The moon-less raiders flew through the air of the Dark on the back of giant mutated beasts. Past genetic experiments to save endangered species had spawned horrible, mutated creations which were part this, part that and half of the other. Some of these strange beasts lived in the vast radiation fields of the Earth, further evolving them into beast never seen in the bible. The Vulture Hawk was one of these creatures. Half- peregrine and half California Condor, the Vulture Hawks were nature’s unholy evolution. Twenty feet long, talons the size of a man’s torso with beaks powerful enough to break stones.
I stood there grimly upon the dais. I could hear the ’whud-whud-whud’ of feathered wings, swooping through the stygian black. The riders would strike from the air, using cross-bows to rain down invisible death. The name of the game was to get to them before they got to me. I didn’t have much time. I hammered some pieces of broken pew together and tossed my ruck and coat over them.
“Chirp, remember when we played Holo-Men in the Argos as kids?”
“chirp-Understood-chirp.” He flew up into the sky, casting a wide array of brilliant lights as he did so.
I tossed more fire-in-the-bottle onto the still smoldering fire where I had baked Mr. Kitty. Fire blazed in a blinding white flash of ten thousand lumens. If I had known that he had been drugged to keep me here, I would have probably burned him first, then eaten him. I dove under an over-turned pew, closing it around me like a coffin.
It couldn’t have been closer.
As soon as the blinding white light dimmed enough to see, two dozen arrows rained down from the Darkness, piercing the wood where my head would have been a moment ago.
Two Vulture Hawks with riders landed less than ten feet from me. I had a perfect vantage point from a peep hole in the old knotted wood of the over-turned pew.
I could see the Vulture Hawks talons clawing the wooden floor of the church. Little rivulets of wood curled around their three-foot hooks.
The human riders surveyed the scene, then jumped from their saddles. One brandishing a weapon. This Marauder was thick and heavy, like a warthog. His skin was covered in tattoos and his body was covered in ebony clothing, like black fur. His chest was plated with rings and jewels, trophies from his kills. His neck and back were feathered like that of his Vulture Hawk, the clearest indication that he was a Marauder fly-boy.
His compatriot looked like an ancient Pict from the Legends of Conan. His body was also covered, but instead of just tattoos, his was also covered in scars from brandings, all in the shape of hieroglyphics and runes. He had a hooked nose and a thick, full mustache attached to a burly beard. His eyes were dark and sunken into his skull.
He was nude but for a leather loin cloth with a belt, which seemed to hold various weapons. Around one charm hanging from his loin cloth, was a series of oblong, nude colored ornaments. I recognized these. They were ears- taken from the sacrifices performed at the temple of Baal, their God. Not that he was an easy man to forget, but I recognized this priest, for three very good reasons.
One, I had killed him. I had driven a stake through his black heart. Two, he had tried to rape my girlfriend, hence the stake. Three, it’s hard to forget a guy who you went through numbers one and two with.
“Loktar ragmunnson ithar fergi,” the priest said to his friend.
“Keep your eyes open, he is tricky” I translated in my head, recognizing the Hyboreean tongue.
Chirp-Chirp floated freely, twenty feet above the church, none would bother a little Minder-bot malfunctioning in the Wasted Waze, happened all the time when their symbiotes were dead or dying.
The Warthog drew nearer to my ‘body’, to inspect it.
“Just because he got away from you, doesn’t mean that he will from me. There was enough phonate sodium in that cat-turtle to hibernate a sea rhino, he’s probably dead already. Don’t know what all the big fuss is about anyway. Just another refugee ask me,” said the Warthog.
“No one asked you Flyer. We have made mistakes with this one before. Kill him, then search him for what we need. That is the fastest way,” said the priest, like a hiss from a snake.
“You don’t order me around priest. Flyers only answer to Overlords. Please remember that. And that I am Lothar, and Lothar doesn’t make mistakes, priest,” scoffed Lothar.
“Be that as it may. This one has a way of being unique, and if he was so surprised by our attack, what was that bright light? And-Lothar, I don’t like how you say priest. It offends me.”
“Oh. My. I hadn’t realized. How about- fuck off priest? Is that offensive?”
“Don’t be a fool. Just do as I say and put a few more holes in’im Lothar, to be safe. No need to
get closer. And that Minder-bot isn’t behaving like he lost its symbiote. Just be cautious.”
“I don’t tell you how to do your job, do I? Priest? All chanting and waving and whatnot? Don’t tell me how to do mine. I’ve been killing people for a long time. Well before your lot sold us into slavery to those non-human monsters.”
“This isn’t the time for politics. The trap is sprung. Now- kill the beast.”
“I’ll kill your beast, you fucking priest.” But Lothar obeyed and walked closer to my ‘body’, muttering under his breathe the while. Of course, the priest had been right, he should have shot me.
“Well, he looks deader to me sha-man. Wait a minute...” Too late. The invisible shock blast cracked Lothar’s head back, breaking his neck with a loud snap. The priest was thrown twenty feet backwards through the air, crashing past the stained-glass windows and flying through the church to land outside.
The Vulture Hawks were quicker to react. They managed to use their wings to shield themselves from some of the sonic impact, but they were still rocked backwards. Each Vulture Hawk weighed over two tons, I wasn’t expecting to kill them with the explosion.
I jumped up from my over-turned pew, Baby in hand, and raced toward the first vulture hawk.
He rammed his beak at me. I ducked below the skull-crushing maw and up-ward slashed into his ribcage, tearing off a chunk of meat. He tried to crush me with his giant wing, but that back fired.
I slashed down again and cut his wing in half, severing tendon from bone. Blood flew. The bird creature squawked in agony, if anything this made him more dangerous.
In a desperate move at survival, he twisted his two- ton body around and managed to knock me over, scattering Baby out of my hand. If he could cut into me with those talons, I would be done for.
I took no time to think. I grabbed the first blade I felt in my utility belt and hurled myself off the floor and onto his back, grabbing his neck from behind. With all my strength, I jabbed deep into the chest of the beast, pushing my arm into his flesh up to my elbow. Hot blood. Yellow and thick draped across my fore arms. I screamed like an animal and grabbed at internal organs until I felt fast rhythmic beating, his heart. I dropped my blade and yanked with all my might. I felt gentle ruptures as I severed his heart from his arteries, pulling the whole time to tear it out of his chest. But it was too large, my fist barely covered it. I let go and leapt off the creature’s body. He gave a final mighty screech, then plummeted to the floor. I had won. He was dead. His pink tongue protruded from his stone beak on the grey stressed wooden floor of the church.
I took no time to celebrate. I rolled backward and picked Baby from the ground. I stood up quickly, but the other Vulture Hawk had chosen discretion over valor, he was gone. I could see his shadowy silhouette in the outline thrown by Chrip’s bright flashing lights, thirty feet above me—the Vulture Hawk would live to fight another day.
The tattooed Pict was walking back, picking shattered glass from his shoulders and face. There was a ghoulish look in his eyes, at least, a slightly more ghoulish look in his eyes then before he was thrown through a stained glass window at 15 kilometers per hour.
“Ikthar Firar thigmussen,” the priest said.
“I don’t speak fucking gibberish- gibber jabber. You speak the Chinese-English? American Negro? Huh? Where you from? You here on vacation?” He did not look so good, and he obviously wasn’t a fan of comedy.
“Ikthat firar thigmussen,” he repeated. That wasn’t the dialect he had spoken earlier, this was a dialect of Hyboreean that was harder to decipher, sounded like a chant, the way he kept repeating the phraseology to himself, over and over again. But, I didn’t really care what he said, only that he would hurry up and just die.
“All the satellites are inaccessible and the universal translators don’t work without satellites, buddy. But I don’t need a translator to tell you that you are going to die. Again.” The priest understood what I had said, then surprisingly, he started to laugh. “You think that is funny? Last time, I stabbed you in your chest. This time, I’m going to carve out your lungs and burn them, just to make sure. How’s that priest?” He began to laugh, harder. I was missing something.
He looked at me and gave a grin. A piece of stained glass window protruded from his neck. The priest grabbed the shard of glass and pulled. It was two feet long. Clouds of blood burst forth from the wound like boiling water from a thermal geyser.
“Holy shit,” I whispered to myself.
One of his tattoos began to glow. Then another. He started to creep toward me with a crooked gait, like a zombie, giggling and laughing to himself, while fountains of never-ending blood spewed from the open hole in his neck. Instead of trying to stem the flood of blood, he just kept maniacally giggling and inching toward me, step by horror-movie step.
“That can’t be good for me,” was all I could think of to say.
He began to sing an ancient American song:
“Hush now, don’t you cry,
Wipe away the teardrop from your eye,
You’re lying safe in bed,
It was all a bad dream,
Spinning in your head..
Your mind tricked you to feel the pain..
Of someone close to you… leaving the game of life..
So here it is, another chance…
Wide awake you face the day
Your dream is over...
or has it just begun?”
His tattoos began to glow brighter.
“Definitely not a good thing for me.” A second later Chirp-Chirp came flying at me.
“chirp-Run you fool!-chirp”
I grabbed my ruck and we sprinted out of the church.
“Why are we running?” I asked him while getting up to full speed.
“chirp-He’s a living bomb! -chirp”
Living bombs, kamikaze soldiers. “What type?”
I stopped. “Fuck-hydrogen?”
“chirp-Why stopping? No stopping, running! -chirp
“No, Chirp. We are not going to out-run a nuclear reaction.”
“chirp-we could try-chirp.”
“It’s a hydrogen bomb.” I looked at him matter-of-factly.
“chirp-Zee? What are you saying? -chirp”
“Me and you? We aren’t going to out -pace a bomb that powerful living on cat-turtle and pig-bot jerky. We’re done brother.”
I threw my ruck down, and sat next to it, Indian style. “We’re done man. I’m done. Lora is gone. Everyone is already dead. Everyone I have ever known is dead or gone now. What’s the point? We’re going to run three miles in the next two minutes? Out run the blast, the energy, the shock wave and the after blast plus radiation? Fuck that. I’m not dying sweaty and hyperventilating with my tail between my legs brother. It’s done. We’re done—”
“chirp-You said that already…-chirp”
“chirp-The ‘We’re done, I’m done, we’re done,’ stuff. You said it like three times already. I’m not deaf, I heard you. You want to give up-chirp.”
“chirp-Because it’s too hard-chirp”
“I know what you’re doing.”
“chirp-And it’s too hard to get up and fight for your life-chirp”
“Give it a rest buddy.”
“chirp-Suck my dick. chirp”
“You don’t actually have a dick. But you do seem to be a pretty serious asshole.”
“chirp-Don’t give up on me Zee. We’ve come too far-chirp”
“It will be quick and peaceful. For guys like us, that is pretty much more than we could ever hope to expect…”
“chirp- You stay and die old man. That’s not me-chirp”
He captured me in a tractor beam, I was encased in a blue bubble, like a personal shield all over my body.
“Chirp-No!” I futilely yelled, but he was already too far gone to hear me.
I did not understand it at the time. He must have been channeling the source. I was instantly hurled hundreds of yards away in seconds, and then he let me go a few feet over the grounds of the desert flats. I rolled to a quiet stop, breathless. We never did say good bye.