Voyages of the Cerberus 207:

“They’re trying to pursue us,” Lucy noted.

“I’ll prep a jamming bomb,” Grace stated.

“I’ll be ready to get us hidden when it goes off,” Lucy said. “Our big advantages are that we’re still too far away for visual confirmation, and we’re near an asteroid belt.”

“Are you going to seriously go in there with the Cerberus?” Grace asked.

“We have to find a hiding spot,” Lucy said. “Just get the bomb ready. I’ll tell you when to launch it.”

*****

The androids went about their tasks, ignoring Ophelia, Leon, Kat & Farah.

Leon rose and stretched his muscles. “We should at least look around, right?”

Ophelia glanced at Kat. “If they aren’t programmed to come after us when we actually loot, they probably won’t react if we walk around a bit,” Kat advised. “Or, at the very least, it’s equally risky to loitering in one spot.”

“All right, we’ll look around,” Ophelia agreed. “But don’t even try to open any closed doors yet.”

The four of them examined the area. There were five structures in total. Each one had a plaque with some pacifican writing they couldn’t read.

“Can we translate it?” Ophelia asked.

“It’s an old script,” Kat answered. “It’s like comparing the original Middle English of the Canterbury Tales to modern English. It’s different enough that our translation program doesn’t recognise it.”

“Maybe whatever her name is can read it,” Leon said.

“It might be too different,” Kat said. “Unless she’s studied the evolution of the pacifican language.”

“It might be worth a try,” Ophelia said. “But it could also be too risky since she is a prisoner.”

“Would she really try to escape with all of us here?” Farah wondered. “I mean, she hasn’t tried anything with just Yuri watching her.”

“She very well might,” Leon said. “She doesn’t seem the type to continue sitting idly.”

“There are also more potential escape routes here,” Kat pointed out. “If she managed to get away from Yuri for a brief moment, she’d be alone on a hostile ship with very limited places to hide or run and no knowledge of the layout. If she gets away here, it’s still unfamiliar territory, but that goes for us too.”

“Yeah, but she has no way to contact her ship,” Farah said. “We could just leave her behind.”

“That may be a bargaining chip we can use,” Ophelia said. “But I have a better idea. When the Cerberus returns, I’ll take the shuttle back along with Kat and we’ll have a chat with her. We’ll take pictures of all the plaques and show them to her. If she can translate them, we’ll negotiate with her to get the translations and then we’ll return.”

“How will you know if she’s telling the truth?” Leon asked. “She could easily feed us a bunch of nonsense.”

“We plug her translations into the universal translator,” Kat answered. “If she’s making it up, there should be some inconsistencies among the five plaques that’ll cause an error in the program.”

“Well, with that decided we just have to wait for the Cerberus,” Ophelia said.

*****

“Detonate it now,” Lucy ordered.

The jamming bomb operated under a simple concept, fill the area with a cloud of charged particles to temporarily mask the signal of the ship from sensors.

Lucy piloted them into the asteroid field. She didn’t want to go far, lest they be severely damaged.

She went far enough to find a good sized asteroid and she magnetically locked the Cerberus to it before cutting the power to everything but the vital systems.

“Now, the important question, will they follow us?” Grace wondered.

“They’ll enter the field if they recognised the Cerberus,” Lucy predicted. “Or at least start bombarding it. The Alliance would love to bring us down.”

“One of the downsides of being popular, I suppose,” Grace said.

She winced as something loudly collided with the hull. That was going to be a dent she’d have to fix later.

They watched through the main viewer as the Alliance ships stopped, scanned the remains of the jamming bomb and left in short order.

“Good, they just think we’re ordinary smugglers or something,” Grace said.

“We’ll wait until they’ve been out of sensor range for a while and then we’ll return to our position,”Lucy said. “I just hope Ophelia and the others aren’t having any problems.”

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The Land Prince & Ocean Peasant

Once upon a time in a far off kingdom by the ocean there lived a young prince. Every day, he would go out and sit atop a cliff hanging over the ocean.

A young merman noticed him one day. The merman thought him a handsome boy, but knew nothing could come of it. After all, they were of different worlds. And humans rarely spoke with merfolk. Still, he found himself glancing at the young prince on occasion. Though he knew full well they could never meet.

Things changed one day when the prince stumbled and fell violently into the water. Without thinking or hesitating, the merman swam over and pulled him from the see.

The prince coughed uncomfortably, spitting up water while the merman pat his back and reassured him everything would be okay.

“Thank you,” The prince said. “You saved my life.”

“Why did you fall?” The merman asked. “Were you distracted?”

“I suppose I was,” The prince said. He gently grasped the merman’s hand. “I’ll be more careful next time. I’m Prince Benjamin Knotley the third. You are?”

“Connor Ray,” the merman answered. “I don’t have any title.” There was an awkward silence. “I uh… noticed you come around here often. Is there some reason?”

“Truthfully,” Benjamin said “I love the view of the ocean. ” He hesitated for a moment. “I have seen you swimming around here before quite a few times. Is there any reason you’re so drawn to this area?”

“Actually, my secret place is near here too,” Connor answered. “Would you… like to see it?”

“If I wouldn’t be intruding, I’d love to,” Benjamin answered. “But will I be all right? I can’t breathe underwater.”

“You’ll only have to hold your breath for a little bit,” Connor said. “My spot is actually above ground.”

The prince agreed to accompany the young merman. He was led through an underwater tunnel and into a small, tidy cave lit by luminescent algae. The merman had set up a shrine of sunken treasures. Not gold or gems, but pottery, statues and the like.

“Impressive,” Benjamin said. “Are you curious about the surface?”

“A bit,” Connor admitted. “Mostly I just think these relics are pretty.”

The pair chatted for a bit. The prince told the merman all about the surface and what kinds of people created art. The merman, in turn, told the prince about life in the great coral cities.

Eventually, the prince had to return home but he began meeting the merman in secret every day. This continued for months and the merman soon found himself moving beyond simple attraction. One day, he noticed the prince wasn’t talking much.

“Something wrong, Ben?” Connor asked.

“Oh, I suppose it is,” Benjamin answered. “You see, I’m expected to get married soon to some princess I’ve never met. And then I’m supposed to go off to her kingdom with her. So, I won’t be able to see you any more.”

The merman felt as though he’d been stabbed in the heart. He returned to the city feeling very awful indeed.

“You there, come inside,” a voice beckoned. The merman ignored it until he said “Your prince walking out you needn’t abide.”

“How do you…” Connor began.

The man held up a silencing hand. “I see things beyond your ken. My eye, you see, has a vision now and then.”

Indeed, the warlock’s left eye swirled with tiny bolts of lightning and clouds contained within.

He ushered the young merman inside. “I know that In terms of desires. One, for you stands above all others. Going to your beloved prince. Seeing if his parents you can convince. The problem is the land. Treading it is beyond your command.”

“Right, it’s hopeless,” Connor lamented.

“Now that, I never said,” the warlock stated, with a conniving grin. “Your fins merely have to be temporarily shed. Exchanged, for human legs. That you may rise from the dregs. And this exchange, my Friend, is within my power to attend.”

“But I have nothing to offer,” Connor said. “Why would you help me?”

“True, for sorcery like this a price must be paid. However, you need not be afraid. Something very simple can do. That you may make your land debut. A single statue from your collection. That and a sole piece of direction. While on the land, one thing you mustn’t say. Your true identity you mustn’t betray. Else consequences most foul. May well leave you with a scowl.”

Connor hesitated. The price seemed too good to be true and he wasn’t so foolish as to trust such a grand speaking warlock implicitly. Ultimately, his desperation proved too strong and he accepted the warlock’s terms.

He was taken to shallow water where he quickly found his gills receding and his tail splitting into legs. His body also transformed, taking on the appearance of a chubby, middle aged man.

He had expected some gambit to prevent Benjamin from recognising him, but he also knew he couldn’t let it stop him.

Connor remembered that Ben had told him about travelling Friars who were welcomed by the castle. He located an Abbey and “borrowed” some robes. He promised himself he’d return them later.

He made his way towards the castle. The city was buzzing with activity as the townsfolk prepared to welcome the princess. Connor reminded himself that she probably didn’t have a choice either and he shouldn’t hate her.

He reached the palace gate and bowed to the guards, trying to look humble instead of frightened out of his mind. “Won’t his Majesty entertain a man of God tonight?”

The guards nodded at one another and one went to relay the request. He returned in short time and beckoned for Connor to come in.

Connor noticed a few things upon meeting the royal couple. Benjamin had his mother’s chin and nose but his father’s eyes and hair. They greeted him kindly, offering him money. Connor promised himself he’d give it to the Abbey when he returned the robes.

He was having a quick, polite conversation when the queen asked him to bless her son’s upcoming marriage.

“That is why I’ve come,” Connor stated. “I’ve seen B… the prince with a clouded look lately. I believe it would be in his best interest if the marriage was called off.”

“That is one thing we can’t do,” the king said. “The crown prince is already married and we need this to bring our kingdoms together in peace.”

Connor tried persuading the king and queen but to no avail. He was eventually sent away so the preparations could continue.

He went down to the coast like a man in a trance. Forgetting all about returning the robes.

“Friar.”

Connor couldn’t believe it. It was Benjamin. He wanted to tell him everything, but remembered the deal he’d made. “How can I help you, Prince?” he asked, trying to keep his voice collected.

“I heard what you told my parents,” Benjamin stated. “Was my state really so obvious?”

“You carry yourself like a man condemned,” Connor answered. “Anyone can see that much.”

Benjamin laughed. “You know, you weirdly remind me of someone I know. Well, thanks for trying any way. But why go that far? Surely, you must know that they’d never agree.”

“I have to because I can’t let you go so easily,” Connor stammered the words out without thinking.

Benjamin froze. “It can’t be,” he whispered. “Connor?”

At that moment a large wave approached. The warlock rode atop.

“This really is a great pity. You really were quite witty. But in spite of that a weak moment made you slip. Now, as punishment, your freedom I’ll strip.”

Connor found himself back to normal, but also encased in translucent orb.

“Let him go!” Benjamin screamed, reaching for his blade.

“Why, my dear prince, I mean no offence. Still, there must be great recompense. In exchange for being allowed to come on land. This one here swore revealing himself would be banned.”

“Connor, how could you agree to that?” Benjamin demanded. “You just had to wish me well and go about your life, so why?”

“I couldn’t let you go so easily!” Connor dried out, tears streaming from his eyes. “Because I love you.”

“Connor…” Benjamin whispered. He stepped forward. “Let him go, I’ll pay the price for him.”

The warlock grinned. “Now that is an interesting notion. And made of such pure devotion. Then a bargain I will present. One I’m sure will have your consent. I’ll release this one from his vow. In exchange, your subjects before me will bow. You will be sent with him to the ocean. Your legs traded for fins through a special potion. Your place on land will become mine. That as royalty I may shine.”

The warlock gestured and a clear crystal bottle with a dark blue liquid inside appeared in his hand. “Be apprised that once this is drunk, into the waters you’ll be sunk. Never again to return to shore. Banished to return nevermore.”

Benjamin took the potion from the warlock’s hand.

“Ben, don’t!” Connor called. “You’ll lose everything if you drink that. Just go and be happy. I’ll be okay. I got myself into this after all.”

“Connor, I’ve just been offered my heart’s desire,” Benjamin said. “I… I always wanted to go to your home. To see the ocean the way you do. Because… because I love you too. If this frees you and let’s us be together, I welcome it.” The prince uncorked the bottle and drank the brew. His legs were quickly fused as a tail and he grew gills.

The warlock laughed as the prince descended into the ocean with his love.

Connor took Benjamin to his home. The former prince settled into life underwater fairly easily thanks to Connor’s love and support. The two built a happy life together.

As for the warlock, his victory proved short lived. He took Benjamin’s form and wed the princess. He had just moved to her kingdom when war broke out between the kingdoms. He found himself treated to a royal execution.

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The Last Draconian 102: Tynan Versus Femre

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Tynan and Femre circled one another. Mercenaries from both sides watched, pausing their own battle, interested in seeing how the match would unfold. A few even made some quick bets with their comrades.

Tynan studied his opponent. There were no real facial expressions to judge, but his movements were another matter. He had a more aggressive stance but it was clear that he could bring in his shield relatively quickly.

Tynan made the first move. He rushed forward with his axe swinging. Femre responded immediately, bringing up his shield and attempting to jab his scimitar into Tynan’s chest.

Tynan slammed his head down, slamming his horn into the blade and knocking it off course. Femre responded by kneeing him in the gut and pushing him away.

Tynan was more than a little surprised. The skeleton didn’t look like he would have the strength to do that. Then again, undead were often stronger than they appeared.

He regained his footing quickly and slashed again. He anticipated Femre’s shield and deliberately aimed for the same spot he’d hit before. The shield chipped but stayed intact.

Tynan also anticipated Femre’s knee and brought up his own to block. But the skeleton predicted the move and slashed down. Tynan’s leg armour rattled uncomfortably, digging into his flesh. But it saved him from a nasty cut to the leg.

Femre took the offensive. He charged forward, slashing with his scimitar. Tynan’s axe turned the blade aside and he pushed forward, using his bulk to his advantage.

Femre was pushed back, falling to the ground. Tynan pressed his advantage, trying to split him in twain with a swing of his axe. Femre brought his shield up only to have it smashed aside. Fortunately for him, the impact was enough to stagger Tynan and allow him to regain his feet.

He moved forward, slipping under Tynan’s swinging axe and jabbing his scimitar into Tynan’s chest. It was a heavy hit, enough to tear into Tynan’s armour and cut his flesh. Tynan grabbed hold of the scimitar with one hand and swung his axe with the other, slicing through Femre’s skull.

He pulled the scimitar free, and tore Femre’s clothes to use as a makeshift bandage for his chest wound.

The mercenaries who had been watching quickly moved back into battle positions.

Tynan’s victory provided the mercenaries on his side with a good morale boost while also depriving the undead of their leadership. The battle was starting to shift.

*****

Illyana Fensen

I opened with a simple shielding spell. Entrik immediately followed suit. I hadn’t heard him chanting or sensed any energy building up from him, but I sensed the shield.

I tried a fireball spell next only to have a fireball returned. Once again, I sensed no spell build up from him, nor did I hear any chanting.

The fireballs collided, spewing a spray of embers around.

“Lynai, I need you to tell me exactly what you see him doing very precisely,” I said.

“I can do that,” Lynai stated.

I prepared another spell.

*****

Michael Ryufan

The hidden passage was not difficult to find. The carpeting in Sadow’s foyer was uneven in a specific square spot and the furniture sitting atop it showed signs of frequent moving.

A quick inspection revealed a trapdoor and I was able to find the mechanism to open it behind a bookcase.

I hurriedly took the ladder down.

It was soon evident that the underground rooms were not used for ethical purposes. There were actual cells as well as some torture equipment.

I found Sadow himself in a circular chamber with some dried blood soaked into the stone.

“I thought you might find a way past Entrik, Little Girl,” he stated. “I assume your soon to die friends are with him.” He levelled his staff towards me. “Leave and I’ll allow you and them to live.”

“I will not leave,” I stated. I drew my blades. “I intend to avenge my people today.”

“Then let your accursed race finally be gone!” He declared. A lightning bolt slammed towards me. I took to the air.

It was the moment I had spent my life training for. I would not fail. I could not fail.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 206: The Looting Begins

Filorya studied Paul. He’d returned to check on her condition to see if the exposure damage was healing properly. “You do not fear me?”

“Why would I?” Paul asked.

“You lost your eye to one of my kind, I hear,” Filorya stated.

“I did at that,” Paul said. “It was a difficult experience. But I’m not afraid, no.”

She scrutinised him. “In my experience, humans who can’t fight fall apart in combat situations. What drove you to stand up to a truly dishonourable warrior like Gn’iol?”

Paul thought for a moment. “I suppose I just did what I had to. Now, just rest properly and you’ll recover in no time. Okay?”

Filorya waited until he left. “He’s strange. I don’t know what to make of him.”

“I am surprised that you are attempting to figure him out at all,” Yuri stated.

“Someone who can stand proudly when outmatched is someone worth figuring out,” Filorya stated. “You also, Android. One who can have no place in the universe aside from the one they’ve carved out for themselves is compelling indeed. Yet here you are, created as one of a kind and you’ve found a clan.”

“I am not the only one,” Yuri stated. “The Cerberus crew is composed of individuals who lost their places in society. This ship has been transformed into a new place and given purpose to everyone aboard.”

“Really?” Filorya asked. “A place for those who had none, is it?”

*****

Leon and Kat left the shuttle first. Ophelia trailed behind them with Farah bringing up the rear.

They watched the androids carefully, prepared to retreat at full speed the moment they showed any signs of hostility.

The androids didn’t seem interested in them. They were allowed to pass without incident.

“Okay, Kat, try prying up on of these embedded gems,” Ophelia said. “We’ll see if they react. Farah, Leon, cover her.”

“Of course,” Farah said.

Kat knelt beside the jewel encrusted wall. She picked a light blue stone and carefully pried it loose. Several androids glanced their way, but none made any moves to stop her.

“Okay, guess we’re getting some gems first,” Ophelia said. “Leon and Farah, keep watching. Kat and I will pry up as many as we can. If the androids make any hostile moves, we’ll get the hell out of here.”

*****

“Sounds like they’re doing pretty well,” Lucy noted. “Grace, how are things going out there?”

“Let me put it this way,” Grace said. “If I keep going for a week, I might get enough good ore to reinforce the hull on one of the fighters.”

“That’s fine, just so long as you look busy,” Lucy stated.

“Yuri, how are things in there?” Lucy queried. “Any problems with our guest?”

“She has shown no signs of hostility,” Yuri reported. “She did extensively question the extent of my physical and mental capabilities. She has also asked multiple questions on the ship. Mostly regarding the crew.”

“Well, don’t give her too much,” Lucy said. “But I think it’s fine to talk to her if you don’t mention any secret weaknesses.”

“I would not be so careless as to reveal anything sensitive,” Yuri stated.

“I know,” Lucy said. She muted her own microphone again. Truthfully, she was surprised by the pacifican. She had expected some escape attempt at this point. Was the lack of one a result of her injury or had she noticed that fighting Yuri without a weapon or help was beyond her abilities?

If that was the case, it showed more restraint than most pacificans she’d met.

The Cerberus’ long range scanners detected multiple vessels. She went to check the readings.

“Grace, return immediately,” she ordered. “Ophelia, we have three Alliance warships heading our way,” Lucy said. “They don’t seem to have identified us yet, and I’m going to get out before they do. We’ll circle around and come get you four when they’re gone.”

“Got it,” Ophelia said. “We’ll keep radio silent just in case.”

*****

“Okay, we’ll take what we’ve gotten so far back to the shuttle,” Ophelia said. “Then we’ll hold tight until the Cerberus returns. I don’t want to risk doing something to anger the androids while they aren’t around.”

“I mean, they don’t seem interested in us,” Leon pointed out. “We could probably load up the shuttle.”

“We don’t know what their programming is,” Kat stated. “They could have a limit to how much they’ll let us take. Ophelia is right. We shouldn’t risk it.”

“Fine,” Leon muttered. “Let’s just hope they get back soon.”

“More importantly, let’s hope that the Cerberus isn’t identified,” Farah said. “They’ll be in trouble if it is.”

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The Last Draconian 101: Freeing the Sage

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Tynan swung his axe, tearing two ghouls into pieces. There were more mercenaries on Sadow’s side, but the vampires on their side had a natural advantage in the darkness. If his companions could beat the hydra, he was confident they could win.

At least until the Magi got involved. If the two of them broke past Lynai, Illyana & Michael, it was all over.

He swung his axe over his head and shouted “Isn’t there anyone in there who’s a real challenge?”

He watched his undead opponents. They weren’t expressive but he knew what they were thinking. The same thing any mercenary would think after a challenge like that. “Can I beat this loud braggart?”

They were hesitating. That was going to hurt their group’s morale. Just like he wanted.

“I can, ye daft sod!”

Tynan watched as a relatively well dressed skeleton with a scimitar and shield came forward.

“Captain Femre.”

The enemy voices cited his name like a mantra.

He raised an arm to silence them. “After all, a bull with half a horn is a right castrated bull.”

“Then come at me, little man,” Tynan challenged. “I’ll pound your bones to dust.”

*****

Callie and Gabriel moved to the crystal hydra’s side. They made just enough noise to be noticeable.

Aiko waited for them to draw the attention of the beast’s heads. Truthfully, she wasn’t confident. Beating a dragon was one thing. A Hydra was quite another. Even if they managed to mostly draw its attention, chances were at least one head would be on the lookout for anyone sneaking up.

Plus she’d have to get close thrice and take each head one by one. And she’d only have one attempt before it started really watching out.

Why had she promised to handle this?

Its heads turned towards Gabriel and Callie. Aiko hurriedly melded into the shadows. Travelling through shadows was like running through water.

She came out right beside the hydra, quickly twisted to avoid its quick spurt of acid. She went right for its neck, cutting cleanly through before returning to the shadows and retreating.

That was the first step. She was surprised she’d managed to pull it off so handily. She moved back to Gabriel and Callie. They were staring at the hydra, looking intense.

Aiko looked over. The stump from its first head was pulsating. Then a new head sprouted. The hydra quickly consumed the fallen head and turned its attention to them.

They quickly moved away.

“What do we do now?” Aiko wondered.

“We certainly can’t beat it by taking one head at a time,” Callie said.

“Plus that acid spray very nearly hit you,” Gabriel said. “It’ll learn how you move and be able to hit soon enough. If it can’t already.”

“We may have to take its heads all at the same time,” Callie said. “One for each of us.”

“It may well survive if we don’t all hit at close to the same time,” Gabriel said. “We sure we can not only manage it but survive long enough to coordinate the strike?”

“Not much choice,” Callie said. “I’ll take the middle.”

“Then I’ll get the right,” Gabriel said. “That leaves Aiko with the left.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

Leaving Illyana and Lynai behind was difficult. I had no desire to have them injured. However, I was cognisant of the fact that it was the right strategic move and the one we had all agreed on.

I checked the nearest room upon descending floors. It appeared to be a laboratory with various chemicals, animal skins and dried plants at the ready.

The surprising aspect was the floating head in a jar. It was a human female with blonde hair that was just beginning to grey. She had likely been in her late forties when she had perished, given the very early wrinkling. It was remarkably well preserved.

I was about to exit when the head opened its eyes.

“So, you’ve come at last.”

The voice reverberated around.

“Why are you being magically preserved?” I queried.

“I am Laina Rexx,” she answered. “I was an oracle. Sadow came to me many years ago. He wanted the answer to a single question, how he would die.”

“That does not answer my question,” I pointed out.

“Please, listen. This is important,” Laina insisted. “I don’t have the power to stay awake on my own for long. I told him a young draconian would end him. He seemed to like that answer. So, he sealed it with my blood and kept me preserved as an advisor.”

“Then he attacked my people to insure that he would not perish,” I stated. It was the obvious conclusion.

“And in doing so he has brought the prediction to fruition,” Laina said. “Draconian, oh Blessed Draconian. Sadow awaits in the lower levels. The main chamber on the ground floor has a hidden passage. You must go and fulfil your destiny.”

“That has been my intent,” I stated. I began moving towards the door.

“Wait!” there was desperation in her voice as she called out. I turned back to her. “Please, Blessed Draconian,  before you go, set me free. I have longed for many years to be sent to Thanatos’ embrace. I am so weary of this existence, this torment.”

“I will make it quick,” I stated. I drew the Phoebian Blade.

It was the first time I had used its empowered void bolt. The effect was impressive. Laina’s head was incinerated in an instant along with much of the laboratory. I decided it would be prudent to make my exit before anyone came to investigate the hole in the wall that was now exposing the room to the outside.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 205: The Mausoleum

“So, you’re watching me, Android?” Filorya asked.

“Affirmative,” Yuri responded. “There is a considerable risk that you will attempt to escape in spite of our Doctor’s advice. I am here to prevent you from harming yourself or anyone on this crew.”

“Then, you must be built stronger than a pacifican,” Filorya observed.

“I am considerably so,” Yuri stated. “In terms of raw power, durability and reflexes.”

“That so?” Filorya wondered. “Then how did you become property to mere humans? Did they build some kind of obedience program into you?”

“I am not their property,” Yuri corrected. “I am here of my own will as an equal part of the crew. Captain Wester even insisted on compensating me on equal terms even though I do not have much use for credits.”

“So, why serve humans?” Filorya wondered. “If not for credits then what drives you? A desire for adventure? Curiosity? What do you gain here that you couldn’t be offered elsewhere?”

“True companionship,” Yuri answered. “I have observed that most beings view me simply as an asset. They see my abilities as a tool for them to harness to their benefit. The Cerberus crew offered me a place to belong and treated me as a valued comrade.” She hesitated for a moment. “No, it is beyond that. They have treated me as family. It is a connection I value highly.”

They heard a knock and Paul entered.

“We don’t have the ingredients for a proper pacifican meal, but I approximated as best as I could using what we did have.” He set a steaming plate of food in front of Filorya. “There you are. Eat up, keep resting and you’ll be just fine. If you need anything, Yuri will contact me for you.”

Filorya looked over the dish suspiciously. It looked like a braised imitation Razorback Hiluk. She took a hesitant bite. “It’s delicious,” she said. “What meat is this?”

“It is a human meat called lamb,” Yuri answered. “It appears to be slightly under-cooked. But that is in keeping with traditional preparation for braised Hiluk.”

“For such a weak human, he has some skills as a cook,” Filorya said. She was shovelling down her food. Suddenly aware that she hadn’t eaten in quite some time.

“I would not consider him weak,” Yuri stated. “True, he is not a skilled fighter. However, he does possess strong convictions and will act upon them even in situations where it is difficult to do so. As an example, he stood up to a pacifican terrorist named Gn’iol just recently. It cost him his left eye.”

“I heard rumours about that,” Filorya said. “So, that’s the type of human who proudly stands in the path of a warrior. Perhaps I have under-estimated him.”

*****

“We’re departing,” Ophelia reported.

“Stay in contact,” Lucy responded.

“Yes Dear,” Ophelia said.

She carefully navigated the shuttle through the densely packed asteroid field. The little android head guided her way.

It led them through a large cluster that she could barely navigate. The Cerberus would have had to turn back or risk being torn into pieces.

“Strange,” Ophelia muttered. “It seems to want us to go directly towards that massive asteroid.”

“Could the Mausoleum have been torn apart long ago?” Farah wondered.

“I don’t think so,” Kat said. “Grace indicated that our little robot head here was locked onto something for its coordinates.”

“Maybe it’s in the asteroid,” Ophelia suggested. “There could be an opening.”

“It would be a very good hiding spot,” Kat said. “Crafts barely come in the Davonros cluster at all. They certainly aren’t going to get up close and personal with an asteroid larger than your average ship.”

“There,” Farah pointed. “Is that it?”

“Looks awfully small,” Leon observed.

“”It’s barely big enough for us to fit,” Ophelia said. “But I can’t spot anything else. Hold on, I’m going in slowly and we might scrape against it a bit.”

The shuttle squeezed in and continued on its way. A lesser pilot might have gotten stuck or caused serious damage to their ship attempting the cavern. But Ophelia was an expert. She managed the trip with a few minor scratches.

Inside the asteroid, they found a circular cavern. Sitting on a stone platform inside, were several large structures plated in gold and adorned with jewels.

“There we are,” Ophelia said.

“Quite ostentatious, isn’t it?” Kat asked.

“I should have brought sunglasses,” Leon joked.

“The androids are everywhere,” Farah said. “They’re even crawling on the walls.”

“They seem to be maintaining the asteroid around them,” Kat observed. “That’s why it hasn’t broken down yet.”

“Think they’ll attack when we touch down?” Farah asked.

“If they do, we scrap them,” Leon said.

“If they do, we figure something out,” Ophelia said. “We can’t take that many with just the four of us. We’ll try to do this diplomatically. I’m taking us in.”

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The Last Draconian 100: Intimidating Opponents

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

“These blood suckers are a pain.”

“Captain Femre, what should we do?”

“Stop yer whinin!” Femre exclaimed. “These vamps always think themselves better’n they are. Release the dragon!”

The crystal hydra was quickly brought forward. Its three heads glanced around in different directions. When it unleashed its breath, it wasn’t fire but an acidic spray that shout out.

“That is not what I expected when they mentioned a dragon,” Callie muttered. She looked at Aiko. “Can you still beat it?”

“Maybe, if you can draw its attention,”Aiko said. She didn’t sound certain.

“We’ll need to throw their ranks into chaos first,” Tynan pointed out. “Otherwise, they’ll strike the moment you approach and you won’t get near.”

Callie nodded. “Okay, Tynan, take the mercenaries and challenge their captain and his main force. I’ll take Gabriel and Aiko with me. We’ll distract the hydra while she sneaks up on it and silences it for good.”

“Got it,” Tynan agreed.

“Don’t you dare die on me,” Gabriel said.

“Where one of us goes, ever does the other,” Tynan says. “I won’t die before you nor will I after.”

Gabriel nodded. The four quickly separated for their plan.

*****

“An invasion, it appears to be,” Entrik stated.

“That it does,” Sadow agreed. “But those striking the front, I fear, are not the danger.”

“Suspicions of yours are accurate, I know.” Entrik said. “Entered already three have.”

“I expected better of Femre and his people,” Sadow muttered. “And such bad timing.”

“Your meaning, what is?” Entrik inquired.

“Tonight I must repeat the lich ritual in order to rejuvenate myself,” Sadow answered.

“Mention this before you did not,” Entrik noted.

“I saw no reason to bother you with it,” Sadow stated. “I was going to wait until you were asleep.”

“Deal with the intruders I will,” Entrik stated. He floated off on his platform.

Sadow would have smiled if he’d had lips. Whether Entrik had really believed him or not didn’t matter. So long as the dwarf played his part, everything would be just fine.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The decor in Sadow’s dead home was surprisingly inviting. The room we ended up in was very long and rectangular. It had some small paintings, simple rugs and drapes, some very plain but nice looking candle holders to provide light and some very basic but well cushioned seats. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought I’d gone into a sitting room used by clerics. 

The corridor was the same style. Very simple and under-stated, but nice and inviting.

We carefully checked a bunch of samey rooms trying to find either a sign of Sadow or the stairs down.

We moved to the next door when Illyana held out her hand. “Wait a moment,” she said. “I’m sensing some magic. Michael, I suggest you step back. If the stairs are here and we can’t talk the Magi down, I’ll give you an opening to get away.”

“I will entrust myself to you,” Michael stated.

“Do you know what kind of spell it is?” I asked.

“I think so,” Illyana answered. “If I’m right, I know which Magi he’s got helping him.”

She carefully opened the door and I followed her inside. A bald dwarf with crimson robes and a long brown beard was sitting atop a floating earthen disc.

“Entrik,” Illyana greeted.

“Miss Fensen,” the dwarf stated. “You I was not expecting.”

“Illyana, he’s in front of the stairs,” I whispered.

“I ask you to stand aside,” Illyana said. “We’re here to bring Sadow to justice for some very severe crimes. Did you know he’s a mass murderer?”

“Suspected I have,” Entrik stated. “Still, stand aside I will not. Absolute is a Magi’s authority. Even for one with drenched in blood hands.”

“So you’ll defend him no matter what?” Illyana asked.

“Chosen by Hecate, he was,” Entrik said. “Authority beyond mortals, he has. Die I will, before I see that undermined.”

“Then we’ll have no choice but to go through you,” Illyana said. “But first, let me give you a small warning.”

She turned about and tossed a blue-hued fireball into the hallway, burning a large hole in the floor. Easily large enough for Michael to go through.

I caught what she was doing and closed the door behind us.

“Powerful, you may be,” Entrik said. “But stronger I am. More experienced I am also. Win, you will not.”

He spread his arms and fireballs appeared in both his hands. I drew my bow. I knew this would be a very nasty fight.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 204: Filorya’s Perception

Filorya was a warrior. Always had been. When she was old enough, she’d joined a crew of warriors.

She’d never expected them to be surrendering their hard gained map or to be the one sent to follow the crew they surrendered it to. Truthfully, she’d disliked the assignment. But she’d carried it out or had tried to, any way.

She was sore when she awoke and unhappy. Her hand felt strange too.

“Stay still,” the human tending her wounds was bald with a crimson goatee. He looked fairly well muscled, for a human, but he had a weak energy to him. Filorya knew his type. A soft human who would rather talk and lecture than fight. He’d probably never once raised his fist in anger.

The one behind him was the concern. Dark in hair, flesh and eyes. Muscular and with the eyes of a true warrior. He had a laser pistol in hand and would, most certainly, use it the instant she made a move.

The woman was difficult to figure out. She didn’t look quite human. Filorya didn’t get any sense from her.

“The one who raided my ship,” she muttered.

“Worry about that later,” the one tending her said. “You’re suffering from moderate exposure. I’ve gotten your symptoms treated but you need rest.”

Filorya sat back. “How did you come in through space without a suit?”

“I am an android,” She answered. “I am capable of operating in the vacuum of space for several hours without damage to my systems.”

“And how did you all know I was there?” Filorya asked. “Vis’hsal said your sensor array was an old model and if I kept you at the furthest reaches of my scout ship’s sensors, you wouldn’t spot me.”

“Although our model is a little older, Grace has upgraded it to the point where it can match any newer model,” The android spoke very factually.

“You fooled us,” Filorya muttered. “So, why am I here? Am I to be held for ransom? Perhaps taken as a trophy?”

She felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder. It was the weak one. “You won’t be harmed,” he assured her.  We only brought you here so you couldn’t contact your main crew. After we’ve finished our mission, you’ll be released at the nearest space station.”

“Just don’t cause any problems,” the warrior chimed in. “Or it won’t actually be unharmed.”

“Leon, there’s no need for that,” the weak one said. He turned back to her. “I’ll get you some food. You sit back and rest.”

*****

“She had a hidden tracking beacon under the skin on her right hand,” Paul said. “It wasn’t activated. My guess is she has to do something specific to get it started.”

“You removed it, I trust,” Ophelia said.

Paul nodded. “I also treated the area around the chip. Whoever planted it wasn’t careful. It probably caused her a great deal of discomfort.”

“Whoever planted it probably didn’t care,” Lucy pointed out. “Pacifican warriors are expected to deal with discomfort.”

“Well, we’ll leave Yuri to stand watch over her,” Ophelia said. “When we arrive at this Mausoleum, I’ll take Kat, Leon and Farah to check it out. Lucy, you keep watch around us. If you have to escape with the Cerberus, do it and come back for us.”

“I doubt we’ll have any trouble since this thing hasn’t been found yet,” Lucy stated. “But I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Ophelia, it looks like this android wants us to go into the Davonros asteroid cluster,” Kat reported.

Ophelia whistled. “No wonder it hasn’t been found.”

“Are we actually going to try it?” Farah wondered.

“I think the Cerberus is technically small enough to make t through,” Kat said. “But if this Mausoleum is somewhere inside, it won’t be that simple.”

“I may be able to pilot the shuttle in,” Ophelia said. “It’ll be cramped with four of us, but we’ll have a lot more room to manoeuvre.”

“If we find anything useful, we’ll have to have one person bring it back to the Cerberus and leave the others behind,” Kat pointed out.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Farah stated. “We’ll just make a lot of trips.”

“But it will make for a greater risk of us getting found by another ship,” Lucy pointed out. “That’s my concern.”

“Both groups will have to be in constant contact,” Ophelia said. “That’ll give us a warning if you have to temporarily retreat.”

“It would help if we had some kind of excuse for being here too,” Farah pointed out.

“Mining,” Lucy said. “I’ll have Grace use one of the fighters to gather materials from an asteroid at the edge of the field. It won’t get us a lot, but it should provide a viable excuse.”

Ophelia nodded. Then let’s suit up and get going.”

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The Last Draconian 99: The Assault Begins

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Callie looked over the mercenaries. They weren’t the most sane bunch she’d ever seen. Then again, they were in the business for excitement and adventure. So, it was no surprise that they were a strange group.

She had been true to her word. There were twenty three vampire mercenaries in the group.

They sharpened their weapons and seemed to be in high spirits, in spite of what they were about to go into.

“I’m going to achieve so many great feats.”

“Most exciting job I’ve taken.”

“When this is over, let’s get some fresh blood.”

“We can’t drink from the undead, after all.”

“All right, Everyone,” Callie called out. “Were going to be heading for Sadow’s Keep. There are a lot of strong enemies, and many more of them than there are of us. Each and every one of you will have many opportunities to show your valour.”

The group cheered.

Callie looked over at Tynan, Gabriel and Aiko. She nodded. It was all going to begin soon.

*****

Michael Ryufan

I sat with Illyana and Lynai. The three of us waited. We took up our position surreptitiously while Callie gathered her mercenaries.

It was, after all, more convenient if we did not have to explain ourselves to the mercenaries.

“Callie should be in position about now,” Lynai said.

“I hope they’ll all be okay,” Illyana stated.

“As do I,” I said. “At this juncture, we can only trust them to fight strategically. They will have quite a few mercenaries to cover them.”

“I’m still worried,” Lynai confided. “I’ve gotten to know all of them pretty well. I trust their abilities, but I also know how dangerous this whole plan is.”

“How long until we begin?” Illyana asked.

“They will be in position within the hour, assuming everything goes according to plan,” I stated. “They will signal us at that point and commence their attack.”

I rose from the ground. “I will return in a moment. I have something I must do.”

I moved a short distance and constructed a small shrine. I proceeded to make an offering. “Nemesis, grant me strength as I complete this task in your name,” I prayed. I waited a moment as my offering was consumed. I then made a second offering. “Athena, grant me the wisdom to find the surest path to victory.”

With my prayers concluded, I returned to my companions.

*****

Callie turned to Gabriel. “Send the signal, We’re going in.”

A single fiery arrow shot into the sky. Aiko was the first to move, travelling through the shadows and up to the parapets, knocking a ghoul off before returning.

Gabriel fired a second arrow into the tower. The undead were already on high alert. Callie let her mercenaries loose. They moved forward, loosing projectiles against Sadow’s forces.

“Keep your wits about you!” Femre ordered. “Keep in a loose formation in case any of them know wide radius spells. Alpha company, you go down first. I’ll follow with Beta. Be prepared to loose our secret weapon.”

*****

Lynai Elfblood

We could see the mercenaries reacting pretty quickly. I just had to rely on Callie and the others to keep their distance. Still, it seemed unlikely that all seven of us would escape alive.

As selfish as it was, I was hoping that both Callie and I would for certain. It wasn’t fair to the others, that I was thinking of them less. It also wasn’t fair to the mercenaries that I wasn’t sparing much of a thought for but when all this was said and done, I really wanted my happy ending.

Michael lifted me under one arm and Illyana under the other. He couldn’t lift us both for long. We all knew that, but he didn’t have to. A strong wind carried us upwards. I dropped out of his arms and caught a window ledge.

I moved up and pushed it open, going inside the keep. Michael hurried inside with Illyana still in his arms. We were past the easiest hurdle.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 203: Countering the Pacificans

“We have a vessel following at the very edge of our sensor range,” Lucy reported. “Anyone care to bet on who it is?”

“It’s obviously the pacificans,” Leon said.

“If it is, they aren’t using the vessel they were,” Lucy stated. “It’s a very light craft. One, maybe two people on board.”

“That’s unusual,” Ophelia said. “Normally pacificans don’t do subtlety.”

“Well, these ones are,” Lucy said. “The plan is likely for this one to follow us while the main ship follows them. Alternatively, they’re going to follow us and send a signal the moment we stop.”

“That would be risky,” Ophelia said. “We could jam their signal. So, I think their comrades following them at a distance is more likely.”

“As do I,” Lucy said.

“So, we fire a quick burst of weapons, destroy the small ship and get out,” Leon said. “Easy.”

“We aren’t within weapons’ range,” Kat reminded him. “By the time we deal with it the main ship will be a lot closer and ready to fight.”

“Besides, it would be unethical to fire on a ship that poses no real threat to us,” Farah added. “What, why are all of you looking at me like that?”

“I guess that makes laying out mines a no go,” Ophelia said.

“We wouldn’t want to be unethical mercenaries,”Lucy added.

“You don’t have to tease me,” Farah muttered.

“Sorry, it’s just so much fun,” Ophelia said. “Especially when you get started with your idealistic talk.” She glanced at her controls. “I do have an idea for how to deal with that ship though. I’m going to need Yuri to pilot one of the fighters. And I’m going to need Grace to fit a small cloaking device onto it. It won’t need to last long.”

“I’ll see to it,” Lucy said. “It’ll probably take a couple hours.”

“Then I’ll make sure to meander a bit,” Ophelia said.

*****

It took Grace some time, but she managed. “Once we activate it, you’ll have about thirty minutes to an hour before the ship’s detectable by normal sensors,” she said.

“I will have my mission complete by then,” Yuri stated.

“Still, I’m surprised you’re using the Nebula,” Grace said. “I mean, doesn’t it bring back bad memories?”

“Yes,” Yuri stated. “However, it also brings back good memories. Allison and I spent a great deal of time together around and within the Nebula.” She gently stroked the side of the ship. “She was very fond of this ship. It would be unfortunate for it to never be used again.”

Grace nodded and activated her communicator. “Ophelia, we’re ready to begin.”

“Yuri go out in two minutes,” Ophelia ordered. “Finish as quickly as you can.”

“Acknowledged,” Yuri stated.

She piloted the Nebula back towards the unsuspecting pacifican craft. She manoeuvred around it, not wanting the pilot to see her through the view screen.

She had forty minutes at most, ten at the least. She attached the Nebula onto the pacifican ship and tore open the latch.

As she entered, a pacifican female in a space suit was readying her weapon. Yuri moved her hand with mechanical speed and precision, disarming the woman.

She proceeded to knock her unconscious. She put the pacifican craft on an auto-pilot course that would quickly lead it away from the Cerberus. She dragged the pilot onto the Nebula and quickly made her way back to the Cerberus.

The Nebula was not detecting any other vessels when the cloaking device failed. Hopefully, that meant the main pacifican craft was too far away to detect anything amiss.

“Lock her in the conference room,” Lucy ordered.

“I still say we could just kill her and be done with it,” Leon said. “It would be much easier.”

“Maybe, but most of the crew would rather avoid bloodshed if possible,” Lucy said. “Your loving boyfriend being a prominent example.”

“Point taken,” Leon said.

“She does not appear to be carrying any equipment that she could use to contact her ship,” Yuri reported. “I would request that Paul check her over to make sure she is not concealing anything internally.”

Lucy nodded. “He’ll want to make sure she’s okay after being knocked out any way. Leon, you stand guard while he looks her over.” She activated her communicator. “Love, let’s get moving on course before they figure out they’re following an unmanned ship.”

“When that happens they’ll have no idea where we are,” Ophelia assured her.

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