First Chaos – Ninth Chapter – Christina & Kella

Posted: September 2, 2013 by Kella in Chaos #1

Previous: Chapter Eight by Kella

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As much as Altair wanted to keep moving until they reached Stonehaven, he recognized that his men needed to rest and eat at some point. And while Misa looked as if she could keep on marching all night, Hadfar and the little one were not faring as well.

In addition to that, he did not want to approach the great Eltari city without a plan. To do so would be madness. His captain had done that, and look what had happened to him. He had been trussed up like some swine as an offering to Rell and the Eltari danced around his corpse, celebrating the death of the Pale One who had tried to steal the secrets of Jymm’s volcano. Altair had no desire to meet the same end; but judging from the glare Misa was giving him, she was reverently praying that something similar or much, much worse would come to pass.

He sighed, and glanced around, keeping his eyes open for a safe spot to stop. Unless… Perhaps they were closer to Stonehaven than he had thought. He glanced at the map on his datapad as they walked, entering in the coordinates his Cyrex gave him for their position. The datapad chirped and gave him an error.

Giving up on the map, Altair turned to Hadfar. “How much further, old friend?”

“I am surprised you do not remember.” The ancient Eltari said, his soft words sounding like a taunt to Altair’s ears.

“If I did remember, I would not be asking you know, would I?” The snarl escaped his lips before he could stop it. The child one of the marines was escorting let out a whimper, but Hadfar didn’t flinch. 

“If you tell him,” Misa glared in their direction as she was led past them. “May the Pale Ones feast on your soul.”

Hadfar did not respond or appear bothered by her insult in the slightest. However, Altair frowned after Eltari woman. His free hand balled at his side; if only there was a way to silence her sharp comments. Images of her face crunching beneath his fist flashed before his eyes, accompanied by a satisfied grunt in the back of his throat. It would be such a release… and it would certainly shut her up.

Altair shook his head sharply, clearing the urge with a concerted effort. Her death would only continue to drive a wedge between him and Tris. 

Perhaps they could jury rig a gag from one of the marine’s stinkiest socks.

He turned back to Hadfar to find the Eltari staring pointedly at his fist. Altair averted his eyes, forcing his fingers to uncurl as he called out to Corporal Jenng. “We’ll stop here. A thirty minute break, and then we’ll start moving again.”

Jenng nodded and relayed the order. Two marines were left watch over their captives, while the others broke open MREs. They chatted amongst themselves as they ate, joking with and teasing each other over this event or that even that had happened back on board the ship. Despite their mask of joviality though, Altair could feel the tension floating just beneath the surface. The men glanced at each other and their captives, their eyes hard, and once or twice this marine or that marine would take offense to something harmless. Thankfully Jenng always called them to order before a fight could erupt. It got damned close, though.

It had been like this before, Altair thought to himself. Everything had been going along just fine, and then the men had started snapping at each other over nothing until they had dissolved into chaos. How he had escaped the madness that first time was beyond him, but he could feel it clawing at his subconscious now, sinking its teeth into his temples.

It was this damn planet. The thing was cursed. Altair glanced at Hadfar, remembering the promise he had made all those years ago. Perhaps he should break it… He missed Terne. His sister was probably Head Matron of the regional board by now, with three or four little brats that looked just like her. They probably thought he was dead. By all rights, he should be, and this cursed rock along with him.

But then he remembered Tris, and the tension eased. He could not let her planet be destroyed. Not when he had the power to help prevent it.

One of the marines continued to stand while his comrades ate, frowning at the readout his datapad was giving him. “Sir, there is a group of four life forms, possibly Eltari, heading south.” He looked up from the glowing screen. “Permission to intercept?”

Altair hesitated; if the fleeing Eltari knew what had happened to the scout, that would mean Altair and his men could return to the ship. Perhaps Tris was in the group and he could reason with her. But Stonehaven was north by northeast, the opposite direction, and if the scout wasn’t with the southbound group, he’d lose any chance of catching up to him before he reached the city.

He shook his head. “Let them go.”

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The trek to the shuttle was a long one. Tris led them back the way they had come, through the remains of the burnt village, and past the charred remnants of Ike’s own downed vessel. When the smallest of the moons was at its zenith, Tris held out her arm, stopping their progress. Ike would have run smack into her if it hadn’t been for Anod grabbing the back of his uniform and stopping him. Annoyance flared within Ike, and he felt his lip curl as he glared back Anod. Anod simply stared back with golden eyes, in a look that said Ike was welcome to try his luck.

“Are we close?” Ike asked, sighing as he leaned against a nearby tree to catch his breath. Apparently, while the Cyrex had the ability to change his features and fool scans, it had done nothing to heal his wounds. The events of the day had torn his stitches and he could feel them bleeding through his bandages. As a result, he had struggled to keep up with the Eltari during their strenuous hike. He found himself wondering, not for the first time that evening, if Kyri and her kin were actually trying to kill him in some bizarre endurance test.

He frowned to himself as soon as the thought crossed his mind. No, that wasn’t right, he thought to himself, if they had been trying to kill him, they would’ve and could’ve done so long ago. Misa wouldn’t have tried to heal him, or told Kyri to say he was her ginko— no… ginasuran… whatever that was— and help him escape if that was the case.
Tris answered his question with a glare. She held up a finger to her lips, her head cocked as she listened to the forest around them. Satisfied that they were well and truly alone she finally spoke. “Yes, it is just over that ridge.” She crouched and started drawing in the dirt at their feet. “Now, Altair has left four men to guard it…”

“If you expect me to take down four men by myself, you’re crazy, lady.” Ike interrupted her before she could get very far.

“She did not say you would do it alone.” Kyri stared at him with a curious expression on her face. “You will have me and Anod by your side, as well as Tris.”

“Right, a cripple and two women. Fine team we make.”

Anod stepped closer to him. “With one hand, I am still a better fighter than you.”

Ike bared his teeth, a foreign anger swelling before he could contain it. “Care to test that theory now, stumpy?”

“Quiet please!” Tris snapped.

Her sharp tone brought Ike to his senses. He flushed from embarrassment, and ran a hand through his sweat soaked hair, pushing it out of his face. “Sorry,” he muttered, not meeting Anod’s nonplussed gaze.

“As I was saying,” Tris continued. “There are four men guarding the ship. I do not wish to kill them, only stun them…”

“Even after what they did to our village? To Geneth?” Anod demanded in a hiss.

“Yes.” She avoided the younger Eltari’s eyes and continued to sketch out a rough diagram of the shuttle and its surroundings. “I will go in first and distract them.”

“But what if this Altair has told them about you?” Ike watched her, still wondering what her connection to the Ternian captain was. A wave of sadness and regret crashed over her face, but it was quickly covered by an emotionless mask.

“It’s a risk we will have to take. There are rocks here and here that Kyri can hide behind.” Tris pointed at either side of the diagram and glanced up at her niece.

Kyri nodded, clutching her bow and quiver with stiff fingers.

“Wipe purenlli sap on your tips, and aim for their legs or arms. Once the first goes down, I will take on the next guard, and Anod and Ike can take on the last two. Try to do it quickly so they have no time to warn Altair. Any questions?”

“Yes,” Ike held up his hand. “Ah… what is purenlli sap?”

Kyri pointed at the tree branches overhead. They hung low, almost brushing the tops of their heads, and were covered with thick bright green leaves that almost glowed in the moonlight. “The sap from a purenlli tree makes you senseless and sleepy.”

“Oh.” He stepped away from the tree, afraid that some of the thick yellow sap he could see clinging to the branches might fall on him. “Well then.”

“Let’s go.” Tris stood and ran the sole of her foot over the diagram, erasing what she had drawn. Tucking her wayward strands of hair into place, she smoothed her dark hands down the front of her tunic. With a sharp breath, she slid into character and stepped from the bushes as Kyri scurried off to take up position.

Anod tugged on Ike’s sleeve with his good hand, gesturing for Ike to follow as he skirted the ridge beneath the cover of green.

The shuttle wasn’t large, only slightly bigger than Ike’s had been, and not that much more impressive. It was certainly an older model; better had come out in the last decade or so, and that wing design was a dead giveaway to Ternian origins. Form over function. Ike rolled his eyes and snorted, drawing a stern glare from Anod. Ike glared back.

“Hold!” came a cry from the shuttle.

“Neurian, it is only me,” Tris replied coolly, her voice carrying in the stillness of the landing site. “Where is the rest of the landing party?”

“Still pursuing the target, ma’am. Let me see your hands.” Neurian was edging closer, rifle drawn.

Tris complied, slowly lifting her arms to give the appearance of locking her fingers behind her head. She took a casual step forward. “Is there a reason you’re pointing a gun at me?”

Neurian’s fellow guards had taken notice, stepping out of the shuttle to see what the fuss was about. Anod held his hand flattened in the air between him and Ike; wait for it…

Neurian shook his head. “S-stay there!”

Tris frowned. “You do not look well, Private. Perhaps you should lie down.”

“I said stay back!” Neurian snapped, beads of sweat dotting his forehead; he was flushed and there was a tremor of something barely controlled in his voice.

Ike could relate.

“I’m warning you…” Neurian’s fingers trembled, and for a moment Ike was afraid their plan would crash before it got off the ground.

Anod rapped him on the shoulder and he followed the pointing fingers to where two guards stood with their backs facing the bushes. Altair’s men were more interested in the growing paranoid protests from the back of the shuttle than their duties.

Tris smiled in the glare of the shuttle’s security light, her hands still raised in surrender. “Neurian, you look unwell. I have several herbs that could help with—”

“No! Keep your primitive witchcraft away from us!” Neurian roared, raising the butt of his gun as if to crash it against Tris’ forehead. The whizz and thwip of an arrow caused him to drop the gun. He cried out in equal shock and alarm, clutching at the shaft embedded in his tricep. Another arrow hissed through the air, catching him in the knee. He screamed, the sound fading within seconds as he slumped to the ground unconscious.

Anod surged forward before the two guards in front of him had a chance to react. With a fluid movement, he hooked his injured arm across one guard’s throat and held firm, bearing the man to the ground beneath him. Ike ducked as the guard’s companion swung his rifle at him. He charged into the other man, dodging swings and closing the gap so the weapon could not be brought to bear. Ike swept the marine’s legs from under him and followed Anod’s example, throwing himself atop the flailing body and wrapping his bare hands around the man’s throat in a crude choking maneuver. Ike’s vision narrowed into an almost claustrophobic tunnel; unable to see or hear anything except the man’s skin purpling in the shadows between Ike’s fingers, the blood rushing through his own ears…

He didn’t notice the man had stopped kicking until Tris hauled him up by the back of his shirt.

“Stun, not kill!” she hissed into his face, giving him a shake before throwing him against Anod. Anod let Ike stumble and catch himself on his own, busy fumbling with the man’s gun and utility belt one-handed.

Kyri rose from where she bent over the last guard at the back of the shuttle, removing her fingers from his pulse point and wiping her hand on her trousers.

Tris nodded curtly and grabbed Ike by the elbow. “All right. Into the shuttle, flyboy. The sooner you leave this planet, the better.”

“’Flyboy’?” Ike blinked at her as she jostled him up the small ramp and into the empty pilot’s seat.

She huffed and sealed the door behind Anod and Kyri as they cautiously entered the craft. “Live among them for long enough, you learn the language.”

 

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Previous: Chapter Eight by Kella
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