StarCrossed Chapter 11
Mystician Empire. Tempestas Solar-System. Tempestas.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 3. Time: 4:35 P.M.
It was a hellish scene.
On the ground stood the Pyrrh, all nearly identical in their dull yellow armor, which completely covered them from the neck down. They stood only four feet in height, but their small, dark eyes staring out from their hairless, chalk-white heads said that they were far more dangerous than they appeared. Many of them wielded twin hand-axes, designed as rigidly as their armor. Those who didn't wield axes stood in circles, holding hands, chanting monotonously in a strange language.
Above, flying through the air like birds, were what Newton had called the Farilii. Where the Pyrrh had been frightening because of their inhumanity, the Farilii were frightening for the opposite reason; despite being blue, they looked human and even wore tattered human clothing, but as they swooped down to attack the Pyrrh, throwing strange bolts of light, one could see their expressions: desperate, hateful... and clearly insane.
Rana didn't stop to consider these things, barely noticed the strange sulphuric smell that permeated the battlefield. It wasn't important what they looked like, or what weapons they used. All that mattered was the settlement lying in ruins, the bodies of loved ones lying lifeless on the ground. All that mattered was that all of the invaders, Pyrrh or Farilii, would die by her hand.
Rana's runed sword swung into the first thing she encountered: a circle of chanting Pyrrh. Pyrrh were bodily thrown by the force of her attack, often in two pieces. The circle broken, the other Pyrrh all turned their black gazes to her as she swung a second time. This time, she felt resistance long before she hit any bodies, as if the blade had hit an invisible wall. They were casting a spell of some sort on her!
With a sound of glass breaking, the resistance vanished, and the sword finished its journey, separating three Pyrrh heads from three Pyrrh bodies.
The rest of the Pyrrh scattered, their chanting forgotten. They all threw strange bolts of energy at her as they retreated. Rana parried each with her sword, not even knowing that which she parried. Every time an object approached, she simply swung at it, and every swing resulted in a flash and an explosion of sound, or a spurt of blood.
Rana suddenly found herself standing alone on a pile of mutilated Pyrrh. She looked around and saw that the Pyrrh (those that weren't fighting Farilii) had gathered around her in a circle, at least twenty of them. They stared at her, their small black eyes revealing nothing. Their axes, though, said all that was necessary. As one, they all stepped into identical stances, one axe held in high in front, the other held low behind them. Then they began to chant.
Rana held her sword at the ready as they began to rotate around her, never leaving their circular formation or deviating from their stance. Every step was made in sync, never changing, a monotonous tramp, tramp, tramp. As she watched, the Pyrrh gained a faint red aura, and the circle began to move faster. And faster. And faster yet. Soon they were moving so quickly that she could barely follow them, couldn't tell one from another.
The attack came so fast that she almost didn't know it was happening. Her sword-arm reflexively moved as they rushed in, too quick to follow. She felt resistance as her sword sliced through two Pyrrh, and pain as a slash appeared under her right breast, its source unseen. She continued swinging wildly, but her powerful attacks were easily avoided by the quick and agile Pyrrh. She caught one off guard, nearly tearing it in half, but she paid for that success with a gash to her thigh.
Very soon, Rana's furs were stained red, and her breathing was labored. She swung, and as she swung an axe cut her behind her knee and she fell. Even as she dropped to one knee, she swung, catching two more Pyrrh before they realized she was still a threat.
Stars appeared in Rana's vision as she was struck on the back of the head. Her sword-arm was for an instant rendered useless, and in that moment the sword fell from her hand. It was immediately kicked away, and she was too dazed to reach for it. She found herself gazing down into the black eyes of a dead Pyrrh, and knew that her end was near. She had been repaid for her blind rage. The axe was about to fall.
Instead, a Pyrrh fell, a smoking hole through its chest. She heard a cry of "Greenwaters!" and felt the Pyrrh turning to face a new threat. She looked up to see one standing above her, looking beyond her, and took her chance. She wrenched one of the axes from the Pyrrh's hand so violently that it was pulled off balance for a moment. In that moment she swung upward, catching it in the temple with the blunt backside of the axe. As the Pyrrh fell, she hacked at it, embedding the axe in the Pyrrh's neck.
Desperately, she scrambled over the fallen alien's body and grabbed for her sword. She reached it and awkwardly rose to her feet, turning to meet the Pyrrh that she knew were just a step behind her...
But they were focused on another target, now. There were fewer of them left, but they still swarmed in a circle around the new threat, the red aura all-encompassing. Over the tops of their bald white heads, she could see a black-cloaked figure, his hands making bright arcs as they swung around, keeping the Pyrrh at bay.
Obviously, the Pyrrh had ceased to regard Rana as a threat, because she was able to tear through three of them before they noticed she was there. Rather than turn to her and open their backs to Newton, they moved out from between the two warriors, doing exactly what she had wanted: giving her a path straight to Newton.
As she joined him in the center of the circle, they both automatically turned back-to-back. Together like this, it was hard for the Pyrrh to get close enough to attack. Rana had an enormous threat range with her sword, and Newton (wielding twin claws that glowed with intense heat) moved almost as quickly as the Pyrrh, and much more skillfully.
"Damned Haste spell," Newton muttered in a slight lull. "Favorite battle tactic of theirs." Before he even finished the statement, one of the Pyrrh desperately attacked with both axes. Newton easily blocked each with a claw, and countered with a knee to the small alien's chin.
"Hath we a chance?" Rana asked, desperately swinging away. She knew she wasn't skillful enough to block every axe. She simply hoped to keep the Pyrrh out of striking distance until she and Newton came up with an idea.
Newton blocked an attack, his super-heated claws slicing instantly through the haft of the axe. The Pyrrh stumbled backward before he could counter. "I think so-"
There was a confusion of light and sound, and Rana found herself pinned under the bodies of dead Pyrrh. Desperately, she freed herself and took stock of her surroundings. Obviously, an explosion had occurred where the Pyrrh had been most thickly gathered, or Rana would have been more injured. Whoever had attacked had gone after the Pyrrh, not Rana and Newton.
Newton! She looked around, but could see no trace of him. Had he, like her, been buried under Pyrrh? The battlefield was strewn with dead Pyrrh, often in piles, and it was impossible to tell exactly where he would be if that were the case. The other possibility was that he had been destroyed in the blast. The thought was not pleasant, but it had to be considered.
Weary to the point of exhaustion, Rana rose from the pile of Pyrrh. Their charred appearance indicated that they had inadvertently protected her from much of the force of the blast. She found her sword only a few feet away, and picked it up, ready for another attack.
But no attack came. All the Pyrrh that had been attacking her were now dead, or had moved on to another battle. Actually, there was only battle left: one large group of Pyrrh about a hundred feet away were throwing all sorts of spells up in the air at one blue figure. The last remaining Farilii moved far too quickly, though, and seemed to dodge every attack. The few that came too close seemed to bounce back at the Pyrrh themselves.
Finally, the single Farilii stopped moving at all. It was immobile as a floating rock, simply ignoring everything that the Pyrrh threw at it. It raised a hand, then aimed down at the Pyrrh.
The ensuing explosion made Rana step back and cover her eyes, as far away as it was. When the noise was over, she immediately heard the familiar pound of rain. It had returned to the clearing. Apparently, the Pyrrh had been responsible for keeping the rain out of battlefield. Now that they were all dead, the rain was free to fall. Rana of course felt nothing; the rain parted over her head. But it did increase her concern for Newton. If he was still alive, the rain could kill him. Sadly, there was nothing she could do for him.
The Farilii seemed unconcerned by the return of the rain. From where Rana watched, the Farilii seemed to be looking around for more Pyrrh. None appeared. It began to float along as it searched, indirectly approaching Rana. Very soon it spotted her through the rain, a single human woman standing amid a pile of Pyrrh. It turned toward her, its trajectory taking it closer until it finally landed on the ground ten feet away from her, just outside the sword's sphere of influence. It hesitated only a moment before stepping out of the rain.
At this close proximity, the Farilii was... disturbing. It looked human... almost. Its skin was blue, though, and deeply scarred and pitted by the recent exposure to rain, giving it a gruesome appearance. Its clothes, which were far too ragged to provide any actual protection from the elements, showed rain burn as well. Yet the Farilii hardly seemed to notice. It didn't hold itself as if it felt any pain. In fact, as Rana watched, the burns began to heal at a phenomenal rate. Soon, the burns were reduced to small discolorations, much like the one on Rana's forehead.
The Farilii's manner was strange as well. It was built sparsely, almost as if it were emaciated, but it gave the impression that Rana's sword did not concern it at all. Its face was almost expressionless, but its violet eyes stared at Rana as if trying to bore a hole through her.
And then Rana gasped with recognition. She had seen that face before, but it had been human, not this scarred blue mockery. Then, the name to go with that face had been Reston. Reston had left the settlement one day twelve years ago, and had not come back. He had left orphaned a ten-year old girl, a little girl who carried a black sword with her wherever she went.
The blue creature with Reston's face showed no recognition of her, though, and Rana knew that he no longer knew her. Whatever had been the human Reston was now long gone. There was only the Farilii, now.
"You fight well, human," the Farilii, Reston, said abruptly. It was not so much a compliment as a statement. "And you fight the enemies of my master, the great Lavoid Wormwood. Perhaps you wish to become a servant as well."
Rana replied with her sword, putting all of her power behind it. It didn't bother Reston in the least; the blade cut through the Farilii's belly, opening it and allowing the intestines to spill out. Reston didn't even flinch. He simply continued staring at her as the intestines began to be pulled back into the gash. In a matter of moments, there was no evidence that the skin had ever been broken. The Farilii's regenerative ability was too powerful.
"Very well," Reston replied, slowly rising into the air. "Die, then, human." And with that it dove at her from above. Rather than dodge, Rana swung her blade at the oncoming Farilii. But Reston had seen the attack coming and simply twisted around the sword without slowing down. Rana was completely off balance when he slammed into her, driving her into the wet earth. Before she could recover and pick up her sword, he grabbed her by her furs and lifted her.
"No mere human can stand against my master!" he shouted, and threw her out of the sword's protective sphere, into the rain.
Before she even hit the ground, she had drawn up the hood of her cloak. It was made of the furs of creatures native to the planet, and would protect her... for a while. She managed a relatively soft rolling landing, and quickly turned to face Reston... and her sword. Without her sword, she knew she couldn't win.
Reston was already in the air again by the time she turned, and was swooping down toward her. This time she dove to the side, narrowly avoiding the Farilii's attack. She immediately got to her feet and began running for her sword, which was still where she'd dropped it, nearly thirty feet away. Reston had thrown her pretty hard.
Before she got halfway there, another dive from Reston clipped her, knocking her to the ground, face-down to protect herself from the rain. Reston turned around in midair and dove at the now-prone Rana, intent on finishing her off.
Rana abruptly rolled over, holding her cape over her face as a shield. Reston adjusted his trajectory to follow Rana, but her free hand lashed out, throwing a handful of rain-soaked soil at his face. Even Reston's regenerative ability could not protect him completely from the pain and blindness of acidic rain in his eyes, and he clawed at his face even as he dove. Rana rolled out of the way just in time to avoid the Farilii as he slammed face-first into the ground.
Rana didn't wait to see him get up; she knew he would. A blow like that may have snapped a human's neck, but she had seen Reston's regeneration at work. Even if he wasn't tough, any damage would be regenerated almost instantly. Her only hope was her sword, which could be just magical enough to damage the Farilii.
She rose to her feet and ran toward the sword as quickly as possible. With a cry of victory, she entered the sphere of dry air and leapt for the sword. She turned the leap into a roll and came to her feet, sword in hand, facing-Reston's fist slammed into her gut with the force of a freight train.
Rana stumbled back a step before Reston hit her again, this time with a spinning kick to the face. She fell to her back but instantly rolled to her feet. Another kick came at her, but she managed to back just out of range and counter with her sword. Reston ducked the blade and rammed Rana with his shoulder. Before she could react, he bent his knees and lifted her onto his shoulder. Still holding her, he suddenly flew straight up into the air, ignoring her attempts to free herself from his grasp.
They were at least fifty feet high before Rana realized she still held her sword in one hand. She couldn't get any power behind any attacks in her position, but she stabbed at his back nonetheless. He didn't react to the slight gashes, which healed almost instantly.
With no warning, Reston abruptly grabbed her ankles and pulled her off of his shoulder. He began to spin in midair, swinging Rana by her feet. He was spinning her at an angle, preparing to throw her to the ground. Desperately, Rana swung her sword.
Reston screamed in pain or rage, and Rana suddenly found herself released, and flying higher into the air. She glanced down and saw the Farilii staring at his arm. He had lost one of his hands to her sword, and accidentally threw her upward.
He looked back up just in time to see Rana come down on him sword first. The blade plunged into his chest, and they both plummeted downward. They slammed into the ground, the impaled Farilii breaking her fall.
There was silence but for the rain for a moment as they lay there, Rana on Reston, face to face, eye to eye. The silence was broken with a roar as a dark explosion threw Rana off the Farilii. She landed roughly, about ten feet away. The sword landed beside her, embedded in the ground. She sat up, her hand at her side. She thought she might have a cracked rib.
If such a thing as black light could be said to exist, Reston was shining with it as he rose to his feet. Despite the black aura, Rana could clearly see his crushed ribcage slowly re-expanding, the sword-wound shrinking. Reston's expression was one of crazed rage.
"Feel the power of my master, human," he growled. He howled and arched his back, and wings of the purest darkness burst from his back. His violet gaze returned to Rana. "Now, die."
He raised his good arm, the palm aimed at Rana. Arcs of dark energy began to jump around the arm. The energy slowly approached the hand in a spiral, finally gathering in a black globe floating just off the surface of the palm. Reston stayed there for a moment, his palm aimed at Rana, the spell on the cusp of being cast. Rana was tense, waiting for the shot, ready to jump for her sword.
"Entropy Arrow!" shouted the Farilii, and the ball of darkness shot out in the form of a bolt. Rana leapt for the sword, pulled it out of the ground and turned to the oncoming spell...
The bolt of dark energy struck with the force of a falling meteorite. Unlike the Pyrrh's spells, however, this bolt didn't dissipate upon striking her blade; she had to hold her sword in place as the bolt continued to push against it. It took all the strength she had to hold it where it was. She backed up a step. Another.
And suddenly the Farilii was there at her side, his knee slamming into her cracked rib, knocking the breath out of her. She fell to the side, and the sword slipped from her hand, allowing the bolt of darkness to pass harmlessly overhead.
For a moment she could only lie on her side, clutching her chest in pain. She couldn't fight back as Reston picked her up by the throat and held her effortlessly overhead. As the Farilii's tireless fingers began to choke her, she kicked and flailed with her arms, mostly without effect. She knocked out a tooth with a well-aimed knee, but Reston didn't even flinch. He seemed immune to pain, Rana thought as her vision began to go dark. Did his nerves simply not register anything? There was only one way to find out.
Rana made a fist and punched his arm as hard as she could, aiming for a nerve. The first punch did no good, nor the second. On the third punch, though, Reston's fingers reflexively extended, releasing Rana from his grip.
As soon as she hit the ground, she grabbed her sword, not taking the time to catch her breath, and leapt to the side, taking advantage of the Farilii's bad arm. She rolled and came to her feet and immediately felt a punch to her lower back. She stumbled forward a step and performed a spinning attack to catch Reston before he could back up. She did make contact; the blade cut through the Farilii's throat.
She was surprised to see Reston back up, his hand to his throat. He looked concerned for once as the blood pumped out of the gash, but it was already beginning to heal. Rana took advantage of the pause to attack again, aiming for a complete decapitation.
Reston had anticipated this, though, and jumped backward, suffering no damage. Rana continued the attack, swinging again and again, never letting up, always aiming for the neck or head. For once, the Farilii seemed... not afraid, but concerned. He no longer seemed willing to attack without concern for damage.
He was not finished yet, though. After a particularly powerful slash, Rana was thrown off balance. Reston took the opportunity to do a retreating kick to her face, knocking her back several steps. Reston backed up as well and aimed his hand at her.
Rana recovered and brought up her sword just in time to block another Entropy Arrow. This time she was off-balance and the force of it knocked her to her off her feet, though she was thankfully able to keep a hold of her sword. She got to her feet, surprised that the Farilii had not attacked her while she was down.
Reston was again floating in the air, thirty feet above Rana. He was shining with black energy. He raised hand and stump overhead, and a well of darkness appeared between the two appendages, steadily growing.
Rana didn't have much time to consider her options, nor were there many options to consider. Her sword could protect her from the spell itself, but it looked powerful enough to at least throw her off balance. If she waited for the spell to come for her, she would be defenseless against any follow-up. But what could she do? Reston was thirty feet in the air.
"Ray Blossom!" shouted the Farilii, and the dark well burst into thousands of rays of energy, which all immediately arced to aim downward at Rana.
Rana knew what she had to do. She bent her knees just right and jumped.
She rocketed upward as if shot out of a cannon. She went upward in a tunnel of safety from the rays, straight down being the only direction the rays could not have gone. They all had to arc outward and reorient themselves. The sound of devastation below as the rays detonated on the ground was near-deafening. She passed Reston going up, and felt almost no resistance as the sword passed through him. She continued upward a few feet, then began to fall.
She landed lightly, feeling no pain at all despite the long fall. She found herself standing in the middle of a large crater. Reston's head and right shoulder were beside Rana's feet. The rest of him had fallen further away. He was apparently dead. Just to be safe, she smashed the head with her sword, exposing brain matter. She considered wishing him peace, but the man known as Reston had died long ago. She had just killed his corpse.
"Not bad," said a voice from behind her, and Rana spun around, sword at the ready.
There was a man standing only a few feet away from the edge of the crater at perfect ease, as if he had every right to be there. He was a strange man, certainly. He was fit, but not very muscular. He had extremely spiky red hair, and an aura of confidence. He wore what looked to be a light blue robe, with a belt that held a sheathed sword. A white headband held his spiky hair out of his eyes.
"Who art thou?" Rana demanded. "Be thou friend or foe?"
The man smiled. "We have the same enemy. That should be enough." He gestured at a figure lying on the ground at his feet: a black cloaked man. "I also saved your friend from the rain." This statement made Rana notice that she was no longer the only one protected from the rain; there was an invisible dome of dryness stretching over Rana and the stranger.
"I thank thee," she replied, cautiously. She didn't mention that he could have helped her fight the Farilii. She wouldn't have accepted his help anyway.
"No need," he replied simply. "Call it professional courtesy from one Lavoid slayer to another."
"Lavoid slayer? Thou art an Orphan?" Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Or art thou with the Pyrrh?"
He laughed. "Goodness, no. The Orphans are ineffective, and the Pyrrh are far too rigid in their thinking. I prefer to work on my own."
"On thine own?
"Yes," he replied simply. "Can't trust anyone else with such an important job. By the way, how did you jump so high? You don't seem to have any magic talent."
Rana was a bit put off by the change of subject, but answered nonetheless. "I know not, stranger. I simply knew 'twas what I had to do."
"May I see your sword?" he asked, changing the subject again.
Rana stared at him for a moment warily, then approached. She noticed that the dome of protection shrunk as she approached, evidence that he was specifically sizing the dome based on their relative distances. She stood before him, and was temporarily surprised by his green eyes. Something about them was... captivating. She shook her head slightly, and handed him the blood-stained sword.
The stranger hefted the sword one-handed, and took a few practice swings with it. He slipped into several different stances, then looked at the blade itself. "FROG," he said. "That's what the runes say, in case you were wondering. It's also what I was expecting to see." He handed the sword back to her. "After all, black-bladed Dreamstone swords are beyond rare."
"Expecting to see?" Rana grew interested. "Thou knowest the runes and the material. Knowest thou this blade?"
"Indeed," the stranger replied. "A friend of mine told me about it. It has the essence of a powerful warrior trapped within it. Its true power has been sealed away, though."
Rana was awestruck. "I knew not. How may the power be released?"
The stranger considered. "Let's see. If I remember correctly, Frog's true power will be released when this sword sheds the blood of one of his loved ones." He shook his head. "A terrible curse, that. Most of his loved ones have been dead for millennia, and I doubt he'd want freedom at that price anyway."
Rana looked down at the blade, traced the runes. "Frog..." She looked up at him again. "How doth thou know this?"
"I told you," he replied curtly, "a friend told me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be off. The Lavoid is getting ready to run away before the Terracide gets here. I'd hate to have to chase him down just because I was enjoying your company. And I have enjoyed your company."
He bowed, and turned to the right. He began to walk off, but Rana's question stopped him: "Hath thou a name, stranger?"
He paused and looked back at her. "You may call me Connor. Connor Guardia. Farewell." And he turned and vanished.
Rana stared after him. He had been a strange man, with an odd, bouncing accent. He had seemed to her to have a selfless, almost heroic aura about him... But there was also sadness. The way he had spoken of Lavoids... glib and unconcerned, yet with a trace of pain. And when he'd spoken of the curse of the warrior Frog, it had been with an almost personal sadness.
With him gone, she considered what needed to be done. The battlefield was strewn with bodies, some of them human. She would have to see if any had survived. Regardless of survivors, she would have to bury a great many of her friends and family. However, it was still raining. She couldn't leave him in the rain, unconscious, without the protection of her sword. She could do nothing but check to see how he fared and wait for him to awaken. She sat and stared off in the direction this "Connor" had gone.
As a result, she was facing the right direction to see the explosion only a few miles away. It was huge, and accompanied by a resounding crash that shook the very earth. The earth continued to shake, and... something began to rise. It was hard to make out its shape clearly through the rain, but she could clearly see that it was huge. It was slowly rising out of the earth, filling her with awe at such power. It rose through the clouds... and stopped.
There was a deathly silence, and then the shape began to lower again. It sank more and more quickly toward the surface of the planet, until the ground shook heavily, telling her that the Lavoid had crashed.
The Lavoid had died, she knew.
Somehow, it wasn't enough.
Day: 9. Time: 1:24 P.M.
Newton had never seen a dead Lavoid before. He'd only seen the Lavoid that destroyed his planet briefly, but even that glimpse had been enough to burn itself into his mind. A ball of spikes, wreathed in flame, the ultimate destroyer.
Standing here on the cliff face, staring down at the shell of the Lavoid (Wormwood, according to Rana's account of her duel) still sitting in the crater caused by its impact, Newton compared this corpse to what had engrained itself in his memories. Was the difference all in his mind? Did it seem different because it was dead? Or...
He couldn't help noticing the spikes. The Lavoid that had destroyed Greenwaters had seemed like a giant porcupine, though the simile wasn't very fitting. This Lavoid's spikes seemed too long, though, as if they were intended to pierce rather than provide armor. Were all Lavoids different? Or was this one special, somehow?
"Newton!" Rana called from the ship's entrance. " 'Tis time we left."
The Orphan ship had arrived earlier that day, after six days of waiting. During that time, he and Rana had buried the dead. There had been two survivors, children that had hidden out of sight. Two children and Rana... a valuable addition to the Orphanage, Newton thought, especially considering that no planet was sacrificed in the process. He was glad that for once the entire planet hadn't been scorched or destroyed. The deaths of a few hundred people paled in comparison to that familiar tragedy.
The thought of the search for survivors reminded him of Brandt. They had found no trace of him, as if he had simply vanished. Rana had noticed that the settlement's one ship (big enough to hold three people) was missing, though. Had Brandt escaped? And if so, why hadn't he rescued any of the settlers?
Newton took one last glimpse at the shell of the Lavoid, drawing hope from it. It meant that the Orphans had an ally, and it meant that the Lavoids could be killed. And if this "Connor" could kill a Lavoid single-handedly, surely the Orphanage would find a way to begin slaying Lavoids as well.
He turned from the shell and began walking to the ship. As he walked, he flipped a coin over his shoulder. It had been a coin from Greenwaters, for good luck. He had a feeling he no longer needed it.
"Lavoids are an infection, and I'll do anything necessary to save the patient. Even amputation."