Original article was published by wrannaman on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
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Hordes of people gathered on the beach to watch the Leaving of the Light ceremony. The two mountains enclosing the Y stood like guardians. Flickers of fluorescent light flew off the Slide to the south from the bioluminescent creatures in the water. Families gathered with their children. The young took their partners by the hand. Some had small paper lanterns, others had lanterns nearly as tall as them. The crowd was quiet as the council strode from the north side of the beach to the platform on the sand. They wore long robes, each of a different color representing the ethics of the village. There were chairs nearest the podium for the elderly, though most people stood, creating a large ringed semi circle around the podium. The speakers spat distortion and buzzed. They were old, foraged, and in dire need of repair, but still functional. Their power was generated from a makeshift solar panel and a battery.
The sun held up eerily close to the horizon for what felt like an unnaturally long time. The council made their way to the podium. A woman strode to the podium and took the mic. Her robe was all black. The seven.
“Welcome. Tonight we celebrate the Leaving of the Light. A time of newness, of the shedding of the past. A time of becoming. For the change beneath our feet, and in our bodies. For our trespasses, for our good deeds, our ignorance and our learnings. Reflect on the year that has passed and judge as only you can. Assess as only you can, and let the light point you towards growth and improvement. A thousand, thousand years ago the people of our people came from the ashes of the Awakening. They found an enclave. A paradise. Protected by the shoulders of giants. We rest easy at night as it’s head. As its heart. Peace is what our ancestors longed for and peace they found, and peace we will maintain. Fight if we must, but we battle in its name. When you let loose your lantern, let loose your past, let loose your future. Bask in the present, the gift that is the Leaving of the Light.” The sun finally set, dipping below the horizon fully. The crowd took it in. Some closed their eyes, others kept them wide open. Some children in the far back were still running around having a good time, some babies cried, but for the most part, everyone listened intently.
They stood as silent as they could releasing their paper lanterns in the darkness as they felt was right. The now dark night sky started filling with flurries of colored lanterns bounding in the wind.
“We have with us the seven pillars of our people.”
“Honor,” She said. “Present” came the reply.
“Creativity,” She said. “Present” came the reply.
“Justice,” She said. “Present” came the reply.
“Unity,” She said. “Present” came the reply.
“Compassion,” She said. “Present” came the reply.
“Excellence,” She said. “Present” came the reply.
“Humility,” She said. “Present” came the reply.
After a few moments of silence, light began to streak onto the beach and the mountains nearby. The sun peeked ever so slightly above the horizon again. It seemed to swirl there, twisting as it decided whether or not to come back up or fall. The sun set for the second time. A quick green flash burst from where the sun met the horizon and it was gone, leaving the lanterns floating ever higher overhead.
While some of the laggards were still struggling to light their lanterns, musicians took the stage. The chairs in front of the stage were removed for dancing. Kaiya and Shim were amongst the first there, with cups of Hikka in their hands and their hearts on their sleeves. It was pure joy to let go of all the thought, transgressions, regrets, and future fears. They danced with wild abandon. The events of the day were washed clean. It was something to watch, and many of the boys in the town did, waiting for their chance to ask one of them to dance. There were the usual suspects who tried to dance nearby and catch a glance before moving in, and others who approached outright to ask. There were women trying to do the same. Without trying to be rude, Kaiya and Shim continued in their own little world. They found themselves next to Arryn and Ayala. Brig was nearby taking up a lot of space, trying to get whichever girl he was dancing with at the time to kiss him. Petr was right behind Kaiya and stuck to his tight, safe shuffle.
It didn’t take long before there was a small circle beginning to open up, clearly a challenge for anyone who entered the circle. Kaiya and Ayala faced off, they sauntered up to each other in the center of the circle just as a new song was getting going. Shouts from their crowd of friends emerged. A friendly dance off. They were very close now, with many unpassed words being said through their eyes, through their bodies. When the chorus hit, they began to move, slowly circling each other, taunting each other, teasing each other. Kaiya had the beauty, but Ayala had the confidence. After a few moments, the challenge was over, there was no winner, no loser, only the next pair. And so it went, switching between soft and slow, to quick stepped beats rippling over the ocean and into the breeze. They had all grown up with the lore that came with the Leaving of the light Ceremony. They carried this momentum into the night, with no end in sight.
The ocean was calm as the ship bobbed around the bend of the shore to keep from being spotted. Their sails were inconspicuous, and no banner was raised. Two small water crafts released themselves from the main ship and headed towards the shoreline. Two men per boat and 4 trackers. They hit the shore and pulled the boats up the beach. Now that the sun had finally set for it’s last time today they were under the cover of night. Men on the beach opened up their wrist screens and brought the Trackers to life, their red eyes began to glow, their circuit boards heating up.
The trackers jumped out of the boat, each leap identical to the previous one. They went toward the steep hill on the southernmost mountain hugging the Y. Up the mountain they went silently with only a gengle humming of servos working their legs and robotic arms. The steepness didn’t bother the trackers. They would crane their huge arms and gouge the cliffside above them giving themselves a firm grip. When it was too steep they could climb vertically with the assistance of their mechanical arms. One by one they came up closer to the lookout tower on top of the hill.
The two guards posted in the guard house were looking down on the ceremony with jealousy, using binoculars to watch cute girls dancing. The instrumentation around them was all quiet. The coast was still clear. The sensors buried along the cliffs and the mountains didn’t detect anything. Every once in a while there would be a false alarm and a rabbit or a deer would be eviscerated by a laser. The static of the radio hummed and the chatter from the other guard stations was minimal. It would be a mellow night on watch, as most of them were.
The trackers found their way to the guard gate, and patiently waited until they all maneuvered into position. Four of them surrounded the corners of the guard gate. The other four went to disable the nearest turrets and other choke points so their ship would enter the Y undetected, and if not undetected, then unscathed.
The Sikkas on the beach watched thorough live feeds on their wrist screens. The Trackers waited until their masters gave them the command to attack. At once, two of the four Trackers launched their arms through the guard gate, breaking through the glass, right into the neck of each of the guards, killing them instantly, wordlessly. The Sikkas below held their wrist watches just to confirm no alarms were set off. One of the Trackers casually grabbed a device off its back and placed it in the guard gate. It had a timer on it. It walked inside and positioned its camera sensors on the dashboard and found the locations of the weapons hiding in the hills. The information was transmitted to the other Tackers and they all went their separate ways dropping little packages near the weapons.
As silently as they came, the Trackers began descending the mountain towards the Y to wait for their next command.
A flash of light suddenly caught the attention of a pair of lovers who had wandered down the beach. They were barefoot and kissing when the boy stopped to show his girlfriend.
“Did you see that?” He asked.
“See what? My eyes were closed,” she said.
“It was probably nothing, but I swear I saw something coming around the corner, light or something,” Just then it flashed again.
“Oh yeah, I see it,” and just then they saw dozens more. The moonlight was bouncing off the glimmering white sails of a fleet of ships.
“I wonder who that is?” she asked.
They both started walking back towards the party, slowly at first and then as the rest of the ship came into view faster. They were at a full sprint when suddenly a whistling sound arose, softly at first and with a high pitched whine, it landed with a thud. An arrow had hit the boy in the back, directly in his spine. He grunted as he went down. The woman screamed. Some on the edges of the party thought they heard a scream, but the music was loud and the spirits were so high that to think something was wrong felt wrong. Other couples seeking solitude along the beach watched the scene in horror and started sprinting back towards the party. At this point the first ship was in full view, and another 2 were rounding the bay. Only then was the alarm raised, but they were already inside the beautiful bay of the Y, launching arrows that came ever closer to the party on the beach. They would be in range momentarily.
“Put the north tower on high alert, why didn’t they see anybody?” A soldier yelled to another, who, carrying a radio, was frantically trying to reach the south tower. Just then, the guard house, silhouetted by the darkness and the moonlight, exploded and caught fire. The fire consumed the small building in seconds. Moments later, the rigged turrets that the Trackers had visited earlier began to explode in a kind of beautiful synchronicity. The north guard tower signalled the alarm. The remainder of the turrets armed themselves. The Y was under attack.
The larger ship launched smaller attack boats and two hovercrafts, saving precious fuel for the last mile. They had breached the shore and hoards of Wraith unloaded onto the beach. Some stayed on the craft to unlock and boot up the Trackers. A Siika brought his wrist screen up before him, and hit a button, unlocking all the Tracker’s cages at once. Methodically, orderly, they scampered off the boat and casually moved towards the town in formation.
The guards of the Y had gathered along the beach to face them. They looked ragged without having had much time to prepare, but stood ready, firing their weapons as soon as they were sure they could hit something. Bullets were precious. Several of the soldiers had exploding arrows much like Kaiya did, courtesy of Eros.
Several exploding arrows landed on an attack boat before it reached the shore. It was half burned when it lost buoyancy a dozen yards off shore. Eerily, the Sikkas on board the sinking, burning boat did not panic, they waited until they got as close as they would get to shore before making an orderly exit off the sinking boat. They looked like concrete demons, lifeless but terrifying.
Their ships, attackboats, and the larger hovercrafts all had functioning motors, a terrifying sight when used for their devastating purpose. Dozens of boats roared onto the beach, ejecting the soldiers with a palette of weaponry in hand. One hovercraft was much larger than the others, made of pure steel. It carried stacked cages of sizable Wraith. The steel hovercraft screamed up the beach, breaching 20 meters farther than the others, and continuing to blow sand and dust all around where it hovered. The creatures were uncaged and the Sikka mounted their scaly green backs, and avoided their long tails grabbing on to their small tuft of fur on the neck. Several bounced on their hind legs, belting a gutteral screech, showing their sharp teeth and serpent-like tongues. Their large heads with pointed ears shook off the journey and they scoped their amphibian eyes onto the town and began stomping towards it. Wraith. You could tell by looking at them they were unnatural creatures, bred for war. A biological transport to save on scarce fuel. Arrows continue to stream overhead like the waterfall where a few moments before the entirety of the Y had been in a pious quiet for the ceremony.
Kaiya, and Shim ran off the beach trying to get back into the city square. Soldiers bumped into them in their armor on their way to the battle forming on the sand, trying to put their helmets on or tie knots with one hand while running towards the beach. One soldier whose vest had not been properly attached was approaching the girls. Kaiya held her hand up to order the man to stop and she quickly secured his vest and cinched his other gear tight. Their eyes met for a moment. The man calmed down a little, at least he would be properly suited to face his death. The fear left for a moment as he realized these were the people he was fighting to protect and that it was a duty and an honor. She finished with the man and looked up to see a small line forming of other soldiers in need of quick help or makeshift repairs. Shim dropped her things and began helping too. Arryn and Ayala approached and saw what was happening. They too put their things down and began tightening laces and securing helmets. Every soldier they saw had terror in their eyes. They took the time while getting tightened up to look at the beach where the enemy was quickly breaking down their line and pushing the soldiers back. Their eyes bounced between the cadets helping them and back up to the Sikkas and Wraiths coming towards them. Each of them felt what that first man did. Honor. Duty. That brief respite grounded them deeply to their purpose.
The fighting pulsed louder and louder, it was almost imperceptible moment to moment but as the group kept at helping arm and prepare their soldiers, it slowly became cacophonous.
“Kaiya”, a voice whispered. That same voice from the stone, Kaiya thought, quickly turning around to see if anyone was there. Just as she turned, an arrow grazed her cheek and landed in the throat of the soldier she was helping. Her friends glared at her, eyes wide with fear. The fight had reached them. She filed the event away to inspect later, if there was a later.
The man with the newly found arrow in his throat dropped his sword, it’s power shutting off as it clinked to the ground. He gurgled the blood. He put his hand on her shoulder gently at first, then gripped her, looking at her with horror in his eyes. His gaze moved up slightly and his eyes opened even further, he pushed Kaiya’s shoulder and spun her around, just in time to get her out of the way of a devastating blow from the first Sikka to make it this far into the Y.
The first wave of Sikkas had managed to press forward as the entirety of the town retreated back to find safety behind the head-high wall separating the town from the beach. It was more of a sea-wall than a barrier for battle. The Sikkas riding Wraiths made it over with ease as the huge creatures slithered over it, impervious to the dozens of arrows decorating it’s hide.
The soldier that pushed Kaiya was butchered. She had spun onto a knee and found the man’s sword lying there. She picked it up and with her left hand spun backwards, slicing her assailant mid calf. She finished with both arms stretched wide, the left hand with the blade behind her and her right arm outstretched for balance. The blade cut straight through the bone and the Sikka, surprised at the pain, and then at her skill, stumbled and fell. As he fell he glimpsed her scorched hand and the symbol it made. An immediate and guttural cry emanated from the dying man, “WRANNAMAN!”.
A nearby Sikka heard the cry and wrenched the rains on his Wraith, who reared onto its two back legs. From that height, he could see where it had come from. The Wraith dropped back onto all fours and approached. Arryn heard the cry, and pushed the man he had been fighting with his bare hands. He bolted to get to Kaiya. When he saw she had already taken care of him, Arryn stomped on the man’s wrist, crushing his screen. He picked up the sword and finished the job. Kaiya and Arryn found themselves back to back, looking for the next warrior who dared to try.
“Shim!” Kaiya shouted, and turned to see Shim edging her back up to them forming a larger circle. Ayala did the same. Whatever their grievances were, they were gone, and they each surrendered to complete trust in each other. They had all been trained for the world they lived in, and today would be a test.
The warcry had alerted some of the other Sikka in the area who echoed the original. “WRANNAMAN!”, they shouted. Each touching a finger to their wrist screen to alert the others where to move. Trackers stopped, shuttered, and changed directions towards Kaiya and the group. More Wraith were on their way, letting their tongues out as if tasting their target from afar. Back to back now, each of them would step away from the group only to punch their swords through a belly if they could reach it. The crowd of soldiers eventually stopped attacking and created a concentric wider circle around the group. A Wraith stepped forward and space was made by the soldiers for it. The behemoth of a man dismounted and the Wraith stared at Kaiya straight in the eyes, shuffling its feet slightly, looking at its rider who had just dismounted as if to say, “Her. She is the one.” The soldier patted the Wraith on the back of the neck and in a voice that sounded as if it had been rolled over rocks said “Lower your weapons.” He was a giant of a man, if a man at all. An overgrown bundle of mass that caused him to look both sickly and pubescent, at least a full head and shoulders above Arryn, who was very tall for the Y. Black tattoos covered the left side of his face in stripes, culminating in points like a claw over his eye, “I am Dredge, commander of the Sikkas. Lower your weapons.” Ayala went to attack, she drew her sword up and tried smashing it down on Dredge’s forehead. He caught it with a single hand, never taking his eyes off of her. He held it there, inches above his forehead, his palm dropping blood onto the ground. “Lower your weapons,” he said calmly. They did.