Drew watched the two newcomers out of the corner of his eye. Ever since they’d realized he was holding back on how many xatherite he had, they’d been having a whispered conversation with each other. The group had spread out. Drew, Sarah, and Katie had taken the front, the three coasties only a few feet apart. Jholie and Bill followed a dozen paces behind them, while Robbi and JP were another dozen feet behind the second row.
“What’s wrong?” Katie asked quietly, having picked up on Drew’s soured mode.
“I’m not sure. Something with JP and Robbi.” Drew answered, his voice cast low enough that Sarah, who was on the other side of Katie, had a hard time hearing him.
“You think they’re mana twisted or something?” Sarah asked.
Drew considered this for a moment. There didn’t seem to be any logical reason why a human couldn’t become mana twisted. The Wereghouls were evidence that there wasn’t something special about their bodies that made humans immune to the ravages of the sudden increase in ambient mana. But it didn’t quite fit with what he’d heard in the tutorial. Would the human protectorate have created a system that would allow that?
Katie nudged him in the side and he looked up, realizing that he’d gotten lost in thought. “I don’t think so. Everything else we’ve seen that’s mana twisted physically changed.” They were just about to pass the field where they had seen the bashers and Drew frowned while looking around; all the rabbit-like creatures had disappeared. “You guys feel that?” He asked, turning towards Jholie and Bill.
It was Robbi that answered, “It’s a mana storm, we need to move.” The fear in JP’s voice as he answered Drew was evident. JP and Robbi started running to catch up to the rest of the group. They were still a couple hundred feet from the auto shop where they’d left Daryl and the others.
Drew looked out and realized that he could see the storm with mana sight; it looked like a massive ley line floating in the sky miles away. As he watched, he could see it moving closer to their position, and shaking his head, Drew grabbed Katie’s hand and began running the towards their safe haven. “We’ve got to move.” Drew said over his shoulder, but everyone was already running.
Bill was keeping pace with Jholie, and Drew could hear his encouraging shouts. The three coasties in their combat boots moved somewhat slower than JP and Robbi, but as the two of them had no idea where to go, they trailed along behind Drew, who was leading everyone as the fastest person who had actually been there before. When they rounded the last corner towards the auto shop, Drew’s heart sank. Six trolls were walking around the building with a large creature that had a snake head and a furry quadruped body, with bands of bright blue fur running in diagonal stripes across its otherwise off-white fur. The creature was sniffing the ground like it was tracking something.
Drew dropped Katie’s hand and began forming the hand seals to cast frostfire storm; hoping to catch the trolls together before they noticed them. He heard Sarah mutter her buff spells, but his focus was on the surviving trolls and the spell he was trying to cast. JP pushed a magazine into his HK45 and the click as it locked into place caused all seven of their opponents to look their direction.
Making a mental note that their hearing was excellent, Drew finished casting frostfire storm, catching the creature and four of the trolls in its radius. The other two trolls had been lucky in that their bodies were oriented towards them. They’d pushed off the ground, leaping towards the group. Drew pointed a finger at one of them, but before he could activate fireball a shot rang out. Red traces of energy trailed behind the bullet, and two rounds impacted one troll in the chest. Fire erupted out of the impact points, consuming the affected troll and burning it to ash in half a second. Drew switched targets, launching a fireball at the last one still alive, burning it alive as well.
The group continued to run, the multihued clouds of the manastorm now visible on the horizon. They had to skirt around the frostfire storm that was still raging, but they were inside past the illusion before the first drops of rain hit.
Daryl must have told those inside that the trolls were sniffing around, because they were met with a variety of homemade spears and firebombs. “It’s okay, its just us and some friends!” Drew shouted loudly, afraid one of the scared individuals would make the same mistake he made back at the exchange. The former prisoners began lowering their weapons and JP holstered his gun.
Daryl’s voice appeared in Drew’s head as Jholie and Bill began hugging their compatriots. “I’m posted up in a building across the way; I’ll keep a watch until dark, but I don’t think anything will be attacking us during the storm.” Drew held his hand up and waved to Daryl in response, since there was no way for him to answer back.
“Alright everyone, a mana storm is hitting, so we’re safe for the next few hours. Anyone who wants to can come see me and I’ll cast refreshing rain on them. But we’re going to be planning the rescue as soon as we can.” It took a few minutes to sort everything out. Most everyone opted to stay awake to contribute to the plans, though a few, like Jholie, decided they would rather sleep.
As they were discussing sleep Katie asked him, “When was the last time you actually slept, Drew? Not just passing out from slotting xatherite, but really slept?”
“Before the Advent.” He said without thinking, and it was loud enough that JP and Robbi heard him. Drew winced internally as they looked at him then each other again. Another piece of information they didn’t need to have.
“I think you should sleep too. It can’t be healthy for your brain to be going that fast for that long. Besides with Daryl not here, all the really important planning is going to go on tomorrow morning anyway.” Katie said, and Sarah nodded in agreement.
Drew attempted to protest, but the two women refused to bend, and 30 minutes later he’d taken his boots off and was attempting to sleep on the only couch in the building. It had been somewhat embarrassing how much everyone was willing to accommodate him. He’d saved everyone in the building except for JP and Robbi, and they were all willing to make some sacrifices so that he could get a decent night's sleep.
Before Advent he had always had some trouble sleeping, but almost as soon as his eyes closed, he felt like his body had been waiting for this sleep for more than a week.
* * *
Drew smiled. He was warm and comfortable, and they were letting him sleep longer than he anticipated, his body waking up naturally. The soft silk sheets of the bed made almost no sound as he shifted.
Wait, silk sheets? He could feel them around him, and he cracked his eyes open. The view that greeted him was not the one he had fallen asleep to. He sat up to get a better view of the scene. Before him, a massive red and yellow nebula stretched out as far to either edge of the viewport as it would allow before being blocked by massive metallic wings. He was in a luxuriously appointed bedroom, glowing polished wood panels and plush carpeting made the room seem more organic, but the viewport and his experience playing space simulators told him that he was on a spaceship or space station.
Was he still asleep? Could this be some sort of dream? He pinched himself, but didn’t wake up.
Standing up he realized that the ‘form’ he was currently in was made of some sort of slightly transparent looking plastic that was visibling shifting to his normal skin tone. A body, but not his own. It was a strange realization, reminding him of the replicants in Blade Runner. But before he could delve too far down this particular philosophical rabbit hole, a chime sounded behind him and he turned towards the wall, where a drawer slid out, revealing a pair of shoes, socks, and a one piece jumpsuit with the symbol of a shield and spear crossed on the chest. On the shoulder, a rank insignia of an inverted diagonal line was visible.
Not liking the feeling of being naked, despite the fact that this form had no distinguishable private parts, he began putting the clothes on. As soon as he’d finished putting on his shoes another chime sounded. He turned again to look as a young looking human appeared from the other side of a door that had opened without a noise.
“Greetings midshipman, I’m Themis. I’m here to escort you to the Admiral.” He was holding a small blue glass pane in front of him that looked very much like a data pad would in Star Trek. “If I may say so sir, you’ve caused quite a stir here. No one expected it to take you this long to arrive.”
Drew frowned at the man. The name Themis was familiar to him--one of the minor Greek Gods. But he couldn’t for the life of him remember what his portfolio had been. Horses and rivers maybe? Did that make him the god of travellers? As soon as he came near, the man turned and began leading him deeper into the spaceship. He had decided it was a spaceship instead of a station due to the lack of small craft when he was looking out the viewplate.
“Themis, where am I?” Drew asked as he rushed to keep up with the secretary? Steward? Drew realized he wasn’t entirely sure what the man’s job on the ship actually entailed.
“Oh, sorry Midshipman, you’re on Olympus, the flagship of the Orion-Cygnan Fleet. We’re currently near what Earth astronomers call the Ring Nebula. Although we’re getting ready to deploy against the ninth Elatrin fleet, which will take us closer to the Deneb system. The admiral wanted to talk to you before we were out of range.” Themis replied quite unhelpfully. “Normally this meeting wouldn’t occur for another decade or so, while we waited for you to grow into your powers and be ready to take the Oaths, but the Admiral insisted.”
Drew stopped and stared at Themis’ quickly retreating form. “What the hell is going on?”
Themis, hearing the distance between them increasing, turned around and tapped on the datapad he held before looking up at Drew. “You were notified that you had been granted membership into the Order of the Dragon, correct?”
Drew nodded his head, confused.
“As the local Order representative in this region of the Milky Way Galaxy, Admiral Aries has opted to take you on as a page until such a time as you are eligible for your training as a squire. Due to the unexpected nature of your emergence on a newly Advent’ed dimensional slice, you have created a rather unusual set of circumstances. But the rules of the Order are clear and the Admiral has determined to assist you in your training, as is befitting an Order prospect of your potential. However, as I said earlier, we are currently readying the fleet for action against an invading Elatrin fleet. The system prevents the Admiral from doing more to assist you until you have reached the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. What little he can do will occur during your meeting with him.”
“Does that answer your question, Midshipman Michalik?” Themis said with a smile, and Drew had a flashback to the first day of Advent talking to Aevis during the tutorial.
“Not particularly, but I imagine that is as much as I’m likely to get.” Drew said, and Themis nodded his head to confirm his guess.
“Very well, then please follow me, the Admiral is quite busy.”
Drew followed along as the man entered an elevator, and as soon as Drew had entered as well, the lift began moving. Drew could only tell because the auras around him shifted rapidly; there was no sense of motion from the machine itself. They stood in uncomfortable silence for some time, which Drew used to take the time to examine Themis’ aura, which was almost completely green. He hadn’t seen anyone that was so predominantly one color among any of the earth-3 inhabitants he’d seen.
Themis frowned as he watched Drew look at him, “You are an interesting specimen, Midshipman Michalik. It’s clear you already have some awareness of the mana spectrum, and some way to refrain from answering a sleep sync for several days. I’m beginning to understand why Admiral Aries was so insistent on you receiving your introduction before we left the range of the sleep sync.”