Avalon:Volume 0 Chapter 2 Old
Chapter 2 - The Knight in Blood-Stained Armor
My entire body felt like it was burning. The searing pain combined with a lingering sore numbness to block out just about every other sensation. My back stung in dozens of places as if hot daggers have recently been pulled out.
I hardly even felt the thin sheets of the cold cot I was lying on.
The alarms were shrieking yet again; except this time, instead of having woken up in a heated room and frantically realizing that the ship was being abandoned, I was helplessly laying on a cot inside a cold, dark cell with my left wrist chained to the floor.
My clothes, which hadn't been much to begin with, were ripped in numerous places. It left few pieces of tattered fabric that did little to cover myself.
Worst of all, my mind was still in a daze. My thoughts were left so foggy by the pain and lingering drugs that it could barely focus on even a single coherent thought. The question "what's happening" hardly passed through my head before it was discarded without care.
My head was almost blank. The only emotions that even managed to grab onto a corner were feelings of dread and self-pity. Then, frustration and annoyance...
(What did I do to deserve this?)
Those so-called Justiciars just wouldn't listen. I was just a college student who didn't know anything, caught up in this bizarre mess! It was as simple as that! I didn't know anything about these 'Empyrean invasion plans' of theirs.
But they wouldn't accept it. Instead they only returned to the lashing and the electrocuting when they couldn't coax any other information out of me. I had passed out on so many occasions that I completely lost my sense of time.
Then there was the rough mind-probing incursions that cut through my mind, leaving my memories bleeding, broken wrecks. Even now, images of both recent and past events continued to drift through my mind with barely any recognition. Many of them felt nostalgic yet so otherworldly that I wasn't even sure if they were really my memories.
Nor... did I really care right now.
A corner of my senses recognized two thumps coming from up the corridor, followed by a person's silhouette rushing silently across the brig's hallway just outside my cell.
My eyes shifted subconsciously towards the steel bars. Seconds later, in the dim illumination of the emergency lighting, three more outlines moved carefully into my sight, and I had to concentrate my mind just to focus my blurry vision for a better look.
All three of them were wearing pitch-black form-fitting uniforms that seemed to meld into the shadows, except for the white lines marking the collar borders and those running down the chest from beneath the shoulders. They each had a variety of equipment, including pistol pouches, attached to their belts or wrapped around the leg. There were also metallic backpacks with four rods extending from it in an X-shaped pattern. The two in the front and center also had black steel plating protecting their shoulders and upper arms, each with back-plated gloves firmly grasping a pole-mounted shortsword -- a Scandinavian swordstaff. Meanwhile, the third covering their back with twin daggers was obviously a woman, highlighted by her smaller build and curved chest, as well as the sleeveless and skirted uniform with long arm-gloves and leggings.
The man in the front had moved past my cell without stopping before the second person turned towards me and gestured for him to return. All three of them then took a step back away from the bars. The first man then held out his palm towards me, fingers extended and spread.
"Opto Scidi Sedicim," he said in a monotonic voice. Three glowing rings of burgundy-red light, each with intricately patterned bands, appeared from thin air and began to revolve. Two spun around his forearm and the largest third in front of his palm, where an orb of light expanded like an inflating balloon in the center of the ring.
I had barely started wondering what he was doing when the orb burst, releasing sixteen rays of red light which struck different sections of the cell's steel bars. Portions of it vanished instantly as the light made contact. A second later, eight steel bars clanged as they fell to the ground, leaving a gap wide enough for almost two people to fit through.
(Who are these people? What do they want?)
Uncertainty and fear seized my mind once again, pushing away all rational thought. My body unwittingly began to shift away from the hallway, centimeter by centimeter...
The second person moved swiftly through the gap and towards me until he knelt down besides the cot; meanwhile the other two watched the hallway.
Even with only one side of his face illuminated by dim lighting, it was obvious that he was young, no older than twenty, with an appearance handsome enough to be considered beautiful. His features were a balanced mix between the old Caucasian and Orient ancestries, with a thin chin and a slightly feminine nose that I almost thought him a tall and handsome woman with the thin short ponytail he sported behind the short, black hair. But his most striking feature that effortlessly pulled in my attention was his deep violet-purple eyes, which seemed to radiate concern despite his cold and stern expression.
I tried to move my cracked lips. I didn't know what to say but I wanted to say something, anything, to get a response from this person that may clear my doubts; but he pressed his index finger to my lips and gestured for silence.
Then, taking my right hand gently, he pulled out a chrome ring and slipped it over my ring finger.
"Can you hear me?" a soft yet firm voice resounded inside my head, "I'm Captain Arkadi Kernow of the Avalonian Republic 1st Military District. We've come to rescue you, milady."
My eyes widened in surprise, and it wasn't just because of the voice either. The original words were spoken in a mixture of English and, from what I could tell, some form of German, plus another language I didn't even know the origin of. Yet somehow I could recognize its English meaning clearly despite not knowing the source language.
"That's a Communication Ring. It's attuned to those worn by myself and the team. Just focus your thoughts and you can communicate telepathically with us through it. Ours will automatically translate what you say."
"Captain, grenadier units incoming," an anxious voice remarked over the channel, "we really should get going asap."
"Copy," Arkadi responded before his eyes focused on me once again, his left hand still supporting my right hand while his right invited me with an open palm. "Come with us. We don't have time right now, but I promise I'll explain everything later."
I nodded sluggishly even as I tried to grasp his words. I still didn't have a clue of what was going on, but I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could trust this man.
Besides, I definitely didn't want to stay here... Even hell itself couldn't be any worse.
My left hand, still chained to the floor, sought out his right palm like it was my last lifeline.
Grasping both of my hands, he pulled me upright into a sitting position. Then he pulled out a white jacket and wrapped it around my barren shoulders. It felt like a lifetime had passed since such gentle warmth touched me...
He pulled out a vial of clear blue liquid next and brought it to my mouth.
"Drink this, it will help you recover."
I hesitated for a brief second before pulling the cracked lips of my mouth open. He slowly poured it in with care. Although I couldn't taste anything in particular, it left a soothing sensation in my throat as the cool liquid flowed down.
"Is your eye alright?"
I nodded absentmindedly. My vision was still blurry and I couldn't focus, but my eyes weren't feeling painful or anything.
As he put the vial away, Arkadi looked at the thick, deep-purple shackle and chain connected to my left wrist and frowned.
"Haidar," his deep, commanding voice called over the channel, "come inside, we have a problem."
The man outside then walked in through the gap. He was a broad-shouldered and well-built Caucasian, with a rather round head, two sienna-brown eyes filled with energy, and a prominent nose that accentuated his Slavic ancestry. His hair was already prematurely balding despite facial features still putting him in the twenties.
"Wooooah, they're being super serious," he commented with exaggerated surprise. "That's starsteel alright. My disintegration ain't gonna work on that! Would take some time to cut through that thickness too."
"We don't have time," responded Arkadi as his eyes trailed the chain until it disappeared into the steel floor. "Disintegrate the floor until we find the other end. This metal is too rare to be used in huge quantities."
"I'm surprised it's even this long; given how costly this stuff is nowadays."
Haidar then stepped back and pointed his right palm towards the floor where the chain disappeared into. "Burst Hemisphere Down," he began as three rings and an orb of burgundy-red light appeared once again. But this time, a rotating circular light array filled with geometric patterns and runes also conjured itself on the floor beneath his feet; meanwhile steam erupted from the rear of the swordstaff shaft he held, releasing several small metallic items that clanged as they bounced on the floor.
The orb burst to release a thick beam of light. It struck the ground where a four-foot radius hemisphere of the metal floor vanished instantly. This opened a hole to the machinery compartment underneath and left behind only the chain attached to a long, spiked starsteel cylinder still partially buried in the ground. One side of the cot fell into the depression along with both me and Arkadi, but he quickly put his right hand around my shoulders to steady me.
"Select Split Four," Haidar spoke the magical words yet again and shot out four more rays, focusing them around the cylinder. More of the floor vanished, dropping the chain's weight down into the compartment below.
Arkadi pulled it up with a single yank and caught it before passing it to me. The weight felt hollow, less than six inches long, and probably weighed around two kilos (4lbs); but it felt really heavy in my weakened arms.
"Hold on tight milady, you're in no state to walk out of here," said Arkadi. He reassured me once again with his eyes before putting his left hand under my legs and lifting me off the bed.
My mental fog cleared up just a bit more as heat worked its way into my cheeks. It had been years since even my father cradled me in between his arms like this, let alone someone I had just met.
"Let's go. Kaplan, detour to hanger bay sixteen on the way back," Arkadi ordered as he squeezed through the gap in the cell bars, taking care not to bump me into them.
Haidar had already hurried back up the corridor and towards two others -- another swordsman with a semi-translucent body and a rifleman guarding the corner.
"Edmund, go with Haidar at the front, shoot anyone who tries to get away after seeing us."
We hurried down the brig hallway, with the only girl on his team covering our backs from behind. Sounds of metal cutting into armor and several screams could be heard from ahead. But by the time we turned the corner, it was already over. Haidar soon released eight more rays which disintegrated the dead soldiers' bodies before we rushed on through the station's many corridors.
Each time we approached a gate, its red status light would flip to green and open up right in front us, before closing and going back to red status after we passed. Someone was definitely aiding us from behind the scenes.
This continued for several minutes before an unfamiliar male voice, younger and softer than the earlier acknowledgements from the men here, passed through the channel:
"Marine squad inbound."
Haidar and the rifleman Edmund immediately slammed themselves against the walls, taking cover behind two nearby bulwarks. Meanwhile the leading swordsman, presumably Kaplan, continued to run forward.
"Burst Radial," Haidar said as he aimed his swordstaff towards the intersection up ahead. Another orb of light expanded at the tip while a circular light array spun around his feet. A cloud of steam erupted from the back of his swordstaff as a tube extended out and ejected three smoking-hot cartridges in quick succession.
Seconds later, eight soldiers wearing bulky powered armor, slate-gray in color and twice the size of normal men, turned around the corner.
"Plasma Blast Union Lightning Flare!" Haidar yelled before firing the orb at the marines. It crashed into one of their armored suits (more precisely, into an energy shield right before touching the suit) and burst, sending out a surging wave of electricity while immolating all of them in bluish plasma flames.
Yet as the burning air began to disperse, none of the suits appeared damaged. Instead, the two in the front had crouched down to take aim against Edmund with battle rifles the size of small cannons.
But not a single one of them seemed to notice the other threat...
"I-diots," Haidar cheerfully called out loud as Kaplan charged straight into their formation.
With a single slash, the longsword in Kaplan's hand cut cleanly through the helmet of one powered armor suit. Blood sprayed out of the hole as its occupant collapsed dead onto the ground. Kaplan then spun around in a circle and dealt the same fate to the second crouching marine before leaping into the remaining six. Chaos ensued as the marines opened fire with what seemed to be electrolaser rifles, aiming wildly as if none of them could see their foe. Some of the energy beams would have actually struck Kaplan, except that they were deflected at the last moment when a sphere of dark-blue light surrounding him flared into visibility.
It was all over in under a minute. The rest of us then caught up and Haidar chanted his usual words to disintegrate the remains.
A brief wave of nausea worked its way up my throat as I glanced over the bloody hallway, but thankfully, my foggy mind decided to also ignore that feeling.
"It just doesn't match without a real caster~" commented Haidar.
"Invisibility has its benefits when the other side's sensors are blinded," Kaplan said proudly as he began moving down the corridor once again. "And some believe illusionist spellswords to be obsolete -- fools."
My mind slowly grew more focused as the soothing warmth from Arkadi's arms and chest spread over me. But thinking about what was happening only seemed to confuse me in a different way. I realized that they were achieving supernatural results from those words they spoke, conjuring rays and drawing circles in the process as if casting spells; but, for it to actually be magic?
I thought they said I went through a wormhole, not the gateway to an alternative realm of fantasy that came straight out of a video game!
(And if Kaplan is supposed to be invisible, how come I can see him in a semi-solid form?)
Questions began to collect in my mind, fueled by the gradual return of my awareness and curiosity. But my head still ached, and it was just too tiring to think about it. Besides, I persuaded myself:
(He promised to explain later so there's no need to speculate right now...)
...And it would be so much better if this really was just a video game, or me dreaming of one...
"Kaplan! Stop! Turn--right here," the voice from earlier said again, "There's a marine platoon assembling ahead of you. I'll open up a detour."
"Affirmed," Kaplan replied as the entire team went back to running, "although we'd probably be fine lest they have auxilia support, or actual knights."
"Pride comes before--"
"Korey," Arkadi cut in, "what's the status of our diversions?"
"Ohhh--notsogood. They've already controlled the damage dealt by those explosions and managed to defeat two of the five spellhacks we assaulted their system with. Communications are mostly restored, and I doubt you have more than ten minutes before surveillance comes back up."
"In which case we're hosed even if we can get out," responded Kaplan's bitter voice.
"It won't take that long," Arkadi declared in a confident tone. "There's the doors to bay sixteen right there. Enemy status inside?"
"One sec..." Korey replied. "Twenty marines, eight auxilia, and... oh boy, three judges."
"Hold the gate," Arkadi ordered, "Kaplan, Veil!"
"They'll notice the illusions as soon as we get close!" Kaplan countered as his figure solidified from his semi-transparent form. But he stopped anyways and brought his right arm to chest height, palm facing upwards. "Select Weave," he stated as the same orb and rings of light formed in his palm and around his arms, except these were dark-blue in color. "Mirage Veil!"
The orb burst and the air shimmered for a brief second. Then a faint purple glow surrounded every one of them as the translucent illusions of soldiers wearing slate-grey uniforms covered over their normal appearances.
Somehow I had the feeling I wasn't supposed to see those illusions as merely translucent...
"We only need a second, and to keep them from recognizing our actual faces," Arkadi explained. He then turned his gaze towards me, his eyes softening as he spoke: "can you stand, milady?"
My cheeks blushed to his choice of words. I nodded twice in response, still slow but without hesitation.
Truth be told, my entire body was still aching, numb, and didn't want to move a single muscle. I was recovering much faster than expected, most likely thanks to the medicine he gave me; but the burning pain was only replaced with a feverish feeling that made every limb feel disconnected and distant.
However, I did regain enough recognition to realize that I was being far too helpless right now. In any other circumstance, I would probably be getting irritated at myself right about now for being so entirely dependent on another. He might be the knight in shining armor, but even being the damsel in distress had its limits.
He gently put me back down onto my feet, leaning me against the nearby wall for balance. My legs felt like jelly as my weight began to press down against them. I dropped the weighted chain onto the floor with a clang and braced my arms against the wall, doing my best to remain steady.
"I'll be back in just a minute, I promise. We just need to go grab your ship." Arkadi said as he slowly pulled away the strong arms that supported me. He then drew a pointed rod from his belt before expanding it to a swordstaff. "Edmund, take care of her and watch our backs from here. Lysette, with me!"
"Got it~!" Lysette's enthusiastic response was surprisingly high-pitched and extremely girlish.
"Team, this is a smash and grab. Sling-bundle your plasma grenades together and wire all your smoke grenades, we'll hurl and pull on my mark. Kaplan and Lysette, hold the Judges at bay, use your flight packs and scatter them if you can. Edmund, snipe the targets as I mark them; use your starsteel rounds -- I know there's only five left, but nothing less than antimagic ammunition will pierce a knight's vector shield at range. Haidar, head straight for the ship; shrink and seize. I'll cover you. We retreat as soon as you take it."
(Shrink my ship? Something that size!? Okay, that's definitely a physical impossibility now.)
"Affirmed," everyone acknowledged and began preparing their equipment. Each of them lined up one set of grenades behind the belt and tied a single cord to all of their pins. Another set of grenades were tied into a bundle, attached loosely to under their metallic 'flight packs', with a long cord pulled to the front and kept in their hands.
"Buff up! Nothing visually obvious!" Captain Arkadi ordered again.
Kaplan already began casting yet another spell. Within seconds the rest of them joined him as they each channeled one or more spells into either their weapons or themselves. The strange mechanisms on the back of their swordstaves and sword hilts ejected another dozen cartridges alongside the castings, and the metallic ammo shells now lay discarded on the floor.
After double checking everything, four of them moved into position in front of the gates and lowered their weapons to a more relaxed carrying posture.
"Korey, open the gate."
"Godspeed!" Korey replied as the small gate into the hanger bay pulled up and disappeared into the ceiling. Arkadi, Kaplan, Haidar, and Lysette then left my sight as they walked into the bay.
Half a minute passed before the muffled sound of distant speech reached my ears. Then, another half minute later, Arkadi shouted "Now!" over the channel. Within a second, dozens of explosions going off almost simultaneously resounded from within the bay. The anxious but peaceful atmosphere was instantaneously bloodied by the sounds of gunshots, energy blasts, and screams of the dying.
Edmund shifted from his hidden position and brought the high-caliber projectile sniper rifle to his shoulders. He lined up the scope with his eyes and took aim into the hanger.
"Judges coming through!"
"Lure him to your right Lyse and then converge on center!"
Edmund pulled the trigger a split second after Arkadi's order, then cursed over the channel; but Arkadi's confirmation spoke otherwise:
"Graze-no... crippled. Must have shattered ribs."
"Cut the left armor! I'll rip out their guts--!!!"
(Is that Lysette I just heard?)
Arkadi called out in concern while Lysette clarified the situation:
"The axuilia are wind-blasting our smokescreen."
"Fall back, I'll cover you!"
Edmund fired again, just before everyone's attention shifted. The call they were all been waiting for finally came through.
"Done!" declared Haidar. "Let's get the hell outta here!"
"Lock and disable the gate as soon as we're through Korey!"
Electrolaser beams smashed into the side of the hangar I could see as the marines fired after Arkadi's retreating team.
Edmund then took off his smoke grenades and hurled them into the hanger in rapid succession. Lysette soon rushed through the gate holding the wounded Kaplan by the shoulders, his left thigh bleeding profusely from a cut that went a third of the way through. Haidar followed, holding what appeared to be a tiny, backpack-sized model of my TSV-9 survey craft under his right arm. Edmund then hurled his other bundle of grenades into the hanger just as Arkadi came through.
"SHUT THE GATE!"
The gates closed within a split second, but not before a double-bladed sword came flying out of the hanger, spinning like a boomerang around the center grip. Edmund's chestnut-red defensive shield flared as one blade crashed into it. But instead of stopping the attack cold, the shield seemed to only negate its forward momentum and slowed its centrifugal speed -- still enough for the spinning heavy blade to cut cleanly through Edmund from between the thighs and the pelvis.
An ear-splitting scream erupted from Edmund as his torso collapsed to the ground, spraying blood in every direction.
Meanwhile, the double-bladed sword seemed to actually spin faster as it fell to the ground. It sliced through his severed legs several more times until Arkadi's armored boot stepped flatly onto it and stopped it cold. Captain Arkadi then grasped his swordstaff with both hands before shoving it through Edmund's shield -- which flared again to slow the attack but failed to stop it -- and straight into his heart.
Time slowed to a crawl as Edmund's body thrashed once, twice more before it came to a completely still.
"Haidar, disintegrate him." Arkadi ordered in a deep, commanding voice as he pulled his swordstaff back out. His face was cold, blood-stained, and bereft of any emotion. His uniform was covered in the blood of enemies and allies alike. Even his steely gaze revealed not a sliver of hesitation, regret, or sorrow.
It was as if what he just did was a perfectly normal and expected course of action. In fact, the speed and precision in which he carried it out made it seem almost... reflexive.
It wasn't that his expressions felt any less than genuine up until now; but at that moment, I felt like I glimpsed a piece of his true character.
"But--" Haidar muttered out loud, his eyes still widened in shock. "--But, but we could've saved him! Just stasis long enough for a regen--"
"No, we couldn't have," Arkadi cut in, his voice cold enough to freeze the air. "I'm sorry Haidar, but we can't allow the 2nd district to get his body for even a minute. Disintegrate him, now. You have your orders," he repeated with a tone of finality as he turned to stare at Haidar.
Haidar slowly pointed his left palm towards Edmund's body, his narrowing eyes focused itself on Arkadi for a split second before looking down to carry out his orders. But during that one moment, there was a profound sense of disgust within his gaze.
Unsure of what to think, I looked upon the other two. Kaplan's expression was inscrutable other than his pain from the wound, while Lysette -- looked as if her eyes were almost gleaming in awe.
"Lysette, take front and let Haidar help Kaplan. We only have a few more minutes left!" Arkadi continued as he bent over to pick up the three high-caliber starsteel rounds -- the only traces that remained of Edmund -- and pocketed it.
After shrinking his swordstaff and placing it back onto his belt, he turned towards me with a pair of warm reassuring eyes. He then placed the chain's weight that he easily pulled up off the floor back into my hands.
"I'm deeply sorry for the shock brought by our unsightly actions, milady," he bowed as an apologetic and surprisingly sincere smile spread across his face. "But we must be going."
Before I could even tell him otherwise, he placed his hands on my back and behind my thighs. Then he easily tilted me back into the embrace of his arms and lifted me back up.
Blood from his uniform stained the white jacket that he had given me earlier...
There was no doubt that he just took the life of a comrade without a moment's hesitation. Then he switched his mood twice more within the span of seconds and now looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. Was he so good at acting that even I couldn't tell? Or did he simply lack a human's sense of conscience and emotion?
A chill went through my spine as I thought about a fact that he didn't know yet -- that I was just a student.
(If he can kill a comrade who became a hindrance so easily, then what will he do with me?)
----- * * * -----
Several minutes later, after encountering only one enemy group -- four sword-bearing grenadiers that Lysette dispatched with ease using her lightning-fast daggers -- we arrived safely in hanger bay nineteen.
As we passed through the gate, my eyes were immediately drawn to the sleek starship parked within the hanger. It was nearly two hundred meters (~650ft) long, with a beam and width span of around thirty meters (~100ft), and was painted entirely in black.
The five of us ran straight towards the ship's boarding ramps, which just finished lowering moments ago. According to Korey, any hostiles within this hanger were already 'cleared out' by the ship's point-defense lasers.
"Close the ramp! Activate ion thrusters! I don't care if you burn the hanger!" Arkadi shouted over the channel the instant all of us stepped onto the ship. "Maximum acceleration away from the Hadrian! We must open the range before they can regain control of their gravity beam!"
We rushed through the empty hallways until arriving at the bridge. Only two people sat below the massive holographic display that showed the gigantic star fortress as we accelerated away from it. Lysette and Haidar helped Kaplan (his thigh no longer bleeding after being wrapped in merely a single layer of bandages) into an operator's chair before sitting down themselves. Meanwhile Arkadi brought me over to one of the two extra seats at the back wall of the bridge and put me down onto it.
"Pardon my lateness for the formal greeting," Arkadi said out loud as he took two steps back, put his gloved right hand over his chest, and bowed deeply.
His posture was perfect. So would be the rest of his image -- were it not for the blood-stained uniform.
"But please, allow me to--" Arkadi continued as he stood back up with a charming smile, "--welcome you aboard the Strike Destroyer Somerset of the Avalonian Republic 1st Military District Black Hand Special Ops, Lady Kannon Reginbrandt."
He snapped his fingers, and a faint but audible click followed from further up the bridge.
Several seconds passed in silence when nothing happened, then...
An explosion erupted outwards from the armored surface of Praesidium Hadrian on the display, followed by another a second later, then another. The star fortress was blowing up from the inside. It took little more than half a minute before the entire station blew apart in an expanding nova of incandescent fury as the main power core must have gone critical.
My hands were covering my gaping mouth before I knew it.
There must have been thousands of people inside a station that size. Even if they were from a different faction, they were still from the same nation, the same stellar navy. To destroy an entire base just to cover his escape...
"I look forward to working together with the prodigious Empyrean agent who managed to successfully destroy our first line of defense against the Empire."
My mind was reeling in shock.
(Empyrean agent? By that, does he really mean -- me?)
The implications behind his statement were stunning. It also blew away what remained of my mind fog and grogginess in an instant.
"You've got to be kidding me..."
Out of the pot and into the fire. Rather than being saved, I think I was just recruited by the mission team from hell.
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