Syche: The Steel Heart (BOOK 2)

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Chapter 2: Home Invasion

As the grand doors to the palace room opened, I took a step back and made myself scarce. I could observe without participating.

First to march in proudly were the brothers, the Commanders of the Serian forces. The Dark Element technically had one Commander for each branch– Seriah, Yatala, Oceania, and the Special Forces– but the brothers shared that singular title for Seriah. The one that lead was the larger of the two. Wide chested, crew cut. Mid-twenties. He had the confident smirk that made you think a woman had never told him “no”. The second brother that came behind stepped lightly with his arms folded placidly behind his back. A pair of spectacles rested on the tip of his nose and a sheathed swords dangled from the scabbard on his waist. His hair was longer but neatly quaffed.

Kogen and Teruma. The definition of competence when it came to Metal Syches.

Trailing them just behind strode Llyon. Where the brothers dressed cool and comfortable, Llyon dressed to the nines. His suit was tailored to make his chest look broad. A subtle crosshatching pattern in the blue fabric stood out just enough to be seen without being ostentatious. The absurdity of that man more lay in the fact that he had his Lieutenants dress similarly when not on a mission for the Element.

He treated his position as Element Commander just as he treated his role as CEO of the largest arms dealer in Yatala. The perk in his step was unsurprising. A meeting this large could only mean better business.

But no one else was with them. Special Division Commander Malcom and Oceanic Commander Alina were surprisingly missing.

They best hope they make it here before Mellach does.

###

Kael was ready to kill. It seemed harsh to think, and it would seem harsher if he had to do it. But he was ready all the same. He had weeks to stew over being waylaid and taken out by Gianna, and it stung more than ever. The plan was to do some ambushing themselves tonight, but the fact remained that their targets were Dark Element Assassins. That was not a title that Kael would ever treat lightly again.

“Jeesh. Loosen up. It’s no good if you have a stroke before we begin.”

Kael looked up and unclenched his fists. Alma Rasgard, his younger sister, leaned back casually against the exterior of the aircraft, smugly looking him over. This was going to be Avonly all over again: complete confidence because she’d never been in real danger.

The second danger crashed over their heads and broke like a lightning storm she’d– Well she would– Kael had no idea where this metaphor was going.

Who knew? Avonly wanted to have fun. Alma came because she was pissed. Pissed about losing her home, pissed about life in general. Maybe when the storm broke, she’d have an umbrella.

There it is. Nailed it.

“What are you smiling like an idiot for?” Alma spat, literally.

“Just imagining a situation where you don’t screw this up.”
She stared ahead, refusing to engage with that. There really was hope she’d be useful.

“Kael, Alma,” the voice in their head reverberated through the earpiece. “I see our soldiers are in position and we are ready to go. Move to the midpoint and let’s start.”

Kael placed his hand to his ear and responded, “Is this Ell? Are you still around?”

“I’m here too.” Of course Joshua was on the other end.

“I am here,” Ell said, his voice strained. Were they fighting to talk to him? “Anyway, go ahead and move out, let’s get this done.”

Alma pushed herself from heels to toe with a bend of the torso and started walking through the clearing, Kael inches behind.

This place still had divots and destruction from years of sparring and practice. Tree stumps and chunks of metal. The overly loud stream. It hurt Kael to know that this could be the last time he saw this place. It would hurt more when he saw the house for the last time in a couple minutes.

He had been so excited to begin working towards plans for the downfall of Taerose and his father, but that was in the abstract. Kael had never prepared himself for what that would cost. He was losing his home. He had lost a friend, or the facsimile of one. With the old woman that watched over them gone, he had practically lost family.

It was all falling apart, and he didn’t want to think about that, because there was more to lose. If he kept on going down this path, there was so much more to lose.

More to gain too. He needed to know how to kill his father. Why not start with someone who worked for him?

“You’re pretty thoughtful tonight,” Alma said coolly, her tone matching the dark of the woods. “Your face keeps scrunching up, normally a Joshua thing.”

She had to be guessing, the complete absence of light surely leaving him in shadow; this was just carry over from the clearing. Kael didn’t respond. If he gave in to her prodding, that would only encourage her; he learned that with Joshua. “Hey Ell,” Kael said, his voice bouncing through the trees. “We there?”

“A tenth of a click more,” came the response.

So they walked.

The plan was simple. Syches could feel energy, especially energy from other Syches. So if they used their powers, they might be able to draw the enemy out from whatever hole they hid in.

But no plan was perfect.

First, Syches had to actively feel for what was around them unless the energy was just too massive to ignore. For an experienced Syche, this came naturally. For the unskilled, the opposite obviously applied.

Second. There were dangers if their opponents were too skilled. Not in combat of course, Kael could handle that, so long as the enemy didn’t send a Commander. No, the issue was with the support squad.

Kael and Alma did not come alone. In a crescent formation keeping a steady distance was a moderate deployment of Serian soldiers who would move in once the bait was snatched. Human lifeforce could be sensed, however. Or more to the point, it prevented a Syche from sensing what was there. The plan was to create a beacon to lure the bugs out, but a keen observer could theoretically detect those blank spaces and see the trap.

And third.

Hm. There was definitely a third. As they came to a stop on their mark, Kael scratched his head trying to remember. Joshua warned him about a third possible danger that the Serians without Ell overlooked. Kael remembered thinking the insight was brilliant but couldn’t remember the point itself.

“Did you talk to Joshua before we left?” Kael quickly spat out, knowing she wasn’t in the room.

“No. Why?”

A low grunt filled the back of Kael’s throat. He had the earpiece; he could ask; but he really didn’t want to. “Let’s start,” he said, flexing his fingers and approaching a tree. “You feel those two Syches hiding in our old house right?”

Alma nodded. “I’ll keep track of them. I know.”

Kael stooped down and placed a full hand on the base of the tree, slowing his breathing in the process. Like drips from a leaky faucet, he felt the energy from his mind wiggle its way down from his mind and into the tree at first. And then a little more; the handle to the faucet turn. And then he wrenched the handle all the way, feeling a complete cascade rip through his body and flood out his fingers.

Opening his eyes, Kael looked up at the tree, lines of amber orange radiated and throbbed from top to bottom. But Kael held it. No combustion, no explosion. If he overdid it, it would be too obvious to work as bait. Instead, he held that energy inside the tree longer, feeling the strain widen across his frontal lobe like a headache before reaching further back to the brainstem.

That was enough. Kael took a deep breath and pushed the energy out of the tree and radially into the ground, dispersing it in every direction as thinly as possible. He held his breath and stood, looking around for any explosions or random bush fires.

All good.

Now if they were lucky and their enemies were looking, or rather feeling, they would come.

“Anything Alm?”

“Don’t get cute with me. No nicknames.”

“Are they coming?” Kael repeated, more forcefully this time. He sure hoped they were. That stunt would be exhausting if he had to do it a few more times.

Alma nodded. “The two Syches are out of the house and in route.”

“You got that Ell?”

“Of course,” Ell’s disinterested voice crept over the line. He couldn’t help himself it seemed.

Alma spit again and then brought her hands up to the top of her head and chin, tilting her head to one side and then the other with a crack. “If there are two, we can just kill one.”

“If there are two prisoners, there’s double the chance someone talks, if not more.”
“Have it your way.”

Kael bent and placed his hand to the ground. If he was fast enough, he could subdue them without a fight. “Alma, drop your Sychakenetic energy so I can sense them. I want to know where my target is.”

“Bad idea. They’re pushing back. Too late to drop the bubble.”

When a Syche controlled an element, that was that. But with their powers out in the proverbial either, Syches had to fight for space. Kael couldn’t sense energy while his sister reached out, and she couldn’t push forward and sense further with the enemy’s Sychakenetic energy crashing down upon her own.

If a Syche was completely enveloped in the other’s influence, then they couldn’t only use their powers on what they directly touched. Thus commenced the game of Sychakenetic tug of war.

Alma slid back behind a tree, tempting Kael to do the same. They couldn’t know the exact position of their enemies now, and they could try a flank, pop up anywhere. However, the same was true for Kael and Alma.

Kael jogged back and briefly put his hand on a tree, infusing it with energy just like before with two exceptions. First, he put an extra dose of energy into the base. Second, he didn’t stop the explosion.

With a cracking rip that sent leaves spinning from the canopy, the tree lit on fire and the base exploded, sending it toppling down in the direction their enemies approached.

Kael slid behind another tree for cover and peeked. Just there on the fringe of the orange firelight he could see a black-robed assassin ducking out of view. Gottem.

Kael placed his hand on the ground and traced a path with his mind to his enemy’s hiding spot. The ground beneath his feet was the same as his enemies. That was direct contact and their bubble meant little.

Across the space, an explosion sounded sending up dirt, smoke, and the brilliant orange glow of destruction.

It might not be a hit though, and they still had no idea what kind of Syches they fought.

Two trees down, Kael watched in a fraction of a second as a dull red lightning fork of energy traveled through the ground and then hit the tree, causing it to explode.

The reverberations of dull thuds sounded against the trees near him, but Kael couldn’t guess what that was

If they were going to take potshots at each other’s cover, Kael could play that game. He sent another riptide of energy across the no man’s zone and reeled back surprised. His attack was blocked. Just like the bubble, their Combustion Syche had infused his energy into the ground and left it there just as Kael had with the tree. Doing so effectively created a shield. Kael sent his string of energy left and right but couldn’t get in, the defense was a full circle.

Close combat it was.

Kael tapped his tree, infusing it with energy and performing the same maneuver as before. But as the tree creaked and fell, Kael scooted alongside with it, leaves and charred bark falling on his crouched back. The burning husk obscuring his own view.

To his side and to his luck, he saw another red stream of energy shoot through the ground causing a delayed explosion far behind him. He was close. He had this. But once he was in the bubble they’d know, so he needed to move fast.

Jumping up to a sprint, Kael lunged forward and charged as fast as he could towards his enemies’ makeshift bunker. He spun around the tree, seeing his foe with both hands down, still focused on the ground.

Gleaming at his luck, Kael took the enemy by the head with a hand and smashed him face-first into his knee. As the assassin bled and cursed, Kael spun around him and put him in a headlock, his arm viced around the carotid. In six seconds, the assassin went limp.

One down, one to go.

Pushing himself up, Kael felt out, hoping that his opponent held the bubble. And it was gone! But now that he could feel, he sensed another Syche nearby accompanied by the odd sensation of fading energy, like a candle slowly flickering out.

Kael stumbled and tried to re-gauge what he was seeing. it took a second. Twenty feet away, a smoldering upper half of a body in black robes lay ashen-faced in the dirt and the mud. Ten feet the other way, the other half lay in cinders. In the middle, between the two halves, Alma stood.

“You gonna give me crap? Blood Syches are so hard to kill.”

Kael bit his lip. He hadn’t been expecting any of this. “How did you get over here to do that?”

“You were making such a racket it wasn’t hard. My guy was lobbing spikes of frozen blood your way. Didn’t you notice?”

Kael hadn’t. But then there was the original question: was he going to give her crap? Yeah, a little. “Listen. I don’t so much mind that he is dead, but your attitude is, well. It’s not normal to be this okay with killing someone.”

“He had it coming.”
“Sure but– what are you feeling right now?” Man, Kael was starting to sound like Joshua.

“Mad mostly.” Alma looked around and scratched her neck. “Wait, where was our backup?”

Kael extended his powers immediately, feeling through the forest, bumping into Alma doing the same. In a quarter circle to his side and behind, Kael could feel little patches of nothing that constituted a person’s life force. And just like the dead Syche who Kael could feel fading, those patches of nothing started to fade.

“Dead!” Kael shouted, turning his back to Alma.

“Same!”

A dark spot tore through his sense, rocketing to him at insane speeds. Kael turned and dragged Alma down to the ground as a whistling screech echoed through the woods. A dark shape zipped over them and slammed into a tree, splitting it horizontally halfway up. The tree stood there erect for a few seconds more, apparently surprised by the sudden turn of events before falling harmlessly away from them.

And then like a Malagenian curver, the object zipped back overhead and into the shadows.

“We need to move,” Kael said, regaining his feet, realizing Alma was the one pulling him up.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” The white smile of a man emerged first through the night as the ashen tree Kael felled gave the last of its orange glow. The rest of him emerged in turn and Kael saw a large man with a no shirt and long duster. He stopped and leaned on a giant heap of metal the size of an anchor that Kael had once climbed.

And then Kael remembered. Kael remembered Joshua’s advice at that moment. “They could do it to you.” The enemy could use a decoy just like Kael had. Just a Syche being present to fight could be a beacon to distract from the real attack.

“Behind us,” Alma hissed, her heel rising and kicking Kael in the back of the leg.

With the quickest look he could dare, Kael looked behind and then forward. There was another man there, a sword drawn and at his side.

“You are the Commanders I’ve heard about,” Kael said. “The Brothers who run the Serian branch”

“Course. Pleasure’s all mine of course,” the larger, younger brother said. “Name’s Kogen. This is Teruma. We control the West.”

“And yet you are so far east,” Alma added, her hands in the air unsure what to do with themselves.

“I’ll be honest with you,” the voice came from behind from the swordsman. “You got unlucky tonight. We were just passing through on the way back from Taerose. Had some old friend stationed here that we stopped by to say hello to.” Teruma messed with his hair and looked down at the corpse split in twain. “Those kids used to be part of our division before Mal snatched them up. Real shame what you did there ma’am.”

This was bad. Kael had seen one Commander in action before and he was god-like compared to any Syche Kael fought. And this time there were two of them.

“Let’s go then,” Alma spoke calmly. “If we’re going to kill each other let’s get on with it.”

Don’t say that!

“Hold on there,” Kogen said, relaxing his posture and putting his hands up as if he surrendered. I wouldn’t have taken a shot at you if I knew you were the King’s kids. We’re not about to hurt you two without the big man being very clear that’s allowed.”

“Instead you’ll just kidnap us then,” Kael said, remembering Mal not too long ago.

They weren’t there, but they seemed to be familiar with the incident as well. “Mal did that because he was told,” Kogen said.

“Or at least, he was given orders he could interpret as such,” Temura added. “No. You’ve killed our men. We’ve killed yours. We’ll bury our dead and move on. We’ll send word to the King, but we’ll move on.

“Maybe you should just move on as is,” Alma countered, mystifying Kael why she would.

Kaden crossed his arms and Timura began fumbling with the breast pocket on his coat. Pulling out a pair of spectacles, he put them on and sighed, “Really abusing the armistice, huh? Fine, we’re gone. But I have a word of advice: when we spoke with the King, the matter of his children did come up and he promised us all that if they interfered again, he’s give the. . . .” Temura trailed off, scratching the stubble on his chin with his thumb. “What is it you Yatalans say? The green light?”

“What you don’t have traffic lights in Seriah?” Alma asked, her voice dry and nasally.

“Most of the West doesn’t, certainly not Seriah. If you want a traffic light, I think there are still two smaller nations on the southwest coast still reeling from the stink of colonialism that follow the tradition. The rest of us are slightly more evolved.”

The older brothers’ booming voice join in, “If you make it to Mainal, come find us. We’ll give you the tour.”

Taking a step back into the shadows, Temura disappeared, his black sword still firmly clutched in his hand. By the time Kael turned around, the other brother had disappeared as well.

Lucky. That was twice now that thier lineage had saved them from a Dark Element commander, but Kael had a feeling that couldn’t last. Whatever their dad may be, he wasn’t patient.

“They really are leaving,” Alma breathed a sigh of relief, wringing her hands out in the air. “Not even a bubble to protect the retreat. They really don’t see us as threats.”

At least she was scared. Kael thought she was being suicidal for a second. The last thing he needed was another Joshua, mindlessly jumping off a cliff to save some drowning child down below, only needing to be saved himself because he broke twenty-eight bones on the impact. Actually, this was probably a good thing. Under the most incredible amount of pressure imaginable, Alma didn’t miss a step.

Pulling his thoughts together, Kael was about to say something until he realized she had taken off without him, moving towards the family home. He sped forward and got her in his view again as they came to the hill overlooking the valley.

The old ramshackle of a place still looked well.

Sliding to the bottom of the hill, he caught Alma by the arm. “What are you doing? We need to get the prisoner back to the plane. We’re lucky they didn’t notice. If we’re really lucky, the pilot will still be alive.”

“This will only take a second.” Alma wiped the raven hair that frayed into her hair and the few bits that stuck in her mouth. With a shaking hand, she approached their home and lightly pressed a finger on the first plank of wood on top of the stone base. As she stepped back, a small fire birthed and grew, licking at the side of the house.

“We were betrayed again,” Alma said, watching the flames climb higher, like one hundred tiny hands climbing from purgatory. “Not a word on the receiver as their soldiers got butchered.”

Kael stumbled with his thoughts, only now remembering the earpiece they had. It had been worryingly silent. He raised his hand and clicked the outgoing. “Anyone there? Did you guys catch what happened in the woods?”

Not even static responded.

As the flames grew and consumed, the house a fully realized pyre to their old lives, Kael took his sister by the shoulder and pulled her in close.

“If I was going to lose my home, I wanted it to be my choice,” she whispered.

Kael nodded. That made more sense than anything else to him right now.

“And now we’re alone again. Against everyone,” he cracked voice barely got the words out.

That he wasn’t sold on. As his eyes sparkled with the crisp glow of childhood memories, Kael smiled as the wind and flame combined, waving goodbye to the valley that had cradled their family so long.

“No,” Kael said. “There was no reason to leave us out here on our own. Something went wrong.”

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