Elf Boy's Friends - VIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 4

Setting Off

At the air field early the next day the three pilots readied their autogyros while the other five loaded the transport with supplies and equipment plus tools and spare parts for the flying machines. Then they suited up settling their weapons around their persons. Not that they expected trouble on the first leg to Grayling. Far from it. It was just good practice, a final check on their readiness and equipment.

The twins and Dylan carried their long bows unstrung plus a quiver with a mix of hunting and war arrows with extras stowed in the transport. Pouches on their belts held small vials of Aodh's powerful venom. Ordinary arrows alone might not stop the charge of a slash bear, but no creature no matter how enraged could ignore the excruciating pain caused by the venom, giving an archer the chance to put enough arrows into the beast to kill him by blood loss even if an arrowhead did not hit its heart. Another vial held a silvered lacquer effective against ensorcelled creatures like trackers and slashers.

No quarter staffs for any of them. They were too long and clumsy for a cockpit and they wouldn't be preceding on foot all that much anyway. The quarterstaff was as much a hiking pole as it was a weapon. Of course Jemsen could call on his powers as an earth wizard and Karel as an air wizard regardless of the weapons they bore.

Axel hung a kukri in a scabbard on his belt, a pair of very short scabbards for his fist knives, plus a pouch with a vial of Aodh's venom and his sling and some lead bullets, thought that was now just a backup. His main distance weapons, besides his powers of teleportation, were Eike's air guns. By preference he carried the shorter carbine version which the cavalry used though he also brought along the longer infantry version which was better for sniping. After his combat experience against the trolls Axel was a dead shot.

Drew also had a kukri plus a pouch with two steel spheres the size of peaches and another with soporific darts to put foes to sleep plus a couple of pouches of double-pointed dowel nails. For this trip he hung a circular wooden holster from his belt. Borrowed from the Navy it held one of their anti-rigging discs.

Made of steel the size and shape of a discus only with a keen edge all the way around, in naval combat it was used by fetchers to cut apart the rigging of enemy vessels. Both Army and Navy had adopted it as for use against enemy flyers in the "anti-personnel role" as the military chillingly put it. Though both spheres and discus relied on their momentum for their devastating effect, the spheres were intended to smash where the discus would cut apart, whether rigging or bodies. Wielded by a powerful fetcher like Drew, a discus could kill virtually any creature including slash bears though it might take more than a single cut.

Madden Sexton hung a kukri, a morning-star, and a buckler on his belt. Instead of a bow, his distance weapon was the infantry version of the airgun which had a longer barrel than Axel's carbine did. But then he was a much bigger guy, foot taller and two and one half times the mass. And when he invoked his gift, Sexton transformed into a wolverine five times larger and fifteen times stronger than any natural wolverine which were fearsome enough creatures at only fifty pounds, able to take prey many times their size including deer and elk.

As a war wizard Liam was a living weapon in his own right, a combination of a fetcher, a weather wizard, and a water wizard with additional powers of levitation and flight, concealment and white fire though not ordinary firecasting. And he could open space portals. He too carried a kukri but more as a camp tool than as a weapon and, following Drew's lead, a discus.

Finn Ragnarson looked every inch the avatar of Thor, the thunder god of the Norse, eight feet tall and a massive six hundred pounds. He wore helmet, breastplate, buckler, and steel gauntlets for defense. For offensive power he relied on his mighty war hammer Mjolnir, the Mountain Crusher. Finn drew strength from lighting and used it as an area weapon raining bolts on enemies not just from clouds but out of a clear sky. Stronger in magic than ever, he could now throw lightning bolts directly, precision targeting them with Mjolnir.

A gift of the dwarves, Mjolnir was forged by heat and magic out of steel made from meteoric iron so it would never rust and was virtually shatterproof. The head was shaped like that of a sledge with octagonal faces only more tapered to concentrate the impact. The haft was as long as a human arm and made of both ironwood and ash to give it strength and flexibility. Wrapped in leather for greater strength, the haft had a loop at the end by which it might be swung in an arc with devastating effect.

Axel gestured at their weaponry. "To look at us, armed the way we are, you would hardly think we were on a peaceful mission of exploration and diplomacy."

Sexton shook his head. "What we look like is a tough bunch of travelers no one would care to tangle with. Not if they have any sense. Our looks alone will likely deter aggression."

With that thought they climbed into their autogyros, all except Axel. Standing next to Finn's custom autogyro he rested his hand on its hull then instantly Jumped himself, the aerocraft, and its crew to the air field serving the town of Grayling, the most northerly port on the Long River.

Jumping had advantages over passing through a portal. The magic itself rather than the mage adjusted for the difference in rotational speed of the planet's surface at different latitudes. A Jump happened in an instant and could transport virtually anything the jumper touched — even a house. It wasn't a matter of mass but of size.

Axel made the round trip twice more till all three aerocraft and all eight adventurers were on the field at Grayling.

"And at the end of our mission Finn, just give me the order and I'll jump us all back to either Grayling or to the capital." Axel said proudly.

"Good work, Axel."

"That's got me thinking, Axel," Liam said.

"We actually have two ways to get back to Grayling or the capital since I can open a portal to either location. I can even doing it during flight. We would just guide our autogyros through the portal and zip right back. Or I could open one at ground level and we would just roll through it."

"I thought you still had trouble with opening big portals?" Drew asked.

"I've gotten much better at it. Size is no longer the problem it once was, but I still can't hold a gate open for very long. Not yet anyway."

Grayling was the first town on the Long River below a series of rapids and cataracts marking the head of navigation. It was at once a river port, an industrial town, a district capital, and the provider of services to the rural area around it.

Already sizable at that point, the river ran south along the foot of a steep escarpment. Tributaries and dramatic waterfalls ran off the escarpment to augment its flow. A good sized town occupied the triangle of land where one of the smaller rivers joined the greater one. That town was Grayling.

Leaving their machines and gear in the care of the staff at the Army airfield, the company of adventurers took rooms at an upscale inn and dined at a fancy restaurant, treating themselves to a bit of luxury before setting off on their great adventure.

At bedtime they paired off: Finn with Drew, Dylan with Jemsen and Karel, and Axel with Liam.

Finn and Drew's relationship went all the way back to the war against the centaurs in what became New Varangia. And if Finn was famous among his people as half of the team of Old Arn and Young Finn in the Breach during the Battle of the Ravine, Drew was equally celebrated as the Brave Little Fetcher who had stood with them.

Dylan's relationship with the twins was much more recent. Besides the strong physical attraction, their personalities were compatible. Of this trio of beautiful young people, one was a full-blooded elf while the other two were elf-friends with all that implied about same-gender sexual orientation and a preference for a clothing free or skin-clad life style. Expert archers and professional adventurers they also shared the magical gift of Unerring Direction.

For Axel, Liam was his first real lover. Only seventeen when they had met, the two had taken an instant shine to each other when Liam presented himself at the office of the well-regarded war wizard Sir Willet Hanford at the Institute seeking an apprenticeship in wizardry. He carried a letter of introduction from Drew who was himself a protege of Sir Willet's.

Regardless of who slept with whom on a particular night, the youths were practically family. Only Dylan and Finn did not live in the capital. However on the twins' frequent visits to Elysion, if the young elf wasn't out on patrol, he shared their rooms. On Finn's visits from Flensborg where he was stationed Finn stayed at the enlarged suite of rooms that all eight boys shared: the twins, Drew, Axel, Corwin Klarendes, Karl-Eike Thyssen, Liam and Nathan Lathrop, that is when the last two were not away on duty with the Navy.

Madden Sexton was the odd man out. The burly ranger consorted exclusively with the female half of the species. His attitude was one of detached and bemused puzzlement at all the fuss so many men made over pretty boys. Madden just didn't understand what some men saw in cute young guys, or rather he didn't feel what they felt. Pretty girls, now that was something he could understand, though thankfully he was well beyond the urgency of the teenage years. He wasn't interested in a casual encounter in Grayling.

All the others, knowing they couldn't always count on proper beds in their travels, made the most of their opportunity.

In the morning, Axel gave the machines a final check.

"There is not much that can go wrong with these machines, but the rotor bearings need to be oiled every other day and the wheel bearings greased. We do need to keep an eye out for bad weather. The rule is that you settle to the ground before the blow reaches you. Otherwise we should be safe enough. Even with no forward speed to spin the rotor, an autogyro will land itself safely. As the autogyro sinks to the ground the rotor spins from the air it passes through providing enough lift for a safe landing."

Rolling the autogyros onto the field, the pilots invoked their telekinetic gift or in Finn's case his magnetic one, and pushed their aerocraft down the field for the short take off run typical of the autogyro. These machines couldn't take off vertically or hover. The rotor of the autogyro turned freely, spun by the force of the wind created by the forward motion of the autogyro. Both rotor and stubby wings generated lift.

Pointing their aerocraft toward the mountains, the Corps of Discovery set forth toward the unknown.

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