“Oh, Captain!” Jeneyeru let out as the man fell in a heap by his feet, felled by an assailant the size of a squirrel.
The Selkie’s sharp eyes caught the blur of the tiny faerie jumping off his victim and racing for the bushes. As a reflex, forgetting for the moment his exhausted condition, a spell leaped to the wizard’s lips.
“Tek-tigim…” he murmured, raising the Staff of Ghosts. A black radiance began to glow from the crystal in the head. The staff came up, Jeneyeru lunged, and his arm whipped down at the Brownie, much like a housewife swiping a broom at mouse. “–Zhi!”
The Evocation of the Gem of Night-Haunts could have been a much more powerful effect, if he had been at full power, but it had the desired result for the moment. In a black flash, the Brownie was encased in a lump of gleaming obsidian, and the sparrow-like whooping of the triumphant faeries fell silent. Even so small an effort burned what little aura flow had restored in Jeneyeru so far — probably a waste of energy, but done was done. With grim satisfaction, the Shadow Master snatched up the conjured stone and slipped it into his coat pocket.
He then went to one knee beside Lafitte and produced a handkerchief of delicate linen, perfumed with lilac and pine, which he waved vaguely over the prone eorman’s face to fan him.
“Oh, dear Captain Lafitte, you poor fellow. Speak to me, Captain,” he said, and he may have carried on that way for some time except that, looking around for help, he was reminded of the general situation. He quickly tossed the handkerchief onto Lafitte’s head with a hurried, “Comfort yourself, dear sir,” as he checked his bag.
A sigh of relief. The Box of Nothing he carried remained unbothered among his possessions. But what of the other?
“Lotye!” he called out, abandoning the Captain to stride towards his new assistant.
— — —
While, earlier, on the fringes of a battle near the village of Teur…
The conflict around Train No. 47 began to move away from the spot where Y’lanna had stumbled into a net of cobwebs. With the help of some on the train crew and a few resolute passengers, Ruili joined the effort to organize evacuation of the scene and to try to corral and fight the reptilian, half-feathered wyverns that had appeared suddenly out of nothing. With non-combatants running for all they were worth away from the scene, that meant that the woods where Y’lanna had sought to hide soon became relatively empty and quiet. In a few minutes no one was near her but the dead men Ruili had left in his wake.
Or rather, there were some others.
Y’lanna’s gentle efforts to ease herself out of the netting were working well. In a few moments, she would be free, but before she could slip loose entirely, the ones who had set the trap days and days ago returned. They had stayed hidden during the worst of the fighting and now emerged to see what they’d caught.
This was one of the favorite trapping spots of the Brownies of this valley, because it was the bandit Baugl of Caernith’s favorite spot for robbing trains. That meant there would always be rich, or formerly rich, passengers stumbling about in a daze — easy pickings for the Brownies to relieve them of the last few useful items they might have on them. Tonight’s prize, though, was a special treat.
They came out of the bushes like a gang of small forest beasts — little men and women ranging in size from mice up to squirrels or rabbits, and wearing pelts of those same creatures, as well as gear and ornaments of feathers, leaves, seeds, and other treasures of the woods. Some of them also bore more permanent features of their favorite animals, too, in the common symptoms of faerie shape-shifters. At first, they were hesitant to approach, but they soon realized Y’lanna was about to escape, so they rushed her. In the blink of an eye, Y’lanna found herself swarming with Brownies pulling the net tighter around her again. One bold fellow even climbed up on the Zoneloger’s chest and menaced her with a small but very sharp spear pointed at her pretty eye.
“Where do you think you’re going, Swartsalf?” he growled. In the dark of night and the urgency of the moment, despite faerie vision, the Brownies had mistaken Y’lanna for a dark elf and assumed she was of one of the mountain tribes of those dwellers within and below.
“You’re worth too much to let you go running loose, love,” her captor smirked, “so just relax.”
And as he presumptuously held her at bay with his spear, his fellows set about trussing her up to be dragged away, to one of their nearby burrow entrances. They were eager to move her quickly, before the garrison arrived.