Dawn of Days - Chapter Three
They set up camp that night, laying out bedrolls but going without a fire. Julianne stripped her clothes off and wrapped them inside out to stifle the dank, coppery smell.
Noticing Marcus watching, she paused before slipping a fresh shirt over her head. Julianne flicked a glance towards Artemis, to make sure he had his back to her and was still absorbed in whatever project he was working on.
She slowed her movements, reaching one arm above her head before pulling the linen shirt over it. She shimmied the shirt on, then turned her back on him, giving him a perfect view of her ass as she stepped into a fresh pair of underwear.
As she pulled them up, then stood for a moment, shirt brushing the backs of her legs, she heard footsteps behind her. Marcus’s stubbly face grazed her shoulder as he nibbled her ear.
“You’re gonna make me pay for the Artemis thing, aren’t you?” He asked in a rough, low voice.
“I just showed you my naked butt, and you’re thinking about Artemis?” She said, turning around to slap his arm.
He pulled her closer. “Only because if I forget he’s here, even for a moment, he might get a shock when he turns around and sees me—”
“Marcus?” Artemis called. “Where did you put my pack?”
Marcus growled and let Julianne go. “You should put some pants on, my dear.”
“Not like anyone around here will notice either way,” she said with a sigh. She bent down to grab her clothes, standing up quickly when Marcus pinched her ass.
“Over there, Artemis,” Marcus called, cutting off her protest. He hurried off to help before Artemis could get distracted and wander off into the trees.
Julianne finished dressing and joined Marcus and Artemis near the pile of saddlebags and riding equipment. She shoved the last of her things into her bag, frowning when she touched something hard.
“What’s this?” She murmured, pulling out a smooth, round object. It shimmered a strange reflective colour that threw off shades of red and orange as she turned it over in the fading light.
“Where did you find it?” Marcus asked, wandering over. “Back at those ruins?”
Julianne shook her head. “In my bag. Artemis?” She called. “Did you pick this up?”
He gave an irritated glance at the ball and shook his head.
“Huh. A gift from someone back in Tahn, maybe?” Marcus suggested.
Julianne hefted it in her hand, chewing her lip. “Can’t be. This was the last bag I packed, and I strapped it straight onto Cloud with another bag on top.”
Marcus took it from her and tapped it. The solid thock gave him no clues as to what it was made from. “Weird. Are you going to keep it?”
“My bags are heavy enough as it is, I don’t need to be collecting rocks,” she said.
Marcus lowered his voice and said, “Maybe Artemis can keep it with the rest of the rocks in his head.”
Julianne whacked his chest hard enough to make him wince. “Don’t be mean. Maybe he did pick it up somewhere and just forgot. I wouldn’t put it past him.”
She put the rock on the ground, and smiled as Marcus handed her a small parcel of food.
“Annie outdid herself this time,” he said. “Have a look.”
Julianne pulled back the cloth to reveal a small sourdough roll dotted with olives. She took a bite, savouring it before swallowing. “Oh, that’s divine!” She murmured.
Marcus pulled her down to sit beside him on a bedroll, while he lit a small lantern.
“What’s Artemis doing?” She asked, noticing a small glow surrounding his silhouette.
“Playing with his toys,” Marcus said. “Hey, Artemis! Are you coming over to eat, or what?”
“Almost done,” he called back. “Just have to… and twist that in, yes… and… haha! It’s done!”
He scurried over to them, clutching something in his hands. “Julianne, it works! It works!”
“What works, Artemis?” She asked, sidling over on the mat to make room for him to sit.
Artemis collapsed next to her, folding his gangly legs awkwardly. He grabbed her arm.
“Woah, steady on old man,” Marcus said, his eyes flashing dangerously.
“Marcus, it’s fine. He won’t hurt–OW!” She yelped as Artemis strapped something onto her forearm.
Julianne yanked her hand back. The gold band was tightly clasped around a white stone, pinching her skin underneath.
“Don’t!” Artemis yelled as she tried to wriggle it loose. “That wire is fragile!”
“So is my skin,” she snapped, fiddling with the catch. It wouldn’t come undone, but a wet drop ran down her arm from beneath the stone. “How do I get this off? I’m bleeding, Artemis!”
“Of course you are. If the amphorald worked without a blood connection, we’d have realised its use much sooner, you know.” Artemis grabbed Julianne’s arm and she let him dab away the blood.
She stopped struggling and watched him work carefully, cleaning the area without dislodging the awful pinching sensation. “There’s a needle in that Bitch-damned thing, isn’t there?” She asked warily.
“How else do you think I was going to break the skin?” Artemis asked, shrugging.
Marcus, red-faced and furious, made to stand. Julianne reached out with her free arm and pushed him back down.
“It’s just a little blood,” she said reassuringly. “I assume there is a purpose to this, Artemis?”
“What? A purpose?” He shook his head roughly. “You think I’d go around stabbing people with needles and hooking them up to amphoralds for no reason?”
“You sneaky bastard,” Marcus hissed. “Thief! You stole my amphorald, didn’t you?”
He reached one hand out to grab Artemis, but Julianne swatted him away.
“I only borrowed it,” Artemis grumbled. “But don’t think you’re getting it back. Pah, wasting good magic on a stick that goes boom.” He looked at Julianne. “Go on, try it!”
Julianne sighed. “Artemis, you haven’t told me what it is, yet?”
“Yes I—oh. I didn’t, did I?” He frowned, wracking his brain to try and remember.
“Let’s pretend you didn’t,” Julianne said gently. She shuffled around to turn her back to Marcus, who had a snarl on his face and, quite possibly, murder in his eyes.
“Reach out to Bastian,” Artemis said. “Or, did I give it to Danil? Which one is the rude one?” Artemis asked.
Julianne rolled her eyes. “Artemis, you had months to sort them out. Danil’s the one you didn’t like.”
“Ah. Then I gave it to Bastian. Go on, mind-speak to him.” Artemis waited, eyes wide.
Shaking her head, Julianne tried. Bastian was two days ride away, a distance far out of range of any—
Julianne, is that you? It really works!
She jerked back in shock. “Bastian?” She said. Then, realising she’d spoken it aloud, she repeated it in her mind. Bastian? Where are you?
In the hall. Julianne fancied he was wearing a smug grin by the tone of his thoughts. I’m guessing you’re halfway through the Madlands by now?
A little farther, she answered. But, Bastian—how? She loaded the question with all of her wonder and disbelief.
She felt the mental equivalent of a shrug. Ask Artemis. He’s the mad genius.
“Artemis, what is this? How does it work, can I only speak to Bastian? What about—”
“Stop! Stop talking. You’re talking too much and it’s making my head hurt. Like him.” Artemis scowled and pointed at Marcus.
“I saved your ass today, old man,” Marcus reminded him. His face twitched as he struggled to stay mad, but curiosity got the better of him. “What is it, Jules?”
“I spoke to Bastian,” she said. “He’s in the hall–back at Tahn!”
“Wow.” Marcus rocked back to lean on his elbows. “Maybe that is better than a rif–boom stick. I’m calling it a boomstick from now on. Sounds so much cooler than a rifle.”
“Of course it’s better,” Artemis said distractedly. “I made it. Move your arm,” he snapped, giving Julianne’s arm an experimental tug. “It should stay in place. It won’t need recharging, not like those silly weapons. You can send and receive messages to anyone who has one.”
“We can make more?” Julianne asked, eyes alight.
Bastian, did Artemis leave the schematics? She asked.
None needed, Bastian answered immediately. He just said the amphorald has to touch your blood, or be linked to it by something conductive. I’m guessing he was right. You know, seeing as I can hear you.
She could hear the excitement in his voice.
“See if you can read his mind,” Artemis said.
Julianne reached out, but couldn’t feel anything. She shook her head.
“As I thought.” Artemis dug a small book out of his pocket and began scribbling in it. “Messages, but not control or invasive thoughts. That makes it relatively safe, I suppose.”
“Safe?” Julianne asked, suddenly wary. She immediately ran a mental check for signs of strain, or fatigue. She felt fine.
“Well, I thought it was ‘safe’ to show Rogan that spell, didn’t I? And look what happened!” He squinted. “You don’t think this could be used for bad, do you?”
Julianne bit her lip. “Only as much as it could be used for good. And we’ve got them now. If it’s as simple as you say, it was only a matter of time before someone figured it out.”
Artemis slumped in relief. “I’m not telling anyone else. Only you and Bastian know. Oh… and him.” He narrowed his eyes at Marcus suspiciously.
“Don’t worry,” Marcus said. “I can’t use it, and I won’t tell anyone.”
Artemis continued to scribble notes while muttering, “Can’t use it my ass. Stubborn fool. Still, probably safer if he didn’t. Bastard’s oath, that man with magic? The world would fall.”
“I’m right here, Artemis,” Marcus said.
Artemis looked up, surprised. “What? Oh. Was I talking aloud.”
Marcus scowled and pointed two fingers at his own face, then pointed them at Artemis. Artemis just squinted, shrugged and went back to his notes.