“Blast, it hurts!” Mis exclaimed. Whatever it was that filthy Freeman had shot at him, it had dug in deep. Mis had been taken entirely by surprise, which is why he had called for the retreat. He last saw Hatsch laid up on the ground near the strange settlement, and he was now lost to them.
“You say they fired upon you?” Burz asked as he sized up Mis’ wound. “With bolts of invisible thunder?”
“We couldn’t tell what it was at first,” Mis said, wincing as Burz started to prod around the sizable hole made in his shoulder. “Hatsch had already fallen when we went to strike, we didn’t know he had been struck by anything. And then they fired again, hitting my shoulder. That’s when we knew they were attacking us.”
“So these Freemen have a few tricks, do they?” Burz remarked. “Interesting.”
“I don’t think they were Freemen,” Mis said. “I think they were anything but. I’ve never seen the kind of magick they used. Ah!” he shouted in pain as Burz pulled out the offending piece of metal from his shoulder. Burz held it between his fingers, examining it.
“This is it?” he asked, showing the thing to Mis. “It’s but a small stone. How could they have fired it at you so fast it would bury itself in your shoulder?”
Mis shook his head. “I don’t know. But these men– they’re dangerous. I feel it,” he looked up to Burz, only to receive a backhanded slap across the face.
“Are you a coward?” he exclaimed. “Or a man of Vector?” He was breathing heavily, but then caught hold of himself, then calmed. “What have you learned of these men?”
“There are many,” he said. “Homes and roads. We traveled out to the coast and could see what appeared to be a city further north– but we refused to believe it. Our maps of the Aegel Coast name no cities. No towns, no villages.” He looked to Burz. “These lands were supposed to have been uninhabited.”
Burz sneered. “This has all the stink of a Halish trick,” he said, then sighed. “I was told Halen had their fingers in our business here. I’m afraid this may just confirm it.” He looked to Mis. “But only two men managed to push you back?” He shook his head. “This doesn’t bode well for you. Especially if we’re a man down.”
“Only two men with magick weapons!” Mis exclaimed. “We weren’t prepared!”
“No excuse! Ryde will accept none. But still, this seems like something he should be made aware of,” he said. He looked out among the men assembled in the small camp and sighed. “Very well,” he said. “We go to Anastae. We must bring word of this to General Ryde.”
Mis nodded in understanding.
“You men stay here,” he said. “Scout the area, but make no contact with these men. Stay hidden. Even if you should be seen, run and report. Mis and I shall go and report this to the main force.” He looked to Mis. “I hope you’re well enough to travel,” he said, smiling. “We leave tonight.”
Nalya took her time wandering around the camp, inspecting the soldier’s tents and checking up on supplies. She had checked in with a few of her Lieutenants to make sure they would not mistake her orders– that they were to proceed directly to Dunsmith. She could sense the questions lingering on the tip of their tongues, but they mostly went unasked. Her men knew better than to question orders, no matter how outlandish they were. These orders were more outlandish than any they’d been given thus far.
There had been enough food to keep the small campaign going for a few more weeks yet before they would have to send out for more supplies from Halen. But until then, the men were fed well and kept in high spirits. She imagined that after spending some time in Dunsmith, their morale would only become stronger. The people of the town had a charming innocence and politeness about them that she found refreshing, and she hoped her men would feel the same.
Bayne and Cale had been all but two steps behind her the entire way. Bayne she understood, it was his duty. But the Constable seemed to be sniffing around, trying desperately to learn something about the Halish force that Nalya hadn’t already told. She got the impression the man didn’t trust her.
But Nalya had, in fact, told the whole story of the reason for their presence there, as best she knew it. It was only after her discovery of the town that her plans had changed, and that was out of duty and a promise made to an old man than mere capriciousness.
Still, she didn’t mind the Constable’s curiosity. She had been just as curious during her short time in his world– why shouldn’t he be any different in hers?
Nalya walked into one of the many tents lining the clearing outside of Stone’s Mouth. The command tent had been erected the previous day by her men while she went into Dunsmith. Inside the tent was where Nalya kept many of her personal supplies, taken to ease boredom during the mission. She had spent many nights in the tent since coming into the Disputed Lands, but it would be some time before she found herself beneath its canvass again, and there was something she needed to get.
Bayne and Cale ducked as they came under the tent flap and into the tent. Cale gave an appreciative whistle.
“Fancy,” he commented, looking at the banners and flags that lay stacked up against one side of the tent. He unfurled one and looked at the designs.
“What’s this mean?” he asked, referring to a design on the flag– an identical design could be seen on both Nalya and Keltz’s uniforms. It featured a gold N-shaped design crossed against a silver Z-shape. The design reminded Cale of a swastika, but he wasn’t about to tell Nalya what that represented.
“Tha’s the mark of Halen,” Bayne explained. “It represents the sovereignty of the lands of Hillbreaker.”
“Hillbreaker?” Cale asked.
Bayne nodded. “Aye. Nadus Hillbreaker. The King.”
Nalya nodded. “It’s the mark of Halish Authority,” she said. “This is the banner we fly while at peace.” She pulled out another banner with a similar design, except with red and orange instead of gold and silver. “This one is flown during times of war.”
“Kooky,” Cale said, then poked around some more.
Nalya allowed him his curiosity while she began to dig through a wooden crate with a number of books and papers jutting out of it unceremoniously. She pulled out a red leather-bound volume and set it on the desk beside her. Cale picked it up and examined it.
“The Tales of Rasshauer Flenn?” he asked, holding the book in his hand. “What’s this?”
“Legend,” Nalya said. “History, whatever you want to call it. Rasshauer Flenn was a great man who helped to join the Pactlands together and unite us all under the common law. If any man could have been the King of all the Pactlands, it would have been him.”
Cale made an inquisitive sound as he flipped through the book. He suddenly blinked in surprise. “I don’t know what confuses me more. The fact that we all speak the same language, or the fact that we all write the same language. This book’s all handwritten.”
“You’d prefer we didn’t understand each other?” Nalya asked, looking at him inquisitively.
He shook his hands in front of his face. “No, no. I’m just saying, is all.”
“We have a saying here,” Nalya said. “Those who question good fortune are undeserving of it.”
Cale laughed. “Well, we’ve got a saying back home, too. Beware Trojans bearing gifts.”
“What’s a Trojan?” Nalya asked.
He shook his head. “Not important.” He pointed towards a second book as Nalya placed it down on the table. “What’s this?”
“The Book of Common Law,” Nalya explained. “It’s important you be aware of the laws of the Pact before setting foot in Halen, which is governed by the Pact.” She passed the book to him. “I believe you should be the one to read it, since you’re a lawkeeper yourself.”
Cale picked up the book and nodded. “Yeah, I can do that,” he said. “Large print, shouldn’t take too– wait.” He turned the pages towards Nalya and pointed at it. “This book’s printed.”
Nalya nodded. “It is,” she said.
“You guys can do that?” Cale asked. “I mean, you have a press?”
“A press?” Nalya asked. She shook her head slowly, not quite grasping what he was saying. “The book was printed by the Printer’s Guild in Shavi. The method they use is secret. It has been since the very beginnings of the guild, but the only books they will print are the Book of Common Law and educational texts for the academies. They’re even protected by the Common Law to ensure that they and only they may print books.”
“That might be a problem, then,” Cale said.
“You saw that big building just down the highway from City Hall? The big white one with aluminum siding?”
“Alloo-minam?” Nalya asked.
Cale shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. The point is, that building’s a printing press. We can print thousands upon thousands of pages of text in surprisingly little time.”
Nalya merely looked back at Cale quietly for a moment. She turned her back to him, rummaging through another nearby crate for a moment. “I would not mention that to any others,” she said. “Not just yet, anyway. If the Council should find out, they may label you as Pactless.” She looked to Bayne, just for a moment, but Cale caught the look that passed between them.
“What?” he asked. “What is it?”
“Don’t worry yourself with it, Lad,” Bayne said. “It’s just more kindling for the fire. Pay no heed to that lot of book-soilers.”
Cale looked back and forth between Nalya and Bayne. “Is this going to have a bearing on our meeting with the king?”
Nalya shook her head. “No. Hillbreaker wouldn’t deny you based on that– he walks a fine line with the Pact, but he wouldn’t be so crass as to deny you based on the existence of such a place.”
“Aye, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s stuck his nose up in Shavi’s direction,” Bayne said. “And that can be a dangerous habit.”
“It sounds like this Pact of yours is a bunch of horseshit,” Cale said. He hefted the book up. “I’m going to find all sorts of ridiculous laws in here, aren’t I? Like, no riding giraffes down main street on a Sunday?”
“Why would anyone want to ride a giraffe?” Bayne asked.
Cale shook his head. “No, it’s…. never mind.” He picked up the other book. “This guy’s some kind of hero, right?”
Nalya nodded. “The Father of the Pactlands,” she said. “He and the Green Seer helped to bring the Pactlands into a new era of prosperity by joining together the tribes.”
Cale nodded in understanding, then paused for a second. “A Green Seer?”
“Aye,” Bayne said. “The first, last and only. All others since him have been Blue Seers.”
“What’s the difference?” Cale asked.
“It’s very simple,” Nalya said. “A blue prophet understands the patterns, can see where things lead, and can know when things will come to a head, but they are powerless to stop any of it.” She shook Maer’s book for good measure. “A green prophet, however, are one of the rare few that can communicate so well with the Daemon spirits, that they are often given answers to riddles that may not even be posed within their lifetimes. They alone are given the key of knowledge that will tell them not only what is coming, but how to turn the tide in their favor.”
Cale flipped through the book again. It was full of stuffy old language. Long words chosen more for their poetic license than their ability to put across a specific idea. It reminded him briefly of some old Nostradamus quatrains he’d read back in college.
But Nostradamus never saw this coming.
He passed the book back to Nalya and nodded. “Well, I’d be happy to read the Rasshauer book,” he explained. “But good luck getting Terra and Ryan to read it.” He rolled his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know what I did in a past life to get stuck with those two, but–”
“You do not like them?” Nalya asked.
“It’s not that,” Cale said. “It’s more like… I have a low opinion of them. A stoner and a slacker, it’s all I need.”
Nalya seemed to take this in, but then seemed to dismiss it just as fast. She took a quick peek outside the tent and took in the air. “There are a few more things I must tend to,” she said. “We’ll leave soon. Bayne and I will meet you back at the quads at noon. We should leave then if we want to make good time before sunfall.”
Cale nodded. He supposed he had a few things to do before the journey– and so he set off to the quads. Might as well do a full check on supplies while he had the time.
Boomer was a lifesaver. He had come through, bleary-eyed, with several people in tow to help with clearing up the downstairs meeting space in the Journeyman. He had a little success in controlling his mind-reading– something that Lily felt more comfortable with. She trusted Boomer, counted him as a good friend– but even good friends shouldn’t have the ability to go poking about in peoples brains. She had even mentioned something to that effect to him.
“I’m not sure that’s how it works,” Boomer explained. “I can only see what people are thinking or talking about.” He looked her dead in the eye. “But I was trying out some telekinetic shit last night. Tried to move a quarter across the table,” he confessed. “No dice.”
“It takes time,” Arie had told him. “Even Lily’s power; if she wants to call upon anything bigger than a spark, she’ll need to practice. That’s all it takes. There was a time when I couldn’t even mold soil.”
Lily had been obsessive about the time. As she understood it, another seven people had displayed evidence of magick since the committee meeting the day before, which meant that there were going to be upwards of ten people at their first meeting, which was to be soon. Very soon.
No sooner had Boomer and Justin carried out the last piece of trash, than a lone figure appeared at the door. Raine Walsh stood there, his skateboard hanging limply from his side. He wore a look of consternation on his face, as if he wasn’t sure if he belonged there or not. His left shoe was charred and blackened, and it squeaked with every step he took.
Lily beckoned him in and took a seat behind a table where she had set up her triage. Her first order of official business was to interview each person applying for society membership and record their abilities, then send them to Arie for beginner’s instruction in controlling their powers. Arie and Lily had spent much of the day previously going over how to control Lily’s power, so she was a few steps ahead. She let Boomer and his makeshift crew finish sweeping out the inside of the building and change the last few burnt out light bulbs while she took down Raine’s information.
As Arie had already explained, there were many different forms of the natural gift, and on top of that, learned magicks like alchemy and herbalism. The natural abilities ranged from varying elements, such as psionics, fire, water, air, earth, lightning, and body magick like healing. She had also warned of summoners, who could literally pull a Daemon temporarily from the spirit world to communicate with the world of life, or pull a human soul from its vessel.
She stressed the importance of summoners being identified immediately– summoning was a dangerous magick. Only a select few could do it, and even then only with the assistance of magick sigils and specific ingredients. Should an untrained summoner call upon something from the spirit world unprepared, any number of horrible things could happen.
Summoners were often looked down upon in the magick societies of Shavi, she explained, just for the reason that theirs was one of the most uncontrollable magicks. In fact, its use was outlawed in Rasza and Halen, and severely regulated in places like Shavi and Vector. Arie had explained that Summoners had a propensity to lose their minds and go mad the more they used their abilities.
But, summoners were so rare it hardly mattered. Arie had expressed doubt that one would pop up in Dunsmith.
Lily took down Raine’s information– a Pyromagi, judging from the charred clothing. He had first displayed the power the day before, while riding his skateboard down First Avenue, right outside the Journeyman itself when thick flames shot out from his feet during a particularly difficult trick. She filled out his contact sheet, had him sign a contract that Carla had written up the night before, and put a tick next to ‘Pyromagi’ on her sheet.
By the time she had put Raine through and instructed him to go speak with Arie about getting a basic hold on his powers, a second person showed up. She looked up to see a wheelchair-bound native woman wheeling into the inn. She wore thick, dark glasses and her legs were amputated below the knees. Her hair had streaks of gray against black, and she wore a wide smile on her face as she wheeled into the building.
“Hello,” Lily greeted.
The woman responded with a flurry of gestures, and grunts, which caused Lily to raise a speculative eyebrow.
“She’s speaking sign-language,” Boomer said as he swept the last of the dust off the floor. He walked up to the woman and began to make a number of exact gestures, communicating with her.
“Since when do you know sign language?” Lily asked.
“Oh, since about ninety-nine or so,” he said. “One of my ex-girlfriends was a deaf girl. I picked most of it off of her.” He looked to the woman. “Her name’s Marie Wilby,” he said. “She’s been staying at the Lodge up on Fourth. Turns out her grandson came to see her last night with a black eye, the the bloody thing went away entirely after she touched his face.”
Lily wrote down the woman’s name and put a tick next to healer on her list. She the passed the paper to Boomer. “Here,” she said. “You can communicate with her better than I can. Get her information.”
Boomer took the paper from Lily and beckoned Marie to wheel over to another table, where he started taking down her information. Before long, two more people showed up. Georgia Wallace had an issue the night before when, while taking a bath, all the water had started pouring up to the ceiling, pooling there, and then falling back down on her. After her, there was Mark Slade, who, like Raine, was a pyromagi. Mark worked as a Dunsmith town worker, one of many men hired by the town to take up such duties as planting flowers, changing garbage and removing roadkill.
Between Lily and Boomer, the two managed to get the information from each and every person to come through the Journeyman’s doors in twenty minutes. At the end, they compared each other’s sheets.
Two Pyromagii (Raine and Mark), two Voltimagii (Lily and another girl, Tiffany Loewen), an Aquamagi (Georgia), a Geomagi (an older man named Frank Bertrand), three Aeromagii (Misty and Martin Emery, a set of twins, and an older woman that worked at the Pharmacy down the street named Cathy Kissinger), a Psimagi (Boomer), and a Healer (Marie).
Not a bad start, but Arie said there would be more coming up over the coming weeks. She estimated somewhere in the order of a hundred people from the town would start showing evidence of the gift.
But that would take time.
So, with everyone’s information jotted down and neatly filed away (Lily was meticulous with things like that), the meeting officially came to a start. The first order of business was an exercise that Arie had claimed was the first thing she had learned when she had been discovered to be a Geomagi. Something her mentor had taught her, and the same technique she had showed Lily the day before.
The first step, as Arie had explained, was to prevent the power from controlling you. To make sure that it didn’t lash out uncontrollably, as it had with Lily herself, and others than now stood in the room with her. Boomer and Marie, however, were the odd ones out. But Boomer took it upon himself to test Marie’s abilities for himself, and started making concentric cuts across his forearm for her to heal, while he delved into her mind to try and tell her what she was thinking about.
He had a hard time making sense of Marie’s thoughts. The grammar and logic in which she thought was vastly different than many of the people who could hear, but it was a challenge he relished. Even Marie loved the experience, as was evident by her excited clapping and laughing whenever he got something correct.
For two hours, the meeting went off without a hitch, and by four o’clock, the group had broken off into small groups based on gift and were working together to try and control it.
“I guess we can call that a meeting,” Lily said finally.
Arie nodded in agreement. “That’s about all I can teach for now. I think it might be better once we start getting more members to keep the groups separated based on ability. It would make the learning process easier, and I can go from group to group and help with guidance.”
So the girls (and Boomer) got a heartfelt thank you from all involved, and they were soon on their way. By four-thirty, only Boomer, Arie and Lily were left.
“Well, that went well,” Boomer remarked.
Lily nodded. “Nothing blew up,” she said. “That’s a start.”
“You know, I’ve been wondering about something,” Boomer said, then looked to Arie. “Why is it that you have to go all the way to Shavi to learn how to use your gift? That’s a little out of the way, isn’t it?”
“The High Magus Council is in Shavi,” she said. “For almost seven hundred years, Shavi has been the only place any gifted in the Pactlands have been able to learn. Since the Freeman Wars, the Council believes that should be the way of things. To have everyone taught under the same banner, with the same ideas about magick.”
“Like an educational monopoly,” Boomer said. “Because, you know. That’s always worked out well in the past.” He rolled his eyes for a moment, then looked to Arie. “You don’t seem to agree with the Council.”
Arie shook her head. “I don’t. The Pact itself is a beautiful document, but the Council has long since forgotten what the original intent of the Pact was, which was to allow everyone a fair chance at life. Now, they only see what the Pact can give to them, which is simply more power.” She frowned. “I don’t believe they have the right to decide the course of life in the Pactlands, but they would tell you otherwise.” She looked to Lily. “When they find out about this place, you can be sure they’ll come to take your gifted.”
“Well, that should be interesting,” Boomer commented. “Especially when we tell them where they can shove it.”
Lily laughed, but she wasn’t sure why. In fact, she felt a quick stab of anxiety when she thought about the situation. What would the Council be capable of doing in order to secure their way of things?
And what kind of hell would be unleashed on Dunsmith if they wouldn’t cooperate?
The lamp shone into Farrin Hatsch’s face and blinded him so much that he preferred to keep his eyes closed, except when talking. He had been trapped now in the small room with the table for hours with the man he had learned was called Boone. He was a Sergeant (a Sergeant of what, however, Hatsch didn’t know), and he was busy asking question after question.
The same bloody questions, over and over.
“What is your name?”
“What is your rank?”
“Who do you report to?”
“Where is the main camp located?”
Hatsch saw no harm in answering the questions. It wasn’t as if this man, and the strange people he represented could do anything about it– but the questions were repetitive, and Hatsch was sore, hot and uncomfortable. This was nothing new for Hatsch, who had grown up near the tarfields of Las Drui, in Vector. But these men hadn’t allowed him to see a Healer, and his wound throbbed with every heartbeat.
The only reason he hadn’t voice his displeasure was because of the small device that the other man, Johnson, was holding, which he had referred to as a ‘taser’. Johnson, as Hatsch had understood it, was not even a soldier, merely an old man who had taken it upon himself to become involved.
Finally, after another round of questions, Hatsch looked Boone in the eye. “All afternoon I’ve been answering your questions. I’ve told you the same answers to the same questions time and time over,” he said. “Are there any new questions, or must you hear the same answers until the lands turn to ash?”
Boone looked Hatsch in the eye. “I’ll keep asking these questions until I’m satisfied you’re telling the truth,” he explained.
“The kid’s right, Boone,” Johnson remarked. “He’s said the same thing over and over. If he’s lying, he’s either really good at it, or even he doesn’t know truth from fiction.”
Boone looked up at him and sighed. “Fine,” he said. He pointed a finger right at Hatsch. “You’re going into a holding cell until I need you again.”
Hatsch merely put his head down. Since they had left the hospital, Hatsch had gotten a fairly good look at the town he was now in. With its paved roads and street after street of homes, shops and parkland. They had taken him into one of their Police Cruiser machines. At one point, they crested a hill which truly displayed to Hatsch how large the town actually was. Whoever these people were, General Ryde would not be happy about them. In fact, he’d probably stop at nothing to have them all conscripted or killed.
But where would that leave Hatsch? Whether or not his information had helped these strange people, Ryde would not be happy about the betrayal. He would likely have Hatsch sent in to work the latrines for the rest of his military career, if he didn’t kill him outright. Provided he wasn’t executed first by these… Canadians.
Boone stood up and walked over behind Hatsch, and released his hands from the small, yet ultimately strong shackles he had been subject to since being captured, and pulled him to his feet. Hatsch went along willingly. There was nowhere for him to run. He had no idea where to run to.
The three of them left the room and walked down a series of narrow hallways until they reached the area that was to be his cell. His first impression of the place was that it seemed a little too clean and comfortable. Compared to the cells he himself had thrown a number of people into, coated with lice and feces and other unspeakable things, it was a palace. The walls were cleaned, the room well lit, and there was even a soft bed to sleep in, with a single woolen blanket.
By now Mis and the others would have returned to Lieutenant Ynnia bearing the bad news, that they had been bested by an unexpected enemy. Not Freeman, not Halish… but something else entirely. An unnatural addition to the Disputed Lands. A town full of people from another world, if what he had heard from Sergeant Boone was to be believed.
From the wonders he’d seen, he hadn’t doubted it for a moment. As the door to his cell closed and latched shut, Hatsch, for the first time since being a young boy in the wastelands around Las Drui, feared for his life.
“What do you think?” Boone asked.
“Seems like it could be legit,” Andy replied. “But these Vectorans have some damned funny names. How do you even spell Burz Ynnia?”
Boone shrugged as they walked down the hallway. The two of them had spent a little too long working on the prisoner, and they had quite frankly lost track of the time. Thankfully, they were where they needed to be. They had decided that, at least for now, the Dunsmith Detachment would be used as a makeshift headquarters for the freshly formed Department of Defense. The others had arrived and been waiting for Andy and Boone in one of the briefing rooms. Andy recognized Ansel Stephens, an old Fisherman who had served in the Navy for a short while (and ran a lucrative smuggling operation for a time, a fact he wasn’t sure if Boone knew about), and Luc Dreston was sitting against the far wall. Andy nodded to him. He didn’t know the man well, but he knew he was a pilot. Andy wasn’t sure if the man had had any prior military experience.
“Took you long enough,” Ansel announced, his voice deep, coarse and unmistakable.
“Sorry,” Boone said. “Beating some information out of our prisoner.”
“Anything useful?” Luc asked.
“That remains to be seen. He says his name is Farrin Hatsch, his direct commender is Lieutenant Burz Ynnia, and the Vectoran site of operations is about three days south, a place called Anastae. He threw a photocopied map on the table, with a mark made to represent Dunsmith, and another Hatsch had made to represent Anastae. It looked like it had been scribbled down quickly, judging from the quality.
“We’re going to need some more detailed maps,” Luc said. “This isn’t any more than a few squiggly lines.” He tapped on it. “That might be one of our first orders of business. More accurate maps.”
“Goose had me gather a few guys to help map out the coastline up north,” Ansel said. “Sailboats. Apparently we can’t spare the fuel for getting some real power out there. I don’t much see the point in it. Those army guys from up north should have some decent maps.”
“It’s probably better that way– unless we can find another fuel source, and fast, we’re going to be dead in the water,” Luc said, then looked at Ansel. “No pun intended.”
Ansel only dismissed the comment with a wave.
“No matter,” Boone said. “You know why I’ve called you all together. Looks like us four are to be the senior brass in the Triple-D.”
“Triple-D?” Luc asked.
“Dunsmith Defense Department,” Andy explained.
Boone nodded. “Now, I approached each one of you for your experience in the fields I think you’re best suited for. We’re extremely understaffed here, and we need as much as we can get in order to keep this situation in hand.” He looked over to Luc. “You’ve been an Air Cadet leader for years, teaching the kids to fly and whatnot.”
“The airport ran an inventory last night. We lucked out in that the Blacklight only took out a big chunk of runway. The terminal building suffered only minor structural damage. And we’ve about fifteen different aircraft right now, including four choppers, that are as yet unclaimed. Which means, the owners were probably out of town when the Event occurred,” Boone said, reading out of a briefing file. “Which means that whatever’s not claimed falls into our hands.”
“Christ, it’s a bloody Air Force,” Andy said. He laughed and banged his fist on the table. “That’ll make those turd-burglars think twice before fucking with us.”
Boone nodded. “For now, we’re going to be holding off on sending up any aircraft,” he said, then looked at Luc. “There seems to be a consensus among the Committee that we should save them for when they’re needed.”
Luc nodded. “Yes boss,” he said.
Boone turned to Ansel next. “Next on the list– Navy,” he said. “I’ve got authorization for fuel to keep two trawlers going. Anything else you put out there is going to have to be wind or human powered, but I want you to start setting up patrols along the coast; to the south, for now. See if there isn’t any place further down the coast we can make landfall, watch the shores for signs of life, and for God’s sake, be careful out there. Since that incident yesterday with the T-Rex, it’s got me wondering what might be lurking out there in the water.”
Ansel nodded and jotted a few notes down in his logbook.
“As for ground forces, we’re still waiting on Lieutenant Keltz and Brad Renfrew to come back from Stone’s Mouth, but I’m going to talk with him about the temporary integration of our two armies; we’ll train a few of them to use guns, they help train our boys to use bows and arrows and melee weapons. Also, we’re going to be keeping tabs on the Magick Society, dipping into their talent pool for a few good men. I hear we’ve got a healer. Wheelchair-bound or not, we could use her on a battlefield. She’d be invaluable.” He checked off a few other things on the list, then looked over at Andy.
“And that leaves you,” he said.
Andy nodded. He had originally assumed that Boone had wanted him for something to do with the assembly of an Air Force, but since Luc had gotten that station, Andy’s mind reeled for another option.
“Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce to you the head of the Dunsmith Special Intelligence Agency,” Boone said, then stabbed a finger in the air. “But none of this compartmentalization bullshit. Between the four of us, there are no secrets. Get me?” He asked, then looked around the table. “Everyone?”
A series of nods were his only reply.
Keltz could see the flashing lights of Shelly Littleton’s police cruiser from over the ridge. While he had never met the woman personally, Brad Renfrew had informed him that she’d be there waiting to take him and the Stone’s Mouth men back into the town. Two of the Stone’s Mouth villagers had agreed to go along with them and see Dunsmith with their own eyes before agreeing to any trade between the two places at the behest of Akris Holm. There was an older man with a curve in his spine named Ashe Devin, who, as Brad had been told, was the village Alchemist, and another man, a pig farmer by the name of Pickert Roston. The two men were apparently old friends, which was evident by their friendly, good-natured bickering since they had left Stone’s Mouth.
Keltz cast his eyes back to the north. Nalya and the others had departed Stone’s Mouth on their way to Halen just before their men had been packed and ready to move the encampment. It was only five hours ago, and Keltz imagined they were at least a day’s hike away by now.
Keltz turned back just in time to watch himself step from the Disputed Lands, over the border into Dunsmith, and he stopped to regard the police cruiser in front of him. His men were ultimately bewildered by the roving red and blue lights. Shelly Littleton got up and out of her car and walked towards Brad Renfrew.
“Everything cool?” Shelly asked.
Brad nodded. “Just about. Shelly, this is Ashe Devin and Pickert Roston, of Stone’s Mouth,” he said. The men nervously shook hands with Shelly, but were too busy admiring the roving lights and chattering under their breaths about it to do anything else. Shelly looked back at the long line of soldiers as they started to crowd up to the ridge and step out onto the logging road. She gave an appreciative whistle.
“Christ, that’s a lot of soldiers,” she said.
Keltz nodded. “They’ll cooperate,” he said. “But we should hurry to our staging grounds before night falls. With this many, it would still take another few hours to reach town, I fear, and I’m unsure where exactly this… High School Field is.”
Shelly nodded. “That’s why I’m here,” she said, then looked to Brad, Ashe and Pickert. “But first I have to bring these folks down to see Goose. You can find your way into town from here, right?”
Keltz nodded. “I believe so.” He looked back to Lieutenant Syrel, who was yelling at a couple of soldiers who were lagging behind the rest of their squad. “When we reach the road, should we wait?”
Shelly shook her head. “Don’t worry about that,” she said. “I’ll be back long before you get to the road.”
Keltz nodded and started to shout the orders to the men, making sure they passed the ears of the Lieutenants. Brad, Ashe and Pickert climbed into the cruiser with Shelly and drove off, and Keltz continued to lead the men down the logging roads by horse and myrnah. The beasts may not have been as fast as the quads they had ridden to Stone’s Mouth on, but they were a great deal quieter. Keltz lost himself in thought as they walked down the logging roads and approached the town.
Before long they had reached the long hill that offered Keltz his first view of Dunsmith, and he heard the excited chatter of the men as they bore witness to the true scope of the town they were entering. He could hear the chatter as it worked its way back among the men not yet in sight of the strange place. He smirked to himself. The men had truly seen nothing yet.
Another hour had passed by the time they arrived at the exit of the logging roads, and his horse made a satisfying solid ‘clop-clop-clop’ sound as it stepped out onto the pavement. True to her word, Shelly Littleton was waiting. She waved for Keltz to follow, and started driving alongside the army, slowly as ever as they made their way through Dunsmith’s streets. The men were getting anxious, eager to see and explore this new city, but thankfully the High School Field wasn’t far. It was still two hours from sunfall by the time they had arrived– plenty of time to set up tents and prepare for the night. When they had all arrived, Keltz gave the order for the men to rest, and to listen. Goose was already there, and Sergeant Boone stood alongside him, along with another man Keltz had never met. He later learned the man’s name. Andy. Andy Johnson.
“Men, as you’ve been told,” Keltz belted out as loudly as his lungs would handle. “We are here to offer our assistance to these people in the form of protection against the forces of Vector!” He took another deep breath, ready to yell again, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Goose stood there, holding a strange-looking horn of some kind. He passed it to Keltz, briefly told him how to use it, and let him continue.
Keltz was delighted with the wondrous little device. It amplified his voice tenfold, which made it easier. Now he could be sure his men would hear him.
“As you’ve been told, this town is called Dunsmith, and it was never originally a part of the Disputed Lands. This place is new to us, alien. But this is not so for its residents. Many have lived in this place their entire lives. But it was a life spent in another world. And now they are here– in ours. And we owe it to them, we owe it to ourselves, it is our duty as men of Halen to offer our very lives in order to protect these people, and stop the Vectorans wherever they may think to strike.”
“Vectoran dogs!” a soldier exclaimed.
“Remember,” Keltz continued. “We are not in the Disputed Lands, we are here on behalf of Hillbreaker to show these people what it means to be men of Halen. This means that we will respect their laws. We will respect their women, and we will lay down our lives as easily for the poorest among these people as we would for our own king!”
Keltz paused as he let what he had said disseminate among the soldiers. Once he was satisfied they had understood, he instructed them to start setting up the camp, and then took Syrel with him to go and speak with Goose.
“This is Lieutenant Syrel,” Keltz said, introducing the man. “He is Lady Nalya’s second.”
Goose shook the man’s hand vigorously. “Very pleased to meet you, Lieutenant.”
“And I you, Elder,” Syrel said, and bowed his head.
Goose looked back to Keltz. “We had an incident this morning, after you left,” he explained. “A number of Vectoran men attacked a residential area this morning. They killed a man.”
“I’m sorry to hear,” Keltz said. “Did you push them back?”
“We owned them,” Andy said. “This time. But there were only four or five of them. We captured one, shot another. We’ve got a few answers out of him so far, but a lot of it is going to be useless without your help. We need to start gathering intelligence on these guys, before they come back with too many for us to handle.”
“General Ryde wouldn’t do that,” Keltz said. “Likely he would send in a scouting party first, seek weaknesses along your borders. Perhaps try and capture some of your people and submit them to questioning.”
Andy and Boone gave each other a grave look, and then looked back at Keltz simultaneously.
“Well then,” Boone said. “We need to start getting to work, because from what our prisoner is telling us, we’ve got three days before Ryde finds out we’re here, and another three or four days after that, the party begins. We’ve got at least seven days before we have to start dealing with their shit, so we’d better start coming up with some real fucking good ideas.”