Blue walked into the Cellar with Dwim, Hikur and Stroth in tow. The place was packed. They took a few minutes to get drinks and sit down and then Blue stood up and motioned for everyone to quiet down. Once this had happened he stood up on a chair. “Alright, you’re going to be disappointed because I don’t have a whole lot of information to give you now, but you’re all here and we’re going to get certain things straightened out. First of all let’s talk about upcoming missions. I can tell you with certainty that we’re going to be retrieving artifacts.”
The crowd mumbled.
“That, I think everyone knew. I can’t tell you why exactly yet, because I don’t even know. I’m working on finding out. I know that the artifacts are powerful and that we’re trying to collect them at least in part to stop the wrong people from using them. I’m sorry but, for now that’s all I’ve got.”
The crowd groaned as Blue got off the chair.
“It’s not like we have much more to give them.” Said Hikur. “I hope you find out more soon, I myself am getting fed up.”
“Agreed.” Dwim said, taking a swig of his drink.
Blue shook his head. “Well, I’m getting some sleep. I’m sure I’ll have an assignment coming down the pipe soon. I’ll see you guys later.”
Blue got up and left the Cellar, he got to the elevator and hit the button for his floor. On the way up the elevator stopped. Lee, Gaedien, Icensun and Ace walked in. There was an exchange of nods, but all remained silent. The elevator continued upward. Blue looked around, all four were kitted up and armed to the teeth. “Going for a nice stroll in the park are we?”
“Going hunting.” Said Ace, winking.
“I’m sure.” Blue said.
Gaedien sighed in impatience as the elevator continued trudging upward.
“So.” Lee said, trying to break the silence.
“So?” Blue answered.
“Heard you were in a gunfight yesterday.”
“Yeah, bunch of huge bats.”
Ace tried not to laugh. “Huge bats?”
Icensun started. “I heard Grey was sick.”
“Yeah, he can eat roadkill without wincing but magic just rolls his guts.”
Lee smiled. “He won’t live that one up for a while.”
“I doubt anyone will bug him about it while he’s armed.”
Lee agreed. “Probably not.”
The elevator stopped at Blue’s level. “Alright guys, have fun.”
“We will.” Gaedien said, waving him off.
The others nodded, and the doors shut. The elevator continued upward. Once at the rooftop it opened once again and the four walked out.
“Jesus, he’s still there.” Lee said, looking over to Fiend who had not moved from his perch at the edge of the building.
“Does he sleep?” Gaedien asked.
Ace shook his head. “Who knows.”
Icensun walked to the drop ship and pulled open the right hand door. “Someone get the covers off the intake.” He said.
Gaedien nodded and removed the covers as Ace and Lee got inside.
Icensun turned the power on and checked major systems before looking back to ensure no one was near the exhaust ports. “Starting her up.” He said, pushing the ignition. The engines stuttered and then wound up to a high pitch as the craft came to life. “Alright, green across the board Lee. We’re ready when you are.”
Lee chambered a round in his weapon and looked back to the others from the co-pilots seat. “Ready your weapons.”
Gaedien cocked a USP compact, although it was an ancillary weapon. He carried with him a black blade, a straight, double edged one handed sword which he used as his primary weapon alongside his magic.
Ace chambered a round in a G36 and also checked the glock on his side.
Lee looked to Icensun on his right. “Alright, let’s go.”
Icensun nodded and pushed forward against the throttle. The ship reacted immediately as the engines roared and the force of gravity multiplied for the occupants. Icensun brought them only a few feet above deck before dipping the nose forward to have the ship drop over the edge of the Tower and plummet alongside it. The engines whined as they came close to over speed. Suddenly he pulled up and all four were drawn back into their seats, their flesh being stretched down against the skeletal structure of their faces as the craft reached the deepest part of the arching flight path that brought them back above the city.
Lee couldn’t help but smile at the burst of adrenaline that was coursing through his veins. “That was a rush.” He said, looking back at the others who shown similar grins.
“Alright.” Said Icensun over the headset. “We’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
The hour was early, and the faded disk of the moon could barely be seen through the clouded night sky. They had several hours before daylight, and would use them well.
Even at this time, the city was as alive as a mass of maggots in a rotting corpse. Every person moving below was without a doubt up to no good. Anyone with a sense of self preservation had long since barred the doors to their homes or hid well in the rubble of the refuse they lived in.
They arrived a few minutes earlier than Icensun had predicted. He manoeuvered the ship above a nearby rooftop and settled her down softly.
Lee turned to him. “Kill the engines.”
“Right.” Icensun obeyed and the engines coughed and went silent other than the winding down of the turbines. “Get out and I’ll lock her up.”
The other three got off the drop ship as Icensun punched in a few commands before turning off the main power and exiting himself. He looked back and waited for the commands to initiate. An automated system closed all of the doors and engaged the shudders on all windows. The two engines rotated upward and locked in the storage position. “There. I hope no one forgot anything inside.” He said as he buckled the scabbard of his own sword to his chest so that the blade would rest on his back.
“Ready to go?” Lee asked. Everyone nodded and so Lee turned to the next building and peered through the darkness. “Icensun, are the doors locked?”
Icensun’s eyes shut and a burst of heat irradiated from him. “I’m assuming…” He said with his eyes still closed. “… that you’re referring to locks other than those you can dismantle with the shotgun mounted beneath Ace’s rifle.”
Ace smiled. “They don’t call it a ‘master key’ for nothing.”
“Yes Icensun, that’s what I meant.” Lee answered.
Icensun’s eyes opened, and a blue hue rolled out of them like smoke from the windows of a burning building. “There’s a barrier, but I can’t tell much about it until we’re closer.” His eyes dimmed and returned to normal. “I’d suggest we avoid the alleys.”
“I would agree.” Lee said, “Gaedien, can you get us across the next few rooftops?”
“With pleasure.” He said, his eyes billowing in turn. “Just jump, and I’ll do the rest.”
“Ugh..” Ace grunted. “I’m not sure I like this idea.”
Gaedien turned to him. “I can throw you if you prefer.”
“No, that’s ok, I’ll jump.” He rotated the rifle beneath his right arm and on to his back, leaving the sling to support it there. “Here goes nothing.” He said, running headlong toward the edge of the building where he jumped.
Gaedien shot his arm out and his face twisted with effort as his eyes erupted.
Ace’s jump accelerated and he cleared the gap, landing hard on the other side and rolling to disperse the energy of the fall. He got back up, brushed himself off and motioned to Lee.
Icensun took in a deep breath and closed his eyes, pellets from the gravel that spanned the rooftop rose from the his feet as his spell powered up.
Gaedien turned to Lee, “Your turn, Icensun’s got his own way across.”
Lee nodded and broke into a sprint. He gritted his teeth as the acid built up in his thighs from the effort of his dash, and as he came to the edge of the building his guts twisted at the sight of the depth of the alley before him. He summoned the will to ignore his instincts and grunted them out of his mind. He was nearly yelling through clenched teeth by the time his feet passed the threshold and he became air born. Time seemed to slow as he soared between the two buildings, his body arched from the force with which he had launched himself across the precipice. He too landed hard, and was forced by the momentum to roll across the gravel. He impacted with such force that his roll brought him back to his feet . Lee strained to remain upright, sliding across the rooftop backward as he leaned against the direction of travel. As he came to a stop he fell forward, breaking his fall with one hand. “I think I agree with you on disliking this plan Ace.”
Ace laughed. “Too late, we’ve got two more gaps to jump before we get to the target building.”
Light warped between them and was sucked into a pin prick of darkness as the gravel shook at their feet. Lee and Ace stood back, for they could feel a force pulling them to the center of the phenomenon. Suddenly it reversed, pushing everything outward as Icensun burst forth from the center of the distortion.
“Show off.” Ace said, dusting himself off again.
“If we could all teleport like that.” Lee started. “This wouldn’t take so long.”
Gaedien landed next to the other three. His knee smashing with a crushing force to the gravel rooftop. The structure shook.
“It’s a good thing this isn’t the building we’re sneaking into, because they’d all know we’re here now.” said Icensun. “You’re loud.”
“Whatever.” Gaedien said, walking past the group and standing near the next ledge. “Let’s hurry this up, we’re running out of darkness.”
“I agree.” Lee said, running again to be catapulted across the gap.
“I’ll just meet you guys on the far side.” said Icensun, charging another warp spell.
“… and leave me to do all the heavy lifting.” Gaedien complained.
“Hey.” Ace frowned at him. “I’m not heavy, what’re you getting at?”
“You know what I meant.”
Ace laughed, “Let’s get this over with.”
In a few minutes they found themselves on the adjacent building to the one they were ordered to infiltrate. It was an old hotel known as the Sanctuary.
Lee crouched and moved quietly to take cover behind an air conditioning unit after his last jump. He took up a firing position and scouted the neighboring rooftop. There were two people standing on it. “Guards no doubt.” he thought to himself. Ace came up behind him, trying just as hard to remain unseen.
“What’s the verdict?” Ace asked, peering above their cover.
“I’m thinking we’ll send those two to keep it quiet.”
“I like it.” Icensun agreed.
Gaedien finally reached them also, making an attempt at a soft landing. “Alright, what’s the plan for these two?” He asked.
Lee continued. “We were just discussing it. I’m going to let you two figure it out. I don’t want to have any loud kills just yet, and since I can’t slit their throats without crossing this gap, Ace and I are limited to our rifles which… is not an option for obvious reasons.”
“Got it.” Gaedien said, as he watched another man come out from the rooftop access doorway.
“Shift change.” Ace said.
Lee nodded. “Let them change up.”
Across the rooftop, the two men sat in lawn chairs looking out toward the front of the building. They were sitting below a florescent light billboard that depicted a large cross.
“Hey, you’re late.” Said the man sitting closest to the doorway.
“Whatever, it’s only by a minute or two, you can handle that.”
“Who’s your partner in crime?” Said the second man sitting on the lawn chair.
“It’s Clyde, he’s getting water.”
“Well I’m out of here.” said the one closest to the door as he rose from the chair.
“Hey, make sure if you see him, you tell him to hurry the fuck up.”
“Will do.” He said, marching off to the doorway to disappear into the building.
“Well, anything happen tonight?”
“I’m pretty sure if something had happened, you’d have heard.”
“Well, I mean like anything in the streets?”
“Nah man, it’s been quiet.”
The doors hinges whined as it opened. “Hey Garry, sorry for being late.”
“Don’t say sorry to him, say sorry to me. I’m the one who’s getting off shift.”
“Well then, Get!” said Garry.
“Oh trust me, I’m ‘getting’.” He said, taking his turn to vanish down the stairwell beyond the rooftop access doorway.
Garry sat down. “Ugh, man I hate the three to five shift.”
Clyde shrugged. “I don’t mind it. At least you get to see the sunrise.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Garry laughed. “The sunrise? I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sun in this shit hole city.”
“Well, you kind of see the disk behind the haze.” He said, pointing out to the darkened horizon.”
“Yeah well, I’d rather not even bother paying any… ugh.” Garry folded over in his chair. “Ugh man, what the hell is that?” He said.
“Garry man, you alright?”
“Something feels really… weird.”
“What? Do you feel sick?”
“Sort of yeah, but it’s like… butterflies like when you drive down a steep hill or when you’re in a plane on takeoff you know?”
“Dude!” said Clyde, his eyes having grown enormous.
“Something’s happening around you man, you’re like… I don’t even know how to explain it.”
“Ugh! I … Argh!” He fell of the chair and it floated away through the air as if weightless.
“Holy shit!” Clyde yelled, standing up and backing away. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Garry, who stared back at him with a frightened glance.
Garry’s eyes widened, and his arm attempted to unfurl from his fetal position. “Guuh!” He uttered, trying desperately to warn Clyde.
Clyde finally noticed that Garry’s gaze was focused beyond him, behind him. He spun around and then fell to his knees, gurgling blood from his mouth and nose. He would have collapsed completely if it weren’t for the blade that supported him from where it was lodged in his throat. It was removed in one smooth motion, and followed by a crimson spatter. Clyde crumpled to the ground, he wanted nothing more than to grasp at the warmth bubbling below his chin. His arms wouldn’t obey the commands from his mind. He couldn’t feel anything below the gargling wound in his neck.
Garry watched helplessly as the dark figure stood above his fallen friend. He tried again to reach out but his arm was pulled in by an immense force and the world seemed to be crushed around him and everything became black. In a rush of air and light he fell to the ground and clamored to his hands and knees, desperately trying to understand what had just happened. To his surprise, his hand had come into contact with a textured object. He looked over to see a boot, it’s toe plated with darkened steel. Behind it where two more pairs of feet. His gaze rose, but instead of looking upon the faces of his killers, he would see only the shimmer of light reflecting off the sword that was soon lodged deep into his head, splitting his skull like a ripe fruit.
“Well, that’s done.” Lee said, as he watched Icensun plant a foot into the guards chest to push him back and break the corpse loose from the blade. “Good job boys. Gaedien, you ready for us?”
Gaedien looked at them from the shadows behind the billboard. “I’m ready” he said, his voice projected effortlessly into Lee’s ear as quietly as a whisper but audible regardless of the distance it had travelled.
Lee nodded to Ace and they made their jump.
Icensun decided to jump this time too, using his own magic to propel him across the alley below. When he landed, the others looked at him strangely. “What? A guy needs variety.” He said, and it seemed to satisfy the glares.
They all made their way toward the doorway.
“Alright. Gaedien, I think I’ll need your help for this one. Do you see it?”
Gaedien glared at the doorway, and then his vision shuddered, his mind filled with whispers from the void and his sight blurred with a blue hue. In the doorway, he could feel a force. It translated visually as a dim haze. It was a ward. This one, however, was not meant to stop them. Gaedien focused and searched for the glyph, the scars carved into the fabric of reality that allowed just the right mixture of energies to flood through from the void and create the magical effects desired by the mage who scripted the event. He found it, it’s sparkling form hiding so subtly behind the veil of existence. The script was simple, a trigger that would alert the caster of anyone who entered the building that wasn’t marked by him. “Shit.” Gaedien said turning to the wounded guard. “I hope this asshole’s still alive.”
“What did you glean?” Icensun asked.
“The ward’s a trigger. All his guys are marked. If I can find it, I can forge it and we won’t trip the ward.”
“Alright.” Ace said, pulling the bloodied man on to his back.
“No Ace, it’s not a mark you’ll see. It’s going to be written inside.”
Gaedien’s eyes burst into flames once more. The man’s body glowed dimly, signs of a fading life. “Come on, don’t die on me now.” He said, peering deeply into the light. “There you are.” Within the swirls of his soul was hidden the mark, a simple glyph scripted innocuously into the life energy. “Easy.”
“So you can forge it?” Lee asked.
“Without a problem. Here, Icensun, I’ll show you the glyph so you can double check that it will work.”
Ace and Lee watched as Gaedien and Icensun crouched over the dying man, who had moments ago lost a consciousness that his dying body would never again afford him.
Gaedien’s hand waved gently above the mans chest. “See, right there. It’s not complex.”
“No, you’re right it isn’t. Do you think it’s unique? Do you think it’s possible that every man has a different mark?”
“No, it’s not possible. Look here, see that part of the glyph?"
“It matches the depth of the script on the ward. If each individual had their own mark, the ward’s glyph would have to be heavier.”
“Ah yeah, I see what you mean.”
“Can you forge that?”
“Come on Gaedien, of course I can, it’s child’s play.”
“Alright.” Lee interjected. “Let’s get this over with.”
Gaedien turned to Lee and Ace and put his hands on their chests. “I’ll be sure to remove it once we’re done. I for one wouldn’t want to have this thing hanging on my soul for the rest of my life. Heck it might even affect respawn.”
Ace cringed. “Urgh man, I’m not a fan of that idea.”
“Yeah well, it’s the only way we’re going to accomplish this mission, so suck it up. Do it.” said Lee.
Warmth flowed from Gaediens hands and then it was done. “Alright, Icensun, you do me and I’ll do you.”
“You can’t… do it to yourself?” Ace asked.
“I could, but it’s… well it’s complicated. The best way I can explain it is that it’s like trying to paint a circle on your own face. You can do it perfectly on someone else, but you can’t really see what you’re doing on yourself, and your soul can’t be reflected in a mirror.”
“You still don’t -”
“Yeah I still don’t get it.”
“Whatever.” Gaedien said, placing his hand on Icensun’s chest. “It’s not important.”
“Nope… not really.”
“Alright, we’re good… Icensun?”
“Just ugh… get ready to dispel the ward if you see a bad reaction, at least that way they won’t know where we’re coming in from, they’ll just know we’re coming.”
“Will do G-man, get in there.”
“Right…” Gaedien said, walking slowly into the doorway. His eyes were aflame and he was staring into the haze of the ward. “Ugh. I hate walking into someone else’s magic, it’s like… using the washroom right after a stranger took a dump.”
Icensun shook his head. “Thanks for that.”
“Your welcome.” Gaedien said, squinting as he breached the ward.
“We’re good.” Icensun said.
Gaedien was looking around, still paranoid that any moment now the ward would trigger alerting an unknown number and strength of enemy that they were at their doorstep.
Icensun stepped forward “My turn.” He moved through the doorway with far less reserve than Gaedien did, and continued past him.
Ace looked at Lee. “Like hell.” He said to Lee’s imperative glare. “You go first.”
“Fine.” Lee stepped through and took the lead as they continued down the stairwell.
“Ugh.” Ace winced. “I hate this shit.” He said, tip toeing through the doorway as if it were mined.