Saturday, January 3, 2009



Armor screens flared and sparked as the door fragments hit. Shouts of pain mingled with roared curses from the Eternal Militiamen. Smoke and the stench of burning hair and plastics filled the hall.

Djserka stood dumbfounded in the hall intersection, staring in horror. “You... you attacked them.”

“They are starting it,” Parric said absently, slithering down the adjoining passage. “I am assuming this is out alternating route? Or are we going all the way backing to the stairwell?”

“You attacked the Eternal Militia!” Djserka said, ignoring Parric’s question. “I’m ruined. Oh, today has been utter disaster. Their Imperial Majesties will never retain me now. I’ll be sacked, I just know it. Sent off with scathing references, or worse! If any are dead--”

“If any are deading, then the Emperor is deserving of refundings for worthless armor screens,” Parric snapped. “Now, are you guiding me, or are you taking your chancings with Commander Balam?”

Djserka hesitated an instant, then lurched after Parric. “This way. There’s a public stair up ahead,” Djserka muttered. “I’m regretting this already.”

“Join the crowdings.” Parric Crafted barricades across the hall behind them as they went.

Green fire burst across the first one just inside the intersection. Commander Balam’s reaction was barely muffled by the intervening barriers.

“That may hold off Commander Balam’s squad, but by now he’s contacted the Palace Coordinated Command,” Djserka said. “Squads will be moving in to cut us off from every direction.”

“Militia are not my concernings at the moment.”

The Palace of Un-pic Ja’ab vibrated suddenly, disconcertingly underfoot.

“Did you feel that? I’ve never felt the palace suffer even the slightest instability before.” Djserka’s spines bristled nervously. “You don’t suppose this bears some relation to those creatures attempting to force their way into the palace?”

Piercing alarms sounded throughout the palace.

“It is bearing every relation,” Parric answered. “We are needing to hurry.”

“This is the stair.”

They made it up the curving stair without opposition. At the top, they pulled back from the hall as a grim-faced Eternal Militia squad double-timed past. The commander glanced their way, gave a quick once-over, then continued on with his men.

“Seeing? We are being the least of their troubles.”

Djserka led them down the narrow hall to a crossing corridor, which they followed to another curved stair, passing only a handful of worried peq along the way.

More vibrations rippled through the palace. From some unidentifiable distance echoes of explosions and a great crashing could be heard. Through it all, the alarms continued their relentless scream.

“The breaking through is happening,” said Parric, diving down the stair. “The moironteau are insiding the palace. We must be hurrying.”

“You mean they’re coming after us?

“No. They’re aftering Flavius. And they’re verying good at finding him.”

The stair opened into a broad alcove adjacent to the main hall. The sounds of fighting were much louder and closer. Parric stole a look around the corner. “I’m knowing where I am now. Much thankings to you,” he said, taking wing.

Djserka shot out a clawed hand and grabbed hold of Parric’s pack straps. “No, no, no. Mere thanks does not absolve you of the fact you’ve destroyed my career within the Eternal Dominion, not does it give you leave to abandon my person in a...” Djserka flailed his free arms in exasperation. “In a war zone, sir!”

Parric offered a pitying look. “Following me if you are wanting, but I’m doubtingful you’ll find it safer in my company.”

“Those commanders will have reported me in your company. The damage is already done.”

“Try to keeping up.” Parric launched into the open hall. Djserka followed.

Far down the opposite direction, where they’d encountered Commander Balam only minutes earlier, a dozen or so Eternal Militiamen fought a furious battle with at least three moironteau. Chunks of marble archway fell through billowing smoke as tapestry and woodwork burned with red-orange flame. The tight, green tongues of cuayabs lashed the moironteau in rapid bursts, blistering the blackened hide of the thrashing footheads. One foothead swept down on a militiaman. The soldier glowed hotly blue for almost three seconds before his armor screen collapsed and the grinding teeth closed over him.

The militiaman’s cuayab ruptured with a sudden report and brilliant white explosion. The foothead--along with a good portion of the body attached to it--splattered across the vaulted ceiling and floor. The moironteau carcass crumpled as the remaining militiamen picked themselves off the floor where the concussion had thrown them and directed their cuayab fire at the other two moironteau.

“They’ve killed one!”

“And two are taking its place,” answered Parric. “But if they are delaying the moironteau, we can get Flavius and be going before--”

Parric noticed the growing fissure in the floor ahead an instant before it erupted great chunks of stone. Parric pulled up, twisting as he did to dodge debris. A block of polished marble twice the size of a man’s fist clipped the right side of Parric’s head, just missing the third eye. Parric crashed to the ground.

Two footheads slammed down on either side of the gaping hole, hoisting the moironteau into the corridor from the floor below.

Djserka reached Parric, pulling him back from the moironteau.

The moironteau heaved itself out of the hole. Immediately, more footheads reached out.

“What... what...” muttered Parric.

“You took a knock on the head,” whispered Djserka. “Those moironteau of yours. They don’t seem to be taking note of us. The first one’s moving off.”

“Moironteau?” The word gave Parric something to focus on. He rose, pushing Djserka away. He shook his head, fighting the wobbles. The second moironteau had climbed halfway through the opening. Parric clicked his beak angrily, then Crafted a heaviness upon the vaulted ceiling.

A ton of ornate stone archway collapsed into the hole, crushing the moironteau. The first moironteau stopped in its tracks, raising its rear footheads to locate the threat.

Without a word, Parric Crafted a collapsing around its body. Immediately, the moironteau sensed it, and fought to break free. Parric flicked his antennae, and the collapsing fell in upon itself, compressing the moironteau’s body as it went. An instant later, the moironteau was gone, crushed into nothingness. Only the dismembered, twitching footheads remained.

Djserka stared, mouth agape. “That was--”

“Not something you’re ever telling Flavius,” Parric muttered. He rubbed the knot on the side of his head gingerly. “I’d never be hearing the end of it. Coming on, his room is this waying.”

The side corridor of the Cobama wing was deserted. Flavius’ door stood closed and undamaged.

“There’s Flavius’ rooming,” Parric said in relief. “He’s still safeing--none of the moironteau are reaching here yet.”

The door to Flavius’ room--and the wall surrounding it--exploded outward with the thunderous report of a cuayab rupture.


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