The first step of the plan to rescue the realists was to find out where they were being held. To do that, they planned to interrogate one of Imbrium's Trusted -- immortal Burmecians who were given the power to stay up at night while everyone else (typically including the nightmare) was in the dreamtime. This meant that they slept during the day, in a nondescript hotel guarded by a few ordinary guards, but nothing else, for secrecy's sake. Alana knew where one was, though, so they had a target.
The plan was for them to go down from the roof disguised as window washers (insignificant window washers, just in case), break into one of the Trusted's rooms (after scrying out which rooms they were in of course), use one of Fernau's Silence spells to avoid alerting the guards in the hallway outside while they bound and gagged the target, drag them up to the roof, interrogate them (still gagged) using a mind-reading device, then use amnesia incense to erase their memory so that they didn't know anything at all had happened to disturb their sleep.
They had to do all this several times, because the wind kept shifting, and that amnesia incense was awfully potent. But eventually, they had the information they wanted and could even remember it -- another nondescript building on the edge of town was where the prisoners were being held. It was also where Imbrium's lair was located, although the lair was nine levels underground and the prisoners were on the second floor above ground. This meant that the building was insanely well guarded, magically -- it would be very hard to get the prisoners out without setting off alarms, and they didn't really want to antagonize the Nightmares so much that they had to flee Morpheus and never come back (again). Cane's plan of blowing up the first floor with cannon and then using tow cables to steal the top two floors with the prisoner in it was thus somewhat suboptimal, even if you ignored the possibility of collapsing the entire building and killing the people you were trying to save, or that the nightmares who were now building gunpowder weapons and railguns might have installed defenses against cannon.
But they were in luck! The prisoners were going to be taken to a public square to be executed -- in the middle of the night, so that the nightmares could make absolutely everyone watch. Again, security would be tight -- eighteen powerful mages and thirty six skilled guards to watch the 180 prisoners, who'd be asleep and animated to walk to their doom like zombies. Once they arrived, they'd be transformed into sentient trees, beset by parasitic vines so that they could be tormented for hundreds of years. Also, the grove would be a new, pleasant park in the middle of the city with fruit and shade, for people to frolic in.
So they started drawing up a plan to rescue the prisoners in transit. A decoy attack with Micro and other combatants and snipers, followed up by more distant snipers using railguns, a swarm of fake assailants, and maybe Kyngeah could convince some real ratlings to help? And if all else failed, the ship itself, guns blazing...
Kyngeah: "This is turning into a real military operation."
Cane: "Yes, I don't like it. Remember what happened last time we tried to organize this sort of military operation? We were ambushed by rockets, nearly got killed, and didn't succeed at our rescue."
Alana: "So what's your alternative?"
Cane: "Well, we could wait until they get turned into trees, then steal the trees. Once we're out of range of the nightmares, we can have the genie change them back."
Alana: "You have a *genie*?!"
After consulting with the mages, the plan was amended to stealing the trees' souls, since the genie would be able to create new bodies for them, and this would let them do it all stealthily. All they needed was an excuse to set up a ritual circle in the park for three hours while they extracted the 180 souls from the trees, one by one.
So they had a party in the new park -- shore leave for the crew. They had food and drink and games, which the people of the city were allowed to participate in, recruited a few people to fill the empty positions on their ship, and (in a tent ostensibly occupied by the cooks) the mages extracted the souls into a bag full of marbles.
Then they left Morpheus in a hurry, since Imbrium would certainly notice the missing souls shortly after nightfall. They left one person (Fawcett, Cane's ratling 'concubine') awake to testify to the existance of the meteors that they'd saved the nightmares from, and Cane hoped that between that and the trees left in place allowing them to save face, the nightmares might not be *too* angry.
Unfortunately, the first wish to restore the realists (by Captain Locust, who'd been saving his last wish after his first two went wrong) was badly phrased, and the trees in question all appeared on their deck, growing into the deck since he had at least specified 'alive and healthy'.
They only had one wish left, unless someone else wanted to start another set of three -- technically, two, but Sgt. First was a tree and couldn't talk to express his wish to the genie. So before they used it, they decided to see if they could transform the people back themselves. They quickly discovered that between them, they could change their species between different types of animal, but not starting from 'tree'.
Cane: "So we wish for them to be transformed into flesh and blood bodies, and when the genie twists the wish to turn them into hideous mutated sacks of flesh, we use this method to put them in their right shape."
Unfortunately, the genie was a little less sadistic and a little more mischievous, and turned them all into rats, with the minds of rats. The Sgt. First rat still had his wish, and soon the ship was overflowing with rat snacks -- little bits of cheese and fruit and raw meat. The cooks were set to collecting the food that could be stored and used, while Cane and some of the other mages went to work trying to change the rats back into Burmecians.
With his new expensive equipment from Jaxom and several months of practice under his belt, and Kyngeah's rapid-completion blessing, Cane was able to make a version of the species transformation potion that (a) always turned you into 'yourself as the target species' (previously a lucky effect from a critical success) and (b) did a real, one-time transformation, instead of a week-or-so temporary deal. [total DL: 15, instead of DL 6 for the original]
Unfortunately, while they could gather the rats on the ship together using ratfriend cake, they couldn't tell which rats were realists and which were real rats. Except for some of the mages, who had extra-powerful souls. So they picked a random rat as the first lab rat, and -- it was a real rat. As a burmecian, it was intelligent and no longer timid and bitey, but it didn't know how to talk because it'd never learned. They didn't want a hundred or more ex-rat burmecians on the ship! They were useless, and the ship was already going to be very, very crowded.
Fortunately, Takara was able to use her changestorm shard to temporarily transform the rats, so that they could tell who was who. Soon, the realists were back in Burmecian bodies, and clamoring for a ship of their own.
Cane: "You want your own ship? Really? Do any of you even know how to pilot?"
Itsaboy: "Kyngeah is your pilot! How long has she been doing it? It can't be that hard."
Kyngeah: "Oh, I've been a pilot for thousands of years, I just needed to learn the new controls."
They did probably have enough money to buy a ship, although military vessels weren't going to be easy to come by since they were in high demand, and enough enemies to go all pirate on someone and steal a ship, although that was risky. The immediate destination, however, was Ython -- only two days away from Morpheus now, its proximity the reason the nightmares had been targetted for Empire propaganda. In nine days there'd be a conjunction, when the two moons were close enough for people to travel back and forth using dirigibles instead of vane-powered skyships. This was not a chance Enka was likely to pass up.
The realists -- or at least, Itsaboy -- agreed that stopping Vaal (aka Enka) was more important, or at least more *urgent*, then making another attempt at killing a nightmare. He'd read the histories, and noticed how the histories had suddenly *stopped* as soon as Vaal entered an area.
Cane: "You know, we might need reinforcements. We don't have time to fly to the comet and back, but I wonder -- if the priestess controls it, maybe she could get it here in time? Was that magic mirror of yours two-way?"
Nico: "It wasn't, no."
Xerxes: "Um... it is *now*. I think she noticed it."
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