The Gunnedar tribes were gathering for one of their convocations. Across the dry, sandy plains columns of dust rose into the sky, giving away their positions to any observers high enough up. They were moving steadily, converging to a silver lake that none of them claimed as part of their territory. The tribes that were already there had staked out long thin areas with a share of the water-front and were setting themselves out within those areas. Where they abutted against one another Gunnedar would stare with dark, double-pupilled eyes at one another, pausing for a moment to assess the threat and establish their own, and then carry on working. They kept a tight eye on the edges though, and even the slightest infringement would bring two or three of them over to inspect what had pushed over the invisible property line, and then push it back again. The Gunnedar on the other side would watch, not interfering, but then check it immediately after it had been moved, and make sure that it was hard up against the invisible line.
Garroush’s tribe arrived a little before midday and took up position a quarter-turn around the lake from the previous tribe. His territory included one of four large flat rocks on which speakers would stand during the meeting, and if anyone had been incautious enough to try and take this parcel of land before he’d arrived, his tribe would have immediately have attacked them for it. The other rocks were close by, and three of the tribes would abut against each other like the rest did. Garroush’s rock was the only one near a tributary that fed the lake and so created a natural boundary of its own; on one side the stream would keep two tribes separate. Garroush grunted with what might have been pleasure when he saw that he was the first to the rocks.
The other tribes continued to gather during the day. The convocation wouldn’t be held until sunset, so there was plenty of time. Though some tribes might leave when the outcome of the convocation was known, for most of the Gunnedar this would be a two or three day event and a chance to meet other tribe’s members, forge alliances and find mates.
Silvaeus, in Garroush’s tribe, unpacked a shelter from his backpack with practised speed. The poles that supported the waxes cloth roof were slid into pocked in the side of the backpack designed for them, and were strong and extensible. One end of each was sharpened and pointed to make it easier to drive them into the ground, and in a matter of minutes he had a low shelter up, the roof’s highest point no more than three feet off the ground. A second waxed cloth descended from the back of the shelter to close off one side. This was not a standard feature of Gunnedar shelters as the desire for any available breeze to flow freely through was strong, but particular to his job. Against this wall he built a tiny fire, guarded by stones pulled from the river and initially started with some precious tinder and twigs from another bag that he kept at his belt. As soon as the first flames had caught he dropped into a practised, meditative state and stretched out his claws. Almost immediately he felt the balance of life that ran through the world, and he gently and gradually teased out a thin thread of it, pulling it from the dry heat of the ground and connecting it to the bright heat of the fire. As the connection made he saw a tiny flash in his mind’s eye and felt a tiny jolt run through his body. He flattened his ears against his head now and concentrated harder. For the moment the fire would burn because of the link to the plains, but leaving it to do that would suck the life from the ground and create a dead patch that might take years to recover. He reached down, knowing that what he was looking for was already here from previous visits. As he reached he felt the ground cool as he moved away from the sun’s furnace heat, and then he felt the familiar chill of rock. He cast about, seeking heat, and found it quickly. Following it down again, he found the vein of magma that he was looking for, an old sluggish flow of rock that was heated by something coming up from much deeper still. Now he made a new connection, between the molten rock and the fire, and felt a second jolt run through him.
He opened his eyes, the spell-casting having taken less than five seconds, and checked on the fire. It burned strongly, with a dull red colour that seemed more like the colour of sun-burned rock than that of fire, and the twigs and tinder that the fire clung to were unconsumed. Then he set a clay pot on a tripod over the fire and looked around for his assistant. Where was the lazy pup?