Andy was tired, sore and thirsty. His stomach ached. It twisted and gurgled as it struggled to digest what obviously passed for food among Vector’s prisoners. The night before he’d been given a wooden bowl full of some strange gruel-like substance with a chunk of undercooked spiketooth meat. Andy wasn’t surprised to find that dinosaurs tasted just like chicken.
Still, they’d fed him little, and supplied him with even less water. It was obvious they wanted him alive. Every few hours or so they would untie him, bring him into Burz’ tent and ask him question after question. Andy had tried his best not to answer them, but after the first night, he’d learned that it was better to just give them an answer. Any answer, so Andy lied through his teeth.
But unfortunately, the Vectorans were not stupid. They seemed to know when Andy was lying, so he had changed his tune after the second beating. The Vectorans now knew that in order to make the gun work, they’d need ammo. They knew that vehicles ran on gasoline, that Elvis Presley was the King, and that Raquel Welch was hot stuff.
After every questioning session where he performed well enough, he was rewarded with a meal. The better the information Burz got, the better Andy’s meal. If the information wasn’t any good, he’d get nothing. But Andy refused to share any information on the town and its people. He refused to share that they lacked knowledge in magick, the ability of their military or numbers.
The sun was well past its mid-point, growing late in the day when the pyromagi, Giger, walked up to Andy and sat on his haunches. Andy looked up at him, a look of impatience showing clearly on his face.
“I don’t trust you,” Giger said.
“Thanks for sharing,” Andy said. “The feeling’s mutual.”
“You act as if you find this all funny, old man,” he said. “But you will not think so when we’re marching on your town and seizing your lands in Vector’s name.”
“And you won’t think it’s so funny when I’m fucking your mother,” he said.
Giger frowned and regarded Andy for a moment. “You’re a brave man, to be sure,” he said. “But a foolish one. None can stand up to Vector’s might, and none will. You seek to protect your town, your people, but by denying us, you only commit them to slaughter. Is this truly what you wish? The slaughter of your compatriots?”
“If all you’re going to do is gum off about how great and wonderful Vector is, you might as well do it somewhere else,” Andy said. “I’ve heard enough bullshit for one lifetime.”
Giger chuckled. “Don’t fret,” he said. “Soon you won’t have to hear any at all.” He leaned in close. “Unless, of course, you start telling us what we want to know.”
“Oh, well when you put it that way,” Andy said. “Fuck you.”
Giger simply regarded him for a moment longer, then stood up. “You should know,” he said. “Your usefulness may be coming to an end. Normally we would send prisoners to Anastae to help build the city, but you’re an old man.” He kicked some dirt towards him. “Useless.”
“That’s not what your mother said,” Andy said.
Giger grabbed Andy by the hair and knocked his head back up against the post he was tied to. Andy grunted in pain and Giger spat in his face. “Fool!” he said.
“Giger!” Burz called from nearby. “Leave him be, he’s no good to us if he’s unconscious.”
“He’s of little use as it is,” Giger said. He manifested a handful of flame. “I should just cook him now and be done with it.”
“Then you’ll be the one to answer to the General,” Burz said. He held in his hands a thick scroll. “We’ve received word from Anastae.”
Giger snuffed out the flame and raised a speculative eyebrow. “Our orders?”
“We’re to send him to Anastae, along with his things,” Burz said. “Ryde wishes to put him to Cahl’s questioning methods.”
Giger smirked, then looked down at Andy. “How fortunate,” he said. “Cahl is very good at getting answers from even the most spirited of men.”
“Yeah?” Andy asked. “Did he fuck your mother, too?”
“Quiet! Fool!” Giger exclaimed, then kicked more dirt at him.
“Leave him!” Burz exclaimed.
Andy looked up at Burz, squinting in the evening sun. “Why, Burzy. I didn’t know you cared.”
Burz glared down at Andy and sneered. “I don’t,” he said. “I only care that you’re in well enough shape to make the journey.”
“Captain!” someone exclaimed. Andy looked over to see a fast-moving soldier on horseback approaching Burz. He reared his horse back, bringing him to a stop. “Word from the western scouts, sir!”
“Sir, we’ve come across six men traveling towards us. Bandits, by the look of them. However, they have a prisoner.”
“A prisoner?” Burz asked.
The scout nodded, then gestured to Andy. “He wears clothing like this one. They say they captured him traveling northwest and would like to trade him in exchange for employment.”
Burz looked to Andy for a moment. A slow smile crept across his face. “Well,” Burz said. “It appears as though you’ll be having some company on your journey.”
Andy only looked back blankly. After a few moments, Burz and Giger walked off, leaving Andy to himself.
Right on time, Andy thought.
Boomer looked out from behind a swollen eye as he entered the outskirts of the Vectoran camp. It was put together much the same as the Halish army, only the Vectorans seemed to put less emphasis on uniforms. You could tell a Halish soldier just by looking at him, but the Vectorans seemed to favor a more random approach. Most wore mismatched armor. They appeared little more than the bandits that Justin and the Halish men were pretending to be.
He looked back at Justin, who was trailing behind Jori, trying his best to look inconspicuous. It wouldn’t be hard, the way the men were dressed fit in quite well with the current Vector fashions.
When they had arrived at the old abandoned village south of Stone’s Mouth, they had taken the time to rough Boomer up a little for appearances. Justin did little more than push him around, but it was Grear who had given him the shiner. It took Boomer entirely by surprise and he fell to the ground as a result. He wasn’t afraid of being hit, but he had to admit that Grear had a fist like stone.
A few hours later, they had come across some Vectoran scouts. The exchange went as if it had been scripted. The “bandits” shared their story, and Boomer stayed absolutely silent and said nothing, making sure to give a dirty look or two to the Halish men, and one for the Vectorans, just for good measure.
Now, however, he was being marched into the Vectoran camp, bound at his hands and neck by a thick rough rope that burned as it slid across his skin. He didn’t doubt that there would be marks, but that was a price he’d have to pay.
As they marched him towards a tent in the center of the camp, Boomer spotted Andy sitting tied to a pole. He looked up at Boomer, then turned away just as quick. Boomer heaved a sigh of relief at seeing that Andy was still alive, but the bruises on his face told Boomer he hadn’t had an easy time of it. Boomer let his gaze linger for a moment longer, then looked up to the two men walking towards him. Two of the Vectoran soldiers had escorted them thus far, and saluted the man wearing the polished armor.
“Captain, these men come bearing a gift,” he said. “A prisoner from Dunsmith.”
So they at least knew the name of the town. Andy was probably the one to tell them. Boomer briefly wondered what else he had shared.
The man in armor approached and saluted the soldier, dismissing him. He regarded Boomer for a moment, and walked around him.
“You’re a good deal younger than the other,” he said. “I wonder if you’ll be as much trouble.”
“Hey man,” Boomer said, getting into his part. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“You’re hardly in a position to make demands,” the other man said. Boomer could sense something about him that reminded him of Raine. A pyromagi. He was a pyromagi. The image was clear in his head. From the other man he couldn’t pick up much, only that he was very interested in hearing what Boomer had to say, and something else. Preparations for a journey? He couldn’t be sure.
After a moment, the man in armor looked back to Grear and the others. “Where did you find him?”
“He were trying to get through the Senta pass,” Grear said. “We catched him right quick, we did, knew you’d want to have a poke at him.” He beamed proudly. “We was hoping it would earn us a place among your men, some food in our bellies.”
He nodded. “Vector remembers her friends,” he said. “The deal is struck. We’ll take him. Your names?”
The Halish men took a moment to give their names, their real names. Even Justin had given his name as simply “Alverra”, and left it at that. Burz introduced himself, and Giger did much the same. Before long, Burz had instructed them to report to a beefy man wearing the same polished armor as he was. A moment later, the five of them walked off to do so, and left Boomer by himself with Ynnia and Giger.
“I want your name,” Burz said.
“James,” Boomer said. There was no sense in sharing his real name with Vector. “James Bond.” It was the name he’d decided to use before. After all, technically he was going to be a double agent.
“That man over there,” Burz said, pointing towards Andy. “Do you know him?”
“Not really,” Boomer said. “I mean, I know who he is, but I don’t know him that well.”
“He’s lying,” Giger asserted.
“I’m not,” Boomer replied. “His name’s Andy Johnson, he’s from Dunsmith and he grows dope in a trailer. He’s nothing. Beyond that, I couldn’t say.”
Burz regarded Boomer for a moment. He could tell the man was studying him, simply from the way his eyes played across his face, taking in his stance and body language. Whoever this Burz Ynnia man was, he was someone who could spot a lie.
However, so was Boomer. And Boomer had the advantage of knowing how to hide the obvious tells. It was something the man wouldn’t expect.
“I don’t trust him,” Giger said.
“No, he speaks truth,” Ynnia said. He looked back to Boomer. “We’ll send him to Anastae with the other, but first I’d like some time alone with him.”
“You can’t be serious,” Giger said. “He’s one of them. He’ll lie to protect his people.”
“My people?” Boomer asked. “You mean those morons back in Dunsmith? I want nothing to do with them.” He lied, but he’d obviously hooked Ynnia’s interest.
“Oh?” he asked. “And why is that?”
“Because they’re the liars. They’re the cheats. They took everything that was mine, everything I had and then banished me in a world I was never born into,” Boomer said. He had to make it sound good, but he was being careful not to overdo it. “I’ll tell you what I know, all I want is the promise of freedom when we’re through.”
“Freedom?” Ynnia asked. He thought about it for a moment. He motioned to the guard at Boomer’s side, and he pulled out a sharp knife, then cut his bindings. Boomer rubbed his wrists and shook out the soreness.
“What are you doing?” Giger asked.
“He won’t run,” Ynnia said. “If he does, he won’t live long enough to see another sunrise.” He turned back towards his tent and motioned for Boomer to follow. Giger fumed silently.
Boomer followed him back to his tent, and Ynnia welcomed him inside, and offered him a seat.
“We aren’t cruel monsters like you’ve obviously been led to believe,” he said. “Vector remembers her friends.”
“So if I help, you’ll let me go free?” Boomer asked.
Burz regarded him for a moment as he sat behind the desk. “I cannot promise anything,” he said. “It is not my place to promise anything to a prisoner. You will be sent to Anastae come morning, along with the old man. Cahl will put the both of you to the question.”
Boomer didn’t like the sound of that. It brought up images of the Spanish Inquisition, torture chambers and more. He couldn’t tell if he was just imagining it, or picking it up from Ynnia’s surface thoughts. Still, it chilled him.
Burz opened a large chest to the side of his desk and began to pull out objects. The two surveillance cameras were first.
“Your friend seemed hesitant to tell us of these objects,” he explained. “I wish to know what they are.”
“Cameras,” Boomer said. “They’re cameras. People use them to watch things that are happening elsewhere.”
Ynnia’s eyes widened. “Truly?” he asked. He seemed suspicious of the cameras, handling them more carefully. “Then they have been watching?”
Boomer shook his head. “No,” he said. “They don’t work unless they’re plugged in.”
“Plugged in?” Ynnia cocked his head to one side, confusion appearing across his face. Suddenly, recognition set in. “Of course, the strange metal box. Then they haven’t been watching us these past few days?”
“Not unless they’re plugged in.”
“How do I use this artifact?” he asked. “How can I see what they see?”
“Well,” Boomer said. “It’s complicated. The camera is only one piece, you see. You’d need a power supply, a monitor. There’s not really much you can do with the camera by itself.”
Ynnia nodded, then reached under the table and pulled out a long hunting rifle. Boomer recognized it instantly. Andy’s rifle sat on the top of the desk. “We’ve been told that this is a gun,” he said. “We know it spits bits of metal so fast it can kill a man. The old man tells us it needs ammunition. Where would we find this ammunition?”
“In town,” Boomer said. “It depends, though. Different kinds of guns need different kinds of ammo.”
Ynnia nodded, satisfied. “How many people are there in Dunsmith?” he asked.
“Around eight thousand,” he said. “Men, women, children. Mostly old folks, it’s a bit of a retirement town.”
“And the Halish soldiers?”
“About a thousand, as best I can figure,” Boomer said.
Ynnia nodded. “And how many of these guns do they have?”
“Halen?” Boomer asked. “It’s hard to say. They might not have any. But there’s got to be a few thousand in Dunsmith at least.”
“And magii? How many?”
There was the question of the day. At their briefing, they had been told explicitly to downplay the fact that they even had magii. Boomer had to do this carefully. He wore his best poker face, looked back at Ynnia and said, “Besides the few in the Halish army, none.”
Ynnia snapped his head up, studying Boomer carefully. “What?”
“None. Where we come from, Earth. There’s no magick there. We can’t use it like you guys can.”
“But the… camera. The magick eye, the gun. These are magickal artifacts, are they not?”
Boomer shook his head. “Actually, no,” he said. “It’s science. Technology.”
The word was obviously unfamiliar to Burz. He cocked his head to one side. “What are you saying? They are machines?”
Boomer nodded. “Exactly,” he said. “We’ve never used magick for anything. Everything we have we’ve built without magick.”
Burz stood up instantly. “Will you show us how to build these things?”
Boomer’s eyes snapped open. “Build them? I… I don’t know how to build these things. Back at home we never had to, if we needed something, we’d just order it.”
“Order it?” Burz asked. He thought for a moment. “Then they cannot make more of these items? The guns? The cameras? The vehicles?”
Boomer shook his head. “Once we left Earth, we left access to all that behind.” It wasn’t entirely true. After all, there were a number of machine shops and industrial buildings that were fully capable of making a rifle, however rudimentary, but for bigger items like cameras or car parts, they’d need more specialized factories.
“This bodes well for us,” Burz said. His face was starting to show the first signs of a sly smile. “And it will bode well for you, too.”
“You mean when I go to Anastae?” Boomer asked.
Burz nodded. “Yes. The General is a strict man. Shrewd to say the least, but he rewards those deserving.” He stood up. “If you are as quick with your answers to him as you are with me, I’ve no doubt that he’ll grant your eventual freedom.”
“Eventual freedom?” Boomer asked.
Burz nodded. “Indeed,” he said. “You’ll have to prove your worth to him first.”
“I’m guessing he’s not an overly friendly guy, is he?”
Burz laughed. “The last time I saw him, he killed a wounded man simply for being foolish enough to become wounded.”
Boomer’s eyes shot open. He’d heard that Ryde was as bad as they come, but killing a man just because he got wounded? Didn’t they have healers?
“I’m satisfied you’ll stay true to your word,” Burz said. “I see no need to bind you for the night. You’ve done well thus far, James Bond.” He pointed a finger at him. “Be sure you continue to do well.” He motioned through the tent flap to the lone figure sitting in the distance. “But remember that you are our prisoner, and not our guest. You’ll take care of the old man between here and Anastae. Ensure he does not die.”
Boomer looked out and looked at Andy. Even from that distance, he still looked like shit. Boomer suddenly found himself eager to speak to the man. He looked back to Ynnia.
“And if he does?”
“Then it won’t matter how valuable you are. I give you my word, fail the General even once, and your life is forfeit.”
Boone stood on the rocky shore of Transfer Beach looking out into the water. The strange whirlpool that Ansel had reported the other day was growing closer, and as such, the opening that allowed those underneath to breathe properly had expanded as they drew nearer to the shore. He had a couple of armed men with him, and Carla Meriweather had decided to be a part of the greeting party. They’d been warned that the source of the whirlpool was likely Caedan traders, but there was no sense in being negligent. After all, with Vector nipping at Dunsmith’s heels along the southern border, it could very well have been a plot by Vector to try and move some soldiers into range of the town itself.
But Vector had been quiet since they’d captured Andy. No doubt laying back and performing their reconnaissance. Since the Halish soldiers had been posted along the border, they’d had few run-ins with Vector. Boone had a strong feeling they were only waiting for something. For what, however, Boone couldn’t say. Even Keltz and Syrel had asserted that Vector wouldn’t remain quiet for long before they started really testing Dunsmith’s borders.
The whirlpool was only about thirty feet from the shore. Boone could see the hole widening, still swirling about, but it gave the appearance of a crater in the water. Only, Boone knew that this crater bore people. People who would probably be asking strange questions. Not that Boone didn’t have a few of his own, of course.
“How do you think they move along the ocean bottom?” Carla asked, observing as the whirlpool drew nearer. She looked to Boone. “You’d think it wouldn’t be worth it. Lots of climbing and whatnot involved, right?”
Boone shrugged. “Syrel said they use a bunch of different magii for the task,” he said. “An Aquamagi to stabilize the whirlpool, an Aeromagi to supply them with fresh oxygen. I’d imagine they’d probably have a Geomagi or two to smooth out the ground so they don’t have to climb about like sea monkeys.” He laughed at his little joke.
“Still, it seems like so much hassle,” she said.
The whirlpool was now only about fifteen feet from the shore, and Boone could see the tops of people’s heads poking out. He heard the telltale sound of wooden wheels rolling across stone, and stretched his neck to peer further in.
Six heads– no. Seven, and two wooden horsedrawn wagons peered back at him. Boone heard the sounds of conversation as the whirlpool froze in place for a moment. Finally, it began to move again, and Boone watched as the water parted and a number of people dressed in strange colorful rags and turban-like headgear rose up from the water, stepping onto the beach. Boone’s men held their weapons close.
“Be you friend or foe?” one of them asked, a tall man with a large scimitar-like blade.
“Well, that depends on you,” Boone said. “We can be friends, but if you mean any harm to this town or its people, you might as well just turn around and go back to where you came from.”
The tall man regarded Boone for a moment, then looked to his guards and Carla. “We mean no harm,” he said, then looked past Boone to the hillside upon which much of Dunsmith was built. It struck Boone as odd that he wasn’t gawking at it. All others he’d met from the Pactlands so far were simply dumbstruck by the town. This man, however, seemed to take it in stride. Even the others weren’t looking around. Instead, they were focused solely on Boone. They seemed to be studying him, in fact.
“We seek the right of trade,” the tall man said. “Will you extend this right to us?”
“By all means,” Carla said, breaking in. “But you should be warned we’re currently under siege. The Vectoran Army is amassing at our Southern borders.”
“Yes, the Southlanders have been aggressive lately,” he replied. “Moving far north, trying to expand their borders into these lawless lands.” He looked back to Boone, and raised an eyebrow. “This place emerged from the halo, did it not?”
“You mean the blacklight?” Boone asked. He nodded. “Just over a week ago.”
“We left the morning after the halo was witnessed in the western skies,” he said. “Come to seek those who rode on Tiamat’s wings.”
“Tiamat’s wings?” Boone asked. “Wait, what?”
“We have found you now,” the tall man said, ignoring Boone’s question. “You, who have crossed the Black Gate to join our worlds.”
Carla and Boone glanced at each other for a moment.
“Hold on,” Boone said. “You’re not making any sense. Tiamat? Black Gate?”
“Tiamat is the guardian of the Black Gate,” he said. “It was she who summoned the halo. It was she who fulfilled her charge. Others call her Eiden, but Tiamat is her true name.”
“Wait, so this Tiamat person brought us here?” Carla asked.
The Caedan shot back an accusing glare. “Tiamat is no mere person,” the tall man said. “She is one of the Old Ones, the Mother of Eiden Myr. She who ate the fruit of the vine and gained the knowledge of the architects.” He stamped a foot on the ground. “You know not of Tiamat? You know not of your gift, your blessing?”
“Gift my ass,” Boone said. “Two weeks ago I was planning my next fishing trip, now I’m trying to defend this town against an entire army.”
The tall man looked to the other Caedans. Something seemed to pass between them for a moment. When he looked back, he said, “My name is Burai,” he said, bowing his head. “May I know your names?”
“Gerry Boone,” Boone said. “And this is Carla Meriweather. I’m the head of the local police and military. Carla here is part of our chamber of commerce. She’s the one to talk to about trade.”
Burai nodded at the two of them. “It appears as though there is much we need to learn about each other,” he said. “But for now our travel has caused us no end of weariness. Our gifted deserve rest, they have pushed hard this past week. We seek rest for the night. You have a traveler’s inn?”
Boone nodded. “Yeah,” he said. He explained carefully where they would find the closest motel, a large blue building along the side of the highway visible from where they stood. Burai looked up to it and nodded.
“I thank you,” he said, bowing slightly. “We shall rest there for the night. Tomorrow, we will trade in your marketplace and learn of this place. We shall talk of Tiamat’s blessing as well.”
“I should say so,” Carla said. “You seem to know more about our arrival than we do.”
Burai shook his head. “We know little,” he said. “But we will share what we know when we are rested.” With that, he nodded and started heading in the direction of the town.
As they passed by, Boone looked to Carla. “Syrel says they’re devoutly religious,” he said. “They could be just spouting off scripture or something.”
Carla shrugged. “It’s not like they’re thumping on any bibles,” she said. “Tiamat sounds so familiar, too. I swear I’ve heard that name before.”
“They seem harmless enough, but there’s something off about that Burai guy,” Boone said. “I think we’re going to have to keep an eye on them.”