“I wish I’d had time to restock my pantry before we got chased out of town.” Orson had landed the Aesir in the ruins of a small village. Enoa used to visit it while she hiked outside town, daydreaming about the far-off places she’d see, before she’d realized how dearly she loved her home.
Immigrants built the village, European settlers who labored in the local industries, mining and the transportation of the ore pulled from the ground. That was almost two hundred years earlier, when active mines operated throughout the Nimauk hills. The mines were gone, but the village’s stone foundations remained. A few walls stood, like tombstones memorializing the long dead.
Orson had driven through the village and parked behind one of the standing walls. They came to a stop only a dozen yards from the hill’s edge, an overlook that would let them keep watch over the festival town until the time came for their return.
“Shouldn’t we be planning?” Enoa sat on the Aesir’s couch. She watched Orson shed his coat and both boots. Without most of his bizarre gear, he looked somehow more average than before. Now only his shoulder-length mop of hair separated him from any other random person who’d wander into her shop on a festival day. “We’ll need a good plan for going back into town and dealing with the Liberty Corps.”
“We definitely need a plan.” Orson retrieved his key ring from the ignition. He used the odd key to unlock the series of cabinets that ran along the top of the kitchenette section of the ship. He retrieved a box from a cabinet and shook it, making its contents rustle around. “But I flew and drove twelve hours to be here today, and all I’ve had since breakfast was a funnel cake at one of those food carts.” He grabbed a few more boxes, as well. “Are you hungry? How does chicken rice soup sound?”
“Thank you for the warm welcome,” she said. “But I’m vegan. I packed some food of my own, though, so you don’t need to worry about it.” Enoa’s appetite had gone when her name was spoken by the dying train man. It hadn’t returned, but she knew she should likely eat anyway. She had no idea what sort of madness and danger she’d face in the next several hours.
“Vegan, okay.” Orson nodded. “That’s probably way cheaper these days, at least when local crops are in season. All I can get ahold of half the time is grain. I have enough rice here to sink a ship. Well, not literally.” He walked across the room to a refrigerator, a big silver industrial model. Enoa could see from her side of the room that the big fridge was nearly empty. She saw a few containers of liquids, tightly secured in the door, but little else. Orson slid open a drawer in the bottom of the fridge. “Hey, I do have tomatoes! How about I make a big pot of minestrone? I can get that all ready, and we can compare notes. That way you can save the food you packed in case something bizarre goes down, and we get separated.”
“Separated?” Enoa hadn’t even packed her pocket knife.
“We have to get over there before the Liberty Corps figures out that the thing they’re looking for is buried underground beneath your store.” Orson finished compiling ingredients. He gathered them together on a long segment of metal countertop. She smelled onion and garlic and oregano. Then Orson unlocked two steel compartments, set into the wall. From within, he brought out a long apron and removed a knife from a built-in knife block. He tied the apron – emblazoned with the grinning image of a cartoon cactus – behind his back. He began to chop. “There’s every chance you’ll have to go down there alone.”
“Underground?” Enoa laughed. “I think if there was something buried under my home and place of work, I’d know about it.”
“Hmm.” Orson looked over his shoulder at her. “You’re sure there aren’t any secret passages buried under your inventory?”
“Yes.” Enoa lied. She held his gaze until he looked away.
“Okay.” Orson returned to his chopping. He moved the knife at great, casual speed, television cooking show speed. “Well, I guess the entrance to the underground trove must not be on your store premises, but I really think the Dreamside Road is hidden under your property.”
“What’s the Dreamside Road?”
“Uhhhh.” Orson walked to the ship’s stove. He turned it on and set a pot on one of the burners. “The Dreamside Road was the name of this hippy new age thing where if you follow the correct mantras and thoughts in your mind you’ll achieve oneness with the energy of the universe and get magic powers.” He measured olive oil and poured it into the pot. “Or something like that.”
“There’s a new age state of mind hidden under my store?” Enoa would’ve raised her eyebrow at him if he’d been looking at her.
“No.” Even with his back turned, she knew he was smiling. “The IHSA, you know who they are, right? The Hierarchia Statute Association?”
“Secret world government?” Enoa remembered the name from the mad days before the shutdown, before the current chaotic status quo had taken hold. “They studied the occult and magic, didn’t they?” She didn’t see how some old inter-governmental agency had anything to do with her or her home.
“Close enough.” Orson began to slide the chopped ingredients into the pot. “For seventy years, the IHSA was the public face of an alliance devoted to combining and controlling the powers of the old world and the new. There used to be all kinds of secret cultures, all over the world, they did things I think of as magic. The Hierarchia took them over or hunted them down.”
“I’m interested in this story,” Enoa tried to find a stopping point, somewhere she wouldn’t interrupt Orson by speaking. “But I’m still left wondering how my shop and how I figure into this.”
“I don’t know,” Orson said. “Most of the old Hierarchia records are gone. They went too far and enabled the creation of powerful forces like Thunderworks. Through them, they wound up basically destroying the world and so many of their old projects were just swept away.” Orson set a timer on the stove. Then he pulled the apron over his head and walked to the computer area of the ship, where the abstract sculpture of the pine tree stood, wobbling from side to side.
Orson drew the small spiked top from his pocket. Enoa watched him fit the metal object onto the uppermost level of the metal tree.
“This is a Thousand-Point Compass.” He rested his hand atop the tree, stopping it from moving. “It tracks energy, many kinds of energy, all over the world. The IHSA used these to look for weird stuff, magic wielders and space age science whatsits, except now I’m using it to find the stuff they missed. Back in the eighties a group of International Hierarchia members defected, and they rescued a ton of powerful relics, things stolen from all over the world, Japan, Peru, Egypt, maybe here too. These folks hid the treasure trove of artifacts in a place called the Dreamside Road. They named it after the state of mind they were chasing, that’s their name for the mental zone that lets people use magic – even ordinary people.”
“You think this treasure is buried under my store?” Enoa didn’t believe it. How could she? Her family had run the Treasures from the Clouds to the Sea for generations.
“I know it’s connected.” Orson lifted his hand from the top of the Thousand-Point Compass. Immediately, the top most point spun and turned toward town, turned toward Enoa’s home. “I’ve been following different points of this compass for years, in my spare time. This top one never did much of anything, until three days ago, when suddenly it went all rigid and pointed straight here. Something activated it, made the energy of the treasure come alive somehow. I know it.”
“Nothing happened three days ago.” Enoa thought back. She’d spent the entire day preparing items to travel with her down to her tent for the festival.
“You don’t have any way of detecting this particular kind of energy. You don’t even know that the treasure is down under your house.” Orson shrugged. “I bet the Liberty Corps or whoever they’re working with did something to make it come alive so they could track it.”
“What type of energy is it? What’s it called, if you know so much?”
“I’ve no idea.” Orson reached down his shirt, grabbing at one of his necklaces. “But I can show you how I know for sure.” She walked over to him. He slipped the necklace, chain and all, over his head. “This is a key to the hidden treasure. It’s what started my search for it, almost a year ago. It has the same energy signature, only weaker.” He handed it to her.
The chain held a small pendant, in the shape of a tower, inside a crescent moon. Its metal felt oddly warm in her hand, warmer than it should get, even pressed against Orson’s skin.
“Now hold it next to the top point of the compass.” Orson held his hand above the metal tree and pointed down. Enoa followed his instructions.
The closer the pendant got to the compass, the more the top segment wobbled. Finally, when she’d nearly pressed the metal of the necklace to the tree, the whole top row swiveled and pointed directly at the pendant.
“That’s neat, but I’m not sure it proves anything.” Enoa handed the necklace back to Orson. He placed it back around his neck. His stove timer went off, and he returned to the pot, where he added more ingredients, garlic, oregano, and squash.
“Who’s to say that whatever the little charm is made of isn’t also found in the soil under my house?” She asked.
“That charm is in the shape of the symbol worn by a man who learned to wield magic by following the Dreamside Road. He’s one of the people who liberated the Dreamside treasure from the IHSA.”
“Wait a second!” Enoa said. “You were just going to find this treasure and take it, weren’t you? This ‘buried treasure’ could be local heirlooms, but you were here to play grave robber. Lots of the European settlers had similar ideas in their heads. Just because I’m in the tourist business, don’t think I don’t know.”
“You’ve got me all wrong.” Orson shook his head. “First off, my database says the original Nimauk are dead. I didn’t know I’d find you here. I thought this was just some greasy festival exploiting the fact that your people lived here hundreds of years ago. I don’t mean to offend you, but there are a lot more shady tourist traps than there are authentic cultural events.”
“Well,” she said. “Only about two percent of the town is still of Nimauk descent, even marginally, but most of the planning committee is run by pretty knowledgeable people, and indigenous run businesses like mine make a real killing. I give the festival a pass because, for the most part, we can choose how we’re presented.” She frowned. “You didn’t answer my question. Do you really think it’s okay just to dig up dead people’s things and take them?”
“The stuff I’m after was hidden in like eighty-three.” Orson held up both hands. “This is no ancient find. Most of the people involved are still alive. Also, I’m not intending to make a financial score on this. I’m mostly trying to satisfy personal pettiness. I know of people who’d love to have mystical power so I’m gonna get it first, just so they can’t have it. But now, once we find it, it’s all yours, except for the portion that belonged to my mentor, a man called Ophion.”
“Ophion?” She said. “That’s a unique name. Is that the guy with the pendant?
“Yes, Ophion was the hippy wizard man who taught me.” He closed his hand around the pendant. “I’ve always been a pretty lousy student, but he saved my life a bunch of times.” He sighed, letting all the air out of his lungs. Then he inhaled, took a great deep breath. “If you want to know more about me, that’ll take a while. The short version is I like fortune and glory as much as the next post-apocalyptic adventurer, but I’m on this treasure hunt out of pure pettiness.”
“You think that the treasure is under my shop because your compass spun around in there.” Enoa spoke at a slow deliberate pace, her eyes suddenly distant. She did not return Orson’s humor.
“Yes. That’s it, mostly.”
“Do you think the Liberty Corps has one of those Thousand-Point Compasses?” She still looked beyond him, unfocused.
“They might.” Orson took a step toward her. What was on her mind? “They’ve never been common. I think only a few dozen were ever made. What’s the matter?”
Enoa didn’t say anything. She walked forward, stepping around Orson and the other chairs, headed toward the Aesir’s side door. She hadn’t been looking at nothing. She’d been looking out the window.
A siren called, far away, a wail. It wasn’t a police siren. It wasn’t some Liberty Corps demonstration. No, this was a fire siren.
Orson wheeled toward Enoa and toward the round window in the Aesir’s door. Even in darkness, hidden at the top of the hill. Orson saw the thick smoke rising from somewhere in the Nimauk village.
“They figured it out.” Enoa tore the ship’s door open. She raced out into the darkness.
“Enoa, wait!” Orson ran after her without even bothering to put his boots on. He did grab his mask, though, before charging out the door.
Out on the top of the hill, Orson smelled the smoke, burning wood and plastic and machinery. The fire could be some out of control bonfire, accidentally set by festival drunks. But a building burned, the smell told that truth.
More sirens called out, down in the village. They were answered by other calls from far away. Even the surrounding settlements, Nimauk’s neighbors, were offering help to fight some great blaze.
Orson arrived at the edge of the hill and the sharp fall into the valley. Enoa crouched there, down on her hands and knees. She’d gone silent, but her fists were clenched in the dirt. A few tears fell from her cheeks, only a few, before her sorrow was consumed by fury.
Orson pressed the mask to his eyes. He didn’t know how Enoa could be so certain of the fire’s location, but he believed her. He hoped she was wrong, but he’d been in the adventuring business long enough to cautiously believe the sort of fierce intuition Enoa had just displayed.
Orson saw the truth. The Liberty Corps had made their next move. The fire he saw, the flames he could see, leaping up, noticeable even with hardly any magnification – that blaze came from Enoa’s shop, the Treasures from the Clouds to the Sea.
“We’ll get there first.” Orson knelt down next to her. “I’m so sorry, but I promise they won’t get what they want.”
To Enoa, it was already too late. Her business, her family, her future, her past, her home; it burned.
The smoke rose high over the valley, thick, acrid, reeking, visible even in the depths of night, silhouetted against the lights from town.