56: Jack


Rogan’s voice sharpened. “Truth? The beast had friends?”

“Well…” she frowned as if making a decision, then quirked an eyebrow. “It may be the same ghost out there now that bothered Mord yesterday. The thing that followed us during the day felt different than the war beast that attacked us. It moved too quickly to be a land dweller of such size.”

Rogan pressed his lips together, looking first at Jack, then Nam. “What keeps you uncertain?”

“This might be yet another creature. Yesterday’s tail played tag with Mord, leading her this way and that. I could hardly keep track of it myself. Today’s just watches us, and it avoids Mord instead of teasing her. I can see it better now because it sticks closer to us now.”

Jack offered, “Maybe it’s the same, but the battle last night scared it. It’s being more cautious.”

She pulled in a large breath and blew it out again, surveying the woods. “Perhaps. It does have the same feel in other ways. If true, the longer we look crippled, the less cautious it will grow. We need to move as soon as possible.”

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Rogan looked over at Jack, then squatted down again for him to climb on.

He wanted to protest, but  the ground was wobbling, the moment he stood. Angry at himself, he took his position on Rogan’s back.

Reaching into her hair and extracting the dove feather, Nam said, “I am sending out Ooe. Try to follow her, but keep your eyes on the path ahead.”

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Rogan wondered, “Wouldn’t it better for him to follow one of us?”

The bird fluttered upward, then disappeared between the trees. She reappeared after a moment, passing overhead to the other side. Nam shook her head. “Too near what he sees with his eyes. He needs to divide his senses for a while.”

Jack followed the specter into the sky, but once they set out again, he struggled to keep both it and the path in mind. Concentrating on the bird tended to draw his eyes upward, and the path clawed at his mind whenever it looked like the footing became uncertain. Nam stuck close by now, making no attempt to hide her concern for him.

“Are you following that bird?” Rogan asked. Jack pointed ahead and high, where he believed Nam’s specter was flying now.

Rogan looked over his shoulder, possibly wondering if Jack might be fooling himself.

“See if you can keep an eye out for our mystery guest instead,” Rogan advised. “If you are able, then I need you watching my back. Do not worry about what Nam and I do.”

Nam raised no objection, so he did it. He cast his mind backward, opposite the direction Rogan had him facing. It spread through the dense forest, farther and farther back… until he began picking up things which seemed somehow brighter, or hotter. They were moving through the trees toward them.

“It has friends, I think,” Jack stated as they began moving. “I’m getting two… three other things like it. At least, they also seem to have power the way Ooe does. The closest one is small, but there’s two bigger ones now. The bigger ones are farther away.”

After a moment to consider Jack’s report, Rogan called forward. “Nam, do you still see our stalker?”

She answered, “Yes, and just as Jack said, it now has large companions. But the thing that worries me is moving fast and much farther out. In the air, I think.”

“Truth?” Rogan’s voice sharpened. “This is bad, Nam. The crazed thing that attacked us last night was by no means the only war beast remaining in this area. And you believe they’re certainly tracking us?”

After a few moments of consideration, she answered, “The ones on the ground are. The airborne might be circling us or just passing by. It is hard to say. It’s passing to the side of us now, yonder.”

She gestured to the south of their eastbound course.

Conversation ceased after that. With the wilderness around them filling with potential adversaries, they needed their concentration.

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