Week 13, Chasing the Children
We left our heroes speeding into friendly territory after conducting a daring and successful raid on Prince Rashid's forces to steal a blaster cannon for the defenders at Biloxi.
It is about a day and a half since anyone slept. We part somewhere quiet and collapse in shifts. In the interlude, Cantrel, Chris, and Alag count out the loot:
About 10 hours after we went to ground, we are rested up enough to resume. IT is now about 6:00 PM and the sun-lamps have gone down the first notch. We drive in to Joliet and locate a Highlander officer (distinguishable by his black and tartan uniform). Cantrel presents us as some of Augustus's skirmishers and asks to leave the loot here. The Highland officer assures us it will remain ours as long as the Prince doesn't cross the lake. Good enough.
Do the Highlanders have anything they'd like us to scrounge next time out? Men and guns. Well, for a start, we give him 2/3 of the guns we captured.
How might we make use of captured armor without being mistaken for the Prince's men? Put a tartan over it, the Highlander suggests. (THX Mac1138.)
We learn that the three big air-cars were the Prince's own "Arrowhead Escort," and that one usually contains the Prince himself.
We then go into Joliet and pick up several yards of yellow McCloud tartan. While in town, Tom suggests that Chris (our best artist) produce a sketch of Waverly (remember Waverly?) and start showing it around. We've been operating covertly so long, this simple piece of candor comes as a bit of a shock, but it works. A Doncastrian says he saw Waverly over in Gagarin, crawling out of the lake, wounded. Meanwhile, Lorelei has been asking after those four kids from Lafayette, whom we rescued and left in Biloxi; they seem not to have arrived in Joliet yet.
Biloxi is on our way to Gagarin, more or less. We stop off there and find they have hidden the cannon we gave them. They tell us, when we ask, that we can give the "next cannon" to Joliet. We also find, to our consternation, that the two older children from Lafayette have gone missing. The toddler is no help, and the four(?)-year-old won't talk to anyone, but has asked for Tom.
Tom presents himself to Danielle and learns that Genvieve, the eldest, went out after Pierre, who went out to be stupidly heroic. They were both headed inward, toward the forest and Woodlark. We sigh in exasperation and Tom, using Danielle and Pierre's old leg cast, tries a Finding on the lad, but to no avail. He assures Danielle that it is OK to talk to the people here and takes his leave.
We split up. Tom, Jake, and Gene go to Gagarin to continue the Waverly hunt, while everyone else goes kid-hunting. (Lorelei realizes Pierre would never have tried this had he not found his compound fracture amazingly healed. She resolves to give him a simple fracture or two to keep the little chump-head nailed down.)
Taking the air-car gliding along the highway, Tom, Jake, and Gene arrive at Gagarin. They show the sketch to the border guards and are told Waverly was probably sent to convalesce at the Soyuz Arms, an inn currently doubling as something of a field hospital.
At the Soyuz Arms, the trio's martial appearance startles a Doncastrian guard, but he soon relaxes enough to tell us that Waverly has already left a day or two ago, displaying remarkable energy for one so severely wounded. Tom, who has presented the group as relatives and friends of Waverly, mutters about patharchy and hopes his quarry was not burning his candle at both ends too long.
The maid tells us much the same thing and remarks on how fast "Mr. Leo" healed. He also seemed very concerned about some equipment he'd lost while on the far side of the lake (probably in the woods or Woodlark). That would be his personal time-travel belt.
Tom asks to look over Waverly's room for clues. With the current occupant's permission, we do so, but to no avail. However, the maid produces a bloodstained pillow. This gives a nice, clear Finding -- straight inward, toward Woodlark. sigh
Meanwhile, the rest of the party has flown back into the forest, led by Alag with his infrared vision. (It is now night.) Chris has his own infra-vision, and Cantrel and Lorelei are wearing captured helmet, which come with night-scope visors.
They track Pierre's trail to the farmhouse, then, when Pierre saw the carnage, away back into the woods. Eventually, it leads to a rocky outcrop forming part of the fences of the original wilderness preserve. Horrid noises issue therefrom. There's a scaly, burly, leonine creature that Cantrel identifies as a dire-cat, snarling to itself and grabbing around under a rock shelf.
Dire-cats are very strong and tough. But four invisible, flying, heavily armed, time-traveling wizards are more than a match for it. After it runs away, Chris calls Pierre out. The boy totters out, sees Lorelei, and collapses. Lorelei pitches in with the magical healing again, and finds the boy massively raked by the dire-cat's claws. She saves his life but leaves enough superficial cuts to keep him quiet this time.
The three of them (Alag remains invisible) take turns chewing Pierre out, then learn that he had no idea that Genvieve was following him. Lorelei and Chris flit off on flying belts to dump Pierre back at Biloxi, while Alag and Cantrel take up the hunt again.
Meanwhile, Tom, Jake, and Gene have left Gagarin and taken the long way around the highway to Biloxi, while Tom uses the bloodstained pillow-case to make enough Findings to triangulate with. They point into downtown Woodlark. Modified rapture.
The trio meets with Chris and Lorelei at Biloxi. Chris has returned Pierre to Danielle and Tomas, chewed him out once more, then given him a dagger as a farewell present. ("We won't HAVE to come back, will we?") He then locates someone with a bull-horn and, while they yell acoustically for Genvieve, Lorelei telepaths for her. Nothing whatever. Tom's attempted Findings fail too. This suggests the girl is dead or in psilence. Or maybe we just blew it. A second attempt at Finding gets a faint reading toward the forest, though.
Tom and Chris flit off into the night to join Alag and Cantrel hunting in the woods. Eventually, we home in on the edge of a clearing. It appears that an air-car landed here and there was a scuffle. Lorelei tries a scrying and her Shields instantly snap shut. Alag's Retrocognition reveals that Genvieve was grabbed here by two of Rashid's men, who had already collected a young woman. Lorelei notes that it would be very like an Arabic megalomaniac to keep a harem...
It appears we have a twofold mission to Woodlark. We collect arms and armor and set out on flying belts. On the way, we observe that Woodlark has some new buildings, unlike Jack contemporary. One is a shallow-domed building with four towers, kind of 25th-century Arabic, and the others are small but business-like fortresses at major street intersections.
We pause at the city limit. We decide to use no psychic powers and no psilence for as long as possible. Partly for that reason, and partly to stay in reserve, Alag declines to go in and give up his invisibility. We take a last Finding on Waverly. Chris brings out the Map of Here and, between that and some more triangulation, wee determine Waverly is near the edge of the domed building, underground. Sounds like dungeons, doesn't it? While we're doing this, Alag notes a faint sort of aura around that building. Force field? Spells?
Since we're lousy at blending in, we decide to sneak into the city now, at dead of night, and climb down a man-hole into the network of utility tunnels. That to reach Waverly. But Genvieve is probably in Rashid's harem. Lorelei suggests she could get there quickly by simply expedient of taking off her clothes and waiting for a patrol to notice. Or by running a bit slow and getting caught. Chris suggests it would be simplest and least suspicious to volunteer.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.