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Chapter Forty: Pretenders

Justin tried his best to look nonchalant as he lingered around Ynnia’s tent, thinking about the best way he could go about procuring the mapbook. The radio, he knew, would run out of batteries far before they could make any sense of what was coming out of it, but the map represented a threat to Dunsmith that Justin just couldn’t allow. It was bad enough overhearing that one of his own had been shot through the eye with an arrow, but he just couldn’t allow the Vectorans to have possession of that map. He had to do something.

Vatori was still off somewhere while Teslan peeled the potato-like roots that some of the slaves and women had foraged from the area, but he knew that if Vatori returned, he’d have more than just a few words to say. He walked on eggshells around the man enough as it was.

He continued to watch, taking a moment every now and then to peek in and see what Ynnia was doing. At first, he had been flipping through the bible and looking at it in wonder and confusion, but he had soon grown bored of that and was poring over the mapbook.

Suddenly, he looked up and made eye contact with Justin. Justin whipped his head away, but it was too late.

“You there,” Ynnia declared. “Alverra, is it?”

Shit. Justin looked over, his heart skipping a beat. He was busted, he knew it.

But Ynnia simply beckoned him over. Suspicious, Justin slowly walked into Ynnia’s tent. He looked back at him and innocently asked, “Sir?”

“You’re one of the men who brought in Bond, aren’t you?” he asked.

Justin nodded.

“What do you make of these things, Alverra?” he asked, sweeping his hand across the table upon which sat the objects the three Vectoran soldiers had brought back.

“Couldn’t say, Sir,” Justin replied quickly. He made a show of looking at the objects in turn. “Books and clothes and such things. Makes little sense to me, Sir.”

Ynnia picked up the thick black volume that bore the words “Holy Bible” on the front. “I think this to be a book of their histories,” he said. “And this is obviously used to communicate with others of their kind.” He gestured towards the radio. It was still squawking out random communications between soldiers.

“It’s all strange to me, Sir,” he said, then eyed up the mapbook.

“Ahh yes,” Ynnia said, then picked up the blue mapbook. “A strange volume, filled with maps of places and lands I’ve never before seen. I think Dunsmith to be originally from an island nation.” He pointed to the title of the book, Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook. “There are many other cities on this Vancouver Island of theirs. Victoria, Nanaimo. Names of places and rivers and lakes. Seas and islands, but I find myself confused.”

“How’s that, sir?” Justin asked.

“Well, it makes little sense for them to have maps of such detail printed– and they are printed, which is every bit as surprising as anything else that’s come from them. It’s pure lunacy. What if an enemy should get their hands on these maps? They’d know the lay of the land, the location of important places.” He shrugged. “It’s foolish, really.”

“Maybe it’s fake,” Justin suggested, hoping beyond hope that Ynnia would take his suggestion seriously.

But Ynnia shook his head. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t think it’s a fake.” He looked up at Justin. “It’s real. I’d wager my sins against it.” He shrugged. “Either way, it must be copied. Here,” he handed the mapbook to him. “Take this to Lieutenant Vatori. Have him set some men to the task of copying it.”

For a moment, Justin was so dumbfounded he almost forgot to take the book, but his motor instincts kicked in, and he grabbed the book. What luck! The book had just been handed over to him! All he needed to do was to be ‘clumsy’ enough to trip and have the book land in the firepit and it would be all over. He’d be punished, that was certain, but the price would be worth it. He looked back to Ynnia as he took the map from him and nodded.

“Yes sir,” he said. “I’ll do it right away, sir.”

Ynnia merely nodded, released the mapbook from his grasp, and went back to looking through the rest of the things his men had returned to him. Justin turned to leave the tent, focused solely on the relief he felt at having the map when suddenly, the light was blocked from in front of him.

“And what do you think you’re doing, you fool boy?” Raesaul Vatori asked, his eyes narrowed in anger and frustration.

“Ahh, Vatori,” Ynnia said. “I was sending young Alverra here to see you. I’ve a map that I need copied.”

Vatori looked past Justin, then down to the map he held in his hands. He plucked it from Justin’s hands. “This one’s not fit for anything of that sort, sir,” he said. “He’s short-minded. Incapable of performing anything other than menial tasks.” He tapped Justin’s head. “Dumb, he is.”

“Truly?” Ynnia asked. He looked at Justin sideways for a moment. “Strange. I could have sworn–” He shook his head. “No matter, in that book you will find a map on the eighteenth page. There is a circle drawn around the borders of the town. I need that map copied as many times as you can. Set any man who has his letters to the task.” He looked back to Justin. “And you, Alverra. I’ll have you report to Lieutenant Nyssla. We’ll be starting to push our way into the town starting tomorrow.”

Justin’s eyes popped open. Tomorrow? Word around the camp was that they were to wait until the next High Dream, when the Azure Dream was full. That was still weeks away! Justin masked his surprised, however, and simply nodded.

“Truly?” Vatori asked. “Tomorrow we push?”

Ynnia nodded. “Nyssla’s regiment will go up through the long roads around the southwestern border. Logging roads, they’re called in the map. We’re going to come at them in the center of their town from several directions.” He smiled. “And have a runner readied with the fastest myrnah in camp. I want a message to Anastae by morning, even if it bursts the beast’s heart.”

Vatori nodded. “At once sir!”

Justin couldn’t find any excuse to linger around. Instead, he left the tent with Vatori, who hadn’t yet said a word about his peeling tasks. Perhaps he had forgotten.

But as they left earshot of Ynnia, Vatori looked to him. “What are you doing now, fool?” he asked. “Report to Nyssla at once!”

Justin backed off in an instant. He needed to get to Teslan and the others. He needed to get to his backpack and send a warning back to town, but he knew it wouldn’t take long for him to be ousted with Ynnia listening to the radio.

He watched as Vatori walked over to his tent, the map in hand. No doubt the task of copying the map would be set immediately. Justin had lost his one and only chance.

Now that he had been reassigned, he had a sinking suspicion that things weren’t going to go according to plan at all.

 

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It took Boomer’s eyes a moment to become adjusted to the light as he stepped out into the day. He had spent the night speaking with Jarrod, and had tried to sleep, but the straw itched terribly, and even though Boomer couldn’t see them, he knew there were more bugs in that pile of straw than in the entirety of Dunsmith. He was still scratching in places he didn’t know could itch.

Boomer had been woken up from a strange dream. He’d been walking through an endless jungle, exploring without purpose. The more he explored the place, the more there was to explore. It was as if he were learning the world, in a fashion. He couldn’t quite explain it, but he swore he felt a presence before being rudely awoken by Giger, who kicked him in the side and pulled him to his feet.

“Count yourself fortunate,” he had said to him. “The General has decided to speak to you personally rather than send you to Cahl.”

Boomer said nothing to the man, only nodded in understanding. He wondered about Andy as he passed by his cell. It was empty. Obviously while Boomer had been summoned by Ryde, Andy was instead being sent to this Cahl character. He understood little about the man, gleaning what he could from Jarrod’s evaluation of the man, but he didn’t like what he heard. He was a summoner, after all. Summoners were often not quite on the same level as the rest of mankind.

But then, neither was Boomer anymore. Still, he hoped Andy was doing okay, wherever he was.

Giger led him to a large stone building that reminded Boomer of a medieval castle. The type of building that one could lay siege to and still take days to breach the gates. From the ornate décor and artistry along the walls and grounds of the building, he assumed it to be a palace of some kind. Or, at least, it would be once construction was finished. There were several Geomagii up on wooden scaffolding, tending to the construction.

Once inside, he entered a grand foyer. The room was massive, climbing the heights of the building. Two sets of stairs led to a second level, and three hallways split out from the foyer leading deeper into the building. Giger led him down a hallway a ways, then paused outside of a wooden door. He knocked.

“Come,” came an impatient voice from inside.

Giger swung open the door and walked inside. “Sire, the prisoner James Bond of Dunsmith,” he said.

Boomer walked in behind Giger and regarded the man sitting at the table. He was a tall man, older, with flecks of gray in his hair and short, pointed goatee.

Ryde looked up at Boomer and regarded him for a moment, expressionless.

“Fine, Giger,” he said. “You may leave us.”

“Sire, I do not think–”

“Must I repeat myself?” Ryde asked, issuing a challenge to Giger.

Giger shook his head, bowed and backed down. “Of course not, Sire,” he said. “Please call for me when you are finished with the prisoner.”

Ryde only gestured for him to begone. Giger bowed once again, then backed out of the room. He gave Boomer a menacing glare before closing the door behind him.

Boomer stood there wordless as Ryde regarded him. A few moments of silence passed by before Ryde finally stood up and walked to his window. He looked out to the courtyard.

“Are you a man of faith, Bond?” he asked, not looking back.

Boomer raised a speculative eyebrow. That was an odd question. “I’m not sure what you mean, sir,” he said.

Ryde looked back at him. “What I mean is, are you the type of man who believes and trusts in his leaders blindly, or are you a man who believes only in what his eyes tell him?”

Boomer thought about the question. He had the sneaking suspicion that Ryde was testing him somehow. He couldn’t tell if it was just his own paranoia, or something he was picking up from the man. But still, the answer was easy.

“I believe in what my eyes show me,” he said truthfully.

Ryde smiled, the corners of his mouth turned up. “Indeed?” he asked. “Then I would peg you as an intelligent man,” he said. “A man of reason and wit. Is that a safe assumption?”

“I guess so,” Boomer replied.

Ryde nodded, then went to go and sit back at the table. “You come from this Dunsmith place. I have it from Captain Ynnia’s message that you’re an exile. I won’t burden you with the question of why you were exiled, but there are questions I must ask.”

“Have at her,” Boomer said.

Ryde regarded him for a moment, obviously confused by his choice of words, but he must have figured it out. “It’s said your town arrived in a halo of light,” he said. “From across the void. I’ve also been told of one of your number, a girl with hair the color of blood. Would you know this girl by any chance?” He looked Boomer in the face.

Boomer held his poker face for as long as he could. Terra? He was talking about Terra, he had to be. But why? How had he known of her? Why would he know of her? Beyond her mission, she was hardly important to Ryde’s plans.

Boomer shook his head. “No,” he said. “Can’t say I do.”

Ryde kept watching for a moment longer. “Of course,” he said. “With so many people there, I hardly expect you to know them all.” He shook his head. “No matter. Do you have your letters, Bond?”

“If you’re asking if I can read, then yes. I’ve got my letters,” he replied.

Ryde nodded, then slid a couple pieces of parchment across the table. “I received this early this morning,” he said. “We’re currently poised to breach the limits of your town. I’ve already sent a runner back, informing Ynnia of my intention to bring a larger force up there. For the past several days I’ve been sending men north.”

Boomer picked up the paper and read it. With every sentence, he felt his heart grow heavier. Killed two Halemen and one Dunsmith man. Retrieved strange books, devices. But most importantly, a map. Boomer looked at the other piece of parchment. He felt as though his seat had fallen out from under him, but still he betrayed nothing.

“I have assurances from Ynnia that it’s accurate,” he said. “But I must admit even he cannot be sure.” He looked at Boomer. “But you can.”

Boomer looked up. He had to be careful about this. “I couldn’t be certain,” he said. “I never spent much time up the logging roads or anything, but the town looks about right.”

“Good,” he said. “Then perhaps you can tell me about the place the roads all meet up.” He pointed at a spot on the map, an area just south of downtown, one of the places where the logging roads met with the main town roads.

Boomer knew the road in question well, it was on his regular jogging route. Harris Road ran the length from the logging roads right down to the highway, running right into Crown Square, a large outdoor strip mall.

He looked back up at Ryde. “It’s nothing,” he said. “Just a bunch of houses and parks. A shopping mall. It has no strategic value what—”

Suddenly, Ryde smashed his fist down on the table. “You’ll let me be the judge of that!” he exclaimed. He yanked the map from Boomer’s hands and set it flat on the table. “Look here. This area, this entire section of town is the key to all of it. If we control this area, the rest of the town will fall easily.”

He looked down at the map again. Slowly, he started nodding his head. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I suppose so.”

“What else is there?”

“I’m sorry?” Boomer asked.

“What else,” he said, slowly and clearly right up to Boomer’s face. “is there of strategic importance. A palace? Barracks? Storehouses, anything!”

“We don’t really have any of those–”

“Tell me!” Ryde exclaimed, bashing his fist on the table again. “Or else I swear I’ll send you to Cahl.”

Boomer looked back at Ryde for a moment, then made a show of deflating. “Got a pen?” he asked.

Ryde quickly placed a quill into his hand. He had even dipped it in ink for him. Boomer slowly scanned the map, and made a few X’s at various locations. The locations he was giving Ryde weren’t strategic in the least, and he made sure to put them in outlying areas, on the off chance that Ryde managed to take a stronghold in town, the last thing he wanted was for the man to know where all the important buildings were. He marked off the locations of vacant buildings and lots. He marked off small playgrounds and forested areas, and just for good measure, placed a strong black X on the location of Dunsmith’s one crack house.

Finally, he stopped, and Ryde snapped the map from his hands again. He looked over the map, then started to nod.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, my boy. This is good.” He looked to him. “These are storehouses?”

“Stores,” Boomer agreed. “A few other places. City hall, the police station.”

Ryde nodded. “Excellent,” he said. He looked to Boomer and smiled. “You’ve done well, boy. Remember that Tammil Cuerian remembers those who have assisted Vector in such ways. Should this intelligence hold true, you will be a freed man of Vector.”

Boomer looked back at Ryde. “Something tells me that until it holds true, I’m going to be staring at those four walls for some time yet,” he said.

Ryde chuckled. “Of course, boy,” he said. “We remember our friends, but it’s yet to be proven whether or not you’re a friend to Vector.”

“Well I ain’t a friend to anybody else,” Boomer said.

Ryde nodded. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll have you returned to your cell. You’ll stay there until such time as I return.” He smiled. “Feel fortunate I’ve decided to save you from Cahl’s brand.” He walked to the door and swung it open, yelling for Giger.

Giger was around the corner in an instant.

“Take Bond here back to his cell. Feed him well and do not mistreat him,” Ryde said. “Then I give you leave to prepare for the trip north. Am I understood?”

Giger bowed. “Yes, Sire,” he replied.

 

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“–and it is because of the Council that all the lands reign in peace with one another,” Phearon said. “People, I implore you to speak with your leaders. The path to your salvation lies not with Halen, but the Council!”

Raine stood in the crowd, listening to Phearon speak. He didn’t believe a word that came out of the man’s mouth, but he had a task to complete, and Raine wasn’t the type to shy away from such things, no matter how unexpected. If someone had told him three weeks ago that he’d be a Pyromagi trying to infiltrate and stir up dissent within Phearon’s minions that he’d managed to sucker in, he’d have asked what they were smoking. Not to mention where he could get some, but that was neither here nor there.

Since Constable Littleton had given him the oust from Barb’s Kitchen, Phearon had set up shop down the road a little, at a small coffee shop on High Street notorious for the elderly patrons that frequented it. In fact, most of the people that Phearon’s words were reaching were from the latter half of the age category. There were a few people there his own age, but as far as Raine could tell, he was the only magi.

Phearon had been fully aware, of course. What with Kayla Winder from Barb’s Kitchen one of the most outspoken of his retinue, it would have been impossible to pretend to be otherwise. Kayla was the centerpoint of the town’s rumor mill. Most gossip passed through her before it hit the rest of town anyway.

Raine, however, didn’t make a show of it. He acted much the same as he always did, making sure to show off his powers to whoever might be interested. But he also made a show of asking Phearon a lot of questions. Phearon, in turn, had a lot of questions for Raine, mostly about the structure and organization of the Magick Society, the duties of Lily and Arie, things like that.

He’d told him. The Society had nothing to hide, after all. He just neglected to mention anything about the operation they were attempting to pull off. Raine’s job was simple. Become trusted and stir up the ranks.

Easier said than done. Most of the ranks he was going to try to stir were people he’d known for years. People he’d never have imagined he’d be working against.

Still, they were being lied to, and Raine knew it. The Council could be no good for them. Lily had suggested that Raine stop attending the meetings at the Journeyman in order to keep up appearances. He had to appear as though he had applied himself fully to Tome’s cause.

But even he was getting tired of hearing Phearon jaw on about the same thing, over and over. The Magick Society will fail, blah, blah, blah. Halen is crap, Nadus Hillbreaker is a liar, and salvation lies with the Council and the Council alone.

Over the past two days, the number of people who took Phearon seriously had grown from a half-dozen into nearly thirty people. By the hour, more people were stopping to listen, finding themselves suckered in by his bullshit.

Raine stuck around at High Street Coffee for most of the day before he could see the signs that even Phearon was growing bored. He stood up, spoke intimately with a few people in the crowd, then made his leave. He reminded Raine of a crooked televangelist.

“What do you think, Raine?” Kayla had asked him after Phearon left. “Should we bring it up at the next committee meeting?”

Raine shrugged. “I don’t know if it would do any good,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Boone and Goose and them are backing the Magick Society a hundred percent. They’re counting on this deal with Halen to come through,” he said.

“But Phearon’s got an important message,” she said. “The Magick Society is wrong. We’re only going to end up pissing off the Council, then we won’t get any help.”

Raine shrugged. “I know that, but good luck getting the committee to agree with you,” he said.

“They have to,” Kayla said. “We’re a part of this town, too. Our voice counts.”

“Not to them,” he said. “Not right now. We’re pretty much at their mercy.”

Kayla’s face turned up into a scowl. “That’s not right,” she said. “This is a democracy.”

“I think we left that back on Earth,” Raine said. “No, I don’t think they’ll listen.”

“Well, then what do you suggest?”

“I dunno,” Raine said. “Something to get their attention, I guess. Let them know we’re serious about this.”

Kayla raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I’d say the best way to do that is to very publicly state how we feel about the Magick Society,” he said. “And the committee. Let them know that if they don’t start shaping up, we’re gonna storm in there and take ’em out of office ourselves.”

Kayla seemed to chew on what Raine had said for a moment. Raine knew the instant she grew silent that he had gotten her thinking. Perfect. He couldn’t have asked for a better setup. Kayla would spread it around to the others, putting the idea of an uprising among them. The stupid bitch probably thought she was doing something noble, too.

“I’ll talk to the others,” Kayla admitted. “See what they think about it.”

Raine already knew what they would think about it. Kayla was one of the most stubbornly opinionated people in town. Once she got an idea in her head, nothing could shake her from it. More importantly, she was well known for biting the heads off of anyone who disagreed with her, so there was little chance of that happening. No, with Kayla Winder taking the helm, it would get done.

What she would do, however, remained to be seen.

Raine watched for a little while as Kayla made her way around the people assembled. He witnessed more than one heated argument between her and the people she was talking to, causing some to storm out, but others started nodding emphatically.

Raine knew that what he was doing couldn’t be very good for the town at the moment, but Lily had assured him that it would be worth it all in the long run. After Phearon had been run out of town, the people would settle down.

But in the meantime, it was time to stir up some shit. Raine grinned at the thought of it. He’d never been so devious in his life, and he found something exciting about it.

Still, his work was nearly done. Soon things would get bad for Phearon’s crew. Especially with Kayla Winder at the helm.

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It had been three days since Lily’s confrontation with Phearon Tome, and she was still worked up over the whole situation. Even Arie was treading upon eggshells at home, careful not to rouse her ire. She’d been given updates by Raine every night after he got home and called her, and for the most part, they seemed to put her into an even worse mood.

But now, Phearon Tome was taking a distant second to their task at hand. The operation they’d been speaking of for a week now was almost upon them, and both Lily and Arie had taken the time to train for it.

Lily was getting better almost by the hour. Just when Arie thought she held no more surprises, she managed to shock her yet again. At the rate she was going in mastering her powers, she could have been a third-year student. Arie had never seen anyone pick it up so quickly. Not even herself.

But now the night was drawing to a close, which left them only twenty-four hours until they were to report to the airport, and Lily was getting ready for bed.

“Are you ever going to turn him back on?” Lily asked, referring to Tam as he sat lifeless on the table. “It can’t be fair to him to be stuck in there.”

“I know,” Arie said. “I just… can’t face him. Not now.”

“You’re going to have to eventually,” Lily said. “He was only trying to protect you.”

“I know,” she said. She sighed. “I will animate him again soon. When I’ll need him.”

“When will that be?” Lily asked.

Arie merely shrugged.

Lily sighed, then changed the subject. “Raine called,” she said. “He said the natives are restless. It won’t be long now.”

“What’s going to happen?” Arie asked.

Lily shrugged. “No idea,” she said. “The only thing I do care about is that it gets Tome run out of town.”

“And you’re certain it will work?” Arie asked.

“Well, it’s going to have to,” Lily replied. “Otherwise we’ll have to take much more drastic measures.”

“Like what?” Arie asked.

“Forcing him out ourselves,” she replied. She looked over at Arie. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I don’t think it will have to come to that.”

Arie nodded, then remained silent for a moment as she sat on the couch, her feet propped up on the coffee table. She looked at Tam, then let her eyes pass over the strange jewel Lily had brought home several days earlier. She’d seen it several times, but had never really paid much heed to it. For some reason, at that moment, she looked at it in a completely different way.

“Where did you get that?” Arie asked.

“Hmm?” Lily replied. “Oh, that? Some Caedan merchants in town,” she said, dismissing it.

Arie reached over and picked it up. She looked at it much more closely. Something about it struck a chord somewhere in her memory. She couldn’t place it, but for some reason, even holding the jewel made her feel as though her curiosity had been sated.

She turned it over in her hands, looking through the distorted lens in the center of the emerald. It made the world green, and straight lines became distorted.

Suddenly, something stuck out in her memory.

She dropped the jewel immediately.

“What?” Lily asked. “What is it?”

“Lily?” Arie said. “I think this is the Eye of Lychon.”

“The what? What are you talking about?”

She worked her jaw a few times, considering what she was saying. It was impossible. The eye had been lost for centuries, but the description was dead-on. It was the right size, shade and shape. She’d seen drawings of it in old books while studying. It was a relic left over from a time where magick was a very different thing than what it stood as today. Left over from the days of High Magick, before the fall of Eventide.

She picked it up again, and looked deep into it. How did it work? The books never covered that.

“I think it’s the Eye of Lychon,” she said. “It… amplifies ability. Immerses a magi in arcane knowledge.”

“What?” Lily yanked the Eye from Arie’s hands. “Are you serious? How does it work?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve only studied it in the histories. It doesn’t cover its operation, only outlines what the old High Magii used it for.”

“Sweet,” Lily said. “So it’s valuable?”

“Valuable?” Arie exclaimed. “Lily, it’s been lost for hundreds of years! Within it are the secrets of the old High Magii. It’s absolutely priceless!”

“Well, then what should we do with it?” Lily asked.

Arie closed Lily’s hands around the Eye. “Keep it hidden,” she said. “In a safe place. Don’t let anyone see it. If the Council even heard a whisper that this might still exist, they’d level the town to get to it, and kill anyone in their path.”

Lily looked Arie in the eye. She could tell by the look on her face of the seriousness of the Eye.

“All right,” she said, slipping it into her pocket. “I’ve got a safe in my room. I’ll put it in there, nobody will ever know.”

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Published inChildren of the Halo
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