Elf Boy's Friends - X
After Loren's second set, they all went upstairs, ignoring the nods and winks thrown their way. One patron was heard to wonder how they would pair off.
"OK, first things, first. Derry, how is it you have the gift of mind speech? You're neither a druid nor a unicorn."
"You're correct that I am no druid, but I am indeed a unicorn, at least in my alternate form. Watch."
Loren stared open-mouthed as Derry smoothly morphed into a unicorn.
"A shape shifting unicorn!"
"Rather a shape shifting elf who can transform into a unicorn. My dual nature gives me the powers of both forms. For one thing I am nearly four times stronger than you would expect, which makes me more than a match for any Frost Giant except Finn Ragnarson."
"What about their powers — Corwin's and Axel's?"
"Corwin is a magical healer and also wields ball lightning. Druidical healing magic has made him and Axel nearly three times stronger with correspondingly faster reflexes.
"Axel is a jumper. He can instantly teleport himself and anything he touches to practically anywhere, and he wields push knives coated with a deadly poison, so he is a formidable combatant even without his carbine."
"A jumper with push knives! Of course!" Loren suddenly realized. "You gave only your first names or I would have recognized you sooner. You Corwin Klarendes are the intrepid war correspondent and you, Axel Wilde, the jumper cum sniper cum assassin whom Corwin wrote about in his history of the campaigns in Amazonia."
Corwin turned to Axel and said: "After Vronski and you I guess we'd better give our full names from now on."
Axel nodded as Loren continued:
"Now it is true that a handful of bandits would be no match for our powers, but why should I take a hand in this at all? It's not my job. These aren't my people. Besides I am not a professional adventurer like you two, you and Axel."
"Make that all three of us." Derry interjected. "Since I threw in with these two, I have turned into an adventurer myself. Just recently we unmasked a serial killer, a life leech, and later resolved a territorial dispute between frost giants and brontotheres."
"More power to you, but a life of action and adventure is not for me. And please don't tell me that it is my civic duty to help you capture the highwaymen. I know all about duty. It was why I volunteered to go to war. But that was everyone's fight, the defense of civilization itself. This bandit problem is not."
"Fair enough." Corwin conceded. "I cannot fault your reasoning. So let me ask, is there a reward for the apprehension of the highwaymen?"
"Yes, a considerable one, though perhaps not so very much when split four ways."
"Derry needs his share, but Axel and I are well-off. You can have my share and Derry can have Axel's. What do you say to half the bounty?"
Loren paused a moment then said:
"Hmmm, I don't earn very much as a minstrel, not out on the road in the hinterlands. At times a lack of coin has forced me into temporary work as a rent boy. So I have to say yes. Count me in, but only this one time."
The four agreed that they had to catch the highwaymen in the act. One way would be to trail a party of travelers small enough to temp them to pounce. Or they might surveil and trail the four known members of the gang. Finally the four of them might offer themselves as bait.
"Isn't it wrong to put innocent parties at risk by using them as bait? Better we take that risk ourselves." Loren opined.
Axel wasn't persuaded. He rocked his head and said:
"Let's say we use ourselves as bait and manage to turn the bandits' ambush against them and haul them into court. It would be our word against the bad guys. The bandits might even claim that we were trying to rob them or that our confrontation was the result of a misunderstanding or simply mistrust of chance-met strangers. No, we need witnesses whose motivation cannot be questioned."
"Why should anyone question our motives? We're the good guys, so why would we lie?" Loren asked.
"For the reward money, of course. No, we need the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses. Also, by using others as bait, we retain our tactical flexibility. So let's make our plans on the assumption that we will use a small party as a stalking horse."
"That's pretty cold-blooded, Axel, but I suppose you are right. You guys have a lot more experience at this sort of thing than I do.
"What is you plan then?" Corwin asked.
Axel shook his head.
"I don't have a plan really, only some initial thoughts. First, Derry your job will be to telepathically track the four we have identified. Find out where they go and whom they meet and share the images of the faces of other gang members. I will follow them physically but at a distance, watching through a far-viewer and relying on teleportation and the field craft I learned as a sniper to remain undetected. Your job Loren, when we catch them in the act, is to hold a missile shield over us and their intended victims and also to disarm them by yanking their air guns and bows out of their hands."
"Before we confront them you should know," Loren added: "that one of them can throw levin bolts. He once killed a bodyguard who cut at him with a sword."
"Don't worry." Corwin assured him. "I've got that covered. Lightning bolts are all offense but no defense whereas my ball lightning serves as both shield and sword. I can block levin bolts and attack at the same time, as I did so often in combat. Besides, Axel and I will also be armed with our carbines."
"Right, with bayonets fixed to further cow our foes with cold steel." Axel offered. We should also work Derry's sonic weapon into our plan. Loren's missile shield is s a fine defense against stand-off weapons while Derry's killer neigh can counter any attempt at getting to close quarters say with swords or knives."
"You have developed into quite the tactician Axel." Corwin allowed.
"Well I am a professional soldier in my dual capacity as both an aide to a war wizard and a war mage in my own right. And extensive combat experience tends to make for tactical thinking."
"Also it occurs to me that we will need some place to hold the bandits after we arrest them. It would be safest if Axel just jumped them one or two at at time from where we captured them to some holding pen. Loren, is there a jail in the village or some other secure place that would hold them."
"Just an old storeroom with a solid door and a good lock. It's used mostly for drunks or to let hotheads cool off after a barroom brawl. The constable will know more."
"Yes, we will have to bring him in on this." Corwin agreed.
"Derry you and I will have to check him out to make sure he is not working with the gang. Let's put our heads together tomorrow afternoon to make final plans. Meanwhile let's go to bed, and I mean just to sleep. That includes all of us. I may not be be mind reader like Derry, but I can see the mutual attraction between you Loren and you Axel, but it really should wait till afterwards."
"I hate to admit it, but you are right. With what is ahead of us in the next day or so, this is no time for fun and games," Axel admitted, "but we two will pick this up afterwards. Won't we Loren?"
The next morning after his ablutions, Axel checked his harness and combat medic pack and pumped up the air reservoir of his carbine to full pressure. It was normally kept at only half pressure until combat was imminent. He then sharpened his blades which included a kukri as well as his push knives.
"Isn't that the deadly venom you get from your shapeshifter friend?" Loren asked.
"Yes, but I am coating only one blade full strength. The other blade gets a dilute coating, just enough to incapacitate a foe and take him out of a fight. After all, we are trying to capture the bandits, not kill them out of hand."
"Good thinking, Axel" Derry agreed. "Which is why I am counting on my incapacitating screech more than my horn or hooves which are deadly weapons."
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