Highrock Pack History Songs: Song for Three Voices - Part Eight
It took a few tries, but Shriek managed to get the trick of healing with her magic. Her failed attempts she didn’t wish to dwell upon.
At Kris’ encouragement, she had experimented with various applications of her skills while he worked on the signal disrupter. The Darigan Lupe had brightened considerably when Shriek speed-healed his busted wing. The faerie Lupess had a few more such tricks up her metaphorical sleeves.
Now, they were on their way back to Dragon Canyon Pack territory. Shriek was dubious, but Kris insisted that they needed to test how well the disrupter would work. Since Strike was out of reach, the only other slave that they knew about was White. If all went well, they would free the Alpha and gain his help in finding Strike and the others.
If it didn’t, at least they could both fly now.
Shriek sighed, her wings fluttering in the same manner as a butterfly. The familiar sight of the Dragon Canyon passed beneath her, illuminated by the setting sun. She couldn’t help but feel a tinge of unease.
“What’s up?” Kris asked, glancing at her. In a contrast to her, he flew by laboriously pumping his wings, causing the disrupter to swing on its chain around his neck, thumping him in the chest.
She flicked her ears in a gesture of uncertainty. “This place... it’s my home. I grew up here, and spent lazy days resting beneath the canopy. I ate meals with my pack, and laughed, and... I just never thought that I would be reluctant to be here.”
Kris gave the faerie Lupe a sympathetic look. Shriek felt guilty, realizing that she had no room to complain. Kris no longer even had a home to go to.
Suddenly, her nose twitched as she picked up a familiar scent. “We should get under cover. We’re too visible up here.” Kris nodded, and the two Lupes dove towards the ground. Shriek’s nostrils flared. There it was again. White was close. She gestured with her tail for Kris to follow her. Padding silently through the underbrush, she cursed herself silently for not teaching Kris the stealth crouch. He didn’t even notice that he was stepping on twigs and rustling the bushes. He would advertise his presence to any Lupe who was listening.
She scented the air again, pinpointing the Alpha’s location. To make this work, Shriek would have to pin White down. Kris was nervous that the disrupter wouldn’t work at long range, and he wanted to get as close as possible. Thankfully, White was in the habit of hunting by himself, so it was unlikely that they would have to confront other pack members. She twitched her ears, signaling that Kris should hold still. She had taught him the meaning of the various common gestures used by her pack. Wild Lupes talked as much with body language as audible speech.
Creeping forward, ears pricked, Shriek managed to sneak up on White. He seemed to by stalking something, and for the moment his attention was focused entirely on his prey. Shriek knew that she would have to act fast. He would notice her the moment he stopped stalking whatever it was. Every muscle in her body tensed in readiness, she catapulted herself through the brush. She smashed into White just as he whirled around to determine the source of the noise. He scrabbled at her with his paws, but she had the advantage of surprise and momentum. He was pinned, but she knew he would break free before too long. “Kris! NOW!”
The Darigan Lupe scrambled to her side, huffing, scraped in several places by the bushes. He leaned his head forward and let the signal disrupter slide off his neck. Using his claws, he delicately pressed several buttons, concentrating intensely.
White, meanwhile, was snarling, “Shriek! And you again! I don’t know how you two found each other, but you will regret opposing Lord Proto!” Suddenly, his hologram projector shut down, and his mutant form was revealed. Shriek felt a thrill of triumph. The disrupter was working!
Enraged, White swung his claws towards the disrupter, just as Kris yelled “Done!”
Time seemed to slow down. The lights on the obedience collar exploded in a shower of sparks, and White’s eyes focused, taking on a look of fear and horror. His paw lashed through the air, and his razor sharp talons ripped through the metal skin of the disrupter. Electrical energy pulsed inside it, crackling to a halt. The signal disrupter was still.
White panted, looking up at Shriek in confusion. He whispered, “Am... Am I really free? It’s been so... so long...” Shriek ignored him. She looked at Kris, who was staring at the disrupter as if his gruslen had died.
“Well,” he said dully, “at least now we know that it worked.”
Shriek gulped. “You are using past tense, Kris,” she pointed out.
Kris looked at Shriek hopelessly. “That’s because it’s the only time it’s going to work. Even I can’t fix it now. He shredded every essential part in the device. It’s completely beyond repair.”
Shriek took a moment to digest this, and then turned to White, snarling in his face, “For your sake, you’d better tell us what you know, White.”
The mutant Lupe shook his head. “My name isn’t White. Proto gave me that name years ago, but it’s not my birth name. My name is... What is it? It’s been so long... Ah, now I remember. My name is Ingway. It’s the name I was born with.”
Kris sighed. “Very well, Ingway. Tell us what you know. NOW.”
The mutant Lupe said, “If you use the transporter on the collar, it’ll take you right to his lair. That’s what you want to know, right? That’s where you’re heading right?”
The Darigan Lupe shook his head. “Not immediately,” he said. “First we’ve got to get another disrupter and modify it. You sort of busted the one we had.”
Ingway bristled with panic. “NO! You have to go before midnight tonight! If you don’t, it’ll be too late!”
Shriek felt a surge of fear. “What do you mean by that?”
The mutant Lupe was shivering now. “Lor- I mean Proto intends to use the knowledge that the human he captured possesses to invade every major human settlement at midnight tonight. He’s likely already interrogated the human... he has created a machine that forces whoever’s hooked up to it to tell the exact, complete truth as they know it. Until now, Proto was only held back because he didn’t know where all the human settlements were in the planet. Now he does.”
Kris and Shriek looked at each other in horror. Already the sun was almost completely below the horizon. There was no time to even buy another transmitter, let alone modify it. They would now have to rescue Strike and the others alone.
Shriek looked at Ingway. “How does that transporter work?”
The mutant pushed the collar off his neck, and held it out to her. She gingerly took it in her mouth. “Now,” Ingway said, “place your paw over the Darigan Lupe’s.”
Shriek complied, feeling a bit silly.
“Now, use your other paw to press that green pad, and think ‘To the Lab’.”
Shriek followed his instructions, hoping against hope that this wasn’t a trap. As soon as she thought To the Lab the forest around her blurred...
* * * * *
Shriek was standing in a vast room that seemed to be made entirely of metal. She still had her paw over Kris’, but she quickly jerked it back. She was overwhelmed by the magnitude of technology in the room. It was almost too much for her brain to process. She wanted to flinch away, to cower, and to return to the comforting simplicity of the jungle.
Kris, on the other hand, seemed to be in his element. He gazed around with serene calmness, taking it all in his stride. Suddenly, his ears shot up, and he tensed.
“What’s the matter?” Shriek said, struggling to control her uneasiness.
Kris pointed with his tail. “We aren’t alone,” he said softly.
The faerie Lupess looked in the direction he was pointing, and snarled softly. A pair of mutant Gelerts stood sentry at the transporter, obedience collars winking around their necks. Recognizing neither Kris, nor Shriek, they had lifted their claws and bared their teeth in aggression. Shriek could feel Kris glance at her desperately. The faerie Lupess knew that despite his fierce coloration, he was useless in a fight. He was concerned that she wouldn’t stand a chance in a two on one match.
He hadn’t counted on the fact that Shriek had a few tricks left to play. Concentrating, she blew a pale blue cloud towards the advancing sentries. Unaware of their peril, the two completely ignored the miasma, just as Shriek had figured they would. The mist oozed into their skin, and suddenly both Gelerts collapsed on the ground, fast asleep.
Kris raised an eyebrow, saying nothing. He trotted over to them, studying the collars. “These two are different from the one on White, but the same as the one that Wi... Strike was wearing. I bet that there are two different kinds. One kind renders the one wearing it nothing more than a drone. The other one scrambles their memories so that they think they’ve always been loyal to Prototype 12047, but leaves them with their ability to think and reason intact. That’s why these two didn’t react to your magic.”
Shriek nodded, having guessed the same thing. “Let us hurry,” she said softly, “We have much to do, and time is not in our favor.”
* * * * *
“Shriek! Over here!”
The faerie Lupess abandoned her inspection of the objects that Kris called “test tubes” and dashed over towards him. He was standing halfway in and halfway out of a door in the corner of the room. Shriek felt a trickle of unease at his expression; horror. He turned to her, and said softly, “I think I found your missing pack mates.”
Shriek dashed into the room, excitement thrilling through her veins. Her joy was short lived, though. Her face too contorted into a mask of horror. Each of her pack members was floating unconscious in a vat of some unknown substance, with a mask over their faces to provide air. Around all of their necks were obedience collars, the drone kind. They were all mutants.
Even the pups.
Further into the room, there were more mutants. Every conceivable type of pet was here. All were wearing obedience collars. The faerie Lupess gulped. Proto was building an army.
Kris had walked over to a computer at the opposite end of the room, and was typing furiously. Shriek walked over to him, trying not to look at her poor, twisted family. “What are you doing?” she asked.
The Darigan Lupe muttered, “Trying to discover the purpose of this facility. The files are all encrypted, though; I can’t access them. I could disable the firewall, but that’ll take time we don’t have.” Suddenly, he gave a flourish of triumph. “Yes! I didn’t get into the files, but I did manage to pull up a map of the laboratory. If I can just get the-“ He did a little jig of joy. “Alright!”
Shriek coughed, getting Kris’ attention. “Care to share the good news, my friend?”
Kris grinned. “I’ve found the room where Lou is being kept. If we rescue him, he may be able to tell us where Strike is.”
The faerie Lupess brightened. “Then by all means, let us set the human free. Any progress is better than none at all.”
Kris pointed to a small spot on the wall next to the monitor. “According to the map, there should be a switch somewhere on this wall... Ah-ha! Gotcha!” He pressed a small pad on the wall. The sheet metal slid sideways, revealing a small hidden room. The two Lupes slipped inside, looking around. The room was mostly in shadow, so it was hard to make out anything. Shriek could scent the human, though. He was close.
Kris felt around on the wall for a light switch, but found none. Out of desperation, he hissed, “Lights on!” To his complete astonishment, it worked. Lights flicked on in the room.
Lou was slumped over against the wall, shackles that seemed to be made of pure electricity around his hands. Around his head was a black cloth band, with several wires connecting it to a complex machine a few feet away. Kris realized that this must be the truth machine that Ingway had mentioned.
Kris rushed over to his owner, saying softly, “Lou? Lou, are you alright? Wake up, c’mon, wake up!”
The young man groaned, stirring slightly. His eyes opened, and he stared at Kris blearily. “Kris? What’re you doing here?”
The Darigan Lupe shook his head. “There’s a lot you need to know, and very little time to explain. First, let’s get this machine off of you.”
To be continued...