Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1 - Cover

Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1

Copyright© 2023 by Uruks

Chapter 27: Grafael Makes a Decision

The test subjects have shown an unexpected new ability. They exhibit a trait similar to some spores and fungi that infect a host and take over its bodily functions. During their feeding the other day, I wished to see how they might respond to a live food source, so I used a rodent from the local biome. Oddly, when they killed it, they only devoured part of it. The test subjects would normally devour every portion of the food sources presented to them, but they left most of the rodent intact. As its body floated inside their test tube, something incredible happened. The rodent came back to life.

“And that’s the gist of it,” Commander Zax said in an even tone, his hands folded on the table. “Despite your team’s insubordination, the Fire Minister has decided to support your efforts. However, you should both know that you are on thin ice, Seconds.”

Grafael and Tork stood in front of Zax’s desk while he was flanked by two other Elemental officers. They all wore their civilian clothing, but anyone who could see their mannerisms would mark them as military. Not that Grafael cared for such things. Hiding one’s true nature was the coward’s way, not the warrior’s way. What Grafael found most interesting was that even though they took up residence in a tavern known as the Tipsy Gnome, Commander Zax had taken the liberty to outfit his room as a makeshift office. There were computer consoles, shielding equipment, and listening devices scattered all around the cramped, dull brown metallic quarters. The various disks and lights of the machinery hummed as they shielded the room and scanned the surroundings at the same time for any sign of espionage. Grafael marveled at the Elementals’ ability to get all the equipment set up so quickly, and without anyone even noticing. He suspected that a few Spiritual-Types had simply teleported the equipment inside. However, he did wonder what Zax had done with the bed, and where the man would sleep for that matter.

If he simply sleeps on the floor, or perhaps doesn’t sleep at all, then I marvel at his warrior spirit, Grafael considered admiringly. I admit, even I find the comfortable cushions that humans use for their beds most appealing. Back on the homeworld, a stone slab would suffice. I’ve allowed myself to grow soft from such luxury, but this man has not.

Tork gave a polite bow, but Grafael could tell that he was clearly nervous. “We understand. We thank you for your patience, and we ... we shall endeavor t-to...”

Zax frowned in annoyance. “Endeavor to what? Speak up, Second!”

Tork’s wings beat nervously. When his friend struggled for a response, Grafael said, “Endeavor to see our tasks through to the end, no matter the cost. We shall prove the merit of our plan. We shall do so with action, or pay with our lives if this plan proves to be folly.”

Grafael was a little ashamed of himself for speaking with such certainty. He and Tork had been told that the others in the Inner City had been forced to make a questionable alliance with a Mystic named Lucille. Leon had asked the two of them not to mention her in their reports. Grafael didn’t like that, but he supposed it wasn’t lying so long as no one asked him directly about her, so he maintained his honor on a technicality.

Zax didn’t look entirely pleased by Grafael’s bravado, but he still offered a slight nod of respect. “As may very well prove to be the case. All soldiers live with the risk of dying in battle. You all may be young, but you are still soldiers.”

Tork timidly held up a clawed finger. “Tech-technically, sir, Grafael and I aren’t that young, at least not by human standards. Both of us are well over a century old.”

Zax’s frown turned into a scowl. “And I am over three centuries old.”

Grafael jerked in surprise, taking note of the man’s middle-aged appearance. “Really? Your psions must be powerful indeed, sir. You are not a Fourth, yet you age as one.”

Zax gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “Many strong Elementals under Fourth age slower than normal humans, and top-tier Thirds such as I, even more so. In a few decades, I’m planning on making a stab at Level Four of mastery.”

Zax then directed his attention back to Tork, who looked like he wanted to shrink under the Third’s scrutiny. “However, as far as I’m concerned, you are both teenagers in my estimation, even with your team’s recent slew of accomplishments. In fact, by the standards of the Dragons who sometimes live for millions of years, you would be considered infants.”

Zax then leaned forward somewhat menacingly, his gaze shifting between both Grafael and Tork. “Though I’ve worked with Squad 99 in the past and have deemed you all to be powerful and skilled for your relative ages, I admit, I don’t like your team’s penchant for impulsiveness as of late. As such, I’m beginning to wonder if the Minister’s faith in you all is misplaced. I hope you prove me wrong within the coming battle, otherwise, a lot of good men are going to die.”

Grafael gave Tork a sideways glance, hoping his companion might muster the courage to stand up for himself. However, Tork’s ears bent low in submission. Grafael almost groaned out loud.

You can’t always rely on me to do the talking all the time, brother. You have to stand on your own two feet eventually.

Grafael beat his chest proudly as he rose to Zax’s challenge. “We will renew your faith in us. We will take Nirvana with minimum loss of life. Count on it, sir.”

Zax gave Tork another glance, but seemed mostly satisfied with Grafael’s confidence. “Very well. The only thing left is to lay the final preparations for the attack over the next few days. You are to act as our envoys to the pirates for the time being. I’ve sent dossiers of your assignments to your communicators. That’ll be all for now. Dismissed, Seconds.”

“You’ve got to be more assertive, brother!” Grafael scolded Tork as they walked through the tavern, pirates singing and drinking all around them. “They are taking a great risk by trusting us in this! We have to show them that we have the strength to see this through!”

“I know. I know. I ... I do apologize!” stuttered Tork, twiddling his clawed thumbs. “I’m sorry, I ... I just-”

Grafael growled. “And stop apologizing all the time! Humility is one thing, but downright timidity is something else entirely! You’re a Dragon! One of the firstborn to discover the power of Elemency itself! Act like it! Be proud of it!”

Tork flinched as if he’d been struck, making Grafael regret his harshness.

Grafael sighed. “Look, brother. I-”

Suddenly, Gumar grabbed Grafael in a bearhug from behind, crushing him around the waist and shouting, “Gumar vok Grafael! Grafael ra ju cra Gumar!”

Grafael had heard Gumar’s language enough at this point to recognize what the Troll wanted from him. Without another word, Grafael engaged Gumar in a wrestling match. The Troll was about as strong as Grafael, and surprisingly skilled when it came to wrestling. He wasn’t half as fast when it came to striking power, but that hardly made a difference while grappling an opponent on the floor. Grafael grabbed Gumar around his brawny neck, twisting him around to throw him to the ground. Gumar maintained his grip on Grafael’s waist, yanking him down with him, and then the match was on. Grafael forgot all about what he wanted to say to Tork.

The pirates around the bar drew back their chairs and tables to give room, knowing full well the destruction a Troll and an Earth Dragon were capable of. Rounds of cheering and laughing erupted throughout the tavern as the pirates were already placing bets on the winner. Grafael won most of their bouts, but Gumar had managed to pin him a few times in the past, so the battle could go either way. Grafael’s hard, blue scales on his arms scrapped against Gumar’s gray, stone-like skin as they grabbed and rolled over each other. Any human combatant would’ve been cut to ribbons at this point with their soft skin unless they wore Psionic Armor. Grafael had learned a lot of wrestling techniques from Gumar, many holds that he wished to show Éclair when she got back from her mission, though he’d have to use them with less enthusiasm on her given her delicate human skin. They alternated between the half nelson, the bulldog choke, and the anaconda vice. They transitioned between the arm wrench, the butterfly, and the electric chair. They did the cross kneelock, the calf crusher, and the Damascus head and leglock. They did the figure four armlock, the scissored armbar, and the chickenwing.

After trying out various holds and reverse holds on one another for a few minutes with no clear winner, Sharon clapped her hands together, shouting loudly, “Alright, that’s it then! Break it up you two! We got some clients coming in soon, so you lot can’t be tearing up the place today!”

Gumar, Grafael, and the cheering pirates all groaned at the loss of merriment. Grafael and Gumar released each other from a simultaneous headlock and came to their feet, both pouting and scowling at Sharon who did not back down as she held her hands to her hips.

Gumar pointed at Grafael, and said, “Gumar tra ka va bova Grafael da na!”

Grafael huffed, poking Gumar in the chest with his finger. “No, you would not have won that time! I was just about to use the ‘barely legal’, and then you would’ve been at my mercy!”

Gumar sniffed, raising his chin defiantly. “Ja ka vo ma, Grafael!”

“No, that move is not cheating! It’s still legal! That’s why it’s called the ‘barely legal’!”

“Oy! Inside voice, boys! Inside voice, please!” Sharon shouted over both of them, ironic considering that she was telling them to be quiet. “Gumar! Come on, then. Let’s get you cleaned up. You smell all sweaty and Troll-y now. Can’t have ya scarin’ off the customers.”

Sharon then walked past Grafael, took Gumar by the hand, and led him away like a mother guiding a disobedient child. The huge Troll lumbered behind the small form of Sharon Morgan, shaking furniture as he walked and muttering under his breath as he pouted.

As Sharon led Gumar away, she pointed back at Grafael, and called, “You take a bath, too, you walkin’ bag of testosterone!”

Grafael crossed his arms and sniffed. She’s as bossy as Éclair.

Grafael winced slightly. Just thinking Éclair’s name brought on new feelings of worry and loneliness. He could sometimes forget how much he missed her, how much he missed her strength and authority, her kindness and generosity. But then he’d catch glimpses of that same kind of tenacity in Sharon, and those feelings would come home to roost. He missed Ryan too, missed the boy’s jokes and energy, as well as their fierce sparring matches. The boy was progressing well. Both he and Éclair were growing so strong. It had been ages since he heard back from either of them. Why hadn’t the other Elementals given him an update on her and Ryan’s mission? He needed to know how they were doing. He needed to know if they were...

Grafael noticed Tork sitting at the bar, his ears and bat-like golden wings drooping. Feeling ashamed for the way he just dismissed his brother, Grafael walked over. He sat next to Tork who didn’t acknowledge him. Grafael ordered a drink and soon proffered the bottle to Tork. Wordlessly, Tork accepted the drink, and the both of them sat quietly, downing their beverages as the ruckus of the bar continued in the background.

Grafael then gave Tork’s golden-scaled shoulder an affectionate squeeze, and Tork sighed. “Grafy, old boy. There are times when I think I have nothing to contribute to the team. You ... all of our comrades are just so dazzling. Even Torsha, our newest member, seems to fit in better than I.”

Grafael leaned forward, forcing Tork to face him. He smiled for his comrade, knowing all too well that even stalwart warriors needed encouragement every now and then. “You know that’s not true, my friend. You have more strength than you know, perhaps more than all the rest of us. You just have to believe you can find it ... believe that it is there to be found.”

Tork gave a small smile that didn’t meet his eyes, and he nodded. After a few minutes of drinks, Tork seemed to cheer up a bit, though probably because he got a little drunk. He would laugh and burp, talking about how much he missed Torsha. He also mentioned the Satyr girl, Shaya, who would look at him funny sometimes. Incidentally, Grafael noticed Shaya serving a table behind them and casting curious glances Tork’s way. Grafael wasn’t quite sure of the meaning of the look. But then, Satyrs like Shaya were so human-like in their expressions that Grafael had a hard time reading their facial gestures.

Grafael might’ve gotten a little tipsy himself, and soon regretted it. He hadn’t even bothered looking at the dossier that Commander Zax had sent them. He and Tork were already off to a bad start smoothing relations with the Fire Elementals. They probably should sober up and get to work here pretty soon.

Just as Grafael was about to make Tork get up, he chanced upon something peculiar.

“Boy, I love it here on Nirvana!” said a man loudly a few chairs down from Grafael and Tork. “It’s been years since they let us come here! We should’ve transferred to this sector decades ago!”

Grafael recognized two Elementals in civilian clothing under Zax’s command. They were both low-tier Seconds, if Grafael’s memory was correct. They looked around the same age as Zax. One had dark skin, and the other had fair skin. They both had similar short haircuts, and were average in height according to human standards. It didn’t seem like they had noticed either him or Tork. Both men were drunk, but the one that had just spoken seemed a lot drunker than the other.

“Dawson,” said the man’s companion with a slight slur, the one with fair skin. “You need to keep your voice down. We’re still technically under...”

The man trailed off, glancing around nervously. He was probably about to say ‘undercover’. Commander Zax had many agents around Karma-1, and he hadn’t allowed all their identities to be known to James’ crew despite the fact that the pirates were their allies against Brocktree. Probably prudent under the circumstances, though Grafael always found paranoia distasteful regardless of the situation.

“Oh, come on! Lighten up, Keyes!” said Dawson with a hiccup. “We’re off duty! That, like ... never happens!”

The one called Keyes got up and hauled Dawson to his feet, supporting him under his arm as his boots dragged against the floor. “You always were a loudmouth,” he muttered under his breath. “Better get you out of here before you say something that gets us demoted.”

Grafael was just about to lose interest and return to his thoughts when Dawson said, “Hey! I heard that the Commandment blew up! You didn’t know anyone on board, did ya?”

“Shh!” shushed Keyes.

Grafael choked on his drink as he stared at the backs of the two drunken Elementals while they shuffled away. The Commandment! Éclair and Ryan were on that ship!

Grafael’s drink fell from his grip, spilling onto the table and the floor, but he hardly noticed. After a moment of deliberation, he then got up, leaving Tork behind, who was snoozing on the table muttering Torsha’s name. Grafael stalked after the two Elementals and found them as they entered a hallway leading to the living quarters. The one called Dawson was throwing up huge amounts of bile on the walls and floor while the one called Keyes was patting his back. Even though Dawson was the one who made the comment, he was probably too indisposed to say anything else. Having no gift for subtlety, Grafael took the direct approach. He always did.

Grafael stalked forward before the Elementals could react and shoved Keyes to the wall by pushing his elbow to the man’s neck. Keyes, despite being inebriated, summoned a small fire to his fist, but Grafael grabbed the man’s hand. He could’ve crushed the fingers completely. He might still have to. The man struggled to bring up his arm, but Grafael was too strong. When brute force didn’t work, the man made his flames bigger. The fires licked at Grafael’s flesh on his hand and arm, but the Saurian ignored the pain. Pain was nothing in a matter of honor.

“You might be able to summon a fire large enough to kill me, but not before I break your neck,” Grafael said threateningly as he pushed his elbow into the man’s throat just to get his point across.

“Have you gone mad, Second?!” hissed Keyes, the fire in his hand not waning as he glared at Grafael. On some level, Grafael admired the man’s courage, but he would break that courage if he had to. “Release me now, or I’ll-”

“The Commandment!” Grafael growled, leaning down to his smaller human opponent. “What happened to it?! What happened to Éclair and Ryan?!”

Keyes gasped. Then his face softened, and his fire ebbed out, allowing relief to flood into Grafael’s burned arm. The Elemental said calmly, “Release me. I will tell you. It goes against my orders, but I will tell you. You deserve to know.”

It was only then that Grafael noticed Keyes’ companion had recovered. The man had been subtle. Without Grafael even being aware, Dawson had summoned a flaming Psionic Sword glowing with orange symbols and had pressed the tip to the back of Grafael’s neck while he questioned Keyes. From his position, Grafael might’ve been able to use his tail to trip the man, but given Keyes’ relaxed posture, he knew that a fight was probably unnecessary at this point.

Grafael released his hold on Keyes and took a step back. The Elemental rubbed his throat and nodded to his companion. Dawson, looking much more sober now despite the slight dribble of vomit on his chin, dismissed his sword, making it vanish in a flash of flames. However, he regarded Grafael warily.

Keyes’ shoulders sagged. “We just got the news a few weeks ago. An undocumented hostile species attacked the convoy. The Commandment has been destroyed. So far, there have been no survivors.”

Grafael staggered, feeling his breath rush out of him. In a quivering voice, he asked, “Ryan... Éclair?”

“Your squad mates, right?” said Dawson at his side. “The young honorary ambassadors of the mission?”

Grafael said nothing as he waited for Keyes’ reply, knowing that his own fate rested on what the man said next. For if Ryan and Éclair were truly dead, then honor demanded that he join them.

Keyes shook his head. “Their bodies weren’t recovered. It is ... it’s believed by some that they may be alive, though I’m not so sure.”

Grafael jerked forward, bringing his face to Keyes as he gripped the man’s shirt. “Really?! They might’ve survived? How?!

Keyes didn’t react to Grafael’s intensity. “Some have theorized that they were taken into a Gateway. The ship was preparing to go to warp when it was destroyed. Right now, there’s a rescue party scouting all the galaxies in range, scanning for the signal from their transponders. A lot of wasted effort if you ask me, given the mathematical impossibility of searching through at least a hundred galaxies and thousands of stars.”

The source of this story is Finestories

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