The prison tent was just that, effectively. A tent to hold a captive. It didn’t have a big wooden crate or even a metal cage, however. A wooden post had been driven into the ground right in the center of the tent. Alyssa poked her head in to find Volta sitting, chained to the post.
Or, to be more accurate, Illuna’s court arcanist was chained to the post. The court arcanist had both arms in manacles. Someone had put a heavy iron collar around his neck. His arms and legs were covered in bruises. The clothes he had been wearing were torn. One of his eyes had swelled up, turning a fairly nasty purple in the process. Whatever spell cards he might have had were missing entirely. Destroyed or possibly just moved to a different location. The court arcanist looked to be in awfully dire straits.
On the other hand, Volta sat just to the side, arms crossed with a glower on her face. She looked completely unharmed. Irritated, yes, but unharmed. Which… really made Alyssa wonder just how Volta actually worked. The bodies that Volta created were far more tangible than the illusions that Kasita produced. Volta could lift weights with her duplicate body.
But… did she cause the bruises to appear or was the body real enough to actually form bruises? Kasita would have been able to manage that easily enough—though extensive shifts to her illusion did cause a small distortion effect that someone might notice. But what about the torn clothes? Kasita wouldn’t be able to manage that. Did she do something illusory to make people think that they were tearing clothes? Was the clone wearing real clothes? Alyssa had seen Volta form clones fully dressed, but it wasn’t out of the question for the court arcanist to be wearing real clothes. It would certainly help sell the illusion a little more if she could hand a coat to some servant at the start of a meeting. Alyssa wasn’t sure that she would have bothered while out and on her own with only Red around. Which might beg the question of whether bits of her actually came off when parts of the clone were torn.
Unfortunately, Alyssa couldn’t just go up and ask. Volta was not alone. People didn’t tend to leave prisoners completely unguarded. Not even in proper prisons with bars and walls. In a tent with only a wooden post keeping Volta in place, there would obviously be more than just a single guard.
There were four. Two men and two women, all seated around a table. Playing cards, of course, because there was apparently very little to do in this world as an idle activity. She had to wonder what it was like back on Earth. Would a military outpost out in some desert let its guards just sit around playing games on their phones? She doubted it. Then again, a military outpost was probably significantly more likely to be attacked than this camp out in the middle of nowhere.
She wasn’t quite sure what to do about the guards. Nothing she could do was all that… quiet. Spectral Chains didn’t make noise, but they also didn’t stop who they captured from making noise. Most offensive magic that she knew would instantly alert everyone. Even a little fireball was probably too much. She did have a few Fractal Locks. Four of them, in fact. Enough for each of the guards.
But she was somewhat hesitant to use them on the guards. It wouldn’t hurt them—not that she cared about hurting a bunch of kidnappers—but it would consume valuable resources. Fractal Locks were not easy to draw. And they were one of the few things that Alyssa had on hand that could completely stop anything that might be about to harm her. If another apophis popped out of nowhere and started slaughtering this entire camp, she would likely need one just to avoid getting crushed randomly. And it was the one spell that could buy time if something did happen. If Red did go crazy and attacked the draken, Fractal Lock might save Izsha long enough for Alyssa to figure out how to heal properly.
She was pretty sure she should be able to do so. As long as the wounds were superficial enough, anyway. She could probably heal a human a whole lot better given the focus of her research as of late. A draken body was a bit more unknown at the moment. It would probably be a good idea to do some research on all her companions physiologies. Shame the internet didn’t have videos on draken, mimics, and hellhounds.
At least she had confirmation on Volta. Given that Volta did not seem to be in immediate danger, and given that it didn’t look like anyone knew about her true nature as a monster, Alyssa felt she had the time to look around for an alternate option. Even just waiting for nightfall might provide an opportunity if they relaxed the number of guards. Burning all her Fractal Locks might be a bit much, but two would probably be acceptable.
She had, just a week or so ago, sent a text to Jason asking him to reinvent the printing press for use with spell cards. If she could just print off a few dozen of the most complex spells, that would solve a lot of issues. But for now, she was stuck hand drawing everything.
He had responded by saying that it was already on his list.
Technically speaking, she could probably conjure up copies of spell cards. The real problem was accuracy. It took a lot of practice to get things right, she had learned. Being so focused on Irulon as of late, she hadn’t even tried to conjure up a spell card. All her research and practice went into the construction of bodies. With Annihilator, she had learned to not test unproved methods of doing anything out in the field. She wasn’t sure how much could possibly go wrong if she messed up or got unexpected consequences of creating a spell card, but for the moment, she wouldn’t risk it.
Really, getting Volta out probably wouldn’t be a difficult endeavor. Starting a fire at the opposite end of the camp would probably get at least a few of Volta’s guards out there if only to see what all the commotion was about. If she was feeling risky, she could probably just run up to Volta, make sure she got underneath the invisibility shroud, and run off before any guards could do anything about it.
But Alyssa had decided on another objective, if she could manage it.
Someone was behind this attack. Alyssa had a feeling that it was related to the two men having a silent stand-off a few tents over. The arcanist clearly didn’t fit in with this group. Perhaps he was making business for some other reason, but at the moment, he was the prime suspect for who might have directed this group of brigands toward Volta and Red.
It made Alyssa wonder how many other targets that this particular group of brigands had been assigned. They were obviously too large a group to survive off the supplies and goods of a handful of merchants that might be passing on the road. They definitely had funding. They would fall apart otherwise.
Fela looked about ready to rush in there and tackle all the guards. She could certainly do that, but Alyssa was still wary of their chances of escaping once the entire camp became alert. Even under invisibility, getting boxed in wouldn’t go well.
Taking the hellhound’s hand, Alyssa nodded back toward the leadership tent. Fela didn’t look too happy about abandoning a monster in chains. Still, she didn’t protest as Alyssa dragged her back to the other tent.
Through the tent flap, still slightly ajar, Alyssa found that someone else had joined the arcanist and the bored leader. An older man stood to the slouching man’s side, looking rather like a pirate with an eye patch and a wooden leg. When Alyssa poked her head inside, he was just righting himself as if from having leaned down to whisper into the other man’s ear.
For his part, the slouching man still spun his dagger around his finger over and over again.
Alyssa debated slipping fully into the tent. It wasn’t a giant tent, but it was large enough that she and Fela could sit in one corner without accidentally bringing one of the other people into their shroud. It would disturb the tent’s flap a whole lot more than might reasonably be believed of a passing breeze, however. If the opportunity presented itself—a distraction for the three inside the tent, perhaps.
Setting fire to some far off tent was looking more and more appealing. Though that would interrupt the conversation that was taking place here, she supposed.
If what was going on could be called a conversation. Though she suspected that the pirate had been whispering to the leader, all three of them were just glaring at each other. The mild smile on the arcanist’s face was a whole lot more strained now than it had been before. Something told Alyssa that he wasn’t getting his way.
Eventually, the leader stopped spinning his knife, gripping it tightly in his hand. “Your offer has been considered, weighed, and found wanting.”
The last vestiges of the arcanist’s smile slipped into a tight-lipped frown. “Your renegation on our agreement is noted, Chief.”
“I was asked to abduct people. There were no people among the party specified,” he said, making Alyssa wonder just what he thought Volta was. If he knew she was a monster, he really wasn’t taking any precautions in preventing her escape. If given a chance, Volta could probably clone some random guard and simply walk out of camp. The chains certainly wouldn’t hold her to that post. “I lost eight men,” he continued. “Five more are injured, three of whom may never recover.”
Had that all been Red? Probably not. Volta could use spells, so it stood to reason that she had managed to fend off some of her captors as well. In addition, Volta masqueraded as the court arcanist of Illuna. She was probably considered fairly highly ranked.
“I warned you about the arcanist,” the arcanist said with a casual shrug, mostly confirming Alyssa’s thoughts. “It is hardly my fault if you failed to take proper precautions. As for the other… How much damage can a sword actually cause? Just stay away from it. It’s just that easy.”
Spoken like a true arcanist.
And it was apparently the exact wrong thing to say. The leader, this Chief, stopped spinning his dagger once again. He gripped it with the point facing downward and slammed it into the wooden table at his chair’s side.
Alyssa couldn’t help her jump. The pirate jumped as well, as did the arcanist.
Fela started growling until Alyssa elbowed her. Thankfully, it seemed as if no one noticed. The tension in the room was too high for a muffled bit of noise to alert anyone.
The Chief stood, slowly rising to his feet. From his formerly slouched posture, Alyssa wouldn’t have expected him to be a full head taller than she was. He wasn’t as tall as a cyclops or minotaur, but he could cast quite the intimidating shadow.
Not that the arcanist seemed all that worried. His hand did drift down to rest near his stack of spell cards, but he didn’t actually make the move to grab any of them.
“Half again the agreed upon amount,” Chief said, glowering. “Or I’ll show you just how much damage a sword can cause.”
The arcanist simply sighed. “I’ll contact those who hired me, but… I hope you don’t regret this, Chief.”
So he is just another middle-man, Alyssa thought with something of a scowl. People hiring people to hire people to send people out to kidnap her friends. Irritating. If someone wanted something done, they should just do it themselves.
Pulling Fela back with her, Alyssa moved well out of the way of the tent flaps. The arcanist emerged a second later, striding off with a grim frown on his face. For a moment, Alyssa considered sticking around to listen in on the Chief, but decided against it. The arcanist was clearly higher up on the ladder of people of interest. And if he was going to go off and contact his superiors, he was probably going to go send a Message. A Message that would instantly tell Alyssa the name of whoever he was trying to contact. A random name in this world might not mean much to her, but perhaps Irulon, Volta, or Martin would know.
However, following the arcanist didn’t take them to a private area where one might send a Message. Rather, the arcanist headed directly toward a ring of wagons at the far back of the camp. Which, Alyssa decided, must have been their primary way of transporting all the tents and cots and other stuff that made up this camp. There were a good two dozen wagons—some with canvas covers, some that looked like they could have covers, and some completely without. They were all arranged in a large ring with rope tying them all together.
They created a… pasture, for lack of a better word. Horses, oxen, donkeys, and a few cows all meandered about.
Alyssa guessed what was going to happen well before the arcanist walked around the loop of wagons to a dusty brown horse that had been hitched to a wheel. He wasn’t going to send a Message at all. He was going to ride off to find his superiors. Did that mean they were nearby? Alyssa had half a mind to follow him. If they were close enough to reach by horse in such a reasonable amount of time that sending a Message was superfluous, they were probably just off around a hill.
But that would mean leaving the camp and Volta behind and unsupervised. Which probably wouldn’t be an issue—Volta didn’t seem to be in much danger at the moment—were it not for this little disagreement between middle-men. Alyssa didn’t think it would be out of the question for the Chief to have Volta moved somewhere else just in case the arcanist returned with a few friends to trash the place until they got what they came for. Fela could probably track Volta anywhere they could take her, but it felt a little dangerous to leave that up to chance.
For the moment, she just stared, watching as the arcanist rode off. A small part of her kind of hoped that he would turn toward where Red and the draken were, but that wasn’t the case. He headed straight toward where the road to Illuna should be, assuming Alyssa hadn’t gotten all turned around. For a moment, Alyssa considered sending a Message to Izsha to intercept or follow the arcanist. That idea disappeared as soon as it came, rejected for too much risk and too little to gain. Izsha would have no way of communicating back to Alyssa anything that happened and… well, he was an arcanist. He probably had spells to deal with threats at range. He had already dismissed the sword as a threat. The draken might be faster than Red, but they still only had their bodies as weapons.
Shaking her head, Alyssa headed back toward the Chief’s tent. Maybe he did have something useful to say.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the tent when Alyssa got back to it. Neither was anyone else for that matter. Alyssa did a quick check of the nearby souls, worried that they had gone straight to Volta, but found nothing to be concerned over. Volta was still where Alyssa had last seen her and there were still only the same small group of guards in the room. Still playing cards, judging by their position. No one looked like they were heading toward the tent either, though that was a bit harder to make out. She would have to keep an eye out.
“Well,” Alyssa said as she slipped into the tent with Fela at her heels. “Ideas?”
“About what?” Fela said, keeping her voice down. “Where that guy is going? Trashing this place? Getting the monster out of here alive?”
“Any of them. All of them?”
“Don’t know about the first, but the second and third are easy enough. Let’s just do it. You and I can take them all. And our friends will back us up once they notice.”
That was probably true. Though not in the way Fela was thinking, certainly. Alyssa wished she had Fela’s confidence in her abilities, but she didn’t see how she could fight off a hundred people so easily. Or casually. The part that was true was that she could probably kill them all and she wouldn’t even need to call down Red and the draken to do so. Using the power of angelic creation, she could create all kinds of nasty things. From napalm to chlorine gas. They would be far simpler than creating a human body. She could probably even create a gas mask for herself and Fela.
Of course, she didn’t know how Volta might react to a nerve agent seeping through the camp. She would have to make another gas mask and get it on her before doing anything like that. Not that she wanted to. Something about the situation made her balk. A hundred people. If she wasn’t already a mass murderer, killing over a hundred people before they even realized what was going on would surely make her one.
It might be a silly concern. These people were obviously bad people. She had already decided that earlier. They were mercenaries who would kidnap and likely enslave anyone that they happened across. It probably didn’t matter that Volta and Red weren’t human. These people probably attacked regular human merchants whenever they found a good opportunity to do so.
They were a far larger group and far more organized than Alyssa had thought brigands and highwaymen would be after hearing about attacks on travelers from Brakkt and Oz. There were so many that it really made her wonder if Oz’s group could really have defended Raugis had someone actually put a price on her head. Perhaps they were wary of any kind of trouble. The Chief seemed angry and upset that a few of his men had wound up killed and injured.
In fact, that was almost certainly it. Running a group like this would be impossible if the people here thought ten of them were going to be sacrificed with every job they took. Taking that into consideration, they probably did only attack completely defenseless caravans. A few people from the guild would likely be enough to dissuade them.
Tenebrael would say something about how silly she was being. She could almost picture the angel floating in front of her with a half a smile on her face, mentioning that Alyssa had killed plenty just with that first Annihilator and those had hardly been the only ones dead by her hand. These people were probably morally more acceptable targets too. They weren’t plotting genocide, but they didn’t even have any goals or ideals behind their kidnapping and likely murder aside from their next payday.
And Tenebrael would probably be right about all that.
Cracking her neck side to side, Alyssa glanced at Fela. “We’ll wait until nightfall. If the guards relax and we can slip Volta out, we’ll do so. Otherwise…” Pressing her lips together, Alyssa looked around the tent. “For now, let’s see if we can find any useful information.”