Silvereye’s claws clacked against the pavement loudly. Boomer couldn’t help but study the strange beings. He’d only ever read about velociraptors in books, and what he knew had been limited to what the paleontologists said about them. He never in his life would have imagined them smart enough to speak.
But then, he didn’t think real velociraptors had opposable thumbs, either. With that in mind, it was likely that the Featherclaw weren’t actually velociraptors, but rather some spin-off species that originated from them. Or at least, something like them.
“Ground is flat,” Silvereye commented. “Hard. Not good for claws. Make dull.” He walked over to a grassy area on the side of the road, choosing instead to walk along beside Boomer as he led Silvereye and his three companions into the town. He had met Lily and Arie at the trail entrance. Arie seemed excited at the opportunity to meet a Featherclaw without having her face clawed off, but Lily still wasn’t sure about the creatures. She kept her distance. Eventually, they decided to continue their game of Capture the Flag while Boomer took the Featherclaw to meet with Boone.
The only problem was, he wasn’t really sure where Boone was, but the RCMP Station was only a block away from the trail entrance, and it was likely that Shelly would know where he’d gotten to.
Provided he could even get in to see her. He had walked past the station on his way to meet the Society at the trail, and it had been packed with people– refugees from the south end of town. Those that he had seen had been sour-faced and loud.
The situation hadn’t changed much by the time he got within sight of the station. He could see people mulling about outside, and in the large plate-glass windows he could see that Shelly definitely had her hands full.
He paused at looked back to Silvereye. He had to do this delicately. After all, nobody in Dunsmith had ever seen a Featherclaw before. How were people going to react to him bringing one right in to the RCMP detachment?
“What wrong?” Silvereye inquired. He was examining Boomer’s stance and face carefully, bobbing his head up and down. “Is danger?”
“No, no,” Boomer said. “No danger. There’s just a lot of people over there, and I’m not sure how they’re going to react to you.”
“Is react bad?” Silvereye asked. Boomer looked at him, not sure he was catching what Silvereye was trying to say. He got it after thinking about the way he had intoned the words. The creature just wasn’t sure what the word react meant.
“It just means they’ve never seen anything like you before,” he explained. “They might be scared.”
“Is no scared of Featherclaw!” Silvereye said. “Featherclaw is friend! Watch!”
Silvereye turned and barked at the others. Boomer watched, a clear look of confusion worn on his face. Suddenly, Silvereye and one of the other raptors took off running towards the police station.
“Shit!” Boomer exclaimed. “Hey, wait! Hold on!”
But Silvereye hadn’t listened. He and the other raptor, Sharpscent if memory served, ran straight up to a few people that had been sitting on the curb. Nobody noticed them until they were almost on top of them.
“Mommy! Lookit the dinosaur!” he heard a child exclaim. A moment later, a bloodcurdling scream erupted from the crowd.
“Is friend!” Silvereye exclaimed, he and Sharpscent stopping only a few meters from the small group of people. “Is Silvereye! Is friend! Sharpscent! Is friend!” He danced around, moving very much like a chicken and paced back and forth in front of them. It would have been comical if not for the surging mass of people clamoring for escape.
People were starting to react, and it wasn’t in the way Boomer had hoped for. People were scrambling around, trying to hide and protect their children, screaming for help. He could see Shelly stand up from behind her desk inside and look out at the strange visitors, her jaw hanging open.
A moment later, an officer erupted from the doors and ran straight towards the Featherclaw, his gun in hand.
“Shit!” Boomer exclaimed. “Wait!” He took off running towards the Featherclaw.
“Get back!” The cop shouted at the people. He drew in closer to Silvereye and Sharpscent, took aim and then–
“Stop!” Boomer exclaimed. Suddenly, the cop was knocked backwards, hurtling through the air. Silvereye and Sharpscent stopped dancing and looked at each other, obviously confused as to what had just happened. When the cop finally hit the ground, he rolled and scrambled back on his elbows.
Boomer stopped in his tracks.
He had done that.
He had knocked the cop on his ass from twenty paces.
The cop looked around in a daze. He was obviously confused, but not as much as Silvereye and Sharpscent, who could make no sense of what had just happened. Boomer approached the crowd and yelled to make sure he was heard.
“It’s okay!” he exclaimed. “They’re friendly! They’re here to help us!”
“Is friend!” Silvereye added, chastising the crowd. “Stupids! Is friend! Featherclaw is friends!”
“What in the living hell is going on?” a new voice exclaimed from the entrance. Boomer looked over and saw Boone. He was looking back and forth between Boomer and Silvereye, an unsure hand on his gun.
Boomer waved his hands. “They weren’t trying to scare anyone,” he said. “They only wanted to show you they meant no harm.”
“What the hell are they?” he exclaimed, pointing at them.
Silvereye grunted unhappily and pointed his snout in the air. “Stupids! Silvereye is Featherclaw. We is Quicktooth. We sent by Wildsong and Sharpsight and Bloodflower.”
Boone’s eyes snapped open. He obviously hadn’t expected Silvereye to answer his question. He slowly panned over to Boomer, who was standing in just as much shock over what had happened. Moreso, even, because he had somehow managed to knock the cop over with his mind. At least, he thought he did. He couldn’t really be sure.
“Okay,” Boone said, taking his hand away from his gun. “You going to explain this?”
Izon Dueck swore under his breath as he walked out into the sunlight from behind the grand shadow cast by the carved-out mountain that hosted Cilasia. He often didn’t move about during the day, at least, not in any place the sunlight struck. Izon found the sun increasingly unbearable during the summer months, but today was the Harbinger’s Solstice, and he had need to speak with someone.
He had made an agreement with Astara before she had left to follow the Ruus woman and the three strange outlanders that they were to meet at a dressmaker’s shop in Southmarket, an area of Cilasia filled with upscale shops and eateries. It was an area the dregs of Cilasia rarely, if ever visited. Just as well, it was bad enough he had to deal with the likes of Astara, but her services were especially useful. Especially when it came to matters pertaining to the Council’s wishes.
He had been informed of the Ruus woman’s importance long before she had ever arrived in Arronay before departing for the Disputed Lands. Izon had her followed then, too. She didn’t spend long in the city, and she only took the time to see the Seer once. It was to be expected, after all, she was the Seer’s niece, and the senile old fool was outgrowing his usefulness. A new Seer had yet to be found, and until such time, senile or not, the old fool had to stay.
But it wasn’t her relation to the Seer that made her important, at least, not as far as Izon understood things. The High Magus Council in Shavi rarely explained their wishes, but merely expected them to be answered. Izon had been doing their bidding for years, and it’s served him well. It had earned him a title, an estate and a place in Halen’s pecking order far above the common folk. He did what they asked, and in return they consolidated his power.
But the words had been made quite clear after he had spoken to the Psimagi in Arronay. He had contacted another Psimagi in Shavi who was close to the High Council. By the next morning, when he was ready to depart for Cilasia, his tasks were clear.
Izon found the act of ending another person’s life distasteful. There was an occasion or two where he’d had to kill one person or another for various reasons, but for the most part, he preferred to hire out the task. After all, Izon was a civilized man.
Which is where Astara came in. She’d performed such services for him in the past. Slipped some poison into a rival’s food. Slit the throat of a merchant’s wife or daughter to send a message. But he’d never before been asked to actually capture anyone.
When he finally reached the dressmaker’s shop, he found Astara waiting patiently inside, inspecting a long black dress hanging inside the shop. She looked up as he entered.
“Where’s my money, Dueck?” she asked. She was always rude that way. If he didn’t use her for most of his assassinations, he would have had her killed.
One day, perhaps.
“I’ve got it, now keep your voice low,” he snapped. “There are ears everywhere.” He eyed up the shopkeeper who was sitting in the corner, mending a dress. He hadn’t even looked up. Izon pulled a small pouch of coins from under his robe and put it in her waiting hands. She jiggled the pouch around, and put it away, satisfied.
“Now, what have you learned?” Izon asked.
“What would you like to hear?” Astara asked. “I managed to travel with them for a time. I’ve learned much. How they keep time, measurements, the processes of their machinery, other strange devices they have–”
Izon shook his head impatiently. “The girl, the bloodhead. What have you learned about her?”
“Her name is Terra Murphy, she’s twenty-one years old, unbetrothed, and has been schooled from the age of five to eighteen. She likes to smoke sweetflower herb and carries around with her a small but incredibly potent supply,” Astara said. “She is a Gemini, whatever that may mean, and surprisingly, she works with a printer’s press at her home.”
“A printer’s press?” Izon asked. “Are you sure?” The Council would have to hear of this! There existed only one press in all of the Pactlands for a very good reason. Information, especially the wrong information could be very dangerous. And the girl had been educated nearly her whole life! Unheard of among commoners.
But Astara nodded. “From her own words,” she said.
“The Council believes she may be important,” Izon said. “They won’t explain how, only that she is.”
“And the Council’s orders?” Astara asked.
“We’re to capture her. Tomorrow night a transport will arrive to move her to Shavi. She’s to be in our possession by then.”
Astara looked as him sideways. “We’re to capture her?” Astara asked. “I do not capture people.”
He’d expected this. Izon rummaged around under his robe and pulled out another small pouch full of coins. He shook it in front of Astara. She eyed it up carefully.
“Another forty pieces of gold,” Izon said. “Would that make you reconsider?”
Astara took the coins from him, weighed it out, then smiled at Izon. “I suppose there can be some exceptions.”
“Excellent,” Izon said. “Then tonight you’ll do it.”
“Tonight? They’ll be going to the Harbinger’s Ball at the palace,” Astara said. “I may not have the opportunity.”
Izon frowned. “Really, then? I suppose I shall have to see them there, which is just as well. Better I be there to distract that fool, Nadus from speaking with them. No matter, after the Ball, then you’ll do it.”
“And if she’s with anyone else?”
“If it’s anyone other than Nalya Ruus, kill them.”
“You look funny,” Terra said. Cale turned back from the large mirror in the hallway and frowned at her.
“I look fine,” he said, fixing his hat. He’d brought his ceremonial RCMP uniform with him for just such an occasion. Nalya had ensured that the three of them would be able to attend the Harbinger’s Ball, and Cale had every intention on proudly showing off his uniform, his red serge and blue riding breeches with the reflective yellow stripe going down the side. His rank was displayed proudly on his collar, his standard issue Glock fit snugly into the holster at it’s side. It was the same uniform he had graduated in.
“It’s the pants,” she said. “Why can’t you just wear normal pants? Those look ridiculous.”
“I didn’t bring my normal pants,” he replied. He looked back at her. “This is the traditional uniform, and if we’re going to be acting as representatives of Dunsmith tonight, then I’m going to be doing this by the book.”
“I’m just saying it looks silly, is all,” she said.
“What, and you look normal?” he shot back.
Terra’s jaw dropped open in shock. “Hey!” she exclaimed. “I spent a long time on this!”
Cale turned to face her. At first glance, it looked like her outfit was all one-piece, but upon closer inspection, he could tell it was three or four different articles of clothing. She wore a long black skirt that reached down to her ankles, a plain black low-cut shirt covered by a corset tied with bright, nearly neon orange ribbons. Her makeup was done up in a style that looked more in place in a Tim Burton film. Using mainly blacks and whites on her face, and leaving her lips the natural shade.
“Hey guys,” Ryan said, suddenly erupting from around the corner. He was breathing heavily. “Have you seen Nalya?”
Terra shook her head. “No, why?”
“Shit,” he said. “Someone’s been through my things. My PSP is gone, I can’t find my wallet and I’m pretty sure someone jacked them.”
Terra nearly jumped off the table she’d been sitting on. “What?” she exclaimed. “You’re sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” Ryan exclaimed. “I had them this morning, before we left Hillside Downs, but now they’re gone. My bags were already open when I got to my room. I bet it was that Delora bitch.”
“Sir?” Ottom inquired, coming around the corner. Ryan looked back at him and explained what had happened. Ottom made a promise to look into matters at once, and then ran down the hallway, calling for Erma.
A few moment later, Nalya swept into the room. Ryan, who had held to his promise to wear blue jeans, a band t-shirt, and a leather jacket, suddenly felt vastly under dressed. She seemed to float into the room, wearing a long, white, close-fitting dress and adorned with white and silver jewels. Her hair was loose and flowing, no longer tied back in her trademark ponytail.
Terra greeted the sight with a wolf whistle. “Looking good,” Terra said.
Nalya only smiled in return. She walked up to the others. “It’s a dress my father gave me,” she said. “For my graduation at the Academy.”
“It looks expensive,” Cale remarked.
“It is,” Nalya said. She looked around. “I trust we’re all ready?”
“Where’s Bayne?” Cale asked.
“Bayne doesn’t like royal parties,” Nalya replied. “He finds posturing distasteful, and he doesn’t get along well with royals.”
“But isn’t he your bodyguard?” Cale asked. “Isn’t he always supposed to be with you?”
“There’s no need for a bodyguard at the palace. Guards are everywhere. There’s nobody stupid enough to attack a guest of the King at the King’s Palace,” she said. “He’ll be fine. He’s got his own business to tend to.”
“Are we going to get a chance to speak with the King tonight?” Cale asked.
“Perhaps,” Nalya said. “But perhaps not. It’s Harbinger’s Solstice, and traditionally the King will accept no petitions and make no decisions. Keep in mind that there will be many people there, and unfortunately they’ll be monopolizing the King’s time. However, I’m sure there are ways to attract the King’s attention. For instance, he’s fascinated with machines. Before his father’s death, he was a prominent member of Cilasia’s Engineer’s Guild.”
“So, what should we do?” Ryan asked.
Nalya only looked back at him. “People will ask where you’re from,” she said. “All you need to is answer their questions. Word will spread throughout the party. There will be nobility from all over the Pactlands there. Merchants and royals and military heroes. After tonight, all of the Pactlands will know of Dunsmith.”
“Oh, okay,” Ryan said. “So, no pressure, right?” He looked down at what he was wearing. “I should have brought a tux.”
Goose tried his best not to act surprised. After all, Boone had already warned him when he called that there were a bunch of squawking bird-lizard things hanging around on the front lawn of the RCMP Station. But what he’d pictured in his mind wasn’t what he saw.
“They’re Featherclaw, all right,” Ashe Devin said from the passenger seat of Goose’s Jeep. “They keep to themselves usually, but they’re fiercely territorial. Better not let them catch you on their land. I can’t fathom what they’re doing this far south, though.”
Ashe had been an invaluable asset to the town. In addition to managing all relations and trade with Stone’s Mouth, he’d written up a detailed bestiary of animals and wildlife in the area– a volume he was still working on in addition to his work in trying to figure out the secrets of gasoline. He’d become very close with Gloria Stenbrecht at the library and had ultimately been spending most of his time there. Goose found himself surprised at how knowledgeable the man had become over the last several days on matters of Earth and Dunsmith.
But he was also the most knowledgeable man he’d met on matters concerning the Disputed Lands. Which is why he’d stopped by the library to fetch him before coming.
“So they’re not dangerous?” Goose asked.
Ashe shook his head. “Only if you’re stealing their meat,” he said. “Or threaten their land. Once a year all three Featherclaw tribes migrate to a lake in the center of the Disputed Lands that they use for nesting grounds. They often come right by Stone’s Mouth. They’re very respectful of other people’s lands, and prefer to remain unseen while migrating.”
“There are three tribes?” Goose asked.
Ashe nodded. “These are Quicktooth, I’d imagine. There are the Steelclaw that live to the southeast, near the border between Vector and Rasza, and the Highcrest who live in the mountains bordering Rasza. Once their chicks are old enough, they’re evaluated by the tribal leaders and sent off to the tribe where they’d be the most useful. The Quicktooth are hunters, the Steelclaw warriors, and the Highcrest are… well, priests, for lack of a better word.”
Goose shook his head. “Well, we might as well go speak with them,” Goose said.
Ashe nodded, and the two men stepped out of the Jeep. Boone, Boomer and Shelly Littleton were standing on the lawn in front of the Station, while four of the strange little dinosaurs stood, watching the two of them approach.
“Goose, wait till you hear this,” Boone said, a wide grin on his face. “We just might have our secret weapon here.”
“What are you talking about?” Goose asked.
Boone looked to Boomer and nodded.
“They’re here to help,” Boomer said. “Apparently they’ve sent word to the other tribes of Featherclaw, and because of some ancient legend, they believe it’s their duty to help us with Vector.”
“Old legend!” a dino with a silver eye squawked. “Yes! Old pact! Agreement! We help the Halo-Child! We join! We protect!”
Goose blinked in surprise. “I… don’t quite get it. What old pact?”
Ashe Devin gasped. “The old Pact?” he asked. “Rasshauer Flenn’s agreement?”
“Yes! Yes! Flenn!”
“What’s going on?” Goose asked.
Ashe shook his head in disbelief. “It… I never thought,” he looked to Goose and explained. “The old stories used to tell us that back in the days of Eventide, the Featherclaw lived side-by-side with man. After the fall, they were instrumental in Rasshauer Flenn’s campaign to reclaim what was left of Eventide and forge them into a new land. The Pactlands. It was only a legend, though. I never expected it to be true.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Boomer said. “Look, these guys got on top of us without our ever knowing they were there in the first place. Legend or not, if Silvereye says they’re here to help us, who are we to say no to that?”
“Yes!” Silvereye exclaimed. “Yes! Yes! We say yes!”
Goose walked up to the little dinosaur and knelt down. The two regarded each other carefully for a moment. “You’re Silvereye?”
“Yes. Yes. Silvereye!”
“My name is Goose,” Goose said. “I’m happy you’re offering your help, but I have to ask what you want in return.”
Silvereye looked back at Goose for a moment, and cocked his head to one side. “Featherclaw lands is Featherclaw lands,” he said. “We help Halo-Child. We win for Halo-Child! No men hunt Featherclaw lands is enough.”
Goose stood up. If he understood Silvereye correctly, all he wanted was that their lands be respected. It sounded fair, but was still a matter that would have to go through the committee. It would have to be discussed, a treaty written up and an agreement made by both sides. It would take time.
With Vector already diddling around on their southern borders, time wasn’t something that was on their side. But he didn’t see the committee refusing free help. He nodded. “All right,” he said. “Silvereye, we gratefully accept your help, and I’ll guarantee that no man from Dunsmith will ever hunt your lands.”
Silvereye turned the corners of his mouth into a smile. “We have pact now,” Silvereye said. “Dunsmith and Featherclaw. Brothers.” He stepped up to Goose and placed a claw on his hand. “Tonight we dance! We give you all names of honor!”
“Names of honor?” Boone asked.
“A Featherclaw custom,” Ashe said. “Most Featherclaw can’t speak human names, so they give Featherclaw names to men and women who have earned their trust.”
Boone looked back at Silvereye, and then up to Boomer. “You busy?” he asked.
Boomer checked his watch. “Well, they should be wrapping up the games pretty quick,” he said. “I was going to give Andy a call in a bit, find out the deal for tomorrow morning.”
Boone sighed. “That’s… actually what I need to talk to you about.”
“You haven’t told him yet?” Goose asked.
Boomer looked back and forth between Boone and Goose. “Tell me what?”
Goose leveled his gaze on Boomer and said, “He was captured last night,” he said. “Vector’s got him.”