The Grand Pilgrimage 6: Inés’ Fear

Serena stared at Inés, who was currently riding ahead of her and Sylvie. She was starting to realise just how little she knew about Inés. She hadn’t noticed her gills. She hadn’t known just how absurdly strong she was.

Sylvie lightly tapped her shoulder. “Please refrain from staring longingly at her,” Sylvie whispered “It’s not a suitable way for other travellers to see us.”

“Sorry,” Serena replied. “It’s just… never mind.”

“Hey,” Inés called. “I see a good spot to stop to let the horses rest for a bit.”

“I suppose it can’t be helped,” Sylvie said. “We don’t want to run the poor dears ragged.”

The three stopped in the clearing that Inés had picked out and dismounted, tying their horses.

Inés turned to Serena. “Are you hungry?”

“A bit,” Serena said.

“Then let me catch you something,” Inés said. “After all, a girl needs to see to her partner’s needs, right?” She winked and hurried off.

“Get some for me too while you’re at it!” Sylvie called.

“I don’t really understand her,” Serena muttered.

“The Mermaid?” Sylvie asked. She sighed. “I’ve known that girl for four years and I don’t really get her either. She’s crude, single minded and yet… something about her draws people to her. You included.”

“Is that why you don’t like her, Miss Fortunio?” Serena asked.

“I don’t particularly dislike her,” Sylvie said. “We simply don’t get along.”

“How is that different from what I said?” Serena asked.

“Don’t worry about it, Dear,” Sylvie said. “It is a subtle distinction.”

“What are you two talking about?” Inés asked.

“It seems your young lady is interested in knowing more about you,” Sylvie said. “What did you get to eat?”

“Some berries and roots,” Inés answered. “I figured we probably wouldn’t want to hang out long enough to cook something.”

“Enough for all of us, I trust?” Sylvie stated.

“Certainly,” Inés answered. “We are all in this together, you know.”

They ate a quick meal and Inés took Serena’s hand. “Hold down the fort, I’m borrowing her for a bit.”

“It’s midday!” Sylvie exclaimed. “Is now really the time?”

“Totally not what we’re going to be doing,” Inés stated. “This time, anyway.”

She led Serena a short distance away.

“Inés?” Serena asked.

“I’m an orphan,” Inés stated. “Abandoned at Hera’s temple and raised by her priestesses. Seventeen years old. I started my training with a special recommendation to start earlier than usual because I knew, even as a child, that I wanted to be a warrior priestess. And because there were some special circumstances, Diana accepted my application.” She stopped talking and gazed at Serena. “Was there anything in particular you wanted to know?”

“Actually,” Serena said. “I was really curious about your strength. I’ve never seen a person take on a giant before so…”

Inés laughed. “Sorry, I can’t tell you where my strength comes from. I’d like to say that it’s intense training and I worked for it, but that’s not true. When I was eight, I got into a fight with another kid being raised at the temple. I forget what it was over, I think that she said Athena’s priestesses weren’t that cool or something and I got annoyed. Anyway, I pushed her away. It wasn’t even that hard, but she went flying & she really got hurt.”

Inés knelt down and stared at her hands. It was then that I realised that I wasn’t like everyone else. My gills already set me apart and now…now I had something else. Something more dangerous. I spent so long learning to hold back so I wouldn’t hurt anyone. I shouldn’t complain, because it’s really awesome to be strong, but it’s also frightening. Whenever I’m with Julia or Flora or Rebecca or any of the other girls or even you, I can’t lose myself completely in the moment. No matter how much I may want to, because I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll hurt you.”

Serena knelt down and put her arms around Inés. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Didn’t realise… I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Inés said. “You just want to know about me, right? Thank you.”

She got back up. “Come on, let’s get back. Sylvie is going to cause a scene if we stay here too long. If there’s ever anything specific you wanna know about me, just ask. I’ll answer if I can.”

“Thank you,” Serena said. “Although I am surprised. I thought you were older than that, but you really aren’t that much older than me.”

Inés laughed. “I know. Since I started my training so young, I was always the baby of the group. When I first started, my fellow trainees used to offer me candy and pet my head like I was the mascot or something.”

Serena laughed with her and the two headed back.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 61: Forcibly Split?

“Is this going to be okay?” Farah wondered.

“Nervous?” Allison asked, putting an arm around Farah. “Don’t be. You have the wonderful space adventuress, Allison Aiza, with you. I hear she’s never lost.”

“I hear she used to crash during training and then developed an ego,” Kat stated. She looked at Farah. “I understand. We’re not in the best of positions. We’re probably outnumbered. We have no doctor if we get hurt. We have no engineer if the ship gets damaged and our backups are already shot. If this were an Alliance ship, we’d turn tail and run, or surrender.”

“Then…” Farah began.

“But,” Kat continued. “We aren’t an Alliance ship. We don’t give up when things aren’t going well and we only run when we have to. We’ll stay, we’ll fight and we will win. That’s who we are. The group of mercenaries that can turn the tides and thrive when faced with a difficult situation.”

“That’s the stuff!” Allison declared. “Kat and I have been through worse with this crew, just follow our lead.”

“I’ve been through worse,” Kat said.  “You haven’t.”

“What about the Omitheta thing?” Allison asked.

“Not quite this bad,” Kat stated.

“You think?” Allison asked.

*****

“I’m going in,” Ophelia said. “Prepare to open fire.”

“Just stay calm,” Lucy advised. “remember, you don’t want to let them know that you know that something’s amiss.”

“Yes, Dear,” Ophelia said.

She maintained speed and went into range of the sensor echoes. Immediately, the enemy ships appeared. Lucy opened fire as soon as she saw them, decimating several small fighters.

“Sortie,” Ophelia ordered. “We have thirteen fighters and a larger mother ship. We’ll focus on the mother ship, take out those fighters!”

*****

“Five for me, four for each of you,” Allison said, her voice quivering very slightly. “That’s not so bad.”

“We’ll go in a close formation,” Kat stated. “Stay close to the ship and prevent any of them from breaking through. Don’t worry about any that pull back, at least not until we thin their numbers. Watch each other’s backs.”

The three fighters left the bay, Kat took the centre with Farah on her right and Allison on the left. They moved away from the ship, but kept between it and the enemy fighters.

“Let’s try to lure the mother ship in,” Ophelia said. “Give our girls more breathing room.”

Lucy didn’t respond, she stared at her display, her eyes wide open.

“Something wrong?” Ophelia asked.

“The movements are erratic,” Lucy answered. “This isn’t regular evasive manoeuvres, either. Those have some kind of pattern based on the pilot but this… it’s like they’re shifting pilots. I can’t get a good sense of how they’re going to move.”

“Maybe they are shifting,” Ophelia said. “They did research on our crew, correct? So, they might very well know about your skill at predicting enemy movements.”

“It seems likely,” Lucy agreed, still staring. “Give me a moment. I’ll figure out how many they’ve got.”

“For the moment, fire some shots to lure them in,” Ophelia said. “I’ll pull the Cerberus back a little.”

“No problem,” Lucy said. She fired, several hits grazing against the enemy ship. It flew towards them, opening fire while Ophelia took evasive action.

“Not one clean hit,” Lucy muttered. “I tried, but not a single clean hit!”

“Calm down!” Ophelia exclaimed. “I know you, you’ll get it. You just have to remain calm.”

“You’re right,” Lucy said. “Just be careful. We can’t even afford to get grazed too many times.”

“Don’t I know it,” Ophelia stated.

*****

The enemy fighters moved quickly, but the trio from the Cerberus were slightly quicker. they managed to evade the initial volley and bring down two of the enemy ships.

They stuck together, flying in sync. Unfortunately, they were still heavily out-numbered. One of the enemy ships fired off a small orb, which moved towards them.

“EMP missile,” Kat warned. “Farah, it’s locked on to you. Lose it!”

Farah broke away, forcing the orb to turn towards her and giving Kat a chance to shoot it down. Before she could return to the formation, three of the enemy ships broke off and moved against her, forcing her to move back, even further away from the others. The remaining eight ships went after Kat and Allison, preventing them moving to rejoin her.

“So much for sticking together,” Allison said. She hurriedly, instinctively evaded some torpedoes. In the process she separated from Kat and three of the enemy ships moved to prevent her rejoining, sending her in the opposite direction as Farah had gone.

“Damn,” Kat muttered. She turned her communication equipment back on. “Looks like They’re going to try and bring me down first. You two focus on dealing with the enemies in front of you. I’ll try to avoid these guys as long as I can.”

“Roger,” Allison stated.

“Don’t worry about me,” Farah said. “I’ll lose these three and get to you. Just hold on!”

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The Grand Pilgrimage episode 5: Ghiana’s Secret

“Is it a good idea to just walk into town like this?” Serena asked. She glanced at Inés, who was still leaning on her.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Sylvie stated. “Now that I’m free, I can handle these brigands perfectly fine.”

“I’ll leave it to you,” Inés muttered.

The three strode into the village. Serena noted that several of the houses had shuttered windows. She thought that she saw some eyes watching them, but they quickly vanished from sight, leaving her questioning whether it was just a trick of the light.

Sylvie led them back to the Inn. The door was shut and bolted. The windows, shuttered.

Sylvie walked up and knocked on the door. “Open up and explain yourself!” she ordered. “You’ll find it most unpleasant should I have to open this door myself.”

She waited for several minutes, tapping her left foot.

“Fine, if that’s the way we’re playing it.” Sylvie raised her fist and began chanting, quickly. Sparks began falling from her hand as a ball of lightning began coalescing around her fist.

“Enough!” Miriam cried, opening the door. “Here I am. Do whatever you need to do and leave this town.”

“You don’t get to play the victim here,” Sylvie said. “We’re the ones who got chained up and thrown to a giant.”

“We had no choice,” Miriam stated, leaning against the doorway. “He came here and demanded that we feed him human flesh. We couldn’t fight him, our town isn’t that large. We had to give him what he wanted.”

“So you drugged strangers and used them for sacrifices!” Sylvie declared. “How many died because of your unwillingness to fight back?”

“We aren’t a big city,” Miriam said. “We can’t rouse an army to fight for us on short notice. We don’t even have a proper smithy to provide us with weapons. We had no choice but to give in. No choice at all. Giving him strangers spared us from sacrificing our own.”

“You keep saying ‘no choice,'” Sylvie said. “That’s nonsense. There’s always a choice. You could have taken what you had available and overwhelmed him with sheer numbers, but you hid in your homes and let yourselves be used as accessories to murder.”

“You can say that because you’re a warrior,” Miriam said. “We’re ordinary, peaceful folk.”

“Peaceful?” Sylvie asked, incredulously. “After what you’ve done, you dare call yourselves peaceful?”

“Sylvie, isn’t that enough?” Serena asked. “Let’s get our gear and be quit of this place. There’s no point to continuing this argument.”

“Actually,” Inés said. “I have a question for the proprietress here. What would you have done when the visitors stopped coming? We were warned against coming here. I suspect that you’ve been seeing less and less visitors these days. What would you have done when all you had left were your own people? Would you have finally fought or would you have handed over your own until you didn’t have a town left?” Inés pulled away from Serena and walked over to Miriam. “That’s the problem with your ‘solution.’ Once you give in to a bully and let them take something precious from you, they’ll keep demanding more until they’ve taken everything. I suggest you and the other people in your ‘peaceful’ little town think about that.”

“That wasn’t a bad little speech,” Sylvie said.

“What now?” Serena asked. “Do we turn them in?”

“Not much we can do,” Sylvie said. “Sadly. We can’t punish an entire town, as much as they deserve it. We’ll send word of what happened here to the Head priestess, let her decide how best to handle it. The giant is gone so they shouldn’t cause any more problems in the meantime.”

“We could punish all of them,” Inés stated. “In fact, I just might do that if we don’t get our gear back and three strong horses.” She glanced over at Miriam. “Of course, they could combine their strength and try to deal with us. We did deal with the giant that was giving them trouble, but we’re also their own size. Maybe they’d feel like they stand a better chance. What do you think, Miss Miriam?”

“We owe you three a great debt for what you’ve done,” Miriam said. “I’ll get your armour and weapons and find you horses, personally.” She sighed. “I’m relieved that he’s gone & I’m willing to take whatever punishment is appropriate for what I was made to do, but I ask that you tell your head priestess that it was the town elders, myself included, who insisted on giving in to his demands. Many of the youngsters wanted to try fighting, but we imposed our will on them. They shouldn’t share our punishment.”

“Is that really the case?” Sylvie wondered. “We’ll certainly include your statement in our report, but you can count on an investigation.”

“Thank you very much,” Miriam said. She walked off to retrieve the items.

“Do you think they’ll be okay?” Serena asked.

“Diana will go easy on them,” Inés predicted. “She’ll understand that they were scared and desperate.”

“We’ll certainly see regular patrols to this area,” Sylvie stated. “We are, after all, under the banner of the same kingdom.”

“I get it,” Serena said. “With regular patrols they’ll have protection they can see and rely on. To prevent anything like this from happening again.”

“Precisely,” Sylvie said. “I’ll write out the message tonight and we can have it sent back to the temple when we reach Mocoza.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 60: More Misfortune

“I managed to stop Leon’s bleeding,” Lucy reported. “I’ve got Yuri watching him right now to keep him from getting restless and doing something else stupid.”

Ophelia shook her head. “Only Leon would try taking on a pacifican with his bare hands.”

“You think?” Allison asked. “I’ve seen plenty of net videos of other people who have tried the same thing. Leon may be the one who did the best. There was this one chick who got her head knocked into a guardrail and she just dropped. It was actually pretty funny.”

“The only one on this ship,” Ophelia corrected.

“I do suggest getting there and back as quickly as possible,” Lucy said. “We’ll want Paul to give him a full examination.”

“And off goes all surveillance to medical,” Allison said. “For at least an hour.”

“No need to be crude, Allie,” Lucy stated, wagging her finger.

“We’re already going full speed,” Ophelia stated. “It may not be the wisest move since we’ve got no backup systems right now, but we also don’t have much choice. We’ve confirmed that they’re on to us and it’s only a matter of time before they send pursuit. It behoves us to be done with our errand by the time they reach us.”

“Yuri to Captain Wester, please respond.” 

Ophelia switched her communicator on. “What is it, Yuri?”

“Leon requires repairs.” Yuri reported. “I have been monitoring him and I believe his internal systems have been damaged.” 

“How certain are you?” Ophelia asked.

“He is displaying symptoms consistent with internal damages to the abdomen,” Yuri reported.

“Keep him comfortable and still,” Ophelia ordered. “We’ll be back to pick up Paul as soon as possible.” She rubbed her temples and glanced at Lucy. “We may have to scrub the mission.”

“Do you think so?” Lucy asked.

“I agree with the captain!” Farah declared. “Leon’s life is more important.”

“You only say that because you know him,” Lucy said. “Realistically, a lot of people are going to die if we don’t get Uhrandra to the outer edge. Would you sacrifice them for one person?”

“That’s…” Farah’s voice trailed off.

“I can’t abandon my crew,” Ophelia said. “Not if there’s any other option. My first duty is always to you guys. We may take risks and go into danger, but it’s always calculated. I simply can’t justify going on when I can save one of my crew by going back.”

“What if it wasn’t a choice of one or the other?” Lucy asked.

“You have a plan,” Ophelia observed.

“If someone were to take Leon back in the shuttle, we could continue on our way,” Lucy stated. “He won’t get back to Ca’urrg as quickly, but it should be fast enough to allow a reasonable margin of safety.”

“And if the shuttle encounters pursuers?” Ophelia asked.

“They won’t even slow down for it,” Lucy stated. “Our opponents are somewhat familiar with me, at least. They’ll suspect a trap of some kind. At the very least, they’ll know that we aren’t sending Uhrandra back the way we came. It would defeat the entire purpose of the mission.”

“That may just work,” Ophelia said. “So, who do we send back with him?”

“I suggest Yuri,” Lucy stated. “She’s got basic emergency training and no life signs. If they scan the shuttle, they’ll see one injured life sign and it will reinforce the idea that it’s a trap. Plus, if they do decide o try boarding it, Yuri stands the best chance of fighting them off.”

“Then let’s do it,” Ophelia ordered. “Have Yuri prep the shuttle with emergency medical equipment immediately and depart.”

*****

Yuri was able to depart quickly, taking all the emergency equipment she was apt to need.

“Good luck,” Allison said. “I’ll miss you.”

“I will only be gone for a short while,” Yuri stated. “However, it would be preferable from my perspective if you were taking this trip with me.”

Allison returned to the bridge and the Cerberus continued on its way.

“You know, Boss,” Allison said “I’m not normally one to question your decisions, but we’re down to about half strength at this point. It’s a bit concerning.”

“I don’t disagree,” Ophelia said. “Let’s just hope things go smoothly from here on out.”

“More bad news, I’m afraid,” Lucy stated. “There’s an ambush up ahead.”

“Where?” Ophelia asked.

“Right here,” Lucy stated, bringing up the sensor readings. You can barely see the displacement from their stealth tech. Either they’re feeding us false readings to try and ambush us in an unexpected way, or this is the ambush.”

Ophelia sighed, heavily. “Farah, Allison, grab Kat and get in the fighters. Be ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage episode 4: A Giant Problem

In the distance, a loud, crashing sound. Boom, boom, boom. It was at a consistent rate and coming closer.

That’s what eventually brought Serena to her senses. She was in her tunic, the armour she’d been wearing over it was gone. Her tonfa were gone. She had been tied to a large wooden pole with thin, but strong, steel chains. She could, barely move her arms. She was in a flat area surrounded on all sides by mountains with one, disturbingly large path leading in.

“Quit that racket,” Sylvie muttered. Serena looked to her left and noticed an identical pole.

“Sylvie, wake up!” Serena cried.

“What is… Goddess!” Sylvie struggled with her own chains for a moment. “No use,” she gasped.

“Do you know any magic?” Serena asked.

“I have lightning magic,” Sylvie stated. “If I tried to use it while wrapped in metal chains I’d electrocute myself.”

Boom! Boom, boom. 

“What about Inés?” Serena asked.

“The Mermaid’s got water magic, of course,” Sylvie answered. “But she’s only good with attack spells.” Sylvie sighed. “Still, it may be our best chance.”

Serena turned to her right. Inés was there. Head slumped with a light smile on her face. She was still fast asleep.

“Inés, wake up!” Serena entreated. “We need you, please.” Inés showed no sign of movement.

“Wake up!” Sylvie cried. “You lecherous, brutish Mermaid!”

“Please wake up!” Serena cried. “I… I’m scared. I need you.”

Inés’ eyes opened and she raised her head.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Inés looked over at Serena, giving her a reassuring smile, and down to her chains. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll get us out of this.” She strained, pitting her muscle against the chains.

“Just hit it with a water spell,” Sylvie said. “You can’t break those.”

“Look!” Serena cried.

It was a giant, carrying a great club and nearly a thousand centimetres tall. It lumbered towards them, its mossy beard swaying as it moved.

“We’re going to die,” Serena muttered.

“No… we… aren’t…” Inés gasped. Her face was turning red from straining against the chains. Serena heard a loud snap as the chains shattered, freeing her.

“Get us free!” Sylvie ordered. “Hurry!”

“No time,” Inés stated. She ran towards the giant.

“That idiot,” Sylvie whispered. “There’s no way.”

“She’ll do it,” Serena said. “I… I believe in her.”

Inés positioned herself between the giant and her companions. “Stop right there!” she cried. “Turn back and you won’t get hurt, this time.”

The giant looked down at her and laughed. “Is the Small thing going to stop me? You should run, Small thing. Before I eat you and my meal ahead.”

Inés reacted by punching the giant in the shin. The large creature dropped to its knee and gingerly rubbed the bruised spot.

“Strong for a Small thing,” he muttered. He reared up to his full height and slammed his club down at her. She leapt to the side, avoiding the club but getting splattered with dirt.

He lifted the club and struck again. This time, Inés jumped to grab onto it, twisting herself up so that she landed on top of it. She hurriedly dashed up the club, up the giant’s arm. She jumped over to his beard and used the strands of hair to swing herself up toward his forehead. At the apex of the hair’s ascent, she jumped off and executed a flying kick.

His massive form toppled backwards, landing heavily against the landscape. She fell after him, slamming both feet into his neck. He began flailing, trying to keep her away from him.

She moved back, realising that she was going to need a weapon of some kind.

She ran back to the stakes and scooped up the broken chain, quickly checking to make certain it was long enough.

When she returned, the giant was back on his feet. He tried to hit her with his club, but she grabbed onto it again and began her ascent up his arm. This time, he was ready. He grabbed her with his other arm and swatted her up and over his head, towards the mountain.

She twisted in mid-air, kicking her legs against the rock and hurtling down at him. She landed on the back of his head and hurriedly dashed to his neck, tossing the chain around. She pulled. He reached for the chain, trying to wrest it from her. He dropped his club, trying to use both hands against her, but she wouldn’t relent. After nearly ten minutes of struggling, his arms finally dropped. His head hung limply and his eyes rolled back. His body slumped to the ground with a great crash.

Inés kicked his head as hard as she could, as though to be certain he was dead. Then, she limped her way back to her companions.

“Amazing,” Sylvie whispered.

“Are you okay?” Serena asked.

“I might have overdone it just a little,” Inés said. “Hold on, I’ll free you in a minute.”

With her arms free, she was able to get Serena loose with relative ease.

“Let me lean on you for a moment,” Inés  said, hugging Serena from behind, her head resting on Serena’s shoulder.

“Hey, aren’t you forgetting someone?” Sylvie asked.

“You’ll be fine,” Inés  muttered. The chains aren’t all that tight and there’s no more giant.”

“Hurry up and free me!” Sylvie demanded.

“Totally not how you ask for a favour,” Inés teased.

“Can you please free her?” Serena asked. “I… I’d really like to get out of here.” She eyed the fallen giant.

“All right. I’ll do it for your sake,” Inés said. She moved over and freed Sylvie.

“There we are,” Sylvie stated. “Our next step is to go back to Ghiana, get our gear back, and punish those responsible for this.”

“Mmmhmm,”Inés muttered. She’d returned to leaning on Serena and had her eyes closed.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 59: Brutal Fisticuffs

Farah, Leon and Lucy concentrated their fire on the DR5 as they surged forward, hoping to cause some damage to its metal shell.

Friojya reacted first, tackling Leon and knocking his pistol away.

“I’ll draw the DR5 away,” Lucy said. “Deal with him.” She fired several more shots at the DR5, narrowly avoiding its return volley. Lucy broke away, running down the corridor with the robot on her tail.

“Freeze!” Farah ordered. “Throw down your weapon and surrender. I have you in my sight.”

“Drop the gun!” He commanded.

“That won’t work on me,” Farah warned. “I know all about the akumillian persuasive abilities. I’m warning you…”

“You won’t use that,” he stated. “You wouldn’t dare.” He hurriedly reached for his weapon. Farah didn’t hesitate to fire, hitting him directly in the forehead and splattering his grey matter across the wall.

“I warned you,” Farah muttered. She moved over to Leon, who was grappling with Friojya. “Leon, get back.”

“Go help Lucy,” Leon cried. “I’ve got this.”

“But…” Farah protested.

“Hey, I said I’ve got this,” Leon called. “I have seniority, go!”

Farah hesitated for a moment but, ultimately, ran down the corridor where Lucy had gone.

“You’re brave human,” Friojya said, pulling away from him. “But also foolish. You can’t beat me in a fist fight.”

“We’ll see,” Leon stated. “You can’t really underestimate us humans.”

She laughed at him. “Surely, you jest. Even the weakest of my kind is stronger than most of yours.”

“Try me!” Leon declared, bracing himself for her offensive.

*****

Lucy weaved her way through the corridors, making herself as unpredictable as possible. Still, she knew that if all she did was run and dodge, it would be able to predict her movements before too long.

The safe bet was to grab Yuri, her body was more advanced than a DR5. However, Lucy didn’t want to do that. She’d kept things together long before Yuri joined the crew and she didn’t want to grow overly reliant on the android.

She moved into Engineering. She had an idea to beat the robot. Grace was not going to be happy when she got back, but it would work. She quickly ducked behind the engine.

Sure enough, the DR5 followed her. Lucy quickly put on some rubber gloves and opened an access panel for the ships backup systems, letting the hatch make a slight sound. The DR5 moved in the direction of the sound, as predicted. Lucy ripped out some live wires and tossed them at the robot.

It wasn’t enough to destroy or even disable a DR5, but she’d known that. The important thing was that it was enough to fry its sensors and pop its main access hatch. While the DR5 was trying to effect internal repairs, she crept up and fired two shots. One to blow the hatch off completely, and the second to fry its systems, sending it offline.

*****

Leon waited for Friojya’s lunge and twisted, using her own momentum to slam her into the wall.

She got up quickly and, this time, exercised more caution in her attack. Leon ducked, kicking her feet and slamming his fist into her gut as hard as he could.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. She grabbed his arm and used it to slam him into the ground.

He managed to get back on his feet and move away from her.

She threw another couple of punches. He barely dodged them while being forced back until he was against the wall.

She wound back and threw a heavy punch, preparing to grab him if he dared move forward.

Leon ducked under the blow and jumped forward, head-butting her directly in the face. She grabbed hold of his arm, squeezing tightly and punched him in the chest before he could get away. He moved his face as though he was going to head-butt her again, but changed targets midway, biting into her fingers. She released him, pulling her hand back. Leon spit out a hefty chunk of finger.

“Animal!” she cried, slashing her sharp nails across his chest. they tore into his chest. He moved his hands around her head and slammed her face into his knee.

The two backed away from one another. She had the advantage, Leon knew. He was bleeding from his cuts, quite badly too and she was stronger than him. He was going to have to take a big risk.

He walked slowly towards her, feigning laboured breath. He waited for the slight smile of assured victory to creep onto her face and rushed forward, slamming his knee into her chin. When her head went up, he slammed his fist into her throat as hard as he could.

She coughed, but quickly recovered, lunging for him. A blaster bolt from behind cut her down.

“You should’ve let Farah do that in the beginning,” Lucy said.

Leon sat against the wall. “Guess I tried to do too much by myself again. Paul wouldn’t approve, but he’ll forgive me, right? When we…”

“What do we do?” Farah asked. “We need Paul. He’s…”

“Just unconscious, for now. I can stop the bleeding,” Lucy said. “Go to medical and get me an emergency kit. hurry.”

Farah bolted down the corridor.

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The Grand Pilgrimage episode 3: Ghiana

“I won’t tell you not to… do what you do,” Sylvie stated. “But you could at least show some courtesy towards other people and keep it down.”

“It’s not that easy,” Inés stated. “Maybe someday you’ll meet a girl and experience it first hand, but until that happens you’ll have to take my word for it. When you’re making love, you get really caught up in it and noises happen.”

“Maybe we could get a scroll for a silence spell in Ghiana,” Serena suggested.

“Might be difficult,” Inés said. “We aren’t exactly carrying much money. We may be able to get horses from some faithful folks, but explaining our ‘need’ for a silence scroll won’t be easy.”

“As much as I’m loathe to agree with Mermaid, she’s right on that count,” Sylvie said.

The three came across a carriage that had strayed from the road and gotten its wheels stuck in some muck. The horse handlers were whipping the animals, trying to get the to pull free.

“The poor things look exhausted,” Serena observed.

“Hold it right there!” Sylvie declared. she walked forward with her hands on her hips. “They’ll be able to pull better once they’ve grazed and had some water and a chance to rest. So, give them a break.”

“With all do respect, Priestess,” one of the handlers said. “This is none of your concern. We have to get loose and get to the next town.”

“It’s not that we’re cruel,” his companion added. “We just need to reach the city by nightfall and we can’t go back towards Ghiana.”

“Is there a reason you can’t camp out?” Serena asked.

“Because of me,” a young, aristocratic lady stepped forward. “I’m afraid that ill rumours would start if I spent the night under the stars with a couple of men.”

“If you could get free, you’d have some leeway to let the horses rest before actually moving on, right?” Inés asked.

“We can get there in about six hours if the horses are rested,” the handler confirmed. “But we need them to pull the carriage free.”

“Let them rest,” Inés said. “I’ll free your carriage personally.”

“You?” He asked.

“Are you a mage?” his assistant added.

“Not really,” Inés answered. “But I can get this free.”

“Don’t joke around like that,” the handler laughed. “If my team of horses can’t manage there’s no way you can.”

“Let her try,” the lady ordered. “I’m curious to see what she has in mind. Unhitch the horses and take them to graze.”

“You can’t be serious, Milady,” the handler said. “If we lose too much time on this…”

“I’ll take that risk,” she stated. “If nothing else, the rest may help them pull it free.”

Grumbling, the handler unhitched the horses and led them to graze while Inés went into a series of stretches.

“Will she be okay?” Serena asked.

“Just watch,” Sylvie stated.

Inés put her hands under the carriage and lifted, hefting it free of the mud and pushing it back to the road and carefully lowering it.

“How did you manage that?” the assistant asked.

Inés flexed.

“That was quite amazing,” the young lady said. “Truly, Athena herself has blessed you with incredible strength.” She curtsied. “I am the Lady Astrid of the Kane family. Are you good priestesses on a journey?”

“We are,” Inés answered. “We’re on a pilgrimage to Drahaven to offer prayers for the draconian souls.”

“Such a noble undertaking,” Astrid said. “If you pass through Wicadia, allow my house to give you refuge.” She produced a seal from her bags and pressed it into Inés’ hand. “Take this as my token. Should you arrive before I return you can show that to my parents or elder brother. I shall send word ahead so that they might anticipate you.”

“We thank you,” Sylvie said. “And we shall take you up on your generous offer. But, if you will please excuse us, we must make our way to Ghiana.”

“You mustn’t!” Astrid exclaimed. She lowered her voice. “They say that recent travellers to Ghiana do not leave nor is any trace found of them. I fear that something evil has taken residence there.”

“If that is true, then it is our duty to investigate it,” Inés said.

“But…” Astrid began.

Inés clasped her hands. “Worry not, fair Astrid. I shall bring any misdeeds to light and make Ghiana a safe place once more. Believe in me.”

“I shall,” Astrid said, her face flushing. “Best of luck, noble priestess.”

“Inés” Inés introduced herself. “You may call me Inés.”

“Inés,” Astrid repeated. “I shan’t forget that name.”

The three bid the carriage goodbye and continued on their way.

“You certainly work quickly,” Sylvie muttered.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Inés said.

“I mean flirting with the aristocrat,” Sylvie stated. “And right in front of your… one of your lovers.”

“That wasn’t flirting,” Inés protested. “That was giving reassurance.”

“I’m worried about what she said,” Serena said. “Do you suppose there’s really trouble in Ghiana?”

“If there is we’ll handle it,” Inés said.

“Indeed,” Sylvie agreed. “Such is one of our most important tasks.”

The three reached Ghiana just as the sun was going down. Serena almost stumbled over an odd ridge in the road, but Inés caught her.

“They need to do something about this road,” Sylvie stated. “Look at all the indents.”

“You would think that they could take some time to fill them,” Sylvie agreed.

“Welcome!” an elderly woman approached them at the gate. “It’s so lovely to have visitors! My name is Miriam, I run the Inn. Please, follow me.”

“Of course, we’d love to,” Sylvie said. She moved back to Serena and Inés. “Not the welcome I was expecting.”

The three followed Miriam to the Inn.

“It’ll be three gold coins per room and that includes food,” Miriam said. “Shall I give you three?”

“Two will be fine,” Inés said, putting an arm around Serena. “The two of us can share.”

“Of course,” Miriam said. “Six coins, if you please.” Sylvie counted them out and handed them to her. “Please take a seat, I’ll get your suppers. I’m afraid we don’t allow eating in the room but there’s a table right over there.”

“Odd that it would be so cheap,” Sylvie said.

“Maybe they’re trying to make up for the bad rumours,” Inés suggested.

“Perhaps,” Sylvie said. “But they must be losing money from food costs alone.”

Miriam brought them out three plates, piled high with food. An attendant brought them glasses of wine, he wouldn’t look directly at them.

“Is something wrong?” Serena asked. He hurriedly hid behind Miriam.

“No offence intended,” she said. “My grandson is just shy around attractive ladies. Please, eat.”

Inés took a bite first. Seeing nothing happen, Sylvie and Serena followed her example. They didn’t get a third of the way through before collapsing.

“Help me get them to the feeding grounds,” Miriam ordered. “And may Athena have mercy on us for this.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 58: Calling A Bluff

Lucy led Farah and Leon to the latch point. The three of them heard metal hitting steel and picked up the pace. Peeking around the corner, the enemy ship’s cockpit was visible. Emergency force fields held the atmosphere in the Cerberus in spite of the hole they’d put in the hull. Lucy sized up their opponents.

“A pacifican, an akumillian and an akumillian DR5 series battle robot,” she whispered.

“Specs of the DR5?” Leon asked.

“Twin laser cannons with a mounted flame-thrower for close combat,” Lucy answered. “It’s weakness is the flame-thrower’s fuel tank, but it’s dangerous to aim for it in a ship this small.”

“Collateral damage?” Leon inquired.

Lucy nodded. “It could take a good chunk out of the ship.”

“Luciverianna!” the akumillian shouted. “I know you’re there and I know that you can calculate your odds in this situation. I offer you the choice between surrendering the Ca’urr or having your ship overrun. Do us both a favour and decide quickly and sensibly.”

*****

Ophelia aimed her pistol at the bridge’s entrance, prepared for the worst, but not expecting it.

“How come you’re so tense?” Uhrandra asked.

“Because there are intruders on my ship,” Ophelia answered.

“Maybe they wanna be friends,” Uhrandra suggested. “We should put tea on and all sit down for a nice chat.”

“If it makes you feel better go ahead and prepare that,” Ophelia said.

“All right,” Uhrandra said, wagging her tail. “It’ll all be fine, you’ll see.”

*****

You seem to have me at a disadvantage,” Lucy called, not peeking out from her cover. “You are?”

“Someone informed,” he answered. “I’ve done my research for this assignment.”

“And does your pet pacifican there know that it’s dangerous to stand next to a DR5?” Lucy asked. “If we can snipe its flame-thrower’s tank, it’ll take both of you with it and my people are very good marksmen.”

“Not an issue,” the pacifican called. “Ours has nothing in its fuel tank. We dismantled its flame-thrower”

“Oh, is that so?” Lucy asked. The akumillian glared at his companion. “Good news for us,” she whispered. “We can open fire on them without worrying about that.”

“We still have the advantage!” the akumillian pressed. “Your handful of humans can’t handle a DR5 and you know it.”

“Is that really so?” Lucy asked. “I rather think humans who have gone through my training are made of sterner stuff than an old DR5.”

“Don’t try to bluff me,” he said. “With just Friojya and the DR5, I’ve got the power to overrun your little friends.”

“Then why haven’t you done it yet?” Lucy asked. “Could it be that you’re actually trying to bluff us?”

“Yeah,” Leon added. “If it’s so damn easy, try us. I’ll take on your whole bitch ass group!”

“Let me teach the human his place!” Friojya demanded.

the akumillian sighed. “I suppose it can’t be helped. I had hoped to get through this without any blood shed, but I can see that Luciverianna is not as reasonable a woman as I had heard.” He backed away from the DR5 and Friojya. “I’ll give you until the count of three to change your minds and surrender peaceably. One, two th….”

He was knocked from his feet by an explosion behind him. The enemy ship tore open and drifted away from the Cerberus.

“Go!” Lucy called. She, Leon and Farah rushed out from their cover, directly at the three intruders.

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The Grand Pilgrimage: Episode 2 The Truce

Serena followed Inés and Sylvie to the Armoury. A pair of priestess initiates ran up to them on the way.

“Julia, Flora,” Inés greeted.

“You’ll be back soon, won’t you?”Julia asked.

“You won’t forget us when you become a full-fledged priestess, right?” Flora added.

Inés pulled the two of them close. “Don’t worry, my Lovelies. I never take a woman to bed lightly. I’ll be here for both of you as long as you’ll have me.” She kissed each of them in turn. “When I get back I’ll make sure to see both of you.”

“I’ll prepare a wonderful present to celebrate your graduation!” Flora declared.

“And I’ll bake you something delicious,” Julia added.

“I’ll look forward to it,” Inés said. The two ran off, casting glances back at her.

“Have you no shame?” Sylvie asked. “And right in front of your latest conquest too.”

“Hey, none of the women I take to bed are ‘conquests,'” Inés stated. “They’re all my precious lovers who I treasure very much.”

“I… I really don’t mind,” Serena added. “Inés mentioned that I wasn’t her only lover when we got to my room. So… so this isn’t unexpected.”

The three reached the Armoury and got into the shining white armour with golden trim and the emblem of an owl boldly emblazoned across the chest.

Next, they needed weapons. There was a wide assortment, some of which Serena had never seen before. Sylvie selected a rapier. Inés immediately grabbed a battle staff.

“Leave it to the lecherous Mermaid to grab the most inelegant weapon possible,” Sylvie stated.

“And what exactly is elegant about stabbing people?” Inés asked.

“A brute like you wouldn’t understand,” Sylvie stated. “After all, you’re only good at smashing things.”

Serena picked up one of the strange looking weapons.

“Oh, you wanna use the kama?” Inés asked.

Serena put it down. “No, I was just looking.”

“You’ll train with all of these eventually,” Inés stated. “So, for the moment, just pick one that looks good to you.”

“Then…” Serena looked over the selection, trying to find the weapon that really stood out. “How about these?”

“The tonfa?” Sylvie asked. “I suppose they’ll do.”

“They’re good weapons,” Inés said, patting Serena’s head. “They suit you.”

The three grabbed their bags and headed out of the temple, on the road to Drahaven.

Serena waited for Sylvie to get ahead and pulled on Inés’ arm. “Will we be all right with this group?”

“We’ll be just fine,” Sylvie answered, having overheard. “I can teach you how to be a proper priestess. The Mermaid there may be an incorrigible womaniser, but she’s also very strong. She can protect you.”

“Hey!” Inés cried. “Just because I have a few lovers that doesn’t make me a ‘womaniser.'”

“You call nine a few?” Sylvie asked.

“I’m up to eleven, actually,” Inés stated. “And yes. That’s really not all that many.”

“I hate to interrupt,” Serena said. “But why do you keep calling Inés a mermaid?”

“She does it because I have gills,” Inés answered. She pulled the top of her tunic down slightly to give Serena a good look at her neck. Sure enough, there were tiny gills, barely covered by folds of skin.

“I know,” Inés said, letting the cloth return to its former location “it looks gross.”

“Not at all!” Serena declared. “It’s just… I thought that the merpeople couldn’t have children with humans.”

“They can’t,” Inés confirmed, pointedly looking at Sylvie. “They’re just a birth defect is all.” She grinned. “Frankly, I find it rather inelegant to make fun of them.”

“What you find elegant doesn’t really matter,” Sylvie stated. “A philandering brute has no right to judge elegance.”

“If I see one I’ll let him know where he stands as far as you’re concerned,” Inés stated.

“Will you two just stop?” Serena entreated. “We’re going to be travelling together for a while. If you two fight the whole way it’s going to be a miserable trip for all of us.”

Inés and Sylvie glared at each other for a moment. “She’s right,” Inés said.

“I know,” Sylvie sighed. “In the interest of making this journey more bearable, I will ignore your lecherous, brutish tendencies.”

“And I’ll ignore your prudish and condescending attitude,” Inés said.

“We have a truce then,” Sylvie stated. She turned to Serena. “Tomorrow night we should reach Ghiana, a rather quaint village. Mostly human, if memory serves. We can try to get some horses there. For tonight, we’ll have to set up camp.”

“Is there a reason we weren’t given horses to start with?” Serena wondered.

“I asked that very question on my initial trip,” Inés said. “What I got for an answer was that every priestess needs to be largely self sufficient and be able to acquire most of what she needs on the road.”

“The answer I got was a bit different,” Sylvie mused. “I was told that it was because every priestess needs to decide what she needs for any given pilgrimage.”

“I bet it’s one of those old traditions that no one really knows the reason behind,” Inés said.

“Do not say that!” Sylvie exclaimed. “When we get back, we’ll ask Miss Geneve to clarify it. You shouldn’t assume that there isn’t a good reason.”

The three had a peaceful walk, eventually stopping for the night, setting up camp. Inés gathered branches for a fire while Sylvie went to hunt something for supper. She eventually returned with a couple rabbits.

The three ate in relative silence.

“I’m going to bed,” Sylvie said. “You can take the first watch.”

“Fine by me,” Inés agreed. She smiled at Serena. “Did you wanna sleep right away?”

“I’m not all that tired yet,” Serena said. “I could stay up a bit longer.”

“You say that like you have something lewd in mind,” Inés said, moving close to her. “Perhaps you could tell me.”

Serena gulped and found herself staring at Inés’ chest. Inés carefully took her spectacles and kissed her. Serena focused on Inés and let herself be carried away.

“Can you two keep it down?” Sylvie eventually asked. “I’m right here, you know!”

“I’m sorreeeee,” Serena’s apology was broken midway by a moan that she hadn’t meant to make.

“Use something to plug your ears,” Inés said, her voice quivering slightly.

“Why should I have to?” Sylvie muttered. She sighed. Keeping her end of the truce was going to be difficult.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 57: Latched

Leon watched the small craft following them, mentally daring it to make a move. What he hated, more than almost anything, was the waiting.

“Captain,” Farah said. “Wouldn’t it be wise to get Kat and Yuri up here to help, just in case?”

Ophelia shook her head. “If I absolutely have to, I will. But I’d rather leave them alone until they’ve completed their re-training.”

“Because cutting our forces in half is totally the best idea ever,” Allison said.

“Now, now,” Lucy said. “She said we’ll get them if we need them. Don’t underestimate your own abilities. Especially when nothing’s happened yet that might make extra help necessary.”

“This may not be the thing you’d expect a space heroine extraordinaire to say,” Allison said “But I’d rather not risk getting caught short-handed.”

“I was just curious is all,” Farah said. “There’s no need to fight about it. After all, the ship isn’t so big that they won’t be able o get to the bridge or bay quickly even if they aren’t on standby.”

“Fine,” Allison sighed. “I’ll let it drop. I’m just saying, I’d feel more comfortable with Yuri close by.”

“As sweet as that may be, we need to maintain discipline,” Ophelia said. “Both Kat and Yuri understand that. Leon,” she turned towards him. “Any change?”

“They’re maintaining the same distance they have been,” Leon reported. “If we aren’t going to blow them to bits, can we at least try to outrun them?”

“They may get suspicious if we suddenly increase our speed,” Ophelia said. “Lucy, what do you think?”

“There may be a way to avoid arousing suspicion and increase our speed,” Lucy said. “I can fake an incoming transmission from the station. If we increase speed shortly after that, then it’ll look like we’re responding to the transmission and not the craft.”

“What are the chances that they’ll know it’s fake?” Ophelia asked.

“If the craft is unmanned, they won’t manage it for certain,” Lucy said. “At least with my skills. If they have someone on hand to try it they likely won’t figure it out until they have a chance to analyse it in detail. By the time they figure it out, the mission should be over.”

“We’ll take the chance,” Ophelia said. “Set up the fake signal. We’ll speed up five minutes after receiving it. Leon, keep an eye on that craft.”

“I suggest speeding up three minutes and twenty two seconds after the transmission,” Lucy said. “It’ll seem more random.”

“You’re right,” Ophelia said. “All right, let’s do it that way.”

Lucy went to work on her fake transmission. It took her a few minutes before she was ready.

“All right, send it,” Ophelia ordered.

The group waited while the Cerberus indicated that they had an incoming transmission. Ophelia ordered it answered, static came in. They waited and increased their speed.

“We’re blowing past it,” Leon reported. “Wait, it’s increasing speed to keep up.”

“Can it go as fast as the Cerberus?” Ophelia wondered.

“It can if it has the best engines available,” Lucy said.

“But would they waste that level of tech on an unmanned drone?” Allison asked.

“Not likely,” Lucy said. “There’s someone on board that thing.”

“Which leaves us no choice,” Ophelia said. “We bring it down. Lucy, fire our lasers back at it.”

“It’s firing cables!” Leon cried. “They’re attached to the Cerberus and pulling towards us.”

“Can we still blast them?” Ophelia asked.

“Not at their current angle,” Lucy stated. “I think we can expect them to try breaking in.”

“All right,” Ophelia said. “Allison, get to your ship and blast them off of us. Leon, Farah, you two go with Lucy and prepare to repel invaders. I’ll summon Uhrandra here and seal off the bridge. I’ll have Kat and Yuri get ready. If you need them, don’t hesitate to call for them.”

“Understood,” Lucy said. “Everyone, make sure your pressure suits are fully functional. They may very well use explosives on the hull.”

“Told you we should’ve blown them away to begin with,” Leon muttered.

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