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All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 46

Aaren looked around the cabin. “We know how you feel, Katrina, you want to go.”

“You bet I do,” she breathed softly.

“What about you, Mira? You’ve been quiet so far, what do you think we should do?”

Mira gave him a brief smile and pulled her feet up cross-legged on the narrow bench seat. She propped her back against the bulkhead beside one of the windows and looked up at them seriously. “I’m like Elric,” she said slowly, “I’m not enthusiastic about tackling a military brotherhood. I don’t like Altman being involved and I’m certainly not happy about this vampire business.”

“Don’t forget Blanrus,” Elric added.

“I haven’t forgotten him.” She shifted position slightly and went on. “But in spite of all of that, there’s this little thing, right about here . . .” she pointed at her middle “. . . telling me if we don’t rescue Illene we’ll regret it for the rest of our lives.”

Katrina was surprised at Mira’s seeming inclination to continue. “Does that mean you’re voting in favor of going to Harpel,” she asked, wanting to pin her down.

Mira gave her a pained look. “I’m saying if we let Illene be sacrificed we’ll be as bad as Blanrus. I’m not sure I could live with that.”

“Then you’re voting to go?” the bard pressed her.

A flash of irritation crossed Mira’s face at Katrina’s single-minded insistence. “Yes, I suppose I am,” she sighed heavily. “I don’t want to, but that’s the way I’m voting.”

“Great! That’s four in favor!” she crowed. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” She turned and cast sad eyes on Elric and Aaren. “Sorry guys, but it looks like you’re outvoted. We’re going to Harpel.”

“Be sure to write,” Aaren said lightly. He winked at Elric.

Katrina glared at them suspiciously. “What’s that supposed to mean?” The others also wore puzzled expressions.

“Well, number one, just because we’re outvoted doesn’t mean we’re forced to go,” Aaren answered. “We can leave and go somewhere else if we want to.” Mira gasped and he smiled reassuringly at her. “Don’t worry, it hasn’t gotten to that point yet.”

“You said, ‘number one’. So what’s number two?” Jon interjected.

Aaren incanted under his breath and magical light filled the tiny cabin. “Number two is that Elric and I are the only ones with any magic. How are you going to fight all those heavy hitters without magic?” He leaned back and watched the slow comprehension dawning on their faces.

Elric waggled a finger at him. “That was a dirty trick,” he chuckled.

“And you loved every minute of it.”

“I sure did.”

“You . . . you . . . you blackmailers, you!” Katrina finally gasped. “How dare you!”

Horace stroked his beard meditatively. “So what if they are,” he told the outraged bard. “They got us by the short hairs, so to speak, and there ain’t nothing we can do about it.”

“But, but . . .” she spluttered.

“But nothing. If they don’t want to go, we don’t go.”

She was gasping for breath. “But, but . . .”

“SO,” Jon said loudly, “it behooves us to find out what their concerns are and do something about them.” He ignored her hurt look of betrayal. “You gentlemen have the floor.” He made a sweeping gesture and bowed mockingly to them.

Gentlemen?! Katrina mouthed the word silently to herself in disbelief. More like dirty, rotten, sons–

“Thanks,” Aaren said, interrupting her train of thought, “but we’ve already told you our concerns. Elric is worried about Altman and The Sword, I’m upset about the vampire, and both of us want to know what we’re going to do about Marak and Taanen.”

“And Illene if we get her,” Elric added.

Katrina erupted in frustration. “But that’s what we’ve been talking about!” she burst out. “Haven’t you been listening?”

“Yes,” Elric snapped at her. “We’ve been listening, and all I’ve heard is a lot of talk. I haven’t heard any plans.” He leaned heavily on the last word.

“Wait a minute,” Mira said from her cross-legged seat on the bench. “I thought you wanted to discuss whether or not to go to Harpel. That’s what you said a minute ago at least. But now you’re talking about plans. Which is it?”

“In a way, it’s both,” Aaren answered for him. “Unless we hear some solid plans for accomplishing our mission without getting wiped out, there’s no point in going. We’re going to be outnumbered when we get there, and I’m not about to go rushing in blindly without some idea about what we’re going to do.”

“You can say that again,” agreed the mage.

Aaren nodded at him then lapsed into silence.

Katrina thought about it for a minute then pulled out the sketches she’d made when Ryal showed them The Sword’s tunnels and caverns. “We’ve got these,” she said, holding them up. “Would they be any help?”

“They sure would,” said Horace, leaving his place by the wall. “I’d forgotten about them.” He grabbed the maps and spread them out on the floor. He knelt down to examine them. The others crowded around. The maps showed a veritable maze of underground tunnels and natural caverns, but essential details were missing. There was nothing indicating what was in the various rooms and caves, and even though the locations of dozens of traps were clearly pinpointed, there was nothing to indicate what they were. Additionally, the tunnels weren’t shown in relation to anything around them. Ryal hadn’t given Katrina any surface detail to copy, leaving the tunnels shown as if existing in a vacuum.

“Well, sort of,” he amended.

Jon tugged at his lip. “What if we could fill in the blanks?” he asked slowly. “Would you be able to plan some sort of attack then?”

“Fill ’em in how?”

The rogue held up his ring of invisibility and grinned impishly.

“By spying!”

A wide smile spread across Horace’s face. “That’d work just fine,” he said happily.

“Then you could plan an attack?”

“If we knew where the entrances were and what’s around them. It would be more like hit-and-run than a real attack, but yeah, I could come up with something.”

Jon bobbed his head. “It shall be done as you command, O Great One,” he cackled, rubbing his hands like a fawning servant.

They were all squatted down on their haunches around the maps and Horace only had to shove a little bit to topple Jon over onto his side. “Shut up,” he growled in mock anger. He turned back to the maps. “You know, once we’re in we’d only have to worry about one or two of the traps. These tunnels are so interconnected we could probably bypass most of them.”

“What about patrols and sentries?” Mira asked him.

“That’s a little tougher,” he admitted. “Unless our favorite spy here can get us some information on those too.” He jerked a thumb at Jon, still sprawled awkwardly on the floor.

“I can get any information you need, ya big lunk,” Jon snarled defiantly. “Just watch!”

Aaren gave him a false smile of sympathy and hauled him back up. “Okay, we’ll assume you can devise a strategy for dealing with The Sword,” he said to Horace. “What about Altman and Blanrus? And don’t forget the vampire either.”

“Vampire?!” Mira let out a yelp of excitement and scrambled over to the lock box and threw it open. She began rooting around inside it.

The rest of them traded blank, puzzled looks.

“What got into her?” Katrina wondered.

“I don’t know,” Jon said. “Maybe she wants to go swimming in our gold.”

“Here they are!” Mira announced triumphantly. She held up three, silver-white arrows. “I forgot about these. Remember what Ryal said? They have special powers for destroying the undead!”

Their faces lit up. “Hey, that’s right,” Elric said. “If we could use those to stop the vampire, that’d solve one of our problems right there.”

Katrina felt her breath hitch in her throat as a murmur of agreement ran around the circle. Even Aaren was nodding. There might be a chance, after all, she thought, trying to keep her mounting excitement from showing. Two down and two to go, she thought. She turned to Horace. “What about Altman and Blanrus?” she asked gently.

Aware that all eyes were on him, Horace cleared his throat importantly. “Well,” he said, “When you stop and think about it, Altman isn’t really all that big a threat.”

“WHAT!?” Elric shouted. “What are you talking about? He kicked our butts all by himself! What you mean he’s not a big threat? Are you crazy?”

Horace winced away from the mage’s volume. “Not so loud. I’m not deaf, you know.” He shook his head and wiggled a finger in his ear. “What I meant was, without his magic toys, Altman is just an ordinary fighter. His fighting skill isn’t all that remarkable actually and he’s certainly not as nimble as Jon or Katrina. He’s more like a sailor who can fight than a fighter who can sail a ship, if you get my meaning.” He saw he had their attention and leaned forward earnestly. “Think about the fight. He used a potion, a wand, and a ring – all magical. And he had on some kind of magical armor too.”

Jon was frowning deeply, remembering the explosive violence. “He bleeds easy enough,” he said. “I managed to bury a dagger in him before he got away.”

“That’s right,” Horace nodded. “I wounded him too. Aside from his magical toys, he’s just an ordinary guy.”

“Not all that ordinary,” Elric protested. “He’s over three hundred years old. That counts for something.”

“Sure it does,” Aaren agreed, “but I can see where Horace is going with this. Without his magic toys, he could barely hold his own against one of us, let alone all of us. We have to treat him like a man who has some extra-powerful weapons at his command. If we can dodge those weapons, or keep him from using them, we can wipe him out.”

“Or at least keep him from wiping us out,” Mira added darkly.

Katrina shot the ranger an irritated look. “Alright, now what about Blanrus?” she said quickly to take everyone’s attention off Mira’s ominous remark. “Can we handle him?”

Horace shrugged. “I guess. He’s got some pretty powerful spells but if we stay spread out, surround him on all sides maybe, he can’t aim at all of us and that’ll let us dodge most of ’em. Then, if one of us can get close to him, POW!” He slammed his fist down on the floor.

“Don’t get too carried away with that dodging business,” Elric warned. “Some spells aren’t easy to avoid, and some can’t be dodged or avoided – period. Fireballs are kinda hard to avoid when you’re indoors; same with stinking clouds like I used on the caravan guards and other spells . . .”

“Whoa!” Katrina cried. “Fireballs? You mean like the one you hit the mind flayers with?”

He gave her a quizzical look. “That’s right.”

She jerked the magic necklace out of her pocket and held it up, displaying the three pearls on it. “Like the fireballs, Ryal said these would produce?”

Elric froze.

He slowly came out of it and stretched a trembling hand out to the necklace. “Yeah, like that.” He caressed the pearls with gentle fingers. A lazy smile surfaced on his face. “Yeah. Having our own ‘magic toys’ might give ole’ mister Klee Blanrus, a right, nasty surprise,” he drawled.

Aaren felt an eyebrow lift at Elric’s reaction. He had to give Katrina her due, her handling of their objections was masterful. Some of her maneuvers were a little transparent perhaps, but they were effective nonetheless. He wondered how long she’d had the necklace in mind. “Alright, I’ll concede we have a fighting chance once we get to Harpel. But that still leaves the question of what to do with Marak and Taanen. And Illene once we find her.”

Mira thought it over. “Why not pay Beorn to set up some kind of jail to put ’em in until we get back?”

“How are we going to explain that to Illene?” Elric asked. “Putting her dad in prison while we rescue her is going to sound a little weird.”

“Maybe not.” Aaren had a thoughtful expression on his face. “Ryal said she knows Marak for what he is. She might not like the idea, but I think she’ll understand.”

Katrina held her breath at Aaren’s apparent change of heart, afraid to say anything for fear of ruining it. Tension caught her as she realized Elric was now the only holdout. Please she prayed, don’t let him be the only one who doesn’t want to come, please. She wasn’t sure who she was praying to – Aaren’s healer god maybe – but it was heartfelt.

Her prayers were answered. “Okay,” the mage acquiesced, “we’ll do it.”

Her jaw dropped. That was it? Just like that, they were going? “Yippee!” she shouted, jumping up to dance around the tiny space. “We’re going! We’re going!”

Aaren watched her whirling movements in bemused silence. He leaned over and stage whispered to Mira, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think she’s happy.”

“I think you’re right,” she answered back in the same fake whisper.

Katrina heard and stuck her tongue out at them with a grin.

Horace stood up and helped Aaren to his feet. “In that case, it’s time to go, don’t you think?”

He pulled out the rune key and bowed slightly. “Time indeed.” He put the key in its slot and sat down. As the Wanderer came to life and began to move, he turned his head and said, “Elric, I think you better start preparing that sleep spell you told me about the other day. We’re going to need it.”

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