The Grand Pilgrimage 21: Among The Aurai

“The old timer may have been right,” Inés observed. “This is definitely a steep climb for a horse.”

“It’s not surprising that he knows the terrain,” Sylvie stated. “He does live here. What I question, Mermaid, is whether or not he’s right about the Aurai. I’d rather not fight against beings such as they.”

“Don’t be so negative,” Inés chided. “It’ll be fine.” Serena slipped on the slope and nearly fell backwards, but Inés managed to whirl around and grab her. “Careful. Don’t want you knocking that lovely head against a rock.”

“Thanks,” Serena said. “Inés, it will be all right, won’t it?”

“Absolutely,” Inés said. “We’ll meet with the Aurai, get permission to catch some pegasi. Then I’ll get my new staff and we can get back on the road to Drahaven.”

“I don’t know how you can be so relaxed about it,” Sylvie muttered. “You’re taking an awful lot at face value.”

Inés shrugged. “I think that I can read people pretty well and I’m confident that the old man didn’t lie to us. Not about being the best, and not about us being welcome.”

“And if he did?” Sylvie asked.

“Then I’ll hold them off while you two run,” Inés answered. “You might have to drag Serena with you, though.”

“I don’t want to leave you!” Serena declared.

“See?” Inés laughed.

“Don’t worry, I’ll safeguard her,” Sylvie said. “But you’d better run after us when you can.”

“Definitely,” Inés agreed.

“Wait!” Sylvie cried, looking around.

“What?” Inés asked.

“Thought I saw something fly past,” Sylvie said. “But I don’t see anything now. I wonder, did I imagine it?”

The three continued on their way. Going higher and higher up the mountain. The sense of foreboding they’d had earlier was gone and, in spite of the ongoing debate over whether or not meeting with the Aurai was a good idea, they were starting to have a good time.

Finally, the ground levelled out and they found themselves in front of a great, golden gate. There were a few towering buildings visible behind it.

“Hold, Travellers!” The three looked up, a half a dozen women, each with bright, colourful wings reminiscent of a butterfly’s, descended to them. Looking at them closely, they had a third eye on their foreheads and thin antennae jutting from their hair.

One of them descended all the way to the ground while her entourage hovered overhead. She had light blue hair and piercing silver coloured eyes. She stood at slightly over 138 centimetres tall.

She walked up to Inés and curtsied. “Lady Inés, well met. We welcome you and your companions to our humble home.” Inés noticed that she spoke it was in a melodious tone and her companions echoed her words, making it sound like a chorus.

“Well met,” Inés said. “We came here seeking pegasi.”

“We are aware,” she said. “I am Lilis. Taming a pegasus isn’t easy. You and your companions must each capture one for yourself. Such is your trial.”

“You’re really going to just let us try?” Sylvie asked.

Lilis signalled and two of her companions opened the gate.

“We have prepared a feast for you, Lady Inés,” she stated in her, her companions echoing her. “We will allow you and your comrades to stay with us as long as you need.”

“Are you seriously ignoring me?” Sylvie asked.

“Don’t antagonise them,” Serena pleaded.

“Lead the way,” Inés said. “And we are truly grateful for your hospitality.”

“No, no,” Lilis said. “The pleasure is ours. Come, it’s this way.” She flew ahead, her comrades following behind.

“Why are they so nice to you?” Sylvie wondered.

“Don’t know,” Inés answered. She thought about it for a moment.  “Maybe they heard that I’m the world’s greatest lover and you know what that means!”

“Don’t even,” Sylvie warned.

“Why not?” Inés asked. “That Lilis is super cute and that voice… She’s gotta sound awesome when she’s caught up in…”

“Enough!” Sylvie shouted.

“Yes Ma’am. Whatever you say,” Inés stated.

The three went through the gate, moving towards where the Aurai had gone.

*****

The three found themselves in a great hall with ornate furnishings. A table had been laid out with golden trim . A pair of Aurai hovered above the table strumming harps.

Lilis pulled out the chair at the head of the table “Lady Inés, your seat.”

“Thank you,” Inés said, allowing herself to be seated. Serena and Sylvie seated themselves at her right and left.

A purple-haired Aurai flew down with golden chalices, filled with a creamy golden liquid.

“What is it?” Serena asked.

The three waited a moment. No answer to the query was offered.

Inés picked up her chalice and looked over it. “So, what is this?”

“Divine nectar,” Lilis answered.

Inés whistled. “I’m not sure if we deserve it, but thank you.” She took a sip. “It’s sweet.”

“The drink of the Gods,” Serena whispered. She stared at the drink in her hands before taking a deep drink. “Amazing.”

Sylvie waited, observing Inés and Serena while they ate and drank. There didn’t seem to be any ill effects so, after a while, she began eating and drinking.

They ate while Inés spoke with Lilis. After their meal, Lilis showed them to their rooms and excused herself.

“I wonder why you’re the only one they talk to,” Sylvie said.

“Maybe that’s their way,” Serena suggested. She yawned and rubbed her eyes. “After all, the only time any of them, besides Lilis speaks is to echo her words.”

“I had noticed that,” Inés said. “It’s still odd that they’d choose me for our leader. Or that they know my name.”

“They probably heard your name when we were climbing up here,” Sylvie said.

“Well, I’m glad they aren’t just being rude,” Inés said.

“I’m exhausted,” Serena said. “Good night.”

“We’ll get up bright and early to go after the pegasi,” Sylvie said. “Inés, try not to stay up too late trying to seduce our hosts.”

“No promises,” Inés said.

The three went off to their rooms. A short time later, Inés headed out. She rn into Lilis in the corridor.

“Lady Inés,” Lilis greeted. “Are you well? Were the furnishings unsatisfactory?”

“No, they’re really comfortable,” Inés answered. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about you?”

“Me?” Lilis asked. She reached up and nervously stroked one of her antennae. “Do… do you find me comely?”

“Very much so,” Inés responded. “I don’t suppose you feel the same way about me.”

“You are most gorgeous,” Lilis said. “But I could not come with you. Anything between us would only be temporary. Knowing that, would you still have me for tonight?”

“Absolutely,” Inés answered. “To tell the truth, I’ve never been the monogamous type.”

Lilis hovered up to kiss her. “That makes two of us.” Hand in hand, the two hurried back to Inés’ room.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 76: Passing as the opponent

Leon and Farah reached the Yupis tower and briefly glanced at one another before entering. They had both suited up to look like family bodyguards.

They moved quickly and purposefully towards the more out of the way lift that, according top their intel, had access to the basement.

They made sure that they were clear and Farah brought out her omni-tool, placing it against the lift’s controls.

“Hurry,” Leo muttered.

The tool made a quick confirmation sound and the lift moved down.

“Faster than I thought,” Leon said. “Nicely done.”

“I had help,” Farah said. “Someone accessed my tool remotely. We even managed to delete our entrance from the camera log.”

“Probably Lucy,” Leon said.

The lift opened and the two quickly exited. They made their way to the target point, stopping occasionally to acknowledge people they saw.

“So far so good,” Leon whispered.

“They have no reason to suspect someone who managed to get down here,” Farah whispered back. “At least they won’t until someone does a more thorough security check of the systems and finds out the lift controls got hacked.”

They stopped, pressing themselves against a wall and peered around the corner. The room they needed to get into had two guards standing beside the access terminal.

“Shit,” Farah muttered. “They really take that room’s security seriously. They’ll definitely notice if we try to gain access with the tool.”

“Unless you think I can get their attention with my sex appeal,” Leon whispered.

“Might work if they were Paul,” Farah stated. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“No choice then,” Leon said. “Wait here and stay out of sight.”

He bolted into the corridor, looking frantic. The two guards quickly reached for their weapons.

“We have a breach!” he cried, speaking loudly. “There’s an intruder in the emergency armoury. I need you both to come with me, now!”

“I haven’t heard anything about that!” one said.

“Why isn’t the alarm blaring?” her companion asked.

Leon looked at the man like he was an idiot. “Because they don’t know that we know they’re there. If we hurry, we can get the drop on him.” Leon stomped, looking annoyed. “Just do a security check on the second access lift. But hurry.”

The first guard grabbed her hand-held and input some data. “I don’t… wait, I see it!” She turned to her partner. “He’s right! Someone managed to bypass the lift’s security.”

“If you’re satisfied, hurry up and let’s go!” Leon cried.

“Should we leave the room unguarded?” she asked.

“No need to worry,” Leon assured her. “We’ve got a higher up bodyguard heading for the room. She’ll be there in less than five minutes. If she finds the intruder inside, she will shoot them and if she’s at all disturbed, I’ll take full responsibility. But, for the moment, we need to handle this.”

“Yes Sir!”

“I’m sending out the emergency signal,” she said. “It’s got a time delay so we should be able to reach the bastard before he hears the alarm but it’ll go off in time for our superior to be on her guard.”

“Good thinking!” Leon declared, slapping her on the back. The three ran down the other end of the corridor, quickly rounding the corner.

Farah ran from her spot of concealment and moved to the access console.

She connected the omni-tool to it and went to work. Back at the Cerberus, Kat acted. Bringing the Cerberus’ systems and her own knowledge to bear. Betwixt them, they conquered the problem with relative ease and Farah ran inside.

She moved through the various drives, checking each one in turn and returning them as she went through. She needed to find the right one quickly. Leon could only keep them preoccupied for so long.

The minutes ticked away, the alarm started and, finally, she found it. She stored it inside her own omni-tool, leaving the blank drive she had inside it and pocketed the whole thing.

She left the room and stood outside. It was risky, waiting. More risky to run. Besides, she needed to wait for Leon.

Footsteps, getting closer. A group of four guards approached.

“You, what happened to your partner?”

“The regular door guards were taken to assist in finding the intruder,” Farah explained. “I’m covering.”

The guard leader stiffened and examined her. “And why are you covering?”

“Recent hand injury,” Farah said. “Makes me the best choice to stay behind.”

“Uh-huh,” he muttered. He moved to the console and opened the door. He carefully looked inside. “No sign of any struggle,” he reported. “Drives are all in place.” He nodded to his group and turned back to Farah. “Where did they go?”

“Emergency Armoury,” Farah answered.

He nodded. “All right, let’s move.” He pointed to the youngest looking of his subordinates. “Stay here with her, just in case.”

 

Farah waited, making small talk with the young lady.

Just when she was starting to get worried, Leon made his way back. “You,” he said, pointing to Farah. “Come with me. We’re going to guard the first lift.”

“Understood,” Farah said, she followed him.

They moved to the nearest lift. It had a pair of guards.

“When they ask, act like you’re cooperating and lay em out,” Leon whispered. “I’ve got the one on the left.”

The two moved over to the guards. “We’re here to relieve you,” Leon said.

“I haven’t heard that,” the first said. “Show me your identification!”

“Certainly,” Leon said. He moved as though reaching for something before punching the guard as hard as he could. Simultaneously, Farah punched her companion as hard as she could.

The guards went down.

“Now we just use the lift,” Leon said.

“No!” Farah shook her head. “Now we climb, they’ll notice if we use it.”

“Oh, right,” Leon agreed.

The two shimmied up the lift cables until they reached the first floor and they pried the doors open. They quickly checked to insure that they hadn’t been seen, made their way to the ground floor using the stairs and exited as though nothing had happened.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 20: The Lame Weapon Smith

The trip to Mount Deucero was strange. Not because of anything they encountered, nor because of anything they saw but because of a feeling. There was an uncomfortable feeling in the air. As though the trio was setting out for a daunting challenge.

The three barely spoke, none of them certain about why they were so nervous. They continued their trek without incident until they spotted it, a small but elaborately decorated house with a massive smithery set up outside of it. An elderly looking man was hobbling to the anvil with the aid of a stick.

They dismounted and approached him. “Pardon us,” Sylvie cried out. “We’re…”

“I know who you are,” the old man snapped. “Sylvie, Serena, Inés. Warrior priestesses of Athena come to ask my services.”

“How do you know that?” Inés asked.

“Apollo’s gift,” the old man answered. “Very handy little thing.” He looked at the tonfa hanging from Inés’ waist. “Those things are no good for you. It’s a staff you’re wanting, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Inés stated. “Do you have one?”

“I can make one,” he said. “A very strong one. However, the three of you have to do me a favour if you want weapons.”

“Then we have two questions,” Sylvie said. “What is the favour and why is a soothsayer working as a weaponsmith?”

“I’m curious about that as well,” Serena said. “Isn’t it unusual for someone with Apollo’s gift to not use it?”

The old smith chuckled. “I never said that I had Apollo’s gift. No, no. I was told about you by my half-brother. As to the favour.” He pointed towards the peak of the mountain. “Up there lies a grand pasture. A pasture where pegasi graze. The pasture is sacred to Aeolus, protected by a great gate and guarded by Aurai with wyverns. The three of you will get past that gate, retrieve three pegasi for me and return for your weapons.”

“You want us to fight our way past a bunch of angry Aurai and capture multiple pegasi?” Sylvie demanded, incredulous.

“I think that I can take them,” Inés stated.

“Fighting the Aurai would be folly,” he said. “but, there are other ways. Most mortals would be killed instantly upon approaching their domain but you three… you three have some protection not afforded to most. I think, as does my half-brother, that the Aurai will be inclined to parley with you.”

“We’re wasting our time here,” Sylvie said. “Come on, let’s return to Wicadia and find a weapon smith there.”

“Do you really doubt yourself so much, Sylvie Fortunio?” he asked. He shook his head, mockingly. “However will you reach Drahaven or properly confess your feelings to young Miss Fensen if you don’t even have the gumption to meet with some Aurai?”

Sylvie turned towards him, very quickly. “There’s a difference between gumption and reckless idiocy!” she declared. “You say that they’ll listen to us and everything will be all right. I say, it’s foolhardy to trespass in a sacred meadow and risk the wrath of a God just to get Inés a new staff. Why should the Aurai even listen to us and why should we take that chance when we can get a staff elsewhere?”

“Because you can’t get a better staff anywhere else,” he said. “I can guarantee that much. Furthermore, you’re curious. Now that I’ve brought up Miss Fensen you don’t know how much I know about the three of you.”

“Is Illyana Miss Fensen?” Serena asked.

Inés nodded. “She never took her adoptive mum’s name. Bugger if I know why.”

“I do,” the old man said. “Would you like to hear the story?”

“No thank you!” Sylvie snapped. “You’ve already made it very clear that you know all about us.”

“Why are you going to all this trouble, Old Timer?” Inés asked. “Surely, you can’t be that hurting for customers.”

“Course not,” he said. “But I know of no other customers who can bring me pegasi. As I said, other mortals would be torn to shreds.”

“Ladies,” Sylvie gestured to them. The three moved closely together. “Do we go on this crazy errand?” She whispered the words as soon as they were near.

“It’s going to rain while you’re huddled like that, just before you come to your decision,” he called out. The three of them looked up, there was no sign of clouds. It was a bright, sunny day.

“It seems really sketchy,” Serena whispered, slightly louder than she’d intended.

“I think we should,” Inés said.

“Explain,” Sylvie demanded.

“Because I don’t think he’s lying,” Inés said. I doubt that anyone would go to so much trouble to trap us. The only ones with a reason to are those monotheists and the ones in charge of them are dead. Besides, he knows things that they wouldn’t.”

“Granted,” Sylvie said. “But it seems crazy. I…” she didn’t finish her sentence. A sudden downpour hit them, leaving them soaked. They heard the old man laughing. Then, as suddenly as it happened, it was gone.

“He said it would happen,” Serena reminded them. “Maybe… maybe Inés is right. Maybe he is being honest with us.”

“All right,” Sylvie muttered. “If you both want to trust your fates to this codger, I guess I have no choice but to go along with you.”

“Then we’re all agreed,” Inés said. She turned to him. “We’ll get your pegasi, Old Timer.”

“I knew you would,” he said. “I’ll take care of your horses.”

“Our horses?” Serena asked.

“Can’t ride them where you’re going,” he said. “And they’ll be safer here than where you’d have to leave them. Snatched up by wyverns if they go with you.”

“And you’ll make her a staff when we bring the pegasi to you?” Sylvie asked.

“I’ll make your weapons while you’re gone,” he said. “They’ll be on the table by the time you return.”

Inés walked up to him and shook his hand. “It’s a deal.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 75: Infiltration Mission

Farah sat, watching Grace work with Hyper sitting on her shoulders and the Baron curled up in her lap. The Cerberus was quite large from the outside. Grace was going over the damaged parts of the hull meticulously, replacing some heavily damaged plating and fitting the new pieces into place.

Sometimes it was enough to just be together. But right now… right now she wanted more. She contemplated asking Grace to take a break but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She didn’t want to be seen as a selfish girl.

“Ladies,” Lucy approached them, her eyes closed. “I see that the repairs are going well.”

“They are,” Grace agreed.

“Well, keep it up,” Lucy said. “I have to borrow Farah.”

“A mission?” Farah asked.

Lucy nodded. “And, if you both do a good job, I’ll give you and Grace a weekend all to yourselves.”

“Sounds good,” Grace said. “I know a nice place we can go.” She looked at Farah. “If you’re game.”

“Absolutely!” Farah declared.

“Good,” Lucy said. “That seems to be settled. So, come with me. You’ll be working with Leon on this one.”

“Just her and Leon?” Grace asked.

“It’s not particularly dangerous,” Lucy said. “Don’t worry.”

Farah left Hyper & the Baron with Grace and followed after Lucy. They went inside the Cerberus and into the conference room where Leon was waiting with Ophelia.

“Good,” Ophelia said. “With you both here I can give you the briefing. The mission is going to require you two to be sneaky. There shouldn’t be any fighting.”
“Wouldn’t Kat be a better choice then?” Leon asked. “I’m not exactly known for taking things slowly and carefully.”

“We have something else for Kat,” Ophelia said. “You’ll manage.” She hit a switch and a building blueprint projected. “This is Yupis tower. One of the Ze’el family’s important buildings.” She hit a second button, causing the blueprint to zoom in. “This is the hidden basement of that building.”

“Is the intel about that reliable?” Leon asked.

“Absolutely,” Ophelia said. “It came from a former high ranking bodyguard.”

“Could this former bodyguard be lying?” Farah wondered.

Ophelia shook her head. “This source is absolutely trustworthy.”

“I confirmed that myself,” Lucy added.

“Unfortunately, it’s been a couple years since they were involved with the family,” Ophelia said. “So we don’t have any current codes.”

“And the objective in this hidden basement is what exactly?” Leon asked.

“The Ze’el family has an encrypted drive with a list of their contacts within the security & peace keeping forces along with detailed records of the payments they’ve given them,” Ophelia said. “Our client wants that drive and you two are going to steal it.”

“Is this for an Alliance investigation?” Farah asked.

Ophelia burst out laughing. “Sorry,” she said, calming down. “That was just really funny to me.” She composed herself. “The Alliance likes to avoid hiring us. No, this mission is for the Geralt family. They plan to leak copies of the data to some of their own contacts in the force.”

Leon whistled. “Very nasty. Gain the upper hand through official channels. Don’t even have to risk their own men.”

“That’s the size of it,” Ophelia said. “I’ve got a selection of tools for you two to use. If you get caught, alert us and run for it. I don’t want the two of you engaging the enemy. Remember, this is supposed to be a stealth mission.”

“And we sneak in how?” Leon wondered.

“Through the front door,” Farah said. He looked back at her. “Well, it’s supposedly a legitimate business building. People come and go all day. We just go in with the crowd, get to the basement’s entrance and take things from there.”

Ophelia nodded. “Good luck, you two and Farah, make sure you grab your communicator from your quarters.”

Farah and Leon headed out.

“What should we have Kat do?” Ophelia wondered.

“I’m for giving her remote access to their instruments,” Lucy said. “She should be able to improve their performance. Hopefully give us an edge.”

Ophelia nodded. “Do it.”

“Should we call Allison and Yuri back, just in case?” Lucy wondered.

Ophelia shook her head. “Let them enjoy their date. If something goes wrong we can go in.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 19: Inés’ Convalescence

Inés woke up with her limbs feeling numb and heavy. She stretched, ignoring the slight sense of pain that shot through her and looked around. Her surroundings were familiar but it took her a moment to recognise the Academy’s infirmary. Her armour had been placed in a corner along with two other sets. A pair of tonfa was neatly set next to one.

Serena was fast asleep in a chair beside her bed. Inés moved over to her, brushed her hair aside and gently kissed her forehead.

Serena’s hand moved up and she gasped, startled awake. “You should be in bed,” she muttered.”You were…”

“Burned, yes,” Inés stated. “But I’m fine now, just sore. How long was I out?”

“Almost a full day,” Serena answered. “But they said it’d take you three or four days and several more healing sessions to get back on your feet.”

“Really?” Inés asked. “That long?” She held out her arms and examined them. They felt a little tender, but there was no sign that they’d been burnt. “Looks like they underestimated me.” She looked around. “Is Sylvie with Illyana?”

“I think so,” Serena answered. “She dropped in and said she’d be in the garden if I needed her.”

“Well, I’d hate to interrupt her too quickly,” Inés moved over to the bed and sat down, patting the bed beside her. “You wanna fool around a bit before fetching her?”

“Are you sure you’re all better?” Serena asked.

“Well, you can examine my body closely for burns before getting too… invested,” Inés offered.

Serena moved over to the door, opened it, looked outside, closed and locked it.

“Maybe it would be okay for just a bit,” Serena said.

She sat behind Inés and looked up at her, feeling suddenly bashful. Inés moved in and kissed her tenderly. Serena quickly, but gently removed Inés’ small clothes and kissed her neck, arms, chest, and legs, examining each area carefully. There was no sign of any burns. Only then did she take off her spectacles and set them aside.

“My, aren’t we eager?” Inés teased. She began undoing Serena’s tunic.

“It’s your fault,” Serena said. “Before I met you… I was never like this. I never even…” her voice broke off into a soft moan.

*****

Two and a quarter hours later, the two dressed and headed for the garden.They found Sylvie sitting beneath a tree with Illyana. The two of them were talking excitedly.

“Yo, Partner,” Inés  greeted. “Having fun out here?”

Sylvie nearly jumped to her feet and looked at them.”Should you even be up?” Sylvie asked.

“I’m perfectly fine now,” Inés said. “Serena was even kind enough to examine me.” She playfully rubbed Serena’s head while Serena tried to mentally stop her face from flushing.

“It’s true,” Serena said. “There’s no sign of a burn anywhere on her.”

“That’s great news!” Illyana declared. She reached over and grasped for Inés’ hands. Inés moved her hands so that Illyana could get a hold of them easily. Illyana grasped them for a moment before letting go.”I’m so happy you’re better.” She hugged Inés. “But, I suppose that means you’ll have to leave soon.”

“Sorry,” Inés said. “We do have a journey to complete.”

“We’ll have to replace your weapon first,” Sylvie said. ” We couldn’t find your staff in the temple’s remains. It either got burned to a crisp or buried under rubble.”

“Probably both,” Inés stated. “I had it with me when a part of the ceiling fell on me. Didn’t when I crawled out.”

“It shouldn’t be too hard to find a good blacksmith,” Sylvie said. “We’ll check the business quarter.”

“Actually,” Illyana interjected. “I heard a rumour a couple days back that there’s a great weapon smith living on Mt. Deucero.”

“That would be risky,” Sylvie muttered.

“It’ll be fine,” Inés said. “It’s not even a day’s march away.”

“But if we’re attacked on the way there…” Sylvie began.

“I’ll punch whoever attacks us or drop a ton of water on their faces,” Inés interrupted. “And, if the rumour is false, we can always head back, stay the night and still be back on the road before you’d anticipated.”

“Fine,” Sylvie said. “I’ll agree on one condition.”

“And that is?” Inés asked.

“You borrow Serena’s tonfa,” Sylvie said. She glanced at Serena. “No offence, but I’d rather have her armed.”

“No, it’s fine,” Serena said. “I completely agree. After all, you’re so much stronger than I.”

“You’re probably better with them at this point than I am,” Inés said. “Given all the practice you’ve put in. But I’ll agree, if only to get this pilgrimage back under way.”

“Then it’s agreed,” Sylvie said. “We’ll retrieve our armour, pick up the horses and be on our way.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 74: Delivering Elijah

The Cerberus waited in orbit, with Ophelia, Lucy and Farah monitoring the situation.

“The last group of passengers is leaving the Blazer,” Lucy reported.

Ophelia nodded. “Wait for Allison to return. We’ll have her bring Kat, Paul and Yuri back over here and then we’ll make our way to Earth.”

“I’ve already contacted Miss Emily and Miss Levinia,” Lucy said. “They’re anticipating us. And Grace wants to know when we’re stopping long enough to give her a chance to work on the hull.”

“We’ll dock at Earth for a week,” Ophelia said. “We should be able to find some odd jobs that won’t need the Cerberus.”

“She’ll be delighted, I’m sure,” Lucy stated.

“I’d prefer the ship to act as a buffer between my crew and potential hostility, personally,” Ophelia said.

“We’ll come out of it fine,” Lucy said. “Probably. We usually manage.”

“I know,” Ophelia said. “But I’ve been… uneasy lately. Maybe that meeting with the Alliance Admiral still has me on edge. Maybe it’s what happened when I split the crew. Both Leon and Allison were hurt pretty badly.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’m just getting old.”

“Nonsense,” Lucy said. “Just wait until we land and get some time alone. I’ll have you demonstrate how young and limber you still are.”

“Sounds good,” Ophelia said. “I do so love it when you get feisty.”

“Should… should I leave the bridge?” Farah asked.

“Don’t worry,” Lucy said. “We’ll behave ourselves. At least, for the moment.”

*****

Allison brought the shuttle into the Cerberus’ docking bay. The four of them waited for the bay to pressurise before exiting.

Leon rushed into the bay as soon as they began disembarking and hugged Paul tightly.

“Never going to let you out of my sight again,” he muttered. “Never.”

“I wasn’t gone that long, Fuzzy,” Paul said. He sighed and pat Leon’s back. “There, there. You know I’d never leave you alone for long.”

“About how long until we reach Earth?” Allison wondered.

“Judging by our position and the Blazer’s maximum velocity, we should arrive in ten hours, twenty four minutes and thirteen seconds,” Yuri answered. “Unless, of course, the Cerberus goes ahead. In which case, we will arrive in seven hours, fifty six minutes and…”

Allison put a finger over Yuri’s lips. “We don’t need the seconds, Sweetie. Besides, it’ll be the first one. Ophelia won’t want to leave the Blazer behind and leave Ellijah without it. Unless we find ourselves getting chased down by hostile drothon forces who wanted us badly enough to invade neutral space. Then it’s every ship for itself.”

“Would the captain truly leave Miss Uss’sser’thiss’klss behind?” Yuri asked.

“Were those sounds possible for human vocal cords?” Leon whispered.

“She is an android,” Paul answered.

“Don’t worry,” Kat said. “Ophelia won’t leave Ussie behind. That’s not the way we do things, even when it would probably be the most efficient.”

“Hey, we may be in this thing for ourselves but we don’t gotta be arseholes about it,” Leon said. “We’ve got our own sense of honour.”

*****

The Cerberus docked on Earth and Ophelia took Lucy with her to take Elijah to his aunts’ house.

“You don’t have to walk me,” Elijah said. “I can go by myself.”

“Yes, but then we won’t be fulfilling our objective to bring you in,” Lucy said. “Just be happy that two gorgeous women are walking you home.”

“If you say so,” Elijah muttered.

They arrived at the Tawaig estate where Emily and Levinia were waiting.

Ophelia knelt. “As requested, we’ve brought your nephew.”

“So I see,” Emily said, nodding. “Good show, Captain Wester.” She handed Ophelia the payment. “Thank you very much. Please, let us speak with him alone. This is a rather delicate family affair, I’m afraid.”

“Of course,” Ophelia said. She and Lucy took their leave.

“So, what’s up?” Elijah asked.

“Young man, get your feet off of the table!” Levinia chided him.

“We’ll make this brief,” Emily said, once his feet were properly on the floor. “We would like you to stop gallivanting about throughout space. We want you to cease keeping the company of disreputable characters like the reptilian lady and that short Duke of questionable pedigree and find a nice gentleman or lady to settle down with.”

“Who?” Elijah asked.

“The supposed ‘Duke de Pau,'” Levinia said. “He has been asking after you.”

“Oh, you mean Antoine,” Elijah said. “I should look him up while I’m here.” He sighed. “Look, I appreciate that you two mean the best for me. Truly I do. But settling down, leaving my friends behind. The whole life of nobility… It’s just not me. Sorry, but I like being an incorrigible rascal with shady friends. Keeps things interesting, you know?”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Levinia said.

“Do at least try to comport yourself properly,” Emily said. “Oh, and do stop by that questionable Duke’s place. If you’re going to spend your time with such characters anyway.”

“I will,” Elijah said. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my family line downplayed for you two.”

*****

He made his way to Pau. The Duke was barely over a hundred and forty two centimetres tall with his black hair dyed to include white streaks.

“Elijah!” he cried. “You stupid Jerk! I don’t see you for over a year and you just barge in like nothing happened.”

“Sorry,” Elijah said. “I was busy.”

“So I’ve heard,” Antoine said. “Freeing slaves in Drothos. Follow me, I’ve got some parts to upgrade your ship.”

“Really,” Elijah asked. “That’s awesome! My aunts…”

“Can’t express pride in a rascal like you,” Antoine said. “Or help you. All that buzz about appearances. As far as anyone’s concerned, these are from me.”

“I understand,” Elijah said. “Can you give me a ride to my ship to drop them off?”

“Well, I suppose it can’t be helped,” Antoine said. “But there’s one condition.”

“And that is?” Elijah asked.

“You have to bring me with you,” Antoine answered. “After all, I’m already considered shady and I do worry about you. But it’s not because I like you or anything. It’s for your aunts’ sake. That’s all.”

“Sure, we can fit you in,” Elijah said. “Welcome aboard.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 18: Omni-Magic

 

Sylvie watched the temple burn. it had started out small, fire in one small area, but it had quickly spread. Had something happened to Inés? Experience told her that Inés’ water spells should have been enough to douse the fire and she would have unless she had been busy fighting for her life or… Sylvie shook her head. No, Inés was fine. She’d emerge from the temple, smile her cocky smile and then Sylvie would yell at her for being reckless. That was the way it should be.

“We have to go in!” Serena yelled. Sylvie hurriedly pulled her back.

“It’s too dangerous. Even if the barrier is down.”

“But we can’t just leave her in there!” Serena cried, tears were already streaming down her cheeks.

“The me… Inés will be fine,” Sylvie reassured her. “If anyone alive can survive in there, it’s her.” She looked back at Max. “Can you do something about this?”

Max looked it over and shook his head. “I may know some pretty strong ice spells, but they won’t release enough water to do much here.”

“Try!” Sylvie demanded.

“All right,” Max said. “I’ll do what I can. Hopefully, when Luc arrives, we’ll be able to do more together.”

*****

Inés limped towards the exit, smoke filling her lung from both her mouth and her gills. She felt her skin burning. Still she struggled. She would get out. She would embrace Serena and she would continue the journey to Drahaven.

She just had to take it slowly. Force one foot in front of the other. That’s all she had to do.

That was when she tripped over a board. She struggled to regain her footing, to get back up and, for the first time in her life, she wondered if she had the strength to endure.

*****

“Empowered Blizzard Blast!” Max cried. A gigantic blast of blowing ice flew at the burning temple. Some melted before reaching the blaze. What was left did clear some space, but the fire quickly reclaimed it.

“Max, stop,” Luc stated. Sylvie and Serena turned to face her. Professor Mord stood beside her and a tall, but thin figure stood behind them. “You won’t manage to put it out like that. We may have to let it burn itself out.”

“But Inés is inside!” Serena protested.

Luc raised an eyebrow. “I see. Then we need to get someone in there.”

“Let me go,” Bastian volunteered. “A protection from fire spell and I’ll just run in, grab her and get out.”

“It’ll wear out too quickly,” Luc said. “Given the size of it.”

“Allow me,” a small voice said.

“Illyana, you can’t,” Sylvie protested.

Illyana moved out from behind them and smiled. “It’s all right, Sylvie. I may be the only one who can.”

“Bu…” Sylvie began. She was interrupted by Luc bringing her hand up in a silencing gesture.

“If you’re sure,” Luc said.

“I am,” Illyana stated. She stepped forward and began chanting. Unlike Max’s incantations, hers were in the common tongue. “Flames that burn and destroy, preserve forever for all to enjoy. But safely, say I, and do I insist. Soothing and solid, time’s touch to resist. Transmutation, fire to crystal!”

She held out her hand and, in the blink of an eye the fire solidified and cooled into a crystal formation. Illyana fell to her knees, breathing heavily. Sylvie ran to her side, helping her up.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Fine,” Illyana muttered. “Just tired… is all. So… very…” She stopped in mid-sentence, her breathing steady.

“Inés,” Serena cried. She ran into the temple past the fire crystals. They were a bit warm, but not dangerously hot.

In the first hallway, she saw her. Inés was limping towards her. “Hey,” Inés gasped. “You made it.”

Serena ran over and let Inés put her weight on her. “By the Gods, you’re all burned up. Let me help you out. We’ll get you treated.”

“Sounds good,” Inés said.

With some difficulty, Serena managed to get Inés out of the temple. Inés  had lost consciousness shortly after leaning on her. Outside, Sylvie was sitting with Illyana’s head in her lap. Luc and Bastian ran over to help with Inés.

“We’ll get her to a cleric,” Luc said. “Bastian, help the young lady with her. I’ll go ahead and tell them what to prepare for.”

Bastian nodded and Luc chanted a quick spell, melting into the ground into a dark shadow. The shadow dashed ahead faster than the eye could follow.

“This way,” Bastian said.

Serena nodded. She glanced back at Illyana. “Will she be all right?”

“Just fine,” Bastian reassured her. “Using that much power is just exhausting. Especially for such a youngster.”

“That spell…” Serena muttered. “I’ve never heard of anything like it.”

“Because a normal mage can’t do it,” Bastian said. “Most of us have a strong affinity with one or two elements of magic. Illyana… Illyana is different. One like her only shows up once in a great while. An omni-mage with a strong affinity for magic, all magic. The only other living person like her right now is the great dwarven Magi, Entrik.”

Serena knew about the Magi, a group of six incredibly strong mages. “That’s amazing,” she said.

“Perhaps,” Bastian said. “But it comes with a price. Entrik’s body doesn’t work from the waist down. For Illyana, her body is frail and she was born without sight.” He glanced to the side. “We’re just about there. come on, let’s give it a last spurt.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 73: Elijah’s Condition

“Safe,” Ophelia sighed. “At last.”

“great,” Grace muttered. “Now I just have to go back and repair my ship all over again. You are way too rough with her.”

“Wasn’t much choice,” Ophelia said. “I wouldn’t worry, though. the old girl’s been through worse both before you got here and since.”

“Oh, be nice to her, Heart,” Lucy said. “She’s had a rough day. First we wrest Farah away from her for duty. Then she has to do rushed alterations to the Radiant Healer and now she’s got to work really long hours to repair the Cerberus & the Healer.”

“Point taken,” Ophelia said. “Sorry, Grace, but bear with it for now, okay?”

“We’re getting a transmission from Kat on the Blazer,” Farah reported. “I’m patching her through.”

“Ophelia,” Kat said. “How’s the Cerberus?”

“Damaged but still space-worthy,” Ophelia answered. “But you knew that already. So, what do you need?”

“How isss Elijah?” Ussie’s voice hissed. “Sstill alive, I hope?”

“He was taken to Medical,” Ophelia answered. “His injuries don’t seem to be severe but our Doctor is examining him thoroughly to be certain.”

“You will inform me when hisss condition isss better known?” Ussie asked.

“We will,” Ophelia answered. “I promise. just keep looking after your passengers in the meantime”

“I know my dutiesss,” Ussie said. “Don’t worry about that.”

*****

His eyes opened. It took him a moment to realise that he was alive. Another couple seconds to remember why that was amazing.

“That was dangerous,” he muttered.

“I’ll say it was,” Paul said. “You’re lucky to be alive especially when relying on a tractor beam to pick you up during a high speed pass and drag you to safety.”

“Ouch,” Elijah said. “I suppose that you must be the Doctor?”

“Doctor Paul Albrecht, at your service,” Paul introduced himself. “Tell me, how do you feel? Any discomfort?”

“My stomach hurts,” Elijah answered.

“Not surprising,” Paul said. “The tractor beam improvements made it possible to carry you safely, but it certainly wasn’t a pleasant or easy ride.” He handed Elijah some powder. “Drink this, it’ll help settle your stomach.”

“Thanks,” Elijah said. “I like your goatee, by the way.”

Leon loomed over Elijah and stared at him.

“That… That’s a scary look,” Elijah said. “Why are you looking at me like that? Did I wreck something of yours or something?”

“Too close to Paul,” Leon muttered. “Too close to my Paul.”

“I could back up as far as I can in this bed,” Elijah offered. “Don’t know if I can get up yet.”

“You shouldn’t,” Paul said, a professional strictness in his voice. “Sorry about Leon. He gets like that.” He turned to Leon. “Fuzzy, I’m consulting with a patient. There is literally nothing for you to be concerned about.”

“I know that,” Leon said. “And you know that but does he know that?”

“I feel you, Dude,” Elijah said. “Don’t worry. I just wanna be friends is all. Like, totally platonically. I don’t have that kind of interest.”

Leon looked him over. “Fine. I’ll believe you.”

“There you go,” Paul said. “Pl;ease tell Ophelia that Mister Tawaig’s condition is stable and he’s going to be just fine. I’m going to meet Allison in the shuttle bay.”

“All right,” Leon said.

“Going somewhere?” Elijah asked.

Paul nodded. “You’ll be fine but you’ve got quite a few passengers, some of whom went through some very severe stuff before you took them aboard. I’m going to check their conditions and do everything I can.”

Elijah nodded. “You’re a good dude, Doc.”

“It’s nothing special,” Paul said. “It’s just my duty as a doctor.”

*****

The Cerberus made her way back to Earth. With Grace spending her time working on the repairs that she could do from the inside, and Paul spending his time on the Blazer helping the former slaves.

Leon was on the bridge with Farah. “How long’s it been since you saw Grace?” he asked.

“I saw her earlier today,” Farah said. “But we didn’t get to talk much.”

“At least you’ve gotten to see her a bit,” Leon said. “Paul’s been over on that ship with our only shuttle attached to its only docking point.”

“Sorry,” Farah said. “But we should reach Earth tomorrow. I just know you’ll see him then.”

Leon nodded. “And, in a way, I’m luckier than you. Grace has to work her tuchus off every time one of the fighters or the ship gets damaged. Paul only really gets busy when one of us gets hurts.”

“Tuchus?” Farah asked. “I… I don’t know that word.”

“I learned it from Paul,” Leon said. “It’s some old ass slang term for the bum.”

“Oh, okay,” Farah said. “Hey, Leon.”

“What’s up?” Leon asked.

“What’s going to happen to all of them?” Farah asked.

“Lucy is looking into colonies and worlds that are sympathetic and will provide sanctuary,” Leon answered. “She asked Elijah what he was going to do but, I guess his plan was just to drop them off at a refugee centre.”

“I hope we can find some place good and they’ll go on to have happy, full lives,” Farah said.

“Some of them will,” Leon said. “But life isn’t so convenient that it can become happy or full for everyone. Shit will happen and some will end up miserable or die young.”

“That’s a really sad way to think,” Farah said.

Leon shrugged. “I’m a realist. But, chances are all of them will have better lives than they would have. So… go us.”

“Go us!” Farah laughed.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 17:A Fiery Reception

“Be ready,” Max cautioned them. “I’m going to finish the return spell and release the chains. If I fail, it’s going to attack quickly.”

“You don’t have to tell us that,” Sylvie stated. “We know the risk.”

Inés turned to Serena. “Stay behind me, just in case.”

“But you’re…” Serena began.

“Not badly hurt,” Inés stated. “And still a lot better at fighting than you are.”

Serena acquiesced and backed away. Standing very slightly behind Inés.

“Don’t worry,” Inés reassured her. “Max should be able to pull this off.” She looked directly at him. “He’s not that bad of a mage.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Max said. “Remind me why we’re friends?”

“Because I’m delightful,” Inés answered.

Max laughed and began casting. He quickly ran through the spell and dispelled the chains. The Shade stood still for a moment before dashing off. The group immediately chased after it, Max taking the lead after it vanished from sight.

“This way,” he called.

“Just run faster,” Inés called. “”You’re the one with a lock on the stupid thing.”

They ran through the streets and followed its trail all the way to the affluent area. It eventually led them to a large temple with stain-glass windows.

“The monotheists temple,” Max explained. “Just the proof we need.”

“So, let’s go in and deal with them,” Inés said. She made a dash for the door.

“Wait!” Max called. “We’ve got the proof. We don’t need to go in after them.”

“She went in,” Sylvie muttered. “That girl does not listen.”

“Better go after her,” Max sighed. “I’ll do a quick sending spell to get reinforcements and join you.”

Sylvie nodded. “All right. Hurry up. We don’t know how many are in there.”

“Can I?” Serena asked.

“You can, but stay close to me,” Sylvie said. Serena nodded and the two ran for the temple’s entrance. Only to be tossed backwards as they approached.

“What… what happened?” Serena asked.

“Some kind of barrier,” Sylvie stated. “They may be trying to buy themselves time. They might not even know that the mermaid is in there.”

“Or they could be trapping her in,” Serena said.

“That is possible,” Sylvie admitted.

*****

Inés looked around the main  worship chamber. It had a pretty standard design. An altar with room behind it for the priest to stand and some seating for worshippers.

The altar itself was odd. Most altars were built for burnt sacrifices, animal fat and incense for the Gods. This one was More of an opaque box with a slot in the top. That’s when she remembered, they only accepted gold. Undoubtedly, the opening was to allow worshippers to slip gold coins in but designed to be thin to make it difficult to get anything out of it.

The door in the back would lead to the priests’ rooms and living area. She made her way towards it, her staff ready.

“Fireball!”

She dropped and rolled as the flaming ball slammed above her, narrowly missing her head.

She looked around, seeing no sign of her attacker. An invisibility spell, no doubt.

“You might as well give it up,” she called. “The academy has proof that you’re responsible for the disasters you predicted. And they’re coming for you. If you surrender easily, they may just be merciful.”

“Mercy?” the words echoed, making it impossible fr her to tell where they were coming from. “We don’t need their mercy. We’ll steal away in the night. Our followers won’t believe the slander against us. Your death… well, that will just cement our great god’s power.”

“I’m not going to die,” Inés said. “Not against some cowards who hide themselves.” She abruptly swung her staff around in a circle.
It didn’t connect to anything.

“Oh, but you will.”

“Flaming arrow barrage!” a second voice shouted. The arrows flew towards her. She moved. Dodging and weaving, wincing as some of the fiery projectiles hit, burning her skin beneath the armour.

She calmed herself and began chanting. These were fire mages. She used water magic. She could handle this.

“Flash flood!” she cried. Instantly, the room filled with cool, refreshing water. The arrows still heading towards her were quickly overwhelmed and fizzled out.

She looked around for bubbles. Seeing them in three different spots, scattered throughout the room.

She swam for one, moving easily through the water. Her staff brought the first priest down. Then she headed for the next, even as the spell subsided and the water began draining.

“Drought Inferno!”

Upon hearing the command, Inés blocked her face behind her arms. The remaining water evaporated in a sudden, powerful blast of steam. It burned and she found herself suddenly sweating profusely, but she ran to the location of the second priest and swung. Her staff connecting with his skull and sending him careening into the wall.

She ran to the area where she had seen the last set of bubbles and swung away, hitting nothing but one of the nearby seats. Where was he?

“Fireball!”

“Water blast!” she countered. The spray of water fizzled out the fire spell. She ran towards the direction it had come from, staying alert for signs of movement. She heard them, footsteps. They were muffled, but clear enough. She lunged for them and found herself hitting something solid.

“Gotcha!” she declared. The head priest turned visible in her grasp, a look of panic creeping over him even as his mouth rapidly chanted.

“Inferno Blast!” he cried.

Everything seemed to happen at once. Inés quickly moved back. The blast narrowly missed her and hit the ceiling, dropping burning materials down onto the pair of them. The fire spread throughout the chamber, quickly turning the entire building into a roaring inferno. Inés painfully made her way out from the rubble.

She quickly chanted. “Flash flood!” but nothing happened. She was too exhausted and in too much pain. She couldn’t focus enough for the spell and she was surrounded by flames.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 72: The Cerberus Scarpers

Ophelia helped secure Elijah’s spacesuit before re-fastening the cuffs. She turned to Grace, who had been making adjustments to the Radiant Healer’s tractor beam before having to clear the bay for the shuttle.

“How’s it looking?” Ophelia asked.

“Theoretically, it will probably work,” Grace answered. “That’s the best I can give you. No one’s ever tried a stunt this stupid before.”

“I have,” Elijah volunteered. “Not this stunt specifically, but equally stupid things aplenty.”

“That’s… great,” Ophelia said,. “I guess.”

“The shuttle’s in,” Lucy warned.

The four of them went silent. They waited for the bay to fill back with oxygen. Ophelia and Lucy led Elijah inside.

The drothon captain exited the craft with three guards in tow.

“I’ll take the prisoner now,” he said.

“Hold on just a moment,” Lucy said. She held up a data pad. “Please sign off on the exchange first.”

He grabbed the pad and quickly read it over. “Everything seems to be in order,” he muttered. He took the stylus and roughly signed on the screen.

Lucy took the pad and made a show of checking his signature. “All right,” she said, nodding to Ophelia.

“He’s all yours,” Ophelia stated. The guards moved over and surrounded Elijah.

“Don’t worry,” the captain said. “We’ll make sure that he never steals from anyone in your sector again. You can be sure of that.”

Ophelia kept her face impassive. “Good. We’ll be counting on you.”

They returned to the shuttle and Ophelia exited the bay with Lucy to allow them to depart.

Leon was waiting outside. Grace had returned to engineering.

“You’ll have one chance,” Ophelia reminded him. “I’m counting on you. I’ll keep our comm channel open.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” Leon said.

Ophelia nodded and grabbed her communicator. “Kat, take the Blazer out first. We’ll follow after.”

“Acknowledged,” Kat said.

“How bad do you think it’s going to be?” Ophelia asked.

“Depends on how quickly they pull themselves together,” Lucy answered. “I’d say we’ll lose at least a tenth of the profits on repairs. Maybe as much as half. Assuming we can even retrieve him.”

“Let’s hope it’s closer to the former,” Ophelia said.

They returned to the bridge. Ophelia guided them past the drothon ships, keeping the Cerberus between them and the Blazer, while Lucy monitored the shuttle.

*****

“You know what happens to punks like you?”

“Won’t make it to trial. That’s for sure.”

“Been waiting for this a long time. After what you did to the Lidegra.”

Elijah ignored them. They hadn’t bothered with space suits. The shuttle was a class that he recognised. The TS-80 series. He quickly located the switch he needed. Too far to just make a run for it.

He waited until one of them finished their taunt.

“Then just finish me now!” he shouted, rising to his feet and turning to face them, his back to the controls. You won’t get any information out of me anyway. Who knows, I may even get free and blow your ship to bits like I did the Lidegra.”

One of them reared up and smacked him, sending him back towards the controls.

“Thanks,” Elijah said.. He quickly slipped off the cuffs and flipped the switch to open the shuttle doors.

*****

“The shuttle’s stopped,” Lucy reported. “Seems to be having problems.”

“Leon, go!” Ophelia ordered.

*****

The Radiant Healer burst from the Cerberus and moved back. Leon quickly identified Elijah’s suit and fired the tractor beam, simultaneously reversing and heading back for the Cerberus’ open bay. He put on the brakes at the last minute, coming in for a rough landing. The doors closed and the Cerberus began moving as quickly as it could away from Drothos.

*****

The Cerberus shook under the fire from the drothon patrols.

“Paul, check on Leon and Elijah,” Ophelia ordered.

“I’m returning fire,” Lucy stated.

“Won’t that just make them madder?” Farah asked.

“Maybe,” Ophelia said. “But it’s also the only way we’re going to slow them down enough to get away. Just buy us enough distance that I can get us to the conduit.”

“I might be able to help with that,” Grace’s voice came in over the comm system. “I’m going to try to send some false positives to their sensors, make them think we’ve got reinforcements moving in. They’ll figure out the trick quickly, but it may make them hesitate for a moment.”

*****

Paul moved in to the shuttle bay. Leon had some new bruises, but looked fine otherwise.

Paul moved over to Elijah and quickly removed his helmet.

“Still breathing,” he muttered. “Fuzzy, help me carry him to medical. I need to check to see what kind of affects being dragged rapidly by a tractor beam had.”

“His stomach is sick for sure,” Leon said.”That’s all I know.”

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