Wrath of Irk C14Wrath of IrkWrath of Irk C14 by Irken-Risk
Chapter Fourteen: The Calm
Schloogar’s Diner, Miyuki District, Outer Irk
“Risk, I don’t know where you found this guy,” Jumar chuckled as he sat behind the counter, now recovered from the shooting that had taken place days ago. “But I’m so keeping him!”
Risk nodded and pinched the space between his eyes. “If only you could, Jumar,” He looked to where Rikalo was whistling while preparing lunch for Risk, Kid, Rina, Nesa and several of their friends...and whistling a tune while he was at it. “If only you could.”
“Come aaaand get it!” Rik hollered a minute later as he brought a tray over to the counter and set it down with several meals for the group. “Bon apetite kiddos, don’t take it down all at once.”
“Thanks Mr Rik!” Rina chirped as Nesa handed her one of the plates.
Soon the group was preoccupied with Rik’s twist on th
Darkworld 2, Round One: Darkness Falls
Mary and Maestro have been inducted into a tournament against their will. Now they have been dumped into the first battlefield and encounter an opponent that is not quite what they’d expected, and some hidden dangers amidst this strange new world.
~Text~ = Maestro’s Speech
Mary first registered the stench of the place that their first round would be taking place in, and then she registered falling out of the portal that had heralded her to this mystery destination. The young girl yelped and flailed a bit as she plummeted through the air. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit!”
Her momentum was halted mere inches from a surface that emanated a fume of noxious black puff of gas right into her face. Mary coughed as she was pulled up into the arms of her ally and friend: Maestro. The Vycan had fallen with her, but had quickly reshaped his body so that he could free his wings from their hidden confinement, all the while not so much as tearing a thread in his smooth black suit.
~I have you, Mary.~ Maestro state as he hovered several meters over a sea of a tar like liquid which was dotted with numerous purple shapes that stuck out of the oily liquid. ~And it seems that we have reached the site of our first battle.~
Mary, after rubbing her watering eyes, blinked away any tears and took in her first full view of the region that they had been dumped into.
The terrain possessed characteristics from both a swamp and an ocean mixed together in some disturbed parody of the two. The sea of black liquid stretched on into the horizon in all directions, generating bubbles and puffs of gas that added a foul odor to the air. The sky was green and seemed to lack any celestial bodies like a sun or moon, but a source of light emanated from off in the distance in the form of what looked like the sun at first, only to turn out to be some large yellow bubble many meters across in diameter.
The structures poking out of the sea of oil were purple rock formations, some of them towering spires and others flat enough for one to stand on. Some were large enough to be an island while others were the size of stepping stones and just barely stuck out of the ocean. Every inch of this place made Mary feel nauseous, having been raised on a planet where an environment like this would be considered a nightmarish pollution to her people.
This place even seemed to be affecting Maestro, whose body began to writhe all of a sudden. It took Mary several moments of clinging to him for her life to realize that the Vycan was coughing heavily, strangled noises escaping his hidden mouth. It was perhaps the closest she had come to hearing his real voice, and it only served to distress the young woman.
“Maestro!” Mary cried out. “Hey, are you alright?!”
Maestro plunged downwards immediately, causing his charge to yelp again and cling to the Vycan as he flipped over in mid fall just in time to ensure that his more durable form cushioned the impact for the Saurian. They crashed through a weaker rock formation on a small island and slid across the ground, leaving behind a short ravine and ending with Maestro laying on his back, arms wrapped protectively around Mary.
The Vycan opened his eyes as his body relaxed. ~My apologies, Dearest Mary.~ He rose up and set Mary on her feet, making sure his fall hadn’t harmed her. ~Something about this world just feels so wrong, and considering that my species thrives in the most desolate of regions in our world that is saying something.~
Mary had heard the stories from him before, and knew better than to doubt Maestro’s word when he emphasized just how bad this place must be if the toxic fumes could affect even him. She noticed Maestro’s tattered and damaged wings receding into the Vycan’s body until no sign of their little accident remained.
Mary let out a breath and looked to the edge of the small island they had landed on. “Will you be alright here? Are the fumes affecting you that much?”
~Only higher up from the surface,~ Maestro answered. ~It is almost like they have built up in a higher concentration there, which is most unusual. I suspect that this may have been implemented as a way of keeping me from attempting to exit this world via interstellar flight, not that my doing so would yield any results if I could.~
“So this is just that crazy lady’s way of evening the playing field,” Mary affirmed. “Alright then, fine. We’re stuck in this stupid tournament anyways so we might as well just go along with the rules.”
Maestro thought back to their initial meeting with their host, and how she had resorted to intimidating the competitors with her unmeasured control over this world. Maestro had been more fascinated than frightened...actually he had been too busy being fascinated to be frightened. The idea of a single individual having such unchallenged command over the fabric of reality was something he had heard of the Ancient Vycans being capable of, in addition to crafting their own pocket dimensions to rule over as they saw fit.
The threat that Eileen represented was not lost on the music loving Vycan though, nor were her promises guaranteeing their safety and a prize to the victor of her tournament. While he was willing to believe that she would heal the injuries of competitors, he was not so confident in her promise of a single wish for ‘anything you want’. This alone implied that Eileen was either capable of manipulating reality beyond her own world to an extent that a single wish could upset the cosmic balance of a universe, or that she was throwing in an incentive for the competitors to take part in her tournament at all.
Whether or not this promise was sincere, Maestro knew that there was no other alternative. If he and Mary wanted any chance of returning home then they would have to simply follow along with Eileen’s tournament and try their best to win, just as Mary had stated moments ago. The other contestants had been quite an odd combination, some of them seeming quite capable and others not what Maestro would have expected.
~If that is the case then we should begin by locating our intended opponent.~ Maestro proposed, hands folded behind his back as he looked around. ~I cannot pick up a scent of anything due to the powerful odor generated by this environment. We shall have to rely on searching for them ‘the old fashioned way’ as you would say.~
Mary nodded. “Maybe we should split up. Not all of the contestants were in groups, so we might be facing just one person this round. It’d be easier to find them if we cover more ground.”
Maestro pondered this for a moment before nodding. ~Yes, I suppose that this would be the...logical path to follow.~
The Vycan reached down and rubbed Mary’s head. ~Just be safe, Dearest Mary. I know you are quite a capable fighter, but should our enemy prove too much for you then just simply call and I shall fly to your aid.~
Mary smiled a bit, some sparks flying between her horns after Maestro pulled his hand back. “Well, I guess we can only hope that whoever they are they don’t want to fight. I would rather get out of this mess without anyone being hurt,” She glanced towards the edge of the island and frowned as a particularly large bubble burst and splattered some black oily sludge onto the purple ground. “After all, this isn’t like any normal place I’ve fought in and there aren’t any rules. I don’t like the odds of us getting into a fight here with something.”
~Indeed,~ Maestro nodded. ~I am not confident that our host would select many who are unwilling or unable to fight in such an environment though.~
Mary shuddered, recalling the last tournament she had taken part in. “Let’s just hope that they aren’t some blood thirsty psycho or smart-aleck killer like I dealt with in that gallery place...” She shook her head. “That’s the last thing I need right now.”
~Do not despair, Dearest Mary.~ Maestro walked to the edge of the island and extended one foot out, stepping onto a small purple rock which he used as a stepping stone, following a trail towards the glowing orb in the distance. ~As the Romans used to say: Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis.~
Mary stared after the Vycan. “What does that even mean?!” She called after him.
~It means that it is best to endure what cannot be changed by focusing on what you can change, to make the best of a bad situation.~ Maestro turned his head back towards her, his eyes forming into upward pointing arrows to show that he was giving her his ‘happy’ expression. ~And you are as powerful and capable as you are beautiful, Dearest Mary. I have no doubt that you can do just that even if our foe is not to your liking.~
The Vycan vanished into the distance, carefully stepping and jumping between stones and islands in search of his quarry, leaving behind a slightly blushing Saurian girl who had more sparks flying between her horns now.
About half a mile away another portal opened up, dropping to one of the islands of purple stone the conjoined dogs only known as Vladikhov.
The landing wasn't very graceful, but the larger dog was able to handle it well enough without any harm coming to the younger pup grafted onto his body. Looking around, the little pup sneezed a few times and ran its paws over its wet nose as the smell from the odd bubbles disturbed her sensitive nostrils, the same thing happening for the larger dog, though he tried to ignore it.
“Where we at? This place is funny.” The pup asked, wiggling her floppy ears a little as she spoke rough but understandable English.
“I don't know...but it not good at all.” The larger dog replied gruffly.
They both recalled the 'meeting' with the one who seemed to have brought them to this odd place and the explanation of what they had to do.
“We find who else here and we beat them I guess.” The large dog huffed before cautiously padding forward, eyeing the edge of the oily sea with great care.
The larger dog was more concerned for his younger companion than himself. He was able to move and escape danger or fight back when needed, but she was stuck to him no matter what happened and was helpless to escape if he was defeated. He had to be careful, focus on her safety over his own. If he failed then it would be two lives that pay the consequence.
After a while the pup whined. “Can get food now?”
The larger dog shared her hunger, quite literally in fact. “No food yet, must fight then food.” He shook his head.
The pup huffed. “But...don't want fight.”
“I know, but only way.” The larger dog replied patiently.
Even he didn't want to fight with anyone, not when he had to share a body with a pup, and because he had seen some of the odd creatures that had also been brought to the odd place. There had been strange and intimidating creatures, and some of them were even disgusting humans they both hated so much.
After what seemed like hours of walking in the general direction of the glowing orb they heard something besides the sound of the burbling sludge and popping bubbles. It was the sound of wings flapping, very large wings from the sound of it.
Quickly reacting, the large dog ran around the other side of a tree looking rock to hide with the pup also remaining quiet, knowing that it had to be their opponent. Descending from a low fight across a brief span of oil that had been too wide to walk across, the towering form of Maestro landed and folded his wings. Being as graceful as ever, he took a moment to adjust his suit and tie after the little flight to make sure he look presentable as always.
Looking around, the Vycan could still smell nothing but the stench coming from the bubbles in the air, but thankfully it wasn't nearly as strong as it was high in the air. He remained quiet as his large violet eyes scanned what was supposed to be landscape. Outwardly he seemed alert, but inwardly he was dealing with a good amount of stress. The main cause of this was his wish that Mary had not been dragged into such a place, not after what he had been told of her last ordeal when she was kidnapped for some tournament.
To make a long story brief: Mary and her friend, Princess Meagan Castrave had been abducted and worked as a team in fighting through various monsters and opponents, risking life and limb just to get back home.
Maestro had sworn that he would not allow any hard to fall upon her, and that meant quickly passing through each round while minimizing any contact between Mary and their opponents. Some of the ones he had seen appeared very capable of dealing harm to even a Saurian, but then again they had to be if they were chosen for this madness.
As the Vycan continued to ponder, the two dogs kept low and still as statues after getting a peek at Maestro. They were waiting for the right time to surprise him and hopefully end things quickly, but the element of surprise unfortunately was not on their side this time. With his towering height the demon could took notice of one of the pup's dirty golden floppy ears sticking out from over the rock they were hidden behind.
Shaking himself out of his thought and keeping his distance with his hands tucked behind his back, Maestro chose to politely initiate contact with his newly discovered company. ~Pardon my intrusion, I don't mean to bother or deter you from your plans but unfortunately it would seem that I am able to see part of you. I felt it the polite thing to inform you.~
The larger dog slowly came out from hiding, emitting a low growl while the little pup on his back stayed low, pressing herself into her larger companion’s fur and keeping her eyes locked on the tall creature. While neither of them trusted him to be any better than the humans, they were confused as to why they could hear him so clearly despite not seeing him open his mouth.
~I understand what that young lady from before said we must fight, but I am certain that if we sit and talk we could reach a mutually beneficial compromise. It would be more ideal if we had some tea and cake but unfortunately I was not expecting to be away from my kitchen and pantry.~> He tried to be as friendly as ever even when faced with the angry looking dog. ~If you would prefer I still have a nutrition bar leftover from my companion’s lunch.~
“You lie!” The larger dog snarled. “Not trust anyone here. You try to trick!” He bared his fangs while digging his claws into the purple stone.
This incredibly tall creature wasn't a human, but there was no reason to trust anyone after being told that anyone who had been pulled into the odd world would end up fighting each other. The dog would take no chances, not with what was at stake. He crouched, preparing to pounce if he saw Maestro make any sudden moves. “If you no want fight then you leave!”
“And leave all food.” The pup said while using an expression referred to as the old Puppy Eyes trick, which even Maestro knew about; Mary used that on him every now and then if he disagreed with something she wanted to do-mainly something ridiculously dangerous.
~I wish it was that easy sir, and madam, but sadly I cannot.~ Maestro shook his head. ~I do not wish for there to be any violence as I do not quite trust the one forcing us into this “game” she has made. More importantly I have someone to watch over and I don't wish for her to go through this form of torment yet again.> Maestro kept his good manners as he gave the dogs a graceful bow at the waist, only for the larger dog to instantly to snap at him, looking ready to attack at any moment.
~Then again, it may seem that my desires will not be enough to end this peacefully.~ Maestro commented before the dog took that as a challenge and lunged at the Vycan, only for Maestro to move to the side while moving one hand from behind his back.
Maestro smacked the large dog atop the head with the bow he used to play his violin having formed it behind his back just in case. He would have gone with something more dangerous, but he genuinely did not want to harm the dogs.
“I knew you lie! You just like humans!” The angry dog growled out, turning to glare at Maestro who stood there with the bow in his right hand with his left arm behind his back as if he was fencing.
~Need I remind you: you chose to attack me.~ The Vycan calmly reminded the dog. ~I do not wish to fight, but if you attack me again then I will administer some discipline, and if we are both unlucky your pup may be hurt, and I honestly don’t want to see any harm come to her.~
The larger dog only became more enraged by this, taking it as a threat. “YOU NO TOUCH HER!”
He lunged, and Maestro almost danced back. This time the dog made sure to dodge the bow as he pursued Maestro, who was not so much worried about himself than he was about the young pup. He avoided striking the dogs again, hoping to calm the larger one down before resorting to hitting it to make it stop.
~Come now, this is childish.~ Maestro scolded. ~You will find me to be far more durable than your average prey, too much for you to hope to kill or even severely injure me. Now stop this before-~
Maestro’s entire body went stiff as the large dog’s jaws closed around his right arm, digging through the fabric of his suit and biting into the flesh beneath. Maestro’s eyes widened severely before he suddenly spun, flinging the dogs away when the larger one’s fangs failed to remain anchored in the Vycan’s skin. They hit a rock side, luckily not crushing the pup beneath the larger dog’s weight.
Maestro looked at his bleeding arm, his entire body visibly shuddering as he resisted the urge to simply rip the dogs apart and be done with it. THAT,~ His raised volume made the dogs visibly cringe. ~Is a very bad idea. You do not want to fight me, so stop this now before you end up dead.~
The larger dog huffed. “You talk, talk too much!”
When the dog charged for another attack, Maestro spun to face them both and reshaped his bow into a cane which he held like a sword. ~Bad dog.~
Before he could strike he heard a distant call through the smog. “Maestro!”
~Mary!~ Maestro looked in her general direction, giving the dog a chance to bite him on the leg this time. ~AH!~
Mary heard Maestro’s telepathic cry of pain, felt that her friend was in danger, and quickly began to bound across rocks towards the scene of the fight. “Hang on Maestro!”
The Vycan kicked the dogs off with little effort and growled. ~That is it. I have tried to be reasonable, but you clearly don’t want to see any reason to begin with!~
The pup whimpered as Maestro slowly reformed and unfurled his wings, a growl escaping the Vycan’s throat as he began to reshape his cane into an actual sword...
Right before Mary leaped over the nearest ridge, firing off arcs of lightning with a furious battle cry. Energy crackled around the girl as she landed, creating a circle of cracks that stretched outward around her like the spokes of a wheel. She rose up in one of her basic boxing stances and growled. “Alright where is this guy? I’ll-” She stopped upon seeing Maestro, nursing a bite on his leg, and the conjoined dogs slowly climbing to their feet.
Vladikhov froze as the larger dog realized that he was now outnumbered. The reptilian girl stared at the dogs for several moments with wide eyes before a big grin formed on her face and a loud squeal escaped her mouth. The dogs flinched, giving Mary the chance to rush over and immediately...start stroking and hugging them both.
“Oh my goodness you are just so adorable!” Mary cooed, gently rubbing behind the pup’s ears with one hand and wrapping her other arm around the larger dog. “Aw just lookatchoo, you’re so cute, yes you are!”
Vladikhov’s first instinct was to lash out, but the feeling of Mary’s fingers lightly scratching in just the right places made the pup begin to pant lightly and stick her ears up while the larger dog’s tail began to wag. Maestro watched as, without any effort at all Mary brought down the aggressive dogs with a shower of affection. Moments later Vladikhov was lying on their side, both dogs panting and nuzzling the Saurian woman while Maestro shrank his sword back into a little sphere and absorbed it into his body.
~Suddenly I wish we had stayed together and saved us all some trouble~ The Vycan sighed before repairing the fabric of his suit to cover the bites.
Vladikhov either managed to regain their composure or recall that they were supposed to be fighting, because in an instant the larger dog had torn itself away from Mary and scrambled to its feet. “Stop that!” He barked.
Mary flinched, climbing to her feet while Maestro repositioned himself partially between her and the aggressive canine. The smaller dog let out a small whine, having enjoyed the moment while it lasted. The larger dog bared its teeth and backed away, keeping the two alien beings in his sights before quickly darting away to the edge of the island and leaping to a purple stepping stone just barely sticking out of the oily surface of the sea/bog.
Mary glanced up at Maestro while rushing to the water’s edge. “Those are our opponents?” Upon receiving a nod from the Vycan she spun and only saw the fading outline of Vladikhov scrambling across purple rocks and stumbling once, dipping their leg into the water only to pull it back with a pained yelp from the pup which made Mary flinch. The poor things would hurt themselves more than they would hurt her or Maestro if they were left out here alone!
“Wait!” The Saurian called out to them. “Wait, we don’t want to fight! You don’t need to be afraid!”
~Believe me, I tried to convey that very message to them while they were biting me.~ Maestro said, and offered Mary a hand while his wings slowly reformed. ~While I still detest the air here, it will be faster to catch up to them before they fall into the ocean this way.~
Mary accepted Maestro’s hand and was lifted up enough so that she could hug him around the neck and hang on while he held her bridle style. “Hurry, Maestro. They’re just scared, and I know that we’re supposed to fight them but I don’t want to hurt a couple of dogs!”
~We do not need to harm them,~ Maestro reminded Mary while reshaping his suit so that a stretch of fabric now reached up to cover his lower face, serving to partially block out the noxious fumes that he seemed so sensitive to. ~All we have to do is convince them to surrender.~
The Vycan shot into the air, keeping his flights short to set down on nearby stretches of solid ground. His improvised mask helped a bit, but Maestro still risked losing control and crashing from the fumes overwhelming his senses and unbalancing him in mid flight if he remained airborne for too long. At several points he darted across small gaps or even leaped nimbly through the air, not losing hold of Mary as they followed the dogs’ trail, which lead towards the glowing orb.
~This strange sphere inspires a sense of dread in me,~ Maestro informed Mary. ~I can already tell that it is more than a mere light source for this wretched ocean. I cannot tell what it contains, but no doubt it is as dangerous as the environment itself.~
“And those doggies are heading right towards it,” Mary swallowed. “Maestro, find a high spot and set me down. We can split up again, and this time when we find them we keep them pinned and call for each other.”
Maestro’s eyes visibly narrowed, and Mary instantly felt his apprehension and discomfort through their link, but he nodded and set her down on a rock formation barely fifty feet from the bright yellow orb. ~They won’t hesitate to attack you on sight, or at least the larger of the two won’t. Don’t give them a chance; I have no doubt that the waters here are harmful and they may have enough strength to push one of us in if they take us by surprise.~
Mary nodded. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my eyes open. I’m not about to be beaten by a cheap shot from a couple puppies.” She smirked and lightly elbowed Maestro’s side. “You be careful too, mister. Those dogs really didn’t like you before.”
Maestro’s shoulders slumped as he gave a muted sigh. ~I remember that all too clearly, thank you.~
Mary giggled and then began to climb down to begin exploring the area, keeping at a safe distance from the giant orb. Maestro remained on his perch and surveyed what he could through the mist of fumes, which seemed to grow thicker even as they had gotten closer to the glare of the light source.
In the smog, the conjoined dogs’ eyes were watering as their sensitive noses suffered from the inescapable odour. The pup was whining and trying to bury her face into the larger dog’s fur while the latter was trying to navigate his way back out of the haze.
“Hello....?” The damned lizard girl was calling out to them. “Please, come back!”
“Maybe we go back,” The pup advised. “Nose hurt! Can’t see! Want go back! Go back now!”
The larger dog hushed the pup softly. “We leave, but must be quiet,” That got the pup to quiet down for now, but the lizard was blocking their way back out. He would have to take care of her first...
Mary waved one arm in front of her, her eyes beginning to water a bit from the fumes and the close proximity of the bright hot orb. “Please!” She called out. “It isn’t safe out here! You need to-”
She spotted a shape just before it leaped out of the smog and slammed into her. Mary screamed as she was bowled over, Vladikhov’s weight pressing her down to the ground. She felt the larger dog’s teeth close around her throat and begin to dig in hard enough that if he pulled away he might tear her throat out...
“NO!” Mary and the pup shrieked at the same time.
For Mary this was like reliving the worst time of her life all over again, flashing back to the nightmares of the gallery and remembering every horrible monster...
Suddenly lightning sparking off of the Saurian, generating an electromagnetic field that sent Vladikhov flying back with droplets of blood on the larger dog’s teeth. The action had also caused the cloud to dissipate, leaving the orb now in plain view. Mary gripped her head and screamed as electricity shot out in all directions from her body, her powers now out of control in her panicked state. She curled up on the purple rock and shivered, taking deep breaths to try and calm herself down.
What neither she nor Vladikhov noticed was that the episode had unwittingly punctured the orb. A single stray bolt of lightning tore open the membrane like shell just ever so slightly before Mary reigned in her powers.
At first all was silent, save for the sound violently churning liquid and a tearing noise. Both the Saurian and the dogs slowly turned their heads towards the orb as one...and howled as an explosion of light and heat tore free of it. They were blinded, unable to react or make an escape, helpless as a wave of white hot liquid flowed towards them. In seconds it would melt them down to their very skeletons...
Or it would have if Maestro had not landed at that moment and gathered them up with his overly long arms. He set Mary and Vladikhov down before rising to his feet and throwing his arms up.
Mary managed to crack one eye open in time to see the Vycan’s form expand, and then she was consumed by darkness. The dogs next to her huddled on the ground, both of them whimpering in fear as they tried to make sense of what had just happened. She glanced over and saw how the larger dog was attempting to comfort the pup even now, whispering reassuring words to her and doing everything he could to keep from running around like a headless chicken.
Whatever had happened, they seemed to still be on the same purple rock surface as before, and the heat was still present; everything seemed to be the same except for how there was absolutely no light whatsoever, forcing Mary’s eyes to adjust the old fashioned way.
“Maestro,” Mary whispered, “Maestro, are you here?”
She flinched upon trying to access their telepathic link, receiving a surge of pure agony from the Vycan for a brief second before Maestro cut the link from his side. The girl lowered herself back down to the ground and groaned, resting her head against her knees while Vladikhov tried to scratch at the wall around them.
“What this? Where way out?” The larger dog demanded.
“I don’t know,” Mary mumbled, crossing her arms over her knees and resting her chin on them.
“Lie!” The larger dog growled, rushing around to Mary’s front. “You lie!”
Mary glared at the dog and got up on one knee before grabbing the larger dog by the head. “Listen you stupid mutt!” She snapped, causing both of the conjoined canines to flinch. “Because of you and your paranoia my friend is probably dead or dying right now and I don’t even know if we’re going to survive this! So do me a favour and for once sit down and SHUT UP!”
She released the dog and sat down cross legged, glaring at Vladikhov before turning away and trying to hide how her eyes were beginning to become moist with tears of rage. She didn’t know if Maestro was okay, he could be dead and this was only the first round! That lady had said that none of them would be harmed, but would she have to continue alone without Maestro if he had died?
The worst part was that if he had died it would be all her fault, as she had been the one who burst the orb.
Mary wiped her eyes and fought down the temptation to simply punch her way out and find out what had happened. The heat seemed to be dying down now, but she couldn’t be sure if it was possible or wise to burst open yet another surface after what had just happened.
After several minutes light began to peek in through the top of their prison, which was slowly shrinking down to the ground where it began to reform around a quivering, burnt shape on the ground.
“Maestro!” Mary ran over to what she realized was her friend...lacking a good deal of his skin and actually missing all of his limbs, save one arm. She had to fight back the urge to spill her guts at the sight of her usually elegant and well dressed friend burnt into the mess he was now.
~M...Mary...~ She heard him after several tense moments of silence as one watering purple orb turned towards her. ~I’m s...I’m sorry...I look so improper right now...for you to see.~
This somehow made Mary smile a bit as tears brimmed in her eyes again. After swallowing she laughed a bit. “Only you’d be worried about that after getting burned alive.”
“You okay?!” The pup yelped.
~In time, after I am given a chance to heal.~ Maestro replied. ~I know that it doesn’t seem to be too bad at the moment, but...this hurts...a lot...more than anything I’ve felt in several thousand years now. Why I don’t think I’ve been damaged so much since Vesuvius...I doubt I would have survived this particular eruption if it had lasted for several more seconds.~
The burnt Vycan laid back and remained still. ~Despite my luck, I believe that I am out of this fight, Dearest Mary. You shall have to take it from here.~
Mary stood up and nodded slowly. “I’ll handle it from here.” She turned toward Vladikhov, who whimpered as sparks flew between the young woman’s horns. “Now let me make this clear...my friend almost died saving your life, and if you don’t give up right now I will not hold back. Got it?”
The older dog let out a low growl, but the pup swatted at his ear and broke his concentration. “What?!”
“Give up.” The pup said softly. “Please. Give up.” She looked towards Maestro. “Got hurt, saved us. Give up.” While her speech was simplistic to Mary, the conjoined dogs were able to communicate mentally more smoothly, quickly debating the topic before the larger dog finally gave in with an irritated sigh.
“Fine,” The dog turned away with a bitter expression. “We give up.”
Instantly Mary’s ferocious demeanour performed a one-eighty, and a big grin formed across her face as she wrapped her arms around Valdikhov and nuzzled the side of the pup’s face. “There, was that so hard?”
“Yes,” The larger dog muttered, but went ignored as the pup shut her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder.
Maestro, lacking any limbs, required somebody else to play some music through which he could heal himself. As Mary was the only being besides him with opposable thumbs, the task fell to her.
“I think I kind of have the hang of this,” She said while drawing a bow across a violin that Maestro had managed to create for her, producing several glowing musical notes with each sound the instrument generated. “It doesn’t sound anything like what you do.”
~It suffices,~ Maestro said, giving Mary his happy expression now that he’d managed to grow back his eye lids with her help. ~I could always give you lessons after we get back home, if you desire.~
“Please do that,” The larger dog said as he lied on the ground nearby, paws pressing his ears to his head as he tried to block out the noise from the violin. “Please!”
Mary stuck her tongue out at Vladikhov and resumed playing the violin as best she could, slowly helping her friend to regrow everything he had lost note by note. By this point the Vycan was able to sit up and had begun reforming his legs, and once his other arm was restored he could take over for her and make the process go much faster. He was without his suit for the first time since Mary had met him, but he didn’t look too different due to how his skin almost perfectly matched the color of the suit; he was still the same tall and slender Vycan she knew him as by the time she finished regenerating his limbs.
~Thank you for taking the time to do that, Dearest Mary,~ Maestro said before taking back the violin and sitting next to her. ~Now, while we wait for our host to call upon us for the next round, I believe I can pass the time by serenading you all.~
“More music,” The large dog huffed, and then stiffened and sat up as Maestro began to play.
Unlike Mary, who had never played a violin before and had produced rough tunes, Maestro sounded like something out of an orchestra-not that the dogs had ever attended one, but they had heard a similar tune over a radio that had been left on. The Vycan leaned back against a purple rock slab with Mary sitting on one side of him and Vladikhov on the other. The young Saurian was used to the enchanting melodies that Maestro could produce, but to the dogs this was an entirely new thing. They could almost swear that they heard other instruments being played, like an entire orchestra of dozens of musicians were playing from somewhere out of sight to add to the Vycan’s own work.
Another thing they hadn’t expected was that the song, in addition to healing him, was being used to lull them and Mary to sleep, letting them rest after a stressful time. Even the depressing and now much darker setting that they had been dumped into could not stop them from dozing off into a peaceful slumber, having dreams of better places and better times.
After a while, and long after he had finished healing himself and reforming his suit, Maestro set his violin down and let it melt away into a black liquid that seeped back into his body. He rested one hand on Vladikhov’s side and gently rubbed the canines, and set his other arm around Mary as she leaned into his side.
While this round had not been very pleasant for Maestro, and his powers would take time to recover after expending so much just to survive that eruption from earlier, the important thing in his mind was that Mary was unharmed and would have some time to sleep off what had happened. In the horrors of the gallery she had rarely been given a moment of peace, but Maestro was intent on making sure that Mary would find at least some reprieve from the fighting, if only for a short while.
So for now she would rest, and Maestro would watch over her as he always did until the next challenge and a new opponent presented itself.
Trial By Fire Round Two: Shop ‘Til You Drop (Dead)
With the first round behind him Scar goes from the ‘Fuzzy Swamp of Death’ to a shopping mall that has been long abandoned, save by the most rabid shoppers in the universe and a bounty hunter just as deadly as him.
When Scar awoke, they were still milling about below, shuffling and gurgling as they dragged heavy packages or tugging impatiently against doors. Years of self discipline were the only thing that kept him from making any sound or movement, the only thing that stood between him and being torn apart by those who dwelled below. They had ears sharper than a Veniran and eyes as keen as a Shadow Fury, so Scar had been forced to call upon everything he had been taught in his time as an assassin.
Good thing he really could be sneaky when he wanted to be, or they’d have been all over him in the first ten minutes.
Using his peripheral vision, Scar glanced to a mirror he had set up in advance on a nearby stall roof. They didn’t care about it once he’d placed a visible crack in the surface, and he doubted any of them would see his reflection with the angle he’d set it at. The mirror gave him a satisfactory view of the central floor one level below and a bit of the upper deck that the stall itself was perched on. They occupied almost every available square inch of floor, blocked every escape route and worst of all: once they caught a single whiff of their prey they never stopped in their pursuit.
He had been hoping for some time to rest, but Scar would have preferred if it hadn’t been with enemies all around who would tear him to pieces if they found him. These things seemed to ignore one another, but he’d noticed a few being arbitrarily attacked whenever they got into a fight over something. If he could play on that, he would have had them rip one another apart and leave the path open to him, but unfortunately they seemed to prioritize any ‘outsiders’ as preferred targets.
Scar sighed, his helmet containing the sound so that none of them would hear. “All of this over a fucking discount for some tacos that aren’t even fucking here.”
The assassin was lying on his back atop a taco stand with numerous aliens milling about the food court below. Some were sniffing around for food whilst others were simply lounging around and looking through their bags.
The embarrassing part was that a few years ago Forever Friday hadn’t been too different from how it currently was. This mall was famous for being the largest indoor shopping center in the known universe, but infamous for how dangerous it was and for how difficult it could be to leave. Some genius had installed only a single exit, and Scar hadn’t seen so much as a pamphlet with a map of the place or any signs pointing to a way out. So ever since the initial opening people had actually been down here, continuously shopping and fighting over things while the systems broke down over time and fewer employees were sent down to what was basically an excruciating death.
And now here he was, hiding between a dusty taco and a Cosmaco.Inc sign with a hope that these rabid, devolved shoppers would move on to the next bargain.
“Attention customers,” A pleasant female voice chirped from every speaker in the food court, drawing all eyes like they were the voice of God. “Forty percent off all footwear in Bob’s Boutique, providing the best in comfortable service clothing galaxy wide.”
A chorus of ‘Forty Percent’ and ‘Shoes’ filled the food court as hundreds of eternally trapped shoppers dragged themselves to the numerous exits and left, not caring if they would even have use for such a bargain. The only thing they had left was to keep wandering in herds to the next big deal...
Scar could be excused if he felt embarrassed for even living in the same galaxy after viewing all of this ridiculous nonsense, but his mind was more focused on his opponent. Speaking of which...the coast was clear, meaning he could get some answers in peace now.
“Camera Drone, remind me,” Scar unraveled his jacket, which he had wrapped around his designated drone and held against his stomach to keep the machine from blowing his cover. “Who am I fighting again?”
The drone rose into the air. “You, my good sir, are getting lucky this time. I’d honestly trade places with you if I could just to get a load of the gal you’re going up against. Say hello to Arabella.” Its eye glowed as it constructed a three dimensional image of Scar’s foe.
Arabella’s skin possessed a darker shade of green, an almost exotic feature that she flaunted with a view of her exposed body between the top of her hips to just above where her ribs showed a bit. She wore an all dark attire similar to his: leather boots, dark trousers, gun belt, and a long coat with metal shoulder and arm guards. A black hat rested on her head and a cocky smirk on her face that reminded Scar of a few too many people, and her PAK had a rather unique panel color decoration resembling a starry background.
Scar had never seen Arabella before, but he had heard of her in the past few months. She had left her mark on the galaxy, and her reputation for getting the job done was well deserved.
So for the second time in a row he would facing an experienced killer, but unlike his fight with Kei this one had no emotional attachments to make Scar hesitate. Arabella was a professional like him, so she more than knew the stakes of entering this tournament.
“Good enough.” Scar hopped down from the taco stand roof and straightened out his jacket to make sure any evidence of his injuries remained hidden. “Now cloak and shut up until I’m done here.”
“Rodger that, and I’ll make sure to get as much close-up footage of Arabella as possible.” The drone faded from view before Scar heard its anti-grav thrusters propel it up into the air where it wouldn’t be accidentally hit.
In a neighbouring sector of Forever Friday Arabella herself had found a place where those damned vultures weren’t storming through. It was a multi level, circular shaped shaft almost fifty feet across tha was lined with stores on the sides and had bridges running across the diameter while elevators connected each level.
Arabella was leaning on the metal railing of the top bridge, glaring down at the floor fifteen stories below as she gripped the smooth metal surface hard enough that her hands began to hurt. Her good mood after winning the previous round had been sullied thanks to a surprise transmission that had informed her of an unexpected and unwelcome change to her girlfriend’s accommodations.
Mainly that said accommodations had changed from the prison Arabella had known she was held in to the Serpent’s Circle itself. Compared to that place a Federal prison would have been a dream, as indicated by some of the propaganda videos posted by the Syndicate after they raided it a few years back with a whole army just to break out one guy. It was the sort of place that tore up the toughest of the empire’s prisoners, chewed up the remains and shat them out through a shredder.
Her princess would never survive in there for more than a week, if she was lucky.
However, by a stroke of luck, Arabella was looking at a holographic image of the very man who the Syndicate had freed from the prison: Scar, also known as Rine Gamble and former owner of the code name ‘Fury’. He had been second in command of the Syndicate up until his time in the Circle when he’d been carried out with only half of his arms, legs and eyes where they should be. After a few months of recovery on Outer Irk he had gone off the track only to reappear a year later as Scar the assassin...and with a whole new policy on being as vicious and thorough as possible.
He hadn’t been at this game for as long as her, but Arabella could tell that this Scar character wouldn’t be nearly as easy as her previous opponent. On the bright side he didn’t have any pesky regenerative powers, but on the other he had CyberIrken made prosthetics that could snap her bones with a flick of his wrist or a light step of his foot. She would have usually just gone in and engaged him immediately, maybe see if she could sick a crowd of the ‘Mall Zombies’ on him and let them do the work, but this situation required a different approach.
This situation required Scar alive long enough to tell Arabella everything she needed to know about the Serpent’s Circle, just in case even her winning this tournament wouldn’t be enough to free her girlfriend. He probably knew the place inside and out, understood its defences, knew the best ways in and out. If he didn’t then maybe his colleagues in the Syndicate would, but for now he was her best chance!
Bella groaned and bowed her head. “Of all the places they had to stash yah, Princess.”
“Yeah, if I cared I’d apologize for being the bearer of bad news on that topic.” Her camera drone said as he dismissed the hologram. “Imagine how big a coincidence this is: your girlfriend winding up there just as you’re paired up against a guy who had a yearlong membership in the Circle’s VIP club.”
Bella straightened up and sighed. “Well, ain’t no use sittin’ here’n groanin’ about it.” She looked around. “That Scar fella is pretty close by I reckon, prob’ly just takin’ it slow’n silent so he doesn’t receive the red carpet treatment like I did.”
She nudged the corpse of one of the shoppers who had been wandering around alone when Bella had been passing through a few minutes ago. What used to be an Irken girl had lunged at Bella, babbling something about how she wanted the older woman’s boots until Bella got her in a headlock and quickly snapped her neck to keep more of the psychos from flocking to her location. While it was a pity to see such a young one fall victim to the mother of all shopping addictions Bella didn’t so much as bat an eye lash as she nudged the body over to the edge of the bridge; with a casual kick she sent the corpse plummeting down three stories before it slammed into the railing of another bridge with a ‘crack’.
“Was that necessary, or just for fun?” Bella’s camera drone asked, crossing its tiny metal arms in what would have been mistaken for a disapproving glare if she had thought the automaton actually gave a damn about respecting the dead.
“Best not to leave a trail or some evidence lyin’ around here,” Bella shook her head and watched as the body slid off of the railing and fell another few stories before splattering against a third bridge. “Those Mall Zombies are like blood hounds if you give ‘em a...single...” She slowly turned her head to see a whole group of the wide eyed and hungry looking shoppers now staring at her from the end of the bridge.
“Well shit,” Bella turned to the group and put both hands on her hips, offering them a grin. “Ain’t this just awkward?” She then pulled back the hem of her coat and grasped the handle of her shotgun as the shoppers snarled and swarmed towards the Irken.
“Say hello to Riot, boys and girls.” Bella winked, and whipped the shotgun out before firing into the pack from a few feet away.
Scar heard the gun shots echo throughout the corridors, and immediately heard the footfalls of many shoppers coming from behind him. With a curse he broke into a sprint through a hall flanked by clothing stores, just barely keeping far enough ahead of the horde that he knew they weren’t able to identify him as an outsider. Up ahead he heard more gun shots and pained cries, meaning there was potentially another tide of rabid shoppers just waiting up ahead with whoever was dumb enough to go firing off anything louder than a silenced weapon in here.
Upon reaching an intersection of four corridors leading into what looked like a wide and open plaza Scar saw mannequins perched on several platforms arranged in a wide pyramid and connected by stairs to allow shoppers to get a good view of outfits ranging from tacky and colorful to dark and leathery. If there was a theme, then it could be found here...and he noticed that there was one platform devoted to a theme identified by a floating sign as ‘SkyCycle Sleek’.
Glancing around, Scar saw no other alternative with enemies approaching in from all directions.
A bloody fashion show was about to save his life.
Arabella was slowly coming to regret using Riot, but knew that she’d had little choice at the time. Just a few of these psychos were strong enough to rip her apart if she let them get too close, and Riot had made short work of the first group before a whole crowd of them poured out of every vent and door nearby. Now she had the shotgun slung across her back and had switched to her trusty handgun: Fireside.
“Crap, crap, crap!” She muttered while reloading the handgun, and fired just in time to blast two shoppers off their feet as they tried to intercept her. “Usin’ a little more ammo than I’d like to here.”
Arabella came to the very same intersection that Scar had reached minutes ago, and could see the distant shapes of more rabid Forever Friday customers closing in from every direction, at least ten in each corridor. She looked around for an escape and found that every avenue was blocked.
Each corridor had too many of the shoppers to blast through.
The light fixtures up above would either be too weak or too high for her to make use of.
The pyramid of posing life sized dolls would only slow them down and not nearly enough for her to thin their numbers before they got too close for her guns to make a difference.
However there was a way for her to go up: the pillars dotting the sides of the plaza. They weren’t too thick, and Bella saw plenty of carvings embedded into each one that had space for handholds; plus her persistent band of followers didn’t seem like they were too coordinate or talented at climbing.
Bella used one of the lower stages to get a good head start and throw off one shopper who had gotten ahead of the rest. She weaved between a trio of mannequins that were posed in swimsuits, and the shopper who had once been a Vortian tripped over the extremities of the third, which for some reason was shaped to represent a tentacle alien species of some kind-not that you need that image in your heads.
With just moments and a few feet between her and several more of the shoppers getting hold of her, Bella leaped onto the pillar and tightly gripped the side, making handholds of any available space. She quickly began to scramble up the side of the pillar and found a good spot where she wasn’t in danger of falling, however she felt a tug on the hem of her coat and realized that one of the freaks had grabbed on. Bella quickly raised one leg up and stomped down, feeling her boot slam into a head and then the weight pulling her back vanished.
Down below, the pack of nearly fifty shoppers converged around the pillar and began to fight one another for the chance to climb it. In the end they only ended up making sure that nobody would have a chance to get at Arabella, which was just fine with her as long as she could have a minute to catch her breath and find an escape route-maybe after they’d killed some of their own to make the job easier.
With all of their attention fixed on Arabella, the shoppers didn’t notice that one of the mannequins, which had remained perfectly still with its arms crossed until now, began to move. Scar, hidden among the group of mannequins on the far side of the pyramid/stage that were dressed in clothing consisting of dark colours, leather material and riding helmets had gone undetected. Such a ruse wouldn’t have usually fooled the shoppers or Arabella, but both parties had been in a rush for different reasons and hadn’t stopped to take notice of what Scar considered to be his least professional method of avoiding detection.
How the assassin proceeded next would decide if he died within the next short time span, be it from Bella or the crowd. Scar carefully analyzed the situation before reaching under his jacket and producing one of his grenades. They were not his preferred weapon, but they definitely came in handy for dispersing a crowd like this situation called for. He pulled the pin, counted to three, and then threw the small metal sphere into the midst of the crowd.
Bella, more preoccupied with climbing further up the pillar, never noticed anything until she heard the explosion below and was pelted from behind by bits of meat, some of which stuck to her coat. Giving a startled and disgusted noise, she glanced over her shoulder to see that a small crater had been blasted into the floor of the mall, and well over four fifths of the shoppers had been killed due to being packed in so tightly below where their intended prey had been dangling. The remaining ones were either wounded or dazed, missing limbs or having bloody holes torn through their bodies.
On the bright side the tightly packed crowd had also shielded her from the shards of metal that had been sent flying in all directions by the grenade, resulting in her just being splattered with the gore of several different species at once. She also saw the person who she had to thank for saving her life stepping down from the pyramid and pulling the sleeve of his jacket all the way back past his elbow before sprouting a blade from the forearm section of a metal prosthetic limb.
“Well, holy shit.” Bella murmured as Scar charged right in and engaged the few remaining shoppers.
He first sliced clean through the neck of the nearest and least wounded of the pack, decapitating him flawlessly and then spinning around to send the top half of his second victim’s head spinning away. The other four surviving shoppers immediately descended on the assassin, one tackling him from behind while the other three tried to tear away at Scar from the front or sides.
They may have had numbers on their side, but they were disorganized and weakened from their prolonged shopping spree. Scar was bigger, stronger, more trained and a lot healthier compared to them.
Scar rammed his metal elbow back into the ribs of the Vortian holding him from behind and broke free, delivering a kick to the jaw of one of his attackers in the same movement. Bella saw that the Vortian was clutching a deep stab wound in his side, and note how Scar’s elbow had another smaller, more curved blade sticking out of it. The Irken grabbed one of his other two remaining attackers by the head with his metal limb and, using the full weight of his body, rammed their head down into the floor.
With a crunch of bone and splatter of brain and blood, the Irken’s head was reduced to paste between the metal limb and the polished stone. By this point Arabella had shaken off her shock and disbelief and leaped down from the pillar. She landed feet first on the wounded Vortian’s lower back, forcing him to the ground where she fired a single round into the back of his head from Fireside. As Scar dealt with his final opponent Arabella turned her aim on the Planet Jacker who had been nursing a broken jaw and fired two times into the alien as he tried to rise. Scar just as quickly dispatched the last surviving member of the pack with a deep slice across the throat from a Karambit knife he had produced from his coat.
With no other threats present the two Irkens immediately turned and levelled their pistols at one another.
“Wait!” Bella immediately called out, taking one hand off of her gun. “You were in the Circle too!”
That single sentence was enough to make Scar pause, his finger just about to squeeze the trigger. That was what Bella had been hoping for, and lowered Fireside until it was aimed at the floor. She knew that Scar had a history similar to hers in being efficient and ruthless, but Bella also knew that something as traumatizing as the Serpent’s Circle could make anybody pause if they had the misfortune of staying there.
And she had been right. For a few moments Scar had been overcome by flashes of images from his year spent in the dreaded prison. Being confined to a dark cell smaller than a closet, awakened by glaring lights and splashes of boiling or freezing water, dragged out to have his skin cut open and slowly pulled apart only to be stitched back together long enough to heal, exposed to brands, electrical shock, clubs and fists that beat every inch of his body. His entire body shuddered as the Irken struggled not to show just how much of an effect Bella’s words had had on him.
“What...did you say?” He growled.
“The Serpent’s Circle,” Bella answered, catching her breath. “You were in there and your pals in the Syndicate pulled you out of it.”
“What of it?” Scar demanded, keeping his gun fixed on her but removing his finger from the trigger entirely. His entire body was still racked with shivers, his pulse raced and even now he could feel the sting of a spectral knife carving its way into his eye socket all over again.
“Somebody I know is in there,” Bella quickly explained. “Somebody...close, and if it’s still as bad as it was when you were a guest there then she won’t last a week.”
Scar had nightmares of those words ever being a reality for him. To have lived through the Circle was bad enough, but if it had been his wife, his daughter...he would have died of fright from thinking what was being done to them in such a forsaken place. Not even the strongest of souls remained strong there for more than a few days, he knew that by personal experience.
“Even less since she’s a woman,” Scar answered, now analyzing Arabella to see if any of what she said could be true.
Her body language and expression were corroborated by a chemical analysis his implant ran of her, which confirmed that she was stressed, aggravated, afraid even, but not of him. Scar recognized this state because he had felt it many times for his family and friends; he felt it even now for Makena and Sylvia.
It was out of character for Arabella, but Scar knew how desperation and worry could make a person change their tune, if only for a short time. Desperate times were very rarely normal, and in turn people rarely acted normal in desperate times. She had obviously done her research if she knew he had been in the Circle, but instead of using it to kill him as she could have already Arabella was just talking to him.
“Then you’ll understand why I’m about ask this,” Bella said. “I need to know everything about the Circle, everything that you know about it. Even if I win this they might not be obliged to release her, so I need to know about this place if the worst comes to pass.”
This whole tournament seemed to be testing Scar’s desire to not feel any form of sympathy for the people he fought at every turn. The Circle was a hell he would not toss his own father to, and that man had done more than enough to earn it. It was the worst prison the Empire had for its dissidents and enemies, and it had taken an entire assault on it by the Syndicate just to free Scar. The odds of Bella succeeding in a similar mission were so abysmal that the words ‘minimum chance of success’ didn’t even cover it.
But despite this Scar was not willing to be cruel, knowing what Arabella must have been feeling.
He removed one hand from his gun and reached around back to his PAK. A slot opened up and spat out a data card, which Scar tugged free and then held up for Bella to see. He saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes as the mercenary began to reach out and take a step forward.
“I won’t hold back,” Scar tossed the data card to Bella, who quickly snatched it out of the air. “But keep that, just in case you win. ”
Bella smirked and inserted the card into her own PAK for safe keeping. “I wouldn’t ask yah to anyhow, big guy.”
Both Irkens lowered their guns and began to take steps back from one another. Out of mutual respect for one another as professionals they had made an unspoken agreement to hold off on their fight just for a few critical seconds. Bella ducked behind the damaged pillar she had climbed earlier and began to reload Riot, and Scar reached beneath his coat for another weapon as he backed further up.
Bella finished loading her weapon and pressed herself back into the pillar with the shotgun cradled to her bare stomach. Despite her signature shit eating smirk the woman’s pulse was racing, either from nervous anticipation or fear for what would happen if she failed this one time.
Bella shut her eyes, took a deep, slow breath and murmured, “Ready or not princess.”
Scar plunged one hand into an open compartment in his PAK and knelt down, his free hand reaching beneath his jacket and grasping onto one of the explosive shuriken concealed beneath the garment. He called out to Bella, the speakers in his helmet amplifying his voice so that she could hear him clearly. “When you’re ready.”
Bella exhaled and spun out from cover, raising the shotgun to her hip and aimed it in the general direction of the large, dark figure that stuck out easily against the brighter colours of the mall’s floor and ceiling. She pulled back the slid on Riot’s belly and shouted. “Draw!”
End of Part One
Wrath of Irk
Chapter Fifteen: The Subjugation Arc, Part One
Estate of Tallest Blue, Outer Irk
“Why of all the people do I need to put up with this guy?” Blue muttered, reclining in his chair and crossing one leg over the other as he and Grimrair patiently waited. “I mean why would he care about what happens here anyways?”
“He is merely concerned,” Grim answered calmly, hands folded behind his back and his poncho neatly pressed and cleaned for this meeting. “We did call for additional military support to handle the growing situation, after all.”
Blue sighed and leaned his head back. “I suppose you’re right, but I don’t like it when some uppity military grunt goes and rearranges my schedule for me,” The young lord fidgeted in his desk, trying his best to hide his discomfort with the situation, “Or making demands of me.”
Grimrair could not fault the young aristo for his anxious state, as he was little better off himself. The person who had called them in was a highly important and rather...intimidating sort of individual who was about to call them all the way from Irken Central Command. They had heard of the growing situation concerning Wrath and his Syndicate, which had lead to this tense moment of waiting for the two Irkens.
The lights began to dim while a hologram projector built right into the ceiling began to compose a three dimensional, life sized image of another Irken. Many pieces of glowing shards were smashed together and began to shape into a bipedal figure that was of an imposing height, clad in a crisp and clean black uniform with medals pinned to the chest and a peculiar emblem on his shoulders that did not match the traditional Irken crest. He had red eyes that stared coolly at the two, causing a chill to run through them as they quickly acquainted themselves with the sensation of being dissected by a mere glance.
Grim composed himself first, offering a salute to the man. “Greetings, Director.”
“Greetings, Invader Grimrair.” The Irken replied, “At ease.”
Grim relaxed, and Blue rose from his chair to lean on his desk and stare at the officer. “This had better be good, Director...”
“Eder,” The man replied. “Director of Imperial Science Division 11: Special Projects and Operations, at your service, which it would appear you badly need.”
Blue bristled, but hid his anger under a facade of indifference. “If you are referring to the sudden request for military reinforcements, Invader Grimrair convinced me that it would be better to play it safe against the latest group of insurgents.”
“Ah!” Eder gave a thin, false smile. “The Insurgents...” He sounded like he was picking apart the title every time he said it, peeling back the shallow surface of the two words and prying out a deeper meaning from the text. “By which you mean the Wrath of Irk, who has been quite busy with acquiring the loyalty and resources of numerous major gangs and all the while humiliating the Empire. I fully understand why you have made your request, Lord Blue, however...”
Eder leaned forward a bit, and Blue found himself instinctively shrinking back into his seat under the analytic gaze of the older Irken. “I believe that my services shall be required to nip this in the bud. Outer Irk makes up for its lack of vital natural resources with being a testing bed for many of my projects, the...ugh...Candyland Project being the most critical.” The name was of course chosen by the Tallests...the buffoons. “And you can hardly blame me for protecting my investments.”
“Of course, Director,” Grim nodded, silencing Blue with a hand over his mouth when the Lord opened it to protest. “You will have our cooperation.”
Blue’s opinion be damned, Grim had heard far too much about this man and did not want to make an enemy of him.
“And vice versa, you shall have mine. In fact I believe that as a token of our new partnership I shall extend some to you right about...” Eder trailed off before the doors to Blue’s office opened. “Ah, excellent timing. Couldn’t have done it better myself.”
Six soldiers, not of Blue’s personal guard, dragged in the battered and bruised form of Wiyn, hands shackled and one of her eyes were swollen shut.
“As I recall, Lieutenant Wiyn here had been placed in charge of the security detail responsible for the Outer Dweller over a week ago,” Eder stated. “And for her incompetence she was not so much as reprimanded even after Wrath humiliated the Empire and stole an entire shipment of slaves.”
He nodded to one of his soldiers, who drew a knife and tugged on Wiyn’s antennae. The woman groaned in pain as she was forced to look up and stare with one wide, watery eye at Grim and Blue, who were just barely maintaining their composure at this display. The soldier then settled the knife against Wiyn’s throat and drew it across, cutting a line from one side of her jaw to the other and spilling blood while the sound of Wiyn choking and gurgling on her own blood filled the room.
Wiyn gave the two one last, pleading look, and then the guard savagely cut through her neck and let her body fall to the ground, leaving her head dangling in his grasp with blood spilling from the stump, a bit of spinal cord visible to Blue and Grim.
“Failure will not be met with mercy,” Eder said, losing his smile and playful tone. “Wrath is a growing threat to the Empire’s control of Outer Irk, and has repeatedly mocked us with every day that he is not apprehended. We will find him, we will destroy his Syndicate, and we will remind the galaxy why ours is the apex empire. Seeing as you two have not yielded any results I will be intervening personally to fix the damage your bumbling had caused. Am I understood?”
The soldier tossed Wiyn’s head casually at Grim’s feet, making the Invader’s nostril slits flare visibly as he glared at the armoured Irkens. While he had by no means liked Wiyn, she had been a loyal soldier and he had seen fit to keep her alive so she could make up for her failure, which he shared. However, unlike him, she was considered expendable by people like Eder.
“Understood,” Blue said with a slow nod, remaining perfectly calm and not betraying any disgust or horror he felt from the execution.
“Excellent, I will contact you upon my arrival.” Eder said. “Invader Grimrair, I already have an assignment for you to undertake. My contact within Wrath’s lowest ranks has informed me that he has acquired a functioning cruiser and is scheduled to take it on a mission out of this system. You shall follow it, and I shall provide a unique quantum frequency for you to track Wrath’s ship with.”
“I shall not fail, sir.” Grim said, standing at attention. “But why do we not simply track him to his hideout now?”
“The method I am using has its advantages and disadvantages, in this case respectively being the ability to track Wrath anywhere from here to the Andromeda Galaxy without any chance of being detected by scans and narrowing his vessel’s location down to an area several thousand miles wide.” Eder explained. “It will do us no good while he hides on Outer Irk, so you shall follow him to his destination, establish his purpose there and then do what you should have done before: end him.”
Grim nodded. “Yes sir, he shall not survive.”
“I’ll just let you both go in that case,” Eder smiled , but the expression was false, empty of emotion. “Do endeavour to prevent this situation from becoming any worse for yourselves. At this point, in my eyes, neither of you can afford it.”
The holographic image faded, and the soldiers quietly exited Blue’s office. Once the doors shut behind them Blue and Grim allowed themselves to relax.
“I’m crazy enough to deal with the Wrath of Irk,” Blue muttered. “But that guy?” He shook his head. “Nooooo thank you!”
Grim wiped his forehead. “I admit, Director Eder has always unsettled me. I am a stranger to neither death nor bloodshed and yet something about that man simply chills me to the bone every time I speak to him.”
The Invader knelt before the decapitated body of Wiyn. “She was loud, obnoxious and at the worst of times incompetent, but she did not deserve such a death.” He gently picked up Wiyn’s head, causing Blue to turn pale and look away as Grim carried the head over and set it next to Wiyn’s body before sending a message to the servants to bring a body bag.
“I will see to her burial later,” Grim said to Blue, facing the young aristocrat. “In the meantime we must prepare for Eder’s arrival and double our efforts to locate and neutralize Wrath. I will follow Eder’s lead, you must remain and ensure that the city and its people remain calm and peaceful.”
Blue settled back into his chair. “That’s already guaranteed. Despite Wrath’s actions crime is actually down. Any few criminals who don’t join up with the Syndicate end up ensnared in my nets when they try anything out of line. And with my control over all public media on Outer Irk, none save the Tallests themselves could let the public know who is to thank for the drop in insurgent activity...and we both know how thick headed they are.”
These benefits were mainly due to Wrath taking the majority of the professional criminal and rebel elements off the street and employing them. Blue managed to twist the news enough to reflect positively on his own efforts, but if Wrath remained at large for too long people would begin to ask questions and piece together the truth. The temptation to cut Wrath loose was present, but after all the rebel leader done now Blue couldn’t tell anybody that he’d funded the Syndicate’s founding. Blue would just have to carry through with this to the end and then find a way to quietly off Wrath without letting any data about their dealings getting out.
“Then you have the easy job,” Grim said, turning towards the door. “I just have to fly across the galaxy and chase after one man.”
Blue switched on his computer and, after using his authorization code, examined something that he felt may give him an advantage over Eder later on. “Candyland...” He muttered, examining the file. “Oh wow...stupid name, but lots of applications.”
Syndicate command ship, Defiance
On approach to Korlon Independent Zone
Nine hours later
The Defiance appeared in a brief flash of light, seeming to grow in size from a tiny speck to a colossal warship in the blink of an eye. The cruiser drifted for only a moment before its sub-light engines hummed to life and glowed bright red, propelling the ship further through the vacuum towards a dead planet that circle a red star.
And circling that planet was Korlon.
It had once been a moon, rich in resources and ideal as a tactical position for the Irken Empire to conduct raids against the now fallen Veniran Empire. The moon and the planet it had originally orbited had provided materials to construct thousands of ships, and had even contributed greatly to the final construction of the Massive. It had been a popular and constantly warred over asset once, trading hands between one empire and another. One empire would fly in millions of slaves to work the massive station, then eventually another faction would step in and take possession Korlon and the slaves.
This cycle had continued until the slaves had had enough and rose up. The Irken Empire, under the current Tallests, had taken control of Korlon and put it to work while adding numerous safeguards to keep it in their hands this time. With every other solar empire in hiding or struggling to defend against the Armada it seemed that the greatest foundry in the universe would not be taken over from the outside again.
In hindsight it may not have seemed like too great a risk to stuff so many slaves into one place with so few soldiers during that time span. The Imperials had mechs, automated turrets, control of the security systems and the ability to turn Korlon into a fireball with the push of a button if the slaves rioted. But unlike most, these slaves had gone about their uprising silently, preferring covert action and intelligence gathering over an armed rebellion. They had spent most or all of their lives on Korlon, and knew it like they knew their own bodies. These slaves had discovered every hidden passage, exploited every fault and malfunction, sabotaged every vital circuit and system that they could take advantage of...and best of all they had learned how to make mining tools into deadly weapons.
When the actual uprising happened, it was fast and devastating for the Empire. Over eighty thousand slaves tore apart one thousand soldiers stationed on the moon and took control of every system, cutting off any links to the Control Brains and rewriting security codes to keep the Empire from taking it back with a stroke on a keyboard.
The classic response had been to send in a fleet, but Korlon had been heavily reinforced before the uprising to protect the Empire’s interests. Anti-orbital cannons, a fleet of remote controlled attack drones, a smaller armada of ships that had been undergoing repair or construction which were now used to fend off an Imperial invasion and most importantly: the single most expensive and largest FTL drive in the known universe that had been built right down in the heart of the planetoid as a way of testing a ‘weaponized planet’ hypothesis.
It had worked, Korlon had vanished from its home system by the time the Empire arrived and quickly established itself in other systems for several months or years at a time. The slaves made a living by strip mining entire planets as they had with the one Korlon originally orbited; they could provide enough raw material to construct whole civilizations by extracting it from any dead worlds that bore no biological life or chances of such life evolving. Over the years the Empire simply stopped chasing the rogue moon and let the slaves keep it so they could focus on conquering the rest of the galaxy.
And now Korlon was a miniature empire of its own, possessing its own army and fleet protecting it and a population in the tens of millions. Most of the moon’s surface had been replaced with metal acquired from numerous planets, and almost the entire mantle had been drained clean and replaced by metal infrastructure, wiring, machinery, entire cities that reached down into the depths. Near the equator was a massive dot of red light representing Korlon’s greatest weapon and means of delivery: The Core Cannon.
Drawing on the power of Korlon’s still existing natural core, the cannon could fire either a concentrated beam of energy, or a solid mass of ore and metal to be fire up into its orbit for pickup. It was another reason why the Empire did not consider Korlon worth the trouble anymore, and why nobody had dared to bring any trouble to this rogue nation until the day the Wrath of Irk strolled into the system on the hunt for a Psi-Irken.
Standing on the bridge, Wrath stared at what he considered to be one of the greatest feats of engineering in the known universe, if not the greatest entirely. He glanced back at Rothan, who was seated in the Captain’s chair and relaying orders to every section of the ship.
“Look at it, Rothan,” Wrath said in an uncharacteristically soft voice, “An entire world that fought off the empire and forged its own destiny, a simple moon that has become the largest self sufficient mobile colony in the galaxy.”
Rothan smiled a bit as he rose from the command chair and joined Wrath by the frontal canopy. “It’s a marvel, I’ll give you that. Sure looks uglier when you actually land, but that station was never meant to look pretty in the first place. We could probably find a lot of willing recruits here to join the Syndicate.”
“I’ve always wondered why people have started calling it that,” Wrath muttered. “Even I took to referring to our organization as that, yet I don’t even know why.”
“Probably because that’s what it is,” Kid said, sitting on the floor by the frontal canopy and staring in awe at the cosmos, taking in the view of a nebula and the strangely beautiful visual of Korlon’s surface. “I mean it’s a whole lot of gangs and people coming together to do something, right? Or is that an alliance?”
Wrath chuckled softly. “Actually I believe you have stated it rather accurately, Kid. I’ve gathered these various gangs and factions together to pursue a common interest: rebellion. So I guess that when you put it that way we really can call ourselves the Syndicate...however I believe we will require a greater amount of resources and personnel before we can begin acting like a Rebel Syndicate. For now we are simply acquiring more materials and recruits.”
“Yeah,” Rothan huffed, “By killing the original owners of said materials, not that I mind. I mean Taras was a chump, and my old boss was even worse. You won’t hear me complain about it as long as this train keeps roaring ahead, and I don’t think anybody else will complain with the handsome paychecks you’ve been handing out since you took over.”
“And in order to make sure both you and our subordinates remain satisfied, we will require the assets of the Psi-Irkens stationed aboard Korlon, who have control of the Psi-Irkens hidden on Outer Irk.” Wrath nodded. “So let us try not to fail or I fear we will not even be alive long enough to care how disgruntled the Syndicate could become with me.”
As the Defiance drew in closer to Korlon, the crew was given a view of thousands of ships travelling to and from the surface of its latest meal ticket. The surface had been torn open to expose valuable minerals and fuels to the hundreds of thousands of miners now working away at the planet. Bit by bit they chipped away and shipped countless amounts of rock and metal up to Korlon aboard a fleet of transport ships.
But what caught their attention were the squadrons of patrol craft now coming up on their flanks.
“Attention, this is Korlon Customs and Internal Security, Patrol Squad 193.” A female voice announced. “State your purpose here, Wrath of Irk.”
Several crew members looked shaken or nervous. How did these people know that Wrath would be aboard?
“Remain calm,” Wrath said immediately. “Korlon would not have survived for so long if they did not have a competent intelligence network in other systems. Likely they recognized our ship as Taras’ and deduced that I would be aboard. Open up a channel to the lead vessel.”
After receiving a nod from the communications officer Wrath muted his external speakers and began to speak privately. “PS193 this is the Syndicate vessel Defiance, we are here to advertise openings in positions for our organization and hopefully gain some recruits, along with purchasing materials and supplies.”
“For the record, you are aware that your vessel will be locked down upon landing and weapon systems will be disabled to ensure that you pose no danger to Korlon, correct?”
“Correct,” Wrath nodded. “You shall have the full cooperation of the Syndicate, and we shall abide by your regulations.”
“That is acceptable. Please follow us in for processing and decontamination.”
Almost a half hour later, after the entire ship passed through several walls of energy that burnt off any organic matter left on the hull and was fully scanned for any signs of biohazards the Defiance was guided to a series of docking bays built into the side of an immense wall which served as a barrier between the surface of Korlon...and one of the many district that made up its city interior. The cruiser slowed to a halt, magnetically suspended in mid air while numerous robotic arms and docking tubes extended to secure it.
Unfortunately even after exiting the ship Wrath found one final obstacle between himself and Korlon.
“As one final matter,” A security officer said as a detail of nearly twenty armoured guards levelled rifles at Risk’s group and several plasma turrets locked onto the docked Defiance, “We require you to remove your helmets for full identification.”
“You do realize that my anonymity is rather...vital, correct?” Wrath asked, standing at the end of the docking tunnel connecting his ship to the hangar platform.
“You do realize that we have the authority to eject you and your ship from this station through the Core Cannon and into the sun if you don’t cooperate,” The officer smiled sweetly. “Correct?”
“Ah, true.” Wrath nodded and reached up to his helmet clasps with one hand while his other hand discretely reached for a grenade on the back of his belt. “I suppose that I don’t have much choice then-”
“Hold it, Captain!” A human clad in a Korlon military uniform rushed up, holding a data pad. “Wrath and his party have been given special clearance.” He informed the Vortian officer. “He is permitted to skip facial archiving.”
The Vortian frowned. “Well,” She nodded. “Very well then, stand down men.”
Wrath released a breath and his grip from the grenade. “Excellent. Thank you for your service Captain.”
He received a venomous glare for his remark, and the Vortian woman stepped right up to him and bore a hole through his visor with her stare. “Let me make this perfectly clear...hero,” She made the word sound like a vicious curse, “We don’t like it when people like you come around here, because when you come around you usually have trouble on your heels. If you do anything to endanger this station I will personally boot you into the Core Cannon and fire you all the way back to Irk myself.”
Turning away, she spat on the ground and led her troops away while the human officer remained by Wrath. Several others crossed the boarding tube from the Defiance to join him, two soldiers taking up guard while Rothan, Rik and Kid stepped through in civilian clothing.
Rik took a swig from his flask and nodded to the human. “Thanks again, Jenkins. Sorry for makin’ you run down here but I forgot until we pulled in that I usually come here in a different ship.”
The human, Jenkins, shrugged. “The money more than makes up for any stress on my part, so don’t worry about it. Welcome back to Korlon, Rik.”
“You two are friends?” Kid asked as he zipped up his coat.
“In a manner of speaking,” Rik chuckled. “You see Kiddo, you’ll find that it pays to have lots of ‘friends’ like Jenkins here, especially when you need to tip toe around a few regulations.” He slapped a credit chip into Jenkins’ waiting palm. “And it’s always good to make sure those ‘friends’ get rewarded for doing you a solid.”
“Reciprocal Altruism at its finest,” Jenkins grinned and casually saluted before walking away, “Listen to Rik there, he knows how to get around in this place!”
Rothan, clad in a leather overcoat, frowned. “This place is a hive of corruption and greed.”
“And it’s significantly preferable to what the Empire has,” Rik pointed out. “Rothan, you go and look for some potential recruits while we proceed with our primary objective.”
“Remember have the rest of the crew on alert, and keep the disruptor emitters active and best of all make sure they’re ready to move out.” Risk added. “We need to be ready in case things go exactly as planned.”
Kid had not quite mastered Risk’s unique and rare sense of humor. The boy tried to process what Risk had just said, taking a moment to realize that Risk hadn’t misspoken; he had stated exactly what he;d meant. He rubbed his chin and glanced up towards the armored Irken’s visor. “Don’t you mean ‘if things do not go as planned’ Mr Cuddly?”
“Oh no Kid,” Risk chuckled. “I’m hoping they won’t, but based off of my last few plans it’s best to plan for the worst case scenario and just hope that I’m wrong. I’m expecting something bad to happen, so I’ve accounted for it in the main plan to cover our bases.”
Thinking back to the last few times they had tried to make a mission quick and clean, Kid couldn’t deny that there was a pattern of plans not surviving past the first or second stages. Their effort to relocate from the Neo-Splor hideout, the raiding of the CyberIrken hideout only to find them already surrendering, the attempt to assassinate Taras, the original search for the CyberIrkens that had lead to a confrontation with four cybernetic warriors; Wrath’s plans had a habit of falling apart.
“I guess that makes sense,” Kid smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. “Yeah, better safe than sorry.”
Risk knelt down to Kid’s level. “There’s one last matter we need to talk about Kid. Do not let anybody know about your arrangement with Blue. Korlon is extremely against the practice of slavery, and while you are a free person in my company your status with Blue would still place us under suspicion, which means around here that we’ll be dragged in for questioning and have our faces posted all over the station, giving us away and leaving us trapped like rats.”
Kid swallowed and nodded, gripping the collapsed handle of his spatula beneath his coat. “Okay Mr Cuddly, I won’t say a thing about my ma-...about Blue.”
“Good,” Risk patted Kid on the shoulder. “Let’s take a walk for a bit, my people will be scouring the station for Jolin’ae and her hive.”
While the guards had been intently focused on the docking port, they had failed to notice several shapes detach from the bottom of the Defiance and drop to the floor far below the hangar deck, landing in an unoccupied maintenance bay that the ship could be lowered down into for any repairs.
A dozen CyberIrken infiltrators clad in full stealth armour vanished from view, the red lights from their helmets fading out of view a moment later before they scattered, ducking into corridors, vents and pipes to begin their search. They were linked in a network with Risk’s helmet and would instantly report everything they found while a copy of Thrill would organize the data and provide Risk with a full tactical analysis of the area where Jolin’ae was hiding.
While Risk was loath to let the CyberIrkens off their leash, he knew they were immune to the telepathic control of Psi-Irkens and could move about undetected. He had placed strict safety measures on each infiltrator to keep them from hacking into Thrill or going off track from their designated mission. The last thing he needed was news of him bringing cyborg monstrosities to Korlon spreading around.
Rik, Risk and Kid rented a sky car and flew out into the skyline of the district that identified as ‘The Foundries’, a name that left little need for elaboration. Most of the buildings were massive factories designed to harness the raw materials mined every day and create anything needed almost instantly. The Foundries of Korlon were famous throughout the galaxy for their unique design, one that the Empire still could not replicate for mass production which allowed for hundreds of tons of materials to be refined into components for engines, ships and anything else that was demanded. It was fast, it was efficient, and it allowed these factories to forgo the usual smoke stacks that would clog the air of the confined city with smog.
Some sections of the city formed into massive pillars that reached from ceiling to floor, lined with residences and sky docks that allowed people to easily catch a taxi or bus to and from work and walk quickly to their home. Each pillar could hold several thousand people, and this district alone had almost ten of them despite being the smallest in size and population. Only workers lived here, workers and any merchants who could get a good enough deal or enough favours to operate their business from out of this district. Other districts were clogged with millions of people milling about, most of them miners who were on break from tearing apart the latest dead world to become Korlon’s meal ticket.
“Where are we going exactly?” Kid asked, leaning between the two front seats with an arm resting on the shoulder of both men.
Risk was examining a map projected from his gauntlet, his expression hidden by his helmet just in case these rental cars had any surveillance devices in them...well, any that Kid had missed before take-off. “We’re going to an industrial district,” He showed the map to Kid, “Restaurants, bars, clubs, stores, trade guilds, convention centers; Jolin’ae and her cell of Psi-Irkens have bought out one of the larger structures and turned it into their hive.”
“And that means there are at least a few dozen of ‘em,” Rik kept his eyes focused on the traffic ahead as he spoke. “A Psi-Irken hive has Psionic Conduits built into it to enhance the powers of its occupants, decrease the chances of anybody with a Disruptor just walking in and shooting ‘em dead.” He pulled into a tunnel that passed through another thick metal wall marked with air lock tunnels parting the Foundries from the next district over.
Kid laced his fingers together and lightly leaned his chin onto his folded hands. “Why did we bring Disruptors if they won’t work?”
Risk smirked and turned his head to glance at Kid out of the corner of his eye. “That is the surprise, Kid. I can only say that we will be walking in there like any other idiot would do, but unlike them we will be going in on our terms even if Jolin’ae doesn’t know it.”
This intentionally vague explanation only served to annoy Kid, who spent a few minutes pestering Risk before finally retreating to the back seats to pout. Risk gave him one of his fake detonators to play music with, improving the boy’s attitude a bit as he cycled through different songs and giggled with each tune that played. The sound of Kid laughing helped to ease some of the tension in the car as Rik passed into a district stuffed with towering sky scrapers that lit up the cavernous city like a Christmas tree.
It looked beautiful from up here, but they knew that even in an independent colony like this a city would become ugly as sin once they reached street level. Unfortunately this was the distrist where Jolin’ae was holed up.
Meanwhile, another ship had arrived on Korlon, undetected and admitted through an Imperial agent who had managed to secure a mid level rank in the security division. A single decommissioned voot runner, heavily modified by Vortian technology, was allowed to land in an empty hangar bay. The canopy opened with a hiss of compressed air, and Invader Grimrair climbed out. He had changed out of his regular poncho and uniform in favour of a non-descript coat and hood to hide his well known face, and just in case he had packed some extra supplies to alter his appearance.
“Keep up the good work, soldier.” The Imperial spy/dock master tipped his hat to Grim, who nodded and pulled his hood up before checking the cameras to ensure they had been disabled before then exiting the hangar to begin his investigation.
Wrath and his group had landed on Korlon, and Grim intended to find out where precisely there ship was and what their aim here was.
End of Chapter
|I'm looking to get a subscription, but at the rate I spend my points I will have some trouble. For now...I'm just hoping anybody who likes some of the stories I put up might donate a few. I am in no way pressuring anybody to, I'm only saying it would be appreciated-plus I can still collect points the old fashioned way...though for some reason I can't access my badges page to give away badges for points. I managed to get to it using my computer's history, but I'm honestly not sure if that was supposed to happen or if it's another error. Either way, I chose to open this.|
The only thing I could offer right now would be a written entry with one of your own characters in it. If you would like one in return for points, just say so.