The alien on her back unnerved her. She was fighting disruptive inner demons in order to maintain her arts in good order. This place, this alien world, this forest populated by nightmare beasts, was not a good place for holding such an inner conflict.
It wasn’t the fact that he was riding her. Other Thamad would be appalled at her if they were to learn that the role of war mount didn’t bother her at all. As a race once forced to serve as riding beasts, they regarded bearing another on their back as a humiliation. Even the smallest of their own kind rode in their parent’s arms or were made to walk on their own four hooves.
But she was far too pragmatic to care about such petty pride. When presented with the necessity in the field, she would wear a saddle, and to the rubbish heap with the naysayers. She’d carried riders before, and found it quite useful in coordinating combat with a partner. It was the primary purpose for which their former masters created them, after all.
Nor was it xenophobia that caused her discomfort. She had long since become accustomed to other species and alien companions. She’d even married a man of a world and species not her own. Although she was not estranged from her own kind, she mostly lived away from them due to her work, so this familiarity came naturally. Although she had never before met an inhabitant of Earth, he was, in the end, an Osrin, and Osri were the majority species of the Dominion of which she was a citizen.
Rather, it was this specific individual, himself, that unnerved her.
She paused at the entry to the next clearing, and placed her tactical monocle in her eye to sweep the view with the flux form that it contained. While she was scanning, the Earther commented, “It looks clean.”
As she finished, she nodded her agreement with his assessment, and moved out. Nevertheless, she kept her rifle cradled in her arms.
A ‘Natural’, that rarest of beings, could manage levels of distance awareness far beyond a normal human being, but no normal flux artist should be able to extend themselves to such a distance. It normally took students of the Elder Arts decades of spiritual training to reach the Fourth Realm where such an expansion of Rhyu’in capacity became possible. And the life-long effort of a dedicated student to achieve the Fourth Realm often ended in old age without success.
She tried not to show pride in herself, but fellow students of her spiritual school regarded Simkit as remarkable. At a mere thirty years old, she had already progressed through the Second Realm, the process of sealing every gate, and reached the halfway mark of the Third Realm, the process of building up the spiritual base that she created in order to enter that realm. But she still had far to go before she united it with her Sen, the living body of her soul, gaining herself the capacity to inscribe patterns permanently upon her spiritual being, the hallmark of the Fourth Realm.
Even in her case, particularly long range detection required the use of advanced tools or the casting of flux forms. Her ability to scry such distances without an apparent physical aid was actually courtesy of a certain pattern which her master had inscribed upon her, one of the several tattoos on her arms.
Yet this man, despite seeming a beginner in every way, was sensing such a range. And comparing his age to his lack of training, it was clear that the man could not be a Natural.
So what manner of alien mystery was he?
As they reached the center of the clearing, passing an ancient pair of burned out tree trunks still standing up from the tall grass like giant spikes, she again swept the area. She wanted to stop and cast a proper form for a wide-area scan, but she restrained herself. In their division of labor, that was the alien’s job.
Lady Tatoan assured her that the guardsman had only awakened to his senses the prior morning. She agreed that this seemed like an impossibility, but reminded Simkit that aliens have a habit of bearing surprises. Even a vast, widespread, multiworld society like the Dominion was a tiny thing in comparison to the whole of the multiworld.
Besides, Husband could see no subterfuge in him, and she trusted Husband above anyone else.
Even with those assurances, she wanted to understand more about this impossible being. The small conversations she had held with him were simply not enough to satisfy her need to know.
“Have you trained in combat beyond your firearms, Guardsman?”
“In the army, I had unarmed combat training. Just the normal courses for infantry. Police training as well.”
“That would simply be training to subdue unarmed criminals. I noticed you carry some form of melee weapon in your harness, though.”
“You mean my baton?’
“It’s called an expandable police baton. It’s designed for neutralizing an unarmed opponent without killing them.”
So, just an extension of his law enforcement skills. He really wasn’t a martial artist at all, was he? He desperately needed training, but she knew too little about training flux artists in the non-martial fashion. Her Junsai art focused exclusively on flux control as an extension of martial attainment.
But Husband had asked her to help this man with his skills while they were together. She needed to give the man something.
“Guardsman,” she said, “We are largely alone, are we not?”
It was a guess on her part, based upon him not mentioning anything alarming for some time. But after she felt him make an especially concentrated 360 degree scan, he confirmed her suspicion with a noise of affirmation.
“Dismount,” she told him. “We must confirm something.”
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