AN: Part 2... of 3. Yes, this turned into a three-parter. Sorry about that. ^^U
Disclaimer: Deltora Quest belongs to Emily Rodda and Scholastic. Any Society agents who appear in this fic belong to their respective authors.
Adrian paced across the floor of the Monitor Room as Ben fiddled furiously with one of the computers' settings. Nearby, Tash leaned against the wall, nearly bouncing with impatience, while Cristoph bore his usual mask of impassivity as he glanced at the iPhone still in his hands for what had to be the hundredth time.
"If we can't communicate with them, why did she ask for orders?" the ninja asked.
"Not 'orders'," Adrian said tightly, "Order. It's the name of one of Runoa's Sovereigns, and her right-hand man at that." He scowled. "Dammit, if their whole group got flattened once, then what chance does-"
His worried muttering was interrupted by Ben slamming his hands down in frustration and shoving himself away from the desk. "It's no use guys. I've been messing with this thing ever since the mission feed cut out, but it just does not want to cooperate..."
"Where are the techies when you need them?" Adrian muttered. "I must have paged Charis, like, twenty minutes ago."
At that, Ben snickered slightly. "Ah, Adrian..." he said awkwardly, "It's Friday. You're not gonna get ahold of her on a Friday night."
Adrian turned toward the agent and tilted his head. "What are you talking about?"
"She... uh... She likes to meet with Pete on Friday nights around this time. To, uh... you know... hang out together."
Tash made a sound halfway between a growl of frustration and a groan. "I'll go get her, you big babies, and I don't care if they're shacked up when I get there. We've got work to do."
The clearing had broken out into chaos.
Jasmine flitted through the treetops, dropping down to the earth to deliver tiny but critical jabs in the largest of the creatures, only to leap back upward to safety as the branches practically bent protectively to enshroud her. The trees of the Hills were secretive, but they also evil when they saw it, and did their best to aid the ones who opposed such unnatural, otherworldly beings as the creatures the gray-haired man from before had summoned.
She did not deny the rush of satisfaction that each jab against them brought her. Though the monsters were not Grey Guards, they reminded her of them enough that she could summon up her old rage against them when she fought.
This is for my mother! she thought viciously, ripping her dagger out of a Usurped's eye socket with a spray of something purpleish that might have been blood.
This is for my father! Though Jasmine knew now that her father was alive, everything the man had gone through in the elapsing time - losing his family, his home, his very identity - was surely something for his daughter to avenge, even now. Jasmine landed lightly on the back of an enormous Usurped, drove her knife into the tough hide of its back at what she hoped was its spine, and darted away.
This is for my sist- She stopped, briefly wide-eyed before scowling. Thinking of the illusion that was her "sister" Faith was a habit that was easy to fall into, and harder to get out of than it should have been for the length of time she had even been aware of the deception. Still, the painful memory fueled the fire in Jasmine's heart. A giant humanoid Usurped came crashing down as its Achilles tendon was cut, crushing its bretherin beneath it.
But then it got back up again. And so did another, and another.
"There seems to be no end to these creatures," she heard Barda huff as he wrenched himself out of the grip of a Usurped that appeared to be nothing but a pair of enormously muscled arms. "How can we defeat them if they refuse to stay down?"
Jasmine glanced at the four women nearby who were also defending themselves from the hoard, though only two of them seemed to have any experience in fighting, and one of them, the tallest one with the wavey yellow hair, was not fighting at all, only desperately avoiding more damage. Monika leaped out of the way as one of the Usurped's axe-like arms sank deep into the tree behind her, and Jasmine cringed as she heard the tree scream in pain.
"You!" the wild girl shouted, heading towards the Society group. "Tell me what is going on! You said you could help us, but that man and his creatures came here looking for you and your friends! What have you brought upon us? What-"
"Jasmine!" She halted as she felt Lief's hand close around hers. She turned. "Jasmine, we cannot waste time arguing," said the young king. "We must work together if we are to make it out of this."
Behind them, Barda slashed at a great, lumbering Usurped, which staggered away momentarily before returning for more. Suddenly, the creature was thrown skyward by a blast of light emenating from Ezra's palm, but when it landed, scorched and smoldering, it was still moving.
Jasmine scowled at Lief. He was right, and she knew it, and she was almost angry with him for that. Almost. "Fine," she said sharply, though not as venomously as before. "What do you suggest?"
Under any other circumstances, Valerie might have been thrilled to ride aboard something as closely resembling a dragon as the giant Usurped that Order had summoned. As it was, from her position of being slung face-down over the neck of the creature like a bag of grain, the panoramic landscape of the whole of Deltora below her was more terrifying than awe-inspiring, and so very, very far down...
They flew west, into the rapidly setting sun, and though she refused to close her eyes against the stinging wind, Valerie clung to the Usurped with all her might.
One of the creatures raised an arm that was long and sharp as a sword, and Barda instinctively stepped in front of Lief, wondering what the hell that reckless boy had gotten him into this time and half-heartedly cursing the fact that he loved the young king like a brother. He blocked the blow successfully, but even Barda was forced to stagger under the thing's sheer weight, and he wondered how long they could keep this up.
Jasmine, Lief, and two of the strangers - the taller of the two blondes, and the one with unnaturally red-colored hair - conversed rapidly, while Barda and the other two strangers did their best to keep the hoard from coming too close. Half of the words the strangers used were completely unfamiliar to Barda, and as a guard, he had to be at least familiar with all common vernaculars spoken in Deltora.
"They'll definitely know something's wrong by now," Danielle was saying. "I'm not sure exactly where my iPhone landed, but it was somewhere in the Library, so it's really only a matter of time before a leader finds out why the Deltora fandom is locked."
"Doesn't change the fact that it's locked though," Monika replied grimly. "Even if they know something's wrong, there's no way anyone could get to us. I wouldn't anticipate a rescue."
Ari hissed angrily from her new position perched on a low-hanging branch, and it wasn't difficult to tell why. She had probably been trying frantically to teleport to the Library, and was furious with herself for not being able to, and for being similarly unable to rush to Valerie's aid herself. With Order's threat hanging over their heads, all anyone could do was hope she would be alright until some sort of plan could be made...
Lief frowned. "I am not sure that I understand, but are you saying you are trapped here?"
"Pretty much," said Danielle.
Jasmine looked at Monika. It was really more of a glare than a look, but only because glaring was the wild girl's default expression when Lief wasn't present. Lief was present, as it happened (and Monika smiled internally when she realized he was even holding her hand), but it was sort of a crisis, so the force of Jasmine's glare was only somewhat softened.
"You told me when we first met that you and your group had come here to stop a dangerous enemy to Deltora," said Jasmine. "Is this what you came to stop?"
Monika blinked briefly in surprise, but quickly understood. Of course they don't remember Camillia. Why would they?
"Yes," Ezra answered from where she was grappling in midair with a smallish winged Usurped, causing both girls to turn their heads. Ezra managed to free herself and throw the creature downward, but, predictably, it rose right up again. "Normally, though, our targets are not so numerous, nor so stubbornly determined to never stay the fuck down!"
Danielle gripped her staff tightly. "I'm going to go help," she said.
Monika nodded in reply. "Be careful." To Jasmine and Lief, the blonde said, "Normally we would have a lot of back-up to deal with even one of these creatures, but we did not expect to encounter Order when we came here. We're not equipped to handle this..."
"Order," Lief said. "That is the man from before who summoned the monsters and kidnapped your friend. And, if I understand you correctly, he is also somehow preventing you from calling for help from others like you?"
"That is right."
"Then can you not somehow stop him instead of wasting energy fighting his minions?"
Monika shook her head and tried to suppress the shudder that ran through her. Judging by Lief's face, she was not terribly successful at it. "We tried stop him once before, and it did not go well... Valerie looked after each of us personally, but we were still in the Med Ward for days..." She ran a hand through her hair and left it there, fighting the panic welling in her chest. "I mean... maybe if Ezra and Terrie were both at the absolute top of their game, we might be able to chase him out, but we didn't come prepared for this! We have nothing on us except what's standard protocol for a much less dangerous opponent! Valerie... Valerie might be at least able to defend herself if she had the motivation... oh god I hope she has the motivation, please don't let her be dead by now..."
Lief thought for a long moment. "...What if you were able to reach help?" he finally said. "Would we stand more of a chance then?
"Kree could send a message," Jasmine offered.
It took a moment for Monika to gather her thoughts enough to remember that Kree was the name of the blackbird that was never very far from Jasmine. The blonde agent shook her head. "Kree could not reach my allies. They are... too far away. They can only be reached by... a special device," she explained haltingly.
This got Barda's attention from his fight several yards away from them. With a grunt of effort, he knocked the Usurped backwards and slammed his blade home. The creature continued twitching, but didn't get up, and Barda took the opportunity to focus on the plan-making. "What sort of device?" he asked breathlessly.
"It it not something you have the means to repair..." Monika began.
"No," the guard interrupted irritably, "I mean did you have it on your person the whole time? Did Order never touch it?"
"That suggests he used some sort of magic to interfere with it, does it not?"
Lief's eyes widened as he realized what his friend had figured out. "And that means that if Order's concentration was interrupted, even for a moment..."
"We might be able to break through." Monika furrowed her brows in thought. She wasn't sure if natural Gary-Stu abilities, even freakishly enhanced abilities like those of a Sovereign, counted as "magic" of any sort, but it was possible. Valerie had called it ontological inertia, which was the tendency stuff had to continue being stuff. But this rule almost never applied to anything magical or in any way supernatural, energy being as volatile and fickle as it was. But... Suergy counted as a type of energy, didn't it? It certainly wouldn't have such a ridiculous portmanteau, otherwise...
Well then that means... But no, Danielle got that last message through before it closed off, so they'll be ready, trying to hack through... Yes, this could work!
"She won't do it," Monika realized. The others looked at her questioningly, so she elaborated, "Valerie. She won't attack Order, not even to save herself. Even with Seiryu, she can't bring herself to seriously harm another. She is literally not capable of it, even if it means her death. The only way she can even come close to hurting someone is in defense of someone else, not herself."
Lief and Jasmine both looked surprised at this news, though the latter also made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a choke. Barda, however, looked thoughtful.
"Then... perhaps we should give her someone to protect," he said softly.
"...What about the Usurped?" Monika replied after a very, very long pause, during which a variety of emotions had flitted across her face, too rapidly to interpret. "Order would not have left them here if he wanted interruptions."
Barda gestured briefly. "Look around. There are dozens of them, but only a few of them at a time actively attack us. If the rest of us are enough of a distraction, one person may be able to slip away..."
Monika looked between the three characters, and her three friends defending them. Of course, Barda was perfectly correct. The phenomenon of Conservation Of Ninjutsu was actually pretty common, if Aster's ramblings bashing the realistic merit of the few shounen anime series she had seen was any indication. Not to mention that Usurped were powered by the same terrible storytelling as Sues and Stus anyway, so the fact that it was happening now did make sense. Monika just never once in her life thought she'd ever be in a situation where it would apply.
It bolstered her hopes, frankly. If they could pull on that law of fiction, they might just have a chance.
"Right," she said quickly. "I'll go. I'll be able to reach Valerie fastest, and I'm useless to you here."
Barda looked the blonde up and down, and saw that she was very tall, but quite lanky, and without a lot of muscle definition. Add that to the fact that she was only armed with the lightweight bow strapped to her back, and he was inclined to agree with the girl's self-assessment. "Very well," he said, "but move swiftly. Even if these creatures were ordinary humans, I would not like the odds we face."
Monika nodded tersely. Barda gave her directions on the quickest route, and she turned on her heel and fled southward, towards the Great Road West.
A familiar tightness filled Lief's heart as he watched her go, although that probably had more to do with the fact that he could also feel Barda's stern gaze shift to him, as though daring Lief to volunteer to leave the fight as well. Of course, it was anyone's guess which direction was safer for him - dozens upon dozens of of inhumanly strong creatures that were monsters in appearance on one side, and one unimaginably powerful man that was a monster in spirit on the other - but that was not even close the the point of Lief's indecision.
As predicted, a handful of Usurped noticed the blonde's passing, and began lumbering after her. Jasmine aimed a ferocious smile at Lief as she expertly spun her dagger in one hand and jumped into the creature's path, green eyes flashing and her long, tangled raven hair flying about her face as she moved.
One thing, at least, was eternally certain: Lief would not ever leave Jasmine's side.
"This is hardly the time for daydreaming, Lief!" Barda growled as he blocked another hit. "Move!"
The young king blinked, then raised his sword and did as he was told, an idea forming in his mind.
The dragons were not at his beck and call, he knew. He was no more their king than he was king of the Granous, or the Capricons. The seven dragons allied themselves with him out of mutual respect—respect for Lief and for Doran's last wishes—and because Lief was the bearer of the great gems that connected them to their territory and gave them strength. They did as he asked when it was in their best interest, and in the best interest of the land, and nothing more...
But he had to try.
Help them, please! he cried with his mind, clutching the Belt tightly. These creatures intend to destroy everything, and if we cannot stop them here, they will march on the world and lay waste to whatever is in their path! These strangers came her to stop them, but they cannot do it alone. Please, if you are near, give them your aid. Help them fight what threatens us...
Under Lief's desperate fingers, the diamond seemed to grow a little brighter...
The journey took less than twenty minutes at the breakneck speed of flight, though it seemed to Valerie both like it took hours, and that it ended all too soon. Rather than land, the winged Usurped hovered in midair, rising up and down with each wingbeat to keep airborn. Order shoved Valerie off the creature's shoulders to the ground, and the healer landed in a heap, jolting her spine in a manner that left her winded and wincing in pain.
Order looked down at her in disdain before leaping gracefully to the ground several feet away from her. "With your friends you fight poorly; without them you fight not at all." He dismissed the Usurped with a wave of his hand, and with a great gust of wind from its mighty wings, it took off into the distance, back towards the Os-Mine Hills. "Arise, healer of the Society," said the Sovereign, "for this is where we will fight. As you can see, I have chosen a location that will give you the advantage, in an attempt to even the odds a little bit."
Still fighting to draw breath, and becoming increasingly aware of the cramps that had developed in her arms and back during their flight, Valerie attempted to look around. When she realized where they were, her eyes widened in near-panic. She now understood why the giant winged Usurped had not landed.
Save for the trails and patches of pale green grass that dotted the landscape, the field they were in was comprised primarily of brilliant, emerald-green leaves as broad as palm branches, dotted here and there with tiny purple blossoms. Valerie and Order were each standing in one of the grass areas - Valerie on a path that led in two directions before forking at the northern end, and Order on a roughly spherical patch about five feet in diameter. Valerie's hand was actually resting on the edge of one of the leaves nearest the grass path, and when she realized this, she yanked her hand back with a barely-suppressed shriek. The leaf twitched in reaction, but otherwise did not move.
A gripper field. He took me to a goddamn gripper field! Gripper, she knew, was the colloquial name for a carnivorous weed that bred like a plague all across Deltora's southwest, coveting deep earth and ruining good farmland. Stepping on their broad green leaves triggered the plant to open the deep, gaping "throat" that the leaves concealed, which was lined with hollow, fang-like thorns that shredded the flesh of whatever fell in. Even if you managed to pull your limb free from the tearing, sucking hollow, the thorns injected blood-thinners into the bite... and with gashes and gouges as severe as even a single gripper bite would leave, you'd be unconscious in minutes, and dead within the hour.
"Why are you doing this?" Valerie asked in a small, terrified voice.
Order scowled. "The very fact that you ask such a ridiculous question is proof that you do not belong. So why are you still here?" The question was punctuated by a swift forward punch at the air, and suddenly the path of grass to Valerie's right was bisected by a deep gouge in the earth. She glanced at the gouge, then at Order.
Just like with Camillia, she thought frantically. How is he doing that?
"You cannot even dodge my warning shots!" Order shouted across the barrier of grippers that divided them. "Are you so incompetant? Or do you simply refuse? Do you want to die?"
Valerie swallowed and said nothing. She couldn't move.
The Sovereign scowled at her. "Death by my hand would be a fitting end for one so foolish. This is something I can accept."
The healer blinked suddenly and frowned. Something he can-
Without another word, Order leapt into the air, spanning the gap between them easily, and Valerie scrambled away to the left in order to barely avoid the smashing kick the Sovereign landed. Without waiting for the dust to settle, Valerie stood up and sprinted down the grass path, making sure to keep the setting sun at her right. South - the road would be south, and she had to get to the road.
Behind her, she could hear Order laughing.
"The road connecting Tora to Del is your best chance to reach them in time," Barda told her. "Toran magic speeds travel down that way, keeping the connection between east and west strong."
Monika ran as fast as her legs would carry her. Ari wheeled in the air behind her, flitting through between occasionally to keep up. Monika felt like she was flying herself - the magic of this road was truly something else, allowing her to cover hours and hours of travel in a matter of minutes - but there was no time to enjoy it. Even with something of a plan in place, she couldn't help but feel like she was running to her doom, images from their last big fight at the Eizenburn Mansion running through her mind. Order terrified her - he hit where it hurt and didn't stop, almost as though he liked seeing his victims beg. But he had taken Valerie, and no one else was available, so what choice did she have?
Suddenly, Ari appeared, wings flared, right in front of her, and Monika wheeled her arms in an attempt to not fall crashing over as she skidded to a stop. She looked around, observing the trees lining the road and what looked like an enormous field beyond them, but little else. "Is this the place?" she whispered to Ari. "Is this where they went?"
Rather than answer, the little dragon glided silently through the narrow tree barrier and landed on one of the trunks on the far side. Monika followed as quietly as she could and searched her eyes over the direction Ari indicated, squinting against the uncomfortable angle of the sun.
There was a small tremor in the ground that made her jump slightly, accompanied by a spray of dirt and a brief scream in a familiar voice. And only a few seconds later, she could see a figure with long brown hair pelting down the hillside directly towards her. She didn't look hurt - yet.
They were right, Monika thought triumphantly. We're only a few minutes behind them!
In the distance, coming up just behind Valerie, another figure that could only be Order chased after the healer - at a much more leisurely pace, though it could be called "chasing" nonetheless. And Monika realized again that she had no idea what she could possibly do to help that wouldn't be considered "interfering".
"Well... now what?" she said, more to herself than anyone.
To her surprise, someone answered.
"Now you sit tight and let me do what I do best."
Monika looked up at the sound of the voice. Perched in a fork of the very same tree she sheltered behind was a boy, perhaps in his early twenties, with a silky mop of light brown hair, lavender eyes that sort of looked pinkish if she tilted her head right, and a pair of slim blades strapped across his back.
"Who are you?" the blonde asked with a frown.
Zero grinned down at her. "I'm the guy who's gonna save the day with a dramatic rescue of the distressing damsel. And ain't that just the biggest cliche you've ever heard of?"
AN: Part 3 should be out relatively soon. In the meantime, leave reviews to give me motivation! -holds out plate of cookies as incentive-