The Bagged Heiress: Part Two

Previous chapter

Seeing Bianca perform her magic was just as impressive when you knew what to expect. At least, Hilde thought so. Bianca held her crystal ball and performed her incantations.

The crystal started to swirl into an image. Hilde watched intently. Before it could complete its work, however, the crystal cracked and shattered, falling into shards.

“You okay?” Hilde asked.

“Fine,” Bianca said. “None of the pieces got my hands.”

Hilde let out a sigh of relief. “So, why did that happen?”

“Whoever has the girl has some anti-scrying protection,” Bianca answered, turning over one of the crystal shards in her hand. “Very powerful too.”

“Is it possible to get through it?” Hilde inquired.

“N… maybe,” Bianca answered. “I’d have to put a lot of power into a counter-spell. There are risks, though. First off, given the strength of their protection it might fail. Secondly, whether it works or not attacking their protective spell will alert them to us immediately. You want me to try, Love?”

“Forget it,” Hilde said. “It’s probably better if they don’t know we’re looking for them. We’ll find the kid the old-fashioned way.” She leaned back, turning her newsie hat around in her hands. “You know more about magic and the creatures who use it than I do. Where might we find a child abductor?”

“Magical creatures come in three basic varieties,” Bianca answered. “There are those who tend to hide in plain sight, disguised as humans or other ordinary things. There are also those that live in the holes of this world.”

“Holes?” Hilde asked. “What do you mean, holes?”

Bianca thought for a moment. “Have you ever felt like you were being watched but no one was around? Or misplaced something, even though you could swear you knew exactly where it was?” Hilde nodded. “Everyone has,” Bianca continued. “That’s because this world has small… nexus points where magical energies gather. Small points that cross into a magical world. That’s where you can find the fae and other small, magical creatures that cross freely from world to world. They like to dart in and out.”

“And you said the fae do abduct children,” Hilde recalled.

Bianca nodded. “I don’t think they’re responsible for this, though. They wouldn’t have left that print nor would they have such an incredible anti-scrying spell protecting them. I think we’re looking at the third type.”

“That seems to worry you,” Hilde observed. “What’s the third type?”

“Creatures that dwell primarily in the other world,” Bianca said. “They normally can’t cross over here because they’re so powerful that portals, like the one we used to reach that witch’s pocket dimension, can’t retain their stability for them. There are two cases where they can cross. The first is when a group of lesser magical beings convene and perform a very involved summoning ritual. The second is to wait for a time of the year when magical energies are at their peak, enabling a stronger portal to link our worlds.” Bianca looked thoughtfully at Hilde. “The solstice is such a time.”

“I’m guessing we’re close enough that it’s a possibility,” Hilde said. “So, how would you suggest we find this thing?”

“Well,” Bianca said “If it’s taking advantage of the solstice then it will still be around. It won’t want to be around humans because it’ll stand out. So, it should be creeping about in the night.”

“And during the day?” Hilde asked.

“Hiding somewhere away from humans,” Bianca answered.

“What kind of children will it be targeting?” Hilde asked.

“Most magical creatures that steal children go after the particularly bratty ones.”

“Given that the kid we’re looking for disappeared after having a fit because she couldn’t have another horse, that fits,” Hilde said. “If we get you another crystal ball, can you scry to find us the worst behaved child who isn’t missing or is that too vague?”

“It’s not too vague at all,” Bianca said. “Are we doing a stake out?”

“I think it’s more effective than searching every single abandoned building, nature area and what have you in the vicinity,” Hilde said. “Unless you have something else to do.”

“And miss spending time with you?” Bianca asked. “Perish the thought.”

“Flatterer,” Hilde snorted.

“Can we sit intimately close and hold hands?” Bianca inquired.

Hilde shrugged. “Sounds fine to me. I may even let you sneak the occasional kiss if you’re good.”

Bianca grinned. Inwardly, she was wondering if the closeness would make facing this thing… whatever it was, worth it. Still, she couldn’t let Hilde go it alone.

The two linked arms and headed out to grab a new crystal ball.

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The Last Draconian 26: Flight From Het Wald

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I put my hand on the outside of the cave. Vines extended downward and entangled the guards.

I truly wanted to escape but I couldn’t, not yet. I had a duty to perform first. Not for my father, or even the elven people, but for myself. Because he had shown me kindness, Michael was being held here. It was all my fault. I had to give him his freedom or I wouldn’t be worthy of mine. I’d be just like my father and the council, taking freedom away from someone else for my own selfish end.

I carefully walked down the cavern stairs. A figure was walking carefully up at the same time. I put my hand on the cavern wall and waited.

That was the first time I saw him clearly. He had upward curving horns, just above his eyebrows. They were about four inches tall and they were segmented. His eyes looked almost like a geckos. They were a deeper violet than they’d looked when they were covered. He had long silver hair that went down to his lower back. He had reptilian wings with dark violet scales and a tail. He must have kept it curled around his waist when he had worn his cloak because it was almost touching the ground. It reminded me of a komodo’s tail, but longer and with the defined segmenting you would see in a crocodile’s tail.

I could feel my cheeks flush. He was surprisingly pretty. His facial features were very close to being soft and traditionally feminine. “Michael?” I asked.

He grasped his sword. “Do you intend to get in my way?”

I put my hands up in a sign of capitulation. “I came to rescue you, actually.”

“I see,” he took his hand off of his hilt. “That will not be necessary. I have extricated myself.”

I heard a commotion from behind him. There were guards shouting and weapons being drawn. We ran up the stairs and right outside of the cave. There were guards converging from out there too. They had us surrounded.

“Troll’s blood!” I cursed. “We’re going to get caught.”

Michael calmly picked me up and cradled me. His hands were cold, but also very soft. His wings stretched out. “We will not be caught.” He flew and carried us both away. I could feel an amazingly strong draft pushing us forward. Some arrows shot at us, but the wind was too strong and knocked them off course. I couldn’t believe it. I had managed to escape, thanks to Callie, Lan and Michael.

*****

“I’m sorry, Royal One,” Lang said. “I didn’t recognise what he was doing until it was too late.”

The Royal One walked slowly away from his guard. His face was reddened. “Perhaps you can explain to me, how you let a maniacal draconian escape with my only daughter. Your sheer incompetence is…” The Royal One’s body turned rigid. He gasped but couldn’t breathe. He clutched his chest with one hand. He looked up at the ceiling helplessly and collapsed.

Lang rushed forward. He held onto the Royal One. “Hang in there, Sir! Please, hang in there!”

*****

Lyon rode into the capital of Het Wald. “I need an audience with the Royal One,” he said.

The sentry looked up at him with a pained look.

“What’s wrong?” Lyon asked.

The young elf shook his head. He motioned for Lyon to enter the palace.

Lyon was met by Lang. “I have terrible news,” Lang said.

“So do I,” Lyon said. “I was hoping to speak to the Royal One.”

“Lyon,” Lang began. He took a deep breath and spoke slowly. “The Royal One is dead.”

“Goddess, no!” Lyon cried. “How did it happen?”

“He was poisoned,” Lang stated. “It was a blood flower root based poison. The poison is very slow-acting so we can’t even be sure when he was exposed to it.”

“I was too late,” Lyon said. “Damn that Larick!”

“The Magi?” Lang inquired, shocked. “Why would you possibly think that he was involved?”

Lyon cleared his throat, took a deep breath and told Lang everything. The Magi’s betrayal, the deaths of the eldest royal sons and Larick’s confession.

*****

Michael Ryufan

My breath was coming in short gasps. My chest was undergoing a sensation of sharp, piercing pain. My hearts were beating at an accelerated rate. I had over-strained myself. She looked over me. Her long hair drooped down and touched my face. It was a rather irritating sensation. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“I am well enough,” I assured her. “Kindly remove your hair from my face.”

“Oh, sorry,” she said. She moved her face away from mine. “It’s just that you look really pale.”

“It is difficult for me to fly for such a long distance,” I explained. “This is especially true when I am weighed down.”

Her voice shifted. Her tone became less familiar. “Are you saying that I’m heavy?”

“That is a misinterpretation,” I said. “I estimate your weight to be around sixty seven kilograms. Which is perfectly normal, given your build. However, I am not accustomed to carrying that much extraneous weight.”

I felt her foot lightly nudge my ribcage. “I’m going to be by myself for a while,” she said.

I closed my eyes. I was going to require a copious amount of rest.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 156: The Yvlet Burrow

The Ice Pom floated down into the burrow.

Yuri & Ussie monitored the little robot’s condition while Meiling remotely operated it near the burrow. The two groups kept in open radio contact. After all, there’s was a scientific expedition, not something they needed to worry about being eavesdropped on.

“Cleaner than I  expected,” Antoine muttered.

“It’s probably got a designated bathroom chamber,” Elijah said. “A lot of burrowing animals do.”

“He’s right,” Meiling confirmed. “The Yvlet is a very tidy creature.”

“I’m going to engage its automatic functions,” Meiling stated. “Alex, do you want me to take over the mapping?”

“I’m fine,” Alexandria said. “It’s just marking the branches that it doesn’t take any way.”

“Then let’s see how well this works,” Meiling said. “Yuri, Ussie, are you monitoring it closely?”

“Affirmative,” Yuri answered.

Meiling set the Pom on auto and they watched as it moved, slowly and methodically throughout the burrow. After watching it for a couple of hours, Meiling spoke up.

“Strange, there’s no sign of any food stores, the bathroom chamber or the Yvlet. No sign of the burrow being in use at all. Yuri, are you two detecting anything?”

“There are no unusual readings on the sensors,” Yuri responded.

“Don’t tell me we were watching an out of use burrow this entire time,” Antoine said.

“It’s starting to look likely,” Meiling answered. “I wonder if this one is completely unconnected to the one Alex and I were watching.”

“We wasted days on this!” Antoine declared.

Elijah put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Relax, Little Dude. There’s no way any of us could’ve known. Besides, it’s not like we were in any hurry, right?”

“Why must you always be so calm?” Antoine asked.

Elijah considered it for a moment and shrugged. “Perspective, I guess?”

Ussie laughed, it was a raspy sound. “He alwaysss asssksss that and you alwaysss give him a different ansswer. You’d think one of you would learn.”

“I just have a lot of different reasons, I guess,” Elijah said.

“There is no need for concern anyway,” Alexandria said. “Scientific method involves a lot of trial and patience. It’s something I’ve learned from my time with Mei.”

They finished mapping the burrow after nearly another hour. Meiling’s hunch proved to be correct. The burrow they’d been watching was long abandoned and not at all connected to the other.

“I guess there’s nothing for it but to try the other one,” Meiling said. “It may not be using that entrance any more, but we know it’s down there. We just have to find where it is and where the other exits are.”

“One moment,” Alexandria said. She moved over to Meiling and pressed her forehead against Meiling’s. ”

“Alex…” Meiling began.

“We have not brought a heating unit for this exercise,” Alexandria said. “And you are getting cold. We will return to the ship, eat and warm up. We will return to the examination after.”

“Sounds good to me,” Elijah said. “I’ve got a case of the munchies.”

“You always have the munchies!” Antoine exclaimed.

“Do I?” Elijah asked.

“It iss very common for you,” Ussie agreed. “A sside effect of that plant you ssmoke.”

“Well, no harm done,” Elijah said.

The group returned to the Blazer with the Ice Pom and had a quick rest. Yuri and Ussie made some quick adjustments to the Ice Pom. After a quick respite, Meiling and her group went back outside and to the other burrow.

“You two, watch carefully,” Alexandria instructed. “This is where Mei was attacked. There could be other dangerous predators.”

“Got it,” Antoine said.

“I shouldn’t worry too much,” Elijah said. “I doubt there’s anything that’ll be as dangerous as you would be if she was in trouble.”

Alexandria nodded. “Vigilance is still important.”

The Ice Pom was sent into the burrow. After a short jaunt, it located a chamber with some stored roots. There wasn’t any sign of the Yvlet yet. The bathroom chamber was next, with droppings half-buried under loose snow in the corner. Still no sign of the Yvlet.

Finally, they saw it. Sleeping on a bed of ice covered with needle-like leaves. The Yvlet had a serpentine body covered with thick fur. It had long whiskers and stubby legs with sharp claws. The Ice Pom went still.

“We’ve got the target,” Meiling said.

“It could be an opportunity,” Antoine suggested. “If we follow it when it awakens, we might be able to catch it emerging from the burrow.”

“It’s risky without knowing the exits,” Meiling said. “It could easily give us the slip.”

“I recommend proceeding slowly so as not to wake it,” Yuri said. “We may be able to finish mapping the burrow while it slumbers.”

“And then we could double back and watch it,” Meiling said. “I’ll take it out of there on manual. If this works out, we may be able to catch it really soon.”

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The Bagged Heiress: Part One

Hello, Everyone. This year for the winter holiday season I’ve decided to express my appreciation for all of you by doing a bit more than wishing you a happy Solstice, Hanukkah, Hearth’s Warming, Hogswatch, Yule, Christmas or whatever other holiday you may celebrate. Although wish you a happy *insert one of those here* I do. But as a little present from me to you, I’m going to be posting a little extra story for a while. It’ll probably be posted on Saturdays, with maybe some extras. It also happens to be related to the extra little story I posted for Halloween. So, without further ado, here’s the first part of The Bagged Heiress and happy holiday season to all.

*****

Bianca Hexe carefully manoeuvred her broom down onto the roof of the office building that happened to house the investigation agency of Hildegard Elizabeta Müller, careful so as not to be seen. She set her broom by the entrance down into the building and cast a quick protective spell over it. Just in case. The door down wasn’t locked, not that it would’ve mattered if it had been. It is, after all, terribly difficult to keep a witch from going where she pleases.

She made her way to Hilde’s office. Hilde was inside, talking to a gentleman who looked to be in his sixties. His black hair was peppered with grey. His dark skin was visibly wrinkled. He was dressed in a polo shirt and slacks but still had a distinguished air about him.

Bianca moved behind Hilde and threw her arms around her neck. “You must be our client,” she said. “Don’t worry about a thing. My lovely Hilde is quite the detective. I guarantee we’ll solve your case.”

To Bianca’s surprise, Hilde looked embarrassed. Hilde did her best to hide her face, shrinking back in her seat a little. “Bianca, she said “this is my dad. Dad, this is Bianca, my girlfriend.”

Bianca pulled away from Hilde and extended a hand to her father. “Pleased to meet you, Sir.”

“Likewise, likewise,” he took her hand gently. “You can call me Gottfried. Hilde, you didn’t tell me..” he shook his head. “Never mind. I can see that you two have work to be getting to. Hilde, bring your lovely lady here down to the restaurant. I’m sure Lorelei would love to meet her and we can talk properly.”

He bowed and excused himself.

“How’d I do for first impressions?” Bianca asked. “I think he liked me.”

“You just outed me in front of my dad,” Hilde said.

“Really?” Bianca asked. “You always seemed so open. There any reason you kept it from him?”

“Of course there is,” Hilde said. “He’s a very religious man. I didn’t know if he’d be okay with it.” Hilde’s phone vibrated. She picked it up and checked it. “Guess I underestimated him,” she said. “Take a look.”

Bianca peeked at the screen. Gottfried had just made a post: “Just found out my baby girl has a way cuter girlfriend than most straight folks could manage. That’s good genetics right there.”

“Nice!” Bianca declared. “You should put a like on it.”

“You only like it because he called you cute,” Hilde said.

“Hey, it made you smile too,” Bianca said. “So, where is this important client we have to do a job for?” She didn’t say anything when she noticed Hilde press “like” on her father’s post.

“We’re meeting him at his town house,” Hilde said. “We’ll take my car.”

“Then I’ll get my broom and put it in the back,” Bianca said. “Just in case.”

*****

The two met at Hilde’s Beetle.

“It’s not far,” Hilde said. “Our client is Francis Weber.”

“Oh yeah, his family owns all those factories, right?”

“Right,” Hilde said. “Apparently his young daughter’s gone missing..”

“So, our job is to find this brat,” Bianca said. “Is this really our speed?”

Hilde shrugged. “Work is work. Besides, it’ll be nice to have a simple, easy job.”

*****

They arrived at the Weber’s luxury town house. Francis was a wiry man with spectacles and blonde hair.

“It’s my fault,” he lamented. “She just wanted another horse. I should’ve just given it to her.”

“Calm down, Mister Weber,” Hilde said. “We’ll find her. Just tell us, where did you last see her”

“She was in her room,” Francis answered.

“Anywhere she might have gone?” Hilde asked.

“Perhaps to our place in the country,” Francis said. “But I’ve called there already. The staff haven’t seen a sign of her.”

“I’d like to see her room,” Hilde said. “Maybe we can find some clues.”

“Yes, of course,” Francis said. He clapped his hands. “Abigail, show Detective Müller and her associate to Francine’s room.”

The maid bowed. “This way, please.” she said.

Bianca waited until they were a little away before leaning over to Hilde. “Another horse?” she whispered. “How many does the kid have already?”

“Miss Francine has six horses,” Abigail answered, overhearing. “This is her room.”

“Thanks, that’ll be all,” Bianca said. Abigail curtsied and went back to her duties.

Hilde opened the door. Bianca felt it instantly. A magical presence hung thick in the air.

“Careful!” she said.

“Something wrong?” Hilde asked.

“Don’t you feel it?” Bianca asked. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t. You’re just an ordinary human. Well, an extraordinary human in a lot of ways but without any magical tendencies, you know?”

“Please, Bianca, Hilde said. “Get to the point.”

“There’s magic at work here,” Bianca said. “Powerful stuff too.”

Hilde scanned the room. “Doesn’t look like anything’s amiss.”

“But you must feel a sense of unease,” Bianca insisted.

“You’re right about that,” Hilde admitted. “Something here does feel… wrong, somehow.”

“And the magical miasma is thick,” Bianca said. “But I don’t think it’s fresh. Whoever… whatever was here did its business and got out.”

“You think Francine was taken by this thing?” Hilde asked. She’d gotten on her knees and was examining the ground.

“It seems likely,” Bianca said. “Given that its presence is relegated to her room.” With a great sense of discomfort, she stepped inside Francine’s room and shut the door.

“You’re the expert, what kinds of magical creatures abduct children?” Hilde asked. “Another witch?”

“A witch is possible,” Bianca said. “If it is a witch she’s amazingly strong. Fae sometimes steal children, but I don’t know if they have this kind of power. There’s the Grýla, Lamia, Baubas, Cuco, certain demons and other creatures. You’d be surprised by how many magical creatures will steal a child.”

“Then we have to narrow it down,” Hilde said. “Hello, what’s this?” She indicated a small indent that had been covered by the rug. “Looks almost like a hoof mark.”

“That does narrow it down some,” Bianca said. “Let’s go back to your office. I’ll use my crystal ball and see if I can find her.”

“Agreed,” Hilde said, replacing the rug.

Bianca shuddered at the mystic miasma lingering in the room. She was not looking forward to facing whatever creature was responsible for this.

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The Last Draconian 25: Broken Confinement

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I arrived in my chamber. Drake told me that we were alone. I sat on my bed. I was thinking about the meeting being cancelled. I had a terrible feeling. Drake started screeching crazily.

“You made a huge mistake.” It was mother’s voice!

“It can’t be,” I said. “You’re in Het Wald.”

“Am I?”

“Pan?” I asked, uncertain. “Is that you again?”

I heard a laugh. It wasn’t any voice that I’d heard before. “You’re perceptive as ever,” Pan said.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Foods that are improperly prepared leave a bad taste in the mouth,” Pan said. “Words that should never have been said leave a bad taste in the gut. Isn’t that mysterious?”

“This is about what I said to Sadow,” I observed.

“Of course,” Pan answered in Sadow’s hollow voice. “Powerful mortals frequently have two faces. One is a mask to appease those less powerful.”

I heard Pan’s hooves move closer. “When this mask is removed then you need to be wary. If you’ve forced the mask off this is doubly true. Powerful mortals dislike showing their true selves.”

“You’re saying that I’m in danger,” I said. Silence answered me.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

“For those reasons, my love accepted should be,” Steelspine concluded. His speech had revolved around how much wealth and prestige he commanded. Of course, it was his little obsession. It was still less creepy than Elaine’s. Artura had kept hers really brief, a simple little speech about how she would protect and cherish me. Among the three of them, they’d made the ceremony last until nightfall.

“I’ll go now,” Callie whispered. She didn’t have to do it so close to my ears. I would have heard her anyway. Still, I couldn’t be even slightly annoyed at it. I did owe her.

I took her hand and placed a ring from my finger into it. “I want you to have this,” I whispered. “Consider it a token of friendship.”

Callie slipped it onto her finger. “I’ll treasure it, always.” I felt her a folded up parchment being slipped into my hand. “A map,” she whispered. “It will lead you to my home, should you need a place to go or simply desire my company.” I folded up the map and slipped it into my pouch.

“You never know,” I whispered. “I may just visit you.”

Callie moved to the forefront of the stage. “Aphrodite’s art is far more complex than any mortal can understand,” she began. “As a result different races have developed different measures of love. Sir Montgra’s declaration might be good, for a dwarf. I could tell you all of the reasons that I should be accepted based on vampiric standards, but I’ll focus my line of reasoning on the elven perspective since, in case anyone missed it. the lovely princess is an elf.”

As Callie continued speaking everyone listened. Soon the guards, the other suitors, the musicians and even my father were all watching her intently. I did appear to be the only person who wasn’t drawn to the stage.

I carefully crept to the door. I did my best to open it lightly, but I still looked out at the crowd. They were all watching the stage. No one had moved in the slightest. Callie looked directly at me and gave me a quick wink while she continued to entrance the assembly. I slipped out of the ballroom and bolted.

****

Michael Ryufan

I removed the gel from the glass. I quickly separated it into four pieces as evenly as I could, using a small stone. My guard watched me intently with an upraised eyebrow. He was suspicious. It would not help. Not at this juncture.

I threw each piece onto a different leech stone.

“What are you doing?” he cried. He moved to wipe the leech stones clean but was stopped. The wind rose to push him away from the cell. He looked at me in shock as the magic coursed through me.

“I will not cause permanent harm to you,” I reassured him. The winds rose to tear the cell door from its hinges. I rendered the guard unconscious with a heavy blow and permitted his body to slump to the ground.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I was sweating. I couldn’t believe that I had been caught so quickly.

“Lyn, what are you doing?” Lan asked.

“Don’t try to stop me,” I pleaded.

“I see,” Lan turned away from me. “You’re running away again.”

“I don’t want to hear about duty!” I cried.

“Then I won’t mention it,” Lan said. He looked me in the eye. “But is it okay if someone suffers because of you?”

“Father will be fine,” I said.

Lan shook his head. “Lyn, your actions have had an impact on more than you and your family.”

My ears perked. I knew who he was talking about. I turned toward the prison. “You’re right,” I admitted. “There is one thing I have to do before I escape. Will you tell anyone?”

“I saw nothing,” Lan said. He hugged me. “I hope that you find happiness and please, find a way to keep in touch.”

“I will,” I promised. “Maybe someday I can even return.”

“If you can’t, then I’ll visit you,” Lan said. “Now hurry! Free your friend and get out of here.”

I broke the hug and hurried on my way.

*****

Leaf and Lofu crept up to the trolls. They were lying on the ground, fast asleep.

“There isn’t a sentry,” Leaf observed. His voice was barely distinguishable over the sound of the wind.

“They’re arrogant,” Lofu whispered. He beckoned for Leaf to hurry forward. They rushed over to Larick and Lyon.

Lofu cut Larick’s bonds and removed his gag. Leaf went to work on Lyon’s.

“All conditions have been cleared,” Larick stated.

“Keep your voice down,” Lofu requested, looking over to the sleeping trolls. “Do you want them to…” the words died in his throat as a dagger severed his jugular.

Leaf looked over at the scene. Larick had vanished from sight. The same dagger went deep into Leaf’s back. His body collapsed onto the ground.

Lyon retrieved his folding spetum and pointed it at the Magi.

“You will find their horses in the wood to the west,” Larick said. He looked directly at Lyon. “You will not attack me now. You know that you must return to the castle to tell the Royal One that his eldest sons are dead, and that the ‘medicine’ I gave him is going to see him follow.”

Lyon looked from Larick to the west, but held his ground.

“If you do not give warning and tell of my deeds,” Larick began, “there will be no one to stop me from repeating this performance at the capital.” He stared directly at Lyon. “Or do you think that you have the ability to stop me by yourself without waking my allies and being killed?”

“Damn you,” Lyon said. “You’re right, but this isn’t over. I will make you pay for your crimes.”

Larick watched as Lyon vanished from sight. “No,” he whispered. “You won’t.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 155: The Ice Pom

While Yuri was working with the Star Blazer crew & the lovely duo from Turing, the Cerberus was turning Gylin into the authorities and selling off the Nefrit.

“Looks like your expedition made a tidy profit after all,” Lucy stated. “Care to get yourselves captured and almost sold off by pirates again?”

“I’d rather find more pleasant ways to make a profit,” Ophelia said. “Like juggling rusty razors.”

Lucy shrugged. “Might just be safer.” She leaned close to Ophelia and whispered “Do you think Paul’s ready to talk things out with Grace?”

“Hard to say,” Ophelia answered. “He’s not usually one to hold a grudge but he also hasn’t shown any interest in speaking to her and he was really mad.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Lucy said. “I don’t know if Grace will make the first move. she questions her decision but she’s also stubborn.”

“Think we should intervene?” Ophelia asked.

“No,” Lucy answered. “You’ve had Farah standing guard at the infirmary, right?”

“She’s been switching with Leon,” Ophelia said. “But she’s been doing it the most.”

Lucy nodded. “Then I’m not too worried. That girl will find a way to bring peace between them.”

“You certainly have a lot of faith in her,” Ophelia stated.

“Faith?” Lucy scoffed. “Hardly. I just know what a way she has with people and I know that our siblings are both very fond of her. In different ways, certainly, but the bonds are there and they make her the ideal mediator.”

“And she’s the type of person who wants to help her friends, even if it means sticking her nose into things,” Ophelia said. “I see. Then, we’ll leave it to her. The two of us will find a new mission.”

“No, not yet,” Lucy said. She noticed Ophelia’s look. “I don’t think the two of them would let their fight prevent them doing their duty, but I do know it would be a distraction. It might be better to wait for a couple days while Farah works.”

*****

“Thisss iss the finisshed prototype,” Ussie declared. “It sshould be ready for a tesst run.”

The small robot didn’t look like much. It was spherical with large digital eyes, an anti-gravity unit keeping it suspended in the air and what looked like floppy ears hanging at its sides. It was small enough to fit in a person’s hand.

“What’s up with the ears?” Elijah asked. “Did you want to make it look like a super round dog?”

“Those are sensors,” Meiling answered. “The eyes transmit footage of what he sees. The ears take readings of his surroundings, but he does look a little like he has a dog face, now that you mention it.” She clapped her hands together. “We should call him Ice Pomeranian, or Ice Pom for short.”

“It’s a good name,” Alexandria said. She eyed the robot. Its eyes seemed to follow her. “Did you make it sentient?”

“We did not,” Yuri answered. “Ice Pom has a basic AI system. He is capable of basic learning in order to better fulfil his objectives and of taking some limited independent actions but he possesses no higher intelligence or emotions.”

“Too bad,” Elijah said. “We could’ve had a little robot friend.”

“It might be interesting to make his program more complex,” Meiling agreed. “But there’s no time right now.”

“I concur,” Yuri agreed. “The programming phase to create a sentient machine is extensive and there are many things that can go wrong, resulting in a failure. Professor Crozier spent years completing our programming. That was after he had developed the basic technique, too.”

“Right, I get’ya,” Elijah said. “Guess it’s just not practical.”

“Do not be too worried for the thing’s future,” Alexandria stated “Now that you have mentioned the idea, Mei will be working on it when we return to Turing.”

“Don’t you think it would be interesting, Alex?” Mei asked. “Having a fully sentient companion bot?”

Alexandria shrugged. “I would prefer that we buy a regular pet. Perhaps a cute little terrier.”

“You seem more the big dog type,” Elijah said.

“Big dogs are good too,” Alexandria said. “But less fun to carry around and harder to knit outfits for.”

“You are becoming disstracted,” Ussie interrupted. “You sshould take Ice Pom to the burrow entrance and commence the firsssst tessst run.”

“Ussie is correct,” Yuri said. “It is not productive to dwell on what may or may not happen with the Ice Pom in future. The important aspect, at the moment, is its utility in this situation.”

“Then we’ll go out there and set things up,” Meiling said. “Yuri, you help Ussie monitor Ice Pom from here. If we happen to run into the Yvlet during the run, we’ll watch it but won’t take any action yet. Wouldn’t want to risk bringing it out of its hole before we’re ready.”

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The Last Draconian 24: For Lynai? Callie’s Backup Plan

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

“Much money, I have,” Mister Neverbathes Steelspine said, as though that would have any effect on my decision. “More I dare say than any of these others.” I guess you end up with a little bit extra when you don’t waste any on little things like hygiene.

“I don’t care,” I said. “Go away and leave me alone.” He seemed taken aback. His mouth opened and closed a few times. He wanted to say something more but couldn’t figure out how to phrase it. In the end he walked away.

“I’m sorry about them,” Callie said. She had been standing in the shadows. I hadn’t noticed until she spoke. “I tried to convince them all to withdraw, but they wouldn’t listen.”

“So that’s what you’re up to,” I said. “Once you get rid of the others you’ll be able to become my bride without any opposition, leaving me without any choice in the matter.”

Callie looked shocked. “You wound me,” she stated. “I didn’t convince three suitors to withdraw and try to do the same to three others to force you to go through Hera’s ceremony with me.”

“So why did you do it?” I asked.

“Simple,” Callie said. “I did it for you. Without suitors you would be free, at least for a while.” She shrugged. “After all, your father can’t force you to marry a suitor when there aren’t any suitors. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.”

I looked into her eyes. I couldn’t tell if she was being honest with me. She flashed me a mischievous grin.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “That wasn’t my only plan.” I could barely breathe. Was this really happening? Was this my chance? “I’ll call for the ceremony of declaration,” Callie continued. “Just before you’re asked to make your choice. By the time I speak it will be night.”

“What does the night have to do with anything?” I inquired.

Callie chuckled. “When it’s night my people can be very…” she cleared her throat, “commanding speakers. I will use this skill to capture everyone’s attention. Except,” she looked directly at me, “for yours.”

I finally understood. “You’re planning on…”

Callie put her right index finger over my lips. “Since you understand, there’s no need to say it aloud,” she winked. “When the time comes you’ll have your chance.”

“But why?” I asked. “Why would you go to all this trouble for me?”

“Because I like you,” Callie said. “And I know that you can never give your heart to someone who you’re forced to take as a mate. So I’ll set you free and, perhaps, you will come to me willingly.”

She looked at my face. Apparently, she noticed that I was confused. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “I merely meant that you might elect to give me the chance to win your heart. I don’t want a forced ceremony nor do I want you to come to me because you feel obligated. I want you to be free to make your own decision. Maybe I’ll be the fortunate one you choose when that time comes.”

“And if your plan fails?” I asked.

Callie gained a thoughtful look, as though she were considering it for the first time. “If that happens… if that happens choose me. I won’t force you to consummate our marriage or even live with me. I’ll arrange for you to have your own home in Strecner. You can do whatever you like there. I won’t file any complaints.”

That was a big promise and she sounded completely sincere. Maybe her feelings were true after all.

*****

Michael Ryufan

The mild inconvenience that my imprisonment had caused would soon be behind me. The countdown was almost complete. Within hours I would be free from my cell and my journey would continue. I quietly calculated the probability of the elves giving chase. They were certain to act during the initial moments of my escape, but I found it highly unlikely that they would continue pursuit once I had left Het Wald. There was only a 47% chance that they would continue pursuit once I had gone far enough beyond the main cityscape that they could no longer see me. They would likely view my departure as a positive, provided that I refrained from killing anyone.

There would, naturally, be a token investigation and search but they could easily enough dismiss the disappearance of a single non-important prisoner.

The only decision I had to make was when to attack Sadow. I knew that it would be imprudent to attack him while he remained in Wicadia. The guards would surely side with a Magi over a stranger with a grievance against the Magi. Even if they remained out of the battle there would be high levels of damage to both property and onlookers. It was never my intention to harm anyone aside from my enemy. Harming an innocent person in my efforts against him would make me no better than he. Attacking him once he was on the road away from Wicadia would be my best option. There would be ample open space for us to settle the matter. Permanently.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I could hear father heading towards me, undoubtedly wanting to offer some final reassurances before demanding my answer.

Callie moved behind him and lightly tapped his shoulder. He turned towards her. I could just hear their conversation over the din of the room.

“Royal One,” she bowed. “Your daughter still seems to be uncertain.”

“I know,” father said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s time for her to make a decision.”

“Perhaps the ceremony of declaration would help her make a choice.” Callie suggested.

“That ceremony is antiquated,” he replied. “It’s no longer a necessary part of the process.”

“But it can still be used,” Callie insisted. She looked into dad’s eyes. “If it helps her make her decision without regret, isn’t it worth it? She is, after all, your beloved daughter.”

Father stood completely still for a moment. “You’re right,” he agreed. “I will call for the ceremony of declaration.” He turned away and walked toward the stage. Callie looked directly at me and shot me a victorious smile.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 154: Brainstorming Sessions

The heat inside the Blazer was a welcome change from the tundra environment outside. Yuri shed her parka. Ussie was at work, trying to tune parts of the ship.

“Jusst relax,” she said. Halting Yuri before she could ask if Ussie needed assistance. “do you want anything to eat?”

“I will pass at this time,” Yuri answered. “I am just glad to be away from the bickering.”

“Antoine?” Ussie asked.

Yuri nodded. “He has continually expressed a great deal of dissatisfaction with the situation.”

“He’sss alwaysss like that,” Ussie said. “For a while, I wondered if he wasss ill-ssuited for thisss crew. Now, I know that that’sss jusst hiss way.”

“Does your crew often find themselves in strange situations with little forewarning?” Yuri inquired.

“That isss our nature,” Ussie said. “We ssstumble upon thosse who need our asssissstance and we do what needsss to be done. Asssking nothing in return. We aren’t like the Cerberusss, taking jobsss for creditsss and holding briefingsss. ”

“The Cerberus has taken on a lot of jobs for the sake of aiding those who need it,” Yuri snapped. “We may usually receive recompense for our services, but we are able to do a lot of good with those funds.”

“I meant no offence,” Ussie said. “Elijah hasss ssaid that our crewsss are of a kind, after all. I wasss ssimply trying to ssay that our preparation timess tend to be very sshort compared to yoursss. I didn’t realissse you missssed your crew that much.”

Yuri paused. The strength of her declaration had surprised even her. Was that the root cause? Was she actually feeling homesick? “I should not have snapped at you,” Yuri stated. “I was cognisant of the fact that you meant no offence.”

Ussie nodded. “Are you clossse to catching the beassst?”

“I do not know,” Yuri answered. “It is possible that the egress we are observing is not in active use. Even if it is, there is no telling how much time will pass before the Yvlet elects to use it. Meiling has begun working on a plan to bring it out of its burrow, but has yet to formulate anything that would not cause harm to the Yvlet and would not risk frightening it deeper into hiding.”

“On my world we usssed to flussh creaturess out of burrowss with trained amphibianss,” Ussie said. “A pity we have nothing like that here.”

“Earth has the same general custom,” Yuri stated. “They utilised canines. I do not believe that either would be effective in this environment.”

“True enough,” Ussie said. “Unlesss you can find one made of metal.”

Yuri went quiet. “Intriguing idea,” she whispered. “A mechanical animal designed to operate in freezing temperatures and lure the Yvlet from its burrow.”

“It would have to be consstructed of partss that are sstrong enough to ressisst the cold but light enough that they couldn’t caussse harm if the Yvlet decided to sstrike it,” Ussie said.

“When my break is complete, I will consult with Meiling on the idea,” Yuri said. “Perhaps we can come up with a suitable design.”

“If you two can dessighn it, then I can build it,” Ussie offered. “It’ll give me sssomething elsse to do bessidess ssitting in here and waiting.”

*****

As promised, Yuri took the idea to Meiling when she relieved Antoine & Elijah.

“That’s a great idea!” Meiling declared. “We can make it orb-like. That way, if the Yvlet decides to attack it’ll roll harmlessly away and we won’t have to sacrifice structural integrity.”

“It could propel itself with a small anti-gravity system,” Yuri said.

“Right,” Meiling agreed. “It won’t be a powerful one, but it won’t need to be.”

“The question then becomes how a spherical robot could lure the Yvlet from its burrow,” Yuri said.

“Maybe it doesn’t have to,” Meiling suggested. “Maybe we could block the other exits. Use a water spray device to freeze them right over. Or, simpler idea, use the robot to map out the Yvlet’s tunnels and then track it.”

“Would the Yvlet tolerate it long enough for it to complete that task?” Yuri inquired.

“Maybe,” Meiling said. “If we could eliminate the scent of any living organism from the robot the Yvvlet might be as indifferent towards it as it would be to a stone. We wouldn’t have to wait at any exit then. We’d just have to follow its movements until it surfaces.”

The two excitedly discussed ideas for the design specifics. Alexandria listened, watching her beloved Meiling’s face. She took a quick picture, careful not to disturb them.

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The Last Draconian 23: Betrayal

Previous Chapter

Liys and Lyon gathered all of the outpost’s troops. They were wearing full armour and brandishing their weapons. There were twenty in all, not including the Prince, Lyon or Larick. They had twelve foot soldiers and eight archers.

Liys turned to Larick. “Are you sure that the trolls won’t win?”

“The trolls who are coming are no match for your forces,” Larick said. The Magi’s falcon swooped down from the sky and landed on his shoulder. “Everything shall be as it must.”

A small contingent of trolls appeared on the horizon. There were only five of them. They were carrying axes. They stopped just outside of the elven border.

“Archers, take aim,” Liys commanded. When he didn’t hear anything happen in response to his command he turned around.

His soldiers had been pierced through by stone spikes protruding from the ground. Their entrails were sliding along the spikes toward the ground. Those who weren’t dead were dying. Lyon was on the ground, he was breathing but unconscious. Liys looked up at Larick, disbelief clouding his face.

Larick pointed at Liys. One of the outpost’s branches grew in size and moved downwards like a serpent, forcing the elven Prince to the ground. Liys struggled to rise. He couldn’t move it off of him.

“Larick…” he gasped. “Why? Why did you lie to us?”

“I did not lie. The trolls did lack the power to complete this attack. I never said that they were your only enemies, or that I would help repel the attack.” Larick bent down and whispered, “I assure you, this is the way things must be.” He waved one of the trolls over. “You may have the honour,” he said. The last thing Liys saw was the troll’s axe coming down.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I tried to keep to myself during the ball, one last act of defiance while I was still free. Escape seemed less and less like an option.

Artura walked over to me. She stood in front of me for a moment before speaking. “If chosen, I’ll do my best to make you happy.” That was all she said. Afterwards, she walked away.

“Amazons,” a voice from behind. Elune was standing over my shoulder. “Face it, beauty,” she purred. “Only an elf truly understands how to satisfy an elf. That’s true whether you’re a dark elf or…” she caressed my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “a forest elf.” She gave me a big smile. Her white teeth creating a stark contrast to her obsidian flesh. She sauntered away, sending me one last wink as she went. She was so creepy.

*****

Leaf and Lofu rode their horses through the forest. A slight breeze was pushing the tree’s branches together. Lofu stopped his horse and studied the path ahead. “We will reach the checkpoint soon,” he said.

“That’s good,” Leaf said. “We can find out what Larick wants.”

Lofu remained perfectly still. “There’s something wrong,” he said. “Don’t you hear it?”

Leaf paused and listened. He heard the wind moving the branches. He heard a rabbit foraging. He heard a wolf treading the path on padded feet. He heard raucous laughter. “That isn’t the sound of elves,” he observed.

“That’s correct,” Lofu said. “Those are trolls. Remain here, I’ll scout ahead.”

Leaf shook his head. “No, Lofu. There is safety in numbers. We will leave the horses here and go together.”

“Very well,” Lofu agreed. “If the odds are against us we must not fight, no matter what we see. My life does not matter, but you are vital to our people.”

“I understand,” Leaf said. “Just don’t throw away your life if you can help it. I still need you.”

Lofu bowed “Your Highness is too kind.”

The two tread silently through the brush. They peered through at the outpost. There were five trolls sitting around a cooking fire. Bound and gagged behind them were two elves.

“Larick and Lyon,” Lofu observed.

“I would hate to see how large the troll force was when they arrived. Capturing a Magi is no easy task. Especially one with Apollo’s gift,” Leaf commented. “I just hope that my brother got out of it okay. Either way, we have to rescue them.” He turned to Lofu. “I know it’s dangerous but the Magi is more vital than I.”

“We’ll wait until it’s dark,” Lofu said, after considering it for a moment. “We’ll take out the one left on guard duty; rescue Larick and Lyon without waking the rest and escape to the capital but there will be no extra risks taken, agreed?”

“Agreed,” Leaf said.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 153: Meiling’s Desperate Flight

By the time Yuri & Elijah arrived, Meiling was nowhere to be seen. There were tracks leading off towards the forest. They weren’t human. They were large and clawed.

“I wonder if she went chasing after it,” Elijah muttered. “But why would’t she have waited?”

“These are not Yvlet tracks,” Yuri observed. “They are too large.”

“Then, something else showed up,” Elijah said. “Predator?”

“It is likely,” Yuri answered.

“So, if she didn’t follow the Yvlet, where did Meiling go?” Elijah asked.

Yuri focused on the clawed tracks. “I fear she was being chased.”

Elijah knelt down to examine the tracks himself. “Oh, I get it. You can still see a bit of human track sticking out there.”

“I will pursue them,” Yuri stated. “You will wake Alexandria and let her know everything.”

Without waiting for a response, Yuri was gone. Moving at a speed that most humans couldn’t manage, much less maintain.

Elijah decided to heed her advice and ran towards the camp. He wasn’t as fast as Yuri, but he was strong, rested & feeling decidedly unchill. He made fantastic time, considering the conditions.

*****

Meiling ran for her life. She was rapidly losing her stamina and the beast was inching ever closer. It lumbered on two legs. It wasn’t fast, but it was suited to the climate and had a lot more stamina than her. She’d managed to make a u-turn but she was becoming more and more certain that it would catch up to her before she could reach the camp and the others would be able to help her.

She glanced back to try and gauge how long it would take it to reach her. That’s when she slipped on the ice and fell.

The beast saw its chance and lunged. It drew back with shock and surprise when its strike was halted by a pair of mechanical arms.

“Meiling, are you injured?” Yuri inquired.

“Just a little scratched from falling,” Meiling answered.

“That is good to hear,” Yuri stated. The beast tried to pull away from her, but it was caught in her grip and, as strong as it was, her mechanical might was greater. “Do you know what this creature is?”

“It’s called a Veissdigo,” Meiling answered. “It’s sort of like a cross between a bear and an ape, but that’s a simplified explanation. The important thing is that it’s a predator with a voracious appetite.”

“Are they endangered in any capacity?”

“No, they have pretty strong population numbers,” Meiling answered.

“Then it is not necessary to hold back.” Yuri pulled the  Veissdigo towards her with one arm and crushed its throat with a swift hit of her other. She let it drop and moved to help Meiling get up.

“I take it that the Veissdigo took you by surprise.”

“It did,” Meiling said. “I didn’t expect to see any in this area. They normally roam closer to the coast line. I guess it was probably ousted from its pack and wandered out here and just happened to stumble across me while I was observing the Yvlet. Thank you, for saving me.”

“It was no trouble,” Yuri stated. “I take it the Yvlet escaped back into its burrow?”

“Correct,” Meiling said. “I guess that I looked like the easier prey. ” She looked around. “Where’s Elijah?”

“It was faster to catch up to you by myself,” Yuri answered. “I instructed him to apprise Alexandria of the situation.”

Meiling sighed, heavily. “I guess it had to be done, but I’m not looking forward to her response.”

*****

Meiling and Yuri met Elijah and Alexandria on their way back to camp. Alexandria ran over and lifted Meiling right off of the ground, swinging her around before holding her close. “Mei, I was so worried,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I failed to protect you.”

Meiling shook her head. “It’s not your fault, Alex. I was careless. I should have accounted for the possibility of that happening. Luckily, Yuri was there to rescue me.”

Alexandria turned to Yuri, still holding Meiling in her arms. “You have my eternal gratitude. I will not forget that.”

“So, we need to rethink the watch situation, yeah?” Elijah asked.

“I will share Mei’s watch,” Alexandria said. “You two may take turns resting for the other shifts.”

“Cool by me,” Elijah said. “Lovers should be together.”

“We know that the burrow Meiling & Alexandria were watching is in use,” Yuri stated. “We will keep the same shifts, but we will all watch that egress. We will keep weapons handy. Then, there will not be another similar incident.”

“Right idea, wrong exit,” Meiling said. “The Yvlet left through that one and found itself fleeing from a predator. It won’t be used for a while. We’ll take positions by the one you and Elijah were watching.”

“Repairs to my ship should be done,” Elijah said. “I’ll have my other friends come down and help us out. They…” he paused. “Actually, I’ll have Antoine help us out. Ussie is cold-blooded, so I’ll have her stay on the ship.”

“Another hand would be appreciated,” Meiling said. “Thank you.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get it next time,” Elijah said. “Or the time after that. Doesn’t matter. I’m not in a great hurry.”

“Nor am I,” Yuri assured her. She didn’t mention that she wasn’t ready to return to her former ship and crew. It was still a bit of a sensitive point. She wondered, how long did it normally take before you were ready to return home? Surely, it varied by species. In which case, she had no baseline to give her even a slight hint.

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