Sheer the Seer noticed the unusual movements of the birds above the trees and felt a slight change in the wind. She looked towards the South.
'A visitor. An Elf.'
Elves were not frequent visitors, here at the southern tip of the Fairy Realm of Mercia. Less frequent than they had been some years ago. They no longer seemed to be on very good terms with the Fairies of Mercia.
A dark-cloaked Elf strode out from the trees. Sheer knew his identity, and his business here, even though she'd never met him before. She watched him approach, striding swiftly over the grass. A confident Elf, she judged. Not one who'd been dismayed by his recent death, apparently.
Noutan halted, surprised that Sheer knew his name. They faced each other in silence for some moments.
'I wasn't expecting Rainith to kill you,' said Sheer. 'I didn't think she had it in her. Perhaps she took my advice, and made a plan.'
Noutan tried not to react. Not that it made much difference. Apparently Sheer the Seer already knew everything.
'Where is Rainith now?'
'I won't give you any information about her.'
In truth, Sheer didn't know. Rainith the Red had disappeared. Even Sheer could not tell where she was, not that she would have told the Elf anything anyway. She'd never betray a fellow fairy to the Elves. Even a fairy as malignant as Rainith the Red, whose behaviour in the past few years was one major reason for the ill-feeling that now existed between Mercia and the Elves.
'Then I need to travel. Will you open the between to take me swiftly to London?'
'That's available to everyone,' replied Sheer. 'Two gold pieces.'
'I understood the price was one gold piece.'
'For you it's two. Look on it as extra because of the foolishness of your endeavour. You'd be far better off going back to your forest and staying there.'
Noutan the Elf scowled at Sheer, but reached into his purse, and handed over two gold pieces.
Mixt and Nakishdan knelt behind their barricade, laser rifles in hand.
'I suppose it's exciting, in a way.' said Mixt. 'I haven't been behind a barricade since Paris in 1968.'
Nakishdan turned to look at his friend. 'What?'
'The students were rioting. Being in Paris at the time, it seemed only right to join in.'
'I don't remember you mentioning that before.'
'I'm sure I've done a lot of things I've never mentioned to you. I've had a very long life, remember. Several thousand years.'
'Hmm.' Nakishdan sometimes suspected that Mixt's tales of her past were not always accurate. She did have a habit of claiming to have been at many stirring historical events. He didn't pursue it. Bitter Frost, the mercenary group hired to break the strike, had withdrawn, but they hadn't gone far. Their troop carriers could still be seen, further down the street.
'I wonder what they're waiting for?'
'Perhaps they were waiting for Rainith to stop playing the Fall. It did seem to shatter their morale.'
'Mine too,' grunted Nakishdan. Fairies Hate You Radio's decision to play the first five Fall singles in an endless loop had driven nearly everyone to despair. It was a serious flaw in the design of the city that there were places where the public speakers could not be switched off. Presumably the original Star Metal Planet video game had not allowed for this, and the design flaw had been carried over into the virtual world.
'At least she's stopped now.' The radio had fallen silent. Mixt, Nakishdan, Baticla, Geeda Lala, Fourteen trees and the market workers all waited anxiously for the mercenaries to make their move. Quite how much violence they were prepared to use was not yet clear.
'They're moving forward.' Nakishdan raised his rifle. At that moment the speakers on the walls came back to life.
'This is Fairies Hate You Radio. We support the support the strike for equal pay. The women workers deserve to get paid as much as the men. Even if they're not really that good. It's not like they're ever very friendly or efficient. Useless really, like everyone in this city. But the men are all useless too. Just really stupid and annoying. So there's no reason not to get the same pay even if they're all really annoying and probably cheats as well. This is Fairies Hate you radio, supporting the strike. Here are the Sex Pistols.'
'Well that was a ringing endorsement,' muttered Mixt.
'At least she's not doing her endless bloody Fall singles any more.'
'I'm going to play the four Sex Pistols singles ten times each and then I'll play the b-sides,'
A groan was heard throughout the market.
'I think the mercenaries are retreating,' said Mixt. 'Maybe Rainith's scared them off again.'
Ms Darben, from her office at intelligence headquarters in Vauxhall, contacted Mixt. Mixt, behind her barricade, opened her small holo-screen, so that Ms Darben's face, apparently hovering in space, floated above her wrist. Ms Darben greeted her in her customary businesslike manner.
'Just to let you know the Kesh are still working on some way to reach you. They say they're making progress. We should be able to get you out of there soon.'
'A matter of months, according to the Kesh. We're doing everything we can to hurry them along. Have you encountered 102 Woo?'
'That's good. I'm very worried about them finding you, and the Kesh are worried about their new operative, Melusine Mort. Make sure to stay out of sight. Don't do anything that raises your profile in the city.' Ms Darben paused as Nakishdan appeared next to Mixt.
'Hello Ms Darben.'
Ms Darben frowned. 'Why are you holding a gun?'
'In case Bitter Frost attack.'
Ms Darben raised her eyebrows. 'Bitter Frost? What's going on?'
'Nothing,' said Mixt.
'I wouldn't say it was nothing. I mean, we're hiding behind barricades and everyone's on strike because of Geeda Lala and mercenaries are probably going to attack. There's quite a lot going on really.'
Mixt scowled. 'I know. But I wasn't going to mention any of it to Ms Darben because now she's going to complain because she asked us to keep out of sight and instead we've all landed up in the middle of a huge incident.'
'Oh.' Nakishdan frowned. 'I never thought of that.'
'What is this huge incident?' demanded Ms Darben.
Mixt explained briefly. Ms Darben was not pleased.
'Why did you let Geeda Lala become involved? You're meant to be protecting her.'
'We didn't let her become involved,' protested Nakishdan. 'She started it all. We didn't know her and Fourteen Trees were going to turn into revolutionary communists the moment we let them out of sight.'
Ms Darben looked like she had more to say on the matter but was distracted as music suddenly blared out from the speakers on the walls.
'This is Fairies Hate You Radio with Adam and the Ants. The first album, when they were good. Before they started dressing like pirates like that idiot Nakishdan.'
'Hey! protested Nakishdan, looking up at the speaker.
'I see Rainith isn't keeping a low profile either.' Ms Darben, very annoyed, was about to say more but was distracted by a sudden alarm flashing on her screen.
'We'll talk later,' she snapped, and hurried off.
'That was lucky,' said Mixt. 'She was just working up to some long lecture, blaming us for everything again. Have you noticed how she always does that?'
Nakishdan wasn't paying attention. 'How dare Rainith insult me on the radio. Wait till I get hold of her.'
Back in London, Ms Darben was rushing down a flight of stairs. She was joined on the way by Agent Duluth who ran out of his office with a gun in his hand.
'They've caught someone. Or something.'
They hurried along the corridor on the second floor, parts of which had been sealed off recently while technicians in the department installed machinery, machinery built with the advice of the Kesh Ven Ven Lar, the advanced civilisation with whom they were in contact. At the end of the corridor was a translucent field of blue light, an advanced force-field, not yet developed anywhere else in the world. Behind the forcefield was a small figure with a black coat and a sword. Several guards had arrived already, and looked on as Ms Darben approached. She stood in front of the force field, examining their guest.
'Not the first time you've visited, I believe?'
Noutan the Elf glared at her. 'I demand you let me out of here.'
'I'm afraid we can't just let Elves wander around intelligence headquarters.'
'The Elvish nation will punish you for this.'
Ms Darben looked down at the small Elf. 'I don't think that's likely. I'm sure the Elves in general have no interest in us. You however, do seem to like this building. We detected you before, after you'd gone. Hence our need to find some way of detaining you. Now, would you like to step into my office and tell me what you're doing here?'
1 of 1: posted 11 July 16
Mixt looked down the sights of her laser rifle, examining the enemy position through her magnifying scope.
'They're not going away. Which means they're going to attack. In the real world they might negotiate but this isn't the real world. They're not programmed for lengthy negotiations.'
Mixt turned to Nakishdan, beside her at the barricade, seeking his opinion. They'd both played Star Metal Planet long enough to know the ways of the city, and the violent habits of the mercenaries. She discovered that Nakishdan hadn't been paying attention and was instead staring over in the direction of Geeda Lala and Baticla.
'I never noticed how pretty she was.'
'No, her friend. The Vooret.'
Mixt's brow wrinkled. 'Is that what you've been thinking about while I planned our survival strategy?'
'Foolish of me to imagine anything different, I suppose. We already have evidence of your attraction to blue-skinned women. She is pretty, but she probably belongs to some Clan who'd object to you making a move on her. These Vooret elders can be unfriendly.'
'I could charm them.'
'Your last attempt at charming Vooret elders led to a twelve hour firefight and after that the girl didn't like you anyway.'
Nakishdan was unrepentant. 'I'd have won her over in the end. I just needed more - '
His words were cut off by an explosion outside.
'Here they come,' muttered Mixt, sliding back into position and aiming her weapon. In the long street leading up to the market, Bitter Frost were advancing, their troops crouching as they moved, covered by the armoured cars which rumbled slowly towards the outpost of the striking workers. The machine guns mounted on the armoured cars began to rake the barricades. Mixt and Nakishdan returned fire. There was some panic behind them as the market workers, unused to violence, dived for cover, disappearing behind their stalls. Mixt and Nakishdan, well-used to fighting in this world, showed no sign of panic, pouring laser fire onto the advancing mercenaries. Mixt did grimace in frustration as her attempts to disable the armoured cars failed due to the inadequacy of her weapon. She quickly brought up her screen and glanced at her levels.
'We've almost leveled up,' she muttered. 'Keep firing.'
When the game upgraded them, their weapons would become stronger.
The armoured cars came to a halt. A force field appeared between them. Protected by the field, heavily armoured troops carried a mobile canon which they began fixing onto a tripod. Mixt and Nakishdan desperately shot at the forcefield, but were unable to break through.
'This barricade won't stand up to that canon,' said Nakishdan.
Suddenly, behind the troop carriers, a tiny figure appeared in the sky, swooping down like hawk. It was Rainith the Red. Sword in hand, she dived on the troops as they worked at the canon. She dispatched two of them before they knew what was happening. The rest fled for cover as the tiny fairy slashed at them with her sword, an attack for which they were completely unprepared. Rainith rose in the air. At that moment, Mixt an Nakishdan received an alert, informing that they'd gone up a level. Their laser rifles were now considerably stronger. They turned their fire on the force field protecting the canon and it began to splutter and wilt. Soon it broke down completely. Their laser beams began to destroy the canon, blowing it off its tripod.
Rainith flew towards the barricade.
'That's the only time the fairy's ever done anything useful,' muttered Nakishdan. He scowled at the approaching figure, though Geeda Lala, Fourteen Trees and others in the market, peering out from cover, applauded her for her heroic and unexpected assault.