The season hadn’t changed to winter yet, but it made no difference. In the mountain town Kazere, it snowed all year long. Ryxor Borx walked along one of the snow covered roads, breathing in the icy mountain air. He had just parted with the rest of the squad whom he had stay back in their room at the local inn. Now, Ryxor was making his way to a bar to meet with one of Colonel Gaines’ men.
Ryxor took in the sights of the town as he walked by them. Although the majority of its residents appeared to be mercenaries, it was quite the normal, peaceful town. He noticed several children playing together. Too bad all of this is going to change soon, he thought. It was almost certain that Vanen was somewhere around and hell was likely close behind him. Ryxor saw firsthand what happened to Rizuke.
He shook the memory of smoldering buildings and burnt corpses as he came to a stop in front the bar. Once inside, he found that it wasn’t much warmer. The building provided little relief from the freezing weather outside. Ryxor looked around and spotted the man he was looking for and took the seat next to him. He waited for the man to say something, but nothing happened.
“I’m here about that assignment,” Ryxor said after deciding to break the silence.
The man looked up at him like he hadn’t noticed him until then. “Excuse me? What the hell are you talking about?”
Ryxor took a long pause before speaking again. “I’m the chicken from the moon. I seem to have lost my eggs. Can you help me find them?”
A smile came across the man’s face as he struggled to keep himself from laughing. “Ryxor Borx?”
“Can we get on with this already? I said that idiotic passphrase.” Ryxor was clearly was not as amused as his informant was.
“Yeah, yeah. You know, you really need to lighten up.” He stopped to take a sip from his beer.
“You need to take your work more seriously. You shouldn’t be drinking on the job.”
“Come on, I’m a professional here. I wouldn’t do anything dangerous.” Ryxor simply stared at him. He wouldn’t take what he said with a block of salt, let alone a grain. “Anyway, those mercenaries are definitely up to something. They’ve been meeting up much more frequently than usual. However, there wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary until his right-hand man showed up.”
“You mean Banes?”
“Yep. He was spotted going into their last meeting.”
“And where are these meetings taking place?”
“In their headquarters. It’s right smack dab in the town square. The word going around the mercenary group is that there’s going to be another meeting tonight, and your squad is going to be there.”
“I doubt they’ll let anyone go to these meetings. I assume you have an answer to that little snag.”
“No worries there. We already prepared some disguises. They should be in a trunk under a bed at your room in the inn.”
“What do you mean by disguises? These guys don’t exactly where uniforms.”
“And yet it’s so easy to spot someone who doesn’t belong such as yourself. Anyone from around here can tell that you’re not.”
Ryxor looked down at his clothes and then at the man he was talking to. While both were designed to keep someone warm, they were made in very different styles. “Point taken. Is there anything else we should know?”
“It’s likely those meetings aren’t open to low ranking grunts. That’s as far as those disguises will get you by the way. After you get into their headquarters, it’s up to you find a way to infiltrate the actual meeting.”
“Got it.” Ryxor was about to get up and leave when his contact started talking again.
“One more thing. If you get caught once you’re in there… well, It’d probably be similar to playing roulette with a fully loaded revolver. In other words, your chances of surviving aren’t very high.” He seemed to be in a good mood despite the fact that he was talking about the possibility of them dying.
“Right. Thanks for the tip.”
“Don’t mention it.” There was something strange about this man. Ryxor was sure he had never seen him before. And yet, he seemed vaguely familiar.
Ryxor sat on his bed at the inn as he went over the details of what he had just learned from the man at the bar. While Auras and Hughes listened intently, Drex, who was busy looking over his mercenary clothes, gave the impression that everything he heard went in one ear out the other.
“Are you paying attention?” Ryxor stopped to ask Drex several times. While Drex responded with a quick “yeah” or “yes”, he never looked up. After Ryxor finished, he asked if anyone had anything to add.
“What about that guy’s daughter?” Drex asked, finally setting down his change of clothes.
“You already forgot? That guy that attacked us back at that inn said something about his daughter being kidnapped.”
He had in fact forgotten about it. His had plenty of things to worry about without a damsel in distress further complicating matters. After they had gotten back to Velvidyne, he didn’t even report it to Ruaidhri. He thought he knew what the general would have said about it if had mentioned it.
“That’s not important. Our target is Vanen.”
“But we can’t just ignore her!” Drex sounded genuinely upset. He had tossed aside the clothing that had held his interest through the actual briefing.
“We don’t even know if there was ever any kidnapping,” Ryxor defended his position. “Everything that guy told us could have been a lie. Furthermore, Gaines’ men have seen or heard nothing that indicates they have any hostages at all.” Despite what he said, there was a part of him that asked, “What if he was telling the truth?” Ryxor could understand why Drex was getting upset, but they simply could not fail.
“Is there anything else?” Ryxor asked. Drex stared at him with a look that said “what the hell is wrong with you.” Although Auras stayed quiet, it was clear that he was uneasy about the order to ignore any possible hostage as well. Hughes however gave the impression that he just didn’t give a damn.
That night, Ryxor’s squad left the inn and made their way to the mercenary group’s headquarters.
“Oh I can’t wait to meet the guy who decided to have this thing at night. It’s damn cold at here!” Hughes was rather uncomfortable with the weather. He didn’t like it during the day and he sure as hell wasn’t enjoying it at night when the temperature dropped even further.
“Stop whining. Mercenaries don’t whine, especially about the cold,” Drex said.
“Will you two shut it?” Ryxor snapped at them. Auras continued on silently ignoring the others’ bickering. Oddly enough, he wasn’t all that embarrassed to walk around with them.
The trip over was uneventful. No one looked twice at them and they passed by without any incidents. After arriving at the door, they were stopped by the doorman. Though hesitant, he still let them through. The doorman didn’t recognize any of them obviously, but he quickly dismissed his suspicions on them being new members. He was either an amateur at his job or he wasn’t being paid enough to care. It made things easier either way.
“Doesn’t anyone think that four new members who appear out of nowhere and show up for that meeting seem strange?” Hughes asked.
“It would seem that this hall is always open to members. It’d be impossible for anyone to discern the real reason we’re here,” Auras said.
“Now, how do we find out where the meeting is taking place?” Hughes asked.
Drex was already ahead of him. He walked up to the nearest mercenary and simply asked him. “Hey buddy, where’s the meeting taking place?”
The mercenary looked him over before responding. “It’s past the double doors at the end of the hall,” he pointed out.
“Ah, but if you’re asking questions like that, chances are you’re new. There’s no way they’d let you in on the meeting.”
“Thanks the tip. See you around.”
“Don’t mention it.” The mercenary walked away. Before Drex could move, the rest of squad was behind him. Ryxor smacked him over the head.
“What the hell was that for?!” he angrily shouted at Ryxor.
“Don’t try anything like that without warning us. What if he caught on?”
“Would you relax? He didn’t catch on and now we know where the meeting is. Besides, how were we going to find it without asking around? Were you planning on checking every corner of this place yourself?”
Ryxor supposed he had point. It could have taken quite a bit of time to search such a large place. “Whatever. No more stunts like that though.”
Without further delay, they proceeded to the supposed location of the meeting. All the noise and clatter of people talking slowly faded as they walked further away from the main hall. When they first arrived outside the double doors, it didn’t appear as if anything was going on. The room beyond the doors sounded dead silent.
“Auras pick the locks,” Ryxor ordered.
“Wait a minute. I thought you said not to try any stunts like this?” Drex asked as Auras got to work.
“This is different. We don’t have a choice now.” That was Ryxor’s rationale, but Drex wasn’t following it. There had to be something else they could do. What if the meeting was taking place right behind those doors when they barged in? He thought about bringing this up, but decided against it. He didn’t feel like arguing right now.
The doors unlocked with a click. Slowly and cautiously, Auras opened the door. Just as they suspected, the room was completely devoid of life. There wasn’t anyone holding a meeting of any kind in there.
“This room has ‘trap’ written all over it,” said Hughes.
“It’s possible we were simply given the wrong directions, but I agree. We should keep our guard up,” Auras said.
“If we’ve walked into a trap, then it’s already too late. We need to keep moving. Search this place for clues,” Ryxor said.
The room appeared to be someone’s office. In front of the back wall was a desk. A bunch of papers were strewn across the top, but none of them had anything interesting written on them. Against one of the walls was a bookshelf. Like the desk, its contents appeared to be quite ordinary. It had many books that one would expect to find in the office of a mercenary group.
“It doesn’t look like there’s anything here,” Drex said as he finished examining the desk. “What the hell are we looking for anyway?”
“Something fishy, obviously,” Hughes offered.
“There’s nothing ‘fishy’ about this room. It’s just a normal office. It doesn’t even look fit enough to be the stage for a trap!”
Ryxor stood there listening to the complaints of his men. It certainly did appear that the office was a dead end. He wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet though.
“We need to keep searching. Sweep the room again for anything at all that looks out of place.”
“Screw that. It’s obvious there’s nothing here. We’re just wasting…” Drex didn’t get a chance to finish. The bookcase fell forward with a crash revealing a hidden room. A young woman wielding a lance jumped out from inside and immediately attacked.
She went for Hughes who happened to be the closest, but he jumped backward, dodging the attack. All four of them drew their weapons and pointed them at the girl who stared back with eyes glowing with hatred.
“You bastards! You’ll pay for what you did!” she shouted.
She attacked Drex and their weapons clashed. “What the hell did we do?” Drex asked while locked in combat.
“You know damn well what you did!” she snapped back. Ryxor stepped in to backup Drex. She retreated to dodge his oncoming attacked, but returned it with her own. Ryxor set his sword ablaze in preparation for the assault. However, the flames blew away in a gust of wind. With the absence of the flames, their weapons made a loud clang as they made contact before breaking away again.
“An energy user?” Ryxor asked. He repelled the attack and brought series of swift stabs and slashes all of which she blocked or dodged. Auras caught her off guard while see was busy dealing with Ryxor and sent her sprawling backwards against the wall opposite the hidden room. All four them had their weapons trained on her.
“Drop it,” Hughes said with his revolver pointed at her head. Begrudgingly, she did as she was told and let her lance fall to the ground.
“Who are you?” Ryxor asked.
“Ratana Cytinin,” she said bitterly.
“Well, she doesn’t look much like a hostage,” Hughes said sarcastically.
“Something seems off,” Drex said. “If they were working with Oren the whole time, why would her old man bother making up a bogus story about…”
“Don’t you dare talk about my father!” she shouted. “I’ll make you pay for killing him!”
“Wait a minute, how does she even know he’s dead?” Auras asked.
“I didn’t captors shared that kind of stuff with their hostages,” Hughes said.
“They told me all about what happened!”
“Who are they?” Ryxor asked calmly.
“That’d be me and my friends.” The familiar voice came from a man who was standing in front of the double doors. Ryxor’s squad turned to see Eric Banes standing there.
Damn it. How did he slip inside without being noticed? “You finally showed yourself. Where’s your boss at?” Ryxor asked. His personality changes to that of someone you didn’t want to screw around with, which what it always did when the subject of Vanen was brought up by him or anyone else.
“I’m afraid I can’t say.” He turned to face Hughes who had moved his gun from Ratana to his brother. “So it’s come to this. How long’s it been since we last saw each other, brother?”
“Eric.” That was all Hughes could say. He couldn’t think of anything else.
“What happened in here anyway? The daughter of the revered Vincent Cytinin couldn’t manage to kill four measly rats?” Just like that, he went back to the situation at hand.
“What are you…?” Ratana stared at Eric questioningly.
“Sorry, but we no longer have a need for you.” Eric pulled at a sawed-off shotgun, and pointed it at Ratana and squeezed the trigger. Acting on his instincts, Auras jumped in the way, intended to use himself as a body shield. The sound of the shotgun going off echoed through the room as the shots made contact with Auras and sent him flying off his feet.
Ratana’s eyes widened as she stared at Eric and then at one of the men of was responsible for her father’s death, and for saving her life. Hughes lost it and started firing at Berix who skillfully dodged all six shots.
“Come on; don’t make me kill my own brother!” Eric shouted in a sadistic tone.
At a loss for words, Ryxor charged in at Eric as well. Drex ran over to Ratana and grabbed her hand. The resistance she put up was non-existent. He made a gesture to the stack of papers scattered on the desk.
“Use your power!” he shouted at her. After her mind manages to process what was going on, she brought forth her energy and created a gust of wind that picked up the papers and sent them flying at Eric who was in the midst of fighting Hughes and Ryxor. “Grab Auras and let’s get the hell out of here!” Drex shouted.
The light bulb in Ryxor’s head went off and a smile crossed his face. “Nice move,” he said under his breath as he picked up Auras. “Come one Hughes! We’re have to fall back for now!”
Usually a more laid back person, the fire in his eyes had been ignited by the appearance of his brother. He wanted to stay behind and beat the shit out of him. However, he did as we was ordered and backed off.
Ratana grabbed her lance as Drex pulled her up off the ground. Ryxor grabbed Auras’ unconscious body and carried him on his back. Hughes kicked the double doors down as the papers encircling Eric began to fall away.
The five of them burst out of the room with Hughes leading the way, followed by Drex who was dragging Ratana along by her hand, and Ryxor who was carrying Auras. Halfway down the hall, Ratana’s senses must have fully returned as she broke away from Drex’s grip.
As they emerged into the main hall, they came face to face with a crowd of mercenaries. Drex imagined that they were probably pretty damn confused as they saw the five of them run out, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, it was far from it. They had been alerted to their presence, probably by Eric, and they were all eagerly ready to attack.
Drex and Hughes immediately set out to carve a path through all of them. Ratana joined in as well, not that she had much of choice. It was barely a few minutes ago when she thought she had everything figured out, but then everything was turned upside down. She didn’t have a good grasp on what was happening, but she intended to beat it out of Ryxor and the other after they got out alive.
The group managed to hold off their attackers, but they could feel fatigue setting in. For every mercenary they cut down, it seemed that there were at least two more to take their place.
After reaching the exit, they found that it wasn’t much better outside. The town was controlled by the mercenaries for the most part, after all. It seemed as if there was no end to them. After fighting one particular group of mercenaries, they slipped inside an alleyway and dropped to the ground exhausted and out of breath. Ryxor carefully laid Auras down before sitting down himself.
Ratana looked over at the entrance of the alley as another group of mercenaries ran by. “What the hell just happened?” she asked.
“Now is not the time,” Ryxor said in a hushed voice.
She glanced over at Auras who lay unconscious. She could see a dark red spot on his torso where he had been shot. “Is he…”
Ryxor cut her off. “He’ll be fine.”
“But he was shot at nearly point blank with a shotgun!”
“Quiet,” Ryxor said.
“Luckily, I know a few tricks,” Drex said.
“Are you talking about energy?”
“Bingo. In the split second he was shot, I was able to create a barrier that partially blocked the bullets. As you saw, he still took a hit though. The bullets broke through the barrier, but it slowed them down quite a bit. I can’t say for sure, but I’d say they didn’t go in very deep.” The noise of another mercenary patrol passing by could be heard outside. They all stopped talking until the patrol faded away. “Won’t be able to say for sure though until we get him some medical attention, which of course we can’t do until things have quieted down.”
Ratana moved closer to Auras and put her hands on the wound.
“What are you doing?” Ryxor asked.
A soft light came from Auras’ gunshot wound. “I’m healing him,” she said.
“Well, there’s more to you than meets the eye. Most people who know how to use energy only bother to learn one specific application. I wouldn’t expect someone like you to know how to use it for both healing and fighting.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” She asked angrily.
“Calm down. It was just a joke.”
"My father was the one who made me learn how to heal.” She finished up healing Auras. “I don’t get. You guys seem like nice people. Did you really kill my father?”
“We were manipulated into attacking each other by Vanen,” Ryxor said. “The fact remains though. We did indeed kill him and nothing we say or do can change that. If you decide to declare us as your enemies, we can’t help that, but prepared. We won’t just sit by and let you kill us.”
Ratana stared down at Auras’ chest as it moved up down, slowly with each breath. There was nothing but silence and the sound of men scattering about in the cold. Out of nowhere, her fist flew hard into the side of Ryxor’s face. Hughes aimed his revolver at Ratana’s head and pulled the hammer back. The punch had broken the freezing night’s silence, but Ryxor wasn’t the least bit surprised. On the contrary, it would have been surprising if Ratana hadn’t hit him.
“I’m fine,” he said as he motioned for Hughes to lower his gun. Hughes was about to comply when the sound of footsteps began to echo down from the other end of the alley. Ryxor and Drex got up, ready to fight them off with Hughes when one of the backdoors of the buildings swung open. They turned their attention to the open doorway.
A familiar face stood just inside. “Well, what are you waiting for? Get in here.” Hughes and Drex dropped their guard when they saw that Ryxor did. Once they were all safely inside, they waited for the footsteps to pass.
“You seem to have a great deal of luck on your side, Borx,” the man said. “It’s a good thing I happened to be passing by.” Ryxor didn’t buy that for second.
“And who is this?” Hughes asked. It was the soldier Ryxor had met at the bar for the information.
“Colonel Gaines. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said, cutting off Ryxor. The colonel held out a hand in greeting, but everyone just stared at him. “What? Do I got something between my teeth?”