Osin took in a hollow, wheezing breath as Corvus filtered air into his helmet. The tracker HUD indicated that his targets were quite far away but for the time being, they weren’t moving. Osin gave a hand signal to his pilot and the Harpy fighter disappeared over the lake and into the clouds. When his ship was out of sight, Osin slowly made his way through the city. He heard something rumbling in the distance and he began to turn his head every few steps he took to observe his surroundings, even though Corvus would alert him if it detected a heartbeat. There was just something eerily familiar about the ruins of this city that elicited an odd feeling in Osin’s stomach.
The young boy looked around at the destruction and stood in place. He thought he heard someone crying out to him. Then, the voices began to multiply. An image flashed in his head of fire raining down from the sky and Osin’s breaths began to quicken.
He heard Corvus begin to ring in his ear.
Another image jumped out at him. Many hands reached out to him. An explosion ripped through the city and left a deafening ringing in his ear. All of the charred, black hands continued to reach out to him. He heard his name. He heard…
“Osin!” A voice screamed over Corvus’ comms. Osin snapped back into reality and his head darted around. He was standing in the middle of a crater. “Osin, come in,” the voice called again. It was Simeon.
“Yes, sir?” Osin answered.
“Your heart rate was fluctuating. Are you okay?” Though his words would’ve sounded concerned coming from the mouth of anyone else, Simeon’s tone was as dry and harsh as it had always been. Osin nodded, though he knew his yasur wouldn’t see.
“Yes, I’m all right. I’m tracking the targets. Corvus is telling me that they’re not moving,” he replied.
“Good. Don’t procrastinate, devil. Finish your assignment and return to your ship. No survivors,” Simeon said.
Simeon’s voice faded into an electronic buzz and Osin pressed forward with little hesitation. The young boy decided to move at full speed and the Corvus suit adapted, hardening around the soles of his feet while simultaneously elasticizing around his legs. With a quick burst of speed, the ruins of Kasira became a blur to Osin. The young soldier darted through the city until he passed its perceived limits and his HUD began to hum.
Osin skidded to a halt and looked around, perplexed. The HUD told him that the insurgents were thirty meters from him, but there was nothing on the outskirts of Kasira except a barren ashy wasteland and overhanging charcoal grey clouds. Osin wandered forward and began to press his fingers to his helm.
“Cori, there’s a problem? I don’t see anything. Where are the targets?”
“Forty meters below. “ There was a small pause and Osin heard Corvus click. “There appears to be an invisible yet solid hologram covering the entrance. Emitting EMP upon your command.”
There was a loud whine in the air and a low-frequency boom. Suddenly, the ground below Osin vanished and he plummeted, tumbling down into large open tunnel. Above him, the opening of the hole and the sky outside flickered grey and blue. Osin suspected that the hologram had been built by the traitors to cover the hole they had made into the earth. Whatever reason they had for doing so aside from covering their tracks was lost to the boy. He frowned and flipped to face the ground.
Osin straightened himself as the end of the tunnel approached him. Corvus let loose small rockets on the bottom of his boots that slowed his descent to the ground. As he landed, Corvus scanned and displayed the tracker HUD on Osin’s visor.
“Environmental analysis complete. Several heat signatures detected, identified as human. Further analysis shows a large metal construct. It is interfering with communication with the base,” Corvus reported. Osin nodded.
“That’s fine, Cori,” he replied to his suit. “Give me my AC-8R, please.” A compartment on Osin’s thigh folded open and Corvus pushed out a small black square. Osin took it into his hand and the black box, known amongst FLOCK operatives as the Acclimator or AC-8R as its official designation, extended into a sword hilt with a straight serrated blade on the end. With a few nerve impulses, Osin made the blade transparent. Corvus shimmered, reflecting the low light of the tunnel and the suit’s stealth systems activated. Osin slipped into the shadows and followed his tracker HUD forward. Voices echoed off of the walls and they sounded rather frantic. They also spoke a language that Osin didn’t understand. Osin commanded Corvus to amplify the audio reception range and listened carefully.
“Toch vren sua kreis…” a voice said.
“Translating…” Corvus said. In a few seconds, she spoke again. “None of the keys are working.” Osin listened again as the odd language was translated into Canter.
“If we can’t access the technology, how will we be able to warn the people? They need to know the truth about the Tribune!” another voice said. Osin crept forward and then paused as he saw an armed soldier heading towards him. Corvus automatically camouflaged against the wall and Osin stayed still.
Inwardly, Osin debated on whether or not he’d let the soldier pass without hurting him. However, the last thing he wanted was for an act of mercy to cost him when he tried to leave. His yasur would kill this man without a thought. He had to complete the mission.
Osin’s transparent blade slid through the soldier’s neck bones, crunching as it pushed through and grinding as Osin pulled it out. Osin’s outstretched arm kept the man from slamming to the ground. He listened again and none of the other men seemed to be alerted to the other guard’s disappearance just yet. Osin crept further into the tunnel and noticed that the area began to expand. It was also getting hotter.
“Warning: temperature and radiation level increase detected,” Corvus reported. Osin nodded.
“Yeah, I feel it.” It felt oddly pleasant to him, though. The heat within the depths of the tunnel was a comforting change and the further Osin descended, the more he noticed how natural it felt being surrounded by heat. Osin walked out into an open cavern and looked to his left and to his right. Only makeshift floodlights kept the area from being engulfed by complete darkness. Osin’s transparent blade rested in his hand as he walked around. Corvus’ systems picked up voices and Osin paused.
“Qwal hasn’t reported back,” one voice said in a hushed voice.
“The Tribune,” another voice said. “They’ve probably found us.” There was a pause. “Destroy the ship, now!”
“But, Leader…” a new voice, female, shouted in protest. The Leader let out a grunt.
“This was a trap.” The Leader turned and started to walk away. “Detonate the bombs once we’re on the surface and let this be the end of this madness. We can evacuate as many of our people that will listen and leave the planet once this is over.”
Osin frowned. “Locate the source of the voices, Cori. I can’t let them escape,” he said. Cori beeped and let out a soft chime in his ear.
“Forty meters below. The open cavern is also a holographic projection. The suit’s RV function will allow you to step through,” Corvus replied. Osin nodded and ran out into the center of the hollowed out cave. The young boy dove down, slipping through the holographic seal. His entrance and descent, however, elicited an explosion from above that sent rocks plummeting down after him. Osin rolled to the side to avoid them, but he saw the men in the cavern shift and raise their weapons.
“We’ve been compromised!” a man shouted as Osin rounded a corner. Another man pointed.
“Kill them all! We’re leaving!” he shouted. Osin narrowed his eyes. That was the Leader.
Green lasers raised and pointed towards Osin and the bullets ricocheted off of his armor and he darted behind cover. Corvus brought up a display of the cavern, mapping out the surrounding area in his visor. The cavern was populated by pillars before leading up and out of the open cave. Twenty ORION soldiers were closing in on his location, with some in the back of their formation providing covering fire as the others advanced.
Osin felt a small tinge of fear mixed with excitement. His adrenaline was pumping through his blood and it felt as if his arteries were boiling. No survivors, his yasur had said. Osin wouldn’t disobey. He closed his eyes and focused, shutting out the sounds around him.
And then, he dove from behind his cover.
The closest person to Osin lost their arm before they could pull their trigger and Osin used his body as a bullet sponge until he heard some of the shooters reload. The bullet-ridden body flopped to the ground as Osin crossed the cavern, weaving around a pillar as he approached his next target, his transparent blade slicing through a second ORION operative before he leaped to the next, skewering him against the rock wall.
Bullets clanged against his helm and Osin turned his head sharply. The ORION team Leader was racing down a separate tunnel with ten men behind him. Three of them shot at Osin, offering covering fire. It was only a screen. Corvus beeped loudly with an oval-shaped indicator popping onto his visor. A grenade. He had barely any time to react, ducking behind a pillar, only for shrapnel to rip into his right arm and leg. Cori’s protective plating blocked most of the damage, though it flashed red on his HUD.
“Cori? Are you okay?” Osin asked.
“Shrapnel detected in your right arm and leg. Health systems down to 70 percent. Now redirecting shields to damaged areas.” Osin shook his head and squeezed his fist tightly as he felt a growl in his throat. Anger started to fester in his chest.
His nerve impulses switched his AC-8R from a sword to a rifle and Osin’s finger pulled back stiffly on the trigger as he ran forward. The men began to fall, screaming as the bullets ripped through them. Osin bounded off the walls and flipped over their fallen bodies. He chased after the Leader and skidded around the corner as Corvus balanced him to maintain his speed.
The AC-8R switched back to a sword as Osin grew closer to the Leader. The ORION operatives turned and pushed their leader forward as he headed to an old makeshift elevator. Osin gritted his teeth and blocked a few bullets with his sword before splashing ORION operative blood on the walls. Osin saw ORION’s Leader ascend as the last few operatives grabbed incendiary grenades from their belts and dropped them at their feet.
“For Shamas!” they screamed before the rocky tunnel was engulfed in flame and smoke. The explosion shook the cavern. Corvus shielded Osin from the blast but the AI loudly chirped in his ear.
“Significant damage detected. Diverting power to damaged areas.”
Osin took in a quick breath. “Cori, where is the leader?” There was a brief pause.
“The ORION Leader has reached the surface. He—”
There was another, louder explosion that came from below Osin where the ORION operatives had been. The shockwave caused the rocky outline of the tunnel to fall onto Osin and the ground to crumble beneath him. The young boy crashed through the rock. His metal suit clunked against the rocks until he fell with a thud to the bottom of the cavern.
Corvus whined and Osin felt glass in his face. He pulled his helm from his head and placed it to the side. He coughed and took in the hot air. He was shrouded completely in darkness, though he could fairly well with his eyes. Tentatively, Osin attempted to stand and found that there was enough room for him to rise to his full height. The armored boy stepped forward, gulping as his head whipped from side to side. Something metal clanged against Osin’s foot and he looked up. He extended his hand slowly to touch the object.
His amber eyes widened as the metal peeled back and exposed a blue light. The light passed over Osin, paused at his feet, and rose back up past his face. The azure glow faded as the metal clicked, clanged and then opened.
The blue light materialized into a tall, muscled and armored hologram. His skin was a very dark blue and his eyes were a lighter shade. Osin felt his heart caught in his throat.
The man in the hologram looked exactly like him.
Osin’s fascination grew when the man turned to look at him.
The boy blinked at the hologram before he spoke. “What…who are you?”
The hologram cocked its head to the side. The hologram began to speak, in a language that Osin immediately recognized. It was the devil words.
“I am Asterí Keita, Yasur of the Kebulani people.” Osin smiled and let out a happy gasp. The hologram continued. “If you’re listening to this message, you have discovered the Ark that carried us from our home, Manzil, to this planet and a DNA scan has determined that you are not only Kebulani, but my direct descendant. You must listen to my words, my child. A great evil is coming, one that corrupted and destroyed our planet and threatens to do the same to this world. I will teach you how to stop it and, you, my child will avenge the loss of your people.”
Osin shook his head. He tried to recall the devil words – no, the Kebulani language – and closed his eyes. “I-I don’t understand. What evil?” The hologram waved its hand and Osin saw a shadowed image, colored bright red instead of blue, materialize.
“In myth and legend, he simply called ‘The Corruptor’, though in ancient times he once was known as Natasan, king of the Jewel City Gahina. However, he sold his soul in order to seek revenge against the founder of the Kebulani Empire, Yasur the Consolidator. In their final battle, he was supposedly sealed away. However, he managed to break the seal some four hundred years later, destroying our planet and sending us into space, seeking refuge. With that act, he forever locked the doors to creation, keeping us from properly reestablishing our empire.”
Osin stared as he took in the information, trying to comprehend all that he had heard. He could see flashes of the events that the hologram had described, as though he had been there himself. Shaking his head clear, he looked at Yasur Asterí. “So, who am I?”
The hologram paused, blinked and then smiled. “You, my child, are the Bukhiye, the child of destiny, Masir Keita, the Key that will unlock that door.”
Something triggered in Osin’s brain. He remembered those words. The images from earlier came back to him. The outstretched hands had been brown like his. He saw the golden glow passing from them to his body. He heard the sounds of explosions outside of the room.
And he heard an old woman say, “You, my child, are the Key.”
Osin remembered and he felt himself cry.
Bukhiye – “The Key”, the legendary chosen figure in Kebulani legend and Yangin religion that will defend the Kebulani against the Corrupter. Prophesied as the one who will unlock the door to creation, The Key must be a descendant of the Keita royal line, thus being the only one with the ability to access the powers of the Three Gods via the Gods’ Hand, a glowing golden tattoo, and have the features of one who has been “touched by the gods” (platinum blonde hair, golden-amber eyes and the Gods’ Hand).
Natasan – “The Corrupter”, a dark god in the legends of the Kebulani people and Yangin religion. In ancient times, the Corrupter was the King of Gahina, who was slain alongside his family when he refused to bow to Yasur the Consolidator. He later sold his soul in order to be resurrected and infused himself into two relics, the Ebony Gauntlet as well as the Bloodscar, a red-bladed sword with an eagle’s head pommel.