Book 5, 44: Not Woola
Second look: Already soaring through the air to mount her horse, Charlotte realised that Telus was wearing am atmosphere bubble out of an old-time scifi movie, just like Ginger did when she showed up on Mars. It was, she was sure, totally as fake, so what it told her was that her horse had the same sense of humour as her mischievous crow spirit guide.
Charlotte had figured as much. As she landed on the bare back, she continued her survey. Here, in the narrow little valley in the mountains somewhere above Vale of the thin air, there were a whole bunch of scaly, fangy, claw-y beasts were trying to ambush Charlotte and her team. And Agent Ayre. She wasn’t going to let that happen, and not least because Charlotte wanted to have a long talk with the smart people in her team.
So she kicked lightly at Telus’s flanks and headed him towards the nearest beastie. The earth-yellow stallion didn’t need any more urging than that, lunging forward and rearing as the beasties showed an unsuspected, fresh approach to tactics, springing into the air around Charlotte and sweeping their taloned front paws at her.
Fine, Charlotte thought, as she swept her blade around the talons and across the paws. First rule of kung fu swordplay was to aim for the hands, and if they’re just going to stick them in your face, she wasn’t going to complain.
Thin blue blood spattered the air with steam as a tunnel of wildly-tossed beasties showed where Rush was running through the mass. Around Charlotte, golden light and crackling Kirby dots showed that she had fire support from Dora and Twelve, and the familiar sound of pulson blasts showed that Agent Ayre was in action, too.
But where was Bruce? She couldn’t see, and then a beastie landed on Telus’s neck as her stallion pounded two of the things into blue-blooded messes. Charlotte flicked it into the air with her sword, and then batted it down with the flat of her blade.
It hit the ground with a very solid thump, rolled over, eyed her with wide, violet eyes that suggested that dinnertime wasn’t supposed to be this much trouble, and then took off for the end of the valley.
Its buddies seemed to make the same decision at the same time. All but one, up the slope of the valley, just where it levelled out a bit. There, Bruce was wrestling with one beastie, the biggest of all, over something.
A moment, a spray, and it was gone.
Charlotte barely had to urge Telus forward up the slope. Telus took the scree with the uncanny grace of a spirit horse and was standing beside Bruce in a moment, his mighty nose for some reason poking at Bruce’s hip. That had hardly gone more than a single nudge before one of Bruce’s incredibly muscular arms reached around the stallion’s muzzle to stroke his silky nose, while the other awkwardly fished a Fuji out of the pocket. “Figured I might see you, Greedy Guts,” Bruce said, his deep voice all the louder in the thin air.
Charlotte dismounted to look at what Bruce had been wrestling for. “What did you find, Bruce?
I want to see,” she announced, just before her stomach rose in her throat and she almost threw up in her air mask. “Changed my mind,” she said, joking to calm her nausea. “Anyone got a time machine?”
Dora was beside her. “Dr. Brown, I presume,” she said.
Charlotte didn’t know how you went about telling one bloody skeleton with scraps of meat still clinging to it from another, but then she saw what Bruce was holding. A name badge.
“Yep,” Bruce said. “I guess worshipping Kilburn didn’t work out so well for him.”
Agent Ayre wheezed a bit as he mounted the slope, hands on his knees to give his legs extra strength. “Religious fanatics like to say that they’ll sacrifice themselves for their gods, but in my experience, when they get a chance, they usually find out how much they like hiding behind each other.”
“At least that clears some things up,” Bruce said. “Until we have evidence otherwise, I’m going with: first, the guy who sabotaged Paradigm’s gauntlet is a Kilburnist. He teleports Auralia to a safe place, on our dimension. Second, he brings it to Dr. Brown and spins a story about how he needs to send it through a time machine because reasons. Hey, maybe he says he’s going to send it back to the Old Red Aeon.”
“That makes sense,” Twelve said.
“No it doesn’t,” Rose replied. “Super time paradox.”
“Eh,” Dora said, “You gotta figure that a mad scientist who’d built his own time machine was down with time paradoxes.”
“Yeah,” Bruce nodded. “What Twelve and Dora said. Third, he says, ‘But first we have to calibrate the flux capacitor to create a subspace fold, and Dr. Brown grabs his sonic screwdriver---“
“Nerd,” Dora muttered.
“—And gets up on the plate, and, fourth, bam, your Kilburnist shoots him or whatever and pushes him into dimensional space, and the gradient takes care of the rest, bringing Dr. Brown, or his body, through to Vale on the Old World, where his body gets eaten by scaly weird doggy things that are a whole lot less cute than Woola, and . . . someone picks up Auralia and takes it . . . somewhere?”
“That last bit needs a bit of work,” Rose said.
“Nah,” Bruce answered. “The Beadle-Prodomus is suspicious as heck, quite frankly.”
“Really?” You’re just going to leap to a conclusion like that? I can see why the police are always arresting the wrong guy,” Rose said.
“In the movies,” Bruce answered, scowling. “In the real world, murders aren’t usually that hard to figure out.”
Telus shifted his hoof, brought it down on something that he evidently wasn’t comfortable standing on, poked it with his nose. Charlotte vaulted off his back, landing in a crouch in front the object, picked it up.
It wasn’t a sonic screwdriver, whatever that was. Just a phone, but a phone as hot as three cheap laptops all trying to run Skyrim and tied up with –ropes that were hot or something, Charlotte guessed. “Look at this,” she said.
Rose reached out, and Charlotte put it in her hands. IT weirdness was up Rose’s alley. She poked it for a moment. Then, “Nice,” she said. “Looks like a Galaxy, but it’s been seriously hacked. I don’t know what it’s running—“
“I’m guessing that whatever it is, it’s what’s keeping the welcoming committee off our backs,” Bruce said.
“Which, yeah, if the Second Sword and the Sixteenth Sword haven’t shown up yet, then there has to be something going on, but if a phone from our dimension can block whatever scanners or whatever they have in Vale—“
“Then it is one heck of an app the thing is running,” Bruce finished for Rose.
“So where are they keeping Auralia?’ Charlotte asked.
“Well, the Beadle-Prodomus says that it’s not in the Temple of the Forgotten God,” Rose said, “But Bruce doesn’t trust him, so—“
“Don’t forget, though, that Professor Paradigm has already checked the situation out,” Bruce answered. “And there’s got to be some reason that Professor Brown’s body showed up here. I mean, we had to modify the gate to get here, I assume that they had to make an effort to arrive here instead of Vale, too. You know, our suspect.”
“Just a sec,” Rose said, and seemed to vibrate in place. “Okay, there’s a trail leading further into the mountains, down at the other end of the valley. And you wouldn’t believe who I saw up there—“
But Charlotte’s keen eyes had already spotted the Fourth Sword of Aphasium cresting the far end of the valley. The Pearl Harmony Sword slipped into her hand as her legs landed around Telus’s barrel chest. She spurred her mighty warhorse forward without a thought.
Behind her, “No fair,” Rose said. “I was going to make you guys guess.”
It only took a moment for the Fourth Sword to come up to meet Telus. His sword was drawn in his right hand, and some kind of finned ray pistol was in his left. The subtle glow of his belt forcefield shone around him.
Mounted on Telus, Charlotte was still confident that she could take him. “This is not a fight you can win, Fourth Sword,” Charlotte said. “It is six to one. Seven, counting Telus the Earth Horse out of the Lion Stallion.”
“You might be surprised, Champion of the Pearl Harmony,” the Fourth Sword replied.
“I might be,” Charlotte answered, “But I don’t expect to be. You’re not here for a fight.”
“Then what am I here for?” The Fourth Sword asked.
“Love,” tumbled from Charlotte’s mouth, and she blushed red to sound like a romantic, teenaged girl, but, somehow, she just knew that that was the answer. “The Second Sword of Vale is in danger.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the Fourth Sword of Aphasium said. “You’re just a silly downtime girl. You have no idea what the Second Sword is capable of!”
“But she serves a traitor,” Charlotte said. This would be a good test of Bruce’s theory. If the Fourth Sword gave you that look like a teacher does when you give him the wrong answer and you’re so sure you’re right, and he’s, like, I’ll show you, you snotty-nosed kid, well, that would be a good clue that Bruce was wrong. It did happen.
Instead, the Fourth Sword looked at her with sick eyes. “You have proof?”
“None yet,” Charlotte said. “But we think it is hidden somewhere up that trail.” Please don’t ask me why we think that, Charlotte thought to herself. Please don’t ask me.
“Why do you think that?” The Fourth Sword asked.
“It’s a pilgrim’s trail, isn’t it?” Bruce asked, beside her. “Somewhere up there is the sanctuary of the Forgotten God –Kilburn.”
The Fourth Sword tilted his head. “Who spoke that name in front of you?”
“No-one,” Bruce answered. “I’ve just learned to pay attention when people talk theology.”
Charlotte darted a look at him. She hoped that wasn’t some kind of dig at her for not paying attention when Father Asplin was explaining about Kilburn. If Bruce was Scout and Scout was Bruce and it was all such a knot and she didn’t know to be angry or to jump down off her horse and kiss him right there—
“Girl?” The Fourth Sword said. “You’d better get your friends going. We just got swept by a spy ray.”