The woods were thick, but Jack only had to worry about ducking and being aware when Simkit pushed foliage out of the way, so it didn’t whack him in the face. Seated in the saddle, he rose only a little higher than her head, as her human portion stood far taller than a horse’s head would have. Few branches even had a chance to catch him by surprise.
His butt was sore, although he felt he’d adjusted to riding a little. At least, he had learned a little better how to adjust to her walk. It definitely helped to stay seated upright and not slump.
The day had been a bit warmer than St. Louis, and a bit more humid. The rains from a night ago were evaporating. It felt a bit more tropical than he was used to, for springtime Missouri. Of course, it wasn’t actually Missouri, right? He wasn’t sure how much warmer or cooler the climate might be in this world.
“Are you concentrating on your scan, Guardsman?” she asked after they had traveled a while.
“Yeah,” he answered. “There are a few places that look like they could be more than just trees or animals, but they are small.”
“Small flyers. Scouts,” she agreed. “I can see one of them.”
He felt some surprise. “I see three that I’m certain of.”
She nodded. “You can see farther. That’s why you’re riding me here and now, Guardsman. Be looking for even smaller units as well.”
“Rogan spoke yesterday as if you have a lot more range than that.”
“You misunderstand. My Junsai is of the third realm. I have attained arts well beyond my natural abilities. I possess an art to detect at great distance, but only if I stop and cast complex forms. My natural range is far less than yours. Although, I suspect almost anyone would have to say the same when comparing themselves to you, Guardsman.”
He shook his head with a wry smile.
“I’m sure that isn’t true.”
“From the ranges I heard you describe yesterday, I’m absolutely certain of it.”
Simkit’s mature manner was beginning to make him wonder if her race was unusually long-lived like Rogan and Nam. Visually, Simkit was young, around twenty years old. But she had the poise and the steady confidence of a career army sergeant or businesswoman. It was certainly possible for someone that young, but more likely for a woman twice her apparent age.
They reached a small creek. She carefully descended the bank, then walked along its course.
“I heard you cast a mighty flame yesterday.”
“Yeah. It was pretty frightening, actually,” he admitted. “I couldn’t stop it.”
“If at all possible, do not do it again. Do not project flux directly from your Tantochin. That is likely the cause of your loss of control.”
“Sorry, you used a word I don’t know there.”
“Jad, Hi, Tan,” she lectured, “Left, Middle, Right. Tochin means hand. Jadtochin, Hitochin, Tantochin. Do you understand?”
“Hitochin means ‘Middle Hand’?” He asked with a smile. He remembered Nam saying the thing inside him had glued itself to this ‘Hitochin’.
“‘Middle Hand’ will make sense when you acquire better knowledge of flux artistry,” she answered. “You will come to understand as you learn”
“Is there a middle foot?” he asked.
“Hijhagain. There is no gate by that name, but it describes that thing you possess which we women do not.”
“We call the gates by these Bruxilan words. Your Tantochin gate is in the center of your right hand, midway between the back of your hand and the base of the cup made by your palm. I am saying you lost control by failing to move the point of channeling away from this critical spot.”
“Frankly, I don’t feel like I did anything. It just started up.”
In the dark, he could see her hat rotate, and then her eyes looking at him over her shoulder. She did this while continuing to trot through the darkness. “It did not ‘just start up’. Although you might have somehow triggered the form subconsciously. You must have been channeling it directly, but it could well have been through the aid of a pattern within your ethen. But, if it was you, then someone likely taught you the form. Perhaps you learned as a small child and you have forgotten.”
“I’m certain that isn’t the case.”
“Only a adept of Junsai or something similar, such as a Tei-incha’en could teach such a thing. One would have to be a natural to come to it on one’s own, with no training.”
“What’s a ‘natural’?”
“Something which you are not, Guardsman. A natural is one who controls flux with only their mind, creating the patterns within their Sen, their soul, without any physical substance. Were you one of those, you would already have taught yourself many skills by your age.”
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