The soldiers examined the contents of the trays. One of the soldiers commented, "Why are they getting food this late?"
The other guard said, "It's the lot from Jai Vye. Still a little time-sick I'd imagine."
Mikaen and Teria traded a look of triumph at this. Their suspicions had been correct.
The guard put the cover back on the trays. "All right. Go on in."
As Teria and Mikaen entered the tent, Mikaen said, "All right, who's hungry?"
To his great relief, no one in the tent appeared to be injured. Rydiana was sitting in the corner, Tyrn holding her close and whispering reassuringly in her ear. Next to them was another sentient with white feathered wings and a dour expression, a Galden with a smile that looked as though it had been chiseled onto his face, and a short and rather pretty woman that Mikaen recognized as a Rimstakken. There were a few idestans as well, but of more immediate interest was the man in the green-and-gray striped shirt laying back in a chair as though he hadn't a care in the world.
Mikaen couldn't help himself. "Of course you'd be here."
"Who, me?" One said innocently. "I was just taking a stroll through the forest when I was captured!"
"Really." It was Teria who spoke, her voice laced with sarcasm.
The cheerful-looking Galden smacked his lips. "Is that for us? I was just thinking about food." As he reached for the tray, Mikaen noticed that the young man's arms and legs were cybernetic. Save for the dark gray skin and the joints, they looked remarkably similar to normal limbs.
The sentient with the dour expression looked at the cyborg with an expression of disgust. "By the Creator, Maxim! How can you think about food at a time like this?"
Maxim shrugged."You don't want any, just say so, Kajex. I'll eat it myself; it smells delicious. How 'bout you, Tyrn? Rydiana?"
When the young lovers didn't respond, Kajex snorted, saying, "Tyrn, if you keep staring at her like that, you'll go cross-eyed."
The shorter girl put down the complicated bit of machinery she had been poking at. "Well I am certainly having hunger. We've all of us been put to walking all day, and the only thing I've been having to eat is a package of peanuts with an overabundance quantity of salt."
One hopped up from his seat and walked to Teria. "I'll take that."
"What are you doing here?" She hissed, not letting go of the tray."
"Just trying to be helpful."
"I don't need your help, Glen."
They wrestled with the tray for a few moments before One finally wrested it from her grasp. He blew a raspberry at her before handing the tray to the Rimstakken.
She took the tray from him a little hesitantly. "Much thanks, Mister Glen."
"Null problem." One said, turning back to Mikaen and Teria, "Mind if I see one of your rifles for a sec?"
This drew curious glances from everyone in the room. The stares went from curious to shocked when Mikaen actually handed One the rifle.
"Ah, nothing quite like a Salvine Combine Rifle, Keergo model if I'm not mistaken." One popped out the clip, revealing a glowing blue battery. Slapping the clip back into place, he continued, "Still new, from the looks of it. Y'know, the Jarre series tended to have sticky triggers."
He paused for a moment before raising the rifle skyward and firing off a shot. Everyone jumped except for Mikaen and Teria.
"Ah, good; looks like they fixed it in the new series." One grinned and promptly tossed the weapon at Maxim, who reflexively caught it with a single cybernetic hand.
The guards posted at the front of the tent rushed into the tent and pointed their rifles at Maxim. "Drop it!"
Maxim dropped the rifle, the bewildered expression on his face almost making Mikaen laugh. "Okay, take it easy! This is all just a simple misunderstanding!"
Silently moving behind the soldiers, Mikaen put his hands on their shoulders and gave them just enough of a shock to knock them out cold.
"Nice." Teria said as the guards collapsed to the floor.
"There will be more coming." Mikaen said. "One, could you-"
"On it." With a snap of his fingers, One's clothes became those of a Galden Guard. Mikaen suppressed a chuckle when his HUD identified One as 'Private D. Fault'. With a nod at Mikaen, One stepped out of the tent.
"Relax." Mikaen heard him say. "False alarm; Benson forgot to set his damn safety again." The sound of departing soldiers soon followed.
Kajex leapt to his feet. "What in Nocturnes is going on here?"
Teria pulled off her helmet, and tossed it on the ground. "Keep your feathers on, Kajex. We're here to help."
Kajex stared at her for a few moments before finally managing a weak, "Teria? But how ...?"
Mikaen picked up his rifle and tossed it to Maxim, saying, "I trust you know how to use this."
"Oh, hell yeah!" Maxim caught the rifle in midair, spun it in his hands, and tucked it beneath his arm as though he had grown up using one (which Mikaen conceded might very well be the case), "A rescue party! I was just thinking of bustin' outta here."
"Easy there, Maxim." said Teria. "There's a small army out there, and only a few of us. Let's get everyone to safety before we start blasting everything in sight. Right, Mikaen?"
"Who-" Kajex began, looking from Mikaen to One.
"Well handle introductions later." Mikaen glanced around. "You all ready to get out of here?"
Mikaen left the tent first, giving One a quick nod before looking around carefully for any sign of more guards. Seeing none, he motioned the others to follow him and started walking the way that they had entered the camp. Tirinia and Jeronem caught up with him moments later, both leading another group of former-prisoners.
"Thanks for that." Mikaen whispered to One as they made their escape, "I wasn't sure how I was going to get them out."
"Eh. You woulda figured out something. Still, I'm glad you showed up; I was gonna have to bust 'em out the old fashioned way if you didn't." Headache appeared on One's arms. "Not that I don't like a good scrap, but it never pays to advertise your presence when you're a Dreamer."
As Mikaen led the group through the encampment with One and Teria keeping an eye out for trouble, a sense of unease slowly spread through him. They hadn't run into any soldiers, and the group as a whole was doing a good job being quiet. In short, the rescue was going without a hitch. In Mikaen's experience, that was never a good sign.
He felt his tension begin to peak as they neared the tree line. If something was going to happen, it would be now or never. Fortunately for everyone involved, it turned out to be never; they slid into the forest without so much as a sign of another guard.
The entire group relaxed visibly once they were a good distance away from the Galden camp, though they kept conversation limited to barely audible whispers.
Teria wasted no time in ditching her uniform. Tossing it aside, she muttered, "'bout damn time. Let's beat feet back to elf land."
As they started back, Mikaen moved over to One. "I don't suppose you know why the Galden went to all this trouble?"
"I seriously doubt they came her to kidnap people." One said. "I mean, if they wanted to ransom the delegates, why bother with the others?"
"Agreed." Mikaen said. "What are you thinking?"
"Well, I wasn't there long, but from what little I did overhear from the guards, I think the kidnappings were incidental; they're doing something here they don't want anyone reporting to Jyle."
"I dunno … but I bet Shae does. She talked quite a bit with Biggs, as I recall. Hey, Shae!"
The Rimstakken glanced at One curiously. He motioned her over. "Could you come here a sec, please?"
She walked over, an intrigued expression on her face. Mikaen noticed Kajex moving subtly closer to them, the sentient's gaze focused pointedly away.
"Yeah, he's had a crush on her for years." One whispered as Shae drew near. "Hasn't told her yet. Cute, huh?"
"Can I be of helping assistance?" She asked politely.
"Indeed, you can." One said, "Did you get any information from Biggs or Wedge when they were guarding the tent?"
"Wedge is giving me his cell number." Shae said, blushing a little.
"Okay." One said, a ghost of a smile on his face. "My bad, I shoulda specified. Any useful information, maybe about what the Galden are doing here?"
"Well … I was overhearing their conversation to each other. Quite the pair, they were being." A look of concern crossed her face. "I am hoping you didn't injure them in the process of taking-"
"They're fine." Mikaen assured her. "Just asleep. Please continue."
"Well, they were speaking of the cavern that is resting at the far end of the ravine. I am believing they spoke of a great sleeping beast in the cavern."
"I think they were having named it a dragon, if such a thing is within belief."
"Dragon?" Jeronem looked torn between excitement and panic, "As in big, scaly, winged, fire-breathing monster that devours people by the dozen?"
Mikaen drew in a sharp breath. Dragons were not myths, and even friendly ones were not to be taken lightly. Perhaps the Galden hoped to capture the dragon and study it. The Revs had tried a similar tactic back on Earth. Mikaen had visited the burnt out shell of the research facility once; it hadn't worked out quite like the Revs hoped.
The Galden obviously didn't want anyone to know they were there. Whatever their purpose was, Mikaen felt certain that it was only part of something bigger … perhaps even a preamble to war.
"Okay." He said, turning around, "I'm going to head back and get a little more recon."
Tirinia blocked his path with surprising speed. "Oh, no you aren't! You're near your Gineros, remember?"
Mikaen took her hand, and rubbed it against the side of his cheek. "I'll be fine."
"You aren't going. I will knock you out and carry you back if I have to." The matter-of-fact way she said that, coupled with the stubborn expression on her face caught Mikaen completely by surprise. Even without the bond between them, he could tell that she wasn't exaggerating.
"I told you the shy thing was a ruse." Teria said with a chuckle.
Tirinia blushed, but held her stance.
After glancing between the two of them for a moment, One gave a polite cough to break the tension. "Tell you what, Tyr; I'll go with him and keep him from doing anything stupid. That good enough for you?"
"Uh-huh." Teria poked One in the shoulder. "And who's going to keep you from doing anything stupid?"
One raised his hands. "Hey, I'm not the one who just put on a cursed hat she found hanging from a tree branch."
"Yeah, but I did pull your ass out of the fire when you pissed off that coven in Fairhaven … or have you already forgotten what it was like to be slimy and covered with warts?"
"No, I didn't forget. I didn't forget you accidentally blowing that stream reactor in Brigsonstrat to hell because you thought you could fix Rimstakken programming without knowing the language either!"
Everyone was staring at the two of them. As they glared at each other, Maxim was the first to say something.
"Geez, you two." He said, chuckling. "Get a room already."
One met Teria's gaze again. Mikaen thought he detected a note of surprise in the Dreamers eyes; perhaps the reintegration of his memories was happening faster than he expected. Whatever the case, Teria eventually gave One a curt not.
"Okay." Tirinia said after looking at One thoughtfully for a few moments. "But his back so much as twitches-"
"-I'll get him back to Muonsol, don't worry." One said.
She stared at Mikaen, who smiled back at her reassuringly. "I'll be fine."
"Okay." She said, turning back to One, "but if he gets hurt, I'm blaming you."
Sighing, One held up his hand and said, "I promise he won't get hurt, Dreamer's honor." He stared at Teria, as though daring her to say something. She snorted, but remained otherwise silent.
Tirinia turned back to Mikaen. Without warning, she threw her arms around him and gave him a kiss that made everyone else blush.
"Be careful." She whispered before slipping away to rejoin the group of rescued prisoners.
With a nod at her sister, Teria turned back to the group. "All right, we're heading back to Muonsol. Keep up or you're getting left behind!" With a final glance at One, she led the group away.
"Better switch uniforms in case someone else gets the joke." One clapped his hands together, his fake uniform vanishing. "It'd be a shame to screw our winning streak, eh?"
"What do you mean by that?" Mikaen asked as One slipped on Wedge's uniform.
"Well, you were supposed to run into some kind of problem during the rescue. Guess even Teach's wrong every now and then." The thought seemed to give One satisfaction. Mikaen was curious, but he decided not to ask.
"We'd better get moving." One said as he pulled on the Galden headgear, "Hate for the next watch shift to find us missing, eh Biggs?"
"Of course, Wedge." Mikaen replied with a grin.