"He had no right. I don't care." Zeal mumbled, stalking over to her study. Checking her messages, she saw at least three from Gasper, and erased them; Yet another from some fans, who had happened to find her address at the Complex, and one from Icy Brian, requesting her presence for a briefing on a mission at 0750 hours. Setting them aside, she drifted to the plush chair at the desk, and sunk into it. Typing a command into her keyboard she brought up the message that Brian had sent about ten minutes ago. Sneering, she twisted herself to the right, and grasped the Virtual Reality Headset. Slipping it over her eyes, she put on the accompanying gloves, and typed in a series of commands on her computer. The Neural circuits in the headset scanned her retinas, and then worked themselves into her consciousness, bringing her into a different plane of the universe. Flashes of lights shot out from the screen, and ZealPropht closed her eyes, scanning the Fields of Earth's magical elements. She stayed there for hours, scanning and manipulating the various elemental fields till she could gather no more information. Exhausted after the days activities, almost sleep-walking into her private quarters. Circling around her "bed", which was more of a nest then anything; with cushions covering its bowl like shape, she slumped down, lying back into its comfortable padding. Closing her eyes, she was asleep inside three minutes.
After working most of the day on Falcon's battered hull with Saul, Steve walked up the loading ramp, nearly hitting his head instead of lowering it to avoid the archway. Slipping into the Comm Center, he banged out a couple of apologies to Zeal, then read the incoming message from Brian about the 0750 mission briefing he was expected to attend. Sighing, he leaned back and rubbed his eyes, yawning. Stumbling to one of the billets, Steve plunged into a quarry of sleep rocks.
The early dawn sun flowed through the windows of the LOF Complex's Main Conference room windows. Steve, feeling groggy from the previous day, sat in one of the more plush chairs, sipping on a large mug of coffee. He always loved the way the caffeine would fuse with the blood and help him wake a little more before major briefings and during college, various classes during his years at college. Sipping on the steaming beverage, he turned and gazed at the doorway as Zeal walked in. Feeling the coolness in the air, he shrugged, and turned back to the portrait that was the horizon. Icy Brian and Taran also joined them, each looking droopy eyed and weary.
"Not much sleep last night Icy?" Steve commented. Icy gave him a mock look of anger while Taran laughed quietly to himself.
"You could say that. To answer any questions right off the bat, yes, this is an early morning mission, and I apologize, but it's going to take us that long with the various groups we need to visit."
"M' flying aren't I?" Steve sighed. Not that the he didn't want to. He relished in the fact that he was able to fly the Stormrunner into very stressful situations, but he was always wary if there was human cargo.
"Yeah, more then likely. After what happened to the group yesterday, I want the firepower. How soon can the ship be ready?" Brian asked.
Steve shrugged. "I still need to fill the launchers with missiles, but I would say 'bout half an hour at least. That is if I get some help." He looked over to the other three. Zeal returned his stare with a raised eyebrow indicating her burning desire to flash fry him. He backed off, and continued. "If that's all ya needed me from me, I'll be in the Landing bay, come on down when you're ready, and bring any weapons ya want." With that, he set his cup of Joe down and walked away to the elevators that would take him to the Bay.
Icy nodded then looked back at the knight and prophet. "Basically, it's an information gathering mission. Wandering Prophet's group didn't send us anything we asked for, and further leads suggest that he and his group were wiped out late last night." Taran turned pale, and folded his hands together in a quick word of prayer. Zeal let the information have the desired impact, and felt remorse for her counterpart in the North Sea. Turning, she looked to Brian again.
"There's no reports of magical phenomenon happening at the time you say there was the communications black out, so I'd say this was an event that an orbital bombardment was used. I'd have to check with Minmei, but that's just my guess." Brian nodded and looked over to Taran.
"There's been nothing to signify a massive loss of life other then the usual deaths that occur each day." The Soul Knight replied.
"All right then. Let's reconvene at 0825 for now. But we're in alert status. Thanks for your time you two, and make your arrangements now." Brian smiled, sitting back in his chair to look at the still rising sun.
"Can I help you Gasp?" Taran walked in to the hanger to see Steve hanging upside-down, installing a circuit board into a slot by the missile launchers. Finishing the job, Steve looked over to the Soul Knight, and made his way down.
"Sorry man, almost done." Righting himself, he grabbed a portable magnetic handhold that he had created recently, and dropped to the ground. "You all ready?" Steve asked. Taran nodded his head. Walking up the loading ramp, he made his way to passenger area, and set his equipment into one of the lockers. Steve smiled at the young warriors exuberance to help out. Zeal was next to enter the Landing bay. Walking in with her battle armor covering the noblemen's suit she usually wore. Walking up the ramp, Steve tried to keep from making eye contact, considering she might still be angered by his actions. Brian was last, and with his crew aboard, Steve put away the equipment he was using to work on Storm and joined them inside. Heading into the cockpit area, he turned his back to his female co-pilot, and made sure any switches that needed to be pushed were in proper order. The delay tactic was for not, as Zeal turned and smiled smugly.
"I've already checked your systems, they are ready to go. All you need to do is push the gas pedal." Her scathing comment when through him like a meat grater, as he sat in his chair, and flipped a comm switch.
"LOF Control, this is Stormrunner asking for clearance to launch." Steve said into the microphone. There was a pop, and a voice on the other came through.
"This is Control, you have clearance, good flying to you all." Steve heard the greeting, and immediately hit the thrusters, easing himself out of the hanger, and onto the runway. A large metal plate came up behind the ship, to cover any one or thing from the blast of the sub-light engines. Steve cranked more power into the engines, and the ship literally blasted up and away from the island.
Within 20 minutes they were in the North Sea, under stealth mode to hide from the various radar systems of countries in Europe. Though they were an official organization with the United Nations, few knew their existence. This made for specialized funding coming directly from a subcommittee on world development and defense, with the legislation and such being under special codes and ordinances. Effectively, this made them unknown, and well funded, with enough money to keep the various groups in operation. Radar was modified to any member nation, letting any transponder code go unnoticed when activated on a ship. Steve made sure his was automatic, adding it into the preflight checklist. Knowing that it was still a good idea to avoid non-member nation radar, he flew low over the water, coming upon an island that was not on any navigational charts to air and sea transports. It was relatively small, with a few dots of barren earth, but mostly covered by trees. The group, named Royal Guardians, was a consortium of many different people from many different countries. Though most were from the various nations of Europe, a few were from outside European Union boundaries.
Steve angled off to the south of the island, letting his sensors pick up some information. "You say Wandering Prophet is here Taran?" The knight walked into the cockpit, and nodded his head.
"Yeah, at least, that was yesterday morning it could've been late for them. I sometimes forget time change."
"Not a problem." Steve chuckled, swinging the large ship around, while ZP looked up from the sensor readings.
"There could be. I have no signs of life, and no energy signatures from the base. Either they're in power down mode, or the base is gone."
Taran arched an eyebrow. "They're gone? But who would do such a thing? They have state of the art defenses "
Steve continued the sentence, " and a damn good fighter team. Hell, I trained with Celes and Cros here for a while. Look at those scorch marks dammit, it was a raid." Steve cursed under his breath. "BRIAN!" He yelled for their team leader to come to the cockpit, and within seconds Icy Brian stood in the archway.
"I'm landing any problems with it?" Brian shook his head, closing his eyes.
"Another one " the paladin said, almost shaken by the loss of another group. "Yeah, try for that patch about a quarter of a mile out."
"Okay, everyone buckle in." The three followed the pilot's advice, with Zeal putting her hands on the co-pilot's controls. "ZP, on three, switch to repulsor lifts." The repulsor lifts were divided among the ship, letting it float on a large cushion of air to land. Hitting the switch for landing gear, Steve set the Storm down softly. Sighing, he unbuckled and started his post-flight checklist, quickly finishing as to be on guard for attack.
"Aren't you going to leave it on standby?" Questioned Zeal.
"Hon, if anything wanted to blow my ship away, they woulda done it already." Zeal hit him in the arm, a sneer crossing her face.
"Don't call me 'hon'!" Steve raised an eyebrow, and then exited the cockpit before the rest could. Walking to his locker, he opened it, grabbed his weapons, along with a grenade or two, and hit the switch to the loading ramp. The Hydraulic lift whined to life, along with the hissing sound of the breaking of internal Life support environmental seals. Steve stepped out and surveyed the surrounding area, noticing the hulk of dead building. The Guardian's base was designed differently, set to a more sprawling complex then the Legion's four-tiered base of operations. A few dead trees still carried the flame of destruction, along with sections of the building. Brian stepped up behind him, and started giving orders.
"Taran, find what's left of the hard discs from their main system. I want the whole thing. Should be in a large, armored box of sorts. Zeal, check for signs of magic use, along with any traces of life. Gasper, you and I search the grounds. You take point." Sighing once more, he stated. "Be on your toe's people. I want a full team with me on the return trip." The three nodded, and went off on their various tasks.
The large orange beast Nanaki paced back and forth in front of the force field that was holding him. After three months of capture, he'd still not found a way out of the cell, and he was becoming less hopeful of any sort of escape or rescue attempt. Repike looked on from across the energy field.
"You again. What do you want with me now? You've poked and prodded enough I demand you release me-"
"You are in no place to demand anything. I control you, and I will do whatever I want with you. All you are to me is some lab animal that I can test, and if I want to cut you open, all I have to do is flood your playpen with gas, and you'll be sitting in front of me on a plate for my dinner." Repike smiled, having wanted to give that threat for a while. "Oh please don't get me wrong, you're still useful, but I can accomplish my plans just the same without you." And with that, Repike's enjoyment for the day was over as he walked out of the cellblock. Nanaki dropped his head, and then laid down on the floor, falling into yet another nightmarish sleep.
Repike entered his private throne room and read the messages he had received from department heads. Reading one that piqued his interests, he summoned his Apprentice to his side. In minutes, the masked man entered and bowed before his mentor.
"How may I be of service my lord?"
"Boomerang, we have confirmation of four humanoids in Grid 817-A4. I am going to drop to the surface for a little entertainment, and you will accompany me. I'm sure it's tourists, but you know how curious I get." Repike's grin looked demonic in the low light of the room. Boomerang rose, and bowed his head.
"It would be an honor. If I may ask, what is to be done with the creature that we have had in captivity?"
"He'll be of little use to us soon, and I will let you destroy him. But for now, I want to use him more as bait then anything."
"Yes milord." The Apprentice bowed.
"Oh, and Boomerang, prepare a couple of thermal bombs for our trip. If we do not make it back, not even the enemy will live." Repike turned, and walked to the display of planet Earth. Grinning, he swiped at it with a raised hand, and shattered the holo-image. "We live in ten minutes."
Steve walked the perimeter of the destroyed base, his senses taking in all the details around him. He was about to make his rounds into the interior of the building when he caught site of a blackened mound 10 feet ahead of him. Running to it, he could tell instantly it'd once been human, that of large man. Taking a quick look around, he spotted three more corpses. Shaking his head at the loss of life he'd found so far, he grabbed a smell comlink from his pocket, and pressed the send button.
"Brian, I found them. Looks like they never even stood a chance."
"All right, Taran's found the computer core, and analyzing it now. Zeal, come in." Steve raised an eyebrow, and smiled.
"Yes?" The prophet said.
"You find anything?" Brian replied.
Zeal answered a second later. "Nothing but the remains of a few people. No auras left to tell who they were, but they're in the command room, Brian, or what was left of it."
"Okay, meet us by Steve when you get a chance."
There was a silence on the comm when finally they both heard a sigh of resignation. "Fine, let me finish my rounds." Steve chuckled at how well she held her anger, when he heard Brian walk up behind him.
"She's still mad at you?"
"Yeah all I did was try and save my life and the lives of three others." Brian shook his head, laughing.
"She'll get over it."
"Oh I know that. Just when is the question I'd like to know." Both men laughed a little, leaving the severity of the situation and the tension in their lives for a moment when ZealPropht joined them.
"And just what were you laughing about?"
Steve let the smile go, and stood silent as Brian took over. "Nothing. Have you picked up anything? Magic related or otherwise?"
"Now that I'm here, I do feel something, but I can't tell fully without complete immersion into the fields, and we're in an unsecured area. I don't know the fields here, and I won't leave you vulnerable to attack. But yes, I do feel something."
"Brian, these people were roasted alive. This can't be orbital bombardment, it was hit afterwards."
"If you're right Steve, why the act?" Brian replied, thinking. "How do you know? I've seen massacre's before, especially with Albert, but this looks like no one was here." Steve looked at his leader, and shook his head.
"It's a feeling. This has happened before, it's almost a trademark." The look on the young dragoon's face suddenly turned to horror, as he looked to the ground, seeing a beeping box. Backing away, he looked to the two others, and yelled. "IT'S A TRAP! RUN!"
"Zeal, teleport!" Brian replied running the opposite direction.
"I'm on it." In an instant the Prophet and Paladin were warped to the other side of the island as Steve opened a warp gate to their fall back position. The incendiary device flared up, and blasted a ten-foot radius. Taran, hearing the ruckus ran to his three comrades, but only got fifteen feet before he hit a wall of solid muscle and monster. Edging back, he drew his sword, but was disarmed quickly as two hands slammed his sword arm with their meaty fists.
"You're not going anywhere little boy." He heard the voice say, before the darkness came, and the pain in his head.
Steve looked at the circle of various monsters and demons that circled his friends, and groaned. Two arms grabbed him and held him steady as Boomerang Flash stepped forward, clearing the way for a large man with ceremonial battle armor. He closed in on all three of the captives, including the unconscious Soul Knight. Approaching Icy Brian, the stranger looked at his prey and spoke in a menacingly sarcastic tone.
"You must be the leader of these children, though you yourself are child as well. Tell me, why do you fight me so?"
"Maybe we don't want your slime around on the planet." Brian replied. The stranger laughed in delight, then punching the Paladin in the stomach. Brian recoiled from the pain of the punch, then looked up again. Repike continued on his rounds, examining the prisoners. Inching towards Zeal, he smiled wider, looking her up and down, noticing the curves of her body armor. His hand moved up to her cheek, and stroked it down to her chin, holding there.
"When you get tired of this rabble, maybe you'll consider looking me up."
"Go to hell!" ZealPropht declared, sneering at the man, but was greeted with a slap that threw her head back.
"Such language." He smiled in glee. Zeal looked up at him, her eyes burning with the dark energies of magic waiting to be let loose if given a chance.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet!" Her tone indicating the fury in her at the moment. Watching the entire scene play out, Steve struggled to come to aid, but was held by the slobbering demon. Repike noticed his intent, and strode to the Dragoon.
"So, you must want to protect her." The Master of Flash looked into the young man's eyes, discerning his intent. "I know you, don't I? Yes I can't believe you are still alive, but that can be easily remedied. Isn't that right Stephen, you know who I am, and I can see the dread in your eyes." Steve felt fear and anger well up inside him, but let it subside quickly.
"I don't know what you're talking about, so just let it go, and shove it up you-" Steve felt his skull reverberate from the punch of Repike. The two stood the same size, with almost the same build, but completely different demeanors. Repike's blond hair contrasted Steve's brown unruly hair, along with the piercing green eye in the right cavity, and a red one in the left.
"You shouldn't have lived through what happened last time, you should be deader then a doornail. But, I think this encounter has served well. I leave you in the hands of my commandos, good day." Repike punched the Dragoon again, and then walked off to his drop ship. Stopping at Steve's Stormrunner, he looked back, and laughed. "Nice ship, I don't know where you pieced it together, but I think its crap."
"Takes one to know his own kind." Said the bloody lips of Steve.
"Yes, well, I'm leaving you some toys, mostly for my men, but to even the odds, I have your kitty. I'm leaving him here, but I want something in return. Boomerang?" The Apprentice looked up, obeying his master.
"Yes your Highness?"
"Take one of their lives, it will be good for you." Boomerang bowed, then signaled for the release of the Legion members. Monsters let loose their pray, throwing them to the scorched earth. Steve helped Zeal up, and then rushed to Taran, who was starting to come to. Brian walked over to the large orange beast, checking for wounds on the warrior beast Nanaki. The five stood, surrounded by Boomerang and the demons, readying themselves. Steve looked over to the beast, and smiled slowly.
"Been a while furball, think you remember how to fight?"
Nanaki looked up, and gave toothy grin. "I'll try Dragoon, just keep up your end of the fight." Zeal looked at the two, barely able to contain her anger.
"Dammit Steve, stop talking and fight!" He looked over to his love and mouthed a couple words, then armed himself, and rushed the first beast. Zeal concentrated and started an ice spell, adding to the powers of Icy Brian, while Nanaki used the pent up rage for Repike to his advantage, mauling as many things as he could. Taran stood by, and with mighty swings from his sword, destroyed as many attackers coming at himself and Zeal. With each kill, he made a cross sign with his sword, effectively ridding them of existence in this dimension. Zeal shot another spell out, zapping the monster to the dark Void, then jumped up at a low slash that Taran caught with his sword. Driving the opponent away, Taran shot a Pearl Spell at two beasts, stunning them for Zeal to shoot at upon landing with her Shadow Stars. They vanished in a black eruption, thinning the monsters ranks more.
Brian, Nanaki and Steve continued their fight through the main ranks, finding themselves forming double attacks to wade through the monsters, when they approached the Apprentice. Seeing the three warriors he brandished his superior weapon and leapt into battle, kicking the beast away, while blocking the blows of the two humans. Jumping back, he pulled his sword up, and then struck the ground with it, causing various cracks to run towards them. Pulling the sword out, imbuing it with the powers of Earth, he made a sideways slash that was blocked and held by Brian as Steve made his way inwards, kicking the masked man in the gut, then flipping up, and hitting him in the neck. Throwing Boomerang off center, Steve and Brian darted back, to guard the lion as it casted cure on the three. Boomerang Flash sheathed his sword, and ran towards the three. Putting his hand out, he aimed towards the ground, and with a blast of power pole vaulted up and over the three. Landing by the remains of his army, he redrew his sword, and sliced at Taran, catching him off guard and throwing the young man to the ground. Slashing again, his sword suddenly flew away from his hand. Grunting in pain, his eyes turned to see the Prophet hovering over him, aiming her next shot of Shadow Stars at his heart. Putting his hands to his side, he stepped away, and surrendered quietly. The five of them surrounded him, pointing their weapons at him.
"It is disgraceful that I would lose to ones such as you." Boomerang responded calmly. Nanaki bared bloodied fangs, ready to maul the Apprentice.
"I'll show you disgraceful you-".
"No," an angered Icy Brian interrupted him and stared at Boomerang Flash, "you leave, and you tell your friends that we will keep fighting you until the end. Leave now before my patience wears thin." He pulled his weapon back, and signaled for the others to do the same. Boomerang laughed at the group, and turned towards Steve.
"I'll tell my master that you are all weaklings, and I'll leave you in peace." Making his way past Steve and Taran, he walked towards the other drop ship. Turning the five looked at each other and took in a sigh of relief. Sheathing their weapons, the five stepped over bodies.
"That was too easy, I don't like it." Zeal peered at Steve with contempt, then lightened to a frown.
"You're right. I don't care though, we've got the information we've come for, let's go." She replied.
Taran looked down at the data disks he carried, when he suddenly felt the stab go through his back, and out the front of his body. He walked one more step, pulling himself off the sword when he realized that he'd been sliced through like butter. Slumping to the ground with agony on his face, he looked up in tear filled eyes, seeing the four lean down. He could barely hear what they were saying, along with being unable to see past the tunnel his vision went into. Looking at his hands, he could see with his eyes and feel with his epidermis, the warmth of the crimson blood. Lying to his side, he felt more of his life force seeped out of him. So this is how it ends, his mind told him, I die with my friends around me.
Nanaki could hear the hum of the sword as it plunged through the air into Taran's back. Lunging backwards, he pushed Boomerang away from Taran, though already to late as the sword glistened with blood. The Apprentice ran, almost flying to his drop ship, laughing along the way. Taran was to his knees now when the giant ship flew over them. Nanaki's senses next picked up the calling of Brian.
"Leave them! GET OVER HERE NOW!" He took off his cape and wrapped it around the knight, trying to put pressure on the wound. Nanaki ran to them, holding silent vigil over his friend. Steve and Brian helped lean him onto his back, trying to make him more comfortable, both knowing that this wouldn't matter in five minutes.
Nanaki looked over to the Dragoon. "Can we get him to the complex in the next couple of minutes?"
Steve looked up to the beast and shook his head. "Not possible, and I don't have any supplies for a wound this bad. The best I could do is giving him some morphine to put him under." Taran looked up with glassy eyes, moving his lips as best as he could. The four leaned in, hearing the whispered breaths come out of him.
"Dammit, Taran, you're not gonna die on me now, I just got back, and I'm not letting you!" Nanaki replied, snarled.
"Don't worry, I'll be okay." His voice let on to the extreme pain he felt, but was getting used to the dulling feel of it. "It's good to have you back, Nan " He coughed up blood by the mouthful. " ki, at least I get to see you again be " His body wretched up more blood, trying to sit up, Steve kept him down.
"Don't strain yourself bud." Steve said quietly, feeling his heart wrenching. The pain on Zeal's face was evident as she tried again and again, using various cure and life spells. Minutes past, when she finally looked up at Brian and the two warriors, and shook her head.
"I can't cure him Brian, the wound won't let me." Nanaki growled even louder, pawing the dying man on the shoulder.
"You can't DIE!" He put his snout down, willing his friend back from death, but to no avail. Taran had a peaceful stare on his face, as he whispered something to the heavens. Then leaning his head to the side, he looked to them, and muttered.
"I'll be fine and I'll be back . He'll let me come back. See you soon ." And with his final breath his spirit lifted the sky, while his magical powers were taken with it, which only Zeal could see through her connection to magical fields. Brian lowered his head, closing the young man's lifeless eyes. Nanaki growled and angled his head up, howling in sadness. It was a long, mournful sound towards the midday sky. Zeal closed her eyes; feeling tears well up in both of them. Not letting it show, she whispered an invocation from the ancient land of Zeal, one that was used to send warriors on to the next dimension. The four looked at their dead friend, and all four felt the tears flow. They were left with a hole in their ranks, one member down.
It was about ten hours later when Icy Brian, Gasper, ZealPropht, and Nanaki buried Taran on the highest point of the LOF's island. It overlooked the sea, with a large monument marking the place where the Soul Knight was laid to rest. Steve still had the blood of his comrade on his shirt and coat since earlier that day, which Zeal had detested but under circumstances put up with it. Brian stepped to the front of the group of men and women, and worked up the speech he was about to give.
"My friends, today we put to rest one of our dearest compatriots, and one of the best fighters. Taran was more then a comrade to any of us; he was a friend to all. He helped in any capacity that he could, and his light always shone with a pure brilliance. I know we all have numerous stories, ones that will all be in our hearts until our time comes. Taran gave his life so that we all could live. He was our martyr, but he should not be remembered that way. He was a fighter to the end, and he didn't give his life willingly. We will avenge him, and we will do it soon." Brian touched the monument mumbled a few words then walked off, leaving the group behind. Saul bowed and muttered something also, then left. A few left flowers or small gifts, until only Steve and Zeal remained. She put an arm around his waist, and leaned into him. He put an arm around her shoulder, and lowered his head, leaning on her at the same time. The wind caressed them as the stood staring at Taran's resting place. Minutes passed, but they stood there when finally Zeal spoke, her voice cracking from her sorrow.
"I hope you're not thinking this was your fault." Steve raised a brow, and turned to look at her.
"No, I'm thinking about fifty ways I'm gonna kill Boomerang. I'm thinking of ripping his larynx out. Then I'd show it to him, and gut him further." His own voice faltered, the tears coming back to his eyes. "I coulda saved him if I'd killed Boomerang in Australia."
"Yeah, and then I'd be standing here without you, you idiot. It could have been any one of us, and we would never have known. You know that the timeline can't be changed unless it's in a threatened state. It was Taran's time." She replied. "But yes, I want to help you rip his throat out." The two stood there for more then hour afterwards, honoring their friend, saying nothing.
To be continued
Author's notes: Okay, yes depressing, and I want to shout out to Taran and say thanks for being a big sport. So what's next? Well, as Brian said up there, Their going on the offensive, and the next couple of chapters might just decide the tide of the battle between the forces of Good and Evil.
But questions remain. Why Taran? What next? Do Repike and Gasper have a past between them? All these questions and more will be answered in the next exciting chapters of LegionQuest: Apocalypse.
Gasper S. Keltner's Fanfiction