Friends, part one

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Nakora stared in disbelief. She knew about jumping, but it was a totally different thing to experience it. She'd expected something else, or at least something more than the sudden feeling of a strong wind inside her body, a moment of nothingness and then standing out in the open again. She tried to find something allowing her to guess where they were, but the plains were just as white and nondescript as she remembered them. There was nothing but the bluish mountains to their west, but at this distance she couldn't make out anything distinct enough to give her a hint of where they'd arrived relative to where they'd started their strange journey.

The first time Escha had jumped them to Ri Khi she'd been too occupied with their mission to prepare for the experience, but this time she had at least tried.

The ever present wind wailed silently around her, already trying to coat her cheeks in a thin, biting sheet of coldness, and with the cold came the peculiar absence of smell. The short stay in Ri Nachi had reminded her of how much she took everyday pleasure for granted. She brushed the back of her hand over her face in a futile attempt to bring some warmth back.

Gods! Did it only take me one single day to get so used to a warm room and hot food? I've become lazy! She shook the thought away. She had insisted on coming with them, and she did have the fighting experience they lacked. At least the experience three of them lacked. It was hard to know about the golden one. Neritan was ancient, maybe older than Ri Nachi itself, and that city had some places reeking of age.

Nakora shrugged. There was no point in guessing at the knowledge the golden amassed during their ages long lives. They looked human, but their eyes, their golden, too old eyes mirrored a disdain for time that was far from human. It made her uneasy. The thought of someone speaking with ancestors she didn't even know about seemed wrong somehow. They were aloof as well. Humans were tools, or in the best of circumstances, acquaintances to them.

Nakora sullenly ransacked herself once more. She hadn't earned her birthright by lying about her own reasons. Her resentment of the golden woman spoke of other reasons, and beauty was the least of them. Ri Khi wasn't Keen. The acceptance of skill alone never substituted birth back home, or sex for that matter. She'd fought bitterly for her station; spent years overcoming the prejudices of a kingdom where leadership belonged to men alone and no woman was truly accepted among the troops. Now Neritan Hwain, ancient mage and a glorious wonder by her own heritage alone, just walked into their mission without as much as a single complaint voiced by the others.

Some people gets everything easier than others.

The wailing grew to a shrill scream and a gust of wind rudely threw snow in her face. She wiped the cold away and turned her thoughts to their mission again. "Where are we, Khar Escha?"

"Sea of Grass, honored Captain, but exactly where I don't know. I have jumped us to a location given to me. Mindwalker Hwain should know."

Nakora waited for Neritan to speak.

"Actually, I don't know. If you say we are on the Sea of Grass, then that's where we are. I only know that this is a place important in one way or another for those we seek, and I know they were here reasonably recently."

Nakora groaned mentally. So much for a clear answer. For all their powers the mages behaved like two blind dotards leading one another.

"It's not that easy," Neritan said.

Gods! Mindwalkers really didn't care about invading the mind of another human. How much more was she prying?

"Our gifts work in very different ways," Neritan continued heedless of Nakora's mental complaint. "He needs to see a place physically, or as if he had seen it for himself. He's the one who can tell you about distances and directions. I can't do that. My gifts only concern the mind and the body. I can feel the imprints of a mind, but that doesn't give me knowledge I don't have." She hesitated for a moment. "Just as if you're looking at a painting depicting something meaningful to the painter but not to you. You see it, but you don't understand."

Escha nodded. "That may be true, glorious one, but we are a long way from Ri Khi, and the place you showed me is very close to where we started from. Too close to be of any difference, even if it feels longer if you ride or walk for a few days."

"Gods! Am I surrounded by morons?" Harbend yelled from a distance.

Nakora could see him standing a bit away glaring at a small mound of snow. He must have gone in exploration of the place while they were talking.

All of them rushed to his side.

Nakora frowned, trying to understand what Harbend had seen. There was something familiar here. Then she realized where they were.

A place of importance to those we are searching for. "Escha! We have been here already. This is the place where they were attacked." As she looked closer she could see traces of hoof prints the wind hadn't covered with snow. Five full days, and they were back where they had started, with the caravan far ahead of them.

"We would have been closer if we had continued to ride in pursuit of them," Harbend complained.

Nakora didn't need the gifts of a Mindwalker to hear him swear mentally. In her thoughts she joined his cursing. She gazed across the whiteness around them.

"Suggestions anyone?" she offered. It wasn't a fighting decision anyway.

Harbend growled. "Well, we can hardly walk from here." He turned to Escha. "Can you jump us to where they are from here?"

Escha gave Neritan a quizzical look, but she shook her head. "We have to wait here and search for them, Master Garak," he said after a while.

"Like we did in Ri Nachi?" Harbend retorted angrily. "I think not. Jump us to the caravan, if you can find it."

"It'll take time and energy. I'll need more time to locate those you seek if we jump to your caravan first," Neritan said.

"Listen to me. It shall be dark soon. I am not sitting out the night in the middle of nowhere with dragon packs prowling around us." Harbend kicked at the mound until it caved in.

Harbend makes sense. We are useless out here. Nakora kept her silence though.

"Master Garak is in charge of our honorable mission as well as the daring trading prospect. We would do well to listen to his advice," Trai said, and by doing so decided their course of action.

Neritan sighed unhappily, more so than Escha, but together they managed to locate the caravan, and as darkness was about to fall Escha jumped them there.

Nakora decided not to intervene. She was both irritated they'd spent an entire day in vain and more than a little relieved they would at least spend the night in decent quarters. She would get a chance to plan ahead with Harbend as well. Better planning was needed, and the company could be worse.

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