I'm not scared of dyin'
And I don't really care
If it's peace you find in dyin'
Well then let the time be near
If it's peace you find in dyin'
When dyin' time is here
Just bundle up my coffin
'Cause it's cold way down there
--And When I Die, by Blood, Sweat And Tears
As I willed the mask to engage, I felt a certain sense of apprehension. Unlike Nagaetros’ brain (which was closer to the size of a kitchen appliance than a grapefruit), the Sanctioned was human…more or less. Mental cohabitation damages neural connections, and for humanoid mammals that begins to become problematic after ninety seconds or so, assuming you’re not in there to do harm. With Nageotros, the whole affair had been over in no more than five minutes.
I would have a very short window in there, I thought tiredly, if her mind was anything like normal. Then again, as her reputation went, she might not be all too entirely normal herself. She lived a very private life, in a very private place, and as that brief spasm of sharpness came into me as the mask kicked in, my last thought was that I would have to be very gentle. Naga disagreed, though I don’t think he understood what he was disagreeing with. It was only his nature.
The spasm ended with falling.
Falling into snow. This surprised me, for all of my knowledge-scarce as it was on her, for hers was an impeccably private life-put her well within the safe confines of a formidable structure. I blinked, and felt cold, chilled, as the snow blew onto the black dress I had been wearing when the cohabitation kicked in. It was not a blizzard by any means, but it was cold, and I began to shiver in it. With less grace than I could wish for, I pulled myself out of the snow, hoping to will a parka into existence. None appeared, much to my frustration, though I understood it quickly enough. This wasn’t the world she lived in, where it was fairly simple to change the environment mentally. This was her mind, and it is night in a snowy field.
“Who are you?” The voice came sharply from behind me, and I glanced back rapidly at the speaker. She was blurry and faint, yet incredibly distinct; and here I do no justice to it. Her form… her form was blurry, as if it were an animated photograph out of focus in perpetuity, but her voice was omniedirectional and sharp as ice…which lead to a briefly unsettling moment as I realized that the only reason I’d thought she was behind me was because she wanted me to look at her.
“I have no name to give.” I apologize, wishing I had time to explain the reasoning behind that. My parents fell in love, a condition unpalatable to the minds of the Ascendancy. We were all meant to be conceived artificially, and raised independently of our parents: the Ascendancy is our family, not the objects of flesh and blood which created life outside of our peculiar environment. I could have told a story here, but I had no time to do so. The seconds moved slower here, but they were passing regardless.
The blurred form before me doesn’t move, but in the distance I hear rolling waves of thunder. I can’t see too far beyond her due to the density of the snowfall and the darkness, but I raise my hands before me, palms facing her, in what I think best replicates a gesture of no ill will.
“I’m not here to hurt you-” I begin, but she cuts me off.
“I do not think you could.”
Holf’s aged and well lined face was a turbulant mixture of refined caution, and a deeply unsettling desire to make haste of the deed he had come to the backwater planet in order to do as he stepped down the landing ramp of the hastily repurposed gunship bomber onto the soft, if not somewhat unkempt, grass of the graveyard. The hills of the landscape blurring into darkness where they were not penetrated by spotlights aimed downward from his ships circling above.
The descent through the atmosphere had been relatively uneventful save for some minor turbulence as the cult owned patrol ship had entered the cloud layer of the planet, and subsequently the wind currents of the planet’s upper atmospheric regions. His ships, while they had the appearances of craft that were weather beaten and largely neglected, were actually under their carefully concealed exteriors very durable and well kept fighting craft. That fact hadn't helped matters much as the first powerful gusts of wind had torn at them. Their A-grav pads had done their job in keeping them aloft. But none the less it had been a very jarring ride.
Gods be damned wind currents... he thought to himself bitterly.
From the upper atmospheric regions him, his team and their ship had continued the descent. The remaining ships staying in orbit to provide recon, as well as to cover their route of escape should things take an unexpected turn for the worst. Which, he guessed as they neared the drop off point after transferring to one of the ships bomber shuttles, if the rumors surrounding the person they were hunting were true, they very well might.
Despite the short delay of the turbulence, the decent had otherwise been uneventful, and he had taken the time to ponder the situation while he had still been on the bridge, and as he had, certain "Holes" in the situation became apparent to him.
"something about this is far to easy..." he had thought, was still thinking even now as he looked out across the graveyard and its terrain. The other bombers from the patrol ship hovering high above the scene performing passing flybys of the area. Their spotlights scoping the hilly plots of land, creating points of illumination. They were lighting the scene from above as his teams spread out, utilizing Geo-Caster Upgrades in their V.E.A. units to isolate the fresher graves.
Like most graveyards, this one had a tendency to lay out patches of cut grass and sod over the never graves rather then leave them exposed. As such, finding the thief's grave among the other hundreds of graves in the graveyard would have left both him, as well as his men. Tired and Frustrated.
Deftly, he reached into the pocket of his padded greatcoat, withdrawing an engraved metal pipe. Putting a light packing of tamahar leaves dusted with an odd brown flaky powder into its bowl from a metal clasped pouch in his webbing, he lit it with a graceful, almost calculated movement as he struck a lighter he produced from his vest pocket. Igniting his pipe and setting the leaves alight in a flicker of Lavender flame, a smell of hot shaved copper beginning to waft around his head.
He had drawn several puffs from it when the report came over the Screen of his V.E.A. units Comm-link. The screen appearing in the air in front of him.
"Minister Holf. We've located the gravesite sir." a Tenebrean, roughly 50 years in age and donning repurposed Col-Sec armor reported over the link.
"Are you Entirely certain?" Holf asked sternly, chewing on his pipe slightly as he took in the report.
"Yes my minister." The sect member acknowledged, bowing his head in a slight nod. "Geo scans have confirmed how recently the soil was disturbed, it was filled in less then seven hours ago, perhaps a little more."
"And the thief?" Holf asked, his brows furrowing. How long ago the grave had been dug was of no importance to him currently, what mattered now was that its single occupant was still inside of it.
"Whomever it is, they're down there all right. or at least something is my minister. Whatever the coffin is made out of, its blocking the scan." The sect member looked confused at this, opening a separate screen for Holf to view the scan, and there indeed was an area of extreme interference below the dirt, preventing it from being fully scanned. Roughly the size of a Coffin.
"...that’s something we can expect, if this thief is as resourceful as the rumors claim. Then we can expect them to have anticipated our coming here." The minister responded, closing the separate screen link as he did.
"Should I give the men the order to start digging?" the Tenebrean asked, grinning slightly. Apparently he was very excited to have gotten so close to their goal after their ordeal of escaping Obcasio earlier.
"No... We're not earth drakes... Contact shuttle eight, give the pilot the ok to drop the drilling rig at the grave site." Holf said, motioning up roughly towards where the mentioned drop ship no doubt circled with the others. The collapsed drill rig mounted on its underside in the space where tanks where usually carried.
"You want us to tear the coffin out of the grave minister?" the Tenebrean asked, a tone of glee fairly obvious in his voice.
"If you feel that you must... Just get it out of there in one piece." Holf said, nodding. Humoring the over excited tenebrean.
"Yes, minister Holf."
"And Hinton?" Holf asked.
"If the thief should prove to still be alive, shoot them. Our Lord only requires their head..." Holf said, knowing all to well that carrying a head in a Stasis unit would be much less cumbersome then hauling around a dead body, much less keeping an armed guard on a living prisoner. But he would be willing to get creative should he have to, and secretly, he entertained the thought.
"Right away minister." the sect member nodded, then cut off the link. The screen dissipating as the link did.
Holf turned as the tell tail hum of A-Grav engines marked the decent of shuttle eight towards a section of the graveyard that appeared to have been laid out within a wide grassy gully. Spotlights from several of the other shuttles illuminating an area to its center.
The repurposed drop ship hovered for a moment at ten feet to drop off the tracked and bulky form of the drilling rig mounted on its underside. several of the gravestones being crushed under its tracks, and he couldn't help but smirk (albeit as unsure of a smirk as it was) as several members of his team went about setting it up as the shuttle took back to the dark blue night sky. The bulky piece of mining equipment rumbling forward towards the grave site on its tracks as its components began to unfold, its systems powering up with the deep growl of worn Demetrian Engines.
They had reached their goal and up till that point, it had been fairly simple. But he had the feeling, deep in the back of his mind, that getting it back with them would be no small, nor easy task.
A drake portal silently opened in front of the grave site as the excavation began. No one noticed the change until 3 drakes; Echo, Necrosis, and Kane emerged from thin air in mid conversation.
"- You guys need to get out more, air out your old bones. Because, GODS, DO YOU TWO REEK!" Echo yelled, his back turned to the startled cultists who had just began getting ready to dig. Echo was completely unaware of their presence as the other 2 followed him, exchanging confused glances.
"What did you expect? We’re dead." Necrosis exclaimed calmly, his skull grinning.
" yeah, well that's no excuse for keeping clean!" Echo replied as he turned and noticed the cultists staring at them in an awkward silence which Echo quickly broke.
"AUGH! What the hell is all this!? Who the hell are you people?" Echo yelled pointing at the machines, ships, and cultists with a mix of shock and anger. “Damn it, Kane! This is all your fault!"
Kane's only reply was a deep growl as he reached for his gun, only to be stopped by his brother.
Several of the Cultists manning the machine go for their weapons when they see Kane go for his gun, their initial surprise replaced by silently withheld alarm for the three drakes that had appeared so suddenly.
"Hold it brothers..." a voice commands them. "Lay down your arms..., we don’t kill our guests before we know them."
At the command, most of the cultists lower their arms, some of them going about firing up the Drilling rig to begin excavation. Their Armored suits versus components glowing in the dark. Others still train their weapons on the three of them.
"Forgive us for the rude welcome... But you ‘are’ interfering with our work here..." They look towards the voice to see Holf looking at them from atop a grassy knoll not too far away. his head cocked slightly. The smell of hot copper about him. "Can i ask who in the name of Apophis you three are? And what ‘You’re’ doing here?" he looks from Kane to necrosis with a look of mild suspicion.
Necrosis leaned on his staff and scanned Holf and the others with eyeless sockets, then glanced back to his brother to make sure he wasn't reaching for his gun again. Kane never liked being questioned like this which made the situation all the more delicate. But Necrosis recognized the strangers for what they were.
"We-" Necrosis replied motioning to himself and Kane. "-are the eldest and youngest of the Draconian, Phobos-" He motioned to Echo who was busy glaring at Holf and the armed cultists, "and he is the Draconian, Nagaetros' 'second in command' and we request that you put those toys of yours away before you get hurt."
Holf raised his eyes at the skeletal drake’s response, he had been expecting a good many Explanations of who the odd three were and what they were doing there, and while he may have entertained the thought of what he just said, the idea that they were indeed the servant and sons of not one but "Two" of the draconian was still held in doubt slightly in his mind.
"We." he responded. Following suit to their answer. "Are members of the children of Apophis... Notably the Sect that follows "His" he point to echo. "Master. The Beast Warlock... lord Nagaetros. The First Draconian." He makes a gesture and the remaining cultists lower their weapons. "Toy's, as they had called them." he crossed his arms. "Forgive me for my Skepticism, "eldest of "Phobos"" He said, speaking the Draconian of fears name with slight but restrained distaste.”But I can’t give full Credit to that claim... There are many of your kind after all. as You can reason." he ponders for a moment... then motions to the grave. "if you are who you claim to be, then Who reposes within this grave?"
Kane let out a growl, either in preparation to start a violent rant, or he was preparing to show Holf his true nature and put a bullet between his eyes after driving him insane with fear, both actions Necrosis didn't want to happen. Necrosis remained calm and Echo let out a chuckle.
" This grave is supposed to contain the corpse of the one who attempted to steal our master's will. a 'bald woman' whom I have yet to personally meet. Although, simply knowing who is in the grave doesn't prove who we are, does it? Allow me to remedy that."
Necrosis glares at Holf with his sockets and a sense of sheer terror begins to bear down on Holf's mind. Terror that freezes Holf where he is, unable to mutter a word, unable to even blink, the only action he can make is his body beginning to shake in place until his legs give out from under him.
"Do you believe I am a son of Phobos now? Necrosis said as he released Holf of his gaze.
Holfs shoulders start shaking as Necrosis takes his gaze from him, a sound like sobbing can be herd coming from him, causing worried exchanges among the members of the cultists around the drill rig. A shuttle passing by overhead with a bass hum. As the moments pass however, it becomes apparent the minister is not crying, but rather, is laughing. a Dry coughing laugh that carried well over to them.
"...Oh you speak the truth... you are who you claim to be." he said, looking up. a Satisfied grin on his face, sweat glinting on his brow. "Son of Phobos..."
Holf gets unsteadily to his feet. The cultists only stare at the minister, exchanging glances between him and the three drakes.
"Forgive me for my ignorance lord necrosis. i had to be positive of who you were... you were right of course, Knowing who’s in the grave doesn't prove anything..." hold said, nodding. "had you been lying about who you were, you would have simply told me who lies in it. But one of draconian blood, nay, the "King" of fear. Would not have tolerated such foolish questions... would they?" he asked, Looking at necrosis. Knowing that the thief had been in the grave would have been common knowledge yes. But that show of force through fear had been impressive enough to convince him, such things had only been mentioned in fragmented sect of fear after all. This necrosis was one to be wary of...
Necrosis glanced at his brother and Echo once more. Necrosis was well aware of his father's relationship with the other draconian and that simply being his son could draw suspicion on his brother and himself, especially from Nagaetros' sect of this cult.
"I am used to having to prove my identity. I lost my original body not long after I stopped calling my father 'king' and have paid the price ever since."
Echo gave Necrosis an impatient look. They were in a hurry after all; they had to find the bald woman before the other draconian could.
"Such is the price that comes with the prospect of immortality in that fashion." Holf said, giving an almost genuine nod towards the undead drake. "you have my..." he paused, as if considering whether or not to continue. "...Sympathies. for your situation." he nodded as he turned and began walking down towards the grave site, where the drill rig had finished powering up and was being maneuvered into position over the loose soil of the grave, the grass and sod having been torn off by the cultists around it.
"Now. We have our work to get back to..." the minister said, turning mid step to glance back at the three drakes. Notably at Echo’s impatient look as he regarded necrosis. "...and based on your knowledge, It's your work too I'll wager. Your here for the thief, just as we are..." He stood up straight, drawing a few short puffs from his pipe, which he had managed to avoid spilling in his small fit of terror. The blood-like smell of hot copper wafting from it.
"Perhaps we make both of our jobs easier? This "Bald woman" as you've called her seems to be our common prey, and we are looking to get her back to the same drake."
Echo's ear perked up at the sound of actual progress in their mission and Kane let a smirk cross his scarred mouth.
"We are more than willing to aid the followers of Nagaetros. But I request you allow me to dig up the corpse. If this is some form of trap, which it very well might be, we wouldn't want to lose anyone now, would we?" Necrosis asked as he followed Holf, running his skeletal hands on the tombstones as he passed them with a repetitive *click*.
To Be Continued:
And Continued From Episode One: ancerious-galactic.deviantart.…