It didn’t take long to get their supplies together. Bastion saw to readying two horses while Riva raided the kitchens and ran to their rooms so she could grab her knife. She had actually stopped wearing it all the time, but for some reason, she needed the feel of the deerskin sheath sitting at her hip with the weight of the ancient knife inside it.
She grabbed some of his maps from the table and rolled them up to stuff them in a bag. She always kept a pack readied in the corner, in case of something like this. Sometimes Traveler powers went wild and she usually had a few moments notice, enough to grab something handy.
She ran all the way to the stables and found Bastion just finishing with the second horse. She handed him one of the packs and then threw hers onto one of the animals, securing it down easily enough. She never failed to be amazed by how easily she adapted to these fantasy worlds. She’d fallen off the first time she’d tried to ride a horse, before she became a Traveler. Now, it was as easy as riding a bicycle. At least it was a horse in this world, and not something weird like a lizard or a chicken.
They were on their way within an hour.
Bastion led them down paths and across roads that only he knew. Riva was content to let him lead. She would have found her way on her own, but not without surrendering her will to the voice in the back of her mind, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to do that at the moment.
For a while, the silence between them was companionable. It didn’t take long, though, for the tenseness of unspoken questions to rise between them. She stayed silent, though, let him decide for himself what words he would use to ask the questions she knew were gnawing away at him.
Finally he sighed deeply. “Has this ever happened before?”
She glanced over at him as they rode. “Which part? The unfortunately timed command that I can’t refuse that drives me to go rescue a princeling from what is likely a doomed city?”
He winced. “That’s a rather specific, if an accurate, description of our circumstances. I wasn’t aware that the fate of Reis-Bohnen was already set.”
“Oh, I don’t know for certain, but it’s highly likely that the city is going to suffer something worse than just a military defeat, or I wouldn’t be dragged there like this.”
“In any event, please, has this happened to you before?”
She sighed deeply. “As a matter of fact, yes, it has. With almost those exact circumstances. Some Lord Prince got hold of my Soulname and used it to summon me across time and space to save his son from the destruction of his city. To say that I was pissed would be putting it mildly… but the need was real, as was the danger. I never was able to get him to tell me how he’d gotten that Name, though. Too busy getting me and the boy the hell outta Dodge, so to speak, before the demon-storm landed and killed everyone.” There was a biting anger in the tone of her voice. An old resentment that still burned.
“And the unfortunate timing part of the situation?”
She looked down at the back of her horse’s head for a long moment. “You know how we’ve got this Unfinished Business thing hanging over our heads?” He nodded and she continued, reluctance in the slowness of her words. “I was hit by the command before I could deal with similar Unfinished Business with someone else. Simon mentioned him, the Dragoon. Kenshin. He-” her voice stumbled slightly, “I promised him I’d return. I was on my way to him when Wolf Eyes found me and… well, that’s how I ended up here, in a roundabout way.” She paused, her voice fading slightly. “I… I didn’t know at the time that he- who he used to be.”
Bastion was silent for a long time before he nodded in understanding. “So who do you think is summoning you now? I can’t imagine that you’re a well-known enough figure to be called out of just nowhere.”
She chuckled softly. “Oh, I’m a well-known enough figure in some places that they make it a point to only mention my name if they really mean it. I’m a point of last resort for those who have no other choice, if only because if things go wrong then someone ends up killing everyone involved, if not Simon then me.”
Bastion didn’t quite know how to respond to that.
Riva sighed. “In point of fact I know who’s giving me the command this time, and in that it’s not like when I was pulled away from Kenshin. This one… this one has every reason to know that Name and know when to use it, and if that one is sending me to Reis-Bohnen to retrieve the Princeling then it’s for a damn good reason, arguably as good a reason that sent me to save Kale of Coriander from the destruction caused by his father’s folly and arrogance. The boy is important, and likely powerful.”
— — —
The peaceful trees in the forested grove were disturbed by the loud roar of a mechanical monstrosity. It was a sound they had never heard in all their endless years within the crystal-lit cavern. Almost animal in tenor, it was an engine, and it carried a rider on two wheels down a path to the floor of the cavern, and the trees there.
Once at the bottom of the path the man brought the creature-like vehicle to a stop and let the engine fall silent. He wore a helmet of very strange design, with a curved visor that did not have eyeholes to see through. His leathers were black, with trim in a dark green, and there were touches of white beneath the black of his jacket – a cloth shirt. The jacket laced up the front through slits cut through the leather and reinforced with green stitching. The pants had green panels inset on the sides that the leather was laced over so that the whole fit close to his leg to the knee. A sword-hilt peeked up from a scabbard at his back and two more scabbards set on either side of the vehicle.
He reached his hands up to pull the helmet from his head and he shook his hair loose as it came off. His hair was a dark green color to match the accent on his leathers. He looked around at the trees and took a deep breath, tasting the air through his nose.
He dismounted from the vehicle and put a hand out over it. He murmured a word too low for the trees to hear and the vehicle was embraced by light and then was gone, and the man now held a small, hand-sized, stone carving which he dropped into a pouch at his belt. He carried the helmet in his hand as he walked through the trees, touching one or another, and murmuring softly to himself.
“Did she climb this one? Swing from that branch? She was here; I can feel it, but why?”
He walked for a while through the trees until he stopped suddenly and dropped to one knee beside the roots of a particularly large tree. There was a burrow dug out beneath the roots, a burrow that was intelligently created. He reached one gloved hand out to touch the entrance, where the dirt had been worn away by comings and goings even though it had been quite some time since either had happened.
Something caught his eye because he pressed himself flat to the ground and reached into the burrow, stretching his arm out to the fullest. When he stood back up he held a stone carving in his hand. It was similar to the one he was carrying at his own waist. For a moment his expression was unreadable.
“Oh, Maracae, what could make you lose your bike?” He closed his fingers around the carving and held it for a moment to his chest. “I will find you again, Maracae. I swear it. I will find you and I will stay at your side like I should have done in the beginning. I should never have let you leave without me. I’ll find you… and this time I won’t be too late.”