- Age: Mid-30s
- Species: Human
- Weapons: Big-ass hammers, occasionally a crowbar
- Special Attack: Hitting foes with big-ass hammers
- His faith
- His partner, Nix
- Biiiiig-ass hammers
- Lacking in magical ability
- Is perhaps a little too willing to sacrifice himself
- Age: 75+
- Species: Human (enhanced)
- Weapons: CDF MP-35 infantry rifle with BrainPal interface
- Special Attack: Create different ammunition on the fly, including bullets, missiles, grenades, fire and microwave beams
- Enhanced body with heightened reflexes, senses, and abilities
- BrainPal, an implanted computer giving the owner tactical advantages on the battlefield
- War Suit, a nanotech unitard that hardens under impact
- Works better as part of a team
- Still adjusting to his new mods
By Stephen Blackmoore
Sometime in the last hour, Egil realized he was alone.
Nix had been right behind him, chattering away as always, mostly about Tesha, the woman who ran their bar, The Slick Tunnel, back in Dur Follin. It was obvious to everyone that Nix was enamored of her. Save maybe to Nix himself.
And then silence. Sudden silence in a tomb is never a good thing, and in this tomb it was particularly not good. The place was rumored to have at least one demon, possibly more, in it. He spun, looking for his friend, the light from his torch revealing no sign of him. The passageway they had been traveling showed two sets of footprints in the dust, and then just his own. He searched the walls for hidden alcoves, the floor for trapdoors, the ceiling for ropes or, Ebenor forbid, giant spiders, but found nothing.
That left him with two options. Go back, or go forward. If something had taken Nix this deep in the tomb, then it stood to reason that it was still here. And since they’d encountered nothing but some nasty traps on their way in, it also stood to reason that it was ahead of him.
So forward it was. Torch in one hand, a hammer in the other, Egil moved slowly down the hallway.
John Perry was beginning to get… not worried, but concerned. The tunnel was wide and had quickly gone from a naturally hollowed out lava tube to rough masonry walls. He’d lost contact with his squad, his BrainPal unable to get a signal, or apparently send one out. He’d fallen through a hole who knew how far up, and landed after a drop long enough to kill a normal person. His enhanced body and nanotech war suit took the damage in stride, but he’d slammed his head hard enough to black out when he landed.
When he came to, his BrainPal told him he was mostly undamaged, and he’d been out for less than a minute. He hurt, but he was alive. After over an hour of searching for the shaft he’d fallen down, which should have been right above him, he decided moving would be better than sitting still. He might find an area he could get a signal out. So he picked a direction and started walking.
That had been four hours ago.
His platoon had been sent on a recon mission on a backwater rock like all the other backwater rocks he’d been to. After a while they all blurred together. About a dozen Whaidians had set down about a year ago on this particular rock and established something that could barely be called a colony. The CDF was concerned they might be establishing a military outpost, unlikely as it seemed, and sent the ship, Modesto out to investigate.
Perry drew the short straw and his squad was sent down to check it out.
They’d found it in a box canyon. Approaching from the ridge above, they could see the handful of prefab structures below, but no sign of activity. A closer look confirmed what John had already suspected. The Whaidians had cleared out only hours before. The signs of a rapid evacuation were plain in the doors left open, the equipment dropped haphazardly, the mad scramble of tracks in the dirt.
Where they’d gone was fairly obvious. The tracks led down a narrow pass that screamed ambush, so he sent half the squad up to the ridgeline to give covering fire as needed, while he and the rest of the squad headed in after the Whaidians. The tracks ended at a cave in the canyon wall.
A new recruit, name of Samson, who’d been dropped in Perry’s lap when he’d lost another man in a firefight a week ago, stepped toward the cave, then looked back at Perry. “Seriously? They went in there?”
“Seems like.” He could understand the kid’s reaction. Kid. As if all of them weren’t at least 75 years old. This was either the most obvious trap, or the stupidest getaway. “And since you’re already halfway through the door, you get point.”
New guy hadn’t been happy about that, but he’d done it, anyway without whining about it. The cave forced them to go single file, spread far enough apart that if they did run into an ambush they might not all get shredded before they knew what hit them.
And that’s when Perry fell through the hole.
The tomb had been built for some long dead king or other, Egil couldn’t remember his name, whose treasure room had supposedly lasted a thousand years unmolested. Not for lack of trying, of course. There were stories of adventurers that all ended the same way, by their deaths at the claws of some green-skinned nightmare demon with fiery eyes.
Having met more than a few green-skinned nightmare demons with fiery eyes, Egil was more than willing to believe it.
Is that what had taken Nix? Though the obvious choice, he didn’t think so. Demons were loud and brash, announcing themselves like a drunk at a brothel. Stealth was not their style.
He stopped right before a bend in the passage. A sound ahead. He closed his eyes and listened to the quiet sound of slowly moving footsteps. He didn’t know if he was gauging the distance correctly, but he thought that whoever it was, was right around the bend. And with Egil’s torch announcing his arrival dozens of feet back, they knew where he was, too.
Egil spun around the corner, flinging the torch in front of him and grabbing his other hammer. A surprised cry as the torch flew into the face of a black-clad figure, a staff held out in front of itself, telling Egil that he’d probably run into a wizard. He had no doubt that the staff shot fire or something equally as unpleasant.
Then, in the split second where the flames were close enough to reveal its face, he saw the eyes, slit pupiled, glowing yellow, and the skin around them a deep green. So there was a demon after all.
And Egil knew how to deal with demons.
Perry was expecting a lot of things, but a pine torch in his face wasn’t one of them. Neither was a bald monk with tattoos on his forehead and two enormous warhammers bearing down on him, screaming about demons.
Perry batted the torch away, firing his MP-35, his BrainPal anticipating that he wanted bullets, and not, say, a grenade. The round met one of those huge hammers on the downswing, ricocheting off it and knocking it back. For a split second Perry thought it had actually staggered the giant man, but no, the first hammer was a feint. The second one came up from beneath to slam into his chest like a cannonball. Maybe he should have used a grenade.
His war suit hardened at the blow, distributing the energy throughout the suit. It lessened the impact, but Perry could still feel a couple ribs break.
He ducked the next swing, rolling past the monk’s legs and missing the next blow from the hammers. He kicked out as he pulled out of his roll, striking a knee with a satisfying crack. The monk bellowed something between pain and rage and spun around on his good leg, both hammers bearing down.
This time Perry wasn’t taking any chances. The monk was close. Too close. No matter what, this was going to suck; he just hoped it would be worse for the other guy. His BrainPal switched to fire one round to stagger and get a little distance, and then an explosive round to finish him off. Perry’s war suit closed over his face as his BrainPal calculated the distance and flashed him a proximity warning. Like he didn’t already know.
Perry pulled the trigger just as the hammers came down at his head. As expected the first shot pushed the large man back, but not dropping him, and not before a hammer clipped Perry in the face. A glancing shot, but he felt his nose shatter.
The second round went off as the monk was coming in for more. It hit him mid-section and for a split second Perry was worried it wasn’t going to work. This guy seemed unstoppable. But then the round went off, blasting a hole through his chest large enough to toss a bowling ball through.
The monk paused, a look on his face like he’d forgotten to lock his front door before leaving, one hammer still held high. Confusion shifted to rage and despite the fact that most of his insides had been turned into hamburger, he was still moving. He took two steps, two more than should have been possible, then toppled like a felled tree, shredded organs making thick, wet sounds as he hit the floor.
Perry pulled himself up from the floor, his broken rib grinding inside him with every breath. He gingerly touched his wrecked nose and his eyes crossed from the pain. He’d have to get that rebuilt. But before that could happen he had to get out of this hole. He nudged the fallen monk with his toe a few times before believing that the man was really dead.
He had no idea what the hell had just happened, but his priority was finding a way out. He limped down the passage, leaving the dead monk in the darkness.
Nix had come onto the scene just after the fiery explosion that had killed his friend. He made sure his killer was far enough away that he was confident he wouldn’t be heard, and kneeled at the corpse. The fakking bastard had finally gotten himself killed. And where had Nix been for all this? Lost. One second on Egil’s tail and the next alone in a dark room.
If he’d been with Egil, that demon wouldn’t have stood a chance. Egil doing his angry oxen impression and Nix striking from the dark with knife and spell. He wiped a hand across suddenly wet eyes. Dammit.
He drew a dagger from a hidden sheath, and stood to follow his friend’s murderer. He’d drown his guilt and sorrow in drink and whores later. Now, there was business at hand.
He might not have the angry ox at his side, but he had the shadows and several sharp knives.