“There are seven ways into Ikalga, not counting the three main entrances,” Max said. “The one I prefer to use will only fit two people. You said you’re okay navigating in by yourself, Drill?”
The brown haired man nodded.
“Okay, then we’ll meet here.” Max pointed to a building on a hand drawn map. The mysterious individual rolled the map up, tied their hair back in a bun and pulled a hood over their face.
“Ah, so you’re Max for tonight. Why do you always go as Max for stealth?” Drill asked.
The black hooded figure’s face was visible enough for Drill to see the eye roll. “It just happens, okay?” Max smiled before pulling more black material over his face, “C’mon Panther.”
Drill smiled at Max and nodded goodbye to Panther. Panther returned the nod and took off along the wall with Max.
Time to get to work, Drill thought as he began to change. Almost instantly, he was in his tiny black and yellow bee form. He took off and lazily flew into the Ikalgan skies. They were dark so no one would be able to spot him but it was unlikely for him to be spotted even if it was daytime.
Drill pumped his tiny wings and floated over the two walls: the one of stone and the older, wooden wall. A few men were patrolling the wooden wall, but nothing Drill couldn’t handle in a fight. Fortunately for them, he wasn’t in a fighting mood.
Drill began to descend after he had cleared the walls, weaving his way through the streets. They were nearly empty. It looked as if they’d had trouble staffing themselves with hybrids to patrol the streets at night. Drill internally shrugged, it just made his job even easier.
He followed the mental picture of the map, taking a right turn past some residences and finally coming upon what looked like an abandoned barn. Drill changed back into his human form, dusting the dirt from his covelt jumpsuit as he leaned back against the barn, patiently waiting for Max and Panther.
The two soon turned the corner, hidden in the shadows of the building.
“This city has become quite easy to traverse since DeLure took the police,” Max said.
“Especially at night,” Drill agreed.
“Two hybrids and a native – the perfect, stealth team,” Max said. “Anyway, this hatch has a rock-door – I think we’re starting to get to them…”
“Let’s get down there,” Drill said.
The three of them crept into the abandoned building. As he followed Max, he took a look around. There were empty stalls that probably once held horses. Some of them were collapsed in on themselves due to the rotten wood – a perfect place for a hideout.
They made it to the back of the abandoned barn and Max pulled open a hatch. Panther dropped down and Drill followed. They continued down the cramped, dark tunnel, almost having to crawl through it. There was no end in sight. Drill’s back muscles were just beginning to scream when the tunnel let out into a tiny room. He moaned in relief.
Max emerged from the tunnel and lit a candle that had been tucked inside her jacket. Once light filled the room enough to see, Max felt confirmed to Panther that it was the right place.
Panther gave a simple “alright” before placing both hands against the wall. She tested her footing and when satisfied, took her palms from the wall. She stretched for a brief minute, readying herself for the push before resuming the prior position. Panther’s jumpsuit tightened as her already massive quads strained as she shoved against the large boulder. The rock slid slightly. Max and I watched in fascination. Seeing Panther work was always a treat, no matter how many times I had seen her.
For Drill, it was mostly about the crush he had maintained on the powerful woman for the past 30 years. Drill noticed the same awe on Max’s face. Drill imagined for him it was more about the pure power Panther displayed rather than a crush. Drill didn’t think Max liked guys or girls, no matter whether they were in Max or Maxine mode.
Drill came out of his daydream when he heard the rock settle, having been slid over easily.
“Okay, perfect,” Max said. “It was supposed to be a one-use door. I heard it takes two or three men to put it back in place.” He winked at Panther and waved the group forward.
Drill caught up to Panther. She was breathing slightly harder than normal and shaking out her hands and legs out with each step.
“Hey, Panther – what weapon did you bring for me?” he asked her.
She smiled and pulled a serrated knife from her belt, handing it to him.
“Wonderful,” Drill returned the smile, taking the knife. Her choices never disappointed.
The trio silently continued down the winding path, tuning out the smells assailing their noses – they were definitely getting close.
“Why do these covelt lairs always smell like six hundred pounds of dung?” Drill asked.
“Not sure,” Max answered. “But!” He held up a finger, “This one smells of a trap. Panther get those pushing legs ready again. Drill get that…” Max looked to see which weapon he was using today, “knife, get that knife ready.”
Drill nodded. Max’s keen sense of prediction nearly always came true. The hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up.
Max led them into a large empty room. The air was stale and only a couple of torches on the wall gave off any light. “Yep. A trap.’”
Traps were Drill’s favorite. The enemy would be overconfident, coming right for him. It was less of a headache and more his style.
True to Max’s prediction, a thud rang out from the winding tunnel they had just come through, followed by several shouts.
“Ah, the whole lock us in bit.” Max walked to the back corner of the room and sat. “As much as you like the simplicity of fights, Drill, I do feel left out.” He then gave his full attention to his nails.
Drill walked to the edge of the entrance and leaned against the wall. Whoever came through would see Max examining his nails and quite the surprise when Drill and Panther were behind them.
The shouts quieted as the seconds passed, the attackers looking to take them by surprise no doubt.
Max looked up, indicating the group was nearly there. About a dozen men and women poured into the room, wearing a variety of mismatched outfits. Some wore the red and black of the DeLure’s while others had on the Trading Union’s old overalls. Despite their lack of uniformity clothing-wise, they did enter the cavern in a tight formation.
“What are you doing in here?” the man in front of the pack barked at Max. Max looked up and shrugged. Two men from the back of the pack dropped dead. The rest turned to find Panther and Drill slicing down another two.
Drill ran toward his next target, ducking into a slid at the last moment to slice at the inside of his opponent’s leg. Drill popped up on the opposite side of his attack, elbowing the guy to the ground. He would bleed out. Drill counted aloud, “three!”
Before he could parry the next individual, he heard the familiar pant and shout of a “four!” coming from Panther. Damn. He’d have to pick up the pace. Drill batted the sword of the individual rushing at him to the side, giving himself enough room to cut the swordsman’s throat. He didn’t bother calling out his count. He knew he was either tied or behind, so he put his focus into taking down his next opponent – a woman who warily circled around him.
“Come on,” he called with a hint of impatience in his voice. Drill heard two more individuals drop in the distance.
“Keep one alive, guys,” Max raised her voice to be heard over the fracas.
Drill rolled his eyes and lowered his knife. “Ugh, now I can’t win.” By his calculation, there were two more attackers left. Panther had enough trouble not killing her opponents, so it looked like the woman drill faced would be the lucky survivor. Not realizing this, or perhaps not caring, the woman charged him, sword held high. Drill dodged to the right but didn’t reciprocate an attack. “Lady, please…”
She didn’t listen. Charging again, she swiped for Drill’s torso. He rolled to the side, rising back to his feet behind her. With one clean swipe to the back of her heel, she fell face first into the rancid dirt. Panther’s last opponent dropped, definitely dead.
“Lady, if you had just listened you could have kept this,” Drill said, plucking the muscle he sliced in her heel. “But nooo…”
Max stood up and glided to the lady. “They never listen, Drill. I don’t know why you insist on giving them the chance every time.”
“Maybe some empathy left over from my childhood.” he shrugged as he tossed his knife back to Panther.
“Okay, so…” Max crouched down and motioned for Panther to flip the woman over. “We’re not going to torture you. We don’t even want any information from you. Just tell your boss to stop instigating us. It won’t end well.” Max stood up. “Did I miss anything?”
Panther looked at the lady. “Am I dragging her to the entrance?”
Max stroked his hairless chin. “Eh, it’s up to you. If you can carry her and then push the rock then sure.”
Panther nodded, mercifully grabbing the injured survivor by her good leg, and began dragging her toward the entrance.