Voyages of the Cerberus 176: Alliance Error

“She’s in,” Grace reported. “So far everything seems to be going smoothly.”

“Don’t be so worried,” Ophelia stated. “Farah is very capable.”

“How can I not be?” Grace asked. “My girlfriend, brother and dog are all in there now.”

“Shit!” Femi exclaimed.

“What’s the situation?” Jack asked.

“The Alliance is sending in some troops to try and rescue the hostages,” Femi reported. “I just overheard it.”

“We have to stop them!” Alexandria declared. “Before they put everyone in there at risk. We can use Turing’s status to pressure them.”

Femi shook her head. “The message we intercepted was the signal to start. It’s too late.”

*****

“What are you doing here?” Paul asked. “And why did you bring Baron Wolfgang?”

The little dog pushed his way out of Farah’s arms and into Paul’s where he started licking him immediately.

“We needed a way to coordinate with you and figure out just what’s going on in here,” Farah said. “The Baron has some… special equipment to facilitate the communication.”

Paul nodded. “Okay. I understand. Come on. We’re working on something of our own over…”

He was interrupted by a loud crash and the sounds of pistol fire.

“Down!” Farah’s voice called out. She hurriedly pulled Paul and Wolfgang to the ground.

The Alliance agents were fast, quickly bringing two of the terrorists down. Unfortunately for them, Gn’iol’s operators outside the auditorium had given him forewarning. He was able to respond immediately while his outside operatives moved in from behind to finish the raiders. They managed to hit one more of the terrorists before they were annihilated.

The smoke cleared and things quickly became quiet. Paul noticed one of the downed terrorists moving. He ran to her side. Leaving Wolfgang with Farah.

“Hey! What are you doing!” Another one asked, pointing his gun at Paul.

“If this woman doesn’t get treatment and quickly, she’ll die,” Paul said. “Now either make yourself useful and get me some clean bandages, water and a med kit or stay out of the way.”

“Hey, I said back off!” He cried. Stop that.

Paul ignored him. The guard aimed but Gn’iol grabbed his gun. “Get the Doctor here his supplies,” he ordered. “Or do you think you’re a better medic?”

“The guard hesitantly put his weapon away. “If you fail…” he began.

“Gareth, I decide what happens to our hostages,” Gn’iol said. “Or are you questioning my authority?”

“But if we don’t give him conditions he could let her die,” Gareth protested.

“So?” Gn’iol asked. “It would be her own fault for being weak.” He looked at Paul. “Besides, the little human has shown some guts. Wouldn’t it be interesting if he had the courage to let one of ours die deliberately?”

Angela knelt beside Paul. “How is she?”

“Not good,” Paul said. “Pacificans are very sturdy in their structure, but she took some severe damage. It pierced right through her heart’s chitinous shielding and some fragments of the plating are pushing against her heart itself. She also has a punctured lung.”

“We’ll have to move the fragments out and come up with a temporary substitute to allow the shielding to mend properly,” Angela said. “Fixing the damage to the heart itself is going to be tougher. We may have to carve off a little more of the chitin. Unless we can convince these guys to let s use a proper medical bay and more advanced equipment.”

Paul shook his head. “They won’t. They’re worried about what we could modify it for.”

Lucas, Meiling and Farah watched the pair of them.

“Did I miss something? Why are they helping the enemy?” Lucas wondered.

“She’s not really going to be in any condition to cause more trouble,” Meiling said. “And it does help defuse potential retaliation.”

“It’s more than that,” Farah said. “Paul believes that a doctor should save anyone they can. Regardless of potential risks.”

“Looks like we both have a troublesome Doctor,” Meiling said. She put a hand on Farah’s shoulder and whispered. “Let’s go back to our work area and talk.”

******

The transmission showed a very jovial looking Gn’iol standing over Alliance special ops corpses. “Alliance, your attempted raid failed. I should kill some of the hostages, just to teach you a lesson.” The image panned over to show the crowd.

“What is Paul doing?” Leon wondered.

“It looks like he and Angela are operating on a Pacifican,” Femi stated.

“However,” Gn’iol continued “I will be generous with you. Send me one of your parliament members, unarmed and alone. If they come within…” he paused and scratched his chin. “Within ninety standard minutes, I will not retaliate against the hostages. However, if they do not come, then I will line up and slay thirty of the hostages and they will al be Alliance species. It’s up to you. One of your parliament, or thirty of your finest minds.” The transmission cut out.

“Lucy, do you think the Alliance will send one?” Ophelia asked.

“Hard to say,” Lucy said. “They might if there’s someone in Parliament they’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of. Otherwise…”

“They’ll view the damn politicians in their silver towers as more important,” Jack finished.

“That’s giving us a worse situation,” Femi said. “Everyone we’ve got over there is human. They may not be Alliance but they’ll be seen that way.”

“You’re lucky,” Alexandria said. “Angela may be spared since she’s saving one of his crew.”

“He won’t care,” Kat said. “Intel on him suggests that he doesn’t value his own people much.”

“There is a simple solution,” Siya said. “The Alliance has caused this problem. We will have them fix it. We just need to find the nearest member of parliament.”

“And then we drag their ass over here!” Leon declared. “Whether they like it or not.”

“That would be highly unlawful,” Yuri reminded them.

“Technically, the Cerberus crew is already criminals as far as they’re concerned,” Grace said. “I say we do it.”

“I’ll come along,” Jack said. “Disguised, of course.”

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The Last Draconian 61: Illyana’s Duel

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

The trolls were clever, I had to give them that much. They’d waited until the second and fifth units had left us isolated before moving in the mercenaries to strike heavily against us. And if Layla hadn’t moved her unit, they’d undoubtedly have struck hard against the second unit while it was isolated.

Once any of us led our unit away, we were caught. And it was such an easy trap to fall into, considering how much of an advantage we had going into the battle. Anyone would have become over confident.

But thinking about it wasn’t a luxury I could afford. A minotaur and a reptilian feralial were pushing their way into our lines. The pair of them were terrifying to behold, giving them an advantage in intimidation in addition to their considerable strength.

“Don’t falter!” I called out. “We will win. For Het Wald and our families!”

I moved towards the minotaur. He was only around a hundred seventy centimetres tall, possibly a little shorter but his massive muscles were obvious and his bloody axe was swinging with both power and skill.

He flashed a menacing grin and charged towards me. I tried to leap to the side, but felt myself being scooped up and carried to safety before I could act.

“Are you okay?” Callie asked. She was breathing a little heavily.

“I’m fine,” I answered. “Don’t strain yourself. Especially not during the day.”

The minotaur laughed at us, his tail waving. He had a very deep, hearty laugh. “Such a cute little pair. An unprepared royal and a vampire trying to be active in mid day. Why don’t you both go on home?”

Callie put me down and took a step towards him, her rapier drawn. “Maybe I will. After I beat you down, of course.”

He gave her an incredulous look and burst out laughing again. “A vampire beat me? In daylight? If you could manage that I’d be your servant.”

Callie grinned. “I’ll hold you to that vow, Sirrah.”

His nostrils flared. “You really intend to beat me, don’t you?” He looked around at his comrades. “All of you stay out of this! The vampire is mine!”

“Then I’ll deal with her elf, Partner,” The lizard stated. He hurried towards me, his long sword flashing down.

I side-stepped his initial swing and countered with a slash of my own. His shield came up to block. The mercenaries were playing. They had no respect for the stakes that we were fighting for. I vowed then and there to teach them.

*****

Michael Ryufan

I knew that it would be folly to try and dissuade Illyana from fighting the vulpine woman. I had known her long enough to recognise when she had made up her mind beyond the ability of anyone to reason with her.

I attempted to consider the bargain rationally. It was undoubtedly true that Illyana considered this woman to be the other team mate that Athena had suggested we would find in the city itself. If that was, indeed, the case then this was the correct decision. After all, her magical abilities were highly advanced. In part due to her nature but largely due to her long years of dedicated training.

However, there was also a risk of Illyana becoming injured. Even if she had declared her intention to not hit her vitals, it was not an ideal situation.

“How many kunai do you intend to throw?” I asked.

She held up her hands, revealing six kunai in each hand. “I’ll throw these,” she answered. “An even dozen. Unless you want to hand me my coins now, of course.”

“They aren’t your coins,” Illyana said. “And they aren’t going to be. I can block a dozen kunai from you.”

“Fine,” the still unnamed vulpine stated. “But no putting up a magical shield and just maintaining it. You have to block them as they come. Since my magic is so easily detected and all.”

“I agree to your terms,” Illyana said. She moved a couple paces back from the alley. “I’m ready when you are.”

The vulpine woman seemingly melted into the shadows. I reached out with my own magical detection techniques. Illyana had been correct. She was easily detectable. The first five kunai were blocked with ease.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that she had been holding some of her power back. her presence rapidly diminished. I could no longer sense where she was. The sixth kunai almost hit Illyana. The seventh came even closer. Still, I took some solace knowing that Illyana could still, to a degree at  least, detect our opponent. She could not have guarded otherwise. She continued blocking with the eighth, ninth and tenth attempts.

A kunai came from the shadows directly for Illyana’s head, a split second later a second came from behind, aimed for her leg. A shield emerged to protect her head and a quick fireball spell knocked the second to the ground.

The vulpine woman reappeared, a look of disbelief on her face. I grabbed her by the collar and pushed her into the wall.

“You vowed that you would not aim for any vital spots!” I reminded her.

“I knew she’d block that one,” she said. “I just thought it would distract her and I’d hit her leg. Honest.”

I felt Illyana’s hand go over my wing and onto my shoulder. “Michael, it’s okay. I believe her.”

I restrained myself and lowered her.

“So, if we’re going to be comrades we should get to know each other,” Illyana suggested. “I’m Illyana. This is my best friend, Michael. And you are?”

“Aiko,” she said, accepting Illyana’s hand. “Aiko Kugari, pleased to meet you.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 175: Brainstorming Session

“Yuri, my friend!” Alexandria hugged the android. “I didn’t expect to see you here. You got tired of travelling with Elijah and his band?”

“They were very kind,” Yuri said. “However, the Cerberus is my home. I needed to return, for my own sake.”

“I hate to break up this reunion,” Femi said. “And I would dearly love to know the story behind it, but right now we have pressing business.”

“To put it simply, we need ideas,” Ophelia said. “If anyone has anything, even something that you think might not work, put it out there.”

“What if we cut a hole into the auditorium?” Farah suggested. “We might at least be able to bypass their jamming device and get a message to them. Then we could coordinate our efforts.”

“That would make a lot of noise,” Grace said. “Unless we cut very slowly.”

“There’ll be time if Gn’iol is in a generous mood,” Jack said. “But there’s every chance he’s not. Plus, they have at least one person away from the hostages monitoring the main facility. There’s every chance we’d be seen.”

“We’d have to neutralise the person or persons in their unit who are separated from the group,” Kat said. “Without giving them time to contact their friends.”

“Which doesn’t seem plausible,” Femi said. “Especially when you consider one simple fact. They have to have an established check in time to contact the main group. Could we manage to take them out and cut the hole before they’re supposed to check in?”

“I have an idea,” Alexandria said. “What if we fire a massive graviton surge at the building? We increase the gravitational pull and leave them all stuck to the floor and helpless while we go in with protective suits and pick off the enemy before they can act.”

“Grace?” Ophelia asked.

“A graviton pulse of that size and power is beyond what the Cerberus is currently capable of,” Grace said. “I could reroute all of our power for it, given a good seven hours, but even then I can’t guarantee it’ll last. Our systems could very well give out after a couple minutes leaving them free and very angry.”

“What if we try Miss Farah’s plan but we go from above?” Siya suggested. “The size of the auditorium could very well play to our advantage. And we could pump some harmless paralysis gas into the building. Settle the matter quickly and cleanly.”

“The building does have external security,” Lucy stated. “They’d definitely see us if we tried.”

“So, we take out the external feed,” Leon said. “They’ll never see us coming then.”

“They would respond,” Siya stated. “Possibly by slaying hostages.”

“Perhaps a different tactic is in order,” Yuri said. “All of the plans thus far have relied upon forcing our way past security. Perhaps it would be more efficacious to simply persuade our opponents to let one of us in.”

“How the hell do we manage that?” Jack asked.

Femi held up a hand to silence him. “You have a plan to accomplish that?”

“I do,” Yuri stated. “However, it will be highly risky. Particularly to the person who decides to infiltrate.”

“Fuck risks, I’ll do it,” Leon said.

“No, you won’t,” Kat said. “You aren’t exactly good at subtle, undercover work.”

“None of us can do it,” Femi stated. “They know Turing’s security and they know that one of our best engineers has a bionic arm.” She looked over at Siya.

“If they will be looking for bionic parts then I do not believe I could manage,” Yuri stated.

“I’ll go!” Farah declared. “Just tell me what I need to do.”

*****

“Told you I could get parts,” Lucas said. “Who the man?”

“You did very well,” Angela reassured him.

Meiling carefully took the devices and slipped them in with her things, trying her best to cover them up.

“What are you trying to make?” Paul asked.

“A simple stunning device,” Meiling said. “If I can get enough, we may be able to knock them all for a loop just long enough for us to get everyone out.”

“What about a way to breach their jamming signal?” Angela wondered. “Shouldn’t contacting our people be more important?”

“I thought about that,” Meiling said. “But they’d detect us pretty fast and it could give us away.” She shook her head. “I think this has a better chance of success.”

“Yo, something’s up,” Lucas said.

They looked over to their captors. A young woman with glasses, clutching a small dog was being brought forward.

“We found this one cowering outside. Caught her when she tried to get past security and escape. Her ID says she’s part of an independent research team working on Ca’urrg.”

Terak laughed. “Well, at least you tried, Little Mouse. Now, get in there with the rest and behave yourself. You and your mongrel will live longer.”

“I don’t believe it,” Paul whispered.

“You know her?” Meiling asked.

Paul nodded. “She’s part of our crew.”

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The Last Draconian 60: Battles Beginning

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I awoke with a start. Someone was knocking on my door. For a moment, I wondered why it was so quiet, but then I recalled that I had cast a noise dampening spell. I dispelled it and got dressed before answering the door.

“Illyana,” Michael’s voice greeted me.

“Good morning,” I said. “You wanted to head to the arena now?”

“I believe that consuming sustenance first would be prudent,” Michael said. “Unless you are not hungry.”

“No, I am,” I said. “Starving, actually.” I half expected him to criticise me for exaggerating.

“Then we will eat before making our way to the arena,” Michael said. “Please, stay close to me. this area does not appear to be the safest.”

“I know,” I said. “Honestly, you worry too much.”

*****

Lynai Elfblood

We waited while the first group fought. The trolls, even cornered, were ferocious. It didn’t help that we were fighting outside of the forest. No trees to grant us cover or height advantages. They gave the signal and we advanced to cover their retreat.

Luco was giving me a contemptuous look. I chose to ignore it. Layla manoeuvred  her unit towards the centre mass of the enemy. Luco moved his to her left. I took the right. We had the advantage in numbers and we were rested. We had the advantage and we all knew it.

I was a little worried that my unit would get careless. “Stay in a tight formation,” I ordered. “Remember, a cornered enemy is often times the most dangerous.”

We kept putting the pressure on them. The trolls facing Luco and my units began retreating. Something was off about it, I was certain. It was too measured. “Don’t pursue,” I ordered. “Move towards the fifth unit’s foes and catch them in a pincer attack. Rear guard, watch our flank just in case they return.”

Luco had, I noticed, moved his unit to pursue the fleeing trolls.

We fought alongside the fifth unit for a time. We were cleaning up the trolls pretty handily when the second unit called out for help. They had been caught off guard by a waiting ambush party. Like I had suspected, the withdraw had been a trap.

“We’ll go,” Layla said. “You can handle them here, right?”

“As things stand,” I answered. She nodded and led her troops away.

We kept fighting. Whenever I got a slight breather I glanced over to try and see how the other squads were faring. After all, it would be bad if the enemy struck in force while we were isolated.

Michael flew over to me. “Lynai, a regiment of trolls and mercenaries is pushing against our rear. I recommend a strategic withdrawal.”

I shook my head. “If we retreat now, it’ll leave the second and fifth units open. They’ll be slaughtered. We have to hold the line.” I looked over to Callie. “Command the soldiers here, please. I’ll take some soldiers and reinforce the rear.”

Callie gave me a disbelieving look. “Can’t the draconian command some troops? I should go with you.”

“I would not be adverse to the idea,” Michael said.

“Fine,” I agreed. “Let’s go!”

*****

Michael Ryufan

Illyana did not consume much by the standards of most people. However, she did eat more than she normally did by a fair margin.

I considered whether or not to broach the subject of her sound proofing spell. Undoubtedly, she had cast it out of an inability to rest with the noise level near the arena. However, such a spell could easily prove disadvantageous should we encounter real trouble during our stay. What was the probability of Sadow locating us in this area? We had not left any indications aside from our conversation with Professor Mord. So, it did not seem likely that he would. With that in mind, I chose to allow her free reign in that regard. I would say nothing.

After our breakfast, we made our way towards the arena. We needed one more person to participate in a team match. Athena had indicated that we would find them. I paid careful attention to our surroundings as we moved.

“Well, well,” I hurriedly tried to ascertain where the voice was coming from. “Isn’t this an odd pair? A blind woman and an extinct being.”

She emerged from the alley. She had perfectly blended into the shadows, likely with the aid of magic. She was a vulpine feralial. Her bushy, rust coloured tail swayed. She was just over a hundred sixty centimetres tall, not counting her comparatively large ears. She had golden coloured eyes and bright crimson hair with a white streak going down the centre.

“Do you have some business with us?” I inquired, putting myself very deliberately between her and Illyana.

“We’re going to participate in team matches at the arena,” Illyana answered her question. “Michael, don’t give me whatever look you’re giving me. It’s not a secret and we do need a third, remember?”

The vulpine woman burst out laughing. “Sorry, sorry,” she said. “It’s just funny. You don’t have enough people. One of you is blind and the other’s from a dead race of pacifists. It’s pretty absurd, don’t you think?”

“we appreciate the concern,” Illyana said. She was going out of her way to be diplomatic. “But we’ll be fine. Michael knows a lot about fighting and I have magical skills you wouldn’t believe. For instance, I detected that shadow meld spell of yours. Not bad, but you don’t conceal your presence very well. If anyone was actively looking for magic being used, they’d find you instantly.”

“Oh, is that so?” she asked. “In that case, how about a little game? You against me. Your friend stays out of it.”

“What are you proposing exactly?” I inquired.

She turned to look at me. “Simple. I meld into the shadows and toss some kunai at miss ‘amazing mage.’ I won’t aim for her vitals, naturally. But if I hit her, I win and you two give me all the coin you’re carrying.”

I was about to protest but Illyana spoke first. “And if you don’t hit me?”

“Then your team has enough people,” she said. “I’ll join you myself.”

Illyana reached her hand out. “I accept.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 174: Symposium Raided

“It happened at 15:02 exactly,” Lucy stated.

The crew watched as a pair of Pacifia pulled out some very portable laser pistols and began opening fire. The camera switched, showing one Pacifian and a human acting at the same time stamp. It switched again, showing another mixed pair.

Leon tapped his foot impatiently.

“Six culprits were identified in total,” Ophelia explained. After that, the surveillance equipment went out. Meaning they have at least one more.”

“They were only seen briefly, but one was identified,” Lucy stated.

Leon scowled, staring intently.

“Terak Gn’iol,” Ophelia said. “A wanted Pacifian terrorist with a hefty bounty on his head. Right now, his group has over a hundred doctors and scientists hostage. We need to find a way to infiltrate the auditorium where they’re held up and subdue them without letting the hostages get hurt.”

“Stop with the talking already!” Leon declared. “I’ll just go beat them all down myself!”

“Leon, stop,” Kat said. “You can’t go in without a plan.”

“The hell I can’t!” Leon exclaimed. Pushing her aside to move past.

“Are you trying to get him killed?” Lucy asked. Leon froze in his tracks. “Because if you just barge in like that, that’s exactly what’ll happen.”

“But we have to act fast,” Leon pleaded. “Or… or… Dammit!” He punched the wall.

“We know,” Ophelia reassured him. “And that’s why we need a plan.”

“How long until they start killing hostages?” Grace asked.

“Given Gn’iol’s previous methods, it could be as short as two hours or as long as two days,” Ophelia said. “Unfortunately, there’s no way to know.”

“Then that’s our window,” Grace said.

“There is no guarantee that Paul will be one of the first selected for execution,” Yuri pointed out.

“No, but he won’t let anyone else die in front of him without trying to do something,” Ophelia said. “And when he defies his captors to save someone else…”

“It’s all over,” Lucy finished.

There was silence for a moment. Everyone struggled to think up the perfect rescue plan or, alternatively, the right thing to say. The silence was unceremoniously interrupted by an alert.

Yuri moved to check the cause. “Ophelia, we are being hailed,” she reported.

“On screen, please,” Ophelia said. A familiar face quickly appeared.

“You’re…” Kat began, struggling to recall the name.

“I know!” Farah volunteered. “Femi Ziegmari, the security chief of Turing Station.”

“Can we help you, Mrs. Ziegmari?” Ophelia asked.

“We seem to have a mutual problem,” Femi stated. “Three members of Turing’s crew were taken hostage at that symposium. Including my Angela.”

“And you want to combine our resources,” Ophelia said.

“Neither of us has the biggest group available,” Femi confirmed. “There are only four of us who came and didn’t get caught up in this immediately. We can’t afford to wait for reinforcements. You don’t have any. If we work together, we should have a better chance.

“We’ll open the shuttle bay for you,” Ophelia said. “I’ll meet you down there personally.”

“I appreciate it,” Femi said. “Thank you.”

*****

“Man, this is bad,” Lucas whispered. “They have at least a dozen and they’re all armed. They’ve blocked the entrances too, except the main one and they’re watching it constantly. I don’t know how we’ll manage to peace out of here.”

“The short answer is, we can’t,” Angela said. “Not on our own.”

“If I could get some parts I might be able to put some kind of gadget together,” Meiling suggested.

“Could you do it without drawing their attention?” Paul asked.

“Do you think it’s worth the risk?” Angela wondered. “If they find out…”

“I know,” Paul said. “That’s why I asked if she could hide it.” He sighed. “Look, we both know our crews are coming for us. Hopefully soon.”

“I get where you’re going with this,” Angela said. “A useful gadget might be able to give them the edge, yes?”

Paul nodded.

“It should be possible,” Meiling answered. “After all, there are a lot of hostages. They can’t watch us all. It’s getting the parts that’s the problem. They aren’t exactly going to let us use the workshops.”

“Leave that part to me,” Lucas said. “I’m sure there are plenty of people around with fancy hand held devices. I’ll see if I can persuade them to part with some.”

“In that case we should empty our own pockets first,” Angela suggested. “We’ll move against the wall. You and I can block Meiling from their sight.”

“Not too much,” Paul said. “We should make it look like we’re all three holding a conversation while she plays with her hand held.”

“Naturally,” Meiling agreed.

*****

Femi boarded with three people Ophelia didn’t recognise. “Captain Wester, these are Alexandria Zharkova, Siya Vallja & Jack Norsan.”

“Quit with the pleasantries and let’s find a way to take the objective,” Jack muttered.

“We mustn’t rush,” Siya chided. “Victory requires precision.”

“We will plan fast,” Alexandria said. “If my Meiling is hurt I will kill every terrorist in this organisation with my bare hands. There will be no mercy and nothing to save them.”

“She reminds me of someone,” Lucy whispered.

“Did you say something?” Femi asked.

“Ladies, Gentleman, we’ll escort you to our planning room,” Ophelia said. “Come, this way.”

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The Last Draconian 59: Night Before The Storm

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

Callie, me and four others took watch. The night was quiet. I could hear some owls, rodents and other fauna but there wasn’t any sign of trolls or any other people aside from those within the camp.

I took a little time to get to know the other volunteers. We had Limy Oros, the daughter of a family of tailors. She had dark hair, golden eyes and seemed eager to prove herself. She thought that she could bring honour to her family as a decorated soldier. Liera Rootkin was the daughter of a noble house. She had light blue hair and brown eyes. She seemed eager too, but moreso in the actual fighting. A it worrying, but at least she was directing her aggression at our enemies in a war. Chamomile Bitterroot was a charming young pixie with blonde hair and blue eyes. He told us all about his dream of being a bard and jokingly asked us to perform some courageous acts for him. Lyle Vinetrunk was a shy young man with a shaved head and green eyes. He’d joined the war effort because he wanted to help.

I knew there was every chance some of them wouldn’t survive but I wanted to know who they were and why they were risking their lives. I was thinking about that when Callie approached me.

“Have you gotten to know the troops?”

“A little,” I answered.

“Are you sure you can handle it if one of your new friends dies?” Callie asked.

“If that happens, I’ll make sure they don’t die in vain,” I said. “It’s the least I can do for them.”

Callie leaned in close to me. “If something does happen, just don’t shoulder it yourself. Let me be there for you.”

I almost protested but I glanced into her eyes and I could see that she was sincere. “All right,” I agreed. I might need the shoulder to cry on.”

She smiled. I could see just a hint of her fangs. It was a lovely smile.

“Can I kiss you?” she asked. “Just once?”

“I… I do… Okay,” I agreed, reluctantly. Her lips tasted like lavender.

Michael Ryufan

I offered to participate in the night watch. Lynai assigned me to the third watch. I was taking a slight risk. If the trolls decided to attack during the night, they would undoubtedly try to eliminate those of us who were active. Still, it was a quick method to establish my… dedication.

In any case, I calculated the likelihood of the trolls attacking to be low. They were in retreat for a reason and it would certainly take some effort on their part to rally. At that juncture, I would have already proven myself and the necessity to volunteer for anything would be gone.

The watch was simple enough. My fellow volunteers consisted of three elves and two pixies. I did not bother to learn their names and barely listened as they conversed. At the conclusion of our shift, we awoke the final shift and returned to sleep.

*****

Illyana Fensen

We arrived at an Inn beside the arena.

“I will be in the room next door,” Michael stated. “If there is any difficulty, I will arrive quickly.”

“I can take care of myself,” I reminded him.

“I am cognisant of your highly developed skills in the use of magic,” Michael stated. “However, we are partners in this endeavour. More importantly, we are friends. If something does go awry, we should look after one another.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “And I’ll come to your rescue if you need me to.”

“I will be in your care,” Michael said. “Good night.”

“Night,” I said.

The bed wasn’t the most comfortable. The mattress was a bit lumpy and the blanket had a coarse quality to it.

The noise from the arena was awful. You could hear people cheering and shouting. I decided to put a silence spell around mine and Michael’s rooms. We’d hear anybody who came near, but not the arena or anyone else in the distance.

Drake settled down on my stomach and went to sleep. I drifted away to the gentle sound of him breathing.

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The Case of the Missing Stock Boy part four

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Hilde examined their new surroundings. She and Bianca were on a narrow pathway. Around them was a wide open space with random objects haphazardly floating around. Off of the walkway was a murky looking green-grey void.

Bianca grabbed Hilde’s hand. Hilde hadn’t even noticed herself let go. “Do not fall off the path!” she cautioned. “You could end up anywhere or worse, nowhere.” Bianca was looking around. “Still, this is a strange magical space. There’s no real structure or workmanship. It’s like someone just tossed things in randomly.”

“That tells us our perpetrator either didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t care,” Hilde stated. “I suppose we follow the path.”

Bianca nodded. “They must’ve not cared,” she said. “You couldn’t create a magical pocket space on accident. Well, unless…”

“Unless?” Hilde asked.

“I guess it’s possible we have the work of an affinity,” Bianca said. “That’s what we call humans who have some magical power but can’t really access it properly. Any showing of magic from an affinity tends to be purely accidental on their part, usually stemming from something in their subconscious.”

“And what would a magical space created by an affinity look like?” Hilde wondered. “Something like this?”

“I guess,” Bianca said. “But affinities aren’t usually that strong. If it is an affinity’s work then it probably built up over a long period of time.”

“Interesting,” Hilde muttered.

The two moved down the path.

They couldn’t see too far in front of them. All around them was the same swirling muck. The path they were on varied in width as well. Sometimes it was so thin they had to move in file. Others it was wide enough for them to stand comfortably side by side.

The path also twisted and curved, sometimes taking on a sharp incline or decline for the pair to struggle with.

“How big can this be?” Hilde wondered.

“Not that big,” Bianca said. “It probably loops around. to create a never-ending track. Give us ten minutes and I think we’ll be back where we started.”

Hilde looked around. They were in an area full of refrigerated foods and empty packages. That’s where they found him.

He had curly black hair, and a vacant expression. He was lying down on the path staring up, holding a half-eaten sausage with one hand.

“Zach?” Hilde asked.

He moved with a start, nearly falling off the path in the process. He clumsily stood up. “Wh… who are you?” he asked.

“Breath mint?” Bianca offered.

“Why?” Zach wondered.

“Please, just take it,” Bianca said.

“How did you get here?” Hilde asked, though she already suspected.

“I was doing some work and just ended up here,” Zach answered.

“Tell only the truth,” Bianca commanded, gesturing.

“I hid out of the camera’s view and was taking a break when I somehow ended up here,” Zach answered. “I… I don’t know how long I’ve been here. This road goes on forever.”

“Well, we’re here to take you back,” Hilde said.

Bianca pulled her close. “Shouldn’t we figure out exactly what happened?” She whispered.

“I already know,” Hilde said. “At least I’m pretty sure I do. We can confirm it when we go back.”

“Then I’ll signal Beatrix,” Bianca said.

Soon, the pair was comfortably back inside Galeria Kaufhof, with Zach in tow.

*****

Zach immediately fell unconscious when they returned.

“He’ll be fine,” Bianca said. “Just discombobulated from prolonged exposure to magic space.”

Hilde nodded. “We still need an explanation for Walters anyway.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s say an affinity was to blame for his disappearance. Would that explain the lack of power?”

“An affinity?” Beatrix asked. She thought for a moment. “I suppose it could. Their magic isn’t nearly as strong as a true witches or magical being’s.”

“And could you identify an affinity if you were trying?” Hilde asked.

“Simple enough,” Beatrix answered. “You have someone in mind, I take it.”

Hilde nodded. “Let’s say we had an affinity who harboured a lot of resentment against him built up over a long period of time. Bianca, you said their showings of power come from their subconscious.”

“That could create a pocket dimension to keep him trapped,” Bianca confirmed. “But I thought you didn’t think it was Mikael.”

“I don’t think he did anything deliberately,” Hilde stated. “But if it’s accidental, that changes everything.”

“I’ll go check him!” Sakura volunteered. She flew off.

“That leaves us with one problem,” Hilde said. “How do we explain this? And what can we do if Mikael is an affinity? We can’t punish him for something that isn’t his fault. But we can’t risk him causing more trouble either.”

“That’s the soul of simplicity,” Beatrix said. “We simply seal his power. It’s easy to do for affinities since they’re so weak. As for the explanation,” she looked at Zach “this guy is pretty unreliable, is he not?”

*****

Things fell into place after that. Bianca put a subtle seal on Mikael to block his subconscious powers from returning. As for Zach, they came up with a simple explanation. He’d gotten into some uncooked sausages and had taken off, delirious. It was easy enough to convince everyone when Zach started rambling about a road that never ends surrounded by a miasma.

He was taken to hospital to have his stomach pumped.

Hilde found herself back in Bianca’s home. This time, it was her turn to meet Bianca’s family.

How many people, she wondered, share dinner with three witches including their girlfriend? On reflection, her life had indeed gotten strange. Wonderfully so. She wouldn’t trade that for anything.

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The Last Draconian 58: Plan of Attack

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Lynai Elfblood

We stopped around midday to let our horses rest. Lang summoned those of us who were leading units.

“We’ll fight in rotation,” he said. “Units 3, 7 & 9 will move in first. Units 2, 5 & 12 will hold back and move in to relieve the other units when they need to fall back to regroup or rest. Remember, we don’t need to win right away. We just need to hold the enemy at bay long enough to give our comrades time to finish their work in Het Wald and join us here and press them hard enough that we can break through their ranks when the time comes.”

One of the other commanders interjected. She was a large, muscular woman with her blonde hair neatly tied. She carried a massive scythe strapped to her back.  Her armour bore the crest of a fiery pine tree, marking her as a part of the Elzray family. She also had a “V” proudly adorning her right shoulder. So, I was certain she led the fifth unit. “What if we find ourselves with the opportunity to deal some serious damage?”

“I would caution you to be wary of possible attempts to lure you,” Lang began. “But if you believe you truly have a golden opportunity, I will leave it up to you whether or not you take advantage.”

She nodded, seemingly satisfied.

“We should arrive at our target point by nightfall,” Lang continued. “Once the sun rises, we’ll begin our counter-offensive. Make sure to set strong night watches and to get some rest. We’ll all need it.”

The Elzray daughter approached me alongside a relatively short, but strong looking elf. He had spiked black hair and an eye patch over his right eye.

“Looks like it’s the three of us,” she said. She held out her hand to me “Layla Elzray, fifth unit commander. This is Luco Ekmil, second unit commander.”

“Lynai Elfblood,” I said, taking her hand. “A pleasure to meet you.”

Luco scowled. “We don’t need some pampered princess playing soldier.”

“Luco!” Layla cried out. “Royals do not go into battle without the skills to survive. We both fought alongside Liys and Leaf. You know that.”

“But we did fight alongside them,” Luco said. “I’ve never seen this whelp on the battlefield before. Have you?”

“My father would not allow me on the battlefield,” I said, trying to think of a way to defuse the situation. “But I did train under intense conditions with Lais Elivy herself. If you doubt my mettle, I’d be glad to have a sparring session against you.”

Layla laughed and clapped me on the back. “Nicely said!”

Luco kept scowling. “The battlefield isn’t like a nice, safe sparring session. Keep that in mind. And don’t get us killed.” He wandered off towards his troops.

“Don’t mind him,” Layla said. “Once he sees your skills he’ll soften. He didn’t trust me to fight alongside him at first either. Nor did he trust your brothers. He… doesn’t care for noble families, especially royals.”

I nodded. “I’ve heard of people like that.”

Layla laughed. “You may well find quite a few of them among the soldiers. But don’t worry. I’m certain you’ll prove yourself to them in no time.”

We separated and went to our own troops.

Callie approached me, she’d removed her helmet. “Have a good meeting? Didn’t miss me too much, I trust.”

“The meeting was fine,” I said, deliberately ignoring the second half of her statement. I turned to address everyone. “My comrades, by nightfall we’ll have reached our camp site. I want a watch rotation with four groups of six soldiers staying up for two hour shifts. I will personally join in the first watch. When we arrive at the camp, I’ll ask for volunteers to take part in the rotation. Don’t volunteer if it’s going to affect your ability to fight. In the morning, we’ll take part in the battle. Our unit will start by staying back alongside units Five and Two. When the other units retreat to rest and regroup, we’ll move in to pick up the slack. I want a close formation with everyone watching one another’s backs. That’s all for now, prepare for the last stretch of the journey. We leave within the hour.”

I watched as they began moving off. There wasn’t any sign of discontent. Which was good. I felt Callie’s hand wrap around me. “You know I’ll be n the first watch with you, right?”

“You don’t have to be,” I said. I briefly thought of pushing her hand away, but decided not to. It wasn’t bothering me or anything.”

“Believe me, I know,” she said. “But I am the best choice. My vision isn’t hampered by the darkness.”

“Fine,” I agreed. “Just make sure you’re paying attention to or surroundings and not just to me.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

Orontios was not as I remembered it. Of course, the last draconian who had visited the city had done so three hundred and fifteen years ago when it was just being established. At that time, it had been a simple, but clean and bustling city full of promise. Now it was sprawling with structures built atop the old buildings to accommodate more people. The architecture had grown archaic and was clearly not properly maintained.

Those people who wandered the streets were noticeably unclean. It had become little better than a slum. I moved slightly closer to Illyana, just in case someone decided that we looked wealthy enough to confront and I was required to shield her. We made our way through a noisy marketplace where untrustworthy looking people had set up stalls to peddle wares. Except for two, who were currently involved in an altercation over space.

“Illyana, I will return momentarily,” I said. I flew up into the sky. The arena was easily located. It had a very distinct design. I landed back beside Illyana. “We will arrive shortly,” I informed her. “Are you functioning adequately?”

“I’m fine,” she answered. “It’s just really loud here. I feel a little disoriented.”

“If there is anything I can do to assist you, just let me know,” I stated.

“In that case, hold out your hand,” she demanded. I quickly deduced what she wanted and acquiesced. She held my hand. “There. Now I just have to trust you to guide me.”

“Very well,” I said. “It is this way.” We continued on our way.

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The Case of the Missing Stock Boy part three

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It was very deliberate. Zach had moved away from his work and directly into the camera’s blind spot. He hadn’t returned.

“He knew where the cameras were?” Hilde asked.

“Not exactly ,” Brandon answered. “He figured out some blind spots when he didn’t get in trouble for standing about doing nothing in them.”

“Some employee,” Hilde muttered. “Can I see the wine area during the same time stamp?”

“No problem,” Brandon said.

Mikael seemed to be working efficiently and quickly. About ten minutes after Zach had initially gone into the blind spot, Mikael left the department.

“Where was he going?” Hilde wondered.

“Taking his break,” Brandon answered. “He goes at the same time every night.”

“Just checking,” Hilde said. “You know it doesn’t look great for him, leaving his area at roughly the time Zach vanished.”

“I know,” Brandon said. “But I still can’t believe he did anything.”

“I don’t either,” Hilde stated. “But I do have to look at all the evidence as objectively as possible. I’m going to check the area he was in.”

She didn’t have to hunt for it. It was the very area that Bianca and Sakura had been hovering around.

It didn’t take long for Bianca to return with a tall, auburn haired woman. There was something about her fair features that reminded Hilde of Bianca. In fact, their eyes were nearly identical.

“Your secret weapon?” Hilde asked.

“I told you, I just had to call in a favour,” Bianca said. “This is my oldest sister, Beatrix.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Hilde said.

“Likewise,” Beatrix said, shaking Hilde’s hand. “I’ve been wondering what kind of girl could keep my baby sister’s attention.”

“Are you seriously on about that again?” Bianca asked.

Beatrix gave her a playful grin. “But it’s true, isn’t it?”

“It’s because they have the truest of loves!” Sakura declared.

“Oh, is that right Miss Fairy?” Beatrix asked

“Absolutely!” Sakura stated.

“You had to call in a favour from your own sister?” Hilde asked, changing the subject.

Bianca shrugged. “We don’t believe in owing things to one another just because we’re family.”

“I see what you mean,” Beatrix said. “There is something here… maybe.” She walked around the area. Then she snapped her fingers. “Maybe a passive trap spell.”

“If it was it must’ve been cast a long time ago,” Bianca noted. “It doesn’t have the presence it should if it were recent.”

“Most definitely,” Beatrix agreed.

“And how would the trap work exactly?” Hilde asked.

“It would probably be set to activate when someone entered the area and did a particular thing,” Bianca said. “Or entered the area and said something. But since he was the only one grabbed that’s unlikely.”

“So is the other option,” Hilde said. “Apparently, Zach came here regularly to laze about while avoiding the cameras. It doesn’t seem probable that he did something new today that he’d never done before.”

“Well, we can test the trap theory,” Beatrix said.

Bianca nodded. “Should be simple enough. We just have to forcefully activate it.”

“I can do that,” Beatrix said. “Me and the fairy will form an anchor so that you two can get back. Miss Detective, look after my sister. Okay?”

“Why do I have to stay with you?” Sakura demanded.

“Because I can’t provide a way back for both of them and a possible third person by myself,” Beatrix answered.

“Sakura, don’t worry about us,” Bianca said. “We’ll look after one another.” She gently grasped Hilde’s hand. “This should prove whether or not there was an old trap spell in place.”

“If nothing happens?” Hilde asked.

Bianca shrugged. “Then we try and find the actual truth.”

Beatrix chanted, a green sparkly light burst from her hands into the area around Hilde and Bianca. The next thing Hilde knew, the pair of them were elsewhere.

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The Last Draconian 57: Illyana’s Plea

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Illyana Fensen

Michael had been mostly silent since we had resumed our trek. He’d speak only if I said something and even then he’d only give a terse response. This time we were walking, just in case he lost it again. I was used to him being quiet. Ever since we were little, he had always had his silent moments. This time… this time it worried me. He was still shaky and wasn’t sure if he could keep flying if he had another attack.

What did he mean when he said he had a “sense of incompleteness.” Was it related to why he’d suddenly collapsed? I couldn’t help but be concerned. Even his voice sounded shaky.

“How long until we reach Orontios?” I asked, trying to sound fairly cheerful.

“We will arrive in approximately three hours, twenty four minutes and fifteen seconds,” he answered. “Assuming, of course, that we maintain our current velocity and do not stop. I apologise in advance if we do not arrive at the projected time due to my condition.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I don’t think a delay would really hurt.”

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The morning came all too soon and I found myself in front of a squadron I barely knew. There was one more body than there should have been. Callie, I knew, had donned a suit of armour and surreptitiously joined the ranks. She’d show herself when we were well on our way and I couldn’t very well insist that she leave.

I spotted her in the crowd, those bright eyes glancing directly at me. I chose to pretend I hadn’t seen her. Even if I was fine with her tagging along, I knew it would cause trouble if everyone else found out before we left. After all, we were both part of a world with strict protocol and we were both breaking it. But it gave me comfort to know that she was there, looking out for me.

Lais approached before we left with someone I’d never expected to see in tow. It was Michael, looking rejuvenated, packed up and ready to go.

“Michael?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I have come to offer my assistance,” he stated. “Commander Elivy has assigned me to your unit. I trust that will be acceptable?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “But I thought you were…” I paused. It could very well be a problem if I said it “I thought you had other business to attend to.”

“I have not given up on that business,” Michael stated. “But I have concluded that experience in a real battle will be a step toward finishing it.”

I nodded. “Makes sense. Join the vanguard and don’t stray from the group. We have to fight as a unit.”

He nodded. “I will observe proper military protocol. Do not concern yourself.”

We rode. We didn’t ride at full gallop, not wanting to exhaust our horses, but we still rode quickly through the great forest and towards Relna. I felt pretty good. Michael and Callie were both in my unit and I knew the three of us could accomplish remarkable feats.

*****

Michael Ryufan

We were approaching the Orontios with a fair amount of speed, considering. I was feeling significantly better, perhaps the fall earlier had been due to stress. It was somewhat disconcerting that Athena herself had implied that I should be here. But I believed in her benevolent intentions.

Surely, she knew that the age of draconians was drawing to a close. Perhaps she had a plan for me that would serve some good before my fall. Perhaps she wished to delay the inevitable. Perhaps she intended for me to unearth the secret of constructing living beings in a laboratory and propagate my species artificially.

Ultimately, however, her reasons did not matter. As long as I would still be able to accomplish my purpose, I had no objection to being put to work for whatever her goal for this scenario was.

“Can we rest for a moment?” Illyana asked.

“Certainly,” I stated. “I can not complain after the delay I caused. And I should have been attentive to your status.”

“No, no,” Illyana said. “I’m fine. Just a little tired. You’ve been perfectly attentive.”

I led her to a fallen log that she could rest on and we sat on it. I noted that she was perspiring and offered her some water, which she accepted.

“It’s been a while since we sat together like this,” she mused.

“It has,” I concurred. “Truthfully, I did not anticipate seeing you in person again after I left Wicadia. I am glad that I was in error.”

She waited exactly thirty seven point three seconds before responding. “I did get that impression but I didn’t want to bring it up.” She sighed. “Can I ask what exactly happened?”

“There is not much to tell,” I said. “I fought Sadow. When it became apparent that I could not win I attempted to use the binding breath spell. He did not notice, but my elven friend interfered and, unknowingly, prevented my plan.”

There was a more substantive pause. “I’m glad,”Illyana finally said. “Not because I don’t want him brought down, understand, but because I don’t want you to sacrifice yourself to do it.”

“I have considered methods that I could use to end him for his crimes without losing my own life in the process,” I said. “However, I do not know if I am strong enough to defeat him under normal circumstances. Please, understand my plight.”

We sat in relative silence for a substantial amount of time. It was broken, not with words, but with movement. Illyana grabbed my arm. She was surprisingly rough, given her fragile build. “Maybe that’s why we’re going.” She stated. “To get stronger. There are plenty of people who would be willing to fight by your side. Don’t try to do it alone.”

“I do not have any desire to see anyone injured or killed at my behest,” I said. “It is preferable for me to face him alone. Furthermore, I, more than anyone else, have the right.”

There was another substantial pause. It was beginning to grow disconcerting. “Maybe you do,” Illyana muttered. “But that doesn’t make it worth throwing everything away.” She stood up and rubbed her hands on her robes. “Let’s keep going.”

“Very well,” I concurred. I was well aware that she was ending the conversation in order to compel me to contemplate her finishing words. I decided to allow it.

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