Sarhea stood ridged as she gazed out across the dry landscape. Dusk had set in and soon, darkness would fall. It would not been much longer until all her planning and training would come to action. Tonight, she was going hunting. The energy around her pulsed with anticipation and ignited a burning desire within her that she had kept repressed for years now. There was no doubt in her mind that its intensity was manifesting in her eyes-she could feel it coursing through her veins. Yes, tonight was the night she would take the fight to the drones. She turned back toward the ventilation shaft and disappeared back into its depths.
An hour had passed before Sarhea found herself standing at a seemingly dead end tunnel. She’d changed into her best fitting clothing and darkest hued brown cloak. A stretch of brown cloth was draped around her neck under the cloak to act as a face shield against the dust. She was nearly ready; all that was left was to collect her weapons. Sarhea’s nerves were on end as she gazed at the tunnel wall before her. She’d been dreading the moment when she would have to face her past, but there was no way to accomplish her task without the energy’s help…without the Guardians’ help.
Sarhea slowly walked toward the tunnel’s terminus as she tried not to focus on the curse that was the Guardians. Growing up on her home world, the Guardians had not been an entity to fear; they had been celebrated. To this day, she still did not quite understand all there was to know about the collective force of living energy that had once protected her world. It had been her responsibility to be in unity with them so that she could channel their power, but in the end, they had abandoned her, left her and their world to fall to the enemy. Time and time again, as she had jumped from world to world, they had demanded her allegiance, only to abandon her in her time of need, resulting in the countless deaths of those she called friend. She’d finally had enough, was tired of being used. She’d cut the link between the energetic realm of the Guardians and her own by locking away the portal unifying the two…
Sarhea slipped into the shadows at the end of the tunnel and around into a small hidden cubby. Her eyes fell to a low hanging rock outcropping. She moved to it and knelt, and reaching under it, grasped the rough material of a familiar cloth bag. She carefully pulled it out. Sarhea hesitated as one last thought crossed her mind. Was she really willing to risk unleashing the Guardians’ power for a bit of personal revenge? The thought was quickly silenced. She was not releasing her control of the link that connected her to them. No, the Amulet of Tayshar would not be leaving the confines of its onyx prison. As far as she knew, her daggers alone would not allow them access to control her.
Sarhea carefully opened the sack and withdrew the larger of the two black stone boxes. She set it carefully on top of the rock outcropping before closing the sack and pushing it back into its hiding place. She paused as she placed her trembling hands on the smooth stone lid. Once she opened the box, there would be no undoing whatever happened, but she could not continue with her plan without her daggers…Sarhea carefully reached down and released the latch. In one quick motion, she closed her eyes and lifted the lid. She cringed and waited for the energy to consume her. A familiar force quickly enveloped her, activating the power she knew resided deep within, but as had occurred weeks ago in the old ship, nothing further happened.
Sarhea slowly cracked open an eye. Her vision wavered, making her feel dizzy. She opened both to find herself in a very similar situation has had occurred that day. Faint hints of red and blue energy etched the outlines of her surroundings, but her gaze was quickly drawn to the pair of exquisite daggers contained within the box. Each contained a large gemstone embedded through the blade at the hilt, one of red and one of blue. Intricate gold designs were etched in the silver blades and stemmed continuously from gold weaving originating on the hilt. She allowed a hand to gently trace the lines of the red studded dagger. It had been so long…She grasped the hilt and lifted it, then took up the blue studded blade. Energy tingled in her hands and up into her arms as she stood. Their perfect weight and balance felt good, felt right. The familiar guides began to flow strongly around her as she suddenly lunged out in a well-rehearsed move. Yes, everything felt right.
“It has been far too long, my friends,” she whispered as she held the daggers before her. The Guardians may have abandoned her in her times of need, but the daggers had always served her well.
Sarhea’s eyes widened as the gems in the blades began to slightly glow. She could feel the gold weaving on the hilts tingling against her hand as the energy in the small space began to increase in intensity as it moved around her. Sarhea spun about as she watched the unusual display flow around her. The red and blue began to converge in on one another until she suddenly found herself encased in pure violet energy. Panic immediately rose within her. No! How was this possible? The last time she had seen violet energy had been when the Guardians had used her to rain destruction down upon her own world…The blades were instinctively raised and crossed before her in a way which eclipsed the jewels over her heart. She cringed and closed her eyes as powerful energy rushed in and nearly consumed her. A sudden sense of unity washed over her, allowing her the will to open her eyes.
Sarhea gasped. The sensation that coursed through her veins was vaguely familiar, and also very different. Most importantly, the powerful energy was not flowing from her, but into her. She watched with wide eyes as red and blue energy was pulled from the stone walls and was mixed to form the violet that flowed into her through the dagger’s crossed stones. She could the pressure building within and at the last moment, she found herself pushing it out. The transformed energy burst forth from her in a powerful wave that nearly knocked her off her feet. Sarhea righted herself and gazed in wonder as the violet rushed about the small space and back through the surrounding stone from where it came. She was controlling it, not it controlling her. A triumphant smirk played at her lips. Now this was a development she could get used to! She lowered the blades and quickly retrieved the belt that held their sheaths. With the belt fastened securely around her waist and the daggers in place, she turned to head back toward the ventilation shaft.
Sarhea crouched at the edge of a deep ravine, her frustrated gaze scanning the surrounding rocky landscape. Morning was fast approaching and her path back to the city was interrupted by the gaping chasm before her. It had been a fruitless night of hunting. With her newfound control of what she could only assume was the city’s energy, she had easily eluded the watchful gazes of the outpost guards and had disappeared into the darkness beyond the city’s lights. She had traveled for hours, chasing after the guides she’d sent before her. But she had found no trace of the drones. After hours of searching, she’d finally surrendered to the quiet prodding in her soul that told her to turn back. There would be many more opportunities and eventually she would find her target. First, she had to find a way to get back to the city. Blue lines of guiding energy suddenly dropped over the edge of the ravine to her left. Sarhea stood and upon investigation, found a narrow path that led down to the shadows below.
An hour had passed since she’d followed the energy into the ravine. It was now fully daylight and well into the morning. She was formulating a plan to get back into the city undetected when a sudden shadow shot past overhead. The guiding energy suddenly lurched to the right and collected at the edge of a dark recess. Sarhea instinctively jumped to the side and into the crevasse the guides had revealed. The shadow returned and hovered over where she had just been. She could feel the darkness intensify and soon enough, she spotted the festering black energy at the heart of a drone drop to the ravine floor.
Sarhea’s breath caught as fear and anger instantly rose within. She forced herself to take hold of the anger; she’d set out to kill drones and this was her chance. Her hands found the hilts of her daggers and tightened around them. The beast was scanning for her. As soon as it came alongside her position, she would strike. Any second now…
“Man! It has been a long time since we’ve had a ship this nice! We’re keeping this one, right Commander?” Kaden called over his shoulder as he put the newly acquired white ship through its paces.
Raith cringed as he was once again thrown against his seat’s restraints. His right shoulder was still rather sore and stiff despite Mouser’s recent adjustments. He gritted his teeth through the pain as he shot a dangerous glare at the back of Kaden’s head.
“Take it easy, Kaden. We’re out here only to test the upgrades to the radar and scanning systems. Maneuverability can be tested at a later…”
He was once again thrown hard against his restraints as the Cassarian abruptly threw the ship into a sharp right hand turn. Pain shot across his back and down his right arm, and then for a moment, he felt nearly weightless. Had they just been upside down? A low growl rumbled in his throat.
“Kaden, so help me…”
Raith slammed forward into the restraints as the ship abruptly slowed. He could not hold back a yelp of pain.
“Raith-you alright?” came Bud’s concerned voice from the seat across from him.
It took Raith a minute to catch his breath before he could toss a pained glance over to his concerned second in command. “I’m going to kill him,” came his strained reply. “I’m going to kill him!” he hissed a little louder.
“Commander! The radar has picked up an energy signature…and a heat signature?” came Kaden’s bewildered voice.
Raith froze. Both signature types? He sat upright and released the seat’s harness and heard Bud doing the same. The pair of them soon joined Kaden and Nakyla at the ship’s controls. The radar screen showed nothing.
“Kaden, I don’t see anything. If this was an excuse to distract…” Raith started threateningly.
“I thought I saw a brief flash on the screen as well, Raith,” Nakyla quickly reported. “But I lost sight of it due to Kaden’s wonderful flying skills.”
Raith examined the terrain plot depicted below the radar output. “Where are we?”
Kaden cast a quick glance over at the screen before furrowing a brow. “I think that thing is acting up again. It says we’re 79 miles west of Refuge City, but I know we just went over the Toolak Ravine to the south. The plot confirms we are south of the city. This stupid thing still isn’t working properly.”
Raith could clearly see the discrepancy between the navigation data and the plot image. A quick glance out the front confirmed they were within sight of the Toolak Ravine, which was to the south of the city. He shook his head in frustration.
“I guess it’s back to the drawing board. This ship’s got potential, but this issue…”
“What the hell was that?” Kaden interrupted.
The ship banked abruptly to the left, causing both Raith and Bud to grab onto the seat backs in front of them. Raith had a mind to cuff the impulsive Cassarian across the back of his head out of spite.
“Commander, I thought I saw something. Down at the edge of the ravine,” came a quick report.
“Kaden, I didn’t see anything on screen.”
“Not on screen-I saw it visually.”
Raith quickly followed Kaden’s gaze out over the landscape beyond the ship.
“Kaden, we all know you can’t see for shit,” came Nakyla’s frustrated growl.
A green blip suddenly appeared on the screen. With it was the red blip of a heat signature. Raith furrowed a brow as he slid into the space between the seats to get a better look at the screen. The two signatures appeared nearly on top of each other, but they disappeared again before he could make sense of the data. Raith scowled as he gazed out the front window. They were now flying slowly along the ravine.
“Careful Kaden. We don’t need something popping up out of that thing and surprising us, especially with our equipment on the fritz.”
Raith quickly typed in a few commands to try and analyze any collected data.
“There it is again!”
“What the hell?” came Nakyla’s confused outburst at nearly the same time.
Raith managed to catch only a quick glimpse of the radar data before the contact disappeared once more. His gaze flew to the visuals beyond the ship.
“What was it? What did you see?”
“I…I think it was a drone!” Kaden’s voice was clearly frustrated. Nakyla’s expression was equally baffled.
“I saw it only briefly, but I would have to agree it moved like a drone. But I also thought I saw something brown…and flapping, almost like cloth,” came her hesitant response.
“Cloth?” Raith sighed as he absently ran a hand through his hair. “We’re all losing our minds and starting to see things,” he mumbled. “Ready weapons just in case.”
“Already on it, commander,” Nakyla replied.
Out of nowhere, a dark shape burst from the ravine and veered sharply to the left.
“Drone!” Kaden squawked in surprise as he banked away from contact.
Raith had only enough time to see the dark shape before it was out of viewing range, but he saw it on radar. Both signatures registered together as they had before, but then they abruptly separated and the heat signature disappeared. It all took place so quickly that it was over before the ship could backtrack. What the hell was going on?
“Commander, I know it sounds crazy, but I thought I saw someone down there,” came Kaden’s concerned voice.
“Raith, I would have to agree. That cloth…it almost appeared to be some kind of robe,” Nakyla confirmed.
Raith’s posture stiffened as he became alert. His eyes quickly scanned the landscape beyond the ship. “Where’s the drone?”
“There! About 50 yards off the ravine’s edge!”
Raith’s gaze quickly spotted the dark shape floundering among the rocks. What the hell? It appeared that the contraption could not fly. It tried to turn and take off, only to spin awkwardly in a half circle before tumbling back to the ground. It suddenly stopped, managed to right itself… and aim its energy cannons straight at them. Raith lurched back at the realization.
“Nakyla! Take that thing out!”
Nakyla was already in tune with him and fired off two rounds. The cannon blasts hit the drone head on, sending flames and black smoke pouring from the impact sites. The drone dropped to the barren surface, lifeless and smoldering.
“I don’t know what the hell I just saw, but that drone was damaged, Raith. I think we should scout the area. I’m a bit concerned about that brown material. It almost appeared as if someone or something was on top of that drone,” Nakyla said as she turned to him.
Raith carefully considered the suggestion. It was risky, but surely someone was not foolish enough to be out here. But he’d seen the heat signature, had seen it separate from the drone’s signature, as if…being thrown off.
“Suit up, Nakyla. We’ll take a quick look around. Kaden, you’d better cover us while we’re down there. Keep a close watch on that screen. It appears the drones are using the ravine.”
“Yes sir,” Kaden replied as Nakyla unstrapped from the co-pilot’s seat and followed Raith through to the cargo bay where their excursion suits hung ready and waiting in their pods. Bud joined to assist.
“Bud, keep an extra close watch on that screen and don’t let Kaden get distracted. We’re depending on you guys to cover our asses down there,” Raith whispered quietly.
“You know you can count on me, Raith. Just be careful out there-both of you.”
Raith simply nodded and stepped into the open suit. Upon sensing his form, the pieces closed in around his body. The armor was sturdy enough to withstand the uncertainty of war, but lightweight enough to allow ease of movement. There were extra mechanics in the suit’s right arm to assist with the bulk of a portable energy cannon. Bud assisted him with the armor’s targeting system-helmet combo, and once all pieces were fitted, Bud gave him a thumb up. Nakyla’s suit was similar, but much lighter weight and did not have an energy cannon. She had always preferred closer combat and chose to carry an energy whip instead.
“Let’s get this done so we can get back,” he said as he felt the ship touch down and the rear hatch opened. He readied his weapon. Nakyla nodded before they both stepped out onto the dusty landscape.
“Alright, Kaden. Get back in the air and begin scanning the area,” he called into the helmet’s radio. The ship’s hatch closed as it lifted back into the air. Raith turned to Nakyla.
“You go check the area for any signs of that heat source. I’m going to go check that drone.”
“Yeah, it was behaving erratically before you blew it to hell. I want to see if I can find out why.”
“Alright. I’ll let you know what I find,” she replied and set to work analyzing the area.
Raith turned and headed for the smoldering remains of the drone. He came across a deep gouge in the rocky surface where it appeared the drone had hit the ground hard next to a four foot wide rift that splintered off the main ravine wall. Glancing down into it, he discovered it ran fairly deep. He aimed the suit’s scanner into the void, but there were no signs of life. He switched on a light and aimed it down as well, but could see no hints of any disturbance to the rocky walls. Nakyla would be along soon enough to further check it. For now, he turned back toward the drone.
He quickly noticed the drone was one of the smaller ones as he arrived. It had the typical cylindrical shape, almost like a giant black pill. Two triangular wings jutted out from its sides and the rear bore a short vertical stabilizer and two open ports he could only assume were the exits for some form of jet propulsion. The city’s engineers had yet to figure out how the things were even capable of flight. There was no opening on the front to suggest any kind of viewing surface. There were just sensors and energy cannons. Everyone was still completely baffled by the drones. Were they living? Were they machines? Who or what controlled them? No one had yet succeeded in deciphering the technology.
Raith knelt beside the smoking wreck after he’d confirmed that it was disabled. Nakyla’s shots had completely blown off the drone’s weapon and had put a sizable crater in what he would call its nose. It was what he noticed on the left wing that drew his attention. Several uniform, parallel scratches marked the side and down to where what looked like a puncture in the seam between body and wing. Perhaps it was damage from blast debris? But he recalled how erratically the drone had been moving before they blasted it. His gloved finger traced the scratches and the inch wide indention in the crease. A trickle could be heard below. Raith knelt beside the mechanical beast and looked under the damaged wing. Green fluid slowly seeped from the area in question. Upon closer investigation, he discovered a severed line at the back edge of the gouge.
Raith quickly sat up. This had not been an accident. Someone or something had deliberately chosen that place to attack the drone to disable it. The scratches on the side suddenly seemed like claw marks. Further examination revealed several more scratches along its dorsal surface that supported the notion that something had been clinging to its surface. He found a few glancing gouges on the right front side near the contraption’s front vent grating. Noise from behind him announced Nakyla’s arrival.
“What do you make of these marks?” he asked when she knelt beside him. She was silent as she began her analysis. After a few minutes, her amber eyes locked with his.
“This drone was attacked before we fired on it. See these marks? These were failed attempts to penetrate this grating. And this,” she explained, pointing to the wing puncture, “This looks like it was done by a very sharp dagger, and was a precision blow that disabled the drone’s maneuverability. Whoever did this knew what they were doing, but it also looks like they went for one hell of a ride. Those claw marks…”
“Someone actually attacked this thing? Where are they now? Did you find any evidence of life back there?”
“Not really. I thought I saw what may have been a single footprint at the edge of that rift back there, but closer examination uncovered no additional evidence that anyone besides us have been there. But I know what I saw from the ship. I saw brown material flowing from the back of this drone.”
Raith cast a quick glace around at the barren landscape. If someone had done this, why were they hiding? Perhaps they were injured…
“Kaden, you see anything at all on the scanners?” he called over the radio.
“No sir, commander. Nothing at all besides you two. No unusual energy readings for miles.”
Raith cast a glance over to Nakyla. “Surely there are not survivors out here choosing to live beyond the protection of the city. We’ve not found any inhabitable areas or water anywhere on the planet since that first attack.”
“I don’t know what to say, Raith. I just know what I saw. Even more bizarre to me is that they would attack the drones. Someone must know more than we do about them to have the confidence to try something insane like this.”
“But where are they now? Why take on the drones without us? This just makes no sense,” he replied with a frustrated sigh.
“Commander! I just picked up five energy signatures heading our way! They’ll be here any minute!” Kaden’s frantic voice called over his headset.
Raith and Nakyla both jumped to their feet with weapons drawn and ready. “Come get us!”
Seconds later, the ship landed not far from them. The rear hatch opened and Bud waved them forward. They quickly made their way over and into the waiting hatchway.
“I’ve got eyes on them, commander! There are five drones straight ahead!” Kaden reported as Bud helped remove Raith’s helmet.
“Get us back in the air and let’s light those things up!” he barked.
Raith felt his stomach drop as the ship lurched off the ground. He quickly backed into the suit’s pod, and soon it opened, allowing him to step out. Nakyla was right behind him. He quickly spotted the rapidly approaching drones as they arrived in the cockpit and Nakyla slid into her place at weapons control. He shot Nakyla a silent command to which she responded with a manic grin.
“Let’s blow these bastards out of the sky!”
Sarhea’s vision was ablaze with furious energy, energy so intense it impaired her ability to see or hear clearly. She sat huddled in a dark nook deep in the narrowest end of the crevasse she’d tumbled into. Her mind tried to make sense of what had gone wrong. Fractured images flashed in her mind but were clouded by the intense heat of fury that radiated from her skin. She felt as if she would catch fire and burn at any second. The vibrations…vibrations of voices and machinery…she could still hear and see them, but she didn’t understand. She struggled to calm herself…had to get the energy under control before it consumed her.
At last she managed to take in a labored breath. It hurt like hell, but afterwards, she felt the heat begin to subside. She let her head fall into her hands as she struggled to make sense of all that had transpired. She’d waited for the drone to come along her hiding place as planned, then had leapt out, landing on its dorsal surface. She’d taken it by surprise, but she herself had been surprised by its power. She recalled being tossed to and fro, remembered clinging to the smooth metal surface with all that she had. She remembered repeatedly trying to thrust her daggers into the beast’s festering black energy, but every time she nearly accomplished her goal, the dark beast had smashed into the walls of the ravine trying to crush her. Her only choice had been to disable it. The moment her dagger found its mark, the flying contraption had launched up out of the ravine and into the morning sun. The sudden light had blinded her, causing her to lose her grip. She remembered flying, falling, tumbling, and finally bouncing down into the crevasse. She remembered pain…
But there had been no time to dwell on the pain. With her body infused with the energy’s power, she’d seen as she never had before. She had been able to see the energy signatures beyond the layers of rock. She had seen her injured quarry, but then watched as another blast of brilliant light connected with it, completely disabling it; but it had not destroyed the festering black heart, had not destroyed the dark energy. It had escaped from its destroyed vessel with the knowledge that she was here and that she had attacked it.
Fury burned anew as she recalled the strange energy signatures of creatures she had not been able to identify. It appeared as if they were cloaked in the same energy the city’s shields were made of and it had concealed the flame of their souls from her detection. They had been searching for her, but her own guiding energy had concealed her presence. Once they had left, she’d climbed from her hiding place and raced after her guides back toward the city. As she neared the towering hulk of rock, she came across more disabled drone vessels. None of them had been damaged enough to dispatch the dark energy that had once resided in them.
The fools! The creatures of this world had no idea what they were dealing with! Every festering black heart that survived fled with new information about this place. Because someone had interfered with her mission, now the enemy knew she was here. Nothing good would come of this. She did not want to involve the city’s military in her plans, but somehow, someone needed to inform them of their folly. If they did not change their methods, she feared she would soon be witnessing the destruction of yet another world. But she could not let that happen…she was tired of running…With the help of her guides, Sarhea easily avoided detection by the outpost guards. She found the ventilation shaft that led back to her secluded quarters and disappeared from sight.
12 April 2014 at 23:28:51 MDT
Sorry for the double update! I forgot to post last week's chapter here and only realized it now. So have two chapters! The next chapters should come on schedule over the weekend for the next several weeks until my current college semester ends-then it will be lots of writing from me!
Sarhea finally goes hunting, while Raith and his team investigate a baffling discovery while testing a new ship.
I'm getting into my favorite parts of this story's beginning, so lots of fun and important things are to come! Hope you enjoy reading! As always, any questions or comments, no matter how trivial, are welcome!