A minute later Gavant led us back through the building—spaceship, I reminded myself. What appeared to be most of the surviving Meregan (and I only saw depressingly few for a group that was supposed to represent their entire living race aside from the children) were cleaning up the bodies, both their own and the others. I gave a weak shudder at the dark and unwanted realization that every Meregan they’d lost in that single battle actually affected the percentage of their surviving race significantly.
As we moved down one of the halls we hadn’t explored, I forced that extremely troublesome thought aside to ask, “What can you tell us about this enemy of yours, the one who stole your children? Do you know where he comes from, what he can do, what he wants, where he set up his base, any of that?”
He gave me a brief glance before returning his attention to the corridor. He sighed. “We are knowing much of this threat, more than we are wishing. He is being one of you, Friends-Flick and Shiori.”
“Wait, what?” Shiori put in, her own eyes widening along with mine. “What do you mean, one of us?”
“I am meaning,” the big man explained, “that he is being one of the People-Heretics. He is being one.”
My mouth worked a couple times and I stopped walking for a second, staring at the man as he turned to look back at us. “This guy that took all your children, you mean he’s a Heretic? Like, one of our Heretics? And he’s got an army of Alters hanging around him, following his orders? Are you serious? ”
“This is not being something we would be making the humor of,” Gavant’s response was solemn.
“Is he part of Eden’s Garden?” I mused with a brief look toward my companion. “I’ve, umm, heard they’re a little more lenient about the whole ‘working with Alters’ thing. Still, an army? And what’s he doing out here all by himself?” I wanted to ask if he was sure, but that felt like a really stupid question.
“I am not understanding ‘Eden’s Garden,’” Gavant answered slowly, a frown creasing his forehead. “We are only knowing that he is being one of the People-Heretics, as Friend-Joselyn Atherby was been.”
“Never mind,” I waved that off with a hand. “We’ll get into that later. Do you know what he wants here, how he made up this army, why they’re listening to him, even what his name is? Anything might help.”
Gavant nodded once, though he didn’t answer right away. It felt like he was gathering himself. “The one who is their master is being called Enemy-Nicholas Petan.” Even saying the name (the first of which which he pronounced Nee-Ko-lah without the S sound) seemed to make the man flinch inwardly.
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” I admitted. When Gavant just looked at me blankly, I amended, “I mean the name isn’t familiar.” Glancing toward the girl beside me, I asked, “I don’t suppose you’ve heard of him?”
Shiori’s head shook. “Um, n-no. But then, I’ve been kind of too… occupied for extra studying. All that broo isn’t going to ding itself. On the plus side,” she added brightly, “Heretic school seems like a place that might actually have a course in that kind of thing. If they do, I am so signing up for the AP class.”
Biting my lip to cover the smile that came then, I looked back to Gavant. “I guess that’s a no from both of us. Sorry, did my mother know about him? Were they, you know, enemies before or something?”
“We are not knowing if Friend-Joselyn Atherby was been knowing Enemy-Nicholas Petan,” Gavant admitted. “She was been the only Friend-Person-Heretic we are knowing who could been help us.”
Before I could say anything else, the big man continued. “We are knowing where Enemy-Nicholas Petan was putting his base before. It maybe been changed since we were starting long-sleep, but we will be go there. If he is being there, we will being fight him to be taking childs back.” His voice was grim, and I had the feeling that he didn’t think they’d actually survive the attempt, let alone succeed.
Swallowing hard, I nudged him with a hand. “Hey, I know it’s not much, but we’re here, all right? We’re gonna help you figure this out. Maybe we can distract this guy long enough for you to take your kids and get out of there. I mean, if he’s a Heretic, maybe he’ll want to talk to us. We could use that.”
“We are not wanting to be putting Friend-Joselyn Atherby’s child and child’s friend in danger,” Gavant protested weakly before shaking his head with another sigh. “But we are being very glad for the help.”
Moving ahead then, the man led us to a large round door that looked bronze. And that meant large for him. For Shiori and me it was positively gigantic. When he pressed his hand against what looked an awful lot like a hieroglyphic beside the enormous circular door, there was a sudden whoosh noise as it separated into sections like a pizza being cut up. The separate wedges all pulled back into the walls, revealing a dark chamber beyond. A second later, some kind of automated lighting system activated.
At a gesture from the man, Shiori and I stepped through the doorway and into what turned out to be a chamber that was even bigger than the one out in front. It stretched out almost twice as long from the look of things, and was probably at least as wide. Throughout the room there were boulders. That was the best way I could describe them. They were these huge, almost perfectly spherical rocks that were about twelve feet in diameter. Dozens of them littered the room, too uniform to be an accident.
As we looked around the boulder-filled room, I tugged Herbie from my pocket once more and held the little guy up. “What do you say, buddy? Recognize any of your big brothers? Maybe an aunt or two?”
Gavant was staring at me, his eyes lit with interest. “I am not recognizing this pet of Friend-Flick.”
“Oh, uhh.” Realizing it was kind of hard to explain, I shrugged. “It’s a long story. But Herbie’s cool.”
“He is pretty quiet though,” Shiori observed before looking back to the man. “What’re we doing here?”
The answer came not from Gavant, but from deeper in the room, behind one of the boulders. “I will being answer that.” The man who emerged with a wave toward us looked vaguely familiar somehow. Unlike Gavant, his hair was cut shorter and was a deep bronze color rather than the other man’s gray. He also seemed younger somehow, despite being bout half a foot taller, and wore a dark green uniform.
And on a sidenote, hanging around these guys too much was going to put a crick in my neck if I had to keep looking up at them like this.
It was Shiori who figured it out first. The other girl’s head tilted sideways before she asked, “Isn’t that the guy you uhh, smacked around?” Belatedly, she amended, “I mean, strategically re-positioned?”
“Thanks for that save,” I murmured sidelong at her. She grinned in response, and I shook my head before focusing on the second Meregan. “Uh, yeah, that was my fault. I’m really sorry, I, uhh, I sort of thought you were a real statue, and I was afraid the big door would close and trap us in here, and–”
“It is being well, Friend-Flick,” the new man assured me, a broad smile on his face. “I was been confused to be waking up on the floor. But it is all being good now.” That smile left a moment later and he looked away, his voice softening. “Except being for our new lost.” He lifted his left hand, ring and middle fingers outstretched with the rest tucked into his palm. Pressing his hand sideways against his chest in what looked like a religious motion, the man murmured something in another language quietly.
Then he focused on us once more, blinking his eyes a few times. “I am being Purin, master of explore.”
“Master of explore?” I echoed, squinting slightly before getting it. “Oh, you mean head scout?”
“This is not being right,” the other man replied with a brief frown. “We are not being search for heads.”
Smiling a little, I gestured for him to go on. “Never mind, I get the idea. You explore places. So you’re the one who knows where this asshole’s base is?” When both Purin and Gavant opened their mouths, the confusion written across their faces, I waved them off. “I mean you know where your enemy’s base is.”
“Ah,” Purin’s head bobbed up and down. “Yes, I am knowing this. Lord-March Gavant was being wish that I will being take you to see what the invader was been done while we were been in long-sleep.”
It took me a second to parse all of that, but I got it. “Right, we can scout it out and see what’s changed. For all we know, the big guy himself already left and it’s just some minions left behind to deal with.”
“We will be hope,” Gavant replied with obvious doubt. “But it is not being likely. I will be stay here and gathering resources, preparing our people for our fight. We must being ready to save our childs.”
“All right,” I said quietly, trying to contain my jitters. Okay, it was worse than jitters. I was kind of terrified. But I pushed on anyway, trying to ignore it. “So how are we getting there? Does it have anything to do with these rocks?” I added afterward, looking at the massive boulders curiously.
Purin laid a hand on the nearest one. “This is being Meregan pride of scouting vehicles. They are being called K’lecnahn.” With an innocent smile, he added, “But Friend-Joselyn Atherby called them Elvis.”
“Elvis?” I blinked uncertainly with a glance to the boulder. “Why exactly would she call them Elvis?”
“I am not understanding so much,” Purin replied uncertainly, his hand brushing over the stone with obvious fondness. “But she had been said it is because they are rocks and they are going rolling?”
“Rock and roll,” Shiori announced with a giggle, crossing an arm over her stomach in a failed effort to contain herself. “Your mom named them Elvis because they rock and roll.” She snickered a little more.
“Oh my god.” I couldn’t entirely help the little snicker that came, but I forced it back at the thought of what else we had to do, and the problems that still lay ahead. We still had to rescue those children.
Purin gestured for us to watch, then pushed in on a spot of the boulder that was slightly lighter than the rest of it. The spot, about as big around as his hand, lit up and moved inward. A second later, the whole front half of the boulder split apart, revealing an interior that made me blink in surprise. There was a soft white cushioned spot that looked perfectly formed to let one of the Meregan lean back against it, along with several straps to keep them in place. There were two handles to either side that their hands obviously locked onto, and the front of the boulder, the parts that had opened up, had a pair of large screens on them that were showing the exterior of the boulder. One showed the front, the other the rear.
When I looked closer, I saw that the stand where the Meregan would be positioned was slightly separate from the rock itself. Which meant that as the boulder part turned and rolled, the figure inside along with the screens and the controls he was manipulating would remain upright. The boulder could roll along all it wanted (or all the driver directed it to) without spinning the occupant over and over.
“You are being understanding now?” the younger Meregan asked with a hopeful smile. It was obvious that he loved these things, and was extremely proud of them. I wondered if he’d created them.
“I think so,” I answered slowly. “But I’m not sure either of us will be able to control one of these things, and they don’t really look big enough for passengers. Even,” I added, “if we are a lot smaller than you.”
“That is being all right,” Purin assured us. “That is why we are having Elvis for Meregan cadets. Smaller being than adult Meregan.” Gesturing for us to follow, the bronze-haired man started toward another of the boulders, touching his hand against a spot on it to open the thing up. “This is not being so small for only one you, but two you can make it as Friend-Joselyn Atherby and Partner did.”
“Wait, partner?” I blinked at that, looking up at the Meregan. “What partner are you talking about?”
Gavan was the one who answered. “Friend-Joselyn Atherby had came with other-friend. Good other-friend. But name was been gone. Meregan forget other-friend name, other-friend face, other-friend all except for being. Erased, Meregan all had been forgot. No more memory of other-friend name.”
Now I was even more confused. “So you don’t remember my mom’s partner, but you do remember her? What… does that mean?” Looking helplessly toward Shiori, I shrugged my shoulders. “They erased Mom’s memory… locked specific knowledge about things like her other kids behind more magic, but neither of those things affected people on this world. On the other hand, whatever erased the memory of her partner, did affect them, and still does. Also, if her partner isn’t Deveron I will eat every last ounce of sand in this desert until it’s empty, because that’s just every single level of duh at this point.”
“Deveron,” Gavant frowned. “This name is not being familiar to us. This is more People-Heretic magic?”
I nodded with a sigh. “Definitely more People-Heretic magic. Errr, at least I assume it is.” My frown deepened a little. “Though I definitely don’t understand why it would work so differently than the magic they used on Mom did. Maybe they used a different spell, or gave it different parameters, or something?” Shaking my head, I forcibly shut it out of my mind. It was time to focus on this situation.
“Anyway, let’s go do this scouting thing. How do we drive this big boulder?” To Herbie, I added as an aside, “You hear that, buddy? We’re gonna be riding around inside your big brother.”
Purin looked just as confused about that as Gavant had, but shook it off. He stepped aside then, gesturing at the now-open Elvis. This one was a bit smaller, obviously meant for what were probably teenage Meregan. In other words, people who were closer to seven feet tall instead of nine or ten.
“Friend-Flick, you will be coming in here,” Purin announced while reaching for my hand. When I gave it to him, he hoisted me up and set me down on one side of the spot where the driver was supposed to stand. A moment later, he deposited Shiori beside me. It was kind of a close fit, but even a teenage Meregan was big enough that we mostly fit side by side.
Crouching, Purin showed us where our feet went, into these marks that looked and felt like pedals. “You must be working together,” he informed us. “Push pedal down forward to be going forward, push pedal down backward to be going backward. Friend-Flick be squeezing handle here,” he showed me where my left hand should go. “To be turning left. Friend-Shiori be squeezing handle here,” he moved Shiori’s hand up to the other handle. “To be turning right. Both be squeezing handles and pulling back to be making tunnel underground, then be pushing handles forward to be going back to surface. You are understanding?”
Closing my eyes briefly, I worked it through in my head before nodding while looking toward the other girl. “I think so. We’re gonna have to practice though.”
“That is not being bad idea,” the Meregan replied with a nod. “We are to be taking K’lecnahn to surface and allowing Friends-Flick and Shiori to practice before we are to be going to scout Enemy-Nicholas Petan.”
“All right.” Forcing my nerves to calm, helped by Shiori’s nearness, I nodded. “Let’s do this then.”
Both of the Meregan gave us a brief wave before they started to close front of the boulder again. The screen lit up, showing us the front and back view, and I had to wonder where the cameras were since the surface of the boulder had looked perfectly smooth.
“Oh my god,” Shiori announced before starting to giggle. Honestly giggle. It was kind of adorable. And amazing. “I just thought of something.” She turned her head slightly to look at me, and I found myself lost briefly in her smile.
“Err, sorry,” I managed after a moment. “What? What did you think of?”
With a broad grin, the other girl spoke, her voice full of incorrigible delight. “This thing we’re in right now. It’s a rock that spins around and around to take us places.
“You could say… We’re riding a Ferrous wheel.”