“Flavius!” Acaona screamed.
The foothead reared back suddenly. As it did so, a dark fissure snaked its way across the mottled skin. A great crescent slice of jaw fell away, streaming purple blood. Neatly bisected lip-to-lip, the foothead thrashed wildly, jagged teeth gnashing against others no longer there.
Flavius stood in the same spot, drenched in purple blood. The point of Memory had buried itself a good foot into the ground from the momentum of Flavius’ stroke. Flavius twisted his wrist to free the sword, holding it defiantly overhead.
“I am Flavius MacDuff, of Clan MacDuff,” he bellowed, his words echoing off the palace walls, “descended of Bellona's bridegroom, the great Thane of Fife who slaughtered the Norse and Cawdor, and toppled the tyrant MacBeth! I am the bane of both the Whistard Holdchau and the Phatrical of Koor! Death has claimed me a thousand times over, and I jam my thumb into his rheumy eyes and rise to live another day! Yer chase ends here, beastie. I am yer doom!”
Screaming to wake the dead, he charged the moirontea. The great beast stomped at him with a snarling foothead, but Flavius neatly pivoted and with an upswing nearly severed it from the leg. He stabbed upward, Memory slicing though the knobby hide as if it were paper. Violet blood rained down. The moironteau howled in agony, lurching and stumbling to escape its tormenter. A quick slice here laid open a hip joint, and the foothead slumped to the ground, crippled. Another foothead bit into the air, desperately hoisting the beast’s enormous bulk away from danger. But Flavius leapt up onto the crippled foothead, and from there struck the other with Memory, splitting the jaw. It’s extra-dimensional hold faltered. Flavius leapt away as the moironteau crashed to the ground.
Moaning pitiously, the moironteau pawed at the ground, unable to support itself. Flavius quickly and methodically worked his way around the beast, dispatching the remaining four footheads with cold precision. Upon reaching the last one, Flavius held up his right thumb, then, without a moment’s hesitation, jammed it roughly into one of the many cold, black eyes ringing the foothead’s maw.
He climbed atop the moironteau’s body, setting to work with Memory. The beast’s twitches and moans ceased as Flavius located the vital organs. Satisfied, he leapt down from the butchered carcass, wiping his bloody brow.
“God damn, that felt good!” he said, then noticed Acaona, Papantzin and Captain Pacal--still carrying the Empress--gaping at him. “What? These bastards never faced me in a fair fight. Killed me a hundred times or more. I ken I’m entitled to a bit of enjoyment.”
“You... you...” managed Acaona. “How did you do that?”
“Well,” Flavius shrugged, suddenly self-conscious, “Memory here’s a wee bit sharper than most other swords. That helps. And then there’s my memories stored in the bonnie blade. Turns out to be more than just my thoughts. My body’s remembering things...” He grimaced slightly, rubbing his shoulder. “But I ken I’ll be hurting come morning.”
Across the garden, a wall buckled. Smoke rose from the rooftops beyond.
“Ah. That’d be more of the beastie’s friends. I ken we’d best be moving along.”
“Where can we go?” Acaona asked.
“Same place as before, yon opera hall,” Flavius answered. “At least now we dinnae have to worry about the doors being locked.”
They skirted the dead moironteau and made for the gaping hole in the opera hall. The palace shuddered continuously now, punctuated every so often by abrupt lurches. All around, flames flickered among the towers and rooftops and the air stank of bitter smoke. A flight of wejii hummed past overhead, rushing to intercept a moironteau.
“These creatures, they’re everywhere,” muttered Pacal, listening to the fractured communications through his earpiece. “There’s not enough of the Eternal Militia in the palace to turn them back.”
“Which is why I want to find Parric and abandon this cosm,” growled Flavius as he clambered over the rubble into the ruined opera hall. “Lass, tell the captain this is where we part ways.”
Pacal’s face tightened as Acaona relayed the message.
“Absolutely not,” Pacal said. “I cannot hope to defend Her Imperial Majesty against these creatures from otherwhere. My squad is dead, injured, scattered. I’m following him.”
In the distance, bursts of green flame roiled around a rampaging moironteau. The creature ignored the attacking wejii, instead loping across the gardens toward the ruined opera hall.
Flavius glared at Pacal and shook his head. “Hell of a time to start making sense.” The floor of the opera hall had collapsed, offering a treacherous path of broken seats and beams down to the level below, where a gaping hold led to levels still lower. Flavius shoved Acaona roughly down into the wreckage, then Pacal and the Empress, and finally Papantzin. “Quickly, people! Quickly! I ken ya’d all love to see me cut another of them beasties to ribbons, but-- oh, hell. The bastard’s got friends.”
Two more moironteau had joined the fray, one plucking a wejii out of the air and smashing it to bits against the ground. The other wejii fell back out of easy reach of the newcomers, dividing their marginally effective cuayab fire among the three moironteau.
“Damn it, this innae imperial receiving line, people! Move!” Flavius bodily heaved Papantzin to the lower level, and gave Pacal a kick to the bottom as well. Hazarding a glance over his shoulder, he saw the lead moironteau was less than 20 yards away. Flavius leapt down himself.
Acaona knelt at the edge of the jagged opening in the lower floor, trying to find a handhold to lower herself down.
“No! There’s nae time for that,” shouted Flavius, running the opposite direction and dragging Pacal along. “Down this hall--quickly!”
The ceiling above shuddered and groaned as a tremendous weight landed on top of it.
“Keep moving,” Flavius ordered, his claymore held ready in one hand. The hall was a narrow one. If it came down to a fight, his use of Memory would be restricted. “Get as far down the hall as ya--”
The ceiling ahead of them collapsed, sending a cloud of splinters and dust into the hall. Acaona cried out. A fat, green-mottled foothead blocked the way.
“Back!” shouted Flavius. “Back the other way!” No sooner had the words left his mouth then a foothead lunged into the open end of the hall, black eyes gleaming in the flickering light as row upon row of knife-like teeth gnashed and snapped their way toward the trapped party.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
“Flavius!” Acaona screamed.