Previously: Chapter 2 <Part 1> <Part 2>
Barmier pulled the hovercraft right up against the front tunnel into the mansion, so that Laurel would have the most cover as she slipped inside comfortably attired in her woods-Elf garb, but carrying one of Sister Miligred's outfits in a carpetbag—just in case.
Carsius checked the comm system.
"This is Carsius," echoed in every ear. "Sound off to make sure I can hear you. Barmier?"
"I'm in position."
"Right behind you, Carsius—literally!"
A slight smacking noise.
"Awwright, jeez!" There was a retching sound, like he'd spit out a mouthful of something. "I'm getting on the craft now."
Carsius sighed. "That's no way to behave, soldier!" he reprimanded Atis sternly, "A good operative must always be available, and ready to perform his duties fully."
"Whatever you say, Commander," Atis replied.
"And Atis? Don't make me call you twice."
"All right, everybody, we're a go! Barmier, I'll be giving you directions from up here. Take the craft out nice and easy."
Barmier pulled out onto the street and began making his way through the milling crowd.
"Boy," Laurel remarked, peeking out through the tinted windows of the hovercraft, "there sure are a lot of people out here."
"Say, Carsius," Augustus spoke up, "Does it look like a lot of people are headed the same direction?"
"Must be a Sabbath day," Carsius observed.
"Perfect!" Atis cut in, "That means more people we'll be able to rescue!"
"Keep your eyes out for soldiers," Carsius warned, but already it looked like it would be too late.
A contingent of guards marched toward the hovercraft. Their captain waved to get Barmier's attention.
"Hold!" he commanded.
"Oh snap," Atis muttered into his comm, "we're busted."
"Hold your positions, everyone," Carsius cautioned, "Let's not—"
He broke off, and everyone heard the sounds of yelling.
"Augustus!" Carsius barked, "We've been spotted. Let's split up! We'll meet back at the Theoversity."
"Roger that," Augustus replied.
"Great," Laurel muttered to herself as she watched the guards surround the hovercraft suspiciously, "Now what am I going to do?"
"Driver," the guard was saying, "Where are you taking this hovercraft?"
Barmier almost did not hear him over the thoughts of his knives in their sheaths under his cloak.
"I'm...I'm taking Her Honor—"
"What?" the captain barked. "Speak up man, don't mumble like a drunkard! Who is in that carriage? Surely it isn't Sister Miligred!"
For some reason all the guards laughed.
"And why wouldn't it be?" Atis suddenly burst out, nettled by the behavior of the guards, "We are her loyal servants, and we are bringing her to the service for the Sabbath!"
The guard sneered at Atis. "Silence, page! Is that how you address a superior?"
"Atis," Laurel cut in desperately, "Don't—"
Atis was beyond listening, "No, soldier, it's not how I address a superior officer!"
"—antagonize him," Laurel finished weakly.
The captain raised his hand. Laurel noticed that the wyrts kept people from loitering, moving them from one place to the next. At least they weren't attracting a crowd.
"In the name of the Council," the captain ordered, "Every person must step away from the vehicle!"
"Atis," Laurel tried to get his attention before he started mouthing off, "Do as he says."
"Please?" he whispered back, "I can take half of them, and leave the rest for Barmy!"
"Don't you dare!" Laurel cried.
Atis and Barmier had no choice. They stepped down from the hovercraft.
"Milady," the captain called, reaching for the door, "I'm afraid I must ask—"
"Don't let him see me!" Laurel cried.
Suddenly, the captain stepped back with a cry.
"What's happening?" Laurel felt blind as all she had to see were the small tinted windows.
Atis and Barmier could only watch as a large brown bird dive-bombed the soldiers.
"What is it?" the men screamed. Such an animal had never been seen on Eillumaeia before. "It has claws! Watch out for the beak!"
"Call it off!" the captain roared, backing away from the hovercraft. "Call your beast off!"
Atis rather enjoyed watching this strange bird driving the soldiers away.
"I would," he said, climbing back onto his seat, "but it's not mine."
The soldiers had left a wide area around the craft, but it was still too crowded to move forward.
|Scander (With Sverana)|
A high whistle split the air. The bird responded immediately, flying to the extended arm of his master: a young boy of no more than seventeen, dressed in simple woodsman garb and carrying a bright sword. He grinned at the retreating soldiers, and walked a full circle around the hovercraft, giving Barmier enough room to start it up and begin moving again.
Atis hoisted the boy up next to him.
"Nice bird," he remarked.
The boy looked to be a younger version of Atis himself. He sneered, "She's not just a bird!" he stroked his pet's feathers. "She's a hawk and her name's Sverana."
Atis snorted, "Hock, then; it's the first one I've seen. My name is Atis; what do they call you, boy?"
The stranger puffed his chest out, "My name is Scanderilian Hokron, a knight of Unigivla, and don't you forget it!"
Atis shook his head, "That name's so long I've forgotten it already. Would you mind repeating it again?"
"Ah, see? I missed it again. Scatter-what?"
"Can I call you Scandy?"
"Oy, ladies!" Augustus' voice came over the commlink. "Quit fighting and get down to help Laurel into the Palanquin."
"For your information," Scanderilian announced as he swung his lanky body down to the ground, "Most people call me Scander."
"Well okay Scamper, help the lady," Atis could not resist needling.
Scander clenched his fists, and no doubt he would have laid into Atis then and there—had not a large hand dragged him away.
Scander found himself face to face (actually it was more like face-to-chest) with a far more imposing soldier, obviously a commander. Sverana flew away from her master and alighted on a nearby pillar to watch.
"Listen, kid--" he began.
Scander twisted under his grasp, "I'm not a kid!" he protested.
Carsius did not relax his grip. "I don't care. I don't know what you're doing here—"
"I came to help!" Scander pointed to the Palanquin containing Laurel, "She sent out the signal for help!"
"It may have been her location, but trust me, I was with her at the time, and I sent out the signal. Now, we have a plan in motion—"
"Did you plan to get caught by the guards, then?" Scander chortled, but Carsius cut it short with a rough shake of his collar.
"Stop interrupting! If you hadn't been so late in coming, perhaps there would be something for you to do, but at this stage, the only thing for you to do is—"
"Stay outside and watch the carriage," Scander sighed, "I know, I know."
Carsius grinned and released him. His eyes lost none of their hardness.
"Wrong," he stated, "You're coming inside with us, but," he raised a finger as Scander was about to whistle for his hawk. "The bird stays outside—"
"—and you stick with me like pitch on a log—"
"Really? Oh great!"
"—and NO TALKING WHATSOEVER."
"You've gotta be—" Scander's attitude melted under the glare Carsius gave him. He hung his head, "Yes, sir."
"Ready, Carsius?" Augustus called. Barmier and Atis were already stationed around the Palanquin. There was one spot at the rear on the left available for Carsius. He took it, satisfied with the way Scander positioned himself as close as possible to his side.
"Ready," Carsius announced to Atis, directly in front of him.
They proceeded inside. A very helpful Friar, anxious to please the Council Brethren, willingly gave Sister Miligred access to the belfry, and promised that the bells would not be rung until she had finished what he called "the ritual." What would he have thought, had he known that there was not one person out of the six standing before him who had the slightest idea what the ritual involved, or why it was necessary?
By and by, the team brought the Palanquin as far into the narrow tower as they dared, and at last, Laurel said, "This is high enough."
There was so much althraxine already in her system that she could sense when the competing influences cleared enough for her to get the right one. She remained inside the Palanquin to do her work. The rest waited outside, Carsius with a stylus of analthraxine at the ready.
We're here for you, Laurel, he thought. Just hold together!