The Last Draconian 19: The Final Magi

Previous Chapter

Lyon smoked his pipe outside of the checkpoint. Liys was inside meeting with his commanders.

“Greetings, Mister Ivytrunk.”

Lyon froze. The voice was coming from behind him. He wasn’t sure whether to reach for his folding spetum or to cry out. A cloaked figure moved past him. “Be at ease, I’m not here to harm you.”

Lyon smiled, his panic subsided as he recognised the visitor. “Magi, what are you doing here?”

Larick removed his hood. “I came to help the attack unfold in the best way possible for our people.”

“What attack?”

“The attack that’s going to be launched against this outpost, of course.”

“We’re going to be attacked? I’d better send word to the Royal One!”

Larick brought his arm up and gestured for Lyon to stand down. “The Royal One will receive word within the hour. Leaf and Lofu will be sent with a unit to repel the trolls.”

Lyon calmed down. “That’s a relief.”

Larick entered the outpost. “Yes, it’s always a relief when things happen as they should.”

*****

The ground in front of Wicadia’s gate cracked open. A dwarf emerged from the earth. He was sitting atop a floating, stone disc. He wore dark crimson robes and had a bushy brown beard. He had bright blue eyes.

Bastian bowed his head. “Welcome to Wicadia, Entrik.”

The dwarf spoke with a heavy accent. “Where I am, I recognise well. Of the others, how many are here?” The dwarf’s voice was deep and booming.

“Solan and Squen have gone inside already.”

“Almost complete, our party is. The discussion will be soon.” Entrick gestured and the disc carried him over the wall.

The guard turned to Bastion, confusion covering her features.

“Entrik is an ominmage,” Bastian explained. “His legs stopped working centuries ago. He uses that slab to get around.”

*****

Lynai Elfblood

“It’s quite fascinating really,” Reynard explained.

I pinched my arm to keep from falling asleep. “So I’ve heard.” I was hoping that he would take the hint.

“For instance, fire-element mages have the combustion spell. Earth-element mages have the scattering flesh spell. Air-element mages have the binding breath spell.”

Reynard had been talking about suicidal attack spells for a half-hour. I knew what they were and I’d read what interesting people thought about the philosophy behind them. Now I was getting lectured by the dull prince.

I propped my head up with my arm and watched the wall. Soon my time with him would be up and I’d get to be bothered by someone else. I started thinking about Callie. At least when it was her turn I’d have a reason to pay attention.

*****

Bastian watched as a robed figure approach. He had light-blue skin, opaque eyes and short white hair.

“A merman? What’s he doing here?”

Bastian ignored the captain. He walked over to the visitor. “Welcome, Pran.”

Pran looked up at him. “Hello, Bastian Mord. Sadow will arrive in ten minutes, fifteen seconds. At that time Entrik will berate him for his tardiness and the meeting will begin. We will argue about how to approach Larick’s situation. It will be tiring.”

Bastian nodded. “I understand. I’ll try and provide rescue.”

“Refreshments will be sufficient,” Pran stated. “Tiresome meetings are to be expected when we gather.”

“I’ll see to it,” Bastian assured him.

*****

Michael Ryufan

I watched the concoction. It would take another day to set completely. I did not mind. I had adequate time to wait for it to set and then go after Sadow. The guard was watching me with a curious expression. He clearly considered me overloaded.

I can understand that position completely. James Fingol once stated that “Only a damaged mind seeks violence.” Yet here I was, fully prepared to do just that. I wonder, will my people be ashamed of me or will they understand the exceptional circumstances involved in this situation? Should genocide not be punished as harshly as possible?

“So, you’re the draconian.” It was a relatively young elf. He had blond hair and light green eyes. His resemblance to Lynai was immediately apparent.

“You are Lynai’s sibling?” I asked.

He nodded. “I’m her younger brother, Lan Elfblood. Third royal son.”

“Why have you come here?”

He scratched his head. The movement seemed to be habitual. “Curiosity, mainly,” he answered. “I’ve never seen a draconian before. Can’t say I ever expected to either.”

“Your response indicates that there is another purpose behind your visit.”

He studied me for a moment. I remained stationary. “You don’t seem crazy to me,” he observed. “Why were you with Lyn?”

“Her presence was based on her own request. I merely agreed to accompany her until we found our way out of the forest. I was not aware of her position.”

“I believe you,” he said. “I’ll speak with my father on your behalf, once he has time. In the meantime, please forgive him. He’s only concerned for Lyn’s well being. He can be stubborn, but he is a good man. I’m sure he’ll come around now that  he’s had time to cool his head.” He smiled at the guard and ascended the stone stair.

*****

“There he is,” Bastian said. “Just as Pran said.”

A white cloaked figure stopped at the gate. When he spoke his voice was hollow and deep. “Am I the last to arrive?”

“You are,” Bastian answered.

Sadow pulled back his hood. His eyes were hollow sockets emitting a blue light. His flesh was mostly gone, what remained was heavily decayed. His muscles and tendons were visible. There were no vocal cords. The guard captain gasped.

“Sorry to disturb you, Young Lady. Is my appearance that grotesque?” Sadow asked.

“My apologies, Sir,” Bastian said. “Our captain has never seen a lich before.”

“That’s unsurprising,” Sadow said. “The process to become a lich is long, painful and complex. Very few mages can manage it.” He looked at the guard. “But the reward is virtual immortality, well worth the price.”

“The council is waiting for you,” Bastian said. “Will you come with me?”

Sadow nodded. “I became distracted. I would be honoured if you would lead me to the chamber.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 149: Grace & Lucy Have a Heart to Heart

Grace was sitting in the Nefrit’s engine room, going through their equipment, taking stock.

“Grace, how’s everything going?” Lucy asked.

“There are some interesting differences between their tech and ours,” Grace answered. “Theirs seems to be built around immobilising their opponents. At first, I figured it was because they’re slavers. But it’s true for their defences too. They’re designed to guard against powerful EMPs & other disabling methods. They afford some protection against lethal force, but it’s clearly not their primary purpose. This sector may very well be one where employing lethal force is unusual.”

“Anything that you can adapt for the Cerberus?” Lucy asked.

“The EMP weapon is no good,” Grace answered. “It’s too short range and requires a lot of power. We’d minimally short circuit the shields & primary power using it. They manage with a multiple engine set up but their ship is also much bigger than ours. We couldn’t fit another engine, much less the four they have.”

Lucy whistled. “That is a lot of power.”

“Not as much as you’re probably thinking,” Grace said. “Their four engines would be worth about two and a half of ours. The shielding I may be able to use. I think I can modify our shielding array with a bit of phase modulation to grant us strong protection against lethal force & EMPs alike.”

“How much more of a power drain will they be?”

“The shields will still be operating within acceptable limits. We’ll just have to finish fights more quickly,” Grace gestured to a shell about the size of her hand. “these could come in handy too. They’re basically acid torpedoes. They’re designed to pierce a ship’s armour and melt segments of it to slag. One of them doesn’t have a whole lot of power, but pump about thirty to forty of these into a ship this size and you can seriously cripple it.”

Lucy’s eyes opened just a small amount. “If they all hit roughly the same area, yes?”

Grace nodded. “Yeah, they wouldn’t work as well without a really good gunner. But we’ve also got you. I know you’d use them effectively.”

“Flatterer,” Lucy said. She glanced out the view port towards the Cerberus. “I’ll let Ophelia know. But I wasn’t just asking about their technology.”

“I don’t catch your meaning,” Grace said.

Lucy reached up and flicked a finger against Grace’s forehead. “Don’t you lie to me. You know what I mean. You haven’t been able to see Farah in person since we split into separate ships & the way you left things with Paul was less than ideal.”

“Thanks for phrasing it politely,” Grace said. She leaned against the wall and looked up. “I don’t know. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much… To tell myself that I made the right call but I’m not so sure now. I could have lessened the amount I was putting into the atmosphere to non-lethal levels and then he could have saved all of them. But… Well, I guess hindsight is like that sometimes.”

And you wanted to kill them,” Lucy said. Her yellow eyes were fully open, seemingly staring into Grace’s soul. “you were disgusted by them. Not just because they’re insectoid but also because of what they do. Slavers, they’re the lowest scum, aren’t they? I bet a smart woman like you couldn’t help but imagine what Farah’s fate would be like if they had their way.” Grace visibly flinched. “Must’ve been hard, picturing the woman you love in that situation.”

“You’re right, okay?” Grace declared. “Is it really so wrong to not be able to forgive that type of trash? Is it really so wrong to protect your friends… your family with lethal force?”

Lucy’s eyes closed and she smiled reassuringly. “Well, maybe it isn’t. Then again, Paul is just as smart as you are. I’m sure he was well aware of the fate his own love would have suffered when he asked that you spare them. And yet he did make you vow to spare them. You and I aren’t so different. We don’t place a lot of value in the lives of those who would harm us, especially when they’re as vile as that.”

“But Paul’s different,” Grace said. “I know. He’s always been like that. I used to think it was just foolishness, but I’ve learned to respect it as I’ve gotten older.”

“It’s, in many ways, a more difficult path,” Lucy agreed. “Forgiving instead of hating. It’s part of why he’s such a superb doctor.” She sighed and reached a thin arm up to Grace’s shoulder. “The problems between you two aren’t my business, but I’d suggest that you put some thought into what you want to say when we’ve sold the Nefrit off and returned to the Cerberus.” She turned and began walking towards the bridge, pausing at the entryway. “I’d also keep in mind that he’s not the only one on the Cerberus with a gentle heart. There is one other but she’s got a more difficult job to maintain that with, doesn’t she?”

*****

Aboard the Cerberus, Paul was checking on Gylin. The hivil woman was restrained, and starting to show signs of improvement. She’d be fit and ready to go just in time to turn her over to the authorities. Farah was keeping guard.

“Eat up,” Paul encouraged, speaking gently. “You need to recover your strength.”

“Why did you save me?” she asked.

“Because you’re a sentient being,” Paul answered. “And there was no reason for you to die.”

“That’s right!” Farah chimed in. “You should serve your time and then start a new, better life. You can always redeem yourself, right?”

“Redemption, huh?” Gylin asked. “And you really think they’ll ever let me out of prison alive?”

“Please don’t get worked up,” Paul said. “My colleague here is just suggesting that you can still find a purpose in life. A good, honest purpose. So just concentrate on getting better, okay? You can think of what to do with yourself later.”

Gylin smirked. “I think I liked your imperious attitude better, Mister ‘Baron’.” She made a raspy noise that vaguely resembled a chuckle. “I can’t believe we mistook a wimp like you for him.”

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The Last Draconian 18: Visitors in Wicadia

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

The thunder cracked as though it was going to strike the planet itself down. I tried to summon Drake, but there was no response. I couldn’t help but tremble.

“Fear isn’t necessary, Zeus won’t strike you.” The voice was Michael’s. But it couldn’t be, Michael never spoke that informally. Besides, he was still far away. And he’d never come into my room without knocking.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

“I’m your friend, Michael.”

“You’re lying!” I moved to face the direction that the voice was coming from. “Michael doesn’t talk like that.”

The figure laughed in Michael’s voice. I heard the light tread of hooves. “You’re very clever. I always forget about that draconian way of speaking. Most people in your situation would scarce notice, but that’s why I came.” The figure sounded exactly like me now.

I hesitated, I was certain that I was right but it was just so unbelievable. “You’re Pan, aren’t you? Why are you here?”

The God chuckled. “Things are rearranging. The upcoming storm will give a third of the elite, at least, to Thanatos. Karma will be fulfilled.”

“I don’t understand. What storm? And who are the elite?”

“This is a favour; I’m putting you on alert. You may well be called upon.”

“On alert for what? Called upon to do what?”

I found myself in my bed. Was it really just a dream or something more significant? Drake nuzzled my hand, seemingly sensing my agitation. I gently stroked his head.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I ducked my head under the bath water for a couple seconds. Soon, Father would come to collect me and I’d be subjected to a day with them. All so I could be forced to make a choice that I didn’t want to make. There was so little time left. I needed time alone to think and plan. Of course, they had a vested interest in making sure I didn’t get it.  “Why do I have to spend the day like this?” I asked the question out loud.

“You don’t seem to mind spending time with Ms. Perom. You talked to her all night,” Lais’ voice offered.

She was standing guard outside the door, just in case I decided to run away again.

“Callie’s actually very nice, but I don’t feel that way about her,” I protested.”I barely even know her!”

“I believe you,” Lais said. Her tone suggested otherwise. She was teasing me, being sarcastic. I wasn’t amused.

*****

Lan looked at the report. “Is this accurate?”

Lang hesitated. “Are you sure that the Royal One can’t be here?”

Lan nodded. “He’s busy with Lyn’s suitors. Do you know what kind of mineral it was?”

“I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t recognize it.”

Lan scratched his head, causing his ears to droop. “I have no idea what he’s doing. It doesn’t even sound familiar. Keep an eye on him, I’ll check my books and see if I can find anything. When my father finishes with the suitors, I’ll give him your report.”

Lang saluted and headed back to the cave.

*****

Bastian leaned against the wall, near the gate.

“Are you sure that they can get here that quickly?” The guard captain cleared her throat. “It’s only been a day since we received notice of the meeting, can the Magi really arrive today?”

Bastian tapped the top of his staff against the wall behind him. “The Magi have abilities beyond us. If they say that they’ll arrive today, they will. You should know as well as I that Hecate only gifts the greatest mages with the title & boons of Magi.”

A sudden powerful gust of wind nearly threw the captain against the wall. A single silver feather fell to the ground.

“That’s the first of our guests,” Bastian muttered.

They heard a rush of air as Solan descended. He had large feathery wings, his eyes were golden. He had short blond hair. He had stubby golden horns just above his eyes. He had a stubby triangular tail. He was wearing golden robes.

Bastian walked forward, his staff tapping against the ground. “Welcome, Solan. Can I guide you to the academy?”

The winged feralial flew past Bastian. “I know where the academy is.” His voice was deep and hollow.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

Father looked me over. He didn’t look happy. Good. “Is this a joke?”

“No father.” I put on my best innocent voice.

“Lynai, you should be dressing appropriately. A tunic is too plain.”

“I have to spend time alone with each of my suitors, right?” I waited for father to nod. “So isn’t it better to dress in something that won’t get ruined if one of my suitors wants to spend time outside?”

Father’s eyes widened. “Well … I suppose that does make some sense.”

“Then it’s settled.” I started smirking as I moved past him.

“Not so fast,” Father stated, grabbing my arm. “You’ll at least wear some jewellery. The jade broach, silver bracelet, emerald earrings, and your mother’s ring should do nicely.”

“That’s a bad idea they could get lost or…”

“You will do as I say and wear the jewellery,” Father interrupted. “You want to look nice for your suitors, after all.”

I wanted very badly to say “No, I bloody well don’t. That’s the point.” But I held my tongue. I  knew that if I said anything he’d insist that I get really dressed up. It was better to just take the stupid jewellery.

*****

A figure approached Wicadia. He wore crimson robes and was just over a hundred eighty three centimetres tall. His skin was green and scaly. A maul was strapped across his back. The guard put her hand on her blade. Bastian shook his head and walked forward.

“Welcome to Wicadia, Squen. Would you like me to guide you to the academy?”

Squen scoffed. “I know the academy, two centuries ago I taught at the academy. I don’t need your help.”

The orc walked past the stunned guard muttering about “damned younguns always thinking they knew best.”

When he was out of sight the guard whispered to Bastian, “How can he have taught here two centuries ago? I thought that orcs could only live for seventy-five years, maximum.”

“Seventy-three,” Bastian corrected her. “But that’s their natural life-span. One of those boons of being a Magi is that your ageing stops.”

The guard scratched her head. “So they can’t die.”

Bastian chuckled. “Of course they can die. Thanatos has power over every living being. They simply don’t die from the ravages of age.”

“So if you were made a Magi you’d be young again?”

“Unfortunately no, my body would just be stuck at where it is now.” Bastian chuckled. “At this point I can’t imagine Tartarus itself being worse.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 148: Sibling Rift

Lucy brought the mercenary ship to a halt, confirming that the enemy ship had, indeed, stopped firing. She kept her hands on the controls, ready to take off in a millisecond if the Nefrit showed any signs of life.

“You know the hivils,” she said. “Would they pretend to be incapacitated and then not fire?”

“No,” the captain answered.

“Maybe my friends managed to cause them trouble,” Lucy said. “Try hailing them.”

“Hivil ship, this is Renke, Captain of the Weaver 76-03, explain your situation.”

It took a moment but a familiar voice answered. “This is Grace Albrecht of the Cerberus. I’ve managed to wrest control away from the pirates.”

Lucy grabbed the comm. “Grace, what’s the status of the others?”

“Lucy?” Grace asked. She quickly composed herself. “Paul is on the bridge. I was on my way to look for the others. I haven’t seen Ophelia, Leon or Kat since they were captured. Didn’t even see Farah before they grabbed her. Presumably, they’re all fine since these arseholes were slavers. Doubt they’d want to damage their goods.”

Lucy noted the distinctly disgusted tone that Grace used when she said the word ‘goods.’ “We’ll dock and I’ll join you shortly,” she said. “Then you can explain how you managed to bring their ship down by yourself. Meet me at the airlock.”

“Understood,” Grace said.

*****

Paul didn’t know hivil physiology. He’d picked up the basics of it from dissecting the drone but he wasn’t confident about doing any kind of surgical procedure. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have even tried. But these weren’t normal circumstances.

Thanks to his little sister, the three insect women were dying. The masks had gone on too late. To  stand even a chance at saving them, he’d have to get a grasp on their tools and try emergency surgeries. He began working on Gylin first. After all, she’d gotten protection from the atmospheric changes first. She stood the best chance of being saved and he wasn’t sure he’d have time to work on all of them.

*****

“I see,” Lucy said. “Atmospheric poisoning. Very nice.”

“I  only managed it because Paul distracted them on the bridge,” Grace said. “And your new friends kept them busy. Otherwise whoever owned those quarters may very well have returned.”

“No use thinking about that now,” Lucy said. She looked around, her yellow eyes opening briefly. “Let’s check this way.”

The two hurried down the corridor. After eight and a half minutes, Grace started hearing familiar voices. She and Lucy nodded at one another and broke into a run.

It didn’t take them long to arrive in front of the cell where their comrades were housed.

“Darling, I came to bail you out!” Lucy called out.

“Lucy!” Ophelia exclaimed. “How did you get here? How did you beat the insects? Ho…”

“Shhh,” Lucy pressed a finger gently against Ophelia’s lips. “I’ll explain later. For now, let’s get you four out of there.”

The cell was simple enough to open from the outside.

Farah ran directly to Grace and hugged her tightly.

“Where’s Paul?” Leon demanded.

“Last I heard, he was on the bridge,” Grace said. “Unless he ran off to find you guys he should still be there.”

“Then let’s grab him and get out of here,” Farah said. Leon was already bolting for the bridge. She watched him running for a couple seconds before continuing. “We shouldn’t stay on this ship more than we have to.”

“Well, it’s safe to be here now,” Lucy said. “We should take the ship as spoils and sell it off.”

“Before we do I’d like to examine the tech,” Grace said. “There might be something here I can use to improve the Cerberus.”

Ophelia turned to Farah. “I understand your feelings,” she said. “We’ll leave Grace, Kat and Lucy here to bring the Nefrit along. It’ll give some value to all the crap we’ve gone through today.”

*****

The group arrived on the bridge just in time to hear Paul’s fist slam into the metallic floor. “Dammit!” he yelled.

“Are you okay?” Farah asked.

“What’s wrong?” Kat inquired.

The two spoke at the same time.

Paul stood and took a deep breath. “I managed to save Gylin,” he informed them. “But I couldn’t do anything for the others.”

“Paul they…” Grace began.

“Don’t you dare talk to me right now!” Paul shouted. He turned away from Grace. “I’m going to get a stretcher for Gylin. We’ll put her in medical, under restraint. Leon, don’t let anyone disturb her while I’m gone.”

Paul stormed off, heading for the Cerberus. Leon moved between the others and Gylin. He looked at Grace. “I don’t know how, but you royally fucked up.”

“What makes you think I messed up?” Grace demanded. She looked around and noted that everyone was staring at her.

“I know what it takes to make Paul that mad,” Leon answered. “It ain’t easy.”

“I’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose,” Farah said. “Whatever it was.”

Leon shook his head. “He doesn’t get mad over accidents. Worst you’re going to get over an accident is an exacerbated sigh and a polite request to leave him alone for a bit.”

“Then… I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it,” Farah said, staring at the ground and shuffling her feet.

“Why are you all looking at me like I’m the bad guy?” Grace asked.

“well, I’ve only seen Paul get mad like that once in all the years I’ve known him,” Lucy said. “And the person responsible was very much in need of some self reflection.” Her eyes opened for two seconds and she stared directly up into Grace’s eyes.

“Putting the blame aside,” Ophelia said “You’d better tell us why he’s mad.”

Grace sighed. “I may have promised that I wouldn’t use lethal levels of acetic acid,” she admitted. “But I broke my promise to try and save Lucy’s ship. He… he begged me to dial it back so that he could save them. I… I thought it was too risky.”

Ophelia sighed. “All right. Stay out of his way for a while. Hopefully he’ll get over it.”

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The Last Draconian 17: Applied Chemistry

Previous Chapter

The Royal One rubbed his eyes. “Slow down Lang, what does the draconian want?”

Lang saluted. “He’s asking for a glass of lemon juice and a mug of mead. He refuses to eat without them.”

The Royal One considered it. “What could he possibly want with those?”

Lan looked up from his book. “Maybe he wants to drink them.”

“Be quiet fool,” the Royal One paced. “Draconians are notoriously cunning. He wouldn’t ask for something without a reason, but how could lemon juice and mead serve him?”

“You’re being paranoid,” Lan observed. “All of the guards have testified that his behaviour is erratic. He might be mad.”

“The term used when describing draconians is ‘over-loaded’. And I told you to be silent,” the Royal One turned to Lang. “Give him what he wants, but pay close attention to what he does with it. I want everything, no matter how insignificant it may seem, reported to me.”

Lang nodded, bowed and walked briskly away.

*****

“You let her wander off?” Luc was incredulous. How could her sister be so stupid?

“She promised that she would just attend the meeting in the garden.”

“Lais, you’re far too trusting. What if she runs away again?”

“I know Lynai. She wouldn’t lie to me. No matter how much she might want to flee.”

Luc scratched her head. “When people are desperate they do things that they wouldn’t normally do. Lynai has already escaped once.”

“That’s true, but this time she gave her word.”

“I’m worried about you, Lais. You’re overly attached to that girl. I worry that it’s clouded your judgement or that you may be looking for an excuse to let her go because of it. If she runs away …”

“I know what’ll happen if she’s able to flee because of me,” Lais said. “She knows it full well too. You don’t have to worry. She’ll be back.”

*****

Liys looked over Lofu’s report. “More trolls in our territory?”

Lyon looked over his shoulder. “Maybe these are the same trolls?”

Liys frowned. “That isn’t possible. The tracks we saw extended into the forest a short way and then back-tracked. Besides, the tracks we saw were made by more than three trolls.”

A pixie flew into the conference room, he was carrying a rolled up scroll. Sweat covered his face from the exertion.

Liys took the scroll. “Thank you, go rest for a while.”

The pixie nodded and flew away. Liys opened the scroll and read the message. He slammed it onto the table.

Lyon put a hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

“The trolls are apologizing for the ‘renegades’ who attacked our farming settlement.”

Lyon crossed his arms. “And you don’t believe that the attackers were renegades?”

“Not for a moment, but we can’t call them liars so we have to pretend that we’re gullible enough to believe them. I hate this diplomatic nonsense!”

“Calm down, Liys. Diplomacy could stop a war.”

“Not at this point.”

Do you really believe that?” Lyon asked.

“Our relations with the trolls are already broken, it’s not a matter of if there will be war, but when. I just hope that the one they sent to ‘court’ my sister is being watched suitably.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

My guard returned, carrying a mug of mead and a glass of lemon juice. He opened my cell while a pair of armed pikemen stood at the ready. The beverages were dropped and the door was swiftly closed.

I carefully poured out exactly half of the mead and replaced it with lemon juice. I used a celery stalk from my uneaten breakfast to mix the concoction.

I crushed the minerals I had extracted into the mixture and carefully stirred them in. I gently placed the mixture into the corner of my cell to allow it to settle properly and began consuming my meagre meal.

My guard observed my actions, carefully writing them down in small journal, shaking his head as he did so.

I wondered if they would be able to discern the purpose behind my little concoction before it was ready to use. It was a calculated risk. I was gambling on the elves lacking the proper understanding of chemistry.

I knew they were not as knowledgeable as my people, of course. However, our last encounter with elves had been some time ago and I was uncertain of how far they had progressed.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I was surprised when I noticed the sun beginning to rise. Had I really been talking with Callie all night? It didn’t feel like it had been that long. I stood. “I have to go. I promised Lais.” Why was I giving her an excuse? I didn’t need to explain myself.

Callie stood beside me and brushed some stray strands of hair out of my eyes. “I understand. I’ll see you later today.” She smiled. I could see her fangs just poking out over her lower lip. I quickly looked away from her lips, feeling like a complete fool for letting her affect me like that.

I considered saying more, I don’t know why I wanted to talk to her more than that, or even what I wanted to say exactly. I ran from the garden. I could almost feel Callie’s gaze burning into my back. I glanced back. Her red hair looked bright and radiant with the sun shining behind her. She smiled and waved farewell to me. I turned back on my path back to my chamber and hurried off, without looking back again.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 147: By Grace’s Hand

Paul watched as his captors took their battle stations. They had a drone keeping an eye on him. It would probably be possible to get past it long enough to run some interference… maybe. Farah, Leon, Lucy or Kat could manage it. They could take the drone out of commission long enough. Unfortunately, they weren’t around and he didn’t have their speed, strength or martial skills. He was a doctor, not a warrior.

He studied which of them was doing what. Darna was manoeuvring the ship using a neural interface that seemed designed for insectoids. Gylin appeared to be on monitor duty. There seemed to be emergency gear stored near her console. Builo handled the weapons, the weapons system was designed with large buttons and a simple tracking system that could be operated by claws. He held his ground for the moment. If they appeared to have the edge, he’d make a break for Darna. If he could stop the ship, even for a couple seconds, it might provide the edge the opposing ship would need.

*****

“They’re aiming for the shield array.”

“Keep them up at all costs.”

The captain glanced at Lucy. “Their EMP weapon will end things if the shields go,” he explained.

“An EMP, huh,” Lucy said. “I wonder if that took down the Cerberus.”

“Could have. If the shields weren’t strong enough or got disabled.”

*****

The battle went on. The Nefrit was bigger and had more fire power, but the smaller mercenary ship was faster, more agile. It weaved through the Nefrit’s fire, getting a lot more hits in than they took.

For a time, it seemed that the mercenaries might attain victory. That advantage quickly dissipated. The drones aboard the Nefrit were able to effect repairs more quickly due to their numbers and complete disregard for their own safety. The Nefrit’s hits were also more damaging. The differences quickly turned the tide against Lucy and the mercenaries.

Paul saw the change and made his move, rushing towards Darna. He didn’t make it very far. The drone guarding him quickly subdued him, pushing him to the floor.

He remained still. He couldn’t break free through force nor could he reason with a drone. He knew that for a fact. That’s when he smelled it. It was faint, but very distinct. He relaxed. It was only a matter of time, unless they noticed and were able to put a stop to it. He just hoped that they would be too busy with the battle.

*****

Aboard the mercenary ship, things were taking a turn that, unbeknownst to them, threatened to expose Grace’s work.

The captain was assessing the damage to his ship and the comparatively minor damage to the Nefrit.

“We have to retreat,” he concluded.

“Wait,” Lucy said, keeping her voice calm. “Let me take over the piloting. I think I’ve figured out their gunner’s habits. I should be able to avoid their shots.”

“All of them?”

“Yes,” Lucy answered. “All of them.”

“How long?”

“I would say six to ten minutes before they adapt, maybe a little more if they’re slow on the uptake.”

“I’ll give you five,” the captain said. “If we can’t turn the tide in that time, we retreat.”

“Agreed,” Lucy stated.

*****

“Gylin, how long until their shields  give?” Darna asked.

“At their rate of repair, four good hits’ll do it,” Gylin reported. “No more than nine if you graze them.”

“Builo, how long until you hit them?” Darna inquired.

“I should with this volley,” Builo said, firing. The mercenary ship pulled sharply up, rolling backward and handily evading every shot.

“They dodged,” Gylin said. “Losing your touch?”

“Their pilot anticipated me,” Builo said. “I’ll get them next time.”

“You had better,” Darna warned.

“Their evasion pattern has changed drastically,” Gylin reported. “They may have a new pilot.”

“Is that likely?” Darna asked.

Gylin shrugged. “Given the change in style, it’s likely. But it’s also strange. Why hold a better pilot in reserve?” Her claws slipped on her console and she hurriedly righted herself.

“Maybe they had…” Darna stopped in mid-thought. “They were…” She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. Bring them down.”

Paul observed as the trio’s movements became more sluggish, their reaction speed dropped. He felt the drone’s grip loosen. It was affecting them quickly. Too quickly.

Paul pulled free from the drone. He reached a weak claw up but it quickly fell. Paul grabbed his communicator. “Grace, dilute the solution,” he said. “You’re going to kill them!”

There was a quick response a moment later. “Good.”

“You promised that you wouldn’t,” Paul reminded her.

“If I don’t they’ll destroy that ship,” Grace said. “It’s a choice now. We kill them or watch them commit murder.”

“They’re incapacitated!” Paul argued. “They can’t harm anyone. Turn the atmosphere back to normal.”

“Do you know how quickly they would recover?” Grace asked. “Just tell me that because I sure as hell don’t know.”

“Dammit, Grace,” Paul muttered. He ran to Gylin’s console and sorted through the gear. Three atmospheric filter masks. He quickly attached one to Gylin, moved over to Darn and, finally, Builo. He just hoped he wasn’t too late.

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The Last Draconian 16: Meeting in the Garden

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I entered the palace garden. I always loved it there. The hydra flowers especially. When they bloomed you could have anywhere from three to seven violet flowers in a cluster with their petals quickly scattering in the wind. I arrived near the white lilies, they were in full bloom. Callie was standing near them. She had changed into crimson robes. She nodded curtly when I approached, her fangs stuck out over her lips when she did.

“You accepted my invitation.”

I nodded. I didn’t get any closer.

“I heard that you had attempted to escape this event. Would you care to share your reasons?” Callie asked.

I could feel my face grow pale. “How did you hear about that?”

Callie wagged her finger. “I will answer your question, after you answer mine.”

I hesitated for a moment. This line of questioning was completely unexpected. “I want the freedom to choose my own mate. Not as a political ploy, but because I meet someone who I love.” I looked directly at Callie. Challenging her to call it impossible or otherwise mock my determination in the matter. She just smiled, understandingly.

“I suppose it’s my turn,” she said. “There was an unusual and abrupt closing of communications from Het Wald a week ago. I was curious, so I sent a friend to figure out why.”

“You mean a spy,” I said.

Callie laughed. It was a vibrant and heart warming sound. “Not at all.” She held out her hand. A small ferret emerged from her sleeve and looked up at me. “This is who I sent.”

“A familiar. Then you’re a mage?”

Callie lightly shrugged her shoulders. “Not quite, although I do have some magic training.”

“I always wanted to formally train in magic,” I confessed. “But my father wouldn’t let me.”

“Since you’ve answered my question nicely, I’ll be blunt with you,” Callie said. “I am here on behalf of my people. They desire an alliance. I, however, do not wish to have my mate chosen for me either. Grandfather has said that you would be my type, but I am uncertain.”Callie reached out and took a hold of my chin. Her hand was surprisingly warm. She gently directed my head upward until our eyes met.

“W… what are you doing?” I stammered. I considered pushing her away, but decided to let her explain herself first.

“My people believe that the eyes can be read to tell the very essence of a person,” Callie said. “Please, permit me to read you. If you are not my type, then I will ask that you not choose me. Choose my grandfather. He is nearly five centuries old at this point. He could not touch you even if he wanted to. You’d have a decade at most and only have to stand by his side at formal events.”

“If you want to look into my eyes, go for it,” I said. “But I don’t need your advice.”

We stared into each other’s eyes. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be seeing. Were you supposed to read the irises, the pupils or the entire thing? What told you what about a person? When Callie let go of my chin all I knew about her was that her eyes were really pretty, like dew when the sun is shining on it and making it look brighter.

“That was certainly informative,” Callie said.

“Why? What did you see?”

She looked directly at me. She was smiling. “I saw enough.” I felt her hand on my shoulder. I allowed her to guide me to a bench. We sat together. “This isn’t good,” she muttered. “I didn’t expect grandfather to be so… observant at his age.” She looked at me, rubbing her fingers together demurely.

“I couldn’t tell anything about you,” I confessed.

Callie smiled. “It takes practice to read someone’s eyes. Let us talk. I’ll teach you all about me.”

*****

Larick sent his familiar through the window. The falcon carried a message and a parcel, for the Royal One. Larick jumped when he noticed someone standing behind him. He composed himself quickly.

“I didn’t expect to see you again.”

His visitor appeared to be an elf. He had fiery red hair and eyes that were a brighter blue than was natural, for mortals at least. The visitor had a strong aura. Larick could see it without even looking closely.

The figure spoke, “You have just set your own future. There remains but one path for you.”

Larick sat down on a stool. “I’m aware of that.”

“Most mortals would never leave themselves without options. Not deliberately. I’m curious, why have you?”

“If anyone should know it’s you,” Larick put his hands together. “This is the only way to ensure a bright future for my people.”

“The future is not always bright for any species.”

“That’s true, but I can make our future better. Was there anything else you wanted?” Larick looked around but his visitor had vanished.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The moon slowly moved across the sky. “When my grandfather asked me to serve as a second suitor I wasn’t certain but I was curious about the headstrong and beautiful royal daughter who I had heard about. So, I decided to come along. Is that your last question?”

I thought for a moment. “My mind is still racing. There’s so much I still want to know.” Oddly enough, it was true. I wanted to dislike her like I did all my other suitors, but there was something about her regal bearing, confidence, smile and composure that drew me to her.

Callie put an arm around my shoulder. “Take all the time you need. I enjoy talking to you.”

I pulled away from her arm. “I wish you would stop doing that.” It wasn’t that I disliked her touch, kind of the opposite. Things were moving too fast. It was more than a little concerning.

Callie smirked, like she knew exactly what I was thinking. “You need to be more honest with yourself.”

I felt my cheeks burn.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 146: Insects & Arachnids

“Wait!” Paul cried. “I’ll give you my people’s contact information. If you really insist on exacerbating your folly. It’s a good sight better than seeing you resort to torture.”

“So long as you cooperate,” Darna said. “The next words out of your mouth had better be the contact information or Builo here will bring us a couple of the girl’s fingers.”

*****

Grace moved through the computer system carefully. The security was tight. One wrong move and she’d trip an alarm and probably find herself surrounded within minutes, losing her opportunity.

she hated the thought of trying to break into confidential files when even the atmospheric subsystems were this closely guarded. Then again, these were slavers. Maybe they were concerned about one of their victims getting lose and making the atmosphere inhospitable to them, as she was trying to do.

Her mind was racing with ideas for strengthening the Cerberus’ own computer controls, but she put them aside. There would be time for that later, if they got out of this.

*****

Lucy strapped in and listened as coordinates were set for the Cerberus. She tapped the side of her seat impatiently. If her crew wasn’t in the middle of gathering a huge amount of treasure or in big trouble, she was going to be very unhappy. If they were in trouble, she’d bail them out and then berate them for not being careful enough. Simple.

*****

Slender fingers glided across the console. Making the proper preparations to receive an off-station call.

“Doctor Angela Ziegmari of Turing Station here,” Angela said. “How can I be of assistance?”

She grimaced as the image of a grotesque insectoid flashed onto the screen.

“Doctor,” a raspy but feminine voice said. “I am Darna.” She pulled a familiar figure into frame with her. “We have captured your Baron Wolfgang Andres von Erstein. Right now, he is unharmed. If you wish him to remain that way, you will meet us at the attached coordinates in twenty six hours with jewels, spices and machinery totaling ten billion credits in cumulative value.”

Angela studied the silent Paul. “We’ll do as you ask,” she said. “Just don’t harm him. He’s a valuable Baron of… French Germany.”

“Be there, and we won’t,” Darna replied. The transmission cut.

Angela grabbed her communicator. “Femi, come down here quickly.”

“Not again,” Femi said. “I can’t just leave work for…”

“This is work related,” Angela said. “The Cerberus seems to be in trouble.”

There was a pause. “And what do you want us to do about it?” Femi asked.

“Femi they…”

“I know they’re our allies,” Femi interrupted. “I also know that Paul is your friend. But we’re also a space station. We don’t have much in terms of ships of our own. We certainly don’t have the experience to go to their rescue without heavy casualties.”

“I’m worried, Femi,” Angela said. “You didn’t see the thing that has them.”

“Angela, think about this calmly,” Femi said. “If they really needed help, would we be the ones they contacted?  They know that we’re busy establishing our akumillian alliance. They also know what we’ve got for ships. Most likely, we were contacted because they needed someone who would play along to provide a cover for some plan or other.” She paused. “But if you’re really worried, I’ll talk to the akumillian delegation, see if they can spare some ships.”

“Thank you, Femi,” Angela said. “I’ll get them the coordinates. Love you.”

“I love you too,” Femi said. “Don’t worry. We are in this together, as always.”

*****

Gylin scuttled down to her quarters. She noticed something strange. Scuffs on the floor? She moved forward cautiously.

Then the alarms went off. She sighed, maybe she was imagining it. She hurried back to the bridge.

“Situation?” She asked.

“A spider ship,” Builo answered. “Coming right for us.”

“We could flee,” Gylin suggested. “Avoid any needless conflict.”

“We’d have to leave our ship prize behind,” Builo said. “We couldn’t get out while towing it.”

“Maybe it would be okay,” Gylin argued. “We have our aristocrat hostage and the others to sell. Even with the doctor and engineer loose in there, we’ll make plenty.”

“We fight,” Darna said. “We fought hard for this prize and it’s only one spider ship. We can take them.”

*****

“They’re powering up weapons.”

“Predictable. Be ready to return fire.”

“Who are they?” Lucy asked.

“Hivil pirates.”

“And Hivils are…?”

“Insect species.”

“Can you beat them?”

“Maybe.”

Lucy sighed. She knew the weriloits were very blunt, but she really would have preferred some optimism. She divided her attention between their weapon stations and the main viewer. If something went wrong she’d be ready to jump in and take over a station.

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The Last Draconian 15: Callie’s Message

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

Once we had finished greeting the guests, Father took me into the conference room. “Look, I know that you don’t like your duty. I’m sorry, but you must make a decision. I need you to take on a position as a queen or noble in a powerful land so that we can have a lasting alliance. Then you must bear or adopt some children to further cement that alliance.”

“Children?” I asked. “I’m not even married and you’re already on about children? Have you considered that I might not like children and may not want to have any ever?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Father declared. He put a hand on my shoulder and kept his voice soft. Trying to be comforting, I guess. “You have seven choices. If by the end of the third day you still don’t like any of them I want you to choose one of the vampires.”

“The… why do you want me to pick one of them?” I demanded.

“Because it could greatly aid us. Our relations with the trolls are degenerating quickly. War seems an inevitability. I’d prefer that you don’t wed the Lady Artura or Prince Reynard and drag us into the conflict between their peoples. If you were to choose Sir Thomas, you may very well be able to buy us peace but you could just as readily be slain in the attempt. Strecner is a strong nation and it’s situated within easy striking distance of Relna. Having a strong alliance with them would make a great asset.”

*****

I changed into my tunic as soon as I got back into my chamber. Wearing a nice, fancy dress is all well and good on occasion, but it’s not the most comfortable thing to wear. Especially over a prolonged period of time. I considered my father’s words a little. Mostly I just thought of possible ways I might be able to escape. Of course, there was also the question of rescuing Michael. I mean, he was in trouble because he’d travelled with me.

That’s when I noticed it. A small piece of paper neatly attached to the back of my broach. It said “Meet me in the palace’s garden tonight while the sun is setting.”

I looked over at Lais. She was respectfully turned towards the wall but clearly alert. “Hey,” I said. “Take a look at this.” I handed her the scrap.

“Which one of your suitors left this for you?” Lais asked. “Not the most romantic message, is it?”

“It has to be from Callie,” I reasoned. After all, she was the only one who’d touched my broach. “But why would she want to meet with me?”

“Maybe she just wants to talk. Maybe she wants to gain an edge as a suitor. Maybe she wants to tell you that she’s not interested,” Lais paused for a moment. “We could spend all night guessing, but the only way to know the truth is to go. Of course, whether or not you do is your own affair.”

I stared at the note. It wasn’t unusual for a royal daughter to spend time alone with a suitor, not even during an event like this. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be an erroneous move. Like, if meeting her would be the same as declaring surrender to my fate. But, I was curious and Callie was beautiful. The thought brought a very slight flush to my cheeks. A very, very slight flush. Barely even noticeable.

*****

Illyana Fensen

“How are the preparations Professor Mord?”

I heard an exaggerated sigh. “Everything is proceeding smoothly. We have accommodations for earth moving Entrik, silver-winged Solan, strong armed Squen, clear minded Pran, and justice bringing Sadow.”

“What about far-seeing Larick?”

“Apparently this meeting is about Larick. The Magi have asked that the academy’s head sit in on the meeting.”

I considered it for a moment. I wasn’t entirely certain I could maintain decorum around Sadow. Even hearing Professor Mord call him “justice bringing” made me feel revolted. “Very well, I’ll do it.” Privately I hoped that Michael would come and face Sadow on academy grounds, disrupting the conference and granting me an excuse to interfere on his behalf. I couldn’t help but wonder how Sadow would fare against my Elemental Armageddon spell.

*****

Michael Ryufan

The elven guard was watching me in the same fashion that one scrutinises a curiosity. It was not a result of my draconian blood. He had gotten past that quickly enough.

No. He thought that I was mad. He had observed me gathering and arranging all of the loose stones within my cell. His gaze had shifted to the leech stones attached to the bars, preventing me from using magic. He had ascertained that there was no way for me to use the loose stones to loosen or even damage the leech stones. He had confirmed that they were still emitting a faint, crimson light at ten second intervals, signalling that they were completely functional.

I scrutinised one of the pebbles carefully. Holding it in my left hand while the guard gave me a pitying look. He was most definitely questioning my sanity. Good. I knew that as long as he dismissed my behaviour as the product of madness, I would stand a chance.

I simply had to locate the proper minerals and extract them from the stones. The amount of time it would take was irrelevant. That was one resource that I currently possessed in abundance.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 145: Mistaken Identity

Paul was taken to Darna. The soldiers held him firmly. He decided that the best manoeuvre would be to distract her for as long as he could, give his sister some time.

It was a calculated risk. If he made her too mad… He banished the thought from his mind and started talking. “You’re in big trouble. Piracy, kidnapping, sub-par working conditions. It’s all highly counter to intergalactic regulations. If you show some sense and surrender, then I may be able to negotiate a lenient sentence for you all.”

“Cute,” Darna stated. “You think we care about intergalactic regulations, Baron Wolfgang Andres von Erstein? Tell me, where can I find your doctor and engineer?”

“They were killed,” Paul lied. “An explosion during Farah’s fight with your drones, I’m afraid. Murder, there’s another very serious charge.”

“I don’t believe you for a moment,” Darna said. “Tell me where they are.”

“Force it out of me if you’re so tough,” Paul challenged. “Of course, then you’d have to add torture to your already considerable crimes.”

“Let me get it out of him,” Builo volunteered.

“I advise against it,” Gylin offered. “An aristocratic hostage is worth more unharmed.”

“So, your species has multiple queens,” Paul said, suspecting that it wasn’t quite the case but trying to keep them talking. “You’ll all be in for it, you know.”

“We don’t,” Darna corrected him. “I rule here. Builo & Gylin are my generals. My species is a matriarchy. Every nest has a single queen and anywhere from two to six generals, all female. the males serve as drones.”

“Then you must not be a very powerful queen,” Paul said. “Since you have only the minimum number of generals.”

“We do not measure power by the number of generals!” Darna declared. “We have the generals we need. It is that simple.”

“Surely,” Paul stated, allowing a slight smirk to show “a more powerful queen would need more generals. It just stands to reason, doesn’t it?”

*****

“Strange,” Lucy muttered. “Very strange, indeed.” She was trying to reach the Cerberus but no one was answering. She was starting to suspect that they’d run into trouble. The extent of which she was completely unaware of.

She calmly made her way to the shipyard. She would use a part of the reward for her diplomatic mission to hire a ship to take her to the Cerberus and get to the bottom of things. Had she known that Grace was the only crew member on the loose and the others had been captured by insectoid aliens, she would have rushed.

*****

“Hey,” Leon said. “If Paul and I were living somewhere safe and we decided to adopt, do you think I’d be a good dad?”

“You planning on going domestic?” Ophelia asked.

“Not really,” Leon answered. “Just curious and bored, since we’re trapped in this bloody cell.”

“Well, if you want an honest answer,” Kat said “then I wouldn’t think so. No offence, but you aren’t the nurturing type.”

“I think he’d do fine,” Farah said. “Paul’s plenty nurturing for both of them and Leon could be the nice, protective parent who goes a little far with spoiling the kid.”

“I am best at protecting,” Leon agreed.

“She didn’t go that far,” Ophelia said. “But I do agree with her. I think the two of you together would do just fine. But if you decide to test that I want plenty of notice.”

*****

Grace hurried into someone’s personal quarters. The drones didn’t seem to have them. That left… their leader, possibly another sapient one.

The insects didn’t seem to believe in locks. Probably because they didn’t need them. The drones followed orders and did nothing else. She just hoped their orders included staying out.

The quarters had strange furnishings. There was a boxed in area that was loaded with soft cushions. She figured they probably slept in there, standing or kneeling with the cushions all around them.

There was a terminal built into the wall and there was what appeared to be a table. There wasn’t anywhere to sit.

She moved to the terminal. Unfortunately, it was opposite the door. She couldn’t watch the door and try to hack into it.

She grabbed some cushions from the contained area and scattered them around the entrance, hoping that she’d trip anyone who tried to come in up enough for her to notice them, assuming she didn’t hear the door open.

It would have to do. She moved over to the terminal and began getting to work.

*****

“Quiet!” Darna ordered. “You are wearing away at my patience!”

“That’s what I should be saying!” Paul decreed. “Do you really not understand the moral or legal ramifications of your action here?”

“He clearly isn’t going to tell you where the others are,” Gylin stated. “You should gag him and toss him away with the others. The drones will find the doctor and engineer.”

“But they won’t tell us how to contact his people for the ransom,” Darna stated.

“We could put out a bulletin,” Gylin suggested. “Let them find us.”

“They’ll bring the authorities with them,” Paul chimed in. “Don’t think you’ll get away with your crimes.”

“I have a suggestion,” Builo said. “We can grab one of his little friends. If he doesn’t talk, we can damage them. After all, they’re just going to be sold off. If we don’t hurt their usability, then our profits will be wholly intact.”

“A very nice idea,” Darna agreed. “But which one… Oh, I know. Bring the female we took off of the ship. I have the feeling she won’t respond well to pain.”

Paul’s mind raced. If he didn’t think of something quickly, there was no telling what they’d do to Farah.

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