|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Haiku Odsdottir||Gilead||Persia|
n the morning, Tira has a long talk with Headmistress Halifax. The headmistress listens kindly and gives the young adept some advice, but it is obvious that it has been a very, very long time since the elder woman was a teenager. Tira is concerned about her legal status in the city and whether she has adult rights and obligations. Halifax tells her that a child without guardian who has demonstrated the ability to provide for herself has the ability to hold contracts, own property and such. This is not exactly what Tira is looking for. She leaves the office not much comforted and seeks out Farralon. She convinces him to probe her spirit and try to determine her age. It takes several hours, but he comes to the conclusion that she is within 3 months of her sixteenth birthday, either way.
Gilead discusses the upcoming riven farm project with his grandfather, who tells him that he has set the young man up with a wonderful opportunity. Without Gilead's approval, he has had him set up to monitor and guide the entire project. Gilead protests that he is only a surveyor, not a full-blown developer, but Elias insists that it is only from lack of opportunity. They dance around the subject of the upcoming Archon's Expedition again. Elias maintains that there are other people who can undertake this foolhardy quest, while Gilead claims that honor compels him to seek out his father. They end the argument without really settling anything. Gilead is left with the task of gathering a work crew to survey the area.
Since this will be a very preliminary survey, he does not take a full surveying party. He decides that Tira should come, since her spirit sight would be invaluable. He invites Char and Persia, likewise for their senses and experience with the wilds. The Farm Master sends him a morphist who is adept at the reading of soils. He is also to rendezvous at the fort for a squad of soldiers. Since the gator attack he experienced last time, there has been much worry about further raids and incursions.
Hank is asked by Dakota to recommend an adept for the expedition. Since the farm site is over twenty-five clicks from the city, she would like to have the ley line of the Raven extended to another adept who will go along. Hank of course recommends Tira. Dakota is pleased by this suggestion. It appears she is familiar with the girl. Tira is introduced and a ley line is attached.
Persia and Char agree to the expedition. Persia is curious about the farmlands, since she has rarely ventured into them. While most of the people ride in the cart Gilead has provided, she decides to run alongside with Char.
Hank and Tira take the Raven. Although Hank is becoming quite experienced at flying, Tira is not pleased with the sensation and finds it a bit nauseating. The view is so spectacular though, that she is distracted from her discomfort. Hank flies along the inlet and they do their best to time the flight. Hank estimates that twenty-five kliks to the hour is good cruising speed. They reach the fort long before the party on foot, even though they leave later.
At the fort, they are met by Lt. Grave and Sergeant Harley who are to command the squad that will protect them. Gilead, Persia and the rest arrive soon enough for the party to continue on to the site before nightfall. Hank and Tira go first, using the Raven. Tira is certain she sees two gators lurking near the mouth of the inlet.
She and Hank inform the others when they arrive and the camp gets busy making fortifications. They are high on an embankment that can be easily cut off by a palisade, which the soldiers quickly erect. Hank helps with this. Gilead rides up and down the shoreline, looking for good vantage points. Tira and Persia scan the waters. Tira notices that Lt. Grave is an adept. While the soldiers are busy, Grave spends much time examining and asking questions about the Raven.
As night falls, the wind whips up and the sky turns threatening. Persia hears a noise from the darkness beyond the shore. The clank of metal is followed by a muffled curse. Searching the waters, Tira and Grave spot a huge mass of gators moving up the small inlet that leads to the fort and the farmlands. Since it looks like they will pass them by, they sit quietly until they have passed. They quickly make plans to warn the fort. Grave has a warbird, a small golem bird that can attack and carry messages, but he feels that the wind is too high for it to be sure of reaching the fort. They decide to use the Raven. Hank will pilot it of course, and Persia will be his passenger, since the night is dark and her feline eyes can guide them. Gilead leads them to a promontory he spotted earlier. The Raven needs a drop to lift off. It is perilous and the golem's wings skip across the choppy water, but the great bird takes flight. It is difficult to control, as the wind high up is even more turbulent than the wind near the ground. The land is very hilly and sudden up and down drafts are frequent. Hank guides the raven through the worst of it, but a sudden gust causes the Raven to dip and catch upon the upper branches of a tree. The golem flips and becomes caught on its back. Persia unbuckles and to her surprise falls to the ground rather rudely. Hank follows shortly after. There is no way the manikin can match the speed of the feline at night through the dangerous switchbacks and ravines that lie between them and the fort, so Persia races ahead, while Hank attends to freeing the Raven.
Meanwhile, the party at the river's edge have been surprised by a second, smaller party of gators. They number about a dozen. They slowly swim up. The soldiers line up along the shore with bows and swords ready, when a single gator carefully emerges from the water. In a deep gravelly voice, he announces that he is the voice of Garlok the Mighty. Garlok wishes to parlay with them. The party does not trust them, particularly Tira, who has seen Garlok's treachery many times. To avoid being recognized, she dons an oil cloak and draws the hood low.
Gilead maintains that Garlok can deliver his message from the water, but the gators are still slowly advancing. Garlok emerges, huge and dripping, a great four-armed riven gator, easily twice the weight of the largest gator they have ever seen. His scaly hide is like many-fold armor. He says that he offers them a temporary truce. A follower of his has gone on an ill-advised raid. He wishes passage into the farmlands, so that he can chastise this usurper and stop what will be a slaughter for both their peoples. While his bass voice rumbles words of peace, his gators begin a silent underwater flanking maneuver. The party regrets not having built their palisade across the water side.
Gilead warns the gator chieftain to have his gators back away, but they still advance, so he gives the order to attack. Melee is quickly joined as a dozen reptilian barbarians leap from the water, propelled by their powerful tails.
It soon becomes apparent that these gators are elite fighters. Though their numbers are roughly matched, they are fighting a losing battle. During the fight, both Char and Gilead take crushing blows from Garlok's tail. Soldiers are dropping gators, but they themselves fall even faster. Tira disguises her voice and uses her adept training to predict the enemies' movements, shouting out advice to the combatants about where to hit and when to duck.
One flank and then the other falls, when Garlok is dealt a terrific blow by Haiku, which drops him to the ground. Instantly, his second in command throws his entire weight against the riven monster and topples him over the embankment and into the water. Seeing their chieftain fall causes the other gators to retreat. Tira begins administering to the wounded, directing others to help as they can.
After several hours, they have the worst wounded carefully placed on horseback or litters and begin the slow trek back to the farmlands. In all they have only lost one fighter, though many are badly hurt.
Persia has been very busy during this time. She has bolted through the jungle, taking short cuts whenever possible and has reached the fort. Breathless, she warns them of the approaching attack. Had the soldiers at the fort not met her earlier, they might have downplayed or ignored her warning, but they immediately spring into action. They are undermanned, so they ask for Persia's help. She is asked to run from township to township and tell people to either come to the fort or if they are on the far side of the attack, to run to the next fort and send help. Normally, the bell would carry to the next fort, but the soldiers are afraid that the strong wind will carry its tolling away. Persia reacts like lightning and does as asked. She rouses people from their sleep and tells them of the impending attack. The farm folk are frightened, but do as she tells them. After she has cleared the first few farms, she turns back towards the attack area. The sounds of battle are distinctly heard. She begins clearing out the closer farms, when she spies her first gator. To her surprise, the great lizard is no match for her. Though he is stronger and tougher, her great agility, combined with her mother's sword allow her to slay them with little fear of being hit by the slow-moving reptiles. The next several hours are filled with a confusion of melee. She kills many gators, but there always seem to be more.
Back in the jungle, Hank has succeeded in freeing the Raven. Walking it slowly through the dark forest, he comes to an area he believes to have a sharp enough drop to give him lift off. The breeze from the valley pushes hard against his wooden face. Climbing into the pilots carriage, he directs the Raven to take flight. The golem behaves beautifully and in seconds he is back in the air. He must pilot carefully, since he has only a few lights to guide him. Fortunately, most of the farmlands nearby are lit with lamps and torches of the fleeing people. He observes dimly several battles. The soldiers are doing well against the gators but they are vastly outnumbered. He carefully picks out a terrace farm that has a good drop at the edge and alights the Raven near some soldiers.
They are heartened by the appearance of the manikin and ask him to fly across a stand of jungle to the next fort and ask for help. There is a whole company under maneuvers under command of Captain Denver. He gets decent directions from the soldiers, but they are interrupted by a pack of gators charging in to kill. The Raven swiftly walks to the farm edge while the soldiers buy him time to get airborne.
Hank easily finds Denver's camp, since it is well-lit. He is brought to the Captain, where he explains the situation. Denver is distressed that the gators could strike so deeply into the farmlands. It is obvious something has happened to their sentries. He orders the camp to break up and move out on a forced double-time march. The battle is nearly fifteen kliks away and they will arrive late and tired. But march they must. He sends Hank out with a Lineman, an adept who holds ley lines for military equipment. The lineman guides Hank back and together they scout out where the battle is and the size of the enemy forces. Hank does his best to harass the gators, diving at them and pulling up short. They cannot find any high ranking soldiers to inform of the coming reinforcements, but they do what they can. Once they have enough info, they fly back to the stand of jungle where Denver's forces are emerging. They give the tactical information to the officer and take off again. The lineman wants to try throwing rocks at the gators, figuring that height and speed will make them devastating missiles. Hank tries to dissuade him, remembering Dakota's views on war machines, but the adept is persuasive. The rocks are fairly ineffectual, anyway. Though a hit proves devastating, the lineman scores only one after using up an entire armload. It proves difficult to hit a ground target from a moving air vehicle.
Persia is nearly exhausted as dawn begins to color the sky. Nevertheless, when she spies a band of gators distributing bound prisoners, she cannot remain idle. She distracts a gator away from the group and kills him handily. The others are alerted, though and close in to attack. Though she is swift, this appears to be the point where the gators are re-grouping to leave with their booty. She is about to be overwhelmed when a horn rings out across the farmlands. Denver's troops have arrived.
Tired and footsore, the company puts up a menacing front. The gators are demoralized at the approach of the armed men and retreat in a rout. There is still much fighting, but the field is regained by the Tallonite forces in short order. The remaining prisoners are freed and the soldiers begin gathering the dead and wounded. They are shortly joined by Gilead, Tira and the rest. Tira spends the rest of the day healing those she can. Gilead informs Denver of Garlok's attack. Garlok apparently was not lying when he said that this was a renegade splinter of his own group. Denver is actually heartened by this news. If Garlok's forces are fracturing and he is dead or deeply wounded, then there is little danger of concerted attack again soon. Also, adepts in the city will probe the prisoners to learn what can be learned of the reptilian forces. The party stays in the fort and farm area working to help the wounded.