They reached the bottom of a long slope and skirted the remains of a shattered bridge, moving upstream a short distance to find a place where they could ford the brook flowing through there. On the other side, they returned to the path.
After the silence had extended several minutes, as the trail rose again the summit, an intensely heavy wave of flux struck from his right. It swept across him like rushing water, or a hard gust of wind.
He heard the guardsman on his back react. “Ummm…”
Rogan looked back and nodded. “Aye. Even I could feel that.”
He called forward to Nam. “That was some make of scanning equipment. Not high-quality, but high-power. It was certainly not a human artist. A military scanner, or perhaps a war beast’s ethen.”
She nodded. “Like a cargo scanner but stronger, yes? We should be able to sense such a device from here, though. It must carry an advanced cloak.”
He humphed “You know full well that the ‘we’ in that sentence means yourself, Nam.”
Nam braked to a stop, crouching like a hunting animal and staring southward. Rogan pulled up quickly as well. It didn’t matter what she felt or saw. Without her saying a word, everything about her stance screamed Enemy.
“Quite an abundance of flux flowing,” Nam declared. “Not a scanner this time. It moves like a flying vehicle and it approaches quickly.”
“Your airborne contact again,” Rogan posed.
She shook her head, but didn’t answer at first because she was hard at work probing. Finally she stopped and explained. “No. This is different. The first was a small creature, probably a reconnaissance type war beast. This is an aircraft, and it’s one large enough to carry a small squad.”
“The specter’s gone,” Jack reported. “The one that’s been following us.”
The guardsman had progressed to the point he could reliably say it was a specter and not an animal or warbeast.
A few moments later, Nam reported, “It is landing, a few hundred yards off.”
She shrugged off the backpack. As she worked, the guardsman clapped Rogan’s shoulder. He agreed without a word and allowed the man down onto his feet. Jack took a knee immediately, for stability, but didn’t topple.
She pulled out another feather and cast it into the air . The outline of a spectral hawk materialized around it.
“Ecoue! Find!” she commanded. The hawk went winging off to their rear.
Jack shook his head in amazement as he watched the departing spectral bird, and asked, “How many of those things does she have?”
Rogan grinned. “Every article of clothing she wears does something. One animal spirit per item. Pity she never uses them all at one time.”
Nam shot a look backward at him, lips pursed into a frown. “Jack, don’t listen to the old fool. For the record, my une are not all specters. They that are not do not come off when I use them.”
Jack frowned in concentration, looking this way and that. “The big guys both stopped when we did. And the specter is still invisibile, but it doesn’t seem like it actually left. It’s just missing.”
Nam nodded. “Yes. Mord is getting agitated too.” She called her dog through cupped hands. “Mord! Ahu!“
After a short wait, Mord halted at the edge of the wood, growling. Nam walked toward her, speaking calm words to low for them to hear. Words of assurance for a frustrated servant, Rogan suspected. The beast looked agitated and tired. It replied, “Snuff. Rrrrrrrrrr…”, then leapt back into the woods, streaking away at extraordinary speeds.
Nam looked back at them again. “Mord can smell the specter, but can never catch up to it. It vanishes on her every time she gets close. She’s really getting mad about it. I told her to forget it and scout the aircraft instead. Let me know if it returns.”
Jack snapped around, back toward their direction of travel, hand slapping for his weapon.
Nam already held a hint of fire at fingertips as she wheeled as well, and he felt Althem constructing barriers once more. He turned to see what had alerted everyone, as it was too far for him to make out in flux-sense.
He had never before encountered a single human figure on Chald other than his companions. But directly in their path ahead, a young woman in bedraggled clothing leaned against a large tree at the top of the ridge they had been climbing.