((31 - Mechanical Mystgate))
April 30th, 802 AT
The mess hall clattered with the noise of its half-dozen inhabitants' conversations. The past two weeks had been spent in quiet conversation, or training, or learning to read, or helping to build their new ship. Now, the ship was finished, and ready to depart. Tomorrow morning, the crew knew that the time would come to set off for places unknown. For now, though, they would eat one last dinner on the Corkscrew, together in hope.
Captain Kasby Bellwood rested calmly in his chair, looking around the room. His buckle-crazy coat hung around the back of his chair, the copper-haired man instead opting for a well-fitting black shirt. His eyes glanced around the mess hall, taking in the high metal walls, the myriad empty tables... The Corkscrew was the only stable home he had ever known. He had grown up here. He had learned here. He had seen friends and lovers fall away, and had returned to find everything and everyone dead. But it was still his home. He had spent months walking the empty corridors, maintaining it all himself. Tending the hydroponics bays. Fixing the generators. Monitoring the crystals. Hunting demons, when necessary--when possible.
And now he was leaving it, probably forever, with a group of almost total strangers. When he'd met them, two weeks ago, they were the first other people he'd seen in months, and somehow they had only made him feel lonelier. But in these last days, he'd begun to build up a camaraderie with them, and get to know them as people. He still wasn't sure he liked all of them, but... he was getting there. Zebra, Giraffe, Skunk, and Spider sat around the table, each enjoying one of Goat's delicious sandwiches. Goat himself was still busy loading foodstuffs into the ship, and Owl was, as always, down in the Archives, reading. Each of them now had a personal radio strapped to their belts, though, so he could recall them at a moment's notice.
Then there was Jaz. Kasby's gaze rested on her for a long while, and she caught him staring and threw him back a wink. He wasn't going to say any bullshit about true love or anything like that, but damn if she wasn't exactly the kind of woman he'd always wanted.
She picked up her sandwich, and dove into it with a will. "I was thinking," she said to him between bites. "We'll need to refuel on the way, and Sector Four is, gravitationally, straight down from here..." Her voice was hopeful.
"Hm? Oh, yeah." Kasby nodded. "I was thinking it would be a good idea anyways. Ammo, fuel, a little human contact. Couldn't hurt," he said, and took another bite of his own sandwich.
Jaz nodded, and let herself smile, a bit. Oliver had always been more of a home to her than the Sector Base, but still. "Human contact." She nodded. "There are people I'd like to see, I admit. My brother, mainly. Hopefully he hasn't gotten in too much trouble while I've been gone." Her smile took on a wry twist, as she thought of Seth's mischief. "Though, ah, I'm not sure my last boyfriend will be so happy to see you." She elbowed Kasby in the ribs, drawing an awkward laugh.
Skunk eyed them from her seat at the far end of the table, her sandwich sitting untouched in front of her on the table. "Soo there'll be lots more people at Sector Four?"
Jaz nodded. "Oh, yes. Hundreds of people. Your sandwich...?"
Skunk glared at it furiously, growling slightly.
Kasby raised an eyebrow at the metal woman. "What did it ever do to you?"
She let out a frustrated breath, red eyes not leaving the offending meal. "No. Mushrooms."
Goat came hurtling in from the direction of the elevator, over all of their heads, landing on the far end of the table. "That's because I packed them already!"
Skunk grumbled. "Doesn't help me here."
Kasby turned to the young leaper. "All packed, Goat?"
"Aye!" The boy grinned his usual wild smile. "Done putting stuff on the ship!"
"Excellent." He held up his meal. "And fine sandwiches as always, sir." He swallowed another bite of his sandwich, then cleared his throat. "So, ah. This ship of ours still doesn't have a name. Anyone have some suggestions?"
Jaz bit into her sandwich, and thought for a moment while she chewed. "Oliver was named after a boy I once knew," she said, her voice soft. "Died when I was small, and he was small." She looked to Kasby. "What about the Archimedes? Where'd that come from?"
He shrugged. "Much less personal, I suppose. Archimedes was a physicist, from a long while ago. Seemed worthy of having a little, doomed ship named after him, at least."
Jaz nodded. "I knew a scientist once, named all her ships after flowers of old. Iris, Rose, Lily... She went through ships like some go through men! Never died herself, though. Maybe she was charmed or something."
"Hmm..." Spider floated up a bit as she thought. "Well, if we're naming it after people we lost... maybe we should call it the Face Brigade." She laughed a bit, unsure if she were joking or not.
Kasby pondered Spider's comment for a second. "Hm... well, maybe. But Brigade isn't a name for a ship, that's for sure. What about Face Forward?"
Spider shook her head. "I don't like Forward."
Giraffe nodded in agreement. "Yeah, it sounds too cheesy."
Jaz leaned in, putting her hands on the table. "Well... we're traveling to the center, right, cutting to the heart of things. Getting to the honesty, the truth of the situation. So what about... the Tru--"
She was cut off by a massive tremor that ran through the whole Corkscrew, nearly throwing them out of their chairs. A moment later, a second shudder went through the base. Then the alarms sounded, screaming violently throughout the room.
((32 - Angel Attack))
Kasby was on his feet in a flash, going for the nearest control panel, hitting switches madly. Spider launched herself into the air, scanning the room for structural damage, even as the room shook again. Clearly, though, the shocks were coming from outside the Corkscrew.
Jaz was a step behind Kasby, and read the readouts over his shoulder. Off the charts. A dozen demon signals, on all sides of the Corkscrew. Half of the sensor nodes were already offline, and as they watched, another two blinked red. "Dammit! They're moving faster than I thought. Kasby, we've gotta get out of here. With all the crystals I saw broken..."
Kasby nodded, and turned to the others. "Change of plans. We're leaving NOW."
The team scrambled to their feet, grabbing their various coats and equipment. Spider, already prepared, fell to the wall alongside Kasby and Jaz. "We can't leave yet! Isn't the ship still locked into the dock?"
"Not a problem," Jaz replied. "We can just switch off the magnetic--"
"Unfortunately," Kasby cut in. "It's not that simple. The controls for the dry dock were damaged in the fighting six months ago."
"Well, shit." Jaz bit her lip. "So what we do?"
"We'll have to deactivate the central dynamo. Kill power to all the electromagnetic systems."
"Just tell me where to go!" Spider shouted. "What do we do?"
Giraffe ran up, adding, "And how do we do it?"
"The dynamo controls are on the observation deck." Kasby nodded to Jaz. "Take half of them, and I'll take the rest."
Jaz spun towards her companions, calling out orders immediately. "Spider! You're with me. Goat, Skunk, you too. Bring guns." She pointed in the direction of the armory, down a side corridor, then turned back to Kasby.
In the midst of the chaos, with the alarms still blaring in the ears, the two lovers froze for a moment, eyes locked. Kasby smiled. "I'll see you onboard."
She winked at him, flashing a smile back. "Aye aye, captain." Then she turned and followed her crew off towards the weapons.
Skunk had immediately leapt up, eager to get to the fighting. "Guns!" She ran down the hallway towards the armory, with Spider falling close behind, and Goat leaping after. They curved around the central elevator shaft, and up the narrow spiral staircase, emerging out into the main armory. Hundreds of weapons lined the walls, of every type imaginable.
Spider glanced around, falling alongside the walls and scanning for a weapon she liked the look of. She spotted a pair of curved blades that looked almost like her old hookball hooks. She grabbed them off the wall, testing their weight, spinning them in her hands.
"Hm," Goat said, looking around. "I never got the hang of those 'gun' things. I'm actually more accurate just leaping at things with a spear."
Jaz raised an eyebrow at him, arriving through the door behind them. "Have you GOT a spear?"
"Yes." He leaped around a corner, into one of the side armories, reappearing a moment later with a long spear in his hands. It was taller than he was, and he was clearly being careful not to hit the ceiling with it by accident.
Jaz nodded at him. "Good. Then use that." She strapped her swords to their familiar places at her belt before striding out of the room, not quite running. Her blood was pounding, and an odd sort of half-grin plastered itself across her face.
Spider fell alongside her, down through the middle of the spiral stairs. "So where are we going, again?"
"The Observation Deck. We can deactivate the dynamo from there, so that Kasby can get us out of here. Spider, Goat, you two can fall or leap your way onto the ship from the deck."
Skunk strode alongside Jaz, stroking a long coil of steel attached to her belt as the quartet entered the elevator together. "So then what're we doing?"
Jaz gave Skunk a grin. "You're here because I can trust you to not die and hopefully watch my back in the process. Not having the marvelous powers of our friends here..."
"Hey, I've got power," Skunk said defensively, holding up her right hand, the fingertips shaped into long claws.
The corkscrew shook again, violently, sending them all staggering against the walls of the elevator for a moment. Jaz shook her head, and pointed upwards. "I know you do, and you're going to use it. The two of us get to fight our way up to the Crow's Nest, and make our heroic leaps from there."
Skunk smiled secretively and glanced at the coiled steel. "So how many demons are we talking?"
"Considering how many crystals I saw break on the Map, and how many energy spikes the sensors picked up... at least a dozen. Possibly more."
Goat grinned, and tightened his grip on his spear. Spider, sitting on the ceiling, spun her hooks impatiently. Skunk and Jaz just waited, staring at the door.
The elevator clicked to a stop.
Kasby watched them go for a moment, following Jaz' back with his eyes, then ran back to the table. He reached behind his chair and pulled his belt out from the chair, buckling it low-slung on his waist. Two holsters dangled from it: one held the familiar wooden handle of the dartpistol. The other held a more angular, metallic handle. A few wires were just visible.
"Everyone else, with me." Kasby pulled his tan overcoat over his shoulders and pulled the dartpistol out from its holster as he walked towards the armory. As they arrived, he turned to Giraffe. "Can you still make lots of things catch on fire?"
She smiled evilly. "You bet, what do you want me to do?"
"Stick close and if something looks at you wrong, light it up." Kasby nodded. He turned to Zebra. "Can you hurt things?"
"I guess. Just give me something to hit them with." The blacksmith flexed her arms unconsciously. She was used to swinging a hammer, but at quiet metal, not demons.
Kasby dragged what looked a little bit like a warhammer out of the pile of weapons and handed it to Zebra. "Good enough?"
Zebra took the hammer and tested its weight. She nodded. "Yeah."
Behind them, the doors to the secondary elevator slid open to reveal a very confused-looking Owl, a book clutched in one hand. "Um, what's going on?"
Kasby turned to her. "Very bad things. Grab a gun and stay behind me."
Owl nodded quietly, and looked at the pile of guns. She tucked the book into her backpack, then somewhat hesitantly took a gun with a disproportionately large barrel. It looked like it could shoot cannonballs.
The pilot looked at his three companions' armaments, and nodded. "Good. Owl, Giraffe, Zebra, we move. Now," he said, climbing into the elevator and hitting the button to the docks. Owl scrambled in as fast as she could, and Giraffe stumbled in behind her, still somewhat in shock. The doors slid shut behind them, and they were off.
((33 - Never Look Back))
Through the closed doors came the sound of tremendous skittering, the sound of thousands of claws over metal. Then the doors to the Observation Deck hissed slowly open.
The windows were dark with motion. They were coming in through the window Goat had shattered weeks earlier. Dozens and dozens and dozens--hundreds of them. Bugs. Skittering and chittering, locust-like, swarming, hungry. Each was a handspan across, with a dozen legs and several pairs of pincers up front, clicking rapidly.
Goat didn't hesitate. He launched himself out of the elevator before the doors had even finished opening, targeting the nearest bug. His spear pierced it, and the creature exploded in a shower of green guts. The others nearby ignored this, and started climbing up the shaft of the spear. Goat leapt on, trying to shake them off even as he aimed at the next one. Spider fell past him, twin blades flashing as she hurtled around the room, slicing open bug after bug.
Skunk and Jaz had hung back by the doors, watching. The metal woman paused, unsure of what to do. "What the fuck?" She watched her allies attacking the swarm with little visible effect. "Jaz?"
One of the pilot's crystal blades whipped out of its sheath, cutting one of the bugs clean in two. "Fuck," she said quietly. "Not a swarm."
"Fuck," Skunk groaned. "What does that mean?" She took the coil of wire off of her belt and began to unspool it, letting it pile around her feet.
"I don't know. This isn't... anything I've seen before, not exactly." The bugs kept coming, and Jaz kept slicing, not even seeming to be thinking about where she was cutting. "When I've seen them before, swarms are... hive-minds. Millions of bodies with only one mind, and they only count as one demon."
Goat and Spider were continuing to hurtle through the swarm, taking out demonic bug after demonic bug. No matter how many they killed, though, the swarm never seemed to thin. Goat skidded to a landing atop a control panel and looked down, noticing one of the bugs clinging to his foot. "Aaah!" He let out a scream and began to flail his leg wildly, trying to shake it off.
Spider fell past him, kicking the bug off of him, then cutting it into several pieces. She didn't give him a chance for thanks, but kept at the bugs.
Skunk, meanwhile, concentrated on the coil of steel wire at her feet, one end still held in her hand. It began to weave itself, forming into a very large bugswatter. She grinned at Jaz. "So what do we do about it, then?"
Jaz began to push forward, and Skunk kept pace, taking out half a dozen bugs with every swing of her new weapon. "Well, our demon count has risen. Eleven, plus one million. Thing is... gotta find the queen." She kept wading forward, squishing and slashing as many bugs as possible, but concentrating on moving, looking. "Find the Queen... and the bodies die."
Skunk continued swatting bugs, starting to look for a pattern. One of them landed onto her arm, and began trying to chew, but its mandibles clicked uselessly against her metal skin. "Hey, I don't think they can bite me... guess being metal's good for something!"
As the four fought their way around the room, getting closer to the windows, a pattern began to emerge. Skunk noticed it first, and pointed out the windows, to where a particularly dense cluster of bugs shielded something from view entirely. "I think the Queen's over there, unless they're smart and it's a decoy."
Spider nodded from the ceiling. "I'll go see what they're doing out there!" She launched herself at the shattered window and flew through, smacking a few bugs out of the way with sheer momentum as she did. She landed up right on the outside of the Corkscrew, and looked at the condensed swarm.
From this angle, she could see the Queen clearly--a huge version of the normal bugs, covered with red eyes, and dozens of smaller bugs crawling around on top of it. It flittered its dozen or so wings, managing to stay airborne, a few feet outside the windows.
Spider fell at it at high speed, but was deflected by one of its wings, flying off into the Void. "Bastards!" She cursed and came around, flying back up to try and make another attack.
Back inside, Jaz smashed another window open with the hilt of her sword, clearing the nearby bugs away. She leaned her head out the new opening, taking sight of the Queen, then pulled back inside. "Goat! Over here!"
Goat leapt to her side, and understood immediately. With clear air now between him and the Queen, he launched himself out the broken window. He hit it full speed with his spear, but the point screeched harmlessly across its chitinous exoskeleton. He stabbed one of the smaller bugs on it in frustration, then leapt back to the Corkscrew, coming to land on the roof above the Observation Deck.
Skunk watched the whole thing happen from inside, and stopped. She stood still for a minute, letting the bugs swarm over her, and dismantled her swatter. She melted the coil together, forming it into a long, thin blade. The ex-policewoman took a deep breath. "I sure as hell hope this works..."
She broke out into a run, throwing the bugs off of her as she did, heading for the original window. The Queen hovered just outside, with only a few meters of open Void between it and the Observation Deck. Skunk let out a yell and threw herself out the window, hurtling through the air, and managed to land atop the Queen.
She grinned wildly, and stabbed the blade into the Queen's back, slipping it between two of the plates of chitinous exoskeleton. It let out a horrific screech, and Skunk winced at the sound, but kept her blade inside. Concentrating, she made the tip of the blade into a shovel. "Heh. Take this, fucker." She ripped the shovel out of the Queen viciously, in a scooping motion. A shower of green blood and organs flew up in an arc, splattering across her face.
The Queen shrieked again, and its eyes lost their reddish glow. The smaller bugs droned off, and began to fall away into the Void. Skunk began laughing crazily, intensely pleased with herself.
Spider dodged the chunks of demon flesh as she landed back against the Corkscrew. "Nice job," she calld out to Skunk. "Absolutely disgusting, but nice job!"
Then the whole mass of bugs began to fall away into the Void--with Skunk still standing atop it. Her eyes went wide. "Shit!"
Without even thinking about it, Goat threw himself off the Corkscrew, landing alongside Skunk on the Queen. He wrapped his arms around her, and, using the Queen itself as a launching pad, leapt back up at the Corkscrew.
Skunk was heavy--almost too heavy--but he made it up to the Observation Deck, just barely, crashing through the window. He let go of Skunk, and the two let out a breath. "Thanks," mumbled Skunk to Goat awkwardly.
Jaz stood in the room, which was at this point almost painted green with bug-blood. She wiped her blades clean on one sleeve, leaving a long green stain. She gave them both a nod. "Well done. Now come on."
Kasby readed his belt, secured the armor plating in his coat and tightened his goggles. His face was a picture of resolution. He had very clearly done this before. Many, many times. He took a glance upward, at the ceiling of the elevator, toward the Observation Deck. As the machine hissed to a stop, Kasby lowered his head and took a deep breath.
The door to the docking bay clicked open. The ship sat off to one side, wings folded against its sides, towering over the stripped shells of the half-dozen smaller ships. Scattered about the rest of the docking bay sat four black figures. One was large, four-legged, twisting with black fire. The second was snake-like, coiling about the air. The third was some sort of geometric construct, a strange shape formed of thin beams connecting ball-joints.
The fourth... was a larva. It pulsed with that now disgustingly familiar red light.
Kasby took a step out of the elevator and drew the new metal weapon from its holster. Held aloft and out of the leather sheath, the thing was long and angular, vaguely shaped like a handgun. It was a contraption of glass lenses and wires and harsh metal. He leveled it at the black, firey one and pulled the trigger.
A blast of purple light spewed out of Kasby's gun, slamming into the black beast. It went flying back through the air, knocked clear out of the docking bay. "Light 'em up!" Kasby yelled, flicking a switch on the gun. It flipped open and released an empty crystal, along with a jet of steam. Kasby clipped another, pulsing crystal into the gun.
Giraffe stepped out behind Kasby, igniting her hands in preparation. As the snake-like creature hissed, turning its attention towards them, Giraffe stretched her hands forward, letting loose all of her pent-up fire.
The snake-creature, now clearly visible as the one they'd seen two weeks earlier, glared at her with those glowing red eyes. A burst of red fire appeared in the air in front of its face, and the two streams of fire met in the middle, clashing with a roar. "Ah, shit!" Giraffe yelled, not letting up her concentration.
Zebra ran out into the Docking Bay, making for the geometric creature. It folded, twisting around behind one of the broken ships, flipping end-over-end. She chased after it and swung her hammer wildly. It inverted suddenly, stretching its beams out of the way of her swing. The head of the hammer smashed into the deck with a whoomf, making a massive dent. She tugged at it, but it was jammed tight into the metal of the deck. The geometric demon silently pushed towards her, and Zebra made a hasty treat, leaving her hammer stuck in the deck.
Owl had barely made it out of the elevator, and was still just watching in terror. She took a step back, and pressed herself against the wall, shaking. She began to mutter incoherently, as outside the bay, the huge black demon came floating back into view, slowly rising on its own propulstion. "Ohmanohmanwhatdowedowhatdowedo!"
"Owl, CALM DOWN." Kasby yelled back at her, having neither the time nor thought to turn back and say it gentler. He took aim and let loose with the Warlock gun again. The jet of red light passed by the other two demons, blasting toward its mark, the black demon once again.
The demon looked up, and opened its mouth. The blast of light swirled around it and then vanished into its gaping maw. The black fire burned brighter, glowing around it.
Kasby blinked for a moment and let out a swear word. "I meant to kill it, not feed it! Keep up the fire, Giraffe!" he said, reloading the weapon as well he could with one hand. With the other, he unloaded a burst of crystal shards.
Giraffe nodded, a sweat forming on her brow. She concentrated, and doubled the intensity of her fire. As she did, though, the snake roared through several mouths, and the output of fire increased to match Giraffe's new push. The two streams continued to burn at each other, their intersection burning white-hot.
Kasby began reloading the Warlock for a third shot, his eyes not leaving the demon floating outside in the fog. Abruptly, the black beast flickered out of existence. Kasby blinked in confusion.
It appeared a moment later, on the back wall of the Docking Bay, right over them. It roared, a terrifying sound, and a lash of black lightning shocked out of its mouth. Owl didn't have time to react--she convulsed, and dropped to the ground.
Giraffe glanced over in surprise. "Hot DAMN! What did it do to her!?"
Kasby didn't answer. It had hurt one of his crew. It took a step down the wall, getting close enough. "Aright, fucker. Try to eat this." He leapt up, pushing off a heavy bit of piping sticking out of the wall, and grabbed onto the beast. It slid down the wall with him, its claws scraping on steel. Before it could react, he jammed the Warlock against its mouth, and let loose a burst. It shrieked and flew back, falling off the wall--
--right into the stream of Giraffe's fire. It roared louder, flames licking all around it. Surprised, the snake-creature stopped its fire. Giraffe watched the creature react to the fire, enjoying it, and turned to follow it, focusing her fire now on it. "Is it sick that I like this?" she muttered to herself, grin unbroken.
The black beast howled, trying to stand back up, but the concentrated fire was too much. It fell back, burnt viciously. Its black skin had been roasted away to reveal convulsing sickly orange muscles beneath. Giraffe still didn't let up, continuing to burn it with one hand, while her other began to stream fire at the snake again.
Zebra had managed to circle back around, tricking the strange shape into following her in a loop. She ran to where her hammer was stuck, with the shape fairly close behind her. The blacksmith turned to face it, and crouched under the long handle of the hammer, bracing her back back against it. She gripped it with both hands, and pulled hard, using her back as a lever. The creature folded closer and closer--
With a wrenching tear, the hammer came free, flipping over shoulder and smashing down into the creature just as it came into range. The demon shattered into an array of spindly shapes that clattered limply to the deck. The blacksmith let out a heavy breath, and turned back to help her companions.
Kasby moved up to Owl, shaking her shoulder gently but insistently. "Owl? Owl!" The words that still covered Owl began to stream off of her, staining the deck black with ink, but she didn't wake up. It was clear that she wasn't dead, though, just unconscious. Kasby swore, and stood, turning to face the demons.
The larva was beginning to slowly worm its way across the deck towards them, undulating unpleasantly. Kasby raised his dartpistol at the larva and fired a few projectiles, each one leaving the gun with a distinct twang. The crystals flew towards the larva, but shattered against a red glow in front of them. Undeterred, it continued its slow progress towards them.
Zebra ran up, clutching her hammer. She watched Giraffe throwing repeated fireballs at the snake demon, which was circling about the Docking Bay, too caught up in avoiding getting burnt to fight back. Her eyes strayed to Owl's unconscious form, and she gave Kasby a worried look.
"Owl's okay, just stunned. Focus on the demons," he ordered. His voice hadn't sounded this commanding since he had told them about this mission, two weeks earlier.
Giraffe suddenly fell to her knees, shaking. "Guys! I... I think I'm out of fire!" She looked very upset, but not worried--they'd done testing on her limits during the two weeks, and knew that she'd be back up to fighting strength in a few minutes.
Kasby had at this point run out into the middle of the Docking Bay, heading for the ship, but the snake was now free to maneuver. It swooped down towards him, wingtip eyes glowing red. He turned and raised his dartpistol at the creature, taking steady aim. He pulled the trigger, which just clicked limply.
His eyes went wide, and he cursed. "Templar above!" He dove to the side, rolling behind a wrecked ship as the snake flew past, its wings missing him by centimeters. He started running to the next ship over, starting to reload the Warlock as he ran. Suddenly, there it was, next to him, mouth wide--
Its jaw closed around Kasby's waist, sharp teeth sinking into his flesh, biting down hard. It flew back up unsteadily into the air, as Kasby strained against its powerful jaw.
Giraffe cursed, trying to fire at the creature, but unable to produce more than a spark. Zebra swallowed, looking determined, and ran after Kasby. She climbed up the ramp of one of the broken ships, and waited. As the snake flew past, Kasby still in its mouth, Zebra leapt from the shell of the ship, hammer swinging high.
The hammer impacted solidly against the middle-tail of the snake, and let out a whoof. A visible shockwave went through the snake, which smashed down out of the air against the deck. Its jaw was still clamped tight around Kasby's midsection, though.
Zebra hit the ground rolling, and came up looking at her own hammer, impressed. "Wow." She shook her head, and ran to the snake, hitting it a second time. It let out an agonized hiss, and strained to get up. With huge smashes in two places on its midsection, though, this wasn't easy.
Kasby wrestled himself around in its mouth, and got one arm down its throat. He pulled the trigger on the reloaded Warlock, and the length of the snake blasted outwards, flying apart in a shower of unpleasant light. It shuddered twice, and died.
Giraffe got to her feet, walking over to him, grinning. "And THAT is how we roll!" She started to help the Captain pry its jaws open, freeing him from the demon's deathgrip.
((34 - The Extreme))
Spider floated back inside through one of the shattered windows, looking around, admiring their handiwork. "Alright! Now what?" she said to Jaz excitedly.
Jaz found her way to the dynamo master controls, and smashed open the glass panel with the hilt of her sword. "Spider! Take that switch!" She pointed to a panel on the far side of the room. "I've got this one. On my word!"
Spider flew over to it. The panel was already broken, apparently having been smashed out in the fighting at some point. She took hold of the lever eagerly. "Got it!"
Jaz nodded to her. "Three! Two! One! NOW!" She pulled her switch down hard, and on the far side of the room, Spider did too.
The two handles clicked down and...
... nothing happened.
"Um..." Goat said quietly.
Jaz stood back. "Alright! Now, Goat, Spider--"
"Wait." Skunk stepped up, frowning. "Wasn't something supposed to happen?"
Jaz blinked. "It did."
"Yeah, guys," Spider said, looking back and forth. "You didn't feel that?"
"What?" Skunk looked no less worried.
"I... suspect you can feel the change in gravity, Spider." Jaz explained. "As for the rest of us... we can't tell from up here, but Kasby's free to go. As long as he's alive."
"Oh, he will be." Spider rolled her eyes. "He'll be annoyingly alive."
Jaz grinned at her. "You bet he will. Now then." She pointed at the broken windows. "You two head down to the Docking Bay from here. Meet up with Kasby. He'll know where to find us."
"Alright." Spider looked over at Goat. "Let's get on to that ship." The two teens went to the broken window, and made their exits, falling and leaping over the surface of the Corkscrew, down towards the open Docking Bay.
Skunk watched them go, then turned to Jaz. "And us?"
"Skunk..." Jaz smiled slightly. "Ours is the longer, bloodier path. We continue up."
Picking up their respective armaments, the two women walked to a small door at the far end of the Observation Deck, and pushed through. It opened onto a massive series of catwalks and ladders, stretching to a point high above. Jaz nodded to Skunk. "Ever upwards."
Between the two of them, they finally managed to pry Kasby free. He had a vicious series of punctures all along his torso and thighs, where the thing had sunk its teeth into him. They slowly seeped blood, leaving a pair of red stains through his clothing. He started to pull himself to his feet, but winced, clutching at his thighs in pain. Giraffe groaned and grabbed him by the shoulders, starting to drag him across the Docking Bay towards the ship.
Zebra came to them slowly, Owl hoisted over her shoulder, both hammer and cannon left abandoned. A loud whirring filled the room briefly, followed by a more quiet hissing, and the sound of electricity crackling loudly. Kasby grinned in spite of himself. "Knew they'd get it done."
As he watched, though, behind Zebra, the larva turned, starting to make its way towards the quartet.
"Not done yet!" Kasby said through clenched teeth. "Get us out of here, and to the ship!" With nothing in mind other than stalling, he fired off a blast at the slowly advancing larva. "Get up the ladder!" The small red portal opened wide, and swallowed the energy whole.
Zebra looked at the ladder, then at Owl. The expression on her face said something along the lines of 'fuck,' but she just shifted Owl's position over her shoulder, and began to climb.
Giraffe looked up at her. "Want some help?" She asked, not meaning to be snide at all.
Zebra looked back at her for a moment. "...I'll handle it." she said, still climbing. She finally reached the top and dumped Owl on the floor unceremoniously, then turned and motioned for Giraffe to follow.
Spider came falling down into the Docking Bay, landing lightly on the side of the new ship. "Yo!" she called to the others. "Glad to see you're alive!" Goat came leaping in behind her, bounding up to the deck of the ship.
Through clenched fists and gritted teeth, Kasby worked his way up the ladder. "Same to you. Let's get out of here before that things worms its way over here." He stumbled into the main body of the ship.
"Agreed," said Giraffe. "And you need medical care, Kasby."
"Oh..." Spider looked around at the slaughter. "Shit." She went to Kasby's side, helping him to lean against the edge of the cockpit. "Where d'ya hurt?"
Kasby pulled the coat out of the way of the wound, dripping dark blood onto the metal floor. The teeth marks were fairly obvious. "Where's Jaz? And Skunk?" he asked in short breaths.
She hissed as she saw the wound. "Bastards..." She reached into her backpack and pulled out a roll of medical wrap. "And they're going up," Spider explained, hastily wrapping the bandages around Kasby's midsection.
At that precise moment, Kasby's radio crackled. Jaz' voice came through. "Kasby, we're heading up to the Crow's Nest. Get the fuck up here and catch us."
Kasby pulled the radio off of his belt and clicked it on. "Roger that, Jaz. On my way." He hauled himself to a standing position, making his way to the pilot's seat, shaky and clutching the wound. "Everyone in?"
"Looks like it," Goat said, his spear still in his hand.
Below, on the deck, the larva began to slowly flap its massive wings, beginning to take flight.
Spider saw it, and turned to Kasby. "Let's GO!" She shouted.
"Alright then. Off we go," he said, collapsing into the pilot's seat and slamming on the throttle.
The Corkscrew shook violently.
The ship's engine roared.
With a shudder, it shot forward, out of the Docking Bay. Kasby wrenched down on a few levers. The boosters flared, the wings opened up widely and majestically and the new ship soared. The scientist's hands were blur on the controls as he adjusted for every variable. With one turn of the controls, he swooped towards the Crow's Nest.
They had made their way to the top of the base at last, and could see light streaming down from a ladder up ahead. The Corkscrew shook violently again, but the two didn't stop running, making for the exit.
Suddenly, the light vanished. A half-dozen twisting legs spiralled down, grabbing onto the ceiling. Pulled behind it was a large black body, slightly furry, covered with dozens of mouths. After a moment, the creature fell the rest of the way into the corridor, trailing another half-dozen legs. It filled most of the corridor, and reared up, skittering towards them. Each of its legs ended in a pincer-like claw.
Skunk cracked her neck, readying herself. She molded her coil into a long whip, with a sharp heavy piece at the end. A pincer pinged off of Skunk's face ineffectively, and she swung the coil at the creature. The steel thudded solidly into the body, the cable behind it slicing through two legs on the way. "Ha! HELL yes!"
Jaz was standing a bit further back, and had unclipped her radio from her belt, trusting Skunk to keep her safe. "Kasby, we're heading up to the Crow's Nest. Get the fuck up here and catch us." She had the radio replaced by a sword in a split second, and took a shuffling step forward, slashing downwards to cut off one of the thing's legs.
As the two pushed forwards, blades flashing, the radio at Jaz' belt crackled, and Kasby's voice came through. "Roger that, Jaz. On my way."
The creature hissed, skittering back down the corridor. Its eyes glowed red, and it pulsed forwards again, long legs flailing wildly. One of the legs flicked past Jaz' defenses, slicing her arm, leaving a long red line.
She swore, but pressed forwards, swinging both swords, hacking her way through the legs. Skunk had pulled her whip back, and readied it to strike again. She swung it around in a tight circle, building up momentum, and let it fly. The beast shuddered as the metal smashed into it, cutting through one of its eyes.
Jaz sucked a quick breath, and her eyes narrowed even more. Taking advantage of its momentary distraction, she ducked between the legs, aiming for one of the thing's mouths. Each of her blades found their targets, digging deep. The creature howled, twitched three times, and then flopped dead, its legs clattering to the floor.
Skunk exhaled deeply. "These things aren't so bad."
Jaz claned her blade and moved on, wasting no time for celebration. "You get used to it, yeah. Helps, of course, that you're fucking metal."
The ladder opened out onto the open air of the top of the Corkscrew. On all sides, the metal surface of it curved away and down, a hodgepodge of vents, pipes, and windows. Up above, the Crow's Nest hovered, a hundred meters overhead. A pair of wires ran up to it, with a small railed platform at their base.
Jaz ran to it, and poked at the controls, then smacked her palm against her forehead.
Skunk caught up, looking to her. "What's wrong?"
"We turned off the dynamo." Jaz sighed. "So of course the mag-lev lift to the Crow's Nest isn't working." She looked forlornly at the Crow's Nest overhead. "So now how are we going to get up there?"
Skunk thought for a moment, then grinned. She touched her hand to the railing of the platform, and it obediently slithered upwards, attaching itself to the wires. "Instant ladder."
Jaz let out a low whistle. "Damn, wish you'd figured that out two weeks ago... would've been a damn easier way to build the ship!" She turned suddenly, as a roaring came from beneath them. The ship came flying out of the Docking Bay, wings unfurling majestically as it rose. Jaz grinned. "That's Kasby, alright. Everything he does looks fucking triumphant." She turned to the ladder and began to climb.
As the larva began to float up behind them, another set of demons came winging up from below the Corkscrew. At least a dozen of them, wide flat black triangles, that came diving in towards them.
Kasby didn't look up from the controls, just yelled back. "Zebra! Take the gun!"
She frowned. "But I'm not trained in..."
"Doesn't matter!" He cut her off. "Don't worry about the ammo! Just point it at them and hold down on the trigger!"
The woman paused, then nodded and ran to the huge emplacement. She swung it around to face the thin creatures, and opened up. The gun shook violently in her hands, and it was hard to keep them in focus, as Kasby swung the ship around.
Up ahead, Jaz and Skunk were halfway up what appeared to be a makeshift ladder to the Crow's Nest. On the far side of them, though, clearly invisible to them due to the curvature of the base, lurked a massive demon. It was an oblong scaled shape, easily a hundred meters long, with various huge claws clutching the surface of the Corkscrew. Rather than limbs, though, the claws were connected to the body by long tendrils of glowing red energy. A dozen smaller claws dangled from the body, and as the crew watched, these began to flex, starting to stretch out towards the pair of climbers.
"I'll go help!" Goat yelled, and leapt out into the open air, spear held high. He intercepted one of the claws, crashing it to the surface of the Corkscrew and impaling it with his spear. He looked up, searching for a new target.
On the ship, Giraffe looked back to see the larva still winging its way slowly towards them. Her eyes widened as she realized she was back at full power. "Fire's back!"
"Great!" Kasby called back. "Torch those demons!"
"All too happily!" she replied, and opened up at the larva.
Trying not to worry about the massive demon now in sight, the two women pulled their way up into the Crow's Nest. It was a small hexagonal room, lined with windows and readout panels.
Skunk glanced around. "Now what?"
Jaz smiled. "We get higher. We'll have to get to the roof somehow... Maybe we should break a window and climb?"
Skunk shrugged. "Why bother?" She climbed one of the control panels and put her hand against the ceiling. The metal obediently opened a hole, and Skunk pulled herself up through it.
As she helped Jaz up to the roof, the pilot grinned at her. "Damn you're useful."
The two turned to watch as the ship swooped around towards them. Zebra was manning the gun at the back, firing wildly at a swarm of angry black triangles. The bullets shredded through one after another, but they kept coming. Giraffe, at the back, was keeping a constant stream of fire going at the larva, still coming up behind them, but it just ate it all.
"Alright, Skunk. Get ready to jump." The pilot grinned, and lifted the sniper rifle she'd taken from inside the Crow's Nest. "I'll cover you."
"Spider!" yelled Kasby. "Get to the bottom of the ship, and get ready to do some creative catching!"
"Gotcha!" she called back, and jumped over the edge of the deck, orbiting to its base.
Kasby gritted his teeth and slowed the engines as much as possible, swinging the ship as close to the Crow's Nest as he could.
Skunk nodded to Jaz, and turned to the approaching ship.
Spider fell off of the bottom of the ship, falling furiously towards them. "Jump!" she shouted.
Skunk turned to face the younger girl, and ran as fast as she could, throwing herself into the air. Spider caught onto Skunk, and as soon as she did, she radically changed her gravity. The two hurtled back up and around the ship, landing on the deck.
Spider unceremoniously deposited Skunk on the deck, and turned to Kasby. "Swing back around! We've gotta get Jaz!"
"Kasby!" Giraffe yelled. "That'll take us straight towards the larva!"
"A risk we'll have to take," Kasby replied. "Get ready, everyone."
Jaz knelt atop the Crow's Nest and sighted through the sniper rifle, taking careful aim. She watched as Goat leapt from claw to claw, stabbing it repeatedly with his spear, but doing little damage. Finally, she found what she was looking for--a clumping of eyes, near the front of the central body. At the center of them was an exposed mass of what looked like nerve tissue. The rifle was loaded with heavy incendiary rounds, and if she could hit it just right, she should be able to take it out.
She took a deep breath, and squeezed the trigger.
There was a sharp flit and the rifle pushed back against her shoulder. Through the scope, she saw the demon's eyes and surrounding area burst into sudden flame--a direct hit.
She let the rifle drop and stood, grinning, as the connections between the body and the claws began to flicker and fail. As she watched, though, she spotted one of the massive claws, held in the air half a dozen meters above her, which had clearly been attempting to crush at her. It began to fall towards her and the Crow's Nest, but flashed past, missing by a meter. The Crow's Nest shook, though, and Jaz realized it had cut the cable tethering it to the Corkscrew.
"Oh, fuck me," the pilot swore, as the Crow's Nest began to tilt. She looked to her left, and saw the ship, streaking in towards her, Spider once again hanging off the bottom. "Here we go..." She ran up the rapidly falling platform, and leapt off in a running jump.
Spider reached out with both hands as she plummeted towards Jaz. She adjusted her speed to fall alongside the captain, and wrapped both hands around her. "Gotcha!" For the last time, hopefully, Spider clenched her gut and roared through gravity. The two fell at high speed, aiming at the ship, with the larva all too visible right next to it, red portal already gaping wide.
As they fell, the last of the black triangles swooped in towards them, front edge gleaming razor sharp. Jaz grimaced. "Hold us steady, Spider!" She drew both swords, and as the thing sped towards them, slashed out, cutting it clean in two.
The two hurtled up to the back deck of the ship, overshooting it and then slamming back down at the very back, by the engines. Spider fell against the deck, crumpling against it in exhaustion. Jaz stumbled, off-balance, spattered with green blood mixed with her own red. She dropped her left sword to lean against the engine, steadying herself. The two smiled at each other.
Then the red tendrils from the larva snaked to the deck of the ship. They flitted past Jaz' arms, wrapping around Spider's limbs. "Shit!" she cried out in pain, trying to scramble back. There was a tugging sensation, and it felt as if all of that, all of her energy and gravity, was being ripped out.
Jaz's eyes widened. "No!" Still off-balance, she threw herself sideways, knocking into Spider, shaking the tendrils loose. Spider stumbled back, away from the tendrils. Seeking a new target, the hungry red energy latched onto Jaz. The deck rumbled as Kasby gunned the boosters, shooting them forward--and leaving Jaz behind, suspended in the air by the tendrils.
Kasby looked back over his shoulder, and saw her leave. "NO!" Kasby yelled out, pulling the ship back towards Jaz and the larva. He gunned the throttle, knowing there was no chance, no chance in hell... He threw half of his wounded, broken body against the window, leaning out, his arm outstretched...
Her crystal sword was still clutched in her right hand, immobilized by the tendrils. Her left reached out, grasping for something to pull her back... but there was nothing. Her eyes caught Kasby's, through the window, and she opened her mouth. It was a hoarse whisper as she disappeared into the larva's void. "Run."
The red glowed, and then snapped shut around her.
((35 - Sorrow))
With a cry of agony, Kasby wrenched the controls back and pulled the ship away. As they watched, the larva pulsed, and its wings wrapped around it, closing tight. It fell away, vanishing into the Void.
On the back deck, Spider collapsed to the ground, unconscious. Seemingly unconstrained by the ship's artificial gravity, she rolled off the deck, falling away.
"Shit!" Skunk yelled. "Kasby! Spider's falling!"
He slammed the throttle, and rocketed towards Spider. "Grab her... grab her..." he practically whispered.
Skunk readied her steel whip to try and lasso Spider.
"GRAB HER!" he yelled, plunging the ship into the mist of the Void, leaving the Corkscrew behind. Spider came into view, falling limply down into nothing.
Skunk waited until they were a bit closer, then... She flicked the whip out to ensnare Spider. The metal wrapped around Spider's torso, and pulled her in towards the ship. She landed against the deck with a quiet whump, eyes still closed, unmoving.
As soon as she was aboard, Kasby flipped a switch, and the wings snapped shut over the deck. He flipped another, and the ship went to autopilot. The engines quiet adjusted, and they fell downwards, on course for Sector Four. Just according to plan.
Then Kasby bent his head and wept, bitterly, into the controls. His fists met metal until they bled.
Giraffe looked down at her hands, still burning. "How the fuck did that thing survive all of those attacks!?"
Skunk scowled at her. "Does it fucking matter right now?"
"What if it comes back? Then YEAH it fucking matters!" The two glared at each other, but didn't say anything more, as they began to hear Kasby's cries from the pilot's seat.
Goat climbed up from the ladder, having leapt to the bottom hatch as they made their exit. He looked around, confused. "Where's Jaz?" he asked.
Giraffe backhanded him.
"Sorry," he muttered.
No one noticed that Spider had opened her eyes. She lay there against the ground, for once in perfect silence and stillness.
Kasby broke the defeaning silence after what felt like an eternity. "Quinn. We call this ship the Quinn," said Kasby, barely a whisper, trembling.
Skunk sagged against the wall, metal screeching against metal as she slumped to the floor beside Owl's still unconscious form. She grunted approval.
In painful silence and stillness, the Quinn plummeted into the Void, on towards Sector Four, and the forgotten dream of hope.