Tala stood, stretching. Terry settled down into a ready crouch, seeming ready to spring away, but did not leave.
She moved through her morning routine, progressing her abilities- physical, spiritual, and magical -and not allowing her mind to return to the night before.
This morning, she added a new task. After feeding Kit, her clothing, and the hammer their morning dose of power, Tala took out her knife, and held it ready.
Terry eyed her, a hint of suspicion in his gaze, but he still didn’t depart.
She pushed against the second path within the knife, causing the blade to seemingly liquify and elongate.
She strained, her gate thrown wide and the entirety of her power flowing straight into the weapon. It wasn’t enough.
I want to know what this does! She grabbed some of her power, just drawing the barest amount from her reserve, so as to not exhaust herself. She pushed it into the new path all at once.
That flow of power was enough.
The blade of the knife flowed outward, forming into a hair thin outline of a sweeping sword blade. It had a subtle curve, almost like a falchion, but not as broad. If I’m remembering the name right. She had never really made a study of specific weaponry.
This was no mundane weapon, however. There was, after all, no blade, just the outline of one.
At the same time, a flare of heat began to radiate from the gap within that outline, and she knew that this would cut better than any sword forged by the hand of man.
Then, the end of her pulse of power came; the blade contracted back to its former shape; and she was left gasping and swaying from the expenditure of power. So much for not exhausting myself.
She shook her head to clear it. Well, that’s one more thing to aim for, I suppose. When I’m stronger, I can actually use this as a true weapon.
She felt an odd satisfaction, much like the way her body felt when she moved just right. There was a correctness to what she’d done with the knife, and it was pleasing to have accomplished it. Huh. Good to know, my soul has kinesthetic sense of spiritual rightness of action. Now that she thought of it that way, she realized that the sensation had been akin to the warmth she felt after doing a good deed. The more you know…
That done, it was time to empower the cargo-slots. I’ll do the martial training later. That would have taken more time than she had before the wagons departed, even though she suspected most people had yet to eat breakfast.
When she climbed down the ladder to empower the cargo-slots for the day, Terry flickered, disappearing and reappearing perched on her shoulder.
Tala grunted at the change in weight but didn’t slip. “That will take a bit of getting used to.” She didn’t trust the bird, not really, but she thought she might understand some small part of it. Right now, it was motivated by loneliness and a lack of true companionship. That left the potential to actually create a bond of comradery, if such a creature was capable of long-term bonds with a human. I hope he is… I’d hate to have to kill him some day. Worse, if she somehow allowed him to hurt others… She shook her head. I’ll be as careful as I can be. He could kill either way, but in this case, I might be close enough to notice. She nodded to herself at that. At the very least, she would be a limiting factor for the bird.
She hopped off the ladder, Terry shifting to stay in place.
Tala quickly empowered the twenty cargo-slots, the mental model coming easier than ever, and the task taking less power than any time before. I’m really getting the hang of this.
It was time for breakfast.
She walked towards the main circle, Terry comfortably switching shoulders with a silent pop of power. That’s odd. He must be doing something more than just shortening the distance between things, else he would have just gone straight through my head. My iron should have prevented that, even if it wouldn’t have hurt me…which I’m not sure about. She considered but came to the conclusion that until she had an intelligent guess, she wasn’t likely to find out.
Terry’s certainly not talking. She grinned at that.
“Gah!” The startled exclamation brought Tala up short.
She turned to find Trent staring, wide-eyed, at Terry. “Good morning, Master Trent. Are you alright?”
“Mistress Tala.” He seemed to master himself, not taking his gaze from the bird. “Why do you have a terror hatchling on your shoulder?”
“Oh, Terry?” She reached over and scratched the bird under the chin. Terry leaned into her hand. “I came across him, and he seems to like me.”
“Mistress Tala.” Trent seemed at a loss for words. “That creature will grow very quickly. It will be as tall as you within a year, if it eats enough.”
She frowned. “Do they continue to grow at that rate?” Maybe, Terry is much younger than I thought.
“No… from my understanding, they slow to growing about an inch a year after the initial spurt, but that is hardly the point.”
An inch…a YEAR? She looked at Terry, who was crooning contentedly. How old are you? She did her best to keep her thoughts from showing. “Yes, but I think he and I have an understanding. He’s…” She had been going to say ‘safe’ but that was an outright lie. “He’s not going to hurt people or human owned animals.”
Trent gave her a deeply skeptical look. “Mistress Tala, research shows that they don’t approach human level intelligence until they are close to three decades old, and even then, that doesn’t mean they think or reason the way we do. At that size?” He gestured. “You’re lucky it likes you enough not to bite out your throat the first chance it has.”
Tala sighed. How am I going to-?
There was a startled gasp from off to the other side, and she turned to see Tang staring, open mouthed. It was an almost comical mirroring of Trent’s reaction.
“You have a hatchling!” The man rushed forward but pulled to a stop two paces away. “That’s incredible! Terror birds are amazing creatures.” He turned his eyes to her. “Did you find it with others of its kind, or alone?”
Trent looked confused, and Tala felt bewildered, but she responded. “Alone, why?”
“Well, they have a very strong maternal bond. There have been documented cases of humans and terror birds forming long-term partnerships, when the hatchling forms such an attachment to the human.” He leaned in just slightly, eagerly studying Terry. “Has it taken food from you? Has it shown any aggression?”
She cleared her throat, trying to stall for time to think. He clearly has some knowledge…honesty might be best? At least a little honesty. “When I found him, he did try to attack me, but when he was unable to hurt me, it seemed to puzzle him.” She glanced at Terry. He was staring at her, and she could see what she would swear was a mischievous glint in his eyes. “After that, he did take food from me.”
“Oh!” Tang clasped his hands together. “That’s wonderful! Better to get that out of the way.” He became suddenly serious. “He’ll try again, at least a couple of times. You did say, he, right? How can you tell? He should be too small to sex properly.”
She shrugged and answered truthfully. “He just seems like a he?”
Tang shrugged. “Good enough for now. You will have to watch yourself. If he does manage to hurt you, you will have to strike back immediately to restore the balance.” He met her gaze. “This is critical. He’ll test you again, and he cannot see you as a target, or he will become fixated on hunting humans.”
She nodded, a bit startled. “Yes, of course. I’m well protected. My magic is actually bent that way.” Tala pulled out a notebook and wrote down a few thoughts, both from what Tang had said, and from what his words had sparked in her own mind. She was still reeling a bit from the Mage’s seeming change in attitude. Maybe he just really likes animals?
He was nodding, a smile on his face. “Oh! I’m so glad. Good, yes, take lots of notes! I can’t believe I get to see a hatchling up close.” He turned his gaze to Trent. “Now, Master Trent, we need to reassure the guard and others that the bird is safe, but should not, under any circumstances be approached. They look cute but can be vicious.”
Trent was frowning, clearly recovering from his confusion. “You really think this is wise, Master Tang?”
“Wise?” He made a dismissive noise. “It’s necessary. We know so much about arcane animals, but also so little. Such chances are rare and must be seized upon.” He paused for a moment. “If it works out, and the little one stays around until we reach Bandfast, we’ll need a collar.”
“That’s foolish, Master Tang.” Trent hesitated. Then, his eyes widened slightly, and he looked to Tala, his eyes narrowing again. Right… I asked him about a collar yesterday… Tala smiled as innocently as she could.
“Not a domestic collar, Master Trent. We’ll need to get an escort style. Keyed to you, of course Mistress Tala.” He nodded her way.
She returned her attention to Tang, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the flood of information.
“There are quite a few arcane specimens in Bandfast under observation at the moment, but I don’t think any are terror birds. Ah!” He clasped his hands together again. “This is exciting!” He turned and walked away quickly, calling over his shoulder as he went. “I’ll see if I have a schema for such a collar. I might even have one in my storage, but it will be buried if so. Ha! Wouldn’t that be perfect!” He disappeared from sight, still happily talking to himself.
Tala turned to look at the bemused Trent. “Well, that was unexpected.” Is he going to make an issue of it?
Trent sighed. “And here I thought he might be a voice of reason.” He gave her a searching look. “Are you sure, Mistress? I seem to remember you asking for a collar before having that terror bird…” He left the question unasked.
She hesitated for a moment, looking down at Terry as the bird regarded her closely. “Yes, I think it is worth an attempt.” She decided some honesty would go a long way. “I did come across him before today. That’s why I asked about a collar, in case he did end up following me.” She smiled, as that seemed to mollify the Mage. “If he is willing, I don’t see why he and I can’t be great partners.”
Terry nuzzled the side of her face, the same mischievous glint shining in his eyes with undiminished intensity.
* * *
Tala had almost gotten breakfast before she’d seen Adam and remembered her morning martial training. I keep forgetting that.
The Guardsman had been a bit hesitant after seeing the little arcanous creature on her shoulder, but when she’d taken a moment to explain to Terry that Adam attacking her, this morning, was fine, and she’d stood still for him to punch her, with no reaction from Terry, Adam had seemed mollified.
Terry sat on a nearby wagon-step as Adam alternated between instructing Tala, attacking her, and easily avoiding her attacks.
She was improving rapidly, but she still couldn’t consistently defend against his strikes, let alone mount any sort of counter.
He assured her that that would come in time. “You are progressing vastly faster than most recruits do.”
She’d grunted at that, but not because she didn’t have a response. At the time, her face had been pressing into the dirt, with her arm twisted painfully behind her.
They continued until they noticed the chuckwagon beginning to close up, and they called it a morning so they could get breakfast.
Apparently, Tang had spoken to the kitchen about Terry. So, when Tala approached, Terry on her shoulder, the cooks didn’t react, save to give the bird wary looks and her a second plate, piled high with meat scraps. Terry perked up when he saw that and squawked happily, bobbing up and down and shuffle-stepping on Tala’s shoulder. “Please wait, Terry. We’ll eat soon.”
The bird shifted unhappily but settled back down.
The cook gave a nervous chuckle. “I can’t even get my kid to listen that well, Mistress. He must really like you…”
Tala thanked the cook and took the tray of food, along with a jug of coffee.
The jug went into Kit, and she balanced the tray precariously as Terry continued to shift in anticipation.
“Remarkable.” Tang was walking towards them. “Truly remarkable that he is following your cues already.”
Terry gave a deep rumble that was, quite honestly, lower than a creature his current size should be able to make, and Tang stopped his approach. “Thank you, Master Tang, for talking with the cooks.”
He waved the notion away. “Nonsense. We have to make sure the hatchling gets fed. A growing terror bird can eat their weight in food every day. Something about their arcane digestion allows for faster processing.” He frowned. “Has he shown any magical tendencies? I’ve seen flame, lightning, and even ice abilities from terror birds I’ve faced in the wilds.”
Tala glanced to Terry, and the diminutive bird gave a small bob. She shrugged. “I get the sense of dimensional power from him.”
Tang’s eyes widened. “Amazing! Dimensional arcane creatures aren’t rare, but most are of the smaller species. I’ve not encountered anything larger than a sheep with power in that vein.” He was nodding happily. “What a rare chance, indeed!”
Tala cleared her throat, gesturing with her tray. “Well, we were going to go eat…”
“Oh! Of course, by all means. Please let me know if anything unusual happens, or if there is anything I can do?”
“Sure.” She responded hesitantly.
“Good, good. I’ll keep on the quest for the collar.” He pumped his fist excitedly. “We don’t want our little friend obliterated by Bandfast’s defenses now, do we?” With that happy proclamation, he turned and strode away, seemingly heading back towards his own wagon.
“What a strange man.” Tala spoke very quietly, trusting to Terry’s nearness to allow the bird to hear her.
The bird bobbed in acknowledgement.
Tala sighed and returned to her wagon-top perch. Den was already back at the wagon after his own breakfast, beginning to prepare the harnesses for his oxen. “Mistress Tala!”
“Good morning, Den.”
“Good morning. And who do we have here?” Den stopped well more than an arm’s length away.
Terry, for his part, perked up a bit, seeming to focus in on Den for some reason that Tala couldn’t determine. “This is Terry, Den. Terry, this is Den. Play nice?”
Terry bobbed, but ended the motion in a low crouch, his head moving side to side inquisitively.
Den laughed, pulling something out of his pocket. “The little guy has a good nose. May I?”
Tala couldn’t see what he held, but Terry was bobbing up and down enthusiastically. “Sure? Be careful, please?”
Den nodded, approaching the last few feet carefully.
Tala whispered. “Be gentle, Terry. If you hurt him, he isn’t likely to give you more of whatever he has for you.”
Terry seemed to hesitate, his focus momentarily breaking, then he bobbed a nod as Den got within reach.
Den, for his part, took the treat, which turned out to be several chunks of roasted pork-belly, and set them on the back of his closed, right hand. He extended it tentatively towards Terry.
Terry carefully reached forward and snapped up the meat, happily gulping it down before presenting the top of his head towards Den.
Den laughed and reached out, slowly, to scratch the bird on the head. “He’s a good boy!”
Tala gave Terry a suspicious look. “Yeah…”
“Well, I have to get back to work. Good to meet you, Terry.” He patted the bird one last time before moving back to his task.
Tala climbed up with Terry and their tray, sitting in the center of the roof, on the padded square. As she and the bird ate from their respective plates piled with food, she eyed Terry. “You’ve observed humans quite extensively, haven’t you?”
The bird paused, glancing her way, then bobbed a nod.
“And you haven’t approached any before?”
It made a clawing motion towards her, while gulping down another bit of food.
“You attacked them.”
“They didn’t put up enough resistance, so they weren’t worth your time?”
“Terry, how many have you killed?”
The bird paused, giving her a side-eyed look.
She huffed, taking another bite, herself. “You’re right, I probably don’t want to know…”
They both went back to eating, silence falling comfortably over the rooftop meal.
* * *
An hour later, the caravan was underway, and Tala was sweating profusely, sprawled upon the roof. She had just finished her high-repetition, martial training, trying to cement what Adam was teaching her more firmly.
She drank deeply, whenever she could, and allowed herself to regain some semblance of physical energy.
After another five minutes, she sat up and pulled out her flask, taking a deep swig…or she tried to. I forgot to refill it.
She pulled out the jug of berry juice and carefully poured some into the flask before returning the jug to her pouch.
“Thank you, Kit.”
The pouch did not respond.
She drank her daily cup of juice and reveled in the feeling of ending-berry power flowing through her. “Alright!”
She stood and stretched, loosening the muscles she’d so recently worked.
“Time for the next thing.” She flipped a piece of meat to Terry, who lazily caught it. “Feeding you. Or the logistics of such.”
At the first, Terry had perked up, but he’d laid his head back down as she continued.
She was speaking quietly, so Den, at the front of the wagon, couldn’t overhear. “Am I going to need to bring you like…a cow a day?”
Terry seemed hesitant, but eventually shook himself.
“So, does your manifested size determine how much you need to eat?”
He shook himself in the negative.
She blinked, a bit confused, trying to understand. “Well, I don’t really understand, but I suppose I don’t need to.” Even so, she let out a grateful breath. “I was realizing that I could go broke trying to feed you…well, more broke.”
Terry gave her a quizzical look.
“You probably have no concept of money, do you. It’s not like you’ve seen humans anywhere outside the wilds.” She sighed. “I’m not going to explain basic economics to a terror bird. You can watch, listen, and pick up the basics.”
He closed his eyes and stretched out in the warm sun.
She quirked a smile. That out of the way, she went about her day as usual.
She exercised her spirit by calling the knife to her at various distances. She was steadily improving.
She strove to expand her power accumulation rate, using the knife and the new path for power she’d discovered within it. It turned out to be a better exercise than making an Archon star for two reasons:
First, it became dynamically harder, the more power she poured into the knife. The closer she came to the threshold of transforming it into a sword, the more power it took to progress. That made it much more engaging to practice with than with the comparably static formation of an Archon star.
Second, there was no danger of the knife suddenly sucking most of the magic from her body, leaving her exhausted. No, if I’m exhausted after, I’ve only myself to blame.
She would get back to making Archon stars soon enough, but the knife seemed a better training tool for the moment.
The magic pouring into the knife, when not enough to key off the transformation, didn’t simply vanish. Instead of building up to reach a level high enough to bring out the sword, the power was shunted into the other path. That way, she was actually doing two things at once. First, she was stretching her gate wider, to increase the rate of flow, and second, she was deepening the capacity of the knife itself. Still not sure how that will help, but I’m sure it will.
Thus, she spent the day in training and review for her upcoming, full-bodied inscription. If she was honest, she felt a bit nervous. She’d never actually had all the inscriptions before, though she’d done her best to properly prepare. Where most who took the physiology and other healing related courses did so for just that purpose, to learn to heal, Tala had taken them to learn how to have her entire body inscribed effectively. And I’m almost there.
Though, to get all the inscribing she expected, it was going to be a long few days with Holly.
Adam and Ashin were both reluctant to spar with Terry watching, despite the former’s experience that morning, but they warmed to the idea and soon forgot the bird for the time each worked with Tala.
Between those stints of combat training, she continued to push in other areas. Aside from adding to her ever growing list of biological nuances to brush up on, when she got to Bandfast, she took breaks by reading the books that were not warded against her, seeking all the knowledge she could grasp. To her surprise, there was quite a large entry on terror birds in ‘A Brief Overview of Entities: Arcane.’
“Huh, Master Tang knows his stuff.” Everything he’d said was backed up by the book, and he’d even conveyed a few subtleties that the book didn’t. True, the entry covered much that the man hadn’t mentioned, but he hadn’t been attempting to recite a research paper to her. I may have judged you too harshly, old man. That, of course, was quite unfair given he was likely barely twice her age, putting him firmly on the young side of mid-life, especially for a Mage.
She frowned at that thought. Where are all the older Mages? She’d seen a couple, but there should be more relatively old Mages than young, shouldn’t there? Yet almost every one that she’d met had been relatively close to her own age. That is strange…
True, many of her teachers had been older, but they’d also been teachers for decades, centuries in a few cases.
I’ll have to ask Lyn about it…Maybe Trent, too? It was something to investigate. I’ll add it to the list.
Also, throughout the day, she had asked leading questions of those around her, only to discover that no one else had noticed the magical display the night before, not even the other Mages.
Rane was mysteriously absent, so she hadn’t been able to prod him, but she hadn’t actually tried to search him out. He was likely just acting as rearguard again, or something similar. I suppose I’ll have to find him around dinner. She sighed. It made the most sense.
Brand had brought lunch for both herself and Terry, though Terry hadn’t acknowledged the head chef, only feasting once the man had departed.
As evening was approaching and the caravan was once again formed up for the night, Tala finally put aside her new notebook, now more filled with notes than blank pages, and yawned dramatically. “Well, Terry. What do you say: time for food?”
The bird flickered to her shoulder, perching happily.
She smiled. “I thought so.”