Chapter 10 – A Particular Set of Skills

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Mud. There was a lot of mud. That was the most distinct impression Link had for his first full two weeks of basic training. He was exhausted. Thinking was a luxury he could not afford. At this point it was a matter of training his body to do what it needed to do without the brain needing to direct it. Muscle memory. Many of the others seemed to pick it up fairly quickly. It was an accelerated course compared to the usual three to four months of training. Had it been that, he might have not felt like one of the re-dead. This wasn’t a movie though.

“Alright ladies! Listen up! We’re changing the programming up a bit! Seems unforeseen circumstances have forced us to up our game just a bit. Today, you will not report to the yard for your usual exercises. Instead, you’ll be reporting for your first taste of combat training!” the drill instructor shouted.

That caught Link’s attention. Perhaps this was his time to shine. He had a rather good track record in that department. Undoubtedly the rest of his unit had wondered about his abilities. No whispers passed through the barracks, though. That bad habit had been beaten and worked out of them all. Instead, they shot one another looks. It seemed the former Detective wasn’t the only one who was eager for the change.

After a moment or two of silence, the Sergeant frowned, annoyed with their lack of a reaction.

“Well!? What are you waiting for!? An invitation!? Get your asses out there on the double!” he roared.

The room emptied immediately. For once, the yard didn’t seem quite so unpleasant. No relentless pushups or sit-ups or jumping jacks or any such nonsense that seemed so pointless as a soldier. At least when you weren’t seeing any action. After getting caught in the thick of it, suddenly all that exercise made sense. No, instead, they would get to taste the sweet nectar of a change in routine.

Once in the yard, the unit was directed into a circular formation. It was meant to provide them all with a view of the center. That would be where the demonstrations would be provided.

“Alright girls, you’ve been itching for this so pay attention. We’ll be going over some of the basics of hand to hand combat, even get into some simple weaponry. The instant I see you taking this any way other than seriously, you are out of my sight running laps! Do you get me!?” the drill sergeant shouted.

The same resounding answer as always filled the air.

“Sir, yes sir!” everyone shouted right back.

“Good! Now, let’s just see what we have to work with,” the instructor said.

Without actually saying what he was up to, he began prowling about the circle, his eyes scanning each member of the unit. He was looking for volunteers. As he strolled slowly about, his eyes fell on one such individual he wanted to test and called him out.

Everyone was going to get their questions answered right away, and likely a whole new set of rumors would start circulating.

“Hero!” the sergeant barked, “Get your ass out here! I wanna see just what all of Hyrule is depending on!”

Link batted his eyes, more surprised than he should have been really. Without hesitation, he stepped into the circle from where he stood and took a brief look around him. Now he was nervous again. It wasn’t as pronounced as it was in the past. Thanks to the two weeks he’d gone through getting to know the other soldiers in his unit, it didn’t weigh on him quite as heavily.

“Arm yourself, soldier! Do not enter a fight without a weapon unless you absolutely have to!” the large man shouted.

As the Sergeant barked his order, two petty officers approached the circle, each carrying a case with them. They opened their respective storage crates, providing Link a view of their contents. He blinked seeing the array of deadly weaponry they contained. He didn’t intend on causing the Sergeant bodily injury, though it seemed they were encouraging it.

After a moment of consideration–not too long otherwise he would get another lecture–Link reached in and selected something he was already familiar with. He could use it to keep from causing a great deal of damage while still showing a great deal of effectiveness. He held the smooth, slim black cylinder in his hand before giving his arm a flick. The riot baton was slung out to its full length and he tested the weight. It felt good. The two men closed their cases and stepped well back.

“Should have gone with something bigger, hero! I’d have been more impressed!” the Sergeant shouted in admonishment.

He then charged Link, the handle to a familiar looking device gripped tightly in hand. As he streaked forward, a perfectly smooth metal blade erupted from the grip, concealed in the pocket dimension that served as its sheath. That sheath was now gone, the well sharpened blade loosed into the air.

Link’s eyes widened as he reacted, leaning away to have the blade miss his chest by the narrowest of margins. He felt his balance thrown off, sending him falling onto his back with the long knife following, biting closely behind. The instant he hit the ground, he tucked his legs in, kicking upward with his feet to roll end over end backwards and knock the brandishing hand away. In a flash he was back on his feet, his baton held out at his side as he waited for an opening.

Another charge was aimed at him, but now he was ready. Link dropped into a low posture, holding out his armed hand with the baton turned at an angle. It drew out a slash from the Sergeant. Just as he expected, a clang sounded as metal struck metal. Instead of knocking his hand away, the blow seemed to propel Link’s weapon around his body. He spun in a fast twirl, bringing the baton back around. It afforded him the chance to give the older fellow a firm slap on the back of his shoulder. It caught the Sergeant off guard, but not enough to stop him. His knife sliced back in Link’s direction, aiming for his face. A tilt of the head prevented any serious damage, but managed to land a thin cut across his cheek.

The sting in the left side of the young man’s face brought his free hand up and across his chest to cup at the wound. He pulled his fingers away, shocked to see red staining them. The Sarge wasn’t pulling any punches. Link would have to be especially careful. He brought himself back to face his opponent fully, his baton outstretched again, his free hand ready to lash out as well as needed.

“Not bad, take your target by surprise, but don’t get complacent. That likely won’t work again.” the older man said calmly.

It was almost as if the Sergeant was enjoying fighting, even causing injury.

Link grit his teeth in determination and rushed his instructor. He pulled his left arm back as if preparing to swing only to drop it low and aim for one of the older man’s thighs. His empty hand shot out and caught the wrist attached to the hand holding the knife. A sharp twist rotated the man’s arm and pointed the blade away. A very brief and subdued cry of discomfort rose from the Sarge. In a flash, he had been rendered impotent, shoved onto one knee and his weapon no longer where he wanted it. Just as quickly, he twisted his arm back, pushing forward at the shoulder. The exceptionally fine cutting edge surged past Link’s shoulder, slicing open his uniform and leaving a small gash behind.

The Private cried out, even as he swung his left arm back the other way, bringing the baton back across the Sarge’s abdomen. The blow knocked his opponent away, almost laying him out on the flat of his back. In spite of the hit, the experienced drill instructor wasn’t fazed. He rolled away and sprung back to his feet, ignoring the pain in his thigh and stomach. Link managed to recover as well, beginning to pant a bit. As he grappled with his teacher, the other trainees began to bunch up around them, giving them room but wanting a better view. Cheers and shouts of encouragement echoed off the side of the building. They wanted to see the young man topple the aggressive Sergeant.

Again and again the two clashed, charging in for the attack only to deflect or suffer the consequences. They were both fairly evenly matched, or at least that was how the Sarge wanted it to appear. Link breathed heavily as the fight wore on. He couldn’t keep up the pace. It would end soon, one way or another. He wanted to win and he wanted it so very badly.

The Sarge slammed his knife into the outstretched baton again, knocking it away as he shoved his free hand in towards the trainee’s chest. A balled up fist raced in to strike but found itself suddenly stopped by Link’s hand wrapped around the attached wrist. A sharp twist brought the whole arm around, incapacitating it until it was released. His armed hand looped about, slinging back up to strike the wrist of the hand holding the knife. It wasn’t there. A sharp pain shot through his shoulder, searing and biting as it pushed deep. A scream of pain silenced the group of onlookers. The Sarge’s relentless pressure shoved the knife in up to the hilt into Link’s shoulder, continuing forward until he had the young man on his back. He stood up and backed away.

Link gripped the knife in his shoulder, trying to hold it still. Any motion made the pain worse, and likely tore his muscle all the more. His grasp on the baton was weakening and he was beginning to feel ever so slightly dizzy.

“This man has been trained in combat. He is familiar with the tactics and skills necessary to survive. He has not been trained by the TSDF. By the time I’m done with all of you, I expect each and every one of you to be able to pin me to the ground and shut me up!” the Sarge said to the group before he turned to look back down at the ‘hero’, raising an eyebrow, “You did pretty good for a rookie, but that will get your ass killed in the field. You take too damn long to make your move.”

“Under-understood… sir.” Link said as he grimaced, cringing from the metal biting into him.

With the Sergeant’s critique of the young man’s performance over, he turned and offered a casual shout, “Medic!”

In that instant, the world shifted for the Sergeant. His feet were no longer on the ground. The sky was no longer directly above but immediately in front of him. A strong, unsettling thud pounded at his back as his head bounced lightly off the ground. In seconds, the wounded Private was atop him, straddling his chest. The baton pressed firmly against the dazed man’s throat, keeping him unable to speak. His right hand held down one of the older soldier’s arms. The look in his eyes was one of intense determination with a flickering hint of hatred.

“Do I pass?” Link asked.

Everyone was speechless. The Sarge found it difficult to speak even after the baton came off of his neck. A pair of field medics raced over and pulled the Private off the drill instructor. Immediately they went to work tending to his injury. The older man climbed back to his feet and watched as the Private had the knife extricated from his shoulder.

“Now that’s a bit more like it!” the Sarge shouted with pride, “Get him to the infirmary. As for the rest of you! Listen up! We’ll be moving fast!”

Link was hoisted to his feet as a thick pad of gauze was mashed over the hole in his shoulder. He stumbled a bit as he walked along. Thankfully, the infirmary wasn’t too far. An exam bed was provided and the recruit dropped onto his back, letting himself succumb to the fatigue assaulting him. One of the doctors approached and began scanning his arm, raising an eyebrow as he read through the findings.

“You’re one lucky son of a bitch. Less than two centimeters higher and he’d have dislocated your shoulder, maybe even sliced the whole thing clean off.” the doctor said in a tone Link found to be unsettlingly casual.

Had the Sarge actually done that before? He was just about to ask when he decided he’d rather not know. One of the nurses approached with a tray of instruments, one of which was a hypodermic filled with a curious, silvery liquid. The doctor pressed the nozzle end against the outside of Link’s shoulder and a hiss escaped. Cold ran through his arm for a brief moment as the injection began to warm.

“Lucky… right. More like stupid.” the Private said.

“Left yourself open huh?” the doctor asked.

“Yeah, didn’t think he’d go for the kill like that.” Link answered.

The doctor gripped Link’s chin and forced him to stare up at him properly.

“Trust me son, if he was going for the kill, I’d be filling out a post-mortem,” the man clad in white said rather frankly, “Sergeant Nelson is the best drill instructor we’ve got. Highly decorated, several tours of duty, they pulled out the chair for him to take a command post. He turned it down so he could train recruits. Now, you’re out of action for two days. The nanites will do their job, get your arm put back together in about six hours, but you’ll need some physio to get the stiffness out and restore full range of motion. Until then, you’re benched.”

Link dropped his head back onto the exam bed with a sigh. He couldn’t afford to be out of commission. As he tried to sit up, he found himself restricted by a security field. Clever doctor. He knew all too well what was running through the Private’s mind.

“I’m gonna go nuts in here. There’s gotta be something I can do.” Link said.

The doctor smirked and walked back over, dropping a data pad onto his chest.

“You’re only restricted for a few hours, then you’re in the medical barracks for the night. While you’re here, you can catch up on your reading. Plenty of weapons and equipment manuals to familiarize yourself with. They’re gonna have you read this stuff anyway before they let you near any of it so you might as well get a jump on the rest of your class.” he said.

Reading weapons manuals. How exciting. Link could already feel his soul beginning to die just a little inside, but he squashed the complaint. He collected the pad since his good arm was still free and held it up to peruse what was already being displayed.

“The GX-T75 armored combat suit,” he read aloud, adding a bit of sarcasm as he commented, “I wonder if it comes in green.”

As Link spent his requisite six hours in the medical bay, the Sergeant concluded his training for the day, passing the men off to another instructor for non-combat training. Instead of guiding them through it himself, he felt it necessary to satisfy his curiosity on a particular matter. He rode the lift up through the castle until he reached the level his target was most often found on. A series of checkpoints stopped him as he drew closer to his destination, many asking for identification or a scan of some sort. Instead of providing it, he simply glared at the guards. That seemed to suffice; he was indeed the drill instructor everyone feared.

The final doors opened and he walked into a darkened room, the few lights illuminating the area doing so in strategic locations over consoles and displays. A large, round holographic projector filled the center of the two-level room. It currently displayed a transparent map of an area around the castle, roughly a hundred kilometers radius or so. A scan was currently passing over the display, showing its progress. Watching it carefully was the First Minister, leaning over the edge as she studied it, looking for any variance, any detail that might trigger an alert.

“Why are you disrespecting me?” the Sergeant asked.

The woman looked up at the drill instructor, slightly mystified.

“I’m sorry, have I stepped on your toes, Sergeant?” Roslin asked.

“You sent me a boy two weeks ago, right out of the blue. Told me to whip him into shape. Why are you sending me someone who’s already beyond basic training?” the Sergeant asked, still sounding annoyed.

“Ahh, you mean Detective Link.” the First Minister replied.

“Private Link,” the Sergeant quickly correct, “Why are you insulting me by wasting my time making a grown man crawl around in the muck when he’s ready for duty?”

The woman returned her gaze to the hologram, looking as if she were only half interested in the veteran’s complaints.

“I needed to know where we stood with him. You’re the best judge of what makes a soldier in the entire kingdom. If he’s fit to move on from basic training, go ahead and transfer him. The sooner we can put him into active duty the better.” Roslin explained.

“You’re damn right I’m the best judge of what makes a soldier! You could have told me ahead of time what you wanted me to do with this kid! Not only have you wasted my time but his time too! He’s probably questioning why you brought him here!” the Sergeant said angrily, refraining from using his usual, trademark shout.

By now, Nelson had walked around the display and moved to stand next to the Minister, more than just a little annoyed by her apparent lack of interest. She offered him no change in her demeanor.

“He’s lost his brother recently. Do you really want someone like that going straight into service? By forcing him through at least a couple of weeks of basic, it gave him focus. He’s distanced himself from the pain of his brother’s death. He’ll be more effective as a soldier,” finally she broke her stare on the map to turn and look at the Sergeant, “And right now, we need him as focused as possible. We can’t have him distracted, no matter how much he might deserve at least a moment to grieve.”

“You wanna at least tell me what we’re doing with him?” Nelson asked.

Roslin turned to look back at the map again, almost as if she were obsessed with it.

“He’s the legendary hero. If we’ve got him in our pocket, the Reclamation cultists will think twice before coming after us. Or, it may just make them all the more brazen. We’ve got three shards. There are at least three more out there. One we know is in the hands of the cult. The other two we still have yet to locate. With Link’s help, we might be able to track them down before those monsters get to them.” she explained.

“So that’s your aim. You could have told me that from the beginning. I could have been teaching him about that mark on his hand he’s so damn careful to keep hidden. I might have treated him a bit differently.” the Sergeant said.

“And that is something we cannot afford. We had to be sure he could measure up to our regular infantry,” Roslin said as she stood up the moment a small, golden blip appeared a good ways out from the castle, “How would you feel if our supposed hero worked in a call center and could barely run ten meters without getting winded? We got lucky he’s a beat cop. It means he’s in better shape than most. As for the mark, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to teach him about it some other time. We’re going to need him ready for action as soon as you can spare him. Tell him to report to me in two hours.”

“He won’t be at the top of his game for at least two days,” Nelson said, but then lifted his hands as soon as the Minister turned to look over her glasses at him, “But… I’ll tell him to report.”

Roslin sighed as she shook her head and rolled her eyes. As soon as she had made the gesture fully enough, she turned her gaze back to the drill sergeant, no longer amused.

“How many times do I have to tell you!? Don’t slice the arms off my new recruits!” she shouted.

“It’s still attached to him! It’s just a hole and it’s gettin’ patched right now! ‘Sides, he did something no other recruit in my fifteen years of training has ever been able to do.” Nelson said just before he leaned in, ready to deliver the news, even opened his mouth to speak.

“Let me guess,” Roslin said stopping him, “He knocked you down and pinned you. Did he shut you up too?”

That seemed to take the wind out of Nelson’s sails a bit. It annoyed him.

“I’ll go deliver your orders now. Ma’am… always a pleasure.” the Sergeant said.

He turned about and made his way back to the command room’s exit. Roslin smirked and watched as he left. It was a strange working relationship they had. He was a loyal soldier and the best training instructor they had, even if he had too familiar a way of speaking with someone so high above him. The Minister turned her attention back to the map in front of her, reaching in and manipulating the hologram directly to zoom in on the blip. After all her research and intel reports, it turned up almost exactly where she had expected it to be.

Everyone seemed to suddenly spring into action in their own respects over the next couple of hours. The Sergeant went back to check on the progress his soldiers were making with their training. The Minister and her staff gathered valuable information and pieced together various plans of action. Link was busy reading while on the mend. Not the sort of action he had expected, but at least he would have a leg up on the other members of his unit.

Before he knew it, the Private had gotten through the first three manuals on the pad. It was dry reading, but it all seemed to operate very similarly to the equipment he was used to back in Faron. The only real differences were a considerable boost in power, more durable armor plating, and the fact that he would be entering the sortie in full gear rather than request it be sent. That was a nice change.

Link hated the protocol of going into a situation in nothing but his uniform and risk getting shot or stabbed. He ended up carrying a little something under his shirt just in case. Not exactly standard issue but better safe than sorry he figured. Space age chain mail was still chain mail and the entire force would have poked fun at him for it no doubt. He was wishing he’d had worn something like that during training. It might have defeated the purpose though.

Satisfied with how his backups were handling matters, the Sergeant paid a visit to the medical bay. He was curious to see what the doctor had the lad doing in his downtime. Perhaps he might get enough time to pass on at least a few details about the mark on Link’s hand. Something was better than nothing, after all.

“On your feet, Private!” Nelson said sternly.

It was a rather sudden arrival. He took Link by surprise. The young man struggled and fought to get off the bed, finding himself still pinned in place.

“Sorry sir… I… I don’t think the doc-” he begain.

The Sarge laughed, cutting him off.

“At ease. Figured he’d have you strapped in tight. Shoulder’s looking better. What’s the prognosis?” Nelson asked.

Link sighed and relaxed, realizing he was the butt of a small joke while in the restraining field. The doctor approached, quietly annoyed by the Drill Sergeant’s sense of humor when dealing with injured troops.

“It’ll be healed in another four hours or so,” the doctor said, “Two days of physio and he’ll be good as new. Provided you don’t keep pestering my patient.”

“Sorry doc, I’m afraid we don’t have that long. I need Private Link on his feet now. We’ve got a mission briefing in ten minutes.” Nelson said.

“He is in no condition to be put on active duty!” complaind the doctor, “As chief medical officer, I c-“

“This comes from the First Minister herself,” Nelson said, interrupting the doctor, “She has requested his presence.”

The man in white frowned, not liking being cut off like that, nor liking having anyone take his patients from him before their treatments were complete. He stood his ground firmly.

“I don’t care if it comes from the Potentate herself! He cannot serve in his current state! You tell me what is so damned important that I have to release him while he is still injured!” the doctor shouted.

Nelson frowned and pulled the doctor aside, lowering his voice while Link watched on quietly. He didn’t like the idea of going into a fight with a hole in his shoulder, but if something had happened and the timetable had changed, he might have no choice.

“Did you see the back of his left hand?” Nelson asked.

“What?” the doctor retorted quietly.

“His left hand… did you see what’s on it?” Nelson asked again.

The doctor frowned.

“No, I was more interested in the gaping hole you put in his shoulder.” he said.

The Sergeant walked back over to the bedridden Link and took hold of his left hand, turning it over to show the doctor what was there. The younger of the two men paused at the sight of the triangular mark.

“That a good enough reason, doc?” Nelson asked.

The man in the white coat blinked softly. He had indeed missed that detail. He had also made it a point to pay the rumors of the troops little mind. The situation currently playing out across the country–what little of it he had been privy to thanks to the injuries he had seen–suddenly clicked in his mind and context flowed through. The doctor nodded, reaching over to disable the field. Link found himself able to sit up, groaning softly as his shoulder sang out in agony.

“I guess… a briefing isn’t too much of a strain, but keep him from getting too worked up. The nanites still aren’t done yet. Have him report back to me immediately after the briefing.” the doctor said with great insistence.

“That all depends on the First Minister. What she says goes. You got anything that can speed this up?” Nelson asked.

Hesitantly, the doctor turned and disappeared into a storage unit for a moment. He returned with another vial of the silvery liquid from before. A second quick injection sent cold through Link’s arm again, making him shiver just ever so softly.

“There,” the doctor said, “I’ve given him a second dose of nanites. That should help speed things up but he seriously needs to keep calm. If any of them dislodge themselves from the work site and malfunction, there’ll be hell to pay. Keep his heart rate down. And get him back here as soon as you can.”

“Fair enough,” the Sergeant said, “Private! On your feet!”

Immediately, Link leapt off the bed and snapped to attention.

“Ready for duty, sir!” he said.

“No you’re not. Don’t lie to me son. You’re ordered to report to First Minister Roslin up in central command. Let’s get a move on.” Nelson said.

It was curious hearing him speak in a tone that was anything other than the constant shout the unit had gotten so used to. Hopefully, that part of the young man’s training was at last over. Link hurried over to the door leading out of the medical bay, the two wide panels sliding back out of his way as Sergeant Nelson followed closely behind. The Private paused and lifted a hand to his head, suddenly feeling just a bit dizzy but pushed through it easily enough. With the Sarge hot on his heels, he didn’t want to show any sign of weakness, no matter how well deserved. As they disappeared into the hall, the doctor called out behind them.

“Be sure he eats something! High caloric value!” he cried out, not sure if they had actually heard him.

Central command was a beehive of activity. There was not a single empty seat in the room save for those around the projector in the center. Roslin stood a little ways back from the ‘table’ as it created its holographic map across the surface, waiting patiently for someone to interact with it. The Minister was talking to someone turned away from the door. Link made a guess as to who it was, though he was unsure just what Regent Yates was doing at a mission briefing. Standing around them were several others, each of them wearing a uniform not unlike the Private’s, only not for new recruits. These were seasoned veterans, highly trained, highly skilled, and ready for action. They all probably had numerous sorties under their belts. It left Link feeling slightly smaller.

With only a moment to spare, he and the Sergeant came to a halt in front of the holographic map, both of them offering their salute, though Link did so with his right hand. His left shoulder was still heavily bandaged as a precaution. Nelson offered a greeting for the both of them.

“Reporting as ordered, ma’am. What have you got for us?” the Sergeant asked.

Roslin pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, gazing at the older fellow as if to look right through him.

“I don’t have anything for you, Sergeant Nelson. I asked for Link. You don’t have a part to play in this mission unless you feel like acting as part of the support crew.” she said.

The older man nodded, both of his hands going behind his back as he took the ‘at ease’ stance.

“If one of my men is going into action while not at the top of his game, it is my duty to make sure he comes back alive. If I can do that best by acting as his support, then so be it.” Nelson replied.

“As you wish. Private, allow me to introduce you to the unit you’ll be attached to for the duration of this mission, possibly longer depending on your performance. Special agents Euless, Bruno, Herne, and Saito.” Roslin said.

All four of the uniformed troops offered him a quiet nod. There was no snarky comeback or remark regarding his status as a Private being put on such a detail. They were professionals and judging from the emblem they wore on their left breast, very highly decorated. It was a nice change of pace not having to contend with judgment or harassment, but it spoke to the seriousness of the situation.

“Agents, it’s an honor.” Link said politely.

“Unfortunately, Private, we don’t have time for pleasantries. You can get to know your teammates better after the mission is complete. I’ve already informed them of your role in events to come. They should treat you with the respect that role comes with. As for your mission,” Roslin said just before she pointed to the table with the holographic display ahead of them, “We are looking for an artifact of extreme importance and strength. It is a shard of what we call the Triforce of power. Our sensors detected its very specific form of radiation at these coordinates, accurate to within twenty meters.”

The map moved from the castle out a good ways to center on the golden blip Roslin had been studying earlier. As soon as it had centered on the target, the display began to zoom in, revealing it was hidden deep within a compound that had once been some sort of temple, converted to be little more than a power station that had long since been abandoned.

This was when the details of the mission began to flow, so Link kept his mouth shut and listened carefully to the Minister’s words.

“The complex is fairly basic, however at its core is a deeper structure that once served as a sanctuary for the shard, a place meant to guard it from those who might use its power to do evil. That sanctuary is no longer sufficient to protect it. Your mission is to infiltrate this complex, retrieve the shard, and escape with as little resistance to your presence and extraction as possible. We’ve already detected cultist activity moving towards the area, and the temple itself seems to have awakened to prepare its defenses, as if it’s aware of what’s going on.” the lady explained.

One of the troops raised his hand to catch the First Minister’s attention. She turned to him and gave him a nod to speak. It was Euless.

“What sort of defenses are we talking about?” he asked, “The temple has to be a thousand years old, it can’t possibly have anything that can be of any great threat to us or the cult.”

It was a valid question, though it showed he wasn’t as well read on ancient mythology or history as he should have been for such a mission. Link–perhaps out of turn–offered the answer.

“They can offer plenty,” he said, “These temples were built by the Zonai, a people who were intensely devoted to the goddesses, almost to the point of fanaticism. Just because it’s hundreds, or even thousands of years old, doesn’t mean a five ton stone block can’t crush you as easily now as it could when it was new.”

Roslin wasn’t amused by the Private’s speaking out when the question was directed at her, but it only served to reinforce the point she was about to make. The other troops, as well as a few others, turned to look at the young soldier, leaving him feeling even smaller for having said anything. The First Minister nodded to him, a hint of annoyance present in her voice at first but trailing off quickly.

“You’re right… Private,” Roslin said, putting particular emphasis on Link’s rank which left him resolved to keep quiet unless spoken to, “But it’s not just stone blocks and break-away floors you have to worry about. These ruins have been calculated to be somewhere on the order of sixteen thousand years old and yet they show evidence of highly sophisticated machinery, energy-based and kinetic, and even some rudimentary optics.”

“Wait… we’re talking about magic and lasers?” Herne asked, taking a turn to speak up, “In a temple that’s sixteen thousand years old? How’s that possible?”

Roslin stopped herself from answering and simply turned to Link. She liked having another person who knew what they were talking about present for the briefings. He blinked softly as she stared at him. After a moment, he realized she wanted him to answer. The fact that the others had turned to stare as well hastened the dawning.

“It was designed to ward off anyone,” the Private answered, “Especially masters of the mystical arts. The old texts and stories all talk about harnessing the power of the goddesses’ sacred triangles as well as other sources of magic to build all sorts of devices. And don’t be surprised if those lasers are able to track their targets.”

“Quite right, Private,” Roslin said and smirked, seeing that he had learned when and when not to speak up, “On top of that, there are probably some lesser life forms down there that could give you a problem. Rats, keese, spiders, all sorts of unpleasant subterranean fauna. I expect each and every one of you to stay alert and don’t take any stupid risks. This is a simple job. We’ve begun mapping the ruins thanks to the conduits that were laid around the time the power station was established. The technology of the station itself is old, but still in functioning order. It should provide you with illumination within the complex and a com relay back to command. Once you get into the lower section, you’ll likely need to rely on your own torches and we don’t know how strong your signals will be. Your drop off point will be half a click to the south. You will approach quietly, assess the condition of the entrance, and determine if entry is viable or not. We expect the cult to have their own team on site within thirty-six hours.”

Saito raised her hand, jostling her dark hair braided neatly down to just the middle of her shoulder blades.

“What are our orders should the cult beat us to the site?” she asked.

Roslin turned to the young lady. Part of her wanted to give the order to just have the lot mowed down but discretion was greatly preferred.

“You will assess the situation. If it appears they have taken the main entrance and you cannot get through unseen, you are to circle around and try one of three alternate entrances. I recommend you break your team up to examine all four possible points of entry upon arrival, though real-time scans as you approach should provide sufficient intel. We’re banking on the idea that the cult won’t get there before you. We intend for the drop to be in twelve hours. Mission duration should last no longer than two. You get in, you find the shard, you get out. If the cult shows up unexpectedly, you will be advised as to how to react.” the Minister explained.

That seemed to satisfy everyone, leaving the lady to move on to an important note she wanted to add to her briefing. She turned to look briefly at Link to see how he was coping given his condition and the details of the mission.

He was locked on the map, studying it intently. When he finally broke his gaze and looked back up at her, the Minister continued.

“As you are aware, I am putting a relatively inexperienced recruit on this mission with you. I have already explained why, but beyond what has already been said, his expertise in ancient mythology should prove useful in navigating the ruins. Use him. Hell for all we know, he may be the only one that can even access the shard.” Roslin said.

“Has he been trained on our usual equipment?” asked one of the men.

It was Euless again. He gave off a distinct aura of leadership. Likely he was the head of this particular unit.

“He has field experience with local law enforcement equivalents to most of your gear. Anything else he’ll either be briefed on during preparation or he simply will not have equipped,” Roslin explained, “Are there any other questions or concerns?”

Bruno, the quiet one, raised his hand. He was the largest of the four, intimidating Link quite a bit. His voice was deep and heavy, fitting his stature.

“Our objective is to stay off the cult’s radar, correct?” he asked.

“Yes.” the Minister answered.

“What if we are unable to remain undetected?” he asked as he looked over at Link as if he expected the ‘new guy’ to screw up, “It is my understanding he possesses one of the triangles. Can’t they detect it?”

His accent was quite peculiar. Best guess placed it derived from one of the dialects used up in the high snow-capped mountains. The fact that he wasn’t actually implying incompetence gave the Private reason to feel relieved. Roslin crossed her arms, providing the answer they had been trying to get out of her.

“If they detect you, you blast your way out. Don’t go out of your way to sterilize the area, but make a hole as you need to. As for the Private’s condition, as long as he keeps calm, it shouldn’t activate. Circumstances might change that once inside the temple though. Be prepared for anything. Your extraction point will be half a click north of the station. Recovery will not return to collect you until that two hour window is up unless you call them in sooner,” the Minister said, moving on to the least pleasant part of such a mission, “If you are not at the rendezvous by the two hour mark, you’ll be on your own pending an official recovery mission. It’s a delicate area. The Zonai may be extinct, but that doesn’t mean the area isn’t claimed. Not too many folks will be pleased to hear a military operation is taking place inside what some consider to be a sacred place.”

It wasn’t a terribly pleasant thought, but it was important information to have.

“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t ask something like this,” Euless said, “But given the nature of the Private’s role in all of this, I would assume his survival is of paramount importance?”

“Absolutely,” Roslin replied, “I don’t want any casualties, period. But Link is too important to lose. The shard is one of your primary objectives. Link’s safe return is the other.”

“Understood, ma’am.” Euless said, showing no sign whatsoever of disdain or resentment.

Once it was clear the general details had been provided and no one had any further questions, the briefing came to a close. They would all receive detailed packets regarding the specifics of the mission while preparing.

“If that is all… soldiers… I wish you good hunting and may the goddesses watch over you,” Roslin said, then paused for a moment, letting the words sink in, “Suit up. You leave in eleven-thirty hours.”

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