ARKFALL

Chichnes kom Heda
Conversations with the Commander

The Commander shifted on her throne as she listened to the councilors drone on about new road construction and trade agreements. Normally she would be more than pleased over the peacetime plans, but not today.

Something felt off. Something had felt off since the Sand Walkers, Sea Clan, and Ice Nation did not send delegations to the Spring Gathering several months prior. Hell, if she was truly honest with herself, something had felt off since she accepted the Mountain Men’s deal. In a few weeks’ time, it would be a full year since she broke the Kongeda’s alliance with the Sky People. A year that should have brought peace and prosperity. A year that should have been about unification and celebration.

After all, their people thought forever lost to the Mountain were recovered, many of those forced to become Reapers were returned to themselves, and the Mountain itself was destroyed. But the year had not been peaceful, not truly. While no official fighting had been reported amongst the Coalition nations, the bombing of TonDC and subsequent loss of several clan leaders and generals had left many of the clans on shaky ground. She and her most loyal advisors had spent the better part of the year doing damage control—trying to keep the Kongeda from crumbling. She would not see it fall apart now, not after all she had fought and killed and sacrificed. Not after…not after all she had lost in the name of “peace.”

So far their alliances had held, some more thinly than others, but they had held. The Fall Gathering was not long away, and they would be celebrating the triumph over the Mountain Men. It would be a bittersweet festival for some, herself included. Not the least because it was not her hand that brought their enemies down. No, it was their uneasy new neighbors from the Sky—specifically one girl from the Sky who she had searched for in vain for almost a year. And because it was the Sky People who finally brought down their oldest enemy, the Commander had allowed them to stay in their metal villages on Woods Clan land and had ordered that no member of the Coalition was to harm a Sky Person unless they attacked first on threat of death.

The problem was, however, that the Sky People were…well, a problem. The locations of the Sky People villages often got in the way of existing trade routes. The people themselves were ill-equipped to live on the ground in many ways, yet were insistent on relying on their technology to save them. It would be much easier if she were able to bring them into the Coalition, but all hope of that walked away with her army when they abandoned them to the Mountain.

Sometimes she thinks it might have been better if they had all died in that Mountain instead of the Mountain Men. At least the Mountain Men were an enemy she knew, an enemy that—while she’d never beaten them—she had fought to a stand-off.

She took their deal, not because she trusted them to keep their terms. She knew the nations of the Kongeda would never live peacefully with the Mountain Men, that the Maunon would attack her people again once they were able to leave the Mountain. But she also knew that the Mountain was the only thing that had saved the Mountain Men from her blades and arrows. Inside the Mountain, she couldn’t reach them—her armies were almost useless. Outside? Her armies were the far superior fighters, even with the Maunon’s guns and bombs. Once they were outside the Mountain, she would have killed them all—made them pay for the centuries of pain they’d caused her people—made them pay for making her once again choose her people over herself.

She took their deal because it gave her back hundreds of her lost people, without losing hundreds more in the process. She took the deal because she could rescue now and revenge later. She took it because, as impressed as she was with the audacity and cunning of the Sky leader—“ Wanheda ” (Commander of Death) her people called the Sky girl now—she never thought the girl could bring down the Mountain alone. But she’d been wrong.

And now she found herself in an uneasy truce with a former enemy turned ally who she’d betrayed. Most of her war advisers advocated to go to war with the Sky People—destroy them once and for all before they could capture the Mountain and seek revenge. The Sky People had technology similar to the Mountain Men, and there were more of them than there had been people in the Mountain. They could breathe the air and were much more unpredictable opponents. If they took over the Mountain, they could repair their fallen enemy’s weapons and defenses and would be even more formidable. Her advisers were afraid the Sky People would be out for blood—as they would be, had she done the same to their clans.

But the Sky People were not fully like her people, nor were they truly like the Mountain Men. Their leaders had once told her that they did not want to fight her people—they just wanted to live in peace. She had believed them then, and she still believed them now. So she allowed the Skaikru to stay in Trigeda lands and had managed to keep her people from engaging them in any hostilities…so far. At this point, she genuinely felt the Sky People were less of a threat than the Ice Nation.

After all, it had only been a few days since she’d received word of a large army of Azgeda who destroyed one of her villages. Upon sending some agents to investigate, the report that the village was indeed destroyed, but the bodies had been burned by the time they arrived. There was no definitive proof that the Azgeda were behind it, though she had little doubt. But the others on her councils did not all agree with her, and she did not have enough backing to thrust them into another war. Her decision at the Mountain and to leave the Skaikru alone did not come without their downside. She was on thin ice, politically, and could not risk making such a bold move without more support…

Listening to the council drone on in Gonasleng (English) allowed for her mind to drift, but her attention was snapped back to the meeting when the voices of several councilors began to spike.

“…in which trade with the Horse Clan could be increased. They would be able to trade all year, not worry about ice in the mountain passes. I could—“

“A new passage would take us near the northern Sky village!”

“And?”

“And, they are not part of the Coalition.”

“Yes, but we’ve had no fight with them since the Mountain—“

“The Sky People shouldn’t even be on that land! Why are we—“

“Exactly! They are on Woods Clan—“

“But why would we want to start a fight with them now when the Ice Nation—“

“When we what what, Boatman?”

“When you—“

“The councilor from the Boat People speaks out of—“

The Commander slammed her fist down on her throne arm, as her two guards stepped forward on either side of her throne, swords still sheathed, but gripped.

“Enough!”

The councilors fell silent immediately, though several still held protests on their faces.

“You all talk round and round about the Sky People. I made my decision then, and I stand by it now. They stay where they are, and we will not start another fight with them. If we need a new route, then we will make a new route. We will speak with their clan leaders and—“

Just then the door to the meeting hall swung open. The Commander had not seen the face of the interloper in almost 3 years, and her guards immediately moved to intercept the uninvited woman quickly approaching them. Before they reached her, the woman called out, “Heda! Ai souda chich yu op. Jus yumi. Ai biyo moba, ba em set nou na raun…beja…” (“Commander! I must speak with you. Alone. I’m sorry, but it can’t wait…please…”)

The Commander was silent for a moment as she sized the woman up. There is no reason she could think of that the woman before her would be before her unless it were a grave matter. The others in the room looked between the two women, a mixture of annoyance and curiosity displayed on their faces. After the moment’s contemplation, the Commander nodded, then subtly waved her hand as she spoke, “Ogeda bants osir.” Seeing the confusion on some of the councilor’s faces, she repeated herself in their common tongue, “Everyone leave us.”

Her councilors began to file out, but her guards turned back to her, questions clear on their faces. She gave them a quick nod, “Yo seintiem.” (You all as well.)

At that, they filed out after the others, leaving only the two women in the room. The Commander waited for the other woman to speak, but sighed when she did not seem to find her words. “Yu gon prom fo ain chichnes…jos yumi. Sha? Ai ste set raun. Chit gaf yu in, Ayden?” (You asked to speak with me…alone. Well? I’m waiting. What do you want, Ayden?”)

Ayden took a deep breath. “Ai kom hasta Azgeda-de, Heda. Fou ai nou chich ridiyo op—” (I’m here about the Ice Nation, Commander. I did not speak true before—)

“Yu gon spichen kom ai?” (You lied to me?)

“Nou, Heda. Ai…ai nou get klin chon…oso na gada ste in pon klin.” (No, Commander. I…I am not sure who…we may have been tricked.)

“Chit yu sei, Ayden?” (What do you mean, Ayden?)

“Ai sei Azgeda-de nou na gon flush Saris kiln.” (I mean, the Ice Nation may not have massacred Saris.)

“Haukom get yu in disha?” (How do you know this?)

“Fou sonchan fouteim, Natronas en splitas kom nouseim krus, chek seim au Azgeda gonakru, jomp Skaikru stegeda-de Mekka Kapa op. Skaikru-de en ai don gonplei emo. Oso frag mani bagas op, ba mani don ron seinteim of.” (Four days ago, traitors and outcasts from different clans, disguised as Ice Nation warriors, attacked the Sky People village, Mecha City. The Sky People and I fought them. We killed many of them, but many others escaped.)

“Get yu kiln?” (Are you sure?)

“Hashta emo bilaik don jomp Mekka Kappa op? Sha. Hashta emo bilaik don jomp Saris op? Nou. Bilaik ste—” (About those that attacked Mecha City? Yes. About those that attacked Saris? No. That is—)

“Dula Skaikru wich Kongeda-de in don jomp emo op?” (Do the Sky People believe the Coalition attacked them?)

“Ai don tel emo op bilaik oso nou dula jomp emo op—bilaik emo ste natronas, nou Azgeda, nou Kongeda…nou yu.” (I told them that we did not attack them—that they were traitors, not Ice Nation, not Coalition clans…not you.)

The Commander regarded Ayden for a moment silently, her mind whirling.

When Ayden’s report had come through two weeks before, the Commander was initially skeptical. As much as she would love to have a reason to destroy the Ice Queen once and for all, she had to consider the fact that the information was coming from the only person she knew to hate the Ice Nation’s former leader more than she did. But she ultimately had no reason to believe Ayden was lying. After all, despite the bad blood between them, Ayden had never lied to her before and knew that doing so would end not just Ayden’s life, but the life of the remainder of her family. Unfortunately, the Commander’s sheer belief was no longer enough to spur the Coalition to action without any actual proof, and the Wood’s Clan could not defeat the Ice Nation alone.

“Haukom gon tel ai op disha nau? Yu na gon pas em. Ai breik yu au, Ayden, ba yu gon kom bak. Haukom?” (Why would you tell me this now? You could have gone after her. I set you free, Ayden, yet you came back. Why?)

“Bilaik ai ste non branwada. Ai na ste jos yun swis, ba ai get skrish in teim ai chek em au. Emo gaf osir in gon wor, ba ai get nou klin kom Azgeda. En teim ai teik ain jus daun, em na nou ste gon bakon kom spichen.” (Because I’m no one’s fool. I may be just your tool, but I know shit when I see it. Someone wants us to go to war, but I’m not so sure its the Ice Nation. And when I get my revenge, it will not be on the back of lies.)

Ayden saw a flash in the other woman’s eyes. For a moment, she didn’t see the ruthless Commander, she saw her former friend staring back at her in gratitude.

Their history was complicated and strained—Ayden was another piece of herself that Alexandria had been forced to sacrifice for her people as Commander—the last living childhood friend she had that she’d been made to turn on to keep the Coalition whole. She’d virtually chained her former friend into being one of her most vicious—and effective—agents against Ayden’s will, while denying Ayden the thing she desired most—the thing they both desired most—revenge on the Ice Queen.

Ayden’s report on the loss of Saris and the her Blood Hunter squad had been accompanied by Ayden’s request to finally be granted permission to go after the Ice Queen. In a moment of rage against her old nemesis, Alexandria’s grief overpowered the Commander’s calculating spirit and granted it. So little of Alexandria was left—being chosen Commander and all she’d had to do under that title had destroyed so much of who she’d been. Her mother’s death, Daxon’s sacrifice, Enrik’s torture, Costia’s murder, Narin’s treachery, Ayden’s breaking, Anya’s loss, Gustus’ betrayal, her own betrayals…so many pieces of her buried with their ghosts…

Heda?

Alexandria snapped her attention back to Ayden, who was staring at her intently. In a flash, the Commander settled back into place, once again tucking away the remnants of her former self.

Osir Kongeda-de nou souda slip daun. Nou nau. Nou pas eting. Teim Azgeda gon jomp ain kru op, den disha teim ai na flosh Azkwin-de klin ains. Emo’s az na fleim au, en ai na ron yu op yun jus daun— yu na teik Narin’s hed op. Ba, teim Azgeda nou jomp oso— (Our Coalition cannot fall. Not now. Not after everything. If the Ice Nation attacked my people, then this time I will slaughter the Ice Queen myself. Her ice will burn, and I will give you your revenge—you can take Narin’s head. But, if the Ice Nation did not attack us—)

Den ai na hon chon dula daun en frag em op. Emo’s gonplei na ste odon foutaim Slipdaun Geda, Heda. (Then I will hunt down whoever did this and kill them. Their fight will be over before the Fall Gathering, Commander.)

Dig em au. Dig chit au gaf emo in. Dula yu dula-de bilaik yu ste toli badas, Ayden. Fou osir. (Find them. Find out what they want. Do the job you are so good at, Ayden. For all of us.)

Sha, Heda. Ai badan yu op en nou moun. Em na ste odon. (Yes, Commander. I serve you and no other. It will be done.)

With a bow of her head, Ayden turned and left the Commander alone. She could send other agents as well, but Ayden was her best Jus Hona still alive. Still, she did not intend to leave this up to Ayden alone.

She intended to seek out the council of the Sheidfisa. She had not spoken with him in almost a year, not since after the first 100 Sky People fell from the stars. Before that she’d not spoken with him since making Polis her capital four years ago…at his suggestion. Maybe the Night Doctor knew who was behind the attacks, but even if he didn’t, his council might prove useful…Tomorrow she would take a small guard and set out for Arrisbur.

It was time she took matters into her own hands…

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Supplies
Helen's log

First thing in the morning, we ventured north to the air field, to find light aluminum scrap, both for Professor Sokolov’s prosthesis and to make improvements to the structures at York. Winter was coming, and we were NOT yet prepared.

By the time we could just see the control tower above the trees, we came to a bridge. Well, it was once a sturdy bridge, but it was full of gaps, patched by questionable planks of wood. Ayden and Dr. Nero crossed first; and even though she admonished him to follow directly in her path, it was lucky he was following so closely, because he was able to grab her arm when she stepped through a rotten plank. After that, we all managed to cross safely. We found the air field abandoned. It took a full day of reconnaissance and labor, but we discovered a dilapidated airplane, a storage shed full of useful tools, and a safe in the old control tower, which contained a depleted Omniband.

Sokolov constructed a wagon out of sheets of aluminum, large enough to haul both an enormous pile of usable scrap, plus all of the tools from the shed. The wagon functioned nicely, only giving us trouble when we had to cross back over the rotting bridge. I believe it was Sokolov who had the idea of placing sheets of aluminum over the wood, supported at the edges by the original concrete structure. We were able to lay down a few sheets, pull the wagon across, then pile the sheets back inside. We were all exhausted by the end of the day, when we gratefully set up a camp.

The embers of the fire were just beginning to die down, when we were jolted awake by the howling of wolves. We took up defensive positions, as we heard the howls multiply and gain in volume. I placed myself between the wagon and the campfire, with my spear at the ready; my position was soon crowded by Prof. Sokolov and Dr. Nero. in the confusion that followed, someone was able to start a brush fire in one of the gaps between trees; I heard Ayden’s triumphant cry as (I assume) she felled one of the beasts. Suddenly, our trio by the wagon was beset by wolves. And I can only very loosely call them wolves. These beasts seemed more dead than alive, and reeked of carrion. I felt the hot saliva as one bit into my arm. I screamed in pain, but managed to fend it off with my spear. Before long, all of the wolves were dead, and we did our best to patch our wounds. I could feel that my own bite wound contained bacteria, or venom (who knows how much these beast may have mutated?), and I hadn’t been able to clean it all out

We decided to travel back to York that night, without stopping to rest. Our cargo was too precious to risk. As soon as we returned, we collapsed into slumber. The next morning, Ayden informed us that she must return to Saris, to meet the rest of her crew. Before she left, she pulled me aside to discuss my bite wound. She had seen the effect of these bites before, and described some of the symptoms. I was a bit horrified, but I think I might see how it affects me before I seek treatment from a Trikru healer. We had decided to journey back to Saris in a few days’ time, so I vowed to consult with Tomas at that time.

But before we leave, we will have to make plans for York. We decided that the first step should be to rebuild the water wheel into an electrical generator, so all of the homes and buildings may be heated for the winter. While we travel back to Saris, en route to ‘Arrisbur’ to see Dr. Kroll again, we will mobilize the townspeople to begin construction under Prof. Sokolov’s guidance. He elected to stay behind, both the oversee the construction of a hydroelectric plant as well as his prosthetic arm.

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Strange happenings
Helen's log

So much has happened recently, that it’s still a jumble in my mind. I’ll try to get as much down as I can.

When we finally arrived at Harrisburg (once the capital of Pennsylvania, according to my Earth studies, but now called Arrisbur by the Trikru), Ayden brought us to one of the great hospitals of old. Oh, if only I could have seen it while it was still operational! As it was, I could only guess at some of the previous uses, as the building had been gutted by looters.

Ayden led us downstairs, ending at a large, (possibly) biometrically-sealed door. She activated an intercom, and tried to reach her friend on the other side. If Boomer were still with us, she would have been planning an “explosive key” by the time a man’s voice finally replied. The door opened, and we ventured inside.

Oh, my. There were shelves and shelves of vials and bottles and boxes, each filled with a different sort of medicine. The mind boggled at the thought of all the people I could help in York, with just a tiny fraction of this treasure. Only the appearance of Ayden’s friend could have broken my reverie. I immediately recognized his face, but I had to rack my brain for his identity. Oh, of course! This was none other than Dr. Atticus Kroll, who had been “floated” 10 years ago, for some trumped-up transgression or other. Obviously, the tale of his demise had been exaggerated.

He was happy to see Ayden, but a bit reluctant to discuss his own recent history. The man’s entitled to his privacy, I suppose. He enquired about our own recent adventures, and I told him about the vital antibiotics we had lost, and the strange biohazard-marked vials we had found. I would never have guessed that he himself had created that serum! He made it clear that he wanted those vials returned to his keeping, and as a show of good faith, he gave us a case of antibiotics, which didn’t even have to be refrigerated! I gladly accepted the medicine and promised to return. (Eventually.) I split the case with Dr. Nero, after the hard-earned lesson of keeping all of our eggs in one basket, as the quaint Old Earth idiom goes.

Once we had left ‘Arrisbur, we decided to go straight back to York with the medicine. Saris was not far away, and we would return later for Dr. Kroll’s vials. I trusted that the Trikru people would avoid that little refrigerator. Ayden led us back along a more direct route, which she warned would bring us close to the Ice Nation. The trip was uneventful, until we set up camp for the night. We had just drifted off to sleep, when Ash woke us right back up. Once my eyes had adjusted to the dim light, I began to see dots of red laser light on my companions’ foreheads. Lincoln addressed our unknown enemies (speaking to them in English, as the guns would indicate that they were either Mountain Men or Arkers, like us. He told the darkness that we had no quarrel with them, and we would be moving on. The unknown sentries followed us for another hour, as we stumbled our way through the underbrush. They finally left us alone, after tossing a rock into the clearing with a note attached, warning us not to return.

The following day, we made it back to York. I was immediately swarmed by some of the village children, crying “Fisa! Fisa!” I had always thought that they were calling me a “physician,” but Ayden informed me that the word was more akin to “fixer.” A simpler concept, but a title I was still proud to carry. These babies would have died, had I not “fixed” them.

We spent the next several days recuperating and resupplying, before heading out again. I brought the antibiotics to the medical clinic, along with the herbs and blood moss I had gathered. I kept the maggot colony with me, to aid in field dressing. I also bought a spear, in order to have a better defense than “keeping very still at the base of a tree.” Professor Sokolov had asked Ayden about any nearby airfields, to find lightweight aluminum for his arm prosthesis. She knew of one not far away, but within Ice Nation territory. We decided to take the risk.

The trip was uneventful once more, until we were nearly to the border to the Ice Nation. It should have come as no surprise that we were attacked. Half of our attackers were on the ground, and half in the trees. Lincoln and Ash, as per usual, were quickly dispatching our assailants, but I couldn’t take it anymore. Something in me just snapped, and I ran at one of the attackers, spear out front, screaming like a banshee. I suppose adrenaline took over, because the next thing I knew my victim was dead at my feet, speared through the heart. Some of that bloodlust must have remained, because I cut off his ear, to add to my maggot box. I also collected a short sword, a bow, and a dagger.

That evening, as we made camp, Ayden approached me. She showed me the scars cut into her back, and told me of the custom among her people of ritual scarification to commemorate kills made in battle. I was still a bit heady from my first nonsurgical death, so I agreed to receive a kill-mark above my left shoulder blade.

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Is there a doctor in the house?
Clandestine Conversations

When his message terminal alert lit up, Atticus was not surprised. He’d been expecting it, to be honest, ever since the soldiers had left the area. The visit from Ayden and the Arkers she brought with her had been unexpected, but not unwelcome. The timing, however, had been somewhat unfortunate, as the soldiers were scheduled to pick up their shipment that day as well. He had hoped that perhaps the two groups had not encountered each other, but the late arrival of the normally punctual soldiers coupled with their more surly demeanor than was usual led him to believe he was not to be so lucky.
Atticus put down his instruments and made his way to the terminal. He sat down and clicked the vid onscreen. He was met with the familiar face he knew would be staring back at him.
“James.”

“Doctor, always a pleasure.”

“Likewise, James. I’m a bit busy at the moment. How can I help you?”

“If you want to skip the pleasantries, Doctor, so be it. You know why I called.”

“I have an idea.”

“Who are they and what did they want?”

“Neither point is a concern of yours, James. I receive many visitors, and my dealings with each of them are as sacrosanct as the others. You know that.”

“They were from the Ark, Doctor.”

“Yes, so they said.”

“They could have recognized you.”

“Yes, in fact, they did. I made no effort to hide my identity. Why should I?”

“Doctor, if you are compromised, our—“

“I have been on this planet for over 10 years, James. Most of it spent in this lab. There are no small shortage of people who know exactly who I am and where I am—including you, and, now, them. I have never been compromised nor do I foresee any reason I would be compromised now or in the future, and for the very same reason you don’t send your henchmen to drag me away to your facility and neither do the rest of them.”

“Doctor—“

“Don’t ‘Doctor’ me, James. I understand your position. I understand why you feel you need to call and keep tabs. But I don’t answer to you. We have a mutually beneficial relationship, but you aren’t my only relationship, and should our relationship stop being mutually beneficial—“

“Are you threatening me, Doctor? Because if you are—”

“I don’t need to threaten you, James. You of all people know what I’m capable of. That is why you need me—and believe me, you need me a hell of a lot more than I need you. So keep all the tabs you want, but don’t expect me to cower to every paranoid inquisition you desire. Now, if you don’t have anything further—“

“No, Doctor. I think we’ve said all we have to say for the time being. If you require anything from us, don’t hesitate to contact us. Otherwise, we’ll see you at the next pick-up.”

“Good day, James.”

“Good day, Doctor.”


Atticus clicked off his terminal, sat back, and took a deep breath. He didn’t turn at hearing the footsteps behind him.

“Was that wise, Fisa? Angering the—“

“Angering him doesn’t matter. He may terrify his lackeys, but we have nothing to fear from him. Harming me would harm them more and he knows it. I haven’t survived this long by being stupid, my boy.”

“As you say.”

“I am curious about our new visitors. Ayden surprised me. I would not have thought her to aid—what is it your people call us now? Star Men?”
Skaikru. Sky People.”

“Yes, that’s it! Sky People. I would not have thought to see her with a group of Sky People, but then, she has been known to buck tradition before.”

“Yes, Fisa.”

“If her health is anything to go by, our experimentation on her appears to be producing the desired effects.”

“Perhaps that is why she brought them here. Maybe she knows?”

“Ayden? No. Her focus has been remarkably narrow for several years now. Physically, I doubt she’d notice if she grew a tail, so long as she was able to continue her hunt.”

“And psychologically?”

“Even less so. Your people are not known for their introspection, my boy. As I said, I haven’t survived down here by being stupid. No, everything is just as it should be, don’t worry.”

“And the Skaikru?”

“They are an unknown, my boy. An unknown, indeed. And you know what I always say about that?”

“’Never fear the unknown, on the other side is freedom.’”

“Indeed. My former cohabitants may prove to be quite useful to us. Granted, they could also prove a threat, but no bigger a threat than any of the others, so why dwell on it.”

“As you say, Fisa.”

“Yes, they may prove useful indeed…”
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Shipment Retrieval Report
Oversight Debriefing

He sat with his elbows on the arms of his chair, fingertips bouncing off each other lightly. He looked over his glasses at the soldier who stood at attention on the other side of his desk. “Report, Lieutenant.”

“Sir, we retrieved the shipment as expected, but we encountered others leaving the location as we arrived.”

“Outsiders, I presume?”

“No, sir…,” the lieutenant resisted the urge to shift his weight under the scrutiny. He loathed having to provide these reports to Oversight, but with his C.O. out of commission, it was left to him to provide the debriefing. He cleared his throat, then continued, “Well, outsiders, yes, but not the savages. At least, not all of them.”

“Explain, Lieutenant.” He cocked his head ever so slightly.

“There were six of them, sir. Five Arkers and a savage who appeared to be guiding them. It appeared they also had retrieved a shipment, and we pursued them in an attempt to ascertain the nature of their package. Unfortunately, we were discovered before we were able to do so.”

“Discovered?” His fingers stopped moving, arms now forming an unmoving pyramid over his body.

“Yes, sir. Weapons were trained, but neither we nor they fully engaged. Eventually, they retreated without firing. We sent a message to warn them away from retur—“

“I should not have to explain to you, Lieutenant, how important discretion is to our operations. The loss of the Mt. Weather facility should be motivation enough.”

“Yes, sir, I—“

“Especially if the Arkers and the savages are beginning to form alliances again. You said a savage was leading them?”

“Guiding them, sir. We followed them almost to the border. There did not appear to be any others working with them.”

“It only takes one, Lieutenant, and a few can be more than enough. Those in the mountain learned that the hard way. We will not underestimate any of them. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir. We were not entirely compromised. They were not able to see us clearly. They do not know who followed them, only that someone did.“
“Someone with guns, Lieutenant!” He shot out of his chair, normally stoic features clearly showing his displeasure. “Savages do not USE guns, do they, Lieutenant?”

“No, sir.”

“The ghosts of Mount Weather cannot use guns, can they Lieutenant?”

“No, sir.”

“That leaves two options, then, doesn’t it? Either their own people were following them or someone else was. And if it wasn’t their own people, how long do you think it will take before they begin to investigate?”

“Sir, I—“

“I don’t want to hear excuses, Lieutenant. We are not prepared for the Arkers or the savages to turn their attention in our direction. Not yet. Not before the Project is finished. Until such a time that it is, it is our job to ensure that nothing—NOTHING—interferes. Do you understand, Lieutenant?”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“Good.” He sank back slowly into his chair, leaning back and returning himself to his former pose. “I expect that no more ‘discoveries’ will be made. Do not disappoint me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, I think it prudent to have a little chat with the good doctor. You are dismissed.”

The lieutenant saluted and left as quickly as he could and still maintain his professionalism. If he never had to speak with Oversight again, he would consider himself a lucky man.

Too bad he’d never been very lucky.

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The Argument
Joel and Ayden's Private Conversation

Ayden found herself dragged into the adjoining room by Joel, away from the others. His scowl was evident in his tone as he grumbled out, “Dishon nou dula-de osir ste hir fou. Heda-de nou hedon osir sis Skaikru au—” This is not the job we were here for. The Commander did not command us to aid the Sky People—

“Bilaik haukom laud yu romon-de?” Ayden countered. “Haukom jomp monstas op? Oso beda gon teik emo wan op.” Then why did you sound the horn? / Why attack the mutants? We could have let them die.

“Dishon nou laik yu, Ayden. Cho, sha. Fou nou yu. Haukom—“ This is not like you, Ayden. Cho, yes. But not you. Why—

“Em-emo fis osir op.” Ayden motioned between her bandages and his. “Emo fis osir op pas yu hedon oso gonplei. Cho souda wan op. Ai—” She trailed off averting her eyes, not wanting to tell Joel that it had happened again—her panic attack. Only he had seen it before, but then it was during training—not a battle. This time could have gotten her killed. It could have gotten all of them killed. She decided to change tactics. “Emo don sis oso au, Joel. Dishon fisas en ticha-de, emo nou laik moun Skaikru. Skayon-de, em gon fis sankova’s goufas op kom stegeda sen oso in hasta. Emo kamp raun kom Trigeda—“ He-they healed us. / They healed us after you ordered us to fight. Cho would have died. I—” “They might be useful, Joel. The healers and the teacher, they aren’t like the other Sky People. The Sky woman, she was the healer that saved the exile’s children in the village we heard about. They are living with Woods Clan—

Joel scoffed, “Emo kamp raun sankovas—natronas, bagas—“ They are living with exiles—traitors, bandits—

“Kru-de kom disha stegeda nou ste natrona o bagas. Osir ogeda get disha in!” Her anger returned. She could feel it surging forward. “Em don ste ifi, en emo nou win au. Jos don dula emo op chit souda gon emo dula op, Joel. En beda ogeda wan op en nou mou. Heda-de—” The people in that village aren’t traitors or bandits. We all know that! / It was a gamble, and they lost. They just did what they had to do, Joel. They would have all died otherwise. The Commander-

“Heda-de ban emo au kom Trigedakru!” He yelled now, as he, too, had begun to lose his temper. “Haukom Heda dula em nou ste fou osir nami. ‘Oso badan Heda-de en nou moun.’ Yu beda get disha in, Ayden, foutaim Heda ban yu au seimtaim.” “The Commander banished them from the Woods Clan!” “Why she did it is not for us to understand. ‘We serve the Commander and no other.’ You would do well to remember that, Ayden, before she does the same to you.”

Her anger bled through, and the words were out of her mouth before she could think to stop them. “Jok Heda-de—“ “Fuck the Commander—“

“Em pleni!” The force of Joel’s words was as strong as the hand that struck her cheek. “Yu na hod yun teisa in ou yu na don kot em au.” “Enough!” “You will hold your tongue or you will lose it.”

Ayden glared at him, rage seething from her eyes, but her jaw clamped around any further retort. Her cheek stung, but she would not give him the satisfaction of acknowledging it. The stood like that, glaring at each other for a moment or two before Joel sighed.

“Weron ste chit emo gaf in?” “Where is this thing they seek?”

“Stegeda kom Arisbur.” “The village of Arisbur.”

“Raun Azgeda?” “Near the Ice Nation?”

“Sha.” “Yes.”

“Haukom dula yu get in?” “How do you know?”

“Dir ste hef bilaik ai hit op foutaim. Em fisa. Em nou kom eni kru. Fostaim ai get meibi em kom Maunon, ba em kikron gon graun. Em sis ai op foutaim.” There is a man there that I met a while back. A healer. He is not of the clans. I thought he was of the Mountain, but he lives on the surface. He has helped me before.

Ayden could tell that Joel wanted to know more, but he was as drained from the battle as she was. He cracked his neck and settled his gaze on her again.
“Oso na gon Saris. Cho en Nika gaf mou fis op. Taim oso hod op, teik emo kom Arisbur. Chek au taim yu gyon. Oso na gaf stot honplei au nodataim, ba yu gada taim. Pastaim, glong oso op.” We will go to Saris. Cho and Nika need more healing. While we rest, take them to Arisbur. Keep watch as you go. We will need to start the hunt again soon, but you have some time. Afterward, join us.

Ayden nodded. “Ridiyo op.” She began to walk passed him. As you say.

“En, Ayden…” Joel put his hand on her shoulder as she went by. “Heda nou ste yun baga, ba bilaik yu teik em yun, ai nou na—”_ And, Ayden…The Commander is not your enemy, but if you make her yours, I won’t—

Ayden didn’t look at him, but spoke just loud enough for him to hear, “Ai gaf in.” She continued to make her way back into the room with the others. Cho and Nika gave her knowing looks. They had all heard enough. I know.

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Helen's Logs, Day 2.3, 3 and 4
The Aftermath

We were in pretty rough shape after the day’s fighting. Cho was still badly wounded, and Professor Sokolov was almost certainly going to lose his arm. Dr. Stardust and I wanted to keep everyone in Gettysburg until we were all healed, but our new…allies? comrades? perhaps even friends? urged us to leave the town, as it was actually a haven for the mutants, or Monstas, as the Trikru called them. (I think I’m beginning to figure out some of their language: Trikru = Tree Crew, and Skaikru, as they call us, is Sky Crew. Perhaps their language is not so dissimilar, after all?)

We followed Joel and his team on horseback (a novel, and painful, experience) to a nearby Trikru village, called something like Sarris. Had they not led us directly there, I think I would have passed right by, it was so cleverly disguised. Our wounded were led to a healing tent, but first I asked Ayden (through Dr. Stardust, who seems to have developed a rapport with her) if there was any cold water nearby. Once I was able to convey my reason—to preserve the mystery vials, which had been in the insulated refrigeration units, but without power for nearly 30 hours—an old woman led me to a cool cellar. I opened the refrigerator to let the cool air inside, and the woman agreed to let me store them until we could reclaim them. Then I made my way to the healing tent.

The village healer had given Cho and Professor Sokolov a sleeping draught. Dr. Stardust and I conferred with the Trikru healer, and we were all in agreement that Sokolov’s arm needed to go, before rot or gangrene set in. We were able to rouse Sokolov enough to get his blessing to remove the arm. Dr. Stardust, being the surgeon, led the procedure while I assisted. We were able to remove the damaged tissue; the Trikru healer placed a cap of leather and metal on the freshly-cauterized stump, and I fell into a cot for some much-needed sleep.

The next day (I can scarcely believe it’s merely the third day since we left York), we stayed in Sarris while Professor Sokolov recovered from surgery. It was difficult to stay put, as I was eager to follow Ayden to a city where she had seen medicine. Especially after the loss of our antibiotics, I was unwilling to return empty handed. I had conferred with the Trikru healer, to learn the names and properties of the herbs I had found on our outgoing journey, but they were merely a stopgap measure, until I could get my hands on some real medicine.

Ash had found a fishing hole, where he claimed to have caught a fish with his bare hands. Mm hmm. I searched the water for some leeches, in case we needed to detoxify anyone’s blood in the field. Alas, I came up empty-handed. I turned my search to maggots, which I had read could be useful in cleaning wounds, as they eat only rotten flesh. My first thought was to use Sokolov’s arm, but I found that the flesh was burned the previous night. Luckily, Ash had a fish head to donate to the cause: as I had already seen flies swarming around it, I knew that maggots would soon follow. I found a Trikru craftsman, and traded a bone spear from the Monstas, for a wooden box I could use to hold the fish head (or, my maggot colony).

The following morning, Day 4 of the journey, we set out with Ayden as our guide to the new medicinal cache. Joel’s team had agreed to let Ayden be our guide, but the rest of them had their own mission. It’s a shame they had taken the horses with them. We set out to the north, and the journey was uneventful for most of the day. Suddenly, we were attacked by a pack of wildcats (Catamounts, Ayden called them). Not being much of a fighter, I kept very still at the foot of a tree, and I noticed that Professor Sokolov was doing the same. He held his new walking stick/cudgel (a shillelagh, as he called it) defensively. I held up my scalpel in a similar fashion, in case one of the cats decided to attack me.

The more martially inclined in the group soon dispatched the catamounts, and we harvested what we could of their hides, meat, and claws and teeth. I suggested that we leave the offal behind, and move away to find a campsite for the night. Ayden seemed impressed by my suggestion. During the night, when it was my turn to take watch, I could hear her quietly whimpering in her sleep. Perhaps one day she will trust me enough to share what in her past has terrified her so.

Tomorrow morning, we will see what treasures there are to be found in the new cache!

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On Razor's Edge
Stegeda kom Monstas

Though Cho and Nika were neutral on the matter, Ayden and Nasir had not agreed with Joel’s decision to involve them in the Sky People’s problems. They were not here to interfere with Skaikru, they were hunting Azgeda trikovas—Ice Nation spies. The two spies they were tracking at the moment had led them to the Stegeda kom Monstas—the Village of Monsters.

While it was possible the spies had met their end at the hands of the monstas in the village, it was much more likely that the spies chose to run their trail through the village to both deter anyone from following them and to throw any foolhardy enough to actually follow them off their tracks. The monstas make no effort to hide their tracks, and the old town was riddled with them. Following anything that passes through was nearly impossible. Thus, when the trail led to the village, Ayden had suggested moving around the outside of the town to see about picking up the trikovas trail after they left the village.

They were in the process of doing just that when they spotted a horde of monstas gather and make a run towards the other side of the village. Thinking the monstas were possibly going after their targets, Joel had spurred his horse to head them off. As what the monstas were after came into view, it was apparent that those being attacked were not Azgeda, but Skaikru. Ayden had already started to turn her horse when Joel blew his horn.

They had learned over the years that the monstas generally did not like the sound of the horn. Often it was enough to run them off, particularly if they were few in number. When he’d blown the horn, Nasir had questioned his motives. Joel pulled rank, however, and, without giving an explanation, ordered them into the village to offer aid to the Sky People—most of whom were looking much worse for wear, and one of which was already dead.

Unfortunately, the monstas did not truly scatter, but rather re-grouped for another attack—this time on them. The fight was not an easy one, though it was highly likely that one or more of them might have died had the Skaikru not rejoined the fight. The only one to escape unscathed was Nasir, which wasn’t surprising. He was, after all, the most level-headed of them in combat. The same could not be said of Ayden.

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Perhaps it was the fact that she’d had another fight with her nightmares the night before and had gotten very little sleep. Perhaps it was the fact that her eyes landed on remains of the headless Sky girl when one of the monstas had knocked her to the ground. Most likely it was the combination of the two that had her vision shift from seeing the headless Sky girl in the road to seeing the headless body of her sister and hearing shift from the sound of the battle to the mixture of the laughter of the Azgedakwin with her own screams of rage and grief when Ayden’s comrades restrained and drug her from the throne room after the Commander agreed to let the Ice Queen live.

For the first time in her life, Ayden ran from the battle. Without even realizing what she’d done, she found herself inside the house sheltering the Sky People near collapsing, unable to find her breath. The next thing she remembered was hearing a man’s muffled voice telling her to breathe. When he touched her shoulder, the ringing in her ears stopped and she was able to bring her eyes up from the floor to focus on his face. He was older than her, but not overly so. Though his hair was silver, his face held no age marks, and his eyes were a deep, steel blue. His stare was intense. If circumstances were not as dire, the genuine look of concern she found in his eyes would have puzzled her. The Skaikru she had encountered had never shown concern for any but their own kind. Like the Maunon, the ones that fell from the sky looked down on the clans as savages, though it was their kind that had killed more than a dozen Trigeda for every one of them that fell.

But in the middle of her panic, she didn’t have time to think about the fact that she was receiving aid from a former enemy. As he led her to follow his breath to regulate her own, she felt the world shift back into focus. Just when the last of her nerves were being stilled, Nika appeared in the house beside her with a doe-eyed Sky woman in tow. Like the man, the woman appeared to be trying to tend to Nika’s bleeding shoulder, though the girl kept shaking her off.

Ayden could still hear fighting outside, though her memory told her that the remaining threats were on the roofs. Despite the wound in her side and the blood dripping from the gash along her collarbone, Ayden knew they needed to put the last of the monstas down before they could even try to tend to themselves. As another Sky man—this one with a mangled arm tied to his chest—made his way downstairs, she turned to Nika.

Ste hir. Shil em op. Bilaik eni baga gothru, hod em op hir en tag in fou sis. Ai na sis Skaikru op der.” She ordered before wiping the blood from her swords off on her pants and turning to the stairs. Stay here. If an enemy comes through, hold them here and call for help. I will help the Sky People upstairs.

Sha. Ai nami chit dula op.” Nika called after her before moving into a position that would let her ambush any mutants coming through the door, and block their path to the doctor. Ok, I got it. (Technically, “Yes. I understand what to do.” But said in a less formal inflection.)

Just before Ayden reached the door to the room with the remaining Sky People, the silver-haired man dashed in front of her, and yelled for her to stop. He seemed even more concerned now than when he’d first appeared in front of her. Realization hit her. Her weapons were out and she was covered in blood, most of which wasn’t her own—though a considerable amount was. He thought she was going to kill the ones in the room.

She shook her head, after a couple of seconds, she remembered the words she was looking for. “We are not hunting you.” The Mountain Men’s language sounded strange coming out of her mouth. It had been over a year since the last time she’d had to speak it. The words were correct, as the man called in to his comrades that she and her party were not here to fight them. When the door opened, however, the small Sky man leveled his gun at her and began shouting aggressively. This small Sky man—he was like the other branwada Skaikru gonakru she’d encountered. Unlike the ones downstairs, this one had murder in his eyes. She tightened the grip on her swords, her muscles tensing as she thought out the best way to avoid his bullets while she closed the distance between them. It would take less than 3 seconds, and her sword could be in his neck. While she was planning her move, she heard the scuffling above her on the roof.

Before she could move, however, the silver-haired man stepped in front of her defensively as he addressed his comrade. He was trying to protect her. It was obvious that, unlike the small one, the silver-haired man was no warrior. He didn’t even appear to have a weapon. More puzzling still was why. Why was he trying to protect her?

At that moment, she heard Joel yell from outside: “Chil yo daun! Dison gonplei ste odon! Gon hedon kom Heda-de, nou jomp Skaikru op!Stand down! This battle is over! On order of the Commander, don’t attack the Sky People!

Ayden hesitated for a second longer. If she defied the Commander’s orders, not only was her life forfeit, but so were the lives of every remaining member of her family. Slowly, she sheathed her swords as she stared down the Sky soldier. When the silver-haired man turned to face her again, she inclined her head, turned, and walked slowly back down the stairs. He followed, and the small one took up position on the stairs, training his gun on her as she joined Nika by the door. Joel’s second looked to her, apprehensively. They were both badly injured and so was Joel. Cho, their healer, was injured even worse. If they had to fight the Sky People, they would likely ultimately win, but not all of them would survive, and those that did would be in no position to continue their mission. Not to mention, a battle with the Skaikru would start a war that the Commander specifically wanted them to avoid. While Ayden may not be the biggest fan of the newcomers, in this she actually agreed with Heda. Even Ayden knew that warring with the Sky People would leave them greatly vulnerable to an Azgeda invasion.

Nika shifted her weight slowly in favor of her right side. When she did, Ayden noticed that in addition to her shoulder wound, her left leg had also been hit. If she wasn’t tended to soon, Nika’s leg was going to give out. The soldier on the stairs continued to shout at them angrily. She turned to speak to him, but found herself cut-off by the other Skaikru. The blood-soaked woman and the two, equally blood-soaked men began to argue with the soldier. All three of them were now attempting to come to their aid. She glanced at the girl beside her and noted that she was even more confused at this turn of events.

Just then, Cho stumbled through the door to collapse beside them. As her body fell to the ground, a bullet lodged itself in the wall where she had been only a second before. The soldier had shot at her, and, had she not fallen over on her own at that moment, he would have hit her. Ayden’s hands shot towards her swords, but before they closed on them, the older, injured man jumped in front of Cho, just as the woman and silver-haired man moved in front of Nika and herself, respectively. The one-armed man was furious. All three of the protective Sky People were. He yelled at the soldier to leave, as the other two turned to begin tending to their wounds. The woman and silver-haired man were healers! That explained much of their odd behavior.

Joel called in to them: “Ste osir ogud?Are you all ok?

Ayden lowered her hands back to her sides and answered: “Sha, Gonawon! Oso ogud!Yes, Chief! We’re fine.

Surprisingly, the soldier finally backed down and disappeared into the room up stairs. When he’d gone, the healers began in earnest. Ayden heard Nika mumble, “Mochof, fisa.” as the woman began to bandage her leg. She herself remained quiet as the silver-haired man went about his work tending to her wounds. Though the pain was considerable as he cleaned and stitched her wounds, Ayden refused to make a sound. Instead, she watched his face intently as he worked. His eyes were hyper-focused and his hands moved deftly, and it was clear that he was trying to be a gentle as possible in his work, despite the inherent pain involved. That he possessed considerable skill as a healer was evident.

When he had finished bandaging her wounds, she inclined her head in appreciation. “Mochof, fisa. Beja, din yu na sis oso fisa au seintaim?Thank you, healer. Please, would you help our healer as well?

After he stared at her for a few seconds in confusion, she realized that she’d spoken in her own tongue and not his. She couldn’t help the small tug of a smile at the corner of her lip. She really was out of practice speaking Gonasleng. She tried again. “I said thank you. You are a very skilled healer.” Ayden motioned to Cho. “Cho. She is our healer, but she is badly hurt. Would you please help her also?”

He nodded and moved to do just that. As he was doing so, the woman finished tending to Nika and Joel and Nasir finally joined them inside. Noting the Nasir held little more than a couple of scratches, Joel sent him after the horses, and allowed the woman to begin tending to his wounds, now that she had finished patching up his Second. Just as the man was finishing with Cho, the other Skaikru warrior entered the house. He apparently had gone looking for something that the Sky People had lost to the mutants. He told them it was destroyed. The woman became visibly upset and the older injured man looked dejected. Much like their own party, whatever the Sky People had lost was the reason they’d actually come to the village in the first place.

After a moment, Joel inquired of the woman, “What was lost?”

She explained that they’d come to the village to retrieve some medicine for their village.

A quiet voice from across the room offered, “I know where you can get more.”

All eyes fell on Ayden, and she was even more surprised to realize that they were all looking because the voice who’d just offered aid to the Skaikru had been hers…

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Helen's Log, Day 2, Part 2
Grounders!

In the peace gained from the sounding of the Grounder battle horn, I tended as well as I could, first to my own wounds and then to Sokolov’s grievous injuries and Ash’s battle wounds. Dr. Stardust was most helpful in this endeavor: together, we made rather an effective triage.

As we were healing our comrades, we could hear the sounds of battle start anew. A group of Grounders had come upon the house in which we taken refuge, and were fighting off the remaining mutant creatures. One by one, Ash, Lincoln, the now-conscious Sokolov, and Dr. Stardust left the room to join the fray. I had no choice but to follow into the street, to see what aid I could render. Lincoln was there, alongside a group of Grounder children (the others must have been upstairs). I could see quite a flurry of activity among the combatants, but what caught my eye was a young girl, not much older than 10. I silently cursed the Grounder society, for allowing such an innocent to be involved in bloodsport, and walked up to her to see if she was all right. I could see that she was wounded, but all of my attempts to find out if she were okay fell on deaf ears. To my surprise, she took my arm and led me back into the house!

Once inside, the rest of the party seemed to be in a confused state, not knowing whether to climb or descend the stairs. An older Grounder girl—Cho I think was her name—was very badly wounded, even worse than little Nika. As I was about to bandage her, Ash came downstairs, bellowing about killing any Grounders who came into the house. There were a tense few moments (Even Professor Sokolov moved to the defense of wounded Cho!), until Ash agreed to wait outside while Dr. Stardust and I healed our new allies. And allies they were, as they had valiantly fought off the mutants.

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Helen's Log, Day 2
Gettysburg

The day started out well enough. The town of Gettysburg appeared to be abandoned, so we took the opportunity to search some of the structures. We came upon a house that was virtually intact, and we decided to see if we could find any useful items. Professor Sokolov carried the two refrigeration units, strapped to his everpresent walking staff and balanced over his shoulders. The house yielded a first aid kit in one of the bathrooms, but the real mother lode was in the cellar, which, in all humility, I was clever enough to discover. Beyond the skeletal remains of the previous inhabitants, I found half a dozen well-stocked med kits. They would prove invaluable over the coming hours.

As we were deep into our search, Ash, acting as lookout, spotted a man running for his life. As he shouted for the man to come inside, we heard an awful chanting of “Dinnah, Dinnah!” I’m not sure if the source of the chanting considered us to be their dinner, or if the word had another meaning, but the house was soon beset by mutants. They were abhorrent to behold, and appeared to be far stronger than any of our number. Ash did his best to keep them at bay with his rifle, but I saw little recourse but to follow Boomer’s advice and RUN!

The next few minutes were a blur of violence and blood, and Boomer—poor, gentle Boomer—did not survive the altercation. I didn’t see Professor Sokolov out in the streets, so I ran back to the house, to see what had become of him. He had fared badly, and his arm was hanging limply at his side. Either from the attack or shock from the pain, he had lost consciousness. We were able to drag him out into the street, away from the house that was now teeming with enemies. The newcomer turned out to be none other than Doctor Nero Stardust. I knew him by reputation from the Ark, as one of our most brilliant surgeons. As most other truly talented surgeons, he had developed rather a strong God complex over the years, but I hoped that he would be willing to share his medical expertise.

Just as matters were looking truly grim, we gained succor from the most unlikely of sources: the sounding of a Grounder horn.

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