Anais felt a jolt of excitement and nervousness as the FLOCK Griffon-class carrier lowered from the clouds as it passed over the lake that separated the main continent and Asticus from the ruins of Kasira. The last three days had been hell for her from the moment she had been relieved of duty after her interview with Osin to hearing of the explosion that had buried whatever ORION had been trying to uncover. For three days, Anais had felt sick, trying to maintain her professionalism as she entered the facility only to see Osin’s chamber empty instead of breaking down into tears.
After today, things would be back to normal. Grey had received intel on Osin’s whereabouts and his quickly assembled team of FLOCK special agents included those who had participated in the very first missions with Simeon Grey years ago. Anais stared across at one of them, whose finger flexed over the trigger of his AC-8R like he was massaging it.
She looked around at the other soldiers in the carrier that surrounded her, realizing that she was the only one that was unarmed and unarmored, wearing only a basic suit and rebreather for protection against potential radiation. Like a large tidal wave, it hit Anais that this wasn’t a simple rescue mission.
The Griffon rocked and then slowed. The pilot spoke over the speakers, saying, “We’re on our way down. Grab your gear. Captain Grey wants boots on the ground immediately.”
The FLOCK veterans around Anais stood up in their battle-scarred white armor and surrounded her. Anais felt the ship descend until there was a slight thud as it hit the ground. Immediately, the FLOCK troopers moved out of the ship and Anais followed them. In the distance, she saw Captain Grey, marked by gold stripes on his armor, and rushed toward him.
“Simeon!” she called. The Captain turned his head and nodded toward her, in his odd way of acknowledging her presence. He folded his arms behind his back and raised his head.
“Do it,” he said. Anais started to wonder who Grey was talking to, she heard the soldiers grunting as they brought an enormous bit of machinery forward. She recognized it as a sonic cannon from the tech labs, an old blueprint that had gone unused in the years since its development. What they intended to do with it was initially lost on her until the first blast.
The cannon hummed loudly with a low frequency as sparks of energy gathered at the barrel before the gun fired, upheaving the earth. A dust cloud rose and Anais’ visor attempted to see through it, making out the tip of what seemed to be a silver and black metal structure. Beside Anais, Grey raised his hand.
The cannon hummed again and Anais covered her ears in preparation for it to fire again. A fire did rise but it came from the gun as it exploded, sending metal shrapnel and FLOCK troopers flying. Anais’ eyes widened as she looked around through the mixture of grey dust and smoke, trying to find the source of the weapon’s malfunction.
She never thought to look up.
Slowly, a figure descended, arms outstretched and head lowered. He was small with pieces of black metal armor on his body, left arm bare with a spiraling tattoo of flames and symbols decorating it from fingertip to shoulder. The figure landed in the middle of them, dust clearing away when his feet touched the earth.
Rifles raised and pointed to him. The figure turned to look at them all, stopping as his amber eyes rested on Captain Grey. Anais felt her heart stop. It was Osin. Somehow, the boy looked older though it had only been three days since she had last seen him. Something about his face lacked the naivete it had once had, the sweet innocence of a little boy readily accepting whatever they had to say. He looked different, angry.
“Weapons down!” Grey shouted to his soldiers. The FLOCK troopers did as they were told and Captain Grey approached Osin with a confident stride. “Osin,” he said, reaching out to him.
Osin reached out as well, forcing Grey to stop in his tracks, without laying a finger on him. Frozen, Grey blinked rapidly. The rifles raised again and Anais rose to her feet.
“Osin!” The boy looked at her and his gaze softened. Anais breathed a sigh of relief and continued. “Osin, please…let him go. These men will kill you. Please…”
This seemed to make Osin upset and before Anais could say anything, Osin spoke.
“Nas qi Masir Keita, lo Bukhiye. Tumera vol pyar.” He blinked and Anais gulped. Osin spoke again, this time in Canter, saying, “My name is Masir Keita, the promised Key.” His gaze turned to the FLOCK troopers. “And they will not.”
Things happened in a blur as Osin disappeared from Anais’ view. The shouts and cries of the troopers around her caused her to whip her head around, trying to find where Osin was until finally he was in front of her again. Anais turned and raised her hand to her mouth. The FLOCK troopers laid skewered and bifurcated around her in the dirt and their killer stared up at her with searching amber eyes. There was no malice behind them, Anais felt. He was still a child, albeit a powerful one.
“Iyas’um,” he said. Anais recognized the word, one of the first that Osin had ever used to address her. It meant “mother”. She felt tears form in her eyes, smiled and dared to attempt to caress his face. He let her before turning his head to look back at Captain Grey. “Yasur…”
Electricity wrapped around Osin’s body and he let out a loud, high-pitched scream until his eyes rolled into his head and he slumped to the ground, softened only by Anais arms grabbing him. When she looked up, Captain Grey lowered his Acclimator and sighed softly.
“What the hell is wrong with you!?” Anais shouted. “He’s a child!”
“He’s a devil,” Captain Grey replied.
“He’s a child, you bastard!” Anais felt sick, softly rubbing the boy’s face, slowly realizing as she looked into Grey’s eyes that he had used her, not simply to capture Osin but to distract him and blind him. A false sense of security, luring him in like prey.
Anais grabbed one of the FLOCK Acclimators, remembering all the times throughout Osin’s upbringing that Grey had stabbed her in the back and how all she desired was to return the favor.
Where she had the will, she lacked the training of the Captain, who had telegraphed her moves enough to grab and break her arm before he rammed the butt of his gun into her neck and she fell on top of Osin, covering him and hoping in her fleeting conscious moments that she could still protect him.