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Authors: Scott Toney

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BOOK: NovaForge
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Chapter 3

 

A steady, aching pulse surged through Julieth’s mind as she opened her eyes. Sunlight blinded her. Her body sweltered in the heat and her throat was parched. The mesh mask she wore clung to her face, digging into its form. She reached up slowly, grabbing the mask with her hand and tearing it away. The essences would protect her from the rust-wind. There was no need to wear it any longer.

“Ugh.” Her body ached as she lay in the street where she fell.
Why am I not dead?
In the sunlight, looking out over the street, she saw the cyborg motionless on the ground. A faint blue light glowed from his metallic eye. Ivanus also lay motionless in the corner of her vision.

Her heart raced. She heard nothing but the wind.
How could that be?
she wondered, and then braced herself to stand.
Surely his weapon would have killed me. What is happening?
She reached back to where her wing had been hit by the cyborg’s blast, feeling fresh muscle and goop where the hole had been. Tiny feathers poked through the flesh. She could not feel it healing, but instead felt a throbbing pain in her back.

What is that sound?
Julieth thought, hearing a muffled noise close by. She scanned the street, at first seeing nothing but the cyborg and Ivanus’s bodies, but as she listened to the low noise she saw a youth’s figure in the shadows, hunched against a building’s wall. It held its head in its hands. It was crying.

Bayne?
she thought, careful to be stealth as she went to him. She caught the breeze in her wings and used it to lift her higher on her feet so that she could not be heard. It was him, she could see him clearly now as she approached.

“Bayne,” she said lowly, putting her hand on his shoulder. “Why are you here?”

Bayne startled and then calmed as he looked up at Julieth, wiping tears from his eyes. He stood up to embrace her. “I thought you would die,” he said, shaking in her arms. “What happened? One moment the metallic man aimed his weapon at you, and the next a force hit and you all fell to the ground.”

“I don’t know.” She continued holding the boy and wrapped her wings around them both.
We are not safe,
she thought, keeping her eyes fixed on the borg.
Whatever did this, the effects wore off on me and could wear off on them as well.

Julieth suddenly realized the opportunity that presented itself. “Stay here,” she told Bayne. She lifted into the air, just slightly off the ground, and flew near the metallic man.
I do not want to kill,
she thought,
but you have left me no choice. And you may not be a man at all, because you certainly don’t have the heart of one.
She slowly drew a fire-powdered arrow from her quiver and leveled it at the cyborg’s skull. She was about to release it when she heard him speak.

“Samuel,” the borg mumbled in subconscious distress. “…no…no, I will not. You cannot have me.” He jolted and then grabbed his weapon. Blue light charged up the gun and over his limbs as he leveled the weapon at an empty part of the street, blasting a hole in a structure with a massive burst of electricity.

A second later, a contingent of his mercenary warriors turned into the street and charged with swords drawn to attack Julieth and Ivanus.

“No! You cannot have me!” The cyborg leveled his weapon at the mercenaries and fired again and again, disintegrating them and spreading the remains of their bodies over the street. He staggered backwards. “Who are you?” he asked Julieth in panic, aiming the weapon at her. “Where is Samuel?”

Julieth was taken aback. The cyborg had seemingly helped them. “The great bishop is far away from us,” she told him while keeping her arrow trained on his forehead. “He sent you to destroy our city.”

“No… it can’t be,” the borg said. “I was there. I was so close. He must have entered my mind.”

“You are in Kaskal. Do you mean my people harm?” she asked.

“No.” He lowered his weapon, a look of exhaustion and loss in his eyes.

This could all be a ruse,
Julieth thought, unwilling to lower her arrow. “Then put down your weapon so that I can restrain you.”

The borg leveled the weapon at her again. “A warrior is not controlled.”

Ivanus had come to, staggering in their direction, his sword and shield braced before him. As he reached them he laid his sword on the ground and reached a hand out. “May I touch you?”

The borg did not answer, but did not move to avoid Ivanus.

Ivanus placed a hand on his skin, closing his eyes and then opening them. “He has neither a good nor an evil heart. I can sense that in him. And somehow, because there are essences in us both, I believe I can sense he means what he says.”

“Then I will trust you as well.” The borg put his gun before him, and then kicked it forward with his massive mechanical leg. “I am Riad,” he spoke. “I attacked Samuel’s citadel, and had him in my sights before falling to darkness and awakening here.”

Ivanus picked up his sword and came near Julieth as she landed on the cobble street. Bayne stood behind them, watching intently. The sounds of battle reemerged in their ears.

“You can trust him,” Ivanus said. “I can
see
that he will let you restrain him.”

“Are you positive?” she asked, her arrow ready to loose at the borg’s skull.

“Yes.”

Riad held his hands behind his back and turned. The gears moving in the wrist of his cybernetic hand gave her pause.

Julieth reached back to a pocket on her quiver, removing a silver tube and pressing it against the borg’s flesh wrist. Instantly a chain of light circled his wrists, tightly binding them together. She looked to Ivanus. “Leave the sword and take his gun. We need to move him deeper in the city, to the prison, so that we can continue to fight. Bayne cannot remain here, either.” The light chain was a piece of technology passed down generation after generation in her family from the time before the meteor ages ago. Most technology was gone, but a few pieces like this still remained. This small artefact had served her well.

“Wait,” the borg’s metallic voice spoke. He slowly turned to face them. “I can be much more useful as an ally than a prisoner.”

“You led them here.” Julieth re-aimed her arrow. “We can’t trust you.”

“You could keep my gun and energy mines. That weapon could destroy me with a few blasts.” He eyed the gun in Ivanus’s hands. “With just my limbs I could be of use.”

Julieth looked to Ivanus. “What do you think? Do we trust him?”

Ivanus closed his eyes for a moment, as if sensing something. “There are many of the mercenary army remaining. He would greatly increase our odds. I am not a warrior, and I do not know about you, but here we have a man who seems to know war.”

BOOM!
A loud blast rang from close by and smoke roiled above them across the rooftops.

Julieth put her arrow back in her quiver and slung her bow over her back. “Where are the mines?” she asked. A compartment on his cybernetic arm clicked open and she looked at ten mines that were being held there. “You can keep them,” she said, realizing that to have them on her could prove just as dangerous as Riad keeping them. The compartment closed again, without being touched.
This man could break free of my restraint,
she realized. With the tap of her finger to the tube of the restraint, the chain of light retracted. She took the tube and placed it back in her quiver’s pocket.

“We are needed in the fight,” Ivanus said as another blast shook the ground beneath them.

Julieth looked back at Bayne. “Head back!” she called to him. “Stay in the shadows! We will meet up when the enemy either retreats or is defeated!”

Bayne hesitated for a moment and then went to Ivanus’s discarded shield, hefting it before him as protection. “Be safe!” Bayne called out. “I lost my mother! I cannot lose you!”

Julieth watched as he disappeared down an alleyway behind them. “You will need to lead us,” she told Ivanus, “because you can
see
what we cannot.”

“Most of the enemy is in the city’s center,” Ivanus said. “And we could use the streets, but we will probably be discovered.”

“You sound as if you have something else in mind,” Julieth said.

“Yes, did you know of the underground passages beneath Kaskal?”

“I vaguely remember being there once as a youth,” Juieth told him. “Are you saying those passages can help us now?”

“They are not being used, and there is an entrance to them not far off. Will you be able to travel in a more confined space without damaging your wings?”

Julieth thought of how fast her wing healed after taking the blast from Riad’s weapon. “It seems that I will need to.”

She quickly followed Ivanus, with Riad beside her, careful to keep a close eye on the borg. He was still a threat and she didn’t know what she would do about him once the conflict ended, but she had made the decision to trust him now, and she could not change her mind. They reached an older storefront with a sagging roof and the trio ducked in its entranceway.

“Over here.” Ivanus motioned to them as he kneeled on timeworn planks of wood. Wooden floors were scarce, because for so long trees and other vegetation had been gone from the planet. Portions of the wood floor were worn away and clay earth had replaced where they had been. But where Ivanus pointed, Julieth saw metal where pieces of plank were missing.

“A door?” Julieth asked.

“A passageway.” Ivanus propped his large gun on the floor and gripped a metallic latch that rose up from the wood. He strained, but could not open the latch.

“Use the weapon,” Julieth said, while backing away from the passageway.

Riad did not move.

Ivanus braced the gun in both hands and backed away. Light exploded in the room as a blast erupted, disintegrating the door as metallic smoke swept over them, lingering in the air.

As smoke dissipated from the blast, Julieth peered into the passageway’s darkness. “How do we see?” she asked.

“I can see in the dark,” Riad said as his cybernetic eye adjusted, taking on an eerie glow. “And I can help with your sight as well.” Crevices over his cybernetic arm and leg lit with blue light. The borg reached over, touching the gun, and it also vibrantly lit with blue. “We will need to extinguish the light before we reemerge, but it should work well.”

“Agreed.” Julieth took the restraint tube from her quiver’s pack and touched it to her wrist. The light chain swept around it, providing its faint glow.

They descended carefully into the darkness of the tunnel, rusted lamps lining its walls and the skeletons of long-dead animals littering the floor. The light of Riad’s cybernetics and of the gun Ivanus held gave off an eerie glow as they cautiously made their way toward the city’s center.

“These passages have not been used in so long,” Julieth said as she led up the rear. This portion seemed to have been completely forgotten. She took a regular arrow from her quiver and strung it back in her bow, aiming it forward at Riad, but prepared to instantly adjust should some other enemy surprise them in the labyrinth of underground veins beneath the streets.

A chilled breeze swept over Julieth, sending goose bumps over her flesh and pricking the tissue of her wings where feathers attached. She was amazed at how certainly Ivanus led them, and at how well he could know their city without being from there.

The tunnel carved out of earth slowly began taking shape before them, changing from more of a burrow to a square passage with a worn stone walk. Dust-covered signs marked the walls. Julieth eyed steel doors and dark passages as they passed.
What was this place used for,
she wondered,
and why have my people not used it for centuries?

Ivanus halted suddenly and Riad and Julieth stopped with him.

“Bayne will reach safety soon,” Ivanus spoke back to Julieth. “I can sense it.”

“Thank you,” she replied in lowered voice. “Do we near the depth of the fighting?”

“Shortly.” Ivanus’s voice came back to her. “I wanted to speak here, where I knew we could not be heard. Your people battle the largest group of mercenaries nearby.”

“Once we are beneath them we can strike,” Julieth spoke. “We can destroy the street above with Riad’s weapon and fight our way from inside where the enemy holds its position. And it will be important that once we are above ground, Riad strikes the enemy hard and where he is visible. If he is not quickly known to have joined our side, then the people of Kaskal may attack us as well.”

“I will make sure to be seen,” Riad said. “And might I suggest we use a mine for the street above, and not the gun.”

“You know these weapons best,” Ivanus said and led them forward again. “We must go now, to have the moment we need to strike.”

“How do you know it is the right moment?” Julieth asked. “Just because you see the future does not mean it will work out well.”

Ivanus turned to her, the electric blue light sending waves of illumination and shadow over his features. “You’re right, I don’t know what would be best, but I do know what will happen for a few moments beyond now. We will be there. We will fight at the time I see now. It is the future. We have no choice.”

BOOK: NovaForge
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