Untitled (8.3) (2016)

Barely above a whisper, Tobias asked, “Something wrong?”

Gavin nodded, “Someone’s messing with the camp wards.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive. Reinforcing them with my blood linked them to me.”

“How are they . . .”

“Can’t tell, it’s not that precise. Or who, either.”

“Right,” Tobias fished out the communication crystal again, “Oifa, Alyce. Station two’s gone. Something’s . . .” he caught Gavin shaking his head. “Meet back at Alpha to discuss.”

“On our way,” Oifa acknowledged.

No response came from Alyce.

Troubling, but it was possible the anomaly could interfere. He didn’t believe it, given Oifa’s reply and the camp, but it was possible.

Alpha was a spot roughly equidistant from the third and fourth spikes. They’d previous agreed to meet there in the event of experiment failure.

As he jogged alongside Gavin, trying to both keep up and avoid deadfall, Tobias asked, “Why’d you . . .?”

“If the camp’s compromised, they could have people out here or listening in somehow. Best to talk in person.”

Tobias decided to save his breath and simply nodded. It made sense, and Gavin was supposed to be their security.

“And I don’t like Alyce not responding,” Gavin said. “It made sense to send them, I’m not second guessing. But, they’re the weakest team, I’d target them. So, the camp issue could have their crystal.”

Tobias nodded again, keeping most of his attention on not tripping. The woods on the Tower campus were no prep at all for this place. He missed the manicured grass and shrubs beneath well ordered trees. The real forest was a mess of fallen trees, bracken, undergrowth, and sucking mud pits. The Coven hadn’t even worn a path around the anomaly . . . or hadn’t had time to, with it expanding. Damn.

It didn’t help that while Gavin wasn’t entirely at home, he still seemed to glide through the vegetation without an ounce of effort. Two days seemed as good as two years for the younger man’s adaptability.

“One day . . . you’ll have to . . . tell me . . . where you studied,” he panted as they kept on.

Gavin glanced back quickly, “Maybe, but this isn’t the time.” He neatly sidestepped a root and jumped a low long in one fluid motion.

Tobias clambered over the same log, bits crumbling off, disintegrating beneath his fingers.

By the time they reached the rendezvous point, a misty rain started, adding to the day’s chill. Damp and cold, Tobias reflected as they waited for the others, were never a good combination. Unless the day was free for reading by a roaring fire, inside, of course.

Soon, Gavin was filling the others in on his theory and concern.

“It could just be the Coven,” Oifa suggested.

“But why would they mess with the wards?”

“Fair point. What about the Rover?”

Shannon shrugged, “Same problem. If there is a Rover watching, they haven’t done anything so far. Why start by disturbing wards?”

“And not an animal,” Gavin added, “The wards weren’t set off, they were . . . changed, I think. I’d feel the difference.”

“Besides,” Tobias said, “they were designed to steer the local wildlife away from the camp.”

“We have to assume hostiles, and about a hundred yards or so away,” Gavin said. He drew his boltcaster and held it out to Tobias. “Ever used one?” Tobias shook his head, “Hopefully you won’t have to, but push this. Two second recharge, then point and push again.”

He looked around them as Tobias took the unfamiliar weapon.

“It’s a good thing these woods are fairly dense.”

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