The Last Draconian 32: War Time Speeches

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Lang surveyed the troops that had been placed under his command. There were seven hundred and fifty in all. Lan was standing beside him. He was there to see the troops off.

Lan stepped forward first. “My people assembled here today. You have one trait in common. Whether you’re pixies or elves you have an uncommon courage and zeal. I wish you all the best on the battlefield but, please, don’t be reckless. Fight the hardest you can, but don’t sacrifice your lives in the process. Our people need those like you in order to build a beautiful future. A future that your efforts will lay the ground work for. I will ask the Gods to protect you but I will rely on your courage and strength to see you through. My greatest wish is to see all of you return home alive. May the Gods grant you fortune on the battlefield.”

Lan’s words elicited a burst of cheers and clapping from the soldiers. It took Lang several minutes to quiet them down enough so that he could speak.

“The Royal One has blessed us with his kind words. I thank him for the confidence he has placed in us,” Lang said. “We are truly the hope of the people. Our individual backgrounds are insignificant. We are the first line of defence for the elven people. All of us are here because we volunteered for this assignment. I applaud you all for your courage. It is our duty to keep the trolls away from our families and loved ones. The truth is that we won’t all survive, but those who do fall in battle will not die in vain. For every elf that falls we will make the enemy pay dearly. We will take the lives of a dozen trolls for every one of us who falls. Let us march to meet the enemy with unshakable courage and unwavering steel. We will show them the strength of the elven people. We will buy safety for our people with our very blood! We will fight, for the Royal One, for Het Wald!”

A massive chorus of cheers came from the soldiers. Lan waved at them as they marched away from the capital. Lan stopped Lang before he could depart. “I meant what I said. Don’t take too many risks,” he whispered. “Bring as many of those men and women home as you can. A living hero is more valuable to us than a martyr.” Lang nodded.

*****

“Larick, I want you to choose someone to speak with the troops.”

“They will be most efficient if you speak with them directly, your majesty,” Larick stated.

The troll king shook his head. “I can’t stand that kind of thing. That’s why I want you to pick someone who’ll do a good job.”

“Then I would suggest Joseph Pinbol for the task.”

“He’s on the front line leading the advance unit. Does it really have to be him?”

“I am aware of that, but he is also the best choice. His voice will reach the soldiers like no one else’s can,” Larick said. “You can send someone who you trust completely to hold the line while Joseph returns.”

“Summon General Brun!” the king ordered. “I have a job for him.”

*****

Illyana  Fensen

“The meeting is over,” Professor Mord said. “It’s all thanks to your suggestion. You should be proud of yourself.”

“I suppose,” I mused. Sadow had said that my suggestion was the reason that he changed his position. I was sceptical. Call me paranoid if you must, but I was concerned. What was he planning? Something else to deal with me, perhaps.

There was a sharp rap on the office door. “You may enter,” I said.

I heard Professor Mord rise. His robes fluttered in an odd way. “It’s good to see you, Magi.”

“There’s no need to bow,” Sadow’s hollow voice answered. “I merely came to speak with this formidable young lady.”

“You can speak in front of the Professor,” I kept my voice neutral.

“I see that you respect him a great deal,” Sadow said. “I just came to thank you for your assistance and to apologise for anything I may have done to offend you, for any misunderstanding. It will be highly unfortunate if we can’t come together in harmony.” The implied threat in his message was clear. He had every intention of taking my life if he saw me as a risk. He was giving me a chance to submit. To Tartarus with that and him.

“There is no misunderstanding,” I replied.

“Very well,” Sadow said. “I’m returning home in the morning. I trust that we will meet again.”

“I look forward to it,” I said.

After he left my office I faced the direction that Professor Mord’s tapping was coming from.

“Such a polite Gentleman,” he said. “It’s good to see you get along with him.”

I excused myself and went to my chamber. Professor Mord had a great deal of reverence for the Magi. It wasn’t unusual. They were Hecate’s chosen mages. Almost every mage strived to gain the kind of power that they possessed, and respected them. The only reason that I had become an exception was because Michael had told me the truth about Sadow. Someone like him… Why would the Goddess bless him? Was power truly the only thing that mattered to her?

I heard a sound as I turned my doorknob. It was the sound of a spell being activated. I ran down the hall away from my chamber. I was almost deafened by an explosion. It knocked me off of my feet. I felt a sharp pain as my head came into contact with the wall. Someone had cast a time-delay fireball spell in my chamber. It wasn’t difficult to figure out whom.

Drake was fluttering around over me. I could hear his shrieks and his leathery wings flapping. I pulled myself up. “It’s okay, Drake,” I said. I felt my forehead. There was a bump from where I hit the wall. I wasn’t bleeding though. I sat down and reached into Drake’s mind.

I instructed him to fly into my chamber, what remained of it. His sonar revealed jagged edges where once there had been a smooth doorway. The door itself had been shattered. I had Drake scan my chamber. Everything had been destroyed, except…

I left Drake’s mind and carefully walked into my chamber. Smoke filled my lungs. There was a burning heat surrounding me. I coughed, but continued forward. I found it on the floor. I had been right. It was one of Michael’s messenger devices. I burned my hand picking it up. I tore a piece of cloth from my robe and wrapped it inside.

“Illyana!” it was Professor Mord’s voice. I turned toward the doorway. I felt his wrinkled hand take my shoulder and pull me away from the remains of my chamber. I kept a tight hold of the messenger device and allowed myself to be taken away from the smouldering chamber.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 162: Meeting the Gnomes

Farah followed Ophelia deeper into the mines. They didn’t have far to go before they saw them. The EIG’s “gnomes.” At least, a small group of them. Eight in total. The tallest among them was barely over ninety centimetres tall. They had pale blue skin and sunken eyes in a variety of reds, yellows and oranges. They had thick white hair, pointed ears and an androgynous build.

The group began chattering in high pitched chirps, their tiny arms reaching for their weapons.

Ophelia activated her universal translator and knelt down, presenting her arms to  demonstrate that she had no weapons in hand.

“I’m Captain Ophelia Wester of the Cerberus,” she said, keeping her voice at a normal conversational level and speaking calmly. “May I ask who you are?”

One of them, presumably the leader, stepped forward chattering quickly and angrily. The translator whirred in Ophelia’s ear, trying to process the language.

A second gnome put their hands up and spoke in a calmer, more measured tone, presumably trying to calm the leader down.

The leader gestured emphatically at Ophelia & Farah, still speaking very angrily.

Farah stepped forward slowly, set her pistol in front of her and knelt down.

“We mean you no harm,” she said. “We merely wish to know why you’re guarding this place. We aren’t with the miners but, perhaps we can persuade them to stop doing whatever it is that’s upsetting you.”

Farah gave the gnomes a kind, gentle smile. The sincerity of which wasn’t lost on the little blue people.

The leader visibly calmed and began chattering to their fellows in quiet chirps.

Ophelia wished he would speak with them directly so that the translator could get more to work with. She noticed Kat approaching and silently gestured for her to stay back.

The second, calmer gnome stepped forward, chirping in a calm, measured tone.

“I’m sorry,” Ophelia said. “I can’t understand. “Please, talk a little more.”

The gnome repeated what sounded like the same chirps, speaking more slowly and deliberately. Then did so again. The fourth time, the translator kicked in. “We are the gnowlins. I am Jayla. You come in peace?”

“We do,” Ophelia assured them.

“You are not with the others?” the leader chimed in.

“We are not,” Ophelia said.

“Liar! You came from where they dwell. You are like them. Yet, you dare claim to be different!”

“Peace, Ilyin,” Jayla said. “They have made no hostile moves. They have spoken peaceably with us. They have put aside their arms,” Jayla looked pointedly at Farah. “In this, they are very different.” Jayla turned back towards Ophelia. “Let me ask… Obelia of the Cerberan, what are you doing here?”

“And why is one of your own skulking in the back like a thief?” Ilyin demanded.

“We were asked to examine these mines,” Ophelia answered, ignoring the way they said her name. “As for Kat,” she gestured for her to move forward. Kat complied, taking a seat beside Ophelia. “She was just concerned that you might try to harm us. So, she held back in order to assess the situation. I believe that you can appreciate the sense of taking such precautions.”

“It is certainly something we understand,” Jayla said. “You said you wish to examine this,” they gestured around. “Why?”

“They’re spies!” Ilyin insisted.

“Calm yourself, Ilyin,” Jayla said. “Let Obelia answer.”

“My crew and I take jobs from different people,” Ophelia explained. We were asked to look around. We weren’t told about you and your people. I… suspect that our employers wished to pit us against you. But, we are not killers. We have no interest in fighting you. Therefore, I humbly request that you grant us permission to look around the area.”

“You can’t be serious!” Ilyin exclaimed. “We are at war and you would demand free run over our lands?”

Jayla held up an arm. “They did not say that, Ilyin.” Jayla turned to Ophelia. “Please, forgive my other. She is concerned. The others… the ones you work for… they are a very bad people. They have torn into our lands, tainted what is ours and refuse to cease. It would not behoove us to let them know what the layout here is.”

“What do you mean by tainted?” Kat asked.

“Their machines leak fluids into our food and water,” Jayla explained. “The fluids cause great sickness. We tried pleading but they would not yield. We were forced to try and repel them.”

“Sickness, huh?” Ophelia muttered. She grabbed her communicator. “I’ll make you a deal. We have a great medical expert aboard our ship. If you’ll permit us to look around, I’ll call him to see what he can do about your sickness. And we’ll vow to not betray any of your strategic secrets or tell them anything else that they could use against you. We may even be able to convince them to change their mining process so that they aren’t hurting you.”

“Then you could co-exist!” Farah exclaimed. “Wouldn’t that be better than killing each other?”

“It’s too late for that!” Ilyin said. “They…”

“Enough,” Jayla said. “I believe that your intentions are good.  We will grant them with two additional conditions. Your examination patrol will have three pairings with you at all times and there are certain areas we will not grant you access. Just to be safe. I believe that you can appreciate the sense in taking such precautions.”

“Deal,” Ophelia said. She grabbed her communicator. “Paul, we need you down here. We have some sick aliens who need your help.”She looked over at  Kat. “Kat, go pick him up and show him the way over here. We’ll have a little chat with our friends here.”

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The Last Draconian 31: The Magi’s Meeting Ends

Previous Chapter

“Decide, we must,” Entrik said. “Otherwise we will seem like people who are incompetent.”

“Being in a rush is a weakness of the young,” Squen said. “We should have all freed ourselves from that state long ago.”

“Besides, there is still some argument,” Pran pointed out.

“This whole debate is a waste of my time,” Solan said. He crossed his arms.

“An equitable solution, we lack,” Entrick said. “Perhaps the girl who is the headmistress, an idea that is good will possess.”

“I’ll go get her,” Sadow volunteered.

“That won’t be needed,” Pran said. “One of you can send your familiar.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Squen said. “Fang is starting to get lazy; it’ll do him good to get out of the ground.”

Squen closed his eyes. He reached out to the Academy grounds. A large mole cocked its head. He burrowed his way out of the underground and strolled across the ground toward the office. He sniffed the ground beneath the window.

“Strange,” Squen said. “There’s a mixture of herbal tea and ricin on the ground.”

“That is none of our concern,” Solan said. “She is blind. She was probably mixing some chemicals and accidentally added some to her tea. Surprised she didn’t drink it too.”

“Likely, that is not. More competent, she seems,” Entrik observed. “Besides, application that is little, ricin has. Doubtful it is that useful for academy business it would be.”

“This is not a productive topic,” Pran said. “When she is brought here she might be able to enlighten us.”

Fang shimmied up the brick wall and knocked his body against the window.

“She’s opened the window,” Squen reported. “I’ve got her following Fang. She’ll be here soon.”

The council chamber door opened. Fang hopped in and sat beside Squen’s feet. “Did you need me?” Illyana asked.

“We have reached an impasse,” Pran stated. “We were hoping that you would have an idea.”

Illyana sat down. “It’s traditional for decisions reached by the Magi to be unanimous, right?”

“A correct statement, that is,” Entik said.

“It can’t be helped,” Solan agreed. “It has always been the way of things.”

“I understand,” Illyana said. “The main problem that I observed when I was here was the lack of understanding. Maybe if you each switched your position you could understand the other side.”

“That is a logical course of action,” Pran said.

“A type of thinking that is interesting, that is,” Entik said. “Try it, we should.”

“Thank you for your assistance, my good lady,” Sadow said.

“Reconvene in the morning, we will,” Entrik stated. “At that time, argue on sides that are opposite we will.”

*****

Lio gathered his soldiers together. “Spread out,” he ordered. “Return to the capital quickly.”

“Sir, we’ve caught sight of some trolls moving toward the border,” a scout reported.

“How large is the unit?” Lio asked.

“I counted fifty seven enemies,” she said.

“We will move back and engage them,” Lio said. “Our numbers are superior to theirs. Everyone, ready your bows and take to the trees. Make your shots count; we will only have the chance to fire one volley before the enemy notices our presence. As soon as they are within range, I will signal the start of the attack.”

“Wouldn’t it be a better idea to pull back?” the scout asked.

“No,” Lio stated firmly. “We have the advantage of surprise and numbers. Our actions will mean that there are fifty seven less trolls to menace us.”

The elves clambered up the trees around the border. They readied their bows. The troll unit rode to the edge of the forest on horses. Lio mimicked a bluebird’s song. The arrows were released.

At that exact moment the troll commander gave a signal and the trolls raised their shields. Only five trolls were too slow to block the shots.

“This battlefield is ours!” Joseph cried. He made a chopping motion with his right arm. A troll clad in dark robes touched the ground.

“Get down!” Lio called. “It’s a mage!”

The elves scrambled out of the trees. Stone darts shot from the ground toward the tree line. Fifteen elves were impaled by the darts before they could protect themselves.

Joseph cut down two elves as he approached Lio. Lio brought up his shield. It was torn asunder by the force of Joseph’s spear. Lio felt a surge of pain go up his arm before Joseph impaled him.

“Finish them off!” Joseph commanded. He kicked Lio’s body away from his spear. “We must follow Lord Larick’s plan.”

The trolls caught the remaining elves in a pincer movement. The elves were quickly over-whelmed.

*****

Michael Ryufan

We had made camp in the inner confines of a cave in order to avoid the rain storm that was currently pelting the ground. Lynai had gone to the other side of the cave to slumber. I felt the messenger device in the palm of my hand.

“Record,” I commanded. The machine emitted a faint green light as it activated. I began the message.

“Illyana, I am currently in proximity to Wicadia. Has Sadow made his egress as of yet? I humbly request that you send me a response at your earliest convenience.”

I placed the machine on the ground. The green light faded. I took it in my hand again and sent it to the wind.

*****

“Gentleman,” Sadow began, “I have considered your position as our gracious host has suggested. In doing so I realized that I have been obstinate. I have decided to follow your lead.”

“Mean, does this that the debate which has run long is over?” Entrik asked.

“That is correct,” Sadow said. “Larick’s involvement in this matter is his right as an elf. It is not our place to interfere. I apologise for keeping you here for so long.”

“In that case I move that we end this meeting,” Pran said.

“Agreed,” Solan said. “I have wasted enough time on this matter.”

“Everyone else, agree do you?” Entrik asked. Squen and Sadow nodded. “Then this meeting adjourned, I call.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 161: Ellen’s Confession

The system was failing. Slowly, but surely Lucy was getting through. Whoever designed EIG’s firewall was good, there was no denying it. She was better.

A warning popped up onto her terminal. Someone had detected her and was trying to trace the hack. She wasn’t worried. Her system would lead them on quite the chase and, ultimately, her work would be done before they’d get past her little maze.

Still, it didn’t hurt to take some precautions. She grabbed her com. “Grace, grab your hand held and meet me in the conference room.”

*****

The mines were, surprisingly, gorgeous. Lights reflected off of multi-coloured minerals embedded in the walls. If not for the drab stations for mining tools, hover trolleys and carrying crates, it would’ve been even better.

“It’s really pretty,” Farah stated.

“I take it the minerals aren’t worth much,” Ophelia observed.

“Nope,” Ellen confirmed. “They’re shiny but don’t have much use. We tried to figure out a way to use them for jewellery, but they aren’t really suitable for that.”

“And why is that?” Kat inquired.

“Feel one,” Ellen said.

Kat reached out and tested one. “It’s soft.”

“That’s the problem,” Ellen said. “It’s like touching jelly. No one wants that texture on their necklace.”

She led them further in. Ophelia noted some markers carved into the wall.

“And what do these symbols mean?” She asked.

Ellen froze. There were beads of sweat covering her forehead. “Those…. those are… you’ll see when we finish the tour.”

Ophelia gestured for Farah and Kat to hold their ground. “I’d like to know before we go further.”

“Y… you’re being paid to tour the mines,” Ellen stated, her face turning a bright red. “So, follow me and do your jobs.”

“Oh, we know what we’re being paid for,” Ophelia said. “But let me tell you something, Miss Forewoman, my crew takes jobs knowing and accepting the risks. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these markers are a warning of some kind. Now, we,” she gestured at Farah and Kat, “weren’t told about anything dangerous down here. And I will not risk my crew by ignoring clear warnings without knowing why. So, Miss Forewoman, you can either tell us what these marks mean or we can leave you down here by yourself.”

“We could always find out by tying her up and tossing her beyond this point,” Kat suggested.

“We could just leave her tied up here,” Farah said. “We can hide behind the corner there and get a good view of what happens.”

“You can’t!” Ellen cried. “I… I’ll tell you.” She took a deep breath. “W… we call them gnomes. After the myths, you know? They… they’ve been causing lots of problems for our operation. Sabotaging equipment, even attacking miners. We… we figured that you would be able to defend yourselves. They’re small, you see. Bu… but there are a lot of them.”

“And you thought that even if we failed we’d thin their numbers,” Kat said. “Send a message for you.”

Did you try talking with them?” Farah asked. “Maybe they’d listen?”

“We did!” Ellen insisted. “We sent several negotiators. The gnomes s…. sent their… pieces back. Trust me. These things are abhorrent savages!”

“I might have an easier time believing that if you’d told us about them to begin with,” Ophelia said.

“Do we continue into the mines, Captain?” Kat asked. “No one would blame us for turning back.”

“We have to keep going,” Farah insisted. “I mean, what other group of mercenaries will give these little guys a chance?”

“You can’t be serious!” Ellen cried. “You have to take them down. It’s your job.”

“No,” Ophelia said. “Our job was to tour the mines. Kat, Farah, make sure to keep your hands away from your weapons unless you absolutely can’t avoid it. We’re going to finish our job and if we encounter these ‘gnomes’ we’ll try talking to them and see what their grievance is.”

“I’ll send Lucy a report,” Kat volunteered. “She’ll want to know about this.”

“Farah, I’ll need you to back me up if they show up,” Ophelia said. “We’ll try talking to them, but they might not listen to us.”

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The Last Draconian 30: The Troll Generals

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Illyana Fensen

I sat in my office, nursing a headache. The Magi were widely revered as wise men, but I was starting to think that it was an undeserved reputation. They were more like children arguing in circles than adults debating.

A knock interrupted my thoughts. “Who is it?” I asked.

“Bastian,” was the response.

“You can come in, Professor,” I said. I heard the door creak open and the incessant tapping of his staff against the floor. Normally, it was a welcome sound, but I didn’t need it right now.

“I see that the meetings are troubling you,” he observed. “Just like I was told. Here, I brought you some medicine.”

I held the glass in my hand. It was warm. There was something odd about its scent… “What is it?”

“It’s a headache remedy,” Professor Mord answered. “Sadow was worried about you so he asked me to bring it to you.”

I tried to look natural. I suppressed the desire to immediately drop the glass and kept my hands from shaking. “Thank you,” I said. “If you’ll excuse me I have a lot of work to do.”

“No problem. I hope that you feel better soon,” I heard the tapping get farther away. The door opened and quickly closed. I walked to the office window where Drake was napping.

“I’m sorry for disturbing you,” I told him. I opened the window and poured the liquid out, letting it drain into the grass. Drake flew to my shoulder and nuzzled my face. He always knew just how to calm me.

*****

“This council of war is called to a session,” the troll king said. “Larick, as my new adviser you’ll need to be familiar with my four Generals.”

The king pointed to a troll with dark green skin and short grey hair. “This is Selene Nol. She’s a veteran of many battles and she has great prowess, especially with a bow. No one else in my land can shoot farther or more accurately than her.”

“You can’t underestimate a lifetime of experience,” Larick said. “I’m certain that your abilities will be highly useful.” She smiled and nodded at him.

The troll king indicated a very tall bearded troll who was carrying a pike. “This is Garet Brun. Many of my people know him as a warrior without equal.”

“It is a pleasure to meet a warrior of such renown,” Larick said.

“I don’t fully trust you,” Garet said. “Just so you know, I will scatter all of my lord’s enemies with my blade. If you turn out to be one of them I will show you no mercy.”

“Garet!” the king cried. “I’m sorry about that, Larick.”

“There is no reason to be concerned,” Larick said. “His loyalty is commendable.”

The king indicated a stocky troll who was holding a large jug. She had an axe strapped across her back. “This is Zelma Fan, she drinks a lot, but her physical strength is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

“I look forward to seeing your strength on the battlefield,” Larick said.

Zelma took a chug, leaving some liquid around her mouth. “And I look forward to seeing your abilities. I’m told you have quite powerful magic.”

The troll king indicated a young troll with long black hair tied into a ponytail. He had a spear at his side. “This is Joseph Pinbol. He’s young, but highly skilled.”

“I see a fascinating future ahead of you,” Larick said. “It will be interesting to see its events begin to unfold.”

“I thank you for your kind words,” Joseph said.

“Larick,” the king said. “I would like you to take another role. The role of my army’s strategist and fifth General.”

“I foresaw this proposal,” Larick stated. “I will accept the appointment. Under my plans, your army will chase their enemies back to their inner city and surround them. They will become desperate. Within a couple weeks of that moment, the war will end.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

“How much longer do you intend to follow me?” I had noted with some concern that Lynai seemed to be forming an attachment to me. I had already made an error in forming one friendship. I did not need, or desire, another.

We were rapidly making progress toward Wicadia. Sadow was likely to take the most direct route from Wicadia to Strecner. He had no reason to suspect an attack. I had calculated the ideal point from which to launch my assault against him. The only task that remained before reaching that point was to extricate myself from Lynai.

“I’ve only been out of Het Wald a few times, and I was always closely watched during those occasions. I never had the freedom to look around and see the world. That’s why I’m travelling with you. I think that I’ll be able to see quite a bit that way,” Lynai explained.

“Would it not be more conducive to freedom if you were unencumbered by a travelling companion?”

“Don’t worry about that,” Lynai said. “I don’t really have anywhere to go, so I might as well keep you company.”

So that was her line of reasoning. She considered her actions altruistic. Somehow, she had come under the impression that I was in need of company and she had decided to provide it for me. It caused me to reflect on some words from James Fingol. He once said “The most dangerous people are those who consider themselves to be intervening on behalf of your best interests.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 160: Contact with the EIG

The Cerberus made its landing on Nitriux at 12:52, slightly earlier than they’d anticipated. Ophelia met with Farah and Kat. Since they were all ready to go, they disembarked a little early.

The EIG representative was tall, dark &, possibly, handsome. Ophelia shook his outstretched hand. “Captain Ophelia Wester,” she greeted.

“Public relations officer Malak Jordan,” he said, giving them a smile that showcased his perfect teeth. It also looked, to Ophelia, like the practised fake smile that you get from someone who’s used to manipulating people. But maybe she was just projecting her feelings about the job itself onto him. “We’re oh so delighted to see that you’ll be touring our operation here. And who are your lovely companions?” He gave Farah and Kat the same disingenuous looking grin.

“Farah Jilani, pleased to meet you.” Farah introduced herself. She returned his smile but hers, Ophelia knew, was genuine.

“Katie Horne,” Kat said. She kept her face impassive. “Are you going to guide us to this area of the mines you want us to tour, or will that be someone else’s job?”

“Right to business, I like that,” Malak said. “You lovely ladies will be guided by our mining forewoman, Ellen Wright. Come along, I’ll introduce you. I should warn you, Ellen is a bit shy around people. But, I assure you, she’s a wonderful supervisor.”

The trio followed behind him. Ophelia got a message on her hand held and quietly checked it. It was from Kat and it read “Is it just me, or is our host awfully eager to toss out the flattery?”

Ophelia looked back at Kat and nodded. “Definitely,” she replied. “And isn’t it odd that he’d come greet us and provide no new information?”

Kat looked down at her own hand held to read Ophelia’s reply. It wasn’t long before Ophelia got another message. “I noticed that too. Why not just have our guide greet us if you’re not going to say anything useful? Unless you want to create a strong first impression, which shouldn’t be necessary if this job’s exactly as described.”

“Agreed,” Ophelia typed back. “We’ll have to be on guard.” She copied the conversation and sent it on to Farah.

*****

The EIG had a sophisticated security system around their files, that was for sure. Lucy was still confident that she could get into them, given some time.

The question was, could she get into them in time to find information that would be useful to Ophelia and the others? She licked her lips and got to work.

*****

Ellen was a dumpy woman with light hair and blue eyes. She fidgeted while being introduced to the Cerberus away team.

“A… all right,” she stammered, almost sounding nervous. “I’ll… it’s down this way.”

It didn’t take long before Ophelia got another message from Kat. This one was also forwarded to Farah.

“This goes beyond not being good with people. Do you buy the story that this is just nervousness?”

“You don’t get to be a forewoman without some people skills,” Ophelia responded. “I don’t think her shaking is social anxiety.”

“The poor woman is definitely afraid of something,” Farah typed. Her and Ophelia’s messages were sent at about the same time.

“I’ll talk to her,” Ophelia wrote. “Maybe I can figure out what’s going on. If that doesn’t work, Kat can try to seduce her.”

“Why me?” Kat responded. “You two are prettier.”

“That’s not true at all,” Farah typed. “You’re very pretty, Kat!”

“It has to be you because you’re the only one here who won’t get into trouble for doing it,” Ophelia answered. She put her hand held away and moved up to Ellen. The small woman was staring straight ahead, still shaking ever so slightly.

“So, what kinds of things can we expect to find?” Ophelia asked. “Any interesting deposits, formations with funny shapes, flying rodents?”

Ellen studied her. “We… well, there is a rock that looks a bit like a beehive,” she answered. “S… some flying rodents b… but they’re very small and w… timid. They won’t bother us.”

“Anything that will?” Ophelia asked.

“N… th… i… ma…” Ellen took a deep breath. “Th… there’s nothing down there your crew shouldn’t be able to handle. I… Nothing you can’t handle.”

What she’d started out trying to say and ended up with wasn’t lost on Ophelia. There was something down there all right. Something they were expected to deal with.

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The Bagged Heiress part five

11:38

Hilde was running, carrying Francine away from the Krampus’ hideaway as quickly as she could.

Bianca had warned her not to drive her Beetle, saying that the Krampus could control the metal itself and render her helpless in seconds.

She heard a loud ringing sound coming up from behind her. It was almost like a bell, but with something off about it. Like an overly large clapper was threatening to break out of a bell that was too thin. She turned.

The Krampus’ mist sleigh was uncomfortably close. He had his writhing bag set down beside him. Had he really managed to capture all of those children that quickly?

Hilde held Francine close.

“It would behoove you to give me what’s mine,” The Krampus said. “Lest I wrest it from you.”

Hilde smiled, wryly. “Maybe I should. Bianca told me how strong you are.” She carefully reached for her back with one arm while holding Francine with the other. “After all, I’m just an ordinary woman. Fighting against magical beings and such is kind of outside my comfort zone. I didn’t even believe in this stuff until I met Bianca.”

“Stop stalling!” The Krampus hissed. He reached out a hairy arm. “Give!”

In one swift motion Hilde had her luger in hand and fired several shots.

The Krampus didn’t even flinch as they hit him. He shook and the bullets scattered around. There was no sign of any wounds. Hilde swallowed. She’d been counting on Bianca’s enchantments to, at least slow him down.

Hilde ran. Fifteen more minutes. She just had to hold out for…

The thought trailed off as she stuck to the ground. It was like the entire area had been transformed into a super sticky gelatin. She could barely move.

The Krampus’ guttural laugh echoed all around. He floated towards her.

“Mist, overshadow everything!” Bianca’s voice cried. A thick fog rose all around. Hilde couldn’t see anything around her. “Portal, transport!” Hilde felt her stomach lurch as she found herself a distance away. On more stable ground. She struggled around the mist, looking for a place to hide.

The Krampus glared up towards Bianca and her broom.

“I won’t try to fight you,” Bianca said. “But I can block you through other means. ‘Win with guile,’ as you said.”

The Krampus gestured and the mist dissipated. Hilde was out of sight. He tapped the ground and the various metallic objects around the warehouse rose and moved towards him. Revealing that Hilde and Francine were behind some barrels.

“Illuminating Light!” Bianca cried out. A flash of absurdly bright light covered the area. Temporarily blinding everyone around.

“Get on!” Hilde felt the area in front of her with her free hand. Bianca’s broom. She took Francine and got on. Then there was the sensation of flying.

Neither woman saw the Krampus gesture, but Bianca did see her magical light become immediately extinguished and become instantly replaced by a thick darkness.

It was so heavy that she couldn’t even see Hilde behind her, but she could feel Hilde’s free arm touching her back.

She guided herself with magic, sensing that the Krampus was trying to tamper with her sense of direction. She had to get away as quickly as possible. He had, maybe, ten minutes left.

She conjured a magic circle to carry them away. Then another. And another. It was a short distance each time, but it would move them more quickly than she could travel solely with the broom.

She brought them to a quick halt. The Krampus was directly in front of them, standing atop his misty sleigh. He’d instantly seen through to her destination and transported himself there first. He held out a hand and her broom plummeted.

She held on to Hilde and gestured. The ground transformed, bouncing them gently back up. Hilde kept her grip on young Francine.

Bianca snatched the girl, quickly working some magic. She hoped the Krampus wouldn’t notice.

“Here, take her!” Bianca threw what looked like Francine towards the sleigh. Then she grabbed the protesting Hilde and ran.

The Krampus reached towards the child, but quickly stopped himself. “An illusion!” He needed only a few seconds to find them, but he was out of time. The portal opened back to his world. He hurried through. Vowing that next time, he wouldn’t allow any prey to be stolen.

*****

Returning the young girl was simple enough. Even with the girl demanding that Bianca sell her trusty broom. Bianca told her it only soared for the pure of heart.

They were able to return her to her parents and claim their reward. They went into the Beetle and drove back towards the office.

“Remind me not to take any missing child cases near the solstice again,” Hilde said.

“Trust me, I will,” Bianca said.

“What will happen to the kids he took?” Hilde asked, after a long pause.

“They’ll become minor demons,” Bianca answered. “Their transformations will have already begun. In a couple years, they’ll be finished. That’s what the Krampus does. Children are easily moulded, and the bratty ones are considered suitable. So, he brings them back.”

Hilde sighed, not wanting to think too much about it. “Will he go back for her?”

Bianca shrugged. “Depends on whether or not she changes, I guess.”

They headed up for Hilde’s office.

“Let’s just hope for cases where we can accomplish more than that,” Hilde said. She grabbed a wrapped present from her desk drawer. “I don’t know what you celebrate, but I got this for you.”

“Really?” Bianca asked. She tore the wrap open. It was a pentacle necklace in a sturdy box. “I love it. Actually…” she reached into her bag and pulled out a present that shouldn’t have been able to fit inside. “I got you something too.”

Hilde looked over it. It was long and cylindrical. She carefully opened up the wrap. “A wall scroll?”

“I know you like those,” Bianca said. “It’s from that Last Witch cartoon you like.”

“Thank you,” Hilde said. She didn’t even feel like correcting Bianca. “I’ll hang it up at home. You wanna come with? We can have a bite to eat, drink a toast to the upcoming year.”

“I’d like that,” Bianca said.

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The Last Draconian 29: War Preparations

Previous chapter

Lan sat at the head of the conference table. Lais, Luc, Lang, Lyon and the head of the council, Lori, were all present.

“What is the status of our defences?” Lan asked.

“We’ve set up parties all around the border,” Lais answered. “We’re evacuating the outlying areas. Once the civilians are within the confines of inner Het Wald we have earth mages ready to erect a thorn wall around the capital.”

“Is it wise to concentrate our defences in such a small area?” Lyon asked.

“It’s the only real choice we have,” Luc said. “Our lands are too expansive to make covering the whole thing a viable option. The spell takes too much energy. We simply don’t have enough earth mages to cover the entire border in time.”

“Our offensive parties are set to go,” Lais continued. “They’ll take the initiative and attack the troll lands. Hopefully, we can keep the fighting away from the forest entirely. Lang has volunteered to lead them.”

“In all likelihood, the war will damage the wood,” Lori said. “It’s regrettable, but it has happened frequently during our conflicts with the trolls.”

“We should be prepared for a fire attack,” Lan said. “During the last war the trolls didn’t waste any time to desecrate the forest. They might do so again.”

“We’ve taken measures to prevent that,” Luc said. “We’ve got some water element mages who have volunteered to take refuge in various caves and take action if it becomes necessary. We’ve also assigned small guard parties to protect them.”

“I’m more concerned about Larick,” Lori admitted. “It won’t be easy to slay a Magi.”

“I’ve asked Luc to come up with a plan concerning that,” Lan said.

“The way I see it there’s only one option,” Luc stated. “We have to find a way to use leech stones to drain his power. We could either lure him into a spot surrounded by them or have soldiers carry them.”

“Will a trap work against him?” Lan inquired. “Won’t Apollo’s gift give him warning?”

“There’s another problem,” Luc said. “Leech stones are rare. I’ve managed to get a dozen together. If circumstances require, we can get about twenty more from the prison. In any case, we won’t get many chances.”

*****

“Tell me, Larick, which of these mercenaries should I hire?” the troll king asked.

Larick studied the various mercenaries. He stopped in front of a minotaur who was shouldering a battle axe. The minotaur had chestnut brown fur, brown eyes and stood at a hundred sixty seven centimetres. “Tynan Pokra, of the Helvek mountain region if I’m not mistaken.”

Tynan’s nostrils flared slightly. He eyed Larick suspiciously. “How in Tartarus do you know that?”

“That is simple,” Larick stated. “I can see things that are beyond the sight of most. I know that you became a mercenary after your parent’s tragic death and have continuously walked the path of destruction.”

Tynan shifted and walked toward the door. “I don’t have time for games.”

“Hold,” Larick commanded. Tynan froze with his hand outstretched for the door. Larick positioned himself in front of Tynan. “Are you interested in facing an opponent stronger than you?”

Tynan’s eyes narrowed. “There’s no one stronger than me!”

“Perhaps,” Larick said. “If you will accept a position in the troll army you will find out. I foresee a very challenging battle for you and I don’t think you can win.”

“Fine!” Tynan cried. “I’ll take this job, and I’ll prove to you the depths of my strength!”

“If he’s gonna lose, why’re we hiring him?” The king asked.

Larick bowed. “I beg your majesty’s pardon. Mister Pokr’s loss is not a complete certainty and I also foresee him playing a great role in ending the war as it must. Whether he wins or loses that battle.”

The king nodded. “All right. He’s hired. I’ll count on that sight of yours.” He continued down the line. “Who else should we go for?”

*****

The border guard scampered around. A red haired elf shouted orders. “Prepare to move back,” he said. “The civilians are almost evacuated. We have to stand guard until they’ve safely reached the interior.”

“Lio, two robed figures are approaching from within the wood,” A scout told him.

“Keep them under surveillance,” Lio said. “If they make any hostile moves kill them. If they don’t leave them be. They’re probably just travellers trying to escape Het Wald before the battle starts.”

“There they are,” The scout pointed. One of the figures was wearing a brown cloak and stood at almost a hundred eighty centimetres tall. The other was wearing a dark green cloak and slouching while sie walked, making it difficult to measure the exact height. Lio estimated that sie was around a dozen centimetres shorter than the first figure.

“Michael, what’s going on?” Lynai whispered.

“They appear to be occupied with an evacuation,” Michael answered. “That is fortunate. Their concern with guarding against outside enemies will make them less observant toward us.”

Lynai nodded at Lio as they passed. She watched the ground closely as they crossed the elven border.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 159: A Suspicious Job

Elijah’s crew observed Meiling’s scanning process and her gentle release of the Yvlet back into the wild before they went their separate ways.

Yuri got the sense that Elijah was paranoid about being lied to, but she kept silent since Meiling and Alexandria didn’t seem to mind.

“Where to next, Bossss?” Ussie asked.

“I dunno,” Elijah said. “Northwest, I guess?”

“You just plan on wandering around until we stumble across something,” Antoine said. “Why don’t you take responsibility and have an actual plan for once?”

“Chill,” Elijah said. “Going in a direction and seeing what’s there counts as a plan. Besides, there’s something beautiful about trekking into the unknown and seeing where it takes you. Don’t you think?”

“Idiot,” Antoine muttered, hurriedly looking away. Yuri noted the flush on his cheeks, but didn’t say anything.

“Yuri, are you okay with travelling with usss?” Ussie asked. “We can alwayss let your sshuttle off if you want to go off on your own.”

“I will accompany you,” Yuri answered. “For the moment, at least.”

“Then let’s head out. To the unknown,” Elijah said.

“Yess, Captain,” Ussie said.

The Blazer took off, heading towards unknown territory and whatever it happened to bring with it.

*****

“I don’t like it,” Lucy said, reading over the job request. “They’re definitely hiding something.”

“I know that much,” Ophelia said. “But it is a lot of credits. So, my question for you, Dear Heart, is simple. Do we take it any way?”

“I wouldn’t take it for the credits,” Lucy said. “But…”

“But?” Ophelia asked.

“But I am really curious,” Lucy finished. “I say we take the job and apprise everyone of our suspicions. Make sure we’re all on guard.”

“Agreed,” Ophelia said. “I’ll accept the request. Call everybody together for a meeting.”

*****

Lucy was relieved to see that Paul and Grace were practically back to normal. They were very slightly more guarded but obviously close to recovering their usual sibling relationship.

She pat Farah’s back. “Well done.”

“With what?” Farah asked, looking confused.

“Just in general,” Lucy answered.

“Just tell us what the mission is so we can go get it done,” Leon stated.

“Patience,” Lucy said. “We have these briefings for a reason, you know.”

Ophelia arrived and sat at the head of the conference table.

“I’ll get right into the details,” Ophelia said. “Our job is on a small planet called Nitriux. Right now, it’s owned by a major mining conglomerate. They want us to visit the mines they’ve built and send a small group in to explore around.”

“Seriously,” Leon asked. “That doesn’t sound right, even to me. And I know I’m sure as hell not the brightest person here.”

“Could it be a trap?” Kat wondered.

“Very unlikely,” Lucy answered. “The Efficacious Intergalactic group isn’t connected to the Alliance or any other government. Furthermore, they have a reputation to uphold. If it got out that they lured mercenaries into a government’s trap, they’ll have a lot of trouble.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t,” Grace pointed out. “Just that they can’t afford to be caught.”

“Granted,” Ophelia said. “But it is very unlikely.”

“It’s more probable that they’ve encountered some kind of trouble,” Paul stated. “Something they don’t think will sit well with us if they ask us to deal with it directly.”

“I get you,” Farah chimed in. “So they’ll ask us to look around, hope the trouble finds us and then we just deal with it on the spur of the moment.”

“They may hope we won’t have much choice,” Lucy said. “But the speculation doesn’t do us any good. We’re taking the mission for two reasons. The first is that the pay is phenomenal. The second is curiosity on my part. I’d like to know what they’ve got brewing for us.”

“I don’t like the idea of being their pawns,” Paul said. “Must we?”

“Look at it this way,” Farah said. “If any crew can see through whatever they’re planning and do the right thing it’s us! Right?”

“That might be overly optimistic,” Kat pointed out.

“As optimistic as it is, I agree with Farah,” Ophelia said. “I’ve known you guys for quite some time. I know how you work, what you’re capable of. I know you’re clever enough and, more importantly, moral enough to not let yourselves be puppets.”

“Not to mention too darn stubborn,” Lucy added.

“That too,” Ophelia agreed. “Now, we don’t know what to expect from this mission. There’s got to be some kind of hidden danger, but I can’t say from what. I’ll be leading the team myself. Farah and Kat will accompany me. Lucy and Leon will remain aboard and monitor the situation. If we need rescuing, we’ll count on you. Paul, make sure medical is ready to go. Just in case. Grace, have the Cerberus ready to take off at any time and keep an eye on its condition. They aren’t likely to be trying to trap us but we can’t be absolutely sure.”

“Is it wise for you to go personally?” Kat asked.

“Well, I need Lucy here in case they try to access our system,” Ophelia said. “She’s the best equipped to deal with that little possibility. Besides, I trust you and Farah to keep me safe. And I am quite capable myself, you know. We’ll arrive tomorrow at 13:00, be ready to disembark at that time. The three of us have some spelunking to do.”

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The Bagged Heiress part four

Bianca and Hilde followed the misty sleigh all the way to an old, dilapidated warehouse. The Krampus landed, hoisted his sack up and walked inside. Just in time to avoid the sunlight.

Hilde waited until he was inside before talking again. “How long do we have to do this thing?”

“He’ll cross back over tonight,” Bianca answered. “He’ll probably go out, grab another brat or two and return here to go back home.”

Hilde scratched her chin. “You’re more familiar with this guy and his abilities than I am. What’s the best time to make our move? And don’t say ‘never’.”

Bianca sighed. Hilde had seen right through her. “He’ll come back with about an hour to spare,” Bianca answered. “If we want the best chance possible, we should make our move then.”

“And he likes schnapps, you said,” Hilde stated. “I might have an idea of how to distract him for a bit of that time. Let me know what you think.”

*****

Hilde’s plan wasn’t bad at all, Bianca mused. If she played her cards right, she might even be able to get them down to a harrowing half hour spent on the precipice of disaster.

The Krampus left at nightfall and returned at eleven sharp. At midnight, he would be gone.

Bianca stepped forward. “Master Krampus,” she greeted, trying to keep the nervousness out of her voice. “Come, join me for a quick drink.” She held out a bottle of schnapps.

He looked her over with his glowing yellow eyes. “What are you trying to do, Witch?” His voice was raspy and shrill. It was the vocal equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. “Have we met? You have a familiar aura about you.”

“You caught me,” Bianca said. “The truth is, I write for Magical Beings Monthly. I was hoping to do a cover story on you. Since you’re in town.” She held the bottle out to him. It will only take forty minutes, at most.”

He eyed the bottle, greedily. Eventually, he set the heavy sack down. “Pour me a glass, Witch, but watch yourself. I’ll know if you’re naughty.”

While Bianca did her level best to chat casually with the demon, Hilde crept up towards the dropped sack.

She watched them carefully as she moved. If the Krampus turned towards her, it was as good as over.

She very carefully and quietly dragged the sack across the floor, away from them. Surprisingly, it was pretty light. Probably some kind of magic at play, like the bag being dimensionally transcendental.  Hilde decided she’d ask Bianca about it later. A spell like that could be very useful, and not just when moving flats.

The Krampus was chatting away, jollily. Clearly, he had no concern over the situation. Then again, if he was half as strong as Bianca had claimed, most people probably wouldn’t dare to trick him.

She got the sack a decent distance away, right beside the door and checked her watch. 11:24.

Hilde knew that the moment she opened it, things would get crazy. But it had to be done. She hurriedly opened it up and loosed the captured children. There were easily five dozen of them. Possibly even as many as seven dozen. Hilde quickly identified Francine and grabbed her.

“We’re getting out of here,” she said. She ran.

The Krampus turned towards the commotion.

“One of the brats must’ve managed to get it open,” he hissed. “Here. Let me show you some true magic.”

One furry hand reached up and the sack moved right to him. A simple enough telekenetic spell but what came after was both impressive and horrifying.

The Krampus held the sack open and uttered a single word of power. All the escaped, fleeing children, with one exception, were instantly scooped up as though by a great whirlwind and dragged back into the sack. In less than a minute, the Krampus had reclaimed his prizes.

He grabbed a branch and happily beat it against the sack from all angles. His smile quickly faded.

“Impossible!” he declared. “One is missing!” He hit the sack a few more times. “Where has she gone?”

“Perhaps you’re mistaken,” Bianca suggested. “After all, who could escape you?”

The Krampus didn’t listen. He gestured and a bright, shimmering image appeared. It was Hilde, cradling Francine and running. Her pendant was glowing.

“She has magic protection. So, that’s how she escaped.” The Krampus turned towards Bianca. “You! You’ve orchestrated this!”

“You’re mistaken,” Bianca said. “I was just helping her.”

The Krampus glanced at the image. “And what makes the ebon wench so important that you would risk your life to aid her, Witch?”

“I think I may be in love with her,” Bianca answered.

“Love? A Witch and a human?” The Krampus laughed. “Amusing. I suggest you tell your mortal woman to return my prey. Lest I lose my temper.”

“She won’t do it,” Bianca said. “She’s the heroic type. But I also won’t let you harm her.”

“You think you can stop me?” The Krampus demanded, towering over her.

Bianca sank back, unable to stop herself from shaking. But she didn’t avert her gaze.

“Your courage speaks well of you, Witch,” The Krampus said. “Then the game is on. I will wrest my prey back. Should you use your magic to try and strike me, you and the woman will forfeit your lives. See  if you can stop me purely with guile.”

His laugh was shrill as his sleigh re-materialised.

Bianca checked her watch. 11:34. She grabbed her broom and took off after him.

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