Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 4 of 5

Artie, Lincoln and Alexis kept the horses.  They had left the open ground where they camped, giving the appearance that they intended to leave by the gate and continue their journey.  Huyak’s wife and daughters even came out to wave good-bye, along with Huyak’s married son, the chief gate guard, who eyed them suspiciously.

“The city has several gates,” Lincoln told them, having looked it up in the database.  “No reason Huyak’s son should expect us to leave the city by the same gate we entered.”

Lockhart understood, and when they crossed the main road bridge, it did appear like they were headed for one of the other gates.  They paused on the other side of the river, at the base of the bridge, where some stalls, no doubt dependent on river traffic, had some items of interest.  But in fact, they were looking to see if perhaps they were being followed or spied upon.

Katie pointed out that sending poor men to slink around the city and spy on enemies for the price of a small loaf of bread or a fish was not unheard of, even as far in the past as they were.  But soon enough, they decided the way was safe, so they cut off the main road and on to the back roads and alleys.

Elder Stow’s scanner pulled up a three-dimensional map of the streets.  It showed a red dot where there were people.  He saved a bright yellow dot for zombies.  “Yellow being the sign of stop, danger.”

“We use red,” Alexis said.  Elder Stow did not understand.  “Humans use red for stop and for danger,” Alexis corrected herself about the ‘we’.

“That is nonsense,” Eder Stow responded.  “Red is not a good color in the dark.  Yellow is a bright color that can be seen, even on the darkest night.”

Alexis shrugged as Boston spoke.  “Humans use red for danger.”

“Homo sapiens do everything backwards,” Elder Stow grumped.  “On my sensible map, red dots are people.  Yellow is reserved for the undead.”

“Some of those red dots may be dangerous,” Decker said, and to their unspoken questions, he said, “Daytime guards.”

Elder Stow guided them to a secluded place in the shadow between two buildings.  The warehouse and manufacturing place could be seen on the other side of a grassy area.  It appeared that the building had an open area all around and was isolated from the rest of the city.

“Ripe for making WMDs,” Decker said.

Lockhart got everyone to turn their horses around so they would be pointed away from the building for a possible quick getaway.  They still did not know what they might find, but they all had begun to strongly suspect gas canisters, probably glass balls like they had a hundred years ago, in Balor’s day, and gas making equipment.

“The formula for mustard gas is not hard,” Boston repeated herself.  “All it takes is for someone to discover it.”

“Sulfur is one thing,” Lockhart said.  “Worse would be if they combined it with charcoal and salt-peter.”

“The Masters try that,” Lincoln admitted.  “Several times throughout history.”

Alexis suggested she and Boston could become invisible and go to the building, unseen.  They could open a window to let the others in, but Lockhart nixed that idea.  He was not risking their healer.  She might be needed.  He said nothing about Boston, because he knew she would come, especially if he said she should stay behind.

“Besides,” he said.  “If the goddess is still around and watching, I don’t imagine you will stay invisible for long.”  Alexis did not argue.

“I could go invisible,” Elder Stow suggested.

“No.  We need you to be ready to put a wall screen up,” Lockhart said.  “Mustard gas is a slow creeper, but if there is gas in there, and it gets free, we should be able to get out, but it will probably be right behind us.  We will need the wall to keep it contained until we can ride free.

So, Artie and Alexis kept the horses, with Lincoln presumably watching over the women, and Elder Stow stayed behind to work on his screen device.

The wall in the building that faced the travelers had no windows.  The other three walls had several.  Decker and Boston crept along one side of the building to a window that would let them into a small room.  The shutters were closed and barred from the inside.  Boston got to pull her wand and magically lift the bar to let them in.  It was an outhouse room, but they held their breath.  Decker thought it smelled worse than the mustard gas, but he didn’t say anything.

Lockhart and Katie crept down the other side of the building.  They had to crawl under one window that was open, before they could get to the small room on their side of the building.  They also found the shutters closed, but not barred.  The hinges, no more than strips of leather, made no sound.  Katie got in easily, but Lockhart got half-way through the window when a man came into the room.  The man immediately shouted, but the shout got drowned out by the sound of Katie’s handgun.  The man collapsed, and Katie and Lockhart took a moment to ready Katie’s rifle and Lockhart’s shotgun.  They pulled back the curtain and Katie pointed her weapon to the left while Lockhart pointed to the right.

On one side, there were tables, equipment, and a very sophisticated looking furnace with a chimney that went straight to the roof.  Great glass and metal vats of various chemicals lined the wall, and several catapult-sized empty glass balls looked ready to be filled with a hand pump.  One man worked there at present.  He looked covered, head to toe, in something like burlap.

On the other side, where the big front doors stood at the actual front of the building, a whole rack of filled glass balls looked ready for shipment.  Katie could hardly guess where they might be used.  She imagined the gas would devastate some walled city, with narrow streets that would trap the gas at ground level, and take a long time to dissipate.  Men, maybe a dozen guards armed with big spears, came into the building from that side.

Decker’s and Boston’s heads peeked out from a curtain on the other side.  Decker fired at the men, so Katie added her fire from the other side.  The guards fell rapidly, though the two did not fire long.  Some of the guards survived by ducking behind the mustard gas glass balls.  Not smart.

The man by the work table picked up a small glass ball, but Boston had her Beretta out and shot the man just before Lockhart blasted him with his shotgun.  The little glass ball fell and broke, and no one doubted what the sickly green gas was that seeped out.

One moment of silence followed, and Decker filled it with his shout.  “Get out.  Grenades.”  Boston’s head disappeared.  Katie and Lockhart ran to the window, and did not stop until they reached the horses.  Decker lobbed one grende toward the work area, and the other toward the balls ready for shipment, balls that were probably already cracked by the bullets.  He dove out of the window, and joined Boston, who deliberately ran slow so Decker could keep up.

They all heard the explosions, one, then the other.  The end of the building facing the group collapsed, and they all imagined the gas seeping out and chasing them down the road.  But they mounted and rode.  Elder Stow never had to activate his screen.

When they reached the gate, they found Huyak’s eldest son there with many guards, prepared to block the way.  Katie, up front, raised her rifle and fired several five-shot bursts of bullets as she rode.  The guards either fell or jumped out of the way of the galloping horses.  The travelers burst into the open, but Huyak’s son had men on the walls.  Fortunately, Elder Stow came at the back of the pack, and he switched on the wall screen as they exited the city.  The men on the walls fired on the travelers, but the arrows bounced off Elder Stows screens.  Then they got in the clear.

“The Kairos?” Lockhart asked.  He knew they would have to confess what they had done before they left that time zone.

“My prototype amulet is no good for that,” Katie said.

“That way,” Boston pointed.  “And he appears to be coming our way.”

“She,” Lincoln said quietly.

Boston and Alexis went out front for the time being.  Lockhart and Lincoln switched places with Katie and Artie so they could bring up the rear while Katie and Artie stayed in the center.  Of course, Decker and Elder Stow still had the wings.

Artie talked as they rode.  “That was exciting, and scary, and dangerous…” she thought of every way she could describe the events, and Katie just smiled.  Lockhart smiled, too, but he tried not to show it.  Lincoln went back to reading in the database.

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