Voyages of the Cerberus 128: Femi’s Mistrust

“Angela, the best results seem to be from types three theta and seven alpha,” Lucas reported. “But it doesn’t look like either one is going to work as a cure. I’m gonna try and make a new series based on those two. Possibly find something that works well enough.”

“Good luck,” Angela said. “Paul and I will keep working on this. We’ll just have to hope for a break through in time.”

“We’ll have one,” Lucas said. “I mean, look at this team. This is a good, strong team. You’ve just gotta believe.”

He hurried off to his work.

“An optimistic young man,” Paul said.

“It’s one of his strengths,” Angela said. “And he is excited to be working with you. He was always reading your papers during his time at University. When your license was revoked by the Alliance, he led several demonstrations in protest.”

“He studied in the Alliance, then?” Paul asked.

“Until his final year,” Angela said. “He finished on Akumil.” She turned around. “James, must you loiter in my door?”

Paul turned. The security officer who’d escorted him was still sitting at the doors.

“Sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “Your wife’s orders. Nonea the Cerberus crew are t’be loose without an escort.”

“Femi ordered that?”  Angela asked. “I’m sorry, Paul, she’s having some trust issues over this whole incident.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Paul said. “Won’t be the first time we’ve been supervised during a job. Now, let’s get this done.”

*****

Grace arrived in Turing’s Engineering block, ignoring the guard who was watching her. There weren’t many people about. There were only around a half dozen. They were taking orders from a woman with a prosthetic right arm.

Grace approached her and extended a hand. “Grace Albrecht of the Cerberus, are you in charge?”

She looked down at Grace’s hand, studied Grace for a moment, looked back at Grace’s hand and then shook it. “Siya Vallja. Just in charge for the moment. Normally, Meiling is in charge overall and Torn is in charge of the weapons block.” She brushed her long hair back with her hand. “I’m normally just in charge of robotics.” She looked at Grace intently. “I’ve heard that the Cerberus has a sentient robot on board.”

“We did,” Grace said. “She’s on a leave of absence.”

“Oh,” Siya said. “Pity. I would have liked to meet her.”

“I can show you some of the schematics that were used in her development,” Grace offered. “They’re pretty amazing. Speaking of, that’s an impressive prosthetic. It doesn’t look like any I’ve seen before.”

“Oh, this?” Siya asked. “I started with a regular V-64 series model, and then I used it as a base to design my own. Turing is going to make a deal with a manufacturer to put these on the market.” She opened and closed her hand. “Completely responsive and it carries sensations to your brain like an ordinary arm would. But it’s nothing compared to some of our projects. You show me your robot’s schematics and I’ll show you some of our more impressive ones.”

“You, Madame, have a deal,” Grace agreed.

*****

“Are you interested in seeing anything in particular?” Femi asked. She scrutinised Leon, Farah and Lucy.

“I’d love to see the source of your paranoia,” Lucy said. “I mean, you invited us here to help and you’ve been ever so cold. So, why don’t you just let it out and tell us what your problem is?” Her yellow eyes opened very slightly.

Farah was about to step forward and try to keep the peace when she felt Leon’s hand on her shoulder. She looked back at him and he shook his head, slowly.

“I have no problem,” Femi said. “I’m just concerned about you being exposed to the virus.”

“Don’t give me the diplomatic answer!” Lucy demanded, opening her eyes further. “You don’t trust us. I’d go so far as to say that you were even against the idea of bringing Doctor Albrecht in to help but you were over-ruled.” She paused. “No, not over-ruled. You went along with it because your lovely wife was keen on the idea. Isn’t that right, Mrs Ziegmari?”

Femi turned away from her, “Yeah, that’s right.”

“Umm, Femi,” Farah said, keeping her voice as soothing as she could. “We won’t understand your objection if you don’t explain it. Do you not like mercenaries?”

“It’s not that,” Femi said. She sighed. “If you really must know, the truth is that this virus didn’t infect our station by accident. Someone put it here.”

“So what?” Leon asked. “Now you just don’t trust anyone?”

“She’s not crazy,” Lucy corrected him. “There’s a specific reason she’s worried about us. Our ties to Akumil, perhaps?”

“That’s right,” Femi confirmed. “Just before the virus broke out we had a visit from an akumillian delegation trying to persuade us to ally with them against the Alliance. We declined and now… now my mother is sick. My daughter is infected  and my wife is working herself ragged trying to find a cure.”

“You think the akumillian delegation infected the station!” Farah declared. “But they wouldn’t, would they?” She looked at Lucy.

It was about twenty seconds before Lucy answered. “Not in such an obvious way, no. Mrs Ziegmari, could you show us the rooms where the delegation stayed and the logs for your recent visitors? Maybe we could find out what happened.”

“And why should you do that?” Femi asked. “To clear your names?”

“Because we like helping!” Farah cried.

“Not like we have anything better to do,” Leon muttered.

“All of those,”Lucy said. Her eyes closed and she turned to Femi with a smile. “You can keep observing us. Would it really hurt to let us have a look?”

“Fine,” Femi said. “Follow me and I’ll show you the area.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 71: Reinforcements, but will they be enough?

Inés’ mind immediately started racing. Who did she know who could have pulled off a teleportation spell with that level of timing? Not that she even knew many people who could use teleportation spells.

“You okay, Sylvie?” She asked.

“Fine,” Sylvie said, holding out her rapier defensively. “Hopefully now we can turn things around.”

“Hopeful, aren’t you?” Camila asked. “Not that it’ll help.” She was set to lunge when an arrow whizzed into her shoulder, denting her armour. “And why are you interrupting my business, Elf?” Her voice had an undercurrent of rage.

Lais calmly readied another arrow. “I protect that which I hold dear,” she answered, pointing the bow at Camila. “And right now, you’re threatening someone who qualifies. I suggest you leave.”

“You can take the blonde if you like, Elf,” Camila stated. “But Inés belongs to me.”

Things moved quickly from there. Lais loosed her arrow. Camila stepped forward and threw her trident.

Camila snatched the arrow just as it was about to hit her face. Lais evaded the trident, but her bow got hit and snapped.

Camila lunged for Lais, bare-handed. Inés and Sylvie moved to intercept her, but she deftly moved past them using her speed technique.

“Ground Spiking!” a voice rang out. The dirt beneath Camila turned up into pointed stones and jabbed towards her. She leapt back, looking to the side.

“And you must be the annoying mage who took my prey,” she said.

“Enya?” Inés asked.

“She doesn’t…” Sylvie began, quickly stopping herself.

Lais drew a long sword. Enya began casting.

“All right!” Inés declared. “All together!”

She expected Camila to go for her trident, but her sister didn’t seem that interested. She evaded Lais’ long sword, kicking her in the stomach.

She grabbed Inés’ staff, letting it slam against her palms in the process and kicked Inés in the gut as hard as she could, right into Sylvie. Then she moved for Enya

“Holding Muck!”  Enya cried. The ground beneath Camila turned soft, and muddy sucking her into it. “Earthen spears!” Enya continued her attack. Transforming pieces of the ground into long, thin projectiles and bombarding Camila with them.

Camila pushed herself out of the ground spell, grabbed one of the spears and beat Enya with it. The freckled mage went down, vanishing even as she fell.

“Not the teleporting mage,” Camila muttered. “Must be another around here.”

“How many more do we have?”  Inés whispered, turning to Lais.

Lais  glanced briefly at Sylvie before holding up two fingers.

“Couldn’t be,” Sylvie muttered. “You didn’t.”

“Come out, Cowardly Mage!” Camila cried. “I’m just going to find and kill you when you’re encumbered looking out for everyone else. If you come out, I’ll at least make it quick.”

Sylvie charged. Lightning magic bursting from her right hand into Camila. Her rapier very nearly slicing deeply into Camila’s flesh, but only managing light wounds.

“Who lit your fire?” Camila asked. She leapt into the air, kicking the back of Sylvie’s head and slamming her into the ground. She hurriedly moved to press her advantage, but her elbow ended up slamming into the bare ground.

She stood, rubbing it gingerly. “Whatever. Guess the elf is next. ”

She moved towards Lais and Inés. Slowly at first, then she smirked and became a blur. Inés moved to get between her and Lais, but it was an unnecessary gesture. Camila wasn’t going for them, she was retrieving her trident.

She turned to face the pair of them. Inés moved first. She quickly noticed that Camila’s grip was a little unsteady. If she could…

Before she could finish the thought, she found herself tossed backwards. How was her sister this much stronger than her?

she managed to land on her feet,  but she found her foot caught between Camila’s trident and the ground. She would have to somehow reach behind her back and pull it loose to free herself.

Camila charged for Lais. Lais nimbly side-stepped her charge and kicked out with her leg, tripping Camila so that she fell forward.

Camila didn’t stay down. She quickly regained her feet, glaring at Lais.

Inés glanced over at their fight, and quickly forced herself not to stare behind Camila.

Camila scooped up a stone and moved for Lais. Lais backed away.

“What’s wrong? Weren’t you going to claim Inés?” She smirked. “Well, I don’t imagine you could take her from us.”

The taunt worked. Camila moved. She used her speed spell to bridge the gap quickly. Lais’ long sword very nearly impaled her, coming forward at close to the last second. But Camila noticed the manoeuvre and jumped back to avoid the strike. That was when Ashley made her move. Her  bagh nakh slashed across the right side of Camila’s face and down to her chest, sparking against her armour but not piercing it.

Camila shrieked and kicked the one-eyed woman away. Camila ignored the bleeding and followed up the attack, decking Ashley really hard. Lais moved to her rescue, shielding the thief and getting pummelled herself in the process. The pair of them were quickly teleported away.

Camila glanced around. “So, that’s where the mage is.” She punched Inés in the back of the head and grabbed her trident. Inés followed. She had to protect them all. The unseen mage, Serena, Sylvie, Enya, Lais & Ashley.

But Camila had a head start and she was using magic to speed herself up. She reached the mage far before Inés. She glanced at the injured warriors and the mage herself.

“Really, they sent a blind girl?” Camila asked. “Do yourself a favour and clear off, Little girl. Before you die along with them.” She glanced around. “Should I start with the bitch who scratched my cute face? Maybe the elf?” She glanced at Illyana who was shaking, but standing firm between her and the others. Then she glanced at the fallen figure directly behind Illyana. “Maybe that girl with the rapier there. Yes, I think that’s it. Now, Stand Aside!”

Illyana didn’t move she was already starting to chant.

“Suit yourself,” Camila said. “I can impale you both.”  She leapt into the air. Aiming her trident to go through Illyana and into Sylvie.

“Elemental Armageddon!” Illyana finished. A prismatic burst of magic shot from her entire body. Void, Lightning, Water, Fire, Earth, Air, Aether, Ice. They all spiralled around one another and converged to slam into Camila. She was sent flying back, into some rocks.

Any mortal wearing ordinary armour would have been reduced to dust. But Camila was a half Goddess and she was wearing armour made by Hephaestus. She survived, but not without a price. Her armour was a half-melted mess. The flesh beneath it charred.

Illyana fell to her knees, breathing heavily. Camila picked herself up.

“Only an omni mage,” she muttered. “But I doubt you have the strength to do that again. Why don’t you try it? If you hit, you might even kill me this time. Of course, you might miss. And you’ll certainly die in the attempt.”

Illyana moved a shaky hand up, pointed it towards Camila and started chanting.

“Stop!” Inés cried, grasping Illyana’s hand. “Let  me take it from here. Look after Sylvie and the others.”

“O… okay,” Illyana said.

Inés examined Camila. Her sister was wounded, quite badly, but still a threat. She knew what Camila would do, the same thing she’d done the entire battle. She’d try to find a way to suppress her without hurting her badly and go for the others.

They rushed towards each other. Inés dropped and shoved her staff upwards just as Camila tried to jump kick her. Inés’ staff was brutally shoved through Camila’s now brittle armour and pierced deeply into her chest.

Inés wasn’t willing to rely on that much and she quickly snapped her sister’s neck.

She looked back at the barely conscious Illyana and her wounded friends and lovers. They’d won.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 127: Turing Station

Y4-R1’s Personal Log:

I am en route to Yujin in the Cerberus’ shuttle. Captain Wester was benevolent enough to lend it to me. I will arrive in approximately fifty eight hours, twenty seven minutes and thirteen seconds. 

Turmoil over Allison’s untimely destruction continues to be a source of great duress. I do not know if Yujin will hold any kind of closure, but it is a location that Allison and I visited together. A place where, for a brief time, I felt fear over her possible destruction. I will re-examine the site of that event. 

*****

“This is Turing Station,” Ophelia said, indicating the hologram. “An independent colony primarily dedicated to research. Mostly human, but staying neutral in the fight between Akumil and the Alliance, so far. It’s also the site of our next mission.”

“What kind of research do they do?” Kat asked.

“Primarily medical, robotics & weapons,” Lucy answered. “Our job is to go there and render medical assistance for their head doctor. Some kind of virus. Paul, you’ve met Doctor Ziegmari at some medical symposia, what’s she like?”

“Angela has a lot of the same philosophies on medicine that I do,” Paul answered. “She believes in the patient’s well being being the top priority and that Doctors should prioritise helping people over profits. She also has some very fascinating ideas about how various technologies can be adapted for medical use in the space age.”

“I bet she’s still not as angelic as you are,” Leon stated.

“So, you don’t think she’d lead us into a trap of some kind?” Lucy asked, ignoring Leon.

“I would say that she’s as likely to do so as I would be,” Paul said.

“Then we can’t completely rule it out,” Lucy said. “After all, you’d lure some strangers into a trap if someone was holding the rest of the Cerberus crew hostage, wouldn’t you?”

Paul nodded. “If I couldn’t think of any way out of the situation, I would.”

“We aren’t really worried about a trap,” Ophelia said. “doctor Ziegmari’s message didn’t seem forced or anything like that.”

“I did get the impression that there was something she wasn’t mentioning,” Lucy added. “But we’ll see when we arrive. Paul, you’ll put on hazard gear and go to their medical centre. Leon, Farah and I will put on hazard gear and look around the station. Kat and Ophelia will stay back on standby. Grace will work on whatever she wants to.”

“I would like to talk to their head engineer,” Grace said. “Turing is pretty well known for being on the cutting edge of technology. I think I could actually learn something.”

Lucy and Ophelia shared a quick look. “It’s fine by me,” Ophelia said. “But follow all decontamination procedures.”

*****

Turing Station was massive. Easily large enough to hold a dozen Cerberus’. The Cerberus docked and Paul, Leon, Lucy, Farah & Grace moved to the airlock. It didn’t take long for it to open. They were greeted by a woman with dark hair, brown eyes, light brown skin and an armoured suit.

She bowed her head to them. “Cerberus crew, I’m Femi, the chief of security here.” She glanced around. “We only need Doctor Albrecht, but the rest of you are welcome to come aboard. Just be warned. The virus is extremely contagious.”

“I’m Luciverianna,” Lucy said. “Our engineer wanted to speak with yours. Leon, Farah and I wanted to look around.”

“I see,” Femi said, not sounding enthused. “I’ll have one of my men escort the good doctor to medical. Another escort your engineer. I’ll show you three around personally.”

“She’s keeping an eye on us,” Leon whispered.

“I noticed,” Lucy said. “She’s oddly suspicious, I wonder why.”

*****

Angela Ziegmari had long blonde hair tied back and piercing blue eyes. She was working with a young looking man with dark skin, a thin beard and braided hair. A small girl with long brown hair was playing with toy robots in the corner.

“Lucas, check over the first sample series again,” she instructed. She turned and held out her hand, smiling warmly. “Thank you for coming, Paul. We’re going to need the help. Most of the station is down with this ting.” She handed him a hand held. “Tell me, what do you notice?”

Paul examined the images. all showing the same micro-organism. “This isn’t a natural virus,” Paul answered. “Someone manufactured it.”

“Exactly,” Angela said. “Whoever made it is quite sadistic. It has a lot of stages, each one progressively worse. The good news is that it kills very slowly. The bad news is that it’s proven very difficult to treat or to reverse engineer. It doesn’t last long outside of a human body.”

Paul looked around. “What angle is the rest of your team exploring?”

Angela sighed. “Lucas and I are it, I’m afraid. It’s part of why we need your help. The rest of our medical team are down. To save them, and everyone else, we need to act quickly.”

The young girl moved up to Paul, holding a small toy.

Paul knelt down. “Can I help you?”

She held out her toy. “Boom!” she cried.

Paul feigned falling back. She clapped her hands together.

“Hannah,” Angela said. “Please don’t bother Doctor Albrecht. He’s going to help Mommy make Gran and everyone better. Go back and play quietly.”

Hannah reluctantly moved away. Paul moved to join Angela.

“Sorry about her,” Angela said. “Her grandma usually watches her when Femi and I are both on duty, but I’m afraid she’s taken ill.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Paul said. “She just wants some attention. For now, you’d better tell me what the next step is.”

“We’re trying a series of different compounds that preliminary results show promise for,” Angela answered. “I’ve also started synthesising a solution that should mimic a living human body. Hopefully, the virus can survive in there long enough to properly break it down.”

“Then let’s get it finished,” Paul said.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 70: Camila’s Opening Attack

Camila walked to shore. Her stride was filled with confidence. “Were you waiting long my soon to be bride?” she asked. “Are you ready to bring this world to a golden age with me?” She glanced at Serena and Sylvie. “Your servants may attend our wedding, but they’re going to have to make themselves scarce while we go through our consummation.”

“I’m not going to marry you,” Inés said. “For one thing, you’re my sister and it’s gross. For another thing, I’m not the marrying type. I’m also going to suggest that you give up on your plans to conquer everything. They’re more than a little crazy.”

“Inés, stop provoking her!” Sylvie said in a harsh whisper. “We need to distract her to wait for you know what.”

Camila broke out in laughter. “Oh my dear, sweet, stupid Inés. You don’t really get it, do you? I’m not asking for your feedback. I will have your strength by my side and I will have your body. You may not believe it right now and you may not like it, but what I desire inevitably becomes mine.” She moved close to Inés and put her hand under Inés’ chin, pulling her face close to her own. “I suggest you not fight it. It’s just going to cause problems for you. I may even have to punish you by killing your little friends.”

Inés slapped her hand away. “Don’t touch me!”

Camila shrugged. “I tried. I guess I’ll just have to break that spirit of yours.”

With a swift motion she grabbed Inés by the throat and lifted her. Inés responded immediately by kicking Camila with both feet. Surprisingly, Camila kept hold of her. She tossed Inés backwards, into the water.

“Now, for you two,” Camila said. She lunged, almost too quickly for Sylvie to respond.

Sylvie’s rapier barely managed to turn Camila’s trident strike in time. She tried to strike back with a quick lightning spell, but Camila was faster. Her knee went up into Sylvie’s gut, sending her sprawling.

Serena slammed her tonfa into Camila’s back, trying to get her away from Sylvie. Camila was staggered, but kept on her feet. She turned, a vicious swipe of her trident knocked the tonfa from Serena’s hands.

Camila gave a sadistic smile while sticking her trident upright in the ground. Then she punched Serena. Once, twice, thrice. She reached back and retrieved the trident.

A loud crash of waves interrupted her. Inés came flying in, slamming into Camila. Her staff met Camila’s trident and she furiously fought to get Camila away from the battered Serena.

“How sweet of you,” Camila said, parrying Inés ‘ strikes. “Trying to save your little girlfriend. Tell you what, agree to stop fighting and do as I say and I’ll let her off with those bruises, assuming she doesn’t have permanent brain damage. ”

“What’s wrong with you?” Inés demanded. “She’s not a tool for you to use. And I’m certainly not your toy.”

“I see,”  Camila said. “Too bad for her.”

Inés’ next staff strike went through mid air as Camila used her speed technique. Inés managed to follow her movements as she lunged for Serena’s battered, unconscious body.

For a moment, Inés was terrified. She couldn’t get there fast enough, she knew. That was when Serena vanished in a blinding flash of light and Camila’s trident slammed into the ground.

“A teleportation spell?” Camila asked. She looked back at Inés and over to Sylvie, who was just managing to pick herself up. “Not one of you two, I see.” She shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Whoever you’ve got in hiding, I’ll deal with them too.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 126: Yuri’s Decision, Another Farewell?

Grace woke up to a rhythmic knock on her door. She grabbed her glasses, checked her eyes to make sure they weren’t too red from crying. She opened the door.

“Yuri,” she greeted. “What is it? Did you need to talk?”

“I am experiencing vexation,” Yuri stated. “The emotional turmoil is significant. To the extent that I had given serious contemplation to requesting that you erase my memories. However, Allison requested that I remember her. She stated that a part of her, my memories of her, will always be with me. When I think of that, I can not help but believe it would be an egregious betrayal to erase my memories of her. Grace, how can I discontinue the pain without betraying her?”

“Yuri, sit down,” Grace gestured towards her sofa. Baron Wolfgang hopped into Yuri’s lap as soon as she’d taken her seat. “Just… just wait for a moment. I’ll make some tea.”

Grace hurried to her kitchenette. She knew the gist of what she needed to say, but she wasn’t quite sure how to say it. It wasn’t Yuri’s fault that she was having trouble. Anyone would be. Especially someone in Yuri’s position. Only one lover in her life. Very little experience at dealing with tragedy. She needed to speak compassionately.

Grace finished brewing the tea. She poured two cups, just in case Yuri wanted to taste some. She sat down next to her. Yuri was gently stroking Wolfgang’s fur.

“Yuri, what you’re feeling is very natural. Very… human. Losing someone you love, especially the way you loved Allison, is always difficult. Heart wrenchingly so. And that pain… it’ll always be with you. Sure, as time goes by it’ll dull. You’ll learn to remember the happy times fondly and think less on the painful way you lost her, but you’ll always feel a little twinge of regret and pain when you think about her.”

“But, you are right in keeping your memories. That pain isn’t something you should surrender. Because… because ultimately, the reason it hurts so badly is because being with her enriched your life. It brought you a lot of happiness. To deny the pain would be to deny that. Besides, you’re going to live a very long time. Possibly even longer than any of us can imagine. For your own sake, you need to learn to handle these kinds of feelings productively. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself shutting out everyone around you, afraid to feel anything.”

Yuri continued petting the little dog. “Productively?” she whispered. She looked up. “I understand. You have my gratitude. I must speak with Ophelia.”

*****

Farah looked at her palette. Which colour would be good? Light blue, perhaps? Maybe a pink or red would be better.

“What  colour were their feathers actually?” Lucy asked.

Farah jumped, startled. “I… I didn’t hear you,” she stammered.

“Well, you were late for your shift,” Lucy said. “So, I got curious.” She examined the painting, her eyes very slightly open. “I’m surprised you actually did it.”

“Well, I know she was just messing with me,” Farah said. “But…”

“You wanted to do it any way,” Lucy finished. “So, what colour were their actual feathers?”

Farah shrugged. “No idea. They’ve just found imprints of them and remains stored in amber. Nothing to tell us the colour… I don’t think.”

“I see,” Lucy said. “Well, I’d go with the light blue.”

Farah nodded. “I was thinking that. Maybe after my shift.”

Lucy grabbed her shoulders and pushed her down. “No. It’s quiet any way. Just finish your painting. I’ll keep you covered.”

*****

A joyous light

You gave in flight

Happiness and laughter

You brought to every slaughter. 

Now gone away

How we wish you could stay

“That’s all I’ve got so far,” Leon said. “I’m a bit stuck.”

“I’m sure she’d appreciate the sentiment at least,” Paul said. “But I don’t know if ‘slaughter’ is the best term to use here.”

“I couldn’t think of a better one that rhymes,” Leon said.

“What about ‘chapter’?” Paul suggested.

“Okay, yeah, that is better,” Leon said. “Like, it doesn’t rhyme as neatly, but it fits her better. And it gives me an idea  of where to go.”

“When you’re done you should show Yuri,” Paul stated. “I’m sure she’d appreciate it.”

“You bet,” Leon nodded. “Imma make the best memorial poem I can and anyone who doesn’t like it can walk into my knife.”

“Please don’t point a blade at anyone,” Paul said.

*****

“Captain,” Yuri said. “I require a moment of your time.”

“Of course, Yuri,” Ophelia said. “You know I’m here for you if you need me.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Yuri stated. “This is difficult to say, but I require a hiatus.”

“Off the ship, I’m guessing,” Ophelia said.

“Correct,” Yuri nodded. “I do not wish to retire from the crew. However, I do require time and distance to come to terms with everything. I would like to take the shuttle and travel, alone, for a time.”

“The shuttle’s all yours,” Ophelia said. “We’ll miss having you around, but everyone will understand.”

“Thank you,” Yuri said. “I will contact you when I  am ready to return.”

“And we’ll come for you,” Ophelia said. “Even if we have to drop everything and go halfway across the galaxy to do it.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 69: Mysterious Structure

The priestesses soared over the mountains. From the air, Drahaven’s layout became apparent. The buildings were all lined up in an orderly, even fashion. They were built upwards to make efficient use of space. At least, those that were relatively undamaged were. Sylvie couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to the city underground, like the shelter Michael had shown them. She couldn’t help but wonder how he’d found it.

That was when she noticed it. Barely visible from the air, nestled snugly into the mountainside. She pulled Demure alongside Blitz and gestured for Inés. Inés looked at the spot she was indicating and nodded. Sylvie turned towards Serena and motioned for her to follow. Serena nodded.

The trio descended. The structure they found themselves in front of appeared to be a frame, constructed of the same, strange metal as they’d seen in Drahaven. Surrounding the frame were eight pedestals. Seven of them had  small statues of a reptilian winged, tailed Athena. The eighth was empty but had an indent, seemingly to hold another statue.

“Weird,” Inés stated.

“It’s clearly draconian,” Sylvie said. “Looks to be a shrine, with the statues and everything. But why the frame?”

“It looks almost like a doorway,” Serena observed. “Could they have been building something up here when they were killed?”

“I doubt it,” Sylvie said. “Starting with a door frame makes no sense. There’s no foundation. No building materials. No skeleton of a structure.” She shook her head. “No, this is what it’s supposed to be. But why?”

“Too bad Michael isn’t here,” Inés said. “He could tell us.”

“How would he know exactly?” Sylvie asked.

“Well… he… He found their desert base,” Inés answered. “He probably knows stuff about them.”

“You’re a terrible liar,” Sylvie said. “But I won’t press you. You’d tell us if you could. What do you think happened to the statue?”

“The likely explanation is that one of the draconians had it in their city,” Inés said.

“Because a thief wouldn’t have left the rest of them, right?” Serena asked.

Inés nodded. “Now you’re getting it.”

Sylvie moved behind the frame. “What is this?” She held up a thin cable. One end was attached to the frame.

“No idea,” Inés said. She walked over. They followed the cable. After a short distance, it split into two, they each followed one end.

“It’s attaching the frame to the pedestals!” Sylvie declared.

“It must be some kind of device,” Sylvie said. “But it’s hard to tell how it works or what it does. At least, without a draconian to explain it. There isn’t any kind of control mechanism that I can see and, of course, no written clues.”

“It’s certainly a puzzle,” Serena agreed. “But can we really afford to stick around and look at it? I mean, Athena did say that we should wait on the coast.”

“No,” Inés said. “We should make note of its location, though, report it when we get back to the Temple.”

“Agreed,” Sylvie said. “I’ll draw up a map. It won’t be super detailed, but it’ll suffice.”

They mounted their pegasi and returned to the air. They made their way to the coast. At the moment, it was barren.

“So, how long do we have to wait?” Inés asked.

Sylvie shook her head. “Don’t be impatient. We can only trust the Goddess. For the moment, let’s set up camp. We can get fish and you can gather edible plants from the ocean. That should keep us fed. You do know which ones are edible, don’t you?”

“I have gills and I used to spend time underwater whenever I wanted to be left alone,” Inés said. “Of course I know which ones are edible.”

“That’s so cool!” Serena declared. “I could never figure that out.”

“You would if you were in my position,” Inés said. “Trust me. You’re probably smarter than me.”

*****

The three spent four days on the coast. Gathering and catching their own food. Having long conversations. Always waiting, alert, knowing that Camila would find them. Wondering if any reinforcements that Athena sent would reach them first.

That afternoon they got their answer. She came in, riding the waves themselves. Carrying a jewelled trident in her hands. A twisted smile was on her face.

Camila had arrived.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 125: Saying Goodbye

Ophelia sighed, heavily. Lucy moved behind her and hugged her. “Still got tears to let go of, Love?”

“Almost certainly,” Ophelia answered. “Right now… right now I’m just tired. Contacting Allison’s family was…”

“I know,” Lucy said, hugging her more tightly. “You really should let me be the one to talk to parents.”

“I can’t do that,” Ophelia said. “I’m the Captain. It’s my responsibility. Now… now I’ve got to go in front of the crew, try to say something comforting and play her holo.”

“After that I’ll talk to Yuri,” Lucy said. “We should offer to take her off of active duty… be prepared to drop her off somewhere if she wishes.”

Ophelia nodded. “Agreed. What do you think the chances of her wanting to leave are?”

“No idea,” Lucy answered. “With Damian I knew that he would right away. I could tell. Yuri… she doesn’t show her emotions very readily. I have trouble reading her. ”

“All right,” Ophelia said. “Let’s go talk with the crew.”

*****

The Cerberus Crew was gathered in the conference room. Dressed in dark suits.

Ophelia and Lucy walked in, slowly. Ophelia stood in front of the group. “This is never easy,” she stated. “Not for this crew. Because we’re more than associates. More than comrades. Our crew has, for a long time, been more close knit than that. We’re a family. Chosen by everyone here. Sustained by everyone here. In many ways, that’s a good thing. It gives us strength. It brings all of us joy. Then, something like this comes along and we’re forced to remember that it can also bring us great sorrow.”

She paused for a moment and collected herself before continuing. “For most of us, Allison was a mischievous little sister. For  one of us,” she glanced at Yuri “she was the love of her life. Lovable, endearing and always up to something. She made us laugh and helped lift our spirits with a little humour whenever things looked grim. The void her passing leaves us with is significant. It will take time and support from one another to even begin mending it. we have Allison’s holo ready to play. We’ll hear what she wanted to say to all of us and, hopefully, that will give us some closure.”

Lucy flipped the switch and a three dimensional image of Allison appeared.

“Hey, Ladies, Doctor and Leon, what’s the good word?” Allison’s voice said. “You all look down. What is this, a funeral?” she shrugged. “Guess so, huh? Do me a favour and stand in front of me when I say your name so it’ll look like I’m talking to you.  Wouldn’t want the other holograms thinking I’m crazy. I’m not really good at this kind of thing, so I guess I’ll just go. ”

“Ophelia,” the hologram paused. Ophelia moved forward to stand in front of it. “You’re the only authority figure I’ve had with a sense of humour. And the only one I respected. You weren’t just a boss. You were my  friend. Sure, I started following you because I had nowhere else to go. I mean, look at me. I couldn’t make it as a Mafia enforcer. I’m too smiley and bubbly, Damn it. But, you know, I liked you pretty much immediately. I guess what I want to say is that I’m grateful to you for giving me a home and for being my friend. If I  had to do it all again, I’d only change the thing that killed me. I wouldn’t change anything about our relationship because I love you more than my own relatives.”

“Lucy,” the hologram paused. Lucy traded places with Ophelia. “I won’t lie, it took me a while to warm up to you. You have that eyes closed stare that can just send shivers everywhere. At first, I thought you just hated me for no reason. But then I realised something. You keep aloof from the newbies because you’re sizing them up. The Cerberus crew is a family and you don’t want anyone you can’t trust in that family. So, when you stopped giving me the stink closed eye I knew that it was because you like me. Lucy and Allison, besties. I’m sure you’re totally bummed now that it’s the end. Seriously though, you taught me so much. Sure, it was mostly practical, boring stuff, but that time together gave us a bond. I’m sorry that I caused you hardships and I want you to know, I loved you too.”

“Kat,” Kat noticed tears falling from Lucy’s eyes as she moved away. “Kat, you’re probably the most fun person to tease and I know I’ve given you a lot of trouble because of that. I just hope you know, it was never because I didn’t like you. Quite the contrary, I always respected your smarts and your ability to kick some serious butt while barely reaching most people’s ankles. I just hope that I was never a nuisance or a bad friend to someone I love and respect as much as you.”

“Leon,” Leon stepped forward. “I know you’re the big, fierce protective type, even if you do the whole poetry thing. and I know that you gave whatever killed me hell and did your damnedest to protect me. Don’t feel bad. I know it wasn’t your fault. Sometimes shit happens. To me, you were like a protective big brother. Sure, you were fun to tease, almost as much fun as Kat. but you were also always there when I needed you. So, I guess I should say, love you, Bro. Keep protecting everyone, for me.”

Leon moved away, muttering “Dammit” and covering his eyes.

“Paul,” Paul moved forward to face the hologram. “This is very important. I want you to listen to me carefully. Look into my eyes and don’t you dare look away, even for a second. I don’t care if the Cerberus is boarded by space dragons or something less awesome. Are you looking? Good. This wasn’t your fault!” The hologram shouted those words. “I know you, Doc, you take everything on your own shoulders. Someone dies on your watch, you think it’s because you failed in some way. That’s a load of garbage. You didn’t fail. You know how I know? Because you take your work very seriously. You never give it less than everything you have to give. I know you fought tooth and nail to make me pull through.” Paul was openly bawling at that point. “You know something else I know for an absolute fact? If you couldn’t save me, no one could have. Because you, Sir, are the best. Not just because of your skill and dedication, but because of your gentle, kind heart. If Leon is my protective brother, you’re my kind, doting brother in law. I was going to say brother, but it seems weird given the whole you two sleeping together thing. I love you, Doc and I hope you never lose that heart.”

“Grace,” Grace moved forward. “If you want to throw a wrench at my hologram for old times’ sake, wait until after the ceremony when you’re replaying it and don’t you dare hit my face. You know, to the untrained eye we probably didn’t seem to get along. Hell, trained eyes probably had trouble sometimes. But you and I know what was going on. Well, and Lucy because her eyes somehow miss nothing in spite of only being open five percent of the time. Any way, for us it was a grand game. A great back and forth for the ages. I know you’ll miss that just like I would if something had happened to you. I loved you, My friendly rival.”

“Farah,” Farah stepped forward. Grace briefly hugged her on her way back. “I knew the moment you came on the ship that you would be trouble. Immediately stealing two hearts like that. Not that I can lame them. You’re sweet, gentle and kind of naive. I was always afraid to tease you much because you might start crying and then Grace would actually hit me with a wrench. But you’re also a total sweetheart and your drawings are amazing. In fact, you should memorialise me with a drawing of me riding a feathery T-rex in space. just to show future generations how I lived. I’m kidding. You don’t have to do that. Seriously, though, you were like my sweet little sister and I loved you a great deal.”

“Yuri,” Yuri moved silently forward and watched the hologram. “I’m so sorry, Yuri. I wanted to stay with you for a long, long time. I wanted to do so much with you. And now, I’ve gone and blown it. I just hope you’ll treasure our time together as much as I did. You may be an android, but you’re the best damn person I ever knew.  Wherever you go, whatever you do, please remember that. I know you’ve got a long time ahead of you and you may even love again. I’m just glad that I was your first love and I hope that I was halfway good enough for you. I truly, deeply loved you, Yuri and a part of me will always be with you.”

“Everyone,” The hologram looked around. “It was an honour to serve with all of you. This is Allison Aiza, signing off for the last time. There’s gotta be a better way to end this thing than that. Guess I’ll go in and revise it later.” The hologram shut off.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 68: Drahaven

The priestesses found themselves on a dusty road surrounded on two sides by mountains with the ruins of a city in front of them. Behind that was more mountains.

“What do you think Athena meant by ‘they will come’?” Serena asked.

“There are two reasonable interpretations,” Sylvie said. “The first is that Camila will bring someone else along. The second…”

“Is that Athena will send help,” Inés interrupted. “The question then becomes who.”

“She said that she couldn’t directly interfere,” Sylvie said. “Presumably that includes sending her own priestesses.”

“So, who else would she send?” Serena asked.

Inés shrugged. “I haven’t a clue. She can’t just order anyone over without it becoming direct interference. So, I’d say she’ll have to find someone that she can do the same thing she did to get us to fight Scotius.”

“Someone passing by who just happens to have ties with her that she can use to send them under the pretence of warning them away?” Sylvie  asked. “Doesn’t seem likely.”

“She might do something similar,” Inés stated. “You don’t have to assume that I’m talking about the same thing right down to the exact detail.”

“I know,” Sylvie said. “Still, we can only trust in her  and wait. But first, Drahaven.”

They left Blitz, Dusk and Demure behind and entered the ruins. The buildings were constructed of some metallic material they didn’t recognise. Partially melted fragments and glass littered the streets. Blood stains and scorch marks were scattered throughout.

“Serena, what do you notice?” Inés asked, as they walked the streets.

Serena looked around. “Well, the buildings are mostly intact. I’d say they were purely collateral damage. So, the draconians were the big targets. But it’s strange. The story is that Apollo killed them, right? So, why is there collateral damage at all?”

“We’ll shelve that question for the moment,” Sylvie said. “Keep going.”

Serena looked from side to side. “There aren’t any bodies around and there are no signs of carrion eaters. So, someone must have taken care of them. It also looks like there was powerful fire magic used, judging by the scorch marks.”

“Not just fire magic,” Sylvie said. “Look, those marks that are a bit different. That’s a scorch mark from lightning magic. About a third of these are from powerful lightning spells.”

“Which does beg the question of what really happened,” Inés said. “Apollo might use fire magic. Although, I think the arrows are more likely, but I’ve never heard of him using lightning magic.”

They continued speculating on the matter until they reached the city centre. A large pit had been dug and some ash fragments were still visible. Someone had collected the bodies and made a funeral pyre. A beautiful ivory statue of Athena was directly in the middle of the city. She was wearing an elaborate tunic. Reptilian wings and a tail were coming out of her back and an owl was perched on her shoulder. She was posed to look contemplative with her gaze lifted skyward. She had a sheathed blade strapped to her waist  but her hands were nowhere near it.

“Strange,” Serena said, looking at the statue. “Most Athena statues I’ve seen show her ready for battle with full armour and her sword in hand.”

“The draconians were known for being peaceful,” Sylvie said. “They worshipped Athena as the Goddess of wisdom. They acknowledged her status as the Goddess of war, but weren’t really interested in that aspect of her.”

“So, think we should offer the prayers at the statue?” Inés asked.

“It seems a fitting place,” Sylvie said. “Centre of their city, near their funeral pyre.”

She and Inés got some incense burning around the statue.

Inés turned to Serena. “Offering prayers is easy. Silently, sincerely, ask for Athena’s blessing. In this case, in honour of the memory of the draconians.”

“Do actually offer up a prayer,” Sylvie said. “It’s not right to just stand silently.” She glanced at Inés.

“Oh, one time I did that,” Inés said. “And it was only because we were asked to pray for some wealthy arsehole who wanted more money. I can’t sincerely ask Athena to give more to someone who already has more than enough. How did you even manage?”

“Truthfully,” Sylvie said. “I prayed that she give him the wisdom to appreciate what he had.”

Inés snapped her fingers. “Why didn’t I think of that?” The trio stepped forward to the statue. Inés gently held Serena’s hand and they bowed their heads. Each said a silent prayer.

Sylvie asked that the souls of the fallen draconians find peace and that the truth, whatever it may be, come to light.

Serena asked for their legacy to live on and enrich many lives and for those lost to be reborn into happier circumstances.

Inés asked that Michael succeed in punishing the filth who extinguished his people, whoever they were and that them being brought to justice grant the draconians consolation.

The three finished their prayers and respectfully headed out of the city.

“So, we fly over the mountains and to the coast,” Serena said. “Then what?”

“We wait,” Inés answered. “Unless you two want to head back. I can deal with Camila myself.”

“Don’t be such a martyr,” Sylvie said. “We’re a team. We took this journey together. We’ll return to the temple together.”

“You’ve worked so hard to protect me, now it’s my turn to protect you!” Serena declared.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 124: Allison

“Welcome back aboard,” Ophelia said, her voice coming in clearly over the communicator.

“Thanks,” Kat replied. “Any word on Allison yet?”

“Paul and Lucy are operating on her,” Ophelia answered. “I haven’t gotten any updates since they arrived in Medical. Kat, meet me on the bridge. Leon and Farah, you’re free to do whatever you like, for the moment.”

“I’m on my way,” Kat said.

She hurried to the bridge, glancing at the door to medical as she went. Both Grace and Yuri were waiting outside.

“You wanted to see me?” Kat asked.

“That’s right,” Ophelia said. “I’d like you to start going over the files we got from the enemy ship. Look for anything that could be of use, anything altered, anything that tells us why we were targeted.”

“No problem,” Kat said. She worked in silence for a while. “Hey, Ophelia, do you think she’ll be okay?”

Ophelia paused before answering. “I honestly don’t know. I hope so. She may love joking around a bit too much, but she’s a valued member of the crew and a hell of a friend.” There was silence for a while as Kat continued her work and Ophelia piloted the Cerberus away. “You know,” Ophelia said. “Lucy didn’t want her on the crew at first. She thought she’d be an undisciplined troublemaker. But I liked her immediately. She had a ready smile, a charm to her. I convinced Lucy to give her a month. At the end of that, Lucy had to admit I’d chosen well. She may be a goof, but she’s also loyal, good-hearted and hard working, when she needs to be.”

“She certainly loves to tease me,” Kat stated. “At first, it took some getting used to. Especially when she set up that device to play an alert when I was a couple minutes into my bath. But I can’t say I mind it any more. She doesn’t go too far or mean any harm. I also can’t deny that the ship is livelier when she’s around. Maybe I should tell her that when she’s well enough.”

“She’ll never let you forget it,” Ophelia said. “But, it will mean a lot to her.”

*****

“I’m surprised to see you out here,” Leon said, looking at Grace. “I thought you didn’t like Allison.”

“I don’t dislike her,” Grace said. “Not even remotely. I mean, I let her drop by to play with Wolfie on an almost daily basis. It’s just fun to take the piss out of her on occasion and to scare her by hitting something close to her with  a wrench. She knows I wouldn’t seriously hurt her.”

“Allison has referred to you as her ‘friendly rival’ on more than one occasion,” Yuri stated. “She has speculated that if you had not been seeing Miss Jilani when I became a member of the crew you would have likely fought her for my affections. If only to spite her.”

“Oh please,” Grace said. “I don’t chase after women just to get to someone else. I’d have to really like you.”

“I was under the impression that you did really like me,” Yuri stated. “Has our friendship existed solely in my imagination?”

“No… I mean… like you romantically,” Grace said.

“I was cognizant of that fact,” Yuri stated. “I was attempting to make a joke.”

“Hard to tell with you,” Grace said. “Still, you’ve started making jokes. Allison’s really rubbed off on you.”

“She has become the most important person in any universe to me,” Yuri said. A good half hour passed in silence. “She will be repaired, will she not?”

“Paul will save her!” Leon declared, confidently. “If anyone can, he can. Besides, I’ve still got to get her back for all the jokes she’s pulled on me. Especially that one where she replaced my hand held with a broken one and made me think all my data was fried.”

Grace laughed. “I remember that. You thought the love ballad you’d spent months writing for my brother was lost forever. And then she did a dramatic reading of it over the intercom.”

“I do not recall that,” Yuri said.

“That was before you’d joined,” Grace said. “It was shortly before we recruited Farah.”

“She never really pulled pranks on me,” Farah said. “She’s just teased me a bit. I wonder, does she not like me?”

“She is concerned that you will be sensitive,” Yuri said. “She has expressed a desire to preserve her friendship with you and avoid hurting you emotionally.”

“I’m not that frail,” Farah said. “I can take a joke!”

“You should pull a joke on her when she’s better,” Grace suggested. “I guarantee, she’ll get you back.”

“Ooh, good idea,” Farah said. “I just need to think of something good.”

“I’ll help,” Grace offered. “We’ll make it a team effort. Assuming that Yuri doesn’t warn her.”

“Allison enjoys pranks,” Yuri said. “Whether she is having them pulled on her or she is pulling them on someone else. I will not ruin her enjoyment.”

They waited outside of medical, talking off and on. The hours went by. Finally, Paul’s voice came over the communication system. He sounded tired.

“Ophelia,” he said.

“Paul,” Ophelia’s voice answered. “What’s the word? How…”

“Allison Aiza,” Paul’s voice interrupted. “Time of death, 02:47. I’m so sorry.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 67: The Pilgrimage Resumes

“Don’t look so down,” Gail said. “You wanted to make a Titan vulnerable long enough for one of the Gods to swoop in and bring them down. And that’s what we did.”

Inés was silent. True, they’d managed to leave Crius vulnerable long enough for Athena to come in and deal with him, but at what cost?

Of those who had gone to battle, the majority weren’t returning. In a sense, Inés was lucky. Her group had mostly survived. All save Matthew, of course.

She glanced at Lynde. Was Hades’ daughter, her cousin, mad at her for the plan? Could she even defend herself if Lynde was mad at her?

Lynde looked directly at her. “t’s not your fault, Inés,” she said. “We all agreed to the plan. Matthew included. we knew it would be dangerous. We just didn’t know how much of a difference there would be between us and a titan.”

“I knew,” Gail said. “But no one listened when I suggested we pull back.”

“Here’s where we part,” Lynde said. “I’m returning to what’s left of my team.” She turned away. “Oh, and Inés. Be wary of that woman.” Inés knew even without the name who she was talking about. “She’ll surely come after you and you’re rejection won’t mean anything to her. I can’t do anything to help. I did make that vow to her. Unless she comes after me or Lina, I can’t interfere with anything she does.”

Inés kept walking with Gail.

“An ominous message,” Gail stated. “You know, I think she really would fight alongside you if her promise didn’t prevent her.”

“Lynde is a good person,” Inés said. “She’s probably worried about what my sister will do.”

“She’s the stupidly heroic type,” Gail corrected. “I suspect you two are alike in that regard. Always sticking your noses into matters that don’t even concern you just because ‘it’s the right thing to do.'” Gail sighed. “Your types don’t tend to survive long. Sooner or later, you get into something too difficult and fall.”

“Possibly,” Inés said. “But don’t you think it’s better to make a difference for as long as you can than it is to just stand idly by while dreadful things happen?”

“I think,” Gail said. “That it’s best to find and hold on to your own happiness and leave the affairs of strangers and acquaintances to them.” Gail looked over her shoulder at Inés. “Just so you know, you’re an acquaintance. Your sister may not frighten me, but I also have no reason to fight her. It’s not worth the effort.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Inés said.

*****

 

 

They returned to the barracks to find Sylvie wrapping Serena’s arm while Lilac watched.

“What happened?” Inés demanded.

“Echidna’s children attacked,” Sylvie answered. “Or what was left of them, any way. We managed to drive them off, but Serena  fell off of Dusk during the battle and landed on her arm.”

“Broken?” Inés asked, kneeling down to look.

“Sprained,” Sylvie answered. “We weren’t up that high when it happened. Did Matthew go back with Lynde or did he not make it?”

“Died,” Inés sighed. “Lynde tried to carry him to safety, but they were too slow with him weighing her down. So, he sacrificed himself so that she could get away.”

“I see,” Sylvie said.

*****

The next morning, Athena herself arrived at their barracks. She looked over to them.

“The battle is over,” she announced. “The titans are once more confined to Tartarus. those of you who survived will be sent back from whence you came.”

“Finally!” Lilac declared.

“I can transport myself,” Gail stated, vanishing.

Athena turned to her priestesses. “I’m delighted to see that my mortal followers have made it this far.” She put a hand on Serena’s injured arm. A pulse of light passed from Athena’s hands into the arm.

Serena practically tore the wrapping off. “It doesn’t hurt.”

Athena nodded. “I’ll personally send you three and your noble pegasi to Drahaven so that you might complete your task. However, it will not be simple.” She turned to Inés. “You know that she’s going to go after you?”

Inés nodded. “She’s made that clear.”

“What you may not know,”  Athena continued. “Is that I can’t directly interfere. In all of Olympus, only your father has the right and he won’t. I fear you stand little chance alone.”

“I’ll help!” Serena volunteered.

“As long as we’re on a pilgrimage together we do need to look out for one another,” Sylvie agreed.

“We’ll fight together and make you proud,” Inés said. “Even if you can’t help us.”

“Don’t be silly,” Athena said. “I said I couldn’t directly interfere. I do, however, have some tricks up my sleeve. Wait at the coast after scaling the mountain barrier when you leave Drahaven. Face her there.” Athena waved her arm and the three priestesses found themselves in a strange void with their pegasi, surrounded by mist.

Athena’s voice followed them. “Remember, wait at the coast. That’s where they will come.”

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