Venus shook violently, "I hate portal travel. That awful feeling of nothingness. It feels like I'm going to start falling and won't ever stop." she said quietly to Agera. Privately the dragoness agreed, but she wouldn't say that right now.
"Whoa, sci-fi!" Janus said as he walked through the portal, "This place could be in a star trek film."
He wasn't wrong. The spot they were in further fed Agera's sense of vertigo from the gateway. Their end of the overlarge room had the portal generator, miniaturized for personal use, and from what Agera could tell, remotely controlled. Beneath and above them was a shiny black metal floor. They were rotating at a high rate of speed from what she could tell, and this was likely to generate artificial gravity, as at the far end of the room the walls were replaced with massive windows. Clear liquid crystal displays surrounded the area behind the desk. Along the walls closer to them were the archive libraries of high tech; storage hard drives that could have easily held Old Earths Internet.
A lone human looked out over Earths battle-scared landscape, shoulders hunch as if he carried a great weight. He was shorter than most men, but when he turned, his cold steel grey eyes bored into Agera. He exuded a calm, confident, invincible air. He felt like someone Agera could never beat, no matter how hard she tried.
Two light dragons stood quietly on either side of the room, flanking the portal generator.
"Krigsman. Mr. and Mrs. Avani. Janus. Thank you for bringing them here Guinevere." he said in a quiet, calm voice.
"Do you wish for me to leave, sir?" she said, saluting.
"No stay, I have new orders for you." she nodded and then retreated to the far side of the room, out of earshot.
Agera turned to her friends, "Group, atten-HUT!" and the other three, out of natural habit more than anything, fell into line, standing tall and still. They all thought the same thing, "You never truly leave the military."
"Group, present-ARMS." three wings flew up simultaneously, blurs of color. Agera turned around, stood at attention, and threw up her wing as well for a fraction of a second, "Sir, trainees Krigsman, Avani, Avani, and Janus, reports as ordered, sir!"
"At ease group." the four relaxed, standing more loosely, "Thank you for coming on such short notice. I'm sure you're all wondering why you're here."
"The thought had crossed our minds, Grand Marshall Panzer." Vienzo said quietly.
"Mm. I apologize that this had to happen now, after the battle of Cayman. How do I phrase this I wonder?”
"You want us to rejoin the military." Agera said quietly. The Grand Marshall nodded silently, shutting his mouth abruptly.
"That is precisely why you are here."
"What?" Venus said loudly, "You can't be serious."
"Dear." Vienzo said low and quiet, "Don't."
She also shut her mouth abruptly, but then spoke suddenly again, "Agera, a word."
"You can't be considering this."
"I am. Very seriously thinking' about takin' his offer too. I don't see why you don't want to. Unless you're scared of the fight." Agera said quietly back. Venus snarled at her.
"You know I'm not. But that's the thing, sister. I ENJOYED that battle. And I can't help but feel that it's just wrong. It goes against my nature."
"That IS OUR NATURE." Agera said suddenly turning on her friend and grabbing her horn, "Listen closely, partner of my heart. We are dragons! We are built for war! We have armor that deflects bullets. We rule the sky, and so we rule the battlefield! We have extremely intelligent minds, capable of reacting in times not recordable by science. We are forces of nature, demigods by our own power! War was invented as a hobby for us, and I'm starting to think that you lot need that drilled into your heads again, since it seems to have leaked out your horns since Uni."
Venus roared, and twisted her head till Agera's wrist let out a crack, and the female jumped back with a yelp, clutching it.
"No you are made for war, Agera. I was trained as a diplomat." she said grabbing the wrist and pulling her friend, hissing with pain close, "I was trained to find a peaceful solution. That's the role of any leader, military or otherwise. Fuck you, that's the goal of a warrior. And your problem is you're too aggressive to see that."
"And you're too complacent to see that diplomacy has already failed us. There ISN'T a peaceful solution to this war." Venus let her go.
"There is always a peaceful solution."
"Bullshit, and you know it." Venus backed off, not meeting her friend’s eyes, "If there was always a peaceful solution, then you and I wouldn't be here, and we wouldn't have to survive at the edges of a crumbling society struggling against rampant racism from humans. If there was always a peaceful solution, then I wouldn't be such a bitch, Kiesah would have her own daughter, and you would have had a much different lifestyle, you spoiled brat."
Agera spat the last words. Venus now had her head hung in shame, Vienzo was wide eyed, and Janus had his mouth hanging slightly open. The Grand Marshall watched warily from across the room.
"Damnit, Venus, I love you, but I've got to do this. I just got to, and you know why. You three are free to make your own choices. But I've already made mine, and no amount of injury, pain, or separation from loved ones is going to change that."
And with that she spun around and limped back to the Grand Marshall. Saluting again, she addressed him, "Sir! Sorry you had to witness that, sir. I would be honored to rejoin the armed forces."
"As would I, sir." amazingly it was Janus who had joined her. Sudden new found respect for the o resized storm dragon welled up inside her, and she smiled at him. He raised an eyebrow at her, but also smiled.
"Ancient, you two will never make it by yourselves. Against my better judgment and morals, I also will rejoin, sir." Venus said, standing tall next to her best friend.
"V, you don't ha -"
"I do, and you know it. We end this war, and then we never step on a battlefield when we win. Got it?" Agera smiled at her, "Just. Shut up."
"I'd never leave my friends, sir. But I wasn't going to leave my Lifemate either. Fortunately, I don't have to do either." Vienzo said, stepping up on the other side of Venus, and rubbing her on the side of the neck.
"Not that I'm not happy about this, sir. But how on earth are we able, with our disabilities, to help the UEAF?"
The Grand Marshall watched them in turn, and then finally answered, "Earth is losing. Badly. We finally find ourselves against a foe that’s far superior in numbers. And though we have killed many, they simply just keep coming. The high council is looking for any advantage it can get. I told them of the ejected dragons. To them each dragon is worth fifteen humans, even a disabled one. So the answer is simple. We need all the help we can get."
"Very good, sir. Your orders?"
"Agera there is an open position in Theta squadron as Theta 5. Janus you will proceed to the position of Delta 3. Venus you wi - "
"With all due respect, sir." Agera cut him off abruptly, and he stopped with his mouth still open, like he couldn't believe what just happened, "But we are not just going to split up. I don't trust anyone to watch my back but Venus. And good luck controlling Janus when he doesn't have his friends around him. And Vienzo I believe would rather kill himself than be separated from his Lifemate."
The Grand Marshall looked incredibly annoyed now, "That's not how this works, Krigsman. This is ho - "
"I don't care, sir. This is how we work. May I suggest we make a new squadron then?"
The Grand Marshall opened and closed his mouth several times before he exploded at her, "You are in the military now, Krigsman. That means you follow orders! Do you want to be court marshaled?"
"You're not going to court martial any of us. We wouldn't be here unless you needed us, and we had attracted your attention. The very fact it's you and not a recruiter means something. You need us, but if we're going to do this, then we do it my way, not the military way. We're obviously good enough."
"You are HERE Ms. Krigsman, because Mrs. Avani and your lineage required it. Had that not been the happy case, then you would have been conscripted, like the others of your kind."
Agera growled, "Others like us are being forced to fight? So we must live in a dictatorship if you're using invalids as cannon fodder. I have half a mind to walk out at that."
"But you won't, will you? Because we might not win without you." the Grand Marshall said quietly.
"You think you know us that well? My job to my friends, since I've pulled them into this, is to get them out again. If I can't be allowed to do that, then I withdraw from this contract." and she turned and walked back towards the portal, "We can always fight the war without you, Grand Marshall."
She was about to walk through the pulsing disk of energy when the Grand Marshall shouted back to her, "You would turn your back on your race?!"
"I'll do anything for my friends. They are my family. I love them more than my own life. And I'd die before I trusted their wellbeing to someone I've never met."
She took one more step, but the Grand Marshall shouted again, "Wait!"
The Grand Marshall looked venomously at Agera, "You'll get your goddamned squadron."
"Guin, what squadron designations are there?"
"The only one available is Omega, for obvious reasons."
"Then Omega squadron we are." and she stepped through the portal.
"Always making friends, aren't you girl?" Guinevere teased her friend as they walked back through the Golgotha compound.
"Shaddup." Agera growled back at her. Janus chuckled but she ignored him. Vienzo growled at the rest.
"Not sure how I feel about being part of an 'Omega Squadron'. Honestly, Agera, we're already on the bottom rung of draken society. Do we really want to drag ourselves lower?"
"Omega squad fits us. Besides, we are what we want to be. You're living proof of that. Guin, we have a lot to do and little time to do it in. How long do we have before we're deployed?"
"Three days, including today."
"Fine, so who's going to be squadron lead?" they all stared at her, "What?"
Venus sneered, "Oh come on Agera, after that scene? You have the most combat experience, and you're the best warrior among us."
"That last part is a matter of debate." Guin said quietly. Agera clipped her shoulder with a wing.
"Whatever. The point is you were always going to lead us into battle. You just naturally take charge anyways."
"Ok. Then we need two things. We need an intel officer."
"Check." Guin said smiling, "The GM's orders before I left was to reassign me to you. I'll run intel for you guys, since that's what I'm good at anyways."
"Ok, I guess the only other thing we need then is a medic."
"Oddly enough, the GM also said he'd take care of that as well. That's a full squadron right there."
"Right, that's personnel taken care of. We need outfitting and supplies, which should be taken care of after we get our new member. And finally we need a mission and a briefing."
"The GM already gave us orders. We're classified as a spec-ops unit, designation squadron 732, 3rd battalion, first draken air wing. We're to report directly to him."
"Good to know we're going to have such a close personal relationship."
"Hush, Janus. After that debacle, I don't like him anymore than you do. But we still have to respect him. Just don't sacrifice your values in doing so. Does he have orders for us Guin?"
"He does. SAR operations. It seems his interests align with ours. We are to carry out rescue ops in the vicinity of northern Europe, hunting down any of the survivors from Berlin. The battle has been reclassified as a sacking now."
"Bad. I need to know more about the Voidwings before we head in there, because the place is going to be crawling with them."
"Well as your Intel officer, I can help with that. Come with me." the group followed her into a small side tent, one well-worn and patched from use, but it looked sturdy enough, and despite the rain, it was warm and dry on the inside. A large plush cushion lay in one corner, whilst the other had a neat stack of armor, and a small data pad. Guin grabbed it first and then stood in front of them all. The screen was larger than Agera was used to.
"Standard issue to draken units. Bigger, chunkier, easier for us to use. These are the Voidwings." she held up the screen, and there were five fuzzy images, each of the grey enemies they faced last night, but these were different.
"There's a two legged in those images." Venus said quietly, "And what in the universe is THAT." she point to a massive six winged thing.
"These are the best images I have been able to obtain of the five known variants in the Voidwing armies. You've already met Joe Average." Guin pointed to the center of the image. The draconic creature had four legs, two wings, and a single tail, "We call them 'Assaults'. They are by far the most common types in the Void army. They are faster and more maneuverable, but lighter than a normal dragon. And they are very, VERY deadly."
"These," and she pointed to a smaller draken type in the upper right corner, one with four wings, two smaller than the other, and twin tails, plus no forward legs, "are what has been dubbed 'Scouts' which as you may have guessed are faster and lighter than their assault cousins. A skilled flier can run circles, quite literally around a normal dragon, and their level flight speed approaches the sound barrier."
"Now this monster, Venus," and she now pointed to an image of a monstrously big grey dragon now, one with six massive wings, twin tails as large as tree trunks, and four legs, "Is a 'Heavy' and they can weigh up to one ton on a good day. But don't be fooled, they are still incredibly agile for their size and weight. They normally take several dragons to take down. And watch the claws; they've been known to cut a dragon clean in half."
"The last two are more familiar to us." she pointed at one image which was of an upright standing creature with two legs, two arms, and no wings. The other image was vaguely draconic, but it was difficult to see through all the shadow power bristling around it, "These are 'Spies' and 'Ghosts' the spies were really just a misnomer that stuck. They form both the medical and espionage core if the Voids. The Ghosts are the leadership of the group. Krigsman has fought them before. They are not to be underestimated, as their powers equal that of a shadow dragon, while combining the speed and agility of a normal assault. They are also given advanced combat training."
"Now we believe all of these creatures, apart from the spies, relate to us in some way. But we KNOW that they relate to each other. The Void all share common traits, including the spies. The first is that they avoid us like the plague. They take great care for their blows to strike accurately, and strike hard, to the point where they will sacrifice themselves setting up a blow."
"Why?" Janus asked from the back, peering over everyone’s heads.
"No one knows. That's the second thing about them. They've taken great pains to never get captured. Cold war tactics, each member of their military comes with a capsule of cyanide behind their molar. They can commit suicide without the use of any of their limbs."
"That's what I call dedication." Vienzo said quietly.
"There's more. As one last hammer blow to our effectiveness, Voidwings neutralize all elemental powers within a certain radius. Now this power can be FELT if you are attuned to feeling it. This limits our use to elements which have some combat effectiveness outside of their neutralizing ranges." Guin finished.
"What are the ranges they can neutralize powers at?" Venus asked. Agera noticed that her squad had gone very, very pale.
"It varies. Some can get their individual powers out to a range of five hundred feet. They seem to have a natural control over it, much like we have control over our elements. However, we do know that the ranges they can reach are exponentially higher when they're in groups."
"That explains my lack of power." Venus said quietly.
"No rock armor?" Vienzo asked nervously.
"Nothing means nothing stone head. It's as if you never had armor. Now Intel states that this is a power they control, so they likely don't use it outside of combat, to prevent enemies from knowing where they are. So if you can get the drop on them, they likely won't be able to block the effects."
"Man this just got a whole lot harder." Janus said.
"You guys will get used to it." Agera chuckled quietly at their nervousness. This might even give her a slight advantage against the Void.
"Agera, we have a visitor." Venus said quietly. The leader turned around to find quite possibly the youngest dragonelle on the island in front of her.
"Sir, Private Jiza Ra, reports as ordered, sir!" the female said, not meeting Agera's gaze. The female had brilliant white scales, and was covered in slicked back spikes. Despite her age, her wings had grown in brilliantly, both wide and deep, she was already well into her first flight years. She had a small pouch slung around a wing, with a medical cross emblazoned on it.
"Reports for what?" Agera asked, startled at first. Surely this couldn't be...
"Sir, Omega squadrons new medic, sir!" she said, saluting quickly, "Uh, I-I -"
"Don't test my patience youngling; I am NOT to be trifled with. Where's the real medic."
"I a-am the real medic, sir!" Jiza had issues getting the words out. She wouldn't meet any of their gazes, and her cheeks were flushed a dark red.
"I think she's telling the truth, Agera. She is from Kiesah's retinue." Venus said suddenly laughing, "Sister, you have got to stop making enemies."
"Is the GM TRYING to get us killed? Sending us a hatchling still scrubbing egg shells off her back. I'll have words with him!" Agera said, heading towards the entrance flap. Venus headed her off before she could leave the tent.
"You will NOT go and shout at him about this. Our situation is already bad as it is, don't make it worse." Venus hissed quietly, "Now give the youngling a chance."
Agera thought it over for a second, and then turned to Jiza, "A medic?"
"Enough with the 'sir'. My name is Agera, not sir. Understand?" Agera growled, "its bad enough that I gotta suffer through Janus and his antics, much less put up with all that 'Sir' and crap."
"Agera we were all new at some point." Venus said quietly. Agera threw her a look that said 'Shut up'.
"Let's see you work the basics of your trade then. My friend here had a bit of a... competition."
"Is that what we're calling it now?" Venus said beneath her breath. Agera clipped her over the head with a wing.
Jiza approached her cautiously, and then carefully held her sprained wrist.
"I can operate normally with it, but I'd rather not accidentally break it." Jiza cut her off by casting her ice powers over half the wrist, and while she was still casting, drew a plastic strip out, and cast it under the ice. The casing was molded so perfectly over her bones that when she set her paw back down, it felt like it was part of her own body.
"The cast will draw its power from you until the bone is healed. Try not to put too much weight on it, and if it starts aching again, then come and talk to Me." she said such in a quiet rush. Venus was smiling.
"Impressive." Agera eyed the youngling intensely. She suddenly seemed to have a massive interest in Guin's armor.
"How much combat experience do you have?"
That was what got her to look at Agera. Despite her shyness, Jiza's eyes betrayed her real thoughts. She wasn't shy, she was distressed. Her eyes showed that she had indeed seen more than her fair share of the war. She had seen too much. Her eyes were mournful, chaotic. They had a startling innocent beauty to them.
"I'm a doctor, Agera. Not a soldier. I'm not here to fight your battles for you." Agera's head arched back in surprise, as if she were trying to get a better view of the conundrum in front of her.
"You will still have to fight. Can you kill another being?" Jiza dropped her gaze in shame.
"I've done it before ma'am. I was at Moscow."
"Son of a bitch." Agera said, trading a startled glance with Venus, "GM didn't send us any green recruit did he? I'm convinced Jiza. You're flying with us. Janus, I want you to get her up to speed, and watch her. You'll be answering to him now, Jiza. Venus, you need to go with your mate and talk to Kiesah, tell her we'll be joining her when she returns to Earth. Guin, we need supplies, talk to the quartermaster. I need to go to the mainland and take care of some things. You all have until 2100 to take care of everything and get back to the armory, understood?"
No one raised any questions, so Agera stood, went to the entrance flap and raised it, holding it open, "Then you are dismissed, Omega."
“Is she always like that?” Jiza asked as her new commander took off, bound for the mainland, “I’m not sure I like her or dislike her.”
Janus chuckled, “I know what you mean. She’s always ragging on me too. Try not to let it get to you. Agera says much, but she means very little. Don’t become her enemy, and she’ll be your friend for a lifetime. Two, if you don’t annoy her."
Jiza smirked, "You speak from experience?"
"Too much of it. But I've always been a smart aleck. At least that's what mother told me. Apparently, I took after father. I'm the youngest of five, the rest being sisters."
"Ouch." being so young, Jiza knew what it was like to look up to everyone you met.
"Yeah, tell me about it. So I had to pretty much fight for everything. I found early on that if I went on the offensive, I could lure them into tons of traps. The best part was if the traps backfired, I could always pretend it was my sisters' fault, and mother would believe me. And then -" he paused in mid-sentence and looked shocked at himself.
"What? Is it on my nose?" Jiza crossed her eyes trying to hunt down the non-existent piece of debris on her face. Her tongue kept snaking out trying to catch whatever it was that Janus was staring at.
Janus couldn't help himself. He took one look at her expression and busted out laughing.
"What?!? What is SO FUNNY?!" he kept laughing and finally Jiza got fed up, and just slugged him. He still laughed on the ground, wheezing and trying to catch his breath.
"Y-you looked s-soooo funny! No it's not you, it's me. I've never told anyone about my family before." he frowned at her, his sudden shift in his demeanor unsettling Jiza, "They died a while ago."
"I'm sorry." he looked kind of crestfallen, and Jiza wanted to cheer him up so badly, "My parents are dead as well. I often find the best way to cope is to talk about them."
Janus took a big breath. It did feel good to talk to someone who didn't tell him to shut up constantly, "It's terrifying, but I don't remember much, about any of them."
"There must be something."
He thought for a moment, then got a smile, a cocky grin on his face, "Well, there was one time. We were all sitting around in a circle eating evening meal. As much as I and my sisters loved teasing each other, we loved teasing mother even more. She always had some new male after father died, but it didn't bug any of us. She never stayed with any of them, no matter how good the companionship was. We knew she just got lonely. Nothing ever got physical either; she would always break it off before that. Anyways, Iskara was teasing mother about her newest man. Finally, she got fed up and started telling my sister off. Finally, after she stopped, we all knew what was coming; she had pulled the expression a thousand times before. A big old sigh, followed by drooping wings and rolling eyes. We often imitated it to annoy her. But that particular evening, the memo for whose turn to imitate it must have gotten lost, and all four of my sisters dittoed her actions at just the right time. Five synchronized sighs, five sets of drooping wings, and five pairs of eyes rolled, all exactly at the same time. And I just LOST it, I laughed so hard. Really we were all holding cramping stomachs from laughing so hard. Dinner was pretty much over by then."
He was smiling now as they walked out onto the islands beaches. He kept running off at the mouth, but Jiza was content to just sit and listen. Janus reminded her of her older brother, whom was also fighting in this accursed war.
"So what about you?"
"Hmm?" she realized belatedly that he was asking her about her past, "Oh! Uh, nothing much really happened in my family. Quiet parents, quiet life. They died in the fighting at Moscow."
"Geez, I'm sorry Jiza."
"It's fine. It's still hard to think about them, but I'm alright." her face told him she was very much not alright, "Ancient, I'm so emotional. I tell you what Janus; I didn't expect to be fighting in an elite unit. Between you and me, I never even really joined the military. I survived Moscow only just, and sort of fell in line with a group of wounded dragons that was under Kiesah's care. After that, everything just sort of came naturally. I'm good at medicine. Really good. But I wasn't good enough for my parents. If I knew then what I know now, then I could have saved them. But I was to slow, to ignorant. I -" she stopped, breathing hard, holding back tears, "I see them every fucking night. My dad’s head caved in, my mother’s entrails spilling out, blood and brains mixed on my claws."
She wailed and clutched her head between her paws, squeezing hard as if to get the memory out of her skull, "I just want to forget so fucking much!"
Janus didn't have words but he knew what would help. Ancient knew he needed it so much. He just drew her in with a wing, stroking her spines back against her neck. He felt suddenly fiercely protective, thinking of his sisters.
"Don't worry, I'm here for you." her tears ran down his chest and into the surf below, the waves drowning out her anguished sobs.