Lily and Arie walked side-by-side down the street running from their apartment to the Journeyman Inn. They’d spent much of the morning talking, making phone calls to a few people, but afternoon came sooner than expected, and the day’s meeting started at three. Lily and Arie liked to be early. Especially since the boys in the work crew (as cute as they were) that were fixing up the old building liked to leave trash and refuse in the lobby almost daily. They were usually done by two o’clock, which left them just an hour to clean up the place before the meeting started.
Lily had mastered a trick that surprised even Arie. By simply running her hands over objects, she could attract dust particles and other small bits and pieces. When Arie inquired how she did it, Lily shrugged and said something about static charge, something she’d learned about in grade eight. All the bits and pieces would sit in her palm, and she’d just repel them away when she reached the trash. It was truly amazing to Arie how quickly Lily, and even the rest of the people from Dunsmith were picking up their abilities.
It was as though the people of Dunsmith had a truly deeper understanding of the elements. She guessed, with their mastery of machines and crafts, that such an understanding just came naturally. After all, children would need to be taught how to build, repair and operate the machines.
The two walked across the street into the downtown core, chatting all the way. It wasn’t until they were in sight of the Journeyman and Barb’s Kitchen that they noticed the crowd gathering outside of the diner.
“What the hell is going on there?” Lily asked.
“I’m not sure,” Arie replied. She narrowed her eyes for a closer look. “But I think that’s Phearon Tome.”
Lily stopped dead in her tracks. “What?”
In front of the little restaurant across the street, a small crowd had gathered around one of the outdoor tables. A man dressed in brown robes sat looking up at them, gesturing wildly and speaking loud enough that bits and pieces of what he was saying were carrying across the street. Funny how the lack of steady vehicles going by made sounds carry so much farther.
Still, they couldn’t quite make out what he was saying.
Lily turned to Arie. “Get to the Inn,” she said. “Call Shelly Littleton at the police station and tell her to get down here.”
Lily turned on her heel and stormed across the street at a rapid pace before Arie even had a chance to reply. She saw Tome look up towards Lily, and for a brief moment, he made eye contact with Arie. He gave no reaction, he just simply let his sight slide over to her as he watched Lily approach. It slid back just as fast, as though he had never even seen her, but she knew he did. Even dressed as she was, he’d seen her face enough times to know it in an instant.
After all, he was her teacher.
“–to find, that never again will you rely on false promises from untrue Kings,” Phearon said. “Hillbreaker has, at every turn, tried to pervert the will of the Council. Not outright, oh no. He’s a clever man, and he knows that to openly defy the Council would tear his nation out from under him.”
“So what you’re saying is that this Nadus guy won’t help us?” A member of his small audience asked. One of the many old men that had been coming and going from Barb’s Kitchen all morning asked.
“Oh, I’m not saying that at all,” Phearon said. “He may or may not help you overcome Vector, but you must be aware that he will covet what you have for himself. You have great wonders of machinery here, and he will demand that you share their secrets in exchange for any help. The Council won’t do that. They will accept as you give, and as long as you enter into the pact and hold it as law, they will ensure that you would never be harmed by any nation under the Pact.”
Someone else started to ask a question, but Phearon found himself distracted by a figure walking towards him from across the street. He looked up to see a young girl, walking with a purpose towards him. His eyes passed beyond her for a moment and he saw another girl standing behind her, looking back at him with an expression of fear and worry.
Arie Boas. It had been months since he’d last seen her, and she’d changed in ways he couldn’t fathom. She was dressed like a local, her hair had even been styled differently, obviously from local influence, but it was Arie nonetheless. He taught her everything she knew, after all. He would be able to picture her face into old age.
He gave no reaction, but simply let his eyes slide back to the girl approaching him.
“Just who the hell do you think you are?” she exclaimed.
Phearon played the fool. “I’m sorry?” he asked. “I believe you’ve caught me off guard. Have I done anything to offend?”
“You were warned last night that you’re not to come anywhere near her.” She jabbed her finger back across the street towards Arie. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“Do not worry,” he said. “I was informed of what your laws state, and I have every intention of following them.” He stood up and regarded her for a moment. “If I’ve come across in a manner you find offensive, then I must apologize.” He bowed slightly and offered his hand. “I am Phearon Tome.”
But the girl slapped it away viciously. “I know who you are,” she said, then spat at him.
“Hey now,” a man in Phearon’s small audience said. “Just take it easy there, girl.”
The girl looked back at him. “Whatever he’s spewing out of that hole in his face is bullshit,” she exclaimed.
Phearon wiped the gob of spit off of his robes with a napkin he picked up from the table. How dare she? He had never been spoken to, never been treated in such a way! He should be enraged!
But no. He would stay calm.
“And how are you so sure that what you’ve been told isn’t a lie?” Phearon replied, calmly. “Miss, I bear you no ill will. Nor do I bear Arie any ill will. I have merely been asked on behalf of the High Magus Council to come and bid her to return. She is needed in Shavi on matter of the utmost importance.”
“Bullshit,” she exclaimed again.
“Hey now!” Kayla, the young waitress that had been keeping Phearon in coffee exclaimed. “Lily, take it easy!” She had been listening to him on and off, but he could tell that he was making sense to her as well. This upstart girl was Lily. Lily Rasmussen. He had read about her in the paper. She was the first in Dunsmith to display the gift, and had been appointed head of the Magick Society. Such an important position for one so young.
“No, it is all right,” Phearon said. He looked straight at Lily. “She is frightened, and that is to be expected when the nation of Vector licks at your heels. Miss Rasmussen, you believe that your salvation will come in the form of assistance from Halen, I’ve no doubt. But even you must understand that you’re only being told half-truths. Halen may help, but the price–”
“You’re a fucking liar,” Lily exclaimed. “I know all about you and who you work for, you piece of shit.” She turned to his audience. “He’s a hired goon, nothing more. The only reason he’s here is to get Arie and he’ll lie to all of you to do it!”
“He’s already told us why he’s here,” Kayla explained. “And he’s already told us that he’s going to follow the law.”
Lily snapped her gaze back to Phearon for a moment. She looked like she was about to say something else, but the whole group was distracted by a loud squeal from the street. Phearon looked over to see the same vehicle that he had ridden in the night before pull up next to the restaurant. He watched as the female constable got out.
“Didn’t I warn you about this?” she asked, shutting the door and walking up.
“I have no intentions of harming the girl,” Phearon explained. “We merely crossed paths in this place. I had not known I could not be on the same street as her.”
“What’s going on?” Shelly asked, looking at Lily.
“He’s spewing out shit,” Lily exclaimed. “And they’re buying it.” She motioned to the crowd of people nearby, who shot looks of disdain back as Lily.
“It’s not… shit, whatever that may be,” Phearon said. “Every word I’ve spoken is true. While she resides in this town, I will not approach Arie Boas. I will not speak with Arie Boas. But you cannot expect me to avoid her if I have no awareness of where she is at any given time. What if we were to enter the same shop? Come across each other as we walk along the road, or bump into each other as we round the same corner?”
Shelly looked to the crowd of people gathered. “He telling the truth?” she asked.
Several people in the crowd nodded emphatically. Others didn’t seem so sure, but that was good enough for Shelly.
“Move it somewhere else,” she said, pointing at Phearon. “A hundred feet, got me? That goes for that building, too.” She jabbed a finger at the large building across the street. “Consider this your last warning.”
“Yes,” Phearon replied. “Of course.”
“You’re not going to arrest him?” Lily exclaimed. Silly girl. Brash girl. Of course she would not. As long as he was not outright breaking the law, he would be free to move around. By no means did he intend on breaking any of Dunsmith’s laws. It would jeopardize his mission.
“Unless he does something against the law, there’s nothing I can do,” Shelly said. She looked over to Phearon. “But the second he does something, he’ll be sitting out the rest of his visit in a jail cell.”
It took Lily a little while to calm down after the situation with Tome. She took her cleaning tasks to the next level, even lashing out with her powers more than once against an unsuspecting piece of wood or wall, leaving a small scorch mark. By the time she was done, it was still another thirty minutes until the meeting was to begin, but already a few members were beginning to trickle in. Raine, as always, was the first to show up.
Raine’s abilities as a Pyromagi were increasing by the day. He’d been spending nearly all of his time either practicing or showing off for his friends. Arie was surprised at the way he made haste with his progress, after only two weeks showing a mastery unforeseen among even second-year learners.
He’d often helped them out, insisting on taking the garbage out (which he incinerated somewhere between the back door and the dumpster), but he was surprised to see all the work had already been done, while Lily was still huffing and puffing about Tome.
“What’s up?” he asked her.
Lily told him about Phearon Tome and what he was there for. She left out pieces of information such as Arie’s heritage, but went into detail on what she had found him doing, just across the street.
“Messed up,” he said.
Lily nodded. She and Raine sat down at the bar talking about it while Arie entertained some of the other early comers.. Others were starting to trickle in now, but Lily wasn’t in the mood for a formal meeting. They hadn’t had any new magii in a couple of days, and right then there was another dilemma to deal with. Before long, enough people had arrived for the meeting to start.
Lily shushed everyone and sat on the bar. The room was getting fairly packed now, if they kept bringing in more members, they were going to run out of space, or work out some other way to meet. Perhaps they could hold individual meetings for each type of magi, but that would be something to worry about later. Lily nodded to Raine, who went to the front of the building, then closed and locked the door. She didn’t want anyone just coming in off the street to overhear what she had to say.
“We’ve got a problem,” Lily began. She explained the situation with Phearon yet again, and told them of her experience with him earlier. She was calmer now, more cool and in control of her emotions. After she had finished explaining what had happened, making sure to make basic signs so that Marie could follow the conversation, she hushed her voice a little.
“We had an idea on how to get him out of here, but he’s already a step ahead of us,” she said. “He’s trying to convince those people that the Council can only be a good thing, but we’ve all heard the stories. We all understand that the Council is one influence we can do without here in Dunsmith.” She swept the room. “Do any of you want to go to Shavi? Possibly for years, just so you can say you’re a magi?”
There was a resounding no in the room.
“I’d like to say something,” Arie said.
Lily nodded, then gave her the floor.
“I’ve come to enjoy my time here,” she said. “The last thing I’d like to do is leave Dunsmith. I can see everything so clearly here, but in Shavi, things are very different. Students disappear, people talk in hushed tones and it’s general knowledge that one does not cross the Council.” She sighed. “And because of that, I cannot ask you to risk such a thing for me. The Council–”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Raine said, breaking in. “Screw the Council. If that guy’s really here for you, he’ll have to go through me first.”
A chorus of agreements echoed through the room.
“Look, Arie,” Lily said. “Just so it makes you feel better, we’re not risking ourselves for you. We’re risking it all for freedom.”
Arie looked back. “What?”
“There’s something Boomer says from time to time,” Lily said. “An old quote. Benjamin Franklin, I think. Those who would trade liberty for security are deserving of neither.”
Arie looked back at her. She worked her jaw, but no words came out.
Lily smiled at her. “Besides, what would Boomer have to say about it if he comes back and you’re not here?”
Arie looked to the ground. The corners of her mouth turned up into a little smile.
Lily clapped her hands. “Okay, so it’s settled. We make our stand against these Council assholes starting right now. And our first target is Phearon Tome.”
“So what’s the plan?” Raine asked.
Lily regarded Raine for a moment. “Have you ever heard of an Agent Provocateur?”
Boomer’s shoes weren’t made for long hikes. Especially those of the sort were he was required, along with Andy, to pull a cart full of supplies needed for the trip to Anastae. Andy was in rough shape, however, and Boomer had tried to make it easier on him, but under Giger’s ever-watchful eye, he found it increasingly difficult to pay the man any heed whatsoever. Giger seemed to take pleasure in kicking and beating the man on occasion; Boomer could only grit his teeth and watch.
By noon on the third day since they’d left, they finally came within sight of Anastae. It was revealed suddenly, given away by the increased presence of soldiers on a road that looked new, yet well-worn. As they entered a clearing, Boomer could see a field of tree stumps, clearcut by a small army of loggers who looked every bit as worn as Andy. Boomer couldn’t believe the amount of people he was seeing. There were thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. The city, and it was a city, was still in its infant stages, but several buildings had already been completed, and even more were in varying stages of construction. The Vectorans weren’t invading– they were colonizing.
He walked the distance left to Anastae, pulling the cart along until Giger ordered them to stop. Andy dropped his end of the cart instantly, and Boomer lowered it to the ground safely, knowing that if it had even made so much as a sound, Giger would have used it as an excuse to beat Andy some more.
Boomer watched as Giger walked up and talked to a man lounging in the sun in front of a small half-constructed building. The spoke for a moment, and Boomer watched as he gestured towards him and Andy. Before long, the man he was talking to pointed towards a large building nearby, and Giger nodded, returning.
“Feel fortunate,” Giger said. “General Ryde and Shalo Cahl are immersed in tasks for the day. You’ll be afforded time to eat and sleep,” he said, then the corners of his mouth turned up into a wicked smile. “Too bad about the view, though.” He then grabbed the ropes that bound Andy and Boomer’s wrists together and led them off towards a large building made of solid stone. He could see men, obviously Geomagii, working around the outside of the building, molding designs and outcroppings into the side of the building with their hands. They worked it like clay, pushing the stone into the proper location and shaping them. The building looked like something he’d seen in a video game.
It took Boomer’s eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness inside. It was hot out, the sun high and bright. The inside of the building had very few windows, and it was very cool and dark, lit only by torches and oil lamps held in sconces along the walls. Giger led them down into a long hallway, where he fetched a set of keys from a guard. Finally, he stopped in front of a door, opened it up, then burned away the rope binding Andy’s wrists. Andy yelped out in pain and cradled his wrists, but Giger didn’t care. He shoved Andy into the cell, then closed and latched the door.
“You’ll be fed soon,” he said. “Try not to make any noise, the guards do hate to be disturbed.”
Before Andy could make any sort of reply, Giger yanked hard on Boomer’s bindings, pulling him farther down the hall. Of course they wouldn’t be locked up together, but perhaps that was for the best. It might be easy to get comfortable around Andy and speak of things that might be overheard.
Giger led Boomer down another hallway. Boomer made a mental map of the place in his head, using the same mental map that Giger was using. He remembered where Andy was locked up, and he saw exactly the cell Giger was taking him to.
Finally, he arrived. Giger opened the cell, burned off Boomer’s bindings, which caused him to wince, then shoved him in and latched the door shut behind him.
He never said a word as he walked off. Boomer watched from the little window in the door, which had bars of solid stone, until Giger was out of sight.
The inside of the cell was dark, devoid of light. But from an oil lamp that was burning just outside, he could barely make out a small pile of straw and a wooden bucket.
“Great,” Boomer said out loud. “Now how do I dial room service?”
“Hello?” he suddenly heard from across the hall. “Hello, are you there?”
Boomer peeked out of the little barred window in the cell and saw a hand coming out of the window in the cell door across from him. It waved around for a moment until the owner’s face came into view.
“Hi there,” Boomer said.
“Oh, thank the Dream,” the man replied. “I haven’t had anyone to talk to in days.”
“How long have you been in here?” Boomer asked.
“I’m not certain,” he replied. “I can’t tell when day ends and night begins, but it’s been some time. The guards won’t tell me anything. They merely throw my food onto the floor and expect me to lap it up.”
“Well, if it helps, it’s around late afternoon,” Boomer replied.
“Do you know the date?” he asked.
“It’s June twenty-fifth,” he said, then winced. “I mean Septra… uhh… nineteenth.”
“Truly?” he replied. “I’ve only been in here for five days.” There was a moment of silence. “It felt like so much longer.”
“So,” Boomer began. “What are you in for?” He winced as soon as he’d said it. How cliché.
“They took my sister and I two weeks ago,” he said. “They raided our village and took us to this place. We had no warning.” Another moment of silence passed. “I was trying to free her so we could run. Even death is more preferable than what is being done to her.”
“What are they doing to her?”
“They’re using her. That summoner, Cahl. He’s taken her as a vessel for the summoning of a Daemon.”
“A Daemon?” Boomer asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “I do not know if she still lives. When last I saw her, she looked near death.”
“Christ,” Boomer said. He didn’t know what else to say.
“What about you?” the man asked. “For what reason have they put you in here?”
“Information, I’d imagine. I’m from Dunsmith,” he said.
“Dunsmith?” he replied. “I’ve never heard of the place.”
Boomer wasn’t surprised. They’d only been around for just under two weeks, and if this guy had been locked up for about half that, it explained why he hadn’t heard of it.
“It’s up north a ways,” he said. “About three days travel, just east of a village called Stone’s Mouth.”
“Stone’s Mouth?” he asked. “That’s impossible. There’s nothing east of Stone’s Mouth save for a patch of rough land along the coast. It’s nearly impassable.”
“Well, there is now,” Boomer said. “Let’s just say things changed a little over the past few weeks.”
“They would have had to,” he replied. “I’m from Stone’s Mouth.”
Boomer blinked. “You are?” he asked. He peered closer through the window and tried to get a glimpse of the man’s face. “What’s your name?”
“Jarrod,” he said. “Jarrod Holm.”
Boomer recalled the name. He’d never actually met Akris Holm, but he’d heard the Elder’s story. His son and daughter had been taken by Vector the day before Dunsmith’s arrival within the Disputed Lands. They had been taken to an unknown fate.
Boomer guessed their fates weren’t exactly unknown anymore.
“Hi Jarrod,” Boomer replied. “My name is James.” He didn’t really want to lie to the man, but it was important that he keep up appearances. Still, he felt he had to do something to help the man, to alleviate his stresses and worries. “I haven’t met your father, but I know of him. I passed through Stone’s Mouth before… before I was captured.”
“Truly?” Jarrod asked. “He lives? What about my mother?”
Boomer shook his head. “I couldn’t say,” he said. “But I know Akris Holm is still alive.”
Jarrod looked through the hole in his cell door and smiled. “That is the first piece of news I’ve heard that puts a smile on my face, James. I would be honored to call you friend.”
“We have it!” a soldier exclaimed as he ran into the camp, several men at his flank. He was just loud enough to distract Justin from the important task Vatori had set him to, peeling a mass of weird potato-like roots that were green on the inside. He looked up just in time to see him run past, holding a piece of cloth with him. Justin’s jaw dropped the moment he recognized it. It was a blue backpack, a Roots logo emblazoned on the back. “We have it!” the soldier repeated.
Even the men that were following him were carrying items. One man held a rifle, while another man held something in his hands that he couldn’t make out– that is, until he heard the squelch of a radio and men using code. He felt something fall into the pit of his stomach as he realized what that had meant.
Burz came out of his tent at the commotion and regarded the men curiously.
Shit. Justin had to get closer. He had to hear what was going on. He looked over to where Vatori usually sat, and found him to be missing. He didn’t know where he was, but he wasn’t going to worry about it now. He looked over to Teslan and nodded, and Teslan came to take his place in the peeling process while Justin moved in closer to hear.
He approached the group nonchalantly, stopping just as he was within earshot. Burz already had the backpack in his hands, while the soldiers showed him how to use the zipper.
“It were three of them, Sir! Two Halemen and a man of Dunsmith. They never seen us at all. We seen their road– it weren’t paved over like the others. It were covered by tiny sharp rocks. They came when we waited in the bush. Mayram got him in the eye with his arrow while me and Tomas took on the Halemen. They was in one of their beast-wagons, they was.”
“This is true, Nyssla?” Ynnia asked, raising an eyebrow towards the one the other man had referred to as Tomas.
He nodded. “I swear it, Sir,” he said. He motioned towards the first man. “The beast-wagon was still growling when we killed them. Hyram found the bag and gun inside.”
“And the beast-wagon?”
“It were filled with all sorts of levers and switches. A wheel controlled the direction it would move in, while on the floor of the beast were two footpads. One made it go and one made it stop,” Hyram said.
“You operated it?” Ynnia asked.
Hyram nodded. “Yes sir. We took it to a cliff’s edge and sent it over. We didn’t want to risk them being found. We took the gun and the noisebox first, but could make no sense of the nonsense spewed out. The switches on the top control the loudness of the thing. They talk to each other with them, but they speak in code, I think.”
Justin was worried. Two dead Halemen and a townie? This didn’t fare well. The fact that they had a working radio fared even less well. How long until the batteries died? What information could they get out of it?
“There’s more, sir,” Hyram said. “In the bag.”
Burz reached into the bag and started pulling things out. He pulled out, in order, a small, yet thick black book that Justin recognized instantly as a bible, a blue sweater, an iPod and a blue book with a glossy cover. It was a map book.
The feeling in Justin’s stomach got worse.
“The book,” Hyram said, gesturing to the mapbook. “It’s got their town in it.” He opened the page and pointed to it. “Look, the fools have circled all ’round where their borders are. This here’s the road we found them, about three hours west along their border.”
Justin watched as Ynnia’s face lit up. “It leads right into their town,” he said. “Many of these roads lead right into their town!”
Hyram nodded. “Have we done well, sir?”
“You have indeed,” Burz said, smiling. He clasped a hand on Hyram’s shoulder. “Outstandingly well. You’ll be rewarded well for this, boys. You’re Lieutenants now, all three of you.”
The faces of the men lit up instantly.
“Enjoy a second helping tonight, and report directly to me in the morning. I’ll have men set to copy this map right away,” he said.
Justin watched in horror as Burz placed everything back into the backpack, except for the mapbook. He held that under his arm and took the rifle and radio from the others, then turned back towards his tent.
Justin hadn’t expected this. He wasn’t prepared. What could he do?
He watched as Burz disappeared from sight. Finally, he set his jaw.
He knew exactly what to do.
He needed to get to that map before it was copied.