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                Talon carried Skull to the APC where Jet was waiting for them.  He all but threw Skull inside before jumping in himself.  The engine of the APC roared loudly as Talon pushed it to its top speed.  Skull sat beside him at the monitor bank, while Jet looked on questioningly. 

                “I like to think that I like fighting just as much as it’s obvious you do!  But dammit , man!  I was about to score!  Is that how you rate a good bar, by how many holes you blow in the place?”  Talon’s anger showed in his driving.  Each word was punctuated with a jerk of the steering wheel.  The APC swerved back and forth across the broken road.  Now that the fight was over, he remembered that it shouldn’t have started in the first place. 

                “I don’t take that kinda shit from anybody!  Especially not from some dirty-ass human!  Goin’ ’round blaming mutants for their problems!  And for your information, I didn’t even pull my gun this time!”  Skull settled back in his chair and relaxed.  He pulled the hand-blade from its sheathe and started to clean it.  His tolerance for humans was very low.  His tribal leader, Kantra, had told him that humans were evil and that they couldn’t be, nor should they ever be trusted. 

                “Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I ended up leaving my jackets behind.” 

                Talon slowed the vehicle down.  He too had calmed down.

                “No, you didn’t.  I held them under my arm as I carried us out.”  Talon pointed behind the chair with his thumb.  Skull smiled. 

                “So,” asked Jet.  “Who started the fight?  Was it you, or the human?”  Jet rested in the space between the two chairs. 

                “The guy started talkin’ shit, so Skull cut off his arm.”

                Jet fell to the floor laughing. 

                “Oh, I can’t believe I missed it.  Jeez!  And to think, I was about to get mad when you guys showed up late.” 

                Skull switched places with Jet, and carried his jackets to the back of the APC.  He customized both jackets and put the sleeves in the closet.  The APC shook as it bounced along the rough desert floor.  Skull put his hands on the roof of the transport to steady himself as he made his way back up front. 

                “How much longer before we get to where we’re going?”  Jet had parked herself on the floor just behind the front seats.  A small book sat in her lap.  She casually flipped through it, stopping occasionally to read certain pages. 

                “It’ll probably take another day and a half or so.  Our present course takes us around the Devil’s Hourglass.”  Talon kept his eyes on the road while he talked.

                “What’s the Devil’s Hourglass?”

                “It’s a large stretch of desert that covers, roughly, the middle section of Neutra America.”  Talon opened up the map the scientists had given them.  He stretched it across the space between his chair and Skull’s so that they could all see it.  He circled a large area in the center of the map that had been colored a light brown. 

                “This is the Devil’s Hourglass.  It’s nothing but desert sand and desolation.”  He ran his finger along the red line that indicated the path they were supposed to take.  “This is where the problem is.  The highway that we’re on right now ends here.”  He pointed to a small area on the map.

                “Maybe it’s me, but shouldn’t you be watchin’ where you’re goin’?”  Skull pointed out the windshield and at the road ahead. 

                “Don’t worry about it.  I’ve got a’hold of it.  Anyway, we’re gonna have to cross the Devil’s Hourglass.” 

                “I still don’t understand.  Is that going to be a problem?”  Jet had stopped reading long enough to go over the map with Talon and Skull.

                “It’s not a problem, per se, it’s just that the sand will slow us down a little.”  Talon jerked the wheel sharply to stay on the road.

                “How are we on gas?”  Skull was sure that they had enough to get there, but he wanted to hear it from Talon. 

                “We’re okay for now, but we’ll need to fill the tanks again once we get to…”  Talon was interrupted by Jet.

                “City Creatura!  That’s the name of the All’s city.  It’s a whole city under his control.  This is what I was doing while the two of you were getting thrown out of spell shops.”

                Skull and Talon turned and looked at her.  She looked up and smiled. 

                “That’s right, I saw the two of you go flying out into the street.”

                “That was Talon’s fault.”  Skull thrust a finger at Talon. 

                “Boys, please.  I think what I have to say is more important.  I have some information about the All that I don’t think you’re gonna like.” 

                Talon looked away from Jet and back at the road ahead, or what was left of it.  The area directly in front of the APC was gone, leaving a massive canyon as compensation for what it took.

                “Oh shit!”  Talon slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel to the right, but it was too late.  The wheels of the APC squealed against the sudden brake

                Skull turned back around towards Jet.  His left hand hit the cat-woman square in the chest, throwing her to the back of the vehicle.

                Talon slammed the vehicle in reverse but his every action was far too late.  The front and rear driver’s side tires slid off the face of the broken asphalt.  The wheels, in full reverse, lurched the APC backwards as it tumbled side over side down the canyon wall.  The four ton carrier tore along the wall’s rocky face, tearing away boulders that were almost as big as the vehicle itself.  Their descent, as painful as it was, was quick and violent.  The APC rocked the ground with God-like power as it landed right side up on its wheels.  The loosened rock face fell behind them like an earthen cavalcade.  The APC was brutally punished for the mistake of its driver and passengers.  The armored sides did their best to hold up against the pounding of broken stone and granite.  When it was all over, broken asphalt, concrete, and rock buried Talon and the others at the bottom of their two-hundred and fifty foot descent. 

                The canyon remained silent save for the whisper of shifting sand and the aged groan of pummeled metal. 

                “Aaaaahhhh!”  Talon screamed at the top of his lungs.  He had to know that he was still alive.  If he could hear his own voice – hell, if he could scream – it meant that he was alive, for however long it was.  Talon looked around for Skull and Jet.  The fall had shattered the windshield and earthen debris blocked out most of the light, leaving the inside of the carrier dark and cold.  The passenger seat was empty, and he wondered if Skull was even still in the APC.  As he wondered, he was surprised to find that he was still in his seat, and added a thought about the safety belt he wore. 

                “Hey!  Jet!  Skull!  Are you guys still in here?  Are you alright?”  Talon unstrapped his seat belt and prepared to look around for the others.  His vision suddenly became impaired and his face felt wet.  Talon stopped and brought his hands to his face.  It was sticky with blood.  His fingers traveled upwards and rewarded him with a sharp twinge of pain from a large cut across his forehead. 

                Talon’s hands fumbled for something to grab a hold of.  He gripped the arm of the chair with one hand, put his other on the dash, and tried to stand.  He gritted his teeth and let out a breathy howl as pain shot through his right thigh.  He let go of his hand holds and fell back in his chair.  He ran his hand along his right leg and found a sharp piece of metal protruding from his thigh.  A metal support pole had snapped loose and lodged itself in Talon’s leg. 

                “Skull!  Jet!” 

                “I’m over here!”  Jet crawled along the floor of the APC, trying to make her way to Talon.  She was battered and bruised, but none the worse for wear.  “For what it’s worth, I’m okay.  How’s Skull?” 

                “I don’t know.  He’s not up here any more.  I figured he either got thrown back there with you, or out of the APC all together.  Can you get up here?  I’ve got a… situation.” 

                “Hold on.”  Jet stumbled about, slowly making her way to the front of the APC.  A misstep on one of the many loose bullets that were rolling about caused her to tumble to the floor, and land right on top of Skull.  His body was wet and warm and made her fur sticky to the touch. 

                “I found Skull.”  Jet pulled herself to her knees and looked down at the Arion.  She couldn’t see where he was injured, or to what extent, but whatever it was, it was bad.  Skull’s body was covered in blood. 

                “How is he?  Is he hurt bad?”  Talon craned his neck around the chair to try and see Jet and Skull.  He rubbed the blood out of his eyes, but his vision didn’t stay clear for long.  

                “Yeah, he is, but I can’t see from where.  He’s out cold for right now.”

                “I’ve got a healing vial in my pack.  Can you reach it?” 

                “No good.  The contents of the packs are strewn are over the place.  The healing vials are all broken, so are Skull’s skulls.”  Jet left Skull’s side and crawled up towards Talon. 

                “I know that this isn’t the best time, but what the hell happened?” 

                “I’ll be more than happy to – aaarrgh!”  Talon yanked the ragged metal spike out of his leg.  Blood flowed from the open wounded as Talon pulled hard on his makeshift tourniquet.  He had taken off his belt and wrapped it around his thigh just above the wound.  He took a deep breath and tried to finish his sentence.

                “I’ll be more than happy to tell you in a minute.  Right now, we need some space and fresh air.  Talon tried to stand, but couldn’t.  The pain in his leg wasn’t incredibly great, but he suddenly felt weak and lightheaded.  The leg of his jeans was soaked down to the cuff, and Talon presumed that not only had he lost a lot of blood, but a minute or two of consciousness as well. 

                “Hold tight.  I’ll see what I can do to help.”  Jet pulled herself up towards Talon.  She placed her hand over Talon’s wounded leg and held it there. 

                Talon felt heat.  Intense heat.  Hotter than desert sand baking on the hull of the APC.  Slowly, the burning heat began to fade away, traveling down along his leg.  It felt like a warm mist lightly falling against his skin.  But it felt like more than that, much more.  It felt like power.  Talon had always perceived power as an intangible object, more mental than physical.  Something that was achieved through force and blood.  His father was a powerful man and that was how he became that way.  He knew of Mages and believed that their magic was an extension of their own drive and force of will.  A power not of their own; something that he could take from them.  This was different, more, it was something Talon didn’t expect.  To be honest it scared him.  Though raised among the scholars and philosophers of New Haven, Talon only believed in what he could hold or kill with his bare hands.  This was neither, and it made him feel small and impotent in comparison. 

                Jet looked up into Talon’s face.  He looked scared, and she wondered if he was afraid of dying from his injury.  She concentrated harder.  The fur on her arms stood on end.  The flow of blood slowed to a trickle, before stopping all together.  Talon watched as the hole in his thigh closed with a featherlike tingling sensation. 

                Once Talon’s leg was healed, she did the same to his head so he could see. 

                “Can you help Skull?  I’m pretty sure that we’ll need his help to get out of this mess. 

                “I’ll try.”  Jet moved over to Skull.  “Now can you tell me what happened?”  Skull was starting to come around with Jet’s help.  He had cracked the back of his head on the weapons table after being thrown out of his seat and to the back of the vehicle. 

                “The overpass wasn’t there.”  Talon tried again to stand and found it easier than before.  His wings hurt and there were feathers everywhere.  Broken glass from the windshield cracked under his feet.  Skull’s hand grabbed him by the ankle, almost tripping him. 

                “Hell, man.  If I’d known that bar fight’d make you this mad…”  Blood bubbled out of Skull’s mouth and ran down the busted lip of his smile when he talked.  Talon guessed that he had internal injuries.  Jet kept trying to heal Skull, becoming more and more drained herself. 

                “I didn’t know that the bridge was gone until it was too late.”  Talon tried to open the side door, but found resistance from the outside.  He hoped that Jet could help Skull.  He was more than certain that they were going to need his help now. 

                “Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we’ve been setup.” 

                “No shit!”  Jet did what she could for Skull, and lay back against the wall.  “The question is, what are we gonna do about it.” 

                “We’re gonna see it through to the end.  We’ll finish the game.”  Skull slowly lifted himself up off the floor.  He was a bit shaky, but otherwise okay.  She had done well.  Skull had pushed Jet away from the front of the APC when it began to fall, saving her from any serious injury.  She felt that she owed him her best. 

                “But why would the scientists invest so much, the vehicles and weapons, just to kill us?”  Jet’s speech was slightly slurred, and she spoke with her eyes closed.  She was on the verge of passing out. 

                “I don’t know.  I do know this.  We’re gonna find the All.  We’ll get answers one way or another.  If we have to, we’ll kill him.  Then we’ll go back and take care of the scientists.” 

                Skull walked over to Talon and gripped his shoulder. 

                “Sounds like a plan.”

                Talon looked over at Jet.  She was out cold. 

                “This job is not going well.  C’mon, let’s get this door open.” 

                Skull braced himself against the back of the door, Talon the front. 

                “We’ll go on three.”  Talon was already gritting his teeth.  “Two.  Three!”  The door made a high pitched shriek as metal scraped against metal and rock. 

                “Just…  Just-a-little-more!”  Talon’s muscles strained as he pushed, forcing the veins in his arms to reveal themselves.  Skull pulled hard against the bent and twisted handrail that he clutched tightly in both hands. 

                Skulls hands began to slip, and Talon suspected that he was still very weak despite the healing Jet had given him.  The two of them were only able to open the side door about a foot before the strain was too much.  The opening was big enough for them to squeeze through, and they hoped that that would be enough.  Skull and Talon stepped out and took their first unobstructed view of the surroundings. 

                The APC lay at the bottom of an old highway.  Parts of the overpass hung perilously in the air. 

                “Now what?”  Skull’s voice was just as strong as ever, but Talon could tell by his abbreviated speech and rough breathing that he was in a lot of pain.  Arion’s considered themselves the strongest of all races.  Skull wouldn’t admit to being in pain, and Talon wasn’t going to make him.

                “Well, the first thing we have to do is clear all these rocks off the APC.  Then we have to find some way to get over that.”  Talon pointed up to the opposite side of the overpass that they had fallen from.  Skull braced himself against the side of the APC and craned his neck to see where Talon was pointing.  From where they were, it was impossible to cross. 

                “Is there a way around it?”  Skull pushed his back up against the side of the carrier and pretended that he didn’t need it for support.  In all honesty, he felt as if he was going to collapse any minute.  He tried to take his mind off of the pain by finding a way to get back to the highway that they were on.  The only solution he came up with was to haul the heavy vehicle up the other side of the cliff.  It wasn’t something that he wanted to do; even at full strength, not something he and Talon would be capable of.  Not to mention that it still left the problem of what to do on the way back. 

                “There’s no other way that I can see.  Let’s not worry about that now.  Right now, we need to get these rocks off the top of this behemoth.”  The rocks weren’t as heavy as they looked, but were almost too much for Skull in his weakened state.  Talon did most of the work, encouraging Skull by talking about what they were going to do once they got to City Creatura.  It didn’t take long for them to free the APC. 

                Talon walked around the APC: the damage wasn’t bad.  Whoever made it knew what they were doing.  Talon praised the scientists for having the vehicle made, then cursed them and their damnable mission afterwards.  Skull stumbled his way over to Talon and leaned against the APC.  He hid his pain behind his usual mask of stone.  He felt lucky that the vehicle had landed right side up, and didn’t even want to imagine trying to turn it over. 

                “How’s the damage?”  Skull’s hair had come loose in the crash and hung in his face.  He finished unbraiding it while Talon talked. 

                “It’s not bad.  Mostly dents.  The tires are almost solid rubber, so we don’t have to worry about replacing them, even if we had a spare.  Our main problem is getting back on track.”  Talon pointed up towards the other side of the cliff. 

                “And, even if we get on the other side, how will we get back across?  I wouldn’t trust what’s left of that bridge on my worst enemy.”  Talon shook his head in defeat. 

                Skull was feeling worse by the minute.  He tried to hide it, but was sure Talon could see it in his eyes. 

                “Let’s go back inside and see if Jet has any ideas.”  Talon wanted to get Skull inside so he could rest. 

                “Sounds like a plan.” 

                Skull lay silently on the ground; his body still, save for the rhythmic movement of his chest.  He had only been sleeping for half an hour.  It had taken the talent and skills of both Jet and Talon to make him rest. 

                Jet gathered a handful of Talon’s feathers off the ground and tossed them in the air.  She playfully clawed at them as they floated down. 

                “So have you figured a way out yet?”  She continued to play with the feathers. 

                “I think so.  From what I know of this area, there should be an old missile silo around here.  Northwest, I think.  If so, all we have to do is find it and use the elevator to carry us up to ground level.”  Talon was happy with himself.  Deep inside he figured that their situation was hopeless, but now that he had found a solution to the current problem he was elated. 

                “And how do we get back?”  Jet looked at him, the feathers floated in front of her face.  It was an honest question, and she meant no harm by it. 

                “We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it.  No pun intended.”  Depression washed over Talon’s face like a midnight rainstorm.  He was sick and tired of the setbacks, and couldn’t wait until the moment when he’d be able to sink his claws into the hearts and throats of those responsible. 

                “I hate to tell you this, but the bridge is here, and we can’t cross it cause it’s broken.” 

                Talon got up from his chair and walked outside.  Jet followed.  It wasn’t her intent to make him feel bad.  The strain and deception was starting to affect them all. 

                “So, is Talon your real name?”  She wanted desperately to change the subject. 

                “Is Jet your real name?”  Talon felt that something wasn’t right.  Skull, Jet, the scientists, the All; he felt like a pawn in someone else’s game.  He turned his head and looked at Jet.  It wasn’t her fault, and he felt bad for taking his frustrations out on her. 

                “Yes, it is.  My mother named me Jet because of the way my eyes sparkle.  What about you?” 

                “Talon was my father’s name.  I adopted it when I decided to follow in his footsteps.”  Jet remained silent.  After her blow up with Skull she was afraid to say anything about their fathers.  “My real name is T’aleo Thenopolis Logan.  I was named after the leader of the Ariel rebellion squad.  And from what I know about Arions, Skull’s real name is just that.”  The sun began to set, casting a purplish glow over the horizon. 

                “I think that it’s time we started moving again.”  Talon opened the side door for Jet, and followed behind her.  Skull was still asleep on the floor when they entered.  Talon knelt down to check on him.  His breathing was steady, and from what Talon could tell, there was no sign of fever. 

                “He’ll be okay, but I think we should let him rest just a little while longer.  Arions have a natural healing ability, and with your help, he should be up and ready by the time we get out of this canyon.”  Talon assumed his position behind the steering wheel and started the engine.  Jet took her place in front of the monitors. 

                “You’re welcome to sit there, but there’s no need to watch the monitors.  The crash destroyed all the cameras, and if you look, monitors one and three aren’t working very well.”  Cut wires and broken transistors hung out of the busted empty frame. 

                “Well, that’s just great.”  Jet started playing with Talon’s loose feathers again. 

                “Don’t worry about it.  If the crash didn’t do more than dent the hull, then it’ll take quite a bit more to do us any real damage.  And if anything like that is coming our way, I for one don’t want to see it.  Cause even if we saw it coming, there’ probably not a damn thing we could do about it.”  Talon slowed the APC down and looked the map over.  He handed it to Jet to fold and put away when he was done. 

                “Hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” 

                Jet found her book on the floor.  She picked it up and resumed reading. 

                “Great.”

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