In a land defined by war, Mika and Tarv are Inkbound, tied to each other through magical tattoos that allow them to communicate over distances to pass tactical information from legion to legion. The bond creates other side effects, as well -- effects the generals would rather ignore.
When Tarv's legion is attacked, his bond to Mika disappears. Mika is left alone, with no idea what his future might hold -- for when one Inkbound man dies, often the other one does too.
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Copyright ©2013 Elizabeth Jewell
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The tingling across the inner skin of his forearm woke Mika from a dead sleep. He sat up, torn from whatever nebulous dream had been drifting through his brain, and reached for the lamp next to his bedroll.
With the pale light wavering through the darkness of the tent, he could see the lines of ink on his skin moving, shifting. They outlined the shape of a man -- a soldier, clad in light armor, with light hair and beard. Gradually, the ink lines lifted so that the figure they formed stood upright.
The image, as tall as the distance from wrist to elbow, was another soldier, Tarv, Mika's Inkbound partner. Through the magic threaded into the ink in their tattoos, they communicated with each other, passing on information from camp to camp. Every camp had one, each man paired with another man in another camp. Tarv rode with the Otter Legion, while Mika remained here, with the Horse Legion. Tarv's legion rode near the front lines these days, reconnoitering and staving off the encroaching Wolves from the North.
The image of Tarv stood now on Mika's left forearm -- a tiny, mobile simulation of the real man. Mika watched it, blinking the last of the sleep from his eyes. In life, Tarv was tall and long-limbed -- his simulacrum was an exact duplicate in miniature, and in two dimensions.
"Mika." Tarv's voice came clear but small from the figure. The mouth moved, shaping the words exactly. "Have you awakened?"
Mika bit back a yawn. "I have." He settled into a more comfortable position, leaning back against the pillows and furs on his pallet. Unlike the other soldiers in the Otter Legion, he had his own tent. It was an advantage of being Inkbound; he and Tarv often shared sensitive information that should only be passed on to the legion commanders. The tents gave them privacy.
"Are you certain?" Tarv usually wasn't so insistent. This as well as the brittle urgency in his voice brought Mika to an immediate, sharper level of alertness.
"Yes," he said. "What is it?"
"Listen closely." The ink-lined figure stepped closer, standing near the inside of Mika's elbow. The skin beneath and behind it, where the outline had once lain, was clear now, only the shadow of Tarv's picture still remaining on the skin. "The High Western Pass is no longer safe. The Wolf Legion is descending through the slope of Targus. They will arrive at Collora before daybreak three days hence."
Mika frowned, repeating the words soundlessly. "What does the Otter Legion do?"
"We move crossways to intercept them, but the path is difficult across the Targus. We will report again in a day's time, perhaps less. Look for me at sunset."
Mika nodded. Tarv's image went suddenly still, then drained back down into Mika's arm, under his skin, until the tattoo was quiet again. He scratched absently at the skin as he dressed to report to his commander.