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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 111: Hastings 130
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"Mystic? Are you here?"
Lauren and Bethany were having breakfast when they heard the voice outside the cave.
"It sounds like we've got company," Bethany said.
"So," Lauren answered, "do we go out to meet whoever it is, or invite our guest to come inside?"
Bethany thought for a moment. "I'm not sure what the illusion looks like from the outside," she said, "so I think we probably want to go out. It sounds like one of the wolves to me."
"You've got good ears. I can't always tell the difference--although I'd say you're probably right in this case, just because I don't think any humans know I'm here."
"Yes, well there is that. Shall we?" Taking their morning tea with them, the two stepped out of the cave into the snows. As they had expected, a young wolfman awaited.
"I'm Laurelyn of Wandborough," Lauren said. "How can I help you?"
"Mystic, the Pack Mother has sent me to ask you to come. We have found something in the woods the like of which we have never seen. It has been captured, but we do not know what to do with it. She hopes that with your wisdom and ancient knowledge you might know what sort of creature it is."
So, Lauren thought, she was needed as a fantasy zoologist, to do a taxonomy on some strange beast that wandered into the woods from who knows where. On the other hand, she had been in these woods before, centuries before, and it was possible that she knew something about the local fauna that the wolves today had forgotten. With all the changes in the ecology, they might have found a deer and never seen one before.
"Let me finish my tea," she said, "and I will come with you. Bethany, you had better come, too. Between us perhaps we can help our friends."
It took a moment to finish breakfast and toss on a few things. Lauren put her armor under her robe, and took her weapons, including this time the capture rod. Bethany prepared a few things of her own, including the lawn ornament cum magic wand she enjoyed. They rejoined the messenger.
"Lead on," Bethany said, and in a moment they were passing into the mist.
As the image of the rock in the clearing began to form, Lauren wondered anew what sort of creature this might be. This world was so different from her own that there were few things which could surprise her. There might be unicorns living in the woods near Camelot, even now. There were dryads; could there also be nyads, the spirits of the waters? Centaurs and fauns, harpies and basilisks all came to mind. They might even have found a leprechaun, fleeing Ireland in search of a new home. There were so many possibilities it was difficult to speculate, and equally difficult to prepare, in any sense.
They stepped into the clearing.
"Can you tell us anything about this beast you've captured?"
The guide turned, as if he had forgotten they were with him.
"I? I cannot. I have not seen the creature. I was only sent to fetch you. But they say it is unlike anything known to the Pack Mother, and it does not seem able to give an explanation for itself."
That told her something. You wouldn't expect a deer or bear to explain itself. Whatever it was, it must at least look intelligent, or the idea of it explaining itself would not have occurred to anyone. At the same time, they weren't going to learn more from the guide. They followed him into the glade, and Lauren saw the familiar form of the she-wolf in the shadows.
"Pack mother Sielle," Lauren began, "how can I help?"
The pack mother turned, as if drawing out of distant thoughts. "Thank you for coming, Mystic Laurelyn. I am puzzled. The thing seems safe enough, but this could be deceiving."
"What do you know about it?"
"It was found in our territory last night. We startled it, certainly, but I think it is also frightened of us--and not unreasonably so, as it is a small creature. It was very confused, and did not seem to know where it was, but at the same time had a very fixed idea of where it was going. We detained it because it was in our territory, and we did not know what it was. If it is indeed safe, we will certainly free it. Yet the unknown often hides unknown danger."
Lauren reflected on this for a moment. "That is so often true," she said. "You do well to be cautious. Where are you keeping it?"
"Come. It is a short walk from here."
Unaccustomed to the tangles of the deeper forest, it took Lauren and Bethany most of a half hour to make the short walk in the trackless wilderness. It brought them to a structure which appeared to have been formed by training living trees to grow in an ordered tangle. Sielle approached the trees, stroked the branches and spoke to them, and in a moment they parted.
Inside was a creature unlike any Lauren had seen before. It had the look of a mostly naked boy trying to clothe itself with needle-laden branches torn from a pine tree. It appeared to be in its late teens, but was small, shorter than three feet in height. It has wings, large enough to be clearly noticeable but probably not of sufficient span to lift the weight of the creature unless it was considerably lighter than its size would suggest, or had a power and speed in the wings that somehow overcame the size. Yet at the same time, there was something strangely familiar about the face, something impossibly familiar while completely wrong. She could not at all place it. Then, before she had the chance to even think through what it was about this odd humanoid, it spoke.
"Lauren! Am I glad to see you."
Recognition came. "Derek? Derek, what happened to you?"
"Oh, Lauren, it's a long story--a seventeen or eighteen year long story, and even though I know the whole story intimately, I have no idea how to answer that question. I guess I'm not half the man I use to be, and I can tell you everything that happened between the last time I saw you and now, but I don't think I can explain any of it."
Sielle spoke. "You know this creature, Mystic?"
"Yes, Sielle. This is an answer to our prayers."
"Pardon me?" Sielle said.
"What was that?" was Derek's question.
"Come, Derek. I gather that you were trying to get to your equipment. Let's find it, get you dressed, and take you back to our place. I was asking God to send someone who could help us understand some computer control systems in this world. I'd say you're the answer to that prayer. This is Bethany of Wandborough, once my student and now a very capable sorceress. Bethany, this is Derek Jacob Brown, the best computer hacker I've known in two other universes, and a pretty good shot with a laser rifle, too. Let's get him home, and see if we can figure out what happened to him, and how to fix it. Lead on, Derek. Oh, and thank you so much, Sielle, for finding him for us. He just might be the key to destroying the grip the vampires have on the world today."
As to the old stories that have long been here: