Chapter 12

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            Setting up camp was almost enough to make Rika forget about the soldiers. After her failed attempts at setting up a fire pit, starting the fire, and inability to pick poisonous plants from those good to eat, she found herself regulated to wood and water hauling. The only good thing was that it gave her a chance to let her cheeks cool and get her feelings in order so she could look the other two in the eyes.

            By the time Damek waved at her to sit down, the camp was complete. The fire pit was dug and ringed in stone, yellow and orange flames hungrily devouring the wood Rika had brought for it, and already there was a pot stretched over the fire, something bubbling inside it. Ahisu was sitting with his back against one of the trees that ringed the tiny clearing just off the road. His staff lay across his lap, while his face, what could be seen of it in the flickering light, was turned up to the star strewn sky.

            Damek sat beside the fire, a long spoon lying beside him as he sewed up a rip in a shirt of his, stopping every now and then to give the pot a vigorous stir. When she settled across the fire from him, he nodded at her, and glanced at the mage. “You joining us?”

            Rika barely heard his snort, but Ahisu stood up and folded himself down by the fire, between the two of them, half in shadow. Damek waited until he looked settled before he asked Rika “What was that about?”

            She shook her head. “I have no idea. That’s not normal then?”

            “No. Soldiers don’t typically stop people, not when we’re not at war with anyone. There were a lot more soldiers than normal in Saimore, but I thought that there was something going on, like they were looking for someone or whatever else soldiers do when we’re not at war. But now… They’re not looking for you, are they?”

            Rika shrugged. “I don’t know why they would be. I haven’t done anything. I wandered around the forest for a little while before I met you, but that’s it. Unless it’s forbidden to be in that forest or something?”

            Now Damek shook his head. “It’s not. Wait, what about the book? The book you said brought you here?”

            Her fingers closed around the strap of her bag and she hesitated for a moment. Then she sighed, and reached inside, pulling the shiny book out and handing it to Damek. Ahisu actually stood up and walked over, examining the book over the blue-haired man’s shoulder. Rika bit her lip as she watched both of them. “You can read the first page, but no farther please. It’s…embarrassing.”

            Ahisu pulled the book out of Damek’s hands, earning himself a glare from the other man. The mage ignored him, turning the gold-covered thing over and over, so that it sent flashes of firelight out into the woods, probably looking like a firefly from far away. He held it high over his head, then down so he could stare intensely at its front. His eyes occasionally glancing to his right, as if looking at something invisible to the other two. Only after a couple of minutes of intense examination did he actually open it. His gaze slid down the page then he began flicking through the others, drawing a strangled cry from Rika.

            He looked up at herm his gaze moving from her eyes until he was looking her over, with the same intensity he’d used on the book. After several moments, he nodded, snapping the book closed. He handed it back to her, saying “A powerful transport spell.”

            Rika blinked for a second before she accepted the book. “I know. I guessed it had to be strong when I realized that I was in a different world. You can’t send me back, can you?”

            Ahisu shook his head, drawing his hands back into their sleeves. Damek sighed. “Well, can you tell us anything about the book? Or maybe who cast the spell? Or even if people might be looking for the book or Rika?”

            The mage looked from one of them to the other for a few heartbeats. “The spell is old. Caster dead. Book not from here. Don’t know more.”

            “Glad you’re so useful,” Damek replied sarcastically.

            Ahisu glowered. “Not my magic.”

            Rika reached out and patted the mage’s knee. “It’s alright. It’s more than we knew to begin with. Thanks.”

            He shifted away from her touch but nodded his acceptance of her gratitude. Damek made a face. “Alright, so we have no idea if there are people looking for you or not, but there are soldiers looking for foreigners. We’re going to have to be more careful from here on out. There’s no telling what another group of soldiers will be like. Some of them are little better than bullies in uniform. I’m worried something’s up. I know the king’s been sick for a long while, dying some people say, and him not having an heir has left things unsettled, but it shouldn’t account for wandering bands of soldiers. Or people on the lookout for foreigners.”

            Rika shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t even been here half a week. Your guess will be far better than mine. But is it really anything we should be worrying about?”

            Damek grinned. “You’re right enough, stranger-girl. As long as we’re careful in front of soldiers, if anyone asks, you’re my little sister, then we should be just fine. Now, since the stew still needs some time to finish cooking, why don’t I show you how to properly set-up a bedroll. Then you can practice by yourself. Once you’ve got that down, I can try teaching you how to start a fire. We keep it up, and by the time we get to the capital, you might actually be able to survive in the woods by yourself.”

            “Thanks,” Rika replied, sarcasm lacing her words. Her muscles were still sore from their early morning session, and she knew she had another to look forward to come dawn, so this practice, simple as it sounded, was probably not going to go well. She was beginning to question why she let Damek teach her anything. He seemed to enjoy her pain and humiliation.

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