Ch18: Blue Ridge

Copyright © 2013 by P.A. Lackey
All rights reserved.

No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. 

Chapter Eighteen: Blue Ridge

Arius hugged the wood keeping him afloat. He felt in a fog as the heat beat the top of his head, and his neck began to burn from exposure. He tasted salt as water breached his dry lips. His throat burned for something to drink, but all he had was miles of salt water. He wasn’t sure how long he had been adrift in the ocean, but he had long lost the crash sight the night before. He had to be miles from where the boat wrecked, and all he had was a piece of its frame to keep him afloat.
He thought he could see a blue ridge ahead of him which he thought was land, but it never grew closer, and at times it would disappear beyond the ocean. Perhaps his eyes were playing tricks on him, perhaps it was the heat.
Arius’ mind wandered, and he found himself back upon his home world. He recalled the vast forests of his homeland, the magnificent cities of the empire, and the orbiting planet Geira which would flood the lower lying continents in flood water during the night. He longed to be there again.
The cry of a bird startled him, bringing him back from his memories. It dashed over him, bringing his eyes toward a large rock sticking up from the water. The water swelled up around him, and pushed him toward the rock. Fighting to brace himself he bounced off the stone before being swept around it where a massive island awaited several miles beyond him.
Glancing around Arius found that he had floated into a shallow bay with several rocky spires coming up from the water. White birds circled the bay toward the shore, and forest stretched toward what looked like mountains farther inland.
Arius began swimming for shore while using the wood to keep himself floating. The water grew shallower the farther in, and soon he was on his feet pushing through the ocean. A beach was directly ahead of him within a narrow valley sunken into the cliffs along the ocean. A river ran through the valley and dispersed into its salty relative.
He felt like collapsing upon the sand as soon as it was under him, but he pushed forward to the tree line where he would find shade. Leaving the wood behind, he stumbled to a large oak next to the river. The water felt good in his mouth and even better down his throat.
Arius pushed himself against the tree where he let his muscles relax. He didn’t know what he was going to do now. Not only was he separated from home by a few hundred light years, but now he was separated from the only people that could get him home. He regretted his every move since day one, but pushed his negative thoughts away. He couldn’t dwell upon his regrets, but had to focus on survival.
Laughter caused him to role onto his belly behind the large tree’s roots which twisted into the ground. He spotted a young girl walking by the side of a large beast he recalled to be a horse. Another younger boy walked on the other side of the horse kicking the sand with his feet. They were mere children, but whether they were hostile he didn’t know. Perhaps they were human, the locals of the planet called Earth, or perhaps they were related to the leather bearing life forms.
Arius watched as they moved toward the water, and feared they would discover his tracks coming from the ocean. The tree provided too little shade to hide in while on his belly so he carefully stood up to stay in the shadows. Peeking around the trunk he watched some more as the boy dashed along the edge of the water splashing it into the air. The girl led the horse to the river side where it began to drink.
A tremor alerted him to something to his right, and he glanced up to see a man standing at the top of a ridge that flood waters had carved out. He was only a few feet away, and watched as the children played. A rifle was in his hand, and his clothes looked rugged. If not for the shade Arius would have been discovered.
“Dad, look at what I found,” the boy called.
Arius looked back to see the wood he had come to shore with. The boy drug it across the beach as it was too heavy for him to carry. From what he could tell, this was a human family.

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Ch17: Flight Across the Waters

Copyright © 2013 by P.A. Lackey
All rights reserved.

No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. 

Chapter Seventeen: Flight Across the Waters

The others were gone now, and only the sound of the slow whooshing of the water could be heard besides the sound of the chopper circling the warehouse several blocks back. Arius moved onto the beach and onto the docks. He glanced around warily; his senses were up to the highest sensitivity possible. The slightest movement would alert him.
He moved to the boat house with the gas can in hand. He didn't know what he would do, but he had retrieved the gas for a reason. Perhaps he would follow the others and try to convince them of his innocence and Dueson’s treachery, but all he had on his side was his own trustworthiness which was absolutely nothing. Thorim would probably try to keep things under control, but the others had already shown their lack of concern for authority. Thorim wouldn't be able to protect him from the others.
The hair on Arius’ neck stood up as he sensed something moving toward the beach. Headlights glared around a building before a land cruiser peeled around toward the beach. Arius attempted to take cover but the headlights had already exposed him.
Bullets began to fly as he dashed for the boathouse. Swinging the door open he slammed it shut before bracing it with a nearby cabinet. He could feel the hostiles approaching on foot now. Glancing to the boat he spotted the motor, and made haste to fill it with gas.
The door shuttered as they attempted to break through, but the cabinet only gave by a couple inches. It wouldn't take long for them to get in as they continued to wrestle it open. The gas guzzled into the motor slower than Arius could take. The cabinet scraped across the floor before jamming against another shelf, and the door was open enough for a soldier to squeeze through.
Arius tossed the still full gas tank aside where it splashed into the water, and riddled the door with his rifle. The soldiers were pushed back, but they returned fire reducing the door to scraps. Arius nearly tripped into the boat as he back into it, and its rocking nearly sent him over the edge.
He fired another burst toward the door before turning to the controls. The key was already in the ignition which he turned to hear the motor groan. The door to the boat house blew open, and another turn revved the engine to life.      
Pulling the throttle the boat roared forward before slamming into the exit which hung over the water. The doors flew open as the soldiers stepped into the building where they fired toward the fleeing boat. Arius crouched as the bullets hammered against the boat but they missed him as he steered it away from the building.
More guns fired from the soldiers upon the beach, and the boat splintered from the rounds. Arius turned it toward the vast ocean unwilling to let them sink the boat, and soon the gunfire became silent. His hands shook from the adrenaline in his system, and he held his limbs tight as the boat bounced against the waves.
He didn't know where he was going other than away from the island. The moon was gone behind the clouds, and there was no light upon the ocean which left him in utter darkness. His eyes were good at seeing in the dark, but an endless ocean left him with nothing to see.
Arius kept it at full throttle not knowing when it would run out of gas. The cold wind against his face at first eased his nerves but soon chilled him to the bone. Looking back he could no longer see the island. He wasn't sure how long he had been traveling. Turning his eyes forward again he glimpsed the rocky reef ahead of him, but it was too late as the boat smashed into the rock with a grind.

Half the floor ripped away from him as the rest of the boat flew into the air. Arius lost hold of the wheel and became suspended in the air before plummeting into the darkness around him. He heard the boat crash into a million pieces elsewhere before he was consumed by the ocean. 

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Ch16: Truly Alone

Copyright © 2013 by P.A. Lackey
All rights reserved.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. 

Chapter Sixteen: Truly Alone

Arius moved through the hall as he could feel hostiles storming the warehouse from every direction. They had them surrounded, but he still had the shadows on his side. His mind ran rampant as he didn’t know what to think. What would he tell the others?
He was back upon the second floor because of the hostiles who quickly approached from the first floor. He retraced his steps the way he had come, before finding himself in the large room where the gas container had been found.
His eyes moved to the door he needed to go through, but he spotted Brockumus’ body slumped upon the floor. A trail of blood led toward him, and Arius was convinced that he was dead. Moving forward he rolled the man over who groaned with whatever life he had left.
“Brockumus,” Arius said, cradling the man.
“You must run,” the man returned. “Dueson will kill you.”
“Why did you sabotage the ship?”
“It had to be done. It’s too late to explain, but know that you must go. The others don’t trust you. Dueson will use that to his advantage.”
“You have to tell me who you’re working for.”
“I can’t. Go.”
Brockumus’ head fell back as he breathed his last. Arius’ stomach turned hard as he watched the closest thing he had to a friend die. Suddenly he felt alone.
The hostiles were moving closer, and now he was sure the exits were blocked. Resting Brockumus’ body upon the floor he cast his eyes to the large window behind the desk. Moving forward he smashed it with the butt of his rifle, and spotted the lower wing of the warehouse below. He could see several hostiles moving about the perimeter below, and he jumped before they could cast their lights toward the shattered window.
A loud thud sounded as he bounced off of the metal roof, and he began to slide to the edge where he fell to the pavement below. Arius’ breath was knocked out of him, and his left ankle pulsed in pain. He had twisted it on his way down.
Lights past over him as he stared toward the sky. He remained concealed within the darkness, and soon the hostiles were moving in for a closer look.
Arius rolled over with a grunt and spotted the gas can by his side. Luckily the nozzle had remained secure so no gasoline was spilling out. Grabbing the can, he slipped past the soldiers unnoticed though a limp slowed him down.  
He headed toward the beach ignoring the flaring pain in his ankle. It made his travel slow, but he didn’t have much farther to go. The last building was before him, and the sandy beach was after it. Pressing his back against the building he peered around the corner toward the boat house which was only a few yards away.
Jayvolni was waiting outside along with three others. One of them was Thorim, and the other two Gruegon and Camus. Apparently they had caught up, and now Arius had to figure out a way to explain everything to them. By now they were aware of the commotion at the warehouse as the leather soldiers were in frenzy over there.
Arius began to step out, but pressed himself back against the building as soon as he spotted Dueson approaching the men. Apparently he had made it out of the warehouse alive.
“What happened?” Arius could feel Thorim’s voice in the air. “Where are the others?”
“Arius,” replied Dueson with a flare of anger in his voice. “He killed my brother, and I don’t know what he did to Brockumus. He’s a traitor.”
Arius’ hands turned clammy. How could Dueson set him up after what happened? His brother was killed at the hands of Brockumus, but yet he continued to set him up.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! I was there, I held my brother until he died.”
“Where is Arius now?” asked Jayvolni.
“I don’t know.”
“We need to get out of here sir,” Camus said. “We don’t have gas for the boat.”
Thorim appeared uncertain. Was Arius really the culprit, he wondered. Pushing his thoughts aside he acknowledged Camus’ point and the group started back into town. Jayvolni grabbed Dueson by the shoulder and gave his regrets. The two followed Thorim into the night leaving Arius to himself.

What would he do now? He had no place to go, and his only allies were now against him. He was truly alone, and he could only trust himself. 

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Ch15: Ulterior Motives

Copyright © 2013 by P.A. Lackey
All rights reserved.

No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. 

Chapter Fifteen: Ulterior Motives

“Why are you doing this, Dueson?” asked Arius. “Why would you jeopardize the mission?”
“What mission,” Dueson scoffed. “We’re hunting a hundred year old legend that doesn’t concern us anymore. My mission is to the highest payer, and right now you have a large sum on your head.”
“You’re making a mistake,” Brockumus said, feeling Ruekrow’s pistol at his head.
“If it’s Waid you’re working for, then you can’t trust him,” Arius added.
Dueson barked out a laugh.
“Why, because he’s put a bounty on you? I’m not trying to marry his daughter Arius, I’m just expanding my business.”
“And you would sabotage the ship for that! We’re stranded here with no way off this planet.”
“I have faith that things will work out, and for the record, we didn’t sabotage the ship. But I’m sure I know who.”
Their senses perked as something moved outside the warehouse, and the thudding sound of a flying machine could be heard nearby. It was likely the leather clad soldiers heard the gunshot when Dueson shot Brockumus, and they were probably on their way now.
“We have to get out of here,” Brockumus hissed.
“Quiet,” Dueson’s brother barked.
“You tried to kill me Brock, why?” asked Dueson
Arius’ eyes narrowed.
“You’re the one that shot me Dueson,” returned Brockumus.
“After you came from behind me with a knife.”
“What are you talking about?” demanded Arius.
Had Brockumus really tried to kill Dueson?
“Arius, don’t listen to him.”
“Shut up!” ordered Ruekrow, pressing the pistol closer to his head.
“Your friend tried to kill me Arius,” replied Dueson. “It seems he has an ulterior motive.”
Arius looked Brockumus in the eyes whose grimace told too much. Dueson wasn’t lying, and Brockumus had tried to kill him, but why?
“They’re here to kill you Arius,” Brockumus said, realizing his exposure. “He set you up to turn the others against you.”
“But that’s not why you tried to kill me,” Dueson interrupted. “You’re the one that sabotaged the ship, which tells me you have another interest besides protecting Arius.”
“You’re stretching.”
“Am I? I read your background before arriving here, and I know a forged history when I see one. It’s prestigious enough to guarantee your acceptance on this mission, but subtle enough to avoid unnecessary attention.”
“You don’t have a clue what you’re coming against. I was sent on this mission to ensure success, and thus far you’ve done nothing but impede that success for nothing but money.”
“I guess there’s enough guilt to go around then.”    
The sound of the flying machine grew closer, and Arius knew their position would be compromised shortly.
“I’m sorry, but it’s time to end this,” said Dueson. “I’ll tell the others that you were killed by those leather wearing monsters.”
Arius grew tense and he spotted the handgun hidden behind Brockumus’ unzipped jacket. The flying machine outside passed overhead; its lights flashed through the far windows casting their shadows against the surrounding junk.
Brockumus passed through Ruekrow’s hold, grabbing his handgun from behind his jacket, and spun around to shove the muzzle into Ruekrow’s side where he fired a round into his chest. Dueson shouted as he watched his brother fall, and fired at Brockumus who fired a second shot past Arius.
Dueson cried as the round ripped past his right arm while Brockumus remained unscathed. Arius stepped to the side with his rifle passing between the two men. Dueson had dropped his weapon, and cradled his arm as he looked to his dying brother behind Brockumus. Ruekrow was still alive, but coughing up blood which flooded his lungs.
“Kill him Arius!” Brockumus demanded, keeping his gun toward Dueson.
The flying machine could still be heard outside, and Arius thought he could feel dozens of hostiles bearing toward the warehouse.
“Who are you working for?” Arius demanded, finding the muzzle of his rifle aimed toward the man alone.
“I’m not the bad guy Arius,” he returned. “Dueson and his brother were hired to kill you, and they set you up.”
“But you sabotaged the ship.”
“I don’t have time to explain my actions.”
“Ruekrow!” Dueson cried, watching his brother suffocate on the ground. “You’re going to pay for this Brockumus.”
“Arius, kill him now or I will!” demanded Brockumus.
Arius was hesitant to lower his rifle. Dueson was there to kill him, but Brockumus had sabotaged the mission. As far as he was concerned they were both dangerous.
Arius’ eyes glanced toward Ruekrow who reached for his handgun lying next to him. He grabbed the gun, finding a final source of strength, and raised it toward Brockumus who felt it. Both Dueson and Arius shouted as Brockumus stepped back and fired another round into Ruekrow’s chest finishing him for good, but several more shots fired as Dueson had retrieved his weapon.
Brockumus stumbled back, and blood spilled from the three holes in his chest. He nearly collapsed to the floor, but caught himself on a beam before disappearing around the corner where archaic looking machinery rusted away. 
Dueson hurried to his brother as more hostiles began to storm into the warehouse. They were hidden among the vast amount of junk, but soon the leather soldiers would come upon them. Arius grabbed the fallen gas tank, and looked toward Dueson who knelt by his dead brother. The man wept, and Arius felt guilt as he slipped away into the darkness.  

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