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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 19: Hastings 192
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Previous chapter: Beam 61
The morning dragged uneventfully as the double column of assorted adventurers snaked through the narrow tunnel. Lauren found herself wondering how the group could respond to an encounter with hostiles--and having faced the stirges and seen how readily the team reacted to them, she recognized that hostiles were not only possible but anticipated. Indeed, in this narrow corridor it would be difficult to deal with friendlies. However, they encountered no one and nothing for several hours.
She guessed it was early afternoon when they emerged from the tunnel into what felt and sounded like another relatively large cavern. The group maintained its formation as it stretched into the new space, and halted once the last of the animals had cleared the passage. Tiras then gave instructions.
“Team two, I want a sketch map of the perimeter including any exits and any observed hazards. Team one, set up a secure base camp, and we ate only cold food yesterday, so let’s see if we can produce a hot meal by the time Sheegoka returns with his team. Go.”
Everyone started moving with purpose. About half the group struck off along the wall following the large samurai. The other half--her team--seemed to be tackling several different tasks none of which were entirely clear to her. She decided to approach Gojo, who seemed to be directing things.
“Sir,” she said, “what should I be doing?”
“Good question,” he said. “I have two people scavenging for fire fuel, three standing watch against possible attacks, and three trying to find and cook food. What do you think you could do best?”
Lauren hesitated, but then decided to make a suggestion.
“Sir, if I can find a good-sized flat rock, I can probably heat it to the temperature of a stove top, and you wouldn’t need to build a fire.”
He stopped what he was doing and stared at her.
“How big a rock?”
“Well, you would want it large enough that you could cook on top of it, but not so large that I couldn’t heat it. It would have to be separate--it would be much more difficult to heat a piece of the floor, because the heat would spread to the rest of the floor and you couldn’t get close enough to the hot part to cook. You would want a flat top, and probably want to prop it up a bit off the ground.”
“Annseff? Rodan?” he called, not too loudly but enough that it would carry beyond the camp. In a minute, perhaps, the two Lauren had met the night before appeared.
“Yes, sir,” Rodan said. Annseff just stood awaiting instruction.
“We’re canceling the firewood. Lauren here can apparently heat a large rock hot enough for us to cook on it, so we want to find a flat rock we can set up as a stove top.”
“We want something,” Lauren suggested, “that’s already loose, detached, but if you find a good piece of rock that’s connected, I can probably cut it free.”
The pair nodded and struck out toward the center of the cavern, searching by the light of a torch Rodan carried. Lauren followed them. They stopped and looked at several rocks which were obviously flawed, but then came to one Lauren thought probably ideal, flat on top, relatively flat on the bottom, a good surface area. After a moment, Annseff signaled to continue, and Rodan moved to follow her.
“Wait,” Lauren said. “What’s what’s wrong with this one?”
Annseff laughed. “Oh, it’s near perfect, but it’s too big. I doubt Sheegoka could carry it if there were two of him.”
Lauren nodded. They had magic in this world, but there were limits on its use, or perhaps these particular people didn’t have a lot of it. Moving a stone this size would have been done the old fashioned way. She wasn’t so limited.
“Well, make sure I have light,” she said, “and I’ll move it.”
As the duo looked at each other doubtfully, Lauren focused her telekinesis on the rock. It was fully detached, so it lifted freely, and she started moving it back toward the camp.
She set it down near where the cooks had been setting up the fireplace. “You’ll want to level that,” she said. “I can lift it for you, and you can put some of these other rocks under it. Once we’ve got a level cooking surface, I’ll start heating it.”
As she began focusing her pyrokinetic thought into the leveled and prepared cooking surface, Lauren wondered whether she was being overly presumptuous. Thus far everything she had tried had worked, and worked easily. She thus was falling into assuming that everything she had not tried would work equally as easily. She had promised that she could turn this rock into a cook top so they wouldn’t need a fire, but had she tested the pyrogenesis since her arrival? This would be the test, and it would be a problem if it went wrong.
It seemed, though, to be working. She had gotten very good at this, from the many different ways she had used it.
Temperature was likely to matter. “See if that’s hot enough,” she said, and one of the cooks threw a few drops of water on it, which beaded up and sizzled away.
“That’s good,” came the reply, and in a moment pots and pans with precut dried foods in water were covering her makeshift stove.
She sat back, letting them do their work. “Let me know if it cools too much; I’ll heat it up again.”
They did, and she reheated the rock three times before they had finished cooking everything for the score of people. It was not particularly good food, but it was better than the cold rations of the day before, and probably better than the stirge from before that, and Lauren wasn’t entirely certain that her magic meal spell could stretch to so many mouths. The others thought it a good meal, so it must have been up to their usual standard, at least.
Sheegoka’s team had returned not long after the food was ready, and were given the opportunity to eat while it was hot before reporting what they found. Lauren wasn’t privy to the report, but gathered from the gossip that there were five other passages leading from what was a relatively large irregularly shaped cave. One passage clearly led up, and might be an alternate route to the surface for the return journey. Of the others, three led down and one was uncertain. This was unfortunate news, because the party needed to find the way down, but not all paths that led down would go far enough or the right direction. It didn’t help that they were not at all certain of the right direction, besides that they had to go down. It was announced that they were going to send squads along each of the four possible passages to scout a short distance and determine which might be most promising. Lauren’s squad was assigned to the path that looked most level.
They traveled it about a mile, using one of Lauren’s oil-free lamps for light and taking note of side passages and caves all of which seemed to be roughly level with their path. Eventually Gojo announced that their path didn’t appear to offer an obvious route to their destination, and they should return and report. The return trip was quicker, as they didn’t stop for the side paths.
Tiras was waiting with the pack animals. Malacon had already returned, and it was not long before Taz and Sheegoka also brought their squads back. None found any suggestion that it was the more likely path to the drow kingdoms. The most promising actually was that Taz said his path was relatively untraveled, and since the drow were notoriously antisocial this might be the road to their lands. It was, Tiras agreed, worth considering.
While they were considering, one of those on watch gave a signal. Tiras looked for what was observed, and called for one of his numbered battle plans. Everyone scattered. Gojo was at her side immediately.
“Come,” he said. “Our job is to get the princess, the animals, and the equipment back behind the lines, hidden and protected. I don’t see much in the way of cover here, but there are those rocks over there.”
“Squad one will form a visible front to meet whatever is coming, and attempt to parlay. Squads two and four are flanking them in ambush cover so that if it becomes a fight we have the advantage.”
Lauren nodded, and grabbed the leads of one of the mules. She began thinking of what she might do to hide them. She was quite good at her pseudo-invisibility, but it only worked for her. On the other hand, she remembered learning and practicing a magic version. Getting everyone gathered behind the rocks, she turned and faced the direction of the approaching others, and said, “You have not heard, you have not known, even from long ago your ear has not been open, because I knew that you would deal treacherously.”
“What was that?” Nightstalker asked.
“I suppose it’s a prayer, or like a prayer, calling on God to prevent our enemies from noticing us. I don’t know if it will work; I don’t even know if these are our enemies, but if they’re not I don’t suppose it matters whether it works or not.”
Nightstalker chuckled. “I guess not,” he said.
Then they waited as a group of humanoid creatures approached Tiras and his squad.
“Orcs,” Gojo said.
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 #359: Characters Engage. 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: