Shades of Light

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Chapter 11

Isaac's grave was shallow, but Caroline would have to dig him up on the way back anyway. She threw some branches and leaves on it, hoping that wild animals would leave it alone. There weren't many carnivorous animals in this world but it was best to be safe. The flesh of Midgard was like poison to this world. Isaac deserved a proper military grave with his comrades-in-arms anyway. He hadn't been the easiest to work with, but for somebody who was so utterly different to the people she was used to he seemed to have been a decent man. She might even start to miss his irreverent humor. He had dedicated his life to the Republic like she had, in his own way. Caroline couldn't imagine the horrors he had seen and committed during his career. Perhaps it was better that he had finally found death here, where it meant a sweet oblivion. She was alone in here now. Just her and the monster.

Voices surrounded her as she walked back to the little house. It was hard to know how many of them were real but occasionally she would catch a glimpse of some forest animal. They were following her but kept a respectful distance. Perhaps they knew that she wasn't an enemy. More likely they had no concept of 'enemy' and were just curious. She tried to ignore them. When the little house came into sight, a dozen different pairs of eyes turned to her. A gathering of various critters had assembled around Selene, who was still standing in exactly the same place where Isaac and Caroline had left her. The blond witch was speaking soothing words to the creatures as they watched the knight approach.

“They say that your friend is hurt,” Selene said to Caroline. Caroline stared quietly at the animals. A child-like intelligence lurked in their eyes. It was unsettling.

“My partner is dead at the hands of the invader,” she said finally. “I will require your help to continue my chase.”

A mouse started squeaking and was quickly joined by the other mice which were present. A fox shook its head and snorted derisively.

“The animals fear the man you seek,” Selene said. A deer rested its head against her shoulder. “You are powerful in ways we cannot imagine. Why do you need us?”

“I need to know were my quarry is and where it is going. It's been one step ahead of us since we got to this world,” she said. “That's why my partner died.”

Selene seemed to consider this. The animals expressed their opinions in their own ways and some simply walked off. Caroline fiddled with her radio as she waited.

“I want to find a solution to this problem,” Selene said after listening to various animals, each in turn. It would've appeared rather ridiculous to Caroline if she didn't know any better. “If helping you find the other visitor will accomplish this, I have no choice but to help you in any way that I can. ”

“Good, gather any supplies that you may need,” Caroline said. “We'll leave as soon as possible.”

“The owls tell me that they know where he is,” Selene said, smiling shyly. “There is no need to hurry.”

“Nevertheless,” Caroline said and turned away. Selene quickly walked to her house, after a moment of hesitation.

“Sir Caroline, SOS, calling Transcendence Base 1. Over,” Caroline spoke into the grey brick which served as her only means of communication with the people back home. She had extended the antenna of the radio for as far as it would go but reception was still unreliable at best. The Sisterhood had spent a fortune setting up a network of radio towers in this world but maintenance was difficult and the realm simply didn't seem be very suited for radio.

“Transcendence Base 1 acknowledges Sir Caroline, S.O.S. Over.” the reply finally came through from one of her sisters on the other side of the portal.

“Requesting immediate back-up. Brother Isaac, B.O.N. is KIA. Over.”

“Reinforcements incoming. ETA for your current position: 22 hours. Over.”

“Continuing pursuit. Will contact again when possible. Over and out.” She drew back the antenna. The animals had formed a circle around her and reacted to it with various exclamation in their proto-language. Caroline smiled at the animals and they smiled back at her. The fluffy creatures looked so much like the animals of her world but those could not smile back at you. Nor were they capable of communicating in the same way. It was a matter of great interest to the biologists of her order. She wasn't a biologist though.

“Are you ready?” Caroline asked when Selene finally appeared in a beautiful traveling cloak and a small bag over her shoulder. It would be more than adequate for survival in this realm. She nodded and waved her goodbye to the animals. Some of the creatures followed them and wouldn't stop doing so until they reached the edge of the forest.

The farm was as idyllic and picturesque as anything else in this world. Caroline was starting to get used to things looking like that. How dreadfully dull and grey the buildings back home would look if she ever made it back. No wonder the senior knights always looked so glum.

“This is where they last saw him,” Selene said. The two mice who had lead them here, husband and wife according to Selene, were already on their way back to their hole in the field.

“Is it still inside?” Caroline asked as she took out her machine gun. She considered giving Selene her side-arm but almost immediately discarded the idea.

“They saw him enter and they haven't seen him leave,” Selene said, unhelpfully. “Perhaps you should ask the family in the field?”

Caroline had to squint to be able to see the people working the field in the bright light of a midday sun. Apparently, living under the canopy of the forest had not affected Selene's eyesight in the slightest.

“Why don't you ask them and I'll check the house?”

“I don't-” Selene protested and looked down when Caroline gave her a questioning look.

“Don't tell me that you're too shy,” the knight said, unable to suppress the mocking tone.

“I don't see many people in the forest,” the witch muttered. “With you outlanders it's different because you're so...”

“It's fine. We'll talk to them together,” Caroline said, trying to sound understanding. Selene was essential to quickly tracking down her target.

The farmers were a friendly bunch even though their house had been broken into earlier. The 'other families' would help them if they needed it. They explained this to Caroline and Selene but couldn't help them track down the burglar. They bore the hungry bandit no ill will and even offered the two women a place to sleep for the night. Caroline suspected that her target was still around so she accepted and convinced Selene not to sleep outside either.

Besides the ransacked house, there was no sign of the invader. Caroline investigated all hiding spots she could think of on the farm. The farmers tried to help her but their lack of guile made them utterly ineffective. There were a few spots that would require more time to rule out. Even if she could find him, she wasn't sure if she could take him out on her own. Isaac had been the expert and the only one of the two of them to have any actual fighting experience. She was simply here to provide back-up and cover by spraying bullets in the direction of their target. She had a duty though and would see it through to the end. Just not not on her own, if she didn't have to.

The signal was much stronger now that the source was on this side of the portal.

“I'm at a farm not far from the eastern edge of the forest. A local source stated that this is where the target was last seen. I propose we regroup here, over.”

“Agreed, over and out.”

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