White stepped into the gunship, her metal tipped boots ringing on the steps up into the troop bay, looking over the close space around her. She is by no means tall, the lithe tigress is by no means tall, but her head is nearly touching the ceiling, teasing the top of her long black hair as she ducks under a stanchion, her paw resting on the wall. This normally isn't a problem for her, just here. She really has to have a word with who designed these troop transports, While it is cramped for her, it must be even worse for the other two already here.
The pair of Dragons are already talking in low conversation as she approaches, not whispering with each other, just talking softly. She might at one stage have felt uncomfortable with these two, worried about cutting into their conversation. But not now. They have been working very closely during the past year, with the kind of friendship that can only be forged on the front lines of battle.
It is Drake that raises his head first, his more slender frame in comparison to that of his companion. 'So, this is the big one, huh? One last push, our swansong maybe?'
White smiled lightly. Drake always had a bit of a flare for the dramatic, the melodramatic maybe. Cocky, sure of himself, yet hiding his worries behind his mask of cool dispassion. 'I'd hardly call it the big one. It's just another patrol run. Nothing we haven't done dozens of times before. A quick run around the block, tangle with a few Predators maybe. Job done.'
'Come on, doesn't this feel different to you? Today is the last day of this tour, you know. After this, who knows what will happen, where we will end up.' Drake says slowly. 'Tomorrow, we hopefully get the placements we wanted and then who knows if or when we will see each other again.'
'Oh, knock it off.' Fireheart rumbles in his throat, folding his arms around his chest as his wings wrap closer to his body, a sign he is exasperated. Which happens a lot with his friend. In a way they are more like brothers. 'Sure, this might be the last time for a while that we work together if we get deployed to the units we want. But it's not like we are going to be out of touch. We are all going to be stationed in the capital remember?'
White nodded, she had been thinking along the same lines. Today she is still a junior officer, but tomorrow. Tomorrow she will be a full officer, a lieutenant once she accepts her rank. This may carry them down different paths. But the bond between them will not be so easily broken. 'So, you two are still going to apply to the armoured division?' White says, her voice tinged with good humoured mirth. These two are pretty much an armoured division themselves, she had thought that the moment she first set eyes on them. Before she had even seen them fight.
'Yep. It should be fun. Not that this hasn’t been fun, but patrol duty gets boring after a while. Back in the capital, that is where all the action is.' Fireheart says casually, checking his harness one last time as the rumble of the engines sends a shudder through the air frame, the gunship lifting off from the hanger and sweeping out into clear skies.
'Predators aren't enough huh?' White quips, running through a check of her gear almost on instinct, her paw patting the hilt of her sword.
'Ahhh, they are just wild beasts, nowhere near as powerful as they were generations ago. Powerful, yes. But so are we. There are bigger threats to fight out there, to protect the capital against."
'It’s not like we are at war, you know.' White answers slowly, adjusting the light yet sturdy metal gauntlets, checking the freedom of movement by flexing her fingers, a definite habit of hers. That is the odd thing, she is a soldier, one who has fought for years and trained for longer than that. And yet she has never known a war.
'I know..we haven't seen a war since the Predator army was scattered and their controllers were lost. But that's why we do what we do. To stop that happening again. Drake and I have strength, strength we can use to protect the capital.'
White considered that, her mind following those words. Maybe it was because she wasn’t thinking that she noticed it. Something had changed, the pitch of the ships engines having increased. The yaw too, the transport listing to starboard. Fireheart is closest to the comm panel and he activates it. 'Pilot, what's going on?'
The voice from the cockpit is tinged with static yet calm and composed. A pilot had to be. White has always been in awe of them, of their reflexes, a skill she knows she will never have. 'We got a distress call, a transport convoy is being attacked. No idea on strength or numbers, we're going to have to do this on the fly.'
'Alright, you heard him. Let's get ready to drop.' Fireheart stood, his tone firm. He is senior here, a Sergeant almost. This is something they all agreed on. He has the head for tactics in the group.
The pilot has the engines going at full speed now, tremors running through the airframe and threatening to shake Mellisa off her feet. She manages to stand anyway, using the straps overhead to propel herself towards the hatch, following behind Drake and Fireheart. Fireheart has made it to the hatch first, slamming it open with his powerful arms, a fierce wind whipping into the bay and tossing White's long hair around instantly. Even a few feet away, it threatens to knock her back but White concentrates, drawing a light magical shield around her to hold back the worst of the effects. Her two companions with their sturdier bodies aren't feeling it as much. And Dragons are built to fly, a little wind isn't going to be something that will bother them.
The gunship slows now, dipping down towards the sand below and Mellisa can see the column of dust ahead that must be the transport. Of course, more of a giveaway are the four creatures she can see closing on it, lithe and powerful legs pushing them forwards relentlessly. Far too lithe for creatures of their size, each creature just under over the size of the transport they are chasing. Still large enough to cause a lot of damage if they catch it. Which they could easily do.
These Predators are all teeth and claws and sinew and muscle, perfect hunters and killers. That had been their role in the war, much as they are doing now. To hunt and harass the enemies supply lines, making sure vital equipment and resources couldn’t get through. Or to tie up extra resources defending them. The organic nature of the theses creatures belies the military use they were put too. But she has never seen them behaving this way before, their actions almost seeming focused.
Mellisa stopped those thoughts, this wasn’t the time, not now. They were approaching the target now, close enough to see one Predator move alongside the transport, swiping at it with its skull, trying to drive it off course. Which is just what happened, the blocky vehicle careening to the left and ploughing into a sand dune. This had been what the Predators had been waiting for, surrounding the transport, pacing around it as the pack gathers. They have to go now.
Fireheart had had the same thought, leaping quickly from the gunship, wings unfurling from his back with a snap like leather tightening. The wind catches them easily and with one powerful sweep he is almost of top of the pack. That is when he changes, the wind cut asunder by a deep roar, a roar of power and force.
Power that awes Mellisa. Awe is the right word. She had been awed the first time she saw it happen and that feeling has never faded. He doesn’t change shape or size but the change is immediately obvious, his black scales now very pronounced, like thick armour plates. His head now topped with a vicious pair of curved horns, perfect for goring an enemy, matching his long and sharp talons tipping his fingers. With a roar and teeth bared, Fireheart slams into the closest Predator, momentum and his impressive strength bearing it to the ground. His jaws have clamped onto the creatures foreleg as it turned over, drawing a roar of pain and anger from his prey before his claws slice over its throat, stilling it's struggles for ever.
That just leaves the others, the rest of the pack turning to face this threat. The loss of their comrade having made them cautious, but that caution is fading. So it's a good thing the airship is now directly over the transport. Mellisa picked her moment perfectly. With no hesitation, she leaps clear, in a low crouch. Her sword flashes through the air with a whisper of steel, singing as Tsunami is drawn from her scabbard; a strike that is deadly accurate. With only a whisper, her blade slices clear through the Predator's thick hide, leaving a huge gash down its side; one that serves to distract her target, Mellisa launching over her prey to drive her sword through its back.
The death cry of the creature doesn’t cover the harsh snarl from the next Predator to attack, Mellisa diving clear of the hasty swipe and moving to Fireheart's side, dodging a second wild snap of the Predator's jaws as he follows her. And runs right into the tall dragon, literally, Fireheart's thick scales taking the impact with even seeming to feel it, neither does he seem to feel the claws that rake down his armour. Almost casually, he slams the Predator to the ground, the sudden blow snapping its neck. Something Mellisa is grateful of. Her enchantment is still in place, protecting her from her landing. But wouldn't protect her from a Predator, not without reinforcement.
Reinforcement she throws up quickly, a magical field shimmering into existence in front of her extended hand, the glowing circle traced with mystic symbols blocking the leap of the next member of the pack to try his luck. He rebounds off it, drooping to the ground stunned by the impact. He doesn't rise again, Mellisa leaping and driving her blade deep into its side.
She and Fireheart are now surrounded, the pack having closed up, circling them warily. But not attacking. 'Why aren’t they attacking?' the question is a good one, the Predators are focused not on their attackers, but the transport behind them.
'Who knows?' Fireheart rumbles fiercely, his tail lashing and driving another Predator back. 'Doesn’t matter right now. Just keep them back.'
He is right, they have to do that. That should be their focus now. Any questions can wait.' Mellisa and Fireheart draw closer, now standing side by side, respective weapons raised and ready to strike at the first that makes a move. They cannot afford to let even one get close to the transport, it wouldn't take long for them to get inside if they did. Sadly, they hadn't really counted on the nature of the pack. They don't attack individually as she had hoped, but moving as one mass of teeth and claws, leaping forward with snaps and snarls that rend the air.
Fireheart takes two, lashing out with his tail, sweeping through the pair that tried to leap over him, knocking them down to the ground and dazing them. Mellisa tightens her fingers on her sword, cutting another down with a fast slash, power building around the blade. The strike is true, catching the creature across the head and sending it flying backwards, stunned but not killed. Not until a fireball strikes it clean in the face, the cruel eyes and vicious teeth vanishing under the flames that consume it.
With a flash of wind and wings, Drake circles overhead, looping around to launch another burst of fire, then another and another. Light flares in his mouth each time, and he is rewarded with three screams of animalistic rage. His attacks have brought the Predators up short, forcing them to drop back from their target.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Mellisa and Fireheart quickly dispatch the remaining Predators before they can regroup.
Checking hers is dead, Mellisa slides her sword back into the scabbard then turns her attention to the transport. From what she can see, the damage is not that bad. But it depends how the driver and passenger have fared.
'What do you think they wanted with this?' Drake calls out, dropping to the ground to check on the pilot as he advances on the cockpit. 'I mean, what makes this one so special? We must get dozens of transports out here, usually the Predator's don't bother with them.'
'I really don't think that is any of your business, do you?' All three turn towards this voice, even Mellisa bristling a little at the tone. Her two companions are most likely feeling that even more, neither of them taking well to insults at the best of times. Dragons are naturally prickly and prone to anger, especially about personal slights. 'The important thing is to get myself and my research to safety, before more of these creatures attack. We will leave immediately.' Mellisa recognises his outfit instantly, his clothes marking him as a member of the science council of the Stillwater. His face is familiar too, even if she can't place it right now. But she is sure she has seen him somewhere before. She doesn't get more than a glimpse though before he turns his back on them without a word.
'Man..that's thanks for you.' Fireheart grumbles. 'Who does he think he is, anyway. He would be dead if we hadn't come along.'
Drake shrugs, coming back from checking the pilot's condition, apparently a good one since the transports engines have started up. 'A scientist I guess. You heard him..'my research to safety.' Scientists never do well with people, too caught up in their own thoughts.'
'Or he's an elitist.' Fireheart sighed. 'He didn't seem to like us that much.'
White shrugged. 'Maybe he's like that with everyone? Does it matter...we saved him, we did our duty. Let's get out of here. We can get some thanks back at base, I'm sure.'
'I hope you weren't expecting to be thanked.' That voice washed over the three soldiers lined up in front of the desk, all of them standing stiffly to attention. 'I can't believe you would do something so reckless.'
Mellisa's face didn't flinch. Blancher has a reputation for being a hard case, but his bark is often worse than his bite. The German Shepard is an ex front line soldier, having been assigned to the training base after being injured. And he makes an excellent, if strict, instructor. His anger never lasts long, usually fading after it has hit its mark. More than once Mellisa has wondered if that is just an affectation, something to motivate his troops and if she has ever seen him truly angry.
'Sir..what could we do? Just leave them to be killed?' Drake said evenly, wisely speaking up before Fireheart can. The other dragon is less likely to temper his reaction than his companion.
'I had expected you might show some of the common sense I hoped I had drilled into you. What would have happened if things had gone wrong? If you had thought for a minute, you could have called in some help at least. You aren’t the only soldiers at this base. And you certainly are not a three man army.' he pauses to let that sink in. 'As much as you might think it. I suppose you should be lucky you rescued someone so important. Dr Amaki might not have shown any thanks to you, but there are some people in the capital who are very grateful he is safe. But that is no reason for me not to slap a disciplinary charge on all three of you.' Blancher pauses again, his eyes moving from the three of them in turn. 'However, since this is your last day of this assignment, I am more inclined to be lenient. So we will say no more about it this time, if you three promise me one thing."
'What's that, sir?' Mellisa answers for the three of them.
'That you will never do this kind of thing again.' Blancher fixes them all with a steady stare. 'Ever. I know the three of you feel you can take on the world sometimes, and maybe I'm at fault for encouraging that, but the army is not made up of individuals. You have to work within the command structure and that means you just can't go charging into anything and everything you see. Remember, always call in when you do anything that deviates from your current mission. Now, your transport to the capital will be at the landing pad at 1730 hundred hours, so I will give you the last order as your CO. Clear your quarters and assemble on the landing pad at 1730 hundred hours. Dismissed.'
Her quarters look strange to Mellisa, much larger. Odd how packing away a few small trinkets can make a room look so different. It's like all traces of her life, her time here have been swept away. Well, not all of them. Mellisa's gaze strays to the necklace that Ivy had given her, the tiny silver coin on a chain hanging on the edge of the picture frame. It's strange how she can still feel it so keenly after so long, even after days of not thinking about it. Then some days it just hits her unexpectedly and then it is just like it had just happened, the memories of how she felt when Ivy left her as fresh as they had been that day.
'So..can I have your bunk?' It takes Mellisa a few long seconds to recognise that voice, to register its presence, the sudden sound drawing her out of her thoughts.
'It’s not like I'm going to be using it, now is it?' Mellisa quipped, even though she really doesn't feel like laughing right now. As much as she is going to miss this place, she will miss the people even more. In fact, with Fireheart and Drake going their separate ways and Mellisa leaving the training base, she will be cut off from the people she had been spending the most time with, from her friends. And that includes Jacqui. It's not always the case that roommates get on immediately, or sometimes never at all. But she and Jacqui hit it off like that, getting close the very first day. They had just felt that click..maybe rebound from Ivy? Or just
looking for a friend that wasn't going to rip her heart out? Maybe she had needed it in a way, needed a friend now that she was so far from home. Or they would have been friends anyway. She could be overthinking this. Something she does a lot.
'You get your orders?' Mellisa asks, suddenly seeking comfort in talking about something more mundane.
'Yep. I ship out tomorrow. The GroundStone Research and Development Centre. They need some mechanics to work on finalising the TZ654's before they come into active service. When I get back I can start training other ground crews to work with them as well. Should only be for a month, maybe too. And should give us a lot to catch up on, huh?.' Jacqui replies.
'Count on it. First round is on me.' Mellisa says. Its silly maybe but those words are kind of a promise that they will meet again, despite what life could throw at them. Maybe she can't do anything to control fate, but she likes to think she can do something.
'I’ll hold you too that.' Jacqui grins, stepping into a close hug, a hug that says things that go beyond words. 'Stay safe, okay?'
Have all your operatives returned safely from the field?' the voice from the terminal on the desk fills Blancher's office, reaching his ears from where he stands on the other side of the room.
'Yes. And the shipment is safe, with only minor injuries to the driver. Dr Amagi and his research are almost safe. We have secured them both in the science lab.' Blancher steps away from the window, moving towards the glowing screen. 'And we have placed the base of defence stations, should we be attack here. But I feel the danger here has passed.'
The onscreen lioness looks as regal and composed as she ever does, her hands folded into the sleeves of her robes. 'It was indeed lucky your subordinates were close to hand. We had only just become aware of the situation and could not have responded in enough time to make any difference.' Valeria replies.
'Yes, the situation could have been much worse if they had not intervened.' Blancher nods. 'But why do I think there is more to this than just one isolated predator attack? Why else would the Sisterhood become involved.'
'I should know better than to hide things from you.' Valeria says with a soft smile. 'Yes, this was not the first attack like this and yet, this one was more disturbing.'
Blancher turns away from the window, his arms crossed over his chest. 'Not the attack, you mean. But the proximity of it, yes? They have never come this close to this base, or any base, before. They have had no need too. I know how closely the Sapphire Temple has been investigating this. And I feel that your conclusions mirror my own, that something has changed, that you feel this is part of something much bigger.'
Valeria responds with a nod as she sits back at her desk, like she had been waiting for his agreement and is relieved by it. 'I do. I just do not know what. I would not lie to you. The sight of our order is veiled in this matter, clouded by something we cannot see. But I sense something dark rising against us, something that this world has never seen, something not of this world. The question remains what though.'
'So, you come to me for advice then? Or something more?' Blancher asks, certain he knows what she is thinking.
'Something more. Our order is powerful it is true, but that power is not matched by our numbers. If there is something that threatens us, we will need more numbers than we can provide. And I have been thinking about the proposal we discussed. I think in light of this, we will have to accelerate our plans, put them in motion faster than we anticipated.'
Mellisa is the last to arrive on the landing pad, the setting sun casting a deep red light across the sky, deep shadows falling on the two dragons waiting for her. Like her, they are each carrying a small bag. Soldiers generally travel light and Mellisa had soon learned to take only the bare minimum she needed.
Now, they just have to wait for the transport to arrive. Not that they will have to wait very long. Mellisa can see the tiny shape in the sky rapidly growing closer. While she waits, she moves to the railing overlooking the sea below, hearing more than seeing the waves crashing on the breakers. She had never really appreciated the sound of the ocean before she came here, had never seen oceans like this before. So different from the sculpted beaches of her home. Something so wild and powerful. She had only expected to spend a few years here but she hadn't expected to feel like home. That thought brings a sad smile to the tigresses face, not just from thoughts about the home she is going to be leave, but the one she will be returning too as well. Even with having been away from the capital for a year, it still feels like home. And probably always will. It may not be the place she was born but it is the one place in this world she truly feels at home.
Yet the waves are soothing her, giving something to dwell on other than her thoughts and her memories
That and the presence of her companions too. 'So, you guys still want to go back to the capital huh?' Mellisa turns her back on the ocean to face her friends. 'Find a little place of your own? A bachelor pad on the coast maybe? Somewhere with a beach view?'
'Sounds just about right.' Drake nods quickly. 'How about you?'
'I dunno....after everything that happened with....Ivy, I'm not sure I want to live with anyone just yet. I might just go and crash with my mother for a while.' Mellisa replies.
'You can't hang back forever you know. I know she burned you but that's no reason to put your life on hold.' Drake says. 'Find a small apartment with a roommate..see what happens.'
Mellisa sighs. It would be so easy to do what Drake suggested, one little step, just one. But that little step could lead....Well, she doesn't know. And that scares her most of all. It could end up going nowhere, or could end up going where she is afraid it will, leading to her opening her heart only to have it crushed again....