The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

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2023 ended weirdly abruptly for me, but I got the shot in the arm I needed in order to hit the ground running in 2024. This year's going to be absolutely crazy, but for me personally, I feel my worst years are finally behind me. I'm ready to stop drowning in a sea of...

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Fleeing Victory #12

by | Nov 26, 2021 | FV, Pinned, Short Stories

The Door

Doctor Gil and the ghosts weren’t five steps from the warehouse when another Cordaean artillery shell came down. He must have had his eyes covered just a moment too long; when he looked around he was alone again. The doctor quickly ran over to a container near the side entrance to the warehouse and hunkered down. He didn’t know where he was supposed to go from there, but if the ghosts were serious about taking him away, Gil wouldn’t have to wait long for guidance. He made doubly sure not to ignore anything strange happening on the ground nearby or at his feet. It was a faint mana trail that led him toward the warehouse to begin with.

“My day is only going to get worse, isn’t it?” Gil muttered to himself. Normally it was the suffering of his insufferable colleagues and the elitists in his camp that amused the doctor. He couldn’t help but find his own situation a bit comical, even if it was becoming increasingly morbid by the moment. Between all the death and violence surrounding him was an honest attempt to use his knowledge for something good. He knew that the Crimson Tide Project had the ultimate potential of turning the curses of the malevan lifeforms infesting the world into a blessing for the masses, but there were many steps and phases required to get to that point. One obstacle after another hindered him, and now the Calmans, the people that were by far the least receptive to malevan research, were making off with him and everything relating to it. Gil didn’t know enough about their intentions to be sure of anything yet, but that ignorance was the only thing left giving him any hope for the project.

Doctor Gil wasn’t waiting long in the end. He noticed a faint blue light at his feet. It started moving as soon as it had his attention, leaving behind a hazy, fleeting trail of mana. Gil followed it, making sure to keep himself low and hunched over. It wasn’t good for his back, but he didn’t want anyone to notice him sneaking around in the middle of the battle. He could barely see anything as he followed the ghost trail toward the western side of Fort Baldi.

Once Gil made it safely past the various containers, the small blue light he was following nearly left him behind. He had no choice but to pick himself up and start running after it full tilt to keep up. Gil didn’t know what was going on, but he thought calling out to it to slow down would be useless, and taking the opportunity to run away might be just as useless, probably even dangerous. The light was leading him toward a small building that appended the inner western wall. Doctor Gil rarely toured Fort Baldi, only being familiar with the HQ building and a few others nearby, so he didn’t know what was inside the small structure or what its purpose was. Maybe it was a convenient storehouse or an armory for the guards manning the walls. The light led him right up to the entrance, and just as he arrived, the door cracked open. It was completely dark inside.

“Where are you taking me?” Gil asked.

Instead of an answer, the doctor felt someone running up behind him. He couldn’t turn in time and was tackled through the door, which promptly shut behind them.

“Don’t ask questions,” Shark said, rising up off of the doctor, “just follow.”

Gil was in far too much pain to respond at first, letting out a confused groan.

“That the doctor?”

Gil glanced toward the new voice and saw a fourth ghost, or at least what he thought was a ghost. The fourth was the most unusual of the bunch. He was dressed just like the others, but he was unmasked, a young dirty blonde with a notably thicker Calman accent than Shark. The doctor wasn’t expecting to ever see one of their faces. Depending on what they intended to do with him, that could be a very bad thing.

“It’s him,” the leader said.

Gil looked to see him with one hand on the door handle and the other holding the doctor’s briefcase with his samples and all his research materials.

“Sable, how’s your mask?” Red asked the fourth, unmasked ghost. It seemed like all of the ghosts had short, pointed code names.

“Well,” Sable shrugged and tossed the damaged equipment over to Red, “if we didn’t have tools at the base, I’d say damage is total. I can’t fix it here. Goggles took some shrapnel, the filter is broken, and the power supply is leaking. I’m lucky that blast didn’t break my neck.”

“And you’re sure the only one who saw your face was Sandoval?”

“Her and this madman,” Sable gestured at the doctor. “I don’t know how we’re supposed to deal with her. She left to fight the armas, already. At least he’s not going anywhere.”

Gil almost looked away defensively. Was he not supposed to see any of them unmasked, then? Why was he forced into this situation? “That wasn’t my fault. I didn’t mean to-” “Relax, Doctor,” the leader of the ghosts gently cut him off.

Shark grabbed Gil and hauled him up to his feet. “If we wanted you dead, you would be.”

“Then can I ask what you plan to do with me?” Gil pleaded. He wasn’t expecting it to work this time, but these men clearly weren’t a bunch of a sadistic thugs, enjoying the stress the doctor was under. Surely the leader had at least one sympathetic bone in his body. “I understand that you won’t tell me where we’re going, but will you at least tell me what you intended to do with any test subjects you ‘extracted’ from Fort Baldi? You can at least tell me that much, can’t you?”

Shark and the fourth ghost glanced at their leader.

The doctor waited, his eyes still pleading.

After a long moment, the first ghost said, “We’re not taking you out of here just to harm you, Doctor.”

His words felt sincere. Gil even detected some of the sympathy he was looking for in their leader’s tone. Even so, he was being unhelpfully vague, and no doubt on purpose. The doctor doubted he would be getting anything even approaching a clearer picture until they were safely back at whatever base the ghosts were using. “So, where I’m going, it won’t matter that I’ve seen one of your faces, but I’m not going to be harmed. It sounds like I’m off to a Calig prison.” No, Gil mentally corrected himself. “More likely a black site.”

“Cheer up, Doctor,” Shark said, clearly amused by something or other, “At least you’re not going to die. Maybe you’ll even get some real answers if you cooperate.”

Gil turned to Shark, trying to make some kind of eye contact, but the blue light from the ghost’s goggles was as much a wall for the ghosts to sit behind as the masks they wore. The doctor felt like he was staring into the void itself. There was more to their attire than he first realized. Even unmasked, there was something off about Sable, something the doctor couldn’t quite place. It felt like the distance he would have to cross to truly understand these four men was almost infinite. Were they really prudens at all?

“The shelling stopped,” Red said, looking toward the ceiling.

“… so it has,” the leader affirmed.

“Door’s still open,” Sable said, making for the far side of the room they were in.

The door on the other side should lead to the inside of the fortress walls, by Doctor Gil’s own estimation. He had some theories coming together about how they were going to escape. Most Calmans had a significant vas ancestry, which gave them innate abilities with Destruction magic. To what degree they could wield it came down to just how much vas blood ran in their veins. Considering that these four men were Blue Ghosts, and not ‘ordinary irregulars,’ Gil suspected they were all true bloods, vas with enough genetic purity to have the highest potential in Destruction magic possible.

Add on to that power their special training and conditioning, and these men wouldn’t really see a fortress wall as an obstacle. If anything, it was something they could use to trap or bar others. Gil imagined that one of the ghosts had made a convenient tunnel just large enough for Shark to drag him through. If not, they could always make one now, but the doctor heard something from the leader of the ghosts, earlier. He heard him ask if a door was open. He didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded like code, a way to reference their escape route. When Sable opened that door, the other ghosts began to follow, and Shark gave Doctor Gil a light shove to get him moving. Whether figurative or literal, the door was still open, and at some point soon, they were all going to step through it.

“You can’t be serious.” Doctor Gil barely managed to get the words out.

“Try to roll when you land so you don’t break your legs,” Shark warned as he leaned over the ledge they were standing on.

“Sorry, Doctor,” the leader of the ghosts said, “but the safest way down is to jump. The Municans haven’t cleared out this vein yet, so there are still crystals everywhere.”

I noticed,” Gil said wearily.

They were in a large subterranean tunnel. The Calmans and the Cordaeans referred to them as crimson veins, due to the monsters that created them, as well as the deep red mana crystals that grew out of the walls years after their passing. The Arenas Desert was full of tunnels just like these, both new and old, and none of them safe to be in for long thanks to those crystals. They were supposedly corrupted, though that meant different things to different people. Doctor Gil had no idea there was a tunnel like this running beneath the western wall of Fort Baldi. That brought whatever network this tunnel was a part of entirely too close to Fort Baldi’s underground facilities. The doctor supposed the higher ups wouldn’t want that kind of information leaked, not before they could bury the tunnel or otherwise secure it.

“Do not touch the crystals. Don’t even graze them.”

“What’s a vein doing here in the first place? How did you find out about it?” Gil asked while he looked for a relatively safe spot to land. He was coming up short until Sable leaped down. That was when he realized just how high up they really were. He thought the tunnel was only fifty feet high at most, but it was actually closer to a hundred. His twenty-foot leap was starting to look closer to forty. “I … there is no way I can do this.”

“I’ll catch him,” Sable called up to the group, “Just jump down here. Aim right where I’m standing. You’ll be alright.”

“I don’t want to hear that from the one ghost that lost his mask,” Gil blurted out. He realized too late that he was getting too familiar with his captors. Just because Sable was unmasked, a young, mostly harmless looking man, didn’t mean he was any less dangerous than their leader, or Red, or even Shark. If he was with them, he had to be dangerous. His damaged mask spoke more to his endurance than anything, now that the doctor was considering the situation.

“Harsh. I’ll remember that,” Sable smirked.

“Hurry up and go,” Shark shoved Gil again, nearly over the edge, this time.

“C-careful! And do you honestly expect me to jump after what he just said?” Gil tried to steady himself as he turned to the leader. “You, commander or whatever you are, isn’t there another way?”

“Vesper,” the leader of the ghosts corrected, “Just trust Sable and don’t touch the crystals.”

Red leaped down, and he stuck the landing effortlessly.

Shark was next, and rather than aim away from one of the crystalline spikes, he wrapped his body in destruction magic and plowed through it on his way down, reducing half of the corrupted mana to dust.

“Get a running start. You’ll be fine,” Vesper promised.

The doctor stepped away from the ledge and tried to find as much room as he could. He tried to keep an eye on where Sable was. Vesper stood there waiting, which Gil realized was specifically to keep him from running the other way. The ghosts would need time to get back up to the ledge if they had to chase him down, so their leader would be the last one to jump, once the doctor was accounted for. They weren’t taking any chances, it seemed.

Gil took a deep breath once he was ready, and started running toward the end of the ledge as fast and as hard as he could. All the aches and pains from that evening came roaring back to try and hinder him, but he powered through with the knowledge that he would probably be gravely injured, above and beyond anything else he’d endured if he didn’t do this right. Fear and adrenaline carried him through the air as he leaped over the ledge. He didn’t see Vesper running just behind him or leaping after him, so he was startled when the man’s hand pressed firmly against his back and then shoved him even further forward.

The doctor cried out as he reached the height of his leap and began to fall. Gil thought he was on target, but he didn’t really know for certain. He only saw Sable and the others waiting for him just beyond the red, faintly glowing outgrowths he was trying so hard not to impale himself on. Just before he came crashing down, a cloud of blue mana erupted, seemingly out of the ground, and Gil fell into it. His landing was so thoroughly cushioned by the energies the ghosts had put out, the doctor didn’t even notice his feet hit the ground. He found himself sitting back with his arms supporting him when the cloud of mana cleared. All four of them, Vesper, Shark, Red, and Sable, were standing there over him, ready to press on.

Doctor Gil picked himself up and asked, “How much farther, and how did you know about this place?”

“The same way most people find out about them,” Sable said, “strange seismic activity and a marked increase in worm sightings.”

“The Municans probably knew about this vein,” Red noted, “but they haven’t cleared out the crystals recently.”

Shark sighed as he took in more of their surroundings. “This vein goes north right into Munica itself, so they’re probably using it for something. Can’t be completely abandoned, or they would have buried it. It’s not linked to the vein the Cordaeans used to attack the Municans, though.”

“Wait a moment! The Cordaeans have one of the veins mapped?!” Gil supposed that would explain how they snuck up on Fort Baldi with such a large, and otherwise conspicuous force of armas. “We send teams into these tunnel systems all the time. We even leave monitors to prevent issues just like this. Fort Baldi is deep inside Munican territory; I don’t see how the Cordaeans could chart a tunnel before us.”

“That’s why you Municans are always so surprised,” Shark shook his head, “You can’t even imagine a scenario where the Cordaeans know something you don’t.”

“Not true.”

“And where are those monitors?” Shark asked, mockingly holding out his arms and looking all around, “I don’t see any down here.”

“You probably destroyed them on your way here,” Gil quietly stewed. Shark was by far his least favorite of the Calmans.

Suddenly the ground shook. Doctor Gil hit the ground almost instantly as the violent tremors only intensified. Back toward the ledge, they heard a massive explosion from up on the surface. Fire, smoke, and several tons of debris exploded out from the crawlspace they came through to reach the crimson vein. For all they knew, Fort Baldi had been completely bathed in fire.

“W-what did you people do this time?!” The underground facilities might have withstood the destruction if a bomb exploded on the surface, but the doctor suspected the blast had come from several levels down, likely just above the hangar containing the Munican colossus, Cordoba. Gil didn’t know if anyone from Fort Baldi had survived if that was the case. That sound, that shaking, all of it suggested a bomb large enough to crater the entire base. It was a miracle the vein itself wasn’t starting to collapse. Even so, he was furious. “A bomb?! Really? Why would you do that?!”

“That is the question you should be asking,” Sable held up a finger while he smiled innocently at the doctor.

“That wasn’t us, you idiot,” Shark snapped.

“Let’s move,” Vesper gave the order, “Eyes up in case shards start falling.” Fortunately there weren’t very many crystals overhead. They were mostly clustered on the lower walls and the ground. Ordinary rocks were coming loose and raining down with alarming regularity, however. “Keep moving.”

They all ran toward the southwest as the tremors continued. Doctor Gil had no idea they would be running for so long. It was another hour before they reached a point where they could come up to the surface again. By then, they were far enough away from Fort Baldi to be completely hidden in the night. They could still see the light of the fires raging behind the fort’s enormous protective walls. It made the explosion from before seem almost too easy.

Gil sat completely exhausted on the edge of a boulder with his head in his hands. He could only look up at the carnage for so long. He could only listen to the ghosts quietly pass around theories about the explosion for so long.

“Transport is inbound,” Red reported, “ETA, two minutes.”

“Good,” Vesper said.

For the ghosts, it was almost mission accomplished. Gil’s future was still up in the air, but at least the ghosts weren’t going to kill or torture him, not themselves at any rate. Vesper’s vagueness always left room for a third party to unexpectedly and violently put an end to the doctor and everything he was working toward. This wasn’t the time or place that any of the ghosts would want to take questions in, but Gil just couldn’t help it, now. He had been extracted from Fort Baldi with relative ease just prior to its destruction. The situation felt more real and perilous to him now than ever.

“Once you take me to wherever it is you’re taking me to, what are you going to do then? What am I going to do? Am I going to sit around waiting to know if I’ll live or die? Or become some kind of Calig experiment?”

“We’re practically safe,” Sable said on the doctor’s behalf.

“Practically is meaningless,” Shark said pointedly.

“It’s fine,” Vesper said, approaching Gil. “The reason we’re after your test subjects is because you put a unique compound into their bodies–and yours, one that can help us exterminate an entire species of crimsons. Once that’s done, it might be possible to purge that influence from your bodies. I can’t say with any certainty, and I’d rather not get your hopes up. Either way, the plan isn’t to kill you. The plan is to turn your research toward something more direct. The medical community can play catch up later.”

“So that’s what this is about,” Gil breathed, somewhat relieved to know what his destiny for the time being was, but also unnerved by certain other things Vesper had told him. The Calmans weren’t sure the hive species’ influence could be purged from his body, but they were going to take advantage of the situation in either case. The doctor and his research were being repurposed by Calig, for their purposes, for their war on the crimsons infesting the world.

“It’s time to put this nonsense between Munica and Cordaea behind you. There are far more important wars that need to be fought, for the sake of the world. Welcome to your new life, Doctor.”




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2023 ended weirdly abruptly for me, but I got the shot in the arm I needed in order to hit the ground running in 2024. This year's going to be absolutely crazy, but for me personally, I feel my worst years are finally behind me. I'm ready to stop drowning in a sea of...

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