The fortress and all its occupants were in a more hurried state now, guards more vigilant, lookouts scouring the countryside and the skies. Rotar, Falan, Lee and Trinity sat with the Premier in the conference room, the men discussing what occurred and what was possibly next and Trinity, was listening but not saying much, she suddenly asked “Where’s Jondar?”
Rotar answered “He stopped by the healer’s to get his bandage fixed, and said after that he was going to see how the training was going”.
“Thank you,” she replied. “Ok, if I go watch, Uncle Lee? I won’t get in the way!” she asked.
“Sure, Kiddo, just be sure to stay in the main fortress though, what with dragons around, it’s the safest place” Lee responded. With a silent, sardonic, salute Trinity left to go watch the soldiers train to fight dragons.
Lee and the others discussed what had happened, and what should be the next steps that they should take. Soldiers were being trained in where dragons could be vulnerable, as well as normal combat skills. Tunnels that were disused, were scheduled for blocking up, as soon as the workers from the village could be hired and begin. Several squads now patrolled the known tunnels looking for any signs of dragons, or other enemy. The observation posts mentioned before, were strengthened with their escape routes, and tunnels cleaned of obstacles and debris. Lee was going over the most recent maps, to look for safe routes to the known portal locations near the fortress, trying to find one that was the safest and had the most cover. “Unless someone can figure a way to open one of these, from inside the fortress, this one,” Lee said pointing at the map. “Looks like the best route, and most concealed. The downside is it’s easier to set up ambushes along the way, so we will need scouts coming and going. Have your men been getting messages through to my family? I do not need them worrying,” Lee asked.
“Yes,” replied the Premier. “Daily, and there has been no sign of trouble on that side”. Lee nodded indicating his gratitude at that news, and that the line of communication was constantly open.
The rest of the day was spent with the Treslanders going over troop numbers, and food and supply amounts and shortages. Lee excused himself, and made his way to his quarters. Once there he wrote a quick short note to Trinity, gathered his bow and backpack, and left the room, headed to a tunnel exit nearby. Lee chatted with a guard for a second, then slipped out through the tunnel, pulling his ghillie suit over the cloak, he quickly became invisible in the afternoon shadows. Lee became the hunter again, slipping quietly through the forest towards an area he saw on the maps, that he knew was the edge of friendly territory. Moving silently, but swiftly, he covered lots of country with his steady, ground eating gait, not swerving or twisting, but headed in a straight line.
The hunter stopped by a small creek, and drank, not on the wide sandy area, but kneeling down where the bushes leaned out over the water. He tensed suddenly in the crouched position, hearing hushed voices. The sound coming from the other side of the creek, and to his left towards the sandy area of the creek. Lee slipped back and stood bow in hand, arrow nocked, listening and watching, totally camouflaged and unseen unless he were to make a mistake and move.
He waited, and finally crossed the creek, following the voices carefully, as they were going the direction he was headed. Lee stopped and climbed into the split of a tree, and looked ahead with his binoculars from his pack, and saw two Wracks walking ahead. Lee climbed down and followed carefully, staying well back, but near enough to hear or see the two. His plan was to see where these two were headed, and if possible, find out who or what they were reporting to. Four hours and many miles later, the two stopped by a creek, and Lee slipped up a tree, to keep an eye on them while they were stopped, and he ate some jerky while looking around at the area. There were large boulders and rocky crags all around, with the exception of the woods they were in, the landscape was pretty barren. Lee noticed several cuts or valleys, going off to the sides as far as he could see forward, like spidery veins off the main part. The forest they were in, was about a half mile wide, and did not appear to thin out. It seemed to keep its shape, as it winded and twisted between the rocks and mountains. Lee was debating taking these two out of the picture, and seeing what they were carrying, but he decided to wait until at least tomorrow. Lee watched, as the two moved off to one side of the high speed trail, and started setting up their camp, secure in their belief that they were alone.
Lee made himself comfortable, and settled in to wait, as the wracks let themselves relax more. After two hours Lee let himself out of the tree and silently made his way towards the campsite. He moved closer, circling around the campsite, and slipping up towards it from the side, until he could see and hear clearly what was being said. Lee learned a few things, but nothing seemed important, except they were to meet someone here tomorrow. The two must have felt very secure in their camp, as they posted no guard, and were both snoring to wake dragons within the next hour. He waited another 90 minutes, then made his way back to his tree, where he got comfortable and rested. The two woke as the first light was breaking, and they prepared some food to start the day, while Lee, the hunter, munched on jerky from his back-pack as he watched them.
He noticed movement well past the two wracks, and he lifted his binoculars to focus on that area. Someone or something was coming, winding their way along the weaving path. Lee noticed that the figure was clad in dark clothing, under a darker hooded cloak, and walked with a shuffling gait, and covered ground pretty fast. The figure approached the two, and they both stood up as he approached. The three stood around, and talked for a long while, and the cloaked person, (“If it is a person?” Lee wondered to himself), handed each of the two Wracks something, and they both intently stared at them, and appeared to ask several questions. A short while later one of the two original Wracks started gathering his things, and said a few words, (one of which Lee clearly heard the word “Portal”), to the other two, and headed out of the camp in a direction towards the mountains, to the right side of the trail.
Lee marked his direction, and noticed he was going quickly, but kept stopping and checking his back trail. “That fella does not trust one of these two,” Lee thought to himself as he watched. Eventually, the cloaked figure got up, and headed back the way he came from, leaving the solitary Wrack by itself. Lee watched the cloaked figure, until he was 1/2 mile away, up the winding trail, then turned his attention to the solitary Wrack left at the camp. He debated with himself about what he should do, and came up with the only obvious answer, “He’s an enemy of my family, so he must not be allowed to cause one of them harm,” Lee thought to himself.
He debated shooting him from here, with a bow shot he knew he could most likely make, but decided to get closer, where he was positive he could eliminate the Wrack without any fuss at all.
Lee slipped quietly down, and circled nearer, using what he found yesterday about the terrain as his guide. Lee, the hunter, stopped about 30 yards away, looking through a natural shooting lane, and he did not hesitate. He drew the bow, and with a near silent whisper, he released the arrow and it sped towards the unsuspecting Wrack, striking him in the head, slipping clean through before the Wrack even knew he was dead. The hunter had another arrow nocked on the bow, as the Wrack collapsed in a heap on the ground.
Lee waited for almost 30 minutes before approaching. He quickly checked the body finding one useful thing; a sheath knife hidden in a upper arm sleeve, “Sneaky and smart,” he thought. He wrapped the Wrack’s head in canvass, which he had found that Wrack had been using for bedding, in order to keep from leaving a blood trail. He then picked up the Wrack, and carried him several hundred yards off to the side of the trail, and dumped it in a slight crevice. He then made his way carefully back to cover any marks, or tracks he found. Back at the campsite, he carefully scooped the bloody dirt up, and took it several yards away and buried it. Once that was done he scattered leaves around the campsite, and picked up the Wrack’s pack, and headed off in the direction the cloaked figure went.
The hunter moved cautiously for an hour, putting several miles behind him. He found a secluded spot off the path, and sat and ate , while carefully going through the pack he had grabbed. Then he saw the item which he believed the cloaked figure had handed the Wrack, and it looked like a thin book. Setting it aside, he took out a hand drawn map, showing what Lee guessed to be fortress defenses, and look out posts. The map was drawn with precision, and a great deal of detail, which took great skill. “This guy knew his scouting business really well,” Lee surmised. The last thing he pulled out was another map, this one made no sense to Lee but seemed very familiar, “I’ve seen this place before, but where?” He asked himself. Lee put both maps in his own pack, and discarded the Wrack’s pack under a tree stump.
Lee took the book, and opened to the first page, which was filled with numbers and symbols that he could make no sense of, and he turned the page and was stunned. There on the second page, was an almost photograph picture quality drawing of Trinity, in the Lost Defender armor, standing in the classic guard position, knife across her body in one hand, and another held low and pointed out towards a threat. “How in the blazes did anyone get this? Where? When was this? Why is this given to the Wrack?”
All these questions and more, Lee was thinking as his mind raced. He turned the page, and was stunned to see his own face in his hooded cloak, and on the next page was Elena! She was in a dark cloak with a hint of something green under it, her face set with determination, and she was reaching back, as if she was gripping something, or someone, by the hand, but her hand was torn with the next page. Lee turned the page, and found the next page was ripped out, and the last page was blank, leaving him totally confused. He looked at the back of the book, and saw scratches on the back in cryptic writing, “all must die”. Lee debated heading back immediately, but decided he would rather try and catch Mr. Cloak, and see what he could find. He finished eating because he knew he needed the energy, then he packed up, but before leaving he climbed a nearby tree, and took a slow methodical look around. Starting from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock, and then he turned and looked from 9 to 12, seeing nothing. Lee then started at 3 and worked back towards 12, and about in line with the path ahead, but a long way up, he thought he saw a faint tendril of smoke float up. “Gotcha!” he thought to himself.
He finished his scan, and climbed down, grabbed his pack, and headed out towards the smoke, slipping along the rock face far off the trail. It was tougher going, but he was much less likely to bump into anyone. Lee became the hunter again, stalking silently along, and around trees and bushes in his path, slowing edging closer. Stopping every few yards, and methodically taking apart the surrounding woods, and rocks with his binoculars, looking for any signs of activity. He stopped and put away his binoculars, and checked that nothing was loose and could make a sound, before he started to slip closer. The smell of woodsmoke was guiding him. Lee slipped up a large oak type tree, and watched and finally after several minutes, he found the cloaked character.
Before he could act, movement about a half mile ahead caught his attention, and he dug out his binoculars again, and looked in that direction, and saw what looked to be an army! There were spearmen, archers and many more behind. There were siege engines, and wagons of stones, but worst of all there were 3 very big dragons! They were walking behind, way off, but clearly visible, due to their size. “Well shoot, that don’t leave me much time to find out what this clown is up to” he said to himself . He again focused on the cloaked figure and slipped out of the tree moving closer, he wasn’t sure who or what it was, but he was sure it was not friendly.
He decided that he did not have time to waste, the hunter set his pack down, and drew his knife, and worked his way to the edge of the camp and waited. The cloaked figure was muttering to himself about “special” and “must not reach fortress” “portals, interfering humans, soon they will be gone and then the Caecilius will have his revenge on these upstart Treslanders” Lee watched the cloaked figure, as he slowly put things in his bag, and he saw the last thing looked like one of the books he had given to the Wrack. After hearing what he heard, and seeing the book, Lee did not hesitate! He sprang into the camp, and the cloaked figure spun catlike around, but Lee was on him in an instant, the legion blade silencing any noise, as he eliminated another threat to his family. Lee gathered the bag of items, and turned, retracing his steps to his pack, grabbing it, he put the bag in it, before heading off back towards the fortress.
As he neared the spot where the two Wracks separated, he slowed and perched in a rock formation, and scoured the area for any signs of life. Not seeing any immediate threat, Lee took out his pad and added to the map he had been making on his scouting trip. He ate a bit of jerky, and then again headed out wishing he had stopped the other Wrack to see what he was given. As he was walking, he was going over in his mind what he had observed, heard and had done and he suddenly remembered “Caecilius” and was reminded he needed to remember it to pass it in to the Premier when he got back. Lee continued moving in the direction of the fortress, when suddenly he heard the sounds of swords and a fight ahead.
Lee jumped up on a big rock, and looked and saw a single soldier fighting with 4 wracks at one time. Lee could not tell who the soldier was, but he knew the Wracks were enemies, and immediately shot the farthest with his bow. The others fighting did not notice, and continued to attack the soldier, who was doing an excellent job of defending against too many enemies. Lee shot a second Wrack before they got out of his sight, as the soldier moved around. Lee ran towards the fight, trying to clear the line of site, and as he got closer, he shot a third Wrack as the last managed to get a sword through the soldier’s defenses, and stabbed him in the shoulder. The soldier dropped the short knife, as he was wounded, but parried with his sword, and at the same time kicked the Wrack between the legs, making him squeal and his knees buckle, and the soldier swung his sword beheading the enemy. Lee cautiously approached, and the soldier dressed in buckskin leathers and a green camouflage type cloak, turned to face him, sword at the ready. Lee said “Whoa there, Fella, I mean you no harm, name’s Lee and I am no threat to anyone, that these things are against,” he said, waving his arm at the dead Wracks. “I do not know who you are, or what your game is, but I was headed back to the fortress when I stumbled on your little set-to here,” Lee continued.
“What do you know of the fortress, how would you get in?” The soldier inquired, as he favored his wound that was bleeding.
Lee said, “I have unlimited access to the fortress, granted by the Premier. Rotar and Falan are two who can vouch for me, as well as Jondar,” he continued, “I have been here a few times, as it’s my bloodline these things want to erase. I came to see who I was up against. Now you can stand there and bleed till you pass out, or I can help you, it’s your choice”.
The soldier had been listening and said “I have been scouting for months, I have not been to the fortress, nor spoken to anyone in the same amount of time, but you know names and things you could not, if your words weren’t true. I am Carr one of the “Far Walkers” that’s how do you say..?”
Lee said “Scout, correct? You’re an info gatherer?”
To which Carr replied “Yes, that is correct,” as he leaned against a tree.
Lee said “I can stop that bleeding, and we can get back to the fortress tomorrow, if you will let me help you”. Carr nodded ok, and Lee dropped his pack and began to patch Carr up. A few hours later and a couple miles away, they settled into the same hidden spot Lee used earlier, and made camp. Once they had eaten and Carr had fallen asleep, Lee suddenly remembered the bag, and the book and he pulled it out, sat by the fire, and opened the book, and was dumbfounded to see Trinity’s sister ‘Lena’s face, her arm was stretched out and the torn off page of her Aunt Elena’s hand was there holding it. ‘Lena’s face reflected fear, but also determination, as she was led by Elena, to somewhere that Lee could not figure out. Written in red cryptic letters on the page, were the words “The next Minorcan” and in bold letters “Must be stopped at all costs” . “‘Lena? So she’s the one! I have got to get back there as soon as I can!” Lee thought to himself.
Early the next morning after sitting in a tree and checking the area with his binoculars, Lee climbed down, and he and Carr began heading to the fortress again, taking their time due to Carr’s injury, but still moving at a good pace. “I could see the smoke from their camp, so we have to go as fast as we can,” Lee said
“Yes, we can go faster don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” answered Carr. The two kept going all through the day and finally started seeing the hidden markers which Carr pointed out and saying, “Come we will go this way”.
He led them on a winding route, up along the base of a boulder strewn hill, and suddenly stopped “It is here,” and reached between two rocks and did something, and within a few seconds Lee saw two guards materialize, as if out of no where up the side of the hill. One said “Carr! You were expected last week! We thought the worst.” and turned and looked at Lee and saluted “Bevan! The young warrior is not happy you left her behind! I would not want to be you when you two meet up,” he chuckled.
They then were led in a hidden passage and up a narrow side tunnel that opened into the main one. Carr and Lee said their farewells and Lee headed to his quarters to contemplate, rest and find Trinity.
After a couple minutes of listening to Trinity harp at him for not taking her with him, she finally relented when he reminded her she was supposed to help sort out the mystery in the fortress, not do everything he was doing, and when he asked if she discovered anything new, she replied, “Just a couple things, Uncle Lee, the paintings keep revealing a huge battle it seems here inside the fortress, and there are more dragons and what looks like a huge snake, which will have to be dealt with”.
Lee replied “Well, one thing’s for certain, there’s going to be a battle, and I think I saw the beginnings of it headed this way,” and he saw Trinity look a bit nervous as he said it. “Don’t worry, Kiddo, you and me, we are headed home shortly after I report what I found. Can you load up our packs, and meet me in the big chamber, quick as you can?” He asked.
Trinity answered, “Yes! I’ll do it, and I’ll be there in a couple minutes”.
Lee said thanks and turned and headed to find Rotar, Falan the Premier, or all of them. Lee found them all when he was admitted to the Premier’s conference room, and Carr was there also, giving a report. Lee told what he saw, and thought, and looked at the 3 dimensional map, and seeing it had been filled with troops, and such, at different locations on two sides of the fortress, but quite a ways off still. The Premier said, “Good, we now can guess their strategy. They are coming up the eastern valley thinking it will give them cover for surprise,”
Rotar added, “it’s a good plan, if we weren’t ready”, and looked at Falan “How long before the old routes are fully cleared?”
Falan said with a smile, “The last one was cleared just before I arrived. All routes along the ridge top now are open, and being stocked with equipment for the troops. The access ways are primed, and when we want, we can exit, and have the advantage of surprise from above, and behind the enemy”.
Lee saw that they were talking about underground tunnels, with numerous exits extending almost a mile on each side of the eastern valley. “Trinity and I must get back, there are things that need doing, and preparations we need to make”
The Premier said, “The map maker found a portal, it opens inside one of the hidden tunnels here in the fortress, and it also exits inside your fenced in homestead. It’s one that has not been used in at least 4 decades”.
Lee was startled but also grateful, another mystery unveils itself he thought to himself, I have enough mysteries I need to start getting answers. “Thank you, Premiere. Who is to take us to the portal?” Lee asked.
Rotar said, “I will take you there, and we will be preparing for war, while you are away, any idea how long you will be?” he asked. Lee responded, “I wish I knew, but as it stands there are so many questions, and details we need to work out before I can return, hopefully not too long”.
With that, he nodded to the others and exited the chamber, and met the waiting Trinity, who was staring at the painting, and he said, “let’s go, Kiddo!”
To which she replied, “Ok, Uncle Lee, but she did not move, as she watched the battle unfold, between the figure that looked like her uncle, and the giant snake, while in the background she saw Jondar, herself, her and aunt Elena, fighting off enemy troops, as her sister sat in the “Chair”; looking lifeless as the whole interior of the room glowed blue. Trinity suddenly snapped out of it and followed her uncle and Rotar.
As they were getting ready to enter the portal, Rotar said, “Be careful both of you, the scouts reported large numbers of the enemy massing in groups all over, and it looks like they are near portals, it looks as if they are sending armies through, we can’t say where to, but chances are, it’s to your home world”.
Lee said, “Thank you for the info, Rotar, you be careful while we are away. I think it’s going to get very very interesting around here pretty fast, and I don’t have time to make new acquaintances that I can trust!” Lee paused and looked at Trinity “You ready, Kiddo?”
She answered “Yes, let’s go I want to see Mom and Dad”. Lee then turned and walked through the hazy portal, with Trinity one step behind.