Chapter 7: Many Friends
Rex followed along in the back of the group carrying the Enforcer class automaton’s right arm. He’d ripped it off of the automaton’s chassis and he found that it was surprisingly heavy, what with the cannon and all. Every now and then, Rex thought that he saw the cannon moving, but it was probably just his imagination.
The resisters were heading in the direction of No Man’s Landing. (It was a lot farther than he first suspected.) Rex wondered if there was another Resistance base there other than “The Beacon.” Connie was leading them to a Resistance meeting, so it was either there or somewhere new.
After walking for a few hours (and getting sore feet) they arrived at the northern border of No Man’s Landing by sunset. Mark led them into town, on the eastern side, and they eventually sat at some benches scattered around sickly trees. (There they were able to rest their feet!) No automatons were in sight, at least for now.
Kieran approached Mark and Connie. “You brought us all the way here, but I don’t see any Resistance base around.” Kieran eyed them suspiciously. “How do we know this isn’t some kind of trap?”
“Trap?” Connie said indignantly, “Why would it be a trap? You just saved our lives!”
“Easy, Connie,” Mark said, placating her. Turning to Kieran, he said, “Don’t worry. The Resistance base is very close. In fact, it’s right beneath your feet.”
Kieran shifted his weight uncomfortably. “What do you mean?”
Connie took a breath, smiled knowingly, and rested her hand on the large tree she was standing nearby. Frowning, she looked at the tree and began running her hands along it. “Where is that secret knot?”
Mark stepped over to the tree and pressed his thumb inside a small ring. Part of the tree cracked open a bit.
Connie smiled, blushing, “Thanks, bro.”
She pushed the tree section inward--it was a secret door. Within, stairs led downward. Beneath No Man’s Landing.
Kieran stood stunned. “What?”
Cody looked over the tree. “Cool… but… uh-”
“How does that even work?!” Kieran asked, finishing Cody’s question.
“Springs,” Connie said. “Levers, pistons, it’s quite simple really.”
Kieran frowned and turned away to gather the others.
“This is where the meeting will be.” Mark said, “You can all rest safely here tonight.”
Rex looked up from his sore feet. “Rest?! I’m coming!”
The rest of the group reluctantly got back to their feet and walked over to the tree.
Connie entered first, followed by Rex and Kieran. Orion and Kitty walked in after that, then Cody. Mark came last, checking for any automatons before shutting the door.
Rex walked down the creaky wooden steps, unable to see his way in the dark. He used the dirt walls on the side of him to feel his way down, but even then he had to catch himself from tripping a few times.
“How much longer?” Rex asked, eager to rest his feet.
“We’re just getting down to the bottom now,” Connie said.
That was a relief. This whole “walking down stairs in the dark” thing was getting old.
They entered a larger room that looked as though it could hold many people. Currently, however, no one was present. There were a few doors on the left, right, and far walls.
“Hm,” Connie said, “It looks like we’re the first ones here. Well. Make yourselves at home. I think the sleeping quarters are there on the right, and that room over there, as you can see, is the kitchen.”
“You think?” Kieran said, resuming his suspecting glare.
“We don’t come to this place often,” Mark said. “We only use it when we’re organizing meetings between several bases. That way, if anyone turns out to be a traitor, they won’t gain the location of any of our bases.”
Kieran waited a moment before nodding.
“All right,” Kitty said, setting down the heavy Enforcer torso and wiping his forehead, “Where are we supposed to put all of this?”
Rex didn’t hear any more of the conversation because he had already thrown the Enforcer arm somewhere and ran to the sleeping quarters.
“Hey, Rex,” Kitty said.
Rex was sitting on his bed. He claimed it as his own, and he was relaxing. “Yeah?”
“You know it’s not time to sleep, right?” Kitty responded, “The meeting is starting any moment now.”
“But, I’ve only been here for like, two seconds!” Rex sighed.
“Well,” Kitty said, “Nobody told you it was bedtime… Anyways, everyone else is out eating doughnuts in the main room. The resisters coming to the meeting should be arriving any--”
Rex shot up out of bed, “Did you say doughnuts?!!!”
“Uh, yeah?” Kitty replied.
Rex threw off his covers, “I thought you said peanuts. This changes everything!” He ran off before Kitty could say another word.
It turned out that there were actually “peanut” doughnuts, but that did not matter to Rex. There were three when he got there, and none when he left. Mark, who was standing behind the kitchen counter and facing the main room, approached the now-empty doughnut tray and raised an eyebrow.
Kieran discreetly shielded his doughnut from Rex’s gaze, while Cody (who was sitting at the same table) quickly ate his doughnut whole.
“Rex!” Kieran said with his mouth full. “Where have you been? We have company!”
“Who is it?” Rex asked, his gaze searching around the room. “The Empire? Zaul Grimm?!”
Kieran frowned, “No. They’re the resisters that we’re going to have a meeting with. Come on, pipsqueak, everyone’s been saying that!”
Rex looked at his mentor indignantly. “The nicknames have to stop,” he said desperately.
Kieran just smirked and shoved another doughnut in his mouth.
Rex turned to look at the conversation going on in the room. There were two new faces. One of them was a confident woman of above-average height, with black hair, tan skin, and piercing green eyes. The other was a remarkably less confident young man of below-average height, orange hair, and brown eyes. The new woman and Connie were doing most of the talking, although everyone else in the room (except for the young man) was chiming in as well.
Kitty entered the room and walked towards the center. Mark brought out another tray of doughnuts--pink-frosted ones, with sprinkles. He inclined the tray towards Kitty. Kitty shook his head and took a seat at Connie’s table. Orion rose and grabbed a doughnut.
Connie pointed at Rex and then the newcomers looked at him. Did I forget to comb? Rex thought self-consciously. Rex nervously touched the top of his head.
“And who is this?” the tall woman asked, smiling confidently at him as she approached.
Rex swallowed nervously, standing. “I’m Rex Balckdash-er, I mean Blackdash,” he quickly added.
“It’s good to meet you,” the woman said, approaching him and offering her hand, “My name is Evangeline Blackroad.”
Rex put forward one hand, but it was the hand holding the doughnuts. He put them down and then shook Evangeline’s hand.
“And this,” Evangeline said, motioning to her companion, “Is Philip von Day.”
Philip smiled, looking even more nervous about the crowd than Rex was, “Hi.”
Rex waved at Philip. Somehow, knowing that he wasn’t the only person nervous about large groups put Rex at ease. A little.
Connie spoke to Rex, “Evangeline is the commander of the base me and Mark are from. She’s presiding over the meeting today and then she’ll be in charge of operations for whatever mission is ultimately decided on.”
Rex nodded. “What are we going to be doing?”
“That’s what we’ll be deciding tonight,” Evangeline said, “But don’t worry. Whatever we do, I assure you the Empire won’t like it.”
“In the meantime, sir,” Mark said to Evangeline, “Would you like to see that new automaton we’ve captured? It’s in the back.”
“Yes, Mark,” Evangeline replied, “I think I’ll go see that now.”
Mark walked off and Evangeline followed, with Philip trailing behind her.
Connie smiled, “You’ll like her. She’s a great commander. She’s smart and her mind works fast, and she’s also kind and fair.”
She and Philip sat down at the nearest table, which was where Orion was seated; at the same time, Rex sat back down next to Kieran, who had half of a doughnut sticking out of his mouth.
A few minutes later, everyone was still waiting for someone else to arrive at the base. Did anyone know they were here? What if they couldn’t find the secret knot?
Kieran was looking at Rex, who appeared to be having a heated staring contest with the door, daring it to open.
“You know,” Rex’s mentor said to him, “Staring at the door isn’t going to make anyone come through.”
“Just watch me,” he said.
Suddenly, the door to the base opened. Rex yelled “Finally!” He turned to Kieran and smirked, “Told you!”
Kieran rolled his eyes.
The resisters looked to see who was coming. A man entered the room. He was pale in complexion and had brown hair. He seemed to be in his late twenties or early thirties, and he looked about the room. He seemed excited but at the same time tempered with a natural calmness. He saw the resisters sitting and walked towards them.
Evangeline smiled, coming in from the back of the base, “Our first arrival. Welcome to our humble staging area. I’m Evangeline, the commander here. What’s your name, friend?”
He shook her hand, “Curtis. Curtis Jarshine.”
“It’s good to meet you, Curtis,” Evangeline said, “Is anyone else coming from your base?”
“No ma’am. Just me.”
“All right,” Evangeline replied, “You’re free to introduce yourself to the rest of the Resisters and have some snacks.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Curtis saluted and then turned to the other resisters. They had a little conversation, and Curtis took a pink-frosted doughnut.
Mark brought out another tray of doughnuts--these were golden brown.
“Why are there so many doughnuts?” Kieran asked, inspecting one of the golden rings. “And why am I eating so many of them?”
“I don’t know,” Mark said, “These are what logistics sent in. Don’t worry though, I think these are the healthy ones. They’re made with honey.”
Kitty started, “Wait, what?” He stood up and got one.
There was a knock at the base entrance. After a few moments, the door swung open and crashed into the wall, startling everyone in the vicinity. A pair of figures emerged from the dark hall. The first was a young man with light brown hair, a fair complexion, and a smiling face. The second was a young woman with dark brown hair and a calm, pensive look about her.
The man’s head swiveled as he searched the room. Then, his jaw dropped open in a ridiculous-looking grin and he raised his arms to either side of him, “Kitty! My bud!” He began running.
Kitty glanced his way, smiling, “Orville! Tess!”
Orville rammed into Kitty, hugging him. After a moment, he stepped back and glanced around, as if searching, “Aaaaaaand...I don’t know any of the rest of you, but it’s nice to meet everyone regardless!”
“Hi Kitty,” Tess said softly, smiling.
“I didn’t know the two of you were coming!” Kitty said.
“I didn’t know you were coming!” Orville said, “I thought you were in Evercity. Man, it’s been so long!” he hugged Kitty again.
“It’s been four days.”
Turning to the rest of the confused and somewhat worried Resisters, Kitty said, “Everyone, these are my friends--Orville and Tess.”
Cody looked at the newcomers and smiled. Rex and Connie stepped forward and introduced themselves.
Evangeline approached, “Welcome to the base, my friends.”
As soon as the doors had closed completely, they burst open again, crashing into the wall once more, and another figure came into the base. He had dark brown hair, was clean shaven, and looked around the age of twenty-one.
He scanned the people in the room and then he froze. “Cody?” he asked. He ran over to Cody and hugged him.
Cody looked confused. “Sorry, who… are you?”
The man was taken aback. “Don’t you remember me? It’s Cilvan.”
Orville frowned, “How did we not see him when we went in the secret tree?” He turned to his friend, “Tess, we were not observant enough.”
Kitty stepped forward and spoke to Cilvan, “Cody’s been having some trouble with his memory.”
Cody looked at Cilvan and smiled apologetically.
Cilvan backed away slowly, frowning, “We were fighting the Empire...at the Ebony Spire. You don’t remember any of that?”
“Ebony Spire?” Cody said, furrowing his brow. “I… I remember that name… sort of.”
“Wait,” Kitty said, “You two were at the Battle of the Ebony Spire?”
Orville clapped his hands, “I knew you looked familiar!”
“Yeah, we were there.” Cilvan said. “The last I saw Cody he was charging towards the stairway with a bunch of other resisters.”
Rex blinked. Was he the only one in this room who wasn’t at the Battle of the Ebony Spire?
Cilvan was looking at Cody for any glimmer of recollection, but Cody looked down sadly.
Cilvan looked at Cody resolutely, “Even if you don’t remember, I’m glad you’re alive. I thought I had lost you, my friend. Now we can continue to fight the Empire, together.”
“Well,” Kieran said suddenly, “That’s real dandy and all, but we’ve been spending far too much time talking and eating…” Kieran held up a frosted ring in his hand. “Doughnuts. We should get down to-”
The base door swung open and crashed into the wall a third time. The poor hinges weren’t able to take the strain and the door broke loose from its moorings. It tottered a few moments before crashing onto the floor, throwing up dust.
A woman with black hair, a keen face, and piercing eyes stepped through the rising dust, waving her hand back and forth and coughing as everyone looked on in confusion.
“That door is a piece of garbage,” the woman said.
A man with hard features and blond hair came in behind the woman and looked around the room.
Orville’s smile grew wider, and he put his arms out to either side, “Raven! Ken! My buds!”
“Hi Raven,” Tess smiled.
“I see we’re not the first ones here,” Raven said, smiling back, “Hey Tess, Orville,” she searched the crowd, “Kitty.”
“Hi Tess,” Ken said.
Rex frowned. “I hope there are enough doughnuts for everybody.”
Mark, who was still standing in the kitchen, shook his head slowly.
“So,” Raven asked, walking up to the group, “Who are all of the rest of you?”
Connie stepped forward, extremely excited, “Hey! Welcome to the meeting! I’m Connie, and that’s my brother Mark. And these are Kieran, Cody, Rex, Curtis, Orion, Philip, and...um…” she hesitated, frowning at the remaining resister.
“Cilvan,” the man answered.
“Right, sorry.” She smiled at Raven, “It’s good to meet you.”
“And you,” Raven replied. “Is everyone here yet?”
“I’m not sure,” Connie said, “Evangeline would know.”
She looked around for the base commander, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“Where did she…?” Rex began.
“I’ll get her,” Philip said, quickly getting up from the table and leaving the room.
Mark left the kitchen and joined up with the main group. He looked around, a steady expression on his face.
“So,” Curtis said to Mark and Connie, “The two of you are Resisters under commander Evangeline?”
“Yep!” Connie said.
“So what do you do?”
Connie stepped over to her brother and grabbed him by the arm. Mark looked at her, only a little bit annoyed, but he overcame it quickly.
“We are a two-Resister elite scouting team,” Connie said, eyes sparkling. “My brother’s in charge since he’s more experienced and he’s the more logical of the two of us. He’s also the better fighter.”
Without emotion, Mark added, “And Connie has an intuition about her. She notices things that would never cross my mind. That’s why we work so well together. But Connie, you’re the better fighter.”
She smiled and slapped his arm, “Ah, you’re too modest, bro.”
Mark grinned at her slightly, “We’re both good at what we do.”
“Hey,” Tess said quietly, “So...Raven? Kitty? Can I show you something?”
Curtis didn’t hear her. He replied to Connie and Mark. “Thank you. That’s good to know.”
“What about you?” Connie asked, “What do you do?”
“Raven?” Tess prompted.
“I’m one of the lieutenants for the base I’m from,” Curtis said to Connie, “I serve under a brilliant commander -– perhaps the best that I’ve ever seen. He’s a great man, and I’m very proud to call him my friend.”
“Sounds like a nice guy,” Connie said, “Should I know him?”
“I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to share at this meeting,” Curtis said, “But I’d love to introduce all of you to him one day. You really must meet him.”
“I’ll remember that,” Raven said.
Tess sighed. “Never mind.”
“Wait,” Mark said, and everyone turned to him. “Tess was trying to say something.”
“Oh!” Connie said, “I’m sorry. What is it, Tess?”
Everyone looked at Tess, who was unable to speak for a moment. She blushed at the sudden attention. She looked at Mark, smiled, and then looked at Kitty, then at Raven. “I just wanted to say...I just wanted...Well, I drew this picture. I thought it might encourage you if you saw it. Do any of you want to see it?” She hung her head, embarrassed.
“Yes,” Raven said, “I’d love to see it.”
“Okay.” Tess produced a folded slip of paper. She opened it and then showed it to the group.
It was a wonderfully drawn picture of the Scarlet Man, standing on a hill above a great crowd of people, with his arms outstretched and Aether spreading out over all of them as the sun rose in the background, gold and violet burning around the red-cloaked figure.
“Wow,” Raven said, “That’s really good.”
“Yeah,” Kitty agreed, “Nice work, Tess.”
A few others commented their approval.
“It’s beautiful,” Mark said, looking up from the drawing and into Tess’s eyes, “I can almost feel the hope pouring out of it. Thank you for showing it to us.”
Tess’s eyes moistened, and she smiled back at Mark. He grinned at her.
Ken’s eyes darted between the two of them. He frowned.
“So,” Kieran said, “When are we getting down to business?”
“I guess whenever Evangeline gets back,” Connie said.
“What’s that?” Tess asked, pointing towards the deconstructed Enforcer.
“A new automaton model that we were able to capture,” Mark said.
“Can I see it?” Tess asked.
Mark paused for a moment, then nodded, “Sure. I’ll show you.”
They walked off to look at the Enforcer.
“So, Raven,” Kitty said, “Have you seen Auriel lately?”
“Yeah,” Raven said, “A few days ago. When she left the Spire, she was heading off to the Area Delta with a few others to help the impoverished people there.”
Kitty smiled, “It’s so great that she’s doing that.”
Tess gasped from across the room.
“What is it?” Rex exclaimed.
Tess was aghast, her hands covering her mouth, “This Enforcer! It’s...It’s made with Old Tech!”