: Page 21-30.
Cortland frowned. “So a trap then. And I was the diversion.”
K-Dawg nodded. “Aye, that’s what I’m thinking. Unfortunately, no one here knows the system like Net does. Damn it all to hell!” Furious, K-Dawg turned again and slammed his hands into the keyboard, but he looked up again when Cortland moved forward and touched him on his shoulder.
Cortland smirked as he looked at the computer screen with interest. “Tell you what… you move out of the way, and I’ll see what I can get my grubby little hands into. I may not be familiar with the system you guys use, but I guarantee it won’t take me long TO get used to it.”
K-Dawg glanced at CJ and shrugged. “Go for it. Can’t do any worse than I’m doing.” He slid off of the chair.
Cortland settled down into the chair and looked up at the monitor with a smile. His eyes roamed over the words on the screen for a moment as he cracked his knuckles, then his fingers began to fly over the keys like a madman.
He was talking to himself under his breath, ignoring everyone and everything around him as he slipped into computer mode. “Looks like a pretty standard protocol, thank God everything’s in English or I’d be screwed… pretty intuitive interface, though I’ve never seen programming like this… wonder what the processor is that runs this thing… oh thank God, it’s not Windows… not a Mac either, but I can deal with that…”
CJ watched him work for a moment before she shook her head. She glanced at K-Dawg and said, “I think we’re in good hands here.”
“I hope so.” K-Dawg cracked his neck. “I’m going to go get my gear on. If we find them, we’re going to need to head in there ourselves and pull whoever’s still alive out of whatever mess they’re in. Let me know the moment he finds something.” Grumbling, K-Dawg turned and walked away as the sounds of fingers on keys continued behind him.
* * *
“I don’t like this place at all, Net.” Komiyan had both of his swords out as he looked around the bleak landscape warily. “Something doesn’t feel right at all.”
“Have to agree with him.” TLH raised his lantern, letting the light coat as much of the barren ground around them as possible. “There’s really nothing here. Something is definitely odd. Normally we come out in the middle of a fight.”
Komiyan motioned off to the left. “Actually, there is one thing here. You two might not be able to see it, but there’s a building of some sort over that direction. Might take us a bit to get there, but I don’t see anything else around here at all.”
Net looked up from his crystal with a frown. “Something is definitely wrong. The crystal shouldn’t have drained this badly coming here… this dimension wasn’t nearly as difficult to enter as CJ’s, for example. But we’re here until it recharges if nothing else.” He shrugged and draped the crystal around his neck again. “But someone here has the Stalker soul… we just need to find him or her.”
He looked in the direction that Komiyan indicated. “Hmm… I don’t see anything, but I’ll trust your eyes. If nothing else is around, I don’t see how we have much other choice.” Net glanced at Komiyan and TLH. “Stick close to each other, and let’s move.”
The swords felt heavy in Komiyan’s hands as they started toward the large building that gradually came into plain view, even to those without his sharp eyesight. His palms itched and the hairs were standing up on the back of his neck… something was here, he was sure of it. The snake and the turtle might be more relaxed, but Komiyan had survived this long by never letting his guard down.
Something about this seemed familiar. He was just about to say something when a sound echoed across the open expanse. At first it was light, just barely audible, but enough to make all three pause as they tried to figure out from which direction it came from.
It began to gradually build, until it could be recognized as a deep, grating laugh. The voice was harsh and abrasive, and it sounded like it was only reluctantly leaving the glass housing where it had resided for eons. The laughter continued to grow in intensity until it was nearly overbearing, blasting at their senses unmercifully.
Finally, it stopped suddenly, leaving them in overbearing silence. Net glanced at TLH and Komiyan as he started to gather light into his hands, his spell preparation already in progress. “Be ready… I’ve got a bad feeling…”
The ground beneath him exploded, sending Net flying forward savagely. However, Net simply flipped forward and landed smartly, ducking low to the ground as he tried to anticipate the next attack.
Komiyan dived to the right as the ground underneath him exploded as well, and he rolled twice before flipping back into an upright position. TLH had simply stood still, the ground exploding around him and impacting uselessly with his shell.
The voice they’d heard before chuckled, coming from behind them now. “Come now, Stalkers. It’s time to play.”
TLH, Komiyan and Net spun around. Fifteen feet behind them a figure had appeared out of thin air. He towered over seven feet in height and the majority of his bulk was covered by a thick, brackish cloak. His head was exposed, as were his hands and forearms… and these were simply bone, no trace of skin anywhere on the haunting skull or hands. Its eyes glowed with a savage hatred, and a thick cigar smoked in its grinning visage idly.
“Welcome to my home, Stalkers. And welcome to your deaths!” With a hideous shriek, the creature raised its hands and darkness poured out of his extended hands, flowing into the ground at a massive rate. For a long moment, nothing happened… then with a crack, the first skeletal creature pushed through the earth and began to advance toward the three, malevolence in its every movement.
A moment later, another and then another pushed out of its grave and advanced, and Komiyan shouted, “It’s a trap!!!”
* * *
“Dude, this is one sweet system!” Cortland’s fingers continued flying over the keys as his eyes soaked up everything on the screen. “Man, the RAM this thing has to have alone is better than anything I could get back home. I’ve gotta get me one of these!”
CJ shook her head. “Beyond that, have you found them?”
Cortland nodded. “Yeah, once I got past the tricky interfaces, it was a piece of cake… all pretty standard stuff, guess programming even transcends dimensions. Can’t quite pinpoint them yet, but I do have the dimension at least located and fixed.” He glanced back at K-Dawg. “And you were right, we were being blocked. I traced that back and disabled it somewhat, but I haven’t blocked it completely yet. Once I do, we can head right in.”
“Good.” K-Dawg shouldered his poleaxe and grinned maliciously. “Whoever did this is going to feel a world of pain very, very soon.”
“I did find this, though.” Cortland motioned to a small section of the screen. “Did you guys know you could have full video feeds or something of the sort from the dimensions you’re looking at? Could save you all these blind jumps and what not.”
K-Dawg peered at the screen. “No, I don’t think anyone here knew it could do that. Can you see into the dimension they’re at?”
“Let me try.” Cortland pressed a few keys, and the screen enlarged to show…
“HOLY FUCK!” CJ nearly shoved Cortland off of the chair as she and K-Dawg leaned in closer to get a better look. On the screen, a massive creature in robes was conjuring what looked to be some form of dark magic, bringing skeleton after skeleton exploding out of the very ground. The skeletons were all over six feet in height, and all wielded some form of weaponry.
The skeletons were attacking Net, TLH and Komiyan mercilessly, and though they were holding their own, the sheer numbers of the skeletons would eventually wear them away. CJ jerked a thumb at the viewscreen and glared at Cortland.
“Get that thing open, NOW!”
* * *
Flame burst over Komiyan’s head from somewhere behind him, but he ignored it as he shattered another skeleton warrior to his left. His swords and his movements gave him the appearance of a whirling dervish, his natural speed and agility keeping him more than a few steps ahead of the encroaching skeletal warriors.
However, he hadn’t been able to advance more than a foot toward the hulking figure that was conjuring the creatures. He swore under his breath as a rusting broadsword whistled over his head. A quick slash, and the skeletal warrior was suddenly missing an arm… and another slash severed his torso, sending bones clattering to the ground.
Another flash of fire reached past him and exploded, sending four skeletal warriors scattering into pieces. He glanced behind him, and Net nodded in his direction as he focused more fire toward a batch of skeletons attacking TLH.
The skeletons around TLH were having quite a bit of difficulty. Their weaponry, having lain underground for who knows how long, had started to rust and lose its solidity. Impacting onto his extremely hard shell turned out to be quite ineffective, indeed. The ground around TLH was littered with broken weaponry and skeletal bodies.
For his part, TLH was calmly walking through the skeletons as carefully as he could, protecting his vulnerable head and neck areas as he did so. Whenever a skeleton managed to get within reach of his knife, he slashed it and moved on to the next as it collapsed behind him.
“Enough of this!” Net snarled and blasted another burst of fire, incinerating a nearby skeleton. “Komiyan! Head in towards that creature!” Net grinned and raised both of his own hands and started to shout a magical incantation of his own. The sky above everyone started to darken immediately, and thunder rumbled ominously.
For a heartbeat, everything was covered in blackness, though the light from TLH’s lantern continued to shine. Then, without any warning at all, bursts of lightning cut from the gathering clouds, slamming into the hordes of skeletal warriors and sending bodies flying.
“Now that’s more like it!” Grinning, Komiyan started toward the creature, but was blocked by another large skeleton. “Move out of the way, you sack of bones!” Snarling, he dived to the left as the skeleton’s sword missed him by a wide margin.
* * *
"Better hurry up, Cortland." K-Dawg paced nervously as he watched the monitor. "Once Net starts using his big spells like that, that's usually a sign that things are going really bad." He motioned to the monitor. "Also, we need to let him know about this ability here you've discovered. That'd be a handy way to look in to see what we're about to jump into before we find out the hard way."
Cortland nodded. "Just give me a few more minutes... I'll get it."
"Ain't me you need to tell that to." K-Dawg jerked a finger at the screen, where TLH had just dropped another skeleton. "That thing they're working on keeps bringing up bigger and bigger creatures."
CJ frowned. "Come on, Cortland. It's my fault they're there... we need to get them out!"
"I'm working on it, I'm working on it!" Frustrated, Cortland continued furiously typing, ignoring the video feed itself.
* * *
"You pathetic creatures." The creature stepped backward as Komiyan finally got within sword range of it. "I'm impressed by your abilities, but I'm afraid you're going to have to do better than that if you expect to survive..."
Komiyan growled, "Would you just shut the hell up?" He sliced at the creature, but his swords just missed the folds of its cloak. Snarling, he turned and attacked again, moving even closer to the creature.
The creature smiled, a disturbing sight on the bony visage. "You'd dare approach Grim? I am death itself!" Komiyan's sword bit into his leg, but Grim ignored it as he simply reached down and touched Komiyan's arm.
Pain. Sheer, furious, debilitating pain shot through Komiyan's arm and down his spine, collapsing his legs almost immediately as he fell with a trembling cry. The pain continued even after Grim had released his hold on him, and the world around Komiyan went white.
"Komiyan!" TLH slashed through another skeleton as he tried to move closer, but there were far too many creatures between him and the drow. "Net, Komiyan's down!"
"I see, dammit!" Net was showing signs of wearing down. The glasses were gone from his head, and blood was dripping from a deep cut in his shoulder. A skeletal creature blocked his view for a moment, but the creature was cut apart by shards of solid light.
Grim ignored them as he stared down at Komiyan. "Hurts, creature? It should. You're dying, from the inside out, just like everyone else here on this damnable dimension did. Within a few moments, your corpse will be joining the fight against your friends. Isn't that lovely?" He grinned maliciously.
"N... n... no!" Komiyan kicked at Grim, weakly. However, it was enough to force the creature to step back.
"You resist?" Grim cocked his head in interest, the fight around them forgotten. "No one has ever resisted my touch. What are you?"
"I'm a god damned... drow... and here's what I think.. of your damn touch!" Snarling, Komiyan forced himself back to his feet, anger flashing in his eyes as his strength returned. "It's going to take more than a touch to bring me down, you bastard!"
"Interesting!" Grim laughed as he started to gather blackness into his hands again. "A true fight! And here I thought this was just going to be easy! Come on, drow, show me what you've got!"
* * *
Komiyan swore under his breath as sparks flew through the air. Grim had produced twin sickles from underneath his cloak, and his skill with them was fair... Komiyan had only scored a hit twice, and neither impact had drawn blood of any kind.
Komiyan honestly had his doubts about this Grim creature even having blood at all, truth be told. However, this wasn't the time or place... and he had to keep his own distance away from Grim, as another touch from the creature would likely prove fatal this time around.
Because if the touch itself didn't kill the drow, Komiyan had little doubt that Grim would hesitate to slit his throat while he was down. The skeletal warriors had stopped arriving, since Grim was too preoccupied with the fight to summon more... soon, TLH and Net would have killed off the few remaining, and then the tables would turn on this stalemate.
Grim laughed heartily, his voice grating on Komiyan's every nerve. "None here put up a fight like you do, drow! You've given me much to remember over the eons... I shall even name one of my sickles after you, a fair honor!" He slashed savagely at Komiyan, who ducked underneath it.
"Save it, creature!" Komiyan brought both of his swords upwards in a circle as the sickle passed over his head, and he was met with a satisfying crunch and crumbling sensation. The sickle continued over his head and past him, landing somewhere behind him with a clatter... the bony hand still attached to it.
Green ooze dripped from Grim's decapated wrist as he stepped back with a shriek of pain. Black magic flashed in his hand, and suddenly darkness dropped over top of all the fighters.
Komiyan snarled... he'd started into this whole mess with magical darkness, and enough was enough. He launched himself toward the last location Grim had been, but he sailed over empty air and landed roughly on the other side.
And as quickly as the darkness came, it was gone... and Net, TLH and Komiyan found themselves standing on the same barren field as before. The bodies of the skeletal warriors around them were the only sign that anything untoward had happened.
Net approached Komiyan, and he seemed barely able to continue to stand upright. "Is he...?"
Komiyan shook his head. "Doubt it. I hurt him, but he's not dead. We just..." A flash of light interrupted him, and he grinned as CJ and K-Dawg appeared nearby. "Your timing is perfect."
CJ looked around, but the staff blade in her hands was obviously useless now. She frowned. "Where did that creature go?"
TLH glanced at Net. "I... don't think that matters, CJ. Net's hurt, Komiyan was wounded as well... we need to leave this place. How soon until we can leave?"
K-Dawg smirked. "We've got Cortland on the controls now. We can leave anytime." He moved over to Net and held out an arm to the snake.
Net accepted it gratefully, weakening by the second. "We need... to see... War..." He slumped forward, consciousness leaving him as K-Dawg maneuvered to carry the now unconscious Net.
"He's right. Let's get him back to the infirmary, and after we hook him up to the machine, I'll go get War." K-Dawg frowned as he glanced at Komiyan and CJ. "You two... you might not have met him yet, but don't be fooled... keep your guard up."
Komiyan raised an eyebrow as CJ frowned. "What..."
"No time, CJ. Just remember what I said." K-Dawg looked around. "Cortland, we're ready!"
* * *
Grim looked up from the table where his hand was being reconstructed. "Well, what?"
"Did you plant it?"
"Of course." Grim smirked. "The drow never knew it. Bastard cut my hand off though... never seen a blade that could do that."
"Bound to happen. They are Stalkers, after all." A pause was followed by, "I'll go tell him that it's been planted."
"You do that. I'll sit here and continue to wonder how the hell this thing works."
* * *
The night was long for Komiyan. He'd refused to allow the healing machines access to his during his slumber, preferring instead to heal the old fashioned way. Something about that metallic creature just unnerved him... but sleep did not come easy tonight.
He groaned in his sleep, tossing and turning constantly. His leg continued to throb in pain, occasionally waking him up as he turned on it wrong. Finally, however, he did manage to acquire a fairly comfortable position and drifted off into uneasy sleep.
His leg, exposed to the night air, twitched once as another twinge of pain echoed down it. A small lump near his knee, no bigger than a small mole, began to move slightly.
Komiyan didn't respond to the movement beyond a slight groan in his sleep. Encouraged by the lack of response, the small bump began to move in earnest, until finally a thin yellow shaft cut through the skin from the inside.
Blood spilled out from the small hole the tiny creature had situated itself in, though only enough to run a small path down Komiyan's leg. The creature was a small, yellowish spider that appeared to have been created from some form of indented plastic. The spider remained motionless on Komiyan's leg as it judged whether or not the drow had regained wakefulness.
A full five minutes passed before the spider moved again. Satisfied that the drow would remain asleep, the spider skittered down his leg to the bed. A thin filament extruded from its posterior and anchored it to the bed as it drifted down to the floor.
The door opened soundlessly as it approached, the technology recognizing that a creature wanted to leave the room. Once outside of the room, the spider quickly skittered up to the ceiling of the hallway to avoid detection.
It was difficult for the creature to make much progress down the hallway. At one point, Net and two other creatures came down the hallway very slowly, and the spider was forced to remain motionless for well over an hour.
Finally, though, its destination was reached. An empty storage room whispered open as its arrival, and the spider waited until the door was fully shut before it turned back toward the door. More filaments shot out of the spider, sealing the door completely with an airtight seal.
The interior of the room was pitch black. However, the lack of light didn't seem to bother the spider at all as it moved into the center of the room. Filaments began to spew from the creature at a rapid rate as it went to work...
* * *
The jungle was warm this time of year, even now as dusk approached. The normal jungle sounds were silent, however, broken only by the crack and crash of approaching footsteps. The creature was running at breakneck speed, dashing from the ground to the trees and back again without hesitation, its footfalls sure and steady.
Finally, in a dense section of the jungle the creature stopped, blending into the background almost perfectly. The creature was a large lion of some sort, though his resemblance to such disappeared almost as fast as he did, as his very skin turned translucent and he literally became the foliage.
Mayhem growled slightly under his breath, his chest heaving. This was not how things were supposed to be. Humans and elves that came into this section of forest were hunted, killed for their meat and their skins and bones left as warnings to any further encroachment. To have them hunt back… it was inconceivable.
Even now, he could hear their approach with the clumsiness of their race. How a human female could have driven him to FLEE… he shuddered, reminding himself that he needed to keep quiet if he was going to have even a slight chance at retaliation. The footfalls came closer… and closer…
… and stopped…
Only the tip of Mayhem’s tail twitched in irritation. Where did the human and elf go? They had to be coming down this trail… he’d made sure that his tracks could be followed by even the dumbest of humans. Perhaps they were just looking around…
An arrow missed the edge of his nose by only the merest of whispers as it flew past him into the foliage beyond. Growling in surprise, Mayhem sprang forward as another arrow embedded itself where he’d been only moments before. Two quick leaps brought him out of the range of danger, and he was off on a run again.
How they’d found him, he didn’t know… but he wouldn’t soon try that trick again.
“Damn.” The blond woman lowered her bow as the creature sprinted away. “Husha, you were right. The Stalker was waiting right where you said he’d be.” She glanced at the woman beside her. “I may have some use of you yet. Come on, we’ve got to bring that thing down before more of these idiots show up.”
“Yes, my mistress.” Husha followed behind Laurel silently, her footfalls nearly silent as darkness continued to encroach upon the land.
* * *
CJ poked her head into Komiyan's room once more. "Are you ready now? We're supposed to meet in this guy War's lab right now."
"Yes, human, I'm ready." Komiyan pulled the wrap tight around his leg. What the blood had been from, he didn't know... but his leg still stung like crazy. It appeared to be infected, something which hadn't happened to him in a long time... took a heck of a poison to affect him normally.
"Good. Let's go." CJ grabbed Komiyan's hand and sprinted down the hallway, dragging the drow behind her. It didn't take long to clear the length of the hallway, though CJ avoided taking the passage that led toward the command center.
A large room opened up at the far end of the corridor, and Komiyan gasped in astonishment. Everywhere he looked, machines and strange gadgets of all conceivable types lay everywhere, all in some form of movement or process. Robotic arms tested various weapons including swords, guns, clubs, and other weapons Komiyan had no idea what they were.
Smaller robotic creatures whizzed around through the air, carrying parchments to and from all corners of the room ceaselessly. In the center of the room, the rest of the Stalkers looked their way as they approached.
A large man with exceedingly sharp features looked up from a clipboard as they approached. "CJ, move over there." He gestured toward the rest of the group with his pencil before his eyes moved back to the chart. The man, though obviously a scientist, looked more to Komiyan to be closer to the warriors and barbarians of his home dimension. He looked up at Komiyan after a moment, his brows furrowed. "You're Komiyan, yes?"
Komiyan nodded, resisting the urge to grab his swords. Something about the man made him nervous. "Yes."
Komiyan frowned. "When I woke up, I had blood..."
"Up." The man held up a hand, stopping Komiyan. "I don't believe I asked you for an excuse. You were late. Do not be so again." He glanced at Komiyan's leg. "And report to the medicenter after we're through here. You need to be patched up and checked out."