Cale was already awake by the time the sun had come up. The strange sounds that echoed off the trees and foliage in the forest had woken him, and rather than try to go back to sleep, he opted instead to read through the two books Nalya had given him to read. He’d spent some time flipping through The Book of Common Law, but found the language boring and stuffy, like some nineteenth century fiction he’d read as a teenager during his brief artistic phase before he’d decided to get into law enforcement. He made a mental note to read through the book before they got to Halen, but for now he was more interested in the other book, The Tales of Rasshauer Flenn.
The book reminded him of a Grimm’s fairy tale. The pages, although handwritten, were immaculately designed with illustrations and was very pleasing to the eye. What interested Cale the most, however, was that the entire book wasn’t just one long-winded story, but had been separated into twelve smaller stories, each written at different points of Rasshauer Flenn’s life.
The book captured Cale’s imagination entirely. The first story was full of colorful words and imagery that enabled Cale to visualize the events as they happened.
The first story told of Flenn as a young man. It explained how he was not born as a normal human child was, but burst forth as an adult man from the western seas. Many rumors about his true origins were listed. That he was a child of the goddess Eiden, or that he himself was a god, or a daemon made flesh.
But it also said that Flenn’s origins were very humble, and the first tale reflected that.
It told of Flenn as a young man, as he came into the village of Dey on the western tip of what is now Shavi and met a young queen with whom he fell madly in love. It told of how he would bring gifts in hope to win her affections, until the day came that he realized that she had been taking advantage of his gifts. When he discovered this, he and seven men went to raid a barbarian tribe and take from them their hoard of gold and jewels. When he returned to Dey, the queen granted his audience, expecting to be showered with gifts, but he ignored her invitation.
The queen, confused and furious at his ignorance, sent out three more invitations, each being outright ignored.
Finally, in a rage, she demanded that her guards go and fetch Flenn and bring him to her. When Flenn finally appeared before her, bringing with him the gold and jewels he’d won, the queen questioned him as to why he’d not come when she summoned.
To which he’d replied, “Because I’ve not yet been worthy to give the gifts I have to give.”
The queen smiled and opened her arms, telling him that he was worthy enough to bestow his gifts.
And so Flenn did. One by one, he laid the gold and jewels at the feet of the Queen’s servant, the young Windchaser. The Queen, enraged, ordered him hanged, but the Guard, knowing of his good character and powerful friends refused to do so. In time, the Queen’s people grew to distrust her, and she was dethroned. The throne of Shavi, instead, given over to her former servant, the Lady Windchaser, to whom Flenn happily bestowed gifts upon and later married.
The rest of the stories were very similar. Telling of how Flenn met with the leaders of the other tribes. How he unified the Pactlands and drove away the shadows. It told of how he gained his black sword, Obsidian, by answering the trials put forth to him by something called Celephi, about which the book was very cryptic. In fact, whenever Celephi was mentioned, Cale got the impression it was more of a place than a person.
It explained very little of Eventide, or what it once was, short of the society that came before. However, he’d only skimmed through the book after reading the first story.
Cale tore his attention away from the book some time after he’d stopped having to use his flashlight to read. The telltale sound of a tent flap unzipping next to his own made him stir and decide to get up.
When he got outside, Ryan was standing there, yawning and stretching while standing around in his boxer shorts. The sun was beginning to peek through the forest canopy, and Cale had to shield his eyes.
“Morning,” Cale greeted.
Ryan attempted to vocalize, but it came out only as a spastic yawn. He nodded in greeting at Cale before he finished. “Morning,” he replied eventually. “You sleep okay?”
“Like shit,” Cale replied.
Ryan nodded. “Yeah, I had trouble passing out. I kept worrying about having a T-Rex stomping around the campsite.” He shrugged. “I mean, it’s not like with bears. You tie your food up in a tree and you end up losing the whole tree.”
Cale nodded in understanding. “I hear that,” he said. “I’m good on the dinosaurs.”
“It’s too early,” came a call from another nearby tent. It was Terra’s voice, calling out from the tent she had shared with Nalya. Bayne had slept outside, saying he much rather preferred to be in sight of the sky, and he too rolled over and yawned.
Nalya noticed the book in Cale’s hand and commented on it. “You’ve been reading?”
Cale nodded. “I’m not that far into it yet,” he said. “I do have a question, though.”
“We’re in what used to be Eventide, correct?” he asked.
Nalya gave a curt nod. “Eventide used to be spread out across the entirety of the Pactlands. It was said to have been a great nation, however most evidence of it ever having been so is limited to the Disputed Lands.”
“So, what happened to it?” Cale asked.
Nalya shook her head. “No one knows,” she said. “Besides a few cryptic statements, all we know of the fate of Eventide is that it fell, and in its place the Pactlands were formed.”
Cale nodded in understanding. Human history was littered with similar mysteries. Empires just fell, that’s all there was to it. The Aztec and Olmecs seemed to disappear almost overnight. The Sumerians? Well, that was another mystery.
“What is Celephi?” he asked. “It mentions it a few times in the book.”
“Celephi?” Nalya asked. She smiled. “Nobody is really sure. The name comes up a few times in our histories, but there is little reference to what Celephi actually was. Some say Celephi is a goddess, other say she is a lost city.” She looked up to Cale as she laced up her boots. “There are some who believe her to be the offspring of Eiden herself.”
“She?” Terra asked. “How can a city be a she?”
“How can a ship be a she?” Ryan asked.
Nalya nodded. “Celephi is almost always spoken of as though she were a living being. It’s hard to say what it really is. History often doesn’t come with a great deal of information.”
Cale looked back down at the book. He supposed it didn’t really matter, but it was still interesting. He placed the book on the seat of his quad and started to take down his tent and pack his supplies while Terra and Nalya focused on breakfast. He could hear the sizzle of the bacon as she placed it on the pan, and smell its sweet scent.
“Whoa, we have bacon?” Ryan asked.
Terra nodded. “Bacon, eggs, ham. They loaded that cooler right up.” She smiled. “We’ve even got a few bags of chips for later.”
Ryan had to laugh. For some reason, the thought of eating tortillas out of a plastic bag in the shadow of Mount Doom struck him as humorous, although they were hardly near Mount Doom.
He walked over to Bayne and looked over his shoulder. He was looking at a map of the Disputed Lands. There was a large red blotch where Dunsmith was located. “So how far do we have to go?” he asked.
Bayne looked back at him for a moment, then stabbed his finger at a point on the map. “We’re about here,” he said, about an inch and a half from the red blotch. “If we keep going at the speeds we’re going, we’ll be to Arronay in four days time. Cilasia, a day or two after that.” He looked up. “We’ll be arriving in time for Harbinger’s Solstice.”
“Harbinger’s Solstice?” Ryan asked. “What’s that?”
“A celebration,” he said. “A time for festivals and reflections. In the morning, we say our thanks for the safekeeping of our land for another year, and in the evening, drink and song are in the air.” He smiled. “Aye, but I hope we arrive in time for that.”
“For a party?” Terra asked. “I’ll come!”
Bayne laughed. “Aye, you’ll come.”
Terra smiled and went back to cooking, turning the bacon over on the pan.
Bayne stood up and stretched again. He had slept in his armor (which was nothing new, according to Nalya) the night before, and suffered a horrendous kink in his neck from where the rock had been propped up next to Bayne’s carbon fiber motorcycle helmet, about which he still extolled the virtues. He turned back to Nalya.
“We’ll be passing into Featherclaw Territory soon,” he said. “We best not stop, not even to empty ourselves.”
Nalya nodded in understanding.
“Featherclaw?” Ryan asked. “What’s a Featherclaw?”
“Small beasts, they are,” Bayne explained. “Feathered creatures full of teeth and claws, more likely to tear the flesh from your bones as look at you.”
“Oh, that makes me feel so much better about this trip,” Terra said. “You couldn’t have told us about Featherclaws before we left, could you?”
“Would it have changed anything?” Nalya asked. “The situation remains the same, Featherclaw or not. We must pass through their territory to get to where we’re going.”
“You know,” Ryan said, looking at Cale. “I’d feel a lot safer if I had a gun.”
“Would you now?” Cale replied sarcastically. He had little intention of giving Ryan a gun. Ryan threw his arms up in the air and walked off.
Terra rolled her eyes and moved a few strips of bacon and a grilled egg on to a paper plate, and sat back and started to eat. “Breakfast’s done,” she announced.
The group spent the next several minutes wolfing down their food, each talking about the day of travel ahead of them. When they were done, they finished taking down the camp and packed it up in the trailers, leaving their garbage in a plastic Glad garbage bag, which they left behind at Nalya and Bayne’s insistence. They didn’t need to go around carrying their trash. Ryan made a joke about how they’d just created the Pactlands’ first landfill.
Cale took some time to refuel the quads, and they were off, keeping an eye open for Featherclaw.
The sun rose into a cloudless sky over Dunsmith that morning, but Keltz paid it no mind. He had more important things to worry about. Namely, figuring out just what he was supposed to be doing. Goose had told him the night before to bring Lieutenant Syrel to City Hall so they could discuss a few things, but he hadn’t the faintest idea of how to get there from the High School.
Thankfully, he spied Sergeant Boone talking with another member of the Emergency Committee, Carla Meriweather, at the edge of the school field. They seemed to be arguing with each other from a distance, but as Keltz approached, Carla broke off and stalked over towards the main building of the High School.
“Is something wrong?” Keltz inquired.
Boone looked over and shook his head sharply. “It’s nothing. Just uppity, is all. She’ll probably be like that until we get some real commerce going again. That woman’s not happy unless she’s making money.” He regarded Keltz for a moment. “But I wouldn’t mind a moment or two of your time, if that’s okay.”
Keltz shrugged. “Lieutenant Syrel and I must go to City Hall, but I confess I don’t remember how to get there. These streets all tend to look the same.”
“Understandable,” Boone said. “You’ll get used to it. It’s not as confusing as some places– I knew a few blocks in Vancouver– that’s a big city left back on Earth– that loops back into itself. I got lost one night driving around. Myrtle Street. It was like the bloody Twilight Zone.”
Keltz blinked. “Twilight Zone?”
“Long story, maybe I’ll show you some time,” Boone said, dismissing it. “I can give you guys a ride down to City Hall if you need it– it’ll give me the time I need to talk to you about a few things.”
Keltz nodded. “That would be acceptable,” he said.
“All right, then go get Syrel, ’cause we should leave now,” he said.
Keltz nodded, then ran off to fetch Syrel. He found the older man berating a group of soldiers who had taken to the task of playing target practice with the dot of the I on the big blue lettering of Dunsmith Secondary School stenciled on the side of the building. Apparently they had inadvertently broken a window. Keltz walked back to where Boone was waiting on the side of the soccer pitch and set off.
They climbed into Boone’s car and sat there for a moment, while Syrel got used to the inside of the vehicle.
“We need to discuss a few things,” he said. “We’re still in the process of setting up our Defense Forces, but I’ve got about a hundred fifty volunteers so far. Mostly kids, mind you, and the closest they’ve been to real action is in the movie theater.”
Keltz was about to ask him to explain what a movie theater was, but he decided it unimportant. He imagined he would find out soon enough.
“What I want to know is if I can rely on you guys to help us train these kids,” Boone asked. “If we can hook them up with you guys to teach ’em the ropes.”
“I don’t see any trouble with that idea,” Syrel said. “In fact, I’m rather fond of that idea.”
Keltz nodded. “Yes, we’d be glad to.”
“Great,” Boone said. “Who should I send my boys to go see?”
“That would be me,” Syrel said. “I know just the place for them.”
Boone nodded. “Good stuff,” he said. “You should start seeing the first of them this afternoon, after I get their information I’ll send them straight to you. Train them however you think they should be trained– at least those ones. Some of them already have guns, so I’ll be taking over their training.”
“Gonnes?” Syrel asked.
“Weapons that shoot little pieces of metal at immense speeds,” Keltz explained. “They are powerful tools. Especially against the Vectorans.”
Syrel nodded in understanding, though he didn’t get it.
As Boone started the car and started to drive down the street, he looked over at Keltz. “I’ve also got plans to speak to the girls at the Magick Society tonight. I’d like you to come with me. I want to set up a liaison between the Society and the Defense Department. Do you have any gifted men in that mess back there?”
Keltz nodded. “Twelve,” he said. “All men, trained in Shavi as Warmagii.”
“Warmagii?” Boone asked. “What’s the difference?”
“Warmagii are those with the gift who were trained for offense and defense in their magick,” Keltz explained. “Other magii are merely taught to control their power and use it in a beneficial way.”
Boone nodded. “That works,” he said as he turned the corner and approached City Hall. “Then if all goes well, I might have a few gifted for you as well.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” Keltz said.
“The warmagii are… loyal to Shavian ideals, in that those with the gift must be taught at the Academies at Dey,” he said. “I’m not sure they would cooperate. No, you should remain in command of your magii. Otherwise it could cause a rift between my men and yours.”
Boone grumbled to himself. “Of course,” he griped. “You’d think they’d recognize the position we’re in an give it a rest.” He stopped the car and looked over at Keltz. “You should go and talk to Goose. When you’re done, I want to go over some plans for civil defense, and hopefully station a few of your men at checkpoints throughout the town.”
Keltz nodded and opened the door. Syrel sat in the back seat and pushed on the window in futility until Keltz let him out.
“I’ll come see you after the meeting. Right now I’ve got to go talk to Andy,” Boone said, then nodded at the two men and drove away.
The sun was high in the sky by the time Boomer finally made his way down to the beach. Ever since he had run out of gas, he’d been hoofing it everywhere, and he lived on the far end of town. Still, he hadn’t been to the park since the Blacklight, and it was refreshing to see that people still used it. At least for the time being.
He spotted Lily and Arie sitting on the concrete steps leading down into the amphitheater at Transfer Beach park, so named for the old coal transfer that had been erected there when the town was a mining settlement. The amphitheater was actually not far from the spot the transfer wharf originally stood, and you could still see the rotted wooden supports beams jutting out of the beach.
The amphitheater itself was built on a platform of wood and concrete construction that hung out over a rock ledge. During high tide, you could look straight down from the railing to see three feet of ocean water below. During low tide, the smell of booze and pot smoke would waft up from the teenagers who would choose the spot for their parties because it was out of sight, thinking themselves clever.
At the center stage of the amphitheater, two logs sprouted from the ground and towered almost a hundred feet in the air. Boomer wasn’t sure of the significance of it, but he wasn’t sure he cared, either.
Arie was the first to notice him approaching, and gestured towards him. She and Lily stood up and began walking over to meet him.
“Took you long enough,” Lily said.
“Don’t you start,” he said, putting a finger up. “Time moves slower in my head than it does in my legs, okay?”
“I was thinking we should have the meeting down here,” Lily said. “On nice days, at least. Besides, I don’t feel very comfortable about Pyromagii and all that old wood. At least here they won’t damage anything.”
“You mean other than the view?” Boomer quipped. Lily smacked him in the chest.
“It is beautiful here,” Arie said. “Just when I think I’ve seen all the technological wonders this place has to offer, I see a natural one.” She stared out across the bay towards Shell Beach, then whipped her head back to face Boomer. “I’d like you to meet Tam,” she said.
Boomer blinked. “Tam? You’re gonna let him out?” He looked past the girls and noticed a sizable pile of pebbles laying on the ground nearby.
“I can’t keep him locked in here forever,” she said. “He’s going to have to come out eventually.”
“We talked about it last night,” she said. “I told her that since Terra was gone, she might as well stay in the spare room. At least it’s better than the Motel.”
“Oh yes!” Arie said, then started talking excitedly. “And I watched a movie!” she exclaimed.
“A movie?” Boomer asked. “Really? Which one?”
“300,” Lily said. “She loved it, and it’s the only movie I own that she might actually understand.”
Boomer nodded in approval. “Good. The last thing she needs is Sex and the City.”
“We’re working up to that.”
Arie blinked, then froze up for a moment. “What?” she asked with a hint of suspicion.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lily said, waving her hand in dismissal. “It’s a TV Series. Kind of like a movie except… well, a lot longer, but cut up into one hour episodes.”
Arie nodded, but it was apparent she didn’t really understand.
“You know, I have a few movies you might like,” Boomer said. “I’ll bring them to tonight’s meeting.”
Arie smiled. “I’d love that. I want to see every movie! They’re wonderful, don’t you think?”
“They’re entertaining. That’s for sure. I don’t think you could ever watch all of them, though,” Boomer said. “There’s probably not enough time between now and the time you’re a hundred to watch them all.”
“Oh! She doesn’t like Metallica!” Lily exclaimed, pointing at Arie accusingly. Arie blushed.
“Lily, I don’t like Metallica,” he said.
“That’s not fair,” Arie said. “I liked the other music! The Alice in Chains music was good, and the… Linner’s Kinner.”
“That’s it,” Arie said. “Free Bird. Very vibrant and alive. So many different instruments. I love what I’ve seen here. So different, and people are so friendly here.” She sighed. “I don’t know if I ever want to leave. I’m needed here, I’m welcome. Not like…” She paused, then turned back to the pile of pebbles she had gathered.
“That’s why I’m waking Tam up. I’m telling him that we’re staying.”
“You were going to Caede, right? Off the coast to the east?” Boomer asked.
Arie nodded. “We thought we might be able to live in peace there. They are the only nation in the Pactlands that have been able to resist Shavi’s influence over the gifted. They allow their magii to grow and flourish in their own ways.” She stopped again, then looked back at Boomer and Lily with tears in her eyes.
“It’s okay,” Lily said. “We’re your friends.”
Arie smiled, nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I know. That’s why I’m telling you this. The people in Shavi are corrupt. They punished Tam because he heard something he wasn’t supposed to. They encased his soul in this stone. They hadn’t counted on me finding out how to reanimate him, nor did they count on me reclaiming him from where he was being kept.” She laughed to herself. “At one point, I was a star pupil.”
“And you gave it up for Tam?” Lily asked. “What did he hear?”
Arie shook her head. “I don’t know. He won’t tell me. He said it’s better I don’t know.”
Boomer furrowed his brow. “I don’t like the sound of that,” he said. “In fact, I don’t much like the sound of this Shavi place at all.”
“No, no. The people there are wonderful. Our Queen is a wonderful person, I’ve met her a number of times. It’s just… the academies and those involved with the High Magus Council.” She sighed. “I’d heard talk ever since before I started there– just keep to yourself. Do what you’re told and you’ll come out in one piece. Don’t be nosy.”
“Holy shit,” Boomer said. “You know what that sounds like?”
Lily looked over. “What?”
He snapped his fingers. “I bet the Psimagii are tied in closely with the academies? They do a lot of work for them, right?”
“It’s the Creature from Shavi Island,” Boomer joked. “It’s a secret society, don’t you get it? That’s how these things work. They exert influence over a power– in our world, it was money. But here, it’s magick,” he said.
“Not this stuff again,” Lily said.
“No, no. Bear with me here. Back in our world, the rich rule the world. It’s a fact, no matter how much we’d like to deny it. But the fact of the matter is that they’re doing it in secret. I mean, if you knew you were owned by someone, how would that make you feel? It’s the same thing here, only the rich fatcats here decided that magick would be the more important power to gain control over. You see?”
Arie was blinking in rapid succession.
“Don’t mind him,” Lily said. “He’s a conspiracy theorist.”
“I think he may be right,” Arie said.
“See?” Boomer said, pointing at Arie.
“No, it just makes sense. I knew many of the more powerful people at the academies. The ones that could… exert control. There was a man, Hult Scaszi. He often threw parties. I was at many of them, and I always felt as if people were wary of him, sometimes frightened. He and the Headmaster were very close, and some people said that he even exerted his influence over the Queen,” Arie explained.
“When I discovered Tam’s body, I’d thought him dead. It wasn’t until later, with the help of several people that I’d discovered he was bound to a Soulstone,” she said. She held up the jewel on the end of her necklace. “This one. It didn’t take me long to decide what to do. Tam was all I had. I studied the elemental art. The attachment of souls to elements, and I found a way to channel my power through Tam and allow him control over his own body made of stone.”
Arie sighed. “I waited until the right moment. After he had been bound to the soulstone, I paid a visit to the place where they were keeping him, and escaped with the help of a stranger. Ever since then we’ve been trying to escape Shavi’s influence… And it spreads far. Caede seemed to be the only choice– a place where Shavi had no influence,” she said. “That is… until we came here.”
Lily put her hand on Arie’s shoulder. “We’re here for you,” she said. “We’ll do whatever it takes. We won’t let them get to you.”
Arie nodded. “I know. I believe you.” She sighed and took a fresh breath of air. “We just have to convince Tam.”
“You want to hold off on this? Just for another day?” Lily asked.
Arie shook her head. “No. This needs to be done. Sooner than later.” She then turned to walk back toward the pile of stones, then took the soulstone into her hand and knelt over the it.
“So how does this work?” Boomer asked.
She picked up a rock the size of Boomer’s fist and pressed her thumb into it, pushing into the solid stone like a hot knife through butter. When she took her thumb away, Boomer could see she had made a little indentation in it. She took the soulstone from her necklace and pressed it in, and then made sure it stayed attached by moulding the stone as she would clay to fix it in place. She then placed the rock on top of the pile of stones, and stepped back.
Boomer watched in amazement as the soulstone flared up in a brilliant amber light that seemed to make the daylight even brighter for a moment, and the pebbles started to vibrate and move of their own accord. Pieces started to fit together and began to shape the outline of a body. A human body, with arms, legs and even the shape of the head, and facial features like a nose, with two bright stones to serve as eyes.
After a moment, the body formed itself into a perfect replica of the human shape. A little heavier than an average human, perhaps, but in disguise, you’d never be able to tell the difference.
“I thought he was bigger,” Boomer remarked.
“I thought so too,” Tam replied, and then sat up. Boomer jumped nearly three feet in the air. He hadn’t expected him to speak, nor move right away.
Tam moved to stand, then looked around. His eyes looked first to Lily, then Boomer, and then finally settled on Arie. “Who are these people?” he asked. “Arie, why did you put me back in the stone?” he asked.
“You were being difficult,” she said.
“I was protecting you! We can’t go around getting involved in everyone’s business! The Council’s men could be anywhere,” he said, then trailed off as he took grasp of where he was. He looked around at the surrounding greenery. Not much of the town was visible from Transfer Beach, but he could see rows of townhouses lining the highway above, a dumpster sitting in a gravel parking lot, and even the simple concrete, brick and wood construction of the amphitheater could raise the eyebrows of most people in the Pactlands. “Arie,” he asked. “Where are we?” He looked at her. “And what are you wearing?”
It was midday when the Emergency Committee met for their informal meeting. It was being held at Goose’s place, and Helen already had out some goodies for them to munch on. That’s why Goose loved Helen, she was always thinking of how to make people comfortable. It was one of her passions, in fact, besides General Hospital. But since that option was off the air, she had been spending her time engrossed in mystery novels.
Boone was the first to arrive, and tore into Helen’s snacks almost immediately. By the time the rest of them had arrived half the food had disappeared into Boone’s maw. His excuse was that he hadn’t eaten yet because he’d been too divided between his duties to the formation of Dunsmith’s military, the committee, and the RCMP, but he had left many of those duties to his Second Sergeant, Mike Chambers.
“Okay, so let’s get this going,” Goose said. “Boone, you got here first. You go first.”
Boone swallowed the last of his cheese cracker and cleared his throat. “Well, first of all I’d like to say that we’re doing well on the volunteers for the Ground Forces. The last thing I’d like to do is start drafting folks for this– but we seem to be getting about four dozen people a day showing up. I think the reality is starting to sink in about this. I’ve also got Luc heading up an Aerial Unit, should we require it, and I’ve got Ansel Stephens gathering folks to act in a Naval Unit. Andy Johnson, I’ve asked to head up our version of the CIA. Start gathering intelligence on the enemy and whatnot. He’s got some great ideas. He wants to rig up surveillance cameras in the trees outside the southern border, I hear he’s got a few other plans in the works. We’re meeting again tomorrow afternoon for an update.”
Goose nodded. “Okay, we’ll have to talk about military gas rations, too. We’ve got most of the gas stations in town at half capacity, and then there’s that fuel truck that got stuck here when we crossed over.” He jotted a few notes down in front of him, then looked up to Brad. “How we doing on the trade negotiations?”
“I think we won them over,” Brad said. “Ashe and Pickert love the town. Me and Barb took them to the beach today, had them over for some wine, showed them some of the farms up in Whitepoint. Ashe is very interested in how cars work. He was just rolling the questions out. He’s an alchemist by trade, right? So when I told him we only had them for as long as we had gasoline, he seemed pretty convinced he’d be able to reproduce it somehow. I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.”
“Let’s not forget we’re in the Pactlands,” Carla said. “Not Earth. Physics don’t work the same here– maybe that applies to alchemy. Maybe he can actually do something about it.”
“A single man doing what it takes an entire refinery to do?” Brad asked.
“I’m just saying, is all,” Carla replied. “You never know.”
Goose looked to Carla. “And on your end?”
“Well, the crops seem to be doing well, but it may be too soon to tell. On the other hand, our friends at the banks have finally made a decision. We’re going to honor both Canadian money and local coin. Since the local economy operates on gold and silver, that’s what we’re going to be operating on.”
“Going back to the gold standard?” Goose asked. “Great idea. I think we’ve needed to go back to that system for a while.”
“They’re finalizing everything at tonight’s meeting, how the exchange rate is going to work. Those two from Stone’s Mouth are in with them right now, I believe. If all goes well, then I think we should give the go-ahead to start reopening businesses.”
“Those that can reopen,” Goose said. “Without fresh supplies, I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of businesses going under, and that’s going to hurt us. A lot.”
“Not necessarily,” Carla said. “I have a feeling we’ll pull through.”
“For our sake, we’d better,” Boone commented.
Terra was in her own little world. While outwardly, her consciousness appeared to be geared towards the operation of her quad, inwardly, she was deep in thought, dead to the world and blinded to the happenings. They’d been riding since morning, with one brief stop to refuel and get some food in them, but it was quick. Nalya and Bayne were very serious about getting through Featherclaw Territory as quickly as possible. She had been listening to her mp3 player the entire day, riding second in the strange train of quads being ridden through the Disputed Lands.
Ryan had taken the lead, stopping only at forks in the road to wait for Nalya or Bayne to direct him in which way to go. Nalya was directly behind Terra, while Bayne trailed Nalya, and Cale stayed in the rear. Nalya and Bayne were quickly beginning to master the operation of the quads, except for a few instances where Bayne had mistaken the accelerator for the brakes, or forgotten the clutch. He had almost gone head-first over a pretty steep hill, and helmet or not, he would not have survived the fall. But still, they made good time.
Terra found her thoughts wandering back to the dream she had the night of the Blacklight, and the strange voice that had spoken to her. She was convinced there was more to the strange experience than a mere dream. It was like something was talking to her, warning her. Terra searched her mind for answers, but found none. Still, she found herself wholly distracted from what she had been doing.
Not so distracted, however, not to notice something moving through the brush alongside her, but when she looked, all she could see were the trees on the side of the path whipping by.
She slowed down a bit, suddenly brought back to the world and checked behind her. Nalya and Bayne were close behind, and Cale–
Cale wasn’t there. At all. She pulled her earbuds out and shouted ahead to Ryan, who had purposely left his mp3 player in his pack, knowing that he was taking the front and needed to be able to hear. Ryan turned his head to see, and slowed to an immediate stop. Nalya and Bayne came up behind Terra and stopped.
“Where’s Cale?” Terra asked loud enough for them to hear over the drone of the engines.
Bayne was the first one to leap off of his quad and pull his helmet off. “What?” he exclaimed. “Not possible, he was here only a few moments ago!”
Terra turned her quad around and started to drive back down the path. She went down a few dozen feet, and then stopped at a curve in the path. She could see Cale’s quad sitting down the path, idling. The trailer was still attached, but Cale was gone.
“Cale?” Terra shouted.
Ryan rode up behind her and spied the lone quad. “Where the hell did he go?” he asked.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” Terra suggested. She didn’t like the feeling of this place. Her skin tingled as though she were being watched, and she didn’t like the feeling.
Suddenly, there was a commotion from behind them. Terra heard Nalya and Bayne cry out in shock, but when Terra looked back, she could see nothing except their quads. The bushes to either side of the trail seemed to be shaking, but that too came to a stop.
“Fuck!” Ryan exclaimed. “Terra, go. Go! Go! Now!” He said. Terra didn’t have to be told twice. She started revving up the motor and took off up the path, with Ryan in tow. “Don’t slow down, just go!” he exclaimed from behind her.
Terra swerved to avoid Nalya and Bayne’s quads, and then caught movement from the corner of her eye as something shot out of the bushes to her left, heading straight towards Ryan. She barely managed to turn her head in time to see whatever it was strike Ryan and knock him off. The force of the impact caused Ryan’s quad to go over on its side.
Terra was starting to panic. She couldn’t see what was going on, and it was all happening much too fast. She tore into the accelerator and began to roar down the path, going full speed. After getting about thirty feet or so up, she ventured a look behind her. Nothing, the pathway was empty, and there was no sign of the others. Her mind reeled with the darkest possibilities of what could have happened to them, when suddenly from out of nowhere, something broadsided her, knocked her off of the quad and into the bushes. She rolled instinctively, one of the few things she had managed to remember from her childhood Tae Kwon Do classes, and started to scramble away from whatever it was that had hit her.
She looked behind her just in time to see a clawed hand, covered in thick, coarse feathers jab something into her neck. Moments later, all Terra could see was blackness.