TKC 223 and 224
Perhaps we fell asleep, for no one gives warning. I know I lost awareness of my surroundings, my aching body demanding oblivion from me.
I awaken to a weapon pointing at my forehead. Jerking at first my surprise, I then freeze in position, only my eyes darting.
Men in grey and black uniforms surround us, forming a perimeter about the lone tree. All have weapons trained on us, but these are not swords, daggers or bows; these are technological monstrosities, all metal and angled death.
I cannot see their faces, for they have helmets on with dark visors. As these descriptions enter my mind, I am amazed. We have nothing like this on Massin and yet I know what is before me. I think it must be Ilfin memories.
Kay and the others are awake also, and as unmoving. No one dares utter a sound.
One man gestures significantly with his weapon, a sharp upward movement he repeats twice. We are to stand. Swallowing my fear, I rise slowly, hands raised. Hal gets up next, with Marian and Kay a moment thereafter. We do not speak.
From our higher vantage we see the ship. A small shuttle waits where the land dips slightly. I am amazed we did not hear it land, but it may have already been there when we halted to rest under the tree. The rain, I note, has lessened to a drizzle.
It is a shuttle. Somewhere there must be a massive ship above us. I dare not look.
Squinting, I see the misty outline of the fort we gathered in before the march across the plains. Damn, we should have harked to that. A fort is a summons all by itself, whether manned or not.
The gesturing one points towards the fort. I wonder why they do not speak. Perhaps we cannot understand their words. His gestures are clear, anyway, and we put one foot before the other. As the soldiers fall in with us, forcing us into single file, one grabs Marian’s pack to shoulder it.
My arms feel the strain of remaining aloft and slowly I lower them, only to feel the bite of cold metal at an elbow. Swiftly I reach up once more. In that manner, shuffling slowly with hands in the air, we head towards the fort.
The rain comes down again, and the men tighten their march to contain us. I assume they suspect us of possibly employing the veils of water for escape. Never have I been this wet and afraid.
The crumbling arch comes into view. In the courtyard beyond the entrance, many soldiers move about. Some heft massive crates, other stand together talking, while others gesture and shout commands. I cannot discern the words.
We file in and rough hands grip our necks from behind to manoeuvre us into a space right of the inner wall, forcing us to a halt there. We stand in a row as if for execution. Marian’s pack hits the wall and slides down. I flinch.
Two men remain with us, weapons trained. The others shift into the frenetic action in the courtyard. Soldiers run up and down the crumbling stairs and I wish for one of them to take a fall. I wish for all of them to be somehow flattened.
Most of the soldiers have removed their helmets. To the last their hair is closely shorn and all are in the prime of their years. I sense not one iota of fear or confusion among them. Soldiers trained for battle, these are. When one issues a command, I understand his words. His words are ours.
A man detaches from a group to approach us.
My heart thunders into my ears.