After they had stood there quietly for a moment Shade spoke. “I’ve got a job for you mercs. You have an hour to get yourselves ready, you know the deal, don’t be late. Over at the airstrip by Hangar Street you’ll find a zeppelin to take you where you need to be.
Your mark today is a troublemaking mechanic who has overstepped his bounds. He should be considered highly dangerous. You know what to do. Any questions?”
Duriall raised his hand a little. “Excuse me. Why are we being dispatched to kill a mechanic?” His voice was lightly accented but Lyra still couldn’t figure out where he was from, just that it was someplace exotic.
Shade’s laugh was electronically enhanced. Duriall’s body shook as if he were having a seizure for a moment. He looked at Shade with hatred in his eyes. “Any other stupid, unnecessary questions?”
“How will we recognize the mark?” Lyra asked.
Shade chuckled. “You’ll know him probably because he will be the one trying to kill you, dear one.”
No one else asked any questions and after a moment the screen went back to showing random images, a tree in a field, someone fishing in the river, the back of a bar. The door in the back clanked and creaked and slowly groaned open.
Murook turned to leave first. The rest of the group followed him out, Lyra the last one to leave. She gave the darkened room a final glance before heading back down the hallway.
An hour later she met the rest of the group at the dock at the end of Hangar Street. A small silver zeppelin was tied down to the dock, the only ship in the yard. Lyra assumed it was their ride. She recently leared that the dock was actually owned by the Esne, a private airyard just for the company. As she headed towards the ship she saw Murook and Bharhash coming down the ship behind her. Duriall was already at the zeppelin, talking with the captain.
The captain was a short man, perhaps a gnome or halfling of some sort, middle aged and slightly balding. He wore a simple laced brown shirt and dirty black trousers. As Lyra approached he motioned her over impatiently.
“Jeeze, you people never respect a launch time. I swear, one day I’m gonna buy my own ship and leave when it’s time. Punctuality, I say, one of the things that make a man a man…” he continued to grumble on but Lyra stopped paying attention.
Duriall had already loaded his equipment into the small wicker basket that was cradled underneath the large metallic balloon. It didn’t really look all that sturdy to Lyra but after a quick survey of the airyard she realized didn’t have much of a choice in the way of air ships. With a sigh she shrugged her shoulders and threw her pack in over the side. She was stepping over the side of the basket when Bhrahash and Murook approached. The old man was still complaining but the sound level went down a notch or two when the dragonborne approached.
Murook looked a little green. “Uh-huh. I’m not going up in that. That bird’s not airworthy. She ain’t gonna hold my big scaly friend and myself here. Not airworthy at all. I’ll wait for the next ship.”
The captain looked him over for a moment and then held up a hand that held a small metal box. “Boss warned me you’s might be trouble for me.” The box had a large red button in the middle. He pushed it. The bolt of electricity seared through Lyra and seemed to go straight for her head and then pulse through the rest of her body, pain erupting and pulling her to her knees. Tears of pain welled up in the corner of her eyes. The electricity was gone as soon as it came but the pain lingered making her feel sluggish. She gasped in air and tried to stand up, she had fallen over the edge and lay at the bottom of the basket.
Lyra shook her head to clear it. All of the others in her group seemed to have had a similar experience, the jolt originating from the collar they all wore around their necks, soldered together at the joints.
The captain climbed into the basket, a self satisfied grin on his face. “Any other objections to me beauty, The Bronze Butterfly?”
Anger turned Murook’s features bright red. He heaved his short sword off of his back and charged the captain of the ship with a violent war cry. He swung the huge hammer in an arc aimed directly for the captain’s head and Lyra cringed but couldn’t make herself move at all. The world slowed down for just a moment and unbelievable the hammer seemed to hit something in the air just before the captain. It bounced off of the air in front of him, the force causing it to bounce back and knock Murook off balance. He almost fell, caught himself and launched again at the captain. Once again the hammer was pushed back by some invisible force and Murook was pushed back.
The captain’s self satisfied smile had never left his face. He pushed the button again. Lyra was more prepared for it this time but, damn, it hurt so much. She tasted metal in her mouth and her throat burned where the metal came into contact with her skin. “I can do this all day, boyo. Wanna keep at it?”
Murook gave a grunt of frustration and put his hammer away. “I don’t know what kinda field of protection you have, sir, but you’re lucky you have such a good one. If I ever meet you in the streets without it, well, you won’t feel much for-” He was cut off midsentence as the captain again pushed the button and sent all four of them to their knees in pain. Getting shocked three times in as many minutes was too much. Lyra was starting to feel light headed and a little nauseous.
“Please, keep at it, orc brother. I can do this all day. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable, that. Give me another reason to do it again.” The captain smiled and put his finger close to the button.
“Please, no more,” Duriall said angrily. “Just get in the ship Murook? We have a job to do, get in the damn ship.”
“What kind of name is ‘The Bronze Butterfly’ for a ship anyway? “ Murook said sullenly. The captain fingered the button with a gentle caress. Murook went to say something else and Duriall shot him a look that Lyra had never seen on the quiet human before. She couldn’t say what unnerved her about his look just that it made her very uncomfortable around him all of a sudden. Surprisingly Murook kept his mouth shut and reluctantly jumped in the basket beside Lyra. He glared at the captain but didn’t say anything else as Bhrahash climbed in next to him. Lyra was a little worried that the ship wouldn’t be able to leave the ground with all of their weight inside.
The captain climbed in behind Bhrahash looking a little disappointed. He reluctantly put the small box in his pocket and made his preparations to leave. He untied the boat from the dock and surprisingly enough the small zeppelin climbed quickly into the sky as if it didn’t carry a basket full of fully armored mercenaries.
The airship climbed up in the sky had been flying for about an hour. Murook had been white knuckling the side of the ship for most of the time as the small basket swung in the breeze but he seemed to be recovering, his coloring looking less green and more…slightly green, Lyra noticed. She had been staring down at the passing fields and forests and hadn’t noticed Murook get up. She felt the shifting of the basket as he stood up and after finding his balance slowly and quietly pulled his hammer out of its holster. He took two silent steps towards the captain before the pain coursed through her from her collar.
The captain turned around, all of them on the floor of the basket again from the shock. He smiled. “I was really hopin’ you’d do that again, orc brother. You really aren’t that smart, are ya?” He had one hand in his pocket, the pocket the box was currently stashed.
This time Bhrahash stepped in. “Murook, peace brother. Look, I have a feeling our destination is just ahead. Just another few moments and you can smash as much as you want.” He pointed to what seemed to Lyra to be an impossibility.
She had heard of floating islands but had thought them myths. But it was hard to dispute them when, just in front of the ship floating inside a fluffy white cloud was a giant chunk of rock. Lyra hadn’t noticed the island until Bhrahash had pointed it out and even then she had to squint to notice it until they were right upon it. Plants grew around the edges, green and blue and purple and yellow bits peeking out through clouds. As they got closer a plateau was visible in the middle of the cloud. Perched atop the plateau was a large factory style building. White steam poured from the smoke stacks joining the fluffy white clouds that were camouflaging the island.
The captain expertly docked them to the side of the island. “Out, you heathens. I’ll be back to get you sooner or later. Just come back here. If you don’t come back by tomorrow I’ll assume you’re dead and leave ya as such. Understand?” He didn’t wait for an answer as they unloaded their gear.
They disembarked. As he had threatened, the captain untied the ship and left as quickly as he could, disappearing into the clouds just a short distance away.
Murook pulled out his hammer and trod up the hill. Bhrahash, Duriall and Lyra fell in behind him without a word, pull out their weapons. Lyra’s halberd felt good in her hands, like an oversized scalpel. In fact, she had taken to calling it Scalpel in her head.
The path before them branched into two paths and Murook stopped briefly to study each path. After a moment he chose the path to the left and they all followed quietly.
Unconsciously, Lyra stroked the shaft of Scalpel. Her thoughts were swirling back to her past and how she got here, thinking about her apprenticeship at the hospital. If only the surgeons would have listened! How was anyone supposed to know how the inside of a body worked unless they experimented? You can’t experiment on the living, everyone knows that, but what was so wrong with taking a peek inside a dead person? They didn’t really care about anything anymore and you could learn so much from a freshly dead body.
It wasn’t Lyra’s fault the boy died. She wasn’t going to let his death go to waste, though. The possibilities were too great, she was on the verge of something big, she could tell. The possibilities of bio-fusion…his body still being warm would help her get the nerve endings connected correctly…
But they caught her then. Even then, the punishment for her ‘crimes against humanity’ weren’t that bad. It paid to be the headmaster’s daughter. But, then they found her stash of experiments in the old morgue, the one they didn’t use anymore. That was when it turned bad. She had a few bodies that she had preserved, the skin cut from one to expose the lay of the muscles and tendons, one just a skeleton held together with small wires, and her prototype bio-fusion components. If only she had had more time. She was close to a breakthrough, she could feel it.
Once her experiments had been discovered her shame had been hidden and she had been smuggled out of the hospital and disowned by her father. She would never work in the medical world again, they told her. And she probably wouldn’t. She had been sold into slavery to Varisha the Lesser and placed into the underbelly of society as a prostitute. Fortunately for Lyra but unfortunately for Varisha, she was definitely not prostitute material.
She was startled out of her memories by Duriall. “Did anyone else hear that?” he whispered. His head cocked to the side and he studied the brush around them. He notched an arrow and pulled it back taught on his bow.
Murook, surprisingly to Lyra, did not mock Duriall but looked around, frozen in step. He nodded to one side of the glen and Lyra noticed deep golden glowing eyes peering out of the brush. A whirring noise came from above in the trees and before Lyra could react three large insects flew out of the trees, golden bodies glistening in the sunlight.
Lyra could feel her blood pulsing and she gripped her halberd more tightly, preparing. The brush rustled and slowly a wolf came trotting out. Around the first wolf stepped three more behind it, making a vee formation behind the leader.
Bhahrash raised his warhammer to the sky and bellowed at the dragonfly creatures. They were easily the size of small dogs. “To the ready!” Bhahrash cried.
The wolf stepped forward and the fray began. It took a running stride and then leaped at Lyra, the other wolves following closely behind it. They ran snapping and growling. She pulled back her halberd as the lead wolf’s leap drove it straight to her, stabbing towards the creature’s breast. The blade hit directly in the center of its chest and with a screech of metal on metal slid off to the side. The force of the impact pushed the beast off to the side, giving Lyra a moment to resume her fighting stance before the beast attacked again. Another wolf had moved behind her and bit deep into the chainmail on her calf, its teeth finding purchase. Pain blossomed and she whipped around, smashing the beast with the blunt end of her blade. It made an odd clinking noise, the sound of metal on metal again, sparks flying from the impact with the blade on its fur.
With a start Lyra realized that these were not real wolves but constructs, amazingly detailed. She longed for a closer look but couldn’t let herself be distracted. She whirled around and slammed her halberd into another one of the wolves, stabbing it in the muzzle.
The wolves had her surrounded on all side, running in and biting and retreating only to be followed with another animal doing the same. She was having a hard time hitting them.
A scream caused her to look up for a moment. Murook was airborne, flying towards her. She ducked down and he tumbled over her, his short sword flying out in an arc almost too fast to see. He dove headfirst into two wolves, whipping his short sword around and slicing both of them in a quick motion. The wolves backed off a little. He rolled to his feet like a dancer, spotted a dragonfly construct near by, pointed his sword in a quick salute to Lyra and ran off after it.
Lyra settled herself and regained her stance again. She noticed that the animals, with their intricate detail, had small joints to allow freedom of movement. She called to Duriall, the closest ally to her, who was sending a swath of arrows towards the constructs behind her. “Aim for the joints!”
Duriall nodded in understanding and notched another arrow.