The red demon was only a few miles off now, set in the midst of the stars like some hellish moon.
My god, its huge.
Meryls comment hung in the still air in the cockpit of the Starfire, her words a gross understatement to the thoughts of each member of their crew.
Darrell was entirely oblivious to his surroundings as he strapped his breathing apparatus and helmet in place. The lavoid was all he could see, and a barely controlled fury flowed through him like so much adrenaline.
Enough chatter. He said, his voice completely clear over the headset radios each member of the group now wore along with their pressurized suits. Terra, increase speed and bring us on course for entry. Cynewulf, get ready to release your spell on my mark.
The two nodded, Cynewulf falling deep into concentration as Terra gunned the engines, easily outpacing the slow-moving Grendel and drawing close.
Several intense moments passed. Darrells brow beaded with sweat as his gaze at the lavoid ahead became a glare, then twisted, hateful: triumphant.
The lavoid was close enough now that they could make out the individual spines of its shell, tall and crimson like bloody nails.
Now, Cynewulf! he shouted, throwing his arm violently forward to emphasize the command.
Cynewulf raised both arms into the air, his eyes shooting open as he felt the energy coursing through him like a thing alive. Ultima! The word seemed less like a spoken thing, and more like a crackling of the power within him, and he released it, driving it at the lavoid with all his being. As the power spread out from his body it seemed to explode with noise in his ears like a sonic boom experienced at point-blank range, and he fell to his knees, screaming as the greenish-blue energy struck the lavoids shell.
To the others, the spell materialized just outside of the ship, a thin point of absolute brightness that quickly struck and expanded into a blast of blinding proportions. It was energy in its purest form, and it burned what it touched to nothing.
The spell fizzled in an instant, and in its wake came two screams; one Cynewulfs as he fell to the ground, writhing in pain, and one an unearthly keen of cosmic proportions.
Immediately, Darrell went to a knee at Cynewulfs side, but his gaze remained on Terra for a moment. Take us in, and hurry, we dont have a moment to spare! Meryl, tell Mathiu and Kayla to open the airlock the instant we land, and go on out. Well be with you directly after, but do not proceed without us, got it?
Meryl nodded, unnecessarily Darrell had already turned his attention to Cynewulf and left the room, trying not to think about what was happening.
Cynewulfs face was bleeding freely at every point where metal met flesh, and his human eye was bleary and half-open. Cursing, Darrell drew on a bit of ether and pushed it into the large man, directing it to stem his bleeding and bring him around.
The bleeding did not come to a complete halt, but Cynewulf blinked and started to pull himself up, wearily.
What happened, Cyne? Darrell asked, his eyes shifting constantly to monitor Terras progress.
He shook his head uncertainly and shut his eyes. Some kind of massive feedback, like my body was trying to reject the cybernetic enhancements. Ill live, but I dont know how stable my system is.
The ship shuddered briefly as it came to a stop. Well figure it out later. Just be careful.
Darrell started to rush out of the room, motioning the others to follow, when Cynewulf grabbed his shoulder. The young man gave him an impatient glance, only to be handed a small device that looked a bit like a projector.
My insurance, lets call it. Lets go.
A few minutes later, the group had exited the Starfire to a remarkably cold reception; they were alone in a cavernous stone room with a single path leading out. There was a strange sort of artificial gravity here, and a stability; the hole above them did not seem to be acting as a vacuum.
God, its like a cave Mathiu remarked, sword in hand as he looked about nervously.
Fairly standard in terms of lavoid armor design. Darrell remarked as they hurriedly started moving down the passage. Bio-organic flight armor, the actual lavoids in the middle. These walls are an amalgam of base metals and flesh.
The young man stopped as the group came, quite unexpectedly, to a huge, steel door marked with an unrecognizable insignia.
Give up hope, all ye who enter here. Meryl murmured, an old quote from Seeker literature coming to her mind as she looked up at the doors.
Darrell looked over at her. Why bother with hope when you have certainty? He drew the Illinumbar. Forward.
The core of the lavoid ship was a huge, circular room, lit up by small blue-green panels along the walls. The ceiling was obviously very high up, and completely lost in shadow. The room was mostly a spartan affair, the lone exception being a monstrous, bio-mechanical suit that was linked to the walls by innumerable tubes and wires.
As the group entered the room, the front of that suit opened wide, and a being in a silvery flight suit stalked out. It was nearly seven feet tall, and beneath the tinted glass of its helmet one could just barely make out a blue-skinned, humanoid face and eyes that glowed the color of amethysts.
It glared at them not with hate or anger, as they might have expected. Indeed, it seemed mostly to be annoyed, as though it had been interrupted in its flight by a pet wanting to be walked.
Darrell was not nearly so composed. Devil! he cried out, so loudly that it sent static crackling through everyones headsets.
Grendel nodded as Darrell fell into a battle stance. Human. Its reply was as clear as crystal in each of their heads, somehow not muffled by the lavoids equipment.
Yelling something incomprehensible, Darrell broke into a full run for the lavoid, leaving the others with only enough time to bring their weapons to bear and ready spells.
Grendels eyes narrowed as the human neared, and he waved one gloved hand. As he did, a small, rounded machine flew out of the husk of the lavoids biomechanical suit and slammed straight into Darrell, knocking the human back several yards and into a wall, where he landed roughly on one knee. The lavoid raised an arm, and the bit flew back to circle him, three identical machines appearing to accompany it.
The young man rose shakily to his feet as the others sprang into action. An ice spell exploded around the lavoid, followed almost instantly by twin shots ringing out from Terra and Meryls weapons. While the lavoid bits seemed to waver unsteadily in the ice storm, the unaffected lavoid threw his arm up in front of his face. As he did, a purplish glow encircled it, just in time to cause the two projectiles coming at him to ricochet straight back at their source.
The girls ducked to the floor - Terra rolling forward and back to her feet as Mathiu and Kayla tried to rush the thing. Mathiu spoke a word and the Null Blades crackled to electric life, and stabbed forward just as one of the lavoid bits rushed up to meet him. The sword pierced it and halted its advance just inches from the young Hunter, and electricity began to course through it violently. Presuming an opportunity, Kayla didnt miss a step and closed the distance between herself and the lavoid, fully jumping another lavoid bit as she came down spear-first at Grendel himself.
Darrell was already in motion when the lavoid swatted the woman away like an insect. Ribs shattering, she was hurled back into Mathiu, who almost immediately lost his grip on his sword and went to the ground in a heap next to her.
Cynewulf flipped his TAG on and moved to catch up with Darrell as the young man reached the impaled lavoid bit. Darrell tried to slam a dagger into the top of the thing, but wasnt fast enough: it zipped back and issued a blast of lightning, sending the young man reeling as two more bits rushed to join the attack.
It wasnt quite as lucky when Cynewulf reached it, his TAG crackling with energy as he drove the weapon into the damaged machine. It let out a mechanical sort of scream and exploded, forcing Cynewulf back several steps. The other bits moved to attack the large man, but were stopped as twin shots from Terra and Meryl blew one in half and sent the other lifeless to the ground.
Shaking off the last of the shock, Darrell stalked forward, daggers in hand as he called the ether down into himself. The last of the lavoid bits charged forward as Darrell neared, but the man simply loosed the power, sidestepping at an inhuman speed and bringing his dagger down into the machine as it passed. He ripped it out and continued moving forward as his speed slowed to normal, surrounding his body with a thin buffer of air magic as he did.
Cynewulf came up alongside, glowing weapon held up in front of him as the two men faced off with the lavoid, who for his part had drawn no weapon, nor really displayed much interest in the proceedings.
This is for Zion, lavoid. This is for every planet youve ever defiled. Darrell spat, and he ran forward, knives slashing low.
The lavoid moved to slap the human away, but as he was about to Cynewulf leapt at him, TAG-first. Grendel quickly jumped back and brought his arm up, his energy shield springing up to defend him from the energy saber even as Darrells daggers cut through his flight suit just at his stomach. The wounds were not deep, but they drew a thin line of black blood out as they cut, and shocked the lavoid to his core.
Growling, the lavoid swiped at the two with his arms, tendrils of energy snaking out and encircling them as he did. One hit Cynewulf, slamming the large man back and to the ground and smashing the circuitry in his cybernetic arm as though the steel prosthetic were made of nothing more than tin. Darrell, for his part, somehow managed to dance out of the way of the blows, but the move put him heavily on the defensive against a furious Grendel.
As two more shots rang out from the back, Grendel turned to the two women and put his hands out in front of him as if to ask the bullets to stop. As they reached him, they seemed to oblige this request, slowing and then freezing entirely in the air. His hands glowed with a purplish energy for a moment, and the bullets doubled in number, then doubled again, then again until there were hundreds in the air. The lavoid then waved his arm, and they all turned around and sped back, full speed, at Meryl and Terra.
Faster than thought could follow, Terra started running, green energy trailing her as she reached the wall and leapt, feet-first, at it. Her speed was great enough that she managed to actually move up it for a few moments, until she kicked off as her momentum gave and passed directly over the bullets, landing feet first near where shed started.
Meryl had no such tricks up her sleeve, and did the only thing she could: fall prone to the ground, dropping her weapon as she felt bullets whizzing by just above her and embedding themselves in the nearby wall. Though most missed her, two of the deadly projectiles struck her in the right shoulder, drawing a scream from the tall woman as they lodged in bone.
Darrell made the most of the momentary distraction, throwing out ice magic to encircle the lavoids arms as he jumped back into the fray for another attack.
The lavoid shattered the frost as though it were entirely without substance and brought his arm up, shield again blocking the grey-haired mans knives. He then punched straight out, his hand slamming into Darrells chest. The man doubled over in pain, feeling ribs broken and realizing that without his thin shield the blow almost certainly would have killed him. It was only luck that brought the right bit of magic to him the next moment, and he span out of the way of the lavoids other fist with an unnatural speed. Trying to take advantage of his momentary haste, he fell into a crouch and performed a sweeping kick, but the lavoid, seemingly similarly enhanced, jumped at just the right moment to slam his feet down on the humans leg.
The young man cried out as he felt his leg snap, his spells dropping as he writhed in pain. Effortlessly, the lavoid reached down and picked him up by the collar, then stared at him through his helmet. Even through his pain-hazed vision, Darrell recognized the expression. It wasnt hatred; a human could never be worth that much to a lavoid. It was simple contempt. As the lavoid brought up its fist to smash his head in like a boy crushing an insect, he closed his eyes. He felt the unmistakable movement of air as the lavoid began its attack, and opened them again, with the glint of magic.
Grendel was actually knocked back, dropping Darrell, as the pure white energy of the holy wind magic blasted into him. Darrell winced as he hit the ground, but another few spells and he was on his feet again, albeit limping.
Terra was at his side as the light of the spell faded to reveal Grendel, staggering against the wall with bits of smoke rising off of him from smoldering holes in his flight suit. Black blood stained the suit in several places as well, though it was quick to dry, and the eyes were as alive as ever.
The two nodded to each other and started sprinting full-speed at the lavoid. Terra reached the injured lavoid first and slammed her fist into the energy shield hed hastily erected again, then followed up with her other fist, her arm trailing with lavoid energy as it struck. She felt it begin to give a little, and managed a third punch before Darrell got close enough to join the assault with a slash of both daggers.
The shield seemed to shatter at Darrells final strike, bursting into a million points of light as the weapons won through to cut deep into Grendels arm. The lavoid cried out as the blood poured out of the wounds, the scream sounding more like a growl as he violently shoved the two humans away from him.
The pair, though knocked off-balance, werent really hurt, and quickly recovered.
They started moving again just in time to be knocked off their feet entirely by a blast of pure lavoid energy.
Grendel took a few limping steps forward, flexing the fingers of his rapidly-healing arm as the he prepared another blast for the two prone humans. He looked down at Darrell and pointed a finger at him, sneering as his spell started.
Pure white light surrounded the lavoid and then consumed him, trying to rip him apart as it flowed. The lavoid keened again, clawing blindly to find the source of the pain.
Across the room, supporting himself on one knee, Cynewulf managed a smirk. He was bleeding again, and profusely, from each and every place where his skin met circuitry, but did his best to ignore it as he rose unsteadily to his feet. As the light of his spell began to fade, he brought up his human arm again and let magic rush out. Luminaire!
Grendel screamed again as his pain intensified, pure electricity dancing through every nerve ending. This time Cynewulf joined him in his cries, as his cybernetic enhancements began to pop and spark, smoking in places as the blood continued to poor. He almost lost his footing at one point, but shook his head violently and brought his hand up again. Ultima. He said, the coppery taste of blood fresh in his mouth.
The lavoids cries had transcended anything human at this point, its flesh burning as the pure energy of the magic expanded and lingered.
Cynewulf collapsed as he saw the spell hit, his vision dimming as the floor rushed up to meet him. His body seemed to be forcibly separating the robotic components from it, but he was beyond even feeling it at this point.
Zohar appeared quietly at the Seekers side as his human eye finally shut, his cybernetic one going completely dark. The finoris head was lowered sadly as he brushed tears away. Goodbye, Cynewulf. He murmured.
The little finoris gaze went up to the lavoid as the power of the ultima spell finally faded. Grendel was bleeding in a thousand places, and his flight armor had been torn to shreds to reveal large places of blue skin smudged with black blood. His teeth were gritted, fully visible through the now broken glass of his helmet, but his eyes were wide open, fearful and furious.
Zohars eyes narrowed at the sight of him. Ethereals damn you where you stand, Grendel. He levitated himself a few feet off the ground, and started flying rapidly towards the lavoid. Photon blast!
Though heavily injured, Grendel was not entirely without reason, and he moved to sidestep the huge blast of light that spread out from Zohars hands. He mostly managed the task, the magic only grazing him as he stumbled out of the way.
The finori hadnt really expected any less; the attack was primarily a feint. He reached Darrells side lightly and looked down, casting a quick curaga on the semi-conscious fighter before pressing his attack on Grendel again.
Holy! the finori spread out his hands as the sparks of energy, like bright stars, rained down around Grendel, who reeled away from each one with a grace belied by the appearance of his movements.
Darrell pulled himself up to the extraordinary sight, but did not linger on it as he snatched up his daggers and stood up at Zohars side.
The finori didnt spare him a glance as he spoke. The others are down for the count, and Cynewulfs he shook his head. Ive anchored myself to your daggers, Darrell. Were running low on the healing winds around here, though, I dont think well be able to get the others moving.
Darrell nodded as the holy spent itself with Grendel undamaged. I understand. Give me all the strength you can manage, Zohar.
The finori nodded, and vanished, leaving Darrell alone with the lavoid.
For Cynewulf for everyone, Im ending this, you bastard. Darrells face was a mask of hate as he began walking toward Grendel, daggers glowing in his hands.
Then, quite suddenly, he was at the lavoids side, daggers flying faster than any eye could trace as the young man drew at last on the ether energy stored in his battery: time magic.
Energy flared up around Grendel as he cast a similarly enhancing spell and dodged the first of Darrells daggers, then brought his hand down to knock the second wide. The two continued their dance for several long seconds, literally dozens of failed attacks and counterattacks passing between them in the blink of an eye.
Grendel was the first to break away, flipping backwards on his hands to land on his feet with hands splayed. Purple energy crackled, and again burst out of him as it had earlier.
This time, though, Darrell held his ground, pulling the hand clad with Sion Taggarts gauntlet in front of his face. Devorer. He said quietly, and the enchantments upon it sprung to life. The energy, which had been expanding rapidly, changed form and began to swirl in a thin line into the gauntlet, where Darrell felt it build up, ready to be used, redirected.
The power didnt feel like Order it writhed under his control, sought to escape. It reminded him most of his dim memories of the Black Tower on Riven. It was of the lavoids, and it could smash them. He held out his mailed fist and returned the spell to Grendel, accompanying it with a blasts of electricity, fire, and ice from his other hand.
The spells all struck Grendel at once, and his nerves once again seemed to catch flame as Darrell rushed forward, his speed still greatly enhanced by spellcraft. Almost completely off-guard, Grendel had no defense as Darrells daggers plunged into his chest.
The thing did not scream this time, though he knew he was hurt badly. Instead, his hands shot out and grabbed Darrells wrists, holding his daggers where they were, buried up to the hilt in his body. Their eyes met, and the lavoid smirked. The smile was only made to look psychotic as a thin line of blood poured out of his mouth. Then he began to squeeze, until each of Darrells wrists snapped, too easily.
Then he twisted them.
Bone shattered, but Darrell did not scream, though bit his lip so hard as to draw blood preventing it. His eyes glinted, and the magic that whipped around them both did not fade, but instead intensified, the effects consuming them both in white-hot pain.
You are going to die, Grendel! he managed to get out, and spat in the things face. Id give my soul for it.
Souls arent worth much these days, Im afraid, Shanning.
The lavoid and the human were suddenly pulled away from each other, thrown into opposite walls by an invisible hand. It was too much for either of them to bear; Grendel slid almost immediately into a healing sleep, and Darrells vision began to go black. As it did, he looked up for a moment to see a tall, black-clad figure with silver hair.
No, Im afraid Im going to have to take the lot of you alive. Mores the pity. Grey Terin shook his head in disgust.
I survived the darkness to defeat you!
-- Magus, to Lavos