One of the blonde guys thumped down a log section and galloped over to scoop up Jane. "Did you get shot too? Tell us all about it!"
Panther grinned. "We're smugglers, we always like to hear about people who escape, in case we need to, sometime."
She grabbed his hand, and they both jumped at a huge static shock or something like it.
"Oww! That was a big zing!" She peered at him. "Are you sure you're from Earth, you look like one of the Wolfpack."
The other teenagers had been gathering, and the new ones all nodded. "Yeah, he's got to be another one of Xen's kids."
"What? No, I was born on Earth. What was that shock?"
"That's what happens when related magic people touch after a long separation. The closer the relationship, the worse the zing. You've got to be my brother. Well, half-brother."
"Ooo! Us too!" And he was doubly zinged as two more girls touched him. "And you're escaping? We'll help." They looked at the bus. "Boring and white. With identification plates, and a company name all down the side? You need a paint job."
The last girl rolled her eyes and poked him, to barely a hint of zing. "Yep. That was a related to Wolfson zing, not just through Answer's line, well, you know."
"Err, no?" Kit looked around at his name getting called. The twins were glowing and sparking . . .
One of the older women snorted. "No training at all, eh? Girls, put that fire into this pile of wood and we'll start cooking in a minute."
The wood went up in a flash that had them all flinching back.
"Old Gods!" The woman frowned at the girls. "If you have any left over energy, put your hands flat on the ground and let it seep away . . . good now let me look at you . . ."
The other three women walked up and stared.
"Q. They look like Quicksilver at that age."
Quick nodded. "We're clones."
The first woman looked them over. "I see. Well. I'm Crimson Ultradaut and these are my sisters Walnut and Pecan, and our friend and partner, Eden Artdaut. I think once we get dinner started I'd better give you all a quick magic lesson."
The potatoes were washed and laid out on a hot spot with coals all around, as meat was skewered and set over the fire, then they all sat and got coached through a "meditation exercise," which was boring and mental shield exercises that were apparently something he'd been doing instinctively for as long as he could remember.
Crimson held out a glowing blue cube. "How many of you can see this?"
Kit, Betty, Susan, and the Qs raised their hands.
Tansy looked at them. "You guys all saw a white thing when you looked at gates. Is that a test for people who can find gates?"
Crimson shook her head. "It's a test to identify people who can learn how to make gates."
Kit boggled . . . "Make gates? Make gates!"
"It'll take years of training, of which you've had none." Crimson shook her head. "What did they have planned for you guys?"
Tansy snorted. "They trained us older girls to be spies. Honey traps, they called us." She looked over her shoulder at the dark night. "They didn't teach us anything about . . . a whole lot of stuff. I suppose, to keep us helpless, and unable to run away. Then Kit showed up."
Ian shrugged. "The rest of us, I guess they'd learned all they wanted to know. They got orders to kill us."
"It got real exciting for a while." Kit shrugged. "We loaded the bus up with non-perishables and stuff, and drove off to wait at the gate a little before their scheduled gate time. We drove through, then out onto the gate field and picked a gate at random. It went to a mining colony. We found a doctor for Jane and Susan, then the police came and we drove around trying to dodge them and wound up in a corn field, ducked under a tree . . . that was partly illusions. Followed the illusions to a gate, and, well, poked around until we found you."
The smugglers swapped grins.
Panther giggled. "Yeah, we've got lots of hidden gates, we trade things. Umm, the Earthers? They try to control their mining worlds by keeping them short on some supplies."
"Which creates a market for our wares." Macaw, who was apparently Panther's mom, walked up. "We sold a lot of flour and sugar last week, so we're all out. I under stand you've got some. So let's talk trade."
But Kit was gawping at the bus. "It's. It's . . ." Iridescent blue with an iridescent green streak? Or at least that's what it looks like in this light . . .
"And dinner's ready!" Eden called from the fire.
It was delicious. Venison and baked potatoes, slathered with butter. They probably got taken on the twenty kilo sack of flour; totally worth it.
But with even this little bit of safety, the day . . . and last night and the day before caught up to him. He got the twins settled, using the green dufflebags like sleeping bags on two seats in the bus, grabbed one for himself and let it all go.
He awoke to laughter.
". . . guys need some bubbles to store all your loot!"
He sat up and scooted to get his feet off the stuff filling the aisle. "What’s a bubble?" He kicked out of the bag and scooted out to get his feet on the floor by the driver's seat.
"One of these." Ocelot—apparently the oldest of the smuggler girls by almost a year—grabbed absolutely nothing out of thin air.
"Oooo!" One of the twins climbed over a seat and poked at the handful of nothing. Flinched back. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to pop it! I . . . "
Her hands were glowing, sparks . . .
Kit swooped her up and jumped out of the bus. "Hands on the ground, Quirk! Let all the energy go."
He jumped back and swatted at burning spots, whipped his shirt off . . . made sure his pants weren't on fire.
"The bus! Check the bus for fires!"
"I've got it!" Ocelot called from inside the bus.
Panther jumped out of the bus, grinning. "No harm done, except to your shirt. Oh! And your skin here and there!"
Quirk bust into tears. "I didn't mean too!'
"Hey it's okay, they're just little burns . . . and I really need to, uh, and will you please not go back in the bus until I get back?"
He bolted off into the thick growth of young pines, to piss like a racehorse, and cuss quietly because the burns really hurt and ones on his left arm were blistering . . .
The footsteps crunching through the pine needles, turned out to be Zodiac.
"Ah, there you are. Did you get burned? Oh, yeah. So you'd better have a sip of this." He unscrewed the cap of a pocket flask and held it out.
Kit eyed it dubiously. All the books have people getting drunk to deal with the pain, but I don't think a sip . . . He took a tiny sip of the . . . wine? His mother'd let him have a sip on special occasions. He'd expected something more like the whisky Uncle Martin had let him try . . .
It warmed him all the way down his throat and the pain disappeared. A glance at his arms, the spot on his chest . . . all shrinking.
"Wow! Is that like, a magic potion?" He boggled as the blisters shrank and red retreated.
"It's like every magic potion ever invented, all in one." Zodiac grinned. "And you're young enough that you don't have to deal with the Aphrodisiac spells. Because there are also fertility spells, and man! If we got the girls preggers, the witches would fry us."
Kit eyed him. "They're kind of young aren't they?"
"Fifteen and sixteen. Boy crazy." Zodiac scowled. "Anyhow I got the puberty delay spell, so my magic will be stronger."
"Puberty . . ." Kit pinched the bridge of his nose. "I need to make a list of questions. The weird stuff is just keeps coming so fast, I never seem to have time to ask, let alone get answers."