344 Chasing Vega

    The blue turtle flashed through the water, chasing the much larger greenish Emperor turtle.  Throughout the morning, they played in the clear waters off the coast of Ionova.  The smaller amphibian was less than a meter in diameter, while the larger one was several times that.  In the tangled weeds of the sea bottom, the smaller turtle held a slight advantage, but in the open sea, he was frequently caught whenever he popped up.

    They entered the mouth of the river and swam toward the turtle house; Soup would occasionally chirp happily and bump Nix with a flipper.  They climbed up onshore and basked in the morning sun.

    Both turtles had drowsed off when a familiar voice spoke soothingly from nearby.  Nix turned his head to watch the approach of the Titan.

    Gil knelt in the sand next to Soup and patted her head.  "Were you out fishing?  Who's your friend?"  He offered them both a small fish to eat; Soup gobbled it up while Nix made a point of biting the interloper's hands.  "DAMN!!"

    "What's the matter, Gil?"  Mina's calm voice held the barest hint of amusement.  She joined him after a few seconds and knelt beside him.  "Got a new friend, Soup?"

    Gil scowled at the blue sea turtle.  "Careful, he's a vicious bastard."

    Mina pursed her lips and stroked Nix's smooth blue head.  "This guy?  He's gentle.  Look how handsome he is."

    Shae poked her head out the back door; her long red hair was done up in a single topknot ponytail.

    "Breakfast is ready, Nix!"

    Nix morphed into his human form and jumped up from the sandy bank.  "I'll just rinse off, and I'll be ready."

    "...." Gil.

    "....." Mina.

    A few minutes later, Nix was cleaned up and sitting at the kitchen island with Shae, Fajii, and Hyai. Gil was sitting on the couch with Mina, the two of them were browsing the Auction House hud.

    "How fast were you in the water?"  Fajii had been so excited when he activated his Sea King form on the river bank.  She would have joined them, but Nix waved her off.  He wanted to interact with Soup in a water environment; you could learn a lot about a new form by observing the real thing.

    Nix smiled at the Scorched Earth Mages frown.  "Faster than an Aquarion, but not as fast as Soup."

    "Let's race then."  Fajii stared at him for a moment, her lips slowly curved in a smile.  "Next time, bring me too."


    [1000 hours: Ever Flame, TOC]

    The Inferno officers were seated at the long table, several hours earlier than they thought possible.  For whatever reason, Nix seemed completely refreshed with barely two hours of sleep.

    /Inferno: Jun Li: In the camp yet?

    "Yep,"  Nix spoke softly from his seat on the couch.

    The Nether rat scurried onto a large gray boulder, its sharp eyes taking in his first good look at the main camp.

    The main camp was made up of an overly large Tent City, hundreds of medium-sized tents set into a very precise pattern.  Wooden barricades blocked off easy access to the pass, forcing all traffic to go through a heavily manned guard point.

    "Much larger than either camp, everyone here is an elite."  Nix cursed softly. "Entry is going to be challenging, magical, and physical deterrents."

    The Nether rat tried to cross into the camp, each time he did several blueish glowing orbs moved toward him.  After multiple attempts, he realized that security was tight.

    "What are they using for intruder detection?  I don't want to go in blind."  Nix addressed the other officers, although his eyes remained closed.

    /Inferno: Semmi: Based off Motion, perhaps?  Or maybe sound?

    Shae shook her head from her seat next to Nix.  "Earth magic, I bet, they've set up a restricted perimeter.  Orbs are sent to investigate any incursions."

    The Nether rat moved between the rocks, watching everything.  After a few minutes, his frustration mounted to the point where he was about to call it a day; it was here that he saw her.

    It was easily the oldest dog Nix had ever seen; it limped painfully while hunting in the rocky area.  It seemed to pass over and back through the perimeter without any hassle. Its old eyes locked on Nix, and it broke into a painful trot.

    The rat shook its head after the old canine lost its trail for the third time.  Either its senses were worn entirely, or it was the worse hunter ever.  Finally, Nix had enough and squeaked at it in plain view.  Although the Nether Rat was much smaller, without a doubt, he could take an old dog if it came down to fighting.

    The old dog stopped a few feet away, oddly colored eyes studied it.  "Damn... That's a big f*cking rat."

    Nix cursed loudly inside the TOC.  "Another puppet master.  Check the TOC Junie, if I can sneak in here.

    /Inferno: Jun Li: Then they can sneak here, probably much easier.  Captain Locas, I need a tracker, several of them.  Check for any person or animal staying close to the TOC or surrounding buildings.

    /Inferno: Locas: Right away!

    /Inferno: Jun Li: Stop reporting now Nix, if they are close enough to hear us.

    The Rat King nodded and started formulating a plan.  He squeaked in terror and started running.  He could hear the old dog chasing, so he deliberately slowed down.

    A pair of jaws clamped down over the Nether Rat's back, even through his fur, Nix could feel that several of the animal's teeth were missing.  It shook him from side to side, the rat squealed loudly and then tapered off with a pitiful wail before going limp.

    The Rat King made his yellow eyes stare blankly while his mouth hung open.  The dog nudged him with his nose a few times before picking him up and trotting away.

    From his upside-down vantage point, Nix watched as the blue orbs approached.  They hovered around the old dog for a few moments before vanishing.


    "What the f*ck are you doing now?"

    A voice startled Muncie, causing him to drop his inhabitance.  The young man frowned at the woman standing over him.  "I was using Naki to scout the camp perimeter."

    "You're an idiot.  Animation isn't Taxidermy. What you do is not even proper Animation.  F*cking dead animal lover."   The beautiful girl looked like she wanted to spit on him, but instead, she spun around and left.  "Unlike you, I have something to report."

    "What a bitch."  Muncie watched her leave and breathed a sigh of relief.  How could a woman be so obscenely beautiful and yet have the personality of a mountain harpy?  "She's not wrong though."

    Muncie brought up his animator path.  When a divergent branch emerged a few months earlier, he had been encouraged by his master to follow it.  For a few weeks, everyone was his friend.  Then the cold reality hit.  He could only inhabit dead creatures that were greatly weakened; birds, mice, and a few snakes.  The dog Naki was his crowning achievement, an impossibly weak animal that died of old age.

    [Animator X: NecroSkeletal]

    Description: Advanced Animation

    skill that enables the user to inhabit dead


    Muncie leaned back in his chair and sent his consciousness towards Naki's last location.  Unlike his previous Animation level, he didn't need to see the animal to inhabit it.

    The dog stood up slowly, as if confused it looked around before turning in a complete circle.  "Where'd my rat go?  F*ck... it must have still been alive."


    Jun Li stared at the ceiling,  the light sound of the ranger's steps was easily traced since she wasn't trying to be quiet.  A sudden rush of footsteps and the noise stopped.

    Bali nimbly pranced down the ladder that led to the trapdoor of the attic a few moments later.  From her big smile it was obvious she wanted to mess with someone, but since Locas was watching she didn't. "Here's the culprit."

    Semmi suppressed a shudder when the tiny ranger placed the bat on the table.  "Are we sure it's a puppet?"

    Bali shrugged.  "It saw me and instantly went limp. It had no body heat at all."

    Unlike Semmi, Jun Li didn't mind the creature.  She picked it up and did a quick inspection.  Like Nix's work, it seemed perfect. "Place it in a bag, Nix can make a determination when he gets back."

    Shae hadn't left Nix's side, she could tell he was listening closely to them.  "Could they see us?"

    Bali nodded. "It was on a small knothole, probably could hear and see everything in this room.


    The rat had finally stealthed and was scurrying quickly toward the large tent at the rear of the pass. Nix didn't know if they were aware of his presence yet, but he wanted to get as close as possible to Vega before being discovered.

    Nix kept off the worn trails and within a few minutes approached the large domed tent.  It was much larger than it needed to be, although not quite circus sized.  The only entry was guarded by two heavily armored men.

    It took three laps around the perimeter of the tent before Nix found a way in.  The temptation to drop the scouting mission was overwhelming.  "Another f*cking sewer."

    A single pipe buried in the ground emerged into a long ditch, it was obviously a cesspit.  Bathwater mixed with the smell of human excrement and piss assaulted the Nether Rat's nostrils.  The end of the pipe produced a steady drip of brown water.

    Without thinking about it Nix entered the three-inch pipe.  It was a tight fit but the rat managed to squeeze in.  Several times over the two-minute journey, Nix had to push through clogs of hair and other matter.  He emerged from the pipe and found himself in a large tank.  One side was open while the other housed a modern looking toilet seat.

    Feeling a nearly overwhelming desire to bath, the Rat King climbed out of the tank and exited the large curtained-off bathroom.  He could hear the sound of voices, but the inside of the tent was mostly empty.  A few men sat around a round table at the back of the tent, they looked like guards.

    The light was fairly dim, but Nix worried that his smell would give him away.  He kept to the edge of the walls and searched for several minutes before finding it.  Directly behind the guard table was a small square mat, that Nix recognized as a two-way.

    Although stealthed, he crept slowly toward the mat.  The men were talking and playing cards, but if any of them possessed a true-sight ability, they would probably notice him if they looked up.

    Nix stepped on the mat and instantly traveled to another location.  He scurried to one side before examining his surroundings.  Immediately he stopped the inhabitance and the Rat King dropped lifelessly to the ground.

    Nix sat up from his reclined position on the couch, his face grim.  "We're **ed."
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