"Goddammit!" I shouted just as Terry entered the room.
He seemed a little taken aback, although I suppose that shouldn't have been surprising. "Sir?"
"It was Terra! She was here!"
"The girl you keep dreaming about?"
His disbelieving tone didn't help my mood. Without a word, I jumped out of bed and threw my clothes on. Grabbing Terry by the pauldron, I dragged him from my room into the sun room, where Casey was still swimming in the lake in her scarlet underclothes.
"Aha!" I said, pointing at Casey, "See?"
What I could see of his cheeks turned red. "All I see is Miss Casey in her underwear."
Casey turned bright red as well. Covering herself as well as she could, she said, "Oh! I didn't think you'd be up yet."
"You were sleepwalking, right?" I said.
She gave me an odd look. "No. At least, I don't think so. I came here to have a swim."
"Then why are you in your underwear?" I asked.
"Because I'm not going skinny dipping in a Glyche lake no matter how safe it is, especially with that prepubescent runt Arc around. Now would you both please leave?"
As we left the sun room I felt more frustrated than ever. Part of me was trying to calm down, but it was hard to be calm when I could very well be going crazy. It wasn't just that; there was a lingering feeling of frustration that I couldn't explain at all. I felt annoyed at myself, yet I wasn't annoyed at myself, and that alone made it hard to think.
"It was real." I said, "I know it was."
Coughing slightly, Terry said, "I don't mean to dispute you, sir, but isn't it odd that-"
"The dagger!" I said, remembering she had told me she'd take the dagger as proof. "Terry, where's the dagger?"
"The handle thing she left at the Laffer Estates! The think I lent you last night!"
"Oh, er, right. That." After a moment of fumbling at his side, he produced the strange device. My heart sank, only to rise again as I saw Mick exiting one of the rooms.
"Mick!" I said, hurrying toward him.
He smiled at us. "Good morning Jimmy. Good morning, Terry. Is Miss Casey up yet?"
"She's in the lake." I said, waving a hand dismissively in the direction of the sun room. "Mick, do you remember seeing me go to the sun room last night?"
"Indeed. Just before Cristlyn gave me my upgrade."
"Did you see anyone other than Terry, Arc, Casey, you, or myself in the facility?"
He seemed to hesitate for just a moment, probably linking to the Central Core. He shook his head. "No. The entrance to the facility has been secured. The link has been repaired as well, by the way. May I ask what this is about?"
"It's the fional again." Terry said.
"Her name's Terra." A sudden suspicion ran through me as my eyes fell on Terry ... or more specifically, the armor covering most of his body.
Narrowing my eyes at Terry, I said, "Take off your helmet."
"My helmet?" He said, sounding starteled. "Why?"
"Because I think you've got a big pair of floppy ears under there!"
"W-what!" Terry sputtered, his hands quickly covering the latches that held his helmet to the rest of his armor.
Perhaps sensing that I was about to tackle Terry to the floor and tear his helmet off (and with how I was feeling at the moment, that was a very real possibility), Mick quickly stepped between us. "Okay, let's just calm down. Jimmy, I've scanned Terry several times already. He is male, I assure you."
Looking at Mick's concerned face helped calm me down. "Of course. I'm sorry, Terry. It's just … this is just so frustrating."
"I think I understand, sir." Terry said, lowering his hands. "Think nothing of it."
"Do you detect anything wrong with me?" I asked Mick. "Maybe a concussion or some sort of brain anomaly?"
Mick looked me over for a moment before shaking his head. "You seem to be in perfect health. You're a little stressed, but that's understandable. Still, if you'd like, we could use the medical bay here to do a more thorough scan. It would only take a few hours."
I sat down on the bed and held my head in my hands. "Maybe I am losing it, but this is more than a dream. She told me things."
"What things, sir?" Terry asked.
"She's one of the Queen's shadows. I didn't even know Iniagus employed shadows at all. She even told me how her parents met."
"Her parents?" Terry said. "She told you about her parents?"
"Yeah, her father's Royal Guard and her mother's Border patrol."
I glared at him. "And what?"
He held up his hands. "Sorry sir. I meant-"
"No, I'm sorry. That's twice now I've snapped at you." I sighed and said, "It's just she was pulling me to the bed one moment, only to push me away."
"What?" Terry said. "Why would she do that?"
"I don't know." I told him. "She said she should have given me a choice, and that 'he' was right."
"He was right, was he?" Terry said, sounding strangely intrigued.
"I don't know who she was talking about." I said. "I mean, if she is just a hallucination, wouldn't I know?"
"Makes sense to me, sir." Terry said, "Maybe unlike her, you'd actually listen to 'his' advice."
"Terry, please." Said Mick as he sat down beside me.
Terry bowed his head. "My apologies, sir. I meant no offense."
"I can't get mad at you, Terry; I'm the one going crazy."
He put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, but didn't say anything. He didn't have to, in all honesty.
"I don't detect any mental abnormalities." Mick said. "And aside from Terra, I've seen no outward signs of insanity."
"Not all mental disorders manifest as a physical problem." I said.
"Or maybe she's real. It is a possibility." Mick said. "There is technology that can block the most sophisticated of scanners, spells that can render even Yaevin's detection technology completely useless. We haven't been able to find the dragon either, after all."
"But why hide?" I asked. "Even for a fional, this has to be unusual. And what happened last night? When she first appeared, I felt happy whether she was a delusion or not. Now ... I don't know."
"I'd agree with Mick, sir." Terry said, sitting on my other side. "Perhaps she's still cautious of us. Perhaps she's paranoid, and doesn't realize that her approach to wooing you is bizarre."
I shook my head. "It doesn't matter."
"Sir?" Terry said, sounding surprised.
"I can't let myself be distracted like this." I told him. "Sera's still in danger. Whether I'm going insane or not, we've got a mission to complete."
"Indeed." To my surprise, a hologram of Bethany appeared on my PIM. "There's nothing wrong with indulging in make-believe, but there's a time and a place … like when you're back at the Saybaro, Inheritor."
"Beth!" I said, smiling. "It's good to see you again!"
"And you too, Jimmy." She said, smiling at me. "My, you've been busy; in just a few short weeks, you've saved two of my sisters and helped reestablish the Glyche Information Network. Impressive work, even for an Inheritor. We've already started resynching the teleportation grid; soon, you'll be able to travel between facilities in the blink of an eye."
"No more walking?" Terry said, perking up immediately, "Sounds great to me."
"Well, we have that going for us." I said, "What about the dragon? Any luck on the scans?"
Her smile faded. "I regret to inform you that there is no sign of a dragon anywhere remotely near Wenapaj. Cristlyn's still checking the old records and we are still running deeper scans, but so far there's no sign of a flux pattern anywhere near the size or intensity of a dragon's."
So there it was; no dragon in Wenapaj that could be detected by Glyche sensors. Even though I hadn't really considered the possibility, I wasn't really surprised to hear this.
Tentatively, Mick said, "Jimmy? It isn't my place to suggest a course of action."
"It doesn't really matter at this point." I said. "Suggest away."
"I believe we should return to the Saybaro. Cristlyn can contact us is they uncover anything, we can run a detailed medical scan on you to rule out possible insanity, and perhaps a few days of actual rest would help us all."
"You getting homesick too?" I asked, smiling kindly at him.
"Homesickness is for wetware … er, no offence, Jimmy." He paused a moment. "Though I suppose I do find myself missing the Saybaro."
"Not a bad idea." Turning to Terry, I asked, "How about it, Terry? You mind heading to the Saybaro?"
"A chance to see the famous Saybaro Bridge, sir?" He said, a smile spreading across his face, "How could I pass that up?"
Smiling, I said, "Well then I guess we're heading back to the Saybaro."
Mick stopped me as I started to leave, saying, "What about Miss Casey?"
"What about me?"
We turned to see Casey met us in the corridor in her normal clothes, her hair still wet.
"Where are we going?" She said excitedly as she slipped a band around her hair.
"Well, we were thinking about going back to the Saybaro," I said, "but I didn't mean to speak for you."
"Oh, I couldn't just stay here, not after yesterday! I've never been so excited in my whole life! The Glyche, and dragons and … and …" her eyes shining with excitement, she pleaded, "I've spent the last decade giving tours, tending trees, and assisting a bunch of artistic weirdoes."
"Like your brother." I said.
"Like my brother." She said, nodding. "Let me come with you! I'd love the chance to meet another Glyche CIC!"
Arc, looking more tired than ever, stepped out of his room. One was splayed flat on top of the young man's head, though whether he was sleeping or inactive, I couldn't tell.
"Ugh. Enough with the Glyche already." Arc said, rubbing sleep from his eyes, "I've got core units and skrievers chasing me in my dreams now."
"Relax, Arc." I said, plucking One from his head, "We're heading back to the Saybaro. Casey wants to come with us. You okay with that?"
Arc looked Casey over, much to her chagrin. Her dark cheeks lightened slightly as he stared pointedly at her breasts.
"Sounds good to me!" He said, a grin spreading across his face. "When do we leave?"
I glanced at Mick and asked, "Is enough of the grid operational for Cristlyn to teleport us there?"
A nearby cleaner zoomed right in my face. Instantly, a miniature hologram of Cristlyn appeared above it, her arms crossed. "Yes, SHE can."
"I beg your pardon." I said, bowing my head respectfully. "I didn't know you were listening."
"You're the only people in the facility, and the first visitors I've had since the Glyche bio-forms left. Of course I'm listening; who else am I going to listen to?"
"Hey now." Bethany said, still displaying on my PIM. "Be nice to my Inheritor."
Cristlyn stuck her tongue out at her older sister before returning her attention to Jimmy. "Site-to-site's going to take awhile, but the resynching process is nearly complete between our facilities. I should be able to get you back to the Saybaro whenever you like. Just let me know when you're ready to go."
I glanced at the others. They all looked back at me eagerly.
Nodding, I turned back to the cleaner and the miniature hologram of the Cristlyn. "We're ready."
She nodded and closed her eyes.
A bright light surrounded flare up around us. It was like travelling via waystation or node at first … after a few seconds, however, there was this strange feeling of coming apart. It wasn't painful (which was good, seeing as I couldn't scream); it was, however, quite disconcerting.
It also seemed strangely drawn out this time, as opposed to the nearly instantaneous transfer of normal node travel. I wrote it off as a distance related issue; after all, Wukice and Saybaro are on opposite sides of Wenapaj.
When the light faded, however, I opened my eyes and was surprised to see a rather surprised looking waystation attendant.
I stepped out of a waystation pod, and looked around the station feeling no small amount of confusion. "This doesn't look like the Saybaro."
"This is the palace waystation ... you know, in Iniagusville." The attendant's eyes went wide. "Wait, you're Sir Sakamota! The king told us to keep an eye out for you."
I nodded as my friends emerged from separate pods, looking about as confused as I felt. I was just grateful we all ended up in the same place.
The attendant gave me a salute. "I'm sorry for the delay. By all means, go on ahead."
The door to the station opened, revealing the grand path to Iniagus's palace. Before our eyes, the hedge maze walls shifted and formed into a single straight path.
I glanced at the others and motioned for them to follow me. I wanted to talk, but not in front of the attendant. Fortunately, they all seemed to be thinking along the same lines as me.
"What in Nocturnes just happened?" Arc asked once we were a good distance from the waystation.
I shook my head. "I don't know. Perhaps the waystation caught our energy pattern. Mick?"
He shook his head. "I don't have enough information to formulate a hypothesis."
I let out a sigh. "Well, I suppose we were planning to head here anyway. We should probably give the king an update on our search while we're here. I just wish we had better news."
Terry patted me on the shoulder and said, "I'm sure he won't blame you, sir. Besides, we haven't given up yet, right?"
I smiled, Terry's confidence lifting my spirits somewhat. "Right. Come on then; let's get moving."
As we approached the front gate, another female guard in the same ridiculously inappropriate garb as Sera halted us.
"Names?" She asked, holding a small datapad.
"The name's Arc Skylad, but you can call me whatever you want, babe." Arc said, eyeing the young woman's creamy skin. She scowled at him, a dark look in her eyes.
Hoping to avoid the ensuing fight, I stepped in front of Arc and gave the woman a respectful bow."Jimmy Sakamota of the Saybaro."
Mick did the same, saying, "Mick Sakamota of the Saybaro."
Terry saluted her. "Terry Ulyndia, white-rank."
"Casey Jones, playwright and Wukice guide."
The guard looked at all of us. "Let me see if I got this right: a robot, a tour guide, a little punk, a ronin, and a white-rank."
Terry flinched at the way she seemed to spit his rank. I was a little surprised that she knew what a ronin was until I noticed the pin on her collar; Knights of the Star. She must have recently immigrated from Earth, which explained the confused, 'how the hell did I end up guarding a bridge in my underwear' look on her face.
Shaking her head, she stepped aside. "Either this is the beginning of a joke or you're a group of questing heroes who could kick my ass in a second. At this point, I don't really care. Go right ahead."
While most of us moved toward the doors of the palace, Arc hung back for a second. "Say, you're really hot. How'd you like to see my sword?"
I grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him away. The former knight gave us another scowl before turning back to her post.
As we entered the palace, Casey let out a whistle.
"Amazing!" She said, watching as several people zipped along the conveyer belt carpets. "My brother tried getting an audience with the king last time we were here, but we never found a way through the maze."
Mick glanced at me. "Would you like me to lead the way?"
"By all means." I said, gesturing for him to take the lead.
After a few false starts on the carpets (which usually ended with someone flying off the carpet, usually into me), we found ourselves in the corridor leading to the throne room. As we drew near the door, however, a tall, shadowy man brought our group to a halt. To be quite frank, he looked evil. I know it's wrong to judge someone by their appearance, but I'm fairly confident that pretty much anyone in the universe would have agreed with me.
The man wore black silk robes with red flame accents and a massive wide-brimmed hat in the bowl of which he could have easily smuggled watermelons. His eyes had a scheming look to them and his goatee that came to a curly point just beneath his chin. On the whole, his appearance was less 'I am the king's most trusted advisor', and more 'I'm plotting to overthrow the kingdom'.
"Nobody is to see the king today." The creepy man said, his voice as oily as his appearance. "I can, however, deliver a message."
"We came to update the king on the search for his daughter." I said, bowing slightly but not taking my eyes from the man.
"Ah! Very good." He brought his hands together, his fingertips lightly touching. "What do you have to report?"
I eyed the man. "I'd prefer to speak of this with the king."
"Ah, but I am Iniagus's most trusted adviser, Councilor Trustworthy."
"Who names their kid Trustworthy?" Arc said with his usual tact.
"Kinder parents than those that name their children after third-rate video games." Trustworthy replied with a contemptuous snort.
His face beet red, Arc started forward only for Mick to hold him back.
"Easy, there." I said, motioning for Arc to calm down. Turning back to the advisor, I said, "I have orders to report directly to Iniagus."
"You can trust me with the message." Trustworthy said, giving me an insincere smile.
"Be that as it may, I was told to report to Iniagus directly." I put my hand on Glint's hilt. "My honor insists that I obey that order, with my life if necessary."
The mock friendliness on the man's face fell away. "I am the king's most trusted advisor. He's just going to tell me anyway."
"That's his decision." I said, "What the King does is his own business. I, however, am following my orders."
He looked as though he still wanted to object, when from out of nowhere, Princess Zelda appeared and gave Councilor Trustworthy a kick in a very uncomfortable place.
As the councilor collapsed to the ground, groaning, Princess Zelda said, "Quit being such a butt-head!"
Turning to me, the little Princess asked excitedly, "Did you find sis?"
I knelt down and ruffled her hair, trying to think of a kind way to break it to her. "Not yet, but-"
Mick chimed in, "-but we're getting close."
"Really?" She asked, her eyes wide as I glanced back at him curiously.
"Indeed. We are still in pursuit, but as we were in the neighborhood, we thought we'd stop by and let you know that your sister is alive and well."
Princess Zelda threw her arms around me, then Mick. "That's great! I'm gonna go tell everyone!"
As she ran off I asked Mick, "We're closing in, huh?"
"I'm confident in our abilities." Mick said, his cheeks tinged gold.
I raised an eyebrow at this. "You know that's not an answer, right?"
The doors to the throne room suddenly opened a crack. Iniagus poked his head out and said, "What's going on out here?"
When he saw me, his demeanor instantly changed from crabby old man to excited schoolboy. "Oh! It's Samurai Knight Jimmy! Awesome!"
"Your Majesty." I said, bowing respectfully, "We were in the area and wanted to update you on the search, but this man-"
"Oh, Unne?" Iniagus let out a loud laugh. "Unne Trustworthy and I have been buddies for years! I trust him like a brother twice removed but never talked about because he left home to become a cross-dressing actor by the name of Vladamir Lestrade."
"Unne Trustworthy." Casey said in a completely deadpan tone as Iniagus continued detailing what I sincerely hoped wasn't his family tree. "His name is Unne Trustworthy."
"Indeed! Now come on in, and tell me all about your quest!"
"Here we go again." Arc muttered as we abandoned the still-groaning Councilor Trustworthy and walked into the throne room, our combined footsteps creating a discordant melody on the crystal tile floor.
As Iniagus positioned himself on his web-like throne, Mick tapped me on the shoulder.
"Let me give the report, Jimmy." He said in a quiet voice.
I shrugged and waved him ahead. "By all means."
Mick stepped forward gave the king a low bow. "Your Majesty."
"Ah, yes; you're the lad with chromeitis." Iniagus beamed at him. "How are things?"
"The investigation has proven difficult, but nevertheless promising. We've already established that Princess Sera is alive, and that the dragon who kidnapped her does not intend to consume her."
"My word," said the king, "That is good news. I can't tell you how put out I would have been if she had become some foul beast's lunch, to say nothing of the queen."
"The Queen's been kidnapped?" Arc said, alarmed. Rolling her eyes, Casey smacked him in the back of the head.
Iniagus chuckled. "Sorry, odd sentence structure. No, the old bat's still here and quite fine; she's a bit on edge though, which makes it difficult to try and make another princess if you know what I mean."
As the king continued lamenting his lack of hanky-panky, my eyes suddenly widened. Terra was there! She was standing in the back of the room, against the far wall. She watched us intently … or, more precisely, she watched me. When our eyes met, I felt a sudden panic rush through me. She stood straight immediately, her eyes wide.
"Terry." I murmured, tapping his gauntlet to catch his attention. "It's her."
I moved my eyes from her for a moment to meet his before looking back meaningfully, only to find myself looking at a blank wall. I looked around for a few moments, my eyes searching every wall and tapestry for some sign of her.
I turned back to Iniagus to find him staring at me. I felt my cheeks grow hot under not only his stare, but those of my friends. Bowing again, I said, "My apologies, your Majesty."
"Are you okay?" He asked, genuine concern on his wizened face. "You look … bothered."
"It's fine, your Highness." I said, trying to force down feelings of shame. "It's been a long journey."
"Indeed." Mick said, "We've managed to locate and reactivate the Genovis, Natalya and Saybaro Glyche facilities, successfully fighting off several corrupted core units in the process. We even established a link to Yaevin while repairing the link between Wukice and Iniagusville."
"That was you?" King Iniagus said, registering no small amount of surprise, "Three uncorrupted Glyche facilities and the link station in just a few weeks? By the Creator, you are on the ball! And you managed to link up to that old Glyche satellite as well?"
"Actually, it's more of a space station." Mick said, the corners of his mouth twitching momentarily, as though he were suppressing a smile. "With the uplink established, we are scanning the surrounding area for large-scale life forms."
So that was why Mick wanted to give the report. I was glad; the way he put it, it sounded like we were hot on the dragon's tail rather than limply hanging from it.
"A more detailed analysis should help us locate the dragon's hiding place, at which time we will make a daring rescue." Mick said.
"Daring rescue." Arc said, unable to keep the sarcastic tone from his voice. "Right."
Iniagus, as usual, didn't seem to notice. "Ah, excellent! Nothing like a daring rescue. Why, I was quite the swashbuckler in my own day, let me tell you. It all began when I-"
"I beg forgiveness, your Majesty, but we must return to the Saybaro and begin preparations for our daring rescue." I made a point to glare at Mick as I emphasized the words 'daring rescue'.
"Of course, of course. I'll have the records of my exploits sent to the Saybaro. I appreciate the update on the search, my friends. Perhaps this'll calm the queen down, eh?" He gave me a roguish wink.
"Of course, your Majesty. Send her Majesty my regards." I turned to the rest of the group and said, "Shall we?"
"Oh, let me help!" I heard Iniagus say behind me, followed by the creak of his web-like throne.
As the floor gave way, I couldn't help but let out a laugh. After all, you'd think I'd have remembered the trap door.