Shadows of the Evergreen - Part 8
That was the only way his mind could describe it.
The sensation of floating, moving inevitably from one place to another, through a force beyond his own power.
Grey Shades could only conclude one thing. He'd been croaked and was being drawn to the Titans for judgment. Briefly, Grey's mind reflected back on his past. Victories and acts of careful inaction intermingled. Moments of daring and moments of cautious silence overlapped. But one thing Grey could be sure of was that he had never acted out of fear. He'd lived longer than most units in the world, and was still only level 7 for all that time. But his responsibilities had not lain on the field of combat.
He had served loyally all his turns, placing Duty first and foremost. If there was anything he could call a regret it would be the fact that he would be leaving Lydia behind, but hopefully a plea to the Titans would have her rejoin him in the future, when her own judgment came. Oddly enough, never telling Princess Sasha his feelings for her had not counted as a regret. It was better that she never know.
Would Grey be able to see to the City of Heroes on his approach? He couldn't presume to be worthy of such a destination, but it would be nice to see it, just once, before judgment. And so Grey began to struggle to open his eyes - if whatever a spirit had could be called eyes.
He saw blue. An endless and warm sky. Not a cloud marred the flawless horizon. It was perfection itself.
Except for a bit of cordage that split the view in half.
Grey then eyeballed his surroundings more carefully, and came to the realization that he had awoken inside of a capture net. Some more eyeballing and he could see the Archons, Emm in the lead, with Elle and Ann holding either end of the netting that was cocooning him. Turning his head a little showed that they were in flight. Very far up, just over the tops of the clouds, high enough to croak a unit instantly should he fall. The Archons didn't seem to be taking any chances in escorting their prisoner, which meant the next time Grey would see the ground would be in the center of an enemy camp or stronghold.
No hope of escape, then. It looked like Grey really would be standing before the Titans before the day ended.
Grey began working his tongue into the hollow of his right cheek where the jaw, the gum line, and the flesh all met. It's in that spot that Farstriders kept their poison capsules, filled with a gentle but fast acting poison that one of Art's many Florist friends made for him, on commission. The only times a Farstrider did not have one of those capsules in their cheek was when they were in town, eating a meal, or sleeping - and sometimes even then. No Farstrider was permitted to be captured, as the terrain of the Evergreen was a closely guarded secret.
And so Grey dug out the capsule, bit down on the shatter resistant glass, and swallowed the poison to croak a handful of seconds later. Or at least he should have.
For some reason, Grey couldn't find the darn little thing. Did it slip out of position after he'd been blasted into that tree?
Grey's intensely probing tongue ended up causing him to move his head, and even his body writhed just enough to catch the attention of Elle, who was holding the foot end of the netting. With a very slight double take, she looked directly into Grey's eyes and gave a friendly, and really quite beautiful smile as her hair was being swept by the winds. If it were not for her Signmancy showing her as an enemy, thus naturally putting Grey in an aggressive frame of mind, he would have been completely charmed by such a smile.
"He's awake," called Elle to the others. Emm turned to glance over her shoulder, but paid Grey no mind. Ann though, looked Grey in the face, and apparently noticed the bulge in his cheek as she said, "Looking for something?"
Anna reached into the breast pocket of her sky blue jacket and pulled out the capsule, with a wink and a kiss that somehow made Grey shudder, as if he'd been violated. He probably wouldn't have minded if it had been Emm or Elle, but something about Ann just put Grey off. Like there was some deeper problem with that unit that made her beauty unattractive to him.
...An unattractive Archon, huh? Who'd have thunk.
But Grey said nothing in reply. He simply glowered at the Archons in turn. Ann didn't seem to care about his mood and continued on with, "You really thought we wouldn't know about them? After all the 'Striders we've croaked?"
So it was the Archons that had been eliminating his Farstriders, as Grey had thought. Floorin' had to have hired Charlie to take care of Everclear's scouts, because the Floorin' scouts he'd seen, probably the best the side had to offer since their Heir was there, were very disappointing in quality. But just how deeply involved in the invasion was Charlie? Perhaps the Archons would drop a few more crumbs of information for him.
"Ann," snapped Emm, from her place in front. The Archons stopped talking then, at least audibly. Grey could see the faces of Elle and Ann change in what could only be a conversation. The Archons were Thinkagramming each other, or something. So much for overhearing information. But even so... Grey was still picking up something at least. You don't survive as a scout without learning how to read body language, since you're usually too far away from an enemy force to hear what's said.
Ann was very nearly a loose cannon. Willful, and unpleasant. Didn't like bowing to authority but was probably doing it anyway because of Duty or Loyalty. Probably Loyalty, as Grey had heard Archons were fanatically loyal to Charlie and all his works, more so than any other Side he'd encountered, except maybe the one that originally popped Cam. Probably self involved too, if you take her Signamancy makeup into consideration. The most likely to shirk her Duty in the group, but doesn't pull punches in combat. A vicious weasel.
Emm was most definitely the leader, and not just for her Leadership special. It seemed that she was the one keeping Ann in check, which may be the most time consuming part of her position in the team. It's what's kept her focused, making sure that she's ready for any slip up or unexpected occurrence. Whatever traits she had as an individual were either being squashed by her role, or she didn't have a personality outside of being the wary leader of the pack to begin with. Team leader and watchdog. High pressure, high fatigue. If someone were to emotionally snap in this group, it would be her.
Elle was the one that stood out more than the others, having a pink scarf around her neck instead of the usual red. Elle was definitely the support role, both in ability and personality. Based on the pursuit beforehand, she was primarily Foolamancy based, but probably use to moving around the field to cover for the others. The adaptable one in the group, not the strong one. Her face was constantly taking on the look of someone trying to settle another's dispute. A peacemaker and an ambusher, not a point man. But to make up for it, she's probably the most mentally stable and reliable person in the team. Probably the smartest member of the team, too. And the most approachable one.
So let's break the ice. "I'm Grey Shades. Nice to meet you all," Grey said directly to Elle.
"Oh, how nice! I'm Elle, that's Anna-Nicole," Elle said, indicating Ann. Anna. "And that's Emma at the front. Nice to meet you, too, Grey!"
"So, looks like you all wanted me alive, then?" Grey asked Elle.
"Well, we did net you after all," was her frisky reply.
"Well, yeah, but what I don't get is why. I'm just a scout, after all. I doubt I'm worth much to anyone."
"Oh," replied Elle, flashing a smile, "You're worth much more than you thin-"
"Elle, don't go answering questions for free," said the leader, in a voice of finality. After a sheepish "Sorry," Elle quieted down. So much for that, thought Grey, but Emma smugly added a little something at the very end. "Well, if he really wants to know why we captured him, I dare say he'll find out from the man himself."
That set the girls giggling. An inside joke for them? Interesting.
But Grey did get something from them. They were paid extra to capture him alive. Him. Not just a Farstrider, since King Shindig said the others were croaked in the field, but Grey Shades. What did they say before? He's a Warlord, so hold back some?
Someone wanted something from him. A warlord of Everclear. But what?
Artwork normally done by ElvenAvariel. Gallery and Shmuckers Jar located here.
Yes. I knowingly did everything I possibly could to convince the readers Grey was dead without actually having Shindig or myself state that he was croaked. But in my defense, a Farstrider that is taken captive does tend towards suicide, and I am a maniacal manipulative monster who enjoys drinking the tears of the innocent.
Considering the brevity of this update, I asked ElvenAvariel to concentrate on the next chapter instead, and used a generic, public domain, non-spoiler image instead. I hope everyone considers this a bonus chapter instead of an undersized portion.
So their joint Archon magic would be the creation of a Pun Elemental? Like Captain Planet except he makes all the bad guys want to kill themselves every time he speaks? There may be something to that...
And if you think compelling units to commit suicide in order to keep from revealing information that could hurt a side, you are obviously thinking like a Stupid-Worlder. There are a great many reasons why scouts undergo training to become Farstriders. The "Final Mission" is just one of those reasons. More bits and pieces of the Farstrider training will become evident as the story progresses.
Yes, I am a bad person. And as such, I would not miss the chance to have my characters suffer a graphic fate worse than death whenever the opportunity arises.
By the way, I really am wondering how many people I was able to trick into thinking Grey was being carried to the Titans for Judgement at the opening of the chapter. I do so like misleading plots when they are done right, and I'm hoping mine was done right.