The Run

The Gathering

Lasir slinked through the ducts, wishing that she could stop the feeling that there was something that she was forgetting. She had hoped to avoid doing this at all, had hoped that the many battles against the Control would've drawn Talin out into the open. But luck, it seemed, was not on her side. She'd delayed too long as it was.

She went through a list of all the people she'd be killing if she failed tonight, a slow litany in her mind. It was the only thing now that kept her moving, the fact that so many depended upon her and her friends. Her thirst for vengeance had been sated long ago, after she'd killed many of his Followers, when she'd ordered those who began to follow her into battle to kill many more. It was when she realized that she'd become a hero to millions, a single being upon whom the hope of men and women and children was cast upon like chips on the whim of the dice. It was then that it ceased being a matter of revenge and became an obsession of cleansing.

She realized with a start that her fingernails, encased in their special gloves, had sliced through the metal and were biting into her palm. She let out a hiss as she pulled them back, and sighed heavily. Looking around her, she placed where she was, only a few feet from the coordinate points. She walked forward, and touched the keypad there, opening a door that led to a room unused for more than 20 years. This was, of course, the only way in. For most, anyway.

She took a seat, near the front of the room, on a pile of pillows covered in satin. She'd given the signal to Herid, notified Serna, and sent a message to Cari, however unreliable the messenger. She rubbed her temples, hoping that Herid was the right choice, and that he was ready. She'd wanted Y'Praff, but his recent trip to Nolinas had left him weak. Herid's Utachex was strong - stronger than anyone she'd met - but it was untutored. Y'Praff was a Deitz Raiche, and Herid wasn't even yet a Marohl.

She felt him before he came within sixty feet of her. It was something he couldn't block, though through artificial means she would be keeping the Control from knowing he was anywhere near their headquarters. She just hoped that seeing that place again wouldn't trigger something inside him. He stepped lightly enough, though, that she might not have known he was there save for the sheer power of his Talent. If he could learn to control his breathing a little better, he might become a greater warrior than even Cari, in time. Very useful. She sagged against the pillows.

Is this what I have been reduced to? Measuring someone's usefulness? It used to be enough that they wanted to side with us. Now it's what they can do...Is it me? Or is this what He has wrought?

She shook her head to clear it. Now was not the time to be doubting herself. Cari should've been on her way by now - if her message had been received. Herid, it seemed, was to be the first to arrive. He wore a black turtleneck that seemed almost silken, until the light shone upon it, making it apparent that it was molded metal, joined at the seams with leather. His pants were woven silver, chainmail links so tiny they seemed to not be links at all. Brett had really outdone himself. His long hair had been tied back with a black piece of cording, falling nearly to his back. A pair of magirisaki hung from a loop at his hip, his knife now replaced with the Crawler's former leg. The barbs looked no less wicked against his limb.

He put on the eyepatch she gave him, then looked around. It covered up his flaring Utachex, rendering him nearly invisible on sight, and stopping the waves of energy that unconsciously flowed from him. He grinned at Lasir, expecting her to begin moving at any time. She certainly seemed jumpy enough. He tried looking around through her mind to find out more of what was to happen tonight, but met up with static, and he gave up.

He took in the sight of her, the long chainmail gloves and body stocking, covering even her feet in metal. Rings flowed from her left leg all the way up to her left arm, the same silver linked stuff that made up his pants wrapped around her body, threaded through the rings, making it seem to float on her.

"So where's Cari and Serna? I'd have thought they'd be here by now," he said, fingering the laces on his boots.

She noticed his fidgeting and shook her head. "From a friend, youngling. 'The way of the resting warrior is to keep his patience. Otherwise, the battle may find him unready,' my husband once said."

"I didn't know you were married. What happened to him?"

"He was killed," a voice said from the shadows, "While he was meditating. It was blamed on poor security."

Cari stepped out from the ducts and into the light. Her now emerald green hair flowed down to her ankles, and despite the lack of light, her Utachex shone with a green light. She was a striking woman, with a long straight nose and piercing eyes. Her entire posture was that of a wary animal, waiting to strike. Her suit was made of only a spattering of mail, with the oddly silk-like metal fabric fashioned into a short high cut dress. The sleeves tapered down to points over her hands. The deadly blade of her scythe caught the meager light occasionally, glinting.

She let it sit against the curved edge of the tunnel, then squatted down to rest on her heels.

"Is she coming too?" Cari asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder. She had a look that was far more deadly than anything he'd seen on Lasir's face, as if she'd been pulled away from something very important for something she'd rather not be doing. He wondered, fleetingly, what it was.

"Yes. Serna should be arriving shortly."

"What If I'm already here, Cari?" Serna queried, her head floating, disembodied, in the deepest shadows in a far corner of the room. Funny, he didn't think she had a spell like that. She stepped out to stand next to Lasir, her hazel eye glinting with mischief. Her Utachex was a huge and complex spiderweb that covered almost half her face, much the way Lasir's face was half gone by her Talent. He'd often sat watching her when she wasn't looking, trying to see if the spider that'd created it ever came out, though he still hadn't seen it. She wore an odd combination of the same materials everyone else did, but instead of the usual weapons she carried, she held a weighted chain with a long blade at the other end of it. He couldn't remember the name. She seemed even jumpier than Lasir.

"You're late," Lasir said, her irritation plain. Serna nodded.

"The time of the red moon is upon us, but I'm not sure that's the cause. My spells have been malfunctioning for almost a month. Only the preset ones and those I have known for many years seem to be working. Others have simply failed or done the opposite of what I intend."

"There's nothing for it now, Serna. We'll simply go on ahead as planned, and hope that they do not fail us," Cari said gravely.

"Tonight is the night to strike lest He take us unawares. My sources tell me that he has been gathering a large army and they need only his word to advance upon us. We must move now, or everything we've worked for shall be for nothing," Lasir mumbled, a sad look in her eyes. Cari let out a low growl and stiffened.

They stood, and one by one, stepped from the room into the guts of the building, finally stepping into the dark of the night. He felt his stomach turn, and tried to prepare himself.

Assault

They reached the Headquarters nearly an hour later, Serna's teleportation spell had backfired and set them nearly 25 miles off course. Cari was quick to point out that it had at least gotten them this far, less someone actually wanted to walk the close to 200 miles it would normally require. Lasir had only grumbled. Herid looked on, beginning to get an uneasy feeling, his eye shifting back and forth between Serna and Cari. They'd taken stims, and Serna already looked wiped, but the other woman was more on edge than ever.

"How much more?" Serna asked, her voice cracking slightly. It was shrill and grating, and she always spoke too loud. Herid hated her voice. She'd been casting spell after spell since they'd landed, some to keep them undetected, some to reverse any damage she'd accidentally done with them.

"As much as it takes," Lasir said quietly, her knees drawn up to her chest, her eye distant, her gloved fingers clacking. She sighed and looked out over the horizon where the tip of the citadel broke the surface of the sky. "And thensome."

The Crawler they road slattered on in mute acceptance, if the whirring and grinding and thudding sounds a Crawler made could have been mute. A light high atop the spire shone out over the ground, bathing it in light, but it was not a welcome sight to any who approached it. It was a twisted monument of spiraling steal and glass, covered with grime and dust and dirt that only years of neglect could bring. Cari switched her Utachex to purple and nodded, the actual beauty of the building shining through in its architectural glory. Lasir had designed it, Talin had stolen it from her the day he also stole her eye. He'd Forced her Utachex, destroying half the girl's face and causing the cybernetics that might have otherwise never surfaced to take over in a matter of seconds, almost slaughtering the girl. It was meant to be impenetrable, but nothing ever is, and the monstrosity was no exception.

"Are you ready?" Lasir asked, turning to Cari. The elder woman nodded, licking her lips. She sheathed her scythe and slipped it across her back, and crouched. Lasir slid in beside her, her fingertips digging into the ground, and nodded. Her ruby dropped from her eye to land softly on its hooks, and it flung its coils around Cari's wrist, wrapping around, the light inside it dimming and then disappearing all together.

"On three. One...Two...Go!"

They sprang into action, Lasir moving left, Cari to the right. Herid watched until they were out of sight, and then, with one last looks at Serna's drawn up body, he ran into the open doors of the fortress.

All is in Readiness

Cari rushed down the hall, her purple hair flying behind her. Thoughts grazed along the surface of her mind, though they were interrupted by Lasir's droning voice. She was giving quick instructions to both Cari and Herid, flashing up semi-transparent building plans as they navigated the corridors. The chainmail on her feet landed with even chinking sounds against the metal floors, out of synchronization only when she dodged a trap or a guard that stood along the route she was taking. But Lasir said that this route was the safest for her ( take the guard at the corner, duck and roll to get the sentry bot, turn left )to run, since though it had more wire trips and drop panels and bomb triggers than the others, there were fewer guards and robots. Cari's night vision Utachex was useless in the spotty half light, the dark places would show, but the other pierced her eyes, making her wince. So for right now, she steppe through the dark, searching for a movement. Lasir's ruby wrapped tighter around her wrist, and she was thankful ( go up the stairs, latch onto the wall, wait for the laser ) for the coils, because it kept her hands free. She did carry a two handed scythe, after all.

She jumped over the bar that lay under her feet, and crouched as the taser bolts that accompanied her stepping here raced out over her head. She thanked the gods that there was only one more hallway left before she could simply ( camera guided shots here, code 3-2-31-19 to turn them off. Open second yellow door ) open the door and put Lasir's ruby inside the main control room. Lasir was nowhere near as fast as she was, and it made Cari smile that Lasir would actually admit that and let her do this. The woman could be so bull headed sometimes ( jump to the left, forward two steps, off with his head and then to the right, wait for three seconds, duck the taser ), like when she'd gone into that house to get the security layout of this place from the informant she had on the inside.

She headed down the last corridor, racing past the blue dots, careful to only step on the red ones. The directions said that she had three seconds to step on each blue spot before they activated, but she wasn't going to take her chances, even if it meant leaping instead of merely running. The red dots were up to eight feet apart, and never less than five. Finally, she reached the door. If Lasir was within range, she would be able to turn off the security without anyone knowing it. Cari slowly opened the door and slipped the ruby inside. She heard it scurry off, and took the time to breathe again. She took up her scythe and waited for anyone to come along.

Herid put his hands to his head, trying to concentrate. The last guard had nearly killed him, the way he'd tried to rip off his skin like that. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up all over again just thinking about it. Some of the powers in this place were a match for his own, and some of their minds were as blank as Lasir's. Only it wasn't anything they were actually doing, it was as if something had drained them of everything but their orders and their Control. He shuddered.

Lasir's Utachex sliced through his head, making the detailed map of the fifth floor appear in front of his eyes, twisting and magnifying to show his location and where he needed to be, the places where he'd fight again. He took the first in a series of turns, lashing out with his mind at everything he saw. He'd never actually witnessed someone dying before today. Dead, yes, but that was different. This was the thrashing, gasping, eyes glazing over stuff of legend, and it made him sick. He wondered how some people could kill for a living, and still be able to look at themselves in the morning and not throw up.

He picked up the pace, blasting through the third wall in his way. By now, the ruby had made it's way through the ventilation system up to the fourth floor, and he had to be at the designated point on this floor when it finally made it's way here. Lasir had been cursing this floor the entire way here, it was an obstruction that went all the way around the building, no breaks. The tubes and shafts that decorated the rest of the Spire stopped here, then continued on after the hallway. He skidded to a halt a few inches from where the two vents faced each other, and barely had time to duck around a corner as a guard rounded it. He made short work of him, the guard's Talent had been Air Weaving, useless when you're surprised. He tipped his head back and let his mind wander. He retraced the correct path in his mind, then cast out his empathic "feelers." He met nothing. Not even the buzz of a passing fly. Which meant that, for once, there was no one there. He ducked back between the vents, and stood there in the open as the lights went out, counting on his Utachex to keep him safe.