Glory never did learn anyone’s name aside from Tomas and Jarel, not that she regretted it. If Phoenix hadn’t still been feeling sluggish, she might not have been able to keep him from attacking their fellow travelers simply for giving her suggestive looks. It was as much the threat of toppling the barge into the swiftly moving river as it was Glory’s scowl whenever his hand went anywhere near his sword that kept him quiet. If she could ignore their chauvinism, she told him, then so could he. It wasn’t as if they’d be with the caravan more than a few days.
By the fourth day, the Enchanted Woods came into view, and the merchants watched the misty trees anxiously, though the guards had become bored with the uneventful trip. The bargemaster made a point of mooring on the near bank, keeping the river between the caravan and the forest, even though it was miles away yet. He wouldn’t risk the zoogs, he said.
“Zoogs… some of ‘em are a’right. What a girl might call cute,” one of the guards replied in a condescending tone when she asked. “They’re smart though, smart as some men I’ve known, and some of ‘em develop a taste for meat though most of ‘em like fungus and roots and such. It’s the ones who eat flesh that you have to be careful of, since you can’t tell ‘em apart from the better zoogs until they’ve shoved a sharp stick in your guts and are calling their mates to dinner. Course, if you’re worried, love, you can sleep close to me…” he trailed off as he caught sight of Phoenix glaring at him, and Glory ducked out from under the arm he’d been about to throw around her shoulders. With the number of letches in the caravan, she really didn’t mind Phoenix’s weird jealous streak. It kept most of the men at bay.
The horses were relieved when they finally left the barge for good. Even with the bundles tied to their backs, they trotted and pranced, happy to be back on firm ground. It was another day to the base of Mount Lerion and the path to Ygiroth, but nothing more untoward happened than a passing bird let loose on the shoulder of the more pretentious of the two merchants. For the rest of the day, he scanned the skies as everyone around him hid their smiles.
Jarel stayed at the main camp as Tomas led Glory and Phoenix up a trail that could barely be seen among the weeds. The sun was high before they stopped. They had only just begun to skirt the east side of the mountain. Tomas muttered with irritation at what he saw as a fools errand but pointed to the ruins of the ancient city where it sat barely visible on the north side. He began to turn away as Glory dug the last small bag of gold coins from her shoe where she had hidden it.
“I’ll not take you any further,” he said, his face getting even redder as he held his hands up to refuse the gold.
“Take it anyway,” Glory said, tossing the it at him so that he had to catch it. “If we don’t come back, it will do us no good, and if we’re successful, we’ll be looking for a way to get back to Earth and won‘t need it.”
“Dreamers… should have known.” He spat in the dirt, tucking the pouch into his belt. “Well, luck to you then,” he said with a dismissive wave. He turned and stomped back down the trail, muttering about mad Dreamers and the plots of priests even as he disappeared back down the slope.
“Was that wise?” Phoenix asked, leaning against a tree that appeared more dead than alive. The walk up the trail had been hard on him after days of sitting on a horse. “If we do make it out, we might need money for supplies.”
Glory shook her head. “The stories said that Y’qaa borders on a lot of different planes. If we’re lucky, we’ll find some way home once we have the tablets.”
“There’s a lot depending on luck. We’ll be lucky if we can even find Y’qaa; we’ll be lucky if we can get the tablets; we’ll be lucky if we survive.” He sighed and straightened up, pulling his pack against his shoulders.
“Wait,” she said, dropping her own pack to the ground and pulling a small dagger from her belt. “I need you to do something for me.” She sat on a low boulder and began untying the front of her shirt.
“Ummm…” Phoenix approached, looking both frightened and confused.
“Here,” Glory said, shoving the dagger hilt-first into his hands. They were used for eating in lieu of forks or spoons in the Dreamlands. She’d cleaned it in the campfire after their last meal, not that she thought she could get something so mundane as an infection given her exotic heritage. Opening her shirt, she pulled it away from her left shoulder so that he could see the Elder Sign. “I want you to take the tattoo off. It has to be done before we reach Earth or it’ll just heal back like my other tattoos did, remember?”
She opened her pack and took out a wad of cloth she’d bought from one of the merchants. For more than it was worth, but what did she care? “I’m sure it’s the tattoo that’s keeping me from making my arm go back to normal, so it has to go. I already got rid of the branch. I hoped it would be enough, but it didn‘t make a difference.” She pulled up her sleeve to show him the white spot where it had already healed, within minutes of the cut. Considering how much it had hurt, she was lucky that she’d managed to cut it out before the wound sealed itself. “I should have known it would have to be the star since Scott’s Antiquarian Society puts so much stock in them.”
Glory took off her leather belt and put it in her mouth, clamping down with her teeth as she waited for Phoenix to start carving her shoulder. She turned her head and looked at him when he didn’t start, and he flushed, still holding the dagger in his hand as if he’d never seen one before. Biting his lip, he leaned down, and she turned her head straight ahead again.
to Book 6, part 3, page 42