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Marcus stared out at the expectant faces, his mind churning over. And stalling. Cortes had told him what to do before they'd arrived. Tell them about the machine and how they planned to use it. As if it were that easy. He had once been able to give riveting speeches on a whim, but that was in his past. As if taunting him, the memories of standing in front of the resistance all those years ago came flooding back. Now he was a completely different man. He stood in front of these people, not knowing what to say, and he felt like a fraud. This was not his resistance.

"Is that Marcus Farrell?" someone asked.

"It is," Cortes had come to stand beside him. Marcus wasn't sure if the man realised he was struggling, or was simply impatient. "And he apparently knows where we can find a machine we can use to defeat the Sphere."

"Um... yes. The machine." He had found his voice. At first it felt hoarse; Marcus still felt groggy and unsteady. What he really needed was a drink. "I hid the machine back... before."

"You remember where?" A woman with dark hair asked. "What does this machine do?"

"Yeah, I remember. It... it can fix the planet."

"The machine Marcus is referring to is a gravitational engine, Iziel," the Vector stepped forward and explained. "It was originally designed to fix the damage caused when the Earth fractured. Whether it is truly capable of this or not, I don't know. But..."

"But that's not what we need it for," Marcus continued, gaining confidence now. "It effects gravity... if used on a fleet of ship they would be unable to navigate. They would be drawn together and break apart. Or be crushed. It depends on who's operating..." He trailed off. His mind was slowly piecing together the past. Who operated it. That had been the problem. That had been why they'd hidden it, he and Mila. Mila had never been powerful enough to control it. They'd tried to, and it'd nearly torn apart her mind.

The memory came rushing back upon him. Spinning gears. The hum of electricity and power streaming through wires and components. That then tearing through the one human component the engine needed to work. The sound of Mila's scream. In those few seconds it had taken Marcus to hit the fail-safes, dive into the chamber and tear the woman he loved from the machine's grasp, he had experienced a terror unlike any other.

Luckily, there had been no lasting damage. But Mila had told him, in no uncertain terms, that she did not believe using the machine was viable. That she hadn't liked the sheer, almost un-wieldable power, that was suddenly at her very fingertips. She'd told him it was too dangerous. What had changed? Of course, they had actually been trying to use the machine to reunite the Earth back then. But how much difference did that make?

Marcus realised he had not thought on these things in years. Yet how quickly everything came rushing back. He could hear the council arguing about him, conferring with each other in loud whispers, as if they were somehow afraid to really talk over him. He glanced across at Mila, meeting her eyes. "Who's going to operate it?"

Mila held his gaze for a moment. "I'm afraid I haven't discussed this with my daughter yet," she said, stepping up to Marcus' side. "But I think we all know who is the strongest seijin within the resistance. I am more than confident that Lena possesses the strength to use the machine, and the will to resist its power. And, of course, there's the prophecy..."

Cortes shifted at Marcus' other side, huffed loudly, and stepped away from them. But Marcus didn't have time to focus on him for long, because a young woman had pushed her way through the pirates crowding about, and paused a few feet in front of him. Once again, Marcus felt his once-sharp mind stall. In fact, he thought it was playing tricks on him again. It was as if he had shot twenty years back in time.

The woman before him was the spitting image of Mila. She looked up at him, eyes wide. "Dad...?" she eventually said.

Marcus swallowed. "Lena?"

His daughter broke into a grin, stepped forward and threw her arms around his neck. Marcus gripped her back. Why the hell had he stayed away for so long? The resistance be damned; this was why he should have returned.

"Dad..." The new voice brought him looking up. At Lena's shoulder, though hanging back, a broad shouldered young man stood. He stared at Marcus. "I thought you were dead..."

"Mahad..." Lena still clung to him, so Marcus reached out a hand towards his son.

Mahad hesitated, then reached out his own hand, gripping Marcus' firmly. He did not move in for a hug, and Marcus couldn't hold it against him. At best he was stunned, at worst the revelation his father was alive had woken questions of why he had stayed away so long. Marcus didn't know which it was, but at the moment he didn't care. He was far too happy.

Mahad's stoic stance broke, and he grinned sheepishly. He pulled his hand back and wiped at the corner of his eye. Marcus grinned back at him. Well, he couldn't be that angry with him.

"Hey, so Marcus Farrell is back! And he's bringing us a machine that will obliterate the Sphere, and make them pay for every bloc and ship they've taken!" Iziel stepped up and announced. She grinned at him, then winked. "Let's hear it for Marcus!"

A loud cheer went up from the rest of the council.

"I think this calls for a short break, a celebration if you will, and then I think we'll be ready to decide exactly how we make these bastards pay. All in favour?"

A chorus of 'ayes', perhaps even louder than the initial cheer went up. Marcus felt himself pushed and pulled as the pirates crowded about him. And, despite his initial misgivings, he was now too caught up in everything to worry. He was back with his family, and that meant that anything else that might happen would be okay. He'd thought he'd flushed his life down the toilet long ago. But it looked like he'd been wrong.

Marcus Farrell was back.

* * *

Wayan knew there was no way he'd make it through the press of the crowd to reach Marcus. Not now. So, aware he was grinning like an idiot with the excitement of it all, he instead found his way across to Cortes. His captain had moved himself away from the crowd and was far easier to approach.

"So this is what you were up to," Wayan said, raising his voice to be heard over the surrounding commotion. "I wish you'd told me, we've been hard pressed with all this stuff coming up with the Sphere. But I get why you kept it to yourself..."

Cortes stood with his arms folded. "Aye, Marcus Farrell is back. Everything is going to be just fine."

His sarcasm was unmistakable. Wayan frowned. "This was your idea? Going to get him, right?"

"Aye," Cortes finally admitted. "You know, I've just realised what I did wrong..."

"Wrong?"

"I should've disappeared for twenty years. Then turned back up half-pissed."

* * *

After the exhilaration of finding their long lost leader, the rebels quickly settled to matters of importance. Though they had a tendency to party if it was called for, the situation was far too dire at this point in time to do so for long. It was quickly decided that they should find this machine. A brief squabble arose over who would take their ship to find it, but Marcus quickly affirmed that as Cortes was the one who had found him, he would be willing to go on the mission with no other.

In addition to the decision to get the machine, the rebels had also agreed to let Cheng see if he could develop his program to gain more information on the enforcer. Muffasa had agreed that if he should get it working, he would take him to a convenient location to use it.

In all of this excitement it had been difficult for Mahad to find time to talk to his father. But Mila had made sure they all went on the Saint Nazaire to retrieve the machine. It was more than a day's journey to the location Marcus had specified, and it seemed Mila wanted to be certain the whole family had time to catch up.

So here they sat in Cortes' cabin, leaving the running of the ship to Cortes, Dahlia and Christophe. Marcus seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but Lena was not at all so. She had quickly spilled all her excitement and joy at seeing her father alive, which seemed to boost Marcus' confidence. But once this was out of her system she soon moved onto questions about the machine.

"You guys want me to use this machine... is it safe? What does it do? I mean... I guess you hid it for a reason."

"We did," Marcus confirmed. "Mila wasn't strong enough to use it... I didn't want it to hurt her."

"And me?"

"If it does anything to you, sweetheart," Mila said, "we'll shut it down immediately. But you are far more powerful than I ever was. I'm certain you can handle it."

"It's not handling it that bothers me," said Lena, chewing her lip. "It's the power..."

"It was supposed to unify the earth," said Marcus. "I'm not convinced it can do that - not safely anyway. You'd destroy all the blocs in the process..."

"And that's not what we want to use if for," said Lena firmly. She looked between her mother and father. "You want to use it as a weapon."

"Hey, don't look at me," said Marcus. "I got dragged into this too."

Mahad didn't miss the quick glare his mother fixed Marcus with, before she spoke. "Yes, in a manner of speaking. But think of it this way: there will be a lot less death if we can defeat the Sphere quickly. That's why I'm confident you are the one to use this, my darling. You won't go overboard; you won't use it as a hammer when you can use it as a scalpel."

"I suppose..." Lena didn't sound completely convinced. Mahad knew how much she despised being forced into a position she didn't agree with. She was more likely to anchor herself down and try and do it her own way.

"Look," said Mila. "Let's just find it. We can decide if it's too dangerous to use once we get it. But things are getting dangerous without it anyway; we need to try something."

Lena nodded. She couldn't really argue with that.

"Besides..." Mila reached out a hand and grasped Marcus' in hers. He seemed to start a little at the touch, as if he wasn't sure what to do with it. "At least we're all together again."

Mahad found himself shifting uncomfortably. He was happy his father had returned, really. But over the years he'd come to accept that Marcus would not be returning. After all, surely he was dead? But here he was, and apparently all he'd been doing was hiding out on some backwater bloc, drinking. Cortes had admitted as much to him when Mahad had found him taking the alcohol he usually kept stashed (somewhere) in his cabin, which he'd been handing over to Wayan to keep safe for him. Apparently, Mila thought it was a bad idea to have it on the ship when Marcus was aboard.

In light of this revelation, Mahad had kept a close eye on his father. He'd noticed Marcus was jumpy and skittish. If he had been drinking heavily, then he certainly seemed to be missing it, though he hadn't actually mentioned needing something to drink. This observation, more than what Cortes had told him was what made Mahad uncomfortable. He could deal with his father not being quite the man he had imagined, or he could have, if there had been some good reason for him to stay away.

His mother had lied to them on Babylonia about being a seijin - that had been for their protection; they had been only children. But Mahad could not imagine a scenario where hanging out getting drunk was helpful to them.

Mahad yearned to know what had kept his father away. Instead they were discussing the machine, like they would be if this was just some briefing session. And then the part of him that, tempered though it was by experience, flew headlong into a fight without the slightest bit of planning thought, hey, why not?

"Better late than never, I suppose."

"Mahad!" Mila's retort was quick, as ever.

"Why are you yelling at me? I'm not the one who disappeared for nearly two decades..."

"Mahad," Mila continued, her voice calmer now. "I've already discussed this with your father, we've worked it out..."

"We didn't really..." Marcus said quietly.

"Maybe, but he hasn't discussed it with us. And yeah, I think it's great he's back, really, but I still want to know why it took so long."

Marcus rubbed a hand across the bridge of his nose. "I don't know if I can give you a decent answer..."

"Well, you could at least try."

Marcus stared as his son for a moment, and Mahad wasn't sure if the look meant he was annoyed at him or not. How could he be sure? He barely knew his father. But after a few seconds Marcus lowered his gaze and let out a deep sigh. "You're right. I can try.

"Once I realised the resistance was in trouble," he began, "I had to run. It all happened to fast... Mila..." Here he reached a hand across and tentatively squeezed Mila's hand, which was still lying close to his. "... she wouldn't leave you two. So she took you to safety. And I took the Hyperion. And the machine. I hid both. One in New York... and the other, the more dangerous one, on a bloc close to the remains of the core..."

"This much we know already," Mahad growled. He didn't want to hear about his father's marvelous planning. He wanted to know why he had stayed away.

"Mahad!" Lena hissed.

But Marcus just nodded. "Okay, I get it. You want to know why I hid myself..." Here he faltered. He paused, drawing in a breath. "I can only really remember in any detail where I went first. It was a bloc called Antigua. It was out of the way, run down, and the Sphere would never find me there. And I don't know, maybe I got disillusioned waiting... I couldn't leave for fear the Sphere would find me, so... I guess I started drinking. Not much, at first. I just needed to distract myself until I could be back with my family, with you. I figured the Sphere would eventually lose interest. But they just grew more powerful. I couldn't return to you; that would have been too dangerous."

"Yeah, but you stayed away for almost twenty years!" Mahad exclaimed. No one scolded him this time.

"I... I know. It was wrong. I got into a rut, I..." Marcus trailed off, unable to meet his son's gaze.

Mahad found he could feel little pity for him. He chewed his lip, folded his arms, and looked away. As he suspected, his father was unable to come up with an explanation. Not a good one anyway. It didn't surprise Mahad; he himself could think of no reasonably excuse, none he would buy anyway. And yet, a part of him was angry at his own inability to attempt to understand what Marcus had done.

"It's okay, dad," said Lena. She moved to Marcus' side and squeezed him around the shoulders. "We're all together now. And we're family. Whatever you've done, we'll forgive you. Right, Mahad?"

How was he supposed to answer that without sounding insincere?

"Mahad..."

"Lena," said Marcus. "It's fine. I'd be angry too..."

Before Mahad could respond, the Saint Nazaire shuddered, and there was the resounding boom of weapon fire from the ship's forward cannon.

Mila stood to her feet. "Think we're under attack?"

Marcus shook his head. "No. The Sphere's not foolish enough to come down here."

They made their way up to the bridge. Cortes gripped the wheel of the ship, focused intently on their surroundings. He spared the family only a brief glance as they came in. "You picked a hell of a place to hide this thing, Marcus."

Around about the Saint Nazaire, almost too close for comfort, massive blocs floated. But unlike their counterparts in the higher regions, these were packed closely together. In many places they touched, and ground against each other. Luckily, relative movement appeared to be minor. Only the blocs massive size allowed the Saint Nazaire room to pass in the canyons and tunnels between the earthen behemoths.

The forward cannon let out another foom. The crack echoed off the surrounding blocs.

"Careful, Dahlia," said Cortes. "We don't want to create too much debris."

Dahlia was manning the forward controls. "I've got it under control," she replied tensely.

Cortes didn't appear to notice, but Mahad could easily hear the tension in her voice. He frowned. He was fairly certain she hadn't yet talked to Cortes about not wanting to simply pilot a ship. Mahad was finding it harder and harder not to say something himself, but that was Dahlia's call, not his. And he knew she'd kill him if he did.

"We'll be fine," said Marcus. "I didn't bury it too deep down here."

"But you did bury it," said Lena. She was still nervous. Mahad didn't blame her.

Marcus stole a glance at Mila. "If you don't want to use it, you don't have to..."

"No, it's just... it's powerful, isn't it? I just don't want it to be misused."

Mahad smiled faintly. "Lena, you're the one who's supposed to run it. I know you too well to think you'd let anyone misuse it."

Lena smiled back at him. "I suppose so."

Christophe was sitting at the central console, monitoring their surrounds. "I'm picking up a gravity anomaly on the sensors." He turned to Marcus. "Your machine?"

Marcus nodded. "That'll be it. Set course for that anomaly, and..."

"Dahlia," Cortes said loudly, cutting Marcus short and fixing the man with a pointed glare. "Set course for the anomaly. Take it slowly."

Marcus smiled faintly and raised his hands in a half apology, half surrender. Cortes didn't seem amused by the gesture.

"Well," Mahad muttered to himself. "At least I know where I got that from."

* * *
Cheng had almost finished setting up the equipment, and now he was just running final checks to ensure it would run his program correctly. The plan was simple, at least as far as Cheng was concerned. There had been a couple of recent attacks on rebel outposts, and in the last a sighting of the enforcer had been confirmed. The fact that in both of these attacks the rebels had lost ground had been a concern, but also an opportunity. It was fairly obvious the Sphere was using, perhaps still testing, but certainly using its new weapon to take back ground. Along with reports on the Sphere fleet's movement, it wasn't too difficult to pinpoint the next most desirable target.

This turned out to be one of the rebel's main listening posts. These had become far more complex than they had been in earlier years. If taken out it would leave a hole in their communications and monitoring grid, and make it harder to determine the Sphere's movements. This meant gaining some sort of advantage over the Sphere now was critical.

Of course, Cheng had had no problem finishing his program in time for the attack. Now, all that was left was to set up the equipment and get out of there. Despite his confidence in his abilities, Cheng still found his hands shaking as he completed the set up.

And the Vector wasn't helping.

"All I'm saying, and the thought only came to me yesterday mind you, is that if I'm right, the program you've designed may have no effect whatsoever."

"Well, this is why we're testing it..." Cheng was trying to ignore him. The Vector had offered to come and help set up, which would have made it quicker, but Cheng had still ended up doing most of the work himself, whilst the Vector had continued to talk about his latest theory.

"Yes, but if I'm right we may give away our hand."

"Lena said it was a machine. I can hack a machine, Vector, you just need to trust me. I've got it all under control."

"A machine with human characteristics," the Vector continued, "or at least seijin. Unless Sphere technology is miles ahead of what I'm aware of, that would require an organic component."

"Not really, it's just energy..."

"Seijin energy is very special, very difficult to manipulate. It's at least something we need to consider, Cheng."

Cheng stood to his feet. "Look, I know what seijin energy is! I couldn't have made the program if I didn't... and I don't see why everyone keeps on treating me like a kid!"

The Vector paused. "If I thought you were too young to understand this," he finally said. "I wouldn't be discussing it with you."

Cheng sighed and looked at the ground. "Sorry."

The Vector smiled. "I'm not angry at you. I understand. If I was half as brilliant at your age I would be frustrated too. But there's something I've come to understand with age - just because you think you've got it all worked out up here," the Vector tapped a finger to the side of his head. "Doesn't necessarily mean you do. The world is a complex place, I still haven't got it all worked out. And that's with years of pulling apart and analysing, even just bloc drift kept me busy for years, and even that I haven't worked out. All I'm saying is it's never a good idea to assume you've got everything under control. You need to consider all possibilities, and even once you've done that, you need to consider the fact you may have missed something."

Cheng couldn't help but smile. "Alright. But I suppose we'll find out in a few minutes. And If you're so certain this won't work, maybe you should put your money where your mouth is..."

The Vector grinned. "Oh no. I know better than to bet against your intellect. But maybe you're right. We'll find out soon enough either way. I think we've still got a half hour until..."

But as the older man spoke, the whine of approaching ships filled the air. At first, Cheng thought it was just Muffasa's crew pulling in, on seeing they were completed, to take them away from the post and to a safe distance. But the look on the Vector's face told another story.

Cheng turned around. In the sky above them a half dozen patrollers approached. Between them were the black shapes which could only be Hyperion class ships Mahad had told them about. "Our information was wrong," he said, his mouth dry. "They're early..."

"See? Nothing ever goes according to plan..." The Vector grabbed Cheng by the arm. "We can't be here. We need to hide."

The bloc the listening post was stationed on was some hundred meters across. The listening post was built into a phone box, but there were also a couple of trees and a derelict stone house, missing its roof, on the small bloc. The Vector pulled Cheng towards the old house. The crumbling walls would at least provide some cover.

"Wait!" said Cheng as they moved quickly into the shadow of the stone wall. "I didn't activate the program... it won't work..."

In response, the Vector pushed a communicator into Cheng's hands. "I'll go turn it on. You contact Muffasa on the secure channel. Let him know what's happening and see when he can get us out." With that he moved back towards the phone box.

"Vector..." But he was already gone. Cheng pressed his back against the wall and activated the communicator. "Muffasa, this is Cheng..."

"Cheng," the man's booming voice responded almost immediately. "They snuck up on us, I'm sorry. Are you and the Vector safe? We'll be there as soon as we can, I promise."

"I hope so," Cheng responded. His voice shook. "We should be okay, yeah..." He clicked off the communicator and looked around for the Vector. He spotted him quickly; he hadn't yet reached the phone box.

That was because, blocking his way, was a tall and imposing form. Its smooth metal body was almost completely black, but with red highlights. Cheng recognised it immediately from Mahad and Lena's description. The enforcer.

The Vector stood before it. He was talking animatedly, waving his hands. Cheng knew the man was in trouble, knew he should do something to help. But instead his breath caught in his throat and he froze in place, back pressed against the wall behind him.

The enforcer cocked its head to the side. Beneath its black domed head, a red light flashed, roughly where its mouth would be. Was it speaking? If so, it was too far away for Cheng to hear.

And then it lifted its hand, which glowed blue, and sent a splatter of energy out that caught the Vector on the left shoulder, spun him around, and dropped him to the ground a few feet away.

"Vector!" The violence of the act spurned Cheng into action. He dashed across the open ground and knelt at the Vector's side. "Are you... okay...?"

The blast had burnt and melted through the Vector's clothing. A blackened mark spread across his left shoulder and part way down his arm. Cheng cradled the Vector's head, and heard him groan. He was still conscious, but barely.

The enforcer stared down at them, or appeared to, since it had no obvious eyes. Cheng looked up at it warily. "I'm just... I'm not going to do anything. I'm just going to move him out of here... I'm not... there's no reason to hurt us, I swear..."

Above them in the skies, a ship exploded, and the enforcer looked up sharply. Muffasa's ship had just drifted into view. Its forward weaponry had made quick work of one of the patrollers. The enforcer shot up into the air to protect the Sphere fleet that had accompanied it.

Cheng draped the Vector's undamaged arm around his shoulders and wasted no time in dragging him back towards the safety of the old building.

"Cheng..." the Vector said weakly.

"It's okay. You'll be fine. There's no reason for it to come back after us." He pulled the Vector around the crumbling wall, into the interior of the building. He glanced back around the corner. "It's gone..." He swallowed hard. His moment of fear earlier ate at him. Could he have stopped the Vector getting shot if he hadn't frozen in place? And the Vector still hadn't managed to turn on the program, despite what it had cost him. "It's not going to see if I try turning the program on..."

"Cheng," the Vector said again. He grabbed the young man's sleeve, firmly enough that it drew him to a brief halt. "It's not a machine. It said... she said, she said she knew me. That she wasn't going to fall for the harmless old man act again... your program isn't going to work..."

Cheng pulled his arm away. "I have to at least try." He moved out from the safety of the building. The way to the listening post was clear. He crossed the bloc, his heart hammering in his chest. He just had to throw one switch. It would be quick. If the enforcer was still in range then they would have the information they needed.

His hand was above the activation switch when directly overhead a Mosquito and Sphere patroller collided.

* * *

The pain in his shoulder was excruciating. But the Vector couldn't let himself slip into unconsciousness until he knew Cheng was safe. He pulled himself to the edge of the ruin's wall, and looked towards the phone box.

Just in time to see the explosion barely twenty feet above the listening post tear outwards in all directions. It engulfed the phone box in an instant, in a roiling ball of flame and debris. It tore towards the Vector's position, and he just managed to pull his head back around the wall as the superheated air impacted the wall. He felt the impact through the three feet of stone, and it dislodged loose material from the top of the wall, peppering him in dust and pebbles. A complete stone block fell to the ground only two feet away from him.

"Cheng..." Despite his effort to remain conscious the impact shook him to the core, sent his head spinning even more than it was before. Between that and the growing pain in his shoulder the Vector drew in a shuddering breath, then slumped down against the wall.

Around and above him, the battle continued to rage.
The Lady of Light - Chapter 5
If you haven't noticed yet, I am in no way sticking to the rating of the show. Bad things are going to happen. Really bad things. I'm apologising in advance. D:

Previous chapter: hyperpsychomaniac.deviantart.c…
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Four hours ago...

"Cortes, are you serious? I am not staying on this rustbucket, doing nothing, whilst you chase down my husband!"

It had been a long journey, stretched out by the fact Mila was dead nervous. Being stuck with Cortes for the whole trip hadn't helped. She'd been angry with him initially, when he'd finally informed her he'd known of Marcus' whereabouts for nearly an entire year. He'd taken her outburst well enough; she figured he'd realised he'd done wrong by her. But that initial anger, coupled with the tediousness of being stuck on a ship with the same person for weeks, hunting Marcus down far too slowly for her liking, had built and built. Cortes' own moods were never the best and they'd simply riled and irritated each other to no end.

So it was when it came down to the crunch, they'd located the bloc Marcus was on, the very tavern with near enough certainty they had both agreed this was it, Cortes' unpredicted announcement that it might be best if he was the one to finally corner Marcus, by himself, was not something Mila was prepared to take lightly.

Cortes was in no better mood than her, it seemed, because no sooner were the words out of her mouth and he was huffing and rolling his eyes and muttering, in that goddamned accent of his, "Will you at least try not to get upset?"

Honestly, she'd had enough. "At least I'm not emotionally constipated!" she snapped.

Cortes scowled at her. Well, that got his attention. "I'm just trying to... for gods sake we've nearly found him. Can we try and be reasonable and get this done?"

Mila folded her arms. "I am trying to be reasonable. I just don't understand why you want to do this alone. He's my husband; its me he's avoided for..." Time flashed before her eyes. Every moment Marcus hadn't been there. She felt her fists tighten and her throat begin to burn. Push it down she told herself, that was the last thing she needed now. "... twenty years. Don't you think it's me he needs to answer to?"

"Yes," said Cortes. "And that's what worries me."

"You think I can't handle it? Seriously, what do you expect me to do? Start balling like a banshee?"

"No," Cortes growled. "I think you'd be more likely to seijin blast him into the middle of next week. I mean, I was worried you were going to toss me off this ship a couple of times in the past month."

Mila wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic or not. "He'd deserve it if I did."

"Probably," Cortes harrumphed.

"I'm coming with you."

"Mila..."

"Cortes," she snapped back at him.

"Mila," Cortes continued. "I'm telling you the first thing Marcus is going to do when he sees you is turn tail and run. I've at least got a chance of not spooking him."

Mila stared at him. Of course the thought had occurred to her. Why else wouldn't Marcus want to return? "You think he doesn't want to see me." Mila felt the burning in the back of her throat again. She turned away from Cortes and swallowed.

"I think he doesn't want you to see him," Cortes said, his voice softer now. "If there's anything left of the man he once was he'd be ashamed of himself. He should be."

Mila drew in a breath and wiped a hand across her eyes, pushing away the tears that had sprung up. "You're right, a part of me wants to toss him overboard. The other just wants to ask him why the hell he would stay away for so long."

"You can ask him that when I bring him back here. It'll only take me a couple hours, I promise."

"Sorry..." she sniffed. This was just what she had wanted to avoid.

Cortes sighed. "It's fine, Mila. Look, I know this is hard. I have no idea what state Marcus is going to be in when I find him and I get that it's probably going to be a long way to go for you to trust him again. But..." His brow furrowed and he looked at the floor, struggling to find his words. "But... there's... there's so many people I've lost... if I found out any of them were still alive... " he shook his head and huffed at himself. "All I'm saying is don't worry too much. All other things aside you've got an opportunity you wouldn't have otherwise had..." He trailed off as he caught her staring at him. "Did that come out wrong?"

"No," Mila shook her head. She smiled and stepped forward, taking Cortes by the shoulders and pulling him into an embrace. She couldn't help letting out a small laugh as she felt him go stiff as a board. "You're a sweetheart."

Cortes endured the hug for a few seconds before pulling himself free. "Aye, don't tell anyone."

"I can't promise I won't come looking for you if you take too long."

Cortes nodded. "I'll be quick. Promise." And with that he headed out the small ships hatch and down onto the docks. Mila watched him leave, and drew in a breath. She would be seeing Marcus in mere hours and she did not know what to expect.

* * *

Present

It was to a pounding headache and dry mouth that Marcus finally woke. It was nothing new to him. He opened his eyes and saw only a blur. He groaned, squeezed his eyes shut again and rubbed his fists into his eye sockets. The pounding started to subside, if only marginally. Something was different. At the back of Marcus' mind floated the thought that something had happened, something different than the usual amount of trouble he got himself into when he really went off the deep end.

He swallowed and pushed himself up groggily, rubbing his eyes again. He managed to clear his vision. An unfamiliar room came into focus, a small ship's sleeping quarters. Light filtered in through grimy windows and set off the throbbing in his head again. He squinted. A shape was in front of him, within the room. It was still blurry. A woman.

Marcus was certain it was not a woman who had him on edge. He rather remembered that he may have been in a fight? He'd had to run. Not that his memory could be trusted. Still, he decided that perhaps it was best to play it cool until he figured out what was going on.

"What time is it?" he asked, blearily.

The woman let out a sigh. "You've been out most of the night."

His mind was playing tricks on him again. Why did they always sound like Mila? Marcus blinked, squinting up at her. A face came into view. Dark hair. God, this one even looked like Mila! Was he picking women that shared her features, even in his drunken state, or was it simply guilt that made his mind play tricks on him and...

Marcus drew in a sharp breath, jerked full upright and pressed himself back against the head of the bed. In the confined space of the ship's sleeping quarters he slammed his head on the metal underside of the bunk above. He grunted, but the knock to the head did nothing to change what he saw. Marcus swallowed hard, barely able to find his voice. "Mila...?" he finally croaked.

Everything came rushing back. The failed flight from Cortes. Talk of the machine. He'd said Mila was alive. His kids. Mila was here.

"Yeah, sweetheart, it's me." Mila sat on the edge of his bunk. She sat and stared at him with a caution Marcus had never seen in her, but she also had that intent look in her eyes, the one that seemed to pull at him. She studied him for a moment, as if taking in the changes in his face. She too had changed; grown older. What did he look like to her? The man who'd left her and turned up dirty and smelling of alcohol.

Mila reached out a hand towards him, and Marcus drew back, but there was nowhere for him to go. Mila's fingers brushed his cheek, sending tremors like electrical pulses right through him. Marcus raised a trembling hand, grasping her fingers in his.

"Where have you been?" Mila asked. The words were not an accusation. They were simply a question, a desire to know the answer to something that she had been unable to grasp.

Marcus fumbled for words. He had rehearsed, over and over again, in various states of sobriety, what his answer would be to such a question. He had concocted a thousand excuses, a thousand explanations that would justify him. All paled and died on his lips in the face of the woman he loved. Nothing could possibly suffice. Marcus felt his voice catch. "I... I was... being an idiot." His voice cracked, he shuddered and hung his head. "I'm... sorry."

Mila's arms were around him, and Marcus let himself be drawn into her embrace, burying his face in her hair.

* * *

They were already hours into the journey, and it would take them the good part of the rest of the day to arrive back at Puerto Angel. Cortes had left Mila with an unconscious Marcus in the back of the small ship. He sat at the forward controls, he'd been there since the early hours of the morning, watching the skies change from black to purple to orange. It was one of those rare moments where despite the unending pressures, despite the weight of fears and worry, Cortes found himself able to put these aside and allow himself to simply be at peace in the moment. The steady thrum of the ships engines were a barely acknowledged background noise. He drew in a slow breath, watching the warming light play off clouds and rock spires.

It was in these moments that he found himself thinking oddly sentimental thoughts, like how this same sunrise could be seen from any number of vantage points. And the thought that followed this was that he himself could be watching it from any number of vantage points, in fact, from a set of completely different circumstances. What would he be doing if wasn't fighting this fight? It was with some sadness that Cortes always found he had no set goal or dream for life when the Sphere's oppression was ended. Ideas floated through his mind, of course, though none set themselves in stone. Farming, the Saint Nazaire converted to a trading vessel with no need for excessive weaponry, raising a family... The last was one he always found himself pausing on. This he knew he could never achieve unless they actually defeated the Sphere. No truce or mere retreat of the Sphere would convince him to bring children into a world where they were brainwashed at the academy if they were seijins, or treated like second class citizens and robbed of basic resources if they were not.  It was something he'd felt so strongly about, especially after his own then recent experiences in the gladiator ring, that he and Tian - Cheng's mother - had agreed to halt their growing relationship. Remaining together would have been unfair to one or the other of them. Irony was that when she and Jacob died, Cortes had taken Cheng as his own. But that was different. And perhaps that meant he already had a family.

Cortes found himself smiling faintly, and huffed at himself. "Bloody sunrises..." he muttered. He was never really bothered by his inability to settle on any future for himself. There was enough issues to deal with in the present moment, and for all he knew the Sphere would be around right up to the day he died.

Pulling himself away from the contemplative mood, he busied himself surveying the controls. Suddenly something chirped, and for a second Cortes wondered what he had touched.

"Cortes, this is the Vector. Can you read me?"

It was the communications system. They had just entered a rebel controlled zone, so it was likely the ship had been picked up on one of their listening posts, alerting the Vector to their impending arrival. Cortes shook his head, he'd only gotten a few hours sleep in the uncomfortable forward seats, no wonder he was jumpy.

"Good morning to you too, Vector."

There was a pause as the message transmitted.

"Cortes, I take it you've found what you were looking for?"

Cortes glanced behind him, to where they'd stashed Marcus. "More or less..."

"There have been some developments lately, and I think the worries you told me of were well founded. The council is holding a meeting right now, I suggest you adjust your course and head straight to the usual meeting place. I think you'll find they'll listen to you now."

Cortes felt that awful feeling rising in his gut. The Vector could dither when he was ready, but when he was blunt and to the point, more so than the actual contents of his message, it meant something serious was going on. "What sort of developments?"

"I'll send you the relevant image files. Dahlia was able to capture some of the battle with the Saint Nazaire's recording equipment. The Sphere have some new technology, and it caused major damage to the ships involved, though I think it could have done far more..."

Cortes' brow furrowed. "Is she alright?"

A brief pause. "Dahlia, or the Saint Nazaire?"

"Dahlia!" Cortes barked. Then the man's phrasing struck him. "What happened to my ship?"

"Dahlia is fine, but unfortunately we did lose one man. The Saint Nazaire took damage to some of its systems, and the Leviathan was lost."

"Damn..."

"That's not all. It's not in the footage, but Lena says she fought this new technology. It called itself the enforcer. It looked like a new model of Brig to begin with, but she said it used seijin powers. She was at full power when she fought it, but still couldn't stop it."

Cortes rolled his eyes. "Lena is not the solution to everything, Vector."

"Yes, I know what you think, Cortes." A note of irritation had crept into the Vector's voice. "But she is quite powerful, and I think a fair representation of one of the resistance's major strengths. Her inability to stop it should at least worry you."

"I'm already worried."

"I know. Watch the footage. I'll see you soon.”

Cortes did. And then he adjusted the small ships course and continued under full power to Golkonda.

* * *

Golkonda was more packed than Mahad could ever recall. The particular section of the old fort they used for thier meetings was high enough that it could usually be easily cordoned off if the nature of things under discussion was particularily sensitive. As they were now. The fact the Sphere had a new technology that could spell the end of the resistance certainly counted. However, the captains who had heard the news had brought along those under them who they felt were best able to deliberate and digest the news. There were a few scientists and engineers, and weapons experts. All Mahad could see was a giant argument unfolding, some of the participants were just using bigger words than others.

They'd been at it for nearly three days. It had taken the better part of the week to get the message out and the captains gathered on Golkonda. And then they had argued. There wasn't much doubt over the fact they were quite possibly in trouble. Dahlia had managed to capture the enforcer's attack on the Leviathan and the Saint Nazaire. Lena had confirmed she was certain it was using some sort of seijin powers, if not the type they were used to. His little sister was generally accepted to be an expert on this sort of thing (which she was), so no one argued about this, but they did argue the details.

Directed at Lena:

Did seijin powers make it a seijin?

No, not really.

Was it a machine?

Yes, but she wasn't quite sure it was that simple.

Was it's power's running on a different frequency? (Whatever the hell that meant.)

The Vector thought this would explain Lena's inability to damage it.

Could standard weaponry defeat it?

Iziel thought they should find it again, shoot it, and find out. After all it had to pay for the destruction of the Leviathan.

How did it even work?

One of the other captains threw this one at Elise, who apparently should have known because she was an engineer. She swore at him and told him she couldn't reverse engineer a machine from a bit of fuzzy imagery.

What would they do in response?

This was the big one, and it had kept them going back and forth for the better part of the day. Options ranged from full scale retreat to full scale attack. Somewhere in the middle was a combination of gaining more information about the Sphere's new technology and striking back in their own way. Just what this involved, and how they should go about it were the current topics of debate.

Dahlia was currently engaged in this argument, and Mahad found himself doing little but listening. Or trying to. Feeling as if he was contributing nothing, and frustrated with everything anyway, Mahad sat himself down on a chunk of broken stone and groaned.

"I agree." Wayan was sitting beside him. He had slipped out of the argument about ten minutes ago. He had his chin in one hand, his elbow on one knee and was watching with vague interest and a hint of exhaustion.

"You know while I think its great that we've got so much support now..." Mahad let out a sigh. "Why does it have to take so long to make a decision! I mean, I thought Cortes was bad."

"He's going to be stressed as when he gets back and finds out what's been going on," Wayan shook his head. "I hope what he was doing was important."

"Hope he gets back soon..." Mahad could see Wayan give him a curious glance, and he tried to ignore it. His attitude had changed somewhat towards Cortes in the last few years. He was older, and some of the childish attitudes he'd had had slipped away, but that wasn't the only reason. As the resistance had grown, despite their relative success, there had been the inevitable losses. These had never really hit home for Mahad until the day his friend Shoomday had gone off on a mission with Iziel - a mission Cortes had refused to go on, and Mahad had called him a coward for - and returned in a body bag. All the lectures in risk and shouting matches and headbutting had hit home on that day. Though it was not that, but the fact Cortes had sought him out after he'd heard the news, not to say I told you so, but to check he was alright. Mahad had been in the tavern, determined to spend the night drinking himself into oblivion. He had partially succeeded, and only remembered the first part of their conversation. But he did know that Cortes had sat up with him, for as long as he could recall, and that he had never forgotten.

They still fought, and they still disagreed on the best way to approach an attack, but if Mahad wasn't mistaken, Cortes at least tried to listen to what he had to say as much as Mahad tried to listen to him.

"Yeah, I said it," he finally muttered. Wayan was still smirking at him, not guessing to where his thoughts had wandered, and Mahad didn't really want to make him feel bad about it. He looked about and tried to find something else to focus on, apart from Wayan's smirk.

Cheng sat a short distance away on some crumbling stone stairs, pounding away on his laptop. There was nothing unusual about this, save that the Vector, Christophe, Lena and Elise, were all crammed in and leaning over the young man's shoulder, staring intently at what he was doing.

"Geeks..." Mahad muttered under his breath. But curiosity got the better of him and he stood to his feet and wandered over to see what all the fuss was about.

"It's very basic at the moment, but I think I can get it working," Cheng was saying.

"That's basic?" Christophe squinted at the screen.

"It's code, genius," muttered Elise.

"Well, I know that, genius."

"There's certainly something to be gained by accessing the enforcer's systems and learning what we can," said the Vector. "I think what you've started here has real potential, Cheng. You need to inform the council. I think it may bear on how they choose to counter this new threat."

Cheng stared at the older man. "What... you mean me? Tell them myself?"

"I'm pretty sure you're the only one who can explain it, lad," said Christophe.

Cheng looked panicked, but the Vector was already getting to his feet and waving his arms about erratically at the arguing council. "Everyone, if I could please have your attention!"

Mahad could barely hear him, and the council certainly couldn't. Even if they did they continued their dialogue without the slightest break. "He's got no hope..."

"Hang on..." Elise stood up, put two fingers in her mouth, and let out a high pitched whistle that cut through the air. The arguing council members seemed to lose their train of thought and glanced over their shoulders in search of the sound.

"Wow..." Christophe raised his eyebrows.

"Cheng has something to share," the Vector continued.

Cheng looked a little uncomfortable as he stepped forward, his computer cradled in his arms. But despite his obvious nervousness he cleared his throat and began: "I think I've found a way to get into the enforcer's systems. It's just a machine after all. I've started writing a program that might be able to download some information from it. Depending on what I get, I might even be able to shut it down completely."

"Depending?" Iziel raised an eyebrow.

"Come on," said Dahlia, "It's better than anything anyone else has come up with so far."

"I still want to shoot it."

"It sounds feasible to me," one of the captains said. He was a broad shouldered man, well muscled with dark skin. His voice boomed when he spoke. "How will you get this program onto the enforcer?"

"I'd have to get close to it..."

"You don't want to get close to that thing, Cheng," said Mahad, surprising even himself with the outburst. "I mean... even Lena could barely handle it."

"I'm not a kid, Mahad," Cheng snapped. "And I'm not stupid. I wouldn't have to get near it myself. Just get the program near. If we knew where it was going to be, I could set up something to upload the program to it, and then download any data it collects. No one would have to go near it."

"Sounds like it might work," the same captain said.

"It's still not a complete plan, Muffasa," said Iziel. "Helpful as it may be, I really think we need to take some definitive action."

"Good luck with that, you don't even have a ship anymore," a thin man with an eye patch snickered.

"Oh, be quiet."

"Come on," Lena interjected. "We need to stop bickering. We've been at this for three days! Don't you think we need to decide something..."

"I might be able to suggest a solution you'd find 'definitive', Iziel." The new voice was unmistakable, and Mahad glanced over his shoulder to see Cortes bound up the topmost stone step and onto their level of the fort.

"Oh, so here comes the cavalry!" said Iziel. "Where the hell have you been, Cortes? You disappear without an explanation for nearly a full month?"

"I didn't realise we were required to check our every move with the council, Iziel," Cortes growled. "This isn't the Sphere."

He was in a mood. Mahad could see the strain in his shoulders and the set of his jaw.

"She's upset about her ship," said Muffasa.

"I'm not upset..."

"But she does make a good point. We set up the council for a reason - so we could collaborate and share our strengths and resources. It doesn't really work if you disappear when we may need your assistance."

"I left you my ship," Cortes snapped back. "And my crew. I'm not all that important." He drew in a breath, and tried to calm himself somewhat. "But I understand if you're angry; though in this case I figured it best to act now and ask for forgiveness later. The council may have helped us collaborate, but it does have at least one weakness..."

"And what would that be?" Iziel asked pointedly.

"It's slow. How long have you been up here arguing?"

"Three days, sir," said Dahlia.

"Aye."

"You're hardly one to be preaching rash decision making, Cortes," Iziel scowled. "You won't put your ship on the line, you won't go on any mission where victory is not assured, you bolt whenever a fight gets dangerous..."

Cortes strode across the stone floor and glared down at Iziel. She glared back, and for a moment there was an uncomfortable silence, as if everyone was waiting for a fight to start. Mahad was unconcerned. He'd seen Cortes stomp and rant and glare down more times than he could count, but he could only once remember him flat out decking someone - a man they'd caught smuggling seijin children. He'd been nearly twice Cortes' size, and he'd stood no chance.

"You want someone to preach to you?" Cortes finally said. "Well, yeah okay. I've got someone for you. Someone you'll actually listen to..." He stomped back to the top of the stairs. "You can bring him up, Mila."

Mahad glanced across at Dahlia, and she shrugged. Mahad had already asked her if she had any clue what mission Cortes and Mila had gone on, but they hadn't filled her in either. Mahad looked back to see his mother bring a dark haired, broad chested man to the top of the stone stairs, and shove him up towards Cortes. Cortes caught the man's arm and hauled him forward to stand before the council.

For a moment, Mahad didn't get it. The man looked a little uncomfortable, as well as a tad unsteady on his feet.

"Oh my god."

Mahad looked again at Dahlia. She had a hand over her mouth, staring at the man. "What...?"

Dahlia glanced across at Mahad. "It's... it's Marcus Farrell." She put a hand on his shoulder. "It's your father."
The Lady of Light - Chapter 4

Okay, so Marcus’ introduction to Mahad and Lena is going to lack tact. But it’s more fun that way. XD

I nearly cut it out, but I decided to keep the scene where Cortes hears about the enforcer, mostly for his contemplation. I’m going to try and shove a bit of backstory and character development in this story. Skyland hinted at a few different things, but they never went into a lot of detail. In one of the episodes they hinted that Cortes and Cheng’s mother had been ‘once very close’ without saying more. So I hope my explanation for Cortes and Cheng’s mother breaking up makes sense. I figured this was better than making it all angsty or dramatic, as you’ve got to still care about a guy on some level if you decide to leave your kid with him.

Also, yes, I killed Shoomday at some point in the past. Mahad needed some character development. Sorry Shoomday.

Please review!

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One week ago...

Dahlia had to admit, being behind the Saint Nazaire's wheel made her a lot more nervous than merely piloting the heavy vessel. When Cortes had left, taking Mila, on his undisclosed mission, he had left Dahlia in charge of the Saint Nazaire. It had been a bit of a learning curve. But it was nothing she couldn't handle. In truth, she had been becoming more and more frustrated with the task of simply being the ship's pilot. She was good at flying the Saint Nazaire. She knew that. Even Mahad had, begrudgingly, told her he thought she flew it better than he could. Of course, that being because he was more apt with a sleek, well balanced vessel, or so he'd proclaimed. Dahlia had simply rolled her eyes and smiled. Whilst there was still that cocky arrogance to him, things like admitting her aptitude for piloting the Saint Nazaire were dished out with almost as much frequency as his crowing about his own accomplishments. Mahad had grown up and, thankfully, learnt a few things.

But Mahad had his own ship. It may have been small, but it was his, and he was perfectly happy to be in full command of that vessel. Wayan had the ever growing fleet of Mosquitoes at his command. And Cortes still had her stuck piloting the Saint Nazaire! Dahlia had tried to see the positive side, but had only grown more frustrated. She'd told Mahad as much.

"So tell him you want a promotion," Mahad had told her with a shrug, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. "You'd make a good captain - you're bossy enough."

She'd thought about it, she'd planned to, and then Cortes had told her he needed her to captain the Saint Nazaire in his absence. And then he'd proceeded to download on her, for a full half hour, instructions about what she should do in case something went wrong, not to overtax the engines, and basically not to scratch one inch of his precious ship. If she'd initially thought he was putting her in charge because he trusted her, that had about scrapped any thought of that. In short, she'd ended up chickening out.

At least, she admitted to herself, she would now be able to prove how well she could captain a ship in practice. Perhaps that would put her in a better position to find something more interesting to do, if not for Cortes, then surely one of the other pirate captains would notice.

And she now had an opportunity to prove that worth, or to find out if she was completely unsuited for this sort of responsibility. Dahlia swallowed, and shook her head. No, she couldn't think about it like that. This was an important mission. She needed to concentrate on it, not how it could benefit her.

The Saint Nazaire floated lazily, flanking the slightly larger Leviathan.

"Anything on your scanners, Dahlia?" Iziel's voice came over the inter-ship communications. The older woman had command of this particular mission, and Dahlia had to admit her presence made her just a little bit calmer.

"Nothing as yet," she replied.

"Wait..." Behind her at the central console, Cheng tensed as a blip made itself known on his equipment. Then he relaxed. "Nope, just Mahad."

Cheng had grown so much Dahlia still found herself doing a double take whenever he walked into a room. He was not overly tall, but he had certainly shot up and his voice had deepened with age. Though he spent most of his time, still, in front of a computer he managed to maintain a lean fitness. Coupled with the fierce look he got whenever he encountered a system that gave him some challenge to hack, and evidenced by the conversations Dahlia had overheard amongst the younger girls on Puerto Angel, he was more in demand than he seemed to realise. What helped his case, in Dahlia's opinion, was that he didn't seem to have a clue about this. Having put up with Mahad's forced bravado in his younger days, Dahlia could see how this complete lack of comprehension on Cheng's part held an appeal. He was more likely to complain about the fact he struggled to grow a beard then to embellish his perceived strengths.

Dahlia glanced over her shoulder, catching him frowning in a moment of concentration.

"He's coming in pretty fast..."

"Dahlia, Iziel," Mahad's voice crackled over the communications at that very moment. Even with the static, Dahlia could hear the note of excited apprehension in his voice. Something had him spooked, and he probably wanted to shoot it.

"Mahad," Iziel's voice came through. "What have you found?"

"The reports we received were dead right. The Sphere is testing something out here. I've found what looks like a base of operations. They had a half dozen new ships parked up - can't wait to fight them. And looks like they've got some sort of new Brig."

"Didn't blast them right out of the sky then?"
Iziel asked.

"No," Mahad growled. "We can do much more damage with the warships. And our seijins. That Brig thing was putting out some pretty powerful blasts, nearly took out my left engine..."

"Wait, Mahad, they saw you?" Dahlia asked.

"Well, yeah. I mean, I needed to see what they were doing; I had to get in close. Also, that might be important, meant to mention that... think they're following me."

"Mahad!" Dahlia snapped. "If they've got new ships..."

"They're prototypes. They've probably got all sorts of faults..."

"I seem to remember the original Hyperion was a prototype, Mahad."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Iziel cut in over the top. "Relax, Dahlia. Just because you're captaining his ship doesn't mean you've got to jump at shadows like our good friend Cortes. We'll cut down as many as we can, and if we run into trouble, we bolt. Even if we don't make a sizable dent in them we'll be bound to learn something about their capabilities."

"Alright," Dahlia admitted begrudgingly. "I think we can manage that." This was, after all, her chance to prove herself. She couldn't do that by turning tail and running.

"Awesome," said Mahad. She could practically hear him grinning over the channel. "We'll take them, Dahlia, don't worry sweetheart."

"That's captain to you, Mahad."

"I know, I know. Hey, and send Lena over. I'll double back and we can do a bit of damage before you lot catch up."

"I'll get her," Cheng stood up and left the bridge.

Dahlia drew in a deep breath. She hoped they were doing the right thing. But then there was only one way to find out.

* * *

Lena was pacing the floor of Cortes' cabin when Cheng threw open the door.

"Lena, Mahad's found the Sphere. They've got new ships or something; he thinks he'll need your help."

Lena let out a sigh. "Finally!" It was a sunny day and that always seemed to make her itch for something to do. Whilst she didn't find it as exciting to blast Sphere ships out of the sky as her brother, doing so certainly fit the bill for releasing the energy building up within her. It seemed that as her power steadily grew, so did the urge to use it. She had never craved the enormous energy that at times seemed to course within her, but so far she had managed to keep herself from anything resembling the atrocities she had seen Oslo perpetuate. What she could do with those powers was to help the resistance, to help people, and so far this had more than satisfied her.

"Come on, you two. Mahad needs our help."

'You two' were Jared and Horatio, two seijins who Lena was currently tutoring and who had agreed to come on this mission for the experience. Horatio was somewhere in his forties, blond with a thick bushy mustache. He had somehow managed to hide himself away from the Sphere for years, and when the resistance had grown in strength he had joined. It'd taken him about six months to approach Mila and let her know he was a seijin. He wasn't overly powerful, but steady and consistent with what power he did have. He stood to his feet as Lena spoke. "I've been waiting long enough to blast some of those bastards out of the sky."

Jared was eighteen, wiry and jittery, and had the potential to become a fairly powerful seijin, should he be able to concentrate on anything Lena tried to teach him. He was currently pawing through Cortes' bookcase. "Give me one second," he said. "I heard a rumour the captain keeps an alcohol stash in here... somewhere..."

"He does," said Cheng with a sigh. "Or rather, he did. He's moved it. And if you go digging into it, he'll know, trust me on this. In fact he'll probably blame me."

"Jared!" Lena barked at him.

Two books clattered to the ground. "Sorry, sorry, coming..."

The whine of an approaching engine drew their attention. Outside, Mahad's ship pulled up. Modeled off the Hyperion, it was almost the spitting image of that ship. Mahad was always tinkering with it, complaining it wasn't anything like the original. He'd even gone as far as to ask the resistance's engineers for assistance, despite which, he still was convinced it just wasn't quite right. The ship was solid red, with a very deliberate plastering of the rebel logo on its hull, rather than the Sphere's which had still been present on its predecessor.

The hatch hissed open. "Come on!" Mahad shouted. "I haven't got all day."

Docking was not required. Lena stepped out through the cabin doors and sent herself sailing across the gap easily. She slipped into the seat beside Mahad and flashed him a grin.

Horatio and Jared followed suit, a little less confidently. Lena could see Mahad watching them with a slight smirk on his face, his hand hovering over the ship's control stick. "Mahad..." she said.

He pulled his hands back. "I wasn't going to do anything."

As soon as everyone was on board, Mahad shot away. "Dahlia, Iziel," he said into the comms. "We'll engage as soon as we reach them, but we're counting on you for backup, so don't be far behind." That done, he pushed the throttle to full power.

Lena glanced across at her brother. He was excited, that was a given. But he stared ahead with a steely determination and concentration that indicated he was seriously focused on the upcoming battle, more so than he usually was. "Mahad..." Lena asked tentatively. "Why didn't you just take out the Sphere ships by yourself? It's not like you to come looking for backup."

"You'll see in a minute," her brother replied, sparing her only a brief glance. "It wasn't the ships, though they might be a bit of problem as well. This Brig thing they were trying out attacked me. I swear if that shot had landed I wouldn't be here now." He drew in a breath. "Taking down that thing needs a seijin."

"Well, you've got three now."

Mahad grinned at her. "Exactly. So, if they want to have a little field exercise, I say we give it to them."

"Fine by me."

Mahad's console let out a chirp.

"What's that mean?" Jared asked, shifting nervously in his seat.

Mahad waved a hand dismissively. "Yeah, it does that. It's not important. It just means... that!"

Out of the clouds ahead a dark grey ship burst forth. Mahad tipped the control stick, and they slipped past by centimeters. Mahad pulled them back around. Facing them was a ship that was almost an exact mirror image of the Hyperion. It was a dark solid grey. Lena wasn't sure, but she thought its engines may have been a tad beefier looking - Mahad would be able to tell for certain. It bore the Sphere emblem, outlined in red.

"Holy crap," said Jared. "They've got your ship, Mahad."

"You going to be able to out-fly them?" Horatio asked.

Mahad's mouth twisted into a frown. "Like I said, I'm not worried about the ships."

The enemy ship made no move, and neither did Mahad. His console blipped at him again, and then out of the clouds another half dozen Hyperion look-a-likes drifted into view and surrounded them.

Lena swallowed. She knew her brother got some crazy ideas sometimes, but to just sit there was insane. "Mahad..."

"Wait for it," said Mahad. The corner of his mouth had begun to twitch upwards. "They're here for tests. They want to test their biggest weapon, not play target practice... you might want to get out on the hull though, I have a funny feeling..." He opened the hatch, and Lena slipped out. She was less worried about Mahad making an impetuous move with the Hyperion - powerful enough now to guide herself through the skies with ease, she was in no danger.

On the ship opposite the hatch hissed open too, and then a Brig stepped out. At least, it looked like it was supposed to be a Brig. It was more solidly built, rather than the almost skeletal appearance of the previous model. This one was broad and bulky like a man in an armoured suit, rather than a spindly machine. It bore a similar colour scheme to the Hyperion-ships. Dark grey, almost black. With a red emblem and a red at its seams that seemed to glow with energy. Lena concentrated on it. Yes, it was a machine. It felt like a Brig. But it also felt different.

At that moment it raised its arm, its metal palm facing towards her. She saw a blue light begin to build.

"Lena!" Mahad shouted.

She needed no further invitation. Lena felt the Hyperion's deck drop below her, the ship darting out of harms way. She shot into the air like a bullet, and felt the power of the blast tear through the fabric of the atmosphere beneath her. Nearby was a bloc, perhaps fifty meters across. Lena landed on this. Seconds later, the Brig-machine landed across from her.

Around them the Hyperion chased its counterparts. Weapons fire lanced the air. Lena ignored all this. That Brig's blast, the one Mahad was scared would knock the Hyperion clear out of the sky, was no ordinary blast. It was nothing that a simple machine could create. Lena had sensed it, in that split second before she had darted out of its way. The blast had been powered by seijin energy.

"What are you!?" she demanded.

"I am the enforcer," the machine replied. It raised its arm again. Seijin energy shot towards her. This time Lena caught it, and felt her whole body tense and tingle. She gasped, so unexpected was the surge, and though intending to fling the shot back at this enforcer, her shot went wide and flew off harmlessly into the sky.

Lena drew in a breath and fought to clear her head. She was far beyond the fainting spells she'd suffered so often when she was younger, when she had overtaxed her powers to breaking point. She had learned not to push herself. But in that moment she felt closer to passing out than she had in years. With a growl she steadier herself. "Okay, lets see how you handle this."

Drawing in the abundant sunlight, she built her own blast and flung it at the enforcer. The energy parted around the enforcer like water; the machine budged not an inch.

Lena balked. What was she supposed to do with this thing? It was playing with her. Mahad was right; it was out on a field test and it had simply incorporated the rebel attack. But she couldn't back down. I need help.

She sent the thought out telepathically. Either Horatio or Jared would hear, assuming Jared wasn't so nervous he'd forgotten everything she'd taught him. Sure enough, within seconds the Hyperion whipped past close, and Jared and Horatio thumped down onto the bloc beside her.

"What's wrong?" Horatio asked. "What is that thing?"

The enforcer waited patiently for their next action.

"It calls itself an enforcer," said Lena, eyeing it warily. "It... we need to blast it together. I just... it seems to be giving a bit of trouble going down."

The three seijins stood shoulder to shoulder. They built a blast before them, a solid wall of light, and the enforcer just stood there. Lena fought down the feeling that this was a really bad idea. "Now!" she shouted.

The blast flung forward. The enforcer caught it, then flung it back, splitting it into a dozen individual balls of concentrated light. Lena ducked and threw up a shield. She could hear the hiss as parts of it dissolved, and she wasn't sure if it was simply from the power of the enforcer's blast, or like her original shot, her shield was having no effect.

"Is everyone okay..." she looked up, and froze as her gaze fell on Horatio. He was staring ahead, blankly, at the enforcer.

The enforcer stared back, and tilted its head slightly to the side.

Horatio looked down, to the spot Lena was already unable to take her eyes off of. A hole the size of a golf ball was burned cleaned through his chest. His shirt smoked, but there was no blood. He swayed, and then fell face first to the surface of the bloc.

"Lena!" said Jared, his voice cracking. He had ducked to the ground to avoid the blast, and now stared at Horatio, shaking; it didn't look like he'd be able to stand.

Lena turned back to the enforcer. "You son of a bitch!" she shouted at the machine as her vision blurred. She planted her feet firmly apart, and gathered in all the sunlight she could muster. Power built along with rage, far more powerful than her first blast, still more powerful than the combined power the three seijins had previously hurled, and flung it at the enforcer. The light was blinding, and this time the enforcer turned its head slightly to the side as if to avoid the glare, but apart from that it barely flinched.

Lena felt her legs sway beneath her. Mahad. Then she sunk down to the grassy surface of the bloc and the world around her faded to black.

* * *

Through the heat of the battle Mahad heard Lena's voice. The ships were tough, but he had already cut down two. The fact they were almost the same as his didn't scare him - he was the one with the experience. He had the advantage. So he thought nothing of swinging around, thinking his sister had finally gotten the best of this new Brig and simply needed a pick up.

The bloc the seijins were fighting on swung into view. Horatio and Lena were down.

"Lena!" Mahad felt his heart rise into his throat. Completely forgetting the circling ships he pulled up next to the bloc and opened the hatch. He remembered at the last moment, and it was everything he could do to keep himself firmly planted in his seat, where he could access the controls, the weapons, if needed. "Jared, what happened?"

Jared was kneeling at Lena's side, visibly shaking. He heaved her limp body into her arms. "She's.. she's okay. Horatio's dead..." he swallowed.

Mahad glanced at the dark, bulky Brig. It was standing there motionless, but it looked unharmed. He risked looking back at Lena and Jared. "Get... get her back in here." He didn't know what had happened. He hadn't been paying attention to them, instead concentrating on fighting the ships, enjoying it. Whilst this had happened! Why hadn't he kept an eye on them?!

Under seijin energy Jared heaved himself and Lena into the cockpit, where he promptly collapsed on the floor and started to sob.

Mahad stole one last glance at the Brig. He could try blasting it, but if Lena hadn't scratched it so what could he possibly do? Horatio was still there, but then the machine raised its hand and energy began to build within its palm.

"Damn it..." Mahad pulled the Hyperion away, threatening to snap the hatch off due to the sudden acceleration. He only barely got this closed before it was damaged. The Sphere ships were following; he didn't know where the Brig was.

Before him, the bulk of two rebel warships parted the clouds. "Not now! Turn around!" Neither the Leviathan or Saint Nazaire responded. Mahad growled in frustration before realising it was because he hadn't activated the communications. He slammed a hand on the console and opened a channel. "Dahlia, Iziel! Turn around!"

"What the hell's going on, Mahad. I didn't come all the way out here to..."

"Iziel, Lena couldn't beat that thing! You will lose both ships if we don't turn around!"

"Nonsense, you just need a bit more firepower." The Leviathan surged forward and opened fire on the Sphere vessels. They darted away with every bit of speed the Hyperion was capable of mustering. "Seriously Mahad, what's gotten into you? These are basically your ship, you should be able to..."

One of the ships darted around behind the Leviathan. It's hatch opened.

"Back out!" Mahad shouted into the radio. His heart was pounding, Iziel was going to get herself killed, if she would just listen to him... for the briefest of moments, it crossed Mahad's mind that this was how he use to make Cortes feel.

The Brig stepped out and fired a blast of energy. It hit the Leviathan's shields with a hiss. Under the concentrated blast the Leviathan's shields quickly failed, but only at the exact point of impact. There was a hole in their defence, perhaps only a few meters wide. The Brig sent multiple balls of energy through this hole. Once beyond the shields the balls of light darted about, as if looking for specific targets, before punching into the hull at several different points.

The Leviathan let out a groan and its engines fell silent. It began to list to the side, streams of smoke escaping from its hull. The shields flickered and fell completely.

And then the Brig lowered its arm and halted its attack. It turned its attention to the Saint Nazaire.

Mahad felt his stomach drop. "No, Dahlia!"

Again, the Brig opened a hole in the shields, but this time only fired a few balls of light. They impacted various points in the Saint Nazaire's hull, but did not cause the same drastic failures they had on the Leviathan. The Saint Nazaire was smoking from two places, but its engines still ran.

Mahad slapped a hand on the console. "Dahlia, are you alright?" No response. "Dahlia!"

"It's okay, Mahad, I'm fine," Her voice finally came through and Mahad let out a huff of air, hanging his head in relief. "They've taken out weapons, half of the computers, but nothing critical... but Iziel, you need to check she's..."

"You have ten minutes to vacate the area,"
A new voice broke over the communications system. Mechanical, measured, but nowhere near as passive as the Brigs they were used to. Mahad didn't know how, but he immediately realised it was the Sphere's new machine that addressed them. "Be sure to inform your resistance of the new developments you have witnessed here today. Both the enforcer and Hyperion class vessels will shortly be deployed to halt your continued unwillingness to participate in, and direct opposition to, the future of Skyland."

"They're... they're letting us go?" Jared said, his voice quivering.

Mahad glanced over his shoulder. Lena was beginning to stir. Thank God. He swallowed hard. "Yeah. Looks like we're the messengers."
The Lady of Light - Chapter 3
Hey guys, so, hopefully this chapter has a bit more action. I've started getting into the main plot so things should pick up pace. I'm intending on updating and finishing this fic, but from what I've planned out so far, and where I want it to finish at, I'm thinking it's going to end up being a fairly long one. Basically, I'm trying to wrap up a whole lot things in Skyland with this one fic and give the whole thing a (relatively) decent conclusion.

What would really help is if you guys have any comments or feedback. I'd like to make this as good as possible, and I'm also trying to improve my writing in general. As I said before, I still intend to finish this, but comments would definitely help my motivation!

What I'd like to know at the moment:

1. Is Lena in character? I realised when I started writing her bit that I rarely do scenes from her POV, so I haven't had much practice. Also, since she's a little bit older I've tried to make her, obviously, act older. Does she seem like an older Lena?

2. The enforcer. I needed to introduce a technology/character that is a serious threat to the resistance. How’s this coming across initially? Threatening enough?

3. I'm also chucking a fair number of references to engineers in there. This is mostly for my own amusement, as I like the idea of having a character who I can use to make comments like 'who the hell designed that?!', if that's what I think of something. Also, I feel the resistance needs someone dedicated to maintaining their ships (and it shouldn't be Christophe). But let me know if I'm going overboard on technobabble or the like with these guys.

That's all I can think of at the moment, however if you've got any other comments on anything else feel free to let me know! :)

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Two months ago...

The battle was fierce. Sphere ships whizzed about and fired upon the rebel fleet. It was chaos.

"Hard to starboard!"

"Aye, sir!" The response of the ship almost beat Dahlia's words, so quick was her reactions. The young woman's skills had increased vastly over the last few years, and the Saint Nazaire responded even faster then when Wayan had shared the task. Weapons fire hit where they had been but seconds before. Cortes gritted his teeth, and surveyed the sky in the brief reprieve.

Sphere vessels outnumbered theirs two to one. Luckily, most  of the Sphere's fleet were S22s. Fast and with a decent amount of firepower, but could be knocked from the sky under concentrated fire in seconds. Fireballs and plummeting debris was more or less equal for each side. Mosquitoes whined past the forward windows like a flock of birds endowed with the teeth of wolves. Under Wayan's command that ever growing fleet tore through vessels ten times thier size. Behind all this, watching like a hungry predator, a Sphere flagship lazily parted the clouds and drifted towards the main battle. The apparent drift was deceptive; the vessel was moving quite quickly, but its massive size dwarfed everything about.

"I want the warships concentrating fire on the flagship!" Cortes barked into the fleet-wide communications.

Twenty of the larger rebel vessels responded; the designation of warship was loose, the rebel fleet was a haphazard conglomeration of all sorts of ships. They varied in age, though it was impossible to determine this in most, generally the hull was the oldest part with innumerable and unrecorded modifications, upgrades and retrofits.

A sleek red hulled vessel whipped between its counterparts, pulled a barrel roll and shot towards the towering flagship. Mahad. Cortes felt a brief flutter within his chest and winced. The young man still set him on edge with some of his maneuvers. But it was not this that worried him. Mahad could fly, Cortes knew that. It was the attitude. Despite the odds against them, the rebellion appeared to be steadily gaining ground. Both due to the growing power of the rebel fleet, and the even faster growth of the seijins under Mila's guidence. They had gained barely a dozen blocs to add to their claimed airspace, but the important factor was that they lost none of these. Once taken, the Sphere had been unable to reclaim, or even to enforce any regulations such as its water tax. These victories bred a boldness and confidence in the younger rebels that, though on the surface seemed to empower and drive them to even greater feats, brought an uncomfortable feeling to the gut of those who had been around a little longer. The attitude was not necessarily bad. What it was was familiar.

Personally, Cortes found the current atmosphere unbearable. As he watched the red vessel hurtle towards its target with reckless abandon, he found his mind wandering far back. A different vessel, smaller, red and white. Nearly twenty years ago, the rebellion had been in exactly this attitude before everything fell apart.

A flash of exploding shrapnel against the windscreen, metal shards clattering against the glass and protective metal mesh the resistance's engineers had insisted he put up there, brought Cortes sharply back to reality, acutely aware that he had no idea what had happened in the last few microseconds.

Dahlia swore, banking hard, and despite a brief moment where visibility was nil they pulled through, nothing that clattered against the hull sounded larger than a few square feet.

Cortes could feel his heart pounding now, and he was seconds away from activating a fleet-wide communication, calling for a retreat.

But that was not the right reaction either. He gripped the wheel in front of him, white-knuckled. He'd been here before, but this time he knew it. He would not blindly follow the momentum that had so quickly become a downward spiral. The rebels could not depend on their mounting victories, particularly as they seemed so in contrast to the rising forces of the Sphere.

In that moment Cortes realised they needed to do something differently to the last time, or they would follow the exact same spiral to disaster as they had before.

***

That one battle did not end in disaster. The Sphere flagship was not destroyed - this was one feat they had yet to accomplish, either this time round or the last. But it turned tail and fled when enough of the S22s that supported it were destroyed or disabled. The rebels still counted the fight as a victory, though they too had suffered losses.

In truth, Cortes realised he had been considering his next course of action for some time. It was not that moment in the heat of the battle where it had come to him, that had simply been when he had become aware of the thought's existence. It had crept up on him during sleepless nights spent listening to Sphere broadcasts, and remembering, in the wee hours of the morning when he barely clung to consciousness and his mind threw up long forgotten memories, the failures of the past.

Amongst these he had remembered the machine. He'd nearly scoffed and dismissed it. But its existence was more solidly etched than memories of the prophecy, which in and of itself, as far as Cortes was concerned, deserved derision.

After that last battle was when he decided to pursue it. He'd heard rumours of Marcus, knew roughly where to find him and how to go about pinpointing his exact location. But such a task required a leave of absence, and whilst he knew it was too soon to disclose to the full council his intentions, Cortes knew he could not embark on that mission on his own whim alone.

His first port of call, predictably Cortes had to admit, was the Vector. The man's reaction, when Cortes told him of his intention, was not what he had anticipated nor what he was looking for. "So, Marcus is alive? Have you told Mila?"

The lighthouse was still the old man's favorite haunt. Cortes paced the floor, pent up tension in contrast to the Vector's calm. He stopped and fixed the Vector with a glare. "I didn't come to ask you about whether I should have told her, or not. That I can deal with. But the machine..." He trailed off and almost absentmindedly resumed his pacing.

"The machine is dangerous." The Vector finished for him.

"Did you ever see it?"

"No. You'd have to ask Marcus about that. Or perhaps Mila."

"I feel we're on the verge of either turning the tide on the Sphere. Or smashing ourselves to pieces on the rocks. Just like the last time." Cortes swallowed and turned his gaze out the window to the village below. The place and its people had long ago burrowed its way beneath his hard exterior. The thought of anything happening to Puerto Angel, especially if they blindly hurtled into the same mistakes as they had before, ate at him more and more each day. Something had to be done, but a part of him feared the solution would only make things worse.

"Are you sure you're not simply letting the past cloud your judgement?" The Vector came and stood beside him. "Simply because you failed then does not mean you will fail now."

"It... feels the same," Cortes said. He knew it was a weak argument.

"The mind can play tricks on you," the Vector said quietly. "What happened twenty years ago, not just to the resistance, but to you. That sort of thing burns itself into you. Anything similar that happens to you, you'll associate all the feelings you had at the initial incident with the present situation..."

Cortes felt himself bristle. "You're saying I'm imagining things... I don't have time for psychobabble..."

"Cortes, that's not what I meant. Look, when you see an S22, what do you feel?"

Cortes paused and swallowed. "A lot of things..." Because he couldn't quite bring himself to admit fear for a simple ship.

"Even if that S22 is crashed, disabled, unmanned, you feel the same, am I right?"

"Of course I do! I've seen them do...." he shook his head. "Even if they're dead in the air, what else do you expect me to think of when I see them?"

"The fact the S22, or the situation, is harmless, does nothing to invalidate those feelings. But if you did something stupid like waste all your weapons shooting a dead ship out of the sky, then you're letting those feelings get the best of you. All I'm saying is you need to make sure your fear is for what is happening now, not what happened twenty years ago."

Cortes huffed. "This is what I came to ask you about! I feel we need to change our course, but I don't know if it's the right thing to do!"

The Vector drew in a breath, and then shrugged. "Cortes, I don't know."

Cortes felt the urge to yell, but that passed in a moment, and instead he swallowed hard and looked away.

"I'm not that good at reading the signs of the times," the Vector continued. "I can tell you where a certain bloc will move in three months time, down to three hundred meters with certainty. Whether we're heading for disaster or not? I think you have a better idea than I do."

"This is not something I want to decide on alone. But if I go to the council we'll get bogged down in argument. If I bring them Marcus... he'll convince them a hell of a lot better than me. But a part of me is afraid that might not be a good thing."

The Vector moved back across the lighthouse and seated himself down at his desk. It was covered in paper and books. Cortes had no idea how the man worked at it. The Vector fumbled amongst the mess and pulled out a pair of reading glasses, something he had started using in recent years. Cortes was convinced he had only adopted these so he could glare over the top of them at anyone he'd decided he'd done talking with and wanted to leave him alone. "If you want an opinion from someone who has done this sort of thing before, who can look at where we are now relatively objectively, I might be able to point you in the right direction."

"Who?"

"Your brother."

For a moment Cortes stared at the Vector as if he had grown a second head. "I know he took off at Ronston, and I know he thought he was helping the resistance. If you're saying him predicting our downfall was anything other than coincidence..."

"Nevertheless he did. And that's why I'm sure Christophe's thoughts on where we stand at this moment will be more beneficial to you than mine. Do you want advice or not?"

Cortes scowled. "Look, I know now his heart was in the right place. But what he did was reckless; I'm certain he never really thought it through. A part of me still wonders if it wasn't simply an act of foolish bravado."

"Well, if you decide to do this, and things go wrong, that may be exactly how your actions are viewed. Perhaps you should ask Christophe about how he handled that too."

***

Cortes found himself again thinking, in that irritating way that had snuck up on him of late, about how different it felt being able to locate his brother within a few hundred square meters and in so short a time. Even if Christophe wasn't on Puerto Angel it was usually only a matter of hours to either send a transmission, or days to wait for his return. It was impossible to bottle up his feelings, even on the numerous occasions that his brother found some way to cause havoc. He could yell at him anytime he wanted to. And more than that, he had been able to rectify any of the grievances they had held onto over the years they'd spent apart. Cortes found he had more chances now to find fault, grow irritated or duck a thoroughly un-warranted hug, but if asked he would probably say he was happier with their relationship now than he had ever been. Ignoring, of course, the fact he would never admit such a thing out loud.

Puerto Angel was one of the larger facilities within the currently held rebel blocs and it had become one of the focal points for the maintenance for both the Saint Nazaire, and much of the rebel fleet. With his apparently unequaled mechanic skills Christophe had ensured he found a position working on maintenance of the ships. However, his own view of his skills sometimes quite starkly contrasted with the lead engineer's. In fact, quite a number of their opinions on what should or shouldn't be done with a certain ship or ships conflicted. This was Cortes' greatest source of frustration with his brother lately. The last thing he needed was him stirring up trouble, and the worst part was he seemed to enjoy it.

It wasn't difficult for Cortes to spot Christophe amidst the flurry of activity. His brother was currently engaged in an animated discussion with said lead engineer. And as Cortes made his way across to the two he found himself growing apprehensive. What the hell was it this time?

"You know if you don't actually record what you've done to the damn ship, no one else is going to have a clue?"

"No one has a clue. These things have been butting around Skyland for god knows how many years..."

"Yeah, and you know how difficult it is to figure out whats been done to them?"

Christophe shrugged. "Yeah..."

"Well, if we record it now we won't have the same problem two years from now, just because you can't be bothered turning on the computer and telling it what you fixed!"

The words of the exchange became audible as he moved closer, but it was Christophe's movements that told Cortes his brother was on the losing end of this particular argument. It seemed he wouldn't be required to mediate in something he wasn't sure he completely understood. Christophe usually tried to affect an air of nonchalance, like he didn't really care what the other person was protesting about, or that they were being silly or illogical. This method was completely ineffective with Elise. Christophe had begun to shift uncomfortably under the engineer's demands, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck self consciously.

"Is he making a nuisance of himself again?" Cortes decided the argument was more or less won, and he would not be walking himself into a war zone.

"Captain." Elise was in her late thirties, dark hair scraped back in a short ponytail. She wore a greyish coverall that bore signs of grease and oil. She flashed him a tight smile. "No. No more so than usual."

Christophe let out a huff. "Aran. Right on cue. Can you tell Elise she's being unreasonable..."

"No," Cortes said curtly.

Christophe looked down at him with mock disappointment. "Aw, you always take her side."

Cortes felt himself tense. Great. His brother knew he'd lost, but now he was going to stir things up for sheer amusement. "That would be because she's always right, and you're always trying to take short cuts."

"Hmm," Elise mused. "No. I'm not always right. Just... what did we decide on Christophe, ninety two percent of the time?"

Christophe grinned. "I recall you had a couple more decimal points in there..."

"Ninety two point four."

"Sounds right."

Cortes was sure he had missed something. He glanced between the two for a moment; Christophe was grinning openly, and he was sure there was amusement in Elise's half smile, though she was keeping a far tighter reign on her expression than Christophe. "Look, have you sorted him out or not? I'd like to borrow him."

"Of course," Elise said. "Make sure he puts into the computer what he's supposed to, and he's all yours."

"Yes, ma'am," said Christophe.

"Come on," Cortes grabbed Christophe by the arm and steered him away before he could think of something else to joke around about.

"And I want you putting complete sentences in there, Christophe!" Elise shouted after him. "None of this 'fixed' garbage!"

His brother was never really a sore loser, but it seemed of late he was more than happy to be chewed out by the engineer. It hadn't been so when she'd first arrived. Their initial arguments had been louder, longer, and left each in far fouler moods than they were in now. Christophe was used to doing what he wanted, whenever he wanted and how he wanted. That applied both to how he went about repairing ships and basically anything else he set his mind to.

On the other hand Elise had been trained by the Sphere and it was somewhat ingrained in her psyche that there was a certain way things were to be done. Not doing it the right way was likely to get you shot - she had mentioned as much to him once, laced in sarcasm and almost as a joke but in such a short snappish manner and with an immediate change of subject that Cortes had strongly suspected that she was referring to an actual incident.

It was almost by chance that she had joined the resistance. The rebels had destroyed a Sphere base; they would have left the workers they deemed harmless there to be picked up by the Sphere, but Elise had seen her chance and taken it. One of the rebels ships had taken a hit in the rear manifold that, whilst not endangering any lives, had rendered the ship immovable. Under the threat of Sphere reinforecments ariving at the base in mere hours they would have been forced to leave it behind. Elise had ordered her engineers to repair the damage in record time. And then she'd demanded protection for herself and the small group of engineers she was in charge of. In exchange, she'd promised she'd take in hand the mounting problem of maintaining the rebel fleet. Escalating fights with the Sphere had not been kind to the aging ships. It had been a little rough at first - there was a vast difference between the rusting rebel fleet and the sleek Sphere fighters. The engineers quickly found that the tight controls they were used to simply didn't work with the rebel ships. But Elise had managed to adapt, and dragged the slack approach the rebels had previously employed somewhat closer to what she considered ideal.

Some of the upgrades she'd made to the Saint Nazaire had made Cortes a little uncomfortable at first, but none had had any adverse effect. In fact, he found his ship running better and with less sudden breakdowns. Most importantly, she actually let him and the other captains know what she had touched. If someone had to fiddle with his ship, Cortes would much rather it was Elise than Christophe.

After Christophe washed up and stopped at the dedicated maintenance computer (Cortes was sure his brother only punched in something along the lines as 'fixed as per instructions'), Cortes led him to the tavern. As he did he mulled over in his mind how to approach the issue. He found he had no clue where to start.

But Christophe surprised him, because upon sitting down with their drinks at an out of the way table he seemed to drop his jovial mood, and without any preamble asked: "So what's wrong?"

Despite the fact he'd decided to talk to him about this, Cortes felt himself tense up. He shifted in his chair and glanced away. "What makes you say that?"

"Aran, you didn't call me off duty half an hour early because you wanted to get drunk."

"You've got water, Christophe."

Christophe paused briefly, then shrugged. "Exactly."

Cortes huffed. It bothered him he was so easy to read, even by his brother. But he was letting himself get ruffled, and he knew it wasn't something he could blame Christophe for. He felt his shoulders slump. "You're right. There was something I wanted to ask you."

He explained everything that he had previously told the Vector. All the while focusing on his water bottle. It was harder than he'd expected. Though they had come miles in their relationship Cortes still found it difficult to ask Christophe certain things. Ronston was one, and though he now only related the current events that had him on edge it would not be long before he had to reveal the reason he was asking his brother's advice.

Again, Christophe beat him to the punch. "So what you're saying is you're worried about where the resistance is heading, but everyone else seems oblivious. You're considering doing something you're not sure will work out, something that if it fails will probably make everyone hate you, and might even work against the resistance." He paused and then added. "And if you really screw up, they might even label you a traitor."

Cortes risked a glance up at his brother then. Completely gone was any sign of his usually animated expressions; he simply stared across the table at him. For the brief moment Cortes managed to meet his eyes, he found he couldn't read what emotion currently dominated behind them.

"That's what you want to know, isn't it? Why I did what I did at Ronston?"

"Yes. I just... I don't know whether I can trust what I'm feeling about... everything. I need an objective opinion..."

Christophe smiled faintly. "Are you sure you're asking the right person?"

"Don't make this anymore difficult for me than is already is," Cortes snapped. He swallowed, and made an attempt to reign in his irritation before if got the better of him. "You predicted the resistance's downfall once before. I figure you may have the same feelings I do, assuming that I'm right."

"How long have you been worried?"

Cortes harrumphed.

"Bad phrasing," Christophe admitted. "I mean, how long have you been thinking we're heading for failure. And how long have you been thinking about this machine, about Marcus, and whether finding either of them is a good idea or not?"

"A few weeks."

"Hmm." Christophe frowned. "I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with how things are going either. It does remind me of things just before Ronston. If you want me to be honest, I do have a bad feeling in my guts."

"So that's all you based it on. A feeling in your gut?"

"What are you basing your feelings on, Aran? If you had anything solid, you wouldn't be talking to me, you'd be talking to the council."

"I can't take this to them. It'd never go anywhere..."

"Because it's just a feeling in your gut," Christophe finished for him. "You know, you don't have to fear what you're feeling? Maybe it's telling you something you haven't quite worked out in your head."

"Did you take any thought about changing sides at Ronston?" Cortes growled. He could hear the tension creeping into his voice, and he was fast losing his ability to control it. But that had always been precarious.

Christophe sighed. "Yes, I did. If you're willing to believe me. That's why I asked how long you'd been thinking over this. There are some things I'll do on a whim, but changing sides is not one of them. I considered what I had planned for weeks, and I figured that the fact I hadn't changed my mind meant I was on the right course, even if I couldn't explain it to anyone... even my own brother."

Cortes stared down at the table. "Look, I know we don't talk about this much," He felt as if he were forcing his words through a sieve. "I don't care that you did what you did without telling me; I'm over that. But I really need your help on this. However it looked, however I felt about you because of it, you were still right..."

"I wasn't right," Christophe cut him off, "I may have predicted what was going to happen. But I got everything else wrong. I barely made a difference, what confidence I was able to build with the Sphere was only good for getting away with..." he squeezed his eyes shut briefly and shook his head, "stupid shit on the black market. My entire crew left me, my first mate nearly beat me senseless when he'd had enough, I couldn't show my face on a rebel bloc for years. And you know how long it took me to win back your trust."

Cortes swallowed. "So should I do this or not?"

"If you don't, would anything convince you we're not going to run into trouble?"

"No." Cortes found himself answering before he even had a chance to think it through.

"Then stop deliberating, and do it. Even if you find Marcus, you can still change your mind on the machine. And the council won't take you seriously until you do. But, you do have to be prepared for the fact your actions might not be taken well by everyone. Just make sure you consider what could go wrong; don't let it stop you from doing this, but make sure you're willing to live with the consequences if they do."

Cortes swallowed again, staring at the table as his mind spun. Far from calming him, speaking to his brother had put him even further on edge. But as he thought about it, he knew he could not forgive himself if he was idle and the same thing happened to the resistance as it had under Marcus. Stifled and buried memories rose, spinning across his minds eye. Burning ships falling from the skies, the squawk and crackle of a hundred voices fighting for dominance, calling for help across the overloaded communications systems. Those voices falling silent. Tian. Drawing her last breath in his arms and begging him to take care of her newborn son. When Cortes finally spoke, he found his throat dry. "I don't think I can live with the consequences if I do nothing."

Christophe reached across the table and grasped Cortes by his lower arm, pushing the last persistent threads of memories away and bringing him sharply back to the present moment. "Aran, whatever you decide to do, I'll be behind you all the way. I know what it's like to have no one believe in you. But let me know what you're doing? I've heard it's a lot easier to trust someone's actions when they're honest with you."

For a moment Cortes felt the pull of his usual resistance to anything risky, anything that required him to step out of his comfort zone. He knew this was dangerous. But there was a point where he could no longer bury his head in the sand and he'd tip over into that steely determination he found equal parts terrifying and empowering. He had reached that point. He looked back up at Christophe, finally able to steadily meet his brother's gaze. "Can you help me?"

The corner of Christophe's lip twitched up into a crooked smile. "Just tell me what we need to do, little brother."
The Lady of Light - Chapter 2
I've decided I'm going to try and finish this. It's going to be long though, assuming I get everything in there I want to.

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(Contains: violence/gore)
The arena opened before him, a high-walled circle of impenetrable black granite. He had been told there would be no escape, but as fear gripped him the boy found himself roving over the walls with his eyes, looking for an escape. As he had been told, there was none. And those walls were not his primary concern.

In the centre of the rocky floor stood another youth. Leather wrapped around his wrists was his only armour, he stood bare-chested before him, his legs spread in a fighting stance. He was almost twice Cortes’ size.

What had he gotten himself into?! The thought reared unbidden in the boy’s mind, as his stomach lurched and threatened to heave up the scant breakfast he had been allowed, that he had barely been able to stomach as it was.

A roar rose from those seated in the stands that circled the granite walls. High above and safe from what was about to take place below. The threat of an audience added to his terror.

He would never had done this. Christophe had promised he would return in a few days, but it had been over two weeks. Cortes had waited, but grown hungry, he had to look out for himself otherwise he knew he would not survive. He felt a rage build in his belly at the thought of his brother. The bastard had abandoned him – at least that’s what Cortes chose to think. Nothing had happened to him, he could not had been murdered as had their parents and half residents of the bloc they had inhabited; his brother was too smart for that. He had simply abandoned him, and Cortes knew he would have to look out for himself.

If he was going to fight, he decided, after getting into a scuffle with a smaller child over a loaf of bread, nearly getting knifed for his efforts, he may as well get paid for it.

The woman whom he had presented himself to had looked him over with a casual disdain, studying as she might a cut of beef she wasn’t sure was quite up to scratch. “You’re a little scrawny,” she had finally pronounced.

Cortes had drawn in a quick breath of irritation. He’d made his decision to do this, and wasn’t going to be turned away so easily. “That doesn’t mean I can’t fight,” he’d growled. “My brother’s older, and taller, and he knows not to mess with me.”

“Perhaps he goes easy on you,” she’d replied. And then, quick as flash, she’d whipped out some sort of baton or stick from her belt and brought it swinging around.

Cortes had barely managed to duck the assault. He’d stood there, his fists raised in front of the woman, his breath coming in jagged gasps, but she did not try to hit him again.

“Good reactions. And you didn’t bolt, despite the obvious exit.”

Cortes had lowered his fists, glancing behind him at the open door.

“You angry?” the woman asked.

“Of course I’m fucking angry!” he’d screeched at her, his voice cracking.

“Good. Come with me. We’ll see how you go in the ring.”

Only hours later and here he was. Cortes was no longer sure about anger. He was terrified.

The other boy moved towards him, and then he was suddenly upon him. The roar of the crowd disappeared in a ringing as the boy’s fist connected with the side of Cortes’ head, tossing him to the ground. He was on top of him, slamming fists into Cortes’ torso and head and pinning him beneath his larger body.

The blows finally subsided, and the weight lifted off him. Cortes only had the strength to lift his pounding head, the rest of his body weighed down by the blossoming pain. He turned to the side and retched. When he looked up again, he saw the other boy had gone to a rack of weapons off to the side.

Weapons?! His blow addled brain finally caught on. The gladiator ring was not just some street scrap. If this boy had been stealing his money or food, there was just as good a chance he’d be left as he now was. But he was going to finish him off.

Somehow, in the state he was in, this didn’t seem to bother Cortes. He moaned and watched the boy make his choice. There was a selection of nasty looking weapons there, maces, long swords and chains with heavy metal balls on the end, but the boy simply selected a long knife. He studied it, and then held it up to the crowd. Cortes followed his gaze. A man was up there, probably the boy’s handler. He wore a tight fitting white uniform, a blue-grey stylised S on his left breast.

Cortes felt bile rise in his throat.  This boy was with them?!

His vision blurred. He could hear the ships again, the whine of weapons fire and the stomp of metal boots worn by metal soldiers that had torn and burned everything Cortes had ever known. And above them all, watching, that white uniform with the S.

Cortes felt his rage build, he could hear his own ragged breathing, and that brought him back to the gladiator ring, just in time to see the other boy moving cautiously towards him with the knife. But not cautiously enough.

Cortes rolled out of his way, kicking out as he did and catching the boy in the back of the knee. He dropped to a roar of approval from the crowd above.

Cortes didn’t hear them. He threw himself on the boy and snatched at the knife the boy held, not feeling as the blade sliced at his arms and palms, until he managed to slam a fist into the boy’s face, and then slam his knife arm into the ground, releasing the blade. Cortes threw punches in a flurry. “How can you fight for them?! You don’t know what they did! I couldn’t stop them!” Even he could not hear his own words, lost as all sound was in the roar of the crowd.

The boy finally managed to shift his weight beneath Cortes, and threw him off. Cortes landed with a thump and rolled onto his back, and found his hand resting on the knife’s blade. He drew the weapon towards him. The boy threw a punch downwards, his arm arcing wide, and at the same moment Cortes brought the knife up and buried it in the boy’s armpit. He pulled away from it and the knife slipped free, followed by a spurt of blood.

The boy staggered, dropping down across Cortes’ prone body. Cortes didn’t want him anywhere near him. He brought the knife around again, catching the skin of the boy’s belly, pushing upwards to get him off. Instead of shoving the boy off, the sharp blade sliced through skin and tore deep. A wash of blood and warm entrails sluiced from the wound and soaked Cortes’ thin shirt in an instant. He shifted, released the knife, and shoved again, and this time was able to heave the heavier body away from him.

The boy lay completely still, staring unseeing up at the sky.

Cortes staggered to his feet. Blood soaked his front, and his right arm and hands were stained red. He stared at his hands, and felt a shake overcome his whole body.

Again, the crowd roared. Cortes looked up and around him, but did not settle on anyone until he came upon that white uniform that looked down on him from the ring’s very side. He stared at the man, and for a moment they made eye contact.

Cortes felt his rage build again, but there was nothing he could do from down here. As fatigue took him over and he dropped to his knees, he made himself a promise. Fight in the ring he might, but one day he would learn to scale that wall and when he did he would put a knife straight through that S, and stain the white uniform red.
Skyland Fanfic: First Blood
Skyland drabble. Gore warning. o_O

I decided I was going to write something with a younger Cortes in the gladiator ring. Because we all know he was in there at some stage.
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Well I've just recieved the novel writing course I ordered in the mail. So guess what's going to be taking up most of my spare time? D:

I'll probably still be posting up doodles and art stuff. Seeing as that runs on a slightly different wavelength in my brain then writing and might even accompany plotting/character development, etc. But I've been slowing down on the fanfic lately and that will probably stop. It's no longer assisting me with developing my writing skills; that's what the writing course is for.

So here's hoping I will be able to develop my writing skills further maybe up to the point where I can actually publish a novel. Which would be awesome.
  • Mood: Excited
  • Listening to: Creed
  • Drinking: Tea

deviantID

hyperpsychomaniac
Laura
Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
Australia
Current Residence: Hervey Bay
Favourite genre of music: Rock
Wallpaper of choice: Not good with glue. Painted instead.
Favourite cartoon character: Random Virus, from Ace Lightning; Cortes, from Skyland. ^^
Personal Quote: "Meh."
Interests

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:iconswagstag:
swagstag Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Psst, remember me? xD I wrote that piece of crap, Twilight Love...which I'm re-writing. xD
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:iconhyperpsychomaniac:
hyperpsychomaniac Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Heeeeey! :D
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:iconswagstag:
swagstag Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Heya :D How're you doing?!
I've moved skype if you ever want to get back in contact xD 
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:iconhyperpsychomaniac:
hyperpsychomaniac Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, pretty good. :D

I'm still under hyperpsychomaniac. If you want to add me, I'll accept. ;)
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(1 Reply)
:iconfreddykrueger4eva:
Freddykrueger4eva Featured By Owner May 22, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
z10.invisionfree.com/Ace_Light…

Hello HyperPsychomaniac! Its ArcticChillAquaMarine! Come back to the message board :D We miiiissss youuuu
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:iconhyperpsychomaniac:
hyperpsychomaniac Featured By Owner May 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I've visited and made a few posts! :D
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:iconfreddykrueger4eva:
Freddykrueger4eva Featured By Owner May 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I saw :P Im now under as Flightoftherose because I forgot the pass and stuff for my other account ^^;
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:iconhyperpsychomaniac:
hyperpsychomaniac Featured By Owner May 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Okay, cool. Thanks for the link too. :)

(had a slight panic myself trying to sign in and remember what my password was but I remembered XD)
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(1 Reply)
:iconalairis:
Alairis Featured By Owner May 18, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Do you post any of you original writing online?
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:iconhyperpsychomaniac:
hyperpsychomaniac Featured By Owner May 18, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Nah. I figure if its original I should try and make some money from it, but that hasn't happened yet. :)
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