Voyages of the Cerberus 144: Paul’s Gamble

The insectoid bodies were heavy. Possibly due to their exoskeletons. A chitinous compound, perhaps?

Fortunately, Paul was in good shape and surprisingly strong, given his complete lack of fighting ability. He managed to get one of them over to Medical. He quickly began work dissecting it, probing for any kind of weakness.

*****

Grace carefully put Wolfie and Hyper into the Nebula. Wolfie tried to climb up and jump back into her arms, but she quickly closed the canopy.

“Sorry, Buddy,” she said. “But we can’t have you wandering around when these buggers are about.”

She hurried out of the hangar, hoping the antagonistic aliens would leave the small animals alone.

*****

“What if I pretend to break my leg and cry out in pain?” Leon asked. “Then you guys jump the guard when he checks on me.”

“That’s such a clichéd trick,” Kat said. “It’ll never work.”

“Could,” Leon said. “They might not know it.”

“They will now,” Ophelia said. “Remember what Kat said about a surveillance device? Even if they couldn’t understand us, I’d wager they could scan us and find out you’re faking.”

“Then I’ll actually break it,” Leon said. “You can go on without me and Paul can patch me up later.”

“I don’t think the guards would actually react,” Farah stated. “They just follow orders, remember?”

“Like it or not, we need to wait for them to get help,” Ophelia said. “I just hope they don’t try to handle it on their own. They may be really smart, but they aren’t fighters. They certainly couldn’t handle this many.”

*****

Grace ducked into Medical, sealing the door behind her. They were coming, and quickly.

“we’ve got a good half dozen of them heading this way,” she declared. “Please tell me that you have something.”

“I do,” Paul answered. “Acetic acid.”

“Acetic acid is…” Grace muttered. “Don’t tell me. I know this. It’s…” She was interrupted by a harsh pounding on the door.

“Vinegar,” Paul said. “If you set their atmosphere control to distribute a small amount into their air it should cripple them without being harmful to humans.”

“Could I mix enough in to kill them without harming humans?” Grace asked.

“You could,” Paul said. “It’s a very weak acid. But don’t. There’s no need for killing. Promise me you won’t.”

“Dude, we need to bail,” Grace said. “They’ll get through that door soon.”

“Promise me,” Paul insisted.

“All right, fine,” Grace said. “Just help me get past these guys and we’ll get aboard their ship and make the adjustment.”

“We can use the maintenance tunnel to get out,” Paul said. “It’ll be a tight fit for us. There’s no way they can squeeze in.”

“Next stop, Engineering,” Grace said.

The siblings crawled into the tunnel. and began making their way to engineering. “Anything else you can tell me about them?” Grace asked.

“The soldier is essentially mindless,” Paul said. “It seems that he reacts to chemical signals and follows them like programming. I would guess that the societal structure is reminiscent of ants or bees with a hive of workers being directed by a queen but that can’t be confirmed unless I examine more of them.”

“Could help,” Grace said. “And it does support my own theory.”

They reached the end of the tunnel and emerged in engineering. Grace checked the door. “Looks like they’ve crowded around medical. We should be able to slip out and get into their ship.”

The pair hurried along the corridors, eventually reaching the connecting hatch to the alien ship.

“Guarded,” Grace whispered. “Probably to catch us if we try something like this. Think we have time to get to the galley and grab some vinegar.”

“No need,” Paul said. “Stay hidden and be ready to move. I’ll distract them.”

“That’s crazy,” Grace protested. “They’ll capture and do who knows what to you.”

“Probably what they’ve done to the others,” Paul said. “Besides, I won’t be of any help in reprogramming their atmosphere controls. Just make sure to get us all out of this.”

Without waiting for his sister to respond, Paul moved forward. “You’re in big trouble,” he said, addressing the soldiers, even though he knew they wouldn’t respond. “You know how many intergalactic laws you’ve violated? If you free my comrades right now, I may be able to convince a board of inquiry to be lenient. But otherwise…” the soldiers grabbed him and ushered him towards the alien bridge while Grace used the opportunity to sneak aboard.

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The Last Draconian 13: Michael Interrogated

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

I was locked in the dungeon. They had been unable to remove my armour so the guard was watching me intently, or perhaps he was simply surprised to see a living draconian. It was entirely posible, given the confidence they had in their ability to construct a sturdy prison. The dungeon was built into a cave. The elves had used steel to forge the bars. Each corner of the bars was reinforced with a leech crystal. The guard post consisted of a desk and cabinet carved out of the stone. There were no other prisoners in sight. Footsteps came toward my cell from the entrance.

The white silk robes that my visitor wore, added to the fact that four guards surrounded him, led me to the conclusion that I was looking at the elven Royal One.

“Why did you come to Het Wald?” He did not waste any time on formalities.

“I was simply passing through on my way to Strecner.”

“Where were you going with my daughter?”

So, that was why Lynai had been running. I should not have allowed her to accompany me. Perhaps being completely forthright would somewhat assuage his suspicions. “We were travelling together until we reached the egress.”

“Why? What did you intend for her?”

“She asked me to let her accompany me. I saw no rational reason to deny her request. I was not aware that she was your daughter. She did not inform me of her surname.”

He turned his back to me. “When you’re ready to tell the truth you can let my guard know. Until then you can rot here.”

“I am telling the truth.” He ignored me and continued on his way out of the prison, followed by his entourage.

Within minutes of his departure the guard brought me a meal. It consisted of two biscuits, a glass of water and two carrots. As I consumed the food, the water began to ripple. Illyana’s face soon formed in the water’s surface. I knew that I was not hallucinating; the only alternative was a communication spell. “Hello Illyana,” I whispered in order to avoid being overheard by the guard.

“Michael,” Her voice started out distressingly high but quickly lowered. “Why are we whispering?”

“I am not in a position to speak freely.”

“I see. I’d ask why but the spell won’t last long. Sadow is coming to Wicadia.”

I felt my heartbeat accelerate. “You are certain?”

“Yes. The Magi are holding a meeting at the academy. If you can make it here you should be able to catch him. Don’t worry about the others I’ll…”

Illyana’s face vanished. The spell’s duration had ended.

That message made things abundantly clear. I would have to find a way to extricate myself.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

The guest palace had been built out of stone on a hill that over-looked the main city. It was the only dead building in Het Wald. It was used for two things: diplomatic functions and ceremonies. I couldn’t help but wonder which one this counted as. It was surrounded by a fence. To reach the palace you had to follow the path up the hill and circle around the building to the gate. Currently the gate was wide open and I stood near it between father and Lais.

Father had fourteen rooms prepared: seven for our “honoured” guests and seven for servants. The palace could hold a hundred people, though. The guest rooms were large and luxurious. Each one had a small servant’s room next to it. Father wouldn’t tell me who the seventh suitor was.

Father had made me wear a heavy emerald coloured dress with matching jewellery. I fiddled with the jade broach that had been, supposedly, passed down for generations but looked brand new.

“You look lovely,” Lais whispered. “Don’t fidget so much.”

“I feel ridiculous,” I whispered back. “This kind of thing just isn’t me.”

We both looked as the first guest arrived. A heavy grey horse trotted to the gate. It was pulling a wooden cart with a passenger and bags inside. The rider was a clay golem. He gracelessly got off of the horse, barely managing to not fall on his face and nudged the snoring passenger awake.

The golem then bowed before us and said, in a deep booming voice, “Sir Steelspine Montgra of the dwarves has arrived.”

The dwarf trotted out of the cart. He was wearing a brown tunic and lots of jewellery. I noticed three necklaces, all gold. One was plain; the other two were decorated with small diamonds. He wore five rings, all with golden bands set with jewels. Two had amethysts, one had a ruby, and the other two had sapphires. He also had three bracelets. Two were on his left wrist; the other was on his right. They were all golden and decorated with garnet. In short, he looked like an ostentatious git. He had a long yellow beard that dragged on the ground. He was one hundred twenty seven centimetres tall.

He waddled forward and took father’s hand. “To see you is good. Where rooms be?”

“I understand that you’re tired from your journey. One of my servants will show you and your companion to your rooms.” Father gestured toward the palace door. The dwarf nodded at me and hurried inside. The golem followed, carrying the bags.

“Did something die in his tunic?” I asked. I waited until they were out of sight but I kind of hoped he’d hear.

“Lynai, that is inappropriate. Try not to offend our guests.” Father didn’t bother looking at me, instead he directed a servant to take the horse and cart to the stable.

“I waited to ask until he was gone didn’t I?”

“That isn’t the point…” The lecture was stopped by another arrival.

The coachman was a young troll boy. His tusks had barely begun to sprout. He stopped in front of us and, wordlessly, leapt down to open the coach’s door.

A barrel-chested troll got out. He was one hundred seventy five centimetres tall. His tusks were polished. He was wearing a thick, white robe.

“Thomas, it was good of you to come,” Father greeted.

The troll slapped him across the back. “No sweat. Thomas Frug treats his hosts proper.” He glanced at me. “Besides, the girl ain’t bad looking … for an elf.” He laughed loudly and then belched. “Me and the boy will settle in, then I’ll try for the prize.” I shot him a dirty look but I don’t think he noticed.

“Of course. One of my servants will lead you to your rooms.”

“Hey, thanks. Boy! Grab the bags!” Thomas walked inside, followed by the boy who was hampered by the weight of his master’s bags.

Father watched them move inside and began rubbing his back. He sent me a look that said “Be polite.” I restrained myself from answering with a rude gesture. There were still five more to go. It was already shaping up to be an arduous day.

 Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 143: Grace’s Plan

Ophelia, Kat & Leon were taken to the cell. Its bars were made up of thick, brown spikes that retracted into the ground to allow them entrance. Once they were in place, the bars moved back up, securing themselves as the guards watched over them with weapons ready should they try anything. Farah was sitting in the cell already.

“Farah, are you okay?” Kat asked.

“I swear if they hurt you I’ll kill them even worse than I was going to,” Leon said.

“I’m fine, Kat,” Farah answered. “Leon, thanks for worrying about me. More importantly, is Grace…”

“As far as we know, she evaded capture,” Ophelia answered. “Paul?”

“I had him hide with the little ones,” Farah answered. “What do we do, Captain?”

“We look for some weakness in these cells that will let us escape,” Ophelia answered. “And we hope that the others can buy us an opportunity. Alternatively, we might be rescued by an anti-slave group. But I don’t know if there are any operating in this sector.”

She reached up and felt the tops of the bars, trying to ascertain how they operated.

“What did you make of our captors?” Kat inquired.

“They look like some twisted hybrid of human and insect,” Ophelia answered.

“I heard the head call the ones we killed drones,” Leon added. “Maybe they have a hive with a hierarchy like insects too.”

“I think there are two types,” Kat said. “Darna and the other smooth-skinned ones seem to give the orders while these ones,” she nodded at the guards “just seem to mindlessly follow orders.”

“They certainly don’t seem to have any sense of self preservation,” Leon said.

“I know,” Farah agreed. “When they came after me they just bolted right for me, not caring that they were in the line of fire. They relied on sheer numbers to bring me in.”

“Could be a weakness,” Ophelia said. “There are a lot fewer of the smooth-skinned ones. We saw, what, two?”

“I thought I saw a third doing some work on their bridge,” Kat reported.

“Three, then,” Ophelia said. “If we can surgically take them down then the drones may not know what to do.”

“Worth a shot,” Kat said. “I just wish we knew the exact number for sure. We should also be careful of what we say in here. there’s bound to be a surveillance device somewhere.”

*****

“Not as stupid as I took them for,” Darna muttered. “Are they, Builo?”

“I suppose not,” Builo answered.

“Gylin, do you have the analysis of their crew roster complete?” Darna asked.

“I have it,” she declared. “We appear to have captured captain Ophelia Wester, Leon Judd, Farah Jilani and the one called Kat seems to be Katie Horne, I think.”

“Can you be certain?” Builo asked.

“There are no images in the personnel files,” Gylin explained. “but ‘Kat’ seems to be a code name and she was captured as a warrior.”

“Good enough,” Darna said. “The rest of the crew?”

“There is a Luciverianna Wester who was dropped off to speak with the spiders. She is not a factor right now. Other than that, there are three active crew members absent. Engineer Grace Albrecht, Doctor Paul Albrecht and Morale officer the esteemed Baron Wolfgang Andres von Erstein.”

“Long name,” Darna muttered.

“Our translation computers believe that it is not all a name,” Gylin stated. “‘The esteemed’ is a sign of reverence and ‘Baron’ appears to be a title used for nobility of some kind.”

“Nobility?” Darna asked. “Excellent! Nobility can be ransomed for significantly more than a slave can be sold for. Builo, order the drones to bring this Baron to me, completely uninjured. I also want the doctor and engineer captured, of course.”

“Your will be done,” Builo said.

*****

While Darna was talking to her generals, the “noble” Baron was jumping up excitedly on Grace and licking her legs.

“I don’t think it’s a hive mind thing,” Grace said. “I think its more like bees with workers and soldiers labouring under their queen.”

“We shouldn’t make too many assumptions,” Paul said. “Even if that is accurate they’ll certainly have orders to capture us soon enough.”

“True,” Grace agreed. “That’s why we need a plan.”

“And you have one?” Paul asked.

“Absolutely,” Grace said. “We’ll go to the bridge and grab a corpse. Then you run a thorough scan and figure out what makes them tick. After that, you and I sneak aboard their ship. We find a spot where I can hack their system and I use their atmosphere controls to flood them with something that’ll either kill or incapacitate them but that won’t hurt the others.”

“They’re different enough that it could work,” Paul said. “We should lock Wolfie and the cat up somewhere safe first.”

“I’ve thought about that,” Grace said. “I think we should use the Nebula.”

“You’ve fixed it?”

“Not completely, but it’s solid enough that they’ll be secure in there,” Grace said. “If these insects are looking for humans than they should peek in through the wind-shield, figure out there’s no way one of us could be hiding in there and move on.”

“It’s a gamble,” Paul said. “But it could be our only choice.”

“Then I’ll take them down to the docking bay, you get to the bridge and grab that body,” Grace said.

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The Last Draconian 12: Lynai’s Return Home

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I sat in my study. Apparently it’s the headmistress’s job to sit around, read magical text and be prepared to deal with problematic students. With reading being impossible for me, unless I wanted to bother someone by having them read aloud for me, I was reduced to sitting around and thinking.

I thought about Michael. It had been a while since I’d heard from him. Was he all right? Would we ever get a chance to meet again?

I heard a sharp rap on the door. “Enter.” I invited.

My door opened. I heard a staff tap rhythmically against the floor. “Professor Mord, what can I do for you?”

The professor chuckled. “Illyana, you’re the headmistress now. You can call me Bastian.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be accomplished enough to talk to you like that.”

Professor Mord tapped his staff more rapidly. “You outgrew me long ago. And I  do mean that. you’re a  mage beyond any I could hope to act as a professor to, but this isn’t what I came to discuss.” Professor Mord took a deep breath. “The Magi have sent us a message. They’re going to be holding a meeting here!”

I tried to control the flush I felt coming. A meeting of the Magi meant that monster would be here. “A meeting? Why would they be holding a meeting here?” Drake seemed to sense my agitation. He flew into the air and began screeching.

“I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought that a meeting of the Magi would be exciting news.” I felt his wrinkled hand settle on my shoulder. “We can’t turn them away without a good reason.”

I sighed. “I know. Prepare the meeting hall.”

“Do you want to talk about this?”

“I brushed him away. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about me.” I heard professor Mord open the door and the sound of it closing behind him. I couldn’t tell him about my discomfort concerning Sadow, not without betraying Michael’s secret. I left my office and walked to the basement, into the room of seer pools. I quickly discerned that I was alone. I locked the door and sat into a lotus position. The spell I was planning would take a while.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I woke up inside Heltsger. A cleric was standing over me. He had dark blue hair, and dark gray eyes. Light came from his hands and spread across my body. It was warm and kind of tingled. I glanced over at my shoulder and saw it knit back together.

Next, I felt my ribs regenerate, my ankle untwist and my arm’s flesh grow back. It didn’t hurt but it did feel very strange… it was the kind of sensation you get when a breeze blows across your bare back, but everywhere at once. The light quickly vanished. The cleric was perspiring a great deal. “It… is… done.” His words came out as gasps.

Father put a hand on the cleric’s shoulder. “Well done. You may rest.” He noticed that my eyes were open. “You should be grateful that Demeter was willing to lend her cleric the power to heal you, after all the trouble you’ve caused.”

“Maybe Demeter’s on my side.”

Father moved over and slapped me. It wasn’t all that hard but it was enough to sting a bit. I glared up at him. “You’ve caused me enough embarrassment. I won’t tolerate any more.” He composed himself, taking a deep breath. “You will rest tonight. In the morning the guests will arrive. You will be there to help me greet them, and you will be pleasant. The day after that you will spend every waking hour getting to know our guests. The day after that we will hold a dinner and a ball. At the end of the ball you will choose a mate.” He turned and began to walk through the opening.

“Wait,” I called.

Father stopped and looked back at me. He didn’t speak but his gaze clearly conveyed that he was not in the mood for objections. Fortunately, for both of us, I had something else to ask.

“What have you done to my friend?”

“He is being held in custody,” father stated.

“You have to let him go,” I insisted. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t even know who I  was or why I was running.”

“That is not your affair,” Father said. He walked away.

I waited until the door was shut and quickly scanned the room. “You won’t find a way out.”

I followed the voice to a small stool in the corner. “Lais? What are you doing here?”

Lais smiled. “I’ve been assigned the task of watching you; your father isn’t going to take the risk that you might run away again.”

“Wouldn’t you if you were in my situation?”

Lais shrugged. “I can’t say. I’m not the royal daughter.” She rose and leaned down next to me. “Part of being an adult is doing your duty, even when it’s distasteful.”

I looked into Lais’s eyes. I was certain that she was talking about herself, not trying to persuade me of anything. “You don’t want to be guarding me, do you?”

Lais grinned. “Lynai, if it was my choice I would let you write your own future, but it’s not my choice. I don’t think it’s your father’s choice either.”

I had to scoff at that one. “Of course he has a choice.”

Lais sighed. “You don’t understand. Lynai, in our history how many only royal daughters have been excused from this?” The question engendered silence. We both knew that it had never worked that way. It was a long, brutal tradition and I was just the latest victim.

Next Chapter

 

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Voyages of the Cerberus 142: Taken Before Darna

Grace followed the aliens carefully and at a distance. They seemed completely focused on taking Kat, Ophelia and Leon onto their ships. They didn’t even look back.

They boarded their small fighters in a quick, orderly fashion. They didn’t split up evenly to make up for their dwindled numbers. the ship with Ophelia and the others had five aliens aboard. As did the other ships that initially took off. the next wave saw them split into groups of three.

The final five had one apiece, Grace snuck aboard one of those, blaster drawn and ready to take out the pilot. Strangely enough, the creature didn’t turn around at all. It was completely focused on its task.

Curious, Grace decided to try something. She pointed her blaster directly at it and cleared her throat, loudly. There was no response. “Hey, Ugly ass!” Grace cried. There was still no response. She walked over, still keeping her blaster aimed. She grabbed a spanner from her belt and tossed it, hitting the alien’s shoulder. It didn’t react. “Well, I’m hitching a ride with you,” she said. “Take me to the Cerberus and just keep sitting like a lump, okay?” The creature gave no indication that it had heard her. “Brilliant, just like that.”

She retrieved her spanner and sat back.

*****

Yuri and Ussie hurriedly finished their work. It was a stopgap measure of a repair job but, hopefully, it would carry the Space Blazer to a proper dock.

“Attempting to initialisse.” Ussie stated.

Yuri listened to the engine as it roared to life.

“It would be prudent to initiate the launch sequence immediately,” Yuri advised. “They will not function for very long.”

“What about your sshuttle?” Ussie asked.

“It will not do us any good if we become stranded again while loading it,” Yuri said. “We will locate a proper dock, repair the Blazer properly and return.”

Ussie nodded. “Agreed. I’ll work the detailss out with Elijah. Want to come to the bridge with me?”

“I will pass at this time,” Yuri stated. “I will monitor the engines and attempt to keep them going while we make the journey.”

Ussie nodded. She hurried to the bridge while Yuri began her vigil.

*****

“If you can create a distraction…” Leon began.

“Not now,” Ophelia whispered harshly, interrupting him. “We’ll bide our time and wait for an opportunity.”

They were taken aboard the Nefrit. The interior walls were covered with metallic tubes that pulsated and writhed as though they were living things. There were small viewing windows to see out of the ship. Kat looked through one and noticed that the Cerberus was securely attached to the larger ship.

They were taken through the ship’s twisting corridors. They weren’t built with flat floors. The floors were bumpy and covered with slopes. There were parts where the ceiling and floor were closer together, requiring Ophelia & Leon to bend to get through.

They were taken to Darna. She was reclining on a bunch of cushions that looked to be secured with a green adhesive.

She  was slightly different from the other aliens. Her flesh looked to be smooth rather than bumpy and her eyes weren’t solidly coloured. They had circular spots of pure white that shifted within the solid crimson colour.

“So, these are the aliens,” she muttered, seemingly talking to herself. “Ugly, aren’t they?” She studied them, squeezing their muscles. “Should be able to work, at least.” She gave them a cocky grin. “And don’t expect help. We intercepted & scrambled your little signal.”

She looked at her subordinates. “Drones, take them to detention and put them in Cell 3 with the other one.”

They immediately responded to her order, ushering Ophelia, Kat & Leon out. Kat looked over her shoulder and noticed an alien that was similar to Darna approaching her.

“They killed more drones than we expected,” the newcomer reported.

“No matter,” Darna stated. “We can always get more drones.”

They continued their conversation but Kat couldn’t make out any more than that.

*****

Grace hurried through the corridors to the Cerberus, trying to avoid the aliens just in case. Strange how they didn’t seem interested in her.

She finally managed to make her way over. The Cerberus seemed to be abandoned. She decided to risk her communicator, on a secure channel. “Paul, Farah,” she whispered. “You two okay?”

Her answer came in a moment. “They captured Farah. I’m in Medical’s isolation chamber with Wolfie & the cat.”

“Stay right there,” Grace said. “I’ll come to you.” She switched the communicator off and made her way down to Medical. Perhaps, between the two of them, they could figure out a way to free the others.

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The Last Draconian 11: Prophecy Fulfilled

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I fidgeted with my cloak. “Am I covered?”

Michael looked back and studied me for a moment. “No one will be able to identify you without removing your cloak.”

I smiled. The only remaining obstacles to my escape were the outlying farming settlement and the border itself.

Michael stopped me from advancing with a quickly outstretched arm. “There is trouble here.”

I heard screams and raised voices. There was a cloud of smoke drifting from the village. “A fire?”

Michael tilted his head to one side. “I would surmise from the screaming that it is an attack, most likely a raid from bandits.”

I drew my knives. “We have to help them.”

“That would be unwise. Getting involved in this could lead to your discovery. The border is close; let the guards handle the situation. We will go around.”

I pushed past his arm. In a sense, he was right but I couldn’t risk a bunch of my people being killed while I stood idly by. “Maybe you can live like that, but I have to help them.”

I pressed myself against a wall and peered at the bandits. There were four of them. The leader was a troll with a broken tusk and white hair. He was wiry and almost my size. His skin had the look of a bullfrog’s. He had a cutlass in his left hand which he waved to convey his orders.

Two trolls were on either side of the villagers. They both exceeded a hundred eighty four centimetres. They were using spears to prod the villagers.

The final member of the group had two double-edged battle axes. Her hair was black and her tusks were cracked and yellowed. She stood to the side. I noticed that all of the captured elves were looking at her, not the trolls who were menacing them with spears. “They’re wary of her because she’s the strongest,” I thought. “I’ll have to take the other three out quickly and focus on her.”

I bent down and touched the ground. It felt as though my pulse was leaving through my fingers and shooting through the soil. This sensation manifested as a series of vines that shot through the ground and sprouted beneath the female troll. The mass quickly grew up and entangled her within it. I grabbed my knives and rushed from hiding. Knowing that I needed to respond while they were still startled.

I split the skull of one of the spear-wielding trolls while he was turned away from me, looking at the vines. I quickly lunged at the second. He moved his spear into a defensive position, but it was feeble. All I had to do was aim each of my knives for a different vital area and he would go down.

Just as I was preparing to fell the second troll my blades were caught by two battle axes. “Impossible!” I thought. “How could she recover so quickly?”

The female troll pushed me upward and backwards. I landed somewhat heavily but remained on my feet. It cost me. I felt something in my right leg twist unnaturally.

The troll smiled and pointed at me with one of her axes. “You’re strong elf. I like you. My name is Greta Tylok, remember it well. For as long as you can.”

Greta rushed forward. I blocked one axe with my knives and twisted out of the way of the other. I heard movement behind her, the troll with the sword. That was bad. If I turned to fight him too then Greta would…

Greta threw her free axe. It landed just in front of him. “Stay out of this, Yorrick!” She somersaulted backward and faced me, a smile on her face. “A fight between warriors should be one-on-one, don’t you agree?”

The right corner of my mouth curled up. I couldn’t help but respect her. “That’s why I was hoping to deal with your friends while you were entangled.”

Greta laughed. It was a deep and guttural sound. “It’ll be almost a pity to kill you. I meet so few worthy opponents.” She glared at each of the other trolls in turn. “If either of you interferes I’ll kill you myself.” She rushed at me again.

Yorrick looked at the other troll. “We do as she say, she will kill. You guard elf, make sure no get in way.” The other troll nodded and resumed watching the elves. Yorrick grabbed a torch and headed for the elves’ crops. “I finish job, cause trouble for elf during war.”

He knelt down to light the crops. I had to end things quickly to save the fields. I blocked another axe thrust with one knife and tried to plunge my other into Greta’s heart. Greta pushed both of my knives away with one twist of her axe. I cursed my inability to stop the crops from burning. She was just too strong.

Just as Yorrick lit the first patch a blade plunged downward into his heart. Michael removed his blade from the troll’s back and threw the water in his canteen over the small fire to prevent it from spreading. The other troll moved away from the elves and began advancing toward him. A small elven girl kicked him in the rear. As the troll turned around, Michael ran forward and separated the troll’s head from his body.

Greta looked from me to Michael. She absent-mindedly blocked my attack and gestured at Michael with her head.

I moved away from her, sensing Greta’s unasked question. “He won’t interfere, I promise.”

Greta smiled. “Good, you have honour.” She swung her axe downward. I managed to shift and avoid serious injury, but it scraped across my left arm, taking a chunk of flesh with it. I yelped but managed to guard against the next slash.

I could hear the farmers gathering their implements. Clearly, they were intent on getting involved. I heard a blade whistle through the air and Michael’s voice call out. “Go no further. It is her wish to face this adversary alone.”

Greta aimed a slash at my heart. I moved to the side and it cleaved into my right shoulder. A greater level of force and she might have taken my arm. A quick knee to the chest broke a few of my ribs. Greta smiled. “You’re mine,” I managed to gasp. Greta looked down, the triumph draining from her face. My left arm snaked forward and my knife plunged through Greta’s armour and into her heart.

Greta coughed up blood and collapsed.

Michael walked forward and carefully pulled the axe from where it was lodged into my shoulder. “Bring some medical supplies and water please.”

The young elf girl who had kicked the troll quickly came forward with a first aid kit. An elderly male brought a jug of water. Michael washed all of my wounds with water and applied some salve. I winced. “It stings.”

Michael bandaged the wounds. “This will suffice until we reach a cleric.”

I looked at the coverings. The quality of the work reminded me of the first sword that an apprentice blacksmith would make after watching hir master for a long period of time. It was adequate and he clearly knew what he was doing but lacked the practised touch of a true master.

I staggered up. “I thought that you weren’t going to help.”

Michael turned away. “I changed my mind.”

I smiled weakly. “I had a feeling you would.”

“What gave you that impression?”

I tried to shrug. Which is a terrible idea when you have an injured shoulder. The pain shot through my entire body. “I suppose it’s because you’re a good person,” I stated weakly.

The tread of hoof beats entered the village. Several elven soldiers dismounted. Lofu placed his hand on my unwounded shoulder. “Royal daughter, I’ve finally found you.”

I tried to pull away but Lofu’s hand remained firm. He continued as though he hadn’t noticed the attempt. “Your father misses you.” He examined my wounds. “What happened?”

I heard a weak voice squeak out, “Trolls.” It took a couple seconds for me to realise that I’d spoken. I felt dizzy.

Lofu picked me up as though I was weightless. He placed me gently on his horse. “Gather up the troll bodies. I want every one of their possessions examined. We need to know what they were trying to do and whether they acted alone.” He glared at Michael. “You must be Lynai’s travelling companion.” As soon as he spit the words out three blades were unsheathed and pointed at Michael.

“No, it’s not his fault.” I gasped. “He…”I couldn’t keep speaking. My vision was blurry; the loss of blood was getting to me.

“I’m sorry, but the Royal One wants him taken into custody…” He may have continued speaking but those were the last words I heard before I lost consciousness.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 141: The Cerberus Against the Nefrit

“Take the Cerberus and scarper!” Ophelia ordered. “Get Lucy and come back for us with a plan. We’ll find a place to hide. Go!”

“Understood,” Paul said. He nodded to Farah.

Hesitantly, she turned the Cerberus about and fled.

“The Nefrit is launching fighters,” Paul reported. “A lot of them.”

“Then you take over the piloting,” Farah said. “I’ll shoot them down.”

“It looks like the fighters are going to the base,” Paul said. “The Nefrit is coming after us.”

“Damn,” Farah muttered. “That makes things harder. The Cerberus could handle some fighters. That thing… Maybe if we had a full crew. I don’t know if we can handle it with just us.” She hurriedly moved to the weapon station. “Try not to get hit.”

“Won’t be easy,” Paul said. “I’ve never flown anything this big.”

“I know,” Farah said. “But you can pilot better than you can shoot.”

“This is true,” Paul admitted. “I’m a doctor, not a gunner.” He took the controls. “I’ll send out a distress signal. Maybe the akumillians in this sector will pick it up and send help.”

“Worth a shot,” Farah agreed. “How long until they come into firing range?”

“They’re faster than us but not by much,” Paul said. “At these rates we’ve got three and a half minutes.”

*****

“Move away from the airlocks,” Kat said. “We’ll find a secure spot, preferably one that gives us an escape route, and lay into them when they arrive.”

“We should just go to the airlocks and blast them as soon as they come aboard,” Leon said. “Come on. We’ll have surprise on our side.”

“We don’t know how many there are,” Kat pointed out. “We might bring some of them down, but they could very well over run us.”

“And that isn’t a weakness of bunkering down?” Leon countered.

“Enough!” Ophelia yelled. “Kat’s right. We can’t just wait by the airlocks. But Leon’s also right. We can’t just sit in one spot and wait for them.”

“So, what do we do?” Kat asked.

“We use guerilla tactics,” Ophelia said. “The three of us will hit and run. We’ve been through the base. We know the layout. In the meantime, Grace will set some traps for us to lead them into. Communicate through a secure channel from here on in. Grace, let us know when you’re ready and what to avoid.”

“Got it,” Grace said. “Just leave it to me.”

*****

“They’ll enter weapon’s range in ten seconds,” Paul said.

“I’m ready for them,” Farah said. “Just prepare to dodge.”

She waited as they edged closer to the fleeing Cerberus. And then she fired. The Nefrit was hit but not significantly damaged. It showed no  signs of firing back.

” Do our weapons have better range than theirs?” Paul wondered.

“I hope so,” Farah said. “It might give us a chance. Just keep as much distance as you can. I’ll keep firing.”

She kept the Cerberus’ barrage going while the Nefrit inched gradually, menacingly closer.

*****

They made their first strike in the airlock corridor using explosive charges. Unfortunately, there were enough of their opponents that they barely managed to slow them.

They were of a species that the Cerberus crew didn’t recognise. They had six pincer-like legs, humanoid arms, fanged, lip-less maws, bumpy flesh and narrow, solid coloured, glowing eyes. They were also, unfortunately, very fast. The Cerberus crew barely managed to evade their initial rush by using their knowledge of the base’s layout.

“Why aren’t they shooting us?” Leon asked, firing at them over his shoulder.

“No profit in it,” Ophelia answered. “My guess is we’re dealing with pirates and slavers.”

They turned a corner and hurriedly ducked into one of the chambers. They stood perfectly still, going completely quiet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The creatures, whatever they were, swarmed in after them.

The trio moved backwards quickly, firing their weapons, taking a toll on the beasts. There were too many. They surged forward. Leon managed to get a good punch before he was subdued. Kat set her weapon to overload and tossed it in their midst, taking some down before they got her.

Soon, all three were prisoners.

“What will you do with us?” Ophelia demanded.

Their captors offered no answer. They dragged them away in complete silence.

*****

“Some thing’s definitely wrong,” Paul whispered. “We can’t still be out of their weapons range.”

“Do they not think we’re a threat?” Farah wondered. “I’m pretty sure I’m starting to do some damage. A good chunk of their ship has to be on fire at this point.”

They got their answer a moment later. The Cerberus lurched, growing unresponsive. Farah barely managed to keep to her feet. She tested the weapons. They were completely non-operational.

Paul picked himself up and checked their status. “We’re down to low auxiliary power. We have life support and very low engine power. Whatever that weapon is, it’s got us adrift and helpless.”

“Some kind of EMP weapon,” Farah said. “One powerful enough to tear through our anti-EMP defences.”

“Do you have a plan for fighting them?” Paul asked. “I’ll follow your lead.”

“All right,” Farah said. “In that case I need you to take Wolfie & Hyper and hide.”

“Are you sure?” Paul asked.

Farah nodded. “They want us as captives but there’s no telling what they’ll do to them. Plus, we were transmitting that distress signal for a while. It would be a relief knowing that they’re okay.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if we all hide?” Paul asked.

Farah shook her head. “They know that someone was operating this ship. They heard my voice. If we’re lucky, they’ll think I was doing it alone. But if I hide too, they’ll tear the ship apart looking.” She readied her pistol. “Now go! I’ll take down as many as I can.”

Paul reluctantly agreed. As he was taking the small dog and kitten to safety he heard a loud scurrying sound followed by blaster fire. Then, there was only silence.

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The Last Draconian 10: A Conversation by the Fire

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

The clearing was a natural one within the forest. It was an imperfect circle. The edges were jagged and one point broke away from the rest into a small pentagon. There was a single old stump sitting near the tree line.

I checked the clearing for any indications of other travellers. “This area is not commonly used, we can rest here tonight.”

Lynai made herself comfortable on the ground. “That pixie had some interesting emblems, didn’t she?”

I stood up. She was attempting to bait me, discover how acute my vision is. “I will hunt. You can make yourself useful and gather edible plants.”

Lynai sighed. Possibly feeling some frustration over my refusal to answer.

She did not have to leave the clearing to find edible plants. There was a blackberry bush at the edge and a patch of suitable mushrooms near the stump.

I went into the woods and managed to trap a pair of rabbits. I started a camp fire and set the rabbits over it on a makeshift spit.

“Are you an ent-touched elf or a feralial?” I gave no sign of being affected by the question. Although, her conclusion was not entirely inaccurate. Draconians were, in many ways, similar to feralials.

“What has led you to the conclusion that I am one or the other?”

Lynai shrugged. “The holes in your helmet I suppose. There are only a limited number of species who have horns. You’re obviously not a dragon. You seem a bit too devout to be a feralial, but it’s possible that you’re just abnormal.”

I simply watched the rabbits cook. I knew of ent-touched elves. they possessed antlers. They were not mistreated by other elves but were viewed as outcasts.

Lynai refused to let the issue drop. “Whichever you are, you certainly know your old elvish. Are you a scholar by chance?”

I remained silent.

Lynai scratched her head. “By the Gods, can’t you ever just answer a question? It’s not like I’m trying to make you do something embarrassing.”

“There is no purpose behind it. We will reach the exit soon. Then we will go our separate ways. There is no reason to learn about each other.”

“You’re wrong!” Lynai stood. “Every encounter that we have is fateful. The more people we learn about, the more people who learn about us, the more expansive our personal worlds become. And expanding our personal worlds is the very reason that we exist.”

I turned the rabbits. “You are echoing the philosophy of Luna Elroot.” I knew her story. she was an ent-touched elf who had travelled all around the world. She had stayed in Drahaven on three separate occasions. During her second visit she had taken a draconian, Twily Eristein, with her. Nearly a century later she had returned to lay Twily’s body to rest. She had passed in her sleep two nights later. Just before Twily’s memorial service was held. They had been interred together.

Lynai clapped her hands once. “So you are a scholar! Is that why you’re going to Strecner?”

“If you must know my journey to Strecner is for revenge.”

“There’s an old draconian saying about revenge, I can’t quite remember it.” Lynai shrugged. “Anyway, the under-lying idea is that revenge doesn’t do anything but cause more harm.”

“Revenge is a never-ending cycle. Perpetuated over time this cycle leads to more death and destruction. As our memories show this to be true we must eschew revenge.” I quoted. “Maria Vurg, 1253.”

Lynai whistled. “You’re good. Look, the draconians were right, revenge doesn’t accomplish anything. You should think about that.”

I did not need Lynai’s encouragement. I had already considered Maria’s words a number of times. I had come to the conclusion that the cycle continued for as long as both parties had people who cared about them to the extent of perpetuating it and, as such, it did not apply to my case. There was no one who would seek vengeance for me.

*****

Liys examined the ground. Trolls had definitely come this far, the brutes could never hope to hide their heavy footprints. Liys had short, bright green hair. At just over a hundred fifty centimetres tall, he was short for an elf. He turned to his companion. “Lyon, what do you make of this?”

Lyon examined the footprints. He was almost thirty centimetres taller than Liys. He had a blond buzz cut and dark green eyes. “There were multiple trolls. They entered the forest and left.”

“Is that all?”

Lyon’s ears perked. He looked down at Liys. “What else is there?”

“They went right past our southern checkpoint, unnoticed. Only a very clever elf, possibly a pixie or an imp, would know how to do that. Even then sie would have to know the landscape perfectly.”

“You think the trolls had help?”

Liys nodded. “Most likely a renegade elf, possibly ent-touched, but I’m not going to disregard the possibility of treachery. If we do have a traitor sie must be identified and stopped, before they cause more damage.”

Lyon straightened. “For now we should increase the strength of our border guard, and put those that we can trust on alert.”

Liys smiled. “I agree. For now we’ll assume that there is a traitor. We’ll send word to my father and to the outpost leaders.”

Lyon scratched his head. “Why assume that there is a traitor?”

Liys gestured to the footprints. “The trolls didn’t penetrate the wood very far, only a couple metres. The only reason to do that would be in order to meet with someone.”

“I get you,” Lyon said. “Someone who wanted to use the wood to cover their little rendezvous.”

“Which probably means sie didn’t want to be seen and recognised,” Liys said. “In other words, we have a big problem.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 140: Communications Break Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

their questions were answered as quickly and directly as possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Last Draconian 9: A Magi’s Prophecy

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Lynai Elfblood

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

“Michael, why are you hiding?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Three days.”

“Does she have a horse?”

“She’s on foot.”

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

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

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

“You’re sure of all this?”

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

“And she will be unspoiled?”

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter

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