Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“You’re a killer, Jorn. What you’re doing out here? Everybody whispers about it.”
There’s only so many precautions you can take when you’re planning escape routes. Eventually, you will arrive somewhere others know you want to be.
“Why, matey? We were the finest special ops team. They used our missions as tutorials, man. Tutorials!”
Another fact of military life is that you spend your time hoping to meet soldiers who magnify your skills, and for you to do the same for them. The team gestalt is exhilarating. Betraying it is usually unforgivable. Right now, I’m hoping for a miracle.
“Jorn, mate: you’re done. The rest of the company are scattered across this wasteland. I click once and they’re headed this way, covering every escape option you can think of along the way.”
Tino’s already clicked. This is a delaying tactic. My record of escaping has started coming with bodycounts that make even hardened killers and their masters nervous. I see him quickly tap his belt. His comms have gone dark and he doesn’t like it one bit. Give him his due, he doesn’t show me anything other than that.
Time to try.
“Funny thing about Escalanza, Tino. How we had so many go off mission and never understood why?”
“They stopped enquiries after you vanished.” He flicks a finger up. “You found out!”
Four years. It’s taken him four years, and confronting me, to put that together.
“What do you know about the Nineteen Realms, Tino?”
“All the magic crap from kiddy cartoons and fantasy books rolled into a comfy blanky for tree-huggers, headcases, and cowards.”
There’s the heart of the problem. The revelation about the faerie worlds sent mankind into a collective epiphany of denial. Decades later, they’re still trying to erase the hated reality.
“So why are they still hunting Professor Wong? Why are you still stomping across worlds that seem empty, yet kill hundreds? Why do the MIA counts keep rising?”
I see his brows furrow. He’ll either talk or engage.
His elbow flicks outward. We trained for weeks to get the ‘nought to kill’ time down to quicker than most people can react. The enhanced projectile comes from his open-ended holster at nearly twice the speed of sound. It stops eight millimetres from my face.
She does so love giving me a scare.
“Tiny death,
screaming ore,
fall to nature,
and exist no more.”
The lilting refrain comes from the air to my left. The projectile turns to glowing dust and drifts away on the wind.
Tino staggers, eyes turning glassy. Bastard trick, overriding a man’s own body.
“Mathrey, we need to be gone. They’ve puppeted him.”
He vanishes. A tiny creature of midnight hues appears before me, hovering like a hummingbird on wings of molten silver.
“We knew they would. He was your friend. Their best chance to get close.”
Sick betrayal ending a loyal career. Gods damn them all.
“Where did you flicker him to?”
She rests a tiny hand on my eyebrow.
“To the puppeteer’s fortress in the sky.”
That should get their attention. Nothing like your own human bomb arriving in your command centre to make you cautious.
Two squads of former Earth special forces appear about me, each member with one or more specialists from the Nineteen Realms as partners.
“Mathrey, let First Envoy Kresdall know that I waive my objections. The only way to stop this, and to save the Twentieth Realm, is to save the humans that infest it from themselves.”
“That which Earther politicians call an ‘intervention’?”
“No, Mathrey. We go with honesty, as always. This means war.”