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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 16: Hastings 191
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Previous chapter: Beam 60
There was a significant amount of discussion about where to put Lauren in the lineup. She wound up a member of squad three, which was part of team one; Gojo Mupar was her squad leader, and Tiras himself was the team leader. The arrangement was complicated, because if Tiras was separated from the team, Taz was leader of squad one, but Gojo of team one. Since squad three was behind squad one, this let them put her in the back with her wagon behind her; the animals were back there, so cargo wouldn’t be in the way of the people. She had not yet learned the names of her squad mates, but the leaders thought they had spent too much time already trying to fit her into the lineup and seemed to think she would get to know her companions soon enough despite the rule that they maintain silence while traveling.
They thus traveled in near silence, entering the tunnel near which they had camped and moving in double file along it by the dim oil-filled lanterns. Lauren carried one of her own oil-free lamps in her left hand, her telekinetic force field rod in her right, and used her telekinesis to keep the wagon moving behind her. Thus far everything she could do she could do easily, but other than shooting stirges she had not faced any real challenges.
Nor did she that day. They stopped to eat at a point where the path widened enough for them to draw together, and then continued for several hours until Tiras and Sheegoka apparently agreed that they were going to have to camp on the narrow path. Her squad was to care for the animals and equipment, which was fine with her; having grown up hanging around horses as much as possible she knew how to care for hooves and groom mules and donkeys as well as anyone in the squad.
They ate a cold supper that night since building a fire on the path would impede travel. There was inadequate room for the tents, so everyone slept aligned along the path. Team one was positioned toward the direction they were headed, while team two was arranged in reverse as rear guard, the powerful samurai in charge of this. This put Lauren and her gear in the middle, along with the animals. She cast her comfort bubble, and it encompassed three of her squad mates, Gojo having left for the routine leadership meeting.
“So,” she said. “I’m Lauren. I’ve got a longer name than that, but if we’re working together short names are quicker.”
She stared in the dim light at her companions until one of them realized that this was supposed to be their cue to introduce themselves.
“I’m called Nightstalker,” said a young man of the same species as Tiras, an elf-like humanoid with feathered wings. “You do some remarkable magic. Where did you learn that?”
“Oh, here and there. I picked up some from a priest who was fighting vampires, and some from a famous wizard named Merlin, and taught myself quite a bit.”
“Taught yourself? You are powerful.”
“Oh, I get by. Who are you?” she said, turning to the girl in the group.
“I think my name is Annseff,” she said.
“Well, apparently something happened to me and I lost my memory. Fortunately the name was on the holy symbol I was wearing, and I had my magic and holy books with me, but I still don’t really know who I am.”
“Hmmm,” Lauren mused. “I might be able to fix that--but not tonight, it’s a tricky bit of psionics.”
“You have psionics, too?” Nightstalker interjected.
“Oh, well, I try to learn anything that might be useful,” she replied, and turned to the third. “And you are?”
In a quiet almost droning voice the man replied, “I am Rodan, the Tedious Endowment.”
Lauren hesitated, not certain whether that was a joke based on the name of the knight Malacon the Shining Legacy who was on the leadership team or simply an improbable coincidence. “That’s,” she began, “an interesting name.”
“My sensei gave me the title,” he replied.
“Oh, you study the martial arts?”
“I am a student of the art of Bo Ring.”
“I haven’t heard of that.”
“No, it’s not well known.” With that Rodan fell silent, and Lauren decided that was all he wanted to say.
“So,” she asked, "what is this mission we’re on, and why are you here?”
Nightstalker replied, “I’m here because Tiras Arioch Kittim was hiring for a mission and I jumped at the chance to work with him.”
“It seems that he was hired a few months back for a retrieval mission into the Blood Hills to the north, and he put together a team of eight including himself, all green. Oddsmakers in Darvonia were calling for a ninety percent kill, but he completed the mission and returned with all eight of his team plus four that he rescued along the way. Annseff would know more about that, as she was part of that venture.”
As if taking that as a cue, the girl spoke. “Tiras found me in an inn in Darvonia City, which is one of my earliest memories. Given that I didn’t know who I was but I had some skills, I joined his crew to make a bit of money. He runs a tight crew, fairly lenient in letting us be ourselves and do what we do but making it clear that he will personally kill anyone who puts the lives of the other party members at risk carelessly. He’s never done it. He is not afraid of a fight, and not only fights well himself but organizes the team into an effective fighting force--but he always tries to talk first. When we came to the territory of the mushroom men he arranged for us to pass through on the main road without interference. When we were attacked by mind flayers, he put us into a four-pronged attack formation that managed to put the enemy to flight.”
“So what’s this about a princess?”
Annseff continued the tale. “When we were returning to the city, we hit a slaver caravan. This put Tiras in a difficult situation, because whatever his personal feelings he knows that licensed slavery is legal--but members of the team, and particularly Lurt, are vehemently opposed to it, and Lurt was threatening to break ranks and attempt to free the slaves single-handedly. Tiras attempted to disarm the situation by asking to see the slaver’s license, and the slaver exacerbated things by refusing to comply, so it turned into a major brawl. We won, and freed the slaves, fifty goblins, two drow, and Anneth. I think the goblins are following Zamphir now, but Tiras wouldn’t let them come on this venture. Anneth sticks close to Tiras, usually sitting on his shoulder or flying alongside him.
“So we brought the two drow back to the city and provided rooms for them at our inn while we closed out our venture and everyone was paid. Then one of the drow told Tiras that she was a member of a royal family, and requested that he find a way to get her home. Well, Tiras believes in a lot of nonsense about the obligations of honor, so he promised to get her home and began hiring a team to make it happen. His lieutenants all share those silly ideas, so they agreed immediately. I’m sure the oddsmakers think this venture more dangerous than the last, but I trust Tiras and don’t really have a lot of other options, so I signed on.”
Turning back to Nightstalker, Lauren said, “And you heard all this, and decided that being on Tiras’ team would be a good way to learn.”
“Yes, he is very good as a leader, and while I’m not a fighter I think I can still learn a lot from him.”
“And you?” she said, turning to Rodan.
“I was standing in the street outside the inn when this man with wings stepped out the door, pointed to someone and said, ‘You’, then to someone else, and then to me, and added ‘Come,’ so I came. He brought me to Tiras, who was looking to fill his team, and hearing what I do he offered me a job. That was Lurt.”
“Lurt’s a bit crazy,” Annseff added. “But he’s a good thief, and sometimes a mission needs that.”
Lauren nodded. “Well,” she said, “I know a lot more than I did yesterday. Thanks. I’m going to get some sleep now.” With that, she tucked herself in her sleeping bag and closed her eyes.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #357: Characters Connect. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: