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In The Beginning

Chepi, Tala, and Fehed waited at the conference table of the meeting room they’d been directed to, trying not to seem either bored, nervous, or impatient, and striking an ineffective balance between all of those options.   They had been summoned there by Adagatiya Demothi of the Ndakinna Intelligence Agency.  Before too long, they all stood, as the Adagatiya entered the room, followed by a middle-aged woman of Asian descent.

                              “I have called you three here because an important artifact was stolen en route to Gallia,” Demothi announced formally.

Not knowing how to react, the team held their breath and waited.  The Adagatiya then turned to the woman who had accompanied him to this gathering.

                              “This is Magister Noriko of the Mo Shu Academy,” he gestured.  “She will inform you of the relevant details, namely, what the artifact looks like, and what its capabilities are.”

Magister Noriko made a gesture, and an illusory image appeared above the meeting room table.  The image showed an obelisk, with one side made of jade, another of clear quartz, the third of ruby, and the fourth of sapphire, with a pyramid on the top made of amethyst.  All the sides and the pyramid at the top had Chinese Kanji inscribed upon them.

                              “This is the Guan Li Ren Su, Keeper of the Elements,” she disclosed, crisply.  “It has the ability to summon and control elementals.  It had been contained within Mo Shu Academy, in our antiquities museum, for generations.  It was being transported to the Gallian Museum of Magic when it was stolen.”  Magister Noriko nodded to the collective, and sat down.

                              “The courier who was transporting the artifact was found dead at a motel near Adaligaduha,” Adagatiya Demothi presented further, stepping forward from where he’d been leaning against the rear wall.  “He had been shot.  Investigators with Adaligaduha police found that the man renting the hotel room had given a fake name and identity.”

The Adagatiya moved around the table as he spoke, stopping in front of the image, and surveying the room.

                              “It is believed that man involved is a U.S. Agent, and the artifact is now in the United States,” he told them.  “The three of you will meet with two Agents of the Gallian intelligence Service, and cross the border into the U.S. to retrieve the artifact.”

Demothi leaned in, speaking with very clear pronunciation.

                              “This is about more than just a stolen artifact,” he stressed.  “The artifact was being sent to Gallia to be presented to a Chinese Minister of Magic Official.  It is going to be used to help forge a trade alliance with China.”  Adagatiya Demothi handed Chepi a dossier.

                              “This artifact must be retrieved as soon as possible,” he stated directly to her, before moving toward the door and adding over his shoulder to the rest, “Dismissed.”

And with that, he and Magister Noriko departed.  Tala and Fehed both looked at Chepi.

                             “Magic is your thing, not ours,” Tala noted, tapping her nails against the table.  “So I guess that puts you in charge of this little op.”

Fehed looked annoyed.  He hated going into the U.S.  Chepi caught his glare and steeled her gaze, stifling the urge to roll her eyes, and doing her best to look sympathetic and sound understanding.

                             “Listen, Fehed,” Chepi murmured softly to her disgruntled teammate, attempting to ‘handle’ his dissatisfaction before it got out of control.  “I know you don’t like stepping onto U.S. soil,” she pronounced carefully in anticipation, trying to stay ahead of the potential meltdown she suspected might be coming.  “But you’re going to have to suck it up this time.  This is important.”

                             “It’s not our problem,” Fehed huffed.  “You heard the Adagatiya.  Gallia needs the Artifact, not us. Ndakinnian agents shouldn’t be wasted on Gallian interest.”

                             “Oh, come on, Fehed! ,” Tala intercepted, shifting her gaze from Chepi to her brother-in-arms.  “You know how close the relationship between our countries is,” she chided.  “And our sovereignty might not even exist except for the efforts of Gallia!,” she urged gently, reminding him what he already knew full well, and better than most.  Fehed sulked, pouting, but said nothing more.  Tala patted his shoulder and gave him a smile.  She figured that was probably the best they was going to get.

                             “The Dossier says we are to meet the Gallian agents at a Café in Big Eagle,” Chepi informed the pair as she closed the dossier.  “One of the agents is an Elemental Mage – Rhiannon.  The other is a Technomancer, named Ezra.”

                             “A Technomancer!,” Tala balked.  “Why the heck do we need a Technomancer?  They’re almost as bad as Americans!”
                           
                            
“If we have to go to America,” Fehed grumbled.  “We have to take a Technomancer.   Everything there is computer whirlygigs and electronic doohickeys.”

                             “Both of you, quit complaining, grab your gear and meet me at the train station,” Chepi grunted at them, then put the dossier under her arm and shuffled out of the meeting room.


-------

On the magtrain from Adaligaduha to Big Eagle, Chepi passed out to Tala and Fehed their fabricated papers, along with summaries of their cover identities for them to review.

When they got to Big Eagle, the trio selected a corner booth with a view of the front of the Café, with Fehed on one side, Chepi and Tala on the other.  A fair-skinned man and woman approached the main entrance from the parking lot.  The Ndakinnians sized them up as they came in.  The woman, a short-haired blonde, wore a green peasant dress, and the man — a freckled ginger with a close shave at the neck offset by bangs too long for his eyes — sported a khaki utility jacket and camo cargo pants.

                             “The two coming in must be the Agents,” Chepi pointed out, nodding towards the incoming odd couple, who were obviously of European descent.  Fehed quirked an eyebrow at the pair, while Tala simply shook her head and let out a low whistle.

                             “Whoa, do they ever stand out,” Tala snorted.

The pair looked around the Café.  Chepi made a hand signal, and the woman made a corresponding hand signal that confirmed their association.  The Gallians moved towards the booth.

                              “I am Rhiannon, and this is Ezra,” the woman volunteered, gesturing to the man next to her.

                             “I am Chepi, and this is Tala and Fehed,” Chepi responded, indicating her companions.

Rhiannon bowed at them, and Ezra shook hands with Fehed, then nodded, almost blushing, at Tala and Chepi.  Chepi and Fehed switched seats, Rhiannon sat next to Chepi, while Ezra grabbed a chair from an empty table.

                              “What will we be using for cover?,” Rhiannon queried.

                             “There’s a pro magic convention in Iowa,” Chepi answered.  “Our covers indicate that we are a neo-druid group from California in town for the rally.  Here are your papers.”  Chepi handed Rhiannon and Ezra the documents prepared for them by the Agency.

                             “We will be staying at a hotel in Des Moines, with two adjoining rooms: Fehed and Ezra in one, you, me, and Tala in the other.” Chepi outlined. “Once at the hotel, I will try to see if I can locate the artifact through scrying.”

                              “I will help you,” Rhiannon offered.  “Being an Elemental Mage, I have a closer affinity with this elemental artifact, naturally,” she explained.  “I will also have Ezra set up his equipment and see if there is any chatter about it.  We do have some contacts in the U.S. that we can rely upon as well.”

                             “Well it seems everything is in order,” Chepi agreed.  “We should prepare to leave.”  She indicated towards scooting out from the booth, and looked at the others to follow.

                             “What about weapons?” Tala questioned.

                              “We have a contact in the U.S. that can supply us with weapons if we need them,” Rhiannon submitted, with an apparent total lack of irony attached to the thought.

                             If we need them?” Fehed gasped.  Rhiannon cocked her head at him, genuinely confused.

                              “I thought you two were Therianthropes,” Rhiannon puzzled, looking quizzically from Fehed to Tala and back again.

                             “They are,” Chepi confirmed.  “Tala is a were-wolf and Fehed is a were-panther.”

                              “Then what use do you have of weapons, beyond yourselves?” Rhiannon squinted at the werebeasts, trying not to seem amused.

                             “Well, a normal human is no issue,” Tala replied, with a disgusted look on her face.  “But a cyborg or human with bionics?” she grimaced.  “Those are another story... they are as strong as we are!”

                             “Maybe as strong as you are,” Fehed snickered.  Tala glared at him.  “But no, yeah, I agree, of course,” he tacked on, nodding vigorously, making a face at Tala.

                              “Taking out cyborgs and bionics is my job,” Ezra spoke up, peering at Tala and Fehed.

                              “Besides that ,” Rhiannon picked up.  “I’m not sure about Chepi’s abilities, but my magic skills are way better than having a gun.”  The Therianthropes couldn’t be sure, but they thought they caught the faintest hint of a gleam in her eye.

                             “At any rate,” Chepi jumped in, weary of the banter.  “We are going to avoid as much violence as possible,” she declared, gravely.  “This is a covert mission, not a combat mission.”  She eyed her two companions in particular.  “Let’s just get on the train and go from there.  Once we get started, things will become a lot clearer what we need to do, and how it needs to be done.”

On the train, Rhiannon and Chepi sat apart from the others, discussing the mission.

                              “I know you may be used to being in charge of your group,” Rhiannon started.  “But I hope you don’t mind if from here on out I take point.”  She felt she might have to be delicate on this issue, and tried to seem concerned about any sensitivities Chepi may have had.

                              “After all,” Rhiannon expounded. “If things go badly, the fallout is going to be worse a lot for Gallia than it would be in Ndakinna.”  She hoped she didn’t sound too patronizing.

                             “Fine, you take point, and I will make sure my team will fall in line,” Chepi nodded, disinterested in further discussion on the matter.


-------

At the hotel, Ezra set up his equipment and jumped online right away, observing local magic group feeds to look for any bites on the artifact.  He also checked in with local hacker contacts he maintained ongoing connections to from within the area.  Fehed went into the adjoining room with the women.

                             “What are Tala and I supposed to do,” Fehed groused.  “Sit here and twiddle our thumbs?”

                              “You can meet with our underworld contact if you would prefer,” Rhiannon proposed, looking up her phone directory. “I can set up a meeting.”

Tala and Fehed both blinked at Rhiannon, then looked to Chepi, who was engrossed at the table with the dossier, a handful of documents, and a map.

                             “Rhiannon is taking point on this mission,” Chepi acceded to her team, without looking up.  “As you pointed out earlier, Fehed, it’s Gallia’s problem, not ours,” she added flatly, feeling their stares upon her, but refusing to return them.

                             “I guess you should setup the meeting for us, then,” Tala resigned.  “We’re certainly not accomplishing anything here.”

Fehed just leaned back against the wall, saying nothing.

Rhiannon had given them an address and phrases to say to her contact.  They were to meet the individual in the mall.  Tala and Fehed were disgusted by this whole charade, but they kept in mind the seriousness of their mission.  Being surrounded by humans — no, more than that, by Americans, even — was making them nervous.  People had been gawking at both of them, even though they were dressed to blend into the crowd, wearing jeans and T-shirts.  The masses appeared to be more suspicious of Tala than of Fehed.

                             “Why do you think these people are staring at me?” Tala sneered sideways to her compatriot, cautiously, keeping one eye on the throngs of vigilant observers.

                             “I’m sure most of them have never seen a native before,” Fehed surmised.  “I suspect they’ve only ever seen pictures in books.   They would look at Chepi the same way, I imagine.”  He surveyed the curious cattle.  “At least there are other black faces here, so I don’t stand out as much, but I do still stand out.”

A man in a stylish short sleeved shirt and dress pants approached them.  His long dark hair was tied neatly into ponytail, and he wore dark glasses.  He had an olive complexion, and when he spoke, it was with a slight Italian accent.

                              “Are you here for the pro magic rally?” He challenged them.
                           
                             “Yes, we just came in from Kalamazoo,” Fehed fielded.

                              “Ever been to Devil’s Canyon?” the man returned.

                             “We honeymooned there three years ago,” Tala included. “We had the most spectacular time.”

                              “The name’s Vittorio,” their new counterpart introduced himself, robustly shaking both their hands with a hearty smile.  “Vittorio Gagliardi.  You know, Rhiannon could have simply told me the two of you were Therianthropes,” he sighed, shaking his head.  “I abhor all that code phrase silliness.”

                             “How can you tell we are Therianthropes?” Fehed queried, quirking his brows at Vittorio.

                             “He doesn’t smell human, Fehed,” Tala gaped, staring in awe at Vittorio.  “He looks human, but I’ve never smelled anything like him!”

                              “Ha!,” Vittorio’s already broad grin widened with a sound like it came from his belly.  “You are correct, Wolf, I am not human, and I can smell the both of you just as well as you have detected me!” He winked at Tala.  “We should be on our way to your hotel,” he focused, suddenly.  “I have information for Rhiannon... I think I have tracked down the artifact.”


-------

Back at the hotel, Vittorio strolled up to the suite with an air of smugness about him like an old cologne.

                              “I hope you haven’t finished unpacking,” he asserted to the room as he sauntered in.  “I need you to pack up all your things and come with me.  The artifact is in Chicago, and we need to hurry if we’re going to make it in time to get it back.”

Ezra seemed upset, but excused himself into the other room to start taking down his equipment.  Fehed squeezed past Vittorio to help him.

                            “Do you trust him?” Chepi entreated of Rhiannon in a hushed tone.

                              “Yes, he is very reliable,” Rhiannon vouched, while packing her things.  “He has assisted us on several missions.”  Chepi reluctantly followed suit, and they all headed to Vittorio’s waiting SUV.


-------

Arriving in Chicago, they stopped at what appeared to be a curio shop.  Vittorio talked to the woman at the counter, who operated a control panel under the display case, which allowed them into a back room.

Waiting there, was a Native American gentleman of perhaps 50 or so.  He greeted Vittorio with a hearty handshake and giant smile.  At first, Chepi, Fehed, and Tala all seemed to relax.

                              “This is Thomas Storm Singer,” Vittorio revealed.  “And he will be brokering the purchase of the artifact.”

                              “What do you mean by that, Vito,” Rhiannon hissed under her breath.

                              “The thief who stole the artifact is selling it to a Chinese Triad, and the only way to get our hands on the artifact is through Thomas here,” Vittorio told the group.  “He set up the sale to the Triad Collective.  We will be joining Thomas here to procure the artifact.” Rhiannon glared at him crossly.

                              “So glad you handled everything for us, Vito,” Rhiannon quipped.

                              “Here is the address for the meet.  I will leave most of the planning up to you my dear,” Vito bowed to Rhiannon.

Rhiannon and Chepi drove a van supplied by Vittorio to the meeting place.  The van was fully equipped with computers and weapons.  Ezra hacked into the warehouse security system, using codes he received from Vittorio.  One of Vittorio’s people – Anezka – was driving.  Vittorio and another of his associates – Ondrej – would be acting as Thomas’s bodyguards.  Fehed, Tala, Chepi, and Rhiannon would storm in to get the artifact, once the thief appeared.

                              “It appears as though the Triad guys are early,” Anezka informed the crew in the back of the van.

                              “Well, just keep eyes on them for us,” Rhiannon acknowledged.  “You’re sure you can get us out of here quickly once this is done?” she asked the driver.

                              “Of course I can, dah-link!” Anezka verified, accentuating her Slavic accent with a wink and a smile.  “I am more than just a pretty face, you know!”
                            
                             “I’ve never seen a Neanderthal before,” Fehed whispered to the others, trying to make sure Anezka didn’t hear him.

                              “Vittorio prefers them to human bodyguards,” Rhiannon relayed.  “They are tougher, and also, they have psychic abilities.”  Fehed blushed, realizing that Anezka might have picked up on his thoughts.

                              “Do not worry, Panther Man,” Anezka reassured him with a laugh.  “You have not offended me.  I am delighted to finally get to see Therianthropes in the fur, so to speak.”

The SUV pulled up that carried Vittorio, Thomas, and Ondrej, Vito’s other bodyguard, and the team tensed, waiting for the signal to move in.   Ezra watched the monitors.  He had also hacked into the street cameras.  Nothing happened for a while, and then, on one of the monitors, a man-shaped figure appeared from out of nowhere.  He was carrying a backpack and wand.

                              “Crap, a wizard!” Ezra muttered, urgently.

Rhiannon and Chepi glanced at each other quickly.  Rhiannon produced a wand of her own, while Chepi drew forth what appeared to be a heavy oaken staff, though, the way she wielded it, it might easily have weighed only a few ounces.

Tala transformed into her wolf-hybrid form, while Fehed morphed into a panther-man.  Both were armed with semi-automatics.  Anezka had an Uzi and some grenades with her, as well as a Battle Axe and a Claymore in the front seat.

Shortly after the man arrived, Vittorio gave them the signal, and they launched into action.  Anezka lobbed two grenades in quick succession, one after the other, which blew the side door of the warehouse off its hinges, and laid down a smoke screen, allowing the strike force to move in rapidly and undetected.

In the confusion, Vittorio and Ondrej had subdued the wizard, while Thomas grabbed the artifact and ducked for cover.  Fehed and Tala laid down cover fire in the direction of the Triad Members, to allow Thomas to move from his hiding place and towards the exit.

Chepi cast a cloud of darkness around the Triad, while Rhiannon erected a wall of fire between them and the strike force.  Vittorio and Ondrej came hurtling out of the cloud, Vittorio with fangs bared, the unconscious sorcerer over his shoulder, and Ondrej close on his heels, firing a semi-automatic weapon behind them.

They were almost at the van when they heard two twin roars coming out of the smoke.  Two Dragon Men emerged from the mist.   One was Ruby Red, the other Emerald Green.  They moved like lightning toward the group.  Bullets bounced off of them like drops of rain hitting pavement.

Tala and Fehed, in their wild forms, tossed their guns aside and charged the Dragon Men.  Anezka leapt out of the van, tossed the Battle Axe to Ondrej, and hefted the claymore with one hand, charging at the Dragon Men full boar, like a rhino after a predator.

Vittorio reached the van and tossed the inert magus in in the back, while Ezra helped Thomas in.

                              “Chepi, can you drive?” shouted Rhiannon.

                             “Sure!” Chepi called back, aiming a blast of energy at the Red Dragon Man.

                              “Great, get to the van and get it started!” Rhiannon barked, leveling a lightning bolt at the Green Dragon Man.

The Red Dragon had both Tala and Fehed pinned down, while the Green Dragon easily fought off the combined attack of Vittorio, Ondrej and Anezka without breaking a sweat.  Fehed and Tala were knocked to the ground.

Rhiannon held her arms above her head and started chanting.  The air around her crackled with electricity.  A fireball appeared in her right hand, and a ball of ice in her left.  She aimed her hands between the Dragon Men. Both fire and ice balls shot out of her hands on whirlwinds with strings of lightening circling them.  The two balls collided together, forming a sphere of radiant light, and then split into two.  Fehed and Tala, struggling to free themselves, realized their position kept them out of the line of fire, and stayed low.

Vittorio turned just in time to see the balls of energy speeding towards him and his guards.  He grabbed Ondrej and Anezka by the scruff of their necks and all three vanished in a cloud of smoke, reappearing at the back of the van.  Chepi jumped at the wheel, startled by seeing the three of them appear from out of nowhere.

Vittorio was gone in another puff of smoke and grabbed Fehed and Tala, rematerializing next to the SUV, at the same instant the balls of pure elemental energy Rhiannon summoned slammed into the Dragon Men, knocking them off their feet and blasting them through the wall of the warehouse.

Rhiannon closed her eyes, snapped her fingers, and appeared next to Chepi in the van.  The sounds of emergency vehicles were ringing in the air all around them, and getting closer by the second.

                              “Drive!,” she hollered to Chepi, who immediately floored the van and sped them out of the area.  Vittorio, along with the Therianthropes, sped off in the opposite direction, but apparently, not quite fast enough.  A police SUV with blaring sirens and flashing lights came up behind Vittorio’s SUV and the loudspeaker ordered them to the shoulder.


                             “Pull over, now!” the voice that came through was stern, and little robotic.

Vittorio hesitantly pulled over, and eyeballed Tala and Fehed with a severe look that very plainly delivered, “Don’t do anything stupid.”  The officers got out of the vehicle.  They were both cyborgs.  Tala’s heart sank, and Fehed’s gut wrenched.  There would be no quick escape for them from this godforsaken country today.


LJI WEEK 27:

OPEN TOPIC


Additional stories from this world, in chronological order:

In The Beginning  |  Escalation  |  Project X  |  The Woodshed  |
Meet the New Boss  |  Back To Reality   |  The Interview |
The Turing Test  |  Ohm’s Law  |  Hero’s Anthem |

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
i_17bingo
Nov. 12th, 2014 03:05 pm (UTC)
“Why the heck do we need a Technomancer? They’re almost as bad as Americans!”

That means they're really, really bad.

“Crap, a wizard!” Ezra muttered, urgently.

They're more scared of you than you are of them, you realize.

The heist-style and action of this were riveting and awesome. You managed to introduce a lot of characters, but kept them straight--a particular challenge given how utterly alien most of their names are.
mamas_minion
Nov. 13th, 2014 12:13 am (UTC)
Thank you, I was going for a heist style story when I first started writing this years ago. I tried with the character names to keep them within the culture the characters came from a lot of the strange words are Native American in nature.
beeker121
Nov. 12th, 2014 08:24 pm (UTC)
Everything there is computer whirlygigs and electronic doohickeys. This is a very accurate description of America. I can see why Fehad doesn't want to come here.
mamas_minion
Nov. 13th, 2014 12:25 am (UTC)
Thank you, Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the amount of electronic device in our lives.
eternal_ot
Nov. 13th, 2014 07:02 am (UTC)
Action packed and kept me on the edge of my seat..Enjoyed it! Some great dialogues there. :)
mamas_minion
Nov. 13th, 2014 08:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
mallorys_camera
Nov. 13th, 2014 01:34 pm (UTC)
I like the way that even a seemingly magical universe can be overrun with bureaucracy.

I do have to say -- gently -- that the odd formatting made it difficult for me to read the story. This has nothing to do with your actual writing, of course.
mamas_minion
Nov. 13th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah red tape is always an issue. I had a little bit of an issue between open office and idol.
roina_arwen
Nov. 13th, 2014 04:05 pm (UTC)
Very action packed! Phew!
mamas_minion
Nov. 13th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
halfshellvenus
Nov. 13th, 2014 11:11 pm (UTC)
Storm Singer is such a wonderfully evocative name...

Now I'm curious as to what Vittorio is. It was probably mentioned in other installments, but the fact that the were-people know he's "other" but not exactly what KIND of other intrigues me. :)
mamas_minion
Nov. 13th, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
I haven't as yet revealed what Vittorio actually is. But I hope to be soon. This was going to be a piece about Vittorio but it got to be to long and so I revisited and rewrote the first Omnis Terra story I ever wrote from years ago.
karmasoup
Nov. 13th, 2014 11:16 pm (UTC)
Very cool to see them all coming together for the first time, and I'm excited to find out what's going to happen next!
mamas_minion
Nov. 13th, 2014 11:30 pm (UTC)
I do enjoy writing in this world and this story is not finished yet.
dmousey
Nov. 14th, 2014 12:11 am (UTC)
This was a lot of action! I'm out of breath over here! And can you make me a were-panther? That would be just fine... Thank you. ;0)
mamas_minion
Nov. 14th, 2014 02:04 am (UTC)
Thank you, I'm glad you like it. I wish I could make myself a were-panther if I work that out I'll see if I can help you too!
jem0000000
Nov. 14th, 2014 12:18 am (UTC)
Oh, dear! Hopefully they're not about to get arrested for stealing.
mamas_minion
Nov. 14th, 2014 02:05 am (UTC)
You'll have to come back and see. Thank you for reading.
hosticle_fifer
Nov. 14th, 2014 12:54 am (UTC)
The convergence of magic and technology (and agents, and international action) gave this kind of a Shadowrun feel. Good stuff!
mamas_minion
Nov. 14th, 2014 02:07 am (UTC)
Thank you, The world of Omnis Terra does have a few things in common with Shadowrun. (Not surprising as that is my favorite cyberpunk RPG)
the_dark_snack
Jul. 29th, 2015 09:53 am (UTC)
Happy Birthday!
the_dark_snack
Jul. 29th, 2016 10:06 am (UTC)
Happy Birthday!
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )