Jason, Sharma, Shandarro, and Knala were travelling north, Jana had told him not to go to the Armory, but go straight to the Bonding Cave and use it as a base for him and Shandarro to work from. She also told him that they would be near to where Jamar was and if they saw him, to tell him to expect a partner soon. Jason smiled when she said it, because she didn’t realize that the message could have been delivered just as easily by the Seers, or Rhela. Jamar was using a cave he had scouted out for a base. Jason gave him the message, and he waited for him to tell him who was coming when a Scout landed behind them. They turned around and Jamar smiled, it was the one person he hoped it would be, Sambarra and Terrana. It was all he needed.
Jason and Shandarro left, and a few hours later, they arrived at the Bonding Cave. Jama decided that each team of Scouts could effectively cover an area of two hundred and fifty kilometers, and the edges of each area touched. Xeon and Tarbarro had assigned one Ranger team for every ten Scout teams, once they had everything covered, the intel started coming in to the Seers at regular intervals.
Whitlaw had hoped he would be able to have the Seers working in shifts, but when he saw that their ability was severely diminished without all thirteen being present, he went to see Yoran, he might have a solution. When Whitlaw explained to him what was needed he knew that Whitlaw wasn’t going to like the answer. “We have thirteen Seers James; no others have shown the ability. We have what we have, we will have to decide how to handle the situation until either more young women show the ability or we figure out how often we need reports from the field.” That made sense. He didn’t need constant reports, even the Scouts needed to sleep.
Yoran sent for Whitlaw, he wanted to him to see a demonstration of the effectiveness of the ballista. Normally, Whitlaw would have just relied on the reports. Yoran was insistent in a way he usually never presented. As Whitlaw and Regulus were flying to the area where the demonstration would take place, he was in deep thought. Regulus interrupted his thoughts with a question. “What is troubling you?” Regulus asked on the link. Whitlaw snapped out of his reverie. It was an unusual question, he and Regulus had been bonded for nearly twenty-three years, they shared everything as if they were two halves of the same mind. Whitlaw responded, “I was trying to sort some things out. Yoran is like da Vinci to me, a genius inventor, designer, who hates killing, yet can design, manufacture, and present weapons of war.” Regulus realizing that this wasn’t so simple for Whitlaw as it was for him, thought about the situation, and then replied, “Yoran doesn’t kill, even when he could. He balances what we do with the overall good of we can accomplish for all of Embrellon. He wouldn’t use any of the weapons he has help to create for us. He does this because his life hangs in the balance as well.” Whitlaw realized the truth in Regulus’ statement and allowed himself to focus on the needs of today.
When they arrived, Yoran had the demonstration set up, he had developed a ballista that was accurate to over a kilometer. A feat unheard of on Earth. The gravity of Embrellon was four fifths of Earths, and the materials that the ballista were made from did not exist on any other planet, this wasn’t one of da Vinci’s machines, or something the Greeks or Romans of Earth would have used, the ballista was pure Embrellon, as were the crossbows and bows. He waited with expectation, and Yoran didn’t disappoint him. He was amazed at how different this ballista looked compared to the drawings of the ballista from Earth.
Yoran’s ballista was fully shielded from the front and top, it had been covered with a faron alloy armor plating. The winding mechanism when fired would automatically rewind, a marvel of engineering and design to Whitlaw, there was a magazine that automatically dropped the bolts into place. The operator sat in a seat that was designed with shoulder rests for the ballista so that the operator was able to sight along the bolt, and could aim the ballista at its target. They were able to be manned by one Guardian (a Guardian meant the Skree and the Bond-Mate). The ballista was turret mounted, and the operator could turn it one hundred and eighty degrees with a simple peddle operation, the elevation was handled through a second peddle and the shoulder rests.
Having experience with turret guns on Earth ships, Whitlaw sat in the operator seat, with Regulus on the platform beside him, and he told Yoran to set up the targets, he wanted to handle this ballista and personally test it. Yoran was surprised, he hadn’t expected this much enthusiasm from Whitlaw. This was very important to him. Yoran signaled for the targets to be set up, and Whitlaw checked the magazine, and familiarized himself with the peddles. The first target shot out and he took it down with one shot at five-hundred meters. That was a good shot he thought to himself. The second target shot up at seven hundred and fifty meters, Whitlaw took it down. The third target shot out and he let it go and took it out at fifteen hundred meters, a kilometer and a half and this wasn’t the extreme range of the ballista, but it was more than satisfactory for what he needed.
The only drawback to the ballista was they weren’t easily transportable. It would require mounting them on wheeled carts, and moving them with aurochs. The problem was there were no developed roads, and without roads, they would need to be able to dismantle the ballista, transport them, and reassemble them on sight without losing the stability, accuracy, or damage the mechanism in any way. Whitlaw presented the issue to Yoran to puzzle out. If they weren’t easily transportable, they wouldn’t be an effective deterrent.
Whitlaw returned to the Temple to follow up with the Seers, he still needed them working as efficiently as possible, finding a way to keep track of the Scouts and Rangers, and not exhausting themselves in the process. When he entered the Seers room, he was surprised, only three of the Seers were in the room, and they had a clear conversation going with Jason, Shandarro, Shandarro, and Knala. He was puzzled, how could three Seers be getting such a clear picture, when just a few days before, it took all thirteen. Lantana entered the room and answered the question for him before he had a chance to ask.
“We discovered that if we work in four hour shifts, and scan the Scouts and Rangers rather than directly communicating with them, we can see what is happening without the stress of actively communicating with them directly. It would seem that our ability is growing.” Whitlaw was at a loss for words. They figured it out on their own. He knew that with highly trained marines, he had always delegated jobs and that allowed him to focus on command and strategy. After over twenty years of being solely responsible for everything, he could delegate once more and focus on the optimal strategy for dealing with the Marn. He asked Lantana “Can you still see the area surrounding the planet, or do you need all the Seers to extend your sight that far?” She smiled, and sat on her chair, looked at the others, and in the blink of an eye, the area of space surrounding the planet came into view with the same clarity as before. He was satisfied. Lantana said as he was preparing to leave, “We discovered that we were trying too hard. The less effort we put into it, the easier it is, it’s not about how hard we concentrate, it’s about clearly visualizing what we want to see.” With that Whitlaw left them to their work and went to his work room. He wanted the ballista working, he was a practical man, knowing the difficulties in transporting them, would make them ineffectual to use. He needed them, and he needed them not to be cumbersome to transport. There had to be a way without the need to dismantle them and reassemble them, too inefficient.
Yoran came to his work room and sat down, he looked at Whitlaw and with a wry smile, he said “I’ve resolved the transportation issue.” That got Whitlaw’s attention, he looked at him and Yoran continued, “I tried several things, including dismantling the ballista and reassembling it which took too much time. The solution was to transport it assembled, and get it where it is needed without putting it on wheels.” He paused, to see if Whitlaw had a question, when he kept looking at him, Yoran went on, “Since the need is to get it transported quickly, and all of our Rangers and Scouts are sent out in pairs, I decided to try how easily two Skree with mounted Guardians could lift the ballista and fly it where it needed to be. It was surprising at how easily they lifted it and the said that it wasn’t a strain for them to fly it where it needed to be, and if they ran low on bolts, it was easy enough to transport additional magazines to them.” He watched Whitlaw closely, he knew how he felt about the Skree not being used as draft animals, they were sentient beings after all.
Whitlaw looked at him, knowing him and knowing he wouldn’t make demands on the Skree, he asked him “What did the Skree say about transporting the ballista and magazines of bolts?” Yoran smiled, he was right about Whitlaw’s feelings. “I asked them before I figured out how to have them lift it without being harnessed. The answer was the saddle yoke. They are super strong, and they distribute the weight evenly. When we attached lines to turret platform and secured them to the saddle, the Skree raised the platform with ease. I’ve always known they possessed incredible strength, but this was beyond even my expectations.” Whitlaw had his solution.
Things had come together, he had an advanced warning system, he had armaments to put into the field, he had trained forces to combat the Marn, why should he be worried, it didn’t make sense, but he was a realist, the Seers hadn’t been battle tested, neither had the ballista. The bows and crossbows, he had complete confidence in. The Guardians were expert archers. He wondered why the Vela had never developed them, they were hunted and killed as much as the Skree had been, and the Marn only took Skree on their raids, they usually killed the Vela for sport here on Embrellon. He had never met a race as malevolent as the Marn, as far as he could tell, they were the evilest race of humanoids he had ever come into contact with.
He asked Yoran how long to train the Rangers to deploy the ballista effectively, and Yoran told him they were already training. Whitlaw wasn’t surprised, Yoran was good at anticipating his decisions. He asked how long it would take, Yoran told him that they would be ready to deploy the ballista in two days. Then he asked the biggest question which was how many of the ballista did they have, and how long to make more if they proved effective. Yoran told him they had twelve field ready units, and could have at least twelve more assembled by the next day. He had manufactured enough parts to complete at least fifty and if they didn’t need them, then they had a stock of spare parts if they were damaged in some way. Whitlaw was relieved. Ever efficient, Yoran had out performed his needs once again.
As Yoran rose to go back to his workshop, Regulus told them that they were needed with the Seers. They bolted out of the room and ran to the Seers room. As they entered, they could see why they were called. Above the orb was several Marn ships approaching the planet. Whitlaw could tell that they weren’t in hyper-drive, they had dropped out of hyper-space outside the solar system. Whitlaw told Lantana to alert the Scouts and Rangers, and then told Yoran to get the ballista field ready. They would need the other twelve, and they needed them ready to place in the field. He told Lantana to call the other Seers, he needed to calculate how long before the Marn arrived, and for that he needed to see how fast they were travelling so that he could accurately time the arrival. They were still on the fringe of the system, and they would have two days he calculated at best.
He wanted to talk to Jason, and Lantana connected with him and Whitlaw explained that the Marn would be here in two days, he wanted them on alert, and to watch the sky for signs of their arrival. He had Lantana contact the Skree and warn them, then he sent Jason on a mission. He wanted running intel from the time the Marn came within orbit range of the planet, he knew that the Skree could see them in orbit, Regulus had witnessed the destruction of his ship, and the details he had shared with Whitlaw. He wanted every eye he had focused on the sky, watching for any sign of the Marn coming to the planet.
Jason and Shandarro, Shandarro and Knala left the Bonding Cave and headed for the Cave of the Companion. He knew the Skree would know he was there, and he hoped that Regulon would meet with him at the tunnel. He knew it was risky, Regulon had told him not to enter the tunnel, or share with anyone the location. He had Shandarro and Knala with him this time, and he didn’t know how flexible Regulon would be. He wanted her to stay at the Cave, while he ascended to the tunnel. It took two hours to get from the Bonding Cave to the Cave of the Companion. They were packed and aloft in twenty minutes, Jason knew they had no time to waste.
The entered the Cave of the Companion and to his surprise, Regulon was waiting for him. He asked him how he knew he was coming, and Regulon said Lantana had told him to meet him there. It was important for Jason to get Regulon’s cooperation. They were going to need all the eyes they could get. Shandarro and Knala had been quiet while Regulon was speaking. She had never heard a Skree talk before, and when she questioned Knala, to her surprise, Knala answered her, not on the link, but with her voice. Shandarro almost started laughing hysterically. She had never suspected that the Skree could speak. Regulon turned to Knala and told her that she was to keep the secret, and Knala bowed her head in acknowledgment of his authority. Then Regulon addressed Shandarro, “under any other circumstances, I would have spoken to Jason through Shandarro. But I needed to speak to him directly. Time is the one commodity that we don’t have a good supply of right now. If what Lantana said is true, then we are with you. I will tell Lantana to let your father know, but I wanted to meet with you to discuss something else.
Jason was puzzled, Regulon could have told Shandarro whatever he wanted to, there was no need to meet face to face. That was when Regulon told Jason that with the new Seers, all speaking on the link could be heard by them. That statement was sobering. He asked if they could hear what was said between him and Shandarro, and Regulon said no, not unless they were broadcasting. This was a new thing he thought that his father should know about, but he couldn’t leave his post to go tell him. He told Shandarro to reach Lantana. When she answered Jason asked her to get their father, that it was important. When he told his father what Regulon had said, his father had Lantana to tell all the Scouts, Rangers, Temple Guards, and Guardians to stay off the link. He only wanted them to be on the link when Lantana called for them. They could be on the link between Skree and Bond-Mate, but not beyond.
Then he asked Lantana to establish a link with Regulon so that he could speak to him directly. When she did he began to speak, “Regulon, we are learning more and more about the ability of the Seers as you know. Lantana and the other twelve can without all this, speak to any Skree on the planet, Yoran constructed this room to enhance their ability and make it possible to monitor the whole planet, be everywhere at once, if you will, how will this affect the Seers outside this room. Will their ability remain as it was before Yoran constructed the room, is this room the key to the new abilities they have?”. Regulon paused for a few moments and then he replied, “The Seers natural abilities will always be theirs, what we know of the Companions on this subject is sparse. We do know that in ancient times, before the Exodus, their seers could accomplish all that you have and didn’t need the room Yoran constructed, however, they were of a different race, they were the original humanoids who inhabited the planet, just as the Skree.”
That gave him food for thought. They had restored something the Companions had, but they weren’t the Brellon, they weren’t the original inhabitants of the planet, and as far as he knew, there were no Brellon left on the planet, the Marn had made sure of that over a thousand years before. He thanked Regulon for the information, and once he broke the link he headed straight to Yoran’s workshop. They needed to talk.
Yoran was surprised when he entered the workshop and asked everyone to leave. Yoran had never seen him this on edge before. He asked Whitlaw what could be so troubling that he sent his workers out, considering they needed the ballista as soon as possible. Whitlaw told him of his conversation with Regulon, what he said about the Seers, and the Companions. Yoran was the only person that actually knew the Companions, and Whitlaw wanted to know what else Yoran knew that he hadn’t shared.
Yoran stood there with a look of exasperation, he was not accustomed to being talked to like this, and Whitlaw had never spoken to him in this manner before. “James, I haven’t kept anything from you, some of this I have constructed was out of an understanding of the nature of the planet, and the properties of tanzite. The lights, I duplicated from the diagrams Jason brought back from the Armory, the diadems you found, I discovered the properties of shaping the stones for the diadems by accident, and there are other things that I remember seeing the Companions using or carrying, but as of yet haven’t found the source of those things. I can’t tell you something I know nothing of. Whitlaw relaxed, he didn’t need to offend his friend, or worse, have him leave again. They needed him, desperately, he looked up into Yoran’s eyes, saw the hurt, and felt shame. He apologized to Yoran, and said there was no excuse for the way he acted. He was frustrated and Yoran didn’t need to be the one he took it out on.
Yoran was of all things forgiving, and he felt compassion for his friend, the man who had the safety and the future of their world resting on his shoulders, if they failed, it would fall on him. “James, if I remember anything of the Companions, I will tell you. I’ve never held information from you in the past, as I learn things or figure them out, I share them with you. You can depend on me to continue to do so.” That said, he showed Whitlaw that the other ballista was almost ready, an hour, maybe two and he would have the other twelve ready for transport. Whitlaw was always impressed with his efficiency, he was the best engineer he had ever known.
“Yoran, why did the Marn launch a weapon that wiped out all the Brellon?” he asked. Yoran looked at him intently, then he said, “The Companions had fought the Marn to a standstill. They couldn’t beat them. The Marn would land and the Companions would defeat them. They hadn’t been able to conquer them, and the Marn wanted Skree.” Whitlaw thought about that, it gave him hope for the future, then he asked, “Did the Companions possess weapons that we do not?” That question was one he really needed an answer to. “They had the ability to form an energy shield, and carried a staff that could emit a ray that would cut through the Marn armor. I had hoped that when you found the Companion Armory, you would find those as well, but it seems that technology is lost to us and we will either have to figure it out for ourselves, or find a way to defeat the Marn without it.” With that Whitlaw left Yoran to complete his work, and he had some planning to do. He kept what Yoran said in mind. How could they have lost anything so needed as the weapons that Yoran had just described. They had restored all of the abilities to the Guardians that the Companions had possessed except for the shield and staff. He needed to have the armory searched further, but it would have to wait until they were able to get a pause in the upcoming battles.