17. Compass Bearings
We’d been riding for hours and I felt sore all over. I would have rather ridden in the wagon – at least I knew how to do that. I looked longingly back at it. Everyone else, except Rowan and Carla, was riding like me because it was more convenient than the wagon’s bulk. However, I knew that the wagon slowed us down, and, although it was necessary to have one now, we would probably ditch it once we found Rory because it was less conspicuous to travel solely by horseback.
We stopped for the night just as the sun was setting. The wagon rumbled to a halt in a small clearing that opened onto the road. The trees in the forest were silhouettes and Rowan and the others were nothing more than dark shadows bustling around setting up tents and getting a fire going. As I slid to the ground, Rowan turned to me from where he was standing behind Francesca. “I think it’s time that we had a chat with Rory,” he announced.
“How?” I asked, “You’ve all made it clear that if she doesn’t want to be found we won’t be able to…”
“Remember the other night?” Rowan asked.
“When you tried to kill me?” He nodded. I gulped, knowing that if she caught me that our chance at finding her had slipped through our fingers – and that I would probably be dead.
Rowan laughed. “You’ll be fine, but be careful.”
I took a deep breath preparing for the jump that it would take me to reach Rory and shifted into a comfortable kneeling position beside the wagon – I didn’t trust myself to remain upright after I contacted Rory. Then I let myself expand searching for her presence.
I carefully brushed her mind and delved into it carefully. I immediately sensed something strange. For some reason her consciousness was divided into two separate sections. Her subconscious seemed to be generating a scenario that disguised it as her conscious mind. What confused me was that she carefully guarded her real thoughts outside the protective barrier she had set up. I began my search warily. Suddenly, out of nowhere her voice thundered through me, < Who’s there? >
Desperate not to reveal myself, I tried to suggest that there was nothing and she was imagining things. < No one, > my thought quavered uneasily.
Her voice snapped back at me and I flinched. < Don’t kid around with me, > she barked, < I’m in no mood to be nice. >
I gulped, wondering why she was so angry and upset. It radiated off her in waves, thrashing me repeatedly – not specifically directed at me but at the people who had hurt her. Anger at her past. I attempted to soothe her calmly – and failed calm miserably.
< Luke? > Her thought was wild and bewildered as if she’d had to think about who I was. After a moment, her tone became overjoyed. She couldn’t seem to believe it was me. She quickly explained how someone named Jake had kidnapped her. My thoughts raced trying to figure out how we could help her.
< Rory, > I thought urgently, < We can’t find you if we don’t know where you are. Do you have any idea… > my thought trailed off.
There was a long pause before she answered hesitantly. < You’ll have to cast a Trace, > she said, < I’ll instruct you how but it’s complicated – one of the hardest tracking spells to cast. > She paused and began to direct instructions at me rapidly. I tried to follow them but she thought so quickly that my first attempt fell apart a second later. < Never mind, > she said briskly, < Just try again. > It took me three tries but I finally managed to cast the Trace correctly. I could almost feel a magnetic force pulling us together.
Withdrawing from my mind, she continued to give me instructions. < Okay, to follow the Trace you just have to think about me. It might be a good idea to have a map with you to pinpoint my exact location but you’ll also know when you’re heading in the right direction. > She paused and continued in a fainter tone. I could feel her withdrawing and desperately tried to retain our link. < I have to go now. Best of luck. >
Grudgingly, I retreated from her mind and flowed back into my body. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I felt like I’d run a marathon and done a million math problems at the same time. I rose to my feet but my knees buckled beneath me and I collapsed immediately. Multiple hands reached over me, pulling me to my feet.
“Wha’ ‘appened?” Reynold’s gruff voice sounded in my ear.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled almost incoherently.
Rowan’s face swam before mine. “Okay people give him room!” he ordered loudly, hurting my ears. I covered my ears, cringing. He felt my forehead, answered the mumbled background questions. “No, he’s fine.” he said. “He just overexerted himself.”
I struggled to focus on something but couldn’t. Anything I tried to say was incoherent so with the last of my strength I grabbed Rowan’s arm, trying to get his attention. I forced a link between us and transferred a copy of my memories of my meeting with Rory to him before everything went dark.
When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. I struggled to rise for a moment but a hand on my chest pressed me gently back against the sheets. “Easy Luke,” a soft voice said, “It’s just me, Bridget.”
“Bridget,” I mumbled, “What? Where?”
“Silly,” she laughed, “You’re in the wagon; resting. Feel better?”
I nodded slightly. “What happened? I feel terrible.” I asked.
“We think you overexerted yourself,” she replied anxiously. “But you’ll be fine. What exactly happened anyway? When you grabbed Rowan, he went all stiff, thanked you, and then locked himself in his own tent for the rest of the evening.”
“Rory knew I was there immediately,” I answered slowly, “but I think she was glad I’d found her. Jake or someone’s captured her.” I stopped as Bridget’s face paled dramatically. “What?” I pleaded, “You know who he is, don’t you? Please tell me. I’ve been trying to understand but it’s impossible because I only know little pieces of the story! All I really know is that he’s someone from your past that did something horrible!”
“Sometimes I’m not so sure it was him who did the horrible thing,” Bridget muttered.
“You do know,” I pressed, “Please?”
“Fine!” she snapped. “I’ll tell you. Remember the story Carla told you about our past?” I nodded. “Remember that she mentioned the Uprising? Well Jake was the cause of it.
“First you need to understand how things are set up in the Liberation. Before the Trustees took over Rory held an open council every month that anyone could come to and voice their concerns. Because she valued everyone’s opinion she would lead the meetings personally and then resolve any problems that arose herself. The Trustees don’t hold them because of what happened with Jake. They claim it’s just asking for a rebellion.
“You know that Jake escaped with Rory – and the other eight of us. See they never really got along. I think it was more their methods of leadership than dislike of each other’s personality but what can I say? It was easier before Aatiqah died because she wasn’t in a position of power but after… things heated up between them.
“A few months after Rory assumed leadership Jake began to criticize how she handled the Liberations affairs. You’ve had a taste of how Rory is; you can imagine how his criticism went down. He believed that launching an attack on the Magicians immediately; destroying them in a single sweep would be more effective than the minor raids she had been arranging. He brought up the issue several time in private but she wouldn’t hear a word of it after he’d harassed her for a couple months. So he went to one of the monthly councils.
“The council started normally but it changed everything. People approached the podium, explained their problem and Rory would lead a discussion with the rest of the group to resolve it. After about an hour, Jake approached the front. He had never come to a council before – at least not shared at one – but I guess he thought the only way to get Rory to listen to his argument was to make it public.
“At any rate, he delivered this speech to the Liberation that essentially boiled down to the fact that Rory was an incompetent leader and that her methods were ineffectual against the Magicians. But he talked for hours. It was mesmerizing because he’s an amazing speaker – even if his ideas were sickening. You didn’t hear him speak but it was remarkably convincing. You could see his eyes flashing angrily as he talked; he totally believed what he said.
“After a while, Rory argued back; just as convincingly. I swear they were born to be leaders. The Liberation didn’t have the resources to launch the kind of assault he wanted. If we were to launch that kind of assault, the Magicians would slaughter us before the army even reached a city. The argument continued for hours. They both had so many ideas, so many counter-arguments.
“They suspended their volley of arguments and counter-arguments between them and the people in the city. The arguing went on for days. The whole organization divided. So far, none of Rory’s other closest friends had sided with Jake. We all fiercely tried to reason with him and then the blow came. Samantha sided with Jake. Triumphantly he took his supporters and launched an attack on the Tent City. We resisted his invasion and beat him but not before he’d captured Rory…
“After everything had finished, Aatiqah’s Trustees emerged from wherever they’d been watching the drama unfold and gave their counsel. Actually, they more forced their counsel on us. None of us wanted it but we got it anyway. They’d decided that Jake’s actions were reason enough to deny Rory leadership because she hadn’t managed to prevent the violence that had ensued. I think it was a plot to take leadership of the Liberation for themselves. Rory couldn’t refuse their request that she step down and let them take over; they had too much support. It tore Rory apart though. She’s never really recovered from it and now she’s even more resentful of the cards she’s been dealt.”
She stopped abruptly. Talking about this had hurt her – I could tell. “We’d better go see what everyone else is doing,” she murmured, standing up and starting to leave the wagon. I sighed and followed her. It was time to face everyone else.ns 18.104.22.168da2