|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Gilead||Haiku Odsdottir||Persia|
In practice, Mekkas are never separated from their pilots. It is a lifelong bond. Why he was discharged, though, Groder does not say.
Dakota tells Hank that she has a peacetime application in mind for the mekka. With its immense strength, it would be a tremendous asset in construction. Its mobility is also a plus. It could be sent to the most remote areas of the farmlands. Since it is such a valuable thing, though, she wants a little insurance on the ley lines. She asks Hank if he knows of an adept who would be willing to share the lines until the Mekka is brought on site, at which time, they could be transferred to the abbot of the sanctuary. She is obviously referring to Tira, whom she has met before. She knows that much of Hank's money goes towards her education.
Hank asks Tira and she agrees, so long as it does not interfere with her schooling. Besides, Hank tells her that Gilead will be along as an agent of his Grandfather Elias. She needs to talk to him about monitoring her research with Teacher Cho.
In the meantime, Gilead has taken the rescued boy to the Hall of Healing. Farallon treats the lad for shock, but refers him to Healer Kashira who is the specialist in psychic disorders. She will scan the boy, whose name is Warrick, and try to determine what has happened to him.
Kashira soon supplies them with a few answers. The boy was awakened in the middle of the night by shouts and sounds of fighting. He fled from his house when the door was broken in by armed men. They spoke a strange language and acted as if under command, but they bore no uniform. The men were systematically going from house to house and either capturing or killing. Warrick fled into the well. The men dropped stones down and thought they had killed him. He heard the noises cease, but does not know where the men went. He stayed in the well for nearly two days before Gilead and Cinnamon rescued him.
Later, at Elias' house, a familiar face arrives. Lt. Oba, from the expedition, enters the Hall. His insignia show that that he has just received a promotion to commander, if indeed lieutenant was his real rank to begin with. Oba has received the report from the farmlands and wants to know all the details. He has spoken with Kashira, but wants to question Gilead as well. He confirms that there have been a number of odd occurrences in the farmlands. Strange disappearances have been happening more often. There is also an unusual case of a man who had all his limbs broken and was hidden high up in a tree. He asks Gilead to keep an eye out.
Gilead does not mention the meeting with his grandfather. He thinks if the old man knew, he would forbid him from going out to work on jobs in the farmlands. He is curious about what is going on out there, though, so when news comes to him of the mekka project, he jumps upon the job.
On a bright morning, the group is assembled. Gilead, Hank and Tira are there for the aforementioned reasons. Cinnamon is still tagging along hoping for adventure, while Haiku is along to guard Tira. Tira met Groder at Dakota's workshop. The man seemed friendly enough, and after transferring the ley lines, even gave her a quick lesson in how to operate the Mekka. Though Groder seems easy-going, there is a core of some emotion, perhaps sadness, which he conceals.
Most of the day is spent traveling through the farmlands at an easy walking pace.
The reach the Sanctuary by late afternoon and are met by Abbot Tomaset and his wife and two children. They are invited to partake of the evening meal.
Groder seems subdued after meeting the family. Throughout the dinner, he drinks a bit more of the wine than is customary. Soon the ley lines have been transferred, Big Al has been secured, the worksite and crew have been inspected and all but Hank are bedded down. It has begun to rain now, which will make tomorrow's labors dangerous or impossible, depending on the severity.
Late in the night, Tira is awakened by the sounds of quiet sobbing. She tracks it down and discovers a drunken Groder, quietly crying in his room. She questions him gently but relentlessly, until he reveals that he was discharged for just such behavior. He has been useless since he failed to arrive at a farmstead in time to save it from a gator attack. The cutting irony is that his own wife and daughter were slain by gators because of his slowness. He was mercifully discharged instead of court-martialed because of tremendous service in the past, but he is a shame to himself and the army. Tira does her best to help him, but he rebuffs her efforts.
Hank does a number of circuits of the Sanctuary. It is designed like the typical Merikian Sanctuary: a round building with a long projection of rooms behind, the entirety encircled by a low stone wall. Typically, such places are intended as refuges from reavers. The abbot is responsible for maintaining an enhancement upon the walls. In crisis times, any living, thinking creature is entitled to safety within.
Curiously, he looks out towards the nearest habitation. He has seen from Gilead's maps that the place is called Fern Dock. Perhaps half a klik away, it is a small grouping of buildings servicing a barge and dock. At this distance from the gates, it is easier to move produce down the inlet by barge, than to tow it through the hilly farmlands. As he watches, he sees a fire spring up. It appears to be a signal fire of some kind. Such things are common signals of danger in these parts, but he wants to make sure before he wakens the Sanctuary. Instead, he rouses his friends.
They quickly agree that something bad must be happening down by the docks. The abbot is awakened, and the Sanctuary bell is rung, indicating emergency. It should be loud enough to summon aid from a nearby fort.
Gilead, Cinnamon and Hank begin running toward the docks, while Tira goes to rouse Groder. To her disappointment, but not great surprise, he has drunk himself into a stupor. Resolutely, she goes out to Big Al and commandeers the mekka.
Gilead and Cinnamon have reached Fern Dock. Here they see a group of raiders busily ravaging the compound. They are moving goods from the barge onto their ship and taking captives from the populace as well. They shout at each other in strange tongues, but to Gilead's surprise, the orders are issued in Old English, the language from the time before the Demon Kings.
A fierce battle ensues. The fighters are no match for our heroes, but there are many of them. Just when all seems lost, Big Al comes careening down the path. Tira's inexperienced piloting is barely able to direct the massive construct. Nevertheless, its appearance is enough to cause a general retreat. The raiders fall back to their ship, an odd spiky thing seemingly made entirely of glass.
Tira crashes into the river and tries to swamp them, but to everyone's shock, the ship rises from the surface of the inlet and begins to fly. There is a brief struggle as Big Al's tries to hold them back. Though she is unable to restrain them, she does cause them to spill most of their cargo.
The ship rises into the rainy sky, and quickly disappears, faster than would seem natural. Is there some strange power at work to conceal it?
The few raiders who survive are gathered up, but before anyone can stop them, they suicide. They apparently carried small amounts of a deadly poison, which they ingest with a startling zeal. The authorities will get no answer from them.