Authors: Angela Verdenius
The body of the warrior jerked, shuddered. The smoke flowed back out, covered her, spinning in slow spirals around her body as she convulsed.
In the corner was a monstrous shadow, the faint gleam of horns touching the ceiling, and the shadow moved slightly before stilling.
The warrior’s head snapped forward, her eyes opening, and Fredrico saw the shadowy gleam in them. Orange shimmered in the green depths momentarily, and then she opened her mouth, tipped back her head and let out an ear-splitting scream.
Rock crumbled slightly from the wall but Phemar just started laughing even as Fredrico and Veknor clasped their hands over their ears.
Her screams resounded against the stone walls of the chamber. In the corner the shadowy, monstrous head tipped back and the unearthly roaring intermingled with the screams. More and more shadows sparked up from the flaring fire in the middle of the room. They flowed up to the warrior, darting around her but not touching, and fainter screams and roars added to the deafening din already in the room.
The fire flared, snapping high, the heat so intense that they all moved back from it.
Except Phemar. Standing with arms upraised, he seemed unaware of the decaying flesh on his arms blackening with the heat. Laughing, he looked up at the warrior as she writhed in the grip of something unseen. Fisting his hand, he shook it and she convulsed like a puppet on a string.
In a sudden, sharp twist of his arm, he snapped his fingers open and slammed his hand downward and she dropped to the floor. The thunk of her body had Fredrico tensing but he wasn’t stupid enough to move forward until it was safe. Safe being debatable at any time.
She lay still on her stomach for several minutes, but Phemar made no motion to the space pirates to touch her. The room was silent. The Overlord brought his throne closer, ranging it alongside Veknor and Fredrico. They all watched the still figure.
Maybe she hadn’t lived through it. Maybe the Reeka warrior was dead after all.
Fredrico watched her closely for signs of life.
And there it was. A sudden, shuddering breath. She stirred, lifting her head slightly to glance around. Her hair spilled around her face, hiding her expression. Slowly, painfully, she placed her palms flat on the floor and tried to push upright but weakened, she could only manage to come up partially.
Lifting her head again, she looked around, disorientated, her gaze sweeping the room. Fredrico knew the moment she saw them. She blinked, sucking in deep breaths, and her gaze locked onto his once more. This time she didn’t ask for help. She didn’t open her mouth. But she kept looking at him.
“Stop,” Phemar snapped.
Surprised, Fredrico came to a halt. He hadn’t even been aware that he’d stepped forward.
“Wait.” Veknor’s hand came to his shoulder. “Soon.”
Fredrico watched as she dropped her gaze. Slowly, shakily, she pushed herself upright, coming first onto her elbows, and then drawing her legs up until she was on her hands and knees. Drawing one leg up under her, she paused, kneeling on one knee. Swaying, she rested her forehead on her bent knee, and then after several seconds she pushed upward, the bloodied sword clasped in one hand.
The Reeka warrior stood. For the first time in fourteen years, the warrior stood on her two feet. Her breasts rose as she took in several deep breaths, and then she lifted her head and Fredrico saw her eyes.
Rage burned within them, rage, hate, madness, and something not quite human.
~ * ~
She awoke suddenly, instantly alert. Black eyes with the scattering of stars within stared up at the ceiling.
Her pet slid around her neck, whispering fearfully, “Something is not right, my witch.”
“Easy, Petras.” Beulah rubbed her cheek against her familiar, feeling the barely-there substance of the entity.
Fretfully, Petras slithered down her arm, winding itself around her wrist and pressing close.
Beulah looked towards the window.
Something was wrong, very wrong. Something had been taken that had no right to be taken. Something had returned that should never have seen the light of day again.
Something had shaken the spirit world.
~ * ~
Staring out of the space shield, Learta felt the familiar tug at her soul. She could almost see the tiny sparkle falling from the Heavens, saw it being swallowed by a beast so huge it blurred the very stars.
“Oh Father,” she murmured. “What have you done?”
~ * ~
Inner Sanctum of the Outlaw Sector
Even as Fredrico and Veknor moved protectively in front of the Overlord, she sprang forward.
Drawing his own sword, Fredrico met her swiftly with upraised blade. The sound of metal against metal rang out sharply, echoing in the height of the cavernous chamber.
She fought hard and strong, something he would have expected from a Reeka warrior even without the added, hellish strength she now had, but she also had cunning that was all her own, and she slipped beneath his guard to lunge once more for the Overlord.
Veknor met her, grabbing her wrists, and she kicked out savagely, her boot catching him full in the chest as she pushed, flipping up into the air and over in a dexterous move that had her facing Fredrico once again, her sword blade crashing hard against his.
The blades slid along each other and the opponents slammed chest to breast, their gazes clashing as surely as their blades. Instinctively they both reached for the other’s free hand, their fingers interlacing.
Phemar was chanting, his hissing sound filling the chamber. The fire flared and writhed.
“Stop!” Fredrico commanded, glaring at the warrior.
She swung away, using their joined hands as a lever, her strength propelling him forward.
They released their grips on each other at the same instance and Fredrico fought to stop himself from stumbling into the writhing flames that reached so eagerly for him.
“Phemar!” Veknor yelled. “Do something!”
The Overlord’s throne retreated back into the depth of the chamber, but Fredrico noted that he watched the warrior with interest, not fear.
But when had the Overlord ever feared anything?
Phemar stepped forward into the path of the warrior and held up one hand. “Stop.”
Everyone stopped, breathing heavily, except for the warrior who studied the dark mystic with glittering eyes. And then she swung her sword.
Startlt><="+0">Sed, he stepped back, rancid flesh spattering the floor as he swung his arm up to block the downward blow of the deadly sword blade.
Fredrico and Veknor sprang forward, thrusting out with their swords, but they knew it would be too late. The warrior was fast, her swing deadly and accurate.
But Phemar had other things at his disposal, other hellish guards, and the warrior’s sword just grazed the sleeve of his tattered cloak when a dark shape swooped upon her. The sword blurred as something grabbed it, a dark shadow cutting through the room. The shadow on the wall tossed its horns and bellowed, the sound resounding deafeningly in the room.
She fought, trying to wrench the sword from the grip of the shadow. A sudden back-handed swipe from a huge, blurred, half hand-half claw, sent her spinning back and around.
Coming to a halt, Veknor and Fredrico watched as she fell to one knee. The shadow advanced on her and she pushed upright and spun to face it. A snarl twisted her full lips and fearlessly she ran forward.
Fear or stupidity... or madness. Fredrico was betting on the last choice. The warrior had plummeted into madness and who would blame her? Dying, revived, and dying again, then invaded by hellish things even he couldn’t understand.
And she’d have to be mad to throw herself at a demon.
The huge hand caught her around the throat and lifted her up in the air until her booted feet swung several feet above the stone floor. She choked but continued to fight, pushing and gouging at the hand and arm to no avail.
Phemar stepped forward, the Overlord ranging his throne beside him.
“Is it too late?” The Overlord studied the struggling warrior.
“No.” Phemar slid his hands inside his robe. “The warrior’s body is whole, her mind is not. That’s all.”
“That’s all?” The pupils in the Overlord’s eyes slitted. “I don’t need an insane warrior I cannot control.”
“She will be controlled.”
“Phemar, you couldn’t control her.”
The hood shifted, the disease-ravaged face hidden from view. “She is stronger willed than I thought, but I will break her.”
Looking up at the warrior fighting the choking hold on her, Fredrico felt a slight, strange tug at his thoughts. Break her. A proud warrior broken to a mess by Phemar. A legend brought to her knees. It wasn’t right.
But then, what was right in this Godforsaken place?
“I don’t want her broken,” The Overlord said. “I need her whole and thinking, able to make decisions without fear. I just don’t want her trying to kill me.”
“It will take time,” Phemar replied.
“I don’t have time.” Annoyance trickled through the Overlord’s tone. “I need her whole and ready to fight for me. Soon.”
“Overlord - ”
“Soon, Phemar.” The Overlord looked up at her once more.
Phemar bowed his head slightly. “As you wish.”
“So now what happens?” Veknor looked at the dark mystic. “How are you going to sweet talk her into calming down?”
“I’m not.” Phemar strode past him, making the ebony pirate’s nose twitch in distaste. “The warrior needs to rest.”
“Rest?” Fredrico’s brows rose.
“In a manner of speaking.” Phemar gestured to the shadow beast.
The beast turned and left the cavern, carrying the struggling warrior easily with one massively clawed hand around her throat. Phemar followed, the Overlord behind him while Fredrico and Veknor brought up the rear.
They went into a nearby chamber and Fredrico was just in time to see the warrior thrown into a clear, glass box that measured ten feet by ten feet. He knew what this box was, a holding cell of sorts. Gas came in through the top and rendered the prisoner unconscious. He’d seen it happen dozens of times.
Now he watched as the unseen gas seeped into the box. The warrior was on her feet, kicking and hitting the glass, but the thick material didn’t break or crack. Suddenly she stopped, angling her head to the side and up as she sniffed. Immediately she dropped to her knees, seeking the uncontaminated air on the bottom of the box but the gas was relentless as it filled the glass enclosure.
Trying to hold her breath, her hands flat against the glass, she fought it. She held out longer than anyone Fredrico had witnessed suffer the same fate, but finally it started to affect her. Madness shining in her eyes, she glared out at them all. The gas seeped into her senses, affecting her actions, and she slowly slid down the side of the glass until she was prone on the floor.
Those beautiful, brilliant green eyes looked directly at Fredrico and he saw a flicker of awareness in them right before they closed and the warrior slipped into unconsciousness.
“Fredrico, you and Veknor are the only ones apart from Phemar to go near the warrior.” The Overlord steered his throne towards the doorway. “Her personal safety is in your hands.” At the door he stopped momentarily. “Don’t fail me.”
Fredrico looked at Veknor, who shrugged. Transferring his gaze to the unconscious warrior, Fredrico just knew the time ahead of them should prove interesting. Very interesting.
Bounty Hunters’ Ship
The alarm sounded in the control cabin and Vane looked at the internal systems map on the wall. A light indicated that the alarm was from the freezer unit below. Something - correction, someone - was thawing out.
He ran out into the dark corridor and down the stairs to the freezer units below the ship. Oddly enough, the temperature gauge of the freezer unit holding the warrior’s body was still set high. Peeking through the glass door he saw something that shouldn’t have been possible.
The block of ice was almost completely melted. Only about five centimetres of ice surrounded the body and a pool of water around the bottom of it was testament to the fact that it was melting.
Impossible. Something had to be wrong with the controls. A double and triple check didn’t make him any the wiser, so he flicked the intercom on and called for Abra and Ricna.
They appeared minutes later, Abra blinking sleep from his eyes.
“She’s melting,” Vane informed him.
“The freezer unit is broken?” Abra checked the controls before peering into the freezer unit. Sure enough, the ice was melting.
“Not according to all the checks and temperatures,” Ricna informed him.
“Then why the hell is she melting?” Flicking his long plait back over his shoulder, Abra frowned at the body on the other side of the glass door. “Something has gone weird with the circuits. I thought we had all the units checked before our last hunt?”
“We did.” Ricna yawned and rubbed his hair. “They were working fine.”
“Well, they’re not now.” Abra reached for the freezer unit door. “Go open one of the other freezer units. Vane, help me get this body out and into another unit before it melts too far.”
“I just hope it doesn’t fall to pieces.” With a grimace, Vane opened the door.
Abra was taken aback when the cold air swirled out. Freezing air.
What the hell...?
Perplexed, he looked down at the water on the bottom of the unit. Sure enough, it was runny, but then why was the unit at freezing point? He looked at the fragile ice block holding the warrior’s body. Why was she melting when the unit was freezing? She should have had a layer of frost over her, not be melting. It didn’t make sense.
“I don’t like this,” Vane announced, peering inside cautiously. “This isn’t natural.”
“The whole damned thing isn’t natural,” Ricna said, coming to stand behind him to look over his shoulder.