The Kelshira District, the second largest biosphere of Ronisgald, lay before them. Smooth skyscrapers and brightly-lit roads covered the ground, curved up against the natural curve of the biosphere, and lined the distant ceiling, hazy from the vast distance but still faintly visible. Floaters were flying almost everywhere, giving the city a strange metropolitan feel.
The light of the city came from a strange orb that hovered near the center, radiating both light and darkness. At the moment the entrance of the city was bathed in daylight, but the light was already beginning to wane.
Looking around, One said, “Strange. I know Ronisgald thinks it’s all big and bad, but you’d think they’d have a few guards at the entrance.”
“They probably don’t think intruders could get this far. Security watches the simmersill bays, sure, the direct lifts for the most part, but if you come from the Hub-”
“-it's pretty much assumed you're supposed to be here. Gotcha.”
Teria rubbed her hands together, “Okay, so where to first?”
One checked Headache and pointed almost straight up. “See that big building right there?”
Teria strained her neck and squinted. “The one with the saucer on the top?”
“Yup. After you.”
The lift doors slid shut behind them. Deciding it would be in their best interest to not hang around, they started toward the distant building.
“Should we get a taxi?” Teria asked as they started walking down to street level.
“Do you have any shards?”
“That’d get me there, but what about you?”
One made a face at her. “Funny.”
“No, funny is making you carry me.” She leaned against him and batted her eyes at him. “Please?”
“Get off.” He said, pushing her away playfully. He tried to hide his smile, but Teria's eyes were faster.
The crowd was mostly Galden and Shoran, with the occasional idestan and Cleftan. Most people didn't even give One and Teria a second glance, even with Headache still on One's arms.
“I thought your people hated each other,” One asked as they walked along a busy road.
“Nowadays, it’s mostly just the older people and impressionable youngsters,” She told him. “I mean, look at that.” She pointed to a Galden man walking hand in hand with bunny-eared woman. “The Galden nearly wiped out the fional during their initial assault on Longshore. Doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much, does it? In fact, it apparently didn’t bother her parents either.”
“I don’t understand.”
She gestured at the couple again, saying, “Look at her ears. See how they’re long and floppy? Galden genes. She’s part Galden.”
“I thought Shoran genetics were always dominant.”
“Oh, she’s fional. Her kids and her kids’ kids will still retain most fional traits, even if she dumps him for another fional.”
“Huh. I didn’t know that.”
Teria snorted. “Everyone thinks all Shorans are the same. We let ‘em, seeing as that means they think they’re all like the tigreth or the lupere.”
One had dealt with the lupere before. Evolved from ancient canines, the lupere were known for their strength and skill. They made up the brunt of the Shoran army, and weren’t shy about reminding people about it.
Teria suddenly made a beeline for a nearby store window. Seeing her tail start swishing, One muttered, “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Teria!”
“In a minute.” She was looking at a set of clothes in the store window. Glancing down at her own clothes, she said, “Shoran style kinda stands out, don't you think? I need some new threads.”
“We don't really have the time to-” One said, but she was already halfway through the door.
“I’ll be back in a second.” She promised before the door shut behind her.
Sighing, One shook his head, muttering, “Figures.”
One turned to see Luck glaring at him, her hands on her hips.
“I, uh … I just …”
Her face broke into a smile. She threw her arms around him and gave him a kiss. “Just kidding, sweetie. Whatcha up to?”
One gestured at the store. “Well, we were on our way to hack into the security mainframe, but Teria decided that she wanted to go shopping instead.”
“Ah, everyone likes to go shopping now and then. It’s not just a girl thing either, no matter what Two says, and shame on you for thinking so. You could use some new threads yourself.”
“What?” One replied in a tone of mock horror, “And lose the stylish combination of green and gray? That’s where I get my strength!”
Luck giggled, running her hand along one of the green stripes across One’s chest. “Yeah, you’re right. I probably wouldn’t even recognize you in a different shirt.”
Breaking away reluctantly, she said, “I wish I could stay, but I’m in the middle of something myself.”
“An assignment?” One asked, intrigued.
“Nah, more of a babysitting thing. Speaking of which, I’d better get back.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “I’ll catch up with you at the Elsewhere later, okay?”
As she started to turn, One picked her up and gave her a bear of a hug. “What? No kiss goodbye?”
Smiling, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a long, passionate kiss.
One and Luck turned to see Teria glaring at them. She now wore a sky-blue halter-top with a silk overshirt and a pair of loose-fitting dark red pants.
One set Luck down, whispering, “I’ll see you later.”
She gave him a final kiss on the forehead before vanishing.
Feeling a bit embarrassed, One let out a polite cough and said, “So, ready to move on?”
On the other side of the district, Tirinia, Jek, and Lieutenant Rena Sakamota were walking through a nice suburban neighborhood. The residential section had a much more comfortable feel to it than the urban mess Teria and One were passing through. Although there was the occasional apartment complex, most of the buildings were simple one or two-story homes with wide grass lawns.
“Reminds me of home.” Tirinia said, feeling a little homesick.
Rena glanced at her. “You originally from Longshore?”
Tirinia nodded before she remembered herself. Fortunately, Rena didn’t seem bothered by it.
“I hear it’s nice there. I’m originally from Wenapaj myself. It’s a nice enough place, but King Iniagus …” Rena chuckled. “I suppose I don’t have to say anything else, huh?”
“Umm ... how did you know?” Tirinia asked curiously.
“The way you’re walking kind of gives it away.” She leaned closer to Tirinia and said, “You know they have uniforms with tail holes if you need them, right?”
Tirinia blushed, but said nothing. Several children ran up to them as they walked through the area, mostly just to gawk at them. A little girl with blond pigtails ran up to Tirinia and started walking along.
“Where ya goin’?” she asked, peering up at Tirinia’s face.
“Official Security Force business.” Tirinia replied, ruffling the little girl’s hair.
The little girl turned toward a nearby house, where a Galden woman was waving. Seeing Tirinia looking back, the woman’s face went pale. “Kyrie, come inside this minute!”
“Okay, mom!” Turning back to Tirinia, the girl said, “I gotta go. Good luck, miss!”
“They’re afraid of us,” Tirinia said, her keen eyes seeing every worried line of the woman’s face as the girl ran into the house.
Rena let out a sigh. “Everyone thinks General Darcones kicked Triumvate Jures out of office to give the military more power.”
“Did he?” Jek asked.
Tirinia surreptitiously punched Jek in the ribs, but Rena didn’t pay them any attention.
“I honestly don’t know. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but …” Glancing around, Rena asked, “Did you hear about the incident in Ircandesta?”
“No. What happened?”
“An entire division was sent over here to acquire some kind of ancient technology. Sounds like something out of the Calliban Chronicles, doesn’t it?” Rena shook her head. “I’ve been a loyal member of the force for almost five years. I’m due to be promoted in a month’s time. I’ve trusted General Darcones’s judgment up to now, but even I’m starting to wonder what’s really going on.”
Shaking her head again, Rena said, “Bah. Don’t listen to me. My husband, Hugh, he’s a scientist when he’s not spewing out conspiracy theories. I guess I’ve picked up a few bad habits. I hate to see how our children will turn out.” With a sigh, she added, “If we ever have any.”
Tirinia naturally wanted to ask what was wrong, but something in Rena’s tone made it clear that it was a personal matter she did not wish to discuss.
“How about you?” Rena said as they continued toward the power plant, “You have someone special in your life?”
“I have a fiancé,” She said, thinking of Mikaen. The gentle pulse of his thoughts comforted her.
Jek sighed. “I don’t. Weird, huh? You’d think with my grace and charm the ladies would be lining up.”
Rena let out a good-natured laugh. “I pretty much thought I’d end up an old maid before I met my husband, in a Glyche ruin, no less. Trust me, you may not see it coming, but sooner or later you’ll find your soul mate.”
Conversation came to a halt as they drew near the power station. It stood out starkly against the rest of the nearby structures: a massive building that would've looked more at home in the urban area of the district.
As they neared the entrance, the doors opened revealing a surprisingly large Galden. The mask of his helmet was currently up, revealing a face that tugged at Tirinia’s memory.
“Sergeant Jures.” Rena saluted. “Lieutenant Sakamota, reporting for duty with Private Soleil and Private Korins.”
Tirinia and Jek saluted as well. The man returned the salute, his gaze stopping on her for just a moment. Tirinia recognized him after a few moments, though the relevation was a bit of a shock; it was the same galden who had led the remnants of the Galden troops after the Breath of Fire's accidental activation.
“Glad you could make it,” Sergeant Jures said at last. “Come on in and join the party. You lot can help protect the core.”
He pushed the doors to the plant open and waited for them to enter. Careful to keep her eyes straight ahead, Tirinia walked past with Jek behind her.
The outside of the power station was impressive, but it was nothing compared to what was within. Glowing lines of energy covered the walls and floor, pulsing gently every few seconds. Technicians worked silently on glowing diagnostic panels that sprang to life at their approach.
Most impressive of all, however, was the power generator in the center of the facility. Machinery of the like Tirinia had never seen before surrounded a massive orb of finely polished crystallic, lifestream energy radiating from the smooth surface like steam from a hot pan. Each time the stream radiating from the orb reached a certain density, a metal arm would sweep by, pulling the excess energy into itself. At any given time, this ‘harvesting’ was being done in at least a dozen spots around the giant orb.
Rena smiled at her. “First time here, eh?”
Tirinia swallowed and nodded. The heartstone known as 'The Eye of the Solarion' provided power to her hometown of Rhyios, arguably the largest city in Longshore, and that stone was only the size of a kyon. She could only imagine how much power the Galden power core could produce.
“Well, don’t worry,” Rena continued, “There hasn’t been an incident of stream poisoning in years.”
Snorting, Jek muttered, “That makes me feel MUCH better.”
As they drew near the core, Tirinia noticed the energy shield. The slight tint in the air was barely perceptible, though she doubted that a Galden would even have noticed.
“Okay,” Rena tapped the side of her helmet. “We’ve reached the Core, sir.”
“Good.” Tirinia jumped at Kevin’s voice coming through the earpiece in her helmet. “Okay everyone, we’ve got every entrance to the power core covered. That, coupled with me and my team guarding the outside, should prevent any more incidents. Stay sharp, and we can prevent any more accidents.”
“Accidents?” Jek asked as Rena lowered her hand.
“Yes, accidents,” replied Kevin’s voice, obviously startling the idestan prince, “Like part of the power grid overloading and causing explosions throughout the city. Yesterday, it was Henning’s street in the Nelsin district. Fortunately, most of the residents were at work or school.”
“Most?” Jek asked.
“Best not to dwell on it, soldier.”
“Sir!” Tirinia asked, trying to push her growing concerns aside, “Do we know anything about who’s been attacking the facility?”
“I’m sorry, who is this?”
“Private Maria Soleil, sir.”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. Tirinia winced, almost certain that she and Jek had been discovered.
“Well, Private Soleil, so far whoever’s been screwing with the power stations has managed to stay out of sight of the security cameras. All we know is that whoever it is has the ability to siphon off some pretty impressive amounts of stream.”
“Sir,” Rena began, biting her lip, “They say Blue Impulse-”
“Blue Impulse is one of the good guys,” Sergeant Jures said sharply, “He wouldn’t do anything that would result in the deaths of innocents.”
“Yes sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
“We don’t know what we’re up against, so everyone stay sharp just in case.”
They took up positions around the core and began to wait. Her and Jek's investigation halted, Tirinia turned her thoughts to Mikaen and the others.
“Stay safe, sweetie,” She whispered, clutching her rifle a little tighter.