“He’s such a child sometimes,” she commented half to herself as she went back to preparing the greens. “Tatia packed three large onions, I believe.” Maya waved toward the food. “Could you hand them to me, please?”
Chantal made a humming sound and nodded. Maya watched as the teenager tried to find the onions and watch Tricon hunt all at once. She managed to tear her attention away from Tricon once he began circling.
Maya knew from experience that the most dramatic moment of the hunt was imminent, but she didn’t want to draw Chantal’s attention to it. The girl was skittish enough around him, afraid of his size and appearance. She didn’t need to see Tricon make the kill.
“Thank you,” Maya said as she accepted the onions. She caught sight of Tricon scooping a shralankce from the water as she started peeling the first one. Chantal took one of the others and watched Maya’s movements closely before mimicking them.
“What did he catch?” Chantal asked.
Maya watched Tricon fly back toward the cliffs, remembering how strange she’d found the sight of a dragon carrying its prey the first time she saw it. The eel-sharks were odd-looking creatures with their elongated bodies, disproportionate fins, and triangular heads. “Yekarans call them shralankce.”
“Will it feed him? It’s huge, but it seems small compared to Tricon.”
“The Yekar, for all their human-like qualities, are reptilian,” Maya explained. “They don’t need as much food, as often, in proportion to their weight as we do. A Yekaran of Tricon’s size normally eats a meal that size every three to four days unless they’ve been unusually active.”
Chantal peeled while Maya chopped in silence. Maya could tell Chantal was thinking over something. She was frowning with a far away look in her eyes, and Maya could feel the confusion and curiosity coming from her.
“So, have the Yekarans been more active lately?”
“No.” It was Maya’s turn to be confused. “Why do you ask?”
“Tricon said they’d eaten sea greens every day this week.”
“Oh.” Maya thought back for a moment. She’d forgotten about that part of the conversation. “Sea greens and other vegetables native to Yekara factor into the Yekaran diet more like a tonic than a meal. It’s all about the vitamins and minerals. It doesn’t do much in the way of easing hunger for them.”
“Why is it so important?”
“It supports their immune system,” Maya answered and reached for the last onion. “Disease, and disease related deaths, among Yekarans have dropped dramatically since humans started ensuring there’s enough to go around when the Yekarans come out of hibernation.”
“So, it’s not because you’re expecting a confrontation with my father?” Chantal asked. Her eyes were downcast, and Maya could feel a confusing swirl of emotion coming from her. Anger, sadness, and disappointment were chief among them, but guilt was in there too.
“No,” Maya answered. “It’s just something routine to help them regain their health and strength after hibernating for five months.”
“What’s going to happen to him?”
Maya finished chopping the last onion and mixed it in with the greens, then went to the water's edge, thinking carefully about her next words. Although she could feel the raw emotion rolling off the young girl, she didn’t have to be an empath to tell Chantal was starting to feel guilty for turning her father in.
“It depends on the evidence,” she began, as she bent to rinse her hands. She shook off the seawater and returned to the fire. “If there’s enough, a warrant will be granted. Tembar will be searched. A full investigation will be done, and he may be taken to trial.”
“I know that,” Chantal groused. “I meant if he’s found guilty.”
“I wish I could say, but there are so many ways a trial can go.”
“Fine!” Chantal huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Tell me about the other people like you then.”
“What do you want to know?”
Chantal’s mouth moved as she started to form her response, but it turned into a squeak as Tricon returned with his cleaned and charred lunch. His landing kicked up a lot of sand.
“Good hunt, I see,” greeted Maya.
“More like culling. It was a fracture pod, there to aid this wounded one.”
“Ah well, good for you, and good for the pod then.” Maya giggled at the sight of Tricon rolling his large, brown eyes. She motioned toward the stuffing and drying greens. “The rest of your meal is over there.”
Chantal had taken out the bowls while Maya was distracted with Tricon and was ladling out the stew. Maya retrieved the canteen and dug around in the basket to find the spoons.
“As for the others like me, Chantal, there’s too much to tell in one afternoon,” Maya said. “Shall I just give you the basics, and then you can ask questions as you think of them?”
Chantal nodded her agreement as she savored the warm stew.
“Alright then.” Maya paused to think.
“There are Weather Watchers, like me. They can make minor changes in the weather here and there, and they’re responsible for taming the transition storms and taking the edge off the worst blizzards and droughts.” Maya ate a few bites of her cooling stew. She watched Chantal consider the information and continued at Chantal’s nod. “Then there are the Water Keepers who have this innate sense of where the water is, and they always know how much is there. They’re in charge of making sure water gets where it needs to go. They do a lot of work with the Thermals, who are immune to burns from fire and can control fire and heat to some extent. They keep the wildfires under control and are a tremendous help training young Yekarans.”
Tricon snorted and chuckled, rolling a slice of the charred shralankce around the stuffing. “It certainly helps having trainers who are as fire retardant as their students,” he mumbled.
Maya turned her attention back to Chantal before he took the first bite. She loved Tricon as if he was a big, scaly brother, but she hated seeing him eat. Unfortunately, she’d forgotten to warn Chantal, and the younger woman visibly paled as soon as Maya heard the distinctive sound of a Yekaran’s jaws tearing into meat.
“Then there are the Telepaths,” Maya continued, hoping to distract Chantal from Tricon’s appalling table manners. “They’re one of the most numerous groups. No one’s sure why, but a lot of the scientists believe it requires the simplest mutation.” She shrugged. “Telekinetics can move objects under a certain size short distances with their minds. It’s a quirky mutation and fairly rare. And finally, there are the Talent Seers. Their name's rather self-explanatory.”
“People with such power are everywhere?” Chantal asked. The look of horror was still there, but it was muted. “And, they’re born with it?”
“Yes,” Maya answered. “They are found and trained young. There are strict laws in place to govern the use of such abilities, and all those with them are schooled in the laws and consequences for breaking them.”
“And people with these powers, people like you, are afraid to cross these councils and their laws?”
“The councils adopted harsh penalties for breaching laws and protocol long ago,” Maya answered. “None have crossed them more than once.”
Chantal seemed to consider the information for a moment and then nodded and focused her attention on her bowl of stew. From some of the things Chantal had said earlier, Maya knew the younger woman’s world view was torn to shreds by the day’s events. She remembered the feeling, and the conflicting emotion she sensed swirling around the girl, which reinforced her suspicions. Chantal was teetering on the edge of an emotional breakdown.
Those first weeks after coming to Reiont, Maya’s world had been turned on its ear. She’d wanted to run home and hide so many times. Was it the same for Chantal? Was she tempted to return home, or did the fear of her father make matters worse for her? If Maya remembered one thing, more than the overwhelming desire to escape to the familiar, it was that the attempts of virtual strangers to comfort her only made her long for home more. So she held her peace until Chantal finished her first bowl of stew and asked if she wanted some of the remainder.
“No, please take the rest if you like,” Maya answered. “I know you must have been very hungry.”
“Yes, I was. Thank you.”
There was so much she needed to ask, but how should she broach the subject? She felt making Chantal feel as if she was being interrogated would shut the girl down, but she couldn’t coddle her either. If what she’d seen was real, there was a chance she knew what happened to Borcon and Kalie. What were the chances Ralic was holding them captive these past two months? If they were there and still alive, they probably didn’t have long left if she’d managed to spook Ralic with her jaunt to Tembar this morning. Though, if Chantal followed her to the edge of Tembar, she would have heard the keening too.
“When I was at Tembar this morning, I heard something familiar,” Maya said as casually as she could manage with the sudden surge of nerves broaching the subject caused. “I thought it sounded a lot like a Yekaran keening, but there hasn’t been a Yekaran living in Tembar for years.”
Tricon inclined his head toward Maya. She swallowed hard, knowing she’d caught his attention as well.
“No, there’s one there,” Chantal answered without looking up from her stew. “A big black Yekaran with a cream underbelly was brought in with a couple of women about two months ago.”
Maya’s posture stiffened, and her heartbeat doubled. Tricon gasped and dropped the bit of meat and stuffing he’d just rolled to his makeshift plate with a splattering plop. Their gazes met, and if Yekarans were capable of looking pale, Tricon was in that moment.
Chantal looked to them. Her eyes went from their faces to the meat and stuffing scattered over Tricon’s plate.
“Does that mean something to you?” she asked.
“Perhaps, yes,” Maya answered. She squeezed her bowl so tightly her knuckled blanched in an effort to stop the shaking that’d started up. “Can you tell me anything about the women?”
“Not much,” Chantal answered. “I saw them once from a distance.” The girl paused, concentration creasing her brow. “I heard something outside during my lesson. Gresha and I went to the window and looked out into the courtyard. The soldiers were chaining the dragon down.
“I thought it was strange because the dragon should have been sheltered somewhere and deep in hibernation at the time, but it was out in the open. It was looking at the two women. One was tall with blond hair, and Falcon, another of father’s creations like Brance, was holding her. A smaller, dark haired woman stood behind them.”
Tricon keened quietly and looked off across the water. Maya watched him dig his talons into the sand to control his reaction and bit the inside of her cheek to keep from tearing up in sympathy. He’d been fearful for his elder brother’s life from the moment he woke out of hibernation and heard what happened, and to find out now he’d been captured while at his weakest and chained was saddening and infuriating.
“Who are they?” Chantal’s voice broke on the question, and her eyes darted between dragon and companion. “You recognize them.”
“Yes.” Maya swallowed hard against the tightening of her throat and carefully laid her bowl to her side. “They match the description of a few members of a party that went missing during a blizzard two months ago. They’d left to visit a family member reported to be dying, and the Yekaran had left instructions he was to be chemically roused from hibernation should his companion decide to leave the castle during the winter months.
“Please tell us what happened next.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know really,” Chantal said. She’d gone pale as she listened to Maya’s explanation, and her voice was sorrowful. “Gresha pulled me away from the window. She said we were wasting time, and I needed to get back to my lessons. The Yekaran started howling soon after.” Chantal’s attention fell to her stew, and she used her spoon to push a few bits of meat and vegetables about in the broth. “I never saw any of them after that day, but I heard the Yekaran keening and howling pretty often. Some of the guards would complain about having to stand watch over him when they though I couldn’t hear.”
Maya fought to keep from hyperventilating and blinked back tears. It sounded like they’d killed Kalie right in front of poor Borcon. Why? Why would they do such a thing?
“What exactly did they say?” Tricon asked. His voice wavered, and he reflexively clawed at the sand.
Chantal seemed to fold in upon herself under Tricon’s observation. “First they were just surprised he wouldn’t go back into hibernation,” she answered. “Then they started complaining because they hated having to guard him or take him food because he’d strain against the chains and try to swipe at them.”
Tricon keened in the back of his throat again. “Did he ever succeed? Did he draw blood?”
Chantal shook her head. “I don’t believe so, no.”
Maya and Tricon both sagged in relief. There seemed little hope Kalie still lived, but perhaps Borcon might yet be saved, in a way. Tricon looked at his food in disgust before grabbing it and tossing the remains into the sea for scavengers to feast upon. Chantal looked as if she’d lost her appetite as well.
“Why don’t we clear up here and head back?” Maya said as she started gathering up dishes. “We need to get you settled, and Tricon and I have reports to make.”
Continue to Chapter 5, Part 1.