.1. Beauty Long Lost
SITTING BACK AGAINST HIS SPHINX, Dion stared out at the gray wasteland before him, finding it hard to believe that such an empty chasm of a place had ever held any amount of beauty whatsoever. After some time staring out at the scenery, he glanced down at an old photograph in his hand. The world that it portrayed, an abundant world brimming with so much life couldn’t have possibly been real. Yet there it was, the only evidence of this land’s former beauty - beauty now long lost.
Closing his eyes, Dion allowed himself to revel in the quiet. Imagining the gray valley around him alive and beautiful like in the picture. It was as if, for that moment, he was really in a living valley. The grass, flowers, blue sky. Seemed so surreal.
A static noise resonated in the air destroying the living valley. The static that had rudely awakened him was quickly replaced by a young boy's voice. “Novena to Whirlwind, do you copy? Novena to Whirlwind, do you copy?”
With a heavy sigh, Dion carefully folded the aging photograph then returned it to the confines of his coat pocket. He then jumped to his feet and began patting himself down, removing dirt that had accumulated on his clothes.
When he looked more like a human than a mound of dirt, Dion faced his Sphinx, an oversize motorcycle made completely out of black metal, pressing a few keys on its mantel. Simultaneously, two small compartments on either side of the Sphinx opened with a soft hiss. He reached inside the left side compartment pulling out a device that resembled a flip phone, however, when he opened it there was a disc where keys should have been. He pulled out the disc then put it in his ear. Dion pressed a finger against the center of the disc. “Whirlwind responding, what is it Monee?”
There was a moment of hesitation as if the person on the other end of the line hadn’t expected an answer, but the young voice spoke again - this time coming from the small disc. “What were you doing? Sightseeing again?”
“There’s nothing worth sightseeing,” Dion said, “unless you count the dirt cliffs.” He reached into the confines of his long midnight blue coat, pulling out a gun that had three triggers instead of the common two. Dion pressed the trigger that rested at the bottom part of the handle on the gun. As he did, the barrel of the gun retracted to give way to a long thin blade that was about as long as his forearm. All that remained of the gun was the handle and the triggers. Dion started tossing the blade up in the air absentmindedly, catching it by the handle every time. “Did an Order come in?”
“Not exactly. Sniffer got a hit on the radar when we did some recon a while ago.”
Dion stopped tossing the blade, perplexed. “Didn’t we already canvas the whole area? There was nothing. Mana doesn’t just appear.”
“It isn’t where we checked when you were still on the ship. It’s farther North. Tula wanted to start looking for a good place to set down, then Sniffer picked it up.” Monee said defensively.
Dion heaved another sigh, trying to control the frustration that still lingered. “I see. Tell me where it is and I’ll get it.”
Monee seemed to have heaved a sigh himself before answering. “It’s in an old ruin. Sniffer finished matching the geography with the Library’s data. The ruin is an old capital city called IrDA. It’s about a 9-hour travel from where you are. Want us to pick you up?”
Dion shook his head, forgetting for a moment that Monee couldn’t see him. “I’ll take my Sphinx, enjoy some more of the fresh air and scenery.” He said in an exaggerated tone.
“Will it make the trip?”
“Fully charged it before I left. It’ll make it.” Dion pulled the trigger of the blade to make it change back into a gun, then he returned it to its holster. “What I’m more concerned about are the readings. How bad are they?”
He could hear Monee clear his throat over the line, most likely hoping that he wouldn’t ask this question. “Well, not entirely sure on that. We’re getting a lot of mixed signals. There’s no telling whether the Mana has reached Genesis yet or not. All I can tell you is to be careful.”
“This wouldn’t be the first time.” Dion said, recalling other missions that he had to undertake with even less information than this.
“Yeah. Contact us if you need anything and whenever you’re done. I’ll have Sniffer keep all scanners on the city. We’ll keep you posted if we catch any irregularities.”
He closed his eyes expecting what was coming. “What?”
“For my sake, don’t do anything crazy. I’m serious Dion. Nothing crazy. I...we can’t lose you too.” Monee sounded like he was about to cry. Most likely thinking of those who never came back from their missions, but Dion knew better. He was sure that Monee was thinking of one specific person who never came back.
“Don’t think about the past Monee. I’ll contact you if I need anything.” Dion cut off the line before Monee could have the chance to say anything else. He knew that it seemed a bit harsh, but counseling wasn’t really what he was good at. No doubt Sniffer was giving Monee a reassuring smile or Tula was patting his back right about now. They were more practiced than he was in these situations.
When I get back I’ll make it up to him. He pulled the disc out of his ear and placed it back in its case, shoving it into his pocket. “Better get moving.”
Dion hoisted himself onto his Sphinx. He pressed some keys on the mantel, closing the two open compartments and bringing up a holographic image of a map of the entire area. Dion pushed aside his long fair bangs, which had a tendency of covering his emerald eyes, and started memorizing the map. Once he was sure that he got it memorized he closed the map then pulled out a pair of black leather gloves that had a metal device of some kind on them and a silver-rimmed pair of goggles from one of the smaller compartments on the Sphinx.
He couldn’t help but take one last look at the valley. After a moment he glanced down at his hand, making it into a fist. Stop thinking of a past you can’t change. Focus on reality.
Biting down hard on his lower lip, Dion started the Sphinx’s engine. Within seconds he left behind the gray valley that had once been a grand treasure for its flowers.
Flowers that are nothing more than a memory...