Friday, July 24, 2009



Flavius leaned forward against the railing, mouth agape, staring at the thousands of cylinders filling the vast chamber.

“Those are peq!” Flavius said, half bafflement, half accusation. “Yer growing goddanmed peq in here!”

“Of course we grow our own peq. You don’t expect us to rely on wild populations, do you?” Empress Malinche said weakly, rousing from unconsciousness. “Captain, you may put me down.”

“Certainly, Your Imperial Highness,” Pacal said, setting the Empress on her feet. Papantzin came instantly to her side, offering support.

“Ya grow yer own peq?” Flavius repeated, pronouncing the words slowly as if looking for some nuance he’d overlooked. “Am I the only body here what finds that just a wee bit mad?”

“You haven’t met many peq in the wild, have you, dear Flavius?” Malinche looked at him as she would a particularly dim child. “They are a brutal and uncouth breed of lesser sentients, wholly unsuited for contact with the Eternal Dominion. It took centuries of selective breeding to produce a suitably docile servitor. Given the established genetic unpredictability of the breed, cloning was the only rational course to pursue.”

Flavius looked to Acaona. She shrugged. “They’re peq. What do you expect?”

“Ah, nevermind I asked. Ya people scare me sometimes, ya ken? On second thought, ya scare me all the time.” Flavius nodded at Parric. “Which way?”

“Alonging this way,” Parric answered, motioning to a catwalk that ran along the perimeter of the chamber. “Then downing more levels to the bottom.”

“Down where? Where are we going?” Malinche demanded.

“To the portal chamber, the nexial gaps,” Pacal answered.

“Absolutely not. We will not so much as flee the palace. When--”

The skylights far overhead shattered. Shards of glass rained down as multilegged forms surged into the cloning chamber.

“Move!” shouted Flavius, shoving Acaona along the catwalk. Djserka heaved its bulk after her, flabby flanks spilling over the guard rails. Flavius winked back at Malinche as he followed. “Be seeing ya around!”

The wall crumbled above the entrance, a spray of stonework shattering the closest peq tanks. A scarred and bleeding foothead forced its way through the opening, snapping wildly.

Captain Pacal grabbed Empress Malinche and chased after the others, with Papantzin close behind.

The columns of tanks buckled under the weight of the moironteau. Flavius dodged chunks of jagged acrylic and fetal peq. Viscous amniotic fluid.splattered in great globs, smelling like a dead fish left under someone’s bedcovers too long.

“Up there! Up there! Burn the bastards while they’re far enough away!” shouted Flavius.

Acaona unleashed her cuayab at the moironteau above, but her erratic aim did little more than bathe various peq clones in fire. Pacal followed her lead, though, sending up quick, precision bursts of emerald flame, the well-placed streams searing several footheads. There were at least four of the otherwhereians, clambering from column to column as the support grids buckled and moaned. After the first volley from Pacal, they quickly moved to keep peq cylinders between their bodies and the cuayabs, exposing only their footheads.

“They’re coming down too quickly!” Pacal said. “We’re exposed like bulbous gloids here.”

“Parric! If yer going to work yer magic, now’d be a bonny time!”

“Craftings are not magicings,” Parric snapped, antennae twitching with concentration. “This is more than I’m wanting to Crafting, but under the circumstancings-- uh-ohing.”

“Wha? What’s this ‘uh-ohing’? There’s be nae of that!” Flavius shouted as he ducked away from a falling peq arm. “Ya do that Crafting thing with yer antennae and we go on our merry way, that’s what ya do.”

“Blockings,” Pairric said softly. “Blockings of my Craftings.”

“Who? What? That’s nae possible!”


“Rap–? Oh, bugger!” Flavius kicked at the railing in fury. “Why the hell dinnae ya contract with the Junsturs? Their particular style of violence would be a wee bit handy about now, eh?”

A tremendous crash behind them wrested their attention from the moironteau above to the one beind. The battered and scarred creature had broken through completely, destroying hundreds of peq tanks in the process. Footheads clawed at the wall, jagged teeth biting into the solid surface. The moironteau came after them.

Pacal leapt past Papantzin and the Empress, dropping to a knee and throwing a full blast of his cuayab into the moironteau. The fire washed over the beast, blackening a foothead. The burning foothead whipped wildly back and forth, trailing flame as it smashed dozens of peq tanks. The amniotic fluid smothered the fire, filling the air with choking, bitter smoke.

“Get her back!” Pacal ordered Papantzin while keeping a steady fire trained on the moironteau. “Protect the Empress!”

Engulfed in flames, the moironteau reared back a foothead, and lightning-fast struck hard, crushing the catwalk and Pacal. The foothead pulled away from the wall, and Captain Pacal’s shattered body tumbled away.

The moironteau crossed the break in the catwalk, the foothead teeth grinding menacingly as they dug into the wall. The moironteau was breathing heavily, rumbling groans surging up from deep within.

Empress Malinche crouched in a ball, her arms covering her head. Papantzin stood between her and the moironteau, slender stiletto in her hand.

“Flavius!” Malinche called, voice wracked with sobs. “Flavius save me!”

Instinctively, Flavius moved to her defense, but pulled up before Djserka. The em Naga-ed-der’s girth blocked the way.

A foothead lashed out. Papantzin nimbly ducked away. The open maw bit hard against the wall, the bulk of the limb passing over Papantzin and the Empress and shoving hard against Djserka’s back.

Angry crimson blisters erupted across the foothead. The moironteau recoiled in pain, wrenching the foothead free of the em Naga-ed-der spines embedded deep in its flesh. The blisters grew at an alarming speed, bursting open to release a black, watery puss. More blisters formed even as the moironteau convulsed violently then released its grip on the wall.

The moironteau shattered cloning column after cloning column as it fell. Undercut, the towering pillars toppled, breaking apart in a chain reaction. The moironteau above found themselves falling among the shattered tanks, flailing arms wreaking destruction as they plummeted.

The first moironteau hit the distant floor with a resounding crash. Fissures radiated out from its carcass, broad lines clearly defined even amidst the debris and dismembered peq. The second hit with greater force, and the fissures grew three fold.

The battered catwalk shifted suddenly, pulling away from the wall. Flavius grabbed the railing, sheathing Memory as he did.

The next two moironteau hit nearly simultaneously, and the floor dropped away into nothing. All the shattered columns and tanks and peq followed into the darkness.

“Grab something lass!” Flavius yelled to Acaona. “We’re going for a ride.”

The catwalk shuddered, then tore free, plunging them through the cavernous hole below.


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