The news broke by midday on Wor'ginday, 26 Su'mo': Lucrezia Nearwright, Tanq's Magistrate on the High Court, had been arrested, by none other than Tanq's police chief, Quinn Darkstrider. The following day, it was in all the papers. Unbeknownst to anyone, Darkstrider had been investigating the Magistrate ever since he'd received an anonymous tip in early Sp'gin, which alleged that she'd been taking bribes from gangsters. Darkstrider was quoted as saying he found the allegation entirely credible, as he'd long been suspicious of her for several reasons. Most notably, the fact that her family's shipyard was unique among Tanq's shipbuilding companies, in that it was never targeted by either LandOrder or InterGang. The various newspaper articles focused largely on an incident in 901, citing a connection between Nearwright's family and that of Barrie Ferryman, don of the Tanq branch of LandOrder. However, the damning evidence uncovered by Darkstrider in late Su'mo' demonstrated an arrangement between Nearwright and Seth Manager, don of the Plist branch of InterGang. Because of questions of jurisdiction, Nearwright was remanded to the custody of InterVil. Police Commissioner Mufasa Gothic personally took over questioning of Nearwright, attempting to learn the full extent of her involvement with InterGang, and possibly LandOrder. By Ha'day, it was clear that Darkstrider, previously considered a long-shot candidate, had gained a sudden surge in popularity among voters, with just a week and a half remaining until Election Day.
Larami Illuminatus saw this as the perfect time to make her move. And so, on Ha'day evening, she fired any employees who weren't on Bradford Milkman's final list of those who would be loyal to her. This included the majority of her enforcers; however, on Penul'day morning, her headquarters would be manned not only by those she hadn't fired, but also by everyone from the Brills gang. At the same time, about half of InterGang's gansters in Tanq, including members of every department, failed to show up for work. That morning, Illuminatus announced that InterGang no longer had a branch in Tonad; that its former branch was now the headquarters of the Illuminati, of which she was capo. She also named the Brills' don, Porter Cognoscente, as don of the Tonad branch of the Illuminati, and Lydia Hornpowder don of its Tanq branch. Capo Mysshroudedtery was caught completely off guard by this turn of events; she had thought for some time that Illuminatus was planning a coup attempt, though her spies had turned up nothing for the last few months. She'd been beginning to wonder if Illuminatus had given up her plans, but that didn't mean she'd stopped keeping an eye on her don in Tonad. However, it had never even occurred to her that Illuminatus would simply start her own gang, rather than trying to usurp the capo's position in InterGang. She wasn't quite sure how to respond.
But it became a moot point over the next few days, when Capp Primus decided to take advantage of the upheaval in InterGang by sending nearly all his enforcers from Kimrin and Port to Near Port, the crime in which had been completely controlled by InterGang since 901. By 2 Su'yet, it seemed inevitable that LandOrder would win control of the village, and when the don of InterGang's Near Port branch was killed, Mysshroudedtery conceded defeat, and gave her surviving gangsters there the choice of either moving to other villages, or quitting InterGang entirely. She also decided to give up Tonad and Tanq, transferring anyone still loyal to her in those villages to various other branches, most notably Plist... where there was already some question as to Seth's continued viability as don, given InterVil's suddenly increased interest in him, because of the Lucrezia Nearwright matter.
Meanwhile, both the police and the Army were concerned about LandOrder's sudden presence in Near Port, considering the gang's supposed alliance with the Chaos. But Capp had instructed his people to stay clear of the military base, and General Middlebury had ordered the Near Port regiment not to engage in conflict with gangsters, except defensively. The new law giving the military the right to deal with certain threats was tenuous, and he didn't want to risk its repeal by prematurely treating LandOrder as military combatants rather than civil criminals. Near Port's police chief had already been in talks with the Syndicate to open a branch there, and the sudden outbreak of gang war on We'yetday made it a priority. In fact, citizens of every village on the Land quickly realized they wanted as much protection as possible, which continued to increase Darkstrider's popularity.
The members of the Chaos were aware of none of this. For prisoners and captors alike, it was business as usual. However, René Deadzone came under increased pressure from Durell to learn the location of the Protestant ex-Sorreters. In spite of LandOrder staying away from the Army base, the Grand Sorreter was worried that recent events could mean a rescue attempt was imminent. And so, Deadzone accelerated his torture. Over the last few months, Cameron had revealed things he'd never told anyone, but to Deadzone's annoyance, none of it was information he'd actually requested. The torturer asked one question only, and it was the one thing Cameron refused to tell him.
After several rounds of inflicting pain and then asking the same question, Cameron, who had thus far said nothing during today's session, finally broke his silence. "Do you think," he asked slowly, between labored breaths, "you're endearing yourself... to me?"
"That's hardly the point, is it?" asked Deadzone.
"On the contrary... it's precisely... the point. Being tortured... makes me hate you... and the people... you work for. Makes me want to... hurt you. But... I'm in no position... to fight back. The only way... I can hurt you... is to not answer... your question. After making me hate you... so much... why would I reward you... by giving you exactly... what you want? Every moment... of silence... is a moment I visualize... as me twisting a knife... in your flesh."
"Ah, twisting the knife. Good idea. Now, this may not be quite as much fun for me as your metaphorical knife is for you, but I'll do my best to enjoy it anyway...."
When Thew had first made his pact with Colonel Supprus three months ago, it had seemed reasonable to make sure they could provide proof to the authorities of the Cabal's illegal activities- not to mention its very existence- before seriously considering attempting to free the Chaos. And even once they had a plan to achieve both goals in a single stroke, Thew had to admit that Stavros's desire to wait until after the election made sense. The colonel held the hope, however slim, that Demos might lose. And he was certain that if that happened, the king would call on the Cabal to keep him on the throne, illegally. If that happened, Marshal Poss Primus would surely turn against Demos, and no one in the Cabal could possibly do anything to stop him, without revealing themselves as members. The only question then would be, were more soldiers loyal to Primus, or to the Cabal? Or at least, to whomever the highest-ranking military member of the Cabal might be; even those who were unaware of the group's existence could still be commanded to unwittingly do its bidding.
The marshal's own investigations had yielded nothing, but he was still willing to listen to Stavros's accusations, provided he could back them up. And in fact, the colonel could have provided him proof two months ago. Instead, he'd stopped talking about the Cabal, and gone back to running his regiment, as usual. The reason for that was simple: Stavros's promise to help Thew liberate the Chaos. Thew felt bad about having put him in that position, in spite of the colonel's insistence that it had been his choice, and he believed it was the right one. Still, if he hadn't made that promise, the two people they knew for certain to be in the Cabal might have been arrested by now, and their illegal project terminated. However, that would be of no help to the Chaos; even if Colonel Woodman were discharged, and possibly imprisoned, he'd just be replaced. The law he'd suggested might come into question, but for now, it was the law. And while Stavros knew the prisoners hadn't received a trial, there was no way that could be proven. Woodman had taken pains to create false, yet irrefutable records of the supposed proceedings. So if the Chaos were ever to be freed, it would have to be by Stavros and his allies. But if they did so now, it would be deemed desertion at best, and treason at worst. And they were willing to risk that only if there were no other choice. Thew didn't want Stavros or his people to take bigger risks than they had to, but that didn't do much to ameliorate his frustration at all this waiting. Particularly considering Demos was almost certain to win the election, anyway.
And then, in the last week of Su'mo', all Hell broke loose in Near Port. Thew suggested that all the confusion in that village would make a good cover for a rescue attempt, but Stavros rightly pointed out that there couldn't be a worse time to put their plan into action, given that the gang war had led to considerable tightening of security at the Army base there. On the other hand, tensions were heightened not only in Near Port, but villages around the world. Some people even speculated that InterGang might retaliate by launching a full-scale attack on LandOrder headquarters, in Kimrin. Whether or not that happened, the fear which now permeated the Northern Alliance villages provided a good excuse for Stavros's wife and son to leave town for awhile. In fact, several of his people sent their own families away, as well. Those involved in Stavros's secret plans were far from alone in seeking safer locales, for the time being. Which gave Thew hope; it had always been part of the plan for Sevara and Leopold Supprus to get to safety prior to Stavros, Thew, and their allies making their move. So their departure made the rescue of the Chaos feel close at hand, finally.
On 2 Su'yet, just as Thew was getting a handle on his anticipation of the election and whatever would happen after, Stavros came to him with a surprise announcement. "Well, we're doing it tomorrow."
"What? But the election-"
"Is a week away, yes." He sighed deeply. "As much as I'd prefer to wait, I no longer believe we have that luxury. I've heard from an associate in Near Port that Cameron Piper's torture has been intensified. It seems Durell is concerned that they're running out of time to get anything out of him. And I'm concerned that in their fervent pursuit of the knowledge he holds, they may end up killing him, whether they mean to or not. So if we want to save all the prisoners, we must make haste." After a pause, he added, "It may be to our advantage that InterGang conceded defeat in Near Port, today. With the gang war over, I'm hoping the Army will relax, just a bit. I'm also hoping that if they're still wary of LandOrder trying to break the Chaos out, they won't be expecting us to do it. To be sure, no gang could possibly have the resource we'll be obtaining, tomorrow...."
It had come as a painful surprise to Stavros when he had learned that the officer who was overseeing the Cabal's secret project in Kimrin was one of his closest friends and most trusted subordinates, Major Shirona Monogwrangle. However, this knowledge had led him to arrange for a random exchange of soldiers between his regiment's battalions, every other week, beginning two months ago. The idea was to increase camaraderie between soldiers who might never have had close associations with one another, so that they'd trust each other in battle, on the off chance there was ever another war. At least, that was more or less the explanation Stavros gave his troops; but there was suspicion among the ranks that he really wanted them to never get too comfortable in their daily routines, and to learn to adapt to new situations. Which seemed reasonable enough, so grumbling was kept to a minimum. Of course, if they were going to suspect he had motives he hadn't mentioned, he was glad they hadn't hit upon the true reason for this shake up. Not that he supposed he'd hear about it if anyone did suspect the truth.
The truth was, he was planning on making sure soldiers loyal to him were assigned to guard duty on whatever night he made his move to steal the subject of the secret project. This would have been impossible, if all those soldiers directly involved in the project were certain of the identities of all other soldiers involved. But once everyone on the base was used to seeing new faces, it was Stavros's hope they'd be less likely to question the assignment of new guards. Once Stavros had discovered the location of the project, he'd spent time covertly studying the schedule and procedure for one watch relieving the last. So, on the evening of 2 Su'yet, he arranged for his people to replace those loyal to Major Monogwrangle, at just the right time and in just the right way. As for the guards who should have relieved them, Stavros got a captain who was loyal to him to give them a random transfer. This was an added benefit of the exchange program he'd initiated: it reduced the chance they'd be suspicious at their own sudden reassignment. Of course, they could hardly explain that they were expected at a facility that wasn't even supposed to exist.
It was about First Three when Stavros, Thew, and a platoon of Stavros's most trusted soldiers went to the secret facility, while the majority of the base's personnel were asleep in their quarters. The guards let them pass, and they approached their target. But at the last moment, someone appeared out of nowhere; someone not in uniform, but casual civilian clothes. Stavros's first thought was that he must be a Sorreter, but Thew immediately stepped forward and calmly demanded, "Identify yourself, spirit."
The spirit grinned a grin that made several soldiers shiver involuntarily. He said, "I think not. I belong here. Rather, you should identify yourselves. All of you. ...No, that would take too long. Just you, and whoever is in charge. Because I'm reasonably sure it's not you, child."
"Well, if you're not telling your name, I don't think I'll tell mine."
"Never mind him," said Stavros. "I am Colonel Stavros Supprus. This facility is a part of my base, so I have every right to be here."
"If it were an official part of your base, you would be quite correct. But you shouldn't even know it exists. Ergo, you should not be here. I must say, though, I'm pleased to finally meet you, Colonel. I've heard a lot about you, and your investigations. Congratulations on finally finding our little project. Alas, I cannot let you or any of your comrades leave this room alive."
Thew looked at him quizzically. "What on the Land are you talking about? You have no power here."
The spirit's grin widened, and he laughed malevolently. "I trust you've guessed I'm not merely a spirit, but a demon."
"Obviously. So what?"
The spirit's expression of amusement suddenly turned to one of utter contempt, as he grew into a huge and terrifying demonic form. "My point is that I am not like the spirits you may have encountered before," he growled. "I have no interest in friendly chats, and I would not think twice to kill every last one of you where you stand. I promise you, there are many worlds on which I am deeply feared, and for very good reason."
Thew looked up nonchalantly at the demon, who now towered above them. "Uh-huh. Many worlds. I believe you. But... is this one of them, by any chance?"
And as quickly as he had revealed his true form, the demon returned to his human appearance, his snarls replaced by a smirk. "Not just yet. You are correct, there are rules protecting this world from my kind. But I'm working on it, along with some of my brethren. This is but one of our projects; some of the others shall soon enough grant us the ability to unleash... well, not our full power, but power more than ample to deal with your kind."
"Okay then. Be sure to let me know how that works out for you."
"Don't worry, child, I will. Oh, I'll make a point of it. Meanwhile, even if I cannot presently harm you directly, I can at least alert my Landian allies to your unauthorized presence."
"Of course I-"
And suddenly, the demon found himself gripped by both arms. On either side of him was a spirit, holding him fast. "What is this?"
"I just called a couple of friends. That's one of the great things about being a spirit-talker: the ability to call friends without saying a word out loud, or even while saying completely different things out loud. And the ability of those friends to show up almost immediately."
"I can do the same, you know," snarled the demon.
"So can we," said one of the spirits. And suddenly, there were a multitude. "And together, we can block your power to communicate with your brethren."
"You're subject to the same rules I am! You can't interfere! Not on this world!"
"We can step in to prevent your breaking the rules any more than you already have."
"But you can't hold me indefinitely!"
"True, but we can hold you long enough for these folks to get away, and to prevent you from contacting any Landians. We'll also be reporting your actions to our authorities."
"Your authorities have no jurisdiction, where I'm from."
"No, but they're sure to take a keen interest." Turning to Thew, the spirit said, "He's right, though. We can only hold him so long. You'd better get going."
"No problem. Good luck to you all."
"Thank you," said Stavros. He turned to Thew and said, "And thank you, too. Damn glad to have you with us." Turning to his troops, he said, "Come on, then. Let's get what we came for, and go...."
There was a knock at the cell door. Darius roused from his drowsing and said, "Light on." The door opened. Darius blinked at his guest, and said, "Thew? What... the hell...?" He wanted to say more, but he hadn't the strength.
A moment later, a soldier entered the cell. He said, "My name is Stavros Supprus. I'm here to rescue you."
Darius wanted to say, in a sarcastic tone, "Interesting clothes, for a rescuer. Everyone else I've met who dresses like you has wanted to keep me here." But all he managed was a weak "Oh?"
"I know they haven't been feeding you well. We've got food and juice in the transport. For now, here's an energy bar." He knelt down beside Darius, and handed it to him. "It should give you a bit of strength, anyway. Do you want some-" and just then, Thew squatted beside Stavros, and offered his cousin a cup of water. "-water?" finished Stavros.
Darius took a sip, then slowly began nibbling the energy bar. "Thanks." Looking at Thew, he said, "You... shouldn't... be here. Too... danger."
"Without him," said Stavros, "we wouldn't be here. Your cousin has some useful skills. Now, I don't want to rush you, but we have to move quickly."
Darius finished his snack as quickly as he could, then Thew and Stavros each took an arm and helped him stand. When they exited the cell, he noticed two guards, unconscious on the floor.
"They'll be alright, in a few hours," said Stavros.
"Imagine... my... relief," said Darius.
Thew chuckled. "Good to see you haven't lost your sense of humor, cousin. By the way, I heard the dental program in prison sucks, so I brought some teaberry mouthwash. You can all have some when we get to the transport."
Darius wanted to say, "I hope you won't find my breath too offensive, until then," but instead he just grunted.
After a few centhours, they came to a door at the end of the hallway, which Stavros pushed open. By then, Darius felt more strength returning than he would have expected, and wondered if there was some magic in that energy bar, or if it had just been made by a particularly skilled apothecary. Either way, he was quite capable of walking on his own, now, though he hoped he wouldn't be expected to do any fighting, anytime soon.
On the other side of the door, the first thing Darius noticed was a group of soldiers, but after just a moment's concern, he realized they were with Stavros. The next thing he noticed was that his friends were all with them. As he, Thew, and Stavros approached the group, he overheard Tom saying to Ginger, "You think your birthday was bad, mine went completely unremarked, while we were in here..."
Before Ginger could respond, there was a sudden shriek from another pair in the group. Emma cried, "You!" and ran toward Darius, slapping and kicking him as hard as she could (which wasn't very, in her present condition). Darius made no move to defend himself. "This is all your fault! Three and a half months we've been in this horrible place! It was only one month after we met you that this happened. You know that? My interrogator did. We met you on 18 Sp'gin, and we were captured on 19 Sp'mo'. On 21 Sp'yet, he came into my cell and announced that I'd officially been a prisoner longer than I had known you. Still, I was loyal. But it was probably about a month later that I asked him to stop referring to you as my 'friend.' I felt guilty about that, afterward, but I never took it back. I thought, it's terrible of me to be disloyal, but honestly... how could I have called you a friend after knowing you only a single month! Cameron is my friend, and look what they've done to him, because you got us all caught. Look at him. Look! At! Him!"
So Darius looked. Cameron walked over to them, and he looked... terrible. Darius couldn't look at him for long before turning away. "I'm so sorry. I never meant-"
"You never meant?!" exclaimed Emma. "How could you not have expected this to happen?"
Cameron put a hand on her shoulder. "We all knew the risks when we each made our own choice to join his cause. And I, more than any of you, had been at risk a lot longer than that. I began working as a spy for Drag seven years ago, and this could just as easily have happened any time before I met Darius as after." Looking to Darius, he said, "Besides, I'm already starting to feel better."
In fact, when Darius looked back at him, he thought Cameron's bruises and cuts looked less severe than they had just a few moments ago. He turned to Stavros and asked, "What was in those energy bars, exactly?"
Before Stavros could respond, Cameron grinned and said, "It's not that. I didn't even accept one. Unlike the rest of you, my keeper kept me well fed. He said he wanted me healthy enough to truly appreciate the pain he inflicted. But here's the thing he wasn't counting on: for all those months, while I was prevented from performing any magic, my chakra was building up, since I had no way of expelling it. So now, I've become a sort of living mana battery. Which is allowing me to accelerate my healing more quickly than I normally could. In half an hour, I should be good as new. If any of you need healing, I can help. And that barely scratches the surface of what I'll be able to do with all this excess chakra."
"Well, that's... great," said Darius. "I guess. And I know you all made the choice to join me. But still, Emma's right to be upset. Honestly, all of you should hate me."
Cameron just rolled his eyes. "You always feel like everyone should hate you."
"Yes, and now that feeling is justified!"
"Oh, just shut up," said Emma, though there was a touch of resignation in her voice. "Cameron may be right about all he's said, but I'm so not in the mood for your incessant whining. For now, I hate you. I doubt that will last forever, but it'll be awhile. Until I stop hating you, you're not allowed to hate yourself, because it just makes me hate you more."
"Um... okay. Whatever makes you feel better."
Turning to their rescuer, she said sardonically, "Stavros, give me another one of those energy bars. I need more strength so I can hit him hard enough to make me feel better."
Until that moment, everyone's attention had been focused on Darius, Emma, and Cameron. But when Alecstar heard the name "Stavros," he turned for the first time to look at the soldier who'd entered with Darius and Thew. And now he approached him.
"Stavros. It is you. What the hell are you doing here?"
"Duh, I'm here to rescue you and your friends. I thought that had been established when my soldiers and I got you all out of your cells."
"Uh-huh. Funny, I didn't see you in my cell, but apparently you visited both Darius's and Emma's personally. Any of the others?"
Stavros sighed. "Yes, you were the only one I avoided. I didn't think you'd trust me."
"Listen, I'll explain once we're airborne. First, there's one more person we need to free, before we can leave."
"What?" asked Thew. "This is everyone. Who else is there?"
"Sorry, I haven't been entirely forthcoming. The fact is, there's someone who's been here a lot longer than any of you, who I've always planned on freeing, when the time was right. You just... helped me figure out when that time was."
"Ooh!" came a sudden cry from the group, and Tiejo sprang forth to look hopefully at Stavros. "Tiejo's master maybe that is being?"
Stavros smiled. "Oh, yes, he's mentioned you, once or twice. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you."
Darius said, "Thanks for reminding me. That's why we came here in the first place. Lead the way."
The entire group followed Stavros down a flight of stairs, and then to the end of a long corridor, where there was a single door. Whoever this prisoner was, he apparently had a whole floor of the dungeon to himself, even if his cell was no larger than those on the floor above.
Stavros produced a key he'd taken from one of the guards, and unlocked the door. Tiejo was the first to burst through the door, and shouted, "Light on! Master! I'm here to rescue you!"
The prisoner stirred, and groaned. "Tiejo? Nice to see you. But do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Neither do I, so I guess it doesn't matter that you interrupted my sleep." As a few of the others began to enter behind Tiejo, the prisoner asked, "Who are these people?"
"My friends they are being. Came with me to help rescue you. Now that they have helped me with my goal, I would fain help them with theirs. Grace for grace. Will you helping me help them, master?"
"Grace for... what are you talking about? Feign? You want to... pretend to help them? Tiejo, it doesn't make much sense to say that right in front of them."
Tiejo rolled his eyes. "Not 'feign,' fain. Is meaning 'happily.'"
Darius now cleared his throat and asked, "Aren't you dead?"
The prisoner turned to him and replied, "Apparently, they didn't want to make me into a martyr, so they've kept me alive."
"But everyone thought you were dead, so in effect, you were a martyr."
"Not a very effective one, it seems. I heard we lost the war soon after I 'died.'"
"Of course, you never can tell whether the death of a leader will incite the troops or demoralize them. It could go either way."
"Yeah, I've certainly been feeling rather demoralized, myself."
"Well, perhaps joining my cause would help remoralize you."
"Y'know what I think would really help, actually, is if we could get the hell out of here..." With that, he stood and began shooing everyone out of his cell.
Some of the group had remained in the corridor. Once those who had entered exited, and those in the hall saw the prisoner for the first time, Tom slapped his forehead. "Vallus, of course! I can't believe I didn't guess that."
Vallus asked Tiejo, "What's he talking about?"
"Um... I gotted help for save my master, but not telling anyone who my master was. Is more dramatic that way, no?"
"Wow, good job, my student. I don't know if even I could have convinced people to take on such a dangerous mission without knowing the objective."
"Well, if told them I had, not believing me they would have been. Dead you were being to the world, yes?"
Vallus nodded. "That's true." Just then, he spotted Stavros. "Ah, Colonel Supprus. Here to rescue me, at last. Took you long enough."
"Yeah, sorry about the wait."
"Oh well, better late than never, I suppose."
Suddenly the procession stopped, as Alecstar stood blocking the way. He stared in shock at the supposedly dead Vallus, then at Stavros. He tried to speak, but couldn't find any words. Stavros just grinned and said, "Supprus!"
"Say what?" asked Tom.
"My surname," said Stavros. "It means 'surprise.' This is actually a surprise I started planning during the war, but... it ended up not going the way I intended, so... well, today's surprise is rather different from the one I originally planned, all those years ago. All this time in a dungeon was definitely not what I had in mind for Vallus." Turning to Alec, he said, "Anyway, like I said before... we've got some things to talk about. When we're in the air and safely away from this place. So let's go."
Everyone followed Stavros along a very specific route he'd planned, to ensure the party didn't encounter any guards on the way out. When they finally exited the base, Darius said, "You know, I'm surprised they don't have anyone scrying from somewhere."
"Oh, they do," said Stavros. "But you can thank lieutenant Faraway, here," and he turned to pat the shoulder of the soldier who'd been right behind him. "He's a Sorreter, and he cast a spell to make us invisible to scrying."
Just then, a fireball hit Faraway in the back, and he fell to the ground, dead. Everyone immediately turned in the direction the blast had come from, and they saw at least a hundred soldiers heading their way. At the head of the pack were Woodman and Deadzone.
Stavros strode angrily to the front of his own group. "Colonel Woodman. Your man has just killed an officer of the Second Order's Army."
"Colonel Supprus. I daresay he did not. It may not be official, yet, but you and all these men and women you've brought with you, unannounced, have clearly abandoned your commissions in the Army. You are traitors to your country, and I'm placing you all under arrest. I'm sorry your man was killed, but he might have proven more dangerous than anyone else you brought."
"You might have simply incapacitated him," Stavros said to Deadzone.
"Meant to. My aim was off." He shrugged. "It's dark out here. Sorry."
"Meanwhile," continued Woodman, "I advise against resisting arrest, if you value the lives of your people. You're clearly outnumbered as it stands, and more of my own troops will arrive soon enough. You have no chance of winning any battle, so I suggest you come peacefully."
Stavros's fierce countenance now softened, and he began to grin.
"What on the Land are you smiling about?" demanded Woodman.
"It is dark out, isn't it?"
And with those words, there suddenly emerged countless figures from the shadows of the night. It quickly became apparent that Woodman's own troops were surrounded by a force at least three times as great.
"Rats," said Woodman in disgust. "Is this what you've come to, Supprus?"
"They have far more class than you, Colonel. Now, I suggest you all head back inside, and we'll be on our way."
"One moment," said Darius, suddenly stepping toward Woodman. "I see you didn't have time to dress. Nice pajamas. But not as nice as the coat you're wearing over them. Wherever did you get it? Oh, wait... I remember."
Woodman sighed. "I suppose you want it back."
"Let me think about it.... Yes."
He spat the word "Fine," and removed Darius's duster. "Take it."
"Thank you kindly," said Darius. He thought about punching Woodman after putting the coat on, but he knew he hadn't the strength.
Woodman said, "We'll meet another day, Lonewander. This isn't over. You're a convicted rebel. You can't go anywhere in the world without being hunted. Sooner or later, you'll be right back in your cell."
"We'll see. Meanwhile, try not to get too lonely without me." Darius turned and walked back to the group.
Woodman turned and motioned for his own troops to follow him back into the base, but he still hoped reinforcements would arrive before his enemies could make their escape.
Deadzone hesitated, staring at Cameron. "It's not over between us, either," he said.
Cameron smiled. "Oh, not by a long shot." With a wave, he added, "Be seeing you!"
Deadzone simply glowered a few more moments before turning and following Woodman.
Then, one of the rats turned away from the group that was herding the soldiers, and approached Stavros's group. "Hiya, all!" she exclaimed with a grin. "Long time no see."
"Taryn!" shouted Tiejo, scampering up to her. "What you are doing here? Ooh, my master I want you to meet. Come, come!" He grabbed her by the hand, and pulled her along toward Vallus. "Master, this is being Taryn Hillrat. We meeted her and her brother the day before we were being captured."
"Pleased to meet you," said Vallus. "My name is Vallus."
"I'm afraid I missed the passing of the surname law, though I heard about it, while I was in prison. I heard about a lot of things that passed me by."
"Sorry to hear that. Meanwhile, to answer Tiejo's earlier question of what I'm doing here, I should tell you all," and the members of the Chaos gathered around, along with Thew and Stavros, "I was recruited to the cause sort of by Tiejo, here, but actually more so by someone I've never met in person, Arnold Sullenhest. After talking with him via t-mail right after the announcement of you folks' capture, I began recruiting rats from Kimrin, and also got in touch with LandOrder's branch, there. They helped some of us get to Near Port, to recruit more rats, here. We were supposed to do nothing on our own, but wait for word from someone more closely involved in things to ask for our help."
"And I called her yesterday," said Thew. "Told her about the plan we had to rescue you all, this morning. So she got as many rats together as she could in Near Port, and waited for me to show up and coordinate plans between her and Stavros."
"That's great," said Darius, "but shouldn't we be moving? Surely there are hundreds more soldiers inside, where we just sent Woodman. They'll be out in force, in a few centhours."
"That they will," said Stavros. "So let's all get into the transport and get out of here."
"Oh, right. Something else we have to thank Lt. Faraway for." He glanced sadly toward his fallen comrade, who was being watched over by other soldiers. Then he continued walking in the direction he'd been heading before Woodman showed up, and within fifty paces, he stopped, and pounded the air with his fist. And the air clanged.
A ramp suddenly descended from thin air. "This transport."
Taryn grinned at Darius and said, "I was surprised when I first saw- or didn't see it- myself. Pretty funny, though, eh?"
"It'll come to you. But I've gotta get going. Bye, all. Safe flight!" And she started jogging toward the base, to rejoin her people.
Tiejo shouted, "Bye-bye!" and Taryn turned to wave for just a moment before continuing on her way.
"Well, let's go," said Stavros, and he began walking up the ramp. Two soldiers had already carried Faraway's body on board. Thew went after Stavros, motioning for the Chaos and Vallus to follow. The remainder of Stavros's troops brought up the rear, and the ramp closed behind them.
When they saw the interior, Cameron whistled. "Must've taken a lot of juice to cloak something this big."
Stavros nodded. "A lot of mana batteries were used, yes." There were two long rows of seats, one on either side of the cabin, facing a center aisle. Stavros sat down and strapped himself in. Everyone else did likewise. When they were ready, the colonel knocked on the wall of the cockpit, and a few moments later, the transport lifted off.
"Where are we headed?" asked Darius. "Woodman was right, you know; there's no place we can go where we won't be hunted."
"Triscot, to start. I think you and your friends can find safe haven there, at least temporarily. As far as I know, your family haven't been found, yet."
Darius said, "I, uh... don't know what you're talking about."
"Your cousin and I had three months to get to know and trust each other. He told me about his and your clan. Anyway, I'll drop you all in Triscot, then I intend to fly to First Village, to present this transport to InterVil, as proof of the Cabal's wrongdoing."
"So there is a cabal."
"Oh, yes. And there's no telling just how many laws they've broken, over the years. But this transport is something they began developing back in 909, with help from at least one spirit. This violated the law of Prohibition of Off-world Technology."
"You mean it's not magic?" asked Cameron.
"No. The invisibility spell is pretty much the only thing magic about it, and of course that was our doing, not theirs."
"No weapons, either?" asked Darius.
"Surprisingly, no, there are no weapons. I'm not sure why that is."
"So how fast does this thing go? Something this big, I expect it'll be slow enough for flying wagons to overtake it before long."
Stavros grinned. "We should reach Triscot in about three and a half hours."
Darius's eyes widened in shock. "The hell you say!" A few moments later, he started laughing. "Oh, now I get it!"
"Get what?" asked Tom.
"Taryn said something was funny about the transport. I just realized this must be what prompted the rumors of UFOs, which she mentioned to us when we first met."
Ginger laughed, too. "Oh, Tino's gonna love it when he hears we were abducted by a UFO!"
"But wait," said Tom, "she told us people saw them flying around Near Port. This one must come from Kimrin, right?"
"That's right," said Stavros. "And there's one at the Near Port base, as well."
"So won't Woodman be able to catch up to us in that?"
"Hopefully we've got enough of a head start. One of my contacts in his base was going to try to disable their SST- that is, Super Sonic Transport- but there's no way of knowing how long it'll take them to fix it. Or if my agent will even succeed."
Tiejo said, "Maybe it would being good for Cameron to translocate me to Triscot now, so I can be rallying rats there. Backup we may be needing, if enemies catch up to us."
"Good idea," said Darius. "And Cameron, while Tiejo does that, you can get in touch with my father, and Amalgamator."
"On it," said the Sorreter. He unstrapped himself, got up, and placed a hand on Tiejo's shoulder. A moment later, they were gone.
Darius turned to Stavros and said, "Now then, didn't you say something earlier about food and drinks?"
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