The Last Draconian 73: Exiting the Front

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

Callie knew the area better than anyone else. Michael said he’d seen the area a long time ago, but that a lot had probably changed. It was a statement that didn’t make much sense, but no one challenged it. Draconians had always been rumoured to have a bizarre level of knowledge.

“We don’t want to go right through them,” Callie said. “As obvious as that statement is, it needs to be said. The problem we have then to contend with is just how far their forces stretch.”

“Gabe and I could get through no problem,” Tynan said. “I’m confident that no one who saw us get taken survived.” He glanced at Michael. “I’m not so sure about him. The troops guarding the king probably saw a glimpse of him, at least.”

“They likely do not have a strong image of the assassin herself,” Michael stated.

“Probably not,” Callie said. “But we all want to get into Relna without any real trouble. Especially not with that massive army right there. Fortunately, I have an idea.”

She pointed to a spot on the map. “Around this area, there’s a little Inn. It’s considered at the crossroads of Relna, Het Wald, Strecner and Wicadia. It’s a little out of the way, but I know of a way we can get deep into Strecner from there. And, once we’ve arrived in Strecner, we can easily go around to Relna.”

“Me and Michael were there,” I pointed out. “But won’t the Inn be watched?”

“Definitely,” Callie conceded. “That’s why I’ll go inside with Tynan and Gabriel acting as my attendants and Michael will fly with you and land on the roof. We’ll get rooms at the top and let you inside.”

“That will not allow us to exit unobserved,” Michael pointed out.

“That’s where you’re wrong!” Callie declared. She adopted a smug grin. It actually looked really cute. “About two hundred years ago the nobles of Strecner made an arrangement with the proprietors of the Inn. One that we’ve renewed every time it’s changed hands.” She glanced at Tynan, Gabriel and Michael nervously. “I really shouldn’t tell all of you this. Before I go further, please vow by whichever God you hold most dearly that you will not tell anyone.”

“Then I vow to eternal Ares that none will hear your secret from me,” Tynan stated.

“I vow to Lady Eusebeia that I will tell no one,” Gabriel added. That one surprised me. Why would an adherent of Eusebeia have been so keen to change sides. He looked directly at me. “My loyalty is to Tynan,” he offered, as though reading my mind.

“I swear before eternal Nemesis that I will not divulge the information,” Michael said.

“All right,” she said, continuing before I could say anything. It was nice that she trusted me but I also felt a little left out. “The short of it is that there’s a secret tunnel leading from the Inn to a Mausoleum in Strecner. We can use that to bypass the troll army, provided they don’t catch us leaving the line or going to the Inn.”

“Why do you have a tunnel like that?” I wondered. “In case of invasion?”

“It is likely there in the event of another attempted revolution,” Michael surmised. “The undead nobles of Strecner have had eleven attempted uprisings against them in the past two  millennia. Thus far, they have managed to push the insurgents back in every instance, sometimes with great casualties.”

Callie nodded. “We needed a contingency plan. Although we haven’t actually had a revolt for close to eighty years so I’ve never seen one.”

“Why so many?” I wondered.

“Our nobles weren’t always good about not feeding off of the working class too much,” Callie answered. “Or at staying away from the sick and weak.”

“Well, no time for history, right?” Tynan asked. “We’ve got to be going.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

I took Lynai into the air while the others went across the ground, using the elven troops as cover while they moved away from the troll troops. Fortunately, I did not notice any signs that they had been spotted.

It did not take them long to advance far enough that they were not likely to be spotted. I waited for roughly a kilometre before landing with Lynai and joining them on the ground.

Lynai quickly moved to Callie’s side. They chatted back and forth without any real regard of whether or not they were overheard.

Not surprising, there were only the five of us around. I stayed alert, confident that I could detect any attempt at scrying us.

It would take nearly the entire day to reach the Inn. That would be ample time for me to rest my wings. Our biggest concern would be bandits taking advantage of the war-driven chaos to run amok. Or so I thought.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 187: Planning for the Long Game

“So, what’s our plan of action?” Bridget asked. “Would it be better to go after the other teams right away and get as much as we can or find somewhere to guard Ophelia?”

“It is very clear that they anticipate a long exercise,” Yuri stated.

“The general also said they would be conducting operations while we hunt them,” Kat reminded them.

“That is something I find unusual,” Ophelia confessed. “They seem absolutely confident in their unit but they’re also treating this as though it will take a long time.”

“Rizands typically handle military exercises by having different sets of rules for different units,” Lucy stated. “If I had to guess, I’d say that there’s some long list of objectives their stealth team has to deal with before they’re allowed to take aggressive action. In the meantime, they’re counting on our teams to either set up fortifications and provide a greater challenge or to take each other out.”

“That seems inconsistent,” Yuri noted. “If the goal is to test their unit under difficult circumstances, then why have separate teams of mercenaries combating one another? Why do they not simply have the mercenaries combine forces against their unit?”

“Because this way lets them weed out the weaker teams,” Kat explained. “It also makes sure that when they face a unit, it’ll be a unit that knows how to fight together rather than a disjointed unit that may or may not be able to cooperate.”

“I wonder if we could figure out what exactly their teams goals are?” Farah mused. “I mean, if we knew that we could set a trap, right?”

“It may be possible,” Yuri stated. “If they have specific objectives and tose objectives are all within the target area, then it stands to reason that there will be some hints as to what they are.”

“Then we have our plan of action,” Lucy said. “Once the match begins, Yuri and I will go find some clues. In the meantime, Farah, Kat and Bridget will take Ophelia to the nearest compound and start fortifying the place.”

“We’ll make sure not even someone with a stealth field can sneak in without us noticing,” Kat reassured her.

*****

It was pitch dark when the crate dropped and the match officially began. They used some low light torches to illuminate the area while they grabbed their stun blasters and sensors. The commander’s was easy enough to recognise. The rest were very plain, circular discs while the commander’s was encircled with platinum and silver.

Ophelia looked at her team before putting it on, as though to make absolutely certain they wanted her to take it. Ultimately, she resigned herself to it and placed it directly on her left shoulder.

Kat signaled and the group hurried off. The nearest structure wasn’t far from where they’d started. It was a very simple building with a tube-like entrance leading into a winding hallway. This in turn led to a decent sized chamber with old computer consoles lined up on tables.

Lucy and Yuri looked around, carefully noting the details before heading out on their excursion.

“We’ll contact you over the communicators every hour,” Lucy said. “Keep us apprised of what you’re up to.”

“We will,” Ophelia said.

“So, what do we do?” Bridget asked.

“First off, we coat the entrance with some nice, thick, goopy mud,” Kat answered. “If we get stealth field users in here, we want them to make a trail.”

“You two take care of that,” Ophelia said. “Farah and I will tie some of these old input devices together so that we can string it up around the doorway, give us a sound if anyone tries coming in.”

“We should leave one of them attached,” Farah suggested. “There might be something in this old system to give us a clue about the stealth unit.”

“Agreed,” Ophelia said. “I’ll leave cracking the system to you and Kat. After we get set up nicely.”

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The Last Draconian 72: Lynai’s Plan

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

We had been working our construction shift for five minutes and twenty seconds when the alarm sounded. The trolls had come.

That, in and of itself, was not surprising. If anything, it had taken them longer than anticipated.

When I flew into the air and looked over their forces, I understood why. I will not make any wild claims about them sending their entire army. However, the forces sent against us were considerable. They easily dwarfed our own ten to one.

They ceased marching in the area where their king had been slain and settled. Most likely in order to rest up before striking in earnest. At that point, there was going to be a lot of bloodshed. Judging by how badly we were outnumbered, it would not go well for us.

I considered flying off and leaving the elven army to their fate. Ultimately, I decided to wait, at least for the moment. I would assess the situation as it changed and be prepared to flee.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

We held an emergency meeting for all our squadron leaders.

“We must prepare to flee,” Luco stated. “No question. We can’t hold out against that many.”

“There is one problem with that,” Lang said. “They will follow behind us. We’ll have to pull back slowly and send a message warning the Royal One so that he can be prepared at Het Wald. Not only that, we’ll have to withdraw slowly enough to give them time to prepare traps.”

“I’ll go back,” Layla volunteered.

“Go quickly then,” Lang said. “Don’t let them see you.”

“This could be an opportunity,” I mused.

“How so?” Lang asked.

I looked up at him. Everyone was looking at me. I took a deep breath. “They have to have most of their troops out there,” I pointed out. “Which means they’ve left a very small force to guard their capital. If we could sneak a small, elite force past them…”

“We could take their capital itself and force their troops to withdraw!” Layla interrupted.

“How will you manage that?” Luco asked. “They’ll see a group of elves.”

“Elves, perhaps,” I said. “But if I take Callie, Michael, Tynan and Gabriel with me, they might not pay them much mind. Even if they notice us.”

“You’re saying you should go?” Luco asked.

“No chance,” Lang said. “I will not send a royal daughter a dangerous errand like that.”

I stood up. “I’m the only one who can go,” I argued. “Callie won’t go without me. Tynan and Gabriel won’t follow anyone else’s orders besides mine and Callie’s. And Michael may be strong, but he’s not going to be able to handle the situation by himself. So stop being stubborn and let me lead them.” I poked his chest for emphasis, hoping he wouldn’t be too mad.

“You are not going,” Lang insisted. “We’ll make do with an elven force.”

“Lang, give it up,” Luco said. “Let her go.”

“You can’t be serious,” Lang said, turning his attention to Luco. “I know you don’t care much for the monarchy but…”

Luco put up a hand. “That’s exactly why I can look at this objectively,” he said. “I’ve seen Lynai fight. I know how capable she is. I also saw her companions. They are.. formidable.”

“I agree with Luco,” Layla said. “Her companions are strange. That’s for damn sure, but they are definitely our best chance of getting past the trolls without being seen.”

“Is it really more dangerous for me to sneak past them than it is to stay with the group and fight that torrent of trolls?” I added.

Lang looked at the remaining unit leaders, probably hoping for them to jump in and support him. One looked downward the other pretended she didn’t know what he wanted.

He sighed and looked over at me. “Very well, gather your comrades and go. Just be very careful.”

“I will,” I agreed.

*****

Michael Ryufan 

Lynai’s plan had a good chance of success. I had to give her that. There was, however, one issue. The Magi, Larick. He would have foreseen this plan, surely. I did not have the chance to bring the point up. Tynan did that for me.

“What about the Magi?” he asked. It was not eloquently phrased but it did get the point across.

“If he was really all that great we wouldn’t have been able to kill the king,” Callie stated.

“I think he did see that coming,” Lynai said. She scratched her chin thoughtfully. “I think he’s up to something. I don’t know whether he actually wants the trolls to win or he’s just trying to steer them into… something.”

“If that is the case,” I began “hopefully our attack succeeding is a part of that something.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 186: Let the Games Begin

Bridget was a muscular young woman with auburn hair & freckles. She took her time examining the medical bay.

“I know it’s not as advanced as what you have on Turing,” Lucy said. “But I hope you can appreciate it any way.”

Bridget shook her head. “It’s actually pretty amazing,” she said. “You’ve made it a model of efficiency. True, it may never serve as a quarantine area for a huge number of patients, but I can’t imagine that’s ever been an issue with the crew you have.”

“True enough,” Lucy said. “I’ll let you get situated here for the moment. I’ll get you when we arrive at our mission area.”

“I look forward to it,”Bridget said. “As much as I love my life on Turing, I am curious about what kind of life you mercenaries lead.”

“You may find it less glamorous than you thought,” Lucy said. “Or maybe not.”

*****

The Cerberus landed in a private dock alongside five others.

“Grace, I don’t think there’ll be any trouble since this is a government contract,” Ophelia said. “But keep the ship locked up just in case.”

“Will do,” Grace said. She gently kissed Farah’s forehead. “Good luck out there.”

“I look forward to spending some more time together when we return,” Farah said.

“I’m just interested in what she does with the systems,” Lucy said. She looked over towards Grace. “Don’t worry, we’ll look after her.”

“I’m not really worried since it’s just a game,” Grace stated. Though she did look relieved.

*****

The Cerberus crew, with the addition of Bridget, made their way to a plain looking building. It was set up like an office. A young, homely lady with dark green, patchy skin and dark blue hair led them to the conference room.

It was a bit different from those on Earth. The room itself consisted of a large circular pit bordered by patches of floor. The group descended ladders leading downward where the actual participants were standing around a round table with a few candles illuminating the area.

“Rizand paranoia,” Lucy whispered.

The Rizand officials looked around at the six groups of mercenaries, including the Cerberus crew.

“Thank you all for coming,” The Rizand general had a shaved, tattooed head and was chewing a slab of onyx. “The mission you’ve accepted is a simple one. Six members of our new stealth unit are going to be carrying out operations in this area.” He projected a map of the surrounding terrain. The building they were in was at the center with a mountainous area as the eastern border, a river as the western and a whole lot of forest and building betwixt the two.

He looked around the table. “Each of your squadrons will make their way to predetermined coordinates. At those coordinates, you will find stun blasters and sensors. You will wear the sensors in order to show us if you get taken down and by who. At exactly 26:00 hours, you will begin searching for our unit. Your team will be paid a substantial bonus for every member of our unit you manage to beat.”

“How much of a bonus?” A male akumillian asked.

“Three thousand credits,” the general answered. ” Five thousand for the commander. You will also be paid a lesser bonus of a hundred credits for every member of a competing mercenary unit you manage to defeat. Five hundred for the squadron leader.” He looked around again. “Each case will have one special sensor for that leader. Choose well. If your unit’s leader manages to survive for thirteen hours, you will receive a bonus. If they actually last until the end, that bonus will shoot up to a thousand credits.”

“I must warn you,” he continued. “If you are hit by a stun bolt, you will not be permitted to continue participating. You may, at that point, return to your ship or to this neutral site.”

“How long will the stun effect last?” Ophelia asked.

“For a human, five minutes,” he answered. “For the hardiest among the species here, two minutes. For the frailest, seven minutes.”

“You mentioned lasting until the end,” Kat said. “Are these exercises going to last a set amount of time at most?”

“Not at all,” he stated. “They’ll last until our stealth team is beaten or all mercenaries are. However, there are fortifications and various areas to hide available. So, there is ever possibility that it could continue for days. We encourage you to battle with caution and tactics rather than trying to brute your way through it. We do, after all, want this to be good exercise for our team. You may all study the map of the terrain as long as you wish, provided you are not still doing so when the time comes to begin.”

With that, he dismissed them.

Lucy didn’t give the Cerberus crew time to really look at the map. She hurried them up the ladders.

“What did you do?” Ophelia asked, eyeing her wife suspiciously.

“Oh, I took a holo copy when he pulled the map up,” Lucy said. “We can study it at our leisure.”

“Nice!” Bridget declared.

“Is that cheating?” Farah wondered.

“Rizands are typically very clear concerning rules and regulations,” Yuri stated. “Since we were not forbidden from making a copy of the holo, we can infer that it is permitted.”

“So, who’s our leader going to be?” Bridget asked. “Lucy?”

“She would be hard to hit,” Kat said.

“I’m not that short,” Lucy protested, her tone making it clear she wasn’t serious.

“I think it’s going to be Yuri,” Ophelia said. “She has the strongest reflexes after all.”

“Rejected!” Lucy declared. She met the gazes of the group with a smile. “We’re a Cerberus team. And, as a Cerberus team, there’s one person here who has to be in charge.”

Kat and Farah glanced at one another and nodded.

“It is in line with our mannerisms,” Yuri agreed.

“I can’t do it,” Ophelia protested. “Remember, I don’t have all that much combat experience compared to most of you. I don’t want us to lose the bonus because of me.”

“Shush,” Lucy said. “You may not be the most experienced, but our crew is at their best when protecting someone.” Her yellow eyes opened. “So, we’ll protect you.”

“That’s settled,” Kat said. “Let’s go develop a plan.”

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The Last Draconian 71: Preparing for the Future

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

Aiko wasn’t getting anywhere. I’d expected things to go that way from the moment she’d expressed interest in Michael.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure whether Michael even liked girls romantically, or anyone else for that matter. In all the time I’d known him, he’d never expressed either romantic interest or sexual desire. Maybe he simply didn’t find anyone attractive who wasn’t a draconian.

Still, I felt sorry for Aiko. I’d gone out of my way to create opportunities for her to be alone with Michael but he always rejected the chance.

“Maybe I’m the problem,” she muttered. “Am I just ugly?”

I sighed. “Come over here for a moment,” I beckoned. I heard her footsteps approaching. “Please, sit.”

She did as I asked. I reached out and felt her features. Her eyes were quite large. Her ears were long, furry and pointed. She had surprisingly soft skin. Her hair was silky soft. She had a small nose, angular cheeks and full lips.

“It feels like you have very attractive features,” I said. “If I weren’t already spoken for, I might be interested myself.”

“You’re just saying that,” she said.

“No, I’m not,” I reassured her. “You have to understand, Michael just isn’t interested in relationships. You could be Aphrodite herself and I don’t think he’d give you a single amorous thought.”

“You think I should give up on him then?” Aiko asked.

I hesitated. I was relatively certain that she wasn’t going to get anywhere but I also didn’t want to outright tell her so. I sighed rather heavily. “If… If you think you can get past that unromantic and distant side of him and you think it’s worth the effort to try, then I would say keep going for it. Maybe you’ll surprise us both. But if you think it’s too much effort or not worth the pain, then maybe it is better for you to move on. I can’t tell you what to do.”

“That’s a lot to think about.” I felt a weight as her head sank into my lap. “Let me rest like this for just a little while. Unless you think your fiancé will get jealous.”

“I don’t think she’ll mind so long as things stay platonic,” I said. “Just don’t try anything.”

“I’m not a child of the moon,” Aiko stated. “You have nothing to worry about.”

*****

Lynai Elfblood

Things had been more than a little awkward around the camp. It wasn’t any real secret that I had allowed Callie to drink my blood so she could recover faster.

That fact had led to some rumours. Some said that Callie and I were secretly engaged, thereby paving way for an alliance with Strecner. And that was the most flattering of the rumours. Some claimed my will was not my own and I was under her sway.

I knew that to be false. Because I’d never been bitten before then and neither my thoughts nor feelings had changed since. But I couldn’t think of any way to quell the rumours.

“Just let them talk,” Callie said. “They’ll grow tired of it eventually. Something else will catch their interest or the war will occupy them enough to make them forget.”

“There is a simple way,” Michael suggested. “Simply announce your engagement with Miss Perom officially. No one would have cause to question you gifting her your blood at that juncture.”

“We aren’t actually engaged,” I said. “Right now we’re…” I glanced at Callie “we’re just taking things slow.”

“I apologise for my observational error,” Michael said.

“Whatever the case, be more careful,” Tynan snorted. He sent an annoyed look our way. “It looks bad for us if our bosses get seriously hurt or die.”

“True enough,” Gabriel hissed. “We will need to find more work after the war ends.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said. “Don’t worry, I feel much better.”

“That is fortunate,” Michael stated. “The trolls have been quiet for the past few days. Most likely, they are in mourning over the loss of their king. Possibly even disorganised as the new monarch takes control. That will not last and they will be very eager to retaliate.”

“True,” Tynan said.

“They may be trying to figure out whether Strecner is their enemy too,” Callie said. “I know they didn’t get the best look at me, but they have mages who can scry into the past to see the details. It still won’t buy us much time.”

“How will Strecner respond?” I asked.

“They’ll be honest,” Callie answered. “They’ll tell Relna that they don’t know why I did it but that I don’t represent them in this matter.”

“The trolls’ll be suspicious of that,” Tynan said. “Specially with you being a noble.”

“But they will accept it,” Gabriel added. “Or they’ll pretend to in order to keep the peace.”

“Unless the new king is a real hothead,” Tynan said.

“We can’t count on that,” I pointed out. For now, we’ll plan around the assumption that Strecner won’t get involved. We’ll have to be extra vigilant.”

I dismissed them. Callie stayed behind. “Are you all right?” she asked, stroking my cheek. “You still look a little pale.”

I put my hand on hers. “I am feeling much better,” I said. “After we get through our next rest shift I think I’ll be back in peak condition. Besides…” I looked directly into her eyes “I have someone incredible looking out for me.”

She smiled brightly. Her fangs hanging out over her lower lip. It was actually quite lovely.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 185: Getting Back Into Things

Ophelia was going through various requests. As nice as it was to have something of a break, she wanted to make sure she had something lined up for when Paul was recovered and ready to return to his post. She looked up as Lucy returned.

“How was Paul doing?”

“He’s looking a lot better,” Lucy answered. “His biggest problem right now is that Angela is making sure he doesn’t exert himself and he’s feeling a little bored. I asked Kat to take him some books. I also played around with his eye colour a little bit, before he said it was enough and had it changed back to match his real eye.”

“Is Baron Wolfgang still guarding him?” Ophelia inquired.

Lucy nodded. “They moved him out for a while but Grace let him back in after Paul’s implant settled. Grace thinks he’s getting secure about Paul’s safety and will probably be ready to return to his ordinary life in a few days.” She leaned close to Ophelia. “Find anything good?”

“Nothing that we can take in advance,” Ophelia answered. “The best I can do right now is keep an eye on some good ones.”

“What if we took something fairly near?” Lucy asked. “We could head there and be back before Paul gets discharged.”

Ophelia put her hands together. “I had considered that, but if someone gets hurt without Paul around we’ll be in major trouble. I know that you can do basic first aid, Dear, but you’re not going to cut it in a real emergency.”

“Then we borrow one of Turing’s Doctors,” Lucy said. “I spoke with a young lady named Bridget. She’s completely qualified and very interested in the kind of work we do. I’m confident that I could get her to join us for one mission.”

Ophelia thought for a moment. “I don’t think we’ll get Leon to come with us. But I suppose we can manage well enough.”

“It looks like there’s a mission pretty close by,” Lucy said. “Fifth planet in this system.”

Ophelia looked it over. “War games?”

“It looks like the employer wants groups of mercenaries to participate in order to train their new, elite force,” Lucy said. “The weapons are non-lethal and we get a hefty bonus if we win, but we get paid regardless.”

“They want groups of six,” Ophelia said. “That means all of us, since Leon’s going to be staying behind.”

“If we’re going to take Bridget, we’ll have to leave Grace on the ship,” Lucy said.

“Will we need a medic during the games?” Ophelia wondered. “I mean, I get that we might need her around even with non-lethal weapons. But I doubt we’ll be in a position where we need her right there with us.”

“We probably won’t,” Lucy agreed. “But, like I said, she’s curious about this kind of life and that’s how I’d convince her to come along. If I tell her she’ll be staying on the ship, she won’t come along. And I wouldn’t dream of bringing her along and then leaving her without mentioning it beforehand. It seems cruel, don’t you think?”

“Point,” Ophelia said. “So, it would be me, you, Kat, Farah, Yuri & Bridget?”

“It seems the best group,” Lucy said. “I doubt Grace would be great in a war game scenario any way. She’ll be happier working on the Cerberus.” She leaned close to Ophelia. “Besides, I don’t think you’d be the most comfortable leaving someone you barely know alone with our ship.”

Ophelia nodded. “Point made. We’ll take this Bridget with us and let Grace do her thing.”

“She has been having a grand time so far,” Lucy stated. “Even though she’s been the only one really working.”

Ophelia shrugged. “It isn’t often she gets to just focus on upgrading the systems. And that’s probably her favourite thing as an engineer.”

“I’m sure it helps that she’s gotten to spend more time with Farah lately,” Lucy said. She looked over the job details one final time. “Should I let the crew know that we’ll be leaving in two days and secure Bridget’s help while you answer the posting?”

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Ophelia said. “A nice, simple, relatively safe mission will do us all a world of good.”

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The Last Draconian 70: The Plans of Magi and Men

Previous Chapter

“My Friend, Welcome,” Sadow greeted.

“Business with me, what is yours?” Entik asked. “Like this, I do not.”

“Must I have some reason for inviting you over? Sadow asked. His skeletal arm reached out and beckoned for the dwarf to take a seat at the table.

Entrik moved his floating disc over. “Invite me in friendship, you never have,” he said. “Always a motive that is ulterior you have.”

“Astute as always,” Sadow said. “Then I’ll get right to the point. There’s a mad draconian out to kill me.”

“Extinct I thought they were,” Entrik stroked his beard. “Their desire to kill you stems from where?”

“I tried to warn the draconians that they were inviting the wrath of the Gods with their isolation and…. devices. I’m afraid this young lady has some misplaced anger because I was right.”

“Survived, how did she?” Entrik asked. “Mistakes the Gods do not make.”

“Very true,” Sadow said. “Perhaps they have some purpose for her.” He leaned forward. “Truth be told, I don’t want to slay her. It would, after all, be a great pity for all of them to be lost. But I may not have a choice. That’s why I’m seeking your assistance. Should she return with either mercenaries or some misguided souls who buy into her delusions, I am not confident that I can stop them all without killing her. If you’re here, I should be able to incapacitate her without causing any lasting harm.”

“Almost frightened, you sound,” Entrik said. “Still, aid you I will. If nothing else then to be certain you without justification do not harm.”

*****

Larick went to the stage of an outdoor auditorium. All around were trolls of all kinds. He’d insisted that it be open to nobles and commoners alike.

“You’ve all undoubtedly heard the grievous news,” Larick addressed the assembled trolls.  “His Majesty, Jeffry Stontooth the 3rd, went to the front lines in an effort to find a new queen in Strecner. Unfortunately, a cowardly sneak attack by Elven troops and their allies ended his life. Even more tragically, his own son was thrown into exile for planning his violent overthrow.”

He looked around the assembly. Some nobles were nodding. Everyone else looked shocked and surprised.

“This has left me with a duty to perform,” Larick continued. “For his highness and his memory as well as for Relna and her people. I’ve already been approached by several Nobles who believe they have the right and qualifications to succeed his majesty. I have spent time in meditation, using Apollo’s gift to search the future. And I am proud to announce that I have found your new king.”

There were murmurs throughout. Several influential nobles were preparing to rise. He smirked. He was looking forward to this part.

“I have found, Dear Citizens,” Larick paused and took a deep breath, solely for effect “That the best choice is not a noble or an aristocrat. No, your future will be best handled by a man of humble origins. But one who worked hard for this Kingdom and gained a high station. Not through an accident of birth but through effort and ability. Yes, I’m talking about General Joseph Pinbol.”

He beckoned towards the back of the stage where Joseph and Selene were standing.

“Please, step forward and I’ll begin the coronation.” Larick held the crown in his hands.

Joseph hesitated. He looked out towards the trolls assembled. The nobles were noticeably confused and furious but the commoners… They were understandably surprised, but their excitement was palpable. They couldn’t believe that one of their own was about to be crowned.

Becoming one of the great Generals had been more than anyone had expected from a commoner. Rising beyond that was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Especially Joseph’s. Still, he could see what this meant for the people. He held his head up high, smiled and approached the Magi.

“Normally, this would be where I crown you, announce you and say ‘long may he reign,'” Larick said. “However, I have a simple question before I do that. Something that’s important for all of these people to hear. Why are you worthy of this crown?”

Joseph opened his mouth, immediately closed it. He thought for a second. “To be honest, Magi, I’m not sure I am worthy,” Joseph answered. “I’m a simple man.  I don’t know if I have what it takes to rule. I do know one thing. I’ve fought for my Lord and my land. I have performed every duty I’ve been given to the best of my ability. If you ask me to be the king, I will serve this land & these people I love with everything I have for as long as breath remains within me. If that isn’t good enough or if there’s anyone who can serve better, please, give them the crown.”

Larick nodded. “I see your determination and your passion. And, having seen the future, I can safely say that your best will be fantastic for this nation. Just always remember those words. And I crown thee, King Joseph Pinbol the first.” He lightly placed the crown atop Joseph’s head. “Long may he reign.”

The nobles hesitantly rose and clapped. The commoners applauded thunderously and cheered loudly.

Larick watched the faces of the aristocrats as the realisation that trying to stop their new king would result in a rebellion the likes of which they’d never seen.

He smirked. It was all as he’d foreseen.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 184: Paul’s Surgery

Turing Station welcomed the Cerberus crew aboard with no difficulties.

Paul, in spite of his protests, was taken to the Medical Bay in a wheelchair. Angela insisted that he couldn’t strain himself. Grace took Baron Wolfgang, who protested a little but seemed more secure about Paul being in good hands.

“You must dine with us,” Alexandria told Yuri.

“You know that I do not require food,” Yuri stated.

“That doesn’t matter,” Meiling said. “Food tastes better with good friends and we have some catching up to do. Besides, your ship will be here for a little while. So, we might as well take advantage of it to spend some quality time together.”

“I also have an invitation for you,” Siya interjected. “Please, come down to my laboratory. I’d love the chance to study your systems.” She glanced at Meiling and Alexandria. “I promise I won’t do anything that might damage her.”

“I will consider your request,” Yuri told Siya. “As for you two, I will construct a dessert and bring it with me. What time would you like me to be there?”

“18:00,” Alexandria told her.

“I look forward to trying your cooking,” Meiling added.

*****

“How long will the procedure take?” Ophelia asked.

“A couple hours,” Lucas said. “She’ll have to basically connect the eye to his brain so that he can control it and see through it as though it were a normal eye. He’ll be sedated for it so he won’t feel a thing.”

“But it isn’t a normal eye,” Lucy observed.

Lucas shook his head. “It’s actually better. This model has the ability to see X-rays & see in Infra-red. It’ll have perfect night vision and a hundred times zoom function. His left eye will be the bomb.”

“Is there any risk of rejection?” Ophelia asked.

Lucas shook his head. “Paul doesn’t have allergies to the integration drugs. As long as he remembers to take them until the regiment is over with, his body will accept the new eye with no problems.”

“And how long will our the good Doctor be confined to bed?” Lucy asked.

“Usually with those types of injuries we’d suggest a couple weeks of bed rest and another couple of taking it easy,” Lucas stated. “I know you’re probably in a hurry to get back to your missions, but please don’t push him.”

“Don’t worry,” Ophelia said. “Our crew comes before profits. If he needs the rest, we’ll stay here until he’s ready to go back to work. I’m sure our crew could use some R&R any way.”

*****

Femi took Leon to Turing’s experimental weapon testing site.

“This sniper scope is insane,” Leon said. “Can you actually shoot something from orbit with this?”

“If you accurately feed it all the details about the planet’s weather conditions & atmosphere,” Femi answered. “Although right now it only works with very specialised bullets that won’t break down easily in the atmosphere and they can’t be mass produced since they use a rare element. Even without that, it’s still a top of the line weapon if you have it on the ground.”

Leon tested the rifle’s weight. It was surprisingly light. “How long until I can see him?” he asked.

“Angela will call us when he’s done with surgery and awake,” Femi reassured him. “Are you really that worried?”

“A little anxious,” Leon answered. “I know that she’s a fantastic doctor, but that doesn’t make it easy.” He grabbed a random assault rifle from the rack. “What does this one do?”

*****

“Tell me something,” Kat said. “How’d an old soldier like you end up on a satellite filled with scientists trying to design the future?”

Jack studied her. “It’s not that complicated. I grew up on a frontier Alliance world called Phestus Beta. The authorities were more than a little corrupt and it became a nesting ground for scum. I went through the military Academy and joined, trying to fix the problem from within. But that was naive. They framed me and tried to hunt me down. I became a vigilante, striking at both the corrupt leaders of the force and at the criminals who ran everything. It didn’t matter who it was, once I had that proof of wrong doing I’d get them in my sights.”

“You were a vigilante,” Kat said. “That doesn’t explain how you got to Turing.”

“I’m getting to that,” Jack said. “Eventually, my activities got media attention and the depths of the corruption were brought to light. The Alliance had no choice but to send a fresh force. One that would deal with the problem.”

“I remember reading something about that,” Kat stated. “Please, go on.”

“After that, I left Pestus,” Jack said. “I was still a soldier, but without a battle to fight. I wandered for a while and ended up on Turing. I knew right away that their neutral status and advanced devices would make them a target. So, I agreed to come aboard to protect this place.” He looked over at her. “I imagine it’s like you with the Cerberus.”

Kat smiled. “That may very well be the case.”

*****

Paul opened his eyes.

“How are you feeling?” Angela asked.

“Dehydrated, but okay,” he answered.

“That’s a side effect of the integration drugs,” Angela said. She handed him a glass of water. “You’ll have to make sure you have ready access to fluids for a while. How’s the eye?”

“I can see with it,” Paul answered. “It feels almost like my normal eye.”

“That’s good,” Angela said. She held up her arm. “Try X-raying my hand. Don’t force it, just think of what you want to do.”

Paul looked at her hand. It shifted to bone. “I see it,” he said.

“Good. Now, turn it off,” she said.

The view shifted back to her regular hand.

“That will be very useful,” Paul said.

“So will the magnification function,” Angela stated. “Right now the eye’s matched to your other. But you can change the colour and give yourself heterochromia if you wish.”

“I think my usual grey will be fine,” Paul said.

“Of course,” Angela said. “Get some rest. I’ll let your friends know that you’re up.”

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The Last Draconian 69: Successor to the Crown

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

Callie was injured.

It’s amazing how much a simple thing like that can weigh on you when you love someone. Even if they aren’t severely injured. Even if you know for absolute certain that everything is going to be fine. That didn’t change the simple fact that she was injured and I’d sent her out there.

I looked at the swelling on the back of her head and the hole in her shoulder and I couldn’t stop the tears.

She reached her hand out and gently wiped them away with her fingers.

“Don’t worry, Lyn,” her voice was soothing. “I heal fast naturally. These injuries will be nothing once the clerics have gone over them and I’ve had some fresh blood.”

“Really?” I asked. I wanted to believe her, but the shoulder injury looked really bad.

“Really,” she assured me. “Don’t cry. I managed to slay the troll king and Michael got me out of there before I could get hurt too badly.”

I turned to the clerics. “Call me after you’ve treated her. I’ll arrange for the rest.”

I left their tent and went over to Michael.

“Did you see what went wrong?” I asked.

“I do not have your Lady’s stellar night vision,” he stated. “However, from what I could see, it appeared that she was spotted leaving the king’s tent and the guards responded quickly. They were chasing after her when she signalled me.”

I sighed. “I really shouldn’t have let her go alone.”

Michael scrutinized me. “Forgive me for saying so, but I do not believe a larger party would have performed better. Miss Perom was capable of striking a quick, deadly blow because she was alone. I was also capable of retrieving her safely because she was alone. A larger group would have been more easily spotted and significantly more difficult to extract. Permitting her to strike alone was the correct decision.”

I pat his shoulder. “Well, thanks for trying to make me feel better, anyway. It’s just… how would you feel if the person you loved got injured like that?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I do not have anyone who induces the feelings within me that she induces within you. I have memories of people who have but there will always be a disconnect betwixt their emotional state within that moment and mine when I recall the events. As such, I can not give you a proper answer.”

It didn’t take long after that for the clerics to come find me. I returned to their tent. Callie’s wounds were neatly bandaged and she was looking healthier already.

“Give us some privacy, if you please,” I ordered. The clerics headed out. I opened the top of my tunic and approached Callie. “Don’t drink too much,” I said. “And don’t do the thing that lets you control me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of doing that to you,” Callie said. “But are you sure? Even if I take the minimal amount I need, you’ll be weak as a kitten for a couple days.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m surrounded by capable people I can trust,” I said.

She held me gently. I felt her tongue against my neck first. It made me feel a little numb. That’s when she bit into me.

*****

Relna was a bustle of activity. The moment word of the king’s death started circulating, trolls began going into the streets and finding stones to bash together while they shouted to the heavens.

Larick observed the mourning ritual with quiet amusement. The king had met the lady of his destiny, but he hadn’t thought to ask what that destiny would entail. As Larick had known he wouldn’t.

The one royal heir had already been stripped of his title and sent into exile.

“Magi!” He turned. Those who remained of the great troll generals were approaching him. And they didn’t look happy. Selene had her bow readied. Joseph was holding his pike and needed only an instant to bring it into an attack position.

“How could you have allowed his royal majesty to go into danger like that?” Selene demanded.

“The future isn’t always certain or clear,” Larick answered. “Sometimes you see certain paths close. Sometimes you see many paths. As for this incident, I looked to the future for the greatest path of prosperity for Relna. And that path dictated that his highness go to the battle front and meet a Lady of Strecner.”

“You’re suggesting that our prosperity lies with the king’s death?” Joseph asked. His face was full of disbelief.

“That would appear to be the case,” Larick answered. A vine shot up from the ground at his feet to snatch Selene’s loosed arrow directly from the air. “That is very unwise,” Larick said. “When I fall, Relna will lose the war.” He turned to actually face the pair. “You may not believe that, but it is the truth. I have foreseen it. Should I perish, Het Wald will then emerge victorious.”

“Are you suggesting we forgive you?” Selene demanded.

“I do not need forgiveness,” Larick stated. “Right now, I am in command of this kingdom by his majesty’s final decree. And I know you well enough, Selene Nol, to know that you will not disobey a royal decree.”

She glared at him for a moment before lowering her bow.

“But the people won’t obey you,”Joseph pointed out. “Not an elf, not for long. There’s too much bitterness.”

“I know that full well,” Larick said. “Which is why I am going to pass the crown to the one person who will work hardest for the prosperity of this nation. To the most suited person to bring Relna into the new era.”

“And who might that be?” Joseph asked.

Larick studied the look of confusion on his face and looked into his eyes. He wanted to remember this. “You, Joseph,” he answered. “The crown will go to you.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 183: Scars

Paul awoke in a haze. He recognised the sensation. He was under some heavy pain killers.

“Oh, you’re awake.” He looked over at Angela. She was closer than he’d thought. She had just been in his blind spot. “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your pain?”

“Doesn’t really hurt,” he answered, his voice was hoarse. “I feel a bit of a throbbing sensation so… three.”

“Good, the pain killers are working then,” she said. She handed him a glass of water.

Paul took a drink. “Is everyone from the conference okay?” he asked.

“They’re all fine,” Angela said. “The rescue went off quite well and the terrorists are going off to stand trial. Although right now several worlds are all claiming the right to mete out their punishment. They’ll probably have representatives from all of them come together and come to a compromise with their sentence being carried out on a neutral world like Ca’urrg.”

Paul sat up. “Then it wasn’t for nothing. I’m glad.”

Angela teasingly flicked his forehead. “Sometimes, I think you’re too selfless, My Friend. Then again, that may just be a flaw of us doctors.”

They shared a laugh. “How bad is the damage?” Paul inquired.

“You suffered multiple fractures, broken ribs, a broken arm, a concussion, a destroyed eye and multiple other injuries,” Angela answered. “We treated your injuries and you will fully recover from most of them.”

“You say most,” Paul said. “What won’t I recover from?”

“I couldn’t save your left eye,” Angela answered. “With your permission, Turing will provide a top of the line robotic replacement for you. Other than that, you will have some scarring on your arm and face but we can minimise that, at least.”

“I will gladly take a replacement,” Paul said. “Thank you.”

“I thought you’d say that,” Angela said, patting his shoulder. “We’re actually on our way to Turing right now with your crew. Now, are you up for some visitors or would you like to rest some more first?”

Paul thought for a moment. “I rather think I’ve rested enough.”

Angela nodded. “Then I’ll send them in one at a time. Don’t strain yourself too much.”

*****

Leon was, naturally, the first visitor. He dropped to his knees by the bedside and  gently stroked Paul’s face. “I’m so sorry,” he cried. “It’s all my fault. I should have been in there with you. I should have protected you. I…”

“Shush,” Paul said, reaching out a finger with his good arm. “It’s not your fault, Sweetheart. No one could have predicted that the conference would be attacked. And even if you had been there, I don’t think there’s much you could have done besides bide your time. Besides, Angela says I’ll be just fine once they replace my eye.” He stroked Leon’s hair.

Leon moved his head forward and kissed his love.  Angela politely looked away. “Don’t get too frisky,” she cautioned. “You don’t have the strength for that yet.”

*****

Grace was the second visitor. She was carrying the Baron with her. The little dog scrambled out of her arms and into Paul’s bed, licking him frantically.

“There, there little buddy,” Paul said, petting him and trying to calm him down.

“He was worried about you. We all were,” Grace said. The little dog growled as she approached. “Guess he doesn’t want to be moved,” she chuckled. “Or he thinks I might hurt you if I get too close.”

“I suppose so,” Paul said. “I’ll be okay. I just need a replacement eye and rest.”

“There are some great replacement options out there,” Grace said. “You could have infra-red vision, a zoom in function, even night vision. It’ll be like you have super powers, but just in one eye.”

“Just so long as I don’t have to wear a garish costume and try to fight thugs,” Paul said.

“Oh please, you know you’d just wear a polo shirt and slacks,” Grace said. “And that’s if you could fight.”

The siblings had a decent chat before Grace left. Ultimately, she left Wolfgang behind since the little dog proved very resistant to leaving the injured Doctor’s side.

“Yo, what’ll we do if he gets mad and tries to bite us while we’re treating him?” Lucas asked.

“He’s a Chihuahua Terrier,” Angela said. “He can’t cause much damage even if he really wants to. Just let him be.”

*****

Farah was the nest to come in.

“Farah, you look upset,” Paul observed. “Is something bothering you?”

“I should be the one asking if you’re okay,” Farah said.

“I will make a full recovery,” Paul said. “So don’t worry about that. Is that what was bothering you?”

“Well, no,” Farah answered. “I just… I was there. I was right there watching him beat you to a pulp and I couldn’t do anything. I keep wondering, what if I had stepped in sooner? What if I hadn’t been so set on following the plan? What if…”

“Hush, Child,” Paul said. “You did the right thing. If you had tried to interfere, you’d have been shot by his men. And we would be in a far worse situation.” He sighed. “I understand, you feel a little guilty because I got hurt and you didn’t. But that’s the wrong way to think of it. The truth is, we both did what we had to to escape that situation. I know holding back wasn’t easy for you. But it was very prudent of you. So, don’t worry about it any more, okay?”

“Sorry,” Farah said, wiping her eyes. “Even though you’re the one who got hurt you have to comfort me.”

“You’re just putting too much on yourself,” Paul said. “You and Leon are alike in that respect. You both have a strong impulse to protect those close to you and you feel guilty whenever you can’t. Believe me, I’ve dealt with that aspect of his personality a lot. So, if you ever need to talk about it, I’m here for you.”

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