It took longer than Mavis and Aysmar had hoped to get the Battalions out and searching for Vanweer. Aysmar realised grudgingly what a brilliant job her mother had done all these years of gaining instant obedience from people who followed her. Cruelty and a brilliant mind would do that, Aysmar supposed.
Eventually the troops were on the ground, combing the city from building to building looking for the fugitive. The Tingion citizens were compliant as ever in letting them in to have their homes searched - so long as they removed their boots first. No need to cause a fuss if the neighbours weren’t.
It took all day for the Battalions to reach each other back at the assigned meeting place having scoured their sectors. Mavis hopped from foot to foot wringing her hands expectantly.
“Any sign?” She asked, the sloping notes of her tone suggested she already knew the negative answer.
“No ma’am.” Said a sergeant, “Not even a clue as to where she has been. She’s vanished.”
Aysmar and Mavis dismissed the troops back to their training and then retreated to Vanweer’s office.
“She’s vanished!” Mavis whimpered, looking fearfully around the office as if she expected Vanweer to leap off the book shelf and attack them at any minute.
“She can’t have vanished, Mavis - think logically.” Aysmar said gently, trying to prompt Mavis to think it through.
“But she’s nowhere!” Mavis cried, “We’ve searched the whole city and not a trace of her, so if she’s not in the city then…?” She trailed off as she looked at Aysmar and the single finger Aysmar was pointing to the ceiling. “Up… up there? She might have gone above ground?” Mavis’ voice was little more than a whimper and Aysmar smiled at how endearing the nervous little Tingion was.
“She will have gone after the stone, of course.” Aysmar said, thoughtfully, “She will have realised she can’t get back in here to continue with her blackmailing and so will have gone above ground to hunt down Ezria and Marine. We need to follow her.”
Mavis looked appalled. “Us? Go above ground? Me go above ground? Oh no. Oh no I don’t think I can. I have heard about these things called birds and I hate the idea of a sky - it just goes on forever, did you know that? There’s no roof and it’s endless and the birds can take you up in it if you’re not well behaved and… oh no Aysmar please, please don’t make me go above ground.”
“Calm down,” said Aysmar, raising her voice to stop the hysterics streaming out of Mavis. “I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do. I’m not my mother. Help me ready the troops and free the Skylorn’s and Alliette and then you can stay below and look after them.”
Mavis visibly sagged with relief and whimpered gently, “Thank you Aysmar. You’re right - you’re nothing like your mother.” She fumbled with the huge key ring on her belt and produced two keys. “I’ll away and release Alliette and the Skylorn’s now. Would you like me to bring them to you here?”
Aysmar’s heart panged - more than anything she wanted to see Alliette, to comfort her and hold her and reassure herself that Alliette was healthy and safe and happy. But she shook her head, trying to stay strong and focused on the mission.
“There isn’t time,” she said to a wide eyed Mavis, “I need to get above ground and make sure Vanweer has as little time to surprise the others as possible. She will try every dirty trick she can to get that stone. And if she has it, we have no idea what kind of things she will be capable of. We mustn’t think about that now. I want messages sent to each Battalion leader, I want them in formation out in the square ready to march as soon as possible. They need to be kitted out for possibly a lengthy stake out. Tell them they are going above ground. Then head to the Skylorn’s and Alliette, get them to safety - make sure they are fed and cared for. And tell Alliette I love her. I’ll be back for her as soon as I can.”
Mavis nodded and then silently darted forward and took Aysmar’s hand to give it a little squeeze. Aysmar dismissed her and then looked around the office to see if there was anything in there she might want or need on the mission. She scanned Vanweer’s shelves of books and mementoes. Not a single indication that she had a daughter - or anybody. Aysmar thought of Alliette and smiled - she would take Vanweer down for her.
As soon as the Battalions were formed, they marched - out through the city with hundreds and thousands of Tingion faces at windows watching them leave. Everyone knew something big was going down, but there were a million conflicting stories about what it could be. Everyone knew this was once in a lifetime event and they wished it was happening in another lifetime so their’s could have been blissfully peaceful like all good Tingion lives should be.
Above ground the sky was a gentle grey - so beautiful, Vanweer thought - compared to the dim browns of the mud below ground. It was so big up here - so much space and opportunity. When she had the stone she would make sure Tingions were never banished below ground again. Who were these humans to have kept them hidden in the shadows and the mud for so long. Once the stones were reunited and she had solved the riddle of how to release their power she would bring the army up here and crush the humans.
She crept round the side of the hedge, listening to the low voices within. She could make out Ezria’s tone, and the harsher sounds of the Topsider accents too. Vanweer pulled herself up into the lower branches of the hedge to get a better vantage point. There seemed to be 5 or so of them, all huddled round a body on the floor. She peered in and saw it was Marine, lying stretched out on the ground with Kurann at her head, stroking her hair. She didn’t look pale, and Vanweer thought she could just about make out a subtle rise and fall of her chest breathing. So Marine was unconscious? Did that mean she didn’t have the stone? Vanweer leant back into the branch and contemplated what to do next.
- Try and lure them out with noises
- Try and sneak in and look for the stone when they sleep
- Try and kill Marine from outside the hedge
- Wait for them to leave and then pick them off