Tuesday, May 20, 2008


The implements my sister and I found were only scratching the surface of the colossus as we dived at it on the back of Kira's cat-dragon form. Even Kira's whirling cones of sand (now much weaker than her original display of power, but still enough to rend flesh from bone) only scraped away large patches of the constructs dark patina, revealing the gleaming brasslike metal beneath.

My sister Qli-2 screamed, "Kira! Incoming! Dive under the trees!"

As we swooped down under the canopy of this massive arboretum, the great vaulted ceiling of glassteel above us shattered, gleaming shards falling like flood waters from the mountain cliffs.

We saw a score of feline Steels closing within range of us scatter as they were crushed by the avalanche. Shadowy canopy quickly disintegrated above us from the raining death. Kira covered each of us with a wing and craned her neck upwards, blowing another mighty gout of sand skyward, enough to divert the glassrain to embed in the soil around us. She curled her own head under as a few stray shards bounced off her hide. I heard her roar in pain and I clambered out from under her span, climbing her back again to wrap my hand around a dagger-sized shard lodged in her fur. A quick pull and a momentary gout of blood, and the wound quickly sealed. As the thick hot air of the space was pulled upward by the currents beyond the bare frame of the roof, a squad of Jagers on metal aetherboards descended in formation, landing quite skillfully on some the next wave of feline Replicators before drawing their weapons and opening fire.

I saw crossfire in the chamber connecting ours. Baron Wulfenbach and Colonel O'Toole cut a swath through the swarm as they joined our hasty formation. The giant turned its face down towards us, twisted in a permanent grimace that surely frightened even the Trolls that designed it. The Jager rays reflected off its chassis as stray shards of glassteel fell it lumbered closer.

The Baron surveyed the destruction around us, them up at the colossus.

"It's guarding the trees! Even though they're dead now it's not stepping on them! Move off the walkways!"

The brittle metal cruched under our boots as we ran or flew to where the shards glimmered a deep green from the decimated plant life beneath them. While we still dodged energy bolts from the Replicants behind the ripped stumps of alien trees, Kira blew another torrent of wind and sand, propelling thousands of jagged missiles at the feline constructs, severing their circuits and shredding their frames. New ground forces surged over their fallen sisters with no sign of abating.

"These can't all be alternates of us, Qli! It's mathematically impossible!" I shouted, trying to be heard above the din of war.

Qli-2 passed me the raygun of a wounded Jager as she ripped open his medical kit to bind the warrior's wounds.

"Jeremiah must be mass-producing them even as we're fighting!" she shouted back as she kept her gaze on her patient.

"Qli-3?" Hotspur asked as we both took pot-shots at the advancing forces. "Does Avarian read left to right or right to left?"

"What? Right to left." I answered as I kept shooting.

Hotspur grabbed the blade I had dropped and charged past the claw of the colossus that was looming closer to us. The giant had stooped to try and pull us from the obliterated garden like weeds. It withdrew its trememndous claw and started to rise up again, likely to regain enough balance to crush the Colonel.

Taking advantage of the distracion we quickly crossed what was once an irrigation ditch to more defendable position.

Hotspur raised his blaster and hit a direct blow at its face. I glimpsed a canvas of white and deep red as the giant swung its hands downward clapping its appendages together with a CLANG so loud I could feel the ripple of the impact like the thunder of a nearby lightning strike.

I saw movement behind the giant. Hotspur was using the blade to pry open the armor plating on the back of the robot's foot. A concave square of metal the size of a door tumbled to the ground, and as the giant raised that foot to strike back Hotspur leapt and climbed inside the hollow space of its leg.

As we expended the last charges of our rayguns, Herr Veles gave the order and the Jagers affixed their bayonets. The Baron drew his aether sword. I noticed the number of Steels lunging at us were thinning out. Kira seemed to have run out of her breath weapon, but was doing an excellent job playing cat and mouse with android cats that tried to race their way around her to get to the rest of us.

There were muted sounds of blaster fire, and gouts of flame billowed from the giant's right knee, then its hip joint. It tottered unsteadily as the surviving Replicators dashed for cover.

With an impact that caused the floor to tremble, the glass sifted downwards into the irrigation ditches as we clambered onto jutting rocks for safety. Kira circled the fallen giant overhead warily. Hotspur crawled out of the opening in the heel, his uniform and face black with oily smoke but otherwise unharmed.

And sister, I swear, the vainglorious idiot was grinning!

"Right, that's done for him!" he shouted, sprinting back to us, maniacal glee writ large upon his visage. "Who's next?"

"Handy gun, this!" he quipped, staring at the fallen giant and back to the blaster pistol. The two Qlippothics stared at the face of the colossus, their faces expressionless.

"He must have made an impression on them," I quipped.

"Indeed," answered Qli-2.

The eons of grime that were blown away by Hotspur's ray revealed distinct facial markings on the giant's mask. The pattern was unmistakable. It was the countenance of Bloodwing.

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