Untitled (6.1) (2016)

evening-woods

(Free Big Pictures.com)

6

Tobias felt an unfamiliar airiness that he assumed meant the ring was doing as it was supposed to. If there had been a clear sense of up or down, he might have thought he’d float away, but the absence of reference points, while frustrating for his senses, probably kept him from losing his breakfast. Then he noticed, for a few heartbeats, that he could not feel Oifa’s hand on his arm, nor could he see any of the others.

He wasn’t certain how much time was passing.

Suddenly, his ears popped, as if the pressure changed dramatically.

A little stumble followed, quickly righted as his inner ears adjusted.

Tobias found himself standing in a clearing. He turned around, late morning sunshine on his face, to see Oifa and Gavin less than a foot behind him. It took a few seconds for him to find Shannon and identify the heaving and wet sounds nearby. He wisely decided to keep his distance and look the other way, trying to find Ariel, who was supposed to meet them.

He spotted the young woman as Shannon joined them, discretely wiping her lips.

As he waved an arm, Tobias slipped the ring into a secure pocket. He absently noticed Gavin starting to walk around the edges of the clearing, while Oifa seemed to be taking deep breaths and smiling. Shannon still looked faintly green around the edges.

Ariel jogged to meet them.

“Sorry,” she said, “The rings don’t always let out in exactly the same place. This one’s usually at the other end of the clearing.”

Tobias shook his head, “No worries. Where do we meet the Coven? And the Rovers?”

“Coven territory starts about a mile north-northwest. They’ll have someone meet us on the edge. The Rovers aren’t sending anyone. From what I’ve been able to get out of them the last couple days, the anomaly’s about a half day’s hike into Coven territory, more or less straight west. They’ve agreed to get you that far.”

Tobias nodded, as Oifa asked, “Are we on our own after that?”

“I’m told the Coven have a couple people watching things, a small camp on the edge of the area. But, I doubt it’s much more than a couple tents. Nothing that would draw undue attention or personnel.”

“So minimal hospitality,” Tobias mused, “Strange, with them coming to us for help.”

Ariel started to say something before Shannon cut in, “Not really, I think. They’ll be worried about the politics of seeming too close with the Tower. It could look like a threat to others, an alliance. And they’ll be wary of looking like they need help. Politics. Even out here away from the cities, they’ll be concerned about observation, even behind scry wards, especially on the edge of Rover territory.”

Their contact nodded, “Something like that. I’ve secured some tents and supplies though, on the Tower’s tab. The Coven’s already moved everything to their camp.”

Tobias resisted the urge to check in on Shannon’s condition. She’d been Order, the gesture probably wouldn’t be appreciated. Instead, he met Oifa’s eyes and, at her nod, shifted to Gavin, who’d rejoined them. The other man gave his own nod.

“I think we’re all good here, Ariel,” he said, “Which way are we headed?”

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