At the height of their society, the Usaili territories covered much of the southern parts of Gepaul.
— Janil da Krisol, Lost Natives of the Land
The warm blew past Linsan, bringing with it the smell of flowers, rain, and smoke. Slowly, she lifted her head and took a deep breath. At first, she thought the smoke came from the ruined car behind them but the wind blew in the wrong direction.
Underneath her embrace, Brook nestled closer to her. “Sorry….” she murmured, half asleep in her grief. She drew her knee up and tugged her dress over her bare, scratched skin.
Linsan didn't want to move, but the smell worried her. She peered down toward Gabaw's village in fear that a mob of villagers were coming to finish the job. Seeing only an empty haze hovering along the grasses that grew along the ruts, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Shifting her body, she flipped her head to the other side and looked the other way.
A wagon approached from the north, moving with a stately pace with an old horse or mule leading it. She could see two people on the driver's bench, one broad-shouldered and the other smaller. They were talking to each other and, even from a distance, Linsan could hear a man and woman laughing.
“Brook, I need to talk to these people.”
Her friend sniffed and looked up. “Who?”
“I don't know, but they came from Fanasis and not Gabaw's. They have a wagon, maybe they could help us get the buggy out.”
Brook rubbed her red eyes. “I doubt it, that is a ton of iron, copper, and bronze.”
“I'm not giving up.”
Brook gave a small nod and then pushed herself up to her feet.
Linsan made sure she was steady and then walked with her back toward the road. Along the way, they looked at the hole that the buggy had fallen into. It looked even worse and Linsan had to look away. She knew she couldn't give up, but seeing the damage made it impossible not to burst into tears herself.
At the edge of the road, she waited until the wagon got close enough to see her and then waved to them. “Hello!”
The two on the wagon stopped talking. The driver flicked his reins and hurried the horse along. Even thought it was only a few hundred yards, it felt like forever before the wagon got close enough for her to identify the driver.
Cal straightened and then smiled broadly. “Music girl!”
Brook grumbled. “That's the drunk from the public house? The one who wanted to bed me?” She glared at him and the wagon.
“Why are you excited to see him?” Her voice was sullen and bitter.
“Because he knew that he said the wrong thing and left. We talked while you were bathing. Not to mention, he has a wagon and might help us.”
Brook scoffed and looked away.
Cal hopped off the wagon with a thud. “Hey, Mis, this is the music girl I was just telling you about,” he called to his companion before standing in front of Linsan, his hands out in a hug but not pulling her in.
He had done the same thing when they parted ways. Linsan had felt uncomfortable then, but the stress and excitement of the day had worn down her defenses and she let him pull her into a firm hug.
For a moment, she was enveloped in hard muscles and the smell of smoke. Then he stepped away. “I was just talking to you with my cousin about your playing. She heard it last night but was too busy to check on me. Old Gab yelled at me for not bringing you over since you played some songs she had never heard.” He grinned. “She's jealous.”
Linsan brushed her hair from her face and looked up as Cal's cousin stood up from the bench. She was slender with startlingly golden hair. Her waist had an almost perfect taper that only a corset could create; Linsan could spot some of the boning underneath the white cotton shirt she wore. However, his cousin wore brown trousers instead of a dress. With hands in both pockets, Cal's cousin gracefully stepped off the wagon and dropped the ground.
The impact looked graceful, but the ground shook as if someone had dropped a heavy rock from the wagon.
“Oh, Linsan, this is my cousin, Miska atoi pin Strali.”
It took Linsan a moment to register the foreign name. In the language of the land, Lorban names began and ended with constants. Having a trailing vowel gave the impression there was something left, a sound missing. She struggled. “Hi, Miks… Mik…”
Miska's smile grew more forced.
“Good enough,” Miska said. Her voice was tense, with a fluid sound that almost sang.
“Be nice, Mis.”
Miska rolled her eyes.
Linsan caught sight of Miska's hands. Like her cousin and Old Gab, she had intricate designs tattooed along her limbs reaching out from her sleeves and down to just shy of her elbows. The ink was shades of blue, green, and reds with plenty of flowers, leaves, and bare branches of winter. The material of her shirt, above where the corset bound her, gave a hint that there were more tattoos along her sternum and belly.
Linsan took a deep breath. Her mother had taught her enough to know that saying someone's name right was important. She cleared her throat. “Miska atoi Strali?”
Cal chuckled. “Almost, Music Girl! Just shorten the final ‘a’ and ‘i’ and you'll be good. If you want to be formal, throw that ‘pin’ in there but we'll forgive you if you miss it.”
Miska glared at him for a second, her skin darkening slightly.
After a few more attempts and ignoring his cousin, Cal declared that Linsan had it right.
“So what's your name?” Linsan asked.
“Calibo atoi idu Oparil. It means Burning Woods that Comes From Oparil.” He gestured north. “A few miles north of Fanasis, back before…” He sighed. “A while ago. Miska and I share a grandmother on my mother's side and her father's.”
Even though she was confused and there were no songs or plays she could use to supplement her knowledge, Linsan glanced at Miska.
“It doesn't mean anything, don't ask.”
“She's from Starli,” Calibo said with a grim tone.
Miska turned away. “Starli is lost.”
With her hands still in her pockets and walked over the edge of the crater. In the last few hours, most of the flames and smoke had faded. She leaned over and then shook her head. “Gab again?”
“Looks like it,” Cal said as he joined her. “What happened, Music Girl?”
Linsan worried for a moment. “We were trying to stop him. He… did something and we were hoping to bring him to the authorities.”
“However, the villagers lied to us and they were able to warn him and his friends that we were coming.”
Miska's head snapped up. “They didn't send you past the Itanith Tree, did they?”
Linsan started to ask then realized what she was talking about. “The tree with all the birds?”
“Bad luck, no surprise you ended up here.”
Calibo leaned over. “That tree curses strangers who pass it. Until sunset, things won't go your way.”
It was Brook's turn to snort.
Miska leaned over, sticking her rear out as she did.
Brook's eyes flickered down toward it. Then she looked away sharply.
“Looks like he tried to set this thing on fire,” said Miska.
Linsan turned back to the damage. She sighed and nodded. “Fire hammer attack of some sort. He brought it down on the hood and we fell in. Broke my bow.”
“And ruined the car?” asked Miska.
“Yeah, sorry. The car is also ruined,” Linsan said with a glance to Brook."
A smile crossed Miska's face. “No, not ruined. Just looks like the metal is twisted.” Then she jumped into the pit to land on the hood. There was a powerful bang when she hit and the hood deformed underneath her weight.
Linsan was impressed how easily she moved while wearing a corset.
Miska pulled her tattooed hands from her pockets and slid down the rest of the way to the smoldering ground to start inspecting the damage. “What happened to the roof?”
“Brook removed it.”
Miska looked up with a smile. Her lip curled into a sly smile. “Did she? She has more than a pretty face and a purse?”
Behind her and away from the edge, Brook made a scoffing sound.
“These scratches are too clean for fire magic.”
Linsan saw scores along the metal from her own magic. “My magic.”
Calibo chuckled. “You weren't toying with them, were you?”
“So who did they kill?”
Calibo chuckled. “We all heard you practice. Butterfly kisses and roses don't make shake the ground in the village. You intended to hurt those men.” As to make a point, he slammed his foot into the ground and the soil shuddered.
“Careful, Cal!” snapped Miska. “I don't want to be buried.”
She pulled her shirt from her bottom and fumbled with her clothes for a moment. The ties of her corset came lose and her waist took on a more natural shape as she tugged it free. A flash of bare skin revealed that her tattoos circled her navel with a ring of dead branches and snowflakes but became a fan of bright greens in less than an inch.
Linsan blushed and looked back at Brook who was limping away. She sighed and shook her head. “I'm sorry.”
Calibo followed her gaze and then sighed. He leaned closer and spoke in a quieter voice. “Family?”
Linsan nodded. “Her father,” she whispered. “They were robbing my family and killed her daddy. We were going after them to bring them to justice.”
“Just the two of you? That's risky.”
“We thought we had a chance.”
Calibo patted Linsan on the back. “You were damn close. That loud monster they were driving was on its last legs and leaking oil. I'll be surprised if it takes it more than a few leagues before giving up.”
Hope blossomed. “They might be in town?”
“No chance. They wouldn't be caught dead near Miska, but they are going to be stuck for a few days down the road repairing their damage. If we can get you back on the road and give you some help, maybe you can catch up.”
Linsan stared at him, her jaw slack.
Calibo winked. “Call it an apology for being drunk and rude.” He leaned over. “So, what do you say, Mis? Think you can get them driving again?”
Miska glared up at him. “I don't know, Bobo,” she spat out the name bitterly. With a casual toss, she threw her abandoned corset out of the crater and to the side. “But we need it out of this hole and to my forge. That means your wagon.”
“Ah, blessed soil, that means I'm not going to go drinking tonight?”
Miska grinned with just a hint of malice. “If you give a jinkoa, they will never leave your side. Plus, you are the one who tied petals with her.” She followed by something in a different language, a foreign tongue that sounded bitter and mocking.
He shook his head. Then he pointed at her. “Be nice, achil deblo made your grandmother smile.”
“That would explain the coming storm. I can smell winter already in the air.”
Linsan worried her lip. “What can I do?”
“Just stay out of our way, Music Girl. Our bones are of the earth and we know how to move among the stones.” Calibo said before turning and heading to the wagon.
Brook came up to Linsan. “How much is this going to cost?”
The two cousins looked at each other. Then Calibo shrugged. “Nothing. You stop those men and we'll call it an even trade.”
She shook her head. “No, I can't—”
Calibo looked at her. “Nothing.”
“Nothing,” he said in a tone that allowed no argument. When Brook sighed, he reached in and grabbed a large coil of heavy rope and pulleys.
From inside the hole, there was a groan of metal. Linsan peered down to see Miska lifting up the front of the buggy with one hand. The weight of the vehicle drover Miska's feet deep into the earth but it didn't look like she strained with the effort to kick one foot free and roll a large rock underneath the corner of the Glasscoaster to brace it.
On the edge of her vision, Linsan watched as Calibo picked up the end of the wagon that easily weighed hundreds of pounds. Without even a grunt, he dragged it until it lined up with the edge of the crater.
Linsan decided to stay out of their way and tugged Brook to the side.