Maybe we westerners really were all pretty much alike, gee whiz, I thought to myself early the next afternoon as we finally gathered in front of City Hall for the mass apport. The local mayor had requested the spell originate there, since more than half the local population was expected to come watch and that was the best place to deal with crowds. All of we magical types certainly looked very much alike. Every last one of us wore exactly the same kind of robes, and most had nearly-identical cups of either coffee or tea clasped in their hands as they stood amidst their nearly-identical traveling-trunks and waited in the cold for the final preparations to be completed. The only people who looked at all different were the Baron Hone and Temper, who’d showed up in their Japanese magician’s kimonos and distinctive hats. They stood out like sore thumbs, even without the generous empty space that seemed almost magically to form itself around them wherever they wandered. And I stood out like an equally sore thumb and occupied a similar mobile empty space as well. Or at least I would’ve if Guardian hadn’t been such a good friend and stayed so close. In my case it wasn’t because I was foreign, but rather because Familiars were regarded as social inferiors. Despite my not being Sworn, for all intents and purposes to other people that was the box I best fit into.
Perhaps that was ultimately why I felt so much sympathy for the Japanese delegation?
At any rate, the apport went off perfectly. The elderly Frenchman in charge of transporting us— I never did catch his name— chose an unusually showy formulation in order to please the neck-craning masses that surrounded us. First there was a sequence of multi-colored fireblasts, then for a moment we hovered maybe a hundred feet in the air so that everyone could stare at how we seemed to float there like human balloons. Then there was another flash, a long moment of empty blackness when I didn’t seem to have a body at all, and suddenly I was in a much warmer, very different-looking place with loose, crumbly dirt under my paws. We were standing in an empty lot on a sunny little plain not far from a little group of hills. A fair-sized town seemed to have sprung suddenly from the ground all around us. I blinked uncertainly in the too-bright sunlight and felt my cooling spells kick in for the first time in weeks.
“Greetings, distinguished mages of the world!” a hugely mustached and much bemedalled dignitary declared in what my translator spell told me was German. He was wearing what looked rather like a modified wermacht field uniform, topped by a US cavalry style wide-brimmed hat with one side bent up at a jaunty angle. Behind him stood an honor guard of maybe fifty native cavalrymen, led by a single European officer sitting astride a splendid show-white stallion. The mounted officer wore a monocle screwed into his left eye, the first I’d ever seen, and bore a terrible scar on his left cheek. How he maintained the ridiculous little lens in place as he bounced about in the saddle was a mystery to me. “Welcome to Windhoek, the administrative center of German Southwest Africa! My name is Lothar von Trotha, and by order of his Imperial Highness Kaiser Wilhelm II I’m in command here.” He bowed formally, and when he stood straight again he was staring directly at me. “I… Uh…” Then he most admirably regained his composure— surely he’d known that the expedition was to include a rather large bear? “It’s my greatest pleasure to welcome you to our city. I’ve been directed by my sovereign to ensure that you have free access to everything you might wish to see and complete freedom of action. Though I’m certain that you’ll find nothing untoward.” He smiled; the expression seemed alien to his features. “I fear we’re a frontier society, and therefore your accommodations are both limited and perhaps a bit more rustic than those to which you’re accustomed.” He smiled and bowed again. “The bearers will deal with your luggage. Now, if you’ll follow me…”
Windhoek wasn’t much of a place, it didn’t take me long to decide. More than anything else, it reminded me of an old-West gold rush town. Yes, there were important differences— an impressively European stone fortress marked the center of town, and most of the homes seemed well-built, prosperous, and properly German. But there were deeper resemblances. The streets, for example, were unimproved mudholes and most of the commercial buildings were made of clapboard and seemed to have been thrown together as quickly and cheaply as possible. No one except our welcoming party wore any but the roughest, most durable sorts of clothing as they went about their business. But perhaps the most wild-western thing of all about Windhoek was that practically every European male in sight carried a gun, though usually in the form of a heavy military-style rifle slung over their shoulder rather than a sixgun on their hip. Which was perhaps reasonable, I soon decided, listening to von Trotha as he led us down the Kaiserstrasse towards the Old Fort. We’d been promised the use of a storehouse about half a block away as a casting room and meeting-place. Next door stood the hotel reserved exclusively for our use. “Be very careful not to stray without a proper escort,” he warned. “The natives in these parts are absolute animals—satanic demons, really. I can’t tell you how many peaceful farmers have been killed in the most terrible ways. As recently as last February we fought a major battle right here in town.”
A native revolt could indeed be a terrible thing, I decided as I looked around and took things in. There were Hottentots everywhere; none of them seemed ever to smile. I’d read about them in several books, studying up while crossing the wide Atlantic. Supposedly of all the black races they were the lowest and least-developed culturally or intellectually. The males served either as porters or sweated at other unskilled labor, while the women mostly washed clothes or performed other domestic tasks. Both sexes seemed dull and incurious, rarely looking up from the ground and seemingly unaffected even by the sight of a Kodiak bear and two dozen mages in rainbow-colored robes striding through the center of town. Finally a native boy of maybe eight or nine who was busily operating a milk churn met my eyes and smiled. I magic-smiled back, and his face lit up in delight. Then a white woman cuffed him in the head with a stick, hard enough to draw blood. “You stinky little turd!” she declared from outside the range of human hearing— but not mine. Her actual language was probably far worse than what I actually heard; my spell tended to err a bit on the prim and proper side of things whenever there was more than one possible translation. “You’ll work harder than that if you want to eat dinner tonight!” And just that quickly, the magic moment was gone.
I took a sidelong glance at the rag-wearing Hottentots who’d been assigned to carry our luggage. On the surface their faces revealed nothing— they mostly seemed stoic and impassive, the heavy trunks they bore mostly on their heads merely one more sweaty burden in a life that consisted of little except burdens to be uncomplainingly borne one after another until life was over and at long last there might come a long, final rest. Yet under the surface… Despite themselves, every once in a while one or another of them raised their eyes and stole a glance at either the mages or me. I tried magic-smiling back, just as I’d done with the boy. But in each and every case their faces turned to stone and their eyes instantly dropped.
I frowned at Guardian. “These Hottentots,” I said. “There’s something wrong here.”
She nodded. “Von Trotha was telling the truth about there being some sort of native rebellion going on, Chris. Impetus mentioned just the other day that the British colonies are reporting disturbances of some sort, but they’re too remote for good information to be obtained.” She frowned. “He thinks that may be the source of the potential Pit, but of course we can’t be sure. The only thing we’re really certain of is that the dead and mutilated German farmers von Troth mentioned are plenty real enough.” She shuddered. “I know you enjoy fraternizing with foreigners, and usually I actively encourage it. But here… Please, be extra-careful. I imagine it might be pretty easy to for you forget how vulnerable you actually are, given your size and age. But you’re as mortal as anyone else. These people hunt lions with nothing more than spears. To them, a bear might seem more like an interesting challenge than something to be afraid of.”
The hotel was every bit as rustic as promised, though the owners and staff clearly gave their all for us. There was neither electricity nor running water, and there was a momentary panic when I discovered rather late in the game that I couldn’t possibly fit into any of the available privies. I also broke through the floorboards before so much as getting past the lobby, but fortunately only my right forefoot penetrated. After that I had to stay in the local stable with the horses. I didn’t take it personally, of course; it was a matter of pragmatism rather than insult. General von Trotha himself stopped by personally both to apologize and to make certain that I was being made as comfortable as circumstances allowed. “My government has made me aware of your personal history with certain unscrupulous German citizens,” he said with a formal bow. “It was and remains my full intention to do whatever it takes to redeem our reputation. And yet…” He gestured around the stable and sighed. “Now this.”
“It can’t be helped,” I answered with my best magic-smile. “I’ve grown used to this sort of thing, you see— it comes up again and again. I understand that it’s not personal.”
“Excellent!” the general replied, again bowing deeply. “Please, don’t hesitate to let me know if you require anything at all for your comfort.”
I didn’t need much, as it happened. My stall might’ve been meant for a horse, but it was the nicest one in the entire stable. There was plenty of light to read by, I was not only given my own personal water-trough but assured that it’d been washed most thoroughly after being taken from an unlucky horse, and the stable hands set up nice comfortable straw-piles and a kerosene lamp for me exactly the way I wanted them. As a bear I had little appreciation for things like carpets and fine paneling anyway— when you got right down to it, my quarters were in most ways every bit as luxurious as an unplumbed, unelectrified hotel room would’ve been for someone like me.
Except for the flies, of course. And the stink. And the night-time whinnies and panics of the horses as they grew accustomed to my scent in their midst. And the constant comings and goings of the askaris leading their mounts in and out at all hours. And, perhaps worst of all, the sheer isolation. I’d been brought along mostly to antagonize and embarrass the Germans, as nearly as I could tell— certainly there was no role for me to play in the exploratory castings that occupied practically every waking minute of the mage’s time. My new quarters were almost half a block from everyone else’s— after all, no thinking person builds a hotel right next door to such an odiferous establishment if they can possibly help it. They were even further from the warehouse being used as our laboratory. At first everyone and their brother made a special effort to stop by and reassure me that they cared deeply about how one of their brothers in magic— even a lesser one like a Familiar— was being treated. A few, such as Impetus and Healer, even seemed to genuinely mean it. Guardian also dropped in whenever she could, though the caretaker spells on the secret charms took up almost all her free time. Sometimes we even took brief walks together. Both Baron Hone and Temper came by fairly often as well; their oriental-style bows and outlandish costumes causing the eyes of the stablehands to bug out almost as much as they did whenever I spoke aloud or smiled or sat reading one of my books for hours on end, turning the pages with my nose. They brought gifts of tea to go with their happy conversation, which was extra-appreciated because, perhaps due to the well-used trough, the local water had a subtly putrid taste to it that I didn’t care for at all.
My only really regular visitor, therefore, was Mr. Grunewald, who both owned the stable and, apparently, was a leading citizen of Windhoek. My temporary home clearly wasn’t the only business he owned; he rode about town all day in a battered but once very fine carriage pulled by a superb team of matched geldings, one so fine that it would’ve turned heads even in Paris or New York City or, presumably, Berlin. Grunewald wore an Iron Cross medal on his lapel; he’d won it in the 1870 war, he explained proudly when I asked, commanding a battery of the finest Krupp artillery at the Battle of Sedan. “It is my intention to check on you every single day so long as you’re our guest, Christopher,” he declared upon meeting me for the first time. “Herr General himself has so requested, therefore of course it must be so.” He clicked his heels and bowed.
Mr. Grunewald proved to be a man of his word, rather to my regret. The stable was an unpleasant-enough place without his presence. Besides the flies and the odor, the stablehands were bossed by the nastiest, most brutal tyrant I’d so far ever seen in action. Though he was as black as the rest and perhaps therefore might’ve been expected to be a little more understanding that a white foreman, he carried a short whip made of something that drew blood with nearly every blow and made free use of the wretched thing at even the slightest excuse. Horses and humans alike were terrified of Foreman Veijo, as he insisted he always be called, and heaven preserve anyone except me who forgot the “Foreman” part. Sometimes, usually when I smelled alcohol on his breath, he attacked his workers for no reason at all, calling them “stupid kaffirs” and “nigger shitballs” even though his skin was every bit as dark as theirs. Veijo was at his absolute worst whenever Mr.Grunewald, who carried a whip of his own and whose horseman invariably carried fresh welts, was around. All Grunewald had to was stare at one of the hands in his cold, icy way, and Veijo would fly into a rage and beat the ‘offender’ silly.
At first all I could really do was distance myself from it all and be as kind as possible to those taking care of me. I made it a point to praise young Shilli’s work, for example— he was maybe thirteen or fourteen, and was mostly the one who brushed me in the afternoon. ‘He works very hard,” I explained to Mr. Grunewald on one of his earliest visits, nodding at the young man. “And Salatiel tried hanging blankets all around me last night to shoo the flies away. It didn’t help much, but was very thoughtful of him.”
But Grunewald never did more than snort and leer suspiciously at whoever I might name. “Lazy animals,” he’d mutter. “Every last one of them. Slit your throat as soon as look at you.”
By the beginning of the third week, I’d begun to wonder why I’d ever for a moment imagined that Africa might be an exotic, beautiful place, full of excitement and adventure. So far practically all I’d seen was an unusually ugly small town full of even uglier people and the inside of a reeking stable full of flies. The mages were occupied full-time with genuinely important work, yes— for them, the trip was probably worthwhile. But all I’d managed was to read and reread several times the half-dozen books I’d thought would be sufficient for the whole trip. The mages— legitimately, I reminded myself— had no time for me, the colonists were repugnant, and the natives too terrified to speak up. If this kept up much longer, Africa was going to prove itself a terribly dangerous place, all right.
I was going to die of boredom!
It was on Wednesday of the third week that something interesting finally happened. By then I was so bored out of my skull that I’d made up a rather pathetic little game for myself. Though I try not to complain too much about it, there are some things I very definitely miss about being human, and not being able to throw thing is one of them. It wasn’t until I lost the ability that I realized what a large part such a simple act plays in human life. Not only is it important in practically every sort of physical game or contest, but people don’t even begin to realize how often they casually toss each other things. Pencils, letters, books… The list is endless. Where once I’d been able to throw with the best, now every time I wanted to return something to its place I had to get up, lumber all the way to the exact spot, and then painstakingly ease it into place with a mouth full of fangs of a size that didn’t much lend themselves to precision. Therefore, left with more empty hours to kill than I had any real hope of filling with anything constructive or meaningful, I decided to try and rediscover the art. First I scratched a rough circle in the floor with my claws, then I cuffed some nice, dry lumps of horse manure into a semi-pile and commenced experimenting. Overarm didn’t work worth a darn for a bear, I quickly discovered. Sidearm proved equally futile, and underarm anatomically impossible. Nor did it help any that, lacking thumbs, I had to sort of inertia-anchor my projectiles in the center of my paws or else they’d go spinning off who knew where before the throwing motion was half finished.
I’d worked my way all the way to the point of lying on my back and sort of shoving with my hindfeet in a kicking motion— yes, it was awkward but at least I was finally hitting the target at least sometimes!— when I realized that Salatiel was staring at me, mouth agape. I thought for a minute about what a show I must’ve been putting on, then rolled over onto my belly and laughed aloud. “I’m sorry, friend,” I said. “That must’ve looked absolutely hilarious.”
Though he tried his best to keep a straight face, first his eyes twinkled and then he absolutely guffawed. “In all my days,” he said, “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a stranger sight.” Then he sobered up and looked down at the ground. “Forgive me, master, please! I shouldn’t have laughed regardless. It’s not my place.”
I sighed and shook the loose straw out of my fur. “You don’t have to ‘master’ me, Salatiel. I’ve told you that before. In fact, I rather wish you’d not.”
He shook his head, still looking down. “Would you like me to try setting up the blankets again tonight?” he asked. “Perhaps if I move them closer, or use more of them?”
I sighed a second time, then looked down at the ground myself. The blankets took a lot of work, and did little if anything to deter flies. “What I’d really like is to have someone to talk to sometimes,” I finally said, as much to myself as Salatiel.
“I can send for Mr. Grunewald,” he suggested.
“I… Don’t like him very much,” I finally said, after a long hesitation.
Salatiel pursed his lips in almost a parody of confusion. “But… Is he not white too?”
I sighed. Foreman Veijo was out ordering supplies. More likely than not, he’d drink up whatever might remain of his week’s pay while he was out. “He’s white, yes,” I explained. “But, we don’t all automatically like each other. Any more than all you Hottentots like each other.” I smiled again. “I’d very much like to get to know you better.”
He frowned, then half-turned away. “We are Herero,” he said softly. “Not Hottentots. I don’t even know what that word means. Some few of us are also Khoi. Shilli, who brushes you, is half Khoi. Though a promising young man regardless! But… Hottentot is not us. Someone else we’re confused with, maybe. The world is after all very large.”
I blinked. This was the longest, deepest speech I’d heard yet from a native. “Herero, then.” I bowed. “My sincere apologies. I was instructed wrongly.”
He titled his head in confusion, then shrugged it off. Clearly he thought I was crazy to apologize to the likes of him. Still, the dam had cracked and the flow, though still only a trickle, had finally begun. “We are Herero,” he repeated. Then his face fell. “This was once our land— all of it. But no more.”
“The Germans came and took it away?” I guessed.
For the first time ever, his mask slipped for an instant and his lip curled in rage. Then he was passive again. “They do far worse than that,” he whispered.
My ears perked up interest. “We Guild people— the magic-men and I. We’re here to find the source of a great evil. It probably hasn’t even begun yet. But we think it will, very soon now.”
He snorted, lip curled again. “You don’t have far to look. Isn’t it amazing, that you’ve somehow missed it for so long?” Then he frowned and lowered his eyes again. “I shall hang the blankets again tonight,” he promised. “More of them, and closer.” He licked his lips as if about to say something more, then shook his head. “Will there be anything else, Master?”
That night was perhaps the worst yet in the stable. Yes, Salatiel rigged the anti-fly blankets-- more than ever, in fact. But all they did was kill what little breeze there was, concentrating the stable-stink more than ever. Even worse, the askaris came and went all night in much larger numbers than usual. While they never spoke a word-- my guess was that disturbing my rest was probably a whipping offense-- their mounts whinnied and stamped and protested in great excitement. Clearly, something was up. But what?
First thing the next morning, right after breakfast, Colonel James showed up to visit. I’d seen even less of him than I had the mages-- Guardian had mentioned in passing that he, as an experienced cavalryman, had been invited out on a long patrol with the German colonial troops. “They’ve never been out with an American,” he explained as I finished my fifth plate of eggs. “Conditions here are very dry, much like those of our own Southwest. Though from what I’ve seen so far, at least, it’s a lot flatter.” He sighed. “The Germans ate my Apache War stories up like candy. I was able to share a trick or two I learned with them. And, I have to admit, they repaid me in kind. They’re fine troops.”
I nodded. “Even the blacks?”
“They’re the most impressive of all, I think. Our own Army won’t let blacks fight. But…” He shrugged. “These look like real warriors to me.”
I nodded and lapped up a few strips of bacon. My sixth and seventh plates were already cooked and awaiting my attention, but I’d of course not touch them. I’d told Mr. Grunewald I needed seven every morning, but in reality I didn’t always finish five. The other two were for Shilli and Salatiel, who probably didn’t realize I’d seen how they always wolfed them down like starving men the moment they thought they were out of my sight. “I bet the Army will want to know about them, then.”
He shrugged. “Most likely not. We’ve had black cavalry ourselves, and fairy recently at that. I’ve even commanded them, and they were every bit as good as these. So I won’t be reporting anything they haven’t already decided they don’t want to know.” He shrugged. “But that’s not why I’m here. Say, may I have a piece of toast?”
I grunted, then nosed a whole stack of the stuff his way. A lot of humans were too squeamish to eat anything I’d ever touched, even with my always-kept-clean nose. But, as I’d already expected, Colonel James didn’t even hesitate. He smiled, sat down on a haybale, and took the top slice. “Thank you.”
“Anytime,” I replied, meaning it. I hadn’t been prepared to like Colonel James, largely based on the way he’d tried to mandate the restructure of the Guild. Yet, despite myself, I was very much enjoying his company.
He nibbled at the toast. “Blueberry jelly!” he exclaimed. “I wasn’t expecting that!”
“Isn’t it good?” I answered. “It was a gift from Healer.”
He smiled. “I think it’s great-- for you it must be heavenly.” Then he looked around to make sure we were relatively private. “Chris?” he said eventually. “Can we speak in confidence?”
My ears perked up. “Sure!”
He finished his last bite of toast. “Son… I saw more than a bunch of damn fine askaris while we were riding the countryside. A lot more. But I don’t think I was supposed to.”
I magic-frowned. “How so?”
He sighed and crossed his arms. “I’ve fought the Apache. And, as a very young officer, the Sioux.”
“Wow!” I replied. I hadn’t known about the Sioux.
He shrugged. “It wasn’t half so glorious as people seem to think it was. In fact, some of it…” He let his voice die away and frowned. “At any rate, I like to think I’ve got a good handle on what such a war looks like, and how primitive peoples live and fight.” He shook his head. “Major Roume went out of his way to show me despoiled farms and the places where a lot of whites have died. To give him credit they look authentic enough. And I’m a man who’s visited more than a few massacre sites.” He pressed his lips together for a moment, suddenly looking far older than he was. “At any rate… Something’s very wrong.”
“What?” I asked.
“There are a lot more of these Hottentots–”
“Herero,” I interrupted him. “They call themselves the Herero. And a few of them are Khoi.”
His eyebrows rose. “Really? I didn’t know. Anyway… There are a lot more of these Herero and Khoi than there ever were Apache, or at least more than there ever were while I was chasing them. More than there were Sioux, even. Everywhere you go there are signs-- empty villages, old hearths, things like that. But… Except for those few we see here in Windhoek and ones and twos living the most miserable lives I’ve ever seen out on the farms…They’ve vanished. There’s none left. Nothing but an empty countryside.”
I shrugged. “Supposedly there’s a revolt underway-- General von Trotha mentioned there was fighting right here in Windhoek as recently as last February. Maybe they’re all out in the bush country hiding.”
The colonel shook his head. “We rode far and wide, Chris. And as a military man, I noticed something others might overlook. There were only a dozen of us, you see.”
My forehead wrinkled in confusion. “That’s not very many, for a patrol in country that’s supposed to be hostile.”
“Exactly,” James agreed, smiling in pleasure that I’d figured it out as well. “Not many at all. Especially when you’re leading a foreign visitor around that you’d really rather keep safe. The major claimed it was because they were shorthanded due to the revolt. Yet we’ve all been told to stay in town unless properly escorted. Much less go wandering around a hundred miles from nowhere.”
I felt a sick, nasty feeling in my stomach, and suddenly I wished I’d skipped a plate or two. “You think they’ve been massacred,” I answered eventually. “All of them.”
He sighed and looked away. “It’s not like they can just kill off all the buffalo instead, the way we did.”
“My grooms-- the people that take care of me,” I said slowly. “They said… I mean…”
He nodded. “One of the hotel workers has approached Lord Impetus as well. She feared telling the whole truth, obviously. But it’s another piece of the puzzle.”
I looked out the window, where I could see the awful Mr. Grunewald’s carriage approaching for his daily visit. “I… I mean, how many…”
“I have no idea,” he said softly. “But I’d have to guess at least hundreds of thousands are missing, if my past experience is anything to go by. There’s more sign than I ever ran across while chasing Indians, yet no one’s home. Whether they’re dead or not, I don’t know enough to say.” He sighed and shook his head. “And the French claim a Pit is about to form somewhere hereabouts.” He looked at the ground. “That requires an awful lot of bodies, the last I heard.”
It wasn’t more than a few hours-- and several beatings-- later that Impetus showed up, with Guardian in tow. “Hello, Christopher,” he greeted me respectfully. “How are you today?”
“Very well indeed,” I replied, scrambling to my feet. While Impetus was often cold, he was always both respectful and considerate even to social inferiors like myself. And fairer-minded than most European sorcerers, to boot. “How are you, my Lord?”
“Quite well,” he replied, inclining his head slightly. Then the smile faded. “I fear that we’re here on business, and time is very limited. There’s a casting in progress, you see.” He gestured at Guardian. “One that we’re all involved in. So, we must return very soon.”
“It’s a massively powerful spell,” Guardian agreed. “The largest and most potent I’ve ever been associated with. One that’s only possible because we’ve been able to pool the efforts of so many experts with so many backgrounds. Even so, I fear that the odds are against us.”
“What sort of spell is it?” I asked.
“It’s a three-way compilation,” Impetus explained. “Apport, chronography, and Pit-detection. We’ve found… certain evidence that a Pit may indeed be about to form locally, and quite a massive one at that.” He looked around to verify that no strangers were in earshot. “We’re not quite certain when the spell will finally come together-- there are far too many unknowns for us to be certain. But at soonest it’ll be about two in the morning, and at latest something approaching tomorrow evening.”
“If it works at all,” Guardian added.
“Yes,” Impetus agreed. “I’ll admit to some skepticism on that score myself. At any rate, if the casting lives up to its promise we’ll be able to transport a small group of individuals to the physical location where the cusp-events that seem to be leading to the formation of a Pit took place. Once there the members of that group will be able to investigate the matter more thoroughly, using whatever means seem appropriate.”
I nodded. “It sounds like we’re finally making real progress.” At long last, I didn’t say aloud.
“Yes,” Impetus agreed. “But…” He frowned and looked at Guardian.
She nodded and placed her hand on top of my head. “Chris… This is a one-way trip, and we don’t know exactly where to. Though it if’s more than roughly seven hundred and fifty miles, the formulation we’ve developed won’t work at all.”
“So,” I said, “All you’re certain of is that it’ll be less than seven hundred and fifty miles?”
“Yes,” Guardian answered. “And, we’ll likely have to walk back. You see, we’re not planning on telling the Germans about this.”
“We now have reason to believe they’re trying to hide something,” Impetus explained. “I understand you and Colonel James have already spoken about the matter?”
“Apport spells leave easily-traceable trails,” Guardian said. “This special one, because it’s so mixed up, will take them months to trace. But once we’re out in the bush… We’d much rather not apport home. Even if it’s not easy, we’ll most likely want to walk.”
By then I was beginning to figure it out. “And you want me to come along.”
“Yes,” Impetus replied, his eyes narrowing. “For your animal senses and strength, as well as your proven courage.” He bowed slightly.
“He also knows you’re a magical-power reservoir,” Guardian explained. “I’ve sworn him to secrecy on the matter-- he’s one of the few I’d trust to that extent. But, he knows. And we may need you for that as well. I’ve already made a special harness, in case we need it.”
I looked up at Impetus, who returned my gaze coldly. Yes, I decided. If I were to trust any non-American mage in the world with such a secret, it’d be him. “All right,” I agreed. “What do I need to do to get ready.”
“Rest,” Guardian replied. “Eat well, and drink even more-- this is a very dry climate. That’s all we can think of. When we think the spell is about to activate, we’ll send the colonel for you. He’s coming as well. Us two, you, him, Healer, and Baron Hone.”
I nodded. Bringing Healer and Colonel James was smart for a bunch of obvious reasons. But… “Why Hone?”
Impetus smiled, though his lips remained tight and thin. “He’s even older than I am, Christopher, and thus more accustomed to wilderness travel and primitive conditions than most of the rest of us. He’s also a highly-trained warrior-mage, though of a rather obsolete type. One might not immediately think of Japanese warriors and the African veldt as being particularly harmonious, yet… I suspect they may go well together given Hone’s special skills and background.”
“Plus he’s from an unbiased nation,” Guardian added. “And thus will be a credible witness. You and I have reason to dislike Germany, Chris. Yet we must both come to help guarantee the safety of the party. The same maybe be said for the colonel, and my Lord’s country is in an intense naval race with Germany. Healer’s bias is obvious to all, though one can hardly blame him for it. Yes, we’ll be collecting as much physical data and taking as many photographs as we can. But… I fear we need an unimpeachable, unbiased eyewitness as well.” She tilted her head. “Do you know of a reason why Hone shouldn’t come along?”
I shook my head. “Not a one. I was just a bit surprised, is all.” Then I smiled. “At last! I’m going to get to see part of darkest Africa!”