Naivety’s Price

Sunar didn’t have to wait, his ‘ride’ appeared in the cargo hold moments after they walked in. They all exchanged the minimum of words, Sunar put his hand on the Wizard’s shoulder, and found himself standing in Master Ikthan’s private office almost before his hand settled. Master Ikthan sat behind his desk and looked… concerned, and that look chilled Sunar to the bone. He’d never seen a look like that on his teacher’s face. The Mater spoke before Sunar even had a chance to move. “Your sister, Meesha, Sally, and Kinva were kidnapped early this morning, between here and the town.

“We heard nothing for several hours, then I got a video call. The girls stood in the background, unharmed but for a few minor bruises. The men who had them insisted I call you, immediately, and make sure you stayed where you were, and didn’t try to contact anyone else here. They stayed on the call until we got off, then informed me that the girls were going to be taken ‘someplace safe.’ They did not tell me anything about what they planned for you.”

Master Ikthan stopped, closed his eyes, and took a breath. “We have been worried about you Sunar. You may have left this Monestary, but it is still your home… that is part of what those marks on your arm mean. I know you understand that, so we became concerned when we stopped hearing from you a few months ago. Based on what we found when we went looking for you I assume that your disappearance, the fact that a certain cartel suddenly has the unmitigated gal to kidnap four of my charges then call me and make demands, and the injury to your wing are all related?”

Sunar caught a mild hint of disappointment in Master Ikthan’s tone, but that was all it took. I’ve been a fool, I should have realized that police chief was dirty. Or, at the least, I should have been willing to trust the captain and asked her advice. I knew something didn’t seem right about what had happened I just…

The memory of him lying on his recovery bed, listening to Master Ikthan dress him down for failing to trust his friends and family and attempting to fly without proper preparation, flashed across the forefront of his mind. He almost felt like that young boy again, and had to fight an urge to hang his head.

I am still learning to trust, I guess. No, not trust. I trust my family. I also trusted the captain. It is something else. Maybe I should discuss it with Master Ikthan. Or Thalon, or… someone. He kept his head high, despite his misgivings. If he wanted me here, then he is giving me a chance to go after my sister and Meesha… and I will need help with that. I also owe some people explanations. “Master Ikthan, time seems to be short, and I think I owe this tale to more people than just you and our wizard friend…

He caught the faintest hint of a smile from Master Ikthan as the man nodded and tapped a bell. At the strong, pure tone which came out of it the office doors opened. The parents came in first: some – like his father – showed evidence of tears while others bore hard looks on their faces. Sunars three closest friends – his fellow Titans – came in next, then the rest of Meesha and his sister’s friends.

Most of the others sat, but Sunar stood and told them, as briefly as he could manage, everything that seemed to matter of his tale. By the time he finished Master Ikthan had leaned back in his chair, and sat with eyebrows raised and fingers steepled. The man closed his eyes and spoke softly. “I wish you would have contacted me, Sunar. Of course, maybe I should have searched harder for you, too.” The Master’s eyes opened and Sunar could see sadness, and something that looked almost apologetic, in them. “You do realize we searched for you, yes? We found the bar you’d been working at: Bobby Finkle torched it, and tried to make it look like the owner did it himself as part of an insurance scam. Thankfully he managed to hire good enough lawyers to escape jail, get his insurance money, and exercise his Right to Relocation to leave the planet.”

Ikthan sighed. “Still, we found no evidence of your death, and nothing in the public records about an arrest, so we assumed you’d gone offworld. I managed to get in contact with that bar’s former owner. He had nothing negative to say about you, despite what happened to his business. He seemed to feel that you’d bought him enough time to get the lawyers and his relocation plans in place so he could come out ahead in the end. He did mention that you seem to have a streak of naiveté that tended to get you into trouble you didn’t expect, but I suppose that is at least partly my own failing. You have a tendency to display certain types of wisdom beyond your years, but that doesn’t help you when it comes to understanding the difference between how the world out there actually works versus how it is supposed to work.”

Master Ikthan looked off into space for a moment, then gave a small shake of his head. “However, that is a matter for another time. Retrieving our girls is the matter for now. We have discovered where they are, and the place is not heavily defended.” The Master looked at the young men and women who had assembled behind Sunar. “All of you have your countenances set as if you think I am going to try to prevent you from going with Sunar. You are incorrect in that assumption. All of you have learned how to fight, and getting this done is more than Sunar should be trying to do by himself. Remember the first rule: we take care of one another. That includes going and getting anyone who has been put in danger.”

A few taps on the desk and a panel slid back to reveal a holo-projector. Sunar felt his eyebrow ridges go up a little at that. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Master Ikthan has his own projector, but I am. I know he keeps all the Monestary records on paper, after all.

A somewhat large rural house appeared above the desk. “This place is a sort of safe house used by certain members of the crime syndicate which has grown like a cancer through our world’s political and economic strata. Right now they are using it as a place to hold the girls, for what reason I am unsure. They have a dozen guards stationed there, all of them with rifles of various kinds and various other close-quarters weapons. You are going to need to make a quiet approach under cover of darkness. I would prefer to have you go in the dead of night, but we don’t know why our women are being held there, nor how long they will be held, so you are going to have to go in just after dusk. We have seen no evidence that they have any kind of night vision, so you should be able to make an approach easy enough.”

Master Ikthan glanced at the slivers of light which penetrated his window’s closed shutters. We are an hour from dusk now. All of you, especially you, Sunar, stay inside and away from any open windows: our home is being watched, and I don’t want you seen. In one hour the spellcasters I have contracted will arrive and teleport the lot of you here.” The hologram on the display zoomed out, and a small red X appeared a little ways off from the home, on the opposite side of it from the road. “I will leave it to you to plan your attack, but I would suggest that it include Gorshun and Sunar coming in from high above: they do not believe you are here, and will be surprised.”

Sunar nodded at the Master’s words, then his eyebrows drew down as the implications of something his teacher had said sank in. “Master Ikthan… you will not be going with us?”

The wizard friend who had ported him in spoke up with a slight chuckle before Master Ikthan could reply. “No, Sunar, he won’t be.” The wizard then looked at the Master. “I suppose you have already contacted everyone else, then, and need me to do a bunch of teleporting?”

Ikthan gave the man a half-smile and a small shake of his head. “Yes I have, and no I don’t. They have rendezvous coordinates, and have assured me that they will be able to provide their own transportation. We will meet them in just under an hour.”

The wizard chuckled once more. “It will be good to see everyone again. You know we should get together sometime when it isn’t a crisis.”

Ikthan nodded and shrugged. “I would certainly be amenable to such a thing. I will leave it to you and Sicilia to arrange it sometime… Thalon’s wife does enjoy arranging things like that, after all.”

A thousand questions swam in Sunar’s mind, but Master Ikthan silenced them all with a look. “You all have some planning to do, and so do I. You can ask your questions about my task after yours is done: go find a holo-porojector and plan your attack. Gorshun knows where the relevant files are.”

Everyone stood and saluted, fist to hand. As soon as Master Ikthan returned the salute the youngsters filed out the door, somehow feeling both more confident and less confident – at the same time – than they had been when they walked in the same door.


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