The searing heat now vanished, she settled down onto the cold stone floor in whole-hearted relief. They had, of course, returned to Rogan’s ambush spot. All were sweating profusely and breathing hard. The American guardsman was panting at an alarming rate and didn’t appear aware of his surroundings. Grayed out, she guessed. Poor man only had the constitution of an Osrin, after all, no matter how unusually fit he was for one.
She grew a bit more concerned once she remembered the guardsman’s age, and the Osril predilection for heart ailments. He might look solid, but the limits were far lower for his species than for her own. She lay a hand on his back to extend her awareness into his body, then released a relieved breath as she determined that his heart maintained a healthy rhythm.
For many seconds, the only sounds she heard were the huffs, pants, and coughs of three people just escaped from what had looked for all worlds like the fiery Hades of her husband’s religion.
If it felt like that, no wonder Christians feared it.
Rogan had remained on his feet, through some miracle of willpower, even though he was also sweating and haggard. With the man’s trademark easiness, he grinned down at her, dismissing the whole brush with Death as if it were merely another day at the office.
She smiled despite the circumstances. Somehow, his undaunted smile made the terror of the previous minute evaporate as if a mere daydream. The old fool had always had such a nature, and she appreciated it in moments like this.
“That was close,” he judged. “The navigation patterns were dissipating by the time we got out.”
The guardsman recovered a bit, appeared to notice his surrounding for the first time, then raised himself up into a sitting position, his back against the wall opposite her. She estimated that he would be feeling at least double the fatigue of his Gireidil companions. Rogan leaned with a spread-fingered hand against the wall, as if from weariness, but Nam knew he had already returned to his work. He was using his flux awareness to explore the spot where he had found the passage before.
“Aye,” he confirmed. “The path has vanished.”
The guardsman stared at the floor fiercely. She imagined he was sorting out the events of the last several minutes. He switched his gaze to stare upward at Rogan.
The question was probably the most pressing one of all the questions the man might think of. “What exactly are you people?”
Rogan glanced down at him and nodded. “Of course we should explain,” he agreed, “but I need to let Althem rest first. Give me a moment.”
The non sequitur confused the man. “Althem?”
Rogan tapped his chest, with a smile on his face. “My Ijin. Projecting this armor taxes her strength considerably.”
Her partner stood straight and still, his arms held out, his head raised slightly and his eyes closed. The armor melted into his body, revealing his usual brown leather shirt, trousers and boots. The pistol and the knife remained, but the swords on his back, the helmet, gauntlets and metallic boot coverings dissolved with the armor.
“Rogan is a Seryahdin.” Nam explained. “Althem is the name of his Ijin.” Even as they left her mouth, she knew how utterly meaningless her words would be to an Earther.
The worthy guardsman had weathered many a sight already, but Rogan’s dis-armoring was clearly one odd experience too many. The fellow stared slack-jawed at the hunter for several seconds. As shell-shocked as he was, though, he soon recovered his aplomb and rediscovered his voice.
“His… ‘ee-jeen’?'” His pronunciation slaughtered the word, but of course he had never heard it before. Nam wondered where to even begin with an explanation. This man was missing an entire world of knowledge needed for this particular discussion.
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