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The best case scenario will not happen. - Traveler



Date Uncertain

    In a Host safe-house, a number of people were gathered around a hologram generator, watching events at MEDUSA operational HQ outside the dome, where forces variant and human were gathered. The Image had been corralled and gotten out of danger, and the professionals were ready to go to work, including Common Cause, the multinational European team, and several members of UNEarth. There was still a great deal of shoulder-shrugging going on, but no one knew what else to do but try and break through.
    In the safe house were the members of the Detroit Warriors, along with Apollyon, Uriel, Rashiel, and ENOCH's current machine body.
    "Do we have the entire plan in place?" Apollyon asked.
    Daedalus kept looking from Emily to the angels. "I think so. We should have sufficient power ready and available to instigate that one change that will propagate."
    "Have you been successful in making any contact with the other members of the Revolution?"
    "There's been no contact with anyone inside other than the brief glimpses Emily's able to get."
    "Well then we'll just have to hope that they'll know what to do when the time comes." He paused, looked around, then up. "Zachriel? Let them know that we're ready."
    In the hologram, a man standing beside Agent Smith said, "Actually, you should probably wait another forty-five minutes before you attempt to do anything."
    "Excuse me?" said the startled Smith.
    The agent's face rippled, changed. "Trust me on this one; it will be better if you just wait. It's too complicated to explain right now."
    Smith's expression hardened, recognizing him. "Let me tell you now—I hate you. I hate you with a depth that is not possibly fathomable."
    "I can accept that," Zachriel replied pleasantly. "But the situation is under control."
    A half dozen MEDUSA agents converged on the spot as fog erupted from the ground; when it cleared, two of them were left grappling with one another, and there was no sign of Zachriel.
    The Future docked at Harborview, a city preparing for war. The damaged wall was being repaired, people were scurrying about doing whatever they thought would help stave off disaster. We saw a kid too young for the sword he was wearing, who might never get a chance to grow into that armor but nevertheless had some swagger in his step because of it.
    We had only a few hours to spend in town, catching up on the past couple weeks worth of news. Gretchen's forces had stopped pulling back; it seemed she had been preparing for an overwhelming assault to the north when she became the subject of an overwhelming assault from the north. One could start liking Lord Fimbulwinter.
    Less cheering, the local news was all about dragons. These had not been pulled into the northern defense, leaving that to wolfriders and hellhound auxiliaries (we heard rumors that she had developed some spell that summoned remorrhazes). The dragons would come in the middle of the night, swooping in through cloud cover to make a single diving attack, grab a few people, set a few things on fire, and then disappear. Needless to say, morale was low; while this is going on, the armies of the south are unable to mass, which is a problem as our plan calls for harassing attacks from both south and west while we strike for the bitch's heart. Of course anyone trying to make even small raids into her territory quickly finds himself surrounded by wolf-riders because her mirrors show her everything. Except us, of course.
    It got worse. The dragons Thunderbolt had seen when he visited the nests were small; the three it seemed we had to deal with here were larger creatures. It was hard to tell how much larger, as reports varied from "I think its body was about horse-sized" to "are you crazy, the body was the size of a stable!" to "as large as the sky." We ruled out that last one, but that left a lot of room. No one knew if they had riders or were out on their own.
    "This looks like one of those there jobs for heroes," I sighed.
    "Well, it's one of them there jobs for heroes that happen to be invisible to the evil witch-queen," Privateer shrugged. "I'd go with you, but...."
    "That's okay. We'd hate for you to get killed again."
    We talked about trying to ambush the dragons on one of their raids, but that presented problems. Such as getting the dragons to attack the right place, and being prepared for them when they showed up, and the likelihood of getting a good many people killed—people who, while doubtless heroes in their own right thanks to being willing to stand up to Gretchen's forces, were perhaps less equipped for dragon-killing than the four of us. The dragons were just too maneuverable for any plan we could come up with to have a good chance of success, especially if more than one of them appeared.
    The alternative was to look for their lair and beard them in it, which had the advantage of endangering no one but us. To this end we acquired horses and crossed into Gretchen's territory, the small mining towns near Sodom and Gomorrah (actual Connecticut town names!). The journey was not long but the rain made it seem more so. There Scott contacted his friends in the underground to see if cattle had been vanishing or confiscated in the small towns we encountered, Thunderbolt hung about collecting rumors, Phoenix Talon snuck around in the night looking for oddities, and I prayed for our general success.
    After a couple of days we met in the inn to see what they had come up with. Thunderbolt slouched in, convinced that there was nothing to be learned; people had seemed a bit nervous around him, despite his best attempts to put them at their ease. Stephanie had spoken to the cats in town and informed him that most of them were pretty stupid; they had not been able to tell her anything interesting, at least not to humans. Phoenix Talon's nightly perambulations had twice shown him large figures slipping out of town, but he was unable to determine if they were Gretchen's troops or not. Her minions tend to a lack of discipline in the lower ranks, more given to terrorizing the locals for their presumed attempts to help us than to keeping the roads in good order. There were also some cattle missing, but that might be due to a bit of an ankheg problem; they have a bad habit of burrowing under pastures, spitting acid all over the farmer, and making off with a cow or two.
    Then Scott strolled in and unrolled his map. He'd been doing extensive surveys of the people, cross-referencing their accounts against troop movements and dragon sightings, and had reached two conclusions. First, there was something in the mines; things slipped out, food and people went missing, and there were troops massing in the area off and on—groups of a score or more where a dozen was normal. Second, the dragons were definitely in this area as well; according to what Scott had turned up, they had no more than four lairs, which were probably not in the mines.
    Considering our options, it seemed some advice might be in order before we started wandering around the hills poking into caves. We worked out the questions we wanted to ask, since we could ask only a limited number and receive a limited variety of replies, and in the morning—it was still raining steadily—went out. The others waited at a cautious distance as I prepared; the rain intensified until each droplet threw up its own shower as it struck the sodden ground. A storm was moving in. Good.
    Under cover of the trees a nevertheless soaked Phoenix Talon suggested, "Why don't we just stand at the entrance to the cave where the dragons are hiding, you cast this and we'll wait?"
    The rest of us ignored him, and I addressed myself to my goddess.
    "Phoenix Talon has seen several figures sneaking to the outside of town. Are they directly related to Gretchen's dragon endeavor?" A distant rumble of thunder signified a negative; they were not directly related. "Is it something that it would please you for us to look into?" A lightning bolt struck a tree directly in front of me; emphatic yes. "Are the dragons closer in size to a barn than to a horse?" No. "Thank you." That was reassuring.




Part 1: April 26, 2003 Boston

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© 2003 Rebecca J. Stevenson