Part of me was delighted to see Master Raychelle show up. With her as back up, neither Darius nor the other seven soldiers that had shown up were going to be a problem. Another part of me was kind of annoyed though.
“What happened to you?” I asked over the telepathic link that she’d setup for us.
“It’s not secure. There’s a very talented mentalist on this world somewhere and they’ve tapped into my spell. Let it go the next time you’re injured, please. I’d rather they not be aware that I survived just yet.” Master Raychelle said out loud.
“What?” Darius asked.
“She wasn’t talking to you.” I said as I watched the other soldiers approach. They were well armed but from the conflicting styles of their weapons and armor they didn’t look like a cohesive unit the way most military groups do. What they lacked in appearance they made up for in organization though. Master Raychelle had just begun teaching me about how proper military units functioned and from what I could see these soldiers were way ahead of me on that subject.
The seven of them split into three subteams as they approached us. Two teams stopped early and took up positions behind the available cover. The other team advanced with one of the members stepping forward while the other two members spread out to flank us at short range.
“Perhaps she’ll talk to me then.” the leader of the group said. “Lieutenant Mara Nox of the Hellsreach High Patrol, Third Squadron. You are the Imperial aliens correct?”
Mara looked to be as human as I was, but I saw that Darius’ words were true. Half of Mara’s soldiers were the lizard-like Garjaracks.
“We are Imperial envoys. Do you intend to impede us?” Master Raychelle asked.
“I believe you could say that. You are hereby under arrest, by my authority as a representative of the Hellsreach’s Common Council. I order you to stand down and surrender any weapons you are carrying.” Lt. Mara said.
“On what charges are you arresting us?” Master Raychelle asked. I was primed for a fight to start but the amused tone in Master Raychelle’s voice made me pause. She wasn’t a blood thirsty woman from what I’d seen of her so far, so I couldn’t imagine that she was amused by the idea of beating on a team of eight well armed soldiers. We could both slip away under the cover of an invisibility spell, but against a prepared group even that would be difficult. Void anima could make us invisible and absorb anima attacks but if they started detonating the trees around us we’d be shredded by the shrapnel before we got a hundred feet away.
“Illegal immigration.” Lt. Mara said.
“Our clearance documents were processed two days ago.” Master Raychelle said. “If you are actually concerned about that.”
Despite the fact that we were the ones who had multiple weapons trained on them, I got the sense that Master Raychelle was baiting Lt. Mara. It was as if each question Master Raychelle asked was a test. Lt. Mara apparently hadn’t given a failing answer yet but I suspected things would become violent in a hurry if she did.
“They were processed by the Imperial appointed Joint Exxion Congress. The Joint Congress does not have the authority to approve customs passage to Hellsreach however.” Lt. Mara said.
“And we are just learning of this now? Was this communicated to the Congress?” Master Raychelle asked.
“Official notice has been served to the Joint Congress monthly.” Lt. Mara said.
“But not to the Imperial ambassador?” Master Raychelle asked, meaning “what kind of bogus surprise move is this?”
“The Hellsreach Common Council has been given no direct access to the Imperial ambassador. All communications are handled through the Joint Congress.” Lt. Mara said, meaning “if it’s a surprise to you, its your own damn Imperial fault.”
“And what are the penalties for illegal immigration?” Master Raychelle asked.
“You will be held at a containment center until a trial can be arranged. Depending on the arbiter’s evaluation, you will either be deported and returned to space or your case will be transferred to a full immigration review panel.” Lt. Mara said.
“And if we chose to simply leave now?” Master Raychelle asked.
“I cannot allow you to do that. Part of your trial will be to determine if you were part of any conspiracies against the people of Hellsreach.” Lt. Mara said.
“And if we were?”
“Then you will be turned over to Hellsreach Security and Intel for interrogation.” Lt. Mara said.
“What will happen if we do not choose to comply with your orders?” Master Raychelle asked. She was relaxed. It was easy to mistake that for being passive. No one in the clearing was making that error though.
In some ways it’s nice to be part of a galactically famous organization. The Crystal Guardians have a terrifying reputation for getting things done. Individually, they’re assumed by most people to be among the most powerful anima casters in the galaxy. The myth goes that the Crystal Empress hand selects each one and then bestows on them the blessing of her unfettered power.
It’s a nice myth, but when I was selected it was by an acting Crystal Guardian and her apprentice. Master Opal, one of the Sapphire Guardians, sponsored me before a panel of seven judges, not all of whom were Guardians themselves. I sat through two days of “hearings” which involved nothing more than chatting with the judges while we lounged in comfy chairs, ate some great food and they went over my record.
To be fair, they had all kinds of mental anima spells in place to prevent me from lying and our “casual conversations” covered a lot of topics that would have been difficult to answer if I’d had anything to hide. In the end they’d come to the consensus that they were satisfied that I’d make an acceptable candidate and turned me over to Master Raychelle for training and a full evaluation.
At no time did I get a super power up from the Crystal Empress though. Or from anyone for that matter. The closest I’d come to that was the bits of gear that Master Raychelle had me bring along for the mission. Anyone with enough coin or credit could have duplicated that sort of a power-up though. Like, say, with the armor and heavy bolt casters that the soldiers around us were carrying.
“If you choose not to surrender then we will be required to incapacitate you. Should you resist then we will be bring you down using whatever force is necessary up to and including lethal measures.” Lt. Mara said. “I will instruct you again. Stand down and drop any weapons you are carrying.”
I had to give them credit. For a unit that was relying on a mish-mash of supplies, they managed to appear perfectly professional in all other ways. I didn’t see fear or excitement in their eyes. However they felt about the job they were being asked to perform, they’d put those feelings aside. That wouldn’t make getting shot by them any less painful, but it was a change of pace from the out of control thugs and psychos I was used to dealing with.
I could almost believe that we’d be able to talk our way out of this, given how reasonable they seemed. Almost. Looking at Lt. Mara’s expression though I saw a resolve that was annoyingly familiar. She had a duty to perform and she was committed to it. I’d choked out the last person who’d been overly committed to doing her duty, but given the presence of Lt. Mara’s backup, I didn’t think that was going to be an option in this case. At least not until Master Raychelle took them all out, which if I wasn’t mistaken was going to take all of ten seconds or so.
Of course, as usual, I was mistaken.
“Very well. We surrender then.” Master Raychelle said.
She might as well have clubbed me over the head with a metal pipe.
“What?” I blurted out before I could stop myself. I also swung around to face her before I could stop myself and almost fell on my butt as my injured ankle gave out. I hadn’t been focusing on the physical anima brace I’d put together for it and I’d forgotten how much it hurt to walk on.
Darius caught me as I toppled backwards, dropping his sword to do so. Tactically that was a stupid move. He’d not only disarmed himself, he’d placed himself as a shield for me to hide behind and become a potential hostage if I was willing to show them what I could do.
“I don’t think this prisoner can walk sir.” Darius said to Lt. Mara as he helped me back to my feet. “She was injured when the 4X’s shot her down.”
“The 4X’s?” I asked.
“The garrison forces from Exxion IV, the human offworlders, I believe.” Master Raychelle said.
“That’s correct.” Lt. Mara said as she stepped closer. She stayed out of arm’s reach and inspected my lower leg. I saw the sparkle of physical anima dance across her eyes as she did. It caught me by surprise since the only other physical anima caster I’d met who knew spells like that had been trained as a Healer.
“It’s not bad, but I won’t ask you to walk on it unaided.” Lt. Mara said. “Bancryths, bring an aid kit here.”
One of the soldiers in the rear nodded and returned to the ship they’d arrived in.
“Please sit down and place your hands behind your backs.” Lt. Mara said.
I looked at Master Raychelle for either confirmation that she was ok with this or for a sign that she’d gone insane and I was going to have to strike out on my own. She met my gaze and gave me a tiny, confident smile. The kind that gently scolded me for not trusting that she was playing a longer game than I was aware of.
Darius helped me sit down while Lt. Mara placed a pair of restraints on Master Raychelle’s wrists. She waited until her subordinate had brought up the aid kit and treated my leg and arm before she bound my hands though. That meant having my arms locked behind me wasn’t agonizing, just uncomfortable.
Once we were secured, Mara and her troops lead us to the transport and placed us in special holding cells in the back of it. Master Raychelle went into one, while I was loaded into a separate compartment.
“Darius, you’re with the apprentice you caught. Bancryths and Selimon, you’re with the master.” Lt. Mara said, directing her troops into the holding cells as well. I watched as Darius climbed into the seat opposite the one I was shackled to. He touched a glyph on his side of the compartment and a clear wall shimmered into existence between us.
“I probably don’t need this.” he said, indicating the security wall, “But it is standard procedure.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were still scared of us.” I said. Lt. Mara had closed the cell door, locking us both in for the duration.
“Let’s just say we have some idea what you Guardians are capable of.” Darius said.
“That’s why we rate a personal overseer?” I asked. I would have been miffed that I only rated one guard where Master Raychelle got two, but I had to admit that she was at least twice as dangerous as I was, if not more so.
“For now. Once you’re at the containment center, they’ll do their own evaluation of you.” Darius said.
“Containment center? I thought you’d called it a prison camp.” I said.
“It is what it is.” he replied with a shrug.
“So who else do you put there?” I asked him.
“Technically? Criminals. We’re not just the Common Council’s army, we’re also their law enforcers.” Darius said.
“On a world where there are two enemy armies committing crimes though, I’m guessing you don’t find many people that you can arrest like us right?” I asked.
“Not so much. Our arrests tend to leave craters, and that’s when we can find someone in a position that we can afford to strike at. Most of the ones that we catch and put into “containment centers” are smaller operators. Saboteurs, assassins, gang leaders. Plus we’ve got the regular criminals to deal with. Just because the offworlders are in an almost constant state of warfare doesn’t mean the natives are don’t kill each other once in a while too.“ Darius said.
“You know, I was ready to punch your head off back there. If you’d lead with this kind of a story, I might not have come an inch away from doing it.” I said.
“Is that supposed to make me think you’re not still an inch away from punching my head off?” Darius asked.
“Sure, I’d say you’ve got at least two inches now, maybe three.” I said.
He grinned and shook his head.
“Listen. When you break out, try not to mess things up too much. I know some of the guards who work at the containment center. They’re good people and they follow the rules.”
“What makes you think we’re going to break out?” I asked.
“We had you turn over your weapons and you weren’t carrying any.” he said.
“We were on our way to a peace conference.” I said.
“Yes. Where you were going to act as guards for the negotiators.” he said.
“So?” I asked.
“So the only guards who don’t have weapons are the ones who don’t need them.” he said.
He wasn’t wrong about that. Master Raychelle had us leave behind anima blades and bolt casters to “project the proper image”. I was lousy with a bolt caster and still working on learning how to fight with an anima blade so that didn’t bother me. Mostly because, like Darius said, I was plenty dangerous enough without those kind of tools.
“If you think we’re just going to breakout, why stick us in the prison camp in the first place?” I asked.
“Blind optimism? I don’t know. I’m presuming the people in charge have some idea what they’re doing.” Darius said.
I chuckled. Being the one taking orders wasn’t easy no matter whose side you were on it seemed.
The transport landed and Darius withdrew the clear wall between us. He helped me out of the cell and marched me behind Master Raychelle as Lt. Mara’s troops lead us to a giant metal door in the side of a mountain.
“For the duration of your arrest you will housed here, in the Deep Run Containment Facility.” Lt. Mara said to us and then added to her troops, “Let’s get them checked in.”
We stepped onto a plate in front of the steel door and I felt a teleportation effect catch me and drag me under the earth, miles down, to an obsidian cube that was wrapped in spells and floating deep in the planet’s inner mantle.
That was how I wound up in prison on the first mission I ever undertook as part of the Crystal Guardians.