Dragonstar – Part 02
Yawning, Lord Korodo chewed on his breakfast as he watched the news. Death, destruction and mayhem in the Outlands. Ever since Emperor Mezzenbone had taken the throne, it seemed the Dragon Empire had set itself on a path of aggressive expansion, with legion after legion sent to primitive pre-technological worlds on missions of conquest. The policy sickened him. He may have shared the blood of the red dragons, but that was all, he did not share their love of conquest. Some members of House Mazorgrim seemed to revel in the bloodbath their Emperor was causing and after 5 thousand years of relative stability, the Empire was entering a period of turmoil. That this period coincided with the first royal house of Asamet to take throne was not a coincidence. Five thousand years ago, the Pact Draconis had ended the terrible war between the metallic dragons of the Kingdom of Qesmet and the chromatic dragons of Asamet, a war that had almost brought both kingdoms to the very brink of destruction. The Pact was an agreement between both kingdoms to end the war and form a joint empire under the rule of the dragons. Each noble house would rule for one thousand years before handing over to the next. The Houses of Deserene, Sarava, Handor, Aranath and Golion, the five royal Houses of Qesemet would be first to rule. The Houses of Mazorgrim, Osorus, Noros, Esmer and Altara, the five royal Houses of Asamet, would follow them. It was not an ideal solution, but it was the only one that had a chance at ending the bloodshed. For five millennia, the Empire had prospered under the rule of the metallic dragons but fifty years ago, House Mazorgrim had taken up the baton of lordship. Since then, many of the reforms enacted under the Qesemet houses had been repealed and many were predicting the Empire would tear itself apart. No one seriously believed that the stability of the Empire could survive the rule of even one chromatic dragon.
The half-dragon switched off the TV and walked over to the window. A hundred floors up, he was afforded an impressive view of the city that sprawled from horizon to horizon in all directions. Korodo sighed as he looked out over the urban landscape of towering megascrapers and downtrodden slums. Despite being born into the nobility, he knew that he had as much ability to change things as the teeming throngs of commoners below. The sound of a throat being cleared alerted him to the presence of someone entering the room.
“M’lord, your jumpcraft is ready whenever you are.”
Korodo turned to face the person addressing him. It was his driver, and pilot of his personal yacht, Duncan. The cat-like Pershalan, unlike Korodo, appeared smartly dressed even in his old flight suit. Korodo on the other hand looked more like a street-gang member than a scion of the empire’s nobility. “Excellent, I need to get out of the city and kill something.”
Duncan took one look at Korodo’s ripped sleeveless t-shirt, spiked bracers and choker and pants with torn knees and grimaced. “Sir, I wish you would wear something more suitable to your station.”
“Duncan old friend, I’m going hunting in the royal preserve, not negotiating with a bunch of bankers,” he said picking up a well used but lovingly maintained hunting rifle. “Besides, I wish you would just call me by my name once in a while.” Checking that the rifle’s power pack was fully charged, he made his way through the penthouse and down the stairs to the private garage. Duncan followed close behind, talking into a wrist communicator and informing building security that Korodo was leaving. The lights in the skygarage automatically activated as the security sensor registered their presence. Duncan climbed behind the controls of the Utility Jumpcraft as Korodo sat in the passenger seat. After receiving the all clear from building security, Duncan piloted the jumpcraft out of the garage into the city.
As Korodo left the city, deep below the base of his luxury apartment building, Trace was connecting a handheld computer to a junction box. He was in the undertunnels, a vast network of passageways that spread out underneath the city and provided access to utility conduits and communication lines. Although they were meant to be watched at all hours of the day by surveillance systems, their coverage was patchy and the private company contracted to maintain the security system was often slow to respond. Trace hated travelling through the undertunnels; more than just the odd criminal called the tunnel home. “Things” hid in the darkness and people who ventured down here had a habit of disappearing. However if he wanted to break in to a noble’s penthouse, this was his only chance of defeating the security system. The only illumination in this part of the tunnel was the soft blue glow of the computer screen and the small chemical light stick attached to his cap. Although it did not give off a great deal of light, it was more than enough for him to see in the darkness thanks to the diluted elven blood flowing through his veins.
With the computer connected, Trace executed a series of programs, his fingers racing over the keypad at near zen-like speeds. Within seconds, he had logged onto the building’s mainframe and was navigating through its maze-like file structure. An indicator in the top left of the screen alerted him that his connection had been flagged for attention by the security system. Trace had been expecting and waiting for this and he activated a subroutine that when the system interrogated his connection, it responded with a coded response that identified the user as an authorised maintenance worker. However, that was merely the subroutines secondary function. Its primary purpose was to piggyback a signal back to the security system giving Trace access to its inner workings. It was ludicrously easy, the sign of a complacent security force. Now that he had full access, Trace loaded a special program of his own devising on to the system. The program cross-connected the security system with the building’s communications hardware. Lying dormant in the comm software, it waited until the building’s switchboard received a call from one specific number. Until then it was completely undetectable, but when activated its effects would be fast and devastating. It acted by reprogramming the security system to ignore all input from the sensors in the penthouse. Surveillance systems would begin looping their feeds and alarm systems would be silenced. Even the panic buttons in the penthouse would be disabled. Trace figured it would be at least twenty minutes before anyone noticed this quick and dirty hack once the program activated it. The only problem would be the door lock system. They were on a different circuit, separate from the main security system. Although the system monitored the door locks, it did not control them. Trace would have to bypass them manually when the time came.
After logging off the system and erasing his tracks, trace disconnected the computer and packed it carefully into his messenger bag. The nearest street exit was at least a kilometre away but it was in the heart of Jackson’s Gate, one of the richest and most tightly controlled areas of the city. A safe exit was at least five times that distance. Trace unclipped the jetboard from his belt and extended the front and back footpads, the crystals beneath each pad glowing blue as the levitation enchantment activated. The magic allowed the jetboard to float, its altitude controlled by a mental command from the rider but horizontal propulsion had to be provided by the microjets mounted on either side. As Trace hopped onto the board, the microjets emitted a high-pitched whine as the board began to move down the tunnel rapidly picking up speed.
Trace had only travelled a dozen or so metres when he collided with a metal pipe which appeared out of nowhere in his path. The pipe stuck him lengthways across the chest, stopping him in mid-air as he doubled over the pipe while the jetboard continued without him, clattering to a stop several metres down the tunnel.
Winded by the impact, Trace crashed to floor gasping for breath. “Sonuva…” he groaned, looking up just in time to see the metal pipe swing down towards his head. Rolling to side, the pipe struck the ground where his head had been just moments before, its impact chipping the concrete surface. A man dressed in the filthy remains of a maintenance worker’s outfit held the pipe. With emaciated skin and stringy hair, it bared a fanged mouth as it howled a scream of feral rage. Springing up into a crouch, Trace realised with a cold dread that the creature in front of him was a ghoul and that he was probably on its menu. He reached behind him, drawing a scuffed blaster pistol from where it had been tucked into the belt of his pants. Holding it with two shaking hands, he fired at the ghoul, its blue-white particle beam illuminating the tunnel like a bolt of lightning. The shot went wide, missing the ghoul and harmlessly striking the wall behind it. Reacting to the shot, the ghoul launched itself at Trace intent on using the metal pipe to crush the boy’s windpipe. Knocked back to the floor by the ghoul’s leaping attack, Trace lost his grip on his pistol and watched helplessly as it skittered across the floor coming to a rest just beyond his reach. It took all his strength to keep the pipe from pressing down on his throat and the ghoul’s face was just centimetres from his own, its foetid breath making Trace gag.
As the ghoul’s strength started to overpower his own, he began to panic, his mind scrambling to find a way out the situation. The boy thought back to the stories told by some of the older, more experienced guild members. A few years ago, an eleven-year-old Trace had sat listening with a small amount of awe to a story told by an old fortune hunter. The old man had been all too eager to tell an impressionable youth about the time he and his partners had raided an ancient tomb complex on some outland world only to be ambushed by undead. As the ghoul lay on top of him, Trace remembered something he’d been told about the undead, the one thing that could possibly save him. Undead gained a semblance of life from being imbued by negative energy. Healing magic worked on living creatures by imbuing them with positive energy. If negative energy magic harmed living creatures then perhaps healing magic had the same effect on the undead.
With no other option, Trace decided to take a chance taking his right hand off the pipe and pushing it into the ghoul’s face. As he did so, the ghoul presse the pipe against his throat, preventing him from breathing. Struggling for air, he realised that he would only have one shot at this so he focused all of his concentration on his healing ability. The ghoul screamed in pain as the positive energy surged into its body and it fell off Trace, writhing in agony. Scrambling to his feet, Trace wasted no time running over and picking up his pistol. Firing two shots into the ghoul, Trace didn’t wait to see if they slowed it down and instead ran to his jetboard. Jumping on board, he sped down the tunnel as fast as its microjets would allow.
Several kilometres away and in the parking lot of a drive-through fast food restaurant, Caldrin watched on the small screen of a datapad as the boy fled from the ghoul. He smiled, mildly impressed that the boy had actually gotten away unscathed. A small surveillance drone that Caldrin had tasked with following the boy was relaying the images. Although he had been ready to intervene to save the boy’s life if necessary by using the drone’s suicide mode, Caldrin would rather not jeopardise the mission by revealing its presence. However, the boy’s use of magic had surprised the experienced ISPD agent. There had been nothing in the boy’s file or criminal record that even hinted at possessing such a power. “Remind me to update his file later,” Caldrin thought as he instructed the probe to continue following the boy at a discrete distance. “Perhaps Dorga wasn’t overselling the boy’s resourcefulness after all,” he said to himself as he munched on a cheeseburger.
While the drone followed the boy, Caldrin rewound the recorded video footage to the fight with the ghoul and focused on the weapon as it flew out of the boy’s hand. The drow freeze-framed the footage and rotated the image, zooming in the weapon and starting an image-recognition algorithm. Accessing a number of databases through the Imperial Infonet, the empire wide communications system connecting the various local networks via magical ansibles, the datapad was quickly able identify the make and model of the weapon.
“This is Caldrin; arm the assault team with Infernix Arms mark 19 hand blasters.” With the boy’s weapon identified, another hole was filled in the boy’s intelligence file, not that its accuracy would matter soon. More importantly, the assault team now had a weapon that would leave identical forensic traces to the boys making the set-up much more convincing.
Trace slammed the door to the apartment closed and leaned against it. He was still shaking from the “fight” with the ghoul, adrenaline still pumping through his system. After leaving the undertunnels, he had returned straight home. Sliding down the door into a sitting position, Trace took several deep breaths and closed his eyes in attempt to calm down. Slowly he started to laugh, quietly at first but getting stronger by the second as he succumbed to the sheer exhilaration of being alive. Eventually he calmed down, wiping the laughter tears from his eyes and going into the kitchen area of the cramped two-room apartment. Opening the fridge, Trace took a bottle of water and twisted off the cap with his teeth while rooting through the dregs looking for something to eat. In a few hours, he would have to go back to Jackson’s Gate to get ready for tonight’s job. However, first he needed to get some food into his stomach. As he closed the fridge, holding a can of beans in one hand, something stuck to the fridge door caught his eye. Attached to the fridge by a magnet in the shape of a chubby red dragon holding an imperial flag was a photo. It was a picture of Toby and Trace leaning against each other with Samantha in between the two sucking on a sugar stick, the two boys grinning for the camera. The photo had been taken during the Empire Day celebrations two months ago.
“Looks like I couldn’t stay out of trouble for very long eh Tobs,” Trace asked as he plucked the photo from under the magnet. Looking at the photo as he sat down on the sofa, he sighed and placed the folded photo in a pocket before reaching for a relatively clean fork. Twisting the bottom of the can activated its internal heating element and while it heated, Trace turned on the small portable TV and channel surfed. After a minute, the can beeped and Trace carefully opened it, grimacing when he smelt its contents.
“Ahh re-heated cardboard.”
Trace spent the next few hours preparing for his attempt to break into Lord Korodo’s skygarage, making sure his “intrusion bag” was packed and programming his comm. As the sun sank below the horizon, he reluctantly mounted his jetboard and set off for Jackson’s Gate, more than a little apprehensive about what he had to do.
By the time Caldrin spotted the boy approaching, it was nearly midnight. Putting down the digital binoculars, he turned to the squad behind him. They were already in their intrusion suits, armoured body suit made of phototropic duraweave. It created a form-fitting hologram around the wearer and his equipment that matched the colour and texture of the surroundings. Coupled with the built in thermal wiring, the suit rendered the wearer almost invisible to sensors. For the last couple of hours they had been getting increasingly impatient waiting for the ISPD agent to give the go order.
“Get ready, the guild asset is here. If he’s able to disable the system as promised, you move in on the target.”
Trace bit his lip as he fiddled with the door’s electronic lock, a bead of sweat dribbling down his face. He brushed his hair out of his face and connected the leads to the keypad next to the maintenance door. As alphanumeric sequences rapidly flashed across the screen of the small electronic lockpick, Trace took a moment to look around. He was kneeling on a narrow ledge a hundred floors above street level outside a maintenance hatch that led to the skygarage. It had just gone midnight when he had decided to make his move, dialling the building’s main switchboard and triggering the logic bomb. Getting up here had been a chore in itself, the police came down hard on jetboarders in the richer sectors of the city so getting this far had been a challenge. As long as Korodo stayed upstairs in his penthouse, this job should be a cakewalk. With a beep, a sequence of numbers on the lock pick’s display flashed green indicating that it had found the unlock code. Trace unclipped the leads and closed the keypad’s cover before punching in the code. With a buzz, the door lock disengaged and the door opened with a click.
Stuffing the lockpick into a pocket, Trace stepped into the darkened garage closing the door behind him. There were two jumpcraft sitting in the parking bays, even in the low light one of them caught Trace’s eye. Sleek and low slung, with its propulsion units lying flush against the body, it was a four-seater luxury sports model. As he traced his hand across its smooth surface, Trace whistled. “Now this, this is a thing of beauty.” He peered in at the dashboard, the odometer was only a few points above zero; the jumpcraft was practically new. “It’ll be a shame to see a slimeball like Dorga get his hands on you,” he sighed. The other was a rugged looking utility jumpcraft that looked like it had seen a lot of use.
Slapping a button on the wall, the garage door slid open allowing the cool night air to stream into the garage. Using a small pocketknife, Trace popped open an access panel on the side of the jumpcraft and began to disable its alarm system and tracking device.
Upstairs in his penthouse, Korodo was cleaning a disassembled plasma sword. A modern version of an ancient weapon, the plasma sword had fallen out of favour as ranged energy weapons became more reliable and versatile. Korodo had spent years hunting for parts and schematics in order to build one. He was reconnecting the plasma emitter when Duncan entered into the study on his way to bed.
“Are you still playing around with that, we’ve got an early take-off in the morning,” Duncan sighed, leaning tiredly against the doorframe. Korodo smiled and looked up from the plasma sword, opening his mouth to answer. Before he could speak, the blue-white beam of a blaster shot ripped through Duncan’s chest, leaving behind a smoking and cauterised wound. The half-dragon watched in horror as Duncan slumped forward onto the floor. In the corridor behind the now-lifeless body was a ripple in the air, reminiscent of the heat-haze that rises of tarmac on a hot day. Korodo could just make out a vaguely humanoid shape and the effect was only ruined by the pixelisation of the background seen through the haze. The figure lifted an arm, pointing what Korodo assumed was a weapon at him. Instinctively, the half-dragon inhaled and breathed out sharply. A gout of flame erupted from his throat engulfing the would-be assassin.
“Bet you didn’t expect that eh?” he yelled at the figure wreathed in flames. The hologram flickered and died as the assassin died with it. A second assassin leaned around the doorway, firing into the room. “Damn,” Korodo muttered as he dived behind the desk, the blaster shots striking the desk, gouging great pits in its surface and scattering the equipment on it onto the floor. Korodo looked down as the cylindrical hilt of the plasma sword rolled against his clawed hand. He had practiced and trained with it over the years but had never considered that he might have to use it in anger. Now it appeared that he would have no choice.
Taking a deep breath, Korodo grasped the hilt tightly and rolled out from behind the desk. The half-dragon charged at the assassin, dodging around several shots and thumbed the plasma swords activation switch. The hilt thrummed as powerful emitters within it created an enclosed and focused magnetic field. With a hiss, white-hot plasma flooded into the space enclosed by the field creating a 6-foot long blade of pure energy. Surprised by the sudden appearance of the unfamiliar weapon, the assassin stepped back around the door into the corridor outside. With a bellowing roar, Korodo impaled the sword into the wall, its plasma easily burning through the thin wall and stabbing the man in the back. Slumping dead to the floor, his comrade gritted his teeth and combat-rolled into the room. The third assassin brought his blaster pistol to bare and shot at Korodo. Luckily, it was a glancing shot that skipped across Korodo’s scales. Turning to face the assassin, he reactivated the blade and leapt across the small coffee table. The assassin nimbly sprang out of the way, rolling under Korodo’s swing and pressing a button on his left wrist. The wrist-mounted device generated a circular plane of force. Its magical energy was capable of deflecting or resisting any form of energy-based attack. Korodo again tried to strike at the assassin but his blow was blocked by the energy shield. The assassin tried to shoot his target but Korodo deftly dodged the blaster bolt, spinning around and striking the assassin’s left leg with his tail in an attempt to sweep him off his feet. Although knocked back, the assassin stayed on his feet but his shield arm was knocked aside by an elbow strike. Using the opening, Korodo brought the sword into a sweeping strike across the assassin’s abdomen. As the insubstantial blade struck the assassin, his body broke through the magnetic containment field and met the plasma. The extreme temperature of the plasma melted through the duraweave of the intrusion suite and burned the unprotected flesh of the assassin. Howling in pain, the assassin collapsed towards the carpet and as he fell, Korodo span bringing the plasma sword slicing down onto the man’s unprotected neck. The searing heat of the plasma burned through the flesh and bone of the neck, decapitating the head.
Panting heavily, Korodo turned back to the door into the study and went to kneel by Duncan’s body. After feeling for a pulse and finding none, he gently closed the man’s eyes. “Goodbye old friend,” he said quietly.
“Dammit to pus-spewing, blood-gutted hell!” Caldrin yelled as the third assassin fell, “this op is getting more fubar’d by the second.” He turned to face the two men behind him in flight suits, a human and a fellow drow. “Fire up those jumpers, if the second team fail as well, we’re going to plan B.”
Korodo pressed a red button on the wall next to a comm panel, expecting to hear the comforting tone of the security alarm. When no tone was forthcoming, he tried to contact security on the panel but the system refused to connect. In the reflection of the monitor, he saw the telltale distortion of two more assassins, about to fire. Ducking under their shots, Korodo began running down the corridor towards the stairs the led to the skygarage. As he ran, he slapped at a set of door controls and a heavy-duty security barrier slammed down trapping the two assassins. Wasting no time, Korodo reached the top of the stairs and virtually bounded down them in to the garage below. He skidded to stop at the foot of the stairs when he saw a figure silhouetted against the open door of the garage. The figure was smaller than the assassins were and clothed different. Snarling and in no mood for games, he drew the plasma sword and advanced on the figure facing away from him.
At the sound of the plasma swords activation, Trace, who hadn’t heard the blaster fire from upstairs because of the skygarage’s soundproofing, span round and jumped backwards as the point of the plasma blade pointed threateningly in his direction. Korodo’s scales flushed from a dark red to a vibrant blood red. “What in the nine hells are you doing in my house?” Korodo yelled.
“Technically,” Trace smirked nervously, “I’m in your garage.”
Korodo stepped forward, bringing the point of the blade towards Trace’s face, the light from the plasma illuminating it with a harsh white glow. “What then, are you doing in my garage?” He asked growling.
Trace took a step backwards, the heel of his left foot hanging off the edge of the ledge. He glanced behind him at the hundred-story drop and gulped. Holding his hands up in what he hoped was a placating manner; he turned back towards the irate half-dragon. “Looks like it’s painfully obvious,” Trace said, glancing nervously at the open access panel in the side of the jumpcraft, “I was trying to steal your jumper.” “If you can’t tell ‘em a good lie”, the guildmaster had once told him, “then surprise ‘em with the truth.” It seemed to work as the half-dragon’s mouth opened as if he was trying to come up with something to say, and the point of the blade lowered. He was interrupted as a blast from upstairs rocked the skygarage and the sound of the heavy-duty doors being blown open could be heard.
“I haven’t got time for this elf.” Korodo said dismissively.
Trace’s face flushed red with muted anger. “HALF-elf!” he retorted back in a raised voice, glancing upwards at the ceiling.
“Whatever kid,” Korodo said as he deactivated the sword and turned his back on Trace. Ripping the leads from the jumpcraft’s computer ports, he slammed the access panel closed and jumped over the door into the driver’s seat. The seat automatically adjusted itself to accommodate his tail as he sat down at the controls but when he entered the start-up code, the jumpcraft refused to respond.
As Korodo got in the jumpcraft, Trace quickly unclipped the jetboard from his belt and extended the front and back footpads. Standing at the door of the skygarage, he prepared to jump out on the jetboard when a blaster shot from the stairs struck him in the upper arm causing him to cry out in pain. He dropped the jetboard, damaging one of its microjets as he stumbled behind the utility jumpcraft, clutching his arm. Trace tried to focus his healing ability, but the weakly flickering blue field around his hand told him that he would have to wait until tomorrow before using it again. The incident with the ghoul earlier had used up what remained of his finite healing energy. Cursing his luck, Trace gritted his teeth as he tried to stop the bleeding; ducking as another shot struck the bodywork of the jumpcraft above his head.
Korodo’s head snapped up from the controls of the jumpcraft at the sound of the blaster shot just in time to see the boy fall behind cover. Reaching for the glove compartment, he pulled out a gyrojet pistol and fired at the two assassins as they came down the stairs. As the rounds left the barrel, expelled by magnetic repulsion, miniature rockets ignited and small spin-stabiliser vanes deployed. The gyrojets rocketed across the skygarage, striking the wall by the assassins with enough force to punch their way through the wall. Leaping into the skygarage and taking cover, the assassins returned fire. Exchanging fire with the assassins, Korodo saw that the blaster bolts were not solely aimed at him. Quickly, he stole a glance towards the boy and saw with some surprise that he was bleeding. He had assumed that the boy had been in league with the assassins, albeit in some minor form. Yet there he was, as much a target as he was.
Trace, for his part soon got over the shock of being shot; it wasn’t the first time that he had been shot but the amount of pain was always seemed to surprise him. He looked over to jetboard lying on the floor of the skygarage. The left microjet was damaged but it was not beyond repair, if he could just reach it, he might be able to fix it. With this thought, he reached out for the jetboard only snatch his hand back as blaster bolts lanced towards it. “Screw this,” he muttered pulling the pistol from where it was tucked into the back of his pants. Trace considered uttering a short prayer to the Trickster, or any of the twelve Gods of the Unification Church that happened to be watching. However, he figured a deathbed conversion is more likely to draw their ire than their blessing so instead; he cursed the name of the man that forced him into this crazy venture. Screaming, he knelt up behind the utility jumpcraft and fired at the assassins. His aim was unsteady, partly due to the pain from his wound and partly due to fear. Fear that increased when two more men came down the stairs to join their comrades. One of his blaster bolts lanced across the skygarage and struck an assassin between the eyes. With a spurt of evaporating blood and cauterised flesh, the assassin dropped, dead before he hit the floor. Trace froze for a brief second when his shot connected. A shot from the one of the assassins ricocheted off the jumpcraft’s bodywork, a sliver of the fuselage striking Trace just above the eye and slicing a cut across the forehead. He ducked back down behind the jumpcraft, shielding his head with his hands as he glanced over at Korodo.
Across the skygarage, Korodo looked over towards Trace at the same time and their eyes met. The boy’s earlier cocksure attitude was gone, replaced by wide-eyed fear. Rolling his eyes and questioning his own judgement, Korodo made a decision. “Well kid, you waiting for an invitation? Get in.”
Posted on Sunday, March 9, 2008, in Dragonstar, RPG General and tagged dragon, dragons, Dragonstar, dungeons, elf, fantasy, Fiction, half, kid, noble, science, space, street, thief, warrior, young. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.