Marine felt her blood run cold. Why did Ezria want her specifically? She must have noticed that Marine was the only one in the company who was bone dry. Of course she must have noticed. Ezria was one of the sharpest Tingions alive - she noticed everything - it was her job to notice everything.
How can I explain this? Panicked Marine as the company formed up behind Aysmar and Marine shuffled to Ezria’s side. She tried desperately to rub against people as they passed her but the droplets merely sheened off her skin. She pleaded silently with her magic to back off for just long enough for her to get through this undetected. Please. She reasoned with herself. Shouldn’t magic be of some benefit to me?
Aysmar gave the arm salute and the company jogged back towards the Lost Stone. Marine arrived silently at Ezria’s side and waited. She felt like her stomach was missing from her middle. Just a cold pool lay where her innards should be. Was this the end of everything she had worked for? All those long seasons of training and passing exams. Was it all about to come to an end before she had finished her first mission? What would her parents say? Would they even let her stay with them?
She kept pace with Ezria as Ezria began to follow the company across the grass. There was a good foot of space between the last commando and them. Marine swallowed dryly. Of course it was dry - everything about her was dry. She kept her footsteps as silent as she could - her eyes were fixed on the back of Sayshan, the Tingion bringing up the rear of the company. She could feel Ezria’s eyes on her though.
“Stop.” Said Ezria quietly and Marine came to a smooth and abrupt halt in the middle of the grass. The last drops of rain were gently landing around them - nowhere near the ferocity of the beginning of the downpour. It almost felt like the rain could barely be bothered to carry on falling. “Look at me.” Came Ezria’s quiet, firm voice.
Marine felt so exposed. She didn’t know which was worse - being isolated in the middle of the grass where any human or animal could suddenly spot them, or being the sole focus of the incredible mind of Ezria Talaglashi. Marine looked up and fixed her eyes onto Ezria’s. As she did so she saw a splash of rain land squarely on the top of Ezria’s head. The mighty shoulders flinched and the knees absorbed the shock but Ezria stood firm, blinking the water out of her eyes.
“What’s the difference between you and I?” Asked Ezria, her tone light but gilded with a menacing thread. Marine raced through the possible answers in her head. She could be sycophantic - There are so many differences Ezria, I wouldn’t know where to start… But that wouldn’t play. She could play dumb? That would be worse.
“I’m dry.” She heard her voice say. It was crispy and faint, barely audible over the myriad sounds of the topside. Ezria nodded, smiling approvingly and in the midst of her inner turmoil Marine relaxed a little. She felt like perhaps she had got the answer right. As her shoulders relented from their tight balls another raindrop landed just between the two Tingions. It splashed up; redrenching Ezria’s legs. They both watched as the water that should have cascaded down Marine seemed to hit an invisible barrier and then relax into the grass. Ezria’s eyes flicked up from Marine’s legs to her face.
“Unless you have some kind of special uniform that I am not aware of I think we ought to discuss this when we get back down below.”
Marine nodded dumbly, feeling her world come crashing down around her ears. At least she wasn’t being fired on the spot - left up on the topside to get eaten where she wouldn’t cause further complications down below. Ezria flicked her head towards the stone and trotted off back to the undergrowth without another word. Marine followed but her feet felt heavy and all adrenaline had melted into the floor. It was all so unfair.
Marine arrived back with the team in the formation around the Lost Stone. It was half sticking out of the now sodden soil. Aysmar approached it cautiously and tapped it with her stick. It rocked gently back and forward.
“All hands to it’s North Face.” Barked Aysmar in a loud whisper. The company immediately formed up ready to rock and push the stone out of it’s muddy bed. Marine reached forward to get in on the action -
“NO!” Came Ezria’s cry and all of their heads whipped around to see what the danger was. “Marine. Hands down.” Scolded Ezria and Marine immediately tucked her hands by her side. She felt the curious looks of the company on her as they fell back to work. The stone was wiggling and rocking and squelching in the mud as they worked it loose. Marine stared dumbly at her shoes: humiliated and desperately trying not to cry. Not that she was even sure she could cry while the magic was keeping all moisture at bay. She felt a presence by her side and looked up. Ezria was holding out a pair of gloves.
“Put these on.” Whispered Ezria, “Do not touch the stone with your skin.”
Marine did as she was told. “Help your company.” Said Ezria quietly, and turned away to join Aysmar in laying out the cloth in front of the Lost Stone. Their intention was to rock the stone on to the cloth and then they could drag it back to the expedition hole and lower it back down to the city.
The manoeuvring was slow and hard - sweat poured off the little band of Tingions but eventually the stone flumped over onto it’s side and they scurried to wrap the cloth around it and secure the ends with rope.
“We will take a rest,” instructed Ezria, “And we’ll move it when the light fades. Find a sleeping position with whisper distance and shut your eyes. Good work team. We’re half way.”
Marine lay down in the midst of her comrades and ran her gloved hands over each other miserably. Was this the beginning, or the end?
What colour is the Lost Stone?