Voyages of the Cerberus 140: Communications Break Down

“The engine will not become operational like this,” Yuri stated, pulling away. “You require more parts.”

“Unfortunately,” Ussie hissed. “I ussed all of our ssparesss for repairsss a couple dayss ago and Elijah hassn’t taken uss for replacementsss.”

Yuri considered the situation. There was only one real option.

“I will salvage the parts from my shuttle,” she said. “In exchange, you will bring the shuttle aboard until suitable replacements can be located and installed.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Ussie agreed. “I can even arrange temporary quarterss for you.”

Yuri nodded. She hurried to the airlock and back onto the surface. She had to get the parts quickly, before the Blazer’s crew started showing the effects of planetary exposure.

*****

The weriloits regarded the akumillian party with less a lack of curiosity and more a very blunt resignation.

their questions were answered as quickly and directly as possible.

Still, Lucy caught some glances being thrown their way. She wondered if the scouting party had been less than diligent.

They made their way to the capital city’s government office to meet with the ambassador.

The weriloit looked considerably older than most of the ones they’d seen. He glanced at his visitors. Lucy got the impression that they had been scrutinised very quickly.

She stepped forward. If these people had no use for small talk or niceties then it made things simple.

“Our people desire a treaty of friendship with yours,” Lucy said.

The old ambassador glanced at her, closed his eyes and sat back. “What do you offer and what must we grant in exchange?”

Lucy could sense that her fellows were taken aback but they wouldn’t stop her. Not when everything about his body language showed a favourable response. She decided to press her luck. She outlined everything, leaving them with no real room to negotiate. If she was mistaken, it would make things difficult. But she didn’t believe the weriloits were the type to haggle.

The ambassador listened to the terms with out moving. Finally, he responded. “Agreeable. We will sign.”

*****

“They aren’t answering,” Farah said. “I’ll have to send the message on an open channel.”

She cleared her throat before starting the transmission. “Unidentified vessel, this is Farah Jilani of the Cerberus. We insist that you identify yourselves and your purpose.” She turned to Paul. “Think I should’ve been more aggressive? Maybe it would’ve gotten their attention more quickly.”

“I think your message was just what it needed to be,” Paul said. “It won’t provoke them but it also demands an answer.”

The armed ship continued to move in. Farah was about ready to transmit another message, this one more forceful, when they got a response.

“Cerberus. I am Darna of the Nefrit.” Her voice sounded like she was barely suppressing a giggle. “You have entered private air space. You will surrender your ship, its goods and crew to us. Failure to comply will result in them being taken by force.” The transmission cut.

Farah grabbed her communicator. “Captain,” she reported. “We have a serious  problem.”

“Two problems,” Paul corrected. “The Nefrit has increased speed. They’ll be here before everyone else boards.”

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The Last Draconian 9: A Magi’s Prophecy

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

I stopped at a stream to fill my canteen. The elven girl, Lynai, trailed behind. She waited. “How long do you intend to follow me?”

I saw her shrug out of the corner of my eye. “You said it yourself, right? Someone searching for me isn’t as likely to notice me if I’m with someone else. It’s the same for you isn’t it?” I didn’t bother looking up from the stream or answering. There was no purpose in revealing any details to her. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

I sighed. “You are going to follow me regardless, correct?” She nodded. I considered it for a moment. The elven authorities were looking for her, which could potentially draw attention to me. However, trying to force her to leave could very well produce the same result. It might be preferable to grant her request, at least for the moment. “That will be acceptable for a while, but when I tell you to leave you will do so without hesitation or inquiry.”

Lynai chuckled. “No problem, once we pass through the elf lands I’ll have no reason to follow you anyway.”

Lynai moved directly to my side when I rose from the stream. Together, we walked down the forest trail.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I studied him. We had been travelling companions for two days and I knew almost nothing about him. He hardly spoke and he never removed his hood. One thing that I had noticed was that there was a slight bulge in the back. As though something were pressing against it. A weapon, a tail, something else, I couldn’t tell. All I had managed to get out of him was his name. The only thing I could tell about him from observation was that he was devout. Every day at noon exactly he made a sacrifice to one of the Gods. He wouldn’t tell me which one.

“Michael, why are you hiding?”

He didn’t even pause or miss-step. “That is none of your concern.”

His back seemed to be somewhat jagged, unless his cloak’s looseness was deceiving me. I looked around. We were only a few days away from the border. Then I could bid farewell to my anti-social companion. The sycamores were growing more thickly around the path; we were approaching a checkpoint. They were always on the path where the trees grew most densely. It was a measure to make it harder for enemies to tell which tree housed the checkpoint. I pulled my cloak more tightly and adjusted my own hood.

The one in charge of the checkpoint was a pixie. She had four wings akin to those of a dragonfly. She was no taller than a sparrow and wore a bright red uniform that was ornately decorated with gold lace and silver emblems. One was the emblem of the Elven Royal House; a great birch tree surrounded by ivy. The other was most likely a family crest. It depicted a pixie sitting atop a rose. She had a slightly plump looking face with bright red hair and green eyes. I looked at my companion. Could he see the detail on the emblems? It would take the vision of an elf, a dark elf, or certain feralials.

She flew up to us and hovered in our path. She placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward. “State your names and the reason for your journey.”

“I am Michael Ryufan, I have business in Strecner. This is my travelling companion. Her name is Spring.” It wasn’t a lie, not exactly. ‘Lynai’ meant Spring in old elvish. Now I knew more about my companion, he was educated.

She eyed us suspiciously. “I’ll need to see your bag.” I expected Michael to resist, but he opened his bag and spilled its contents onto the ground without hesitation. I peered down at them. There was a small leather bag, most likely for gold pieces. There was a leather canteen and two silver stones that could fit easily into the palm of my hand. The strangest item was the helmet. It was mostly silver with a violet trim. There were two circular holes in it just above where the eyebrows would be. Each one was about seven or eight centimetres in diameter. The pixie quickly completed her study.

“Very well, you may pass.” Michael silently scooped everything back into the bag and secured it to his waist, over his cloak. We continued on our way.

*****

The Royal One paced around his throne room. “Lais!” Lais walked forward. “Where is he?”

Lais cleared her throat. “He should be here soon. He always keeps his word.”

The doorway leading to the throne room slid open. An elf walked in. He was 188 centimetres tall with long golden hair and shining yellow eyes. He was wearing a forest green cloak with a decorative broach over his heart. It had golden trim with a crescent emerald in the center.

The Royal One stopped pacing. “Larick, thank you for coming all this way.”

Larick nodded. “I’m always glad to help my people. What did you need?”

“My daughter has run away. My forces are too strained to find her in the forest. What should I do?”

Larick sat in a lotus position on the floor and closed his eyes, focusing. “How long has she been missing?”

“Three days.”

“Does she have a horse?”

“She’s on foot.”

“Then she’ll still be in the forest. Even travelling constantly it would take at least four and a half days to leave the forest on foot.” Larick rose. “Send your troops to the south-eastern exit. She’ll show up there in approximately two-and-a-half days with her companion.”

The Royal One’s ears perked. “Companion? You don’t mean …”

“Please relax,” Larick interrupted. “She is unspoiled and will still be so when brought back. However, she will be injured when they find her. From what I can not say. The sight grows hazy on that point. Travelling constantly by horse she will arrive in plenty of time to entertain your guests.”

“You’re sure of all this?”

“Yes, Royal One, the options for the future lessen as it approaches. The exit path is already chosen. With it will come the injury and return of your daughter.”

“And she will be unspoiled?”

“Of that I am also certain. Her companion, I can not see clearly. I do, however, sense that sie will perish chaste.”

The Royal One sighed with relief. “Thank you, Magi, you’ve been a great help.”

Larick turned away from the Royal One. “It’s my duty to make sure that the future unfolds in the way that works best for the elven people. You have rooms prepared for your guests and their servants?”

The Royal One raised an eyebrow. “Of course.”

“Prepare one more. There is a suitor you have yet to meet.” With that message Larick made his exit, in a hurry to see to his own preparations.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 139: Danger on the Horizon

Yuri boarded the Blazer. The serpentine Ussie greeted her at the airlock.

“Thankss for ansswering our disstresss call,” she said. “Iss the Cerberusss nearby?”

“It is not,” Yuri answered. “You ran a scan for it, I take it.”

Ussie nodded. “I need to know the optionss jusst in casse. I’ll esscort you to the engine room.”

“You are not going to ask why I am alone?” Yuri asked.

“I asssume that that matter iss your own bussinesss,” Ussie said.

She led Yuri to their engine room. Tools were scattered around the engine and it had already been opened.

“I’m trying to realign the power couplingsss to bring the enginess back on line,” Ussie said. “do you know how to do engine maintenance?”

“I will assist you,” Yuri said. “Do not worry about my capabilities. I have aided Grace with the engines on the Cerberus before.”

“Good,” Ussie said. “Let’ss get to it.”

*****

“Can you access the controls from down here?” Ophelia asked.

“If she could she would’ve done it by now,” Leon said.

“She’s only been at it for ten minutes,” Kat said. “Have some patience. these things can take time.”

“Unfortunately,” Grace said “Leon’s right. Whoever built this station designed the computers to interact with each other only for very general things. For the most part, you have to access a specific terminal for a specific task.” She looked up. “I’m going to have to get up there to access the gravity controls.”

“Leon, you and I will lift her,” Ophelia said.

Leon and Ophelia carefully lifted Grace so that she could access the console.

“It seems like an illogical design,” Kat said. “What if something goes wrong with one of the terminals? what if there’s an intruder or accident and some stations become inaccessible?”

“I know the flaw,” Grace said. “Tell it to the morons who designed this place.”

“Sorry,” Kat said. “I didn’t mean to imply that you didn’t know. It’s just a really perplexing decision.”

“Not really,” Leon stated. “Ya’ll are thinking in the long term. Maybe this base is abandoned because it wasn’t designed for the long term. Maybe it’s supposed to be temporary and the choice was a deliberate security measure. Much harder to fuck with a base’s computer network when you’ve gotta do it one terminal at a time.”

“That… actually makes a lot of sense,” Kat said.

“Whoever thought that we would say that about something that came out of Leon’s mouth,” Ophelia teased.

“Well, he is an expert in not considering the long term,” Grace added.

“Very funny,” Leon said.

“Brace yourselves,” Grace said. “You’re about to come up. I’m setting it to reverse slowly so we don’t crash into each other or hurt ourselves coming up.”

She finished reversing the gravity settings and the four members of the Cerberus crew found themselves floating up to the ceiling. They managed to manoeuvre themselves and land gracefully.

“Not great security?” Kat asked.

Grace shrugged. “Would’ve been advanced about two decades ago. Really out of date at this point.”

“Either way, let’s grab whatever valuables we can find,” Ophelia said. “Grace, I want you to leave the primary systems intact.”

“I’m not going to tear them up while they’re running,” Grace said. “Besides, the equipment is pretty old. I’d only take it if I really needed parts.”

They began their meticulous search. They found a galley with a lot of dried rations that definitely weren’t made for humans.  There was also some very basic cutlery but nothing of value.

They managed to locate a recreational room next. It had some games they didn’t recognise and some electronic reading devices loaded with various books. The language wasn’t one they knew.

“We could translate them with the universal decoder,” Kat suggested.

“We could,” Ophelia agreed. “But is it worth it? I don’t think anyone’s going to pay for a bunch of digital books.”

“The Luluces,” Grace said. “they’re obsessed with collecting anything and everything written. If these are stories they don’t have, they’ll pay.”

“The… Oh, right,” Ophelia said. “I always forget about them.”

“I forget them too,” Leon stated. “They’re more like cosmic librarians than any kind of power.”

“I rather like them,” Kat said. “It’s nice to see a civilisation based around intellectual pursuits.”

“They only manage it because they don’t have anything really valuable,” Leon muttered.

They took the readers and continued their search. Within the vacated crew quarters, they managed to find a surprising number of valuable items. Jewellery & antiques that looked like they might very well fetch a nice price.

“Jackpot!” Ophelia exclaimed. “But also worrying.”

“Because these things being left indicates that they were forced to abandon the base in a hurry?” Kat asked. Ophelia nodded.

“That was a while back,” Leon said. “Whatever it was, it’s gone.”

*****

Farah was enjoying a bite of scone when she first saw the blip on long range sensors.

She waited for a moment to examine it before activating her communicator. “Captain!”

“Go ahead,” Ophelia responded.

“We’ve got trouble,” Farah reported. “A heavily armed ship just entered our sensor range. It’s heading here really quickly too. They’ll probably be on us in five to eight minutes.”

“We’re heading back,” Ophelia said. “Have the Cerberus ready to move away at a moment’s notice and make sure the weapons are ready to go.”

“We could try talking with them,” Paul suggested. “If nothing else, it might buy some time.”

“Make it so,” Ophelia agreed.

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The Last Draconian 8: Lynai Meets Michael

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

The stranger stared at the bandit, or seemed to. I could somewhat see hir eyes peek through the shadows of the hood. They were a deep violet and very odd but I couldn’t quite place how. “I have no desire to repeat myself, especially to someone who lacks the intelligence to comprehend my words.”

The bandit roared and charged forward. The stranger stuck out hir palms. The wind changed. Currents gathered around the stranger and released. A gust of wind threw the bandit into a tree. He dropped his blade when he hit. The wind swirled around the bandit. Cuts appeared all over his body. It was the wind itself; it was tearing the flesh from his body!

I  took advantage of the distraction by kicking backward and hit the bandit who was holding my arms in the knee. He let go for a moment and I jabbed my knife into his gut.

I retrieved my knives and looked at the tree. The bandit was hardly recognizable. Large portions of his flesh and entrails had dropped around the tree in small fragments. The tree itself was scratched but it would survive. A very brutal spell indeed, but clearly controlled. I could hear predators moving in the forest, undoubtedly attracted to the scent.

The stranger was turning to go. “Hold on for a moment!”

Sie turned to face me. I couldn’t tell what hir expression was. The shadows hid hir well. “Thank you, for aiding me. Are you on your way to Het Wald or just passing through the forest?” I was hoping that sie was just passing through and I could travel with hir.

Before sie could answer the distant sound of hooves became a thunderous roar. I pulled my hood back up and tightened my cloak. I recognized the rider. It was Lofu of the palace guard. He was a veteran who had served our household for seventy years. His golden eyes were said to never miss anything.

He stopped in front of us. I looked away from him. “Halt good travellers! there has clearly been trouble. Tell me, what happened here?”

The stranger answered. “These bandits attacked, what happened afterwards was done purely in defence.”

“Well, no matter. I’m here on a more urgent matter. Have you seen a young female elf? She has long blonde hair, very light. Eyes the colour of an evergreen in spring. She’s about a hundred eighty centimetres tall and weighs about sixty six kilos.”

“I have not seen anyone that matches that description. If I do I will find a way to contact you.”

“See that you do, it’s important to the Royal One that she is found.” Lofu rode away after he had finished speaking. Taking his entourage in tow.

I nodded to the stranger. “Thank you for not giving me away.”

“There was nothing to give away. You are a hundred seventy six centimetres tall. That does not follow his description; ergo he can not be searching for you.” Sie sighed. “Still if you wish to hide your identity you should try walking stooped, and do not hold your cloak so closely, lest you betray your desire to remain hidden.”

It struck me then that this stranger knew all about hiding. Although sie wasn’t hiding hir height. Hir posture was flawless. So maybe the person or persons that sie was hiding from didn’t know what sie looked like. But then why go to so much trouble to hide hir face? I didn’t ask about it though. “You seem to know a thing or two about hiding.” I half-expected hir to move backwards, or give some other indication of shock but sie remained motionless. “Do you know why Lofu didn’t look at me more closely?”

“Seeing us together, he assumed that we are travelling companions. Someone seeking an individual will frequently ignore groups.” Sie turned around. “Now if you will excuse me I must be going.”

“Wait!” I called. Sie paused. I held out a hand to hir. “I’m Lynai. What’s your name?”

“I am Michael Ryufan.” So, the stranger was a man. He didn’t move to take my hand and hurried away. Not exactly the soul of etiquette, was he? I followed him.

*****

Luc was studying a magic text that she had brought with her. She was sitting on the grass under Ulther, the Elivy family home. Supposedly the spells that you could harness using these techniques were the most devastating that could be cast by a mortal. The further Luc delved into the text the more sceptical she became of that claim.

For one thing, the text wasn’t old enough. The pages had barely yellowed. When this had been written the magical renaissance had been over for at least a century. All of the greatest techniques had been developed or refined during that time. The idea that anyone could improve on them was questionable. There was also an issue of the techniques themselves. One suggested lighting a hallucinogen and inhaling it until you could communicate with the physical manifestation of your inner element. Another suggested surviving a near-death experience by absorbing energy from your familiar. Luc closed the book.

Suddenly, a pair of hands covered her eyes. Luc sighed, “Hello, Lais.”

The pair of hands moved away and Lais sat down next to Luc. “Did you use magic to figure out that it was me?”

Luc raised one eyebrow. “Of course not. You’re just the only person I know who would do something so … uncouth.”

Lais giggled. “It’s just my way of saying hello to my favourite sibling.”

Luc rose. “I’m your only sibling, and shouldn’t you be looking for the royal daughter?”

Lais leaned against Ulther’s trunk. “The trouble with the trolls is too bad. Most of the guards are staying in the main cityscape. A few have been sent to the outlying areas to prepare for a possible evacuation. A very small group has been sent to find Lynai.”

Luc sat back down. “The Royal One doesn’t trust you?”

Lais put her head on Luc’s shoulder. “He thinks that I’m too friendly with his daughter and that I might be persuaded to let her pass me unchallenged.”

Luc scowled. “You would never do such a thing.”

Lais smiled lightly. “I wouldn’t, but I would be tempted. Is it okay for you to be away from the academy?”

“Of course, my first duty is to Het Wald. I left Illyana in charge.”

Lais chuckled. “Your human daughter, huh?”

Luc’s cheeks reddened. “What’s so funny?”

“It’s just the thought of you raising a child.”

“I had no choice. Her parents gave her to the academy when she was an infant, as the headmistress it was my duty to look after her.”

Lais nudged Luc with her elbow. “You enjoyed it though, right?”

Luc shrugged. “Illyana has always been a wonderful young lady.”

Lais’s smile widened. “You big softie.”

“At least I don’t let myself be seduced by women a third my age,” Luc said.

“you might be happier if you did,” Lais countered. “Take Inés. She’s a very lovely girl and she would have gladly shared some… quality time with you.”

“Perhaps,” Luc said. “But she’s also my student and far too young.”

“Former student,” Lais said. “And she’s completely of age.” She grinned at her sister. “Just don’t expect me to share her with you.”

“I wouldn’t ask that of you or her,” Luc said. “Don’t worry.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 138: Aboard the Mining Base

“Try not to get into too much trouble while I’m gone,” Lucy instructed.

“You make it sound like we’re going to fly the ship right into an asteroid,” Ophelia said.

“Oh, I know you won’t do that,” Lucy said. “But there are plenty of ways you could get into trouble.”

“We won’t do anything we wouldn’t do if you were around,” Ophelia promised.

“Not helping your case there,” Lucy stated.

She disembarked to join the akumillian expedition to the newly discovered world, leaving the rest of the crew to their own devices.

“All right,” Ophelia said. “Are you all ready to salvage some things from the old mines?”

“Sounds dull,” Leon said.

“You might find a gift for Paul,” Farah suggested.

“Fine, I’m in,” Leon said.

“Paul and Farah will stay behind to watch the Cerberus,” Ophelia said. “We’ll need Grace to examine any strange tech.”

Grace playfully jabbed Paul’s shoulder. “Look after my girl and my pup, in that order.”

“Shouldn’t I be the one looking after him?” Farah asked. “No offence, Doctor, but I can fight. You…”

“She knows,” Paul said. “She’s just joking around.”

Ophelia latched onto the airlock of the main facility.

“Atmosphere,?” she asked.

“Stable and breathable for humans,” Kat answered, after a quick sensor check. “There’s a slight variation from Earth’s atmosphere. It’s little more oxygen rich but I would say our species evolved in a similar climate to theirs.”

“All right,” Ophelia said. “Wear your atmosphere suits but leave the helmets off. that way if there’s a problem with the environmental controls we can switch over quickly. Come on, let’s go.”

She led Leon, Kat and Grace over to the facility. The first thing they noticed was that the lighting was on the floor. They proceeded carefully down the corridor, avoiding stepping on the fixtures. When they arrived at the first chamber they noticed that all of the furniture was attached to the ceiling. the station’s builders had used a thick, pasty substance.

“Is the gravity field supposed to be reversed?” Ophelia wondered.

“Maybe they stick to the ceiling like spiders,” Leon stated. “This might be more comfortable for them.”

“Maybe,” Kat suggested. “But we can’t reach anything of value with it like this.” she reached her hand held up to scan the substance. “It is kind of like webbing, but much stronger.”

“Let’s find the controls and I’ll reverse the gravity,” Grace said.

“Will we  have to lift you to the ceiling?” Ophelia asked.

“You shouldn’t need to,” Grace said. “If I’m close enough to the computer I should be able to interface with it wirelessly, unless it’s too different from my system for the comparability program to work.”

“And if it is?” Leon asked.

“Then we lift her so that she can reach the controls,” Kat answered. “Although, judging by the height here, I wouldn’t be much use for that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ophelia said. “We’ll manage.”

The four hurried onward, looking for the gravity controls.

*****

Lucy looked over the preliminary information on the planet. The natives called it Weriloit. It was roughly sixty percent land with a climate that was quite warm, at least in the major population centres. The scouting party had suggested that the population might migrate to avoid the cold, but hadn’t been able to confirm that theory.

The people themselves were arachnid-like hominids. They had four arms, four legs, eight eyes, spinnerets and fangs but the limbs, torsos and heads were largely humanoid. They had shown the scouting party very basic courtesy, but had seemed mostly uninterested in them.

“That’s strange,” Lucy thought. “I wonder if they lack intellectual curiosity? Or, perhaps they have such a long history of meeting other species that it’s become mundane. In which case, we can expect to find many more inhabited worlds in this area.”

She settled back. They were about to land on Weriloit.

*****

Farah lightly stroked Wolfie’s fur while snacking on a packet of crisps and watching the Cerberus’ scanner.

“No sign of any other ships?” Paul asked.

Farah shook her head. “None yet. Everything is peaceful.”

“I see,” Paul said. He looked over at Farah. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough crisps? They aren’t exactly a healthy snack, you know.”

“It’s fine,” Farah said. “I exercise plenty.”

“Exercising isn’t the issue, Young Lady,” Paul said. “Watching your diet is important for your long term health.”

“Fine, I’ll put them away,” Farah said. “I’m still a bit hungry, though.”

“I’ll make you something,” Paul said. “I have a superb recipe for low calorie blackberry scones.”

“What, are we having a tea party?” Farah asked.

“I’ll bring a fresh pot of Earl Grey too,” Paul said.

*****

Yuri landed on Hietzberg Gamma. There was a familiar ship stranded on a plateau. She landed beside it and took up her communicator.

“Space Blazer, this is Yuri of the Cerberus, I have picked up on your distress beacon. How may I assist you?”

“Yuri, thiss iss Ussie,”  the coranus answered. “Our enginess are damaged and our oxygen will not lasst much longer.”

“And this idiot is filling the bridge with smoke,” Antoine added.

“Dude, relax,” Elijah’s voice came in. “We’ll get out of here just fine like we always do. You want a hit?”

“No!” Antoine yelled.

“Pleasse hurry,” Ussie pleaded. “They’re getting worsse.”

“Acknowledged,” Yuri said.

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The Last Draconian 7: Lynai’s Escape

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I sat in my chambers. Father had his guards watching the door. Apparently, he didn’t trust me not to try and run off. He always had to be astute at the most inconvenient times. I could hear their breathing through the wood. One of them was tapping his foot against the ground. I touched my wall and sent an earnest request to Demeter for aid. I waited for a chance; eventually I closed my eyes and fell into a restless sleep.

I awoke close to midnight. A vine was nuzzling my leg. Strange. I followed the vine to my window and looked down. It had grown from the ground and reached up to the window. I tested the vine’s strength and smiled. It would be enough to hold my weight. Even if I was a little heavier it would have worked. I put on a forest green travelling cloak and placed two knives with hilts shaped like tangled vines into my belt. Then I squeezed through the small opening and used the vine to grapple down.

I placed my arms as widely as I could on Heltsger’s smooth trunk. There was no chance that I was actually going to hug her. She was far too wide. This was the best I could manage. “I’ll miss you, Heltsger, but I have to do this.” I looked up at the vine. “Thank you, Demeter.” The instant my back was turned I heard a light slurping sound. I glanced abaft. The vine was gone.

*****

“Lynai, open this door now!” The Royal One was furious. The door to his daughter’s room seemed to be barricaded.

Lan tapped the door lightly. “Lyn, this isn’t going to help. Come out here and let’s all talk about this.”

The Royal One pushed Lan aside. “All you ever want to do is talk. Go back to your books and leave this problem to someone competent.”

Lan shrugged and walked away. He passed Luc Elivy on his way downstairs. She glanced very briefly at his retreating form as she ascended.

“Miss Elivy, you have come.”

Luc bowed. “What would you have me do, Royal One?”

“My daughter is using magic to block her doorway. I would like you to get this open, without harming Heltsger of course.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Luc sat in the Lotus position. The blackness of her pupils spread out to encompass the entirety of her eyes. After a moment they returned to normal. “Royal One, it is not your daughter’s power keeping this door closed. It is Heltsger’s.”

The Royal One’s eyes widened. “What? What could Heltsger hope to accomplish? Lynai will have to come out eventually.”

“She is hiding the fact that your daughter is gone. I am certain of it.”

“Gone?” The Royal One grabbed Luc’s shoulders. “How is that possible?”

Luc straightened up. “I don’t know, but I do know that the only life force in that room is Heltsger’s.”

“Troll blood! Guards spread out! Find my daughter and bring her back, immediately!”

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The grass by the road wasn’t growing properly. The earth wasn’t to blame; I could sense that the soil was excellent. It was an ill-omen, a warning from the goddess. It probably concerned the trolls. I ignored the impulse that overtook me. I couldn’t go back. I had already turned away from my royal duties. I am a selfish being. I wanted nothing more than to live the life of an ordinary citizen without the burdens of royalty. I even knew what I wanted in a mate. I wanted someone who was intelligent, without the snobbery that too often accompanies intelligence. Someone strong, but also gentle and free of arrogance. Someone kind, but also wild. Someone outgoing and fun. Someone who would empathise with me and actually care about my feelings. Who would see past my title. I had no intention of being unreasonable either. I was willing to make concessions. A little arrogance might be okay. I thought of the priestess, Inés, who had visited Het Wald not long ago and felt my face flush.

My reverie was interrupted by a sound in front of me. There were half a dozen of them, they had the look of bandits. They stared like vultures who have sighted carrion. I clutched my knife hilts and tried to blend into my cloak. I could feel their tread, there weren’t any in hiding. They either had nothing to hide or they were arrogant. They were looking straight at me. I kept my head down and began to move past them. One reached out and pulled me back by my cloak.

“Hey there, miss, don’t be in such a hurry. Spend some time with us.”

I turned slightly. He was clean-shaven with long blond hair and bright blue eyes. I pushed his hand away. “I would rather not. Release me, I’m in a hurry.”

He whistled. “We’ve got a live one, boys.”

One of them eyed me like a ravenous lion. His scent betrayed that he disliked bathing. He had short brown hair and brown weasel eyes. “She’ll sell well, provided we don’t break her too badly.”

I had heard enough. I drew my knives and twirled about. The cold steel penetrated their leader’s throat, assuming the one who grabbed me was their leader. The rest of them drew their weapons. There was the sound of four blades being freed from sheathes.

I quickly backed up against the tree and faced them. Two of them had long swords, one had a bow, one had an axe and the final one carried a dagger.

I pressed my hand against the tree and sent my magic into it. For a brief instant my blood pulsed with the water intake of the roots. I could taste the tree’s life source. As I moved my free hand down, the tree’s branch moved with me and broke the neck of the axe-wielder.

The archer forced me to abandon my post with an arrow. It was planted into the tree where my shoulder had been a moment before. I rolled forward and shot my body upward, slashing at the neck of one of the swordsmen. He parried my blow, and his allies were on me. I dodged to the side and narrowly avoided a sword stroke. Luckily the bandit with the dagger wasn’t as skilful. He fell by his own ally’s attack.

I threw one of my knives at the archer. It became embedded in his skull. One of the swordsmen elbowed me in the chest and the other grabbed my arms. “Should we sell her or avenge the others?”

“We’ll sell her. No point wasting the profit.”

I squirmed but he held fast. “This is your own fault for struggling.” The second swordsman grabbed my cloak. I could hear hooves in the distance, but they wouldn’t get here on time. I worked my muscles as hard as I could, but I was held fast. I couldn’t get enough leverage to use my knife. A twig breaking behind the bandit interrupted him before he could do anything more than just keep me pinned. A stranger in a dark cloak was passing on the road.

“Keep moving, this doesn’t concern you.” The bandit’s voice was threatening.

The stranger turned around. I couldn’t tell if sie was a man or woman. Hir face was hidden in the shadows of hir cloak. When sie spoke hir voice was soft, even lyrical. “You will release the lady and you will leave. I have no desire to engage in battle against weaklings.”

“Weaklings?” The swordsmen glared at hir. I could tell that they were going to force hir to prove that statement and there would certainly be bloodshed. I just hoped it would be enough to allow me to free myself.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 137: What’s Next For Yuri?

“We have seen to your shuttle,” Lunais declared. “We have supplied it for all your needs and with some reminders that may help you in your personal journey.”

“I am appreciative of all that you have done,” Yuri stated. “Thank you.”

“Will you return to your comrades?” Lunais asked.

“I will not,” Yuri answered. “At least not yet. talking with you has allowed me to attain a degree of recovery for my heavily damaged emotional state. However, it is still too early to return to the Cerberus. There is simply too much history within that ship… around the crew. It will be better if I spend some more time away.”

“You are welcome to spend more time with us, should you wish,” Lunais offered.

“I am grateful for the offer, but I must decline,” Yuri said. “I believe that spending some time exploring the universe will be of more benefit at this time.”

“Then we will wish you well,” Lunais said. “We will also extend an invitation to you and your crew to visit us again at any time.”

“That is very gracious,” Yuri said. “I will extend your invitation when I am capable of returning.”

She and Lunais bid farewell and she boarded the shuttle. In truth, she was still interested in staying but she was also concerned. Lunais had been very kind and she was beginning to suspect that the legendary “Himestrix” might be developing feelings for her. She was most definitely not prepared for that. So, she would move on.

*****

“So, are you going to tell me I was right?” Lucy asked.

“Fine,” Ophelia conceded. “you were right. The trip to Dolonis was worth it.”

“I knew you’d see it that way,” Lucy said.

“Just don’t keep bringing it up,” Ophelia said.

“I only will when you’re being needlessly stubborn,” Lucy said. “Just as a friendly reminder.”

“Wonderful,” Ophelia muttered. She perused the list of jobs in front of her. “Let’s just find something quickly.”

“I’ve already found something,” Lucy said.

Ophelia moved over to her and looked over at the offer. It was a surprise. “This is…”

“The akumillian government wants me to take part in some negotiations with a planet on the edge of known space,” Lucy said.

“But they only want you,” Ophelia said. “What’ll the rest of us do?”

Lucy shrugged. “Maybe you can find a mission to go off and take care of while I’m working.” Or you could stay in orbit and wait. The job pays more than enough to justify taking it.”

“I know that much,” Ophelia said. “But I wonder why they want you specifically?”

“Because I’m the best,” Lucy answered. “And they’re worried about you and the others making a good impression for the human alliance.”

“Well, I guess we can try to find our own mission in the area,” Ophelia said. “I don’t want to spend too much more time at ease.”

“Worried your skills will atrophy?” Lucy teased. “If it helps, they’ve found some old asteroid mining bases in the vicinity. They haven’t really been touched by our people or the alliance. You might just find some neat salvage.”

“Then we’ll do that after dropping you off,” Ophelia said. “I’ll inform the crew. You get prepared for your mission.”

*****

Y4-R1’s Personal Log

I have detected a distress beacon from a nearby world, Hietzberg Gamma. Records indicate that it is not inhabited. Nor is it well suited for carbon-based life forms. If a ship has crashed, it will be essential that they are aided quickly.

The atmosphere will not be detrimental to my circuits. I have altered course that I might render the necessary assistance.

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The Last Draconian 6: Elven Matters

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I could hear the lightning crack. I hated lightning, not being able to hear properly had always made me feel really helpless. Or was thunder the sound and lightning the bolts themselves? Michael had corrected me over getting that wrong once. Still, thanks to Drake, I didn’t feel entirely helpless. Why didn’t I feel as brave as I had during the last storm? It was an easy question to answer. Michael wasn’t here any more.

During the last big storm Michael had sat with me and told me legends of how life on Gaia began, or were they legends? Since he was a draconian he would know, right? Drake indicated that something was floating in the storm. I opened my window, and the object floated in, dripping rain on my hand and floor. I closed the window again before examining the object.

It was the same kind of device that Michael had used to send me a message before. I found the recess right away and pressed it. Unfortunately I didn’t hear a word properly since the lightning was still cracking.

Since I had to wait anyway I opened my dresser’s upper-left drawer. The first item that I felt was Drake’s soul stone. It vibrated lightly at my touch. I pulled out a warm vial of cow’s blood. I went to the windowsill where his bowl sat. The cork came loose easily, letting loose the rusty scent of blood. I poured the vial into the bowl. Drake tasted the air near the bowl. He greedily slurped up the liquid. When Drake was finished with his meal I took my silk handkerchief and gently wiped his face. He nuzzled my hand in appreciation. I had to wait for more than four hours until the storm subsided. Then I reactivated the orb. This time the voice was clear:

Illyana, I have completed my suit of armour. Now all that remains is the destruction of the lich. There is a ninety percent chance that I will succeed. In the unlikely event that the lich survives please make sure that he is brought to justice for his crimes. The evidence of his deeds can be found at Drahaven. Farewell, my friend.

I collapsed onto the floor. There was something about his voice. My chest tightened. “Michael, you don’t plan on surviving your battle, do you?”

*****

Luc was on her way to Het Wald. She passed another guard post without incident. It was built into a still-living elm tree. The openings that the guards watched from were only noticeable to those who knew where to look. The lines of the entrance vanished completely when it was closed.

Luc was glad to return home. She enjoyed her time in Wicadia, teaching, studying, living as a scholar of magic; but the dead buildings were so wasteful that it bordered on barbarism. As she arrived at the city limits a group of elves clad in golem-briar armour approached her. Of course they expected her; they had probably been informed of her arrival the moment she entered the forest. At their head was a tall male with light green hair and brown eyes.

“Well met, second daughter of the Elivy house. It was good of you to return. I am Leaf, second son of the Elfblood house.”

Luc bowed. “I greet you son of royalty.”

Leaf gestured toward a giant oak. “Come, Lady, I will explain the situation as we dine.”

Luc followed him. Leaf gestured at the oak’s trunk. A large segment of the trunk slid open. He held out his arm toward the opening. Luc walked in and Leaf followed, the opening closed behind them.

*****

A troubled elf clad in white silk and adorned with a crystal circlet descended the wooden steps. He had chestnut coloured hair that was speckled with flecks of grey. “Lan, where is your sister?”

Lan looked up from his book. His long ears drooped as he scratched his blond hair. “I believe that she mentioned wanting to play with the royal guards.”

The elf’s yellow eyes seemed to give off sparks. “She knows that I disapprove of such play. Where are your brothers?”

Lan thought for a moment. “Liys took a patrol to survey the border and Leaf went to meet the second daughter of the Elivy family.”

“Your brothers take their responsibilities seriously. You should look into it.”

“I do take my responsibilities seriously. I’ve been studying past conflicts between us and the trolls. If I can isolate the root of those hostilities we may be able to free ourselves from them.”

“You fool, trolls have no reason. They merely hate for hatred’s sake. You should be training to fight instead of wasting your time.” The elf turned away from his son and left their home.

*****

?????

There was a group of guards around us, watching. I ignored them and focused on my opponent. Her blade clashed against mine again and again.

Her strikes were slow. She wasn’t taking the match seriously. She would do what she always did, fight just hard enough to press me. I brought my own blade up to parry her downward strike. I quickly grabbed her wrist with my free hand and twisted. Her blade fell to the ground. It was unsatisfying, both because she hadn’t been taking it seriously and because I was quite certain that she could have kept her grip.

“Lais, what are you doing?” My father walked through the guards. They parted in deference to him.

Lais removed her helmet and bowed.

Her light pink hair fell loosely around her face. “Royal One, I was simply granting your daughter’s request for swordplay.”

Father turned towards me. His face was composed but I could see the anger in his eyes.

“Explain yourself, Lynai.”

I shrugged and looked away from him. “I was only having a little fun.”

“It is unseemly for a royal daughter to engage in swordplay.” He turned and beckoned me to follow. I moved in step beside him. “Why must you embarrass me?”

“I wasn’t trying to embarrass you.”

“And yet you have. Lynai, you are of age, you should be more concerned with items of import.”

“What’s of greater import than practising my swordplay? Especially now.”

“It is the duty of the royal sons to take up their blades. You have your own duty.”

I stepped back and slowly moved away. Father stopped me. “You will listen to me when I speak.”

I shook his arm away. “I’ve heard this before.”

“And yet you have done nothing about it. The suitors are growing impatient.”

“I don’t like any of them.”

“That is unfortunate, but ultimately of little import.”

“How can you even ask me to become the mate of someone I don’t care about?”

“It is a matter of duty. If you were not the only royal daughter I might be able to release you from this duty. Sadly, I can’t.”

We stood in silence for a moment, just staring at one another. Father eventually spoke. “What about prince Reynard of Torla?”

“He’s a weakling.”

“He is kind and gentle.”

“Don’t forget less interesting than watching grass grow.”

“The Lady Artura of Preklam?”

“She has all the emotions of a dandelion.”

“Sir Thomas of Relna?”

“He’s about as charming as a wild boar.”

“Lady Elune of Jervul?”

“She doesn’t even look at me like I’m a person. Besides, she carries that whip everywhere. It’s creepy.”

“Sir Steelspine of Helvek?”

“He’s short and I don’t think he ever bathes.”

“He’s a dwarf.”

“Does bad hygiene come with being a dwarf?”

“Sir Hetan of Strecner?”

I crinkled my nose. “I think that he was present when the first elves were born.”

“I will no longer play this game with you. I have invited your suitors to come as our guests in ten days. We will entertain them for three days; you will choose one of them for your mate at the end of that time. That is final.” He walked away, clearly not giving me a choice in the matter. As he turned away I stuck my tongue out at him. Childish, yes, but it made me feel a little better.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 136: Grieving Issues

 

Paul sat with an elderly akumillian.

“Doctor Albrecht,” she said. “It wasn’t your fault. You know that, right?”

“I do understand that,” Paul stated. “But she was under my care. It was my responsibility to save her. I just… I just keep going over it. Could I have done anything different? Could I have moved more quickly at a crucial time?”

She nodded. “I understand. You are a good doctor. You are very attached to your patients. you would do anything to save them. but this train of thought, it is not healthy. You will drive yourself to madness if you agonise over every lost patient to this extent. Let me tell you something, Doctor, I used to be a practised surgeon myself. And there are times in the career of any doctor who handles emergencies when a patient comes in with injuries so severe that they can not be saved. No matter how hard you try, how quickly you act or what you do. We still try. We still try damn hard but, ultimately, we’re going to fail most of the time we have a case like that. It must be especially difficult for you. You work on a small ship where the crew is very close-knit. These aren’t strangers you’re trying so desperately to save. They’re your friends, your family.” She put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “It must have been very difficult, seeing her in that condition.”

Paul nodded, tears flowing freely.

“I’m going to suggest something,” she said. “Talk to Miss Katie. she is the leader of your fighter squadron. I’m sure she shares your feelings of personal responsibility. I think talking it through with her, openly and honestly, will benefit you both.”

“It does make sense,” Paul conceded. “Leaders do tend to feel a sense of responsibility for the people working under them. I’ll talk with her.”

*****

“Hate this bloody thing,” Leon thought. “How does sitting still and focusing even help?” The machine powered on around him.

He remembered seeing Allison’s ship get hit out of the corner of his eye. He and Farah had provided covering fire so that Kat could retrieve her. Then the fight ended and the waiting began until…

He remembered how he had felt when the announcement had come. Furious, ready to snap but also hollow and tired.

A part of him wanted revenge, to hunt down all the people in the Alliance’s hierarchy who’d so much as read a memo about the operation but another just wanted an end to the conflict so he wouldn’t lose anyone else.

After all, how far could they push things before another one of them got shot down? Would Kat be next? Farah? Him? What if next time they damaged the Cerberus herself? If something happened to Paul he knew he’d lose it, absolutely and completely.

Still, didn’t his comrade, his friend, deserve to be avenged, no matter what the risks? Wasn’t that justice?

*****

“I liked her,” Farah said. “She made me feel welcome when I joined the crew. She was funny, confident. Like, there was always an energy about the room when she was around.”

“But I didn’t know her as well as I should have,” A second Farah said.

“I wanted to,” Farah said. “I really did.”

“But my romance with Grace came first,” the second Farah chimed in. “And then there were Paul and Leon. They treated me like family. I liked being around them.”

“I tried to get to know everyone on the ship,” Farah said.

“And now I feel like I should have taken more time for Allison,” the second Farah jumped in. “Like I should have taken more time with her when I had the chance.”

Farah could only nod to herself. “I know. I really, truly wish I had spent more time with her.”

*****

“Ophelia, start,” Lucy encouraged.

“This is dumb,” Ophelia said. “We don’t need to be here to talk.”

“We don’t,” Lucy said. “But here you can’t even try to lie to me or yourself. So, start.”

“I feel responsible, okay?” Ophelia said. “I brought Allison into space. I put her into danger. I sent her and the others in the fighters.”

“That’s a very human way to take the blame,” Lucy chided. “You offered her an opportunity that she loved. She loved flying the Nebula. She loved missions that let her feel like she was making a difference.” Lucy took a moment. “Did you know that she thought about leaving after the original Cerberus was destroyed?”

“No, I didn’t know that,” Ophelia said. “Are you certain?”

Lucy nodded. “She was afraid. Afraid of what almost happened.”

“She was right to be,” Ophelia said.

“But she stayed,” Lucy continued “because she loved us. Because she loved her life aboard the Cerberus. Ultimately, she knew the risks and she chose to stay and face them because that’s what we meant to her. Frankly, Dear Heart, it makes me a little angry to hear you belittle her ability to make decisions and try to take all the credit.”

“I…” Ophelia began.

“You gave her a life that meant that much to her,” Lucy said. “And we all contributed to that. Right now, you shouldn’t be feeling sorry for yourself. You should be grateful that you got to know her and saddened that there won’t be any more memories with her. Just don’t speak and think about that for a moment.”

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The Last Draconian 5: Armouring Up

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I always hated the academy meeting chamber. Something about it caused an echo and it was always hard for me to tell where people were as a result. There was also the scent, mildewy soil, it was nauseating. The first time I was brought here I thought it was a cave, until I was corrected.

“So Illyana, do you accept?”

Mum’s voice interrupted my reverie. Somewhere overhead I could hear Drake flap his leathery wings. Mentally, I ordered him to return to my shoulder. When he had landed I reached up and scratched his chin. “I will take the position if you need me to. But, where are you going?”

Her familiar arms came down on my shoulders and I felt the warmth of her robes. Drake flew into the air, screeching in protest at being forced to move. He settled back onto my shoulder once the robes were in place. “There’s trouble in Het Wald. I have to return and do what I can to help. After the trouble has passed I may return to reclaim my position.”

“If you choose to do so I will return your robes gladly.”

I felt her hand rub my cheek. Her fingers were long with well-trimmed nails. It was warm. “I will miss you… Daughter.”

I felt my cheeks flush. She never called me daughter in public. “Headmistress…”

“Illyana,” she interrupted me. I heard a rebuke in her tone, but also sadness. “When I refer to you using familial terms I expect to be answered back in kind.”

I smiled. “I’ll miss you too, Mother.”

She reached down and hugged me. I heard her staff hit the stone floor. I hugged her back. I heard her bend down and pick up her staff. On her way out I heard her tell someone—Professor Mord, judging from the way he constantly tapped his staff against the floor. “I’m counting on you to aid my troublesome daughter.”

“It would be a pleasure.” The voice confirmed that it was Professor Mord.

I retired to my room. The only mother I had ever known was leaving and she had given me a great responsibility. Watching over the entire Academy. Was I really the most qualified? I needed time to think. I used my command over the earth and wind to make sure that I was alone. At around midnight I heard the wind pounding my window. At first I ignored it, but then Drake began screeching, something was out there. I opened the window, and the object glided into my room with a sharp gust of wind. It landed in the palm of my hand. It was circular and almost smooth. It felt cold and metallic. My probing fingers quickly found a recess. I put my finger into it and felt a switch give. At that moment I heard a voice say:

“Illyana, I regret that I have neglected to send you any news for these past years. I have mastered a multitude of swordsmanship techniques. Soon I will face my enemy in combat and have my revenge. I trust that you have learned much of the ways of magic. I thank you for keeping my existence a secret. For the time being I plan to return to Drahaven and forge a suit of armour. I will send you another message once that is complete.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

I returned to Drahaven. There were footprints in the ground. I could tell that they were fairly recent. These people had probably arrived five, perhaps six, days ago. I felt a burning sensation. How dare they attempt to loot my people’s home. When I looked closer I noticed that the ground had been heavily worn. A great number of people had come through here, probably looking for our technology. The star probe had been mostly gutted. All that remained was rust and a few broken circuits. It was of no consequence, the parts had already been rendered inoperable by Sadow’s attack. Even had they been salvageable, only a draconian would be capable of constructing anything with them. For any one else, they would serve as a curiosity.

Calming myself, I flew to the summit of the mountain directly south of the city. I located the crater immediately. It was in a flat area near the peak. Summoning a breeze I cleared the dust from a small area of the north-eastern wall. The cleared area looked like a flat sheet of rock with a slight recess to the left. I proceeded to put my left hand into the recess. The scanning device took a sample of my blood. While the analysis continued, I verbally entered the access code: “j73wb8kf4ne6i76je6jvgn56nfd56h6nold4y”

The door slid open and I entered the compound. It took ten seconds for the entrance to seal itself. I walked to the end of the corridor and felt my entire body being scanned. A mechanical arm emerged and took my pulse. I squeezed the knuckle of its pinky finger. The floor beneath me opened. My wings spread out with room to spare. Using them to slow my decent, I reached the heart of our compound. I moved past the museums, where machines and other important objects were enshrined, and into our laboratories. The first door led to the mechanical area, across from that was the chemistry area. Past them was the metallurgy laboratory, where I needed to go.

Fortunately, my people had learned blacksmith techniques from the dwarves. It was their way of showing gratitude for a mining device that we had given them. It took me two tries before I managed to successfully forge a suit of armour. Somehow I was unable to make my hands accomplish the perfect forging that I could see in my mind. The armour was mostly silver in colour with violet trim, the colours of our banner. Violet was chosen to represent the mind and silver to represent technology. It had to be light enough that I could maintain a high velocity while flying. It also needed enough strength to offer the protection I would require. It was not a simple task to attain the proper balance. I included hatches just big enough for my tail and wings. Once my wings and tail were through, the hatches would close around them, allowing them freedom of movement without leaving potential entrance into the armour. Once the hatches closed the only way to take advantage of their existence would be to completely remove my tail or wings. For the chest emblem I used a dragon descending with its talons outstretched. My helmet contained two openings that perfectly matched the circumference of my horns.

As an after thought I built a messenger device. When that was complete I flew back up to the opening. As I hovered, the scanner checked me again and opened the floor above me. I exited the complex and flew from the crater. When I had landed I programmed a message into my device and sent it to apprise Illyana of my status. I held it out in my palm. “Wind, carry my message high so that it will not be intercepted and carry it fast.” Before letting it go I visualized Illyana’s room in Wicadia, then Wicadia itself from an aerial view. The wind responded and carried the orb from my hand. After that was complete, I constructed a crude altar to the Goddess and made an offering of incense and mule deer fat to her. “Sweet Nemesis, guide my hands.” I offered the short prayer. It was time. I simply had to make the journey to Strecner and then I would put an end to everything.

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