The Thrill of the Chase - part 3

From the Story Arc: Rebirth

Previous Story in the Arc: The Thrill of the Chase - part 2 by Krasnaya Zvezda (Sunday, December 17, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: The Thrill of the Chase - part 4 by Krasnaya Zvezda (Sunday, December 17, 2006)

(posted Sunday, December 17, 2006)

Gal’Ulan stared up at the ceiling and wondered what he’d done to deserve this. They’d been close, so close to the target and each time they were getting into position, she moved on. Things had started so well; they’d been able to predict that she’d be in Bloody Bay today, they’d even got an early sighting from two Seekers and at that point things couldn’t be better. Then the Seekers stopped reporting in and, by the time his hunting party had arrived at the Seekers last known position, they were nowhere to be found. Still, he’d been able to get a feed into the communications channel used by the resident Heroes of Paragon City and the general chatter indicated that she was still somewhere on the Island so she just had to be found. At that point, the hunt began in earnest.

He gave a slight sigh. Hunt was probably the wrong word, chase maybe? Whatever the word, the next few hours had been spent travelling from one end of the Island to the other, chasing her as she chased after this Grim Gambol. He could hear the heroes’ frustration with their chase; ordinarily this would have been a good thing, “A distracted target is a careless target. A careless target is easy prey.” and all that. But chasing a Kheldian who could move faster than you around an Island, avoid hostiles and, for the most part, running around in circles, was not what he had dreamt of when he’d planned this. It was proving frustrating and annoying; indeed, at one point he’d considered hunting down this Circus Master and Grim Gambol himself, just for the trouble they were causing him. It may not have been so bad if she hadn’t stopped every now and then to engage this Grim, only to have him disappear when more heroes turned up and just as the Hunters had got into a position to attempt an attack.

The last straw was when everyone moved ground near the Arachnos base. There was no easy way to get close to the base; he’d lost a Seeker just trying and, in the end, had to pull back. It was either that or risk the entire team being caught in the crossfire or taken out by some of the local scavengers. There he stood, reduced to being a bystander, watching as Astra attempted to surrender and was then captured by Grim. Then Grim was attacked and, before he could make a move, she got away. It was galling; that would have been the perfect opportunity to capture her as well as show his appreciation to Grim for the day’s ‘entertainment’, but he was stuck on the beach, too far away to act or influence events in any way. After she disappeared, and after Grim and a Kheldian fought each other to a stalemate, he and his Seekers spent the next four hours travelling the Island, in the faint hope that, maybe, she had just gone to ground somewhere. He should have saved himself the time; all that happened of note was them running into a pack of Shivans and he lost another Seeker in the struggle.

He rubbed his face; he’d known there’d be days like this, everyone had them, but for it to happen on his first command - that had to be more than bad luck. Surely things had to get better soon. He gave his temples one last massage and tried to focus on the conversation going on around him. His Hunters were discussing the next step and were, in the main, centring on two differing strategies; whether to remain here and see if she returned to the area to finish what had begun here today or whether to travel to Paragon City and attempt to search for her there. Ultimately it was a decision that he would have to make and, although he was leaning towards travelling to Paragon City, he was trying to think of another option - maybe using this Grim person as a decoy somehow…

He needed to think; getting to his feet and, motioning the others to say seated, headed to the room that he’d claimed as his office. Maybe someone else had some information about where she could have gone.

He pushed the window open then, settling down in a chair, he turned on his computer. That was one thing he liked about this planet, you could find a remarkable amount of information relatively easily. Connect to a particular website, enter the right details, and then you were able to see all the ongoing hunts and the reports of all the Hunters in this area. It was invaluable; being able to connect seemingly unconnected events and targets was leading to some fascinating results. Unfortunately, none of them were related to this hunt. There was some information building up about her associates but it was slow going. It seemed that this Blaze Phoenyx would be worth watching and, although a few blasts from a Quantum weapon would do for him, he and his wife did present a difficult obstacle, one that would have to be avoided if at all possible.

Giving a slight sigh, Gal’Ulan switched away from the web page and started to put together a report of today’s events; eventually this would be added to the information store for all to see. It may even be enough to bring in more Hunters, if there was another target which could be taken down at the same time, but that may be too much to hope for. Still, it was important to get these reports as accurate as possible for more than just any possible future use. His superiors were taking a great deal of interest in this hunt and, it being his first, he wanted it to go--

He heard the explosion at the same time as the warning flashed up on his screen. Someone was in the base? He called up an image on the security systems; there were two of them, heroes by the looks of things, although they had eschewed the usual outlandish garb in favour of ‘normal’ human clothes. It looked like they were being invaded by schoolteachers, although he wouldn’t want to be in the care of a teacher that could hit like that; he winced as one of them brought a glowing fist into contact with a Hunter and it knocked him part way through a wall. Whoever they were, they seemed to be finding things easy going; something that was about to change. He picked up his rifle and left the room; behind him, the picture distorted and broke up as the security camera melted.

He left the room and moved down the corridor towards the sound of the fighting. These teachers had to make their way down a hallway; that was a good place to hit them. Although that was if they managed to get that far; as more Hunters mobilised, there was a good chance that these heroes would be stopped before they ever got that far.

Four of his Seekers seemed to have had the same idea about the choke point, and had formed a barricade out of some desks for that eventuality. Standing behind them, further down the corridor it seemed to be an eventuality that was growing ever closer. This sounds of fighting, the screams of his troops, the whump of their weapons and the boom of explosions was drawing nearer. He could see three of his Hunters as they moved around the corner, falling back towards him. For a moment, he wondered exactly why they were having such a problem - then the teachers appeared. The male seemed as destructive with the energy beams he was creating as he was with his fists, while the female had balls of flame circling her which she would pluck from their orbit and hurl towards his Hunters. The resulting fireball was serving to push his Hunters back, until they were killed by the male or wreathed in flames and left, burning on the floor. He’d seen enough and so had the four Seekers.

Using the cover of the barricade, the Seekers began firing their weapons at these two interlopers. The blasts, while not actually hitting, were forcing them to take cover and stopping their advance. Now it would become a matter of tactics; pin them down then focus the attacks on one, until they were down, and then the other. It was a simple tactic but worked very well and these teachers had nowhere to run. Gal’Ulan gave a smile and, hoisting his rifle, started to move towards his men. It would be good to get his kill count up.

But then a Warshade appeared in amongst his Hunters, draining the their life-force and leaving most of them disorientated and stunned. The one that was not incapacitated immediately came under fire as, once more, the teachers began to move down the corridor. Gal’Ulan hesitated, he knew he’d be able to do little against those two and a Warshade but the desire to help his Seekers, at least to free them from the Warshade, was… He stopped, staring. That Warshade, there was something about it that seemed familiar.

The Warshade, as if drawn by the intensity of his stare, slowly turned and looked at him. Discretion won over, it was time to get out of here. He turned and ran. Behind him, he could hear the Warshade shouting at its companions; it was coming after him! He started to head towards the side exit, then he remembered; the unsent report and, worse, the unlocked computer. They couldn’t be allowed access to those files and, with a half glance at the beckoning exit, he cursed and headed back towards his office.

When Gal’Ulan reached the office door, he was amazed. He’d felt the Warshade tugging at him but his implants had been able to resist the attempted teleport. He kicked the door shut behind him and started uploading the half-finished report. Time dragged. He kept expecting the door to blow open behind him and, just as the upload finished and he closed the program, he felt some relief as with a boom and a shower of wooden shards, the door blew apart. He spun around and saw Red Star, shrouded in all her auras, walk in.

< You will tell me why you are hunting my Astra, ‘Stalker’, and then maybe you will die quickly. > Her voice echoed in his head and, with his back to the computer, Gal’Ulan fumbled one final key press and reached for his rifle.


***


The raven watched from the tree as three shapes left the building. Shiny? he called hopefully but didn’t get any response and the shapes moved on. He cawed with disappointment, and then noticed that there was a window still open. Putting his head to one side, he thought about this, this was unusual and in need of some careful consideration. Lots of shinys or trick? He danced along the branch trying for a better look but that didn’t help, even when he tilted his head to the other side. Warily, he hopped further up the tree, and out towards the window, Trick? he called out. Over the next five minutes, he slowly made his way along the window sill and, after a few false starts, hopped inside the building.

Later, back in its nest, the raven cawed happily. He had found many shinys and even some food. Now all he had to find was a mate. Females never wanted to make things easy, they enjoyed the chase but, with this collection of eyes, who could resist him! After nudging an eyeball just a bit further into the nest; the raven flew off, away from the nest full of broken circuit boards, crystal fragments and Hunter eyes and out in search of some female company.