In the months that followed their meeting, Caugan and Ameriana didn't leave each others' side. When the Holy Karavan brought the prospecting in the Dunes of Aelius to an end, they explored the Olkern Lake together. The Karavaneer gatherers worked the supply fields looking for fibres, resin and bark. These materials were necessary for the construction of the walls of the temples built to the glory of Jena.
The encounters with Kamists were becoming more and more violent as the building works progressed. Several battles had taken place, and the sap of the homins had flown in abundance. The time of peace had passed.
The two friends led many fights, driven by a faith which became stronger every day. Death didn't seem to be interested in them, preferring to turn its hollow gaze on easier prey.
Finally, the Technolords announced that the Olkern Lake had given the building sites all the necessary materials.
The last stage of prospecting in the old lands was launched: the Karavaneers were transported to the Almati Wood, a wild forest hiding outstanding supply fields in its depths.
It was in the heart of this land that the eyes of Death fell upon Caugan and Ameriana.
Dawn's first mists tinged the trees with a pearly veil. The small troop of homins came to a halt in the clearing. The eldest of the foragers called out to the Tryker leading the march.
"Are we still far from the site, Master Caugan?"
"We'll arrive soon. Once we get there you'll need to hurry. It seems that a large group of Kamists was teleported onto the islet last night. No doubt they will try to secure the sources of stellar amber."
"We'll do our best."
As the group prepared to set off again, a slender silhouette appeared between the trees.
"Ameriana! Any news?" Caugan asked the magician as he offered her a gourd of cold water.
"Yes, the Goddess is with us!" replied the young Matis, quenching her thirst. "Our enemies are only just beginning their preparations. We have several hours head start on them."
"Jena be praised! Let's get going straight away."
The Karavaneers moved towards the east. A few moments later, a large, clicking shadow entered the clearing. It stopped for an instant, as if listening for the forest's secrets. Then it left hurriedly, leaving deep grooves in the humus in its haste.
The springs shone like botanic gems scattered on the ground. Revealed by the drilling powder, they seemed to throb to the rhythm of Atys. From these the gatherers extracted the stellar amber, which would be used to build the master room of the temple of Jena.
While the prospectors were working, a handful of warriors surveyed the surroundings, looking out for any intrusion by the Kamists.
Caugan was sitting on a tree-stump, his gaze travelling from one tree to the next. He seemed nervous.
"You haven't said anything for almost an hour. Is something wrong?" asked Ameriana, concerned.
"I've got a bad feeling. I feel like a whole army is suddenly going to come out of the woods to crush us."
"The demons don't have that many followers. Before they arrive, we'll already have left with bags full of amber. And we..."
The magician listened intently. She heard nothing. The birds had stopped singing. The whole forest seemed to be holding its breath.
Caugan stood up, watchful. He frowned.
"It's as if..."
He was interrupted by a shout. Large green silhouettes appeared among the ferns and threw themselves upon the homins. As if the trees had raised their roots to punish those who dared to disturb their rest.
The Tryker jumped up, drawing his two knifes.
The big kirostas swept the drillers aside like wisps of straw. Their sharp stings pierced the lightweight armour and injected a poison which burned in the veins. Protected by their thick shell, the kitin soldiers' limbs slashed out as their mandibles clicked to give rhythm to their danse macabre.
Once they had overcome their initial shock, the Karavaneer fighters reacted. Led by Caugan, they placed themselves between the monsters and the prospectors. The healers began their incantations. The warriors searched for weak points in the kirostas' armour. Caugan struck without respite, the points of his daggers working their way into the slightest joint.
Ameriana unleashed the energy of the depths on the creatures. But the kitins withstood her acid-throwing spells. She then used the magic of her people, invoking poisoned jets. A kirosta finally collapsed, hunched up in a last spasm like a huge clawed hand. Another monster took its place.
A wave of terror washed over the homins. Were they all going to die here?
"Ameriana! Get the gatherers away from here!" cried Caugan, removing his daggers from the body of a kitin soldier.
"We can't win this fight. My group will try and hold them as long as possible."
"No way, I'm not leaving you!"
"There's no time to discuss it! The stellar amber must get to the Karavan camp. That's our mission!"
The young Matis gritted her teeth. Her friend was right. Jena had given her a task, she had to do all she could to complete it. Caugan approached her and took her hand.
"Remember, death is but a passage! If I don't return, we will see each other again in Jena's light!"
Ameriana had no time to respond. Already, the Tryker was regrouping his remaining fighters.
"Let's show these creatures how a Karavaneer dies! For the Goddess!"
He threw himself into the scramble, attracting the attention of the kirostas. His daggers described deadly, arcing blows. He seemed invincible.
The magician quickly rounded up the drillers. The homins rushed off one after the other, laden with the precious resources, running as quickly as they could to escape the implacable monsters. They headed west.
Tears coursed down Ameriana's cheeks. Rage and despair mixed together in her heart.
When the last warrior fell, the clicking soldiers cried out in triumph. Then they merged back into the trees.
Soon, the birds began to sing again.
The waters of the bay of Avendale shimmered under the fiery glow of the setting sun. Ameriana got off her mektoub and led it to the village stables. Then she walked towards the pontoons. The scarlet banners rippled in the dusk breeze. The lake-dwellers returned home from their working day. Some travellers heading for the Lagoons of Loria were loading their animals with packsaddles. Everything here was peaceful, far from the commotions of the Tryker capital. Ameriana asked for directions to Naroy Ba'Dardan's bar.
The magician had lost hope of seeing Caugan alive again several days ago. After having led the prospectors safely to the Almati Wood encampment, Ameriana had waited in vain for the return of her friend. She had headed back to the amber supply field at the head of a group of Karavaneers, and had found one of the Tryker's daggers stuck in the corpse of a kitin. In the absence of a body, the young Matis had hoped that Caugan had been blessed by the Goddess and brought back to Atys thanks to the miracle of resurrection. She had gone to Yrkanis and Fairhaven, without success. No one seemed to have seen the knife-wielding warrior.
Overcome with grief, Ameriana had remembered that night when her friendship with Caugan was born, when the Tryker had shared a drink from his homeland with her. So she had set off for Avendale, to the north-east of Aeden Aqueous. She wanted to taste once again that lake beer, its bitterness sweetened by honey. She wanted to remember.
Ameriana walked up to the bar and called over the barman. Naroy Ba'Dardan served two fishermen who were arguing about a game of dice before coming over to her. His bristling hair of blonde tufts topped an honest and kindly face.
"Good evening," said the young Matis politely. "I would like to drink to the memory of a departed friend. Could you please bring me glass of the house beer?"
"With pleasure. Welcome to my humble establishment, Ameriana."
The magician stared wide-eyed in surprise.
"How did you know my name? I've never been here before."
"The warrior sitting at the table at the back told me that you would come here," answered the barman, filling a pitcher carved into the shape of a shell. "It's not good to drink alone on such a lovely night as this. Look at how the stars are shining tonight. Lake beer should be drunk with old friends."
Naroy nodded towards a silhouette sitting at the back of the room. A scarlet-haired Tryker was contemplating the waters of the bay, juggling with a knife.
Seeing Ameriana, he stood and then bowed, crossing his hands.
"I've been waiting for you, kind Lady. Will you do me the honour of sharing my table? Together, we can talk of the destiny of homins. Who knows, perhaps we can get rid of doubts and shadows!"
As Ameriana ran towards him, Caugan smiled like a child.