((77 — Distant Lights))
July 2nd, 802 AT.
The wan voidlight illuminated a tired scene. Kiara still lay unconscious on her coat, with Umbra standing guard over her. Not far off, Noh’s fog had gone opaque hours earlier, after the surgery. Chun was curled up in a ball on top of Torrential, who was lying down with his beak under one wing. Reno was the only one awake, pacing uncomfortably, absent-mindedly spinning her crystal dagger through her fingers.
Spider stepped out of Noh and walked back to the group, holding her arms. She looked older now, her eyes grave and heavy with dark circles. Scorpia scuttled up behind her.
Seth emerged from the dark shadows of his demon behind her, and cleared his throat a bit. “Yo. Guys.” He glanced around. “Err. Gals. Whatever. Someone wanna wake Chun for a tic?”
A faint groan came from Kiara, as she raised her head slightly, looking around, finally starting to wake up. Umbra curled up next to her, still in gryphon form.
Seth sighed at the complete lack of action from his fellows. “Alright. I will myself.” He trudged over to Chun and prodded her with his foot.
Torrential was the first to stir. He lifted his head, in doing so knocking Chun tumbling to the ground. She sat up, abruptly very awake. “Whu—oh, hey guys.”
Kiara sat up a little further, resting on one elbow. Umbra flowed under her, stabilizing her. “Anything… happen, while I was out?”
Spider shook her head. “Not really. We can’t stay here forever, though.” She glanced over at Seth.
“…yeah,” he said. “But ‘fore we go. One, uh, minor note.”
“What?” Kiara asked tiredly.
“What just happened back there? Let’s not do it again.”
“Agreed.” Chun got up and brushed herself. Beside her, Torrential mimicked her, ruffling his feathers.
“The whole killing people who thought we were demons thing. It’s… that was not good.” Seth looked off to the side. “There’s gotta be a better way to go about things than… doing what I did. And what that caused you guys to do.”
Reno shifted her eyes upwards. “Well,” she said. “They DID try to kill us. So it’s justified.”
“So, uh.” Spider cleared her throat, and changed the subject quickly. “I figured it’d be safer if we didn’t go charging in with our demons. I think I should fly in first, and try and talk with them. Maybe get a map and find a place for you guys to enter without being spotted, or provide a distraction.” She shifted her feet, obviously a little uncomfortable with this half-formed plan.
Kiara frowned. “And why wouldn’t they just… shoot you, Spider? That’s what they tried before.”
“Well, they’ll wonder how I got to the base, but I won’t have a demon with me.”
“Well, duh.” Kiara blinked at Spider in confusion. “But how do you plan to get in without using your demon?”
“Uh…” Spider scratched her head. “I can fly.”
“Oh. Good… good point.” Kiara closed her eyes, fading back into sleep somewhat.
Spider laughed half-heartedly. “Guess she’s a little more out than she thought… anyway, you guys can NOT bring your demons into the base. It’ll cause a panic, and it’s likely that you’ll just kill everyone. We can’t do that.”
“Yeah,” said Chun. “But someone will see us coming on our demons. It will cause panic either way.”
“You guys don’t come in on demons!” Spider said. “I’ll go alone. Find a way for you guys to come in without being noticed.”
“I’m with Spider on this one, yo,” said Seth. “Worst case, we bring in the cavalry. As a backup.”
Reno tensed a little. “How long do you think we’ll be separated from our demons?”
Spider looked to Seth for support. “Shit, I don’t know. Either you guys wait here, or I bring you without your demons, which will take a while to go back and forth.”
Kiara sat up again, rousing. “Mine can hide… if she chooses. She can help. And… I’ll need her to walk.” She glanced uncomfortably down at the stump of her leg.
Seth glanced away. “We can help you move, Kiara. Actually… perhaps we can use that as an excuse to get in.”
“I was just thinking that!” Spider said.
Kiara raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Explain…?”
Seth half-grinned at Spider, then turned to Kiara. “People see injured person. We get help. They’re much less likely to be suspicious. We’re much more likely to get in… without incident.”
“So we’re using Kiara’s injury as our ticket in?” said Reno, as Caf came up behind her, nuzzling her.
Spider rocked back on her heels. “But we’ll be showing up at the base out of nowhere. We don’t exactly have a ship…”
“If more ships fly overhead we could hijack one,” said Chun.
“Uh.” Spider’s eyes widened. “We do have a ship. We have a ship that’s been in a recent accident.” She looked out at the Void. Sure enough, the ship they had damaged was still drifting, not far off. The gaping hole in its side made it list slightly to port, but other than that it was still functional. Spider jerked her thumb at it.
Seth grinned. “This just might work.”
Spider nodded. “Bet you I can get it working again if there’s any problem. We should still probably leave our demons here, so they don’t get detected.”
“Wouldn’t we still be noticed, though?” Kiara asked from the ground. “I would think they’d recognize their own ship.”
“Sector One is big, right?” Spider said. “And we have someone who’s seriously hurt. They might not pay close attention.”
“We could tell them that the crew valiantly saved us from demons but tragically died,” suggested Reno.
Seth nodded again. “It might not be perfect, but I think it’s our best bet.”
Reno was looking very apprehensive. It was clear that the idea of being separated from Caf was not an appealing one by any stretch of the imagination.
Noticing, Seth looked at her flatly. “Reno. You’ve got two options. Stay here with Caf, or come alone.”
Caf nudged Reno in the back. She turned around and looked her beloved in the eyes forlornly. The girl stood up and cupped Caf’s head in her hands, leaning their foreheads together.
Kiara rolled her eyes. “Anyway, let’s… rehearse our story in more detail. In case they ask. Also… we might be able to sneak one demon in…”
Seth furrowed his brow. “Is the risk worth taking, though?”
“I’m useless without Umbra, right now. Besides…” The demon slid into Kiara’s faint shadow, and faded into it. The shadow darkened, but the demon was quite unnoticeable. “She is a shadow.”
“Huh,” said Spider. “That is a cool trick. Okay. So, maybe we were flying our own ship, but it got attacked by demons. That’s what the other ship picked up on. They rescued us, but died in the process?”
“Drove the demons off?” Kiara said. “Or killed them?”
“I say killed,” Seth said. “That way they won’t go looking for them. If they think there’s an immediate threat, they’ll start looking, and maybe find ours. That is not what we want.”
“Okay, I’m going over to the ship to see if it’s still working. You guys finish up the story.” Spider fell upwards into the mist, heading towards the damaged the ship.
Reno withdrew from Caf, suddenly looking steady of mind. “So why were we out here?”
“Refugees from Four,” Seth said.
“We should get going,” Chun said quietly. “If we arrive too late they may get suspicious.” Without another word, Torrential hopped to the edge of the crystal and took off towards the ship, Chun on his back.
“Let’s move.” Seth jumped up onto Noh and followed Chun. Umbra and Caf lifted off close behind, carrying Kiara and Reno. They approached the bullet-shaped ship, and one by one stepped off of their demons, through the massive rend in the side of the ship. Chun saluted Torrential, who flew back down. Caf and Noh, though, stayed alongside the ship for the moment.
Spider was inside, bent over the controls. “It’s all working here still, thankfully.”
Seth glanced around. “Any recent journals?”
“Umm…” Spider started to check the bookshelf, then remembered that she couldn’t read. “Uh, take a look.”
Umbra flowed into the space under Kiara’s stump, becoming a shadowy leg. Slowly, Kiara made her way to the bookshelf and pulled down the most recent journal. The last update had been about a week earlier, and was just a quick few notes on an uneventful few days of patrolling. Kiara nodded. “Good. Nothing.”
“Alright, let’s go then.” Spider moved towards the controls. “Um. So. Not that I don’t technically know how to fly a ship, but… does anyone else know how to fly one better than I do?”
“I can get by, but I’m not very good,” Kiara said.
Spider shook her head. “You’re really out of it, Kiara.”
Seth flicked a hand, and Noh drifted away towards the crystal they’d been on. “I’ll take it from here.” He stepped to the controls and sat in the pilot’s chair. “All ready?”
Reno took one last look at Caf. Nothing was said. It was all in their eyes. Reno clenched her hand ever so slightly before releasing it again. "Ready."
Kiara braced herself against the bookshelf. “Ready.”
Spider nodded. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”
Seth cracked his knuckles, grinning. “So uh. It’s been a while since I last did this. This should be go.” His hands flicked a control, and the ship accelerated at an uncomfortable speed, lurching heavily to one side.
Kiara stumbled and fell, despite her bracing. She seemed to give up on standing at that point and plopped down on the floor. Umbra disappeared into her shadow.
Chun laughed uproariously as the ship continued to rock and shake. “This is FUN!”
Spider was unmoved by the motions of the ship. “So, right, what’s the rest of our story—” She shut up quickly as the radio on the control panel beeped loudly. Seth barely managed to stifle an ironic laugh.
A male voice came from the radio. "Astartes, Astartes, this is Sector One, do you read?" The words were followed by a half-masked yawn.
“Hey,” Seth replied. “This isn’t Astartes but, uh, we read. Unless Astartes is this ship, in which case… yeah.”
“… you’re… yeah, Astartes is…” The man on the other end sighed. “You know what, I don’t even care.”
Spider glanced at Seth. She stepped from the wall to normal gravity and walked to the console. “We need help, one of our crew members has been really hurt!” She tried to sound as panicky as possible.
“Yeah? Lemme guess, refugees from Sector Four? Stragglers?”
“That we are,” Seth said.
“Well, all of the landing fields are full. Courtesy of the other refugees. Should still be room on the roof of Tanique Hall, though.”
“Spiffy. I can see this ending smoothly already.” Seth rolled his eyes.
“Listen. I’ve directed something like a hundred and fifty refugees ships in the last forty-eight hours. And gotten a grand total of oh… six hours of sleep. Maybe.” The radio operator’s voice was frustrated. "So if you would kindly just shut up and go where the data points you..."
“At least you have two legs,” Spider snapped.
The radio broke into what sounded like static, which quickly resolved into a cracking, coughing laugh.
Spider ignored it. “One of our crew, not so much. Can you send someone to help?”
The laughter trailed off, but the voice now carried a tone of bitter sarcasm. “Yeah, I can totally spare a medic for your injured friend. By which I mean nope, sorry. Between the refugees and the riots, all the hospitals are jam-packed or shut down entirely.”
Seth muted the mic for a moment. “At least no one will be suspicious of us getting in.” He flipped it back on again. “Alright. Let’s just land this thing.” As if on cue, a green light winked on on the console.
“Did you get the telemetry data?”
“Fan-fucking-tastic. Sector One so very over and out.” The radio crackled off.
Seth laughed. “Riots, eh? This might be easier than we thought. That, or very, very messy.”
“Wow. This place sounds lovely,” Spider snickered. “Bet no one really notices.”
Chun grinned. “You know? I almost want to show up on Torrential, just to add to that guy’s bad day.” Spider shot her a cold look, and she shrugged vaguely apologetically, then grabbed a random book off of the bookshelf and settled down to read it.
((78 — Unite))
Following the data, they slowly orbited the crystal. After about half an hour, the city came into view, nestled in its crevice between the massive crystal spires. “Nice,” said Reno with a chink in her voice that was most unlike her.
Chun jumped up and shoved the book in her bag, marveling at the sight. Spider helped Kiara to the window, and smiled as the younger girl pulled out her own notebook, and began sketching a rough image.
Spider admired the massive-scale architecture as the ship came in low over the city. “Impressive,” she said quietly. In several places, especially around the base of the crystal tower in the center, she could see large riot mobs. She looked away, turning to Seth. “You guys don’t have any idea where your friend is being held captive?”
He shook his head as he brought the ship up towards one of the side spires. “Cyc told us about the prison at Sector One, The Complex, but nothing specific. He’s gotta be in there, but no clue where it is.”
“There’s gotta be a map somewhere in this city. Man, it is big!” She looked back out the window as their destination came into view. She smiled at the immense columns along its front, noting how they structurally compensated for the glass wall behind them.
One ship was already on the roof of Tanique Hall. It was a little larger than theirs, with a pair of engines on either side in rotating gimbals. Seth raised an eyebrow. “Great. A roof. Hope I don’t hit that other ship. Could get awkward.” He reached a hand up and brushed his red-tipped bangs out of his eyes.
“Don’t… crash…” said Reno, still with the unusual stutter in her voice.
Seth fiddled with the controls, trying to slow the already-shaky ship down a bit. It jerked its way down towards the rooftop, coming to rest… just above the roof.
With a shudder, the engines cut out, and the ship dropped the remaining foot to the surface. It landed with a resounding crash, hitting and rolling slightly to one side.
“Oh woah!” Spider didn’t move, leaving her now floating a foot about the deck of the ship. “Uh, let’s get out. Now.” She pointed towards the hole in the side of the ship.
Seth nodded. “My work here is done.” He hopped off, blowing a kiss to the smoking wreckage as he did. Chun grinned, and jumped out behind him.
Kiara gritted her teeth, wincing with pain. “Someone want to help me?” Spider set herself down and walked to Kiara, offering an arm. Kiara took it, pulling herself to her… foot. Umbra slipped quickly into her shadow, and they awkwardly made their way down onto the roof.
Reno finally released the support bar she had been gripping, though it was not particularly clear whether this was because she had chosen to let go or because enough sweat had accumulated that her fingers simply slid off of it. She exited the ship, almost tripping over herself as she did.
“Want a hand there, Reno?” Seth actually seemed a little concerned.
“Yeah, that’d be great, Seth,” said Reno, reaching out an arm to him. Seth offered his own, and she rested her weight awkwardly against him.
Spider adjusted her grip on Kiara. “Right, we better get you someplace to rest… if they have any beds left.”
“I doubt they do… but that would be nice. I’d be good with a crutch, though, I think. At least for now.”
“We’ll find something of the sort,” Spider assured her.
Chun readjusted her backpack and slid her goggles over her eyes. “We should stick together, since there are riots.”
Spider nodded, and reached for the door in the small structure atop the roof. Just as she did, it swung open, and a small woman stepped out. Both started and jumped back in surprise.
The woman laughed slightly. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.” She was dressed simply, in a long green overcoat tied with a plain belt. "Hello, you all must be the new arrivals. We got word there'd be another group landing here..."
“Hi,” Spider said nervously. “Uh, do you think you could help us out?”
“Of course, we’re happy to. We haven’t got much, but, well, no one thinks to go to a Library when there’s a crisis on, do they?” She let out another awkward laugh, tucking a strand of wild red hair behind her ear. “Sorry, where are my manners? I’m Delissa, one of the junior librarians.”
“Right.” Spider smiled slightly. “Um, I’m Spider.”
The girl raised an eyebrow over her thick glasses. “Spider, huh? What is it with you Sector Four folk and your animal names?”
“Anemal names?” Spider cocked her head. “Right, uh, we’re strange like that?”
Chun tried to look composed, which ended up with her looking like she was just frowning hard. “I’m Chun.”
Kiara smiled, though it looked a bit strained. She leaned a bit more exaggeratedly on Spider. “I’m Kiara.”
“Seth.” He waved a hand.
Spider glanced at Kiara, then back to Delissa. “Listen, our friend is hurt. Is there a place she could lie down? Or at least a crutch or something?”
“Of course, of course, let’s get you inside.” She gestured for them to follow her, and started down the stairs into the building. As she walked, she called up to them. "We've got a few spare beds in the living quarters here, there should be room for you."
Delissa led the Talons down a long corridor, passing a number of side doors. Eventually she came to one with the door hanging half-open, and pushed inside. She called out as she walked to the door. "Hello? Owl? Are you here?" When no answer came, she shrugged and walked the rest of the way in.
“Wait, wait!” Spider halted abruptly, causing Kiara to grimace in pain. “What? Owl? What?” She looked around, distressed and flustered, her hair seemingly more everywhere than normal.
The room inside was lined with fairly average beds and amenities—tables and lamps here and there. "Owl's the other girl staying here... her and her friend Skunk, but I think Skunk had to run off somewhere. They came in on the other ship on the roof." Delissa smiled, helping Spider lower Kiara into one of the beds. "Friends of yours from Sector Four?"
“Uh, yeah…there we just the two of them?”
Delissa nodded as she filled a glass of water from a faucet in the corner of the room, handing it to Kiara.
“Tch. Owl and Skunk I can deal with. It’s that other one.” Seth spat.
Spider pulled her mouth to the side and shrugged. “Well… I supposed I’ll see them at some point.” She looked at the others. “If you see Owl or Skunk tell them…” She paused the words on her tongue.
“Tell them what?” Kiara asked.
“Tell them… I’m here, I guess.” She looked down, and crossed her arms. “Anyway, we should get a map, that’d be great.”
“Yeah, uh. We need to… find our friend’s house,” Chun said slowly.
Satisfied that Kiara was settled, Delissa nodded. “Hold on, I’ll be back in a minute with one.
“Thanks,” said Chun as the woman ran out of the woman. She stood there, looking around the room awkwardly. It was fairly spartan, but not uncomfortably so.
Reno gently detached herself from Seth’s grip and sat down on another bed, rubbing her temples. Spider sat down, her legs and arms both crossed. She didn’t look like anything, face completely blank.
Seth dropped the remains of a cig from his mouth, leaned against the wall, and lit a new one. “So we get Cyc back. Then what?”
No one responded for a long minute.
Spider looked away from them all. “No one knows what to do,” she hissed under her breath.
Seth sighed. “One step at a time, then.”
The door pushed open again, and Delissa came in, holding a piece of paper. She handed the map to Reno, who was closest. “So where did you say your friend lived?”
“Um… did he specify a district?” Kiara asked from the bed, looking to Seth.
Reno handed the map off to Seth, who blinked. “I uh,” he started. “I think we can take it from here.”
Delissa shrugged. "Alright. I think I'm going to try to find Owl!"
“Great!” Spider perked her head up.
The librarian smiled warmly. "You want to come? She should still be wandering around the archives in the basement somewhere."
Spider looked around at the others. “Uh… I don’t think you guys need me. I can come back and keep Kiara company?”
“Your choice, Spider,” Seth said. “I know where I’m headed. Have an old friend to see.”
“Yeah… I guess I do too.” Spider grinned faintly. She stood up, and nodded at Delissa. “Yeah, let’s go find them.”
“Great! Come on.” She walked out of the door, motioning with one hand for Spider to follow. Spider did so, waving her friends farewell.
Chun looked at Kiara. “I should stay here with her. Make sure her condition doesn’t worsen again… besides, I can go looking in the library for any relevant medical books.
Seth shrugged, then turned to Reno. “That leaves us, then.”
Reno nodded, and pointed to a spot on the map in his hand. “There’s the Complex,” she said quietly. “Right at the base of the central spire.”
Seth grinned. “Then let’s book it. We’ve got a Cyclops to find…”