The landscape had changed as the altitude increased. Thick forests of redwood, maple, and aspens had given way to stunted cedar trees and large bushes sticking out from between massive and strangely square boulders stacked in odd piles here and there as though a giant had set them up like blocks and then kicked them over. The twelve members of the expedition moved easily enough on foot through the uneven terrain. Unlike the plains they had passed through the day before, which had been filled with great herds of horned triceratops, giant sauropods, and packs of vicious dinosaur predators, here there seemed to be little animal life. A single telmatosaurus, full grown but only fifteen feet long, wandered between bushes munching on conifer needles. Several long-nosed white-furred opossums were startled from their hiding places as the column of men and women passed by. A squat-bodied furry creature halfway between a bear and a dog barked at them from the top of a rock and then ran over the hill and out of site.
Radley Staff stopped to look back at the line of people following him and make sure that there were no stragglers. The formation remained tight, which was a miracle considering the diversity of the party members. Behind Staff was Amoz Croffut, a veteran soldier only recently retired from the militia, or the Colonial Guard as it was now officially known. He had already proven more than once on this trip that he could spot danger. Third was Senta, the tall, thin, blond, seventeen year old sorceress. Next came Taddeus Vever, sweating and puffing as he marched along on his short legs. Vever was a jeweler by trade, a sedentary job that gave him little time to exercise, so he was horribly out of shape. He didn’t complain though. Unlike Paxton Brown, who followed closely behind Vever and whose constant protests had long since worn thin. The man was supposed to be a scholar of lizzie behavior, and Staff had chosen him over several other naturalists for that reason. Now he was beginning to regret his decision. Behind him was the husband and wife duo of engineers, Ivo and Femke Kane. They looked at each other and smiled, apparently enjoying Brown’s discomfort. They were followed by Isaak Wissinger, the writer. Arriving from Freedonia two years before to join relatives, Wissinger had already published several well-known works of fiction and non-fiction. He was on this journey for his keen ear and understanding of language, though he spoke the hissing tongue of the lizzies less well than some of the others. He was followed by Lawrence Bratihn, the head of trade for Birmisia Colony, as well as the only person in Port Dechantagne besides Senta who had been in a lizzie city before. Occupying the tenth spot in line was Edin Buttermore. Buttermore was in much better shape than he had been when he arrived in Mallon. Now though, he was struggling under a pack filled with a good seventy pounds of photographic equipment. Pulling up the rear were Bertrand Werthimer and Woodrow Manring. Both were accomplished soldiers, though they like Croffut and Bratihn for that matter, no longer wore uniforms. All members of the party, excepting only Senta, wore khaki shirt and khaki trousers tucked into high boots. Senta wore black leather pants and a black and red leather corset that left her shoulders covered only by her long blond hair.
Staff let Croffut pass him and took up a spot beside the girl.
“I should have had you change into your khakis.”
“I didn’t bring any. Zurfina packed for me.”
“Black is too hot for a journey.”
“Do I look hot?”
“No. You look remarkably comfortable. But there is the question of camouflage. You stand out.”
“I’m supposed to stand out.”
“All right. Are your spells ready?”
She grinned at him. “You’ve worked with wizards in the navy, eh?”
“I’m not a wizard. My spells are always ready.”
“Potent too, from what I understand. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve actually seen you do magic.”
“How is married life?” she asked, changing the subject. “I would think it would be hard being married to the governor.”
“It’s good. It’s a bit like being in the navy. If you don’t mind taking orders, it’s a good life.”
“Say there, Senta,” said Vever catching up to the other two. “Is it magic that you’re not exhausted like I am?”
“Yes, it’s magic,” replied Staff. “It’s the magic of youth. She has twice the energy that either of us has and half as much idea what to do with it.”
“It’s a shame,” said Vever, though he didn’t complete the proverb. “That youth is wasted on the young.”
“Would you like me to carry your pack for a while, Mr. Vever?” asked Senta.
“I would never allow a young lady…”
She patted Vever, who was a foot shorter than she was, twice on the top of his head and then grabbed the pack by one of the loops on the back and lifted it off his shoulders. Pointing downward and swirling around her index finger, she said “Uuthanum izesic.” She tossed the backpack into the air just above where she had pointed, and it plopped onto an invisible surface, three feet above the ground. Senta smiled and continued on, following Croffut who was none the wiser. The backpack and whatever transparent thing supported it followed five feet behind her.
Staff and Vever stopped walking and wondered at the hovering object. As they stood thus amazed, Paxton Brown rushed past them. Catching up with the invisible transport, he flung his own pack on top of Vever’s. Now both haversacks followed along in the air behind the girl.
“Do you think I could..?” asked Buttermore, puffing up beside them.