Morning had come quicker than expected, and Ryan, who had stayed up late in the night talking to Silvereye, admittedly did not get enough sleep. The conversations had been revealed little. Silvereye shared what he knew of the Featherclaw legends that spoke of the halo, which was, unfortunately, very little. Still, they spoke of many things. Of Vector and of Earth. Of Dunsmith and the people there. Of the Quicktooth, the Highcrest, and the Steelclaw, the three Featherclaw tribes situated throughout the Disputed Lands, and how far their territory stretched. The conversation continued until the Azure Dream was at its zenith in the sky before Ryan finally decided to retire.
When morning came, Ryan groggily opened his tent. The others were already awake, getting ready to leave once again.
“Good,” Terra remarked. “You’re awake. We weren’t going to wait much longer.”
“Ugh,” Ryan said, tasting his breath. “I should have brought some Listerine or something.”
“Holy halitosis!” Terra exclaimed, and waved her hand in front of her face for effect. “It smells like something died in there.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, then looked around. His tent was the last one still standing. “Christ, you could have woken me up earlier.”
“Nalya said to let you sleep,” she said. “Besides, these little guys have been helping us pack our things up. Longfeather’s been standing guard over your stuff. She won’t let any of the others near it.”
Ryan looked over to the neat pile where he had left his things the night before. Sure enough, there sat Longfeather, vigilantly watching over it. Ryan had to smile at the young raptor. Even after the others had gone up to bed, she had stayed up to listen to Ryan and Silvereye speak. She’d even tried out some ‘man tongue’, as Silvereye had put it, learning only Ryan’s Honor Name, Wildsong. She belted it out over and over and bounced happily after she had learned it, and it earned her a warm pat on the head from Ryan.
When she finally spotted Ryan, she hopped up onto her feet, and watched only him. He walked over to the young raptor and gave her another well-deserved pat on the head.
“Wildsong!” she exclaimed. “Wildsong! Wildsong!”
It was the extent of her human vocabulary, but she had great enthusiasm for it.
“Longfeather shows promise with man tongue,” Silvereye announced. “Teach her, I will to speak it.”
Ryan looked over and watched the older raptor as he approached him.
“North you go today, yes?” he asked.
Ryan nodded. “We’ve got to get to Halen. Our people are counting on us.”
“Yes, yes,” Silvereye said. “Today you go. Bring black blade! Bring blood harvest to Featherclaw!”
Ryan didn’t say anything. Silvereye kept expecting him to bring about this blood harvest. He didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise. Instead, he changed the subject.
“My friends are almost ready,” he said. “We’ll leave soon. Will I see you again?”
Silvereye cocked his head to one side. “Perhaps,” he replied. “Perhaps is us who see you again.”
Ryan wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that, but he accepted it nonetheless. With Longfeather’s help (and Silvereye’s translation), he loaded his things into his trailer and got his pack ready. The clothes he’d been wearing since Dunsmith were now starting to smell funny. He’d have to wash them if he wanted to keep himself smelling fresh, but he was a long way from a shower– or a laundromat for that matter. He opted instead to change his clothes, wearing a pair of wide-leg blue jeans and a Black Sabbath T-Shirt. By the time he had changed, the group was ready to go. He took his time to say his goodbyes to Silvereye, Longfeather and Sharpscent, who each embraced him in a strange raptor-hug.
Finally, they were off. The Quicktooth stood at the edge of their village, watching them leave. Longfeather tried her best to keep up with the quads as they roared away, but even she, too, fell behind. Waving excitedly at the departing humans. Once again, they were on the road, leaving the Quicktooth behind.
“He asked you to what?” Lily exclaimed. It was a little too loud for Boomer’s liking. The two of them sat outside of Bart’s Kitchen across the street from the Journeyman. The little restaurant had reopened that morning, along with many other businesses across town. At least, those that still served a purpose.
“Shhh,” Boomer snapped. “Quiet, this isn’t exactly public information, you know.”
“But a spy? Jesus, Boomer. That’s dangerous!”
“So is just sitting around waiting for those guys to show up,” he said. “At least this way, we might stand a chance of figuring out what makes them tick– get at them from the inside.”
“Don’t tell me you’re actually considering this?” Lily asked. “You’ve had your power for four days, you don’t know what you’re capable of! Besides, the Society needs you!”
“I know,” he said. “But I can’t just sit around here– there’s not a lot I can learn from the Magick Society– I’m still the only Psimagi. Arie said she doubts any more will pop up. The only way I’m going to learn to do any more is by practicing– and since I can only do that by myself, there’s no point in me sticking around.”
Lily looked Boomer in the eye for a moment. “No point?” she asked. She shook her head. “I knew you were smart, Boomer. But I didn’t know you were stupid.”
Boomer was taken aback. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded.
“You don’t see it, do you?” Lily asked as the two sat sipping coffee.
Lily laughed. “And you’re supposed to be psychic,” she quipped. “Arie, stupid!”
“What about her?”
“She likes you, Boomer,” she said. “She’s always talking about you, trying to get more information out of me. Maybe even she doesn’t realize it yet, but some things are universal and unmistakable. That girl has the hots for you.”
Boomer stared at her for a few moments before speaking again. “You’re serious,” he said.
Lily only nodded. “Look, I said nothing. Don’t let this influence your decision, but just know that if you were to go– and something were to happen to you, it would crush her.” She paused. “Hell, it would crush all of us, but she… she’s a sensitive girl, and she’s had a tough time of things so far. She’s warmed up to you. At least put some more thought into this, and if you still want to go, make sure you talk to Arie.”
Boomer reflected on this for a moment, and then nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I will. Tonight, after the meeting. I’m supposed to meet Andy at the High School tomorrow morning, I’ll give him my final answer then.”
Lily nodded. “Good,” she said. She looked across the street to the Journeyman. “Carla said they should be able to start work at fixing up the place this afternoon. I’ve already told the others we’ll be meeting at the beach tonight.”
“We get any more people?”
“Three more this morning,” Lily said. “Another Healer and two more Aeromagii, which reminds me. What are we supposed to do with Marie? You’re the only one who can speak sign language.”
“I’ve already thought about that,” he said. “She may lack legs, but her arms work fine, and she can read lips. If she needs to tell you something, just give her a pad of paper. It should be fine.”
Lily nodded and took another sip of her coffee. “I spoke with Ashe Devin this morning, too,” she said. “I think if we’re going to be the Magick Society, we should have a handle on all forms of magick. Not just the gifted people, but alchemists, herbalists and whatnot. He said he’s busy working on our gasoline issue, but he knows a herbalist that lives up north a ways, a teacher. He said she may be persuaded to come here, start teaching some local folks.”
“That might not be a bad idea. We could probably do with some herbs,” Boomer said. He smirked.
Lily nodded. “Still, we’re doing well,” she said. “Raine’s already starting to manipulate the flame, learning to do tricks and whatnot, and the twins are doing just great.”
“Makes sense,” Boomer said. “They complement each other.” He checked his watch briefly. “Listen,” he said. “I’ve got to go see Ron today– the store’s back open, but he’s closing down the graveyard shift for now– which is just as well. I’ve just got to go over a few things with him so he can tender my resignation. It looks like I’m in demand in other areas.”
“Think of it more as laying myself off,” Boomer said, then smirked. “Besides,” he continued. “Why would I work behind a till when I can be altering the course of nations?” He winked at Lily, who laughed. When Boomer stood up, he looked down the street. Since the Halish Forces had arrived, it was becoming more commonplace to see groups of soldiers lingering about here or there. Since the morning, he’d seen soldiers gawking at a variety of things, from the movie rental place to the dollar store, and even a few of the villagers from Stone’s Mouth had made their way into town.
Boomer spotted a familiar face walking up the sidewalk toward them.
“Hey Keltz,” Boomer said, greeting the man. “Out for a stroll?” he asked.
Keltz smiled. “Something like that,” he said. “I have leave for the morning, and I thought I’d use the opportunity to purchase a gift for my sister. She’s very fond of dolls, and I found this at the shop down the way,” he pointed a thumb back behind him. “The Pharmacy, I believe.” He pulled a pink box out of his bag. Boomer almost laughed as he saw the Barbie logo sticking out the top.
“That’s great,” Boomer said. “She’ll love it.” He looked the man in the eye and smiled. “Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got an appointment I can’t miss. Why don’t you sit and have a coffee with Lily, here? There’s a limited supply, so get it while you can.”
Keltz smiled and nodded. He’d had coffee before, and had acquired a taste for the hot drink. He graciously accepted, and sat down at the table as Boomer gathered his things together. As he hooped his laptop bag over his shoulder, he gave a final wave at Keltz and Lily, and then set off down the street, in the direction of the Gas ‘n Dash. Keltz ordered himself a coffee and settled himself in his seat.
“Things are going well with the Magick Society?” Keltz asked.
Lily nodded. “Quite well. Arie said at the rate we’re all learning at, we could give Shavi a run for their money.”
“Money?” Keltz asked. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s a saying. It means with a little more training, we’ll be equals.”
“Ahh,” Keltz said, nodding. “I’m glad to hear that. Things seem to be going well for us as well. Sergeant Boone has sent us almost three hundred men for training since yesterday. It’s nice to see my men working together with your people so well– there even seems to be a level of camaraderie at work. After training yesterday, several of your Dunsmith men began to bring out these long sticks, and set up nets on the road near the High School.”
“Hockey,” Lily said. “They were playing hockey.”
Keltz nodded. “Yes, an interesting game. I must say my men enjoyed watching it; some even took it upon themselves to learn to play.”
Lily had to laugh. The idea of a bunch of Halish soldiers running around with hockey sticks, all dressed up in armor seemed almost comical. True, they probably hadn’t been wearing armor while playing, but it still brought up an interesting mental image.
Keltz smiled in return. The waitress came out with his coffee and put it down in front of Keltz. He set a single silver coin on the table, and then looked up. “Is this enough?” he asked.
The waitress nodded. The way it was working out, a silver coin was equal to about five dollars in Canadian money. A gold coin– twenty. The waitress came back with a handful of change and dropped it on the table next to Keltz. He looked at it, his interest piqued.
“Such strange coins you have here,” he said. “The doll cost me two gold coins, and I received this in return.” He pulled out a ten dollar bill. “Paper money,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I can see how it would be confusing,” Lily said. “But it all makes sense in the end.” She looked at the time. She had to go meet with Carla later on. The Coffee Shack was open again, and Lily wanted to get a few things from the place. Carla had told her not to worry about coming back– she had everything well in hand with the shop, especially since her other shop was left back on Earth. She was able to divide her time perfectly between her duties to her shop and the Emergency Committee.
But Lily had to leave. She had always enjoyed her conversations with Keltz, and felt a stab of guilt at having to leave him to drink his coffee alone.
“Listen,” Lily said. “I hate to be antisocial, but I have to go run an errand as well.” She motioned to the clock on the inside of Bart’s Kitchen. “It’ll be noon pretty quick. When do you have to head back to the High School?”
“Soon,” Keltz said. “Don’t worry, I don’t mind. I’ll just enjoy the air and sip my coffee until the time comes for me to go.”
Lily smiled, nodded, and began to gather her things together. Just before she stood up, Keltz leaned forward.
“Lily?” he asked.
“Yes?” Lily replied.
“I was wondering,” he began. “Several of the officers plan to visit the cinema house tonight,” he said.
“The movie theater?” Lily asked. “That’s great, you guys should have a blast.”
“I was wondering if you would accompany me,” he asked.
Lily seemed taken aback for a moment. Was Keltz asking her out? No, he couldn’t be. The idea was ridiculous. Still, the look on his face told her otherwise. He seemed to be hanging. Lily couldn’t just leave it at that. She thought on the subject.
It couldn’t hurt. After all, she could probably use the enjoyment, and she hadn’t been to the theater in a while. She’s already heard that morning that they had been planning to show the first of the Lord of the Rings movies, in honor of their new home. It wouldn’t be a date…
“Sure,” Lily said. “I’d love to.”
“Wonderful!” Keltz exclaimed. “Shall I meet with you after tonight’s meeting?”
Lily nodded. “Yeah, that’d be okay. We’re having tonight’s meeting at Transfer Beach.” She poked her chin in the direction of the park. “Be there at eight.”
By mid-afternoon, the group had made several strides. Since they had been given the go ahead by the Quicktooth to go through their lands, Nalya had been less reticent to take a shortcut which would ultimately cause them to be in Featherclaw territory for a considerably longer amount of time, but in the long run, it would be a shorter trip. They would reach the village of Timberfalls, a village high up in the hills north of the Aegel Mountains by that evening, spend the night, and with luck and the wind at their backs, would be to the border between Halen and the Disputed Lands by the next midday. Terra was again second in the quad-train, only this time Cale rode in the front, Ryan behind her and Nalya and Bayne trailing behind them. Terra had decided to save her batteries by choosing not to listen to her mp3 player that day, especially after the whole ordeal when they were captured by Silvereye and the other Quicktooth.
She had been riding along, reflecting on all the events that had happened since they had arrived in the Pactlands as they made their way north. Terra was excited to almost be out of the Disputed Lands and into Halen, where fewer surprises would be waiting for them. Nalya and Bayne both assured them that Halen was remarkably free of Featherclaw, spiketeeth and other nasties that had riddled the Disputed Lands. It was a civilized place where they would sleep in real beds, eat real meals and make even better time on real roads rather than narrow pathways.
In fact, she had been in the middle of savoring the idea of curling up with a warm, comfortable bed when something happened. It came suddenly, without warning. She felt a tingling sensation moving up her spine, her vision began to cloud, turn green, then–
–then the roads run slick with blood, fires consume the buildings, the burnt-out husks of cars and charred bodies litter the streets. She could see it, smell the horrible scents of burnt flesh and smoke. She could see people running through the wreckage, armfuls of tin and aluminum cans. They are the few who survived and managed to stay hidden from them, she knows. She recognizes a face in the group. It’s Lily, but she doesn’t look the same, she looks hollow, dead inside. This is what’s left of Dunsmith. This is the fate that is to be visited upon all the peoples of the Disputed Lands, on all the peoples of the Pactlands.
Vector did not do this. This was something greater. This was something many times more vicious and bloodthirsty. More ancient than anything anyone could perceive. Vector took slaves, these new armies only slaughtered indiscriminately. They are beasts and monsters, revenants and night creatures. The live to feed, and nothing else.
And all the while, she floats above the ruin of what was once Dunsmith, staring down in sadness as the Azure Dream begins to plummet down to the surface, bringing with it the floodwaters that would engulf the Pactlands.
This is to be their destiny. Terra knows this, just from seeing.
Just as she knows the three items that she holds in her hands are the only things that may be able to stop it. She catches a brief glimpse of each item before–
“–rra!” Ryan was standing over her. He had taken her helmet off and was now slapping her awake. “Oh, thank God. Are you okay?”
Terra sat up and surveyed the damage. Her quad, trailer and all had gone off the path and struck the edge of a tree. She must have been thrown clear.
“It’s the weed,” Cale said. “I’m telling you.”
“I’m not even stoned, jackass!” Terra shot back. She stood up and checked herself for injuries. She seemed fine until she put any weight on her ankle. She yelped out in pain.
“What is it?” Ryan asked.
“It’s my ankle, I think I sprained it,” she said. She looked around sheepishly. “What happened?”
“You tell me,” Ryan said. “One minute you were fine, the next you’re flying through the air. You didn’t flinch, or even ease up on the speed for that matter. The crazy thing is, when I got to you, your eyes were wide open and… well, they were really green. Almost glowing.”
“My eyes are green,” Terra said.
“Not that green,” Ryan said. “The whites were even green.”
“What?” Nalya exclaimed, she ran up to Terra and looked into her eyes. “Are you sure?”
Ryan nodded. “Yeah, it was the damnedest thing.”
Nalya looked at Terra carefully. “What happened?”
Terra shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “It was like… I was somewhere else.” She blinked. “Dunsmith! Oh God, I was back in town!”
Nalya helped carry Terra back to the road while Cale and Bayne worked on getting her quad back in working order.
“What do you mean?” Nalya asked.
“I mean it felt like I was there. But it was different. Everyone was dead, the town was torn apart. But it wasn’t Vector that did it… It was something else, and it wasn’t just Dunsmith. The same thing happened all over the Pactlands.”
Nalya’s jaw clamped shut and she paused.
“Did you see who was responsible?” Nalya demanded.
“What?” Terra asked. “No.” Her attention was suddenly drawn to a nearby bush. She thought she caught something there out of the corner of her eye. Probably a small animal of some kind. The bush was shaking when she looked, but the conversation at hand seemed to be of greater importance. “I saw these… That sword! I saw your sword, Ryan! Then there was some kind of jewel, and a really gnarled oak staff.” She shook her head. “I didn’t get a good look.”
“Hold on,” Ryan said. He looked at Nalya accusingly. “You know what’s going on with her, don’t you?”
Nalya flinched, just enough for Terra to notice, and now she was looking at her accusingly. Nalya just looked back and forth from Ryan to Terra.
“Wait,” Cale said. “You mean this has happened before?”
Terra nodded. “Not like that. I had a… weird dream when we crossed over originally. This is the first time it’s ever happened to me while awake.”
“What was the dream about?” Nalya asked.
“I’m not saying a word until you start talking,” Terra said.
Nalya sighed, then looked to Bayne. “You’re a Seer,” Nalya said.
“I’m a what? A Seer?”
“A Green Seer, to be more accurate,” Nalya said.
“Christ,” Cale muttered, catching Ryan’s attention for a moment. “You’re fucking kidding me.”
“What’s a Green Seer?” Terra asked. “Why is it green?”
“They’re usually blue,” Cale said. “They see the future– I think the difference is that a Green Seer can actually do something about the future they see– it’s not tied to fate.”
“Wait, so I was… seeing the future? Oh my God,” Terra said. “What I saw–”
“Can be prevented,” Nalya interrupted. “If you truly are a Green Seer, then we need to find those three items. If the sword is truly the first of these, then we need to find the other two.”
“How do you know so much about this?” Terra asked. “You knew about this all along, didn’t you? You knew I was–”
“I knew you were special,” Nalya said. “I was told you were special, but I didn’t truly know until just now.”
“Told? By who?”
“The Blue Seer of Arronay,” she said. “Mika Sephalon.”
“What, so he knew we’d arrive?”
“I can only assume so. The way he shared it with me was as though a story in passing. He told me what to look for, what to do. Only he told me in the form of a story he claimed he had heard from a close friend. It wasn’t until I saw the Blacklight that I began to suspect,” she explained.
“Why did you go to see him?” Ryan asked. “There had to be a reason.”
Nalya blinked, not quite understanding the question. “I went to see him because he is my uncle,” she said.
“Wait, your uncle is a Seer?” Ryan asked.
Nalya nodded. “My mother’s brother,” she said. “I’ve always been close to him. Closer even than my own mother.”
Ryan and Terra looked at each other. Finally, the conversation over, Ryan took to inspecting Terra’s ankle.
“It’s swollen,” he said. “You nailed it pretty good.”
“I should say so,” a voice said, interrupting the group. All five of them nearly jumped out of their skin as an old woman walked through the brush. She was dressed in surprisingly clean and pressed clothes, but from the ease in which she passed through the brush, it was obvious she was used to it. “A fall like that? Ye could have been killed.” She smiled sheepishly, looking among those present.
“Who are you?” Bayne said, his hand reaching for his sword.
“Settle down, settle down. If I’d meant ye harm, ye’d have already been harmed,” she said, then looked to Terra’s ankle. “’Tis a nasty sprain, yes. Ye should come back with us,” she said. “My cottage is not far, and I do believe we may have words to share.”
“Us?” Ryan looked around. He saw nobody. “You’re the only one here.”
“What are ye, blind? Can ye not see them?” she asked.
Terra was the first to spot who she had been talking about. She spotted one, and then movement from the corner of her eye attracted her attention to another. Suddenly, she realized the truth– they were surrounded by ferrets. Ferrets stood all around them, at last a dozen. The only difference was, simply put, that these ferrets weren’t normal.
These ferrets wore clothes. They stood upright and carried small weapons. One, she saw, even had a pair of rudimentary glasses. They scurried around the group, standing on tree branches and rocks, watching them. Terra briefly wondered how long they had been there, how long the old woman had been there– and what she had overheard.
“Oh, bullocks!” Bayne exclaimed. He made no effort to disguise the loathing in his voice. “Tyl,” he said. “We’re surrounded by bloody Tylmen.”