After about an hour of walking, the Chaos party emerged from the system of underground tunnels. There had been a number of turns along the way, various passages to choose from, and they might well have been lost for days, if not for Dex's map. There were a number of possible exits, and they chose one on the outskirts of the village, well hidden within the woods, and yet not that far from where they ultimately wanted to be. Darius, Tiejo, and Jasp came out first, cautiously looking around to make sure no one was around to see them, and then signaled for the others to follow.
Earlier, during the course of their subterranean trek, Ginger had attempted to contact Tino via t-mail, but much to her annoyance, had found there was no reception underground. Now that they were out, in spite of her impatience, she waited for Cameron to make sure no one could trace nor eavesdrop on their conversations. After finally getting through, she was relieved to learn that Tino was still at liberty, and apparently not being watched. The entire party, of course, was relieved to hear this, as well. Though Darius wondered how Monogwrangle had found them at Bigthink's office, if the authorities hadn't already been watching them.
Jasp pointed out that it was possible Tino could be under police and/or InterGang surveillance and not know it, so everyone decided it would be best for the main group not to venture back into town at this point, at least not together. Darius decided to send Tiejo, who was probably the best of them at moving about without attracting attention, to take Dex's money to the garage, to pay for the repairs. While Jasp was surely at least as skilled as Tiejo at consciously avoiding detection, Darius preferred to count on the fact that people tend to ignore street rats most of the time, anyway. Of course, he didn't send the briefcase with Tiejo, as that would look suspicious. "Very few street rats carry briefcases," said Darius with a wry grin, to which Tom responded with gruff sarcasm, "And by very few, I assume you mean none at all. Unless the case was stolen."
And so, Tiejo arrived at Ampersand & Ampersand garage in the early afternoon, around Second Six. He was happy to learn that the physical and magical repairs had all been completed, at least those that were within the powers of the mechanics and Sorreter doing the work. Tiejo paid Relic, thanked him, and he and Tino took the wagon outside, and harnessed the striders. They both looked around for anyone who might be watching, and headed for the woods, keeping alert for possible pursuit.
Finally, the entire party was reassembled, and there was no sign that anyone had been followed. While waiting for his friends to return, Darius had contacted Bigthink's office; he wasn't in, having been taken by the police, but his assistant assured Darius that everything would be okay, not to worry about Dex, and meanwhile asked if there was anything he could do to help Darius. Darius said he felt bad about asking for more money so soon, but wondered if Dex's office could quietly arrange for the strider rental service to be paid for the striders they'd been using since arriving in Tanq. He hadn't done anything illegal yet, and certainly didn't want to start with strider theft, but returning them would be problematic. (Of course, if they'd been willing to risk openly returning the striders after they'd drawn the wagon to the woods, Cameron could have conjured wild striders to continue their journey; but they all felt the sooner they were on their way, the better.) Dex's assistant again told him not to worry, it would be taken care of by early the next morning.
And so, there seemed nothing left to do but for everyone to pile into the wagon, and as Tino said, "get the hell out of Dodge." While no one got the reference, it was obvious enough what it meant. He and Alecstar took the first shift driving. Soon, the village of Tanq was behind them. While flying might be faster, they had decided it would be more conspicuous, so they stuck to the ground, for the time being, making their best speed toward Triscot. Of course, if they stayed on land the whole way, it would take longer than any of them would be comfortable with, so sooner or later, they'd probably release the striders, and take to the air. But that wouldn't likely be for a day or two, yet.
"Sorry it's taken awhile to get back to you, but... things didn't exactly go as planned, I'm afraid. The suspects got away, with some help from a damned... well, never mind. I was assaulted when I tried to take them in, though the guy who did it wasn't really... with them. I wish I could tie him to them, but I can't. He's got a good standing in the community, not to mention good lawyers. He's in lock-up for the moment, but it would be pointless to try charging him with anything more than the assault, which he's not contesting. In fact it would be dangerous to charge him with more, as it might bring out certain points in court which... as it stands, he's willing to be quiet about, but... Well, honestly, from a strictly technical point of view, I'm guiltier than he is, so..."
The voice on the other end of the t-mail bubble said in a rather irritated tone, "Yes, yes, whatever. I don't care about any of that. What's the story with this Chaos group?"
"Right, sorry. Well, they got away. No idea where. I expect they're out of Tanq, by now, and I would presume their next stop would be Triscot. Still, there's one thing I wanted to mention that I found interesting, when I was talking to them. I accused them of plotting a rebellion-"
"What?! You were not authorized to say any such thing. You were just to tell them they were wanted for further questioning about their relationship to LandOrder and InterGang."
"I know. But the way Lonewander was talking, I felt certain he wouldn't have come unless he knew we knew more than that."
"It seems to me an accusation like that would only serve to make him even less inclined to go with you."
"It was a calculated risk; you have to understand, they were technically within their rights to refuse to come with me. And if they thought the only thing we wanted to question them about were things they'd already answered in Tonad, they'd be inclined to see this simply as a nuisance. My hope was that the mention of rebellion would catch them off guard, and that they'd be eager to come with me in order to dispel such accusations. Which brings me back to the point I was about to make: when I mentioned rebellion, none of them registered the slightest hint of surprise. If they were innocent, I should think something like that would have come as a shock to them. They denied it, of course, but... otherwise they didn't react at all. I feel that, if there was any doubt as to their guilt, the fact that they took the accusation entirely in stride would reduce that doubt, if not quite eliminate it."
After a few moments of silence, a reply came. "Very well. I appreciate this observation. It doesn't prove anything, but... it does give me something to think about. Thank you, Agent Monogwrangle. That will be- oh, did you have anything else to report?"
"No, sir, that's all."
"Okay, then. Good day. Close."
Monogwrangle's bubble vanished, and he took another from the tray on his desk, rolling it thoughtfully between his fingers for half a centhour. "Two more calls to make," he said to himself. "Hmmm. Which one first? No, actually... one call should suffice; he can make the other call, himself, after I've talked to him... Then maybe I can go home, put some ice on my damned eye and lie down." With an annoyed sigh he added, "I really don't get paid enough for this shite."
After an hour or so of traveling in relative silence, Jasp suddenly spoke up. "You know, Cameron... I appreciate your adding anti-hacking spells to all our t-mail bubbles back there, though I fairly trusted my own bubbles, anyway. LandOrder's Sorreters are pretty good about that kind of thing, themselves. But that, along with what you said in the tunnels, about Durell, reminded me of something that's been nagging at me since I first joined you people... it's kind of surprising that you didn't bother to hide from me the fact that you're an ex-Sorreter."
"Hmmm?" Cameron thought back, and then said, "Oh, well... it was all kind of hectic, that night when we met, what with the fight and then the pursuit. I guess my mind was sort of on other things than preserving my secrets. Besides which, I think it was clear from things you said that you knew who we were, and it seemed likely that you might already know about my status, or at least suspect. In any event, it seemed that in the situation, using my talents was more important than hiding them, especially from an ally. And even before we knew you, you made yourself an ally by helping us escape our enemies."
"Still, you could have simply claimed to be an ordinary Sorreter."
"Wait, can I change my answer? I forget, did I ever actually say I was an ex-Sorreter?"
Jasp grinned. "Hmmm... now that you mention it, I have always had the bad habit of forgetting that things I infer are sometimes really just guesses and assumptions. If you forget what you've said to whom, perhaps neither of us are particularly great spies."
"Hey, an important part of the job is being good at quickly judging character. I'm sure we both used our considerable skills to determine we could trust each other. Even if we did so subconsciously."
"I'll buy that. Anyway, on a similar note, I've also been wondering why it is you all agreed to join Lonewander's little rebellion scheme so quickly. I mean... someone comes up to you and says they're against the Order, and you just automatically say you are, too? Seems dangerous, to me. How did you know it wasn't just a rather obvious attempt at entrapment? The Order seeking out potential rebels, to eliminate them?"
Darius looked up at this with a start. "Wow... that never even occurred to me, but it should have. If someone I didn't know tried to get me involved in something like this, out of the blue, I'm sure I would have had my suspicions, so I don't know why it didn't occur to me to expect others to be suspicious of my intentions. Come to think of it... it's also surprising that Cameron admitted to being an ex-Sorreter at that first meeting. I understand his explanation of not hiding it from Underground, but from me? There was no emergency, or anything. In fact, all of you... well, all of you hid some things, and probably didn't say anything potentially dangerous, nothing the Order wouldn't likely already know about you. But still, things I might not expect you to say to a stranger. But mostly, Cameron. And again... all of you joining me... I don't get it. Now that I think of it, belatedly. ...God, I'm slow." He shook his head in disbelief that he hadn't thought of any of this until now.
Cameron had been smiling through most of Darius's speech, and now he said, "Actually, that afternoon, before we met you, I ran into Tom, and he mentioned having met you the previous night..."
Darius interrupted with, "Tom, I got the impression when we were listening to the Band play, that it had just then occurred to you that they might be interested in the Chaos."
"You got that impression," said Tom, "because that's the impression I gave you." He allowed himself a brief grin as he added, "One of my masters taught me acting. I've had a couple of bit parts in plays, but that's not mostly what I've used the skill for."
Darius's mouth fell open very slightly at that. He closed it again when Cameron resumed his own explanation of events. "Anyway, he mentioned this whole Chaos thing, as well. So I looked into you. Not just on behalf of myself and my bandmates, but for Tom, as well. He said he'd agreed to join you, but that his decision wasn't final. He wanted me to find out if you could be trusted. So, yeah... I already knew your history before we met. I may not be an actor like Tom, though of course we in the Band have occasionally worked with acting troupes... but I do think we're all capable of playing things close to the vest, when appropriate."
"So all of you already knew me before our introductions in George's study, that night?"
Ginger said, "I didn't. You may recall, I was the first of us to speak to you, after we came off stage and joined the three of you at your table. I asked who you and Tiejo were, and that wasn't acting. Thinking forward to the introductions... well, you went first, of course, Darius, and set the tone. Then... George, I think. And Tom, who of course was already with you. Then Star. Everyone at that point, I think had mentioned a dislike for the Order, but this is not uncommon. Might very well be taken as nothing more than griping about authority figures of any kind, from parents, to teachers, to bosses, and more recently to government. Anything.
"And then... Cameron was the first to say anything truly surprising. He hadn't talked to me about having talked with Tom about you, nor, I suspect, had he talked with any of us. Of course, we all know Tom well enough to trust him, and anyone who he trusts. That was enough for us to be open-minded, in the beginning. Not enough to reveal any terribly important secrets, of course. So I admit, when Cameron nonchalantly identified himself as an ex-Sorreter, I was momentarily surprised, even if I didn't show it. It only took a moment for me to realize he must have already looked into you, and determined that you were trustworthy. I would assume that the others all had the same thought, which is why we immediatly accepted your statement of intent to start a rebellion as earnest."
Emma nodded. "That was my thinking, as well. Actually, I was a bit hurt that he hadn't mentioned it to me. I think the first I heard of his having seen Tom at all was just before we went on stage, when Cameron mentioned that Tom was hoping we might join him for a drink, after our performance. Didn't say anything about meeting anyone new. So of course, I don't think any of us knew what the point of the meeting was. But, you know... as long as we don't have specific plans, we tend to go with the flow, as they say. I did think it was odd, the direction the meeting took, almost immediately. But as soon as Cameron said what he did, well, as Ginger said, I knew to take you seriously, and to trust you."
Cameron said, "Sorry to hurt you, Em. Of course that wasn't my intent. Mainly, I thought it'd be fun to leave a bit of a surprise for everyone, but also I thought that such heavy thoughts as rebellion might weigh down our performance. You know we all play better with nothing too serious on our minds."
Emma waved away his apology and replied, "No problem. However... perhaps we should relieve Star and Tino; you could put up a little aural privacy screen between the cockpit and the back of the wagon, so we can catch up on any other secrets we might be holding on to. What say?"
Cameron grinned his assent, and the two of them climbed up front, so Alecstar and Tino joined the main group in back.
"Well," said Tino, "we managed to catch a few snatches of the conversation, sounded interesting. Care to repeat the details? Something about the meeting I missed in Plist, eh?"
Darius's head was lowered, and he was biting his thumb in thought, as he sometimes did. "I was just thinking... I'm not only ridiculously lucky to have stumbled onto a group of people who are clearly more clever than I... in knowing that they could trust me... But also how lucky I am that you turned out to be people who I could trust. I really should have been a bit more cautious in who I shared my plans with. Even though I didn't do so until Tom had expressed a greater dislike of the Order than I, he still could have been trying to entrap me, for all I knew. And of course, all my trust in you people was initially based on my trusting him. You all could easily have been lying about how you felt about the Order, now that I think about it."
"Yeah, well," said Tino, "people tend to underestimate the importance of luck. Without it, even the best laid plans tend to go astray. But you're right, of course... you can't depend on it exclusively. You do need to engage in a certain degree of judicious thinking."
Darius looked up with a grin and said, "Well then, now that luck has provided me with such trustworthy allies, I trust you'll all help me remember to do just that, from now on...."
After a few hours, Tiejo suddenly asked, "Are we there yet?"
Darius sighed, and withdrew a small magical item (about the size of Tom's pocket watch) from somewhere within his cloak. "It's roughly fourteen hundred and fifty miles between Tanq and Triscot, and according to my pocket odometer, we've come sixty miles so far. If we kept up our present pace, traveling for about 12 hours a day, I reckon it'd take us a week or so to get there. Of course, that's an awful long time to be doing nothing but traveling from point A to point B, especially with such major stuff going on, enemies looking for us and whatnot. If we fly, we can go between 60 and 80 miles per hour, and it will probably only take us a couple of days. So, I expect we'll make camp in a few hours, and in the morning we'll decide whether we should start flying yet or not. Though it does seem a bit of a shame to buy a team of striders outright, and release them to the wild after just a day. But then again, there are bound to be settlements along the way, maybe we can find someone who'd be willing to buy them off us. So maybe we'll stick to the ground again tomorrow, at least until we find a ranch or something."
Tom wondered, "Of course, if we did that, wouldn't we have to start flying right in front of whoever we sold them to? Might that not be too conspicuous?"
Darius shook his head. "I hardly think so. You really haven't gotten around much, the last few years. Flying is a pretty common thing, these days. They might wonder why we didn't fly the whole way, in fact, so having striders with us in the first place could be more conspicuous than flying would be. They'd likely assume if we were using them, that we couldn't afford a wagon with a flying spell incorporated into it, which would make it seem strange when we wanted to sell the striders. But I'm sure we could come up with a story to explain it."
Star cut in with an observation, at this point. "Actually, I don't think we can sell them, anyway. We have no papers to show ownership."
Tom said, "Maybe Cameron could translocate to Dex's office, his assistant should have the papers by tomorrow. Then he could bring them back here. Of course, we'd have to call ahead first to make sure it was safe. ...Or, um... did he ever admit to Dex that he was a Sorreter? I forget..." Thinking of the earlier conversation, he couldn't help but grin at this.
Darius turned to Tom and said, "I'd rather he didn't translocate, in any case. No unnecessary risks. If we must, I don't have a problem with releasing the striders. It's not like we've actually paid for them anyway, at least not yet. Though of course eventually we'll have to pay Dex back, either way. But it's a minor concern; we've much better things to worry about right now."
Tom said, "Of course, if we don't have the striders anymore, we'll have to fly into town when we get to Triscot. If we didn't want to fly straight out of Tanq, why would we want to fly straight into the next village?"
"Tanq was a problem because there were people looking for us, there. Not that InterVil wouldn't have alerted the Triscot police to watch for us, but there are going to be plenty of wagons and other vehicles coming into town, both on land and in the air. Unless they're going to stop every single one, we should be okay. Still, it might be best if we find someplace outside the village, not more than an hour's walk, and hide the wagon."
When it became apparent that the others were done talking, Tiejo again spoke up. "Why did people have to deciding to start new villages so far apart? Seemings crazy, it is."
"Ah," said Darius with something approaching enthusiasm in his voice, which for him was a rare quality. "I've actually studied some history. I could tell you when each village was founded. Of course, obviously the first village was First Village, which is considered to have begun in Year One, when God first created the planet, along with Connor and Brigid. Though, obviously, it wasn't really a village, per se, and wasn't even named until 117, for a reason relating to the introduction of the monetary system, which had begun ten years earlier. But that's a side issue, I won't get into that. The second village on the Land, Tonad, was founded in 225, and it's about a thousand miles away from First Village. Apparently, they were basically looking for a new river to found the village near, and eventually, after clearing a path roughly southwest through First River Forest, they eventually came to Drop River, at the point where it drops underground..."
"Actually," said Jasp, "Tonad was founded at the point where Drop River reemerges from underground."
"Um, right. So anyway, they founded Tonad there, and incidentally, the forest now being split in two, the western part was now called Drop River Forest (which is itself cut in two halves by Drop River). The next village to be founded was Sorret, in 271-"
Tiejo groaned. "Not to be explainings about every village, are you? It's gonna get booooo-ring."
"Sorry. Okay, then, suffice to say almost every village's location was chosen based on looking for a water source, whether rivers, lakes, seas, or oceans. Aside from that, distance tends to be based on the feeling that, if you're just going to add a group of buildings in relatively close proximity to a village that already exists, you might as well just expand that village, rather than starting a whole new one."
"Also," said Ginger, "there is the fact that people just naturally have a God-given curiosity and sense of adventure. We want to explore, and learn more about our world, which is impossible to do if you just stick close to home. And if you ever read the Book of Connor and Brigid- the first book of the O'Gas, obviously- God told them a lot about this world as well as other worlds, like Earth. Knowing how much variation was out there waiting to be discovered, in terms of plants, animals, geographical features, climates, and so forth... people have been anxious to find all that since the first generation, though they knew most of the exploring would have to wait for future generations. The desire to make distant exploration possible was a large part of what drove technological development, such as finding new ways to travel, inventing boats and wagons and things."
"Speaking of the O'Gas," said Tom, "there's something I've often wondered about. Sometimes I hear the book, or rather set of books, of the Order-"
"Of spirit-talkers," Ginger cut in. "Not just the Order. But please, continue."
"Right, of spirit-talkers. Sometimes I've heard it referred to as the 'O'Gas,' and sometimes 'O'Gast,' with a 't.' Unless I've misheard. Either way, I've always wondered which is correct. I don't think I've ever actually seen it written down. ...Never been a big reader of religious texts, I'm afraid."
"Technically, the correct term is 'O'Gas,' which stands for 'Of God and spirits.' However, many people refer to it as 'O'Gast,' which you might call a slang version, I suppose. It means 'Of God and spirit-talkers.' It's mostly non-spirit-talkers who use this term, because spirit-talkers consider ourselves of far less importance than spirits. I mean, in an official way. Technically all sentient beings are equal- except for God himself, of course- including both humans and spirits. And any of the intelligent mythical creatures created by Sorreters. Or any other intelligent beings created by God on other worlds. But in a religious sense, spirits are more important, because they're closer to God. And... not exactly living beings, in the same sense as humans. You could call them supernatural, though not in the same sense as the word is used on Earth, exactly. Mainly that's because there they include many mythical creatures that we actually have here on the Land, which never existed on Earth, outside of stories. ...But you may still hear some spirit-talkers use the term 'O'Gast,' without really thinking about what the 't' stands for, just because it's human nature to use slang terms, I suppose."
"Funny thing, though," Darius put in, "that the books of the O'Gas are named for spirit-talkers, rather than spirits."
"Perhaps, but it makes sense when you consider that spirits are eternal, and so may show up in the books written by various spirit-talkers, over the centuries. So it's a simpler matter, especially with regards to chronology, to just put out books according to spirit-talkers. Besides which, some spirits prefer to remain anonymous, if things they say are included in the O'Gas."
"Well," said Darius, "learning is fun, isn't it? Does anyone have any more questions?"
They all found this slightly amusing, but everyone actually took some time to think about that. After all, there wasn't much else to do, to pass the time. After awhile, Tom asked, "Actually, another thing I've often wondered, and was reminded of when Darius was telling Tiejo how far we still have to go, is why do we uses miles on the Land? I once heard that Earth has something called the 'metric system,' for measuring all sorts of things in an orderly fashion. And, you know, as much as we in the Chaos might hold negative associations with the word, there seems to be a natural tendency in Landians to appreciate order (with a small 'o'). I mean, we use names like 'First Village' and 'First Land,' the names of our months, the arrangement of our daycycles, the days of our months, the names of our days of the week- except 'Tuesday,' because as I understand it, no one could think of a good name for it, so we just went with Earth's name- plus the use of centhours instead of minutes, all sorts of things seem so orderly, which is partly why the First Order has been so successful ever since it was established hundreds of years ago, long before their Plan to create the Second Order. People clearly like the concept of order. In fact, when I heard of the metric system, I also heard that it's been several centuries since any country on Earth even used relatively chaotic measurements like miles. So why the heck do we?"
Darius shrugged and said, "I suppose it's because we're still human, after all. No human can have an absolute affinity for order; there will always be, to one degree or another, a certain need for chaos in all of us. Even members of the First Order. We're none of us machines." With a sudden thought, he grinned and said, "Or maybe it's just that people wanted to use words like 'mileage' and 'inching,' rather than 'kilometerage' and 'centimetering,' which would sound just stupid. And it wouldn't make much sense to use those words if there were no such measurements, on the Land."
Tom argued, "I dunno, there are expressions we use on the Land which originated on Earth, and don't really make sense here. For example, the distances between villages you were mentioning earlier were what we'd describe as being 'as the crow flies'; but has anyone ever seen a crow on the Land?"
"Tiejo has! Once in Kimrin, once in Sorret. Big, scary, black birds! Seeminged evil, they did. Always at night, they fly, alone or in great swarms. For... for... foreboding, Master called them. Tiejo not like, except for... yes, dramatic effect. Good they are at enhancing that."
"I think you'll find," said Cameron, who was just climbing out of the cockpit, "that the birds you saw were ravens. And you're right about them. Nasty things, only good for a certain dramatic effect. Particularly on Samhain. Though I suppose their genetic material was used in engineering lyrits, the very first mythical creature Sorreters ever made. And, by the way, one of the very few mythical creatures we have here which were inspired by stories from a planet other than Earth. Anyway, anyone want to relieve Emma and me?"
Darius and Ginger both volunteered. Once they were alone together, Darius began thinking about the fact that, in the couple of weeks since they'd all started out together, he'd spent more time getting to know Cameron and Emma than anyone else. And while he expected he'd always feel closer to them than the others, he also thought he really should try more often to talk with all his companions. He thought for a few centhours about what they might talk about. It seemed like in these sorts of private sessions, it was most common for him to talk about how emotionally screwed up he was, and try to find some common ground on that level. And as much as he appreciated finding out that everyone had their share of problems, and things that made them feel at least a bit different from the majority of 'normal' people, even he was starting to get sick of such topics of conversation.
Finally, he asked, "So... read any good books lately?"
Ginger grinned and glanced sideways at him for a few seconds, a bit surprised by the question. Or in fact by Darius starting a conversation with her, at all. After all, while he was clearly capable of conversing in groups, however uncomfortable he might find it, she'd also discovered, both from personal observation and from speaking with her bandmates, that he seemed most comfortable talking with Emma and Cameron. She took it as a positive sign that he was making an effort to come out of his shell.
"Actually, I've recently been getting into the work of Jaspar, who wrote fantasy stuff about thirty years ago-"
"I love Jaspar! The first of his books I ever read was The Dragon, the Elf, and What Happened One Penul'day. Ever since then, I've been hooked..."
"Of course, that's a good example of how his stories tend to be full of glaring historical inaccuracies. But funny as hell!"
...And so, the two of them continued talking about the works of Jaspar and other writers, from the Land as well as Earth, until eventually they noticed the sun getting lower in the sky, and finally stopped the wagon to make camp....
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