Mathiu Racnarth slammed on the brakes of his hoverbike as he pulled into the underground garage of Terisiare, the last surviving – and completely underground – headquarters of the Hunters. He was followed closely by Kayla and the two off-worlders that had survived their mad dash from the farilii. Of course, he wouldn’t tell the pair that he figured that Darrell Shanning and Terra Lyles were dead - probably not the best way to go about enlisting their help against the Farilii – but it seemed a foregone conclusion at this point. He shuddered to think about it, really. That woman had fallen for over a hundred feet to the hard pavement below; even if she had miraculously survived that, the icy rain that the long night had brought with it would have almost certainly killed her in her injured state. And the man… dear lord, Mathiu had never seen anyone do something as suicidal as he had. Half a dozen farilii, six of the Shi Kari’s most powerful ground troops against a single human. Granted, a single human that had a surprisingly high level of magical ability… but the odds were incredibly overwhelming.
Trying not to think about it, he dismounted the sleek, silvery vehicle he’d gotten out of the vehicle storehouse in Avalon. His feet clicked harshly on the cold stone below him, and in the dim light he could just make out two soldiers advancing on him and the others. This was a bit out of the ordinary, but a quick glance back at the cyborg man, Cynewulf, and his tall female friend told Mathiu that this situation was anything but ordinary.
“What’s going on here, Racnarth?” one of the soldiers asked as he reached them. He was gripping his blaster rifle nervously as he looked at the two strangers – particularly Cynewulf – and Mathiu had no doubt that the words to a spell were on his lips.
“Calm down, Jones.” Kayla spoke up first, recognizing the man – of course, she would have been able to have figured out his name even if she hadn’t, thanks to the gift of psionics. “These two came in from outside… dodged the Energy Star.”
The soldier blinked. “What? You’re… you’re talking crazy, Narube! No one’s come past the star… hell, no one at all has landed since before you were born!”
That remark made Mathiu a bit mad. The soldier was one of the older ones; no doubt one of the few still around who remembered going on assignment off planet back in the ‘good old days.’ People like these always looked down on the new generation of Hunters, saying that they’d never even killed a lavoid, saying they weren’t worth much if all they could do was occasionally kill a farilii. They were cocky, too – they could certainly afford to be, as none of them were considered combat-worthy enough to actually have to go out and fight the farilii themselves – and seemed fond of causing headaches for those around them.
“Someone has now, Jones…” Mathiu said, one hand on his mace, “and we need to see the General as soon as possible.”
The soldier crossed his arms, and looked over at his comrade – a mute, more than likely… a few of those had come up thanks to rather nasty spell silencing magics developed by the Shi Kari. The man simply shrugged.
“You know… I believe the General’s busy today. Why don’t we just take your new friends over to Lockdown, and he can talk to them when we’ve made sure you’re…”
He trailed off at the end, but Kayla’s mind picked up the end, and transmitted the thought to Mathiu. Not that she’d needed to; it was rather obvious what he was thinking. “That we’re telling the truth? Why in the world would we be lying about something like this?”
Jones looked straight into Mathiu’s eyes. “Look, hotshot. You newbies are all the same, wanting to rock the boat some way or another. Way I figure it, maybe you’re telling the truth, as far as you know. But at the same time, you want to take these two directly to the General, so that if they really are from outside, you’ll get all the credit for it. I can see right through that little ploy, thanks.”
Mathiu was furious. His yellow eyes almost glistened as he stared down the soldier, and he nearly pulled his mace from its holster. “Excuse me!? Are you completely nuts?!!! This isn’t about your frickin’ fame and fortune, old-timer! It’s about the survival of our planet!!!”
Kayla was forced to pull Mathiu back away from the soldier, as angry as the both of them were getting. “Look, Jones.” She said, sighing deeply. “Just tell the General that we’ve got two off-worlders here. If he doesn’t want to see them, fine. But he should at least be informed about it. In the meantime, I’ll take these two over to the Dorms, and they can stay there in one of the empty rooms for the night; on my watch, if you think this is some Shi Kari trick.”
Jones continued to stand there for a moment, staring furiously at Mathiu., trying not to be the first to end their impromptu staring contest. Finally, Kayla reached out with her mind, and gave the soldier the psychic equivalent of a smack upside the head. Grasping at his head in pain, he motioned to the mute next to him, and the two walked off to talk to the General.
“What in the world was all that about?” Cynewulf asked as soon as they were out of earshot. His eye sensor, not at all affected by the lack of light, scanned over the room, looking with no small amount of awe at the various pieces of mobile weaponry littered about it.
Kayla sighed, and turned to Cyne and Meryl. “Let me be the first to apologize about that. You’ve witnessed the main reason that the Hunters probably won’t last much longer… there’s a huge generation gap.”
Mathiu nodded, trying to calm down. “There’s the idiots like him… the ones who remember the days when the Hunters were an intergalactic force… back when we actually killed Lavoids on a regular basis. And then there’re people like me and Kayla, who’ve spent our whole lives trying to kill off the Shi Kari.”
“I take it…” Meryl said hesitantly, one hand on her TAG, “that the two groups don’t trust each other very much. Why not?”
“Well, there’s the obvious reason… they don’t think we really understand what a bad situation this is. Just because we still try to enjoy life…” he shook his head. “Most of the people that lived through that night when the Shi Kari landed have been scarred for life. I guarantee you you’d never see Jones there smile, laugh… basically do anything besides be a jerk off.”
The young man began walking for the door that led out of the garage – and presumably to the previously mentioned ‘Dorms’. The others followed him. “And, since the younger ones aren’t screwed up like that… they get all pissed. Think we don’t get what a horrible thing has happened to this planet.”
“That’s not true, of course.” Kayla put in, nodding at a few uniformed Hunters as they opened the door and proceeded into a long hallway. “I imagine we probably understand it better than they do… I mean, we’re out there every day, looking over the ruins of what we’re told used to be.”
Cynewulf shook his head, and let out a low whistle between his teeth. “That’s pretty bad… still, I wouldn’t think it would cause the Hunters to break up, would it?” he shrugged, a rather odd gesture for him to make with his prosthesis. “I don’t get along with Madam Kyra of the Seekers, but that doesn’t mean that the organization’s about to collapse.”
Mathiu cocked an eyebrow. “Seekers? …Something to hear about later, I suppose. There’s another reason… one we don’t talk about too much anymore.” They rounded a corner, and came to a larger room, which in turn branched off to several other large rooms, all completely underground. “But we can’t just talk about it here… come with me.”
He and Kayla led the two through a cafeteria to a training center – all milling with younger Hunters – and from there to a hallway filled with number-marked doors. They walked for a while from here till they came to what was presumably Mathiu’s room, and opened the door with an ID card. He nodded them all in, and then closed the door.
It was a most interesting place, Mathiu’s private quarters. The bed was unmade - probably had been for several months - and the floor was covered with various magazines, dirty pieces of clothing, and plates that had undoubtedly once belonged to the cafeteria. A holo-vid television set was on in the corner, playing and replaying some old action movie.
“Excuse the mess… wasn’t really expecting company in here.” He said, clearing off a couch along one wall so they could all sit down. He then plopped down on the bed, heedless to the bits of junk underneath him on it. “Now, then…”
“The other reason?” Cyne said, as oblivious to the mess as Mathiu.
The young Hunter sighed, and leaned back on his bed. His eyes narrowed a bit, as though to illustrate the gravity of the tale he was about to tell them. “About six years back, way before me or Kayla were doing any actual Hunting, the situation here was a bit different. There was a Hunter ‘bout sixteen years old named Talon Creed… one of the best that had ever lived. See, he had some ability to use real Black magic… not this elemental junk that most of us use, but real black.”
“There’s a difference?” Meryl asked, somewhat confused. Cynewulf tried to whisper something in her ear – thanks to Zohar, he was already somewhat aware of what the young man was talking about – but Mathiu answered anyway.
“Well, you get the concept that the Multiverse isn’t completely limitless, even though it’s always growing, right? Outside of it, there’s a lot of Chaos energy… and some people know how to tap on it. The magic that comes from that is usually called Black magic, though there’s supposed to be a White division, as well.” He sighed. “Takes a lot of control, and the right genes, to even be able to sense it, and even more to cast any sort of spell with it. Lots of mages go their whole lives and never pull off even the smallest Chaos manipulation.
“But not Talon. Oh, lord… not Talon. Even though he was only sixteen at the time, he had already perfected some very masterful spells… Dragon Slave, most notably. Have you heard of Dragon Slave?” the two shook their heads. “It’s not important, I guess… but it’s probably about twice as hard to cast as that Burst Flare spell the Farilii cast on you.”
“Anyway,” Kayla said pointedly, sensing Mathiu getting off-topic without any psychic help, “Talon was a really incredible mage. So, of course, there were all sorts of rumors, half-formed plans, about things that could be done. Some people even went so far as to say he could storm the Black Tower.”
“All in our generation, understand…” Mathiu cut back in, determined not to have the story stolen from him. “The ‘elders’ all thought it was too risky, all figured that if we pushed too far that we’d call an actual lavoid down on our heads. They wanted to fight back slowly, and collapse the Shi Kari’s military in such a way that they’d barely notice what was happening until it was too late. You’ve seen the results of that way of thinking.
“But the younger ones didn’t listen. Against direct orders from the General and the Council, about two dozen – heh… they even got one of the older ones to go with them, though no one has a clue how they pulled that off – Hunters set off into Avalon one dark night to penetrate the shield around the Black Tower, and destroy the Hive Minds of the Shi Kari… the very heart of their force.”
“And what happened?” Meryl asked, absorbed in the story.
“They all died, in a manner of speaking.” Mathiu said simply, and stood up. “They all died… but every single one of them breathes on today.”
“What? You’re not making any sense, Racnarth.” Cynewulf said, confused and unnerved.
Mathiu snorted, not in derision, but in a bit of pity for the Hunters. “They were all changed by the Shi Kari… not into Farilii, but into something much more insidious.
“You see…” he said, flipping off the holo-vid monitor as if he’d just noticed it was on, “there is a certain branch of the slave races that we had previously been unaware of… in fact, we’re beginning to think it was developed on this planet. It is possible for the Shi Kari to give a subject lavoid energy, as you well know. That’s how the farilii are born. However, they discovered that if they would but pour a bit less into the beings than was required to warp them entirely, something else would be formed. Something that looked like human and - if you were to mask the residue of lavoid energy that all creatures powered by it give off – felt like human, but was as completely and wholly a slave to the Lavoids as the farilii. They call themselves Doppelgangers… pale imitations of the people they once were. They look just like they used to in all but two respects: their skin continually pales as time passes, and eventually takes on a bluish tinge, and their eyes are a deep sort of amethyst color, like the fabled Planeswalkers.”
“By Earth…” Cynewulf muttered, closing his human eye momentarily. “If they came back here, to Terisiare, it must have caused chaos!”
Mathiu shook his head. “Actually, back then there were two bases. Terisiare and Argive… I don’t know where Argive was, probably never will, but it doesn’t exist anymore. The Doppelgangers basically betrayed the location of the base to the Shi Kari, and led a squad of about sixty farilii to it. From what I understand, the only reason they didn’t find Terisiare too was because it wasn’t actually in use at the time… Argive was a much more convenient point from which to launch raids and things.”
“And the older ones have looked at the younger ones in distrust ever since.” Meryl said, shaking her head. “That’s… bad.”
“That’s an incredible understatement, believe me.” Kayla replied.
They sat in silence for a few moments, none of them wanting to be the one to shift the subject away from something of such gravity. Thankfully, none of them had to; a phone on Mathiu’s cluttered desk started ringing.
Mathiu, of course, picked up the receiver. “Hello?” he asked.
“Racnarth? This is Councilor Saith. The General heard about our… guests, and called a council meeting as a direct result. We’ll be meeting in the High Chambers in about an hour. You, Kayla, and the other two should be there about ten minutes before that, to be briefed. Sound good?”
Mathiu sighed, realizing it made absolutely no difference to the situation whether or not he thought it sounded good. “Fine. We’ll be there.” And he hung up the phone.
“What is it, Matt?” Kayla asked, mostly for the Seekers’ benefit.
“Looks like you two are drawing more attention than Jones thought you would… they’re calling the Council together over you, in about an hour.” He walked over to the door. “In the meantime, I’m going to get a bite to eat. You two hungry?”
Cynewulf shook his head. “In light of what’s been going on lately…I really don’t think so.”
Meryl agreed silently, so Mathiu left on his own. Kayla moved to follow him, but before she did, she looked at the two sympathetically. “I’m sorry about your friends… I know that Matt is too. He’s just not good at showing it.”
With that, she walked out, closing the door behind her. It clicked shut like the top of a coffin, leaving Cynewulf and Meryl in darkness…
Or at least their own dark thoughts; the electric lights remained on.
“This is completely insane, Cyne… you know that, don’t you?” Meryl said, allowing the despair she’d been feeling for hours now to take control of her features. “What are we even fighting for, if Darrell and Terra are… if…”
Cynewulf shook his head. “I… know what you mean, Meryl. This entire thing’s gone to hell. We came here… figuring it’d be the brightest moment of our journey, and look how it turns out. I mean, geez, Dar was excited about coming out here, meeting his people… and they don’t even seem to give a crap about what happened to him.”
“I… why are we doing this, Cyne? Without them, the entire thing kind of loses its point, and…” Meryl was forced to stop talking, her throat was tight, her eyes burned, and tears flowed freely from them.
“No, Meryl…” Cynewulf reached over and put his arms around Meryl, somewhat hesitantly. “We don’t know that they’re both gone, for one thing.” With his human hand, he lifted her chin and looked her in the eyes. “I mean, Darrell’s a pretty strong guy… for all we know he could’ve killed all those Farilii back there, and got lost back in the city.”
Meryl sniffed. “Do… you honestly think that could be true, Cyne?”
The large Seeker sighed, and looked down at the cluttered floor. “I… no, I don’t. But even if they’re both dead… dead…” he shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “Even if they won’t be hear to fight with us anymore, we can’t just give up. We have to kill the lavoid.”
“In their memory?” Meryl said.
Cynewulf looked up at the woman, his one human eye showing that he was preoccupied with other thoughts. “At least partially…”
“What?!” Meryl shrugged herself out of Cyne’s arms, and stood up. “At least partially? I mean, I can understand going on with this for Dar and Terra, but what other reason could there possibly be? What are you not telling me, Cyne?”
Cynewulf looked away. “We had this conversation, back in the weapons lab on Karonne. I told you at the time I couldn’t tell you… can’t tell you why I have to kill Grendel.” He sighed. “Can’t you just take me at my word?”
“Cynewulf… you know that I trust you. I thought maybe you would have understood the stuff beyond that by now, too, but…” she shook her head, tears glistening in her eyes. “You only care about yourself. You teamed up with Darrell and Terra, just because you wanted to kill the lavoid anyway, and needed Zohar to do it. You got me to help you get Zohar, our old friendship apparently meaningless in your eyes.
“And yes, I’m going to help you kill Grendel. I’m dedicated to it now… I’m a Seeker, and Darrell and Terra wouldn’t have wanted me to quit.” She looked straight into Cyne’s eyes – the robotic sensor, she couldn’t read much emotion in – and sighed. “You’ve changed, Cyne, and not just in body.”
With that, she whirled on her heel and left the room, slamming the door behind her. After a few moments had passed, Cynewulf started looking around the room for something. It took him a few minutes of rifling through desk drawers and combing the floor, but eventually he came up with it.
The remote control to the holo-vid. He sat back down on the couch and used it to flip the monitor on, then turned on whatever action movie it was that Mathiu had deemed good enough to leave on repeat for weeks at a time.
‘She couldn’t possibly understand… no one can, and no one will.’ he sighed, and leaned back further. ‘Is it because I won’t let them, or that I… I don’t know.’
A few minutes later – minutes spent in pointed lack of thought – the movie suddenly froze in place. Cursing mildly, Cynewulf got up to see what was the matter, and suddenly a certain finori appeared on top of the set, looking rather annoyed.
“Zohar! What are you doing out here?”
The little alien shrugged and stood up. “I might ask you the same thing, Cyne. I saw everything you did just then… do you honestly not care about Darrell and Terra?”
Cynewulf’s eyebrows arched, and he nodded. “Of course I do! But there’s no sense dwelling on that, when there’s still…”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured.” Zohar interrupted, crossing his arms. “Meryl was right, you know. You’re just using everyone for your own end… but what is your angle, Cyne?”
“I want to kill a lavoid. I’m a Seeker, as you may have realized by now.” Cyne’s eyes narrowed. “Beyond that, I don’t see that it’s any of your business what my history is.”
Zohar shrugged. “Oh, well… I thought that since I had to share a body with you, maybe you’d see fit to share some thoughts with me. By the Eternals, Cynewulf, you’re being a complete jerk to everyone around you… have been for months.” He started floating around the room, his white robes flowing in a magical wind that existed merely so that his robes would flow. “You remember whenever we first found out about Darrell’s Id? Everyone else was all concerned about him – hell, I think I even put in a good word – and all you could think about was the endangerment of your ‘mission.’ I mean, geez… how cold can you be? You even went so far as to talk about locking him up… didn’t see him as useful anymore, I guess.”
Cynewulf shook his head violently, and slammed a closed fist down on Mathiu’s desk. “No!! I was just worried about our safety and his, Zohar! How was I supposed to know that his condition could be helped?”
“Because I told you that it could be, ‘Wulf. I believe that once I told you that he could indeed be helped, you said something along the lines of ‘whatever it takes to make sure that Dar’ here won’t be a threat to us.’ Yeah, you were real concerned with him, I can tell.”
Shaking his head, Cynewulf sat back down on the couch, and pushed the play button on the holo-vid control. Nothing happened. “Zohar, fix the freakin’ remote. I’m going to watch this movie, and you’re going to leave me alone.”
“Just shut up, fix the movie, and go away.”
Sighing deeply, Zohar snapped his fingers, and the movie resumed where it had left off. He turned his head slightly, and looked at Cynewulf sadly. “You know, Cyne… you’ve got problems.”
And with that, he vanished, leaving Cynewulf alone in the room. Totally alone… with only visions of the lavoid keeping him motivated. ‘This entire universe… no one understands. They don’t understand me, they don’t understand my goal… if only they knew what happened… back on Zion.’
As these thoughts crossed his mind, the movie hit a particularly poignant scene; the main character was dying. A particular line stuck in his mind for a long time after it had gone by, and indeed long after the movie had ended.
‘Is this all I lived for, all I’m worth? A weapon, to be discarded like this as soon as the battle’s over? Is this… life?’
“His manner will never cease to confuse me, and even knowing his reasons, I still don’t understand why he chose to act as he did.” – Meryl Sara, Final History of the Seekers.
To Chapter 20
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