The room was a simple one, furnished enough to suit a person's needs, but it didn't bother her. She'd already checked that it wasn't all nailed down. The thought brought a sad smile to her face as she gazed out of the open window, oblivious to anything but the cool breeze. Her mind wandered back through the events till now, trying to piece together a coherent whole from the random mess.
How did this all happen? She asked, letting out a long sigh. There was no answer. Shale was probably skulking somewhere else, too far away to hear her.
How long has it even been? It almost feels like we've been at this for months, getting into trouble and running. She sighed again. Who are we even running from? And why? Wasn't Kronos the one who needed to leave? Why did we get dragged into it? Her thoughts drifted her away from the window and onto the bed where she fell onto her back and stared up at the ceiling, listening to the faint noises of other patrons.
What happened to Kronos anyway? He's barely been with us this entire time. Heavy footsteps moved across the room above. A smile appeared again, this time much warmer. Magnis. I haven't thought about him for a while. I hope he's doing okay. We just left him there. Kronos might know. I'll just add it to the list.
A knock at the door forced her from drifting off. She got to her feet and shuffled over to the door, yawning as she opened it, to find Hammond looking slightly annoyed as usual.
"Hello again. What's wrong this time?"
"Em has disappeared from her room for no reason and with no notice, but I didn't come all the way here and knock on your door just to tell you that. There's something far more interesting I need to show you." He pulled the small holographic device from his pocket, warranting a look that he thought might have hung between confusion and bemusement from the beastmaster.
"I could play you the message on the device and waste time, but long story short is that we can get paid for stopping some people from stealing a few items. You feel like coming along?"
"Didn't we come here to lay low?" she asked, thinking it over. It seemed to go against whatever plan they had but then when had any of their plans worked perfectly before? Plus the moeny might com in handy. The prices of things here would probably be far higher than the last town.
"I don't like it but alright." She went back and grabbed her weapons before walking out of the room with Hammond. "Have you asked Savannah yet?"
"Not yet. I thought he would be more easily convinced if I already had you with me."
Ari nodded wordlessly and they continued to Savannah's room, knocking loudly on his door. Savannah opened the door and, through a surprisingly painless conversation between them, agreed to come along with them as well.
It wasn't long before they found their way to the CFI Research and Development building using the directions.
The three got closer to the front door and some guards stopped them. Hammond stepped forwards once more, pulling the holographic device from his pocket and holding it out to one of the guards, "Your boss hired us. You can let us through."
The guards exchanged glances for a moment and then allowed them through, with one of the guards leading them up to the second floor.
This is fun! Almost like an adventure. Em thought to herself, running down a dark alley towards the place on her map. And that guy who gave me directions was so friendly too. She stopped outside a tall, creepy looking building. It didn't seem to match the rest of the city.
"This must be the place." Em said, putting her map away and put on some gloves.
'Wait wait, you're not seriously considering climbing this wall by hand are you?' A nagging voice in her head asked.
Well I kinda forgot a rope... Or any kind of equipment besides the basics. Don't worry, I'm awesome at wall climbing! She thought in her head, taking her enchanted daggers out of their sheaths. They glowed for a few moments, and Em slowly faded away until she was completely invisible. She put one of them back in it's sheath, and began climbing the wall. She managed to reach the 4th floor before stopping.
"Whew... this is hard." Em panted, taking a small break on the windowsill. She tried to look inside but it was too dark to see anything. "Well, one more to go!"
Em put the second dagger away and leapt as high as she could, her fingertips scrabbling onto the windowsill above. She dragged herself up slowly, almost losing her footing several times, before she made it up. Opening the window slowly, Em winced as it creaked and juddered around.
"Stupid old windows making so much noise..." She muttered, before tumbling inside. She wiggled around on the floor for a moment, caught up her cloak, before jumping back up. Luckily the corridor seemed to be empty. Spotting a sign that said "Security", Em tiptoed to the door and slowly pushed it open.
The inside of the room seemed to be covered in computers and switchboards. Wires crossed all over the floor, making a visible path to a large control unit. Only one guard was sat there, with a pair of strange looking goggles on his head. He had his feet propped up on the other chair, and seemed to be watching one of the monitors idly. Em sneaked up behind him, slowly pulling a dart out of her pocket. As she took another step closer, the floor creaked slightly and the guard glanced behind him. She quickly threw the dart at his neck, and he slumped in his chair.
"Success!" Em whispered, moving the guard away from the controls. She admired the goggles on his head for a minute. 'Those things look awesome... I'm sure he won't miss them.'. She slipped the goggles off his head and put them around her neck, before turning her attention back to the controls. She saw one switch that seemed to be for the cameras, but it looked out of place. Like it had been installed after the console had been built.
'Hit the switch! It totally works.' The voice dared her.
'Ha! Yeah right, that's just what my subconscience wants me to think.' Em kept looking, ignoring the first switch. However there were so many buttons that her heart began to sink... She started from one end, working her way across until the figured out which one controlled the security system. "Aha!" Em said in triumph, as she reached out to turn the switch. Her hand was hovering over it before she noticed something strange.
'Wait, where are the other guards? I'm sure there were some on these cameras earlier.' She thought. Searching for the security switch had distracted her from making sure no one else knew she was here. She quickly grabbed her daggers again, and they glowed once more. 'Just to be safe...'
Ari stood idly, tapping her foot and nodding her head to a tune in her head, until Hammond nudged her, telling her to pay attention and pointing out they were the only ones around. He suggested that she or Savannah have a look around and Ari nodded, thinking a brisk walk might help keep away some boredom. She told Savannah to track her with his thermal hat and set off, Shale following close beside.
The hallway they were had four doors along the sides with a large sealed door at the end with two more hallways branching off either side. Three of the doors were locked as normal but the fourth opened easily into a dark room. The screen next to the electronic lock bleeped as the door swung away from its frame and displayed the current time. It was the only recent entry for some hours.
Ari located the light switch nearby and flicked it on. There was a breeze in the room originating from an open window in the corner. After closing it she noticed that one of the tables had been moved and a ventilation cover was on the floor nearby. A quick glance up revealed the open vent from which it came.
She followed it outside and down the hall, passing a supply closet with the door ajar.
There is no way this will end well.
Faint noises could be heard on her approach coming from within. She crouched to the side of the door and reached out for the handle. She began to pull it towards her, looking through the slit in the doorframe.
The door shot out, smashing into her face. She fell to the floor, dazed, clutching her nose and screaming profanities through gritted teeth.
Em flipped the security switch, causing a few lights on the control panel to fade out. Just as she was making her way toward a vent in the corner, the door behind her clicked open. She flinched and quickly reached for her darts, but as Em spun around ready to aim, she was greeted by an empty doorway.
Well that's odd... Did it open by itself? Em wondered. Over the sound of her heart beating, she could hear the sound of very faint footsteps. On a hunch, Em searched her pockets for the goggles she obtained earlier, and quickly put them on. Although her vision was now interrupting by small waves of static, she could definitely see two outlines wandering around the room.
Oh shit! Em quickly darted the nearest figure, watching it fall to the floor with a loud thump. The other figure noticed and quickly turned to see Em become visible once more. As she fumbled for a second dart, a large fist blocked her view, knocking her backwards.
"Owww! My face! You hit me in the face!" Em groaned, as the figure moved towards her for a second hit. She threw a dart in it's general direction, and heard another satisfying thud as she adjusted the goggles on her face. After making sure the door was closed. She rolled the guards into a corner and focused her attention back on the vent.
"Lockpicking time!" Em said cheerfully, grabbing some of her lockpicking tools and crouching down to get a better look. She fiddled around for a while, become more and more aware of how much time she was wasting. After a few long minutes, she managed to get all the screws off and crawled through the vent.
As she peered through the other side of the vent, she spotted two more grainy figures. She assumed these were guards. Although what kinda guards have awesome invisibility powers? Em though, making her way backwards to the security room.
"There's gotta be a way to get rid of those other guards." Em thought, concentrating all her energy into a plan. As if she'd been hit by a lightning bolt made of brilliance, she started flipping switches one after the other. She could hear the faint hiss of gas seeping into the vault room, and managed to reset the security feed to make it seem like it had been running diagnostics instead of recording the current events.
There's gonna be repurcussions for you being so smart, you know that right? The voice taunted in her head, but Em ignored it. She made her way back through the vent, tying a rag around her face just in case there was still some gas lingering around.
In the middle of the room, she saw a small computer chip delicately placed on a pedestal. She grabbed a small pouch from her pockets and carefully slid the chip into it, before tucking it safely in her belt.
One down, two to go. Maybe I can pull this off after all! She thought, smiling confidently and she made her way back through the vent yet again.
Footsteps of her attacker echoed down the hall and had vanished by the time she made it to her feet. Instead of following she instead turned and heading for the security room. If there was someone in the building, and there most certainly was, then she'd be able to see them through the cameras scattered around the complex.
She arrived at the room, ready to punch buttons on the keypad like none had ever before but saw that someone else had beaten her to it and the door was already ajar. Inside was the usual array of screens and consoles of brightly coloured buttons as well the body of a man slumped in a chair, his shirt stained red and a pool of blood underneath. Of particular interest was a strange pair of googles crookedly worn on his head. Ari pryed them off and wiped the lens then held them up to her eyes. The room turned purple and various objects in the room seemed to glow. Thermal goggles! She put them on properly to find the controls for the cameras. If they had been used recently they should still be warm. Or so she hoped.
As the lenses covered her eyes completely a new figure appeared right in front of her. Startled, her first reaction was to kick out and connected. The figure dropped to its knees. Ari went to take of the goggles to get a look at what she had actually hit when Shale blindsided it, tackling it to the ground and tearing at its chest.
I don't think this is the only one. He informed her.
Mmm. Wrong direction. she replied. Blood seemed to leak out from thin air and the figure materialised underneath Shale revealing a masked man. Ari promptly hammered down on his head with the butt of her rifle.
Em made her way down some narrow corridors, making sure to check all the signs so she didn't get lost. She slowly entered one of the labs, looking around for any hidden guards.
"Coast is clear, now where's that crystal doo-dad." Em mumbled, walking past lots of generic beakers and jars. She saw lots of fancy machinery in the second half of the room, and a few cases lying on the desk. Most of the cases were empty, but one had a small crystal in, just like the one described on her checklist.
"Huh, that's lucky.." Em said, closing the case and tucking it under her am. She quickly made her way out again, checking her pocket watch to see how much time had gone by.
I sure hope those guards don't wake up soon. She opened the door of the second lab, once again checking for any hidden guards. As Em scanned the room she noticed a huge cabinet with a sign saying 'Hazardous Material' on it. She practically skipped over, looking at all the vials and jars of strange liquids.
"Man, this could take a while... and those guards are gonna wake up any minute! Unless..." Em segued her way back into the security room, giving the guards in there another dose of sleeping darts. She practically ran back to the lab, panting for breath as she pressed her face against the glass doors.
"Wheech wun eez eet?" Em mumbled to the glass. She sighed and removed her face from the door, then opened both doors to get a closer look. After picking up countless vials, she managed to find one labelled 'paralysing agent'. She even spotted a few cases that seemed to be the right fit for the vial on her way back out of the lab.
Em walked over to a window, opened it, and leaned her head out. She grimaced as she saw how far away from the ground she was. "I'm gonna need me some rope." She said to herself, backtracing her steps to a supply closet near the vault. She grabbed some rope and wandered back over to the window again.
After securing all the items she'd gathered, she tied one end of the rope to the handle on the window, and climbed up onto the ledge. She started absailing her way down, before she realised something.
"Hmm, maybe I should've tied the other end around my wa-AAAAAAAGH" Em's ramblings caused her to lose her grip on the rope, and she fell down into a dumpster below. Aside from a bad smell and a sense of shame, nothing seemed to have been damaged. She clumsily climbed out of the dumpster, and made her way back to the Inn.
Em soon spotted the familiar sign of the Inn, and went to rip up the note on Geo's cart before returning back to her room. She gave a friendly wave to the bartender as she passed, though he was too busy staring at her dirtied clothes to return the gesture.
Hammond arrived just in time to see Ari take down the enemy. With a discontented sigh he lowered his scythes to his side. "Good to see you've got things under control over here."
"We need to make sure the vault's safe." Ari pulled her new-found goggles over her eyes.
"I didn't see anyone on the way here, so I assume..."
"They're cloaked. You could have missed them."
Cloaked? Well shit, they could have been walking around in front of us this whole time. No wonder it was so quiet. Hammond nodded and they set off back towards the vault. They met no resistance on the way, though Hammond wasn't sure whether to be glad for it now. Enemies could be waiting to ambush from anywhere.
"Hang on." Ari stopped for a moment a looked up at the ceiling. "You go on ahead. I'm gonna try and get in through the vents. I'd bet that's how they got in and that's how they're getting out."
Shortly after she was crawling through the cold network of of the complex, her rifle pointed forward at all times. It payed off when a hazy purple head appeared on her goggles and a hand reached out for her weapon. Her finger jerked back out of reflex, pulling the trigger and sending a bullet into the figure's arm, him crying out and dropping back to the floor.
There are vents into the vault? Hammond rolled his eyes. I'm starting to think they don't even want these things to be safe. He drew his scythes, ready to defend himself if someone attacked.
A shot rang out through the vents above and a section noisily collapsed, sending a sprawling invisible man crashing into the floor. He was sprawled across the floor, but all Hammond could see was a patch of blood hovering just above the ground. Admittedly it was a vague area to aim for, but he'd make it work. He raised his scythes above his head and brought them down on the invisible man, sending a very visible spray of blood everywhere.
"So that went about as well as could be expected." Hammond shook his scythes a little, trying to get what little remained of the thief to shake loose. "Now, what do we do with the other guy?"
"I'll go talk to him. Might even get something useful for a change."
She stopped off on the way for some rope from the supply closet and entered the security room again, Shale still sitting on the intruder's chest. She quickly checked for weapons and tied up his hands behind him, taking off his mask and flicking his forehead until he awoke.
He was at first reluctant to talk but a quick pointing out of his lack of options loosened his tongue. After a few minutes she had his name, his motives and the name of his employer though he didn't seem to know who they were. Still it was enough to satisfy her. Giving the name to her own current employer might get them either more work or further away from danger.
As she sifted through her thoughts the man began to mumble to himself over and over. She bent down to listen. Then she started to run.
"Test data acquired and transmitted. Mission incomplete, delete shell data, destroy evidence."
After Ari had gone off to check on the unconscious thief, Hammond decided to stay in the vault. Maybe there were more people around, waiting to steal stuff as soon as they left? Yep, that's why he stayed. Definitely not to loot the corpse. Especially not for whatever was giving the thief invisibility.
Hammond was wrestling with his reluctance to mess with technology he couldn't see. Even visible technology deserves a bit of caution when messing with it, so invisible technology deserves a thousand times more.
It's good they had us here. Whoever the hell 'they' are, they're doing a shit job with security. Who says I wouldn't have just taken their gadgets for myself anyway...?
Ha. As if that was going to happen. Hammond actually had a good thing going here; all this psuedo-heroism wasn't an awful way to get money. It was a lot better than random mercenary work. Even if the people he was with were sometimes annoying, they were better than other mercenaries. He couldn't see much of a downside to this sort of work at this point.
So the downside thought it would pay him a visit.
The invisible corpse on the floor appeared in an instant, complete with a beeping suit. The sound reminded him vaguely of the beeping the device on his shoe had made before it had teleported him against his wishes, so obviously he felt it would be in his best interest to get out of there pretty quickly. And then he saw explosives.
He was out of the vault before Savannah could even start running, and it took only a fraction of a second for him to follow. All Hammond's mind could conjure was expletives umpteen times a second. Savannah was running behind him, Shale had darted off as soon as the first beep had sounded and Ari was ahead of them by a good distance. But however fast they were running, there was no way they were getting to the front door in time.
Both Ari and Shale were screaming at each other over the echoing beeps and scrabbled squeaks from their feet meeting the polished floor, the rooms whipping by them but the exit nowhere near close enough for their escape.
She glanced over her shoulder making sure the others were also there. Her legs suddenly met something solid and tangled beneath her. Her body collided with the floor. Shots were fired from behind her as arms scooped her up from the ground. A cracked window met them with force. Shards of glass sailed past. Smoke and flames snatched at their backs. Noise fluctuated between dull roar and screams. A second impact and the world spun. A crouched figure then a wall of soot and rubble. Silence.
Ari opened her eyes again, coughing from all the dust around her. She was lay on the street below where the building had once stood, now only a messy pile of crumbled concrete, jutting poles and severed wires, any evidence of the theives now erased. Figures had begun to gather around the site, pointing and grabbing each other. Her eyes darted from their faces, searching for her friends. Coughs close behind her and she turned herself around, leaning on one arm and shielding her eyes from the dust the best she could with the other. Hammond and Shale, both grey from the dust. Looking down she saw she was also coated in a layer. Also nearby she saw, much to her horror, was a familiar piece of headwear, its usual colour now replaced. Ari struggled to her feet and approached the two, fearing the worst.
Hammond's first words following his coughing fit were thus. "What! The! Fuck!?" He then devolved into coughing up even more dust.
Oh God, his everywhere was in pain... How much dust had he inhaled...? He coughed several times over before he could start breathing properly again. A dust-covered Ari had hobbled over towards him. Hammond, with a great deal of effort, managed to force himself into a sitting position that didn't hurt his everywhere quite so much. He brushed away some dust on his face, barely making a mark against the many layers.
He would have unleashed an endless string of expletives right now if not for the dust in his lungs. He could hardly breath, never mind going on any sort of rant. Instead he sought only to stand. As he pushed himself to his feet, he shook further layers of dust from himself.
He quickly looked around, barely taking note of the slowly forming crowd on the outer perimeter of the explosion before turning his gaze back to Ari. Containing his impulse to swear, he simply asked, "Where's... the other one...?"
She didn't answer, instead going and picking up Savannah's hat from the rubble. Hammond sighed. There was only one word he could come up with for the situation. "Fuck..."
The street was almost full with witnesses now. It was time to leave.
She walked back to Hammond, the hat clutched tightly in her hand. She swept his shoulder briefly and motioned for him to follow.
"Come on. Time to go." Her words were cold and to the point. She knelt down and scooped Shale onto a shoulder, his tail wrapping around her neck. With one last glance at the destruction and a brief adjustment of her rifle's strap, they left.
They walked back in silence. Back to the inn where no doubt there would be no answers.
A clatter drew her attention. Her eyes shot around to see someone leap across a rooftop out of sight. Her gaze also caught a movement in the alleyway beneath.
Shale dropped off her shoulder as she stopped, taking off the goggles and handing them to Hammond who had also seemed to have noticed.
"One on the roof and one in the alley." She pulled the rifle from her shoulder and brought it to her eye. A red image appeared from the darkness of the alleyway, crouched behind a box. A quick glance around her to make sure no one was in the way and she pulled the trigger.
Ari's shot flew into the alley and hit it's target dead-on. "Ow, what the hell?" a female voice from the alley called out. That was a lot less... death-y than Hammond might have preferred. Whoever the owner was, they sounded more annoyed by the shot than hurt by it.
Before he managed to put the infra-red goggle on he felt a hulking arm pull him back, followed by a cold metal knife pressed against his throat.
"Drop your weapons or I'll slit his throat!" Well hoo-fucking-ray. Good to see people are just as eager to kill us as ever, huh? He briefly wondered if he could have killed the man with this disadvantage...
He just barely managed to see Shale run off as Ari dropped her weapons. From the alley the owner of the female voice emerged. "That...was incredibly impolite." She shifted Ari's weapons out of reach. "I swear... You try to help somebody and they start shooting." Help someone? You mean us? Really funny joke lady. "Let him go, shade." At these words the knife came away from his throat and the ridiculously huge person behind him let him go. Not a moment too soon.
Ari apologised, for some reason. Why she felt like apologising before getting a decent grasp of what was going on didn't really make sense to him, but whatever. She hit the main point of "if you don't want to look like assassins, don't slink around in the shadows" so Hammond was okay with it. The other woman replied in an off-hand manner, saying that she had been running point for them, whatever that meant.
"Okay, you'll have to excuse me here, but what the fuck was that? In fact, better question, who the heck are you guys and why are you following us around in the shadows?" The big guy chuckled deeply at his question.
"We are your allies for the moment. And we have been following you because you've managed to get a price placed on your head."
Em snored gently in her bed back at the inn. Just as she was starting to dream, there was a huge crash.
"OH GOD IT'S A BEAR!" Em screamed, rolling off the bed in shock. She landed on the floor with a thud, and scrambled around for her daggers. When she looked up, she saw Shale sitting by the window, with broken glass littering the floor.
"Damnit Shale, you broke the window! Did someone throw you up here?" Em grumbled, picking herself off the floor and climbing back into bed. Shale scuttled over and started flapping his wings noisly.
"Whaaaat? Do you wanna go for a walk or something?" Em asked, trying to nudge him back off the bed. Shale let out an annoying hiss and nipped her ankle.
"Oww! Jeez, fine. I'll take you." She sighed, and climbed back out of bed to get dressed. Shale kept nudging her until they were back at the window, then he leaped out and glided back down to the street. Em brushed aside more of the broken glass and climbed onto the windowsill. She leapt down, rolling at the bottom to break her fall.
"Ha! Success!" Em said triumphantly, as Shale scuttled back with Geo following him. "Oh, hi Geo! Are you coming for a walk too?" Em patted him on the head gently, and followed them both down the street.
Ari twitched. "A bounty? How? Why? What have we actually done to provoke people? All we've done so far is get caught and break out! I don't think there has been a single moment so far where we've known what we were doing and why!"
The woman raised an eyebrow.
"Well there's a good chance that's the reason. I'll bet ya' saw something you weren't supposed to. My suggestion at this point would be that you get somewhere safe. You can try that with us or without us. Your choice."
"How do we know you aren't just bounty hunters? Why should we trust you to not turn us in the first chance you get?"
"Well For starters: The big guy over there could have slit your friend's throat but he didn't. For another: We've been following you for a good long while...and finally: You're unarmed and we haven't put you in cuffs."
Ari scowled but she wasn't in the mood for another fight.
"Alright. We'll go with you."
"Speak for yourself; as far as I'm concerned, they're following us."
Hammond turned his attention to the woman in the white armour. "Anyway, didn't you say you two needed to stay in the shadows to help us? You should probably go back to doing that now. Go on, get." He waved his hands in a mock-shooing gesture. The two bodyguards looked at one another and, following a wordless agreement, faded back into the darkness. It was as if they hadn't even been there.
"Right, there's one problem solved. Gather up your weapons and let's go already."
Em lazily followed Shale and Geo, starting to get bored with the walk. Just as she was considering turning back, she spotted Ari and Hammond at the end of the next street. Em sped up slightly, until she was within earshot of them.
"Hey guys! Are you out here for a walk too?" Em asked innocently. She noticed their clothes were all dusty and ragged.
"No we've... We had a job and... Nothing's gone right Em. We were set-up. Someone wants us dead, and they're winning." Ari said to her, while fumbling with something green in her hands. She passed the green object to Em, who unfolded it to reveal Savannah's hat.
"Not Savannah...." Em sighed. She had started to like him a lot, and now all that was left was his strange hat. Em gave Ari a quick hug, and folded the hat back up, before tucking it in her belt.
"Okay, let's head back to the inn. You guys can tell me what happened on the way." She said, hoping that they wouldn't mind her taking charge this once.
Hammond looked at Ari for a second. She didn't look as though she would be willing to recount what had happened, assuming she even remembered the majority of what happened, and he didn't blame her. He didn't remember most of it either, and was equally unwilling to explain what had happened. "Maybe tomorrow... It's the middle of the fucking night. Now I don't know about you two, but I want to sleep before even trying to figure out how this managed to fuck up so badly..."
They all headed back to the Inn, enduring a slightly uncomfortable silence on the way. When they arrived, Em was about to go back to her room when she heard some noises coming from the stables, where Geo had gone back just minutes before.
"Back in a sec, guys. I think I heard something." Em said, walking off to have a look at the commotion. She snuck into the stables, and crept around behind some bales of hay. Over by Geo, Em spotted the Inn keeper, and another stranger trying to pin Geo to the ground.
'Wait, what are they doing? Why does Geo have a muzzle and a weird collar on? I'd better sneak up on them and find out what the hell is go-'
CLANG. KSH KSH. FTANG.
"Oww! fuckin' Buckit!" Em yelped, rubbing her shin. She looked up and noticed both men staring at her.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing!" She demanded, hoping to get some dignity back by pretending nothing had happened. Both men began advancing towards her, with blank looks on their faces.
The Innkeeper lunged first, delivering a very powerful punch into Em's stomach. As she fell to her knees winded, the Innkeeper also toppled over, paralysed by her armour.
"Ha! Suck it." Em said weakly, rubbing her stomach as the man twitched on the floor. She quickly loaded a sleeping dart and shot the unknown man, who was right in front of her when he dropped too.
"Yeeeeea- Oww... I think he broke my liver." Em said, getting back to her feet.
As Em had left for the stables Ari was leaning against the wall of the inn. Upon hearing a clatter arise from within them she decided to go have and see what she was up to.
She turned the corner to see two man face down on the hay covered floor with Em standing over them, a hand over her stomach, and Geo twitching further in as a collar sent sparks through his body.
"Geo!" Ari cried, rushing over to the poor creature and tearing the collar from its neck, tossing it aside. "There there." She cooed, stroking his head. She looked over to Em who was already rooting through the two men's pockets.
"Do you think these guys are those types of innkeepers that steal people's pets during the night?" Em asked her absent-mindedly.
"Shale's already had an attempt. And now Geo. But who could resist something so fluffy?" She answered, her cheek buried in Geo's fur. "Any idea why they went for you?"
"Probably 'cause I tried to stop them."
Em kept rummaging through the Innkeepers pocket. She pulled out a tattered looking ID. As she flipped it open to read, the Innkeeper started mumbling.
"Secondary retrieval attempt unsuccessful. Prepare to terminate control. cleanup crew on standby"
Em kicked him in the side of the head, rendering him unconscious. "Umm, Ari? I think we should leave. Like, right now." She said nervously.
She looked around the stables for anything unusual, but didn't find anything in the stacks of hay.
Hammond raised an eyebrow questioningly. Was there ever going to be a place they didn't have to run away from within a day or two of arriving? After a moment he shook his head and gave in to the fact that the answer was, and always would be, no. Oh well, he hadn't much liked this inn anyway. "I'll go get the other two," Hammond said, referring to the two new additions to their ragtag bunch. He readied his scythes, keeping them at hand in case the big one decided he would try to sneak up behind him again.
He arrived at the room without a hitch. Both were inside. The big one posed the first question. "Problem?"
"Hell yeh, we've got a problem. We just got attacked by the fucking innkeeper, of all people, when Em caught him trying to steal our monstrosity. He's called for reinforcements and now we're getting the fuck out of here before we have to find out what sort of reinforcements an innkeeper could possibly have. Now normally I'd just leave you here as bait but, since I'm feeling especially nice today, I'm letting you know so you can come along with us."
"Alright then. Let's go. You riding with us or on your own?"
"Whichever keeps us less dead."
The man nods. "We'll take the car, then." He slipped out through the door in an uncharacteristically graceful manner and went for the stairs. Hammond looked back at the petite lady in the white armour who, rather than make any attempt at following her colleague, simply shrugged. Nice contribution.
After finishing her search of the stables, Em decided to check the cart for supplies before they left. As she looked through everything, she noticed a strange lump that hadn't been there before. She gently lifted the cover of it, and saw a blinking red light.
"Bomb....? BOMB! AAAAARGH! BOMB!" She yelled frantically, bolting for the stable doors. Ari and Geo followed her out, with Hammond following right behind them. They all ran further down the street, and ducked around a corner.
They waited for what seemed like minutes, before there was a deafening roar, and a pillar of flame shot past them.
"So... Do you think it's safe yet?" Em said nervously. She peeked around the corner, just as a large chunk of wood fell from the charred building they were hiding next to. She yelped and managed to dive out of the way.
"Wargh! .... Or we could, y'know, just carry on and leave."
"We'll take my car. Follow me," said the as-of-yet-unnamed giant, making a sweeping motion with one of his arms and continuing whimsically on. The woman in white, no doubt the straight man of the pair, followed after him in silence.
Ari voiced a concern about how her cat would travel if they were taking a car anywhere. The woman in white quickly responded. "Cat takes the truck."
It didn't take too long for them to reach the car and truck... Though neither looked like what they were advertised to be, instead looking more like absolutely bastardised versions of themselves, beefy enough to knock pedestrian vehicles aside and coated in enough armour to survive in the dead centre of a nuclear blast.
Em nudged Hammond in the ribs and mumbled, "Are these guys friends of yours?"
"I have no fucking idea..." He stared in wide-eyed disbelief at their transport of choice. No way this was going to be good, right? There had to be something wrong here. There was no way they could be allowed this sort of good fortune right now. Actual help from competent people was beyond them. It just wouldn't be right for something good to happen...
The giant opened the door to the back seat of the car for them and Em happily sat down, throwing out a thank you while she was at it. Hammond eventually followed, warily looking around the car as he sat down. The door shut behind him and within the next few seconds the giant squeezed himself into the front seat. Ari had apparently chosen to go in the truck. The giant voiced a quick term to their time in the car, "I just need to stop by the police station to take care of some business. Keep your heads down."
Okay, that sounded like it might be bad. Em seemed to be happy with letting it slide, instead checking out her boots. Hammond was a bit preoccupied with wondering exactly why there was a bound and gagged man in the front to pay attention to what had been said though...
"So... you do know that there's another guy in the front, right...? Right...?"
"I have business to take care of at the police station. Now lie down on the seats."
That was a pretty worrying response... He decided that maybe, just this once, it was worth not knowing any more than he had to. He simply budged himself down closer to the floor so that he was out of sight and told Em to do the same.
The others in the car had already set off whilst Ari was loading Geo into the back of the truck, leaving her, Shale and the woman in white in the front of the vehicle. The woman made no attempts at conversation and Ari was having trouble keeping her thoughts from Shale as they played eye-spy out the window. Eventually she gave up, choosing instead to try and coax her driver into talking.
"Are we there yet?" she asked, with all the flair and dignity of a five year old.
"No." the woman replied, barely moving her head in response.
She said no Ari almost swore Shale sighed before responding.
I heard. Honestly I sometimes forget who is the newborn between us. She decided to sulk in response.
Sometime after their short exchange the truck managed to catch up with the others. They had stopped and the giant that was leading them appeared to be getting back inside the car. The truck passed as the car sprung back to life, taking up a place behind them. It was then that Ari realised.
"Where are we going?"
"Someplace safe" the driver curtly replied. Ari fidgeted.
"Soooo where's that?" The woman sighed and reached for the console between their seats. She pushed a button and a screen unfolded from Ari's door, flickering into life. "Watch that." the woman ordered as a video began to play. It started with a baritone narrator outlining the basic geography of the area before moving on to the other continents and various successful colonisation attempts, becoming a virtual brochure as it advocated boarding a boat to visit. The video then froze and a higher pitched, almost robotic voice chimed in asking
-WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?-
"What kinda business?" Em asked the large man, as she spread herself out on the cars floor.
"The kinda' business the police hire people like me and snow to do." The man replied gruffly, getting into the car and starting the engine.
"Alrighty then. You have fun.." Em said absentmindedly. She stared at the dusty floor of the car for a few minutes, before she drifted off for a short nap. She awoke with a slight bump as the car stopped.
The large man got out of the car, then opened the passenger side door. Em heard shuffling noises and a muffled yelp, before the door slammed shut.
My God.... This floor is really dusty. Em thought to herself, her mind still groggy from waking up.
A few minutes later the large man came back, clutching a small pouch of coins. He tossed it into the glove compartment and started driving again, this time following behind the large truck containing his partner and Ari.
After another few minutes of silence, something occured to Em.
"You got anything to eat? I'm starving!" She asked the man, realising she hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon.
He glanced back at her with a grin, and for the first time, Em saw his face clearly. He had a large scar running from his right temple to the left side of his chin. He opened up a console between the seats, revealing a stash of chips, cooking and other packaged foods.
"Come and join me up front for a bit, little one. We're a safe distance from any prying eyes." He said to her, gesturing to the front seat.
"Alright!" She said cheerfully, climbing carefully through the seats and flumping down into the passenger seat. "Oh! I don't think I ever introduced myself. My name's Em." She held out her hand to greet the man, who returned the handshake with a firm grip.
"Gron. It's nice to meet you, Em." He said to her, glancing away from the road again. He seemed comfortable with his driving skills, despite having to hunch over slightly to stop his head hitting the roof of the car.
Em grabbed a bag of cookies and opened it clumsily. Before she started eating, she decided to ask another question.
"So, Gron. What sort of work do you do? If it's not too top secret."
"Usually whatever I'm hired to do. Queenie and I have been gainfully unemployed the past several weeks so we decided to team up again and do some snooping."
"That sounds fun! We've not had much work lately either." She said cheerfully. "So how did you and Queenie stumble across Hammond and Ari?"
"Well we were snooping around when a job came in for you and your buddies. Said you were wanted dead or alive for assassinating some CEO. Now don't get me wrong, we've heard you guys are good. But you aren't that Good. So we did a little sniffing around and found a fake death certificate, traced it back to the guy who forged it...had a little 'coversation' And found out that the guy's living on some beach house in Kor'tall-sun. Queenie coulda' cared less but I didn't want you getting tracked down by someone like Drola just because someone at J.B. wocco didn't like ya'. So we went lookin' for ya'. We saw Radzen tower go kaboom and, given your group's reputation: figured one of ya' was behind it." He said, helping himself to one of her cookies.
"You did all that for us?" Em said, a little taken aback. "Wow... Well, thank you!" She smiled gratefully, and began tucking into the bag of cookies.
"Hammoooooond, do you want a cookie?" She offered the bag to him in the backseat.
"A cookie...? Yeh, sure." He said, taking a cookie from the bag. Em finished off the packet and crumpled up the wrapper, before tucking it into one of her pockets.
After 30 minutes passed, Em started getting restless again.
"Hey Gron, where are we going anyways? Do you guys have a secret base?"
"No. But there are several safe havens we can get to from the docks...well..at least it will be safe for a fair while..I hope." Gron said. He took a pamphlet out of the console and handed it to her. It seemed to be set out like a travel brochure, with information about different places. She flicked through it lazily, although she had never heard of the places mentioned.
With Em rifling idly through a brochure and the most pressing questions of the moment answered, Hammond was out of things to do. He was back to just spinning his fork again, he supposed. How boring... At least he'd finally gotten good at something other than killing people which was more than he could say about some other mercenaries.
"Hey, what's the pinging noise?" Em asked.
He hadn't even noticed it before, but now that she mentioned it that pinging noise was really annoying.
"Nothing to worry about, little one," came Gron's reply, "We'll be at the docks soon."
"Alright then." Guess Em was okay with that. Hammond was okay with it too. He actually thought it might be nice to remain ignorant if some people were attempting to kill him, just this once. To drown out the pinging noise Gron turned the radio on, though it did little. If anything it just made the pinging more obvious. This was going to be a long journey indeed...
After a couple of hours, which was far too long for Hammond to have ever thought 'soon' could possibly have meant it, they arrived at the docks and he jumped out of the car. Ari and the woman clad in white were already out of the truck, but Gron and Em got out with a touch less urgency, leaving Hammond to wonder why there were people waiting to greet them. There were 6 of them, dressed in huge cloaks that concealed all but the bottom halves of their masked faces and were almost definitely armed with sharp weapons. Honestly, they were hardly the welcoming committee he was hoping for. Even though, Hammond thought he should draw people's attention to them.
"Oi, Gron, who're these guys?"
The giant of a man flicked his head in their direction and then motioned to Hammond's scythes, giving nothing in reply. He went to the boot of the armoured car they had been travelling in and popped it open to reveal a warhammer that was as large as Gron himself was. Only once he was armed did he utter the phrase "Jabberwock thieves."
"Wait, what's a Jabberwock... and why are they stealing it from us?" Em questioned this, but Hammond was equally clueless. Jabberwock was... er, the company that building they destroyed belonged to, right? Or was it something else entirely? Considering he hadn't even been able to remember to eat at regular intervals it was a wonder he could hold on to such information at all. Whatever, this was getting silly now. He shrugged, "And here I was looking forward to a leisurely boat ride. Ah well. Let's get this over with."
He strode forwards, spinning his scythes to illustrate no point whatsoever, and smashed the metaphorical ice between the two groups with a question, "Who the fuck're you guys and what the fuck're you doing here?"
One of them tilted its head slightly at him and grinned widely, looking almost as though it was incredibly pleased Hammond had began with conversation, and deigned to respond in kind. "Who the fuck're we? Who the fuck're you?" The voice was digitised, obviously not the sort that should be coming from a normal person.
"We the fuck're who are asking the questions here. That's who the fuck we are. Now how about some answers for my questions?"
"And why the hell should we? We don't know you, we certainly aren't allies. And you're all armed!"
Em took the opportunity to run back towards the car, citing that she had dropped her shoes... Hammond sort of ignored that particular comment, since it didn't seem to make anyone else confused. Ari took the opportunity to leap into the conversation. "Alright. Say we lowered our weapons, ignored each other and tried to carry on our way, would there be a problem between us?"
For a moment the figure didn't respond, but then did so with an uncharacteristically empathetic nod and "Uh huh!" That didn't even sound like it did a second ago and, now that he thought about it, sounded suspiciously like Em... Ari continued to attempt to diffuse the situation, regardless of how weird that was. She didn't even seem to notice the change.
"What problem would that be then?"
"You killed us before. How can be sure you won't kill us again?" The other cloaked figures weren't even moving. Unnerving...
"Because we had a job to guard a thing. Now we don't. We're just trying to go somewhere. If you're so concerned about us killing you then move away to where we can't. We aren't going to go out of our way to do it."
It stopped again for another moment, apparently taking Ari's words into consideration, before appearing inches from Ari and staring right into her eyes. It was no longer wearing its hood either, revealing that it was... Ari.
"I..wha...the...how...?" Ari started to back away, obviously disturbed from being stared at by a precise mirror image. It was fairly easy to tell them apart as long as Hammond could keep track of the real one's movements, which wasn't really all that hard right now.
"So which is it; doppelgangers or illusions? Neither would surprise me."
Ari ignored Hammond's comment, instead shooting off a death stare at Ari. "We don't appreciate it when armed people threaten us, especially when they've already killed us several times."
Ari then shot back at Ari. "We haven't threatened you at all! Wait, several times? We've only ever seen you once." Okay, this seemed like it may go on for a while yet, and that would make things confusing. Plus, if the enemy was going to be using there own appearances against them they might as well kill as many as possible first.
With that in mind Hammond pulled his heat-vision goggles over his eyes and, in a single movement, sliced cleanly from Ari's shoulder to her stomach.
"What the hell are you doing!?" It was impossible to overstate exactly how shocked she looked right now, though the fact that she wasn't completely and utterly dead already made it obvious that he hadn't gotten messed up anywhere and managed to kill the real Ari. That was good, he supposed, but it would be better if the fake was de-
Before he finished that particular thought, Gron delivered the final blow. By which I mean he reduced the fake into chunky, bloody paste beneath his ridiculously proportioned warhammer. It was... effective. Really effective.
There was an awful lot of Ari's blood everywhere it shouldn't be. The floor, Hammond's scythe, on her everywhere, not to mention the puddle of her on the floor. The puddle that appeared to be blue. Or green. It was also in her eyes.
A memory surfaced in her mind as she wiped the goo from her vision. Large lizards lying around a fire and a nugget of knowledge about their nature.
"Lanx..." She muttered, now looking for the others. Hammond and the giant were still nearby, one looking pleased, the other annoyed though not perhaps in that order. Back where the other figures were Ari noticed that one was missing. And behind the other appeared Em, daggers in hand.
In a few moments more a rifle was in her hands and a bullet was flying towards Em's skull. Typically it ended up instead buried a few metres to left behind her. Em appeared amused by this and began to advance with a wicked grin appearing on her face.
I was wondering how long it'd take for you all to snap. Shale remarked, his nervous tone beginning to betray his snark however. Why did you shoot her?
Ari refused to answer, instead throwing a glance over her shoulder as she tried to reload.
"Em! Get out here!" Right on cue a dart flew past her and buried in the ground before the Em clone, with the real Em appearing behind Ari, pulling out another shot herself.
Her eyes turned back to the front. The Em clone was closing in and the other figure was even closer. Suddenly there was a click from her gun. Followed by several thunks. Ari froze and looked down. Her thumb was on a button that clearly shouldn't have been pressed and most of the rifle was now on the floor in pieces. Left in her hand was something barely larger than a pistol.
Good enough. Her other pistol joined it and she opened fire on the closest figure. Her bullets hit. Sort of. One hit his front. The other flew past and hit a rock. It then bounced off and hit him in the back. Instead of the cry of pain however, that Ari was hoping for, the figure instead glanced at the wounds and laughed before carrying on as if nothing had happened. Even Hammond looked at her sympathetically, as his scythe casually tore through the figure's chest and another dart from Em appeared in its shoulder.
To her side Em suddenly jumped aside, the clone taking her place and slashing at her, drawing blood. It looked disapointed at the wound. Ari took her chance and swung the pistols around, letting off another two shots. One missed completely and another missed then rebounded, barely grazing Clone Em's arm. She was not pleased. She turned.
And she dodged, as a giant cat bounded towards her, rolling past with a cut for his troubles. Other Em sharply turned to face Ari, who was by this point fuming uselessly, and was met with the short vision of a scythe visiting her face.
With dead bodies and disembodied limbs scattered haphazardly around, the docks were looking a lot worse off than they had 10 minutes ago. Also looking a lot worse were the would-be assassins, at the very best separated across the chest and at worst little more than a squelchy mess on the floor, it was fair to say they were worm food.
Hammond sighed discontentedly, shaking his scythes in a vague attempt to remove the unhuman blood now staining them. "Seriously, do they even know how hard it is to clean these things after they get bloody? Fucking ridiculous." He quickly got to looking over to Ari and Em, who was still on the floor after leaping to one side. Both seemed to be taking the fact that they had just witnessed their own deaths surprisingly well. Better than the alternative, he guessed.
The man at the end of the dock was completely unaffected by the entire display, still smiling and waving as if no-one had been disembowelled in front of his eyes. "You want to check that out?"
"Wha?" Ari briefly indicated towards the waving man. "Oh. Uh, yeh, I guess. I'll handle it, you two clean up or whatever." Hammond waved his hand in their direction as he left to go have words with this man.
Or he would if the man gave any reasonable response whatsoever. Instead the man continued to wave in the same manner regardless of where Hammond was or what he was doing. For a moment he stood confusedly looking at it, but then he put it together in his mind.
Hologram. Wonderful. Hammond started to look around for traps, trusting holograms about as far as he could throw them. Which is to say he can't throw them very far, cause they're holograms. Eventually deciding that it was safe to proceed, he did so.
"Please choose a destination!" a gratingly chipper voice intoned. The hologram had talked. It was just a way to decide where to go. Problem was he didn't actually know anywhere to go. Em had been the one with the brochure in the car.
With Em rolling about on the floor, hopefully for a sane reason, and Gron and the lady in white talking amongst themselves, Hammond was forced to call Ari over for help.
"We're being asked for a destination. Got any ideas?"
She seemed to mull over the decision for a while, internally weighing up options, before saying "Jiryu-sentai?"
The hologram saw fit to take this as a response, instantly launching back into its sales pitch, "We thank you for your interest in visiting Jiryu-sentai. However there are currently no boats departing for that location. Please come back in one hour, or enjoy the Marina's many attractions!"
The two of them turned around, with Hammond just hoping that the next hour could go as quickly as possible. The Marina, which was basically just a dock with very few buildings close by, apparently had other plans. Suffice to say that 'many attractions' was putting it optimistically... Regardless, he decided he should try to do something with the hour he had been granted. The shooting range beckoned, and he heeded the call. Ari stayed at the dock to reassemble her rifle.
He wandered off for a short while, casting his eye over 'attractions'. None were really all that great, but since wandering for the entire hour didn't exactly appeal to him he went to check out a random building. It was a shooting range, with guns and their prices prevailing over one wall and a clerk barely paying attention. Signs outlined the way this was supposed to go: pick up a gun, get some ammo from the clerk, go shoot some targets. If you like the gun, pay the clerk for it. Easy enough instructions to follow. He did so with ease, picking an average-sized rifle, priced at 300 llum. He loaded a few rounds into it as he approached the range, observing that it could only take three bullets at once. He brought the rifle up to see through a scope, aimed down the range toward a target some unit of metres away and expertly unloaded the bullets into the... wall behind it.
Fuck... He'd not done too well there.
"Ooh, that looks like fun. I wanna shoot things too!" He could tell it was Em without even looking, but turned around to make sure. After the identity crises down at the docks he didn't want to take any chances. She went immediately for the largest gun, some monstrosity with enough extra bits to make entirely new guns from it, and kept it at hip level for all of three seconds before starting to visibly tilt to one side. She turned herself towards the range, ready to take the journey slow and sure. One step. Two. steps. Three... steps... And then she dropped it on the floor, going down with it. She looked clueless about what she had just done, almost childish, but just for a second.
"Well that was fun... She nervously chuckled while raising herself back up, knowing the clerk was giving her a death stare for the mistreatment of such a weapon, before sprinting off. Damnit Em... Hammond quickly returned to practising with the rifle he already had, hoping to avoid the ire of the range's owner by feigning ignorance. Luckily, even when Hammond went to purchase the rifle the owner didn't seem to make a connection between him and Em, so the purchase went down with little in the way of unpleasantness. Along with the rifle Hammond got several rounds. He went back towards the dock, the rifle joining the other weapons he had.
With the arrival of their ship, the Hoarfrost, announced across the Marina by way of speaker and the hour passed with no-one having been murdered, Hammond considered this hour a rousing success. The announcement went on to say that the ship would stay at the dock for another twenty minutes
"Hehe, Hoarfrost." He chuckled to himself as they all boarded the poorly-named ship headed for Jiryu-sentai.
A few hours into the trip, as Em was lying down watching the clouds drift by, there was a strange bang from below deck.
What the heck was that? Em though, noticing that the boat had slowed down significantly. She knew it wasn't a gunshot, those sounded a lot different.
There was some shuffling nearby, as Ari came into view.
"I'm going to check on Geo." She said to Em, heading down to the cargo bay.
"I'll come too!" Em scrambled to her feet, and followed Ari down into the bowels of the ship. She heard the door open behind them as they decended, and recognised the footsteps that only Hammond's boots could make.
As they reached the lower decks, there was a strange smell in the air. Accompanied by lots of sailor swearing and clanging.
"Ewww... What's that weird smell." Em said, burying her nose into her shirt.