Chapter 15 – What happened to Stevenarc?
“Are there any signs of the storm abating or at least changing direction, James?” Alanov asked as he looked out of the window towards the deserted landscape, wondering where Frankie was.
Looking at the screens and charts around him, James said “Not for a good while yet, Alanov. We all want to rescue Frankie but it’s too dangerous until the sands settle. I am sure you realise that too.”
Turning to his friends, Alanov replied “I know, I just feel helpless standing here in safety and knowing a close friend is out there, maybe even as I talk it’s too late for him as he has been out there for hours now.”
The swarthy figure of Stephano came striding across the room to join the pair. Looking out at the dunes, he said “We daren’t even send a raydrian out; their gills and feathers would get clogged with the sand and pull us down. I’m sorry that we can’t offer help either.”
The group were so intent on watching the storm; they didn’t see the doors to the rear open and Marcus Andron enter the room. His squat figure and ginger hair was such a contrast to the swarthy appeal of Stephano.
He looked at the group before he spoke to Stephano, “Stephano, we’ve got a report coming in from one of the scouts that have just returned from our base camp. The report said that there is a large group of Sand Demons massing to the West of here and they want as much help as we can give them.”
Without thinking James cut in “We can give you a little fire support. We don’t have much but you are welcome to what we can spare.”
Turning to James, Stephano replied “Thanks, James. Any help would be gratefully received, but you have your own people to think about, and you’ve done more than enough for us already. I’m sorry that you lost your friends and that Adria was injured on a mission that was meant for our group.”
Watching for a reaction, James asked “If this was meant for your group, surely you must be closer than Echo Point. Or the signal would be too weak to receive, you can’t risk a relay or piggy-back; you have no control over the end points.”
With no reaction showing, Stephano replied “We’re a lot closer than you would think. It was just that at that time, most of us were out of camp and couldn’t return. When we heard the call I can’t wait that long. We knew we had to drop all missions and try to get there for Stevenarc.”
Looking aghast, James and Alanov said “Stevenarc!”
Walking across the room with his coat of blue trimmed with reds and silver flowing behind him, Marcus replied “Yes, Stevenarc is one of our top agents. It was her choice to try and infiltrate Valwitch’s cadre. At the time we said it was too risky, but she said she had a plan and wanted to try it out.”
Alanov was getting over the news of Stevenarc being a Rider, when he said “Do you think she is still alive?”
Holding his hands behind his back as he paced back and forth, Marcus said “We can’t know for sure. If she is, we’ll see a signal tomorrow. If we don’t get it, we assume that she is dead.”
Alanov asked a question that he wished he didn’t have to ask, when he said “Do you think she may have been broken? And could possibly have given your group’s hideout out?”
Stepano replied “Never, she would rather die than give the group up, she hated Valwitch more than any of us.”
“Sorry I asked that, Stephano.”
“That’s okay Alanov. I can imagine how you feel.”
Far away from the relative safety of the enclosed domes, where the group had collected; Frankie raised his head to look thorough sandy eyes and sand blasted lids. Looking at the city across the dunes he mused “I wonder who this Jericho is? Or if he exists at all! There are so many stories of his work and yet so few hard facts. This isn’t the way I imagined my death. No last stand in the battle or heroic deed like Padraig’s. I will just be found laid here in a dune, some day.”
Looking at the setting sun casting its dark shadows over the dunes, Frankie noticed that the searchlights were still flicking their bright beams around the perimeter of the city. “They know I’m out here, so why keep looking at the walls?” He muttered, “Unless some other poor sap is trying to make an escape? If they are I wish them luck in getting out as the walls are guarded so well.”
Inside the city, the beams were indeed searching the walls and perimeter for somebody, but she was far from being a sap and had her escape planned, before she went into operation. Stevenarc had been watching and praying that Frankie got out as her escape depended on catching Valwitch off guard; and how better than a double escape in one night. Valwitch and her cadre would never think anybody would be foolish enough to make a dash, once the guards were on alert.
Looking at the pattern the lights were making and trying to pick her moment Stevenarc crossed herself and whispered “It won’t be long now!”
The harsh coldness of the white lights cut the darkening cityscape, leaving pools of darkness where they failed to reach and shadowy areas in the midst of the beams. Months had passed since she had planned her escape, yet even knowing it by heart. She was sweating and could feel her heart pounding.
“No time to waste, Frankie depends on me now!” she thought as she got on her Exrollo, the one she had carefully stowed away in a dark alley, a place few know existed and fewer ventured as it led right to the Sand Demons HQ and even Valwitch daren’t cross this group of renegades. What they didn’t know was that she had found a secret road around the city. With a last look at the lights, she dashed for the bike. Jumping on and starting up; she gunned the throttle and was out of sight before the lights caught her tail lights.
Racing ahead of the fading lights, Stevenarc was making good speed and turned the corner to head out to the desert when in her tracks she came across a ditch manned by soldiers all armed with Boltier rifles on the word of command all rifles fired at the Exrollo, Stevenarc felt the blasts hit the bike as she was hurled across the tank but fighting the blast she held on. Heading out of the city, with only the vaguest idea of where he could be, she saw the last glow of the dying flame.
Back in his dugout Frankie heard what he thought was the sound of a bike approaching “This is it!” he thought as he locked in the last rounds of his rifle. And took aim.