The sun shone brightly overhead as both Hartley and Lyra stepped off of a bus and onto a platform far to the east of Omegrad. There was a very long, winding road up through the Quarrel mountains dotted with travelers and hikers. To the north there was a visitor center and a point to begin hiking up the mountains. The Harms siblings bypassed the station, having already loaded up their gear before getting on the bus. Both had changed into some appropriate clothing, shorts and light shirts with climbing gloves and pads for their feet.
“You ready to do this?” Lyra asked her sister, smirking as he stared up at the mountains.
“I’ve never been climbing before,” he added as he adjusted his large hiking pack.
“If you say so,” Hart replied as they stepped up onto the rocks. There were flags denoting where the safest path was. They took turns practicing the relay of when they would be actually climbing, occasionally stopping to take some pictures of Omegrad. After hiking for four hours, they had made their way up high enough to see the Holy City entirely. The two took a break, sitting on a rock to overlook the city, both catching their breath, hydrating, and snacking on some dried food.
“How far is it until we need to start climbing?” Hartley asked between swigs from his water pack.
“It’s not too far now, a few hundred meters to go,” Lyra replied as she got up and stretched out. The two got up and continued along, the sun beating down on their backs as they kept hiking and following the trail. They reached the first face they would have to climb, Lyra taking the lead. Inch by inch they made their way up, the hand and footholds worn and easy to see having had many climbers scale the wall. They spent almost an hour slowly making their way up the western face before reaching the top. Lyra climbed up and over, securing her rigging before reaching down to take her brother’s hand to pull him up. Hartley breathed heavily as he sat back on the rock. His knees were scuffed up and bleeding a bit and his hands were sore, but he smiled and looked over at the grassy farmlands of Wortistan.
“The descent doesn’t look too bad at all,” Hartley said as he looked down along the pathway.
“Yeah, that bit of climbing was all we had to do,” Lyra replied as she took a long drink of water. The two of them gazed across Sirca, “I’ve seen it a dozen times, but it never gets old.” She smiled and sat down with her brother. The two looked out as Lyra traced with her finger the route they would be taking, “We’re almost halfway there,” Lyra said, turning to her brother and taking his hand. Hartley looked out at the planes of Sirca with determined eyes.
“You are never going to believe this…” Dante said to Maxine as they sat on the eastern side of the mountains in a small, secluded campsite. Dante held the scope of their rifle, looking and watching all of the travelers make their way through the mountain pass. A section of the road was too dangerous to drive fully loaded. It was common for all of the passengers to exit the vehicle and walk alongside as they passed the treacherous bends. Dante and Maxine had been camping for a full day and night, waiting to spot Hartley and Lyra as they made their way through the pass.
“What is it?” Max asked as Dante passed her the scope. He quickly ran back to the tent and dug for the rifle case to begin setting it up. Maxine looked through the scope of the rifle at the pass but saw nobody there, “I don’t see anyone.”
“Look at the top of the ridge, one o’clock,” Dante said as he began assembling the rifle. Maxine looked up and saw both of their targets sitting calmly on the top of the mountain, catching their breath.
“Holy SHIT!” Max yelled out as she kept the scope trained on the two siblings. Dante returned with the fully assembled sniper rifle and loaded the magazine. He racked the first round in as Max handed him the scope. Dante took a few seconds to let the rifle’s processor sight the gun in before lining up a shot. He laid himself down and extended the bipod, turning his feet inward as Maxine took a pair of binoculars they brought to spot his shots. Dante rested his finger on the trigger and began to squeeze, his reticle trained on the 300m upward shot, anticipating the drop of the round. He squeezed the trigger all the way, sending a crack through the air as the round shot straight for Hartley’s center of mass. The two siblings sat blissfully unaware at what was happening below.
A loud crack came from a rock near Hartley’s feet as Lyra’s eyes went wide. She quickly grabbed her brother and began hopping down ledges, descending the mountain.
“W-what do we do? Are we trapped here?” Hartley asked, panicking as his heart raced. He reached up to his right shoulder and began to rub and grip it tightly. Not a second later the small pan in Lyra’s hand practically exploded, a shot flying straight through it, knocking the scrap of metal out of her hand. She put her hand down as the two hid behind the rock.
“No… w-we’re safe here,” she said, “I caught a glimpse of them down there, it looked like it was two of them.” She closed her eyes and tried to think.
“Weren’t there four of them?” Hartley asked as Lyra’s eyes opened back up.
“We need to move, NOW!” she yelled as she took her brother’s hand and moved just in front of him. She popped her head up out of cover for a moment before getting back in cover, “Just stay calm, Hart, can you do that?” she asked, “I’m gonna’ get us out of this, don’t worry.” She grabbed her brother’s shoulders and popped up again for just a moment as another shot whizzed overhead. She quickly grabbed Hartley and pulled him to the left, breaking out of cover, using the baited shot as a chance to move. The two of them ran down the mountain as fast as they could, locating another rock to hide behind. Lyra took a moment to scan her surroundings, looking up along the ridge of the mountains for the other two.
“Look, there’s a city down at the foot of the mountains,” she said while pointing down along the side, “If we can make it there we should be able to throw them and hide out for a little while.” Hartley looked to her and shook his head a bit before nodding, “You need to do everything I say when I say it. Don’t hesitate, don’t as questions, you got that?” Lyra held her hand out for her brother to take it.
“You’re missing,” Max said as she kept her eyes trained on the rock their targets were hiding behind.
“Oh, am I? I didn’t notice,” Dante replied, scowling behind the scope as the final round clanked onto the ground beneath him, “Mag.” Maxine dug through her pocket and handed her partner the next magazine which he slotted in.
“I thought you had the better aim,” she joked, “movement!” The Harms siblings bolted from the second rock and started hopping down from ledge to ledge, “There’s a rock six degrees to the left,” she announced as Dante shifted himself, firing a shot in anticipation as the two got into cover. The bullet threaded right between their heads as they dove into cover behind the rock.
“Geezus knock it the fuck off, will you? Just give me the callouts,” Dante said angerly as he readied himself to shift positions again, racking the next round into the chamber, “there’s a city down at the foot of the mountains. We need to get them before they reach it or we’re back to square one again.”
“Got it,” Dante said, smirking as he trained his reticle on the spot Max called out. The two ran out from cover and around the bend with Hartley taking point. A shot rang out through the air as Hartley tumbled to the ground. Both siblings falling over a small ledge just at the end of the sprint. Hartley pushed himself up and turned around as his sister was laying on top of him, clutching the back of her leg.
“H-hey, are you alright?” he asked, shaking his sister’s shoulder, “Lyra, you’re bleeding!”
“It’s nothing, I’m fine I…” she winced as she tried to move her leg, “we’re in the clear now, Hart,” she said as she looked to her brother, smiling and panting, “You’ll have to help me get down the rest of the mountain, but we made it, we’re safe.” Hartley took a deep breath and picked his sister up by her shoulder, supporting her injured leg as they limped down along the alternate pathway. The two reached the grass at the foot of the mountain in Fort Cloud, entering a cul-de-sac being built. Bare house frames were set up with concrete equipment dotting the street. Hartley took Lyra down behind one of the houses, laying her on the grass under a nearby tree. He put her on her stomach as she winced in pain.
“Well, it’s not the worst,” Hartley said as he looked over the wound. He took his backpack off and set it at his side, digging deep into the bottom to pull out a first aid kit and his water pack, “You can thank mom for teaching me field aid,” he said as he opened the kit and took the pair of gloves that were laying on the top, yanking them on swiftly before squirting some water onto his hands and onto the wound, cleaning off the dirt and dust that had caked on when they fell. Hartley undid his belt and yanked it free from his shorts before handing it to his sister, “you’ll want to bite down on this. There’s no exit wound, so the bullet is still in there.” Lyra shuddered and nodded before grabbing the belt and stuffing it into her mouth.
Hartley took the pair of tweezers from the kit and carefully stuck them into the wound. Lyra balled her fists and pressed her forehead into the dirt, biting hard on the belt. The main body of the round came out well enough, the tip having bent and mushroomed. Hartley looked over the round and saw a fragment missing. He returned the bullet back to his sister’s leg to get an idea for where it was before going back in to retrieve the final piece. He dropped both small pieces in front of Lyra as he dressed the wound with water and took out a small suture needle and thread.
“There, the worst of it’s over,” he said calmly, “you won’t even feel the stitches.” He sat his sister up and elevated her leg with some stacked scrap lumber he found in the nearby house.
“God that fucking sucked…” Lyra said as she took the belt from her mouth, panting and gripping the removed bullet. Hartley dug through the first-aid kit and took the small packet of medi-gel included. He squirted some gel into the wound before suturing it up and wrapping it tight with a bandage. He sat down next to Lyra, propped up against the house as he pulled the bloody gloves off and tossed them into his backpack, “We should find a place to lay low.”
“Where do you think would be a good place?” Hartley asked as he packed his things up and helped his sister to her feet, carrying her by her injured left leg.
“Somewhere out of the way, this is too open,” she replied, “Lets get further into the city, we don’t want to be on the outskirts like this.” Hartley nodded and helped her away. They kept to the side streets as they made their way further into the city. The two worked their way into the warehouse district, finding one that looked empty enough to camp out in. Hartley took his sister up a flight of stairs and into the second floor of the building to rest for a while. They sat together and rested, drinking the last of their water that they had brought.
“Now what,” Hartley asked as he sat down on the hard, dirty floor.
“We call it in, maybe we can get some backup, but at the very least an evac,” Lyra replied as she stretched her leg out, wincing in pain, “We certainly can’t walk to Stigma like this.”
“Alright, you make the call and I’ll get us some more water and some food to eat,” Hartley said as he stood up and dropped his backpack, taking both water packs from his and his sister’s bag.
“Hold on,” Lyra said as she adjusted herself. Hartley came and helped her sit up in place, “You’ll want to change out of what you have on now.” She reached for her brother’s backpack and began taking out his new clothes, “if we were trailed they certainly wouldn’t be looking for you in this.” Hartley nodded and took his bag and the two water packs before leaving to get changed and heading out.
Lyra sat in the warehouse alone with her phone as she prepared to dial Norick. She held her thumb over the “Call” button but instead she erased the numbers and selected Jonah’s name from her contact list. She called him up and heard the ring.
“What’s up, how’s the trip coming?” he asked, sounding rather happy.
“Jonah, are you alone?” she asked.
“What’s this about?” Jonah asked, sounding concerned.
“ARE YOU ALONE?” Lyra asked again in an upset tone.
“Yes, hun, I’m alone. What’s this about? Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine for now, Hart and I ran into some trouble. We’re in Fort Cloud hiding, I’ve been hit,” she said as she tried to move a bit, “look we need all the help we can get, Jonah.”
“Where are you, I’m coming to…” Lyra cut him off.
“No! You need to stay in Episemon with Norick. If you leave it’ll make him suspicious,” Lyra said emphatically, “He can’t know about this… it’s my first assignment. I can’t have it be a failure.” Jonah sighed over the phone and waited a few moments.
“I don’t know how much help I can give. I can’t send an escort to come get you, and I can’t just give you arms and ammo…” Jonah said, pausing for a moment, “But… I think… I think I can fudge some of the ledgers for a cache nearby your location. I can’t just give out weapons to SSF field agents, but if you could break in and steal them I can make sure they don’t get wise about it.”
“That would be perfect,” Lyra siad, sighing, “Thanks, Uncle Jonah.”
“I’m…” he said briefly, “anytime, hun. Stay safe, ya hear? There’s a cache about a kilometer away from the city. I’ll send you the coordinates to it. Take within reason and report back to me what you grabbed so I can change the manifest. You take care now, alright? Call me if you need anything.” Lyra smiled and thanked him again. They said their goodbyes before they hung up. Moments later Lyra received the coordinates for the storage cache. She leaned up against the wall and tried to relax, waiting for her brother to get back to the hideout.
Dante and Max walked throughout downtown Fort Cloud. Max was intently looking around, trying to spot one or both of the Harms siblings.
“They couldn’t have gotten far,” she said, “one of ‘em’s injured. They would have had to stop to find shelter.”
“You’re right,” Dante added, “But don’t let your guard down, and don’t act like you’re looking around. Neither of them know our faces, so if we look suspicious…”
“Yeah yeah, I know,” Max replied, rolling her eyes.
“And let me do the talking, they know your voice.” he said
“Motherfu-” Dante cut her off as his eyes went wide. As the two approached an intersection they spotted a chupa that was sporting a hooded shirt, but with a wrapped, white tail and whiskers. They both tensed up and cut off their conversation, now focusing on tailing their target. Hartley carried two full water packs under one arm and a plastic bag filled with snacks and other foods in the other.
“What do we do?” Max asked quietly.
“We need to tail him, find out where the other is,” Dante replied as they followed Hartley from a safe distance, “Once we find where they’re hiding out I’m going to call Tharin.” Max nodded in agreement as they continued following the target. Just as Lyra had instructed him, Hartley had wound his way through the city, taking the longest route back to the warehouse. Once he entered the building bth Max and Dante broke off and hid behind a nearby alley.
“I’m going to see if I can find where they are inside,” Max said as she got out from cover, “You make the call.” Tharin took out his phone and called the boss as Max wandered over to the warehouse. She slowly toed her way over to one of the ground floor windows, scanning the inside for movement. She craned her neck to get a better view, spotting dusty paw prints that led up to a flight of stairs. Dante soon joined behind her, peering inside.
“Look, you can see his footprints leading up. They’re just above us,” she whispered, “What’s the word from Tharin?”
“He said to take them out, we probably won’t get a better chance than this,” he said back as he produced two concealed sidearms from their supply bag, handing one to Max, “It’s two on two, and one’s injured. I like those odds.” Max took the pistol from her partner.
“Like we discussed?” she asked before Dante nodded, smirking.