Night was settling over the hedge. Vanweer shivered - feeling the temperature drop and finding the experience wholly unsettling. Everything was so constant below ground, and while she was bored to tears with that and sure her race were capable of more life, it was unnerving to experience these sensations and have no power over them.
The Tingions in the hedge had kept vigil over Marine’s body for the remainder of the daylight hours. Vanweer had hoped they might leave at some point to go and find food, but worse than that - some tall topsiders she didn’t recognise actually came back with food. With them were Mortglade and Eleff. Vanweer had reeled at the shock of seeing them alive. She had left them in such a state that there was no way they could have survived. She’d made sure of it.
For a hundred breaths she had sat and stared at the jolly figure of Mortglade bustling around without a scratch on her. Vanweer’s eyes kept flicking from Marine to Eleff and onto Mortglade. Could it be the stone? That was the answer, surely? Marine had worked out how to harness the power of the stone to bring people back from the dead. The struggle had wiped her out. It was only a hypothesis but Vanweer felt strongly in her bones that she had cracked the puzzle. It was the only option wasn’t it?
Marine must have the stone. It explained the disappearance in the office and the uncanny ability to evade her since. This was good, Vanweer concluded - it meant the stone was here, not lost and that meant she could get it back. She just needed to separate these other Tingions from Marine and then grab the stone. But how to get them out?
She had nowhere near enough weaponry on her to call them out and make them fight. Besides, they would never give up a heavily fortified position to come out and fight the unknown. No, it needed to be something else. A glow lamp flicked on in Vanweer’s mind and she scrambled gently down from the hedge.
Ezria was beginning to worry as time moved on and Marine’s eyes showed no signs of even fluttering. They had eaten, rested and waited - unsure what to do. They couldn’t leave Marine but they weren’t sure if it was safe to move her, and how could they go below and into an unknown battle with Vanweer with an unconscious Marine.
“Perhaps Eleff and Mortglade should stay here and guard her, while the rest of us go below after Vanweer and the others?” Ezria murmured to Sinfire, who nodded gravely - aware that every moment they dallied in the hedge was time her family were being held against their will underground.
“Shouldn’t we have heard from Aysmar by now?” Sinfire muttered, pacing back and forth.
Ezria shrugged, “Yes, she’s been longer than I would have expected but I can’t begin to guess what that means. Anything could be going on down there and I don’t know how we can go without going below.”
The two women nodded, readying themselves for the difficult moment they would have to leave Marine here and go below.
“Mortglade, Eleff - I want you to stay here with Marine. The rest of us are going below.” Ezria picked up her voice and sent orders out around the hedge.
“No!” Cried Kurann, surprising them all, “I want to stay with Marine. These two have only just recovered. She needs more protection.”
“I feel fine.” Said Eleff, stretching her arms to display her return to full strength.
“You have just come back from the dead,” Kurann snapped, “Thanks to Marine. And we have no idea what that means longterm. Please, Captain, I want to stay with her.”
Ezria hesitated, her lips parting briefly to argue, and then deciding against it. She nodded, “Ok, Kurann and Mortglade you stay here. Eleff you’re with us.”
There was a noise from outside the hedge. A low clicking sound like branches clacking together.
“What was that?” Briar tore their eyes off Kurann and flicked them to Sinfire whose head had also snapped in the direction of the noise.
“Could be a badger.” Said Sinfire, grabbing her knife without needing to look at it to check its location.
There was a whimpering noise.
“That sounds Tingion.” Eleff said, worried, “We should see if they need help.”
There was a snarling noise and then more plaintive wailing, it went on for the pace of a few breaths and then became muffled. There was more scuffling and scratching.
“Did that… did that sound a bit like Aysmar?” Mortglade asked, looking up at Ezria. Ezria nodded, there did seem to be a slight twang of Aysmar about the voice.
“We need to move. On Sinfire.” Ezria waved her arm and the City Tingions jumped to attention, followed swiftly by Sinfire’s Topsiders. Briar swung a worried look back to Marine and then nodded solemnly to Kurann who smiled and nodded back. He would protect her.
The file of Tingions crept low and quiet out of the hedge and towards the sounds. There was a gentle whimpering, barely audible over the sound of the river and the wind and the other night noises.
They paused every few paces to listen, but just when they felt they should be nearing the sounds, all noises stopped and the trail went dead. They paused to regroup.
“Should we head back to the hedge or just make our way below?” Sinfire looked to Ezria. Ezria weighed up the options.
“We may as well head below ground now we are out?” Ezria offered, and Sinfire smiled widely and nodded.
“I agree.” She whispered and they turned their small band of Tingion’s on their heels and headed back across the fields to the nearest tunnel down below.
Back at the hedge, Kurann and Mortglade settled down beside Marine to get some sleep.
“I’ll take the first watch?” Kurann offered and Mortglade nodded happily in acceptance.
“Thank you, I feel utterly weary.”
“Dying will do that to a person.”
Mortglade chuckled and settled herself down beside the lightly breathing Marine.
Kurann sat quietly, watching the rise and fall of her breathing and listening to the night sounds. He couldn’t wait to get back down below - it wasn’t for him all this Topside confusion.
There was a rustling outside, Kurann got to his feet immediately and padded over to the gap in the hedge. The faint whimpering had started up again, but closer to the hedge. Kurann peered out, unwilling to leave the hedge and his sleeping comrades. He squinted into the sheer darkness of the field but could see nothing. Beat after beat he stood, listening for any sounds but there was nothing.
Until, there was a rustling behind him and Kurann whipped his head around just in time to see a blurry figure disappearing out the back of the hedge through the branches.
“Hey!” He shouted and Mortglad sprang to her feet ready for action, “That way!” He cried, leaping after the disappearing figure but it was too quick for him, it had vanished from the hedge before he reached the leaves that made a formidable obstacle course.
“What was it?” Panted Mortglade.
“I don’t know,” Kurann said desperately, “Are you hurt? Is Marine ok?” They moved back to the unconscious form of Marine but she lay just as still as she had before - not a scratch on her, but her clothes seemed rumpled and tugged about.
“I think she’s fine.” Said Kurann, relieved and settling himself back down on the earth. “I’m jangling, I hate being up here.”
“You get some rest,” said Mortglade kindly, “I’ll watch now.” Kurann lay down but sleep would not reach him.
In the darkness outside the hedge, Vanweer looking at the simple tiny stone in her hand. This had to be it, she could feel it. She had done it.
Choose a Tingion: