Carsius peered around a corner. There crouched a cloaked man, fiddling with a control terminal at the entryway to the left wing of Lady Miligred's house.
"Who is it?" queried Laurel.
The figure stopped, and slowly raised his head to peer around. Carsius froze in the shadows, whilst motioning for the two elves to remain silent. After five or so minutes the man returned to his work, and the left-win door pulled back slightly. Carsius glanced around, trying to think of a way to come up on the intruder unawares, yet he could find none. The shadows ended at the entryway, as large stained glass windows let profuse amounts of light into the corridor. He hadn't wanted to use this measure, for fear the intruder was a friend, but he feared he had no other choice. He turned back to Laurel, then moving only his lips asked if the was a way around them main hall into the left wing. She shook her head. Carsius nodded hesitantly, and began to draw back his cloak. Then, he saw it.
It was an intricately carved column, perhaps five feet behind them, which supported the second floor walkway that ran opposite the front wall of the house. It was in the light, but if he could get halfway up then he would be unseen. All that then remained was to make his way to the left wing and go down. Quietly, his cloth-covered feet moved noiselessly across the hall. Slowly, quietly--then he heard a whooshing noise, and turned just in time to see the intruder standing. In his right hand he held a small cross bow, and from it he had launched a chain bolt, a dart with two chain-linked weights coming out either side intended for incapacitating enemies. Carsius reacted instantly, drawing a sword and blocking. The impact shattered the blade, but he had a secondary blade drawn before the shards of the first hit the marbled floor. The intruder drew a blade of his own, and the two advanced to meet each other. Carsius glanced to see Laurel, bow drawn, still concealed within the shadows. Then, Carsius saw the dark grey insignia emblazoned the stranger's black cloak, invisible to all but the most prying eyes: a cross, from the top of which extended an out-stretched hand. The emblem of the Syndicate.
"Name yourself, stranger, by the authority of the hand of justice," declared Carsius.
The stranger eased, and lowered his sword slightly. "By the snow-streams of the Vale, I present to you Augustus Phillipus, friend."
Carsius lowered his blade completely. "Augustus.... Augustus Philipus Franci?"
The intruder nodded. At which point Carsius asked "What is your business here, friend?"
"Tell me first your name, sir."
The intruder bowed "A pleasure, my lord. I am here by order of our noble crown, a volunteer for the assistance of a group who reveal themselves scarcely, and who informed our brotherhood that this residence was vital to the overthrow of the Overlords." As if expecting the next question, Augustus threw off his cloak, revealing a tight-fitting suit of cloth, with no presence of wyrts upon him. "I am pure."
Carsius motioned to Laurel and Renata. "Come, it is safe. This is Augustus Franci, a squire I had when I first earned my spurs."
The two elves emerged, albeit cautiously. Elves had a natural distrust of men, shift and prone to change as they were. Nonetheless, Carsius and Augutus were both notably forthright humans, and though Renata still held them in apprehension, Laurel had successfully convinced her that mutual distaste for the Elitinati had brought them where they were for a reason, and thus they were to pursue that goal. After introduction, Laurel led them into the central chamber of the mansion. As they proceeded down the hall, Augustus spoke.
"You were correct about the althraxine theory, Carsius. Marcus ordered me to perform tests on some citizens, and when exposed to a slightly different genus of the fungi, analthraxine, the wyrts lose desire of their prey and move on. I believe they attack as a defensive measure for the mother-mind, to keep it from overloading from too many thoughts."
"Is that so... what else have you learned?" ventured Laurel.
Augustus looked at Carsius, who merely nodded.
"We also found that if the level of althraxine is brought to near-toxic levels, the neural activity spike overcomes any wyrts on the test subject, sending them into shock. The subject is also left dazed, but will return to normal psychological condition in a half hour. The wyrts, however, remain stunned for close to an hour. We also noticed the shock this has on nearby wyrts, and we think that a mass althraxine spike followed by an analthraxine intake would result in mass-confusion of the wyrt network."
Carsius again nodded, then turned to Laurel. "I believe we have our way in."
Laurel stepped into the room ahead of everyone else. She stood stoic by the fireplace, sizing up this newcomer with a dubious frown on her face.
Augustus sensed her hostility, and wisely avoided eye contact. The young redhead with her, however, attracted his attention more than he would care to admit. She staunchly followed Laurel's lead, though, even taking the chair nearest to her, leaving the men to share opposite ends of the ornate sofa. The foursome waited in silence. Carsius sat back and observed how no one had bothered to appoint a leader, though it seemed Laurel had been the one giving directions at first. Now Augustus turned to him.
"So, Carsius," he began, "This convenes the War Council," he joked, "What plan did you have in mind?"
Carsius cleared his throat and began.
"Well, if we can manufacture enough of the althraxine, say in the form of vapor, we could release it into the air over the town. The wyrts would overload, remove from their hosts--"
"Yes, and return when the vapor dissipates!" Laurel interrupted hotly. "As long as they are still networked with the mother-mind, she will dispense the same directive, to attach to the hosts and acquire information."
Carsius shot her a look. "Well..." he pondered furiously to come up with an alternate solution.
"What if we were to introduce the althraxine overdose into the wyrts themselves?" Augustus proposed, "Would that be enough to infiltrate the mother-mind?"
"And then what?" Laurel scoffed, "These people have been unable to think for themselves for who knows how long! Even if we were able to overload the circuits of the entire network, and the mother-mind, this would only be temporary, and these Elitinati will still have power over them."
"Well then," Augustus growled, "What do you suggest, Elf-maid?"
Laurel ignored the slight and raised her chin as she declared, "We must discover the nature of the Elitinati influence over all these people. Once we find this, then the real sabotage can begin."
"Laurel," Carsius cut in, having thought furiously as the other two fought, "Before Augustus tripped the alarm--"
"I did?" the man cried, "Curse the Elitinati and their nefarious strategic defense systems!"
Carsius smiled and continued, "--anyway, before that happened, when we were talking, you mentioned you knew a way in; what would that be?" He turned to Augustus, "Apparently, Laurel is the only one who was able to successfully bring down an entire wyrt network."
Astonishment replaced scorn as Augustus turned back to the Elf, "Truly, is this so?"
Laurel frowned, pressing her lips, "At the expense of my last living relative," she confirmed. Her manner lost all hostility, and she gazed around the small circle.
"The wyrts cannot be just tamed by chemicals. Your scientists were lucky they did not kill their subjects. Contact them again in a few days, and you will find that the subjects have not in fact regained full cognitive ability, but remain in a trance-like state, incapable of independent thought. The wyrt may be gone, but its residual effects are much more pervasive and much harder to combat.
"The influence of a wyrt on its host is not only in its physical contact. After a time of continuous exposure, the wyrt will begin to assimilate the host's own nervous system to its own, so that the person will begin to think like the wyrt. If what Carsius has told me about the Elitinati is true, then I do not doubt that they have used the wyrts to introduce a specific set of beliefs that facilitate their control over the movements of the people and establish their authority. These beliefs must be countered if the people are to be truly free."
Augustus shook his head, "So it is a matter of belief?" He laughed at Laurel's conviction. "How quaint and simplistic! No, no; I think the althraxine gassing idea will work. It's only a matter of growing enough of the fungus to extract enough althraxine to cover the town."
Laurel crossed her arms, and Augustus got his first good look at the huge purple scar on her right arm. As quaint as her logic was, he had the distinct impression that he would not like to face her in a life-or-death fight. He did not doubt that the being who had given that wound ceased to live shortly thereafter.
"And how do you plan to disperse this gas?" she demanded skeptically. "Where are you going to get enough of this fungi to accomplish your goal?"
Augustus grinned smugly as he produced a small silver device from his pocket. He pressed a button at the center, and the device lit up with many small green lights. He displayed it on his palm.
"This device is a beacon," he bragged, "It is visible to all Allies of the Syndicate. They will see it and come to our aid. I've arranged with some friends of mine on another planet to bring the fungus and the equipment needed to distribute it. We can rest for tonight, and by first light, they should both be here, and we can begin enacting the Syndicate Great Awakening." He turned to Carsius, "I assume we can just bunk anywhere in this grand old house?"
Carsius shrugged, glancing apologetically toward the stone-faced Laurel and her friend, "I believe so. I only arrived this morning, but since there are so few of us, and it is empty, I'm sure it may be every person for himself and herself."
Augustus stood and stretched his tall frame, "Well then, let us conserve our strength for the morrow! Will you come with me, Brother Carsius?"
Carsius shrugged, "Of course, Augustus."
As the two men left the room, Laurel could not resist calling ominously after them, "Sweet dreams!"
The men did not acknowledge her words.
Laurel and Renata retired for themselves later, in a room with two beds.
"Laurel," Renata asked as her friend laid herself down in the bed across from her, "why are you so sure that their plan will fail?"
"I'm sure," Laurel smiled as one absolved of guilt, "as sure as I know how these people don't seem to be bothered by the smoke from the factories. Their plan to use the vapor will fail as soon as it is begun..." she sighed and closed her eyes, "and then they will ask me for help."