The God Complex
It is often said that destiny comes without warning. So it was at the Outcropping, where, on the day that would decide the destiny of the world, all was as usual.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at the Border Camp - nothing to indicate what was about to happen. The ocean, which surrounded the small spit of land on all but one sides, lapped calmly at its rocky shores, while the sky overhead was clear and blue, hardly a threat to be seen. Birds wheeled and fished over the water, and off in the distance, a pod of dolphins was playing. The clouds to the northwest stormed and brewed, of course, but then, they always did that; today was nothing special. The soldiers of Rozen's Elite Border Guard patrolled as usual outside the low gray building, alternately drilling, relaxing, or maintaining their armor and weapons between shifts, keeping their swords polished as a matter of discipline rather than need. All of them kept an eye on the dark clouds on the horizon, but few thought much of them. This day would be just like the day before, they told themselves, and the day before that, and the day before that, and so on, all the way back to the day when each of them had first been assigned here. Sure, they were at war, but so far nothing had happened. Neither side would strike until the other did, and, as any good war strategist would tell you, no one wanted to be the first to do that. Today would be no different.
All that changed when, abruptly, several dark shapes appeared in front of the distant line of clouds. Initially, they were fuzzy, but, as they drew ever nearer, they became more and more visible. As soon as they were spotted, the cry went up, and the small encampment was instantly transformed.
"ALERT: UNKNOWN OBJECTS DETECTED ON RADAR," a mechanized voice blared throughout the Border Camp, followed rapidly by a loud siren and flashing red lights. "ORIGIN POINT CONFIRMED: INDRASTON. REPORT TO BATTLE STATIONS IMMEDIATELY. REPEAT: REPORT TO BATTLE STATIONS IMMEDIATELY."
With that, the outpost was thrown into chaos. Cries of surprise and panic mixed with jubilation and even relief rang out as all the soldiers scrambled to prepare themselves, their worst fears, but also their greatest hopes, now fulfilled. They had been preparing for this for years, some of them nearly their entire lives, and now months upon months of physical toning, of specialized training, of pushing their bodies to the limit both before and after their Inauguration, would all be tested. They were ready; of that, there could be no doubt. There was fear in the air as they strapped on their armor, tested their swords, and consulted their suit readouts, but it was with excitement, not fear, that their fingers trembled.
Finally, they had arranged themselves into orderly rows all around the outpost building, and then, their white armor gleaming in the light of the sun, they were resigned to doing nothing but standing and waiting. The approaching threat was still too far away to be seen clearly with the naked eye, but that of course did not stop the base's sensors from soon identifying it.
"ALERT: ELEMENTALS DETECTED. ESTIMATED NUMBER OF UNITS: 260. PREPARE TO ENGAGE."
There came the sound of a hundred swords sliding out of their sheaths as all of the soldiers drew their weapons as one, standing at the ready. The countless white suits of armor stared up at the approaching enemies with bated breath, waiting silently for their enemy to approach. The tension was thick enough to taste.
When the attack came, it came swiftly.
In a rush, the company was bombarded by dozens of Pegasi, the winged horses swooping down on them en masse. Legs kicking, teeth champing, they rushed the soldiers, instantly throwing the battlefield into turmoil. The soldiers retaliated, swinging flashing swords, leaping back at them, shouting bloodcurdling war cries. Here a soldier sliced a Pegasus in half, and both ends fell to the ground screaming and thrashing, only to dissolve moments later into a puddle of silver liquid, while there another soldier leaped high into the air, to come down on one of the other Pegasi and pierce it straight through. Other Pegasi, who were more fortunate, bit at the joints of some of the soldiers, swooping down for a brief attack before wheeling back up into the sky, or else trampled them under their hooves, crushing their armor and splattering red lifeblood. Almost instantly, the tiny peninsula was enveloped in a frothing field of blood, twisted bodies, and broken metal, the cries of both men and winged horses filling the air.
Ultimately, though, the Pegasi were no match for the highly-trained soldiers of the Border Guard, and before long their numbers began to thin. One by one the soldiers reduced each of them to nothing more than a silver spray; however, the winged horses did not retreat, their carefully-trained minds denying them the capability to feel fear. Soon, the majority of them had been taken care of, and all that remained were a few stragglers, which were quickly dispatched.
At last, panting, clutching bleeding wounds, their formerly spotless armor covered in streaks of red, silver, and black, the soldiers looked about themselves and, almost as if waking up from a daze, realized that they had won. For many of them, aside from a few grizzled Frontier veterans, this was their first time in actual combat, and to experience it and come out alive was both relieving and exhilarating. Most of them had injuries, some more serious than others, but overall, there had been few casualties. They had prevailed.
Then, with a whump that shook the entirety of the Outcropping, the Dragon landed.
"WHO LEADS THIS GAGGLE?!" it boomed, its deep voice causing the very stones underneath them to vibrate. It lifted its crested orange head and glared at the gathered soldiers, its gold-rimmed eyes narrowed into slits, daring them to challenge it. They all stood frozen, stunned at the sheer sight of the terrifying creature. The Dragon raised one claw, then slammed it angrily back down into the ground, sending shards of rock flying in all directions. "I COME TO SPEAK ON BEHALF OF MY MASTER!" the creature roared, its tail lashing furiously.
After a long, heavy silence, as the Dragon's words slowly set in, one man finally stepped forward. He was dressed similarly to all the others, with his body and face obscured by a suit of white, decorated armor, but on the crown of his helmet, in the shape of a cross, were two raised ridges of metal, a feature that differentiated him from the rest. He slid up his visor, revealing the face of a bearded, aging man, one with lines that commanded authority. After wiping the sweat off his face, he stepped toward the gigantic Dragon, his expression stoic and showing no fear.
He spoke. "I am Alexander Gideon, Elite Commander of this Border Guard Commission, and the highest-ranking officer present," he called up to the orange-scaled creature. "You may speak to me, elemental."
The Dragon snorted, but calmed down, seeming to find this amusing as he peered down at the much smaller human. "Gideon?" he rumbled, now no longer shouting but still managing to be heard across the entire battlefield. "As in, the man who defeated the Midianites, according to ancient Hebrew myth? That is a presumptuous name, human."
"It is one my family has carried proudly for generations," Commander Gideon replied, appearing less amused than indignant.
"And yet, Gideon was nothing without the intervention of his God," the Dragon observed, its mouth splitting into a toothy smile.
The Commander sighed, and finally he asked, almost wearily, "What do you want, Dragon? You said you wanted to speak on behalf of your master." He turned to gesture out across the bloody battlefield. "Perhaps you can begin by explaining this attack, then?"
"So I did…" the Dragon mused, before pausing briefly, as if collecting his thoughts. At last, he leaned down closer, and fixing the Commander with a wide smirk, he began, "My Lord Indra has sent me to find the whereabouts of… a certain deserter, a woman, well, child, really, who is of special value to us. We believe she is somewhere near your lands, after fleeing from her post in New Mumbai. She can be recognized by her golden hair, fair skin, sky-colored eyes, and utter inability to remain still. We were looking for her when we came upon you, and I unfortunately lost control of my Pegasi, but I have decided that it may be better to ask than to fight." His eyes narrowed. "Do you know where she is?"
The Commander frowned, and, for a long moment, he considered how to answer that question. Finally, he lifted his gaze back up to the Dragon and, defiant, replied, "Even if we knew where she was, elemental, we wouldn't hand her back over to you. These are our lands, and you have no business coming here, as you well know."
For a brief second, the Dragon's face contorted with anger, but then, it became calm again, and he heaved a deep sigh. Pulling his head back away from the man, he fixed him with a wide smile, a few of his fangs showing through. "I see… Very well, then. That is unfortunate. It makes no difference, though. Either way, the result would have been the same."
With that, he pounced.