Chrono Shift Chapter 10

Pagan Beliefs

By Tool23X

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

“Alright, I want Reaper One, Two, and Six at this point here,” the leader said, pointing to an area on a crudely drawn map. “Three and Seven will move in from here, and Four, Five and Eight will hide behind the snow hill here and wait for the signal.” Quickly, some arrows were placed on the smudgy paper to help illustrate the site. “Omega Three has reported that the energy source is completely surrounded by the enemy, with a total of fifteen to twenty men. Heavy showers of magic will not work in this situation, because high concentrations of power will set off an explosion. They also have two hostages, Omega Four has discovered, located on the interior of the structure containing the energy source.”

Dalton sighed as he listened to the meeting. Although he had been proud to take up a place in the Omega Reaper, he did not know that he would end up being Reaper Eight, the lowest position of the secret agency. Team Reaper was composed of the eight field agents, and Team Omega held the two former heads of the Holy Guards, the three gurus, two information specialists, which were really glorified scouts and detectives, and finally, two magic specialists. On Team Reaper, the number supposedly indicated nothing, but was really the ranking of the member. On Team Omega, One and Two were the former heads of the Zealian Holy Guards, Three and Four were the information specialists, Five and Six were the magic specialists, and the Seven, Eight, and Nine positions were held by the three gurus. Essentially, Reaper got to do all the dirty work while the purpose of Omega was Intel, planning, and support.

The idea of the whole operation was rather sad, in its own way. Humans tended to mistake one in a million chances with impossibles. They thought that if the odds were so great against something happening, that it surely would never happen. They failed to realize that sooner or later, those chances began to build up. If odds were one in a million against something, and that something was performed a million times, it would eventually happen. That was simple mathematics. A millionth multiplied by a million equaled one, which, in percentages, was the same thing as one hundred percent. That was how the Omega Reaper came into existence. Finally, that ever so slight chance for a mishap occurred, and afterward, Zeal had done something about it to make sure that it never did again. That brings up another problem with the human mind. More often than not, it would only do something about a problem once the problem had already done damage. Security wasn’t enforced until someone reported a crime. So in a nutshell, the mission of the Omega Reaper was to solve major problems that would probably never even present themselves. They trained for that one in a million.

Omega One finally finished blabbing about the drill that would take place later today. The drills always consisted of a bunch of structures made to look like silhouettes of men, and a couple of people from the Omega team to prevent the Reapers from taking too many liberties. The Reapers always had to outsmart the bad guys, complete the objectives, and save the day. Most of the time, some of Team Omega would support their counterparts somehow or another, such as the magic specialist being used as artillery or the information specialists being used as a field scout. Dalton sighed once again as everyone headed toward the teleporter to the continent, ready to take on another exercise.

Transport, equipment, and setup took well over an hour, but soon enough, Dalton was lying on the cold snow behind an embankment, waiting for the signal so that he could attack and get it over with. The signal would be a sudden and obvious change in the wind pattern to anyone that was looking for it, but hopefully, the two men inside the complex at the center of Team Reaper’s setup points would not notice it. A last minute scouting report gave them twelve men outside the facility, which left three to seven on the inside. Everyone was to use high-speed miniature projectile ice pellets to take down the outside targets. These provided fast, clean kills, and were not as flashy as most magic forms, so as not to draw unnecessary attention to them. Team Reaper would storm the entrances on all sides after the targets had been taken out, using cloaking spells to move in undetected. The targets were made of steel, wood, and shoddy work, and it did not take much effort to demolish them. Inside the building containing the energy source, swords would be drawn to take out the remaining enemy forces inside, minus their human leaders, of course, and free the hostages.

“Eight, is that the signal?” Dalton’s partner inquired. Before turning back to Five to answer, he checked the sky above and saw strange variations in the wind pattern.

“Looks like it,” Dalton answered, “I say we go.” They booth glanced at Four, who nodded encouragingly. Five rolled over on his stomach and pushed himself up. Dalton scrambled up the hill, and immediately saw Three and Seven running in from the far side. Dalton searched for a target, and found one almost instantly, but he was too far away to hit it. He rolled down the hill, kicking up snow powder to disguise his figure, and also getting the snow inside his clothes. At the bottom, he recovered quickly, pointed his finger, and shot out and ice pellet, hitting the object in what should have been a shoulder. The wood on the figure splintered, but the metal wasn’t damaged.

Four had a farther position to fire from than Eight did, but still managed to impale the shape in the top center area, signifying a headshot and stealing Dalton’s point. He quickly turned to see another object, and moved to send out another crystal pellet, but Seven, far away on the side of the subject opposite him, beat him to the punch.

Five had slipped on the hill, and fell behind the others, so he had only a slim chance of getting a kill. He cast a combination of all the six colored energies, causing a prismatic change in the air and bending the light so that he became indistinguishable from his surroundings. With his cloaking spell up, he rushed toward the entrance in the distance.

One, Two, and Six had not received the signal, and were still waiting for the sign to come in. Six decided to sneak a look outside of the small trench that had been dug for the purpose of the exercise, and saw that his teammates were already into the heavy action. He called to his partners, who jumped out from their backdrop to join the assault, already aiming for targets. Two downed the one closest to the group almost instantly, with the ice bullet hitting between the imaginary eyes. Soon after, One dropped a further target in a similar way. Six was not as confident with his aim as his associates, and jettisoned five of the ice spades in rapid succession, all hitting somewhere in the chest area.

Three had impressively found two targets in relatively close proximity, and through the use of both hands, taken them both down at the same time with the dangerous blue magic. Pivoting quickly, he turned to see his partner, Seven, take down his second enemy of the day. Not far to the left, Three could see Six moving toward him, and there were two targets between the team members. Six fired off several of the ice pellets, mutilating the wooden parts of the structure, but one of the icicles missed over the shoulder, and sped all the way past Three, missing his ear by less than six inches, close enough to hear the air going by it. Swearing, he took down the other target between him and his comrade very quickly.

Eight and Four were very close together, and they found the last two targets swiftly. Four signaled Dalton to take out the one closer to his side. Dalton obeyed, and this time, Reaper Eight hit his target with a larger than usual chunk of ice, nearly cleaving the entire head off. To his side, Four executed a perfect shot right where the nose should be in an actual human. After searching around quickly for a few seconds, the entire team realized that every silhouette had been destroyed, and they all cloaked themselves, running toward the compound.

Five, being cloaked and running toward the building long before anyone else, blew the door inward with an explosive fire spell and charged through the fresh opening. Inside, he saw that the flying door had caught a target square in the torso, causing him to fly as well. The fake enemy hit the wall with enough force to kill any normal human from the severe whiplash that would snap the neck, and a half second later, the form was smashed into pieces when the door crushed it against the wall, tearing a decent hole in that as well. All that remained from the mayhem was a twisted pile of metal lying across a ten-foot area. Through the hole formed in the wall, he could see one of the hostages with a guard right next to her. The fake hostage did not look much like the little girl it was supposed to represent. Five cast a holy spell that disintegrated the steel terrorist, leaving it with gaping holes.

One, Two, Four, and Eight were traveling in a group, and as soon as they crashed though the windows on the other side of the structure, they dispelled the cloaking so as not to have an accidental training death. One turned and caused an explosion, blowing one of the two targets to the right side into tiny pieces of shrapnel, which were blocked by an ice barrier created by Four in anticipation of the fallout. Dalton used an ice block to smash the second figure’s head into the ground.

Six joined Three and Seven and became the last group to enter. The three ran through a narrow hallway, and as soon as they turned the corner, Six sliced apart the antagonist that had appeared out of nowhere. Only fractions of a second later, the swords of Three and Seven followed, also crashing down on the adversary, leaving the enemy in pieces on the floor. They turned another corner, and much to their dismay, saw Omega One and Omega Two, the leaders of the entire outfit, standing there over a dead hostage, Five standing behind them.

“What the hell is going on here?” Three asked.

Omega One responded, “Five blew apart the first door a little to noisily, so we decided to execute the hostage. Otherwise, the entire operation went incredibly well. You guys are pretty damn good, I’ll admit that. But you need to get better, so you don’t slip up like that next time.” As soon as he finished, the remaining members of the Reaper team ran into the room, wondering the same thing the other group had.

Omega Two interrupted the commotion, “We’ll debrief you on everything that we saw and do the analysis later, but for now, we have more important matters. Let’s just say that the queen’s water broke.”

“The hell?” Dalton asked, “We never went over that code phrase.”

“No, no, no, Eight, remember how the baby dropped the other day?”

“Sorry, but I don’t think I’ve heard that one either.”

“No, you jackass! The queen has gone into labor!”

Dalton moaned, “Look, you can’t just make up these code phrases without telling anyone about them, otherwise you… Oh… Oh my!” Dalton finished as he finally understood the situation, and Omega Two began to calm down after the ridiculous act of stupidity that Reaper Eight had just presented. Afterward, everyone was ordered back to Zeal Palace to make the final preparations for the child.

Augur had been using the new rapiers nonstop ever since he received them two weeks ago. At first, they were very hard to get used to, being just a little bit bigger than the old ones in all the dimensions. The dreamstone edging also added extra weight on, and as a result, they were very hard to maneuver. Within a few days, however, Augur adjusted to the heaviness, and he now had better arm strength, not to mention endurance. As far as he could tell, they performed flawlessly. Candor entered the room while Augur was sitting down and admiring the craftsmanship.

“Hey Augur, I thought it might interest you to know that the Queen finally had the baby yesterday. The new prince weighs six pounds, six ounces, and is looking healthy, despite some complications that occurred during the labor.”

“What kind of complications?” Augur questioned, still holding his weapons.

“I’m not sure, they didn’t say anything more than that. The rumors are still flying around that the baby didn’t belong to the king. You’ve heard the accusations of Queen Zeal supposedly having a one night stand not long after his death, out of some drunken depression, but I can’t decide.”

Augur finally put down the short-swords, and without looking up, answered, “You know that this whole thing started because of the time from the king’s death until today. Yesterday was what, January 15, 12,008 BC? The date of the king’s death was April 3, 12,009 BC, which I remember mostly because I happened to be there when it happened. That’s only about two weeks overdue, and yet everyone is treating it like impossible.”

Candor made no sign to indicate acceptance of the theory. “Do you think that it’s King Zeal’s baby?”

“Well, if I was gonna kill myself, I’d certainly screw my wife’s brains out beforehand.”

“And you wouldn’t feel guilty about that?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t be keeping that feeling around with me for very long, now, would I?” Candor hated to admit it, but Augur was right, in every sense of the words that he had spoken. Augur really didn’t censor his thoughts much, especially since he had gotten used to Candor being around. After a long silence, in which Candor appeared to be somewhat disgusted, Augur chimed back in. “So, does the new prince have a name yet?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard two possible names. One name belonged to his father, or maybe I should say his supposed father, and the other is,” Candor trailed off, “Janus.”

“Janus? What’s the story behind that name? Does it have any sort of sentimental or mythological meaning or anything?

“I can’t say, Augur. I’ve never heard of that name before, either. Another interesting thing, he’s pretty bald right now, which a couple of doctors were disappointed about. If he had the natural blue hair like his father, then they could be pretty sure whose baby he is. Of, course, if he has a blonde color, that doesn’t rule out anything, considering Queen Zeal and Schala both use dye to show off their royal status. It’s really just genetics, some members of the royal family get the blue hair, and some don’t.”

“I never thought about checking the hair. I guess that’s why the big brains up there get the luxurious lifestyle,” Augur reasoned.

Three of the men that lived what Augur called luxurious lifestyles were the gurus. Belthasar, Melchior and Gaspar were in a heated argument over various theories that each of them had. Gaspar had recently been rambling about how time left a trace, sort of like an animal footprint, and that there should be a way to track the trail and unlock the secrets of time. Belthasar mumbled about the future sophistications of machines and also about something he called the light barrier, referring to the speed of light and its apparent impregnability. During the discussion, Melchior came up with a discovery he had found when reading old documents that caught everyone’s attention in the room.

“Belthasar, it looks like you may have been right about that Ridge Mountain exposition that took place, what, almost two years ago. Lavos is connected to that place somehow.”

Gaspar was the one who reacted most surprised, since he thought everything about that botched mission had been blown way out of proportion. “Really, how do you figure?”

“Well,” Melchior began, “I have been studying the report, and it seems that even on the continent, plant life continues to flourish in areas, and the animals there have been severely mutated. Plus, everybody is pretty sure that place had something to do with the origin of Mt. Woe, possibly the place that the landmass was taken from in the failed attempt to raise an island to the sky. If they tried to elevate the mountain the same way we succeeded in doing it all those thousands of years ago, that means they used a lot of energy from Lavos.”

Belthasar sat on the plush, red-velvet carpet, puzzled. “The animals have been severely mutated, and that could be a result of the energy from Lavos in that area.”

Gaspar responded skeptically, “It’s never been proven that Lavos’ energy exists in that area. All we know is that some sort of intoxicating radiation exists on the Ridge Mountain, which does appear to be detrimental to all life that comes into contact with it. Besides, wouldn’t we all have major deformations and defects by now if we were living with such dangerous power?”

Belthasar sighed reluctantly, “The energy patterns there are too similar to the ones here for it to be coincidental. Either these radiation emissions divergently evolved from the same source…”

Melchior corrected him, saying, “They did evolve divergently, because, like you said, they are way to similar. The question at hand is whether or not Lavos is the source in which these discharges came from. Since we know Lavos is associated with Zeal Kingdom, I’d bet that it also had to do with the alterations on the mountain.”

“And if Lavos did stimulate the radiation secretions on Ridge Mountain, what exactly does that mean for us?” Gaspar asked.

Melchior responded, “It means that we could be in some very serious trouble.”

“In any case, “Belthasar though aloud, “This certainly calls for another exposition.”

Gaspar snarled, “Do you really think we could do that, after everything that went wrong the last time we tried that. Remember the armies of men lost in the giant conflict with the snowbeasts? That’s just one of the many misfortunes that happened last time.”

Melchior retorted, “Yeah, but this time around, we can go straight to the mountain, because we can use the Blackbird to our advantage. Not to mention that we also have the Omega Reaper to protect us. I bet they’re just itching to have an actual mission to take on, and they’re the best men that Zeal has. If they can’t get us through it, no one can.”

Gaspar pondered his options for a second. “Well, it would do me some good to get out of this place for awhile. I can ask Queen Zeal about it in a couple days, but we should probably stay around and help with her duties and her baby for awhile before we set out.”

“What were you going to ask me about?” The three gurus turned around and saw that Zeal had entered the room toward the end of the conversation.

“It’s a fairly long story about how we’re conniving to use the Blackbird on a trip to Ridge Mountain so that we can find out more information about Lavos. We’ve been reviewing this thing for too many months, and something’s up, “Melchior stated. “I’ll let you in on all the details sometime, but we won’t be going until you’ve fully recovered from the pregnancy.”

“Until I’m fully recovered? What the hell does that mean? Pregnancy is not some soul sucking disease that cripples those that it doesn’t kill. Pregnancy is perhaps the most magical time in a woman’s life.” Zeal trailed off at the end, and her eyes sunk into their sockets as she remembered the pain that she had gone through finding out about the child, much less the death of her beloved husband. She had never been prepared to raise another child, especially not by herself, and furthermore, she wasn’t prepared to lead a whole kingdom. Perhaps the part that made everything so difficult was the enigma that surrounded his death, and she couldn’t be sure of what really happened after all the tales she’d been told. “I’m sorry,” Zeal said, almost in tears as she placed a hand on her forehead and sniffled. Belthasar moved to comfort her, but Zeal pushed him away. “No, I’ve got to get over this. It’s bad for the kingdom, and for my health.”

Gaspar agreed, “Maybe we shouldn’t keep bringing it up. Anyway, have you finally decided on a name?”

Zeal wiped her eyes, “Yeah, we’re going with Janus. I guess I’m kinda lucky, because Schala has taken a liking to her new brother right away. I have a feeling that she’s going to help me out a lot.”

“You can be sure that we’ll always be here if you need us,” Melchior reassured. Zeal gave him her thanks and left to spend some time with her son, and the gurus continued their disputes about each other’s theorems.

As more months passed, Belthasar talked the queen in letting them take the Blackbird for two weeks to the sight of the strange activity. Everyone made plans for what research would be done, and how everything would be done. The entire Omega Reaper team would be deployed for support and reconnaissance. The Blackbird would hold more than enough supplies for them to survive time periods exponential to their planned visit. It took forever to get all the paperwork through the legislature, but finally, a day after the first birthday of Janus, everyone was ready for departure. The nights before, hours were spent loading up the aircraft and refueling the ship. A few minor errors were found during the engine testing phases prior to takeoff, but they were fixed very easily, and did not delay their leave. At noon on January 16, 12,007 BC, the thrusters lifted the Blackbird off the docking bay outside the walls surrounding Zeal Palace.

There were no complications during the flight, and it took just over fifty minutes to reach the destination, thanks to a strong wind blowing against them. The pilot was forced to circle three times, because no reasonable landing sites were found. The spot they picked out didn’t leave much room for error, but the pilot had lots of experience, and landed without incident. Team Reaper left the jet before anyone else to clear out any danger, but nothing that could do any damage to the ship or the humans was found. Omega One followed Omega Two out, and the gurus came shortly thereafter. Omega members Three through Six stayed on the Blackbird, as they would not be needed until Reaper secured the area and camp had been set up.

Gaspar had come up with a better system of shorthand for Omega Reaper that also avoided embarrassing confusion when the numbers were called out. The first letter of his or her team name followed by his or her personal number made up their personal codename. Team Reaper had the “R” prefix while Omega took “O.” As an example, Reaper Eight, also known as Dalton, could now be referred to as R8. This way, when number Four was called out, a member of each team did not come running when only one was wanted.

Team Reaper set up the perimeter in record time, and soon Melchior began plotting the different paths that each group would take, and promised to allow limited hunting of any animal that posed a threat to the mission or lives of team members. This privilege was guaranteed to be abused, especially by the bloodthirsty Reaper team. Everyone gleamed with the excitement of being on an actual mission, and not just running around on training exercises.

“Alright,” the Guru of Life announced, “As near as I can tell, we’re about a mile from the ridge in which this mountain is named after. We’ve got an upward trail on the mountain as well as a downward one, so I want the Reaper team to divide into two groups, even and odd, and spilt up. O3, O4, O5, and O6 will travel west, taking them to the ridge, where they will be gathering the same kinds of information that the Reaper teams are searching for. The rest of us will tend to the ship and do our research around the landing area. Everyone will report back here in two days, but if you get into a jam, feel free to drop in. You guys are trained to survive in this stuff, and you already have everything that you need, so you can get going.”

Belthasar and the leaders of Omega, O1 and O2, gave the individual groups further instructions, even though they had been briefed extensively. Each team would take soil samples and observe the flora and fauna of their designated areas, and tools had been given to everyone to take readings on things such as atmospheric pressure and chemical content. Only the gurus really knew how they worked, since they had invented them, but the team members had enough information to get by on.

Dalton, belonging to the second Reaper team, was not particularly thrilled to be doing as much work as he had to, but admitted that he liked it better than the usual training exercises. His team headed south along the snowy trail, which would give them a harder time getting back to the ship if something went horribly wrong, but no one said that missions were supposed to be cakewalks. Every two hours they stopped to gather more information, followed by a half hour of rest. The weather conditions were ideal for work on the continent, and the wind was down to a gentle breeze with little snowfall interfering with their duties. Going to the bathroom still gave all the men chills, and Dalton became upset because he had been the only one to fail writing his name in the snow. Other than that, the voyage was uneventful.

Whereas Team Reaper had no female members, Omega had three of them, and all were part of the exploration group headed toward the ridge. Both of the information specialists, O3 and O4, and one of the magic specialists, O6, were women. O5 believed that he was a very lucky man, at least luckier than any of the other men in Omega Reaper at that time. His team would not have to travel nearly as far as the other teams during the first two days of the mission, but there was no clearing leading to the canyon that split the mountain in half, and the route became impassable at many points, forcing them to detour. The division of Omega manning this route came into contact with hostile creatures on several occasions, but defeated them easily, thanks to the powerful magic users. When they arrived at the trench, they finished their job, but everyone spent time enjoying the view of the vast skies over the ridge. They had to do a lot of documentation, because when they looked into and across the canyon, they could see things that other groups would not. After spending the night under the stars, O5 nearly got lucky with the other magic specialist, cut short only by an interruption by one of the other female cadets. The next day, they headed back the same way they came.

The first Reaper team, consisting of the odd numbered members, had much more difficulty than the other groups. The uphill ascent became murderously grueling, and they hit the worst parts of the weather. As a result, their resting periods were longer and the working periods shorter, causing them to lack much of the information that they had set out to gather. Matters worsened incredibly when a bear-like creature with three heads jumped on R3 from behind, tearing a deep gash into the tissue of the shoulder and separating the bone from the socket. He could not be healed properly until they returned to the Blackbird, and he decided to continue on his mission. The team also got into several heated firefights with monsters, some of which reached over to the insane side of dangerous. Tense moments included a beast nearly ripping off R7’s head, stopped only by a magic spell that sent him careening off a cliff, and a clawing that R5 received in which the talons of a ferocious carnivore fell inches from the heart. Eventually, the team had gone through enough, and headed back early for repairs.

The next day was spent analyzing the information gathered by the three exposition teams, and just as Melchior and Belthasar expected, something wasn’t right. Maps of the different routes had been drawn out, littered with symbols in a seemingly haphazard manner, which helped the gurus keep track of everything that happened and where it did.

“Alright, I’m ready to admit that I was wrong and you guys were right,” Gaspar conceded, regretfully. “There’s a lot of activity occurring in the upper levels of the mountain, as well as toward the ridge. And the levels of this ‘radiation’ are increasing slightly the further up we go, not to mention closer to the canyon.”

“Right,” Belthasar agreed. “So we’ll be moving the Blackbird up the mountain quite a way before we send the teams out on another suicide mission.”

“Belthasar, they’re not suicide missions,” Melchior argued, “These guys are trained to survive this sort of thing. Besides, it’s not like we’re trying to take out the mountain, we’re just collecting data.”

“Collecting data in this god forsaken place is like searching for a piece of meat in the mouth of a dragon with an atrocious appetite and a nasty toothache.” Belthasar complained. “Any way you look at it, it’s not a good idea. One group sustained two decent-sized injuries, and another member was pretty damn close to getting his head chopped off. We gotta lay off the objectives a little bit, or…”

“Somebody’s gonna start crying,” Gaspar finished.

”Exactly!” Belthasar exclaimed.

After several more excruciating hours of analysis, the three gurus eventually came to several conclusions. Some of the data would have to wait to be examined when they got back to Zeal, but the stuff that was needed was completed quickly. The radiation sources that had been the basis for the mission had showed stronger signs toward the ridge and closer to the summit of the mountain. After the soldiers received their two days of rest, the Blackbird took off and searched for another location for research. Belthasar selected a spot more than twice the current altitude, and a flat landing area was surprisingly easy to find. Two more days of research, and two more of assessment, bringing the total to eight days, indicated the same thing that the first scouting period did. The events of the mountain were more frequent and intense, with stronger emissions of radiation, towards the peak of Ridge Mountain and by the ridge that it was named for. The next four days would be spent on the far side of the peak to pinpoint the location where the occurrences were the strongest, and thereby finding the source of the activity. Just as Belthasar, Gaspar, and Melchior guessed, these results brought the same conclusion as the previous ones. They agreed that the final days of their two week mission would be spend directly at the summit of Ridge Mountain so that a final solution could be reached. The gurus already had at least two months worth of data to sort through when they got back, and if it turned out that Lavos was involved in, as Gaspar had called it! , “The proverbial death of an entire geographical region,” then the Kingdom of Zeal could be in serious danger.

The entire Reaper team was ready for action, despite the injuries that had been received earlier in the mission. They would lead the way from the Blackbird to the peak and back. Everyone had been told what to expect, even though no one knew what would really be out there. The gurus would accompany the rest of the team on the trip, as well as the leaders of Omega Reaper. Only the pilots remained on the Blackbird, leaving it vulnerable.

Dalton sat with the other members of Reaper, already equipped with everything he needed, and desperately seeking some real action. Almost everyone had seen some major battle except for him. He ran his fingers up and down the edge of his sword to relieve his nervousness. Suddenly he felt a jolt, and he discerned that the aircraft had begun its descent. Less than a minute later, the ship touched down softly on the snow and everyone began pouring out of it.

Nothing could have prepared any of the men for the surrounding environment. No living vegetation existed, but withered dead trees and shrubs entombed them, colored with a sinister blackened hue. The snow on the ground did not look like snow, as it was a dirty gray that almost shimmered when one looked at it. In substance, it was closer to soot than snow, as it crumpled and had no hold. The sun appeared as nothing more than a dim and distant star behind the blanket of dark clouds. Though Melchior’s clock read high noon, it looked more like dusk. The temperature dropped consistently, and winds were picking up from the moment they exited the Blackbird.

Team Reaper assembled in a group, forming a semicircle around the members of Omega. If any animals could exist in such a hellish environment, then they would surely be hellish themselves. Everyone had their guard up, prepared for battle with the creatures. The trip would only be a mile and a half uphill, but the terrain would make the journey difficult, if not impossible. When the men found the closest thing that came to a path in their area, they started marching upward.

“Look at this,” the Guru of Life exclaimed in astonishment. “This mountain is so desolate, so devoid of life. Satan himself could not have forged such a place.”

Gaspar agreed with Melchior. “Indeed,” he nodded, shivering vigorously, “Truly a place of bereavement. Welcome to Death Peak.”

The walkway used by the team had constant obstructions. A few times small cliffs had to be scaled for advancement, and naturally the older gurus had trouble with this. The magical abilities of several had to be combined to help elevate them over the sides of the rock faces. The men could only manage a thousand feet every hour because of the rough trail and the adverse weather conditions. “I bet we could get up there a lot faster if those old geezers weren’t slowing us down,” R6 said to his partner, R5. Dalton also laughed at this.

The first half of the journey went without incident, despite a length of four and a half hours. The second half, however, was anything but pleasant. The trouble began when half of the group had managed to climb to the top of a fifty-foot wall of stone blocking the way, and another quarter was in the process of making it up. Dalton and Cortez, also known as R1, were the last two on the bottom along with the gurus. Melchior, Gaspar, and Belthasar would go up before them, so Dalton and Cortez could cover the rear from an assault.

There were two of the monsters, standing nearly ten feet tall, with an almost gorilla shaped body. They had tough, scaly skin colored a greenish brown with an exoskeleton of sorts covering the body. The creatures stood on two hind legs with two forelimbs extending from the torso, and a long tail that must have been used for balancing out the weight of the animals, which had hunchbacks from leaning forward. Other than abnormally large hands and feet, the most distinguishing feature was a set of three heads with faces like warthogs.

“Hey, Dalton, we’ve got some company,” R1 commented to his partner. Dalton turned his head to see the beasts scavenging for food behind rocks and sheets of ice. The humans hadn’t been spotted yet.

“Yeah, and that company is pretty ugly,” Dalton commented. “Well, you think we can take them?”

“I say we let them go about their business unless they threaten us. In the mean time, tell the gurus to get up there,” Cortez decided. Almost as if on cue, the three elders began to float magically, climbing the cliff without ever touching it, thanks to the support of the men who had already made it to the top.

A deep grunting alerted the two men, and for the next fifteen seconds they listened to the nearby monsters use some form of communication. “They know we’re here,” Dalton observed, “And they look hungry.” The snarls became louder and angrier as the beasts came closer, and they had the two Team Reaper members in their sights. As soon as R1 and R8 realized what was happening, they drew their swords and prepared to strike then. “I got the one on the left, you take the other one!” Dalton yelled.

The first giant gnome reached Dalton and swung with the overly large arm at him. Dalton rolled out of the way, dropping out of the way of the swipe, and covering himself with the soot-like snow. From his new position, Dalton had a good shot at the leg, and did not wish to waste an opportunity. He batted at the brute with the broadsword he had recently adopted, and the blade connected beneath the kneecap. The scales and bony exoskeleton provided the beast with more protection than Dalton had anticipated, and the attack left nothing more than a scratch. The gorilla creature became annoyed by this assault, and tried pounding the man below him into a puddle of blood and mush on the ground. As the fist came down, Dalton held the sword overhead, and the hand dropped right on top of it. The blade acted like a stint and prevented the fist from crushing him, but the power of the swing was too great to be stopped, and Dalton barely escaped as the blade broke in half and the hand dropped into the snow, leaving a giant handprint.

Cortez did not have any more luck with his assailant than Dalton did, at least not at first. His weapon of choice was more of a katana than anything else, and much weaker than the sword Dalton had used. The blade failed to even penetrate the layers of skin on the monster. Cortez couldn’t defend himself against an incoming elbow, and the blow knocked him a couple feet backward. He landed on his backside before tumbling over twice and twisting his ankle slightly. Standing wasn’t the least bit comfortable, but he held on anyway, still prepared to fight. The creature moved toward Cortez and clawed at the ground, but R1 cast a black antigravity spell on the ground and floated high above it. He used some more black energy to form a magnetic field, which propelled him straight toward the beast on a downward angle. He swung the sword with perfect timing and cleaved right through the face of the head on the right side the animal. A hard piece of skull jarred the blade, and R1 lost his composure and hit the snow headfirst. The katana fell to the ground next to him covered with the blood of the beast.

Dalton had no weapon with which to fight off his attacker, so he had to revert to magic for fighting. He used the cloaking spell he had learned to conceal himself from the monster and moved quickly to confuse him. Once he reached the creature’s back, he dropped the spell, which consumed large amounts of stamina, and prepared a lightning attack. After charging for long enough to make the blast pack a punch, he extended his arm in the air. A half dozen bolts dropped from the sky and collided around his fist, swirling and dancing about his outstretched arm. Pointing at the creature, another group of lightning bolts jumped from Dalton’s body to the spine of the beast, and its heads immediately jerked to the sky and howled in agony. The light radiating from the streaks in the sky increased as Dalton put more force into the lightning barrage, and the monster began to glow intensly with shades of bright yellow. When Dalton could put out no more firepower, he released the spell and dropped to one knee to rest. His opponent did the same.

Cortez had regained his awareness after the hit he took from the fall. One of the warthog heads of the gorilla creature had a long cut at least a foot long between the eyes that had penetrated at least six inches deep, enough for parts of the skull to shatter apart and drive themselves into the brain, which should have caused death. Blood seeped out of the wound, and the destroyed face was covered with sticky red goo, which ran down the neck and decorated the chest. Cortez concluded that merely taking down a single head wouldn’t do the trick, and to exterminate his enemy, he would have to take down all three. The blade of his katana alone could not cause enough damage, so he charged it with a holy spell. The sword glowed with the white magic coursing through the metal, heating it and generating an almost godlike vitality. He dashed and slashed at the leg of the wounded creature and severed the appendage in the mid thigh area. The monster collapsed on its own weight and landed hard enough to dig itself a crater in the dirty snow.

Dalton recovered before his enemy did, and charged more magic in preparation for the next move by the angered beast. After it recuperated, it turned to face Reaper Eight, albeit its tortured appearance. Dalton released a wind spell, and the ogre was lifted off the ground and flew into the mountain of rock behind him.

Above, R2 was the last man reaching the top of the cliff by scaling it. When the monster struck the bottom of the rock face, it caused a tremor big enough to shake loose chunks of ice all the way at the top. R2 lost his grip on a stone and tumbled downward toward the fight ensuing below. The fall would surely have killed him, had an alert member of the Omega team used the same magic spell on him that had been used to float the gurus to the top. Reaper Two hung suspended for a few moments, and before the other members of the exposition team had a chance to bring him up, he realized the situation below and cast a potent yellow spell. The icy cliff rumbled violently before an entire chunk of the hill was removed. R2 could not hold onto the spell for very long, as it took massive amounts of energy to keep such a heavy object hanging in the air, and he dropped the chunk of rock and ice, which was more than twenty five feet across and weighed several tons, directly on top of the violent animal that had been shoved against the wall by Dalton’s wind spell. The weight from the object, not to mention the velocity acquired in the fall, crushed the gorilla-warthog hybrid and buried him in a grave of stone and snow. Shortly after, R2 was brought back to the top.

The effects of the member of Team Reaper were not yet finished, however. The missing pieces of the wall put an extreme amount of gravity on the newly formed overhang, and it couldn’t support itself. Another large section of the ice cliff fell apart and crumbled downward. Dalton sprinted away from the avalanche as boulder after boulder crashed behind him, further burying his adversary. An upsurge of projectile rocks ejaculated up from the impact of the fallen mountainside, and Dalton dived to the ground as speeding bullets of stone zipped past his head. Seconds later, snow tumbling down the hills buried him as well.

The avalanche startled Cortez more than it did anyone else, even though he had moved far enough away to be out of the danger it brought. The injured brute next to him saw this as an opportunity to strike, and punched at Cortez’s head. Cortez had been looking the other way as a result of the follow through from his previous hit, and he didn’t even see the attack coming. The oversized fist of the beast connected at the base of the skull, and Cortez’s neck snapped backward instantaneously. A combination of the blow from the beast and the whiplash received as a result of the force snapped the spinal cord between the first and second vertebrae. Cortez’s eyes shot open in sudden horror and his jaw dropped involuntarily. Hundredths of a second later, the follow through of the punch from the monster took the head clear off the body and sent it flying through the air, a piece of the brain stem dangling out behind it. About ten feet away, the decapitated head smashed into a jagged rock spike sticking out of the ground, and the bones of the skull disintegrated into thousands of tiny fragments. The head exploded as if a pound of gunpowder had been lit from the inside of it. Pieces of gray matter scattered for long distances, and a large part of the cerebral cortex and an area of the cerebellum tumbled through the air off the side of a cliff. The rock in which the head hit was splattered with thick reddish-whitish sludge. The lifeless body of Cortez plummeted to the ground.

Twenty yards away, Dalton lay hopelessly under several feet of snow. The mound of ice inhibited his movement, he couldn’t see, and he began to suffocate without any oxygen. To melt the snow would require too much energy and time, much more than Dalton had, so a fire spell was out of the question. Red magic did come to his aid, however, as he created an explosion off to the side of his cold tomb. Large crystals of icy material were blown sideways, and soon after, the above parts of the snow caved back in on Dalton. Above him, a crack of sky appeared through the top of the prison holding him. He created a wall of ice up through the opening, and then forcefully separated the opening until it was big enough so that he could move around. Dalton quickly scrambled out the hole, and discovered the fate of his comrade soon after. The other gorilla-warthog was still alive, although missing a leg, and one of the heads looked like it had been dismantled. Dalton was too drained to fight, and the beast was too injured to move toward Dalton. Instead of bothering to fight, Reaper Eight did his best to clamber up the slope that had been formed when the piece of the mountain had been torn apart. R5 was the first of his teammates to meet him when he got to the top.

“Dalton, I thought you were a goner when that pile of snow hit you. How the hell did you manage to get out of there?”

R3 ran up do Dalton soon afterward, “What’s going on? We didn’t have much of a view from where we were. Where’s Cortez?” Dalton signed, and fell to the ground, still trying to recover from exhaustion. Reaper Three gave Dalton the time he needed to rest, and then demanded again, “Well, what happened to him?”

Dalton pushed the air out of his lungs in such a way that it sounded like a choked cough. “He’s dead. “I didn’t see him go, but,” Dalton stopped and coughed again, this time sniffling to keep the mucous from dripping out his nose, “but, his brains are…” Dalton again paused. “His brains are all over the goddamned mountain.” Everyone that had gathered around the fallen man gasped when they heard about the death of the best man on the team and the leader of Team Reaper. It was a somber day, learning that if even the best in the world couldn’t handle the mission, the rest of them had justification for being nervous. Everyone stopped for a couple hours to get some rest and say their goodbyes to their good friend Cortez. The men of the Omega Reaper had spent so much time working together that losing a team member was like losing a family member. Losing the leader of Team Reaper was like losing a father for that particular team. He was one of the founding members of the operation, and one of the only men that thought such a group could be possible. As the men were preparing to depart again, Dalton walked up to Melchior. “Old Timer, this damn crazy goose hunt you sent us on better pay off big time, because we’re all tired, cold, hungry, and we just lost our best man. How can collecting data and fricking research be worth all this!?”

Melchior sighed, “You’re right, Dalton. Nothing can justify an unnecessary death. But we’ve come this far, and giving up now wouldn’t be what Cortez wanted.” I’m sorry, but I believe that we should to go on.”

“Yeah, that’s just like you, Melchior,” Dalton retorted, “You would think something like that.” He walked away in disgust, joining the remaining members of Team Reaper and continuing on the journey to the top of Ridge Mountain. Dalton wasn’t the only one mad at the gurus for the glitch in the mission, and nearly half the men, most of them from Reaper, made snide remarks at some point during the next hour.

Melchior, Belthasar, and Gaspar were having a conversation about the mission in order to take their minds off of the mishap. The creatures that had attacked Dalton and Cortez had been the only animals seen this far up the mountain at the time they were discovered, but since then, strangely mutated beasts had been showing up more and more frequently. It seemed as if the toxins that were inhibiting life were slowly beginning to encourage it as the levels grew. The suspected radiation was very real this close to the hypothetical source, and it hung in the air the way humidity does on a hot summer day. Some of the men complained of their skin burning or itching, probably as a result from the exposure.

Another hour passed, and the men covered another thousand or so feet. More cliffs had been scaled, and more paths had been crossed. At one point, everyone actually had to cross a part of the ridge splitting the mountain in two because the route on their side was unable to be navigated. The men stopped briefly to rest, and then yet another hour was spent climbing and hiking and inching forward.

During one rest period, the sun set on the far side of the mountainside, and Gaspar reported a time of around eight. They could be at the top of the landform in little more than an hour from when they left their current campsite. Death Peak was becoming a name commonly used by the members of Omega Reaper, because the further up the crag they traveled, the more fitting it became. Indeed, death surrounded them, seemed to be spying on them, waiting patiently for the moment when it could jump out and tear them apart.

The men again departed, this time traveling in the pitch black night, with the only light coming from the magical fires held by O5 and O6, whose specialty happened to be magic. Within fifteen minutes, Reaper Two became violently ill, puking all over the snowy ground as his skin turned a pale white and his eyes started to drop into sullen rings. Unable to leave another teammate, R5 and R7 volunteered to carry him the rest of the way. The radiation sprayed them like waves on the beach, and everyone felt the effect of them. The men were tired and uncoordinated. Still they pushed on, knowing that their destination lay just ahead.

Finally, after ascending one hill, the highest elevated point on Ridge Mountain, the overhang that Gasper had so appropriately named Death Peak came into view. A mere hundred and fifty feet away, Belthasar calculated by doing some quick trigonometry. About half of the Omega Reaper opted to stay at that point and let the others, the ones feeling the least ill, go on. The gurus, Dalton, R3, R6, O1, O4, and O5 were the only ones who continued to the peak. The journey was not difficult, as the wind had not been a factor for the entire trip, even though it had picked up considerably since nightfall. “Fascinating,” Belthasar commented, “Look up there, near the edge! We haven’t seen a plant in the last three or so hours, and up there is a sapling. There is no kind of nourishment that it could be living off of, and yet, life flourishes.”

“I wouldn’t say that pathetic thing is flourishing,” Dalton argued. “Is three inches tall, bent over, with a single leaf considered thriving?”

“The only thing that could be feeding it would be the contamination from Lavos’ energy,” Gaspar reasoned. “Granted, we still aren’t sure if Lavos is causing this, but I’m no longer doubting it. What else has enough power to transform an entire mountain into a series of mutations?”

“Get out the instruments, men. We have to take the final samples, and then we can all head home,” Melchior said. No one disagreed about leaving as soon as possible. Dalton leaned over the edge of the cliff to see that Death Peak sat nearly two miles off the ground, with nothing in between. An eerie red glow occupied the space underneath him, and nightmarish rumblings were coming from below.

“Is it possible that this is the place where Lavos first entered the earth?” Belthasar asked. I mean, if that theory is actually true, what other explanation is there for his strong presence and influence in this place?”

“Do you mean the theory that Lavos is an extraneous creature that came from somewhere in the heavens? That theory is just a myth, devised long ago by our civilization when we couldn’t understand how our world works,” Gaspar responded harshly. “I still believe that Lavos was always a part of our world, that has existed since its infancy.”

“If that were so, then what would clarify why Lavos would harm it?” Melchior pondered. He had spent most of his time looking at the sky, trying to see through the clouds in the dark of night. Mysterious things were happening up there as well.

“I think that there are some things that we aren’t supposed to know about, that we probably don’t want to know about. Some things are better left unscathed, buried in their own tombs, never to be discovered. These don’t need to be changed, and are perfect just the way they are. I believe that wielding a new power can only bring about a new destruction.” Belthasar, the Guru of Life, was referring to the power of Lavos, and he began thinking that tapping into him eons ago might not have been in the best interest of the kingdom after all.

Five minutes later, the men received a presently unexpected surprise. Overhead, the engines of the Blackbird suddenly became audible, and soon the flying machine made a pass over the top of Death Peak. No more than thirty seconds passed before it came back, and it gradually slowed to a hover above the cliff. The underside cargo doors opened, and the copilot slid down a fifty-foot rope to join the men below. The gurus stood in astonishment, as well as a bit of anger, because of the orders that were not followed. Dalton was the first to ask what they were doing.

“We ran into a little trouble back there, mainly, an avalanche, and we had to get out fast to save our hides,” the copilot informed. “So we came by to pick you up. I need one of you to climb up the rope and jump in the ship, and the rest will grab on, so the guy in the ship can use the crank we have set up and reel us in.”

“There’s just one problem with that,” Gaspar explained. “We have a lot of sick soldiers over there, some sort of effect from a poison in the air, and they won’t be able to hold on.” Thinking about a possible solution for a few seconds, he added, “Boy, we’re pretty much screwed over, the way I see it. Anyone have any ideas?”

“Damn, the only thing I can think of is if everyone grabs one of the sick soldiers and holds onto them when we drag them up,” Melchior suggested. Belthasar didn’t like the idea very much.

“That’s too risky. Everyone is tired, and the chances of someone slipping off are just too great. Besides, will the rope even support everyone on it at once?” Belthasar questioned.

“I wouldn’t be too worried about that, Sir,” the copilot, who was still swinging from the line, answered. “It’s heavily reinforced. Besides, how much longer can you keep these ailing people here? You guys all need some medical attention if that many of you are getting sick. Something is definitely going on.”

“Yeah, we figured out that something was up a loooong time ago,” Gaspar mentioned. “And he’s right, we do need some medical treatment. No one ever said this mission was going to be a cakewalk, and isn’t life about taking risks, anyway? I say we do it.”

“Alright, I’m in,” Melchior added, “What about you, Belthasar?”

“I guess I don’t have much of a choice, but if something should happen, remember that I told you so.” Ironically, Belthasar turned out to be the first one to grab onto the swaying cable.

“Gurus, you clowns are too old to be trusted to hold onto both the rope and a teammate at the same time, so you should just hang onto the rope for dear life,” the copilot ordered. “Okay, how many guys do we have back there?”

Reaper Three was the man who responded, “Well, there are seventeen members of Omega Reaper, minus the gurus, subtract the dead man, and of course, the two, four, six of us here, and that leaves… a total of seven back there. With six of us and seven back there, that means you’re going to have to take one, too,” he said to the copilot. He agreed apprehensively, and left with the healthy team members to collect the others and bring them back. While they were recovering them, Belthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar were pulled in on the rope. When they were safely inside the hull of the Blackbird, the pilot lowered the rope again.

He had to wait an additional five minutes until the men were back underneath the ship, and the weather had recently taken a turn for the worse. A crosswind had picked up and he had to sway continually to keep the Blackbird in the correct position. The aircraft was currently flying at the highest altitude that it ever had, and it became harder and harder to keep the necessary air flowing in the jets to keep it aloft. Because of the conditions, the ship took up more fuel than the captain wanted to know.

Below, Omega Reaper had been presented with an equally distressing challenge. Some of the men would have to climb as much as fifteen feet of rope in order to make enough room for everyone. Under normal conditions, this wouldn’t be a problem, but getting an extra man up there, who couldn’t climb on his or her own, was impossible. The copilot moved to the edge of Death Peak, and jerked his arm repeatedly in a downward motion, hoping to grab the attention of his counterpart. After nearly a minute in a half, he became very discouraged, and quit the attempt.

“The only way we can get enough guys up top holding onto the upper part of the cable is if he lowers the ship, then raises it bit by bit until we’re all on. He’s burning fuel pretty fast up there, and we don’t have time for that many trips,” the Blackbird’s crewman complained.

“Fifteen feet downward, that leaves about five feet increments if we go two pair to each section of rope. The guys on the bottom are going to get kicked in the face a few times,” O4, one of the female information specialists calculated.

“How are we going to do this?” Dalton asked unpretentiously.

Omega Five, the male magic specialist, had a plan. “I can signal him,” he said. Barely even needing to charge, he released a line of fire straight out, over the peak of the mountain. After some distance, the flames turned upward, and began to dance around each other. From Ridge Mountain, the fireballs disappeared in the weather, but O5 knew what he was doing. He kept raising them until he had a good feeling of where his magic spell was.

The pilot of the Blackbird kept struggling in the cockpit when a group of flames rose from the underside of the ship, making him worry about the engines catching fire. He soon realized that this was not the case, as the flames twirled around outside his windshield for a few seconds. The fireballs slowly formed six lines and a half circle of fire. Three of the lines conjoined in one place, one remained by itself, and the other two mated with the semicircle. It took him a few moments but he eventually figured out the message. “That’s a down arrow, and next to it is a fifteen! Do they want me to drop fifteen feet?”

No one noticed the change at first, because of its subtlety, but as the rope began to curl around as lengths of it touched the snow, they finally realized that the plan had worked. Everyone cheered and clapped momentarily, and the copilot started barking orders. “Everyone pair up with one of the ill people, and I want you four,” he pointed to Dalton, R2, R3, and R4, “to be the first group to go up. Dalton and Reaper three grabbed on to the cable with one hand and held onto their respective partners with the other. “You,” the copilot gave another command, this time pointing to Omega Five. “Send up another message and tell him to add five more feet to the altitude.

Up in the Blackbird’s cockpit, the man at the controls saw another message appear the same way it had before. It took less time to form this time around, and soon he saw that the men below wanted the ship to jump up another five feet. He had absolutely no clue as to what was going on below, but he obeyed the order.

Dalton and his teammates were lifted off the ground so that they were dangling over the mountain. His arm sockets immediately started burning with pain, and the expression on his face showed it. Still, he had to hold on, otherwise they would just have to waste more time trying to get back up. Some of the people in the exposition group were becoming more insipid from their illnesses, and time wasn’t on their side. Reaper Six grabbed the cable from behind Dalton’s feet and pulled himself up, hanging onto Reaper Seven. O1 did the same, except holding Omega Two with his other hand. Off to the side of them, Omega Five again sent a signal up to the Blackbird.

Ten percent of fuel capacity would be the minimum amount required to return to Zeal, but in actuality, when the fuel gage dropped below five percent, it didn’t fly properly and things began to malfunction. That left a necessity of fifteen percent fuel, and the pilot knew that he was getting dangerously close to that. He saw the next order and carried it out, still baffled.

The copilot grabbed the sickly R5 back on Ridge Mountain and jumped onto the rope. Omega Four followed suit with O3, leaving O5 alone, standing on Death Peak. The female magic specialist, O6, lay nearly unconscious and moaning on the ground. Reaper Five would have the job of taking her up. “Signal him to take off,” the copilot said while clutching the rope tightly. “Have him reel us in while he’s at it. You’ll have to jump onto the rope quickly, or you’ll be left behind.” Omega Five scratched his head, and acknowledged him.

His next spell took considerably longer to pull off, since the message he had to write in the sky was much more complicated. He only hoped that the pilot on the Blackbird did not jump the gun. The entire thing took about three minutes, and when he finished, “Bring up wire, take off,” appeared in the sky. Hoping that he had succeeded, he knelt down and hoisted Omega six, a girl he had recently grown affectionate toward, and noticed that the airship had already begun leaving. The last few feet of the cable had already lifted close to a foot off the ground, and that distance gradually increased. To make matters worse, the rope was headed for the peak of the mountain, and would soon drift off, leaving him behind. Carrying his recent romance, he ran as fast as he could with the extra weight, trying to catch the cable in time. His team members cheered him on, but it did not look like he could get to the ledge before the rope. Mere seconds later, rope passed over the cliff, leaving the Blackbird hundreds, possibly even thousands, of feet off the ground.

Omega Five knew that his only chance of survival would be to jump off of Death Peak and grab onto the tail end of the wire with one hand while still holding onto O6 with his other hand. He jumped with the rope four feet off the cliff and the bottom just over his head. The instant that he spent in the air felt like an eternity, and after his life flashed before his eyes, he felt the metal cable slip into his hand, cutting pieces of it apart. The tightly wound metallic rope swung violently in the wind from the force of the new member on board, and twisted around several times, making everyone nauseous. As expected, boots from the upper areas of the rope ran into the heads of the people lower on the ropes, causing screams and cusses.

“Jesus Christ, my arm is on fire!” one man uttered. The statement applied to what everyone felt. Dalton believed he had dislocated both of his shoulders by now, but somehow managed to hang on to both his partner and the rope. “Please, God, get me the hell out of this mess,” came the same voice from before. Again, the statement applied to all on the rope.

Below, Omega five wasn’t out of danger. He still had, by his best estimate, between thirty and forty feet of cable to be reeled in before he made it inside the ship, and his pinky had slipped off the bottom of his sanctuary, leaving him with a grip of three fingers and a thumb. Great pain shot through his arm as the weight pulled the joints in his arm pulled further apart. He looked above as the airship slowly inched its way towards him, and after another eternity had passed, his ring finger dropped off the bottom of the cable. “Just twenty feet to go… just twenty feet to go… just twenty feet to go…” He muttered repeatedly, trying to reassure himself. He held on amazingly well, and closed his eyes to help him avoid thinking about his predicament. When he opened them, the first group had already entered the hull of the Blackbird, and they were helping to pull them in. “Just ten feet now, you can make it,” he breathed heavily and his heart raced while a million thoughts gushed through his mind. An involuntary twitched occurred in the middle finger of his right hand, the one holding the rope. This caused the finger to drop off, leaving him with a grip of only thumb and forefinger, which was not nearly enough to stay on. He managed to clutch the cable for almost two full seconds, before he swayed in the wind and lost the grip completely. Omega Five, still carrying Omega Six, had been sentenced to death, and he screamed long and hard as he flailed helplessly, bombing to the earth over two miles b! elow him. Omega Four screamed as well when she saw him fall, for she had been best friends with 06, whom O5 had been holding onto, and a tear streamed down her face while she watched her crash to her final destination. Shortly after, members of Team Reaper pulled her into the Blackbird, and the teardrop sank off her cheek and made the same journey as her good friends.

Chapter 11

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