Lone Star – Chapter 39

Jacob lifted his finger off of the trigger, slowly shaking his head in admiration for the engineers who had designed his new favorite weapon. The plasma cannon was too large for him to use without help, but Kierla’s make-shift tripod had served just fine. The energy clip attached to the side read four shots remaining, but there wasn’t much left to shoot at. Deliah looked over at him, wondering if her cyborg face would express how impressed she was.

His first shot had hit the lead APC in the front wheel assembly, melting the armored wheel and a good portion of the plating around the crew compartment. His second had turned the top-mounted turret into slag- much of which had dripped inside, judging by the surprised cries coming out of the machine. By that point, the other two APCs had stopped, and the soldiers aboard them began to dismount. Jacob had crippled both of the machines soon after, forcing their drivers to climb out and join the soldiers. After that, it had just been a matter of driving the soldiers back into the woods. Deliah’s plan had never been to slaughter them, but to teach them a lesson and scare them good. Scared troops would infect the rest of the army with fear. And to their knowledge, none of the troops they’d faced had gotten a good look at their attackers.

They’d been Special Forces, most likely setting up an advance rally point for the army that would come to attack Tolkeen. They’d been heavily outfitted, but most of their heavy gear had been left in the APCs when they’d dismounted. Jacob had used his plasma cannon to melt down all three of the vehicles, and he was fairly sure everything inside had been ruined.

Deliah waited until her sensors reported the soldiers were 400 meters away. They’d headed East/Southeast, and Deliah had made a mental note of their direction, as well as her own location. She would report it when they returned to Tolkeen, and someone would be sent out to find the outpost the soldiers had come from. Perhaps there would be an attack on it, perhaps not. But every outpost they built out here would make the eventual advance by the CS army that much easier. So every outpost thwarted would make a difference.

They were close to home now- 25 kilometers at most. They’d be home before morning. The journey home had been only a little easier than the journey out. Instead of trying to avoid attention, however, they were spending more time engaging Coalition patrols and units that they came across. And while they hadn’t killed all that many of the soldiers they engaged, they had been responsible for the destruction of a lot of hardware. Deliah’s soft side for the front-line soldiers hadn’t gone away, no matter how much her team grumbled about it.

The cyborg stood, patting Jacob on the shoulder, then looked toward each of her team’s firing positions, scattered among the gigantic trees. Jasmine and Tristan had sat this fight out- their psychic abilities were blocked by the armor and helmets the soldiers wore. They were behind the 3-meter-wide trunk of an oak tree, keeping company with their four ‘guests’, just behind Deliah’s position beside Jacob. The two psi-stalkers had moved from one position to another, almost invisibly, throwing chaos into the CS formation and making the ambush look twice as big as it really was. Arcturus had made use of Jacob’s rail-gun during the fight, and he was now approaching the juicer’s position, the large weapon resting on his robotic shoulder joint. Darien and Torealis had both chosen to use guns this time, as neither one had wanted to reveal the presence of magic-users to the CS soldiers. They hadn’t had very much practice with the weapons, but it hadn’t mattered. With their vehicles and gear destroyed, the soldiers’ mission was doomed anyway, and they hadn’t needed much convincing to retreat. Deliah had been surprised when Kierla had asked for a weapon and a firing position. The young woman had been more shy of fighting than ever since their visit to Lone Star. The cyborg had noticed that all of Kierla’s shots had been intentionally wide of the soldiers, and directed more at the vehicles. It didn’t matter too much- again, their goal had been achieved. And if nothing else, a little extra weapons practice would be useful for anyone.

Within a few minutes, the group had re-assembled. The sun was nearly set now, and in the heavy forest, only a few rays of light remained. It wouldn’t be long before Martiniros could climb out of his box. Several of the elm and oak trees had scorches from weapons fire. The underbrush had been stamped down by the soldiers and their vehicles. There was little Deliah and her team could do to hide the evidence of a fire-fight, and she was sure that another team of CS troops would come through to find out what had happened. They’d have a tough time- Deliah and her team had used energy weapons almost exclusively, and the rail-guns didn’t leave ammunition casings. The CS investigators would find the melted vehicles, would probably note the locations of her team and their firing positions, but would get little more.

For a long time, no one spoke. They all knew where they were, and how close they were to home. They couldn’t see the city itself through the trees, but many of them could feel it- the natural energy of the forest was different this close to the city. It had been built here for this very reason. They began safing their weapons and moving back toward their hovercycles.

The scientists looked nervous when the team headed back to them. They were now the ones who were a long way from home, and they were completely out of their element in the wild. Westerly had been a little better, but he too had trouble adjusting to this part of the world. All four visibly relaxed when the fighters returned, glad to have protection at hand.

“How far are we now?” Westerly asked, looking to the North.

“25 kilometers or so,” Deliah replied.

Jacob nodded. “We made a lot of noise back there. You think they noticed?”

Deliah shrugged. “I don’t know. If they did, I’d be surprised if they-”

Her sentence stopped abruptly, cut off by the appearance of a dozen human-shaped shadows around the team. They were completely encircled, a 10-meter ring of figures enclosing them. The shadows had their hands in the air over their heads, and slowly resolved themselves into green- and grey-robed warlocks. There were several different races- humans, slender and point-eared elves, Enntaalvi with four arms outstretched. These were defense-scouts, whose job it was to investigate disturbances like the one Deliah’s team had just caused. Each one had a glowing light surrounding each hand, lighting up the twilight of the forest with red-orange. Their teleport-powered entrance startled the team, many of whom levelled their weapons out at the warlocks, then relaxed as they realized who had just surrounded them.

“You ought to know better than that,” Deliah said, lowering the barrel of her own rail-gun to point to the ground.

The warlocks relaxed as well, their fire-lights fading and disappearing into their hands. Many of them smiled, recognizing aqcuaintences amongst their quarry. All of them now could see who they had been sent to surround, and could tell it was not a CS military unit. They had come ready for a fight, if it had been necessary, but now saw that they were a welcoming committee.

One of the robed figures stepped closer, breaking the circle and pushing her hood back. Her blond-white hair spilled down her back, and her green eyes sparkled in the darkness. She moved around a few of the larger ferns and wildflowers, coming face-to-face with Deliah.

“Quenlia,” the cyborg said. “I can’t tell you how good it is to be home.”

“It’s good to have you.” The sorceress scanned the group, smiling. “And better to see that you brought back everyone you took with you.” Her eyes fell upon Kierla, and paused there for a moment. Seeing the young mechanic and techno-wizard with an energy rifle was out of place, and the girl’s face betrayed the slightest embarrassment. Quenlia seemed to understand, as if reading the entire story in the girl’s eyes. She nodded, just slightly, then looked over the rest of the group.

“Dorian,” she said, her eyes brightening. “I had feared you were killed.”

He smiled, and began picking his way through the underbrush towards her. “I had feared the same thing,” he said. The two embraced, then shared a very intimate kiss. They broke apart a moment later, and Quenlia looked toward the three scientists.

They had shed their old exteriors completely on the trip North. They now dressed roughly, mostly in leather clothes and hats, and each had lost a little weight around the middle, not to mention softness around the eyes. They were bewildered by the appearance of the circled warlocks, but now seemed to be chastising themselves for expecting anything different. They were, after all, going to Tolkeen.

“You’ve brought us some guests, I see,” Quenlia said. She looked at Jasmine, and the two shared a silent conversation that took only a few seconds. Deliah knew without asking what it was about- if Jasmine had sensed any foul intentions in the minds of the three scientists, she’d never have brought them this far. And now Quenlia felt the same way.

“We’ll need to teleport you into the city proper,” the sorceress said, raising her voice for the others to hear. She looked to Torealis in particular. “You might want to transport your partner and yourself, Torealis. Your kin are anxious to hear your story.” Then her eyes turned toward the skelebot among them.  They couldn’t transport him into the city with the group- he’d have to go on foot. “I’m sorry, Arcturus,” was all she said.

He understood completely. “It is not an inconvenience to me, as long as they know I am coming,” he replied. “Where are we meeting?”

“Please go to my own place. We’ll start there,” Quenlia replied. Then her eyes fell upon the scientists again. “Have you three ever experienced a teleport spell?”

The three shook their heads, looking nervous again. She smiled warmly.

“Don’t worry, it won’t hurt, but it may be disconcerting,” she said. She raised her hands into the air, and the circle of warlocks copied her actions. Their hands glowed again, visibly drawing energy from the air around them to add power to their spell. Torealis and Jacob stepped closer to each other and away from the group, making it easier for the warlocks to concentrate their spells. Darien closed his eyes, sighing deeply at the anticipation of being teleported by someone else instead of exerting himself- he much preferred to relax and enjoy the trip. Deliah felt the ground drop away from her, the compressing feeling that registered multiple warnings from her cyborg body that she had learned to ignore in the presence of powerful magic. It was that feeling, being teleported into the city proper, that signaled to her that her mission was over. This was how she knew for certain that she was home.

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