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Before Komiyan could say another word, he continued, "And no arguments. Move over to the rest."
Komiyan shut his mouth again and frowned. He did NOT like this man at all. The man exuded power, something about him just screamed that he was used to people moving at his very word. However, this was neither the time nor the place to debate this, so he moved over to the rest of the Stalkers.
TLH grinned up at him as he approached. "Hey, could have been worse. War's been known to shoot people just to make a point."
"He's killed them?!?" Astonished, Komiyan glanced back at the man again. This sort of leadership, he hated to admit, he was used to.
"No, not killed them. The machines here can just about cure anything, even death... but no, he just shot them in legs or arms. You know, easy fixes." TLH smirked and turned his attention away from the contemplative drow and back to War.
War cleared his throat. "Well, that last insertion, though a failure, did achieve some incredible data. Thanks to our new computer man, Cortland, we've processed the data at an incredible rate we'd not been able to achieve before."
He started to pace, his hands moving through the documents in his hands quickly. "We've now got the capability to view the dimension we're heading to effortlessly. They won't spring that particular trap on us again. Cortland's also decoded a way to successfully recharge the transport crystals faster, which should mean less downtime in the other dimensions while waiting for your recharge to complete."
War turned and looked at each person in turn. "However, do not let your guard down. The very fact that we were attacked is very disturbing. If the demon continues recruiting those of you with the Stalker souls inside, this battle could very quickly start to go sour. So we need to move, and fast, whenever a Stalker is detected."
He turned and began to pace again. "Cortland also helped speed up the research that Net had started before his arrival, and together they've worked up a way to better detect the presence of Stalkers in dimensions, so hopefully that will help you all out somewhat."
An electronic buzz interrupted him, and War frowned. "What is it, Cortland?"
From the command center, Cortland's voice echoed through the room's speakers. "Sir, we've got three positive identifications in one dimension, and the other dimension that we made contact with has sent us his answer."
"Good. His answer?"
"Positive, sir. He's on our side, and simply awaits extraction. Should I go ahead and bring him in?"
War thought for a moment. "No, wait until I get there. In the meantime, I'm sending the team your way. Get their crystal ready for the dimension with the three contacts in it."
The communication clicked off, and War turned and studied everyone again. "Well? Why are you still here? MOVE!"
* * *
"By the gods, this place is hot." Komiyan frowned as he slashed at yet another mass of green leaves. "Every other time, we've come right out into a mess. Where's the fighting and the blood? This heat and plants are worse than anything so far."
CJ nodded in agreement, her hair plastered against her head. The Alaskan wasn't used to hot weather by any means, and the combination of high temperature and high humidity was a shock to her system.
Net glanced around. "Well, Cortland said that he hadn't been able to detect where, exactly, the individuals with the Stalker souls were in this jungle, so he was forced to put us simply near it and hope we can find them easily. I don't think he expected things to be this bad, though."
K-Dawg smirked. "I don't know what you all are talking about. Personally, I like this weather." Of all of them, only K-Dawg seemed the most at ease. The large monkey strolled casually through the jungle with ease, his poleaxe slung over his shoulder carelessly.
Net shook his head. "I still wish we could have brought TLH along with us. After that last trap, I don't feel comfortable with small numbers."
"He wouldn't have been able to keep up." K-Dawg shrugged. "Turtle boy is damn effective, but only in certain situations. Same as why we couldn't take Cortland... he's damn good at that system."
Net nodded. "I'm honestly amazed..."
"Shh!" Komiyan froze, his hand in the air as a signal to the others. Everyone stopped moving as the drow's eyes slowly moved around the landscape.
After a moment, CJ said in as quiet of a voice as she could, "What do you... Ah!" An arrow imbedded itself in her shoulder without warning, and CJ clapped a hand to it, grimacing in pain.
"Down!" Komiyan dived to the side as another arrow split the air where he'd stood just a moment before. Net and K-Dawg darted under cover behind him, K-Dawg pulling CJ along as he went.
A feminine voice laughed. "Stalkers. I wondered when you'd show up. Now I have to decide.. do I hunt the lion, or do I turn my attention to you four? Decisions, decisions..."
CJ gasped in pain as she pulled the arrow out of her shoulder forcibly. She tossed it aside, gaping in surprise as another arrow neatly bisected that arrow in flight. "Holy..."
"Yeah, that's right... keep talking, my little targets. Let me know right where you are... where'd that monkey go with the armor, I'd bet he has lots of places I can puncture..." The voice continued taunting them hauntingly, the speaker and attacker not visible yet.
Komiyan met Net's eyes across the distance, and he motioned toward the direction the arrows had come. He made a few hand movements to signify moving around behind the shooter, and Net nodded in agreement.
Net cleared his throat and walked out into the clear, his hands moving as he cast a spell. "I'm sorry, but I must ask what your problem is with us. Whatever the demon has promised you..." He winced as an arrow flew at his head, but it hit his shielding and reflected away harmlessly. "Whatever he's promised you, he will not deliver. You will be killed along with everyone else before he's done."
"I don't care. Mage, huh?" The contempt in the woman's voice was easily distinguishable. "Let's see how well you do against this."
Komiyan didn't stop to see what the woman was talking about. He stayed low to the ground and began to quickly make his way in a long arc around the attack area, focusing on trying to locate where the voice was coming from. Net was doing a good job distracting her and pulling her attention away.. it was just a matter of finding her...
* * *
“Bob!” Sihodael’s voice echoed through the cavern ominously. “Bob!”
“Coming!” Bob skittered around the corner, the large coffee in his hands balanced precariously between the mounds of paper and tomes that he was carrying. The man’s ears were savagely pointed, larger than any normal human’s could be. He skittered to a stop in front of the demon and collapsed, the cup of coffee
Sihodael took the cup of liquid from Bob’s hands with a snarl. The demon had changed forms, choosing to take a near-humanoid shape over his usual towering, pointy self. “About damn time.”
“It’s not my fault!” Bob anxiously regained his feet and began to pick up the paperwork and tomes. “Claude wouldn’t move his ass, and then that idiot Lego…”
“What did that idiot Lego do?” A calm voice echoed from right behind Bob, making the man yelp and skitter sideways, paper and tomes scattering again. On the ground, thousands of small plastic pieces began to quickly assemble themselves together until, after a few heartbeats, a man created entirely of small plastic pieces glared at Bob. “What are you blaming on me now?”
“N… n… NOTHING!” Bob started gathering the papers up again. “It was all Claude’s fault, honestly! If you’d just let me explain…”
Sihodael held up a hand to stop Bob’s chatter. “Enough. The coffee’s excellent. Bob, you’re going to be the next one I send through to retrieve a Stalker. While Laurel and Husha have those idiots occupied, I’m going to send you through the portal after another I’ve sensed.”
Bob grinned up at Lego and quickly stood, the papers and tomes forgotten. “I’m the right man for the job! Let me get my gear, I’ll be there in two…”
“Bob.” Sihodael’s low voice stopped him. “I’m not finished. You’re going to have to go this one alone. You’re not taking any of the rest of the team with you. No creatures, no demons, nothing. I’ve determined that the Stalkers notice us faster the more people we have… so it’s just going to be you.”
“…” Bob’s face fell as an ashen color tinged his skin. “.. b… b… but…”
“Lego’s repaired your weaponry.”
Bob immediately cheered up again. “Oh! Well, in that case, you’ve chosen the right man for the job! Bring him in, or assassinate?”
Sihodael concentrated for a moment, his essence reaching out into the dimensions… “The soul I see is fairly good. I’ll leave it to your discretion whether to kill them or not.”
“Righto!” Bob saluted Sihodael and quickly made his exit, scrambling over the pile of books he’d left.
Lego watched him go with distaste. “I really dislike him, you know.”
Sihodael nodded. “Yes, he’s one of the few I think I should have let the Stalkers have. But perhaps this mission will change that.”
Lego smirked. “Because you think he’ll accomplish the mission in flying colors, or because he’ll die trying?”
“Yes.” Sihodael turned to Lego. “How goes the other?”
“The construction is well underway. Within a few days, maximum.” Lego crossed his multi-colored arms. “There’s been no indication of detection. It was executed perfectly.”
“Good. I shall have to personally thank Grim for that. You’re dismissed.” Sihodael turned back to his coffee as Lego quickly deconstructed behind him, the Lego pieces flowing down special holes in the floor like water.
* * *
Komiyan grimaced, ignoring the blood that was running down his chest from the other drow’s dagger. She’d managed to snag him on a parry, impaling deep into his right shoulder… not enough to kill or even remove him from the fight, but enough to smart like hell. He growled and swung again with his left sword, enough to force the female to spring backwards to dodge.
Husha smirked as her daggers continued moving around her, the delicate movements of her wrists belying the danger behind her smile. “I will skin you, boy. I’m going to start at your eyeballs, pull the skin away from your face, and use your empty skull to hold my extra daggers.” She dropped low to the ground and slashed at Komiyan’s exposed legs, but Komiyan sidestepped the attack.
“Like hell you will.” Komiyan’s swords just missed the drow as she rolled along the ground, out of his reach. “We outnumber you, and it’s only a matter of time… argh!” Wincing in pain, Komiyan’s leg collapsed out from underneath him as two arrows buried themselves deep into his thigh.
Husha’s smile turned evil. “My mistress would never fail me, drow.” She stood over him and kicked the swords away from Komiyan. “Would you like any last words?”
Komiyan caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye and grinned. “Yes. Eenie Meenie Miney Mo.”
Husha frowned. “What…” Her voice ended in a horrible gurgle as a large red lion materialized behind her and attacked. The beast’s mouth closed over her neck as its claws scraped down her side and back, pulling her down to the ground savagely.
Komiyan rolled to the side and laughed at the dying look in Husha’s face. “You know… ‘catch a tiger by the toe?’ There’s your tiger.” He quickly picked up his weapons and turned just as another arrow whistled past his head.
Laurel’s face was a mask of fury. “You… you…” Three more arrows were released from her bow, but Komiyan and Mayhem both moved aside. “You’ve killed my handmaiden!”
Komiyan smirked, doing his best to move over to cover to let the lion behind him an unfettered attack path to the woman. “And you’re next, archer.”
“Like hell I am!” Laurel snarled and spoke a single word that rung in the air like a bell. The bow in her hand shimmered once before it caught fire, and she released the arrow with a cry.
The projectile immediately burst into flame, trailing a thin line of smoke behind it as it headed straight for Mayhem. Komiyan dived to the side, but Mayhem had no chance to dodge as the arrow impacted in the center of Husha’s body…
And exploded. The roar of fire threw Mayhem through the air, slamming the lion into the trees mercilessly. Komiyan was thrown as well, though he managed to avoid further damage due to his own protections.
Laurel laughed. “How do you like that, you bastards! You’re all going to… urg…” A look of surprise crossed her face, and she looked down at her chest almost casually. A glowing blade had pierced her neatly through her heart, and as she slumped she tried weakly to pull it from her body…
CJ allowed the body to fall before she withdrew her blade, grimacing in pain. She’d taken two more arrows before the archer’s attention had been distracted by Komiyan. “Komi! You still alive?”
“Yes.” Komiyan moved over toward the lion warily, limping. “How about Net? How is he?”
“He’ll live. Is the lion the other Stalker soul?”
Komiyan bent down and touched the lion, glad to see that the creature was breathing. “Yes, and its alive. Drag Net over here, and let’s get the hell out of here.”
* * *
It had been three hours since the Stalkers had vanished. Though Husha’s body had been incinerated by Laurel’s attack, Laurel’s body remained motionless where it fell.
The ground next to her shuddered a bit, and a bony hand pushed through the surface of the earth until Grim stood beside her, wiping his hands on his cloak. He looked down at Laurel’s body and smirked. “Still intact, well mostly anyway. Good.”
He worked quickly, his skeletal hands deftly closing the wounds on her body with thread. Finally, black magic flowed out of his hands into her body, and Laurel’s eyes opened again.
Her eyes burned with a greenish-orange tint as she stood and wiped her hands on her leggings. “They killed me, didn’t they?”
Grim nodded. “Aye. I’ve completed the spell of ascension that your death allowed to happen. Sihodael will be happy to know that you’ve joined his demon ranks and left your humanity behind.”
Wings sprouted from Laurel’s back as she smirked. “I’m happy to have done it.” She glanced over at the impact area where Husha’s body had been. “Being human has too many damn emotions associated with it, anyway.”
* * *
The ocean shoreline was a constant flow of movement as the waves continued their relentless assault on the sandy beaches below. The cliff side loomed above it all, overseeing the oceanic inhabitants below with a lofty air. Seated on the edge of the cliff, a man dangled his legs over the rim of the cliff without a care, his sword removed from its large scabbard and placed on the ground beside him.
The sounds of the beach below were soothing, calming… He closed his eyes, his dark hair moving gently in the warm breeze. For a moment, he considered loosening his clothing, but the urge was quickly ignored. The beach itself was too far away… if he moved closer to it, perhaps, he’d remove some of his clothing for a swim…
His thoughts were interrupted by a cackling laugh near him. He opened an eye and glanced almost casually in the direction the sound had come from. A man stood about fifteen feet from him, a strange device in his hands and a maniacal grin on his face.
Bob hooted with laughter. “Oh, my boy, you’re making this far too easy on me! You’re scrawny, your back is to me, and your weapon’s even on the ground!” He laughed again. “What’s your name?”
The man closed his eyes again and shook his head. “Why in the world would I even need to tell you that?”
“You’re right.” Bob smirked. “You don’t.” He fired twice, both shots impacting the ground where the man had been only moments before. The man had literally dived off of the cliff, snagging his sword on the way down.
Surprised, Bob sauntered over to the cliff side. “Well, that was… easy?” He gaped as the man, who’d grabbed the ledge his feet had been brushing as he sat, easily flipped himself back up onto the cliff and faced him, his sword held effortlessly before him.
“Now that you’re facing someone on more even ground, elf, why don’t we start over?” Tdot swung his sword in a savage overhand attack, just missing Bob as he yelped and dodged to the left.
“I’m not an elf!” Bob frantically pushed at the buttons on his belt until a shimmering field appeared around him. He grinned at the Tdot as his next attack reflected harmlessly off of Bob’s force field. “Heh. How do you like them apples?”
“Interesting.” Tdot concentrated for a moment, and his sword started to shimmer with a bluish glow. “Let’s see how well it likes magic.” He slashed at Bob, his sword passing through the force field without stopping.
Bob sprang backward just in time, the sword whistling past his exposed neck. He scrambled backward, pulling a thin cylindrical device off of his belt. “Come on, come on…” He pushed buttons on it frantically as Tdot approached, and he yelped in surprise as the cylinder suddenly hummed and a thin blue beam came out of it. He dropped it in shock, and the beam neatly dissected the rock below him and continued downward at an alarmingly rapid pace.
Tdot glanced down the hole the device had created and smirked. “You’re new at this, aren’t you?”
“Aha!” Bob finally got the laser back off of his belt and grinned up at Tdot. “Let see you dodge this, sword boy!” He fired at Tdot, one shot reflecting harmlessly off of his sword and the other boring straight into his shoulder.
Tdot growled in pain and swung his sword flathandedly, smacking the pistol out of Bob’s hands. “Enough of this…”
* * *
The spider routinely returned to the sealed door to check its bindings. No one could come inside and discover his work; too much was riding on remaining secretive. Luckily, this room had been empty for a reason; there was no other use for it other than to remain empty.
The plastic spider scuttled back over to the mounds of plastic behind it, working frantically. It wouldn’t be much longer before his work was complete… discovery now would be ruinous…
* * *
“Status report, Cortland.” War leaned back in his chair as he looked at the lion’s cage. The beast had the Stalker soul, that much was certain… but even now, fully healed, it refused to do anything but pace and stare out of its bars. Since it couldn’t be ascertained that it would do them no harm, it was deemed necessary to leave it right where it was for now.
“Net’s wounds have almost healed. Everyone else is back to full functionality.” Cortland’s fingers moved across the keys as he turned at looked at War. “And I’m detecting another instance of the Stalker soul, two pinpoints in the same dimension. Given their proximity to each other…” His voice died as a small light came alive on his console. “What the…”
“What is it?” War glanced up at Cortland. “Well?”
“It… it’s an intruder alert?” Cortland turned his full attention to the screen. “We’re detecting dimensional activity across the board. It’s all centered in a singular room, right here.” The screen changed, showing a diagram of a hallway just adjacent to the main storerooms. “Scanners still show no signs of life, though.”
“Hell if that matters, boy!” War snarled and slammed a button on a nearby console, bringing a shriek of static across the intercom. “Attention all! We have an intruder of some unknown form in the area! Location, just off the main storerooms. Find and remove the intruder by any and all means necessary. War out.”
He looked at Cortland. “Well, you heard me. MOVE IT!”
* * *
The last block was in place. The spider stepped back for a moment, studying its handiwork, then it moved over to the tiny control panel and pushed a single key.
In the darkness, a single light lit up… then another… then another, until a cascade of lights awaked from their slumber, bathing the room in a ruby glow…
* * *
The alarms continued to sound as the team maneuvered carefully down the hallway toward the storage areas. Once the door was located, everyone took up positions around it as K-Dawg cautiously tried the handle… but it was locked and shut tight.
He moved away from the door as TLH approached it. TLH touched the door handle with the blade of his knife, and his lantern flashed once… then twice, then it began to flash in rapid succession. The team covered their eyes as the knife in TLH’s hand exploded, the explosion focused away from TLH and into the doorframe itself.
The door flew inwards, breaking through white tendrils of some sort of sticky substance and slamming into the back wall savagely, coming to a rest against it after a moment. K-Dawg was the first to enter the room, hopping over TLH fluidly and brandishing his poleaxe…
And after a moment, he relaxed. “Come on in, guys. Coast is clear.” He started to poke around the room as everyone else entered carefully.
CJ grimaced as she touched the silvery, sticky strands. “What in the world… it looks like a large spider web of some sort.”
“More like a box spider, or a trapdoor spider.” Cortland nudged one with one of his swords, grimacing as it came away with a large chunk of webbing. “Not really sure I’d want to run across the spider that made all this, though. It’s either a small spider with a heck of a constipation problem, or something big enough to make me scream like a little girl. Neither of which, I might add, would be a pretty sight.”
Komiyan looked around. “I’ve seen some large spiders in my time… with Gort’s tendency to attack anything that he feels like, you do end up in some strange situations at times. What worries me is that the spider itself is nowhere to be seen.”
TLH stopped in the center of the room, his lantern casting light around the entire area. He glanced downward and bent at the knees, picking up a small object from the floor. “Well, could it have been this?” He held it up so all could see as they approached.
CJ frowned. “Damn, but it looks like a tiny spider made out of Legos.”
“What’s a Lego?” Curious, Komiyan picked the spider out of TLH’s hand. The spider was cold, the plastic unmoving and harmless. “This thing doesn’t even look like it could do much of anything.”
“It doesn’t, at least in the dimensions CJ and I come from.” Cortland looked at the spider. “But some of the dimensions we’ve scanned have all kinds of different things about them… some of them are totally electronic lifeforms, others are nothing but puppets… you never know. Maybe it’s from a dimension where everything is made out of Legos.”
“That would be a strange life.” CJ motioned at the spiderwebs around them. “Think it did all this?”
“Guys…” Komiyan’s voice was low. He motioned to small holes in the floor. “Doesn’t the ventilation shaft run underneath all the rooms?”
Cortland nodded. “Yeah, the designers of this place had the ventilation run about a foot underneath all the room before popping up into the rooms themselves, why?”
Komiyan bent down until his ear was almost on top of one of the holes. “Because something’s clattering through them at a high rate of speed.”
* * *