Voyages of the Cerberus 181: Can the Doc Hold Out?

“It should be me going into that fight,” Farah said.

“It’s fine,” Paul sighed. “Either way, it’s going according to plan.”

“Yes, but I’m a better fighter than you,” Farah said. “I don’t want to see you get the hell beaten out of you.”

“Lucas and I will fix him up after we’re rescued,” Angela said.

“Totally,” Lucas agreed.

“Okay,” Farah sighed. “Just fight defensively. You just have to hold out until Meiling is ready.”

“Get your ass over here, Tough guy!” Gn’iol demanded. “It’s time.”

Farah checked her surroundings while Paul complied. There were two guards at the door and one wandering around the back. The rest of the terrorists were on the left and right of Gn’iol, eager to watch the fight.

Farah handed Wolfgang to Lucas. She took his collar off. “Hold him tightly,” she said. “He’s going to try to jump out of your arms and protect Paul. And a little dog like him could get hurt very badly.”

“What about you?” Lucas asked.

“Should be obvious,” Farah said. “Once the enemies around them are stunned, I’ll go in there and get Gn’iol away from Paul. The guards at the door should be easily enough to deal with for anyone charging in. The one at the back is the problem.”

“I’ll take care of him,” Angela said. “Mei, we’re counting on you.”

“Don’t worry,” Meiling said. “I’ve got it.”

*****

“Better be ready, Doctor,” Gn’iol said.

“You enjoy inflicting pain,” Paul observed. “Have you considered that suppressing your baser instincts might be a good way to showcase your strength?”

Gn’iol immediately threw a punch. His fist stopped just short of Paul’s face. “I can if I try, Doctor. Don’t try my patience. I’ll even be nice enough to give you the first punch.”

“Hmmm,” where should I hit?” Paul asked, making a fist.

“Stop stalling or I’ll take it back,” Gn’iol warned. “You have ten seconds.”

Paul waited eight before taking a jab directly at Gn’iol’s neck. It was clumsy but the pacifican let it hit.

“Not bad,” he coughed. “You have some muscle on you.” He backhanded Paul across the face, sending him reeling. “But not nearly enough.”

Gn’iol went into a combination of hits. By his standards, it was a leisurely series of punches and kicks. But he was a warrior by nature. For Paul, blocking all of them was impossible and he took quite a few blows.

“That all your convictions are good for?” Gn’iol asked. “You’re quite pathetic. Can’t even throw a proper punch. Fight back!”

“We all fight in our own way,” Paul said.

He was hoping the statement would confuse Gn’iol into demanding an explanation, thereby giving him a chance to stall for time. Instead, it made the pacifican angry.

He grabbed Paul’s head and slammed it into his knee. He followed that up with a kick to the Doctor’s gut.

*****

“That sounded nasty,” Kat winced.

“I’m going to fucking kill that Bastard when we get in there,” Leon spoke coldly through gritted teeth.

“It is not helpful to become agitated,” Yuri cautioned. “It may very well affect your judgement considerably.”

Alexandria put a hand on Yuri’s shoulder. “He’s not going to listen. Right now, the only thing that’s going to calm him is saving his love.”

Femi checked her watch. Still around eight minutes until Meiling’s estimated finish time.

*****

Paul picked himself back up. His forehead had a bleeding abrasion. He was noticeably bruised in several places and he was breathing heavily.

“You should just lie down and give up,” Gn’iol said. “I’ll even spare one of your little friends for making it this far.”

“I’m not done yet,” Paul gasped.

“Oh, really?” Gniol asked. He grabbed Paul’s right arm with both hands and twisted it into an awkward angle. The Doctor cried out in pain. “How about now?”

Paul cradled his broken arm. “I’m… still in this.”

Gn’iol jabbed two fingers into Paul’s left eye, eliciting another scream. The pacifican licked his fingers clean of eye tissue. “Good. Breaking you is going to be a real joy, Doctor.”

Paul looked him over with his good eye. “You… can knock me out… You can hurt me… badly… You can even… torture me… But break me? That might be… too much.”

The pacifican grinned. “We’ll see about that, Doctor.”

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The Last Draconian 66: By the Fire Light

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

We stopped to eat before returning to our rooms. Aiko was very optimistic about our chances in the next match.

“We kicked ass!” she declared. Her voice was filled with excitement. “That team attack was just fantastic! We work out a few more moves like that and we’ll be unbeatable.” I heard a thump. “Whatta you say, Violet?”

“Please do not act so familiarly with me,” Michael said. “And I would appreciate it if you used my proper name.”

“Don’t be like that,” Aiko said. “We’re friends, aren’t we? And Violet suits you so well as a nickname. Don’t you think so, Yana?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I answered. “But I wouldn’t call him that if he dislikes it. It’s not nice.”

“Oh right,” Aiko said. “Sorry, Yana. I said that without thinking.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I said. “I’m used to people talking about what they see. It’s only going to bother me if you’re condescending about it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Aiko said. I felt her arm around me. “Then let’s keep doing our best, Partners!”

*****

Larick looked over his board. It was a simple, wooden design with small carvings to represent various figures.

“Let’s see,” he muttered. “Right now the Royal Daughter should be here. That’s the threat to one of the stars.” He placed the carving. “The Vengeance Avatar is… where? With the Princess. No, in Orontios. No, wait… Both? That can’t be right…” He split the difference and put the carving between the two spots. “And the threat to the third star is… here, in Orontios.” He eyed the second piece. “Interesting. This piece seems to tie the other two together and yet… they all face their own destiny.”

He grabbed a fourth piece. “And this, our all important usurper, will be here.” He placed the carving squarely in the troll lands. “I must send a message to his royal highness.” He said the words derisively, placing a finger on a fifth carving. “Should be simple enough to persuade him to leave the picture.” He gently knocked it over.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The battle ended with the trolls breaking into a retreat, leaving a small force to guard them as they left. We quickly wiped them out. Now, we had to make a decision. To pursue them, return to our forest or set up a temporary camp right where we were.

As such, we captains met again. This time under the stars by the firelight. Luco approached me. “I won’t apologise for questioning you,” he said. “But, for what it’s worth, you’ve proven yourself as far as I’m concerned.”

“I appreciate that,” I said.

“Good for you,” Layla said, patting me on the shoulder. “I told you he’d warm up to you.”

Lang eyed each of us in turn.

“We have won a victory here today with only mild casualties,” he said. “And in doing so we have brought the fight to the trolls. For the moment, we will make camp here. Eventually, the trolls will strike back and when that happens do you know what we will do?”

“Fight, I assume,” one of the captains I didn’t know answered.

“That’s correct,” Lang said. “We will build up as much as we can in terms of fortifications. If we are attacked, we will resume the strategy of fighting with three units at a time. At least, until reinforcements arrive. Lynai, I understand you’ve picked up some mercenaries?”

“That’s right,” I stated. I was a little surprised that he knew, but it also wasn’t something I’d ever intended to hide.

“Can they be trusted?” he asked.

“Callie says that they can,” I said. “And we all know how good vampires are at reading people.”

“You’ll let them in your confidence at her say?” Luco asked. He sounded disappointed.

“I trust Callie a great deal,” I said. I allowed my annoyance at the way he’d said that show. “But even so, I have taken some precautions. I’ve assigned some pixies to keep an eye on them. Should Callie be mistaken, they’ll be dealt with very swiftly.”

“An acceptable compromise,” Lang said. “So long as you have it in hand, it’s fine.” He resumed looking around the room. “While working on the building project, we’ll have two units keep watch, two rest and two build in rotation. Should we be attacked, one building unit will join the watch for the initial fighting while the other joins those resting. I want each of you to choose some sub-commanders who have your full confidence. Just in the event of something going wrong. Unit twelve, you’re paired with unit three. Two will be with five. Seven with nine. The shift schedule will be finalised in the morning.” He dismissed us with that. We all knew what he meant. by something going wrong.

I returned to my unit’s area of the camp. Callie was waiting for me.

“Did it go well?” she asked.

I nodded. “It was about what I expected.” I gazed at her. Right there, under the stars, the glow of the camp fires enveloping her, she was beautiful.

“See something you like?” She asked, playfully.

“I… I think I do,” I admitted. “To tell the truth, I didn’t want to fall for you. I mean, we were only put together for political purposes in the first place. And if I fall for you now, then what was all my rebelling against father and my duties for?”

She walked, seemingly floating, towards me. She gently stroked my cheek. “If you have fallen for me, doesn’t that mean it’s because of your own experiences and feelings? Isn’t that better than being with me because you had to choose someone? And doesn’t that make the whole thing valuable?”

I stared into her eyes and smiled. That was exactly what I’d needed to hear.

“Lynai.” She said it in a way that asked for close attention. I obliged. “Would it be okay if I kissed you right now?”

“I… I think I would like that a lot,” I answered.

I did.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 180: Paul Called Out

“Haven’t found the last of them, Senator?” Gn’iol asked.

“Please,” she pleaded. “I’m very close. I have a contact who…”

Gn’iol grabbed the hand held and slammed it into the ground. “You’re out of time, too bad.”

Without giving her a chance to protest further, he shot her. His men carried her body outside and tossed it.

“That was unnecessary,” Paul said. “And cruel.”

“I know,” Angela agreed. She put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll be ready to go soon. Right, Meiling?”

“I’m getting close,” Meiling confirmed. “Soon we’ll have two ready.”

“Still doesn’t leave us a lot of room,” Farah said.

“We need a way to get them to group up,” Lucas said. “When they’re clustered together we can hit them all.”

“The question is how do we manage?” Angela asked. “I don’t think this group will crowd together for karaoke.”

“You could kiss Meiling,” Lucas said. “They might find that hot.”

“You could also kiss Paul,” Meiling said. “That might be more their thing.”

“Yeah, but he’s got a super jealous boyfriend, right?” Lucas asked. “I don’t wanna die.”

“If you two could stop joking,” Farah said “I have a suggestion that might work.”

“Go ahead,” Paul said.

“I could pick a fight with Gn’iol,” Farah said. “His people might leave a few on the doors, but they’ll gather to watch that I’m pretty sure.”

“It’ll be a dangerous position,” Paul said. “Gn’iol probably won’t be close enough to the others to get hit and Pacificans are very strong.”

“I know,” Farah said. “But I’m also the person here who stands the best chance. And you can always patch me up.”

“Hey, Doc!”

The group turned. Gn’iol was approaching quickly. He made a beeline right for Paul. Meiling slid the unfinished stunning device into her pocket.

“Yes?” Paul asked.

“Quick question, would you have had the guts to pull that trigger?” Gn’iol asked.

“Excuse me?” Paul didn’t hide his shock at the question.

“Oh, that bother you?” Gn’iol asked. He poked Paul’s chest. “You seemed so certain about having strength earlier I just figured you’d have the guts for that much.”

“I don’t see any strength in murdering someone in cold blood,” Paul said.

“That’s right,” Gn’iol said. “You said it was helping those who need it, didn’t you? How about we do a little experiment. Find out who has the right definition of strength.” His crew were starting to gather around the two, leering.

“This looks bad,” Angela whispered. “Very bad.”

Farah handed Wolfgang to Lucas. “Be careful with him,” she whispered, noting that the little dog was already growling at the big Pacifican and looked like he might try to lunge at him. “Excuse me…” she tried to intercede.

“Shut up!” Gn’iol shouted. “Any of you interrupt, I shoot you all right now.” He turned back to Paul. “Well, Doc?”

“And what is your experiment?” Paul asked, knowing he had no choice.

“Simple,” Gn’iol said. “You and I punch it out. No weapons. No help from others. I’ll fight for the sheer pleasure of it. You’ll fight for the lives of your little friends here.” He gestured at Meiling, Angela, Lucas & Farah.

“Do I have a choice?” Paul asked.

“Of course you do,” Gn’iol said. “You can refuse and I can shoot all of them without harming you.”

Paul sighed. “Very well. Give me twenty minutes to prepare.”

“Doctor, you have five,” Gn’iol said. “My people can spread the word, get some comfortable seats to watch me beat you to death.” He walked away, laughing.

“It looks like the plan’s just been altered,” Paul said. He looked at Meiling. “How long until it’s ready?”

“At least ten minutes of work,” Meiling answered. She’d already resumed her tinkering. “But we’ll also have to get into position to use them. It could be fifteen to twenty minutes. Can you last that long in a fight against him?”

“I’ll have to,” Paul said. “Besides, I have a distinct feeling he’ll toy with me first.”

*****

“Let me go!” Leon shouted.

“I won’t,” Alexandria said, she had him in a nelson hold. “You go off like a crazy person, the plan is ruined.”

“He’s going to beat my Paul!” Leon cried out.

Lucy calmly walked over, reached up and slapped Leon across the face. “If you go in there now, he’s going to kill your Paul!” Lucy said, her yellow eyes opened. “Calm down and think rationally. You think Alexandria doesn’t want to go down there with her Meling in danger? You think Grace doesn’t want to go down there with Farah in danger? What about Femi and her desire to save her wife? Everyone on this ship wants to go down there and start the rescue operation. But we have to bide our time and wait for the opportunity or we’ll fall into the same pitfall as the Alliance.”

Leon settled down. “Sorry,” he muttered.

“We’ll have to do a dual strike,” Kat said. “Most of the guards inside the auditorium should get stunned, but we’ll still need to mop them up. The guards outside are the big threat.”

“I’ll lead the strike on the outside,” Lucy said. “If we focus on guarding the auditorium’s entrance, we should be able to keep them away so we can rescue our people. I’ll take Kat and Jack with me.”

“Then I’ll lead the strike force going in to mop up the stunned auditorium soldiers,” Femi said. “Alex, Leon, Yuri, You’re with me.”

“We’ll touch down and get into a holding position outside now,” Ophelia said. “When you hear them say they’ve stunned the guards inside, make a break for the auditorium. Remember, take down the guards before the stun effect wears off.”

She looked out the viewing port. She didn’t say it, but she questioned whether or not Paul could really last long enough. If he failed, they might have to move prematurely and at great risk to all of them.

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The Last Draconian 65: Debut Battle

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan 

Our first match was beginning soon. I was very cognizant of the adrenaline rushing through my system. I also knew what I had to do. Namely, I had to safeguard Aiko.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would have prioritised Illyana’s safety. However, our opponents had made it very clear that they were not interested in harming her. Aiko and I were the ones who were truly in danger. Therefore, protecting her was the rational choice. Of course, it was entirely possible that she would meld into the shadows and I would not be able to keep track of her while having a heated fight.

The announcer resumed her duties. “Thank you for placing your wagers, Ladies & Gentlemen. Betting is now closed. Please return to your seats for this exciting match up. The triplets have vowed to hospitalise two members of the other team and they’re determined not to let that happen. Let’s see if they can stop it.”

A bell sounded to signal the start of the match. Aiko immediately melded into the shadows. I spread my wings and flew into the air. I stayed close to Illyana. The siblings approached us rapidly, staying in an offensive formation. The trio split up in order to challenge our team one on one. The one with a full beard went to the area where Aiko had disappeared. The one with the goatee came after me.

I took a calculated risk and hovered overhead, waiting to see what he would do. I was hopeful that I would be able to counter whatever stratagem he employed.

I did not have to wait long. He vaulted himself into the air. I swiftly calculated his trajectory and flew to the side. He was, however, not simply attempting to tackle me. He hurled a magic spell as he approached.

A massive ball of ice formed in the air and quickly shattered into hard, pointed icicles. It was a strong spell and could have easily caused serious harm to someone with less experience and lower response times. Unfortunately for him, I had spent my life training my skills.  I summoned a heavy wind around me to deflect them.

I did not wait for him to launch a second attack. I swooped down at him, landing a heavy right cross directly into the side of his face. He went sliding across the arena floor, but did not fall. He recovered handily and attempted to send an icy burst directly into me. I was able to evade the spell by returning to the air.

He eyed me cautiously. Very clearly attempting to calculate the best course of attack. He had underestimated my abilities and that concerned him.

I decided to maintain the pressure. I cast a cutting winds spell down at him. He formed an icy shield in front of himself in an attempt to block my spell.

I flew around and kicked into his back with both feet, slamming him into his own ice shield. I proceeded to lift him with my legs and toss him into the air. I flew up to meet him and punched him several times while he attempted to guard against my blows. His movements had become sluggish. I knew in that moment that he was nearly finished.

I could have allowed him to fall to the ground, but I was concerned that such an action would cause serious injury. I grabbed his arms and carried him down, sliding him into the arena’s floor at a safe level of force. His skull hit the wall with enough force to render him senseless, but not enough to cause severe cranial trauma.

I examined my surroundings. Illyana’s opponent was surrounded on all sides with a stone spell. He displayed signs of having been badly burnt by a fire spell. She did not appear to be injured.

Aiko had been chased from the shadows. Probably by a very strong dispel. Her opponent was hurling darts at her as she used her agility to keep out of harm’s way. She did not seem to be in any real danger. Rather, she seemed to be toying with him. Her tail was even wagging. She noticed me watching and quickly gestured above her.

I nodded. I took to the air and moved into position. She bounced off of the wall and reached out her arms. I caught her. She swung back and forth thrice, building momentum. Then she launched herself at her opponent. Her elbow caught him in the gut. He spit uncontrollably. Her fist moved up, catching him in the bottom of the chin. He went down.

Aiko looked at me and smiled. She stuck out her right fist with her thumb sticking up. I returned the gesture. Illyana walked over to join us, having finished her own opponent.

“The Pteropus Trio has won!” the announcer declared. “What an upset! It looks like we have some strong contenders, Folks. Or did our favourite triplets just go in too cockily? Hopefully we’ll see more of them soon and be able to figure out whether or not they’re the real deal.”

On our way out, we were approached by a balding dwarf with an ornately beaded beard wearing what looked like a new suit.

“Great fight you three,” he said, handing us a pouch. “Here’s your pay for tonight. Come back tomorrow. We’ll give you a match against one of our stronger teams.”

“You betcha,” Aiko answered, not waiting for Illyana or I to say anything. Not that it mattered. This was very much in line with our goal.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus: What is Strength?

“Not very subtle are they?” Kat asked.

Femi shrugged. “They want us to make a decision. That’s all. They probably didn’t even have anyone near them.”

“If they had, they’d be in trouble subtle or not,” Jack pointed out. “They did mention their ace, after all.”

“Our choice seems simple enough,” Lucy stated. “We have them go in early and risk greater resistance, or we let the senator die. Personally, I say have them wait to make a second one. I know that sounds heartless, but it’s got the best chance of success.”

“Meiling clearly didn’t know if she had the right parts to make a second one though,” Siya said. “Do we risk someone’s life and Gn’iol becoming impatient and murdering hostages, just on that chance?”

“I would suggest that we do,” Yuri recommended. “If it becomes clear that other hostages are in peril, we can indicate for them to act at that time. I do not believe a member of the Alliance’s parliament is worth risking our crew to save.”

“You really hate the Alliance, don’t you?” Alexandria asked. She shrugged. “In any case, I agree with Yuri and Lucy. I would rather put my faith in Mei’s abilities than cause her and the others unnecessary risk.”

“But we did put the senator in harm’s way,” Kat pointed out. “Shouldn’t we try to save her?”

“If we were just risking our hides I’d say yes,” Jack said. “That’s what soldiers do, after all. But we aren’t risking ourselves. We’d be risking the civilians and our own scientists and doctors. I can’t justify risking all of them for one person.”

“I say we take the chance,” Leon said. “I don’t like it, but Paul would be mad if he found out we got someone killed for his sake.”

“Is anyone besides Kat, Siya and Leon in favour of acting swiftly?” Ophelia asked. “Grace, Femi?”

“My dog, brother and love are all in there as hostages,” Grace said. “Frankly, the senator can take a shuttle into the sun for all I care. I wouldn’t risk a single one of them for her, much less all three.”

“I would agree with Jack & Alexandria,” Femi said. “Trying to save her is risky than it’s worth.”

“I agree as well,” Ophelia said. “I’ll note the objections in the log, but we have a clear majority saying to leave the senator to her fate. Sorry.”

*****

“I’ve found them!” Senator Green declared. “Well, two of them.”

Gn’iol snatched the hand held from her. “The Cerberus?”

“A group of criminals acting against the Alliance,” Julian explained. “I don’t see the old man, but the other two were definitely part of that crew.”

Gn’iol examined the image. “Well, well…” he muttered. He tossed the device back to her. “Better find the old man quickly. I’ll give you an extra ten minutes for finding those two.”

He walked away, not giving her a chance to protest. He moved directly to his injured comrade. He looked over the doctors. They didn’t acknowledge him since they were engrossed in their work.

“It is him,” Gn’iol muttered. He tapped Paul’s shoulder. “Will she live?”

Paul didn’t look at him. “We’ve gotten her stabilised but it’s a nasty wound. I suggest taking her to a proper medical facility as soon as possible. As things are, she could easily reopen her wound or it could become infected.”

Gn’iol snarled. He was feeling more than a little disappointed. Still, the Doctor’s crew had guts enough to kidnap an Alliance parliament member… “I’ll reward you for saving her,” Gn’iol said. “You can pick six hostages to go free, unharmed. The senator is not an option, just so we’re clear.”

He fully expected Paul to choose himself and his friends. To his surprise, Paul picked a pregnant scientist, two scientists who had been hurt during the initial attack and three others.

“Is something wrong?” Paul asked.

“I can’t figure you out,” Gn’iol said. He moved close to Paul, staring him down. Paul calmly met his gaze. “This is exactly what I mean! At times you show some real guts. But you also seem to be a coward who can’t bring yourself to slay your enemies. You could have just let her die,” he gestured towards the wounded Pacifican but you didn’t have the guts. But you somehow have the courage to face me. How is that possible from a coward who would bother with the weak?”

“Perhaps your idea of strength is too narrow,” Paul suggested. “I don’t see any courage in letting someone die, even if they’re an enemy. Nor do I see any weakness n getting injured or needing help. Rather, I would propose that true strength lies in protecting and aiding those who need it, especially when there are barriers in your way.”

Gn’iol got in Paul’s face. “And there’s the weakness again. That co-dependent mewling about helping one another.” He sighed. “Very well. I’ll have the six you mentioned released. You two can get back to ministering to that disgrace.”

He trudged off, leaving Paul and Angela to their work.

“Don’t let it get to you,” Angela said. “You know how the Pacificans are.”

Paul nodded. “I suppose our concepts of strength are just too different. Pity.”

“We should find a clean spot for her to rest,” Angela suggested. “We’ll try to keep her still and change her bandages as needed.”

“Then I’ll take the first shift watching her, you secure some more clean bandages,” Paul said. “I’ve got her feet.”

“I’ll grab her arms,” Angela said. “Ready? One, two, lift!” With some difficulty, the pair managed to carry her to a more sterile location. Angela quickly moved to grab more bandages while Paul watched over their patient.

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The Last Draconian 64: Lynai’s Decision

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I called Callie and Michael over. I wanted to get their opinions. So, I told them the lizardman’s offer.

Michael got an incredulous look on his face. “It is unlikely that his offer is sincere,” he stated. “I would recommend keeping both him and the minotaur as prisoners of war until such a time as we are victorious.”

Callie shook her head. “I can’t speak for the lizard, but I spoke with Tynan personally. And I’m convinced that his offer of servitude was sincere. He’ll obey my orders until I release him.”

“It is prudent to be wary of those who seem honourable in circumstances that do not benefit them,” Michael argued. “Frequently, they will find ways around them. It is  likely that Tynan will find a situation where you are in peril and use it to extricate himself from the bargain.”

Callie actually glared at him that time. “I know who I can trust.” She turned to me. “You don’t have to believe Tynan, just trust me. If you want, I’ll talk to this lizard as well. See if I can find his motives in his eyes.”

“I would be remiss if I did not point out that the supposed vampiric ability to read intentions in the eyes of a person has never been conclusively proven to exist,” Michael said. “Still, I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. I am, after all, only offering advice at your behest.”

I looked from one to the other. “Michael, I do appreciate your input,” I said. “But I have seen Callie’s readings in action and I trust her. So, I’ll leave Tynan in her care. As for Gabriel, let’s all go see him together and the two of you can both question him.”

“If you wish,” Michael said.

“Then let’s go!” Callie declared, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Thank you for trusting me,” she whispered.

*****

Michael Ryufan

The arena was quite large with seating all around in a circular pattern. The spectators were protected behind steel fencing with leech stones embedded within to prevent any spells from exiting the ring. The place certainly emphasised audience safety. Quite admirable, really.

The Jameson triplets were a muscular young trio with fiery red hair. They  did very much look alike. The big differences were the way they styled their facial hair and their scars. One had a simple goatee with a scar over his left eye. Another had a long, meticulously braided beard and a dent taken out of his nose. It was also slightly malformed from healing oddly. The third had scars on his right cheek and forehead. He also had a thin moustache.

“Welcome to the Arena!” She spoke very clearly and excitedly. Her voice was also amplified thanks to some simple magic in order to carry it throughout the arena.

“In the Black corner, hoping for their fifth win in a row, the masterful Jameson triplets!” A light shined down on them and they waved to the crowd. “And in the pink corner, some fresh meat to the Arena, the Pteropus trio.” It was our turn for the light Aiko bowed and began playing up to the audience. Illyana hesitantly held up a hand, uncertain of how to react to our name being called. I did not respond. I saw no point in it. We were simply there to become stronger. Not to gain a following. “The house is giving 20:1 odds in favour of the triplets. Get in those bets now. Their match starts in five.”

“You three ‘ad best be ready.” The goatee sporting Triplet called out. “I don’t care if you’re all lassies. We’re gonna pound you to the ground and send you all to hospital.”

The bearded brother pulled him back and began whispering. It  quickly became clear from their body language that they were arguing but I could not hear them well enough to make out the exact words.

“They’re arguing about Illyana,” Aiko informed me. “Beardy there doesn’t want to beat a blind woman that badly. Goatee boy is claiming that it’s fine. She wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t prepared.” The third triplet joined in the conversation. “And now Moustache is supporting Beardy. He says it wouldn’t be cricket to be pulverising a blind woman.”

“I don’t know if I appreciate being singled out,” Illyana said. “But I guess it gives me a chance to nurse you two back to health.” It was clear from her tone that she intended that statement as a joke. I chuckled in order to humour her.

The triplets turned back to us.

“Correction. We’ll pound you two” he pointed to Aiko and me “into hospital. We’ll gently knock her unconscious.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

I observed Callie’s attempt at questioning The reptilian feralial. She was Undeniably focused during the encounter. Still, I had some doubts as to the efficacy of her method. Reading someone’s intentions through their eyes id not seem scientifically sound.

She turned back to Lynai and me. “Call me crazy, but I think he’s being genuine. I think he cares more about siding with Tynan than any potential for profit and he’ll stick with his decisions. So, as long as Tynan’s with us, he will be too.”

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” He stated. His gaze went directly to Lynai.

“What do you think?” Lynai asked, looking at me.

“I think that you are going to grant him an opportunity to prove himself regardless of what I advise,” I stated. “I also think that Miss Callie has demonstrated some keen insights and could very well be correct. I would, however, advise caution around the pair of them. At least until they have properly demonstrated their loyalty.”

Truthfully, I was not overly concerned. I was confident that even if they betrayed and slew Lynai and Callie that I would be capable of handling them and, having urged caution, I would not be blamed for the decision.

Lynai nodded. “All right. We’ll let you loose. Congratulations. You and Tynan are working for the Elven royal family now. And I promise you’ll both be properly compensated.”

“Milady is most generous,” he stated, rubbing his now freed wrists.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 178: Special Delivery

Gn’iol answered his hand held. He was talking silently and Farah couldn’t make out what he was actually saying. Then he burst out laughing. His troops and several hostages looked at him, not sure what to do.

“Gareth, someone dropped us a present. Go fetch it.”

“What are you talking about?” Gareth asked.

“Right outside the door. You’ll know it when you  see it.”

Gareth hesitated, but obeyed.  He headed out.

“What do you suppose it is?” Lucas asked.

“Maybe a member of  the Alliance’s Parliament actually turned themselves in,” Farah suggested.

“It doesn’t seem likely,” Meiling said. “But it is possible.”

“Hold up,” Lucas said. “If that was the case then why would he describe it as a present?”

Farah shrugged. She got her answer when Gareth returned with a bound and gagged MP.”

“She was like that when I got there,” Gareth explained.

“So I heard,” Gn’iol said. He looked her over. “Which one is this?”

“Parliamentary Senator Julian Green,” one of the guards answered.

“Well, Senator  Green,” Gn’iol said “Why don’t you tell us who decided to trade you for the hostages. If you do, I might let you live.” He ungagged her.

“I… I didn’t see them very well. ” She protested. “They knocked me out. I remember they had an old man with some weird crimson visor thing and a face mask, a tall, dark fellow with a beard and a short blonde girl with spectacles.”

“Gareth, give her a hand held,” Gn’iol ordered. “We’ll give her a standard hour to identify some of her abductors. If she doesn’t manage it, she dies. Watch her. If anyone else tries to take the handheld or even offer her helpful advice, shoot them.”

“That sicko is enjoying playing games with her life,” Lucas whispered. “That is messed up.” He looked back at Meiling and Farah. “What?”

“That visor sounds like it could be one of the prototypes we developed,” Meiling answered. “And if it is there’s only one man who could have had it.”

“And her descriptions of the other two could very well be about Kat & Leon,” Farah said.

“But why would our friends kidnap a senator?” Lucas wondered.

“For us,” Farah said. “Because they knew Gn’iol would go through with his threat.”

“I understand their thinking, but won’t that cause problems for your crew?”  Meiling wondered. “There’s no way your ship wouldn’t have been identified.”

“Well, the Alliance did try to kill us once already,” Farah said. “Managed to get poor Allison too. They probably figured that it wouldn’t make much difference. I’d be more worried about your people. If Mr. Norsan gets identified…”

“He won’t be,” Meiling said, confidently. “She said he was masked. The visor might be a bit of a hint, but we’ve given out a small number of test prototypes to at least fifty different groups to get data about their use. So,unless she sees and identifies him personally there’s not much chance they’ll trace him to us. And even if they suspect, they probably won’t say anything without definitive proof since they’ll want to keep our association generally friendly.”

“They may even assume that we stole the technology when we were on Turing,” Farah said. “Unless you started work on it after.”

Meiling shook her head. “No, we’d started the project. It wasn’t even a particularly guarded secret since it’s just a more advanced tactical visor.”

“What will Angela do when she finds out?” Lucas wondered. “I mean, I’m a practical guy and I want to live but I don’t think she’ll approve of Femi being involved in something like that.”

“Paul wouldn’t approve either,” Farah stated. “I say we don’t tell them and hope they’re too preoccupied with their patient to really notice. I mean, no point upsetting them.”

“You really like Paul, don’t you?” Meiling observed.

“It’s weird,” Farah said. “When we first met I thought he was a bit scary. But as I’ve gotten to know him he’s become more like a… a nurturing big brother and he is the brother of my serious girlfriend. So, in a way he is kind of like my big brother too, I guess. Does that make sense or am I rambling?”

“Makes sense to me,” Lucas said. He leaned in close. “That toy of yours ready?”

“It’ll stun everyone in a hundred centimetre radius for a good thirty seconds,” Meiling answered. “We just have to get them close enough together. I might be able to make one more.”

Farah held Wolfgang up towards her as she spoke. “So, if our people were outside at that exact moment they could take advantage of that to come in and rescue everyone?”

“Certainly,” Meiling answered. “The question is, how much of a countdown do we give before using it?”

“Five minutes should be enough,” Farah said. “How long until you have the second one ready?”

“It won’t be in time to save the Senator,” Meiling answered. “If they don’t want to sacrifice her, they’d better give a signal and we can try with just the one.”

Farah looked down at Wolfgang, she smiled and gently pet the small dog. “Well, that’s the way it is. I’m sure they’ll set off an explosion at a safe distance if they want us to go with just the one.”

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The Last Draconian 63: In the Arena

Previous chapter

Lynai Elfblood

Our group withdrew and swapped places with the other team. Callie brought the beaten minotaur while I had the captured reptile brought along.

I was a bit suspicious of him, but he seemed to be following Callie’s orders obediently. For the moment, I just had to trust in her judgement.

I went to speak with my captive. “What’s your name?” I asked.

“My name?” He seemed taken aback. “Isn’t that an odd question to ask your prisoner?” He shrugged. “Gabriel, if you must know.”

“And the minotaur?” I asked. “You called him ‘partner’ what do you know about him?”

“I know everything about Tynan there is to know,” Gabriel answered. “He saved my life a couple years back.” He grinned at me. “Is that why you let me live? Do you want to know whether or not he’s a threat to that vampire? Could it be love?” His yellow eyes sized me up. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

“Is it really wise to try to get on the nerves of someone  who holds your life in her hands?” I asked, trying to keep my expression neutral.

He actually laughed at me. It was a little irritating. “Girl, I’ve been around enough scum and murderers to recognise when I’m talking to one. And, right now, I’m not talking to one.” He shook his head. “You won’t have a helpless prisoner harmed.”

He stared at me as if challenging me to prove him wrong. It might have been wise to do it, but he was right. I wouldn’t lower myself to having an unarmed person harmed.

“As I  thought,” he smirked. “But if you’re worried, don’t be. Tynan is strong and proud. Too proud to go back on his word. He’ll serve your vampire loyally.” Even if he was the enemy, hearing him say that made me feel a bit relieved but he wasn’t done yet. “And that means you’ve got me too.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

The Arena’s receptionist was an unhealthily large human woman. She stared at us with a suspicious gaze.

“You here as contestants?” she asked.

“That is correct,” I answered. “We would like to participate in team matches.”

“Just a moment,” she said. She reached her thick fingers into the desk. “I always get the weirdos,” she muttered. Given the volume of her voice, I do not believe she was trying to hide her impression of us. She produced some parchment. “Just fill these out. They tell us what to do and who to contact in case your opponents are over zealous. They also take full responsibility for anything you do in the arena.”

“We will be thorough,” I assured her. The forms were simple enough. We had to put our names, whether or not we wanted a specific person contacted, should our team be heavily wounded or slain and what treatment we desired in that event.

“What exactly is the responsibility part about?” Illyana asked.

“Essentially, we are vowing to take full responsibility should we kill or maim any other fighters,” I answered. “In that situation any coin we have earned will be forfeit and we will no longer be permitted to battle in the arena.”

“Do they get in a lot of trouble if that happens?” Illyana wondered.

“They would if we weren’t taking responsibility,” Aiko answered her. “This may not be the nicest city, but they frown on people getting killed for no reason. Besides, it’s bad for business. They need new fighters and not many’ll come if they’re risking death. Besides, well known faces are good for business.”

“I get it,” Illyana said. “They give the spectators people to root for.”

“It is more than that,” I stated. “The arena has a lively betting system in place. Having a considerable array of known contenders gives the gamblers a greater sense of security in their bets. It also enables them to give more accurate odds.”

“Think anyone’ll bet on us?” Illyana asked.

“Depends on who we’re fighting in our first match,” Aiko answered. “Some of the regular teams are considered stronger against newcomers than others. Well, some people will regardless because there’ll be pretty good odds against us, since we’re unknowns. So, they’ll see it as a way to potentially get some good coin.”

I assisted Illyana in signing her name, thereby completing the forms.

“I’ll turn them in,” Aiko volunteered. “But there is one more thing.”

“What are you referring to?” I asked.

“A team name!” she declared. “We need something for them to refer to us as like ‘Aiko’s raiders’ or ‘Dragonfox’ or ‘Aiko & her strange friends.'”

“I have no preference,” I stated. “You two may decide.”

“I know!” Illyana declared. “How about the Pteropus Trio?”

“Ooh, the flying fox,” Aiko said. “I like it. I’ll tell them to call us that since Michael doesn’t care.”

She hurried to the desk to finalise our entry.

“I do not mind the name,” I said. “But I am curious as to why you thought of it.”

“Well, I like bats,” Illyana answered. “And Aiko’s a fox feralial. And I’ve always thought bats suited you. So, I figured naming ourselves for the Pteropus would just work for all of us.”

I was contemplating what connection she was drawing between myself and bats when Aiko returned.

“The good news is that we’ve got a match tonight,” she said. “The bad news is we’re against the Jameson Triplets.”

“Why is that bad news?” Illyana asked.

“They’re considered one of the strongest teams against newcomers,” Aiko explained. “And they’re pretty brutal. They won’t kill or permanently damage any of us, but they will try to break some bones and put us through enough pain that we won’t return.”

“Then we will have to be victorious,” I stated.

“Oh yeah, if we beat them handily they won’t have a chance to break anything,” Illyana agreed. “There’s no need to worry, then.”

Aiko scratched her ear. “My, aren’t you two optimistic,” she said. “I just hope we can manage it.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 177: Parliamentary Plundering

It was a simple enough operation. They’d landed outside of the city and bought transportation inside. They’d gotten close to the MP’s lavish town house and walked the rest of the way. Now they just had to grab him and make their way to the rendezvous point where the Cerberus would land just long enough to pick them up.

“See anything?” Kat whispered over the intercom.

“My visor has heat signatures on five guards,” Jack answered. “If I use a short burst of my  rifle’s auto-aim function I should be able to bring them all down. Maybe create enough of a distraction for you two to do the job.”

“Won’t Turing be in trouble if you get caught and recognised?” Leon asked.

“Agreed,” Kat said. “We should avoid doing anything that makes a lot of noise, until we get caught. I have three guards on this side, by the way.”

“Three over here too,” Leon said.

“Then we’ll converge on your location,” Kat said. “It’s closer to the rendezvous than mine.”

“If we’re quick we should each be able to put one of their lights out before they can raise the alarm,” Jack said.

Jack and Kat hurried over to Leon. He was carefully observing the guards in his area.

“See any vulnerabilities in their routes?” Kat asked.

“One,” Leon answered. “The kind of short, stout one and the tall lanky one seem to be friends. They stopped to chat for a couple minutes and may very well do it again.”

“I get it,” Jack said. “They’ll be distracted and close together. Should I go sneak up on the third one?”

“I’ll sneak up on the third one,” Kat said. “When your targets start chatting, give me the signal and we’ll knock them all out. And be prepared to move in fifteen minutes regardless. We don’t have the luxury of patience.”

It took just over ten minutes for the guards to move together. The group struck quickly. The guards didn’t have time to raise the alarm.

Kat cut a hole into one of the large side windows and reached inside to unlock it. The trio hurried inside. They found the MP in her office, reading over a proposal.

“You’re coming with us!” Kat whispered. “Don’t make a sound and…” she was interrupted when Leon knocked her out with the side of his pistol. “Leon?”

“She was reaching for the alarm,” Leon said.

“Did you see her reach for the alarm?” Kat asked, turning to Jack.

“Doesn’t matter,” Jack answered. We have to get her to the symposium and quickly.”

Leon and Jack lifted the MP as though the two of them were trying to support a drunk friend walking home. They hoisted her outside of the window and began moving away from the house.

It didn’t take long before they found themselves being pursued by Alliance authorities. Kat began firing her pistol, taking careful aim at their pursuers.

“They won’t risk firing unless they have a clear shot,” Jack reassured her. “Stay close to us and the MP.”

“We are going to have to ditch them,” Kat said. “It’ll be trouble if they follow us back to the Cerberus.”

Leon contacted the ship as they moved. “You can probably hear, we’ve got trouble,” he said. “Advice?”

“There’s no time to go into hiding or anything like that,” Lucy said. “Just get over here and we’ll think of something.”

*****

“So, we need a plan to ditch the authorities,” Ophelia said. “Wonderful.”

“I could take one of the fighters and create a distraction,” Yuri suggested. I have the highest probability of surviving such a tactic.”

“How high are we talking?” Ophelia asked.

“Twenty seven point four percent,” Yuri answered.

“Yeah, no,” Ophelia said. “Other ideas?”

“I have one,” Femi said. “We launch a barrage of rockets down towards the local Peace Keeper headquarters. It should be isolated enough that no civilians should be hurt and it will, at the very least, divide their forces.”

“Then we outrun the ones that do pursue us,” Ophelia said.

“Is it really wise to slay Alliance law enforcement like that?” Siya wondered.

“The Alliance is responsible for the death of the woman I loved,” Yuri stated. “I will not be saddened by their loss.”

Alexandria pat her on the back. “If you need to cry, I have broad shoulders.”

“That will not be necessary at this time,” Yuri stated. “Although I do appreciate the offer.”

“I’ll get the rockets prepped,” Lucy said. “Unless someone has a better plan? Didn’t think so.”

*****

“Get down!” Jack pulled Kat away just before a sniper bullet hit the ground near where she had been.

“Nice reflexes,” Leon whistled.

“Old habit,” Jack said. “I may not be as spry as I used to be, but I’m still damn good at predicting shots.” He fired his rifle towards their pursuers before pointing it at the MP’s head. “Any more shots and I fire!” he called out. “So stay back!”

“That won’t work forever,” Kat whispered.

“Won’t need to,” Leon said. “There’s the ship.”

They hurried p the Cerberus’ ramp with Jack’s threat giving their pursuers pause. The ship began take off while the hatch was still closing and the three of them held on tightly until they were safely closed in and artificial gravity was activated.

The Cerberus took a quick pass over the Peace Keepers’ HQ and Femi helped Lucy fire the rockets. Now they just had to lose a few rapid response pursuit ships and they could take the MP over to Gn’iol.

The Cerberus crew knew that this operation was going to really have the Alliance coming after them in earnest, but at that moment, none of them cared.

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The Last Draconian 62: Taming the Beast

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

Beating Aiko had been more difficult than I’d expected. But I was proud of myself.

“Hey,” her voice was just a bit cloying. “How did you sense me? Usually when I stop holding back I tag my target immediately but you didn’t even falter much.”

“It was simple enough,” I explained. “I could tell you were holding back. It was a bit surprising just how much, but I could still tell where you were when I focused. And I might have a natural advantage. I’m used to relying on magic to get a better sense of what’s happening around me.”

She chuckled. “I guess that’s what I get for trying to pick on a blind person, huh?” I could feel her lean in towards me. “You sure you want to fight in the arena, though? They aren’t exactly going to be as easy to guard against as me. There’ll be more of them and they won’t wait in the shadows and carefully plan how to strike at you.”

“I’m not worried,” I answered. “I’ve got Michael to watch my back. You too, Miss Kugari.”

“Please, just call me Aiko,” she said.

“If you two are finished conversing, I would appreciate it if we could register,” Michael said.

“Yes Sir, no need to push me against a wall again,” Aiko said. “I’ll fulfil my promise, Sir.”

I tapped her shoulder. “You don’t need to be scared of Michael. He was just upset cause you could’ve hurt me. He’s a sweetheart when you get to know him.”

“It is not necessary for you to describe your assessment of my disposition,” Michael said. “She will develop her own, I am certain.”

“I’m just worried that she’ll judge you harshly,” I explained.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The lizard was quick with his swordplay but he was truly impressive with the shield. Even with swift lunges and stabs, his quick reflexes allowed him to move it in the path of my blade just in time.

Unfortunately for him, my footwork was faster than his. I could readily evade his strikes. It was going to become a contest of stamina if we kept things up. And I wasn’t exactly confident that I could win in that regard.

I had to take a gamble. When he lunged I dodged backwards, pretended to slip on the ground and poured just a little magic into it when I quickly picked myself up and side-stepped to avoid a second slash.

“Getting tired?” he taunted.

I circled around him. I needed him to hit just the right spot.

“I’m still fresh enough to beat a dim-witted reptile,” I stated. “Or do you think you can talk me to death?”

I sheathed my sword and grabbed my bow. I was far enough away to fire off a couple shots, which he blocked but it was very close. The arrows’ speed clearly gave him some trouble. I reached for more arrows and he charged, right where I needed him to go.

The ground opened up and he fell in. It wasn’t a large hole and I knew he wasn’t badly hurt. I had to act quickly. So, I dropped the bow and touched the ground near the edge. The ground closed in around him. I made sure it wouldn’t be tight enough to cause him serious harm. After all, he might be a useful prisoner, but it did wrap around him tightly enough that he couldn’t move.

I retrieved my bow and began firing off arrows at the other mercenaries. I had to keep evening the odds.

I found myself sneaking glances of Callie as she fought the minotaur. His swings were audible, even from where I was. They had serious power behind them. Thank the Gods that even during the day Callie was almost as nimble as I was. Even when he attacked in quick succession, she danced away from his axe.

Then it was her turn to strike. She clapped her hands together sending a fireball hurtling at his face from close range. He tried to move his head to the side but took a hit to the top right of his cranium, singing his forehead with the lower part of the fireball and  taking his horn with the upper, more intense portion.

He screamed in fury and rushed for her. She blasted the ground with magic, sending a cloud of dirt into the air. The minotaur quickly brought one hand to his head to shield his eyes. Callie swung herself along his other arm and to his back. She bit down onto his neck. He reached back, pulling her away and tossing her back.

He put his free hand to his neck, gingerly scratching the bite marks.

Callie picked herself up and approached him calmly. “Drop your axe,” she said.

It slipped out of his hands. He looked down at it, dumbfounded.

“What have you done?” He demanded. Her rapier pointed at his throat.

“Well, Sirrah?” she asked. “Do you concede? Or shall I take more than your horn?”

He glanced down at the rapier, apparently trying to figure out if he could get away from it in time. Callie apparently sensed that and poked it into his neck, just enough to draw a little blood.

“Well?” she demanded.

He sighed, heavily. “Beaten by a damn vampire in the daylight. Very well. As promised,  I will follow your lead.”

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