Edgy Sexy Sci-Fi
WebSlider_SSDelaunay_Rise Siren Five_Jun2016

ONE

Debbie beeped.

Deep Space Debbie. Debbie for short. If Debbie beeps once, the arrays have picked up something with serious potential to be interesting.

If Debbie beeps three times, the arrays have picked up something real good.

When he first started working here, Nate Reynolds Jnr jumped into action at every solitary Debbie ding.

Tilds scoffed at him. But his eyes still tracked him, furtive and hopeful, all the same.

Debbie had just dinged three times. Tilds was maintaining his aura of cool detachment, but his eyes were glued to Nate at the OBO tracker.

OBO. Off-World-Black Ops. Uber level of security clearance required to be anywhere near this thing.

“Son-of-a-gun. This guy’s a genius.” Nate rested his hands on the desk and peered closely at the incoming stream.

“What?” Tilds said, aiming for casual. Almost making it.

“What?” he repeated, just a tad impatiently when Nate didn’t answer right back.

“Cooper Pierce R9,” Nate replied, easing back from the screen. “He’s done it. He’s off Moethiica.”

Tilds whistled. “Well won’t that make the powers that be happy. Golden boy on his way home again. Son-of-a-bitch.” He picked up the phone. “I’ll call it in.”

“Who’s picked him up?” Tilds queried Nate, while he cradled the phone against his shoulder. “Can you see them?”

He shook his head at the non-answering phone and held the receiver straight out in front of his face. “Hello? Earth to OBO Incorporated. Important news to report. Favorite son on his way home. Anyone want to freaking answer me?”

“No, I can’t see them, but….” Nate leaned in close to the display again. “Fuck,” he said quietly.

“What? What?” Tilds slammed the phone down and clumsily negotiated the exit route from his desk. Nate Reynolds Jnr, was a gentleman and a scientist.

And he never swore.

The bar had now been officially raised above real good.

“Holy fuck.” Tilds skidded to a stop beside him. Unlike Nate, Tilds swore often. He was as much of a scientist. Definitely not so much of a gentleman.

“He’s got her. He’s freaking got her,” Nate said eventually.

“I don’t believe it,” Tilds breathed.

“Believe it,” Nate replied. He pointed to the screen. “She’s right here in front of us. Heading fast our way.”

Tilds’ phone rang loud and sharp. They both jumped.

“Fark. Ok,” Tilds exhaled deeply, cranking his neck and rotating his shoulders.

“Tilds, just answer the phone. Tell them he’s got her,” Nate rolled his eyes at him. Such a drama queen.

Tilds reached his desk and picked up the phone.

“This better be good, Array Boy.” It was Jonassen. An arrogant bastard. But around Off-World-Black-Ops, you got that here and there.

“Oh it’s good, Jonassen,” Tilds smirked. “It’s more than good.”
“Yeah, what?” Jonassen asked skeptically.

“Golden boy. Everybody’s favorite, long off-the-grid, Off-World Agent, has gone all exit stage left on Moethiica on us.”

“Pierce is off? You can see him?” Jonassen was excited now. And the best was still coming to him.

“Oh yeah he’s off,” Tilds replied. “And he’s bringing you a little friend to play with Jonassen.”

“Cut the crap, Tilds and spill it. Who’s in transit with the Agent?”
“Siren5, asshole. Siren5.”

There was dead silence. “You’re shitting me,” Jonassen said.

“No, I am not. Patching you to the Debbie data…..now!” He hit the last key with a flourish.

“Oh. My. God,” was all that Jonassen could say.

“The most coveted freaking asset in the cosmos, Jonassen,” Tilds gloated. “The most coveted freaking asset in the cosmos and we got her. Little low tech, bumbling baby earth just outplayed the lot of them. Yeah baby!” He pumped his fist excitedly and then recovered himself.

Nate looked up from Debbie to smile at him.

“Jonassen you still there?” Tilds put on his best serious voice. “Don’t you need to go tell someone?”

“Yeah , yeah. I do and I’m out,” Jonassen replied, shaking himself. He went to hang up and paused.

“Hey Tilds you think she’s hot as in smoking hot?”

“Of course she’s hot,” Tild replied. “She’s a freaking Veil Portal opening Siren, Jonassen. Sex, wings and magic baby. Oh yeah.”
“Cooper Pierce is a lucky bastard.”

“Cooper Pierce is a freaking legend. And professional beyond all reason. He ain’t gonna tap Priority One, Man. No matter how hot she is. She got important work to do down here.”

Jonassen grunted, “I would.”

Tilds laughed. “And that is why Cooper Pierce is on his way back from OBO Mission Moethiica1 with said Siren in tow, and you’re still working a desk job.”

“Fuck you, Array Boy.”

“Aw, sorry Jonassen. I’m officially off the market. Gotta save myself for all that Off-World pussy that’ll be coming through, once that little cosmic doorway opens”

“Tilds!” It was Nate. Looking pointedly furious.

“Gotta go. Gotta go. Go tell the big brass, Jonassen. Later.”

Tilds hung up the phone and managed to look sheepishly apologetic. “Sorry Nate.” He held up his hand to him. “Can’t blame a man for getting a little distracted though.”

Nate shook his head and turned back to Debbie. “You’re depraved Tilds. This is huge. This is history. This is the gateway to the denied worlds. And we got her. We got the key. Which means we control it. We own it.”

“No way anyone is going to cheapen this by trying to get laid by the Off-Worlders who come through it.”

Tild shook his head. “Nate, Nate, Nate. I admire your sentiment, brother, I really do. But I wouldn’t count on it.”

He winked at Nate and picked up the phone to make the next call.
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TWO

Moethiica. Far, Far Away. 24 Hours Earlier.

“Hurry up,” Marcs hissed behind her.

“Shut up,” she laughed at him. “I want to savor it. It’s my last time.”

She settled herself again, drew a breath, and hurled the canister.

It was a good throw. The target was impossibly high. Impossibly angled.

When she was little she had practiced for hours on end, every day, for months for this.

Just for this moment.

It had to be perfect.

It was.

The canister hit true on the sensor, way, way above them. And the rock doorway to the run, slid open.

Rise turned and beamed at Marcs in delight. She eased herself through the narrow opening and felt him close behind her.

Marcs could not throw and hit that sensor. He had a cheek in rushing her. But this was the last time here with him too, most likely. And she would not let any small annoyances bother her.

She pushed through the next opening and came out on to the ledge, into the sunlight.

The sun was directly overhead now. It heat red rock and honeysuckle. Godds she loved that smell. She wondered if she would smell it after today.

“Unlikely,” she said to herself, breathing deep, and stepping closer to the edge.

Her last run. She had come of age that morning. And that meant only one thing to a female like her on Moethiica.

They would come for her.. They would take her to the Echelon.
And she would become their play thing.

They would take her wings away.
Tears pricked her eyes and she let the hot breeze take them.

What would come, would come, but it would come later. They would not spoil this last moment on Junar Run.

Because Junar Run was Paradise. Outlawed and abandoned.

A local street crew looking to loot whatever they could find from the long abandoned weapons facility had found the entrance.

They got precious little in the way of loot. But they were an enterprising lot, many of them winged. They began to fly the old runs and hold races.

Only the best of the best, and those who could be trusted, were invited to join them. It became a profitable little venture for them. Rise had certainly forsaken many a meal to race here.

But it had been worth it. Oh, so worth it.

They were not here now, and she and Blake had the place to themselves. A bonus.

Blake had never beaten Rise on this run. No-one had beaten Rise on this run the last three years.

But they had beaten her enough before that. Years. Junar Run had been her life for some time.

Rise looked around her, savoring every precious detail of it.
Home. Freedom. Friendship.

The ravines of Junar are narrow.

And they bare the scars of war.

There are parts of Junar where the ledges have caved in from the blasts. And parts where the holes in the hard, red dirt floor have been blown through.

This was ground never meant to be disturbed.

Hot bursts of smoldering air erupt from the floor. They join with the warm eddies that rush through the ravine to form a wave of hot, fickle, unpredictable air. Eddies of hot winds that rise from the bowels of the earth and rush through the narrow passages of the ravines.
No-one knows where they come from or what causes them. But if you have wings and you catch one at the right time, you can ride them.

Ride them dizzyingly fast through the turns and twists of the run, and pray the eddy lasts until the end, where it will drop you outside of the rocks. It is an adrenalin rush like no other.

This is what they ride and race and fly.

Rock sprites live in the caves here. Other creatures as well. If you get caught on the run, it is a rock sprite who will come rescue you.
Pray it is a rock sprite anyway.

You would not want the other creatures who dwell here coming to your aid.

There is a stillness that is not stillness that comes over you before flight. It is being. It is fluid. It gives only the illusion of being still.

You become one with yourself and one with your surroundings.
The breeze stopped abruptly. The hot desert air hung heavy and dry.
Silence.

Rise waited. At one with herself.

The eddies came.

Soft, teasing, caressing. The first one lifted a tendril of dark hair from her forehead, already damp with sweat.

It was all she needed.

She dove.

And Marcs cursed, already half a second behind her. She had gone early and she sank dangerously close to the ground before the full force of the eddy caught her wings.

She surrendered to it. She was lifted. She soared.

She banked hard into the first turn. Her body and the elements one. In perfect sync with each other. Each lending the other to its cause.
The feeling through her wings was of ancient winds, hot earth, swirling air, rising heat, cool ocean mists. She felt all these things through her wings. She felt this air’s journey. Felt where it had travelled. Felt where it had been. And now it was hers. Now she had become part if its journey. Now it was lifting her.

The third turn is sharp to the right and up after the comparatively gentle curved ease of the second left. It comes quickly upon you, and many a first and even tenth time traveller of Junar Run, comes to an early end of the ride here.

Of all places Marcs chose this particular turn to make one of his more outrageous passing attempts.

They slammed.

They slammed into each other hard. And before they could disentangle themselves from each other a freak up blast of a current propelled them up into the web of vicious overhangs above them.

That’s the thing about Junar Run.The overhanging ledges stretch out far, almost touching on certain parts of the run. And their underside is a tangle of strange rock formations. Gnarled swirls and nasty hooks of rock.

As if some great giant knew to what purpose beings would come here. And added his own evil twist to the game, wrought in stone.

They struggled vainly, only making their situation worse and securing themselves even tighter in the overhangs.

There was nothing for it. They could only wait for the rock sprites. They would come rescue them eventually. All they must needs do is wait. And find some pieces of rocks they could cling to with their hands to take the weight from their wings to their arms.

The sun beat down steadily and Rise was saturated with sweat by the time Marcs spoke.

“Sorry,” he grunted. Wincing as he shifted his weight.

They were saving what they could of their wings but their arms were taking some brutal punishment.

“It’s Ok,” Rise exhaled deeply through her mouth and adjusted her position slightly.

They waited longer in silence. The salty sweat poured into Rise’s eyes and her biceps screamed with pain. She couldn’t hold this much longer. But if she swung her legs up to try and get a purchase on the ledge above she would rip her wings.

And she really, really didn’t want to do that. No matter what was coming later, she would preserve them as long as she could.

Rise closed her eyes and counted backwards from 100.

She could hold for another 100. A rock sprite would surely be here by then.

22.

It was no rock sprite.

Rise felt the base of her skull tingle, and the hairs rise along the back of her neck.

He came to sit cross legged on the rock face above them and rested his bemused head on his right hand.

It was a Pann Lord.

And he was magnificent.

His horns were enormous.

They were black obsidian but beneath them was a rainbow of color. The rich, jewel colors of the cosmos swirled, spiraled, spun. His deep brown eyes sparkled. Deep pools. Ochre, mocking, seeing, sensual. His lips were full of red promises. The beautiful, masculine face was framed with dreads pulled back high on his head.

His body was muscle. Lean, hard muscle. Muscle that could leap and bound and engage. There were braided bands of leather around his biceps. His ink was awesome. Symbols. Glyphs. Swirls.

His presence radiated. Depths of wisdom, ecstasy and exquisite sorrow. Laughter. Love.

Rise swallowed, wide eyed, feeling the rush of him.

“That was somewhat foolish.” His voice was rich, dark, resonant.
With a fluid grace he was suddenly on the overhang directly above them. With gentle and expert hands he untangled Rise’s wings first, lifting her effortlessly on to the ledge beside him. Then he did the same for Marcs, setting him beside her.

He smiled at them. And pointed behind them. Showing them the entrance he had used and their way down.

And then in silence he settled cross legged on the middle of the ledge and closed his eyes.

Rise and Marcs stared, mesmerized.

Pann Lords are the kings of the land. Guardians, spell singers, keepers of mysteries. Masculine. That rich, deep, dark masculine that brooks no trivialities and is capable of the deepest joy, the most profound love and the richest laughter.

They initiate few outsiders to their mysteries.

They like to play.

And those who have been lucky enough to partake in the sensual arts with them have a knowing smile and a larger presence about them afterwards.

Rise had only ever seen one from a distance. Even then she could feel his vast presence. Feel how different he was from everyone else around him.

But never like this. Never this close. And never where one had his attention on her.

His attention was exquisite.

Rise stared transfixed until Marcs tugged gently but firmly on her hand to leave him be. Reluctantly she turned to leave but not before she felt the brush of the Pann’s awareness against her mind.

He connected with her. Ever so gently, he connected with her. He was immensely powerful and immensely gentle and immensely pure. And in Rise he searched for some depth she was not aware existed.

This she felt. She did not understand it completely. But she was immensely honored. She turned to look at him. He was still as the rock which supported him and gave no acknowledgement of what had passed between them.

Marcs tugged on her hand once more and Rise followed him reluctantly into the mountain.

Light into darkness. The ground sloped away beneath them. Then the walls of the tunnel sprang to life. Crystalline sparkles. Rich walls teaming with gem told stories.

Slivers cut and set cunningly in the rock wall in the formations of the stars and nebula and galaxies. These gems of the sprites are sacred. They lit their path beautifully.

As they descended lower and their path spiraled more deeply into the depths of the rock, there were paintings. Images etched in rock in ochre and blood. Ancient stars and ancient giants. They told stories of things as ancient to them as they were to Marcs and Rise.

They told as best as they could of themselves, with the rules and materials afforded to them.

Marcs stopped suddenly and Rise crashed clumsily into his back. “Dead end,” he whispered.

They turned to their left and as if on cue, the opening appeared to them. Narrow and hidden, the soft glow of blue light from whatever lay beyond it beckoned them in. Gingerly they eased their way through.

It was a cavern. And what a cavern. The vast sapphire blue lake was midnight depths of night sky and starlight. Sandy banks of white, golden grains edged back to rounded walls of gleaming obsidian rock. Jewel blue stalactites hung over the sapphire depths of the pool. It was a place to sing within yourself.

Rise felt the voice in her throat soar. She felt her mind quieten. She felt the endless chatter cease. She felt him again. The sunlight on him. On the rocks. As one with his surroundings. As one with the air. As one with the breath. There was no separation. The separation was an illusion. There was no he, no air, no breath. They were all one. And they danced together in endless spirals. Endless twirls.

Rise felt something in her awaken. And then he was lost to her. Gone. As if he had never existed.

“He wanted you to see this.” It was an older female sprite. She touched Rise’s arm and Rise saw the sadness flicker across her eyes when she turned to meet them.

Gently, she touched Rise’s wings.

And then it hit her. Physical and not physical all at once.

She felt the foreignness of it, the shock if it. She screamed for Marcs. And then the pain hit her like a tidal wave.

And then there was blackness.

And she felt nothing at all.

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THREE

He ran his torch over her from top to bottom. She was violet eyed, dark haired and exquisite. Smoking hot. A beauty. Whatever you want to call it. Winged.

L4 hated what those bastards did to the winged ones.

The sprites had dumped her and the guy on the outskirts of the run. The guy had come to just as they got close. He’d left her there the little bastard. Done a runner.

If he knew her, and knew what was coming to her, that made him a right prick.

But that was Ok. L4 had a good eye for faces. And the lights from their craft had illuminated his face nicely before he’d run. He would see the violet eyed beauty’s friend again and teach him some manners.

L4 ran a hand through his hair. She had come to only seconds after the other had run. Instantly alert. Airborne. Straight up at dizzying speed. It had thrown him for a second. He’d never seen anything quite like it.

Two shots to take her. He didn’t need two shots to take anything. C7 hadn’t hit her at all. Her speed had taken them both by surprise.

“How the fark did she get up that far and that fast?” He mused.

“Determined little Minx,” mused his fellow officer, C7. “Bind her. ID her. You know the drill.“

L4deftly bound her. Wings, wrists, ankles. “She’s a beauty,” he said wistfully. Fark knows what those sick bastards would do to her. “She’s only just come of age this morning according to her ID,” he said to C7. Sure we just can’t leave her somewhere?”

C7 hesitated, but then resolutely shook his head. “It’s protocol. And she’s already triggered the alarms on the Runs. They’ll know something’s up out here. They’ll have ID’d her from that.”

L4 grunted. “I know but….”

“I know,” C7 agreed quietly. “But you feel like going up against the Echelon tonight brother?” he said pointedly. “I sure know I ain’t no match for them.”

L4 sobered at that. “They’re wrong. They’re just wrong.”

“That they are,” C7 agreed. “And there ain’t one damn thing we can do about it. Come on. Let’s get it over with.”

L4 lifted Rise effortlessly in a fireman’s carry and followed C7 back to their patrol craft.

It was the newest model. Sleek and highly maneuverable. It had capacity to fly as high as the first layer of the webs.

They had taken it up there just hours before. C7 was having problems with his girl, and had welcomed the distraction of checking into their designated night shift a couple of hours early.

It was a distraction alright, but creepy as fark. The rainbow colored strands were duller then they expected them to be. Almost sickly looking. And they were few and far between. Most of them were a weird grey white. Off. Like they needed a wash or something. Thick and sticky too.

They could see the seemingly infinite layers of the webs beyond. Coding stations dotted in their midsts. Strange, unidentifiable creatures moving in the shadows.

“Fark!” they yelled it in unison as one of the shadow creatures appeared from nowhere and scuttled unexpectedly close.

C7 cursed repeatedly as he fumbled at the controls and got the ship further away from the web.

Creepy as fark.

But at least now they could say they’d seen them up close and personal. Moethiica’s famed webs.

“What do you reckon it feels like being on one of those worlds that doesn’t have this shit?” L4 gestured at the scene in front of them.

“Man! Shut the fuck up!” C7 hissed at him. “Don’t be saying shit like that right up here and close to them.”

“Doesn’t matter where I say it,” L4 retorted. “If these webs work how they say they work, they can hear me wherever I say it. Hell, they probably programmed me to say it.”

C7 shook his head. “You can just never give it a rest. Can you?”

“I’d just like to know what it feels like, is all,” L4 replied. “Hardly the stuff of rebellion and revolution.”

“It’s rebellion and revolution enough for her,” C7 replied glumly and L4 grunted.

They sat in silence for a few more minutes and then C7 swung the flyer back in sharp descent to surface level. He had seen all he wanted to of the webs.

They had reached the flyer now and Rise moaned softly, coming to a little on L4’s shoulder. “Steady on there violet eyes,” he said.

As he settled her in the flyer he gave her a shot of sedative. It was a small mercy. But the best he could do for her.

“You’re a softy for these winged hotties,” his partner chided him.

“I’m a softy for everyone,” L4 remonstrated light heartedly.

C7 snorted, swinging his hard muscled bulk into the flyer. “Not likely,” he muttered.

And L4 laughed in spite of himself, and where they were heading, as they took off into the late afternoon sky.

 

 

FOUR

The Black Gates of the Echelon. L4 and C7 stood reluctant before them, Rise still over L4’s shoulder. They did not want to be here. No-one wanted to be here. Ever.

It was the Echelon’s own compound in the city. Buildings on three sides around a large central courtyard. Smaller, private courtyards off the other, outer sides of the buildings. A maze of rooms and tunnels underneath the ground. The Entertainment Rooms are amongst them.

“We’ll just leave her with you then,” C7 was saying.

“The Upper now in session would have you deliver your gift to him personally,” the Echelon Guard replied. “He is ‘entertaining.’ And would have you join him.”

C7 opened his mouth to protest. But, knowing it was hopeless, thought better of it. One did not protest with the Echelon. One just did what they were told.

“Take them,” the Guard barked at an underling.

He was identically clothed, gloved, booted and helmeted to his superior. Only the red insignia over his heart gave away his rank.

And he felt different. Not long in the helmets, L4 thought to himself. They connected themselves right into their heads these helmets. Programmed them. Linked them. Fed them. Made them even more freaking farked up than they were to start with. If that was possible. Old One soldier hybrids with magic tricks. Nothing better.

The Senior Guard tilted his visored head at him, regarding him steadily. L4 shook himself. They had mind-cept these bastards. Not only the power to read, but the power to steal. He stilled his thoughts to silence. The Guard moved slightly into him as they passed. It was a light touch but still felt like being jostled by a wall.
Icy, black tendrils washed over him. L4’s skin crawled.

The underling led them to stairs at the rear, right hand corner of the courtyard. The entrance was straight out of the ground. There was suddenly a large stained, grey flagstone missing, and a gaping hole opening up before them.

They went down one flight of stairs in darkness. A small landing, and then the stairs headed off to the left. At the foot of these stairs, a dank, narrow, stone walled corridor ran into the earth. But there was a room on the right. Another small landing at the entrance and another small flight of stairs.

The underling herded them down into the room. And then turned and left.

It was long and narrow. Dark. A glittering bar with a huge black mask suspended over it took up the very far wall.

Ornate chairs and small black lacquered tables were pushed back against the walls on either side of the long room.

The trophies of the Echelon hung on the walls above them.

Huge. There were three on each side. And each contained a set of female Moethiican wings. Bloody and torn.

In the centre of the room a circle of Echelon with their black cloaked backs to them, blocked the view of the current ‘entertainment.’

They had a woman in there now. The sound of her in the Echelon silence, unmistakable. C7 swallowed visibly and tried desperately to think of anything but the woman. He thought of their helmets. Like a living part of them, it was said they became. The rush of power they gave off when the needle passed through the brain barrier was supposed to be addictive.

“Would you like to try one for yourself?” C7 drew in his breath sharply as the sea of Echelon parted and the Upper walked through to stand close to him.

Arc.

He needed no insignia to identify him. But he bore it anyway. It was larger, more elaborate, more imposing, than any other Echelon here. Like his presence. Which identified him beyond question.

Dark Mage of the Old Ones. Echelon Leader of Moethiica.

He moved up close in front of them as the silent, unseen guards behind them, pressed in close from the rear.

C7 gasped. He looked down at his stomach, not yet believing. The tip of the Echelon blade protruded only slightly out.

The guard behind him kicked him off of it, and he fell dead, face first to the floor.

L4 began to struggle wildly, only then realizing they had injected him with something. He could move his upper body only slightly. He could not move his legs at all.

Arc stepped in even closer. He ran his black gloved hand ran down the still unconscious form of Rise.

He spun around to face the now attentive Echelon.

“Brothers, shall we see what our generous friends have brought us?”

There were soft murmurs of agreement.

L4 crashed to the ground as they withdrew their support from his weight. They cuffed his wrists and left him there to lay where he had fallen.

Two of the bastards had Rise upright now, arms stretched out hard between them. Another was holding something vile under her nose. Undoing the tranq and the sedative.

L4 tried to move, but he was paralyzed and could do nothing.

Rise coughed and came to, blinking rapidly.

Her vision was blurry at first and it hurt to look straight forward. She shook her head to clear it and the glint of light on glass caught her vision.

She looked up and beheld the bloodied wings in the closest trophy case. She looked about her and beheld Echelon all around her.

Rise screamed, struggling madly.

And the Echelon simply stood regarding her. Unmoving. Silent.

Arc had been standing off to the side but he stepped in close to her now, his black visored face the only thing in her vision.

And even Rise knew who he was. And she screamed even louder.

“Oh please don’t waste your screams now my dear. There will be plenty of time for screaming later.”

He had a small, jewel handled knife in his hand.

He used it to cut every last inch of clothing from her. No rush. He was slow and deliberate.

He stepped back and took her in, up and down, just as slowly.

“Oh my dear you are exquisite.”

And then he stepped back and revealed her to the others.

“Behold my Brothers. What a delightful gift has been brought to us.”
The silent Echelon all took one step forward.

Rise desperately tried to throw her wings open. Break through the bonds that held them.

But L4 had bound them tight as law demanded. They were too strong and she was powerless.

You are never powerless. The voice was male, dry, amused. It was almost always amused. A mind-voice. She had heard it since she was very young. Not with any great frequency. Just here and then. Random.

And every time she had heard it she had ignored it and schooled her mind to silence. Mind-voices here would have you killed very, very quickly.

The Echelon, Arc, tilted his black visored head at her. Curiosity emanated from him.

Rise swallowed hard with fear. Pray to all the godds he hadn’t heard it.

He moved in close to her, so close her naked breasts pressed in hard against the raised red insignia of his jacket. With a gloved hand he gripped her chin hard and painfully.

“There is something very different about you my dear, isn’t there?”

Rise shook her head trying to free it from his grip. She pushed back, trying desperately to get her body away from him.

But they had her held fast and she cried out in frustration, her eyes furious and glaring at him.

“Shhhh.” Still holding her chin, he traced the other gloved hand down her face. “Shhhh.”

Down her throat. Her breast. Down the side of her body. Over her hip. He stopped, his gloved hand cupped between her legs, barely touching her.

Horror, repulsion and terror pulsed through Rise and she braced for the worst.

He released her.

He stood back and gestured to the other Echelon.

They parted on cue and revealed the cleared space behind them.

There were more Echelon behind them. At the back of the room and to the sides of them.

And in the centre of them was a winged female, like Rise.

Her wings were unbound. But they were broken. They moved jaggedly along the floor with each small thrust of her body, leaving small dots of red blood in their wake.

Her arms were held tight back and behind her. There was a helmet-less Echelon between her legs. His gloved hands held her legs apart. And he was licking her.

Rise felt sick, and spun her head away from it. But at a gesture from Arc, one of the guards behind her grabbed her head roughly in his hands, forcing it back again.

“Do you see what I take from her?” Arc looked from the winged on the floor back to Rise. His voice was cold, clinical, detached. Like he was giving a lecture.

“Not the physical,” the Echelon continued. “The physical is but a Veil. I pierce the physical Veil for the gems underneath it. And they are much more interesting. Much more powerful. Much more fun to play with.”

“Pierce her,” he threw over his shoulder to the Echelon on the floor. And his gaze returned to Rise.

She closed her eyes. She would not watch this. Would not be a party to it.

“Do you see it?” His voice was a whisper, wrapping itself around her, compelling her eyes open and to the scene on the floor, in spite of herself.

The winged woman’s eyes flickered open. Violet and stunning like Rise’s own.

And Rise recognized her.

Soar. The rebel. The legend. The only winged in current times to have escaped them. She was believed to be in hiding in the desert, waiting for a sign. She believed she was the one. The one who would embody the Siren of the 5th, open the Portal, and raise the might of the Original Makers against the Old Ones. Against the Echelon. Against all like this and everything they stood for.

Rise looked at Arc and back to Soar in horror.

The pace between her legs quickened. Soar moaned.

White mist danced on her forehead. Arc’s outstretched arm was towards her, palm up. He drew his long gloved fingers, upward, upright and together. The mist began to gather and form itself. And Rise saw it spinning. The size of a tiny egg. White gold. Glittering. Like a diamond.

He was drawing it out of her, from deep within her. From her mind’s eye.

Essence. Power. Magic.

It moved up out of Soar and towards him.

Without a second thought, Rise willed the mind-diamond back to Soar with everything she had.

And the mind-diamond hesitated, wavering.

Arc merely twisted his fingers ever so slightly, and Rise felt his gloating satisfaction as the diamond flew toward him.

“No!” she cried, but the diamond tumbled over and over, unwavering on its path to meet him.

“No!” cried Rise again. This time more frantically. Still it sped towards him.

“To me!” she flung at it, just before it reached him. And the power of her voice shook the room.

The mind-diamond changed its course.

And slammed itself into her.

It felt like white fire cutting into her. Her entire head blazed with it.

Godds. What have I done? Only then did she begin to panic. Desperately she willed the thing back to Soar.

But it was having none of it. She felt it wash over her. Connect itself tight to her own essence, her own power, her own magic.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Soar. But Soar smiled a small, weary smile at her. And Rise swore she saw another much dimmer light settle back into the woman’s head.

And then wave after wave of undulating power broke over her. Sweat formed on her brow. She blacked out momentarily.

She came to with Arc’s fingers around her throat. “Well you are just full of surprises aren’t you, you little winged whore.“

“Bring me the Nephliim Blade!” he yelled, without turning from her.

A Nephliim Blade? Here? Then she felt him push into the base of her skull like the Pann and she forgot all about the Blade.

Because it was nothing like the Pann at all. There was no gentleness and nothing pure. He tore into her mind, seeking, searching.

He began to pull at her essence and her power. He would void her. She would be void to her Maker, void to the Creator. He would cut her threads to them and make her nothingness, but eternal and aware with it.

And he would feed his own power with hers. All of them here would have a taste of it. A taste of her. She would feed the monsters.

No.

She did not say it out loud this time. The walls of the room did not shake with the power of it. But her own walls did.

The Echelon tightened his grip on her throat until she saw stars.

And then the Nephliim Blade was brought to the room.

Amongst the Nephliim only a Prince could wield it.

And for the Portal to open a Veil Siren must be holding it.

A riddle. One that had never been tested truly. Because there had never been a Veil Siren at a Portal Opening with a Nephliim Blade.

And there had never been a successfully opened Veil Portal.

They had it wrapped carefully. Even amongst the Echelon only Arc did not seem afraid of it. But even he loosened the wrappings from the blade itself carefully. And took care to keep the handle well covered.

He held it before her now and the power from it shuddered through her.

And then he placed it flat against her bare flesh and the world turned golden.

That was all she could see. The gold and the light.

And the golden light illuminated the part of her the Echelon was searching for. Not to him, but to her.

And she knew instinctively that if he saw that part of her, she was done for.

The Echelon froze, sensing it. And the part of him that roamed inside her sped to it.

Rise panicked, not knowing what to do or how to block him.

But suddenly there was warm red rock. Sunlight. A cavern. Rise sat on the sandy banks of its shore, looked at the blue sapphire water before her, and waited.

She was safe here. Here was protected. Here was a haven.

The Echelon howled with fury. He stepped back from her and raised the Blade in both hands.

From her spot on the sandy shore, Rise looked calmly up at the Echelon and waited for him to plunge the Blade into her.

So be it. Here it would end. The others would not have what they wanted. But neither would these monsters.

And the Rise who sat on the shore thought it was ironic, that of all Blades, it should be this one that was used to kill her.

For she recognized it now. And a small smile played across her lips at its memory.

In the still ranks of Echelon behind the Upper with the Blade there was suddenly movement.

Arc whirled.

One of the Echelon was forward. Too far forward. He had broken ranks. This was unheard of.

“Do you have a problem, Brother?” Arc was now focused entirely on the Echelon who continued to moved slowly towards him.

“Yeah. Yeah I think I do.” It was a strange accent. He took another step closer to Arc. One step further away from his ranks.

As he did so, Rise leaned back into the ones holding her and kicked out straight and hard with her right leg, foot flexed.

The Echelon did not drop the Blade as she’d intended. But his head whirled towards her. It was enough. The Echelon who had broken ranks drew the gun concealed under his cloak and fired point blank into him.

He had other things beneath that cloak. Gas smoked the room. And Rise heard the sound of other small canisters popped and landing on the hard stone floor.

Behind her L4 staggered to his feet, hurling himself into the one remaining guard at her back and freeing her. The guard turned on him and lunged for her.

“Run!” L4 screamed at her before the gun shot took him. “Run!”

Rise did so.

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