Episode 1: A Lesson in Humility
Location: Typhon's Creation, Jungle, Unknown Location
Timeline: Following "The Mystery Woman"
The black abyss was suddenly replaced by the upper branches of an array of massive trees. The first branch collided with Charlotte's midriff, knocking the wind from her. A few ricochets later and she slammed down to the ground, hard. But not as hard as she expected. The part of her brain that wasn't nursing the brand new bruises wondered if Typhon had reduced the lethality of things somehow. Or if the gravity on this world was less than it appeared. She wondered what exactly the extent of his powers was.
With a groan, she rose to her elbows, turning toward where she heard a second thud.
CeCi pinwheeled as she fell, bouncing off no less then three tree limbs before just barely getting her feet orientated toward the ground before slamming into what was now down and rolling to avoid the worst of any injuries.
Then she lay there on her elbows, trying to get her breath back. She'd fully intended on saying something witty or spiteful that might hurt Typhon's feelings or sense of self.
All she got out was "Gurk".
It took a moment or two for Charlotte to successfully form noise. One of the branches partly connected with her throat and she found herself coughing weakly. "You...alive?" Charlotte rasped. She'd been intending to ask if CeCi was ok, but opted to go for something a bit less subjective. She attempted to lift herself off her elbows, but her body fought back. If Typhon had softened their landing, it had only been slightly softened.
"CeCi rolled over, pushing her skirt down and said, "Part of me hopes not. But, I think so. Are you?"
Charlotte grunted as she finally made it onto her hands and knees. "The fresh bruises I'm feeling seem to think the answer to that is a yes. The alternative might have been better though, given the situation we seem to be in..." She looked around. They were in a dense jungle with nearly complete tree cover. Sun barely trickled through the array of leaves. The trunks weren't much thinner, essentially preventing visibility much more than a dozen meters in any direction outside of the 'clearing' they had found themselves in. Clearing might not be the right word. A lack of tree trunks maybe...
Rising to sit on her feet, she looked herself over. The formal dress hadn't exactly taken well to being put through a strainer made of tree branches. A few tears and pulls made themselves apparent, along with a nice covering of dust and little pieces of debris. She began brushing herself off when she noticed something different. A scent. Smoke. Not the thick acrid smoke of a wildfire. This was the thin, maintained scent of a campfire. "You smell that?"
CeCi sighed and sat up, gathering her legs underneath her and sniffed the air. "Sort of. It all smells like a Gorn's arm pit...but yeah. I smell something hot that's not fried wiring." Then she started to get to her feet and cursed.
"And I broke a heel," she grumbled. Taking the formerly cute shoes off and chucking them into the undergrowth, she got to her feet and sighed and slapped at a bug that tried to dock in her ear. "Ok, why are there always bugs?"
In a near silent blur of motion, Charlotte's hand slapped over CeCi's mouth silencing her, while her other hand held a finger across her own mouth, to urge quiet. Her muscles strained against the movement, but she'd pushed through. Barely audible over the rustling leaves was a deep gruff voice. "...thought I'd heard something...
Charlotte's eyes were dead serious, their blue gaze piercing into CeCi's. Whoever's voice that was a few feet away was not a voice she recognized. That wasn't a good sign. She hoped her expression had conveyed that information. She certainly couldn't say that out loud with someone right on top of them.
CeCi caught the sound just before she bit the blonde's hand. She widened her eyes and nodded slightly to convey she understand now wasn't the time to worry about some bug laying eggs in her ear canal.
The two slowly slid into the brush next to them, concealed but the thick leaves of the ferns that carpeted a lot of the forest floor. Not more than a minute later, the hulking form of a 6'5" Orion stepped into the clearing. He was armed with a large cudgel and seemed to be looking around, sniffing the air. "I'm telling you, I heard something! I wasn't imagining it."
Charlotte gave herself a once over. No weapons of any sort, unless you considered her heel to be one. She wasn't sure it counted when the opponent had a club. Her dress wouldn't exactly provide much protection. If this man got any closer to them, she had pretty much one option. To run like hell.
CeCi stared at the Orion and shook her head, whispering, "I don't know that one. Perhaps we should go that way?" She said, indicating an opening in the bush.
Charlotte nodded. The men were sweeping toward them. They didn't have a lot of time to get out of here. "You lead. I'll be right behind you."
CeCi didn't wait, but half crawled through the bush going painfully slowly to try and avoid making noise. It was difficult. There were thorns and hidden stones, various bits of nature that scratched at her feet and legs as she slithered along.
Charlotte moved as silently as she could behind the woman, but she heard her dress dragging and adding to the overall noise. She thought for a moment that they'd lost their tails though, when suddenly she heard a cry from behind them. "There!"
A bright orange energy blast sailed above them slamming against a tree trunk several dozen meters to their right. A half second later, the noticeable red streak of a Starfleet phaser returned fire, searing over their heads. Numerous shouts and voices occurred on both sides.
Charlotte felt her heart leap and then immediately tense. Those were the voices of some of her crew! And they were in danger. A larger group of pirates raced forward toward where the small group of her officers appeared to be. She cried out to her crew, as loud as her voice would let her. "They're coming! Run!"
A half moment later, another one of the pirates' energy bolts slammed into the tree trunk next to her, splintering the wood bark. With a resonating creaking, the towering column began to fall over toward Ceci and Charlotte's position, shattering huge branches as it did so.
CeCi heard the shot and sound of the tree's demise. As it started to fall toward her and Charlotte, she rushed at the Defiant's captain and half tackled the blonde woman to get them both out of danger.
Or at least danger of getting hit by the falling tree.
They rolled and CeCi quipped. "Nice. Shouting. And here I thought we were trying to Avoid them?"
Charlotte was winded by the impact on the ground, though she was glad CeCi had saved them from being crushed. She forced out a half sentence as they struggled to their feet. "Had to warn my crew."
CeCi rolled her eyes as she clambered to her feet and looked around. "Well. They'll be looking in earnest now. So, left, right or deeper into the bush?"
The massive tree's collapse left a wake of destruction and for the first time, true piercing sunlight broke through, though only for a moment. Dirt and foliage sprayed upwards from the impact site, interrupting the firefight for a moment. The trees collapse had served to separate the group of Defiant officers though, leaving only a single individual on this side of the tree.
It had been his intention to skirt around their attackers, using the natural cover of the forest around them to help shield their exact location. He'd had Redgrave fire back occasionally from slightly different directions to, hopefully, throw off their pursuers, make them uncertain which direction their prey had gone.
The shout had caught him by surprise, and he'd paused. Not long enough for any real harm, but long enough to separate him from the rest of his team by several feet as they continued to follow his last orders.
Then the tree had fallen. He'd skittered to the side to avoid being crushed beneath it, only to discover that it also blocked his path to the rest of his team. But... that voice... it had sounded like Charlotte. She was here. Somewhere.
Flawed. This is all a game by that being Typhon. It is likely that he is using her voice to manipulate you. The voice of the Executive, as it always did, represented a part of his mind that thought as the Realm had taught him to. And it could be right, but could he take that chance? If she was here and he didn't look for her, then he was just as much to blame for anything that happened to her as that messhrra Typhon was. But if she wasn't here, and he wasted time chasing his tail, then that could risk more than just her.
He should rejoin his team. But the huge tree prevented that from being done quickly or efficiently. The shout had come from this general direction. There were still three of them in his team. They could cover each other. He needed to be sure that what he had heard was or was not Charlotte. So he began a search.
The massive tree’s collapse had thankfully cut CeCi and Charlotte off from any immediate counter attack from the pirates. However, the two had no interest in becoming targets. Moving quickly through the brush, they went looking for a place they could feel a bit less exposed in.
Charlotte hoped her warning had been heeded by her crew, but with a wall of tree trunk between them, she had no way to know. Eventually, the two came across an area of the brush that looked recently disturbed. Motioning to CeCi, Charlotte scouted ahead slightly, hoping to be stealthy enough to hide from the marauders.
Maralen heard movement in the brush and ducked behind one of the nearby trees. His whiskers flared as he sniffed the air, and his ears swiveled as he listened to everything around him in search of other sounds that might indicate either trouble or aid.
She’d seen movement. She was sure of it. She crouched as low as she could, staying hidden among the foliage. But a few feet into the area, she heard a sound that nearly made her skeleton jump out of her skin. A branch cracked audibly beneath her feet.
Sound. It made his ears swivel toward it, and his eyes narrowed. In one fluid motion, he launched himself from behind his tree and toward whatever or whomever had made that sound. Since he could not see who it was, his movements were quick and intended to pin the individual.
Shit! Charlotte's cry was entirely mental, as a larger form suddenly erupted from the woods beside her. She'd been trying to be so quiet. But in her current outfit, that had proven virtually impossible. Now, someone had caught her. The individual moved so swiftly, she was pinned almost immediately. Her head hit the ground hard, and for a moment, her vision spun.
He'd been completely in Hunter Mode when he'd leaped onto the person, so he had not immediately registered who it was. Once he had her pinned, though, he saw her fully and hesitated. His mind was warring with itself as to whether it was truly her or an illusion of some kind or a fakery. He remained where he was for the moment, pinning her to the ground. "You look like Charlotte Reynolds, but I need more than appearance." he stated coolly. If it was Charlotte, she would understand why he needed this. If not...
The voice was immediately recognizable in her mind. Charlotte replied in an annoyed grumble. Her head hurt and she couldn't think of a specific identifier for her. And in the absence of a solid response, she felt the reflexive sass leap from her tongue. "I swear to god, Maralen. If you don't get off me, I'm gonna assign you as Hightower's personal liaison."
Maralen frowned. That was very Charlotte. He studied the look in her eyes and on her face for a moment before leaning forward just slightly and sniffing her. The scent matched her as well. Satisfied, he slowly shifted to move off of her and stood, drawing her up with him. "Sorry, Charlotte, but you must understand why I had to do that." He smiled slightly. "Besides, you wouldn't. You don't hate me nearly that much." It was half tease. The situation was Hell, and they were both over-stressed.
Charlotte rose to her feet with his assistance, brushing off the increasingly tattered dress. "Sorry. It's just been a rough few days."
Maralen hesitated, every muscle stiffening. Had his tail not been wrapped around his waist, it would have flicked violently in agitation. As it was, he frowned, and his whiskers flared. "Days?" He looked past her for a moment, his expression becoming thoughtful. "These zones must experience time differently." he mused more to himself than to her. He looked back at her. "It's only been hours here." he clarified, concern now lacing his expression as he studied her.
A brief flash of concern shot across Charlotte's face. Hours? She'd been fairly certain it'd been a few days. But things had been so hard to track. Between the bizarre daylight in the tower and her current focus issues, she couldn't be sure. She gave a weak shake of her head. "I wish I was more surprised to hear you say that. This place messes with your mind." She looked around for a second, before deciding she should make Maralen aware of the moment who might potentially be about to pounce.
"By the way," she said quietly, before getting a bit louder. "Cecile, coast is clear. It's my XO."
Cecile made her way out of cover and toward Charlotte and the being she referred to as her executive officer. As she came nearer she felt a distinct tickling in her nose and fought it down by extending her hand, "Pleased to meet you XO. I'm Cecile Cashwell..."
Maralen almost chuckled at her calling him by his position, but this was hardly the time for that. Instead, he took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake then released it. "Pleasure to meet you, Cecile. I'm Maralen Seitha." It was fair, after all. She had given him her name.
"Well, now that the niceties are accomplished," CeCi said, looking around. "And leaving no doubts they'll be looking for us, "What now?" She put one hand on the trunk of the fallen tree and paused to look at the stains on her feet as she looked at the two Starfleet officers.
"We need to get away from here. Deeper into the brush, away from the tree," Charlotte replied. She surveyed the scene. No particular direction seemed better. So random chance then. She pointed randomly. "Ok, that way it is."
Maralen agreed with Charlotte that they needed to get away from here. This position was effectively compromised as it was the last position he was known to be in. He also, unfortunately for them, agreed that all directions looked equally unpromising. He nodded and motioned for Cecile to precede him, he taking up a sort of rear guard.