On the other side, Shadow opened his eyes to see a very large room, with a large rectangular table in the middle made of solid black rock, which was surrounded by a group of the monsters…who looked very different. They were smaller, more human sized, and showed no fangs. Their feet were shoved in boots and most of them were dressed in cloths and rags, all dirty and fashioned off materials Shadow did not recognize. The only face he saw was of the larger and broader one, who was talking. The face was scaly, foul and full of hair, but definitely a humanoids’, however twisted and monstrous. His eyes were the white with the black sphere as the iris that the beasts sported.
However unintelligible a sound they were making, they were indeed communicating amongst themselves. And on the table? The mist was thickening in a way it fashioned a three-dimensional projection of a map…of his world.
This is a war room…that all but confirmed his fears.
But there was nothing in the room of value, and so Shadow was swallowed by the darkness, returning to his temporary companions. Dark Runner was quick to motion a question, to which Shadow simply shook his head to say there was nothing to steal. They moved on.
They spent nearly two hours, cautiously and slowly moving across corridors, checking inside doors, avoiding a total of four patrols and otherwise meeting with disappointment after disappointment.
However, they were thieves, the world’s best, and any thief worth his salt has the patience to keep his blood cold and his breathing calm no matter how many setbacks and delays and inconveniences they meet. And so they just kept moving, all of them mapping the terrain in their mind, all of them aware they were not going around in circles, nor checking places they had already checked. They were patient, careful, never letting their guard down. They knew that patience and care always make a heist pan out.
When Dark Runner made them stop, spotting over a corner by use of his mirrors, and then held the number four for a second before gesturing they were watching the corridor, they all knew they had found their mark.
A standing guard, Shadow looked at Sorcerer who nodded back at him, extending her hand to him, does not stand idly.
They teleported into the guarded room, immediately and silently rolling to the side in order to successfully hide behind some kind of big panel, after which they then surveyed the room.
There was a tall obelisk at the center, three or four times a man’s height, with something glowing on its tip. The obelisk itself was surrounded by four more guards, again the beasts, but the room was quite large. Dark Runner motioned for patience and then used his mirror pen to take a closer look. He looked back at them gravely and smiled that cocky grin of his, opening his eyes excitedly.
Shadow nodded in agreement and stretched out his hand to have the pen. Dark Runner finally parted with it and Shadow observed the set-up. He then allowed Sorcerer to do the same while he thought of the gestures he would need to explain the plan.
Seemed everyone already agreed with the plan so it didn’t take long to explain. Within a minute, Sorcerer and Dark Runner were well position to run from the panel to one of the walls and Shadow was retrieving a pellet from the small pouch he had concealed on his left leg. The pellet seemed made of modeling clay, plasticine.
With a flick of the wrist, he sent it flying to the opposite side of the room. Falling, it rolled for a few moments and once it stopped, it popped in one very loud instant… dissolving itself into a small puddle of transparent liquid.
The guards reacted immediately, grunting unintelligibly and turning to face the noise. The grunts however, had a peculiar echo to them that Shadow had not noticed on the smaller beasts talking in the war room before. But it was inconsequential. Shadow, observing through the mirrors, motioned the other two to go.
They covered the space in quick strides, reaching the wall quickly. Once there, Sorcerer whispered a few words and their clothes were pulled in another direction than down, this time towards the wall. Inches from it, they started flowing up, just as one of the guards finally left to check the noise.
He didn’t find anything and looked back for instructions. One of the others replied by lifting his arms in annoyance, and the other exasperated, a bit impatiently, but assenting. He started circling the room, though through the opposite side Shadow’s panel was on, so they had lucked out on that one.
When the guard was on the other side of the obelisk, blocked by it from Shadow, Sorcerer and Dark Runner were right on top of it. Sorcerer grabbed Dark Runner’s feet and Shadow thought he could see her breathing in hesitation before she turned off the spell on Dark Runner.
He fell down but she grabbed hold of him, her body rocking a few inches off its fixed hovering position. It was a good thing these guards did not share their senses or they would have heard the quiet gasp that Sorcerer’s body had made.
Slowly, Sorcerer turned her body vertically, and then started descending Dark Runner towards their prize. Meanwhile, the patrolling guard was almost to Shadow’s panel. He quietly drew another of his smoke bombs. At the same time, Dark Runner’s forehead sweat was absorbed by the straps of his goggles as he reached for the prize just above the three other guards, who had only to look up to notice them both.
Dark Runner bit his lower lip, tense and remarkably scared. Shadow imagined that he was not used to being afraid, he couldn’t blame him for that. Not that he himself was feeling fear.
Shadow gripped his smoke-bomb, preparing to throw it, but then a loud and upsetting screech echoed throughout the facility in a deafening volume. Within two seconds of its repetition, it was clear what it was.
The guard about to reach Shadow turned to the top of the obelisk, his gaze followed by that of his colleagues and Shadow himself to see Sorcerer grabbing onto Dark Runner who had a glowing stone in his hands. He looked back at all very much the kid caught stealing from the cookie jar.
“You guys pressurized it too?!”
The guards didn’t find the question funny, and instead pointed and roared in anger just as a gray ball hit Dark Runner in the chest. It erupted in a bright and sudden flash-bang that attacked eyes and ears while also erupting in smoke.
Shadow moved swiftly and nimbly, stepping over one of the guards and jumping off of him to reach for the two. Sorcerer was already focusing her teleportation spell, hand outstretched to catch Shadow.
The guards most likely attempted to re-focus their senses in time to catch the two atop the obelisk but by the time they started yelling at each other, calling for their back-up, Sorcerer had already teleported them away.
Still, the alarm sounded…they had been seen.
They didn’t waste time and started running. The alam would throw a normal person’s senses off, the screeching horrible noise that it was, but not them.
“Dammit! Why didn’t we think it could be pressurized?!”
“It was a giant rock,” Sorcerer protested, “how do you pressurize a rock?!”
“Human logic is wasted in these circumstances,” Shadow judged, “we should have been more careful.”
“How’re we supposed to know how these aliens secure their stuff?! This was way unfair!”
“We do not know what they are, but we took something from them. Whatever it is, it seems to be very important.”
“Clearly,” Sorcerer agreed, followed by a cough and a momentary stagger in her movement, which made them all stop.
“Whoah!” Dark Runner quickly grabbed her, concerned, “are you okay, Sorce?”
“Just weary. I–”
She was interrupted by one of the beasts which showed up right in front of them. This time, it did not wait in silence, but instead bellowed and immediately launched itself towards them.
Dark Runner yelled profanity.
Sorcerer stepped forward, putting herself in-between Shadow and Dark Runner before they could react and pushed out her hands with such force it felt like she was pushing out all she had.
With a yell, a gust of wind rose, her robes fluttering uncontrollably as the beast was slowed down and forced to land short of reaching them. The beast challenged the gust of wind but she raised her voice to a point where it became a bellow, somehow empowering the wind to blow the beast all the way back.
The beast hit the wall, landing on its feet undamaged, while Sorcerer crouched down in exhaustion. Shadow quickly threw a smoke-bomb right at the beast’s face, intending to run, but instead he felt a hand grasp at his leg just as the beast came soaring out of the flash and smoke, this time unhindered and unsurprised by the bomb.
Again they teleported just in the nick of time, and once they showed up, still in a dark corridor, Sorcerer was on one knee, holding her own chest, breathing hard and tired. Her hood was off, showing her blue hair…it was long enough to reach her shoulders and hide her forehead beneath strong bangs.
“Sorce…” Dark Runner crouched to look at her in the eyes but she just replied with a heavy sigh. And stood up.
“I’m fine. But I have only one more teleportation in me…”
“They will have covered all the exits by now.”
“And we only know one…I don’t think…”
“We need a diversion to uncover them,” Shadow stated, calmly but fatally.
Sorcerer nodded but Dark Runner did not agree.
“What? Screw that, c’mon guys, we’re better than this, we can run for it.”
A nice sentiment…but gullible. Shadow would not jeopardize the mission for the sake of their own vain hopes. He had been bred, and raised, to do better.
“You two are best at extraction. And I am the best suited to confront them.”
“Humpf, wanna put that to the test? Sounds like a challenge to me!”
“No,” Shadow stated.
“Then we’ll both be a diversion! That way she’ll be able to escape for sure, that’s all that matters.”
“No,” Sorcerer herself interrupted, “I am the one who’s tired. I will stay.”
“Too tired to fight, too tired to escape alone.” He had to make them understand that this was the only way. “Hear me. It is vital we escape with that rock, and escaping the vessel may be hard, but there is still the entire distance that is Prusnia. You two can make it, if I stay and fight.”
“Stay and die, you mean,” Dark Runner protested immediately but, Shadow noticed in his tone, coming around to the truth of their situation.
“I made my peace with death when I took this role, Dark Runner. Did you?”
“’Course not,” he replied, again without hesitation. “There’s plenty I want to do, regardless of having my codename.”
“Then live. Do those things.” Shadow looked at them from behind his expressionless mask, not wanting to say what he wanted to say. But it would help, “with her.”
Surprisingly, Sorcerer was the one still unconvinced.
“It is my fault that I am tired,” she said, almost pleadingly. “I will stay…”
“It is because of you that we managed to steal it in the first place. It would have been impossible otherwise.”
Shadow uncharacteristically felt a sliver of emotion. Frustration suddenly filled him, since time was of the utmost essence, and so he suddenly reached for his mask with such an abrupt movement it alone interrupted Sorcerer’s protest. He pulled the mask out, followed by his eye slits, which he had to squeeze off, showing to them they were simply big contact lenses, black and magical.
He showed them his shaved and lean face, the scars in his chin, nose and right temple. He looked at them with his grave dark almond eyes and spoke even more gravely.
“Katsuo begs of you! Go. Tell my clan I died with honor, for its glory. Tell all of the invasion that has begun, and stop it.”
The moment of silence was there, but short, as Dark Runner immediately placed his hand over his shoulder, looking at him intently and respectfully.
“I’m Griff, and I promise you I will do these things. I…cannot tell you what this sacrifice means to us. To us all.”
Eliza looked at him, a bit teary eyed, short of crying, and sniffed.
“I am Eliza…and I say it means everything,” she put her hand on his other shoulder, though while Dark Runner’s grip was an encouraging one, hers was a supporting one. “Fight well, Shadow, and live on in name…as every Shadow before you.”
He nodded, but said nothing. There was nothing to say, they had been convinced, and that was all that was necessary. He put his lenses on, and his mask, and turned his back to them and ran.
He turned at a corner and left them behind and never looked back. After all, though it was his end, there was no reason to hesitate…
His end had already come years ago, when Shadow had begun.