Dozzar was in better spirits but still slightly winded. “Did I scare you?”
“No, I heard you all the way back at the Dulgo tree.”
Dozzar was clearly a bit disappointed and then asked “Which one was that?”
“Which one was the Dulgo tree?! The one with strips of blue bark and long curled foliage 50 meters back. How did you miss that?” Dozzar just shrugged in response.
Ayla looked away to check that Biltix was still there. Despite the audio shield bing up she whispered, “I don’t know why I bring you along for things like this.”
“I’ve got you beat there, I don’t know what the point of whatever this thing we are doing is.” Dozzar replied.
Ayla could hardly believe what she was hearing, “You are such a Dwarf. I told you when we left our barracks. Biltix has been sneaking out after curfew. This time he will get caught and I want to see to it.”
“Well yeah, but aren’t we sneaking out after curfew?” There were several moments of silence after Dozzar asked this question.
Ayla wasn’t prepared for such a huge hole in her plan to be made apparent by Dozzar. She stuttered for a moment searching for the response that would buoy her faltering logic, “Well…he…he…he was clearly the…original rule breaker, and we had no choice but to go after him as quickly as possible.” Satisfied with her answer she turned her attention back to Biltix.
“You drug me out of bed yelling something about an emergency. I had no choice. Couldn’t you have just alerted Stoneblood?”
The look of satisfaction immediately drained from her face. Dozzar was not usually one to make so many reasonable statements in a row. Ayla decided the best course of action was to ignore him ad get back to the business at hand.
She decided that reason was clearly not her best option at this point, “Where were those genius ideas an hour ago? Besides, Stoneblood would get him for the curfew violation but it is going to take something bigger if we are going get rid of Biltix for good. If we catch him in the middle of whatever clearly devious act he is committing. Then we can get Stoneblood involved.”
Dozzar took a moment to look over at Biltix. He could see that he was still just sitting on the ground looking at his datastone. It was not at all apparent that anything he was doing could be described as devious. He wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but he was fairly certain it was not going to be Biltix getting kicked out of the academy. Dozzar wanted to be a good friend, and he knew she would just do whatever it was on her own if he refused to be involved. “Okay Ayla, what do you need me to do?”
“Let’s keep things simple. We wait for whatever it is he is waiting for to happen and then I confront him. And we record everything.” Ayla was getting excited again.
Dozzar decided it was best not to argue and simply pulled out his datastone. It wasn’t fancy but it would be able to record the scene, which at the moment was just a gnome sitting on the ground looking at the same type of academy issued basic datastone he was using. Ayla put a finger to her lips and then lowered the audio shield. There was another momentary static, but Biltix failed to notice. The two of them sat motionless for several minutes watching Blixit. Ayla’s body was tense and ready to strike at the first sign of movement. The only thing Dozzar could find to be tense about was figuring out how this situation wouldn’t somehow turn out poorly for all of them. Dozzar knew Ayla was always high strung when it came to Biltix. From the moment the three of them had been grouped together at the academy it was clear they would never be friends. The two had apparently met one another before coming to the academy, but they both refused to talk about it. Dozzar thought Biltix was a nice enough guy, even if he was a bit of an oddball for a gnome. The really fun thing was that the three of them made a pretty great unit when they weren’t fighting. Ayla was fantastic at scouting, reconnaissance, and ranged fighting. Biltix was amazing at combat mechanics, although he was a little too aware of how good he was. Dozzar was pretty certain he was one of the better enforcers at the academy. The constant fighting between Ayla and Biltix was the only thing really keeping their group from being top of the class. Dozzar was hoping for a good assignment after the Academy, but he wasn’t sure if it was going to happen.
Ayla and Biltix both wanted one another out of their lives, but once they joined up with the academy and were grouped together there were only two ways it was going to happen: promotion to a new position or complete removal from service. It was a pretty clever system the academy had in place. No matter how they grouped their recruits in teams they were sure to get the best results. Groups that all get along tend to form a cohesive unit that performs well. Groups that have rivalries tend to try and out do one another for promotion. Either way, the teams get the missions accomplished. The biggest problem their group had was consistency. You could never tell what was going to start up the fighting between Ayla and Biltix and it didn’t matter if they were on mission or not when it happened. Throughout their time together they had received some of the best and the worst rankings on training missions. That’s how they had gotten their nickname, the Bone Rollers. Everyone said sending them on mission was like rolling dice because literally anything could happen. It wasn’t so bad as far as squad nicknames go, at least it sounded intimidating.
Dozzar was beginning to nod off when Ayla grabbed his arm and directed his attention back to Biltix. He had apparently stood up while Dozzar wasn’t paying attention.
“What is he looking at?” Ayla quietly asked.
Dozzar shrugged in response but Ayla was too busy staring back at Biltix to see it.
She whispered back, “Make certain you have the datastone recording in the right place.”
Biltix was facing away just over ten meters away in the center of the clearing. They could hear him speaking but couldn’t make out anything he was saying. Ayla started to look a bit nervous because they couldn’t get a clear idea of what he was doing. She knew that if she gave up this position, by the time she found one closer the interaction could be over, or worse, Biltix might here them moving through the undergrowth. Unlike most gnomes he was very comfortable in a forest and would be more likely to notice something in this environment. She knew her only chance to be rid of Biltix was to act quickly. She whispered to Dozzar, “I’m going for it.” Dozzar double checked his datastone settings and readied himself for anything, or at least he thought he had. The next few seconds proved to be something that Dozzar couldn’t possibly be ready for.
Ayla managed to run about half the distance to where Biltix was standing in the clearing when a sudden flash of light appeared. The flash was disorienting and caused her to stumble, but she managed to keep on her feet. Her eyes adjusted quickly and as they did she realized an image of the clearing had appeared right in front of her. The image showed the clearing to be empty. She hesitated for only a moment before thinking Biltix’s trickery won’t fool me. She quickly regained her stride and sprinted straight through the illusion toward where she knew Biltix was hiding. Dozzar, who had been watching Ayla’s mad dash, was surprised by the sudden flash of light. Her equally sudden disappearance into what now appeared to be an empty clearing did nothing to make him feel less surprised.
Ayla sprinted the rest of the way to Biltix without slowing down. The moment he was within reach she attempted to grab hold of him. At the speed she was moving, what was meant to be a grab turned into a leaping tackle. She blissfully had him in her arms for a moment before a jarring reunion with the ground forced her to release him. Biltix was incredibly nimble and managed to land on his feet. The moment Biltix realized who had suddenly attacked him he began shouting at her, “What are you doing out here?”
Ayla was just about to speak when a rock suddenly jumped up from the ground flailing small furry arms at her. The rock very quickly proved to be made more of fur and fury than any stone she had ever encountered. This angry jabbering creature quickly crawled to the back of her body and was now attempting to strangle her while pecking the side of her head. She attempted to get a hold of it and fling it off, but it appeared to be holding on for dear life while continuing to peck the back of her head. Biltix immediately jumped into the writhing pile that was Ayla and the furry creature and attempted to remove it from her head. The three of them rolled around on the ground yelling and jabbering at one another. Biltix kept yelling at the furry creature, “No Phoebe, bad girl, let go!”
The angry ball of fur suddenly let go of Ayla completely. Biltix and the creature were flung backward suddenly while Ayla had landed back in a heap on the ground. She was furious at everything all at once. “What is that thing!? and why does it have a name?”
“That thing has a name because she is Phoebe. She is a Piffin, and apparently an excellent judge of character.”
“She is a menace is what she is.” Ayla spat back. She glared at the two of them with nearly equal disdain.
“No, she is a Piffin. I don’t recommend being unkind to her. Piffins are highly intelligent and have a long memory.” Biltix said.
Ayla responded, “Whatever, I’ve caught you out after curfew and you are going to be in big trouble this time.”
Biltix was about to respond when he noticed Dozzar staring at all of them from across the clearing, “Well of course you’re here too.”
Dozzar was staring at them but he wasn’t sure what to say. A few moments ago when all the shouting began he realized the image of the empty clearing was a fake. The shouting had only intensified while he gathered himself up and walked through what was now very clearly an illusion. What he saw when he did was absolutely unbelievable. The ridiculous mass of his team rolling in the ground trying to remove something furry from Ayla’s head was outrageous. This ridiculous scene would have been enough to make him laugh out loud if not for what was standing just beyond his team on the far side of the clearing. A very large and angry mass of feathers and fur seemed to also be confused by what the three creatures in front of it were doing. As they had finally separated it became clear to Dozzar that the creatures confusion was not going to hold out much longer.
Ayla called to Dozzar, “Hey, come help me out.”
Ayla only noticed three of the four things that happened after she yelled to him. Dozzar had immediately started running toward them, which she had expected. She saw that Dozzar had activated his Battleaxe. The faint blue glow from the energy blade often gave her a strange sense of peace. However, its sudden and unexpected appearance had failed to illicit her usual response. The third thing she noticed was that a very furry creature near her had suddenly been replaced by a very ordinary rock. Ayla couldn’t fathom why Dozzar would be running like mad at them with his weapon drawn. The creature had been a nuisance, but it clearly wasn’t dangerous to either her or Biltix. The thing that Ayla and Biltix had both failed to notice was arguably the most important. At that very moment a large animal with the face of an owl and the body of a huge bear was running toward them. Dozzar’s peculiar behavior was both a blessing and a curse. In a few short strides he was at once a complete distraction from the real threat and also the only chance either of them had to avoid some serious damage. As Dozzar ran toward them he lifted his battleaxe above his head and jumped with all his might into the air. His actions had completely captured the attention of both Ayla and Biltix. The latter of whom was now shielding what appeared to be a perfectly normal rock from what could only be described as an imminent attack.
Dozzar’s battleaxe came down swiftly from over his head. The blow landed just to the right of Biltix’s head and across the brow of the huge beast. The beast stumbled backward a few paces, briefly surprised by the sudden attack. A moment later and it would have taken hold of Biltix completely unaware. Dozzar yelled to his team, “You two better look alive if you feel like staying that way.”
Ayla and Biltix were stunned at the sudden attack, though they were both relieved it wasn’t them Dozzar was attacking. Biltix was still the closest to the beast. It’s moment of surprise had not lasted long. Biltix had only just activated his shield when the creature lashed out viciously with its powerful claw. Biltix hadn’t had enough time to prepare for a hit so powerful and violent. The beasts claw swiped under the edge of his shield and across his chest. The searing pain in his flesh was only slightly more painful than the sudden jolt from landing hard on his back several meters from where he began. Biltix was in very rough shape, his mind was reeling as it struggled to determine his next best option.
In the few seconds that had passed, Ayla had managed to activate her rapier. The edge of the blade was glowing with an eerie green in the dark of the clearing. She rushed forward toward the beast attempting to strike suddenly and then move away. Her energy blade caught the beast by surprise across the right side of its face. Ayla could feel that the cut was deep as she pulled away in attempt to get out of the range of it’s powerful arms. The gash across its face had been close to it’s right eye. Dozzar couldn’t tell if the eye had been taken out, but either way the beast wouldn’t be using it further in this fight. Ayla and Dozzar now both stood between the beast and the badly injured Biltix. Dozzar held his battleaxe in one hand while his energy shield pulsed with a protective glow from his left arm. He called out to Biltix, “You okay back there buddy?”
Biltix answered back in a voice much rougher than either he or Ayla liked, “Yeah, just great.” His mind was churning through all of the possible outcomes from this current encounter. Even three on one, if he could even count himself, this would be a difficult fight. He had a plan, but he would have to get back to Phoebe for it to work. Before he could get back to Phoebe, he really needed to make certain that he didn’t die. He pulled his data bracer closer to himself, which was much more painful than he would have hoped, and activated a quick heal application. The application isolated the damaged portions of his body in a quantum static field while pumping them full of restorative energies. His wounds closed up in a matter of seconds, though his mind would take a bit longer to forget the pain. He could see new healthy brown skin through the gashes in his Synthetic SkinTech armor. The rigid platelets built into the suit had likely prevented him from being killed outright by the powerful attack. Biltix stood up and called out in a much healthier voice, “Keep her busy, I have a plan.”
Dozzar yelled back, “You better have a plan, that’s the only reason we keep you around!” He knew Biltix would hear the relief in his voice, so he didn’t bother saying anything else.
The now one eyed beast let out a terrible screech as she stared at Ayla and Dozzar. She took only a moment to put her full attention toward Dozzar. She raised herself back onto her hind legs to show her full height as she let out another screech. The action was clearly meant to be intimidating, but Dozzar took it as an opportunity to swing his battle axe at what he hoped was a softer underbelly. Her voice transformed from a ferocious cry of rage to a much shriller screech of pain as the blue energy blade tore through fur and feathers into the open exposed meat of her chest. She feel backwards and had to roll to get back on her feet. Her eyes were full of rage and torment as she stomped the ground with her front legs. She was beyond reasoning which of these foul creatures she should maim first and simply lunged toward the closest one she could see.
Ayla happened to be the recipient of that sudden rush of rage. The creature ran toward her at its full speed and lifted its head to attack with it’s vicious beak. As the beasts head came down with a powerful force, it met the hard pulsing energy field of Dozzar’s shield instead of the soft elf meat it had expected. A loud crack could be heard as the creature put all the force it had into the attack. The sudden and violent connection with Dozzar’s shield sent the beast reeling to the side. The rage in its eyes had only been momentarily numbed, but it seemed to have a difficult time getting back up. As it clambered back to its feet Ayla took advantage of its unsteady footing and attacked again with her rapier. This time the blade struck above the beasts shoulder. The new wound caused the beast to stumble back to the ground. The creature was not well. Ayla and Dozzar knew they had the upper hand at last.
Dozzar deactivated his shield and walked forward to finish the creature with one mighty swing from his battleaxe. The blade was raised in the air when he heard Biltix shout, “No, wait, stop.”
Biltix ran suddenly between Ayla and Dozzar. Dozzar could see that he was holding a rock in his hand. Ayla couldn’t believe what she was seeing, “What are you doing, she’ll kill you.”
Biltix looked straight ahead at the beast as he answered Ayla, “No she won’t. She doesn’t want to fight us any more. She just wants this.” To Dozzar it looked like Biltix was reaching inside of the rock. As he pulled his hand away he was holding what appeared to be a very large egg. The egg looked larger than the rock it had come from. Dozzar did not like when strange things like this started happening.
Biltix placed the egg down on the ground and then started walking backward. He motioned with his hands for Ayla and Dozzar to do the same. They slowly began to move away from the creature, but neither was willing to deactivate their weapons. The moment Biltix had placed the egg on the ground the creature lumbered forward to collect it. The look on her face was still fierce, but she was not willing to leave her egg to fight them now that she had it back. As he backed away, Biltix activated a remote healing field over the creature. There was a quick gasp from the beast. It was obvious that she was still wounded, but not nearly as severely as she had been. The three members of the Bone Rollers reached the edge of the clearing. Two still with their weapons drawn. The creature raised herself up and stomped the ground in front of her. She circled her egg and let loose a loud screech while staring at her three attackers. She picked up her egg with one arm and left the clearing where Dozzar had seen her enter it. There was a visible release of tension as the creature walked back into the forest. It wouldn’t last long.