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(Contains: sexual themes and strong language)
Chapter 21

Smoke woke with a pounding headache. He winced in an attempt to hold back the pain. His eyes opened slowly, and it took a minute for him to register his surroundings.

The chains that held his arms above his head. The smell of standing water. The sound of drops. The smell of lavender. The hand on his chin. The golden blurry presence.

"Que?" he rapsed, but he already knew it wasn't her. It would never be.

"Oh, ho, ho, ho! No, no, my dear boy, not your little homunculus," came the melodious voice laced with sugar and contempt.

Smoke's eyes focused.

The effeminate man smiled as he rubbed Smoke's chin. It was the alchemist Enlightened. The same one from Sylvora and Atlasur. Smoke's expression became hard.

The alchemist laughed.

"Why so glum, my pretty boy?" he mused. "Ah, well, I suppose I can't blame you. Your accommodations aren't up to snuff. But I can't have Glasgow and Ferdinand poking around and taking you from me, hm?"

Smoke stiffened, but said nothing. There was something off about his captor.

"Hmm. Such lovely silver eyes you have. So familiar."

He smiled.

"What do you think, pretty boy?" the alchemist asked lightly and caressed Smoke's cheek. "Should I let Glasgow break you first? After all, it would be so much easier to pick you apart, if you're already broken. But then again, why deprive myself of the pleasure? Glasgow does have a way of getting carried away, don't you think?"

Smoke remained passive. The alchemist's fingers ran down Smoke's throat. It took every ounce of will power to keep his heart rate level and not...

"Oh, you are good, my boy. You have so many secrets..."

The alchemist moved his lips close to Smoke's.

"And I intend to pry them out of you."

His voice became soft, sultry, and much more feminine than before.

"One. By. One."

His smile became a wide, toothy grin.

***

"Please?"

"No."

"Please?"

"No."

"Please?"

"No."

Zeta had been following Liam around the deck for the past half an hour or so, trying to talk him into what he called a small experiment. Liam had declined on the premise alone, not even letting the homunculus explain exactly what it was he wanted to do.

"Please?" Zeta asked again. "I promise, it's nothing serious, and it could help."

"For the millionth time, no," Liam groaned, finishing off another cigarette. "Remember, you promised Brogan you wouldn't try any experiments on us."

Zeta pouted, but continued to insist.

"Won't you at least hear what it is?"

"No."

Ophelia watched Zeta follow Liam around. She glanced over at the still surly and unnecessarily nervous Eric.

"It's like a male Que."

She turned back to continue watching Liam try to escape the insistent homunculus.

"Should we get Brogan to save Liam?"

"I'm a little curious to see if either of them ever relent," Eric said. "If Liam lets Zeta tell him what it is exactly that he wants to do, or if Zeta gives up and starts pestering someone else. Besides, the longer he stays busy, the less I have to worry about not trying to attack him."

"Why don't you talk to him? He apologized to Brogan for breaking her legs. If you confront him with the deaths of your friends, he'll probably burst into tears, collapse and beg forgiveness," Ophelia said, amused at Eric's bloodthirstiness.

The militia man was quiet and continued to watch Zeta follow Liam around. Then, strangely enough, he stepped away from Ophelia and walked towards them. He was actually taking her suggestion.

"Please?"

"No."

"Please?"

"Excuse me."

Zeta and Liam both stopped and looked at Eric, and he averted his gaze.

"Can I talk to you for a minute, Zeta?"

The homunculus blinked and stared for a moment, but nodded.

"Sure."

Liam took the opportunity to walk away. Zeta tilted his head and regarded Eric for a moment, wondering what it was he had to say.

"What is it?"

Eric took a deep breath, preparing himself to say something, but before he could speak, the homunculus suddenly narrowed his eyes and took a couple of steps back, apparently scared.

Ophelia blinked in surprise when Eric actually got up and headed toward them. She stayed away, but fingered her cane as she watched them, prepared to do what she had to if she needed to.

But when Zeta backed away from Eric scared, her curiosity was peaked. She took a couple of steps and then stopped.

Oh. She knew what was wrong with the homunculus. She wondered how Eric would handle this.

"Uh," the militia man said, a little surprised by this reaction (and he hadn't even said anything yet). "You alright there, Zeta? I just want to talk..."

Zeta took another step back and covered his face with his hands. Eric looked back at Ophelia and shrugged.

Ophelia rolled her eyes. Sometimes, Eric was so damn dense. She approached both men and stood beside Eric.

"Zeta," she said. "He isn't who you think he is."

The homunculus shook his head, peering through his fingers.

"He looks the same," he said. "And talks the same."

Eric's hands curled into fists, and he frowned.

"Oh... is that it then?"

Zeta covered his face again.

Ophelia looked over at Eric, giving him a sharp look and then looked back at Zeta.

"Why are you afraid?"

He shivered, lowering his hands to reveal just his eyes. He glanced briefly at Eric, then locked his gaze with Ophelia's.

"Only if he goes away," he said.

Ophelia rolled her eyes.

"Zeta. This is Eric. He is not Ferdinand," she said flatly and quietly. "He needs to know why you're afraid of him. You have to help Eric understand. You need to tell him. He's the one who needs to know."

Zeta slowly took his hands away from his face. He chewed on his lip uncomfortably and lowered his head.

"The three of them," he began hesitantly. "They... they made me understand what was done to Brogan... by demonstration..."

He closed his eyes, still shaking.

"He had said he had just wanted to talk..."

Eric's expression softened and he looked over at Ophelia. Any anger he had held for the homunculus before was quickly fading in the face of this information.

Ophelia softened a little as well.

"Oh, hell. Zeta, Eric is not like them. He's trying to stop them, just like the rest of us. In fact... You know Eric already."

She looked to Eric.

"Tell him."

Eric took another deep breath.

"Back in Atlasur, when we rescued Brogan... you killed two people. Militia men. My friends. You decapitated one and ran the other one through, and then we were going to fight..."

The homunculus opened his eyes and slowly looked up at him.

"But you threw an alchemically charged stone that I caught, and I was disabled. I remember that."

He frowned.

"I didn't know what I had done was bad then. I didn't understand."

Zeta sighed and forced himself to look Eric in the eyes.

"I'm very sorry."

Eric almost looked away, but closed his eyes and nodded instead. It was hard to believe he was talking to the same person from that night, and part of him didn't want to forgive him. But Brogan was right; he was just a child.

"I forgive you."

Ophelia smiled, privately proud of Eric. As would his fallen comrades. She put a hand on Eric's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

Then she turned back to Zeta. She continued to smile.

"Zeta, I know this is hard, but Brogan won't tell us. When we found her... She'd been raped as well. I don't know if you know what that is, Que didn't know until Smoke explained it to her. But since... you were there, I thought maybe you could tell us, if you could."

Her other hand clenched on her cane.

Zeta had begun to smile when Eric forgave him, but now the frown returned. He looked away from both of them.

"I know what it is now," he said quietly. "I didn't really understand it when Brogan..."

He cut himself off, pressing his lips in a thin line. It was clear that he definitely knew.

"I wonder why she didn't tell you."

Ophelia shook her head and shrugged.

"I have no idea why she won't. Do you have any idea? What happened to her?"

He sighed, nodding slowly.

"They said they wanted to break her, so she would tell them about her robot. I... I think I might know why she wouldn't tell you."

Ophelia rolled her eyes.

"Okay. Tell us. Why wouldn't she tell us?"

Zeta chewed on his lip.

"Because she was protecting me."

Ophelia immediately stiffened. The grip on her cane tightened.

"Wait... what?"

Protecting him. Why would not telling them about the rape... protect... Zeta. For a moment, Ophelia felt a surge of rage. The little bastard! But then... she took a deep breath... wait...

"Wait."

She trembled a little, struggling to control her anger.

"What was done to Brogan by demonstration. You said they did that to you. They did... to you... everything that was done to Brogan? Everything?"

Zeta closed his eyes and nodded.

"Yes," he answered, voice cracking. "Because I didn't understand..."

Ophelia put a hand to her face and took deep breaths.

"... I... see..."

Goddammit. Now it made sense. Why say anything when there is no vengeance or justice to it. It was all fucked up. She turned away.

"Excuse me please..."

She started to walk away.

Eric placed his hand on her shoulder, keeping her from getting too far.

"Hey, are you going to be alright?" he asked, glancing back at Zeta, knowing exactly why she was trying to get away. He could have made a smart comment about it, but it would have been distasteful, not to mention cruel.

Ophelia put her hand over his.

"Walk with me," she said flatly.

He nodded and gladly followed her. Zeta wandered off away from them.

"Talk to me," he said.

Ophelia took several deep breaths.

"They... God, Eric, they ordered Zeta to rape Brogan and he did it, not knowing any better."

She clenched her fists.

"And then... then those bastards did onto him what they told him to do to her! I can't... I can't even imagine..."

Her emerald eyes shot to his violet ones, hot and hard.

"If you can't kill him... I'll do it for you. I promise."

Eric squeezed her shoulder. She was right: one way or another, his father needed to die. He never thought that he would want to be the one to kill him, but knowing all of the things he had done, and now with this, and how it affected Ophelia, God, he hoped that he would get to be the one.

"It'll get done. Somehow."

Ophelia took a deep breath and nodded.

"Brogan... needs to know. She was protecting Zeta by not telling us he was the one who raped her because she knew he was being ordered to and didn't know better. But she doesn't know that... that they... raped him to teach him the meaning of what he had done. No wonder he learned fear."

She was still breathing hard. It was difficult. There was no one to turn her rage on, no one to wreak vengeance on nearby, nothing she could destroy to make herself feel better. She hadn't felt this much rage and hate in a long time. Hating the Enlightened seemed so much a part of her that she'd forgotten what a surge of it could do.

Then, without any sort of warning, Eric wrapped his arms around her, holding her close and squeezing her gently.

"If you need to vent," he said quietly. "Or take it out on someone, I'm here."

Eric's sudden embrace and his words had the effect of completely draining her of adrenaline. When... god, when was the last time anyone had...? Her arms, slowly, hesitantly – almost as if afraid he would leave at any moment – came up and wrapped around him. She held onto him tightly and buried her face into his neck.

Her breathing eventually slowed and Ophelia let herself go slack against him. She hadn't let herself be this vulnerable in... years. Her fingers clutched at his shirt, holding him as if he would disappear.

Eric sighed a little, surprised that he wasn't surprised by this. He smiled, resting his chin on top of her head. He listened quietly to the sounds of their breathing, relieved when he heard her calming down. He couldn't help but laugh, just a little, at how far they had come. All because he had broken her arm, it seemed.

Dammit, she thought. Just the feel of his chin on the top of her head relaxed her. How the hell had this happened? He'd broken her arm, dammit... And he was an ass. But like a fungus, he'd grown on her. Oh, hell, did she...? No. No, she didn't. She couldn't.

And yet, she didn't feel inclined to let go.

Ophelia felt safe. Safe. She could never remember feeling safe with someone else.

Eric took one last deep breath and lifted his chin, unwrapping one of his arms so that he could lift her face to look at him. He smiled, and couldn't help but look silly.

"Hey," he said. "Want to tell Brogan now, or would you rather wait? I don't know how long the trip's going to be, or if you want to tell her before we get there..."

Ophelia nodded.

"Yes. Best to tell her now."

She gave Eric a rueful smile.

"Thank you."

Eric laughed a little.

"Of course. Would you like me to go with you? You know, in case you need another hug or suddenly have the urge to beat on something?"

She grinned and whacked the back of his head with her good arm.

"Stop being an idiot. Come on."

She grabbed his hand and tugged him after her, heading downstairs to the engine room.

He laughed again, rubbing his shoulder, really not needing her to tug him along. They passed by Que en route, who seemed to have gotten herself distracted chasing after the ferret again. She waved to them as they went by her, more eager to get a hold of Lejanay than chatting.

When they found Brogan, Ophelia confronted her about it and relayed the information she had gained from Zeta.

Brogan paled.

"Oh, god... That explains so much. Why he acted the way he did in Gregoria and how he learned fear and sadness..."

She rubbed her face.

"Oh, god..."

"There's... something else," Eric added, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. "But we should probably get everyone together first."

He looked over at Ophelia, giving her a smirk.

"If I have a death wish, I may as well have everyone present for the truth, don't you think?"

Ophelia's eyes widened as she stared at Eric, his words digesting. Her eyebrows arched. Then she put her hands on her hips.

"I thought we were over this death wish issue."

Brogan rolled her eyes.

"Could you two flirt elsewhere? I got work to do, unless Eric wants to make his announcement now. Because if he does, then help me out of here."

She tossed them a glare.

"But you're still not allowed to flirt in my presence."

"Oh?" Eric asked with a teasing pout as he offered his arm to help pull her up. "What? Does it disturb you?"

Brogan took his arm and looked at him like he'd grown a second head.

"Uh... hells yeah."

She arched an eyebrow.

"Well, damn, Eric. You actually admitting that you're flirting with Ophelia?"

Ophelia muffled a snort behind a hand.

He shrugged.

"Sure. Why not? I've managed to get this far without her killing me, so why not tempt fate? Besides, she's not complaining."

Eric hefted Brogan up and helped her back to her chair.

Brogan looked from one to the other, finally settled on Ophelia.

Ophelia met her glare and arched an eyebrow.

"Oh, please. The man doesn't even know how to flirt."

She tossed a sly smile at Eric and then headed out of the room, leaving Eric to push Brogan out of the engine room and up to the deck.

Brogan looked at Eric.

"Oh, she so just called you out."

He snorted.

"You were the one who called it flirting."

By the time they got upstairs, Ophelia had gotten most everyone's attention. Liam was still actively avoiding Zeta, but at least the homunculus had seemed to have lost interest (for the time being, anyway). Que had caught Lejanay and was standing next to Ikeza with the ferret curled up on top of her head. The pirate was trying desperately not to laugh.

Malcolm gave Brogan a smile and rolled his eyes dramatically.

"Right, so another meeting has been called to session. What's going on this time?" he asked.

Brogan shrugged and pointed up at Eric.

"His meeting this time."

"Yeah," Eric sighed, taking a deep breath in preparation. "So, I guess I'll try to make it as brief as I possibly can."

He paused to collect his courage.

"I'm not who I've been saying I am. My name isn't Eric Gunner."

He waited a moment for this to sink in.

"It's... Broderic Ferdinand."

Malcolm arched an eyebrow.

"And we care... why?"

Brogan stared at Eric. She searched his face.

"Ferdinand. Not like... Oh, my god."

She whirled on Ophelia accusingly.

"You knew!"

Ophelia shrugged.

"It's my job to know those kinds of things."

"Someone... please enlighten us?" Malcolm said dryly.

Eric rubbed his hand over his face.

"Any other time, that would have been fucking hysterical, Malcolm," he said. "Augustus Ferdinand was one of the founding engineers of the Enlightened. Among other things, he proposed the wearing of masks in the guild."

"His is blue," Zeta added quietly.

Malcolm took out a cigarette hearing that, and lit it. He took a drag before he spoke.

"So he's a relative?"

"His father," Ophelia said flatly.

"Damn..." Liam grumbled, bumming a cigarette from his brother. "You must really hate him, being on opposite sides of this war."

Eric nodded, crossing his arms.

"The feelings are relatively mutual between us, though I think he's more disappointed than anything. I couldn't work mechanics to save my life. Not very becoming of a Ferdinand."

Brogan couldn't tear her gaze from Ophelia.

"You knew."

Ophelia rolled her eyes.

"Yes, Brogan. Does it really matter? It's my job. There's not a whole lot of information on the ones in charge of the Enlightened. I know most of them are dead, killed by Glasgow and Ferdinand who pretty much took over it on their own. We know nothing about the alchemist – Horace – because he was never really one of the Enlightened. I knew that Ferdinand had one son, and I knew he was missing. I knew his name. I had his profile. I met Eric Gunner, and knew who he was. Glasgow has no family. He murdered his sister, her husband and their son over a decade ago. I have their names too. You want them?"

Brogan sighed and shook her head. She rubbed her temples.

"No. No. It's all right. Eric... came to rescue me from..."

"Yes. It was after that when I knew he could be trusted."

Ophelia smirked.

"Of course, he'd already taken a strong dislike to me."

Eric snorted.

"When you tried to hijack our rescue mission, how did you expect me to react?"

Ophelia smiled slyly, her eyes hooded.

"Exactly as you did. After all, I knew who you were."

Brogan rubbed her temples.

"Okay. Wow. Wait."

Brogan looked up at Eric.

"Did you grow up in Valgeyne?"

Malcolm immediately caught Brogan's train of thought.

"Oh, shit. Do we got our way in?"

Eric's eyes widened as he looked between the two.

"No. I mean yes, but no. Fuck no. Don't even think about it..."

"Eric, relax," Liam chuckled. "We're not going to feed you to the wolves or anything, but you know Valgeyne. You can find us a place to land, for one."

The militia man still didn't seem thrilled by the idea.

"I haven't been there in years, and I've never been in the Enlightened's HQ."

Ophelia rolled her eyes.

"Well, there goes that idea."

Brogan sighed.

"Well... Maybe..."

She looked up at Zeta.

"You were there for a while, Zeta. Do you at least know how we can sneak in, where we can land undetected? Any of the weaknesses of the fortress that is their city?"

The homunculus thought about it for a moment, tilting his head to the side.

"Well, I know some of the building fairly well. There are a lot of hidden passageways all throughout, so the veteran Enlightened could keep watch on new members. They're mostly out of use now though. Not sure why."

Zeta looked at them.

"It's pretty well fortified from the outside, with its back (and the headquarters) nestled against a large hill. A large potion of the building is actually inside that hill, and most of what can be seen from the city itself is just a facade. The primary entrances to the building are hidden and go through that hill."

Brogan and Ophelia shot each other a glace. Brogan then grinned and looked over at Liam and Malcolm.

"I guess we can start working on that plan now. All the information Zeta has will help."

She looked a little hopeful.

"We got one shot in a million."

Malcolm shrugged.

"I'm used to those odds."

"I'm confused."

Que had been so quiet this whole time, they'd almost forgotten she was there. With her brows furrowed (and Lejanay still curled comfortably on her head) she looked around at everyone.

"Shouldn't we find Smoke first before we plan this?" she asked. "I thought you were looking for him..."

Zeta began chewing on his lip.

The whole group was silent for a long moment. It was Brogan who spoke up first.

"Que... Do you want us to?"

The young woman frowned.

"Of course I do," she said softly. "I miss him..."

Brogan shrugged.

"He left, Que. Most likely because he thinks you hate him. There's no point going after him."

Que stared at Brogan for a long time, eyes welling up with tears.

"But..."

She began to shake, tears beginning to streak down her face.

"He promised he would never leave me!" she sobbed. "He said he wouldn't let anything happen to him, that he'd be there to protect me, and that he would never leave me! He promised!"

Que became so overwhelmed that she collapsed to the deck in a heap, disrupting Lejanay's nap and sending the ferret scurrying down her back. She kept crying, repeating over and over, "He promised..."

Brogan stared at Que. She looked up to the others. Ophelia gave her a nod. It was time.

"Que..." Brogan began. "Smoke... We're going to rescue Smoke."

Que sniffled, trying to wipe her eyes free of tears.

"Wh... what?" she managed, looking at Brogan.

Brogan bit her bottom lip.

"Smoke... Remember that man with the fire back in Sylvora? The man with the gold mask?"

Que nodded slowly.

"Yes? He was in Atlasur too. Smoke was protecting me from him..."

Thinking about it made her eyes fill with tears again.

"Why?"

Brogan took a deep breath.

"He took Smoke. I don't know what happened, but he... he took Smoke. I don't know why he wants him, but... Smoke didn't leave you. He got taken away."

Que's lip began to tremble, and she buried her face in her hands to hide her crying.

"I knew it!" she sobbed quietly. "He said that everything would be alright, but somehow, I knew this would happen..."

Brogan reached for Que and put a gentle hand on her head.

"Oh, but Que, there's no way Smoke could've known. You said it yourself, the alchemist looked like he was interested in you, not Smoke. So why take Smoke? We still can't figure out what they would even want with him."

She stroked Que's hair.

"Everything will be all right once we get him back. You're going to have to save him this time. Or are you going to leave him because he didn't keep his promise? I can assure you, he tried his hardest to keep his promise to you. He loves you, Que."

Que continued crying, shaking her head.

"No, you don't understand... I... I know why he would want to take Smoke..."

Brogan blinked. She looked up to the others, in surprise before returning her attention to Que.

"Y-you do? Oh, Que, what is it? What the hell would Enlightened want with Smoke?"

The young woman's sobs softened and she looked up at Brogan, realizing that she had made a mistake.

"Smoke... didn't want me to talk about it..."

"It has to do with alchemy," Zeta said. "I didn't see it, but I heard. Whatever it was startled Mr. Horace and Professor Atticus badly. The professor called him unstable."

Brogan's eyes widened. She looked from Zeta to Que.

"Que, I know Smoke told you not to talk about it, but you need to. We need to know what it is they want from him, so we know how much time he has."

She thought about it, having calmed down at last. After a few more deep breaths, Que nodded.

"Okay."

She straightened, although she wouldn't look at Brogan.

"Smoke said that his teacher used to do alchemical experiments on him. Forbidden ones. As a result, he... kind of has alchemy running through his veins. It makes him a conduit for it."

Que's face twisted in confusion for a moment.

"I'm still not sure I really understand it. He said it was sort of like the alchemical stones that Eric makes."

Brogan didn't know alchemy. She turned to Eric for confirmation. He was the only one here who could have an inkling of what Que was talking about.

Malcolm followed Brogan's gaze, took a drag and waited on Eric for clarification.

He looked absolutely mortified.

"That could be very bad," he explained. "I mean, I knew he was good, but damn..."

"In terms we can understand, please," Liam said. Eric nodded.

"Right, right... Okay. If I'm understanding this correctly, Smoke is essentially imbued with a complex alchemical formula, far more complex than what I put on my stones. Now, when alchemy is channeled through a formula, it becomes significantly more potent; the more complex, the more powerful. So, when Smoke channels his alchemy through himself - his imbued formula - he'd be capable of extraordinary alchemical feats."

Ophelia cursed. Loudly and vehemently.

"That's why that alchemist wants him so bad. Smoke is a living weapon. Something they would never be able to stop unless they already had it in their possession. Hell, for all we know they're going to tear him apart trying to figure out how he got those powers. And then we're FUCKED if they manage to figure it out."

"It could be even worse than that," Eric added, brows furrowed. "Using alchemy through a formula invariably damages – sometimes destroys – whatever it's written on. The fact that Smoke has channeled his alchemy like that and survived is a miracle unto itself."

"I saw him use it," Que told them. "He could barely stand when he was done. He told me to remind him not to do it again..."

"Oh, god."

Brogan looked at Malcolm and he gave her a nod, heading to the helm.

"We need a plan to get him out of there somehow. If we have to, we'll bring the war to them, but if we can just... somehow get in and out to save Smoke, that's enough. Then after that – if we survive – we can figure out how to take out the Enlightened."

Ophelia took a deep breath.

"Then count out back-up. However, if we do get in and out, any information we take out of Valgeyne will be enough to convince the government to give us that back up after we're safely out. Anything we learn there will only help us."

"So let's get a plan figured out already!" Ikeza said, rolling her eyes and muttering something in Ilatian. "Who's going where and doing what? So far, all I've heard in way of planning are hidden passageways."

"Dividing into groups of two with specific jobs would be best," Ophelia said. "We need to find Smoke, bust him out, make sure they can't find us, have an escape plan, and maybe do some reconnaissance so we can take out the Enlightened once and for all. I'm going to give my superiors something if we want back up later."

The pirate raised an eyebrow, looking at the others.

"I call dibs on the mercenary. I don't know any of you very well, and frankly I feel better being with another female fighter. Onu sunnefaw, Malcolm."

She grinned.

"And I'll bring along Lejanay. She's good at getting into things she's not supposed to."

Ophelia nodded at Ikeza.

"That works for me. I'm going to have to focus on reconnaissance – getting the information on the Enlightened. The weaknesses in the city so a full scale attack is possible."

"Nuhnu nekaytu," Malcolm replied and grinned.

Brogan cracked her knuckles.

"I'm definitely coming with, so I got to be out of this chair by then. I'll see what I come up with. But I think I can handle security. I can keep you all covered by doing that."

"Do I get to help or are you going to make me stay behind because that creepy alchemist is there?" Que asked. Liam snorted.

"I think it's more important that you help, Que. We know you're a damn good shot with your gun, so you should be fine. Maybe Zeta can teach you some other fighting techniques."

"As much as I agree with that," the other homunculus said. "I don't think she and I should be together. Just to be safe..."

Brogan looked at Que.

"You want to be in charge of rescuing Smoke?"

The young woman nodded as she stood.

"So he knows I'm not mad at him."

"I'll go with her," Liam offered. "We don't know what kind of shape Smoke's going to be in when we find him, and I don't think you could carry him all on your own."

Que simply shook her head. Zeta tentatively spoke up again.

"If it isn't too much to ask, I would prefer to be partnered with Brogan."

He didn't bother elaborating.

Brogan glanced at him.

"That's fine by me. You'll be able to show me where their security center is so I can dismantle it."

Malcolm took a drag.

"So I guess that leaves me with Eric. What's left? Oh, yeah, the escape plan. What the FUCK is that going to be? Even if Brogan takes out security, how the hell are we going to cover our tracks long enough to make a safe getaway?"

"Blow something up?" Ikeza suggested. "I've got odannergu."

"Oda-what?" Eric asked after nodding his agreement with Malcolm. The pirate laughed.

"Bombs, my friend. Nice and portable. Do some nasty damage."

"Bombs could work as long as we knew what the hell we were blowing up," Malcolm said.

"Something that could guarantee us a safe way out," Ophelia added.

Brogan pursed her lips.

"You know, the last time I was there, there were plans to make one safe, productive and efficient energy source for the whole city."

She looked up at Zeta.

"You ever heard of anything like that?"

He nodded eagerly.

"They built an entire building off of the main one dedicated to generating power," he explained. "Sometimes I would hide in there, on account of being able to squeeze into places that the Enlightened couldn't go. It's quite massive."

Brogan's eyes widened in surprised.

"So they did finish it."

She looked up to Malcolm.

"If we can cause a blackout that should help us escape. However we can, just meet up at whatever rendezvous point we decide on. The blackout should distract them and give us the cover we need."

"Guess that'll be our job, Malcolm," Eric said. "Brogan and Zeta kill (or hijack) the security, Liam and Que find Smoke, Ophelia and Ikeza do a little snooping, and we blow up or otherwise severely damage the power generator. Fun times."

Malcolm took a drag.

"Sounds impossible, don't it?"

"Or semi-suicidal."

"I'd say both."

Ophelia whacked the back of Eric's head.

"Enough. We have a week or so to get to Valgeyne and prepare ourselves. The best way to make it not impossible or suicidal," she tossed Eric a glare, "is to make sure we know what the hell we're doing. It can work."

Brogan rolled her eyes.

"If we're lucky."

Liam chuckled.

"Never underestimate the power of luck, and boy do we have it in spades!" he said with a laugh. "But I guess it doesn't hurt to be prepared either."

Malcolm grinned.

"The only problem is our lucky charm is what's been snatched. So where to first, ladies and gents?"

Brogan rolled to the door that led below deck.

"I'm going to upgrade my firepower."

"I'll keep you company," Liam chimed in, following right after her. Eric scratched the back of his head and looked over at Ophelia, opened his mouth to comment, but said nothing. Ikeza chuckled, starting back towards her ship.

"I'll start preparing some odannergu. You'll probably want a little practice with them before the actual mission."

Malcolm nodded.

"Don't know how much practice we'll get unless we find a nice secluded spot in the mountains to blow shit up, but, why the hell not, right?"

He grinned.

Ophelia arched an eyebrow at Eric.

"What?"

He shrugged, shaking his head.

"Nothing..."

Eric took a deep breath.

"I just hope we can get him back."

Ophelia moved over toward him and nodded.

"I hope we do too."

She flicked his nose.

"You saved him once, didn't you? You've come full circle."

The comment made Eric smile, but only a little.

"I would have preferred that I'd never have to save him again."

"I'm sure he preferred that too, Eric."

Ophelia brushed some of his hair out of his face. A tender gesture. She caught herself and put her hands on top of each other on the cane. For a moment, she looked down at her mechanical hand. Then she looked back up at him.

"We'll get him back."

She smiled ruefully and rolled her eyes.

"I don't think Que will give up until she has him back."

Another smile, this one wider, as he glanced towards the homunculi. Que and Zeta had left silently a moment earlier, so they hadn't heard the comment. Eric turned back to Ophelia.

"No, I don't think she will," he agreed, and then, he added. "Thanks."

She gave him a smirk.

"You're welcome... militia man."
My intense dislike of Horace increased immensely because of this chapter. He really creeps me out...

This story is also posted on :icondulcis-absinthe:'s page, my co-author. She formats a bit differently.
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