"Where the hell is our backup?"

"Man down! Medic!"

"Eat this you sons of- AGGGH!"

"Damnit all! Where's our backup?"

"This is second squad we need reinforcements!"

"Where's that medic? He's bleeding out fast here!

"This is fourth squad we're pulling out! Everybody retreat!"

"Go go go!"

"Requesting cover from artillery."

"Enemy tanks coming in fast."

"I'm here, where's the wounded?"

"This is second squad! Our CO's dead we need help now!"

"Drop ships are coming out, provide them with as much cover as you can!"

"Has anyone heard from first squad?"

"Artillery bombardment incoming! Brace yourselves!"

"Hold on! Second squad is still-"

"They're gone! Leave 'em!"

"He's stabilized, get him out of here!"

"This is Evac Three, I'm taking heavy ground fire!"

"Get them out of here Evac three!"

"Wait don't leave us!"

"Bring me the next patient!"

"This is the Evac squadron, we're pulling out. Anyone not onboard is getting left behind."

"Enemy is pushing forward! We need to go now!"

"Come on, don't die on me just yet."

"All ships take off now!"

"There's still people down here! I'm not leaving them behi-"

"Evac Two's been hit by enemy anti-air! No survivors reported!"

"This is Foxfire squadron; we have your back Evac."

"That's the last of them! Take off now!"

"Enemy fighters inbound!"

"This is Foxfire two three moving in to intercept."

"Foxfire four four moving to assist."

"Incoming missiles, deploy countermeasures!"

"I'm locked on, taking the shot."

"We lost Foxfire one six!"

"Three enemy fighters are going for the evac ships!"

"I'm on them! Give me some cover"

"There's too many of them!"

"Focus on keeping them off the evac ships!"

"This is Evac Three to Challenge, clear the hanger! We got wounded on board!"

"Evac One has been shot down! Repeat! Evac One has been shot down!"

"I'll make you bastards pay!"

"All remaining evac ships are docking now. Foxfire squadron pull out."

"Understoo-"

"Foxfire One has been shot down!"

"This is Challenge, we'll provide cover fire, get out of there!"

"We have to jump now!"

"Hanger control speaking, Evac squadron is on board."

"What's the status of Foxfire?"

"Half of the remaining fighters have boarded!"

"Preparing jump procedures!"

"We're taking fire!"

"Two class four warships approaching!"

"This is Hanger control, what's left of Foxfire is on board now!"

"Jumping in three, two, one."

"Engineering took a direct hit!"

"Cancel the jump!"

"Too late!"

Lelya Ren bolted upright as she broke a cold sweat. Her heart was thumped against her chest as she took a moment to calm down, looking around her room. It was modest by most standards she knew of having only a bed and drawer to hold her clothing. She stared at nothing for several minutes before she spoke. "Yinsi… you really need to stop doing that."

"Sorry, I just wanted to… you know…"

Lelya sighed as she contemplated what to say. "Just not in my sleep alright?"

"Ok. Sleep well."

She did consider it but glanced out the solitary window to judge the time of night. "Forget it, dawn's in an hour." She got up and dressed for the coming day. Grabbing only an apple for breakfast, Lelya went to her arc furnace. It looked rather humble despite the power it held. It was held in the front half of the wagon while the back half stored the goods and tools she used in her business. "Yinsi, is there enough power to start it up?"

"There should be. It was a windy night and the collectors should've gathered enough energy by now."

"Good, fire it up while I hook up the horse." The Arc began to hum as power began to flow through it, glowing softly in the dim light. The horse in the stalls backed away as usual to the unnatural device and once again Lelya had to calm it down before she hooked him up to the wagon.

It only took an hour to get to Nectra Village. Most foreigners would be amazed at the seamless blend of magic and technology this village has achieved. Local mages used fine-tuned lightning magic to power old book devices to prevent their knowledge from being stolen by a non-mage as guards armed with shields and swords walked along side those armed with old rifles that launched the searing light that mages have been trying for ages to master. Lelya could smell the bakery that used flame gems in its oven as the moving road slowly brought the dough through it, coming out at a perfect temperature. Despite the odd atmosphere of the village, it wasn't that uncommon in this region. Villages like this dotted the secluded landscape few could enter without passing through Nectra.

The blend of magic and technology wasn't the only odd thing most foreigners found odd about the village, but we'll get to that later.

Lelya set up her wagon at the edge of the marketplace as Yinsi continued to prepare it for the day. She was guiding her horse to the stalls when she heard a familiar voice. "Hey Ren. Been awhile." As she turned to see who was talking to her a smile grew on her face.

"Oh, hey Edison. I see you're back from the capital." Edison was a tall sort of man wearing a long grey cloak. He carried himself as if questioning the very air itself.

"Indeed I am. I'll be honest, it was a bit underwhelming."

"Yeah?" Edison sighed as he sat on a nearby stool.

"The complete distrust of technology made it difficult for me to spread my theories, and some guards even threatened to destroy everything I had if I didn't leave when I did." He shook his head in disappointment. "At least some scholars were willing to listen though."

"Give it time. Your family has been preaching the same thing for generations. Just be glad you're making some headway." He gave a weak smile.

"You're right, as usual. How's Yinsi?"

"Uh, pretty good, why do you ask?"

"Well it's rather strange that no one ever sees her with you, despite you being sisters." Lelya merely in response. "It's none of my business, I know, but that doesn't mean I'm not curious." Lelya sighed as if she didn't want to speak about it.

"Look it was before we moved here, an accident left her unable to walk on her own so she usually stays in the house so she's not a burden to me." Edison's face went from simple curiosity to being sorry he asked.

"Oh… sorry I didn't mean to…"

"It's fine, just don't tell anyone. It's not something we like to talk about."

"Of course. I'll stop taking up your time. It was pleasant talking to you again."

"Anytime Ed, try not to get punched today." He laughed on his way out of the stables as Lelya sighed. She hated having to lie to her friends. After collecting her thoughts, she left as well to start her exciting day of blacksmithing.

The furnace was burning hot by the time Lelya got there. "Did you really have to lie like that Lelya?" She rolled her eyes in annoyance.

"Oh shut up and keep the furnace running. Would you rather he knew the truth?" she said quietly.

"Fair enough."

A lone figure darted through the woods without a sound, guided only by instinct. A group of soldiers, prepared for anything they might run into, chased after the figure. It wasn't enough, but their hidden prey conceded that they weren't as easy to ditch as originally expected. Surprisingly, rather than split up to cover more ground, they stayed together in formation as to not be picked off one by one.

The advantage was theirs. They knew the forest, knew what lay in it, and they knew that even the most silent of prey could leave even subtle trails in not careful. The prey knew all of this, and did the one thing they would have never expected.

They never knew what hit them. The leader of the group paused the moment he sensed something was wrong, and that's when it all happened. In the blink of an eye, two of the six soldiers were taken down by the mysterious figure clad in black, a sword in one hand and claws protruding from its fingers of the other one, both dripping with blood. In their shock, the intruder managed to take down another soldier by viciously slashing at his face a single time with the obviously dangerous claws. The remaining three grouped together to shield each other from attack.

It wasn't enough.

The figure tossed a small round object that exploded in a blinding light, stunning the three remaining soldiers. They each felt a painful jab as the prey-turned-hunter lashed out with its claws and sword. It was over in less than a minute.

Later the group would wake up, injured but at least alive. Those who could move, and see without blood getting in their eyes, tried to tend to their wounds. Whatever they were tracking was long gone, the only proof of its existence were their wounds and a warning written on their leader's armor in their own blood. It sent chills down their spines:

I won't show mercy next time.

Lelya swept the sweat off her brow. Just being near her furnace was enough to make anyone sweat, but working with it was a different story. She was used to it to some extent, toiling at it day after day, but even so she had to take breaks every now and then so she doesn't overheat. She was hired to reinforce a dozen round shields by the town guard and that was not a process she enjoyed doing repeatedly.

She laid the shield she just finished working on next to the pile of her completed work. She still had four more to finish but she had more than enough time to take a short break to cool down and grab some water. As she left her cart alone a guard automatically walked over to make sure no one used any unwelcome 'discounts' while she was away.

Fortunately, the well wasn't too busy and it only took her a moment to get a bucket of fresh water. She took a long drink to cool down as a man approached the well. She was going to hand the bucket back, but before she had a chance the stranger dropped a small metal ball attached to a string. "You know you're not going to catch much with that bait," Lelya said amusedly, drawing a laugh from the man.

"I'm not fishing, I'm taking readings." That perked Lelya's curiosity. The village had all sorts of technological scrying devices to help learn about any new technology or detect enemies, but she'd never heard of someone tossing one into the well.

"What are you looking for then?"

"I'm just charting underground rivers, don't worry."

"Oh, so you're a scientist?" The man shook his head.

"No, but I'm travelling with one, and-"

"He doesn't feel it necessary to do such menial tasks himself?" Lelya finished for him. The man chuckled in response, pulling up the scrying device.

"Yeah, pretty much." Lelya paused for a moment at that reply, but shook it off. The stranger did give her a look but shrugged and pocketed the device. "I should get back to him before he starts wondering where I am. Nice meeting you ma'am."

"Yeah, you too…" Lelya studied him as he walked away, wondering where he was from. "Yinsi, you got that too right?"

"Yeah, should we follow him?"

"I wish, but work calls, but if he's staying in town overnight we'll find him."