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The blood flowed from Ameriana's deep wound. Bright-red blood which dyed the Bark a deathly hue. But the young Matis paid no attention. She didn't feel the pain. The energy of Atys crackled in her hands. The sap flowed through her entire body, while she concentrated on channelling her destructive magic forces. For the first time, she was doing battle in the name of Jena. And in her golden eyes shone the light of the Goddess.
Ameriana had been waiting for this day for a long time. Since her arrival in Yrkanis, the capital of the Matis kingdom, she had been on the lookout for signs. Signs from Jena, Goddess of the Sun, Mother of Atys and of all homins. She had searched in vain for a temple where she could gather her thoughts. The Chosen Ones of the holy Karavan had tried to dispel her doubts, without ever really succeeding.
For the flame of faith flickered deep within her. So many homins had already rejected the teachings of the Goddess! The barbaric Fyros, who dug into the Bark despite the Karavan's warnings, looking for the Dragon that in their madness they believed they could defeat. The mysterious Zoraï, who hid behind their masks and venerated the diabolical Kami. Many Trykers, who lost their way on illusory paths in the name of freedom. Even among the Matis, a noble and most faithful people, seditious discourse was now widespread, calling for a rejection of the powers which had led them till now. The imminence of a holy war frightened the homins, and many preferred to deny the evidence rather than face reality.
Ameriana, however, had refused to turn her back on the Mother of Atys. She had simply needed to be confirmed in her faith.
So, when a Karavan envoy had announced the construction of a temple to the glory of Jena, the magician had been immensely relieved. Finally, a sign from the Goddess! The time had come for the faithful to gather. Ameriana had eagerly gone to the chosen site, not far from Yrkanis, to offer her help. No matter what mission she was given, she would be honoured to accept it. A black-clad Karavaneer combatant had entrusted her with the task of protecting the gatherers, who were assigned to collect the raw materials needed by the craftsmen. The precious resources had been located on the far-off islets of the old lands, but the distance posed no problem thanks to the Technolords' powers. Ameriana had been teleported to the heart of the Dunes of Aelius, to a camp established close to the supply fields.
The place was a hive of activity. The fences crackled with some unknown energy protecting the installations. Large metal columns stood as watchtowers, surrounded by halos of light. Several Karavan vessels hovered above the camp, reassuring silhouettes outlined against the late-afternoon sun. Soldiers armed with pikes were patrolling to prevent attack. Groups of the faithful were organising themselves into expedition parties. The young Matis had been tempted to join one, but in the end had decided to explore the island a little. She had left the encampment to venture into the west, following the cliff which edged the area.
An arid wind had begun to blow, its burning currents sculpting the sand on the dunes. With it came the sound of fighting. Ameriana looked into the distance and saw lights. Silhouettes were running to and fro. The gatherers and their protectors were under enemy attack! Fyros supporting the Kami were trying to plunder the sites on behalf of their masters. Apeing the Karavan, the Kami had decided to build their own mockeries of sanctuaries in honour of their leader. Ameriana threw herself into battle without a moment's hesitation, driven by a fierce desire to defend the cause of the Goddess.
The magician completed her incantation despite her assailant's blows. The shaggy-haired Fyros cried out in pain when the acid clouds crashed headlong into him, greedily devouring his flesh. Despite the serious wound that he had inflicted upon the young Matis, he realised that he had lost the advantage of surprise. Ameriana noticed his hesitation and invoked the elements once again. The barbarian brandished his cleven axe and attempted to strike a powerful blow with it to break his enemy's concentration, but he was too late. Amplified by the gloves wrapped around the magician's hands, the energy from the depths of Atys poured onto him. He collapsed in a death rattle and sank into unconsciousness. Ameriana remained on the look-out, fearing the intervention of a Kami healer. But soon the body of the Fyros disappeared. The demons had taken it to their infernal dwelling-place, so that it could be brought back for a new life of servitude.
The young Matis looked around her. The Kami's followers seemed to be beating a retreat. Many homins were still lying in the hollows of the dunes, evidence of the fighting's violence. Ameriana briefly inspected her wound. The blood had finally stopped flowing from it. The magician thanked Jena for her protection, and quickly healed herself. A great pride filled her heart. In bringing down her enemy, she had shown herself to be worthy of the Goddess.
Suddenly, she heard a crackling. Ameriana felt her long black hair stand on end. A pungent odour attacked her nostrils. Before she could react, a flash of lightening struck her with full force.
Dazed, the young Matis almost fell to the ground. A Zoraï stared at her, impassive, his mask adorned with four menacing horns. Sparks pirouetted around his gloved hands.
The battle wasn't over.
Ameriana concentrated. The magician knew that her adversary would leave her little time to react. Before her, the elementalist Zoraï entered into a trance, rising into the air with all the grace of a dancer. He turned, crouched, then suddenly relaxed to release a spell. The young Matis felt a wave numb her body and mind. Her incantation was broken. Calling upon the mystic forces of the lakes, the Zoraï had weaved a stun link. Ameriana was tangled in her enemy's web like a panic-stricken butterfly.
She was at his mercy! An intense terror overwhelmed her.
The Kamist sorcerer prepared to call upon the lightening a second time. Powerless, the magician could make out his cruel smile behind the pale mask.
The Zoraï raised his arms. Suddenly, he gave a cry of a pain. A figure had leapt out behind him and drawn two bloody lines across his back, breaking his concentration. He turned round. Fyler daggers cut into his ribs. The sardonic face of a Tryker could be made out behind the non-stop ballet of the two daggers. The sorcerer tried to call upon the elements, but his adversary was too fast. The repeated blows and burning pain made any incantation impossible.
The stun link lifted. Ameriana came round, paying thanks to Jena. She channelled the strengths from the depths. An acid projectile flew towards the Zoraï. The Kamist tried to flee, but it was too late. He collapsed beneath the combined assaults of the blades and the magic.
The Tryker juggled his knifes with ease.
- "I permitted myself to interrupt the course of your debate with the no-face, fair lady. I hope that you will forgive my intrusion. But you seemed to be running out of arguments."
He burst out laughing. Ameriana felt her face flush.
- "I see nothing funny about the situation," she replied coldly, "I almost lost my life!"
- "Come now, death is but a passage, a painful parenthesis in the glorious story of your destiny! And the bosom of the Goddess is quite a hospitable place…"
The magician frowned. This Tryker was so impudent! She was about to reply, but the knife-wielding Tryker began to move away.
- "We'll continue this discussion later! The foragers need our protection, or else the building work won't make any progress. Come and see me at the encampment after nightfall, honourable intentions only, of course. I'll try not to stun you like that crazy Zoraï did!"
With these words, he disappeared behind a dune. Ameriana looked for the body of the Kamist sorcerer, but it had already been recalled by its impious masters.
A group of Karavaneer gatherers was approaching, in search of wood and resin. The magician headed towards them to offer her help. She glanced behind her. There was nothing to indicate that a fight had taken place just a few moments earlier, and that she had almost been killed.
She didn't even know the name of the homin who had saved her life.
- "Caugan the fylerist? He pitched his tent in the north of the camp, near the energy barriers."
Ameriana thanked the guard and approached the yurts. Stars dotted the night sky like golden threads on black brocade. It hadn't been difficult to find out the Tryker's name. His reputation as a ferocious fighter preceded him. He had been one of the first Karavaneer warriors to back the project to build temples for Jena. He had left for the Dunes of Aelius and put his daggers at the service of the Goddess. Ameriana believed that her encounter with the Tryker had been down to more than just chance.
Sparks danced like fireflies above the camp's fires. Homins were talking, warming themselves round the fires, drinking big glassfuls of dandelion wine. The majority of them came from the forests or the lakes, but among them were some Fyros, followers of Jena, encased in their kostom armour burnt by the desert sun. They seemed to be preparing for an expedition. It was a still night, but the magician knew that the calm was deceptive.
The tent flap was rolled back, revealing the silhouette of a Tryker sitting cross-legged before a fire. He seemed to be busy examining a cube of yellow amber.
- "May I enter, Master Caugan?"
Ameriana adopted a deferential tone, which she wasn't accustomed to using when addressing homins who weren't of Matis sap. But she was aware that she was speaking to a person of considerable merit, to whom she felt indebted.
- "Well, well, if it isn't our young follower of arcana! I'd given up on you. Come closer, don't be afraid, I'm as gentle as a gnoof!"
The magician tensed. Caugan certainly knew how to get on her nerves.
- "I haven't been a fledgling for many cycles. That Zoraï took me by surprise, and I would have been quite capable of…"
- "I didn't mean to offend you, Lady Ameriana of the Verdant Heights. Have a seat, and join me in a few mouthfuls of lake beer. A spoonful of honey sweetens the bitterness."
Caugan stood up and bowed to her, inviting Ameriana to sit upon a cloth cushion. The two homins sat down by the fire. The warrior picked up a pitcher and filled two goblets with a bluish liquid.
The young Matis timidly took a sip from the wooden goblet.
- "I was just reading a cube of amber which was given to me by the Fairhaven intendant," continued Caugan. "We can learn interesting things from it about the origin of our money…"
- "I came to thank you for your intervention this afternoon. Your help was timely."
Ameriana looked the Tryker straight in the eye. She expected a snigger, but Caugan was not a predictable homin.
He crossed his hands in front of him, saluting in the manner of the Matis nobility.
- "It is the Goddess who wished our paths to cross, fair lady. I am at her service, just as I am at yours."
Ameriana smiled. She took a closer look at her host. Locks of scarlet hair fell onto his forehead, giving him a pugnacious air. His green eyes were small for a Tryker. His round cheeks were embellished with winding, red and green tattoos.
A few minutes passed, punctuated by crackling from the fireplace. Caugan stirred up the embers then began to talk again.
- "We didn't finish our previous conversation. Allow-me to ask you an indiscreet question, Lady Ameriana. Have you ever felt the breath of death upon you?"
The magician lowered her eyes.
- "Jena has not seen fit to recall me to her."
Ameriana raised her head to meet the warrior's gaze.
- "…and for that I thank her. For sometimes I'm afraid that I won't be good enough, and that I won't return from the darkness to which death sends me."
Caugan twirled the goblet in his hands, looking thoughtful.
- "It's natural to be afraid of the unknown. But you have nothing to fear. The strength of your faith will bring you back to Atys. The Goddess grants us a certain amount of time, and yours isn't up yet. Of that I'm convinced."
- "I would like to be as sure as you," replied Ameriana sadly. "I defeated a Fyros today. A Kamist, a follower of the demons. In fighting him, I felt a great elation, as if I was bathed in Jena's light. But the light disappeared. I dread whatever the future holds for us…"
The Tryker emptied his goblet in one. His face was lit up by the flames, and his eyes shone like suns.
- "Only the Powers know our future. As for the past, it lies with the dead. Our world is the present. It belongs to us alone, never forget that."
Caugan smiled and threw his goblet into the fire. He invited Ameriana to do the same.
- "And so all doubts and shadows disappear. Into the jaws of a wild beast tamed by homins!"
The magician burst into laughter. She copied the Tryker, making a shower of sparks fly out of the fireplace.
Outside, the stars seemed to shimmer with a new intensity. They hailed the friendship which had just been born.
In the months that followed their meeting, Caugan and Ameriana didn't leave each others' side. When the Holy Karavan brought the prospecting in the Dunes of Aelius to an end, they explored the Olkern Lake together. The Karavaneer gatherers worked the supply fields looking for fibres, resin and bark. These materials were necessary for the construction of the walls of the temples built to the glory of Jena.
The encounters with Kamists were becoming more and more violent as the building works progressed. Several battles had taken place, and the sap of the homins had flown in abundance. The time of peace had passed.
The two friends led many fights, driven by a faith which became stronger every day. Death didn't seem to be interested in them, preferring to turn its hollow gaze on easier prey.
Finally, the Technolords announced that the Olkern Lake had given the building sites all the necessary materials.
The last stage of prospecting in the old lands was launched: the Karavaneers were transported to the Almati Wood, a wild forest hiding outstanding supply fields in its depths.
It was in the heart of this land that the eyes of Death fell upon Caugan and Ameriana.
Dawn's first mists tinged the trees with a pearly veil. The small troop of homins came to a halt in the clearing. The eldest of the foragers called out to the Tryker leading the march.
- "Are we still far from the site, Master Caugan?"
- "We'll arrive soon. Once we get there you'll need to hurry. It seems that a large group of Kamists was teleported onto the islet last night. No doubt they will try to secure the sources of stellar amber."
- "We'll do our best."
As the group prepared to set off again, a slender silhouette appeared between the trees.
- "Ameriana! Any news?" Caugan asked the magician as he offered her a gourd of cold water.
- "Yes, the Goddess is with us!" replied the young Matis, quenching her thirst. "Our enemies are only just beginning their preparations. We have several hours head start on them."
- "Jena be praised! Let's get going straight away."
The Karavaneers moved towards the east. A few moments later, a large, clicking shadow entered the clearing. It stopped for an instant, as if listening for the forest's secrets. Then it left hurriedly, leaving deep grooves in the humus in its haste.
The springs shone like botanic gems scattered on the ground. Revealed by the drilling powder, they seemed to throb to the rhythm of Atys. From these the gatherers extracted the stellar amber, which would be used to build the master room of the temple of Jena.
While the prospectors were working, a handful of warriors surveyed the surroundings, looking out for any intrusion by the Kamists.
Caugan was sitting on a tree-stump, his gaze travelling from one tree to the next. He seemed nervous.
- "You haven't said anything for almost an hour. Is something wrong?" asked Ameriana, concerned.
- "I've got a bad feeling. I feel like a whole army is suddenly going to come out of the woods to crush us."
- "The demons don't have that many followers. Before they arrive, we'll already have left with bags full of amber. And we…"
- "Shh! Listen!"
The magician listened intently. She heard nothing. The birds had stopped singing. The whole forest seemed to be holding its breath.
Caugan stood up, watchful. He frowned.
- "It's as if…"
He was interrupted by a shout. Large green silhouettes appeared among the ferns and threw themselves upon the homins. As if the trees had raised their roots to punish those who dared to disturb their rest.
The Tryker jumped up, drawing his two knifes.
- "Kitins! Kitins!"
The big kirostas swept the drillers aside like wisps of straw. Their sharp stings pierced the lightweight armour and injected a poison which burned in the veins. Protected by their thick shell, the kitin soldiers' limbs slashed out as their mandibles clicked to give rhythm to their danse macabre.
Once they had overcome their initial shock, the Karavaneer fighters reacted. Led by Caugan, they placed themselves between the monsters and the prospectors. The healers began their incantations. The warriors searched for weak points in the kirostas' armour. Caugan struck without respite, the points of his daggers working their way into the slightest joint.
Ameriana unleashed the energy of the depths on the creatures. But the kitins withstood her acid-throwing spells. She then used the magic of her people, invoking poisoned jets. A kirosta finally collapsed, hunched up in a last spasm like a huge clawed hand. Another monster took its place.
A wave of terror washed over the homins. Were they all going to die here?
- "Ameriana! Get the gatherers away from here!" cried Caugan, removing his daggers from the body of a kitin soldier.
- "We can't win this fight. My group will try and hold them as long as possible."
- "No way, I'm not leaving you!"
- "There's no time to discuss it! The stellar amber must get to the Karavan camp. That's our mission!"
The young Matis gritted her teeth. Her friend was right. Jena had given her a task, she had to do all she could to complete it. Caugan approached her and took her hand.
- "Remember, death is but a passage! If I don't return, we will see each other again in Jena's light!"
Ameriana had no time to respond. Already, the Tryker was regrouping his remaining fighters.
- "Let's show these creatures how a Karavaneer dies! For the Goddess!"
He threw himself into the scramble, attracting the attention of the kirostas. His daggers described deadly, arcing blows. He seemed invincible.
The magician quickly rounded up the drillers. The homins rushed off one after the other, laden with the precious resources, running as quickly as they could to escape the implacable monsters. They headed west.
Tears coursed down Ameriana's cheeks. Rage and despair mixed together in her heart.
When the last warrior fell, the clicking soldiers cried out in triumph. Then they merged back into the trees.
Soon, the birds began to sing again.
The waters of the bay of Avendale shimmered under the fiery glow of the setting sun. Ameriana got off her mektoub and led it to the village stables. Then she walked towards the pontoons. The scarlet banners rippled in the dusk breeze. The lake-dwellers returned home from their working day. Some travellers heading for the Lagoons of Loria were loading their animals with packsaddles. Everything here was peaceful, far from the commotions of the Tryker capital. Ameriana asked for directions to Naroy Ba'Dardan's bar.
The magician had lost hope of seeing Caugan alive again several days ago. After having led the prospectors safely to the Almati Wood encampment, Ameriana had waited in vain for the return of her friend. She had headed back to the amber supply field at the head of a group of Karavaneers, and had found one of the Tryker's daggers stuck in the corpse of a kitin. In the absence of a body, the young Matis had hoped that Caugan had been blessed by the Goddess and brought back to Atys thanks to the miracle of resurrection. She had gone to Yrkanis and Fairhaven, without success. No one seemed to have seen the knife-wielding warrior.
Overcome with grief, Ameriana had remembered that night when her friendship with Caugan was born, when the Tryker had shared a drink from his homeland with her. So she had set off for Avendale, to the north-east of Aeden Aqueous. She wanted to taste once again that lake beer, its bitterness sweetened by honey. She wanted to remember.
Ameriana walked up to the bar and called over the barman. Naroy Ba'Dardan served two fishermen who were arguing about a game of dice before coming over to her. His bristling hair of blonde tufts topped an honest and kindly face.
- "Good evening," said the young Matis politely. "I would like to drink to the memory of a departed friend. Could you please bring me glass of the house beer?"
- "With pleasure. Welcome to my humble establishment, Ameriana."
The magician stared wide-eyed in surprise.
- "How did you know my name? I've never been here before."
- "The warrior sitting at the table at the back told me that you would come here," answered the barman, filling a pitcher carved into the shape of a shell. "It's not good to drink alone on such a lovely night as this. Look at how the stars are shining tonight. Lake beer should be drunk with old friends."
Naroy nodded towards a silhouette sitting at the back of the room. A scarlet-haired Tryker was contemplating the waters of the bay, juggling with a knife.
Seeing Ameriana, he stood and then bowed, crossing his hands.
- "I've been waiting for you, kind Lady. Will you do me the honour of sharing my table? Together, we can talk of the destiny of homins. Who knows, perhaps we can get rid of doubts and shadows!" As Ameriana ran towards him, Caugan smiled like a child.
— the Chronicles of the Temple Wars