OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Gilead Persia Khaz

59. Line-Eaters

arallon is questioned by the army for several days. Eventually, he is released. It turns out that he met a girl in Mosaic who used a spirit alteration upon him to cause him to fall desperately in love with her. For weeks she worked him, filling his head with distortions and lies until he truly believed he was working for the greater good of the city. He managed to place himself in charge of receiving cadavers for healing students to practice upon. In reality, these were zombies of the Celestial City. Indistinguishable from corpses, they lay waiting in the morgue until their numbers had built up to a full ten. To arm them, Farallon started wearing a sword. Every day he would leave the circle by one gate, and come back in by another. The guards at the one gate never realized that he was leaving without a sword, because he always came back armed at the other gate. Naturally, it was a different sword every day. Slowly he managed to bring in enough spirit swords to arm the entire zombie sabotage squad. The full plan was to capture Gilead, capture or kill Tira (whom he identified to the seductress as a Sympath), and to destroy the manuscript stolen from the Celestial City.

Fortunately, all the objectives failed. Farallon is disgraced, but released from custody. His part in the affair is not made public, as a nod to prior services to the city. He is released to Gilead, who had come to Fort Grisham to inquire about any rights of spoils to the collection of Spirit Swords. His request is "taken under advisement".

While he is there, he, Farallon and Khaz are informed that an announcement is being made back in the city. The Warlord has grown concerned enough over the sabotage, terrorism and spying in the city to re-institute the Spirit Guard. Originally, this was a force dedicated to protecting the Archony. In the Days of Kanukka, it was a pretty nasty secret police. Archon Ningan had disbanded the force after Kanukka's death due to rampant corruption. The Warlord intends to use the newly reactivated organization to act as a security force in the city. Ostensibly, they will augment civil and military forces as well as provide extra protection for sensitive areas of the city. (A greater description can be found here).

Farallon is returned safely to the city, and for some time, all goes well. Things go back to normal for all but Tira. To her absolute annoyance, she has been deemed a security risk for her work upon the Scriptures from the Celestial City. She has been assigned a Watcher from the Spirit Guard. Watcher Larthine is a short fat woman who never leaves Tira's side. Tira begins to wonder if the Watcher even sleeps. Larthine constantly takes notes and makes veiled insinuations as to the wisdom of Tira's actions.

Nevertheless, life goes on. The Spirit Guard does seem to be reducing the amount of terrorist incidents, and a few highly-publicized successes are used to instill confidence in the organization.

It is on a late and quiet afternoon that everything goes horribly wrong.

Tira, Gilead, Persia, Farallon, Basarin and Khaz are eating at a popular restaurant in Tallon Circle. They are witness to a strange problem. A number of the fountains in Tallon Circle have stopped functioning. For one pump to give out could be a mechanical failure. For a number to go out at once is curious. Yale, the City Architect, has ordered an otter to go down and pull up the pump. Curious, the friends amble over to see what the problem is.

Yale opens the pump casing to reveal a strange, spider-like animal crouching within. Gilead pokes at it with his sword and it leaps upon him. It does not bite, claw or otherwise injure him, however. Tira reaches out and attempts to pry it from him or use some kind of adept devotion upon it. It then leaps upon her. They manage to free her from its clutches, but she too is uninjured. The little insect-like thing proves nearly impossible to hit and unbelievably fast on its myriad legs. It scrambles away too fast for anyone but Persia to follow. She manages to catch it and rip it apart with her claws.

It is at this time that more and more of the things are discovered. They are all over the Circle and beginning to cause a stir. Watcher Larthine begins to insist that Tira get to some place of safety and chides her for trying to help Gilead, putting herself at risk. It is at his time that Gilead notices his sword feels unnaturally heavy. Or to be more accurate, it is feeling naturally heavy. Suddenly concerned, he asks Tira to examine it with her Spirit Sight. She confirms that the sword has lost its enhancements. The ley lines upon it are broken. Gilead does a quick check and notices that his watch has stopped as well. It, too, was powered by an Animic enhancement. Panic begins to set in as others realize what the little spider-things are cable of. And there appear to be more and more of them. The heros rush toward the Old Circle, realizing that some of the spider things are doing likewise. Gilead galvanizes the guards at the gate to close it and to be on the lookout for the little creatures. There is some confusion at first, since Gilead doesn't have the authority to close the gates, but eventually a Sentinel appears and convinces the guards to believe him. Whether or not the Sentinel had the authority is unknown, but it is telling that the guards did not know either and decided to obey first and ask questions later. Watcher Larthine is finally heeded and Gilead charges Khaz to escort her, Tira, Basarin and Farallon to Persia's house in the Beast Quarter. There are few ley lines there and it will be safer than the Hall of Art, apparently. Already line-eaters are beginning to get past the gate.

The party watches in horror as a particularly large and bloated line eater consumes the line to a lumina street lamp. The light flickers out in the growing darkness. As if it could hold no more power, it bursts apart. Each piece of its body is revealed to be a tiny independent line-eater. They are reproducing and rapidly. Gilead and Persia, along with the guards pledge to hold the gate, while Khaz, to his frustration, is ordered to leave the combat to escort the others to safety. Persia is magnificent in the battle, being one of the few who is fast and skilled enough to catch and kill the little creatures. She pursues those that get past the gate and goes deeper and deeper into the Old Circle.

Khaz, Tira and the others pass through a city on the edge of chaos. The little spider things seem to be everywhere. As they cross Green Bridge onto West Hill, they see a great commotion over by the stockyards. A particularly large spider has attached itself to the city walls. The guards are watching it, but doing little, not realizing it for the threat it is. Khaz temporarily leaves the group to go forth and smash the thing with his hammer before it can multiply. Eventually, they reach safety.

Back in the Old Circle, Persia has found herself near the Archon's Palace, one of the most enhanced structures in the city center. She sees Hank standing with a line of defenders at the palace gate. The animate has just been attacked by a line eater. To her horror, she sees Hank fall to the ground, as lifeless as a pile of old wooden scraps.

Enraged, she rushes in and kills several more of the things. Eventually they are destroyed, but not before a cry of dismay comes from the palace. A number of them have attacked the Archon. Ningan has fallen as well!