Memories of Light
Anatami armor wasn't designed for stealth, but keeping to the high grass among the gentle hills of the Silver Crescents, Athena more than made due. The remnants of a civilization that had vanished before even her own had come to Lemuria dotted the landscape; once-elegant buildings and towers were strewn about as if they had been part of a lost settlement. She glanced over at another phenomenon here — a rock inscribed with some strange pattern that hovered in the air, just above the ground. What she was looking for was on the other side of that rock.
Athena reacted thanks to her training instinctively, swinging her glaive — just barely missing the shadow that emerged from behind her.
"Tss, you need to be more careful, girl." The shadow came into the light enough to reveal a woman with a tattered dress, covered in strange webbing and four bony insectoid legs protruding from her back. Arachne — the legendary monster under Lemuria's mountains. "I could have poisoned you before you had any time to figure out what was happening."
"I almost struck you, did I not? And that's despite letting you choose where to rendezvous." It was strange relying on Arachne for help, but Athena has been surprised by the other's willingness to help before, and she needed someone to watch her back during this mission.
"Almost. But I doubt the reason you sought me out was not a duel."
Athena gave a brief nod. "I have it on good authority that the strangers have detected a signal nearby. One of the altars has been activated." Her good authority was Li, but she wasn't about to reveal the mutual understanding the two of them had reached.
"And you want to claim whatever prize lies within before they do." There was an approving sound, like rapid clicks combined with raspiness, to Arachne's voice. "I will aid you in this hunt if you trust me even if I seem to act against our interests during the mission. My tactics are different from yours."
"I... will try." Of course, poker didn't exist where Athena came from, but there were other games of deception, and she knew she was terrible at all of them, whereas Arachne would likely excel.
"Very well," she said as the additional legs twitched, "lead the way."
Athena kept close to the ground as she followed her memorized path. A faint glow far away told her that the intel was correct and that they were headed in the right direction. That's when her focus was interrupted by a couple of loud bangs to her right — gunshots.
The Anatami warrior switched direction instantly and jumped over a fallen pillar and past some bushes. Two individuals clad in black but with a steel contraption covering most of their heads had pistols drawn and pointed against a young woman who looked completely out of breath. Valerie.
The momentum of her arrival carried over to a swing with the glaive. The blade hit the first one's metal headpiece and the second one's chest, knocking that one over. She grunted as she pulled the heavy weapon back into an overhead blow against the one on the ground. Before the remaining one had time to fire a bullet towards her, a pair of swirling purple darts shot past her and took that one down.
"Thank... you..." Valerie was still trying to catch her breath.
"You can thank me later. Who were those people? More of your kind?"
"No! I mean, yeah. I guess they're from Earth, judging by that techy stuff. But I think they'd rather assimilate me than befriend me."
Athena raised an eyebrow. "Assimilate?"
"They're cyborgs, I think — part human, mostly machine. And there's a whole bunch of them up by the divination nexus!"
"I assume you're referring to the awakened altar." Athena poked the bodies, trying to work out their weak spots. "What do you know of it?"
"It came online last night and sent ripples in the weave all over the place. No idea why yet. How do you know about it?"
"The Silver Crescents are known to hold power, so I patrol the area often."
Valerie didn't look like she believed the half-truth but let it be. "Ich verstehe."
The bushes rustled, but Athena placed a calming hand on Valerie's shoulder as Arachne emerged.
"I see you found us a companion." The arrival took in the scene. "All part of the plan?" There was a lecturing hint in her tone.
"Valerie is now. These machine people are guarding the altar, which means we might need all three of us to get to it."
"If you think so." Arachne studied the aspiring wizard who was twirling her wand. "And while you entertained yourself here, I scouted ahead. There are indeed more of these. I planted a poison trap to clear a passage for us to get close."
Athena held her glaive at the ready and kicked one of the cyborgs. "Lead the way," she said, mimicking Arachne's words from earlier.
The closer they got, the clearer it was that these strangers had been there long enough to set up a perimeter. Simple covers had been set up, all carrying a symbol Athena hadn't seen before. Whoever this group was, they weren't WARD, and she would have much preferred the serpent she knew over the one she didn't.
It turned out the light she had assumed came from the altar didn't. A couple of lights were placed in the area, and they surrounded a cannon the size of a shed. She made a couple of quick hand gestures to tell Arachne to stay down and quiet. A glare towards Valerie on her other side would have to do to convey the same thing. The latter rolled her eyes but still got the point.
Five of those in black were present, one of which was having a hushed conversation with a blonde woman in what probably constituted more regular clothing for this 'Earth.' The large pocket on her toolbelt carried the same strange symbol as the barriers from earlier. No doubt she was the leader and unsuccessfully trying to give instructions on operating the enormous weapon. Which gave them an opportunity.
"Witch," she whispered, "I need to you lock them down while Arachne —" She went quiet as she noticed that the spider was gone. "B'delyos!" It was annoying to have to whisper even the curse word.
"You can say that again. You think she wants the nexus to herself?" Valerie held one of her charms in her left hand and her wand in the right, ready to go.
"I do not know. But if we wait, I fear we might lose the altar to these things if not to her. As such, the strategy stands. Target those away from the cannon and hold them in place as long as you can. I'll keep them occupied enough for you to destroy the thing."
Valerie scrunched her face in annoyance. "Why would I know how to take the thing apart?"
"Dispel its power source. I believe in you."
"It's not a — Fine. I'll figure it out."
"Count to four, then cast your spell."
Athena moved quickly but silently into position. As soon as she saw the purple magic energies reaching up from the ground to curse her targets, she launched herself in the air with a giant leap, swinging her glaive above her. With an angry battle cry, Athena hit the ground amongst the four next to her. Her weapon struck all four of them and made sure she was between them and the cannon. Adrenaline filled her blood instantly, and she could feel every muscle pumping as she dodged a couple of salvos of bullets. The polearm managed to knock one of the enemies into a nearby rock with a heavy thud! Another one might have managed to injure her leg before being a forceful stab ended their efforts. This dance of the bladed staff was dangerous, but Athena grinned through the pain and managed to hit both of the remaining ones in one powerful motion.
In the corner of her eye, Athena saw Valerie next to the cannon. The witch was blasting magical energy into its controls, but she didn't seem to know the danger she was in. One of the enemy warriors was in between them, taking aim; another one was sneaking up on her from behind. But worst of all, Athena spotted Arachne about to emerge from the bushes.
Athena ran forward, striking the enemy between them in the back as she yelled, "watch out, Witch!"
Just as Valerie looked up in confusion, a puff of sticky green smoke surrounded the remaining enemy who was sneaking up on her. One of Arachne's poisonous pods. The woman herself lept forwards as her claws grew longer, her back legs extended spines, and she was even less of a human than usual. She planted her claws in the chest of her victim and threw them to the ground. As her extra limbs stabbed downwards, she looked at Athena with a hiss. "I sssaid, trussst..."
Breaking the moment, the machine let out a final series of sparks and sounds of metal being bent out of shape. "Ah. The old 'turning it off and off again' worked." Valerie blew some smoke away from her wand.
"Where is the blonde one?" Athena looked around.
"No idea. She managed teleport or cloak or something. I focused on destroying this thing!"
Athena walked up to the small elevated pavilion that was the altar. All around were glyphs that lit up as she stepped onto the area. The light seemed ever more intense, and she could barely see her two allies as they approached.
Suddenly, Athena felt like her world was an explosion of light — not just visually! She could hear the light, taste it, touch it! Because the light was not just light — it was memories of some who had lived here long ago.
And in those memories, there was a point of light that called out to her. A memory she needed.