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COLLISION – Chapter 10: Compathy

The grey faced outworlders and mages paced in silence, boots sliding in slushy snow as they reached the base of the mountain. The vocal commands from Viridian to her team are subtle, like background voices accidentally caught on a recording. Once free of the blackout field, they’d been able to put their helmets back on and use their internal communications network. While the Guardians led, the other members of the party worked together to get the tired, wounded and dead to their destination.

Taking a moment to breathe, the heated air from the travellers quickly turns to steam. The Guardians form a protective ring around the group, waiting, tense, for the next inevitable battle. Thankfully, it won’t be for another day at least and there is a collective feeling of reassurance of this when the entrance begins to appear.

A rounded hole in the side of the mountain becomes more transparent by the second. Holtzmann and Chekov, who have been helping each other along, look on in awe and intrigue. Their minds race with theories for how this impossible looking event was occurring, but they say nothing.

“C’mon, one last push. Can you make it?” Jack quietly asks the tearful young man who is learning on him. The man turns his red, stinging eyes to the body laid on the ground next to him. A slow nod.

“We made it” says Belle. Her words lack the celebratory tone one would expect.

With more shuffling, sombre steps, the group make their way into the dark cavern. As the Guardian’s stomp into the tunnel, the wall fades back into place. As in the escape tunnel, as soon as the darkness comes, bright lights appear to guide their way.

Once the doorway is closed, Jack notices that the tunnel is, in fact, very short.

“Can you hear that?” asks Chekov. With each step forward, they can better hear the voices, they can feel the warming glow from a room up ahead. Scattered words, even laughter and tinny music could be heard.

As Viridian reaches the main room, leading the party, cheers and screams announce their arrival. Applause follows, while other figures rush towards them.

Two women race past Viridian and Serenity to Jack and the young man.

“Halos” weeps one of the women, she has the same reddened, puffy eyes as the young man. As they meet one another’s gaze, he too begins to cry. Jack let her take his weight, passing her his arms.

“Amila? Is it true? Is he…?” says the second woman. Her wild blonde hair stuck to her face in places, her dusty face had distinct streak marks from recent tears. She has one hand on his shoulder, the other clasping his hand at the first woman’s back.

“I’m so sorry Gayani… I’m s—“, Halos’ voice breaks. He faces Gayani, locking eyes before turning to the group of mages who have walked up next to them. People from within the large room have brought blankets and a short, slightly raised table, which they have covered in the soft coverings before placing the still body down. The hood of the dead man falls back revealing his pale face. His light skin had become bluer in the hours of their travel. They have already taken the time to close his eyes.

A collision of gasps, wails and tears come from the huddled three, who move as a single unit to the side of the body of Amila.

Looking on at the exchange, Jack feels a lump grow in his throat, one he doesn’t force back. He’s glad for the mages robes,that they are able to hide the grim wounds to the man’s, Amila’s, body. The dragon had torn through him easily, breaking his into grotesque clumps with flesh and cloth. Jack felt Peggy grip his arm. His knuckles fade from white, regaining blood.

“Viridian wants us to get checked out,” says Peggy.

He doesn’t respond.

“Jack, we need to get checked out. There’s nothing we can do for them.”

She can quickly read the pain and concern in Jack’s eyes. Once Viridian  had arrived, she’d rushed to the body and the man, Halos, who was kneeling with their forehead’s touching. Comforting him for a moment, she’d then resumed her leadership role, checking on the wounded Scout and the mages who were clearly rattled.

Jack had calmly sat down next to Halos and Amila’s body, whispering something the young man. He’d stayed with him since that point, helping him to his feet. Insisting he help him walk, after convincing the mage that he couldn’t be the one to carry the body. Without turning to her, Jack begins to cry.

“I lost someone, not so long ago.”

“I’m so sorry, Jack.”

“He died and I lived. I woke up and he was gone. His family didn’t really know what had happened to him, Government regulations and all that. I went to see his family. I don’t know why, I couldn’t explain to them why he’d been killed, that he was saving the world.”

She gripped his arm a little tighter. He takes a deep breath, letting the tears fall.

“But I couldn’t. I’ve seen too many people die. But this. Him. I was too afraid of the look in his mother’s eyes when I told them that he was gone. So I didn’t. I left.”

“You loved him. Grief… affects us all in a number of ways. You can’t expect to make all the right decisions when you’re grieving.”

A small chuckle from Jack.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made the right decision, let alone in grief. Maybe when all this is over.”

They stand side by side, feeling the family mourn, until Peggy sees Belle wave to them from what looks like the medical area of the large room. Guiding Jack, she takes him away from the grieving family and towards the rest of their group.

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COLLISION – Chapters 8 & 9

Chapter Eight: Rush

Collision 8

As he nears the base of the mountain, the glistening ice pathways give way to shrubberies and more earthy terrain. Not wanting to be slowed by the frequent rise and fall of the ground with its tree roots, mud patches and grasses, he takes a careful, silent, leap into the trees. His dark grey ensemble, which hugs his strong figure, not only ensures he is difficult to spot at night, it’s built in gravity-repel technology allows him to easily clear the treetops.
A soft rustle of leaves and he comes to a halt atop the treeline. Bathed in dwindling moonlight, he checks his orientation. Viridian’s party are due along his marked path, the screen within his helmet illuminates a sigil pathway with their projected route. In faded markers it also illustrates alternative routes based on the highest probabilities. He considers the options. To stay with the intended route or to try one of the alternatives? With no evidence, other than their lateness, to suggest why they might have amended their path, he decides to stick to their original route. Perhaps by tracing this he’ll be able to find the point at which they were forced to diverge, or were held up.
With a deep knee bend, he launches into long leaps, sliding and hopping along the tops of the trees. His glide boots create a buffer between his boot soles and the tree tops, condensing the air and causing only very minor disruption to the branches. Anyone below could easily mistake these impacts for a light breeze passing overhead.
He continues for several minutes, letting the beautiful music wash over him, giving him a calm readiness. The music fades as he nears Viridian’s party’s last known position at Bale Village. The forest clears around the edge of the compound, creating a walkway like a moat around the stronghold before giving way to the high walls which reach almost three times as high as the tallest trees.
Dropping down, he begins to circle the walls, hugging the tree line tightly in case anyone is wandering the borders. He listens intently, moving more cautiously. He briefly considers using one of the secret entrances to check if, for some reason, the party have remained inside. Injuries sustained during the escape might have caused them to double back from this safe space or forced them to set up camp.
Crack.
The sound snaps the silence. His enhanced hearing magnified the sound to almost painful decibels. His mind instinctively suspends the amplification and his listens with his normal hearing range. Scuffling, followed by a few more soft cracks of branches to his left draws his attention. He pulls back into the forest a little further, shadows enveloping his opaque frame. He searches for glints of armour or signs of a slowly advancing enemy. Thankfully the overconfident Dragon Lords insist their troops wear metallic suits that reflect light easily. It conveys their fearlessness to bystanders, especially when in great numbers, all gleaming with boldness as an approaching army. It also makes them easier to spot. Like Ekta’s insistence that the rose gold citadel be a beacon of resistance, so each soldier in the Dragon Lords army is a symbol of their unabated confidence in their right to rule.
Scout pauses as the unabashed steps move nearer. A small beaked head juts out, momentarily followed by a length of neck, oval body and tucked peach coloured wings. A gerstich. Its followed by its flock of about six other birds making their way through the night. He watches them go, oblivious of his presence.
A rare sight, he thinks. With the barrage of regular assaults about the citadel, and the lockdown interior of their base, sightings of wild creatures is rare. Seeing their causal number wandering the forest is a reminder that nature will always go on, without care for humanity.
With the gerstich flock out of sight, he continues his check of the perimeter. Though he arrived near to the north side where Virdian’s party was due to exit, he first travels the length checking for signs of disturbance. If they were ambushed here, or being spied up, better he finds out now than walk in unaware and be blindsided also. He checks each of the entrances, marked with gold sigils in his helmet, and the trap doors, emblazoned in bronze. None have been triggered within the last day.
Rounding the west wall, he reaches the north east corner and spies the groups track marks on the ground. A number of footprints lead from a section of the wall to the tree line. He sees some familiar markings, large pointed pressings in the dirt from Guardian boots. Layered over them are slightly smaller, and much small, prints from more rounded boot shapes. They lack the conical point of the Guardian’s boots or the elongated sweep left by mystic shoes. Some of these markings are patterned with what must be ridges in the soles, some of the prints have two hard flat shapes with short gaps in-between the marks. These are unmistakably the outworlders.
Using his internal monitoring screen he adds a new set of prediction markers between the exit that Viridian’s squad used and the citadel. They have certainly veered off the path, the footprints lead into the forest on the correct route, so far. Before pursuing also the tracked path, he raises his hands, fingers spread and pointing at the ground. He releases several short, intense bursts which reverberate out and beat into the dirt and leaves below. The surface jumps slightly, as if a minute earthquake was being felt in only this distinct spot. Gradually the marks disappear, replaced by undisturbed ground. He then skates along the forest edge, whipping back on himself as fast as the short distance allows, pulling loose leaves and small stones into the air and depositing them across the ground.
This should at least help to hide their path, he thinks, if they haven’t already been discovered.

Scout checks his guidance map, which is still updating with the latest estimates for the party’s alternative route. He considered that he should be nearing their position, and the air is tinged with recent magical energy around the location where the mages were. He’d also spotted the same boot marks that were in the dirt outside of Bale Village, confirming he was on the right path.
Abruptly, a new set of sigils flares to life in his helmet. A huge warning mark encapsulates his view, causing him to pause his long strides. Something was attempting to interfere with his tracking. He crouches low to the ground. He had avoided a treetop pursuit in case he passed them but now he’s wondering if that might be the safest place to be.
Deciding against retreat, he begins moving again using his mental commands to increase the gravitational repel of his boots from the ground. With eerie silence, he moves through the forest, observing everything he can. Blurring waves appear across his helmet, sigils and notifications warping his view. Abruptly, his helmet goes dark.
“Curses” he mutters, removing it. He makes the rehearsed sliding motions across the helmets surface and it shrinks to the size of a flower bud. He places the helmet into a small pouch on his armour, for safe keeping.
Then he waits, allow his organic vision to adjust to the darkness. Thankfully there is some light being cast into the sky from the rising trio of suns, enough that even the dense branches and leaves overhead do not complete block them out. An uneasy feeling washes over him.
Weapons, he thinks. I need weapons. If I’m nearing Viridian, then they’ll soon be caught in this blackout. But, if the mages are causing it for some reason, their sensors won’t mark me as an ally, at least not until its too late. Either way, best to be prepared for attack from friend or foe.
From another small concealed pouch, he removes two small black objects, about the size of matchsticks.
“Vistaar karana” he says in a low voice. A rush of swirling shades of grey broadcast from the two objects, enlarging them. They grow into two long whips, each twice the length of his height. With a swift wrist motion he latches on with one to a high branch. Propelling himself off the ground he swings through the trees using the whips as grappling hooks.

Chapter Nine: Coterminous

Collision 9

“We’re too close to their border” Serenity warns, hesitant to keep moving along a this more dangerous route.
“Its fine.” Viridian responds firmly. “If theres a patrol, we’ll spot it. Is everyone following?”
At her question, Serenity turns and makes a quick loop of the squad.
Viridian’s calm tone belies her own trepidation. She’d not wanted to come this close to the border but if they had to face their enemies she would prefer it wasn’t deep in their own territory. Better to hold the line than lose ground. If nothing else, by waiting this close to the border, any defeat in their own sector wouldn’t lower the morale of the resistance in the Citadel. As the years had worn on, hope had increasingly become a rarer quality. With each new defeat, it seemed like the tide was tiring against the resistance in the Citadel.
“All present. Though some of the outworlders are fairing better than the others,” reports Serenity, a trail of distain in her words.
Waves appear within Viridian’s helmet.
“Static” Serenity says.
Immediately the two move back to back, Serenity facing out and Viridian towards the party.
“Hold” she says. “Prepare for blackout!”
Bright warning sigils flare across the Guardians’ helmets. Viridian has already removed her’s as Serval and Linnea gather the outworlders in the centre of the mages. The confused faces of the outworlder’s meet the haunted expressions of the tired mages.
“Quickly, form the sphere. Link to any another, become anchors” says Rex Mara. The weary mages lift shaking arms. They are still tired from the night’s battle but are hardened enough by the war to enact the necessary responses with admirable speed.
“What is going on?” Peggy asks Rex Mara. A whirl of air sucks up and the air fizzes with the energy of the mages’ barrier.
“Good, hold” commends Rex to the mages before turning to Peggy. “It’s a blackout. They must have found your assailants and begun broadcasting a nullifier field. Our systems won’t be able to detect them.”
“Prepare for attack,” instructs Peggy, looking to the other outworlders. Jack already has his pistol in hand and Belle is grasping her knife.
“We have to keep moving. The Citadel is not much farther” says Chekov.
“And what makes you the expert exactly?” Holtzmann queries. “I’m considerably more inclined to follow the wizards-s lead. Wizardi? Whats the plural possessive for wizard?”
Ignoring Holtzmann’s rambling thought, Chekov pushes past her to Peggy, Jack and Rex Mara.
“While we were walking I have been tinkering with some of the devices I was transported here with,” he tells them. “I’ve been able to use geo-location features, with the help of the Guardian’s internal mapping systems, to create a topographical map of our route. We’re only a few miles from the base of the, admittedly, very large mountain where the Citadel is located. I believe there must be an entrance nearby that will take us into the base of said mountain.”
“Well, okay then. Good work Pavel” says Peggy. Rex Mara stops checking on his mages to address Chekov.
“Wait, your systems are working?” asks Rex Mara.
“Yes, they seem to still be functioning.”
“How? The Guardian’s systems should be offline. You shouldn’t be able to connect with the network.”
“Oh, it is no longer connected. I have downloaded the information to my own localised network. My tracking is more… manual.Uh, I am reading the map and making… estimations.”
“You’re using orienteering?!” scoffs Jack. “You can take the boy scout out of space.”
“Is the wall holding?” Viridian asks, now addressing Rex Mara from the front of the group.
“Yes, for now. They’re tired, we won’t be able to hold it long. I think we should move soon.”
“I agree” interjects the voice from overhead. With a clipped whip sound, Scout delicately lands in front of the group. “You’re too close to their border. They must have gotten word of the outworlders arrival because they are searching in force. Its sheer luck that you’ve not been attacked yet.”
“Lucks run out!” shouts Belle.
Sunlight bursts through the treetops and the shining armour of at least thirty Dragon Lord soldiers are illumiated.
“Serenity, take them to the citadel, we’ll hold them off” commands Viridian, swinging her swords into action.
“NO! You have to come with us.” Chekov shouts in protest.
“Get them out of here” Viridian tells Serenity, racing towards the other Guardians.
“This way,” Scout instructs as bolts begun to fly. With ease, he hovers into the air, cracking his whips at the incoming bolts. At the point at which the whips crack, a concussive blast pops the blasts, dissipating them in an instant. Jack looses several shots which refract harmlessly off the enemies, before following Chekov, Holtzmann, Belle, Peggy and Serenity away from fight.
“We shouldn’t leave!” yells Chekov who is being dragged away by Belle and Holtzmann.
“We’re not doing this again!” scolds Belle.
“It’s their job to keep you safe, you idiot” adds Serenity. “If we don’t get you back to the Citadel the this is all a waste of time. I don’t particularly believe your going to be the ones who give us the upper hand. But I assure you, I will not be responsible failing to give you the chance to prove me wrong.”
“Either you lead us to the Citadel now or we risk all our lives trying to help them, probably getting in the way and dying” says Holtzmann.
“You’re the only one that knows the way” adds Peggy.
Reluctantly, Chekov nods and leads them away at a run.
“They’re a little self important” says Serenity to Scout.
“Dramatic too. Guess they don’t need my mapping to find their way. Shall we cut ahead?” says Scout, pointing into the trees.
“After you”
Another whip crack and Scout shoots onto a high branch, disappearing after the others. Serenity races after him, taking a superhuman leap.

While the team make their way to the base of the mountain, the Guardians fight against the Dragon Lord soldiers begins. Outnumbered ten to one, the practiced warriors move swiftly to cut down their foes.
Linnea’s curved shields, the shape of crescent moons, first block a volley of sword beams from the Dragon Lord infantry. Meeting the first wave of attackers, in close quarters the blocked blasts blind the shooters. Then with an acrobatic spin, she uses the ultra-hardened surfaces to beat them back. Within moments three are on the ground.
Close behind her is Serval, taking darting strides to avoid the shots and fists flying at him, he moves with great agility covering more ground than the approaching squad. Somersaulting over two of the soldiers, he finds himself surrounded. Two of the more foolish attackers fire on him, shooting their allies instead as Serval easily dodges. A simultaneous punch forward and kick backward throws two of the soldiers back, slamming them into tree trunks.
The other four Guardians in the party continue the assault, co-ordinating efforts with a methodical synchronicity. As the most experienced, after Viridian and Serenity, Linnea and Serval work to scatter their assailants, breaking them into small pods to be picked off by the other Guardians.
Circling around, Linnea holds the rear line, blocking any soldiers from following the outworlders. Meanwhile, Serval backs the enemy party into the waiting blades of Viridian. Her sharp strikes slice through armour, not quite causing fatal injuries. Within moments of their combined effort, only a handful of the grunt soldiers are left standing.
Sensing victory, Viridian becomes unnerved. Too easy, she thinks.
“It’s a distraction!” She yells, realising her naive error. The soldiers were numerous enough to present a real threat but too low ranking to be the real threat.
She races into pursuit of their escaping team, sure that they are now in graver danger. This was a test meant to divide their forces and she fell for it.

Up ahead, Scout pushes the team to run as fast as they can. Though his hovering capabilities allow him to move much faster, he doesn’t, keeping to a safe but reasonable pace. Flitting above them to watch for attacks. He’s looking over the shoulders of the outworlders when a torrent of flame engulfs him, causing him to fall to the ground.
A screaming roar stops them in their path. A menacing dragon, with its dark scales and mighty fang-like teeth, crosses into their path. One large clawed foot slowly wraps itself around the dazed Scout.
“Get off of him!” yells Jack. Aiming his pistol squarely at the dragon’s rider. The cloaked and armoured figure tilts their helmet to look at the curious figure below. She laughs.
A second and third dragon, about half the size of the first, appear behind the group and together the three encircle the party.
“Whadda we do?” asks Holtzmann.
“Stay still.” replies Peggy in a hushed voice. “Back to back, watch them.”
She steadies herself, feeling her shoulder make contact with Jack’s on one side and Belle’s on the other. The mages move to raise their defences but nothing happens.
“You’ve crossed into our territory now” says the dragon rider, her voice gruff.
The mages turn, panicked, to Rex Mara, who’s face is red with rage. His eyes begun to turn milky white, his throat closing. Choking sounds escape him, his throat convulsing, desperate for air.
“Rex?” Peggy tries to find his pupils beneath he white film that grows thicker. “REX!” He collapses into her arms, beginning to convulse.
“They can’t do this,” murmers one of the other mages. “They’re not supposed to be able to do this.”
“We’ve learned new tricks” says the rider in a loud voice. Suddenly, one of the small dragons darts forward. Before they have time to react, it leaps at Jack. One of the mages jumps into its path, the creatures head has turned sideways, jaws wider than they’d have thought possible. It snatches the mage, scuttling back as it crunches the bones of the young man. Jack’s eyes are wide. He’s unable to speak, his breath leaking out. No, he thinks, unable to speak the word.
One of the mages screams, the young man collapsing onto the ground on his knees.
“You’re coming with me outworlders” says the rider. “These mages however, I don’t need”
The mages flinch, unsure what to do. Holtzmann, Chekov, Jack and Belle instinctively put themselves between the remaining mages and the dragons.
“You’ll have to go through us” Belle tells the rider, blade pointed at the largest dragon’s head.
“You know we don’t actually need you alive” she responds. “I’m to bring you in… if possible. You might prove useful. But my main goal is stoping you from joining these amateur fools.”
The two smaller dragons pounce, eyes focused on Belle and Chekov. Within metres of reaching them, Belle throws out her hand, sending blue powder flying onto the beasts. With pinpoint pupils and forked tongues flapping in their open mouths, they stop. Paralysed.
The rider and her dragon shift uneasily.
“What’d you do?” asks Chekov, staring down the throat of one of the dragons.
“Fairy dust” she replies, staring back at the rider. “And there is plenty for you too.”
Reaching into a pouch on the rear of her belt, she pulls a clenched fist out and holds it near to her chest, ready to throw.
“Now. Let him go”, she indicates Scout who is motionless under the dragons front claw. Neither moves. “NOW! Or I use this and we cut him out.”
Without a word from its rider, the dragon bows its head and retracts its leg. An intake of breath shows that Scout is still alive.
“Now go, if you want to keep your life” she tells the rider. A seconds consideration, no doubt she is trying to find a scenario where she can win. Finding none, the rider signals the dragon and it sidesteps around the group. She continues round, with Belle matching its steps, till it reaches the small dragons. Taking one in its claw and the other carefully in its mouth, it spins and races back into the forest.

Moments later, Viridian catches up to the group. Blades at the ready in front of her, she comes to a skidding stop. Some of the mages are gathered around Peggy and Rex Mara, while Jack, Chekov, Holtzmann and another mage gather around Scout.
On one side, nearest the enemy borderline is a lifeless corpse, shredded and in an uncomfortable pose, left where it fell. One mage kneels at his head, bending to allow their foreheads to touch. A tear falls from Viridian’s cheek.

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Collision – Chapter 6 & 7

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?”

“Four”

“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.”

“Curses”

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

collision-7-1

“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.

“What does?”

“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.

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COLLISION – Chapter 5: Rescue

Read Chapter One

Heavy panting breaths. Long leaping strides. His ability to so quickly learn how to switch between his normal visual range and the telescopic sight, which the alien technology had granted him, enabled him to rush through the forest.

Whipping his scanner out, as he leaps to clear a thick root which has been forced out of the ground by the diagonal trunk of its tree, he can’t but think that this must be how his captain feels most days. A reckless adventurer, moving only on gut instinct and despite the danger to himself.

Chekov’s mustard yellow shirt is covered in dark soot and mud. His normally pristine shoes are slick with mud and his short blonde curls are damp with sweat.

Where is she? He wonders. Initially, he’d tried to use the moon overhead to retrace his steps, but with it being overhead, it didn’t provide much help. Thankfully, the optical upgrades had kicked in. Somehow sensing that he was looking to retrace his steps, his vision had become layered with a linked network of symbols in various hues of yellow. He assumed, and hopes, that it was leading him back where he came from.

Using this alien assistance, and his own survival skills, he was able to find and traverse his path back. A short while later, he’d covered much of the ground that his party had less than an hour ago.

The forest was quiet, his comrades a long way behind him now. Ahead, he could almost make out the sound of gunfire and the clang of metal on metal. Or was he just imagining it, hopeful he wasn’t too late. Not that Viridian needed his help. The warrior seemed far more capable of taking care of herself than he did. She’d sprung into action, firing with an accuracy and rapidity that could only come from a trained warrior, a soldier. But that wasn’t what bothered him. He sensed that her courage also came with a hard headed recklessness, he’d seen it before. She’d saved them from the ambush, but he had no intention of letting her die for them.

Meanwhile, not far ahead, Viridian was crouched high in the treetops. She’d been balancing between two of the thicker branches about three quarters of the way up one of the tallest trees.

Silently she thanked the crafters of her armour that they had managed to infuse such a lightweight material with the exceptional protective power they did. In the first volley of attacks, when the three Dragon Lord fighters had started their sudden assault of the party, she had been struck hard by one of the bullets. Luckily her movements had been swift and she’d been able to let the energy bolt glance off her chest plate.

It’d been several minutes since she’d sent the others on ahead. Having to protect the wounded woman would have only slowed her down. By now they should have reached Rex Mara and be safely cloaked by the mystics. What she didn’t know was where these assailants were.

“Do you have eyes?” a careless whisper from below alerts her to their presence. She can’t hear the received reply, even through the sound magnification of her helmet.

“Proceed north west” the voice continues. “She’s waiting for us I’ve no doubt. Shiv, get ahead and catch up to the intruders. Viser, you and I are sweeping this forest, line by line.”

Curses, Viridian thinks. If they can find the clearing, even if its protected, they may be able to trace the secret entranceway to the citadel. Three targets, one fighter, how is she going to get them all at once? Strategies and scenarios play in her mind and across her helmet screen.

The attacker below begins to continue moving. She can tell there are three attackers, one below her and one slightly ahead. Undoubtedly the third is also nearby, just out of range or hidden by the forest.

Watching them go, Viridian seeks out branches sturdy enough to move to. The interior of her helmet displays several lateral lines indicating safe branches, each line differs in thickness denoting the varying load bearing strengths. She leaps as quietly as possible, using one branch as a stepping stone to the next tree trunk, above her target.

“What?”

She stops.

“Where?… Hold position.”

Something has changed.

“I5. Low risk. Give me two clicks, will engage. Shiv belay previous order, lets take this one in.”

The branch creeks under Viridian. She scans the trees as far ahead as she can, catching a flash of black and yellow heading her way. Curses! She thinks again.

Chekov is almost out of breath. He’s sure he must be almost back to where they left Viridian. He comes to a sudden stop when he spies a seared tree trunk.

“She must be close” he says, touching the still warm burned bark. A trio of buzzing, shrill sounds causes he to turn into a living statue.

“Uh oh”

From ahead of him a white light almost blinds him. With the nightlight vision making the dark forest appear bright, the white is too powerful for his eyes. Clamping them shut, he opens them again to find they have adjusted, toning down the brightness so that it now appears to be night again.

Turning his head, watching for sudden movements, he finds an additional two bright white guns pointed at him from diagonally behind him on his left and right.

“Don’t shoot!” he exclaims, raising his hands.

The guns are raised higher, the buzzing increasing in volume as they charge. Then, the black armoured attacker in front of him begins to speak.

“You are now under the guard of the Dragon Lords. Invader 4, you are our cap-“

The words are cut short by an emerald slice of energy which knocks the speaker to the ground.

“Carmine!” yells one of the other attackers, the one to the left of Chekov. He rushes forward  as the other raises her weapon to the trees and lets off several short volleys.

“Viser, is he hurt?” asks Shiv, still pointing her weapon at the trees.

“I’m fine!” comes Carmine’s angry reply.

“Shiv, where is she?”

“I don’t know. Didn’t see her. Don’t think I made contact. Scanning for density shifts.”

Propping Carmine up, Viser cocks his weapon upward.

“And where is the…arrhh….target?” asks Carmine between groans.

Viser and Shiv look back to where Chekov had been standing and see nothing.

“WHERE IS HE?!” yells Carmine.

“Searching…found him, heading south. Targeting”

Viser guides his assault weapon, panning across to Chekov who is rushing away. As he begins to pull down the trigger a sharp shot strikes his helmet. With a hollow crack, he is slammed onto his back, knocking him out.

“Got her!” screams Shiv over the sound of her concussive shots. Each blast is a scattergun of bullets which tears up the tree line. There are dull thumps of contact, but not with armour, only the tree trunks. Carmine pulls himself up, hissing at pain in his abdomen. Shiv circles the nearest tree, readying further blasts.

“What are we going to do about Viser?” Shiv asks without looking at their fallen companion.

“Forget that idiot. Get the scum swordsman then we’ll chase down the target. He’s heading towards our rally troops so he won’t get far.”

“I think she’s gone. Or very still. I’m not seeing anything on scanners.”

Carmine raises his weapon. Using one hand, he spins the barrel. With a single smooth action the gun switches from a short-nosed pistol with elongated blades for its tip, into a long conical-ended gun with a burning core. In an instant the sun-like core is ignited, sending azure flames at the trees above. Instead of simply setting the treelike alight, the flames engulf and disintegrate the tops of the trees, destroying leaves, branches and parts of the tree trunks instantly. Moonlight bathes Carmine, Shiv and the unconscious Viser.

“Feel better?” Shiv asks. Carmine huffs in response.

“Set Viser’s tracker, one of the dragons can come pick him up.”

With that, Carmine runs off in the direction Chekov seems to have gone. Shiv reaches down to Viser, clicking a small switch under the lip at the back of his helmet.

“Good luck,” she says before pursuing Carmine, “hope it doesn’t eat you.”

Chekov is running fully pelt when his distance scan spies several enemy troops. Coming to a stop behind one of the trees, he searches for a new route back where he came but along a different path, sure that he’s being followed.

“Ay,” he exclaims to himself, “I have made a mistake.”

“Yes, you have” says Viridian’s annoyed voice from above him.

Dropping from above in a lithe motion, she lands in front of Chekov.

“What are you doing here? Where are the others?”

“They made it to your comrades. I came back to check on you as you had not followed”

“Not necessary, I was fine.”

“We cannot leave someone behind.”

“In this war, you are potentially more important than I am.”

“No-one is expendable,” he insists.

“Everyone is. In the right circumstances” is her cool response.

A brief and awkward pause follows. Chekov stares defiantly at Viridian’s helmet, her eyes staring back at him.

“You did provide a useful distraction however.”

“Thank you?”

“We need to move. They’ll be here soon and we’re quickly becoming trapped between two groups of their forces. We’ll need to travel that much further to avoid them. And fast.”

“Da, lead the way.” Chekov gives Viridian an assertive nod and she takes off, closely followed by her ally.

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COLLISION – Chapter Four: Nightlight

The mechanical walls begin to clunk, shutting behind them, the slates moving back into place. The exit sealed, the party of adventurers is on to their next stage, making their way to the rose-gold citadel on the mountain.

“Can you see in this darkness?” asks Belle, who is second in the line making its way through the forest. Moonlight is reflecting off Viridian’s armour as she leads them. The knight moves quickly, surefooted.

“Yes,” she responds.

“But how? Its almost pitch black and we’re all falling over ourselves!”

As if to make her point Belle slips on a patch of mud, catching herself before she hits the ground

Viridian stops, swivelling on her heels to face her trailing companions.

She reaches behind her armour and clips off a string of beads. Pulling two off at a time, she hands them to Belle.

“Put one into each eye. Tell the others.” Viridian states, turning back. She is careful in her movements, surveying ahead of them.

A pale light streams from behind Belle, who turns to see Jack close behind her, coming to a halt with Holtzmann just behind him. Chekov and Peggy arrive a moment later, the small, pale light from Peggy’s miniature pen-torch helping guide their steps.

“I’m not sure I can keep this up with my torch. The ground is covered in mud and roots which, I must say, have a rather bad habit of slowing me down.”

Peggy examines her heels which are now fairly caked in dirt. Her reluctance to remove them is entirely based around the questionable, alien environment around them, despite the impracticality.

“Here.” says Belle. She hands each of them a pair of beads. “Viridian says to…uh…put one into each eye.”

“I’m sorry, I must have misheard.” says Chekov. “Did you say, eyes?”

“I’ve put weirder things, stranger places” says Jack, pulling the beads apart before slamming them into his eyes.

“Wait!” Peggy says too late.

“Huh, well thats impressive. They have some phenomenal technology in this place.”

“What do you see Jack?” asks Belle, the others coming a little closer to look into Jack’s eyes.

“Its like…its the middle of the day. Everything just looks more visible.”

Viridian leans into the group.

“Hurry up! We should not stay still for long.”

Chekov is scanning the beads, seeing further strange readings flashing across his screen. He looks up to mention the biological elements he’s detecting as Peggy pushes them into her eyes. As she’s stood next to him with her torch also in her hand, he glimpses tiny tendrils seeping from the beads before they are absorbed into her pupils.

“Oh my.” Peggy exclaims. “This is extraordinary.”

Peggy switches off her pen-torch with a twist of the nib, sliding it into her interior coat pocket.

“Here goes nothing” says Holzmann, pushing them into her eyes. Belle follows suit. Both make oooh faces as they stare around at the now clear forest.

Chekov is last, nervously staring at the small beads. He rolls them between his fingers.

“Udachi” he murmers, placing each bead to his eye. They shoot, too fast for him to see, into his eyes and his vision disappears for a split second. When it returns, the shadowy outlines of the trees and the dim frames of his fellow travellers are now crystal clear. Looking up, he can see a bright sky, though its clear there is no sun making it so.

“Time to go, Chekov” says Jack, rousing him from his daze staring at the new world. With a broad grin on his face he adds, “like what ya see?”

“Da, this is exceptional. Every detail is very clear, but also strange. It is like an augmented layer to my own vision. Even the distance seems clearer, closer as I focus.”

“Not the time for flirting Jack, Viridian is on the move.” says Peggy, interrupting.

She waits for the last two, Holtzmann and Belle a short way ahead of them. With an effortless zoom, Chekov makes out his companions slipping in-between the trees.

“We are falling behind” he says to Jack, causing his smile to turn to a frown as he rushes past the taller man.

With their new vision in place, the team are able to negotiate the undergrowth much more easily. Viridian is silent and Ekta’s voice is gone, leaving them in an eerie quiet. Occasionally branches cracking underfoot and animal calls penetrate the bright night.

Belle and Holtzmann walk side by side, a few paces behind the knight who is leading them without a word.

“I’m not sure I’ll get used to this.” says Belle.

“What, travelling accidentally to an alien world and being chased by dragons?” asks Holtzmann.

“Uh, no.” she replies. “All this brightness at night. It looks wrong, unnatural.”

“I agree, it does perplex the mind.”

Holtzmann pulls her goggles down over her eyes, the school bus yellow lenses colouring her nightlight world.

“Well, that’s intriguing.” she remarks.

“What?”

“My goggles are yellow.”

“Yes, I can see that.” Belle responds, confused.

“But these optical doohickies seem to be reacting to it, making my eyes see without the yellow filter.”

Holtzmann is circling her head as though she was doing neck stretching exercises, crossing her eyes as she does.

A singing eeeeek pierces the quiet, followed instantly by a white spear of light that strikes Holtzmann in the back. She’s slammed forward onto the ground. Viridian whirls to face them, sword extending in her hand from its hilt.

“Get down!” she yells.

Belle crouches down next to Holtzmann, her face in the mud.

zzzzzingppptttt

Another shot is fired, hitting a tree next to Chekov as he drops to the ground. He begins to crawl towards Holtzmann, who is not moving, and Belle.

With a loud, crackling boom, Viridian lets of her own retaliation shots which rip through the branches and leaves. She is aiming in the direction of the first shot, behind and to the left of the team.

Jack and Peggy have stooped behind a tree each, pistols in hand.

“Can you see them?” Jack asks Peggy.

“Give me a moment” she responds.

A shot shoots past, towards where Viridian is firing a little ways ahead. With a quick glance, Peggy rolls across to a sheltering bush. She peaks her head over as the knight returns fire. She quints, feeling a strange tickle across her eyes. Her sight shifts, narrowing with brilliant clarity onto the attackers in the distance. 400m appears in the corner of her sight along with unfamiliar symbols overlayed onto the hiding places of the attackers. She rolls back to her first position just in time to avoid the shots fired into her hiding spot.

“Three attackers, 400 metres away.”

“Jillian’s been hit. We need to cover the others so they can help her.” Jack reports.

“Can you cover me?”

“3…2…1…”

She darts out at one as Jack leans from behind his tree and looses shots at the attackers. His accuracy is improved by the sniper vision, allowing him to strike the nearest attacker. Unfortunately, though his two bullets  hit the neck, armour hinders it from doing any visible damage.

“Damn” he says under is breath, spinning back into hiding.

He turns to look at his teammates. More white and green shots are exchanged. Scanning the forest, he’s able to make out Peggy who is staring directly at him; though in normal circumstances she wouldn’t be able to see him. She motions for him to join her.

As Viridian lets off another volley, Jack runs, bent over, to the team.

“How is she?” he asks when he reaches them.

“She’s just knocked out,” Belle tells him. “Looks like she’s wearing some kind of protection under that suit”

“I’ve done a scan, she does not appear to have broken any bones. We can move her.” says Chekov, holding out the tricorder which no-one can read.

Viridian moves nearer to them, sliding with impressive agility along the ground.

“We need to go.”

“Jack, give me a hand with her” says Belle. He moves to the other side of Holtzmann and the two begin to lift her, an arm over each of their shoulders.

“When I say go, you go.” Viridian says.

The shots stop. She leans her head out, rising slightly from her crouched position.

“They’re trying to flank us. GO!”

She points their direction, Peggy leading the charge, with Belle and Jack  dragging the unconscious Holtzmann with them.

“What about you?” Chekov asks.

“I’m coming! Go!” she says, shoving him in the right direction.

Wielding her sword with one hand, she twirls it quickly. It sparks briefly. An emerald glow emanates from it and the gun-sword splits along the middle where the shots came from. A metallic ting follows and the single weapon becomes two swords. Viridian grips the handles, blades crossed in front of her. She looks over her shoulder, scanning for the retreating members of her party. Seeing them racing in the right direction, she leaps up into the trees.

“Are we sure we’re going the right way?” grunts Jack.

His neck is bent down as he carries Holtzmann, tiredness beginning to set in.

“I’ve reason to believe we are.” Peggy assures him.

“And we’re not being followed.” says Chekov.

He stares back, desperately looking for a sign of Viridian. They’ve been running for who-knows how many minutes. All blaster sounds have stopped. Even in the nightlight, the endless trees are non-distinct.

“We’re here” says Peggy.

Belle and Jack use what little strength they can muster to straighten themselves up. They see Peggy round a massive rock. Following her, they are met by a wall of, what looks to Jack, like fireflies.

A huddled group of hooded figures are stood, short capes billowing behind them from a force they can’t feel.

“Where is Viridian?” says a neon pick, flecked, armoured man. He flits his gaze between the newly arrived people.

“Behind us” says Belle, leaning to place Holtzmann carefully on the ground.

“She pointed us in your direction. Then, we don’t know what happened” adds Jack.

“Come this way,” he says.

Another knight, this one in a terracotta orange suit of armour, helps him lift Holtzmann, hurriedly walking towards an opening in the rock cove. Jack and Belle are panting, catching their breath, but make slow steps to follow. Peggy begins to follow them but turns around with a realisation.

She asks, “Where’s Chekov?”

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COLLISION – Chapter 3: Citadel

As though gifted with foresight, each of the heroes sent flying converts their movements. With twists and curls they reach neat landing positions on the truck.

“Woah” says Jack

“I’ve never felt more like a cat” adds Holtzmann

“How did we do that?” asks Belle

Crashing sounds followed by electric hisses remind the shocked team that they are still in the middle of running for their lives.

Ekta whispers into their ears, “we have mages nearby. Using the senti-mites they were able to influence your bodies to land.”

“I honestly don’t know how to react to that.” continues Belle.

As they right themselves, crouched on the back of the hoverbus, the knight who had been defending them leaps to join them. Behind her the dragon can be seen spitting black venom at its attackers. The lift-room has resealed itself and there is little light in the area, save for the flashes of energy from the knights.

“Go!” yells the knight, presumably to an unseen drive, before saying to the team, “hold onto something.”

The hoverbus hoots into action, beginning a speedy exit away from the dragon. Although  they hear it let out a spluttering scream, the sound quickly fades as the hoverbus weaves through the trees, into the forest. With an unnatural darting side to side while facing forward, the vehicle is able to negotiate the dense tree line with relative ease.

“I’m definitely going to be sick” murmers Holtzmann before leaning her head over the side she’s gripping onto. Luckily for her fellow queasy passengers, any splatters or dry heaving is covered by the sound of the hoverbus’ engine.

“We’re two minutes out, is it contained? We can’t risk being followed” the knight says, speaking with someone the others can’t hear. She twists her armoured helmet round with surprising ease, looking in the direction from which they came. “Good. Let’s get underground. Now.”

At her utterance, the ground opens beneath the vehicle and they drop into darkness. In the blackness, its like heading down a water luge. Its mostly silent, smooth, with only the whooshing wind to suggest their direction of travel.

After an unknown number of minutes, long fluorescent lights pop on in the surrounding tunnel. The seemingly never ending lines head into the distance, with blue tubes above them, colours changing to green for the lower lights – though only Holtzmann can see these ones with her head still thrown over the side of the hoverbus.

“You’ll arrive shortly” Ekta assures the team.

With renewed calm and relaxing stability on board, Agent Carter settles back into the front corner the vehicle. Her back is nearest to the curved wall which likely has the driver behind it. It rises up slightly over her head like an awning. Glancing at her fellow adventurers, she seems Jack carefully checking his pockets opposite her, Chekov is next to him tapping away at his triquarter. Holtzmann is learnt over next to her, having pulled her head back into the vehicle. Belle meanwhile is nearest the knight. Her hand is still tentatively waiting above her dagger, though she’s slid it into its holster.

Peggy is carefully holding her gun raised, not assured enough they are out of danger to even consider concealing her weapon. Miraculously, she’s managed to keep her hat, though she is regretting her stylish yet somewhat impractical heels.

From her shoes to the knights, she begins to observe in detail their companion. While her initial impression, similar to her fellow travellers, was that she was some kind of medieval knight, there are clear inconsistencies. Unlike the classic suits of metal, this knight appears to have swapped layered metallic joints, for some kind of dark material with significantly more flexibility. The helmet too has the basic shape of a knight’s, but with a more beaklike shape, eyes hidden behind reflective guards. Overall the armour looks to be built for maximum movement, with hardened areas at core strike points. Not an inch of flesh can be seen beneath.

“We’re here” Ekta tells them.

With an upward gust, the hovers emerges into a square. Tall metallic walls are equidistant from the  vehicle on all sides, and no entrances or exist are visible.

The knight disembarks, flipping herself over the end of the hoverbus. Belle follows suit. Holtzmann and Chekov slide off the vehicle next. Jack offers an open palm, indicating for Peggy to go first, which she does. The knight doesn’t wait for them, instead jogging purposefully towards one side. Looking up, Peggy sees the high walls, jagged tops about ten stories high with classic castle shapes. Beyond the wall the knight is heading for is an enormous mountain with a glittering rose-gold building atop it.

“Guess that’s where we’re heading” Jack says to Peggy, joining her in marvelling at the structures.

“You must hurry!” yells Chekov in the distance. The knight is still not waiting up and he and Belle are already in pursuit.

Jack begins to follow but Peggy twists round.

“Where is Jillian?” she asks. Searching for Holtzmann.

“I’m here. I’m here.” says Holtzmann, who is lying on her back behind Peggy.

“Best get up now, or we’re going to be left behind. And I rather don’t like our chances of that knight waiting up. Are you well enough to walk by yourself?”

“Yup, yup, sure, no prob-“ she halts after sitting up suddenly, swallowing hard.

“Okay, I’m good. Sure, dimensional travel I’m fine with but a little car sickness is what gets me.”

Peggy helps her to her feet and the two race to catch up with the others, seeing the knight reaching her target wall.

Ekta’s voice now appears in their ears, “I’m sorry there was no time to tell you everything. The danger was too imminent. But, I will explain everything when you arrive. Follow Viridian and you’ll be safe. I have to  go now, but will rejoin you soon.”

There is a small crackle and a feeling of water leaking out of their ears, like when you’ve been swimming.

“Did you hear that too?” Peggy asks Holtzmann

“Oh yeah. I’m guess that means Viridian is our mysterious knight in shining armour.”

“C’mon, she’s not waiting around!” bellows Jack from a little ways ahead.

They quicken their pace, reaching the other three. The far wall has begun to open, spreading apart in segments which slide into one another.

“Viridian” says Belle, who is standing nearest the Knight.

No response.

“Viridian” she says again, more forcefully this time.

“Yes.” replies the knight, her fidgety movements indicating her uneasiness.

“Are you going to tell us what’s happening? How are we getting to the citadel?”

There’s short pause before the response.

“We intended to arrive nearer but the second passage has been closed, Dragon Lords have claimed the town. We’ll have to proceed on foot.”

“What about the, uh, hover-thingy we rode in on?” asks Holtzmann thumbing back at the vehicle they’re just left. “Not that I’m eager for another spin.”

“We can’t”, is her helpful reply.

“And why is that?” huffs Jack.

Viridian turns to face them, the last clunking sounds indicating the doors are now fully open.

“I appreciate that your arrival has been unexpected but time is short. We need to avoid being spotted entering the citadel, our routes are secret…for now.”

“Are you asking us to trust you?”

“Yes, Ms French. I suppose I am.”

“Luckily we’re in a trusting mood” says Peggy. “Not that we have much of a choice at this stage.”

Viridian turns towards the dark forest behind.

“Clear?” she says, turning her head to one side, another reply being conveyed to her alone.

“Look” she turns to face our heroes now. Her helmet begins to retract, revealing the stern face of a desperate soldier. Her dark hair appears pushed back inside her helmet. Golden flecked, almond shaped eyes plead out from her weary face. Her dark skin has a light sheen of sweat on it.

“I’m a warrior. I do what I’m told. We’re at war and I’m not the one who should be explaining the why. Ekta got you here, its my job to make sure you survive getting to her. If you trust me and do as I say, we will get there together. Alive.”

She looks to each of them, eyes locking on before she moves to the next. Jack looks to Peggy, who inclines her head with a nod. Exchanging quick glances, they ready themselves, pulling up their frames and pushing back their shoulders. Viridian mirrors this action, seeing this show of readiness and trust.

“Let’s go” she says, her armoured helmet sliding into place.

“Um, shouldn’t we get special helmets too?” asks Holtzmann as they head out of the square and into the forest.

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Story

COLLISION – Chapter Two: Mission

Read Chapter 1 here

“I suppose that clears up…well, very little if I’m honest.”

“‘fraid so Agent Carter, you’re guess is as good as ours” Jack says.

“The woman’s voice, it must be coming from somewhere. We could try communicating with her.” Chekov offers, having finished his brief, but detailed, recap of the events  of the last few minutes.

“And how exactly would you suggest we do that?” Holtzmann queries, her tone equal parts genuine confusion and mockery.

“Hello, is anyone there?” Belle asks, looking up.

“Welcome Belle French.” responds the Delhi woman’s voice.

“Hmm” murmers Peggy, smiling at Belle. “That’d do it”

“Miss, can you tell us where we are?” she continues.

“You are in the block room, Agent Carter. Your team has been gathered for a mission of grave importance.” At the uttering of ‘grave importance’ the monotone voice becomes serious and pleading.

“Who are you?” asks Belle.

Chekov begins scanning the room again with his equipment, seeking out a source for the sounds.

“I am not of your concern, Ms French.” She sounds defeated, not imposing.

“I think you are, you brought us here. That is of our concern!”

“You are incorrect. I did not bring you here. I merely, amended your journeys.”

“Well, thats all very technical of you, but I don’t care all that much.” Jack snaps. “Are you going to be sending us back any time soon, I have a date to get to.”

The voice is silent.

The four lost individuals stare at one another, in a circle. Chekov emerges as though from far away, rapidly expanding in size as he nears them.

“What happened?” he asks somewhat oblivious.

“Jack yelled at her” Belle remarks, sheathing her dagger and folding her arms.

“I didn’t yell!” he yells.

“Excuse me, oh great voice in the sky” says Holtzmann.

Silence.

“Yeah, she’s pissed.”

“You should apologise” Peggy tells Jack, beginning to pace the white room.

“For what? For asking my kidnapper to send me home? Who’s side are you on?”

He looks to each of them, Belle turns away and Holtzmann rolls her eyes.

“I’ve been trying to scan for where she is speaking from and it is not clear, it seems to be everywhere. I’ve also walked far enough away that I could not see any of you and found no walls apart from that which we are seeming to stand on.”

“Meaning?” Peggy asks.

“Meaning, I do not think we can leave without her help.” Chekov tells her.

Jack huffs.

“So, you should probably try to apologise.” he tells Jack.

“Fine…fine.” Jack swishes open his coat, planting his hands on his hips.

“I’m sorry!” He bellows upwards.

“Thank you Captain.” the voice responds softly.

“Do you have a name?” asks Carter.

“Yes. Please call me Ekta.”

There is a collective sigh. Naming a thing does tend to make it less scary.

“Please gather.” As she says this, like on invisible conveyor belts the five people are shifted around the room until they are standing in a line, facing one side.

“We need your help.”

The space in front of them grows dark, the first time any part of the room has been anything other than bright white. As it fades to darkness, shades morph creating layers and shapes.

“Our world has been usurped. We have been attacked, killed. Few remain.”

A wave of heat pulses out at the five, causing them each to take a few steps back. Flames erupt from the darkness, along with the outlines of trees. In the distance, tall, grey buildings with curved walls and turrets shine.

“O boji!” shouts Chekov

“What is it?” Peggy responds.

“There, in the distance, behind the tree line. Children are running. On fire.” He turns his face away.

The others peer into the distance, Jack begins to run full pelt towards the fire to where Chekov was pointing. But as he runs, the view moves further away from them.

“You are not there.” Ekta says. “Not yet.”

The view spins away, like wet acrylic being smeared. Just as quickly it falls back into view. This time, they are nearer the tall buildings. They can feel warmth behind them, the flames. Now, in front of them is an icy coldness. Holtzmann pulls up her googles, which have begun to frost over and breathes out, white puffs appearing.

“The fire was to keep us in. While we froze”

“Who did this?” asks Belle, tears forming in her eyes.

“A monster. A man. He cracked our world, tearing it apart without purpose, save destruction. We were just in his way.”

Again, the image is wiped away, this time like dripping the image slides away. The ice covered walls of the building disappears and the metallic underside is revealed. Heat leaves the room, being replaced by a cool breeze.

BOOM! The air vibrates with a force unseen. BOOM! SMACK! The sound is like meat being used to shape metal. It stings the air. A sound like shattering glass follows a final BOOM!

As though appearing through a screen in front of them, a jagged black sigil appears. It looks like black Tetris pieces melted together. As they stare at the black mark ahead of them, an armoured claw-like hand pierces the darkness.

“Freedom” groans and deep voice, hints of hiss tinging the word.

“But he didn’t do this. He broke into our world, taking out our defences, leaving us open to assault from the Dragon Lords.

Deep breaths are heard among the company, rage building, fear rushing through their veins at the images in front of them.

The image fades to white again.

“We need you.”

“We need you to help save us.”

After a few moments of stunned silence, Agent Carter speaks.

“I have several questions. But first I have to say…I’m so sorry this happened to you. Though I feel quite out of my depth, I will do what I can to help.”

“Da” says Chekov. “I do not understand how this is possible, but I know what is right. If you require my assistance, I am ready.”

“Oh count me in. I’ve never been partial to the oppression of anyone. What do you need from us?”

“What the Captain said” Holtzmann says, nodding at Jack.

“Me too. I’m sorry Etka, for your people and your world. How can we help you save it?”

After muted sobs, she replies, “Thank you.”

A whirling portal of blackness with glowing white sparks, like stars, funnels into appearance in front of them.

“Walk through and I’ll explain everything” Etka says.

Belle and Peggy step forward first, followed by Chekov and Jack. Taking one last look around the block room, Holtzmann steps forward, remarking, “Once more unto the breach.”

Through yellow tinted frames, Holtzmann steps into a swirling mass of confusion. Well, those were her thoughts anyway. Like becoming play-doh for about three seconds, she emerges on the other side eye level with Belle’s thigh high dagger.

“This is certainly an improvement.” She says.

At this comment, Belle turns around and looks down at her.

“Hey! What are you doing down there? And why do you lunge everywhere?”

Standing up fully, she replies “Lunges are good for the glutes. I’m also very partial to a firm posterior and lunges are important for that. I think. Do you lunge?”

Belle turns away, unsure how to take her reply. She joins to huddled trio of Jack, Peggy and Chekov, who are staring out a wall to ceiling window. It’s evening and shooting stars illuminate the sky. They are several stories high.

“I haven’t been this high since I was in Rumple’s tower.” says Belle, reaching a gloved hand to the glass. As her fingers make contact with the glass, it flashes to life, a circuit board of lights appears on the window. It grows showing a map overlayed on the window, circles over distant buildings and rotating wheels twirling in the corners. She snaps her hand away in surprise.

“Amazing” Chekov says.

“Ekta?” Peggy calls.

“I am here Agent Carter” Ekta replies. Her voice sounds near, almost like the sound is buzzing into their ears directly instead of filling the space, like in the blank room.

“And where is that exactly?” asks Jack.

“Everywhere.”

“Uh-huh”

“My body is deep within the citadel, protected. But within this building I have a voice everywhere.”

“How is that possible?” asks Holtzmann, who is standing firmly erect and peering out the corners of her goggles suspiciously.

“Our homes, our buildings are interactive. We operate with sensory technology built into the air.”

“Like nanobots?” asks Jack

“Yes, Jack, similar” says Ekta. “Though our advancements differ to that of your Earth. In many ways, we use what is called magic, as well as technology. I am orchestrating some of the senti-mites into your bodies, this will allow me to communicate with you even outside the tower.”

“That’s great, or terrifying seeing as we still don’t know you very well, but what exactly are we supposed to do next?”

“Yes, I rather agree with the Captain. Ekta, are you telling us everything?”

“Ruuuuuuuuuunnnnn!!!” screams Holtzmann suddenly. A coarse, venomous screams following her alert.

“Go now, I’ll explain later!”

“Where?!” shouts Peggy.

“This way!” Jack bellows, pointing to the right side of the window which has lit up with fuchsia and saffron coloured arrows.

As Holtzmann races past, grabbing Chekov and pulling him with her, Ekta’s voice becomes quieter, speaking directly into each of their heads; or ears probably.

“Follow the lights, it’ll lead you towards a tunnel!”

Scraping and pounding grows loader as something begins to reach the team.  Peggy, Jack and Belle, briefly spot the looming shadow of something akin to a giant lizard, a forked tongue flitting out of great jaws.

Another screaming roar and the pace increases as they race after Holtzmann and Chekov.

“Faster! You must run faster!” Ekta warns.

Jack pulls his guns from their holsters under his jacket, reading to fire at the stampeding creature that is approaching them. They turn down the long corridor which appears to be made of markless grey metal, save for the glowing arrows.

“In here!” Chekov exclaims ahead of them, his head and shoulders appearing between two panels on an inside wall. Peggy and Belle change direction, heading for the opening. Jack turns back, the scaled face of a dragon nearing them. Firing a few blue bolt shots from a pistol, he sees them refract harmlessly off the creature.

Peggy reaches out from the room, grabbing Jack by his coat collar and into safety.

“Hey! Watch the coat!” Jack exclaims as the wall seals behind them and the thumping sound of the approaching create abruptly stops. “I’m really running out of these coats. Y’know they didn’t make a infinite supply and I keep getting stabbed while in them.”

“Oh I’m terrible sorry for stopping you from being mauled, Captain Harkness. I had some deluded idea that you might be of some use.”

“Thank you Agent, but I could have saved myself.”

Peggy squares up to Jack who is examining his coat collar for rips.

“You might be able to save yourself, but it didn’t look like you were going to do it.”

“What can I say, I’m fearless.”

“Idiotic more like”

“Hey guys, I think you should get over here” interrupts Belle.

Peggy and Jack both turn to face her. She is standing behind Chekov and Holtzmann who are frantically tapping on walls and screens on the other side of the room.

Taking in the room around them, they walk over to the others. The room is sparsely furnished, with tables and seating emerging whole from the walls, as though they have slid out fully formed. The back wall, where Holtzmann and Chekov are working is another floor to ceiling window. In the darkness outside, there are small torches. Like, the ones you’d find in old fairytale castles or at medieval festivals. The torches are slowly getting closer as, Jack and Peggy now realise, the room is descending.

“What’s happening?” Peggy asks.

“We’re trying to figure out where we’ve going” Holtzmann replies.

“The room activated itself when you got in.” adds Chekov. “these systems are fairly intuitive but there are references I don’t yet understand. We’re attempting to halt our decent.”

“Why?” asks Jack, “don’t we want to go down, get out of here?”

“I REALLY wouldn’t suggest that” Holtzmann says.

“Look” Belle tells them, gesturing to the woods below.

Huge bushes rustle and tall trees shake in the darkness. Although they can hear nothing outside the room, it quickly becomes apparent that more of the creatures they have just escaped from, can be found lurking below.

“Ekta, stop this!” Jack yells.

Silence

“EKTA!”

“This is the only way out. You have to trust me.” She speaks calmly.

“I don’t like this” murmurs Chekov.

“Ekta, this isn’t fair. We want to help you, but you need to tell us whats going on? Where are you sending us?” asks Belle.

“I’m sending you to join the survivors. They’ll meet you at the base of the building.”

“Too late to stop now” comments Holtzmann.

The room comes to a slow halt, the ground coming into clear view. On the other side of the window they can now see eight waiting figures, some cloaked, others in ornate armour in various hues. Coming to a full stop the window fades away and the cool night sky hits them.

Belle pulls out her knife, Carter her gun.

“Friend of foe?” asks Holtzmann as one of the armoured figures turns to them.

The knight speaks, a commanding voice, “you want to hurry up before we become a last meal?”

Looking to each other, they run towards her as they hear a crash from above.

“Run!” she yells, pointing her sword at the sky. Twisting the blade, she fires emerald fireballs out of its tip. Looking skyward, they see that the creature which was pursing them has smashed through a window on the upper floor and taken flight, circling in a speedy decent towards them.

As the team races to the knights, who fire at the soaring dragon heading for them, a metallic screech signals the arrival of a hovering vehicle.

“Get on!” yells the knight. She drops to one knee as the creature lands. It causes a small quake in the ground, the force of which knocks all five   of our time and space travellers onto the hoverbus.

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