Journeys Through Valkana

Balefire's gambit

"They weren't our marks, Tobin," the fiery haired gnome snapped at the much taller human behind the desk. "They were tools." His lips spread in his customary smirk as he added off-handedly "The elf in particular, definitely a tool." His tone returned to business as he continued, "And as any good engineer knows, you take care of your tools."

"You lost 6,000 credits on those tools, Declan! I'm not just going to overlook that!" 

Tobin, the spindly, grey-haired rogue rounded the desk and stood towering over the gnome. Not phased by his posturing, Declan lifted his head in defiance and flipped a switch on his mech arm. Gears whirred and a low whine came from his boots as a blue light emanated from the soles and lifted him to bring him eye level with the man. His icy blue eyes bored holes into the yellowing, bloodshot eyes of Tobin. They remained there for a long, tense minute staring each other down.

"You have beautiful eyes" Declan whispered earnestly, keeping his eyes locked on Tobin's.

"Bah!" Tobin spat. He turned away and stomped back behind his desk."You infuriate me, Balefire. I don't know why I put up with you."

"Because I'm the best you have and you know it," Declan replied lowering himself back to the ground his smirk settling into its place again.

"You're damned lucky you are," Tobin muttered as he took his seat behind the desk. 

"What's the big deal, Tobin? They got the job done. I figured they deserved compensation. They fared far better than the crew you picked for me."

Tobin huffed remembering the disaster of their first attempt at the heist. In truth, he had lost double what he'd lost on this excursion. "Be that as it may," he said begrudgingly, "my operatives will be working overtime to recoup that loss."

"Tobin, lighten up! Mission accomplished, hefe! Can't we take a moment to toast some of that sweet, sweet fire oil I know you have stashed in your bottom drawer?"

Tobin looked at him with a scowl of suspicion which then turn into his own relenting grin.  "Damned lucky," he repeated and reached into the bottom drawer procuring a decanter of dark red liquor and two tumblers. He poured out two fingers in each and slid one over to Declan who caught it up deftly.

"To yet another swift kick in the danglies to Jameson and the Machine," Declan toasted.

"May their cogs and wheels rust to dust!" Tobin returned. 

With that, both men downed their glasses in one swig. This was followed by faces contorted in twisted grimaces as the liquor did its work traveling down throat to belly leaving a tingling, slightly burning trail in its wake. Brow glistening with sweat, Declan slammed his glass back down on the table inviting Tobin to poor another. To his chagrin, Tobin swiped up the decanter, stoppered it and put it back beneath his desk.

"Let's not get too carried away," Tobin said as he walked around and leaned against the front of his desk arms crossed. "Our work isn't over yet. You are prepared for the next phase?"

"Absolutely," said Declan hopping up into a cushioned chair.

"Pity you let yourself get pinched in Vorakis. And bloody lucky you made it through the Trial. I've told you time and again that The Twilight Guard and Abin-Dula are not to be trifled with. You're gonna be hard pressed to walk through that city without a thousand eyes trained on you with every step."

"And as I've told you, old man, I can take care of myself." He hoped his eyes didn't betray his confident posture as he thought about how lucky he really had been in facing the Trial with that particular pack. The gnome was used to getting out of sticky situations, but were it not for that crew his fortune might have fled. In truth, he owed them much more than the money he had relinquished to them. He owed them his life. Of course, if his guilt hadn't got the better of him, he wouldn't have found himself in the position to begin with. Sometimes he felt things would go much easier for him if he could just excise that nagging conscience in much the same way he would pull a faulty fuse from a bot.

"I made it out just fine," he continued, "and I don't expect to return any time soon so I think I'm doing right dandy."

"Right," Tobin replied, "well, why don't you use that bloody 'resourcefulness' and take care of the next bit of fun we have lined up for our gold mongering friends."

"With pleasure!" And with that the spry gnome leaped out of his chair and made for the door. "Fare thee well, O Captain, my Captain!" With a tip to his brow and a slight bow, Declan made his exit.


Declan made his way down the rickety stairs and through the back door of the abandoned factory which housed Tobins quarters. Once outside he moved along the wall until he reached a spot just below where Tobin's window was and looked up. There, just outside the window, clung EL-1A5, his favorite drone, secured fast by the flux-grav tech he installed in its appendages. Clasped in one of its other mech arms was the decanter of fire oil from Tobin's desk. Declan gave a series of toned whistles and EL-1A5 scurried down the wall to his waiting hand where it deposited the liquor and proceeded to clamber up his arm to secure itself to Declan's tech pack inserting its arms into slots and nestling comfortably in place.

"Good lad," Declan admonished the bot. "You won't be missing this too much, old man," he aimed at the window under his breath as he sauntered away. "You should be cutting back anyway."

Declan sidled his way through the back alleys and side streets of Nestora occasionally utilizing his own flux-grav boots to circumvent impasses and expedite his journey. Dusk was settling in as he made his way quickly to the commerce quarter which was starting to wrap up another busy day. Arclights flickered on overhead bathing the street in their soft glow, signaling the street merchants to pull in their wares and the store fronts to drop their gates. Declan mostly avoided the main thoroughfare darting through adjacent alleyways and sometimes over rooftops. He passed a group of Saurian armorers saddling their rothes and a particularly flamboyant elixir merchant, colorfully dressed and shutting the doors on his equally garish wagon. A halfling textile tradesman made his final appeals to a haggling customer as Declan slipped by and down a deserted ally. He walked about halfway down and then stopped peering up the side of a large, blackstone building. The alley was already dark with the waning day and the shadows of the buildings looming overhead. The only sources of light were the lanterns of the merchants cart from the street side where he entered and one Arclight shining dimly at the other end about 100 feet further. Checking to make sure there were no prying eyes, he turned back to…

Something caught his eye in the direction of the arc-light. He turned back and saw that the arc-light was pulsing in a very un-arclight sort of way. It almost resembled a heartbeat. Then it began to drift down into the center of the alleyway, the light leaving its source, and separated into two distinct lights. Now, it seemed, there were two glowing eyes staring at him from the dark. The shadows around the lights seemed to deepen and almost take form against the dark around it into what Declan perceived as a cloaked figure with a wide-brimmed hat. 

Declan's blood went cold which was quite a feat for the normally hot-blooded gnome. This wasn't his first encounter with this being. His memory raced back to his childhood. To what he remembered as a nightmare he'd had in his nook of a room in his childhood home in Tin City. Those same blazing, electric eyes had gazed down at him from outside his tiny window. His parents had brushed it off as a nightmare as well when he had tearfully ran to their bedside to tell them. The only other time he remembered seeing it was as he was lying half conscious underneath the rubble of Tin City after the Purge. He remembered bleeding out from the loss of his arm and right before going under he had seen those eyes against that shadowy form and then darkness. The next thing he new he had woken in an alley in a different part of the city, his wound closed and seemingly cauterized. Again, he chalked it up to his imagination and delirium. He hadn't given it much thought for years.

But now, here he stood, fully cognizant, staring wide-eyed at the figure from his youth. It didn't say anything. Just hung in the air "eyes" pulsing with that electric light. 

"Who… what… are you?" Declan stammered. He hated this feeling of not having control of his environment. He cursed himself for sounding so unlike his usual confident self.

The figure stayed silent. 

Declan turned his head a moment looking down toward the thoroughfare on the other side of the alley to ensure that nothing else had crept up on him. All clear. When he turned back, the figure was gone. The arc-light glowing as if nothing had changed. There was nothing left to indicate anything had been there. Just the shadows cast over by the surrounding buildings. 

Declan licked his inexplicably dry lips and swallowed through cotton. As unnerved as he was, he still had a task to complete. He shook it off and summoned EL-1A5 from his pack. It unfurled its nav-wings and lifted into the air to suspend itself eye level with Declan awaiting instruction. Declan pulled down his goggles and synced with the machine's viewport. He adjusted to the momentary vertigo as his vision was filled with his own face. Through his sync he made a quick sweep of the area to ensure the figure was not near. Confident he was alone, he moved EL up the side of the building. It traveled 22 stories and hung in the air right outside a closed window. Declan scanned the interior and ensured that it was indeed empty. He took note of a digital panel on the far side. He gave the command to EL to employ its diamond cutter who complied and circumscribed a small hole in the window. 

Declan once more engaged his flux-grav boots and placed one against the wall which immediately clung fast. He pressed another button and activated his photon cloak which bent the light around him rendering him virtually invisible, then he climbed swiftly up the wall and finally reached the window where EL hovered. He reached through the hole in the glass and undid the latch to swing the window inward.

Before setting foot in the room, he focused on the panel and sent his innate energy toward it. Once attuned to its frequency, he had a little chat with the device and compelled it to shut off the security system within the room. Then he swung over the edge of the window and into the office of Arlin Garrick. Jameson's COO kept a fastidious office space. Clean geometric furniture and, in Delcan's opinion, inordinately tacky modern art hanging on the walls. There were cases which contained archaic suits of armor and weaponry from the Great War. If he wasn't here for more subtle purposes, he might have relieved the man of a few choice pieces.

He sent EL to stand post outside the office door then made directly for the desk at the other side of the room and flipped the panel to the holo-term. He made quick work of the security software and accessed the mainframe. The holo-term flickered to life and the holographic display popped up shedding a blue glow over the room. 

Declan chuckled to himself as he imagined the look on Arlin's face when this scheme played itself out. Boyd Jameson would be enraged when he found out that his first in command had been passing along company secrets to his number one competitor and had arranged the theft of his fuel truck by them. The plan was to embed irrefutable evidence in Garrick's hard drive and drop an anonymous tip Jameson's way. The result would redirect the investigation into the the missing tanker and, more importantly, deal a lethal blow to the infrastructure of the petrol giant. The in-fighting would tear the company apart and Umbra would slide quietly back into the dark claiming another victory against the oligarchy.

 He navigated his way through the various files and finally found what he was looking for. Opening the files, he focused his energy once again and drew upon the force which allowed him to manipulate technology. His eyes began to glow the same brilliant blue that flowed though his mech-gauntlet as he directed his focus into the software. Blue tendrils reached from the gauntlet into the terminal as he accessed the financial records and created a financial trail that told the story of Arlin's betrayal. Also, just for good measure, he went ahead and deposited 6,000 credits into Tobin's hidden account. That would appease the old man. He put up enough firewalls to look as though Arlin was trying to hide it but not strong enough to prevent it from being found out. His glowing eyes flicked back and forth as he put the finishing touches on the illusion. He withdrew his hand and the blue glow receded back into the glove and his eyes returned to their normal icy gaze.

Satisfied with his work, he shut down the holo-term and turned to leave. Only his gnomish height saved him as a glowing green flash careened toward his head. He barely ducked out of the way, a lock of his flaming red hair softly falling to the ground. Cursing, he immediately punched the button in his glove that engaged the pulse-boost. His boots engaged and he dashed to the other side of the room to get a bead on what had just attacked him. Turning on its heel, one of the exo-suits from the display case lumbered toward him. The animated suit held an outdated yet still extremely effective energy sword that it swung back over its head for an over head chop. Declan side-stepped the clumsy swing and the sword showered sparks off the marble flooring. The gnome reached back to his tech-pack and grabbed the handle jutting out. As he swung it back over his shoulder, the handle unfolded and expanded to twice its length transforming into his energy rifle. He swiftly brought it to bear but not before he felt something very strong clamp around his leg. He looked down to see a disembodied robotic arm, another relic from the trophy case,  wrapped tight around his calf. Its grip tightened and threatened to tear through Declan's armor right before he triggered his body-armor shockwave and rendered the thing useless. He looked back up just in time to see the energy sword slashing diagonally toward him and jumped into a barrel roll to once again avoid being bisected. He came up from his roll in a crouch, aiming his rifle at the living armor. He sent a mental command and from behind the armor he heard the small pinging of EL's gatling laser bouncing off the metal. It was enough to distract the artifact and it turned to face the new threat. That was just the opening Declan needed and he leveled his rifle and took aim. Fortunately for him, he had seen dozens of these suits come through his father's shop for repair when he was a child and knew what the inherent flaw was in this particular design. As it turned, it exposed its gyro-stablizer and Declan pulled the trigger. The blast ripped through the mechanism and the armor toppled no longer able to support its own weight. It flopped about whirring and trying to right itself as Declan approached it and unsheathed his energy knife and shoved it through its processing unit. It jerked once and then lay perfectly still.

"Not. Cool. " Declan said to the defunct machine.

He retracted his rifle and placed it back in its slot then whistled for EL to dock. The droid took its place on his back and Declan scanned the room. Very clever, Arlin, he thought. The man must have had his trophies enchanted as a secondary defense. Fortunately, there was only minimum damage done to the machines and Declan worked quickly mending the twisted metal and setting the relics back in place in their mini museum. His fingers lingered on the first gen energy sword, but necessity dictated that everything needed to look undisturbed. He couldn't leave any trace of his work behind. Another time, maybe. 

He crawled back out the window engaging his boots and restored the security system. Then he replaced the cut glass and employed his torch, expertly covering the seams and creating a solid piece of glass once again. He set back down the side of the building activating his photon cloak.

He set foot back in the dark alley and started to exit then quickly glanced to the end where the arclight flickered. No sign of the figure. Declan shrugged it off chalking it up once again to his over-active imagination and headed out to the main street. He reached into his side pouch pulling out the bottle of fire oil and took a long draft that nearly knocked him off his feet. Steadying himself, he emerged from the alley and headed home.

Behind him unseen by him as he exited the alley, the arclight went dark.











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