As the assassin's blade started to descend towards his throat, Skyler closed his eyes and drew forth all the mana from his surroundings. He quickly focused the mana into his right hand, heat blazing through his body as he did so. Then with a swift jerk of his body and arm, he created a solid barrier between him and the blade. There was a brilliant flash of scarlet light as the blade struck the barrier.
As the light faded, the assassin stepped back quickly, dazed by the brilliant display of elemental ability. Skyler seized the opportunity and scrambled to his feet, and grabbed Flamtelos from where it had fallen just after the assassin's attack began. There was a rasp of metal on leather as Skyler drew the exotic red and black toned blade from its sheath. Then he brought the blade up into a defensive stance, and watched for his opponent's next move.
By then the assassin had recovered from the blinding light and he turned to look at Skyler. He saw a brief flicker of shock and anger in those pale, green eyes, and a slight movement under the face mask that indicated a clenched jaw, before the assassin brought his own blade up. It was only when the he had the sword up that the assassin realized the extent of the damaged caused by Skyler's elemental block... the upper quarter of the blade had melted, leaving a mass of rapidly cooling metal that made the weapon look more like a club than a edged weapon. The shock was evident on the assailant's face, even if all of it except the eyes were wrapped in a jet black mask.
Skyler let out a quick laugh, "Not so tough now that you've lost your weapon are you?" he asked. The assassin didn't make any sign of acknowledgment as he stood there with the ruined sword. Finally, the assassin let the weapon drop. As it clattered to the floor, Skyler relaxed his stance a little, believing that he now had the upper hand.
It was a mistake that nearly cost him his life. The assassin suddenly sprung forward, producing a dagger from what seemed like thin air, and thrust the weapon towards Skyler's chest. Skyler barely managed to sidestep the attack and bring his own blade to bear before the assassin swung the blade backhanded at neck level. There was a clash of steel as the two blades crossed, the sound echoing throughout the massive room they were in.
The assassin continued a merciless barrage of stabs, sweeps, thrusts, and jabs; and it took all of Skyler's concentration and agility to parry the blows. Finally, as the assassin stepped in for another strike, Skyler sidestepped and dropped to the ground, using his right leg to sweep the assassin's feet out from under him. The assailant fell flat on his back, giving Skyler the opportunity he needed; Skyler closed the distance and quickly brought his sword up, ready to end the fight with one downward strike...
But all of a sudden, a column of water erupted from the ground at Skyler's feet, sending him flying backwards across the room. He landed in a heap up against a column and lay there, knocked senseless by the sudden elemental attack. A water elemental? he thought as he struggled to rise to his feet, but how did I not sense it? Who is this person?
Skyler finally managed to stand, his legs still shaky from the impact. "Who are you?" he yelled, "Why are you attacking me?" The assassin, who was already on his feet by then, turned and stared at him with those green eyes, and when the figure spoke, Skyler realized that his assailant was a woman.
"Skyler," she said, her voice as icy as a grave, "you honestly don't know who I am?" Before Skyler could answer, the assassin removed her mask and sent it sliding across the floor, and also pulled down the hood of her dark robe, revealing her dark raven hair. Skyler noticed all of this, but it was the woman's face that stopped him... when he finally realized her identity, he was hit with a wave of flashbacks from his childhood, of his time at the academy, of the girl who he had grown up with...
"C... Claire?" He whispered, his throat suddenly dry, "Claire, but... why?" He didn't get any further as Claire hit him with another elemental attack, the wall of water hit him so hard that he felt one of his ribs crack under the force while at the same time all the air was forced out of his lungs. Skyler collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath as Claire spoke again. "Pathetic," she hissed, her voice now dripping with venom, "to think that I used to be associated with a weakling such as you." Skyler took a shallow breath, "Claire," he gasped, "what happened to you?" Claire let out a shrieking laugh as she stepped forward and delivered a kick to Skyler's injured ribs.
"What do you think happened? I've finally achieved my full potential thanks to Emperor Sardonis, and he has offered me a place at his side. All I have to do is kill you and the rest of your worthless companions!" She stepped away and turned her back to him as he lay there holding his side, "And to think that I once sought to prevent my lord from securing his rightful throne. Well I'll make up for my ignorance by finishing you off here and now!"
She turned around and raised her palm towards Skyler as he got to his feet, building up mana for a final attack. Skyler could now sense the magnitude of the power Claire now wielded, and looking into her eyes, he knew that the girl he had grown up with was gone, replaced by an evil being that was bent on killing him and his comrades. He couldn't let that happen. He forced his eyes shut and focused, calling forth all of the mana he had left and compressed it. He felt the life force of his environment become elemental energy, and once again felt heat rushing throughout his exhausted body... "DIE!" Claire yelled as she unleashed her concentrated energy, the compressed water rushed forth in a massive column, ready to crush Skyler under its weight.
Skyler saw the attack and channeled his accumulated energy into his blade. Flamtelos ignited with crimson flames as the mana poured in. Skyler let out a yell as he swung the flaming blade with all his strength; Steam erupted into existence as water and fire collided, followed by an explosion as the energy of the two attacks destabilized. The shockwave sent both Claire and Skyler flying. Skyler landed hard on his back, sending lances of pain shooting throughout his already beaten body. He gripped his sword tightly and used it to haul himself to his feet, shaking his head clear as he looked around for Claire.
He spotted her slowly getting to her feet, clutching her side as she did so with one arm while the other hung limply at her side, broken. She looked at him, her face contorted with pain and fury. Skyler shakily raised his sword again, waiting for her to attack again, but instead she pointed at him and said, "You may have won this time, Skyler, but I swear that the next time I see you, I won't stop until you die by my blade."
With that she turned and ran, her footsteps echoing off the walls of the temple. Skyler started to pursue, but instead he collapsed in a heap as the last of his energy faded. "Claire!" he yelled, his voice barely carrying across the room, "Claire... why?" and with that, Skyler closed his eyes as unconsciousness seized him...
The hallway was dark, all the torches that had been lit when they had gotten here were extinguished, and it was quiet, almost like a tomb. The sound of running echoed off of the walls and into the shadows as a lone figure made its way towards the temple observatory. At the doorway leading to the entrance staircase, it stopped and crouched to the side.
The figure looked around carefully before pulling her hood down, uncovering her shoulder length blonde hair and revealing her youthful face punctuated by her bright blue eyes. Before she proceeded she spoke into a communicator strapped to her wrist. "Chris?" she said, "This is Rebecca, I'm close to the archive now, and I'm going to take a look."
"No." a male voice answered, "Wait for us to get there first." Rebecca let out a sigh of frustration before she replied. "Look," she said, "We have searched this entire place, and the only person who hasn't checked in is Skyler, and this is where he said he was heading. Now I'm going in because we need to find him, you and the others just hurry and catch up." With that Rebecca closed the channel and slowly made her way up the staircase.
At the top she peered into the massive room that was the observatory. The room was supported by majestic sculpted pillars and extravagant arches. The floor was made of clay tiles and the walls were solid granite. Torches set into the walls lit the room, casting everything in an orange glow. As she made her way inside, Rebecca couldn't help but marvel at the beautiful architecture as she searched about for Skyler. She had just stopped to study a shelf of ancient books when out of the corner of her eye, Rebecca saw a collapsed pillar surrounded by a mass of standing water. 'How odd,' she thought, 'this part of the temple is still intact, there shouldn't be any water in here.' She focused her mind and reached out to her surroundings and was shocked not by what she felt, but what she didn't feel. There was hardly any mana in the room, its absence leaving a heavy and... cold, was the best way to describe it, feeling to the room. "Something is wrong here." she said to herself. She put down the book in her hands and cautiously walked over to the debris. As she rounded the mass of crushed stone, she stopped dead...
There, illuminated by the torchlight, a figure in a crimson cloak was lying face down a few feet away from the edge of the water. A cold lump formed in the bottom of Rebecca's stomach. "Oh no..." She said as she ran over and dropped down next to the body and rolled it face up. When she did her worst fears became reality.
Skyler's eyes were closed, his skin was pale and cold to the touch, and a thin trickle of blood flowed freely from the corner of his mouth. "Skyler!" she yelled as she shook him, her voice cracking slightly, "Skyler! Wake up!" There was no response, no fluttering of eyelids, no twitch of a muscle, nothing. In a panic now, she put her ear to his chest, listening for a heartbeat and for breathing. Nothing. "Oh, god... no... NO!" she cried as she started CPR on Skyler, frantically trying to revive him. "Skyler, no, you can't die on me! Do you hear me?" She said as she counted the compressions; One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten... She put her mouth to his and gave him two breaths, then repeated.
She put her ear to his chest again; still no vitals. Tears started streaking down Rebecca's face as she started another round of compressions. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten. "Sky... please don't die... please don't leave me." She sobbed as she continued to try to bring Skyler back. "Just open your eyes and say that you won't leave me."
But Skyler's eyes remained closed.
It was faint at first... just a low buzz at the edge of his awareness, but it was enough to rouse Skyler's exhausted mind. Moving at an agonizingly slow rate, he began to edge his way towards consciousness. As his mind reconnected with the rest of his body, he was hit by a massive wave of pain that threatened to push him back into a coma, but it passed after a moment and a feeling of total numbness took hold of his weakened body.
The noise that he had heard had grown into a coherent voice. "Skyler!" it called, "Just hold on..." It took a moment before Skyler recognized the voice. 'Rebecca. When did she get here, and why is she telling me to hold on?' He was hurt, he knew this, but the desperation was becoming clear in Rebecca's voice. It was this that made Skyler realize that he wasn't just hurt... he was dying.
"Skyler!" Rebecca's voice echoed through his head again, broken by half chocked sobs, "Please... please don't give up. You have to fight... you have to pull through! You can't just leave me!" Skyler continued to claw his way out of the darkness, desperate to escape death's grip. Then before he knew it he saw a dim light appear, and it slowly became brighter and brighter as he fought his way back to consciousness...
Rebecca gave Skyler another two breaths and started another round of compressions. She had no idea how long she had been at it, and didn't care as she counted to herself. After ten, she checked Skyler once again for a pulse, a breath, any sign of life. Still nothing. "DAMMIT!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, the sound of her cry echoing throughout the observatory. Fresh tears burst from her eyes and she buried her head in Skyler's chest, her body shaking with each sob. She had failed. She had let Skyler die in front of her.
"Why?" She sobbed as she gave another breath and started compressing, even though she knew it was pointless. "Why did it have to be Skyler? Why was it him and not me?" she asked of nobody in particular. "It's my fault... it's all my fault." She gave one last compression and then sat back, sobbing uncontrollably. But then, all of a sudden, Skyler took a shallow, rasping breath, and Rebecca's heart leapt. Was she imagining this? But after a few seconds, his chest began rising and falling in a slow pattern, and she knew she wasn't hallucinating when Skyler's eyelids fluttered slightly then slowly opened.
"Skyler!" she yelled as she leaned over him once again, "Skyler! Can you hear me? Don't try to move, you're hurt pretty badly." Skyler tried to reply, but all he could manage was a dull moan. "Shhhh." She said, putting a slender finger to his lips while she searched her pack for syringe of painkiller, "Don't try to talk either, you need to save your strength, but don't worry I'm here." Skyler took the advice and remained quiet. When she turned back around, his eyes were closed, but he was breathing steadily, asleep.
Rebecca gave a sigh of relief as she administered the pain killer. He was alive; she had managed to save him. 'Thank the heavens' she thought. With Skyler stabilized, she decided to call the rest of the team. She opened the mike and took a breath to calm herself before speaking, "Rebecca to Chris, respond."
"Rebecca?" Chris replied, his rapid breathing suggested that he was running, "What is it? Did you find Skyler?"
"Yes," she replied, "Hurry it up, he is in bad shape. He had no vitals when I found him, but I managed to revive him. We have got to get him out of here." There was a pause over the channel, and Rebecca thought she had lost the signal. Then she heard footsteps coming up the stairs behind her, and in a flash she had drawn the sword she had on her side and stood in front of Skyler's prone form. If whoever had fought Skyler had come back to finish the job, they would have to get through her first.
"Rebecca, relax its just us." Chris' voice announced as he stepped into the light, his hand held up in a soothing gesture. Following behind him were Mark, Julia, Rain, and Jaylon, all of whom had their personal weapons drawn. At the realization that there was no threat they casually put up their blades. Rebecca gave an embarrassed smile as she lowered her blade.
Chris gave her a smile of his own before turning to the others. "Rain, Jay, get a stretcher while I help Rebecca get Skyler ready to move. The rest of you spread out and see if there is anything valuable to salvage." The others moved off to their assigned tasks, Rain and Jay unfolding a stretcher and preparing it for use while Mark and Julia moved throughout the book shelves, skimming through the ancient texts and occasionally packing one away with extreme care. Satisfied that everything was under control, Chris turned back and knelt down next to Rebecca as she prepared him to be moved, but stopped as something caught his eye.
He walked over to another damaged pillar, where an object lay. Chris bent down and picked it up, and it took him a moment to realize that it was a black face mask. 'Skyler doesn't wear a mask,' He thought to himself, 'this must belong to whoever attacked him...' Chris quickly tucked the mask into the webbing of his armor. There would be time to investigate the mask later, but for now he had to help get Skyler out of here. 'First, we get Sky out of here," He told himself as he walked back over to squat down by Rebecca, 'then we track down whoever did this. And make them pay...'
He was dreaming. Skyler could tell that the world around him was an illusion. Everything was slightly blurred and he felt like he was watching himself from an outsider's view. The scene before him seemed to be a dimly lit passage way. He could hear himself breathing slowly as he quietly walked, and he could feel the rough texture of the stone as he slid his hand along the wall as well as smell the musty odor of a place long abandoned.
All of this brought a strange sense of deja vu. Had he been here before? Just then Skyler felt his head turn sharply to look behind him, and he felt his left hand readjust his sheath so that Flamtelos was in a position that would allow him to draw his blade quickly. Skyler continued to observe from his odd viewpoint as his head turned back to look ahead of him, still wrestling with the feeling that he had done this before.
He climbed a flight of stairs and found himself in an old archive. Shelves upon shelves of ancient scrolls were arranged around the room in perfect rows with a staircase leading to a higher floor at the back of the room. As he slowly made his way towards the staircase, Skyler felt fear grip his consciousness as he realized that he had been here before. He realized that this wasn't just a dream, but a memory.
Everything seemed to speed up as Skyler, still a prisoner to this sleep induced memory, watched as he made his passed between two massive columns. Then he stopped dead. He had heard something; footsteps? Yes, definitely footsteps, a faint, rhythmic tap tap tap sound that echoed throughout the silent room. His eyes slowly scanned the room looking for movement... then the footsteps stopped. Skyler's senses suddenly screamed a warning at him, and he spun around, his right hand already going for his sword...
Everything slowed to a crawl now. Skyler completed his turn just in time to see a person in a black robe lunge toward him, a sword in their right hand. Skyler tried to draw his blade, but he was too slow; the cloaked figure slashed downward with its sword, missing flesh but cutting clear through Skyler's belt. The belt began to fall from Skyler's waist just as his attacker brought their blade back around for another attack. The blade connected with the pommel of his sword with a savage jolt, knocking it out of Skyler's hand. Skyler watched in horror as his sword slid away, finally coming to a halt a few meters from him.
All of this occurred within a couple of seconds, then time sped up once again as Skyler played through the memory. He watched himself from a spectators view as he dodged swipe after swipe, trying to find a way to go on the attack. Then he saw himself trip as he ducked under a high sweep, falling flat on his back. Then he saw his attacker as they raised their sword, ready to end his life.
Skyler felt his heartbeat speed up. He knew this was a dream but it didn't stop his reaction as he watched the memory flash by at such speed that most of the details were lost; but then the memory slowed down again when the assassin revealed her identity. A wave of pure emotion hit Skyler so hard that the memory was washed away in the blink of an eye. 'Claire!' he cried, his anguished voice echoing throughout his mind, 'Why Claire? Why did you attack me?!'
Skyler awoke to somebody shaking him. He opened his eyes and saw Chris and Rebecca standing over him, both with frightened looks on their faces. "It's okay Sky. It's okay." Chris said, placing his hand gently, but firmly, on Skyler's chest, "You're safe, we brought you back to the ship. You're okay."
Skyler looked around quickly as he tried to calm his rapid breathing. He was in an infirmary that was for sure, there were beds and medical supplies all around them. Then he felt the reassuring thrum of engines and finally calmed down, this wasn't another dream, this was real. He sighed and shrugged Chris away as he sat up, pausing to rub his throbbing temples.
"How are you feeling?" Rebecca asked, her voice full of concern. Skyler turned to look at her. She looked as if she hadn't had any sleep at all. There were dark circles underneath her brilliant blue eyes. Her eyes themselves seemed to be slightly bloodshot, as if she had been crying, and her hair was unkempt as if she had tried to sleep but failed in the attempt.
"Im fine." Skyler said, as he slowly sat the rest of the way up, "Thanks." Rebecca's whole demeanor relaxed slightly, and then he could see tears forming in her eyes again. He started to ask her if she was okay when she stepped forward and flung her arms around him in a tight embrace.
Skyler was caught off guard by the action and he looked at Chris, who simply shook his head slightly and gave him his I'll tell you later look. So Skyler put his arms around Rebecca and held her until she finally released her grip on him. "Don't you ever scare me like that again, Skyler." She said, her voice wavering slightly as if she might burst out sobbing, but then she took a deep breath as she collected herself. "You came way too close to dying on m-, I mean us." Her face reddened slightly and Skyler caught Chris grin slightly out of the corner of his eye.
A slightly awkward silence settled in the infirmary before Rebecca spoke again, her cheeks still slightly red, "Well, um, seeing as your awake, I'm going to go see if Jaylon needs help deciphering those scrolls we recovered." She walked quickly out of the room and disappeared around the corner at the end of the hall.
Chris walked to the door and placed his hand on the wall panel to close it. When he turned around he still had that half grin on his face. "She has not left this room since we brought you back to the ship." He said as he sat down on one of the chairs next to Skyler's bed.
"How long have I been out?" Skyler asked as he stretched his aching muscles, it was going to take some intense training to get them properly sorted. "How bad was I?"
"Pretty bad," Chris said, still sitting in the chair, "when Rebecca found you in the temple archive, you weren't breathing nor did you have a pulse." He got up as Skyler struggled to stand up, and reached out to help him into a standing position. Once Skyler finally had his balance, he continued, "She spent around ten minutes giving you CPR in order to bring you back. I don't know what she sees in you, but apparently she likes it, whatever it is." He winked at Skyler and then burst out laughing.
Skyler, however felt his face redden as he realized what Chris' jibe meant, and that caused Chris to laugh even harder. "Man, you have got to get out more," he said as he walked over to a locker and opened it, "It's not every day that an attractive girl saves your life then spends over a day by your side, waiting for you to wake up."
Skyler winced, the standard day in the Protectorate was twenty-seven hours, so he had been unconscious for a while. It didn't matter, he was alive and that was all that mattered. Chris finished rummaging in the locker then closed it. He turned and tossed a set of dark blue fatigues to Skyler. "Whenever you're ready, come find us in the commons." Chris said as he opened the door, "Then you can tell us what you can remember about the attack."
He left and the door closed behind him, leaving Skyler alone in the infirmary. After a few moments of stretching, he slowly shrugged out of the medical garment he was wearing and put on the ill- fitting fatigues. 'I think I'll stop by my quarters first.' He thought as he left the infirmary.
As he walked to his quarters, he was hit again by the reality that it had been Claire who had attacked him. 'Why Claire?' He asked for the thousandth time as he entered his quarters and found some of his own clothes, 'Why did you attack me? What did that monster Sardonis do to you?' His mind continued to ask the question over and over as he finished donning his clothes and a black cloak. He finally decided that it would be best to discuss this with the others before he speculated any further.
Rebecca sat in the commons, reading a book that she had put down some time ago and tryed to fully banish her embarrassment from her awareness. She had made herself look foolish in the infirmary and now she was worried that Skyler would hold it against her. Chris wasn't helping either, ever since he had joined her in the commons he kept giving her a mischievous grin then laughing under his breath. Thats why she had started reading, so that she wouldn't have to look at him. 'However,' she thought to herself as she heard Chris snicker again, 'I am going to get back at him...'
The sound of the door opening interrupted her revenge plotting, and when she looked up she gasped a little despite herself. Skyler silently and casually entered the room. Clad in his usual attire of gray and red clothing with a black cloak he walked towards a chair opposite of her and Chris; although Rebecca saw that he was limping slightly. He also had a deep frown on his face as he sat down, as if he was in deep thought about something that bothered him.
Chris cleared his throat and Skyler seemed to snap out of it. "Are you feeling better now?" Chris asked as he leaned forward in his seat, "Do you think you can tell us what happened?"
Rebecca closed her book and looked expectantly at Skyler. Like the others, she was anxious to hear what had happened to leave Skyler in such a state. Skyler seemed to struggle for a moment, almost as if he didn't want to but then he nodded and said quietly, "Yes. Get everyone in here, everyone needs to hear this."
Chris nodded and called everyone together. After a few minutes, and everyone was seated and listening, he nodded at Skyler and said, "Okay, tell us what happened."
Skyler looked at all of them and took a deep breath, "I'm just going to get to the point; When I entered the archive I was attacked by an assassin." Julia let out a small gasp and Jaylon muttered something under his breath, Rain and Mark stayed silent but it was clear that they were listening intently. Rebecca stayed silent too, she was expecting that, but the tone of Skyler's voice hinted that the worst was coming.
Skyler continued, describing the fight up to the point where he had asked the assassin the reason for the attack. At this point he paused, taking another deep breath before continuing. "After I asked that question," he said, his voice cracking slightly, "the assassin revealed their identity to me..." Skyler paused again, and he lowered his head. When he looked up again, there were tears in his eyes.
It was Mark who asked the unavoidable question, "Skyler, who was it? Come on, we can handle it. Just tell us who." Skyler looked at Mark, then at the rest of them. His gaze fell on Rebecca, and in that split second she saw the tremendous pain in his eyes...
"The person who attacked me..." Skyler continued, his voice cracking slightly as a single tear escaped his eye, "was Claire. It was Claire who nearly killed me."
A heavy silence filled the room, with everyone trying to absorb what they had just heard. Julia gasped and put a hand to her mouth. Jaylon and Mark looked at one another and shook their heads slowly. Rain just closed her eyes and leaned her head back. Chris just sat there, too shocked to react.
Rebecca just sat there as well, the shock and horror stunning her. When the moment passed, she had to say something. "Skyler... a-are you s-sure?" She asked finally, her voice was shaky, hoping that she had just heard wrong, "Claire is our friend. She would never try to harm one of us, least of all you. I mean, you two grew up together after all."
Skyler looked at her again, his face drained of color. "I know." He said, as he shifted his gaze to stare at his hands, "But that doesn't change anything. Claire tried to kill me and she said that once she was done with me, she would be coming for the rest of you." He got up and walked to the far side of the room, towards the door, "So I just thought all of you needed to know." With that Skyler vanished through the doorway, leaving Rebecca and the others in the commons.
Rebecca looked at Chris, who had a very dark expression on his face. "What are we going to do Chris?" She asked.
Chris remained silent for a moment before replying. "I don't know Rebecca," he said quietly, "I really don't."
After the meeting broke up, Rebecca and Chris went to find Skyler. They found him in his room, cleaning his weapons and armor. "Skyler?" Rebecca said cautiously, she knew how close he had been to Claire, so he must be taking this hard, "We need to talk."
Skyler put down the cloth he was holding and carefully sheathed his blade. He didn't reply, but simply nodded and waved them in. He then pointed to two chairs in which Rebecca and Chris sat down. Once seated, Chris spoke first, "Are you alright, Sky?"
Skyler, picked up of his gauntlets and examined it. "I'd be lying if I said yes." He finally said, his voice was still shaky, he was taking it hard alright.
"What are we going to do?" Chris continued, careful to keep his voice neutral. He didn't want to upset Skyler anymore than Rebecca did, but this situation demanded action.
"Simple," Skyler replied, placing the gauntlet on his cot with the other pieces of his armor, "We keep going. We have to find the Vault of the Guardians. Sardonis is searching for it, of that much I'm certain now. We can't let him get to it first." His voice had solidified into cold, hard resolve, and Rebecca couldn't tell if Skyler was just trying to hide his feelings or not.
"What about Claire?" She asked. No sense stepping around the issue. Skyler had been real close to Claire, and she needed to know what he intended to do, because she had a sick feeling that they would have to face her again soon enough.
"Sardonis did something to her," Skyler said, "the woman I fought was not the Claire I knew. He had to have done something to her. What that is or was, I don't know, but I intend to find out; and when I do I'm going to find a way to save her." Rebecca looked Skyler in the eye and she could see the fire in his eyes. This wasn't about duty anymore. It was personal, and she knew that Skyler would go to the ends of the galaxy if needed to set things right.
"But what if she can't be saved?" Chris asked suddenly, although his voice was barely a whisper, "What do we do then? Because if she's truly gone rogue, then she might go on to hurt innocent people."
Skyler didn't reply, he just stood up, donned his armor, and clipped his sword to his belt, instantly becoming the Skyler that Rebecca knew. The fearless, indomitable warrior whose sole purpose was to protect others. 'This is the Skyler I know.' she thought to herself, as she watched him adjust the armor, 'this is the Skyler that I would follow anywhere and give anything for.'
Skyler, finished with the adjustments, lowered his head for a few moments, and Rebecca began wondering if he was praying. Finally, after a few more moments, Skyler looked up at Chris and spoke, "If that is the case..." he said, his voice showing no weakness at all now, only resolve and purpose, "then I'm going to stop her, by any means necessary."
The next day, Skyler was up well before sunrise. He had too many things on his mind to sleep any longer, so he had decided to start his training routine early before the others, especially Rebecca, woke up.
Skyler smiled slightly as he walked out of the ship into the cool, moist morning air and made his way across the clearing to where Chris and Mark had made a crude training ground. Ever since he had regained consciousness after his fight with Claire, Rebecca had been following him around like a second shadow, making sure he didn't, in her words, 'strain himself'.
She had even stopped him from training the previous day. He had started to leave for the clearing when Rebecca and Jaylon had stopped him. 'You aren't fully recovered yet,' Jaylon had told him, 'there could still be injuries and bleeding that the medications haven't healed yet, and a work out only risks further damage to your body.'
Skyler had protested at first but Rebecca wouldn't have any of it. 'No,' she had told him firmly, 'you have to rest; you won't do anybody any good if you kill yourself by being stubborn.' If it were another time and person, Skyler would've been annoyed by such actions, but he knew Rebecca was just worried about him so he had let it slide. Instead of training, he had spent the day resting and deciphering the scrolls that they recovered from the temple archives. Unfortunately, though full of interesting facts about the history and structure of the old elemental empire, it had not mentioned the Vault of the Guardians in any way. Skyler hadn't been surprised, but he was still frustrated by it, they had to find the vault if they wanted to find Sardonis
The thought of Claire snapped Skyler's mind back to the present. If he was going to get her back he had to get stronger, and that meant training. With that thought, he started his routine. He started with basic exercises, knocking out five hundred push-ups and crunches with relative ease. Next he moved onto his unarmed combat drills; lashing out at the padded targets with lightning fast punches, jabs, uppercuts, chops, and kicks. Despite the cool morning, it wasn't long before he had worked up a good sweat. He continued practicing and honing his technique until the sun finally appeared in the distant horizon.
Next it was time to train his elemental abilities. In all honesty it was this part of his training that was always difficult for Skyler. It was all the required focus that made it hard, Skyler knew that he had a tendency to try and focus on everything around him at once, a tendency that could get an elemental seriously injured or worse. With that in mind, Skyler closed his eyes and slowed his breathing like he had been trained to since he could remember and reached out to his surroundings. It wasn't long before he felt the familiar warming sensation of mana flowing into his body. Next he pictured the mana becoming pure elemental energy and gathering in his left palm
Skyler winced slightly as a sudden wave of heat washed over his upper body. Then in one fluid movement, he opened his eyes and thrust his hand, palm open and facing out, at the nearest target. The post was suddenly hit by a massive fireball that instantly set it ablaze with a low but audible boom. Skyler, however, didn't stop with his first move as he used the remaining mana he had to create a protective screen of flame just like he would if he were fighting multiple opponents. After maintaining the screen for a few moments he redirected the energy outward and engulfed another target in a jet of flame.
Finally Skyler walked over to stand between the two posts. Ignoring the heat, Skyler held his hands out and focused on absorbing the energy from the flames. Nothing happened at first, but slowly the flames began to sputter as they were drained of their energy. Finally, the flames vanished along with any heat that had come with them. Skyler slowly lowered his arms and took a deep breath; it was only then that he noticed his rapid heartbeat and that his arms were shaking.
'That took more out of me than I thought it would have,' Skyler thought as he sat down to take a break. He looked out across the clearing and admired the scenery. It was getting close to midday now and he still had sword practice and his five mile run to do, but when he stood up he still felt a little breathless.
"Maybe I should skip the run for today." Skyler said aloud as he took a long drink from his canteen.
"You know I think that's the first smart idea you've had today." Skyler turned around to see Rain leaning against a tree a few meters away along with Rebecca. Skyler silently cursed to himself before waving them over. They were probably going to lecture him about training before he had completely recovered or something similar.
"So, how long have you two been out here?" He asked casually as they approached, wanting to get the lecture over as quickly as possible.
Rebecca smiled ever so slightly before answering. "Oh," she said, "ever since you started, you can't fool me and Rain, Sky. We knew you would be stubborn and sneak out early, so instead of wasting our time trying to stop you, we just followed you out to keep an eye on you."
Skyler just shook his head as he started a small fire and pulled a pack of tea and pot from a bag he had brought with him. "Well, I guess I can't argue the point about me being stubborn." He said as he started a fire and hung the pot over it for the tea to brew. His two companions burst out with laughter and Skyler laughed with them.
Rain continued to laugh as she fixed her long brown hair into a simple ponytail. "Yeah," she said, "Claire always did say that you were one of the most stubborn people in the galaxy." Silence dominated for a few moments after the mention of Claire. Skyler felt a stab of pain at the mention of her but he knew that he needed to get over such a pointless reaction if he wanted to rescue her. So he intended to keep the conversation going.
"She is one to talk," Skyler said with another laugh, "in all the time that I've known that girl, I've never been able to tell her anything once she had made up her mind about something." Rain and Rebecca nodded in response; they both knew how stubborn Claire was. It was, in fact, one of her key qualities as far as they were concerned.
"But I have to admit," Skyler continued as he checked the tea, "that stubbornness is one of the things that made her the person she wa-" he paused, and Rebecca saw him swallow hard and blink rapidly, as if he were holding back tears, "Is." Skyler finally concluded after a moment as he poured the tea for the three of them.
They sat in silence as they drank their tea. Rebecca had no idea what Skyler added to it, but she loved the sweet tang that his tea always seemed to have. She was on her second cup when Rain cleared her throat. "Skyler," she began hesitantly, "can I ask you a
personal question?" Rebecca quickly glanced at her closest friend, fighting back a wave of unexpected jealousy as she did so. She also glanced back at Skyler, who just tilted his head and raised an eyebrow slightly.
"Depends on how personal," he said carefully, "what's on your mind, Rain?" He leaned forward slightly to rest his chin on his hands, no doubt wondering where the conversation was going. Rebecca leaned forward slightly as well, her curiosity getting the better of her.
Rain took a breath as if she were struggling to find the correct words. "Well," she started, "I was wondering if, um, you wouldn't mind telling us how you and Claire met. You've never really mentioned it other than to make it clear that you two grew up with each other." Rebecca was slightly shocked, everyone knew that Skyler didn't like to talk about his past at all; as a heavy silence settled between them, Rebecca thought that the question had upset Skyler.
"Well, that certainly is personal." Skyler said after a few more seconds, and Rebecca was surprised yet relieved that she didn't hear any anger in his words, just shock more than anything. Rain looked up and took a breath to begin some kind of apology when Skyler let out a loud sigh, causing her to pause. "I'm just going to warn you," he said, "it's a long, complicated story, and if I'm going to tell it then we are going to need more tea..."