Authors: G. X. Knight
“This is never going to work,” I repeated. X had promised me to secrecy before he had whipped out some spy cloud with his tattoo power. We were in information gathering mode so that we could run a foolhardy assault on the bridge. He made me promise several times that I would not speak of this ability. It was some kind of no-no-mojo on his little island. I promised to keep his secret. Chances were good we were all going to die anyway, so who was I going to tell?
We used the cloud to peek at the different areas of the ship. People were slowly moving toward the escape boats, but they weren’t launching yet. The ocean was rocking us harder than Freddy Mercury. Safety outside the boat was just as much of an issue now. That wasn’t much of a choice to offer, death by soul stealing, or death by drowning?
Inside the control room, the cloud showed us the Siin’s neck-deep in a screaming marital-argument for the ages. That was a good thing… and a bad thing.
The good being Zora was unwittingly keeping Yel away from that yellow box we didn’t want him near. Unfortunately, X had confirmed what we feared. Inside that yellow container was the Soul Diamond. Yel left it sitting out on one of the stations after Zora made some unkind comments about his mother. He stomped over to her to get nose-to-nose in protesting rebuttal. We were able to get a good view of it during their fight. The gem shimmered with a pinkish glare that jumped to life with every emotion of Yel’s that spiked during his knockdown-drag-out argument.
The bad news about their fighting was that the ship was speeding toward Frostwick as fast as it could cut through the rolling black waters, and there was no way to stop it. Zora seemed more interested in proving her point and winning her argument than she did resolving the current situation. She stepped over a soulless body, like it wasn’t eve there, to get a better screaming angle at Yel who was moving back away from her.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked again. I didn’t know X. He seemed okay, but his plan was crazy, and
I take all the risk
Well, I wanted to be an Infinite. That career choice was looking dumber by the second. But, what else was I going to do? I was committed. It was our only plan, and I had nothing else to suggest. It was time to put up or shut up.
I was as ready as I was going to be, but X’s grizzly reply of “I’m
sure,” deflated my sad little confidence balloon. I was pushed onward mostly by the dwindling remains of my courage, a smattering of will, but in large, by giant buckets filled with fear over how much Sway would make fun of me should I chicken out.
I motioned for X to lead the way. He went to the bridge door, and I ducked off just to the side so Yel wouldn’t be able to see me.
X banged on the door. “Mom! Dad! This is X! Let me in!” Yelling, his voice was low but wall-shaking. I thought it sounded funny.
The shouting stopped, the door slid open, and X stood there in the doorway for a second. I could hear the conversations perfectly.
“Well, what is The X doing here? I thought he was staying home.” Yel said to Zora.
Zora wasted no time, “You would never know what he was up to. That would require you to actually care.”
“Oh, because you’re mother of the year,” Yel countered, “You’re home maybe thirty days of every three hundred?”
“Stop it, both of you.” X shouted. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing,” Yel said, “But you need to go. I’ve got a launch hiding near the rear of the ship. Go there now, and go back home.”
“In this weather?” His mom protested.
I could feel X’s fear. His voice shook just a bit as he challenged his father, “So I can go back and wait there to be Ripped like Peore?” His voice grew more confident, “But then that’s going to happen if I stay here since you’ve somehow gotten your hands on the Soul Diamond. What’s the plan, Dad? You Rip everyone on board and sink the ship just to ruin Mom’s career?”
“How do you know about that?” His dad seethed. “You don’t understand anything. You’re just a teenager. Now do what you’re told and go home.”
X was still in the doorway holding it open. He shouted at his father, “Not until you tell me what your plan is.”
“X, go.” His mom said. “I don’t know what he’s planning, but I don’t want you in the middle of this.”
“Well, it’s not like you’re going to do anything about it,” X replied. “You’re too busy trying to win the un-winnable argument. The truth is you both suck as parents, as spouses, and as people. I’m sorry I’m your child.” That sounded painfully familiar. Guilt punched through my heart like a waking dead man punches through his buried coffin. I saw parents who did deserve to have that said to them. My dad was nothing like either of them.
“Have it your way,” Yel said with almost no emotion. “If you choose to stay with these people, then you can join them. Nothing will stop me or this ship.”
I could almost hear X smile, “Good, then I won’t have to feel bad about this.”
That was the signal. I lunged from behind the corner at the same time X jumped into the room. I made it inside just as the door sealed us all in. Zora screamed and ran for the corner. X tackled the yellow box and snatched it from the station before Yel could get it. As planned, I tackled Yel before he could get an outstretched hand, tattoos already glowing, to Rip his own son.
We rolled end-over-end a few times. I swung at him, and then he at me. Those Rippers had some mojo working because my best shots were doing almost no damage. He hit like a sledgehammer being used by a giant. We made it to our feet as the fight raged on. I projected a shield that I swatted at his head, but he backed away like a nimble serpent. He spun, came under my swing, and then before I could stop him, I felt his hand seer against my chest. That same feeling I had when X had touched my soul and stretched me in every direction came back, but this time it felt a thousand times worse.
Trusting X was no longer a question. I had to or die. I closed my eyes, let go of the struggle that fended him off, and I waited for our essences to collide as Yel tried to violently rip my soul from my body. If X was right, was he ever going to be in for a surprise.
A COLD END
Sway ran down into a dark labyrinth of tunnels that had long been hollowed by ancient flows of the prison’s magma. She stopped and gasped for breath. Normally rock was nice and cold to the touch, but this was sizzling hot, and smelled of sulfur. The weather outside seemed to be making things all the more steamy. Never in her life had she been so hot. It was a strange sensation. She pushed through the discomfort. She had to finish her work. Grasping at the few uninterrupted seconds, she tapped at the controls on her arms in hopes that she could still save the island between her skirmishes with Corona.
The calibration for the flow regulators that would allow her to reposition where the excess pressure could build and release safely was almost finished. She just needed another few seconds. She thought she had finally lost the stalking Dragoness within the tunnel maze, but before she could input the last of the algorithms, a fireball roared right toward her head. Being a Fire Elf who had chosen the sciences instead of the less popular magical arts had its moments of setback. She still knew a thing or two. She caught the fireball with her hands, gave it a spin in her palm, and released it back the way it came. Sway couldn’t help but laugh when she heard the echoes Corona’s cussing followed by screams from the unexpected return of her gift.
That bought her the time she needed. She had control of the pressure outputs, but there was still more to do. As the ground shook beneath her feet, she knew she was going to run out of the needed precious seconds if she couldn’t do something about Corona.
She would never win in a magic-off. She was going to have to come up with something else. If only Kata had been there. Kata and Largo had been trying to learn what they could about the dragon-wench, including ways to track and trap her. Sway kind of wished she had paid a little more attention. Was the article on London Ally fashion really worth having let Kata’s musings on the subject go in one ear and out the other? Well, that’s not a fair question because she really liked that article, and she found a great netted top as result.
she thought. It gave her an idea. She brought up the scanned tunnel schematics and ran away, yelling back to her pursuer, “I hope
doesn’t mind if I bag you without him. He was so looking forward to keeping the family tradition alive by clipping your wings himself.”
A right, two lefts, another right, and a long bridge got her where she needed to go. Sway gingerly entered one of the prison chasms. It was a chamber filled with magma flows that bubbled into spiraling pools that led down into deeper, hidden tubes. On one end of the chamber lava oozed down the wall into the pools, on the other, little wisps and orbs of light fell down into the pools like some kind of twisted version of Hell’s waterslide. The thought of each of those having been a soul, no matter how deserving it was believed to have been sent there, caused her to tremble.
Corona was getting closer. She was pissed and moving fast. Sway ran down to the end where the pools gathered the heaviest and dropped a few of her tools on the ground. She hurried back to the door and ducked to the side of the entrance. She was barely able to stay on the inches of the ledge that felt as if they were about to crumble away beneath her high-heeled feet. As fun as fire was, she did not want to fall into one of the burning maelstroms. Her resistance was not that profound. The swim would not end well for her.
Thankfully she didn’t have to stand there long. Corona all but jumped into the chasm like a feral beast looking to attack anything that moved. Her head blazed wildly with anger, he wings opened with swoops that thumped against the air, and with a single leap she landed where Sway left her tools. Sway used the distraction tactic to jump to the entrance. She ran back the way they had just come. Corona spotted her, but it was too late. Sway tapped the controls on the pad, and by ordering a destabilization of the two local MPI units, she caused a lava spout to erupt out of the floor and rain down on top of the flailing Dragoness as she wailed in pain. Considering Corona was a creature whose head was actually
she doubted very much that it would kill her, but it seemed to hurt her. The “lava net” would buy Sway the final minutes she needed to complete the repairs. After Corona got out though, she still had no idea on how to drop the angry Dragoness.
Sway found Sumo Chief up by the main console. He watched with amused apathy as she appeared looking like something that had literally been dragged through every level of Hell. “Did you know you had a crazy dragon lady running freely around your prison?” Sway accused.
“She’s back?” The Chief balked, “She has to be one who caused all this damage yesterday. We thought we had scared the intruder away to stay. Well, more like we
“Next time, go shirtless and then you just might, Chubs.” Sway tried to spit out the taste of ash between deep breaths. After a few more button bushes and some final calculations, she finished the last of her repairs to the main MPI.
“You need evacuate the immediate area,” Sway said. “I can’t stop the pressure, but I can reroute it to the seaside of the volcano and cause an eruption out over the water.”
“Excellent.” He said ignoring her quips. “But we have already evacuated. We really thought you would fail. I‘m glad you didn’t.”
“You’re welcome,” Sway rolled her eyes, “Now, how about you send someone to capture that Dragoness.”
“That one?’ he asked, pointing a shaking hand toward a smoking dark figure. Corona’s wings glowed red hot as clumps of molten liquid dripped from them. Her skin, while scorched, was not visibly damaged. The Street Viper’s clothes she had worn since her forceful abduction of her host’s body had been burned away, and only some melted chainmail clung unceremoniously to the female frame that had once been a Street Viper named Meg.
Before Sway or the Chief could move, Corona tossed three successive fireballs that all struck Frostwick’s large idiot of a leader. He was turned into a big, and smelly, cloud of ash. She tossed another that Sway deflected, but the next one caught her right in the leg. It didn’t burn her, just her clothes, but it was flung with enough force to knock her over. She tried to get up, but Corona leapt and straddled her before she could recover. Sway tried to wiggle free, but she was pinned to the hot volcanic floor.
Sway managed to get an arm loose and hit Corona. The blow glanced off the melted mail. Sway had never been that strong. Again, she regretted not having paid attention to all of Maeve’s fight training. There had to be a session she missed on exploiting weak points. Maeve was known for being able to takedown certain baddies with a single finger prick.
Each of Sway’s subsequent blows got her caught by the wrists in Corona’s grasp. Corona squeezed the computers on her arms and crushed them into flying sparks of broken touchscreen glass. The Dragoness lashed out with claws that raked a stinging trail of blood from Sway’s face down to her stomach. Corona continued to parry using her burned wings like another set of striking appendages to rip away all of Sway’s tools until she found the black-diamond knife.
“I’m going to cut you up with your own knife, burn the pieces into ash, and then send the dust back to our jailor’s heir,” Corona promised. “I will let you die with the Frostwick victory to your name. You are cunning and smart. You will be lauded for what you have done here today. It will make your loss that much harder when The Heir finds out that you are dead.”