The actual structure of the Gor Gozen compound seemed underwhelming compared to the beautiful, powerful, and picturesque settlement that had been described in K'ros Gor Gozen. The settlement had been nestled away into the mountains on the leeward side, formed straight from the dark gray-black rock face, and while they had camped within the foothills, they had not camped at the base of the ruins themselves.
As the sun set over the west, beginning to crawl behind the jagged peaks, the valley that they stood in acquired a growing red aspect, a waiting aspect, the burnished metals embedded in the rock beginning to twinkle and shine in the fading daylight. As, one by one, they entered through the winding, rough-hewn pathway, they cast their shadows into the broad roadway below and they each got a good view of the monolithic gates where the white basalt stones terminated. The settlement at the foot of the mountain had been collapsed, the houses had been worn away by time, wood rotting and metal failing, shattered glass hidden away under the protective layers of deep green grasses that grew wild in the foothills. Here, the craftsmanship had stood strong against time.
The gates, though wrought of a black metal that seemed to glitter like onyx or obsidian beneath the dying light, seemed caste to resemble a series of soldiers, each face a little different than the last, standing out from a flat landscape that must have once been painted as though they were guarding the passageway. The gaudy colors had worn off with wind and weather, but here and there, they could see where the gates had been stark whites and golds. In the center, the emblem of Gor Gozen stood out boldly; a great hammer, rising over a broad field, printed over a star. Its rays had been gold-gilded, but the black steel beneath had worn through. Colored, it must have all been beautiful, but the doors stood almost forty feet tall with a single seam and the dark things seemed imposing rather than grand.
The open road leading up to them was less thoroughly preserved. Grasses grew up between the white rocks, which had obviously been cut somewhere else and transported here, since the mountain did not seem volcanic. Lichen had begun to wear those stones away, too.
Bob seemed to be the most suited for this; he floated, and didn't have to pick his way through the stone ruins or over the upset roadwork. Lukina and Bhelith were next, though Sneak could have joined them had he wanted to; he had the dexterity for it, but was trying to remain unobtrusive. Creature, Bronzi, and Sura, though Creature leered around uncomfortably, the chip on his shoulder visible enough to reveal his agitation to those who knew him, followed shortly after. Dallas brought up the rear. It was a heroic sort of sacrifice; it also meant he got a little bit more time to gloom over his recent brush with death. Joining him was Arianne, whom Bhelith had specifically requested.
The nine of them stopped in roughly the center of the valley, when Bhelith settled the end of her spearlike staff on a particularly large flagstone and looked up at the big gates. The bowl-like valley blocked out many of the forest sounds from the densely wooded mountains and hills, but when Bhelith began to speak, it gave her voice a bit of reach, as though they were standing in the wings of an ancient forum, and she had the podium.
"Here we are," she said, unslinging a broad, wooden shield painted with her House's symbol, a golden stag, and fitting it onto her arm. "So. Has anyone else been reading?"
Dallas had been very quiet, but had slowly began to speak again throughout the journey. He'd said only very essential things but at this point he felt himself able to take another metaphorical step forward again. His voice was unusually soft, well-mannered sounding and very New Texan, "Reading what? I'm out of the loop."
If Dallas annoyed her, she didn't show it, though her voice did chide a little. "Lord du Rochon possessed a book about this place, written by one of his people's anthropologists. I hope at least he has considered the contents, if no-one else."
Sneak had indeed followed the group from their camp, although had, well, sneaked parralel to them until the camp was far enough away before tilting his head, deciding it was worth a try and simply falling in behind the much larger Dallas character.
For a man recently returned from the dead he didn't seem very pleased by it. He must have had a death wish, Sneak pondered. Perhaps putting Death before Dishonor wasn't all it was cracked up to be after all.
This brazen hiding spot had so far remained completely undiscovered as far as Sneak could tell, despite the long shadows the entire party was casting upon the ground. All that was required was for Sneak to stand still whenever he thought someone was looking at Dallas from the shadow forms on the ground now that they had stopped.
"Well, it's a lot to read, that's for sure." Easily floating along over the rough terrain and ruins, the Sutākame had kept both of its belt fed projectile weapons at the ready in case something came at them from the shadows. Yet, at the same time, one of its tentacles, ended with an eyeball, was scanning over a data pad in the grasp of another. "Apparently, there's an obscure electronic version that's hard to find underneath all the other loads of stuff on the net," it explained. Having too much information was a problem in and of itself, in sharp contrast to the more traditional burning of books issue. "Still, this place used to be really fancy by the looks of it. How did the Gartagens end up going from super fancy to where they are now?"
"Several centuries of interstella' war." Bronzi grunted at the Sutakame. "Here's tha' trick ta civilization. The ones that produced ya are built on the corpses of tha' ones before."
Sura, Bronzi and Creature were actually walking together. Bronzi, the largest, with his Girth strode out on the flanks of Creature and Sura. He was in full kit, face mask on, and his heavy gauss rifle sweeping the rocky out cropping. As they strode, the rocky terrain had given way to a neglected path that seemed to be comprised of large marble blocks. Dust and sparse vegetation was attempting to reclaim the lost land, but the defiant stubborn marble path defied them after so long.
Sura was chatting away at her uncle, though she took care to keep her voice low. It was muttering, but a sharp pair of elven ears could hear she was bombarding Creature with questions. Where had he been? Who was he? A mercenary, Her dad was a mercenary for a time.
Creature on the other hand was thumbing that massive book "The Gozan Deep" - By Finubar The Fair.
Creature, had indeed been reading, as well as he could. It was a habit he had picked up after his arrival to Kowloon, one he had begun to get attached to. He paused, held up his gauntleted hand to Sura, and furrowed his brow as if listening to something. "Nothing in this book but mindless elvish moonspeak and exposition." Creature said responding to Bhelith.
Creature squinted, and then looked at the gates. "We need to hurry." He, mostly to himself.
Lukina had walked alongside her mistress in relative silence. There had been a strange conversation between them in forced, hushed archaic elven dialect but she had not bothered to talk to anyone else about what had happened. She had not bothered to tell anyone aside from Bhelith what healing Dallas had cost her, though, the Ember had a sense that something was different. It was difficult to hide magic from a being that was made from it but Arianne had not asked for an explanation.
The half-elf was grateful for the lack of questions. She had been flustered with the absence of her sword and had spent a great deal of time searching for it before she had found it outside of someone's tent. It was a matter of debate as to why they had it but as far as they could tell, she had accepted whatever explanation that she had been given concerning why it had been there which was to say, no one "knew". The zweihander's magical energy felt stronger here near Gor Gozen than on Piyapon. Bhelith's question drew the Herald from her thoughts and she simply shook her head "no" and lifted her gaze to the gates. "I never thought I would come back here after we were evacuated."
Arianne had spent most of their march snacking on her rations to recover her depleted energy reserves. She did not want to draw too much from the alien planet or Creature to recover, it just felt... wrong. She needed a ice cold shower and a large meal but she had to settle for using wet wipes to clean the Atraxian from her suit and high calorie, cardboard tasting protein blocks. It was good enough.
The Ember's gaze shifted between her main patients, checking to see how they fared. It was difficult for Arianne to keep sight on all of them with Dallas skulking at the far edge and back of the group and the elves leading from the front like knife eared mountain goats. But it seemed like everyone was more or less, okay. Her unique perspective allowed her to see the threads of life energy she knew as the Word entangling and connecting every living thing. Her interested was peaked by how the threads around Lukina pulsed red and gold like an elaborate braided cord while the ones around Bhelith were far more complex in braids of green, black and gold. Dallas was less intricately bond but there was an emptiness, a vessel waiting to be filled.
Above head one of Azalea's Aerodynes circled and descended down on them. It was a fat squat transport with two heavy turbine engines on its flanks, and two more smaller ones on the tail. Shelly, and the Insect man...thing. Would see the gunner tighten his group around theh eavy particle rifle that aimed out side of the door. "Alright grunts, here's your stop."
Once touched down the shield and Azalea forces hustled out of the rocks to deposit the wounded and dead for evacuation.
A familiar figure caught up to the group, weapon in hand as the scarred man known as Whisper rejoined them. He'd taken a bullet to the foot, but he wasn't letting it slow him down any, despite the lingering pain he kept in step. There would still be a slight tell to his walk at the pain he still felt, but he'd be damned if he quite now.
"Returning to service, milord. Ready for orders," Whisper said as he joined the group.
Rorik moved with a notable limp. The sharp pain in his foot shot up his leg, and it looked like he had crammed the mangled limb back into his boot in an effort to be tough. Bronzi smirked at the young man from under his mask. "Ay, tha boy has some scrap in em. Ya gonna send em off on da transport?"
Creature eyed Rorik up. He wanted to be here, that was for sure. "Make sure nothing kills the Empress." Creature said looking at Rorik. "Squire, I dunno what you are trying to prove, but that foot is fucked."
Sura, eyed up Rorik's foot with her blew eyes. "Well, I can have the Medibot give him some pain killers and nanites to speed up the healing."
"Nanites would be appreciated, but you can save the pain meds. The pain will keep me on my toes. I can move and fight milord, and your commands will be executed. Not my first injury, and I doubt it will be my last.", He replied checking his weapon to make sure it was topped off, locked and ready. True the pain was bad, but there had been worse. The scars that covered most of his body told this fact with uncomfortable clarity.
Creature's tail curled and danced hypnotically, then suddenly it lashed out like a snake, and the tip of the tail speared Rorik's injured foot. Rorik would feel his nerves ignite like they were on fire from the sudden shock of being struck. The pain felt more intense then it had when Rorik had obtained it. His boot suddenly felt warm and moist.
Rorik stifled a grunt as his pain was doubled, one eye shutting as he his face showed his obvious feeling of it. His knee twitched on the strike, but he managed to stay up,...barely.
"I still have duties to perform, I will not let it stop me from doing them," Rorik said through clenched teeth as his boot dripped crimson.
Creature squinted at his squire. If Rorik had fallen Creature would have had him shipped out. "Alright. Just keep you head about you. I don't need you dying like SOMEBODY I know." Creature said motioning towards Dallas.
Arianne frowned her disapproval at Creature's treatment of Rorik. The glowing blue on blue of her eyes was fixed on them both. "I can help with Whisper's wounds, Lord Ruchon, if you would prefer magic... I also can charge your sword for you, unless you prefer it on less battery?"
After disembarking from the shuttle Barlor Nulitol made his way towards the chatting figures, assuming they were the people he was supposed to link up with. He wasn't quite sure exactly how his Overlords got him set up with a unit that, to his understanding at least, had at least had recent contact with some sort of important peoples on this planet but that was above his leveling of caring. Nearing the group Barlor stopped a few feet short of the group talking about the apparently injured squad member.
“This is Azalea Company, yes?” The large jade Pakoli's heavily accented and baritone voice cut into the conversation, “I hope I am not interrupting anything important”
"I dunno," the floating monstrosity began. Looking away from the data-tab it held in its tentacles, the thing turned towards the newcomer. "Does poking a person in the foot when they've been shot there count?" it asked. "I'm Bob by the way, you might have seen my film work?" the flying tentacle monster introduced itself. Clad in stark white polymer armor, a single limb pointed at one of the holes punched clean through as its turtle-like head turned towards Creature. "I know he's being super serious, but it's not fair if you poke him and not me too," it pointed out.
Dallas stopped at the tail in of the group, deciding to just watch the flank in silence until he heard footsteps again. He moved a right hand from his rifle to adjust his revolver in his right pants pocket. He internally cursed Creature for stealing his buckle, but he didn't want to think about the death event unless he had to.
Breaking his silence with a quiet sigh, he continued watching the tail of the formation with his own natural eyes, something else he was still getting used to.
Sneak carefully leaned away from the direction Dallas looked to whenever his head turned, careful not to lean too far out but keeping out of any peripheral vision. His cloak subtly shifting as he did so, fading from the browns of rock and liceh to the browns of Dallas mud soaked clothing from being laid on the ground last night.
Sneak took notice that the magical one in the glowy suit who displayed the color of magic and smelt faintly of burnt baked desserts whenever she used it. She always seemed to eat, perhaps magic use was related to calorie intake? He quickly took a mental note to bring something for the magic user to eat as a bribe to experiment on the realm of magic for him.
Creature tilted his head. His amber eyes were burning. "Yea sure, as long as it doesn't make the rocks come to life again." He then spoke to Arianne, "No." Creature said, looking forward at Bhelith. "The Empress has taken you so your attentions go to her, not the troops."
As the wounded were loaded up and the reinforcements disembarked. Creature turned his attention back to the sky jumper, and soon it shot off into the sky.
"New people on point, Rorik, Bob, Dallas...uhhhhh fuck, Bug Person...You are fire team one or...what ever. Get together and act like you are professionals."
"Look like a professional, got it!" the tiny voice box the floating tentacle monster had replied. Hefting its two GPMGs about, the two guns were brought to bear as other limbs held the ammo, ready to feed the rounds as they were consumed by the weapons. In truth though, the pose it struck looked more like a movie action pose. "So we're on point," Bob stated, hovering over to the front of their group. "Should one of us have like, a three meter long stick or something? Just in case there's traps or monsters on the ceiling or something?" the porn-star monster-thing moonlighting as a mercenary asked.
Bronzi tilted his head, mimicking perfectly. "Uh. I thought ya lead some kinda elite force here in tha Kowloon." Bronzi then stabbed a finger at Bob. "We got us a flying pasghetti monsta." Then the claw stabbed at Rorik "Some kinda burnt out pinkskin." Then to Dallas. "An a fuggin zombeh...along with whatevertha shit that thing is...."
Sura then jabbed her father in the Ribs. "Stop. Now. They are looking at us."
Creature had placed his face into the palm of his hand. "No...no...he isn't fucking kidding. Rest assured they helped put down a brush fire army....Bob. Shut the fuck up. Use your guns please...."
The neon red head started wondering around the LZ a bit confused, sure Dr. Shanty knew that she was hired on as a medic, but shouldn't have gone back with the wounded. Shrugging she called to her floating gurney to follow her as she shyly made her way into the camp. As she came around an large rock she bumped into Sneak. He was startling, first Bu Qi she had ever ran into, both literally and figuratively. She fell back landing on her duffel, as she panicked a little. She fought to kick herself away from him as her hand tried, with all of it's inexperience, to draw her little laser pistol.
"Don't Hurt me..." She started squeaking out as she got to her feet long enough to trip over her duffel bag's strap, this time her fall caused her pistol to fly from her hand and bounce away. "I have candy if you want!!!"
Yes, Sneak was indeed terrifying, all four foot and some of him. Until he was knocked down face first by the uncoordinated doctor and his cloak shimmered and blended with the muddy ground, leaving what appeared to be a lump of rather annoyed vaguely alien-shaped mud on the road behind the rest of the group.
"Barlor." The large wasp said to Creature before turning towards Gor Gozen, "That is my name if you wish to use it, else-wise Bug Person will work."
Barlor chuckled a bit to himself, glad he was the only large insectoid in the group at least that made identification easier. As his hooves trudged over the rocky ground he noticed Bhelith and flicked his annentanne in a way of curious confusion.
"Tentacle Creature," He expressed with a mixture of confusion and concern, "Is that one with the shield your queen? If so why is she out here without any retainers. It seems like she is asking for trouble." He stared a bit more for a moment before something in his head clicked, "As for the stick I do not know, I usually work by myself, though I'm sure we will need more than a long stick to get rid of them."
Arianne watched Creature strangely, but shrugged. "As you wish, be careful, everything has its limit, I would prefer it if some boundaries are left untested." She offered the others a gentle smile and a nod, "Gods be good, you all won't need my type of healing this time." She watched the ebb and flow of the landscape around them, uncertain of what to make of Gor Gozen and of the energy signatures of the newest Azalea Company. Her glowing gaze lingered on Sneak for a moment, "I'm still not sure what species you are but I'm sure we'll have time to talk after all of this." She smiled again before she hurried ahead to rejoin the elves as they talked quietly away from the rest of the company.
Sneaks muzzle emerged from the mud with a pop and poked out mud coloured from under his mud-coloured hood at Arianne, four nostrils huffing in annoyance. Picking himself up, Sneak tried to brush some of it off and only ended up with more of it on his hands.
"Call me Snek, ez pleasure." He replied quickly to Arianne, trying to claw back some dignity.
He turned back to where their newly arrived Doctor was lain down before walking over, retrieving her laser pistol and putting it into her hand and helping her up.
Panic! Panic in the mud, a great name for a band, a horrible name for what was happening to Lace. She first thought that when Snek grabbed her pistol that she was going to get shot, but then the strange armadillo man put it into her hand. "um.. Thank you?" She responded really confused. As she let him help her up Lace's hand attempted to put the pistol back into it's holster. It kept missing the entry until she looked down and with both hands she put it into the leather holder.
"I am really sorry... I really didn't see you there..." She quickly shoved her hand into her white lab coat pocket, the coat was covered in mud, giving her a bit of camouflage. A hand full of slightly muddy hard sour lemon candies were shoved into Sneks hands. "It is all I have right now... Mr. Armadillo."
Sneak blinked at her, thought for a second and then pocketed the candies.
"You're welcome." he said quickly, before his hands got to work again, he grabbed her gun from its holester, put it back into her hands and held it up before stepping away quickly, and then screaming in a panicked voice.
"SHE'S GOT A GUN!" He screamed, pointing at her.
Again with the panic! Lace wide open eyes went from Snek to her own hands with the pistol in them, then back up to him... "NO!!!! " She tossed the pistol towards Snek and then quickly threw her hands up above her head... "I don't even know how to use one!"
Sneak fumbled the gun and juggled it between his hands, slowly the passes from hand to hand got wider and wider until Sneak had to swat the gun back towards Lace while standing on one leg and leaning dangerously out. The gun flying back towards Lace's head.
The pistol came flying back at her, and she fumbled to juggle it into the air and back to Snek, but it flew up high into the air and when it landed... it was perfectly right between her eyes. The blow caused her to hit the ground and she was out. Her hovering gurny floated near by as a silent witness to the disaster. As she laid there unconscious a soft moan followed but soft snores came from her. the stress of the whole situation along with the impact added up to on knocked out Doctor.
Sneak blinked while balancing on tippy toes and finally caught his balance and put both feet on the ground. He pointed at the snoring young doctor.
"I dealt with the intruder." He declared loudly.
Situation over. Nothing to see here. Everything's normal.
Turning to look at them all, Bob raised its helmet with a single tentacle and said, "I am so confused." Glancing back and forward with its four beady eyes, it asked, "What just happened?"
Dallas, watching all with silent judgement and confusion looked at Bob and shrugged before he took a few steps forward to Creature's side. "And I thought I was bad..." He was more making an idle comment than anything. He finally actually looked to Creature with a sigh, "Alright, so fire team one is leading or what?"
Rorik gave a sigh has he checked his rifle one last time, "Mi'lord, who do you want on point? I have experience and training. I will not let my injury slow me down. Also some of us may need a lesson in firearm safety later." he gave as he looked back at the commotion and new arrivals.
"Then how about having someone teach.......how to use it. *sigh* great she's out of it. Armadillo man, why is having a gun a problem, most of us have guns. Now if your done freaking out we need to either wake her up, or carry her." Rorik said irritated as he shouldered his rifle to go kneel next to the woman. Other than her apparent unconsciousness, she didn't seem injured.
Creatures raspy voice reverberated through out the canyon, before the gates of Gor Gozan. 'I JUST FUCKING SAID WHO I WANT ON POINT!" He erupted. "Fuck that. You aren't on point, Rorik!. GET AWAY FROM HER. GO STAND IN THE CORNER!" He then snapped his head over to Dallas. "THAT'S WHAT ON FUCKING POINT MEANS, DALLAS! I'VE BEEN TALKING LIKE THIS TO YOU FOR OVER A YEAR NOOOOOW!"
Creature would click his heel together and point off in the distance. Sure as Rorik saw, there was a group of rocks that looked like a corner. "STAND IN THE FUCKING CORNER! FUCK IT, DALLAS YOU TOO! IN THE FUCKING CORNER!"
Creature then stomped over to the unconscious woman. Bronzi and Sura watched on, the pair shifting a look to Lukina. The burly Gartagen leaned over and nudged his daughter. "To be honest he is bein' kinda easy. In da rrf da officer woulda just shot em fer askin dumb questions. Tends teh smarten em up pretteh fast."
Sura's eyes drew wider.
Creature picked up the girl , and held her by her waist with his prosthetic arm around her back. "Wake up. Wake the shit up." As he spoke he frantically fumbled, and pulled out a bladder from just below the belt of his armor.
A warm liquid washed over the girl's face.
Bronzi snorted. "Oh wow, that is fuggin gross."
Creature then popped her across the cheek. "We do not have time for this crap, you fucking boot! All the main fronts are in full retreat! We have a few hours max before those green monsters come smashing through here!"
Creature then paused realizing he had blurted all of that out loud. Not just azalea, but the fronts. All the ground armies were falling back to their secondary positions. There went moral.
Barlor watched, and listened as the one called Creature barked orders at everyone snapping himself out of his curiosity that was the hot potato between sneak and the doctor who was on the drop ship thing with him.
With a flick of his antennae he stood up from his seat he had found himself on and began to trudge back towards the large gates, hoves crunching over the terrain as he put himself at the tip of the formation. As he walked he 'tasted' the air with his slightly twitching antennae, trying to get a sense if anything was hiding out for them.
The warm disgusting liquid hit her face and she was awake, the hard slap across her face caused her to scream out in pain. "That's not how you do this!" She screamed at him as she slapped Creature back in the face. "You need to use the smelling salts... what does this look like a movie?" She smacked him again before trying to push herself from his grasp.
"I'm not an armadillo, you're an armadillo." Sneak muttered angrily at the comments. Clearly not understanding what an armadillo was. Seeing the two big guys get bitched out, Sneak decided it was a good time to find someone new to stand behind who was big.
Dallas began walking towards the corner with a sigh that was more to himself than anyone else. He was halfway to whatever rock when he heard Creature's outburst. He stopped and turned to look at him with a tired expression. He raised an eyebrow slightly before shaking his head and walking over to the corner rock and just stood there.
When Shanty's hand struck creature it felt like she had smacked slab of iron. The Gartagen's thick skin and enhanced muscle and bone structure blunted him from even reacting to the blow. Shanty's hand however ached with a sharp stinging. "I don't have salts or time for this." He growled dropping her from his grasp.
He turned and saw that the bug man was already following orders, as was Dallas. "Alright enough of the shit. We are here." Creature said pointing to the old mega structure's entrance.
"I guess I'm on point," Bob observed with annoyance. "Alone." Inside their minds, they could feel waves of thought wash over them. Like reading a book or watching a movie where someone felt something, they knew it wasn't their feel. But they still knew a resigned sigh when they felt one. Guns at the ready, the tentacled space turtle floated along in the lead as it tried, well, leading them. "I wonder if cats and tigers might be easier to herd," the tiny voice box it wore pondered aloud. Alone. At the front of the group, he kept on snaking one of his eyeball ended limbs around to look at the rest of them. "So. How much mana or whatever does it cost for a revive?" Bob asked, trying to make some casually curious small talk.
Barlor watched in mild confusion as the space turtle floated past him, a look of confusion spreadding across his face which was very recognizable if one was versed in incectiod facial expressions. Thinking that perhaps the floating tentacle turtle sensed things with some sort of psychic phenominon, the large Pakoli gave a light shove to him with the end of his rifle.
"Do you not know the way?" Barlor said, turning to look at Creature, a bit of perplexion leaking into his voice, "I find it strange that you would come out to some place and not know how to get in. Perhaps this is what you would call tourisim yes?"
"I think we're all trying to figure out what's going on really." Popping its head up and away from its carapace for a moment, the space turtle asked, "Hey, didn't you say something earlier before all that...whatever it was happened?" One of its many limbs from the gown-like assortment reached up and scratched itself on its helmeted cheek out of habit. "Wait, are you on point with me too?"
"It would appear so." The Pakoli said glancing back towards the rest of the group,"And I did say something earlier yes, I was asking if that one with the shield was your queen? I do not understand why she would be out here, seems inviting for trouble."
Lukina remained beside Bhelith. Her ears twitched as she listened to the fragments of conversation from the others in the Azalea company. She was the lone, visible, personal retainer that had accompanied the Mikado on her quest. The Herald of the Chancellery sighed as she raised her rifle up to her shoulder, the elongated barrel of her Showstopper had been swapped out in the track to the temple with one more appropriate for general use than sniper work. Her zweihander's hilt glittered from its position on her hip, the blade currently retracted for easier carrying. Her eyes traveled over the sutakame as she moved into position in front of the queen, it occurred to her that someone else would have to act as the rear guard. "Bresal? You kicking around in the rear guard?"
Arianne held a large pistol in her small hands as she stood off to the side of the queen and the herald. Her eyes glowed softly as she frowned at the sutakame's question. She tilted her head to one side as she looked at Bob and considered his lonely energy signature. "Only life can be exchanged for death, Mr. Turtle.. sometimes, the Gods bless us and allow us to share embers of our flames to rekindle another fire that is on the verge of burning out. Or at least, that was what the Order taught us.. the words of the truest flame claim that full restoration is impossible."
Sneak, meanwhile had fallen back onto habits and attempted to slip away while the tall ones were talking and yelling at each other and get behind someone bigger. The only people standing reasonably still that no one was really looking at were the false-empress and her closest retainers, so Sneak made a circuitous route around to get behind them. Bluffing his way past the rest of the camp by walking like he had any right to be there, and just quietly attempted to walk within couple of meters behind the three women.
And just stood there, waiting. Waiting to see why the whole party, pretty much the entire army high command, had packed up and headed towards some old buildings in the distance.
"Oh, I guess you could call Bhelith that? I think it's officially 'Empress' though," Bob pointed out to the other insectoid alien. "She's just more hands-on than most. It has its advantages too I think." Turning an eyed limb back at Arianne, the floating mass of armor, tentacles and weapons sounded a little surprised from the little voice box he wore. "If it's a life, does that mean we could just use an Atraxian we catch, or does it all have to be willing? I don't know how all this works," Bob pointed out to her.
Arianne shivered at the suggestion. "... I do not know. It's... unforgivable to take the light from another outside of self defense. I have heard whispers of what happens to Embers that become tainted by that sort of darkness. There is no turning back once Mara's talons sink into your heart. If I start down that road, I fear... pray it never comes to that, I do not want to hurt any of you."
At the same time, Lukina received her answer.
"No. Her Majesty's orders were clear. My concern is to remain these...Atraxians." The redheaded elf could feel the alien's distaste, which was unexpected considering what she knew of it. To her, it was always frustrated it did not have something to fight, but now? Now that it did? Perhaps something had gone wrong. Or, it was just a petulant child. A very large and dangerous one.
Creature continued walking, but spoke back to Barlor. "We knew the way just fucking fine. The problem is actually getting in but there is book!" Creature held up the heavy tome titled The Gozan Deep, by Finubar the Bard.
Creature looked at his feet, then back up to the gate way to Gor Gozan. "We are losing. The Atraxians have most of our planetary forces in full retreat. Except over at Sky Harbor."
"And here," said the Empress, whose attention had gradually shifted from the pair of doors in front of her to the gaggle of soldiers, lords, mercenaries and sundry behind. She didn't look particularly impressed, but Bhelith rarely seemed impressed by much anyway. "The Asteria has cleared the skies for us, for a while, but the flagship can not hold out against an entire army by itself. When they realize we are here, that I am here, it may have to withdraw."
The elfess strode forward and kicked a few stones away from what seemed to be a panel disk set into the door to the old, Gartagen ruin. It had been mostly hidden by dust and a vine that had decided to grow over it, and in fact the fantastic appearance of the great twin doors had overshadowed it like a spotlight would make a flashlight irrelevant, but once they looked they could see the runes from the old empire, along with a delicately flowing script inscribed around them concentrically, and a spot for a person's hand - an old technology nearly outdated in the modern age, but it seemed to be an access panel to read fingerprints and retina.
"These doors will answer to the blood of aristocracy," Bhelith explained once she had pulled the rest of the vines away. "There are three of the older Gartagen lines here, but I need only one other save myself. The last person who tried to open this failed because he lacked half of the puzzle - Gartagens were not the only race capable of supporting an empire. In antiquity, our people were allies."
Bhelith stepped back so they could see them, and she looked to Bronzi, to Sura, and finally to Creature. She held his gaze for a bit longer than the other two, and lines formed at the edges of her eyes as she considered him.
"Becoming the steward of this place is a responsibility that should be taken very seriously. It is not something a person can flee from. The automations within, along with the technology, can be a great boon to our country, but only if they are commanded by people of a single will. Whomever steps forward with me should be of one purpose with me. I will not ask anyone to follow me who is not prepared for that."
Dallas, who had wandered back to the group from the corner of which he was sent to and found himself amidst all of the ragtag group. Similarly, his eyes looked to the three Gartagens before settling on Creature as well. His expression was particularly blank. Dallas had nothing to say and nothing close to a death wish to find something to say. He sided with his conscience and looked away back towards the Empress as if awaiting judgement or spoken aid.
Creature met Bhelith's gaze, and inhaled. He stepped forward and approached the gate with a bit of haste in his step. The gate, was a massive bronze colored door that loomed over the group by several stories. It was at least one hundred meters across. It was surrounded by two rock carvings that appeared to be elven warriors in full gear.
As Creature approached, Bronzi and Sura soon tailed, but were suddenly halted when a wide spanned laser scanned down ward and passed over Creature, and the whole party. The light then disappeared and the door way came to life. "The Rulers have returned from the void. Yet with out the singer of the song." A deep feminine voice called out, reverberating through out the entire canyon. "The Ruler may not pass through the gate with out the Singer's song.
Creature turned about. "Dallas, you are up, start singing."
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"I know right? But hey, can't have ruins without ominous computers talking at you." Creature chortled back at Whisper.
Dallas looked to Creature entirely confused. "Like, an actual song or is the singer some sort of position of higher power? I'll be frank, I'll do a whole fucking concert if it gets us out of this mess, but if it's a song... I don't know about it." At any state of mind, Dallas ended up slinging his lever-action back onto his back. He looked up to the door, the magical door that spoke to them, and mumbled to himself. "This'd be easier without all the cryptic stuff, and if I had a damn guitar."
Creature did not even move or respond. He merely stood looking at Dallas with the most serious expression he could muster from behind his facial wrappings.
"Creature, are you trying to kill us?" The words, spoken from the floating armored form of Bob, stood still in the air, cold with disdain. Suddenly pointing a tentacle at Dallas, it added, "The security thing is bad enough, but we have to put up with him without a guitar? He's bad enough with one!" it exclaimed. "The recording has got to mean something else, and we gotta get it right because I sure don't wanna end up all 'Lost Ark'd' because of some dumb song from New Texas!"
"Actually Bob, Dallas is a pretty good singer. Provided...dying and then being miracled back to life with the juju didn't screw up the only thing he is good at." Creature said not dropping his gaze off of Dallas.
"There surely isn't any harm in him trying to sing, right?" Arianne suggested gently. "Perhaps the book has the song in it? Lady Arleigh or Lady Bloodtree might be able to translate if it is in our language or Sir Ruchon or Lady Sura might be able to translate if it is in theirs?"
Barlor glanced back and forth between the talking people in the company, a bit confused after the voice came out of nowhere asking for a song. "I would also suggest this book you have" The large wasp said leaning on his rifle, "Or is this a surprise trial you were unprepared for?"
Lukina looked to Bhelith for a moment before she looked to Creature and the gateway, "Or does it mean the Song? We can try to weave a spell into one of Dallas' songs since having two wielders of the Word and one user of the Song alongside the Rulers isn't enough. Dallas just starts singing I can wrap something into it to give it some juice." She pursed her lips together and returned her gaze back to her Lady. Though this goes against the statement to avoid using magic. "Lady Arleigh?"
The Lady Arleigh had, instead of assisting, simply been watching Creature with a disappointed, if a little amused expression. The tough, blue soldier, with his gritty humor and a sharp eye, trying to force the puzzle through himself without bothering to ask caused her to frown a little, then smile with a bit of rueful sorrow. After Lukina spoke, however, she spoke as well.
"Creature," she chided. "You won't open that without my assistance, and I've mentioned what that entails."
To the others, she said, "It is, in fact, talking about a specific song. In the era of my people's traveling the stars, we settled on Liang - where magic was not spoken but sung. As it's breath that carries my species' magic, it's breath that gives life to the constructs within this fortress. The artificer songs were passed generationally. The door can be opened by harmonic sympathy, and the verified lineage of a specific subspecies of Gartagen which was, once, much more uncommon than it is now. It is not a particular mystery, but as I said, we should be of one purpose. Can you pledge to that, Bronzi? Sura?"
Her attention wandered back, "Creature?"
The Sura's hips swayed as she moved past her uncle and father to collect the book from Creature's Talons. "It is written in Udari...so translating this text shouldn't be too hard. Our huds just process the text directly into our brains. Which according to the text, the author is speculating what the Lord Empress has affirmed. It takes an Udari...and a Sharani to open the gate. Unfortunately, the Sharani members of his expedition did not even get the automated Guardian to even activate on their arrival. We did." Sura said giving a soft smile to Lukina. "My father and I did come to honor the ancient alliance. The House of Arleigh has not been forgotten by my people. From what I remember of our history it was the Pygrins with whom the ancient Udari preferred to interact with...."
Creature's tail flicked wildly. "I uh...apologies. I just wanted to fuck with Dallas." He said nodding to Bhelith. "Yea. My Empress... that is uh, a pretty good point. Being of one purpose and all of that. So uhh....Pardon me. I need to discuss something with my brother...."
Bronzi stood a meter away from Creature. The two brothers were the exact same height. They even shared the same blue flesh. Then the similarities ended. Bronzi had long tendril-like hair. His build was heavy and muscular. Indeed his arms alone would eclipse Lukina were she to stand behind them. When Bronzi moved, it was with thunderous steps. His strength and endurance seemed almost on par with the rugged savage Atraxians.
Creature was far removed from the stature of his kin. Lean and toned, and not nearly as wide as the elder. Were it not for Creature's disfigurements, his appearance would likely be a sharp, sly handsomeness that contrasted next to Bronzi's hard masculine face and build. In terms of movement, Creature moved with lethal precise grace like a predator.
A predator who suddenly and without warning attacked Bronzi with his two-handed sword. Bhelith, Lukina, Dallas and Bob had seen Creature do this dozen of times. He liked to strike first, fast and hard. His two-handed alien crafted sword came out from behind his back and over his right shoulder in a single movement and slammed down on to the top of Bronzi's head in a swift cross swing.
Bronzi's helmet was knocked from his head and sent bouncing across the dusty ground to land lifelessly at Lukina's feet. Bronzi like wise was spun about and sent stumbling back, until he fell. "What's the fucking plan, Bronzi? The Empress doesn't sent her agents out for nothing!" Creature snarled. "Spare me the ancient alliance bullshit, we had this and the fucking Tel'juarum knew The Rebel Empress could enter this place with only me. So what the shit are you doing here?!" As Creature roared, his sword came to life thanks to Arianne. The blue blade crackled and popped as it was pulled through the air, some how giving voice to Creature's sudden rage.
Bronzi landed rather well, having been brought to his right knee, but rose back up. His heavy rifle suddenly snapped to an aim at his brother. "Why'm I hea? Cause yer a fuck up!" He snapped back, bearing his teeth in pain, as dark crimson blood began to trickle down his blue brow.
"Empress sent us hea, because of you! Yer stumblin around and blunderin into shit was amusin fer da nobles, but at a certain point they decided ta get serious. Dats why da RRF is holdin dat city, Dat's why I got sent. Because you, an yer drugs, dat alien weapon!" Bronzi said responding. "But even yer record. Bearly fuckin makin it. You raise forces and fight a buncha busted ass PMCs, and ya lost. Well, Da Empress wants da Udari ta win the war, not bearly survive it. I mean why don't ya tell em bout yer True Wife? Sevasati."
"Father." Sura hissed disdainfully at the remark on Creature's wife.
Creature halted his advance on his brother.
Lukina knelt down and retrieved Bronzi's helmet. She sighed as she turned it over in her small hands. "Gentlemen. This is not the time for this." She rose to her feet and moved to return the helmet to its owner, placing herself between Creature and Bronzi. "Save the fratricide for after we get off this planet and deal with the Atraxians. They know that the Lady is here. They know that we are here. We are at a severe disadvantage and time is not on our side."
The half-elf held out the helmet to Bronzi. "It is not the time to be discussing Sevasati or the events that led to the formation of Azalea. We have a war to fight beyond your blood. More deals must be brokered now for the chance for victory. Which one of you will make the pledge that Lady Arleigh requires?" Her gaze shifted from one brother to the other. "Or perhaps, a woman will think more clearly on this? Lady Sura?"
"We need a decision and foward momentum, not this," Lukina's evergreen eyes shifted to Creature. "Please, I would prefer not to die here. There are more battles to be won. Let's go get this over with so we can go home. Dallas has to water his plant. Mona has more of a life to discover. You have a fat wife somewhere to feed cheeseburgers to.... Plus, I'm going to be an aunt, I would like to meet those children in this life."
At first, one of the Sutākame's tentacles lifted the cheap white poly-armor helmet off its tortoise-like head and tilted it to the side, beak slightly open in confusion. But as the situation went on, it closed its mouth and gulped before putting the helmet back on. Rushing in, its many limbs lashed out and wrapped themselves over the two. Fumbling, grasping, winding up and down, it did its best to grab their weapons. "Help? They're both super soldiers! I can't hold them both perfectly!" Bob's tiny voicebox spoke. Glancing back at the redheaded elf, it added, "Lukina, I think you're reading this whole thing wrong - they might really hurt each other!"
Dallas internally thanked the Lord that he didn't have the weight of the entire group on him, but his thoughts were interrupted by Creature and Bronzi's conflict. He raised an eyebrow of the mention of the other Gartagen woman, Sevasati. He made a note to never mention it ever. He didn't know whether he needed to intervene or not. He gave a look to Lukina that telegraphed it, but he also began to remember he was not the man he was this morning. He didn't have cybernetics and optical combat prediction on his side. He was just human. In the end, he just gave a concerned look to Creature and spoke with a similar inflection to his voice. "We have a lot of weight here, it's do or die here man and I don't want to die."
"Hey, Sorry I am late." A man and his dog-like goo-thing would approach the group. Wazu, or at least this Wazu, looked great. Easily half a foot taller than Bronzi remembered, his hair cut short, a lightweight T-shirt and running pants covering his body. A bit more muscle tone than normal showing. "Had a thing I could not get away from. Ended up using a spare-combat-body for this. Did I miss anything important?"
There was a shifting from the group, and one woman pulled herself forth towards Creature and Bronzi, a slow, even, and deliberate stride pushing to bring the woman between them both, most notably taking the place of Bronzi's aim. She was a peculiar woman, dressed in some thick clothing that could probably be sold as scrap for how much tech seemed to cover it, lights and devices hooked up to the chest and a solid pack on her back. A human woman, adult, with messy and almost unkempt short brownish hair, and olive skin pricked with light freckles.
Perhaps the most striking about the woman was that she lacked arms, what remained of them ending short of her elbows, her suit itself designed and changed to compensate. Was she prepared to get shot over this? Absolutely not, she'd prefer to not take a bullet to begin with, but she wasn't stupid, she was rolling dice here. Her dull gaze shifted from one brute to the other, and her voice rose to reach both of them. "I'd hate to ruin a bonding moment." Her voice held a dry touch to her as she spoke. "But I'd think of the consequences before you do something drastic. If we lose our way into this structure over a fight, that's bad news for everyone here, no matter why you're here."
Whisper stood to the side out of the way of the fight, this was getting them nowhere. He dared not speak out in a matter that was not his to intervene in. But something pushed him to anyway, maybe because he felt no urge to die out here, not while he had mistakes of the past to correct. "I have to agree with the lady Milford. We are in the open out here, and the clock is ticking."
Barlor watched as the garts fought each other, granted he had seen Sho Karshvicks do the same from time to time though not when danger was at hand. These creatures he was with were truly perplexing to a simple Pakoli such as him. "So about this song. I think now would be a good time to figure out what it is." The Wasp spoke up in his baritone, a hint of annoyance in his voice, "that is unless there is more fighting to do, and if so I would wish to place a bet."
Bronzi and Creature for a brief moment united and fought Bob off of them. The Sutakame received a swift, through beating and was stomped into the ground before the pair resumed their previous poses. Both were ready to murder each other. Again.
The armless woman marched between Creature and Bronzi. Creature had pretty much resolved to move forward and kill Bronzi until she blocked Bronzi's shot. Bronzi lowered his weapon so as to avoid shooting her. He exhaled a sigh of relief as she had diffused the situation. "You guys let people with out arms into yer military?" Bronzi said tilting his head slightly at Jill. "Bout tiem ya got hea Wazu, got us a bit of a puzzle or someshit."
Creature looking at her held up a finger. "We'll continue our conversation later asshole. The bugman has a point. Lukina, you are going to be a half-sister. Technically you qualify as a Spurius since you were born out of a previous marriage of lesser social standing." Creature said correcting his friend.
"It's more complicated than that. My grandfather adopted me and raised me as a father. Aleksasha is both my birth mother and sister in that sense. I have no claim on the holdings of Whitemeadow. I am their aunt more than their half-sister. Otherwise, I am a threat to them," Lukina added softly. "Let's just get the way to save Kowloon from the Atraxions... Otherwise, there will be no future for them."
Sura, thumbed through the book. "Elven society is strange if being a sibling makes you an aunt...Um. Well....it appears to be as the Empress said, a puzzle. You could try to use magic on it...or it could be being literal and you have to sing to it.... My uncle said The man had a lovely singing voice... I'd not mind hearing it."
"Well, appearance certainly does disqualify people either," Jill responded to Bronzi with another dry tone, glancing back at Creature to assure herself that neither of them was going to shoot the other. "Besides, arms grow back." The woman clearly oozed an unhealthy level of sarcasm. Shifting away from them she regarded the rest of the group. She doubted that she could assist in opening the door, but knowing that their ticket it wasn't about to commit a murder-suicide helped put her mind at ease.
'Fuck you!" Creature said to Jill. "I know I'm ugly but do you have to....oh wait you were talking about Bronzi. Hah! But we aren't a military outfit, we are a Militia, so our recruiting policy is a bit looser than a military would be. If she can do her job without arms then that's fine by me."
Wazu would move closer to Bronzi, "Just let me know if I need to deal with that gart." He offered quietly, before turning his attention towards the door. His voice now addresses the group, "We could use anti-magic on it, and then disassemble the physical structure. I have something that should work." Wazu would stand perfectly still for a moment, his eyes staring out into space as the Wazu looked up the appropriate anti-magic spell, leaving his remote-controlled body in an AFK state. It would take only a few seconds, but he would be able to start casting his Anti-magic quickly. His fingers would begin tracing a pattern in the air as he whispered the magic words, "Klaatu.... Barada...."
Then he stopped,
"You guys have a different magic system here?" It seemed like every time he jumped universes this kinda thing happened, "I do not think my old stuff will work here. I am going to have to relearn magic."
Again, the dark elves cleared her throat.
She had settled the sword tip down on one of the more solid looking flagstones and had remained silent as various numbers of her followers and sundry had tried to separate Bronzi and Creature. Bhelith herself had not tried to interrupt, and anyone who had been around her for any length of time might have guessed why from the way her lip curled and her molten, golden eyes narrowed peevishly. They were annoying her.
Whether Bronzi lived, or Creature lived, or whether they both died or not, it might not have mattered. It twisted in her voice, that shadow of growing impatience when she interrupted Wazu's post-failure magic trick.
"Are we quite done?"
When nothing else seemed forthcoming, Bhelith let out a slow sigh, and though much of the tension faded from her expression, her eyes still bore the semblance of a roused hunting cat. The strange fire burned within their golden hue. "The magic here is specific," she informed them. "Murdering each other in cold blood is useless. Human magic," - she made it clear from the way she put those two words together that she counted it of very little merit - "has no traction here, only my own, and that of the Gartagens. I have asked one of you three to volunteer twice now, and I am no longer willing to watch you feuding."
Her sharp regard settled onto Sura, and Bhelith lifted her pale, slender sword's tip to indicate her, specifically. "You've kept silent, and that shall pass for worthy wisdom, here. Bind with me, and together we will open this gate and wake this Forge. Elsewise, I am better served to leave this Forge to rust and to find another method of defense - we can not afford this sort of delay."
"Forgive me, Empress. But I have not been silent. I merely have not been speaking with a shout." Sura said as her eyes lifted from the book and peered back at Bhelith. "I have been cross-referencing this text with others written on this place. Most of what is written....was penned by your own people. As such it is cryptic...however. " Sura stretched out a clawed hand at the gate. It was still glowing, and now thrumming. "I am unfamiliar with magic. I am however familiar with the technology my people are capable of a manufacturing. This book indicated that the door came to life scanned the expedition and then promptly shut down. It has not done that here....I think it volunteered all three of us."
Sura paused. "I do not think Gor Gozan cares about anything outside of Gor Gozan. However....this place was locked for a reason...and judging by the lack of defensive weapons...."
Creature exhaled audibly. "Shut up." He said to Sura, as he placed his sword back in its sheath. Creature then stepped forward towards Bhelith.
"That's a fair point, but at the same time, you're looking at it from a singular perspective. The people who built this place were smart, they knew people would look at the door in this way. A door with a gun shooting whoever approaches it is going to get more attention than a locked door that gives no readings. Sometimes an excess of defenses can cause more trouble than it's worth." Jill gave her dissenting opinion, quite uncaring for any sense of proper manners. "Even if it is supposed to keep something in rather than us out, a weapon is still a weapon, but we can't utilize it until we know what exactly it is." She spoke as she began to pace.
Creature's tail flicked. "We don't know dick from ass about this place. Everything written on it is cryptic as fuck." He said responding to Jill. "But whatever is in here is gonna be worth something."
"Empress...I dunno how to say this. But I don't think they understand what you are asking of them. Pledges are something elves do. They aren't elves or humans. Nor are they.....well like me. They are Sharani."
As Creature spoke Bronzi and Sura closed into each other. "Sharani is a fucked up culture that doesn't do much in the way of ceremony. Like, I get the pledges due to my past history and relationships. But they don't don't have a concept of it." He said crossing his arms across his chest.
Bronzi grunted. "What are ya yammerin' about?"
Creature turned to his brother. "The Empress wants one of you to swear your loyalty to her before she enters this place. But I-"
Sura blinked and looked up at the much larger Bronzi. "I thought our presence was evidence of our loyalties? The Empress pledge help..." Sura said cutting Creature off.
Bronzi likewise looked down at his child. "Ya. I mean. Gotta do it fer da honor. Same reason I busted Wazu over der outta da Alliance prison."
Creature's shoulders dropped and he pressed his fingers to his temples. "See what I mean?"
Bronzi looked up at Bhelith. "Ya, I mean ya have our loyalty. I shed blood fer ya...bled fer ya too. My kid hea is my squire. We said our pledges alreadeh. Saved yer life. Risked mine and the lives of the people I care about for ya." Bronzi stepped past Jill. "But I ain't saying no pledge-"
Creature then stepped in front of Bronzi. "AS I WAS TRYING TO SAY! I already said the pledge months ago. We are still blood, and clan. So when blood has been shed it binds us all. Dickhead."
Sura looked between her Uncle and her father. "That is true....a pledge made by one of you...binds the whole family...which is us three. A pledge backed by blood that is...."
Bronzi glared at Creature. Creature merely smiled at Bronzi and waved. "Anyway, so is that sort? I said a pledge that made me a Lord and servant of this Empress, which by Sharani tradition files over to the family as it was back by the shedding of blood. Which means that for the honor of our house we are bound to help this empress as a family. But this could overlap with loyalties to the Gartagen Empress, making this one big convoluted mess."
Lukina sighed. "This goes beyond words. False pledges can be given, oaths by elven magic cannot be broken. An Oathsworn cannot run from a promise nor can they avoid a request to the one they have sworn to. This is what my Empress is asking. What lies inside Gor Gozen is dangerous in the wrong hands. We have the key to open the door but the Empress will not open it unless one of the Gartagen bloodlines becomes Oathsworn so they cannot turn against her. It ensures that once the battle is over, she will not be accidentally killed on the orders of another." Her gaze shifted over the three Gartagens.
"Does that make more sense?" The half-elf herald adjusted the strap of her rifle as her gaze shifted up to the sky. "We're almost out of time."
"That's what Crii'chur just explained," Bronzi said with his heavy voice. "Yer Empress is askin fer what she already has. We ain't pinkies. Or Udari-folk. Da oath dat was made ages ago still carries over. An Da oath dat was made by my brother also doubles it. None of it matters because I stood my ground savin yer empress..."
Sura tilted her head. "My people have never been influenced by your forces....its always taken one of you to produce the infused weapons...we can not wield it and it doesn't impact us internally."
Creature squatted down and sat on Bob. "Yea that magic sure can blow us the shit up though. Anyway. I don't know much about the ancient alliance. I do know it stills means something to the people on my world...or some of them
"If one of you does not become Oathsworn," the Empress explained, after watching Lukina and listening to the response she received, "Then, I am better served to leave these automatons to rust. It may mean something to your people, or it may not. It may cause you to have a loyalty conflict with the Gartagen Empress. But, it is my requirement for lending you the aid of my artificery, and my country, in claiming it again - which, if I may be specific, is what you are doing."
"I just said we already are." Bronzi said growing frustrated. "The empress is loyal to you. Why take us down here if yer havin doubts? Or swearin is by deed, rather than ceremony. "
"Then, come here."
Bhelith placed the tip of her sword at the mouth of its scabbard and drove it home with a sibilant, and rather satisfying rasp. It was good leather, or whatever amalgamation the crafter had come up with to hold a blade worked with magic. She went to one of the sigils spinning out from the central plateau, dusted off a place with her armored boot, and then turned, waiting.
Bronzi and Sura looked at each other, then, both did as Bhelith requested. They stepped forward. Bronzi, was silent. Sura, however, seemed thoroughly interested. "Oh. I've never seen an elven service ceremony. I thought they had gone out of fashion when Liang fell to the Taianese..."
"My Herald has been attempting to explain that it is not just a ceremony."
Creature looked to Lukina and shrugged; as if to say, "Sorry about my family."
Bhelith sat her shield aside on the remnants of an overturned pillar, over-grown with ivy, or some sort of vining plant. She looked both of them over, then stated, "Kneel, if you would. If you would be so kind, I would also like the lend of your weapons - whichever weapon is most important to you."
Bronzi reached down, and pulled his tonfa off of his belt, and handed it over. The weapon was clasped shut and looked like small rounded block of plastic. The tonfa was a mixture of high technology and engineering applied to a very simple weapon. Sura like wise pulled Edjia rifle from her back and handed it end first to the Empress. Bhelith accepted both of them, one in either hand. The tonfa received a solemn inspection; more surprising was that the Empress lifted the Edjia rifle, tan and light in her green-and-gold gauntlet, and sighted it down.
"There's artificery in this," she observed, with just a hint of appreciation.
Bronzi's blue eyes fell onto the weapon. He had used it to defend the Empress not too long ago. Though he had no real understanding that the gift from Empress Vishta had felt the touch of the Udari. "It...strikes with force...goes through armor.. structures. Nothin' stands a chance. Empress said it was a product of yer kin."
Sura smiled. "That is just my dad' old service rifle. He gave it to me as a gift for coming on this mission with him. Nothing special about it."
Creature, sat next to Jill, who was presumably standing, still admiring the door. He studied her for a moment. Specifically her butt. "So you must work out?" He said, his voice giving away the fact he was smiling at her.
Jill didn't hide the amused look she gave in response to Creature's statement, nor the brief push of air from her nose. She glanced to the regal ceremony of oaths and what have you with some level of disinterest, simply eyeing the door. "Somewhat, I don't do curls, unfortunately."
Creature curled his tail so that the tip of it came around and touched the base that connected to his body. "Oh. Well, I can always help you do some...curls." He said softly as to not disturb the pomp that was occurring.
The suggestive comment got a chuckle, and she rolled her shoulders as she shifted her stance. She lowered her voice to keep it from being heard outside of the trio. "You think the door will open when they give it a bottle of distilled oaths?"
"D-don't say anything," the puddle of tentacles and cracked shell spoke up to Jill from under Creature. Having been teamed up on by both homicidal super soldiers, Bob simply stayed where he was as to not draw attention, and continued to be used as the Gartagen-man's seat. "Just let them figure it out," the voicebox spoke as the alien rubbed its turtle-like head in some distress.
Creature delivered a powerful elbow into the back of Bob's head, eliciting a high pitched cry of pain from the alien. "Shut the fuck up." He hissed. "There's like a ceremony happening and shit. So rude. Like Dallas levels of rude." Creature winked at Jill. "Well, considering the way the elf-folk work. Probably."
Jill would hear a can crack open. The popping of foam. Creature had a green can of Ginger Beer in his claws, and some of the foam fizzed and dripped down on to Bob's eyes. He tipped the can back and took a deep swig.
"Oh no, not Dallas levels!" the Sutākame whimpered in pain from the sizzling ginger beer. Curling up like its namesake, it buried its head under a mess of tentacles. "It's warm too!" As its voicebox spoke, the tormented turtle let out a miserable cry as it tried to shield its four eyes from the root-based burn.
Placing the can down on Bob's shell, Creature fumbled around in his leather satchel. Out came a small brown paper bag, and Creature shoved his prosthetic hand into it. When the hand came out Creature shoved a few tiny pills into his mouth and chewed the little objects. "I'm Creature by the way." He said shoving out his prosthetic hand to Jill, and leaving it to hang.
"What, you want me to take my boots off?" She responded as she rolled her eyes. "I'll shake your hand but it might be a bit awkward. I'm Jill, your new tech."
Creature looked up at Jill. "Oh...shii." Creature. "Sorry. I mean i'll shake your foot though."
On the other side of the clearing before the doors, Bhelith handed the weapons back.
They felt a little heavier in the hand but no worse for wear by inspection. More importantly, Bhelith now stood before them, and side by side, Bronzi found that the elfess was the taller of them, though not by much. He had weight on her, but just then, she seemed more real, and the light seemed to twist strangely around her.
"Now," Bhelith, said after a moment's pause, "If you will both kneel, please."
Having received their weapons, Bronzi nodded to Sura, and they both in unison knelt before Bhelith, who extended her hands out to lightly graze their foreheads.
"You've said that deeds are more important than actions. By those words, I accept your service. You will become my heralds, to carry my banner, keep my council, and govern as I govern. In return, I embrace you as the family, as bondsmen, from now until the last star's dying. Ma'aaroc tulver'i sorth'..."
Creature's hand lowered. "Gonhirrum is what they call us." He whispered, speaking to Jill. "It means Stone Masters. I imagine that thousands of years ago something like this had occurred between Gonhirrium and Udari. What's funny to me is none of this would be happening if it wasn't for your people coming. I, for one like humans. We call you pink skins. Buuuuuttttt...." Creature's eye soon fell back on Jill's butt. "Yea, I like humans."
"It's definitely a fascinating architecture, though I can't say I understand the magic portions of it. I'd love to get into the heads of the gartagens who built this." With another glance toward Creature, she paused. " - Gartagens aren't half bad either. They have some nice shades of blue." She shifted her footing slightly as she tilted her head at Creature. "Though I'd have to get into the head of one to make heads or tails of it."
Creature waggled his tail at Jill. "You'd be surprised." He said winking with implied sexual innuendo.
But Gonhirrum was not the word she had used; though they might have listened for it. Bhelith spoke slowly, and with force; what she spoke seemed like Elvish. And yet, even for the elves present, it seemed more than that. They were words of power. It was sorcery. The words were a sound that stirred the wind, that caused a few of the motes of age-old dust to rise from the heavy road that had once led straight into the maw of the a place that had long been without it.
Pale light warmed the space between Bhelith's extended fingers, and the foreheads of the two kneeling Gartagens. Lukina would recognize the light; she would remember the feeling of it, like a river of power seeping in to an unfilled well. Like sunlight on a cold day, or the tolling of a perfect bell, echoing from a distance far across a hillside. The light-filled Bhelith's eyes, and warmed the reddish gem settled on her forehead like the stirred embers of a fire.
With that, Bronzi and Sura still kneeling shuddered briefly they felt the power come from The Empress and into them. Bronzi opened his eyes and looked up. His daughter, on the other hand, shuddered, then collapsed, falling over onto her side. Bronzi huffed, and looked to his Progeny, he moved towards her.
Creature "Heh. The youngling couldn't hang." The Empress lowered her hands and looked to the pair of Garts at her feet, but if she was concerned she didn't show it.
Sura opened her eyes and gasped. "What was that. I saw..everything. A woman was standing behind her." Sura said motioning to Lukina. "I..I...I."
Lukina silently bore witness to the ceremony, nodding to Sura in acknowledgment of what the Gartagen girl had seen.
Bronzi pulled Sura back up and looked up at Bhelith. "As yer new Heralds what will ya have of us?"
The answer was a deep groan from beneath their feet that caused the mountain to rumble.
The doors shook and began to grind aside. They didn't swing outwards but slid to either side into the mountain on servos and motors that must have been several centuries old by the commotion they made. From within the dark maw of the mountain, irregular florescent lighting flickered and sparked, several hundred meters in.
The Empress picked her shield back up from the rock and said, "Wake the golems."
After watching silently for a while, Wazu raised his hand, "Are these magic golems? Or normal machine golems?"
On the causeway, the scars of battle were painted like a story; cracks, craters, and skeletons of strange alien beings littered the surface of the road leading downwards. Rusted frames and the twisted steel of shattered war machines and broken automations grew thicker as they ventured further. The air grew heavy and stale as they descended deeper, acrid and still.
“This is a fucking tomb,” Creature rasped as he walked point with Alexis’ rifle resting across his shoulders. “I like tombs,” he cheerfully said. “Better than abandoned spaceships, research facilities, and stupid space cruisers. Aside from the fact that the planet is engulfed in a sustained battle and we are suffering casualties into the millions, this is a pretty good trip! Everybody stay together and if anything moves check to see what it is.”
In truth, Creature did not think they had much of a chance of halting the Atraxians. He was hoping this tomb had a small ship or something he could take and use to get away from Kowloon. Lukina wouldn't want to go, but he was confident he could kick her ass and take her. That and hopefully, the Empress would see the realism in simply leaving.
But if Bhelith of House Arleigh had any intention of leaving, it didn't show on her face. Very little showed on her face. Her expression was set in the same expression she had worn arguing with the two gartagens that now trailed behind her, bound to her by oath. Certainly, she would carry this through to the very end. She stepped over the ruined husk of a battered monolith, slain and half-melted by what appeared to have been a flamethrower or some high-intensity explosive, and carried on in front near Lukina.
Lukina herself stalked ahead of the party, her rifle tight against her shoulder as she scouted ahead, carefully navigating around the wreckage. She frowned, there were too many chokepoints. The large doors had opened with a resounding creak and scraping noise, she had no hope of subtly. She hated tunnels like this, every noise echoed against gloomy walls and cast them forward. If something still lingered that meant them harm, it was forewarned. Her eyes moved back to the Empress, "My Lady, did the accompanying pack scouting drones to range further ahead?" The herald's voice was a near whisper though it carried across the distance to the Lady Arleigh's ears through their bond.
"We are the first through here," Bhelith answered. "In centuries."
"I don't recognize the cadavers' species," Lukina frowned as she returned her attention forward.
"Humans used to play with genetics, trying to recreate or control species that they did not understand." The Empress produced a small orb. When she turned it, halfway, it began to glow and to float along nearby her with a very soft mechanical noise. The descent lower was therefore illuminated in pale, dim, and sterile light, causing the shadows to grow longer and the edges of the corpses starker. "They also tried to steal this technology, and drove the Gartagens to the other side of this galaxy as a result."
The Ember kept pace with the Empress, unsure of what else she could contribute. She had been given a large pistol with its battery removed. "Much like what happened on Jord then, Lady Arleigh?" She asked, nervously looking at the charred remains. Being surrounded by death made her uneasy, as did being so far from Saule's warmth. Arianne held the pistol shakily in front of her in a prepared firing stance like she had been instructed.
"Much as what happened on Jord, and as has happened elsewhere," the elven matron affirmed.
"I will pray that Laima has seen to it that none of the monstrosities have survived the passage of time," Lukina held the rifle's butt more tightly against her shoulder. A chilling thought crept into the back of her mind unbidden, And that the scar of this battlefield has not created an apothic.
A pint-sized, purple-skinned woman stalked inside of the massive underground highway with the group, staying close to Jill and Rorik as she moved. The air within the cave could only be described as 'dank', in a manner not unlike that of a smoking lounge or a sauna, and the balaclava covering her mouth, nose, and forehead did little to filter it. She periodically uncovered her mouth to cough, but she hoped that they would give out proper gas masks at some point.
She didn't want to develop a voice like Creature's.
With little subtlety in her intentions, Vella-00 maintained a close proximity to Jill, especially. She felt a little paranoid for her safety, given the unfortunate circumstances surrounding her lack of arms from a physical and a personal defense perspective. Vella knew that a few would have felt the same way about her own situation regarding her stature, but at least she had arms! However, she couldn't help but to wonder whether or not Jill had fashioned some kind of shoulder-mounted or chest-integrated personal defense system. Hopefully, she would never have to find out.
As for Rorik, Vella just didn't want him to try to play hero, just yet.
"It smells dank...like space weed," Vella commented idly to her two partners in a disgusted tone, crinkling her nose at the thought. "These green monsters have to be smoking some really nasty shit..."
Broken. Broken, everything Jill's eyes laid across shared the adjective like a medal of honor. Not only had it all been broken apart by ancient battles and their shared wear and tear, but quite simply nothing here seemed to have been built with the intention of lasting generations of neglect. It was insulting in a way, why didn't they think this far ahead? It would have made her job a hell of a lot easier. Then again, these were the kind of people who locked a battlefield behind a door in the middle of nowhere, she couldn't exactly expect high regards for whoever came next.
For all the disrepair that the entirety of the battlefield endured, perhaps it did give her an insight on how they fought and the kind of technology they used. She knew she'd be glared at if she demanded an opportunity to study each and everything they came across that so much as looked like it was made artificially, so for the moment she strode on, her eyes catching Vella changing her path to make proximity with her. "I doubt hippies have been using this as their hideout, so, unfortunately, it's probably just dust and rust. Let me know if you see anything that looks like it could... You know, work. Can't be expected to make a tide-turning weapon out of rusted scrap that's decades old."
"Hate to interrupt, but I've smelled far worse......But I doubt you want that answer following that.", Whisper said quietly as he watched everywhere he could, his eyes moving every crack and nook he could spot. His rifle barrel traced the line of sight like a pointer as he held it with a firm steady grip. The rubble was only posing a slight annoyance as it slowed them down. He hated the feel of this place, the emptiness, the death,.......The loss.
Tentacles slid and slithered over cold steel and polymer.
"Let's just hope we don't sniff something that's actually dank," the all-too-human sounding voice replied. Pointing a pair of belt-fed machine guns in every which way with its limbs, the hard-shelled creature floated along as its tortoise-like head slowly panned here, then there. "We should have brought filters, just in case, but it's too late for that," the small voice-box the alien wore spoke. "Let's just cross our fingers and hope we find something actually useful." Floating up at the front, Bob kept point or close to point as best he could.
Considering the force that was Bhelith however, that was difficult, as she strode forward first, her presence firm and unyielding. She had put her Paladin's helmet on, though she had kept the visor up, and her green cloak swirled gently in her wake. The air was stale, but she moved it in silence.
"Oh Bob, I bet you can smoke the same stuff that these Atraxians do. You'll be fine, the rest of us will just regurgitate our lunches and die if we get a whiff of whatever they hit..." Vella replied before a soft giggle escaped from her lips, which quickly degenerated into a coughing fit. "...Yuck..." She said in a raspy voice, as she reached into her backpack, pulled out a canteen of water and pushed it to her lips.
Despite wearing a hastily made meta-polymer helmet, the much-feared alien raised a tentacle to its beak and coughed in a manner that could only be described as awkward.
"Um. This isn't the time for that," it began. "But, you trying to say you want a smoke or something?" Bob asked, uncertain. As several tentacles kept its weapons sweeping about, another scratched its head, while yet another still reached into the rucksack that it had placed on its armor covered shell. Opening up a pocket, it produced a pack of cigs. Deftly tapping it against its shell, a single coffin nail poked out. Behind the goggle-like lenses of its helmet, they could just faintly see its eyes stare at her in the most questioning of ways in the dim light.
"Cross your fingers..." Jill repeated before she gave a judgemental smirk to Bob. "You ever feel any irony for saying that? I would imagine your species has its own saying for that, after all." She cleared her throat with a hoarse noise, spitting out a glob of phlegm onto the dusty road.
For what felt like the longest moment, Bob simply stared at Jill, speechless.
"Oh my god. I don't have fingers anymore! I've sacrificed so much becoming this thing!" it lamented, several of its suction-cupped limbs moving about to hold its head in distress.
"Umm...excuse me, Mr. Tentacles, but I vape exclusively. Cigs are for plebs." Vella replied in a smart-ass tone to Bob, as she waved her index finger around in an exaggerated diva-like fashion.
"And Jill...my goodness girl...uhhh...you want some water? Haven't touched it yet..." Vella offered, extending the second canteen of water to the armless woman.
"Well on the bright side I'm sure you'll make some home-movies director very happy, Bob." She chuckled as she shook her head at Vella. "-Speaking of which, I'm fine, thanks for the offer. The air just tastes like sawdust." She glanced down at the ground as she stepped over a small pothole.
Whisper swept his 6mm assault rifle's built-in flashlight along the ground he moved, the 6AS set to burst as his trigger finger resting against the trigger guard. "I don't get the fascination with smoking, breathed in enough of the normal shit to know it fucks your lungs. Granted that matters little right now, or whatever tentacles have to do with crossing fingers," he said as the real topic went right over his head.
"Um. Maybe we should be serious? Like the elves are?" the man turned Sutākame suggested, pointing one of its many limbs at said knife-ears ahead of him.
"Home-movies director...wait, I'm a home-movies director?" Vella began in a confused tone. The gears slowly turned in her mind as she processed the armless woman's subtle joke. Her jokes were always cryptic and sarcastic, and this one seemed to be no exception. However, her eyes went wide when it finally came to her. "Hey! I know I'm always thirsty and stuff, but I haven't watched of this particular tentacle porno-tentacle monster!" She returned in a sassy tone. "Maybe I'll look him up when I get home..." She added in a soft whisper and taking a mental note in the process.
"Anyways, Bob, elves are a proud and noble race, who are super serious and never have sex or smoke or curse or drink," Vella replied to Bob. "We, on the other hand, do all four of those things since we are not proud and noble."
"Excuse you," answered Bhelith in affected peevishness, who while being further up the loosely ordered line, still turned her head to examine Vella with her strange gold eyes. "But I shall have you know that I enjoy all four of those things."
After a pause, she added, "I suspect I have been enjoying them for longer than you have been alive."
Lukina ruefully shook her head as she continued forward. The tips of her ears were flushed pink. She was grateful that somehow, her personal life had been left a mystery with this new batch of recruits. "We hear quite well, echoes notwithstanding," she muttered into her comms link to the company. "Let's try to keep it a dull roar, I'm not sure what, if anything still lives here."
Being directly confronted by the Lord Empress herself and one of her highest knights made Vella go red in the face and completely silent. The demeanor of the normally peppy and vivacious woman was reduced to that of a submissive and apologetic servant. In truth, she didn't know that elfin creatures would have take offense at such a joke, but she wasn't necessarily surprised that to be wrong.
Given her extreme youth as a lab-matured synthetic and Bhelith's forthrightness in addressing her, it was a nigh-mathematical certainty that the Lord Empress had been enjoying the carnal pleasures of life before she was born.
At this stage in her life, Vella was learning something new every day, but she never got used to the occasional sting of embarrassment at being wrong...
Grasping its head in a bunch of its writhing limbs, Bob's voice box moaned,
"This is turning out to be the most epic dungeon raid ever guys. We're just legendary, aren't we?" it asked sarcastically. "Can we just, you know? Do the thing? Reactivate the ancient weapon or wake the sleeping clone army of the republic so we can all go home?" it whined a little bit.
"If there's a functioning weapon somewhere in here I hope one of you brought a few hundred gallons of RE-60, otherwise we're going to be hoping we have a missile tube that just happens to be aimed at the enemy. Things don't seem to have aged well down here, though something in a sealed building or vault may prove a different story.." Jill paused, glancing to Vella with a mischevious look. "Never a dull thought with you, is there?"
Whisper would have paused at that suggestive tone were he not on edge. The only thing that could make this worse...was fire. Gods, he wished he never had to be around it again. The air certainly had an acrid scent like something had been burnt, maybe that was why he was so twitchy. The sooner they got to the vault, the better. "How far in does this place even go? We've been walking for a while now; I don't like the feel of it in here," he asked still tracking his attention around the space.
Sneak walked near the back of the group, idly scanning his surroundings as the cloak bounced through shades of brown and black trying to keep up with the background. One sniff of the cave had been enough to make the alien pull some kind of membrane out of its cloak and strap it over its muzzle, covering its nostrils neatly. A bit-piece connected to some kind of oxygen tank provided sparing comfort with a lungful of fresh air now and then.
Sneak had smelt what the locals passed for smoking material here and had not been impressed. Maybe he could requisition some proper vegetation as trade goods whenever he got a supply drop.
As Whisper complained Sneak tapped them on the arm with a claw gently and offered the well-used bite-piece on its air hose up to him.
"I am fine, thank you for the offer though. I need to stay focused, this place makes me feel like I need to be clear," Whisper said politely turning down the offer.
Sneak popped the hose back into their mouth and sucked in a lungful of air, looking up at Whisper. Exhaling loudly. Large eyes looking up at him with alien pupils.
"You smell like death, but you don't hear me complaining about sensations," Sneak replied before going back to walking through the wreckage and ruins inside the tunnel.
Creature paused. He held out his forearm and orange laser in the shape of a triangle swept out, scanning the area several hundred meters in front of him. He then looked around, more corpses armed with weapons, and metal equipment undergoing the slow, rusty march into becoming dust lay strewn about. Destroyed tanks and transport vehicles scattered across the causeway. Humans, as the Empress had said; though many of them were sprawled face down with massive holes punched into their bodies that allowed for dirty, blood-soaked pieces of stone to be seen through their semi-skeletal forms.
Creature cautiously advanced with Bronzi and Sura moving to his left. Moments later, they found what had driven the spear tip of this attacking force back.
It was a lone Hierophant Exo Suit. It was slumped over on its knees, having long since breathed its last breath. The tanks, armor, and guns of the humans were crumbling into dust, their paint faded, the cloth brittle and their vehicles were rusted husks but this Exo suit, however, looked almost new despite its severe battle damage and a small hole that cracked its armor. There were no remnants of other Gartagen or Elven troops around, it was likely that they had likely fallen back, while this pilot had remained behind to hold the enemy back to buy the others precious seconds.
Bronzi advanced up to the suit and scaled it. The burly Gartagen manipulated something beneath the Exo suit's armor and it came to life. Lights switched on, its movement actuators whirred, and its power plan thrummed softly. The Chest and leg plates separated to reveal the Gartagen pilot who was still strapped into the suit. She was in full gear, though a human Plasma round had broken through and struck her in the stomach. A little holographic figure was projected out into the open.
It was her helmet. The pilot gasped for air. "I did it. I drove back the interlopers. Saved my kith....who are these people? I don't have long left....the Gor Gozan defense forces are preparing to defend the city. We have sealed the gates...so these...strange pink skinned aliens are stuck in here with us...I wish I could have killed more." She spad as she soon broke into a coughing fit. The hologram then faded out.
Creature turned his eye to Bhelith. "The true enemy came for this place." He said. "Did you know about this?"
Bhelith stepped forward into the shadow of the Exo-suit. She watched the flickering ghost of the pilot for a few moments more as it sat on repeat.
When she answered, her voice came out calm and clear as pure crystal. "Yes. Centuries ago, this was opened in the same way we opened it; though, the ones who opened it for the Tai Pan were traitors to your nation, and not to mine."
Jill strode forward with a confident gait, her eyes glued to the exosuit with more than simple curiosity, it was awe. She had never driven one, and her experience with them was limited to seeing people use specific models of them for the self-contained nature of their temperatures. She had only seen versions that were meant to make repairs in hazardous environments, but this was one that seemed crafted for war. War was its purpose, and here it sat, bloodthirst quenched as even its pilot fell in the name of its duty.
"Rust hasn't touched it, and while everything else turns to dust, the damn batteries still work." She mused as she began to circle it. "Any chance these things have functioning maps? If this was stored with others somewhere, possibly with other weapons, it may be marked in its memory."
Sneak looked upon the Hierophant with interest, before pulling out their camera and taking a picture of it, the flash punching through the darkness like a splinter in every darkness-adjusted retina in the cavern. Jill being in the picture seemed fine to the alien.
Initially silent after they heard the recording speak, Bob's coils tightened around his machine guns.
"If someone says they dug too deep, too greedily, I'm just done," the man turned monster remarked, exasperated. Despite his own terrifying presence, it seemed he just had enough of dealing with like-dangerous things. Lifting its helmet with the tip of a limb, it looked at them all. "Jill's got a point though. Places as big as mega-malls and then some have to have some sort of directions posted around. Otherwise, personnel is just going to get lost," he pointed out.
Creature then jumped into the path of Sneak's Camera, effectively photobombing the image by blocking the Hierophant. Creature gave Sneak a thumbs up.
Sneak's large eyes stared up at Creature and looked unimpressed, the camera made a click and Sneak held it up to Creatures eye-level and pushed the flash.
Creature's eye formed into a slit as he looked at Jill and then to Bob. The Causeway thus far had no additional pikes and exits. The tunnel it was cut into was cavernous, but Creature noted this long swirving causeway was built for defense. Otherwise, it would have been a straight shot to the city. Or for the city would have been built on the surface. "I'm uh...pretty positive there is only one direction we need to be going," Creature said nodding to the darkness engulfed the way forward.
Creature standing near Jill nodded at her observation of the Hierophant. A fallen titan, it did leave a pretty corpse. "Yea. Redundancy was always at the forefront of my people's engineering mindset. If we had the parts, we could likely repair this damn thing in a few hours and it could be sent back into battle like nothing ever happened."
"That's good to know, and hopefully if there are some left in the equivalent of an armor garage. This war might have a chance at being won," Whisper said as he kept moving forward, even as everyone stopped to examine the exo.
His flashlight swept ahead as he didn't stop moving. As much as the war machine inspired awe in those who looked upon it. There was still a battle raging, and he'd be damned if he wasted time when a solution might lay ahead.
"Well, it's gonna open up into a maze of hallways and vast caverns that are super photogenic for wide shots and whatnot later down the ways, right?" Bob asked. "I mean, every time I see a group go into some ancient dungeon or something, it's always something like that," the shelled masses of tentacles pointed out. True enough, that's how most movies did it. But, did reality match the big screen?
"This isn't a dungeon." Creature said to Bob. "This is a city. A dungeon would be simpler."
"That's...that's even worse," Bob admitted. With a sigh, it hefted its weapons about and kept watch during the advance. "At this rate, we might just find out what ancient Gartagen fast food might look like," he observed.
The half-elf ranged ahead, carefully picking her path through the obstacles of desolation with a sense of reverence. Lukina wondered how many of her people had fallen in defense of Gor Gozen. The fragmented memory of gunfire echoed in her mind as her eyes swept over the battlefield graves. "No one afforded the time to recover their dead. Something else happened here." Her stray thought passed through her bond to Bhelith.
Though Bhelith didn't respond, Lukina could feel the subtle thread of anxiety tugging on her own heartstrings. Few knew Bhelith's moods like Lukina knew them, and that was only because of the oath they shared. Descending the hallway behind her, illuminated starkly by the floating orb of light, Lukina couldn't read anxiety on the elf's dark and serious features. She could only feel the unease.
"They must have sealed it."
Arianne sniffed softly and followed along. "These poor soldiers, left to fade away to motes of dust and be lost to memory... the threads have long faded. It hurts to see this place so... barren," she murmured softly, tightening the grip on her pistol more firmly. "Nothing left but shells. No one sang their souls into the afterlife to join Mara."
"Agreed, no one should be forgotten. If possible, maybe we can come back and give them a proper burial. They deserve that much," Whisper answered back to Arianne. It reminded him of what was left of his village those many years ago, and his shoulders visibly sagged at the memory. It was a sorrow he wished none of those sensitive to it picked up on.
A moment of silence seemed to make what Whisper said all that more intense. However, Arianne would see Creature had opened his mouth and stood, placing his rifle barrel up into it. "Please. No more...." he hissed sounding like he had utterly given up on life.
Sneak looked back over at Creature and stood to wait to see what would happen. When the blue alien stood there chewing his gun, Sneak went back to walking.
"Don't keep the dead waiting. If none of their gods came to collect them, then the defenders still man their stations." Sneak said blandly, sounding rather unperturbed about the situation.
Jill's humor froze as she looked over to Creature, her face hardening as she stepped towards him. She couldn't grab his weapon, couldn't shake him or do much of anything to the Goliath of a Gartagen, but this was improper, this was wrong. "Creature." She spoke in a warning tone. "What do you think this will solve? There's a hell of a lot of people here who're going to wind up dead if you pull that trigger. They lose you, they lose a hell of a lot more moral."
"My Lord, if you pull that trigger then pull it on me first.", Whisper said as he came back, stepping up to creature.
He grabbed the rifle barrel gently and pointed it towards him, leaning his forehead against the end.
"If you die, Then our failure is assured. Your end is our end. This is not the way to go, I have lived with pain for many years. But I would rather go out trying to do something then go out in a pointless manner that means nothing. Should we not die like men, on our feet with a goal in sight?", he finished, his eyes meeting Creature's with an intensity, as he waited for the possible trigger pull. A small part of him wished for it.
"He's harder to kill than that. If it were possible to just blow his brains out, Lord Ruchon would already be dead," Lukina commented softly through the comms link as she continued scouting ahead. "Creature, please don't. We need to get out of this place, save the world, etc."
Arianne touched Creature's arm, her suit negated what ill effects might have resulted otherwise. "Surrendering to death isn't the way forward, only backward. There have been too many deaths today already."
At the back of the group Barlor brought up the rear guard, taking a moment to poke one of the corpses with the end of his rifle, "If there was any meat left on here I'm sure the Kudah in charge of this operation would pay a hefty fee for them" He said to more himself but no one in particular. Looking at the situation going on in front of him he shook his head and decided to glance around the barren city or whatever they were in to see if anything popped out at him.
Creature was, of course, being dramatic. He spoke to Jill. "It would make it so that I have a nice time out and don't have to listen to the mating call of two pinkies for a while." He said pulling the weapon away. "But, I am fixing on not dying at all."
Creature stood and tossed his rifle over his shoulder. "Alright. Uhh...orders and shit. Recon mission!" He shouted, his voice reverberating throughout the cavern. "Uhhhh...Whisper! You and..." Creature then pointed to Barlor. "This weird ass alien bug man thing."
"I also need two more volunteers for this. I want y'all to scout ahead. Try not to engage anything. Take a look around then come back and tell us what you see. Easy enough right?"
A soft and girlish voice piped up from close to the rear of the party, along with a tiny raised arm which did little to make up for the speaker's short stature. "Ummm...Mr. Creature...I volunteer." Vella said, before jogging towards the front of the party. "What are we supposed to look for, by the way?" She added, as she emerged from the group, at which point the extremely diminutive woman would finally become visible to Creature.
The weird ass alien bug man's antennae perked up as he heard Creature say he was going on point, " Barlor is my name though I don't think you care to remember it." he said with a slight smattering of sarcasm. Shifting his weapon to the low ready he made his way towards the front of the pack, turning around to wait on the rest of the people to join him.
Whisper was already there and ready having unsung his rifle once more. He was slightly disappointed after the rifle was pulled away, but that disappeared as the task was given. "It will be done, milord. I'm ready, we can head forward once the scouting party is assembled and ready."
"I'll go ahead too I guess," the Sutakame's voicebox sighed. "We're talking too long anyway," it added. Floating off the ground, it hovered forward and turned back, looking at the people volunteering. "Let me see. We have the Barlor guy, then the new girl Vella and then...is his name seriously Whisper?" it glanced back at Creature.
Bhelith spoke next, having settled the edge of her long, metallic shield on the pockmarked, war-scarred causeway grounds. "Lukina is more than capable alone," she observed, nodding forward to the four people who were beginning off after the half-elven assassin. "As it stands, we have become a rear guard, have we not?"
Dallas was going to volunteer but he was beaten to the punch. Instead, he lingered at the back still entirely confused on what magical whatever opened the doors. He began looking at the walls and architecture and gave a low whistle. "Huh... This is something else." His voice was low enough to not fly over the others' but loud enough to be heard for someone that was listening.
He'd put his rifle back into his leather sling and was idly looking around, though his mind had wandered to the place, not exactly the surroundings.
Creature nodded at the four volunteers enthusiastically. "Yep. Uh.....Bob yer in charge. Return my babies to me. Good luck. Oh also don't be heroes. Just go see what's up ahead, and come back and tell me. That's all for your mission.
With that, Creature stepped off and moved back over to Jill, who he had been stealing glances at the entire time. He then looked at Bob, Whisper, Vella, and Barlor. "Go on. This is elite tactical recon stuff! My best soldiers have this!" Creature said patronizingly to the reconnaissance party. "Shoo!"
Bob, was now suddenly in charge of a Recon mission. There was only one thing to do now for the space turtle; Get moving.
"Ok guys, you all heard the Gart-man," the electronic voicebox began. The Sutakame then gestured with its spare tentacles, waving at them to all get some distance. "Just fan out a bit so we don't all get chopped up or other," it reminded them. Checking its two belt fed guns again, the hard-shelled alien made sure rounds were chambered before floating down the hall, past the old, forgotten dead and their relics of war. Behind its helmet, the thing's four eyes glanced about. "Is it just me, or does it look like their tech and stuff hasn't changed much since way back when?" it pondered aloud. Bob then put on his commander's cap.
"Simplicity is usually the best option." Barlor replied, unconsciously tapping his own rifle as he spoke, "I believe the saying goes if it is not broken do not bother to fix it."
With that the Pakoli nodded as he was given his orders, throwing up his hood with one of his arms before heading forward at the low ready. As he crept forward at a slow somewhat bobbing gate he swiveled his head back and forth looking for any signs of movement, dipping between
As the party progressed forward, the darkness in front of them loomed darker and wider. Lukina came to it first; she had been the party's scout from the beginning. Soon, however, the other four saw it as well; a gap. A yawning maw of blackness, beneath a single slender causeway, bound up in iron chains looped over pulleys so far up into the mountain that they couldn't see the blocks. Some of the chains had been broken.
It looked almost like a drawbridge - but it sat askew, having probably been lowered by force. With some of the chains broken by what looked like plasma cutters, or blowtorches, and one of those chains being as thick around as Whisper's arm, it looked like it would never fold in again. On close inspection, each chain was worked with some sort of patterns that swirled together between several isometric designs - decoration, no doubt. A pair of birds, of some species that looked vaguely specific to Lukina but escaped her immediate recollection, flanked the bridge from their perches on either side. One of them held a single-bladed, wing-backed sword in its talons, stretching it out towards the approaching party, and the other held a hammer that narrowed to a point, with a curved handle, in the other direction. In their day, they might have looked proud and regal; now, girded around in the detritus of a fallen culture, they were foreboding.
And beneath it was more blackness. With the Sutakame's extra senses, he could almost, almost sense that the upper ceiling was smooth, and cut by elven, or gartagen artificery. Barlor, too, got a sense of the vastness of the issue before him from the echoes. But he could not sense far enough below them to tell what lay beneath the ominous bridge.
Lukina frowned at the state of the drawbridge's chains. The strange birds had drawn her attention. Are they wired? She thought as she reached into a pouch on her belt and withdrew two small orbs. A light touch on the center of the orbs sent them hovering into the air beside the half-elf scout. With a thought, she sent the surveillance orbs over the bridge towards the statues to run stability calculations and scans for thermal signatures. This came back swiftly; the statues were very near. They were marble, with relatively uniform consistency. Had there been light, she might have seen the marbling earlier; as it stood, in the dimness, it was difficult to discern. Carbon dating put them just about at the time she had imagined; ancient Gartagen civilization merged with her own peoples' golden age.
The Herald's concerns were simple, she wondered if the bridge would hold and if there was someone watching them. It was never a good idea to assume that they were ever alone. Her free company had been rescued from the surface of the planet years ago but, she wondered if anyone else had survived all this time?
Approaching the edge Barlor picked up a small rock and chucked tucked it down into the abyss, straining to hear the pebble hit the bottom or at least some outcropping. As the rock tumbled away what would be considered a frown formed on his face, 'That seems foreboding' he thought to himself.
It seemed even more foreboding because he hadn't quite heard the 'tap' or the 'plink' that he had expected. Turning towards the bridge he saw Lukina summon her orbs of light and twitched his antennae, "I was not aware that your kind had majiks, then again I have not encountered many pointed eared humans. Well, free ones who could speak anyway"
The wasp chuckled to himself or at least made a sound that would be considered a chuckle by Pakoli standards, before staring down the causeway investigating it with his own thoughts and ideas, processing and waiting for the rest of the group to show up.
Lukina offered a small smile to the Pakoli."There are some magic and some technology, I use a little bit of both. I don't know many of your kind to be of your particular height. I imagine there is much we both could learn from one another, once we are not facing the dread of the unknown," she offered lowly, checking the status of her scans through her direct neural interface, overlaying the information on her vision.
"I don't want anyone to attempt the crossing until I know its stable," the half-elf added thoughtfully.
Dallas was up with the group now but was towards the middle instead of the rear. He looked ahead at the drawbridge. He tried to use his cybernetics out of habit before realizing that they weren't there, instead his eyes strained in the darkness to try to even see past it. He looked into the pits under it with curiosity and resisted the urge to do the cliche thing of lighting a match to drop to see how low it went.
"That's a sharp drop, it amazes me of the technological wonder that allowed someone to construct a fortress like this." His eyes wandered back to the drawbridge, waiting to see what would be done in an attempt to cross. "Well, it looks kinda stable."
"I'm not sure if anyone else can follow me, but I can just fly over and take a look around," Bob suggested, the all-too-human voice from the speaker sounds a little dubious at best. "I'd just hope there's nothing on the other side waiting to give me a warm welcome though," it pointed out, rubbing the bottom of its hard chin with a thoughtful tentacle. It all seemed so grand, a legacy lost, but it had to wonder. "Geeze. I wonder if the Sutākame ever had some sort of legacy like this too," he pondered aloud. That he said that though, was perhaps quite telling.
"I would be mindful, I don't know what's on the other side if it has a motion sensor or a sentry gun on stand-by. My hope is that my little bots can give me something," Lukina replied gently. "The last time I was out here, we had to be evaced by the Garts... this is not the place to be complacent."
"I am a bit on the taller side for my kind." Barlor said with a hint of realization, " Though there is always something bigger, I am what you would call friends with one or as close as one can be with them." With a shrug, he turned his attention back to the problem at hand,"If you are willing to go to the other side first, Bob, I have no problem following." With anticipation, he flicked his wings and scanned over the other side trying to sense anything with his twitching antennae.
The two small survey orbs began the long drive back towards Lukina. They had gone up and down, and once they had even drifted around the bridge, illuminating the general state of disrepair that they had found the causeway in. They were like fireflies, or a pair of lonely stars, piercing the stygian night. Their radiance was singular.
For one of them, it proved terminal. The crack of a rifle struck it blind, and it made a faint, metallic crushing sound as it bounced off the causeway and tumbled to doom.
The remaining survey droid made it back at speed. Lukina didn't need to tell it to dim its light. It had a bit of self-preservation instinct. When it covered the rest of the distance in pitch blackness, it struck into her shoulder and began to roll towards its pouch. Readings flooded in.
The expanse might as well have been bottomless. This was the droid that had gone downwards. It had, like the others, speculated how far down the chasm went; it had taken 5.64 seconds to receive a sonar response. The very end of that drop would most certainly be lethal, provided a person couldn't fly.
More troubling were the faint readings of life that it conveyed to her. The other side of the causeway, approximately seven hundred meters ahead of them - an absolute eternity for any attacking force to be under sniper fire - was first fortified. The scans had provided a rough of the terrain. On the other side of the bridge the ground widened, and beyond that wedge was another gate, set flush into a sheer wall with what looked to be cross-shaped embrasures cut into the rock, for gun emplacements.
That the wall was scarred and pockmarked with artillery fire did not prove reassuring.
The half-elf frowned and slowly edged back from the edge of the bridge. "No, go back. We need to reapproach this." Lukina forwarded her readings on to Bhelith and to Creature through her mental and technological between the two. "This is a chokepoint and defended. Don't go ahead unless you wish to die. They maintain control of that bridge, whom ever they were."
Creature, Dallas, and the others who had stayed behind the scouting party saw Bhelith frown, and settle her helmet over her long, dark tresses. The visor slid shut with a definitive click and sealing noise, smashing the dark hair against some lining beneath the green-gold armor. She didn't speak, just started forward, hefting the heavy-plated shield.
For the scouting party, the surge of annoyance Lukina received from Bhelith preceded the idea that the matriarch was on her way. "There is no other way."
"Your will," Lukina replied as she continued to frown. It was going to be a grind. "The way ahead is paved by blood," she muttered, recalling the Uial Lug oath. She pulled the cowl of her Shadowmail up over her ruby hair. Her eyes scanned the darkness that yawned ahead, concealing unknown combatants hiding behind solid stone and metal, and wielding unknown weapons. Mara was waiting, Lukina knew it, the diety she had bargained with for Dallas would likely come to claim her, if she was to fall. Better to live then.
Whisper waited with the rest of the scouting party as they were told to cease their advance. "Great, snipers, just what we needed," he said sarcastically as he wished he had armor to use the smart link sights on his rifle. But all his unarmored self could do was use the holo dot sight, and he dared not to use his flashlight.
"Is there any way we could distract the sniper long enough to get a bead on their position? Or even have a rifle and someone skilled enough to hit that mark?" He asked the others quietly.
Dallas seemed to grimace in the low light at the mention of snipers, briefly reminded of his past experiences weeks and months before. He slowly drew his rifle from its sling and held it as if to suddenly be able to shoulder and fire on the sniper he didn't see. He began looking around the walls for holes and crevices big enough to fit a person and a rifle, and at the same time hoping just for the errant flash of the optics or the less preferable option of a muzzle unleashing a very possibly-lethal round.
"Ugh. Glad I didn't have to fly over there after all," the floating tentacle monster remarked. "Still. Snipers?" Bob pondered. "Either they're still alive in there after all this time, or those are some sort of auto-turrets or droids," he pointed out with another suction cupped limb, gesturing at the path ahead. "If they're actual people, maybe we should try signaling them with a light or something to get a response?" he asked. "It'd still probably take a while and we don't have much time."
The urge to shoot them was almost irresistible.
However, upon hearing Lukina’s analysis of the situation, Vella slowly lowered her crossbow and backed away from the edge of the abyss.
Vella was no tactician, but based on common sense and what little she had learned during training, she knew that there was no viable way across the causeway without suffering immense casualties, at least with the equipment that the group had on hand. Not to mention, she remembered with a distinct sensation of relief that Creature had not actually ordered told them to do anything, other than to scout and report back their findings.
“Ummm...Dame Aleksasha.” Vella began shyly, addressing the half-elf by what she thought was her proper title. “Sir Du Rochon ordered us to just...uhh...report our findings to him and not to do anything else. I think we have findings now so uhh...can we leave now? I’d rather keep my brain in my skull…” She finished. “But...if he orders us forward then uhh...I’ll gladly go…” The pink-skinned soldier added with a noticeable amount of reluctance and sarcasm in her tone.
“My Lady...please don’t tell me you’re going to try to cross the chasm by yourself.”
However, Vella could not justify the act of throwing herself into a chasm for a deity that she did not worship or acknowledge and for an adage that left her more confused than inspired.
“Uhh...may...the blue goddess...bless you, my lady.” Vella answered in a slow and uncertain manner.
After giving the death-seeking half-elf a light bow and a nod, Vella turned her back on Lukina and quickly jogged back to the main group.
"Yeah, let's not do anything hasty here, I don't wanna an-hero anytime soon," Bob's voicebox spoke up. Rather than floating back alone though, the tentacled space turtle looked at the redheaded elf. "Um, I don't know what's this about a blue goddess, but let's head back?" he tried suggesting to Lukina. "I really don't wanna turn my back and have a bullet-ridden buddy fall of the bridge," Bob explained, tilting his head. Though it was watching, waiting for her reply with the two eyes on one side of its head, the other two continued to peer across the chasm in an attempt to get a better look at whatever was over there. It was probably in vain, but it couldn't help its curiosity
"Bresal," came Lukina's grumpy reply.
"Oi, youse need sumone to get 'cross that bridge? Youse got a professional. How's you give some covering fire, and I crawl underneath and cross that way?" He ask, staring up at her.
“Blue goddess? Don’t be profane.”
Bhelith, her helmet sealed and her long, near body-length shield held close against her left side, stepped into the gloaming. She had extinguished her own light. “Gods have different priorities than we do. They only help themselves and would as soon have you walk into death as protect you from it.”
That seemed more than halfways directed at Lukina. No doubt about it; Bhelith didn’t appreciate the corpse humor. It took a few moments of real examination for Bhelith to speak again. She looked to the flanks of the chasm, examining them for a while beneath the Paladin hardsuit’s helmet.
“There did not seem to be any significant branching paths. We can wait for the others, and then cross as we decide."
She settled the tip of the long, palatine shield in the recently-disturbed dust, leaning on it.
"I'll take our report back to the Lord. I'm the least armored here, so being runner is only logical. I can deliver the info and be back shortly. Who knows, he may even have some ideas. These ruins were built by the Lord's people after all.", he said before giving everyone a nod and beginning to do a even paced run back towards Creature's position.
He was slightly annoyed that while they had been given a job, that people were not doing as ordered. Duty was important, even for a militia. If he was given orders, then by Ismir he'd do it.
"Not sure what your gods have to do with this," the pakoli said readying his rifle, "But I do believe that if there is one sniper we can pick them out between us with long rifles." With one of his free hands he pointed at the bridge, "All we need to do is get someone or,something, to draw their fire and we look for the muzzle flashes. We would need a volunteer though" With a shrug he went and found himself a comfortable, yet defensible and stable rock to set up behind.
"I do hope I am not speaking out of my place." he said to no one in particular, "I am merely offering a suggestion regarding a tactic I've seen used before."
"As for going forward - They have waited for this long, they can wait until we have gathered and decided whether that will be necessary - or whether we can surmise some better way between us, as some of you suggest."
Bhelith seemed nonplussed and now that she had seen
the chasm first hand, she also seemed content to wait for Creature and the others who had stayed behind.
He kept a tight grip on his rifle. He knew there was a round in the chamber and a fair number in the tube ready to follow after if something glistened enough to be the glare of a scope, that is if they even used scopes like that. He'd already died once in this, he didn't want to die again. He didn't want to be trapped in this hole either.
Flashes of light came from both flanks. Funnels of light formed at various points throughout the cavern. Humanoid figures clad in dark grew armor, wielding oval like weapon pods in their hands advanced. Sneak, Dallas, The Bugman, Vella, and Bob were all soon under fire from these strange attackers. Laser weapons illuminated the causeway, the attacking troops were in four-man squadrons, and Lukina their number was growing. Dozens were moving with inhuman speed and precision that would make an elf blush
Creature who had been pacing heard the commotion. But those energy fields of light formed on them too. The Quick witted Gartagen grabbed Jill by her shoulder and shoved her behind him. "Fucking fall back!" He commanded. Bronzi, and Sura obeyed, as did the rest of the expedition.
After all, why would an Empress talk to a mere footwoman? Vella might have scoffed at the idea, if it had not already happened before.
Vella turned, intent upon continuing her progress towards the main party. She had hardly taken two steps when she spotted the flashes of light forming around various points within the cavern. The lights illuminated their surroundings, allowing Vella to visually process the source of the lights.
Upon seeing the armored figures, Vella let her body collapse to the hard ground of the ancient highway. She let out a sudden grunt when she felt a brief sting of pain in her bosom, realizing that she had hit the ground a little too aggressively.
After quickly assessing the situation through the scope of her crossbow, upon seeing the flight path of the plasma bolts illuminating the underground causeway, Vella realized that they were being fired upon from nearly all sides. Taking a deep breath and holding it for a period of two seconds, Vella aligned her reticule with one of the advancing armored figures as it climbed up onto the highway, while utilizing the light of her target’s own weapon in order to keep track of his position. The diminutive soldier squeezed the trigger just as the figure vaulted over the barrier to the highway itself, intent upon striking her target in the chest just as his feet hit the concrete.
With a sharp grunt, Vella shifted her weight, raised her crossbow into the air to protect it from the ground, and rolled across the highway until she was next the edge. Out of the left side of her eye, she noticed the tentacled monstrosity known oddly as “Bob” when he awkwardly attempted to go prone. The roaring sound of two MG-3s being fired filled her ears as she quickly slid behind him in order to capitalize on a makeshift form of cover.
“I’ll watch your back, sir, but is there anywhere we can fall back to?” Vella asked with a yell in order to be heard over the raucous of gunfire. After slotting the crossbow into its protective holster, she pulled out her AK-12 and prepared to unleash a torrent of suppressing fire against the oncoming enemy...
Jill was not an agile person, nor would she say that she was particularly adept at reading combat situations, but she knew enough to do what Creature said. Even if they did somehow have the firepower to win a fight in this situation, they were sitting ducks as they were now, and moving, even if it was back, was the best way to make sure the least amount of them died. She stumbled as she was pulled back, though she quickly found her footing in moving with the retreating group. "Shit, shit, shit." She glanced around, and the feeling in her gut that she oh-so-hated swelled once more. She was helpless, and reliant on the people around her to keep her safe. Her eyes moved towards their destination, or the general location they were headed to, she had no idea how far they would fall back.
Regardless, she kept within the group, her pace matching theirs, and her motions doing little to pull her forward or back. If she strode forward she would be a clear leading target, but if she fell back too much, she would be another clear target. Here, there were so few variables and none of them she could control, there was no overwatch, no tech to interact with and no way to oversee the battlefield or to even gain an idea of what was happening, there was simply chaos and disorder.
She hated it.
Arianne wrinkled her nose as the sound of gunfire echoed all around the chamber. The flashes of light caught her attention as she took a deep breath as she heard the call to fall back. They were exposed in a trap that was closing in around them. She did not want anyone else to die. The Ember had dimmed the glow of her Ijoma suit to help conceal her presence in the shadows but it hadn't mattered. There was only one way forward and only one way out. Her heart pounded in her chest and she felt the anxiety rising, she wanted to run too but, she had to do something. She quickly scanned the distance between all the members of their group.
Saule guide me. She raised her hands as she braced behind the wreckage of a tank to get out of a direct line of fire. She could handle energy bursts but kinetic rounds could only be slowed with the plating in her suit and she was not willing to find out what caliber the kinetic rounds were through experience. Her helmet deployed over her head as she drew energy from her power cells. May the threads that unite us allow me to protect everyone! Her eyes blazed cyan as she channeled her energy outward in a wave towards the rest of Azalea Company, emboldened by the temporary success of her shield in the earlier battle against the Atraxians. She reached out for the scouts returning to them and prayed for alacrity in the energy shield's deployment as she channeled her desire to protect her friends with her power if only for a few moments. "Gods be good! Hurry back!"
At the chasm.
Lukina was about to reply to Snek as the gunfire erupted. Her thought was to protect her Lady but her lady was more heavily armored than she. She had known the bridge was a trap but, there was no way around it. They needed the war machines inside of the city. "I don't intend to die to be claimed by a Gartagen god, my Lady." She felt the order to fall back pressing at the back of her skull. The scenario was suicide. They could press an advance but they were channeled. The half-elf was willing to bet that their retreat had been cut off as well. Forward to death or backward towards death. Her thoughts reached out to Creature. "Careful, they might be routing behind us too. Is there a sewer system here? We might be able to press in that way. Know anything about maintenance tunnel access somewhere or steps carved down the side of the chasm?"
Her stomach fluttered like it always did when she was pressed into a bad spot. Bullets grazed her cheek and caught her solidly in her armor. She was thankful to have the mail upgrade, her shroud wouldn't have helped her. She needed to move but even stealthed in shadow, the muzzle fire from her rifle would have attracted attention. She wondered if she could take the gamble and press across? If the had scanning equipment, she'd be screwed. If she was caught alone, she was screwed. Falling back was the best option but the company need covering fire.
She needed to get to higher ground or behind the enemy. The half-elf's mind raced, she needed to do something, she wasn't willing to abandon Bhelith either. She moved to the left of Bhelith and opened fire on the closest advancing team, using a focused 3 round burst. The weapon's pods struck her as odd as did the speed of the advance. "They can't be human," she murmured. "We need to leave." She activated her Shadowmail's stealth unit, not yet willing to break her promise to Bhelith and use magic as she changed her position again.
He fired two rounds before moving to the next. The rifle felt odd in his restored arms, but he was forced to adapt quickly. By the time the next two rounds went down the barrel and out the muzzle, he felt comfortable with it again. He kept putting two rounds down range three more times before the hammer hit the striker with a loud click. He pulled the rifle away from him with his left arm while his right drew the MacKinnon revolver in his pocket.
He tried the battery, which was dead and faulted. He switched the selector to projectile and slammed one round then five more in succession after it until it was empty. He didn't have his pistol belt anymore, he didn't have any ammunition to reload his revolver. He brought his arm back and pitched it like a madman.
He couldn't guess their distance behind approaching fast. He dug into his bandolier and began shoving rounds into his rifle, dropping down low to hope that this last stand would be painless but would come at a cost to his attackers. "Well, it was short. I don't want to die so I won't make it easy!"
Too canny a fighter to remain off balance for long, she quickly assessed her situation and decided on an immediate course of action. Rather than retreating, she dug in the balls of her toes and charged to the edge of the bridge, putting herself between the bulk of the enemy - approaching from their front - and the rest of the group.
Bhelith raised her shield, opened her mouth, gathered her power, and Spoke.
The sound was lost in the sudden outpouring of energy from the Paladin Armor. Blue light, tinged and laced with spirited black sparks, poured along the detailed green-gold embossing. Had Arianne been with the forward party she would have recognized the material that conducted magic; heartstone. Lukina and Snek would only feel the windfall from the sudden outpouring as the armor flared to life around its arcane bearer.
As bright as the oncoming lights were, Bhelith's shield erupted into a midnight brilliance that poured far out from the tower shield's already impressive length. The magic struck the top of the hallway and scraped hard against the edges before it shrunk to a more manageable size. Where it touched, it crackled like bitter, translucent lightning.
Bhelith's voice was amplified by the helmet, but it boomed in Lukina's head as well. She might feel the tug of power, like a chill along her spine. So might Bronzi or Sura.
"Lukina," she ordered, "I can only make this so wide, guard my flank - I cannot turn to help you, you will have to stop them passing me. And you - " There was a pause. A long pause. Bhelith did not recall Snek's name. "And you two others - join with Bob and cut us a path out! Quickly, move!"
Watching the armored elfess wax her power proved an impressive sight, but Bhelith knew the risk. The shield only guarded the one direction, and she could not turn around to help them. She would stop those behind, but could do nothing about clearing the path ahead of them, back to Creature and the rest of their company without dropping her guard. Her mailed fist clenched around her bared sword, taken from the Atraxian. Should any come within her reach, past her magical defense, she resolved to cut them down.
But Barlor was no inexperienced Pakoli, nor one new to warfare, after firing several rounds he tucked his rifle underneath his upper arm and got ready to dash out of his spot for a better position. But thats when he saw the one they called Bhelith use her,or at least what the wasp assumed, was her elven magic.
"Majicks?" He exclaimed to himself in bewilderment, almost baffled to the point of amusement which quickly disapeard as a flash of heat singed by his head. Quickly regaining his composure the Pakoli scurried back to find another piece of cover to begin his ballistic barrage.
A smoke grenade, pulling the pin and flinging it past his shoulder without looking towards the bridge, where it went off rather underwhelmingly after Bheltihs lightshow, spewing white gas indiscriminately over the bridge. But hey, they might accidentally run into the shield and neck themselves. The second item as an actual grenade, which Sneak leaned over for a few seconds and with a ripping sound, presented a duct-tape wrapped primitive sticky grenade with a string tied to the pin.
With that done, he promptly started running back towards the entrance with the rapid click-clack-click of tiny little claw bit as his small feet hit the ground, running up to and hauling up the prone Vella-00 by the belt and shoulders and trying to raise her above his head to carry her with him.
Scouting Party And The Black Spear
The magical defense Bhelith had set up, shimmered and glowed... However, the attackers were coming from all sides. The flashes of light signaling their appearance on the causeway. The "snipers, however, were not firing into Bhelith's position. They seemed to be holding their positions and waiting for something.
Lukina's expert shot was dead on. Only, so was the power of Bhelith's voice. The rifle round shattered against the magical barrier causing a water like a wave to cause the magical construct to shimmer. There was the sound of a soft thrumming. Or humming in the distance. Then Lukina heard a soft snap. Her vision flaired up with light, and then her world was consumed by darkness.
Vella's crossbow launched her bolt at the attacker she had targeted that was on the other side of the attack that had not been protected by Bhelith's shield.. The bolt was invisible but she scored a direct hit. The attacker was wearing a high technology combat suit from head to foot, but the hit did not make the attacker stumble. What Vella saw was a bright orange flash that confirmed to the body of the attacker and a loud high pitched crack at the sound of impact. Her bolt then clattered harmlessly on the causeway near the attacker. The Attacker raised his weapon and fired, the energy weapon making a loud pop as it was fired, and a red contrail formed. Vella felt pain from the "Bullets" and swiftly moved to speak to Bob.
Bob sprayed bullets down range at a group of advancing enemies. They suddenly fanned out and bounded away from his aim. A few of the rounds struck home causing their shields to Illuminate. They returned fire, the ordinance struking Bob's cover. White hot craters formed where they landed sending molton slag splashing about in small droplettes. Bob's vision however was soon confronted with Vella.
Bob, with his superior vision, saw that Adrenalin was taking over the Tiny Vella. The shot had indeed grazed Vella, but Bob could do little more than nothing as he noticed Vella's eye was now missing. Vella had a savage third degree burn across the entire side of her face. Then she was gone.
Barlor's shots struck Bhelith's shield causing it to ripple. From beyond that Barlor found that his target and its companions were not firing into the shield at all. They were moving rapidly, bounding over rubble with the ease of well condition athletes, and using the opportunity to seek out better cover. Turning about to look at the Empress, Barlor saw the attackers on the rear fire a weapon at Rorik. The sound was not the popping of the laser weapon, but rather, a short humming, then loud snap! There was a pulse in the air and Rorik was struck in the chest. Then consumed by that same flash of light that had signaled the arrival of the attackers.
Dallas had lifted his rifle to fire when one of the armored aliens lifted their oval-shaped gun pod at him. When Dallas' shots when off the bullets he used struck the attacker's body shield causing it to become visible. The bullets being deflected harmlessly away. Dallas heard that soft hum, then his vision became consumed with light. Everything then went black.
Creature Team 1
Jill felt the windfall from her chest. She was suddenly looking up at the cavern above. She couldn't breathe. One moment she was standing and the next, she opened her eyes and was lying flat upon her back. She could hear the screeching gunfire reverberating all around her of friendly weapons. Then she felt her self-moving. Creature had rushed over and picked her up and was now running from the battle along with Sura, and the rest of their troops.
Ari, who had stood cast her spell to protect her friends out at the bridge had put on a very good light show with her energy. This actually evoked a response from the alien soldiers who up until had been advancing in silence. They began chattering in their strange language excitedly and loudly. Ari's spell went off and seemed to boost Bhelith's shield, by completing it. Though it was temporary. Ari heard that soft hum, and then felt her body charge with an energy. Then she saw nothing but light, then darkness.
Calling on every sinew in her legs, and every artificial fiber of the Paladin armor’s load-bearing systems, Bhelith sprinted. She opened her mouth and called dusk. It had been years since she called, and she wasn’t sure if it would work, but she gathered the prayer and spoke the words anyway, relying on her armor’s supply of power as substitute for her own. If she could shroud herself, and her companions, in complete pitch blackness, it would give the ones that remained a higher chance of survival. Dark magic began to gather at the edges of her vision to dance across the surfaces of her hardsuit.
The monarch closed her eyes, completing the spell, and kept them closed, relying on memory. The corridor had been straight. The gradually sloping path upwards was the way out. She sheathed her borrowed sword as her ears strained for sound beyond the pounding of her own greaves, searching for one or both of the survivors. She might run into them, she knew, but if she did, she would either propel them forward bodily or pick them up and carry them. If they wouldn't follow orders, Bhelith struggled to find a good reason to give them. Still, she tried.
“Run!” she ordered to the idiots ahead of her, moving too quickly to curse them, even in her own mind. “Up the hall!”
Bhelith had seen Lukina disappear but could still feel her at the edge of her consciousness. Balor – whose name she didn’t mark and hadn’t remembered – might be in the same place. With her eyes closed, she could sense Lukina’s awareness. Alive, but elsewhere. Up, Bhelith felt, but up was a mountain. She resolved to sort it out when they had reached level ground.
Watching the scene unfold, the sharp minded creature realized something was wrong. Something Horribly, horribly wrong. But it didn't have time to think! It had to act! As the metal shrouds of the guns held under-tentacle slowly grew warm, it realized that it was grounded. Landed. No longer levitating. Black, nictitating membrane flicking over its set of eyes, the Sutakame gave out a roar as a column of flame fired out of its maw to engulf the enemy soldiers before growing in intensity, solidifying into a purple beam that cut right through their numbers. Or, at least, Bob really wished he could do something like that. No, quicker witted than most, Bob understood just how bleak of a situation they were in, and was afraid. Terrified. Reaching into the corners of its mind, Bob's fear and terror grew until Bhelith's sharp words cut through the air.
"R-right!" Blinking, Bob' mind cast out his fears. And right onto their assailants' minds instead, the psionic attack draining it as it began. "Suppressing! I don't know if I can hold this many of them!" the tiny voicebox he wore squawked. "Just do what Bhelith says! We're going!" it shouted at Vella. Only, she was gone. Carried away by that other strange alien. The fear that came onto the enemy forces only grew darker. Standing up on his tentacles, the creature began an awkward run, staying ahead of the power armor clad elf's shield so it could spray down bullets, covering their flanks as they all made to hopefully leap from the fire and into the skillet.
And hopefully not the other way around.
The sling of Vella’s rifle caught her weapon before it could impact with the ground. In one swift motion, Vella reached into her thigh holster, pulled out the hilt of her unactivated plasma blade, powered it on with a distinctive hiss, and thrust it down towards the outline of the top of the creature’s head. However, because of her missing eye, her misaligned vision carried the tip of her plasma blade towards her captor’s left clavicle, instead of his skull...
She tried to shift, to stand up so she could continue running for her life, but Creature interrupted her by picking her up and continuing to run with her in hand. "Ah shit-" She practically shouted. "Did I get hit?"
Arianne felt cold. Something was wrong. She knew it was wrong. The energy that had swallowed her was unfamiliar as was the accompanying darkness. It was too quiet. Her thoughts echoed in the nothingness. She vainly searched for the threads of life that were the Azalea company. Did she succeeded in protecting them if only for a moment, before she had been washed away? Would Saule forgive her for the sins forced by her hands? Was the darkness her punishment? To be forever alone and adrift until Mara claimed her? She hugged herself as she reached out, searching for another source of warmth.
Sneaks hand claws, meanwhile, grasped the tiny woman Vella from behind, hooking under her belt, and grasping the collar of her tactical vest. Taking a deep breath from his reservoir, Bob saw the tiny aliens pupils constrict to cats slits as he heaved the pink and purple wounded above his head and began carrying her at a run towards the exit which their enemies were trying to cut them off from.
Sneaks ears caught the loud hiss of the plasma blade even before the woman could swing his head had moved out of the way and the swing hit his shoulder instead, the hiss of superheated material and the stink of burnt flesh immediate to Vella as Sneak gave a howling, inhuman yelp. Instinctively his snout snapped down on Vellas arm, small, saw-like teeth biting deep into the fabric on her arm and into pining into flesh. The muzzle tearing the knife back out as Sneak tried to look ahead at the same time. The plasma of the blade already cauterizing the wound, the hint of white bone peeking through the seared hole in the stealth cloak.
The little aliens legs blurred with speed, even as it became clear that even this superlative effort would not get them to the exit in time. Sneaks erratic and moderately serpentine advance towards one wing of the enveloping force appeared to be only half done intentionally as they wrestled with Vella in his mouth. The speed of both forces advancing together meaning only a few seconds of opportunity were available. When Sneak closed in to about thirty feet heard Sneak take another dose of oxygen and rubberband like muscles wind up for a throw.
With a second high pitched yelp of effort, Vella was pitched directly towards one of the black suited enemies as a bludgeon. She had time to catch the blurred, colour shifting form of Sneak going low behind her. She might have even seen the duct-taped grenade in the little aliens hand.
Sneaks plan was stupid, but the little aliens mind had come up with the plan to evacuate the wounded, and open the way for his allies to escape themselves by using Vella as a distraction, and running past the attackers slapping the "sticky" grenade upon them as he ran past, and using the string as a safety delay before it pin was pulled out.
Jill felt Creature's hand grab her by her bicep with his prosthetic hand. She was up and on her feet, with Creature pulling her along. He responded to her question in a hurried fashion. "Don't think about." Creature said as he force-marched Jill forward along with him. Looking down Jill would see her harness had indeed been struck. She was hit dead center right in her chest, and there was a gaping hole in the suit. The flesh beneath it was damaged, severely burned, though she felt absolutely zero pain. Her outfit had kept out most of the hard stuff saving her life.
"Form up!" Creature shouted. The expedition had maybe thirty people. "Bronzi get on the right!, Sura hide behind the line!" Creature shouted, his raspy voice reverberating within the causeway. The expedition only had perhaps thirty people total. Bhelith's own guards, and Azalea shields bearers. The free company men turned about and formed into a shield wall. Their mismatched, handmade brigandine armor clattering as they formed into two rows, and presented their shields, and pistols. Creature then grabbed Jill by her waist and leaped over the line. He touched down with a heavy thump and put Jill down on to her feet. "Jill, you okay?"
Barlor rushed right up and was met with a challenge. The helmeted soldier with his composite armor rushed back at Barlor. When Barlor aimed his weapon, and fired, the figure spun blindingly fast, dodging the shot, and forcing himself closer to Barlor. A gun came up, and the soldier fired at near point blank range into Barlor's center mass.
Bob noticed something. They were surrounded. The soldier's had clear shots, but none of them were even being fired at the Empress. Not a single attempt by the enemy had been made to even try to slow Bhelith down. The enemy soldiers were, in fact, being so careful, that as he followed the Empress, they avoided even firing on him! They lowered their rifles, and gave the pair a wide birth, but kept sight of both of them
Bob's fear only grew when he realized it.
"Guys, guys! They're not shooting at Bhelith! They're trying so hard, they're not even shooting at me!" the tentacled alien worried over the voicebox it wore. Making sure to keep itself in the sweet spot it had found itself in, Bob continued to fire his two GPMGs, but started to aim more carefully himself as he tried to hose down anyone that was still firing at them. "Seriously, what's going on?!" Seeing the other bug alien thing get shot, the Sutakame worked the angles as best it could to try and force the opponent off of Barlor, letting loose a stream of lead and red tracers.
Even if they did manage to drag her to the best doctor on the planet there was no surefire way to know how much could be healed, regardless it would leave a nasty scar. Well, she was pretty enough, she could live with it. She tried to keep her mind off of the thought of how deep the burns might have gone. Her harness was busted to shit, and she had a feeling it would be a while before she could get to one of her spares. The only reason there wasn't a gaping hole in her chest was because of how much of her harness tech was kept on her chest, the shot had practically evaporated the battery and a good fat chunk of the circuits. Expense wasn't what she thought about, it was more the level of effort she would have to go through, whether or not it was worth it to repair it or simply update one of the older models she had.
"Second, third, or fourth degree burns." She responded with a frustrated grumble. A thought hit her, they were running away from the fight, yet she was hit in the front. "Fuck- If infection doesn't kill me the shooters ahead of us will. She grumbled once more, sweat streaking down her face. "Don't feel a fucking thing and that's not good, I'm hoping its adrenaline, if it starts hurting that's a good thing. If it burnt bone well-" She shrugged. "Then I guess it won't be my problem anymore." There was absolutely no point in lingering on the idea of dying, if she died, she died, and if she lived, then she'd keep living. "Creature, where's that powered suit... Thing we found coming in? If we can't get it running it's at least a place of cover."
The look in her eyes was different, and she fought the urge to pace. They were ambushed, and in that ambush they lost a lot, a hell of a lot. Not to say they had much to begin with, of course, but she could only imagine the number of people dead or injured. Captured? She was given a killshot, it seemed unlikely but it depended on their orders. She'd think on how to collapse the ceiling onto the enemy but given it was a Gartagen structure she anticipated that there wasn't enough explosives in the surrounding thousand kilometers. "This isn't right, too much dust, too many people." She couldn't figure it out, where did they come from? Was there a secondary entrance? Not important. "Creature, get me to that suit."
Using is strike as momentum, Barlor rotated around so that his back was towards Bhelith, hearing Bob's shout out to what was happening Barlor wanted to use his opportunity to back towards the rest of the group and hopefully gain some saftey or at lest more things around him as targets.
Shifting her shield off of her shoulder again, she left her sword in its buckled sheath and stuck out her gauntleted hand to Bob.
"Give me one of those machine guns."
The soldier's of Azalea held their shield wall and traded shots with the attackers, who had taken up position in the wreckage on either side of the causeway. The heavy shields gave Creature, Jill, Sura, and Bronzi adequate cover. Bronzi put his heavy gauss rifle to use, and the shrill screeching of the weapon, cause the attackers to hug cover. It did them little good, however, as the gauss, the Gartagens used made a mockery of the down vehicles and rubble. Creature called out another command. "Advance! They are trying to cut us off from the Empress; Bronzi takes command."
Creature pulled in intimately close to Jill. He was nose to nose with her, so that she could not see him fumbling around at his waist. Creature turned and looked at the old battered Exo armor that half a hundred meters away, then looked at Jill. He suddenly stabbed a dermal syringe into her wounded flesh. Jill could see a colloidal slush swirling with red-black oily blood in the translucent base of the syringe. The device whirred softly, and she could feel pain in her chest. Intense burning, then cooling. "Yea, feel honored. I don't often do that shit for people but you aren't in any shape to run" Creature said gravely hiss to his voice. "But that's a good fucking idea. Let's do it." He said with a sharp nod. "
Sneak had thrown Vella into an enemy fire team. The as for their training fanned out and halted their advance. It was a brazen and bold move. Vella screamed, she announced her intention. Vella landed and found her footing was off, but she came out swinging her weapon anyway. the Soldier did not even hesitate. The plasma blade sheered through the air and struck the long oval shaped weapon of the enemy soldier. The soldier blocked the second and third attacks with a quick side to side movement of the weapon. Then in a single motion, the weapon's stock sent back at Vella down into her chest. Vella heard a crunch. She suddenly couldn't breathe. She had taken hits in training before, but never like this. The force of the strike sent her tumbling across the asphalt back towards Sneak.
As Vella's attack commenced, Sneak soon found the other three alien soldiers did not remain idle. They all in unison open fired, and the thunderclap of their laser weapons reverberated around the Sneak. Sneak was struck three times. Twice center mass, and he felt more around his hip.
CRACK! Barlor's rifle struck, but the enemy soldier sent its own rifle up and parried the attack. Barlor heard the alien curse in its strange language. But the remark did not seem frustrated. It was mocking, the tone was that of contempt. Barlor did not need to know the alien tongue to get the sense that he was found to be disgusting. Barlor felt a sharp shock of pain as a counterblow was delivered into his back by the alien. The blunt strike of the alien weapon had hit the exit wound on Barlor's back. Barlor was sent forward, and face planted directly into the ground. The alien soldier then drew a long, straight double-edged sword bared down on Barlor aiming to finish him off.
Bhelith and Bob pressed on until a Holographic image appeared before them. It was a small symbol. The crest of Liang, as it was before the world had been taken and renamed. The soldiers hugged covered and continued to pursue the pair, however, they held their fire and remained cautious in the face of the Empress. A voice called out in perfect Liange Elvish. "Lord Empress, your presence is required. We have been instructed to apologize to you for the attack and destruction your subjects. Certain illusions must be kept."
Vella had not been on the ground for more than a second, when she moved stand up. With no small amount of effort, she managed to pick up her plasma knife as well. Then, Vella attempted to take a single step, but to her horror, the undersized soldier found that her lungs were unable to sustain the aerobic activity necessary for her body to perform what her will sought to execute. Her legs buckled underneath her mass, as the rest of her muscles began to fail. Suddenly, there seemed to be nothing left but pure adrenaline, which could only sustain intense activity in her broken body for so long. As she unleashed a cry of frustration that came out only as a sharp gasp for air, Vella squeezed the hilt of her plasma knife, and with all the energy and pent up adrenaline that she had left channeled behind it, she heaved the knife towards the chest of the closest enemy soldier, before finally collapsing to the pavement in a small pool of her own blood...
“What you are doing,” she told the projected image, “Is declaring war.”
She turned and swept the area with her eyes, spotting an object with which to demonstrate. The machine gun snapped up, and she squeezed the trigger without blinking as it belched a long volley at the Taianese Soldier standing over Barlor. She didn’t know the bug, but damn the gods, she would have the life of at least one of these presumptuous sons of bitches.
But it never came.
Out of what seemed like nowhere was a hail of bullets that spattered into his assailant, wounding or at least catching him off guard which was all Barlor needed. With a well practiced precision he chambered another round into his rifle with his spare set of arms. Once the round was ready the insectoid thrust his rifle with his own square tipped knife at the end like a bayonet into the chest of his opponent.
"Something for you to remember" He said in his own native Valsh, twisting his rifle to turn the blade embedded in the soldier's chest, "Boast after your opponent is dead"
With that he pulled the trigger, green flame erupting out of the back of his would be killers chest like a small emerald volcano, quickly calming to a light blue smokey haze of after charge.
The Pakoli was satisfied, but quickly remembered that there was a battle going on and would relish his victory later. With a sharp kick he removed the lifeless body from the end of his rifle and with a grunt he got back to his feet. As soon as he was steady he made a break for the relative safety of Bhelith and her entourage.
Sneak fell forwards with a distinct click and slid face-down to the feet of the soldier that had engaged Vella as she was flung back past him. There was a small, wet cough from the tiny body at their feet before with a groan Sneak rolled over and with a loud clunk, smacked the duct-taped grenade to the power armored figure standing over him, sans charge handle, its shiny form laying on the ground where he had originally fallen.
Unfortunately with his small arms the only weak spot he could reach was his enemies groin. And so there now stood a probably surprised soldier, staring down with explosives strapped to their cod-piece and the bloody grin of sharp teeth looking up at them from below.
Sneak wished he could have apologized to the purple one, it had been a desperate gamble, and he had forced her into it. He wished he could have been harder, faster, better. He hoped his uncle did not think too poorly of him for dying on his first mission. He prepared to leave this dream and go to the next one. This instant lasted a small eternity for him, but was nothing for the rest of the world.
The grenade went off.
There probably wasn't a whole hell of a lot left of Sneak by now. Meaty chunks and gristle hardly counted as a body. The shredded and torn chameleon cloak fell to static, random patterns playing over itself, including the probably surprised black helmet of the soldier whose groin had just been tenderized. But quickly it too dimmed, and nothing moved from the little pile of cloth and meat, and bone.
The only thing that came from it was a single radio burst from the dead-man transponder implanted in Sneaks skull behind the eye. It was heard.
"Oh, not again, not again!" its voice-box crackled with static. Firing long bursts into the slowly settling smoke, hoping to keep the enemy's head down, his limbs reached out towards the diminutive woman lying in a pool of her own blood. "Spin, spin, everything's spinning!" the turtle like creature's speaker box squawked at the enemy, its mind reaching out like a hand to try and slap their world into a twisting, spiraling mess. Placing Vella on the back of its hump, it started to frantically backpedal as fast as it could as helpless memories of someone else rose up into its mind like a beast rising from a swamp.
She let out a small, involuntary scream as the pain mounted her in the first wave of its approach. It felt as if someone was pressing a hot iron to her flesh from the inside, before slapping the outside with a block of ice like a flyswatter. She shifted to her feet and turned to the powered suit, breaking into a run towards it. She wasn't the fastest runner so she had no doubt in thinking that Creature would surely surpass her, and honestly it was the option she preferred considering he would simply get back up if they put a hole in her chest. Syringe or not, she knew that she wouldn't survive a second. If only she knew where the sniper was, then she could at least try to put the large suit between her and the shooters.
"Get it opened up and dump the corpse out, we need to use it like a battering ram on steroids. They have shooters behind us, they want us to retreat into them, if anything." She shouted out to Creature. Her harness was dead, the battery and its limited AI busted, leaving her with dead weight she wouldn't be able to simply shed.
The bullet's from Bhelith's rifle struck the soldier center mass. The energy shields protecting the soldier flickered and popped as they deflected the heavy bullets harmlessly off of them. However, the force caused the soldier to slow just long enough for Barlor to recover and get to his feet.
As Barlor advanced he could hear the soft thrumming of the shield barriers recycling. This was his chance. His bayonet struck the soldier center mass, and he could feel the weapon break through the light armor of his foe with a brief pop. Flesh lay under those shields and armor. The helmeted head of the soldier lifted its chin up at Barlor, then the sword of the soldier flicked up. The blade struck Bhelor at the base of his thigh and went up across the thorax. Barlor was strong, but the strength and speed of this soldier matched his enough so, that it broke Barlor's grip just as he squeezed the trigger. A green flame erupted out of the back of his would-be killer's chest like a small emerald volcano, quickly calming to a light blue smokey haze of after charge. The soldier spun and fell down.
The plasma knife was thrown true. Vella sent everything she had into one last strike at the enemy who had caused her some pain. The soldier watched the girl stand up, draw the weapon and then throw it held its position. When the plasma knife left Vella's diminutive hand, the soldier's weapon snapped up and fired. The laser clapped, and a red contrail streaked outshooting the knife out of the air, sending the weapon tumbling away.
The two additional soldiers were caught off guard by Sneak's death or glory surprise attack. They had reckoned that they had shot whatever it was that had thrown Vella to pieces. So when they saw slide across the ground at them they, with superhuman speed and reflexes they scattered. Sneak's grenade left his hand but did not connect with the enemy soldier. The result was that the grenade was seemingly thrown a short distance in the middle of their grouping. The grenade gently left Sneak's hand, lightly tossed missing its intended target and landing on the causeway ground. The grenade detonated sending an air burst explosion in all directions. More importantly, however, the force of the grenade launched the enemy soldiers away, causing their shields to illuminate then collapse. Sneak who had anticipated death found that today was his lucky day. He felt pain. Like he had been struck with a wooden plank as he was sent rolling across the causeway floor. He would open his eyes and see Vella laying helplessly only a few meters away. Beyond him, he could see the enemy soldiers were quickly getting back to their feet, and gathering their wits as they had like Sneak survived the surprise attack.
Bhelith got a response to her statement the moment Bob abandoned her side. "No, not war, merely a charade. Yes, we are declaring a charade. Your questions will be answered. The sooner you hold still the sooner we will leave your...people alone." Came a flat androgynous response from the holographic symbol.
Bob moved and focused his inner mind outward to the enemy soldiers near Vella and Sneak. Bob could the extra appendage of his mind Feel Vella. She was in pain, scared...and fading. Sneak was not in much better shape. The Enemy soldiers. They were dazed the explosion had dazed them. One of them was in pain and struggling to figure out what was wrong. The room began spinning for them. The dizzyness coupled with the disorientation caused the fire team to start to attempt to fall back. One of the soldier dropped its arm, and attempted to follow, promptly falling over.
Bob had cleared his objective. But getting there. A laser shot popped past him. Then he felt himself rock, as he was struck across his Left side of his shell. Sparks fled and Bob could feel the heat from the hit against his body. The Soldiers trailing Bhelith had left him be, but he could more soldiers had taken up positions and were attempting to stop him. Another laser struck, then another. Bob took several hits. Bob fired back wildly, his bullets peppering across the alien shields, causing them to jolt with each impact and having to regain their footing. But he made it to Vella and Sneak. His speed put him ahead of his foe, but he knew he had to get Vella and Sneak to safety. Tentacles stretched out, then suddenly Bob felt him self-fall. A laser cut through some of the tentacles supporting his weight. Bob's flow flowed, and three of his tentacles flailed about wildly on across the causeway. Bob could see the explosions down the causeway. Azalea had formed up and was pressing forward. He could hear the sound of laser fire striking their heavy shields, and Azalea returning fire. But he had abandoned the Empress to her fate.
Creature and Jill
Creature anticipated Jill was not as fast as he was on foot. So, he pulled out a small device and looped it around his prosthetic hand. He then clinched the prosthetic and the device activated. Creature then removed the prosthetic and shoved it into Jill's harness, between her breasts. "There you go, I can't sit there protecting you from in coming fire but this should keep you from getting shot again. Oh also..sorry about the pain and shit...the nerve endings regrow and it feels...bad." He said turning and continuing to run.
Creature moved to circle around one of the ruined tanks. Boots kicking rocks and smacking against the pavement, when Jill saw from the corner of her eye a blur of movement. One of the enemy soldiers rushed out, with a sword reminiscent of one she had seen in an ancient Chinese painting. The sword shrieked as it struck Creature's armor. Creature was caught off guard but responded by catching his assailant's arm under his own. He spun throwing his foe away from him.
Creature had his back facing Jill. Creature then began backing up towards her. The soldier had landed on its feet and was standing with the sword aimed at Creature. Jill then saw another sword-wielding soldier come around from the other side of the tank, effectively cutting them off. Creature had his maimed left hand held up defensively, and his right hand reached for the hilt of his strange two-handed sword. "Jill." Creature said flatly. "Stay behind me."
The alien soldiers with the Strange glowing armor spoke in cold unison. "Nimen yiqi sile."
Creature drew his sword, and it popped activating with a halo of blue light around the edge. He belched. "Fuck you."
Her psionic signals emitted a mix of fear, confusion, pain, and distress. Vella’s mind was in a true state of crisis, as she attempted to reckon with the seemingly inevitable reality of her impending death. At that moment, she realized just how little time had passed since she had walked out of the growing chamber. There was so much that she had wanted to accomplish and so much that she had left unfinished. Yet, it seemed that death saw fit to take her from the tenuous arms of life not even a full year after her birth.
If divine beings existed, Vella wondered what she would tell them when she reached the gates of the afterlife. How would she convince them to let her pass through the pearly gates when she had accomplished so little? Had the effects of her existence been a net positive upon the world? Would anyone even bother to remember her life, after she died?
These thoughts and more poured forth from the abyss of her panicked consciousness. Her eyes were wide open and unblinking, while the expression that marked Vella’s face bore little resemblance to that of the perky and spirited young woman who had existed only a few minutes before. One more thought passed her mind before she finally lost her grip on awareness.
What was next?
I will have to get this repaired. He thought to himself as he limped back towards Bhelith, his four arms moving slowly to make his rifle ready to fight again. Clearly the Pakoli was in poor shape but his stubborn pragmatics kept him going.