It took much of the night to clean Volk wounds. With Pyrrho again having disappeared, the other three had just about managed to carry the injured man into the barn where a fire and two skins of fresh water had been arranged by Niv, along with a few stubby candles. The three then set to work on Volk; the two women familiar with battle wounds, if not of this magnitude, while Onatas called upon his studies in the field of Elder medicines. They laboriously picked out the tattered remains of Volks clothes from the wounds, along with very many tiny metal balls, each causing Aesara to frown as she collected them in a small pouch. Then using hot water and a mash of plants Onatas had prepared they bathed the big man as best they could, before wrapping his torso in makeshift bandages; each of them giving up parts of their attire in the process. For the later part of the night their efforts were accompanied by a soft mewing from the big man, occasionally punctured by a cry of anguish. It unsettled Niv, but Onatas thought it a good sign.
By dawn all four of the people in the barn had settled into an uneasy sleep. A fifth person slunk in an hour after sunrise.
“Time to rise and shine” but Pyrrho’s tone was a long way from jovial. He placed a number of items on the uneven floor, then moved over to the embers of what had been the fire. By the time the others had started to stir, he had the fire going again and a tin of water heating up above it.
“Where did you get to?” Aesara rubbed her face as she sat up
“Here and there. Conducting enquiries. See the lie of the land. The usual” he busied himself with the hot water, adding in some of the fruits of his expedition.
“Good that you could have a nice stroll while we were trying to save your man here” she nodded at the still laying form of Volk, who now had Onatas lent over him, checking the larger man’s dressings while rubbing sleep from his own eyes.
“I’ve been trying to prolong the lives of all of us. We all work in different ways, remember?”
“How can I forget?”
Niv interrupted, “you’ll be prolonging my life if that is what I think it is” she’d moved over to smell the bubbling concoction above the fire “how’d you get it?”
“A caravan had been hit by the Drakhan over the other side of the valley”
Aesara suddenly looked worried, Pyrrho caught her expression, “don’t worry sis, not the university. Just some other poor sods. Anyway, they’d left behind some supplies, seemed more interested in the bloodletting” he looked down, another morning’s worth of indelible, brutal images engraved in his memories. A catalogue of future nightmares. He shivered.
“What else did you see?” Aesara asked solemnly, for the first time detecting the dour mood of her little brother.
“Decimation, no other word for it” he’d stopped stirring the brew, Niv moving in to take over. “The slaughter on the Steed’s hill, I had to see it for myself, make sure yesterday actually happened”
“It was even worse up close.”
“How’d the Drakhan manage it? How did they then conceal it?” Aesara was puzzled
“The first question, I know not. The second, I have an idea” Pyrrho replied
“One of the Drakhan infantry you, well, dealt with yesterday was still alive. We went for a talk” the emphasis on “talk” made Aesara shiver slightly, she feared what her brother was capable of when in his current mood.
“He confessed the Drakhan’s secrets?”
“He didn’t know them”
“Oh” Aesara slumped a little
“Don’t you see? That is how they did it” Pyrrho came to stand in front of his sister. “The infantry knew nothing of the plot. They were handed these odd devices on the morning of the battle” he pointed to the small pile of Drakhan artefacts he had collected and brought back to the barn. “They could barely operate them though, that’s why they took so long outside the barn yesterday. That’s probably why Volk is still with us, the device did not work as intended”
“How do you know how it was intended to work?” Onatas had been listening keenly while he worked on Volk
“I, er, saw a more effective execution on my, er, stroll” he looked from Onatas and back to Aesara. They shared a worried look.
“So that why the grunts at the Drakhan camp we infiltrated were so down?” Niv too had been listening “they didn’t know what the leadership ‘ad up its sleeve?”
“Exactly. Even the officers weren’t fully away of the plan, just that victory was at hand. Which was why we got nothing from them” Pyrrho finished, no one else spoke for a time. Niv passed around the tin, using a glove from the pile of Drakhan effects to protect from the hot surface.
It was Onatas that eventually broke the silence, “so what were those things they used yesterday” he eyed the pile at the centre of the barn.
“Not entirely sure” Pyrrho moved to the pile and nudged one of the staffs with his boot “this is obviously some kind of weapon, where as this…” he picked up the Drakhan officer’s tube “this, I don’t know. The glass that was in it broke when the Drakhan, er, fell down”
“A telescope” Onatas said simply
“A what?” Aesara queried
“It’s an Elder navigation device. Let’s them see far ahead”
“Sounds like some black magic to me – far sight?” Niv had backed a little way away from the instrument
“Sounds like the reason they made me out when I was in the top of the barn” Pyrrho brightened slight, perhaps he wasn’t losing his abilities after all.
“How’s it work?” Aesara had moved across to the pile of goods, crouched down and picked up the telescope. Niv let out a small hiss, but Aesara continued to hold the long tube. Fragments of glass tinkled out of one end.
“Our archives on it are incomplete. We think the Elders were able to shape glass, to make it bend light to their whim”
“The Elders could bend light, but then got trashed by The Previous? Makes you wonder what those Previous skanks got their hands on” Niv almost growled.
Aesara frowned, but then said “anything else of interest” as she turned to survey the remainder of the loot.
“Some kind of fancy SPEAKING TRUMPET” Pyrrho had held up another Drakhan device, holding it to his lips like he’d seen the officer do. The volume in the confines of the barn was painful and Pyrrho dropped the machine in surprise.
“OW” complained Niv, her dislike for the strange technology further cemented.
“You could wake the dead with that thing” Volk groaned, the others span toward him.
“Hey big man, how you feeling?” Niv almost skipped over to him
“Like a Previous sprite burrowed in through my belly, then burst out of my chest”
“Not that far off” Pyrrho laughed, “good to have you back with us though” it was a close to sentimental as he got “should have listened to Aesara, mind” before heading right back to cynicism.
“I’d a been fine if they hadn’t a cheated with their Previous magic” Volk attempted to sit up, but Onatas silently urged him back down.
“Elder technology” Aesara stated, she had little time for people’s suspicion of The Previous. “And we need to find out how they got it”
“Why do we?” Pyrrho enquired “I mean you probably need to go back babysitting your Professors, and I am, how would you put it? I am an independent contractor”
“You want to work for the Drakhan?” Aesara sneered “think they’ll want you after the work you do for the Steed? Did for him” she corrected herself.
“There are other factions”
“None that will withstand the force that the Drakhan now appear to have access to. No one will, especially, as you put it, my Professors”
“So what do you propose our next step is?” Pyrrho was absent-mindedly playing with the broken telescope
“Same as it was before we got here. You take us to the redoubt, we see how many, if any, of the Steed’s forces made it back, see what they know”
“Ok” Pyrrho hated it when his sister was right, old feelings of frustration re-emerging.
“Is he fit to travel?” Aesara looked over to Onatas, the apprentice have busied himself applying fresh -- well less dirty -- dressings to Volk.
“We won’t be marching double time, but he should be ok. We need to get some proper treatment in any case, and I presume the redoubt will have a hospital?”
Aesara smiled, not just at Volk’s prognosis, but also the emerging confidence in the apprentice, Onatas. Maybe the academics weren’t such a waste of space out in the real world as she’s always suspected after all? But she’d need to save the introspection for later, there was a task at hand.
“Ok, we’ll be safest to move at night then” she turned to Pyrrho “you can still get us there in the dark?”
“Skulking in the shadows, isn’t that what you accused me of before? Well, with that much skulking, one becomes adept at travelling by night” Pyrrho smiled, before another realisation eroded the satisfaction at getting one over on Aesara. “But we’ll need to move from here. Anyone comes looking for our missing Drakhan friends and the pools of blood outside the barn are a bit of a tell tale.”
“Where then? Can’t be too far if we want to avoid being in the open with Volk for too long” Aesara frowned in concentration, a look mirrored by her brother.
“Hang on” Pyrrho was the first to arrive at a potential solution. “What if I was to tell you there was a place not far from here that provides excellent cover from prying telescopes, is comfortable, and as an added bonus, any passing Drakhan will never dare investigate?” he enjoyed the puzzled look on Aesara’s face.
One person who was not puzzled was Volk. Not puzzled, but certainly alarmed; “Oh no, no way Pyrrho. You ain’t takin’ me to that Previous haunt. No way”
Onatas and Niv expressed similar reservations about hiding in The Previous building, if differing radically in the amount of swear words used to describe them. However Pyrrho cared not for their opinions. There was only one other that really mattered currently. He looked towards his sister, raised an eyebrow.
“Ok” she replied.