1: Powerless

"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall."

The pain was unbearable. The rage intolerable. He sat shivering in the darkness, desperate for revenge. Yet he was nothing but a ruin, a ghost faintly reminiscent of an older self.

Ice cold beads of perspiration flowed down his face, his skin paling. Above, in Imperial Athena, jet carriers swooped past, mechanical vibrations resonating through the prison cell.

Yet all I could hear back then was the whispers of revenge, the command to kill.

His own silence was the most fearful of sounds. It said everything it needed to. It taunted. It warned. It told. His teeth ground together, so violently he could taste flakes of enamel, virulent on his tongue.

He had been here for hours, but the time felt longer than his mind could even contemplate. He remembered before that fathomable gulf, but the memories were twisted with anguish and retained grief. If he recalled he would break. He shook his head, sliding back against the metal wall, a screech bursting from the friction.

The tears wouldn't fall yet. I was in a bad place. A place where grief was locked away and I no longer held a key.

"Damn you High Council! Damn you all to hell!" Hail Kamaso looked up at the thin beam of light coming through the air vent. In light comes hope – or so the Warden's said. He laughed in spite of himself, a bitter laugh that echoed hollowly about the cell.

And they were never coming back... No matter what I thought vengeance would do for me, it was futile. I was blind though. I didn't see that at the time.

His face creased as he slumped down even further. A single tear took him by surprise, and he wiped it away wildly. The dark depths of Hail's green eyes shined, an iridescence lost in despair, confused in fear.

He wanted answers from the High Circle more than anything, but here in the jail cell he was powerless. A pawn in the governments sick little game. The whole while he felt Nemesis' digital eyes piercing into his back, watching and waiting.

Its power... If we had known the truth it would have been so different.

Another jet carrier hurtled past. The sounds reminded him where he was, despite the strange feeling of disconnection. The High Circle tried to isolate its prisoners yet as long as he could hear life continuing as normal above, he'd keep going. Where there was life, there was hope. The word didn't trigger laughter this time. There was something about it so vital he could almost taste it.

When the Wilder appeared the despair was clawing at his chest, threatening to tear out his heart. Giving a start at the sliding of the door, he was drawn up by ebony skin and warm brown eyes, a flickering flame thawing his frigid bones.

"We run." Two words. Short and sweet.

He shifted towards her. His green eyes relinquished their inertia, bursting into verdant life. Something within her hand caught the light. He saw a bracelet of sand coloured beads, and then further, clasped in her fingers, was a metallic key-card. When he breached the doorway he saw the guard lying unconscious – or perhaps dead. A glance back notified him that the Wilder was armed.

The frown he gave her was supposed to replace words. She flashed him a faint smile.

"I said run."

Thoughts erupted within his mind like neon fireworks, great trails of colour leaving intertwining paths. He took one and went with it, like grasping and guiding a kite in the breeze. It was knotted yet still it flew.

The maze of corridors known as the Warren faced him – the High Council's underground answer to punishment. The Wilder was quickly sprinting off, and he followed her hurriedly.

"I want a name," he announced.

She ignored him, continuing her retreat.

"My saviour deserves a name," he pressed.

The Wilder paused, glancing over her shoulder. "Vetra," she said in the accent so reminiscent of her homeland. "A nobody," she added, reminding herself as well as Hail it seemed.

And yet our fates were entwined so inexorably. All our fates were entwined...

"A nobody doesn't break into the Warren and live," Hail remarked.

She turned around, studying him carefully. He brushed a hand through his dark brown hair, looking away awkwardly.

"Who said I broke in?" she asked, the sentence sounding just a little off. Her grasp of the Imperial language was almost flawless. He had never expected such a thing of a Wilder – although he had never expected a Wilder to free him from his cell either.

He just had time to realise she meant she had broken out rather than in, when the alarm sounded. Shrill and sharp, the siren whirred, footsteps resounding through the Warren.

"Now you must do as I say," Vetra said. "Run!"

She commanded compliance. He saw no other way. They rushed up the passage, brushing against cold metal walls cloistering them in to the High Council's labyrinth of justice. The siren repeatedly grew in volume, becoming vociferous in tone. Hail scowled, knowing that only a few weeks ago his reaction to a siren like this would have been quite different.

His stomach growled rabidly, and it was then he realised how hungry he was. His throat was cloying and parched too, the desire for water becoming an intense craving he could not deny. In that cell he had taught himself to forget and sustain, yet now...

And the ordeals we faced... The Warren was nothing; Athena just a stepping stone. The greatest trials were to come.

"We escape across the Bridge," she called back. He breathed heavily. The Bridge was just as it sounded. A length of metal spanning across a great chasm that descended beyond Hail's comprehension. Even he didn't know what the High Circle kept down there. He presumed it was something to do with Nemesis – that great unseen entity that felt his presence even now.

Somehow, Vetra navigated the Warren as efficiently as any path finder.

"You're good with directions..." he said to her as they ran. She laughed a little.

"Living in the Wastes gives you a mind like a... what is it you say? Points northward?"

"A compass?"

"A compass," she repeated with a comforting smile.

The ever present whirring of the security alarm threatened to shatter the pairs resolve but Hail pressed on after the Wilder. His thoughts turned back to the High Council. Wisps of red mist crept into his mind at the notion. The thought of revenge was severe, and Hail knew they deserved nothing less. Right there, in the Warren, he made a silent vow to himself. The Paragon of the High Council would pay the cost. The conduit of the Faith himself was no doubt responsible for such a tyrannous act. The memory resurfaced and he quashed it painfully, shaking his head. The act was brutal and swift, yet necessary. Emotions could come later.

"How did you come to save me then?" he asked, trying to change the subject. There, in his words, was a darkness lurking beneath the surface. An intangible doubt and hatred hidden in the depths of his meaning.

"Secrets," she whispered enigmatically.

He was preparing to question her further when a shape drifted out into the passage. The moment was a violent blur. Vetra's hand was on her gun and the small bang overpowered the alarm for a second. Scarlet bursts splattered against the metal wall, callous in appearance. He saw the blood and gave a start.

I went in and saw the blood... up the stairs... the walls...

"No," he whispered. Hail was fighting inside. The conflict rumbled on as Vetra bent down to the guard and muttered something under her breath. Grappling control over his thoughts, he realised she looked like she was praying.

The corridors seemed endless as they resumed their escape. Vetra's dash gave off a brazen temperament – feisty yet mysterious. There was something beautiful about it. In another life he would have admired that aspect of her femininity, yet the lifelessness inside of him gave way to distant, absent thoughts.

"The Bridge," Vetra announced. The Warren gave way to a cavernous room, breathtaking at first sight. It was like being in a processed food can – a large metal cylindrical room, glinting in industrial light. There was a droning sound as if some great mechanism was working beneath the Bridge. The alarm was quieter out here as well, drained by the great chasm beneath the platform in front of them. It was a black hole if not for the single train line that crossed below the Bridge.

"I can't believe we escaped..." Hail said. "It shouldn't have been that easy."

"And you'd know?" Vetra asked with a hand on her hip.

"It's a long story, but yes. I'd know better than most people." He gave the roof a token glance, eyes aimed towards Imperial Athena above. The city he had grown up in. The city he had placed his trust in. And now... he turned back to the Warren, eyes closing contemplatively.

"Come on," the Wilder hissed. She was pulling at his grey shirt fervently. He made for the Bridge. His stride was purposeful, defiant. He was making a stand against them but he was unsure of his intentions. Vetra clutched the railings, gazing down at the chasm. He looked down too.

He looked down and the black void beyond the spectral silver train line welcomed him. Ghostly hands seemed to rise from the abyss, clawing at the railings and trying to pull at his ankles. He placed his palms over his eyes, whimpering. Vetra was suddenly beside him.

"We should move," she said. "We may be... pushing luck." Despite the clumsiness of her words, he understood.

And we were. Luck is indefinite – I should have remembered as much. The great fortune that got me out would dwindle away soon enough...

He followed her at a slower pace than in the Warren. Because the alarm was quieter he felt less urgency. It would be approaching the surface that would be the challenge. That was where the guards would be stationed.

Vetra moved on ahead, stopping every so often to glance over the Bridge. He wondered just who she was – and why she had rescued him and no one else. The answers would remain secret for now though. He didn't want to question his fate too much – he was out of the cell and that was all that mattered.

On his rugged face, peppered with dark stubble and eclipse like circles round his eyes, a broken smile began to form. It was faint, yet visible. He felt the rising corners and his heart lifted just a little. If he escaped he would be a free man. Free of the shackles of his past. The smile disintegrated. He knew the shackles would not fade as easily as that.

And then the rotary sound of failure echoed through the cylinder, resonating with an animal like intensity. A wind whipped up a comma of his fringe. He looked upwards, devastation spreading across his countenance, a world of pain enacted upon flesh. Vetra shielded her face, stepping back towards him.

A helicopter glided towards them, a monster cutting at the air hungrily. And then vibrations reached out across the Bridge. Soldier's – Watcher's to be precise – fanned out in front of them, crouching with guns raised. Ominous clicks sounded behind. Hail pivoted and saw the dreadful sight of yet more soldiers.

"A pincer attack," he whispered. "What a rookie mistake..."

The helicopter beat against the air currents, lazily drifting towards its landing space on the Bridge before them. Both Hail and Vetra stepped backward, making room for the mechanical bird. As the rotary blades swept round and round at increasingly slower increments, the door opened and a man in angelic white garb stepped out.

Hail stood at ease. There was no use in fearing this any more. This was the face of death, and he would walk against the void. He stepped forward, narrowing his eyes. "So the High Council sent in a Warden... I'm touched that they brand me such an important prisoner," he shouted over the sound of the helicopter. The myriad of Watcher's tensed at his movements, taking aim.

The Warden rose a merciful pallid hand. "Stand down men, but be ready." He stepped away from the vehicle towards them. Vetra's hand hovered over her holster. "Hail Kamaso." he said simply. "I have orders from the Paragon himself – a mandate outlining your immediate suppression and incarceration. You can come quietly, or you can force us to have an accident. What is it going to be?"

Hail shook with rage. The Warden – whom he knew as Senthus – stared at him with icy calm. "From the Paragon himself? So I truly am famous?"

"Stand down now, Hail. Two guards are dead. You have broken the law. You are accompanied by a Wilder. This situation could not get much worse. Stand down and don't heighten your penance."

"Penance for what!?" Hail bristled. "I did nothing but aid your damned theocracy, and look how they repaid me? The Paragon, the High Circle, they can all rot on the Sunless Plain for all I care. Their holy white hands are tainted with blood like you and I."

"Heresy," Senthus hissed. He touched at the side of his own face, blue eyes sparking with anger. Light refracted from the metal walls, illuminating his white clothes and blonde hair and giving him an almost angelic appearance. Hail knew this man was far from heavens lofty heights though.

"Your crimes are heresy."

"Silence." He nodded to the guards behind Hail and Vetra. "Take the Wilder."

There was a flurry of footsteps, and within the blink of an eye, firm arms gripped Vetra. She growled ferociously, helplessly writhing. As they grappled for control, Hail moved swiftly. He pushed his palm out, striking at the guard nearest to him. He fell as expected. And then the pain kicked in.

Someone had fired a gun. Hail realised this point in a moment that felt something akin to floating. Vetra's struggle faded into numb shock. He followed her eyes, looking down at his chest. Blood was seeping out from a wound in his chest. Hail turned his gaze to Senthus. He was holding up a gun, just as he had expected.

"Don't look so surprised. I told you to stand down. And don't act the victim either – I know you were injected with Neroven."

Hail regained his breath, heart thundering. The bullet suddenly fell free from the wound, dropping to the floor. The pouring blood clotted before his eyes, and Vetra gasped beside him.

"You're... you're..." she couldn't verbalise her words but Hail understood her reaction. Not just anyone was injected with Neroven – a chemical booster created by the government to increase the fortitude of its soldiers. The governments influence courses through my veins whether I like it or not. This is who I am.

He ignored Vetra, finding it difficult to face her. Senthus watched him. "You'll calm down now?" he asked. Hail absently heard the Warden's words. Seeing the blood had evoked the memories again. The memories of his home he was so desperate to switch off.

A squadron of jet carriers flew low through Athena, the sound thrumming through the Bridge.

"What is it to be Kamaso?" Senthus' answers demanded too much. Somewhere a clock was ticking inside Hail's mind. The hand kept moving, the unrelenting passage of time pressuring him to do something. Vetra stared in confusion in the corner of his eyes; the mysterious woman who had saved him without apparent explanation, and now captured by the Watcher's because of him.

A howling sound suddenly erupted from below the Bridge. A cargo train was rattling across the line below. Hail saw the chance - he was in control of his destiny. Senthus' gaze was intense. He broke free from the memories and rushed towards the railings, swinging up so he stood over the edge.

As the guards and Warden reacted, he stared painfully at Vetra. "I'll be back for you," he promised. "Stay strong." She gave him a faint nod. Those brown eyes revealed little truth, and the secrets still hung about in the air around her like an exotic perfume full of mystery.

Senthus shouted something, and Hailstorm braced for the bullets. He just had time to see Vetra mouthing something at him.

"Find him," she verbalised. "Find him."

And with that, he swan dived from the railing, hurtling down through the air. A spray of bullets erupted above his head.

"Find him."

His feet slammed down onto the cargo train roof, and he slumped down, hugging the sides with a visible intensity. If he let go now, he was dead.

"Find him."

The voices above faded away as the train hurtled back into a tunnel, away from the Bridge. Images of Vetra flashed through his mind. What would they do now? Would Senthus try to extract information from her? What hope did he have of meeting her request?

The train crashed along at a breakneck speed, and Hail realised how ludicrous this was. He tried to shuffle along the roof of the carriage, but his heart was beating in a frenzy, anger at the High Circle the only motivator going.

The train rushed through another tunnel. This time industrial lighting illuminated the way. Hail's fingers felt the corners of a hatch, and desperately moved towards it, feet acting as hooks to keep himself secure.

He teased at it, trying to prise it open. Eventually he managed to lift one corner. The train swung out to the right on a sharp bend. Hail was thrown around, as he clung on by his fingers and toes. He didn't want to look down at the great chasms the train was crossing. Underground Athena was not for the faint hearted.

Finally he managed to wedge a hand under the hatch, forcing it up through sheer determination. He slid it along the roof and then half fell, half climbed through the gap. He breathed a sigh of relief, gathering his bearings as quickly as possible. As expected, he was in the middle of a room of boxes and storage containers, cargo no doubt bound for the world above.

And so was I. Bound for the world above and the course fate had planned out for me...

He tried to shake off the horrible clutch of memories that had wrapped itself round him. Hearing Senthus' words. Remembering who he was and why he wanted revenge so dearly... It came back so swiftly and cruelly.

Slumping down against a box, he tried to catch his breath. He slid a hand through his hair and stared at the ceiling with melancholy. He hoped Vetra would be safe. At the moment, he was caught in a web of chaos – and now he was a fugitive on the run. The High Circle would use everything at their disposal to capture him, and once he was back on the surface, he was in Nemesis' reach again, caught in the capital's Net.

He thought of the Paragon, overseeing meetings of the Senate in central Athena. "I am powerless to stop them... Here, they are in control." Yet I keep running... The High Circle was a barrier around him, and he was in the middle, watched and laughed at, chased and taunted. He quelled his rising fury quickly, climbing back up from the floor.

Within an instant, the door was open. Hail had little time to react. He flicked his head round in time to see a man with short black hair grinning as if expecting him.

"I thought I heard someone in here..." he began. "Have you been waiting long?"

Hail raised an eyebrow, wavering between reactions. For a second he began to shift into confusion, then he smiled, deciding to play along. It would surely make things a lot easier in the end, or so he thought. "No. Not long," he replied.

The man studied him for a moment. He was young, and from the few moments Hail had seen of him, wildly optimistic. And perhaps a little naïve. "You'd better come on through then, mercenary. The princess can talk through payment with you."

So I'm a mercenary... Hail mused. I can be one of those.

And the irony was, we were all mercenaries. Fate's warriors, dragged on against our own will.

Hail followed the young man through into the next cabin. A small gathering of young people awaited him. They turned to stare at him, some smiling, others watching with sentinel like neutrality. From the centre, a woman stepped forward. She was reasonably tall and slim, sleek black hair cascaded down her back, hints of auburn shimmering within. It held a vigour and shine that he imagined was even more vibrant in the sunlight. Blue eyes watched him, and her thin lips shifted into a crescent smile. She was the princess his messenger had spoken of – no doubt about it.

"I'm Zhanna Ordina," she said, putting out her hand to shake.

"Nice to meet you," he replied, his own smile forming. "I'm Hail Kamaso – your mercenary."

To Be Continued...

A/N: The first chapter down, you never know I might actually keep this story going for once haha. What did you think? Good opening? It was supposed to be reminiscent of the Final Fantasy games, but don't worry, the plot is very different once it gets going. Opinions on characters/plot? Obviously there are many questions unanswered, mainly just who is Hail, and why was he in prison? Who was Vetra, and what is a 'Wilder'? What is this Nemesis that keeps getting mentioned? If you want answers, tune in next time :) I'm hoping to get a new chapter up every fortnight – it's tight at the moment with school work, impending exams, and my job, so I apologise for slow updates, just bear with me. Thanks for reading, can't wait to read your reviews!

© Luke Frayling, 2010

Warning: I retain full and exclusive legal rights to this story, its plot-line, and the characters within it. Unauthorized publication or duplication of this piece is prohibited. Actions of the previous nature will be prosecuted.