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The four watched the plane fly off and become a speck in the sky. They had spent hours flying over this desolate land while Kamiko used her Sensing to give the general direction they were to go.
"I've never tried to sense inanimate objects," she had said. "I don’t know if it can be done."
"Normally I don't think it can," Leif had responded. "But this is different, as though the Stranger wants those who are truly called to find it. And we are truly called."
Sure enough, Kamiko was able to pinpoint a general drop-off area. It took a while, but the pilot found a spot suitable for landing.
They were now completely on their own. The rest of the search had to be done on the ground. Tundra laid in every direction. Small drifts of snow and ice dotted the ground but that could change in a moment since storms could appear within hours.
They spent the rest of the day slowly walking, pausing often to let Kamiko be as certain as she could on which direction they were to go.
"I don't think we can afford to lose time doubling back," Devan commented. "We're not twenty anymore. We don't have the energy reserves we once had."
"I still exercise," Isabella exclaimed.
"Except on the days you don't," Leif shot back. That started a snowball fight.
"Hey, I'm trying to sense here," Kamiko shouted. For that she got a snowball to the side of her head. “I’m fairly sure we are going in the right direction. I can't be completely sure, though," she added, which didn't fill the others with confidence.
"We'll set up camp here and set out in the morning," Leif advised.
The night was long and cold. Sometime in the middle of the night Isabella nudged Leif.
"Wake up! Listen!" she whispered. "Is that a wolf?"
"I've been listening for a while now," Leif whispered back. "I have picked out at least five different howls. I think it’s a pack. They don’t seem to be coming closer."
Isabella shivered. "Can we fight off a whole pack?" she asked.
"I don't know," Leif replied. "Devan and I have our pistols. I wonder if the flows have any effect on them? As usual we will trust the Source if it comes to that."
The rest of the night was spent in restless sleep. Only an occasional solitary howl rent the night air.
The next few days, thankfully, were clear and sunny and good for hiking, though the sun was hardly warming. It was slow going. The terrain was rugged enough to make walking difficult. Hillocks and ravines were everywhere.
Leif guessed the vault was situated in one of the ravines. That way the entrance would be somewhat hidden from unfriendly eyes, and protected from the full force of the weather.
Kamiko was in the lead. Frequently she would stop until she decided if they were to continue ahead or make a slight course change. One minute she was confident and the next minute not. Occasionally they would have to backtrack to find a way around a deep ravine.
At night the wolves could be heard. It may have been his imagination, but Leif thought they were getting nearer. He always kept his pistol handy.
On the third day Kamiko stopped with a puzzled look.
"We must have passed it," she said. "I'm sensing it behind us now."
“That’s good!” Devan exclaimed. “It means we’ve been on the right track.”
"Fan out," Leif ordered. "Look for anything out of the ordinary. But don't go too far. We can always move the search center."
They began to search. It’s not an easy task, though, if you have no idea what you’re looking for. Some sort of hidden door, they guessed, but no one really knew.
The sun was going down when Isabella went down a ravine and rounded a small curve and came face to face with a wolf. It ran off snarling when Isabella screamed. Her shouts brought the others running.
"Are you okay?" Leif wanted to know.
"Wolf!" was all Isabella could squeak out. It took her a moment to compose herself.
"It was probably on a reconnaissance mission," Leif mused. "But I don't like that thought. Now I know how a mouse feels when being stalked by a cat. We'll make camp here, but out on a flat part. I don't want any way they can sneak up on us. We can see them if they attack."
The others weren’t happy. "How can we fight off a whole wolf pack?" Devan asked.
"I don't know," Leif said. "Each of us heard the same call to take this journey. We’re not here by accident. The Stranger wants to show us something."
They set up camp on a flat parcel of land. The mood was gloomy.
"We'll set up a watch. Ladies first. Isabella, you take the first watch, Kamiko the second, Devan third, and I'll be last. Wake me if you see the slightest thing."
Fortunately the moon was almost full. With no clouds, they would be able to spot any wolves trying to sneak up on them.
If the wolves decide to mount an all-out assault, we’re in trouble, Leif thought.
On Devan's watch he woke the others. "Something is going on!" he hissed at them.
In the distance they could see a pack of wolves slowly advancing. Leif estimated there were around thirty of them. In the moonlight, they were black specks. They could only watch and see what unfolded. Leif and Devan drew their pistols.
"Get behind us," Leif told the women.
While they watched, the wolves split into smaller groups. The groups were equally spaced apart. Too equally, Leif thought.
The wolves were now close enough that each individual wolf could be clearly seen. If Leif's suspicions hadn't been raised he might have missed it. But they were raised, and he looked at each wolf intently.
Aha, spotted you.
"Look," he shouted to the others. "Each group is led by what looks like a wolf but is a Manform trying to look and act like a wolf. Them I know how to handle. Help me blast them with some flows."
Burning red flows went from the four to the Manforms. When hit, the Manforms turned and ran. Once the Manforms were on the run, it was obvious they were who were controlling the wolves. The wolves began snarling and fighting among themselves for a few moments, then they, too, turned and ran. It was eerily quiet.
"I doubt if they will bother us again anytime soon,” Leif guessed. "Still, I hope we can leave here as soon as possible. We must find that vault."
They waited impatiently for the dawn so they could resume their search.
It must be around here somewhere, Isabella thought as she walked along a ravine. Well, this is odd. She realized the ravine made a smooth curve to the left and then an equally smooth curve to the right. Artificially smooth. Like an S. Isabella froze. Of course! S for Stranger! She excitedly called the others to her.
"I think you may be on to something," Leif said. "I could kiss you right now."
"Later will do," Isabella replied. "Let's find that entrance."
Now that they knew where to look, a door was quickly found at the spot where the “S” changed from one curved portion to the next. They began clearing away the debris that had built up over who knew how many years. They could now see the door was the entrance to a room-sized metal vault embedded into the ravine. Only a handle was on the door. Nothing else was on the door or vault that gave a clue how to get in.
"I wonder if we are the first to find it," Devan asked, "and what has kept out the Manforms?"
"Maybe the same thing that is keeping us out," Leif said, pulling on the door handle with all his might. "Give me a hand here, Devan."
Even with both of them straining, the door didn't budge.
"You mean we've made it this far and can't get in?" Isabella cried.
"Stop, everyone," Kamiko said. "The Source wouldn't let us get to this point for nothing. The most obvious thing is the door is activated by a direct flow of the Four Great Truths. Four, not three. That would ensure only the right people got in, and it would keep the Manforms out."
Which is what happened. When the flows hit the door, it released and opened a few inches.
"Good call, Kamiko," Leif said.
Now with nothing preventing them from going in, they were a little nervous about what might be awaiting them.
"Again, let's remember who sent us," Leif reminded them. "The Source wouldn't send us into a trap."
He pushed open the door and they entered the vault. It was dark inside. Not enough light came in through the open doorway to see anything clearly.
"Everyone long the Beat," Leif said.
The golden glow of the Beat revealed what lay inside. It wasn't much. In fact, they felt a letdown. The vault only contained a table with two scrolls. Everything was covered in a layer of dust-- the table, the scrolls, the floor.
"I don't know what I expected, but not this," Devan exclaimed. "Maybe a room full of gold and jewels, or something."
Leif felt the same way. Surely something a little more grandiose than a couple of plain-looking scrolls, he thought. The scrolls were composed of some kind of rolled up leather, or something similar.
"Well, I guess this is what we were supposed to find," Kamiko finally said, breaking the thoughts of the others. "If it makes anyone feel better, I am definitely sensing a flow of the Source coming from them. I think these are what we have been searching for. Let's see what they have on them."
Turning to Leif, Isabella said, "You may now kiss me."
"Humans have entered the vault," a Manform informed the Pulsing. "You instructed us to tell you whenever that happened. From their flows, they are the ones you are already familiar with."
The Dark Pulsing was pensive. It had been so long he didn't think it would ever happen. This was troubling. He wondered what it meant.
"Bring them to me," he commanded.
The Manform bowed and left.