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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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