Counselor Anklin’s guess about search parties proved correct as the sound of voices and and footsteps could soon be heard. The four of them froze, hardly even daring to breath until the sounds faded away. After a sufficiently long period of silence, Counselor Anklin nodded to the others. “Okay, let’s get out of here.”
The dug until there was a large enough opening for them to squeeze through. “I’ll go first to make sure it’s safe,” offered Mason.
Counselor Anklin shook his head. “I’ll go first. Everyone wait inside until I signal.”
He crawled thought the opening. Inside the crevice, everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the only sound they heard was the crunching of gravel. After a short while they heard Counselor Anklin’s voice calling softly. “It’s safe.”
Mason helped Claridee and Counselor Janice scramble out before following them through. Looking up at the sky, he guessed that it was around the middle of the afternoon.
He looked over at Claridee and in the daylight could see that she was covered in dust and her face was streaked with dirt. Even so, to him she’d never looked more beautiful.
Looking around, Mason realized how fortunate they’d been. The ruins they’d just passed though were now nothing more than rubble. If the explosions had been any closer, their refuge wouldn’t have saved them. He was filled with a sense of dread.
“So much destruction …” Mason trailed off, at a loss for words.
“Yes,” answered Counselor Anklin, taking a long look at the pulverized ruins. “There’s no doubt now that Proust will stop at nothing to revive Myscreth’s past greatness.”
“And neither Myscreth nor Earth are safe,” added Mason gloomily.
Claridee put a hand on his shoulder, and in a kind, but firm voice replied. “We’ll stop him.” With the determined expression on her face, Mason couldn’t help but believe her.
He gave her a weak smile. “After what you did today, how can I disagree?”
She looked down and blushed, clearly pleased. “Well, it made me mad that Proust would ever think I’d join him. What kind of person does he think I am?”
“Well, I know you’re someone who will make a fine Council member.” Said Counselor Janice. “However, if we’re going to stop Proust, we’d better get going.”
“Right,” agreed Counselor Anklin leading the way towards the western side of the valley.
The debris from the explosion made progress more difficult, but they continued on carefully navigating the treacherous footing. It was late in the day when the cleared the ruins.
Counselor Anklin scanned the area ahead. Finally, he pointed at a pile of rocks about fifty feet away. “That should keep us out of sight of the settlement.”
One by one, they crouched down and hurried across with Counselor Anklin going last. Finally able to rest, the four of them just sat there for a while.
Claridee was the first to break the silence. “Where do we go from here?”
Counselor Anklin looked up at the sky. “It will be dark soon and we can’t risk using lights this close to the settlement.” Opening up his backpack, he continued. “Looks like we’ll be spending the night here.”
Mason took out his binoculars and looked towards the settlement. “I don’t see any search parties. Hopefully they’ve given up looking for us.”
“In that case,” suggested Counselor Janice digging into her pack. “We’d better set up camp before it’s too dark to see.”
They’d barely finished getting out their blankets and setting up the heater, when the last bit of light disappeared from the sky.
For Mason, dinner was a strange experience as he’d never eaten in total darkness before. Digging around in his pack, he grabbed the first thing that felt like food. Based on the smell, he at first thought it was froustrine, a vegetable that was a combination of squash and tomatoes. However, upon biting into it, the flavor of under ripe banana and bitter herbs almost made him gag.
“Something wrong Mason?” asked Claridee with a slight giggle.
“No,” he answered choking back a cough. “Just wish I could see what I was eating.”
As they ate, Counselor Anklin outlined their objective. “We’ll head out for the settlement as soon as it’s light. That will give us time to study its layout and come up with a plan of action.”
“What will we be looking for?” asked Claridee.
“Darnia,” he replied. “We have to get her out of the way first if we’re to keep Proust from escaping.”
“But how are we going to do that?” questioned Counselor Janice.
Counselor Anklin shook his head and frowned. “Frankly, I still don’t know. Hopefully we’ll figure out something tomorrow.”
Although exhausted, Mason didn’t feel like sleeping and offered to take the first watch. Sitting in the darkness just outside their hiding place, he observed the settlement looking for any lights that might be moving towards them. Even after Claridee’s reassurance, he was still worried about what Proust might do on Earth. The thought of his parents being in danger terrified Mason and he vowed to himself that no matter what, he’d make sure Proust was stopped.
The night was uneventful as no additional search parties were sent out. Just before dawn, Counselor Anklin began waking everyone up. Following a quick breakfast, they began packing up to their journey towards Proust’s settlement.
Before starting out, Counselor Anklin gave final instructions. “We’ll use the boulders and crevices for cover. Stay together and don’t move into the open until I signal it’s safe.”
When they were ready to move, Counselor Anklin scanned the ground ahead of them. “Follow me,” he whispered. Remaining crouched low, he ran towards a boulder about fifteen feet away. The rest of the group followed suit. They continued on in this manner, taking only short breaks. It was a tedious and exhausting process. It took all morning to reach a point overlooking the settlement which Mason guessed was about a third of a mile away.
Their vantage point provided the first up-close look of the settlement. There were ten buildings that sat about hundred feet away from a large cave entrance. Five of the buildings were substantially larger than the others, and Mason assumed they must be dormitories or dining areas.
They saw about twenty people in the settlement, most of whom were moving carts into the cave. However, there was no sign of Proust or Darnia.
Suddenly Counselor Anklin pointed towards the cave and spoke in an excited whisper. “Look!”
Proust and Darnia left the cave and paused to speak to a young woman. The woman suddenly ran back to the settlement while Proust and Darnia returned to the cave. Meanwhile, the woman hurried to three of the larger buildings and called into them.
A rush of people came out of each building and made their way up to the cave. There must have been between forty and fifty people. As this was happening, Mason noticed Counselor Anklin nodding to himself. Curious, he asked. “Do you know what’s going on down there?”
“I think I do. Now what did Counselor Gorwold tell us the cave was used for?”
“To store equipment?” replied Claridee.
“Yes, and where does that equipment come from?” he continued.
“Earth!” interjected Counselor Janice before Mason or Claridee could answer. “You think Proust is preparing to travel to Earth right now?”
“Think about it. If Proust was going to Earth to get supplies, he’d need a lot of people to carry it. Plus, if the cave is where they store everything, what better place to open a doorway?”
“What’s our plan to stop him?” asked Mason.
“Nothing,” Counselor Anklin replied calmly.
“Nothing?” shot back a surprised Mason.
“That’s right. Proust has already been to Earth numerous times. Allowing him to do so once more won’t do any more harm. In fact, it might just be the opportunity we need.”
“What do you mean?” asked Claridee.
“With everyone in the cave, it should be much easier for us to get closer to the settlement unobserved. Claridee, keep a close eye on the cave and let us know immediately if you see any sign of a purple light. That will tell us that Darnia has opened a doorway.”
Claridee grabbed her binoculars and focused them on the cave entrance.
It soon appeared that most of the settlement residents had either gone into the cave or were near it.
“I see a purple light!” Claridee announced excitedly.
“We’ll give them enough time to go through before we start.” Counselor Anklin declared. Pointing towards the settlement he continued. “That ridge of stone about a hundred feet from the settlement is our objective. It’ll give us a good view of the settlement without being seen. Stay low and move as quickly as possible.”
After a short while, he signaled. “Go!”
As instructed, they kept low and moved at a steady pace towards the settlement. About halfway down, Mason saw several people leave one of the buildings.
“Get down!” he called out in a low voice.
Everyone immediately lunged behind the nearest available object that would provide cover. Mason and Claridee ended up together behind a rusted chunk of metal. The people seemed in no rush as they stopped several times to talk while on their way towards the cave. “Hurry up,” muttered Claridee impatiently.
Once the people finally entered the cave, the Trainees and Counselors continued moving towards the settlement and reached the ridge without further incident.
“All we can do now is wait,” Counselor Anklin declared, settling against a rock.
It was a while before people started to exit the cave. They walked out slowly, exhaustion evident in their movement. However, instead of immediately heading back to the settlement, they formed a large semicircle facing the cave entrance. Once everyone was assembled, Proust, and a group including Darnia, walked out of the cave. Along with Darnia, Mason recognized Betrine and Klarth. There were three others he’d never seen before, but guessed they must be Nornol, Glorine and Thurold. Even as far away as they were, a cheer could be heard emanating from the crowd when Proust appeared.
Before starting to speak, he took an object from Darnia which he held in front of him. As he spoke, his words thundered from the air above the crowd and echoed throughout the settlement.
“Darnia, must have opened a doorway on whatever she handed him to project his voice.” Counselor Anklin pointed out.
“Sons and daughters of Myscreth,” he began. “Success has smiled on our people. Yesterday, we defeated those who threatened to destroy us.” The crowd burst into cheers at his words. Motioning for silence, he went on. “And we have reaped a great harvest of needed supplies from that contemptible place called Earth.”
The crowd erupted into another round of applause.
After waiting for the applause to subside, Proust continued. “Each day, more and more of our people are seeing the truth of how the fake Council has kept Myscreth from regaining its past greatness. That is due to the dedication all of you have shown to rebuilding our world. The other true Council members and I vow that we will not let anything stand in the way of reclaiming the Myscreth of our ancestors.”
As he finished speaking, the crowd burst into another sustained cheer. Handing the item he was holding back to Darnia, he led his group back towards the settlement. The crowd parted as they passed and continued cheering wildly.
Mason was disgusted by the crowd’s veneration of Proust. “How can they cheer for him like that? Can’t they see that what he’s doing is wrong?” he hissed angrily.
Counselor Anklin sighed. “I can’t blame them; Proust is offering what they want. I believe most of our people are still loyal to the Council, but there are many who would accept the false hope he provides.”
Proust and his retinue entered the settlement, followed by the cheering crowd. He turned to them and signaled for silence. Once it was quiet, he called out something, but Mason couldn’t hear what it was. The crowd let out a final cheer and started to disperse. Most headed towards the larger buildings while a few went back to the cave.
As the crowd dispersed, Proust walked briskly to one of the smaller buildings. The others with him also made their way to the smaller buildings. Darnia and Nornol each seemed to have their own quarters while Betrine and Glorine along with Klarth and Thurold appeared to be sharing quarters. Counselor Anklin watched intently, taking careful note of which building Darnia went into.
“Well, we now know where to find Darnia,” he observed, “but that information won’t do us any good unless we can figure out how to get her safely away from here and prevent her from returning.”
“How can we possibly keep her from returning?” asked Counselor Janice. “With her ability, wherever you send her, she can just open a doorway and return.”
Counselor Anklin looked down and spoke in a low voice. “There’s one place I could send her where she’d be unable to return.”
“You mean Earth,” guessed Mason.
“Yes.” Replied Counselor Anklin. “Without Myscreth’s energy field, Darnia’s powers would be useless. She’d be trapped.”
Mason remembered the stone Counselor Anklin had shown him which allowed him to use his abilities on Earth. “As long as she doesn’t have a stone like yours with her.”
“We’ll have to make sure she doesn’t.”
Claridee looked over at Counselor Anklin, disbelief in her eyes. “Sending her alone to a world she knows nothing about seems cruel. There’s no way of knowing what might happen to her there.” She looked away seeming distressed. “You wouldn’t really do that would you Counselor Anklin?”
“It’s not an ideal solution,” he replied with a sigh, “but there may be no other way.”
The four of them sat there quietly, trying to think of another means to get Darnia out of the way. Every time Mason came up with an idea, he’d find a reason why it wouldn’t work. He was growing discouraged, and after a while started to think that Counselor Anklin’s suggestion, however unpleasant, was the only way.
Claridee stared at her ankle and began rubbing it. Mason was about to ask if it were bothering her, when she suddenly exclaimed. “I think I’ve got an idea!” looking excitedly at the group.
With everyone’s full attention now on her, she continued. “To use your abilities you have to be able to see the object you wish to manipulate, which means we somehow have to keep her from seeing.”
“True,” agreed Counselor Janice, “but how could we do that?”
“We’d wrap a bandage around her head to cover her eyes and then I’d modify it to make it too strong and stiff to remove, just like Counselor Halrous did for my ankle. That way she’d still be free to move, but wouldn’t be able to see to use her abilities.”
Counselor Anklin considered the idea for a moment before nodding. “That should work. It’s certainly better that the alternative. However, we’d better test it first to be sure.”
“You can try it on me,” offered Mason.
He remained sitting while Counselor Janice gathered some bandages and wrapped them around his eyes.
“Can you see?”
“Are you ready?” asked Claridee.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
The sensation of the bandage on Mason’s head changed. The once flexible bandage now felt like an overly snug bike helmet that had been pushed down over his head.
“How does it feel?” asked Counselor Anklin.
“A little uncomfortable, but it’s not causing any pain.”
“Okay Mason, try and take it off,” directed Claridee.
He tried to untie the bandage, but was unable to do so. Next he tried pulling it off his head, but it wouldn’t budge. After several futile attempts to remove the bandage, he declared. “This thing won’t budge. But just to be safe, maybe one of you should try to take it off.”
Counselor Anklin tried to pull the bandage off his head. As he yanked on it, Mason let out a small yelp of pain.
“There’s no way this is coming off,” Counselor Anklin concluded.
“Could it be cut off?” asked Counselor Janice.
“No, it’s as strong as steel,” answered Claridee. After a brief pause, she added. “You can take it off now Mason.”
He was now easily able to remove the bandage from his head. “I’m glad that’s over,” he said with a laugh.
Once his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw Counselor Anklin looking up at the sky.
“It won’t be dark for quite a while yet. We’ll want to wait until we’re sure everyone’s asleep before we depart for Darnia’s quarters. We’ll finalize our plans before we go, but I think it would be best if everyone gets some rest before tonight. Each of us will keep watch while the others sleep. I’ll take the first watch.”
They each brushed away an area of loose rocks and spread out their blankets on the cold, hard ground, using their packs as a pillow. Drifting off to sleep, Mason looked over at Claridee. The sound of her soft, steady breathing was music to his ears. He smiled to himself and realized how lucky he was to have someone like her love him. That was his last coherent thought before being shaken awake.
“Mason,” whispered Claridee in a low voice. “It’s your watch.”
Mason sat up, noticing the sky overhead was now dark. “Okay, who has the next watch?”
“You’re last. Get the rest of us up when everyone in the settlement is asleep.”
“I will. Have a good sleep.”
He crawled over to the edge of the ridge and stared down at the settlement. The main street of the settlement was illuminated by lights mounted to the buildings. There were some additional lights that were on poles running up towards the cave. All the buildings were dark, except for the building that Proust used for his quarters and one of the larger buildings.
Scanning the settlement with his binoculars, he saw no sign of movement. Hopefully this meant that Proust was convinced they were gone, and didn’t need any sentries. Soon he saw the light in Proust’s window go out. The light in the large building followed shortly after. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, and after waiting a little longer, woke the others.
“There’s no lights on in the buildings, and no sign of sentries,” he reported after everyone was awake.
Counselor Anklin nodded. “Hopefully, that will make tonight’s work easier, though as we’ve seen before, nothing’s ever easy with Proust.”
- Parker T. Allan
An engineer who enjoys writing something other than technical reports. Writing lets me share all the ideas floating around my mind. I hope my writing jump starts your imagination as so many books have done for me.
If you enjoy physics, check out https://physicswithcats.com/ for some fun stories which explain various physics topics.