Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 3 Rewrite

(I’ve gotten feedback that the things I was trying to do at the end of the chapter didn’t work. Coincidentally, those were also sort of pointless. So I decided to fix it up and go down a different route. This takes place after Esmina speaks with her father and goes to pack her things. I’ve included that second part even though it has changed little because now the original 4.3 post is redundant, and as far as the blog goes, you can go straight from Chapter 4.2 to 4.3’s rewrite without having to read the old 4.3 in between. In simple terms, this is the “correct” Chapter Four, Pt. 3.)

 

“Very well. Am I dismissed, then?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded, waving his hand. “And be quick about it. We leave just after the Shadow ends.”

With that, she removed herself from his presence, though she was careful not to seem too hasty. As she walked down the porcelain and velvet halls back to her room, she realized that a small part of her was actually excited to get out of the house. She had only been to Tal’Doraken once, and she could barely stand on her own two legs back then. Anyone in the world would have been better company, of course, but her father sapping the joy from her bones in a new and exciting place had to be better than him doing it here.

When she got back to her room, Esmina immediately opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and began emptying it. It was mostly filled with clothes, and she also kept some of her writing implements, older notes, and a few failed experiments. She removed these, as well, since they would be no use to her in the city.

The chest vacated, she thought about what she might need. The chest was a bit large for travel purposes, but that just meant she had more room for bringing whatever she wanted. Clothes, of course. No doubt her father would want her to wear dresses the entire time. A few books perhaps. Some on history and art to appease her father, and a copy of a scientific journal written by a scholar from Thornwall that Gaelin had given her for her birthday.

She thought about bringing her new research notes about the dot. Maybe learned people in Tal’Doraken would be able to verify the authenticity of her findings. Her father wouldn’t approve, though, and he would probably want her at his side at all times. There was no reason to bring her notes, then. She did grab her spyglass and put it in the trunk, however. Not for notes, but perhaps she could find a few moments to sneak away and look at the stars.

She couldn’t think of much else to bring. Personal effects aside, anything she might need would be brought by the servants or else easily purchased in the city. In fact it occurred to her that she wouldn’t even need this much, since they’d only be gone a day, but there was no harm in bringing so much. She would rather bring too much than too little. Her own coin might come in handy, though.

Esmina crawled under her desk and pulled her secret coin purse from behind one of the legs. Nearly two hundred dragon marks, last time she checked. In addition to what she carried around with her, it was enough to buy her own horse-drawn carriage. It did sound more appealing than going in the same one, but obviously, her father wouldn’t approve of such a waste of money.

Placing her savings under her dresses, Esmina closed the lid. It was still relatively light, given the contents, and still had for room for twice as much besides. She could probably lift it herself, if she was so inclined, but that was what servants were for.

(New part.)

Now that she was finished packing, she had to find Gaelin.

Closing the door behind her, Esmina walked down the hall, away from her father’s bedroom, and went down the spiral staircase to the first floor. The servants quarters were behind the kitchen, and nobles didn’t go back there. Of course, it wasn’t as though it was prohibited. She was a noble, after all.

Since lunchtime was over, the kitchen was relatively quiet. Some servants were milling about washing dishes or eating now that their work was done. They noticed her as she passed by them, but none acknowledged her presence save for a defferential headbow. Unusual as it was for her to be here, it wasn’t their place to question.

She went into the servants’ hallway, and as always she was surprised with how cramped it was. The upper hallway was wide enough for three people to walk side-by-side, and that was including the furnishings. In this one, two people passung by each other would have to sidestep or step into a nearby doorway. The wood floorboards also creaked, and didn’t have a carpet like she was used to.

Gaelin’s room was at the end, much like the master bedroom in the hall upstairs. The door was closed, unlike many of the doors she walked past on her way.

The door wasn’t locked, of course. She doubted if any of the servants’ rooms had locks. As she pushed it open, she heard a hasty shuffling and a crash. “Don’t come in!” Gaelin called, a little frantic.

But the door was already open, and Esmina was more than a little curious. He peeked out from behind the bed, only the top of his head visible. When he saw her his eyes went wide again.

“Oh! Miss! My apologies. I’m not decent. I don’t mean to be rude, but would you allow me a moment of privacy?”

“You’re unclothed?” she asked.

“Well, not exactly.” He glanced downwards. “I was in the middle of replacing my bandages. My arm is exposed.”

“Oh. Is it that gruesome?”

“What? No. It’s just… not right.”

Esmina frowned. “Tenshari keep their right arm hidden for a reason, but they’re pretty tight-lipped about it.”

“It’s the way things are.”

“It’s not deformed in any way?”

Gaelin sighed. “Miss, I am bound to serve you in any way I can, but I am allowed my own comforts and needs. If we must continue this line of questioning, may I at least have the privacy so that I may be presentable?”

She thought about that, and nodded. “I’ll sit down and promise not to look.”

He didn’t respond immediately. “Thank you, miss.”

Esmina walked into his room and took the only chair, facing it towards the door and away from him and sitting down. “You may proceed. You have my word I will not turn around until you are prepared.”

“Very well,” he replied. Behind her, there was a slow shuffle of cloth. When Gaelin spoke again, he was higher up, sitting on his bed. “I will answer your questions.”

Keeping her eyes on her dress, she thought about what he had said before. “Your arm is completely normal?”

“That isn’t the word I would use, but yes. It is, in theory, functional.” There was a soft rustling as he spoke. Presumably he returned to wrapping his arm back up.

“Then why don’t you use it?”

“My people are forbidden from using it or even showing it to others.”

“Why?”

“It is a privilege we have lost the right to. For a crime long forgotten. To reveal one’s arm would be the greatest sin.”

“What crime did your people commit?”

“I do not know. I said it was long forgotten.”

“Then what does it matter?”

“It is simply the way it is. For our crime, we are doomed to spend the rest of our days as servants impaired.”

“Is there a way you can be redeemed?”

“No.” He took a deep breath. “You may turn around.”

She did, and was disappointed to see that he looked completely normal. His arm was clothed in a full bandage that covered everything, and he was in the middle of using his other arm to button his tunic back up.

“Not even other Tenshari can see your arm?”

He placed a hand on his bicep. “It is part of our punishment.”

Esmina couldn’t help but frown. It was an entire piece of him that nobody could ever know. She had fantasized about falling in love with somebody and being able to share anything with them. Nothing would be a secret. But Gaelin could never know that feeling, because there would always be that part of them that the other could never know.

It seemed strange and arbitrary. There would be no consequences of revealing himself, just as there were no consequences for her being outside during the Shadow. But he didn’t seem to see it that way. It was his place not to question but to obey, and that was the way it had always been.

“Gaelin!” somebody called from down the hall. “The Shadow has passed! Lord Berold is really pissy and wants his daughter in–”

A servant whose name escaped her walked through the doorway and, as soon as he saw Esmina, his face paled. Servants weren’t supposed to name their masters. “Milady, I didn’t realize you were here. My sincerest apologies, your father has a noble soul, I meant no offense.” He spoke more and more quickly, and she held a hand up.

“You don’t have to lie to appease me. I’m well aware of how abhorrent my father is. But I’d advise you to watch your loose tongue.” She looked to the side. “My father isn’t quite so understanding.”

The newcomer looked both relieved and alarmed by her response, but he simply nodded. “The master wants to leave as soon as possible.”

“That reminds me,” Esmina replied, turning back to Gaelin. “I had come down to tell you to get some of the normal servants to bring the trunk in my room down. I’ve prepared it for the journey.”

“I will have it handle that immediately, milady,” the new servant responded before leaving as quickly as he had come.

“I really don’t like ‘milady’,” she noted after he had gone.

“I’ll be sure to tell the other servants that, miss,” Gaelin smiled.

“By the way, are you coming with us to Tal’Doraken?”

“I’m afraid not. Your father asked me to stay to tend to the manor in his absense.” The shadows on his face deepened.

“‘Tend to the manor’? Gaelin, we have dozens of servants. Why do you need to be here?”

He shrugged. “He’s given me a long list of duties I must attend to.”

“Worse than usual? Like what?”

“I prefer not to say. Unsavory business you wouldn’t want to hear about, I’m sure.”

“You’re avoiding my eyes, Gaelin.”

“It’s best we avoid the subject, miss.”

“Very well,” she frowned, standing up and smoothing her dress. “I suppose I should go anyway, before Father grows even more impatient. Have you been to Tal’Doraken?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Is there much to do?”

“Certainly. It’s a city. But I’m not sure how much would interest you at your age. Beyond that, your father is sure to want you at his side at all times.”

She turned back to him at the doorway and smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that. Anyway, I’ll be sure to bring you back something. And when we return, perhaps we’ll have time to discuss my latest findings!”

He bit his lip, but nodded. “I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss, yes. Goodbye, miss.”

Story — Blowing Off Steam (475)

(This is the first fanfiction I’ve written in over a year, and it was actually inspired by one of the Destiny 2 ads that came out recently. This ended up being far more indulgent than I usually write, as I’ve never written actual people I know into my writing before. I intended to make one ‘Destiny veteran’ version and one ‘less familiar’ version where I leave out a lot of the names, but the content ended up so game-specific that it doesn’t really work if you’ve never played. So if you’ve never played it, be warned that a lot of names are thrown out that aren’t explained.)

 

“Hold position,” Aria said, using her scope to scan the field from the outcropping they stood on. It was doted with small craters, and there was sporadic gunfire throughout the landscape. “I’ve got sight on the shooting. Looks like Vex and Cabal.”

Zul rolled his eyes. “It makes sense for Vex to be here. This has been their territory for decades. I still don’t understand why we’re here. Especially all four of us. Isn’t this a little overkill?”

She shook her head. “It isn’t necessary to know why. We just follow orders. The Red Legion started a drilling operation here just before the attack on the Last City.” She returned her focus to the battlefield, where the Cabal was defending against a Vex assault. “We need to stop it before it continues any further. The Vex don’t have enough presence to do that.”

“I don’t know. Seems like we could be a lot more useful defending Earth than coming all the way here.”

“I’m not sure a few more guns will deter the Red Legion,” P-2 chimed in. “Their leader seemed pretty set on claiming the Traveler for his own purposes.”

“Either way, we should wait for the Cabal to clear out the Vex before we engage,” Aria said. “The fewer we have to face ourselves, the better.”

The sound of a gunshot blasted next to them. Aria aimed her pistol to face the threat, only to see Nex-52 crouched down, aiming his sniper rifle down into the battle.

“Nex, did you hear what I just said? Do not engage,” she scolded.

“Yeah,” he said, still looking through the scope. Another shot rang out. “But if we pick off a few of the Cabal, the Vex won’t be taken out as quickly. Easier for us this way.”

“Not if they engage on us now that they know we’re here.”

Another gunshot, but this time to Aria’s right. She turned to see Zul also aiming down his sights with his rifle. “He’s got a point,” he shrugged.

She groaned. “The Hunter going against orders is understandable, but you, too?” P-2 patted her shoulder and shrugged.

“Wait a minute,” Nex said. “The Cabal found a new toy.”

“You mean the giant drill? The one we knew about before we came here?” P-2 asked, sarcasm coloring his tone.

“No, of course not,” he replied. “They’ve got some new dog with them. Maybe half a dozen down there. Running in to attack the Vex head on.”

“I’ve got sight on them,” Aria replied. “Don’t shoot. Watch how they move and attack. We should know what they’re capable of before we–”

A gunshot to her left, and the beast she was looking at immediately fell to the floor, dead. “They don’t seem very durable,” Nex concluded.

“Damn it, Nex, can’t you at least try to follow orders?” She sighed. “I’m suddenly very glad we don’t work together very often.”

“Well, technically,” P-2 said. “The only official orders are over comms. Like Zavala advising us. All the Guardians in a strike team are often the same rank. It just makes sense to have a leader on the field, so that’s how it’s usually done.”

“Can we cut the chatter and get a move on?” Zul took out his empty magazine and replaced it, turning to the rest of the group. “It looks pretty safe to go down, now. There’s only about two dozen left, both Vex and Cabal.” Without waiting for a response, he leaped off the precipice, still shooting on his way down.

P-2 jumped after him, and Nex-52 pulled the sniper rifle to his side to pull out a hand cannon before following suit. “I hate you all,” Aria mumbled. After making sure her weapons were loaded, she joined them.

The battle was already fading when the Guardians landed. With the Vex cleared out, the Red Legion turned their attention to the new arrivals. While Zul and Nex fired at the Centurions in their backline, Aria and P-2 charged in, taking on the enemy Phalanx and War Beasts. A few well-placed shots staggered the Cabal, exposing the massive bodies behind their shields, and a solid punch was all it took to bring them down.

The strike team made quick work of the squadron, but out of one of the bunkers shambled a giant, hulking frame. Armed with missiles and a minigun, staying in sight of it would be a death sentence.

“Colossus!” P-2 shouted. “Get down!”

The team dove to cover inside the many craters that dotted the landscape. “You guys distract it,” Aria said over their comms. “I’ll go around and flank him.”

“You remember what happened last time you did that?” Zul replied.

She ignored it. Racing out of the crater, she sprinted parallel to the Cabal, getting further and further away from whatever he was shooting at. As soon as she was behind him, she rounded the bunker and jumped onto it.

With a breath, she pulled out her own minigun, Sweet Business. “Surprise!” she yelled before unloading into him.

As soon as he fell, a bullet whizzed by her face, almost grazing her helmet.

“Whoops. Sorry about that,” Nex called. “I wanted to steal the kill.”

“You could have killed me with that, you idiot,” she scolded.

“I’ll try harder next time.”

“This isn’t all fun and games you know. People are counting on us.”

Zul sighed. “Relax, Aria. There’s no reason to be fighting. Let’s just move on.”

“Tell you what,” Nex said. “Why don’t we have a little Crucible match here and now?”

“What?” she asked, incredulous. “Why? We’ve got a job to do.”

“And we’ll get it done, don’t worry. But let’s raise the stakes a little bit. You beat me and I’ll follow your lead from here on out. I win, you take a chill pill and we can all get this over with sooner.”

Aria’s eyes squinted from inside her helmet. “Just me and you?”

“I don’t see why the Warlocks can’t get in on the action, too. What do you say? Last man standing? Like the Trials?”

Zul nodded. “No Shaxx and his useless commentary.”

“Think we can beat these two?” Aria asked P-2, who was pacing up from behind and picking up some ammo the colossus had left.

“Maybe. I think we could all benefit from blowing off a little steam, though. We haven’t really gotten a break since the Red Legion came.”

“Alright, Nex. You’re on. Rules?”

Nex was walking away, getting some distance on the two of them. “Anything goes except your stupid shoulder charge.” She rolled her eyes. “Last team standing wins.”

“Alright,” she nodded. “On my mark.”

As she said this, the four of them got into place. Zul ducked into a nearby crater, out of sight of his adversaries. Aria pulled out her sidearm and looked to P-2, who already held a shotgun at the ready.

“Three! Two! One! Go!”

The two of them rushed into motion, charging out opposite sides of the crater to flank them. P-2 blinked across the battlefield just as Zul held up a fusion rifle aimed at Aria.

His reaction was immediate. He ducked down and turned to face the other warlock, pulling the gun up and firing. A charged bolt of purple energy shot into the air, barely searing P-2’s robes as he aimed and shot.

The blast tore through the armor, a haze of void energy dissipating as Zul’s shield was shattered at the impact. Aria held her gun up to assist right as a familiar shot whizzed by. Cursing, she dove for cover instantly. Whether Nex had genuinely missed or was just teasing, she could only guess.

But she couldn’t leave P-2 unaided. She ran back out to see the two warlocks continuing their struggle. They extended their palms out, and the blasts of blue and violet that shot out rippled through the air and distorted the light between them.

Aria pulled out a grenade and sent it towards the crater Nex was holed in, then ran in to help P-2.

Despite his initial lead, he seemed worse for wear. She shot at Zul, but soon ran out of ammo. Upon seeing he was outnumbered, he leaped into the air and pulled his hands close to his chest.

P-2 shot again, but at this distance the shotgun’s range did little. Aria jumped up to meet the warlock just as the mass of void energy was leaving his palms.

She hammered a fist into his gut as hard as she could, enforcing the blow with her own void power.

A loud slam sent a shockwave through the air. The strength of the blow was just enough to take Zul out, and the two landed back on the ground as the echo subsided.

Aria glanced towards where she thought Nex might be, then turned to P-2. “Nice one,” he nodded in approval.

As soon as he turned away, a knife embedded itself into his helmet, a ripple of flame streaking along its path. He fell to his knees, and Aria swiveled around to see Nex at the crest the crater.

“Game over,” he said.

He grabbed for his gun, channeling solar energy into it as his entire body erupted into flames.

No time. That gun had three shots, and any one of them would be fatal.

She called her own strength, summoning all the void power she had stored up and sent it outwards. A bubble formed around her, shrouding her in a field of glowing purple. His gun couldn’t shoot through that.

A crack like a cannon igniting, and the purple haze shimmered as fire spilled around it. The light bent as the gunshot tried to push its way through, but it held firm.

Nex fired again as he descended into the crater. Again, the streak of fire slammed into the shield, right in the same spot. The void energy curved against it, but the second shot was too much, and the purple glow cut short.

Her protection faded, and she was met face to face with a Gunslinger in full power. Aria pulled the trigger, and only then realized that her sidearm was still out of ammo.

He fired again.

The flaming cannon went off, and the bullet left a trail of fire, burning the air as it soared past her head, missing by a hair.

Aria halted, dropping her guard in her confusion. She had been standing still, and he was right in front of her.

She caught the sound of burning and growling, and turned to see one of the Cabal war beasts writhing on the ground behind her, incinerating into nothingness from the shot that, she assumed, had missed its target.

Nex-52 was already using his Ghost to help the warlocks back on their feet by the time she turned to face him.

“So, what does that mean?”

He shrugged. “I got the extra kill I was looking for. We’ll call this one a draw. Besides, we’ve got work to do, and by my count I’ve still got fifteen kills on you. You’ll have to step up your game if you want to catch up by the time we face whatever is down there.” He nodded towards the giant drill that still spun in the distance.

“I got cocky,” Zul muttered as he palmed the place Aria had hit him. “Thought I had enough time to take you both out at once.”

“I wouldn’t have charged right in if I realized we would be going all out,” P-2 said, laughing.

“By the way,” Nex said. “I’m going to need my knife back, P-2.”

“What? No way. You gave it to me fair and square. It’s mine now.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” Zul replied.

Aria couldn’t help but chuckle as the three of them kept bickering. The stress the Red Legion’s assault had brought seemed to have melted away. Blowing off a little steam was just what they needed. Maybe she’d thank Nex later.

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 3

“Very well. Am I dismissed, then?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded, waving his hand. “And be quick about it. We leave just after the Shadow ends.”

With that, she removed herself from his presence, though she was careful not to seem too hasty. As she walked down the porcelain and velvet halls back to her room, she realized that a small part of her was actually excited to get out of the house. She had only been to Tal’Doraken once, and she could barely stand on her own two legs then. She could have asked for better company, of course, but her father sapping the joy in her bones in a new and exciting place had to be better than him doing it here.

When she got back to her room, she immediately opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and began emptying it. It was mostly filled with clothes, but she kept some of her writing implements, older notes, and a few failed experiments. She removed these, as well, since they would be no use to her in the city.

The chest vacated, she thought about what she might need. The chest was a bit large for travel purposes, but that just meant she had more room for whatever she might need. Clothes, of course. No doubt her father would want her to wear dresses the entire time. A few books perhaps. Some history and art works to appease her father, and a copy of a scientific journal written by a scholar from Thornwall that Gaelin had given her for her birthday.

She thought about bringing her new research about the dot. Maybe learned people in Tal’Doraken would be able to verify the authenticity of her findings. Her father wouldn’t approve, though, and he would probably want her at his side at all times. There was no reason to bring her notes, then. She did grab her spyglass and put it in the trunk, however. Not for notes, but perhaps she could find a few moments to sneak away and look at the stars.

She couldn’t think of much else to bring. Personal effects aside, anything she might need would be brought by the servants or easily purchased in the city. Her own coin might come in handy, though. She crawled under her desk and pulled her secret coin purse from behind one of the legs. Nearly two hundred dragon marks, last time she checked. In addition to what she carried around with her, it was enough to buy her own horse-drawn carriage, which sounded much more appealing than accompanying her father in one all the way to the city.

Placing her savings under her dresses, she closed the lid. It was still relatively light, given the contents, and still had for room for twice as much besides. She could probably lift it herself, if she was so inclined, but that was what servants were for.

Leaving her room again, she went to find the nearest one–an older housekeeper that was dusting one of the hallway shelves. “I need you to go find Gaelin and have him move my trunk in my bedroom to the carriage outside?”

“Gaelin, miss?” she asked, putting her duster on her belt. She looked confused, but didn’t object outright.

Sensing what she meant, Esmina stopped her. “Right. The arm. Actually, go have some of the normal servants do it. Just don’t spend too much time in my room.”

The confusion shifted into a subtle hint of annoyance, but she nodded and left the other direction.

That done, she set off in search of Gaelin. She wasn’t halfway down the hall when he stepped outside of her father’s room, head down as he closed the door behind him.

“Gaelin!” she said, excited. “Did he tell you? Are you coming?”

He rubbed his bandaged arm and didn’t meet her gaze. “I’m afraid not, miss. He asked me to stay here to tend to the manor.”

“Tend to the manor? Gaelin, we have dozens of servants. Why do you need to be here?”

He shrugged. “He’s given me a long list of duties I must attend to. You know how he is.”

She frowned. “All too well. Have you been to Tal’Doraken?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Is it as nice as they say?”

“I don’t know who would s– well, miss, it depends on what you’re going for, I suppose.”

“Father didn’t say.”

“He does like his secrets,” Gaelin mused. The shadows on his face deepened as he said that.

“Well, I’ll be sure to bring you back something. And when we return, I’ll tell you what I figured out with all my notes!”

He nodded. “Yes, I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss. Go wait in the carriage, I’ll let your father know you are prepared.

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 2

Within ten minutes, Esmina was fully dressed, shoes and all, outside her father’s chambers. She exhaled, taking pleasure in the last moment of solace as she knocked on the door.

“Esmina,” a low voice from the other side rumbled. “Come in.”

She opened and shut the door in one motion, as silently as possible. The room was tidy, though not by it’s owner’s hand. To her left was her father’s bed, neat and proper since the moment he got out of it. Now, his form was hunched over something on his desk, his silhouette outlined by the bright shaft of light that poured in through the window next to him, which was the only source of light. He wore a bright coat, which was contrasted by the black hair that masked his face. She gulped.“You sent for me?”

He did not look up. “I sent for you hours ago.”

“Gaelin told me–”

“Girl, that Tenshari is nothing more than a servant. It would do you well to remember that.”

“Yes, father.” She had her fists clenched, but her voice was polite. Gentle, even.

“Come here.”

She did as she was told. With every step, her apprehension grew. When she stood beside him, he glanced behind and sat up. He held a quill, and on the desk was a parchment. He had clearly just signed it, but Esmina couldn’t recognize it without examining the words.

“May I read it?”

He slammed his fist on the table, causing the inkwell and a few books to rattle. Her heart skipped a beat at the motion. “If you cared more about your education you would be able to recognize it. This is a Night Seal.”

She frowned. Was this some sort of test? “Forgive me, father, but Night Seals aren’t written on parchment.”

He sighed, an angry rumble beneath it. He stood from his chair and pushed the seat in, looking out the window, at the distanct city nestled in the hills. “Night Seals are bought and finalized through a written document. Then, you go and turn it in, where it is traded for the Seal itself. This parchment serves as a temporary Night Seal until I get the official one in my hands.”

“I don’t understand. You forged a document in order to receive a Night Seal?”

A harsh impact against her cheek sent an involuntary gasp of pain from her lips. The stinging sensation only grew worse as she held a hand to her face.

“I will not have my own family slander my own name,” he said, as casually as if he was setting down a cup of tea. “I care not what silly presumptions enter that head of yours, but you would do well to keep them to yourself. I did not come by this parchment by unsavory means. I traded it.”

Esmina was about to ask if he had won it gambling, but held her tongue. One throbbing cheek was bad enough.

“You are coming with me to Tal’Doraken tonight to go fetch the official Seal.”

“Tonight? We’re going after dark?”

“Are you suddenly deaf as well as daft, now? Yes, at night. This parchment will suffice. That is the point of it, after all.”

She held back a retort about how Night Seals were only meant for one person each, and she would therefore be in danger. Instead, she asked, “Why must I come?” Her voice cut short at the end, and she swallowed.

“There are things I want you to see. It’s a long trip, however. Pack your things. We will be staying the night, but we shall return before tomorrow’s Shadow.”

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 1

Esmina scanned through her notes, examining every single number and mark. It checked out. She tossed the parchment aside and grabbed the other one. It had the same numbers and the same equations, and she looked through it as thoroughly as before. She had double checked her work, and both papers came to the same conclusion.

Three quick knocks on the door. “Are you awake, miss?”

“I am,” she replied. “Enter.”

The door opened slowly, Gaelin using his back to swing it outwards as he carried a tray precariously with his unbandaged hand.. It held a plate of food and a cup of tea. “Your breakfast isn’t quite hot anymore, I’m afraid,” he said.

She didn’t move anything from her desk. She didn’t even turn away from her work. “Thanks, Gaelin. Just set it on my bed.”

The Tenshari did as he was told. “It’s already an hour until the Shadow, miss. You’ve been sleeping in lately, I noticed, so I thought perhaps you need your rest.”

She tried to rub the weariness from one eye, but wasn’t about to tell him just how little sleep she had gotten. “I appreciate that, Gaelin. You’re very kind.”

“Miss?” he asked.

Esmina turned to look up at him from her chair. He seemed worried. “Yes, Gaelin?”

“I… Are you alright? You haven’t been yourself lately.”

She frowned. “On the contrary I think I’ve been more myself. Father hasn’t asked me to do anything in days, so I’ve been focusing on my research. It’s kept me up a bit longer than usual.”

“All because of that dot you found a few weeks ago.”

“Yes. And I think I’m onto something quite spectacular, you know.” She couldn’t contain her smile as she thought about telling him about her suspicions. “I may have made the discovery of a lifetime, in fact.”

“You already told me it seems to be a tiny planet. Like the sister-planet only smaller and further away.”

“If all my math is correct, it may be so much more than that, though. Look,” she held up one of the pieces of parchment. “This is the–”

“Miss,” Gaelin interrupted. “Believe me when I say that I am interested in your work. The things you’ve managed to come up with are quite impressive for a girl your age, but I’m afraid we can’t talk about it now. You see, your father has asked to speak to you.”

Her excited demeanor froze in it’s tracks. “I’m sorry?”

“He told me to bring you to his chambers some time ago, in fact. I managed to convince him to wait until you had woken and eaten, but his patience seems to be growing thin. It would be in your best interest to see him as soon as possible.”

She sighed and started organizing the notes on her desk into a neat pile. As always, her interests came second to her father’s command. “I see.”

“I’m sorry, miss.”

“No need to apologize. You’re not the one constantly trying to ruin my life.”

When he didn’t respond, she turned around again.

He stood in the middle of her room, staring downwards. She arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright, Gaelin? You’re being far more unusual than I am.”

“Oh, yes, I’m quite alright. I’ll just be about my business, then. Do hurry and eat your breakfast, miss. I’d rather us both avoid an unpleasant confrontation with your father.”

“I will. Thanks again.”

He nodded and left her in solitude, closing the door behind him.

The last few days spent in her room had been blissfully quiet. Nobody telling her to meet with any tutors, nobody making sure she was dressed properly to be presentable for guests, and no lectures about how she was wasting her time daydreaming. She had thought that maybe she had earned some time alone, or her father was too busy to give her any orders.

Whatever the reason, it was nice while it lasted.

Having cleared it of most of her notes, she got up from the desk and grabbed the tray of food. Sitting back down, she realized how famished she was, but the prospect of meeting with her father soon put her in no mood to eat.

Prompt — (SG) TES Gladiator

Director Tak Wensley surveyed the ship as final inspections seemed to go through without any incident. The TES Gladiator was now the largest support train in the fleet, and the first with an Aenendium-composite engine. It would have the fastest acceleration and speed of any train on the planet, and could provide a tactical advantage anywhere on the continent.

“Director,” his assistant called as she walked up to him. She held a Voice in her hand, and the device glowed with a dim blue of a communications line that was temporarily silenced. “You have a call from the Outer Reaches.”

“We shouldn’t have scouting drones that close to the enemy border.”

“We don’t, sir,” she replied. “It’s from a miner in the Needled Flats. It’s a neutral zone because the landscape is too dangerous for large, fast moving ships. Normally I wouldn’t transfer it to you, but I made an exception, given the circumstances.”

He took the Voice with a sneer. “This better be good.” Shutting the silence off, he held it before him to come face to face with a projection of a woman that wasn’t quite middle aged. She looked a little haggard, but her excitement resumed when she saw him.

“This is Director Wensley,” he stated. “State your business.”

“Miner Neda Bosing reporting from the Needled Flats, sir,” she spoke with a hastened tone, running her words together a bit. “I have something that might interest you.”

“Well, out with it, I don’t have time for pleasantries.”

She nodded, and the hologram glanced behind her. “Sir, I believe I may have found a large deposit of Aenendium, right here in the flats.”

Wensley frowned. “I’m afraid not. Aenendium doesn’t occur naturally on this planet.”

“I realize that, sir. Forgive me for the contradiction, but I am quite certain of my findings.”

He glanced to his assistant, who nodded. “She sent her scans forward, and we’ve confirmed them.”

“Well,” Wensley said. “That’s certainly interesting. How much is a large deposit? Four cubits?” The composite engine of the Gladiator used a compound of nearly ten cubits.

“Well sir, it’s not a pure deposit. It’s only ninety-six percent Aenendium.”

“Any amount of Aenendium would be worth a fortune. Just tell me how much you found.”

The woman in the hologram laughed a bit. “You’re not going to believe this, sir. But the deposit in front of me is over five hundred cubits.”

Wensley’s eyes widened. “Send us your coordinates.”

“She already has, sir,” his assistant replied.

“Good.” He shut the Voice off and handed it to his assistant, walking down the catwalk. “How long until the Gladiator finishes final inspections?”

She followed him as he walked, but he set a very quick pace. “Not much longer, sir. About fifte–”

“Get me Captain Latham. Tell him I want it ready to launch in ten minutes. Are the striker ships docked?”

“I can’t say for certain, sir, but I believe they should be, yes.”

“Change of plans. The TES Gladiator will make full speed to those coordinates and secure the deposit. We cannot allow something like that to get into enemy hands. Whoever makes use of that ends the war.”

“Sir, Miner Neda mentioned something else about the deposit that she didn’t tell you.”

“What?”

“She didn’t seem to think it occurred naturally. She seemed to believe it had been placed there. It could be a trap.”

“Very well. I still want you to get Latham. If it’s a trap, they won’t expect the Gladiator to be the one to fall into it. It’s big enough to ignore the harsh terrain. Now go, there’s no telling how much time we have.”

With a curt nod, the assistant rushed off ahead of him.

He thought the Gladiator would be what finally ended the war. Well, perhaps it would be, in a way.

 

 

Prompt: 067_by_wanbao-dbhk4d8

Story — (SG) Chapter Three, Pt. 2

Varra Selandin stared out the window of her new room, staring into the courtyard below. The sense that she was being watched was constant now, but there was nothing to be done. It was all in her head. A burden those of her rank must bear. Still, perhaps the meeting with the other Hands would do some good on her conscience. So long as her inability to sleep didn’t have severe consequences.

Three quick knocks on the door. “Are you awake, ma’am?”

“I am,” she replied. “Enter.”

The door opened and warm light spilled into the room, which was otherwise lit only by a small candle. The tall, slim form of a Tenshari stepped in, dressed in simple leather armor. His right arm was completely concealed, hand resting on the pommel of the sword he kept on that side. He flinched at the sight of his superior wearing only a shift, but it didn’t deter him long. “There is word of commotion outside the city, ma’am. In the Meadows.”

Varra’s brow furrowed. “What sort of commotion?”

“It seems as though one of the constructors is hunting something.”

“What’s odd about that? Infrequent as it might be, it does happen.”

The Tenshari made an expression she could only guess was uncertain. “Well, you ordered us to report anything unusual to you, even if it might seem trivial. The strange thing is that it has been hunting for quite some time now. Maybe over an hour. Eathe said I should come tell you in case it doesn’t stop.”

That was strange. Often a target wouldn’t last more than five minutes. “Understood. Return to your post. I will investigate.”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s traveled a fair distance at this point. Right now it is just south of the West Gate.”

“Thank you. Dismissed.” She glanced back out through the window and into the night. Behind her, she heard the door close as the Tenshari left her alone once more.

It wasn’t strange enough to be troublesome, but a constructor behaved very predictably. Perhaps she would learn something that could gain her leverage in the meeting. Anything to help her get through to them.

She pulled the curtains over the window and stripped, changing into more suitable clothes. A simple long tunic over breeches followed by some leather armor of her own. After tying her hair back and pulling boots on, she blew out the candle, grabbed her umbrella, and left the room.

After a brief walk through the palace, she stepped out into the open air, opening the umbrella and resting it on her shoulder. A Hand of Aenias was protected from the night, just as the Tenshari were, but the child in her still preferred having more shelter, especially these days when her indescribable sense of unease was growing stronger.

The streets of Upper Terrace were quiet, as everywhere in Tebrein was at night. Since so many of the nobles here could afford Night Seals, however, there were still a number of people milling about even in the darkness. Since they were primarily used for the day’s Shadow rather than a full night, she was the only one with an umbrella. It made her feel all the more childish and it earned her a few looks, but she shrugged it off. A few more eyes watching her made no real difference.

The majority of the people Varra passed as she made her way to the wall were still the ashen-skinned Tenshari, but a few of the more informed folk gave a nod of “Exalted One” to her as they crossed paths. She gave little more than solemn nods in reply.

As she reached the West Gate of the city, she saw the Captain of the Guard, Eathe staring out into the Meadows from atop the wall. The young man wore plate over a muscled build, and even the way he stood did some measure to validate his title. At the moment, he stared opposite her over the other side of the wall, and was too focused to notice her presence. She made a sharp whistle, and he turned to face her, the pensive frown he wore lighting up into a warm grin.

“Honored to serve, Exalted One,” he bowed, which was an odd gesture since he stood several feet above her.

“Spare me the formalities, Eathe,” she chided as she ascended the stone stairwell to join him. “I got word of what was happening. Any changes?”

Eathe’s frown returned, his expression darkening a bit. “No. But that’s no comfort. Look.”

He gestured out into the Meadows below. Having just walked through torchlit streets, Varra’s eyes were unadjusted to the blackness before her. Still, she could just barely make out a discernable gap in the forest, as if a river parted the trees, or else something large felled them.

“The constructor has made a beeline west towards Lower Terrace,” Eathe explained. “You can’t quite hear it anymore, but it’s still in the area. What do you make of it? I’ve never heard of a constructor going crazy or breaking, but you’d know better than me if that’s a possibility.”

Varra shook her head. “If it’s behaving abnormally of its own accord it would be a first. My guess is that some outside force has done something. It’s either chasing something it can’t kill or its senses have been tampered with somehow.”

“I heard somebody managed to blind one a few decades ago. You mean something like that?”

“Yeah. It’s bad news for us, regardless of what it is. I should go take care of it.”

“What?” Eathe said. “You’re going to go down there while it’s rampaging?”

Varra glanced at him. “I’m the Hand of Defense, Eathe. That’s one of the most important duties of my rank.”

“But can’t you calm it down from here?” Eathe’s face held genuine worry on it, which was flattering in its own right.

“My mother could,” she replied. “But I’m not experienced enough for that sort of thing. You stay here. I’ll be back before too long. If something does happen to me, You may send a small search party in the morning.”

Eathe sighed, his lip tightening. After a moment his face became that of a respectable Captain of the Guard once more. “Very well, ma’am. Good luck.”

Varra nodded and descended the stairs. Behind her, Eathe called out orders for the portcullis to be raised, and she stepped through it as it did so. The drawbridge that made a long ramp between the Meadows floor and the ground level of Upper Terrace was already down, as it always was, so she didn’t have to wait for it.

With nothing barring her way, she set off into the night. “Well,” she said to herself. “I suppose it beats spending another sleepless night staring out a window.”