Capricornian Soldier, Werner Waltz
Werner saw them from where he lay. He was flat against the gravel overpass that stretched above an area enclosed by walls of rock. The men trudged on below him as rain pelted down into their cloaks embroidered with Aquarian violet. Below their stomping feet, the ground had become sludge.
There were precisely thirty-two of them altogether. Their numbers were halved in the earlier skirmish. It was evident that the battle had worn them out considerably. Despite their stiff fatigue, they still inched slowly toward the enclosure. Too tired to even cast a glance up at the shrubbery that shrouded the overpass. Too exhausted to even suspect.
There had been less than a one-percent chance that the Aquarians would not have rested at this location. A chance that Werner had been considering when devising this plan. It was foolish not to consider these chances. Even the smallest percentages counted. No matter how small the chances, an error was an error. This was why he sent another group of men down the path earlier. They were waiting in the bushes that dotted the pathway farther down.
The Aquarians began to set up camp in the enclosure. Makeshift tents were gradually propped up beside the walls, and a handful of the Aquarians stole away into the cover the tents provided.
One of the Aquarians below Werner settled down beside a slab of rock and pulled down the hood of his cloak.
Werner peered at the man through the scope of his conducting rifle. The Aquarian’s cheeks were round, his fingers thin and shaking. His dark blonde hair clung to his face as rain trickled down his chin. He was more of a boy than a man, Werner realized, but that didn’t matter because wrapped loosely around the boy’s arm was a sash emblazoned with a red cross, and gracing the shoulder pads of his uniform were a pair of golden insignias in the shape of two waves stacked on top of one another. A medical officer.
Beside him, Werner felt one of his men tense.
“Do not hesitate,” he stated under his breath. “Hit your mark.”
The pitter-patter of the rain muffled his words. But there were no words that truly needed to be exchanged. His men already knew their purpose. Their duty. To hesitate now would be a foolish misstep and label one as a coward. Appearances were everything.
Lining up the mouth of his conducting rifle with the young medical officer’s head, Werner looked at the boy one last time through his scope and pulled the trigger.
A brilliant thin ray of indigo light cracked through the rainy, gray haze and pierced the center of the boy’s head straight on. The force of the vitae bolt sent the boy flying backward to the ground. The mud ate up the red that pooled out from the gaping hole in his skull.
The Aquarians who were setting up tents nearby let out shouts of alarm. Some scrambled for cover, others ran to their fallen comrade’s side, while a majority grabbed the conductors they had cast aside earlier.
But it was too late.
Down came a ray shower of lights. Navy blue. Sky blue. Blue violet. A blinding storm of color bulleted the clearing and tore up rock and body without bias. In the calculated chaos, the sound of rain was swallowed up by cries and explosions.
Using his scope, Werner followed an Aquarian scrambling toward a stray conductor buried beneath debris. This one was even younger than the first. Bright blue eyes that almost glowed in the dark.
Aim. Shoot. Fire.
Another one was ducking for cover behind a large stone slab.
Aim. Shoot. Fire.
Thirty-two men halved to sixteen. Sixteen became eight. Then four. Then two. Zero.
Werner held up a fist.
The bombardment of light stopped. Smoke and steam rose up from the clearing as an unnatural silence fell upon them. The tapping of the rain and the heavy panting of the men lined up beside him were the only sounds that reached Werner’s ears.
Peering into his scope once more, he surveyed the ground below. The smoke was too heavy to see through. They would have to wait. They couldn’t risk an Aquarian escaping. If they did, all their planning would have been for nothing. Perfectionism at this point was key. Error, unacceptable.
The crunch of gravel beside him drew his attention away from the smoke. When Werner turned his eyes from the scope and to his left, he found that one of his men was standing, shaking, and hugging his conducting rifle tightly to his chest. He was exposed.
The soldier shook his head and took a step backward.
“I said get down,” Werner ordered louder.
Once again, the soldier shook his head. Soldier? No, Werner realized, this was no soldier. No soldier would disobey orders like this. This was just a man. No, a boy.
“You didn’t use your conductor.” Werner realized, regarding the boy’s conductor with contempt. It did not give off steam from the cold like Werner’s own.
“I―” Another step backward.
Werner frowned and reached for the boy’s arm. “I said get―”
Werner should’ve known what would happen next, but it still alarmed him when he saw a hurtling bolt of violet light burst out from the haze of smoke. There had only been less than a one percent chance that one of the Aquarians could’ve survived. But a chance was still a chance. An error was still an error. And errors were fatal.
The ray of light tore through Werner’s shoulder and sent him flying backward.
The boy was at his side now, as were the rest of the men. The boy was crying. Werner could see the tears intermingling with the rain.
“Mark the clearing,” he stated calmly, gripping his shoulder. It was numb ― from the cold or the pain, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter.
“I said mark the clearing, private!”
He didn’t have the energy to say much else and fell back. The cold rain seeped through the fabric of his uniform, deep into his skin, and reached his core, where it slowly stole away his movement and sight.
Briefly, he wondered how he appeared to his men as he lay bleeding out like this. And, what was this, exactly?
Unknown Pirate, Maria Gloria-Fernandez
“Pirates!” the man cried as he dragged himself across the forecaster deck, gripping his bleeding side. The sun beat down on his brow, and he gagged on the heaviness of the salty air. His words, however, were lost to the slap of ocean waves against the hull and the thump, thump, thump of rubber shoes against the hollow, wooden floorboards.
“Pirates?” Maria laughed as she walked alongside him. “My darling, we are adventurers, not pirates!”
The man paused in his scramble and looked up at her. He was sweating and stains seeped into his elegant white uniform. His dark gray hair had fallen loose from its ponytail and strands now clung to his pallid face. “You’re not adventurers or pirates,” he spat. “You’re monsters!” He spoke Common with a thick accent she couldn’t quite place.
Maria pulled back and glanced at the mousy-haired woman who stood behind her. The woman merely shrugged and offered the man a sympathetic look. Nothing to be said, it seemed. Maria threw her head back with a loud and musical laugh that rang across the ship. The sound bounced off the torn sails of the ship, twirled around the mast, before sinking down to the main deck.
She skipped past the man toward the railings just behind him. She peered over them, down to the main deck. There, right before her, was a battle for the ages. Blade clashing against blade. Gun against gun. Fist against face. Someone was even throwing barrels around.
There didn’t seem to be a Conductor on this ship, however, which was quite a downer.
Maria hopped up onto the railing, spread her arms wide, and took in a deep breath.
There was ash in her hair, the dried crumbles of black and red caked onto her face, and icy droplets dripping down her arms. The sky—once an unblemished and endless stretch of blue—was scarred by a pillar of black blossoming from a mountain of flames and ashes. This burning pyre, as well as clusters of wood and cloth, littered the stretch of sea that unfolded into the horizon.
Maria took in the entire scene with a wide smile. From here, the view was wondrous. Every detail, every flickering ember, every lapping wave was laid out right before her eyes!
“Such a shame. It really was a pretty ship.”
With that, she reached for her sheathed blade hanging at her side and drew it out into the light.
“Wait, Captain―” the woman behind her began.
But it was too late. Down Maria dropped onto the shoulders of an unsuspecting man below. He barely had time to register her before she kicked him in the face with the back of her boot and launched herself at another. She knocked this next man in the face with the hilt of her blade before reaching for his shoulders and lifting herself up in the air while using his body as an axle. She swung her legs forward and used the force of her fall to bring the man up over her shoulders. For a moment, he was in the air. In the next, his body was crashing into another.
Several onlookers gazed at her in horror while others only offered expressions of exasperation. Some, admiration. But she didn’t dwell. Instead, she relentlessly tore through the ones she deemed her enemies with a smile of exhilaration gracing her face.
She paused in her almost manic stampede only to wipe the blood from her blade and the sweat from her brow. It was then that a movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention. It was a boy. Amidst the chaos of clashing blades and colliding fists, a boy stood there huddling a cylindrical object close to his chest. His eyes—they glowed with an inhuman red-orange light.
Maria barely had the time to finish the thought before the boy rushed at her. The object in his hand gave out an unearthly copper glow that expanded outward and consumed his body―and then hers.
She heard it more than felt. A resounding boom that drowned out the chaos of battle and the calm of lapping waves. It rang so loudly in her ears that, for a moment, she almost thought it was the only sound that ever existed.
When the sound faded, she was in the air. Falling swiftly with the ocean opening up below her.
She didn’t hear the rest because she broke through the barrier of water. The cold gripped her tightly and dragged a trail of blood from her, which rose up to the surface like smoke alongside air bubbles.
A minor injury, surely, Maria thought as she sank deeper and deeper into the frigid dark. All she needed to do was kick her legs a bit, and she’d break through the surface to rejoin her men. Surely, this would be an exciting tale. And onto the next adventure they would go.
An intrusive thought invaded her mind as black dots pricked her vision: