Voyages of the Cerberus 210: Filorya’s Determination

Leon cracked his knuckles. “All right, I’m lifting it.”

“I’ll grab the treasure,” Farah reassured him. “Just warn me if you need to drop it.”

“I won’t drop it,” Leon stated. He grasped the handle and pulled it down. The slab was pretty heavy. Probably around two hundred thirty kilos, but he managed to get it moved. Farah reached inside and pulled out a jewel encrusted weapon. It looked a bit like a sickle, but with a  jagged edge.

Leon let the slab down with a sigh of relief.

“I’ll open the next one,” Farah said.

“I can manage it,” Leon said.

“I’m sure you can, but it’ll be easier on both of us if we trade off,” Farah said.

Yuri opened hers one-armed without any real problems. The weapon inside hers was more like a bladed war fan.

Filorya pulled. She didn’t have Yuri’s mechanical strength, which made it quite a challenge. Most people, pacifican or otherwise, would have just called for someone else to help so they could get the treasure more easily.

Filorya, however, wasn’t most people. She had spent her adolescent years reading about the great heroes of the past. She had deeply admired them and trained to try and become as much like them as she could. For her, this was a test she couldn’t decline. One that would prove she hadn’t spent all that time in vain. All she had to do was pass.

She pulled. Slowly, but surely, the slab was rising. As it rose, she could sense her triumph getting closer. Finally, the treasure behind was revealed. She reached in with her free hand, grabbed it and was finally able to let the slab drop.

“You may have been able to acquire that treasure more quickly if you had pulled the lever with both arms and then released your grip with one of them,” Yuri stated.

“I didn’t think of that,” Filorya admitted.

“Well, we’ll load up the treasure from here and move onto the next building,” Ophelia said. She looked at Filorya. “I thought you weren’t going to make it for a moment there. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Captain Mistress,” Filorya handed Ophelia the jewelled weapon she’d retrieved.

She noted that Yuri had three while Leon and Farah had gotten two. Still, she was proud of herself for taking on the trial by herself and passing it.

*****

They dropped off everything, carefully placing the weapons in secure containers, before moving on to the test of skill. It was also fairly straight forward. There was a table covered with jewels and jewelled weapons past an obstacle course filled with spinning blades and other deadly devices. The entombed bodies had their coffins lining the walls as though they were being given preferential treatment as spectators.

“Yuri, take a bag over there, grab everything and come back,” Ophelia said. “Even if one of those things manages to hit you, you should be fine.”

“Please wait, Captain Mistress,” Filorya entreated. “I would request the honour of challenging this gauntlet first.”

“You just recovered from exposure,” Ophelia argued. “And you could easily be killed if you get hit. Yuri stands the best chance of getting through safely.”

“Perhaps, ” Filorya agreed. “But I am not officially a part of your crew. If I fail and am slain, you will lose nothing. If I succeed, you will have your prize.”

“I don’t want to see you get yourself killed just for your pride,” Ophelia stated.

“Just let her do it,” Leon said. “No reason to interfere with her life goals.”

“Please, Captain Mistress,” Filorya entreated.

“All right, fine,” Ophelia agreed. “If it really means that much to you.”

“Thank you,” Filorya said. “I am in your debt.”

She took up her position, observed the course for a moment and ran in.

“Nice of you to help her out,” Farah whispered, nudging Leon.

Leon shrugged. “I just don’t care if she fails.”

Filorya dived under a crashing piston, narrowly side-stepped a swinging blade and vaulted over some spikes.

The course was designed so that it had to be moved through quickly and decisively to avoid injury. Filorya suffered some minor cuts from narrow misses on her way through, but managed to complete the course and reach the goal.

She’d completed two trials. She really hoped that Ophelia would let her challenge the other two.

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The Last Draconian 105: Destined Battle

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I kept a careful watch around us. If I’d wanted to, I could have left Illyana behind and gone down after Sadow & Michael. But I knew I couldn’t do that. She was still out cold. If I left her, any of Sadow’s soldiers could come in to investigate the noise and find her.

No, I was effectively stuck until she regained consciousness. I wasn’t really worried about the two of us. Callie and the others would probably keep Sadow’s people at bay. Besides, it would be tough to get up to us with the hole Entrik had left.

I was, however, worried about Michael. He was by himself and against an enemy he was prepared to die to beat. I just hoped he remembered his promise and didn’t act rashly.

*****

Michael Ryufan

I fired a void bolt down at Sadow. It was a desperate attempt at disrupting his major spell. Unfortunately, it was not a successful attempt. He had prepared for my attack and shielded himself. The bolt was harmlessly broken.

“Burning Tempest!” The words were fierce and loud. A dark cloud formed overhead. I took to the air, attempting to get above it. It moved to position itself above me. Streaks of fire and lightning rained from the cloud.

I knew I had to evade the bolts carefully. I had my aether shield to fall back upon but I did not want to use it unless I absolutely had to. Using the magic of my blades was somewhat draining.

I twisted in the air and flew between two bolts. I dashed away from another. One bolt nearly connected, but I managed to shield myself from it.

I knew I could keep evading if I was careful. “Flash of thunder!” A bright light flashed in front of me. I momentarily lost my vision. That was when I was hit. It was a fierce blow directly to my chest. I was sent spinning. I tried to correct myself with my wings. Unfortunately, my vision was still blurred and a second bolt hit my left wing. I could not maintain my flight and I crashed into the ground.

I could see Sadow. My vision was blurry, but I could see him. I tested my left wing. It would not move. The injury to my chest was significant as well. One of my hearts had stopped completely. The other was attempting to compensate.

Sadow attempted to end our battle with a quick fireball. I was able to shield against it.

“Still going, are you?” he muttered. “Well, it won’t be long.”

He was not exaggerating. I was rapidly losing my vigour. I briefly considered the Binding Breath spell but decided against it. I had vowed to fight to live. I rushed towards him with my blades extended.

He attempted to halt my advance with a lightning bolt but I had predicted his spell and prepared for it. A powerful gust of wind launched me into the air. I could not fly with only one functional wing, but it was enough to carry me away from his bolt while allowing me to maintain my momentum.

He erected his flaming wall once again. I activated my aether shield and leapt through, slashing at him with both blades as I went. The shield shattered just before I cleared, earning me some nasty burns to my legs and tail. Still, my efforts were rewarded. His right arm was sent flying and he staggered back, nursing a chest wound.

“I mustn’t die,” he muttered.

I used a whirlwind spell to propel myself forward. A fiery bolt struck me in the chest but I also found my mark. The Phoebian blade was lodged in his skeletal chest.

I could not maintain my magic and began falling, but I did twist around as I did, bringing the Helion blade crashing into the back of his neck. I fell to the ground with the decapitated head rolling near me.

I had won but I could not rise.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 209: The Plaque Translations

Ophelia glanced back at Filorya. The pacifican was watching her route with great interest, but seemed more curious than anything else.

Ophelia sighed and focused on her piloting. She trusted Yuri to react to any potential trouble.

*****

“I don’t like it,” Leon said. “After all the problems we’ve had with them, we’re supposed to just trust her because she takes some stupid oath?”

“It is an important oath for her people,” Farah pointed out. “Besides, she hasn’t done anything besides follow us for a bit. We shouldn’t hold her responsible for the things other pacificans have done.”

“If Ophelia believes she’s being sincere, I’ll work with her,” Leon said. “But I’m not going to be friends with her or anything like that.”

“I don’t know if she’s staying around after this mission any way,” Farah said. “Just try to be nice.”

“Nice is you and Paul’s strong point, not mine,” Leon stated.

“You’re nicer than you like to let on,” Farah said. “I believe in you.”

“Oh, hush,” Leon said.

They watched as the shuttle returned. Ophelia disembarked first followed by Filorya. Yuri brought up the rear.

Filorya knelt immediately. “Honoured Ancestors, grant me your strength!” She crossed her arms over her chest and basked in the ruins.

“I hate to ruin your moment,” Ophelia said, “but we do have a job to do. If you please.”

“Of course, Mistress,” Filorya said. She rose. “Let us go to the first plaque.”

“Please, just call me Captain or Ophelia,” Ophelia said.

“As you wish, Mistress Captain,” Filorya said.

They moved to the first plaque. “This one says it is dedicated to those who overcame their physical limitations with great cunning,” Filorya said. “We will find such heroes as Gil’ori the cunning or Huth’pia the conniving resting here.”

“So, we can just go inside and start gathering?” Ophelia asked.

“No, there will be a trial to claim the treasures inside,” Filorya said. “This one will be a test of cunning.”

“How can you be so sure?” Leon asked.

Filorya turned to him. “One does not seek to claim the treasures of a great hero without proving their worth. It would not be proper.”

“Let’s leave it for now,” Ophelia said. “We’ll read all four before deciding where to go first.”

Filorya nodded. The group moved to the other structures. One was for warriors of great strength. The next for warriors of superb skill. The final was for heroes of superlative vitality.

“So, which one first?” Farah asked.

“We’ll try the strength one first,” Ophelia said. “I’m quite confident in this group’s physical abilities and I think it’s prudent to look at what kind of trials we can expect before moving on to the more complex trials.”

“Makes sense,” Farah agreed.

“Doesn’t really matter to me,” Leon said. “Let’s go.”

They went inside. The trial was simple. There were large weighted slabs covering shelving units. They had pulleys attached so that a single person could pull one up with one arm and grab whatever was inside with the other.

“Yuri, you can grab the things from one shelf yourself,” Ophelia said. “Leon, work with Farah. One of you pull the slab up, the other can grab whatever’s inside. I’ll work with Filorya.”

“Captain Mistress, I request to undergo the trial myself,” Filorya said. “If I can not… if I fail, I will not protest or begrudge your help. But I wish to see if I can manage it as it is intended.”

“All right,” Ophelia agreed. “If that’s what you really want, I won’t stop you.”

“Thank you, Captain Mistress,” Filorya said.

Ophelia groaned aloud. She really had to break Filorya from that habit as quickly as possible.

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The Last Draconian 104: Entrik Falls

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

Sadow did not waste time. Bursts of lightning came crashing down almost immediately. They were followed by columns of flame erupting around me.

The only thing that saved me from being instantly slain was my superior speed and agility. Being a relatively small target also assisted me in my evasions.

The problem was that I was very much relegated to the defensive. I knew I could not defeat him like that. I would tire from rapidly moving through the air before he lost his ability to cast spells.

I would have to wrest the offensive from him. I flew low over the floor. A lightning spell struck my left wing but I was able to correct myself and continue. I extended the Phoebian Blade, called forth its magic and struck Sadow with a void bolt.

He was thrown back, clearly not anticipating the attack. I moved in, attempting to cut him open but was forced back by a great wall of blue flames. I knew I would not survive an attempt to push through. He had, unfortunately, secured a respite.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I watched as Illyana began her spell. Truthfully, I really wanted to argue with her on this one. I wanted so badly to put a stop to her plan. If we weren’t in front of our opponent where he could easily figure out her plan if I did, I would have.

It was very risky. If my timing wasn’t absolutely perfect, the ploy would fail and I’d be trying to hold Entrik back by myself or it would work and cost Illyana her life as well.

I really didn’t want to have to tell the others that Illyana had gotten killed. For that matter, telling her mother and fiancé would be a nightmare.

I dismissed the thoughts from my mind. Since it was coming down to it, I’d just have to make sure my timing was absolutely perfect.

I saw Entrik’s orb appear. It was already copying the spell. Looking at his calm face, he definitely hadn’t recognised the spell yet.

I kept my eye on Illyana. Her pale skin was starting to glow with a light hue. That was when Entrik realised what she was doing. He tried to summon his orb back but it was already committed. His flesh started pulsating as well.

I readied myself. The instant I saw Illyana’s skin start to glow brighter, I hit her as hard as I could in the back of the head. Her spell fizzled out and she dropped unconscious. I had done it!

I quickly scooped her up.

“Young elf, you there. Help me you must,” Entrik entreated. His spell was still going. “Could collapse this entire building if stopped I am not.”

I gave him a cold look. “No, I won’t help you. I’ve had enough of Magi who think they can toy with others however they want. And I sure as Tartarus don’t need any Magi who are going to defend them when they do it because they’re so damned self important.”

I quickly ran out of there with Illyana in my arms. Luckily, she wasn’t heavy. She was exactly what you’d expect from that wispy build.

There was a loud cry of pain and burst of energy as the Scattering Flesh spell finished. I was nearly knocked off my feet, but I kept my feet and carefully shielded Illyana from the debris. The room we had been in was completely gone.

The ceiling of Sadow’s home had developed a gaping hole too. Looking down, I could see a drop of at least two floors. I just hoped wherever Michael was, he hadn’t been close enough to get caught in that.

*****

Michael Ryufan

The clamour overhead startled both Sadow and I for a moment. Neither of us could afford to be distracted for long. Sadow renewed his onslaught with a bolt of fire. It was not an ordinary spell, it pursued me like a living creature.

I attempted to dissipate it with a quick draft, but it was not deterred. Ultimately, I used my second trump card, the aether shield, to block it.

“Interesting toys you have there, Girl,” he said. “But you can’t use their power much, can you? Shall we find out?”

He began casting a major spell.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 208: The Bargain

Ophelia trusted Lucy but she was still relieved when the Cerberus returned safely.

“I’m returning with Kat and the gems we’ve gotten so far,” Ophelia said. “We’re going to talk with our ‘guest.’ Make sure Yuri is ready for us.”

“Is there any reason you want to talk to her?” Lucy asked.

“We have some old pacifican we’d like to see if she can translate,” Ophelia answered. “If she can’t, we don’t lose anything by trying. If she can, we may stand to gain quite a bit.”

“Just be careful,” Lucy said. “I’m still a little worried that she hasn’t tried to escape yet.”

*****

“What does this boss of yours want from me?” Filorya asked.

“It is not my place to answer that query,” Yuri stated. “You will learn the answer very soon.”

“At least I know it’s important,” Filorya muttered. “I take it you’ll shoot me if I make any aggressive moves?”

“Correct,” Yuri stated.

“As would I in your position,” Filorya said.

The doors slid open. Ophelia moved inside followed closely by Kat.

“I am Captain Ophelia Wester,” Ophelia said. “I understand you’ve been quite well behaved.”

“Only a fool fights an impossible battle,” Filorya stated. “I know that Yuri’s abilities are beyond mine, unless I had time and freedom to prepare. So, what do you want?”

“I’m going to project some holographic images,” Ophelia said. “Tell me if you can read them.”

The images Kat had taken of the plaques came up in very clear detail.

“The old language,” Filorya said. “So, you did find the tomb.”

“So, you can read it,” Ophelia observed. “We’re prepared to make you a deal. If you translate these for us, I’m prepared to share a small cut of our profits from this expedition with you. Say, 5%.”

“It’s a lot better than the nothing you are looking at,” Kat said. “Keep in mind, we don’t absolutely need the translations to take care of the scavenging mission.”

“I have no need of your profits,” Filorya said. “Nor of your haggling. I’ll make it simple, take me with you. I wish to see for myself.”

“Out of the question,” Ophelia said. “We take you over there, you’ll disappear the moment we get distracted. You may even try to kill us.”

“You know my people well,” Filorya said. “But not as well as you think. Like I said, I will not fight an impossible battle. Even if I managed to get away, you’d only have to escape in your shuttle and leave me stranded to die or bombard the Mausoleum itself.”

“Regardless, you could cause some serious damage trying,” Ophelia said. “And the small chance of success might be enough. In fact, it being small might be considered a worthy challenge.”

“Why are you so interested in going any way?” Kat asked. “If you just want to see it, we can take some images for you.”

“I’ll give you 6% and we’ll map out as much as we can to sate your curiosity,” Ophelia offered.

“I already said I don’t care about your profits,” Filorya said. “I wish to view our greatest warriors and breathe the same air they did in their final moments. It will give me some of their strength.”

“Then, I’m sorry we wasted our time,” Ophelia said. “Kat, let’s return.”

“Wait!” Filorya called out. “Allow me to counter-offer. I will take 1%. You will bring me with you. And I will take a blood oath pledging loyalty to you.”

“A blood oath?” Ophelia asked. “Hold on, let me consult my wife.”

*****

Ophelia went over the whole exchange with Lucy, leaving nothing out.

“So, what do you think?”

“A pacifican would rather die than break a blood oath,” Lucy said. “At least in general. The problem is that there is a counter-culture that doesn’t respect the traditional ways. But I doubt she’s one of them. They don’t tend to be warriors and I doubt a member of the counter-culture would want to see the Mausoleum that badly, speak the ancient tongue or think of the blood oath.”

“So, you think I should take the deal,” Ophelia noted.

“I think we’ll make more credits for the ship and the oath will guarantee her behaviour,” Lucy stated. “The risk is virtually nothing.”

“I’ll take her up on it,” Ophelia said. “I’ll leave Kat with you and take Yuri with me. We’ll have to take two trips to come back, but it’ll be worth it.”

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The Last Draconian 103: Entrik’s Secret

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

“Icy Lance!” I directed the cold spell towards Entrik. He followed my lead with his own Icy Lance spell. There was a rush of cold air as the spells collided, scattering ice crystals around.

“He didn’t really do anything,” Lynai whispered. “He just kind of waved his hand and copied your spell.”

I hesitated. Was he really so strong that he could counter my spells with equally strong duplicates at no effort to himself?

I had to be sure. It was risky, but I did have access to a very powerful spell. It had even staggered a half Goddess and destroyed armour made by Hephaestus himself. It was also a spell I’d created myself and that only an omni-mage like me or Entrik could manage. It was far too complicated for him to copy that easily.

I began casting.

*****

Aiko dove into the shadows. She was more concerned for Callie and Gabriel than she was for herself. The shadows afforded her some protection, after all.

She needn’t have been so concerned. Callie was able to use her heightened nocturnal abilities to evade bites and corrosive blasts alike. She grasped the hydra’s neck and swung herself around before slicing directly into it. She just hoped that the others would slice theirs quickly enough for it to stick.

Gabriel took a more direct approach. He charged directly forward, using his shield to block the acid. He bashed the hydra’s head with the rapidly disintegrating shield before slicing cleanly through the hydra’s neck.

Aiko came up through the shadows. The hydra’s final head reared back and sent a burst of acid her way. She twisted to the side, ignored the sharp, burning pain and managed to slice through its neck yet again.

She knelt on the ground, her left side hurt a lot. She couldn’t quite tell where it had hit.

“Here, this should neutralise it,” Gabriel cried out. She felt a liquid hitting her. “This is a strong base.”

“Do we need to get her to a cleric?” Callie asked.

“We should,” Gabriel answered. “She won’t die from that blast but it probably hurts pretty badly.”

“Then I’ll take her, you get to Tynan and help against the mercenaries,” Callie said.

She carefully lifted Aiko and hurried away. Truthfully, she wanted to stay around. She wanted to finish with the mercenaries and rush to Lynai’s side. But she had taken charge of the outside forces. It had been her decision that had gotten Aiko hurt. She had to take responsibility and get her help.

“Don’t die in there,” she whispered.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

Even I could tell that Illyana was casting an amazing spell. Visible energy swirled and coalesced around her.

I looked over at Entrik. The dwarf was watching her spell with interest but made no move to cast something before she could finish.

When Illyana did finish, her voice came out much deeper and louder than I’d ever heard from her. “Elemental Armageddon!” A rainbow spiral of magics came from her entire body and launched at Entrik.

The dwarf quickly waved his hand. For just a moment I saw a floating orb appear behind him and an identical beam came from him and slammed into Illyana’s. The entire room flooded with multi-coloured light and the impact charred the entire floor nearby. It also destroyed every single thing close to it, knocked Illyana and I off of our feet and Entrik off of his floating platform.

I hurried up as quickly as I could, hoping to get an arrow and finish the magi before he could rise, but he was already back on his platform by the time I got up. He was surprisingly fast.

I helped Illyana up.

“Interesting spell, that is,” Entrik said. He looked to be in rough shape. He was sweating a lot and his voice was shaky. “Than most I’ve seen, it is more impressive.”

“There was some kind of magic orb behind him for just a moment,” I whispered.

“So, that’s your secret,” Illyana said. She was in as rough shape as he was, maybe worse. “You have a spell that copies any magic used against you so that you can cast it readily.”

“Realise that just now, have you?” Entrik asked. “Such a spell, only one like us could manage. The spell you just cast, it is like.”

“I can try to take him down if you can manage that spell again,” I whispered. “I may be able to brace myself.”

Illyana hesitated a moment before speaking. “If I do it again, the entire floor is going to collapse. Besides, I know how to beat him. His spell’s weakness is that it responds so quickly. Before he even has a proper chance to ascertain what’s being used against him. I’ll just need you to do one thing for me.”

“All right,” I said. “Just tell me what you need.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 207:

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we translate it?” Ophelia asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

“Detonate it now,” Lucy ordered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Land Prince & Ocean Peasant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something wrong, Ben?” Connor asked.

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

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

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

“How do you…” Connor began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Friar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benjamin took the potion from the warlock’s hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Last Draconian 102: Tynan Versus Femre

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Illyana Fensen

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

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

The fireballs collided, spewing a spray of embers around.

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

“I can do that,” Lynai stated.

I prepared another spell.

*****

Michael Ryufan

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

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

I hurriedly took the ladder down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 206: The Looting Begins

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

“Why would I?” Paul asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” Farah said.

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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