"It's gone." Crimson stared at the empty air. The trail from the village just ended right there. In nothing. It was a pretty faint trail, being used so infrequently, but they were in the right place, and the gate wasn't. "Spread out and look for it. Maybe it was just moved a small ways away."
Fean swallowed nervously. "But . . . can't you open gates? Didn't Eldon teach you?" Her hands went to her hair, started to scratch. She jerked them away and picked up the reins.
"He tried. I just couldn't grab the right kind of bubble. I couldn't even see them." Crimson shifted uneasily. "If we get desperate . . . " she looked around at the rolling hills. Tall grass and stumpy tree grove where hills cut the wind. "There's the corridor to Alpine, where we can take the gate to One World, and then from there the gate to Embassy. Do you know anything about the set up? On the One World?"
"One. Well, the gates are all within a three kilometer square. I know where the Embassy gate is, but not where we’d be coming out. It couldn't be too hard to get from one to another. Except the security cameras will see right through your invisibility spells."
"We can probably take care of that, too. Just warp light." Crimson obviously braced her shoulders. "It takes a lot of power and concentration and we can't keep it up for long. But we can do it. For a couple of miles."
Walnut nodded. "We can ride to Tannay, take the corridor to Alpine. The gate to your Home World, and then the gate to Embassy. It's not that difficult." She reached out and waved her hand over Fean's head. "There, that'll take care of the itching. And a bunch of other spells. I can't believe you drank some of the hex."
"Idlo wasn't going to touch it, and he's the one we need to worry about. He's a very strong magician." Fean sighed over the delicate cascade of intrictely linked charms. Comet Fall Magic was so different from the One’s. Or perhaps it was just the training.
Walnut nodded. "Depending on what was in those hexes. If there was one to remove the magic genes, you’re in trouble—although I killed everything that was still active. I suppose though, that we'd better get going. We've got enough money to buy supplies on the way."
"Remove magic genes!" Fean shivered.
Shaman Harnay gave a final spin, his ceremonial robes and strings of beads and bones swinging wide. Then he collapsed in mock weariness. Struggled back to his feet.
"The Village is cleansed. There are no evil spirits within. They will not return for a moon."
The older folk looked suitably grateful. The teenagers were doubtful. No. Worse. They were bored. They don't believe at all. He snorted, and walked slowly away, slumped and tired. Or a close appearance of it. He was only thirty, and with the witches' potions, he might well live forever. He scowled at that thought. But he didn't know any chants of Long Life. He had to use the foreign magic.
He hung his robe carefully, and relaxed on his back porch in the afternoon sun. The Chief's wife always sent an excellent dinner around after a ceremonial dance. He'd enjoy that, nap until midnight, and be gone before dawn.
"Comet Fall spells." Idlo worked carefully through the next one and killed it. Waved the counter spell on the other men. "We must have been dosed with a potion. I should have been looking for something like that." He ran his hand through his hair, wiped it on his pants. Loose hair. Lots. Eight spells so far, and there were still more, still working away.
"Could we have actually found them, or was this just their Native partners hitting us?" Obsi's hair was cut so short the hair loss didn't show. The rest of them, including Idlo, looked like they had the mange. They were camped in the wilderness between villages because the Inns wouldn't let them in.
Ucco shook his head. "It had to be the Fallen, otherwise they wouldn't have known you were an Agent."
He had to agree. "I'm sorry they felt they had to get all of us. It's not like you were threatening them."
Bekay looked indignant. "We're threatening! Look, big strong muscles. I'll bet that woman who served your beer – and drank half of it – was one of them."
"I didn't notice her, err, coloring being any different than the Villagers." Idlo flushed at the snickers. "Yes, I did happen to notice the boobs she practically rubbed on my face. I am not going to enjoy what my boss has to say about that!"
They all laughed. Bekay sobered first. "The thing is, how are we going to catch them?"
"Probably not until their next trip." Idlo hauled out his comp. "I might as well let the Director know I just missed them . . . and see what Izzo has sent me . . . Dear One. He says that Q 'closed a gate to the north she just noticed' . . . But when?" He lifted his eyes and saw the grins spreading.
"Before or after? Are they trapped on this side?" Ucco's eyes gleamed. "What will they do, if they are trapped here?"
Idlo took a deep breath and thought it out. "If they have someone who can open gates, they'll be gone. If they don't, they'll have to sneak through the gate to Home and then the gate to Embassy, and then wherever they came from."
"You don't think they are Comet Fall spies?"
"Could be, or they could be Rior's Gang, or part of it. We won't know until we catch them."
"Could they be Earthers? I've heard they're figuring out how to shield thoughts from us." Obsi scratched his scalp and growled. "Whoever they are, I want to talk to them about what they've done to us."
That got a chorus of agreement.
Kanay smiled. "My Da were a hunter. He taught me how to track through rough land. If we circle that village, maybe we can find where the smugglers left to go through their gate, and just see if they made it in time, or not."
With that as a goal, they reversed course the next morning. Skipping the two villages in between, they were carefully bumping over the countryside before noon. Kannay was riding with his body halfway out of the lead truck. He tracked three bunches of hoof prints to remote pastures before they found one of interest.
"Look, they rode up this faint path. Nine horses. Then they stood and shifted about for a bit, then split up and wandered all over. All of them separate, so all nine horses are being ridden. They met up over here, and rode off that way, avoiding the Village. That's a bit strange."
"Maybe they don't want their contacts here to realize there's a problem." Obsi bounced on his heels. "Now, let's look at the satellite map. If they are headed for Tannay, they'll take the big trade trail down the river as far as Ortay Shoals. They'll either cross the river there and take the West Wind passage, or veer east through Broad Pass, the one the road goes through."
"If we hustle, on the roads, we should just about be able to catch them at the shoals."