The Bone Moth: Episode 2

The Bone Moth: Episode 2
You can find all episodes on Wattpad here. I'm going to develop some subscriber bonuses, such as maps and extra chapters, as soon as I can.

Ishril 25, 4633 AIA

I straighten up. "Stolen? What d'you mean stolen?"

"I mean stolen." The Guardian pauses as Owlish returns with a tray of tea. Naraik sets a cup down in front of me with a quiet nod. After this performance, everyone sits and the Guardian signals to xir assistant as xe begins to explain.

"Locaru will send you the report we received, but this is what we know." The Guardian signals again, and this time Owlish—sorry, Locaru—draws out xir slate and taps three times. Naraik is already on task, raising xir own slate to receive the documents.

They flutter through the air, turning the molecules blue as the kata activates.

"The dig was out to the north of the Nas Ashca, and so any finds were sent south and then routed overland, down to Rad Ulga. The team at Rad Ulga definitely got the shipment, but it wasn't being transported separately. It was moving with a long caravan and somebody attacked the caravan."

"Oh, so they were after the caravan?" I'm confused. I'm not an investigator. I just check a box and a sign a form on a paper like these, filed away in one of Ajaë's kata databases.

Naraik flicks a finger and the report glitters in front of us. A map to one side, a wall of text, and a lot of names I don't recognise.

"Everyone thought that at first," the Guardian agrees. "If you check the second page, you'll note that the attackers were focused on the section of the caravan holding our shipment."

I lean against Naraik, but xe's ahead of me and already has the next page set up, dimmed slightly to make it easier for me to read. The text has an odd tone, somehow managing to make the dramatic sound dull.

"The attack occurred at approximately Dusk Hour (Rad Ulga Zone Time). Witnesses report seeing six individuals approach the caravan from the north along the Wire Road, initially believing them to be fellow travellers. However, they then targeted the second freight section of the caravan and quickly overwhelmed the guards once the caravan reached the Wadi Wira. See Map 2 for details..."

With one finger, I pull the map out of its context on the page floating in front of us. As I shift it, the black and white lines light up and the colours fill out to make it clearer. Now the sides of the wadi are picked out in darker brown, while the Wire Road itself is bright, dark red.

It reminds me of blood.

The map animates, showing me as the Guardian explains the attack. The assailants are small dots, jumping down the steep sides of the wadi and leap onto the section of the caravan carrying the shipment. My shipment.

"They did make an effort to cover it up," the Guardian continues. Xe sips xir tea and nods xir approval to Locaru. I check xir movements through the gaps in the sparkling kata, so I tap the air to solidify it. "They took a few items from the section behind ours, but the witnesses in the report say only one person approached that section. The focus was obviously ours."

I stare at the dots as the animation repeats. Once they've grabbed the shipment, leaving chaos scattered across the wadi, the dots takes off towards the north.

"But why?" That's all I can think of to say.

"The report from the head of the dig at the Nas Ashca is that they think it's linked to series of thefts at the dig site itself."

I glance past the map at the Guardian, who is sipping tea. "What? I haven't heard about this."

The Guardian's eyebrows stretch up and xe exchanges a glance with Owlish—no, Locaru. "It seems a fair amount of information isn't getting through to us. Until the attack on the shipment, everything was being handled at the Nas Ashca. It's the closest External Affairs Office. I apologise, sir, we weren't made aware that this was high priority."

I twitch, and Naraik puts a warning hand on my arm. "Why not?"

Locaru shifts on the spot, like xe has bees up xir backside and I'm surprised I can have that kind of effect on somebody this far up the food chain. "The dig artefacts haven't been considered high priority, and the thefts themselves were... relatively minor."

"You'd better clarify what you mean by 'minor'," the Guardian suggests. "These digs are outside Amnari territory but shouldn't this kind of thing be treated a little more seriously? Why haven't I been informed up until now?"

"I cannot speak for the External Affairs Office or the archaeology teams themselves." The bees in Locaru's butt are definitely stinging. "It would seem there has been a breakdown in communication. Nothing was stolen."

"But they did steal something from the shipment." I don't have a loud voice, but right now, I don't need one. "They must be looking for something."

I peek back to the documents, Naraik already ahead of me. Xe pulls up a new page and the kata shifts in the air in front of us. A series of images, rendered iridescent the way that kata reproduces them, as if they've been coated in oil. I scan them each, one by one.

Hunting for one. Oh, I'm way ahead of you. A light blinks on in my head, like all the warning lights they have for an active Gap. "Naraik, what d'you think?"

"I don't know." Naraik is cautious, doesn't want to commit. This isn't xir specialist subject, after all. It's mine.

"You think you might have identified something in particular?" The Guardian takes another sip of tea and leans forward.

I flush, and for once it's not just my body misbehaving. "I'm not sure."

"I think you'd better tell us." The Guardian eyes me over the tea, as if I'm a kid in class. I suppose I am, comparatively speaking. But no, I can't get distracted or intimidated. Naraik gives me a supportive squeeze.

"The Head Curator would not be happy about me mentioning it." I'm even more cautious than I am walking on a low energy day. The Guardian and Locaru lean forward.

"Well, they're not here now, so you might as well tell us, if you think it's relevant."

I have everyone's attention, and my cheeks burn. "There are meant to be certain artefacts used by the scientists who worked for the Basat. I've been going through documents for a study of the experimentation they were doing on how to use certain forms of kata." I shudder. "It's... dark."

"Illegal?" The Guardian and Locaru exchange glances. "Are we talking about Shades?"

I must be imagining it, but I'm sure the room darkens. It must be getting late outside.

"So far, we haven't found anything," I admit. "We have a document about certain objects being able to hold the memories of the dead." The Head Curator's voice echoes in my head, and I have to add a caveat. "Of course, many of these books were political pieces from the Empire. Claims. Threats. It might well all be nonsense."

One of the Guardian's eyebrows arches. "But you don't think so."

"The documents we have weren't intended for public consumption outside the Basat Empire," I explain. "So there's no reason for them to make such claims unless they could back them up. Especially that late in the period. This was close to the Rending."

"How have I not heard any of this before?" The Guardian asks.

It's a good question. "I've put out a few papers but only on the archaeology Amnet. A very... narrow readership."

"But you think somebody would be interested? Somebody outside the Alliance?" Locaru asks. "What could they do?"

"And who are 'they'?" asks the Guardian. "Our thieves?"

"That we don't know." Locaru straightens xir shoulders, flicking something on xir slate to send to both me and xir boss. "The assumption is its locals to the dig site, or it was until the shipment was attacked. This would be a stretch for them."

"Who?" The Guardian narrows xir eyes. "Even if it's not them, speaking to the locals would give us a sense of who's been in the area."

"They call themselves MaĂŻti, sir," says Locaru. My slate blips as the file arrives. "I did look into it, and our relationship with them out that far east. We've not had much contact, but we know they're related to the Tagluk reindeer herders north of Nas Isca."

"All right then, that's a starting point." The Guardian dusts off xir hands. "Locaru, can you get Shinika up here? I think boots on the ground is the best way to sort this out."

A tightness knotted in my chest unravels. The Guardian and xir Servants will sort it out, so I can relax. I'll have to write up a report for the Head Curator and the Assistant Head, but they can be sure it's in good hands—

"You'll obviously want to go along," the Guardian says. "You'll be the best person to identify what's been taken, what kind of value it has."

I open my mouth, then close it again. Naraik's hand squeezes my arm. "I'm sorry, but there's no way..."

I wave my arms at the extent of myself. I might enjoy reading reports from far flung digs, but I've never left Amin Duum. I've got everything I need here. I'm comfortable in my dusty basement.

"I can always check the reports Shinika sends back, and once I have a list of items, I'll be able to identify any possible targets," I add, just in case this isn't what the Guardian of External Affairs wants to hear.

Naraik takes over as I curl into myself, head spinning. "We have complex needs, and two assistant supports, Gada. A flight would necessitate additional supports—"

"Of course, of course. Can you speak with Shinika to arrange it? I'm sure Iabaston can adapt if she's interested in flying out."

I try to imagine dragonflight. It's great, I'm sure, if you're fit and healthy and can sit on a dragon's back for hours at a time. Not something for somebody who likes to be within hobbling distance of a bathroom and needs a stretch every half an hour to keep my bones from aching too much.

In short: I've never been outside the Exclusion Zone, and I'd never want to be. Why else d'you think I'd stay so close to such a painful thing as a Gap? If I want to go on adventures, I can read a book.

"Can we get back to you on that, Gada?" Naraik doesn't meet my gaze. "We'll have to confirm that this is the best thing, healthwise."

The Guardian pats xir knees. "Of course, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to assume. What I mean to say is, if you want to be on the ground for this, we would ensure you had all the support you needed."

What do I make of this? I put my hand on Naraik's. This is the kind of language we've used all the years we've worked together. Xe knows what this means, and responds immediately.

"We'll speak to Shinika about this," Naraik says. "Thank you, Gada, for taking this so seriously."

"Yes!" I put in as Naraik helps me to my feet. "Thank you, Gada. I didn't think anybody but me was interested in the things they've been digging up out there. It's very strange."

My head won't stop spinning and for once, I don't think it's a migraine. As I find my balance, I spot the relief on the wall. Another image of Isha, with the first Guardian of External Affairs, in some distant pocket of time, negotiating with tribes. A dragon uncoils behind xem. I squint, figuring out a comfortable way I could sit on its back.

Before we leave, I see we forgot the tea.