Author: Auna PM
Futurefic Seris #8: Sethya and Tean discover new danger for MoyaRated: Fiction M - English - Adventure - Chapters: 5 - Words: 34,237 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 12-14-03 - Published: 09-26-03 - id: 1535931
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Old Haunts, Book one, chapter one (more to follow later)
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Setting: Approximately 23 cycles after Bad Timing
Disclaimer: The Farscape universe is not mine. We all know this, and aren't you all grateful?
Summary: Well, where do I begin? This (as you can tell from the title) is going to be a very long one. It is also the last one in the Brennik/Aeric universe. To try to summarize where we are now would be a very lengthy job, so I'm going to give you all the names of the previous stories, (in the order they should be read) and warn you that if you are not familiar with this series, this story will probably not interest you in the slightest. But give it a chance. I promise that every question you've ever asked me about these characters will eventually be answered.
Credits: I owe scrubschick, shipsister, ScaperRed and Sanchez many, many thanks. Thank you for an awesome beta job, thank you for the pep talks that keep me writing, thank you for the ideas that spark my imagination. There are two scenes that are really Sanchez's. You guys are the best.
Previous stories: Deliverance, Finding Herself, Death and Resurrection, Revelations, Target Practice, Reckoning, Snapshots in Time
He walked into the tavern, scanning the crowd with disguised earnest. He desperately needed to find the brothers; they were his only hope. Their reputation preceded them in several systems; they would fly the missions others would not, carry the cargo everyone else was unwilling… for the right price of course. He had been told they were currently out of commission, he was warned to leave them alone, but he was desperate. He needed their help.
There they were. He'd paid heavily to learn their location, and it was worth the price. Backs to the walls, they sat in the far left corner, silently sipping their drinks with apparent ease.
He walked to the bar and ordered a drink, keeping his eyes on the two men, studying them, searching for a clue of how to approach them and walk away with every appendage still attached the way it had been when he'd walked in. They looked harmless enough.
The one with the long blonde hair pulled into a braid had a perpetual smile on his face, seemingly naturally etched into his expression. The smile was warm and inviting, his blue eyes sparkling with a love of life, even as he sat incongruously staring at a small bug crawling across their table.
The other one, the darker brother, looked more like his reputation. Everything was dark about him; his eyes, his short choppy hair, the frown his mouth rested in. A scar ran from his eye, down his cheek to his ear, adding an aura of mystery. His eyes rested on the amber liquid swirling in the glass he was absently twirling in calloused hands.
Both brothers were dressed in tight, black, leather pants, which were tucked into black, knee length boots. Both had large shoulders, absent of any excess fat. The blond wore a red t-shirt, the darker one, grey. Matching pulse pistols hugged their thighs.
The blonde's lips moved slightly and the expression of the darker one softened for a microt, transforming his face into a mirrored version of his brother. The lapse was momentary, nearly indistinguishable, but it had made him seem approachable. The standard scowl returned, and the young man wondered what could cause such a transformation.
Throwing back a swallow to fortify himself, he slammed the empty glass onto the counter and worked his way to the men. He'd never forgive himself if he backed out now.
Tean sat next to his brother, silently drinking his amber juice. Neither of them was indulging in alcohol for this particular meeting; they couldn't afford to be fuzzy. He took a moment to regret his decision. A Fellip Nectar would go a long way right now, but it had been difficult enough to keep Sethya dry lately, and meeting in this tavern was bad enough without the extra temptation of having it sitting on the table next to him.
He wished for the millionth tine that they could find Moya so he could reunite his brother with Brennik. Whoever would have thought his brother would become a drunk over one simple girl?
They'd been searching for over a monen to no avail now. Evidently, if Moya wanted to hide, no one would find her. There had to be a trail somewhere, and he wasn't giving up hope. Much to his chagrin, he missed the whole eclectic crew, nearly as much as Seth did.
This meeting wasn't about Moya, though, or her inhabitants, and he was frustrated at the necessary delay. However, if there was one thing they'd learned during their two and a half cycles on the run, it was that they should never pass up the chance for Intel on the enemy.
His brother started twirling his glass of juice. Tean, noting the signal, scanned the crowd looking for the uninvited guest. It only took a microt for him to locate the young hybrid sitting at the bar, doing a very bad job at hiding his attempts to watch them. Great, another young idiot out to make a name for himself. These kids never learned.
He used the bug crawling across their table as cover to study the boy in his peripheral vision. He was a tall, lean, lithe Sebacean hybrid, with black eyes and gray lips. His short, spiky hair was streaked in black and blond, the colors meshing to form an odd combination. He wore tight grey pants tucked into black knee length boots, and an oversized brown tunic that was cinched at the waist by a black leather wraparound belt, the sleeves tucked into elbow length black gloves. He didn't have any obvious weapons, which only meant Tean had to be more cautious.
"He looks as comfortable as Brennik did in Cersten's bar that one day," he said softly. His brother relaxed slightly at the memory, and he knew he'd calmed him down. Sethya usually didn't get worked up over the young ones, but he'd been on edge lately. Deciding to push his luck, he couldn't help but tease him. "…until you started nibbling her ear. Then I thought she was going to kill you." His brother's patented scowl returned, and he chuckled to himself. Sometimes it was too easy.
He watched as the boy swigged his drink, then stood and began to approach them. Frell. They didn't have time for this; their contact was due in 600 microts. If there was anything amiss, Gweer would simply move on, and they'd have to start negotiations over again… at a higher cost. They could afford it, but it would be an annoying, pointless delay.
Showing his mixed heritage, the boy glided across the floor with a grace that few Sebaceans could ever master. Boldly, he approached their table and invited himself to sit on the stool across from them, head cocked slightly to one side.
He looked directly into Seth's eyes, which probably caused the slight pause before his brother told him, "Get lost." Very few people ever looked at Seth directly. Already this boy had gained a small amount of respect.
Too bad he didn't follow the direction, choosing instead to open his mouth. "I need to hire the Shadow Brothers."
"They aren't transporting at this time. Tell whomever you're working for they're out of luck."
"I can pay."
"So can a lot of people. They are out of commission right now. Go find someone else."
Tean silently wished the boy luck. Maybe he would be smart enough to back off now, because Seth wouldn't say it again. they were on a time limit.
"Please listen, I need your help." Instantly, Tean's right foot shot out in sync with Seth's left, each kicking a leg of the boy's stool. As it flew out from beneath him, they watched as he dropped, his nose slamming into the table as he fell. Together they stood, each drawing their pistols and cradling them in their hands and aiming them with unerring accuracy directly at his forehead.
They heard him land on the floor with a forceful "FRELL!" that was uttered in a deep growl, belying his small stature. He picked himself off the floor, holding his nose, trying to keep the pinkish grey blood from oozing too quickly.
"If you value your life," Seth warned one more time, "you will get lost now." The tavern was silent, all eyes watching the trio to see what entertainment would be available.
The boy looked from one pistol to the other, resigned sadness clearly written across his features. Shaking his head, he turned and began to walk away. Disappointed, the other patrons returned to their own drinks and conversations. This bar wasn't as exciting as it used to be.
They holstered their weapons and returned to their seated positions, each already lost in their own thoughts, the boy forgotten.
Well, he'd managed to frell that up, hadn't he? His mistake was not backing down the first time he was warned. He thought persistence would impress them. Instead, it had cut his chances down further. He hadn't given up, though. He couldn't afford to.
He thought about it a moment and corrected himself. His first mistake had been impatience. Those men were in that bar for a reason, and he'd almost frelled that up. Instead of sitting back, waiting, watching, learning, he'd jumped in. He was lucky he had walked away at all. He wouldn't repeat that particular error again.
Finding himself outside the tavern, he kept his hand on his nose to stem the flow of blood and crossed the street, dodging traffic as he ran to his lodgings. After entering his rented chambers, he moved to the washroom and examined the damage in the reflector.
Blood oozed down his face and lips, creating designs. He stared at his reflection for a moment, watching the grayish-pink liquid drip into the sink. Laighn he recited to himself, rolling the foreign name over his tongue, trying to acclimate himself to it.
Pulse shots sounded from the next room, shaking him from his reverie. The noise was a regular occurrence in this section of the city, but the disturbance had been enough to bring him back to the matter at hand. Quickly, he cleaned the mess on his face and gloves, trying not to think of his mother and how often she'd performed this same task for him, laughing about his latest predicament.
He was old enough to take care of himself now. Hadn't he left to prove that very fact? He shoved the vision of her beautiful smile to the back of his mind and finished his tasks. The brothers may have already left, and he couldn't afford to lose them.
Sethya studied the Peacekeeper traitor in front of him with distaste. Some would consider the thought hypocritical, but he would have argued. This bag of dren was still active and selling Peacekeeper secrets… among other things, apparently. If he didn't need this man's services, Sethya would kill him on principal alone. He'd performed similar executions as a commando numerous times.
But unfortunately he did need the traitor, and even though it rankled, he remained silent, listening intently to the information being passed. There was no doubt about the authenticity; Gweer's reputation for being reliable was ironically sound. His continuing business, and life, depended on correct intelligence reports.
"… team of special operatives," Gweer was saying.
"Repeat that," Sethya ordered.
"High Command has garnered some new information and has sent in a team of special operatives," the traitor stated with exaggerated patience.
"Unsure. They've been particularly careful in their security on this. It's in the databanks, but it's specially encrypted. I don't have the security access or the technological knowledge to retrieve it, although I believe it has something to do with an old traitor and a new weapon."
"Who is running the operation?"
"The team is reporting directly to a Scarren half-breed."
His heart stopped. How many Scarren half-breeds could there be in the universe? Could it be possible that John's old enemies had learned the whereabouts of Moya's crew? That meant Brennik was in danger again, and he'd walked away from her. He felt a nudge against his foot and he realized he was about to shatter his glass of juice in his hands. Breathing deeply, he looked at the Peacekeeper in front of him. "Where is the team now?"
"Undetermined. I told you, all information is above my access."
"I can do it," Tean spoke for the first time.
"What was that?" Gweer asked, inadvertently showing his surprise at hearing Tean's voice for the first time in thirteen meetings.
"I can access the information, but it will take some work from you."
"I sell information; I do not go on unassigned missions, especially ones that mean no profit for me."
"All the information we extract will be at your disposal. How many people would pay for the knowledge behind the encrypted codes of the Special Security Counsel?"
That had been the right thing to say. Instantly the greed in Gweer's eyes began calculating the sums that would be at his disposal. "Not that I'm agreeing to anything, but what do you need?"
"Contact the carrier Rashul, specifically Tech Officer Hyfed. Tell him his father was a Trabactian Royal Whore. He'll challenge you and you name a rendezvous time and place. He'll give you everything required."
"That's all I need?"
"As long as you get the message right. Get it wrong and you'll be shot as a traitor before you fall on your knees to beg for mercy."
"His father is a Trabactian Royal Whore," Gweer mumbled shaking his head. "You Techs never make any sense."
"Only to idiots like you Gweer." Tean leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, clamping his mouth shut, becoming mute once again.
The traitor looked at Tean warily for a microt before switching his attention to Seth. "When and where do we meet up again?"
"Five solar days from now, at Dvut."
"That's pretty far away."
"There are added expenses involved, and the risk is higher."
"Take the difference out of the money you earned selling our location to that Sebacean kid."
Gweer's eyes shrouded with concern. "I don't know what you're talking about," he lied. "But I'll do this on faith that you will follow through."
"Don't worry, Gweer. You'll get your information." Seth didn't push the issue, his point had been made. The scum now understood that any more betrayals would lead to his disappearance. Wordlessly, the man stood and left the tavern.
As soon as Gweer disappeared, Sethya beckoned to a waiter. The harried server approached the table, prudently standing several arm lengths away. "Two Flaming Purple Budongs," he ordered.
"The purple ones give me gas," Tean told him, trying to be subtle in his suggestion.
"Then don't order one," Sethya replied.
"You shouldn't be drinking them either," he said, giving up on subtlety.
"When you learn how to shoot better than me, you can tell me what to do. Until then, frell off."
"Tell that to the Luxan bounty hunter that just walked through the door."
He watched his brother squint in the general direction of the front door to watch the new arrival meander toward the bar, scanning the crowd with a disinterest belied only by the intensity of his gaze. By the expression on his face, Tean knew the instant Sethya confirmed his observation. This was no young kid, arrogant enough to think he could gain a quick reputation. This was a man who had obviously done this for awhile.
He watched his bother slam his juice glass on the tabletop, frustration written all over him. He was mad that he didn't spot the hunter himself, but Tean suspected he was also mad that he wouldn't get his drink. He could sympathize.
"No restraints, meaning there's more," his brother observed quietly, his gaze continuing to search the crowd for the others. "Where are they?" Sethya asked himself redundantly.
Everyone in the tavern was immediately suspect and faces began to blur together to Tean. "The longer we sit here, the better their chances," he pointed out unnecessarily.
"Let's get out of here."
Casually, the brothers stood and headed for the front door. Their paths would have to pass directly beside the new threat, but there was no other exit. This was the last time Gweer would pick the rendezvous spot.
With silent understanding, they each chose a different direction. Sethya headed across the floor, taking the most direct route to the front door, while Tean hugged the far right wall, keeping as much of the crowd between their potential captor and himself as he could.
As he passed a particularly thick group, he pulled a cloak off the back of a chair and, without breaking stride, swung the cloak over his shoulders as he continued on. He pulled the hood over his head to mask his blonde hair, then changed course and headed straight for the door. At least now his red shirt was no longer a welcoming beacon. He hoped it was enough to fool the killer at the bar.
Tean could see the door about ten motras away, the bounty hunter watching intently. He'd lost his visual on Sethya. Not good. Sethya would be fine, but Tean wasn't sure he could get himself to Shadow on his own if numbers got any worse.
Five motras away, maybe he would actually make it. Three motras. His hand reached for the door and a *thump* marked a knife blade embedding itself on the doorframe near his thumb. "Frell!" he breathed before diving through the door. There was probably an ambush outside, but it had to be better than this crowd.
Laighn watched the tavern carefully from across the street. The Shadow Brothers hadn't left yet, and he couldn't afford to miss them. He hadn't quite worked out how he was going to approach them, but he was confident the right moment would present itself. If it didn't, he'd create the right moment. One of the many seeds of truth his parents had passed on was that you make your own opportunities if they didn't provide themselves.
Absently, his hand reached up to gently caress the bridge of his nose. It was already slightly swollen, and he was sure there would be an ugly bruise later. Like everything else he'd ever done, he'd chosen to learn the hard way that he had to have patience with these strangers. He also had to be direct and strong willed, which wasn't a problem. It was this waiting he wasn't good at.
Just as he'd decided to cross to the tavern and peek inside, all hezmana broke loose. A large figure in an enveloping brown cloak burst through the front door, chased seconds later by a dusty, scarred Luxan. The figure ran to the right, but was cut off by two burly Sebaceans. He was surrounded.
The Luxan grabbed the person and threw him against the wall before ripping the cloak from his head, tossing it to the ground to reveal Tean. Now Laighn had a problem. He'd been shown quite effectively that these men didn't like others to interfere with their business, but did they need help? In the end, it didn't matter. *He* needed *their* help, and if they were apprehended, they would be of no use to him. He had to at least try.
His hand had already instinctively moved to his waist and he ran across the street, dodging traffic to the attack occurring on the walkway. He was a building's length away, watching the progress of the beating Tean was taking, and calculating which aggressor needed to be dealt with first.
The Luxan punched Teann in the stomach several times before asking where his brother was. Tean told him to frell off, and was punched in the mouth for the answer. This continued in the same manner for several hundred microts before Laighn made his decision. It had to be the Luxan. He was the strongest of the three, and apparently their leader.
He began to walk toward the group casually, wary of the Sebacean that had been set as a lookout. The man's eyes were missed nothing, and the look he graced Laighn with would have sent anybody else in the other direction. But he was no weak willed child and he was desperate and determined.
With a slight tug, his belt fell away to become a long black whip held securely in his hand. Instantly he set the weapon in motion, aiming for the Luxan. A resounding CRACK echoed throughout the street as the tip missed the target by half a dench. "Frell!" All four men were instantly staring at the youth, momentarily stunned.
The shock lasted only a microt, though. Tean grimaced when recognition hit, the other three growled menacingly as the two Sebaceans headed toward their attacker. Before they took three steps, rapid pulse fire sounded from inside the bar, and wood and mortar shot in all directions as Seth flew through the wall and landed on the sidewalk between the boy and the Sebacean thugs.
Tean, seizing the opportunity, kicked the Luxan in the mivonks and punched him in the neck between his Tenkas and chin. Doubling over in pain and gasping for air, the Luxan was forced to let go and Tean turned for his brother.
Three Blood Trackers had appeared from the hole that had been made by Seth's emergence and the count of Bounty Hunters was now at six. Laighn was scared and excited at the same time. He'd trained for countless arns, and now was his chance to use what his father had taught him.
He threw his whip again and the loud *crack* that followed marked a perfect hit on the nearest Blood Tracker's neck. Almost instantly his target dropped to the ground, unconscious. "That would have been handy the first time, kid!" Tean hollered, throwing a punch at a Sebacean.
Sethya, getting his wind back, rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself to his knees, stopping to take a shot at another Blood Tracker that was running at him. The pulse blast chewed through the robed chest, killing him instantly, but the enemy's momentum was too great.
He didn't stop until he'd slammed into Sethya, landing them both on the ground, the tracker on top. Sethya began pushing against the dead weight, groaning with the effort and the awkwardness of the angle. His legs were bent under him; his feet near his waist, and Laighn figured he was probably beginning to lose feeling in his lower appendages.
Everything was happening at the same time; Sethya fought to rid himself of the dead Blood Tracker, Tean fought two Sebaceans and Laighn concentrated on the remaining Blood Tracker that was headed straight for him. Aiming for the Tracker's leg, he sent his whip flying. At the last microt, he expertly snapped his wrist, causing the whip to encircle the ankle of his attacker, cinching it firmly.
Yanking with all the strength his adrenaline supplied, he sent the Tracker flying to the ground. Another twist of his wrist and the whip was free and sent once again on a vicious course to snap against the neck of the Tracker, rendering him unconscious.
Laighn turned his attention to the other men. Tean was bleeding from a wound in his left shoulder, trying to fend off one Sebacean with a vicious looking knife, and the now mobile Luxan. Sethya was still trapped, but had managed to retrieve his pistol and was aiming at Tean's attackers from beneath the dead body. His shots were unusually inept due to the carcass laying on him, throwing off his aim.
All of this had been observed in half a microt and it only took another half microt for the boy to develop a plan. Running within range, he used his whip on the neck of the Sebacean, leaving Tean to deal with the Luxan.
Spinning to Sethya, he let his whip fly again, gratified when it wrapped around the neck of the dead Tracker. He began pulling, throwing his insignificant weight in to the effort, as Sethya pushed. Together, they released him from his imprisonment. Laighn twisted his wrist to find that his whip was tangled in the long hair of the Blood Tracker. He was now momentarily weaponless.
He looked around in panic, only to see the ground strewn with the bodies of one Sebacean, three Blood Trackers, and a Luxan. Sethya was on his stomach, trying to pull himself to his knees, Tean was leaning his right hand on one knee, doubled over catching his breath, oblivious to the red, sticky blood oozing from his left shoulder. Curious spectators from the tavern were huddled in the new entrance, watching the proceedings with avid interest.
"Thanks for the help, Seth," Tean said breathlessly. "You did a lot of damage with that pulse pistol."
"Frell off," Seth bit out, grimacing as he forced his legs to move under him, pushing himself up. "I haven't had to bend over that far since…" he glanced up at Laighn, almost registering his presence for the first time. "Never mind."
"Get your eema up," Tean instructed unsympathetically. "One got away. You can bet more are on their way."
"Leave it to you to let one go," Sethya accused, grabbing the arm of Laighn to use as support as he pulled himself to his feet. The boy had to brace his feet and lean back to keep from getting pulled to the ground.
"Oh, yes, because I wasn't already busy with the Luxan and the other Sebacean and that knife. Speaking of which, where did you disappear to, anyway? I was getting a beating out here, until the kid showed up."
"Oh, please," Sethya responded, letting go of Laighn's arm to test his balance. His legs buckled, and he grabbed the boy once more to keep from landing on the ground. "There were only three of them. And if you hadn't noticed, I had three of my own to deal with. If you'd pay attention to my lessons instead of fooling around, you might be better equipped to handle…"
"The kid took out two of them. You can't claim them." Tean finally realized his shirt was getting soaked in a darker red than the original color. "Dren! This was a new shirt."
The boy was astounded. Not only was he being completely ignored, but these two men were acting as if they had just come off the sparring mat instead of barely escaping an ambush with their lives and limbs intact.
"You're welcome," he joined the sarcasm bravely. "Didn't mind putting my eema on the line for you guys at all."
Both men looked at him for a microt before turning their attention back to each other. "We've got to get out of here," Tean said.
"Yeah, yeah. Give me a microt." Sethya let go of Laighn's arm and managed to stay on his feet, although he was a bit shaky. "A grown man should never be twisted into that position," he grumbled as he hobbled toward his brother.
The boy went to the dead Blood Tracker and began unraveling his whip, indignant at his treatment by the brothers. "Come on kid," he heard Sethya call from behind him. "You'd better keep up. Right now your eema isn't worth the cloth to wipe it with."
Laighn pulled a large knife from his boot and cut away the hair, freeing his whip. It only took one swipe of his hand to pull off the tangled black mess. Replacing the knife, he flipped his whip around his waist. Once again it was a belt, snapped into position.
The brothers were moving quickly, and Laighn had to jog a short distance to catch up with them. "Where are we going?"
"Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open, kid," Seth mumbled, still limping ungracefully.
"You're going to get as much out of that limp as you possibly can, aren't you?" Tean accused. "I'm the one bleeding here, do you see me slowing us down?" He'd replaced the cloak over his broad frame, and the material swirled around him dramatically.
"Tean, you couldn't keep up with me on your best day," Sethya rejoined. "Instead of running your mouth, you might have taken the time to notice the four Peacekeepers following us."
"Where," Tean said, not looking around.
"One behind us, one across the street, one on the roof of the building beside us and one three blocks up."
Laighn was duly impressed, and he fought the urge to look around, trying to follow the example of the men he was with. Show No Fear seemed to be the name of this game, and he would do his part. "Why aren't they attacking?" he couldn't help but ask.
"They're herding us," Tean answered. "They know that four of them can't do dren, so they're leading us to their back-up."
"Why would the Peacekeepers work with those vigilantes?" He was pushing his luck asking so many questions, but he was intrigued. He'd never seen anything like this.
"They aren't. Those bounty hunters were acting independently."
"So you're saying that you… we… have two different groups after us right now?" It was getting harder and harder not to show the fear that was building.
"I told you that if you valued your life to stay away, kid. You made your choice. You can get out at any time. But I warn you that you've now been seen with us."
Suddenly, the enormity of his brashness was sinking in and he didn't like the direction this was going. "I need your help, and you weren't listening."
"I wonder why not," Tean said dryly, shooting a pointed look over his shoulder. "It's not bad enough we have the peacekeepers after us, or that Klune's men finally caught up with us again, and on a side note… I really think this has become personal with him, but now we have the kid to look after as well."
"I can take care of myself," Laighn declared firmly. He'd had lots of practice saying the same thing to his parents on several occasions.
Sethya turned sharply onto another street, nearly running into Laighn. "Sure you can, kid," he said absently, ducking into a doorway. Tean disappeared through the door behind his brother, leaving Laighn to decide if he wanted to follow.
He didn't have much of a choice, did he? He had no doubt that by himself he could disappear and find his way to another commerce station. He'd learned many tricks for survival from his mother; he wasn't without skills. But loyalty was on the line, and he couldn't save his adopted uncle on his own.
Yotz, this was frustrating, especially knowing that his friend would not return the favor. He probably wouldn't even thank him for it, the fek-face. Sighing, he pushed the door open and followed his new companions. The things one sacrificed for family!
He found himself in a massive, two story, indoor market. Hundreds of shops lined the walls, with booths set up in the walkway selling anything and everything a person could possibly want, need, or imagine. Bright ribbons cascaded from the ceiling to the floor, adding a holiday feel to the atmosphere. A small, unseen band was playing somewhere in the distance. Clothes from hundreds of different worlds adorned cheap statues in an effort to entice the buyers. The smell of Hynerion Marjooles mixed with fried Grolack, turned his stomach.
Suddenly he realized he was hungry and desperately wanted a Peanut Butter Sandwich. He hadn't had one of those in years. They'd run out of that delicacy when he was still a child. Ignoring his rumbling stomach, he set his mind to the task at hand, which was finding the Shadow Brothers. They seemed to have blended into the festive crowd while he was blithering over insignificant details.
Someone bumped into him from behind, knocking him forward. "Excuse me," a familiar voice said. Laighn looked up to see Tean walk by as if they were strangers. Which, in retrospect, they were. But that was beside the point. "No problem," he mumbled, turning to a booth that sold sweets. Throwing several coins at the vendor, he grabbed a bag of purple balls before following his guide from several motras behind.
Casually, he opened the bag, fishing one of the treats from the bottom and popped it into his mouth. The flavor exploded and his whole mouth was filled with honey sweetness, another thing he missed from home. He continued to stroll along the hallway, munching candy and enjoying the sights while keeping Tean in his peripheral vision.
He was led through several hallways, and they'd turned three times before the man disappeared through another door. This was getting ridiculous. Laighn followed and found himself in a courtyard.
It was beautiful! A lawn of grey grass carpeted the floor decorated with pink fountains spraying lavender water. He felt peaceful and relaxed, almost wanting to sit on the pale green bench in the far corner to catch his breath.
The tranquility was instantly ruined by the sound of multiple boots hitting the ground near them. "How did they find us?" he asked, pulling his whip from his waist and turning to face the four peacekeepers running toward them.
Sethya and Tean had their pistols aimed and were already firing shots as the three backed away from the attackers. "Does it matter?" Tean asked.
Boots landed behind them and Laighn spun to find four more black suited peacekeepers running toward them. A blast headed for him, and he ducked, feeling the heat from the blast as it passed his face. Too close. "Behind us!" he shouted. Sethya spun, firing as he turned.
The three began heading to the opposite side of the courtyard when four more peacekeepers descended from the roof beside them. "Whose bright idea was it to come out here?" Tean growled.
"Yours," Sethya replied calmly, firing more shots. "I believe you said something about an entrance to an underground tunnel."
Laighn was frightened, waiting for a soldier to come within range of his whip. So far, the two brothers had held them at a distance. But now that they were coming at them from three sides, the brothers were losing ground.
"Oh, that," Tean said. "You have to admit, it was a good idea."
"Yeah, the Peacekeepers thought so too."
Shots were ricocheting off walls, the various colors of the pulse blasts illuminating the courtyard with an impressive light show. Shouts, shrieks, groans filled the air as the soldiers dropped at an alarming rate.
Laighn saw one soldier make it through the invisible perimeter his companions had managed to develop and he let his whip fly. The resulting *crack* of the tip snapping an eye matched the sounds of the pistols, joining the melee. He watched the eye fly from the face and land at the soldier's feet microts before the soldier joined it on the ground, unconscious.
His stomach began pushing the forgotten candy up his throat, trying to free itself of all its contents. This was no longer the fun adventure he'd been excited about. His actions had permanent consequences.
Now he was terrified. The eye stared at him accusingly from the ground.
"Don't freeze up now, kid," Sethya said, somehow projecting a quiet calmness in the middle of chaos. "If he didn't kill you, he would have taken you to be tortured."
The words were very little comfort, but the understanding with which they were delivered calmed his heart and helped to tame his racing mind. Pulling his line of sight from the bloody eye, he looked up in time to see another soldier sneaking up on Tean's left side. He was meticulous in his aim and managed to hit the neck this time, dropping the soldier.
Hands shaking, he scanned the courtyard, purposely avoiding the fallen soldier with the missing eye. Residual smoke wafted upwards. Black suited bodies were strewn over the grey lawn, now turning red in large splotches from spilling blood.
The sound of trickling water was an eerie punctuation to the absence of gunfire. Laighn could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears, matched by the deep gasps of air he was swallowing. His adrenaline was flowing through his veins and he needed an outlet. But the fight was momentarily over.
"You just killed 12 specially trained peacekeepers," he said incredulously.
"Actually, you knocked out two," Tean said conversationally, scanning the bodies.
"And they weren't that specially trained," Sethya said. "These were just grunts, here to hold us off until the special forces arrive." He approached the nearest fallen soldier and began to strip the man of his weapons, throwing a pulse pistol to Laighn. "Know how to work one of these?"
"I'll figure it out," he responded as he caught it mid-air. He was an excellent marksman against targets, but he wasn't about to pretend he knew anything about hitting a moving person. All ego was gone now. He just wanted to survive.
Tean was busy trying to strip one of the soldiers of his shirt with one hand. His shoulder wound was oozing blood and his left arm hung at his side, nearly useless. Sethya stomped over to him, pushing him out of the way gruffly.
"You're slowing me down," he growled at him, pulling first the shirt, then the belt, off the soldier quickly. "The retrieval squad will be here anytime." He went to another fallen soldier and stripped him of his shirt as well.
Laighn watched as the older brother pulled the blood soaked shirt off Tean, dabbing at the wound and applying pressure. For all his talk of being in a hurry, he took time to fold a shirt and cinch it over the wound with the extra belt before pulling a black t-shirt over Tean's head and helping him thread his left arm through the appropriate hole.
"Some people will do anything to look like they actually have large pecs," he chided, referring to the large bulge in Tean's t-shirt. His manner and attitude were gruff, but he handled his brother with a gentleness that belied all the bickering and insults. These two were complicated.
"Get off me, man!" Tean said, smacking at Sethya's hands that were still adjusting the shirt. "The retrieval squad is on its way." He escaped his brother and walked to the center fountain, which was a statue of a large curved fish, elegantly spitting water. Tean pushed on the tail and the entire fountain moved four motras to the right with a loud grinding noise that sounded like ferocious growling.
"You think that's funny, don't you?" Sethya griped. Laighn heard Tean's chuckles and figured Sethya had his answer. He was missing something, somewhere, but he knew better than to ask.
A small staircase descended into inky blackness and the boy knew that this was not going to be pleasant. He hesitated when Sethya disappeared beneath the ground, and Tean waved at him impatiently. "You coming, kid?"
Taking a fortifying breath, he stepped onto the stairs and descended. At first, he had the sliver of light from overhead to guide his way, but Tean's footsteps followed and with another grinding moan, the light disappeared. He was in total darkness.
*This is what she felt like, all the time*. He reached for the wall and felt its reassuring firmness beneath his fingers, grateful for the sense of touch. He didn't know how she had done it for three cycles. He'd have been driven mad long before then.
Tean bumped into him and let out a nice expletive. "Keep moving, kid! We don't have all day."
A beam of light appeared several steps beneath him and he gratefully moved toward Sethya. In his haste, his foot missed a step and realized a microt too late that he was beginning to fall. In desperation he clutched uselessly at the wall, only succeeding in grabbing Tean and taking the man down with him.
Many thoughts traveled through his mind in his descent. He thought about his father and how he'd laugh at him right now. He thought about the men he was with and how they'd probably toss him back up to the courtyard, which might not be such a bad idea. He thought of how embarrassed he was going to be and how he was grateful that they wouldn't be able to see his face. Then he hit the stairs and rolled.
The bounce of the first step knocked the air from his lungs. The second step bruised his ribs. The third step gave him a headache and the on fourth step he ran in to Sethya. He thought maybe his descent would end, but his momentum was too great and he found that the man was pulled down as well.
On they fell ever downward, the light Sethya had been carrying circling the small tunnel like a strobe. Light, dark, light, dark. Laighn marked each grunt and *oof*, knowing he was going to be accountable for every splinter they accumulated. This couldn't be good for Tean's shoulder. He felt worst about that.
Finally, all three landed in a heap at the base of the forty four stairs. He'd counted. "Tell me I can shoot him," Tean said from the bottom of the pile.
"No. It's my turn," Sethya countered, peeling himself from the mound.
Laighn considered apologizing, but he'd observed the interaction between these two, and he was almost positive it would only make things worse. All that was left was sarcasm. "It's not my fault some frellnik didn't bother shining the light where it would actually be useful."
Silence descended for ten full microts and Laighn was getting nervous that he'd only made matters worse until Tean started chuckling, then laughing from under him. A shadowy hand reached out to help him stand, and he knew he was forgiven.
Sethya assisted his brother and the three began their walk through the tunnel. Tean was leaning heavily on Sethya, and Laighn was tasked to hold the lantern and lead. The plan worked, if a bit slowly, until they reached an intersection and the tunnel forked into two paths.
"Which way?" Laighn asked.
"Left," Tean replied confidently.
"Are you sure?" Sethya asked. "I know how your sense of direction is."
"It's left," Tean said again.
Laighn took the left tunnel, listening to Sethya mumbling about getting lost and never listening to Tean again. Tean rejoined with something about Sethya making the contacts and doing the research for once, which set off Sethya about having to constantly bail Tean out of various predicaments.
The argument lasted until they reached another intersection. "Take the right," Tean instructed. "I know where I am. This is exactly like the map."
Sethya hitched Tean's arm tighter around his shoulder, burdening himself with more of Tean's weight as he threatened bodily harm if his brother was leading them on a useless journey.
They began walking again when the lamp turned off, leaving them in total darkness. "What did you do, kid?" Tean accused. "Get the light back on!"
"I can't," he said. "The power source isn't working."
A piercing shriek echoed from the abyss in front of them, sending chills down Laighn's back. "What was that?"
"I don't know," Tean said quietly.
"This is your frelling tunnel, and you didn't bother to find out what LIVES here?" Sethya asked incredulously.
"It's supposed to be empty."
"Well, you're going to have to brief your source. Or ask for your money back, because you got bad information."
"Scared?" Tean asked.
"Of course not," Sethya denied. "I have you here to protect me."
Another shriek echoed through the darkness, closer and more urgent. "It's coming closer," Laighn said, trying in vain to hide his mounting fear. "Whatever that is, it isn't happy."
"We have two choices," Sethya said pragmatically. "We can turn around and go back, and face the retrieval squad, IF we manage to find our way back out correctly in the darkness, or we can go forward."
That was it? Those were their options? Laighn was appalled. The darkness was weighing on him and the thought of facing that… whatever it was… was terrifying. Then another thought occurred to him. "If we turn around, that thing will probably chase us and we'll still have to face it."
"Probably," Sethya agreed.
"All right, we'll go forward. That's what you were going to do anyway, wasn't it?"
"Yes." At least he knew where he and his opinion stood.
The shriek attacked from directly in front of them, flying at an enormous speed, buzzing them overhead and disappearing into the void behind them.
"Why is it that something is always flying at me!" Sethya shouted.
Tean was laughing, but managed to talk through his chortles. "It's your sparkling personality, Seth. It just begs for… *oof!* Hey, I'm injured here."
"You're going to be even more injured if you don't shut your mouth."
A soft squeaking noise scurried underfoot and something brushed against Laighn's leg. He'd had enough. "Quit your bickering and let's get moving!" he shouted. "There's more than the crier here!"
There was a moment of silence before Tean responded. "There are five more junctions until we reach the end."
"Great, let's go." He shot one blast from his newly acquired pulse pistol and quickly surveyed the tunnel from the resulting microt of light. Keeping the pistol in one hand and the other on the wall, he began to walk.
The ground was rocky, and he found himself stumbling slightly as he made his way through the darkness. He'd hoped his eyes would adjust eventually, but everything remained black.
Every few motras he shot his pistol, searching for another junction. The soft squeaks continued to scurry around their feet, and the shriek could be heard intermittently in the distance behind them.
He was beginning to become accustomed to all this, but it was the occasional bump against his leg that kept him on edge. Initially, he'd shoot every time he was touched, but the blasts never hit anything, and the resulting light revealed an empty floor. When Sethya made a comment about him being trigger happy, he stopped.
Eventually, they came to the next junction. "Which way?"
Tean was silent and Laighn heard a distinct *smack* before his voice groggily reached out. "I'm up," the words slurred.
"Great," Sethya answered. "Now tell us which way to go."
"Left." His voice was faltering.
"What about after that?"
"Right, left, center, right." He groaned and the noise nearly matched the voices of the unseen animals around them. "Choose the door with the star." His voice faded and Laighn knew that Sethya was carrying the full burden of Tean's weight.
"Is he dead?" Laighn whispered reverently.
"Probably," was the cold reply. "Let's go."
How did he do it? How could he be so unemotional over the death of his constant companion? He'd seen their camaraderie, their dependence on each other, even if they did bicker constantly. There should be some sense of sorrow. These are outlaws, he reminded himself- smugglers and murderers. They worked in a different reality than he was used to.
He felt a hand push into his back and he continued through the left tunnel, chanting to himself as he walked. *Right, left, center, right, star. Right, left, center, right, star.* The gravel and dirt crunched underfoot, the sound mingling with the squeaks.
"That thing is coming closer again," Sethya warned after the piercing screech echoed again from behind them. "If it makes you feel any better, if it wanted to kill us, it would have done so on the last pass."
"Yeah, makes me feel lots better."
Millions of scratching and scurrying noises erupted, accompanying a flurry of bumping objects pelting Laighn's leg, each squeaking with panic as it ran. And then all was silent. Then the sound of Sethya's labored breathing combined with Laighn's heartbeat and in the darkness, both men froze.
"Someone else is down here," the man whispered softly, the sudden silence alerting him. "Get down."
The thought of getting on the ground with the unseen creatures was nauseating, but the boy didn't dare disobey. He crouched against the wall, trying not to breathe and peered uselessly into the darkness. The soft *thud* of Tean landing next to him on the ground sounded like a thunderclap in the oppressive silence, comparatively quiet to the grinding noise of Sethya sliding against the wall to the floor as well.
He kept his pulse pistol aimed in the direction they'd been traveling, his senses on high alert. For the first time, he noticed the wet, musty smell of the tunnels, and he wondered what the unnamable stench was that permeated the air. Was that him? He'd bathed this morning. Maybe it was Sethya or Tean. Maybe it was the rodents.
Boots echoed on the gravel in the distance in front of them, coming closer. So was the smell. Well, that answered that question. Did Peacekeepers usually smell that bad? His only experience with them had been in the courtyard above, and there the smell of chakken oil, blood and smoke had reigned supreme.
Crunch… crunch… crunch…. His heartbeats were beginning to synchronize with their footsteps. Four thin, red beams of light broke thru the darkness, sliding over walls and dancing around each other haphazardly. They had night vision goggles. Frell!!! Frell, frell, frell, frell!! He crouched even lower into the crook where the wall joined the floor. Maybe they wouldn't look down.
Sethya stirred from the other side of Tean. Laighn wanted to scream at him to get down, but in his fear, he sat mute. Sethya's boots could be heard running toward the other men, but it wasn't until the other group fired that the rain of pulse blasts shot from the ex-commando. He was using both hands, running at full speed straight for the unseen four, shooting his pistols with deadly accuracy.
Three lights dropped, shining upwards to the high ceiling, unmoving, and one disappeared around a bend. Once again, silence descended. "This is ridiculous," Sethya mumbled.
One of the lights began moving, then flying through the air toward him. He caught the goggles with one hand and placed them over his eyes. He could now see for roughly five motras in black and white.
Sethya was bent over the body of a bounty hunter, stealing another set of goggles. After placing them over his head, he continued to rifle through the dead man's clothing, scavenging anything useful. Finally, he was finished and returned to his brother.
"Let's go," he ordered as he hauled his brother into his arms, straining under the weight. "Tean isn't light. Move it, kid. You remember the way, right?"
"Right, left, center, right, star."
They moved quickly now, quiet and careful, expecting the final bounty hunter to jump out at any microt. The rodents made themselves known once again, scurrying and bumping into them. Even with the night goggles, the animals were unseen, the monster that screeched at them pathetically invisible to their eyes.
Right… left… center… and then the bounty hunter finally showed himself, along with two of his companions. Laighn smelt them before he saw them, so he was ready when they walked out from behind a corner, carefully scanning the area, pulse rifles held before them.
He was tired of being here, tired of running, tired of the raunchy smell and the creatures scampering around his feet. Before two thoughts could coalesce in his mind, he fired three times and watched as three bodies hit the floor. Well, he found out he could hit moving targets. He wanted to vomit.
Without a word, they stepped over the corpses and headed for the next junction. Right… now look for the door with the star. The passage turned twice before they found themselves in a small cavern with three stone doors at the other end.
They were almost out of this waste hole. Laighn gagged on a sigh and rushed for the doors, holding onto the promise of escape. He heard Sethya dragging behind him, slower under the burden of his brother.
The stone saviors seemed metras away, and as he ran, it seemed they continually moved with him. It felt like an arn before he finally stood before them, anxiously scanning for the star.
All of them had stars.
None of them had handles.
"What a frelling idiot!" Sethya huffed wearily from behind him. "Leave it to Tean to not tell us the whole story."
Laighn felt he was being a bit harsh, since his brother had been in the middle of dying, but he agreed with the aggravation of not having the entire story. He turned back to the doors, feeling the edges for a latch, or a lever, or a catch… something that would move the massive stones. Nothing.
He turned back to Sethya to find that he'd placed his brother on the ground and was rifling through the pouches on Tean's belt. This man was low enough to scavenge from his own brother. That decided it. As soon as they were free from this tomb, Laighn was going to escape and find his own way.
Sethya triumphantly removed an injector from one of the pouches and held in front of Tean's vacant gaze. "All right, idiot. Here we go."
He pushed the injector against his brother's neck and then tossed it aside. His eyes were covered by the goggles, but his face was only a couple of denches from Tean's. Laighn heard a soft "come on, come on," being mumbled.
There was a sudden gasp and Tean's chest began rising and falling, his head shaking from side to side, his eyes searching the darkness. His breath was coming in ragged gulps and when Sethya reached for him, he fought the contact.
"It's me, Tean! Knock it of!"
"Where are we? I can't see!" he asked, calming slightly, still reaching through the darkness.
"In the tunnel, looking at three doors. I wasn't going to revive you until we got back to Shadow, but you left out the directions."
"I can't move."
"I'll give you a stim-shot in a moment. How do we get out of here?"
"Through the door with the star."
"They all have stars."
Tean's eyes closed and Laighn worried that he'd died again, but his lips started moving slightly and his fingers began twitching. "It's the one with five points."
Laighn spun around and searched the doors. "The one to the left."
"Now, how does it open?" Sethya asked.
"Place a finger on each point," Tean instructed softly, his face a grimace of pain. "Turn the star three points to the right, one to the left, five to the right again, then push."
Laighn stood on his tip-toes to reach the star and followed the instructions exactly. Nothing happened.
"Frellnik, it didn't work," Sethya accused.
A loud *click* resonated through the cavern and the grinding noise of stone sliding against stone sent chills down Laighn's back. A blast of fresh air hit his lungs and he breathed in deeply, absorbing the smell of grass and flowers.
Sethya placed another injector to Tean's neck and continued to kneel beside him until his brother stirred and finally stood on his own. "Let's do this."
They stood in the doorway, looking into the wooded area, searching for bounty hunters. None were in sight.
"All right kid, now's where it gets tricky. Shadow is on the cliff ledge above us. On the count of three, run for your life. One… two… three!"
Laighn ran with all of his reserve strength, but only made it five metras before an ex Zenetan Pirate and a Luxan trapped him, grabbing his arms and thwarting every attempt he made to struggle free. Spinning around with the attempt to yell at Tean and Sethya that it was a trap, he realized the two men were no longer with him. He'd been abandoned.
Well, what did he expect from outlaws, loyalty? It didn't help his feeling of betrayal. They were cowards.
He stopped fighting in an attempt to negotiate with these two. The longer he kept them talking, the more time he had to come up with a plan of escape. "Listen, you two want the Shadow brothers, right? Who am I to you? Why waste your time with me? I can give them to you."
"We don't need your help."
"Yeah, because all of you have been real successful getting them on your own, right?" He saw Sethya crawling on the ground behind the Luxan, inching his way closer. "I've been working with them. I know how they fight, I know their plans, I know their contacts. You need my help. They trust me."
"You are delusional, boy. They do not trust anyone." Two shots blasted through the underbrush and both bounty hunters fell to the ground.
"Thanks, kid," Sethya mumbled.
"What was that?" he yelled. "You left me!"
"We had to make sure there were only two of them. You did your part perfectly."
"So, I was bait?"
"Distraction sounds so much better, don't you think? Let's go, unless you want to stay here. Tean is halfway through the pre-flight by now."
Mumbling, he followed the outlaw through the trees and bushes and wondered what was in store for him next.