The pain in Lion Slayer’s arm came in waves. He neither whimpered nor cried aloud, but even in the fading light, Eagle Eyes could see the flashes of pain playing across his face like heat lightening. She put her fingers to her lips to signal quiet. Then, she took her fingers and pushed four fingernails into his shoulder, not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to hurt a little. At the same time, his excruciating burn pain disappeared. She continued the pressure for some minutes and then released it. Lion Slayer braced himself for the pain, but it didn’t come. He looked in her eyes and bowed his head slightly, silently mouthing his thanks.
When Eagle Eyes reckoned that most of the straggling band of the People Who Steal Children would probably be asleep, she whispered that they should try to move closer to the camp but not so close as to be seen. Slowly, they crawled through the grass, eager, if at all possible to overhear the campfire, though neither of them spoke the language. Nonetheless, she hoped to glean something from the pacing and the mood. Their efforts were frustrated however. These people had no common evening campfire or discussion. People mumbled here and there but no real conversations took place; at least, none that they overheard.
Before first light, they receded though a zig-zag path so as not to be discovered with the dawn, which arose in brilliant red. The pain had returned to Lion Slayer’s arm and Eagle Eyes again relieved it with her magic touch.
For three days and three nights, they followed the People Who Steal Children, each night sneaking a little more closely and each day receding, but not quite so much. It seemed to Eagle Eyes that the People Who Steal Children not only lack all skill at covering their trail but also in seeing one.
Each night they also made a farther retreat once the traveling band had gone to sleep. Here they were far enough a way to speak in normal quiet voices, and it was in these quiet normal voices that each day they argued about whether to go back or keep tracking the Children Stealers. Neither was “wedded” to a particular position; each contributed pros and cons equally as they thought of them. Their dialogues often wandered into observations of the Children Stealers.
Eagle Eyes had just wondered aloud whether the rest of the tribe might either take them for dead or send out a larger search party for them.
Lion Slayer said, “But what about the eagle?”
Eagle Eyes replied, “Yes, I hope he takes the message back to the center place, but we don’t really have enough experience to know how likely that is. The hope itself makes me happy though. The tribe might also surmise that we might be injured … have you heard any of the Children Stealers cry?”
“Why would they cry, Eagle Eyes? Oh, I see. Yes, of course. They just lost their village. And some of their warriors died. They lost their horses, though I know not how much they might care about that. No, I heard no cries.”
Eagle Eyes nodded. “Nor I. And by the way, I would expect that some suffer not just emotional pain but some are likely badly burned as are you.”
Lion Slayer sighed. “It isn’t just crying though. I haven’t heard a really sad voice or happy voice among them. It may seem crazy, but in my tribe, even in the face of great tragedy, the children playing among themselves sometimes find occasion to laugh and sing.”
Eagle Eyes furrowed her brow. “Why are they doing any of it? If there is no … no feeling? No … experience?”
“Indeed, Eyes of the Eagle, it seems no life. But perhaps this is how they react to pain and tragedy.”
The next day, they tracked the People Who Steal Horses to the largest village any of them had ever seen. There were so many people milling around what appeared to be a gate in a wall, it was hard to comprehend. Their cover had become nearly non-existent. They decided to attempt to reconnoiter the perimeter both to see the extent of the village and look for another way in that might enable them to enter unseen. They waited until twilight and then began their explorations far enough into cover so as not to be seen. Every so often, however, Eagle Eyes would creep forward toward the wall, looking for a way in.
About half-way around what appeared to be a largely circular wall round the city, Eagle Eyes spotted a postern gate beyond a small trellis maze. It was evening and the light was fading fast. They appeared to have entered an anteroom to some sort of ceremonial chamber. They could see into the brightly lit ceremonial room through a fine wooden lattice, but judged they could not be seen provided they stayed far away from the screen and stay silent.
One man sat on a large chair set atop a large platform of polished wood. In front of that man three men knelt on what seemed to be sharp stones. The one on the throne sounded both sly and angry. He gesticulated at the three and then snapped his fingers. At this juncture, one of his guards brought a strange spear over to the man in charge. The man in charge, toyed with the spear and then pointed it at one of the three men kneeling.
A deafening noise followed and the kneeling man screamed and crumpled. Blood began to flow freely onto the gravel. Yet, the spear had not left the hand of the man in charge! Nor, so far as Eagle Eyes could tell, had the spear touched the man! What strong and strange magic is this, she wondered.
Another of the kneeling men now seemed clearly begging for his life. He kept saying “Nut-Pi! Nut-Pi!” Apparently that was the name of the man in charge who pointed his magic spear at the begging, cringing man who put up his hands to protect himself. The magic spear made another thunderous noise and this man fell back and soon blood pooled around his body. And yet, Eagle Eyes once again did not see any thrust or throw of the spear!
The man in charge, possibly named NUT-PI, then seemed to speak to the man remaining alive, whom he called, “BRA-BRILL.” This man BRA-BRILL begged for mercy but to no avail. Yet again, NUT-PI pointed his magic spear and BRA-BRILL screamed and fell. Unlike the others, he did not so quickly fall silent. It appeared that the magic this time had not killed him outright but only severely wounded him.
BRA-BRILL clutched his thigh and soon his hands were covered in blood. He began crawling away on the sharp gravel. NUT-PI began laughing and sauntered after him. He pointed the magic spear at BRA-BRILL and another loud report was followed by a scream of pain. BRA-BRILL now crawled with his elbows, both of his legs trailing uselessly behind him. NUT-PI only laughed even more raucously. He came up behind BRA-BRILL and pointed the magic spear at one of NUT-PI’s shoulders. That too became injured. NUT-PI now began to jump on the injured parts of BRA-BRILL, each time eliciting a fresh, inhuman wail.
Wordlessly, Eagle Eyes and Lion Slayer sidled back outside. Eagle Eyes peered out into the area beyond the postern gate. She crouched stock still for some moments, looking for a sign of movement. She neither heard, nor smelled, nor sensed anything untoward. She crept out and she and Lion Slayer quickly headed for the nearest cover. Their quest to circumvent the whole wall was abandoned. It only took one look into each others eyes to know that they both agreed. The knowledge of this magic killing stick had to be shared with all the people as soon as possible.