Ominous Odyssey (Overworld Chronicles Book 13) (5 page)

BOOK: Ominous Odyssey (Overworld Chronicles Book 13)
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"The help me fly faster," she said.

"I hope you can keep up." I hopped back on my broom and Elyssa got on hers. I pointed up. "Lead the way."

Ultraviolet wings blazed to life on Issana's back before dimming to a spectrum of black light nearly invisible in the darkness. She launched upward in a flash, wind whistling past her wings. Elyssa and I took off after her and caught up. She was definitely moving fast, maybe even a little faster than Arturo's archangels. Our brooms could have gone faster, but there was no need.

"Are you the only one with this flying suit?" I asked Issana.

She glanced back at me, eyes narrowed then faced forward without answering. I decided to let the question lie for now.

We followed Issana's lead into the Northern Pass. Hugging the cliff walls, we stayed out of sight of Darkling patrols, sometimes stopping to hide behind rock outcroppings while soldiers on cloudlets floated past.

The shadows of the sentinel towers loomed ahead, their silhouettes like cardboard cutouts against the brilliant light projected from the aether gems on their northern faces. For two hundred yards past the towers, everything from the ground all the way to the top of the pass was clearly illuminated. Between the towers hung a curtain of ultraviolet—the shield I'd had to go through earlier.

It was a formidable obstacle—one that could easily stop an enemy legion from forcing its way through the pass. I wondered how Issana planned to get us past it.

Our guide dove a hundred feet lower and landed on a small ledge. She sent a charge of Murk into a normal-looking stone on the face and entered a small crack that appeared. I landed on the ledge and walked after her. When Elyssa was inside, Issana sent another charge of Murk into another stone, and the wall reappeared.

"Neat trick," I said.

We walked through a narrow passage for several hundred yards and arrived at a dead end. Issana opened the wall the same way she'd opened the first. We emerged on a small ledge on the northern face of the mountain on the eastern side of the pass.

Issana gave us a sarcastic smile. "Welcome to Brightling territory."

 

Chapter 4

 

"How did you know about that secret passage?" Elyssa gave Issana a suspicious look as we glided north across the clear moonlit sky.

Issana's brow furrowed in concentration. "I do not wish to say."

"Why not?" I said.

"It is private." She seemed genuinely embarrassed. "I assure you there is nothing sinister about it."

I didn't like such a vague excuse. Then again, I didn't particularly like Issana. A part of me desperately wanted to prove this sera couldn't possibly be related to my dearly departed friend. Issana's personality meshed more with Nightliss's evil twin sister, Daelissa, than it did her mother. For now, I had to hope she was really on our side.

"What is the objective of this operation?" Issana asked as we neared the coast.

"To spy on Arturo," I said. "Maybe look through his quarters."

The Brightling camp resembled a small coastal village. Hundreds of white capsule-shaped buildings dotted the grassy lands south of the beach. A domed crystal mini-palace towered in the center. One might have also expected to find a harbor there as well, but Seraphim didn't use water vessels, preferring airborne cloudlets and high-speed skyways to move their troops.

It didn't take a genius to figure out Arturo was staying in the palace since I highly doubted he'd house himself in one of the barracks. Issana landed atop a ledge with a good view. Her wings shimmered away like mist as she crouched and pointed out the silhouettes of patrols drifting about the perimeter of the camp on fluffy cloudlets.

"This is strange," Issana said. "Normally there are ten times the number of patrols, both in the air and on foot." She pointed to a swath of dark barracks. "There seems to be no power to those buildings, as if no one is using them."

Elyssa met my confused look as we both thought the same thing.
How would Issana know about the patrols here?
Again, we decided not to question the feisty sera.

I compared the number of lit barracks with dark ones and concluded that either they had a power issue—unlikely—or there were no longer troops inside the buildings.

Elyssa took pictures with her arcphone. "We should verify those barracks are empty."

"Spot check?" I asked.

She nodded.

"There is no other reason they would be dark," Issana said. "It would be a waste of time to check."

"I don't agree," Elyssa said. "Confirmation is always better than assumption."

Not to mention neither of us trusted her at the moment.

Issana frowned. "Well, it should be no problem to sneak in with so few patrols."

"Before we go another step," Elyssa said, "tell me how you know what their security normally looks like."

Issana looked down like a guilty child caught with her hand in the candy jar. It was so incongruent with her supposed age of thousands of years that I rocked back on my heels with surprise.

"I am a spy," Issana said after a long pause. "I've been here many times."

For a moment, she reminded me so much of Nightliss that my heart filled with pain. I swallowed a lump and said, "How many times have you been here?"

"Too many to count," she said.

"You're one of Kohval's spies?" Elyssa asked.

Issana didn't answer.

Elyssa frowned. "If you're a spy, why do you have to sneak through the perimeter? Who made that secret tunnel?"

Issana blinked rapidly, but remained silent.

Elyssa leaned closer. "Tell me now, or I'll knock you out and leave you behind."

Hands curling into fists, Issana rose, trembling. "I was told never to tell anyone."

I took a wild guess. "You're not working for Kohval, are you?"

Issana grimaced. "No."

Elyssa's eyes flashed. "Who then?"

The sera clenched her fists and stomped a foot like a child throwing a tantrum. "Is it not enough that I'm helping you? Now stop asking me questions."

I backed up a step, certain Elyssa was about to throw down on Issana, but my girlfriend ignored the outburst and asked again. "Who are you working for?"

I took a different approach. "Issana, we need to trust each other. Nightliss trusted me and so can you."

Her hands trembled and her shoulders slumped. "An old seraph who lives—or lived in Kohvalla." Issana looked down. "His name is Neemah."

That name sent a shard of ice into my chest.

Elyssa noticed my shock. "What is it, Justin?"

"Neemah was with the Ministry of Research." I remembered meeting the aged security director as if it were yesterday. "He was there when I rescued Nightliss from Pross and Cephus."

Issana's head jerked back. "You know Cephus?"

I tried not to let surprise show on my face. "Yes, I know Cephus. Do you?"

"Did he also send you to be his eyes and ears?" Issana looked at me hopefully.

My heart felt heavy as a terrible idea crossed my mind. Now wasn't the time to pursue this, nor was it the time to lie to Issana. "No, he didn't." I held up a hand to ward off further questions from Elyssa. "I think we should finish this operation and get back."

Issana looked at me for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Yes, that would be wise."

Elyssa gave me a questioning look, but I didn't want to talk about my suspicions in front of Issana, so I climbed back on my broom and nodded forward. "Let's go."

Issana flew down to the forest bordering the base of the cliff and we followed her through the darkness lit only by glowing mushrooms and dangling moss. I flicked on my demon night vision, casting everything in a bluish glow, and saw the violet glow in Elyssa's eyes, evidence of her dhampyric night vision.

It was obvious Issana hadn't been lying about her frequent visits because she seemed to know exactly where she was going. Issana held up her hand and we hid behind trees whenever squads of Brightlings patrolled past. She motioned us down when airborne guards flew overhead, and within an hour, we'd reached the darkened barracks at the outskirts of the camp.

Issana opened the nearest capsule-shaped building and we went inside. Beds lined both sides of the room, and empty shelves stood at the back. She took us inside several more as we made our way toward the center of the camp, and each one proved just as empty as the last.

Not once did Issana fail to regard Elyssa with a sarcastic smile as she proved she hadn't been mistaken.

The frequency of patrols increased as we neared the palace, and we had to duck and hide every few yards to avoid detection.

Issana opened the doorway on one of the lit barracks and motioned us inside. Elyssa gave me a worried look and I could practically read her mind—
Is this the part where she betrays us?

If my theory about her was correct, I knew she wouldn't.

We followed her inside and found her removing clothing from the shelving at the back of the room. Issana held up a uniform to Elyssa. "You are thick, but I believe this will fit."

"Thick?" Elyssa hissed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Issana handed me a uniform and then motioned us back outside. We retreated to one of the abandoned barracks where we slid the white Brightling uniforms over our skintight Nightingale armor. Issana turned her back to us and stripped naked since her uniform was too bulky. A small white scar at the base of her neck and another near her spine glowed in my night vision.

Elyssa's hand tightened on mine. I turned to her and mouthed,
Cephus did something to her.

A nod indicated she understood.

Seraphim didn't scar easily, so whatever had happened to Issana had been traumatic. Cephus had brainwashed Tarissan citizens and turned them into flying soldiers. It was possible he'd somehow captured Nightliss's daughter and done something terrible to her as well. I almost hated that Cephus was dead, because I wanted to beat the ever-loving snot out of him once a day for the next twenty years to let him know exactly how I felt.

Issana turned back around and nodded. "We should be able to walk freely now."

Even so, it took everything I had not to run and hide when we walked past the next squad. The soldiers looked tired and bored. Only a couple even spared us a glance.

The palace itself was surrounded by barracks on all sides, so there was only a circular path around the inner perimeter and nothing keeping us from slipping inside when the coast was clear.

We sneaked through the corridors, but there seemed to be few guards on the first floor. Issana held up a fist as we finished searching a hallway and reached a levitator alcove. "Wait here."

Before we could object, she stepped into the alcove and vanished upstairs. As with many other Seraphim buildings, there seemed to be no stairwells and no other way up. I was going to follow her, but Elyssa shook her head and pointed down the next hall where a wide doorway was the only opening in the wall.

We padded that way and looked inside. Stadium seating encircled a thin white pedestal rising from the center of the room. It looked similar to Kohval's war room, except it was in all white instead of red and purple. Brightlings weren't the most imaginative when it came to color.

Elyssa walked around the top of the room and entered a niche. I followed her inside and found a wall studded with square aether gems, each one perhaps a quarter of an inch wide.

"Crap," Elyssa said. "There are so many." She traced a finger down the wall, but there were no labels to help us narrow our search. "I count twenty-one."

I tugged on one of the gems and it popped from the slot on the wall. I rolled it between thumb and forefinger, then charged it with a shot of Brilliance. A holographic image appeared, showing some kind of major ceremony in a Brightling city. I deactivated the gem and popped it back in its slot.

Rather than remove the gems one-by-one, I charged the first one and watched a snippet of video explaining how to keep your armor clean and ready for battle. The next few were all very basic instructional holograms and I began to lose patience with the process. "What if they don't keep top-secret intel in here?"

I skipped ahead to the last gem. It showed Arturo and the archangels streaking through the sky, firing Brilliance from their lightning lances while below, crowds of Brightlings bowed and cried.

"Today we mourn the loss of our Empress, Daelissa," a deep voice intoned. "The barbaric mortals stole her life and her body from us, but we will rise again, and avenge her murder."

I deactivated the gem and scowled. "Doesn't sound like they want peace."

The patter of footsteps drew my attention. I peered around the corner of the niche and saw Issana hurrying our way. She didn't have a squad of soldiers with her, which proved that I was right about her allegiance. Cephus had probably done something to her. So long as we played along, she would be on our side.

Issana stepped inside. "I told you to wait on me."

Elyssa ignored the statement. "We found the war room, but we don't know if any of these gems have information on them."

"Of course they don't," Issana said. "There's a secure vault in the royal quarters on the top floor. I was told to check it frequently and report any information to Neemah." She showed us two blue gems. "If there is anything important, it will be on one of these."

Cephus had brainwashed this poor sera and sent her into danger time and time again. It followed his pattern of using and abusing others to achieve his own means. I felt awful for Issana, but I didn't dare let her know. Cephus might have built safeguards into her mind to keep others from helping her. I wished Flava wasn't so far away. She was the only healer gifted enough to help someone with such deep trauma.

"You took them that easily?" Elyssa's eyes narrowed.

"Perhaps if you'd infiltrated this place as many times as I have, it would be easy for you."

Elyssa paused a beat. "I guess so. Let's have a look at the gems."

Issana motioned toward the center of the war room. "They will only work in the pedestal."

"How were you able to sneak in when they still had a full contingent of soldiers here?" I scanned the war room to make sure no one had sneaked inside while we were talking. "Security around here can't be that awful."

BOOK: Ominous Odyssey (Overworld Chronicles Book 13)
11.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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