All locals in sight of the loading door recognized Enoa Cloud when they saw her illuminated by the headlights. Many of the travelers knew her too. Some had known her since she was a small girl.
Many of the townspeople also recognized the man who had arrived with her. He wore a long coat and a metal right boot. A great tall sword hung from his back. His hair was wild. They’d seen or heard of his escape from the Liberty Corps. He was a traveler, a wayfarer, the product of the new world.
“Wow, it’s already dark enough for movie time,” Orson said. “That’s convenient.”
“You all know me. I’m Enoa Cloud of Treasurers from the Clouds to the Sea.” Enoa didn’t know how far her voice would carry into the room. She yelled as loudly as she could. “We’re here to set matters right. The Liberty Corps have attacked members of the public. They stole almost everything I own, burned my home, and are currently digging up my property. They forced me to run away, tonight, the night before our most important celebration. This conspiracy is behind everything that’s gone wrong here, even the train wreck.”
“This poor girl has been fooled by terrible lies.” Even with the power out, Tucker’s microphone was still working. “The Sight-Stealers have corrupted our once noble Sheriff. They have lured a dangerous vagrant into our midst, and they are warping…”
“Vagrant,” Orson shouted. “That’s a new one. I need to get the exact definition for that one, see if I’m offended or not.”
“We have a recording of Liberty Corps members discussing Daniel Tucker’s role in this conspiracy,” Enoa continued speaking, undeterred. “They say he will deal with our Sheriff.”
“I have dealt with the Sheriff,” Tucker said. “I dealt with her plan to abduct the town council away from their safe room here at the visitor center, all part of the Sight-Stealer plan.”
“The recording,” Enoa yelled, “also talks about someone they answer to called Master Nine. Who’s Master Nine? Mister Tucker, are you Master Nine?” Tucker did not immediately reply and gave the audience time to process the new information.
“We want to hear the recording!” Someone yelled from the stands.
“Hear the tape.” The crowd chanted. “Hear the tape. Proof. Proof.”
“We have fifteen minutes of evidence to share with you.” Enoa had been working on what she’d say. She decided on her words during the flight over to the visitor center.
“More baseless lies,” Tucker said. “Don’t listen to her! The horrible accident at Enoa’s business was a tremendous tragedy, but she resisted detainment and joined with this man who lead our official Liberty Corps security on an extremely dangerous chase. Captain Gregory very conveniently arrived just in time to save this young girl from the Sight-Stealers. It seems to me that the plan was hatched between this violent transient and our longtime enemies, all a plan to dupe this poor girl.”
“Make peace with your death,” the Sight-Stealer raised his torch yet again. “Your time of judgment has come. I am an emissary of the wild, the high priest of the life that you have scorned, soon…”
“This man and his imitation of the Sight-Stealers is not only a threat to this town.” Enoa strained her voice, barely holding her words level. If she had to speak at that volume for long, she would have no voice left. “It is also a deep insult to my people and a betrayal of this festival that we all value.”
“Let’s give that guy a round of applause.” Orson pointed to the Sight-Stealer once Enoa had finished speaking. He began to clap. “Bravo! He’s still trying to stick to his scripted plan, even after all this. We see you, buddy. It’s not gonna work.” The massive roomful of faces looked at Orson. “Just in case you weren’t paying attention, I’ll make it plain so even the folks who are still a little tipsy can understand. That guy is no evil wizard native dude, he’s just a stooge for the Liberty Corps. Check out his Halloween store cloak with the crappy face paint. I bet he has some white bread name like Tanner or something too. No offense meant to any actual Tanners out there, but this is all pretty slimy.”
Enoa wasn’t prepared enough to break from her script. The constant interruptions made her very aware of the Liberty Corps troops and their dozens of guns. “We’re here to free everyone and prove Liberty Corps’ involvement in all of the death and damage that’s happened in the last day.”
“It’s true!” A familiar voice rose from foot of the stands, to their right. Someone was twirling something, like a long rope, in the air. “Everything they’re saying. I saw Tucker free Liberty Corps members I arrested – men I arrested after I heard them admit to the arson at Enoa’s business. And Tucker broke my hand when I tried to stop him.”
“Sherriff Webster!” Enoa called.
“Enoa, you need to be careful,” Webster yelled. “Tucker is incredibly dangerous. I’ve seen him use this metal. I…”
“Illegally spying on the conversations of an officially-hired security force,” Tucker’s amplified voice interrupted everything. “More law-breaking. More corruption. More lies.”
“Take her away!” Someone yelled from the far side of the room. “Traitor Webster! Traitor Webster!” More voices joined them.
“Hear the tape. Hear the tape.” Others called. People shouted over each other. There were yells. Someone was struck in the stands.
“Orson, what’s happening?” Enoa saw that he had drawn his mask up to his eyes. “I can’t see. What do we do now?”
“It looks like Robin Hood and his Merry Men are beating up on some cowboys.” He turned in the direction of the violence. “The Liberty Corps are trying to get to them, but a whole bunch of monks linked arms and are standing in their way.”
“Hear the tape!”
“Oh, I guess they aren’t monks,” Orson said. “One guy’s smacking a Liberty Corps trooper with one of those light-up plastic laser swords.”
Enoa tried to look in the direction of the new violence but saw nothing but a blur of bodies, flailing in the dark. She saw new light, flashlights and a few colored LED bars.
Orson continued to scan the crowd. “Looks like Robin Hood and his buddies are headed to the gym floor. They’re going to… Oh hey, the Sheriff is wearing a costume too. I don’t know who she’s supposed to be. She’s in a bathrobe, looks like they really roughed her up. They have her handcuffed.”
“Let me see, please.” Enoa reached for Orson’s goggles. He handed her the mask.
Enoa held the mask in front of her face. She saw Robin Hood and his gang reach the gym floor and surround a woman dressed in white.
Kelly Webster had a mangled bandage on her right hand and two cuts on her face. Her hair was sweat-plastered to the sides of her head. She was wearing a bathrobe and it was torn in three places.
“Look at her hand!” Enoa said. “I don’t think the bathrobe is a costume. I don’t know what that’s about.”
“She had as weird a night as we did,” Orson said.
Liberty Corps troops and a small contingent of Tucker-supporting zombie costumed guests approached Webster, but the LED-wielding monks had joined Robin by the Sheriff’s side.
“Sheriff Webster has protected us for years.” One of the Merry Men yelled. “We’ll protect her now!”
The crowd erupted in shouts. About a third of the crowd had restarted their “proof, proof, proof” chant, but most of the room descended into pure chaos. Even Tucker and the Liberty Corps seemed taken off guard. The Sight-Stealer stopped issuing pronouncements. His torch had gone out, and his spear hung limply at his side.
“Nobody’s plan is going right.” Orson stepped close beside Enoa and spoke in her ear. Then he raised his hand in front of her face. He held the top level of his compass. The little metal spike had gone haywire. It wobbled from side to side. Then it spun rapidly in several circles.
“Why’s it doing that?” Enoa looked at the room all around them. The place looked no different than it had before. “What’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But it’s not good. If I had to guess, I’d say the building has Cobalt Nine hidden all through it. The Hierarchia magic man, whether it’s Tucker or whoever, they’re going to be way more powerful than I thought.”
“It’s hidden in the building?” Enoa watched Orson pocket the compass again. “This building?”
“I think so,” he said. “Do you know these people? Do you still think they’ll be on our side if they see the film clips?”
“If?” She asked.
“There’s no way we can follow through with our plan if they stay like this.” He nodded toward the center of the room, which had dissolved entirely into a mass of shouting. “This could be a bloodbath in a minute.”
“But we got all the video proof ready.” Enoa glanced back toward the Aesir, its headlights still lit. “What will we do now?”
“You should head back to the ship and get the film equipment.” He reached over his shoulder and unclipped his sword’s hilt in the sheath. Then he zipped and buttoned his long coat shut. He tightened his boots. He took his mask and bandana and hung them at his neck and pulled his hood onto his head. “I’ll stall them. I’m good at stalling. I’m very annoying.”
“What are you doing, specifically?” Enoa got a better grip on the staff. Why couldn’t Aunt Su have trained her while she was still alive?
“Plan B.” He set the Aesir’s keys in her free hand. “Keep everyone’s attention on me.” He walked toward the center of the gym.
“Where are you going?” Enoa called after him.
“I’m gonna have a talk with Tuck, over there.” He smiled and marched right into the center of the Liberty Corps formation, directly at Tucker. The councilman pointedly did not look at him. Enoa groaned. Just when she thought she had some idea what Orson was thinking, he proved he was even more bizarre and ludicrous than she knew. She shielded her eyes with her free hand and headed back toward the Aesir.
* * *
“You can stop right there.” Three blue armored Liberty Corps troops raised their rifles, aimed them directly at Orson’s face. “Surrender your arms and raise your hands.”
“Hey, Tuck.” Orson ignored the armored men. He waved to the Councilman. “We both know that this is between you and me, right? Can we stop playing games?”
“Security.” Tucker waved to other members of the Liberty Corps detail. “Under no circumstances will you open fire in this room, but you must apprehend Captain Gregory.”
“Captain Maros warned us you’d do something like this.” A tall Liberty Corps officer, white armored, approached Orson through the crowd of the militiamen. “We’re more than prepared for you.” The man got so close Orson could smell his aftershave and the pine-scented wax he’d used to shine his armor. He spoke in a low voice. “If you make even a single move to oppose us in any way, I’ll have my men get the crowd going. They’ll get violent, and we will defend ourselves with lethal force.”
“You’re really shitty at the security end of your gig, aren’t you?” Orson walked away from Goes at an even pace, before the man could grab him. Orson approached the bleachers on the opposite side of the gym, moving away from the spot where the LED monks and the Merry Men had made their barricade around Webster. Orson briefly thought about checking on the Sheriff, but knew that might put her into more danger.
“I can’t understand why everyone is so worried about you.” The Liberty Corps officer followed Orson, a small group of riflemen with him. “I heard all about you, years ago. You were the kid who robbed the Blitzkrieg terrorists. It really is you, but I don’t understand how you’re still alive. Some of it had to be made up. No one who could go up against the Blitzkrieg would try to get away from a fight by being a clown. You’re nobody. It’s all bullshit.”
“Nobody, huh.” Orson said. “Thanks for letting me know I have to introduce myself.”
“Ladies and gentleman and everybody here tonight!” Orson yelled toward the crowd, to the nearest line of stands. Most of the crowd likely couldn’t see him in the dark, but a few flashlights had been lit, most held by members of the public, and pointed at him. Orson waved his arms over his head. “My name is Orson Gregory.”
“Wayfarer One!” A small round of cheers rose from the back of the stands.
Orson waved toward them.
“I’m trying to help this town and this festival,” he said. “But I need your promise that no matter what the Liberty Corps tries to do to me, you’ll stay put.”
Orson maneuvered away from Goes and his escort, skirting the edge of the stands. He didn’t know how long he had before the Liberty Corps made their move. Eventually, soon, their anger or their arrogance or something else would override whatever fear they had of the angry crowd and any fear they had of him. But all he needed was enough time for Enoa to start playing the video they’d prepared. It wouldn’t guarantee everyone’s safety, but it would bring everyone together against the militia.
“Hear the tape! Hear the tape!”
“You’ll all hear the tape. Who’s hungry? I’m hungry. Pancakes for everyone when this is over!” The crowd closest to Orson fell silent from confusion or bewilderment.
“What did he say?” Someone shouted from further back.
Orson checked his HUD and took a quick scan of the blue, white, and red armored bodies he could see – eighty-two. About forty had guns. All those guns were aimed at him. The rest had bladed weapons. The entire detachment was beginning to work their way toward him.
But no Enoa to be seen. What was taking her so long?
“Hear the tape! Hear the tape!”
“I want to hire your festival musicians. Do they take paid requests?” Orson was running out of things to shout.
“We have you surrounded.” The Liberty Corps officer drew the sword at his belt. It was a long piece of pure iron that tapered to a cruel point, a point made by the power of his will. It was sharp enough to slice through steel. “Lay down your arms and put your hands up. I, First Lieutenant Henry Goes, take you into the custody of the Liberty Corps.” He advanced deliberately toward Orson.
Orson looked back toward the loading door. Enoa still wasn’t there. He hoped she was okay, but he couldn’t worry about that now. If she got back to the Aesir, she was almost surely safe.
“Nah.” Orson smiled. “You’re gonna have to make me.”
“If you do not surrender your arms,” Goes said. “I will consider you armed with intent to commit violence.”
“I am definitely armed,” Orson said. “I’m going back and forth on intent but if you come at me with that lump of aluminum foil you’ve got there, that might persuade me to commit something.”
Goes rushed forward and raised the sword. His men knew not to attack when he had chosen to move first. He wasn’t swinging to kill Orson, just to pierce his armored coat and do some damage to one of the wayfarer’s limbs.
That didn’t happen. As Goes swung the sword, a flash of blue and white fire sliced the shaping-forged iron in two. The entire blade of Goes’s sword broke from its hilt and fell to the floor, smoking.
In the half-light, it took the people in the audience a few moments to realize what had happened. It took that long to understand that Goes had attacked Orson and that this attack had failed. Only then, did they comprehend the flickering blue light glowing in Orson’s right hand.
Orson had drawn his own sword.
This sword was made of blue and white flame. It flickered slightly at the edges in little sapphire tongues of fire, but it was mostly stable and let out only a low crackling sound. Everyone nearby was bathed in heat and blue light. The sword’s handle was long enough to grip it well away from the fire, but Orson held it loosely, almost up at the shining black metal cross guard.
Gasps and cheers erupted from the crowd. The anti-Liberty Corps contingent had begun their chant again, but with a different rallying cry, this time.
“Wayfarer One! Wayfarer One!”
“I hope you kept the receipt for that sword.” Orson smiled. “I think it’s defective. It wasn’t supposed to fall apart like that, was it? Or is this another scene in your Sight-Stealer play? It’s getting hard to tell.”
“I’m countermanding Tucker’s orders.” Goes backed away from Orson. “Shoot him!”
But before anyone did anything, Orson’s boot repulsor activated. He flew, burning sword in hand. He blasted toward the center of the room, toward the main group of Liberty Corps troops, and toward Tucker.