Chapter Six: Scout
The muted rose coloured walls shimmer with reflections from the water. Suspended above the wide, shallow pool is the egg. It’s quietly pulsing energy rebounds around the spherical space, broadcasting signals from the vaults below. Two hundred and seven chambers, seventy six floors of the rebellion, all placing their hopes for safety on one person, one entity.
He floats above the water, several paces from the flawless egg. His toes dangle above the water’s meniscus, teasingly close to touching. His own energy field casts out, causing minute waves below him.
“They should be here by now” says the calm but clipped voice of Ekta. “I left them outside Bale Village. Seek out Viridian. Bring them here.”
“On my way” he replies.
His torso leads, turning fluidly through the air, guiding his body to the wall behind him. A large wooden door with iron joints opens, the sound of chains clank from outside and the heaving frame is pulled ajar. He slides out of the room, still suspended above the ground. He slips his golden tanned feet into two coal grey shoes left outside the door. They have very thin looking soles and are accented by three sharp, sweeping blades on each side of each shoe. The shoes appear to expand and contract as he places his feet within them, forming a snug layer around them. They hide the only exposed part of skin he has.
The rest of his body is clothed in a skin-tight, ash grey body suit. Similar to the armour of other soldiers in the citadel, it has been augmented with charcoal defence plates, though of a much lower density. His suit is designed to give him free movement, built for speed not strength. Though, given his tall, muscular form, he clearly has enough power to hold his own.
Exiting the room, he nods his masked face at the guards. His helmet contains a mask very similar to Earth Venetian masquerade, swirling lines in silver create metallic accents on the exaggerated eye shaped mask. The design is embedded into a fuller headpiece which hugs as close to his skin as the body suit and the shoes. The overall affect makes him look mysterious and quite haunting, like a blank slate with a cursed face.
The two classically armoured (for this world) guards, one in a crimson red and the other in a winter green, push closed the wooden door the moment he’s clear. He takes a cursory look back, only half turning his head. The sigils and runes cast faint lights across the door and walls, registering with the screen in his mask.
Ekta is a rare individual, he thinks. A great, powerful woman to be able to work within the neural lattice that keeps their citadel safe. One might have suggested that rebels should be hidden underground, keeping their location secret. But not Ekta. She insisted they be seen, be the shining mark that they would never give in to the oppression of the dragon lords.
“On your way to rendezvous with our outworlders?”
The armour-less Jake Reed stands ahead of him, arms held behind his back, chest puffed out. Unlike most of the soldiers, Jake refuses to fight with his face covered. Not from some kind of reckless search for danger, or a bullet-beam to the face, but to show that he was unafraid. Its this trait that was also why Ekta chose him as one of her high advisors. He walks alongside the floating man as he continues round the corridor.
“They’re late. I’m in charge of hurrying them along.”
“We know they got out of the capital ruins, as I’m sure she’s briefed you. The Dragon Lords are advancing a widespread unit, sweeping the forest. All entrances are secure, but we still have at least three squads out there, plus Viridian and her team.”
“I’ll check the far line first. Report back as soon as I have visual on the team. Usual channel?”
“Usual channel. But only use it if you won’t be back within the allotted time. They’ve got everyone out there trying to find our outworlders, we don’t want to risk sending a retrieval team unless we absolutely have to and we definitely don’t need them catching on to another one of our reserve messaging systems.”
“We most certainly do not. We’ve got, what? Six left?”
“Since last week?”
“South side came under fire and then were ambushed near the Mergile Canyons. Squad split and we lost two comms in the panic. We’re lucky they didn’t find the entranceway before most of ours got through. Had to seal it off completely in case.”
They stop in front of a wall which falls away, a sheet of rose-gold material silently slipping into a gap in the floor.
“Good luck Scout” says Jake, his eyes glistening.
“Don’t need it” replies Scout. He takes Jake’s hand between his gloved ones, squeezing it with reassurance.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Scout turns away, floating into the lift. The panel shoots up behind him, and the wall in front of him, as if in balance, disappears up. The dark night is cool, though well lit in the distance by the enemy forces.
He sets off to find Viridian and the outworlders by dropping calmly out of the citadel. He plummets with increasing speed down the side of the building, his skating pose, with one foot in front of the other, allowing him to gain in-air balance.
He hovers slightly off the citadel wall, skating directly down for a minute before pushing off some invisible force and into freefall away from the citadel to the mountain below. In the blackness of the night he makes no sounds and his dark armour means he is almost invisible. He harmlessly lands on the mountainside, his hover boots keeping him from actually making contact with the icy rocks. He leans back to stop himself from moving, surveying his route down. Confident in his path, which is illuminated in his mask, he continues his descent towards the forest below.
Chapter Seven: Fight
“Chekov! There you are!” Peggy exclaims. Jack, Belle and; the now conscious again, Holtzmann turn to see Viridian and Chekov jogging up to the group. While the soldier moves with firm strides, her companion is moving much less surely, dragging his feet but keeping up.
“You shouldn’t have gone off like that. It was utterly reckless” scolds Peggy”.
“You have my agreement” says Viridian, strolling past her.
“What happened out there?” she asks, looking for any obvious wounds.
“I-“ Chekov begins to respond, looking into Peggy’s eyes. He trails off, watching Viridian, who is now talking with a soldier in orange armour.
Peggy waits for him to speak, her initial annoyance fading.
“I couldn’t leave her out there. She had this, this strange look”
“You could see through her helmet?” queries Holtzmann from behind, joining the conversation.
“No, I mean. It was like she was ready to die. Willing even.”
“Life of a soldier” Jack says. “Have to be prepared to go down with the ship. I’m sure you have that experience on your vessel, don’t ya?”
“Not like her.” His response is firm. “We’ve explorers. We are combat ready, we have lost people. But we are not soldiers.”
“Its not always a pretty sight kid” says Jack.
Peggy can see the concern in Chekov’s eyes. They’d been relatively calm about the alien world since they’ve arrived, within reason that is. But this had shaken the young man.
“I’ve seen men, women, return from the front. Some can’t shake the fight. It…stays with them. She’s still in the fight, Pavel.”
Peggy grips his arm, trying to get him to feel her sympathy. The young man certainly showed incredible strength in his, though misguided, heroic attempt to help Viridian.
“C’mon kid, let’s get you checked by one of these, uh, mystic people.” Jack takes him roughly by the shoulder, leading him to over to the robed figures.
Peggy turns to Holtzmann, as Belle joins them.
“Any luck?” asks Peggy.
“Some,” Belle replies, “I’ve been talking with Seer-mal.”
“Who?” queries Holtzmann
“One of the mystics” Peggy adds.
“He said, like all of them, that he doesn’t know, or won’t tell us, why we’re here exactly. He did say that we’re near to the entrance and almost ready to move. He let slip that they weren’t planning on waiting around for Viridian and Chekov so we’re, and i’m quoting here, very lucky they arrived.”
“Charming.” Peggy says, thinking that if though they have brought the five of them here, it was concerning that they didn’t mind losing one along the way. It didn’t bode well for their expendability.
“What about you, Holtzmann?”
“A-thank you for asking.” She tucks her fingers though her belt loops and adopts a wide legged stance before continuing. “After I woke up from my nap, my noggin…” she points at her head seeing Belle’s confused expression. “my brain has been a little fuzzy, all sorts of memories keep getting knocked loose, looser, loosened. Point being, I was lying there waiting to sit back up and I heard that orange guy speaking to someone about preparing for a new batch of outworlders due to considerable losses.”
To emphasise, Holtzmann repeats the final two words, mouthing them with over the top finger air quotes.
Now, what does that mean? Peggy considers. Are we the new batch or…?
“I woke up shortly after that but by then he’d wandered off so I didn’t really get to ask him about it. Recon he thought I was a gonner?”
“Well, if he did… And he didn’t think that Chekov was coming back, that’d be almost half of us.”
“We need answers.” Peggy says sternly, “and it looks like the only person who we can get that from is Ekta.”
She marches past them, round the fire and mystics, to Chekov and the magenta armoured soldier who is checking him over. Assured he’s fine and merely fatigued, she strides over to Viridian and Rex Mara.
“When are we going to see Ekta?” she demands.
“Shortly” is Viridian’s reply.
“Chekov is ready to move, the rest of us too. We want to help you but you need to answer some questions first. Based on the detailed plan we’ve received so far, I think it unlikely that you’ll be able to provide those for us. So, unless you’ve got something you’d like to share, I suggest you lead us out of this forest.”
She can’t read their expressions with the opaque helmet screens in the way, but she feels their bodies tense then relax.
“Ready your party. We move in five, as soon as the mages have completed their work” replies Rex Mara
Both stand silently, waiting for Agent Carter to leave.
“Thank you,” she says, swivels on her heels and walking back to Belle and Holtzmann.
“Find Jack,” she tells Belle, “we’re on the move. Holtzmann, help Chekov. Tell them both to keep an eye out. I’m still not convinced we won’t be in for another surprise before the nights done.”
Not able to spot Jack immediately, Belle heads back to Seer-mal and the mystics. She circles the floating group, trying to discern their purpose. Seer-mal has made his way into the centre of the group, remaining grounded. His uncovered face has beads of sweat running over it, he eyes tight shut. In the flickering light, caused by the mystical winds they are projecting, she can see his eyes darting about.
Suddenly her breath is pulled out of her, her lungs feel empty and tight. Her eyes widen, gaze darting to the mystics. An almost unobservable wave of power is drawn to the group then dissipates out again. Taking a long inhalation, she steadies herself on a nearby rock as the mystics descend in unison.
Seer-mal opens his eyes, looking to each of his fellows. Several of them fall to the floor, they’re legs giving way underneath them. They all look completely drained to Belle. She’s seen this kind of weariness before in other magic users, a complete mental and physical leeching that comes from a powerful spell. She considers how many hours before they arrived they must have been doing this for, along with the few more hours they’d been here.
Catching her eye, Seer-mal rises from his kneeling position next to one of the mystics who gives several sure nods. He walks slowly to her, almost sliding his feet along the ground as if his shoes were made of stone.
“Takes some getting used to.” he says to her.
“Walking again. Being in one body, having body.” He chuckles.
“I’m not following.”
“Oh, certainly. My apologies, takes the mind a while to come back to normal as well.”
“You were using a spell,” she offers.
“Yes, one we’ve done many times. The strain is never really any easier though, we always have to push further, give more. Such is the way of magic.”
“There’s always a cost.”
“We also have a number of new mages in our circle, less practiced, more easily tired. Incredibly strong and with great conviction but not used to enduring in war.”
“What exactly is it that you’re doing? What is the spell?”
“Barattan, Loita. Fight I think might be the best word for you. It is a spell that allows us to join the battle from remote locations. We are the Angels. Viridian, Rex Mara and the others are Guardians.”
“You’re the Guardian’s Angels” she says with a small smile.
“Yes, you can say that. The Dragon Lords have enslaved most of the dragons giving them an edge. But, they do not have the same understanding as the mystics on our side of the lattice of magick. We use this to intervene, such as when you arrived, influencing your fall to help you to safety. We try to preserve those Guardians in the field, when we can.”
His face becomes solemn, his eyes casting down and away from Belle’s.
“But, as you say, there is always a price. We have lost many in this war and too many mages. We are stretched thin, bringing inexperienced mages into the fight too soon.”
“Ready to move?” bellows Rex Mara from across the enclave.
“Ready!” replies one of the Guardians nearest the other mages, who are now standing more confidently.
“Time to go,” says Seer-mal.
“Wait, I have to find Jack” says Belle, looking about.
“The wry man? He is with Serenity preparing the travel packs. He is very helpful.”
“When he wants to be”
Together they walk to the mages, helping them each to lift packs and clear the grounds before joining the waiting party at the deepest part of the crescent enclosure.
“Viridian, Serenity and I will take lead, then the outworlder’s-
“That’s us!” Holtzmann loudly whispers to Chekov.
“- followed by the mages. Guardians, Serval, Linnea, cover our mages and keep an eye out, Viridian says we may have trackers.”
Without another world, Rex Mara turns and leads the group out back into the forest and onward to the citadel.