The Last Draconian 15: Callie’s Message

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Illyana Fensen

“How are the preparations Professor Mord?”

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

“What about far-seeing Larick?”

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

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

*****

Michael Ryufan

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

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

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

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

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Voyages of the Cerberus 145: Mistaken Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

“You planning on going domestic?” Ophelia asked.

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

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

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

“I am best at protecting,” Leon agreed.

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Last Draconian 14: Lynai’s Suitors

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

It took a while for annoyance number three to arrive.

A well-groomed, white horse came through the gate followed by a smaller brown horse. The brown horse was carrying several small bags and a large one.

Artura, dismounted the white horse. She was a hundred sixty five centimetres tall. She was wearing a forest-green cloak.  Her arms were bare, showing her muscles. Her brown hair went down to her shoulders. She had dark brown eyes. A slightly taller male dismounted the brown horse and began shouldering the bags. He kept a respectful distance behind her.

Artura walked forward and shook father’s hand. She knelt down in front of me and gently took my hand, kissing it. “Artura, how good of you to come,” father greeted. “I do hope the amazons are doing well.”

Artura nodded. She moved back to the brown horse and hoisted the large bag over her shoulder with one arm. Before disappearing into the palace she looked from father to me. “Tomorrow night.” She stated, curtly. She went inside followed by her servant.

“See Lynai, she’s very nice.”

“She barely responded to us at all. You’d think this whole thing is just a bother to her.

“Perhaps she’s simply not good at showing affection. Not everyone is. You may have to get used to that.”

“She may be the least of all the evils,” I muttered. Not that I intended to be around long enough to actually choose one of these people.

The next guest arrived after about ten minutes. A magnificent silver horse rode through the gate. It was followed by a black stallion. The silver horse’s rider dismounted first. He was wearing full armour, with the exception of a helmet. It was mostly silver with a red trim. Across the chest and on the shoulders was an emblem. It depicted a flaming sword shattering a boulder. The man was about a hundred eighty centimetres tall. He had long silver hair and bright blue eyes. Two swords were strapped across his back.

He walked back to help Prince Boring off of his horse. The prince wore a silver tunic and a matching circlet. He was a hundred seventy centimetres tall. He had chestnut brown hair and light blue eyes. He scratched his head as he approached us. His armoured companion walked behind him, eyes darting back and forth.

“Please forgive Maximilian, Sir; he’s just a bit over-protective.” The prince shook father’s hand.

“It’s no problem Prince Reynard. Just so long as he remembers that we’re allies.”

Dull boy nodded. “He understands that. He’s just worried about the amazon. Truth be told, we aren’t on the best terms with Preklam. It has to do with several economic factors. It’s quite fascinating really, you see…”

“You must be tired from your long trip.” I interrupted. “Perhaps you’d like to rest for tomorrow’s festivities?”

Prince smiled. “Of course.” He grabbed the bags from his horse. “If you’ll just show us to our rooms…”

Father summoned a servant. She led the prince and his guard to the rooms that had been prepared for them.

I was quite happy that I’d escaped listening to a long-winded explanation of economics. Father waited until they were quite out of hearing range and turned to me. “Never interrupt our guests again.”

I shrugged. “If I hadn’t interrupted him he never would’ve shut up.”

A giant spider scurried up to the entrance. It was huge but looked non-venomous. It was as tall as two horses. Two silver robed figures descended. One moved to the side and stood at attention. The second removed her hood. She had jet black skin with sharp pointed ears. She stood at exactly a hundred eighty three centimetres tall. She had long white hair and crimson eyes. She removed the cloak to reveal a silver silk dress. The leggings and gloves she wore were patterned after a spider’s web. A leather whip hung at her right side, because of course it did.

She strode forward. She spoke to father first. “Greetings, Royal One of the forest elves, the Lady Elune Darwach of the dark elves greets you.” She turned to me next. That oh so creepy glint in her eye “I would bestow a special greeting on you, royal daughter.” She reached out and stroked my cheek. “I do hope that you’ll choose your mate well.” She winked and walked toward the palace, followed by her servant. He stayed exactly five paces behind her at all times.

“Excuse me.” Father called out before she had vanished from sight.

Elune turned around and raised a single eyebrow.

“Your mount, I’m afraid that we don’t have any accommodations for such a … unique creature.”

Elune smirked. “Don’t worry about Airi. She’ll go off on her own and return when she’s summoned.” Indeed the spider had already vanished. Elune continued into the palace.

“A giant funnel weaver of some kind is on the loose. Aren’t you glad we’re having this get together?” I asked, trying to keep the sarcasm from being too audible.

Father gave me another of his signature glares. “I’ve heard enough. You should be grateful that you have so many options. Besides, I’m certain that Lady Elune’s mount will behave.”

“She certainly won’t.”

“Lady Elune is quite taken with you. You should be happy.”

I was about to say something like “Oh, yes. That’s great for me.” And I would have said it so it was dripping with sarcasm but Lais spoke first.

“I hate to interrupt,” Lais stated. “But more guests have arrived.”

A carriage had pulled forward. Two ghouls were in the driver’s seat. Their greyish flesh looked like it could fall to the ground at any moment. Their entire eyes were bright yellow. They lurched as they dismounted. Each one opened one of the carriage doors.

Speaking of things grosser than rotting fleshed ghouls, a wrinkled mass of flesh in a suit emerged. His hair had turned white, what little there was. When he smiled you could see that he had two sharp fangs. His eyes were a dull blue. He walked with the aid of a cane, and still managed to be really hunched over. The cane was gold-finished with a handle shaped like a wolf’s head.

He trotted forward. “Royal One, it’s good to see you again.” He noticed that father was glancing at the second ghoul. He put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, that’s not my servant. I expect no special treatment. It’s my granddaughter’s.”

Father looked up at his guest. “Your granddaughter? I wasn’t aware that you had a granddaughter Hetan.”

I wanted to say “Of course he does, he’s gotta be eight hundred thousand.” but I held my tongue. Was this my unexpected seventh suitor? Father didn’t seem to expect her specifically.

Hetan shrugged. “I got to thinking that your lovely young daughter might not want to become the mate of an old man like myself. So, my people decided to send my granddaughter as an alternative. She’s only thirty, practically a child by our standards, but, as I recall, your daughter is roughly the same age. Please do us the service of accepting her as a suitor.”

Father nodded. “I already have a room prepared for her.”

Hetan smiled. “Good, then that’s settled. If you don’t mind I’ll rest for now, at my age travelling takes a lot of energy.”

Father gestured to the entrance. “One of my servants will show you the way.”

“Thank you.” Hetan went inside followed by a lurching ghoul.

The second passenger left the carriage when he was out of sight. At a hundred eighty seven centimetres, she was slightly shorter than her grandfather. She had long dark red hair and bright blue eyes. She was wearing a heavy crimson dress with a ruby broach. The broach was crooked.

She stood in front of us silently for a moment,studying us. She didn’t look like she wanted to be around any more than I did. “I’m Callie Perom; it’s a pleasure to meet you.” She walked right past father and directly to me She reached down, grabbed my broach and just kind of looked at it for a moment before continuing into the palace.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 144: Paul’s Gamble

The insectoid bodies were heavy. Possibly due to their exoskeletons. A chitinous compound, perhaps?

Fortunately, Paul was in good shape and surprisingly strong, given his complete lack of fighting ability. He managed to get one of them over to Medical. He quickly began work dissecting it, probing for any kind of weakness.

*****

Grace carefully put Wolfie and Hyper into the Nebula. Wolfie tried to climb up and jump back into her arms, but she quickly closed the canopy.

“Sorry, Buddy,” she said. “But we can’t have you wandering around when these buggers are about.”

She hurried out of the hangar, hoping the antagonistic aliens would leave the small animals alone.

*****

“What if I pretend to break my leg and cry out in pain?” Leon asked. “Then you guys jump the guard when he checks on me.”

“That’s such a clichéd trick,” Kat said. “It’ll never work.”

“Could,” Leon said. “They might not know it.”

“They will now,” Ophelia said. “Remember what Kat said about a surveillance device? Even if they couldn’t understand us, I’d wager they could scan us and find out you’re faking.”

“Then I’ll actually break it,” Leon said. “You can go on without me and Paul can patch me up later.”

“I don’t think the guards would actually react,” Farah stated. “They just follow orders, remember?”

“Like it or not, we need to wait for them to get help,” Ophelia said. “I just hope they don’t try to handle it on their own. They may be really smart, but they aren’t fighters. They certainly couldn’t handle this many.”

*****

Grace ducked into Medical, sealing the door behind her. They were coming, and quickly.

“we’ve got a good half dozen of them heading this way,” she declared. “Please tell me that you have something.”

“I do,” Paul answered. “Acetic acid.”

“Acetic acid is…” Grace muttered. “Don’t tell me. I know this. It’s…” She was interrupted by a harsh pounding on the door.

“Vinegar,” Paul said. “If you set their atmosphere control to distribute a small amount into their air it should cripple them without being harmful to humans.”

“Could I mix enough in to kill them without harming humans?” Grace asked.

“You could,” Paul said. “It’s a very weak acid. But don’t. There’s no need for killing. Promise me you won’t.”

“Dude, we need to bail,” Grace said. “They’ll get through that door soon.”

“Promise me,” Paul insisted.

“All right, fine,” Grace said. “Just help me get past these guys and we’ll get aboard their ship and make the adjustment.”

“We can use the maintenance tunnel to get out,” Paul said. “It’ll be a tight fit for us. There’s no way they can squeeze in.”

“Next stop, Engineering,” Grace said.

The siblings crawled into the tunnel. and began making their way to engineering. “Anything else you can tell me about them?” Grace asked.

“The soldier is essentially mindless,” Paul said. “It seems that he reacts to chemical signals and follows them like programming. I would guess that the societal structure is reminiscent of ants or bees with a hive of workers being directed by a queen but that can’t be confirmed unless I examine more of them.”

“Could help,” Grace said. “And it does support my own theory.”

They reached the end of the tunnel and emerged in engineering. Grace checked the door. “Looks like they’ve crowded around medical. We should be able to slip out and get into their ship.”

The pair hurried along the corridors, eventually reaching the connecting hatch to the alien ship.

“Guarded,” Grace whispered. “Probably to catch us if we try something like this. Think we have time to get to the galley and grab some vinegar.”

“No need,” Paul said. “Stay hidden and be ready to move. I’ll distract them.”

“That’s crazy,” Grace protested. “They’ll capture and do who knows what to you.”

“Probably what they’ve done to the others,” Paul said. “Besides, I won’t be of any help in reprogramming their atmosphere controls. Just make sure to get us all out of this.”

Without waiting for his sister to respond, Paul moved forward. “You’re in big trouble,” he said, addressing the soldiers, even though he knew they wouldn’t respond. “You know how many intergalactic laws you’ve violated? If you free my comrades right now, I may be able to convince a board of inquiry to be lenient. But otherwise…” the soldiers grabbed him and ushered him towards the alien bridge while Grace used the opportunity to sneak aboard.

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The Last Draconian 13: Michael Interrogated

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

I was locked in the dungeon. They had been unable to remove my armour so the guard was watching me intently, or perhaps he was simply surprised to see a living draconian. It was entirely posible, given the confidence they had in their ability to construct a sturdy prison. The dungeon was built into a cave. The elves had used steel to forge the bars. Each corner of the bars was reinforced with a leech crystal. The guard post consisted of a desk and cabinet carved out of the stone. There were no other prisoners in sight. Footsteps came toward my cell from the entrance.

The white silk robes that my visitor wore, added to the fact that four guards surrounded him, led me to the conclusion that I was looking at the elven Royal One.

“Why did you come to Het Wald?” He did not waste any time on formalities.

“I was simply passing through on my way to Strecner.”

“Where were you going with my daughter?”

So, that was why Lynai had been running. I should not have allowed her to accompany me. Perhaps being completely forthright would somewhat assuage his suspicions. “We were travelling together until we reached the egress.”

“Why? What did you intend for her?”

“She asked me to let her accompany me. I saw no rational reason to deny her request. I was not aware that she was your daughter. She did not inform me of her surname.”

He turned his back to me. “When you’re ready to tell the truth you can let my guard know. Until then you can rot here.”

“I am telling the truth.” He ignored me and continued on his way out of the prison, followed by his entourage.

Within minutes of his departure the guard brought me a meal. It consisted of two biscuits, a glass of water and two carrots. As I consumed the food, the water began to ripple. Illyana’s face soon formed in the water’s surface. I knew that I was not hallucinating; the only alternative was a communication spell. “Hello Illyana,” I whispered in order to avoid being overheard by the guard.

“Michael,” Her voice started out distressingly high but quickly lowered. “Why are we whispering?”

“I am not in a position to speak freely.”

“I see. I’d ask why but the spell won’t last long. Sadow is coming to Wicadia.”

I felt my heartbeat accelerate. “You are certain?”

“Yes. The Magi are holding a meeting at the academy. If you can make it here you should be able to catch him. Don’t worry about the others I’ll…”

Illyana’s face vanished. The spell’s duration had ended.

That message made things abundantly clear. I would have to find a way to extricate myself.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The guest palace had been built out of stone on a hill that over-looked the main city. It was the only dead building in Het Wald. It was used for two things: diplomatic functions and ceremonies. I couldn’t help but wonder which one this counted as. It was surrounded by a fence. To reach the palace you had to follow the path up the hill and circle around the building to the gate. Currently the gate was wide open and I stood near it between father and Lais.

Father had fourteen rooms prepared: seven for our “honoured” guests and seven for servants. The palace could hold a hundred people, though. The guest rooms were large and luxurious. Each one had a small servant’s room next to it. Father wouldn’t tell me who the seventh suitor was.

Father had made me wear a heavy emerald coloured dress with matching jewellery. I fiddled with the jade broach that had been, supposedly, passed down for generations but looked brand new.

“You look lovely,” Lais whispered. “Don’t fidget so much.”

“I feel ridiculous,” I whispered back. “This kind of thing just isn’t me.”

We both looked as the first guest arrived. A heavy grey horse trotted to the gate. It was pulling a wooden cart with a passenger and bags inside. The rider was a clay golem. He gracelessly got off of the horse, barely managing to not fall on his face and nudged the snoring passenger awake.

The golem then bowed before us and said, in a deep booming voice, “Sir Steelspine Montgra of the dwarves has arrived.”

The dwarf trotted out of the cart. He was wearing a brown tunic and lots of jewellery. I noticed three necklaces, all gold. One was plain; the other two were decorated with small diamonds. He wore five rings, all with golden bands set with jewels. Two had amethysts, one had a ruby, and the other two had sapphires. He also had three bracelets. Two were on his left wrist; the other was on his right. They were all golden and decorated with garnet. In short, he looked like an ostentatious git. He had a long yellow beard that dragged on the ground. He was one hundred twenty seven centimetres tall.

He waddled forward and took father’s hand. “To see you is good. Where rooms be?”

“I understand that you’re tired from your journey. One of my servants will show you and your companion to your rooms.” Father gestured toward the palace door. The dwarf nodded at me and hurried inside. The golem followed, carrying the bags.

“Did something die in his tunic?” I asked. I waited until they were out of sight but I kind of hoped he’d hear.

“Lynai, that is inappropriate. Try not to offend our guests.” Father didn’t bother looking at me, instead he directed a servant to take the horse and cart to the stable.

“I waited to ask until he was gone didn’t I?”

“That isn’t the point…” The lecture was stopped by another arrival.

The coachman was a young troll boy. His tusks had barely begun to sprout. He stopped in front of us and, wordlessly, leapt down to open the coach’s door.

A barrel-chested troll got out. He was one hundred seventy five centimetres tall. His tusks were polished. He was wearing a thick, white robe.

“Thomas, it was good of you to come,” Father greeted.

The troll slapped him across the back. “No sweat. Thomas Frug treats his hosts proper.” He glanced at me. “Besides, the girl ain’t bad looking … for an elf.” He laughed loudly and then belched. “Me and the boy will settle in, then I’ll try for the prize.” I shot him a dirty look but I don’t think he noticed.

“Of course. One of my servants will lead you to your rooms.”

“Hey, thanks. Boy! Grab the bags!” Thomas walked inside, followed by the boy who was hampered by the weight of his master’s bags.

Father watched them move inside and began rubbing his back. He sent me a look that said “Be polite.” I restrained myself from answering with a rude gesture. There were still five more to go. It was already shaping up to be an arduous day.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 143: Grace’s Plan

Ophelia, Kat & Leon were taken to the cell. Its bars were made up of thick, brown spikes that retracted into the ground to allow them entrance. Once they were in place, the bars moved back up, securing themselves as the guards watched over them with weapons ready should they try anything. Farah was sitting in the cell already.

“Farah, are you okay?” Kat asked.

“I swear if they hurt you I’ll kill them even worse than I was going to,” Leon said.

“I’m fine, Kat,” Farah answered. “Leon, thanks for worrying about me. More importantly, is Grace…”

“As far as we know, she evaded capture,” Ophelia answered. “Paul?”

“I had him hide with the little ones,” Farah answered. “What do we do, Captain?”

“We look for some weakness in these cells that will let us escape,” Ophelia answered. “And we hope that the others can buy us an opportunity. Alternatively, we might be rescued by an anti-slave group. But I don’t know if there are any operating in this sector.”

She reached up and felt the tops of the bars, trying to ascertain how they operated.

“What did you make of our captors?” Kat inquired.

“They look like some twisted hybrid of human and insect,” Ophelia answered.

“I heard the head call the ones we killed drones,” Leon added. “Maybe they have a hive with a hierarchy like insects too.”

“I think there are two types,” Kat said. “Darna and the other smooth-skinned ones seem to give the orders while these ones,” she nodded at the guards “just seem to mindlessly follow orders.”

“They certainly don’t seem to have any sense of self preservation,” Leon said.

“I know,” Farah agreed. “When they came after me they just bolted right for me, not caring that they were in the line of fire. They relied on sheer numbers to bring me in.”

“Could be a weakness,” Ophelia said. “There are a lot fewer of the smooth-skinned ones. We saw, what, two?”

“I thought I saw a third doing some work on their bridge,” Kat reported.

“Three, then,” Ophelia said. “If we can surgically take them down then the drones may not know what to do.”

“Worth a shot,” Kat said. “I just wish we knew the exact number for sure. We should also be careful of what we say in here. there’s bound to be a surveillance device somewhere.”

*****

“Not as stupid as I took them for,” Darna muttered. “Are they, Builo?”

“I suppose not,” Builo answered.

“Gylin, do you have the analysis of their crew roster complete?” Darna asked.

“I have it,” she declared. “We appear to have captured captain Ophelia Wester, Leon Judd, Farah Jilani and the one called Kat seems to be Katie Horne, I think.”

“Can you be certain?” Builo asked.

“There are no images in the personnel files,” Gylin explained. “but ‘Kat’ seems to be a code name and she was captured as a warrior.”

“Good enough,” Darna said. “The rest of the crew?”

“There is a Luciverianna Wester who was dropped off to speak with the spiders. She is not a factor right now. Other than that, there are three active crew members absent. Engineer Grace Albrecht, Doctor Paul Albrecht and Morale officer the esteemed Baron Wolfgang Andres von Erstein.”

“Long name,” Darna muttered.

“Our translation computers believe that it is not all a name,” Gylin stated. “‘The esteemed’ is a sign of reverence and ‘Baron’ appears to be a title used for nobility of some kind.”

“Nobility?” Darna asked. “Excellent! Nobility can be ransomed for significantly more than a slave can be sold for. Builo, order the drones to bring this Baron to me, completely uninjured. I also want the doctor and engineer captured, of course.”

“Your will be done,” Builo said.

*****

While Darna was talking to her generals, the “noble” Baron was jumping up excitedly on Grace and licking her legs.

“I don’t think it’s a hive mind thing,” Grace said. “I think its more like bees with workers and soldiers labouring under their queen.”

“We shouldn’t make too many assumptions,” Paul said. “Even if that is accurate they’ll certainly have orders to capture us soon enough.”

“True,” Grace agreed. “That’s why we need a plan.”

“And you have one?” Paul asked.

“Absolutely,” Grace said. “We’ll go to the bridge and grab a corpse. Then you run a thorough scan and figure out what makes them tick. After that, you and I sneak aboard their ship. We find a spot where I can hack their system and I use their atmosphere controls to flood them with something that’ll either kill or incapacitate them but that won’t hurt the others.”

“They’re different enough that it could work,” Paul said. “We should lock Wolfie and the cat up somewhere safe first.”

“I’ve thought about that,” Grace said. “I think we should use the Nebula.”

“You’ve fixed it?”

“Not completely, but it’s solid enough that they’ll be secure in there,” Grace said. “If these insects are looking for humans than they should peek in through the wind-shield, figure out there’s no way one of us could be hiding in there and move on.”

“It’s a gamble,” Paul said. “But it could be our only choice.”

“Then I’ll take them down to the docking bay, you get to the bridge and grab that body,” Grace said.

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The Last Draconian 12: Lynai’s Return Home

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I sat in my study. Apparently it’s the headmistress’s job to sit around, read magical text and be prepared to deal with problematic students. With reading being impossible for me, unless I wanted to bother someone by having them read aloud for me, I was reduced to sitting around and thinking.

I thought about Michael. It had been a while since I’d heard from him. Was he all right? Would we ever get a chance to meet again?

I heard a sharp rap on the door. “Enter.” I invited.

My door opened. I heard a staff tap rhythmically against the floor. “Professor Mord, what can I do for you?”

The professor chuckled. “Illyana, you’re the headmistress now. You can call me Bastian.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be accomplished enough to talk to you like that.”

Professor Mord tapped his staff more rapidly. “You outgrew me long ago. And I  do mean that. you’re a  mage beyond any I could hope to act as a professor to, but this isn’t what I came to discuss.” Professor Mord took a deep breath. “The Magi have sent us a message. They’re going to be holding a meeting here!”

I tried to control the flush I felt coming. A meeting of the Magi meant that monster would be here. “A meeting? Why would they be holding a meeting here?” Drake seemed to sense my agitation. He flew into the air and began screeching.

“I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought that a meeting of the Magi would be exciting news.” I felt his wrinkled hand settle on my shoulder. “We can’t turn them away without a good reason.”

I sighed. “I know. Prepare the meeting hall.”

“Do you want to talk about this?”

“I brushed him away. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about me.” I heard professor Mord open the door and the sound of it closing behind him. I couldn’t tell him about my discomfort concerning Sadow, not without betraying Michael’s secret. I left my office and walked to the basement, into the room of seer pools. I quickly discerned that I was alone. I locked the door and sat into a lotus position. The spell I was planning would take a while.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I woke up inside Heltsger. A cleric was standing over me. He had dark blue hair, and dark gray eyes. Light came from his hands and spread across my body. It was warm and kind of tingled. I glanced over at my shoulder and saw it knit back together.

Next, I felt my ribs regenerate, my ankle untwist and my arm’s flesh grow back. It didn’t hurt but it did feel very strange… it was the kind of sensation you get when a breeze blows across your bare back, but everywhere at once. The light quickly vanished. The cleric was perspiring a great deal. “It… is… done.” His words came out as gasps.

Father put a hand on the cleric’s shoulder. “Well done. You may rest.” He noticed that my eyes were open. “You should be grateful that Demeter was willing to lend her cleric the power to heal you, after all the trouble you’ve caused.”

“Maybe Demeter’s on my side.”

Father moved over and slapped me. It wasn’t all that hard but it was enough to sting a bit. I glared up at him. “You’ve caused me enough embarrassment. I won’t tolerate any more.” He composed himself, taking a deep breath. “You will rest tonight. In the morning the guests will arrive. You will be there to help me greet them, and you will be pleasant. The day after that you will spend every waking hour getting to know our guests. The day after that we will hold a dinner and a ball. At the end of the ball you will choose a mate.” He turned and began to walk through the opening.

“Wait,” I called.

Father stopped and looked back at me. He didn’t speak but his gaze clearly conveyed that he was not in the mood for objections. Fortunately, for both of us, I had something else to ask.

“What have you done to my friend?”

“He is being held in custody,” father stated.

“You have to let him go,” I insisted. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t even know who I  was or why I was running.”

“That is not your affair,” Father said. He walked away.

I waited until the door was shut and quickly scanned the room. “You won’t find a way out.”

I followed the voice to a small stool in the corner. “Lais? What are you doing here?”

Lais smiled. “I’ve been assigned the task of watching you; your father isn’t going to take the risk that you might run away again.”

“Wouldn’t you if you were in my situation?”

Lais shrugged. “I can’t say. I’m not the royal daughter.” She rose and leaned down next to me. “Part of being an adult is doing your duty, even when it’s distasteful.”

I looked into Lais’s eyes. I was certain that she was talking about herself, not trying to persuade me of anything. “You don’t want to be guarding me, do you?”

Lais grinned. “Lynai, if it was my choice I would let you write your own future, but it’s not my choice. I don’t think it’s your father’s choice either.”

I had to scoff at that one. “Of course he has a choice.”

Lais sighed. “You don’t understand. Lynai, in our history how many only royal daughters have been excused from this?” The question engendered silence. We both knew that it had never worked that way. It was a long, brutal tradition and I was just the latest victim.

Next Chapter

 

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Voyages of the Cerberus 142: Taken Before Darna

Grace followed the aliens carefully and at a distance. They seemed completely focused on taking Kat, Ophelia and Leon onto their ships. They didn’t even look back.

They boarded their small fighters in a quick, orderly fashion. They didn’t split up evenly to make up for their dwindled numbers. the ship with Ophelia and the others had five aliens aboard. As did the other ships that initially took off. the next wave saw them split into groups of three.

The final five had one apiece, Grace snuck aboard one of those, blaster drawn and ready to take out the pilot. Strangely enough, the creature didn’t turn around at all. It was completely focused on its task.

Curious, Grace decided to try something. She pointed her blaster directly at it and cleared her throat, loudly. There was no response. “Hey, Ugly ass!” Grace cried. There was still no response. She walked over, still keeping her blaster aimed. She grabbed a spanner from her belt and tossed it, hitting the alien’s shoulder. It didn’t react. “Well, I’m hitching a ride with you,” she said. “Take me to the Cerberus and just keep sitting like a lump, okay?” The creature gave no indication that it had heard her. “Brilliant, just like that.”

She retrieved her spanner and sat back.

*****

Yuri and Ussie hurriedly finished their work. It was a stopgap measure of a repair job but, hopefully, it would carry the Space Blazer to a proper dock.

“Attempting to initialisse.” Ussie stated.

Yuri listened to the engine as it roared to life.

“It would be prudent to initiate the launch sequence immediately,” Yuri advised. “They will not function for very long.”

“What about your sshuttle?” Ussie asked.

“It will not do us any good if we become stranded again while loading it,” Yuri said. “We will locate a proper dock, repair the Blazer properly and return.”

Ussie nodded. “Agreed. I’ll work the detailss out with Elijah. Want to come to the bridge with me?”

“I will pass at this time,” Yuri stated. “I will monitor the engines and attempt to keep them going while we make the journey.”

Ussie nodded. She hurried to the bridge while Yuri began her vigil.

*****

“If you can create a distraction…” Leon began.

“Not now,” Ophelia whispered harshly, interrupting him. “We’ll bide our time and wait for an opportunity.”

They were taken aboard the Nefrit. The interior walls were covered with metallic tubes that pulsated and writhed as though they were living things. There were small viewing windows to see out of the ship. Kat looked through one and noticed that the Cerberus was securely attached to the larger ship.

They were taken through the ship’s twisting corridors. They weren’t built with flat floors. The floors were bumpy and covered with slopes. There were parts where the ceiling and floor were closer together, requiring Ophelia & Leon to bend to get through.

They were taken to Darna. She was reclining on a bunch of cushions that looked to be secured with a green adhesive.

She  was slightly different from the other aliens. Her flesh looked to be smooth rather than bumpy and her eyes weren’t solidly coloured. They had circular spots of pure white that shifted within the solid crimson colour.

“So, these are the aliens,” she muttered, seemingly talking to herself. “Ugly, aren’t they?” She studied them, squeezing their muscles. “Should be able to work, at least.” She gave them a cocky grin. “And don’t expect help. We intercepted & scrambled your little signal.”

She looked at her subordinates. “Drones, take them to detention and put them in Cell 3 with the other one.”

They immediately responded to her order, ushering Ophelia, Kat & Leon out. Kat looked over her shoulder and noticed an alien that was similar to Darna approaching her.

“They killed more drones than we expected,” the newcomer reported.

“No matter,” Darna stated. “We can always get more drones.”

They continued their conversation but Kat couldn’t make out any more than that.

*****

Grace hurried through the corridors to the Cerberus, trying to avoid the aliens just in case. Strange how they didn’t seem interested in her.

She finally managed to make her way over. The Cerberus seemed to be abandoned. She decided to risk her communicator, on a secure channel. “Paul, Farah,” she whispered. “You two okay?”

Her answer came in a moment. “They captured Farah. I’m in Medical’s isolation chamber with Wolfie & the cat.”

“Stay right there,” Grace said. “I’ll come to you.” She switched the communicator off and made her way down to Medical. Perhaps, between the two of them, they could figure out a way to free the others.

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The Last Draconian 11: Prophecy Fulfilled

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I fidgeted with my cloak. “Am I covered?”

Michael looked back and studied me for a moment. “No one will be able to identify you without removing your cloak.”

I smiled. The only remaining obstacles to my escape were the outlying farming settlement and the border itself.

Michael stopped me from advancing with a quickly outstretched arm. “There is trouble here.”

I heard screams and raised voices. There was a cloud of smoke drifting from the village. “A fire?”

Michael tilted his head to one side. “I would surmise from the screaming that it is an attack, most likely a raid from bandits.”

I drew my knives. “We have to help them.”

“That would be unwise. Getting involved in this could lead to your discovery. The border is close; let the guards handle the situation. We will go around.”

I pushed past his arm. In a sense, he was right but I couldn’t risk a bunch of my people being killed while I stood idly by. “Maybe you can live like that, but I have to help them.”

I pressed myself against a wall and peered at the bandits. There were four of them. The leader was a troll with a broken tusk and white hair. He was wiry and almost my size. His skin had the look of a bullfrog’s. He had a cutlass in his left hand which he waved to convey his orders.

Two trolls were on either side of the villagers. They both exceeded a hundred eighty four centimetres. They were using spears to prod the villagers.

The final member of the group had two double-edged battle axes. Her hair was black and her tusks were cracked and yellowed. She stood to the side. I noticed that all of the captured elves were looking at her, not the trolls who were menacing them with spears. “They’re wary of her because she’s the strongest,” I thought. “I’ll have to take the other three out quickly and focus on her.”

I bent down and touched the ground. It felt as though my pulse was leaving through my fingers and shooting through the soil. This sensation manifested as a series of vines that shot through the ground and sprouted beneath the female troll. The mass quickly grew up and entangled her within it. I grabbed my knives and rushed from hiding. Knowing that I needed to respond while they were still startled.

I split the skull of one of the spear-wielding trolls while he was turned away from me, looking at the vines. I quickly lunged at the second. He moved his spear into a defensive position, but it was feeble. All I had to do was aim each of my knives for a different vital area and he would go down.

Just as I was preparing to fell the second troll my blades were caught by two battle axes. “Impossible!” I thought. “How could she recover so quickly?”

The female troll pushed me upward and backwards. I landed somewhat heavily but remained on my feet. It cost me. I felt something in my right leg twist unnaturally.

The troll smiled and pointed at me with one of her axes. “You’re strong elf. I like you. My name is Greta Tylok, remember it well. For as long as you can.”

Greta rushed forward. I blocked one axe with my knives and twisted out of the way of the other. I heard movement behind her, the troll with the sword. That was bad. If I turned to fight him too then Greta would…

Greta threw her free axe. It landed just in front of him. “Stay out of this, Yorrick!” She somersaulted backward and faced me, a smile on her face. “A fight between warriors should be one-on-one, don’t you agree?”

The right corner of my mouth curled up. I couldn’t help but respect her. “That’s why I was hoping to deal with your friends while you were entangled.”

Greta laughed. It was a deep and guttural sound. “It’ll be almost a pity to kill you. I meet so few worthy opponents.” She glared at each of the other trolls in turn. “If either of you interferes I’ll kill you myself.” She rushed at me again.

Yorrick looked at the other troll. “We do as she say, she will kill. You guard elf, make sure no get in way.” The other troll nodded and resumed watching the elves. Yorrick grabbed a torch and headed for the elves’ crops. “I finish job, cause trouble for elf during war.”

He knelt down to light the crops. I had to end things quickly to save the fields. I blocked another axe thrust with one knife and tried to plunge my other into Greta’s heart. Greta pushed both of my knives away with one twist of her axe. I cursed my inability to stop the crops from burning. She was just too strong.

Just as Yorrick lit the first patch a blade plunged downward into his heart. Michael removed his blade from the troll’s back and threw the water in his canteen over the small fire to prevent it from spreading. The other troll moved away from the elves and began advancing toward him. A small elven girl kicked him in the rear. As the troll turned around, Michael ran forward and separated the troll’s head from his body.

Greta looked from me to Michael. She absent-mindedly blocked my attack and gestured at Michael with her head.

I moved away from her, sensing Greta’s unasked question. “He won’t interfere, I promise.”

Greta smiled. “Good, you have honour.” She swung her axe downward. I managed to shift and avoid serious injury, but it scraped across my left arm, taking a chunk of flesh with it. I yelped but managed to guard against the next slash.

I could hear the farmers gathering their implements. Clearly, they were intent on getting involved. I heard a blade whistle through the air and Michael’s voice call out. “Go no further. It is her wish to face this adversary alone.”

Greta aimed a slash at my heart. I moved to the side and it cleaved into my right shoulder. A greater level of force and she might have taken my arm. A quick knee to the chest broke a few of my ribs. Greta smiled. “You’re mine,” I managed to gasp. Greta looked down, the triumph draining from her face. My left arm snaked forward and my knife plunged through Greta’s armour and into her heart.

Greta coughed up blood and collapsed.

Michael walked forward and carefully pulled the axe from where it was lodged into my shoulder. “Bring some medical supplies and water please.”

The young elf girl who had kicked the troll quickly came forward with a first aid kit. An elderly male brought a jug of water. Michael washed all of my wounds with water and applied some salve. I winced. “It stings.”

Michael bandaged the wounds. “This will suffice until we reach a cleric.”

I looked at the coverings. The quality of the work reminded me of the first sword that an apprentice blacksmith would make after watching hir master for a long period of time. It was adequate and he clearly knew what he was doing but lacked the practised touch of a true master.

I staggered up. “I thought that you weren’t going to help.”

Michael turned away. “I changed my mind.”

I smiled weakly. “I had a feeling you would.”

“What gave you that impression?”

I tried to shrug. Which is a terrible idea when you have an injured shoulder. The pain shot through my entire body. “I suppose it’s because you’re a good person,” I stated weakly.

The tread of hoof beats entered the village. Several elven soldiers dismounted. Lofu placed his hand on my unwounded shoulder. “Royal daughter, I’ve finally found you.”

I tried to pull away but Lofu’s hand remained firm. He continued as though he hadn’t noticed the attempt. “Your father misses you.” He examined my wounds. “What happened?”

I heard a weak voice squeak out, “Trolls.” It took a couple seconds for me to realise that I’d spoken. I felt dizzy.

Lofu picked me up as though I was weightless. He placed me gently on his horse. “Gather up the troll bodies. I want every one of their possessions examined. We need to know what they were trying to do and whether they acted alone.” He glared at Michael. “You must be Lynai’s travelling companion.” As soon as he spit the words out three blades were unsheathed and pointed at Michael.

“No, it’s not his fault.” I gasped. “He…”I couldn’t keep speaking. My vision was blurry; the loss of blood was getting to me.

“I’m sorry, but the Royal One wants him taken into custody…” He may have continued speaking but those were the last words I heard before I lost consciousness.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 141: The Cerberus Against the Nefrit

“Take the Cerberus and scarper!” Ophelia ordered. “Get Lucy and come back for us with a plan. We’ll find a place to hide. Go!”

“Understood,” Paul said. He nodded to Farah.

Hesitantly, she turned the Cerberus about and fled.

“The Nefrit is launching fighters,” Paul reported. “A lot of them.”

“Then you take over the piloting,” Farah said. “I’ll shoot them down.”

“It looks like the fighters are going to the base,” Paul said. “The Nefrit is coming after us.”

“Damn,” Farah muttered. “That makes things harder. The Cerberus could handle some fighters. That thing… Maybe if we had a full crew. I don’t know if we can handle it with just us.” She hurriedly moved to the weapon station. “Try not to get hit.”

“Won’t be easy,” Paul said. “I’ve never flown anything this big.”

“I know,” Farah said. “But you can pilot better than you can shoot.”

“This is true,” Paul admitted. “I’m a doctor, not a gunner.” He took the controls. “I’ll send out a distress signal. Maybe the akumillians in this sector will pick it up and send help.”

“Worth a shot,” Farah agreed. “How long until they come into firing range?”

“They’re faster than us but not by much,” Paul said. “At these rates we’ve got three and a half minutes.”

*****

“Move away from the airlocks,” Kat said. “We’ll find a secure spot, preferably one that gives us an escape route, and lay into them when they arrive.”

“We should just go to the airlocks and blast them as soon as they come aboard,” Leon said. “Come on. We’ll have surprise on our side.”

“We don’t know how many there are,” Kat pointed out. “We might bring some of them down, but they could very well over run us.”

“And that isn’t a weakness of bunkering down?” Leon countered.

“Enough!” Ophelia yelled. “Kat’s right. We can’t just wait by the airlocks. But Leon’s also right. We can’t just sit in one spot and wait for them.”

“So, what do we do?” Kat asked.

“We use guerilla tactics,” Ophelia said. “The three of us will hit and run. We’ve been through the base. We know the layout. In the meantime, Grace will set some traps for us to lead them into. Communicate through a secure channel from here on in. Grace, let us know when you’re ready and what to avoid.”

“Got it,” Grace said. “Just leave it to me.”

*****

“They’ll enter weapon’s range in ten seconds,” Paul said.

“I’m ready for them,” Farah said. “Just prepare to dodge.”

She waited as they edged closer to the fleeing Cerberus. And then she fired. The Nefrit was hit but not significantly damaged. It showed no  signs of firing back.

” Do our weapons have better range than theirs?” Paul wondered.

“I hope so,” Farah said. “It might give us a chance. Just keep as much distance as you can. I’ll keep firing.”

She kept the Cerberus’ barrage going while the Nefrit inched gradually, menacingly closer.

*****

They made their first strike in the airlock corridor using explosive charges. Unfortunately, there were enough of their opponents that they barely managed to slow them.

They were of a species that the Cerberus crew didn’t recognise. They had six pincer-like legs, humanoid arms, fanged, lip-less maws, bumpy flesh and narrow, solid coloured, glowing eyes. They were also, unfortunately, very fast. The Cerberus crew barely managed to evade their initial rush by using their knowledge of the base’s layout.

“Why aren’t they shooting us?” Leon asked, firing at them over his shoulder.

“No profit in it,” Ophelia answered. “My guess is we’re dealing with pirates and slavers.”

They turned a corner and hurriedly ducked into one of the chambers. They stood perfectly still, going completely quiet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The creatures, whatever they were, swarmed in after them.

The trio moved backwards quickly, firing their weapons, taking a toll on the beasts. There were too many. They surged forward. Leon managed to get a good punch before he was subdued. Kat set her weapon to overload and tossed it in their midst, taking some down before they got her.

Soon, all three were prisoners.

“What will you do with us?” Ophelia demanded.

Their captors offered no answer. They dragged them away in complete silence.

*****

“Some thing’s definitely wrong,” Paul whispered. “We can’t still be out of their weapons range.”

“Do they not think we’re a threat?” Farah wondered. “I’m pretty sure I’m starting to do some damage. A good chunk of their ship has to be on fire at this point.”

They got their answer a moment later. The Cerberus lurched, growing unresponsive. Farah barely managed to keep to her feet. She tested the weapons. They were completely non-operational.

Paul picked himself up and checked their status. “We’re down to low auxiliary power. We have life support and very low engine power. Whatever that weapon is, it’s got us adrift and helpless.”

“Some kind of EMP weapon,” Farah said. “One powerful enough to tear through our anti-EMP defences.”

“Do you have a plan for fighting them?” Paul asked. “I’ll follow your lead.”

“All right,” Farah said. “In that case I need you to take Wolfie & Hyper and hide.”

“Are you sure?” Paul asked.

Farah nodded. “They want us as captives but there’s no telling what they’ll do to them. Plus, we were transmitting that distress signal for a while. It would be a relief knowing that they’re okay.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if we all hide?” Paul asked.

Farah shook her head. “They know that someone was operating this ship. They heard my voice. If we’re lucky, they’ll think I was doing it alone. But if I hide too, they’ll tear the ship apart looking.” She readied her pistol. “Now go! I’ll take down as many as I can.”

Paul reluctantly agreed. As he was taking the small dog and kitten to safety he heard a loud scurrying sound followed by blaster fire. Then, there was only silence.

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