I opened my eyes and staring up at a fringed awning. I had sand in my teeth. Daylight, the thief of dreams, had stolen over me: the night had disappeared, and my vision of the Goddess with it. Had it been a dream? I still felt the bracelet of her cold touch.
A battle call screamed out. Others picked it up until every Goblin was screaming. We were at war, as Eriphet said we would be. Eriphet! I rubbed my face. Groggily I stepped out to stand in the bright light of two-low, the time when the suns were not yet risen high enough to warm the sand. I blinked at a Goblin who stood outside his tent across the shellpath. I wondered how long I’d lain sleeping in the open. Had Eriphet guided me there? The Goblin nodded back as he picked up the war cry. At least the wind was high. That was an auspicious sign.
A line of Gilahawks bearing streamers came squawking over the tents, announcing a crier. He came running down the aisle between our tents, calling out names. Those who were called stepped into the aisle and followed him.
The Gobs who were left behind sent their whispers swirling after us in the blowing sand. "Dai Lumen?" I heard one say. "He's not one of ours."
We were led to the airfield, where Eriphet stood flanked by other Grand Dragons. Each of the other warlords had two advisory Longs in attendance. Eriphet had only Abtin behind him. Raptor was still missing.
We gathered expectantly. Eriphet climbed up the boards of his ship, his hide star-colored in the cold light of two-low. He called to us over the gathering storm. I squinted against the blowing sand, straining to hear.
“My brothers and sisters, we will avenge the death of Raptor, second Long of Eriphet! We will teach man how to speak to Mother Phyrnos!” He paused. “How does a man speak to Mother Phyrnos?"
"On his knees!” we screamed.
He showed his teeth.
"The skin bags speak on their knees!" More screams. I looked around at our gleaming ships, at my clear-eyed comrades beside me. I realized I was screaming the loudest, screaming for war. Something sharpened inside me. I was made for this. Or it was the zuu, still jangling inside me.
“Lumen, you’re with me. Losira, Raph, Japhet, Nori, you too.” He swept into the interior of his ship and we followed, as assignations to fill the other ships were called out behind us. I had never been in such a fine vessel. Her exterior was sharp as a bone. Her interior gleamed. I had the strangest feeling she had a mind all her own.
Eriphet passed close to me. “She's a beauty, no? Does she satisfy you?”
“She suits her cause,” I said.
He smiled. “Come, then.”
If the other Gobs were surprised by Eriphet’s sudden interest in me, they knew better than to show sign. Eriphet led me through the ship, explaining he had tasks for me. "You’ll run the Voks through their checks and then review the maps," he said. “That should keep your claws sharp until we arrive.”
“The sharper the claw, the cleaner the carving.”
He clapped me on the back so hard my incisors clicked. “A lizard after my own heart! Of course, you’re nimbler than me or I’d help you. Losira, get back here and help Dai.” She came trotting towards us, a Phyrnosian with an astonishingly long tail and a liquid gait. Blue-black and angle-eyed, she was one of the loveliest creatures I had ever seen.
“Don’t hold your wind in,” Eriphet snorted. He elbowed me hard. I made a pathetic wheeze-gurgle just as Losira sidled nimbly between us.
“Ahem. Excuse me.”