It seemed to have been a small eternity since PDQ had last spent a night out in the open. Even before his incarceration, he had been working in hostels and inns, after a long stint as a stableboy. Memeth was so close to Tev, and Tev had been almost impossibly near Valiari. None were anywhere near Ba Ki, of course, but that was the point, wasn't it? He grinned. It was good to be properly on the road again, fugitive status notwithstanding.
He patted the bandage gingerly, wondering if Mychael wanted to be left to her own thoughts and devices. He could hear her breathing, but it sounded so full of peace that he couldn't bring himself to speak aloud. She'd need as much peace as possible, if she intended to stick around.
For as long as he could remember, things had shown a tendency to
go sour, as it were. Life's normal bumps and wrinkles seemed somehow magnified. He wasn't sure if this was because it was his own life, or if something was legitimately different about it. He tapped out a simple beat on his wrist with a stick. He'd been bound by metal cuffs on his wrists before, many times, but the bracers didn't chafe the way cuffs did. In fact, they felt like a second layer of skin. The skin they covered wasn't even sweating, so far as he could tell.
Dawn wept into the sky like a shy victim. He gave himself a shake and scanned the area around them. No sign of life larger than a small dog; a few birds darted between high branches while a family of squirrels got an early start on the day. Griselda was deep in sleep, but something told him that the slightest sign of alarm would have her up and swinging the heavy tree branch she was laying beside. He cleared his throat, wondering if the sound would stir either of the women.
He couldn't decide if it was luck or misfortune that determined Mychael as the one to stand and take a place beside him. He smiled anyway, thinking of the food she'd shared. "I didn't know people could sleep like that," he said, knowing he sounded shy and small. "Sitting up, I mean."
She shook her head, almost gently. "I was meditating."
"Like a monk?"
what sort do you have in mind?"
The way she said it made him wonder how many she'd met. He nearly asked, but shyness sewed his lips together as effectively as a needle and thread. It was unbecoming and inconvenient to be so afflicted, he knew, but there was little to be done. He chuckled nervously and turned his gaze to his feet. Then, remembering that he was on watch, he snapped his head back up and look round a few times. Still silence greeted him at every turn.
Sheepish and pink-faced, he rubbed his neck and did his best to meet Mychael's eye. There seemed no trick to it, not the way she matched him unflinching. He coughed and wondered yet again if there was something personally wrong with him. Or perhaps it was the fact that he knew she could set his hair afire if she were to take displeasure at a careless remark. "Er, I'm usually much better with people than I currently seem
"That shouldn't be very difficult." The look on her face suggested a joke, but his face felt disturbingly flat.
"Eheh. Right." He picked up a twig off the ground and twirled it between his fingers, glad that he was still nimble in one minor way. "Thank you."
The words burst out of him, not violently, but unbidden. He fought the urge to cover his mouth and just watched Mychael's reaction. She wrinkled her brow, just a bit, then asked, "What are you thanking me for?"
He held up his arms by way of an answer. "This is not something that I can do. You're the magic-user, ehnaer, I mean, right?" He bit his tongue after that. So much sleeping had begun to addle his speech straight back to childhood.
However, Mychael did not appear to notice his slip. Even if she didn't recognize the very small word, it would be best not to put himself in a position where he would have to explain. She tapped her fingers on her knee, slowly, as though to prove that the movement was entirely voluntary. "That has nothing to do with me. I don't see how you can think it does. You're obviously a metal-mage, it's not a rare gift."
Mystified, he held his hands to his chest. It didn't feel like maging, what he'd done in the carriage. "It's not me," he insisted, certain that he was speaking out of turn, but unwilling to let himself cringe. "Magic is not my place." In his experience, magic was for the frightening people. He wasn't the least bit fearsome.
"Not yourwho told you such rot?"
He opened his mouth to say, "Common sense," but got no farther than an indignant squeak. A beast half his height and almost twice his width leaped out of a mess of bushes, growling at a higher pitch than he'd expect. Mychael readied some sort of blast, igniting the fear PDQ had been repressing during their conversation. He swung his arm down hard in the direction of the beast, knowing he was too far away even to touch it, but unable to check the movement.
A solid thock announced the painful meeting of metal and bone. PDQ stared at the silvery rod in his hand, following it to its end, and the beast that seemed almost attached to it. The bracer was gone
but still there, of course. He pulled back the rod, then leaned on it, staring helplessly at the now unconscious creature. "That
" he breathed, "was a rockburn." Griselda was awake and standing behind them. He gripped the rod tightly, feeling the surface move and wishing it would stop. "This must be part of their territory. W-we should get away from this place, as soon as now."