Ao and Dor Thay entered the cave opening on the porous rogue moon. The lights on their space suits lit the cave, casting strange shadows. The lights from the Tempest barely reached the entrance of the cave, casting tall shadows onto their path. Before long the nautolan and human found themselves at a near-vertical incline of the cave.
“Hey, Ao, what does ExplorCorps say about putting yourself in harms way?” Dor Thay looked down the new section of cave. “That looks dangerous to traverse.”
Ao pulled a glow rod from the side of his space suit and activated it. “Well, let’s see how far this thing goes before we decide.” He tossed the rod into the shaft and watched as it landed four meters away on a smooth, gray surface. “Looks like the porous rock ends down there. It’s not too far down, either. Let’s take a look.” He pulled mono-filament rope from another pouch and anchored it into the rock at his feet. He tossed the other end down the shaft.
“Fine, just make sure your suit’s line feeder is working. Wouldn’t want to get down there and not be able to come back up.” Dor Thay was already checking his Republic-issue suit’s system.
Ao checked the line feeder at his waist. “Goes in forward and reverse just fine, but I’ll be right back. Gotta tell Jor-Val what we’re doing.”
Nodding Dor Thay hooked up to the line Ao had set up. “I’ll check the anchor is secure then head down. See you at the bottom.”
“Be back in two shakes of a nerf’s tail.” Ao jogged to the cave’s entrance.
– – –
“Hey, Jor-Val, do you read?” Ao’s voice crackled over the ship’s comm, interwoven with static.
Jor-Val was practicing some lightsaber katas when, with a start, he dropped his lightsaber. He deactivated it with the Force the moment before it hit the floor and ran to the nearest comm panel and slapped the talk button. “I’m here, what’s up?”
“We found a vertical shaft, we’re going to take a quick look.” Ao paused for a moment. “Tell Tate to head out. We’ll want a third for this. He can fly over here on his boosters.”
T8-T3’s wheels could be heard skidding into the airlock, loud enough to be heard over the comm.
“Alright. Give us about an hour after Tate gets here, then. If we don’t contact you by then assume we’re in trouble and follow us. That’s not usual protocol, but I’ve lost too many people.”
“Agreed.” Jor-Val set a time on his chrono. “May the Force be with you.”
“And you. Ao off.”
– – –
Dor Thay slowly lowered himself down the shaft. The porous rock was easy to grip with the suit’s boots, but he was careful not to keep any edges from snagging on the wall. With a thump he landed on the gray rock below the shaft. The lights on his suit flickered when he landed and he saw something giving off light behind him. The tunnel he was in went to his left in a mostly straight line and behind him in a slope downward. “Hey, Ao, are you back in comm range yet?”
T8-T3 slowly lowered himself down the shaft, whistling over the comm.
“Yup, Tate’s here too.”
“Well, we have some source of light down here.” He turned his lights off and turned toward the light. “It’s a soft, bluish color.”
There was a pause as Ao processed the information. “I’ll be right down.”
“Hey, Daren. Can you stay a little later tonight? I need some help restocking the shelves.” Cal pulled a cart of boxes from the storage room. “Just got that new RPG lineup in. I’ll start rearranging now if you’re cool manning the register by yourself.”
“Yeah, no problem. I’m feeling
a lot better now. Mom won’t let me leave home without that drink powder.”
Cal started restacking some
board games. “When’s that storm gonna pass, you think? I’m getting a buzz in
the back of my head.”
A customer entered the store
and walked up to the counter. “So, I was wondering if you guys have an RPG
night. You know where people show up to join or run campaigns or one-shot
“We tried a few times but there
wasn’t much interest, so we stopped advertising it.” Daren looked over at Cal.
“Hey, Cal. He wants to know if we have an RPG night.”
Setting down the games he was
rearranging Cal made his way to the counter. “Game master or player?”
Cal had decided to completely
rearrange the store, not just the stock. “You can stay really late, right? It’s
Friday.” He started lifting one end of a shelf.
“Yeah, I have no plans.” Daren
grabbed the other end of the shelf and followed Cal’s lead to the corner of the
store. “I was wondering what you know about werewolves, though.”
“Always carry silverware. Not
the cheap stuff, the actual silver stuff.” Cal chuckled. “Joking aside, that
depends on what kind of werewolf. I’ve never met a real one, so I don’t know
anything first hand.”
Daren nodded as they set the
shelf down. “Yeah. My grimoire’s fairly non-specific on what myths and legends
are true, and what ones aren’t.”
“One thing I know is that
wolf’s bane should repel them and that they transform under a full moon. Other
than that, some legends have proto-werewolves that wear wolf’s skin to control
their transformation. Either those werewolves are actually shape shifters or
they used the skin to temporarily cut themselves from the moon cycle.” Cal
moved over to the next shelf. “Let’s put that one on the other side.” He
grabbed one end while Daren grabbed the other.
“Why the sudden interest in werewolves?
I can feel a faint presence on you. The taste of werewolf is faint, but it’s
there…along with something else stronger.” Cal almost dropped the shelf and
carefully set it down. His eyes were wide. “Who have you been talking to?”
Daren set the shelf down. “Just
some new kids at school. Why?”
“I feel the trace of vampires
on you. Two different kinds though I can’t quite tell which. One’s a blood
vampire, but the other…”
“Wait, other kinds of vampires?
I’ve only heard of the one kind. What’re the others? Hold on a sec.” Daren
jogged to the employee’s room and grabbed his grimoire and a pen then jogged
Cal had started moving some of
the smaller items in the shop. “Oh, gonna take some notes?”
“There’s nothing in here about
other types of vampires. If there are others I should write it down.”
“Okay. According to various
myths there’s some vampire-like creatures that feed off things other than
blood. They have all the other characteristics that are commonly attributed to
vampires. Undead as in reanimated, fast, able to persuade others easily. All
the minor powers and the ability to live forever if they are undisturbed. Also,
vampires aren’t affected by garlic. They are affected by aloe, though.”
“What other things can they
“Let’s see, life-force is one.
It’s different from blood sucking because those fed upon by blood suckers
aren’t necessarily made weaker by it.” Cal sat down in one of the chairs.
“Another is a psychic vampire. They can feed off the thoughts or the emotions
of others. If they are around a lot of people they can go unnoticed for
extended periods of time, but if they feed off only a few then those people
become emotionless husks.”
Daren was furiously writing in
his grimoire. “Emotionless husks. Do they feed actively like blood drinking
“The life-force ones do, but
the psychic vampires feed automatically. Also, unlike the other two they don’t
become physically sluggish if they overeat, they become mentally sluggish.
Though I’ve never heard of a psychic vampire overeating on purpose I suppose
“How do they accidentally
overeat? That doesn’t make sense.”
“If they are around trauma they
can absorb too much of the emotion. I’ve seen it-“ Cal caught himself. “I can’t
talk about that, though. Anything else before we move more shelves?”
Daren set his grimoire down on
the counter. “No, not if you won’t talk about the things you’ve seen. Let’s
move some more shelves.”
“The new kids are what?!” Neta Medakus was brewing in the
basement when Daren told her what Cal said. “Are you still planning on talking
with them on Sunday?”
Daren nodded. “If they were
going to do something they could do it at any moment. You know that.”
“I’m coming with. I’ll get the
Neta pulled two spray bottles
from a shelf. One was labeled wolf’s bane and the other was labeled aloe.
“These spray bottles.” She motioned at the small, three-inch-tall bottles with
press sprayers on them.
Daren stared at them for a
moment. “That’s what those are for?”
“Yes, protection. I expect that
if they were too deviant that the council would do something about it, but just
in case I’ll put spray bottles around the house.”
“Hey, you haven’t heard from
dad lately, have you? I have questions that I want to ask him.”
Neta smiled sadly. “I haven’t.
I’ll ask Octavianus if he can get ahold of him for you though. We talked
“Octavianus? Why were you
talking with him?”
“He’s trying to get me on the
council. I’m not even a warlocke, I’m just an herbalist. I don’t know his full
reasons, never could read that vampire.” Neta sighed. “It would make it easier
to get in contact with Darek though.”
“It’d be his seat, right? Kind
of a temporary member?”
“Maybe. Octavianus wants to
keep me on when your father gets back, but I don’t know about that. For now,
let’s focus on what to do for Sunday.”
Cal was playing with his
rottweiler, Shanta, on Sunday when he felt three presences getting closer.
Shaking his head, he looked at Shanta. “Well, girl. If we’re done playing round
up with the cows we should go check on Daren. It seems his friends from down
the lane are visiting.”
Shanta barked happily.
“Yes, you’ll get to see Daren.
Let’s go.” Cal connected Shasta’s leash and started walking down the driveway.
“Don’t let me forget to grain the cows on the way back.”
Shanta started walking down the
driveway and onto the road. She was walking so fast Cal had to jog to keep
himself from being pulled over.
“Whoa, girl. We don’t need to
go this fast. Calm down.”
Neta and Daren were waiting in
a clearing in the small forested area behind the house. Sara, Jayse, and John
walked into the clearing and were surprised to see Neta there too.
“Who’s that?” John asked as he
walked closer. “I didn’t think you were inviting anyone.”
“I’m his mother, Neta.”
“Ah, are you a warlocke then?”
Jayse asked, walking forward with Sara.
“Just an herbalist, I’m afraid.
Though that means I know how to deal with your kind.” Neta pulled out the spray
bottles. “I came armed in case anything funky happens.”
As she said this Shanta came
running up the path and tackled Daren. She was yipping playfully.
“Sorry, I couldn’t keep up, so
I let her off the leash.” Cal was able to get out between pants. “I’ll just sit
down over here and catch my breath.” He dropped down onto the grass in lotus
“Shanta, get off me! I’ll get
you a treat, just let me stand up.”
Barking happily Shanta licked
Daren’s face and removed her paws from his chest. Then she sat on her haunches,
waiting for the dog treat.
“Here,” Daren pulled a bit of
jerky out of his pocket and gave it to Shanta, “and next time don’t tackle me.”
Shanta took the stiff jerky and
started chewing on it, content for the moment.
“So, who’s that?” John motioned
“I’m Cal Stver, Daren’s boss. I
came over for a surprise visit. Shanta loves Daren for some reason.” Cal stood
up. “I just think he’s a lazy employee, even if he works late on Fridays.” He
noticed Daren was carrying his grimoire. “If I’m interrupting something
important then I can come back later. Shanta won’t leave for at least an hour
Jayse perked up. “Stver? I know
that from somewhere…where do I know that name from?”
“It’s an old Armenian family.
If he’s from the American branch, there’s no problems.” Sara patted Jayse on
the shoulder. “Nothing’s wrong here.”
“No, it’s something else. One
of the boxes…Stver, you’re coming with me. We’ll be right back.”
Before Neta could even think
about using the spray bottle Jayse and Cal disappeared. Shanta whined softly.
“He’ll be right back, girl.
Don’t worry.” Daren looked at Sara. “He will be right back, right?”
Sara sighed. “I think so. I
have no idea what he was talking about.”
“Some of the boxes came last
night,” John said. “The ones from Hilsonville. I’m not sure which ones though.”
“As long as he doesn’t forget
to tell Erik he’s bringing someone in the house. Erik hates it when Jayse does
stuff like this without telling him.”
“Erik?” Daren asked, “I thought
you three lived alone.”
“We have to have a fake
guardian. Jayse is pretending to be a Junior. I don’t know why.” John sighed.
“Well, back to the conversation at hand. I want to break from the moon cycle.
What do I need to do to gain that sort of trust from you?”
“Daren,” Neta stared into
John’s eyes, “can you do that? You’ve never done anything that complicated.”
John didn’t break eye contact
with Neta. “A Medakus warlocke can do it. I know your line, and I know the
original name of your line. If there’s a spell that can be cast, a Medakus can
“You say you go by Ainsley. Will the council know of you by that name?” “No, but if you ask Andali Windspeaker if he vouches for John, son of Thomas I assure you he will.”
Mother Ironbark lead Aram, Erin, Tribst, and Throbor to a tree larger than the others. “This is the first rediron tree to be planted here. It was brought from another realm. Perhaps one of you is from there.”
“Maybe. So, where is the town we’re going to?” Aram looked around the forest floor, confused at the lack of buildings.
Mother Ironbark smiled. “Oh, really. Have you looked up?”
“Humans never think to look up.” Erin responded. “We’re used to the threats coming from our level or lower.” She then looked up and was amazed at the walkways and buildings that seemed to grow out of the very trees. The sprawling sylvan city was quiet, but there were lights and Erin noticed some figures walking the paths.
“Oh, oh no.” Tribst said, noticing the city. “I am terrified of heights. If I could just wait down here…”
A large basket lowered itself to the foot of the great tree. A gnome stood in the basket. “Oh, hello! I see Mother Ironbark has collected some new people. I’m Tibdast.”
Tribst’s eyes couldn’t grow any wider, but they twitched when he heard the name. “Tibdast?”
“Oh, hello Tribst. I believe we, well you and another me, have met.” Tibdast smiled broadly. “I’m afraid I don’t have any ale here, only this elevator now.”
“You two know each other?” Mother Ironbark got on the elevator. “Well, if the knowledgeable gnome here finds you friendly you will be most welcome. We don’t have any guest rooms on the forest floor, however, so our hospitality stays only in the treetops.”
“How, might I ask, do you normally get up to the city. I don’t imagine you use this lift every time.” Throbor motioned at the number of elves in the hunting party. “Even just the few of you can’t all fit.”
One of the other elves smiled. “Only druids go out in such large packs.” At that all the elves other than Mother Ironbark transformed into various different birds and flew up to the treetops.
“Your druids are powerful, to be able to fly so easily.” Tribst watched the birds rise into the air. “It takes our druids many decades to master such flight.”
Mother Ironbark frowned. “Are your druids not of the air?”
“No, I think not. The druids I know are in many different orders. I imagine that the other non-elvish races are much the same.” Tribst shrugged. “And perhaps not.”
Tibdast nodded. “Yes, the elves of this land all are of the circle of air, whereas there are almost no non-elves in the circle. No outsiders have picked it up in centuries.”
The elevator began to rise to the treetops as Mother Ironbark stared at Tibdast. “I don’t believe you’ve been here near that long, sir gnome.”
“I’m good at paying attention to information. It’s sorta my thing.” He winked at Tribst.
Soon the adventurers found themselves in the treetops, surrounded by elves. It was getting hard for Erin to focus, with all the beauty around her.
“Please, Tibdast, show our new guests around. I must speak with the elders and see about an audience with them. It could be a few days, or a few months. They do love to deliberate.” She turned and ran off down a narrow, handrail free, walkway.
Tribst pulled Tibdast aside. “So, uh, what are you doing here, Messenger? I thought our pantheon couldn’t leave our realm.”
“I didn’t leave, I’m actually from here…but I’m also in each of your realms. In Aram’s and Erin’s respective realms I’m a human, but in Throbor’s I’m a dwarf.”
“So you exist simultaneously with the save view as all your other selves?”
“No, no.” Tibdast sighed. “I mean that happens sometimes, but we normally get the memories of each other version when we sleep.”
“I see. Do you want to keep this secret form the others?”
“Yes, please…and stop licking your eye!”
“Sorry.” Tribst pulled his tongue back into his mouth with a slurp. “Force of habit.”
“Anyway,” Tibdast turned to address the rest of the adventurers. “I don’t own a bar here, but I can recommend one, and the elves are sure to cover room and board. If you wish for currency conversion I can do that for you at my house over here…”
Ophir was born to a poor human family in
Lakestown in southern Zentar. When he was dropped off at the local temple of The
Kindness he spent the first five years of his life in service to, and under the
protection of, the local high priest. It was at this time that his gift first
started to surface…or it was the time that the priest finally understood what
he was talking about. He never really knew which it was. At this time, he was
carted off to a nearby town to go to serve in a temple of The Pathfinder. He
never made it to that temple.
– – –
Waking swiftly, Ophir found himself in a
small room with a bed, a chamber pot, a desk, and a three-legged stool. He
thought back to what happened on the cart. The last thing he remembered was seeing
someone’s presence behind him with his gift but turning he saw nobody with his
eyes. He slowly stood up from the bed and took stock of the desk.
A quill, a filled inkwell, dying sand, and a
blank piece of parchment sat on the desk. Disinterested, Ophir looked with the
sense that was not his eyes to see who had been to this place recently. He
sensed the presence of the person who had been invisible here. He thought maybe
they were carrying him, it was hardest for him to sense himself, but they could
just as easily have been dragging him. The woman, the sense had become clearer,
the woman had talked with someone outside the door then left. The man was still
standing outside the door.
must be keeping watch, Ophir thought to himself, I guess I should let him know I’m awake?
“Hello? Is anyone there?” The last thing the
priest of The Kindness had told Ophir was to hide his gift from strangers. They
would try to use him to find people, some for good, but those people would be
rare in this world.
The man outside the door moved toward it and
paused. Ophir heard the key slide into the lock and then the door opened.
“Yes, runt? Do you need something?” The man
was dressed in all black and had a pair of daggers at his sides. The man was
lean, and Ophir knew there was no way he would be able to outrun him.
“Where am I?”
The man laughed. “Oh, you were the
forcefully recruited child. This is the assassin’s guild. Welcome to the temple
of The Sneak.”
Ophir’s stomach dropped. This was exactly what the priest had warned him about. People who would use his talents to kill people.
“Slow down!” Janine yelled down the corridor. “You don’t
have to run so fast! Actually, you shouldn’t! I don’t know the layout of this
station, we could find a maintenance room anywhere!” She was starting to lose
her breath, when Allie suddenly stopped. Thankful for the respite Janine leaned
her bulbous salawoman hands on her legs. “Do you see something?” She managed to
get the question out between gasps.
Allie turned her microphone off. “Mute your mic. I want to
talk.” She idly scratched her beak with her taloned hand.
With a sigh Janine muted her microphone, making sure she
was still receiving audio and could quickly turn it back on in case of an
emergency. “There, it’s off. What’s up?”
“I’m going to preface this with something that should be obvious.”
Allie started walking slowly along the corridor, expecting Janine to follow
suit. “Relationships on the ISS Dominiot between crew members is allowed. Obviously,
the captain and myself are in a relationship, and it seems you and Elinog are
Janine blushed slightly. “Yeah, it seemed a little quick,
but we just hit it off. But I don’t get it. Where is this going?”
“Did you have real feelings for him before the accident?”
“What? Of course I did.” Janine said, confusion in her
voice. “What exactly are you insinuating?”
“Look, I’m not insinuating anything. I’m just looking
after someone who’s been like a brother to me. Calm down, please.”
AB-775, Blavet, and Elinog’s voices came over the comm as
they started to talk about the split in the corridor. Janine and Allie were
approaching one as well.
Allie and Janine stopped walking and turned to face each
other. “Ok,” said Janine, “I think I know where this is going. Go ahead and
With a sigh Allie complied. “Are you just seeing him as a project
now that he’s lost his legs and lower arms, or do you still have real feelings
Janine shook her head. “Look, I know where the question is
coming from, but I still don’t like that you’re asking it. No, I don’t just see
him as a project. I loved him before, and I love him now. It might be a little
hard for him to reciprocate that for a while, which is why I’m so focused on
making him better.”
“Good. That’s exactly the answer I was looking for.” Allie
turned back toward the corridor and motioned to either side. Which way do you
want to go?”
“Heroes go left, but that would lead us towards the guys.
Let’s continue forward. Sounds like they’re investigating the rooms.” Janine
listened to the comm for a moment. “Seems like they’re all crew quarters.”
“Fine, oh, and you can ask me any question, seeing as I
just probed into your relationship.” Allie moved forward and the door in front
of her slammed shut, blocking the path. “Uhh…what was that?”
A crackling noise emanated from a nearby speaker followed
by the monotone voice of a station AI. “I would not recommend going in that
direction, organics. Please take the right corridor.”
Janine glanced up at a camera next to the speaker. “Looks
like we don’t have much choice in the matter…right it is.”
With a curt nod Allie turned toward the right corridor and
began walking down it. “Maybe you should unmute your comm and let the guys know
wha-” The sentence was cut short as a group of bipedal creatures spilled out of
a side corridor and advanced on Allie.
Unsure what was happening Janine unmuted the comm as she
saw Allie get tackled. Reacting on instinct Janine pulled her skravyn companion
from the onslaught of mad beings and pulled her into one of the crew quarters.
She severed the wires leading to the door and shut it manually.
Allie screamed as the door shut. “What was that?” Blavet’s
voice was full of fear. “Allie! Janine! Can you hear me?!”
Allie’s comm had been unmuted and she started cawing into
her comm, followed by Janine’s voice on her own comm. “Something’s here, on
station! Be careful! I’m getting Allie to safety!”
“I’m going to track your mental traces. Elinog, Abe, and I
will be there as soon as we can.”
“Ok, good.” Janine turned to face Allie. “Allie, speak to
me, are you okay?”
Allie tried to respond but was only able to caw. She tried
to remember how to form speech with her tongue and beak, but nothing was coming
out right. She grabbed for her datapad and quickly typed something into it,
sending it to Janine’s datapad.
“I can’t talk,” Janine read from the datapad. “I’m scared
and confused, but I don’t seem to be injured in any other way. What were those
things?” Janine shook her head. “Allie, those looked like they were people
once.” Janine pulled a small welding torch from her small pack. “I’m going to
weld up this door so they won’t be able to get in. You should warp yourself in
the blanket on the bed. You might just be suffering from shock. I’ll be with
you in a moment.”
Allie nodded and pulled the blanked from the quarter’s
bed. She shook the dust from it and wrapped it around herself. She cawed
quietly to herself, trying to whisper encouragement to herself and quickly
decided that wasn’t going to help.
– – –
“Why did you tell her you were going to track their mental
traces? Do you have the experience to do that?” Elinog was jogging behind
Blavet, his metal legs making dull thuds through his synthetic skin grafts.
“Normally, no, but I can feel the fear radiating from
Allie. You heard what Janine read from the datapad. She’s scared out of her
“You realize we’re still on comms?” Janine’s voice
crackled through the speaker.
“Yes, and Allie? I love you. Don’t forget that. You may be
scared, but I’m on my way.” Blavet doubled his pace.
AB-775 turned to Elinog, who was struggling to keep up. “Hey,
I can track comm signals, if you want to slow down a little.”
“Yeah, I do.” Elinog slowed his pace slightly. “Blavet,
you go. We’ll be right behind you.”