“Nice of General Darcones to let us have this post, huh?” said Wedge, his usual cheerful grin plastered to his face.
Biggs snorted. “I’m just grateful he didn’t have us both shot when we showed up in our underwear.”
“Are you kidding? Didn’t you see him laughing? You worry too much!” Wedge slapped Biggs on the shoulder.
Startled, Biggs jumped, throwing his energy rifle in the air reflexively. Wedge laughed as his brother struggled to catch his weapon.
From behind a nearby brush, Mikaen whispered, “I don’t believe it. It’s Biggs and Wedge!”
“You’re kidding!” Jeronem peeked over the bushes. “Wow! It is them! What are the odds?”
Seeing everyone else’s blank stare, Mikaen added, “They were the guards we knocked out at the edge of the ravine. It’s the same two guys, I’m sure of it.”
They watched as Wedge used the hilt of his energy saber to scratch his back while continuing to bicker with Biggs. Mikaen knew he could take them both out easily from where they stood, but somehow, he just couldn’t bring himself to hurt them. They reminded him of a couple of rascally knight scrubs he’d trained back on Earth.
His gaze fell to Tirinia. He knew she was still worried about her sister. Mikaen wanted nothing more than to comfort her, but now wasn’t the time.
“I’m fine,” She said in response to his thoughts. “One promised, and he’s never broken a promise.”
Mikaen squeezed her hand and gave her a reassuring smile. “I'm sure you're right.”
Mikaen winced at the loudness of Jeronem’s mental voice. He knew the young vuestan was only speaking to them, but it still made him feel uneasy to hear someone talking at a normal volume when there were guards nearby.
“Check it out!” Jeronem was hunched over one of the nearby tree’s root, where a series of vines covered with small red flowers grew.
Mikaen knelt down and moved to pick one, but Jeronem stopped him. “Watch it! One whiff and you’ll be out for an hour!”
“Sleep dusters,” Mikaen whispered.
Jeronem nodded. “Indeed. I saw a few sprigs here and there on the way, growing like weeds. Just as well. I was kinda wanting to replace what we used back at the ravine.”
“Careful!” Tirinia warned as Jeronem reached for one, his other hand clamped over his nose.
Mikaen glanced over the plant and spotted a couple seed pods that looked ripe. “Say Jeronem, you any good at druidic magic?”
“I was ‘good’ at it when I was eight. Now I'm fantastic. Why?”
“I think I have an idea.”
“Say, Biggs … you remember the Enya sisters, right?”
“Do I remember the only other two kids in our neighborhood besides us? Of course I remember them. We grew up together.”
Wedge continued, “Jasmine has a crush on you, you know.”
Biggs let out an exasperated sigh. “Don’t start. I have enough on my mind right now. Besides, I know you and Heather are already close.”
Wedge closed his eyes and sighed happily. “Yeah, I guess we are … but you know how it is; she won’t go anywhere without her sister, which means I need another guy to go out with us.”
Biggs didn’t reply. He looked annoyed.
Shrugging, Wedge said off-handedly, “Of course, you don’t like girls from Longshore, so …”
“I never said that.” said Biggs indignantly.
“Then it's because she's fional.”
“Of course not!”
“Then why not?”
“-just don't like her? C'mon, man, I've saw you looking at her before we left. What's the real reason?”
Biggs didn't reply. After a few moments, Wedge shrugged and said, “Fine. You don't like her. I get it.”
A few more moments passed before Biggs finally admitted, “I do like her. I have since school, you know that. It’s just, you know, with this whole army thing …”
“Hmm?” Wedge looked at his brother expectantly.
Sighing, Biggs asked, “What if something happens to us? I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels for a bonded Shoran to lose a mate. I don’t …”
“You don’t what?” Wedge pressed.
“I don’t want to make Jasmine cry,” Biggs answered, his cheeks red. “There, I said it.”
“Is that all? You big softie!” Wedge laughed, drawing a dark look from Biggs. “Come on, man! Nothing’s gonna happen to us. I mean, what are the chances that someone will try to break into this lift? There hundreds of other lifts spread out all over the continent, not to mention all the ventilation ducts. I mean, if you were sneaking in, you’d use one of those, right?”
“I suppose you’re right.” Biggs admitted.
“Tell you what. Darcones said he’d give us some leave in a few weeks. How about we go back to Altier and take Heather and Jasmine out on a date. Nothing serious!” he added quickly, “No soul-bonding or whatever it’s called … just a nice night on the town. How about that?”
Biggs lowered his rifle. “Are you sure they’d be up for it? I was kind of dismissive to Jasmine last time I was home.”
“Ah, I already told her you were stodgy. Heather told me Jasmine’s been talking about you since we left.”
“Really?” There was a definite hopeful note in Biggs’s voice.
Wedge held out his arm. “Look for yourself.”
Biggs took a hold of his arm, and read the screen embedded in his brother’s gauntlet. When he looked up, his cheeks were slightly red.
“So? Can I tell the Enyas that there’s a double date in their future?” Wedge asked, smirking.
Biggs opened his mouth to reply when something started moving through the bushes.
Biggs and Wedge had their rifles trained on him instantly. “Halt!”
A soldier of the Security Force Border Patrol rushed through the brush, his uniform smeared badly with dirt and his helmet cracked. The recognition software in Biggs’s and Wedge’s helmets informed the two guards that the soldier was Lieutenant Carmine Alder of the Ronisgald Border Control.
Biggs and Wedge lowered their weapons and saluted. “Lieutenant Alder!”
“What? Nevermind … I need to get through immediately.”
Biggs moved to help him, but Alder shoved his arm away, saying, “Look, six chasers just mowed down my entire team! I think that sentient guy from Ircandesta was leading them!”
“Mikaen?” said Biggs disbelievingly, “Did you see which way he was heading?”
Wedge scoffed. “Here? This is one of the main entrances to Ronisgald! You’d have to be some kinda idiot to-”
Alder grabbed Wedge by the front of his uniform. “He’s on the way right now!”
Biggs, momentarily at a loss of how to separate a superior soldier from his brother, pushed the two apart.
Letting out a deep breath, Wedge activated the lift doors. “Go on ahead. Biggs and I will keep an eye out until backup gets here.”
“Thank you.” Alder gave the brothers a weak salute as the elevator doors opened.
Within moments, tiny vines began poking from the seeds Lieutenant Alder had dropped at their feet.
Biggs was the first to notice what was going on, but by then it was too late. The vines shot up both of their bodies, binding their arms and legs to their sides and effectively gagging them. As Wedge fell against the wall and Biggs hit the ground with a plop, tiny red blooms appeared all over the vines.
With a soft popping sound, the blooms burst open, each flower releasing a puff of sleep-inducing pollen. Biggs and Wedge struggled for a few more seconds before their muffled yells became snores. The vines released their prisoners, and settled on the ground, digging roots under and around the sleeping Biggs and Wedge.
Lieutenant Alder poked his head back out of the elevator. “Huh. It worked!”
Mikaen stepped out from behind the nearby thick bushes. “You sound surprised.”
“Well, maybe not surprised. I am impressed though.” As the illusion surrounding Jek vanished, he turned to Jeronem and gave his hair a good tousle. “Not bad, little guy!”
Jeronem scowled. “Stop calling me little!”
Mikaen knelt by the sleeping soldiers to relieve them of their equipment, taking care not to disturb the sleep dusters. As he knelt by Biggs, he whispered, “For what it’s worth, I hope it works out with Jasmine.”
Jek let out a laugh. “I can’t believe we’re gonna just walk into 'the most technologically advanced country on Vinta’, and all we had to do is play a trick on two silly guards. I mean, seriously … if this ever gets out, they’ll never live it down.”
“Are you talking about Ronisgald, or Biggs and Wedge?” Tirinia asked, raising an amused eye at the idestan prince.
Jek looked at the sleeping pair, laying among the sleep dusters in their boxer shorts. “All of the above.”
Mikaen tossed a uniform to Jek and started to put on the other outfit when he felt Tirinia’s hand touch his back.
“Your wings.” Tirinia said gently, rubbing his shoulder.
“Oh … right.” Even with his wings pressed tightly against his back, he’d never fit in the Galden uniform.
Tirinia took the uniform from him, an apologetic smile on her face. “I’ll put it on.”
Mikaen couldn’t help but look at Tirinia’s ample bosom. From the way Tirinia blushed, she sensed what he was thinking.
Jeronem must’ve caught on too; his face went bright red, and he looked like he was about to start giggling any second. “Oh, right. Stand up straight and breathe normally.”
Once Tirinia complied, Jeronem waved his staff over her for a moment before waving it over the uniform, enveloping both in a fine mist of stream energy. The uniform seemed to wriggle in Tirinia’s hand for a few moments before finally lying still.
Tirinia slipped the uniform on over her clothes, this time with no problem. It seemed as though the uniform was made specifically for her.
“I find it hard to believe you had that spell stored in your staff,” Jek said, eyeing the young vuestan.
“Mom made me learn a few er … seamstress spells. Just in case.”
“Seamstress spells?!” Jek let out a laugh, instantly drawing a venomous look from Jeronem and a reproving glare from Tirinia. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”
His voice fell flat. The reason became obvious in a few seconds; the uniform was far too baggy for him.
“Uh, Jeronem,” he said awkwardly, “Could you …?”
Still looking annoyed, Jeronem waved his staff at Jek. The uniform constricted around him, though perhaps just a little too much.
Wheezing, Jek managed to say, “Too tight … much too tight …”
“Did you say something, Jek?”
“Sorry! Seamstress spells … not stupid. Please … I can’t breathe …”
With a grunt, Jeronem waved his staff at Jek again.
Jek took a deep breath as the uniform loosened. “Whew! It’s still a little tight.” seeing Jeronem’s face darken, he quickly added, “But I’m sure I’ll be fine. Gimmie a sec and I’ll see if I can’t alter the ID chips.”
Shaking his head on his teammate’s account, Mikaen said, “Let’s get into the elevator before another patrol shows up. You’ll have plenty of time to tinker on the way down.”
Tirinia started to hand Mikaen Justice, but he stopped her. “Go ahead and keep it for now. I feel a little better knowing you have it.”
“I’ll take good care of it,” she promised, rubbing Mikaen’s cheek.
“As long as you take care of yourself in the process.” He gave her a kiss to emphasize his point.
As Tirinia walked into the elevator, Mikaen took a final glance around the local forest. Satisfied that no one was around, he stepped inside, the metal doors quickly sliding shut behind him.
The ride to the Hub was fairly quick, though given the advanced level of Galden technology, that didn’t come as any surprise to Mikaen. They could have matter-energy transporters, for all he knew. Jek managed to alter the ID chip in his uniform, but his attempts to alter the ID chip of Tirinia’s suit ended with a loud zap and a small shout from Jek.
“Damn,” Jek said, shaking his burnt fingers. “I think I shorted it out. These things aren’t designed very well.”
“Well, maybe that’ll work in our favor.” Tirinia said. “I’ll just say I didn’t realize it was fried. At most, they’ll order me to get a new one. Then I’ll have an excuse to go to the Security Force Headquarters.”
Mikaen nodded, though there was something bothering him. “I’m curious. Why don't more people use the main lifts?”
“Simmersills.” Jek tapped at his gauntlet until it displayed an umbrella-like vehicle that looked like the sort of thing a person would find floating in a pool. “Most people coming and going from Ronisgald travel underwater. Less of a walk, closer to the spheres.”
As the elevator doors opened, Mikaen glanced cautiously down both corridors for a moment before whispering back to his friends, “Okay, we’re clear.”
As soon as the last member of the team stepped through the doors, the elevator doors shut behind them.
“So far, so good.” Mikaen said, rubbing his hands together. “Which way to the Central Core?”
Something wiggled out of his pocket and fell to the floor, startling Mikaen. It spun a few times before the arrow drawn on top pointed to the corridor on the right.
“One’s compass.” Mikaen said, grinning as he knelt down to pick it up. “Damn, he thought of everything.”
Turning to the others, he said, “Okay, let’s get moving. I’ll-”
“No you won’t, sweetie. Jek and I are the ones in uniform, remember? We’ll take the lead. If we run into any Galden, we can say that you’re our prisoners or something.” Tirinia gave Mikaen a peck on the cheek before donning her helmet and taking the lead. Mikaen sighed and followed, but not before returning Jeronem’s smirk with a glare.
Walking through the Hub of Ronisgald felt strange. Mikaen had become used to the architecture of Homestead and Muonsol, with their homes of stone and wood built within and around living trees. It was harmonious, not to mention lovely on the eyes.
The Hub of Ronisgald was more like a Rev military base: metal floors, harsh florescent lighting on the ceiling, and glowing computer panels on the walls. While the wide oval shape of the corridors and the more advanced technology made the corridors feel more comfortable than the cramped halls of a Rev installation, Mikaen had simply spent too much time in the woods of Ircandesta to feel comfortable without the greens and browns of the trees.
He felt a surge of reassurance as Tirinia slipped her hand into his. “Me too, sweetie.”
“A lot of forests in Longshore?” Mikaen thought back, meeting her gaze.
“Oh, plenty! Our cities are more like ... like ...” he felt her thoughts drift into his own memories. “Like Bridges must’ve looked before the Devastation, but with about the same amount of wildlife present as the last time you were there.”
“Overgrown Bridges, huh?” Mikaen thought, trying to picture it in his head.
“We just feel more comfortable with the rustling of leaves, a instinctual remnant from when my ancestors were hunters.” Mikaen felt a little embarressment from Tirinia, images of their initial meeting and the ensuing fight flashing through both of their minds. “Well, different kinds of hunters.”
Mikaen chuckled, drawing an annoyed look from Jek. “Ugh ... could you two not do that?”
“Do what?” Mikaen asked, feigning ignorance.
“Talk without talking. It’s ... rude.”
“Excuse me?” Jeronem said.
Jek scowled at him. “You don’t count. With the vuestan, it’s mental communication or nothing, whereas tigreth and sentients have the option of speaking out loud so that their friends can hear what they’re saying!”
Grinning, Mikaen thought pointedly about giving Jek a kick in the backside. Tirinia and Jeronem both let out a giggle.
Jek turned, demanding, “Okay, what’s so funny?”
“Nothing.” Tirinia lied, “You just reminded Mikaen of Jyle, that’s all.”
Jek glared at Mikaen, who simply nodded and said, “That’s right. He never cared much for psionics.”
“Because all the charm in the world doesn’t help if a woman can read your mind and know you’re cheating on her.”
That set Tirinia and Jeronem to giggling again. Jek stared at Mikaen for a moment before chuckling as well. “All right, fair enough. Still, try and remember we’re in Ronisgald now. We need to stay focused.”
“Fair enough.” Mikaen said. Jek was right, as jarring as that thought was.
The Hub of Ronisgald consists of twenty levels surrounding the Central Core. Although it is mostly used for traveling between the biospheres, the Hub is also home to many research and development labs. The Hub is also home to the central control grid that controls everything in Ronisgald from power distribution and security to the climates of the biospheres.
Unfortunately, it is also a bit of a maze to those unfamilar with the layout. With so many corridors, the progress of Mikaen’s group was hampered as he had to repeatedly check One's compass to make sure they were going the right way.
As Mikaen started to check the compass for what felt like the hundredth time, he saw Tirinia’s ears twitch out of the corner of his eye.
“Someone’s coming!” She hissed.
There were at least a dozen adjoining corridors within view, making it hard for Mikaen to figure out just where the footsteps were coming from. Maybe it was just the echo caused by the metal walls, but it sounded like they were approaching from every direction.
“Jeronem, I need you to …?” Mikaen glanced back at Jeronem only to realize that the young vuestan wasn’t there. “Jeronem! Where did he-”
Someone suddenly grabbed Mikaen by the back of his shirt and pulled him flat against the wall moments before a troop of no less than twenty Security Force officers marched out from a nearby corridor.
Mikaen tried to reach for Truth, but whoever had pinned him to the wall grabbed his hand. “Quiet!”
To his surprise, the troops walked past him without as much as a single glance in his direction. They stopped as a group in the center of the intersection.
Tirinia and Jek quickly took up positions next to the rest of the squad just as a soldier in a somewhat fancier uniform called the group to attention.
“All right, people, we have confirmation a group of at least six heading toward Ronisgald overland. According to our last satellite visual, we’re dealing with two tigreth, a vuestan, an alcian-tribe sentient, an idestan, and one Galden.”
Glancing around at the group, he said, “We do not know what their purpose is here, but their intent is unmistakably hostile. Nevertheless, General Darcones has made it very clear that they are to be captured alive, at all costs.”
“Sir!” Jek said, making Mikaen wince, “How do we know they’re hostile?”
“When asked to provide identification, they attacked and injured several soldiers. Seems pretty hostile to me.”
“Injured or killed, sir?” Jek asked.
The troop leader glared at him. “They were only injured, but two of the assaulted soldiers will require hospitalization. Now, if there aren’t any more questions …”
Mikaen would have liked nothing better than to give Jek a good smack in the head. Tirinia must’ve either felt the same or picked up his thought; when Jek opened his mouth to reply, she swiftly elbowed him in the ribs.
The leader continued, “Our mission will be to check the Hub for any sign of the intruders. Once we verify the Hub is clear, we will seal the outer elevators and begin a search of the districts.”
Tirinia asked, “Sir! Does HQ really think a bunch of outsiders could have infiltrated Ronisgald into the districts in such a short time?”
He squinted at her. “Your ID tag is malfunctioning. What is your name, soldier?”
“Private Maria Soleil, sir.” She saluted.
“Well, Private Soleil, HQ doubts the intruders have reached the districts. Still, we feel it would be better to be certain, especially considering the recent terrorist attacks on the Kelshira Power Station.”
Addressing the group, he continued, “Everyone split into teams of three and move out.”
As the group began to group up and leave the hub, the leader called out, “One moment! Private Soleil and Private Korins!”
Mikaen felt his heart jump into his throat.
As Tirinia and Jek approached the leader, he said, “I’d like you two to head over to the Kelshira district with Lieutenant Sakamota here and meet up with Sergeant Jures’s team. With all the recent attacks, I want to make sure the power facility is properly guarded.”
“Yes sir!” Lieutenant Sakamota and Tirinia responded, both saluting, Jek following suit just a moment later.
The leader leaned closer to Tirinia and Sakamota. “On the way, perhaps you two ladies could teach Private Korins how to observe proper decorum?”
“Yes sir,” They replied while Jek rolled his eyes.
As the leader walked away, Lieutenant Sakamota turned to Tirinia and Jek and said, “Lieutenant Rena Sakamota. Nice to be working with you two.”
“Likewise, Lieutenant,” Jek replied.
She waved him off. “Rena will be fine. I’m not much for protocal. You two ready to go?”
Go ahead, thought Mikaen, hoping she’d understand. I’ll meet up with you two later.
Nodding, Tirinia’s eyes went back to Rena. “Yes ma’am.”
As the three left down a separate corridor, Mikaen heard Jek say, “So, whatcha doin’ tonight, Rena? I figure me and a babe with all the right curves like you could ... oww! I was kidding!”
Mikaen felt the hold on him diminish. He pushed away, his hand on Truth as he turned to see who had grabbed him.
“Fancy seeing you here,” said a short slim woman with a pretty face that Mikaen knew all too well.
Mikaen’s jaw dropped. “Jade?”
Jade Siercka, leader of the Knights of the Star’s shadows and close friend of Mikaen and Jyle, threw her arms around Mikaen. “It is you! Thank God! You really scared us this time, Mikaen.”
“I’m sorry, Jade. I didn’t mean to make anyone worry about me.”
“I know. I saw the portal.” She stepped away and looked him over. “And now you’ve got wings! Can you imagine what Syrin would say?”
“She holding up okay?”
“She was holding it together last time I saw her. She was worried about you, but to be frank, we all were. It was all she could do to keep Jyle from running out, looking for you.” Jade chuckled. “Just imagine what he’d say if he could see you now?”
Mikaen looked at her oddly. “Jyle? You mean you don’t know?”
“Jyle’s-” Mikaen stopped at the sound of distant footsteps. They stood silently in the hall for a moment, waiting until the sound faded into the distance. “We’ll talk about this later. Right now, I need to find Angela.”
“I know. She’s expecting you.”
“You know her?” Mikaen asked, surprised.
Jade nodded. “She’s a good friend. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
They hadn’t gone more than a couple minutes when Mikaen realized he had forgotten something. “Jeronem!”
“Yeah. Furry ears, monkey-like tail, kinda short, carries around the crystallized tail of a durien for a staff. He wandered off earlier.”
“He wasn’t with you when I found you.” Jade glanced back at the hallway they had just come from. “We could go back and look for him.”
“I doubt it would help. This place is laid out like a maze.” Mikaen sighed and rubbed his temples. “His mother’s going to kill me if anything happens to him.”
“Look on the bright side,” said Jade, “If he’d been caught, we’d know it.”
“I’m more worried about what he’s going to do without supervision,” Mikaen muttered. “He has a little problem with buttons.”
“Sounds like my …” She stopped and let out a chuckle. “We’ll ask Angie when we see her. If anyone can find him, she can.”
Mikaen looked in the direction Tirinia and Jek had gone. He wanted to stay close to Tirinia, but he didn’t want to jeopardize the mission.
“Don’t worry about your friends.” Jade said, as though reading his mind, “I know Sergeant Jures, and he’s a good guy. I’ll send him a message once we reach Angela.”
Reluctantly, Mikaen followed Jade. They moved quickly through the corridors, careful to remain as silent as possible to avoid any undue attention. Jade’s ability to cloak the both of them came in handy whenever they accidentally stumbled onto a patrol. Fortunately, the patrols quickly became few and far between the further they delved into the Hub.
“You were saying something about Jyle?” Jade asked as they rode a lift deeper into the Hub.
Mikaen nodded. “Right. Well, Jyle’s the Cygros of Ircandesta.”
She snorted. “Yeah, and I’m the Childlike Empress.”
“I’m serious. Believe me, I’m more surprised than anyone.” He glanced at her. “I’m surprised you don’t know. You were always on top of everything back on Earth.”
Her naturally dark cheeks went even darker. “To be honest, I haven’t left Ronisgald since I first came here.”
“Really?” Mikaen asked, surprised. “How long ago was that?” Mikaen asked.
“Seven years. I’ve been watching the Revs ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been curious about the rest of the world, but I … well, I was a bit delayed.”
“Yeah, I can understand that.” Mikaen shook his head. “Seven years. How did you get here anyway?”
“The Revs were at the edge of the Rip that just formed in Nevada. When I saw the portal, I just knew it had something to do with you, so I snuck in.”
Mikaen looked at her, startled. “The portal was still open?”
Jade nodded. “As far as I know, it still is. I stepped through, and wound up in the middle of the Nelsin District Biosphere.”
“Jade, I made that portal nine months ago. Jyle says he fell through it too, but ended up seventy years in the past. He’s got a wife and kids now.”
“You’re kidding! Kids?”
“Yeah. One of them’s with us. Well, he was. Jek was Private Korins ... y’know, the soldier who kept asking questions.”
“I thought he sounded kinda familiar. The cat, the one who called herself Maria … she with you too?”
“Tirinia? Yeah, she’s my fiancée.”
Jade’s eyes went wide. “Wow! Well, congratulations!”
“Thanks.” Shaking his head, Mikaen said, “I don’t suppose you’ve figured out what the Revs are up to.”
“As a matter of fact, I have. I’ll fill you in just as soon as we reach Angela. She was very insistent on me bringing you to her unscathed.”
“How much further is it till we reach the Central Core?”
“We’re not too far off now. Now tell me everything about this Tirinia.”
As they continued walking, Mikaen told her everything that had happened, including meeting Tirinia, the Council, and the incident at the ravine with the Breath of Fire.
When he finished, Jade said, “Angela tracked you down about a month ago after that deal with the … what did you call it, the Breath of Fire? She couldn’t find any other details, which I guess isn’t that surprising. It’s not like a place like Homestead would be tied to the weave. Turn right here.”
As they turned right, Mikaen saw a horde of bug-like machines skittering toward them.
“Jade!” He reached for Truth, but Jade held him back.
“Relax,” she said as the little machines ran by, “They’re just skrievers. Some idiot probably got stuck in a closet again.”
“Skrievers?” Mikaen watched the machines as they disappeared around the corner. “That doesn’t look like any Galden tech I’ve seen.”
Jade shook her head. “It’s Glyche tech. The Glyche … well, Angela can explain it better than I can. Come on, we’re almost there.”
As they stepped inside another elevator, Jade said, “Central Core, please.”
The elevator started moving immediately.
“So,” Mikaen asked, “I’ve got Tirinia, and Jek’s a family man, heaven help us. Have you found someone special?”
He meant it in jest, but the look she gave him said it all.
“That's what happened, isn't it,” He asked. “Why you never left Ronisgald.”
“I was about to,” She confessed. “I was heading to the main lift when my boyfriend caught up with me and proposed.” She allowed herself a small smile. “First time anyone's surprised me in a long time.”
“Well, congratulations to you too,” he said, meaning it. “Any kids?”
“Two, actually. Triana and Dean.”
“Which one likes to push buttons?” Mikaen asked, thinking back to her earlier response.
Jade chuckled. “Triana. She just has to know what everything does. Managed to short out all the electronics in our house more than once. Dean's quieter, though no less of a troublemaker.”
They both chuckled at this for a few moments.
“I'd introduce you, but …”
“It's okay.” Mikaen assured her. “Probably not a safe idea to lead the people who just illegally broke into Ronisgald back home. All the more reason to get to the business at hand.”
“Fair enough. Three months ago, Triumvate Jures was ousted from his office, and replaced with Darcones Fairchilde, the General of the Galden Security Force. At first, we didn’t think anything of it; Triumvate Jures was a womanizer and a scoundrel, so much so that his only son cut off ties with him.”
“What happened to make you suspicious?” Mikaen asked.
“The incident at the ravine. The Ronisgald Security Force isn’t an army as much as it is a police force, yet Darcones approved the effort to uncover the Breath of Fire … under the table, so to speak. Then I found out about his ties to the Celestial Cathedral. I knew the Revs were hiding among the clergy, but that was the first real sign that they had some agenda. Since then, I’ve been working to help uncover the Rev involvement to the general populace.” She let out a sigh. “Unfortunately, they’ve been masking themselves pretty well. We've got one Triumvate at least questioning Darcones's actions, but the other has been very stubborn. If we had proof, we might be able to sway her to our side.”
“Have you checked out the Celestial Cathedral?” Mikaen asked.
Jade snorted. “Of course. Your little incursion plus the involvement of a damn Dreamer was more than enough to catch Angela’s attention. Still not sure how you managed to get One's help.”
“You know about the Dreamers?”
“Of course. One's all over the place in Ronisgald's history. Someone tried to hush it up, of course, but they didn't count on Angela.” She shook her head. “No such luck with the Revs, though. The Revs have managed to keep a tight lid on everything. Even Angela can't find anything definitive.”
“Angela.” Mikaen muttered to himself. All this talk about Angela was starting to make him nervous. Was she really going to help him? Did she have her own agenda?
He supposed he should feel good that the mission was still a go. After all, none of his team had been caught yet. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder about the others, particularly Jeronem. After all, there was no telling what kind of trouble the young vuestan was up to.
“Mikaen! Mikaen, where are you?”
Jeronem walked down the metal corridors of the Hub alone, clutching his staff to his chest. He hadn’t meant to wander off, but everything was shiny and interesting. It was only natural for him to be curious. Besides, he knew they wouldn’t abandon him … or so he thought.
“Tirinia? Jek?” Jeronem’s thoughts took on a definite note of panic. “Anyone?”
Something fell from the ceiling and landed on his head.
“Gaaah!” He knocked the thing from his head and backed away, staff at the ready.
The little skriever chittered at him in a rather irritated manner before scurrying away.
Jeronem let out a sigh.
Something behind him chirped.
Spinning around, he saw at least twenty of the small machines rushing toward him, tiny red eyes glowing. With a scream of terror, Jeronem took off like a shot down the opposite side of the corridor. Even with his fear-fueled speed, however, the skrievers were gaining on him.
He turned a corner at a fork in the corridor and slammed into a woman who literally appeared in front of him.
Despite Jeronem’s speed, she caught him easily. “Don’t worry. They aren’t after you.”
Sure enough, the skrievers continued down the corridor without giving Jeronem a second glance.
As they skittered away, Jeronem pulled away from the woman. He didn’t know Luck, but he did recognize the Anti-ka Maru on the back of her left hand. The site of the Dreamer’s rune did much to calm him down.
She knelt down so she could look him in the eye. “Are you okay, little one?”
Jeronem bristled. “I’m not little!”
“Really? All alone in a strange country, but you aren’t the least bit afraid?’
“O-of course not!” Jeronem wondered briefly if she could read his mind. One didn’t seem to have any psionic ability, but he was just one Dreamer; who was to say what the others could or couldn’t do?
She laughed, but not unkindly. “It’s okay to be a little afraid, Jeronem. I’m Luck, by the way.”
Relief washed over Jeronem. “You’re One’s girlfriend, right?”
She beamed at him. “That’s right! And as his girlfriend, I have to make sure he stays out of trouble, right?”
Jeronem’s eyes went wide. “One’s in trouble?”
“Not yet, but he could be. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I need your help to keep him safe and help Mikaen in the process, too.”
“Really? What are we gonna do?”
She put a hand on Jeronem’s shoulder and guided him in the direction she was going. “Come on. I’ll tell you on the way.”