The Last Draconian 77: Unexpected Resilience

Previous Chapter 

Lynai Elfblood

The troll woman was completely under Callie’s control. It was eerie how she simply stood frozen, awaiting orders. 

“Will you be able to keep her fully under control?” Michael asked. “It would be unfortunate if she was able to retain her senses enough to warn them.”

“I can,” Callie said. “At least until daybreak. At that point it’ll start getting questionable.”

“Then let’s get the operation under way,” I said. 

Callie smiled at me and nodded. “Furiam,” she said. “Go over to those trolls and tell them there’s a posh looking elf over here.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Furiam answered. She turned and marched towards the Inn. She didn’t exactly look natural when she spoke with the guards but they either didn’t notice or felt it worth checking out any way. A half dozen formed a unit and started heading over. 

“Wait until their comrades can no longer see them,” I ordered. “We want to have them dealt with before the others arrive.”

“Naturally,” Michael stated. 

I readied an arrow. Callie moved close to me. Having her nearby was more than a little comforting. Thinking that I wondered, just how badly had I fallen for her? I tossed the thought aside, they were getting close. 

“Now!” I cried, firing. My arrow went directly into the right eye of the lead troll. He winced with pain, pulled it out with surprising ease and the group charged. 

Gabriel and Tynan moved in first. They rushed the same troll. Gabriel went low with his blade, Tynan went high with his axe. The troll tried to block the axe and the sword cut him in two. 

I fired a second arrow. This one lodged itself in a troll’s throat. She went down, choking. Callie leapt into the fray, bouncing off of Tynan’s back and running a troll through. Michael took to the air, diving down at one of the trolls, slicing his skull open before he could respond. 

The one-eyed troll was heading directly for me. I moved back, firing arrows. One caught him directly in the shoulder. He kept coming. Did this man feel no pain?

Callie fell back, leaping on his back with her rapier piercing down. He howled and tried to force her off of him. She stabbed again and again. I fired three arrows in rapid succession, aiming for his heart. He finally went down. 

I looked around for the final troll. Tynan had lifted him with one arm. He swung his axe with the other, separating his head. He tossed it to me. “You’re up!”

I caught the head and tried not to think about how gross carrying it around was. “Michael, let’s go!”

“Understood,” Michael said. He lifted me into the air.

I looked down at the trolls. They were looking up, straining to try and see. I tossed the head as far as I could in their direction. Michael gave it a push with his air magic, sending it right to them. 

The response didn’t take long. One of them picked up their comrade’s head. Shortly after, all eighteen of them charged. 

Michael and I quickly landed. I poured my own magic into the ground. “Piercing Earth!” Stone spikes jutted from the ground moving at the trolls. 

“Ground Shield!” I heard one of them cry. The ground rose up to protect the advancing trolls from my attack. 

“I’ll deal with the mage,” Callie said. “Tynan, I’ll be counting on you to protect Lyn while I’m gone. Michael, Lyn, use your air magic and arrows to keep them scattered while I go.”

“Be careful,” I said. 

My heart sank a little bit. We were outnumbered more than three to one and Callie was going to go right into the heart of their forces to try and slay their mage, assuming they only had one with them. 

Not that we had much choice. We needed to use magic to thin their numbers. Otherwise, we didn’t stand much of a chance. 

I readied more arrows and began firing. “Gods,” I prayed “Please protect Callie.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 190: Secret of the Bases

“Hold on,” Lucy said. “Ophelia’s calling. Keep watch, okay?”

“Understood,” Yuri stated. 

“You doing okay, Dear Heart?” Lucy asked. 

“We’re fine, M’love,” Ophelia answered. “Mostly. Kat was hit. So, she’s been sent back to the Cerberus.”

“Kat, huh,” Lucy muttered. “Is she taking it hard? I can’t imagine being the first one on our team out is easy for her.”

“She’s taking it pretty well, actually,” Ophelia said. “We did manage to beat the Pacifican team pretty handily thanks to her.”

“I bet they loved that,” Lucy said. “Yuri and I are about to get into one of the bases. We’ll let you know if we find anything.”

“And I’ll contact you if Farah finds anything on this computer,” Ophelia said. “Good luck.”

They ended the transmission. “Let’s keep going,” Lucy said. 

*****

Kat was heading towards the Cerberus when the Pacificans called out to her. 

“You’re lucky, Human,” their leader hissed. “Had that been a real battle, we wouldn’t have been stopped by a minor stun bolt hit and your stunt would have cost your life far before any one of us went down.”

“I suppose if it had been a real fight I would have had to put some effort into it,” Kat countered. She kept her voice calm and watched with some amusement as her words took effect. 

“We will not be spoken to in such a fashion!” One of the soldiers declared, loudly. She was livid. 

“I’m pretty sure you just were,” Kat said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have more important matters to attend to.”

*****

They were fortunate this time. The base they found was actually abandoned. This one had a strikingly different design than theirs. It was built like a maze with winding, twisting corridors that seemed to lead nowhere. 

“From a simple, straight forward design to this, huh?” Lucy muttered. “Curious.” 

“I have been charting our path as we have proceeded,” Yuri stated. “I can lead the way if you are uncertain where we have been.” 

“Then I’ll leave it to you,” Lucy said. She was a little relieved. The corridors were starting to look the same to her.

Thanks to Yuri, they made rapid progress, eventually reaching the centre of the maze. It was a small, circular area with a hatch. It was rusted shut from lack of maintenance, but Yuri was able to force it open. 

“I am going to require maintenance after this mission,” she stated. “I may have strained the motors in my arms.”

“Can you move them properly?” Lucy asked. 

“Affirmative,” Yuri answered. “But they are not operating at optimal capacity.”

“Then we’ll make due until we finish up and Grace gets a chance to look at them,” Lucy said. 

They went down the ladder. It led to a simple, highly modern computer room. 

“Looks like a voice interface,” Lucy noted. “Computer, what is your directive?”

“Await instructions,” an androgynous voice answered.

“Display the local map,” Lucy ordered. A three dimensional image appeared. 

“Show the combatants currently in play on the map,” Lucy ordered. 

“Unable to comply,” the computer answered. 

“Explain,” Lucy said. 

“Forbidden command,” The computer stated. 

“Allow me,” Yuri said. “Perhaps it will accept a similar directive. Computer, mark all humanoid life forms on the map from grid 6A to grid 7G.”

Small 3d models appeared on the map. 

“That is our crew,” Yuri stated. “It appears that there are no enemies nearby.”

‘Where is the stealth unit though?” Lucy wondered. 

“They are not showing up,” Yuri answered. “This computer seems incapable of detecting them.” 

“Well, it’s helpful any way,” Lucy said. “I’ll send a copy of the image to Ophelia. Then we’ll seal this back up as best we can and head over to the next base. Just don’t strain your arms trying to get it as tight as it was.”

“Acknowledged,” Yuri stated. 

*****

“I’m home,” Kat announced herself at the door. 

“I’ll let you on, just stay off the Bridge for a while,” Grace said. 

“What have you done?” Kat asked. 

“I may be doing some re-wiring and updating the consoles,” Grace answered. “I thought you guys were going to be gone for a while.”

“Well, I took a hit and I’m out of the war games,” Kat said. “I’ll just head to my quarters and be out of your way.”

“Check in on Hyper for me,” Grace said. “He’s been a little lonely since Wolfgang’s been ‘guarding’ Paul.”

“No problem,” Kat said. 

*****

“That’s odd,” Farah said. “Like, really odd.”

“What is it?” Bridget asked, moving in to get a close look.

The screen displayed a three-dimensional, multi-coloured cube. 

“This appears to be the access screen,” Farah answered. “Every file, every program on this thing is accessed by… finding the correct combination on here, I think.”

“Could it be an added layer of security,” Ophelia wondered. “But who’s going to memorise the right combinations for everything?” 

“It looks more like a puzzle,” Bridget said. “Maybe solving it is part of the game.”

“That could be it,” Farah agreed. She snapped her fingers. “That’s what’s expected to take so long. I’ll bet every single base has some kind of puzzle the stealth team’s supposed to bypass before they can start engaging the enemy.”

“If that’s the case then don’t solve it,” Ophelia ordered. “Keep monitoring it. If they are supposed to figure it out before engaging us, they’ll access it remotely. We may be able to use that to find and neutralise them.”

“I’ve gotcha,” Farah said. “Just leave it to me.”

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The Last Draconian 76: Baited Bandits

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan 

We waited until nightfall. Lynai and Gabriel stayed behind to monitor the trolls. Tynan and I were sent to aid Callie. I concealed my wings and horns. A minotaur like Tynan taking these roads would not be unusual. A reportedly extinct draconian would.

It would have made more rational sense for me to stay behind and Gabriel to accompany them. I do not know why I was sent with Callie. 

We took the road openly. Callie feigned nervousness, looking around and then back at Tynan and myself. Her performance was quite believable and it did not take long for us to be accosted. 

Three arrows were shot directly in our path. 

“Stand and deliver!” A commanding voice rang out. 

Our assailant was an elven woman with hair that was nearly identical in colour to my own. Hers appeared to be a shade lighter and it was cut much shorter. She was accompanied by two trolls, two other elves, a golem and a dwarf. 

She had two arrows notched and ready for use. One of the trolls had an arrow readied in his own bow. 

“Leave the female troll alive,” Callie whispered. I examined her. She was carrying a pike and appeared to be in her early thirties. I do not know why she was Callie’s chosen agent but it was fine. It was going to be her, the other troll or the dwarf. The specific one was not important. 

The golem was lumbering towards us. “If you’ll be so kind as to hand your valuables to my friend Crystal, we’ll be on our way.” the leader demanded. “Or this can turn violent. But I wouldn’t suggest making us get rough.”

“Take them!” Callie ordered. She ran at the golem, sliding betwixt her legs and holding on to her back. Tynan bellowed and ran for the archers, whirling his axe. I discarded my cloak and took to the sky. 

The first matter was blocking the arrows headed towards Tynan. It was simple enough with some wind magic. 

The bandit leader swiftly retreated. Her troll companion was not as quick. Tynan’s axe brutally split him open. 

Callie was slamming her fist into Crystal’s neck. Due to the significant strength vampires possess at night, her blows were quickly chipping away at the stone. Crystal attempted to dislodge her by slamming into the ground back first. Callie scampered onto her chest and kicked herself off, causing the golem to crash into the ground with more force than she had intended. 

I sent a cutting winds spell down at one of the elves. He was not slain but he did suffer from significant lacerations before escaping. Possibly even grievous enough for him to bleed to death without prompt treatment. 

Their leader retaliated, firing multiple arrows towards me. I ascended rapidly, using magic to increase my speed. Her arrows passed harmlessly beneath me. 

The second elf moved to the golem’s aid. Callie responded quickly, unsheathing her rapier and running her through. 

The second troll and dwarf converged on Tynan. He looked up at me. “Hey, come get the target,” he said. “I’ll cover you.” 

I sent several miniature tornado spells down towards their leader first, hoping to keep her from firing her arrows accurately. She was swift. I will credit her with that much. She rushed to evade the magic and quickly blew on a horn. 

The golem managed to regain her feet and fled. The dwarf and surviving troll began retreating. The injured elf was not moving. He appeared to have lost consciousness. I dove at the troll, forcing her into the ground. 

Tynan and Callie aided me in subduing her. 

She spat at us. “Let me go!” she shrieked. “What do you want from me?”

“Calm down. We aren’t going to kill you,” Callie said. “Nor are we going to do worse.” She stared into the troll’s eyes. “Tell me your name.” Her voice was clear and commanding. 

“Furiam Kouyt,” She answered. She seemed surprised by her own acquiescence. 

“Well Furiam,” Callie said. “I have a small job for you. Once it’s done, we’ll let you return to your bandit friends. But first, I need to take some insurance.” She bared her fangs and bit into Furiam’s neck. The troll’s eyes rolled back and she quivered as Callie fed on her blood. 

Tynan felt his own neck where Callie had bitten him, possibly recalling the sensation with some discomfort. 

“There we are,” Callie muttered. Her eyes were very slightly glowing. “Now, come with us and do as I say.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Furiam answered. 

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 189: Down To Five

“So, how do we play it?” Bridget asked. “You guys are the experts in dealing with hostile attacks. Tell me what to do.”

“Right now we have a relatively secure position,” Ophelia stated. “They’ll have to either come in through that doorway or cut their way in from the side or above.” Bridget looked up, eyeing the ceiling suspiciously. “They probably won’t do that.”

“It is very unlikely,” Kat said. “Pacificans usually like to overwhelm their opponents, not sneak up on them. Even if they were thinking more tactically, they don’t know for sure that we’re here and trying to cut through would be really noticeable.”

“There are two different tactics they’re likely to use,” Ophelia said. “The first is to peek inside just enough to take some fire, figure out our positions, throw some smoke grenades and then move in, aiming for the spots they saw our shots coming from. The second is to choose their most expendable team mate, and use them as a shield while firing at us.” 

“Combining the two is also a distinct possibility,” Kat said. 

“So, how do we react to those plans?” Bridget asked. “Keep firing and overpower them?”

Ophelia shook her head. “We need to be smarter than them. We’ll use these desks as cover and choose our shots carefully. If we fire wildly, we’ll only leave ourselves open.”

“Our Captain is completely right,” Kat said. “We need to take aim.”

Farah put a reassuring hand on Bridget’s shoulder. “When you do work like ours, you learn quickly that you have to keep a cool head. Even when things around you are crazy.”

Bridget nodded. “I can handle that. Medicine works the same way.” 

“Glad to hear it,” Ophelia said. “Now we all need to cut the chatter. Communicate with hand signals only until the attack.” 

*****

“It is occupied,” Yuri stated. “It appears to be an akumillian group.”

“Probably the one the pacifican mentioned,” Lucy whispered. “Looks like they anticipated them looking for trouble and they circled over to a bunker near their starting point.” 

“What would they have done had they been noticed?” Yuri wondered. 

“Pulled back while trying to take down as many of their pursuers as possible,” Lucy answered. “Not that much of a concern though. My kind can be very sneaky when we wish.” 

They pulled away. “We’ll find the nearest unoccupied one,” Lucy said. “No point taking any huge risks.” 

Yuri nodded and they continued their trek, staying as covered as possible.

*****

The pacificans weren’t subtle in their entrance. They came in stomping and talking loudly. 

“Look at these traps!” one laughed. 

“What are they even supposed to do?”

“Give an alert if the stealth group shows up, I think.” 

“These humans, they never rely on their own senses.”

They stomped their way down the corridor. 

Ophelia nodded at her team. They prepared their stun pistols. 

One of the old keyboards they’d strung up came crashing inside. Bridget almost fired at it as it came into view but Farah stopped her. 

The smoke grenades came after some disappointed chatter on the part of the other mercenary group. Clearly, they’d wanted some idea of their locations. The Cerberus team waited until they saw a pacifican shadow enter to fire. The bolts hit, and there was a loud grunt but the figure didn’t go down. 

He was being carried by the others for a shield, they knew. They began taking shots at potential openings, trying to hit the comrades behind him. 

“Hold your fire,” Kat cried out. She moved out from behind cover and into the smoke, using a chunk of wood as a makeshift shield. 

She dove into the group of pacificans, betting on her relatively small size, the smoke and confusion to save her from being hit. 

The pacificans opened fire at her. Two were accidentally hit in the crossfire. A third was shot by Kat. 

Unfortunately for her, a skilled shot from one of the remaining pacificans landed. She went down with a pained cry. The Cerberus crew and Bridget acted as soon as they heard it, opening fire. 

By that point, most of the smoke had cleared and they were able to hit the last two pacificans with relative ease. 

The four of them had won the skirmish, but Kat was out of the game. 

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The Last Draconian 75: Gabriel’s Plan

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan 

I had not anticipated such a violent response. It was quite bewildering. Why would Lynai care so much for the well being of some feralials? She barely knew them. 

No matter how much I considered it, my plan had the highest chance of success and the least risk. In spite of that, she was upset with me and her lover was furious. It was a most perplexing reaction. 

When we all gathered back up, Callie continued glaring at me. I ignored it. 

“Now, do we have any legitimate suggestions?” Callie asked. I felt it best that I remain silent rather than insist on the rationality of my suggested course. Clearly, their emotional response was counteracting their reason. 

“I may have an idea,” Gabriel stated. 

“What’s your idea?” Lynai asked. She seemed very eager for another suggestion. Anything that would allow her to spare the Innkeepers. 

“I’ve been thinking about this,” Gabriel said. “We can’t simply go out there in front of them. We also can’t strike them while they’re so close to the Inn. Not if we want to make sure we don’t pull innocent bystanders in. But what if we can lure them to us?”

“You have a plan for that?” Callie asked. 

Gabriel nodded. “It’s simple. You find a highwayman, bite his neck and then order him to approach the trolls. Once he does, he’ll point in our direction and say ‘there’s an elf over there with her entourage.” 

“If they hear that, they’ll definitely come over here,” Tynan said. 

“They will not send their entire unit,” I pointed out. 

“Not at first, no,” Gabriel admitted. “But if the soldiers they send don’t come back, they’ll all rush over. Especially if we let them catch a glimpse of the princess.”

“I like it,” Callie said. “But how do we get them a glimpse of Lyn without getting too close?” 

“That’s where the draconian comes in,” Gabriel answered. “He flies up with her, they get to see their target right in front of them.”

Tynan pat Gabriel on the back. “Nicely thought up! We might need a little more oomph, though. What if when he flies her up we toss the head of one of their comrades right at them?”

“Is that necessary?” Lynai wondered. 

“The trolls will consider it a grave insult,” I stated. “They will lose their sense of reason, at least for a moment, when they see it.”

“And that means every single one will run over,” Tynan added. “After that we just need to beat them all and we can get into the Inn without any problems.”

I was tempted to point out that Gabriels plan presented considerable risks to our safety. Ultimately, though, I held my tongue. I could tell that Lynai and Callie both viewed the risks as worthwhile If I were to speak out against it, their ire against me would be rekindled and it would have no impact on their decision. 

I had no real desire to risk my safety on such a foolhardy venture, but I had no real alternative. Earning their gratitude was still the priority. I could ill afford to risk that any further. 

*****

Michael Ryufan 

Our daily match had been very close. Ultimately, I had managed to out manoeuvre their final fighter. I had taken a nasty blow to the back of the skull in the process, but we had triumphed. 

We went directly from the arena to a cleric in order to have our wounds tended. My skull was bandaged and I checked in on Illyana and Aiko. 

“I’m sorry,” Aiko said. “It was all my fault. I… I was showing off and…” she glanced at Illyana. 

“Don’t worry,” Illyana said. “They didn’t hit me that hard.”

“But…” Aiko began. 

“Aiko,” I interrupted. “It is not your fault. We were all aware that participating in the arena could very well cause us injury.” I put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “It is because of your assistance that we have been as successful as we have.” I gave her a smile. “We are truly grateful.”

“Michael,” she did not say any more. She simply grinned widely. Her cheeks were flushed. 

“Then it’s settled,” Illyana said. “No feeling bad.” 

“All right,” Aiko said. 

“We will take a couple of days to recuperate before our next match,” I stated. “Aiko, I would like you to assist me in some light training. If you feel well enough to do so, of course.”

“I’ll do it!” Aiko declared. Her tail was wagging. “Just leave it to me.”

I glanced at Illyana. Her injuries did not look severe. She did not appear to be in pain either. She looked rather pleased. Likely because I had taken her advice to heart and was treating Aiko as a proper friend. 

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 188: Incoming Trouble

Lucy was quiet. She was confident in that much. Even so, she was impressed with Yuri. The android moved with absolute silence. There wasn’t so much as the whir of a gear.

She had to wonder what kind of stealth mechanism Yuri had built in to be able to move like that. Especially through dense foliage. She shuddered at the idea of Yuri getting reprogrammed or attacked with some kind of virus that turned her against them. She was a powerful ally, but would make a dangerous opponent.

The pair froze, a group of pacifican bounty hunters passed by in front of them. Close enough that Yuri could have almost reached out and touched some of them. Fortunately, the mercenaries didn’t notice the pair of them hiding behind some trees.

“Which one do we go after first?” one asked.

“Which groups started around here again?”

“The Cerberus group and the Temjuk,” one answered. “Primarily human and primarily akumillian.”

“Then we’ll try to figure out where the humans went first,” he answered. “They’ll be easy enough. After we’ve warmed up against them, we’ll take the little reds.”

“They started at spots that were fairly close,” his strategist pointed out. “Should we send scouts to check any potential hideaways before going in force.”

“Nah,” the leader answered. “If we find the reds first, we’ll beat them first. Either way, we’ll take them both.”

They hurried off, not bothering to hide their presence. In fact, they were talking quite loudly as though to draw attention to it.

Lucy and Yuri waited in silence until they’d passed by.

“Should we return to the others?” Yuri asked.

“We’ll keep moving,” Lucy whispered. “I’m confident that Kat, Farah and Ophelia can handle things. I’ll just give them a quick warning message.”

*****

“How’s the cracking going?” Ophelia asked.

“Slowly,” Farah answered. “This kind of antiquated system shouldn’t have this level of security.”

“It’s like someone updated its firewall and other security measures to a state of the art level,” Kat explained. “But that shouldn’t be possible with this kind of an OS.”

“Unless…” Farah paused. “Unless the OS is completely non-standard. It could be designed with more modern components but built to look like an outdated one.”

“If that’s the case,” Kat began “there should be signs.” She was furiously typing away. “Yes! You nailed it!”

She gave Farah a quick fist bump.

“Does knowing that help you crack it?” Ophelia asked.

“The security’s still very tight,” Farah cautioned. “But it does explain quite a bit and the methods we’ll have to use are a bit different. So, yeah.”

Ophelia’s hand held went off. She quickly answered it. “Yes, Dear?”

“Oh beauteous love of my life and fire of my loins,” Lucy’s voice had an exaggerated Thespian tone to it. “I needed oh so badly to hear your voice.”

“As did I yours!” Ophelia declared, mimicking Lucy. “Every second we’re apart threatens to tear my very soul asunder and plunge me into despair.”

“Then I shall return to your side with the speed of the winds,” Lucy continued. “Even a hundred men or more shan’t obstruct my return to you.”

Ophelia laughed. “Seriously, what’s up?”

“We have some trouble,” Lucy said. “A group of pacificans just passed by Lucy and me. They seem to be on the prowl for other mercenary groups. Not only that, but they’re heading in your direction and seem to consider our crew their easiest target.”

“Well, isn’t that insulting,” Ophelia muttered. “We’ll make sure to prepare a proper welcome if they come in here. Check back in with us soon. Love you.”

“Love you too,” Lucy said.

“We’re going to get into a fight?” Bridget asked, she sounded excited.

“It seems a distinct possibility,” Ophelia said. “Kat, Farah, leave the computer alone for the moment. I want all of us to have our weapons out and be ready to pepper these guys with stun bolts so heavily they’re still having headaches next month.”

“I’d normally call that excessive,” Kat stated “But I do hate being under-estimated.”

“Really?” Farah asked. “I think it’s kind of handy. Makes ’em drop their guard, you know?”

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The Last Draconian 74: The Warm And The Cold

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I knocked on Michael’s door.

“You may enter. It is not locked.”

I went inside. “Michael, can we have a discussion?” I asked.

“Illyana, you are my closest friend. Should you require my attention, you have it. What do you wish to discuss?”

“A few things,” I said. “First of all, I want you to promise me you won’t use another suicide spell against Sadow.”

“Is it not too early to concern ourselves over that confrontation?” he asked.

“No,” I kept my voice firm. “I do understand why you want justice so badly, but I also want to know that all this work we’re doing… it’s not just going to be used so you can take him with you. I… I want you to fight to live.”

I heard a deep sigh. “He is very powerful. It may not be that easy.”

“Michael, I’m serious,” I grabbed his arm. “Please don’t make me be party to you killing yourself. I couldn’t bear it.”

He gently placed his hand on top of mine. “If it will make you feel better, then I will vow to not cast such a spell unless I have already been dealt a fatal blow and I still have time to do so. Is that acceptable?”

I smiled. “I’ll take it. Thank you.”

“There was something else,” he observed.

“It’s about Aiko,” I said. “Did you notice that she’s in love with you?”

There was relative silence for  a while, although I could hear his wings fidgeting.

“I had not,” he answered. “What do you wish me to do about it? Show her some romance?”

“I don’t want you to lead her on,” I said. If you don’t feel the same, don’t try to force yourself. It’s not fair to either of you. Just… just be a good friend to her, okay? She could use the kindness. I know you don’t warm up to people quickly, but she is our comrade and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to treat her as a friend at this point.”

“Then I will endeavour to overcome my general aversion to socialising and I will treat her in a friendly fashion,” Michael said. “You have my word.”

“Thank you,” I said. “It shouldn’t be as hard as it might’ve been at one point. You have gotten more in touch with your emotions lately.”

“Have I?” Michael asked. “I had not noticed.”

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The trolls had Larick on their side. There were very few in history who had possessed Apollo’s gift as strongly. I shouldn’t have been surprised…

The Inn had over two dozen troll soldiers stationed around it. The Innkeeper and his wife looked like they hadn’t been hurt, thankfully. They also didn’t look happy. Their fur was standing on end and they looked very agitated.

The trolls didn’t seem concerned. They had set up tents nearby and were occupying their time with merry making . They were also stopping every traveller who went near the Inn to look them over.

“Damn,” I muttered. “How are we going to get past them without being seen?”

“Why bother?” Tynan asked. “If each of us kills five it’ll be sorted.”

“And if one of those soldiers manages to get away and bring reinforcements?” Callie asked.

“I’m also worried about collateral damage,” I added. “When Michael was injured, Wolfgang and Heidi came to our aid. It’s because of them that we were able to get to Callie safely. I don’t want to harm them or their livelihood by getting into a major brawl outside their home.”

“Maybe we could arrange for them to get some poisoned supplies,” Gabriel suggested.

“That is unlikely to work,” Michael said. “Very few poisons are effective against troll physiology and none of those are readily available in this area.”

“Then what do you suggest?” Tynan asked. He sounded annoyed. I didn’t blame him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything.

“If only we knew what they’d been told to watch out for…” Callie said. That was a good question. If they’d been given our descriptions, we could sneak past them in disguise. But would Larick have made things that simple?

“There is a potential solution,” Michael stated. “If we ignite the Inn with a powerful enough flame, they should be forced to move away from it. We can cast protective spells on ourselves in advance and take a direct route for the escape tunnel. At worst, we might end up with some minor burns.”

I was shocked that he could suggest such a thing so impassively. “We can’t!” I declared. “I just pointed out how much Heidi and Wolfgang helped us. If we did that, they and their children could be killed.”

“Maybe we could send a message warning them to get away,” Callie suggested. “You and I could compensate them to allow them to not only rebuild but build a more spectacular Inn than before.”

“That is not possible,” Michael stated. “Even if the message were not intercepted, their evacuation would be noticed.”

“Are you actually suggesting we sacrifice them?” I demanded. “That’s too cruel.”

He looked at me. There wasn’t a trace of emotion on his face. “Would you prefer to sacrifice them or to sacrifice your own people through inaction? Remember, this is a gambit to win the war for the elves and to bring an end to the man who slew your father and brothers.” His emotionless stare sent chills down my spine. “I see. Your personal issues with your relatives has rendered their loss unworthy of action in your eyes.”

I felt my chest tighten. My vision blurred. I didn’t know what to say. That’s when I heard a loud thud followed by a crash.

“Shut the fuck up!” Callie cried out.

I looked over. Callie had her fist extended and Michael was on the ground. His jaw looked dislocated. She was livid.

“You think Lyn isn’t bothered by what happened? You think she doesn’t want to make that bastard pay? Just because she cares about not dragging innocent people into this? Well, you’re wrong!” She knelt down and glared at him. “And I challenge you to say anything that horrible to her again because I can promise you I won’t be that merciful with you again.”

Michael calmly moved his jaw back into place with a sickening crack. He spit blood. He tested his ability to move it around before speaking. “Clearly, I went too far,” he stated. “I suggest we take a moment to calm down and consider another possibility.”

I nodded. “Okay. That’s fine.” My voice was cracking when I spoke and I knew I looked a mess as well.

Callie put a comforting arm around me. “It’s okay to cry,” she whispered. “Just let it out for as long as you need.”

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The Last Draconian 73: Exiting the Front

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why so many?” I wondered.

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

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

*****

Michael Ryufan

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

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

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

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

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

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Voyages of the Cerberus 187: Planning for the Long Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

“We will,” Ophelia said.

“So, what do we do?” Bridget asked.

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

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

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

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

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The Last Draconian 72: Lynai’s Plan

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Lynai Elfblood

We held an emergency meeting for all our squadron leaders.

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

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

“I’ll go back,” Layla volunteered.

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

“This could be an opportunity,” I mused.

“How so?” Lang asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will,” I agreed.

*****

Michael Ryufan 

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

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

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

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

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

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