After three more months of no news, I asked to use the phone. Mr. Preston had no reason to object, though I don’t think he really wanted me to. It took me two hours before I got through to the hotel where we had stayed. They couldn’t tell me where my parents had gone since they didn’t book my parent’s departure flight.
I needed someone to look for them who might know how to do that and I knew no one who could do it. I didn’t know who else to call. The memory of the man who was so helpful to me at the sword shop came to mind. What could I lose? At least he would know the people around him.
After another hour, I got through to the shop. “Hello, I’m hoping you will remember me. I came into your shop about eight months ago. I was the kid on crutches with both of my feet in casts up to the knees. My name is Liam McTavish.”
“I remember you. You bought my dragon blades and a little sticker. What can I do for you today? Surely you aren’t having any trouble with the blade.”
“No sir, the blade is great. I’m very happy with it, but I need some help. I have been waiting all this time for news from my parents and there has been nothing. I would like to hire someone to look for them.”
“I’m very sorry to hear about your parents, but why are you calling me. I just run a weapons shop.”
“I know. It’s just that I have no way to do this myself and you’re the only other person I could think of to call. All I’m asking is if you could find someone who would be interested in the job. You’ve got to know the people around you; you live there.”
He was quiet for a long time, but then he said, “I’ll ask around. How can I get in touch with you?”
“I don’t stay near the phone and I’ll be gone again tomorrow. I’ll call you back in a month.”
“A month. You’re willing to wait another month?”
“Not really, but I can’t wait around here. I have other obligations.”
“Where are you?”
I couldn’t imagine why he would want to know that, but I answered anyway. “Planet 663-457.”
“I’ve heard a little about that place. Is that where you got all beat up?”
“No, that happened after I left here. It’s all healed up now though.”
“Well that’s good. Listen, I have a customer walking in now. I’ll be here for your call in a month.”
“Thanks, I appreciate your help. Bye.”
Mr. Preston gave me an appraising look after I hung up. “Why didn’t you just contact your father’s base office? They could have told you where your parents had been assigned.”
“My parents haven’t been assigned anywhere. It’s been almost eight months since the last time I saw them. There is no flight that takes that long without some sort of stopover somewhere or some means of communication from the ship. My parents would have left a whole file of messages for me if they were able to. Something is wrong.”
“I still think you’re jumping to conclusions. Why don’t you wait here for a little longer? I’ll call the base office and ask after your parents.”
I shrugged and sat down on the couch.
He got on the phone in his turn and started to run the gauntlet of making interplanetary phone calls. Forty-five minutes later, someone came crashing through the front door and a similar sound told me that someone else was crashing in the back door too. In fact, it sounded like someone was smashing in through every opening in the house that was large enough for a body to fit through, and they weren’t interested in turning doorknobs or opening windows.
I leapt to my feet at the first sound, noticing only peripherally that Mr. Preston didn’t seem to be all that surprised, then again, maybe he was just shocked; he was just standing there crowded against the wall holding the receiver. When one of the men shot me, I knew that I had to be in deep doo-doo. I drew my sword and heard someone laugh. Eight guns against one sword was laughable, but I had a secret - or at least I hoped that I had a secret.
The fight was a whirlwind that bore little resemblance to my lessons with Tsan, who had always been unforgiving during our exchanges. Leaving it up to my magical reflexes to protect me, he would use all of the strength in his arm that was well over twice the size of my leg.
My sword dealt out some awesome damage thanks to that training. I cleaved more than one gun into pieces and took down several of the bodies behind them. When it was quiet again, Mr. Preston and I were the only ones left standing. Some of the men sprawled on the floor were moaning; others weren’t moving at all. I had time now to notice and recognize the uniform of the imperial guard. Why had imperial troops raided this house? Why had they shot at me?
I had a number of bullets in me, but right now, I barely felt them. Mr. Preston had not been touched. He hadn’t moved a muscle. Now that the house was silent again, I could clearly hear the beeping tone coming from the receiver in his hand. If he had made any call at all, it hadn’t been the arduous call across space to the home office, and the receiver had been off the hook long enough to complain about it.
“Call for a doctor,” I said and had to shake his shoulders to make him listen and then do it. “I’m going into the village for the healer. She can get here faster.”
He nodded. I’m not sure if he understood what had happened, but it still felt strange to me that he had been untouched during the whole ordeal. I took off for the healer. I’d ask my questions later.
Brom and Lagge met me on the edge of town. “Liam, are you all right?” said Brom.
“No, but I’m alive. I have to get the healer.”
“Liam, we have to get you away from here.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “I have to get the healer.”
He saw that I was determined. “Okay, we’ll send the healer out there, but then we have to leave.”
We ran on to the healer’s house. “What’s going on? Why are you out here?” I asked.
“Your people have been asking all around about you for most of the last month. All our families are under guard. Lagge and I only just managed to sneak out. I haven’t seen Carm yet,” said Brom.
I got the healer sent out to the house, but Brom wouldn’t let me go with her or wait for her to return. We hurried on around the village and then out to Carm’s house. As we moved, I could pick out a few guards that were placed around the village now that I was looking for them. I hadn’t noticed a thing when we arrived. I was thankful for the moonless night.
Carm’s father was a farmer, so his house was a little ways outside of town though still within sight. As we approached, I could see more guards. We circled around and saw that the place was surrounded.
I felt certain that we could eliminate these guards without much trouble, but I didn’t want Carm’s parents to get in trouble with the empire. Then I watched one of the men yawn.
I motioned for Brom and Lagge to remain where they were and slipped forward like Oskan had taught us. When I was within ten feet, I made the man fall asleep. Fortunately, he was already sitting on the back steps, so there was no sound of a falling body to give us away. I slipped in the back door and caught the attention of Carm’s mother. She nodded and directed Carm’s attention toward me.
As soon as we rejoined Brom and Lagge, I made the guard wake up again. Aside from feeling a little embarrassed at having dozed off for a moment, he didn’t notice any difference and I’m sure he wasn’t about to admit falling asleep on duty, not easily anyway.
We were half way back to the caves by the time the adrenaline started to wear off and we slowed down enough to exchange our separate stories. The guards had been in place, waiting for us to show up, for almost the entire month, and as soon as each of my friends showed up at their homes, the whole family was shut in. They weren’t citizens of the empire yet, so there was little that the troops could do to them other than detain and perhaps question them. I was a different matter and it was obvious that someone had wanted to take me by force, though I couldn’t imagine why. Nor could I understand why they were willing to shoot at me.
As we talked, I began to feel some of my pains from the battle, so I called a halt to take a look. We discovered that I had five bullet holes in me, one in my back, one low in my left shoulder, one in my right thigh, one in my hip and the one that was hurting the worst was the one about an inch to the right of my navel. None of them was bleeding much, which meant that my magic was doing its thing, but now that I was counting up the damage, I was beginning to feel it rather acutely.
“They look like little arrow wounds,” said Lagge.
“They’re little metal projectiles and they have to come out,” I told him, feeling dizzy.
“Of course they have to come out,” said Lagge and we headed out again albeit somewhat slower.
It was almost dawn when we reached the cave. I tripped and fell down the slope into the little valley just at the foot of our cliff and I found that I couldn’t get up again, so Brom picked me up and carried me on into the cave.
“Master Durmas, we have a problem,” he called as soon as we were inside of the mountain, and within a few seconds Durmas was there to see.
By the time they were done undressing me, I was feeling very shaky; as a matter of fact, I was shaking like a leaf. Durmas had noted all of the wounds as I was being undressed, so when they lay me down in my bed, they covered me warmly immediately.
Durmas lay a warm dry hand on my forehead. “Do you trust me, Liam?” he asked. “It’s important that you trust me completely or I won’t be able to help you much.”
I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I did trust him so I nodded. The bulk of my pain was thankfully still on the other side of my magic, but it was really quite nice to have it all washed away by a thick and peaceful darkness.