Authors: Scott Toney
Unearthly screams cried out in pain below as Julieth felt a static charge surge through her body. With a pulse of her wings she flew above the falling stone, sunlight radiating on her back from where the temple roof had collapsed above.
Riad blasted through the rocks falling down on him and then shot charge after charge of electricity into the beasts running and leaping at him.
The sunlight, he wanted sunlight so that the werebeasts would transform back into mortal form,
Julieth realized while watching a beast charge into the sunlight coming down, transform into a man and then be smashed by a massive falling stone.
Fire and char from the intense blaze in the chamber’s center flew out and rained down on them while Julieth landed near Riad, letting Bayne go and turning with her final explosive arrow cocked. “Thanks for the invite! It seems like you could have handled this on your own!” she called out over the noise to the cyborg. She looked to Bayne who barely supported the sword. “I’ll need that blade in a moment,” she told him.
Riad fired charge after charge into the beasts.
As Julieth focused on her surroundings, she realized that any of the people injured or standing in the sunlight could be her enemy. She could not kill innocents, even if it were for her protection.
“They were ready to become one with these beasts, they can all die,” Riad spoke as if reading her mind.
Her heart quickened and she breathed deeply while watching several long-nosed beasts charging for her, their massive claws ready to rip her hide. An explosion burst before her as she let the arrow fly, a stinging mist of blood covering her from the blast. “The sword!” she shouted, reaching back toward Bayne. “I need the sword!” A second later it was in her hand and she slew a beast that charged for her, plunging the sword through the meat of its body and then quickly pulling it back out.
Chaos reigned around them as Riad and Julieth took back-to-back stances with Bayne between them. Riad’s energy blasts had sent many of their enemy fleeing from the chamber, though their leader still remained on his elevated throne. The human captives in their chains huddled low, in fear and uncertainty of what would happen next. Boulders of stone littered the temple floor as sunlight covered the center area of the chamber.
“Where are Ivanus and Andral?” Julieth asked as Riad moved and she followed, toward the elevated area where the ruler sat.
“They are somewhere in the caves, but we may not find them,” Riad spoke coldly. Then he looked up to the beast on the throne. “You have come to the wrong city and taken the wrong man!” he shouted to the thing. “The difference between me and them,” Riad motioned to the quivering prisoners with his cybernetic arm, “is that I will not die. I cannot be destroyed and I will take vengeance on you!”
“And you think I am like the ones that flee from you?”
the thing responded, standing two times their height and flexing its muscles and claws, saliva dripping from its open maw.
“I am from the beginning, one of the alphas from our world beyond this. Without me, these creatures do not exist. You do not scare me, mortal. You and your companions will join us or die!”
Steam rose from its mouth as it leapt at them, moving the distance of twenty men before Riad’s energy blast thrashed its chest and electrified its body.
The thing was not impeded, but pounded into Riad and struck him to the ground. It beat its clawed fists into him, tearing flesh and metal as Riad released a charge bomb from his body and stunned the thing long enough to blast it with his gun and pound it with his cybernetic arm in the face.
the beast half moaned, half growled.
Julieth watched in horror as it clawed at Riad’s cybernetic eye, ripping it from its socket and thrusting it off into the writhing fire.
Riad shouted, struggling against the massive thing. She feared it would rip off his limbs, and was about to attack the thing with her sword before watching Vrax separate from his leg and climb a pillar nearby.
Julieth scanned around her as she saw a beast approaching in the corner of her vision. Bayne once again huddled on the temple floor, humming something loudly and rocking. “Stay away!” she shouted at the muscled thing. As it leapt for her she cut into its leg, sending it to the floor before she dug her blade into its jugular.
A roar erupted from behind her and she turned to see Vrax on the leader’s back, its spindly legs digging into the beast’s raised spine as the beast roared, slamming Riad’s body against the ground and then losing the life in its eyes.
Riad breathed heavily as the thing lay limp overtop him. After a moment he pushed it up with his arm muscles and the kicked it up and over with his legs. The beast rolled like butchered meat. As Riad stood, Julieth fully realized the extent of the damage he sustained. His cybernetic parts were gashed, sparks igniting within them and showering the air. His chest was bloody and marred by the beast’s claws, though she saw his flesh healing itself, rejuvenating, whether the ability was something gifted by the essence bonded in his arm or his cybernetics, she did not know.
His eye, though…
Where his cybernetic eye had been now only a chasm of scarred meat and blood remained.
“It’s better than it looks,” Riad said to her while blasting one of the final beasts in the chamber with an electric beam from his gun. “Vrax, retrieve my eye from the fire and get to repairs. We cannot waste time in this chamber. We need to get to the surface.”
The insect-like droid quickly skittered into the flames.
The prisoners around them backed themselves into a corner of the chamber.
“How will we free all of them?” Julieth asked, taking a heavy breath of smoke from the blaze as she finally let her arm muscles and the sword relax. “I cannot fly them all to the surface before we are attacked again.”
Vrax returned to Riad. It inserted the charred metallic eye in his eye socket and began welding it in place, clicking and shooting minute beams of something in the eye’s direction as it worked.
“We leave the people of Olan. They allowed this to befall themselves. They would only slow us down. We need to get to the surface now.”
Hot anger grew in Julieth. If it wasn’t for Riad, they wouldn’t be here, and now he prepared to leave these innocents behind. “And Ivanus and Andral, you would leave them too?”
Vrax moved to Riad’s chest and began work there as Riad’s eye flicked back to life. “Do you know where they are being held? Do you even know that they live? All that matters is that we get Bayne to safety. There is no other purpose. Ivanus would understand.”
At the sound of his name, Bayne looked up and ceased humming. “I will not abandon Andral,” he spoke steadily. “He is my brother. Without him, I will not do what you want. I at least need to know if he is alive, and if he is, then I need your word that you will rescue him.”
Riad looked upward at the sunlight shimmering down into the temple and then back to Bayne. “Fine, boy, but if we discover he is dead I am not hauling his carcass back above ground to bury.” Riad surveyed the area around them. “But these people are on their own. They may follow us if they like, but I will bear no responsibility for their lives.”
Julieth looked at the withered forms of men and women, chained and huddling in fear in the dark recesses of the chamber.
Riad speaks with wisdom,
We cannot rescue them all, but I could not leave them here without at least trying.
She held the sword before her, its hilt heavy in her hand. “How do we defend ourselves if we venture away from the sunlight? Yes, you can fight many of the beasts at a time, but how are we to have any true chance at success?”
Riad’s hard expression changed to a smirk. “Weapons, my dear, weapons. I can set my guns to fire ultraviolet light. By aiming the light weapons at the enemy we will render them mortal, creating places for our weapons to sever their souls from their bodies.” Riad clicked a lever down on the side of his gun and leveled it at the darkness before them. A beam of UV light instantly lit, illuminating the stone wall that was there. “And for the rest…” A burst of electricity struck out of the weapon and charred that area, shattering stone and sending a wave of dust toward them.
“I suppose you don’t have another weapon or two like that for me and Bayne?” Julieth asked.
“Not content with a sword to be shared between the two of you?” Riad asked as he looked into the darkness of the tunnels, away from her. Was that a smirk she heard in his voice?
He is a strange man,
one with a truly cold soul.
Riad turned back toward her and Bayne, a deadpan expression on his face. “Yes, I have two spare guns, one of which can also be programmed for UV light.” He removed two smaller guns from his cybernetic limbs. As he handed them to Julieth she realized they were the same weapons he had allowed Ivanus to use in the battle for Kaskal. “This is the one with light creation capabilities,” he pointed to the slightly larger gun out of the two.
The weapons were solid and cold as she took them both in her free hand. These would clearly be more effective than the sword, but she was not sure she was prepared to part with any weapon in this alien place.
“I’ll take the sword,” Bayne spoke, making the decision for her as to what to do.
She handed it to him, knowing that if he were to have to wield any weapon at all, chances were that his ability would manifest and no amount of weaponry would be able to rescue them.
“If we are going to rescue Andral and Ivanus, then we must move.” Riad shined the light from his massive weapon before them into a dark tunnel and heading in a quickened pace through the mouth of its entrance. “These beasts may take their revenge on them because of our defiance. Wasting time here is not an option.”
As Julieth clicked the UV light on, watching it illuminate from the barrel of one of the guns, she witnessed Vrax finish repairing a gash in the side of Riad’s head and then move quickly down his side before attaching and forming once more to his calf. A shiver ran through her as she witnessed it.
How old is he?
Is he even from this world?
Once more, worry for the weakened populace of Olan played in her heart. She turned briefly before following after Riad with Bayne by her side. “Follow us!” she shouted back at the cowering people in the dark recesses of the temple chamber. Follow at a distance! We may not return to this place, and we could be your only hope of survival!”
Howls echoed through the dark of the passage as they moved, mixed with the sound of something dragging against the stone floor. Behind them Julieth could also hear the sound of people following them. Their movements sounded like a mass of insects, the noise echoing in the distant dark.
Julieth’s legs burned as they walked quickly. She beat her wings gently, taking to the air just barely above the ground, flying near Riad and Bayne.
In the light from Riad’s gun she saw something move from one side of the tunnel to the other, its form morphing from beast to man and then back again as it left the light. Before she had the chance to speak Riad adjusted his weapon, locking on to the creature again and firing.
A haunting scream, half beast and half man, released from the thing’s lips as electricity scorched its chest, charring it as it struck lifelessly to the ground.
“Move!” Riad instructed. “I see more moving in the darkness along the walls with my cybernetic eye. We need to reach them before more mass against us.”
With a thrust of her wings, Julieth flew beyond Riad, traveling above the light of his weapon’s beam, with her own guns aimed at the darkness before her. A low rumble resonated as she moved, growing in noise quickly.
A moment later Riad’s light adjusted and an electric surge decimated a small beast on the tunnel floor that transformed into a young man before crumbling to ash.
“Look out!” Riad shouted to her from somewhere behind.
She swooped down, landing on the rock floor and aiming her light in a quick circle around her, trying to discover the danger. Nothing.
“Above!” Riad’s voice rang in an answer.
As she aimed the guns and the light upward she saw the beasts clasping with their claws to the rock. Their bodies twisted and morphed to human form, causing them to lose their grip and fall into the darkness around her. Electricity pricked over her as she blasted a beast that had fallen at pointblank range before her. Then, a moment later, something massive struck her to the ground, its weight crushing her lungs, pinning her down.
She struggled against it, firing the non-UV light gun at its maw before being struck by its claws in the back. Pain surged up her spine as the thing made contact. Something wet dripped down over her face. As it entered her mouth Julieth realized it was blood.
Suddenly it clamped onto her back with its canines. Blood surged through her body toward the intrusion.
“Help me!” Julieth screeched in pain.
A sudden explosion of UV light flooded over them, followed by multiple blasts of electricity that struck into the bodies of morphing beasts around her. The one above her held her firm, then went limp as she heard tearing flesh. It tumbled to the ground beside her.
Julieth breathed heavy, each breath pained and thick as she rolled over to see Bayne removing his sword from the beast’s back.