I wiped the back of my hand across my forehead. I still couldn't remember J'chabi Na. Many reasons existed for his name to stay in my mind; he might be my contact, or he could be a traitor, the reason my escape route had partially failed. I might be about to greet an enemy. But I became more agitated when I considered leaving this place than when I thought of staying.
"How do we let him know we are here?" I asked.
Hajune indicated a loop of vine hanging by the door. "Pull."
So I pulled. A vibration shivered the ground under my bare feet and a bittersweet fragrance drifted in the air. After several seconds, both faded.
We waited. Shadows of evening filled this tunnel. The brooding light turned the air red and walls black.
"Do you think he is gone?" I asked. I couldn't be sure I had seen someone in the window.
Hajune snorted and said, "City Shay," as if that explained everything.
The door slowly split down the middle. A man stood there, his face closed and wary. He wore gray-green trousers, a dark shirt, and dark ankle boots. His iridescent blue belt gleamed with inlaid shells from beetle-tanks. He narrowed his gaze at Hajune. "Why come here, you?"
Hajune jerked his head toward me. "She ask."
The man looked me over, taking in my apparel, or lack thereof. "What want you?"
Good question. I wished I knew the answer. "Are you Jaichabi Na?" I almost winced at the way my pronunciation of his name revealed my Iotic accent.
"Asks who?" he responded.
The color drained from his face. His surging emotions were too complex to separate, but his agitation came through like a jolt of electricity. Whatever my name meant to him, it went deep.
He turned sideways, revealing a green, rounded hall, and raised his hand in an invitation to enter. I didn't want to go alone. When I glanced at Hajune, he tilted his head to me. Then he drew the axe from his back. Pulling a weapon was hardly a gracious response to hospitality, if that was what J'chabi Na offered, but even so I was glad for Hajune's axe.
I detected no recognition from Hajune, neither in his body language nor his mind. He didn't know my name. I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or unsettled that he had no idea he accompanied the Ruby Pharaoh. It all depended on what that title meant to him.
J'chabi Na made no protest about the axe. He didn't seem surprised that I came with an armed guard. As we entered the hall, he stepped back, his posture indicating reserve and caution. He resembled Hajune, having the same large build, broad shoulders, brown hair and eyes, and strong face. He kept close control over his facial responses though. I couldn't pick up his mood as well as with Hajune, but I could tell he didn't know whether to offer welcome or denounce me as a fraud.
The hall ended in a circular room about twenty steps across. It extended many stories above us, with balconies circling each level, giving a tiered effect to J'chabi Na's living space. Moss carpeted the floor, the same type that had grown in the cavity where Hajune had confined me. Although Hajune still made me uneasy, I understood now what had motivated him. My fear for Eldrin tormented my thoughts, unrelenting.
J'chabi courteously indicated a mossy ridge. "Sit, please, if you will."
With a formal nod, I settled on the ridge. Hajune stayed on his feet, at my side, his axe gripped in his large hands.
"Care you for nourishment?" J'chabi asked, his voice guarded.
I thought of my reaction to my last meal here. "My thanks, but no." Hajune didn't answer.
I wasn't sure what to think of this strained tableau. Rather than risk revealing my vulnerable situation, I waited for J'chabi Na to make the first move. He stood awkwardly, a few feet away, watching me. I grew uncomfortable sitting while they stood, so I rose again, aware of