"Be my eyes," the ageless woman said to the bird resting in her cupped hands. "Fly to the thing that provokes the Earth so, and let me see it so we may determine how to defeat it. Fly now, and let none stand in your way!"
She opened her hands then, and the bird, her dæmon, rose and sped away, like a bejeweled arrow shot from a bow. April watched all this silently, glancing at her own Kyree, who had returned from her own mission a little while ago, with blood on her claws and a satisfied look in her eyes.
April had not been born among Witches, and she had not stayed to live the rest of her life among them once her initial training was complete, after she'd turned 17. She did not regret her decision to leave, though there was clearly more she might have learned had she stayed. She wished she knew what Kyree had seen and done, after she sent her dæmon off, on the suggestion from her rescuer that her friends were in trouble.
"Go! Find Napoleon and Illya!" was all the instruction she'd been able to give. "Find them and help them, if you can."
Upon her return, Kyree had informed April that she had seen Napoleon and hurt a bad man, and that Napoleon was safe now, but that was all. April's rescuer, it was clear, was able to actually see through her dæmon's eyes as she flew, and knew, somehow, that evil men had built a device which 'provoked the Earth', though she had never heard of Thrush or their terrible deeds.
"I know nothing about the world beyond," the ageless woman said. "But I know everything about this place, this mountain, and all that dwell here. The world beyond has shunned me, so I have divorced myself from it, but I am still a Witch, and I am still powerful to protect my own."
"I suppose," April said, "I am too, in my own way."
"That you are, little sister," the woman said. "That you are."
Two sets of tracks could be seen leading away from the Abernathy's garage when Napoleon pulled the snowmobile up to the front. Seeing as the Thrush cohorts had planned to meet before dawn at Mt Hood, naturally the birds must have flown already, and their mechanism might, therefore, go off at any minute.
Even so, Napoleon still had to manhandle Kent out of the snowmobile and into a broom closet before he could attend to the Thrush device. Fortunately the Wongs appeared as soon as they heard his approaching snowmobile, and presented themselves at the front door, eager to assist.
To Napoleon's great relief, not even Mrs Wong had a single question about why the bound, beaten and bloody Kent Abernathy should need to be secured thusly. She even offered additional rope. They also took quite seriously Napoleon's advice that they immediately evacuate the lodge, though George was reluctant on his part.
"Are you sure you couldn't use a second pair of hands?" he said, following Napoleon back to his room where there was a spare communicator.
"You need to get your aunt to safety, and don't forget Abernathy's still out there," Napoleon said, heading back towards the stairs as he uncapped the communicator and called for an open channel. He got Waverly almost immediately.
"The good news is that we have control of the local Thrush base, and I believe that Agent Dancer may still be with us," he reported as he walked. "The bad news is that I've lost Agent Kuryakin, and the machine which we think creates earthquakes is set to go off some time before dawn… which means any minute now, and I'm not sure I'm going be able to figure out how to turn it off in time. The local Thrushies have flown. Smith and Carruthers may be able to intercept them at Mt Hood, but they left here, what… an hour ago?" Napoleon directed the question to George, who was still nearby. So, it transpired, was Mrs Wong, standing in the hall as they approached.
"Abernathy and Dr Emerson leave forty five minute ago," she said. "Girls leave ten minutes after that, but they not getting to Mr Hood."
"Why not?" inquired Napoleon.
"I put maple syrup in snowmobile gas tanks," she said with a satisfied smile.
Once he'd stopped laughing, Napoleon informed Waverly of this new information, so that he could coordinate the ski patrol and police party who would find and apprehend the Abernathys. Then closed the channel.
"You've been of great service to UNCLE and your fellow citizens," he said to the Wongs. "But your primary duty now is to get yourselves to safety, yes?"
George reluctantly agreed, picking up the suitcases his aunt had packed and turning to go. "Good luck, Mr Iverson," he called as they headed to the garage. "I hope we meet again some day."
"We owe you," Napoleon acknowledged as he turned to go in the other direction. "We won't forget it!" He heard the snowmobile depart as he found the lockpicks in his pocket, and a moment later he was at the wine cellar door.
He had to carefully not think, as he worked, about the impending earthquake and avalanche that was due to erupt at any minute, but the lock on the wine cellar door was child's play to pick. Once in the wine cellar, he saw that Abernathy had been sloppy and simply left the door from the wine cellar to the base standing ajar. Napoleon entered carefully, sending Saphina to slink in ahead, but the whole place was empty and abandoned. She was standing in the middle of the control center, nose raised to sniff the air when Napoleon entered.
"Saphina?" he asked, watching her. She did not reply, but instead issued a short, inquiring yowl that echoed throughout the cavern. A moment later they both heard a distinctive yip answer back.
"Pasha?!" they both cried at once and then Saphina was off like a shot, down the short staircase to the lower platform with the mechanism interface. Now Napoleon could hear claws clicking across the metal decking and he hastened forward himself.
Saphina and Pasha were embroiled in a reunion tussle at the bottom of the stairs, but they sorted themselves immediately when Napoleon came into view.
"Napoleon! Napoleon! You have no idea how happy I am to see you," Pasha said, urging him in the direction of the interface, even as Napoleon gathered his partner's dæmon into his arms. "It's set to go off in ten minutes, and I know how to make it stop, but I can't reach it!"
It didn't even occur to Napoleon to ask Pasha how he knew what to do. He saw the long vertical slider on the upper part of the interface panel, attached to the side of immense, shaft-like earthquake machine, as well as the many scratch marks below it, showing where Pasha had tried to jump for it.
"Slide it down to zero," Pasha said as Napoleon let him down. "Then you'll be able to shut the power off back in the control area."
Napoleon felt the strange vibrations from the mechanism lessen in intensity as he pulled the slider down.
"Where's Illya?" Napoleon asked as he followed Pasha, dashing back and forth ahead of him, back up to the control center.
"There's another bit of lava tube cave back there," Pasha explained as he directed Napoleon to the correct panel. "And it's connected to this one by a thin crack. Illya couldn't fit. But oh! Mark and Lyssa are in there with him!"
Napoleon's head spun, hearing this news while trying to stay focused on the rather vital task at hand.
"Pasha!" he called. "Is it this lever here?" He pointed to the large and obvious knife switch predominating the panel.
"Yes, that's it!" Pasha confirmed. They all fell silent for a moment as Napoleon pulled the switch down. The lights flickered and then came up slightly brighter, and they all became aware that a steady, low thrumming, just below their ability to actually hear, had stopped at last.
Napoleon let out a long, relieved breath, just as Saphina burst out, "Mark's alive? But that's the best news, because April's alive too!"
"April!" Pasha said, leading them back down to the work platform and then to the narrow walkway. "Where is she?"
"We're not sure," Napoleon said, "but her Kyree saved our bacon out there tonight, just as we were about to get chucked down a mine shaft. Stands to reason she's alive and well somewhere. Say, Pasha, how did you and Illya know how to shut this thing off?"
"We didn't," Pasha said, "but when first I got into this base, she was here waiting and she showed me which controls to work."
Even as Pasha made this explanation, Napoleon heard a high, rattling bird cry, and a second later the author of the cry came swooping into center of the chamber. She was small, but as bright as a jewel, with iridescent blue feathers on her back and wings, and a chest and belly the color of molten gold. She circled swiftly around the room once, then disappeared with astonishing suddenness, into one of the irregularities in the cavern wall in front of them.
"That's the passage that leads back to Illya and Mark?" Saphina asked and when Pasha nodded, said,. "And that bird, was that a european kingfisher?"
"It's a Witch's bird," Pasha said. "But she wouldn't say anything about who she was or what she was doing here."
"Typical," Napoleon muttered, gazing into the opening into which the bird had disappeared. "This little crack really goes through to another cave, Pasha?" he asked.
"Yes, exactly!" Pasha said. "It's only that narrow for a few feet or so, then it opens out into another lava tube. There's a hot springs below, that keeps the place warm."
Napoleon peered down the crack. "Illya!" he shouted. " Tovarish ! Are you down there? Can you hear me?"
After a moment Napoleon saw a glimmer of light, as if someone was shining a mini torch into the crack, then heard a much hoped for reply. "Napoleon!" came Illya's voice through the opening. "It's very good to hear you. I take it you've met up with Pasha?"
It was one thing to see Illya's Pasha and know Illya must be alive, but hearing his partner's voice was the thing that unravelled the last knot of anxiety lying in Napoleon's stomach.
"It's really good to hear your voice too, partner mine," Napoleon answered. "And yes I'm here with Pasha, and we got the Thrush earthquake machine shut down too. Do you know anything about the kingfisher dæmon that told Pasha how to do that?"
Illya was starting to say that he didn't know anything about that, when another voice interrupted his. "A kingfisher dæmon? Blue and gold colored?" Mark Slate's British accented words filtered down the crack.
"That's the one," Napoleon replied. "It's good to hear your voice too, Agent Slate."
"Likewise, mate," Mark said. "And that kingfisher dæmon saved my bloody life, she did. Led me down here with the avalanche right on my heels and me thinking I was done for. Haven't the faintest idea whose she is, though."
"Or if she managed to save April too," chimed in Lyssa, Mark's ferret dæmon.
"I'm guessing she did," Napoleon said, recounting his tale of how Kyree had saved them, much to Mark and Lyssa's joy.
"Kyree knew to find us when we were in trouble," Saphina mused. "I bet she'd know to find us now that the machine has been shut down. If we went out on the snowmobile, she could find us and lead us to where April is."
They all agreed that this seemed a sound plan, but a few loose ends needed to be tied up here first.
"If I send Pasha to you with the communicator," Napoleon proposed, "You can report in and tell them that the machine's been shut down, and they can use the communicator signal to find you and send a rescue team."
"A good plan," Illya agreed. "But can you also send down some kind of food supplies in small enough packages that Pasha and Lyssa can carry them through the crack to us? Mark hasn't eaten in days."
Luckily, a brief rummage through the kitchen produced two large bags filled with small boxes of raisins and little bags of peanuts. Napoleon carried these down to set them next to the crack opening, leaving their two dæmons the tedious job of ferrying the supplies through the narrow passage to their hungry humans on the other side.
"Where to next?" asked Saphina, loping alongside Napoleon as he headed back up and out of the Thrush base.
"Back to the snowmobile," he replied. "I think you're right about Kyree and April. They'll know the machine has been shut down and that it's time to call for a lift home."
Outside the sky was just lightening, with the pink glow of an impending sunrise outlining the mountain peaks on the eastern horizon. Napoleon could clearly see the pair of tracks from Abernathy and his guests' snowmobiles leading west, towards the ski resort, and the Wongs' more recent tracks, leading south, towards the road. Napoleon had his eye on a less well marked trail which should lead north and east, up to the ridge above the lodge, where he could get good view, and be seen easily as well.
The trail was not groomed, but it was not too hard to follow and only five minutes or so later, Napoleon arrived at the view point. He cut the engine on the snowmobile and got out, Saphina at his side, and looked out over the winter landscape all around him, lit golden by the long angled beams of the rising sun.
Directly below them was the lodge with its steep gables and snowmobile tracks leading away in three directions. Further down and to the west was the dark line of the crevasse Illya and Mark were trapped at the bottom of, and further down still, Napoleon could see Abernathy's abandoned snowmobiles. If he squinted, he thought he might even be able to see the four Thrush stooges, floundering through the snow on foot, just beyond the stalled vehicles. He wondered how it would go for Abernathy once the two women, who must have figured out by now that they were meant to be sacrifices, caught up with him.
This amusing train of thought was interrupted by a familiar, piercing cry from above.
"There she is!" said Saphina, sitting up and reaching out towards the dark speck circling in the sky above. Napoleon pulled off his knit cap and waved it in the air, and soon the speck in the sky became discernable as a bird, and then discernable as Kyree. Napoleon and Saphina leapt back into the snowmobile, turning it around to be ready to follow April's dæmon. She circled low over their heads once, then sped off towards the east, Napoleon and Saphina roaring after her.
Napoleon had never been so glad to have Saphina's extra pair of eyes, so that she could follow Kyree's course across the sky while he kept the snowmobile from crashing into trees and rocks or going off a cliff. She led them along the flank of the ridge, regardless of the terrain they had to cross, and just as Napoleon was starting to wonder if he shouldn't have checked the fuel levels before they'd set out, Saphina gave a hopeful shout.
"She's just circling now," Napoleon's dæmon said. "I think we must be close."
Slowing the snowmobile, Napoleon peered ahead to see a clearing on a rise, and there, in the center, someone wrapped in blankets sat on a boulder. At the sound of the approaching snowmobile she raised an arm to wave, but did not stand. There could be no doubt of the figure's identity, however, when Napoleon saw Kyree swoop down to land on her upraised fist.
He gunned the snowmobile's engine over the last stretch of open ground, then braked as he drew close, throwing up a shower of snow. She still remained seated as Napoleon and Saphina leapt out of the vehicle, but he saw immediately the reason. Her left leg was encased in a bulky but secure looking construction of wood splints and leather thong, undoubtedly meant to immobilize the injured limb. She reached out her arms to Napoleon as he came to stand before her, joyfully calling out his name.
"I knew you were coming," she said. "But I am so happy and relieved to see you at last!"
"Imagine how we feel!" Napoleon said, lifting her up to wrap his arms around her. "We feared the worst, I'll have you know—for both of you."
"And Mark?" she said as Napoleon helped her into the snowmobile. "She told me she'd saved him too, but…"
"He and Illya both ended up stuck in the bottom of the same crevasse," Napoleon answered, starting the snowmobile up again. "Which turns out to connect to a lava tube cave and a hot spring… and is also partially connected to the Thrush base under the lodge. You can read the reports on the way home, but we've stopped the infernal device and our avian friends are either stranded in the snow or in UNCLE custody already."
"UNCLE saves the day again," April said with a smile as the snowmobile sped back down towards the lodge.
"Couldn't have done it without the two of you," Napoleon said. "And boy are we glad we won't have to, any time soon."
"With luck," said Saphina seriously.
"With luck," April agreed, which Kyree punctuated with a definitive peep.
They brought Illya up out of the crevasse in a stretcher, which worried Napoleon until Pasha explained that with his cracked ribs and possibly broken collarbone, it was better to carry him this way than in a sling, as Mark Slate had come. Mark had a probable concussion and broken ankle and both men were taken immediately by helicopter to the nearest hospital in Bend, along with April, who was already in the helicopter, having been picked up from the lodge first.
Napoleon barely had a chance to clasp his partner's hand and tenderly brush a strand of hair away from his face before he was whisked away. "We'll be together soon enough," Saphina said as the two of them watched the chopper lift away. Napoleon sighed his assent and reached down to fondle her ears.
Napoleon, naturally, had to stay at the lodge to oversee UNCLE's mop up crew, and the initial on-site interrogation of Dr Emerson and the Abernathys, once they'd been brought in. Abernathy senior blustered and demanded to see his lawyer, and Kent only whined and claimed ignorance, which Napoleon suspected was largely true. The man was dumb as a rock.
Dr Emerson, however, proved susceptible to the slightest flattery and, under the misapprehension that UNCLE was looking to hire him on themselves, happily expounded at length on the genius of his 'Deep Crust Harmonic Stimulator', which UNCLE technicians were hard at work disassembling even now.
"UNCLE, Thrush, you're all after the same thing," he declared airily. "My device will enable UNCLE to enforce its laws anywhere in the world, and that's just the beginning of what I can do for you!"
"I regret to inform you," Napoleon said, without a trace of regret, as Agent Carruthers handcuffed the scientist in preparation for his trip to UNCLE's high security detention facility, "that you've taken a badly mistaken impression of UNCLE's mission. And we're not hiring."
"Not the likes of you, anyway," said Agent Smith as he helped escort the outraged Dr Emerson out. Napoleon and Saphina listened to his dismayed exhortations as he was led away and indulged in a moment's smug satisfaction. This man and his cohorts had not actually murdered Mark and April, but it wasn't for want of trying. Though there was no longer any call for vengeance, justice would still be served.