The Exosphere Anthology, Infinite Tales Remain....
The Exosphere Anthology, Infinite Tales Remain....
Nov 12 2003, 08:22 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Group: New Members
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The Exosphere Saga may have wound to a close, but tales remain to be told! Here I hope to post a series of (infrequent) short stories set in the past, present, and future of the Exosphere universe.
And they are not simply restricted to me! PM me a contribution, and, if it's the kind of stuff I want (which it undoubtedly will be,) I'll post it; you will indeed receive full credit for your writing.
Special thanks to CI, who's already submitted a marvelous story, a gem full of marvelous description and inspiring scenes set in Konro's past. I intend to it have up soon.
So, to kick things off, for my 1000th post, a half-completed story which will have its end edited in soon.
The review topic is here.
The Exosphere Anthology
On Khass, ten years after the conclusion of Backlash, Ssrin and Thau have come to the lower levels of the planet’s cities to investigate rumors of a dark cult seeking to unbind Koranis once more…
Ssrin was acutely aware of the pressure of her fangblades against her side as she stepped into the Flarestar. The dimly lit tapcafe reeked of stale drinks, barely edible food, and the musk of a variety of unwashed aliens.
Besides her, Thau emitted a low cough. “You can smell it before you can see it,” he muttered, bringing a smile to Ssrin’s eight heads.
The pair’s scales glittered in the dim lighting as they slipped through the entrance of the tapcafe. Slender and lithe, covered in shining scales, humanoid but with a long, trailing-serpent like tail and several long, snake-like necks, the two Khai would have stood out on any world, except this one.
Since the Reformation, Khass’ lower levels, formerly dirty working quarters for slaves and lower-cast Khai, had become a haven for scum and villainy from across the galaxy. Shady industries had sprung up amongst what were formerly forced-work camps and slave warrens. The caverns of the Lower Levels, hollowed into the ground beneath Khass’ cities, were the perfect, unregulated retreat for bandits, smugglers, pirates, and other shady figures from across known space. Some had even called the Lower Warrens of Khass ‘a new Crossroads.’
Ssrin scanned the establishment, spotting a grimy bar at the far end of the roughly rectangular room. In front of it was a scattering of tables, constructed of some faux wood long obscured by grime. Many of them were occupied with gambling wheels and other semi-legal games. Ssrin smiled nostalgically. This reminds me of my time on Crossroads, back before…everything.
She glanced at Thau out of the corner of her eye, and felt the same warm spike of affection in her heart that had warmed her for the past ten years. Some things certainly have improved…
Returning her smile, Thau tugged on her arm. “This might be the best place to wait.” He directed her attention to a small, curtained booth built into the wall, one of many covert meeting places that would draw less attention than usual.
“It’ll be bugged,” Ssrin warned as they picked their way through the crowd towards the booth. Roaring, unwashed aliens of every variety surrounded them, spending (and occasionally earning) money at a furious rate. Two small brawls occupied side corners of the tapcafe, drawing a crowd of cheering spectators.
“What’s that matter to us?” Thau asked rhetorically as he pushed the curtain aside and slid himself onto one of the benches inside the booth. As the curtain swung shut behind him, much of the crowd noise faded into a distracting roar.
Ssrin dropped in besides him, muttering short string of syllables that seemed to crackle and burn with an eerie power. Light flashed briefly within her hands, and a brief shower of sparks exploded from the ceiling overhead.
“Got one,” Ssrin said, grinning. As an Avatar of Cyravaar, she had the power to cast powerful spells; one of her favorites was the anti-eavesdropping one she’d just used to great effect.
“You did indeed,” Thau said, staring at the wisp of smoke curling from the ceiling. He peered out through the curtain, but could make out only faintly moving shapes, although the smell of alcohol and unwashed aliens was still undiminished. “When do you think our contact will be here?”
“Desseran is fairly reliable,” Ssrin said, shifting to get the sheath of one of her fangblades out from beneath her tail. “I imagine he’s already here and just wants to make sure it’s us.”
“Well, we better hope he wasn’t using that bug in the ceiling,” Thau said, smiling, and both of them chuckled.
The sound of their laughter was suddenly interrupted by the zipp of someone opening the curtain to their alcove. Ssrin looked up, expecting to see Desseran, the Khai contact and informant who had promised to meet them here.
Her faces paled as she beheld a remarkably different, but just as familiar set of Khai faces peering through the gap in the curtain.
A dazzlingly beautiful Khai, dressed in a low-profile set of traveling clothes and armed with a pair of fangblades like Ssrin’s, smiled in through the gap in the curtain. The slightly arrogant expression on the female Khai’s face seemed to ooze power and poise. She was in the better position, for fighting or less violent dealings, and she knew it.
The cunning intelligence that burned behind the Khai eyes just made her seem all the more dangerous. And the bright flame that danced in those eyes for a moment was equally disturbing; it showed that she was herself a spellcaster of some power.
Ssrin’s hand shot for the plasma pistol at her side as Thau’s mouths dropped open in stunned recognition. The sound of startled hissing from both of them echoed off the dank sides of the booth as both Ssrin and Thau drew weapons and opened fire.
Explosions of green light erupted within the chamber, followed by a deafening series of staccato bangs. Plasma bolts slashed through the air towards the newcomer Khai, leaving trails of ionization in their wake. The plasma bolts impacted and exploded-
-a moment too early. They splashed off the shimmering, formerly invisible shield that hugged the Khai’s body, dissipating into harmless blasts of light.
“Some greeting for a long-lost sister,” Kasstaxa said, smiling, and dropped into the booth next to Thau.
The smoking muzzle of both Ssrin and Thau’s weapons tracked around to follow Kasstaxa as she dropped into the seat, still smiling broadly. The low hiss of drawn steel echoed through the booth as Ssrin drew one of her fangblades and slid it beneath the table to tap threatingly against Kasstaxa’s tail.
“How in the inferno did you survive?” Ssrin growled, jabbing at her spellshield with the tip of the blade. The magical shield hissed and crackled, but held. “Last I knew, you were dead.”
“Please,” Kasstaxa snorted. “Do you really think that I would be stupid enough to be killed by an Avatar in my stomach?” She laughed, a chiming sound that seemed far too charming for someone as evil as she was.
“No, sister, all that Konro’s spells did to me was complete my ascension to godhood.”
Ssrin and Thau sat in stunned silence for a moment. Ten years ago, during the final battle with the Avatars of Koranis, they’d both seen Ssrin’s trick succeed, seen Konro, the shapeshifter, manage to penetrate Kasstaxa’s wardings and actually crawl down her throat in liquid form. He’d delivered a devastating spell-salvo from within her body, tearing her apart in a storm of silver fire.
Except apparently Kasstaxa hadn’t really exploded, she’d simply vanished, or ‘ascended’, as she’d put it.
“I always thought that…explosion thing was a bit clichéd,” Thau muttered dryly, after nearly a minute of the same astonished silence. “So what didKonro’s spells do to you, and why haven’t you killed us yet?”
Kasstaxa emitted a burst of laughter. “I have simple answers to both questions. When I became Koranis’ avatar, I was literally evil incarnate.” She chuckled again, leaning back in the booth and folding her hands over her head. Thau and Ssrin exchanged uncomfortable glances.
“It was a bit one-dimensional, looking back at it,” Kasstaxa continued, gazing merrily off into space, acting quite casually, considering that she was sitting in a dim tapcafe booth with two people who wanted to kill her. “Free Koranis, gain power…that was all I thought about. In the end, only the second goal mattered.”
“During the final moments of our battle, I was never worried for myself. I know I was safe and that you could do nothing to me. I only wanted to free Koranis. In the end, I failed, but Konro managed to throw enough of your light magic into me that it reacted with my own dark power.”
“The combinations of the two energies somehow catapulted me out of the mortal realm, and I don’t honestly remember what happened next. All I remember is that I found myself drifting in a shadowy void, and Korm was there.”
“Korm?” Thau spat. “Impossible. We killed him ourselves.”
Kasstaxa laughed again, a chillingly beautiful sound. “He told me what happened. You thought he was running, didn’t you? No, your ray of disintegration didn’t kill him. He simply cast a spell to follow me. It was excruciatingly painful, because I was outside of the universe itself, but he managed to follow me.”
“In any case, I found myself bursting with new knowledge, like the memories we gained when we became Avatars, but more so. I somehow knew that I was now like a Titan, a god, I suppose you could say, with all the powers and responsibilities that came with it – except in one place. I could travel between universes at will, but in this one, the one that you saved from Koranis, I had no godly powers whatsoever. I could leave this universe for others, but only in certain places at certain times. Of course, while here, I retain my avatar powers and all the various spells I’d collected, so I’m no…pushover, shall we say?”
Her eyes sparkled with dark merriment as she picked herself up and switched to the other side of the booth, leaving Ssrin and Thau some breathing room. Seemingly oblivious to their half-amazed, half-spiteful stares, she continued her tale. “Korm and I were both free from the influence of Koranis, leaving us considerably more…real, shall we say? We were no longer so obsessive, and knew for certain that if Koranis ever learned that I had become a god- which it somehow has- it would desire my death above nearly anything else.”
“Korm and I spent a few years in that shadowy void, exploring the new limits of my power, which I eventually granted to him, too. Then we set off to explore the other universes, the ones opened up to us by our power.”
Ssrin shook her heads in confusion. “What are you babbling about, sister? Other universes?”
Thau nodded slowly. “It makes sense, really. There are an infinity of separate universes, from what I’ve learned, each one different from nearly every other one.”
Kasstaxa nodded admirably. “Very good, Thau. Korm and I journeyed through these…alternate possibilities, indulging our penchants for power and knowledge, gathering new spells and new information, occasionally taking over a world here and there, leaving phantoms of ourselves to govern them. Eventually, I caught wind of this cult that you’ve come to investigate, and I returned here, seeking to prevent Koranis from escaping again. If it ever did, it’d hunt me down kill me mercilessly.”
Ssrin nodded slowly. “You say you’re not so…obsessive any more? So you have changed a little for the better.”
“More than you can know,” Kasstaxa said, reclining again and smiling impishly. “You ‘good folk’ and your philosophers are always spouting about the emotions, like friendship and love, that evil can supposedly ‘never feel.’ Maybe Koranis’ brand of evil, perhaps, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that all evil is alike. Koranis is the Shadow Titan, a being of evil in one of its purest forms; but I think of myself as more…enlightened. Friendship…love…they’re within my reach. I’ve learned that.”
Thau spluttered. “Love? I hardly think…” His eyes went wide. “You and Korm…?”
Kasstaxa snorted. “Good work, Thau. What other being is quite as close to my heart? And his obsession with pain has been…satisfied. He has grown beyond the vengeful, murderous orphan I rescued from the streets of Khass’ Lower Warrens years ago.”
“Before this degenerates into a gossip show,” Ssrin said acidly, “I want to know what you want with us.”
“Simple,” Kasstaxa said, smiling. She poked a slender neck out of the soundproof curtain that covered the entrance to the booth and hissed something, then pulled it back inside. “I want the same thing you want; to take this cult apart from the top down. We remove their leaders, and their communion with Koranis falls apart. They’ll never manage to figure out how to free him.”
Thau drummed his fingers impatiently on the top of the table. “We already know they know how to. They’re planning to ram a protodermis-loaded freighter into Sailath and create enough of a boom to knock it out of its orbit, disrupting the binding spells.”
Kasstaxa grimaced. “Ambitious plan, that, and not particularly subtle. Nonetheless, if we destroy the cult’s leader, I’m willing to bet that it will fall apart on its own.”
Thau shook his head. “Forget it. We’re troubleshooters, not assassins.”
Ssrin shook her head. “No. Kasstaxa’s right. It’s the best and the simplest plan.”
Thau shot an amazed and shocked look at her. “Ssrin, are you crazy? I thought we agreed that there was going to be none of-”
“This is desperate enough that we’ll stoop to assassination,” Ssrin said, cutting over his words. “If that cult succeeds with their plan, things could go downhill pretty fast. And we have no idea what timespan we’re working with.”
She turned to Kasstaxa, leaving Thau feeling more than a little hurt. They’d been forced to stoop to killing over the last ten years, but Thau had dared to hope that Ssrin would be a little more reluctant to use the quick and dirty way…
“Kasstaxa,” Ssrin asked, cutting into his thoughts, “what did you do to our contact, Desseran? He’s running late, and I think you’ve got something to do with it.”
That’s my Ssrin, Thau thought, more than a little relieved. Worried about life above business, She has changed these past ten years…
“I didn’t harm him,” a new voice said. Thau whirled about towards the opening of the booth, his hand twitching for his pistol and only stopping just in time. Korm, a muscular and fearsomely built Khai with night-black scales and a distinctive crimson patch on his chest, loomed just inside the sound-absorbing curtain. He had approached with eerie silence, judging by the fact that neither Ssrin nor Thau had noticed him coming.
“He merely believes that we are other agents of yours. We obtained the information you want from him and sent him on his way, with double the pay you had for him.”
“Generous,” Thau said coldly. Korm slipped into a seat besides Kasstaxa, leaning back beside her. The two exchanged glances and smiled slightly, as if sharing a private joke.
“Cash isn’t a problem for us,” Kasstaxa said, her smile still unwavering. “Now, let’s get down to business.”
“Hold on a minute,” Thau said, gesturing with his hands. Ssrin jumped in, already knowing what he’d say. “How do we know this isn’t some kind of trick?”
Kasstaxa’s grin just grew. “Avatar’s word,” she said.
Thau nodded. An Avatar’s word, as they’d later learned, carried with it a powerful binding that seemed to be built into the fabric of the universe itself. By pledging that she meant no harm to them, Kasstaxa had effectively put her power as an Avatar on the line.
Thau and Ssrin exchanged measuring glances, communicating with the almost telepathic ease that came of ten years of companionship. They had both decided the sinister pair was, for now, trustworthy.
Both turned back to face the duo on the other side of the table. “What are you suggesting?” Ssrin asked warily.
“We need to find out where this cult is headquartered,” Kasstaxa replied. “To do that, I’ll need to cast a powerful divination spell I picked up along my travels. If this cult really does worship Koranis, it’ll be concealed by a spellshadow, and this spell is the only one I’ve ever found that can penetrate that kind of warding.”
Ssrin nodded, understanding that a divination was effectively the equivalent of a magical sensor sweep. “That powerful of a spell will need a source of energy. What are you going to use?”
Kasstaxa’s grin faltered. “I think you may find this distasteful, but I will need use the death of a living being as the trigger.”
“No,” Thau snapped. “We’re not going to murder someone just so you can cast a spell. We’ll do it some other way.”
“Relax,” Korm snapped. “Khass has relatively few crimes, but some of them are quite bad. We’ve already discussed arrangements with the maximum-security prison about an hour’s travel from here. They have a few inmates scheduled for execution.”
“I don’t care,” Thau snapped, more than a little angered by Ssrin’s silence. “We don’t sacrifice people for spells, no matte whether they’re going to die or not.” He turned to Ssrin. “Come one, we’re leaving.”
“No,” Ssrin said softly. “She’s right. At least this way, whoever she selects will die for a reason.”
Thau slammed a fist on the table. “Ssrin, I can’t believe you’re doing this. It goes against everything we’ve stood for these last few years.”
Only one thought filled his mind with dreadful echoes. Kasstaxa’s managed to corrupt Ssrin already. She’s given her Avatar’s Word, but somehow, she’s transferred something evil into Ssrin.
Ssrin was speaking with Kasstaxa. “As long as you sedate this inmate and take them quietly, with the consent of the guards, I’ll permit you to carry this out. But make sure they’re asleep when you…cast the spell, and I’ll have no part in it.”
Kasstaxa nodded. Thau stared, speechless, at Ssrin. “Ssrin, please…”
He was interrupted by a sudden roar and the concussion of an explosion from outside. Kasstaxa’s eyes blinked shut for a moment, and spell-light flared around her. “There’s been an attack!” she snarled. “The cult just detonated a bomb in the marketplace at the end of this street. One of the buildings there is threatening to collapse.
The noise level in the bar outside suddenly spiked, even through the sound-dampening curtain. Ssrin and Thau shoved their way out of the booth, the other two Khai close behind them, to see a scene of bedlam. People were rushing out of the tapcafe, running off down the street outside in two directions; either towards the blast, or, mostly, away from it.
“Cowards,” Korm muttered, and began shoving his way through the crowd. Thau followed him, the two sisters hot on his tail, and the four managed to make it into the street, then rush down it to the left, where a billow of smoke could be seen trailing up above the buildings and towards the rocky ceiling of the Warren, a mile above.
They emerged into the marketplace square to a scene of chaos. A crater of smashed and twisted pavingstones marked the site of the blast; it was surrounded by overturned vendor’s carts, smashed and twisted pieces of rubble, and flaming chunks of debris. Screaming aliens of various shapes and sizes fled by them, while a few rushed to pick through the rubble, searching for survivors.
Ssrin jabbed a figure at the building on the far side of the square, a large, unremarkable grey structure whose front had sagged in under the blast. “That things going to fall in any minute.” She closed her eyes for a moment, seeking the strands of a lifewatch spell she usually left running, then opened them with a start. “There are people in there, lots of them. Someone has to get them out, or keep that thing from falling.”
“Leave that to me,” Kasstaxa snarled.
Korm shot her a startled glance. “Wait! Kasstaxa, you can’t risk yourself for a bunch of warren rabble. They’re not worth your life. Kasstaxa, please-”
She had already vanished in the glimmer of a short-range teleport spell. Thau glanced at Korm and found him wearing an expression that was an eerie duplicate of the one Thau himself had worn, back during their debate at the tapcafe. Maybe we’re not so different, after all…
The thought made him shiver.
In the square ahead, a crimson-red medical vehicle exploded from a side street, thrumming on antigravs towards the center of the square with sirens ablaze. Light suddenly flashed amongst the rubble –
- and a flashing blue particle beam sliced into the side of the ambulance. Sparks jetted from the vehicle and it lurched sickeningly. Korm emitted a low moan as the ambulance sideslipped, whirling out of control, and slammed into the front of the already near-collapsing grey building. With a groaning crack of metal, the ambulance rebounded and crashed to a halt, pouring out smoke; the front of the nondescript gray building was now caved in even further. It emitted an ominous rumble, and Thau could practically hear support beams snapping,
“I have to help her!” Korm shouted, over the cacophony of alarm sirens and screams. He charged across the marketplace, either ignoring or forgetting about the concealed sniper who had shot the ambulance apart.
Thau muttered something uncomplimentary about Korm’s intelligence, then realized that had Ssrin been the one in the building, he’d be doing the same thing.
Next to him, Ssrin muttered something and jabbed her fingers in the air. A swarm of tiny silver slivers exploded from her fingertips, cascading upwards before darting away, seeking out the sniper.
Thau launched a seeking spell of his own, then the pair held their breath as Korm reached the halfway point on the marketplace and the seekers continued their sweep.
Suddenly, one of the enchanted metal slivers dropped from the sky, darting towards the debris field around the bomb crater, and a sharp shriek of pain echoed off the walls of the marketplace.
Korm bull-rushed into the doors of the grey building, smashing them open and vanishing inside. Ssrin and Thau wove teleport spells, vanishing in blasts of silver to appear at the location of their seeker-swarm spells. While a teleport spell couldn’t take you somewhere you’d never seen before, it could take you to a place where a friend or spell-minion of yours was.
The sniper, a Qwohmlin whose skin was now peppered with thin metal slivers, was frantically trying to hide himself beneath a chunk of ferrocrete pavement. Silver darts fell like metallic rain from the sky around him, piercing his light armor or glancing off with a ping, then turning around and trying again.
Thau snapped a finger around to point at the caster and muttered a series of hard-edged power words. A ball of light exploded from his hands, smashing into the Qwohmlin sniper and unfurling into a snapping array of chains that caught the unfortunate creature and held it fast.
Ssrin dispelled the seeker swarm, ending its attack on the Qwohmlin, then slithered over to him and rolled him over onto his back. “Who do you work for?” she spat.
Thau watched, carefully hiding his inner turmoil. Either Ssrin was very angry, or her uncharacteristic irritation with this prisoner meant that she was truly being corrupted to evil.
The Qwohmlin, whose head was left unrestricted by the glowing spellchains, gasped for breath for a moment, then spat, “Your worst nightmare, snake-head. Have your pet scythe let me go.”
Ssrin shot Thau an amused look. The Qwohmlin apparently thought Thau was a scythe, a spellcaster of less power than an Avatar who had been trained, rather than born, into their spellcasting ability. They had first appeared after the Binding of Koranis, as the neuroscythes broke their bonds of secrecy and spread their knowledge of spellcraft. The term ‘scythe,’ apparently an ancient word, perhaps dating back to the Titans themselves, was a suffix meaning ‘magic-wielder,’ suggesting that the similar farmer’s implement had some sort of arcane origin.
Ssrin turned back to the Qwohmlin, drawing back her heads as if threatening to strike. “You’re not going anywhere, murderer. Tell me-”
Thau frowned as he saw the Qwohmlin’s throat bob.
“Blast it!” Ssrin cursed, jabbing a finger into the creature’s throat. Its gag reflex should have made it cough up whatever it had just swallowed, but the reptilian Qwohmlin was already dead, a victim of its own will.
“A suicide capsule,” Thau said gloomily. He looked up at the grey, obelisk-like building that teetered over them. “I sure hope those two have that building stabilized…”
As he spoke, a blast of steam exploded from the foundation of the building, puffing upwards in a cloudy halo. “Looks like some sort of spellwork,” Ssrin commented. “Still, be ready to teleport out of here if that thing starts coming down.”
Two bursts of shadow unfolded themselves from the ground, then melded themselves into the shapes of two serpent-heads. Kasstaxa looked exhausted. “It took some work,” she muttered, leaning heavily on Korm, who crouched protectively next to her, “but we managed to fix things up.”
“Why?” Ssrin asked bluntly.
“Because,” Kasstaxa panted, “if that thing had come down, it would have drawn a lot of attention. And because you were flinging spells about, I thought you might take the blame if the building did collapse. That would seriously hamper my goals of taking down that cult.”
That doesn’t make any sense, Thau thought. We didn’t start firing spells off until she had already gone into the building. He looked upwards, noting that the building was still tilting dangerously. “What did you do?” he asked curiously, withholding his thoughts. Nevertheless, he couldn’t help but notice the worried expression on Korm’s face.
“Kasstaxa fiddled with gravity in the basement area,” Korm growled. “It took a lot of power, and the floor above us collapsed while we were working, so we needed to throw a lot of energy into our spellshields. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ll leave you two to…recuperate. Kasstaxa will contact you when we’ve carried out the divination.”
Thau’s stomach turned at the thought, but both Ssrin and the haggard, weary-looking Kasstaxa nodded their ascent. Moments later, the two mysterious Khai seemed to fade into the shadows.
“Well,” Ssrin breathed, “that was an interesting morning. First we meet Kasstaxa, then she risks her life to save a building full of innocents.”
Thau swallowed everything he wanted to scream at Ssrin, and, smiling at her – for no matter how angry he became, he could not deny his love- began to pick his way through the debris to search for anyone in need of healing.
Two days later…
“You’re absolutely sure this is where it is?” Thau asked quietly.
He was pressed up against Korm’s side as the two of them lay flat, pressed against the bottom of a large drainpipe that opened onto a dirty, lower-Warren street. Across the street was a large, unremarkable dome-like building, accessible only through a broken pair of automatic doors that looked like they hadn’t been opened in years.
“Absolutely,” the larger Khai said irritably. “This is where the divination showed. Now, Kasstaxa and Ssrin sent us here to scout things out while they checked the records about this building, so I suggest that we do so.”
“I don’t understand why you needed to come along,” Thau groused as he extracted himself from the pipe, pulling himself upright in the street and trying to wipe some of the filth off the front of his armor. The cult had sentries guarding every entrance to this sector except this particular pipe, so they’d been forced to crawl through it like common worms.
“Neither do I,” Korm said with uncharacteristic quiet.
There was an awkward silence as the two of them slipped across the street and into the shadow of the abandoned warehouse next to the dome. Thau pressed his back against the wall next to the warehouse’s door and studied the dome building, looking for any sign of activity. It was as still as a tomb.
“You’re worried about her, aren’t you?” Korm muttered. Thau started. He hadn’t thought Korm was nearly that perceptive.
“Yeah, I guess I am,” Thau replied, astonished that he was confessing this to the gruff Korm, of all people. “I can’t believe Ssrin agreed to that…sacrifice. I guess…”
There was another awkward silence as the two of them studied the dome building, Korm utilizing a pair of deepscan goggles that were able to probe past the building’s exterior and analyze its heat and radiation patterns. “Go on,” he muttered, surprising Thau again.
“I guess that I thought…think…that you two are corrupting her.”
“Not intentionally, of course,” he added hastily, wary of the flicker of anger on Korm’s face. “But just by being around her. She was on the edge for a while, years ago, and I don’t want her going over that edge, ever again.”
Korm nodded slowly. “For a while after Kasstaxa ascended, and then granted me the same godhood, we were worried that we’d somehow lost our identities, that we were no longer who we once were. When Koranis’ power departed from us, we were worried that he’d taken all of what you ‘call’ evil from us, that we were fools like you.”
“Thanks,” Thau snorted. “So you’re worried that’s happening now?”
Korm nodded slowly. “I can’t believe I’m telling you this, weakling, but I think that seeing your sister may have had…an unfortunate effect on Kasstaxa. I was astonished when she risked her life for a building full of miserable, crime-ridden Warren worms.”
“Those ‘worms’ are people just like you and I,” Thau grated, completing his study of the dome and turning to the warehouse door.
“Wrong,” Korm snapped. “We have power, and Kasstaxa and I, at least, have the brains and sense to know where and when to use it.”
“Whatever,” Thau muttered. He didn’t want to get into an argument with Korm now. “Do you have what you wanted?”
“A complete scan of the building,” Korm affirmed. “Now let’s get out of here.”
Thau couldn’t have agreed more. Something about this cult wasn’t quite right, and it did not make him want to stick around.
The four Khai stared down at the computer screen with a variety of expressions on their faces, ranging from annoyance to anger.
“They’re keeping prisoners?” Thau snapped. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Ssrin replied, “but they’re definitely there in the scans Korm made. Sixteen of them, in a holding block near the dome’s power core.”
“Interesting that the cult building has its own source of power, rather than being connected to the city grid,” Kasstaxa mused.
“Great, good, what are we going to do about the prisoners?” Thau replied.
Ssrin emitted a deep sigh. “Nothing. We stick with our original plan; take down the leaders. Going for the hostages would waste time and resources and might give the main attack away.”
Thau stared at Ssrin, a ripping sense of betrayal tearing through his gut. “Ssrin! We can’t just leave them there! If this is a cult of Koranis, they’re probably being sacrificed for spellcraft!”
“I know,” Ssrin said, and Thau noted with a start there were tears in her eyes. His anger faded immediately, but his worry did not.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I understand.”
Ssrin smiled at him, and he returned the smile, knowing that she hadn’t changed all that much for the worse. At least she still felt pain at the potential death of these prisoners. Still…
“Touching,” Korm said sarcastically. “However, our original plan still holds. All four of us will enter the building, engage the leaders or leader while they are alone, and…remove them. Then we depart by teleportation.”
“No,” Kasstaxa shook her head. “We can’t leave those prisoners there.”
Korm wheeled on her. “Kasstaxa, I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Calm yourself, Korm,” she said, amused glints dancing in her eyes. “If we leave them there, we are abandoning a vital source of information, while also leaving resources for them in the form of sacrifices. They might be able to commune with Koranis with those sacrifices, even without their leader to preside over the rituals.”
Ssrin shook her head. “I don’t know, Kasstaxa. We’d need to send at least two people-” she nodded at Korm and Thau “- to free them. That takes away half of our manpower for the assault on the leader.”
Kasstaxa folded her arms. “Ssrin, I know how Koranis-worship works. I understand what will happen if we stir them up, but leave sacrifices behind to fuel their spellwork. Trust me, it won’t be good. Sacrificial death during the spellcasting process can boost a Koranis-granted spell to the level of a serious threat, even to an Avatar.”
Ssrin nodded in reluctant agreement. “OK, then, let’s roll.”
Nearly an hour later, the unlikely group approaches the Cult Dome once more, seeking to assassinate the cult leaders and free the prisoners the cult is holding.
It was a long and crowded journey through the drainpipe system, but eventually the unlikely team made their way to the pipe-exit nearest to the cult dome.
Ssrin ducked out onto the street, spreading her heads to peer in every direction. “Clear,” she muttered, beckoning behind her back. Kasstaxa slipped lithely out of the drainpipe, followed by Thau, and then Korm.
The four serpent-heads stood, scraping muck off their battle armor. “Well,” Kasstaxa said cheerfully, looking around, “we seem to have shown up during a slow part of the day.”
“There won’t be many people in this area,” Korm rumbled, hands on the hilts of his own fangblades. “If this cult really does take prisoners, then the word will have spread amongst the Warreners in this area. They may be poor, but they have some sense; enough to avoid a place where people have been disappearing.”
“Thanks for the lecture,” Thau muttered. “Ssrin, I don’t like this at all. That building just doesn’t…feel right.” He jabbed a finger at the squat, unremarkable dome across the street.
Ssrin glanced at it and narrowed her eyes. “You’re right. It’s…dark. My lifewatch spell can’t pick up anyone inside. I should be able to at least see bacteria, rats, things like that.”
“Probably the spellshadow,” Kasstaxa commented, beginning to slither across the street towards the warehouse besides the dome. “It’ll block any farsight, lifewatch, or other divination-type spells cast into it. Nothing to worry about.”
Korm sneered at Thau, then followed Kasstaxa across the street. He looked like a killing machine barely restrained within the package of a Khai body. The savagery and cunning rampant within his mind seemed to rage just beneath his skin, but he was no longer the bloody-minded monster he had been while he was under Koranis’ influence. There was a hint of humanity in there, a new sense of ‘life’ that had been absent while the Heart of Darkness still filled the back of his mind.
Korm might have been ‘evil’, but, much to Thau’s displeasure, it seemed that he could still feel love, and all the emotions that came with it. Koranis itself may have never known those feelings, but it seemed more mundane evil could.
I guess all of our philosophers were wrong, Thau mused, starting across the eerily empty street next to Ssrin. Love isn’t what sets good apart from evil. I wonder if there really is all that much of a difference between the two, after all? No, I think there must be, but not in the way we think of it…
Kasstaxa reached the door to the decayed, ramshackle warehouse next to the cult dome. It was a massive metal box, rusting and stained with decay that Thau had examined briefly during his earlier scouting mission with Korm. Korm’s scans had turned up an underground passage leading between the dome and the warehouse. While the dome itself was guarded, the warehouse was far enough away – a few hundred feet- that seeing a group of Khai enter it would probably not be taken as unusual.
Thau doubted that the dome guards would recognize him and Korm as the ones who had checked the dome out earlier, and even if they did, they would probably assume they were Warreners, come for a contraband pickup or a secret meeting with some pirate band or group of smugglers.
All in all, their plan seemed like a good one. The tunnel between the dome and the warehouse was small, and cut off halfway by a thick ferrocrete wall. However, Ssrin had picked up a passwall spell during her travels, and it would allow them to dig a temporary hole through the wall without having to resort to spells of destruction.
Kasstaxa fidgeted with the lock on the door. The electronic device emitted a stubborn click. Kasstaxa shrugged and, muscles rippling under her tight armor, smashed her tail against the rusting door. It collapsed inwards with a crunching noise and a flurry of rust chips.
Thau, reaching the gap and peering into the darkness within the warehouse, coughed at the smell. “There’s the reek of death in here,” Korm rumbled.
Ssrin snickered. “Rotting meat,” she explained. “This must have been a food-storage warehouse, and the refrigeration units were still full when it was abandoned. They probably failed long ago.”
Thau grinned at Ssrin, and she returned the gesture, sharing their feelings as if they were one being. We’re going to have to walk through this?
“Get over it,” Kasstaxa commented, grinning back at the two of them. “Surely you’ve smelled worse things than rotten meat.”
“Count on it,” Ssrin replied, and shoved past her sister into the interior of the warehouse.
It was pitch-black, lit only by a few rays of light that peeked hesitantly through the smashed door. Rusted crates and boxes sagged amidst a powdering of red-tinged rust. Moisture dripped and splashed from low-hanging pipes. Thau groped along his utility belt and finally extracted a palm beacon; its bright spear of illumination shed some light on the scene.
He played it along one wall, finding nothing but rusted doors and gaping rents, then swept it along the floor. “There.”
A rusted hole gaped in the midst of the warehouse floor. Rusted machinery lay along each side, but a small ladder, fitted for a Khai body, arched along one edge. It looked unsteady, but usable. The hole vanished downwards into blackness. “Looks like that’s our tunnel,” Kasstaxa said with irrepressible cheerfulness. “Make yourself useful, sister, and take rearguard.”
Kasstaxa leapt headfirst into the pit, catching the top rung with her tail and grabbing the rung just below her head with both arms. Releasing the top rung, she pushed off the wall with her tail, pivoting around the rung she held with her arms until her tail dangled near the middle of the shaft. Wrapping her tail around a rung there, she released her arms, letting herself pivot around her tail until she had nearly slammed into the wall, then catching a rung there with her arms, halting her momentum, and releasing her tail again. Pivoting again around the arm-held rung, she dropped lithely to the floor at the bottom of the pit.
Ssrin and Thau looked at each other for a moment, half-awed and half-annoyed by this display of dexterity and coordination. Korm followed Kasstaxa down the ladder, simply leaping down the length of the pit and drifting to a halt just above the bottom with spell-light playing around his body.
The other two Khai joined the dark duo through more conventional methods, climbing cautiously down the near-disintegrating ladder. Thau waved his palm beacon around the bottom of the bit, slithering gingerly around rusted chunks of metal, until he located a mesh grate on one wall of the shaft. A dusting of rusty metal mostly obscured it, but Thau could make out enough of the grating to fire a pair of precise plasma shots into it, smashing it apart in a hail of incandescent plasma.
“That’s what’s supposed to take us to the dome?” Korm growled. The passage that the grate’s fall had revealed was wide, but so small that they’d have to crouch over to fit in it. “Whoever used it before was rather short.”
“It used to be a data conduit between the dome and the warehouse, I would guess,” Ssrin speculated. “Kasstaxa, if you’re going to take the lead, get moving.”
Crouching silently, Kasstaxa began to slither into the tunnel, her plasma rod banging against the wall every few steps. She curled one head around and readjusted the weapon, stopping the irritating percussion.
“After you,” Korm said, beckoning to Thau and smiling maliciously. Thau reluctantly fit his wiry frame into the tunnel and began to squeeze after Kasstaxa, the first tinges of claustrophobia tearing at the edge of his mind. He forced the panic away with a conscious effort.
He heard rustling behind him, and felt Korm’s breath on his back. Ahead of him, Kasstaxa’s lean form looked like a shadow, silhouetted by the light of his palm beacon. Thau felt the comforting weight of his weapons – sword, plasma rifle and rod, and pack of explosives- at his side, but that comfort was dispelled by the odor of rancid meat still drifting down the tunnel from the warehouse behind.
They slogged along the dusty, featureless tunnel for what seemed like hours, but was probably more like five minutes. It stayed perfectly straight, to Thau’s relief; any turns, especially downwards, would have just increased his sense of claustrophobia. After what seemed like an interminable wait, the hissing of Kasstaxa’s tail on the floor beneath them drew to a halt, and Thau nearly slammed into her back.
“We’re here,” Kasstaxa said. “Ssrin, pass me the spell.”
Grumbling something about illogic, Ssrin rustled in the pouches of her utility belt, and moments later Korm pressed something into Thau’s hand, presumably passed along from Ssrin. It was a small scroll, a method of writing down the power words to a spell, although reading the spell off the scroll was still quite difficult and had a tendency to go out of control.
Kasstaxa’s slender fingers took the scroll from Thau’s hands before he had a chance to move, and moments later, hissed words of power began to echo within the tunnel. Sparks flared, silhouetting Kasstaxa’s weaving hands and darting heads, and Thau could make out a solid wall in front of her
As he watched, the wall began to shift, folding back on itself with an eery sparkle of colors until a rectangular passage appeared through it. Like most spells, the passwall was a complete violation of the laws of physics, but spells worked by bending those laws to the caster’s will.
“It worked,” Kasstaxa hissed, in the same tone that she might tell someone that dinner was ready. “Let’s keep going.”
Her form, haloed by the light of Thau’s palm beacon, once again began to recede into the distance. Thau followed her hastily, hiding a cough behind one hand and wishing that this whole business was over and done with.
They were now below the cult dome, and heading straight for its core, where this passage had a matching shaft upwards to the surface, emerging into what was probably the dome’s data room, where its computer core was. They’d download maps from the computer there, neutralizing guards if necessary, then split into two teams – to Thau’s discomfort, he was again mysteriously paired with Korm, leaving Kasstaxa to influence Ssrin further towards corruption – and move towards their objectives. Thau and Korm would free the prisoners and herd them towards the dome’s exit, at Kasstaxa’s mysterious insistence, while Ssrin and Kasstaxa surprised the cult leader and…’removed them’, as Kasstaxa had put it.
After another interminable time crawling through the tunnel, it finally opened into another shaft, this one considerably cleaner but pitch-black. Thau waved his palm-beacon around, noting a metallic cover fit snugly over the top of the shaft some twenty feet above. Finally he found the slim ladder and beckoned to it. Kasstaxa and Korm both hissed spells and began to drift towards the top of the ceiling, while Thau and Ssrin climbed the ladder after them, saving their spells for later.
Kasstaxa reached the top of the shaft and placed her hands directly beneath the cover, muttering a series of words. Light flared between her outstretched fingers, streaking across the cover like lightning, and moments later the metal cover disintegrated into a rain of fine dust that Thau hastily blinked out of his eyes.
There were startled, alien shouts from above as Kasstaxa and Korm levitated up out of the shaft, darting into the room, weapons blazing. Thau reached the top of the ladder-
-and a palpable darkness slammed down over him. The shadow of Koranis seemed to fall on him like a physical thing, as the Dark Titan’s power seemed to seal off part of his brain. Thau simply could not call any spells to mind while within range of the unholy blessing Koranis had placed on this building. He’d recover when he left, but it still felt…strange.
Korm and Kasstaxa were crouched down behind boxy pieces of equipment in the center of a wide, hexagonal room filled with rows of blinking consoles and dominated at its center by a slim, tall metal cylinder – the computer core.
Thau managed to pull himself up off the top of the latter and onto the well-worn floor of the brightly lit room, reaching a hand down to help Ssrin up. They ducked behind a pair of consoles as Kasstaxa and Korm, who were surrounded by the smoking, armored bodies of a Vart and a bladeling, laid another rain of fire down at some unseen target.
Blue particle bolts and hissing rayslicer beams cut back from behind a group of consoles some way down the room, and one glanced off the heavy armor on Korm’s shoulder, leaving a sizzling hole. Korm stretched out his arms, letting his plasma rod drop to his side, and emitted a surprised hiss when he could not seem to call up the words for his spell. Apparently Koranis’ power had handicapped his spellcasting ability, as well.
Thau took a brief glance over the situation. If this standoff continued- the two remaining guards he could see were crouched behind the thick metal consoles where the fire that had struck Korm had originated – then reinforcements would show up and they’d be in serious trouble. Without spells, they were just mortals, albeit slightly more experienced and skilled than usual ones.
“Wish we had a Toa here,” Ssrin muttered, then broke from cover with her plasma rod at her shoulder to fire a series of hissing green bolts. Thunderclaps echoed through the wide computer chamber as two struck the consoles that the cultist guards crouched behind, blowing sizzling holes into metal and electronics before dissipating. The third bolt arrived, a sizzling green comet, just as one guard leaned out with her own weapon raised to fire.
The plasma bolt punched through the guard’s armor faceplate with a nauseating crackle and a flare of sparks. Ssrin winced as green light flared through the gaps in the guard’s helmet, and the guard pitched over backwards like a puppet with her strings cut. Her armored helm probably would have stood a chance against anything but a plasma rod, but the famed Exosphere weapon’s lethal accuracy and power prevailed.
The other guard, a Lernean shouting something that Thau couldn’t make out, stuck his head and arms above his cover, a blinking control console, and released a lance of energy from his rayslicer. A thundercrack split the air, then another, as the guard fire again. Both bolts went low, plowing into the floor and leaving gaping rivulets of molten metal.
Thau fired in response, his plasma rod blazing green fire. The smell of ozone filled the air of the room as the streaking javelin of verdant energy went high, smashing through a lighting fixture in the ceiling and raining sparks over both combatants. The Lernean cultist ducked back behind the console he was using as cover.
Korm and Kasstaxa laid down another devastating pattern of fire, sending the guard fleeing towards another cubicle. Ssrin poured plasma bolts into his ankles as he dove towards another console, and the armor there failed with a cracking sizzle. The guard screamed and slammed to the floor, the cauterized stump of his foot flailing at the air.
Thau’s stomach turned as Kasstaxa pumped a pair of plasma bolts into the downed guard, reducing his chest to little more than molten slag and ending his screams with a gasping wheeze. Thau whirled on Kasstaxa, feeling an expression of rage twist itself onto his face. “What in the inferno was that for?”
“I can’t have his screams calling more trouble down on us,” Kasstaxa said with a cocky smile, and fired a plasma bolt over his head. Thau whirled around to find Ssrin blazing away at another guard, who was making a mad dash for what looked like a communications terminal on the wall.
Kasstaxa’s verdant-green fire slammed into the console, punching through its controls and sending a geyser of sparks and melted electronics into the air. Korm’s own weapon blazed green fire, punching through the armor on the running guard’s back with lethal accuracy. Sparks exploded from guard’s back as the armor failed entirely, and her death echoed out of the gaps in her armor as she sagged to the deck.
Kasstaxa finished the guard with another plasma bolt, sending Thau’s stomach into another series of revolted acrobatics, then broke from behind cover and darted towards the nearest console. “We must hurry! Someone will have heard the weapons fire and sent reinforcements. I had hoped that there wouldn’t be guards in here…”
Thau joined her at the console, fighting down the urge to lash out at her for the way she’d ‘sanitized’ the two downed guards. They might have lived…we could have just stunned them… “Allow me to handle the computer work.”
Kasstaxa moved aside, slithering between another row of consoles and peering towards the other side of the room. Korm covered the one visible door with his weapon, while Ssrin checked the bodies of the five guards that the group had killed.
“Another door here,” Kasstaxa reported, taking up guard position somewhere on the far side of the computer core, which obstructed access to the door she had just found. “I can’t see anything outside, nor can I hear anything.”
Thau powered up the console and found a menu glowing before him. He selected ‘building schematics,’ but found a password-input screen barring his path. “Blast it. Ssrin, where’s the hackbox?”
Ssrin tossed him a blinking silver box from her utility belt, a Reformed Exosphere standard-issue hackbox which contained several useful programs. Foremost amongst them was a handy piece of software that could (generally) break through simple passwords and security systems.
Thau caught the box and found the input jack on the side of the console, then plugged it in. The silver container whirred for a moment as it spat programs into the console, and moments later the password screen disappeared with a satisfied blip.
Thau found himself staring at a rough schematic map of the cult dome. He selected the search menu to one side of the map, typed in ‘holding cell,’ and couldn’t restrain a smile as a blinking dot appeared in one part of the map. “Got it. The prisoners are just a few corridors down and to the left.”
“Good,” Kasstaxa snapped from the other side of the room. “This is going to be a lot harder without our spells working. Find the location of the leader.”
“Normal map programs won’t let you do that,” Thau replied, but nevertheless typed in ‘head priest’ in the search window and entered the command. To his surprise, another window scrolled by, this one apparently a readout of energy emissions, and another blinking dot appeared on the map. “He or she is out the other door, the one Kasstaxa’s guarding, straight ahead past three intersections, and then the second door on the right. You’ll find a large room which has been converted to a chamber of worship.’
“Great,” Ssrin muttered. “Come on, sister, let’s move.”
Thau and Korm left in the other direction, both of them shooting worried glances over their shoulders as the two sisters, barely visible around the gleaming computer core, vanished down the opposite corridor.
If she gets hurt, I will personally rip Kasstaxa apart, Thau thought grimly. He looked over at his companion and barely restrained a chuckle. I imagine he’s thinking just about the same thing, except in reverse.
“Stay behind me,” Korm muttered, spreading his heads wide to improve his depth perception and staring down the corridor before him.
Ignoring him, Thau slipped to the far wall of the corridor and examined the hallway. It stretched off to an intersection some forty or fifty feet ahead; its grimy, brown-gray walls dimly reflected the flickering, pale lighting, and the ragged carpet on the floor couldn’t conceal the stale smell of the ferrocrete floor beneath. Thau sneezed softly as dust tickled at his nostrils.
Korm glared at him in exasperation. “Stay quiet, and watch our backs. We’ll rescue these prisoners, but not at the cost of our lives. If they’re bogging us down, we kill them.”
I’ll probably kill you first,Thau thought, wordlessly edging down the corridor wall. An icy silence stretched between him and Korm as they moved down the hallway, weapons held ready, and reached the intersection.
Thau poked his heads around in one direction, splaying his necks wide to cover each of the three corridors branching off this intersection. Unremarkable doors were all that was visible along them. “Clear,” he muttered, jabbing one hand down the corridor to their right, the one leading to the prison block.
Korm slipped out into that corridor, and Thau dropped to the ground and rolled past him to the other wall of that corridor, not moving in front of him or otherwise blocking his line of fire. Thau couldn’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable at how well they worked together.
Thau raised his own weapon again, and Korm began to slither down the corridor. Thau backed behind him, his weapon tracking across the corridor behind them, hearing every noise within range; the drip of water, the rumble of machinery in the far distance, the soft hiss of his tail on the worn carpet, Korm’s low, steady breathing.
Korm reached the door at the end of the corridor and, avoiding the automatic-open sensor, gently swung it open, peering around it. “Clear,” he muttered, dropping back to allow Thau to roll across the hallway in front of him and reach the open door.
Thau whipped his tail along the wall, redirecting his roll, tumbling into the room beyond and unfolding into a firing crouch. The room was indeed clear, a simple, rectangular space that held only an abandoned, rotting, faux-wood desk shoved up against one wall. Korm edged into the room behind him, gently pulling the door shut, still avoiding the door’s automatic-open sensor in case it was hooked into a security system.
“Which way?” the larger Khai hissed, tracking his plasma rod slowly between the two corridors that stretched off the room. The one to the left was long and hit another intersection some sixty feet away; the other was much shorter and ended in a thick, silver-metal door that did not seem to be part of the original structure of the corridor, at least judging by the way that it seemed to have been sloppily welded into the wall.
“That way,” Thau muttered, “obviously enough.” He indicated the shorter corridor, slipping down it to the door and examining it. It was solid and did not have an auto-open sensor; the only method of opening it was a large, thick security keypad where a door handle might have been.
“Blast it,” Korm muttered from behind him. “We don’t have time to pick the lock.”
“Cursing won’t help,” Thau snapped back. “What other options do we have?”
“cool dude!” Korm snarled. “I mean blast it, literally. You have explosives!”
Thau felt a blush rising into his face, and tried to restrain it. Nice work, Thau. As if Korm didn’t already disrespect you…
He reached into a pouch hanging off his utility belt and angrily extracted a palm-sized disk of black metal, marked only a small, glowing set of controls on the back. Thau extracted a small plastic tube from the same pouch and squeezed a dab of clear adhesive from it onto the back of the metal disk, then slapped it onto the heavy silver door and held it for the moment it took for the adhesive to take hold.
“Fifteen seconds,” he muttered to Korm. “Get under cover.”
Both of them retreated into the antechamber and pressed their backs up against the wall. “The guards in there probably heard the fight earlier. They’ll be ready for us,” Korm muttered. “You had best stay out of the way.”
Thau smiled condescendingly at him. “If you think I can’t fight, you’re sadly mistaken. It’s been ten years since I took you on on Crossroads, and I like to think I’ve improved since then.”
Korm snorted. “Displays of pride are a waste, little Thau. We’ll see how you do when every cultist in this whole dome descends on us. I’m surprised they haven’t already.”
“Ten seconds,” Thau noted, praying his mental clock was accurate. “Those guards are probably guarding the leader. Ssrin and Kasstaxa shouldn’t have too much trouble with them; they’re too experienced to be beaten by a few cultists.” I hope.
Korm opened his mouth as if to say something, then flushed and snapped it shut. I guess he doesn’t want to admit exactly how worried he is about Kasstaxa. If he didn’t know she was a better fighter than him, he’d probably be out there trying to help her, Thau thought. Of course, the same goes for me…
A low explosion rumbled up the short corridor, and a wave of hot air followed. A blast of splintered metal and argent flame exploded from the corridor, dissipating quickly and leaving only the scent of melted metal in its wake. “Let’s move,” Korm said tersely, then swung around from the wall to face down the short corridor. Thau followed, plasma rod held at his shoulder.
If their maps were right, the prison block should be right beyond where the door had previously been.
The silver door at the end had buckled inwards under the blast, and Thau could see, through the ruin of the door, the slumped form of a Vart, its airsac deflated, blown against the far wall by the far side of the explosion. The silver splinter of metal protruding from its body suggested it had been killed instantly. Thau swallowed against the acrid taste of bile in his throat. Ten years, and I still can’t bear to see things die…but I suppose I should be glad of it.
His vision was obstructed by the long barrel of a rayslicer suddenly swinging into line through the blasted door. Behind it loomed the hulking form of a bladeling, the chitinous cutters that grew from its limbs making it look something like a multi-bladed knife.
Korm and Thau fired at the same time. Thau’s plasma bolt snapped the rayslicer off at the middle, sending a gout of sparks exploding outwards, while Korm’s plasma bolt caught the massive bladeling in the chest armor and blew the protective grid into smoking ruin. The bladeling hastily retreated, vanishing out of the line of sight of the door.
Throwing himself onto his stomach, Thau leapt down the corridor and emerged past the smoking ruin of the door into the room beyond. It was a wide, rectangular space; a faux wood table and padded chairs on the left side were covered in the dirt of an overturned potted plant, while a desk in the opposite corner had been swept clean of its computer equipment and overturned to make a makeshift barrier which three guards crouched behind.
The other opposition was the bladeling, who had drawn an ion pistol in place of his ruined rayslicer and was now crouched behind the faux-wood table, surrounded by a comical array of magazine chips and readers. Thau squeezed a shot off at him, but the screaming green bolt merely blew a smoking hole through the faux-wood of the table and left the odor of scorched synthetics in the air.
Korm came barreling into the room after him, nearly tripping over his flailing tail, opening up like the juggernaught he was. The larger Khai’s first screaming volley of plasma bolts left one of the right-side guards with only smoking ruin and shattered armor where her Lernean head and chest had been.
Nearly vomiting at the odor of burned flesh, Thau managed to roll away from a volley of return fire from both sides, which nonetheless stung his armor and sent a searing pain up his side. His arm twitched despite the pain, and the plasma bolt which he’d been aiming for the smoking hole on the bladeling’s chest armor instead flew low and smashed into his midsection armor, leaving another smoking hole there but no flesh damage.
The roar of weapons fire and the stench of burnt ozone and flesh filled the air as another volley of fire ripped out from the guards. Korm took two particle-beam hits from the pair of guards left behind the overturned desks, leaving the armor on his tail in smoking tatters. Thau ducked just in time as the bladeling’s ion pistol spat red fire over his heads.
Korm savaged the front of the overturned desk with a series of plasma bolts as he launched himself across the room, catching it on fire and sending both of the guards behind it ducking back out of firing position.
Thau narrowed his eyes at the massive bladeling and squeezed off a single shot. An agonized scream filled the room as the bladeling keeled over, agony painted across his face. Thau’s plasma bolt had impaled his newly unarmored stomach, probably the most painful way to die.
Thau shot him twice in the head, sobbing, to put him out of his misery, then whirled to find Korm staggering backwards as a blue particle bolt smashed into his shoulder armor. The larger Khai went down onto the table that the bladeling had been hiding behind, skidding across it and knocking the potted plant onto the bladeling’s corpse.
Thau shot one of the guard’s particle rifles out of her hands, scorching them into temporary uselessness; the other guard replied with a fusillade of thunderclap-acompanied particle beams.
Another wave of burning agony seared up Thau’s side, and he found himself, suddenly, unexpectedly on the floor, seemingly unable to draw breath. He heard the faint sounds of weapon fire and watched blue and green bolts streaking above his head, but he was unable to remember exactly what was happening. His mind seemed to be doused in cotton.
One last green bolt streaked above him, and he heard a low moan and then the crash of an armored body sliding to the floor. Moments later, Korm’s face came into his field of vision, painted with an ugly sneer.
(hit the word limit again! Sorry, CI, but I'm going to have to edit the rest in righ
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Nov 18 2003, 06:49 AM
Nov 14 2003, 06:07 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Group: New Members
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
t before your story...wait, I have a better idea... )
“Get up!” the larger Khai snarled, and slapped him at the place where his necks joined his body. The sharp pain brought Thau back to reality with a gasp. “You-!”
“Shut up and don’t move,” Korm snarled, drawing something from his utility belt. Thau complied reluctantly as Korm smeared painkiller and disinfectant across the burns on his body, then applied armor patches to both Thau’s battered suit and his own dark armor.
“Come on,” Korm snarled, drawing Thau up from the floor and propping him against the wall. “We have prisoners to free.”
Steadying himself against a rush of dizziness, Thau followed Korm through a door on the far side of the room. The door was thick and metallic but unlocked. Beyond it was a long hallway with cells branching off to each side.
Thau winced at the sights within those cells. The prisoners were shackled against the rear walls, sleeping, looking ragged and decrepit; tubes full of clear liquid pierced their arms or equivalent appendages. Thau tracked one of those tubes backward until it vanished into the wall. “Korm, start working on opening the doors. I’ll go shut off the drug pump.”
Korm nodded reluctant assent and began working at the steel-barred front of the first cell, quickly unlocking it and moving on to the next one. Thau headed down the corridor, trying to ignore the soft, unconscious moans to each side. The thought that these beings, intelligent beings, would have been sacrificed like animals brought bile to his throat.
At the end of the long corridor was another small room, this one full of blinking consoles and, in one corner, a large plastic container of clear liquid half-covered by a pump.
Thau shot the pump off the container of anesthetic with pinpoint accuracy, and the low burbling rush of liquid through pipes stopped. Almost immediately, a scream sounded from the cellblock outside, followed by another and another.
“Uh,-oh,” Thau muttered. I hope they don’t know who Korm is.
He rushed back into the cellblock to find Korm growling reassurances as he sliced open the bonds of one of the prisoners. Already, a small, huddled knot of them had grown at the end of the cellblock, looking about with wide eyes and terrified expressions.
Can’t say I blame them. This place gives me the creeps. “People, we’re here to get you out, but our only chance is to stay quiet.”
The screaming and the frightened murmurs stopped, and Korm shot him a half-thankful, half-irritated look. The larger Khai broke open the rest of the cells over a span of two minutes, cutting loose the prisoners within, and gathered them at the back of the cellblock.
Thau spent that time at the front of the cellblock, peering out the door into the battle-scarred room beyond and watching nervously for any sign of incoming guards.
Just as Korm cut the last prisoner loose, Thau heard armored footsteps in the distance, coming his way. “More guards!” he snapped at Korm, raising his plasma rod to his shoulder. Oh great, here we go again…
Korm hastily pressed the knot of prisoners into the cells and told them to stay there until he got them. Moments later, the larger serpent-head darted past Korm and went to the door on the other side of the room, the one that they’d blown open upon their entrance. He peered out of it, then turned to Thau. “Come here. We’ll take them when they’re coming down this corridor.”
“Yes, master,” Thau muttered sarcastically, joining him at the door and taking cover behind the wall to the right. He peered out, plasma rod held ready, and saw an armored figure entering the far side of the anteroom. The figure’s head jerked upwards in shock as it caught sight of the blasted door and the two armored serpent-heads behind it.
Before the figure even had a chance to shout a warning, Korm and Thau cut loose with a volley of plasma bolts. The sudden thunderclaps of the plasma rods left no doubt that the cultists knew where they were. The armored figure, a bull-like Sadanol, staggered under the assault, its armor flashing and cracking out sparks as it overloaded.
Korm cursed as the roaring Sadanol managed to throw itself out of the line of fire, skidding into the antechamber, then rolling to the side and out of sight. Two more figures stood behind the hulking alien; both opened fire. Shimmering particle beams and hissing ionic darts exploded against the wall as Thau hastily ducked back around the corner. The guard’s fire chewed and tore at the wall, and small flames sprung to life on the carpet in response to the sheer heat of the assault.
The prisoners huddled in the back of the cellblock began screaming; Korm bellowed something at them as he leaned back out around the corner and delivered a volley of thundering green lightning. The leftmost remaining guard took it in the shin, the armor there bubbling and crackling into failure, and dropped to one knee, throwing his aim off. The other guard replied with a shot from his ion rifle that tore a gaping hole across Korm’s left-flank armor.
As Thau leaned out to fire, the Sadanol leaned out into the corridor with its rayslicer swinging up to fire. Thau shifted targets and dropped his sights over the huge creature’s forearm, spearing it with green lightning and sending the screaming Sadanol back into cover, clutching at his burnt arm.
The Sadanol had blocked the two guards’ line of sight, and as it fell, Korm opened up over its head, tracking green energy across the standing guard’s chest and pitching him backwards into the wall, smoke rising from his shattered body.
Thau tried not to gag, throwing himself out into the corridor as the other guard streaked blue energy through the air above his heads. Thau snapped off two shots in reply and winced as they amputated the guards leg, sending her pitching to the floor with a snarl of agony.
Stepping out from cover, Korm raised his plasma rod. Thau turned away, unable to watch. Three thunderclaps of plasma later, it was over. “Come on,” Korm snarled, clapping a huge hand onto his shoulder. “We need to get those sniveling idiots out of here.”
Thau followed Korm, trying to banish the flashing violence of that battle from his mind. He’d fought a lot over the last ten years, but in this building, under the influence of Koranis, death and violence seemed magnified, more horrific.
Tearing his thoughts away from those gloomy realms, Thau started guiding prisoners up the hallway and out into the antechamber, checking ahead of them for guards. I hope Ssrin is all right.
Judging by Korm’s expression, he was thinking much the same thing about Kasstaxa. Thau swallowed hard at the thought. The idea that he and Korm, so different both morally and physically, could share such eerie similarities was disturbing.
Earlier, Ssrin and Kasstaxa search for the cult leader or leaders…
Ssrin kept one head reserved for watching Kasstaxa, just in case of any treachery. She didn’t pretend to trust her sister, but Kasstaxa’s decision to rescue the prisoners was heartening. Maybe there was a chance to bring her back to ‘the light’, after all.
“Wake up, sister,” Kasstaxa snapped, jerking Ssrin rudely back from the fuzzy realms of morality. “This isn’t somewhere you can doze off safely.”
“And it won’t be until you’re gone,” Ssrin muttered back venomously, eliciting a slight chuckle from her sister. “Keep moving.”
They were perhaps two corridors out from the computer room where they’d entered the building, and so far there had been no sign of guards in the rusted, damp, decrepit corridors of the dome. Ssrin was more worried about Thau, and the possibility that Korm would decide to finish what he’d started on Crossroads years ago.
Ssrin edged ahead of Kasstaxa, reminding herself not to slip into thought again. The corridor ahead of them branched out into another three-way intersection; judging by the map Thau had called up back in the computer room, the thick, stained door ahead of them was the quickest route to the chamber where the cult leader probably was.
“Cover me,” Ssrin muttered, darting across the intersection to the door. Two corridors stretched off on either side of her; a quick glance showed they were both empty, although there were several doors branching off to each side. She slipped out of range of the door’s auto-open sensor and tried the handle.
It caught for a moment, gave a brief creak of rusted metal, and swung smoothly downwards. The two sections of the door slid apart with a puff of air, receding into the walls to reveal a long, square chamber, filled with vertical, floor-to-ceiling tanks painted a bright orange.
Kasstaxa slipped beneath her arm and ducked into the next room; Ssrin followed, carefully closing the door while examining the orange tanks. They were slender and quite clean, a contrast to the rusty walls of the room and the damp carpet on the floor. Hazards warnings stenciled across their surfaces showed they were explosive-gas containers.
“We better not fire any weapons in here,” Ssrin muttered. “Swords only.”
Kasstaxa nodded and began to creep towards the door at the far end of the long chamber, some seventy feet away. The room was nearly thirty feet wide, but the walls were blocked by the rows of orange gas containers. Ssrin followed her, but a flash of motion amongst the gas containers caught her eye.
“Look out!” Ssrin shouted, just as six guards wielding swords erupted from their hiding places behind the neon-orange gas cylinders. They swarmed out into the central, cleared path, splitting up to present three-to-one odds to the two Avatars.
Both sister’s fangblades were out in a flash, gleaming palely in the dim light of the flickering bulbs overhead. Ssrin whirled into a defensive stance, backing up to place her back against Kasstaxa’s. The six guards, two Lerneans, two Qwohmlin, a bladeling, and a floating, jellyfish-like Vart, circled cautiously around the two Khai, wary of approaching the four vicious swords that faced them.
Ssrin felt sweat on her palms and shifted her grip on the hilts of her weapons just as the guards emitted a blood-curdling roar and charged. Their circle collapsed inwards around Kasstaxa and Ssrin in a storm of flashing steel.
Three guards went for each of them, and Ssrin found herself facing the bladeling, the floating Vart, and one of the Qwohmlin. The bladeling’s massive claymore arced towards her chest, while the Vart stabbed at her side and the Qwohmlin slashed sideways towards her hip.
Ssrin seemed to feel time slow as she dropped into the fighting trance that she and Thau had perfected in long hours of practice. The cold glints of steel off the incoming swords seemed like positional markers, glaring beacons for her parries.
She knew exactly how much she needed to move as she twitched one barbed scimitar downwards, intercepting the bladeling’s massive sword and catching it between two of the scimitar’s barbs. She twisted her right arm for better leverage, then shoved the bladeling’s claymore out of line, using the barbs on her scimitar to twist it away. Her effort deflected the strike’s tremendous momentum enough so that the claymore simply glanced off the blacksteel armor on her chest, raining sparks as it rubbed up against the metal plate.
She shifted her grip on her left fangblade, rotating it downwards into a vertical block that knocked the Qwohmlin’s longsword strike away. She snapped two of her heads downwards like whips, striking at the Vart’s jellyfish-like body. The floating creature darted backwards, abandoning its attack.
Ssrin heard the sounds of clashing steel behind her as she completed her defense routine, and spared one head to see her sister engaged in a magnificent example of perfect swordplay. Her twin blades wove and cut so harmoniously that they seemed like on uninterrupted steel curtain. Her ambidextrous motions never interfered or blocked each other; her swords never blocked or struck each other. As Ssrin watched, she tossed her swords in the air, catching them in opposite hands and continuing her defense.
Ssrin took this all in in one moment as she completed her own defense routine, then struck back at the three cultists surrounding her. Her tail snaked out and snatched the bladeling’s spiked ankles, yanking him to the ground. She struck upwards with her left-hand blade at the Vart, slashing across her body with the left-hand fangblade and thrusting it towards the Qwohmlin’s chest.
The Vart parried her left-hand strike with its shortsword, but the sheer force and speed of her cross-body attack surprised the Qwohmlin, and her sword slashed upwards along his off-hand arm, cutting through his armor with a low rip and tearing flesh. The sword emerged at shoulder level, stained with crimson.
To her right, the bladeling went down with a whoof, and Ssrin added insult to injury by ramming her muscled tail into its armored stomach, knocking its breath away.
Ssrin heard a shout of pain behind her, from one of the guards battling Kasstaxa, just as the Qwohmlin snarled with agony, striking towards her necks with his longsword, its left arm hanging limp and useless. The Vart soared over her heads, chopping downwards with its shortsword, while the bladeling rolled away, struggling to regain its breath.
Ssrin caught the Qwohmlin’s attack and turned it harmlessly upwards with her left-hand blade, knocking the Qwohmlin’s sword into the path of the shortsword strike from above and parrying the Vart’s strike with its own companion’s blade.
Her right-hand sword, still moving from her thrust at the Vart, arced in at a twitch of her arm muscles and cut across the Qwohmlin’s side armor, drawing sparks but hitting at a bad angle and not penetrating.
Sudden pain seared Ssrin’s nerves as the bladeling rolled to his feet and lunged towards her, disrupting the smooth flow of her weapons and plunging one short, bony wristblade into a gap in her side armor. Ssrin could feel warm blood pouring down her side, but the wound was superficial, and she closed the pain away in a hidden corner of her mind, ignoring it.
The Vart was still busy withdrawing its sword and aiming for another strike, so Ssrin cut at the bladeling with her right-hand blade, whirling it around from her left side to gain momentum. The bladeling’s claymore lay on the ground some feet away; it had apparently expected to kill her with one strike, but her armor had slowed the wristblade strike enough, even through a gap, to make it nonlethal.
Her sword sheared neatly through the composite guard of the bladeling’s armor and cut halfway into its neck before lodging in bone. Ssrin abandoned the blade, knowing it was stuck, and allowed the bladeling to drop bonelessly to the floor, gurgling in dying agony.
The Qwohmlin’s sword was already stabbing again towards her side, but Ssrin blocked with her left-side blade, riposted, and felt the shudder as the Qwohmlin parried in reply. She ducked a slash from the Vart hovering above her and struck again, violently, at the Qwohmlin, forcing him back on the defensive.
Another scream of mortal agony sounded as Kasstaxa felled the second of the guards who fought her, and one of Kasstaxa’s blades curved back over her head to catch the Vart’s next strike at Ssrin.
Ssrin took the opportunity to punch outwards with her free right hand, sending the Qwohmlin reeling backwards again, and lifted her left-hand sword, stabbing beneath the place where Kasstaxa and the Vart’s blades locked and impaling the floating creature on the tip of her sword.
The Qwohmlin recovered his balance and lunged again, leading with a strong and nearly unblockable thrust.
Pain stabbed from the wound in her side as Ssrin dropped backwards to the floor, ducking under the thrust. Throwing her left-hand blade away, she grabbed the bladeling’s abandoned claymore, feeling its unfamiliar two-handed grip, and swung its massive weight upwards. It was nearly three-quarters as tall as she was, one of the biggest weapon’s she’d ever seen.
Throwing her weight behind the strike, she drew herself up to a knee and hacked at the Qwohmlin’s waist as he overbalanced from his own ducked thrust. The mass of claymore did to the Qwohmlin’s armor what the fine edge of her fangblade hadn’t, despite its inferior quality.
Metal crunched and shattered as the claymore sheared through the Qwohmlin, indiscriminately tearing apart flesh and bone before emerging from the other side of his now-bisected body.
Kasstaxa eviscerated her last foe with a quick double-thrust-low, leaving the Lernean cultist wrapped in fetal position on the ground as his life slowly bled away. Ssrin straightened and collected her swords, looking about with revulsion at the six dead bodies strewn over the floor.
“It appears,” Kasstaxa said with an exhilarated smile, “that they’ve underestimated us.”
Ssrin shuddered in response, bending to the unpleasant task of putting the wounded out of their misery. She applied a medical kit to her own wound, and was relieved to feel the pain quickly recede. It was merely a superficial cut, although it certainly had produced a lot of blood.
Kasstaxa stood guard as Ssrin finished treating her wound, then Ssrin led the way out of the death-filled chamber by the far door. They found themselves in a dimly lit antechamber, clean compared to the rest of the facility. An open door loomed at the far side of the nearly bare antechamber, leading into what the map in the computer room had said was some kind of worship chamber.
"If the leader's anywhere, they'll be in there," Ssrin muttered. "Ready?"
The sisters exchanged dubious glances, then Kasstaxa moved boldly forward, slithering across the antechamber and into the far door. Ssrin followed, her swords sheathed but loose and her plasma rod held ready. She passed through the far door-
-and instantly a familiar hot-metal smell assailed her nostrils. The room was dark and cavernous, decorated with only a huge obsidian altar at one end and several black stone obelisks, but the being crouched in its center was what held her attention. It was kneeling, its hands clasped, as if in prayer.
The massive figure was midnight-black, covered in faintly glowing symbols that seemed to writhe with nauseating, evil light, and enveloped in an aura of glowing, lurid flame. Its skin was warped and jagged, and its long, three-clawed hands seemed to clench and unclench as if rending at the very life of the air. A twisted, pitted mask covered its face, but the eyes visible through the mask burned with an unholy black-red light that seemed to promise eternal damnation.
“Onua,” Ssrin breathed, all the questions and impossibilities that flooded her mind blotted out by sheer horror.
Another section! Sorry it’s so short. Anyway…
Ssrin and Kasstaxa have just discovered that the leader of the cult is Onua…
The massive, burning figure unfolded himself from the floor and turned towards them, his masked face drawn into a leer of condescension. “Onua? No, I am something far greater, something beyond your mortal comprehension.”
Ssrin saw motion out of the corner of one eye. She spared a head from the looming shape before the room’s central altar and saw Kasstaxa, for the first time Ssrin could ever remember, looking rather pale. Ssrin’s sister muttered something under her breath, a string of three syllables which Ssrin couldn’t make out but which nonetheless sent chills through her bones.
The dark warrior strode towards them, lifting one fist and squeezing it closed with the low hiss of an open flame. “Onua’s spirit died with his body, but the void that spirit left was easily filled by just a fraction of myself. I was severed from my whole when the bindings were completed, but even a fraction of my power is enough to crush you…shol’vah.”
Ssrin couldn’t help but feel a slight stab of unease at the way that Kasstaxa looked. The sinister demigod, former Sphere-Regent of the Exosphere, looked…scared. That meant that Ssrin probably should be too.
“You sound like a villain out of a bad holovid,” Ssrin shot back as the hulking figure stopped barely three arms’ lengths away. “Listen to yourself. ‘I will crush you underfoot…’ Every villain for the last millennia has talked like that.”
“I did, once,” Kasstaxa said in a chalky whisper. “When I was under its influence.”
“Its?” Ssrin said questioningly, and suddenly a chillingly certain blade of terror rammed through her mind. “Koranis…”
“Nis,” the creature corrected, unfurling one massive fist. The shadows in the room seemed to coalesce, whirling together into a funnel of darkness that dropped into Nis’ hand and congealed into a night-black sword, jagged and barbed and dancing with twisted, alien runes.
“It would not be right to address me by the name of my totality,” Nis intoned, striding forwards towards the retreating Ssrin and the stone-still Kasstax. “I am a mere fraction, a tiny slice of the Dark Titan’s power cut off from it when the bindings were completed.”
Ssrin snapped her swords into guard position as Nis drew his own weapon back for a strike. Kasstaxa snapped out of her reverie and dropped flat just as the shadow blade whistled overhead, propelled at unbelievable speed by the dark fibers that made up Nis’ muscle.
Kasstaxa rolled away, whipping her tail out to keep her balance, and flicked herself to her feet when she was out of striking range. Nis didn’t immediately pursue, turning a wary eye on Ssrin as she crouched by the door, ready to defend herself if the burning creature turned its fury on her.
“I will complete my mission,” Nis stated in tones like a funeral dirge. “You will pay for your treachery, shol’vah. Koranis gave you the means to ascend…and you betrayed it. I took this body as a vessel to slay you for your insolence.”
Kasstaxa’s muscles seemed to weaken with every word the creature spoke, and she was barely fast enough as Nis charged, blade held at his – its- side like a spear.
Nis came within striking range of Kasstaxa as she whirled her swords into a guard stance. The shadow blade cut the air like a dark comet. There was a screech of crashing metal, a flashing shower of sparks, and a brief blur of darting limbs. Moments later, Kasstaxa’s battle-blurred form jerked backwards like a yanked puppet, hurled across the room and into the far wall.
“Sister!” Ssrin yelled, reminding herself that Kasstaxa might have been ‘evil,’ but she was nothing compared to the Prime Evil itself. Koranis acts like a stereotypical holovid villain because he is the source of all of our stereotypes of evil. He may be arrogant, treacherous, and massively powerful…but he won’t fall as easily as a fictional villain would.
Ssrin launched into her own charge, two fangblades curving forward to strike as Nis whirled to pursue Kasstaxa. As her sister slumped down the wall and collapsed to the floor, blood pouring from a rent in her armor, Ssrin bowled into Nis, leading with her swords in a cut from two directions.
Nis parried with contemptuous ease, locking her swords in the barbs of his own massive blade and then shoving her back. He riposted with a strike that Ssrin barely dodged, an overhead chop that would have cut Ssrin nearly in half.
Ssrin tried to get her own blades into striking position. Nis thrusted again, and Ssrin only barely deflected the blow with a double-strike to the middle of the shadow blade. Nis converted the deflected thrust into a chop that Ssrin caught on her fangblades, deflecting it enough that it banged off her armor.
Out of the corner of her eye, Ssrin saw Kasstaxa pulling herself upwards, looking pale and weak. Darkness seemed to flicker at the corners of the powerless demigod’s eyes for a moment, tugging at the vitality there; with visible effort, Kasstaxa fought the shadow away and reached for her plasma rod.
Ssrin had no time to watch as Nis forced her back with a series of slashes and thrusts that she only barely blocked. Dark steel rang off her own blades in one continous patter. Her arms began to tremble from the strain of blocking the whirling attacks. She dropped low to parry a slash to her midsection and deflected the swords upwards, but could not find the strength to rise again as the shock of that blow resonated through her body.
Nis’ expressionless mask loomed above her as the body it had possessed, Onua’s still-twisted and burning corpse, raised its massive sword to finish her. At the last moment, however, it stopped its stroke and whirled, palm upraised, to catch a sizzling plasma bolt in its hand.
Kasstaxa’s shot simply, impossibly, stopped in midair, collapsing in upon itself until it was a tiny ball of green light. Darkness ate at its edges, and the ball of plasma vanished with a hiss. Nis stepped towards Kasstaxa, ignoring Ssrin’s weak single-bladed strike at his armored ankles.
Kasstaxa dropped her plasma rod and went for her swords, pushing herself up against the wall, as Nis broke into a run. To Ssrin’s astonishment, the shadow blade vanished from his hands, returning to the darkness around the room’s central altar.
Kasstaxa had her blades into a weak guard stance when Nis leapt, launching himself into midair. Shadows from around the room flocked towards him, layering themselves around his massive body and slowly collapsing inward, forming a long, narrow cone. Nis became a bolt of writhing shadow that smashed into Kasstaxa, knocking her groaning to the floor.
“Sister?” Ssrin said hesitantly, picking herself up from the ground and resetting her guard stance. There was no sign of Nis, and the hot-metal smell of unholy fire was beginning to fade from the air.
Kasstaxa’s eyes snapped open, and to Ssrin’s horror she saw there the darkness that had been present when Kasstaxa was an Avatar of Koranis.
“Hello, sister,” Kasstaxa snarled, all trace of the charm and humor that had been there mere minutes ago gone. “It’s time to finish what we began ten years ago.”
The last chapter of Dark Alliance is here! I encourage you to visualize the swordfight mentally, as if it was part of a movie; music also helps. Putting every detail into the text would make it more cumbersome than it already is; you can add your own mental embellishments if it helps. It will be a lot of fun to read if you imagine it! Don’t try to see what I’m seeing as a writer, interpret it yourself! This is the battle I and many other readers have been waiting for forever!
Kasstaxa has been possessed by Nis and a battle between the two sisters seems imminent…
Ssrin backed up, slowly. Kasstaxa was a formidable fighter without the power of Koranis; with it, there was little chance of defeating her. Even if I did, Korm might kill Thau in retaliation…
“What are you?” she asked, to buy time. Her two sidemost heads frantically scanned the room for options as Kasstaxa pulled herself up, retrieving her plasma rod. Ssrin narrowed her eyes. Nis had shown a preference for physical combat, but apparently Kasstaxa wasn’t going to bother.
Ssrin drew her own plasma rod, sighting down the barrel towards Kasstaxa. “You know I won’t shoot, sister. Put the weapon down and stop this madness.”
Kasstaxa laughed eerily, her weapon trained unwaveringly on Ssrin’s heart. “You’re a weak fool, sister. This isn’t madness; it’s a restoration to power. Koranis is the one true source.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying,” Ssrin warned, edging to the right to put the black-stained altar that dominated the room directly behind her. If there’s one thing in this room that Nis/Kasstaxa won’t be willing to shoot, it’ll be that altar. I expect the anti-spell field in here is bound to it…if it’s been the site of past sacrifices.
Kasstaxa’s confidence did not waver. Ssrin narrowed her eyes, keeping her plasma rod aimed as she finished her sidestep and put the altar behind her. Now if she backed up-
Kasstaxa launched into motion. Her hand snapped onto the trigger and a blinding beam of green light erupted from the tip of the plasma rod. Ssrin ducked back, instinctively throwing whatever was in her hands forward to block; her own plasma rod took the force of the blow, crumpling in half and spewing a rain of despairing sparks. Ssrin dropped it as heat seared her hands. The wail of twisted metal echoed as the ruined weapon clattered to the floor.
Ssrin’s hand went to her side as Kasstaxa re-aimed the weapon for another, killing shot. If this was a holovid, she’d be out of ammo…but she isn’t. She’s too smart for that…
Ssrin’s clutching hand finally found the right pouch on her utility belt. She clenched her fingers around the sculpted hilt of the throwing knife there, touched the control on it that activated its charge, and then drew it. In one smooth motion she whirled it towards Kasstaxa.
Nis might have imparted his power to Kasstaxa, but apparently he hadn’t taken control of basic reflexes. Kasstaxa instinctively ducked back, raising her plasma rod to block just as Ssrin had earlier; the throwing knife, glittering with a plasma charge, caught the plasma rod and sent a sizzling pulse of electricity into it. The weapon spat sparks from the business end, and a puff of smoke followed the electrical discharge.
Kasstaxa tossed it aside, wary of using a weapon so damaged and risking an explosion. The weapon clattered to the ground somewhere in the deep pools of shadow at the edge of the room. Ssrin continued backing towards the altar, trying to buy herself more time. “This is a bit clichéd, isn’t it, sister? We disable each other’s weapons…now we’re scripted for a long swordfight.”
“No cliché, but skill,” Kasstaxa hissed. “I have learned respect for you, Ssrin, or for your fighting ability, at least. Nonetheless, it is time for your life to end.”
Inwardly, Ssrin was cursing. If only I could cast spells, I know one that might break Nis’ power out of Kasstaxa’s body and free her once more. But something is blocking it, and I can’t believe that anything in this building is strong enough to be the base of that spell except this altar…
Kasstaxa’s two fangblades were out as Ssrin suddenly whirled, snapping her swords out of their scabbards and striking downwards towards the altar. She heard a hiss from Kasstaxa’s direction just as the swords struck, wailing in protest as their keen edges slashed through hard stone. The blades left two slight tears in the stone of the altar but otherwise inflicted little harm. A slight puff of shadowy vapor began to hiss out the twin cracks, confirming Ssrin’s suspicion that there was some enchantment on the altar.
Too slow. There has to be a faster way to destroy this thing…
Her musing here cut short as Kasstaxa charged, blades held in a classic attack posture; Ssrin whirled and blocked savagely as the two swords cut in from opposite sides. Sparks showered as metal clashed together. Kasstaxa drew back for a moment, then launched a flurry of slashing blows at chest level.
Ssrin angled her own blades through the familiar routine as she and her sister battled wordlessly. Slashes were easy to deflect, but somewhat tiring; if she kept this up, Kasstaxa would wear her down before long. The ringing of blades merged in her ears into one continuous tone as the slashing impact of the four swords speeded up. Kasstaxa’s eyes were locked on hers; she was fighting by instinct, the burning dark power in her eyes guiding her motions.
Ssrin was on the defensive, and that was bad. As the next pair of strikes rung off her own swords, she slipped a blade down and thrusted up towards Kasstaxa’s waist. Her sister twisted aside and the blade cut only air.
Ssrin parried her sister’s next strike, but one of her blades was out of position She managed to hit the other incoming sword with the tip of her blade, but it nonetheless drew a line of agony through her armor and across her shoulder. Blood showered from the wound for a moment.
Ssrin exaggerated her stagger, letting her swords droop in a sign of weakness; when Kasstaxa struck again, wordlessly and expressionlessly, Ssrin snapped her swords back into a flawless guard, despite the pain in her shoulder, and parried easily. Taken unaware by the sudden change in strength, Kasstaxa had to retreat as Ssrin riposted with a whirling series of diagonal strikes, interposed by vicious thrusts.
“You…can’t…win, sister…” Kasstaxa grunted, her voice obscured by the whirring of metal. “The power of…Koranis…is with me…and you are abandoned…by your pathetic…titan…”
“Abandoned?” Ssrin snapped back, slashing out with both swords again. When her sister parried, a double-barred vertical block, she struck out with her tail, knocking her sister off balance. Ssrin’s next stroke, a vicious thrust, glanced off Kasstaxa’s armor and slipped under her arm.
Kasstaxa leapt upwards, her muscles strengthened by unholy energy, reaching an impossible height. Her tail lashed out towards Ssrin’s chest as her blades cut from a new direction.
Ssrin rolled backwards as Kasstaxa’s tail whipped by her face. She hit the floor and came up to find Kasstaxa landing lightly, then moving forward with that same irritating, supremely confident smile.
“You’ve been abandoned,” Kasstaxa affirmed, sneering at her sister. Ssrin tried to work some of the burning pain out of her arm muscles, with little success. “Your Titan is powerless here. Cyravaar cannot aid you.”
“Wherever there is life, Cyravaar has power,” Ssrin shot back. She tensed her left arm, experimentally, then her right, holding back the pain. Taking a deep breath and dropping her swords into a double-thrust stance, she looked for an opening-
Kasstaxa’s arm came back, snapped forward, and released her sword. The curved fangblade whirled like a metal comet through the dark air, taking Ssrin completely off guard and stabbing through her right shoulder armor, directly above the place where Kasstaxa’s previous strike had opened the armor. The thrown sword punched into her flesh, and a nauseating burst of agony seared every cell of her body as its vicious barbs lodged home. Ssrin dropped to her knees, snarling in agony, as Kasstaxa gloatingly stalked forward.
That throw was a bit clichéd, too. I should have seen that coming…
Ssrin managed to control one trembling hand. Gritting her many teeth, she found the hilt of the sword, dropping her own, and yanked it from her shoulder. Blood flowed down the front of her armor as the blade pulled free, sending another stunning burst of pain through her body. The fanged serrations along its side tore and lacerated her flesh.
She tried to move her right arm and found it useless. Inferno! I’m dead…one arm…no hope…
Ssrin nevertheless got herself to her feet as her sister approached. Kasstaxa’s one remaining blade was held to the side, framing her like a broken picture. Leaning heavily to the right, Ssrin staggered forward to meet her, grunting in pain as she swept her left-arm sword down and lashed out around it with her heads.
Kasstaxa’s blade caught her downwards stroke, deflecting it to the side; but Ssrin managed to reach with one neck and deliver a poisoned bite to Kasstaxa’s arm, clamping through the armor by sheer force of will and delivering the poison.
Kasstaxa whirled her blade back, disengaging it from the parry, then slashed, and Ssrin managed to retreat just in time to avoid having her head severed. The sword cut air just millimeters before her retreating head.
“You’re growing bold,” Kasstaxa said, and Ssrin noted with a measure of triumph that the arm she’d bitten was trembling slightly.
Kasstaxa struck hard with a chest-level thrust; Ssrin dropped flat, letting the thrust pass over her head, and slashed towards Kasstaxa’s ankles. Fangblade clashed on fangblade as her sister dropped her sword to parry, then kicked out with her tail. The muscular limb sledgehammered into Ssrin’s side, ramming her armor hard against her ribs and drawing a low popand a sudden stab of pain.
I don’t believe it! She’s still strong…
Stepping back, Kasstaxa stooped and recovered the sword she’d thrown, examining Ssrin’s blood critically, then wiping it off the blade. Again she stepped forward, this time fully armed.
Exhausted, terrified, and bleeding, Ssrin tried to hold herself steady, forcing her sword into a guard. Contemptuously, Kasstaxa slashed out hard, launching another series of attacks. Ssrin parried and blocked as well as she could, stumbling back, trembling; her breathing came painfully as her wounds sapped at her strength.
She tried to maneuver around Kasstaxa towards the altar, which was still leaking shadowy smoke; but her sister forced her back with a ringing series of cuts and thrusts, each of which came closer and closer to penetrating her guard again and ending her life quickly and painfully. Ssrin snapped at her sister with her fanged heads, spitting poison and trying to keep her back; still smiling faintly, Kasstaxa advanced inexorably.
There’s no stopping her!
Desperately, Ssrin caught half of another double-cut on her sword, frantically biting at Kasstaxa’s arm to keep the arm she couldn’t cut back. Her nerves were slow; her necks moved sluggishly. Kasstaxa expertly converted the slash into a downwards cut and lopped two of Ssrin’s heads off.
Unimaginable pain convulsed through Ssrin’s body. She screamed, unable to believe the agony; it was almost worse than anything she’d experienced. Blood pumped from the severed stumps.
“Vengeance is mine,” Kasstaxa said sweetly, the unholy, crackling power of Koranis booming in her voice, and she double-thrust her blades through Ssrin’s armor and into her heart.
Her death was quick, at least.
Thau and Korm battle their way out of the cult dome, escorting the prisoners they’ve freed.
The smoky corridor, one of the last before the final exit from the cult dome, echoed with an explosion as Korm’s grenades went off. The passage ahead, their way out, was dark for a moment as smoke whirled through it. Something moved within; two figures, raising weapons, their armor tattered by the grenade blast.
Thau fired, tracing plasma bolts across the hallway at chest level. The two guards stumbled backwards under the assault, their armor snapping and crackling. Korm added his own firepower to the storm, and both guards sagged to the deck, still trying to bring their weapons to bear as they died.
“We’re almost out of here,” Thau said comfortingly to the huddling, terrified prisoners behind them. All of them, a mixed bag of species, were inexplicably gaunt, terrified, and weak. Thau could almost sense the wrongness in them, a dark taint; and he suspected that as they neared the edge of the Avatar-dampening field in the dome, his returning Avatar powers were picking up some sort of spell on the prisoners.
“In fact, we are out,” Korm said with satisfaction, peering around the next corridor. “Come on. Most of the cult has been diverted by how fast we’re moving, but they’ll catch up soon. The viruses we loaded into their computers back when we entered should confuse their internal sensors long enough for us to get out. And the next hallway has a large door on the end that should lead outside.”
Thau cautiously stepped out. It was indeed a large exit hallway, probably once used to bring cargo into the dome. Two well-maintained doors (a suprising contrast to the exterior of the dome) led outside.
The other direction lead into a dark storeroom. Thau squinted and thought he made out something moving. He squeezed the trigger on a plasma grenade and rolled it into the room; Korm, surprised by his action, nonetheless opened fire with his plasma rod. Thau shoved the prisoners out into the hallway and led them away from the storeroom, to the large doors, as his grenade went off and more screams emanated from the area around it.
“I hate this,” he muttered, raising his plasma rod and blowing lock off the door. He kicked the door open, reflexively firing through it as it opened and into the back of one of the surprised guards who was just reaching for it. The prisoners huddled behind him as light from the Warren’s mile-high ceiling poured through the opening door, bringing his Avatar powers back with it.
It was like waking up from a long sleep, and it came at a wonderful time. Behind him, Korm cursed as more guards came charging towards them from the storeroom, screaming prayers to Koranis; meanwhile, three more door guards whirled around as their companion fell under Thau’s shot.
Thau raised a hand, and shouting a series of hard-edged words, cut them down, stunned, in a sizzling volley of brightbolts. It was an amazing sensation, to have his power back. Behind him, Korm let out a roar of laughter, and a series of loud concussions suggested he’d just unleashed a spell of his own. The guards hastily retreated.
Screaming in terror, the prisoners – who should have been overjoyed at escaping – rushed into the street outside. But as soon as they passed over the door’s threshold, a sudden change seemed to overcome them. Calling up a spell of sensing, Thau caught the faint wisps of a powerful enchantment leaving their bodies. The prisoners seemed to grow less gaunt, widening out and straightening up from their hunched posture. The terror fled from them.
Korm came stalking out of the building, staring at the prisoners, who were gratefully looking around in wonderment as their energy returned. “A lifedrain spell,” he growled. “The cultists must have used some of their energy to feed that dampening field which prevented us from using our own spells. ”
“But,” Thau said, frowning, “why did their energy return?”
Korm cast a spell of his own. “It seems that their energy was being used to fuel the dampening field; and the dampening spell was affixed to some object in the cult building. It was damaged; as soon as we brought the prisoners from the dampening field, the missing pieces of their souls could return.”
“Whatever,” Thau said, uninterested at the moment in the vagaries of spells. “This anchor object was damaged, so when we brought the ‘fuel’ for the spell too far from it, the spell ended.”
“Exactly,” Korm confirmed. “I don’t need it explained to me. We can use our powers again.”
“Which means…” Thau said, at the same time Korm’s eyes widened in horror. Thau felt the same stab of panic. “I can’t sense her.”
“Neither can I,” Korm said gruffly, referring to a different ‘her’. Both launched into a frantic chant, summoning up teleportation spells. The world blinked out of existence from around Thau-
-and returned as a scene of nightmare. Nearly to the back wall of a gothic, dimly lit room, dominated by a tremendous altar leaking black smoke, Ssrin was slumping to the floor, eyes dim, her flesh tearing as Kasstaxa’s two barbed fangblades retracted from it. The aura of Koranis flared and flickered wildly around Kasstaxa. Korm emitted an enraged scream and whirled on Thau. “This is your fault! She’s been reclaimed!”
“Shut up!” Thau shouted back, lunging forward, slapping Korm hard as he passed and drawing his swords. He lashed out hard at Kasstaxa, trying to force her away from Ssrin; Korm hesitated behind him as Kasstaxa contemptuously parried his thrusts.
She launched a swift attack routine, and Thau angrily parried and riposted, trying to land a hit but failing miserably. You killed Ssrin, *****, and I’m going to make you pay for it…
Korm shouted something. Although the power of Koranis was gone from the building at large, it still radiated in overwhelming amounts from Kasstaxa as she easily forced Thau back. His rage only made his swordwork sloppier. He struck too hard and overbalanced, nearly impaling himself, and only barely recovered. Vengeance for Ssrin was all that filled his mind.
Korm screamed again, as loud as he could, and this time Thau heard. “Anger is what Koranis wants! Think, don’t fight! Be rational, not vengeful, you cool dude!”
Thau thought, but all he could think of was Ssrin, lying there bleeding her life away on the cold floor of this accursed place. Ssrin, his love…
That compassionate thought seemed to burn in his mind, warring against the anger, and then it exploded like a nova. Suddenly, Thau was free of Koranis power, the power that had been urging him to attack Kasstaxa and not do what made sense.
He lunged backwards, disengaging from the fight, shouted a series of shining words, and hurled a brilliant bolt of energy at Ssrin’s slumped form.
The healing spell caught her, lifted her into the air, jerked her for a moment as if she was being electrocuted, and set her down, bruised but whole and no longer bleeding. The wounds on her body were healed, and her two heads restored.
The spell also left Thau weak from the energy needed and completely vulnerable. Snarling, Kasstaxa struck at his back.
Korm leapt forward and parried, whipping his tail away to force Thau out of the fight. He parried, not riposting, falling back and blocking everything Kasstaxa sent his way. She was faster, and he was losing quickly, despite his strength.
Ssrin’s eyes snapped open. She looked around, dazed.
Thau looked around too, overjoyed Ssrin was alive, his mind racing. He spotted the trail of smoke from the altar, dark power leaking away. He recalled the magic of the bindings they’d put on Koranis long ago, the first time they’d defeated Kasstaxa.
This must be a part of Koranis that had been trapped outside those bindings, using some body as a host. It could only exist inside a body, using that body as an anchor.
But that was impossible. The binding spells on Koranis would have collected such stray pieces of his power and brought them home. This Koranis-fragment would need something to keep it anchored in reality.
Korm stumbled as Kasstaxa slashed at him from two sides. He missed his parry and roared as Kasstaxa ripped a vicious gash up his side, slicing easily through his armor.
Raggedly, Ssrin pulled herself to her feet. She was still weak.
Thau thought furiously. They couldn’t defeat Kasstaxa/Koranis-fragment in combat. They had to destroy his anchor. If the fuel for the dampening spell was prisoners, then there had to be fuel for the anchor-spell, too.
The cultists! They worship this Koranis-fragment, giving it enough power to hold itself from being sucked back into the bindings!
I have to kill them. It’s the only way. he realized sadly. It was the kind of mass murder he hated. But the consequences were too terrible to imagine.
He lunged forward and knocked Kasstaxa away with a pair of sword strokes that failed to penetrate her armor but nonetheless distracted her. It gave Korm enough time to recover and step between them again, holding Kasstaxa off.
Another presence burst into his mind. With another flash of joy, he realized Ssrin was using their mental link to listen to his thoughts.
We must kill the cultists, she agreed regretfully. Instinctively, Thau was about to argue, when he realized that for once he agreed it was necessary. This times, the ends really did justify the means. It’s the only way to take away Nis’ power and return him to the bindings at the core of Khass, where he belongs.
How? he asked. How de we kill all the cultists? They’ll be here any second.
A small thermonuclear blast inside the dome should do it, without causing too much collateral damage, Ssrin suggested mischeviously.
Again, how? We didn’t bring bombs that size!
But we brought explosives, Ssrin said, picking up her sword and charging forward to save Korm from another near-collapse. She threw a healing spell into him, giving him enough energy to bowl Kasstaxa over with a tail slap. The dark sister rolled away from him, nimbly flipping back to her ‘feet’ and again engaging Korm while Ssrin pulled back.
Thau recalled something Kasstaxa had said, while they were planning this little expedition. “The building has its own reactor, separate from the city power grid…” or something like it.
Let’s go! Ssrin shot back. She cast another spell, shielding Korm with a thick mantle of light. Normally, he would have protested, but he needed it. The shield absorbed a vicious thrust from Kasstaxa, and he regained his guard as Ssrin and Thau ran for the door.
Linking hands to stay together, they bowled out into the corridor, leaving the battling lovers in the altar room. Teleporting would have been quicker, but because they could only teleport to places they’d seen or people they knew, it was impossible. The two rushed through the corridors of the dome, hurried by urgency, guided by instinct and faint memories of the maps they’d seen, until they reached a thick pair of security doors.
They were unguarded. Ssrin blew them down with a slender green ray of disintegration, and they crumbled into dust. Thau didn’t bother to look around the small room within; a slender shaft, the core of a small-sized reactor, was the central feature, surrounded by consoles and maintenance equipment.
Thau ripped consoles and equipment out of the way with telekinesis spells while Ssrin grabbed the satchel of explosives from his back and ran towards the reactor column. Crouching and ripping the satchel open, she began setting detpacks along the shielding at the reactor’s side.
Three guards exploded through a door on the other side of the room, firing at Ssrin. Thau called up a heating spell and welded the door shut behind them, while Ssrin paused to cast a sleep spell that managed to knock two of them out.
The third guard fired her ion pistol at the explosives Ssrin was planting.
Ssrin threw herself in the way. The ion bolt deflected off her armor, fortuitously, and scarred the reactor shielding. Thau killed the guard with a deathbolt, furious at how close Ssrin had come to perishing…again. He took a moment and a few deep breaths to calm himself, reminding himself that he was still recovering from Koranis’ influence.
He prayed in his heart that it wasn’t that dark power that had made him consent to this plan.
“Done,” Ssrin said hastily, slapping the last detpack onto the reactor column. “That should be plenty. Let’s get Korm and Kasstaxa out of here.”
“We’ll have to teleport Kasstaxa out with us if we don’t want to be caught in the blast,” Thau reminded her, rushing through the path he’d cleared so they could teleport in a combat formation.
“I know,” Ssrin said grimly. “We’ll manage, somehow. As soon as the explosives go off, the reactor will overload; the dome will be destroyed; and hopefully, without the cultists, Nis will be forced to go back to where he belongs.”
They teleported back into ######.
Back in the altar room, Korm was just falling as Kasstaxa double-slashed him across the abdomen. One of his swords was in his hand, broken; the other was against the wall. Ssrin leapt forward and grabbed Kasstaxa as Thau rushed to Korm, catching him.
Kasstaxa stabbed a sword through Ssrin’s side as she grabbed her, but Ssrin finished the teleport spell she was yelling; Thau screamed his own teleport spell just as Ssrin vanished, along with Kasstaxa.
He and Korm, struggling in his grasp, reappeared in the street perhaps two blocks from the dome, next to the freed prisoners; the ‘people he knew’ they were teleporting to.
Ssrin was nearby, next to the drain pipe they’d used to get here; presumably the ‘place she knew’ for her teleport focus. She had just ripped herself off Kasstaxa’s sword and was struggling to get away. Thau hastily threw a golden-glowing healing spell in her direction, feeling her pain as his own, but Kasstaxa roared a counterspell, deflecting it, and the bolt missed.
He let Korm fall to the pavement, groaning, as Kasstaxa lunged after Ssrin, about to finish her once and for all. He charged after her.
Lying on the pavement as Kasstaxa raised a sword above her, Ssrin scrabbled with one hand on the ground, found the metal box she was looking for, and hit the detonator switch.
A short series of cracks sounded from the direction of the dome, followed by a loud roar. Light flashed over the surrounding area. There were buildings in the way, but the fireball was easily visible as the detpacks blew the reactor core apart. Pieces of debris rained on the pavement around them as the cult dome blew its top. The explosion was small, but instantly lethal to nearly everything within.
Kasstaxa stopped, looked back in the direction of the dome, and roared in anger and denial. A brief flash of shadow tore from her eyes, mouths, and nostrils, then plummeted into the earth, hissing like acid; Kasstaxa slumped to the ground like a puppet with her strings cut. Koranis’ spirit, deprived of its ‘anchor’ of worshippers, had been sucked back into the bindings that had been clawing at it for years.
“Well,” Ssrin said, sounding exhausted, “I guess it’s over.”
Thau could only nod. He turned to find Korm, looking to heal his wounds. Kasstaxa had certainly done a lot of damage, to all of them. He never wanted to fight her again.
Korm had somehow awoke, healed himself, and crawled, still aching from his just-restored wounds, to Kasstaxa. Ssrin waved a hand in farewell, and Thau joined in half-heartedly, as Korm muttered a series of words, not looking their way. Shadows from the surrounding building, some of them cast by the light of the explosion, surrounded Korm and Kasstaxa, and they both vanished, presumably to heal in some hideaway, and then leave this universe, returning to godhood.
“Did you see that?” Ssrin said, guffawing. “He was blushing, right before he left. He was embarrassed we had to help him.”
Thau smiled and clasped her hand. “The Warren is going to be dangerous, what with that explosion and all.”
“As if that will matter to us,” Ssrin said sarcastically, squeezing his hand in reply.
“No,” Thau said, happily, “I don’t think it matters to me at all.”
Final reviews can be directed through the link at the top of the page! Thank you all for reading. Dark Alliance reached 92 pages, double-spaced, size-12 font. Thanks again for your support!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Jan 26 2004, 07:10 PM
Nov 18 2003, 06:58 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Group: New Members
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
OK, here's CI's contribution. It's magnificent, I think you'll all enjoy it. He's filling in a vital scene in Konro's past...
The Exosphere Anthology
Journey to Freedom
The lizard-like Qwohmlin walked into the crowded store with a certain sense of apprehension. Strange, the store owner thought. Wonder what’s worrying him?
The Qwohmlin walked towards the counter, where the storeowner—a Qwohmlin himself—stood. “What can I help you with?”
The newcomer, though nervous, said (rather coherently for a Qwohmlin), “I’d like a monohydrogen dioxide generator fuel supply.”
The storeowner quickly found what he was looking for and asked for payment. The Qwohmlin reached into its satchel and pulled out a computer tablet. However, as he handed it to the storeowner, the storeowner noticed something.
His scales had turned the color of the tablet.
At once, the storeowner realized who—or what—the Qwohmlin really was. He stared at the person for one moment, his six eyes glowing, before shouting at him to leave immediately. He grabbed his weapon and chased the Qwohmlin out of the store. “We don’t want you stinkin’ splatters here!” he shouted.
The crowd realized why the storeowner had called him “splatter” immediately. The Qwohmlin’s body structure seemed to ripple for a moment, and within a few seconds, bones rearranged and thickened, feathers sprouted, and the person jumped into the air and flew away. He had morphed into a K'ral'nix, an alien species capable of great flight.
The K’ral’nix cursed himself inwardly. How many times was this going to happen before he got the hang of it?
The K’ral’nix was actually a member of the shape-shifting species known as Blossflassarablins. In their natural forms, they were more or less piles of goo, hence the nickname “splatter.” Their transforming talents were shunned more often than appreciated, either out of envy, or fear. Their abilities could allow them to become anything, anyone, proving to be a great espionage asset.
This particular Blossflassarablin, known by the name Konroloblosofalat, had grown up an orphan, and therefore hadn’t been given the proper care to nurture his talents. He always ended up morphing some inaccuracy, whether it be a discoloration, as in this case, or a minor mistake in physical appearance. He recalled the time when he’d morphed a Lernean, a cat-like alien, and instead of creating three eyes, as is normal, he had created four, each a different color. Konro barely kept himself alive these days; if he was lucky, there might be a pro-splatter person working at one of the nearby stores.
Konro knew of few other Blossflassarablins on Crossroads, the interstellar space station he lived on. Those he did know of, he was not on speaking terms with. He had been told of one that worked at an arms dealer, but he preferred not to be tied to something violent.
Konro flew stealthily into an alley. One passing by might hear the sound of shifting bones as the K’ral’nix passed into the shadows, and if they’d pay attention, they might notice a Qwohmlin walking out of the shadows. Those were Konro’s two favorite forms: Qwohmlin; for quick moving on the ground, and K’ral’nix; for flying over large areas, as he had just done.
The Blossflassarablin berated himself as he walked down the alley. He was just telling himself he might as well just give up when—
Konroloblosofalat, he suddenly heard a voice say. No, “heard” wasn’t the right word—but how else was he to explain a voice inside his mind?
Konro swerved his head around, looking for the source. He began to transform into a bladeling, a violent creature that might be compared to a Swiss-army knife.
That won’t be necessary, the voice said again, and Konro wasn’t prepared for—
An overwhelming sense of pain! His knees buckled, and he suddenly felt he was transforming—but he wasn’t causing it. Before he knew it, he had turned into his natural form, completely defenseless.
“Good,” the voice said, now with sound rather than telepathy. “Not many can stand up to that strong of a mental attack.” Konro managed to create a pair of eyes to see where it had come from. A strange being stepped out of the shadows.
“Of course, if I had wanted to kill you, it would have only been too easy.”
For a moment, Konro thought he was seeing a ghost—the creature’s head seemed to be surrounded by a halo of light, and it was ghastly white. But as his vision came back into focus, he realized it was worse.
It was one of the neuroscythe.
Konro backed away from the person—as much as a puddle with two eyes can back away. He had heard that the neuroscythe were a race not to be trusted, mostly because of their psychic powers. “You have no need to be afraid,” the neuroscythe said, speaking in a softer tone now. “My name is Abdiel. I’ve come to help.” He paused. “And who might you be?”
“You already know my name,” Konro said, having now morphed into his Qwohmlin form.
Abdiel chuckled. “Yes, that is true. But I’d rather you introduced yourself. I hate having to intrude on innocent minds for information.”
Konro stepped away from the wall he’d backed against. This “Abdiel” seemed an amiable person so far. “My name is Konro.”
“Well, Konro, I noticed your little incident just a few moments ago.”
“I knew it,” Konro said, scowling himself inwardly. “You’ve come to take me away.”
“From what?” Abdiel remarked, motioning to their surroundings. Konro couldn’t manage to hide his blush. “Sorry to embarrass you, my friend, but you haven’t got a lot to be taken away from.”
Abdiel stepped towards the nervous splatter. “But it is true: I’ve come to take you away. But not to arrest you, or anything of that sort. I’ve come to recruit you—for your talents.”
“What?” Konro was taken aback—he hadn’t been expecting this. “But—how? I can’t even manage to create a complete transformation.”
“That’s where I can help you. But don’t think you haven’t got the potential. The speed in which you changed from Qwohmlin to K’ral’nix was remarkable—I’ve only met a few Blossflassarablins, but like I said, you have the potential.”
Konro considered for a moment. It could all be a trap—a highly elaborate plan for his destruction. This could just be another anti-splatter, trying to weed out all the Blossflassarablins on Crossroads. On the other hand, it seemed that this neuroscythe could give him what he needed—proper lodgings, food…
The problem was choice.
“All right,” Konro finally decided, shaking one of Abdiel’s four hands. “But promise me one thing…”
“Never call me splatter.”
Wow...that was great. CI, you have an eye for detail that I'll never have. I couldn't remember half of the details you wrote into that story, and I was the one who originally wrote them! Really, really splendid.
Everyone, please review CI's fabulous piece of work.
The link is up at the top of the first post.
Nov 19 2003, 08:15 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Group: New Members
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Just so people know, Dark Alliance has several new chapters. They have all been edited into the story rather than posted as whole new...uh...posts.
Thank you all for reading. Here ends my public-service announcement.
Nov 24 2003, 07:12 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Group: New Members
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
And yet again, another (short) chapter, edited into the second post. I now have word that Kumata Nuva is planning a contribution, and it's coming along well...
BTW, Dark Alliance is now 63 pages in word, double-spaced. Jeesh, it's an epic all on its own...
|Lo-Fi Version||Time is now: 19th May 2013 - 05:19 AM|