111: Jack

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As he continued through the woods, his passive sense kept him informed on the positions of everyone. He could feel the gathering of humanity at the camp, and the cluster that was the beasts facing Simkit. They had remained stationary, but one of the aerial subunits had flown off in a straight line, suggesting a purpose other than patrol. A messenger, perhaps?

Rogan had said that communications here were difficult. Too much interference by enemy weapons and damage to the local infrastructure. Could they not just use old-fashioned radio waves? But perhaps, relying on their technology based upon ‘flux’ and ‘patterns’ and ‘ethe’, they had never used it in the first place.

Their technology had produced dragons instead of tanks. They might be carrying pistols and rifles now, but Rogan had said that firearm technology had come from Earth.

Elsewhere, more warbeasts roamed, including the group that had chased them for miles. The ‘Gireidil’ warbeasts had deterred them; they were now retreating, having witnessed the interception of Simkit.

Except, the ‘aerial subunits’ of the other side, the Ilidi side, were sneaking around closer to his position. In fact, he was beginning to suspect there was one following him now, partly concealing itself by a means similar to what Simkit had used during their run.

Could it see through the stealth she had put on him? The warbeasts and their reconnaissance assets had shown no notice of him as he snuck by them. But this entity clearly was following him.

When he noticed his hands as he looked down where he was walking, he realized that the ‘stealth’ did nothing to conceal him visually. It wasn’t optical camouflage, just stealth in the flux sense. And this unit was close enough that it probably could see him. It had been watching and following ever since before Simkit cast her magic on him. He simply hadn’t noticed it until now.

It was carefully hopping or flying from tree to tree, being cautious not to make a sound, staying within visual range.

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There was nothing he could do about it. He might try to shoot it out of the air, but marksmanship at this range, probably close to fifty meters, required master marksman level skill with a handgun. He’d qualified Expert on the M9 in the Army, but that was a long time ago.

Lacking any other choices, he continued making his way toward the camp. He had at least a mile left to go, through heavy forest. The place where Simkit stopped was far from the path they had been traveling. It seemed to be near to a stream, though. He could hear the sound of rapids off and on as he traveled.

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Fortunately, the moon was up, so he had light. He wasn’t confident yet about ‘seeing’ with his flux sense. No, more like he couldn’t trust it enough to place his foot in full darkness. Every time he encountered a deeper shadow, he had to stop and carefully feel his way. Even though his flux sense told him vaguely where the ground was, it was more of a hazy possibility than a definite place.

It took an hour of this slow progress for him to at last grasp what was going on. He wasn’t sensing the ground, he was sensing the brush and other growth growing from the ground. Just like the trees around him gave a far firmer sense of their position than the occasional boulders or old bits of stonework that he encountered.

The amount of effort he was having to put into it was wearing on his mind. He stopped when he reached a clearing, to take stock and reassess how he was going about things.

The presence following him in the treetops also stopped.

He stood and reassessed his position, the position of his follower, the position of the camp, other large presences he could detect. The intelligent presences had a much stronger sense of being than the wildlife that he was also picking up. He could easily tell the difference. There were many other living beings in the area, but most could simply be ignored without a thought. They showed up in his mind’s eye as different than both the normal signatures of intelligent beings and the stealth signature following him.

As he sensed, he realized that the little training form near the palm of his hand was still active. He hadn’t been doing the exercise since they fled the Ilidi beasts.

A thought came to him… no, it was information, flowing from the same mysterious source that had showed him how to save Meadhbh’s life. That source that somehow both was and wasn’t the stone buried in his chest.

It was an image of the fireball his ‘mother’ could summon in her dreams. He saw how to use that point Simkit had created to pull energy from elsewhere and create it.

Then an actual ball of fire, identical to his mental image, burst into reality, unmistakable and indubitable, burning at the position of Simkit’s training form.

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