Archive for March, 2014

Krall hadn’t seen either face in two seasons. Before that, though, they’d had more than five years in close company and shared deeds; he’d have instantly recognized either of them, never mind the conspicuous pairing. Seeing them now, the bear’s heart leaped with joy.

He started making his way through the crowd, taking care, even now, not to push. He was a big man among a big race; he could have forced his way through if there had been true and urgent need. Courtesy was an old habit, though, and one he would not lightly set aside – no matter how eager he was to meet those two again, that did not an emergency make.

The drake – whose wings, even furled, gave him enough personal space to have a clearer view – was first to see him; turning, waving, then twisting to give his human companion a nudge and say something to him, excited. Then both of them were working along the crowd’s edge to where there was a bit more room.


Hakenteri had used every curse word he knew in four different languages and was starting over. It took a while – partly because the gryphon was cursing under his breath as he flew, rather than with full dedication, but mostly because one didn’t spend five years in active service with the Highmoor Legions, and more time beyond that in training, without picking up some of the essential skills.

False leads, inaccuracies, late arrivals, missing details – nobody had ever told him that serving as the Legion’s eyes and ears in other lands would be easy, but this was getting downright ridiculous.

The place he’d left behind with the first of those muttered curses was the eighth he’d investigated since starting this particular mission. It was supposed to have been as straightforward as a spy-courier’s duties ever got – get in, meet the contact, hear the report, confirm it, get home. And that would have been that; the five years he’d sworn to serve would be done and he could move on to civilian life. Which, unlike most of his kind, he had serious prospects for; he’d had no intention of re-enlisting.

That had been at the start of spring. It was the height of summer, now.

Hakenteri didn’t begrudge the extra time – truly. It would have been nice to be done months ago as expected, but he’d had no intention of leaving a task unfinished. The real problem was that this particular task seemed tailored for maximum frustration.


Before the first word was written, the Red Lady was there to watch over the land.

Through the ages She had kept Her vigil unbroken, guarding Her people from those that dwelt beyond the world. She taught the ways of battle to the first wardens, that they may stand guard against the dangers of this world even as She did against those of others, with the stern counsel that to use Her arts to take that which was not theirs would be to break Her covenant. The land was bountiful, and there was plenty in it to provide for all Her people.

From time to time, horrors from beyond the world tried to sneak past Her vigilance and take plunder. She never wavered in Her watch; always She was there, and the people would marvel as She did battle in the sky or among the waves or astride the rolling plains, sometimes battling hosts of unquiet dead, or restless spirits of the elements, or other things too bizarre to name or even describe, striking with bow or spear, turning blows on a buckler carved from the first tree ever felled.


Hakenteri drifted on the edge of an uneasy doze, awash in a dull ache of pain.

He’d have been happy never to know how much of an improvement that could be. But improvement it was over how he’d been, what felt like mere moments ago but in truth was much of a day. When he’d been brought into this little den, he’d been exhausted, half-starved, and in genuine agony – from first the burns, then the arrow through his right wing, then all too many broken bones and a host of lesser bruises from when he’d hit the ground.

That had been bad. He’d barely been aware of anything but the pain, hadn’t known that healers were at hand until the pain had faded into merciful oblivion; at that point, he’d succumbed to his fatigue and sunk into oblivion as well.


For the dedicated administrator, there was always something to do.

Privately, Shiezma Vlande knew that an administrator was what she was, at heart. She delighted in making things happen, things that no one person could ever have accomplished alone. She took joy in efficiency. The politics of the Legeriat were mostly a distraction to her; at best they could show her where things needed to be done better, but more often they were in the way.

Still, if she wasn’t ideally suited to a Legeriator’s mantle, it was the post she held, and she wore it better than some of her colleagues did. And some aspects of it did appeal to her; enough to bring her to the Red Chamber even today, when no council was scheduled, to do some research and make plans. Truth be told, it was actually kind of restful, getting the chance to do this work without a whole muddle of politicians pestering her and getting in her way.

Which made it that much more of a surprise when the door creaked open and admitted another person. And all the more so when that person was not one of her oh-so-esteemed fellow Legeriators at all, but a short Orren man whose fine, dark robes made for sharp contrast against his pure-white fur and ice-blue eyes.


In a land much-marked by canyons and cliffs, the Godswatch Heights were the greatest rise of all. The main Temple of Caarok perched up there, a short way back from the cliff’s edge, hence the name. It wasn’t the grandest temple – that title belonged to the Temple of the Three, at the heart of the city below. But it was plenty grand, and it was there that Caarok Himself spent most of His incarnate existence. To scale the cliffs was the last step on a pilgrim’s path to seek audience with Him and possibly enter His personal service. It was a harrowing climb, a test of skill and resolve, but it was one that could be done.

Kalim knew all this – most people did, who knew much of anything about the Three. It was one thing, though, to know a collection of truths. It was quite another to be standing at the foot of the Godswatch Heights, to see them stretching up, it seemed, to the scant clouds in the lightening sky. Here, it was not so easy to remember that people had made the climb successfully; much easier to recall those that had failed – especially those that had fallen from the cliff face and met their end. There had certainly been a number of such.

Up to this moment, Kalim had thought himself ready. He was athletic – strong, agile, and limber. He had been climbing things since he was a boy, much to his mother’s despair, and after the first year and a few tumbles from smallish trees, he’d not fallen. Not even when he’d moved on to mighty ancient trees and then, indeed, cliffs. He was a good climber.

And yet he was fairly certain that most who’d tried and failed had thought themselves good climbers as well. This wasn’t a tree in his family’s yard; this was the highest, craggiest cliff in the land. No other challenge he’d faced could be its equal. How could he say for certain that they’d all prepared him for this?


It had all been going so well.

They’d got in with nobody the wiser. With physical access, Jessen had been able to break into their network without breaking a sweat, and she’d made a few careful gaps in security that let them all move to the deeper levels of the complex, down to the laboratory area. Then she’d cracked that network and pulled the research and development data. It had taken Navik several anxious minutes to sort through it all and narrow it down to what they wanted – testing data and plans for the ten-kilo package that now rested in his pack. It should have had an explosion-resistant crate and full NBC hazard sealing, but so long as it didn’t go off, all that wouldn’t be an issue; so for now, the shock-proof case the device now rested in would have to do.

These people hadn’t been setting out to make a weapon, but that was hardly reassuring; once they’d seen the potential of this little thing, they’d turned it into a terrifyingly effective weapon indeed. And knowing what they had planned for it, it was all the more important that Navik’s team get the prototype out of their hands and the plans back to Central Command.