Joined: Sep 2011
Chaete liked the Labyrinth. The entrance had been earthworks but as they descended it had quickly replaced itself with solid, reassuring stone, bereft of burrowing insects and almost entirely free of ancient, rotting, dead matter. She had been building herself up to give her two travelling companions a piece of her mind, but away from the oppressive sky that didn’t really seem so important any more. Coming down here had been a good idea and she was glad she’d thought of it (even if her new friends were being very unreasonable with their insistence that she stop stopping to bite the walls).
Occasional sections of the tunnels seemed to have been carved by hand, with well-spaced wall sconces holding torches which surely should have burned out by now, but most of Obscura’s maze was composed of twisting natural tunnels filled with cave gloom or the occasional patch of luminous flora. The darkness didn’t bother Chaete at all but the flashlights in Clara’s pack had been designed as an aid to moonlight rather than tools for a spelunker, and so it was necessary for her to restrain herself from digging her own path through the complex so that she could lead the poor, half-blind humans around. That had been fun for a little while but frankly it was starting to get a little tiresome, she was so hungry and the food was right there and even though Chaete’s dragging land speed was slow it could not truly be said that the shuffling gait of a person who is trying to make haste but at the same time avoid running face-first into a wall was much better. And besides, it wasn’t like she actually knew where they were going.
They had passed through square passages barely wide enough to fit their group through single file, twisty channels that had once held subterranean rivers (still gurgling in the distance) and echoing, cavernous chambers of stalactites with more exits than Chaete could count on her hands, all they had all been united in their complete lack of signage and multitude of dead ends. At this point she wasn’t even sure how far they were underground, let alone what route they had taken to get here (or whether they were retracing their own steps), but she didn’t let that bother her because sometimes they’d come across smooth-walled, circular tunnels which she could imagine were dug by other worms who, for some reason, were refusing to make themselves known.
While feeding Chaete was rarely methodical and tended to produce meaningless looping tunnels scarcely wider than her own head which were not intended to ever be revisited, but for the few times she wasn’t busy gorging herself and was in the mood for some socialising she and her brothers had carved out bigger chambers (not too dissimilar to the one they were walking through now) which were useful for all sorts of games.
She’d been lighter back there of course, everything in this new place was slow and heavy and uncomfortable. She’d hoped it would go away if she got deep enough underground but she still felt like she was having to drag herself everywhere. Maybe…
She thought back to the time when she could effortlessly glide from one end of a cavern to the other with just a little push, duplicated the movement and… fell over.
“What are you doing?”
“Why isn’t it working?! I should be able to get up there!”
Chaete broadcast a series of pictures of herself floating majestically through the air which the other two both completely ignored. Amaranth sighed.
“Chaete we need to stop stopping like this! There are people following us, they were following you earlier. Don’t you remember them?”
“These passages belong to Obscura... she’ll likely care more about the armed invaders behind us, and whatever was burning her woods, but it would be unwise to stay here long.”
“We need to keep moving.”
As if on cue, something thundered in the distance and the shadows cast by the flashlights flickered and jumped. A rat ran out of the darkness, ignored the humans entirely and vanished into the black void ahead. A host of chittering creatures that were just slightly larger rats ran around the edges of the torchlight and followed it. The thundering sounded again, closer this time.
Clara rifled through the remaining pages of her book, squinting through torchlight and breathing heavily, the numbing effect of the pollen starting to lose its grip again.
“I don’t know! There’s nothing here about traps, people who get lost here are just supposed to wander forever or be eaten by something!”
“We need to move, now!”
Chaete didn’t need any further persuasion.
- - - - -
Some of the followers of Ceraceros had high-powered lamps attached to their suit helmets. Exploring a cave in diving gear was a little bit odd but it had been that kind of day, they’d travelled a good 20 miles on foot in just a couple of hours and couldn’t be sure they weren’t going to face another sudden change of environment, so while they hadn't really done it on purpose they could pretend that carrying the extra equipment had been practical.
For example, even if they hadn’t actually had to go underwater yet, their rebreathers were pretty good for cutting through the thick clouds of incense they were following. Some of the men were sure they were being poisoned, and so even though the breathing gear hadn’t cut out the incense smell entirely it had made it did make everyone feel a bit safer.
Still, the hunting party were having doubts about their current location.
“Captain, isn’t this Obscura’s place?”
“You’re not scared are you, swabbie?”
“No but like, we’re not fighting Obscura. Won’t she be upset that we came in here with guns?”
“We’re fighting everyone! We’re at war!”
“Yeah but we’re not fighting her right now are we? Like, mostly all we’ve done since getting to the valley is a bit of skirmishing with Res Rex and hiding from Raxis and Kedemonas. We’re not winning! We shouldn’t be getting more people mad at us!”
By all rights Dread Captain Balencia (honorary title, really she was more for fishing than piracy but war brings a lot of tempting prizes and anyone who can capture an enemy battleship with four boats, six men and a load of nets tends to rack up the commendations fairly quickly) should have had her crewmate keelhauled for this level of insolence… but the Ceracean military structure was not a particularly rigid one and unpopular captains did not stay captains for very long.
She knew all of her crew were thinking along the same lines, nobody liked being down in this cave and the prospect of enemy soldiers or worse descending on them from the darkness wouldn’t help morale at all, but the dire straits they were in weren’t a reason to stop, they were a reason to go faster. They needed this, or jousting with the followers of a god who was already dead would stay their most notable achievement and their Occasionally Merciful Lord would be left a laughing stock.
“Look, the Obscurans are all tied up with Desolo, right? They aren’t going to care that we’re in here. Besides, once we catch this thing we’ll just have it make a hole out and nobody will know the wiser. Got it?”
“If you say so boss…”
“Besides what’s she going to do? There was that big explosion near her front door just before we started this whole thing, she’s not going to have anyone free to send after us right now.”
Unlaboured by poor vision and lack of legs, and with the luxury of having a trail to follow rather than stumbling at random down false passages, it only took them another ten minutes to fall into range of Chaete’s mental radio complaint broadcasts (a somewhat disconcerting experience considering it got no louder or quieter relative to their distance from their quarry). The trail had been harder to pick out since they left the mud, but their quarry still left the ground somewhat scuffed and occasionally pockmarked with deep furrows through solid stone from what they silently hoped weren’t teeth. Another reason that the signs on the ground had been getting harder to follow was that they were frequently being obscured by little groups of panicked rats.
“Ground just shook!”
“The hell was that?”
“Something ran over my foot!”
“This some kind of earthquake?”
“Think we should be running too??”
“Ground team says the entrance tunnel just collapsed behind us!”
“What?! Are we trapped?”
“I don’t want to die down here!”
The Captain clapped her hands together and glared at her assembled crew.
“We can’t get back the way we came. So? We weren’t going to anyway!
Whatever’s making that noise-”
“-is behind us and our way out is in front of us.
If you want to get out of here, stop standing around like a bunch of quivering nancies and do your job! We’ve got a fish to catch!”
“But it’s not a-”
- - - - -
After maybe half a mile of walking, there was another dead end. Amaranth was starting to think that coming down here hadn’t been the best idea after all… not that they’d really had many other options to choose from.
The tide of cave dwellers had presumably known a way to the exit, but had swept past much faster than they could follow and now even the stragglers had overtaken them. Every thirty seconds or so the walls shook with a loud grinding noise and it sounded closer every time. There were no other passages leading off from this one and she had a sinking feeling that if they turned back to go the other way now then they’d run right into their pursuers (or at least, if they themselves had been moving faster than what she suspected was happening behind them).
Amaranth did not want to die and she especially did not want to die here. What would grow from her underground, in the dark? Nothing healthy would be able to take root were she to be crushed by rocks. No, they definitely should not have come here.
“Chaete, I think we need to go.”
Clara dropped her book and her torch and started shaking, Amaranth clapped her hands to her ears. Chaete was loud and she hadn’t expected such vehemence! Not too far off, there was a distant, muted booming entirely unlike the now regular crash of stones coming together, someone else had been surprised too. They didn’t have much time.
“It’s nice here! There’s no gross dirt and there’s food everywhere and nothing’s tried to hurt me! It’s like home!”
“But there are people trying to hurt us! That’s why we came down here in the first place, they are almost here now! Please, we need to get out of these caves before they catch up.”
There wasn’t time for this to be a discussion, Amaranth desperately released more pollen even though she knew it wouldn’t do any good with the alien child. Clara moaned and dropped to her knees, but Amaranth didn’t have time for that either.
“I could dig a tunnel out of here if you let me… I would be safe!”
“We can’t dig Chaete, you know that! A hole just for you would be too small for me!
If you leave now, I will die, and then you’ll be on your own.”
Chaete tilted her head to give Amaranth a plaintive look with seven of her eyes, then turned her head to stare at the wall that was blocking their path, wracked with indecision. She didn’t want to leave but she didn’t want to leave the only person that had been nice to her but she was already working on an empty stomach and she’d been running and she was tired and if she dug through the wall she could eat and have a nap and then come back and maybe Amaranth was wrong and they wouldn’t hurt her? They were the same weird shape creatures after all, she didn’t really understand why they’d be angry at Amaranth, they just wanted to chase her for some reason… but unfortunately before she could finish that line of thought, “they” arrived.
As fast as they’d been able to go compared to their quarry, they weren’t faster than the arcane mechanisms Obscura was using to close up shop. It was now no secret that the tunnels were grinding closed in their wake and sealing their escape, and any pretense of military order (or attempts at morale-boosting sea shanties) had been abandoned in favour of a reckless sprint to keep themselves out of the pounding stone jaws. Not all of them had made it. By the time they rounded the last bend, near-blinding the two humans with their head-lamps, they were completely unprepared to actually meet what they’d been hunting, and especially unprepared to meet a solid stone wall.
One of them ran into Clara and fell over, throwing his loosely-gripped harpoon launcher across the room. Another crashed bodily into the rock and toppled dazed onto the floor (his weapon was useless anyway, apparently he’d detonated it prematurely and all that remained of the end was a twisted metal lump). Three remained, managing to react fast enough to train two of their weapons on the worm and one on Amaranth before she could move to claim their companion’s lost firearm.
There was another Slam! deafeningly close now, rattling the teeth and changing the texture of the air as it was crowded into a smaller space.
The one with the fanciest helmet addressed Amaranth.
“We need to get out of here! Make it do it’s thing!”
Chaete scrabbled backwards in panic until her back was pressed to the wall, filling everyone’s heads with a low keening buzz.
“And make it stop doing that!”
The soldier to his captain’s left swayed, coughed, and lifted his rebreather, relaxing his aim on his weapon and closing his eyes. Amaranth dived for the fallen gun (what kind of ridiculous order would arm their soldiers with such an impractical tool? The mechanics were simple enough and clearly labelled, one was a trigger, the winch did what all winches did and the only other red button was emblazoned with a fiery icon which a child could probably understand, but as single shot armaments clearly these couldn’t actually be useful for anything other than whale hunting? She decided not to pick it up after all) as the two remaining sailors both fired theirs.
“Useless! Don’t let it get away!”
There was another Slam! (and a crunch, cutting off a scream) and the “room” they were stood in was suddenly half as big as it had been. Clara crawled over to Amaranth and tried to help her to her feet.
One harpoon splintered Chaete’s left mechanical arm before bouncing harmlessly off a space-proof hardened scale, but the other caught itself between two plates and stuck there. Chaete wailed (everyone was suddenly subject to the painless but annoying sensation of having something stuck between two very large teeth somewhere on their back) and bucked and unfolded her mouth and went.
Amaranth ran for the worm, dragging Clara with one hand, and managed to catch hold of Chaete’s midsection as she vanished through the rapidly widening portal… but Clara let go, pulling back and staring through the hole in alarm.
The whaler captain braced her feet against the floor as her harpoon’s chain went taut, then staggered, cursing, as the pull on the other end suddenly magnified, dragging her towards the aperture and out into the daylight beyond.
Amaranth looked back, clasping both arms around the worm to steady her sudden dizziness, at Clara who was looking back at her from a jagged hole in a tapestry of blue and white swirls.
Clara reached out through a window which looked directly down at the tops of the trees of the forest from several miles above, stretching out an arm in a pointless attempt to try and catch her rapidly shrinking companion before she hit the ground. Her voice was almost inaudible as gravity caught the worm and her two passengers and the wind started to rush past their ears as they dropped downwards.
“It’s too high! You’ll fall!”
- - - - -
Warnings blared and flashed inside Arokht’s helmet, but he fought on. The damage his suit had already obtained was concerning, but there was no time to worry about it now. Besides, it wasn’t like he could really hear the alarms anyway over the tinnitus.
If he hadn’t been stabbed through the leg and otherwise brutalised he’d have been able to outrun the Alala easily and probably even now would still have a good chance, one of its legs was bent at the wrong angle (probably, it was hard to tell with all of those joints) and he currently had it pinned under half of a tree, but the darting Proioxis was a problem.
It was taking both of his bigger arms to keep the larger of his two foes from moving or operating its terrible sonic weaponry (shoving a cannon barrel into its mouth and filling it with ice seemed to help, though it had to be constantly reinforced to keep back the fires that seemed to make up the inside of its body) which left him with little to defend himself with as the second demon twirled and danced with itself behind his back, darting in and out to swipe and thrust whenever he had to shift his attention to keeping his other foe held down.
He was going to pay for these injuries later, while these creatures at last were something worthy of fighting they were still using substantially different technology than his and none of their parts would be useful for attempting to perform maintenance on himself. He doubted anyone on this superstitious rock could have understood his suit even if they had the inclination to help him (and why would they?) and so every breach and tear was going to stay with him for a long time, but he’d lost so much functionality already that it seemed a little immaterial in the face of just surviving, no, winning this encounter.
As the Proioxis spun in again, blades flashing, Arokht reversed his grip with a titanic heave, swung the Alala around by its unbroken leg and threw it. It was too heavy to fly far and he hadn’t been able to put as much strength into it as he’d have liked given that he was favouring one leg, but it did land upside-down with a satisfying crunch. The sight only improved when another railgun blast turned its already maimed head into a twisted hole. This time it didn’t get up.
Unfortunately the Proioxis just ducked under it, its absurd agility had left it with barely a scratch even after all this time. It spun its torsos and raised its arms to the sky, spitting sparks at Arokht, as if to laugh at him. Even without its ally it had the advantage and it knew it. Arokht could not put the whole of his weight on one of his legs which slowed him down considerably. The conjoined creature could run rings around him with ease and vaulted lithely over the blasts of freezing light Arokht aimed at it as he began to charge, and filled with the same kind of fire as its companion its feet seemed to melt through the ice before they could slip, meaning he couldn’t even use that to slow it down. It seemed to know where he was going to fire even before he pulled the trigger.
The devil soldier continued its dance, lunging and swiping and dodging away, severing more of the tubing which had burst from punctured plating and carving tattoos into the outside of his armour. Without its bulky assistant to provide a distraction it seemed less daring, prioritising keeping its own hide over puncturing his.
It would take hours for it to bring him down when it was playing it safe like this, but unless it committed to something more risky then Arokht didn’t have much of a hope of catching it either, his heavy swings were too slow and too high. Whenever he’d attack, the Proioxis just ducked underneath, scored another line across his suit, and rolled away. This was no real fight! Either it was playing with him… or it was delaying. A rumbling in the ground clued him in as to which.
Arokht roared and swung his cannon at its head, but it was gone a second before the barrel connected, somersaulting away towards the trees and turning (a gesture Arokht imagined was entirely for his benefit, given that it had a head on both sides) to greet the approaching Megáli. Reinforcements! As the lumbering vehicle pulled up next to the remains of the Alala, the Proioxis hopped up onto its roof (in front of the forward defensive cannon) to avoid Arokht’s final ice barrage and raise its arms again in a final mocking challenge. The cannon fired.
“I told you it was worth finding out how that worked!”
Wasting no time, Arokh froze his target’s legs as together as the impact knocked it into the air, and was already at its side as it slammed into the ground. It valiantly brandished one pair of swords, but the icelander knocked them both aside with one arm and pinned the other two to the ground with another blast of ice. Suddenly immobilised and with a boiling hole in both of its chests, the creature actually looked fairly pathetic. It hissed and spat embers a he looked down at it, placing his good leg on its midsection, just above where the two torsos began to split.
“You should have just killed me.” he told it, increasing the pressure until its armour began to buckle, “Or tried.”
He left its two now-separate torsos scrabbling in the mud, hefted his stolen railgun and then began toward the still motionless transport. Fortunately Anila had already pried the entry hatch open, crawled out onto the roof and waved him to attention before he began to try and tip the vehicle onto its side.
“Hey! Hey! It’s me! I was just in the area and thought you could do with a hand! I owed you a favour after all.”
No you didn’t, the vehicle was mostly driving itself.
“How long were you fighting those things anyway? I’ve been gone for ages!”
Arokht fixed her with a glare of iron.
“...never mind. We were going to go check out that big tower that came out of the ground just now, want to come with? There’s medical supplies and stuff in the back. I’m not sure they’d work on you but it’s worth a shot, right?”
Arokht continued staring in silence.
“Look, I know a lot about enchanted towers and they’re usually just full of neat magical stuff, and if we’re looking for something to help us kill that Outsider guy where better to start?”
He sighed. He didn’t know what he felt about being aided (not rescued, he’d have managed by himself eventually) by the diminutive alien (at least it meant protecting her earlier hadn’t been a complete waste of time) but she did, somehow, have a somewhat convincing point. And even if it were better for him to invade that stronghold alone, in his condition it would be faster getting there on wheels than on foot.
“Alright. Let’s go.”
“Yesss! I call front seat!”
He was disheartened to learn that she was the only one of the pair who could have possibly fit in the driver’s chair.
- - - - -
“Chaete! You need to do it again! We’re going too fast!”
Amaranth clung on for dear life, either Chaete couldn’t hear her protests past the rushing wind or wasn’t listening. She had barely moved since they fell through the portal and Amaranth could still almost feel the heavy drag of the pirate behind them as if there was a metal spike stuck into her own back, not the worm’s. Was she in shock? With both her hands occupied with holding on there wasn’t really much she could do except try shouting louder.
“Chaete! Wake up! You brought us out too high up!”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t stop until we’re somewhere safe and this definitely isn’t safe.”
“Safe? Safe…” There were gears spinning in Chaete’s head, sluggishly, and through their psychic link Amaranth could hear them. She’d gotten through!
“Can you do that? Just once more, and then you can rest.”
There was still the matter of the pirate captain, somehow still clinging on to her violently swinging weapon at the end of a straining length of steel chain, but the labyrinth had dealt with the rest of their pursuers and Amaranth thought she’d be able to cope with one person on their own.
It had… also dealt with Clara, the girl that she’d led into there at gunpoint, but she didn’t want to think about that right now. She forced herself (with botanical aid) to be calm, they were already moving quite fast and this was going to be a bumpy landing.
Chaete shuddered and caught the sky with her teeth, Amaranth gripped harder, tensed herself and closed her eyes. There was a momentary feeling of weightlessness… and no heavy impact. The sounds of battle raged far below.
They were still falling.
- - - - -
The corridors of Visindi’s laboratories were an eccentric combination of sterile and cluttered. The walls and floor were mostly of a smooth, seamless, reflective steel, lit by fluorescent tubes… but the effect was ruined by randomly placed, tumorous masses of pipes (full of strangely coloured liquids, and not apparently leading anywhere) and the constant flickering of electrical arcs from the light-tubes to the unshielded scaffolding that supported them. The doors leading off the hallway were often plastered heavily with arcane icons probably intended as warnings, but which were almost impossible to decipher without some kind of handbook. A couple were boarded shut, many had broken or soot-blackened windows and the foul smelling fumes (and occasionally, puddles) that leaked from those that weren’t quite properly airtight kept those of the party with more sensitive noses glued to the far wall as they passed by.
The ragtag group currently sneaking around inside had been invested with some small part of the spirit of Science!! and “experimented” with breaking the rather pointless glass viewing panel of the side of one of the chrome chemical tubes open… but when the blue goop inside had started to drip upwards through the cracked screen and corrode the roof above them they collectively decided to leave well enough alone. Whatever that was for, it could keep doing its thing for a little while longer. At least, as long as it took for them to find where they were going.
The floor was decorated with a series of coloured lines, running down the centre of the main hallway to lead the science lord’s various servants to whichever designated workspace they were meant to be tinkering in that day. Unfortunately there wasn’t a key to what each colour meant in sight and hadn’t been for some time, so to the invading party it was about as useful as any other carpet.
Matters of navigation also weren’t particularly helped by the fact that only two of them were in disguise, and there were watchful eyes (literally eyes, presumably leftovers from scientists who had installed something more “efficient”) wired into machinery set into the roof at fairly regular intervals. Kedemonas’s contingent were experts at moving undetected and did not have particular trouble staying out of sight, but much of Inderigo’s lot were a bit… slower. Robin eventually decided simply to effect the “we’re escoring these prisoners/test subjects and are totally allowed to be here” stance and hope nobody was really watching. So far it seemed to have worked (it may really just have been that nobody was watching), but they were slowing the beast pack down considerably, it was only a matter of time before someone realised the guard patrol they’d ambushed hadn’t come back, and resentment was running high.
Kedemonas had been dubious about bringing these "new friends" along to begin with, and they certainly hadn't proved themselves to be very useful yet.
This place was evidently kept at the back of the building simply because most of the work done here wasn’t terribly important. None of the rooms they burst into were even staffed and most of them just appeared to be storage for a series of eclectic and useless science fiction toys. The first actual scientist they found confirmed the suspicion that most of the high ranking important researchers were all dealing with the forces beseiging the front gates, but managed to slip some kind of bulbous ray gun out of a coat pocket and met an unfortunate end before he could use it.
The second was much better at providing directions.
Once they’d found the scent (turns out they were already fairly close), the dogs had been set loose and all attempts at keeping up became impossible. Even Barbary had fluttered off to join the hunt, after giving Robin a consolatory look (or was it annoyed? The last few hours had been a crash course on animal body language but she still couldn’t always tell exactly what a cloud of birds might be trying to convey to her), leaving her and her misbegoten flock in the dust. Not that she could blame him, things had kind of slipped out of her hands since An Actual God had walked into their midst and the big, antlered guy was clearly a far more powerful ally than she was, whether she commanded an entire army of zombies or not. At least she had her tools now.
By the time she and her shambling entourage reached The Chimera Labs they’d already missed most of the action.
Each Chimera was a unique creation, tailored to the whims of the worshipper in question, as well as whatever their attendant doctors thought would be a good idea at the time (they needed an excuse to try out their latest Advanced Techniques and Groundbreaking Technology of course). The massive creatures required an equally massive preparation area, and a very large team of surgeons, and so even though the room they found themselves in was larger than an aircraft hangar it was only equipped to service three of the beasts at a time.
The centre of the room was taken up with a spiral of progressively larger surgical slabs (individuals as large as Deacon Cathedral tended to be the lucky recipient of several staggered augmentations rather than progressing directly from man to mammoth in one go, though that wasn’t unheard of for those who had done particularly great deeds or on days when the lab team were feeling particularly Inspired) which were currently mostly lying smashed or on their sides, as a result of the ambushed surgeon-technogenticists waking their current, fairly titanic patient early in response to ambush and before he’d figured out how to work all of his legs (some of which hadn’t been sewn on yet).
One of the far walls had once held a veritable forest of impressively large glowing green tubes, gestating the various Advanced, Scientifical and Definitely Not Magical In Any Way parts their god had so kindly donated, ready for attachment. Many of those were now crawling away on their own after a scorpion’s whip three times the length of a bus had swept through and transformed it into a sparkling field of glass and sticky, nutritious slime. The upper gantry had collapsed into the rows of biomechanics workdesks, leaving several years of work on intravenous nanomachinery now completely impossible to find (and possibly doused in sprays acidic venom), and the massive engines used to grow the patients’ organs to the fantastical sizes they’d need to be was now spraying the vital contents of the two other unfinished and still-sleeping chimeras all over the floor after an unfortunate perforation from the roused titan’s high-intensity eye beams.
Fortunately, while Visindi Labs’ latest and perhaps greatest creation had done a real number upon his own birthplace, his drugged state had led to far less damage being dealt to his actual intended targets than his surroundings. Additionally, the fact that he was still missing perhaps a good third of his torso meant it actually hadn’t taken all that long for one of the beasts of the hunt to duck underneath the ventral scything claws, into the cage of the 13 arthropoid legs already attached to its centipede body, up between the structurally unecessary ribs and into a warm place where there were several pulsing, important parts and a fairly surprising lack of advanced defencive systems. Its dying roars had led Robin and her troupe the rest of the way in as the creatures of Kedemonas were routing the last of the scientists, who had mostly given up after seeing their progeny so easily defeated.
It was a scene of utter devastation, but the sheer absurdity of scales made it somewhat difficult to properly take in. The bespectacled, white-suited bodies lying in what was soon like to become a small lake of blood (it takes a lot to fill a creature near the size of a house) were so dwarfed by the room and their test subject that they just looked like scattered toys rather than dismembered humans. Robin decided that the best course of action was probably not to think too hard about it, and make sure she was still somewhere near the perpetrators’ good books. After all, this could be the place she'd been looking for.
Barbary and Kedemonas were squeezing the route to Visindi’s personal workshop out of what looked like the head surgeon (she had the whitest coat, most overdesigned goggles and most complicated array of micromanipulators in place of her arms) and only Barbary (some kind of hyena probably?) looked up as she approached.
“You have not been very helpful.”
“Hey! I got you in here didn’t I?”
Barbary merely lifted one eyebrow at that, fortunately a gesture that was generally recognisable on the faces of mammals. He’d already heaped enough scorn on her decision to simply smash the two armies together and see what happened that it did not require repeating.
“Oh come on! I thought we were friends!”
“We had a deal! You turned down a very generous offer, used my help to not only save your own life but surround yourself with more of your necromancer friends-”
“Hey, I’m not like them!”
“- and now it seems like someone else was already doing a better job than us independently. All I have received from you is promises and no payback. You are a tinkerer, not a soldier, it looks like Zoo was wrong to place us together.”
Robin rubbed her temples, she and Barbary hadn’t really been friends but that still hurt a bit. Clearly it was too much to ask for people in an entirely separate universe not to share the same gratingly familiar bias against her field of study, but she could hardly be blamed for the fact that someone else had come after Visindi first! From what she’d seen of his place, wanting rid of him was an entirely understandable urge.
“Look, here’s a plan for you. I could hear that big thing shouting from way off, which means I won’t have been the only person to know something was happening here. There’s going to be more of the science guard down here very soon and in force, and we’re only a small group not an army. Clearly you and that other guy’s troops can move the fastest, so how about you and the big guy go finish your dirty business while we stop anyone from coming after you?”
Barbary was getting a little tired of her ideas. “And how are you going to do that, after splitting up our forces even further?”
“Well, that sounds pretty easy to me.” Robin pointed over her shoulder at the still-bleeding titan
“We just turn that thing back on for a little while.”
Barbary had to concede that made a certain amount of sense.
- - - - -
With things decided, Kedemonas and Barbary took very little time to vanish back into the chrome corridors of the complex (truthfully, the hunters had set off before Robin and the hyena had even finished their conversation, having decided they didn’t need Inderigan support anyway), leaving Robin alone to address her troops.
“You all heard me just then didn’t you? You’ve got some work to do getting that thing over there back on its feet, and we probably don’t have much time to do it. Better get moving!”
“But…” one brave Inderigan finally objected, “why aren’t you helping? We all know you’re the best of us, priestess!”
Robin was already breaking open her toolbox and hoisting her own still-breathing cadaver onto one of the few correctly oriented slabs as she waved the necrotechnician away.
“I’ve got something more important to do first. Won't be a minute.”
- - - - -
Chaete was exhausted, she’d never had to dig this far or this frequently before and she’d barely eaten since she got here. Today had been exciting and tiring in a multitude of ways and it wasn’t even over yet. She reckoned she’d need to make two… maybe three more holes before they got somewhere safe and she could sleep for several hours before digging this thing out of her back, but at least gravity was doing a lot of the work now.
“Chaete! You just took us higher! Chaete!”
Amaranth was yelling about something, but Chaete wasn’t really listening. I mean, she’d said herself that the ground wasn’t safe had she? Chaete knew somewhere much better. They were almost there now, almost there. The wind streaming through her teeth growled and buzzed like a chainsaw, and they were gone again.
- - - - -
The battle outside was going fairly well, everyone knew he had the best defended stronghold in all of the valley, but instead of dreaming up novel ways of disposing of the invaders (alright maybe a few, it was a real shame the hologram/trapdoor system designed to send opposing armies marching into a radioactive moat of waste industrial chemicals hadn’t been finished yet) Visindi’s attention was still drawn to the earthen pillar that Malhalven had become. What was going on up there? The inquisitive spirit of science within burned to find out, but while the Inderigans were at his doorstep he couldn’t well leave to investigate.
He was perfectly safe here on his balcony, the overhanging structure protected by the most powerful Science Shielding modern technology could produce (he reckoned it’d take at least two of his competitors showing up in person and working in tandem together to break through this bubble, and as there was basically no chance of that kind of trust happening now that made him basically invincible), but the generators it took to produce such an effect were massive and definitely not portable, so he was effectively stuck.
His gloom only deepened as the towertop was bathed in sudden sunlight, orbital solar weaponry was exactly his thing and his stuffy almost-cousin was keeping him from seeing it. He was going to have to think of something very inventive to do to the Temple of Industry in return.
The door banged open behind him. Visindi had a more casual relationship with his followers than many of the other gods (bit old-fashioned all that ritual stuff really, no place in a laboratory) but still, even in wartime none of them would dare barge into his personal workspace unannounced. He span around, bristling with an electric fury that set his (entirely functional and definitely not there solely for decorative purposes) tesla coils to sparking in response to find… Kedemonas.
That wasn’t who he’d been expecting at all.
“Tyrant! Your stranglehold on knowledge will end today! We have destroyed your production facilities and next-” Visindi idly flicked one hand/pseudopod, enclosing the incensed swarm of hornets in a red bubble of the same unbrekable kind he himself was standing inside. A second handwave rendered it opaque, and reduced the swarm’s incensed buzzing to a barely audible hum.
“Yes yes Barbary it’s nice to see you too. Don’t worry about whatever mess you’ve made I’m sure I can find more machines somewhere.”
He turned to address the Horned Lord of the Hunt instead, a regrettably primitive sort but probably the closest he was going to find to an equal in here.
“What are you doing here? With Inderigo’s lot? Wouldn’t have thought you were the type, especially considering what he’s been up to lately. Don’t suppose you brought him with you?”
“Inderigo is gone.”
“Really? Well, that’s a shame. Bit old fashioned but the closest thing I had to a contemporary around here… ah well.”
Visindi stepped backwards and gestured to the scene unfolding at Malhalven behind him.
“Well, while you’re here I was looking for someone to ask, what do you make of all this?”
The hounds (some more metaphorically than literally) of Kedemonas were confused and impatient. Visindi didn’t seem worried by their presence at all, in fact he was treating this whole thing like it was a game. This was hardly what a hunt should be about. One of them bumped its nose up against the pulsing semi-visible wall that blocked them from their quarry hopefully, then tried to catch it between talons, but the points just slipped off as if there was nothing there.
Kedemonas though was taking it a little more in stride, he’d not got a good look at Malhalven before they went in and now he could see a shadow creeping up its walls. A dark serpent winding its way up the twisted earth. A river.
“‘A time where gods are men and divine blood shall be spilled like so much water’, it has already begun. It means time is short. That answers both of your questions, actually.”
“Bah! Prophecy!” Visindi turned his back completely to gesticulate at the tower.
“This is all Tawn’s trick! It must be. A last ploy to scare us into cooperating.” Kedemonas placed claws of his own upon the wall of Science and concentrated. Golden sparks flew as he untapped the stored strength of two gods.
“I bet she made that prophecy up herself and slipped it to our good chairman behind our backs. Obscura was right, it’s not like Desolo would know something as ephermal as that and she wouldn’t, right? This light show is all very impressive but it’s just smoke and mirrors. It’ll never work.”
“I believe Traiya.”, Kedemonas’s voice was closer than Visindi had expected it to be. He frowned but was unable to turn back before there was an arm embedded through what passed for his chest, fingers curled around his heart. “Enough power for one, or maybe two.”
Kedemonas looked again at the dark shape now nearing the light of the summit, before raising the still weakly pulsing organ to his lips “Best make sure it’s one of ours.”
His beautiful labcoat was completely ruined.
Barbary (now in crane form) didn’t really know what to do with command of an elite pack of hunting beasts, nor had Kedemonas given him much instruction before vanishing, but there were still plenty of scientists to kill (a trvial matter, now that their weapons didn’t function and the eye of physics, once distracted, had found plenty of beasts a-wing that simply shouldn’t be). With its former occupants cleared out, he had vague hopes that he could take the place for his own and use its facilities for what they really should have been used for, after all there wasn’t really anyone around to stop him. It didn’t take a god to see that there was change coming, and with more and more deities falling out of the picture perhaps he could take the future for himself and make something of his own. Do some real science, find some real scientists.
He’d even thought he might extend Robin a second hand of fellowship (she was no tactician, but her heart had been in the right place (he’d seen it) and perhaps she could be useful doing something that actually was related to academia) but oddly, wherever they looked she couldn’t be found. It was as if she’d simply vanished into thin air.
- - - - -
The world tilted again, Amaranth slid down Chaete’s back as the sky inverted and up turned into down, catching hold of the harpoon with one arm and pulling herself back before she fell off entirely. There was an answering twinge in her own back as Chaete felt the tug on her abused dorsal plates but there wasn’t time for her to feel guilty.
They were far above the clouds now, that last jump had taken them further than all of the previous ones. The air was thin but still breathable and the cold she could feel pressing in made her glad of her heavy robes, practical though they may not have been for riding an airborne invertebrate. Now that she was no longer peering down at a charred treeline or a host of the dead wrestling with twisted fusions of men and beasts, the Valley was actually quite pretty. She could understand why people might want to fight over it, if not their destructive methods (what would be the point of owning it then?).
What really drew the eye though was the enormous column of light, too bright to look at directly, which stretched up and up as far as the eye could see. It was like the sun itself had reached down to touch the ground, was this something to do with why the tunnels had started closing? It was obviously important, and it hadn’t been there before, but Amaranth had no idea what it could mean.
As up became down, so too did their momentum start to shift, initially they’d rocketed upward out of the hole as if shot from a cannon, but Chaete wasn’t particularly aerodynamic and they certainly weren’t travelling at escape velocity… oh.
“Chaete… Where are you taking us?”
The worm’s response came mostly in feelings rather than words; Home, safety, protection… and then a memory of her mother, a coiled leviathan whose eyes alone dwarfed the little creature, and reflected a lattice of endless stars.
They weren’t going somewhere safe at all.
“Your mother’s not up there!”
“She is! She will be… she hasn’t heard me yet... but I just need to get high enough! She will come! We’ll be safe!”
“I won’t be able to breathe!! I can’t get down on my own!”
“It’s safe! We’ll be safe! Nearly there... You’ll see.”
Almost at the apex of her climb and clearly unsatisfied with the downwards arc it was about to turn into, Chaete bit the sky… and was rewarded with a sudden roar. Stars twinkled and beckoned in the distance and the air rushed through the new hole to meet them. They slammed to a sudden halt, sending the pirate below swinging wildly, as the protruding body of the Harpoon made Chaete too wide to fit through her own hole, but her teeth stubbornly gripped the aether on the other side like sky hooks and as the aperture widened she slowly began to drag herself inside.
Dread Captain Balenia had other ideas.
Endurance, Will and Tenacity were traits highly prized by Ceraceros and the chief reasons his followers had stayed on the field of battle despite endless setbacks and overwhelming odds. Whaling and Piracy alike were both jobs that required a lot of focused patience, enduring storm, ice and tides until the moment arrived and then seizing it with both hands. Chaete wasn’t exactly covered in easy handholds but Amaranth had it easy compared to the sea captain, who’d swung perilously on the end of a long metal chain for the entire ordeal. She could barely feel her arms any more, and as she was suddenly shifted from fighting against air resistance to fighting against gravity (and the chain swung round like a pendulum to follow Chaete’s gradual decline into an arc) she realised she wasn’t going to make it.
Which also meant: neither were they.
She hadn’t brought her whole crew with her on this fool’s errand but she had brought the best, and all of them had been lost when the walls of Obscura’s maze had started to come down. Now it was basically certain that she was going to die too. She was a realist, and apart from divine intervention (something Ceraceros was not known for even at sea let alone miles in the air) there was no way she was getting out of this one.
As far as she was concerned, sole blame for this lay in the heart of the beast whose hide her harpoon was already embedded in. The detonator button was just a couple of inches down the barrel, she wasn’t going to survive this anyway, and there wasn’t any hope that she was going to be able to bring this prize home alive any more.
“To the last I grapple with thee! From hell’s heart I stab at thee! For hate’s sake…”, she inhaled too sharply in the freezing, rapidly thinning air and coughed violently as her throat burned, “... fuck off!”
It was taking her longer to prise her rigid hand from its grip than she’d thought it would.
Amaranth had slipped herself further down Chaete’s tail, the worm wasn’t listening to her any more (it was quite possible that she couldn’t, given that her head was now in an airless space, she suddenly realised she didn’t even know where Chaete’s ears were situated) and besides it was getting difficult to breathe up there. Things had escalated so quickly that she was at a little bit of a loss to what to do, and wasn’t even entirely sure where it had gone wrong. Putting her trust in a juvenile alien had clearly been a bad idea but what else could she have done? what could she do now? The only ways she could go from here were up and down and neither of them held anything good, in fact up was entirely out of the question.
She was prepared to die for her cause… but hadn’t expected to have to do so this soon. She hadn’t even really achieved anything in the short time she’d been in the valley, she’d given a single seed but in this land of warring faiths it would be terribly alone and in great danger (and if the sorry state of Clara had been any indication, she probably hadn’t given it to a winning team, perhaps she should have been less hasty). Everything else had been… carelessness really. She’d allowed herself to be followed and then allowed herself to be backed into a corner and now she was stuck. The Outsider’s promise had been a wonderful opportunity and she’d squandered it at the first stumbling post, there was so much more she could have done…
With her legs still wrapped around Chaete’s barrel torso for support, she fingered the container where the rest of the seeds still hung safe against her chest. No, there was still one last thing she could do. If she allowed Chaete to carry her up into the stars then she would not only die but she'd be dead for good in a place no tree could grow. She’d drift lost and frozen in a place entirely inimical to her cargo, but if she went down… she’d fall again to the Godsworn Valley and eventually someone would find her tree. It wouldn’t be the end, it was a shame to squander the other seeds but they would likely survive the fall too and there was always a chance someone would find them within her branches and divine their purpose. She steeled her will with the pollen one last time, loosened her grip, looked directly down and… saw the captain. She was actually quite surprised to see that she was still there. Different calculations arose unbidden in her head.
These were explosive weapons, she’d gathered that much in the brief time she’d held one, and the person down below her was in the process of flipping the safety screen to prime the detonator. And what was it The Outsider had told them?
“We will transport you to seven locales. At each, one of you will expire. There will be one survivor that will return to their home… We will watch intently and see how you cope with this environment. You may leave when one of you ceases.”
There was another way out of here after all.
If she positioned herself right and let go then there was probably still time to aim her drop such as to knock loose the whaler’s grip as she fell, killing them both and sparing Chaete a grisly fate, or… she could simply drop free by herself as she’d already been planning to, leave her former pursuer to her business and hope The Outsider caught her before she hit the ground.
That was provided the blast was strong enough and Chaete’s space-armoured hide weak enough that such a detonation would kill her, and provided that it would do so fast enough that she expired before Amaranth finished falling. It was of course entirely possible that the blast would do nothing at all, or that it would maim Chaete but leave her alive and in pain, or that it would maim Chaete but leave her alive and in pain and dying such that she perished shortly after Amaranth did, meaning that neither of them lived when one of them could have done. There wasn’t any way of knowing, really.
Amaranth touched the seed-box again, closed her eyes, leaned backwards and let go. Chaete didn’t even notice her leave. The wind rushed up to meet her at once, snatching what was left of the fumes floating around her face and buffeting past her ears such to block out all sound.
If the harpoon blast made a noise she never heard it.
- - - - -
Obscura, Kedemonas and Tawn stood around the altar in the great hall of Malhalven, newly open to the air. Rachel was there too, but couldn’t be said to be part of the conversation. The sun was in her eyes, and her mouth, and… everywhere except where the other sun was. She thought the golden light she was trapped inside might be trying to talk to her, but she couldn’t really hear what it was saying over herself, and the complaints of the envious orb in her stomach, apart from that he sounded sad.
“This is your gambit?” Obscura sneered, “I tried to use this one, it’s no Kohl. You can’t just replace him and expect everything to go back to normal!”
Kedemonas kept silent, keeping one eye out for treachery and another for black streams to make their way over the rim of the tower. Surely the dark beast should have arrived by now? Until then, they were at an impasse. The prophecy had decreed them enough power for one or two, but not three (or even four?).
Kedemonas had found an uncertain Raxis in an armoured convoy (somewhat smaller than usual, it seemed some of his famously disciplined troops were turning traitor) at the foot of Malhalven and paid them the same respects he had given Visindi... but Obscura had been similarly busy in the neighboured frozen halls of Frigidus and Ceraceros. The final pair of the pantheon were evenly matched against each other in stolen strength, and neither were certain they were even capable of turning on Tawn, even discounting what effect that would have on the ritual she was performing.
“You don’t have to fight! We can still stop this, go back to how it was. It will all be ok.”
Tawn clearly didn’t believe her own words, but nobody made a move nevertheless. The fire raged on and Rachel wished she knew what they were all waiting for.
“Our wellspring has run dry. There is not enough to go around. How can you make another god when we can’t share even this much power?”
It was true that something should have happened by now. Rachel was still screaming, and glowing from within, but there was nothing exceptionally immortal about her.
“It will work!”
“No, I don’t think there is enough power left here to finish your process. It ebbs even by the minute.”
“She’d have to kill us as well. Is that the true purpose of her spell, do you think?”
Tawn shook her head weakly, “There’s not going to be any more fighting!”
The summit was still for a moment longer, and then Kedemonas spoke slowly, thinking of Zoo and the scientist’s balcony.
“Those I have spoken to below… they were forgetting their gods. I stormed the halls of Visindi with a cleric of Zoo and the hordes of Inderigo, who is already gone from this valley. The forces of Raxis were deserting. The whalers are headed for home.
Inderigo left of his own accord, and Zoo gave himself to me freely. Perhaps this is all for the best? Men will hunt without me, I’m sure they’ll not abandon their secrets.”
“Will they abandon their armies?”
Kedemonas looked doubtful.
Tawn’s voice cracked. “I can’t do this half way! The fighting’s gone on too long, I am going to bring Khol back!”
“My flock are still faithful. Who cares about the followers of weaker gods? Nobody will abandon me.”
Tendrils of dark chose that moment to pour and spill over the cracked remains of the walls and pool into the temple as if it was a basin. It had waited long enough, they were faltering, it was here, it was time.
“It shows itself! Here is what we should be fighting!”
As Kedemonas turned to battle a wall of water, Obscura dived at his unprotected back, driving shadowy nails deep into his shoulders. Tawn could only gape as her golden conjuring flickered and surged wildly out of control;
While they had been talking Rachel had disappeared.
Freed from its focus, Tawn’s holy fire leapt joyfully up into the sky and back, beckoning the pantheon’s lost beloved toward the valley with a desperate fervour. Following the path of brilliant power the sun found its way home, reaching down to the pillar of earth with a finger of nuclear flame that met Tawn’s outstretched hand and consumed her. For a few brilliant moments the home of the gods was transmuted into a pillar of gold too bright to see, stretching from heaven all the way down to earth and casting its light across all of the valley.
Then it was gone, and the gods were gone too.
(This post was last modified: 05-13-2014 05:38 PM by Jacquerel.)