Victory or Kabaiila, Part 1
Yet another time, the sun dipped below the farthest dune, barely visible past the forest of giant towers around the emergency hospital tents assembled by the Nywanese. Yet another time, the darkness of night descended upon the warring factions.
Yet another time, Saferon and Ritana made their way out into the seemingly endless war.
In the outermost, abandoned parts of the city, the only lights available to the soldiers came from their own rifles, and the only salvation available came from the same source.
Yet it was not the light, nor the salvation, the two sought that time.
Saferon had left her sword and shield behind, all tattered and bent, scorched by repeated weapons fire and altogether an attention grabber she could do without in a night mission.
“Are you certain you can still sense the presence?” Ritana whispered in hisses.
“I can gather little to nothing of the source,” Saferon paused in her hustle, peeking around the corner of an abandoned warehouse, “but the source is the same as before. That much, I know for sure.”
“At least draw a weapon,” Ritana warned, as quietly as she could yet loudly enough to overcome the distant echoes of weapons fire.
Saferon nodded and drew a thesium pistol in the inside pocket of her long coat, as an ample response before she slinked around the corner.
Suddenly, she stopped, as if having spotted something off in the distance, her eyes transfixed on what seemed to be nothing.
“What?” Ritana poked her side.
“I can sense the presence,” Saferon said with a shudder, “it lacerates my mind. It’s close. I know it’s close.”
Saferon slowly scanned the darkness, lit at times by stray plasmar fire, and finally nodded to a point just across the sand-covered highway, raising her pistol, “that way.”
Ritana silently followed along, cautiously looking about, placing her feet carefully and spreading her wings to lighten her treading.
As Saferon stepped around the next corner, she stopped again, her weapon pointing directly at an empty space in the shadows.
“There!” she half-shouted, “you! Come out!”
“There’s nothing there,” Ritana pushed the top of Saferon’s gun down.
“Correct and as intended,” said a slender, black-garbed female in the Behraanese tongue, as she stepped out of the shadow into the barely-brighter open before the two.
The would-be assassin held out a long-snouted pistol aimed at Ritana’s chest, but the rest of her was indistinguishable, hidden under the black wrappings. Even her face was covered, save a slit for her eyes.
Ritana prepared a few of her poisonous darts, nestled in her wings and camouflaged with her black feathers.
“Identify yourself!” Saferon shouted.
“My identity matters little to the dead,” the masked figure retorted, “such a shame. A talent like your own would have been useful to the Trilithe Masons of Majestia.”
“Not a talent,” Saferon shook her head, “a skill mastered over time. Mastered enough that I know you’re not the presence I sought.”
“Indeed,” said the masked woman, “still a shame though.”
“Enough,” said a far deeper, cutting male voice, from just behind the figure.
“As you wish,” the assailant withdrew her weapon, as a barely-visible cloaked figure stepped in front of her. Slowly, the cloak was lifted from his face, exposing a grey-haired, bearded man wearing circular sunguards, and a smile as crooked as sin.
“No...” Ritana whispered in a shudder, “not you.”
“Ritana Caal,” he cracked his neck, the popping of cartilage loud enough that even Saferon could feel it in her own neck. Then, he looked to Saferon, “Princess Sarethael. Constable Sarethael. Captain Sarethael. Such a talented, many-titled young woman, you are.”
“Hardly,” the female assailant snorted, “I could have killed them both shooting backwards.”
“Learn your lesson, Miya,” he said quietly, deeply to her, “speak...less.”
Miya simply nodded in compliance.
“And to whom do I have the pleasure of making an acquaintance?” Saferon said boldly, her weapon still trained on the woman, “Some high-up? One of the Imperator’s cronies, perhaps?”
“Saferon,” Ritana whispered into her ear, “he is the Imperator.”
“Your demonic friend is quite right,” he stepped forth, “Indeed, I am a man of many titles, myself. Prophet. General. Assassin. Imperator. A harbinger of doom, some say. The embodiment of chaos, even. But to you, darling Saferon, I am Jehran Cyan. I have been called other things in the past, perhaps millennia ago, yet Jehran Cyan has always sufficed for me.”
“That explains the ease in which I detected you,” Saferon said coldly, “such a signature is often a telltale sound of an old and powerful Aeonian. That it was the Imperator? I’m not surprised. I am surprised that you would visit upon a lifeless world such as this. There are no natural or mineral resources here that couldn’t be more easily obtained elsewhere. No technologies your Dominion does not already possess. Why are you here?”
“Do not anger him!” Ritana hissed.
“Anger me?” he cackled, then recomposed himself, “anger is a habit I abandoned in the path I took to self-ennoblement, in times before this world bore water on its surface.
“I have also abandoned the habit of, as ancients might have put it here, “beating around the bush.””
Saferon tilted her head, attempting to understand the analogy.
“Where is your mother, Saferon?” he asked, more like demanded, “where is Jiinahra Sarethael?”
As he asked it, the lacerations became worse, deeper into the shields of Saferon’s disciplined mind. It compelled her lips to move and her vocal cords to comply. And just as effortless as the man’s attempt was at forcing her to speak, was Saferon’s effortless attempt to swipe the notion away.
“I find it hard to believe that you, such a valuable asset to Behraan, would so haphazardly waltz into a warzone with a single Trilithe whore to protect you,” said Saferon in defiance.
Miya could not let that stand. She moved to draw her weapon, only to have it disintegrated halfway up to firing level by the reactive shot of Saferon’s already-trained pistol. Her hand was clearly singed by the shot, a fair warning that Saferon was still fully alert and aware, so much unlike others her Imperator had come across.
“You place your words in such a way that would imply that I might need such protection,” he said, clearly amused, “yet for a man who has lived as long as I have, seen what I’ve seen, and done what I have done, would I so easily abandon my flagship and its fleet, the protection of armies and the throne of the Dominion, if I needed any of these trivial matters?”
“All for a woman who disappeared fifty years ago,” Saferon raised a brow, “sounds pretty trivial to me.”
“Yet, here I am,” he crossed his arms, “evidence against that fumbling notion. I do wish we had more time to converse, even debate, young Saferon. You are almost as fun to do so with as your mother was. So in closing, I will make a proposition you cannot refuse.”
Saferon and Ritana cautiously waited.
“You will reveal the location of your mother, generally or specifically—or, you will spend the rest of your life watching every last soul you care for, bend to my will and hunt you down in my name—forcing you to kill them. There’s no pleasure in me killing anymore. It’s far more entertaining to force those who care for one another, slaughter one another.”
“She’s on Suragaa,” Saferon smirked, “that’s all. I think you should have rehearsed that proposition a few times more before actually bringing it up.”
Ritana cracked her own crooked smile.
“You came with two others,” the man smiled back, “they followed another beacon. A beacon on a ship I had already placed a tracking device on, the Skyreign. Jiinahra is there.”
Saferon could not believe it. For a fraction of a moment, she opened her mind. For less than a fraction of a moment, he had already gotten in and out with what he wanted.
“It was never about the proposition,” he smiled wider, showing his jagged teeth, “another term you may or may not have heard: sleight of hand.”
Saferon narrowed her eyes on him as he uncrossed his arms. In his hands, he bore two long, black-steel punching blades, barbed and notched and just long enough to fit perfectly under the sleeves of his cloak on his forearms.
“What shall I tell your mother when I drop by?” said the man as he began to approach the two, “shall I tell her you died with valiance in glorious combat? Or shall I tell her you begged for your life as I cut you to pieces?”
Saferon knew the words were over. She fired a shot. Two. Three, four, five.
Still, he advanced, budging just slightly as the bolts of lightning were harmlessly absorbed into his cloak.
“Run,” Ritana whispered, tugging Saferon’s sleeve as she continued to fire, “Run!!!”
“Please, do!” he said, his voice thick with venom, his blades dripping literally with it as he held them out to his sides, making him seem larger than he really was.
Still she fired. Still he advanced. Miya followed closely behind, drawing her own daggers.
As if finally bored of Saferon’s futile attempts to shoot him down, he charged forth at her. She pulled back in just enough time to avoid the first swing, which severed her pistol cleanly in half.
Ritana attempted to toss several of her own poisonous darts at him. His response was to idly deflect them with his other blade, not even looking at the direction of the attack. The speed at which he moved was—inhuman.
“Jaegrynn!” Saferon shouted aloud as she turned to run. But she knew running alone would not save her. There had to be a spell.
Quickly, she shunted her mind to the lightening of her body, enough so to break her down and place herself numerous metres away, once again whole with the added bonus of being farther away from her hunter.
“Perhaps you’re more dematerialistic than materialistic after all!” Ritana said as she flapped her wings to assist her sprint.
“Jaegrynn, Longpick!” Saferon shouted aloud.
Moments later, a monstrosity of a weapon appeared in her hands. This was a long-hafted tool of mayhem, sporting a spiked hammer on one end of a haft, a pick on the opposite side of the same end, and a round, axe-like blade running atop the two. Certainly more menacing than some simple mining pick the weapon typically resembled, when not wielded by one Saferon Sarethael.
“Perhaps not!” Ritana turned about when Saferon did, as she assumed a stance where her wings and claws could strike at near-anything.
Yet as the two looked back they saw only the darkness. Only the buildings. Only strewn corpses and blackened craters.
“We should fly away,” Ritana whispered, “this is insane!”
“We’d make ourselves too easy a target,” Saferon warned, “and I know we can’t outrun him.”
“Valiance, then,” Ritana shook her head, “I will tell you something. That man enjoys killing far more than I do. And I enjoy killing far more than dying.”
“Quiet,” she raised her pick and lowered her stance, searching along the sides of the buildings, every corner, every alleyway, “he’s close. I feel him.”
“Down!” Ritana dove over and threw Saferon to the ground, covering both of them with her wings as the sound of a high-pitched plasmar thundered across the clearing. A mote of sand turned black and scattered away.
Moments later, the two kipped up and sprinted for the nearest cover, the remainders of one of the gateways the Nywanese created as chokepoints for would-be attackers. It was riddled with holes and contorted out of its original shape, but it was better than being in the wide open in line of sight of a sniper.
“That bitch of an assassin!” Saferon whispered over hastily to Ritana.
Ritana sat there on the sand, panting, wheezing ever so slightly.
“We should keep moving,” she said as she opened her wings, exposing a gaping, bloody hole in the middle of one wing. Several feathers flaked off from around the wound.
“Guess we won’t be flying,” Saferon sighed, “are you otherwise alright?”
“Course I’m alright,” she hissed, beginning to run. Her injured wing hung slightly lower than the other, though she did her best to keep the tip from dragging on the ground.
Saferon knew for certain by then that they would not outrun their assailant.
One more shot nipped at their feet, as the two warriors burst through one short alleyway into another highway—one filled with both Nywanese and Ma’guul exchanging highly energetic and often fatal opinions.
Behind one of the improvised barricades--a hovering skiff turned on its side--was a crouched platoon of Nywanese soldiers. Their armour was tattered and scorched from stray shots, their faces covered in sand, soot and blood.
“General!” one called out to Ritana as Saferon escorted her over.
Quickly, Saferon pushed her down onto her rear behind a short wall, then ducked down behind it herself as she looked to the other soldiers, “medics? Clerics?”
“Not necessary!” Ritana snarled.
“I’m a medic,” said one of the male soldiers who began assessing the hole in Ritana’s wing, “it’s bad, but not permanent. I’ve helped hawks through worse.”
“I will heal!” she growled ferociously as the medic tried to get close to the injury.
“You’ll heal wrong if you leave it!” the medic warned, “if you want to fly again, General, let me help you. If it means that much to your pride, we’ll all pretend we never saw you like this, okay?”
“Fine by me,” said the none-too-missed Imperator, as he simply appeared behind the medic, as if walking out of another realm. A blade appeared squarely through his heart, twisted, and pulled out. Before either Ritana or Saferon could get one last look into the eyes of the imminently doomed medic, the assailant spun around and plucked his head cleanly off.
“Holy Kabaiila!!!” shouted a female soldier as she raised her rifle, “kill him!!!!”
He jumped backwards, his body spinning almost in parallel to the ground, until he landed on the chest of another soldier with his blades. He then tore up, splitting him into three before quickly ducking from the first woman’s rifle shot, which dug into the shoulder of another Nywanese soul.
Before Saferon could even get to her feet to defend the panicking soldiers and raise her pick, she was too late. Only she, and he, stood.
“Waste,” he sighed as his blades no longer carried the venom, “but no matter.”
Saferon's only reply was a surprisingly quick jab with such a seemingly cumbersome weapon. He blocked it easily, followed by the next jab. However, the third hit was only mostly blocked, as it also carried a lethal electrical charge drawn from Saferon’s own spell.
If it were any other person, that charge would have been lethal.
To the Imperator, it was only very painful, yet he hid it well enough to carry the fight on. Quickly, he began hacking at her, every attack parried by the haft of her weapon.
One swipe made it past the haft, aiming straight for her heart. Wasting no time, she pressed the haft into his face, stopping him from following through and knocking him back a few metres, until he could regain his balance.
“No fool ever thought to have attained immortality, and lived,” Saferon said openly as she pressed the attack, "Time's up, old man!"
It was plenty for him. As she charged forth, he neatly chopped the head of the weapon off its haft, leaving only a glorified metal pole.
“Right you are,” he said out the side of his mouth, before hacking the pole in half, giving her two half-poles. Still, to Saferon, two metal poles were weapons enough. She resumed a more composed stance, and coiled her entire body in electricity, lighting the area around her and sending sparks out the ends of her two improvised weapons.
Slowly, from behind, Ritana approached and opened her wings wide, her claws out low and high, as she stood beside her electric friend.
“Valiance it is,” said Ritana, “Victory or Kabaiila.”