Collection: the Halleaux
Chronicled by Valhel
Recommended Listening: "Revival" by Neil Davidge
Nightfires pt I of III
Another night had descended upon Roanoke without hail or sign of Marius. As shadows began to climb the iron walls of her hidden stronghold, so to did Petra ascend. Up one flight and then the next, until she stood atop the darkened rampart to watch the setting sun. It seemed to be larger than usual, the golden flames more ancient and weary.
A week had passed since Petra had last breathed the outside air. She too was tired, having spent long hours plotting and scheming for every outcome and disastrous fallout she could imagine. Two weeks had gone by since Petra had sent Marius through a collapsing portal to retrieve forces from the time of the Mountain, and there had been no word since.
As the last scorching rays glimmered at the edge of the horizon concluding the sun's vigil upon the dunes Petra wondered when she too could rest. Had she sent Marius to his end? Was the resistance doomed to fail? Could her leadership answer the demands of their fate, to reignite truth in a world of deceit?
"For you alone my soul waits in silence..." , Petra whispered to herself, "...a refuge for us."
Yet worry for her earthly refuge still plagued Petra. There had been infiltrators, thieves, and assassins. But the Authority had yet to discover Roanoke, though she guessed, they were close. Each night for the past four nights threshold nodes had been tripped, triggered a warning and then vanished. Well drones, constructs designated to find water, had eerily rolled back to Roanoke without a recall order. And there were reports, bizarre sightings, that Petra prayed were no more than the fevered visions of dehydrated scouts. But prayers could not disquiet the fact that each report told the same tale- something was moving beneath the sands, pushing the dunes aside as if they were water. Ever since Petra assumed command of Roanoke and the Haven Resistance there had been more problems, more threats, than before. And thus more demand for answers, answers that Petra was unsure she had or that she could find in herself. Still, she needed answers, and so she had dispatched a scout detail to monitor the threshold nodes.
Mech was leaning heavily upon the handlebars of his treader. He was not accustomed to the exertion of prolonged scouting missions and the ride out to the location of the last node to disappear was not a short venture.
The figure of a man silhouetted against the dying light strode toward Mech, "What's the matter, Mech? Tired already?"
As the man drew closer the shadows detailed him better. His attire was torn from time spent in the harsh desert winds, vague patterns like sand and debris ran along his coat, and his belt and boots supported more weapons than he may have actually needed- though "You never know" was often his often his reply when the arsenal was questioned.
Mech bowed his head, the brim of his hat hiding his rolling eyes, "Had I known that these treaders would be used for excursions longer than eight hours I would have designed more comfortable seating for them, Ren."
"Ah, well, you didn't know." teased Ren.
"No I didn't, and I didn't because I didn't design the fuel cells on them to last more than three hours.' Mech glared, 'I do wish you would stop improving on my creations."
"We needed light, small craft that could make extended scouting runs, so I just did some tinkering, added a custom solar array, and now these things can go for days!"
Mech sighed and gave up, "Did you find the threshold node?"
Ren's demeanor resorted to an almost worrisome expression, "No."
"Then I suggest we head to the nearest node that's still pinging." said Mech as he lifted a rugged tablet displaying a map from his pack.
"Nearest should be about five clicks from here." said Ren as he hopped on his treader.
"No, that would be lovely, but that node is gone too. Looks like we've got twelve kilometers to travel."
"Mysterious desert monster. Nighttime. Homemade transports. Sounds like a fun night, let's go!"
Ren flipped the pedal on his treader down and with a choke of the engine the machine sped off over the dune.
"He'll ruin the transmission if he keeps that up." said Mech as he tucked his hat away, pulled his goggles down and ignited his treader, speeding off behind Ren.
The treaders wound through the dunes with ease, the wide paddled wheel up front gave direction and supporting caterpillar track propelled the machine. The solar array that Ren had jerry-rigged to the rear of the bikes rattled now and again, further unnerving Mech. Ren, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoying the adventure, pleased to see that his efforts to modify Mech's creation had produced a worthy craft.
With the sun long gone the riders relied on night vision, forgoing the treaders headlamps. Though the low sputtering growl of the machines was not quiet by any means, the surrounding dunes would muffle the sound, so dowsing the lights seemed like the next step in adding an element of evasion. A treader was capable of formidable speed on solid ground, but when traversing dunes speed was inhibited not only by loose sand but also the sloping terrain. Nevertheless, Mech and Ren pressed on their machines letting fly a tail of sand into the night air.
Ren, slightly ahead of Mech, diligently scanned the horizons, watching every dune and rock. As the moonlight and winds played atop the desert landscape, transforming it into an alien terrain, he could no longer doubt that scouts indeed believed they were witness to some great behemoth slinking beneath the sands. They had certainly believed, but had the scouts actually seen this monster or was it just a trick of light, a collapsing burm?
Mech's voice crackled over a middle radio, "We're coming up on the node."
Something felt wrong to Ren.
"I think I see it." replied Ren.
Ren's radio then crackled violently in his ear with a piercing shriek.
"East! East!" commanded Mech's muddled voice from behind the feedback.
Without pause Ren banked left and drew his treader up a dune to follow Mech. As they climbed the sand Ren drew a rifle and leaned back to spy whatever had flanked them.
A towering shadow crept over the ridge behind them, nearly twelve feet high, thought the obscurity of the night caused it to seem larger. Silently it descended the sands, a great, narrow wheel silently regulating its path, three orange lamps clustered together like a mechanical insectile eye adorned the left side, and an unsettling array of what looked like teeth and quills.
Ren lowered his rifle, he no longer feared an attack, but fear still captivated his gaze within the shadowy portent. Mech stepped beside Ren, "It's another well drone."
Ren raised his rifle again, taking aim at the cluster of sensors on the drone, "And it's heading straight for Roanoke."
Ren pulled the trigger and the great wheel lumbered to a halt before tipping over into the sands with a muffled thud.
Mech slid down the dunes to make a closer examination of the drone. As he drew near the radios began to buzz with what almost sounded like garbled words. He removed a panel to check for tampering within the construct.
"What happened to it?" Ren called out.
"Well, from the looks of it it's been shot!' Mech sighed, 'I thought you were issued our new aeon rounds?"
"C'mon...it's a robot." protested Ren.
"Fine, just make sure you use those temporal rounds on live targets instead of live ammo."
Mech didn't notice anything too out of the ordinary in the 'brain' of the drone. These constructs were built to scour the desert for new water sources, drill for samples, and then report. Occasionally they were recalled to Roanoke for maintenance, but only when ordered to do so. Ordinarily the drones were repaired in the field so as to avoid leading enemies back to the stronghold. But this drone, and the others like it, had been returning to base without orders, and they had been traveling in a straight line, another error that went against the programming. Within the brain were bits of debris thanks to Ren, sand, and not much else. Every now and then other inhabitants of the desert would steal and reprogram a drone for their own use or salvage it for parts, but again there was nothing to warrant the conclusion of thieves.
"You want to know what I think?' asked Ren as he walked down, 'I'm betting it's the same thing you're thinking."
Mech shut the panel to the drone brain and stood up, "Someone is using these drones to find Roanoke."
Mech began to walk back up to the treaders, "We've still got a threshold node to check on."
As Mech laid his hand on the handle of the treader a hot wind rolled up over the desert and with it a metallic, quaking howl that shook the sands beneath them.
"Get down! Get down!" shouted Ren as he leapt over the side of the dune.
Again the sound shook the desert and the threaders sank partially into the sand. Mech let go of the machine, snatching up his rifle before it could be pulled under. Mech followed after Ren, but not before looking back. In the distance the sands churned, and a pale green light began to glow beneath a dune that heaved with arcing currents of lightning.
Awestruck, Mech could not look away until Ren pulled him down off of the burm out of sight. The two bolted to the cover of the next dune, stumbling as the sand around them trembled. From behind the dunes they could see little of what emerged from the desert. There was a howl and a great tremor in the earth, a crash, and then a sound like great footsteps. Mech and Ren turned to look but above the ridge of the sands they could only make out the dark shadow of what looked like joints and spines before they vanished along with the light.
Both Mech and Ren sat dumbstruck momentarily before Ren began to load more live ammunition into his rifle. Mech stood up and dusted off his coat, "So there is a monster."
To be continued...
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