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30 December 2012 @ 08:24 am
FIC: The Windmines of Bora Bora - 9/11  
Author: Osiris Brackhaus
Story Title: The Windmines of Bora Bora
Part: 9/11
Rating: R
Configuration: /
Warnings: slavery, despair, previous rape and torture mentioned, off-screen rape, frequent and graphic violence
Word Count: 7.900/36.000
Setting: 'Phoenix Empire' verse, see Phoenix Empire Timeline & Index
Characters: Ivan, Smelly
Summary: Ivan and Smelly go looking for the organ traders' factory - but what they find surpasses even their wildest expectations...





“Okay,” Smelly whispered, almost managing to hide the glee in his voice. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Ivan replied, almost as excited. “Let’s see what they’re hiding.”

They were inside a narrow cave entrance overlooking the main tunnel that led to the organ traders’ ‘factory’. A little further down the tunnel, there was a large gate closing off one of the larger caves of this level. They must be running at least one massive generator, it’s incessant hum so distinctively not caused by the winds pressing through the lower passages that Smelly had sensed it from miles away.

“How many you think are in there?” Ivan asked.

“Not sure.” Smelly weighed his head pensively, the rustling sound of his bristly hair making Ivan grin. “Not many, but it’s a large complex, and I could overlook some of them.”

“So how do we get past the gate?”

Now grinning himself, Smelly turned towards his companion. “Now why would we be needing the gate?”

He calmly laid a hand against the wall they were hiding behind, pushing away the stone as easily as one would push away a curtain. Behind, Ivan could see the solid rock flow aside with the agility of a giant mollusk, leaving a passage just wide enough for the two of them to pass through.

“I love working with you.” Ivan said, still smiling widely, before he took the lead and went inside first. Behind him, Smelly followed silently.

A few meters into their self-made tunnel, Smelly closed the entrance behind them again, so they were now walking in a small bubble of air in complete darkness. Not that Ivan was worried. He had walked miles with Smelly this way, just one step in front of the other, the soft, grinding sound of the flowing rock around them, the almost inaudible pats of Smelly’s naked feet on the smooth ground in his back.
In the beginning, there had occasionally been moments where Smelly had forgotten that he wasn’t alone, or that Ivan was a head taller than him. But that hadn’t happened more than once or twice since then.

“Alright, stop.” Smelly ordered softly. “We’re almost there. There’s a wall to your left that’s got a corridor on the other side. You ready?”

Lighting a small flame in his palm to get his eyes used to the light again, Ivan nodded. “Anyone out there?”

“No one moving directly outside, but you know how little that means...”

“Then let’s go, have a look.”

The wall to his left started crackling and crumbled away. The light shining in from the other side was blindingly white after their time in the darkness, but Ivan forced himself to squint through as fast as possible to scan for any threats.

The corridor looked like a million other corridors in the Empire. White, straight, rectangular, with some gray polymer coating on the floor and bright white rectangular lamps on the ceiling. In sum, it looked more like an average office to Ivan than the main base of an illegal organ thief ring. Whatever organ trader ring main bases looked like, anyway.

As soon as Yaden had created a sufficiently large opening, Ivan stepped through, searching for any signs that they had been spotted. But nothing so far, the corridor was lying there, clean and brightly lit.

“All clear.” he said softly, waving Smelly to follow him. “You hear anyone?”

“Nope.” So far, Ivan hadn’t really figured out if Smelly’s supernatural hearing was based on him listening to vibrations traveling through the rock under his feet or if he was actually amplifying the soundwaves in the air. But on the other hand, that didn’t matter – if Smelly said he didn’t hear anyone moving, then there wasn’t.

“Any preferred direction?”

Smelly shrugged silently, causing Ivan to grin again. Well, he thought by himself, if my glorious knight in smelly armor doesn’t have any plans, I’ll decide for the both of us.

He turned around to his left and started sneaking down the corridor, cautiously checking the doors to either side when they passed them. Most rooms were small offices, fully equipped but oddly devoid of any sort of files or other paperwork. Or even paper, for that matter.

“Seems they are planning for an extension.” Ivan remarked, smirking over his shoulder to Smelly.

But his companion just ushered him on.

So Ivan sneaked on, until the corridor ended in a large hall. Huge crates and barrels of all kinds were stacked along the wall, two fork-lift trucks were standing idly outside a large porting circle on the floor. Like every other room so far, even this place was brightly lit and deserted.

“What do you think?” Ivan whispered. “Everyone out for lunch?”

This, at last, brought a soft snicker out of Smelly. “Maybe. There are people close by, I can hear them. Almost a dozen in that direction.” He pointed at the far end of the hall. “Maybe they actually ARE in the mess hall.”

“So, we go there, say hello?”

“Nope.” Smelly shook his head and pointed towards a dark corridor leading away from the stockroom. “There’s something odd in this direction. I want to check that first.”

“You’re the boss.”

Carefully checking to all sides, Ivan made sure there wasn’t an odd lonely organ trader stumbling around before he left his cover. Slipping from crate to crate, he crossed the room, then stopped and waved Smelly across. His companion followed soundlessly, not even leaving puffs of orange dust even though by all probability he should have.

“Why this way?” Ivan asked as soon as he entered the unlit corridor. “Judging by the dust on the floor, no-one’s using it anyway.”

“Not so sure about that...” For a moment, Smelly seemed distracted. Then he pulled the hem of Ivan’s tunic, pointing at their traces in the faint layer of orange dust on the gound. “See what I mean?”

It took Ivan a several moments until he noticed what Smelly was hinting at, but little by little, almost imperceptibly, their traces disappeared, the dust distributing evenly across the floor, seemingly all by itself.

“Nifty. How do they do that? Nanites?”

“Magic. Can’t you smell it?” Scratching his beard, Smelly added: “But the real question is – why?”

“Don’t tell me you can smell magic.”

“Can’t you?”

“No, duh.”

“Oh.” Again scratching his beard, he added: “We’ll have to train that, too, then.”

With a sigh, Ivan nodded and turned back to the dark corridor that lay in front of them. His friend was odd, no doubt about that. But Smelly had taught him to use his powers, so maybe he would train him to smell magic, too.

But then another detail caught his attention and he turned back around on his heel. “Wait – you said ‘magic’, not ‘psionics’. Do you mean there IS magic?!”

“Of course.”

The reply was so deadpan honest that both men just stood there for a moment, staring at each other, wondering how in all the Empire the other one could possibly not be understanding such a simple thing.

“No, wait, I mean – really? Like in witches and warlocks?”

“Yes.”

“Fireballs and curses?”

“Rarely, but yes.”

“Fairies?”

“No.” Smelly hesitated, then amended. “I am not sure.”

“Gorgeous.”

Ivan didn’t know if he was excited or scared by this information. Probably both in equal measure. Nodding, he turned around again and continued walking down the corridor.

For a long while, they walked in silence, first passing several smaller out-of-use storage rooms, then only bare walls.

“Stop.” Smelly said abruptly. “What do you see on your right?”

Ivan turned and looked, squinting in what little light remained. “A wall.”

“Touch it.”

He took a breath to reply something snotty but stopped himself in the same moment. If Smelly wanted a wall touched, he probably had a very weird but perfectly valid reason for it.

Ivan stretched out his hand, placing his fingertips against the cool plaster.

“It feels like a wall.”

“Interesting.” Smelly sounded almost amused. “Now punch it.”

“Why the hell should I - “ Ivan started, stopping at the sound of Smelly’s soft chuckle. “I hope there is some kind of point to this.”

Not really waiting for any reply, Ivan took a step back, aimed and hit the wall in front of him with a straight right. He braced himself for some scraped skin and maybe a few sprained knuckles, but nothing like that happened. Instead, he felt the wall crack and slip aside around his fist, almost like a soap bubble or a paper screen. The unexpected lack of resistance forced him to take a step forward, and Ivan found himself staring at his arm sticking in the wall up to the elbow while the wall itself showed no trace of damage.

“What the fuck...” he mumbled. Pulling out his arm, he felt a soft resistance again, no more than a layer of clingwrap, maybe. He put his fingers forward again, feeling the wall just as before, but as soon as he put more force into his touch, his hand slipped through. “A tangible holograph? No, don’t tell me. Magic.”

“Exactly.” Even in the low light, Ivan could tell that Smelly was grinning widely. “But also, and much more importantly, a hidden passage. And what do we know about hidden passages?”

“Must go in!” Ivan replied with a grin that matched Smelly’s.

Without hesitation, Ivan leaned forward, pushing himself fully through the illusion. As before, it felt like pressing through a layer of clingwrap or paper, and then he was on the other side.

It took him a moment to adjust to the changes, and that was not primarily due to the change in lighting.

Where the organ traders’ place had had an industrial feel to it, he was now standing in a low tunnel, the entrance roughly hewn into the corridor wall. The tunnel was irregular but definitely not natural, darkened with soot on the top, smelling of smoke and rotting meat. In the distance, Ivan could make out a wrought-iron sconce on the wall, burning with disconcertingly blueish-lilac flames.

“What the hell...”

“Now look at that.” Smelly remarked after having passed the illusion himself. “This is... unexpected.”

“Do you know what this is?”

“No idea. But I am sure it’s nothing good.”

“No kidding.”

Knowing that he wouldn’t get anything useful out of his companion now, Ivan started sneaking down the tunnel, now even more cautious than before. Criminals wielding machine guns were a risk he could understand and deal with. Some weird shit maniacs wielding magic and hiding in dark tunnels lit by eerie ghost lights – not so much.

Only after a few turns, the tunnel widened into a room lit by more of the same ghost-light sconces, their flickering flames sending off-coloured shadows dancing over the walls.

“What the...” Ivan whispered as he stepped inside, reasonably sure that the room was deserted. “Smelly, what is all this?”

The room was filled with tables and long rows of shelves, all looking like having been stolen right out of the dungeon of some old-fashioned castle. The boards were stocked with endless rows of thick-walled, crooked glass bottles, their stoppers sealed with wax in muted colors. There were weird and disconcertingly arcane symbols etched on the bottles, and there was... something moving inside each of them. Not really some thing, but the idea of something, like a thought, or maybe...

Even trying to understand what he was looking at was giving Ivan the headache of his life.

“This is worse than I thought.” Smelly remarked, whispering.

“Oh really? I though we’d fucking established that by the décor already.” Firmly facing Smelly so that he didn’t have to look at those bottles, Ivan added: “Anything useful?”

Smelly was just opening his mouth to answer as a deep groan rumbled through the chamber, a sound so inhuman and strange that Ivan almost jumped to the ceiling like a startled cat. Instantly, his hands were filled with fire, their orange glow all but negating the blue ghost-light from the walls.

In the middle of the room, a vaguely human shape coalesced out of thin air. Within seconds, a tall figure was standing between the tables, humanoid, clad in what looked like black, glassy knight’s armor to Ivan.

“What the fuck?” Ivan shouted, glancing over to Smelly to see if they were to fight or to run. Talking definitely didn’t seem like an option in this moment. But Smelly’s reaction didn’t quite match up with Ivan’s expectation.

“Oh please, not again!”

“What do you mean, ‘not again’?!”

But right then, the dark knight charged, jumping over the table with more agility than his bulk should have allowed to. Instinctively, Ivan dropped on his back, blasting an arc of fire at the creature. Pumped with adrenalin as Ivan was, the fire shone almost white with heat and should have molten any real armor. But the creature seemed merely irritated.

“Not in here!” Smelly suddenly yelled, standing in another doorway that led out of the chamber. “You mustn’t break any of the bottles!”

“NOW YOU TELL ME?!” Ivan knew he should feel angry, or scared by the turn of events. But he only felt excited and vaguely amused.

The creature jumped from the table, trying to stomp Ivan with its feet. So Ivan rolled to the side just when his attacker would have no time left to adjust his momentum, grinning when the creature lost its footing and slammed to the ground clumsily. Hopping back to his feet, Ivan stood right next to Smelly and grinned cockily at his companion.

“Any more surprises?”

Instead of a reply, Smelly shook his head and pulled Ivan into the tunnel by the sleeve of his tunic. They ran for a moment until Smelly stopped abruptly. Somewhere deeper in the caves, they could hear some mournful wailing, almost like an alarm, and the shouts of several people talking at the same time.

“Okay, here we’ll have a minute.”

“What was that thing? Won’t it follow us here?”

“A minor demon, put on guard duty. It won’t leave its task.”

“A demon.” Ivan repeated matter-of-factly. This was all moving so fast he didn’t even feel confused any more. “I always thought they were just an invention of the church to keep the unwashed masses cowering in fear.”

“Yeah. That’s what we all wish they were.”

“Well, then.” Craning his neck and cracking his knuckles, Ivan took a deep breath. “How do we fight them?”

“With caution.” Despite his words, Smelly was grinning, too. “The demonists had time to prepare a fight here in their lair, so we’ll have to pull them out. There’s a larger cave a little down this tunnel, and once past that, we should be able to take them on.”

Ivan nodded his confirmation.

“Expect some nasty surprises, demonists are on the brink of madness. Also, most of them will have some kind of defense against your powers in one way or another.”

“So how do we get them?”

“Like most magic users, they try to solve everything by supernatural means. But their robes can still burn if the flame put to them is mundane, and they can be kicked in the balls like everyone else.”

“Indirect psionic attacks.” The remark slipped out of Ivan before he could stop it – the term used during the psionic training he had received in his childhood for the tactic to use against shielded enemies. Maybe psionic fire couldn’t harm your enemy, but if the burning house collapsed on them, the would still be dead. Nothing a slave would have been taught, though.

But luckily, Smelly didn’t seem to notice.

“Exactly.” Listening up, he suddenly pushed Ivan further down the tunnel. “Hurry. They’re catching up.”

Without hesitation, Ivan started walking down the tunnel, the fire in his hands so close to the surface of reality that they were trailing little sparks of ember whenever he moved swiftly. Soon enough, he could also hear the steps and voices of the people following them, and they didn’t sound too friendly.

As Smelly had promised, it only took them a few turns until they came to the larger cave they would have to cross. To Ivan, it looked like a low-tec castle kitchen. A large fireplace was burning on one side, simple wooden shelves and tables were laden with all sorts of things, foodstuff the least of them. The walls were covered with arcane symbols and diagrams, their lines glowing dull red on the dark orange rock. It did look pretty much like in the movies, Ivan had to admit.

Three people were currently inside, two surveying the diagrams on the walls with very serious expressions, the third one chopping vegetables, looking like he was preparing dinner. All were wearing hooded robes with varying amounts of embroidery, though none of them were wearing their hoods right now. They seemed to feel pretty safe, here, despite the alarm going in the distance.

Well, Ivan thought grimly, that would change soon enough.

He could already hear the demonists behind them closing in, so he cast a swift glance over his shoulder to check with Smelly on how to proceed. But the assumed Phoenix Knight made it very easy for him – he just passed a finger across his throat in a cutting motion. No prisoners tonight, then.

Turning back his attention to the cultists in the room before them, Ivan started to concentrate on the fire in the back. A part of him in the far back of his mind yelled that he had no idea what he was doing there, and that he would get all of them killed if he insisted on constantly doing stuff he wasn’t prepared for. Though mostly, Ivan just grinned with anticipation. He had no clue what he was doing there, right. But that made finding out what was going to happen all the more interesting.

Planting his feet wide apart, he imagined himself grabbing the fire in the fireplace and then pulled at the flames with a motion as if trying to topple over a large wardrobe. On the other end of the hall, a floodwave of fire and glowing coals engulfed the room, swallowing furniture and cook alike.

It took the two remaining cultist a long, long moment to understand that something was really wrong. But by then, Ivan had already left his cover, rushed past them into the middle of the room and jumped onto one of the tables. That the table was scorched black from the earlier explosion with little flames licking at the wooden top only added to the flair of his entrance. A ball of fire in each of his hands, he tried to look as threatening and condescending as possible.

“Hooded robes, seriously?” he asked, grinning. “Guys, your fashion sense sucks donkey dick.”

That definitely got him the attention of the two remaining cultists.

Without hesitation and almost simultaneously, both men covered their heads with the hoods of their robes, leaving their faces completely shrouded in darkness. One of them stretched out his hand, conjuring a large sword out of thin air, while the second one hunched a little lower and raised his hands, his eyes glowing ominously red in the dark of his hood.

Luckily, neither of them noticed Smelly behind them, who seized their momentary distraction to seal the tunnel behind him. Hopefully, that would deter their pursuers at least for a little while.

The cultist with the sword recited something in a foreign language, and his weapon suddenly started glowing faintly green in the low light, trailing a thin wisp of cold mist wherever it moved. The hunched one, on the other hand, had finished casting or whatever it was he had been doing, and hurled something invisible at Ivan with a loud yell.

Still not sure what exactly he was doing there, Ivan just let himself drop backwards off the table, hoping that the sudden movement would be enough to evade whatever the cultist had aimed at him.

Still in flight, the projectile turned into a greenish smear of twisting shapes that slammed into the table where Ivan had been standing only a heartbeat earlier. It turned out to be a small creature, maybe the size of a dog, that looked like a cross between a toad and a monkey. Its big tongue lolling out of his grotesque mouth, it hobbled across the table on legs that were too short and arms that were too long to allow for any measure of grace.

Not in the mood to wait and find out what the creature was going to do next, Ivan kicked against the underside of the table, right where the creature was sitting. Still lying on his back on the ground, Ivan was able to put a lot of force into his kick, and both the table and its involuntary passenger were hurled several meters across the room. Ivan almost laughed at the creatures angry wail.

But he didn’t have much time to gloat as the cultist with the sword was suddenly by his side. Nasty as the weapon looked, Ivan was sure he wouldn’t even let that thing scratch him. Luckily, the cultist wielded the sword rather like a club and made it very easy for Ivan to roll out of his reach.

Smelly had been right indeed, those cultists did neglect their mundane skills. Maybe the guy was wielding the most dangerous sword in the Empire right now, but he literally couldn’t fight with it to safe his life.

Again, Ivan ducked out of a clumsy swing, slowly getting fed up with the whole thing. More testing the waters than anything else, he hurled two balls of fire at the cultist, who lobbed them out of his way with his sword much like someone else would hit apples with a walking cane. Alright, no easy victory with this one, then.

Searching for anything that would give him an advantage in the fight, Ivan glanced around in the room. Nothing on first glance.

Acting on instinct once again, Ivan pushed his hands forward, wrists together, and almost squealed with delight as his movement suddenly translated into a massive torrent of flames blasting towards his opponent. The cultist blocked the flames with his sword, but this time he obviously struggled against the onslaught, a part of Ivan’s determination apparently materializing as a hefty physical push backwards.

Ivan felt his heart beat in his chest. This wasn’t exhausting, this was exhilarating.

Once again, he tried his newly developed blast, grinning as the cultist had to stagger back from the force of his attack. In a situation where they had just a little more time, this would work nicely. But time was the one thing they really didn’t have right now, not with a whole bunch of those furious cultists waiting on the other side of the barely sealed tunnel.

Looking around, Ivan finally found something that looked useful. Next to one of the overturned tables, between charred vegetables and the crisp corpse of the cook, there were two silver shapes lying in the dirt. Knifes. Not as good as sabers, but at least something.

Ivan dropped into a low scythe kick, mostly to keep the cultist at a distance. But his skills were growing in ways that even surprised himself, this time with a bright, sickle-shaped arc of intense fire that projected from his foot outward. The cultist saw no other option than to throw himself onto the ground, unable to bring his heavy sword up in time. It seemed Ga’Un lent itself very easily to his newfound style of psionics.

That gave Ivan all the time he had hoped for. Rolling through the debris of the explosion, he came to lie almost alongside the dead cook. There, half-covered in the ash and pieces of wood and coal, he picked up two large knifes, a heavy chef’s knife and a long but narrow paring knife. With two sabers, he had been better than any of his tutors. Admittedly, that had been years ago, and it felt like several lifetimes to Ivan. But then again, he just needed something that would give him an edge against the cultist. And he was pretty damn sure his melee skills would do exactly that, even rusted as they were.

Rising from the ground, Ivan adopted a Ga’Un stance for armed combat, and for the first time in his life felt energy pulsing through him. Not just the rush of adrenaline, but power that hummed in his veins, that ran through the soles of his feet and the tips of his hair, that connected him with the earth underneath and the air around. The more he dropped everything his teachers had tried to drum into his head and instead just did what came naturally, the more powerful he seemed to become.

When the two blades in his hands suddenly burst into flames, Ivan didn’t even blink.

“Come on, you artifact,” he taunted the cultist in front of him. “Show me what you’ve got.”

His opponent seemed to nod wordlessly in acceptance of the challenge and charged. But untrained as he was in wielding a sword, he wasn’t really a match for Ivan. His moves might have been a little rusty, and two kitchen knifes were far from optimal, but he was still miles better than that poor guy with his big magic blade.

It took them only a few seconds, then the cultist was bleeding from two deep cuts, one in his shoulder and one in his thigh. Ivan didn’t even feel out of breath, though he knew he was running on pure luck currently. In an ordinary fight, he might have taken his opponent out already, but Ivan was very much taking care not to get even scratched by that blade, poisoned as it most probably was.

The cultist took a few steps back and tried to catch his breath, ignoring the smoldering flames on his robe where Ivan had cut him. Obviously, he had never expected an opponent to be so inappropriately unimpressed by his magically enhanced weaponry as Ivan. But he didn’t seem to be at the end of his options, yet, either.

Switching the sword into his left hand, the cultist put his right hand onto one of the tables and chopped it off, completely out of the blue. Before Ivan could really comprehend that his opponent was voluntarily maiming himself, the demonist had taken the severed hand, clutched it around the hilt of the sword and whispered a few words.

Instantly, the sword took flight, the severed hand holding it in the air as if there were still a person attached. Unfortunately, this inexistent person seemed to be a much better fighter than the cultist who had sacrificed his hand for the spell. The sword suddenly move with a lot more control and purpose than before, bobbing and weaving and all round giving Ivan the impression that the gloves had come off now.

The animated sword attacked on its own, and now Ivan was hard pressed to counter the blows. There was much more force now in each hit, and yet his invisible opponent seemed to be unpleasantly aware that he wasn’t real – the sword moved in ways that would have been quite impossible if there had been a real person with a corporeal body wielding it.

Also, as there was no one holding the sword, there was no one Ivan could attack, no one he could trick or wear out. To top things off, the sword itself seemed to be entirely immune to Ivan’s flames, and soon enough he found himself retreating further back into the room, stumbling over turned-over chairs and climbing scorched tables.

Definitely not the way he had seen this fight progress.

Ivan had just decided that a tactical retreat to one of the walls would be the smart thing to do, as suddenly a screeching shadow attacked from the right. Flailing wildly, Ivan tried his best to evade the new attacker, but there were actually several of them. Looking as if a clumsy child had tried to build bats from nothing but shadow and ice, the were not really animals, but the approximation of them, creatures roughly cobbled together from imagination and magic. It seemed the second cultist had finally gotten around to do something useful, after all.

Luckily, those demonic bats didn’t seem to be overly dangerous. Even though a few of them were able to pass through Ivan’s defenses, they didn’t manage to give him more than a scratch. At least, they didn’t seem to be as poisonous as the animated sword he was fighting.

But the swarm of bats made evading the blows of the animated sword much harder, and Ivan knew enough about his own limits to see that he wouldn’t be able to go on like this forever. Sooner or later, he’d be cut, and that would probably be pretty much the end of this fight.

So he had to come up with something new, and quickly.

Once more acting mostly on instinct, Ivan let himself drop to the ground, curling up into a tight ball balancing on the tips of his toes. He waited only for a heartbeat or two, until he was sure enough that the bats were closing in from all sides, then he jumped up like a jack-in-the-box, spreading his arms as wide as he could, trying to project as much energy outward as possible.

With almost ridiculous ease, he felt is psionic powers translate his motion into fire, this time as an almost spherical starburst of flames shooting in all directions. Not that the flames really hurt any of his unnatural attackers, but at least it sent the bats flying away from him, screeching with anger.

Of course, the animated sword now used the opening to attack as well, but Ivan hadn’t expected anything else. The spell powering the sword was very skilled and strong, but not very creative. Or cautious, for that matter.

So instead of blocking the sword’s blow with his knifes, Ivan charged ahead as well, deflecting the sword’s blow to his side. When he was right next to the sword, Ivan dropped his knifes and instead grabbed the sword’s hilt, grimacing at the luke-warm meat of the severed hand that still clung to it.
With all strength he could muster, Ivan held onto the sword, silently praying that his fingers wouldn’t slip on the bloody lump of meat. For a heartbeat, neither he nor the sword were able to move, but then Ivan felt the spell weaken, the force that held the sword up in the air slowly breaking apart. Grimacing with determination now, Ivan took the sword and turned the blade around until it was facing right at the cultist who had conjured it. The poor guy was still standing across the room from Ivan, nursing the stump of his right arm and looking rather shocked at the turn of events.

But Ivan couldn’t have cared less. With a sound somewhere between a grunt and a yell, he charged, pushing the struggling sword across the room, right through the chest of the one-handed cultist and then into the wall behind him.

The cultist died without a sound.

Instantly, his spells started unraveling, the sword turning back into the mists it had been called from, the severed hand dropping onto the floor with a wet, flopping sound. For all his magic, he died just like any other man, Ivan thought to himself. Maybe he should have invested in fighting lessons.

He was just about to look around and see how Smelly and the Conjurer were doing as the demon bats were back on him with a vengeance. Screeching and hissing, they swarmed around him, trying to get close enough to scratch or bite him. Most of them, he could dodge, but some of them came through, their rudimentary claws ripping at his arms and his simple tunic.

Ivan tried the starburst maneuver a second time, and it worked just as well, only that the bats seemed to be much less impressed this time. It still gave him time enough to look for Smelly, and he was just in time to watch his presumed Phoenix Knight in action.

Smelly had sneaked out of his hiding place in the tunnel and closer to the demonist. The toad-demon the cultist had conjured first was sitting in front of him, not unlike a guard dog. It eyed Ivan unerringly, while studiously ignoring the other slave walking around behind him. Which was actually all fine with Ivan.

Across the cultist’s shoulder, Ivan could see Smelly raise his arms, looking just as concentrated as always. When Smelly suddenly brought his hands together in a resounding clap, the walls on both sides of the remaining cultist reacted almost without delay – big chunks of rock broke out of of them, and slammed into the cultist from either side, producing a neat line of crimson splotches along the ceiling.

But the red-glowing, arcane symbols on the wall didn’t look as if they were going to submit docilely to such treatment. At first, the lines stretched like rubber, partially staying on the walls and partially following the chunks Smelly used to smash the remaining cultist. Then the first one snapped, unraveling in a spray of sparks and a fine line of smoke in the air. Immediately, all the others followed, creating a bushfire of sparks that ran along the walls of the devastated room.

Suddenly, the air was thick with the smell of ozone and rotting meat, making Ivan gag.

“You okay?” Smelly shouted through the smoke.

“I’m fine!” The weird smell was still hanging in the air, tingling in the back of Ivan’s nose and generally giving him a really bad feeling. “We should get out of here!”

Without a word, they both left towards the entrance that led away from the kitchen, the one that they had planned on taking all along. They moved swiftly, just a little less hurried than running, hoping to get as much distance between them and the cultists as possible. They needed a moment to catch their breaths and much more importantly, a moment to make a plan.

“Stop!” Smelly suddenly shouted as they neared a crossing.

Almost reflexively, Ivan stopped dead in his tracks. From the tunnel on their left, he could hear shouts and the unmistakable sound of machine gun fire.

“What the fuck?” he barely managed to ask as suddenly a handful of robed demonists rushed past them, shouting and so confused they didn’t even notice the two men standing in the other corridor.

About two heartbeats later, two organ traders in heavy combat gear followed, brandishing machine guns. They were a lot more alert than the cultists before, and checked left and right before they passed onto the crossing.

But before they had a chance to realize that Ivan and Smelly were standing right next to them, they were already engulfed in a massive blast of fire emanating from Ivan’s hands. One of them managed to fire a wild burst of unaimed shots, but somehow the bullets lost all their speed over the short distance between him and Ivan. From the corner of his eye, Ivan could see the individual bullets dawdle a moment in the air before they dropped to the ground harmlessly.

When he was sure the two men had stopped moving for good, Ivan turned around to his companion.

“What the hell? What are they doing here?”

For a heartbeat, Smelly seemed genuinely embarrassed. “I am sorry.”

“What did you do?!”

“I think in that kitchen, when I took pieces out of the walls, yes?”

“Yes...?”

“Those glowie lines were symbols for warding spells, something like a burglary alarm. I thought it was just the control interfaces, but they were the actual spells.”

“And that was important why exactly?”

“I kinda ripped the spells apart?”

“You killed their cloaking shields?” Ivan translated into a version he could rather relate to.

“Accidentally, I think, yes. I am not a sorcerer, I am a psion. I only noticed when the whole room suddenly smelled of wild magic.”

“It smelled of ozone.”

“What’s ozone?”

“It’s an instable, triatomic allotrope of oxygen...” Ivan started, but broke off as he saw the complete blank in Smelly’s face. Pinching the ridge of his nose, he searched for a less scientific definition. “It’s the smell of... lightning?”

“Oh.” Smelly’s face lit up with recognition. “So you CAN smell magic!”

“Lightning ain’t magic.”

Smelly gave him the most comical ‘don’t tell me you really believe that’ look, but before they could drift off any further, their discussion was cut short by a small explosion and another burst of machine gun fire from the corridor to their left.

“Alright – where to now?” Ivan asked urgently.

Smelly concentrated for a short moment and then pointed to their right. “That way.”

Not waiting for any further explanation, Ivan grabbed his companion by the wrist and pulled him with him. Normally, he didn’t mind Smelly suddenly stopping and ‘listening’ or wandering off. But in combat, he’d very much rather know where his backup was standing every moment.

After a few turns of the tunnel, they reached a larger passage. The tunnels were now filled with the sound of combat all around, gunfire and strange screams filling the air from every direction.

“Alright,” Ivan yelled. “Left or right?”

“This is not good,” Smelly replied, looking definitely unhappy with the options. “We’re kinda between - “

“Left or right?!” Ivan repeated firmly, not really in the mood for explanations. “You navigate, I fight. Clear?”

“Aye.” Taking a deep breath, Smelly nodded. “Left, then right after a hundred paces.”

“See? Not so hard.” Ivan could feel his heart beat in his throat. Had he just been ordering around a Phoenix Knight? But Smelly didn’t seem miffed, in contrary, he seemed to feel just as glowingly excited as Ivan, hurrying down the passage behind him. Then again, maybe he wasn’t a Phoenix Knight after all.

The passage widened a little, and in the distance they could see a bright white light shining around the bend. The had barely managed fifty meters as suddenly, Ivan thought he was smelling ozone again, the hair in the back of his neck tingling.

“Run!” Smelly shouted. “Just run!”

Both men started running instantly, Smelly actually overtaking Ivan, much to his surprise. Considering that Smelly was significantly shorter than Ivan, that spoke of a remarkable training.

A gust of hot air came from behind them, dry and and with the distinct feeling that something huge was following them. Ivan could have sworn he could hear the heavy footsteps of a creature behind them, and he didn’t even want to know. The red glow that Ivan could see on the ground between his feet was more than enough already.

They ran straight down the passage, and around the bend. All of a sudden, the passage ended there, and opened into a wide, brightly lit hall – the very same storage hall where they had started their excursion into the demonist caves.

Nothing much had changed, only now the place was crawling with organ traders and mercenary types, fighting robed demonists that were hiding between the crates.

As soon as they entered the hall, Smelly grabbed Ivan and pulled both of them to the side, away from the exit of the passageway. Only seconds later, something huge passed behind them, a bulky mass of flames and muscle, roaring so deeply it made Ivan’s chest reverberate. It was a creature the size of a small bus, looking like a mixture between a gorilla and a bull, but with crude antlers. It was ridiculously muscled, its whole body wreathed in flames, and it seemed mightily pissed off at the machine gun fire it was drawing from the mercenaries.

“Holy shit.” Ivan gasped, still out of breath from the running, leaning against the wall behind him. “Are all your missions this messy?”

Smelly nodded hesitantly, almost guiltily. “Welcome to my life.”

As if on cue, one of the organ traders noticed them hiding behind one of the stacked crates and opened fire on them. Instantly, Smelly blocked the hail of bullets with a gesture of his hand while Ivan lobbed two fireballs behind the cover of their attacker.

“That should keep him busy for awhile.”

Smelly grinned widely at the remark, for a change looking neither disgusting nor questionable. “We’re making a good team, you know that?”

Ivan nodded. “You’re slow and powerful and I am fast and distracting.”

“That was great work in the kitchen.”

This time, Ivan only nodded silently. He wouldn’t have know what to say, anyway. It was the first honest compliment he had received in his life, as far as he could remember.

Luckily, this was the moment they were attacked by a two-headed dog demon thing that leaped around the corner of the crate they were hiding behind. Hissing at them with both its heads, it sounded more like a giant, pissed-off cat than anything else.

“What the fuck - “ Ivan barely managed to yell before the thing leaped at him. Dodging to the side, he barely managed to evade the beast’s slavering maws. Ivan hurled a concentrated blast of fire at the thing, but it was too little body and too much magic to take any real damage. Why the hell had he left the knifes in the kitchen? Had he really been that stupid?

“Here, doggy!” he suddenly heard Smelly call from the side. “Good doggy, catch!”

Looking around, he could see Smelly throw something small at the beast, maybe a small pebble or a bit of concrete that had been broken out of one of the walls by a ricocheting bullet. As if drawn by overpowering instincts, the beast followed the flying object with his eyes, and for a heartbeat it seemed both heads were struggling about who was allowed to catch the treat. Finally, the right head won, and the beast jumped and snatched the pebble out of the air.

“Good doggy,” Ivan heard Smelly say. “Now die.”

With his last words, Smelly flipped his hands apart as if miming an explosion, and the dog demon exploded in a cloud of blood and gore and smoke, ripped apart from the inside by countless tiny concrete shrapnels that Smelly’s mind forced in all directions.

Calmly, Smelly waited for a second until he was sure that the beast remained dead, then he turned around and helped Ivan back onto his feet.

“I need my knifes.”

“We need a plan.” Looking around, Smelly finally pointed up to another stack of crates. “Up there, I need to get an overview.”

That sounded like an imminently smart thing in Ivan’s ears. The great, fire-wreathed gorilla bull demon was still rampaging in another corner of the hall, and with all the smoke and scattered pockets of combat, the whole situation was a mess.

As swiftly as they could, the two men sneaked through the warehouse and towards the crates. Smelly climbed up the corrugated steel of the crate as if it had handles, Ivan needed a little longer. But he managed, and given the general chaos around them, he was reasonably sure no one had seen him.

From above the stacked crates, they could hardly overlook the massive, burning shape of the big demon that pummeled the organ traders to pulp at the far end of the hall. All around, there were smaller fights visible between the crates and in the adjoining corridors, without any clear frontlines visible.

“Alright,” Smelly finally said, turning around to face Ivan. “This is a mess. I think we need - “

But then he broke off, his eyes narrow with what Ivan interpreted as apprehensive caution. He followed Smelly’s look and found one of the organ traders’ mercenaries, a heavy-set man in solid combat leathers, shouldering what pretty much looked like a rocket launcher on his shoulder.

“Artillery?” Ivan completed the sentence.

Both men watched as the mercenary climbed up a staircase that led up to the warehouse’s second level. As soon as he was up behind the handrail, he knelt down, carefully taking aim for the big demon.

“It might work...” Smelly remarked, mostly to himself, though he sounded far from convinced. “Down!”

The mercenary fired and the missile wound its way through the warehouse, oddly slow and small in the large space. It headed right for the demon, looking like a perfect hit, but apparently, the demon didn’t have the grace to act surprised. With an unnerving display of dexterity for any creature of his size, it jumped around on its hind legs in the very last moment, swatting the missile to the side as if it were nothing more than a big fly. It trundled off to the demon’s right, hit the warehouse wall and exploded in a bright fireball.

The explosion reverberated through the air, and it took both Ivan and Smelly a moment before their ears stopped ringing.

“Oh no,” was the first thing Ivan heard Smelly say. “Not THAT wall...”

“Not that wall? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Instead of an answer, Smelly only pointed at the gaping dark hole that the explosion had created. Apparently, the wall had only been a foot thick, with another cavern right behind it. He couldn’t see clearly through the smoke, but Ivan had the distinct feeling there were shapes moving in the darkness.

Even the gorilla bull demon seemed irritated, staring at the darkness, his head lowered belligerently, his nostrils flaring.

Then suddenly, another huge shape burst into the warehouse, barely smaller than the demon. For a heartbeat, Ivan thought he had hit his head and started to see images, but the shape remained as it was – a giant tunnel rat the size of a large car. Around its feet, more tunnel rats swarmed out of the hole in the wall, attacking both demonists and organ traders alike in a mad frenzy.

“There was a nest behind that wall...” Smelly volunteered in lack of anything better to say.

“A tunnel rat queen?!” it burst out of Ivan. “A fucking tunnel rat QUEEN?! WHAT THE HELL? First magic, now monsters, is there no end to this -”

Right then, the tunnel rat queen screamed, her blood curdling screech cutting off anything Ivan could have said.

They definitely needed a plan now.



 
 
 
talomor on December 30th, 2012 11:24 am (UTC)
Well, one thing's for sure: The director, producers and writers in charge of the Phoenix Knight-movies are gonna love this one...
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on December 31st, 2012 06:36 am (UTC)
Yup, the PR department is gonna love this. Not so sure about the writers, though, they might fear they are no longer needed. Though, on the other hand, I am sure they will find enough details where reality is lacking in their eyes that will have to be improved upon. ^^

Thanks for commenting!
BerthaBlueberthablue on December 30th, 2012 11:52 am (UTC)
Man, I'm going to agree and say that this would be a fucking awesome movie! So much excitement and action and things blowing up! Ivan is getting so much better at using his skills with every episode.

I am amazed that Ivan can actually be so confident and able to trust his instincts after what sounds like a lif of pretty much getting shat upon and treated like he was inferior. Yay for him! Looking forward to watching them evade the Tunnel Rat Queen :D
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on December 31st, 2012 06:42 am (UTC)
Thanks, dear!

And, well, trusting his instincts is the first method that works, so he's really, really forcing himself to do exactly that. And as the results remain steadily amazing, it's getting easier each time.

Big finale is just around the corner, now, so expect some more surprising improvements on Ivan's side, which will be sorely needed.
idolme922idolme922 on December 31st, 2012 04:21 am (UTC)
Wow! You had my heart pounding! Great action and way to move the story along. I love how much Ivan continues to learn about his untapped skills in the most inlikely places. Can't wait for more! A. :)
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on December 31st, 2012 06:47 am (UTC)
Hehe, thank you, dear! As I already said, the big final battle will demand Ivan to grow a even a little more. Very glad you liked it!
debbiemethosdeb on December 31st, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC)
loved it ,what an action packed chapter,what more trouble can those two get into next,seems to foloow them.
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on January 1st, 2013 08:33 am (UTC)
Well, being a trouble magnet is one of the three job requirements for a Phoenix Knight, so yup, all working as usual. That's also the reason Smelly was so confused when nothing went wrong with Madrigal.

And I don't think they need much more trouble, at least not here on BoBo. It'll be interesting enough to get out of this one, after all.

After Bora Bora, though, all trouble of the Empire is just waiting to be magnetized... ^^

Thanks for commenting!