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Chapter Three



“We’ll head out in two days. And Clay, seek out the Brides. Oh, they ain’t so bad, pleasant lasses once you get to talking to them. Help out those needing help, and their price ain’t too steep from what I hear. They’ve a soft spot for those in trouble. They might help. You’ll be needing it, for your missus and runt. You’ve gotta square that end before we leave. You can find them in their… hole.”

The Demon-King’s Alleyway was a bullet wound, a puncture that wouldn’t heal. The surrounding rock resembled dried, black blood. It marred Ground Level C’s uniform wall, a missing tooth in the middle of a corpse gray smile where Spanner and Cherry met. Few’d ever walked its shadowed road. It’d devoured countless men over the years. Penetrating past marble and metal, it reached deep into the earth.

Ever since the Gas Leak of R21, Ground Level’d been mostly abandoned. Only the tower’s most destitute lived here, kept to themselves. The occasional sneering face poked out a window, a leering eye peaked from behind an ajar door. But it all couldn’t compete with the Alleyway. Conner’s blood became a frozen slog. It sloshed around his organs, glacial waters threatening to drag him down. It writhed in fretful spasms. No. No. No. Like Conner, it sensed a foul black magick in the air like ozone in thunder-wake, an infamy’s tangible residue.

A cold shiver trickled down his spine. Uneasy in step, he entered, duffle slung over his left, rented electric lamp in opposite hand. He went unarmed.

Fallen knight-kin littered the entrance, black and silver skeletons voided of crucial cybernetics. Some were prostrate, as if instantly felled on the spot. Others’d been posed in mock meditation, cross-legged and upright. One hung from the ceiling by its left leg, right and both arms outstretched at ninety degrees. Non-biodegradable plastics and rubbers rested in sigil-circles. All the recyclable bits’d been scavenged. Lack of animal droppings. He saw no loosened knight’s blood. Proud Eran’s children didn’t rot, so what consumed them?  

He avoided crystallizing his ideas into concrete conclusions.

Carrying on, he looked to the murals on either side of him.

Central was Eran’s plunge into the Great Pyramid of Zurithiqua. Back when humanity still traveled from Old Earth. From the Pyramid’s peak, Eran descended into the lair of Legaiya-Doom, goddess of sin. He fought dark specters on his way, finally reaching the knight’s blood in the catacombs. The battle proved harrowing. In the end, he bested his prey. In triumph, he brought the blood back, giving mankind the means to become living weapons to match his own might.

Whether this deed brought more curses or blessings, many debated. Over the centuries, some Ranger-philosophers raised compelling arguments for giving up the blood, to unbind their shackles and seek other means to serving mankind. But Conner knew the Brides would argue it being nothing short of a birthright for Eran’s descendants, his cause and boon theirs. Blood for blood went both ways, in all the ways it had meaning.

Further down the tract, he made out the figures of a man and woman dressed in generic Battlehide. They stood side-by-side against a pitch-black backdrop, demonic caricatures swirling about with knives threatening, some human, most alien. A fern-hydrid wrapped around their held hands suggested matrimony. An ascended Eran watched over, along with the purple rook, that lofty bird sanctioning the union under Imperial auspices. She held a curved sword in her freehand. He held a rifle. Brother and sister in arms against the on-coming dark.

Conner never got to fight alongside those brave female Rangers. They’d grown rarer before the horde. The W.A.R. —no, High Command had discharged the very last of them during the Retreat, the Core grimly describing the crime as “promoting them to civilian-class.”

On cue, a grim spectre of that day crept up on him as he turned a corner. He tarried his step.

Upon smoothly hewed stone, a single expression of hateful energy consumed the tunnel for meters all around. In character, in quality it differed from the other murals. Those previous paintings were crafted with restraint, care, reverence even. But this one erupted with anger, gnashing teeth and primal pain, oh gods the pain. A chorus of mouths within a greater mouth silently screamed, hidden, forgotten by the world at large. But never forgetting in it of themselves. Each runnel of paint was an etching of sorrow, hurt, want, more a knife slash than a brush stroke.

The Great Reaping, the Great Raping as Conner’d heard in whispers. The Old High Council’s crime against the female knight-kin, spearheaded by W.A.R.’s top brass. The day the Regiment died, the day High Command was born. “It was for their own good,” they’d all agreed given the intel provided. The blood made those noble Sarai susceptible to the Bloodfang’s psychic assaults. They’d no other choice, they’d convinced themselves, Conner included for a time. But a part of him always felt suspicious. Their blood proved the final component in getting the Grand Pack operational. Their unique strain powered the Seat of Sacrifice.

The crude imagery of tortured women strapped to blood extraction machines, the menfolk overseeing with carnal grins, it sledgehammered him.  

Traitors, the lot of us.

A harsh, guttural voice spat in the gloom. “You’re either very courageous, or very foolish.”

Startled, he turned his attention to the bend further down, lantern raised. A naked woman stood by an outcropping. A coat of black ash covered her from head-to-toe, her dark brunette locks unsullied. Tall, lean, she looked sickly. Gaunt, whittled down. But muscular arms, well-toned, betrayed her; she practiced a warrior’s swing, ready to mete out disciplined violence. The belt around her waist looked as if it held a gun or dagger out of sight behind her back.

She wasn’t alone. He couldn’t see how many waited behind the bend.

“I’ve come to ask you a favor.”

“And why should the Brides oblige, boy-knight?”

Her tongue, coated black and slick with spittle, flicked like a serpent tasting air. Teeth a raven-like ebony filled her mad-dog snarl.

“I’m going on a mission. Need my wife and daughter safe when I’m gone.”

She softened, but the scowl returned with hideous, hateful life. She tensed up, guard raised higher than before.

“Either a noble mistake to’ve come down here, or a cynical lie to trick us. Choose your next words wisely, little boy.”

He lowered the lamp. Come what may, he lowered his guard.

“I don’t blame you. You’ve every reason, every right to not trust me. What we did, it was criminal. It was wrong. For what little it’s worth, I still feel bad about it sometimes. Ashamed, guilty. Wretchedness, I guess is the word. Couldn’t do anything about it then, and damn do I wish I had. But that don’t absolve me. For being weak when I should’ve been strong for you, I’m sorry.

“But I’ve come with good reason. It ain’t my place to ask for forgiveness, but I’m hoping you can still honor me with your help.”

“You speak of honor, as if it has a place down here in our realm of ill-begotten shadows. You’re not in the sphere of man anymore, but of woman. You’re not a Ranger here, but prey for the Brides who’s daggers taste knight’s blood.”

“And yet you keep the peace in the lower reaches. I’ve heard the stories, heard the praise. Don’t know how real the spookshow is, maybe you’re all mad with devil-worship, but you keep the Oath, damn do you keep it better than us up top.”

The Bride remained quiet. Ever so slightly, the scowl died.

“You alone can help me. You can see that my family remains safe. I must become a criminal to carry out my cause, to keep my own Oath.”

She sank towards the nearest wall, her right arm disappearing behind the outcropping. Her gaze never left his. She lightly nodded a few times over a few seconds. She pulled away, returning to where she’d been standing.

“What…” —a pang of longing— “What’re their names?”

“Molly Affable… The little one’s Gabrielle… I call her Gab-Gab sometimes, but mostly it’s Gabby.”

She broke away her gaze, looking to the ground. A gentle smile creaked across her dirty, unhappy face.

“Those’re beautiful names,” she cooed. The harsh, evil tone was no more. She hailed from Pertwood, he heard it in her voice now; she once had a home.

The softness, her warmth moved him. Even after all these years, somewhere in her decrepit, ghoulish form there still held fast a true and honest Ranger. In her own way, she’d remained a hero.

She returned her gaze, hellfire back in her eyes. Weaker. Feigned hate.

The ugly cackle returned. “You interest us, boy-knight. But we witches are paid only in the greatest and most terrible of fiefs.”

Tears welled up. Her lower lip quivered.

“What price’re you willing to pay?” she croaked like an evil toad.



He looked away, calculated the cost. Knight’s blood was a pernicious thing. It demanded nutrients, but also craved combat, hungered for violence. In exchange to fight as Eran had, knight-kin acted as its vessel, its weapon. A wholly selfish creature. It wouldn’t take kindly to being harmed. It would fight back.

He didn’t know how long it’d take to regrow. He’d no idea of what sorts of dangers he and Owen would encounter during the year-long voyage. It was a wild system out there. Maybe he was over thinking it. Is this the way? Maybe Command won’t go after them. He had doubts. No, he asserted. Carry on. He pushed the uncertainty down, imagined it as hot coal in his hands, buried it in sand, snuffed it out. He needed to ensure his family’s safety.

He turned to the witch. Conviction held fast.

“I know what you want. It’s a deal. Protect them, and claim some of my blood.”

The facade fell away. Her mouth fell agape, a sob just stifled. Tears rolled down her cheeks, cleansing rivulets to wash away the old soot. Her birthmarks appeared from beneath the ash.

She reached behind her back, and pulled out a combat knife. Its serrated teeth glinted, ready to saw through synthetic skin and meat. He turned off the lamp, the darkness flooding in to drown them. He placed the lamp and duffle on the ground. He allowed himself to be at her, their mercy. He looked her in the eye, their night-vision affording sight even in shadows. He undid his jumpsuit, at first working to keep decent til ultimately forgoing it. He stripped naked. He gave her as much skin as she would need to work with.

“I’m afraid we lack the medical supplies to do this cleanly.”

That soft, angelic voice.

“It’ll be painful.”

“Seems only fair. Not nearly as painful as what we did all those years ago.”

“No… Indeed, not nearly as painful.”

With tears in her eyes, she carved into his belly from the right, tearing, digging. So much clear, yellow plasma flowed out. He fought to keep conscious, clasped a hand on her shoulder, gritted his teeth. He left a bruise in the shape of fingers. With his free hand he used the jumpsuit to staunch the flow as she pulled and wrenched.

The blood lashed out, tried wresting the blade from her. Its blue glow provided the only light now. Another witch turned up, a jar in hand readied to trap a piece. A surprise to Conner, she donned full Battlehide, a plain, creme-colored shell, a generic model. In the weird lighting, she looked an awful lot like Father Eran himself.

An azure haze washed over everything, as the blood raged.

Conner pulled the heavy brown cloak tight around his body. He’d spent his last twenty on it, giving the change plus a ten to a bum.

Owen barely fit into the jacket he had tailored, his Battlehide visible above the raised collar. He fidgeted with the buttons to better hide the interlocking slabs of living metal the color and luster of polished bronze.  

He looked odd without the beard, baby-faced. Conner couldn’t help but run his own fingers across his own shorn chin and crown. He felt a draft.

“Are you ready?” Owen asked, his voice dripping with unease. His eyes darted back and forth across the busy street, scanning for patrols.

Conner felt at the gash along his abdomen. In the end, he needed the Brides’ special treatment, stitches, balms, and bandages to close up the wound. The blood’d retreated entirely. It hadn’t resurfaced in hours, wouldn’t aid in healing. He reflected on the sacrifice. He’d weakened his very capacity for combat, as long as the blood recovered. He won’t be able to grow new muscles so easily, and his reflexes were dulled. The blood provided so much of his physical ability.

A pang of fear; he might’ve signed his own death warrant. He thought of abandoning the mission, thought of going back to his family, to flee with them to the Brides, go underground. They’d be safe. The cracked window came to mind. Be as water, a babbling brook or unruly rapids, flow as you must to face your foe. Mad wisdom again. Steel in his eyes, he turned his gaze up to Owen, the latter still on the nervous lookout.

“Yeah. I’m ready.”

They hesitated for a moment, deciding Conner should go first. They slipped onto the streets of 55D, and made way to Main Hangar Bay. They made a direct beeline for a smaller entry hatch near the enormous door’s base. At eight kilometers wide and shy of half a kilometer tall, the door took up space where 55’s C Quadrant would’ve been. Despite the rider being so near, the area around the entrance was lousy with tent-pole pavilions.

Drunkards and ne’er-do-wells stumbled in shambling ranks. They forged winding pilgrimage between different shanty taverns and brothels, Lapsed Patrol being the Bastion’s largest red-light district. Despite the name, Conner and Owen knew better. They kept an eye out for any signs of their law-abiding kin. There were too many corners, too many back alleys to not play tricks with their imaginations. The gawks and stares towards Owen drew too much attention.

They reached the hatch. The whole door looked like the enormous jaws of a metal behemoth, they as but mites before it. Giant, glaring red lights above the frame jutted out at regular intervals, the eyes of a furious, multi-eyed creature readying to snap. A giant, deep-sea clam.

“Owen, you sure we can summon our Wolves?”

“Aye, the device I had made will call them. Cost me a few hundred rooks, but it’s worth it, I’m sure. I very much trust the lass behind it.”

Reassured, Conner placed his palm onto the hatch’s biometric scanner. A small, red light blinked to life on the board. The portal remained sealed, no signs of budging. Worried, he tried again. It remained locked, and the little red bulb started strobing, as if taunting him.


“Shit, they must’ve removed my clearance.”

Owen tried himself, but proved the same result.

“Damn. Never did see me as trustworthy. Or mayhaps the whole fucking thing’s been locked. We’re buggered, my good friend.”

“I can help you.”

They turned about face, Conner recognizing the voice. His mind raced with panic.

“Molly? What’re you doing here?”

She slipped from the shadows of a nearby tent not five paces away. She had a shawl drawn to hide her face. She scanned about, trembling with worry.

“Won’t be getting in through there, come on let’s leave. Someone’s gonna check the door. Pretty sure you’ve just tripped the alarm. I know another way in.”

The three of them hurried back onto 55D’s busy streets. Molly led the way behind The Whole Hog and Pit. Filled to the brim with debauchery, it provided ample noise to mask their movements.

“Moll, what’re you doing here?” he repeated.

“Can’t stop you, but at least I can keep you from getting arrested. One of those Brides came by the house. Told me what you’d done for them, that they’re ready to take us in. Gabby’s down in the lower levels, hidden til I’ve settled things.

“But Con, High Command’s waiting for you.”

They stopped by the Archival wall, taking a concealed position behind the brothel. The intrepid knight-kin to her back, she pulled out her wall-cracker from underneath her cloak, the device tied to a leather thong slung over her left shoulder. Several screwdriver-like bits made up the business end. Moving parts and gears took up the engine case. A manual crank powered it, the definition of low-tech. Not missing a beat, she planted the interlocking drills into the slots along the wall and cranked. With great effort, she parted the plastic-glass platings.

As she toiled she huffed, “Managed to steal this from Cultural. *grunt* Even got my array. *grunt* A miracle I reached you in time.”

She exposed the tower’s electric innards, and moved to the next section to repeat the process. Aqua-green glimmers glinted off the pulsating power cables. It reeked of dank and musk, hinted at living dangers lying in wait. The electrical hum masked all other sound, rain aiding the jungle cat on the hunt. Anything could be hiding in there. She made the aperture wide enough for Owen to squeeze through by ducking. Grim, red-faced and sweat-drenched, she turned to them.

“Stay close behind, and for heaven’s sake don’t touch the walls.”

Without another word, they pressed on into the Bastion’s insides.


It’s what came to Conner’s mind, what he imagined it must’ve been like.

Ancient. Beautiful. Exotic. Baneful.

A tapestry of circuit boards covered the perimeter like temple masonry, ornate transistors in place of gargoyles and stonework lanterns. A thick ceiling of cables above acted for a jungle canopy. Many no longer ran a current, and most hung lifeless where they slacked. Only a few pulsed with vitality a vivid cerulean, the corpusant of eldritch energies hanging in the air, a green-blue kaleidoscope throbbing all around. Wherever the light landed, glints of sickly gold twinkled against dark green like grains of crystal. Mineral specks in coral.

The circuitry had the connotation of alien hieroglyphs, occultic cuneiform hinting at arcane knowledge, wisdom of ages and civilizations inhuman and long dead. For Conner and Owen they were inscrutable. For Molly, they were legible. She took note as she led onward.

The canopy buzzed with roiling wrath, a hornet’s nest ready to come crashing down. The hiss of loosened live-wires broke through the din. At times they saw cables flailing, spitting sparks like venom. Serpent-men in self-defense. Conner’d only ever fought such foes in the Forge’s training modules.

He made sure not to touch anything as he clumsily carried on. Ahead, Molly bounded onward, an ephemeral grace to her step, a frolicking ghost dance. A dear in flight. He turned to see Owen gingerly brushing aside cables with a cloaked arm, struggling to navigate the tangled dark.

Their journey took almost an hour. “Here,” she said, raising a fist to halt their step. She approached another set of access panels, and pulled out her wall-cracker. These ones proved harder to undo. It was very damp and humid; rust and mold were her enemy here. Stubborn, she got them open. With a giddy start, they infiltrated Main Hangar Bay.

The ceiling was half a kilometer higher than the great, metal door. The place looked like a small palace and villa. Twenty levels of terraced balconies ran the whole length. The ornately hewed marble was decorated with holy motifs, ascended Erans and San-sirai. Wreaths of rooks marked every point of entrance or egress, archways blessing all who walked under. Banners hung from the rafters bearing the face of the last Emperor, Arnold the Jolly. A patine of dust besmirched every rosy-cheeked smile. The Hangar once accepted royalty and dignitaries from all across Grand Hyperborea, the runway expanse built for their personal star-barges. It now provided ample room for the Grand Pack.

A technicolor sea, over a thousand Silver Wolves greeted the three intruders.

Every Wolf was unique, each customized to fit the tastes of their once respective master. The only commonality was their general size and shape, and steering column design. Two meters by a meter and a half, the biomechanoids were roughly similar to chopper bikes, each with an ion engine for interplanetary travel. They had four legs, for when flight was impractical or ill-advised; like their namesakes, Wolves needed their stealth. All of them had their handlebars arising from the base of their skulls, on the spine before the neck. A uniform shape, the handles were two silver horns curving towards the backrest.

For Molly, this was her first time seeing Wolves up close. For Conner and Owen, it was like reuniting with family. They made their approach with caution, not for fear they should be attacked but out of adoration.

“Conner,” Owen whispered, “have you ever seen so terrible and awesome a thing? Such raw power, such a gathering of teeth and claws. All of it waiting to explode.”

“Only once.”

Conner removed his right hand gauntlet, and ran Battlehide-laced fingers along the nearest Wolf’s left flank. She was a dark green beauty, and had blue and purple butterflies racing up her slender legs. A halo of yellow flowers encircled her puckish nose. From there the floral detailing continued up along the snout, forming vines climbing up her skull and horns. She had eyespots that appeared sealed shut, giving her an air of a blind serenity. The real eyes were beneath, as two black tears. She was so embellished, so sculpted, surely she must’ve been loved. Conner wondered who her rider might’ve been, what kind of person they were, if they still lived.

He continued. “Before Pertwood fell, I saw such a great host.”

Owen stirred. He’d ran away that first day of battle, fled on his Roaring Harlot before the fighting even broke out. That’d been the last time he’d seen or heard any trace of his old home world, outside a familiar accent. He retrieved the hailing device from his satchel, inspected it to distract himself. A skullcap of coarse fabric held together the gangly rods and wires. On one side was an activation switch, on the other a dial with two settings, “Owen” and “Konner.”

“Well,” he started with a sigh, “guess I’ll go first. Was made for me in particular to begin with.”

He placed it onto his head. It looked tiny on him. He pressed the switch, closed his eyes.

He called out in a low tone. “To my side, Roaring Harlot. I’ve need of you.”

He reached a hand out, adding to the effect.

“It’s like being interfaced,” he added. “Like being one with your girl. Only… how peculiar.”

Interface created a single thinking unit, knight-kin for higher cognitive function, Wolf playing the role of unconscious thought; right hand knowing what left hind paw committed. It required physical contact. The hailing device bypassed this limitation. But nothing stirred from the motionless multitude. Conner grew anxious. He saw the same in Molly’s eyes.

“Come on,” Owen grumbled.

Relief, a lone Wolf rose up from the rest, engines spewing hot jets of super-heated plasma. More beast than beauty, much larger than the rest, the white-gold steed made way for them. Her speed and grace belied her overwhelming heft. She looked like a comet.

The maneuver in motion, a smirk broke across Owen’s face. He opened his eyes.

“Good, old girl.”

The Wolf settled down in front of them. She looked more like a roving throne than a chopper, a chariot fit for two large men to occupy at once; a seat perfect for Owen. Her beady black eyes were the only touch of contrast against her hoary hue, the cockpit saddle a similar shade as the fur. Her angry mouth hinged wide open, a lion’s roar. Two sets of enormous buzz saw blades ran out, the four rotating disks of vicious teeth an eternal snarl.

Owen took the device off his head, handed it to Conner. A swagger in his step, he sauntered up to her. He took his jacket off, and the rest of his Battlehide fell into place. The missing pieces grew from the armor already donned, telescoping from beneath metal sheets. The helmet formed from the nape of his neck, wrapping tightly around his skull, casting the high-raised crown of Pertwood’s Colossi, the most elite Ranger class the Empire’d ever produced. Adding to the visage, two great horns jutted from his temple on either side, and a blood-red visor in the shape of a screaming mouth appeared. When he reached her, he grabbed his Great Cleaver from her bank of blades, and raised it high above his head. A low, rumbling laugh emanated from his hulking shape.

For the first time in over a century, the Titan of Pertwood was reunited with his Roaring Harlot. Together, they cut an imposing figure in the tomb-like Hangar. They were a golden beacon in the crowded gloom.

Inspired, Conner placed the cap on, switched the dial over to the “Konner” setting, and tried at summoning his Crimson, eager to reunite. But for the longest fifty seconds ever endured, nothing happened. Panic mounted.

“Hey! What’re you doing?!”

Conner looked to Owen and Molly, then glanced to the terraces. Two young patrolmen in generic Battlehide sans helms ran along the second balcony, gunning for a staircase to ground level, pistols drawn.

Red mercury shots, capable of cutting Battlehide without resistance, on par with solid sniper rounds.

“Conner,” Molly whispered. She made for an escape, but tensed before committing. Wide-eyed, hyperventilating, she turned back to him.

Damn it Moll, run!

A white-hot poker jab to the nerves, a sudden, acute feeling of limbs and organs—not his own, but ones he intimately knew. Phantom anti-gravity, his body rose up into the air, a plasma-rush blossom to the face, a blush the shade of a sickly and unripe yellow tomato. Grounded where he stood, ion jets propelled him upward, up, up above the rest, cresting over the technicolor sea. Son-of-a-bitch, it worked. He took control, raising his hands up to grip the handlebars. He banked left, saw himself in the distance. In two places at once, out-of-body and in full command.

The patrolmen got closer. “Hey! Stop that!”

Owen heaved a Wolf into the staircase landing, and sent another one after it, a third choking the threshold. Halfway down the final flight, the patrolmen found their passage blocked. One of them lined up his shot from the railing, only for the other to pull back his aim with a rough jerk.

They ran back up the stairs for another route.  

Conner accelerated. The engine roared. His body prickled over, energy wriggling like bacterial flagellum. He was a single-celled organism of raw change-potential, a pinprick of heat and light in reality’s firmament. He could’ve rationalized the psychosomatic effect, but he abandoned all rationale. He allowed enchantment, the mania to take root in his brain.

Crimson crash-landed with her two thousand kilos. Her clawed paws cracked concrete, shattered ceramic flagstone. She hunched over like a cornered wolf, ready to pounce.

Near overwhelmed, Conner smiled. Always were a spitfire.

Sleek and slender on four great legs, she was like an engorged javelin. Her nose ended in an arrowhead, her body streamlined into the point. A peacock’s tail of spears and blades fanned out from her backside behind the backrest. Her beady yellow eyes were just visible against the red, metal fur, the silver handlebars the only other touch of color. She resembled a toy rocket.

Conner removed the hailing device along with his cloak.

His A-class Battlehide adhered to his flabby, out-of-shape body, its shimmering blue the same color as lively knight’s blood. As with Owen, the helm formed from the nape and broad of his back. Instead of a high-raised crown, his cap adhered closer to the scalp, fanning out into a wide, sharp brim along the cranium. The raised edge met itself at the forehead, rising up into a short mohawk, a horn forming at the front. It didn’t stray far from the generic design, but lacked a second horn. The face was a convex plate, two great, round yellow eyespots across the azure visor. The mouth area was outlined, but neither lips nor nostrils were detailed, a ghost’s silent wail taking up the bevor. Owen looked like a caricature of cartoonish villainy, but Conner seemed genuinely inhuman; an insect, a banshee, a sapphire idol.

He planted down into the red saddle, and turned to Molly. There was awe in her eyes, and tears. Holding back his own, he fought to say goodbye.

The vox-box at his throat blared, “Find the Brides. Tell Gabby I love her, that I’ll always love you two.”

“Con!” she cried out, the ion engines roaring to greater life. “Come back safe!”

“Don’t worry. I’ll return.”

He hated lying to her. A hand to her heart, she slunk back into the wall. The two renegades rocketed towards the main portal out.

Conner turned back one last time. The patrolmen appeared from another stairwell. One flailed their arms. The other had his pistol aimed, but refused to fire even with a clear shot. The red mercury wouldn’t even have caught up to them. Conner turned his attention back to the main portal.

As he and Owen accelerated, they each fired four well-placed artillery rounds into the slab of metal. The shots rent a tear, a breach wide enough for them to escape. A rush of typhoon wind, they slipped out into the cool night. Conner couldn’t hear the alarms blaring as they climbed up, as they rose alongside the tower. The thruster screams enveloped them in a deafening blanket.

A few minutes into flight, they broke past atmosphere. They got reacquainted with the cold of space, the vacuum’s quiet. Only the jostling of their steeds afforded any sense of anchorage. Rather than relief, Conner felt all the more worried. Their escape’d been too easy. They should’ve been killed.

How ill-prepared is Command?

He left the thought behind, as quickly as New Earth fell away. Now there only remained the long, winding track before them, the perilous trek toward the asteroid, towards war, towards doom.

The Blood Phantom rode out once more.

It was going to be a long year.

Chapter Three: Text
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