Scene 10: Senses
The moon was nearing its zenith, and the campsite beneath was peaceful. Camille was seated near the deadened ashes of the fire, able to read only by the grace of the serene, rose-colored moonlight. An ock away, Polly rested supine on a carpet of moss atop soil, her eyes closed.
Trooper Farthingale was asleep; this, Camille knew. It extended beyond the fact that Polly was laying down and had been silent for some time. It extended beyond the fact that she had lost virtually all tension in her muscles, and the slow rate of her breathing. It even extended beyond the occasional flutters of rapid eye motion that every person with enough years and fears behind them knew to be associated with dreams.
It was a sense. Not a sixth sense — everyone had a sixth sense. Camille had given up trying to count how many senses people had, since it seemed a damn fool errand to try. But she had a few more than most, and one was that she could tell when someone was asleep. That was good.
Polly would need the rest, and the better humor it would hopefully bring. For now, the strongwoman occupied herself with the map. It depicted in detail the jungle northeast of the mountain they were on. They were a bit ahead of schedule; she knew the others would disagree, but it'd been worth the gamble, risking an avalanche by landing with force disks for speed rather than parachutes for safety. From what she'd read, Mara was talented enough to recover from the loss of chemicals — and if not, there was more than one way to blow up a train.
They had a difficult enough road of them ahead — chiefly that there weren't a lot of roads where they were heading. It was a two-day hike through dense forest and jungle, avoiding the occasional settlement or plantation, and then contending with the fruits of the bloodmoon while they waited for the train they were looking for. Cutting out half a day with an accelerated fall down the most dangerous parts of the mountains had been a calculated risk.
Fortunately, they had very good maps; even had the names and suspected political affiliations of the aristocratic plantations and local villages. The McGregors, neutral; the Cayden-Reighds of Miltahwark, loyalist; the village of Henaton, sympathetic; the town of Nonoth, sympathetic. If they were very lucky, they might be able to get material support from some of the sympathizers, though they'd have to be careful. The Cayden-Reighds held the most power in the region thanks to the Imperial occupation.
As Camille planned, she suddenly heard from behind the gentle rush of spread wings swooping down on a thermal.
She studiously ignored it for the moment. Tonight would be the last night she'd have the map; after he returned, she'd plan with Sergeant Rose the detailed landmarks for their movement, then they'd burn it in fadefire. In case of failure or capture, the enemy couldn't know exactly what the plans had been, nor how good Lanvan maps were.
Whoever was behind Camille snorted with irritation. In a long, low croaking voice, it spoke into her mind directly; for the moment there was nothing in the dark besides Camille and the new figure.
YOU KNOW THAT WE ARE HERE.
"'s only proper t'knock fore entering a woman's home," she responded calmly, not turning to face the other.
INDEED. AND WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?
"'s a good question. Don't believe ye've the right t'an answer, but 's a good question."
YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO TRESPASS HERE.
"Who's gonna stop me?"
There was a second's silence. WE URGE YOUR SAFETY. THERE IS MORE AFOOT THAN YOU KNOW.
"Really? Then why don'tja tell me?"
SPEAK TO THE ONE THAT FLIES.
"Er ye could jes' tell me now!" Camille rose to her feet and turned around in one swift motion; the deep gloom shattered, replaced by the ordinary dark of night, as a black-winged condor leaped off the edge of the plateau, wings spread and hissing. The crest of feathers upon its head was the same stormy violet as the witch's hair.
"...Right. That's more yer speed." She spat on the ground with some annoyance, and then looked to the side. She heard feet plodding against the ground distantly. People were coming by foot from the east, and they weren't being subtle. It was probably Specialist Bloom back from her guano errand, but — just in case — Camille touched a muscular hand to the florid basket hilt of her rapier. It was vibrating just a tad, and in two distinct bursts. Yes. She made a note to herself to get a bit of the boy's... the fifer's hair while he was sleeping.
It only took a few moments for her suspicions to be proven correct as Mara and Bobbin came into camp, followed by an exhausted Gerry dragging his feet on the ground, his uniform singed in places and his face cut up from where it'd been smashed against the rocks during his struggle. On second glance, all of them seemed like they'd had better days. Camille sprinted forward to meet them, her feet noiselessly hovering an inch over the moss.
"Look like death, the lot a' ye. Thought it was jes' a gathering expedition. Run inta wildlife?"
"C-cave t-t-t-troll," Gerry gasped.
Pits. Camille clucked her tongue. She should have sent Farthingale with them. "Ruins?"
"Yep. Did get the guano, though," Mara confirmed.
That was interesting information to file away for later. It could come in handy. The sergeant nodded. "Ye should be damn proud a' yerselves fer gettin' away. Even I don't like t'wrangle with cave trolls."
"Tch, who would? Think I set the whole damn thing on fire and Gerry popped half a dozen bullets clean into her skull, one right after the other, and none of it did a damn thing until the last second."
The amazon looked at Gerry with a fresh bit of respect. No one'd mentioned he was a marksman; six consecutive hits on a moving, unpredictable target's head? He might be the best shot in the whole unit.
"Gettin' the core in a troll's head is mora matter of luck'n skill; no two have 'em in the same place. Fire'll slow it down fierce, but that's it. Ye two should be prouda yerselves."
"I'd settle for wining myself if you've got any spirits," Mara joked. Camille just focused her good eye upon the specialist until the laugh on her lips died to nothing. Alcohol on a mission was a terrible idea.
"G-gonna sleep nnow," Gerry softly muttered. He was bored of this back-and-forth, and the mossy, soft ground looked quite inviting. He dropped down where he was standing and sprawled out across the ground.
"Fer the best. We move in five hours. Specialist, can ye work wi' that?" It was more of a polite order than a question, and Mara picked up on it.
"Won't take long to start the solution, after that, it just needs time and a little care to make sure we don't break it."
"Good. Get some sleep after that." A small snore erupted from Gerry as if to punctuate Camille's words.
"I hear that," Mara said with a laugh, as she went off to the side.
That left the fifer, who was reluctantly slinking off to the side with the eternal dance of the shy extravert: desperately trying not to be seen while hoping he'd be talked to. Camille turned a few degrees to face him.
He froze in his tracks. "...Yes'm?"
"Everyone was quite silent regardin' what you in partic'lar did when 'at happened."
Bobbin dug a toe into the ground and coughed awkwardly. "That's strange."
"Certainly is. Care t'elaborate?" Camille crossed her arms over her broad chest.
"I uh... Didn't really do anything," he admitted, looking guiltily down at the ground.
"Mm." Whatever Camille thought about that, the expression on her face said volumes of nothing. "...We're gonna leave rations 'nuff fer ye fer... five days. We ain't back by 'en, what ye do from 'at point is yer own business, but I'd recommend ye find a farm down below, ask fer help. No one's gonna shoot little drummer boys once 'ey're sure they ain't comin' with an army."
"Yes'm. Wait. Um. Um. No. No." Bobbin shook his head and frowned, stamping a foot on the ground.
"...No?" Camille half-laughed. It was all rather familiar. "An' why exactly, no? Kid, ye've got loyalty, but—"
"Because I said no!" Bobbin stamped his foot again, and looked up at her defiantly. "I can do song magic, and I can grab bags other people forget, and I can hold torches, and I am gonna help Knick! If you tell me to stay here, I'm not gonna! I'm gonna follow you the whole way! Whether you like it or-"
Camille held her large hand up as if to catch his words. If she didn't stop the ranting he'd wake everyone up early. "Fine."
Blink. Blink. Bobbin tilted his head to the side and looked at her, wide-eyed. "Um. Fine?"
"Fine. I just wanted t'see if ye had half as much steel in yer spine as Sergeant Rose seems t' think ye do. But." Camille took a moment to enunciate every word, clear and slow. "You have to follow orders exactly. Even if they don't come from Sergeant-Engineer Rose. Every single person here outranks you. Can you do that?"
"The mission's bigger than any one of us living or dying. You understand that?"
"Alright. We'll take you along." Camille relaxed a little and muttered. "Better'n a tagalong runnin' interference."
"Yes, ma'am!!!" Bobbin saluted with the wrong hand. The sergeant-major coughed and briefly gestured with the opposite hand; he squeaked and switched arms.
"...Get some sleep 'en, kid."
About damn time, she thought to herself.