OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Gilead Haiku Odsdottir Persia

49. Down to Earth

he Glass ship plummets through the air. Under Zane's direction, she has the ship in a near-dive. Nevertheless, they are soon under attack. Seraphim and Nephilim converge, firing their odd crossbows. Persia catches a bolt across her forehead and drops to the deck. Tira pulls her down into the hold. She cannot use her spirit sight through the hull, but she can still guide the ship. Outside, the Paladins clip onto the deck moorings and draw fire. Tira suddenly feels control taken from her. One of the attackers is a pilot! She calls out to the Paladins, directing them to the adept who clings to the underside of the craft. Amazingly, one of the super-warriors swings under the craft and manages to kill the boarder.

Inside the hold, Persia has lost a lot of blood. The tawdry-looking female looks hungrily a her and says to Zane, "She's done for. Let me have her. If I can't have the ship, let me have her!" Zane looks disgusted and replies harshly, "Persia has an honorable and noble spirit. She is not for the likes of you. Stand down!" The meaning of the interchange is never made clear, for they are rapidly approaching their destination. Ahead of them is a verdant Cliffside. Zane orders her to send the ship directly at it, indicating a precise spot. Tira suspects there to be some kind of opening behind the greenery, but behind the hull of the ship, her spirit sight cannot confirm. She does as ordered and braces for possible impact.

Indeed, Carina tears through a layer of plant material and rapidly comes to a stop inside a large cavern. Behind them, there is a tremendous rumble and roar as tons of carefully balanced rock are released, sealing the entrance. Tira is given a hand cloth to breathe through, since the air is quickly filled with dust. The only light comes from hastily lit lanterns, not Lumina. The few boarders are quickly slain by Paladins. They have lost two of their number, but the ship is taken! A ragged cheer goes up from the fighters and workers in the cave.

High above in the city, Gilead slowly regains consciousness. His first impression is his continuing overpowering hunger. His second perception is the face of his friend Jerrick, Paladin of Hannon. Jerrick is looking at him with care. In his hands he holds the most luscious and desirable fruit Gilead has ever seen. "Gilead!" says Jerrick urgently. "Do you want this?" Gilead is reaching for it, insisting that the Paladin give it to him. Jerrick responds by tossing it far away.

"It's poison," he says. "They were trying to get you to kill yourself. The hunger will pass. It did for him." He indicates Po, the man from Qin. Po obviously has a mangled leg. He cannot move. "I caught your friend here trying to down that little suicide pill."

"It is true," says Po. "Once we completed our task, they wanted us to be beyond questioning. What we see as fruit is some kind of poison pellet." Gilead suddenly understands the fervor with which the Glass Ship raiders killed themselves to avoid capture.

Looking about, he sees that Capricus and the Leotaur are slain. Kamlak and Batilla still look mummified. Jerrick says that they have fallen victim to an attack directly upon their morphia. It is not always fatal, but they will not recover soon, if at all. Gilead will not abandon his barbarian friend, though. He asks Jerrick to help him carry Kamlak and Po to a place where they can hide. Jerrick looks dubious, but agrees. Fortunately, they find an excellent spot not far away.

Po reveals that Helios was carried away, shortly after he fell. He does not know where, but the Seraphim who bore him were his son and daughter, Zekial and Callista. Gilead curses. If they can get him to one of those Time Lord healers, then their mission will have failed. He quickly explains the situation to Jerrick.

The Paladin asks him where they could have fled to. Gilead thinks. Helios would know that there is a traitor in his midst and want to hide while he was healed. The Most High was pride personified. Where would he go? Suddenly, his eyes light upon the pyramid holding the High Seat. It is the one place in the city taboo even to the Seraphim. Would Helios dare?

He tells Jerrick his suspicion. Jerrick considers it. Climbing the pyramid would expose them to anyone who happened to look in their direction. Still, he figures that even if Helios were not there, what better distraction could they create? He has no idea f what has happened to the Glass Ship, but any fire they draw is one less attacker to pursue it.

Together, the two of them begin the ascent. They are quickly spotted. Gilead reaches the top first, since Jerrick was spotting him. To his dismay, although the top of the pyramid contains a bowl-shaped opening, it is empty. Nevertheless, he drops into it for cover. He quickly helps Jerrick in. To their relief, the attackers break off. At first they seem unwilling to follow, but then they appear to be confused by something. Before they can pursue the thought any further, they become aware that the bowl is not empty after all. Helios and his children are indeed there. The High Seat has a glamour upon it to make it appear empty to the outside. No wonder the pursuers broke off!

Helios is still dead to all appearances. Zekial and Callista are enraged that crawlers have dared to raise their hands against their betters. They attack the humans, Callista using a crossbow, while Zekial holds a spear of fine make. The battle is intense, and Jerrick actually taking a nasty blow from the spear. It seems to have a glamour upon it that makes anyone but the wielder be unable to discern its precise position. Gilead curses them, saying that at least the Most High has been slain for his attacks upon Tallon. Callista actually laughs at this. "Fool! We are protected by Ukon masters. We cannot be slain! Even mortal wounds pass!"

However, the two seraph are no match for Gilead and the Paladin, and they soon fall. Gilead does his beast to make sure the two stay dead. At the center of the bowl is apparently a long vertical shaft. Dimly he can see light at the far end. He pitches Callista down it. She bumps and scrapes her way to the bottom. He considers her words again, and beheads Zekial before sending him to follow. He is about to attend to Helios when they become aware of the pursuers they left behind. A new commander has arrived and rallied them. They are going to charge the bowl.

Jerrick tells Gilead they have to escape. He has a line and winch designed to let them descend from the city to the jungle below. The line is actually a wire with a small grappling hook. Only Jerrick leather-hard hands can guide their descent without being sliced to ribbons. Gilead clings to his back and the two rappel down the shaft. Soon they emerge from the bottom of the shaft, To Gilead's surprise, the greenery he saw at the bottom of the shaft was actually the forest floor, hundreds of feet below. The shaft goes completely through the city! As swiftly as he dares, Jerrick pays out the line. Unfortunately, the winch arrangement was designed to let them down from mid-city, not from its apex. They end up still high above the forest. They are considering re-ascending using the spirit winch when suddenly the line goes slack. The soldiers above have released the end!

The two hurtle downward. They call out to each other to try and break their fall with the trees. Gilead sees the branches rapidly approaching and reaches out to slow his descent. He has a brief impression of impact, then tearing through limbs at frightening speed before he blacks out.

Meanwhile, Tira has emerged from the Glass Ship. Zane says that there is a field hospital where Persia can be tended to. Also, the Warlord will want a full report. Tira first calms the ship, which is panicking. It wants to know where the sky is. It feelsÉ betrayed? Confused? It is hard to tell. Its intelligence and emotions are definitely non-human. Tira and the members of the strike team begin a long walk through a honeycomb of tunnels. They are told only to use oil lamps until they get to a certain depth, when they may switch to Lumina. Zane explains that adepts might be able to detect spirit technology in use if it is too close to the surface. Eventually, after what seems like miles, they get to the huge cavern that is the staging area and field headquarters for the Warlord.

Hannon is made aware of their presence and gets a quick debriefing. He is terribly busy coordinating people still in the field at the moment. He is deeply saddened to hear of the apparent deaths of Jerrick and Bec (another Paladin who did not return with the strike force. . He asks Tira to write down anything pertinent that she can come up with regarding the powers at the disposal of the city. Tira attempts to ask about the ship, but she is brushed off.

Nevertheless, with pen and paper, she sits down at the field hospital. She offers to help, but is told that her report is more important. The Warlord will want it available as soon as he has the time. She busily transcribes what she has learned, expanding on points she thinks are important.

Persia was only slightly wounded it turns out and is swiftly healed. Others are not so lucky. It appears there was a lot to this operation. Many people are coming in with wounds or bearing dead. A number of Mekka are visible as well. To their great surprise, one comes in bearing Hank Woodman. Apparently his parachute was only partially successful. It slowed him enough to avoid fatal damage, but his legs and a couple of barrel staves will need to be replaced. Apparently he was harassed by gators after landing. He did his best to avoid them, but would have been killed were it not for his fortunate encounter with a Mekka Pilot in trouble. The Pilot had fallen victim to a patch of slumberweed, a plant whose pollen has a tranquilizing effect. After freeing her from the Mekka, she had recovered and summoned the golem-construct to her. Together they made short work of the gators and returned to the base.

As miraculous as his return is, everyone is shocked when Jerrick limps in, bearing a nearly dead Gilead. Healers immediately get to work upon them. It is a measure of the injuries sustained by Gilead that even after the healing, he is told he will be bedridden for some time. Jerrick had survived the fall somewhat better due to his enhancements and carried Gilead all the way back to the headquarters. The marvelous spear that Gilead had taken from Zekial was nowhere to be found.

After Gilead recovers, he reveals what had happened to him and Kamlak, solving the mystery of the ghostly "G" carved into Hank's barrel, as well as his inexplicable "flying power" when Gilead and Kamlak were carrying him.

Gilead reports that the son and daughter of Helios are slain, but it seems likely the Most High will recover.