Previously: Chapter 2 <Part 1>
Carsius called the room to order.
"Now, I know that most of us have been here through the initial failures, so this last success has likely gone to a few heads," he glanced pointedly at Augustus and Gorrmunsa.
"On the other hand," he continued, "a few of our number have only been here for the successful strike, and have not even had time to settle in and be welcomed properly." He nodded toward Barmier and Atis, but Atis was not paying attention, his head bowed in deep concentration over his hands until Barmier jogged him with his elbow.
"Whoops!" Atis' head came up in alarm as a small contraption flew from his grasp and skidded across the table, coming to rest in front of Carsius. Renata frowned as she recognized the hairpins she had been unable to find that morning, in addition to some odds and ends necessary to the function of a few kitchen appliances. Carsius, ascertaining that the device was unfinished and therefore harmless, wordlessly swept it from the table and into the pocket of his cloak.
"I offer the apologies of the entire team to you newcomers, if we have been anything less than inviting to you. I assure you that your skills are vital to this team, and we will do what we can to be sure you have a place in thus house as well as on this team." Another hard glance at Augustus, who sat forward.
"Hey!" he snapped, "It's not my fault! I'm not about to share my room with someone who knows fourteen ways to trammel me in my bed while I sleep!"
Atis sniggered, "Jealous much?"
Laurel rose out of her chair and glared at the men. "If you all are so wise, answer me this: what is it that makes the Elitinati so strong? Why can we not pick off the stragglers from the outside, why must we aim for the very heart to defeat them? It is because they are unified in purpose. They not only have a structure of authority, but they have effectively removed the free will of an entire nation with these wyrts. If we are fighting amongst ourselves, how then can we hope to have any strength or equipment left to fight the real enemy! We are a single unit, with a single goal. The least we can do is work together to get it done properly!"
One could hear a pin drop in the silence.
Laurel resumed her seat and waved for Carsius to continue.
He cleared his throat. "Right, now—"
Carsius spread out a map of Eillumaeia on the table. The holographic, three-dimensional image rose, projected several inches from the surface of the parchment.
"We'll do this just like last time. Deej, what's the next Pillar?"
"That would be the Spirituality pillar, Commander," the Ewok replied.
"Which means we will be striking at what building?"
"The Theoversities would be my guess," Augustus offered.
Carsius nodded. "We are here," he tapped the image of Sister Miligred's mansion and it changed from purple to blue, "and the nearest Theoversity is here," a blue laser-line traced around the wide, winding avenues of the city until it reached the replica of a building that looked like a combination of a cathedral, a temple, and a basilica, "Roughly ten miles away."
"Ten miles!" Laurel cried, "If you think I'm going to walk all the way there in that embalming-sheet of a dress, you have another think coming!"
"What would you do instead?" Carsius asked her.
"The hovercraft," Laurel replied after a short pause, "The one I came in. It's hers, anyway, and if I were completely enclosed, I would not have to be disguised at all!"
Carsius nodded his approval. "At least," he pointed out, "not until you reach the Theoversity and must disembark to enter it."
Laurel frowned, but she had to own he was right.
"To continue," Carsius went on, "the highest accessible point in the Theoversity is here," he touched the area and a red spot appeared at the tip of one of the turrets, "in the belfry."
"That's a long ways up there," Renata murmured.
"Here's how I see it happening," Carsius stated, "Laurel goes to the Theoversity in a hovercraft—"
"Can I drive?" Atis piped up.
Carsius shook his head, "No, I think footman would better suit you. Barmier can drive the hovercraft."
The dark man grunted in assent.
"Meanwhile, Augustus and I will be your spotters, following along the rooftops in case anything goes wrong."
Why does he behave as if he expects it to? Laurel wondered, but before she had a chance to ask, Renata inquired, "What will I be doing?"
"You, Gorrmunsa and Deej will meanwhile find a way to get to here," he pointed to an area at the base of the building, "probably from one of the vents around here. No doubt you can all do it without being seen. This area is the central unit for the air duct system. That is where you'll be pumping the analthraxine vapor."
Laurel smiled hopefully, "I get in, turn the influence, and there's another Pillar toppled!"
Carsius smiled, but it was grim, "That's the plan, anyway." He looked up, "We start at dawn tomorrow. You all are dismissed."
Barmier spent all day fine-tuning the hovercraft. Deej, Gorrmunsa and Renata made canisters of analthraxine to hook into the ventilation system.
Late that night, Laurel found herself wide awake out of a deep sleep for no apparent reason—
Until she saw the silver eyes gleaming at her from the darkness.
She came fully to her senses in an instant.
Before the word was out of her mouth, Ra'dith had landed neatly on the bed astride her and placed a hand—much rougher than before—over Laurel's mouth.
Renata stirred slightly in her sleep.
Ra'dith had spoken so quietly that the dark, lithe figure was outside the window by the time the command registered on Laurel's ears. She immediately slipped out of bed, but when she got to the window, Ra'dith was nowhere in sight. The hackles on the back of Laurel's neck quivered, and she whirled around to behold Ra'dith grinning at her from above the gable.
"Ra'dith," Laurel spluttered, "What are you doing here? I'm not in any danger, am I?"
Ra'dith extended a hand and helped Laurel up to the roof beside her.
"A dainty in a box is just as easily consumed as one that comes to the table of it's own accord," the mysterious girl replied.
Laurel blinked, "What do you mean?"
"A metal hull is thicker than crepe, but neither are completely impenetrable."
Laurel's head spun; Ra'dith's silver eyes had a truly mesmerizing effect. "Metal? Crepe? That means that you—but how? How could you possibly—"
She was so flustered she could not even get the words out. It did not matter anyway; even if she could ask Ra'dith how she had gotten into the house and why she had spied on their war council, it was unlikely the strange girl would answer her. Laurel shook her head and fell to fidgeting with the tassels and buckles on her tunic.
"Never mind," she insisted defensively to the silent girl, "the plan will work flawlessly. It's worked before. We know what we have to do; all that remains is the execution of it."
Ra'dith still stared at her strangely.
"The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry, and leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy," she intoned. "Be wary of placing your confidence in the future; plans do not confirm circumstances that may not yet be. Anyone who tries to change Fate to suit their own means has no thought but for their own agenda."
"That's not the only thing I've been told to be wary of today," Laurel retorted with a sideways glance at the dark figure sitting next to her. "Where do you come from, Ra'dith?"
"I come from Truth."
"What do you mean? Where is Truth? Is that another planet?"
"Where I come from, Truth is taught, and the language is Truth. There are things you are not to know yet, Laurelindolonorina, but you will know in time. I come from among friends."
"What friends, and what is your True purpose here, if you cannot speak other than what is true?"
"I speak what is True, and I am here that Truth may flourish and live and grow stronger."
Laurel rolled her eyes and looked away. "So far all you've managed to do is spook my friends and save my—"
When she turned her head, Ra'dith was already back through the window, in the bedroom. She reached up her strong, weathered hands to help Laurel back down.
Laurel landed safely on the bedroom floor, but did not release Ra'dith's shoulders. "You say you are here so that Truth will live—are you saying that I am Truth?"
"The Truth is not a person, Laiddrynn; you can abide in Truth and bear it, but you cannot be Truth Itself."
Ra'dith gently guided Laurel to her bed and as the Elf-maiden relaxed again, she tucked the sheets around her in a motherly way.
Laurel closed her eyes and sighed deeply. When she opened them again, it was morning.