On The Trail

From the Story Arc: Hunting High And Low

Previous Story in the Arc: Lone Wolf by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, January 22, 2009)

Next Story in the Arc: Echoes of the Past by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, January 22, 2009)

(posted Thursday, January 22, 2009)

Moira Nagy switched the flashlight off, and Alexie spasmed back to normal. He’d gone wolf wearing his clothing, which was in several pieces, scattered about the field of combat. He was now stark naked, which he wasn’t at all self-conscious about, evidently, because he and Moira set about collecting the pieces, an arm here, half a jacket there. From the bits, it appeared Alexie was accustomed to going commando.

Which pieces he then put on, a bit at a time, and Moira ran a finger along where the seam would have been and the pieces melded together. Red remembered Vickie’s armor, how you could take it off in bits and seal it back on the same way. Magic? Or tech? Probably didn’t matter, but it was a smart way to handle a shape-shift.

Just as he was thinking that, his knees went out from under him and he sat down abruptly on the ground, dizzy and exhausted. He got to his feet immediately, hoping they hadn’t noticed.

They hadn’t. It looked as if they were pretty much in the same shape.

“I think that would be a good indication that we found the right place,” Hosteen said, impassively, as the last of the dead horrors melted into the earth. Red finally looked around.

Forest. Big forest. Old-growth stuff, and not a sign of civilization. It was deathly quiet too, which was to be expected since the local wildlife had probably had the crap scared out of it by the fight. There was no “night” or “day” Underhill, only an endless twilight, unless the inhabitants of a place decided to create regular periods of light and darkness. This looked like one of those “endless twilight” places.

“If that was a reception committee, we need to get moving,” Alexie replied. “They’d only leave that sort of thing if a delay was important. Moira, can you—“

Moira shook her head. “Nothing.”

Reflexively, Red checked his comm.; it was dead. No help there. Probably Vickie’s chip was dead too.

“Then it is up to you and me, Grey,” Hosteen said after a moment. “Start the sweep.”

Alexie and Moira sat down. After a moment, so did Red. Without a word, the two moved out of the area of churned-up turf where the fighting had been, splitting up, and moving outward in overlapping spirals. Hosteen was bent over, examining the ground, while Grey sniffed like a bloodhound.

“Trail,” Hosteen said, a lot sooner than Red had expected he would.

Grey scampered over. “Same scent as on the Gate. No Vickie, though…”

“If she was being carried, there would be no scent on the ground.” Alexie got to his feet. “It’s the best we’ve got.”

Grey nodded, and scampered off, following the scent-trail, with Hosteen behind him, presumably doing some tracking of his own. Red couldn’t imagine what he was seeing; even when he and the others had been on those primitive worlds where tech and powers didn’t work, he’d never gotten the hang of tracking.

Moira and Alexie got up and picked up the duffles, leaving Hosteen unencumbered. After a moment, Red made an abortive little “I’ll take that” gesture to Alexie, who gave him a look, then grunted and swung it towards him. He caught it, and the three of them followed in the wake of the Navaho and the Familiar, as fast as all five of them could manage.