I still feel relatively horrible, in fact this morning it seems worse. The crud that my wife and I have had for some time seems to have settled into my lungs. I did not write nearly as much as I had hoped, however I did manage to knock out roughly 2500 words yesterday morning. This takes me over the 30,000 word threshold at 30,154 wordcount. So I may not be leaps and bounds ahead like I had hoped but I am still very much on track.
Here is the story to date if anyone wants to catch up. Once again completely unedited and raw.
- Shadowed Stone
- Little Giant Girl
- Birthday Wishes
- The Gifts
- The Incursion
- The Watch
- Rough Landing
- Dragon Bone
- People of the Storm
- The Lady
- Cambridge Beneath
- Prisoner of War
- Parting the Veil
- People of the Earth
- The Pack
17 – Brittagus Escape
As the days went on, Pico spent an increasing amount of time down in the catacombs beneath Astanax’s home. The presence of the Inquisitors made it such that she did not feel she could risk exposing Astanax, Berrol and the Order of Merlin. This was fine to her, as it gave her time to pour over the various tomes on this side of the gate. They all dated back multiple centuries to a time she could not even imagine, and many were penned by Merlin himself. Over these days often times she would find herself joined by little Berrol, who it turned out was extremely curious about all things related to the order.
Pico had never really been one for children. When women passed around pictures of their kids she always felt like her skin was crawling and it evoked a fight or flight response. There was something about Berrol however that she really liked. He did not act like the snot nosed brat she was expecting. Instead he was more than content to happily pour over the thick leather bound books beside her. She even took to employing her in the search for information “Berrol, the wards on my side are weakening. I need you to look for any information relating to their creation.” The little boy nodded with bright eyes “Yes miss Pico”.
While they were working on this little side mission, Astanax was moving cautiously on his own mission. Turns out all of what would be the United Kingdom is made up of a vast colony of human magic users called Brittagus. Merlin forced this fate upon every magic user, and as a result they rebelled against him and his imposed exile. Where Merlin wanted to free mankind from the burden of magic, the Magistrate Council seeks to control it in every aspect. Their brutal inquisition is there to ensure that there can be no decent among the ranks of the magic users.
The Order of Merlin is almost dead, thanks to the hands of these Inquisitors singling out and assassinating each and every member. Astanax said he was the last of the line, or at least the last he knew about. Before the purge they had stopped congregating, in a failed attempt to protect the members. This worked for a time, but the purge swept through the land and with it went every member but him. His assumption was that they somehow were infiltrated and betrayed from within. Luckily because of his place as steward of the archives, his involvement had been kept a closely guarded secret and as such many Order members died without revealing him.
All of this meant that as Astanax moved throughout Brittagus, he had to do so ever vigilant of the Inquisition. The Magistrate new something was happening however, because the frequency of the random Inquisition “visits” had increased over the last few days. Pico wondered if they were able to sense the border between realms being breached, much the same way as they were on the other side. If so they were obviously not as sophisticated since they did not seem to be targeting this location directly. They were however canvassing this neighborhood, and with that she was afraid to let her presence be seen by anyone.
Astanax had been trying to track down a source of dragon bone for her, to very little success. It was apparently common knowledge that it had been a primary component of the wards, and as a result was greatly restricted. From the way he talked about dragon bone, it sounded much like ivory is in her world. There were all manner of uses for it, very few of them legitimate but since the dragons were so powerful the bone must be as well. She thought it was humorous that people on this side ground up the bone to take as a tonic, much like they do with rhino horn. Just because a people have actual magic does not apparently make them immune to baseless superstition.
To her left she heard a series of excited noises coming from Berrol who was laying on his belly thumbing through one of the big books. In quick order came “Miss Pico! Miss Pico! I found something” the little boy was pointing at a picture on the page of the book. As she crossed the room and knelt beside the book she thought to herself… maybe he did. It was a diagram of the ward that she had seen before, but beneath it was a list list of all of the components and their purpose. Beside dragonbone there was the following description.
Dragonbone is among the rarest materials in our world. It is special because of its great strength and flexibility. In my experiments it has been showing to carry the vibration of the matrix core to the surrounding area. Dragonbone is merely a conduit and has no real effect on the success of the matrix, but instead allows for the signal to be transmitted clearly. It should be stronger than the black iron that holds the pieces together and as such last for a much longer time. Iron construction alone would have been shaken apart by the vibrations.
So that was the key to the mystery… Dragonbone is simply really good at taking vibrations and transmitting them. She was certain that if she had a reasonably sized sample she could simulate this effect with either a metal alloy or ceramics. Maybe they didn’t actually need to find all those dragons. She just needed to find one, and even then just a piece of it to take back and run tests on in her lab. She knelt down and kissed the boys head “You did really good Berrol, this will help me save the wards.”
As she thumbed through the rest of the book it gave a detailed description of every part, its function in the design and its limitations. With this book she felt reasonably certain that she could replicate one of the wards. Now she just had to find some dragon bone, and a way back home. She thought about the little grey box sitting in her pack. Inside of it was a tiny ball with a red button on top. It was originally going to be a handheld “analytical grenade” but after the recent events and the damage in the ward caused by her analytical designs, she halted work. She had tossed it into her pack as a “only in an emergency” weapon if she encountered something she could not handle on this trip.
She could not use it here, at least not within the presence of Astanax and Berrol and preferably not within Brittagus at all. If the Inquisition had detected a breach, they would most definitely detect one that was forcibly blown open. To be honest she had no idea what the device would do if used on this side. She theorized that it would push everyone in the surrounding vicinity of the blast to her world, but that was not a certain thing. In order to use it she needed off of this island nation. Hopefully Astanax could help with that, but she did not want to put him or Berrol into any more harm.
There was a sound echoing down the passageway of stone grating on stone, a sound she recognized as the entrance hatch to the archives being moved. Always before Astanax had yelled down at her to let her know he was coming down. This time it was complete silence. Fearing the worst she gathered up berrol in her arm, stuffed the book into her pack and hid in one of the side chambers behind some large urns. She heard footsteps echoing down the hallway, hard soles against the hard stone. As the shape passed the doorway without pause she could see that it was a man in dark robes, shrouded in a dark hooded cloak. She could not make out anything of a face, and he held in front of him an illuminated staff.
Pico carefully and quietly slid out a 45 caliber pistol from her pack. She did not know how it would work, but it would be better than nothing if she got into a pinch. Suddenly the man cried out “I know you are down here, I bring word from Astanax” he said in a kind voice. She remained silent and placed her hand over Berrol’s mouth to make sure he knew not to respond either. The man stopped in the hallway near her door “I know you are afriad, but I mean neither you nor the boy any harm. Astanax has been captured.”
Something snapped in Pico and she leapt out from behind the urns pistol drawn and pointed at the man. “What do you mean he’s been captured? Who are you, how do you know this?” The man lowered his staff and spread his arms out in a gesture of surrender. “It’s okay, my name is Karrek. I am a member of the inquisition, but before that was a loyal member of the order. I joined to pass information to the remaining order members for their safety. Astanax inquired about dragon bone to the wrong merchant, an inquisition sympathizer.” The man said with a sense of honesty about it. “I briefly was allowed to speak with him as they took him to the grey tower for questioning. He pleaded with me to get you and his son Berrol out of the city.”
Pico thought for a moment, that did seem like something Astanax would want if he ever got captured. He had made her promise to watch after Berrol if anything happened to him when the Inquisition patrols increased. She lowered the pistol and the man visibly relaxed. “We don’t have much time, the Inquisition will be here soon to search this place. I have a carriage parked in the alley near the back door. I will get you to the waterfront and onto a boat away from here.” He looked around nerviously “Do you have any gold? I do not have money to pay your transport.”
It was at this that Berrol came from behind the urns and spoke “I know where papa keeps some” he said sheepishly. The trio rushed upstairs and Karrek stood watch at the front door while Berrol lead Pico into another room. There the boy moved aside a painting and set into the wall was a safe of sorts. Berrol spoke a series of words in a language that pico did not understand, and there was an audible click noise as the door to the safe swung open. Inside were several heavy bags of what she assumed were golden coins. She dumped all of them into her pack and rushed back to meet Karrek.
Opening her bag and showing it to him “We have this? Will this be enough.” He nodded “more than enough, don’t offer them more than one of those bags” He knew their time was almost up “We have to leave now” and herded them out the back door and into his black carriage that was emblazoned with the inquisition seal she had seen elsewhere on the patrols. As they rounded the building and passed the front of the house a procession of black robed figures was walking down the sidewalk towards the front of the house. She and Berrol ducked down in the carriage to make sure they were unseen and for his part Karrek proceeded as though nothing was strange.
Within a few minutes she could smell the familiar salty air she associated with ports. Risking a peek out the window she noticed they were riding along a wharf of sorts. They sped past hundreds of boats moored on either side of the dock. She wondered where exactly Karrek was headed as many of these boats looked seaworthy and available for charter. The rows of boats parted and were replaced by something slightly different. It looked in every way a boat but instead of sitting down in the water it floated high above the docks, with a little ramp leading down to the wharf for boarding. The best she could tell they were flying ships, like she had never seen before. It was near one of these that the carriage finally stopped.
Karrek dismounted the carriage and moved around to the door. He opened it helping Pico and Berrol out. “These are skyships of the Valkore. As a people they are dragon hunters. If anyone will have your dragon bone, it will be them. Charter one of these and ask them to take you to Hagengarde. This will take you far away from the reach of the inquisition.” She looked at him with frustration “But what about Astanax?” he looked back with sad eyes “I will do what I can to free him, but I am not sure if that is even possible. The grey tower is our most secure prison. The important thing is for you to get Berrol to safety, it is what he wants more than anything.” Still not happy about it she nodded in agreement. She would protect Berrol, even if it meant bringing him back to her own world.
Karrek waited until they were walking up the gangplank to one of the skyships before travelling on. The ship was rather nice, far nicer than she had expected based on the ramshackle nature of the wharf region. As soon as they had reached the deck she was met by a woman and two male guards. The way the woman carried herself she assumed she was the captain of the vessel. “I’m Captain Barret, and what are you doing on my ship?” she said in a rather callous tone. “I’m sorry for the intrusion, my name is Pico and this is Berrol” motioning to the boy hiding behind her. The removed from her pack a small sack of gold coins and held it out to the captain “We need safe passage to Hagengarde”.
The captain took the sack, rattled it around a bit and then nodded grimly. The Valkore had no love of Brittagus or the inquisition. Barret would rather never have had to come here, but they needed supplies and with the Valkore in impending danger, this was the closest place with something to spare. The captain looked over Pico “Do you know what you are getting yourself into? Hagengarde and all of the Valkore villages for that matter are under attack by the forces of winter.” Pico shook her head, she didn’t know at all what she was getting into. “Any place is better than here…. also I need dragonbone and I hear Hagengarde is the place to go for that.”
The captain nodded grimly once again “Yes I suppose that is the case. Alright you can find someplace to sit down below. We have just resupplied and are about to get under way.” With that the captain moved to the great ships wheel and Pico took Berrol under deck, finding a quiet corner to sit down in. “Miss Pico, I’m scared… I miss papa” she ran her hand through the small childs hair “I know Berrol, I’m scared too”. The boy leaned against her nuzzling in and sobbing silently. She leaned back against the ships hull closing her eyes. This was the first time in a long time she was really and truly scared.