It was early evening when Terra finally biked her way back into town. Her legs were so used to the exercise now that she’d barely broken a sweat. Mind you, the highway between the downtown Dunsmith area where she lived, and her parent’s house in Whitepoint was relatively flat, and the lack of cars gave her plenty of space to ride.
The steep hills that she had to climb when she got back to town, however, were another matter entirely. That’s when she chose instead to lock her bike to the bike rack outside of the Post Office and walk to the top of the hill. She had to speak to Nalya, and unless she was out with Ryan, she was likely at her house.
Well, it wasn’t rightly her house, but it was the house left empty after the Blacklight Event that the town had agreed should be put toward housing dignitaries on a semi-permanent basis. It was where the town had chosen to put up Nalya, Bayne, Corpus and Arynn Shima until such time as a proper embassy could be either zoned or built.
Terra hiked her way to the top of the hill and rounded the corner. Already she could see Ryan standing in the front yard with Bayne, going over stances. Terra still had a problem considering Ryan as a swordfighter. Even after she had seen him with the Twilight Blade of Rasshauer Flenn fighting against a twelve-foot tall El’Dar, it seemed far too surreal for her to really contemplate. At first, she’d loved the idea of a world full of magick. And then she was kidnapped. Twice. Ryan was stabbed, and nearly died. On top of the friends she’d lost on Earth, the Battle of Crown Square had taken the lives of a dozen of her friends, and many more of her graduating class. The reality of the situation had set in.
And now, she discovers that her own family has a link to the Pactlands that goes back generations.
“Hey Terra,” Ryan said, noticing her. “What’s up?”
“It’s true,” Terra said. “It’s my great-great grandfather. The handwriting matches.”
“Oh lass,” Bayne began. “Ye’d best come inside.”
Bayne led her and Ryan through the doorway and down the hall into the living room. Corpus was sitting at the kitchen table, going over some papers while Arynn sat at the couch, playing a video game. That’s another thing Terra found surreal. People from the Pactlands playing video games.
Nalya stepped out of the kitchen carrying a bowl of popcorn. “Terra,” she said, smiling. Then she noticed the look on Terra’s face. “What is it?”
Terra opened her backpack and pulled out Maer’s book, followed by the letter he had written her great-great grandmother. She handed it to Nalya. “The handwriting matches,” she said.
Nalya placed the popcorn down by the fireplace and took the book and letter. She sat down on the couch next to Shima, who was now paying attention. Even Corpus was looking up from his papers.
“Wait. You’re saying you’re descended from Maer?” Shima asked. He only got a somber look from Terra.
“How long ago is this date?” Nalya asked.
“About a hundred and forty years ago,” Terra replied.
Corpus stood up and walked over, looking over Nalya’s shoulder. “That doesn’t make sense. Are you certain?”
“I am satisfied it’s the same hand doing the writing,” Nalya replied, looking up to Terra. “But Corpus is correct. We still need to address this incongruity with the passage of time. You say this was only one hundred and forty years ago for you, but we know for a certainty that Maer—Murphy walked the Pactlands a thousand years ago,” Nalya explained.
“That may well be, but this place is already so different from Earth,” Terra said. “Maybe time works differently here. Maybe here it’s been a month since we crossed over, but back home it’s only been a few days.”
“There’s little point in making assumptions without evidence,” Corpus interjected. “We must focus on what is known to us.” He picked up the leather-bound volume from the table next to them and opened the book. “Terra, tell me. Does this book tell you anything?”
“From what I’ve read, a little. He tends to ramble a lot. I think he may have been senile when he wrote it. But I’d have to re-read it. Maybe I’ll notice something I didn’t before I knew who the author really was.” She shook her head. “But he talks about a few places in there. Asha’Nigh, for instance.”
“I’d not visit there, child,” Bayne said. “It’s not safe.”
“Nothing about the Pactlands is safe,” she exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air. “Do you know what it’s like to get visions? They’re cryptic and confusing and I feel like throwing up! I can barely sleep because they keep—“ she stopped mid-sentence. She hadn’t intended on telling anyone about her latest vision.
“You’re having visions again?” Nalya asked.
Terra sighed. “It doesn’t make sense,” she replied. “I just see your faces and… things happen to them.”
“Our faces?” Ryan asked. “Like mine?”
“A tree was growing out of your head. Don’t ask me, because I have no idea. It might have just been a stupid dream,” she shrugged. “But that doesn’t even matter. We still haven’t found the third object from my first vision.” She pointed to Ryan’s sword as it lay by the doorway. “We’ve got the sword. We’ve got the Eye of Lychon, even if it is floating around inside of Tam somewhere, but we don’t have the staff.”
“Not yet,” Ryan said. “But we’ll come across it. I’m sure of it.”
“Look, I’m just frustrated,” Terra said finally. “No offense you guys, but the Pactlands has lost its novelty for me.”
“After every storm, the sun will smile,” Nalya said.
Terra only looked at her. “What?”
“It’s something my father used to tell me,” she said. “Life is not meant to be easy. It is not meant to be a clear path. There are challenges, obstacles. What matters is how you surmount them. Not in ability, but in spirit. We must weather the storms in life that we are subjected to if we expect to see the sun again. We cannot always live for the present. Sometimes we must suffer the present to live for the future.”
Terra opened her mouth to say something, but she found her tongue couldn’t form the words properly.
After every storm, the sun will smile. She ran the proverb over and over in her head. She found it unusually profound. Terra was a person who was consistently living for the present, with little thought or regard for the future. And now here she had the future exposed to her in a very perverse way. That alone was enough to make her reconsider her methods.
Terra could no longer live for the now. She had to, by definition, live for the future. Especially if the visions she experienced had any ring of truth to them.
She collapsed to the floor. “This really isn’t fair, you know,” Terra said, defeated. She put her head in her hands.
“Life rarely is,” Nalya said. “I’ve been where you are, Terra. My own mother stood by and watched while I was tried for the murder of my own father. If not for Bayne, I may have thrown myself from a cliff. But I chose instead to weather the pain and move forward.” She lowered herself to the ground and placed a sympathetic hand on Terra’s shoulder.
“I get it,” Terra said.
“Now, tell me about these visions, Terra,” Nalya said, sitting next to her.
“Just press down on the gas pedal,” Lily shouted over the low rumble of the engine.
“Like this?” Keltz asked, pressing down on one of the pedals. Her Celica roared to life, startling Keltz as he picked his foot off the pedal.
“Yes,” Lily shouted back. “Just more lightly. Ease your foot onto it.”
Keltz tried again, this time being gentle with it. He slowly pressed down with his foot until the vehicle maintained a steady growl. Keltz wouldn’t show it, but he was somewhat elated. This was the first direct experience he’d had with the mechanisms of the automobile. “You know,” he shouted over the engine. “This isn’t what I had in mind when you said you wanted my help moving something.”
“I haven’t started it since the day after the Blacklight,” she said. “I just want to make sure the gas hasn’t settled. We’ll be going on fumes, but we should make it to the school.” She slammed the hood shut and clapped her hands together.
“As good as it can be, I suppose. It is a Celica. Here, shove a bum,” she said, motioning for Keltz to move over into the passenger seat.
“These names confuse me. I see perhaps three different styles of vehicle. Trucks, cars and vans. And yet, you’re expected to know a Taurus from an Escort. Or an Avalanche from a Ram. To me, these are just words. It seems like something of an obsession among you people.”
Lily smirked. “You’ve been spending too much time with me,” she said.
“Perish the thought,” Keltz replied.
Lily put the car in gear and started to inch her way out of the parking lot in the rear of her building. With the sudden influx of people within the town, the streets had become more cluttered. First Avenue was entirely off limits during the daylight hours. At any given time up to a thousand people wandered in the middle of the street going about daily errands, trading or entertaining. And a growing number of them were locals. Thankfully, she was fairly certain the road to the school was clear of people. Much of the town was still suburban, and there were likely many streets that no Freeman had ever laid an eye on.
Lily turned out onto Bayview Drive. As she sped up, she spied Keltz in the corner of her eye, gripping onto the handle nervously. She laughed.
“You okay?” Lily asked.
“Fine,” Keltz replied. “I’m just not used to the front seat. So why are you donating your car to the college?”
“Two reasons,” she replied as she turned down a side-street. “Because if we can’t find a way to keep the cars running, all they’re going to become is scrap metal. Finding actual fuel would be nice, but as far as we know, the only place rich in oil is in Vector. That’s only a part of the problem. We can’t refine it. We’d need to build a refinery. And in order to build a refinery, we need all sorts of other things that we just don’t have yet. It could take twenty years before we get a decent system up and running. But if we can find something else, an alternative fuel source—something we haven’t considered because we’re strangers to magick, then I’m willing to make a donation to the cause.” She shrugged. “And the second reason is that I just hate this car.” She looked over to Keltz. “A lot.”
Keltz laughed as Lily took another turn, bringing them down a steep hill. The sensation of descending the hill so quickly made Keltz’s stomach feel strange, as though he were falling. Keltz had been to this area before. They called it the Dogwood Dip. You descended a steep hill on one side of the dip and crossed a bridge, only to climb another steep hill. Keltz knew it well because it had been one of the bridges rigged up with explosives, set to go off if the Vectorans were able to push beyond Crown Square.
“Hey,” Lily said, looking out through the windshield. There was a man on the bridge, looking out over the bridge. “I think that’s Burai.”
“The Caeden?” Keltz asked. “The one who sold you the Eye of Lychon?”
Lily nodded. She slowed the car down and rolled down the window. “Burai?” she asked.
The older man turned around, his white robes swaying in the wind. He smiled at her. “Young Lily! It is good to see you.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m on my way back from the mountain lookout,” he said. “I wished to see the town from above. I was not disappointed. Next I wish to explore the north end of the city. I hear this airport of yours is quite a sight.”
“Would you like a ride?” Lily asked. “I’m sure I have enough gas to get you downtown.”
“Oh, I could never,” he said. “My people must have their feet on the ground. If it cannot be walked, it cannot be traversed.”
Right. Lily had forgotten. The Caedens had a strange religious observation that they could not use vehicles. They had oxen and mules, of course, but they only carried supplies. Never people. Even boats were forbidden, and they used Aquamagi to march across the ocean floor.
But still, she hadn’t seen Burai since he’d sold her what she thought was a neat little trinket. A green jewel the size of the palm of her hand. Little had she realized it was the Eye of Lychon. She’d picked up a legendary artifact with extremely potent magic for forty bucks. A legendary artifact that her best friend and roommate was having visions about.
Now she had to know why.
“Why did you sell me the Eye of Lychon, Burai?” Lily asked.
Burai smiled. “Ah. Found out, was I?” He shook his head. “The truth is, Lily, I had no choice but to sell it to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that,” he explained. “By your having the Eye, I was made free of another burden.”
“I don’t understand,” Lily said. “Be straight with me, please.”
Another smile. Burai was good at appearing as a jolly old man. “I did not intend to deceive, Lily. The simple answer is that it was meant to go to you. And through you, to your Seer.”
Lily suddenly shut off the car and opened the door. She stood up and walked over to Burai. “What do you know of my Seer?” she asked.
“Do not think I mean her harm, Lily. But it cannot be hidden. The prophecies say a Green Seer will arise from the Halo. I would venture to say from your reaction that she is close to you somehow. Either way, with her lies the answer. She will be there, when the time comes.”
“When what time comes?”
“It is not for me to say, Lily,” Burai said.
“Bullshit,” Lily shot back. “When what time comes? If she’s in danger, you need to tell me.”
“Lily!” Keltz yelled. He came around to her side of the car and gripped her by the shoulders. “Please calm yourself.”
Lily calmed herself. Her temper was starting to flare up more and more lately, but then she had been under a lot of pressure as well.
“I understand your anger, Lily,” Burai said. “If you wish, we may sit and speak of this. Perhaps it is time you hear the prophecies. Is there a time we may speak?”
Lily looked to Burai. “Do you know where the Davies Road School is?”
“On Davies Road, I would imagine,” he said. “Ah yes, you mean your new College of Magick and Lore, do you not? I walked past it not long ago. I know where it is.”
Lily nodded. “Come by tomorrow at noon,” she said. “I’ll have an hour.”
Burai nodded. “Very well. I shall see you then.”
“The comforting fact is that most of the little bastards skipped back south, other the border. But we’ve got word that some of them have been holing up in the woods about five clicks south of Stone’s Mouth and have been raiding travelers. They still don’t have the guts to mess with our supply chain to Stone’s Mouth, yet, but they’re getting braver,” Boone said, poring over a map set on the table. He looked over to General Keller Liass, who studied the map carefully.
Liass nodded. “They’ve taken up banditry,” he said. “Which means that they fear for their safety upon returning in defeat. It’s common among Vectorans since Cuerian took the throne. He doesn’t suffer failure easily. They’re desperate men. They must be treated as such.” He pointed at a small creek flowing through the area. “My guess is that they’re camped somewhere along this stream. If you’d like, I can send a force through, pick them off.”
Boone shook his head. “No. None of this kill-first crap. They’re committing crimes in what will soon be New Canadian Territories. We watch them for now. I want intelligence on these guys,” he looked over to his right, toward the short red-skinned and feather-adorned little dinosaur to his right. “Silvereye?”
Silvereye gave a curt nod. “Yes. Quicktooth can watch. We watch. Quiet.”
Boone was still getting used to the idea of talking dinosaurs. Especially dangerous talking dinosaurs. During the Battle of Crown Square, the Featherclaw single-handedly took back an entire region of the logging roads purely by stealth. They suffered only one casualty, Sharpscent. A close friend of Silvereye’s. He just thanked whatever deity there was that the Quicktooth were on their side. He and Liass were friends, surprisingly. Apparently the two had some kind of history, but Boone had never asked about it.
“Okay, now that leads me to some domestic concerns,” Boone continued. He jabbed at a point on the southern end of the map. “Looks like we’ve got a Tyl colony moving in at the south of town. We figure they were displaced by the Vectorans, but they’re causing no end of complaints.”
“Doesn’t your new constitution afford rights to Tyl?”
“Tyl, Featherclaw, El’dar, whatever else there is out there that’s capable of communication and reasoning abilities,” he explained. “But that’s not legit yet. It still needs to be voted in. I’m worried about what our people might do to them in the meantime. Winder’s group has made it very clear that they’re rejecting anything not born on Earth. If they hurt or kill a Tyl, we’re opening a whole new can of worms. Under the current laws, all we can get them for is cruelty to animals. And if we don’t back up the Tyl, they’ll never trust us.”
“Stupid woman,” Silvereye commented. “Can think. Can speak to others. Not animals.”
“I’m afraid that some of my men may empathize with them. Tyl are largely considered vermin because of their thieving. I’m not certain there’s much I can do with my men. This may be a problem you’ll have to take care of yourself.”
Boone sighed. “Goose has got this working society notion that we should grant citizenship to any and all who request it, without prejudice. And I see how it works, but not all of the ideas are popular. We need to unite the Disputed Lands, not divide it down the middle.” He shook his head.
“I would leave politics to the politicians, Gerry,” Liass said. “Our lot lies in action.”
Boone smiled. “Yeah, you got a point.”
“General!” called a man from the opening of the tent.
Boone looked back to see one of Liass’ captains standing at the entrance to the tent.
“Lieutenant?” Liass asked. “Is this important?”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” Bersey said, walking into the tent. “There is a man here who wishes to speak with you. He brings word from the Queen.”
“The Queen?” Liass asked. Boone suddenly noticed the features on his face falter. He’d never seen Liass show a look of fear, but this was damn close. It was like his heart broke. “Send him,” Liass said.
Liass looked to Boone and Silvereye. “I’m afraid I must ask for a moment of privacy. A message from the Queen can only mean one thing, and—“
“It’s no worry, Keller,” came another voice from the entrance to the tent. “The message I bring concerns them as well.”
Boone turned and regarded the man who walked into the tent. He was tall, an older gentlemen with a trimmed grey beard. He was dressed in a black cloak and wore a leather hat. What’s more important is that Boone got the distinct feeling that was much more to this man than met the eye.
“Ianto?” Liass asked. “Why are you here? Is the King…?”
Ianto looked down to the ground. “He is, Keller. Taken from us a few nights ago.”
Liass’ face fell. “How?” he asked.
“Assassinated,” Ianto said.
“Christ,” Boone said.
Ianto regarded Boone for a moment and then walked up with his hand outstretched. “Ianto Indetae,” he greeted. “You speak for Dunsmith, I assume?”
“Gerald Boone,” he replied, shaking Ianto’s hand. “I’m in charge of our military. Indetae, eh? You related to Corpus?”
Ianto smiled. “He is my son.” His eyes passed over to Silvereye, and he smiled at the Featherclaw. “Hello Eine. Do you remember me?”
Silvereye winced slightly. “Eine is not name. Silvereye is name. Silvereye of Quicktooth. Yes. Silvereye remember you.” He gently reached up to touch his one silver eye with a foreclaw.
Ianto smiled. “It is good to see you well.” He looked back to Liass. “I’ve come with orders from the Queen.”
“These unfortunate circumstances have necessitated a prompt return of Halish forces within the Disputed Lands.”
“They’re calling you back?” Boone asked. “But we’re not settled yet. What if—“
“I have no choice, Gerry,” Liass said. “The King is dead. We must return to Halen.” He sighed. “There is no direct threat anymore. No large forces are coming for you, and if they do, you’ll be afforded the time to prepare for them.”
“There is more as well,” Ianto said. “Arquina has ordered that we maintain a permanent House in Dunsmith. We require use of the lands granted to Nadus Hillbreaker as per the agreement of your petition, and we require full permission to engage the Green Seer.”
Boone raised an eyebrow. “What do you know about the Green Seer?” he asked.
“What my Queen has told me. That her name is Terra Murphy, that she is a recognized Lady of Halen for her part in exposing traitors in the Halish Court, that her hair is the color of blood and that my daughter once attempted to kidnap her,” he said. “For that, I apologize. Our family is… complicated.”
Boone sighed. “Forgive me, but Terra’s one of our people. I have to be certain what it is you want with her, exactly.”
“It was the dying wish of my King that she be protected. Upon her shoulders lies the hope of Halen’s future,” he explained. “I have brought the most loyal of the Kingsguard with me. She will receive the same level of protection our King did in life.”
“No offense, but that’s not much of an ease off my mind,” Boone explained.
“I know. The Kingsguard failed that night. But it will not fail twice.”
“You’ll have to let me get in touch with Goose,” Boone said.
“Yes. Your leader,” Ianto said. “Please do. If you would be so kind as to direct my men and I to our manor house, we have traveled long and hard and wish to be presentable to Goose and the Green Seer.”
Boone considered it for a moment. From Liass’ reaction to the man, he was on the level. But Gerry ‘Bullshit-Detector’ Boone was nothing if not a good judge of character. To him, Ianto Indetae was a man who reeked of lies. Still, what choice did he have? If what he said was true, then it didn’t matter what he was hiding. And for what it was worth, he did know a lot about Terra. But still, he wasn’t sure. Either way, Dunsmith had just lost an intimidating ally, and Goose would want to meet with him. He plucked his radio from his belt and turned it on. Boone noted the interested way he looked at the device.
“Alpha-Two, Bravo-Four,” Boone announced.
Ianto cocked his head to one side. “What are you saying?”
“They’re callsigns, Ianto,” Liass explained. “They use code to identify themselves in case anyone else may be listening over the airwaves.”
“Is machine for long-talk. Easy easy,” Silvereye added.
“Go Alpha-Two,” came the reply.
“Need you to ten-nineteen. ETA?”
“A couple of minutes. En route,” the voice returned.
“Ten-four,” Boone said. He looked back to Ianto. “All right. I’ve got a man coming for you. You may know him as well. Cale Shephard?”
Ianto nodded. “Yes. He was held under suspicion of attempted murder and was subsequently proven innocent. For his part in ousting the traitors was granted his freedom as a reward, and a title as an apology,” he said.
“They keep you informed, don’t they?”
“Do you wish to ask me of the musician Ryan Stills? Also a Halish Lord, I may add? As I understand it, my own flesh stabbed him in the chest with a dagger polished in poison. You have devices like your radio, capable of speaking with people at a distance. You have glass boxes wherein images of small people dance. You have your cameras, capable of capturing events so that they can be forever enjoyed. You have vehicles that move at ten times the speed of the fastest Myrnah. You have ships made of metal. You have machines that fly. The stories spread through Halen like wildfire after your people visited. I should say word of your attack on Anastae has no doubt reached as far away as Shavi by now. Some of the stories are muddled with superstitious nonsense. That your flying machines were really giant insects that spat fire,” Ianto explained. “I am Ianto Indetae. I have served as the Nadus Hillbreaker’s eyes and ears since before he inherited the crown. Everything he knows, I know. And everything he stood for, I now stand for. That includes the protection of the Green Seer, your town, and to see you as a permanent ally to Halen through helping you rule over the Disputed Lands.” He cocked his head to one side. “And I’m a smart enough man to know when he is mistrusted. You may not like me, General, but our goals are the same. My King wishes to see your New Canadian Territories grow into a nation. And with his death it is my charge to see that through.”
Boone was actually somewhat taken aback. Not entirely, however, because every word he sang rang true to Boone. His bullshit detector didn’t go off once. He was busy formulating a response when the flap of the tent opened and Cale Shephard walked in.
Ianto turned and faced him, and lowered his head in a bow. “Lord-Captain Shephard,” he greeted.
“Oh crap,” Cale said. “Seriously?”
“Stow it, Shephard. This is Corpus’ father, Ianto,” Boone said. “He’s here to talk to Goose, but he and his men are tired. Bring ‘em down to the showhouse at that development on Sixth Avenue,” he said. “The Committee agreed to donate that land to Halen. There will be running water and electricity there. Shephard will show you how everything works.”
“Very well,” Ianto said. “I thank you, General Boone. I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon.”
“Oh, I’d count on it. Would you be so kind as to get your men together while I have a word with Captain Shephard?”
Ianto smirked. “Of course, General.” He bowed his head and left the tent.
“I have a feeling I missed something,” Cale commented.
Boone quickly turned to Liass. “Can I trust him? Really?”
Liass nodded. “He was the hand of the King for years. A man of the Enclave. He’s honor-bound to perform the King’s wishes. Years ago, he helped me bring down a corrupt Lord in Midsem,” he explained. “It’s where Silvereye and I first met.”
“Bhuton,” Silvereye replied. “Bad human.”
“Don’t get me wrong. He’s a dangerous man, and he’s got his secrets… but I don’t think he means to do any harm to Dunsmith, or to the Green Seer.”
“Something’s not sitting right. He’s still hiding something.”
“Oh, I can guarantee it,” Liass said, adding a slight laugh at the end. “But you don’t get to be a man in his position without them.”
Boone looked back to Cale. “Watch him. I want eyes on that house twenty-four hours a day until they meet with Goose and we decide what to do about this.” Cale nodded and saluted, then left the tent. He then looked to Liass.
“Keller, I’m very sorry to hear about your King. You and your men have done us a great service, and we won’t soon forget it.”
Liass bowed his head. “An honor, Gerry,” he replied. “We will set out tomorrow. I only regret we couldn’t stay long enough to see the construction through.”
Boone smiled. “You’ll be back,” he said. “I’m sure of it. Whatever Ianto’s about, he’s right about one thing. Halen and the Territories are allies, and that’s how it’ll stay.”
Liass nodded. “I’ll see to it.”