In Beta is back! After nearly a year (less a week), I’ve managed to get back to writing again. It will likely be on a random update schedule for the time being, but I’ll be trying to put time into it each week regardless.
Get caught up at the story hub. Enjoy!
Each step that Seraph took along the horde’s trail left him wrestling with the desire to break into a run, to catch them now and end this torturous hunt. The only thing keeping him in check was Hawk’s earlier advice about maintaining a level head. If he couldn’t manage that, Nephil would easily destroy him, no matter what his companions did.
He looked over his shoulder, searching for his companions further back along the trail. They were out of sight, of course. The daemons’ path had taken them twisting among copses of trees and hills, keeping him from maintaining a line of sight with the rest of the agents.
Instead of feeling isolated and exposed, though, Seraph enjoyed the momentary reprieve from Aura’s oppressive leadership. Through this entire mission, he had felt her judging stare picking apart all of his actions and words and finding them not able to meet her standards. The others had apparently taken notice as well. Hawk seemed to have taken on the role of mediator, trying to cast both his and her reactions in a more acceptable light to avoid conflict within the team. Brune likely knew what he was going through; Aura still turned an annoyed gaze his way whenever he seemed to disregard her commands in favor of his own ideas.
The most surprising, however, was Peri. He had seen her arguing with Aura during their last rest while he was getting Cade set up in his temporary camp. Though he hadn’t overheard the topic of their disagreement, the body language had been clear and he was not entirely sure that it had been fully resolved by the time he had rejoined the group.
As if she had sensed his thoughts, Peri’s voice rang clear through his comm line, “Hey, how do things look up there?”
Seraph looked around again, though he had already been on high alert for things out of place. “Pretty quiet so far, though not for long. How’s your side?”
“About the same.” She fell silent afterwards, but Seraph knew she was still there because of the lack of click that signified the end of transmission. He was about to ask her whether something was bothering her when she started to speak again. “Have you heard from the An- er… from Kat?”
Seraph hesitated. He trusted Peri enough to tell her, of course, but he also couldn’t help but wonder what his fellow agent thought his connection was to the enigmatic woman. “No, I haven’t heard anything from her. Why do you ask?”
“I figured she might know something about this the rest of us don’t.”
Something in her voice caught Seraph’s attention, an emotion he could not recall hearing from the normally upbeat agent. “You sound worried,” he stated before he could catch himself.
There was a pause on the other end, as if she were unsure how to address the feeling, “It’s just a weird situation. Like, this sort of thing has never happened before. Nothing remotely like this even. It’s hard to find a foundation for any type of plan when the information you have is so foreign to your understanding of the world.”
“What about when you started training as an agent?” Seraph reasoned. “I’d say the virtual reality thing is pretty different from anything else I’ve experienced.”
A sound that could have been amusement filtered through the comm. “It’s not quite the same. Our worlds are built upon extrapolated information derived from our dreams. There’s a certain sense of familiarity in that. Not to mention the knowledge that if anything goes wrong, the safeguards in place will protect you. But now we don’t even have that.”
Seraph nodded to himself, understanding her reasoning. He thought back to his first real dive into Beta and considered the feelings he remembered having. Yes, there had been a certain amount of anxiety, but it had been tempered both by his curiosity and Hawk’s guardian-like presence.
Before Seraph could respond further, though, the comm crackled with white noise and then went silent altogether. He tensed, immediately thinking that she had encountered daemons and had had to cancel their conversation. A dozen different questions flitted through his mind in the next instant. Should he warn the others? Go to Peri’s aid? Drop back to rejoin the group? Could he re-establish the comm link with Peri?
All those questions went unanswered though, when he noticed the presence directly to his right, keeping pace as he walked along the horde’s trail. In the moments before he reacted, his peripheral vision told him that it was the same height as him and dressed mostly in black. Further, he knew it wasn’t Kat. Seraph turned to face the figure and at the same time he took a step away to give himself a better defensive position.
The figure stopped at the same time and turned toward Seraph with a cold smile on his face. It was Nephil.