Destiny Story: A Work in Progress (Complete)

As the long-range fighter Zephyr’s Shadow approached the blue-green planet Earth, a sliver of sunlight could be seen dancing along its edge, a silent sentinel in the depths of space. The moon, which had once looked like a smaller, bleaker planetoid, now held deep pockmarks, crevasses, and other telltale signs of human activity. Humanity had been banished from the moon for the last two hundred years, and only a select few knew of the darkness that now inhabited the moon just beneath its surface. As the long-range fighter continued, and drew closer, a whitish-silver ball was seen hanging silently along the Earths surface. This ball, known only as the Traveler, had been present for many years, and had been considered by many, the salvation of the peoples of Earth.

After so many centuries, many still didn’t know where the Traveler had come from. They only knew that it had always been there, and would be there long after Earthlings had perished. There were those however, who studied the Traveler and had adopted some of its technology. These Warlocks, as some had begun calling them, spent the majority of their time within the Traveler. Those that ventured forth however, had become dependable allies to humanity. As the fighter descended into Earth’s atmosphere, it shook slightly, the inertial dampeners screaming in protest to the turbulent forces.

Inside, the co-pilot couldn’t help but wince as the nose of the fighter glowed red throughout the descent, while the pilot sat in their seat, arms folded, almost looking as if they were asleep. As the fighter approached the Traveler and the City beneath it, the co-pilot kicked the pilots’ seat back violently.

“Hey.” The co-pilot said. “It’s time to wake up, we’re on long final to the City. Why is it that you always sleep on these long trips while I stay awake?”

The pilot rubbed his eyes and looked casually at the forward view screen, sleep draining from his body as he sat upright in his chair, his feet falling from the forward control console. “Well.” He said. “Maybe it’s because these long trips bore me.”

“Well, we could spring for a larger transport with trans-warp capabilities, but you always spend our credits on Old-Earth fiction books and Holovids.” The co-pilot said in disgust. “Besides this ship always feels like it’s falling apart whenever we enter atmo. The least you could do is spring for better inertial dampeners instead of weapons we never use, or shields so outdated, that if we come even this close to a minuscule asteroid, the klaxon goes off as if we were going to crash into a moon.” The co-pilot spread her arms wide to emphasize her point.

“Hey, you know you don’t have to stay with me, you could always go off and join the Titans.” The pilot stated as he placed an earpiece in his ear and positioned its small lip-mic. “City control this is long-range fighter Zephyr’s Shadow on long final requesting entry into your air-space for landing and long-term parking over.”

The radio cracked to life as the air traffic controller responded. “Roger Zephyr’s Shadow, we have you on long range air-space surveillance at bearing zero-one niner, you are cleared to enter City air-space, please advise when you are on short final and we will send you over to ground for docking and refuel. Please stay in your fighter while we refuel, and then we’ll send you over to long-term parking. How copy, over.”

“That’s a good copy City control, will advise when on short final, Zephyr’s Shadow out. Well that was easy.” The pilot said. “Let me know when we’re on short final, I’m going to check on our cargo.” The pilot captains’ chair swiveled around so that the pilot could exit his seat and have access to the modest crew quarters and smaller cargo bay. Looking at his co-pilot as he moved past her, her eyes downcast, he placed a reassuring hand on her slender shoulder and squeezed it slightly. “I didn’t mean the Titan remark, I know how you feel about them.” The pilot moved past the bunk beds, the galley, and moved towards the small cargo area of the ship where their cargo lay safe and snug in one of the fighters’ two long-term cryo-tubes.

The cryo-tubes were a necessary item in older models of long-range fighters. This enabled the crew to rest “in ship” as they were transported “lamprey style” to their destination on any number of carriers. Within this tube however, was the reason that the crew of Zephyr’s Shadow had made this particular trip to Earth. The crew-members of the Zephyr’s Shadow were both Hunters, and while to the general populace they were regarded as scoundrels and mercenary, bounty hunter scum, to those in charge however, they were a necessary evil.

Most Hunters were either individuals who had left modest beginnings for fame and fortune, were from one of the outlying colonies that had developed a warrior culture, or were former Titans who had become disenfranchised with the Titan philosophy. “You know,” The co-pilot called back. “I would never even think about joining those self-important jerks even if they knew my history, got on their knees and begged me to join.”

“I know,” The pilot responded as he made his way back to the pilots chair. “I just know that it irritates you when I mention them. Besides I promised your father I’d take care of you.” As the pilot sat down and swiveled his chair back into flight position, he rested his hands on the control panel and entered in a series of commands. “City control this is Zephyr’s Shadow on short final. Requesting docking instructions over.” The pilot spoke into his lip-mic, the City looming even closer to the fighter as it approached.

Zephyr’s Shadow this is City control,” The radio crackled. “You are cleared to dock at refueling point two-one-bravo. Suggest you contact ground immediately for further instructions.”

“Roger, City control. Will contact ground immediately. Zephyr’s Shadow out.” The pilot switched frequencies to ground and a gruff voice came over the earpiece.

“Don’t even bother Zephyr’s Shadow,” The voice said. “Just proceed on in, we’ll refuel you and then send you over to long-term parking.”

“Thanks ground, we’re on our way.” The pilot said as he maneuvered the fighter into docking position. The fighter had a sleek and low profile with a black color scheme, which was better to camouflage it against the blackness of space. The fighter’s appearance of course, belayed its age. The newer long-range fighters only required one pilot and had a cryo-tube integrated into the cockpit. The Zephyr’s Shadow however, was an Eagle model, and therefore required two pilots. The second pilot filled more of a weapons control and flight engineer position, only piloting the fighter in emergency conditions and during long, non-cryo missions.

In the standard Eagle model fighter, the cryo-tubes were right behind the pilots and only held enough room for them to get into and out of the tubes. The Zephyr’s Shadow however, had been modified to house a small crew quarters, with enough space to move relatively comfortably. There were two beds, situated one over the other and a small galley, which consisted of a fold out table and basic food preparation equipment. The food was stored in a dehydrated state, and was packaged in such a way as to be placed in boiling water to re-hydrate.

All water, even waste-water, was recycled through scrubbers to be reused, and was able to last several months before needing to be filled with fresh water. The newer models used an advanced hydrogen and oxygen collection system that only required the pilots or a limited A.I. to skirt the atmosphere of a planet or star to extract the necessary elements. Since Hydrogen and oxygen were easily renewable resources on a variety of planets, the newer models of fighters used these elements in their drive cores to propel them.

The Zephyr’s Shadow however, utilized a large Magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster, which was an applied-field thruster that utilized hydrogen as a fuel source, even though lithium had been proven to be much more efficient. There were several, smaller MPD arc-jet thrusters in the fore and aft of the fighter, with more on the wings for any attitude adjustment that was required within the vastness of space. Within atmosphere, the Zephyr’s Shadow was relegated to good-old-fashioned winged flight, with antiquated hydrogen powered rocket engines situated just below the fuselage located underneath the joining portions of each wing.

It was these engines that were receiving fuel now. An electromagnetic anti-grav unit positioned below the fighter, was used to keep it aloft during the process. With the refueling complete, the pilot shut off the anti-grav unit and the fighter dropped like a stone. A lump rose in his stomach before he reengaged the engines and moved the fighter towards the long-term parking location that they had been given by the ground controller. The pilot disengaged the engines and glided over a wall until he reached his assigned spot. He then engaged the anti-grav unit, lowering the power until the fighter had touched the ground, it’s tripod landing gear cushioning the fighter as it settled.

“Well, time to deliver the package.” The pilot said as he entered in the commands to lower the cryo-tube from the fighter. “Remember, buckets on until we reach the safe-house.”

“I know, I know.” The co-pilot said as she swiveled her own chair to face the rear of the fighter. The co-pilot rose from her seat and stretched, her slender frame elongating until her hands touched the ceiling. She walked back to her bunk and picked up her helmet. Placing her helmet upon her head and sealing its neck seal, she approached the cryo-tube and sat upon its lid. “You coming boss?” She said as the pilot touched a series of buttons, his own helmet already upon his head, the neck seal hanging down like the collar of a jacket that had been left open.

“On my way.” The pilot said through their linked and secured interpersonal frequency. He stood next to his co-pilot, his boot resting on the lip of the cryo-tube. The cargo compartment lowered and the light from outside spilled through. The sun was high in the air and if not for their filters, the duo would smell the slight ozone scent that permeated every inch of the land that was beneath the Traveler. The outer edge of the Traveler loomed ahead as the two uncoupled the cryo-tube. To say that the Traveler had an edge was a misnomer because everyone knew that the Traveler was a sphere, but to think of it this way made it easier to understand from an outside point of view.

The two Hunters unstowed a small anti-grav lift from the bottom of their fighter. The lift was placed underneath the cryo-tube and the two Hunters started out towards the edge of the parking area. As the Hunters walked towards the end of the parking area, they took stock of their equipment. The pilot wore heavy boots that were made of a flexible metal material interwoven with carbon fiber nano-tubes that provided both flexibility and strength. The boots ended just above his ankles, and he wore carbon fiber nano-tube laced cloth trousers. The trousers had protective plates over the thighs and shins and were attached to the trousers with high tensile strength mircoconnectors. In the past these plates would be attached with nylon or leather straps, and would persistently shift, making constant readjustment necessary.

A leather belt held the trousers up, and over it the pilot wore a leather pistol belt which held an old leather holster for his sidearm which he lovingly named “Betsy”. He wore a standard button up tunic that he tucked into his trousers, which would provide better protection from the elements. Over the tunic he wore an old piece of armor. It wasn’t as shiny as the ones that were worn now, but the pilot had it for many years and it had never failed him. Sure it had several dents and scratches, but it covered all of the important bits. He also wore gauntlets over his forearms, when other hunters preferred just gloves. His left forearm gauntlet housed a port for his PDA, which helped him to not only keep tabs on whatever he was doing, but also provided a wireless, secure link to his helmets’ functions. Hidden within the underside of both forearm gauntlets were retractable, ten-inch hidden vibrating blades that were released by a flick of the wrist. The leather gloves he wore were finger-less to allow for greater dexterity.

Most Hunters of the day wore the most up to date helmets. With these newer helmets, all of the functions were determined by blinks or clicks of the tongue. The even more expensive ones followed voice commands, or had a direct neural lattice embedded within the helmet liner to translate thought into whatever the individual wanted to do with the helmets’ various electronic suites. The pilot used whatever worked best, even if it was antiquated. The pilots helmet was a simple, long domed design, which had a “T” shaped visor, and came to just below his chin. While other, newer helmets did away with the long domed design and visors altogether, he did not because to him they always felt claustrophobic. It was for this same reason that he often left his neck seal open, even though the helmets A/C unit wouldn’t work without it sealed. Altogether the armor was a dull silver color with sand-gold highlights. The cloth portions were black, and unlike most Hunters, who only have a cloth cowl covering their heads and a long scarf to cover their faces as to break up the outlines of their helmets, the pilot preferred to wear a leather duster in addition to the cowl. In his mind the scarf and duster looked pretty cool when the wind picked up and blew it out from behind or billowed out when the wind blew from the front, the coat tails and scarf legs blowing in the wind.

The leather duster and cowl/scarf combination were both brown, unlike most Hunters who wore colors indicative to the groups or families they were associated with. In reality he was probably the only Hunter who wore a duster. Usually the cowl was up over his helmet to assist in breaking up the outline of his head, but because he was in the City he didn’t feel the need, so he kept it down behind his head. In his arms, in the at-the-ready position, but with the butt in the pocket of his shoulder sat his rifle Hunters’ Intent. It was an old, but reliable rifle that he had carried with him for as long as he had been a Hunter.

Hunters’ Intent had a different name when he acquired it, but he changed it when he decided to become a Hunter. The weapon had what seemed like an infinite number of customization options, but the pilot decided to keep it simple. The rifle came standard with single shot and automatic fire. The pilot, an expert weapon-smith, decided to adjust it to single and three-round burst. This way he can maintain control of the amount of ammunition the weapon used during sustained fire. The rifle also tended to be more accurate under a lower rate of fire. He updated the scope as new ones came out, but for the most part, the rest was standard equipment. Newer rifles came with an integrated plasma launcher below the rifle, but the pilot had changed this out with an antique shotgun load grenade launcher.

The standard ammunition varied according to the power supply of the rifle, but the pilot had modified his rifle to house up to thirty rounds of seven millimeter metal pellets. Other weapons had interchangeable power supplies that governed which ammunition was fired, Hunters’ Intent only required a refill of the ammunition, without changing the power supply. The pellets were accelerated by a magnetic coil to almost five thousand feet per second. The pilot had tuned it down to just two thousand because of the psychological effects that the rounds had in hitting their targets. Sure, energy was cool and all, but it didn’t have the effect that metal ammunition did. With a plasma charge you would just get a burn at the impact site or maybe a neat little hole, but plasma just didn’t have the effect of a missing limb or the, “holy crap Johnny’s missing his head and blood is spurting out from the stump” effect that metal ammunition does.

“Betsy” was just a simple pulse pistol that fired a bolt of super heated plasma at a target and had to go through a “cool down” period after every twenty pulls of the trigger. The number of pulls of the trigger was halved if you fired it any faster than once every second. Newer pistols had just as many customizable options as the other weapons, but the pilot liked simpler, yet just as effective weaponry. Behind his back the pilot kept an old wooden handled kukri knife that had always served him well. On his off hand hip he kept an old plasma sword just for “decorative” purposes.

His partner on the other hand was a different story altogether. While the pilot had tried to inspire a minimalistic approach to personal armor, which he used as a means to blend in with the local populace; his partner chose to have full on body armor. Her feet were clad in a heavier version of the boots that he himself wore and came to just under her knees. From just above her knees to her waist, she wore a set of flex-metal greaves, that surrounded her entire lower body. She wore knee pads to cover the space between the greaves and boots. She wore no holsters, because her greaves had an integrated mag-lock connection system which held her weapons in place on her thighs. The upper portion of her armor encompassed her entire upper body as well. Usually armor for females was anatomically correct, in her case however, she had chosen to wear male upper body armor. Even thought the pilot knew the reason why she had chosen male upper body armor, it still didn’t stop him from teasing her about it from time to time.

The armor on her arms, was the one place the pilot felt that she had listened to him. Most of her armor consisted of one or two pieces. The armor on her arms however, was comprised of individual pieces of armor covering the outer portion of her upper arms, no elbow pads, and gauntlets that, while integrated into her gloves, were also segmented, so that her wrists and fingers moved about freely. The co-pilot wasn’t into bladed weapons, but she did carry a small dagger in her right boot. This dagger had a small motor in the hilt that rotated the blade three-hundred and sixty degrees and a constant speed of six-hundred RPM, acting as an auger whenever it was used.

Unlike the pilot who preferred trousers and a tunic, the copilot wore a complete carbon fiber nano-tube body suit. The suit had a small cooling system interwoven throughout it, and a high collar that sealed directly to her helmet. Her helmet was a visor-less model that carried a variety of various electronic suites within, which assisted in system task management, and afforded the wearer a full three-hundred and sixty degree view of their surroundings. These views were accessible through voice command.

Her weapons status was carried to the helmet through tactile connections within her gauntlets and unlike the pilot, who had to either look at counter displays on his weapon, or connect a cable from the weapon to a port on his helmet, she didn’t have to. A medical suite was also integrated within her helmet to make emergency medical decisions on the fly. Her armor was a brighter shade of silver than the pilot’s, with subdued sand-gold accents. She wore a brown cloak and cowl which covered her head, and could be closed with snaps to cover her entire frame. Her cowl remained over her head and the cloak was opened up and held behind her weapons.

The copilot only carried three weapons in addition to the knife at all times. A shotgun, named Hammer of Regret lay across her back, connected to her armor with the muzzle facing up so she could reach it underneath her cloak. The Hammer of Regret was a standard shotgun which fired a high concussion plasma charge and ejected the spent casings from the bottom of the breach. The charge could be dialed in to either release a single shot, or a spread of multiple shots, and was linked to her helmet so she could select which to use through voice commands. The spread was usually used for breaching doors and for causing the most damage on a close range target. The Hammer of Regret had limited customization options which mostly affected range and rate of fire. Things like different lengths of barrels and electromagnetic compression coils. She kept a short barrel because she only really used the Hammer of Regret when she was close-in to a target to have the greatest damage effect.

Her two sidearms, Titans’ Lament: Peace and Titans’ Lament: Justice, were placed grip forward on her left and right thighs respectively. “The Twins”, as she lovingly called them, were two carbines of the same make and model. They were both about eighteen inches long and were modified to use the same ammunition as Hunters’ Intent so that the two Hunters could share ammunition. “The Twins” had inertial accelerators installed just before the barrel so that they could fire at two thousand feet per second. The co-pilot held a “spray and pray” mentality, so she had extended the magazines to carry ninety rounds of seven millimeter pellets. Without the accelerators, the weapons only fired at a mere eight-hundred feet per second, so this addition more than made up for that particular shortcoming of the weapons.

She carried the weapons grip forward because in her mind, “it looked cool” to pull the weapons out from across her body, as opposed to pulling them out “gunslinger style”. As the two Hunters approached the end of the parking area, the pilot tapped on his PDA, and a familiar rumbling sound could be heard in the distance, as their ground transportation approached them.

“Here’s another thing I don’t get.” The co-pilot said as she tapped the toe of her boot on the ground. “Why do we still use that old rust bucket when the newer models are so much cooler and run quieter?”

“Because it still works.” The pilot replied. “Why throw away something that can still work?”

“But it breaks down more often than it runs.” The co-pilot responded. “I mean like, you’ve sunk enough into it that we could buy about twenty new ones.”

“I could say the same thing about you.” The pilot said with an internal smirk. The co-pilot crossed her arms and turned her head up and to the right, away from him in a huff. “Here she comes.” The rumbling grew closer as the vehicle rolled into view. The vehicle was an old Titan “Puma” model. The “Puma” was a four wheeled transport that the Hunter had acquired early on in his career. In this day and age, most vehicles had anti-grav units that propelled them, but the “Puma” model had a hydrogen powered, nitrogen cooled engine. It was capable of 960 foot-pounds of torque, that enabled the “Puma” to reach a top speed of roughly 125 KPH.

The “Puma”, which the pilot did not rename, had multiple spots of rust, which gave it’s forest green paint job a dirty appearance around its wheels and hinges. The vehicle had a cable winch on the front, not for hauling others out mind you, but to tow it behind another vehicle when it broke down, which happened a lot. As the “Puma” rolled to a stop, the two Hunters loaded the cryo-tube into the back, and entered the vehicle. As the pilot took control of the wheel the vehicle sputtered and died.

“Want me to get out and push?” The co-pilot asked, a sarcastic tone in her voice.

“No, that’s alright” The pilot said as he exited the vehicle and lifted the hood. “It… just… needs… a little… finesse” He said as he repeatedly hammered on the engine with his rifle. As the engine sputtered to life once again the pilot reentered the drivers seat and the vehicle sped off down the road. As the two traveled down the road, the Wall moved closer into view.

The Wall was built by the first Titans, who sought a way to protect the new City that had been developed after the war. The Wall reached high into the sky and continued to be improved upon as time went by. The Wall started out as a small project, and was only really tall enough to prevent someone from climbing it, but as the City grew and more humans came to live under the Traveler, the Wall grew in height. Now, reaching thousands of meters, the Wall was the first line of defense for the City.

The dull grey color of the Wall had faded with time, and there were plenty of places where sheets of metal had fallen off, but it still stood, daunting in its scope. At several strategic points there were positioned towers, where the Titans were stationed. Within these towers was an entire living space for multiple shifts of the Titan guard. The Titans practically lived in the towers and rarely saw any place else in the City. There were rumors that Titans had been born in those towers, outfitted with armor, given a weapon, and told to stand and watch.

The towers had ports where the Titans within could watch the outside. The ports gave them a view that was from the ten o’clock position to the two o’clock position. In fact the towers were positioned in such a way as to afford this viewpoint to anyone who was within the tower on guard. This also afforded them interlocking sectors of fire, so that the guards could best protect the City within. There were those who would say that various ports would open within the tower so that massive cannons could stick out and fire on approaching enemies.

In the space between the towers, massive anti-aircraft guns rested, so as best to discourage attacks from the air. The fire that was produced from these guns lit up the night sky and was tested every week, often disturbing the populace as they slept with their thrumming. Only those within the Titans ranks knew how many secrets the Wall held, while the rest of the population could only guess. As the two Hunters drove towards the security checkpoint, a single Titan stepped out from the guard shack to meet them.

The pilot applied the brakes, but his vehicle refused to slow down. He pumped the breaks several times with no effect as the Titan grew closer. The Titan began waving his arms in a panic as the “Puma” barreled down on him, the pilot continuing to pump the brakes.

The Titan dove out of the way as the vehicle’s wheels began to squeal, the brakes finally catching. The “Puma” slid past the Titan and just barely stopped before the emergency plasma lattice cut the vehicle and it’s occupants to shreds.

“Sorry about that” The pilot said as the Titan rose and dusted himself off. New appointees to the checkpoint always had a few colorful words to say to the pilot when they first experienced the late breaking of the “Puma” but this particular Titan had come across it many times before.

“You almost got sliced.” The Titan said as he approached the drivers’ side of the vehicle. “When are you going to break down, get a new vehicle, and stop scaring the new guys?” The Titan nodded his head to the other Titan at the checkpoint who had his rifle pointed in their direction.

“That’s what I keep on telling him.” The co-pilot said to the Titan from the passengers’ side. “How are you today Jonn?”

“Can’t complain too much Elsibeth. Same boring stuff as always. The only highlight is when you two show up.” Jonn the Titan said. “You two got a delivery?”

“These aren’t the Hunters you are looking for.” The pilot said as he waved a hand across the front of his helmet. When Jonn cocked his head to the side, the pilot just shook his head. “Yep, only this one is special, not the usual one”

“I can tell.” Jonn said, looking towards the back of the vehicle. “You know, I don’t know why you say the same thing every time I see you here, I never get the joke. You two try to be more careful, a lot of people won’t take too kindly to being almost run over by an antique driven by one.” Jonn walked around the back of the “Puma” and towards the guard shack. He drew his hand in a slicing motion across his neck and the Titan in the shack turned off the lattice. When he reached the guard shack, he turned back towards the vehicle. “Move along.” He said, making a sweeping motion with his left hand across his body. “Move along.”

“See, you do get the joke!” The pilot exclaimed as he drove off into the tunnel that led to the City.

The other Titan watched them leave and then turned to face Jonn. “Who was that sir?” He said.

“Just and old friend.” Jonn replied. “One of the best of us.”

 

 

As the “Puma” roared through the tunnel, a brightly lit sign announced that they were now entering the City… last bastion of humanity. This was followed by another sign advertising enlistment into the Titans. The pilot knew the Titan pictured on the advertisement and looked towards Elsibeth.

“When are they going to replace that stupid sign?”

“I don’t know.” Elsibeth said, her voice cracking slightly, head downcast. She turned her head away from the pilot and looked down at the road as it went rushing beneath them. The end of the tunnel opened up before them and the City came into view. It was after noonday in the City, and this portion was cast in shadow as the Traveler sat silently above them. During the day, the Traveler cast a shadow over the City at any given point. At night, it cast a faint glow like moonlight over the entirety of the City. It wasn’t like the reflection of the sun that a normal moon has. The light from the Traveler seemed to come from within it, like a reassuring night light. Children often found comfort from monsters by relaxing in the glow of the Traveler. Adults often complained that the light was too bright, and ruined any night vision that they had been trying to develop.

The City sprawled out before them as the pilot maneuvered the vehicle towards its center. What started out as low lying buildings grew to become tall skyscrapers, some taller than the wall itself. On these skyscrapers were rows upon rows of windows, each either reflecting an image of the Traveler, or the Wall. The closer you got to City center, the buildings retained fewer and fewer windows, their sides a smooth facade of dull grey, similar to the Wall itself. That was the major way you could tell which part of the City was built first, because the materials were the same.

As they approached their delivery location, the buildings stopped, and a large courtyard was present, with trees and a grand fountain commemorating the first Titans. The fountain had a statue at its center depicting three figures. The figures were Titans in old patchwork armor, not a single piece matching. The figure at the center was standing with his weapon pointed high in the air. In his other hand, a small globe representing either the Traveler or the planet Earth, depending on your point of view. On the right, was a Titan in female armor facing forward in the kneeling position, with one elbow on her left knee, her weapon drawn, looking down the barrel. On the left was a Titan in teenage armor, standing with his back toward the left hand side of the Titan in the center, his head turned to the right. He carried two weapons, one weapon was a pistol which the Titan held, barrel pointing to his right, arm extended. The other weapon was a sword, raised above the Titans head, ready to strike down an invisible foe. All three Titans carried makeshift shields on their backs, protecting them from enemies that would attack the trio from behind.

A short distance away from the fountain, the beginning construction of another statue could be seen. This one proposed that all three guardians, the Hunter, the Titan, and the Warlock, worked together to protect the City. A painting that was displayed next to the statue had the Titan at the center, weapon at the ready. The Hunter was crouched, with two pistols drawn, ready to strike, the Warlock standing a slight distance away. A glowing ball was in his right hand raised high above his head, and a book in his left, held close to his chest. Proponents of equality had proposed that the Titan to be a Human, the Hunter an Exos, and the Warlock an Awoken. These three figures representing the three races that lived within the City walls. However, no matter which way you looked at it, the painting seemed to be comprised of three humans instead.

The “Puma” approached the largest building in the City, it’s top the closest to the Traveler. This building had a flat roof with cargo elevators ascending into the Travelers’ depths. The building had a fifty step staircase, at the top of it was the entrance to the building, it’s doorway approximately five hundred meters high. At the foot of the staircase was a tall statue, the same height as the doorway. A Warlock was depicted here, covered in a cloak and cowl. The cloak was drawn back slightly, revealing a pistol in a holster on the left hip. The Warlocks’ left hand was outstretched forward, the appearance of lightning extending from his fingertips. In his right hand a book, opened and held out in front as if the Warlock was reading from it and casting a spell. These three things, “magic” represented by the lightning, “Technology” represented by the pistol, and “Knowledge” represented by the book. All were things that the Warlock was attuned to and represented. These things worked together in balance, to enable the Warlock to accomplish what they needed to do.

The pilot drove the vehicle to the back of the building, where the rest of the artifacts that the Warlocks collected were delivered. Several flat-bed vehicles stood positioned near each dock, ready to be dispatched to various parts of the Earth, collecting artifacts for study. The pilot parked the “Puma” near the lowest loading dock, which was reserved for vehicles that were not as tall as the rest. The pilot and Elsibeth exited the “Puma”, walked towards the back, and lowered the tailgate.

A slight female initiate in dirty coveralls exited the door and approached the vehicle. The initiate had abandoned her birth name long ago. She was of slight build and, like all initiates, had a shaven head. The girl looked to be about fifteen years old, and had probably been an initiate for about five years. Most individuals entered the Warlock order shortly after their tenth birthday. There were children younger than the girl, who were either orphans with high “magical” affinity, or were left at the doorstep of a Warlock monastery by parents who could no longer take care of them. Very rarely were children conscripted into the Warlock way of life, but it did happen.

“Did you bring more wonders Hunter?” The female initiate asked as she reached the vehicle, her eyes wide with anticipation.

“No Pluck.” The pilot said to the initiate as he started up the anti-grav lift. “Just something for Darmata.”

“Oh.” Said the initiate, whom the pilot had nicknamed “Pluck”, due to her plucky attitude when he dropped off a delivery. “Is it something very special, only for her? Do you need me to call her down for you?”

“I am already here child.” A soft voice from the shadows said. “Please bring the item inside Hunter.”

The cryo-tube was lifted from the truck and floated on the anti-grav lift towards the door. As the four people walked through the door and into the next room, it opened up to reveal an opulent room, with vaulted cathedral like ceilings, and statues of important Warlocks throughout history. Each statue depicted a different Warlock. There was the Warlock who had first entered the Traveler, the Warlock who had first displayed the Travelers’ wonders to the populace. There was even a saute of the first Warlock to ever relieve himself within the Traveler, the pilot had to shake his head at that one, and at this the initiate snickered.

Darmata turned to the initiate at the sound of her snickering. “That will be enough child.” She said with a slight sound of annoyance in her voice. “You may leave us.”

“Yes Mistress.” The initiate said, her eyes downcast in embarrassment. The initiate bowed slightly and left, returning to the shadows.

“Must you always embarrass me Hunter?” Darmata said as they continued to an elevator. “I do not see what is so funny about it.”

“Because darlin’, I just think that it’s rather obscure that with all of the seriousness within the Warlock Order, you would have something that reminds you of that.” The Hunter said. “Besides, there was a time when even you found it funny.”

Darmata bristled at the remark. “That was in the past Hunter, things are… different for me now.” The trio approached an elevator, one that led to only the sub-basements below. When they arrived, Darmata pressed a series of hidden buttons and the elevator doors opened. The inside of the elevator was not much brighter than the room they had just left, but it was bright enough that you could make out more of Darmata’s shape.

Darmata was a statuesque woman, and maintained a desirable figure, even though you could barely tell beneath her cloak. When the elevator closed, she pulled back her cowl to reveal long flowing brown hair which beautifully framed her face. She had high cheek bones and a long face. Her nose came to a sharp point, and if she would ever leave the order, she could easily be mistaken for royalty. In her younger days, she had an almost flawless olive complexion, but living within the dark conclave had caused the skin to slowly loose its color.

Years ago, Darmata had been a precocious teenager with wonderment in her eyes and a sunny disposition. Upon the loss of her master however, Darmata had changed. The pilot had known Darmata when she was younger, as they had grown up together. The pilot, an orphan, was raised within the walls of a Warlock monastery. They would often play together, but when Darmata had been assigned to her master, the play had stopped. The Warlock leadership had discovered that Darmata had a great “magic” affinity, and it was decided that she would be entered into the order on her tenth birthday. The first person that Darmata wanted to tell was her best friend since primary school.

“Hey, they want me to be a Warlock!” An excited Darmata had almost run into him as she bounced up and down on the balls of her feet.

“Wow, that’s soo cool Mata!” Her friend said as he took her hands. “I sure wish I could be one, that way we could go together.”

“I know, but the last time you were tested they said that your “magic” affinity was too low to measure.” Darmata said to him. “But hey, we still have about eight years until you have to leave. We’ll get to visit bunches of time before then.”

“Mata, you remember what happened to all of the others.” He said. “Everyone who becomes an initiate is never seen again.”

“Yes but I will be different.” She said. “I won’t let that happen, and my new master is one of the few in the order who has a family. He knows that you’re the closest thing that I have to family, so I’m sure I’ll get to visit lots.”

“That may be, but I’ll still miss you lots.” He said as he released her hands. “Hey Mata, I have a going away present for you. But you have to close your eyes.”

“Okay.” Mata said, closing her eyes and holding out her hand.

“Don’t open them.” Her friend said as he waved a hand in front of her face to be sure that her eyes were closed. Her friend stepped closer, leaned out, and quickly kissed her on the lips.

Mata stepped back startled and opened her eyes. “What was that? It felt funny.”

“It’s something I saw two adults do at one of the space ports. It happened just before the man stepped on the lift.” He said. “It’s something called a kiss, and it is something two people do when they say goodbye… I think.”

“I liked it.” Mata said. “Can we do it again?” She leaned closer, her eyes closed. But just before their second kiss, a voice from the shadows called out.

“Initiate it is time to go.” A deep voice called out.

“On my way.” Mata replied. “Sorry, I have to go but I’ll see you again real, real soon.” Mata waved goodbye to her friend and trotted towards her new master, her steps a lot lighter than they were a minuet ago. That was the last time the pilot had seen her as a child. Five years later he met her again.

“Hey.” Mata said as she skipped towards her friend. “Notice anything different about me?” As she reached him, she spun around like a ballerina on top of an old music box.

“Your boobs finally started to grow in?” Her friend said as he rose and dusted the dirt off of his coveralls. Her friend had been working in the cloister, making sure the garden was well maintained. He beamed her a large smile.

“Five years and that’s the first thing you notice?” Mata said as she lightly punched him on the shoulder. “I meant my armor!”

“Oh yeah.” Her friend said, looking her up and down as she spun around again. “It looks good, what kind of weapons does it have in it?”

“It doesn’t have any weapons.” Mata said. “I get to carry a pistol at all times and sometimes a rifle, but mostly I just use my “Magics”.”

Her friend looked her up and down again, this time with a little more scrutiny. She wore heavy leather boots and metal spats. The boots stopped mid-calf, with no additional armor above them. She wore heavy cloth trousers and a thick leather belt. The holster was also leather and housed her pistol. The pistol was an antique black-powder semi-automatic. If he remembered correctly it was called the 1911 or something like that. Her tunic was also cloth, but was mostly obscured by her body armor. The body armor was of the female design obviously. The front plate was a single piece of metal, that covered her upper body from her waist to her neck. There was a neck protector, but she let that hang loose off to the side of her neck.

The back plate was also a single piece of metal, but had attachments for a cryogenic re-breather. The tank for the re-breather had an oval shape and sat flush against her armor. Two tubes stretched out from the top of the tank and over her shoulders. The hoses connected to two ports on the sides of her helmet at the cheek. The helmet was a visor-less model, and was just as simple as the rest of her armor. The two halves of her body armor was connected by carbon fiber nano-tube straps that held the two pieces together. There was no armor on her arms, save for a pair of heavy leather gauntlets that came to only her wrists. The gauntlets were fingerless, so that she could generate her “Magics”.

No one knew just how the Warlocks used their “Magics”. It had been theorized that Warlocks were secretly genetically engineered humans, created by the Titans to enable them to interface with the Traveler. This was later debunked by the release of a research paper, describing subtle changes within the human genome which was influenced by the Traveler. Several people left the safety of the Traveler and the Titans because of this revelation. Most of them had set up colonies in the depths of the solar system and were believed to have become the first Hunters. The others were never heard from again, and some believe that they had transformed themselves into the Exos.

His examination over, Mata’s friend stood back. “You look fantastic in it.” He said, nodding his approval.

Mata blushed slightly, and then lowered her head in embarrassment. “Th-thank you.” Mata stuttered. She then shook her head slightly, her short brown hair bouncing from side to side. “I-I have to get back now. Have you given any thought to where you are going to go after you leave? You only have a few short years left here you know.”

“I know.” Her friend said. “I had been thinking about joining the Titans or perhaps the Hunters.”

Mata looked her friend up and down. “I think you’d look good as a Titan. Maybe we could be paired up together on a mission sometime.”

“That’d be cool.” He said, a smile growing on his lips. “After all you would need someone to watch your back since you don’t have eyes in the back of your head.”

Mata punched him again in the shoulder. “Hah! I’ve been trained on how to expand my presence so I know what’s going on in all directions.” She stood there, her head down, fidgeting with her helmet. “So uh, this would be goodbye then.”

“Yes, it would.” Her friend said. “What, do you want another kiss?” Mata’s face grew a deep shade of red and she nodded. “Well close your eyes.” Her friend leaned closer and placed a hooked finger underneath her chin. Lifting her head up, he turned his head slightly. Her lips trembled as his lips brushed against hers. She placed her arms around him and drew him in closer, their lips pressed firmly together. Mata dropped her helmet and it clattered to the floor. She released him and held him at arms length.

“I felt something else too.” She said with a big grin on her face.

“I-I’m sorry.” Her friend said as his face grew bright red. Now it was his turn to be extremely embarrassed. “I-I have to go.” He turned to leave and walked quickly away. When he reached the entrance to the monastery, she called out to him.

“I love you, you know!” Mata called as he hurried away. She put a hand to her mouth and giggled as her friend stumbled over the stoop of the doorways’ entrance. Mata placed her helmet on her head, reconnected the re-breathers’ hoses, and walked out of the monastery.

The elevator reached the bottom of the shaft and the Warlock Darmata raised her hood. “Come.” She said as the doors parted. “The others are waiting.” The trio walked down a dimly lit hallway, with low light torches on either side. In a different time there would be a series of burning torches lining the hall, their lights flickering as the people would walk past. When they reached the end of the hall, the doors slid back to reveal a brightly lit room. If not for the light filters in their helmets, the two Hunters would have been blinded by it.

Darmata blinked, but this was an subconscious response, her eyes had been replaced with bionics after an “incident” long ago. Most times she just kept her eyes closed, using her “Magics” to determine where she was. However, because she was dealing with him she kept her eyes open. It was always difficult to read her old friend, and it was something that had even boggled the leadership of the Warlock Order from the time he was a child. The room was bright and cool. It was cool partially because of how deep underground it was, and partially because of the cooling system that had been put in place.

Rows upon rows of computer banks lined the room, their lights blinking, some in succession, and some randomized as the trio past their locations. Not too many in the outside world got to see this part of the Warlock Order, but the Hunter and his partner were special cases. Due to his past friendship with Darmata and his fellowship with the Warlock Order, the pilot was allowed to see places where the Warlock Order had kept its many secrets. Within the computer banks were all of the Warlocks’ secrets. Everything they had learned from the Traveler was stored within. At the end of the room stood a guard in full Warlock heavy armor. This armor was similar to the armor worn by the Titans, but had the distinction of being developed and equipped by select members of the Warlock Order. These members were so powerful, and had such skill with their “Magics” that they were a threat to the outside world. These “Heavy Combat” Warlocks often had their “Magics” sealed by cybernetic implants and were “released” when the Warlock Order had need of them.

The guard stood a little straighter as the trio approached. He acknowledged Darmata with a salute which wasn’t returned. “I didn’t think there was a council meeting today ma’am.” The guard said in a thick accent. “What are these two Hunters doing here?” A slight tone of disgust in his voice.

“These Hunters are guests of the council.” Darmata said, her voice stern. “This one will stay with you,” She pointed to Elsibeth. “and this one will accompany me further.” She pointed to the pilot.

“What’s in the cryo-tube ma’am.” The guard said, pointing his weapon at it. “I can’t let unknown items in the chamber.”

“That is none of your-“ She began, but was cut off.

“Oh come on Mata.” The pilot stated. “It’s not like he’s going to tell anybody. He’s stuck down here for the rest of his life remember.” The pilot placed a hand on his hip and cocked his head to one side.

Darmata, visibly frustrated with the candor that the pilot was showing in front of one of her subordinates, sighed with frustration. “Fine, but remember-“ She was cut of again.

“Commere bub,” The pilot beckoned. “this’ll knock your socks off for sure.” The guard moved closer to the cryo-tube and the pilot wiped away some of the frost to reveal what was inside. The guard recoiled in fear, the grip on his weapon tightened.

“You-you can’t bring that in here!” The guard exclaimed. “Those things are killers without a soul!”

“It’s okay bub.” The pilot said, tapping a finger on the cryo-tube. “He’s on ice and dead to the world… or at least I think he is. Its been a long trip and this is an old tube.”

“It is alright.” Darmata said, holding up a hand to steady the guards nerves. “We have taken every precaution and you have been made aware of the nature of the item.”

“Yes, but I never thought it would be one of them.” The guard stood back and resumed his place at the door. “You, and your escort may proceed but I’ll need to confiscate his weapons.” The pilot looked as if he was ready to aggressively protest, but Darmatas’ hand on his forearm stopped him.

“It is okay, I am here.” She said through subvocalization. “I know that your guns and the kukri blade are not your only weapons,” The pilot relinquished his weapons to the guard and handed him the kukri blade hilt first as was the proper way.

“You got this Kid?” The pilot asked his partner.

“Just get going.” Elsibeth said, angry that she wasn’t allowed to proceed. “I’ll be here when you get back.” Darmata and the pilot proceeded through the door, the cryo-tube between them. As they entered the doorway it was black, the light seemingly swallowed up by the darkness. Even the pilots low-light filters had a difficult time compensating within the extreme darkness of it all. Within other portions of the building, he could see bright as day, but in this place, he could barely make out the shape of Darmata who was only seven feet in front of him.

As they reached what could only be the center of the room, the lights began to fade in. There were several figures surrounding them, all facing toward them in a small circle. The pilots bravado waned a short while. He had grown up hearing stories about the Council of Elders, but he never really believed it until he had met them years ago after a certain “incident”. The individuals within the room pulled back their hoods, revealing their faces to him. When he had met them before, they kept their hoods up, as a means of displaying anonymity. This time however, they pulled their hoods back, both as a sign of respect for their leader, and as a means of acceptance to the man who had done what no other in the history of the Warlock Order had ever done.

There were twelve within the Council of Elders, four of each race that occupied the City. There was always twelve, and when one died, another was chosen. The method of choosing a successor to the council was something that was a mystery to most, but many within the Warlock Order say that it is not by democracy that the person is chosen, but by the Traveler. In addition to the even number from each race, there was also an even number of males and females. The leader of the council was decided by a democratic vote however, and Darmata had won by a “landslide”.

The council members raised their hands and spoke in unison. “Knowledge is truth, through truth we gain enlightenment. Technology is a gift, through gifts we gain humility. “Magic” is grace, through grace we gain acceptance.” This was the mantra of the Warlock Order, and everyone who was within the order received instruction in this mantra from the day they entered. Even the orphans who were raised in the monasteries knew the mantra. They were expected to say it upon awaking each day, prior to each meal, and before bed each night.

The pilot had begun to hate saying the mantra after he discovered that he wouldn’t become a Warlock, but he murmured this mantra out of an old habit. One of the council members noticed this and stepped forward. “How do you know of our mantra outsider?” The member asked, she was a young Awoken female and had obviously not been briefed on just who would be accompanying Darmata to the council chambers.

One of the older council members, an Exo spoke up, his electronically enhanced voice echoing in the room. “This hunter is a friend to the council, and has worked with us many times in the past. He is the one who has done that which we cannot. He is also a personal friend of Elder Darmata, a rarity in times such as this.” The pilot raised his hands up, palms outward.

“Hey I’m just a normal guy.” He said modestly. “There’s no need to make a fuss out of me.” The other members of the council nodded silently.

“Oh I would not say that.” A voice said from the top of the circle in front of them. “We all heard about it from Elder Darmata.” The figure moved from the shadows towards the pilot. The figures’ name was Sal-Drega, a human from the outside colonies who’s parents had been visited by a Warlock when he was young and had been talked into letting their son join the Order. He was an imposing figure, standing six-five and well muscled. If you met him on the street, you may have thought that he was a member of the Titans.

Sal-Dregas’ shoulder length red hair was slicked back, his pale sharp features practically glowing ethereally in the low light. His sharp, piercing grey eyes, looked the pilot over with obvious disdain. “We know of your greatness sir Hunter.” He said, faux reverence emanating from his voice. “How you had done a great thing, but upon being asked to repeat what you have done you refused and stormed out.” Now standing next to Darmata, he slipped a hand around her waist. “Why even Elder Darmata here often speaks of you in private chambers.”

For some reason the pilot did not like the idea of this scum-bag touching his childhood friend, and liked it even less that he knew about what she did in private. “Well if there is nothing else I’ll be going.” The pilot said as he turned to leave.

A small young male Exo stepped forward. “How dare turn your back to Elder Sal-Drega without permission you common Hunter.” He said angrily. “He is a member of this council and he is betrothed to-“ but before he could finish the sentence he was cut off, a knife at his throat.

“Look kid.” The pilot said as he withdrew the blade “I’ve done things that would make the milk curdle in your Cheerio’s. I don’t need snot-nosed young punks like you giving me any lip. This could have gone real easy if you had just kept your mouth shut. I bow to no man. That’s part of the reason why I’m even allowed in here.”

“That is alright sir Hunter.” Sal-Drega said, placing a hand on the pilots shoulder. “Elder Mon-Krega is young and looks up to the rest of us. He takes offense when he feels that we are not being treated with proper reverence.” Sal-Drega steered the pilot back the way he and Darmata had come in. When they had left the circle and were in shadow, Sal-Drega dug the fingers of his hand deeper into the pilots shoulder. “Remember Hunter, at a word, I can have everything you love cut down and ground to dust.” Sal-Drega dug harder into the pilots shoulder as he hissed. “With my power I could make you writhe in pain and pray to the Traveler that you had been left as a stain on your fathers’ sheets.”

The pilot shook off Sal-Dregas’ hand easily as he moved through the doorway. When he returned to the guard he angrily took back his weapons.

“That’s an awesome knife you carry.” The guard said as he handed back the knife in the same way that he had received it. “Your partner said that he’d be waiting up top. Nice guy.”

“Thank you.” The pilot said as he sheathed the knife. “You take care. Oh, and what’s your name?”

“I don’t have one.” The guard said. “It hurts too much to try and remember, so I stopped.”

“Hmm, shame to hear that. I guess ‘Magic’ ability isn’t all that the Warlocks try to repress with those implants.” The pilot said as he turned to leave. “See you around ‘no name’.” With that, the pilot began walking toward the elevator.

Within the council chambers, the other members had left through entrances only they themselves knew of. The only two who remained were Sal-Drega and the Exo, Mon-Krega. Mon-Krega was still rubbing his neck where the knife had been only moments before. “How did he move so fast?” Mon-Krega asked, dumbfounded. “And what in the name of the Traveler are Cheerio’s?”

“The Traveler has many mysteries young one.” Sal-Drega said as he approached the cryo-tube. “Needless to say that man is not to be taken lightly.” He placed a hand upon the tube and stroked it gently. “Soon however, many mysteries will open up before us. With this gift we will learn more about the Traveler than we currently know.”

“But how will we deal with what we know about Elder Darmata and that man?” The Exo asked, standing next to Sal-Drega.

“In time, young one.” Sal-Drega said as he removed his hand from the tube and placed it on the young Elders’ shoulder. “Come, we have much to prepare for.”

As they walked to their doorway, the Exo spoke softly. “Yes, my Master.”

 

 

 

The pilot heard the footsteps behind him as he walked down the hallway. He didn’t even turn as the figure strode up beside him.

“What in the name of the Traveler was that?!” Darmata growled angrily. She had moved down the corridor in such a hurry, that her cowl had come off of her head, and her cloak had become unsnapped, revealing a lightly colored, light weight tunic and trousers.

“What was what?” The pilot asked, his head unmoving, picking up his pace.

“You know what I mean. That scene in there with Elder Mon-Krega!” She said, matching her pace with his. “Why did you do that? Half the council was afraid and the other half was ready to attack!”

“I don’t know Mata.” The pilot said, his pace slowing slightly. “That Drega guy just got under my skin is all, and when that kid spoke up, I just snapped.” They had reached the elevator and the pilot slapped the control panel. The lights of the elevator blinked in descending order, showing its decent. The pilot released his rifle and it swung there freely, connected to his armor by a carbon fiber nano-tube strap that the pilot had installed, this way he wouldn’t loose his weapon in a sprint. He crossed his arms across his chest and tapped his foot in annoyance.

“Look.” Darmata said, her voice softening. “I know what you’ve been through with the council. I know how hard it is for you every time you come back here, but you have to understand, this is my life now. On the council I can change things. We no longer conscript children. We have dropped the selective breeding program. We continue to test children up until the time they leave the monasteries. That initiate girl that you so lovingly call ‘Pluck’? Her parents are Warlocks and have only just reached the position of Master. We even allow inter-species couples to join our ranks and do not ask that they separate. So much has changed since then.”

The elevator stopped and the doors opened. The pilot stepped inside and Darmata followed. Once the doors closed she continued. “I am not saying that the Order is perfect, but it is changing.” The pilot turned to face her and looked into her eyes through his visor. Her original eyes had been a dark hazel and would shift depending upon her mood. These eyes were not her original eyes however, and had lost that color changing effect. While the color of the eyes was still hazel, they were only replacements. A pang of regret hit the pilot as he remembered that he’d never see those eyes again.

“Not all of the things that we thought were wrong with the Order has changed.” He said, his voice hollow.

What is that supposed to mean?” Darmata asked, her eyes taking on a quizzical look, the scar tissue wrinkling at the corners.

“You said that the council had dropped the selective breeding program, right?” The pilot asked, his arms dropping down to his sides and his hands balling into fists. ”Then what’s the deal with you and ‘Professor Snape’ being betrothed and all that yotz?” Darmatas’ face turned red, not out of embarrassment, but out of the anger that had sprung up into her face.

“Look buster.” Darmata said, anger in her eyes as she stepped closer to his helmeted face. With his boots and helmet, the pilot was a full head taller than she was, without them, her hairline came to his nose, so she didn’t have to look up any farther than normal. “I’m not even going to pretend to know what a ‘Professor Snape’ is, but what business is it of yours who I’m ‘betrothed’ to?!?” She stabbed a finger into his chest. “You…weren’t… there!” Her voice rose with her anger. “I waited, and you weren’t there! When you stood before the council after the ‘incident’, I was there outside with a bandage over my eyes and using crutches to support myself. I thought, finally the council will see what I had always known, finally they would let you in, finally they would let us…” Her voice began to crack and tears welled up in her eyes. She wiped the tears away with the hem of her sleeve. Regaining her composure, she said. “With your power, it would have been you as the leader and not me.”

Often, when they were children, the pilot would make her cry by playing, what she had thought, was a mean spirited prank. Often, it would be the one thing that would make him feel instantly sorry for what he had done, and he would try his best to cheer her up. When she cried because of her masters death, he would hold her and tell her that it would be okay. The pilot almost felt that way now, but when she had said the word “power,” all of the sorrowful feelings washed away, to be replaced with an explosive anger.

The pilot tore off his helmet and his pale green eyes bore into her. The pilot had brown hair that was cut short and greying at the temples. His nose was slightly bent, mostly because of being broken once too often. He had a square jaw, its muscle twitching as he looked at her. His face always seemed to consist of a five o’clock shadow no matter how often he shaved. He was moderately attractive by current standards, and would look even better if it wasn’t for the scar that traveled from his left ear to the bottom of his jaw. The scar wasn’t that deep, and would only become pronounced if he got too much sun. He was only thirty-five, but due to his livelihood, looked much older.

“Power!” The pilot said as he lost control of his own anger. “Power!?” He said louder this time, his voice rising. “Is that all you people think about, ‘power’?!” He spat out the words and Darmata shrinked away. “The Council of Elders, all they talked about was ‘my power’ this, and ‘my power’ that! The entire time I was in there, that’s all they whispered! ‘His power is great! With his power he could help us. With his power we could be victorious. He has minimal affinity, how could he hold so much power? Why was he chosen? Quick, find a record of his birth, there must be something in there. We can’t find a birth record anywhere, all we know is that he was found at the monastery in the night. By the Traveler, how can we make use of this? He’s only twenty-two, but the level he’s shown on…’ They never asked about what happened to your master?! They never asked about what happened to the enemy! All they asked about was ‘my power’!” His voice continued to rise and the elevator began to shake, the lights flickering. “Dammit Mata, I didn’t even know if my best friend was still alive!” The pilot spread his arms wide, the elevator stopped and began to shake even more violently, the lights flickering more and more.

Darmata leaped back, as the air around her friend began to charge with electricity, the smell of ozone burning her nostrils. His hair had begun to stand on end, and his eyes began to glow yellow. “I thought I’d lost you when you went to be trained by the Warlocks! I thought I’d lost you on Enceladus! I don’t know what happened then, but I knew that I couldn’t loose you again!” Tears began to run down his face. “I can’t loose you again. Mata I just can’t! When you talked about ‘my power’, you sounded just like them! I can’t loose you again Mata!” A bright light filled the elevator, and then all was dark.

The lights flickered on and there was the pilot huddled in a heap, sobbing. He was curled up in the fetal position, just… sobbing. The elevator resumed its normal operation and Darmata rushed to the pilots’ side and held him in her arms, tears streaming down her own face. The two of them laid there for a while, crying. After a moment, she helped the pilot to his feet and they continued to stand there holding each other in silence.

After what seemed like forever, the pilot spoke softly. “I love you Darmata.” Darmata pulled her head from his chest, tears again in her eyes, and placed his forehead against hers.

“I love you too, you big dummy. The last time you said that to me was on Enceladus.” Darmata looked up slightly into his pale green eyes. “The last time we did this was on Enceladus too.” Darmata smiled coquettishly, leaned slightly upward and tilted her head, their lips pressing together in a gentle kiss. The kiss soon escalated, and their hands began to move, trying to find purchase. In the fray her tunic loosened and the pilot kissed the space between the base of her neck and her collarbone. Darmata gripped the pilots’ head tightly and tugged at his hair, her eyes looking towards the ceiling.

The pilots’ hands slipped under her robe and around her waist as he tried to pull her closer to him. The pilots’ hand tightly gripped her left buttock, the combination of the pressure of his hand and the thinness of the fabric caused a shock of electricity and sent shivers up Darmatas’ spine, causing her eyes to close and a sharp gasp to escape her lips. The pilots’ other hand found purchase on her right buttock and he lifted her up, her legs instinctively rising, her feet hooking onto the small of his back. They slammed against the wall of the elevator as the pilot lost his balance. Darmata winced and rubbed the back of her head.

“Sorry.” The pilot said sheepishly. This brought them to their senses long enough to look at the lights that indicated the elevators’ rising. “How long do you think we have?” The pilot asked as he looked into Darmatas’ eyes.

“Not long enough.” Darmata said slyly. She placed her hands on his shoulders to steady herself and her legs slid off of him, so that her feet could feet touch the floor. The pilot squeezed her buttocks, lifting her slightly. She yelped, and then took a hand from his shoulder to cover her mouth and stifle a giggle. The pilot turned her around, moved her long hair to the side and began to nibble on her neck.

“Like I should care.“ The pilot breathed into her ear, sending another shiver up her spine, coupled with a warm feeling as he slid a hand into her tunic.

“Seriously, you’re going to get me in trouble like last time.” She chuckled. Her eyes closed and a slight moan escaped her lips as the pilots’ hand found what it was looking for.

“Some traditions are best left untouched.” The pilot said as he moved away from her. He began to check over his equipment, as Darmata straightened out her robes and tunic. As he picked up his helmet from the corner of the elevator, he watched her for a bit. “You know the loose fitting look is a good look for you.”

“Ha, ha, ha.” She replied flatly, a smile across her lips, belaying her tone. “You know I wish I could. It gets soo hot with these robes on. The building‘s not as drafty as people are lead to believe either.

“Well you could always, well, you know.” The pilot said, tilting his to one side, a smirk crossing his lips. Darmatas’ eyes grew wide.

“Ewww, no!” She exclaimed, drawing her arms across her body. “That’s like, gross. Seriously, you’re gross.” Her voice deadpan, her lips pursed tightly.

“Something else I noticed.” The pilot said as Darmata turned to primp herself in the mirrored surface of the interior of the elevator.

“Oh what’s that?” She asked as she wiped away a black mark with the sleeve of her robe and began messing with her hair.

“Well, you used to always use contractions, but since you joined the Order you never use them. I first noticed it when we were together on Enceladus.” The pilot said as he watched her. “But when you’re really irritated or when we’re alone together like this, you use them. Why is that?”

“Well.” Darmata said, as she fiddled with her hair. “We have to be pretty formal at all times as Warlocks, it’s like tradition or something…” She stopped and sighed in frustration, as her hair refused to cooperate. “When I get angry, I begin to forget that. This one time… ugh this hair… I almost launched Radiance at this poor initiate who was just doing their job. I was so mad at what happened that I completely forgot that I was supposed to be this super-composed Elder. Anyway, when I’m with you I can be more myself and I don’t have to worry about being all formal and such.” She sighed and dropped her arms, giving up straightening out her hair as it drooped around her head, a tangled mess.

The pilot connected his helmet to a mag plate on the lower back of his armor and pulled out a comb from a pocket on his belt. He stepped towards her and gently took hold of her hair. As he began to work out the tangles Darmata winced. “So how long has that girl been your partner?” She asked, wincing as another tangle was worked through. She’s very pretty.”

“Huh, you can tell?” The pilot asked as he gently tried to remove another tangle. “Oh wait, that’s right, you can tell with your magic Warlock powers.” He removed another tangle. “Well it’s been about twelve years. I couldn’t get to her until I was twenty-three, what with all of the interrogations, psych-evals, rehab and all that jazz. After all of that was done, I spent the rest of the time trying to find her. After I had been to all of the Warlock monasteries with no luck, I finally found her in a back alley. Needless to say she tried to proposition me, and when that didn’t work, she tried to rob me. After I subdued her, I told her who I was, and that her had father sent me. Well, being that she was fourteen at the time, and even though she’d had a year that would make any kid a hardened street thug; she balled her eyes out, wrapped her arms around my neck, and almost choked the life out of me. I took her to the nearest spaceport and we hopped a transport off of Earth. After drifting from place to place for about a year we linked up with Sa’Dar, you remember, the hunter who was with us on Enceladus. Well, to make a long story short, we worked with him for a bit and now here we are.”

The pilot finished with the last tangle and began running his fingers through Darmatas’ hair. “You always did have such beautiful hair. How come you don’t braid it any more?” Her eyes had a lazy look in them as the pilot continued to run his hands through her hair. Darmatas’ eyes closed and her mouth dropped open, exposing perfect teeth. She shivered slightly, a slight moan escaping her lips as the pilot tugged slightly.

“Don’t get me started again.” She said, pulling away from him. “I won’t be able to stop this time.” Her back to the pilot, she settled against his chest, placing his hands in front, her hands clasped on top of his, and closed her eyes. She sighed. “I wish we could stay like this forever. Oh, and I don’t need to braid my hair anymore because I don’t wear my armor that often, except for Open Ceremony.” Open Ceremony was when new Warlock apprentices received their permanent armor and became Journeymen. It is then that they were able to go on missions outside of the City with their masters, and be teamed together with Titan’s and Hunters.

“Wait, weren’t you teamed up with me as a Journeyman? The pilot said as he held her. “That would have meant that you were about two years into it right?”

“No.” Darmata said as she lazily opened her eyes. “I was a special case, I passed my initiate phase just a couple of years after I left the monastery with my master for the first time at twelve. My apprenticeship lasted the standard five years so I passed that at seventeen. I received my mastery when I was twenty-five, a few years after Enceladus. So altogether my Journeyman phase was eight years.”

“So what took your Journeyman phase so long then?” The pilot asked as he looked down at the top of her head. His next train of thought stopped as he noticed a light pink butterfly barrette in her hair. “It was because of me wasn’t it.”

“Not entirely” She said, turning to face him. “Remember, back then marriages between Warlock males and females were arranged through the selective breeding program. My name was selected and Sal-Drega’s was as well. We were paired up when I reached my Journeyman phase. We had several times to meet and then a date was decided. What did you call him, ‘Professor Snot’? Well whatever, he was a grease ball back then too, always looking around like he was plotting something. He was reported to be the child of two long standing Masters, so he thought that he was some kind of royalty. Because he had a high affinity like I did, he thought that made him special, above everyone. It’s only gotten worse since he was placed on the council.”

The pilot stopped her. “Wait, I thought that only the Traveler could choose the next successor to the council?”

“Yes, the Traveler does, although confirmation of council status can take along time.” She continued. “We only announce that a new council member was chosen at the time of appointing. The truth is, that once a council member applicant, is chosen by the Traveler, it can take some time for them to mature as Warlocks. This way we don’t have a five-year-old sitting on the council. Before you stop me again, a person is only selected to join the Order as an initiate after their tenth birthday. A month before that, we receive our ‘final’ test for affinity, to decide if we are fit for Warlock training. A lot of us in the monasteries as kids were taught that, ‘before our tenth birthday the Traveler will test us to see if we are worthy’. The reality is that the testing starts as soon as we enter the monastery. Remember those blood tests we had every six months?”

The pilot nodded. “That’s because they were gathering our DNA wasn’t it?”

“Exactly.” Darmata said, moving her arms around the pilot. She held him close, her head resting on his chest. “What a lot of people within the order don’t know is that the test not only determines ‘Magical’ affinity, but also potential. My affinity numbers were the same consistently as I grew older, except for my final one, along with Dregas’. Our numbers were near identical, with mine the dominant ones. It’s part of why we were paired together.”

“That still doesn’t explain how you dodged the bullet with ‘Professor Snape’ for so many years.” The pilot said as he processed what Darmata had already said.

“I’m getting to that.” She said as she gripped him tighter. “Most human females reproductive organs are prepared to reproduce between the ages of nine and fifteen. This is called menarche. In human females, where an average ‘Magic’ affinity is present, this menarche is delayed until our early to mid twenties. In the past, human females matured enough emotionally to have children by their early to mid twenties. This often changed a woman’s outlook on life enough to complete the emotional maturity by the end of their ability to have children, or menopause. It’s part of the reason that women are less emotional when they are older as opposed to when they are younger. There are exceptions to the rule however; it was just a matter of getting to know a person.’

‘With a female who has an average ‘Magic’ affinity, the opposite of what I said about emotional maturity is true. Because our menarche is delayed, our minds compensate for the bodies imbalance of the ‘natural’ order of things. We now reach emotional maturity between the ages of nine to fifteen. In all honesty when we last saw each other in the monastery, I had completed my emotional maturity, and was ready right there and then, it’s that just my body was not.”

“Okay.” The pilot said, still not fully comprehending. “I think I got it so far, you can have children emotionally, and put up with a man’s emotional immaturity when you reach about nine, but physically you can’t have children until your are twenty, which is why the regular Journeyman phase started when it did. However, your emotional maturity decreases as you get older…” The pilot shook his head. “Wait a minuet, you mean that you’re going to get crazier as you get older?!?”

“That’s okay.” Darmata said, looking up at him. “Males still complete their emotional maturity around forty, so while I’m going nutters emotionally, you’ll be able to handle me.” She reached up and kissed him with a smile. “And I’ll love you for it, you’ll be my rock.” She kissed him again. “Anyway in my case, for females with a high ‘Magic’ affinity rating and a low potential rating, like I have, this delays the process even further to about their late twenties to early thirties. This is the reason that my union to Drega was held off until five years ago. Because of my high affinity and low potential, I couldn’t reproduce offspring until now. Drega has a fluctuating potential rating, so the breeding program was counting on a balance between our highs and lows. Now is when Drega’s potential is at its lowest so they are pressuring a union between us. For all of their talk of balance, they seemed to focus only on the balance of the high and not the low.”

“Ah.” The pilot said as revelation dawned upon him. “So that’s why he seemed all lovey-dovey with you. Because of our past history, he wanted to assert his dominance over me.”

“There’s more.” She said, her voice a little softer, as she nuzzled the pilots’ chest. In a small, soft voice she said, “It’s the best part.” She raised her head, smiled at him, and then kissed him again deeply. When she pulled away there were tears in her eyes, and her lower lip was quivering, she hurriedly buried her face in the pilots’ chest. “I mentioned that the test measured the potential as well as affinity right?” The pilot nodded. “Well,” Darmata continued, her right ear against his chest. “When I was a Journeyman I discovered that on the last day I was tested, my affinity scores were through the roof. No one in the history of the Warlocks had a score this high.’

‘But my potential was listed as, ‘Fails to meet minimum standard, not measurable.’ When I brought it to my Masters’ attention, he told me that while it was unique that my potential rating would be so low, it was not uncommon. He said that when they had first discovered that ‘Magic’ potential was testable too; they tested the DNA of some of the first Warlocks. They discovered that their potential rating was not all that great either. He said that, while DNA degradation was a plausible factor in the reduced potential rating, the findings were inconclusive, so it had been decided that the potential rating would not be an overwhelming factor in the decision of viable candidates for Warlock training. However, it would be a factor within the selection of mates under the guidelines of the selective breeding program.’

‘I asked my master who my chosen partner would be, and he told me that because of my unique potential rating, I would need to be paired up with an individual who, not only met the requirements for my unusually high affinity rating, but also my unique potential rating. The only person who fit those requirements was a young Journeyman named Sal-Drega. My master told me that Sal-Drega had a potential rating that fluctuated and that because of my potential rating, it would need to be at the right time. I met Drega, and it only took one meeting to tell that he was a jerk. I continued to meet with him, as part of my obligation, but he just continued to disgust me.”

The pilot tried to look her in the eye but she held her head fast against his chest as she continued. “I had always worn that barrette, it helped hold my braid together. My master found it on me once and asked me where I got it. I told him that it was, from a ‘friend’. He told me that any link to my old life before the Order would only be a hindrance, but when he saw my face, he told me to keep it. He said I reminded him of the way his own daughter looked when he told her to give up a stuffed animal that he had given her, long before she was to become an initiate. Even thought she couldn’t take the animal with her, he had snuck it into her room late one night.’

‘Of course her master had found it immediately the next day, but when he found out that she was the daughter of my master, he decided to let her keep it, and he said that her daddy was his first master too, and pulled out a ring that he kept on a chain that was once his mothers.” Darmata looked at the indicator of the lift and noticed that they were nearing the top. “This sucks, we have to go.” She said sadly, as she pulled away from him. She took the helmet and kissed it on the forehead. “ A little blessing from a hot Warlock. Hey, will you be here long?” She asked, as she handed him his helmet.

“Don’t know, it all depends on how much I wear out my welcome with a few choice people within the City.” The pilot said as he placed the helmet on his head and shouldered his weapon. Darmata gripped his hand tightly.

“There’s more I wasn’t able to reveal, I would like the time to talk to you about it.”

“Well there’s always my safe house here in the City, or my fighter Zephyr’s Shadow?” Darmata shook her head.

“No, your safe house is monitored by the intelligence sections of the Order and the TDC. The Zephyr’s Shadow just… scares me.” She thought for a minuet. “I know of a place. Do you know where the ‘Rabble’s Hole’ is?” The pilot nodded. “I have a friend from my initiate days who didn’t make apprentice. She’s sympathetic to us. Traveler knows that I talked her ear off about you for five years straight.” She placed the palm of his free hand against her face, and breathed in deep. “Traveler! I love your smell!”

“What, the smell of leather, old man and lubricant?” The pilot said as he cocked his head to the side. She kissed his hand three times.

“No, it’s just the smell of… you! I don’t care what is, if it’s of you I love it.” She dropped his hand and looked at him. “Traveler! Why couldn’t the elevator have stayed broken?”

The pilot looked at her, cocking his helmet to the left side to indicate his confusion. “What do you mean the elevator was broken?”

“Nothing, never mind.” She said as the chime rang. A chime in the elevator would ring to announce to the occupants that they had arrived at the ground floor. The doors slowly groaned open, not because of any damage that they had took, but because when they did finally open, it seemed as if it would be flooded with bodies from the outside.

Darmata yelped, and clung to the left side of the pilot, as several people lost their balance and fell into the elevator. Quickly regaining composure, Darmata flipped her cowl over her head and smoothed out her robes.

“Make way! Make way!” A booming voice came from the rear of the throngs of people. Sal-Drega came through the crowd, pushing people away from him. Several initiates and apprentices recognized Sal-Drega and hurriedly parted ways. A short distance behind him, Mon-Krega was keeping the people from crowding in behind. When Sal-Drega reached the elevator he was taken aback by the way it looked inside.

The once pristine, gleaming surface of the elevators’ interior was blackened and buckled in several places. Darmatas’ robe had several singe marks along the hems. The pilots armor however, showed no such marks and appeared as if untouched. Darmata stepped forward and raised her hands.

“Do not be troubled.” Darmata said in a loud voice. “I assure you that I am in no harm. An investigation will be done to see what has caused this incident. Please let us through.” The crowd began to disperse, and Darmata stepped out into the room. Sal-Drega took her by the hand and led her away from the crowd. When the crowd fully dispersed, the pilot stepped out of the elevator and headed for the doors. As the pilot exited the building, he saw his partner leaning against the railing, facing him.

“I don’t know what happened in there boss.” Elsibeth said; her arms crossed in front of her. “But it sure caused a lot of commotion.” She nodded down the stairs. The pilot looked and saw that there were several vehicles within the courtyard, red and blue lights flashing on their roofs.

The Titans were in charge of security for the City. In addition to the guards at the gate and the guards on the Wall, the Titans were also the policing force. Generally, Hunters did not get along with Titans, and were often the subject of investigation. Some of the old prejudices of the past still remained and when something went wrong in the City, before looking to the Cities minorities, the Exos and the Awoken, the Hunters were often the first place that the Titans looked. As the pilot looked down, he rolled his eyes as one of the Titans began climbing the stairs.

Sev-Dax climbed the stairs to the Warlocks’ conclave and when he saw who was at the top of the staircase, his blood ran cold. As a general rule he treated everyone he came across with equal amounts of respect. This lead to him being a generally well-liked member of the Titan City Security Force, or TCSF, as the populace more commonly called it. The TCSF was the policing arm of the Titan Democratic Council, and was charged with keeping the peace within the City. The TCSF often worked with the Warlock Order in investigating a variety of crimes that happened within the City, and a trip to the conclave was a regular occurrence.

Sev-Dax was the TCSF liaison to the Warlock Order, and usually liked coming to the conclave. Coming from modest beginnings, Sev-Dax was the child of a Titan and a Warlock. However, the “Magic” affinity had passed him up and took root in his sister, making him unable to join. By the age of seven he was given, as was tradition, the opportunity to join the Titans and later take his rightful place by his fathers’ side on the Wall. He then entered the “Titan Youth” program. Unfortunately for Sev-Dax, when he had finished the advanced placement course at fifteen, he was tapped to enter into TCSF due to his high marks in forensic science and reading comprehension, among others.

While Sev-Dax was disappointed to enter the TCSF, he had quickly developed a high aptitude in investigative politics, and was the only member of the Titans in the TCSF to ever solve the Soyez Enigma. The Soyez Enigma was named after the founder of the TCSF, the Titan Soyez. Soyez was one of the Titans depicted on the statue in the courtyard. She was a shrewd Titan, who realized that the City needed a policing agent, a group of elite and knowledgeable Titans who could maintain peace within the City. Only those who tested in the ninetieth percentile were selected and put through TCSF training. She also developed an impossible puzzle, which involved saving the entire populace of the City in the event of an attack. No one had ever solved the puzzle until Sev-Dax.

Sev-Dax was fast-tracked to TCSF command, and as part of this, he was tasked to receive specialized training from Task Force Titan Night. While working with TF Titan Night, he had developed a good friendship with the commanders’ protégé. As he continued to ascend the staircase he placed a hand on his sidearm. Even though he was nearly seven feet tall without armor, and weighed more than the Hunter, he had learned a long time ago not to underestimate this man.

As the Titan walked up the stairs, the Hunter remained still. The Titan wore the standard Titan medium armor; colored blue, with red highlights on his shoulder pauldrons, designating his position of commander. It was remarkable on how Titan armor reminded the Hunter of the armor he had seen in Holovids. In the Holovids the armor always seemed to cover the entire body. The Hunter remembered one such vid that was taken from an Old Earth Arthurian legend regarding a legendary sword and the ruler who wielded it. It always amazed him at how they could move in such a heavy contraption and how the heroes had always come out on top. The Hunter preferred his mobility as opposed to strength, so as the Titan lumbered up the stairs the Hunter couldn’t help but smile.

The Hunter well knew however, that Titan armor was deceptively light, and if needed, the Titan could move just as quickly as someone who wore little to no armor at all. As the Titan stepped up the last step, the Hunter quickly checked himself and realized that he had been unsheathing and retracting his hidden blade slightly. Elsibeth turned away as the Titan nodded in her direction. The Hunter remained leaning up against the wall of the conclave as the Titan approached him.

“Why is it that whenever there’s a major problem at the conclave you seem to be the one there?” Sev-Dax said, placing his hands on his hips.

“What no handshake, no ‘Long time no see’?” The Hunter asked as he continued to lean against the wall. “I mean don’t you usually first remove your helmet when you speak with a superior?”

“You’re not my superior Ver’verd.” The Titan replied. “You left the order long ago, and you were never even my superior to begin with.” The Titan then removed his helmet to reveal short cropped dark hair that was graying at the temples, and a lean but strong jawed face. Sev-Dax had a short trimmed beard and two red stripes flash-tattooed down his face covering each eye. The tattoo was a marking that only the top echelon of the Titan hierarchy wore and could be removed when the role they were placed in ended. There were only three stripes that could be worn that signified the role a Titan played in their leadership.

One stripe was for the leader of the Titan Democratic Council and was either worn across the right side of the face, or could be worn down the center. Often the leader would choose the right side of the face, because having the tattoo down the center looked too silly. The second in command had two stripes that could either be worn with one down the center of the face and the other across the eyes in the shape of an Old Earth Christian cross, or down each side of the face covering the eyes like Sev-Dax had chosen. The third leader of the Titan Democratic Council Triumvirate wore three stripes; one over each eye, and the third could either be worn across the lips or over the eyes.

Sev-Dax held his helmet, visor forward, against his left hip so that he could salute junior officers as they entered and left the building. Dropping such salute as a junior TCSF officer left the building. “Are you not going to offer me the same courtesy?” Sev-Dax said as he looked coldly at Ver’verd’s helmeted face. “I assure you that you are safe here.”

“If its all the same to you, I’d rather leave my bucket on.” Ver’verd replied with a shrug. “Half of the Titans idolize me, the other half want me dead, and I’m allergic to both.”

Sev-Dax shrugged. “So what went on here, since I take it that you were inside?” He asked. “Does she know anything?” Sev-Dax nodded towards Elsibeth.

“I don’t know anything.” Elsibeth said; her voice modulated to sound male. “And what makes you think that I’m a female?”

“One.” Sev-Dax said, not looking away from Ver’verd. “You responded when your head was turned. I could easily have been talking about Darmata. Two, Ver’verd’s not the only one to know about you. How else do you think the daughter of our greatest member could have gotten off planet without setting off alarms? Everyone is gene-coded upon first entrance to the City, whether by birth or through customs. The Titans still conscript children who fit a certain genetic profile. Your mixed-blood DNA, and your father, saved us from doing such a thing. Usually, children of Titans are given a choice.”

“Whatever.” Elsibeth turned her voice modulator off. “You-“ But she was cut off by Ver’verd.

“Switch your modulator back on.” Ver’verd cautioned. “We don’t want people looking into why a female is in male armor.” To Sev-Dax he said. “All I know is that the elevator stopped and that’s about it.”

Sev-Dax raised an eyebrow. “Really, well there was also an earthquake, and sensors told us it radiated from this location. Weird thing, since there are no fault lines underneath the City.”

Ver’verd shook his head. “That’s all I know. Darmata was with me; she might be able to shed some more light on it.

“Hmmm.” Sev-Dax said as he placed his helmet back on his head. “I’ll make sure to ask. In the meantime don’t leave the City, and if you do, let me know where you are going.” With that the Titan strode past the two Hunters and entered the conclave.

“He’s still a jerk.” Elsibeth said as the pair walked down the steps. “What about the ‘Hog?”

“It’s a ‘Puma’, and no, we can get it later.” Ver’verd replied as they walked to the nearest public transport station. “I’m sure the TCSF will need to examine it, although I’m also sure they won’t find anything.”

“Hey, when do I get a cool moniker?” Elsibeth asked as they reached the station and entered into a transport. “All I get called is kid. I’m twenty-six now you know.”

“That depends, are you ready to wear female armor, or to have that chest piece modified?” Ver’verd said, as he tapped in the location that they were headed to on a holo-panel in front of him.

The transport began moving. “I don’t know yet.” Elsibeth said, softly. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”

As the transport continued to move through the City Ver’verd said. “Well if you want to you can always choose ‘Bespada’ in honor of your father.” Elsibeth shook her head, and Ver’verd added. “You could say that you admired the man, no one has to know that you are his daughter.”

“I don’t know.” Elsibeth said as she placed her head on Ver’verd’s shoulder. “Where did you get yours?”

Ver’verd stiffened slightly and then relaxed. Ever since Elsibeth turned twenty-two he had a hard time thinking of her as a child. Well your father was a fan of those old books like I am, and he gave me one that had a fictional language which was created in it. Unfortunately the author never finished the narrative, so the language also remained unfinished. In this language the word ver’verd means ‘mercenary’ so when I decided to become a Hunter, I chose that word to go by as my moniker. Several Hunters change their name when they become Hunters because to them it’s like starting a new life and having a new identity to go along with it. Only Darmata remembers my birth name. The others who knew me way back when don’t want to mention it, because to them it’s like a stab in the back. Most Titans never leave the order and those that do are either listed as ‘missing in action’ or are shunned. Only in special cases are former Titans given the honor of being considered ‘Titan for all time’ and most of those that are given that title are all dead.”

As he finished his explanation he noticed that Elsibeth’s chest was rising and lowering slightly, indicating that she was asleep. Ver’verd looked out of the side view screen of the transport and watched the city go by in silence.

When the transport arrived at its location on the southern edge of the Overwatch District, a chime rang to notify the occupants that they had arrived at their final destination. As the two Hunters exited the transport, they looked up into the darkening sky. The Overwatch District was a district within the City that housed many its denizens. It was the central hub of commerce and had several shops and eateries where many gathered to congregate and team up for missions outside of the City. The official meeting place was over by the “Twilight Gap”, as it was commonly known, and many people gathered there.

Some were pilgrims from the outer colonies that had been able to remain free from Fallen control, and others were people from outside the City, who still lived in the harsh wilderness that the planet Earth had become. You could say that the Overwatch District was a great melting pot of earthen society. There was the Exo quarter, where many of the Exo would live, and was the only place within the City that remained in perpetual shadow. Several Exo could be seen walking into the quarter, and those who were not Exo almost ever returned.

There was also the Awoken quarter, which always seemed to look as if it was bathed in an ethereal light. The structures were mostly regal and had sweeping skyways that could be seen from the street and looked as if the Awoken who traveled through them were floating instead of walking. The Awoken had appeared to humanity several years after the great cataclysm, in the early days of the construction of the City. They had no special abilities to speak of, and it had been said that they had always been watching humanity.

The Awoken looked human with the exception of their gray skin and hair. In the right light, an Awoken looked just like the stories of angels long ago with their regal features, and always looked as if they were floating instead of walking. Most Awoken were almost always Warlocks, with a few who had joined the ranks of the Hunters and Titans.

It was commonly thought that if the Exo were the worst that humanity could become, then the Awoken were the best. They were often believed to be the next stage in human evolution, and in the past were subject to secret breeding programs. These programs, which had mostly been forgotten by now, served as the humans attempt at producing a perfect crossbreed of Awoken and human. In the past, many of the Awoken that were products of this secret program, had hair color different from other Awoken and a skin color that was a lighter shade of gray. As the years went by, Awoken and humanity intermingled, and the program was mothballed. Most of the Awoken crossbreeds had died off by now, mainly because forced crossbreeding produced Awoken/human half-breeds that were infertile.

When the program had come to light, the humans were afraid of an Awoken uprising, but the pureblooded Awoken never rebelled. The Awoken and humans lived in harmony, and there were many pairings between them. It was still rare for Awoken and human pairings to produce offspring, but when they did, it was a cause for celebration and not fear. In the past during the breeding program, Awoken/human children were hidden from the ruling Titan autocracy, and many families left Earth for the colonies because they had become largely independent since the great cataclysm.

Now there are more Awoken/human half-breeds then there were in the past, and their numbers have stabilized. About one-in-ten Awoken human pairings produced a child. The Awoken/human children take many of the physical traits of their parents, the most common is in hair color. About eighty percent of these children had the hair color of the human parent; with ten percent retaining the silver hair color of the Awoken parent. Oddly enough, the remaining ten percent retained a mid-point where the hair would be predominately either the color of the human parent with silver streaks, or the color of the Awoken parent with streaks of color from the human parent.

It had been noted that if the human parent was male, then there was a sixty percent chance that the child would retain the dominant genes of the human parent. These genes determined hair and skin color, with most other attributes, such as eye color, left to the genes of the Awoken parent. If the human parent was female, the hair color remained silver, with the eye color determined by the female parent. For example, if the human parent were male, then the child would have the hair and skin color of the male parent. The eye color would always be silver and any other traits would be a sixty-forty split between the two parents. If the human parent were female, than the child would have silver hair and light gray skin color, with eye color determined by the human parent, and a seventy-thirty split between all other traits. In Awoken/human children with multi-colored hair, the eye color would be white, with a one hundred percent chance of blindness.

A few short years ago, if you were to see a multi-color haired Awoken/human child, they would always have a blindfold over their eyes. With bionics becoming more widespread, thanks to Exo technology, the eyes in these children have been replaced, and they function as an individual without that particular social shortcoming.

As the two Hunters walked towards the Exo quarter, Ver’verd waived to the two plain-clothed TCSF officers who were themselves secretly part of the Titan Democratic Council’s shadow agency, The Titans’ Hand. The group was the internal intelligence branch of the Titan Democratic Council, and is responsible for gathering intelligence on internal threats to the security of the City. The operation of The Titans’ Hand, was similar to the old Earth country known as the United States of Americas’ NSA. They would gather intelligence in a variety of ways, and were not above keeping tabs on citizens of interest. To the uneducated or ill informed, this seemed like an invasion of privacy, but to a few pragmatic individuals, this was just the nature of the organization and a part of maintaining City internal security.

As they walked further into the Exo quarter, the shadows became more apparent. If not for their filters, the Hunters would smell the stench of death that seemed to permeate everything around them. The Exo quarter was a mess of wires and cables, with many buildings coated with rust and grime. As the Hunters passed a heap of such refuse, an insect crawled out from under the heap and scurried into the darkness. Ver’verd mused at the humor of the only creature to widely survive the great cataclysm was one of these insignificant bugs. However, if it weren’t for these bugs, then the birds would have died out as well. It was sad that the majority of the Earth’s creatures had died out during the great cataclysm, save for the bugs and the birds.

The Exo were more of a misunderstood ethnic group of humans then originally believed. There were many who saw the Exo as a sinister group, one that would often be found scavenging the dead for spare parts. In reality the Exo had a great respect for the dead. Within the context of the Exo belief system, the dead held a special place in their society, and a place of honor among its peoples. The Exo didn’t believe in the soul as an integrated entity but that the body was separate from it. The Exo believed that because the body and soul were separate, if the body were deceased, then the soul would be placed in a sort of suspended animation until such time that it was either harvested, or when a burial ritual had been completed.

It was important to the Exo that the soul was harvested as quickly as was able to, so that it could be placed in another body. Because of this, many Exo carried a small canister, which held the organ that was believed to contain “the soul” and flash-froze it, so that it may be preserved on their person. When an Exo, or someone who the Exo had taken a great interest in would die, the Exo would position the body so that it was face up, arms and legs spread out. The Exo believed that this position was best suitable to allow them to view the body and to assess if the soul had been damaged. They would then turn the body over, placing the face in the ground, which was believed by the Exo to make access to the organ that contained the soul easily accessible and to harvest it accordingly.

What made so many people fear an Exo at the presence of death was not in their appearance, but the way in which they “harvested” the organ they were looking for. Once the body was turned over, the Exo would grab the head by its forehead and pull back. They would then take their other hand and place two fingers against the eyes and push. This dislocated and often crushed the eyeballs, making a place for the Exo to gain leverage. With their fingers in the eye sockets of the dead, the Exo would pull sharply, tearing the esophagus.

They would then take a ceremonial knife and slice the skin along the spine, exposing the spinal column. Holding onto the head with their hand, the Exo would smash the bones of the hips near the lower end of the spine, dislodging it from the rest of the pelvis. Placing a hand on the sacrum, the Exo would then pull violently on the head, cracking the cervical vertebrae and ripping the head and spinal column out of the body. They would then carefully remove each vertebra and discard them until just the spinal cord remained attached to the brain.

Using a chemical, the Exo would dissolve the flesh, leaving the skull a dull yellow. With the same ceremonial knife, the Exo would pound on the back of the skull in such a way as to only crack the skull, and not damage the brain. They would then peel away the remains of the skull and discard it, holding the brain and spinal cord in their hands. The Exo would then separate the spinal cord from the medulla oblongata and discard it as well. With the ceremonial portion complete, the Exo would truly begin the harvesting process.

The Exo would remove the cerebellum and then the medulla oblongata. They would then grip the brain between the two parietal lobes, and peel it apart gently, exposing the interior of the brain. The Exo would then pull back the corpus callosum to reveal the desired organ. The organ that the Exo collected was not considered a separate organ, but was part of the greater whole of the brain. They would take the thalamus, discarding the rest of the brain and would then open it to retrieve what they were looking for. After the process was completed the Exo would leave the location.

Only in the best of circumstances could this procedure be completed. Most of the time the procedure had to be done quickly, allowing for the quick removal of the head. This often left pieces of lower jaw and even the tongue remaining with the body as the skull was torn away. On a really fresh removal you could see the tongue writhing spasmodically. It was these “fresh” removals that made people the most apprehensive to the presence of an Exo, due to the brutality of the procedure. If one were to come across a properly harvested body, most were shocked and sickened. Body parts strewn about haphazardly tended to do this.

The Exo had been able to successfully merge man and machine through cellular manipulation by the use of nano-machines. These small machines, the process of their creation known only to the Exo, would mimic the cells of a creature and replace damaged ones so that the creature could still function normally. The nano-machines could replicate the effects of living tissue, so that there would be nearly no way to discern the difference. From an internal perspective, an Exo would appear the same as the original body.

However, whether because of a programming mistake or the non-biological nature of the nano-machine, the outward appearance would make the Exo look artificial. Exo had often been confused with androids or other primarily artificial beings. Their skin had a metallic appearance and often their head had more than two eyes. One of the things that separated the Exo from the other races was the fact that an Exo would never require a helmet. There were those who would mistake a non-helmeted Exo for a helmeted one, and vice versa. Some had said that they had seen an Exo without their metal carapace, but these reports had been mostly unfounded.

As the pair passed an Exo sitting on the ground, their head held low, Ver’verd tossed a small canister in their direction. The Exo picked up the canister and turned it in their hands. The Exo immediately stood up and bowed towards Ver’verd. The two Hunters turned a corner and walked into a high-rise building. The building was the tallest in the Exo quarter and when the two Hunters entered, they looked towards the front desk where an Exo was dressed in a suit and tie. The interior of the building looked as best as it could for being in the location that it was in. Usually the Exo didn’t care for opulence, preferring a more practical use of space. This building however, was used for those who lived in the Exo quarter from different races, of which there were few.

The appearance of the Exo at the front desk was only for the benefit of others and that’s about as far as it went. There was a small sitting area adjacent from the desk and the two Hunters nodded in the direction of the two Exo Warlocks who sat in silence. The Warlocks bristled slightly, their faces showing slight surprise. As they passed the sitting area they turned left and headed towards the elevators. As they entered the elevator, Ver’verd pressed a short series of buttons and the elevator began to ascend.

When the elevator reached the desired floor, the two Hunters exited and walked towards their apartment. When they entered the door, they noticed that night had fallen over the City. The apartment was a large two story with a sitting area and kitchen on the first floor, beds and a restroom on the second. It was a relatively open floor layout with a large bookcase against the far right wall. There was a large view screen against the wall to the left of the room as you entered it. It was sparsely decorated with only the necessities. The kitchen area was to the right of the door and was also sparsely decorated.

The blinds closed over the windows as the two Hunters walked further into the apartment. Ver’verd and Elsibeth walked to the upper floor and placed their weapons in a slide out locker that was to the right of the staircase. Ver’verd removed his helmet and sat on the bed closest to the window, facing it. Ver’verd began to remove his armor piece by piece, starting with his shin pieces. All he had to do to remove the pieces on his shins and thighs was to pull sharply. He placed these pieces upon the bed to his right and stood.

Unclasping his holster from his thigh, he loosened his pistol belt and removed it. The holster and belt he placed to his left. He then removed his duster and unwrapped his cowl. He placed these in a pile behind where he was sitting and reached to his sides to unclasp the straps that held his two pieces of upper body armor together. He lifted his upper body armor over his head and placed it next to the pieces he removed from his shins and thighs.

Ver’verd untucked his tunic from his trousers, sat back down, and removed his gloves. Keeping his boots on, he removed the right gauntlet and then the left. He removed his PDA and placed it on the nightstand to the right of the bed. He then lay back, and using the earlier pile he had made as a pillow, turned his head, and looked towards Elsibeth.

Elsibeth spoke a command and with a slight hiss her armor fell away. Her boots opened from the top and her greaves clattered to the ground into two pieces. She stepped out of her boots, and bent down to dislodge her knee-pads. She then stood up, her chest armor falling away, and her back armor clattering to the ground as well. The upper arm segments had also fallen away, as did her gauntlets, but she removed her gloves manually.

Standing bare footed on the carpet, she stretched her arms upward and the chest area of her body suit expanded outward. Her neck seal unseated with a slight hiss and she removed her helmet. Elsibeth shook her head, her dark red hair falling to her shoulders. She looked over at Ver’verd and smiled, her silver eyes shining slightly. Because her mother was an Awoken, she was a strikingly beautiful woman. Standing at about five three, and weighing only one hundred and twenty-five pounds without her armor, she carried the eye color and soft features of her mother, with the hair and skin color of her father.

As Ver’verd remembered, Elsibeths’ mother was one of the few Awoken Titans, and had served on both the Wall and at the gate, where he first met her. As a young man he had tried to flirt with her, until her husband returned from a mission outside the Wall and stopped by to pick him up for transfer. This was the last time that he saw her. Shortly after leaving his position at the gate, there was an explosion and Elsibeths’ mother was killed. He met Elsibeth for the first time at the memorial service. Elsibeth was just eleven at the time, so Ver’verd doubted that she remembered meeting him there.

The ceremony was simple for Titan standards; usually a great amount of pomp and circumstance was involved. The members in attendance were gathered in the parade field that newly graduated Titans would tread upon during graduation. They were divided by sections, with one of the captains of the guard standing in front of the rectangular formation that comprised the platoon that Elsibeth’s mother had been a part of. On a podium in front of the formation was the Titan leadership from the Titan Democratic Council and the commander of the guard. To the right of the TDC leadership was Commander Bespada and Elsibeth, tightly clinging to her fathers’ waist and sobbing.

Ver’verd was there, dressed in the black armor that was commonly associated with the members of TF Titan Night, and standing directly behind his commander. Ver’verd was amazed at the number of TF Titan Night members who were there for the memorial service of just one gate guard, just about all of them were in attendance. He stood staring at Commander Bespada’s back for the majority of the ceremony and was amazed at how rigid he stood. The entirety of the gate guard was there with members of the Expeditionary Forces taking their place for the ceremony. The ceremony that they gave to Elsibeth’s mother was one of the most gut wrenching that Ver’verd had ever experienced, and was one that he would not want to experience again.

The Commander of the gate guard detachment stepped down from the platform and stood in front of the captain of the guard. He held a data pad that contained the entire roster of the detachment. He began to list the members one by one, starting from the furthest platoon in formation, and they would respond with a “Here sir!” When each platoon was finished, their respective captains would call out with, “All present and accounted for sir!” He continued to call out the names and the members would respond. When he reached the list of Elsibeth’s mothers’ platoon, he stared the captain of the guard right in the eyes. Slowly the commander began reciting the names, the members responding appropriately, when he reached the name before Elsibeth’s mothers’ name he paused.

From an outside perspective, the weight of the next few words seemed to hit like the thunderous cracks of lightning. The commander uttered Elsibeth’s mothers’ name. There was no response. He called the name again and still, no response. The commander called the name out a final time, a palatable crack in his voice. The captain of the guard saluted, his hand visibly shaking, tears streaming down his face.

“Sir.” The captain said, nearly loosing control of his own voice. “Lieutenant Bespada is no longer with us.” The commander then returned the salute, lowered it and faced the platform. Tears streaming down his own face he saluted the members of the TDC.

“Gentlemen.” The commander said, his voice gruff. “Major Bespada is no longer with us!” The members of the TDC returned the commanders salute. The commander dropped his salute, and returned to the platform. It was then that the sky grew dark, the clouds heavy, and the distant sound of thunder grew in the background.

Ver’verd felt wetness on his face and looked towards the sky, there was no rain, but his face felt wet all the same. He then noticed the Titans around him. Everyone in the audience was crying, tears streaming down their faces. The hardest men and women in the Titans, individuals who had seen several years of war and destruction, men and women who showed no emotion during most ceremonies were all crying. The men and women in formation on the parade field all raised their heads in the sky and howled. The sound was a deafening, cacophony of sound, as if the very souls were being ripped from the bodies of those in attendance.

Ver’verd looked at his commander and saw him with Elsibeth in his arms, holding her tightly, weeping. The sound from the parade field carried over the City, and several denizens bowed their heads in reverence. When the howling stopped, the captains of the guard regained control of their platoons and all members replaced their helmets and marched off of the parade field. The head of the Titan Democratic Council walked up to commander Bespada and placed a hand on his shoulder.

Commander Bespada nodded, and still holding Elsibeth, followed the members of the TDC off of the platform and towards the black transport that was reserved for the members of the council. The rest of the audience filed out, replacing their helmets as they did, until only Ver’verd was left. Ver’verd wiped the tears from his eyes, placed his own helmet on his head, and headed back towards the barracks.

A voice brought him out of his memory. “I know I’m beautiful.” Elsibeth said, her face upside down as she leaned over him, eyes shining. “But I didn’t think it would actually bring you to tears?” Ver’verd sat up and turned slightly towards her.

“I’m sorry, I was just remembering something.” Ver’verd stood up and faced her properly. “Well, I’m going to head down and grab something to eat.” He started towards the staircase. “Do you want anything?”

Elsibeth unzipped her bodysuit to her navel and her chest expanded further. “No I’m going to grab a shower, being stuck in this thing for months at a time can really do a number on a girls’ skin.” She smiled coyly and began to remove the rest of her bodysuit as she headed towards the restroom that was adjacent to the beds.

“Can’t you wait to do that until I’m down stairs?” Ver’verd said as he turned his head and walked towards the steps.

“Where’s the fun in that? Besides I don’t have anything that you haven’t seen before anyway.” Elsibeth said as she stepped through the restrooms’ doorway, her bodysuit in a heap behind her.

Continuing down the stairs, Ver’verd shook his head. He entered the kitchen area and opened the refrigerator. His nose crinkled as a foul odor sprung from the refrigerator and he turned his head away, gagging. He quickly closed the door and made a mental note to only keep dried, canned, or dehydrated goods in the safe house from now on. Moving to the pantry, he grabbed an old ration and opened it. He placed the main meal in the rehydration unit and retrieved it a minute later. Grabbing a utensil from the ration package, Ver’verd ate the food, took the drink, and rehydrated it as well. As he drank from the drink package he walked back upstairs.

Hearing the shower running and the sounds of relief issuing from the bathroom, he picked up Elsibeths’ bodysuit and placed it on her bed. He then moved towards his own bed and picked up his duster and cowl. He hung these up on a hanger next to the window. He looked out of the window and waved at the building next to his, the blinds closing quickly in the room of the building as he did so.

 

The two members of The Titans’ Hand had just closed the blinds and turned towards each other. “You don’t think he saw us do you?” The senior member, a female, said to her partner.

“I don’t think so.” The other, a male, said. “But who knows? With the amount of black ink on his file and the amount of information missing in the electronic database, it’s completely possible that he saw us.” The two senior members of the intelligence agency had moved from their location on the street and had taken up residence in the building across from the one that their “target” was in. They had both been assigned to watch this particular Hunter as he was an individual placed on The Titans’ Hand person of interest list and had been on it for some time. Usually he and his partner would only be in the City for a couple of days and would leave almost immediately. This time however, the time of departure from the City was listed as “Until further notice” and the decision had been made to assign a two-person team to maintain surveillance of his apartment.

Ver’verd’s apartment was thought to be secret, but The Titans’ Hand was an agency that had always been known to know everything that went on within the City. Every quarter of the City had at least two Titans’ Hand cells living within it to maintain a level of human intelligence that was used to corroborate the constant electronic intelligence that the City was subjected to. The majority of the populace was aware of the electronic surveillance and had become accustomed to it. Very few had realized that there was also a human quotient as well.

Most human intelligence team members were from the areas that they watched over, so the majority of those around them had known them for their entire lives. Unfortunately the Exo quarter is where this differs, because most who go into the quarter never return. There were a few humans, but the Exo rarely bothered, or noticed them. The members of a Titans’ Hand cell were limited to a number of six members. In total there were twelve members of The Titans’ Hand within their respective quarters at any given time. The numbers were kept even as well as the male/female ratio, so that they could maintain operational security and mobility. Often the members of the cells acted as a married couple.

To The Titans’ Hand, ones sexual preference didn’t matter, so it was entirely common to find a male/male pairing or even a female/female pairing. For the most part, two-person teams maintained a professional relationship. If any children were necessary, they were artificially created from the genes of the team pairing, then quickly grown and flash-educated to the desired age and knowledge level. After a mission was completed, the child would then be discarded as easily as it was produced. It took a certain kind of person to be a member of The Titans’ Hand, and most were specifically chosen for a certain variable that was noted during the basic selection test, and is known only to the unofficial member of the Titan Democratic Council who is in charge of the agency.

Most members were quite all right with the way things worked in The Titans’ Hand and performed their missions as they saw fit. The two members of The Titan’s hand who were now watching the apartment of their target were an exception and followed protocol to the letter. It was a surprise to both of them when they would be constantly paired together, and the time that they had spent together served to strengthen their bond. So strong was their bond that they had actually decided to officially wed and become partnered permanently.

Of course this meant that they were not a viable team in the eyes of their leadership, and were often placed on details that had a low priority to the agency. They even went so far as to produce a child naturally, which placed them even lower on the list of viable agents. Their daughter, Emily was with family members who had once been agents, so they knew that she was being well taken care of. The couple turned to the table in the center of the room and went back over the files they had at their disposal.

The files were limited so as to be easily disposable, and most of the information was on their PDA’s. On the table were photos of Ver’verd and his known associates. The only image that they had of his partner was an image of them in full armor; someone had taken great care in covering the actual existence of his real identity. There were no images of the interior to the apartment, save for a standard floor layout that was a part of the welcome packet for new tenants.

Years ago The Titans’ Hand had attempted to place surveillance devices inside the apartment, but both the TCSF and the Warlock Council of Elders had countermanded every attempt. On the one occasion that they were successful, the surveillance team that had installed them had disappeared and most of their data with them. This was a common enough thing to happen within The Titans’ Hand, so it was overlooked and standard surveillance resumed. The reason why this was overlooked is because that the teams and the cells are compartmentalized; so no one team knows what the other is doing, and the cells were primarily there for administrative purposes.

The two agents looked one more time at the photos and then reopened the blinds. They looked across the way at the target room, noticed that their target was sitting there, cleaning his armor and weapon, and didn’t appear to be doing anything else of note. They were about to close the blinds when the lights in the room went dark. The two agents looked at each other and un-holstered their weapons. The male member pointed in the direction of the door and moved to investigate. The female member heard a scream and a shot, and then felt wetness on her face as if she were splashed with something. She moved towards the last sound of her partner and husband.

The female agent stumbled over something and fell to the floor. Her shoulder hit something soft and then she heard a low hiss above her. The last thing she felt was a slight pain as her head was torn from its shoulders.

 

Within the confines of the office of Sal-Drega, which was within the Warlock Order headquarters, two men watched as the scene played out. One was Sal-Drega himself, and the other was his adjunct Mon-Krega. Mon-Krega winced as the scene unfolded and even for an Exo, this was something that had bothered even him. Sal-Drega however, looked completely composed as the creature he had unleashed went about its task. The creature was outfitted with a camera and a helmet that controlled his movements and thought processes through a neural interface.

“Do we really have to watch this Master?” Mon-Krega asked as the scene continued to unfold before their eyes. “There won’t even be enough time to dispatch a recovery team for the two humans’ souls.”

Sal-Drega sniffed and then spoke into the control panel that also displayed the information as it was transmitted over a secure network to his office. He pushed away from the desk and stood. He then turned to his adjunct and placed a reassuring hand on the young Exo’s shoulder. “Do not worry young one, the Traveler will accept their souls instantly.” Sal-Drega then clasped his hands behind his back and stood in front of the window. “Do you know what all of his means Krega?”

Mon-Krega looked quizzically at his masters back. He thought for a moment and then spoke. “I don’t really know if I follow you Master. Could it be that we can control them?”

“Yes.” Sal-Drega spoke as he turned to his subordinate. “I believe that we can force these creatures into fighting against our enemies for us. They have a rudimentary nervous system and function more like a creature with a hive mind. If we can override their hive mind then we can control them.” Sal-Drega turned to head towards the door. “Come Krega, we have a dinner with Darmata and then we can get back down to the business of defeating our enemies and cementing ourselves as the next heads of the Council of Elders.” As Sal-Drega strode to the door Mon-Krega took one last look at the screen, shuddered and followed his master.

 

Elsibeth exited the bathroom and was drying her hair with a towel. She wore a loosely tied cotton robe that ended just above her knees, and continued to rub at her hair as she walked over to her friend. “No”, she thought. “Not her friend, her savior.” Years ago he found her rummaging through garbage cans and living in back alleys. Because of her appearance, strangers enticed her with food and shelter, only to force her to do horrible things in return for their kindness. She did them, as she had nowhere else to go.

Like many Awoken, she was acutely aware of the emotions and feelings of others. So when the men approached her home with news of her fathers’ death, she immediately knew what had happened. When they told her, and offered her a place within the Titans she ran. She ran hard and fast. She didn’t stop running until her legs gave out and she was too tired to breathe. Being the daughter of the greatest Titan of the age afforded her certain things, and being the only child she was given just about anything she could ask for.

What she wanted most was to be just like her daddy. Her daddy was strong and fast. In her eyes he could do anything. When her mother died, her daddy was despondent, he wouldn’t go out for days at a time, and when he did he would be gone for even longer. Elsibeth watched as her daddy threw himself into his work. When he was told that he would be going on a mission to Enceladus he told her that he would be all right, that he was going to be with his partner, and that his partner was better than he ever was, so he would be okay. Elsibeth remembered her daddy’s partner. He was kind and would play with her often. She also thought that he was very handsome.

Elsibeth had a bad feeling about the mission, she didn’t want her father to go, but all she could do was stand and watch as he left again. She was thirteen at the time and had grown accustomed to her father leaving. A Titan detail would always stay with her, and they would teach her how to defend herself and where to hit an opponent. She liked the lessons with her fathers’ partner better. He would hold her in tough holds and even though she knew how to break out of them easily, she never did. He was a lot like her daddy.

A year after her fathers’ death, Elsibeth was living in an abandoned building with others who had become down on their luck. She was sent out to go look for food to bring back, when she saw a figure in the darkness. “Hey mister.” She said. “You got any food or money?” When the figure said nothing, she said. “If you have any money I can show you a good time. I can use my mouth really well.” Still the figure said nothing, as he moved towards her. Elsibeth was confused but she held her ground, she knew how to defend herself. As the figure got closer, she turned to act as if she was running and then acted as if she tripped. She fell to the ground and the figure loomed over her. She attempted to scream but that was only an act.

Her face turned cold as she reached her feet towards the figures neck. She twisted her hips, locking her feet behind the figures head and pulled down sharply. The figure lost his balance and he tumbled. Elsibeth rounded on top of the figure and held a knife to his throat. “All right buster, hand over all of your creds and don’t try anything funny.” A look of shock crossed her face as the figure spoke.

“I thought I taught you that you should always sit on your opponents waist so that they couldn’t move their hips or legs.” The figure then swung his legs up, locked his feet around her head and pulled down. Her head hit the ground hard. Elsibeth was dazed and struggled to her feet. She turned to run, but the figure grabbed her arm and threw her against a wall. The figure grabbed her wrist and pulled upward in a wristlock. He placed his head next to her ear as she struggled. “Elsie it’s me, calm down it’s me it’s…” But the figure was cut off as Elsibeth screamed and head-butted him in the head.

“NO!!!!” Elsibeth screamed. “It can’t be, you’re dead!?” You died a year ago! They said that everyone on the mission with my father died!” Elsibeth moved backwards as the figure struggled to regain his composure.

“I assure you Elsibeth.” The figure said, rubbing his nose. “I am very much alive. Your father asked me to look after you if anything ever happened to him.” The figure held out a hand. “Come with me, let’s get you cleaned up and get off world. I’m sorry it took me so long to find you but…” The figure was cut off again.

“WHY!?!” Elsibeth howled, all of the rage that she had kept buried inside of her rose to the surface as she finally recognized that the person she was speaking to was her father’s friend, not her father. “Why!” She screamed again as she ran towards the figure, howling. A mix of rage, pain, and concentrated suffering issued from the depths of her soul as she tacked her father’s friend and they fell to the ground. She sat on the man and began to punch at his face.

“Why!” Elsibeth exclaimed as each punch found its mark on the side of the man’s face and head. “Why are you here and my daddy isn’t?! Why are you alive?! I don’t want you to be alive! It should have been you and not my daddy!” Her punches slowed as the rage subsided, to be replaced by an overwhelming sense of sorrow. She began to pound on the man’s chest with her fists; tears streaming down her face. She continued to scream “why” as she pounded, but the man remaining silent as she hit him. With a final slam of her fists she screamed out, her face towards the sky. “I WANT MY DADDY!” With that she fell upon him and sobbed.

The man continued to remain silent and just wrapped his arms around her and held her until the sobbing subsided. A slight rise and fall of the girls’ body had told him that she had calmed down. The man slid the child off of his body and picked her up. He held her at arms length and looked her in the eyes. “Do you feel a little bit better?” The man asked, looking her over. “Elsie I’m sorry that I’m not your dad, he died saving the life of me and a friend. But he told me to find and take care of you if anything ever happened to him, okay?”

Elsibeth nodded, raising a hand to wipe away the tears, smearing the dirt on her face as she did so. “Okay.” The man said as he rubbed her head. “Now, do you have anything you need to take with you? We have to get out of here. People will be looking for me so we have to get off-world.”

Elsibeth shook her head. “I ran away when they told me about daddy so I don’t have anything.” She took the man’s hand and he led her out of the alleyway. They took a transport to an old Warlock Monastery and entered. They stayed there for a couple of days and then went to the spaceport.

The spaceport was the primary way for people to get off world when they didn’t have a personal spacecraft. It was always a busy place, with several people that were there during all hours of the day. The two individuals got off of their transport and walked briskly towards the entryway. The spaceport was a large complex that spanned over one hundred kilometers and was the furthest out from the center of the city. There was always the smell of exhaust surrounding the port due to the many fossil fuel burning vehicles that traveled in and out. Even though clean energy such as hydrogen was widely used, many planets had materials which could be burned that created smog and stink.

Like much of the City, the spaceport was also built with low buildings and not much opulence. There was no one to impress with the spaceports grandeur, so construction was kept to a minimum. There was a tower and several levels for passengers to both depart and arrive. With modern technology there was rarely a need for a tower, but it was still a comfort to passengers that there was a watchful eye which maintained a constant vigil over the skies above the City spaceport.

Elsibeth and her guardian walked towards the departure terminal and towards the gate. There was no need to check in, because once you entered the spaceport, your travel plans were already filed with spaceport security. Elsibeth’s guardian had filed a travel plan under a false name and was sure that the two of them could get off planet easily. Elsibeth didn’t understand just why they had to leave Earth, but she knew her guardian well and trusted him implicitly.

When the two approached their gate, a Titan in blue security armor stopped them. “Excuse me sir but I need you and your child to come with me for a moment.”

“What seems to be the problem officer?” Elsibeth’s guardian asked the guard as they were led towards the security office within the terminal.

“Oh nothing.” The guard responded. “Just a small discrepancy on your travel documents is all. This way please.”

“I don’t see what the problem is. We filed all of the proper forms.” Elsibeth’s guardian said as he squeezed her hand, a silent signal to tell her to get ready to run.
The guard stopped for a moment and placed a hand up to the side of his helmet. “Yes sir.” The guard said. “I have them in custody now and I’ll be escorting them to the security office for holding until someone from the TCSF main office arrives. Sir?” The guard asked the voice in his helmet. “But sir there’s…” The guards voice was cut off and his body stiffened. “Yes sir, right away sir.”

The guard turned and looked at the two individuals who stood before him. “I’m sorry for the confusion sir but you have been cleared for departure on the freighter Gaia’s Hope for transport to the outer colonies.” The guard snapped a salute in Elsibeth’s guardian’s direction. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you sir and just let me say that it is an honor. Do you need transport to the freighter? I can arrange that you have primary boarding.”

“There’s no need officer.” The man said to the Titan. “And there’s no need to salute either, I’m just a simple Hunter on holiday with my daughter.”

The Titan dropped the salute and simply held out his hand, which Elsibeth’s guardian shook. “I’m sorry sir but her being your daughter is implausible.” The guard mentioned as he tapped on his datapad. “I will adjust the information to show that she is your sister. Have a pleasant trip Mr. Ver’verd, we look forward to your return.”

“Thank you.” Ver’verd said as they turned to leave. When the two of them reached the freighter and boarded it, they relaxed a little bit. When the freighter took off they relaxed even further. When the freighter had left Earth’s atmosphere they knew that they were in the clear.

“Where will we go now?” Elsibeth asked Ver’verd as she looked up at him. “And why did you change your name?”

Ver’verd looked at her. “Well, I changed it because we’re going to start a new life.” He told her. “Where we’re going we’ll need new names and new lives so that no one will recognize us. We talked about this the other night. We’ll move around for a bit and then we’ll go and stay with a friend of mine and work with him.”

“Okay.” Elsibeth said as she straightened in her chair. “One other thing, why are you talking to me in the tone that you use with little kids? I am fourteen now you know.”

Ver’verd laughed and Elsibeths’ heart skipped a beat. He was even more handsome when he smiled, even with the still fresh looking scar. “You’re right kid.” Ver’verd said between laughs. “You’re right.”

 

Elsibeth tilted her head and sighed as she watched Ver’verd clean his weapon. She had traveled with him for years now, and it was only six short years ago when she realized that she had fallen in love with him. What had started out as a simple childhood crush, had become idol worship, and then blossomed into love. Elsibeth truly loved this man, and she would do anything to support him. When she had met Darmata and had seen the way that he acted around her, Elsibeth’s resolve didn’t falter. Her mind and heart had been set. Even if he never chose her, she was bound and determined to stay by his side.

It frustrated her to no end that when she had confessed to him, he had brushed it off as simple infatuation. He had said that he really didn’t see her that way. That she was too young for him, but he was honored. It didn’t stop her from loving him anyway. She did get to find out that he was extremely embarrassed around sexually assertive women. One day she had “mistakenly” forgotten to put on her robe as she exited the bathroom. Ver’verd saw her, his face turned beet red, and he turned away from her quickly. Elsibeth just laughed and went back into the bathroom to change into a light tunic and medium weight cloth trousers.

It was then that she started messing with him. A seductive look here, a simple touch there. She never snuggled up to him in his sleep, that would be crossing a line, but she was tempted. She had made it painfully obvious that she was messing with him, but it was still fun to see his reaction. She watched him as he continued to disassemble and wipe down the individual pieces of his weapon. The attention to detail and care was not lost on her.

She smiled to herself; she knew that she had to do what must be done. She tossed her towel on her bed and climbed onto his. She knew that when Ver’verd was cleaning his weapon he was “in the zone” and could not be disturbed. She moved towards him and stood on her knees on the bed. She moved closer to him and wrapped her arms around him, her breasts pressing up against his back.

“You know I am twenty-six now.” Elsibeth said as she slid down his back, her knees around his waist. “And all woman.” She pressed against him harder as she slid up and down his well muscled and scarred back.

Ver’verd stopped, looked up and put down the piece of his weapon. He turned his head slightly to the left and peered at her over his shoulder. “Elsie stop that would you. Get your pajamas on, clean your armor and weapons. I’m almost done.”

Elsibeth sighed in frustration and released him. She moved to his side and turned around. Lying down on the bed so her head was off of the edge by Ver’verd’s knee. Her robe loosened further, the only thing holding it closed was the cotton strap. “You must really love that Darmata chick to deny a willing bonafide woman who is practically throwing herself at you.” When Ver’verd said nothing and picked up another piece of his weapon to clean she said. “You know I wouldn’t mind if you went the harem route and chose both of us.” Elsibeth rolled to her side and put her head in the palm of her hand, her robe opening up further.

Ver’verd placed the piece down and began reassembling his weapon. “Not going to happen kid.” Elsibeth placed her other hand on his thigh and squeezed. She gave him her best wanton look.

“Seriously, women like me don’t come around very often. Are you sure I can’t tempt you?” Ver’verd finished reassembling his weapon, did a quick functions check, and then placed the weapon on his other side. He looked down at Elsibeth, and his mouth opened slightly as he looked a little too far. Ver’verd’s mouth snapped closed as he regained his composure. He reached for his kukri blade and waved it at her.

“Seriously, stop.” He began to wipe down the blade and move it along a whetstone, sharpening it. “It’s late and I’m too tired right now.”

Elsibeth rolled her eyes. “Fine.” She said in a huff. “A girl won’t wait forever you know.” She rolled off of the bed, stood up, and retied her robe, which had come completely undone. “I’m going to go grab myself something to eat. I was serious about the harem route thing though.” She moved towards the stairs that led down to the kitchen and living area. She stopped just shy of the stairs and looked over her shoulder. “But maybe you’re right and I should stop. Hey, maybe that Sev-Dax guy would be interested?” She analyzed him for any sign of jealousy.

Ver’verd placed the kukri blade in its sheath and underneath his pillow. He stood up and looked out the window. “You’d want to kill yourself within the first five seconds of being alone with him.” He watched her through the reflection in the window as she turned her head in a huff and stomped down the stairs. When she was gone he sighed and slumped his shoulders. “Almost dodged the bullet with that one Ver’verd old boy.” He said to himself as he shook his head. He moved toward the foot of the bed and neatly stacked his armor on the low table there, his boots he placed underneath earlier. He picked up his bedclothes and moved towards the bathroom to take his own shower. Upon entering, he noticed that there were undergarments everywhere. He stepped out of the room. “What the hell is all of this?” He called down to Elsibeth.

“Oh just some things I put up to dry the last time we were here. If you could just put them on my bed, I’ll put them away later.” Elsibeth called back. “Be careful with the black silk ones, they’re “special”.

Ver’verd began to take the undergarments from the bathroom and he paused when he found the ones that Elsibeth had called “special”. He held them up, sighed in frustration, and shook his head. “I’ve got to get that girl her own place.” He said as he took the pile of undergarments and dropped them unceremoniously on Elsibeths’ bed. Looking at the pile and the mess that was Elsibeth’s side of the room he shook his head again. “Or at the very least a place with her own room and bathroom.” Ver’verd turned and saw Elsibeth there, a spoon in her mouth and a small tub of iced cream in her hand.

She had a slightly blank expression on her face and then it turned into a toothy grin, her eyes shining mischievously. “You were looking weren’t you?” Elsibeth said, the spoon falling from her mouth and onto the floor with a small clinking sound. She began to bounce on the balls of her feet and pointed at him. “You were looking. You were looking. Ver’verd is a per-rv. Ver’verd is a per-rv.”

Ver’verd said nothing and just gave her a blank expression. He then turned and went into the bathroom. He placed a towel on the sink and then started the shower. “Nope, definitely her own place.”

 

As Darmata entered her chambers she looked around the room and sighed. For as much as the Warlock Order praised the simple life, their leadership lived in somewhat luxurious surroundings. The room was large and had high, vaulted ceilings. It was lit by candle light during the night, so there were shadows in a few places. There were large windows on the far side, which overlooked the City. The light from the Traveler shown through dimly, lighting the shadows with an ethereal light. The bed was next to the windows so as to allow the sunlight to shine on it. The room was the highest room in the building and therefore the highest in the City, so the need for curtains was unnecessary. It was believed by many, that bathing in the light of the Traveler would restore a weary Warlocks power, and since the position of leader of the Warlock Order was a worrisome position, the lack of curtains was seen as a blessing. The bed was a “four-post” bed with draperies that were tied on all four corners. The draperies could be loosened to enclose the entire bed for privacy’s sake. The bedposts had ornate carvings on them that covered the entire post.

The windows were covered with the same carvings as the bed. On the walls to either side of the bed, were large ornate bookcases filled with books on the history of the Warlock Order. Many of the things that were discovered by research into the Traveler were there, as well as many Old Earth books. Her favorite book, one that she had read many times, was an Old Earth tale involving knights and witches who fought for control over a small island nation. She liked the simplicity of the story, good versus evil, a damsel in distress. As much as the world had changed, and the place that women held in it, every girl still dreams of her knight in shining armor, a person who is willing to fight for her honor and save her from evil.

When she was a girl she and Ver’verd, who was known by a different name at the time, would play like these knights of old. He would save her from great imaginary dragons, and she would save him from evil witches who wanted him for their own. Every once in a while she would pretend that she was a world weary female warrior, with Ver’verd as her traveling companion, a strong warrior who would fight by her side as she used her talents to slay the Evil and bring peace to the world.

When she had first learned of her posting as the leader of the Council of Elders she was shown this room. At first she seemed as if she would be swallowed by the sheer magnitude of the room, but when she found the book, she squealed with delight and jumped on the bed, rolling around like a small child on a gigantic bed. As she’d read the book, she would imagine herself as the heroine with Ver’verd as just about every male character in the book.

She picked this book up now and thumbed through its worn pages. She put the book down and turned towards her writing desk, which was on the far side of the room. She picked up a quill, dipped it in the ink and wrote on the parchment. She began to craft a story in which a strong warrior would swoop in on a mighty steed and save the damsel from a life of obligation that she didn’t want. Of course she knew that this only happened in stories, and if anybody wanted to change their circumstances they had to do it themselves… but it was nice to think about.

Darmata sighed as her attendants walked in to prepare her bath and lay out her nightgown. Having attendants was the one thing that she wasn’t quite used to, as a person who was in her position should be. Often she wished that they would just leave her alone and do things on her own. In the beginning it was difficult having someone watching over her as she bathed, but eventually she got used to it, and then allowed her attendants to bathe her.

She walked to her bathroom, which was to the right of the entrance. She entered the room, which was half the size of her bedroom, and walked towards the waiting bath. She stopped in front of the large in-floor tub, and stood with her arms outstretched. She stepped out of her boots, and stood on the floor barefooted. An attendant stepped behind her and removed her robe, placing it in a basket to be taken for cleaning. Another attendant stepped in front of her, loosened her tunic and the drawstring of her trousers.

The attendant that was behind her had returned and removed her tunic from her shoulders. The trousers fell to the floor and she stepped gingerly into the bath. The warm water felt good against her skin as her attendants began to wash her. When they were finished, they took their leave and gave her a bit of privacy to soak in the bath. When she rose from the bath, the attendants were there to dry her with a towel and place a robe over her shoulders.

Darmata placed her arms through the sleeves of the robe, and dismissed her attendants. She turned around, walked over to the large mirror, and looked at herself in it. She stepped closer and removed the brown contact lenses from her eyes. She looked into the bare bionics and watched as the pupils whirred open to take in more light. When she leaned away from the mirror, the pupils of the bionic eyes whirred smaller to take in less. She scrutinized the scar tissue that surrounded her eyes and sighed. She never liked the way that her eyes looked, even with the contacts.

The Exo craftsmen had done an excellent job at making her eyes function as any normal eyes would. They even produced tears, which the craftsman had told her was only for the purpose of keeping the tissue around the eye moist. She always had to keep a moist towel in her pocket to wipe the area of her eyes in dry weather. She was reminded of how sad Ver’verd looked when he looked into her eyes. She tried as hard as she could to find organic replacements, but organic body parts were illegal, and if found out, there were stiff penalties.

She dropped the robe and stood there nude, checking every area that she didn’t like. Her feet were too big, her hands were calloused, one leg was slightly shorter than the other, her hips were too wide, her shoulders were too broad, her nose was crooked, her boobs were lopsided, and her stupid eyes were too far apart. She felt her legs, her stupid muscular legs. She touched her hips and grabbed at the flab that had developed above her waistline. She looked at the wrinkles in her neck and tilted her head down to see the skin collecting into folds. She remarked at how when she did this, she looked like she had a double, or even a triple chin.

Darmata was so disgusted by what she saw, that she picked up her robe and hurriedly put it back on, wrapping herself up in it tightly. While holding the robe against herself, she touched her stomach and instantly remembered what she was going to tell Ver’verd. She let the robe slip open and gently stroked her belly. She smiled softly and then turned to the side. Holding up her breasts, she tried to stick her belly out as much as she possibly could, trying to imagine herself pregnant. As she looked at the possibility of having a big ole prego belly, and who the father was, Darmata broke out into a large toothy grin, she slouched down, placing her head as far down as she could and, trying to hold up her belly with her other arm, she broke out into a fit of the giggles. She let her arms drop and retied the robe. She was definitely going to tell him the next time they were alone together. Still beaming, she placed her contact lenses back in and straightened out her hair. Regaining her composure, she went into the bedroom area where her attendants were waiting.

One of the attendants removed her robe as another grabbed two step stools. The two attendants stood on the stepstools with Darmatas’ nightgown above their heads. Darmata raised her arms and the attendants began lowering the nightgown over her. When they were finished, an attendant took the dirty clothes, placed them in a basket and dismissed herself. Of the remaining attendants, one began turning down the bed, while the other began to brush her hair.

“Sal-Drega is such a regal individual.” The attendant brushing Darmata’s hair said. “You must be so fortunate to be betrothed to such an amazing man.” Darmata’s nose crinkled and she shook her head. “You don’t think that he is amazing my lady? He is so refined and he commands such respect.”

“He is not all he is cracked up to be.” Darmata said, wincing as the attendant worked through a tangle. “To tell the truth, I am only doing it because it is my duty. In reality he disgusts me.”

“Really my lady.” The attendant said as she worked through another tangle. “I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe after the union you’ll be able to see his good qualities.”

The attendant that was turning down the bed spoke up. “Drega is scum wrapped in more scum. This one time he told an initiate to wipe his feet after the initiate accidentally spilled a small amount of water on Dregas’ boots. And you don’t want to know what he makes his own female attendants do.”

“I don’t really think that’s the way that Elder Sal-Drega really is.” The attendant who was brushing Darmata’s hair said. “There is a rumor that he is from humble beginnings. I bet he only acts that way because he misses his family.”

“Family?” The attendant who was turning down the bed said. “I don’t believe that he has any family. At least none to speak of.”

“Well, than all the more reason to be sympathetic to him.” The one brushing the hair said. “He’s probably lonely.”

The attendant who was turning down the bed had finished, walked toward the two, and crossed her arms across her chest. “I don’t know why you’re defending him. Remember what he did to…” A raised hand from Darmata cut her off.

“I do not want to talk about Sal-Drega anymore tonight.” Darmata said. “I just want to drop it.”

“Yes my lady.” The attendant by the bed said. “What I want to know is, just who was that Hunter that you were clinging onto when the elevator’s doors opened today?”

Darmata bristled slightly at hearing this comment. She had thought that no one had noticed. “I do not know of whom you speak of.”

“Oh you know the one.” The attendant by the bed said. “Tall, wears a leather duster with the long faced helmet and the “T” shaped visor.” The attendant raised her hands up to the side of her face and clasped them together. “Oh help me Mister Hunter! Help me!”

The attendant brushing Darmata’s hair stopped. She rounded on her partner. “How dare you speak to milady in such a way! You should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking such a thing! Milady would never, ever associate herself with a common Hunter when she has the great Elder Sal-Drega!”

The attendant by the bed scoffed. “Drega demands respect. I could tell that Hunter co-mmands it.”

“That is enough the two of you, stop it!” Darmata commanded, her voice loud in anger. “Amanda you may leave. Anna please stay behind so that we may discuss an appropriate punishment.” Darmata stood and escorted Amanda from the room. Anna stood there looking at her feet, her hands clasped in front of her. When Darmata had closed the door and was sure that Amanda had gone; she turned to Anna. “Alright what do you know?” Darmata asked Anna.

“No-nothing my lady.” Anna said, not looking up. “I just saw the two of you in the elevator when the door opened. It was only for a brief moment, so I could have been mistaken. I’m sorry that I lost my sense of decorum with you my lady. I assure you that it won’t happen again.”

Darmata rolled her eyes. “Oh stuff it. That Dregaphile is gone now so you don’t have to hide behind all of that decorum crap. Just tell me what you know?”

“I’m sorry my lady.” Anna said as she shuffled her feet. “I don’t know anything.”

Darmata rolled her eyes again. “Traveler, why do I have to be around such week willed idiots.” She tried a softer approach. “Anna.” She said gently. “You do not have to be afraid. I will not be angry.”

Anna’s mouth opened and then closed, but no sound came out. When Darmata had reached her, she flinched as Darmata laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Anna looked up and saw that Darmata really meant her no harm. “Honestly my lady?” She said. “All of the staff are talking about that Hunter. Some say that you were afraid of him and he tried to force himself upon you. When the doors opened, that was your chance to get away.”

Darmata smiled. “You are right you know. I was clinging onto him. Not out of a romantic moment mind you, but because I was startled by the amount of people that were falling through the doorway.” Darmata walked to the window. “The truth is…” Her voice trailed off as she began to wrap her arms around herself. “He is the most amazing man I have ever known.”

Anna’s eyes grew wide as realization dawned on her. “I knew it!” She exclaimed, and pointed a finger at Darmata while covering her mouth. “You are having an illicit affair with that Hunter!” She rushed towards Darmata and grabbed her hand. “Don’t worry milady your secrets safe with me.” She began to pull Darmata away from the window.

Darmata gave a little resistance. “That isn’t what I…” But she was cut off.

“Oh it must have been grand milady.” Anna continued, as she led Darmata to her chair. “It must have been a secret rendezvous, a mysterious stranger and the strength he possessed. He must have swept you off of your feet, or saved you from thugs, or maybe you were childhood friends, or…”

Darmata smiled as she took a seat. “Finally.” She thought. “I don’t have to hide, and this place feels a little more comfortable now.” Darmata looked at Anna and could see her pacing, lips moving, silently counting off on her fingers all of the possibilities on just how Darmata had met her illicit lover. Darmata spoke. “We knew each other as children. I loved him as much then as I do now.”

“Tell me more milady.” Anna said as she sat on her knees before her and looked up into Darmatas’ face. “Tell me everything.”

“All right, all right, I will.” Darmata said as she regaled Anna with stories of her time with the man now known as Ver’verd. When they were children, and when they had met again. She told her what she knew of that happened on Enceladus. She told her of what she heard from outside the door to the Council of Elders chamber. She told her of the working relationship that they had developed together, and she told her of the time in the elevator and what had caused the panic in the building. After she finished Anna’s mouth dropped open.

“He did what?” Anna said, eyes wide. “The two of you did that?” Anna dizzily stood up, wavered and then sat back down. “Milady he is absolutely amazing! Why is he not here, with you? Oh wait,” she shook her head, “don’t tell me. Are you going to see him again and tell him?”

“Soon.” Darmata said. “But you must not tell anyone. If anyone found out they might try to do something.”

“Oh I won’t milady.” Anna said. “I know how you can be. I remember when I was still an initiate and you tossed Radiance at me when I was cleaning the floors.”

“I remember.” Darmata said. “I felt so bad about it, I made you one of my attendants when you couldn’t become an apprentice. I hope that my temper wasn’t the cause for that.”

“It wasn’t milady. I was on my way out of the Order when that happened.” Anna said, as she rose to stand. “Well milady I’ll be on my way.”

“Oh Anna.” Darmata said as she rose and moved towards her bed. “Your punishment will be to assist me by yourself for thirty days.” Darmata reached her bed and climbed in.

“Yes milady.” Anna said as she exited the room. “Sleep well.” With that the door closed and Darmata drifted into a peaceful sleep.

 

When Ver’verd exited the bathroom, the room was dark, and dimly lit by the light from the room that he was just in. He shut off the light to the bathroom and the room was bathed in the dim light from the traveler. The light cast a slight glow near the window, and faded as it reached the stairs. Ver’verd was wearing his bedclothes, which were a light tunic and trousers. Usually he would sleep in his full armor on away trips, while Elsibeth would always stay in her bodysuit and boots, mostly to mess with him.

He looked over at her as she slept and just shook his head. She was always a mess when they came to the safe house. She never picked up after herself, and was always walking around half dressed. She had said that it was because it was more comfortable that way, but he knew the real answer. He walked over to her bed and went to pull the bed’s covers over her and got a good look at her. She was still wearing the robe, with a pair of his underclothes on. She said that they were more comfortable than her PJ’s and Ver’verd said nothing as long as she put on a shirt.

She was lying on her back, with her robe untied, and open just enough to make him uncomfortable. Her mouth was wide open, and she was snoring softly. Her left arm was still holding the tub of iced cream, which had melted and leaked out over the bed. Her right arm was raised over her head, her fingers slightly curled. Her left leg was bent at a ninety-degree angle and her right was straight. She had not put her clothes away, as she had said that she would, but kind of pushed them off haphazardly and slept on top of what remained.

Ver’verd looked over to the edge of the bed and picked up and item. He looked at the item, a small, stuffed sheep and gave it a slight squeeze. The sheep squeaked slightly and he put it next to her. Ver’verd was surprised that she still had the thing. It was something that she thought was cute and just had to have it when she saw it. The small stuffed animal was the first thing he had bought her when they stopped at the first colony after leaving Earth.

With a slight moan, Elsibeth rolled onto her side and the tub of melted iced cream began to leak out onto her stomach. She grabbed the stuffed toy and cuddled with it. Ver’verd was reminded that even though she was twenty-six, she was still very much the little girl that wouldn’t let go of his hand when they got off of the transport after leaving Earth. He bent down and was about to give her a gentle kiss on the cheek when she moaned seductively.

“Ver’verd st-ah-p.” She moaned; her mouth curled up into a smile. “That tickles.” Elsibeth giggled and then let out a gasp. “Mmmmm, that feels good.” Elsibeth moaned as she began to wiggle her hips forward and back. Disgusted, Ver’verd sighed and dropped the covers. He then went over to his bed and sat on it, looking out the window. Running his fingers through his hair, he shook his head and looked over his shoulder at Elsibeth. She had rolled back onto her back and was snoring again, this time loudly.

Ver’verd almost threw a pillow at her but then thought better of it. In her current state the last thing he wanted was for her to wake up and bother him. He looked out of the window to where he saw the lights on earlier; he assumed that the two agents who were watching him had bedded down for the night due to the darkness of the room. Ver’verd then lay down on his bed and reached under the pillow. He grasped the handle of the kukri blade, closed his eyes and slept.

 

Deep in the bowels of the Warlock Conclave, below the hall that the Council of Elders met in, was a brightly lit room with several computer banks and various types of lab equipment. In the center of the room stood a tank filled with a liquid that could suspend a figure within. There was a figure in this tank

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