Written in white chalk by the door was a notice that read, Missing person! Inquire within.
“This the place?” Caroline asked.
“Yes. It’s just how I remember it,” Isamura said.
“Well, we don’t all need to go in,” Caroline said, peering in the window and thinking that it would get rather crowded if they all trooped inside. “Erica, Isamura, you’re with me, everyone else, take five minutes and… sun yourselves or something.”
Caroline pushed the door open and a tinkling bell announced them to a young woman standing behind the counter, who seemed pleased to see them.
“Good afternoon!” she greeted them. “What can I get for you fine people?”
Caroline cleared her throat and glanced at Isamura. “We’re looking for a trader.”
“I deal in all sorts of goods. What you see here on display is just a selection.”
Isamura gazed at her curiously then asked, “We’re actually looking for a trader by the name of Varah Seeble. This is her shop, or I suppose it used to be.”
The woman looked crestfallen. “I’m terribly sorry. The woman you’re looking for, she passed away a few years ago. She was my mother.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Isamura replied. “Then you must be… Meg?”
“Yes I am… do I know you? You look somewhat familiar.”
“It’s Isamura,” she filled in helpfully, then added, “I’m afraid you might not remember, you were just a young girl then. You’ve really grown up!”
“I remember!” Meg said, her eyes lighting up with recognition. “There was one night, oh it was so long ago… you told a story at my bedside. You know, the one about the princess locked away in the tower?”
Isamura smiled. “Meg, I hate to cut short the reminiscing, but these friends of mine need some help acquiring a rare crystal. They’ve brought some medicines to trade with, if you have what they’re looking for.”
Erica produced an image of the crystal on the slim tablet she’d brought with her. “It looks like this,” she said, tapping at the display.
“I would love to help,” Meg said as she studied the image. She frowned and directed her gaze back at Isamura. “I know someone who usually comes by with rare finds like this, but I haven’t heard from her since the orc attack. She’s usually in here every other day and I’m worried she may have been kidnapped.”
“Is that the missing person from your notice out front?”
“Yes it is.”
“Do you have any idea where she might have been headed?” Caroline asked.
“Last time that Julienne was in, she said she was going to explore some caves to the north. I warned her against it, because apart from the chance of being waylaid by orcs along the way, there’s a rumour that the caves are haunted. Or maybe something terrible makes its lair there.”
“And you still let her go?”
“Oh, she wouldn’t listen. She said that if I wasn’t so tied down by the shop, she would ask me to come along. Imagine it, really, me going off to some caves! Anyway, I had a word with the city guards after she left, but they can’t spare anyone to go looking for her.”
“How many days ago did you see her?” Caroline asked.
“Five days now.”
“Do you know if she had enough food and supplies to last that long?”
“If she still has her pack, then I think so. She may be pig-headed but in all the time I’ve known her she always heads out prepared for these escapades.”
“We will find her,” Isamura promised.
As they left the shop and rejoined the others Erica suggested, “Captain, I was thinking that we could cover more ground if you return to the shuttle and do a flyby of the caves.”
“Hmm. As much as I hate to split the team up, you’ve got a point, Erica. Time is a critical factor here.”
Caroline quickly brought the rest of her team up to speed, delegating command of the ground search to Tegan.
“Erica, you’ll be joining me on the shuttle. Isamura, you know the terrain better than anyone, so I’d appreciate it if you could help the ground team.”
“That’s it then. Let’s get to it before nightfall, we’ve a lot of ground to cover.”
They walked back briskly to the town gates to pick up their weapons. Isamura mentioned to the sentry that they were going to look for the missing woman, and he wished them good luck.
“Did I hear we’re going on search and rescue?” Rhona asked as she formed up with the search team.
“That’s right,” Tegan said. “Local woman by the name of Julienne. She’s the sort that ventures into dark caves and finds lost treasures. It’s the only lead we’ve got so we’re following it up.”
“It beats standing around here on guard,” Rhona muttered, out of earshot of the sentries. “It’s not the duty so much as the staring,” she added by way of explanation.
“Better get used to it. We could be visiting worlds much like these for a while to come.”
“It’s not so bad. The air’s fresher than on that flying death trap.”
Tegan laughed. “Yes. I wish we could bottle it up and take it back with us.”