours isn't up yet. Of that I'm convinced."

"I would like to be as sure as you," replied Ameriana sadly. "I defeated a Fyros today. A Kamist, a follower of the demons. In fighting him, I felt a great elation, as if I was bathed in Jena's light. But the light disappeared. I dread whatever the future holds for us…"

The Tryker emptied his goblet in one. His face was lit up by the flames, and his eyes shone like suns.

"Only the Powers know our future. As for the past, it lies with the dead. Our world is the present. It belongs to us alone, never forget that."

Caugan smiled and threw his goblet into the fire. He invited Ameriana to do the same.

"And so all doubts and shadows disappear. Into the jaws of a wild beast tamed by homins!"

The magician burst into laughter. She copied the Tryker, making a shower of sparks fly out of the fireplace.

Outside, the stars seemed to shimmer with a new intensity. They hailed the friendship which had just been born.

To be continued...

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