The silvery projectile left the Gauss rifle in a blur, rocketing through the control room and splattering part of that which was Magos against the walls. It did not, however, totally destroy what was fast becoming Master Arshavin once again. His many years of mutation and adaptation, had made him extremely hard to kill, and both more and somewhat less than human.
Whilst in his semi-machine state, he was still connected to all that was the construct, and he futilely tried to regain control. He was slapped mentally and watched helplessly, as the drone ships began to reform, their programming different somehow, as they blatantly disobeyed him.
He screamed as the last of his links were ripped asunder and once again, he was nothing more than one cast out ex-Tauran. Despair crashed in upon him, as his creatures disobeyed and rushed to do someone else’s bidding. All, though, was not lost, and as he braved the lack of atmosphere, his smashed control room and the less than responsive controls, he dragged himself to his survival pod.
Whoever had done this would pay, thought Arshavin, it was not over quite yet. Once inside the escape craft, he activated a sequence of keys manually, over-riding the ship’s own constraints and launching his lifeboat. It was no mere escape pod, his tinkerings over the centuries had seen to that for all of his creations. Sat cocooned in his new metal shell, he directed himself away from the remains of his construct, there would be time for a new Magos, something different and certainly less susceptible to destruction.
Marius was no longer quite human; the change process within the pupae had rebroken demon-twisted bones and grown new ones. The genetic pattern, held within the winged remains had been dominant over his remaining humanity and had burnt the tainted spores away. What now strode forth from the liquid remains of the pupae, was something much more; a new and improved version.
The circle of adoring creatures continued to croon encouragingly and Marius stopped, his head cocked on one side, as he watched them. His new eyes were bright, whirling with a myriad of colours and his movements were precise and avian-like. His hair was gone and a downy covering of feathers not only protected his bald pate, but had spread across his whole body, their rich blue colour striking.
His legs were long and spindly, seemingly too weak to support his upper body and its massively muscled chest. The need for such a powerful upper body was revealed as he stretched, and his creamy-white wings unfolded. He held them out to dry and croaked reassuringly at his watchers, who squatted patiently, awaiting his every command.
Shan ran, his putrid breath rasping loudly and echoing off the narrow-walled streets. Behind him came the last of his men and two of the newly converted undead creatures. They had not stopped to fight, rather as soon as he had heard Walter’s animals close by the Tauran Adept had fled. He had left his men behind and put as much distance between himself and the encroaching enemy as possible.
He could always create new troops, although the loss of his converted Immortals would hurt him, once he was clear. His Master needed him and Shan did not expect to let him down. In this the Tauran’s ego had taken over, demons cared little for their vessels and could easily find a new one.
On and on he ran, his heavy boots pounding against the ground, their beat echoed only by the scrabbling of claws by his side.
Viker and Johns led their squad into the central plaza at a run, claws unsheathed and teeth bared. Their accompanying soldiers quickly took cover, where they could and did begin laying down heavy fire against the remains of the undead forces. There were few now, as the creatures had decimated them to start with themselves being turned upon by Marius’ new allies.
This was not a real consideration for Viker, whose internal beast was free and hungry to kill. He and Johns leapt straight amongst Shan’s forces, clawed hands ripping and tearing. Their squad poured concentrated volley after volley into the outer edges of the group, bunching them in towards the centre and the violence awaiting them.
One creature spread its wings, ready to leap above the fray, and use its momentum to spear back down towards Viker. He did not wait, one clawed hand slicing through its rotting wing membranes and hooking it back to earth. As its hungry maw snapped towards him, a laser-round flashed by, striking it cleanly in one eye and blinding it. Viker saw Alana lining up her next shot, but didn’t wait, his jaws crushing bone as he finished it off.
As quickly as the melee had begun it was over, Viker and Johns looking almost disappointed. They looked up amazed at the explosion of creatures, as they arced out of the central tower, their calls angry and menacing. No time was wasted in circling, they simply banked, folded their wings and dived, a harsh screaming cry their only evident warning.
Walters revelled in the control of the machine; it seemed to have been made specifically for him. As Arshavin scurried away, Walters did not feel the urge to pursue him, he was more engrossed in the study of that which had been Magos. Its enhanced sensors added to those powers he inherently held, refining them with the precise mechanical routines contained within the drones. He could also feel the link with the robots fighting still on the ground below, almost as though they were an extension of his body.
Slowly, he infused the drones with his essence, allowing the connection to strengthen, the fluid machinery to reform. There was no need for a control room as Walters and the machine became one.
Robots disengaged from the conflict without warning, their spidery bodies transforming and propelling them quickly away, leaving the ground forces bewildered with their withdrawal. This confusion lasted but a moment as Shan’s disease infected troopers resumed their manic attacks.
Berbatov had little time for the make-up of his enemies; he was more concerned about killing them. His timely arrival had changed the balance of the engagement somewhat, but was still to be conclusive. The fact that his own dead rapidly revived, to take part in the attack on the zombies’ side was a little disconcerting. However, ever the pragmatist, the big man just killed them again, this time permanently.
James had responded instantly to Berbatov’s summons and he and his men had pushed forwards, their tanks’ battle cannons blasting a molten path through their enemies. They were making steady headway, although the disappearance of the robots had freed more of theTauran forces up, and forced him to consolidate his position, before moving on again.
“Sir!” shouted one of his scouts, pointing to the mass of robots which had appeared once more on a ridgeline to the south of them. They stood silently, in a single line, apparently waiting for something.
“Oh Frak!” cursed James, as he saw what it was that had caused their vigil; a huge, towering robot, cast in the image of man, descended from the skies, retro-rockets slowing its descent in a flare of blue-white brilliance.
The thing was enormous, its burnished metal skin flashing in the sunlight as it lightly landed amongst its minions. It paused for a moment, looking down in apparent affection at the robots below and then began to stride forwards, its tremendous footsteps reverberating through the very earth. Its robots flowed along with it, to the front, side and rear they roamed, red eyes bright and malevolent once more.
Viker opened his arms and roared his defiance skywards, as the creatures plummeted towards him. He felt rather than saw his squad join him, professionally taking up their firing positions. The sound of power cells being changed and clicked into place gave him a feeling of reassurance and he howled once more, challenging his foes and telling his pack where he was, all at once.
By his side, Johns mimicked him, crouching slightly in anticipation of the coming fight. Closer came the creatures, Viker’s keen sight now being able to discern their distinct number and also identify one individual above all others. Its vivid blue was in direct contrast to the others midnight black. He could feel its presence, awakening a response within him, his muscles tensing ready to spring him towards his enemy.
Rifles were raised and targets selected, fingers tightening on triggers, but at the last moment, the precipitous dive was halted, wings flicking outwards to haul their owners upwards and brake their mad dash. As one they slowed, the back beat of their wings causing a physical stirring of the air around Viker, yet still he did not relax.
The blue-hued leader, for that was obvious, dropped in front of Viker, his wings folding gracefully against his body. There were no distinctive clothing or marks, a fine covering of feathers encased his body. Yet he strode forwards on his spindly legs, with an arrogance born of familiarity. John’s muscles bunched, in preparation for his leap, and the creature spoke once, dismissively.
“Not a good idea, Johns!” his voice was distorted by a strange clicking and whistling, the beak-like mouth not assisting speech to any great degree.
Viker tensed, there was something about the intonation, the command, and with this faint recognition he placed a restraining hand on Johns’ chest.
“Who, or what are you?” growled Viker, staring intently into the creature’s whirling eyes.
“I am, or rather I was, Captain Marius,” he seemed even puzzled himself as he continued with his strangled speech, “now I don’t know what I am. I need to speak with Walters urgently.”
“That would be Colonel Walters, at the least,” snarled Johns, still straining against Viker’s hand.
“Perhaps,” laughed that which had been Marius, “although I think we are more equal now, than ever before. Tell me, where is he?”
It was Johns’ turn to laugh now, “What? Captain high and mighty, don’t you know where he is? Can’t you, with all your power, simply just feel him?”
Marius screeched in anger and one clawed hand swiped towards Johns, but Viker parried the blow, leaping forward and kicking out, slamming the creature back.
“You will regret that!” hissed Marius, raising his head and screaming to his followers, “believe me. The lives of your men are now forfeit!”
“We’ve heard that before!” answered Viker, his barked retort accompanied by his charge, forcing Marius to unfold his wings and power himself skywards. He was just too slow, as Viker’s clawed hand hooked into the muscle of his left calf, snagging him and drawing him back down. Marius stared directly at Viker, ripped his leg free and then used his momentum to pivot and slash a taloned foot across Viker’s chest.
The comforting crack of laser-rounds, joined the roars and howls of Viker and Johns and the screeches of Marius’ creatures. No quarter would be given, Viker was sure that this was no mistake, there was something wrong, evil in this thing that had been Marius, and he could not let it go free.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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