It was well into the night, and the men were already on their bedrolls. Nam knelt down to begin her own preparations for the night. Whenever she and Rogan were camped together, this responsibility was always hers, thanks to her companion spirits. First to set a watch…
The guardsman looked over at her as she pulled one of her feathers from her hair. “You don’t have something to sleep on? I can do without.”
“Please keep it, Officer. I rarely use such things in the field,” she assured him as she drew her dove unen from her hair.
Nam maintained her stoic expression, to not betray her amusement at his gentlemanly offer. He clearly thought of her as much younger, despite the reality that she could be his mother. And the additional reality that his bedroll would make no difference to her, thanks to her shamanic training.
She had to keep an eye on him, though. Gireidil women regularly sent misleading signals to Osril men without intending such. She knew that he was merely being a gentleman and that his attitude toward her was somewhere between professional and fatherly, but from experience, she knew Osril men could become emotional minefields.
He seemed a little surprised at her answer, but that was not so strange. They always used bedding in the US, in the same manner as people in her adopted Parha. In the land where she’d spent her childhood after Chald, one often slept on the bare ground without a thought. Add her training and any surface became as comfortable as her home village’s sleeping sands.
This region was not her tropical homeland, but it was a warm night and the paving stones of this courtyard would be comfortably cool. She was looking forward to a good rest, frankly.
She woke the spirit within the feather and told it, “Watch over us, Ooe.”
The unen materialized around the feather, beginning as a cloud of flux-matter and solidifying into a dove. The specter cooed once, then took flight. Nam watched momentarily as the bird spirit climbed into the air, and then she brought her vision back to ground level and outward into the darkness.
“Come, Mord!” she called.
A spirit animal whose physical token was destroyed long ago now emerged from out of her hitochin, her heart gate. She had treasured the beast, and spent great effort to retrieve and save the spirit, housing the spirit instead within her own Rhyuin. Although it was costly, she had not been able to bear losing the precious animal and did not regret the price.
Now projected into the real world, the spirit manifested where Nam could find darkness within which to visualize her. A huge specter more massive than any living dog coalesced out of the shadows near one of the walls and drifted over to Nam like a ground-hugging black thundercloud, dipping her grizzly-bear-sized head down to accept a rub as she arrived.
Nam gave her a bonus scratch behind the ear, and praised her. “Good girl. Guard us well.”
The beast gave a low rumble and went sliding back out beyond the edge of the darkness. Nam curled up on her side to take her sleep, using her folded arm for a pillow.
She could sense the Earther guardsman remaining awake long after she relaxed. She feigned slumber in the hopes of putting him at ease so he could nod off for at least a short time before tomorrow’s march, but she didn’t blame his unease. Whether he could sense the evils surrounding them or merely was merely showing the wit to beware the unknown, this unfamiliar ruin would be a hard place to sleep.
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