He stared at the soot pattern again. He could see no sign of the ethen’s passage through the skin, but he could knew a path had been there. It felt like how he had known the criminal was in the car.
He steered away from that thought, and what it implied. He knew it, but he didn’t want to deal with it yet.
“So, what exactly does this thing do?”
“As Nam was attempting to explain, we do not know,” Rogan explained frankly. “By the evidence, that creature may have employed it to make flux-flame and ignore pain. Although the flux-flame function would make it an almost unheard of thing, in itself. Very few have ever succeeded in creating a tool that could do it.”
After a short pause, contemplating something, Rogan added, “But it is far more complex a thing than that. Althem can’t work out any details, but it is hideously complicated. And that creature was a puzzle too. It was a war beast, a weapon left over from the war, but somebody made changes to it.”
Rogan considered a moment before answering. “I reckon it the result of somebody breaking its will, then molding it to their purpose. There’s not a slave stone in it, but there is unfamiliar patterning fixed within its brain. I heard Nam speak to you of gates; there’s such a gate within the skull, called the Adhen. They wrote a mass of patterns into it there to distort its mind, then they gave what remained of the creature’s mind the ethen and the training to use it. That ethen is not normal military gear, you see. That flame… a war beast cannot channel raw flux-flame. Which is why I say this thing must have provided it.”
He had indicated Jack’s chest as this thing.
“Both the locals and the invaders followed standardized patterns of production in their war materiel, so it is possible for me to say that yon ethen did not belong in the beastie or any other living weapon from the war they fought here.”
He took another spoonful and considered a bit more, contemplating his emptied spoon. “Your blow would not have killed a proper military engine. You managed to find a weak spot that the original makers did not create. You were wielding one of my flux-matter blades and I suspect that the blade struck the ethen within it dead on, destroying the ethen’s lock to its Hitochin. The creature died in the like manner that you would die if we tried to take the thing out of you.”
He grinned. “It was the power of your ignorance, Jack. Neither Nam nor I would have tried to land such a blow because no war beast should have possessed such a vulnerability.”
Rogan paused to consider, again. Jack elected to wait for him and stay silent. The hunter set the spoon down into his bowl eventually, finished with breakfast, and waved again at Jack’s hand. “As Nam said, the thing resembles an Ijinstone in every way save that Althem can find no spirit within it. Instead it is a massively complex tool holding magnitudes more patterns than ordinary ethe.”
He paused for a moment to finish his tea and reflect.
“By its nature, controlling it must work somehow like borrowing the abilities of an Ijin, so I reckon we can use Seryahdil training methods on you. We’ll spend a few days on the basics when we reach Parha. We’ll know then where we must go from there–” He stood and handed his bowl over to Nam, who was collecting them for cleaning. “– And for how long.”
Jack stared at the big man and worried about Earth, about the fleeing criminal and his rapidly cooling trail, about family and work and everything else that this nuisance thing called an ‘ethen’ was keeping him away from.
“Days,” he echoed.
“Days, at least. We must render you safe to yourself and others.”
Agitation won out over worry. “I don’t have days. We have a criminal to catch.”
“Aye,” Rogan appeared to contemplate the beast and the flies. “We do at that.”
“God only knows where the bastard is by now.”
“Aye,” Rogan agreed philosophically.