“This is all your fault!”
Jed thumped the side of his fist against the hull of the Arthnou, anger stamped firmly on his green eyed, and blonde-haired features. The other passengers looked up at the noise as he rounded on the tall, muscular dark-skinned man who was returning his glare with a placid, collected look. “You’re the reason we’re all in this mess Kingsley! You and your stupid-“
“Calm down, Stormdragon. No one is at fault here.” Vex Silverfox said quietly, but with the undeniable steel of authority in her voice. Seated at her side was Rick, who quietly and efficiently alternated between nudging his glasses back up his thin nose and wrapping a swathe of bandages around her bare right arm.
Jed Stormdragon leveled his fury at her. “Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me? Whose bright idea was it to take this mark, huh? Who was the genius who decided to go for stealing from the planet’s most super-secret facility? Whose plan was it that almost got US killed, and worse, ended up with the entire Sanctum on our sweet shiney hiney?!”
Vex growled. “I said-“
“No. He’s right.” Kingsley rumbled. “We should have turned down the job. It would have saved us all this much trouble.”
“Damn right, it would.” Jed sneered at him. “But it’s a bit too late to be crying over spilt milk now, isn’t it?”
Ranglor spoke up then in his reedy, bookish tone of a voice. “Might I inquire as to our course of action concerning this…thing?”
The “thing” lay in the ship’s holding compartment below the metal beneath their feet, but the image of it was seemingly burned into the backs of the eyeballs of all seven of the crew onboard. It was shaped roughly like the chrysalis of a moth, and was eight feet long and nearly half as wide across. The blue and white metallic surface of it had been engraved with complex sigils and wards, and had no visible means of an opening mechanism, even though Ranglor had deduced that something was inside it. No one had the slightest idea what the alchemic symbols on it meant either, not even Kingsley.
And yet, the Sanctum had gone all out to stop them from taking it. Still were, in fact.
“We’ll drop it off with Mr. Tall and Ugly’s contact, like we promised.” Vex answered. Jed snorted, but she chose to ignore him. “But first, we’ll have to figure out a way to shake off the Sanctum knights and pulsework soldiers. Fast.”
“They’ll have eyes looking for us everywhere by now,” chimed in Dahlia Roen from the back of the craft, drawing all eyes on her. She was blue-eyed, with short dark hair and a lanky frame. A strip of white healtape was tacked over her left cheek, where she had acquired a nasty cut during the rougher parts of their escape from Orcina’s Tower. “You know that right, boss?”
Vex looked away from her for a moment. “Yes.”
“We’ll be lucky if it’s just knights.” Jed said darkly.
Ranglor nodded. “I concur with Master Stormdragon. If what we have is what I suspect it to be, then it is highly probable that we may encounter Jugulators before the day is done.”
“And you think that it might be…?”
“A top-secret weapon.” He declared solemnly.
Silence fell between them all, with the hum and quiet whine of machinery in the background replacing the conversation. It was broken a moment or two later by Jed’s swearing. “Ain’t this the most fun we’ve had in a while?” He added, glaring once more at Kingsley.
“It does make sense now.” Kingsley said, mostly to himself.
Vex rubbed at her temples with her free hand for a bit. Then she turned to the final member of the group, who sat opposite Dahlia at the ship’s aft. “I apologize for dragging you into this, Shinoda.”
Kirin Shinoda, only just in his twentieth winter, only stared at his hands and said nothing. He was short – just around the same height as Vex – and had long sap stiff locks of blue-black hair turned white at the tips, framed around an oval face with deep grey eyes. He wore a dark vest over similarly colored pants and steel-grey boots, and strapped over his back was a fine, slender sword. The blade’s hilt was stained with bluish ichor, and so were his bum gloved hands.
“Shinoda?” Vex called, a note of worry creeping into her almost musical voice.
“Oh, leave the kid be, will you?” Jed erupted. “Let him sort out his own mess. We’re in bigger soup now-“
Arthnou suddenly took a plunging dive, as something large and heavy thumped against the outer hull of the craft.
“What the krillin was that?!” Jed swore as he clutched on to a handhold set in the ship’s flesh. Kingsley did the same as Dahlia, Ranglor and Kirin were already strapped in their seats.
Vex and Rick got up and walked-slid down towards the pilot seats; Vex trailing a broad strip from her right arm, and her long silver hair falling all around her purple-eyed visage. “Castor!” Rick spoke up for the first time since they had gotten on Arthnou.
“Yes, Rick?” A cool male voice replied from the bank of controls at the fore of the craft.
Vex reached her seat first, and promptly buckled herself down as Rick reached the pilot chair. “What’s going on?” She half-screamed as more of the thumps echoed through the hull.
“We’re being pursued by several aerodrones, and I am taking evasive maneuvers.”
“What the frakk?” Jed yelled. “You don’t run from aerodrones, you alchemic piece of junk!”
Rick, now seated, reached for the flight stick before him. “Castor, deploy countermeasures and deactivate autoflight mode.”
“Done.” Castor replied, as the view screen in front of the pilots came alive with visual sensor feed and HUDs. Arthnou began to level out of the sudden dive.
Another thump, this one harder than the previous ones, shook the ship. “Are they shooting us out of the sky?!” Dahlia asked.
“Yes.” Ranglor and Kingsley replied at the same time.
“Structural integrity compromised-“ Castor began.
“SHUT UP AND LET ME SHOOT, DAMMIT!” Vex snapped back at Jed, fingers working at the gun controls like mad.
Ranglor clicked his beak twice; a sure sign amongst the avian-humanoid hirudo of growing irritation.
More thumps came.
“How many of those things are after us?” Kingsley shouted at their leader.
“Five!” Vex yelled.
Four sets of eyes turned to face the pointy-eared kami who had spoken first. Kirin looked up from his hands and met all the surprised stares with a cold dangerous look. “Five Meklav class action aerodrones,” he said calmly. “And I know how to stop them.”