Chapter 97: Dragons vs. Red Herrings
Erratum: In the last couple of logs, we spoke of three messengers being
sent out first, then being lost and four being sent to find them. It's
the other way around. Four were sent out and lost, then three sent to
We left our heroes with a plan in place to distract the dragons and give Mr. Sun's four (sic) unlucky messengers a chance to survive. We have located the messengers at the point of being set upon by draconian hunters. By retroactive eavesdropping, we have determined that these folk were betrayed to the dragons by a human at the last village, for suspicious activity. Neither they nor their draconian pursuers can just vanish, or that would be even more suspicious and endanger the whole exodus plan.
We will now pick up the messengers, and, with their cooperation, we will have them hypnotized (or something) into believing that they are part of a band of robbers, acting as bait to lure the folk in the last village into the robbers' clutches by stories of escape to less dragon-dominated lands.
After that, the messengers are "free" to go back and be captured by the dragons and tortured for information -- a process they might survive if they are "just" bandits preying on fellow-humans and not anti-draconian dissidents. Then we will impersonate their fellow bandits, and wait around in the forest up the road to be "discovered" and chased. When we happen to get away, that will not be suspicious and will end that line of inquiry. At least we hope it will, just as we hope we get away.
First move: Tom turns down the lighting in the pantope, and turns off the warning glitter on the edges of the portal, to hide it all better in the woods, then lets Mr. Sun out on the forest road, just ahead of the doomed messengers. They are, of course, very surprised to encounter him here, but obediently follow him into the forest shadows, and thence into a strange, dark empty place (the pantope). He explains the situation to them, and, as he predicted, the agree to cooperate with the ruse.
Second move: With the aid of some hypnotic drugs from the field-hospital autodocs and a nephil named "Hestus," a friend of Mr. Karnov's, the messengers re-arrange their minds to believe that they are bandits and we are their confederates. We glamour ourselves up to look like Oriental bandits, to supply convincing images to their memories.
Third move: We put the poor messengers back on the road, ready for certain capture.
Fourth move: We back up three or four days and move the portal down the road, and proceed to camp realistically in the woods for a few days until events catch up with us. The faux bandits are: Dafnord, Robbie, Brunalf (in a seeming to look like a short human rather than a big cat), Markel, his dragon (in the seeming of a horse), the Gargoyle (in the seeming of an attack dog), Katrina, Gannar, and Tom. To our usual crew, we add Braeta, Desmond, and Greywolf, to get numbers up as high as Mr. Sun thinks they should be (and for some comforting backup nephil-power). All the glamour is cloaked, to hide the telltale psi smell. Kate is driving the getaway pantope.
Our camp-out lasts days and includes, for verisimilitude, a latrine, but we use the pantope to hop in and out, thus reducing our subjective stay to a few hours. Finally, events catch up and we hear distant screams in the forest. Oh, good...
Shortly after that, the Gargoyle spots a draconian. They are very stealthy and have already surrounded us. We do the natural thing and start running, pursued by dragons.
Gannar, the closest to a draconian, loses himself in the woods momentarily, then scurries up a tree with the aid of his built-in lift motor. There, he clambers into the pantope, courtesy of Kate.
The next close target is the Gargoyle. But he's in the seeming of a dog, so the draconian just chucks a spear at him and runs on. Unfortunately, the seeming makes him as soft as a real dog. Ouch. He falls.
Robbie chucks his spear at this draconian and hits, then runs off at an angle to draw the draconians away from Katrina, the next nearby target. (Robbie can run very fast.) Dafnord throws a rock at another, hitting, and Markel fires a bow from horseback (well, the back of his friendly dragon, but...). The draconian Markel shoots at then parries the arrow with an arm bracelet, which is very impressive. This reminds us that our main mission is to run away.
Greywolf sneaks up on the stricken Gargoyle/dog, breaks off the spear head, picks him up, and runs away with him. Stealthily. This, too, is impressive, since even in the seeming, the Gargoyle/dog weighs more than a hundred pounds.
Markel's foe, impressive or not, falls soon from healthy electric zap thrown by Braeta. His metal bracelets are a positive hindrance here. Dafnord and Robbie continue an orderly retreat, heaving rocks at draconians to good effect. Kate, meanwhile, scoops up Tom and Brunalf the erstwhile neo-cat, after they have convincingly lost themselves in the woods.
Desmond makes rendezvous with Katrina, during the retreat, and gives her a touch of temporal acceleration to aid her escape. Markel downs a draconian with an arrow between the eyes. Soon, he, Dafnord, and Braeta have moved together, retreating while throwing various unpleasant things at their pursuers.
Kate picks up the Gargoyle, and offers a lift to Greywolf, but he refuses. She picks up Desmond and Katrina instead. Robbie runs off in pursuit of Greywolf's pursuer and gets to see Greywolf dive into a bush looking ... odd. Furry. Long in the arms. Kate offers him another escape and, this time, he takes it, reversing his shapeshift once he's well into the pantope.
Greywolf's pursuer has now changed to running after Robbie, who leads him into the embrace of Braeta, Dafnord, and Markel. Braeta blocks the fellow's retreat with a delicate earth-tremor that brings a couple of trees down, and Markel shoots him full of arrows. Kate, meanwhile, picks up Robbie. Soon, all the draconians are down, dead, or well out of sight, and Kate can pick up everyone else.
We all de-glamour except the Gargoyle/dog. Tom and Greywolf do first aid on him, removing then spear head. Then, while he's still a dog, we put him in a field autodoc. After that's done what it can, Tom will turn him back into living stone and try glamour on him.
We now double back and look for the four messengers. Two are dead and the other two are in sad shape. We pop them through the pantope and into a field hospital.
Fifth and last move: There are the three other guys sent out to look for the first four. But that's simple. We drop Dafnord off to intercept them, with a letter from Mr. Sun, explaining things. They're to go ahead to complete the mission of the first four.
Mr. Sun is now satisfied, but the dragons are still thick on the ground in his area. We resolve to make pickups there last. Dafnord also would like a re-match with those dragons, just before pick-up.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.