Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Blue Nexus #91 - Xenomark VI, Home of the Mega-Burger

Previously in "Blue Nexus": An emissary named Eltar came to invite several members of the Zanderia to a festival occurring on the Kingdom Planet Xenomark VI. After some quick thinking, it was revealed that he came with malicious intent and that he may be the early signs of a massive invasion. To stave off that invasion, Phoenix called together Kyle, Sandy, Brenda, and Leley to head to Xenomark VI and attack the Trask, the organization that's placed a bounty on the heads of all the Zanderia members. After saying some temporary goodbyes, the five shot into space. 

The plan couldn't have been simpler for Kyle to execute, and yet couldn't have been more dangerous as well. Given his position and title that didn't come as much of a surprise, but he wished he would be doing a bit more than literally staving off Demi-War Gods the entire time.
He would have help, though he wasn't sure to what capacity. Kyle had been slated to take part in the tournament that Eltar, the emissary, brought up. If it weren't real then Phoenix had a back-up plan, though he hadn't divulged that information yet. For the time being, Kyle was to put his name down in the tournament and fight. It would allow him to only have to fight one Demi-War God at a time, but phrasing it like that took away the seriousness of the situation. Even with Sandy's help, who was the best hand-to-hand fighter they had, he wasn't sure he liked their odds after however many rounds of combat.
Sandy didn't show any signs of nerves. Throughout the planning she was calm, receptive, and understanding. Kyle put up the same face but all the while tried to fathom all the enemies he could face. All of the different powers he could see, and how strong they could really be. What if there were a real War God there to oversee everything? What if Cata, Ytu, or Raeala's father Eru were there? What then?
Nobody else asked these questions, so Kyle kept it to himself. That was easily a worst-case scenario. Best-case scenario would be that they somehow were able to outrun a majority of the coming Demi-War Gods, deal with the bounty on their heads, and get out of there before they even needed to fight anyone.
As they drew closer to Xenomark VI, everyone began to get ready in their own way. Leley continued to be the main navigator for the ship, since she had the best understanding of coordinates in outer space, while Brenda meditated, gathering up as much inner magic as she could to be ready at a moment's notice. Phoenix and Sandy readied themselves mostly by preparing disguises; while Leley and Brenda stood out, they stood out in a way that still allowed them to just pass off as aliens. Phoenix and Sandy were blatantly Earthlings. Phoenix had a few tricks up his sleeve, like wearing cloaks and using some holographic imaging around his face, while Sandy had to rely more on wearing a mask that melded with her face, giving her the appearance more in line with a Martian. Kyle had his Nexus gear and no matter what he would be spotted as a Nexus user right away.
Kyle followed Brenda's preparations the closest, meditating and allowing the Nexus to flow naturally within and without him. He could feel the heavy amount of it that the ship had absorbed in order to get its major boost going, but could feel wisps of it across the galaxy as they hurtled farther from the Earth, where he was the sole power source on the planet most of the time.
Loads of cosmic energy drifted into Kyle's senses. Some of it was not even of the Nexus, but vicariously attached to it as all things were. At first Kyle saw it as a major distraction to his meditation, but the more he dwelled on that, the deeper he found himself going into his own energy. It ebbed and flowed in his body, streaming like blood. He became aware of its power under his control, remembered all the skills he'd mastered with it and through it.
He came out of the meditation to a slight beeping sound over all of their heads. He glanced over to Phoenix who nodded and smiled at him. Sandy gripped her seat straps a bit tighter. Brenda still meditated, her red aura wavering around her.
"Take a look, Blue Nexus," Leley said, "our party awaits."
Kyle checked over his shoulder to the massive window looking out toward what had once been space but was now a planet almost twice the size of Earth filling his vision. For thousands and thousands of miles there seemed to stretch nothing, but there was one massive, beautiful heart at the center of the world that poked out like a diamond in a rock patch.
Gravity clasped their ship and Kyle's instincts kicked in. He gripped the sides of his seat and looked over to Phoenix, who just shrugged.
"Atmospheres," he said. "Gotta love 'em."
"Yeah, for real," Sandy said, and gagged. Phoenix chuckled and clapped her on the back.
"You'll get used to it if you do more outer space missions."
"This is not convincing me at all."
The rocking didn't stop until they finally got just above the clouds, but were still a ways from the ground. A few of the big towers of the city below poked up and were level with them. Kyle tried to see more but the beige clouds made it difficult to see anything. He observed that the sky above was a bit of a lime-green, though it favored a lighter tint. Leley took control of the ship and pulled up. The Nexus energy that'd been humming all throughout their trip silenced and they were back to regular fuel. Phoenix unclipped himself from his seat and stood up, moving toward Leley. He had to stop and adjust for a moment.
"Oof, right, gravity," he muttered.
"It's going to be much lighter on this planet," Leley said. "Not quite what it is on Earth's moon, but moving around will be much easier. We'll be able to fly much faster."
"Most of us," Sandy said.
"And run much faster," Leley said. She began fiddling with controls that Kyle didn't understand. He glanced across the way to Sandy, who shrugged. He shrugged right back.
They broke through the clouds and below and all around them appeared a magnificent city the likes of which Kyle had only ever seen on the previous Kingdom Planet he'd visited, although this one had so much more life and color to it. The city didn't seem to have any order to it save for the northern end of it, where an arena the height of a skyscraper and as wide as three city blocks pulsed with electric life. Several massive screens displayed words in all kinds of alien languages, all of which Kyle could read through the Nexus, and all of which just hyped up the combat tournament coming soon.
Scores of small ships and entities flew around the city freely but were never in danger of hitting each other. Kyle eyed all of them to see if they could possibly be Demi-War Gods, but after a few he realized he had no real way of denoting that and gave up.
One small pod flew up to be level with the ship and blared out, in a robotic voice, "Are you here for the festival? How long will you be attending?"
Leley looked over at Kyle, and gestured. He nodded. She must not have understood the language. Kyle flared up his aura around him and exclaimed through the Nexus, so the language filtered: "Yes, and as long as it will run."
"VIP or Guest parking?"
Parking, for real? "VIP. Two of us will be participating in the tournament."
"Were you invited?"
Kyle looked over his shoulder to Phoenix and then to Leley. They both shook their head.
"No, we were hoping to gain entry our own way."
"Excellent. Please follow me to guest parking." It turned and blasted off away from a larger lot of ships, and from the city proper.
Kyle shut down his aura. "Didn't want to give away our ship?"
"No, this will be spotted as a ship from our part of the galaxy in seconds," Phoenix said. "It's more a matter of not letting people know that we're here until we can get in the city and blend a bit."
Leley followed the pod. "Looks like we may need a transport into the city, unless we don't mind flying?"
"I don't," Phoenix said. "Besides, it's going to be difficult to tell where we need to get to."
"I think the arena stands out pretty well," Kyle said.
"And where does the Trask meet up?" Phoenix asked. "Could be anywhere, the city is massive."
"Massive?" Leley asked. "An understatement if ever there was one."
She had a point. They continued to fly for the next five minutes, maintaining their normal speed, and were only just on the fringes of the city. By car it could take hours to get back to where they'd originally arrived; walking, it would take over a day.
"We'll have to start at the heart of the city and work our way out," Phoenix said, approaching the window. "Assuming that all of the action will be concentrated on the arena for the next few days, all of the eyes will be off the Trask while they work their magic in the shadows. That's where we're going to hit them."
"But we didn't consider the scope of all of this," Leley said. "This city is too large for Blue Nexus and Violette to completely capture their attention.'
"They only need the attention of the Demi-War Gods," Phoenix said. "That takes the heat off of us for a little bit."
"I doubt they have just the Demi-War Gods to protect them," Leley said. She started arcing the ship down into a small spot between to other, much larger vessels. The pod backed away and allowed her to land the ship. She flipped a few switches and pulled a lever.
The door eased open in the back. Brenda opened her eyes and in a fluid motion undid her seat's clip and stood up. Kyle did the same, tugging on his longer sleeves and wrapping some of the scarf that he'd torn away from his cloak around his face. His blue eyes were all that were left to give off a glow.
Phoenix stepped off first, and after a moment, waved the others down.
"Should be safe for you and I to breathe, Violette, and you too if you want to power down for a little," Phoenix said.
Leley finished up with the ship and was off second. Brenda stepped off third and Sandy turned back to Kyle, a hesitant grin curled on her lips.
"I've never been to another planet before," she said. "But it doesn't feel like it's really another world right now. Just looks a little different."
"Trust me, it's going to get weird."
Sandy held her hand out, and Kyle linked arms with her. She pulled him a bit closer and the two started off together. She closed her eyes and then opened them back up. Kyle watched the world unfold around him.
The parking lot stretched on for miles but didn't obscure the massive shining, glowing structures of the city all around them that went on even further. The sky, still a lime-green, was coated with the same color clouds as before. Beautiful ships flew by overhead, all of different shapes, sizes, and models.
The pod reappeared in front of them and spoke in the same alien language. Kyle turned to it, eyebrow raised. Phoenix had his hands folded behind his head while he used his translator.
"Will you be needing transport to the main city? Where would you like to go?"
"We can fly ourselves," Kyle said. "But where you would say we should stay?"
The pod listed off a few building names that Kyle couldn't remember save for one, a Holiday Inn. That one only stood out for familiarity.
"Thank you," Kyle said.
The pod didn't acknowledge him again, and instead flew off into the sky toward more incoming ships. It zipped away and was out of sight, and mostly out of mind.
"How much you wanna bet those places he listed are being run by the Trask?" Kyle asked.
"Guarantee it," Phoenix said. "But we don't have much of a choice."
"Do we even have any money?" Sandy asked. "How can we afford a hotel here?"
"Of course we have money," Phoenix said. He gestured at Kyle. "That princess this guy saved gave us more than enough money for the week, if we're here that long. We'll be fine."
"You saved a princess?" Sandy asked.
"We'll talk about it later," Kyle said. "It's not my brightest moment."
Phoenix clapped his hands together. "Alright then. Let's get moving." He pointed to Sandy and Kyle. "You two need to head to the arena, and we three need to--"
"We should all do recon for now," Leley said. "I'm sure we can learn more about what the tournament actually is if we do so, and by doing that, we can learn more about the Trask."
"I agree," Brenda said. She looked around again, but with clearly more intent than anyone else. "This is a big city, but we have the best odds of gaining information where all the people are at."
"I hate crowded cities," Phoenix said.
"Then you can be our eye in the sky," Leley said. "You and Blue Nexus."
"I do think it'll be best for all of us if I stay away until the tournament," Kyle said. "And I'm the quickest here, so I can get away from trouble pretty easily."
"I'll take Violette and Shindari on the ground," Leley said. "We'll go near the arena and spread out from there."
"Eltar mentioned there would be other events, too," Phoenix said. "Suppose it wouldn't hurt to go looking for those.'
Kyle nodded. "Then, alright. Here we go, I guess."
Leley nodded. Sandy stepped away from Kyle and closer to Brenda, who created a barrier around them and lifted them off the ground. Phoenix spread his arms and activated his talons, spreading his metal wings hidden in a backpack behind his back. Kyle and Leley took to the air on their own power, and the five Zanderia members blasted at high-speed toward the great city at the heart of Xenomark VI.

Leley, Brenda, and Sandy all landed in a back-alley not too far from the arena. The alley itself was hardly that; it was more of an abandoned street, home to a few back doors and some old holographic signs that couldn't be read.
            Leley spearheaded the group. Sandy’s eyes wandered all around her, trying and failing to absorb all of her surroundings. Loud music blared at various tones. People chatted and shouted all around them. A few vehicles drove low to the ground but few were actually using tires.
            “It’s like New York City, but, a thousand times more hectic,” Sandy said when they arrived at the alley’s end. The sidewalks were flooded with people, and there didn’t seem to be a building in sight wasn’t stuffed up with patrons.
            Scores of different alien races walked by her. Beings made of gas, of water, of solid material. None of them paid her any mind. There were a lot that seemed to be angry but based on their body language they were probably just having a jape. She pursed her lips.
            “Not going to lie, it’ll be hard to distinguish what should be and shouldn’t be standing out right now,” she said.
            “Just keep your head up,” Leley said. “Come on, I think I know where to start. Shindari, stay at the back. We don’t need anyone sneaking up on us.”
            “Not a problem,” Brenda said, and the cavalcade continued forward, with Sandy sandwiched between Leley and Brenda.
            Leley walked with great fluidity through the crowd. Sandy had to tap into a bit of her magic in order to do the same and keep up with her. The lighter gravity did help with that, giving her a bit more air under her feet and allowing for a bit more speed then she was used to. It was if she were constantly moving downhill and had to add a bit of restraint to her movement, for now.
            A few vehicles passed Leley by before she dashed across the street. Sandy did the same, just avoiding another vehicle that would’ve obliterated her. It didn’t stop, though, and just kept going on, faster and faster down the never-ending street. She had to turn her head away from it before there was a massive explosion and rather than screams of terror or fear, several people on the street exploded with glee.
            A loud voice came over the city, talking with a deep inflection but with such speed that Sandy was unsure if it were even a language. Some chanting ensued. Leley spun around.
            “Shindari, go see what happened!” Leley exclaimed, her voice barely audible. “Violette and I can continue forward with this!”
            “Let me know if you need me!” Brenda shouted back, and took off down the street.
            Leley’s pace quickened. “This city will devolve into massive riots and parties soon, we have to be quick. The Trask will use that to their advantage as cover.”
            “Won’t people blame them for it?” Sandy asked, shoving her way through a hyped-up crowd.
            “Not if it’s some sort of entertainment for them,” Leley said. “Come on, we’re here.”
            She made a hard left turn that Sandy barely saw. Leley ducked into a wonky, distorted looking building. Sandy stepped in and had to gather her bearings for a moment.
            It was a restaurant, no doubt about that, but appeared akin to what one would see at a theme park. Walls were leaned over and nothing had any sense of equilibrium. A menu, or what Sandy assumed to be a menu, was on every wall, and there was no counter to order the food at. Instead, several pods smaller but similar to the one in the parking lot floated around.
            “Oh, thank goodness,” Leley muttered. “A language I understand.”
            “What’s it saying?”
            “It’s promoting the Mega-Burger.”
            Sandy pursed her lips. “The what?”
            Leley hesitated, then, “Not necessarily a burger like you would expect. Similar concept. They take the grains from Xenomark II and meat from—”
            “Why did we come in here?”
            Leley gestured around. “It was the biggest restaurant I could see for a bit, figured we could so some people watching. Turn on your translator and find a place to sit down.”
            “And if they ask for my order? How do I respond.”
            Leley held her hand up straight, as in “talk-to-the” kind of way. Sandy nodded and the two split off. Sandy filtered some of her magic down into her hands and made her way to a single high-top. She fiddled with her hair a bit and tapped on her translator, the feed going straight to her ear-piece.
            Static filled the air until a voice came in loud and clear next to her. A voice from the pod, taking the order of a gelatin-looking entity. Its voice was aquatic, bubbly.
            The entity got up after a moment or two and the table next to Sandy remained unoccupied, and unclean. She quickly snatched up some of the remains and placed them on her table. A pod came by just seconds after and looked to pause at her table, then continued on, content to see Sandy with food.
            Part of it smelled putrid, while some smelled sweet. A few bits of gelatin were left behind. Sandy nudged it away, breathing in little from her nose.
            Another ruckus roared up outside and nobody in the restaurant paid it any mind. Sandy did the same, but tried to listen in on some low-conversations on her translator. It didn’t do her any good: just some grumblings about how busy the city would be at the start of the festival tomorrow. Nothing about the tournament, or the Trask.
            One being caught her eye, and then had her complete attention when she realized what it was. Broad-shouldered with scaly skin and eyes aflame walked a complete monster from upstairs, flanked by much smaller guards. It wore a regal robe and radiated with absolute power, the likes of which Sandy hadn’t felt since the Six Pillars of Magic.
            “There’d better not be a line at this arena,” the Demi-War God said. “I don’t want to miss my chance.”
            “We’ve plenty of time left,” one of the guard said. “The sign-ins don’t stop until another two hours.”
            The Demi-War God ripped his hand around and his hand went through the man’s face and the head exploded, the body soaring back and crashing against one of the curved walls. Sandy clenched her fists. The Demi-War God met eyes with her for a moment, then snarled and continued forward.
            “Leley,” Sandy muttered. “Get Shindari and the BN on the line. We have somewhere to be.”

            Brenda stood in front of the arena’s southernmost post alongside Sandy, who faced the massive arena with contempt. Her experience with he Demi-War God clearly did little to get her excited about what was going on, though the behavior was about what Brenda had expected of the Trask. That man who crashed his vehicle into the crowd did so not for any mission or sport, but for fun, to get the party going. Several other explosions went off, but were contained, and near people that wouldn’t be all that harmed by them.
            All of them occurred near Demi-War Gods. She’d seen a few shady folk skulking around those crime-scenes, each of them keeping their distance, but recognized their kind from her time in chains. Thankfully, they hadn’t noticed her; or if they had, they didn’t make any noise about it.
            It’d been one hour since Leley summoned them forth, and only one hour left until their sign-in opportunity would end and they would be missing out on a major part of their plan. Brenda crossed her arms, not even bothering to blend with the crowd of enthusiastic denizens that gaped and gawked up at the arena.
            “Where is he?” Sandy asked under her breath.
            “Probably trying to draw as little attention as possible,” Brenda said. “His kind are going to be easily spotted.”
            “In a city with millions of people?”
            “That doesn’t matter, what matters is that we’re right here, where everyone’s eyes are going to be for the next week. So yes, in a city of millions of people that are all watching our every movement.”
            Brenda checked over her shoulder, and saw the familiar dark blue cloak flash through the crowd. She flashed her aura for a moment, quite casually, then stepped to the side. Others stopped and looked around, confused, but she had her head down and did not look anyone in the eye. She only looked up when she saw Kyle’s feet.
            “Sorry I’m late,” Kyle said. “I had to follow a few Demi-War Gods to get here. Ready to go in?”
            “Pretty much,” Brenda said. “After you.”
            “Why me?”
            “You’re the only one that can read the signs?”
            “Really, you can’t read any of these languages?”
            Brenda looked over Kyle’s head to some of the signs. “It’s in a slang I don’t understand. I get the words, but…”
            “Nah, I get you. People have to deal with it all the time on Earth. Follow me.”
            He nudged Brenda’s shoulder and she followed him through the unguarded arena gates. They headed toward a big glowing sign that didn’t have as many people near it, but did have a laser scanner hovering over it. Kyle walked through undaunted, and Brenda and Sandy followed.
            Nothing happened when they passed through and stepped into the door, but as they moved forward, the empty hallway shifted. The flooring in front of them spun around and the walls began to twist and turn until finally a new hallway appeared, one with a few more turns around it.
            The three stopped. Brenda held her hand in front of Sandy instinctively. Kyle checked over his shoulder.
            “Door’s gone,” he muttered.
            “A trap?” Brenda whispered. “So early?”
            “That scanner probably ID’d me,” Kyle said.
            “Step forward!” a shrill voice exclaimed. Brenda raised her eyebrows. Finally, someone she could understand. They took one step and the panels beneath their feet glowed. “Thank you! Are all three of you participating?”
            “Just two of us,” Kyle said.
            “Identify your abilities,” the voice said. “And do not lie. We will know.”
            “All of us or just the combatants?” Brenda asked in the alien language.
            Kyle glanced at the two, then said, calmly, “My name is Mogul, I am a Nexus wielder.” And his panel beneath him changed from orange to blue light.
            Sandy sighed, then said, “My name is Violette. I am a Combat mage.” And her panel beneath her changed from orange to blue light.
            Brenda’s panel turned red and she slid back two spaces from her comrades. Sandy tried to whip around but she and Kyle both slid several more spaces forward and a glass wall slammed down between Brenda and the other two.
            “Thank you for your time, you will now be escorted to the proper line for registration and fighter number,” the voice said. “The Trask thanks you for your involvement!”
            Brenda’s eyes flashed just as the panel beneath her did. She braced herself, feeling it about to move. Before it could move, though, she placed a panel of magic down on it, then flipped forward and created a barrier, landing on it. The panel swashed back and the hallway changed back to normal all around her, without any signs of noticing her whatsoever.
            Sandy and Kyle had both vanished, into the arms of the Trask. Brenda kneeled on her floating panel. If she left now she would not be admitted back in without getting involved in the tournament, but to move forward risked their furthered exposure to the Trask.
            Brenda reached up and touched her earpiece. “Leley, Phoenix, I’ve found one of the Trask’s meeting places. I’m going to explore it a bit further, I’ll check back in an hour if I can.”
            She moved her hand down and slid forward just one panel before another glass wall slammed in front of her.
            “Shield mage you have not been given admission and must therefore leave, the Trask thanks you for your visit!”
            Without warning, the glass wall slammed against her and flung Brenda through the door and back out onto the streets. The crowd around her roared with laughter. She leapt back to her feet, hands clenched. Damn it. How had they known she was still there? Perhaps they truly did have eyes everywhere.
            She brushed herself off and melded back into the crowd. When another explosion sounded, she bolted for it. If they could see her then so be it, if they knew she was following them then so be it. They would just have to stop her, and she had no intention of allowing that to happen. 

Next time: Kyle and Sandy begin their tournament run, revealing their powers to Xenomark VI and officially placing the targets on their heads; meanwhile, Brenda searches for the ghosts of her past in "Blue Nexus #92 - Live from Light-Years Away"!

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