Collection: Age of Youth//the Halleaux
Chronicled by Valhel
Glaring beams of white swept over midnight dunes. Mech managed to roll over the crest of the sandy ridge just before the Authority searchlights glanced by. Beside him rested Ren who was attempting to brush granules of sand out from a night scope.
"Not sure I can forgive you for this." muttered Ren.
"It was us or your bike." sighed Mech as he lifted his eyes to peer over the desert.
Smoke and embers fluttered into the violet skies as the Authority airship circled about the smoldering remains of Ren's treader.
"Why couldn't we crash your treader?" grumbled Ren.
Mech ignored him, instead looking on as the ship rumbled menacingly while taking a descending course to the burning wreckage. The machine was nearly sixty feet long, an iron hull boasted of superior plating and powerful propulsion. Turret pits reached out beneath the craft adjacent to the cargo platform. A rigging of electrical cables and cargo netting spanned from the keel along the deck to four bulky repulsor discs, the charged lines providing an additional defense against boarding parties. The bow sported two intensely bright searchlights as well as a mechanized crank gun mounted to a swiveling operating seat. The deck of the ship swept down slightly from the bow to allow access below before meeting a short flight of stairs leading to a command tower where the craft was piloted. Next to the tower was a series of operating consoles for communications and navigation, behind which rested a formidable cannon.
The airship hovered with an ethereal uneasiness and the droning of its propulsion system was as unnatural as the machine itself. The beams slowly crawled over the twisted scraps of the sacrificed treader and its plume, the light transforming the ghostly wisps of smoke into nightmarish manifestations.
Mech was mesmerized by the craft, a true embodiment of the Authority's technological advancements and relentless inhumanity.
A third spotlight ignited from the stern of the airship that rapidly began illuminating the surrounding dunes.
"Get down!" growled Ren as he pulled Mech beneath the crest of the sand.
"I hope they buy this." said Mech as he rolled onto his back.
"They'll expect a body, won't they?" said Ren as he peered through his scope at the ship.
"We're gambling that they won't bother to dig for one in the sand.' said Mech, 'The blast from the treader overheating was strong enough to bury half of the thing in the dune. I'm hoping they only saw one of us an assume that in a desperate bid to escape we pushed the bike too hard."
"And if they don't?"
Mech smiled, "That's why I didn't blow up my treader."
Ren grimaced as he continued surveying the Authority, "So what's the plan after they take off?"
"We'll wait for the...monster thing by the next threshold beacon, we'll get a good look and one of us will ride back to Roanoke to warn them."
"One. Not only would two persons on the treader be uncomfortable, but it would also put one of us directly above a very dangerous tread wheel."
"Mech..." stuttered Ren.
Mech shrugged, "You, obviously, you're the faster-"
"No, shut up.' Ren interjected, 'Look!"
Mech crawled back up to look over the dune. The Authority ship was sharply pivoting nose first on its starboard side. The glare of the lights swung about to scour the sands to the East and the sound of weapons being primed rattled up the dunes.
"Did they lose power in one of their repulsors? It's leaning heavily on the right bow." wondered Mech aloud.
"I don't think so." Ren replied.
Suddenly the smoldering wreckage of Ren's treader slunk beneath the airship and down into sands below the bow, choking the trail of embers and smoke.
Ren slung his rifle into his arms, "They didn't lose power.' he said as he primed the weapon, 'They're being pulled down."
A terrible howl swept up from beneath the world, and the dunes heaved like waves. Mech and Ren were thrown down the bank nearly being buried alive by the cascading sands. Mech freed himself first before turning around to lift Ren, who was more concerned with securing his rifle, from the swallowing desert. Again the horrible bellowing echoed up from the ground and streaks of lightning ripped out from the sand, burning it into beautiful alien arcs of glass.
The Authority airship rumbled ferociously as power was routed to the bow repulsors in an attempt to break away from the invisible grip that held the craft there. A third roar, louder than the last, ascended and with it a blast of sand and lightning. There was a sound of twisting metals and the thunderous crashing of debris as the sands beneath the airship erupted with a monstrous shape. Like a plaything, the craft fell from the sky, shattering in the fury of the explosion.
"We need to move." barked Ren as a few small metal cogs flew off of Mech's hat and jacket toward the scene.
Mech looked down at his jacket to see a small decorative chain attached to his lapel being pulled toward the explosion, "Magnetic field..."
"Move!" yelled Ren as he grabbed Mech by the arm, pulling him back.
The two scrambled attempting to cut between the dunes as the sands pulled at their feet with the increasing quakes.
Another roar shook the air causing Mech to stumble back around. With the sound of crumpling metal and the flashes of burning electrical arcs Mech watched a tremendous construct heave itself up from the collapsing dunes. It's shape was like that of a beast, primitive, and yet composed of metal and scrap. It was held together by joints of lightning and lurched with a vaguely animalistic pacing as it freed amalgamous limbs from the submerging sands.
When Ren noticed that Mech wasn't beside him he too turned around and froze in bewilderment. Mech furiously tried to justify the beast's composition and existence in his head while looking on with a feeling somewhere between wonder and terror.
The thing bellowed with a horrible metallic cry and tendrils of lightning clawed out at the sand before the beast collapsed into the dunes. The sparks of electrical surges flickered out and the hulking debris and metal crashed lifelessly to the ground as if there were no monster at all.
"We need to go, now." said Ren as he pulled on Mech's shoulder.
"Just wait a minute.' said Mech as he stepped forward curiously, 'There's something moving."
"Wonderful, let's go." urged Ren.
"Hold up!' spat Mech as he wrested the rifle out of Ren's hands and peered through the scope at the wreckage, 'Not something, someone."
A dark figure stood on an eastern dune overlooking the heap of metal and downed airship. Mech watched as the person worked their way down the sand and waded through the debris. A dark coat and helm concealed the intruder, and something glistened on the sides of the headpiece.
"I can't get a good look." mumbled Mech.
Ren adjusted the lens of rifle scope without disrupting Mech's surveillance.
"Ah, thank you."
Mech could now see that the infiltrator had golden hair that rested behind the helmet and a bizarre visor with four white gleaming optics.
She strode past the twisted beams that once were monstrous arms and onto the crumpled deck of the downed Authority airship.
"Who is it?' whispered Ren, 'Infrared? Morse?"
"I can't tell.' answered Mech, 'She's alone and not using guild colors."
Pandora paced up the iron steps to the communication consoles. Violently she swung her right arm back and ignited a coil of electrical tendrils from her gauntlet before thrashing the whip down upon the Authority devices. The strands ripped into to consoles and channeled signals back into Pandora's gauntlet, causing the eyes of her helm to flicker and spark.
In the distance Mech lowered the rifle and passed it to Ren, "I- I think she's somehow siphoning data from the ship."
Pandora violently recoiled her arm, diffusing the tendrils before reaching into her coat pocket and removing a small device.
"Authority activity successfully logged.' chirped the glowing machine in Pandora's palm, 'As you predicted, they haven't located Roanoke, but the Authority has logged several obscure caravans under one Inspector Javert."
Pandora walked off the deck of the airship, replacing Cosset in her pocket, "Good. That's where we'll find them."
From behind the lens of his rifle Ren delicately lined up a shot, "Whoever that is single handedly annihilated an Authority warship, tapped into who knows what and is about to continue her rampage on our threshold beacons."
Mech nervously glanced at Ren, "Tell me that's loaded with aeon darts and not live ammunition."
Ren smirked, "No idea."
The rifle trigger clicked and the firing bolt slammed forward letting fly a single round through the air. The crack of the gunshot rolled through the dunes as the shot sped toward Pandora's helm, but in the instant there was a flash of blue and the crackle of lightning.
Pandora snapped toward the direction of the assault and set her sights on Mech and Ren. The round splintered to the ground, disintegrated.
"Electromagnetic shell at ninety-seven percent integrity." chimed Cosset.
Pandora sneered beneath her starlit helm before reigniting her lightning coil and casting its burning grasp into the sands.
"Oh, not good." mumbled Mech.
"Yup. Yes-bad call.' sighed Ren, 'Run!"
Arcs of lighting rippled out from Pandora's flail up into the mangled heaps of metal around her and the weirded beast again took shape.
Mech and Ren dashed through the sands, weaving between dunes to the still operational treader bike.
"We won't outrun her,' yelled Mech, 'you need to take the bike and get that construct away from her and the crash site."
"What?" shouted Ren.
The monstrosity roared causing a dune to slide dangerously close to the two before they reached the treader.
Mech grabbed Ren by his jacket, "Listen, get the bike and lead that thing around the dunes, keep it focused to the North.' Mech looked back to make sure they weren't in sight, 'We'll need more firepower to take out that shield."
Ren hopped on the bike, "And where are you going to find that kind of firepower out here?"
"You worry about that monster, I'll worry about the firepower!"
"North, got it." squinted Ren as he fired up the treader and sped toward the behemoth. The machine hurdled up the face of a western dune and Ren leveled his rifle once more against Pandora. And once again a magnetic field intercepted his shots. Pandora whirled her arms toward Ren and the beast obeyed, heaving its shambling bulk after him as the treader sped down the sands to the North.
Seizing the moment, Mech ran North as well, straight at Pandora. As he drew closer tee air seemed to fizzle and thrum, still he charged on. Ren circled to the northeast with the crackling beast tearing after him. As the creature moved so did Pandora, who paced up a dune for a better vantage point, unknowingly turning her back on Mech.
Arcs of lighting crashed around Ren splashing down into crystalline explosions of charred sand as the beast closed in with triumphant bellowing. Ren leaned close to the steering column of the treader, shielding his face from stray shards of glass that flew past. Just then the shoddy welding of the rattling solar panels tore away from the treader, joining the entanglement of charged debris that composed the monster. Ren could feel the shoulder strap of his rifle pull taught and the treader itself began to strain as the magnetic field of the beast descended upon him.
Mech reached the iron hull of the Authority airship. Glancing about he examined the remains of the craft being careful to avoid the still live electrical cables before finding his objective. Pushing over panel of iron plating and shoving aside the shattered search light Mech pulled himself into the gunner's seat of the deck mounted Gatling turret.
Pandora closed the fist of her outstretched arm and the leviathan leapt toward Ren's treader. The rear of the bike lifted up, pulled by the magnetic charge. Knowing he could not stay ahead of the monster much longer Ren resolved to give up the chase. Reaching down he unclipped his rifle, letting it fly off behind him, and then Ren unfastened his grenade belt, strapping it to the treader just above the fuel cells.
"Here goes nothing."
Ren leapt off his treader, tumbling down the ridge of a dune just before the bike lifted up into the air, pulled into the twisting form of the behemoth's skull. The treader slammed into the creature becoming one with the mangled debris, the grenades bursting into a furious blast, beheading the monster.
Ren smiled as the beast reeled, stumbling to the ground, smoke billowing up from within it. He did not smile for long though.
The creature reared up, and bore down upon Ren, who, now weaponless, could only run. Pandora strained, the eyes of her helm flickering in and out as the creature moved further away from her reach. Her prey nearly in hand, Pandora focused her night into maintaining the creature, but her concentration was shattered as bullets rang out from behind her.
"Field at sixty-three percent."
Pandora spun around, attempting to draw power into electromagnetic shielding at the cost of dismantling the behemoth.
Ren dove for cover as the growling monster fell to pieces around him, the gnarled scraps narrowly missing him.
Mech kept a steady lock on Pandora as the rounds pelted away at her defenses and the barrels of the gun began to turn red with heat.
"Thirty-eight percent integrity." said Cosset.
"Not helping..." snarled Pandora to her A.I.
As the barrage continued the muzzle of the crank gun was set ablaze and began to melt from the incessant fire. The gun let out a hideous shriek as the barrels collapsed and bullets rang out from the molten spray, flung harmlessly into the air.
"Seven percent charge remaining."
Mech scrambled for his firearm, but Pandora was fast upon him. With surprising speed she raced down the dune, Mech grasped the pommel of his weapon but it was too late. Pandora's coil whipped across the turret, casting Mech down to the deck and severing the gun from its mounting.
Mech's blaster slid down the iron hull just out of reach as Pandora slowly approached. Mech realized he had one option left if he was not to beg for mercy. As Pandora drew closer Mech feigned defeat.
"Everything ends, defender.' said Pandora, 'The Halleaux, the Resistance, and even you, Mech."
"I'm sorry,' shuddered Mech, 'do we know each other?"
Pandora lifted her coil over her shoulder to strike, but Mech lunged out and took up the severed Gatling turret. Pandora swung down with all her might, the tendrils of the whip searing through the deck of the airship. Mech leveled the gun at his opponent, but Pandora her kept momentum bringing the coil back around. Mech squeezed the trigger and Pandora swept her weapon through the barrel of the gun, cutting it in two. Mech was left with just the half of the weapon as Pandora channeled her power into a final blow, levitating as she recoiled her arm to smite her enemy. Lightning arced between the tendrils of the coil and the four piercing eyes of Pandora's eerie helm glistened with malignant glee.
Breaking the transcendence of imminent victory a voice cheerily blurted out, "Three and a half percent!"
Mech squinted and pulled the trigger of the gun. There was a burst of red flame and shower of blue sparks as Pandora was thrown down into the sand becoming partially buried.
Mech regained his sidearm, loaded with aeon darts, and approached his defeated foe, "You were saying?"
"Everything ends, Mech.' said Pandora as she struggled to lift herself up from the sands, 'This will be the last Halleaux."
Mech's eyes narrowed with concern and then he began to feel as if pins and needles started to stick him from all sides before time itself seemed to stop.
When Mech shook off the sensation he was shocked to find that Pandora was nowhere to be seen. Instead there was a trail of prints leading off to the southwest.
The glare of a searchlight swept over Mech and the sound of engines rumbled across the western dunes. But Mech was too lost in thought to take notice.
Who was she? How does she know me? Why was searching for Roanoke? What on Earth was the beast she controlled?
"I found us a ride home!"
Mech's train of thought was broken by Ren's voice.
Behind Mech were two Roanoke dune crawlers, one piloted by Marius and another driven by Petra.
Taking the long and deceptive route back to base, Mech and Ren explained all that they had witnessed to Petra. The roving well drones, the threshold beacons, and the downed airship. They confirmed the existence of an artificial creature, and stranger still the interference of the bizarre interloper.
Petra in turn revealed that Marius was successful in his mission, having returned from the Mountain with the Sentinel and his faithful kin to bolster the Resistance ranks.
"How did you find us anyhow?" asked Mech.
"Turns out,' Petra smiled, 'big fiery explosions are pretty easy to spot at night. We knew you must have been in trouble after three days, all we had to do was watch for it."
"But what about the attacker?' pressed Mech, 'You haven't asked much about her."
Petra did not answer but instead stared into the rear facing mirror of the dune crawler, anxiously surveying the horizon.
To Be Continued...
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