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.
“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.
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.”
“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.