OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Gilead Haiku Odsdottir Persia

45. Last Voyage of the Orion

he Warlord is swift in action. The first thing he does is to mobilize Mekka within the city. Realizing they are useless in this part of the fight, they are put to work in the city. The benefits are twofold. First, they can clear rubble very quickly. Second, they are a visible reminder to the populace of the military might commanded by the city.

He retains and strengthens martial law, but gives special privilege to the soldiery. This makes for an incentive for young people to join the military or the civilian militia.

Tira and Gilead are both summoned for a special mission. They are told to report to the Compound of the Warlord for special instruction. Actually Gilead is ordered and Tira is requested, but there are few who would refuse a summons from the Warlord these days. It turns out that the Warlord is not there, however. Once inside, they are instead introduced to Zane. He is some kind of psychic specialist within the army. He shows them a cell that holds the captive that Persia delivered. Tira is invited to do a scan on her through the hole in the door. To the young adept's chagrin, the only thing she can read is her own emotional sate! Zane confirms that every probe thrown at her has produced the same results. There is a mirror of some sort over her psyche. Gilead asks about conventional questioning. Curiously, the people of the cities find the subject of torture distasteful. Savage as the world may be, to resort to the infliction of pain for information seems somehowÉ barbaric. Nevertheless, something of the sort must have been tried, for Zane reveals that her perceptions of pain and pleasure have somehow been altered so that any endeavors in this area lead to differing degrees of bliss.

This leads to some intriguing deductions. According to Zane, the Seraph is not an adept. Yet she obviously has some sort of Devotion applied to her. If this is so, there must be a ley line. Since the ley line has not broken, it therefore follows that the line holder is in the city. There is a spy, and perhaps more, at large within Tallon.

Lt. Oba, who has been representing the Warlord's interests, then tells the gathering what he wants. Gilead will lead a military expedition upriver, to Fort Lizard. Long before they arrive, the ley line should drop. Zane will go along to handle the subsequent probe and investigation. Tira's presence will be requested as well. Of all the people of Tallon, she has the greatest experience with foreign stones and devotions. She may provide valuable insight. Gilead has been chosen to lead for the same reasons he was picked for the tribute barge. He has very little deployment knowledge and he speaks Old English. Oba realizes the injustice of his assigned rank however and tells him if he accepts, it will mean a field promotion to Lieutenant. Gilead accepts and is told that he may pick his own team, provided the remainder of the expedition is composed of military personnel.

They are to travel at dawn in the transport, Orion, Paladin of Skerrit. Besides the squad, there is the crew of the boat: A Master, the mate and an otter. Also aboard is Hank Woodman. He is being sent to examine a strange flying chimera recently captured at Fort Lizard. It might be able to be used as the template for a more durable flying golem. Also, he is to make a report on the state of repairs. There are military personnel for that purpose, but the Warlord wants an outsider's point of view.

Once all are assembled, the mission is quickly underway. The ship is a small spirit craft, with spirit-reinforced walls and odd little pontoon-shaped paddle housings. It churns out of the harbor and quickly makes its way up the Theron Inlet towards Fort Lizard.

About half way, Zane becomes concerned. He believes the ley line should have fallen by now. An investigation of the ship turns up nothing suspicious other than that a flacon seems to be following them high overhead. Gilead orders guards posted at the four lookout spots on the transport.

Hours later, during one of the sentry shift changes, they are startled to find some of the soldiers are missing! Those left report not hearing anything, but their positions are such that they cannot see each other. It quickly becomes apparent that something rotten is going on. The ship is searched again. Suddenly, Zane pitches over sideway, a ragged knife wound in his side. No attacker or knife is to be seen. The crew begins to wonder if they have an invisible attacker. Indeed, the next person attacked is the ship's skipper, also an adept. Though the crew sweeps the small cabin, they are unable to locate the attacker.

Tira reaches out with her senses, trying to detect a hostile psyche. Though she has a vague glimmering, she clearly perceives a Lumina crystal where none is visible to the eyes. She directs Gilead where to strike. Gilead stabs, but feels nothing but air. Twice more he does this, suffering wounds himself, when suddenly a body appears on the deck before him. Instantly he delivers a final blow.

There is a foreign adept aboard, one who has the power to make himself not only invisible, but undetectable by all senses. Gilead didn't even feel his blows landing upon his opponent. The wounded are patched up. Zane turns out to have received only a minor wound and quickly turns his attention to the prisoner.

The seraph has previously identified herself as Dominator Thrace. She is unbelievably arrogant and threatens them all with dire consequences unless they surrender. Zane ignores her while he outlines his strategy to Gilead.

Fishing about in someone's psyche is time consuming, he explains. Unless you know what questions to ask, you could easily miss vital information. He could implant a false memory of loyalty to Tallon, but that would require time and knowledge of here true history to be very effective. A simple alteration to make, however, would be to make her fall in love with a crewmember. Then they could use that false adoration to convince her to willingly reveal her secrets.

A volunteer is chosen from the squad. Zane does his work and gets quick result. Thrace is completely smitten with Soldier Bradley. They work out a strategy of questioning. Thrace makes overtures and pleas to Bradley, telling him of her love and imploring him to set her free so that they might kill her captors in terrible and cruel ways.

In the meantime, her unguarded speech reveals several things, the most important of which is the nature of the Celestial City. It is apparently an old Demon King court. She claims the Seraphim were created by a Demon King named "the Celestial". The city is a marvelous collection of crystal towers and bridges that float high above the ground. A floating city!

It is while they are questioning her that they hear a warning from the guards outside. The Glass Ship has appeared from out of the grey drizzly sky! The ship demands their immediate surrender and return of the prisoner. How they were alerted is a mystery, but they seem aware of the situation aboard the ship. Gilead orders the ship to put to ground immediately, hoping to abandon her and make for the cover of the jungle, but the Glass Ship drops volley after volley of weighted missiles upon the Orion and hulls her thoroughly. Gilead is about to order all personnel to swim for it, but realizes that in the water, they would be sitting ducks for the archers aboard the floating vessel. Reluctantly, to save the lives of his crew, he acquiesces, first extracting a promise that none of them will be harmed.

His spirit blade he leaves in the sinking ship. He also gets Zane to the otter, who can swim him out of the area unseen. Together they will try to make it back to Tallon and get help.

One by one, the others are lifted aboard the ship and into captivity.