miércoles, 19 de mayo de 2010

Chapter Fifteen

Lord’s Temple
The Fortress

Step by step he descended, a black tarry substance clinging to his boots. There was a dullness to the faint light playing on the walls around him, as though it impinged onto the surface and was quickly absorbed. This did not concern Walters, his enhanced senses clearly saw each step, their trail disappearing into the distance.

His descent seemed timeless, lulling him into a false sense of security with its monotonous repetition. Shaking his head to clear it, he realised he had stopped moving. Peering around, the only thing that seemed to have changed was the absence of steps. Then he saw a pulse of light and re-oriented himself, and drawing his sword paced slowly towards its faint luminescence.


Berbatov stared warily at the entrance then grunted.

“You,” he said pointing at one of his men, “get yourself up top and see what’s going on. Then get back here. Okay?”

The soldier nodded, shouldering his weapon and setting off immediately.

“Oy!” the soldier skidded to a stop, “and bring down some comm.unications equipment. Tell Jimmy we’re feeling lonely.”

Laughing, the soldier continued on his way.


Outer Approaches
The Fortress

Sargeant ‘Jimmy’ James, at that moment would have much rather been inside the safety, as he thought it, of the Fortress. He cursed and ducked as a laser bolt clipped the top of his shoulder. Things were getting decidedly hairy here.
Instead of calling his troops back out of the Fortress, he had decided to get everyone he could inside. With the gates closed, they would be able to control the situation better. Any artillery would have to blast its way in, and they could pour fire down upon attacking infantry. It just hadn’t worked out that way.

They had not even gotten half-way, when the first enemy troops struck and he had been forced to mount a defence. Luckily their enemy had been more eager than smart and so he had been able to hold them. Leftenant Wilson had led the men inside and his task was to mount covering fire for their retreat. He still, however, had not reached his position and more Taurans were arriving every moment longer he took.

“Shaw!” he shouted at the recently arrived trooper, “Get your men and equipment inside now! And take Williamson with you!”

“Yes, Sargeant, but what are you going to do?” queried the trooper.

“Thought I’d stay for a while for a chat with our friends,” quipped James, “Now move!”


Geostationary Orbit
Church Fleet

Artix was laughing uncontrollably, he was actually enjoying this. His stomach had flipped when they left the Attack Carrier, but now the adrenalin rush had hit. Wave after wave of craft had left the vessel and were about to enter the atmosphere of the planet.

He squirmed in his seat with excitement, first they had to land but then they would take the Fortress, wiping out Walters and any Taurans who remained. It really was quite simple.


Outer Approaches
The Fortress

“Die!” screamed James, slamming his combat blade into the Tauran’s neck. He stomped once, grinding the heel of his boot into another of them on the floor in front of him and staggered back. They were almost to the walls of the Fortress and were now down to close-quarter fighting. Covering fire was useless here as the angle of shot was almost non-existent.

With a roar Wilson led a wave of K’ran and troopers out of the gates to beat back the enemy’s attack once more.

“Sir, sir!” screamed Williamson in a high pitched voice, “Look!”

James’ gaze followed the soldiers pointing finger and saw a stupendous light show in the sky.

“We’re saved Sir, reinforcements, Sir!” squealed the private excitedly.

“No, we’re not,” said James quietly, “our only relief is down below.”


Lord’s Temple
The Fortress

Walters had entered what seemed to be a tunnel whose walls, although covered with the black coating, were clearly not natural. There was an underlying circular shape, not hewn by hand, but rather looking as though they had been excavated by some type of machine.

He used his free hand to guide him as he moved cautiously forward, until he came out into a large cavern. The light had gradually increased in intensity and now he could see some sort of structure in the distance. Gripping his sword tightly, he strode purposefully towards it.

More and more details came into focus with each step; the construction was huge, some sort of pyramid rising high into the blackness above. Its top was an indistinct jumble of shapes, yet he could clearly see the layered levels reaching upwards.
It was cleanly sculpted, at least that was the impression he had from the two sides which were apparently free of contamination. The face of the structure in front of him was covered in the black substance, whose pattern tapered upwards to a point hidden in the shadows above.

Pulses of green light occasionally broke the gloom from an indistinct point near, to what he assumed, was the peak of the pyramid, illuminating the area around the structure. It was a beacon, drawing him onwards.

Finally, he reached the first stepped level and could see bloated and broken bodies, buried into the blackened surface. Not only human and Taurans, but stranger, more alien forms. An occasional weapon poked out, its location a mute testament to the final struggle of its owner.

Ever upwards he climbed, knowing that he fought against the urge to run away, an almost physical pressure pushing against him. Somehow, he was sure that if he turned back now he would be lost, consumed by some unknown force, and so he pressed on.


Upper Atmosphere
Unnamed Planet

Turbulence boiled around the craft as it entered the planet’s atmosphere. Inside Inspector Artix and his companions held onto to the nearest convenient support. Then they were through, into the clear and freezing air of high altitude.
Time dragged, but eventually came the expected warning.

“Target acquired, ready for landing. Zone is hot, repeat, zone is hot!”

The craft rocked to incoming fire and Artix began to sweat, in counterpoint to his comrades, who grinned savagely. With the slightest of bumps, they were down.

“We have a go! Good hunting!” roared the man at his side, as the doors cranked open.


Lord’s Temple
The Fortress

At last he reached the light source; it was not exactly at the zenith of the pyramid, rather down two levels and slightly to one side. It came from the pommel of a sword. The sword skewered through the remains of a huge body, alien to his eyes. It had been left, pinioning the supposedly long dead creature to the stonework. Then the large head lifted, rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, and its eyes opened.

Enormous yellow orbs stared at him, a dark slash from top to bottom as an iris. A black liquid bled slowly from them and dripped to the floor. With a disgusting sucking sound it opened its mouth, filled with row upon row of dagger-like teeth, streamers of ichor pulled slowly apart as it moved. A long serpentine tongue snaked out of its mouth and it spoke, its sibilant voice causing the beast within Walters to react.

“Wait, my son,” it hissed, “I called you here. You alone can free me.”

“I don’t remember receiving the invitation,” answered Walters, “in fact there were a few of your boys there, who made me feel just a little bit unwelcome.”

“A mistake,” it replied, “nothing more.”

“That’s not quite how it felt, but hey who am I to argue?” said Walters casually, “Now what was it I can do for you?”

“Release me,” the thing pleaded, “and join me in my conquest of this world and beyond.”

“Just a few questions first,” he responded, “before I think about meeting your demands.”

“We don’t have much time,” it answered.

“And why exactly is that?” queried Walters, stalling as he looked around.

“There are those coming who would destroy us, who have no piety in their hearts. Even now they approach,” the creature hissed in what appeared to be fear.

“I’m sure we still have a little time, my men will hold whoever they are for at least a short while,” said Walters placatingly, “Now, where were we? Oh, yes, you were going to tell me a little bit more about yourself, weren’t you?”

“I am S’sthir, and first tread upon this planet ages past. I have walked the corridors of folded space and mastered its intricacies. Held dominion over men and foul beasts. I cannot remember how long I have been here,” it began, “although I remember very well my traitorous betrayer. He who left me as I am, thinking I would die a slow death. But I survived!”

Remaining silent, Walters waited for it to continue.

“It had been rumoured that the Hand of S’star was hidden here, a rather insignificant trinket but of great sentimental worth to my people. We travelled far in search of it, finally arriving on this world. We were close to achieving our objective when the cursed one struck me down, piercing my body with his sword and pinning me to this rock.”

“What about this unimportant trinket?” asked Walters disbelievingly.

“It is here, close,” it murmured guardedly, “I found a way of communing with it through devout prayer, maintaining my life spark. When the Taurans arrived on this planet and placed their worthless altar over the hidden entrance, I awoke. Their barbarous rites fed me, they mistakenly thought that they were in contact with one of their foul gods and I let them continue in this misunderstanding.

“The one they called the Lord, drew on my power to create those you call K’ran and with each day I grew stronger. When you threw down K’shir I aided your change and waited for you to come to me.”

“And with all your wondrous power, you couldn’t…?” here he indicated the sword hilt.
“It is cursed!” screamed the beast, “it is like a burning iron, thrust deep within me! Do you not see my tears!”

“So …,” summarized Walters, “you came here to steal some sort of artefact, had a disagreement with someone, who thought you dangerous enough to treat you so kindly. Then you were able to control the Taurans through the usurpation of their malignant rites. You saw an opportunity in me and now you feel I owe you something? Is that about right?”

“Do not mock me,” S’sthir shrilled, as he squirmed violently. “Obey me, or I will be forced to destroy you!”

“Stick around here,” grinned Walters maliciously, “and I’ll just go and have a little peek at what’s at the top of this little hill.”

Thrashing violently, S’sthir screamed and threatened to no avail. Walters ignored him and continued upwards to the top of the pyramid.


Outer Approaches
The Fortress

Shuttles slammed to earth, fliers roared overhead strafing their enemies below whilst others landed to spew forth their contents. Engines growled, battle cries rent the air, explosive rounds smashing into the Taurans, and this was just the beginning.

Sargeant James lowered his field glasses, a look midway between awe and shock crossing his face.

“What is it Sargeant?” asked Leftenant Wilson worriedly, “What did you see?”

“Trouble,” mumbled James, glancing back to the Fortress and wondering where Walters was.

“How so? Who is it?” queried the Leftenant persistently.

“Everyone’s worst nightmare,” replied James, the vision of the huge shapes, in light grey armour literally exploding into action as they leapt from their craft.

“Church Elite,” he continued, mentally praying for Walters’ arrival, “Immortals!”

lunes, 17 de mayo de 2010

Chapter Fourteen

Church Attack
Lower Approaches

Wolfe screamed as the sharpened stake rammed into his side, the brute force behind it punching through his greatcoat. He felt his skin tear and the momentum of the blow flung him backwards against the men behind. Struggling, he tried to rise, but there was no purchase to be gained from the blood-smeared bodies around him.

The laughing beast pressed its weight down, effectively pinning him into position and he scrabbled franticly for his pistol. General Wolfe could not remember dropping the weapon, just as he had no recollection of how the battle had turned. One minute they had been advancing, the next they had been overrun by a mob of hooting, leering monstrosities.

Staring upwards into the twisted face, he recognised his own death mirrored in the monster’s eyes. There was absolutely nothing he could do.

Spittle dropped onto his forehead from the creature’s mouth transfixing him with its fall. The patter of the liquid onto his skin mesmerised him, so much so that he almost missed the final blow. He was, however, not to be given the blissful release of unconsciousness.

Intentionally the thing released its weight from the end of the wood and grasping the stake in both hands pulled. Again Wolfe cried out and in this moment of tremendous pain, he watched the point move downwards towards his eye. Its splintered and blood-smeared surface etched with a supernatural clarity in his mind.


Field Headquarters
Church Command

Hamner sat curled into a corner, he had at last lost all reason. Communication transmissions played endlessly over and over in his mind. The cries for help, the screams, muted gunfire as a constant backdrop.

Enemy forces had broken through the Church Guard’s lines in a number of places. Wolfe had regrouped time and again, but still they pressed ever onwards.

A frantic knocking broke into his semi trance-like state, it was nothing, soon it would go away.

“General, General!” There was no answer.

“General, Captain Arnesson says the Tauran Forces are nearly upon us. We must evacuate this area, immediately. General!”

Silence was the only reply.

The communications operator turned away, determination in his visage.

“Have it your way,” he muttered as he tossed the copy of the message onto the floor.

Lower Levels
The Fortress

They were close now, Walters could smell the difference in the air and he raised his hand ordering a halt. He took two steps forward and then dropped to all fours as the first abomination attacked. Rolling to his feet, he drew his sword and cut sideways, the blade biting into the thing before him and neatly severing one of its limbs. It remained upright, and turned to face him.

The creature was roughly human shaped, but seemed to have been sloppily put together. Random body parts protruded at impossible angles, held together by some sort of dark gel. A face stared out from the centre of its chest, frozen in mid scream. There had been originally four arms, one now a stump from which dripped a slow, black ichor. Two arms sprouted from its back and the remaining appendage waved maddeningly from its left side.

It shambled forward again, and Walters leapt to the attack, his sword cleaving through unresisting blackness and splitting the horrendous face in half.

More arrived, stumbling from open doorways, until they were surrounded. The K’ran began to back away, but Berbatov barged past them, scything his halberd through the closest and most hideous monster, his men following eagerly.

One of the K’ran edged too close and a vomit of black bile poured over it. Rapidly smoke began to rise from the K’ran’s fur, then flesh boiled and the beast screamed. Before their very eyes its body shrunk and collapsed to leave nothing more than a wet and ragged bundle of fur and bones.

Laser rifle fire did nothing, the blasts passing through the abnormally viscous entities, here and there striking human remains, but with no visible effect. By now, Berbatov and his men had resorted to their bladed weapons and their apparent tactic was to hew, cut, hack and slash their opponents into the smallest pieces possible.
Looking past his last attacker, Walters saw an almost endless stream of the creatures, manufactured with only one thought in mind. He drew deeply on his well of power, more so than ever before, his eyes became an incandescent green, matched only by that of his now flaming sword. Berbatov looked up; his eyes too had taken on the feral caste of the K’ran as had those of all his fellows. In awe, they watched as Walters body visibly swelled, corded muscles filling and expanding.

Around his head crackled a nimbus of electrical discharge, which flashed across to ground itself through the soldiers’ weapons. It did not burn, nor kill. Each man was filled with an indescribable energy, a raw unstoppable power and they rose as one to their feet.

Walters first strike shattered the thing in front of him into microscopic pieces, all semblance of life destroyed at the touch of his blade. Berbatov spun in position and dropped to one knee, his hands rapidly sliding down the shaft of the halberd. When it was at its full extension, it whistled through the air, shearing clean through his enemy. He used its momentum to pull him back to his feet and grinned encouragingly at his men.

Silently, grimly they butchered their way down the corridor, Walters at their lead.
The K’ran followed behind them, slashing claws adding to the charnel house atmosphere. Still they came, mindless automatons, their mute defiance refusing passage. Walters, however would not be denied, and little by little they gained ground, ever closer to that which awaited them below.


Geostationary Orbit
Church Fleet

Inspector Artix sat stoically in his unbearably uncomfortable seat, flak jacket cinched tightly, pistol across his knee. Bodies pressed closely around him, as the craft was readied for departure.

He had ignored Captain Arnesson’s frantic pleas for permission to evacuate personnel from the Guard’s headquarters on the planet below. Hamner and Wolfe had served their purpose. Artix had demanded a distraction and he had been duly rewarded. Now it was his turn, his time. They would drop directly onto the Fortress and eliminate any opposition there.

Being a great believer in overwhelming force, he had made sure that nothing would be left to chance. Engines roared and he felt the craft move, heard the intonation of prayers to Him, and weapons being checked one last time.

His body was pressed into the seat as the craft lifted off and then, he too, began to pray.


Outside Approaches
The Fortress

Sargeant James scanned the area before him and could see nothing. They had received no word from the Major and he was starting to become nervous. His orders were clear, yet they had all felt the surge of energy, the undeniable call to arms and he did not know what to do. Finally, he decided to wait, just a little while longer.


Field Headquarters
Church Command

There was only silence now. Hamner had heard the shouts, the sound of running feet and rapid fire orders, the roar of engines and then nothing. This had been some time ago and he was frightened.

The General called out at first weakly and then at the top of his lungs, but there was no reply. Finding courage from somewhere he left his room and timidly scurried down the corridor. Communications was empty, as was the Dining area. The Control Room was bare of human presence, chairs lay toppled on the floor, papers strewn everywhere where they had been discarded. He was alone.

Moving cautiously he reached the main exit to the vehicle assembly area and found the doors locked. From outside he heard a faint scratching and muffled voices. Excitedly he flung the doors open, gasping in his eagerness to end his solitude.

“I’m here.” he shouted, in his haste forgetting all protocol.

There was a grunt, a hissing and then a blood splattered axe blade was buried deep into his skull. The Tauran looked at him, blinked and then continued his search.

Lower Levels
The Fortress

“Not…..much….further…to…go!” grunted Berbatov as he swung his weapon back and forth, clearing the path before him.

The creatures had become less and less human and more and more amoeba-like the deeper they reached into the Fortress. It seemed as though whatever was manufacturing them, was running out of body parts.

There was no reply from Walters, his concentration appeared fixed on only one goal, and he methodically destroyed all that stood in his way.

“Okay,” muttered the Sargeant, “but we’ll talk about this later:”

Walters stopped and looked at him, the light fading slightly from his eyes.

“Having fun, yet?” he growled.

“Oh, frak yes!” grinned Berbatov, reassured that the Major was still there.


Outer Approaches
The Fortress

James had taken his decision and had begun to move his men into the Fortress in a disciplined manner. It was, he decided, no good waiting any longer where he was.
They had received no contact either from Tauran or Church forces and he would much rather be fighting by the Major’s side, than stuck here living through an interminable wait. There were still half of his men outside when he heard the unmistakable sound of engines and began to rue his decision.

“What the hell is going on?” he shouted to no-one in particular.

“Churchmen, Sir,” responded his communication -operator. “I’m getting chatter on the open circuit.”

“Who?” he snapped, worriedly.

“What’s left of the Guards forces, Sir. And they’re coming in hot.” replied the man.

“Hot? What’s that supposed to mean?” asked James.

“It seems they’ve got all the fires of hell on their tail, sir.” answered the soldier looking up at him. “And they’re asking for our help...”


Trooper Iain Shaw had acted immediately upon the lack of response from General Hamner’s quarters. He had been the one who had been in touch with Leftenant Wilson and passed on the co-ordinates of Walters’ position. Like a number of his comrades, he was what remained of the Lutheran 5th amongst the headquarters staff. Over time, he had ferreted out quite a few people who were disgruntled with the treatment of their fellow soldiers and he had finally acted.

They had overpowered the guards around three of the reserve vehicles, shooting and killing whoever had stood in their way. Then they taken the long way round, breaking through the Taurans’ flank and had made a direct line for the Fortress.
It had not taken long for their enemies to react and now they were here, running for their lives.

Shaw heard the crackle of the incoming message and bent down to listen.

Lord’s Temple
The Fortress

Finally they stood before the door to the altar room, breathing heavily. No more of the deformed creatures sallied forth, even so they waited.

Turning, Walters spoke, “This is something that I need to do alone. Wait here.”

“Major,” argued Berbatov, “do you really think you can take them all on, alone.”

“Don’t you?” replied Walters quietly.


Outer Approaches
The Fortress

The three vehicles roared through the opening lines of warriors and shuddered to a stop in a cloud of dust. Shaw climbed down and saw a Sargeant approach, and stood to attention.

“Trooper Shaw, reporting for duty, Sargeant.” he shouted.

“Well,” said James, “you seem to have brought some friends with you.”

Following the Sargeant’s gaze, he saw exactly what he had meant, the surrounding hills were alive with movement.

“Sorry, Sargeant,” he replied.

“Not to worry, son,” responded James, “not to worry.”


Lord’s Temple
The Fortress

Walters stood in front of the dark, uninviting space. A mist still swirled around the entrance, clinging to the extremities as though reluctant to allow him passage. The faint green light pulsed strangely through the haze, adding an almost ethereal touch.

A low melody played softly from below, no longer inviting, its tones now harsh and discordant. He looked back once to where Berbatov and the others waited and then entered.