Thursday, April 2, 2009



The militia bodyguards shoved the Empress and her handmaiden roughly through the gaping window. An instant later, an explosion of white-hot plasma geysered out. The concussion threw Flavius to the ground.

“Ach! God... damn!” he muttered, blinking streaks away from his eyes. “Who’s the mad bastard what gives militia weapons that can wipe out a whole battalion if they get knocked about?”

He staggered up, using Memory for support. Acaona lay dazed a short distance away, but apparently unhurt. The force of the blast had snuffed the fires she’d started amid the bloodnettles, but that same blast seemed to have stunned the wretched plants as well.

The several of the militiamen stirred. Several others did not. Flavius picked his way over them to the crumpled forms of Empress Malinche and Papantzin.

“Stop...” demanded Captain Pacal in a wobbly tone. Blood streaked his face. “Don’t you dare--”

“Dinnae be a git. I was nae ever going to hurt them. Well, nae the Empress at any rate,” Flavius answered, then frowned. “It’d help if ya could understand me, though.”

He knelt down over the still forms. The Empress and Papantzin had landed at odd angles, but the bloodnettles appeared to have broken their fall. At least they were breathing and didn’t appear to have any broken bones.

The thunder of distant explosions echoed across the gardens. Smoke billowed out of the ruined apartment above. More smoke rose from various points around the palace, dark streamers against the starry sky. The ground underfoot shuddered urgently.

“Right. That settles it. Up ya go.” Flavius scooped up the Empress’ inert form and threw her over his shoulder.

Papantzin grabbed his leg. He kicked free.

“I’m nae about to hurt yer Empress, but I’m nae going to carry ya as well,” he snapped. “Come along if ya want, but yer on yer own to keep up. And that goes for ya too, Captain.”

Papantzin caught Captain Pacal’s questioning look. “Follow him,” she said. Pacal nodded.

“Why?” Acaona fell in beside Flavius, his pack balanced awkwardly across her back.

“Why didn’t you leave her?”


“That’s not an answer.”

“Because... I dinnae leave behind women, that’s why.”

“You were perfectly willing to leave Papantzin,” Acaona pointed out.

“Yeah, well, I havenae been naked with Papantzin, have I?” Flavius stopped as he reached the footpath through the gardens, kicking away a last, die-hard bloodnettle tendril. “And God help me if I ever am... Where the hell are we? I’m turned around.”

“A better question is where are we going?” Acaona said.

“Right. Finding a Nexial gap is my priority now. Parric’ll meet us there. I hope,” Flavius said, scanning the grounds for signs of the Crafter. “If we cannae get to a gap, then my second choice is one of those flying things.”

“A wej?”

“Aye. Can ya pilot one?” he asked hopefully.


Flavius sighed. “Nae matter. There’s always a first time for everything.” He looked back. Papantzin, Captain Pacal and three stood warily watching him. “Lass, translate for the captain here. We’re going to try and find some shelter, someplace safe--” The ground lurched again. “--nae that I’m confident that’s possible. I give ya Her Imperial Majesty here, and ya let me and Acaona here be on our way. Agreed?”

Acaona repeated Flavius’ ultimatum. Captain Pacal swallowed uneasily, then nodded.

“That’s a smart man. Let’s move.” As they started down the trail, Flavius bent to Acaona. “First likely spot, eh? She’s damn heavy, and my back’s killing me where that bastard speared me.”

Acaona nodded and pointed to an ornate archway ahead. “That’s the palace opera hall. There’s a direct hall leading to the Imperial wing, and backstage we can--”

The entire façade collapsed outward. Dust billowed up, a thick cloud obscuring the stars above. Through the destruction lumbered a massive, many-legged form.

“Bugger me,” Flavius whispered. He sloughed the Empress off his shoulder and pressed her into the Captain’s startled arms. “She’s all yers, now. Good luck keeping her safe with these bastards roaming about.”

“Flavius, what is that thing?” Acaona whispered.

The moironteau had stopped moving. Three of its footheads scanned the gardens. The dust obscured the party for the moment, but it was quickly settling.

“That nasty piece of work is evil incarnate, so far as I’m concerned. Killed me a hundred times or so. I’d like to not make it a hundred and one.” He swapped Memory from right hand to left and back again. “Lassie, that beastie is hunting me, and it’s going to spy me any second. You need to get yerself as far away from me as ya-– Too late. Here it comes.”

Flavius pushed Acaona along the path after Captain Pacal, who’d already begun retreating with the Empress. The moironteau stomped inexorably toward Flavius, unsure of its quarry, but gaining confidence with each step. It stopped abruptly, it’s great bulk looming above Flavius, two great footheads clicking their teeth as the rings of black eyes studied him.

Feet planted apart, Flavius stared up at the moironteau. He flexed his fingers along the hilt as he held his claymore ready. “Memory, I ken we two’ve faced down worse than this in one life or another. But yer still new to me and there’s a lot in ya that’s still foggy to me... so if ya’ve any past experiences what are particularly relevant to this situation, now’s a good time to share.”

Without warning, a foothead stuck. The lightning-quick blow hit with such force to send up a spray of dirt and gravel as it swallowed Flavius whole.


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