Actions

Work Header

Once Upon a Time in Ancient Exandria

Chapter Text

I – The Beacon of Light (Part One)

 

Beauregard Lionett shielded her eyes against the sunlight.

 

It was mid-afternoon; still early enough that the sun was high in the sky, and reflecting off the snow-capped peaks, even within the crumbling ruins that marked the temple entrance. Her sunglasses were next to useless, one of the (admittedly far too many) elements of her outfit that were built for form over function. They were made of cheap, fluorescent blue plastic, and had been a gift from Molly, after he had won them at an arcade claw machine.

 

It was supposed to be a simple grab.

 

At least, that was what Nott told her every time, and every time, Nott turned out to be a fucking liar. The last time Beau had gone on what was supposed to be a “simple grab,” she’d ended up handcuffed to a hospital bed deep in Xhorhasian territory with a broken ankle, and the ancient Zemnian vase she was supposed to be picking up was swiped out from under her by a shithead mercenary with a smirk on his face.

 

This time, Caleb had spent a week helping her research the beacon that the mysterious Xhorhasian benefactor had hired them to locate. A beacon which the research had failed to indicate was nothing less than the entire basis of Xhorhasian religion.

 

So yeah. Not a simple grab.

 

‘I’m gonna fucking kill her,’ Beau muttered. She had spent the last four hours taking down and translating the extensive Undercommon runes that spanned the walls of the ruin.

 

She needed a shower.

 

She needed a shower, a hot meal, and preferably, a nice hard fuck from someone she’d never see again, but so rarely these days did Beau get what she wanted.

 

She hadn’t wanted, after all, to inherit her family’s Estate. Hadn’t asked for her parents to die in a mysterious plane crash (not, though, that she was complaining). Hadn’t asked for the ensuing legal battle over their antiquities collection, or the discovery of an ancient treasure map that followed.

 

Still, she wasn’t going to lie; it was a pretty interesting life, traveling around the world, getting her hands dirty, reading up on history, and occasionally almost dying of a deadly illness that hadn’t existed in six thousand years. That had been a really fun one to explain to her insurance company, right before they had summarily denied her repatriation claim. Not that she needed it. The good thing about her parents having been assholes was that they had been rich assholes.

 

You’re not talking about me, are you?’ came Nott’s voice in her ear. Beau jumped. She somehow always forgot that they now had a functioning comms system, after going so long without one. In fact, Beau had gone so long without back-up that it still felt strange having people on her side, even if she was technically paying them. Though she had known Nott and Caleb for a while now, it had taken more time than she would have liked to convince them to work for her. Or work with her, depending on how you looked at it.

 

‘You said it was just a fucking relic,’ Beau snarled. ‘You didn’t mention that it happened to be the thing that they actually worship.’

 

Hey, you’re the one that spent so much time in the library. I’m just the one that takes the missions, arranges for transport, books hotels, smooths things over with the local police—’ Beau snorted. The last time that Nott had tried to “smooth things over” with the police in Vasselheim, Beau had spent eight days in a jail cell before Caleb had flown over with enough gold to pay them off and bail her out. As though it was her fault the dig site was being dug up by a legitimate government group.

 

‘Let me talk to Caleb,’ Beau interjected, cutting off a rant that she, admittedly, had not actually been listening to.

 

You can’t. He’s teaching right now.’ Caleb taught Zemnian history to a group of very unenthusiastic young adults at the Zadash Community College three times a week. His former adviser had blacklisted him against every legitimate educational facility in the area, leaving him hanging in the wind. Beau had tried, against Caleb’s knowledge (and wishes) to slip some money into the right hands, but apparently Trent Ikithon was powerful enough that not even a shitton of gold was enough to get people to change their minds. ‘Do you want me to tell you where the traps are, or do you want to find out when they chop your head off?

 

It wasn’t an unfair question. More than once, Beau had tried to push through without giving the place a proper look-over, and had consequently had to dodge a boulder, or jump across a pit of spikes. Her upper torso was covered in small, circular scars from where tiny bolts had shot from the walls. One of Nott’s latest “acquisitions” (Beau didn’t even bother asking where the goblin had managed to find it) was a fucking fancy pair of goggles that could see in the dark, and, more importantly, see the hidden switches in the walls. It was the same type of camera that the Empire military was using, only theirs also had infrared and heat-sensing. Nott had played around with the goggles, so that everything Beau saw came up on the goblin’s screen back at the mansion.

 

Beau took off her sunglasses, and put the goggles on.

 

There’s a gap behind one of the walls. Could be a passageway. Left, just beside the pillar. You might be able to bypass the entrance altogether.’ Beau turned her head to the left. It took her a few moments to spot the gap that Nott was talking about. The rest of the wall looked solid, but there was a small gap – a very fucking small gap – that Beau might be able to squeeze through.

 

‘I’m not a goblin y’know. I don’t think I’m gonna fit through there.’

 

Please, you’re fucking tiny by human standards. Just think – there’s no way Yasha would be able to follow you down there.

 

Beau rolled her eyes. She hadn’t seen any sign of Y-of Nydoorin. In all honesty, she wasn’t expecting Yasha to show up. This wasn’t exactly the other woman’s scene. Yasha tended to avoid the gigs that went too far into Empire territory. Unsurprising, given that she was from Xhorhas. The Empire tended to frown upon its own people pillaging tombs, let alone people from a warring nation.

 

The fact that this was a Xhorhasian tomb, and that the Empire had systematically murdered all the Xhorhasians that had lived here was not a fact that escaped Beau’s notice. It was close enough to the (contested) border that there were still incursions, but well enough into the mountains that people tended not to come here anyway. It had taken Beau two days of hiking, plus one of climbing to even get to the entrance to the damn place. She didn’t give a flying fuck about the five thousand gold that their client had offered, but the access to Xhorhasian ruins was a boon that she couldn’t turn down.

 

Beau stared at the wall. The text here didn’t look any different to any of the other writings in the room. This particular section spoke of how the Luxon had first brought light to Exandria. It had taken Beau a considerable time to translate properly, since the Kryn dialect of Undercommon used the same symbol for the Luxon that it did for the word light. The symbol was hexagonal in shape, with beams of what Beau assumed was light bursting from it. It was interesting; even though the two languages shared a common linguistic root, and had similar pronunciation, the symbol was entirely different to the same word in Elvish, or even Deep Speech, which scholars tended towards using the Elvish logograms for because it didn’t have its own writing system. It was fascinating stuff, but somehow even Caleb tended to get bored when she went on about it for a little while.

 

Maybe you could poke the light symbols?’ Nott suggested in Beau’s ear. It wasn’t the worst suggestion in the world, but Beau was pretty sure it wouldn’t work. Nonetheless, she took her pencil, and poked each of the symbols in turn.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Beau read over the text again, looking for anything that was out of place. It took several passes before she noticed that one of the symbols was slightly offset from the rest. It was barely off by a millimeter, but given how the rest of the text was near perfectly chiseled, it was definitely deliberate.

 

She pressed the symbol again, this time with her hand. Still nothing. On a hunch, then, Beau grabbed the flashlight clipped to her belt, and shined it on the symbol. Behind the wall, there was a grinding noise. That segment of wall started to drop into the floor, leaving a hole that was barely the size of a manhole cover.

 

Beau took a breath.

 

She’d never been a particularly big fan of small spaces. It wasn’t the greatest fear to have when she spent half her waking hours going into tombs, and temples, and generally things that were almost entirely made up of small spaces. In boarding school, there had been a group of girls that, more than once, had locked Beau in a supply closet, or tried to shove her into a locker. While puberty hadn’t really done her any favors in terms of height, the bullying almost died off completely when she joined the wrestling team, and suplexed the next person that tried to grab her from behind. It had gotten her a month’s worth of detentions, but also the attention of an amateur MMA coach. By senior year, she was a pretty good wrestler, had her blue belt in Marquesian Jiu-Jitsu, and had a reasonably impressive KO streak on the kickboxing circuit.

 

Not that any of that had done anything to make her parents acknowledge her existence beyond paying her school fees. In fact, the only reason she’d gotten anything after they’d died was because the only beneficiary named in their Wills – the younger brother she’d never met – had died in that same plane crash.

 

Shivering slightly, Beau put her backpack between her legs, and maneuvered herself into the hole.

 

...

 

It took twenty minutes of crawling, falling and suppressing panic attacks for Beau to make it to the end of the “tunnel.” There were definitely a few moments where she was sure it hadn’t been a secret passageway at all, and she was just crawling through an oversized waste pipe, and would land in a pit of centuries old shit.

 

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. She landed heavily on crumbling stonework, jarring her bad knee. The whole leg was bad, if she was honest; rock climbing falls and sports injuries and on one terrible occasion, tripping while running from a blood-thirsty dire wolf. That incident was also the one where she got the horrific bite scar across her torso. Beau had only gotten out of that one alive thanks to Molly and Yasha.

 

She tried not to think about them, as she shook herself off, and stared into the darkness. The goggles picked up a little bit, but not as much as a proper light source. For that, she needed her headlamp. She toggled the switch until it emitted a soft red light – enough for her to see, but not so much it ruined her dark vision.

 

The tomb looked as though it had been untouched in centuries. Not surprising, really. It was deep in the mountains, and even then, not easy to find.  The Kryn weren’t the type of dynasty to put their sacred artifact in a place that was easy to get to.

 

Even the tomb itself...Beau was pretty sure that she’d just found the back door, rather than actually going through it the way it was supposed to be done. She had probably bypassed dozens of traps, and puzzles, and snippets of language. Part of her actually felt a little upset about that; she was never one to miss an opportunity to learn more about history. Not that she’d ever tell Caleb that. So often, she made fun of him for being a nerd, as though she wasn’t cut from exactly the same cloth. Maybe, she could go out through the entrance, to try and pick up what she had missed.

 

‘Hey Nott,’ Beau whispered. She didn’t know why she was whispering. Actually, no, whispering was generally a pretty good course of action in places like this. More than once, she’d been a little too loud in a tomb, and either set off a trap, or awoken some things she really hadn’t meant to awaken.

 

There was no response. Beau had half been expecting this; more often than not, the radio signal was unable to penetrate layers of stone and rock. Until she returned to the surface, she was on her own.

 

It wouldn’t have been the first time. In all honesty, she was far more used to working alone than she was working with a team, even if working with a team had been...well, on the whole, safer.

Even with her headlamp, it was dark. The air down here was stale and stagnant, and gave her the very distinct impression that she might have been the first person down there in years. The first person down there at least since the end of the war, or the deposition of the Kryn Dynasty. Everything was coated in dirt and dust.

 

Cautiously, Beau edged her way around the room. There was more writing on the walls, and even through the otherworldly light of the headlamp, she could tell that it had a strange glow to it. That said, the room in general was far less auspicious than Beau would have expected of the last known resting place of the Luxon Beacon. At least, that was what the writings outside the ruin had indicated.

 

In its time, admittedly, it probably would have been more impressive. Beau was pretty sure the tunnel had led her, not deeper underground, but directly into the heart of the mountain. The ceilings were high enough that Beau suspected that there might once have been a skylight of sorts that had since been buried by snow and rock.

 

The pedestal was in a position of prominence, in any case, positioned as though a beam of light should be shining upon it at all times.

 

Now, though, there was just darkness.

 

Even the beacon itself looked relatively passive. An old, dusty relic, sitting on a dusty pedestal.

 

Beau took a step towards it.

 

Nothing happened.

 

She took another step.

 

Still nothing.

 

Still cautious, Beau continued towards the beacon. Before even thinking about touching it, she examined the pedestal for traps, or levers, or anything that might kill her if she touched it.

 

There was nothing.

 

In a weird way, it made sense, and it was definitely something she had come across before. Cultures didn’t want to desecrate the most sacred of places with something so crass as a trap. On approach, sure, but in the room itself...nothing.

 

Now that she was up close to it, Beau could see that the beacon was emitting a very soft, almost imperceptible glow. She turned her headlight off. In near total darkness, the glow was soft, and golden.

 

It reminded her of the sun.

 

Hand shaking, she reached out, and touched it. A searing pain hit her fingertips, and started to spread up Beau’s arm.

 

She cried out in pain, and tried to yank her hand away. It wouldn’t move. It was as though her fingers were stuck to the beacon.

 

White hot agony spread across her body, and she fell to her knees, the cries morphing quickly into a full-blown scream. All she could see was a white, bright light.

 

And then…

 

As quickly as it had started, it stopped. She was now resting her hand on the beacon, but did not feel that same pain. She pulled her hand away, and then...still cautiously, poked it with her flashlight (should have done that in the first place, idiot!). Nothing happened.

 

Whatever the fuck the beacon had done to her, it hadn’t left any marks. Though the burning heat had been worse than fire, her hand was free from burns, or even scorch marks. Maybe it had been all in her head; the beacon’s last defense against thieves.

 

Swearing, Beau pulled off her jacket. It was a military consignment thing that she’d picked up from somewhere or other years and years ago. Not worth anything at all, but there was a decent amount of sentimentality attached. She wasn’t going to go and use her camping equipment for this, though; if she went and got herself lost in the wilderness, then that would be of greater use. She threw the jacket over the beacon, and yanked it off the pedestal. Then, she tied the sleeves together.

 

It could have been any dodecahedron stolen from a Kryn tomb. Certainly wasn’t one of their prized religious artifacts. Might have even been just a plain old basketball that she was for some reason lugging away from an ancient Xhorhasian temple in the middle of the Dunrock mountains.

 

Beau opened the top of her backpack, and tried to shove it in. It took several minutes of reorganizing and repacking to fit the thing in there, and even then, she had to tie some of her cooking equipment to the outside of the pack.

 

It was a long, uncomfortable journey back through the tunnel, and by the end of it, Beau’s bad leg was aching something fierce.

 

-au, please tell me you can hear me!’ Nott’s voice came through Beau’s earpiece suddenly, as she dropped unceremoniously to the crumbling stone floor. ‘I picked up some radio chatter, there are soldiers coming up through the mountains, they’ll be there in an hour or so, you need to move now!’

 

Fuck.

 

When she’d agreed to take the job, the mysterious person (who refused to give their name, or even their affiliation) had hinted that there might be other parties interested in the Beacon. That was why they’d offered five thousand gold for her to go and find it.

 

‘I hear you,’ Beau said, scrambling to her feet. She shook her leg out, to no avail. ‘Shit. Fuck. I got the beacon. Man, this stupid thing better be worth it. Is there another way through the mountains?’

 

They had done no small amount of poring over satellite imagery in their planning for this mission. The route with the three-day trek through the mountains had been the easy option. Anything else was a five or a ten-day trek. If it was a choice between a long walk and a horrible death, though, Beau knew which option she’d take.

 

That’s what I’ve been working on while you’ve been gallivanting around in tombs,’ Nott said. Beau didn’t bother to correct her. There hadn’t actually been any bodies in the place, so it technically wasn’t even a tomb. Still, she couldn’t deny that “tomb” was a much catchier word than “archaeological site of historical significance.” Hells, even in her own head, she tended to use the term "Tomb" instead of "ruin" sometimes.

 

Either way, she’d been to plenty both of tombs and otherwise important sites. Sometimes other archaeologists would be there, sometimes not. Mostly, they treated Beau as a bit of a joke. Not because she was somehow less educated or experienced, but because she had once had a very vocal altercation with one of the hosts of Antiques Roadshow that had gone viral on Youtube.

 

Nott’s directions took Beau up over the cliff that the temple was built into. She didn’t bother getting out her climbing equipment; it would take too long to set up, and this was a situation where time was very much of the essence. It was only seventy or so feet high; definitely higher than she would have liked, but not so high that she couldn’t do it.

 

The holds were precarious, and slick with ice. She had her climbing axe, but the ice was not so thick that it would have been of any use. It was the worst of both worlds.

 

Beau was rounding the top of the cliff when she felt herself start to slip. Like she was just on the edge of sleep, and her whole body fell backwards to the ground.

 

For a second, everything went black. Then, a shining white light burst through her head.

 

Scrambling, she reached her hand out for the next hold; if she could push herself up and over, then she would be safe.

 

Overhead, a bird screeched.

 

Her hand gripped the hold, slippery with sweat. She moved her leg up the wall, and pushed herself up. It was about then that the hold gave way.

 

She fell backwards, screaming.

 

The world came back in the blink of an eye.

 

What the fuck.

 

Beau was entirely sure she’d just had an out of body experience, clutched to the top of a fucking ice wall. She was so sure she had just died, had just fallen off a fucking cliff, only for the world to come rushing back to her.

 

Overhead, a bird screeched.

 

Hand shaking, she put moved it up the wall, to a different hold than the one she’d been planning on using. It held, and she managed to – whole body shaking, now – push herself up and over it.

 

At the top of the wall, Beau gave herself five minutes. She had no idea what the fuck had just happened, except for the fact that she had almost died.

 

Only she hadn’t almost died. She had almost, almost died, but then hadn’t. It was like she’d seen a vision of the future, telling her to go another way.

 

She put her bag to the side, and lay down on her back. The sky was still impossibly blue, but she was sure if she looked to the horizon, she might see the first inklings of a beautiful orange sunset against the backdrop of snowcapped mountains.

 

‘Hey Nott?’

 

They’re thirty minutes off,’ came Nott’s voice in her ear. ‘They’re moving pretty fast.’

 

Moving fast, plus they probably had equipment that she didn’t. Like guns.

 

A lot of the...archaeological site of historical significance explorers that Beau knew carried guns.

 

Yasha carried a gun. Molly had carried a gun, right up until someone had used it on him.

 

Beau had never in her life carried a gun.

 

Not that she didn’t know how to use one. It was another one of those weird things that the Cobalt Soul Academy had offered, in addition to a wrestling team. In school, she’d learned how to shoot, how to ride a horse, how to build a fire in the fucking woods...It had been a weird place, entirely unlike what Beau would have thought boarding schools were supposed to be like. That might have been because it was a recruitment pool for a covert intelligence organization, but that was neither here nor there.

 

So yeah, she could shoot a gun. She wasn’t a great shot with in – hell, Nott was a better shot than she was – but she knew how to do it. It was more that she trusted her own fists more than she trusted weapons.

 

That was the thought that was running through her head right about the time the bullet tore through her.

 

The silly thing was, she didn’t even realize it at first. She got to her feet, and readjusted the pack on her back, and frowned at the loud crack that rent the air. It took several moments to connect the sound with the sudden pain just above her knee, and the wetness that began dripping down her leg.

 

Beau dropped to the ground, grimacing at the pain that shot through her when she did. At least it was the fucking bad leg.

 

‘Nott!’ she hissed. ‘You said they were fucking half an hour away!

 

They are!’ Nott cried, over the radio. ‘Why? Did you see them already?’

 

No, they just fucking shot me!’ Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuck. Beau dragged herself across the top of the cliff. She didn’t know where the sniper – it had to be a sniper, at this distance – was, but she knew that she was far too exposed to stand. If she didn’t keep moving, though, whoever the fuck had shot her would finish the job.

 

Not that they were going to have much trouble anyway.  Her leg was bleeding enough that she didn’t get it wrapped soon, it was going to leave a trail. That, and the whole “significant blood loss” thing.

 

Yeah, that was a pretty big problem.

 

Holy shit, are you okay?

 

Beau could have laughed. ‘I’ll tell you once I figure that out.’

 

When she was on the other side of the ridge, out of sight of any scopes from the approach to the temple, Beau took stock.

 

There was good news, and there was bad news.

 

The good news was, she had mostly been winged. The bullet had torn through her lower thigh, and missed anything that would have done real damage. Most importantly, it had missed the artery, which would have been a death sentence regardless of how close to civilization she was.

 

The bad news was, she had still been fucking shot. It was a rifle round, which meant it had left a pretty decent sized wound. The bullet itself had gone through her leg like butter, and probably embedded itself in the rock or among the trees somewhere.

 

‘Doesn’t look too bad.’ She was talking to Nott as much as she was to herself. Of course, there was a difference between “not too bad” and “able to be walked on for three days straight.”

 

Beau went to her backpack, and dug through it until she found the first aid kit. It wasn’t the first time she’d had to dress a bullet wound while in the field. There wasn’t time to have a full stitch-up and wound clean. For the moment, she needed to bandage it, and get the fuck away from here as quickly as possible.

 

Caleb just got home.’ Beau wasn’t sure what response she had expected from Nott, but it certainly wasn’t that. ‘I’m going to get him up to speed, and we can come up with a plan, but in the meantime—

 

‘Yeah, yeah, keep moving,’ Beau muttered. After winding the bandage around her leg tightly, she pulled herself to her feet. It hurt like a fucking bitch, but she could handle pain. Definitely a lot better than she could handle small spaces.

 

It was slow going.

 

Normally, Beau was pretty fast on foot. Fast to the point where she often eschewed four-legged assistance in getting to some dig sites, because she honestly preferred doing it herself. Today, though, she wasn’t very fast.

 

It wasn’t just the bullet wound. It had been a long as fuck day that had started near sunrise in the shadow of one of the smaller mountain peaks. She was just glad that these peaks were far enough below the snow line that there was still vegetation, even if a lot of the trees had lost their leaves for the winter.

 

Okay.’ After what felt like an age, Beau finally head Nott’s voice in her ear. She had made it almost a couple of miles through skeleton trees, adrenaline doing its best to stop her from screaming in pain. ‘We have a plan. How long do you think you could stay hidden for?’

 

Immediately, Beau was not a fan of this plan. She wasn’t a hider. She was a fighter, and occasionally a runner, but never a hider. She would have vastly preferred to track down whoever had shot her, and take the fight to them, but that was a bad idea for two reasons: one, she had been fucking shot, and had lost a decent amount of blood, and two: anyone converging on this temple clearly wanted the Beacon, so absolutely the last thing she should do was walk it right up to them.

 

‘No fucking clue,’ Beau admitted. She had a decent amount of food and water still, though she had been planning on being able to pick up a food drop on the way back down through the mountains. Some of the stuff she still had needed to be heated up, but there was a shitton of jerky, so she’d at the very least survive, even if it was a very bland way to stay satiated.

 

The hardest part would be finding somewhere to hide.

 

But, Beau was pretty sure she could do it. Mountains like these had plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in; caves, and trees, and boulders, all viable options. She wouldn’t like it, but she could do it. Maybe if she was holed up for a couple of days, she’d be able to take a closer look at the Beacon, maybe go over some of her notes.

 

‘Any sign of them coming this way?’ Beau asked.

 

Well, there’s been nothing on the radio for a while, so they’re probably in the temple. I wanted to try and hack a satellite to see if we could see them, but Caleb said no.

 

Beau suppressed a snort. The chances of there actually being a satellite pointed in the right direction were slim to none, but she appreciated Nott’s enthusiasm just the same. The crux of it was, she might have a couple of hours at least to get away from regular soldiers, but a sniper – the sniper that had seen her come this way, and suspected she had the Beacon – well, she might have considerably less time to get away from the sniper.

 

‘So, what’s your plan?’ Beau grunted, as she clambered up a rock wall.  Her best bet would be a cave of some sort, she figured. Luckily, being in the mountains, there was no shortage of caves.

 

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Beau didn’t notice it at first; given that Nott was almost a thousand miles away in Kamordah, there was no shortage of lag on the line.

 

You’re not going to like it.’

 

Beau laughed. She wasn’t sure she’d like it any less than trekking through the mountains with a busted leg, hiding from soldiers and snipers, all to get a sacred religious artifact back to its people. ‘I guarantee that it cannot be worse than what’s already happening.’

 

I called Yasha.

 

Motherfucker.

 

Godsdamnit. Running, she was used to. Hiding, she could just about stomach. But bringing in help? Worse than that. Bringing in Yasha. Beau briefly considered whether she’d prefer to chance it on foot herself.

 

‘What the fuck, Nott?’ Beau demanded, hissing as though someone might hear her. ‘Why the fuck would you think Yasha would be of any help?’

 

Well, she used to be a paratrooper,’ Nott said, as though the question hadn’t been rhetorical. ‘And, she has access to all those government resources...And she’s beaten you to the last three artifacts we’ve gone for...’ She trailed off, and Beau had to admit, yeah, those were all probably very good reasons to have called Yasha.

 

It did bring up an interesting point, though, one that Beau ruminated as she squeezed through a very tight gap into a cave. Why on Exandria had the person that had hired her not just hired Yasha instead? Because Nott was right; this was the sort of job that Yasha’s skills were far better suited for. Not that Beau was necessarily useless. She was just – and she fucking hated to admit this part – better at the nerdy side of shit than the “survive for long periods of time in the wilderness” shit. She was the sort of person that spent four days in the library, rather than four days living out of a pack. She was far more at home neck-deep in notes about stone fragments, than neck-deep in muddy quagmires.

 

‘Ugh,’ Beau said, staring at the rock wall inches from her face.

 

The cave was way too small, and the ventilation fucking sucked. Beau squeezed her way back out (fuckingowowow), and kept searching. The blood, she could feel, had soaked through the bandage, but she did not have time to stop and reapply it. As long as it didn’t start dripping as she walked, it would be okay.

 

Well, maybe not okay, but...you know, alive.

 

Beau took another step forward, and without warning, her mind seemed to pull back from her body.

 

A few more miles through the forest, up another small cliff, a small opening in the side of the mountain.

 

Somewhere she could sit tight for hours – maybe days, or even weeks – waiting for help to arrive.

 

It would not be comfortable, but it would be safe.

 

The world returned in a flash, and Beau fell to her knees, gasping.

 

What the fuck?

 

It had happened again; the same thing that had happened when she’d almost fallen off the cliff. A vision of...a vision of something. The future, sort of. Though the vision she’d gotten the first time around hadn’t been something that had actually happened. Just something that could have happened.

 

This vision had been more of a direction. Showing her what path to take.

 

Was this something to do with the Beacon?

 

There was something, she was sure, in her pages and pages of rambling notes, about the Luxon being used to affect time in some way. When first reading it, Beau had scoffed. She had seen a lot of weird shit in her time, but nothing that she would have considered outside the realm of possibility.

 

It had saved her the first time. Maybe it could help her a second time.

 

Beau pushed on, fire burning in her leg. The fact that she could still feel it was a good thing. It was when she couldn’t feel it that she’d have to start worrying. The sky was starting to darken; if she kept going much longer, she would be pushing into dusk. The last thing she wanted was to be running from these soldiers through the night.

 

‘Hey Nott,’ Beau said, after a few more minutes of light running. ‘Could you get Caleb to look into some stuff for me?’

 

I am right here, Beauregard,’ came Caleb’s voice in her ear. Beau started. She knew that Caleb had been with Nott. She didn’t realize he’d been wired in the entire time.

 

‘Fuck, Caleb, warn a girl,’ Beau muttered.

 

I did not realize my presence was such a discomfort to you.’ There was a wry sort of humor in his voice. They both knew it was the opposite. She’d never expected to become such good friends with a person that she’d spent six hours arguing with in an art historian’s office over the provenance of a bowl that she’d found on an excursion, almost two years ago. Admittedly, by that point in their relationship, they had already been reasonably close.

 

‘Sorry, I’m a little jumpy right now, funnily enough.’ Her voice was getting slower, and more tired. It would be so nice to just lie down and have a nap, but that was pretty much a death sentence.

 

That is understandable. Is there something that I need your help with? Nott has already called Yasha. I believe it may be too soon for an update.

 

Beau chose to ignore that last bit. ‘Do you remember when we were doing all that reading, and you showed me that stuff about the thing?’

 

Ja, Beauregard, that is not vague at all.’

 

‘The Beacon!’ she said, angrily, a little louder than she probably should have.  The stress of the situation was making her more than a little testy. ‘The bit about the stuff with time, and probability.’

 

I remember.

 

‘Can you do a bit more reading – see if there’s anything in there about having visions of the future, or seeing different...’ Beau paused. She wasn’t quite sure how to explain it. Different realities? No, that wasn’t quite right. ‘Possible futures.’

 

There was another long pause. ‘Did something happen?

 

‘A whole fucking lot of shit happened!’ Beau yelled. The terrain dipped suddenly into a small valley, and she started slowly edging her way down. She was heading in the direction that the vision had told her to go. She wasn’t particularly enthused about the idea of following a vision from a mysterious religious artifact, but there weren’t exactly a lot of options.

 

She put a foot down, carefully, and when it held, put a bit more weight on it. The extra weight was just a bit too much, and Beau felt her body crumble beneath her, as she slipped, rolled, and skidded down the slope.

 

She put out an arm to stop herself from rolling, and just barely managed to grab onto a tree root. Her leg had left a smear of blood along the dirt, and was throbbing with renewed pain.

 

‘Shit,’ Beau muttered. ‘I’m okay,’ she said. There was a long silence that she absolutely did not like the sound of. Then, she realized that the earpiece was no longer in her ear. It was on the ground, and had more than a few important looking wires sticking out of it. ‘Fuck. Nott, Caleb, can you hear me?’ She held the earpiece up to her ear.

 

Nothing.

 

The Beacon hadn’t warned her about that one. It was strange, to warn her about some things, but not others. She had figured if it was omniscient, it would have been...well, omniscient about everything. Apparently not.

 

It didn’t change the plan. Get to a cave. Hunker down. Wait for help to arrive.

 

Of course, now that her only method of communication was ruined, that might be a little harder. She still had a GPS tracker that hopefully worked, but there was no way of knowing whether it did until the point where help actually showed up.

 

Either way, she needed to find shelter, if only to attend to her leg, and to let herself rest.

 

The sky was a brilliant orange, now; not long, and the mountains would be in total darkness.

 

It took another half an hour to reach the spot where she’d seen the cave in her vision, and another ten minutes on top of that to actually find it. It was pretty well hidden, if she was honest; obscured by the hollow trunk of a dead tree, covered by a curtain of ivy. She didn’t even know why there was fucking ivy growing in these mountains.

 

The cave itself was not large. A little bigger than the last one had been; maybe the size of a small bathroom, rather than a toilet cubicle. The air flow was a lot better, though, which was the important thing.

 

Beau squeezed in, and immediately collapsed onto the rocky ground. ‘Fuck this day,’ she said, to no-one in particular.

 

Her leg was fucking killing her. Her leg, and her head, and her whole godsdamned body. She just wanted to lie down, and fucking sleep, but there were a few things she needed to do first.

 

Number one: drink some water.

 

Until she stopped moving, she hadn’t noticed just how thirsty she was, how dry and swollen her tongue and throat were. She grabbed her canteen, and took a very long swig.

 

There were two large bottles of water in her pack, which would apparently now have to last for a good few more days. If all else failed, there were definitely water sources in these mountains; she’d had to cross more than a couple of streams on her way up here. Cold, burbling things that just days ago she’d seen as an inconvenience. Now, it would have been very welcome to take a long dip in the fresh mountain water.

 

Number two: fix the fucking leg.

 

The first lot of bandages was soaked with blood. Really, she should have used a tourniquet, but that would have made her slow progress even slower. Now, her priority was to put pressure on the wound, and stop the bleeding. If it didn’t stop, then, she’d probably have to look at using a tourniquet.

 

Once she’d re-wrapped the wound, Beau lifted the leg on top of a rock that was at least as large as she was. On the whole, she would have preferred her nice, comfortable king-sized bed in Kamordah, with it’s fluffed up pillows, and roaring fireplace. At a stretch, she would have taken the lumpy top bunk mattress she’d spent five years on at the Cobalt Soul Academy. This, at least, was probably better than a hole in the ground.

 

Number three: eat some fucking jerky.

 

Beau was not particularly in the mood for dried meats, but there was precious little else she had that didn’t involve starting a fire to heat something up. Jerky, nuts, and dried fruit. Not a terrible meal, but not nearly as appealing as pizza, or a hamburger. To round it all off, she took a couple of over-the-counter painkillers. Not nearly enough to compensate for the throbbing agony that was now her leg, but just enough to take the edge off a little.

 

Gods she wished she had some booze.

 

Beau adjusted her leg on top of the rock, and tried to get as comfortable as possible. She could probably get away with closing her eyes and taking a rest.

 

Just for a few minutes.

 

Beau woke up shivering.

 

It could have been five minutes later, or an hour later, or a day later. She didn’t feel any better than she had when she’d first gone to sleep. Her leg was throbbing, but thankfully, it hadn’t quite bled through the new bandages just yet.

 

That was something. Beau pulled herself up, and started digging through her pack for extra clothes. Her hand touched on her jacket, and she remembered that she had used it to wrap up the Beacon.

 

Shit. No wonder she was cold.

 

Well, now, she needed it more than the Beacon did. It wasn’t super thick, but it could be the difference between life and death.

 

It took far more effort than it should have to get the jacket off the Beacon, and wrangle it over her shoulders.

 

The Beacon itself was glowing. It was warm, and it was glowing. Beau reached a shaking finger out, and touched it.

 

This time, she didn’t feel any pain.

 

A strange warmth spread through her, but nothing else happened. She didn’t feel quite so cold anymore.

 

Not quite as good as a fire, but probably the best she could hope for, given the circumstances. Beau wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about the idea of Yasha coming to her rescue, but in any case, it would be days before she could get out of there, and the last thing she needed was to die of fucking hypothermia. What a shitty way to go, after everything in her life that had happened. She’d been beaten, shot, tortured...she’d fallen into ravines, been caught in explosions and earthquakes. It would really suck if she finally died just because she got a little too cold.

 

Molly would never let her live it down, but hey, at least she’d get to see Molly again.

 

She stared at the Beacon, fascinated by it. It was…comforting. Like a friend in the darkness. It seemed to have a mind of its own. It almost felt like it was trying to tell her something.

 

‘What do you need?’ she murmured. ‘Where do you need to go?’ The light flickered slightly, but that was it. If the beacon had any answers for her (and if she wasn’t actually hallucinating) then it wasn’t ready to give them just yet.

 

It was with that thought that Beau closed her eyes.

 

If nothing else, then maybe she could get some sleep.