Clari had waited her turn, circling the enraged Tauran’s head whilst her Master appeared in no danger. However, when Grishak rose to his full height, towering over Cornelius, she struck. Corrosive liquid arced out, impacting on the Tauran’s face and arms, and allowing Butt to strike again. Satisfied she moved away, looking for the opportunity she was sure to come.
Blood loss weakening him, Grishak knew he only had one chance. He swung his axe experimentally, trying to work out how to compensate for the unbalancing effect of Burton’s corpse, and at last he grunted, in some small part satisfied that he was ready. He shuffled back, positioning himself, and waited.
Cornelius ignored the ineffectual swinging of the beast’s axe. He was, by now, angry not only at this enemy but at the general injustice of the Universe. A little violence would cure him of his ire. With a cry he leapt forwards, ducking under the axe’s swing and slicing his knives forward.
Using the weight of the attached human, Grishak swung and in a half-fall, sliced the axe through the wooden supports to one side. With a groan, the already half-destroyed wall, collapsed entirely, burying Cornelius in a cascade of rubble.
Grishak grunted, the end of the lance still sticking out from his back, and slowly made his way over to the opposite wall. He pushed the end of the wood against the hard surface and placed both of his hands against the ex-Inspector’s rapidly cooling chest.
With a slow and inexorable pressure, digging his hooves into the floor, he pushed. His muscles bunched and strained as gradually the body moved; little by little the wooden shaft slid gratingly through him. Sweat streamed from his forehead, mixing with both his blood and that of the defunct Burton.
When there was enough of a gap, he reached for his axe, nearly falling as the change in the weight distribution dragged him down. He heaved himself back upright, roaring in rage as the wood inside him grated and tore. Taking hold of the axe’s head in both of his hands, he smashed it down repeatedly until the combined assault snapped the shaft. Free of the weight, he raised his arms to the sky and screamed, before he slowly and methodically moved towards the fallen Cornelius.
Flagship Unknown Location
“This is fun,” commented Shan, as he watched the scene unfold, “I now see why my erstwhile Masters enjoyed the death and destruction so much.”
There was no reply and Shan sighed in mock resignation.
“Everyone is a critic,” he said, nodding to his men. There was a double crack, and the remaining players slid to the floor. Not dead, merely subdued, for the moment.
“Now,” said Shan, speaking aloud, “we really need to see what this machine is capable of. Time for a little escalation I think.”
Tapping various characters on the holo-screen, he ran through the available inventory, chuckling as he found one particular entry. With more determination, he moved the now active piece to the in-play board and zoomed local camera links in to watch more closely.
“Oh my, yes indeed,” he breathed excitedly, “this is about to become very interesting.”
Grishak batted aside a sword, gripping the arm which held it and tearing the offending limb from the soldier’s body. The blood from the wound spurted out, impacting on his face and he gulped in the offering to his disgusting God. He continued on, smashing the trooper’s chest with one cloven hoof and then driving his axe down on the head in front of him, pulverizing the fearful features in one mighty strike.
Before him at last, was the Inspector, who screamed his orders to his men and looked wildly for some form of escape. He felt the laser round bounce off his horns and grinned; more of them. With a deep belly laugh he powered forward, the path to his new foes directly through the pitiful Churchman.
* Burton saw death approaching and pointed his laser pistol at the beast, his hand wavering in fear. He managed one shot before it was upon him, his ineffectual attempts swatted aside with ease. A crushing blow to the side of his head left him groggy and he felt himself held as the creature readied itself for the final blow.
* Cornelius was angry; everyone wanted a piece of him and Grishak presented him with an ideal opportunity to vent. Combat knife in each hand, he ignored Harms’ frustrated swearing as he ran towards the beast, Clari screaming her challenge in his ear.
Using a large piece of rubble, he vaulted forwards, slamming his knives into the creature’s back. With a twist they were free and he attacked again, Clari now airborne and arrowing towards her Master’s foe.
* The iron blades punched into the Tauran Elite’s back, lifting Grishak off the Inspector as he arched away from the strike. Burning liquid seared his neck and face and he launched himself away, crashing down upon the Inspector and so sealing his death, as the point of his axe stabbed down. It was an unholy communion; demon-spawn and Churchman locked in a bloody embrace.
Burton reacted instinctively, his sword stabbing upwards in response, returning the favour of wounding. Blade and axe clove them together and Cornelius’ anger drove him on. The knives were insufficient and he wrenched the broken haft of a halberd free from a dead Tauran, using his body weight to drive it through Grishak’s unresisting flesh, piercing both enemy and dying Inspector.
Struggling to his feet, the uncomfortable weight of the dying Inspector’s body still pinned to him by the broken shaft, Grishak watched as Cornelius readied his knives once more. It was difficult to see as Burton’s lolling head restricted his vision. He reached up and cleanly snapped the man’s neck, twisting and turning it until it the dead man’s head hung slackly on his chest.
There was no time to rid himself of the encumbrance now, he needed to fight. His pistol was beyond reach and he searched for his axe, seeing it resting against the rubble nearby. Quickly he took up the weapon, planting his feet squarely and prepared himself for Butt’s onslaught.
Alana caught a flicker of movement in her scanner and switched the feed to thermal imaging. For one moment she clearly saw a figure outlined against the rocky background, and then it drained away.
“Does anyone else see anything?”
It was not normal protocol, but her dealings with Walters and then Viker, had taught her that normal came in various shapes and sizes.
A man backed into view, dragging a body. As he straightened she gasped, she had seen backward-looking species, even mutated Tauran followers, but this was something out of an historical text. What she assumed was a corpse was covered in matted furs, which the now straightened newcomer disdainfully kicked.
She cautioned her people to wait and back-winged down, her jets cushioning her landing. In front of her was a smiling and well-dressed individual who held his open palms upwards, in what she assumed was a universal sign of peace. Her HUD continued to scan and she wondered whether the journey down here had caused some malfunction; there was no-one showing on her read-outs. Alana mentally slapped herself. Of course, she was still on thermal imaging... which meant his thing was not human.
“Hello, my name is Victor Espada,” said Mammon, taking one step forward, “sorry I didn’t greet you personally, but I found a minor distraction waiting for me.”
His eyes were cold, and they narrowed when Alana did not answer, nor shut off her jets.
“Is there something wrong?”
Now she knew there was something strange; a full scan showed only an outline. No heat radiated from the man, and her night imaging showed him in dull black, as tough he absorbed the surrounding light. Instinctively she slanted forward, her wings snapping out in fight reflex.
“What gave it away?” asked Mammon, studying the blood drying beneath his fingernails.
“You just did...” said Alana, powering forward, “whatever you are.”
Mammon chuckled and leapt aside. This would at least be more entertaining than the tribesman’s pathetic attempt at survival. He would...how had she done that? Black and viscous blood dripped from a slash across his stomach where Alana’s wing had ripped into his flesh. It was not possible. No human could have done this. Emerald eyes flashed from behind the visor of her suit and now it was Mammon’s turn to realise a bitter truth. He had underestimated who and what this woman was. There was an unexpected danger here and he needed to escape.
“Incoming!” screamed Alana’s wingman into his communicator.
She looked up, momentarily distracted and it was all Mammon needed. He wasted no time in sharing a parting riposte but sprang into the cover provided by the wiry underbrush. Alana glanced casually at his departing back and briefly considered flaming the local area into ash, but the energy weapon which slashed into the earth nearby changed her mind.
“Form on me,” she ordered, springing into the air with the aid of her jets, “it appears that there are more surprises waiting for us.”
A sleek shape flashed overhead; it was not human, the protruding beak gave testament to that. It revolved in mid-air, presenting the muzzle of a weapon back towards her and fired. The bolt from the energy weapon sizzled past, narrowly missing her.
“Screw this,” she growled, boosting the jets on her suit, and turning herself into a guided missile.
Mammon watched the aerial dogfight unfold and smiled at the irony of his situation. His plan had become turned around, and all because he decided to slide out of existence. It was a way of fooling his Brothers and giving himself respite from their constant internecine warfare. It seemed as though he had slept in.
The Ori had surpassed themselves, their universe-wide trawl-net had dredged up some new and exciting species. The Game would be just that bit more interesting. Mammon reached into his jacket pocket, extracting a strange device, whose twin prongs began to vibrate as he punched in a series of numbers. There were other zones where he was sure he would be more welcome, and he could prepare for his next meeting with the winged Amazon. Revenge would be the sweeter for a little time apart.