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Cat's Cradle

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  • Cat's Cradle

    The Eternal Empire stretched on forever. Past planets. Stars. Galaxies. Even other universes. It was infinite, no one could escape it if they tried.

    All I've known was the empire since I was a young child. It's all anyone at the barracks knew. We were all orphans, our parents having died, abandoned us, or committed crimes. Mine were wretched criminals who went against their natural place. The ministry of culture plucked me up from criminals. They brought me in, as a beastwoman, I was placed into the young barracks to begin training.

    I learned everything here. Language. Behavior. I learned my place, as a soldier in the infinite army.
    My name is Felicity. I am a beastwoman, cat type. I’m most easily identified from (most) of my species through my orange fur, and my markings and up making an M shape above my head. I’ve gotten the nickname ‘kitten’ and ‘M’ for that… Kitten is such a stupid name…

    Me and my team have been training for years to go on this planet, uses powerful magic. We go into the VR, fight whatever is there, accomplish the goal, usually annihilation of the enemy. So it was again, drones meant to replicate the magic of the forest shooting beams, our team pushed forward, Edith leading the charge, and me right behind her. Honestly I was holding back for the most part, why bother putting the full effort in against these robots?

    We tore through them anyway, Edith put her all into it… I had to admit it was cute to see her trying so hard to impress them. She always was a people pleaser.

    With a staff and energy shield, she continuously battered down enemy after enemy, blocking a shot from another and strike at one easily. It was adorable seeing her try so hard here, it’s not like any of these drones even stood a chance against the two of them. I ripped through a few here and there that got a bit annoying until we got to the big one. Looks like most of the other team were just barely getting through it, but that wasn’t how it was with us.

    The ground gave up beneath us, not that we had much trouble in it, all we had to do was keep moving. The big one began hanging from the ceiling, probably to simulate flying. She even got on top of it and started destroying the lasers…Wonder what she probably saw under the visor. Probably a wizard nursing their hands or something. Eventually she used the staff to pole vault onto the drone, taking her staff and slamming down on it continuously.

    The drone eventually gave way to her strikes, while it focused on me. Beams and legs swinging at me, none of it was very difficult to dodge, I was more than quick enough to do this while barely paying attention. Really, looking at us two, we barely even needed the other team, we were already able to obliterate the competition. Eventually the thing began to shut down, it’s core too heavily damaged from Edith hammering away at it, falling from the ceiling onto the ground… Edith evidently didn’t think about that, and just barely leaped away, almost falling into the same pit the giant robot created. She would have fell if I hadn’t extended a hand to her “Really, you never think do you?” I said pulling her up, as the simulation ended and we were called back. “Hey! I’m not totally helpless!” She responded, a bit indignant at my teasing, and none too embarrassed that she nearly got herself killed after doing so well.

    We stepped up to the sergeant in charge of the barracks. He was a tall man, gaunt cheeks, ash skin, and no sense of humor, I swear he always glared at us. He debriefed us, yada yada on how the team was terrible, how Edith was the only one worth a damn, and how I’m a lazy bum. You just glaze your eyes over after a while and wait for it to be over. Honestly most of the time I looked at everyone else to see their reactions, Reginald was always hard to read, some people think because we’re both beastmen that we can understand each other… Through what I don't know. Mara Yulice stewed there, looked ready to explode, she always thought she was better than this. Harkness looked humiliated… He was always the weak link, and he knew it. Edith on the other hand, stayed at attention, perfect postures eyes glued to him. Always a stickler for authority she was.

    “You are dismissed, Edith come with me.” He said at the end of his speech. Ugh. I wanted to wait around for Edith, but the sergeant wouldn’t allow it, instead I went up to the catwalks.

    I’d see her later again, as the sun began set on the city. I saw her moving in and pounced on her. What can I say? It’s boring without her? Aside from making life hell for my other teammates or pranking the other staff, there wasn’t much to do here on your own.
    “Hi Edith.” I said, before looking at her and noticing, hey… What was that shiny thing? I quickly snatched it “What’s this?” I said, keeping out of her reach as she said “Give it back!” trying to grab it. Hey... “Is this… We’re going to be promoted to specialist!?”

    FINALLY! We can leave this stupid dump and see the world! I did laugh, though seeing her fidget in place quieted me down. “Edith?” I said. “Well… You weren’t supposed to come with me… Sergeant Herzoltoff specified I was the only one, the rest needed training…”

    What?



    “Why? I did just as good as you on all the tests they set up for us! Better even!” “I mean… You do drive them crazy most of the time... “ My eyes narrowed at this. “Seriously!? I…” “I’m sorry M.” “Hmph. Not all of us can stand at attention while that fish man goes on and on and... Agh!” I said… Just… I work just as hard as her and I’m just as good. Just because I don’t trip over myself to please my commander like an idiot, I’m going to have to stay here?

    ...Admittedly these days it’s hard not to regret what happened. I ran off, out to the top of the tower. A little later Edith came up searching for me. That was inevitable, there’s nowhere to go if you wanted to avoid someone, unless you wanted to just rough it in the obstacle courses and survival arenas. I was still angry though, “What do you want?” I grumbled out, hunched over looking over at the survival arenas… “Felicity…” She said, before sitting by me. I sighed, and handed it over “I don’t even want this stupid thing anyway.”
    I looked at her and… I can never really stay mad at that face, with how genuine it is. So I turned away and stared really hard at the jungle in the survival arena. She was never one to simply walk away, instead of saying anything, she sat right next to me, put her arm around me and pulled me close…
    Stupid clingy girl.

    I sighed again, I knew what she wanted. “I didn’t really care about the rank, I just want to get out of here before I die… I’ve never even seen anything outside of the barracks. And now I’m trapped on this dump alone and you get to have space adventures.” I said, sinking back before she hung a key in front of my eyes… “...Is that the sky skiff key?” “Mmhm, I figure… Before we leave… And I have access to stuff I didn’t have before... Sooooooo…”

    In hindsight… This was almost certainly what people meant by me being a bad influence. I know she wouldn’t have done this if she didn’t feel a bit guilty about leaving before me. But at the time… Well I was just happy that we could steal a sky skiff and see a bit more, of this planet anyway. We ended up heading to Aeternus. It was the biggest city in the whole of the planet. It’s said that you could head to the tallest point of the tallest building and still see nothing but city for miles. It was also just about on the other side of this planet, far away from the barracks.

    We parked our skiff off in a back alley and took a look at the city… It wasn’t technically part of the Eternal Empire, they had worked out a treaty in the early years of the Empire or something, I didn’t know the details, but it meant that it was a center for… More or less anything the Eternal Empire didn’t allow. We were absolutely forbidden to go there… Even despite the physical impossibility of getting there on foot.

    It… Kind of hilarious seeing Edith, she was hilariously out of her depth. Just went out in uniform out into the streets by the ground, with all the poor people, a host of beastmen, aliens, humans, more. None of which seemed happy to see us, and Edith seemed bewildered by this, even whispering to me “Hey… Why are they looking at us so…” “This is the only place on the planet the Eternal Empire isn’t in charge, where do you think the malcontents are gonna go?” A gang or something quickly gathered around us… The gang leader, a well dressed man with… A nice jacket honestly. He was going to speak up before I interrupted with “Hey, mind if I take that jacket?” My claws coming out of my hands. They decided to attack first.

    Heh, I still laugh remembering the look on their faces when they realized they got themselves into. By the end, they were all on the floor in various heaps, all without jackets as I picked and sorted. Eventually I tossed Edith a yellow jacket to compliment my new purple coat. It also helped that these didn’t have blood stains from bleeding faces or tears from my claws. Edith didn’t really want to but all I had to do was point at the idiots on the floor. We just wore it over the uniform in any case.

    The city was nice honestly, we also took their cash, they briefed us on money and… It looked enough like money at any rate. Took a few tries to give them the right card but we did get it right eventually. Edith bought “Cotton Candy,” earlier even and… I swear I never saw her eyes glow that brightly…

    Okay so maybe I was a bit blown away by it as well. But I mean… It was sweeter than anything I ever had, and melted in my mouth… It was a new experience that’s all I’m saying. Apparently we came just in time for a ‘festival’ too. Looked a lot like military parades, only instead of soldiers and bands it was floats and much floofier bands. It was nice to see them but… Wow, it was like Edith saw a glimpse of heaven. We both enjoyed ourselves a lot here I think…

    Then the sky turned to dawn… Edith was singing with the karaoke (not that any of us even knew a single one of the songs), it was absolutely terrible but she looked like she was having fun, before seeing the light on the buildings and dropping her mic, a bit stunned. I turned around and… Well I didn’t react quite that badly. But… “We gotta get back.” We ran, fast as we could (ended up slamming a few people aside), as she got rid of her jacket, I scared off the random people poking at the sky skiff. She hopped on and we gunned it, quickly as we could, I even crashed the sky skiff onto the ground, by the garage and we ran in. I hid the jacket underneath the mattress in our bed before anyone saw, and we stood at attention… I just hope no one noticed the smell of city air on us… Well, Reginald was a lizard anyway and he didn’t speak at all. We were probably safe.

    The day continued as normal though, I was taking cat naps wherever I could and Edith wasn’t too far off either. We didn’t have anything too strenuous to do at least, so we could always finish first, but Edith looked nervous the whole time…

    Eventually night time came… Our last night before Edith went out to the front lines. We slept together… Only to both be called up… Edith and I were none to happy, she took a moment to get rid of her tired eyes, rubbing them. I didn’t bother, they sergeant never liked me anyway. We went off… And we had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be about....

    We came and… We didn’t see our sergeant. We saw a lich, Lich Hexcitan. Captain of the entire sector of space… What was he doing here? I bolted to attention this time. This wasn’t like the fish faced sergeant. Just don’t piss him off. His jaw opened and… A voice came out, though not from his person it was more… Everywhere? In our minds I guess.

    “You left for the city didn’t you?” Captain Hexcitan said. Oh no. “A crashed sky skiff, we were not certain of who drove this out, and back in such a hurry…” He took something out from inside his cloak, revealing my purple jacket.

    My blood went cold. “I had kept a close eye on this barracks, with a very promising student. I know you did not do this Edith. Felicity… This is your coat is it not?” Words couldn't come my mouth. And my throat ran dry. Everyone knew of his reputation, how he took those who disappointed him and turned them into skeletal minions to perform menial labor… I didn’t want to die. “I can’t be too surprised, you were always a bad egg.” This was it I thought. I thought I was going to die…

    “It was my idea Captain Hexcitan!” Edith’s voice pierced through his voice echoing in my head. The Lich slowly turned his head. “I stole the sky skiff. I wanted to see the world… And with my rank I could get access to the other rooms out of training hours… So I stole a key. And went to Aeternus.” She said, looking at the Lich, where his eyes would be were he still alive.

    Lich Hexcitan slowly floated to where she was, cupping her chin in his bony fingers, looking her in the eyes. “...Is this true? You stole it? And went to the city despite it being forbidden?” the voice continued to echo. It… was mostly the same, but I swore i could feel a rumble underneath… “...I see. Such a shame. You will come with me.”

    At this point I feel to my knees… I don’t know if it was relief that I wasn’t going to die… Or fear that she would. “You’ve disappointed me Edith. I will need to correct this… Your rank is revoked, and you shall be trained especially at my residence to regain your rank. You will learn I do not take kindly to disappointment.” Edith gulped at that… But at least we weren’t going to die… “Edith…” I barely squeaked out as she left with him, stopping to give me one last look.

    I thought at first it may take a few days. Then she’d return, maybe with a new scar…

    Days turned into weeks.

    Weeks turned into months.

    It was a year before I’d see her again.

    CHAPTER 2
    The training with Captain Hexcitan was difficult. Nothing like the regimented army, taking orders, answering questions, keeping clean, routine. None of that was here.

    And then there was the torture. A lot of torture. For hours… Some days were nothing but pain. Nightmares plagued me like never before. I think that was Captain Hexcitan’s doing as well. One month I didn't have so much as a single night of restful sleep. I think the worst part was how… disinterested he was when torturing. He'd ask me a question. I'd answer, and punish me. Often it was through making me feel like I was drowning in burning coal. My voice gave out the first time he did that.

    Other times it was fine more or less, but instead of training me in standard equipment, he gave me a metal sword, then threw me against his undead, and had me train against them until I could defeat all his ‘practice models’ as he called them. Those were better days. I preferred them the most.

    Then there were strange days, not good or bad necessarily but… strange. Magic. We never even touched magic at the Barracks… Incantations made the most sense to me but we quickly moved beyond them into stranger stuff. Artifacts and unspoken magic… The kind Captain Hexcitan uses. Shadows and darkness dominated a lot of my training here, even the magic armor was black. Sometimes I got myself hurt, but it wasn’t torture at least.

    It was exhausting to say the least… Then on one day… A month before my training ended. “Edith. Tell me, the day you became a specialist. That was not your jacket was it?” “Huh?” Why did he bring that up now I had thought. “It was mine…” I iterated, as I had done all that time ago. To cover for Felicity… How I got stuck here. At his mercy, it flashing through my mind as he came to me. “That is not true, you lie to me once again,” and it was like I was covered in burning coal, as my screams ran out. “You are protecting someone, who is that person?” He asked even as I screeched in pain. Eventually I could just barely get out “N-NO ONE! AAAH!” As I dropped to my knees, collapsing to the floor. “Tell me who and the pain ends. Continue to lie and it will become worse, I will continue this every day until you reveal them, so that I may kill them.”

    I didn't say anything at first, I screamed no doubt, but I didn't say anything. The coals became biting coals, like piranhas that could ignore the heat and fire tearing at my body. Then it felt like my body was being churned from the inside. Nausea overtook me as I ended up barfing on the ground, I couldn't even get up long enough, I just ended laying in a pool of my own vomit and my body was paralyzed with pain.

    I don't know how long it was, only that it was agonizing. “Who are you protecting Edith? Tell me so I can crush them to dust!” Even through all that his voice cut through.

    I broke, and screamed out, just wanting the pain to stop “FELICITY!”
    I immediately fell silent. The pain was gone…
    I laid there, realizing I had sold my closest friend out. “Remember this lesson, engrave it in your soul. Friendship can be easily broken. Power cannot.” he walked away. I laid there, in my own vomit… And I cried.
    It would be one more month until I saw M again.

    Captain Hexcitan took us to the barracks, where I would rendezvous with the rest of the force. Felicity… Would probably be a specialist by now? I regained by rank again…

    In any case it was time to suit up. I opened up my Locker and looked at it… I had on the undersuit, so I next put on my grey hood. Then my armor, black, a bit jagged almost, red accents along the outer edges, where it ended. I never liked these, it almost felt like it was highlighting the gaps in armor. Still, Captain Hezcitan demanded that they were not changed in the slightest. A whole host of plate armor that would normally take a long time… But this was magic armor. From inside the armor, wisps of darkness came out, wrapping themselves around me, attaching and fastening themselves to me. I brought my hood up, and I could see my face enveloped in darkness. The kopis sword, enchanted to never dull, was attached to my waist.

    The door opened, and Captain Hexcitan came down, I followed closely behind. Looking out at the balcony, where Felicity was often at. She was there again, scanning the area, looking at everyone coming down.

    Her eyes crossed me… and quickly drifted off. I remembered how she said she could tell I was around just by the way I walked. I suppose she was just boasting… Or maybe my apprenticeship under Captain Hexcitan changed me so much that I was unrecognizable.

    We walked down the ramp. Slowly, M simply looking down at us, looking. Looking for me. My eyes stayed glued to her until we entered the building, hoping that she’d… Know.
    Heavy footsteps sounded off as we entered the barracks, metal clanging on metal, swiftly silenced by the weight of my steps. I was gathering a lot of attention, following behind the Lich Captain. No one seemed to realize it was me… I honestly began to wonder if this was intentional, another test or torture or whatever he had planned for me. We came to Sergeant Herzoltoff. He didn’t seem happy at his appearance… Though I suppose he always liked me, and having to watch me be dragged away must have made him upset. I just hope he didn’t take it out on M.

    “Sergeant Herzoltoff. Your specialists are joining with the expedition force.” he stated matter of factly. “You will send this specialist with you.” He motions towards me, and the Sergeant simply nods. “Do not remove your hood for anyone.” Another order to me. “Head off with the expedition force. Obey your superiors.” I nodded in response.

    The next ship came, far larger, and even from outside one could hear the soldiers marching. The expedition force, I came aboard with the others, and me with Edith were directed to a room for specialists. Most of the specialists seemed out right now. That was fine with me, I didn’t want to talk much. Just sleep and adjust, only other person in the room with me seemed to be M, she still didn’t seem to realize who I was just yet.

    Maybe it was a bit much to hope she’d just recognize me. To hope we could just so easily go back to what we once had… Me and M. Words get caught in my mouth when I try to speak… Did I even deserve to talk to her after all this time? I already betrayed her… So instead of saying something I just sat there, guilt weight down on me. “...Who are you?” I heard M say. Lost in thought, it pierced through my stupor, and I found myself turning to her a lot faster than any normal person. Like a scared animal really. I still didn’t respond vocally, but she came close to me. Her hand came close to the hood I wore, to take it down, immediately my hands moved to stop her, getting between her and the hood. We stood there for a bit, but she stayed there, eventually I relented.

    Much as I didn’t deserve it… I couldn’t bring myself to stop her. The hood fell down, and with it the enchanted shadows. M’s head tilted at seeing me, her eyes narrowing. “.....Edith?” Her eyes met mine. In there I saw pity and shock. “What did…” “...A lot.”

    Silence followed. She sat down next to me, and put her arm around me. We just… Stayed there for a while. It was nice. I hadn’t had contact with another person for a long time. It was nice.

    CHAPTER 3
    Just what did that damn lich do to Edith? Her face had little scars all over, like they were continually scratched at, but the strangest thing was her face… She used to have these little black lines under her eyes, a bit like mine but now… They’ve spread out on her face, almost looked like tentacles. Honestly it looked a bit like something I might’ve done on her as a prank, trick her into thinking she was gonna turn wholly black… “Hey Edith… Are…” I motioned at my own lines “they gonna grow?” “No… I don’t think so.” She said, her confidence in such a statement falling with each statement…. Damn lich.

    I swear… If he had flesh I’d rip it off… I’d want to anyway… It’s hard not to think about how this happened in the first place. I was a coward and just stood there while Edith was dragged away… I abandoned her.

    I was not going to abandon her again.

    The ships came down, the fleet bearing down on the planet, apparently they hadn’t even figured out fossil fuels yet, no one was quite expecting anything, but it always took a lot of troops to occupy an area, even one with savages. Our ships came down, we headed down towards the most advanced civilization, the strongest nation in the world. Not that it meant much, but at least we’d get to see some action, maybe see some pretty buildings before we destroy them.

    “Edith, any trophy-” Lightning. Suddenly I heard the crack of thunder, and lightning itself behind us, destroying the ship all around us. The vacuum of space forcing the air, and most of the troops here out. My suit immediately kicked in, sealing itself, immediately I looked at Edith, even if she avoided getting flushed into the vacuum of space, this ship was splitting apart all around us, it’d only be a matter of time until the air ran dry.

    ...Edith quickly did some motions with her free hand as we held on, then the area around here got… Darker? Whatever it was, Edith wasn’t panicking. Either way, we were making it down, those that didn’t immediately get flushed out had readied their space suits. It wasn’t the best situation admittedly, we were going to live, but the soldiers were mostly freaking out, “What the hell!?” One said, chatter about how no one expected this. They didn’t even have satellites let alone orbital defense systems… And yet here we are. Hoping to crash down safely with the ship.

    At the least they don’t seem able to stop our momentum, we were still coming down, just in multiple pieces. Eventually the commander spoke up, and told everyone to calm down. “We still have a job to do! The secondary fleet will wait around the next planet, and we’ll contact that once we eliminate the threat. You are soldiers of the Eternal Empire!” That didn’t do much to calm people down, even after the air was gone and with it the chance of being flushed into space, they were still nervous. They just didn't want to speak up.

    It was time to go down to the planet… This was bad, we’re be going down a lot slower and we couldn’t clear the ground area with a scrap of spaceship. We’d have to fight the hard way… And apparently they have magic enough to obliterate our space ships.

    ...Maybe Edith could fit in as one of them and I get rid the of my suit? No, we’d win in the end at any rate, and it’d be a bad idea to get branded a coward. Just going to have to find a way through this while looking like a good soldier. The view port was getting rid, we’re in the atmosphere, everyone was huddling close to the center as they could… Wait where is Commander Rawasib? I scanned the masses and… No there’s no way I could miss him, he’s a ten foot tall lava giant… That damned coward! And who knows, he’ll probably take the credit anyway.

    Finally we could see the landscape in detail, enough that we could tell where we’d land approximately. One of the lower commanders called out “Ready jetpacks, once you can see their soldiers, engage them, we’ll use the hull for cover!” Meanwhile, I tapped Edith on the shoulder, and as she turned her head (the hood moved anyway, that shadow made it impossible to tell her face), and I signed her to follow me. Whatever happened, it was better if we go off and make our own name instead of listening to some glory hound or in experience wetnosed officer. We slowly moved towards the edge. We’d need to make an impact…

    3
    2
    1

    “NOW!” Subcommander Auni called, everyone engaged their jetpacks, everyone except us, as the spaceship hull flipped over, us appearing on the front, and we leaped forward. Whatever it was that obliterated our ship, it wasn’t here in front of us, men with swords and crossbows. The hull landed in a large track of mud and dirt, spreading a thick cloud out, which was just perfect. Through the cloud we ran through, and fell upon them. Edith chipped away at them with ease, often crashing through their defences. One tried to ran, only to find himself dragged… Somehow and stabbed right through his armor. Meanwhile I eliminated men differently. My suit had unsealed itself, and my voice rang out, my laughter around them as I ran circles around them, hidden in the darkness of debris. A claw here a slash there, they were dying of blood loss with seemingly nothing causing it. As much as Edith scared some of them, the soldiers were beginning to think they had encountered a spectre.

    The subcommander only realizing the battle had already begun after we had begun to thin their numbers and scatter their forces, her ordered the soldiers to fire at the stragglers. That’s all that was left by the time we were done at any rate.

    Soon enough we were to march on the capital city and take the royal family. It was short enough, we didn’t veer too much off course, and I was certain what we ran into was an advance force at any rate.

    Those suspicions were confirmed once we made it to the capital city. It made the swordsmen and archers look like a pittance… Even if we had more advanced weapons and armor, most of our big guns were at the spaceships, little more than scrap metal, right now we just had infantry… Oh god were we gonna have to lay siege to it? I wasn’t ready to sit here all day. “We’re going to have to choke this city, starve it of resources.”

    “Seriously? Why?” I said, annoyed. No one really gave an answer, nor did I expect one. Frustrated, I sighed. Sitting around and waiting was what I hated about the barracks… And I knew that the others probably weren’t doing so hot either, especially the ones landing in this kingdom given they somehow knew we were coming. They’d probably end up sending a second wave in… By that time no one would even remember what we did, goodbye the status that came with. And we needed to head up the ladder… Faster we became captains the better.

    We still set up camp, mostly foraging and using local materials… I needed to take a better look at it, so during the set up I… Well I just slinked away. No one except Edith would notice, and even then I doubt Edith was in any hurry to report me. Loyal to a fault she is. Instead I took the trees at the outskirts and looked in…

    Well, closer inspection… Now it made sense. This wasn’t simply a stone castle, it was shielded with a force field. If it were by the same mage that struck us down, it was almost certainly near impossible to stop it… Still, that didn’t change anything, I was not going to get stranded here and wait for a second wave… But a full on assault was probably gonna do nothing here except waste people and resources… But maybe… The royal family, if I could kidnap one of them… Maybe the army wouldn’t be necessary? Either force them to attack, or make them surrender even.That could work. With any luck, we’ll be back before the week is over…
    CHAPTER 4
    We needed a way inside the forcefield somehow. No way did I want to sit out here only to get struck by lightning or something worse. But how… There didn’t seem to be any holes in it from here… They seemed to aim their crossbows at those asking for passage inside… Then someone in robes, a wizard probably waves his hands and they come inside… Ok. We can’t get in, but they can get out it looks like.

    The same occured at every regular entrance, not that it’d matter soon, letting us in to infiltrate probably means letting food in as well, and if we get captured or found out all we’ll have done is extend it… Even if I told him our plan and Auni agreed, he’d probably select his own team to go in, and I doubt it’d include me. I couldn’t talk my way inside, I’d need a sneakier method… And you know what fine, I’ll probably need my tools for this.

    I kept watch for hours… Did it ever fall? Did they need to renew it? What were the rotations? None of this I knew, and I couldn’t see much going on inside… Like it or not I’d have to get closer to even tell what to do. Alright then Felicity… Easy does it… Drop down from the tree, get rid of the tech, too shiny, my own spots would do a better job of camouflaging me. Stay in the shadows… Slink in the bushes. There looked to be a river, I looked at the guard… The minute he yawned… He dashed into it, diving into the water… Ok, I’m in the way… Maybe there’s a sewage system? It’s disgusting, but if there was, maybe I could get in through there. I swam upstream, around the city. Each minute in the river made me less hopeful… Honestly I never swam in any river this clean, surely there’d be something in this river… And later my suspicions confirmed. There was barely anything leading into the city, most of it just went around, and a tiny stream went inside... Too small, I’d be seen immediately, especially with how clean it is… And at any rate I needed to come up for air.

    ...Was there anything I could use to get a way in? Couldn’t scale walls… nothing gets in without their permission, no waterways in… I sulked inside the river looking in and… Wait… What was I hearing? It sounded familiar… Wait… was that a ‘festival’? Yeah… But you gave out all kinds of food during that, any sensible person would be rationing everything. Why aren’t they? Are they dancing, waiting for the red death to take them? No. That wasn’t it, they had to think they can defeat us, if they didn’t think that was possible, they’d be begging us for mercy and sending whomever destroyed our ships in front of us as a gift.

    Worse yet… If they had access to food without the outside world… This siege was going to take forever. No, they couldn’t possibly have that. Probably not… I swam away, if we can’t get in directly… There has to be another method, I was not going to sit and wait, especially if they can get food without these routes. I’d have to walk back for now though. It was getting late, and Edith would probably get worried after a while.

    Back at the camp, we seemed to segregate into a bunch of different groups, a bunch of camp fires all around them… I sniffed out Edith, and headed her way. Even after all this time, her natural scent never really changed. “Hey Edith.” I said, announcing myself. Her head turned, hood still shrouding her, but she seemed happy to see me given how she practically drew me in a hug. We’d sleep once the sun fell, in separate tents. Right. I suppose that’s how tents work. Right. Sleeping was weird, I got used to sleeping alone, first in my own bed, ten in Edith’s when I ripped mine apart in a fit. Now however… I couldn’t sleep. I just fidgeted. I stared at the ceiling of my tent. Eventually sleep took me again, but I hadn’t felt this out of place since… The day she left.

    It was a long night.

    Morning again, sitting again. No one doing anything… Guh. Time to get to work. Now… They had some reason to act normal when this was happening. Teleportation? From somewhere… I was in my suit again, in case we ran against some powerful enemies. Seeing Edith come out again, still in that hood. Edith I’d normally have asked to come along… Though she’d probably want to tell the subcommander first…. And after getting herself drug into Hexcitan’s… No, I can do this on my own. I just need to find out how they’re getting food inside… And use it to get myself in.

    I scoured around, out of sight wherever I could, this was outside our immediate control… Couldn’t run back if I got into a hairy scrape.

    It took a better part of the day to find it but I did find it… A supply train of food headed for the city… And then turning. I trailed them, just as the sun began to set… Quiet, stalking them through pushes, climbing through trees, staying out of sight. And what do we have here? A line of torches connected to each other, as well a man at the end, waving in the supply train lighting the ring of torches

    Bingo.

    “M.” How did Edi- “Edith!?” I said, my voice hushed in the tree. How the hell did she sneak up on me… Then I looked down… She was pulling her body out of… The tree? “I can travel via shadows.” I stared at her a bit, then pointed my eyes towards the city, head nodding. She shook her head and gave me a shrug. Alright… “I’m going to get in through there. Tonight.” I could see her hood move towards the direction of the camp… But she didn’t say anything. She stayed here… I could feel myself smile at that. It didn’t look like Hexcitan broke her in like I thought.

    We just had to wait until nightfall… That’s when we’d strike. Once the supply train had left, and we knew exactly how this worked… We’d strike.

    CHAPTER 5
    The sun had set down, and the stars were out… It was times like this that I was glad for my hood. Why’d she just leave without getting me? She didn’t even ask me anything before heading off, I had to sniff her out, and then use the shadows to get to her… Doesn’t she trust me?

    No, that’s not right, she’s right not to trust me. After I…

    I couldn’t focus on that for long though… We had a mission. And M semed to trust me enough. Enough to not turn away… Not enough to bring me. I needed to earn it back.

    Finally we came to the last load… I grabbed her arm, and pointed at the last batch of food, looked like a wagon of food. Then I began to sink into the darkness, like water. Both of us sank into it, and reemerged inside the wagon the two of us… The spellcaster lit the fires around us and… We were inside a stone room. M immediately looked around, eyes scanning for anyone else, and quickly got out, me following behind.

    Going quickly to the corners of the room, we climbed up them, my own plate armor was heavy, but I was used to it, I could climb, if not necessarily jump around like M. the troops came in, and emptied the wagon, taking it into carts and wheeling it away. It took a while, but I learned patience, and it was simple to wait. They never looked up, and i kept sneaking glances at M all the while.

    Once we left, we dropped down, and M peered out the doorway, our ears couldn't detect anything, so M looked out without fear of getting caught. It was nighttime afterall, only natural the populace would be in bed. We quietly stepped, our feet making nary a sound along the cobblestone pavement. I couldn't help but notice the stones were various shades of purple and pink, colorful for a street. We quickly made for the alleyways, anywhere we could to avoid direct line of sight.

    We knew had to go towards the center castle… it was still a siege afterall, they'd be insane not to have the leadership the castle, the most well defended part of this town. The castle was still lit, and… Pink evidently. We crept in, and climbed upon the rooftops… security was very relaxed once past the portal, most of the guards were on the streets, good enough for us…

    We quickly reached the tower, and… There was the bulk, but the guards seem mostly… Bored. I wanted to be offended by this but… It was not like we made a fierce impression, while I was resting at the camp most of the invading force was convinced that we were doomed, that it'd take a few more waves to clear it… I couldn't blame anyone here honestly, no one expected that lightning strike… And we had to eliminate whoever or whatever did that. I just hoped they couldn’t turn that strength into a personal fight.

    Climbing up the tower, it was easy to hear them talking, discussing the princess… A Princess Leski Glitterhoof… Apparently she was the one who stuck us down? The Queen saw into the future, saw us coming and she… Apparently cast a spell? At least we knew the target, the princess, if we could take her down, the next wave would almost certainly be successful, though M tapped my shoulder at that point. She quietly whispered into my ear “If we take her hostage, we might take down this whole place in one fell swoop.” She simply said. It was a good plan as any, and if we could end this siege immediately, it’d certainly prevent more casualties on our side.

    We just had to find her, in any case, we continued to climb up, M setting up devices on the wall all the while… I think those were meant to scan rooms with a bit of sonar through the wall, it’d certainly help us move quickly if we already knew the floor plans. Eventually we reached the top, and M pulled up a holographic map of the the tower, she went in deep too, I was honestly surprised at how much she thought up just on the climb up, it was elaborate too, and well thought-

    And then we heard a young girl storm into the room below us, before hearing an older woman shout “You’re grounded Leski!” I simply looked at M, who didn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed, and I simply whispered to her “I think we found our target.” She came out onto a balcony, looking at the shield outside. She spoke again, to herself this time “Mom just doesn’t understand… We can’t stay in here forever!” She said, looking out at the moon. I took a moment to crawl over and take a look and… Woah. Her hair practically reflected the moon, such a great amount of glitter was along it… What wasn’t sparkling was a light purple, long but messy. Not what I expected from a princess honestly, weren’t they supposed to be more proper. I suppose it won’t matter after tonight.

    As the princess sighed, I made my move, M would follow suit. I jumped off the roof, my hand holding the ledge, I swung my body, kicking her right in the face with my metal boot, knocking her to the far end of the room. It was large, with a diameter of 12 feet and a height of six. I took my kopis out to put it to her throat, but as my blade closed in, a sceptre came from the wall and slammed into my head, knocking my hood off, and me off balance, towards a vanity. M came in behind and… I could already hear soldiers coming up to defend the princess. “M! Door!” I called out, she might’ve knocked me for a loop, but I could still defeat her. And at the least, it’d certainly be difficult if we got surrounded. She ran out past the door, and I could hear battle behind the door, but I couldn’t worry for M, I had to hold up my own problem… I couldn’t take the chance if she was the one who struck down our fleet, she clearly needed time to do it, and I couldn’t give her that time. I closed in on her again, my right hand holding the kopis while my hand did it’s magics. The shadow extended out and came under her, grabbing her own shadow, and forcing her forward for my Kopis, this combined with my own march forward closed the distance quickly, before she could try any magic, and she certainly seemed freaked out as well, given her cries as she found herself being dragged, her own feet unable to move away from their spot as they slide across the carpet. And then… She disappeared in a puff of sparkle, immediately I whirled my head around, ready to defend from any angle, I just had to react quickly. Behind? Up? To my sides? Much to my chagrin, she had faked me out, teleporting back a couple feet, and I ended up taking an attack, a blast of electricity slamming into me into the wall, The breath left my lungs at that attack…. I suppose I was alive at least, nothing like that strike that obliterated our fleet.

    As I fell to the floor, she came at me… I wasn’t quite ready to stand up after a blow like that, and thinking quickly… This room was lighted, not thinking too quickly, I threw my Kopis at the ceiling light. It shattered, and with it the light dissipated as well, shrouding the room in darkness. Before she could slam her scepter down on me, I sunk into the carpet, and remerged, grabbing my Kopis. From where it had landed, near the window. It was my turn, I couldn’t teleport quite like her, but I could still do something, I walked to her, making large strides again, as her sceptre began to charge with lightning… I stomped backward into the carpet, behind a bed. As she flung her lightning, my stomping foot went out behind her, disappearing through the shadows and striking her ankle from the very shadow cast by her lightning. It knocked her aim off and she simply ended up hitting the wall near me, I meanwhile leaped at her. I thought that was my chance, I made a novice mistake though… Obvious in hindsight. She simply teleported above me, and I pounced on nothing, while she got a free hit upon my back again, charged again with lightning. My head hit the floor, and I rolled, I had to roll away before she did something else, my eyes were bleary, and I held my Kopis out at where I thought the Sceptre was coming from. I was lucky, and she hit my block, while it was glowing a different color, the significance I knew not, but I could assume it was bad, my eyes cleared, and we stared into each other’s eyes during this conflict. I wasn’t doing too well, she was still stronger than she looked, and was winning, making progres while I could only attempt to hold her back…

    All my concentration went towards surviving for now, nothing else would matter if I just died…. A possibility that seemed ever so likely as this glowing princess hammered at my defense, attempting to power through it. Just as I was sure my defense was going to be broken… Lightning covered her body, and she screamed out. And fell to the floor, and there was M, with an electronic prod, crackling with energy.

    I simple relaxed, if she were here, we had some time. She seemed energetic at least, as she grabbed Princess Leski Glitterhoof, and held her up, her claws at her throat as the Queen came in. “Move a muscle and she dies.” The Queen, long flowing hair, stopped, the guards behind her. “Now… Why don't we have a discussion about the future…” She nodded, a pained look in her eye… It looked like the siege was over in a single day…

    CHAPTER 6

    Later, day has risen, and a line of carriers had arrived to pick up the invading force… I was in chains, hands and feet cuffed. My mother was hugging me… I was crying. I… I failed… And they laid out conditions for my mom. Either they incorporate the planet into the empire… Or I go with them. We both knew which had to be chosen.

    “Sweetie, it's going to be hard out there, but you have to stay strong. Here…” She showed me a red amulet, with an eight pointed star “When times are tough, remember, where you're from.” she slipped it into my pocket. I put my arms around her, about as much I could for a hug. “I swear Mom, I’ll find a way back. No matter how far I will-” “Leski! To the ship.” My mother and I took one last look at each other… And I boarded along, for… Whatever they were gonna do to me.

    Eventually we came to a base, in the distance I could hear arguing in the distance, between some deep voiced person… And the one who knocked me out. Screaming about promotions or something, I didn’t care, they ruined my life, and now I was thousands if not millions of miles from everything I’d known, all my friends, my family, my queendom.

    Eventually they brought me to a room, and told me to sit. I stood. At this point, another figure entered… An… Undead. Floating in here, it looked like a lich. I glared at him hard as I could, “Greetings, Ms. Leski.” A voice boomed, bouncing in my head a bit. What was he trying to scare me? I spat out “I’m not scared of you.” I said, scowling. “...I see. Well, let’s talk then. You destroyed our fleet? I knew there was a great deal of magic, I did not expect that it was so potently combined into one individual. How long did you prepare to wipe out our forces?” A whole day. “It won’t be helpful, I had to sit there for a whole day.” A moment of silence followed. “...I believe you have a skewed view. That is short for most magi.” I didn’t bother listening. Wasn’t my fault their mages were crap… Was that supposed to be a compliment. “Just do what you’re going to do, I’m not going to help you in anything You stupid sack of bones!I shouted back at him. I didn’t want to talk to his stupid face anymore. He looked taken aback. What, was he offended?

    “...We’ll see.” He said, before taking his hands to both sides of my head, and holding them level with his eyes. “It is time you learned respect, and unlearned that attitude.” I continued glaring at him, before his hands began to glow… And pain erupted. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” I cried out, it was really painful… I’ll admit that. But I wasn’t gonna beg him for forgiveness, no matter what. I just needed to remember why I was here, not just because we lost, but because any price was worth paying to protect them...

    My people. My friends, Barrow, Swiftness, my mother….

    My… Mother… Her name...

    I’m forgetting.

    No no no, I’m not going to forget, I may have forgotten her but… I still…! My friends…. B… B- And… Mom, I remember her face still.

    I need to remember! I can’t forget! Sw…. Something with an S…

    I…

    I needed to… I wasn’t going to be this stupid lich’s wind up doll! My mom… My friends… I’m… Princess… Princess of what? Of… Of…. A… My room was…. Circular?

    My friends…. I can’t remember their names… Or faces… Or…

    I blacked out.

    I waited in the room outside, standing at attention. My magecraft has been going well, I felt like a natural, like in another life I must’ve been a Goddess of magic. In any case, Lord Hexcitan was very pleased with my progress. At least he seemed as such, taking such a shine to me, every time we met he seemed much happier than when talking with Kitten or Edith. But that wasn’t who was briefing us now, it was Commander Rawasib, of us three specialists. For some reason I could always catch Edith and Kitten sneaking glimpses at me, I’m not sure why, it’s not like humans were that rare in the Eternal Empire… Though admittedly my hair did sparkle a lot more than most humans… But, as we stood there, listening to our mission, our next assignment after taking down some backwater planet, not even in space. Hopefully this one was more memorable, I struggled to remember a single thing from it.

    Eventually we had some time to ourselves, suiting up for the mission, I took my robes, and a necklace, some amulet with an eight pointed star… I always had this, but I couldn’t figure out where I had it. Probably some trophy Lord Hexcitan gave me I think? Probably, given he told me to wear it whenever I got ready for battle… I called out to Felicity and Edith, “So… How do we want to approach the mission?”


    Last edited by Tinny; 02-12-2018, 03:47 AM.

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