“This is amazing!”
The cool corridor echoed Teena’s raspy whisper as she flicked the hovering trinket. A fist-sized pyramid of clean, blue crystal hovered over a little podium in the middle of a crossroads. It spun mesmerizingly, drinking in Teena’s rapt attention. Harsh voices rumbled somewhere just around the corner and Teena squeaked, speeding down the opposite direction.
Gutteral shouts she couldn’t understand chased her through the hall like they were an arms’ reach away. She ran for minutes and and hours and days, alternating left and right every time she reached a new turn until her legs couldn’t take another step. Teena plopped to the glassy floor to listen.
Phew, that was close.
Only after a prolonged period of silence to ensure she was really alone did she allow herself to check her new surroundings. Thousands of glittering windows dotted the biggest room she was pretty sure she’d ever been in. It was so high she couldn’t even see the ceiling, or what she thought must have been the ceiling. It might have been that the swirling runes climbing the walls played an optical illusion and the top was a lot closer than it looked, but she didn’t think that was probably the case. Maybe the ceiling was mirror-polished? If that were the case, then where was she?
Teena cocked her head, staring upward. It was a beautiful room, but she had to know how high it went.
Her backpack clanged as she tossed it aside, one of the bronze amplifiers cold and heavy in her hand.
It flew into the chasm overhead, falling to the floor with an almost musical chime. Delighted, she tossed another, adding to the chorus. “It sounds so pretty!”
“AGH!” Leliana gasped as blue fingers dug into the profusely bleeding hole in her left arm. She offered a token resistance, giving up immediately when hot fire shot up into her shoulder. Fatigue from the earlier fight draped over her like the weighted blanket she’d slept under when she talked back to Brutus. Ugh.
“Ki to-bah le corond a’.”
The blue monsters muttered gibberish to each other as they milled around the prisoners. The monks, Antrose and Karina had been tossed in a heap against a far wall, but the guards were clearly waiting for-
A heavy drum drew everyone to attention.
A stooped old…man? Hobbled into the room. He leaned on a golden staff for support, and his shaggy mane of hair had gone pure white probably ages ago.
“Oh good, grandpa. You’re here.”
The blow landed fast and hard from behind, knocking her to the floor. Leliana grimaced and started to rise. When her hands were kicked out from under her a second time, she glared at the bastard, but stayed down. None of her friends made any sound, though she could tell by the roving eyes that plans were being made and remade.
“Te la kim she lisk?” The geezer directed behind her. His eyes piqued at the response, and he bent low for a better look.
Leliana felt the slimy embrace of his mind as he probed at hers, doing her best to keep him locked firmly out. It wouldn’t be good if he rooted around and found out about the-
This sneaky bastard, almost tricked it out of her without even trying. “Stop that.” She leered at him, swiftly kicked from behind in reply.
The old man payed her no mind, straightening and retrying leisurely. He had an air of authority, and she was beginning to wonder if bogging this old man down messing with her was buying them precious minutes to evacuate the people of the city.
He shrugged, nodding.
The light in the room flickered, going black for just a second. This got a frown out of him. He closed his eyes, hands to his head in concentration. In eerie unison, half the men in the room sprinted from the room down a side corridor while the other half hauled her and the others to their feet. They were herded together and surrounded by Sha weaponry, swords and spears and squiggly knives.
Weird, she thought, you’d figure a civilization of mind reading freaks who could set you on fire from afar would use some flashier stuff.
The old man frowned as he cracked the staff on the floor. The ring of blue bastards outside the ones with the weapons all joined hands and began a baritone chant that she couldn’t quite make out. Moments later, the old man’s mind shot into hers like a javelin hurled by a ballista.
She shrieked as the world plunged into darkness. There were hands on her, she didn’t know whose.
The room dimmed, and the pain with it. Then the brightness returned, and the screaming resumed.
Teena squinted at the mangled amplifier, details a bit hard to make out in the dark. Why was it dark? The strip of her shirt she was using like a sling hung over one shoulder as she wrestled to restore her new favorite instrument.
Darkness faded as the other three amplifiers became muted. Finally she held the broken one triumphantly, as good as new.
“Ah HA! That was at least thirty meters this place is so huge!”
Then she sighed, collecting the tools back into her bag. She’d better get back to finding the others before something bad happened.
“Okay, okay, one more try,” she promised herself. “If I don’t hit the ceiling this time, I’ll…I’ll give up chocolate! No wait, I’m not doing that. I’ll let Karina pick the next ship’s name!”
Fabric sang as she whipped it giant circles over her head, the amp starting a low resonance with the whine. When she felt like her arm would fall off, she put her whole body into the direction change and let go, whistling as it winked out of sight.
A clang tinged her ears, almost too quiet to hear.
“WOOO I did it! WHOA! How did they-” Another sound started. A low rumble, quiet at first. An animal? She hoped she hadn’t killed anything! It wasn’t long until a slim figure materialized above her, tumbling and flailing and screaming as its nude body slammed to the floor.
“Carkus you’re alive!” She ran to his side, grateful to see a friend. Well not really a friend. A not-enemy.
“Tch…” he gasped.
“It’s so good to see you because everyone was worried and we all came aboard to see if we could find you and- erm, what?” She bent low. “What did you say I didn’t catch it?”
“You…bitch…” He gasped, more strongly than before.
“Is that any way to talk to the woman who saved your life and quite possibly is on track to saving the rest of the entire WORLD?”
“YOU HIT ME IN THE FACE!”
“How was I supposed know you were just hanging out at the top of a giant room full of windows!”
Carkus rose, narrowing his eyes. “No, not windows. These bastards hung me out to dry and then a bunch of ‘em started digging through my brain like some kinda…” He shuddered, not willing to finish. “Give me that.” Teena was just stowing the amplifier back into her bag when Carkus yanked it from her, hammering it on the nearest window. Minutes later, every side had been molded into a shiv.
“You’re gonna break it!”
“You’re damn right I am.” Carkus reversed his grip and plunged it through what turned out to be a thin layer of clouded crystal. A wrinkled blue man stirred inside, blinking rapidly. Carkus wrapped a hand through the man’s salt-and-pepper hair and ripped him screaming from his tiny cell.
Teena’s stomach flipped in knots. She turned away, slamming her hands over her eyes. A moment later she opened them to a tap on the shoulder.
Carkus was covered head to toe in thick, green blood, and pieces of the body were scattered everywhere. “Thanks, I owed him one.” He said. “I owe it to the rest of ‘em too, but that guy deserved it first.”
“Let’s go find everybody else and get going.” Teena said. “Everyone got caught by the scary guys and I was hiding because I’m not big enough to charge in guns blazing and I snuck out after them and there was this really cool-”
“Let’s get Zimi first.” Carkus said. He explained briefly how he’d almost woken up several times while she’d been playing one-man-band on the floor, and that he though the chiming of the bell was what interrupted them.
Together they made enough noise to wake the dead.
Carkus hurled the pointed instrument at the same time, hitting his friend effortlessly to wake him. Zimi drifted wearily to the floor a moment later.
“You alright old pal?”
The flying lizard shook his head to clear it, then nodded.
“Good,” Carkus retrieved his weapon. “Let’s meet our new friends face to face.”
Pain arced through Leliana’s entire body. The old man drove his will through her mind in brutal waves of agony. Every time she managed to fight him back, there was a sort of recoil like a gunshot distributed all the way down her spine. She focused on the cool floor on her fingertips to stay sane.
She couldn’t let him win. She would not let him win.
The ring of chanting intensified their incantations and, with it, the force of will being directed against her. Lilith’s words came back to haunt her. Your father was very specific on the consequences for mixed breeds among his people.
Her father. Was he really still alive? Where did Lilith say he was? She was pretty sure Lilith mentioned him being under the lab, but that was hundreds of miles- Wait just a damn minute.
“You sly bastard,” Leliana spat on his feet.
The old man growled and smashed her hand with his staff. She didn’t care. She felt the death sentence before he even turned back around to leave.
The armed guards closed on them while the chanters collapsed to catch their breaths. The one that kept kicking her earlier came again, the sword she’d stolen held high. The blade was still completely soaked in Sha blood.
He whipped the sword over his head and back-
The world plunged into darkness. Longer this time. It didn’t matter though, this was it. She’d fulfilled her purpose anyway. She waited a dozen heartbeats or more. What the scat was taking so long? It’s not like she was-
When light donned the world again, Atreides and the blue bastard were locked above her in a deadly embrace. Each tried to wrest the blade from the other, their off-hands a blur of attack and defense.
“Prot?” She could practically hear the grinding noises her brain made as it tried to start up again. Vea’s dark-skinned fist plowed into the things’ face.
They were free?
She raised her left arm. Bloody tendons and the spike were still there, but the bindings… Did they fall off when it blacked out? She looked up in time to watch Vea clap her hands against her captor’s head. The silent concussion blew blood out of every orifice as he slumped to the ground.
Leliana stared at the blue corpse. “How?”
“Now is not the time for how,” Atreides hauled her to her feet. “Now, we do.”