Year of the Protectorate: 1,042
“So, got any plans after we’re done here?” My companion asks as he hops from root to root, avoiding the deep jungle mud I’ve decided to slog through.
Despite the effort required for every step, my endurance holds and my breathing remains steady. “I would prefer to focus on the task at hand before planning any further.”
“Pfft,” he looks around for another exposed root, but there is none. He jumps to a nearby tree trunk and clings to the bark. “Why? We’re just dealing with some dime a dozen, scum bag slave traders. You’ve done this kind of stuff before, haven’t you?”
“Of course,” it’s hot and humid in the jungle, I tug at my collar. “However, I’ve never been to this world and I know not what tricks it has in store for us.” There’s a certain grace with which he jumps from tree trunk to tree trunk. “Have you visited this world before?”
“Oh yeah, me and Quintara go way back. The whole world’s a jungle, save for a few oceans and seas here and there. I trained on this world a couple years back and it was… it was pretty awful, but it made me into the man I am today! The constant assault of jungle diseases trained my immune system, the vicious beasts got me good at running away, and I really don’t like getting my feet wet, so I got pretty good at climbing.” He shows off his strength by digging his fingers into the bark and holding his body perfectly horizontal. “What about you? Where’d you train?”
Is it alright to get so personal with a stranger? Well, I guess if I’ve been paired up with him it must be okay. “Foregone.”
His eyes open wide and he whistles. “The home world? Nice! I’ve never been myself, but I’ve always wanted to check it out. Is it really just as red as-“
There’s a noise off to the north. A dull drone that we’ve only just entered the range of. Machinery? It can’t be an animal. Could it be a tool, or perhaps an industrial strength dehumidifier to keep the inside of a building comfortable? Quintara is worthless in the eyes of most, which makes it the perfect place to set up a hideaway.
I lower my voice, “what do you think?”
He raises his head slightly, then closes his eyes as he takes in a long sniff.
“I only smell flowers.” He climbs higher up the hundred-meter-tall tree and pokes his head around the sides of the thick trunk. “Jungle is too dense to see anything.” He slides down and presses his ear against the trunk. “…Hm. Slight rumbling? It’s constant, and these trees are good at carrying vibration. I’d say the slaver base is just up ahead. It can’t be too big either.” He looks down at me with a smile. “C’mon up. With those slavers around the beasts will have learned to stead clear, should be safe to move along the higher branches.”
I nod and follow him up as best I can. The thick layer of moss covering the tree is slippery and I’m not as adept at climbing as he is. He pushes vines and branches out of my path, and as I get close to one of the higher branches, he offers his hand to pull me up.
“My name’s Miramita, by the way.” He says as he pulls me up. His palm and fingers calloused, I’ve no doubt he could crush my hand if he had the mind to.
He flashes me a smile, ” Wano. What a cute name.”
Interesting. Now that I take a closer look, he’s decently handsome. Red skin, nicely done black tattoos, hair well maintained, based on his exposed left arm I can tell he has a strong build… I suppose I do know what I’m doing after this mission.
“I’ll head out first,” he says, “follow behind and do what I do, okay?”
I nod and gesture to the sound, “lead the way.”
Miramita takes his time as he jumps from branch to branch. He’s quite considerate and ensures the vines are secure enough to swing on, the branches aren’t too slippery, and that it’s safe for me to follow. The scent of the pink flowers is thick up here, and as the jungle canopy is still far above us, there isn’t much light to use.
It isn’t long before we arrive at the source of the noise, our target.
A large, stone, moss-covered structure, shaped like a ziggurat with steep staircases and doorways on all three levels. It’s long since been taken over by the jungle, with moss and roots coiling around the fallen spires and slopes. One of the massive Quintaran trees had fallen long ago and now rests atop the center, forming an easy ramp from the jungle to the peak of the structure. By each of the entrances are large, semi-rusted machines pumping humidity outside, and there’s a small hole in the jungle canopy, just large enough for light and a shuttle to pass through.
We scan the exterior for enemies, but see none.
I narrow my brow, “what an old building. The slavers must have stumbled upon this place.”
“Yeah, there’s ruins like this all over the planet, I used a few while training. The layout of these things aren’t that hard to navigate,” he wipes the sweat from his brow and jumps to his feet, “let’s get in there already!”
He tries to jump off the branch, but I reach out and grab his arm, swinging him closer to me. My back is pressed against the large tree trunk and he’s leaning over me, “whoa, hold on there, Mister! What’s the plan? Just march in and kill everyone?”
He pulls away just enough to look me in the eyes, but I still have a hold on his arm. “…Basically, yeah. Maybe you go in from the right and I go in from the left?”
I purse my lips, “could you at least tell me what the inside will look like? I’ve never seen one of these ruins before.”
He rolls his eyes. “Alright, alright. The ruins have three main floors, spaced apart so the structures looks bigger on the outside. In the heart of the ruins is a central chamber, a rotunda where each floor connects, so if you’re on the third floor you can look past these balconies and see the second and first floor beneath you. Besides that, each floor has dozens of hallways and side rooms, but those vary from ruin to ruin so we won’t know the specifics until we get in there and explore. Because the structure is a pyramid shape, each floor has exits on all four sides, and it’s easy to run down the outside staircases and flee if things go bad. Makes sense?”
I release him, “very well. Let’s start from the top and work our way down. If they want to run, they can go and die in the jungle.”
We circle around the small clearing until we’re at the fallen tree, then we quickly make our way along the trunk until we reach the top of the stone structure. We jump down onto the stone dome of the central rotunda, then nod to each other.
I run to the far side and jump to the third floor, taking a silent, deep breath in.
“Please,” I whisper, my hands clasped in prayer, “Charada, champion of the road, guide my legs so that I might be silent as I infiltrate this den of evil and rescue your decedents.” Praying to our ancestors helps calm me down so I can focus on the task ahead.
Now is the time for stealth and reconnaissance. We have no idea how many slavers there are, and I saw no shuttle on our approach, which means there are more slavers elsewhere. They could be out capturing more ‘merchandise’, reinforcements could return at any moment.
Gunshots ring out through the jungle, two of them. Either Miramita was spotted, or he stole a gun and has already begun his attack.
Ah, well… I guess there is wisdom in getting in and out as quickly as possible.