Arla pulled back her hood and looked at the stranger who had just saved her life. The border collie morph was confused, she had know this man for scarcely a minute and he had just sacrificed himself to save her. The unknown man had a javelin buried in his stomach and wasn't moving. The other Long scouts responded by spreading out in a circle around her, weapons ready.
She pointed to a small, muscular man and waved him toward her and pointed to the wounded stranger. In a moment Ralls had his healers bag open and was working on the stranger.
"Who is he?" Meredith signed. The brown bear had his crossbow cocked but aimed away from the group.
Arla shrugged. "No idea. He just appeared." She knelt next to Ralls. "How is he?"
The man tossed the now removed javelin to the side and started to close the gaping wound in the man's stomach. "Bad," he whispered.
Off to the side came the sounds of someone shouting and moving through the underbrush.
The collie cursed silently. "Get him ready to travel," she signed to Ralls. "Right now."
The healer's face screwed up his face in anger, but then the anger disappeared and he simply nodded. "He can't travel far," he signed and then he went on working.
Something loomed up out of the brush and Meredith's crossbow shuddered. A lutin fell dead in front of the bear. There were more figures moving nearby, and now the voices were clearly lutins.
Arla looked around trying to gauge where the enemy was. In front Meredith she estimated were at least ten lutins searching. She tapped Ralls on the shoulder and the man nodded his head and gave an annoyed wave of the hand.
There was movement off to Arla's left and she wheeled around in time to see a group of lutins charge right at her. Without thinking she brought her mace down on the skull of the lead lutin and kicked a second in the stomach sending it tumbling backward.
Meredith's crossbow shuddered again and another lutin fell to the ground dead. A lutins rushed at Ralls, a short sword in his hands. Ralls dropped the bandage gauze he was cutting and drove the dagger in his hands into his attackers stomach. With his free hand the healer pushed the dying lutin backwards, away from his patient. Then he wiped the blade clean of blood and resumed cutting the gauze.
Another lutin fell to Arla's mace before the rest fled screaming into the night. "Get moving now Ralls," she said out loud.
"We're ready. But not far, he's too badly hurt." Ralls lay on the ground next to the stranger's right arm. Then he grabbed his patients left arm and rolled slowly away carefully bringing the man with him. When he stopped rolling the man was now on his back there two heads next to each other. Gripping his patient with both hands he slowly stood up. It was an awkward way to carry the man but there was no time for a proper stretcher.
With a nod the four people started moving through the underbrush. She saw Meredith stop and look back to be sure there was nothing left behind that might give away their position.
The group moved very slowly burdened by the wounded man and the thick underbrush. Still, Arla pushed as fast as she could, they had to get as far from the camp as possible. Whatever that stranger had done, he had really stirred up the lutins.
They wove around a group of some twenty lutins who never realized how close their quarry was. They got barely a hundred yards before they had to stop. The scouts had to wait five, long, agonizing minutes for an ogre and a dozen of the ever present lutins to pass, before they could continue. They got less then three hundred yards before they were again forced to stop and wait as a score of lutins led by a tall human marched past.
Then they came to a small stream that was shrouded in a thin fog. Arla looked and listened for an ambush. Suddenly she heard a low groan from Ralls patient. In reality it was no more then a whisper, but to Arla it sounded like a shout no lutin could miss. She had no choice but to move, so she quickly and quietly stepped into the cold water. In three short steps Arla was across and up the other bank. She motioned to the others and in short order they joined her on the far side.
Quickly she moved onward hoping no one had heard that groan. Again and again they had to dodge groups of lutins. Twice they barely avoided being seen by a party of lutins. Another time the scouts had to hide from three ogres leading over forty lutins.
They were passing through a grove of trees when Ralls suddenly stopped and lowered his burden carefully to the ground. Arla and Meredith pressed close to Ralls who was frantically working on the unknown man. ""What's wrong?" Arla signed.
"He can't go on like this," Ralls replied silently. "He's too badly wounded."
"We can't stop now," Meredith said with his hands. "We need to get at least another three miles behind us."
Ralls slammed his fist into his palm. "No!" was the translation of the man's gesture. "He can't survive another three miles."
"Now what do we do?" Meredith asked. "We don't have the time to work on him or even rig a stretcher."
The canine scout looked up into the sky. "Where is Baldwin?" she signed.
The bear shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know." He signed. "And what do we do with the him." He pointed to the wounded man.
Arla didn't have an answer for the bear. Her first command of a real patrol and nothing had gone as planned. Arla Darlington hadn't expected it to be easy but never this hard. The task was a reconnaissance of a strong camp that was the home of a powerful mage. They were to get in, look around and kill the mage if they could. Something had gone terribly wrong. Instead of a one hundred lutins wandering around, there was at least three times that many and they all seemed to be after the Longs. She had a wounded unknown person to carry, a missing patrol member and the nearest help was at least a day away. Arla had a choice to make, stay with the wounded man and most surely be killed or they could leave him to die and head to safety.
"Arla," Ralls said in a whisper. "He's awake and he wants to talk to you. And he say's his name is David."
The canine leaned close to the stranger. "Why did you stop?" David asked in a whisper.
"You're wounded and need to rest," Arla answered in a whisper.
The man smiled. "My thanks, but will the lutins let us rest."
"I doubt it, but what choice do we have. Plus you've really stirred up the lutins. I'm not sure we can find a safe route home."
"I can get you to safety," David whispered. "With a teleportation spell." He then had to clamp his mouth shut to fight down a fit of coughing. As he lay back Arla couldn't help but notice the flecks of blood on his lips. Ralls wasn't kidding, he was in bad shape. "It's risky, I've done it before.... on myself. but never with a group this large." He collapsed into another fit of barely restrained coughing.
"In my pack," gasped David. "Gold disk, have to look," wheeze. "Near bottom. Bring to me."
Arla reached for the man's backpack. It was an ordinary looking canvas bag, worn from long use. Opening it she carefully began to look through the items in there. Most was ordinary clothing, but she came across a comb, a brush, and some utensils. Then she caught the glint of gold. She grabbed for the gold and her fingers closed around something solid. Pulling it free of the pack she examined her find. It was slightly larger than her human hand. And was made of gold. Running around the edge was three sets of runes. In the center was circle that held two more runes. Turning it over she saw that there was one rune carved there large enough to cover the whole side.
Arla held it up for David to see and he nodded and held out his hand. The canine gave him the golden disk. She watched as he carefully placed it on his chest and began to fumble with the pouch at his belt. After a moment he removed a small object. Holding it up Arla could see that the thing in David's hand looked to be a silvery, metal rod about six inches long. One end was flat, the opposite end was slightly rounded. She noticed that the pointed end seemed to sparkle with a light all it's own.
He touched the sparkling end of the rod to the two center runes and a bright light appeared bathing both symbols. The light grew brighter and brighter until Arla could barely look at it. Then the light vanished. Blinking away the spots from her eyes she looked at the disk and saw that the two symbols were gone; melted off, and the center section was smooth.
"How far and which direction is Metamor Keep?" the wounded man asked. " I need to set the destination."
"We can't go straight to the Keep," Meredith said. "The keeps magic prevents that."
"Then somewhere nearby," David said in a hoarse whisper. I need a destination for us to arrive at."
"How about the Sentinel?" Ralls asked.
"Sounds good to me," Arla replied.
"What is it? Where is it? The mage queried.
Arla leaned close to David. "It's a tall standing stone. Been around for centuries."
"How far and in which direction?"
"Twenty miles southwest of here, in a grove of trees. It's to the east of the Keep itself."
David nodded weakly and held up the small silver rod.
"What is that?" Arla asked, perplexed.
"It's known as a lightwriter." Deep concentration covered the man's face and the lightwriter's tip began to glow again, but this time the light it produced was a fine line. David hand began to move and the beam threw back a rainbow reflection as it began to trace a course over the gold disk. The man's hand moved slowly at first and was shaking badly. But as it first began to trace across the surface of the item the shaking stopped and his movements grew faster and more confident.
The man worked silently and without pause for long minutes as Arla watched in rapt fascination. Under David's skilled hand two complex and beautiful symbols came to life on the shining gold disk. Finally he heaved a big sigh and the fine light winked out, replaced by the small sparkling light again. With a trembling hand he put the lightwriter back in his pouch.
Off in the distance came the shouting of lutins, and then a deeper voice giving orders. Arla recognized that new voice as belonging to an ogre or maybe a giant. "Hurry David, we only have a few moments."
The mage nodded and picked up the disk. "Stand close," he whispered.
Arla motioned her people closer till all stood crowded around the wounded man.
"What about Baldwin?" Meredith asked. "Do we leave him?"
"We don't know where he is," Arla replied. "He wasn't at the rally point and we don't have the time to look for him. He's a smart bird, it's a short flight for him back to the Keep." Shouting and the sounds of foliage being crushed came from nearby punctuating the dogs comments.
The bear nodded reluctantly but he didn't look happy. None of them wanted to leave a fellow scout behind, but they had no choice. They couldn't risk everyone for one person.
Suddenly there was a loud flapping noise and a large bird landed next to Meredith. The bear brought his axe up for a killing stroke and then suddenly stopped. "BALDWIN!" the bear shouted. "I almost killed you."
The condor bobbed his head. "Sorry. I've been looking for you."
"What happened to you?" Arla asked. "When I got over the camp I was attacked by something big and murderous. I had a hard time killing it. What happened to you? Who is the wounded man?"
"A friend," Arla answered. "He was wounded saving my life. How close are the lutins?"
"Very close. Less then one hundred yards to the south. They're everywhere. I estimate at least four hundred. "
"Stand close to us and hold still. Your questions will have to wait till later," the canine ordered. She waited till the bird had complied and then looked at David. "Do it right now."
David Held the gold disk above his head and spoke in a voice that was surprisingly strong, "Ser-Un-Vos." The runes on the disk started to glow softly.
She heard lutins moving and caught sight of a group of lutins as they came through the trees less then twenty feet away.
"Gy-Ok-Jor," the man said loudly, all trace of injury and pain gone. The runes flared and suddenly a strange wind arose and a glowing trail appeared, racing along the ground. It ran across the earth in a small circle around them. As it passed by the ground under it burst into flame.
"San-Ir-Kun," as he spoke those words the disk flared brighter still and the flames rose far over the scouts head. As suddenly as the flames had appeared they died down and finally disappeared completely. Arla gasped as she realized that they were no longer in a grove of young trees surrounded by lutins.
Now they stood in a clearing in the midst of tall ancient trees. Arla looked around an no more than thirty feet away rose the massive bulk of the stone Sentinel. She was brought back to the task at hand when David cried out and flung the disk out of the ashen circle.
Arla followed its glittering descent, when it landed on it's edge it sagged to the side and a wisp of smoke arose as the grass around it scorched and shriveled from intense heat. Ralls swore as he tore off another piece of gauze and deftly bound the Mage's blackened palm. David hissed as the gauze rasped against his damaged skin. He face contorted in pain, before falling into another bout of blissful unconsciousness.
"We're at the Sentinel!" Meredith said, surprised.
"Baldwin. Get to the Keep and tell them to get a wagon and a healer here fast," Arla ordered.
"Who is he?" the bird asked.
"I don't know," was the canines answer. "And if he dies we'll never know. Now MOVE!"
Without another word Baldwin took off into the night sky. The sound of the flapping of his wings grew fainter by the moment.
"Meredith, start cutting tree limbs for a stretcher."
The bear moved over to a tree and started to look for limbs that were big enough. "I wonder who he is?"
Arla shrugged. "Well, we know his name is David."
Meredith paused and shot his leader a withering gaze. "I know that already. Now we just have to figure out everything else about him." The bear looked to Ralls who was again tending his patient. "Will he live?"
Without stopping the man answered calmly. "I don't know."
It took two, long hours for the wagon to arrive and the trip back to the keep seemed to take forever. With every jolt and bump David would shift and moan in pain. They were on the road up to the keep, when David suddenly woke up.
"Arla," he said in a hoarse whisper.
He patted him on the shoulder. "Rest, we're almost to the Keep."
"NO!" he answered forcefully. "I have to tell you something." He grabbed the front of her armor and pulled her closer. What he told her next shocked her.
"Arla calm down," Misha ordered. "You mean to tell me he teleported the whole group all the way back here?"
"Yes sir," she answered trying to relax. They were standing outside of one of the hospitals healing rooms. "Do you think Brian can help him?"
"Of course," Misha reassured. "No one is better then him. He's saved countless lives."
Arla started to say something when the door opened and Brian Coe stepped out. His tail was dragging along the floor and his ears were drooping. The dog didn't have to ask him how David was, she could guess easily enough.
"He's too badly hurt for me to help him," the raccoon said.
"How long till he dies?" Arla asked.
"He won't die," he told the dog morph. Then he turned to Misha. "I need to borrow one of your people."
Misha was surprised. "You want to borrow one of my people? Who?"
Omega entered the room with a slow, grace that belayed he mechanical body. Arla shivered in spite of herself. No matter how hard she tried it was still difficult for her to imagine that in that cold metal, armored body was a warm and friendly soul. She had seen the automaton numerous times since he had arrived but never really talked to him. He always seemed to be hovering in the background, watching and listening but never interacting.
Brian waved the automaton forward and into the room where David was resting. Misha started after him, but Arla grasped him on the arm and stopped him.
"We need to talk privately," she said in a barely audible whisper and pulled the fox into an empty room. She closed and locked the door.
"What's wrong?" Misha asked.
"David told me something while we were alone during the trip
to the keep," the border collie morph explained. She paused, not
sure how to continue. "There's a traitor in the Long Scouts."