Chapter 1 (Restless Sleep)
Ending a war should have been a happy triumph, instead, it was quiet. The details were handled mostly by my older sister, the current Master of Military, and her council. My only task was to be there as my sister made a verbal agreement, then leave everything else to the officials. Which was good, considering I was only a few weeks away from dying. On the verge of death, and unable to do anything else, I went to a newly discovered planet and me and my team decided that since my situation couldn’t be much worse, we tested out some alien equipment to try and save my life. But I died anyway…
At least for a while.
“Matthew!” Opal yelled. She grasped the counter, her fingers turning white as she gripped the edge. Matthew Selene stared at his wife. An empty pit had taken place where his eyes should be. He was already dead. “Matthew!”
The bang echoed through the lab. My scream was lost in the sound. I dove deeper into the cabinet, tears streaming down my face.
“Ma… Matthew.” Opal whispered. A final shot seared itself into my mind.
Bang! I jumped, my eyes flying open but I could barely see anyway. A murky green haze filled my vision. My lungs spasmed, gasping for air as if I hadn’t breathed fresh air for months. Where am I? My heart leapt to my throat. Panic tightened my throat. After a second, logic took over.
Alright, take a minute. I told myself sternly. Look around; what are you in? I threw my arms out, feeling the glass tube that surrounded me. A picture filled my mind; hundreds of glass coffins, lying side by side on the ground. But that wasn’t what was happening. For one thing, I was upright, and I couldn’t see any other glass tubes outside of my own. Well… I couldn’t see much of anything through the murky green that clouded my vision but I decided not to focus on that. I had to get out, no matter where I was. And before I ran out of breath.
Now how do I get out? I asked. Talking to myself kept the fear away. I pushed off the tube floor and felt along the top, searching for a latch or button. Nothing. Now what? Oh, come on. You’ve been in worse situations. Break the glass.
I had no idea if the transparent material was glass or even breakable, but I was running out of air, and my panic was rising again. Gradually, more of my senses were returning too, which wasn’t helping either. Alarms rang outside of the container and only served to increase my anxiety. I braced myself on one side and threw my fist into the wall. Pain fired up my arm when my hand connected with the transparent material and a few bubbles escaped my lips. I gritted my teeth and twisted, using my elbow instead. I tightened my throat, forcing it close so I wouldn’t accidently gasp in pain and lose what little air I had left. I hit the glass again. And again. Each blow sent fire up my shoulder but nothing appeared in the glass. Just when I was going to give up, I gave the wall a final punch. A plexpar thin line appeared, barely visible through the murky green liquid, but it was there. With renewed strength, I hit the same spot. Another hit widened the crack.
My lungs jerked in my chest. I closed my throat, fighting down the wave of panic and the urge to take a gulp, knowing that I wouldn’t be breathing air but the green sludge instead. I hit the glass again, ignoring the pain that shot through my body and the certainty that I had broken something. The glass splintered. Spiderweb cracks spread all around me. I hit it once more, pushing off the glass behind my back and throwing everything I had into the blow. The tube shattered. My momentum sent me flying to the ground in a pool of glass and slime.
I gasped, coughing and sputtering as air flooded my lungs. It felt like my body hadn’t breathed in ages. Shadows crept into my vision, slowly as if they were trying to catch me off guard. I tried to push myself up but the shadows attacked before I could move and swallowed my mind. Then I passed out.
I raised my pounding head and looked around the room. A red light flashed, casting the other cloning tubes that lined the large room in an eerie glow. The skeleton in one seemed to stare at me. I got up and backed away from the bones, ignoring the glass that crunched under my feet. Where am I?
I looked around again before a better question floated to my mind. Who am I?
A barrage of names flooded my head. NightStorm. ShadowStorm. Jadien. Jade. I gritted my teeth as pain filled the space behind my eyes. I sunk to the ground and pressed the heels of my hands to my ears, trying to block out the names. Forget names. They change. Who am I?
Pieces, fragments and flashes of images shot through my mind faster than I could follow.
Soldiers. Training with people twice my size. Cuts that covered my entire body and a large shadow laughing above me. Assassins. Quiet nights spent talking about nightmares, watching mission videos and discussing tactics and formations. Aliens towering over me. Blades that flew through the air. A white phoenix standing tall above me, her wings spread wide as if to embrace the world.
I forced myself back to my feet and stumbled, catching myself on the wall with both hands. More glass crunched underneath me, but none of the shards dug into my feet. I looked down at myself. A black bodysuit covered my body from neck to toes and protected me from the broken shards littering the ground. I needed to take inventory. I walked away from the glass and sat on the floor again, rubbing my temples and forced myself to focus. What do I know?
My memory was in tatters. Trying to remember anything was like trying to hold water. I could still move and function, so that was a good sign. Alone in a strange lab in a bodysuit that wasn’t mine. What planet am I on? I looked for any hint in the lab, but there weren’t any signs telling me. Plus, my head was starting to pound from the alarm and flashing lights. I had to get out. Maybe the outside would give me some clues, or at least clear my head enough to think. I climbed back to my feet and found a stairwell out of the lab.
“The alarm is over here!” A voice echoed down the dark stairs. I froze, still in the shadows at the edge of the light streaming across the steps from outside. I pressed my back to the wall and listened.
“What set it off? Alpha team is north of here. No one has been in this area for months.” Another voice said. This one was deeper and rough sounding, but somehow still carried a warm tone that eased some of the tension from my shoulders. I crept towards the light filled doorway. A cool breeze rushed in, rustling white strands of hair in front of my eyes. After pushing the loose waves back, I paused on the third to last step and peered outside where I could see the light shining on silver branches that waved in the wind. Glass leaves gently clinked against each other. I watched a glass flower wave at me with the next gust of wind, sending streaks of rose, blue and yellow light across the ground. Then a shadow blocked the image. One so large it took up the entire entrance and blocked nearly all the light like an eclipse. His eyes landed on me, and he stumbled so much he nearly toppled down the stairs on top of me.
“Storm?” He asked, his deep voice filling the hall. I knew that name. So why did my chest tighten so much at the sound of it? I pressed my hand to the wall, my other one brushing my side. No weapon. I tried to examine the man but with his back to the light, all I could see was the vastness of his size. His shoulders were at least two of my width, maybe even three and my head would come up to the centre of his chest if we were on even ground. His pants rustled slightly with the wind, but his shirt didn’t move. Skin tight, which meant his clothes weren’t exaggerating his size. My eyes darted to the silhouette of a long range military rifle hanging from his left hand. I scanned the long barrel, ending with a unique exaggerated oval shape. Mossmoor Creed-MVP. Unusual choice. It wasn’t the easiest rifle to handle, but because of the wider trigger guard it was common for larger men to use. Not only that, but it was one of few rifles with an adaptable barrel to allow for different size ammunition. Perfect for using with scavenged ammo. An adaptable gun meant for soldier who knew how to adapt.
I’d been so focused on trying to pry out any details I could from the man’s shadows, that I nearly jumped out of my skin when his voice filled my ears again.
“You sound surprised.” I tried to make my voice sound casual. Who was this man? He knew me… so why couldn’t I remember him? The man gave a slow nod like he was thinking.
“Considering you died two months ago, I think I’m allowed to be.” He pointed out. He moved out of the doorway and waved me forward. I walked out while keeping a close eye on the man. In the light, I took a moment to look at him. I was right about the height, but somehow it wasn’t his size that made me tense. It was his grave expression. The look in his dark eyes was of someone who knew exactly how to pry information out of anyone with just a quick glance. Lines of tension appeared around his thin lips as he looked at me over. His dark eyes seemed even more severe under heavy eyebrows and buzz-cut dark hair. The rifle sat comfortably in his hands, as if it was just another extension of his arm and he carried another rifle on his back and two side arms on his belt. Military. I checked the green insignia on the shoulder of his white t-shirt. My mind supplied the details I needed without hesitation. Lexian. A sub-commander. Not just that… I looked over the man’s large stature once again as another title flickered through my mind. A Legend. Pain shot through my temples as more memories jumped to the surface.
“Hold still.” My young voice ordered. Reaper grunted as I pulled the needle through his skin. He raised one heavy eyebrow as a smirk tugged at his lips.
“The nurse’s outfit would have been nice.” He said. I rolled my eyes and threaded the needle through again. Reaper grunted again, his hands turning into tight fists on his lap. Blood ran down his arm from the jagged cut on his shoulder.
“How do you know how to do that?” Art leaned over my shoulder and watched.
“A friend taught me,” I answered and tied off the thread. Reaper slumped forward and sucked a deep breath, hissing in pain. I turned to Artemis. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” She snapped and turned away. I rolled my eyes again. So Artemis was still mad. Shocking. But why was she mad at us? It was her ill-conceived plan that failed, and we got her out of that hell-pit alive. If anything, she should be thanking us. Not getting mad.
“Your plan was flawed. Deeply.” Reaper said helpfully. I shot him an annoyed look as Artemis growled in frustration.
“Shut up.” Artemis returned to brooding in the corner, which she had done for most of our flight to Lexi. I watched her for a moment before turning to Reaper. He shrugged and grunted as he pushed himself to his feet.
“I need to send in my report.” He excused himself and left me alone with Artemis. The girl glared at me.
“That was a stupid move,” I said.
“I know.” Artemis snapped. Her fists turned white as she slammed them into her legs. Tears burned in her eyes. I took a step back and looked away. Nothing I could say would help her now. She had to face the fact that she failed. What she would do now was entirely up to her.
I took a breath in as the memory faded back into my subconscious. Reaper. The man in front of me was named the Reaper. A Legendary soldier and a legend in his own right. As the tallest Legendary soldier in existence, all eyes fell on the Reaper when he entered the room. No one dared stand against the man that looked as if he could snap necks with one hand, and one that had proven capable of such a feat. He was also one of the few soldiers who was also classified as a legal assassin. At least one of the only ones that I was aware of. I stared at Reaper, finally noticing that he was staring back at me.
“Are you a ghost?” Reaper asked stupidly. He turned to one of the other soldiers that surrounded the entrance to the labs and gestured a large hand towards me. “You guys see her too, right?”
“Yes, sir.” They answered as one. I glanced at them, but no more memories surfaced. Thankfully none of them seemed too inclined to talk to me, or do anything but stare at me, so I only had to deal with Reaper and my missing memories.
“Storm. What the hell happened?” He asked as he looked back at me. I looked around our surroundings as I struggled for an answer. “We saw you die in there.”
Reaper nodded at the stairwell behind me. I turned, finally noticing that the entrance was within one of the large trees that filled our surroundings. I tilted my head at the symbol on the half-opened door. The Wyrd Net. Norian? Maybe… actually. The closer I looked at the symbol, the more I noticed subtle differences between the carving and the Norian Net of Fate. The middle line was too short, and the outward parallel lines too long. The intersecting lines were curved too, instead of straight as a Norian Net would be. I turned away.
“What the hell happened, kid?” Reaper repeated. I looked at him and noticed a hint of desperation in his dark eyes.
“If I knew, I would tell you,” I said. Reaper frowned at me, his eyes narrowed as he searched for any hint of a lie on my face. I shrugged, my gaze falling. A dull ache developed behind my eyes and across to my temples. “I really don’t know. I just… woke up.”
“Fair enough.” Reaper relented, but by the tension around his mouth, I guessed that this conversation was far from over. Reaper turned away, waving at me over his shoulder. “Come on. We’re about to head back to Lexi. Alpha team should be back in a few minutes.”
I nodded and followed the team through the metal forest. For a while, the only sound I heard was the dull thuds of their footsteps and the gentle tinkling of the glass leaves in the wind. The star above us reflected off everything, making me squint and the air warm uncomfortably. I reached out, letting my fingers brush against the cold surface of a tree as I walked past. The glass leaves chimed as a gentle breeze rocked them into one another. The light caught on the smooth surface and broke into a dazzling array of colours on the metal ground. I paused and watched the dancing light show for a few seconds.
“It’s called a wind chime. When the wind hits it, the metal and glass collide to create sound, and the coloured glass makes mosaics of light.”
The soft voice faded as I turned away from the lights and hurried to catch up with the Lexian team.
Reaper glanced back at me. I kept my expression still, but internally, I was trying to recall every bit of memory that I managed to remember. The Reaper. The Legendary soldier turned assassin turned soldier again. His kill count of Legion was impossible to put into numbers. His human kill count ranged in the thousands. He was the top Legend of his generation and even managed to top the two generations that preceded him. A weapon in human skin. Unstoppable. I was certain of one thing: Reaper was not the one I wanted to make an enemy out of. Everything else slipped from my grasp. I pressed my lips together, trying to hide my annoyance at my scattered mind.
Inside the waiting ship, named the Red Eagle, Reaper waved at the bench. The rest of his team had spread out around the mid-sized ship, letting Reaper and I walk up the ramp alone. I paused inside and looked around.
Two long benches line the room, black harnesses hanging from the wall behind them. I glanced at the weapon’s cage by the ramp. Reaper waved at the benches, inviting me to sit but I remained standing and watched Reaper with the same intense gaze that he gave me. He paused by a bench, his eyes still on me. After a moment’s hesitation, he went to the weapon’s cage and checked the locks, fumbling with something in his hands that I couldn’t see with his back turned. He moved towards the cockpit and hesitated again at the threshold, his eyes returning to me. I watched the cautious way that he moved around the room. Like a predator sizing up another predator. He didn’t trust me. Fair enough. If I saw someone come back from the dead, I wouldn’t be too inclined to trust them either.
We waited in silence. Reaper found a military issued green sweater to put over the bodysuit, which was still damp from whatever liquid I’d been submerged in. Reaper paced the room a few times, walked outside and came back to pace. He repeated the action four more times until he went outside and started talking.
“What’d you find?” I heard Reaper ask. A girl’s voice, heavy with the accent of a Hades civilian, answered.
“Nothing.” She said, her accent accentuated the ‘th’ in nothing, making it sound like she said, ‘No-THAng’. “The north side is empty of any of those symbols.”
“We’ll meet up with Delta in the atmosphere and head back to Lexi.” Reaper decided after a moment of silence. More silence. “What?”
“The inhabitants of this planet. They left recently.” The girl said slowly. “There must be a reason.”
“Well… maybe someone else has figured out why.” Reaper’s voice grew closer as he marched up the ramp. Under his arm walked a tall girl with the same dark brown hair, dark eyes and square features. She tugged at her white t-shirt and adjusted the red headscarf that hid most of her hair, other than a few curly dark strands that managed to escape around her face. A large red bag hung from her shoulder, rolls of plexpar and pens peeking out from the half closed zipper.
“It makes no sense. Why would they leave? It does not make any sense for a species to abandon their home.” She glanced back down the ramp, ignoring the soldiers that walked around her. Most of them dispersed to other sections of the ship, ready to get home after an extended deployment away. I listened to the girl pondering the strange disappearance, my own mind turning over the question as well. Why would someone abandon their home? Safety and resources typically, and this planet seemed lacking in the latter. I couldn’t recall seeing anything that might be edible, unless the former inhabitants ate metal and glass. The girl noticed me watching her. “Greetings.”
“Hi.” I gave a short nod. At the same time, I scoured my memories for any hint of that girl, but nothing came up.
“This is Hailee.” Reaper introduced us. He gave her shoulders a quick squeeze before releasing her with a pat on the back. “Hail, this is NightStorm.”
“My brother has told me many stories about you.” Hailee gave me a nervous smile. Brother? Reaper had a sister? Hailee glanced at Reaper who grinned sheepishly. “He said you saved us. Thank you.”
Save them? I didn’t know what she was referring to, but I nodded anyway. Hailee held the strap of her bag, her nails picking at a frayed strand.
“I’ve wanted to meet you since my brother told me about you.” Hailee continued. Red flooded her face. She glanced down, her hands stilling when she noticed that she was breaking her bag strap. When she looked up again, she was blushing and speaking fast, as if she couldn’t ask her questions fast enough. “Did you really join the military under a false name when you were eleven? And train under the Legends? And—”
I stopped listening. My chest tightened as I recalled an older face staring down at me with disapproval. His lips moved as he spoke. Jadien… what did you do?
What did I do? I glanced down at my hands, turning over the hem of the left sleeve to check the skin underneath. Pale, unmarked skin. No barcode. I flexed my fingers. My military barcode was gone. They didn’t own this body. Yet.