“DADDY!” Cali leaped out of the robodog. “We have to go find Daddy!”
“Or whoever set that.” And the first one, three weeks before your daddy was transported. “But if it wasn’t your daddy, he may see it and walk toward it. So I’ll head that way at first light.”
He left the bow and arrows with Jiol, and loaded up with even more water this time.
And hustled. I won’t say I’m a hundred percent, but I do feel a lot better. But the ladies are going to be alone for three days. Even if I just go there and head straight back.
Two hills away, the wolf showed up paralleling him and scaring up rabbits and birds. Finally realized Xen wasn’t hunting and grabbed a rabbit himself.
Xen crossed the dry stream bed, passed where he’d found Jiol, and kept on. The next streambed was dry as well. He detoured around a high rocky hill, then climbed the next to take a good look around.
The smoke was still obvious, and still probably a hundred kilometers away.
He took a slow look around. Not many animals. Too dry? And to the east, a small dot of orange, moving to the south or southwest, as he watched.
“So someone has seen the fire and is heading that way. Hopefully Miss Cali’s dad and not some common criminal who got himself transported.” Xen climbed down the steep south face of the hill and headed a bit east of due south.
The sun was low in the sky when Xen spotted the man in orange. Half a mile away. He waved . . . whistled . . . shook his head and trotted on an intercept course.
The man was trudging, head down, staggering a bit. Oblivious. Until Xen stepped in his path.
“Hi. You look like you could use some water.”
The man blinked, nodded as he rocked to a halt. “Yeah.” Raspy, almost a croak
Xen dropped his sack of food and water jugs and pulled the cork of the half empty one. “Take sips until your stomach can handle more. I’m Xen.”
The man took the jug warily, took a sip swallowed. “I didn’t know there were natives here. Umm, I’m Dr. Michael Watson.”
Sip. “How did you learn to speak English?”
Xen snickered. “I’m not native. I’ve only been here three months, now.”
Sip. The man looked him up and down in disbelief. Hung up on the scar down Xen’s chest. “Well, yeah they hit you with the lightning rods, but where’d you get the pants?”
“Ah, you’re a city boy. I killed the dee, skinned, tanned the hide, cut it, and sewed it.”
Dr. Watson straightened. “I . . . see. Well, did you set that fire on the mountain?”
“Nope. I was going down to check on it . . . so, do you have a little girl named Cali?”
“What!” The man jerked around. “You piece of shit! Three months my ass. What have you done to Cali, you fucking government goon. Are you the Queen’s hit man? Damn you!”
“No! I . . .” Xen ducked a punch, tripped over his sack and the man jumped on him, hands going for his throat.
Not a clue how to fight. Xen had him face down in the grass, with an arm twisted up behind his back in seconds.
“According to Cali . . . Stop cursing and listen, will you?”
“If they hadn’t killed my magic I’d . . .”
Xen shoved his face in the grass. “Once Killerbite got her away, they heard you were to be transported, so they went to, what did she call it? Anyhow Killerbite ran to jump on the carpet when it transported, and he was going so fast he ran off the other side. So she got dumped about a hundred kilometers north of here. I found her and brought her back to a fairly safe place I made. She’s there with a fierce old lady named Jiol. Now. I understand there were four of you who got transported?”
“Like I believe you?”
“Okay, if you’re going to be an ass about it . . . how about I cut that nasty stuff out of your back, and then we can duke it out magician to magician in a month when you’ve recovered.”
“What good will that do?” At least there was an edge of uncertainty to his belligerence.
“My power’s coming back slowly. I hope to hell it’ll recover completely. I suspect the quicker we get it out, the faster the recovery. Maybe the less permanent damage.” Oh shit, I don’t want to think about permanent damage.
Dr. Watson’s cursing paused . . . “Do it right now, you piece of dross. Prove that you’re on my side.”
Xen stood up. “Peel off the top of that . . . garment and let me get to work.