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Inu
Chapter 1
“Papa?” The little girl’s father looked down at his daughter, who was leaning over the bridge’s wooden rail and staring at the cascades of spring water a few feet away. A landmark of the city of Zento, the springs flowed from an outcropping of worn granite into a small pond under the bridge. A park had been built around it, between the inner and outer city walls, and it was alive with blossoming trees and flowers. Townspeople were passing by the girl and her father on the bridge as they headed towards different parts of the city.

“Yes, Maya?”

“Um,” she leaned over a little more, scrunching up her face in concentration, “Where does all the spring water come from?”

Her father leaned over the rail with her, getting a little closer incase she slipped, and thought about it for a little bit, watching the water tumble over itself as it worked its way down into the pool.

After a long pause he answered, “I think it’s the same as a well’s, it’s from deep underground.”

This seemed to satisfy Maya for a moment or two, but then she looked around at the small pond the water was pouring into.

“Papa?”

“Yes?”

“Where does it all go?”

He hadn’t thought about that. There wasn’t an outlet, and the pond always looked full; yet torrents of water kept pouring into it from the springs. Luckily, he remembered something his mother had told him, and managed to improvise in the parental fashion.

“It’s magic.”

“Oh!” An excited look beamed on her face, “Can you do magic, papa?” A young woman passing by giggled, overhearing the enthusiastic child.

“Well, I can’t make water come up from the…” he began, but never finished. A voice suddenly rang out: “Behold!”

All over the park heads turned towards the source of the unexpected outburst. In the stunned silence, he could hear roofing tiles crunch as a figure walked forward atop the tall inner city wall, only a stones throw from the bridge. Outlined by the bright sun, it took a second for a few to register that the voice belonged to a bony, middle-aged woman. Now she had stopped, and was looking down at them all with her finger pointing.

“The day comes! It comes I say, when none shall pass! Or all shall pass away!”

Maya’s father pulled his daughter in towards him by her shoulders, ready to steer her away. A sharply dressed young man, whom he recognized as Yatsue the architect’s son, had already opened his mouth and was calling back up to the woman on the wall.

“Hey! Grandma! What’re you doing up there? Come down before you hurt yourself!”

The figure whirled to her right upon the ceramic tiles, sending a few stone chips sliding down the side, eliciting a few gasps from the crowd.

“Speak not, son of the simple! A message I have, and a message I shall deliver!”

In the meantime, Maya had just barely managed to ask, “Papa, who’s that lady?” but her father was already leading her off the bridge. “Come along Maya,” he said quickly.

Behind him he could hear the young man’s tone of concern turn to contempt as he yelled back, “You old hag! Hey! Come down from there or we’ll bring you down!”

Someone else in the crowd yelled agreement, but the woman just ignored them and went on.

“And strange and unfamiliar things shall fill the skies,”

“Shut up!” someone farther away roared.

“You will wake, and know not where you are…”

The hag’s words grew less distinct as Maya and her father made their way past the edge of the crowd. Soon they were outside the park, and he answered her burgeoning question before she could get it all out again.

“She’s someone your mother and I know. Now you run back to Koku’s, okay? I’ll be along shortly.”

“But, I want to see…” Maya began, but her father put a firm grip on her shoulder: “Maya, do as you’re told.” Knowing she couldn’t argue, she headed off towards the west end of town. He watched her carefully for a while until he saw her veer past the provisioner’s shop, then sighed to himself.

Turning, he stared back at the distant wall where the lone figure was still gesturing madly at a crowd below, and started striding back to see what could be done.

“Batty old woman,” he muttered.

“Maya!”

A couple of heads in the park turned to look at the young man jogging across the bridge – then towards the two young women he was headed towards.

“Hey Maya!”

Startled, she had already begun to look over her shoulder, and saw that Tomoe, her friend she’d been walking with, was barely managing to stifle a giggle. Maya gave her a scathing look which melted into a model of niceness as Ken came down off the last step.

“Hey, Ken…” she greeted him, slightly embarrassed.

“Hey! Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to yell like that, I’ve just been looking for you for the last hour!”

Tomoe couldn’t help it and giggled at the awkward pair, but quickly stifled it and turned slightly away from Ken.

“Wha…” Ken looked over at Tomoe with a slightly confused expression, then back at Maya, “No! No, I mean, your mom, she sent me to find you - she said she needed you back at the kitchen.”

Maya’s mother was one of the cooks at Koku Kitchens, a sort of communal building where several chefs came and prepared a variety of dishes, each according to their own tastes and styles. Maya wasn’t really interested in cooking, unlike her mother, and hadn’t figured out yet what she wanted to do with herself. This was something of a rarity for someone from Zento, where many young adults apprenticed themselves to a craft in their early teens.

“Like Ken”, she thought, smiling ruefully, which possibly explained how her mother had managed to snag him into going out and finding Maya for her. He’d probably just been lazing around and gotten unlucky.

Maya gave it a moment before replying. Then, in a bid to avoid further embarrassment, pushed Ken forward and urged, “Let’s go then!” She gave Tomoe a look as she passed and said, “Sorry!” but Tomoe just giggled again and waved them away.

A few minutes later they were in front of Koku Kitchens, the smell of something baking wafting out from the southern entrance.

Maya’s mother was pulling a large loaf of bread out of a stone oven as they entered. She turned around and slid it onto a table to cool, and saw the two.

“Kentarou! Thank you for finding her,” she said, dusting flour off her hands. “Could you two do me a favor?”

“Of course, mother!” Maya replied enthusiastically. She was sure her mother had sent Ken on purpose, instead of one of her apprentices, but wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of knowing she’d embarrassed her.

“Wonderful!” her mother smiled, and shook off her apron while beckoning them to the table.

“Could you take this,” she was pointing at the cooling bread, “out to Inu? I’d like you to check up on her since she hasn’t been around for while.”

Ken spoke up, “Wait, Inu the Crone?” He got two unusual stares from the women, and hastily rephrased it: “I mean, the old lady who lives out in the Waste?”

“That’s the one!” Maya’s mother said cheerfully, “now off you go.”

An hour later Maya and Ken were walking through the desert, with a blazing sun beating down on them. Ken had brought along the family daisho - the blades strapped to his back. Maya had a simple wakizashi at her side, but they weren’t really expecting any trouble. The Waste was populated mostly by deathwatch beetle hatchlings, and they were harmless unless provoked. Its other denizens, like the orcs, were usually found deeper in the desert.

It was a boring trip, so they ended up spending most of the time bantering and complaining about the heat. After a while, Inu’s home finally came into view. It was midday and the air was shimmering in the distance, but the old plaster building, standing alone on top of the rough sands, would’ve been hard to miss.

“That’s funny,” she said, walking up to the opening in front of the house.

“That she doesn’t have a door?” Ken quipped.

She gave him a cross look. “No, I don’t see Kurai, her rune beetle. He’s always around here.”

“Well, I don’t see any tracks, so he must not have been here for a while,” he observed, walking around the side of the house to check.

“Inu!” she yelled into the house suddenly, “Are you home? We’re coming in!”

But the house was completely empty. They ended up sitting upstairs on the floor, since the upstairs room lacked windows and was much cooler than the bottom floor. After resting for a bit their conversation turned towards what they should do next.

“I don’t think we can just wait for her,” Ken pointed out.

“True, but it’s strange not to see Kurai here. He always guards this place.”

“Well, for now, maybe we should go back?”

“Sure, but let’s stay here a minute, it’s nice and I want to rest just a little more.”

Ken nodded and picked up a bone lying on the floor next to him. “You don’t think she eats, well, you know? Do you?”

Maya gave him a dirty look: “No! She’s just an old woman!”

He looked over the piles of bones spread throughout the room and shot back a mocking glance: “Right.”

Maya was about to retort when they heard a noise downstairs. Ken leaned over and looked down the stairway, and then whispered, “Maya, I don’t believe it, it’s a skeleton. Must’ve wandered here from deeper in the desert.”

“Just ignore it!” she replied in a tight whisper, “It’ll probably just wander off back into the desert!”

“Yeah…” he leaned over to get a better view.

“And don’t lean over like that! You might slip!” she admonished him.

He looked back at her in a disparaging way: “Oh come on, you know I’m more…”

A look of complete surprise froze on his face as he went rigid, and then tumbled over the edge.

“Ken!” Maya yelled, jumping up and running downstairs, right into the path of the bone mage that was bringing down its staff on the paralyzed Ken. Instead, the undead collection of bones swung around and caught her squarely in the stomach, throwing her into the far wall. It’d changed its arc mid-swing, slowing it and doing her less harm, but she was still momentarily stunned.

Drawing her weapon, she tried to scramble up against the wall to gain her balance, but she could already see the bone mage casting a spell. She rushed forward, desperate to disrupt the magical attack, when two blades appeared below the skeletal head and cleanly decapitated it.

Ken staggered back, blades in unsteady hands, still recovering from the spell. Maya whirled on the simpler skeleton that was shuffling back towards the door. It didn’t even have time to bring up its sword to parry her move, and she cut through the neck and part of the ribcage, lodging her wakizashi in its side. It was dead, at least, so she wrenched the blade free and hurried over to Ken.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, it just surprised me. And its paralysis didn’t last long. Landed on my arm though.”

Maya looked at the giant bruise and tried to concentrate. Focusing on the arm, she softly said, “In Mani.” A soft glow surrounded his arm and then faded away.

“Hey! Maya, it’s feeling better,” Ken said, flexing, his right elbow, “What did you do?”

“It’s something my father showed me, I’m not very good at it. It’s just healing.”

“Without bandages, even,” Ken added.

Maya nodded and pulled him up. He could tell she wasn’t really excited about it, so changed the subject: “Heh, I guess we know why all the bones are around now, huh?”

She gave him an incredulous look, and walked outside.

Later that evening they arrived back in town. Maya went to tell her mother what had happened, and Ken went off to have a healer look him over. As Maya came through the doorway she found her mother waiting for her expectantly.

“Maya, I’m so sorry! She wasn’t there, was she?”

Maya, surprised, replied, “No! But how did you know?”

“After you left, Kurai Kabuto, Inu’s rune beetle, someone saw it wandering west of town!” she said breathlessly. “I couldn’t believe it, so while I was asking about it, Daiichi, you know, Yatsue’s son, the handsome one, he told me he had seen Inu in town just earlier today!”

“What?” was all Maya could manage.

“But no dear, you see, he was making fun of her,” she went on, “because she was preaching near the market again.”

“Right, he always does.”

“Well then he told me that she was crazier than ever, and led them all to the moongate in the park! And she went through!”

Maya considered it: “But that’s not too strange is it? Maybe she went to Homare-jima.”

“No, right before she left, she told them she was going to Britain!”

Maya was stunned. It’d never crossed her mind that Inu would actually take her ranting anywhere beyond their little city.

“But, she doesn’t know anyone there! It could be dangerous!”

“Yes I know, dear. I don’t like to ask, but…” she trailed off, looking at her daughter imploringly.

“But?”

“Tomorrow, could you and Ken go try and find her? I’m worried about her. Your father would never have let her go, I’m sure.”

Maya nodded, afraid, excited, and concerned about having to visit the capital city of Britannia. She’d never been anywhere in that entire kingdom, let alone its busiest city. Then again, neither had anyone else she knew, although she had met the occasional foreign merchant visiting Zento.

“Alright, I’ll ask Ken then.”

Her mother smiled weakly, “I’ll make you a good lunch. Just bring her back with you, promise?”

“Yes mother, I promise.”

The next morning she approached Ken about it, and he was more than willing – always eager to get away from the city for a while. Soon they were standing in front of the moongate as Maya’s mother wished them off with some friends.

“Just remember! You want to go to the Trammel facet, not Felucca.”

“We know,” they replied together.

“She thinks I’m ten,” Maya murmured to Ken.

Ken leaned to the side, “If she thought you were ten, she wouldn’t send you out to do this sort of thing, you know.”

She blushed but quickly composed herself. They said their goodbyes and her mother handed over a knapsack containing some food, and Ken hefted the bedrolls and his backpack.

They turned, and stepped through the moongate one after another. Trammel, Britain she thought. For a moment, everything was dark, and then a rushing sound filled her mind. Then she was elsewhere.

The woman standing next to her mother spoke up, looking into the moongate, “Nanako, is it really alright to send them after her?”

Nanako waited a moment, then replied. “Who else? Inu knows her, and something is happening that I don’t understand.”

“But that’s why! Isn’t it dangerous?”

Nanako laughed and started walking away, “That’s what Ken’s for!”

The West Britain Bank was an old building on the edge of town, just across the moat from Castle British. It was a purely functional building, lacking much of the adornment and elegance found throughout the rest of the city. Its walls were made of grey bricks and the roof with stone pavers. This short, squat structure belied the fact that it was easily one of the most defensible buildings in the city, save the castle itself.

More impressive, though, were the people bustling about the yard in front of the bank, heading to and fro on their various businesses. In stark contrast to the bank’s boring demeanor, Maya could barely keep up with the shifting crowd and mish-mash of color all around them as they walked further into the city.

A lady, surely of some nobility, walked by in a shifting gown of delicate white. A man riding an armored horse drew up near the corner of the bank and quickly tied it to a lamp post, hopped down, and made his way inside the bank.

Left and right people were calling out their wares and proffering various services. Maya had never seen so many odd outfits in her entire life. Ken had never seen so many people riding strange animals in his.

“Maya, I think that fellow’s riding a beetle.”

She turned around where he was pointing, and sure enough, there was a man dressed in terribly clashing colors: bright yellow and pink, and some sort of green apron, riding on top of a giant blue beetle.

“At least it’s not as big as Kurai,” she gulped.

A shadow fell over them and they turned together and looked up into the maw of a giant, pale dragon. Ken was already bracing her before she knew it, and a man stepped from behind one of its massive wings.

“Hail friends! Art thou interested in a fine beast of burden? Only three hundred thousand!”

Ken looked the spry old man over – he had hair just as white as the dragon’s scales, and, oddly enough, was wearing a jester’s cap. Before he could think of a response Maya was already explaining themselves away, “Oh, no thank you sir. We’re just looking for a friend!” She nearly had to yell for all the noise.

He didn’t really look disappointed as he bowed, cap in hand, and said loudly, “Then I wish thee the best!” He was already to his dragon when he tossed back his head and offered, “Just look for Jess, shouldest thou e’er have need of a beast!”

Maya waved weakly and the crowd swallowed the fellow. The large dragon made a soft growling sound as it seemed to float over a parting in the stream of people, slowly moving further away.

“Hey, let’s go over here,” Ken suggested while pulling her over to the side. He was motioning to a small hill across from the bank’s entrance, where a few people were idly sitting. “Good idea!”

A few moments later they were striding up the side of the hill and came to a stop near an old pine tree. They both sat down, exhausted, and considered their luck so far.

“How are we going to find her in all this,” a frustrated Maya began, gesturing down at the crowd, “I mean, this is only a tiny part of the city too!”

Ken nodded, “Yes, but, maybe the rest of the city isn’t this busy?”

“Maybe, I guess this is like the market square in Zento – look at them all!”

Suddenly a voice spoke up, “First time in Britain, then?”

They didn’t even have to turn around because suddenly there was a girl sitting down between them, leaning back on her hands. She didn’t seem to be aware of just how much she had startled the two by her sudden appearance, but quickly realized it.

“Oh! I did not mean to scare you!”

She was wearing a simple pink dress, and seemed completely normal, except for the fact that she hadn’t been there just a moment before.

“How…” Maya began.

“…did you do that?” Ken finished.

The girl seemed a bit flustered: “Do forgive me! ‘Twas just a spell, I was practicing it here when you sat down.” She leaned over and looked closely at Maya.

“’Tis true! Thy friend and thee are not from ‘round here! I can tell!”

Ken’s curiosity had already helped him recover, and he said simply, “No, we’re from Zento.”

The young mage scampered forward a bit and turned to face the two.

“Zento! Wow! I have ne’er met anyone from so far away before! ‘Tis a pleasure to make thine acquaintance. My name is Harmony.” Then she curtsied, which Maya thought was just a tad odd, since she was sitting down, but it had been an altogether strange day.

“Uh, ‘tis a pleasure to make thine acquaintance, Harmony. I’m Maya, and this is Ken,” Maya said, doing her best to accommodate the Britannian dialect.

Ken stuck out his hand, obviously impressed, and said “Call me Ken!”

Harmony shook his hand, but said curiously, “But, she did call you Ken.”

Ken looked slightly embarrassed but said, “Oh, right! Right! It’s just my full name is Kentarou, sorry.”

“Oh, shouldest I call thee that then?”

Maya was laughing now, and Ken managed to explain, “No, uh, Ken’s fine. Sorry.”

“I’m sorry Harmony, but you said you were practicing a spell?” asked Maya, saving Ken from himself.

Now she had Harmony’s full attention, “Aye! ‘Tis invisibility, which is almost beyond my level, but I think I almost have it!” She seemed so completely full of energy that she made her and Ken look utterly dull in comparison. “When I spoke to thee, it broke my concentration,” she smiled merrily.

Ken and Maya were impressed. They’d heard about Britannian magic, but invisibility had always seemed the domain of the ninja.

“So, what bringeth ye all the way to Britain?” asked Harmony.

Maya had completely forgotten about their goal by now, so she paused before responding, “We’re looking for a family friend. We heard she came to Britain, so we’re trying to find her.”

“I see! Well, those from the Tokuno Isles are few here, what is her name?”

“Inu, she’s a rather elderly woman named Inu, “ Ken replied, trying to be polite.

Harmony thought for a second, “No, I can not recall any such name, but to be honest, I have only been here for a few days myself.”

Ah, my turn, thought Maya, “Where are you from Harmony?”

“Magincia! Dost thou know it?”

“Um, I’m afraid not.”

It didn’t seem to matter since Harmony had twisted around and was already pointing off in a seemingly random way towards the east. “’Tis an island far from here, lying to the north of Haven. My family has lived there for generations,” she said warmly. Turning back to them she continued, “Of course, with moongates, I suppose ‘tis not as far away as one would think.” A strange look passed across her face but was quickly replaced by her usual smile.

“That’s how I feel,” Maya replied, “I’ve never been to Britain, but it really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. We just had to walk a while once we made it through the gate.”

Harmony laughed, “Yes! Well, had thou chosen the wrong destination, ‘twould have been a bit more difficult I wouldest imagine!”

Ken almost followed up on that, but wanted to get back on track. “Harmony, do you know any place we could ask around for information? We really need to find our friend Inu.”

Harmony thought about it for a moment, and tugged on a braid of her red hair. “Maybe the Cat’s Lair? ‘Tis the tavern right behind you, and sure to have a rumormonger or two amongst the drunkards.”

Ken turned to follow her gesturing finger, but suddenly Maya spoke up, “Um, I think we won’t have to go anywhere.” She was looking past them at the bank with a shocked look. Ken let out a surprised gasp and Harmony moved forward to sit between them again so she could get a better look.

On top of the bank, sure enough, there was an old woman standing on the edge looking down at the crowd below. Someone in the crowd had just noticed her and people began to mill around below trying to see if something interesting was happening.

All of a sudden Inu yelled down, “Quiet! I can’t hear! It’s not clear!” A stunned few came to a halt and looked up, listening to her. Maya was overwhelmed by a great sense of deja vu.

The entire crowd had, unexpectedly, done just as Inu had asked, and become nearly silent except for excited whispering back and forth. Harmony looked over at Maya and asked, “Is that…” but Inu was already yelling again.

“Behold!” the word rang out with astonishing authority.

“The time comes! The plain words will be confused and the confused words made plain!”

“Stone upon stone shall crumble to dust!”

“The rivers shall boil and the walls melt!”

“There is no time, I cannot see!”

She said all this without pause in her delivery. Then a voice from below cried out, “What madness is this? Who is this old fool upon the wall?”

Another joined in, “Someone! Bring here down from there! ‘Tis insane, that one!”

The crowd was bustling now, but Inu seemed unconcerned. She looked up into the sky straight up at the sun, as though she were listening.

A man on a dark mare rode by and dismissed the happenings loudly, “Just an old woman, pay her no need!”

“Is she alright?” Harmony finally asked, after a minute, as the crowd below swelled to stare at the eccentric woman.

Maya didn’t know what to say, “It’s just like before.”

Ken was concerned, “This doesn’t look good, Maya.”

Then Inu was speaking again, but now she seemed openly angry. “Mock! Mock me! Do you?!”

A woman below called up, “What is thy name, old woman! That ye would speak to us with such derision! Who art thou?”

“I am Inu! The Crone! And you are a fool!”

The woman pushed forward into view, “How dare ye!” Turning, she challenged the crowd, “Call the guards! A madwoman is what we have here.”

The crowd was murmuring agreement, yet a few people were still paying close attention to Inu. Maya got up and Ken quickly followed suit, as did Harmony. They could see better into the crowd, which was still getting larger as more merchants drifted away from their business to watch the commotion.

“Call me what you will! If you don’t listen I can’t tell you!”

Maya could see the look of righteous indignation flash over the woman’s face as she whirled, hands clenched at her side: “Tell us what!? Thou art gibbering naught but senseless words!”

With a look of unnatural calm Inu replied so softly they couldn’t make out what she said, but the woman seemed completely enraged, and the crowd surged forward, fists pumping in the air, decrying the old woman.

“Fool!”

“Madness!”

“Get her down already! ‘Tis dangerous!”

Maya was already moving down the hill and rushed to the side of the crowd, near the bank’s doors. Harmony and Ken were right behind her, and Maya desperately turned to Harmony and asked, “You’re a mage, right? Can you get us on top of the roof?”

Harmony nodded, realizing how charged the situation was becoming, and said, “Yes! Just a moment,” she looked down, “let me find my reagents.” With that she dug into her small knapsack and withdrew a few herbs Maya hadn’t seen before.

“Alright, Ken, Maya, hold my hands please.”

They came in closer and she intoned, “Kal Ort Por!”

A moment of disorientation enveloped Maya and suddenly they were on the roof looking down at the chanting crowd, whom Inu had engaged in a nasty sort of way. Insults were flying back and forth, even as a few people here and there tried to rationalize with the members of what was rapidly becoming a mob.

Maya rushed forward to Inu’s side, who looked quite surprised to see her, and broke off mid-cry.

“Maya?”

“Grandmother! What are you doing here?”

Ken and Harmony rushed up alongside her, and Inu didn’t answer her question.

“Oh, is that Ken?” an amused cackle in her voice.

“Hello, grandmother,” he said awkwardly, not wanting to say her name directly and having no other term of address for her.

“I don’t know this one,” she eyed Harmony curiously, oblivious to the cries below, “She’s with you then?”

Harmony piped in, “Hello! A pleasure to meet thee! I’m Harmony.”

Maya was beside herself with the absurdity of the situation.

“Grandmother! What did you say to these people?”

Inu was about to respond, when she suddenly gripped her head and pitched forward; Maya ended up catching her while Ken and Harmony steadied her.

“Grandmother!” yelled Maya, shaking the unconscious Inu.

The woman below called up, “Good thinking, mage! Paralysis! Here come the guards, just wait there!”

Harmony looked completely shocked, “But I didst not…” and Ken quickly supported her, “No, no, I think she’s sick.”

Maya had Inu on the ground now, cradling the suddenly frail woman in her lap. She was pale and clammy, and Maya was trying to bring her around.

Without warning two town guards appeared in front of them and quickly took stock of the scene.

“Come with us,” said the one on the left, and suddenly they were in a stark room made of hewn stone, standing in front of a very official looking man sitting behind his desk. He looked less than pleased.

An hour later had seen Inu in bed at the healers’ and a stern dressing down by Britain’s sheriff. The three had finally been released with a written warning to depart the city with Inu, once she recovered, for at least three days.

“So, your grandmother insulted one of the visiting nobility?” Harmony inquired, as they approached the healers’ building.

“Looks like it,” sighed Maya. This wasn’t quite what she’d been expecting when she told her mother she’d go find Inu.

“At least she committed no crime,” offered Ken, “They’re just worried that that noblewoman will work up another crowd like last time.”

A loud crash came from inside the wooden building as they drew up near the door, and suddenly Inu appeared in the doorway, backing warily away from the robed healers who were trying to calm her down.

“Hold! We meanest thee no harm!” cried one, but leapt back as a sandaled foot shot out towards his shin.

Inu saw the trio and ran over, “Quickly now! These heathens want to keep me in bed!”

Maya apologized to the healers while Inu stretched outside, talking to Ken and Harmony. “Please forgive her, she’s just been ill lately,” she said, offering the healers a few gold pieces.

A man in a light brown robe took the money as a matter of course, and replied, “’Tis alright, we were merely concerned after her health. She seemeth fine, however.”

“Maya!” called Ken from outside.

“Thank you very much then, sirs,” she said quickly and ducked out of the building.

She was surprised to see an empty street in front of her, but then she heard Ken call again from down the way. Running up to them, she finally caught hold of Inu’s kimono: “Grandma! Where are we going?”

Inu didn’t break stride, and replied simply, “It’s getting dark, and I’m tired.”

After the commotion in town, no inn would take them, and with the sheriff’s fresh warning on their minds Ken and Maya tried convincing Inu to follow them back to Zento. She wouldn’t hear any of it, and soon they’d crossed the river splitting Britain, then begun following it towards the sea.

The sky was reddening when Harmony drew up alongside Maya.

“Maya?”

No one had spoken for a little while, so she was a bit surprised: “Um, yes Harmony?”

“’Tis just a question, and do feel free to say no, but wouldest thou mind if I accompanied you beyond Britain?” Maya stopped and Harmony continued, “’Tis just that I feel compelled somehow, and I can certainly help ye travel around.”

Ken had overheard, but Inu didn’t react and was still walking along the embankment.

Maya didn’t even think about it, she was tired of making decisions, and warmly replied, “Yes of course! But aren’t we keeping you from anything?”

Harmony laughed, “No! Not at all!” Then with an uncharacteristically serious tone explained, “Besides, I know some healing, and can be of assistance should you need it.”

“Oh just bring her along!” called Inu from up the road, “You think I can’t hear you?” Harmony smiled and ran ahead to catch up, Maya followed.

Soon enough they reached the ocean and were following the shoreline further east along the edge of town. The sky was deepening its red tones and they’d passed a ways beyond the last house before Ken went forward a little and surveyed the area.

“This looks alright,” he suggested. It was a small dip in the land between the forest and a rise of cliffs, which looked like a decent shelter for the evening.

“It looks okay,” Maya responded, “If we make camp on the sloped side I think we won’t have the wind on top of us, at least.”

“Besides, I can still see houses – if we need them, the city guards are close.”

Ken nodded, “I’ll go get some kindling, could you take care of… ah.”

Inu had an eye fixed on him: “Take care of? Fuss! Must!”

For the last hour or two, whenever she talked, sometimes she’d interject a strange word of two into the conversation. Maya had asked her once what she’d meant, and Inu didn’t even know she’d said anything. They’d gotten used to it, but it was disconcerting.

Inu was still staring at him, but Harmony broke the odd exchange by coming forward. “I shall go too, then we can return quicker.” Maya just gave them an exasperated nod and they headed off towards the woods while she started to sit Inu down on the grassy hillside.

“Ah, dearie?”

Maya had been facing away as she started laying out the bedrolls and turned around, still kneeling. “Yes?”

“You’re a good girl, you know that.” Before a surprised Maya could respond Inu laid back and closed her eyes, ending the conversation, and driving the point home with a snore only moments later.

Later, after the other two returned and they’d made camp, she sat with them and talked.

“What do you think it all means? Is she just sick?”

“I think so, I mean, she’s always been a little… well you know what they say about her, Maya,” Ken began, “But all this nonsense. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Harmony was poking a stick into the fire but looked up at Maya and asked, “Is she a mage? Your grandmother, I mean.”

“I don’t think she does magic, like you, I guess,” she replied, “But she sees things, she says. Feels them.” Her words dropped off and Harmony pushed the stick the rest of the way in.

“I feel it from her, “ Harmony went on, “’Tis why I ask.”

Maya hugged her knees as she looked into the campfire’s embers: “I don’t know. I just think we should get her back to Zento – mother is going to be pretty worried by now.” She looked over to the other side of the fire where she’d half helped, half dragged the sleeping Inu into a makeshift bed and made her as comfortable as she could. “Not that she’ll notice”, she thought, but she felt obligated.

After they’d talked over their situation for a while, Ken leaned back onto his bedroll and stared into the night sky. “You’re right. First thing tomorrow we can pass back through town and towards the moongate. I’m sure the guards will let us at least pass, with the mob gone and all.”

Harmony seemed excited as she said, “’Twill be wonderful! I wouldest like to see thine homeland.”

“We just have to convince her,” Ken reminded her, pointing at Inu.

Maya nodded and settled into her own blankets, exhausted. “We’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

Trammel slowly climbed higher into the night sky, a bright Felucca in tow. Inu rose quietly from her place and began folding the bedroll up. She tied it onto her bundle and walked outside the dying fire’s flickering halo. She considered the three forms sleeping on the ground for a moment, and then disappeared into the forest.


Published: May 2006
Please Note: Some dates are estimates as exact dates were unavailable.
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