98: Jack

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When he returned with Simkit to the camp in the morning light, he made a quick visit to the latrine, then took a few minutes to try to make his trousers and uniform blouse look alright. No matter how difficult the circumstances, he had a lifetime in uniform that made him want to keep things in order.

He then joined the rest at the campfire. Breakfast was looking just like what Rogan had done for them, oatmeal that they called ‘porridge’ and thickly sliced bacon that they called ‘side bacon’, but Rogan and Rillte were cooking skillets of some sort of omelette as well.

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“Eggs?” he wondered. Their provisions didn’t seem to include anything resembling MREs, so he found the presence of fresh food a little surprising. Although it looked a bit off.

Fionna wrinkled her nose, giving the skillet a disdainful look. “If ye c’n call it that. It’s dried. Bu’ th’ nutrition’s guid.”

He had to admit, once he tried his share, that she wasn’t being unfair in her assessment. The odd color and texture deserved the critique she had given them. However, they had used the bacon fat to cook it, and the added flavor helped it somewhat.

Simkit called, “Come sit by me, Guardsman.”

He had no reason not to, so he got up to move over there, receiving a bit more of the eggs and bacon and a smile from Rillte on the way.

“The girl’s married,” Simkit commented as he sat on the stone fence near where she stood.

He chuckled and answered, “She’s also way too young for me.”

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The girl was young enough that it was surprising to hear she was married, frankly. Both she and Meadhbh would be high school students back home.

Simkit was wolfing down a massive serving of oatmeal. It had come out of a separate pot that was sitting beside her. He could see additions that might have been chunks of dried apple or some root vegetable. He speculated that her breakfast was adjusted for a difference in nutritional needs.

She set down the bowl she’d been eating from and used a cloth to wipe her mouth. After setting it aside, she declared, “You must be sure to properly rest yourself and fully recharge your rhyuin. Constant scanning can be as tiring as casting offensive forms.”

He grinned. “You can tell how tired I am?”

“Aye,” she answered, sounding a bit like Rogan for a moment, despite the lack of a brogue. “I am a Junsai practitioner of the third realm. I have an ability to assess the state of people similar to that of Lady Tatoan and Althem. You have been fading somewhat in the last hour. Not to the condition that Lady Tatoan and Meadhbh brought themselves, but you should stop for a time.”

To his questioning look, she answered, “You are actively probing still. It is understandable, under the circumstances, but take a deep breath and allow it to relax.”

He hadn’t even realized it, but she was right. Somewhere during the night, the process Nam had taught him had gone onto autopilot, like a nervous tick one can’t stop. He frowned and closed his eyes, concentrated on ending the constant outreach. He could stop on a direction, concentrate on holding it to look at one distant item, but where was the off switch?

A hand settled on his forehead. To his surprise, he jerked away and opened his eyes. The centauress had placed her palm on his forehead like a mother checking her child for fever. She said nothing, simply returned her hand to his forehead.

Staring at him, she said, “Look into my palm. What can you see?”

He scowled and concentrated on it. A small bit of flux, exactly like what Nam had used.

“Flux. A tiny bit of flux.”

“It’s a training tool,” she nodded. “I imagine you’ve seen it before.”

“Nam did this, yeah.”

“Concentrate on it, then draw your awareness away from it, into yourself, as far in as you can. Concentrate on points closer and closer in until you cannot, anymore.”

He pulled in a breath and did it, pulling inward farther and farther… until a field of warmth seemed to spread around his mind. He was looking at nothing, and yet it was warm and gentle…

“Guardsman,” came Simkit’s voice, and he was back. She had removed her hand, and he discovered why. She had caught the plate that was slipping from his hand. She wore a wry smile.

“Well done,” she declared. “Few look within themselves so easily. You have peered into your Adhen gate on the first try. And you have ceased to scan, as it happens.”

To his surprise, he noticed she was right. Then he became curious.

“That seems to be a quick way to go to sleep.”

“It is better used as meditation. You did not sleep just now. You went into meditation without preparing your body properly. Osri who do so on purpose normally use a seated position with their legs folded.”

“Lotus position?”

“I do not know this term,” she answered, then cautioned, “Do not try to use the technique to go to sleep, Guardsman. You may find yourself unable to fall asleep eventually.”

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- my thoughts:

For the next few weeks I am switching to three chapters per week on a M-W-F basis.

I'm slowing down due to some rewriting of the upcoming chapters I decided to do. I would rather slow down now than have to go on hiatus later. I will likely revert to four chapters per week once I finish the rewrite.

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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