Chapter 22:

Auren Draksparrow

Aboard the Winnow

Four days.Bookmark here

Auren pushes past another cluster of ground-hugging bushes, wincing occasionally at the way their brambles stick into his slacks. It has been four days since he’d received Avett’s last call, and his GlassLink contact hadn’t lit up since. Bookmark here

Naturally, his captain assumed the worst. Bookmark here

So she’d sent him out despite his points about her safety—shooed out of her ship is a more apt description, now that he’s thinking about it—into the wilderness on a wild goose chase. Auren doesn’t even know how to track people ethereally. He’s heard of Palerians who can track by the scent of one’s ether, of Kattish hunters who’ll chase their marks to the edges of the world with nothing but a strand of hair. Bookmark here

He doesn’t know how to do any of that. His Gallian teachers chose his life for him a long time ago. They taught him how to maintain the portals between realities, how to check for barrier deficiencies and perform various maintenance procedures. Warding became second nature—it’s not his affinity, not at all, but it’s better masquerading around as a talentless backline caster. Bookmark here

Auren stops to snap off a dry chunk of ration. The moisture on his tongue is absorbed the moment he puts it into his mouth.Bookmark here

Field work is a break from the mundanity he’d subjected himself to for the past thirty or so years. Look at him now—babysitting for two frontliners, both ready to beat the other into a nasty stain. Portal defects are easy to categorise, but he’s lost count of the various topics Avett and Lili have butted heads on, lost count on the ways he’s had to bail Avett from various encounters over the past year. Bookmark here

Auren’s getting a little sick of playing caretaker for Avett, but what can he do? That’s the role a backline caster has to play—caretaking, babysitting, standing just far enough from the action to feel the heat, but not close enough to get hurt. When he thumbs his caster’s pouch and sees that he’s running dangerously low on those company-mandated rations that taste like wood chunks and marinated cardboard, he promises to himself to give Avett some form of stern talking-to. Ysh’vanna already has enough to worry about.Bookmark here

He cranes his neck and stares at the slits of light through the canopy, drinking deeply from his canister, letting the cool water slide down the back of his throat. Each drop is ravished rather than savoured. Bookmark here

The lid clicks back into place. In the distance, he catches crushed grass, iron bolts; a scuffle. He heads towards it, batting away a stray branch. Sees dried black blood on blades of trampled undergrowth. On a stump, there is a lantern in the distance.Bookmark here

Four days. Bookmark here

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