10/29/2012

Cosmic Flash - Chapter 12: Wenter City





This wouldn't be the first time that Zach had been to Alfheim, as he'd gotten the chance to take a trip to most of the planets in the North Circuit after he graduated from Service Training.  But there was something about Alfheim that made his visit there extra special, most likely because, according to his known history here, it was his home planet; the planet where he was supposedly born.  On the Taxicruise there, Jeila was around to join him as he sat by the window seat in first class, which was mostly vacant on this particular flight.

"You know, in the time I've spent here in the North Circuit, I have never met a Grey," Zach said to Jeila, who was watching a traditional Alfimese stage play unfold on her Saucer, the disk-like hologram projector he'd seen being used by many.  She pulled off her earphones that were connected to the saucer and gave him her full attention.

"Well, that's understandable," she said.  "If you're ever gonna actually run into a Grey, its probably gonna be on their planet.  They aren't very social.  They're hermits who stick to their own way of life and try not to tamper with other cultures.  I mean, they're perfectly okay with having tourists and outsiders interacting with them, but they have their way of life and we have ours.  They hold dear to that separation so they don't lose sight of where they came from, like so many of us have."

"Reminds me of the Amish people back on Earth," Zach said, looking out of the window beside him at the darkness of space, gently lit up by nebula light slowly fading into view.  "Have you met any?"

"Sure.  They're really nice people.  Full of wisdom.  It was actually the Greys who first had the fascination with Earth that resulted in the Terra Renaissance."

"Really?  Interesting."

"Yeah, but they got into some hot water a few hundred Arian years ago.  Even after the Terra Renaissance ended, the Greys were still really into Earth's culture and around the time that travel to Earth had been outlawed, one of them went there anyway and ended up crashing his ship and killing himself.  The Earth-humans flipped once they found it and we were in an uproar about the action too, knowing we had to do damage control.  So we exposed our existence to all of the major governments on Earth and asked them not to let word get out in their public of extraterrestrial life existing beyond them so as to not ruin whatever sanctity of the experiment was left in the whole project.  That's why they made up the fake story of how it was a weather balloon or whatever and its also how we established a connection with the UN, once that was formed.  That was when we were supposed to show ourselves, when the Earth-humans unified under a single entity, but you know, shit happens."

"Wow.  Have there been any other incidents where people from the North Circuit have gone to Earth?  Because there have been UFO sightings around us for years, one of which is what I'm pretty sure brought me here in the first place."

"Not that we know of.  We can't regulate it like we used to.  There was a time when we had teams of Orbital Police traveling over Earth in cloaked ships to make sure that no unregulated travel was taking place.  This was right around when travel there was first outlawed.  But one day, a few of the ships passed through this magnetic field of some sort around the planet's equator and it turned off their cloaks.  When the Earth-humans saw them, they took evasive action and tried to shoot them out of the sky.  They were forced to retreat.  The humans made a big deal about it afterwards, said it was an enemy attack or something from foreign forces but they never did find out what it really was."

"Ah," Zach said, smiling.  "The Great Los Angeles Air Raid.  There were lots of people that were convinced it was extraterrestrials, myself included.  Guess we were right."

"Yeah.  So that's what led to that Grey getting himself killed there and probably all of the other 'UFO' incidents you've heard of as well.  We just can't be around to stop them anymore or else it will cause confusion.  Any time one of them shows up, the humans just constitute it as a weather balloon or something similar and handle the rest on their own.  People just can't seem to stay away from that planet sometimes."

"Yeah well, I can see how that kind of concentrated mess of failure all collected into one place can interest those who are better off.  Its like the fascination with the Fall of the Roman Empire."

"Oh yeah, I hear that was a tremendous moment for us too.  Lots of bets were lost because of it back then."

Zach looked at Jeila with surprise before turning back to the window to see a large celestial body coming into view from the corner of his sight.  Suddenly, the ship began to vibrate gently and the orbs at the top of their cabin flickered lightly.

"What's going on?" Zach asked with worry.

"Don't fret, we're just about to pass Machina," Jeila reassured him.  "There's always turbulence when we travel near it."

Zach leaned over and gazed out of the window to see the massive planet stretch across the side of the Taxicruise, its silverish grey atmosphere almost giving it a lunar moon-like appearance.  But it was much larger than Earth's moon, much larger than Earth itself, and Zach could see small flashes of lightning erupting from its clouds below.  As they continued by, the vibration of the taxicruise grew to the point where it began to shake and the orbs went completely dark.

"Why does it do this?" Zach asked loudly, turning to Jeila, who's face was lit up by the hologram playing in front of her.

"Well Machina has a really strong and vast magnetic field, for one.  Its gravity is incredibly dense as well."

"Its gravity reaches way out here?  We're not even near its orbit."

"Yeah, its a strange phenomenon.  Used to get a lot of people killed back in the early days of the UoS.  When the Taxicruises were invented though, they became the only ship's configured to pass by Machina without getting pulled in to its surface.  People don't dare come to this part of the North Circuit in a regular ship."

"So no one has ever been there.  Ever.  And no one knows anything about it," Zach stated but with more of a questioning manner, gauging a reaction from Jeila.

"Well people have been there.  Just none of them have ever made it off the planet to share their experiences.  But yeah, no one knows a thing about it.  Its just sort of there.  There's always been loads of curiousity, believe me, but its just far too dangerous to even try to contact them or anything like that.  We can't risk them slaughtering us."

Before long, the orbs flickered back to life and the ship's turbulence subsided as the planet slowly faded from view by the window and the ship began to pass it.  Zach kept his eye on it until it was out of sight, silently wondering what secrets or horrors may lie in its wake.

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As soon as they arrived on the landing pad of Endlong, the country on Alfheim that contained the landlocked city-state of Wenter City, they were greeted by the assets Globe had assigned to work with them.  It was daytime when they stepped off of the platform to meet them, the sky just as full and blue as it would be on Earth, but seemed much healthier and grand than one might expect.  The first time Zach had been here, he thought that maybe it was the sheer psychological wonder of being on a different planet that made it seem like it was different from Earth all together, but every trip here afterwards was met with the same wonder, so he figured that it may very well be that there was a certain magical charm that came from being on this world.  It was, after all, the most heavily populated planet in the North Circuit aside from Arias, so it was apparent that many people felt the same way about it.  As for the general vibe of the planet's cultural scene, Alfheim, both in Endlong and Elphame, where Zach had traveled on his previous trips to the planet, was a general mix of the same Earthly vibe he got from Arias coupled with a somewhat medieval feel.  Arias, which was completely barren at the time that it had been colonized, had no need for any kind of environmental takeover or destruction to ensure that they could make it the metropolitan world that it was today.  On Alfheim though, it seemed that they were able to keep a metropolis-like vibe to the planet's culture while maintaining the planet's natural progress.  The roads that the Overgates drove on were made of cobblestone-like material and there was a much more evident attention to the preservation of nature with each city surrounded by forrests and tremendous trees towering over some of the land while still being able to build large skyscrapers and neighborhoods around them, making room for its inhabitants to live without destroying parts of nature to expand their territory.  But it was apparent that the way that nature grew on Alfheim made it easier to work around, whereas on Earth, he knew it was more difficult which was the reason for why nature was so carelessly disregarded there to make way for its giant cities.

The two assets set to meet Zach and Jeila stood near the cobblestone-like street by the taxicruise landing pad just as it began to take off for its next destination.

"Tempest, Halos?" said a large Golem in a thick black jacket and what looked to be a baseball cap but was different in design from the kinds Zach knew of from Earth.  He'd seen them worn a lot around here and figured they were used just as frequently.  Standing beside him was a bitter-looking Angrefian in a flannel-like shirt and pants resembling blue jeans, whom Zach recognized immediately.

"Yeah, that's us," Zach greeted.  "You the assets Globe sent for?"

"Yeah.  I'm Wokla Bennace.  This is Otizel Sparkraven.  We're going to be your tour guides for Wenter City.  Are we ready to move?"

"Sure."  The group headed over to the Overgate with the Oasist Coat of Arms plastered on its side that was parked by the sidewalk and Otizel popped the back end of it for them to enter.  He didn't say anything to either of them but Zach was sure he didn't recognize him with his ICD activated.  At least this would ensure that things would go somewhat smoothly.  Otizel drove and before long, they were down the roads of Norella, the city neighboring Wenter City.

"How was the ride here?" Wokla asked, turning back to them as they sat in the back.  "Any trouble?"

"No, it was uneventful," Jeila answered.  "You?"

"Same.  Just a bit of traffic is all.  So we were told to take you to Parko's to get your equipment, then head on over.  You need anything else before we head off?"

"No."

"Okay, good."

The rest of the ride was silent and Otizel had still yet to say anything, which had Zach on edge, seeing as the thing he remembered the most from his encounter was that he had an unpredictable nature about him and the lack of communication had Zach a little worried that he might not be as straight and narrow as they would like to assume.  When they arrived at the restaurant, Wokla and Otizel waited outside while the two walked inside the building and headed for the excrement room together to grab their equipment.  When the disposable transmitters were in place, they were greeted by their team.

"Authorization Code: Denim, Techno, 334," Zach said clearly.  "Channel Clear."

"Authorization Code: Jericho, Harvest, 695," Jeila said.  "Channel Clear."

"Are we on the same network?" Zach asked.

"Technically no," Globe said into both of their intercoms.  "We're using a system link between the two networks of Team Tempest and Team Halos.  I'll be able to communicate directly with the both of you since I'm supervising the assignment but you will only have access to your own team's resources individually unless otherwise notified."

"Understood."

"How are my guys treating you?"

"Fine," Jeila answered, as they took hold of the supplies left for them behind the mirror, most of which included the same items Zach had used on Honario with a few added extras.  "Not the most talkative bunch, but I'm not complaining."

"Yeah, they're all about getting the job done."

"So what's the plan of action exactly?" Zach asked.  "As far as locations and times go?"

"Archbishop Biran will most likely be in his study by the time you arrive in Wenter."

"Most likely?"

"If he's not, you'll just have to wait until he arrives.  We have word he's scheduled for a meeting today with an unknown proprietor at an unspecified time of day, possibly around 3:30pm, but that was all we could get.  Gaining information on anything but the schematics of Wenter City's interior itself is near impossible; its a wonder we got as much as we did.  You'll have to wing the rest."

"So just in case, where exactly is this meeting going to take place?" Zach asked, grabbing the Da Vinci Hands from the mirror, the last item he needed with him, and slid them on.  "In the Oasis Palace Courtyard?"

"We don't know for sure.  Due to the senstive nature of the information we were given, its probably going to be a secret meeting, in which case it'll most likely be held in the Wenter Private Archives.  Why, are you thinking about tailing him?"

"If I have to, yeah," Zach said.  Once he was all set, he looked over at Jeila.  "So how do you want to do this?"

"If he's already in his study, we can act accordingly.  If not, I can secure the area while you find him.  Once he gets there and he's alone, we'll have him.  Have you thought about how you're going to approach him?"

"I have, but I don't have anything concrete.  Don't worry, I'm good at improvising."

"Whatever you say," Jeila said with a smile as they exited the excrement room behind each other without being seen.  The restaurant was near empty and looked like it was probably this way even at the peak business hours of the day, being that it was very small and hardly desirable.  When they walked back outside, they re-entered the Overgate and soon they were on their way to Wenter City.

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Wenter City was located on the side of a large mountain and was surrounded by large intimidating fortified walls that were ultimately ineffective because the buildings of the city itself towered over them.  The only purpose they truly served was preventing people from entering the city against the will of security, although its mountainous height and location made that difficult for anyone to try anyway.  As they came up on the city's single entrance, they could see the Oasist Coat of Arms draped over the side of the walls and flapping against the wind on the flag poles flying high on the mountain's corners, featuring several strange-looking creatures that Zach knew were extinct standing across two sets of unique-looking swords crossed over each other and topped off with a Corjia, a pterodactyl-like creature of varying sizes that he'd seen flying across the mountain tops on the drive up, on the top of a crown hanging over the two swords.

Traffic was backed up to the foot of the mountain because of heavy security and the need for each group preparing to enter to have authorized credentials saying they are legally allowed to be behind the walls of the city.  Wenter City was a sovereign monarchial state ruled by the Church of the Elder Brother, also known as the Oasist Church, making it a separate governmental entity from the Unity of Stars, similar to Vatican City on Earth.  The central governing body of the Oasist Church was the Holy Megas, which consisted of the Circuit-wide leader of the church, the Prime Bishop, and the administrative apparatus of the church, the Wenter Court, who were tasked with providing the necessary organization to keep the church functioning.  The target in question that they were intercepting was one of the Archbishops by the name of Biran Scorea, a member of the Wenter Court who supervised a series of conclaves found in various locations around Endlong, which provided housing for members of the church and other important figures who would stay in the area to promote whatever new project the church was undergoing.  Because the transmission being sent to Graft in the moments before he died were traced to one of the conclaves in Endlong, specifically Norella, getting authorization to enter them would have to come directly from Archbishop Biran himself.

When they drove up to the entrance in their Overgate, Wokla and Otizel showed their papers while Zach and Jeila put forth their own to show that they were authorized to enter the grounds for the tour.  They were allowed through by security without any trouble to their surprise and soon they were driving along the sacred streets of Wenter City.  In its center, surrounded by plenty of men and women in robed garb walking along the sidewalks beside the Overgates that drove past them, was the large holy oasis that existed near every Oasist Church in the Circuit, including this one.  This oasis was technically man-made, but it hadn't been originally, as there was once an underground stream that traveled through the inside of the mountain down below the planet's surface which became the source of the oasis' existence.  When it was first discovered and the area was chosen as the location of Wenter City and the primary headquarters of the Church of the Elder Brother, they knew that the oasis would eventually dry up, so they used its underground river as a channel for their own reservoir which they built under the mountain to provide for the city's water supply, while at the same time keeping the oasis full at all times.  The oasis itself was rather large, around the size of a football field with big wild red plants growing around its borders.  As they drove around it and continued up the slope, they could see the Oasis Palace come into view and headed around into its front courtyard, which was filled with deacons coming to and from the building as well as excited tourists who were in the middle of their own tours headed by volunteers working for the Holy Megas as tour guides.

The Overgate stopped in front of a valet service where one of the valets ran up to greet them as they exited their vehicle.  Otizel tossed him the key to it and the valet eagerly entered the Overgate, driving off to the nearest parking area.

"There are gonna be eyes on you everywhere and we won't have access to surveillance like we normally do since you're on sovereign territory," Globe chimed in on both of their intercoms as they began to head inside through the double doors.  "There's a chance that our coms might be jammed as soon as you enter the Palace as well."

"That's okay.  We know the Palace interior and we'll figure out how to proceed from here," Jeila said.

"You talking on that com of yours?" Wokla asked, looking back at the two of them.

"Yeah."

"Well try not to do that too often when we get inside, unless you want to draw suspicion."

"Right."

"So, you want to do the honors, Mr. Sparkraven?" Wokla asked, turning to Otizel, who sighed heavily and shrugged as they walked closer to the archway leading into the grandiose Oasis Palace.

"This is the Oasis Palace, home of the Prime Bishop of Wenter City and the Church of the Elder Brother," Otizel explained lazily.  "It was built on Nair 30, 58K493 by a congregation headed by Prime Bishop Dedver III after a vicious fight for dominance between the Dokkalfr Tribes and the early Oasist Pilgrimage that was expanding their settlements across Alfheim..."

The tour continued inside and they were greeted immediately by the illustious and extravagantly designed architecture, unlike anything Zach had seen before.  It must have been unique to this region, as he'd been to many places around the North Circuit in the year and half he'd spent there and he'd never before laid eyes on anything like this.  There were romanticized images of what he figured were the characters represented in the Oasist Legend including the Deep, the Shallow, Maros, and Doen, along with several other figures that had their travels chronicled in a collection of sacred texts known as the Oasist Writings.

When they were half-way through the tour of the Oasis Palace, the group stopped by a nearby set of excrement rooms.  This was their cue to stop.  Zach asked to use the room and so did Jeila, so the two parted ways and went into either of the rooms marked by gender.  When Zach stepped into the men's room, he spotted a three-foot high vent by the door and walked into one of the stalls, pulling out a small pen-like device he'd taken from behind the mirror back at Parko's.  Zach sat on the high-tech toilet behind him and hunched over so that any surveillance monitor watching him wouldn't catch what he was doing.  Pressing the top and the bottom end, the device began to light up and he dropped it between his legs into the water of the toilet, pulling out his Cosmer and waiting for a few seconds to pass.  A loud buzz went off momentarily and Zach started the timer on the Cosmer before standing up, flushing the toilet, and walking out of the stall.

"Jeila?" he said softly before heading by the door.

"Yeah, I'm here," she said into his intercom.

"Okay, good.  That means internal systems are jammed within the building for approximately fifteen clicks.  Globe, you there?"  There was silence on the other end.  "I'm guessing they're still able to cut off our communication with the outside from in here.  We'll be on our own."

"Works for me.  I'll meet you up high."

"Gotcha."  Zach clasped his hands together, pressing the screws on the back of each glove and ejecting the ports from his fingertips and palms.  Closing his fists with his thumbs under his fingers, he activated the Da Vinci Hands and quickly headed over by the vent near the door, conjuring a small blade and dragged it across the edges of the vent cover until he'd covered its entire perimeter.  When he was finished, the cover leaned forward and he caught it gently, placing it by the wall beside him and crouched into the opening, grabbing the cover and sticking it over the entrance with force to make sure it stayed.  Now that he was in, he crawled through the vent and headed up a slope that took him towards the ceiling of the Palace.  He knew that the back-up surveillance would kick in in less than three minutes, but sensors and detectors would remain offline and they would be able to communicate among each other at long distance for at least another thirteen minutes, so as long as they stayed in the vents, they would be fine.  There was no surveillance monitoring in the Archbishop's study either, even when all systems would be back online, allowing them to be able to intercept him from there.  After a few moments of traveling, Zach could hear Jeila's pattering against the vent's interior and when he turned the corner, he saw her heading his way to meet him.  "So...we meet again," Zach said teasingly.

Jeila shook her head, smiling.  "Okay, so you know where to go from here, right?"

"Right, I'll check the Archives to see if he's still at his meeting while you secure his study.  If he's already there, let me know and I'll double back to your location."

"Understood."  Jeila and Zach parted ways and Zach began his trek thorugh the vents to the Wenter Private Archives.  Having memorized the layout of the Oasis Palace on the Taxicruise ride to Alfheim, Zach was able to travel through the vents and arrive just outside of the Archives in less than five minutes.  He could see the room's interior from another vent cover and noticed that it looked like an average library, however, instead of books, there were small tablets stacked against each other on shelves located around the room.  There was a lack of any notable presence.

Zach pulled out his Cosmer and checked his time.  He had about ten minutes left before all systems were back online and that would mean the sensors in the vents would be back as well.  They needed to find the Archbishop very soon.

"I'm not seeing him," Zach whispered, looking around the empty library from the vent.  "Anything on your end?"

"Entering his study now," Jeila muttered quietly.  He heard her grunt and then there was silence for a few moments.  "Its empty.  I'm headed back in the vent just in case he's on his way now."

"Understood.  Headed to your location"- Before he could move, Zach could hear voices coming from inside the library.  "Hold on, I think I've got something."  Coming from around the corner of one of the shelves and speaking very softly between each other came two figures that began to head for the door of the Archive room and stopped directly in front of it.  Zach zeroed in on the two of them and saw that one was Archbishop Biran, a Dark Alfimese elderly man in deacon robes, but the other was someone he had not expected to see here and the sight of him instantly put him on edge.  Standing beside the Archbishop and consulting with him casually was none other than Soter Rokain.

"Its Soter!" Zach exclaimed, whispering harshly.  "Its fucking Soter, that's who he's meeting with!"

"What?!" Jeila said in surprise.  "The guy who killed Doctor Stihl?!"

"Yes."  Zach leaned over and reached into one of his pockets, pulling out a small gun device with a scope on its end.  He scooted up to the vent cover, aimed the gun outside and fired at the shelf just above the two of them.  Pressing a button on the side of the gun, Zach suddenly had audio feed of the discussion between them.

"...and you'll have your supplies shipped to you by Aesir 10, plus utilities," Soter said confidently as the Archbishop nodded.

"Excellent.  I will authorize the points to be transfered to your account the second we receive the shipment."

"That won't be necessary, your Holiness.  We would actually be more grateful if you donated those points to charity."

"Really?  I never took your kind - er, the people you work with to be the philanthropic type."

"Yeah, well our intentions have always been good.  But there is a specific charitable organization that I would like for you to submit the funds to, if you don't mind."

"And which one would that be?"

"The Prince Hartwin Foundation."

"Sure, we can make that happen."

"Fantastic.  Pleasure doing business with you, your Holiness.  I hope our services will be of great use to you."

"Likewise, Mr. Raikan.  The others will be pleased to know that our well-being will now be secured."

Soter and the Archbishop shook hands and the Archbishop held the door open for Soter and himself to walk through.  Zach shuffled uncomfortably.

"You catch all that?" Zach asked in his intercom.

"Yeah..."

"Biran is on the move, I'm headed your way now."

"Copy that."

Zach made his way through the vents once again, checking his Cosmer as he moved to see that he now had seven minutes before all systems were back online.  He hustled through and on his way by, he could see into one of the hallways of the Palace from another vent cover as he passed it.  Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted someone accompanying the Archbishop on his way back to his study; a young priest in less formal robes than the Archbishop, most likely a protege of his.  Zach continued on his way.

"Jeila, there's a chance he may be accompanied by someone, another clergyman.  Be careful."

"Gotcha."

"Did you take the east shaft or north?"

"East."

"Okay, I'm taking north, I can get the jump on the extra guy from there."  Zach took a turn down another one of the vents until he came across an airshaft that had a metal cage covering a large spinning fan under it.  Zach dropped down from his end of the vent and landed on the cage, spotting two openings on his right side and one right in front of him.  He dashed forward through the one ahead and continued onward, turning a few more corners until he came to a dead end at a vent cover leading into a dark room with a little light spilling in from the open blinds on either side.  Sliding his blade-like constructs across the edges of the cover, he loosened it from its place on the wall and grabbed hold of its thin grilles to stop it from falling.  "In position."

Zach waited for a moment and soon a light partially filled the room as the door below him opened.  The Archbishop was in mid-conversation.

"You needn't worry, my son.  Soon we'll have all we need to make sure dissenters like them won't be bothering us ever again.  It won't be long"-

Zach watched as the Archbishop walked in, the young priest following him.  As soon as the priest shut the door and walked up from it, Zach dropped down from the vent and landed silently behind him, the vent cover still in his grip.  In a flash, Zach laid the vent aside, launched forward, and brought his forearm across the young priest's throat, using his other hand to close his nose and mouth and prevent him from making noise while the Archbishop continued into the room, still speaking to his now incapacitated guest.  Within a few seconds, the young priest had lost consciousness and Zach dragged him behind a desk by the door out of sight.  The Archbishop walked to his desk by the blinds, which was across from where Jeila was hiding in her end of the vents.  When he had his back turned to her, she hopped down from it herself and crept slowly toward him.

The Archbishop looked to his side to see that the young priest had disappeared.  "My son?" he said worriedly just as Jeila appeared by his side with a blaster pistol pointed at his temple.  She put her finger to her lips to quiet him.  He turned to her slowly but anxiously.  "Wh-who are you?"

"Doesn't matter," Zach said forcefully, coming out from the corner behind the desk.

"What did you do with Ondro-"

"You answer our questions first, do you understand me?" Zach muttered, stepping up to the Archbishop and pushing him back aggressively, causing him to fall into the chair by his desk.  Zach lifted his leg and pushed him into a wall with his foot against his chest.  "Or else you're gonna have a bad time."

"Do you realize what you are you doing?"

"What did I just say about the questions?!" Zach exclaimed, putting pressure on the Archbishop's chest with his foot.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!  What is it, what do you want?"

"The man you were just talking to, do you know who he is?"

"Ondro"-

"Before that, in the Archives," Jeila said with less force than Zach.

"I...I don't know what you're talking about"-

Zach immediately conjured a pistol construct with his gloves and pointed it directly at the Archbishop's forehead, inches away from his face.

"You think I won't do it?  We've gotten this far, you think we won't take it a step further?!"

"All right, all right!  It was...it was Soter Rokain.  He's a representative of a company called Black Symphony."

"You mean terrorist organization," Zach said, alternating constructs with his other hand when the first one expired.

"Its not like that.  We...there's something he's providing us with.  Something that we needed with that no one else could help us obtain."

"And what's that, more suicide bombers and assassins you can use to get rid of your own people?" Jeila asked sternly.

"No!  That's the exact reason why we contacted them in the first place!  We need to protect ourselves!"

"From what?"

"I don't know who they are but this isn't the first time they've gotten us like this.  This is just the first time in large numbers.  We've been asking for assistance from the Unity of Stars and Star Crest for years now and they haven't bat an eye in our direction once.  So we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure our own well-being."

"Listen," Jeila said, leaning down towards the Archbishop as Zach took his foot off of his chest but kept his pistol constructs trained on him.  "We need access to the Western Conclave on the outskirts of Norella.  We have reason to believe that the people who are attacking you might be linked to a source located there."

"Who are you people?  Cosmic Flash?"

"Private Contractors actually."

"Mercenaries?!  If you think I'm going to give a couple of hired killers access to such sacred grounds, you're crazier than"-

"Listen, Father Brown," Zach said, losing whatever patience he had left.  "Unless you're just aching to have everyone in the North Circuit know that you're working with a bunch of terrorists, you're going to cooperate with us, now what the fuck is the passcode to get into the goddamn conclave?!"

"Oh, Doen, spare me," the Archbishop declared anxiously with several holy hand gestures.

"Doen's not going to help you when I get through if you if you don't"-

"Tempest," Jeila said, putting a hand on Zach's shoulder to calm him down.  "He's going to tell us.  Aren't you?"

Jeila turned to him with a strong gaze and the Archbishop swallowed hard before nodding.  "Original-Slash-Alternative.  That is the code that will get you into the Western Conclave.  The first and last words exactly, the slash is the actual symbol."

"Now was that so hard?" Jeila asked before turning to Zach.  "Okay, we've got what we need.  Knock him cold and let's get out of here."

"Oh no," Zach said, keeping his weapon construct pointed at the Archbishop.  "He's coming with us."

"What?" the two of them said in unison, Jeila with confusion and the Archbishop with absolute terror.

"He's going to declare a search as soon as he comes to, as it is.  More importantly, he knows about Soter and Black Symphony, probably more than he's letting on.  We're not letting him go until he's dry of all information."

Jeila shrugged and turned to the Archbishop with a smile as he looked back at her with panic in his eyes.

"Well I hope you have an appetite for adventure, Mr. Archbishop, because it looks like you're in for one."

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