My armor threw out a long series of errors and red alerts about my gauntlet and all the control mechanisms inside it. Essentially, it was useless, and so were the weapons systems on that arm. Plus, the life support systems informed me the temperature inside the gauntlet was hot enough that my arm had “probably been damaged.”
Given the pain in my arm, and faint scent of cooked pork that certainly had to be me, I would have made some nasty comments about the idiot who wrote the error messages except that was also me.
Well, a past version of me at least, a version who hadn’t had his hand turned into–
“Cooked meat,” Artaxus said. “Was that enough to break the Bloodmaiden’s spell, I wonder?”
Haley coughed from behind me in the cabin. The heat of the dragon’s breath must have made it uncomfortable for her to breathe. As we both asked, “Are you okay,” the air conditioning kicked on, and the hatch snapped shut, showing that the mech wasn’t dead yet.
It appeared to be getting better.
Quickly checking the mech’s vitals gave me a rundown of its current capabilities. No movement. No weapons to speak of. All that it had going for it were better sensors and communication equipment.
Ignoring the pain in my left hand, I tapped out commands to the mech with my right. It darkened the windows so that we couldn’t see out of them, protecting us from looking Artaxus in the eye, and set the walls, floor and ceiling to act as screens, giving a 360 degree view of the area around the mech.
Well, it showed the sonar version of the view at least.
Artaxus loomed over the mech, pausing to look it over, a huge grayish figure set against a black sky. Sonar didn’t detect the stars.
Haley grabbed a new rifle and looked at my left hand. “How bad?”
“I can’t move my fingers. I’m trying not to think about it.”
She pursed her lips. “Ok. How’s the mech?”
“What you see is what you get.”
Outside, the dragon roared, grabbed the mech with his forelegs, and threw it upward against the cliff wall.
Haley grabbed the webbing around her chair before we even hit the cliff, and caught me with one arm, pulling me in. I hung on to the webbing with my right arm, and pulled in my left so that it wouldn’t flop around as we tumbled down the cliff.
For all the strength in the Rocket suit, Haley’s arm around my waist was the main thing keeping me in one place. She held on to the webbing with her right arm and foot and held on to the rifle with her other foot.
The mech seemed to roll forever before finally coming to rest on the lawn of the nearest house.
I felt dizzy, and Haley helped me to the floor which technically was the side of the mech again–except this time it was the opposite side. As difficult as it was to concentrate on anything more than standing, I checked my HUD for the mech’s status report. Except for losing a leg in the roll, we were doing slightly better than the last time I checked.
Current estimate for the weapons was one minute. The gravitic panels would work in five.
A glance in the dragon’s direction found him walking toward us stiffly, limping a little. All the hits we’d gotten in had counted for something. But that wasn’t all. In my HUD, the word “Bloodmaiden” changed from offline to online, glowing bright as the sonar showed a woman come out of the sky and land between the mech and the dragon.
Amy stood in a ready position, knees bent, arms held out in front of her. In the computer’s interpretation of the sonar, she was bright white with very little gray.
The dragon’s head hung stories above her. “This isn’t smart. You won’t survive fighting me.”
“I’m the Bloodmaiden,” Amy said. “Fighting monsters is what we do.”
“Oh no,” Haley whispered. Pulling up her rifle, she said, “You need to open a window.”
My head felt clearer by then and I knew what I’d do. I’d target Artaxus’ head with a killbot, and skip opening the hatch. The mech could repair itself, and if it worked, the the dragon would be dead. Well, assuming magic played fair and the killbot worked normally. It hadn’t last time.
Lifting my right arm, I activated one of the two remaining killbots, and pointed my arm toward the windshield. It was less protected there. To Haley, I said, “No, I think I’ve got this.”
Then Lee’s voice came over the comm. “Bloodmaiden, I know I told you to stand down. And Rocket or Night Cat, if you’ve got something planned, don’t do it. I’ve got this.”
Amy’s voice came over the comm. “Did you really think I’d stay inside the hill?”
“No,” Lee said. On the screen, he was walking out to join Amy on the lawn. “But it was worth a shot.”
Artaxus tilted his head toward Lee. “Who are you?”
“Don’t recognize me? Would this form work better?” Though I could only see him as a grayish man-shaped figure with sonar, it was obvious that he changed, growing taller, and more muscular.
He held a short sword in each hand, and each blade had a wispy, moving shadowy substance that rose from the blade. I wondered what it was, and then I realized. He’d changed to his Gunther identity, and for some reason had chosen to hold a flaming short sword in each hand.
The dragon hissed. That was probably the form Lee had used while fighting the fae with the League back in the 1960s.
Artaxus took a step toward him. “Then I look forward to killing you as well as your students.”
Lee saluted him with a sword, and said, “It gets better.”
The dragon’s head froze, and moved backwards a touch, and I could guess why. Lee had just switched languages. I didn’t know what the new one was, but it included a lot of hissing and growling. If someone told me it was the language dragons spoke to each other, I’d have believed them.
“I couldn’t understand any of that.” Haley said.
Artaxus said (in English), “How did you know that tongue?” I wasn’t sure, and it may have been the sonar being fuzzy, but it seemed like Artaxus trembled.
“Easy,” Lee said, “I knew it back when the world was young, and you weren’t much more than a hatchling. Do you remember the wars between the elves and the goblins? We met on the day Keldrad the Younger died.”
Now Lee had the dragon’s full attention. It stared, moving its head from one angle to another. The trembling became even more obvious. “That’s impossible.”
Lee said, “Would you like me to prove it to you? We fought, you and I, and you were losing, but you were young, so rather than kill you, I told you to run, or I’d rip your throat out.”
“No,” Artaxus said, still staring at him.
“Oh yes.” Lee made the swords disappear. “Tell you what, I’ll prove it to you. I’ll change. It won’t be but a second.”
Artaxus glanced from Lee over to Amy. She had her spear out.
The dragon turned and injuries seemingly forgotten, he ran.