I feel so stupid. And I don’t know what to do. So I’m just going to write this all out and hope by the time I get to the end, I’ll have figured everything out. Unlikely, but with war bearing down on us, I’m trying to remain optimistic.
Just after dawn this morning, I took my first bearing, then flitted off before Mattiak could change his mind. I can now go about three miles at a time, and despite what Mattiak thought, I only experience about two seconds of disorientation between flits and it takes another second to take my next heading. I know that doesn’t sound like much time, but a lot can happen in three seconds, and I had no intention of flitting into the middle of a division of Castaviran soldiers. I wish I’d been able to take the Castaviran highway, but the God-Empress’s forces, the one our people had run into, had been ten or fifteen miles north of it, so that’s where I went.
I managed to go about fifty miles before I ran into a forest that hadn’t been there the last time I came this way. I think it’s the same forest that runs north-south near Hasskian, the one the Castaviran refugees were going to lose themselves in—not lose themselves, of course, but disappear into. It’s not that thick, but thick enough that flitting was a bad idea; I’d get less tired if I just walked between the trees. Flitting isn’t exhausting really, but it seems related to the walk-through-walls pouvra because it’s not instantaneous (takes maybe two seconds) and you can’t breathe during that time. So flitting rapidly leaves you light-headed and breathless. Even so, it took me less than two minutes to get that far, and I felt smug. Just a little. Not enough to become overconfident.
I walked east for a while, took a rest to eat something, wished I’d brought something more interesting than trail bread and jerky, then walked some more. I made a lot of plans about flitting for when everything was over, calculated how quickly someone could flit from one side of Balaen to another and how much of a load someone might carry. Or—carrying another person? There are just so many non-military possibilities.
It was just about noon when I came out of the trees onto the plains that make up much of Balaen’s heartland. These, at least, looked the same, but they’re wide enough there might be any number of changes outside my visual range. I stopped at the tree line and took a look around. Snow had fallen heavily here, but the wind had blown it around so it was deeper in some places than others. I saw animal tracks, but no evidence of an army passing and nothing on the horizon.
I took a bearing and flitted away. Ankle-deep snow falling into my boots, melting uncomfortably, more animal tracks (I don’t know how to recognize anything but the difference between a bear and a deer. Jeddan could probably have told me what sex they were) and still no army. So I flitted again—and this time found myself in the middle of snow trampled by thousands of boots.
I checked my location by the sun’s position and figured they were either going southwest or northeast. I guessed it was the former, based on what the soldiers had said, but realized I shouldn’t make assumptions. So I flitted back the way I’d come in short steps until I came to the edge of where the army had passed and looked for outliers. It took me about half an hour to be certain they were going southwest—more south than west, actually.
This was where I had to be careful. I didn’t think it was breaking my promise to Mattiak to follow the army’s path until I found them, because we needed as accurate a position as we could get. But I didn’t want to flit into the middle of a bunch of the God-Empress’s soldiers. So I looked as far ahead as I could see, determined there was no army on the horizon, and flitted away. Then I did it again, and again, still finding nothing. It was almost twenty miles on before I saw the black smudge of a body of marching soldiers, two miles beyond where I stood. That was when I realized I had no idea where I was.
Well, I had some idea. I knew if I went west far enough, I’d run into the Royal Road, and from there I could find the Balaenic Army. But it would be hard for me to give a position for the God-Empress’s troops without finding some landmark or other. It’s a good thing Mattiak isn’t here, I thought, concealed myself, and set about flitting my way to the front of the God-Empress’s army.
It was definitely the division that had routed our soldiers, and those soldiers hadn’t exaggerated when they said they’d done them some damage. They marched raggedly, as if they were a fishing net with holes torn into it. Missing soldiers. A lot of missing soldiers. Not very many mounted officers, either. I counted ten white-coated battle mages but didn’t know if that represented all the ones they’d started with. They make themselves conspicuous twice over, between the uniform and the horses; I don’t think we’ll have any trouble targeting them. And there’s no way in hell I’m making my mages wear the King’s uniform. He’s not likely to find out, and if he does, he’s unlikely to do anything to me if I come back with a big enough victory, which I intend to do.
to be continued…