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Down below

 

The argument from below awoke Heroditus, his parents' voices echoing up from the atrium of their house to his second-floor bedroom window.

 

"No, he's too young! You shouldn't take him to a scene of such...carnage!" 

 

"He is my right hand, and he needs to know the nature of our foes! Especially with him about to go Above!" 

 

The third voice wasn't immediately familiar, and spoke more quietly than either. "Whether you bring the boy or not, we need to go quickly before the spoor is lost. I trust you, Stylianos, and if you trust your son's discretion, that's all the word I need." Peering out his window, Heroditus could make out quite the crowd down below. 

 

His mother, his father, and a figure in a general's armor he thought he recognized were standing in the courtyard around the back of a high-speed watercraft that looked to be of military make. The general was accompanied by several soldiers, all of whom were still inside the craft proper. There was enough room for more inside.

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Heroditus had been up late reading some recent techno-mystical journals (die-stamped on thin sheets of copper), and so had not gotten much sleep.  He remained in bed a moment, listening to the row below.   

 

Mother always was too cautious, he thought.  She'd been reluctant for him to go above, to this Clare-mont, though she did also recognize the immense potential it offered him.  His father had been completely for it, ever since he'd presented the idea to his parents.  But I thought their arguments were settled on this?  Why- oh!

 

He'd slowly risen from bed and walked over to get a look at his parents, and was surprised to see who else was there.  He quickly swam down the hall -- noting his sister was not in  her room --

and down to the bottom floor, then out to the courtyard.  "General Dalekos!," he greeted him, raising his clenched right fist to his temple in salute, then nodded to his parents, "father, mother.   What goes on?"

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His mother muttered something about the big ears of little pitchers while his father said, "Ah, you remember the general, good. He has come to consult with us about a...crisis near the western border." Close to where he'd be going for Clare-mont, come to think of it. 

 

Dalekos returned the boy's salute with the nod an officer would give, then walked close to Heroditus to clap him on the shoulder. "Atlantean blood has been spilled, and I need your father's eye to catch the beasts that did it. He tells me your eye is as good as his." There was an unspoken question in the general's voice, one that he expressed with a raised eyebrow. 

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Heroditus bowed his head, and blushed a bit at the General's praise.  "I try, sir, and hope to follow in his wake one day, as a civil engineer."  He quickly cocked his head towards his mother, "I seem to have inherited some knack with biomedical engineering, though not as good as my mother's.  But," he raised his head and looked the general in the eye, mustering all the courage he could, "if their teachings have gifted me an ability to see some pattern that neither alone would catch, then I gladly offer my services to you!"

 

I can do this I can do this I can do this...

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And so it was that, with an embrace from his mother, Heroditus found himself riding alongside his father, a half-dozen of Atlantis's finest soldiers, and one of its most respected generals. Dalekos had evidently briefed both his father and the troops under his command already, and once inside the high-speed craft he took an interest in Heroditus - notably bringing the young man and his father up to the front of the cabin where they could see the view. They sped through the inhabited areas near the Great Rift quickly, and were soon on their way through the relative quiet of the abyssal plain. 

 

"Have you ever seen a Deep One, young Heroditus?" asked Dalekos. 

 

"In his schooling," offered his father with a glance at his son. "Things aren't like they were when we were boys." 

 

"Mmm. Well, what did they teach you, then?" asked Dalekos curiously. 

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"Well, sir," he began, recalling what little he recalled from his non-artisan lessons, "aside from the stories some parents use to scare their wayward children, I understand them to be living blasphemies, the result of Atlanteans who... comingled with the degenerate Serpent People of Lemuria, either by choice or not."  He tried to sound clinical, objective, sticking with the facts as he knew them.  "They have an endless hunger, for flesh and souls.  They may be just as intelligent as us, but seem wholly dominated by their appetites, and the influence of their nameless demon-deities."  He knew that was a controversial statement -- there simply hadn't been many studies of Deep One intellect or culture, and the few who had been captured and interrogated were either raving fanatics or more akin to wild animals -- but he wanted to be thorough.  "They are definitely faster than us, have powerful claws, and strong scales that offer them some protection from conventional damage.  Many also wield strange magics, or have altered captured Atlantean tech to their ends.  And that they can do the same to us, can use their preternatural magics to transform captured Atlanteans into Deep Ones, twisting their captives' bodies and minds into mockeries of their original self."  He shuddered at the thought.  Perhaps some of the soldiers did, too.

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Dalekos nodded. "Your teachers have taught you well, and you've moved beyond them, excellent. You're right to think them thinking beasts." 

 

"At least a mako is just instinct and hunger," commented one green-haired soldier on the otherwise of the watercraft. "That's respectable. don't want to kill and eat you in the name of their demon-gods." 

 

"Quite, Helena," agreed Dalekos, "well-spoken." He seemed to have a strong bond with the young people under his command, who watched him admiringly as he spoke. "There was an attack at a military facility near our border with the Surface World, further up on the continental shelf. The soldiers and scholars at the facility were killed, and much of their work was destroyed. I'm hoping your father's keen eye can restore what was lost, and I'm hoping your knowledge will help us with the greater problem. The facility was isolated, you see, and so many of the staff there had brought children." He fell silent, everyone in the craft did. "We do not yet know their fate." 

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"Merciful Poseidon," Heroditus muttered.  He wasn't particularly religious, not were his parents, but some oaths were so prevalent they'd become culturally ingrained.

 

Children... were they taken for sacrifice, or... transformation?

 

He tried to distract himself from dwelling on the fate of the young ones, focusing on more objective, technical aspects.  "What was being worked on there?  Weaponry?  Weaponry too dangerous to develop near our homes?  Something high energy?"  He began to ask more questions about what could be researched there, when another factor popped into his head.  "And you said it was near the Surface border -- could they have detected the attack?  Are we in danger of coming into contact with some Surfacers stumbling into this?"

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"The proximity to those Above is why I hope to keep matters both swift and discreet. They have been our allies," he said with an air of concession, "but even the wisest among them do not understand the affairs of Atlantis."

 

"What about the Queen Mother?" inquired another one of the soldiers, his guttural accent and pale skin marking him as kin to one of the barbarian tribes on Atlantis' northern borders. It wasn't a hostile question - but rather one that bore the mark of being asked and answered before from Dalekos's smile. 

 

"Now now, let's not speak of disloyalty, Atli. The Queen Mother has been an Atlantean longer than have - her Surfacer days are a mere accident of her birth." He touched his soldier on the shoulder, then did the same for Heroditus and his father. "Whether born Above, or in the outmarches, or in the heart of the Capitol - we are all Atlanteans. That gives us something our enemies lack, and will give us our victory. We will evaluate the extent of the damage, take what revenge we can, and perhaps with Posiedon's blessing rescue those taken from his side. In Posiedon's name!" That earned him a rousing cheer from his troops. 

 

"The general tells me that the project was large-scale, classified medical experimentation," whispered Heroditus's father when they had a moment. "and the device he wishes repaired is the power generator of the station. I urged your mother to come too, but she said someone had to stay home and mind your sister." 

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"I didn't see Theodora when I left, though," he whispered back.  "Not in her room, not in the house.  Was she out back?  And a medical experiment?  Why would that need to be conducted so far out here?"

 

Medical experiment, but out in a remote area.  In case something went wrong.  What could go wrong?  A bioweapon?  No, Dalekos would have said that, even if nothing else.  Medical... regeneration.. restoration...

 

His eyes went wide as a thought darted through his mind like an eel, dragging through bits of recent conversation.  It was an insane thought, but perhaps madness was needed to combat madness.  He looked back to his father, with a questioning look that his parents had become wary of, then turned and approached Dalekos.

 

"Ah, Genral, sir, I'd like to know more -- if I may -- about the facility.  I know some things must be kept confidential, of course, need-to-know, but," he swallowed hard, trying to steel himself and not look the fumbling child, "if I am to help you, to the best of my ability, then I would need all the information I can.  About the children -- their ages, numbers, and so on -- and about the nature of the experiments being conducted there."

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There had been some fifty Atlanteans at the facility; forty of those adults, ten of them children between the ages of 3 and 12, about half of those being the children of Dr. Laertes, who'd been in charge of the whole operation. "The facility is one of several in the kingdom engaged in a certain project targeting a particular contagion that has threatened Atlantis for centuries," said Dalekos, choosing his words with care. "Suffice it to say that we had anticipated a Deep One attack, given the facility's nature, but the guards at Project Rebirth were evidently taken by surprise." 

 

 

Artificer and his father had a ride that a Surfacer would have called about two hours in the company of General Dalekos and his guards. They turned out to be pleasant enough company under the circumstances; Heroditus had the idea they didn't speak much to civilians in their day-to-day lives, and full of stories about wars against Deep Ones, barbarian warlords, and the various perfidious enemies of Atlantis. Their destination was in the euphotic zone along the coast of North America, perhaps only a hundred meters or so down. The facility they sought was built straight into an underwater mountainside, a seamount that jutted out of the Surface entirely well above their heads. The watercraft docked at the exterior hatch, and with a final word Dalekos and his crew began the project of unlocking it. 

 

Heroditus's father put his hand on his son's shoulder as the soldiers opened the airlock before them. "Are you sure about this, my son?" 

 

 

Meanwhile, in Glamazon's apartment up Above, her phone buzzed with a text - the fuzzy number showing her it was coming from an Atlantean system tying into the Surfacer communications network. 

 

COME TO (a set of geographic coordinates that were about an hour's swim from Freedom City). ATTACK BY DEEP ONES. OUR SHAME MUST BE (a collection of characters that the Atlantean-to-Surface bridge had thoroughly baffled.) 

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Thaelia had been watching the television set in her studio apartment within the Freedom League Special Circumstances housing.  Although officially an ambassador to the surface, the day to day of her job had mostly been a disappointing number of photo ops.  As such she had decided to stay in today, that was when the phone buzzed with fervor.  The Glamazon stared at her phone for a moment.  As if trying to decipher the missing communication, only rising after it became clear she could not.  In an instant she crossed from her living room and into the bedroom.  

 

"Gods, what trouble have these vile creatures wrought this time?"  For a moment, she though of Aquaria.  The last time Thaelia rushed to attack a Deep One, it wasn't exactly as black and white as she had been led to believe.  Still, she could not ignore a call to aid her people.  But, she also could not leave dressed in surfacer clothes. The rumors made even a woman with as little foresight as Thaelia seemed to have, shudder.  The demigoddess would head out the door and speed off, as soon as she finished putting on her signature armored garbs. 

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'Rebirth'?  'Contagion' that has 'threatened Atlantis'?  Yes, I'm almost certain my hunch was right: they are looking for a way to turn Lemurians back into Atlanteans.   A noble goal, certainly.  But how would that work?  The physical changes are one thing, but the mental compulsions.  And even if their minds are restored, would they not still have the memories of whatever atrocities they'd witnessed, that they'd committed? 

 

Heroditus nodded, but kept his thoughts guarded.  "Yes, I can imagine those foul creatures would want to stop any such research.  Perhaps even hope they can find something that would let them spread and accelerate the... contagion.  To weaken us from within."

 

-

 

He was not used to talking socially with others, but tried to participate, for the good of the soldiers.  His focus was on the technological side, of course: what weapons & defenses they'd used, what items the barbarians had (possibly salvaged from other Atlantean outposts), any interesting things among their enemies.  His father shot him a few looks -- Atlantean society tended to be conservative (almost to the point of rigidity), and such naked curiosity was unusual; his was excessive even for a teenager.  Was such curiosity what doomed the researchers they were now seeking?  And so, when he'd asked if his son was ready, it was as much out of wanting to temper his questing spirit as it was from concern for his safety.

 

"I am, father," he replied, his courage redoubled.  "I want to help, and I want to make you proud."

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"You already have," said his father, high praise indeed under the circumstances. With the soldiers in the lead, father and son headed out into the ruined Atlantean military installation. 

 

It was clear from the moment they entered that something apocalyptic had happened here. The bodies of the dead weren't here (they'd all been moved to what had been the station's common room) but the marks of death were everywhere. Everywhere smelled of blood and gore, and it was visible on the walls, floor, and ceiling. Heroditus could even see where the Lemurians had used the blood to write their unholy sigils everywhere, a disturbing pattern of vandalism that continued all the way through the station's central control room. There were again no bodies, but the blood, and the carnage, and the writings in unholy ink told Heroditus a tale as eloquent as flesh. 

 

Dalekos looked up at the big arcane sigil overhead and looked disgusted. "You see? Right there - victory, in Lemurian. Well, we'll show them the price of victory. All right, Stylianos, Helena will take you to the, ah, apparatus. As I understand it the actual damage is gross rather than fine; if you can ensure the central mechanism can be repaired, my other crew of scientists can take it from there..." Dalekos scratched his chin thoughtfully, then looked at Heroditus. With the air of a teacher testing a student, Dalekos asked the younger Atlantean. "And you, young Heroditus, where should we proceed next?" 

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"That's no-" he started, then suddenly clammed up.  That's not 'victory,' that's 'justice'.  But why?  What would a Deep One's concept of justice be?  And surely Dalekos wouldn't mistake that mark, so why the deception?

 

"That's... noticeably more blood than I was expecting, sir.  They way they get it to stick to the walls, underwater.  Must have used some sort of binding agent..."  Examining the damage to the rooms, and remembering the layouts of similar workshops he'd been in before, gave him an excuse not to look Dalekos in the eye.  His gaze lingered on the smashed equipment -- shards from crystalline thought-recorders, shreds of die-stamped metal foil records, cracked watertight sample containers, smashed abacuses.  Most had been swept aside and stuck into nets in the corners, though a few small pieces drifted here and there.  "They struck everywhere? The attack reached even to the air-filled upper chambers?  Well, of course it would have," he answered his own question, "any dangerous pathogens would be stored up there, away from the water, to limit spread in case of a containment leak."

 

He paused, cleared his throat, "my apologies, Sir, you had asked me a question.  Since you already have people going to the... apparatus, which I presume is in the main laboratory, I would suggest investigating the scholar's quarters.  Some of them may have kept backup copies of their notes in their personal effects, and those may have been overlooked in the attack.  Retrieving them would help in restoring what was damaged."  He began to swim ahead, wondering what they would find next... and what Dalekos wasn't telling them.

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Dalekos smiled thinly. "Well, certainly young man, don't let me stand in the way of your investigations. But remember we have other priorities than the mission. Atlantean blood has been spilled here, and Atlantean children taken." He put his hand on Heroditus's shoulder and said, "I'll meet you out here in an hour, hmm? Then you can help your father and I work the tracers that will find us where the children have gone." With that he left Heroditus to his work. 

 

The quarters weren't too different from other military-style communities Heroditus was familiar with. He did note that there was considerably less carnage here, no blood patterns on the walls and rather less property damage. It was easy enough to find the rooms where the children had lived, as they'd belonged to the highest-ranking scientists and officers stationed here. These rooms had already been searched and cleared out by Dalekos's men, naturally, leaving only crystal images, quicksilver in their frames, scattered about of families now torn apart. In these rooms - and no sign of their research. 

 

He'd have to search the rooms of the lower ranking scientists, and perhaps the barracks of the lower ranking troops, if he wanted to know more...

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Posted (edited)

And search them he did.  The lower-ranked scientist's rooms had nothing pertinent (though many fascinating items!), but the grunt barracks revealed some damning bits of evidence.  Wedged between a soldier's cot and his personal effects chest was a large crystal shard, a little over an inch long and about half an inch in diameter, with silver caps on either end.  It was a thought recorder, one of the semi-common relics of Atlantis' great past that could be recreated by modern techno-mages, used as a diary, and it had quite the story to tell.

 

So they were experimenting on Deep Ones -- children and adults -- trying to turn them back into Atlanteans!  And the Deep Ones struck back, taking the researcher's children -- their 'justice' -- and likely intend to transmogrify them!

 

Thoughts careened through his mind as he made his way to the dry cells above.  There must be a Deep One creche nearby, where they captured the children.  That could be another reason why they built the station out here.  Is that where they would have taken the researcher's children?  There may be clues in the cells where they held them, something scratched into the walls.  And what about that quick armored one?  Supposedly an outcast, but did the others follow him?  Could he have come back, freed the others, to get them loyal to him?

 

There's a lot going on here that I do not understand, and I do not like that, he thought as he reached the air-filled cells above.

 

 

Edited by Dr Archeville

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Posted (edited)

The dry cells were distinctly uncomfortable, both for the arid conditions and the stench of dried blood.  But the trip was eventful, confirming some of his guesses while raising further questions.  He bid Atli farewell, and made his way back to the rendezvous point to meet with Dalekos.

 

'I am transformed by flesh of my spawn'?  Well, the most literal interpretation would mean that Deep One spawn are used in the process of transforming Atlanteans into Deep One.  Sacrificing them in some ritual?  Possibly cannibalistic?  No, no, that's too mad even for them, killing their own young to change another... although, if they were desperate, and needed adult soldiers more than future generations...  Wait... no... was Laertes using... no... using Atlantean children to transform Deep Ones back into Atlanteans?  What was it mother's talked about, using donor tissues from relatives having a better chance of... no no NO!

 

He paused in the hallway, feeling ill.  He was hyperventilating, tried to force himself to slow his breathing, but the faint stench of gore in the waters, the lingering odor of disinfectants, kept dredging up images of experiments in his spiraling imagination.

 

Edited by Dr Archeville

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Glamazon's arms rested by her side as she swam through the ocean.  Each time her leg kicked out, the woman inched forward with such force that from the distance it was as if a torpedo had been propelled towards the Atlantean installation.  Unlike her more shape-shifting family members, the demigoddess traversed the seas with raw might.  With all the subtlety of a whale batting against a reef her path curved towards where the directions had indicated.

 

Expecting to be overran by Deep Ones one arrival, she came ready to slug it out.  Glamazon's voice boomed forth as she spoke, "Beware vile fiends, for the daughter of the seas has arrived to present you with a most painful gift!"  Rushing in, she slowly began to wonder where the sound of explosions would be.  Or at least vibrations.  Combat had a more "welcoming" chorus in her experience.

 

This is the quietest assault, I have ever been presented with.

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The sudden confusion down below turned out not to be a discovery that Heroditus had broken his leash. "What a pleasant surprise!" Dalekos was fuming as Heroditus and his father arrived almost simultaneously back at the main control center. Heroditus just had time to note the distinctly haunted look in his father's eyes as Dalekos said, "Stylani, we are honored by a visit from Princess Thaelia herself. I am sure her arrival will only serve to help us capture the monsters responsible for this attack. If you'll join me?" 

 

And so it was that, after being reassured by an Atlantean soldier that the military had this situation well in hand, Princess Thaelia was ushered into the airlock to greet one of the highest-ranking officers in the Atlantean military at a military installation with which she was not familiar. Dalekos saluted her in military fashion, hand to his armored chest, then out again. "My lady! You honor us with your presence. Have you come to join the hunt?" 

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Thaelia?  Here?!  And Dalekos looks none too pleased with this.  Clearly he wasn't expecting her here... does the Royal Family even know about this?  Was this sanctioned by them?  They'd have to know something, the military alone could not have arranged for all this, they'd need additional resources... but did they keep them in the dark about what was really going on here?

 

He swam next to his father, glanced at Dalekos, then back to Xyles.  "Father," he whispered, relying more on hand signals and gestures than spoken words, "what did you see?  I have seen much which makes me question this place.  Their ultimate goal seems noble, but their methods-"

 

Then Thaelia entered, and he swiftly raised his clenched right fist to his temple in salute, as any commoner would to a noble (or military agent), then quickly bowed.  "Your highness honors us with her presence."  He did not look up again until she (or Dalekos, or his father) spoke to him.

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Thaelia would have protested the formalities, if not for the fact that the installation did not seem to be under attack.  With nary a Deep One in sight, she reflexively gave a curt nod as their fist slapped against the metal adorning their chests.  "A hunt?  I was alerted of a Deep One attack.  Perhaps I have some misgivings of what has occurred?"

 

Her eyes traced over to the youth who was bowing.  Assuming him to be a fresh recruit just out of training she smiled.  "You may rise soldier.  The honor is all mine, the crown serves the will of the people."  The statement came out like a grad student doing a rehearsed elevator pitch.  That is to say she has had to use that exact phrase many a time  Her attention seemed to return to the room itself.  Looking around the unfamiliar installation she openly asked any who would answer.

 

"Forgive my ignorance, but have the gods truly graced us with the gift of a battle?  If it is simply a matter of collecting rations, your princess has no qualms with assisting in a hunt most glorious."

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"Ah, then you hadn't heard." Dalekos looked downcast for a moment, then said, "Atlantean blood has been spilled, my lady. A raid by the Deep Ones - our good scientists and scholars slain, their children stolen for fell purposes. Myself, my soldiers, and the Stylani here," he touched Artificer on the shoulder, then his father, "are all that stand between a half-score of our children and unspeakable tortures. But now we have the might of Oceanus on our side." He gave Thaelia a hard smile, then said, "The sensors in my watercraft were able to pick up a blood spoor leaving this facility behind. If you would honor us with your presence, my lady, we can show them Atlantean justice. Wouldn't you prefer that, young Heroditus?" he asked of Artificer. "I think you'll find it a more satisfying hunt than anything you'll find in here." 

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Posted (edited)

"Apologies, your highness," he remained bowed, "but I am no soldier.  I am apprentice to Xyles Ambrosio Stylianos," he turned his head slightly towards him, "my father."

 

Thaelia was familiar with the name Stylianos.  Their family had produced many gifted mechano-mages, instrumental in helping recover and maintain Atlantean technology and infrastructure. 

 

"I am honored and proud to be so, and-" he finally straightened up and looked Thaelia's way, but saw Dalekos was already addressing her.  And then Dalekos addressed him"Eh?  Oh!  Er, well, that is, sir... as I just said, I am no soldier, and am ill-suited for such activity.  I have, of course, undergone basic military training for my age cohort, and am eager to serve Atlantis to the best of my ability.  It's just that... my best abilities are more suited to providing materiel, not using it.  I do not know what help I could be out there... but I am certain I could be useful here, with my father, working on restoring what was damaged in the attack."

 

And perhaps uncovering proof of what was done here.

Edited by Dr Archeville

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Thaelia examined the father and son pair.  House Stylianos contributions to Atlantis went without saying.  Far be it from even someone as audacious as the princess to try and drag them out of their wheelhouse.  But, she only grew to appreciate the value of deferring to more intelligent peers due to her time at Claremont.  So if neither party was seeking a fight, why would she force them?  She simply beamed a bright smile towards the younger one in an attempt to reassure that she was not offended by refusing the call to arms.

 

"General, if they wish to stay behind it is of no concern.  One must assure the last of the children stay safe while we hunt.  In all the Seven Seas, you'll find no fist mightier than those of the Daughter of the Seas.  Rest assured, it is as you said.  On this day I will bring you glory.  No doubt a researcher beckoned me for aid."

 

Though Thaelia couldn't help find it strange that the installation both had scores of children yet not enough soldiers to defend it, she didn't think too hard on it.  What good would that do?  Even the five Atlantean Praetors couldn't just snap their fingers and send more soldiers at a whim to a remote installation. 

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