Upon conference with the unseen engineers, it was decided that the train would pull into the Broceliande Station as scheduled, since it was unlikely that the Theravader ships would be aware of their existence. (The only thing that would cause damage would be a direct accidental hit--they were, after all, physical--but debarkation would be quick and they would be away.)

There was a brief discussion in Grandmère Hutan’s stateroom before they put in--minus Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, since they knew beforehand what he would say.

“We will get off at Broceliande and join the fight, agreed?” Senhor Capoeira Capybara said.

“I agree,” said Grandmère, “But not because we are heroes or saviors. We must know why they have targeted us, and we won’t find that out by running away from them.”

“I also agree. This battle may not be about us-the timing is strange--but that’s even more important to find out..” said Dr. Ransom.

“Plus we did kick their asses last time,” said Thyrsis over Jeanette’s jewelry, which was now louder since she’d cleaned it.

Jeanette said nothing. She didn’t want to sound either like a little tiny girl or a monster if she said, “Let’s kill them all, which is what the fire in her chest wanted her to say.

“Move the question,” the capybara said.

Jeanette did manage to say ‘aye’ with the others.

Broceliande resembled nothing so much as a gothic university campus, if it were a university the size of a small city. Not only were all the buildings harmoniously constructed, but there were trees and grass everywhere. And though  there were the big black ships in the sky with their reverse swastikas, and not only were many of the slanted roofs burning, but none of the trees and grass were on fire. They could see Theravader energy beams sizzling out to be stopped by iridescent bubble-skins of force shields, and that explained some of it, but not all.

They were edging along the side of a building, trying to figure out where to go, when a Knight in mail and bright scarlet cloth astride a white-winged horse descended in front of them. From about fifteen feet up, sword drawn, he shouted, “Explain your presence!”

“We have come to join your fight!” Answered Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone in his mirrored armor. (He had dropped his suitcase, since first impressions are important.)

It took only a second for the knight to nod his head. “Follow me at the run.”

It was only around the corner, but there was a steel-railed staircase that took them below street level. Then there was a turn and another staircase, and they were under the trees and grass in the dark. As they reached the end of the small tunnel, a door opened before them and they were blinded by light. “Step forward,” a rough voice said, and they did.

There was a rustling beyond the light. “You possess magic, and quite a bit of it,” the voice said. “Which we wish to put art your disposal for the defense of the city,” said Grandmère.

“That may be true,” said the voice, “but if you use any of it, to any purpose, before we say you may, you will die instantly.”

And that means talking to me, stupid birds, thought Jeanette nervously.

They then ran, just as swiftly, behind the guards, who at least weren’t shining light in their faces. There was roaring overhead, and the ground shook once or twice. The guards, from what Jeanette could see, were big, burly, and human, but their surcoats were covered with hundreds of symbols.

They stopped before a low, broad door, and the leader of the guards, who had been doing all the talking, recited a rather long piece that her gloves didn’t translate for her. The door opened, and it wasn’t a simple door: a central part slid back into the stone, and a metal lip slid downward.

All that security seemed odd to Jeanette, opening as it did into a tall bright room that was 90% stained glass. It was clearly a throne room, though, so there were probably force shields everywhere. Still, it looked kind of naked.

There was a man standing at the steps that led up to the massive throne, which had a big hammer carved into the back. The man wasn’t very king-like: He was about as tall as her father and skinnier, with marrow shoulders. He had a short tunic and baggy pants, and was wearing socks and sandals. His ears were big, and his hair was a light brown, and it seemed to have ideas of grooming that were all its own.

He was looking at Jeanette, which didn’t make her uncomfortable so much as puzzled: why wasn’t he looking at the big tiger in mirror armor? That’s what everybody did.

“Don’t worry, my lady: the sun that shines through these windows is not the sun that shines on the battle outside. I am Acquin, Chancellor of Broceliand in the absence of our king Charles the Hammer.” His voice was nice, but just pretty enough to make her keep her guard up.

“I’m Jeanette Ransom, and this is my father. Pleased to meet you.”

Then she got it: he was looking at the jewelry.

He stood back, taking in all of them now, and said “And these--” and two objects she thought were sculptures moved. They were two pure white winged horses, and they bowed their heads to the group. “--are Diomede and Bellerophon of the House of Bayard.”

“I am Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, Earl of Maurya, Chancellor. We have been the targets of, fought and defeated the foe who now besieges you, though we fought a smaller force.We offer our help.”

“But we have no idea why they did what they did, and we wonder what the story is of their attack on you,” Dr. Ransom said.

Acquin looked at them all for a moment. “I’m both pleased and dismayed by this. Broceliand has many dark enemies, and fought many wars--but these creatures are new to us. In fact, it is their mystery rather than their force that most worries me. Tell me: from what land do you hail, and how did you come here on the tail of this war?”

Everyone paused, the orangutan and capybara seeming very unwilling to say anything, so Dr. Ransom spoke again. “Do you know of the railway that travels through your forest?”

Acquin burst out laughing. “Now THAT is not a response I expected! I know of it, but, for all my education and inquiry no more than a few whispers! Suddenly I’m less cautious of the levels of your magic! But it also makes me more fearful of our enemies if they have this esoteric knowledge!”

“It’s our belief they don’t,” Terence said.

“I’ll tell you our story. One of our greatest paladins, Sir Amadis, was returning to the city when a forester couple entreated him for help. Their son, they said, had fallen ill of a disease new to them, and they feared it might be magical. Could the learned doctors of the city help him? So he brought him here. When he told me this story, what bothered me instantly was that I knew this forester couple were childless, and resigned to be so. But the boy he had brought in was nearly ten.”

“When I examined the boy, I felt torrents of magical energy from him--and on observation with certain techniques the boy seemed to be dissolving in some unprecedented fashion. I wondered whether this was a young boy at all. I consulted others versed in my disciplines, and from what I gathered there, succeeded in stabilizing his, shall we say, incarnation. Though I could not revive him or discover anything of his nature.”

“Three days later, the black ships arrived, and laid siege to the city. I have no doubt these two events are linked, but that is all I’m sure of.”

There was a distant explosion that shook the chamber. One of the horses said in a deep voice, “We must go join the defense, Chancellor,” and Acquin nodded.

Acquin walked over to a table that hadn’t been visible before, and there was a young boy in peasant clothes who seemed to flicker.

Senhor Capoeira’s eyes went wide, but he said nothing. Acquin maybe didn’t notice this, or, Jeanette thought, maybe he just wasn’t used to big rodent facial expressions.

But Jeanette approached him. Another young boy--this one older than her, and than Kelly had been--it was possible that there was a connection between the two of them. So she got closer to the boy. She was waiting for something to happen, like from her jewelry or her gloves--but there wasn’t anything, except that Acquin was looking at her again.

She touched him--

--and shrieked as she was thrown across the room. One of the guards broke from his stand at attention and caught her.

She walked back.

“What did you feel, Jeanette?” Acquin asked.

“Nothing, just pressure. I’m going to try that again.”

She wondered whether anyone would stop her, especially her father. He didn’t, but Capoeira said, “Grandmère, stand at the boy’s left. I’ll take the right. Dr. Ransom, stand at the feet.”

“What are you thinking, rodent?” Grandmère said suspiciously.

“Just a hunch, nothing more than that.” Capoeira said.

“I will hold you, Jeanette,” Acquin said. They stood at the boy’s head.

Jeanette reached out and touched the boy again. Theree was that powerful surge again, but this time Acquin’s gentle grasp turned hard as iron. She fought the force, and the force tried to bend her arms back, but her arms were as strong as Acquin’s now.

Things began to spin. Light vanished and was replaced. Her father and her companions inched their hands closer to the body. The bottom fell out of Jeanette’s stomach as she felt like she was falling, falling to her death. Panic gripped her.

Her vision changed.

Then everything went black.

When she opened her eyes, Her father, with the others close by, were looking down at her. She tried to get up, then cramped and rolled to her side. She tried again, got up to her knees, then bent down and vomited.

The third time was the charm as she got up without stepping in the sick.

She went over to the boy, knowing what she was going to see, but it was still a shock.

The boy was about the same size, but his clothes were bright colors. There weren’t any shadows, his hair was a smooth form, and his eyes were larger than they should have been. She had had a similar vision in the world of the Red Rose and the Briar.

Lying there was a toon.


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