The rain started coming down in torrents. The wind whipped it around no that it came through the narrow embrasures.
There were bigger ports at the gate, and through them, they could see the clouds roiling over the advancing creature. The tendrils extending from the clouds were hundreds of meters long and they weren’t all the same: some were thiner and some were flatter, darker and lighter. There was an occasional lightning bolt, and it was always near the creature.
The monster neared, and the winds intensified. Jeanette thought she could see things inside the clouds--big, pale, luminous things, that were where the tendrils descended from.
“From the left and the right!” O Tse shouted over the wind.
Much faster than weather would make possible, more clumps of tendrils were moving, converging on them. There was no doubt that some agency was involved, and Jeanette wondered if the tendrils were doing the pushing.
Then the lightning strikes began. Huge strikes, right before them, which lit up the storm and left blue afterimages on Jeanette’s eyes. They were all right around the creature, and many hit it. The thing lifted a distorted limb and fired a lightning bolt back. It illuminated the clouds for miles around.
They could see them then: huge glowing jellyfish-things with complexes of lights in their pale bodies. They were moving now, in front of the monster’s path, striking in from of them and opening up the earth in front of it.
“Fire on the thing!” Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone bellowed. “Let them know we have teeth!”
Jeanette and Senhor Capoeira Capybara drew their weapons from behind the sixth wall, their biggest energy projectors, and fired through the ports. They both hit dead on, and the monster staggered. O Tse raised his feather-bladed pike higher up on the battlements, and searing beams leapt from its tip. They all fired again, hitting its other side, and the thing staggered sideways, They knew they were doing no lasting damage, but the message seemed to be getting across: the storm-jellyfish stepped up their attacks.
The monster, when hit, still succeeded in throwing back the lightning, but couldn’t do it on its own--plus, it had nearly no aim at all. And it couldn’t--or wouldn’t--throw anything back at them or the fortress.
By now the monster had reached the base of the headlands, and they could make out its familiar gruesome features. There were tendrils everywhere, but spread out and not concentrated.
“This isn’t working,” the tiger growled. He backed away from the door and went down into the fortress keep. The next thing she knew, the platform they had taken from Grammar rose up into the storm. Lord Elphinstone was on board, one paw on the railing the other holding his immense longsword.
Jeanette couldn’t bring herself to protest or to call him an idiot, because all her experience told her that was simply not the case. She watched in alarm at him, even as she continued firing.
The Earl of Maurya’s mirror armor blazed from the lightning bolds, and the platform rolled and pitched in the storm as he kept expertly clear of the beams from the fortress. He gained altitude as he approached the monster, getting nearly up to the bottom of the clouds. Then he dived down at a steep angle, rolling nearly sideways as he came right on the thing. As he zoomed past, he made a tremendous backhand slash: the things hand dangled by a thick rope of flesh. A barrage of thunderbolts shook the ground as the jellyfish followed up.
“My best guess is that, whatever these things are, they’ve had their own run-ins with Deep Chaos,” the capybara shouted at Jeanette.
Lord Elphinstone attacked again though less successfully, biting into the things shapeless side. He was rewarded with an immense gush of black fluid, far greater than the hand had given him, and it dispersed into droplets in the rain.
He pulled back at the bottom of his arc and paused. He saw the nearest dangling bunch of tendrils and headed right for it. This time Jeanette really did cry out, as he hovered there, surrounded by them, waiting.
Evidently his motion got correctly interpreted: bright arcs of electric power, then sheets, came down onto him. One wave, two, three--then perhaps even the storm-jellyfish became alarmed and paused.
The platform swung out from among the tendrils. Jagged moving arcs jumped from his mirror armor, and a million sparks rose from its glowing surface to the drops of rain. His longsword burned Jeanette’s eyes like a sliver of the sun as he rose up for a third pass.
He came down like fire from heaven at the dark creature, which turned its head at him. With a crack of thunder as great as had been heard that day, Lord Elphinstone sliced the monsters head from its body. The monster collapsed.
Almost immediately, though, the mass flowed out and resorbed the lesser mass of the head, and began to develop a form. And its remaining limbs started to drag the rest of it towards the fortress.
“I was afraid of that,” Senhor Capoeira said under his breath--and under the wind. At least the Storm-Jellyfish knew enough not to disperse. But the anticlimax would still probably kill him and those he cared for.
Then Jeanette shouted, “Can you still call up the warp gun? And can we make a power coupling?”
“Bless you, my lovely child! Yes and yes!” He answered.
Thanks to the dimensional hole in his wallet, the capybara was able to take the central elements of the bugs’ train-recharger coupling, even though, once out, it was devilishly heavy, and slippery in the rain. Jeanette fixed the last part by a momentary use of the force-shield. He made the by-now-familiar modifications to his gun from beyond the sixth wall. The shield went up, and Senhor Capoeira had to stand right next to O Tse since there was no cable. The weasel-bear held his pike straight up.
“BRING OUR FRIENDS OVER HERE!” He shouted to Silvertyger across the distance. In response, Lord Elphinstone dipped the platform and after a circle of the jellyfish’s tendrils, made for the fortress. For a second the great creature stayed still--but then followed him. And behind it came the others.
Jeanette found herself engulfed like a massive bead curtain of descending tendrils, translucent and studded with electric gleams.What truly surprised her was the smell: it was fresh and sweet, Like roses and a little lilac, and maybe mowed grass. She steeled herself as the electricity came down. She had not stopped firing, of course: she could walk and chew gum at the same time.
The flowers got replaced by a sharp ozone smell--and her hair crackled and fingers tickled--hard--and she wasn’t part of the main group. The tip of O Tse’s pike burned as brightly as the tiger’s longsword had.
“95--100!” The capybara shouted, and fired. There was a bomb-like thunderclap, and when Jeanette opened her eyes, the monster was gone--as was about twenty feet of soil and rock. Off into interplanetary space.
The rain died down quickly but naturally. The sun came out and the thunderheads lost their angry darkness--and the tendrils hoisted back into the clouds. The clouds drifted away on the brisk wind.
“I suppose they don’t have anything like mouths,” O Tse mused. “Or anything we’d recognize as language.”
“I’m wondering if this planet was a monster movie, with giant space-jellyfish coming down and destroying humanity--and then drifting around in the clouds for thousands of years,” said Jeanette.
“Me, I’m wondering if they might be toons,” said Senhor Capoeira.
The flying platform descended with Lord Elphinstone half-slumped at the rail. Jennifer ran to him, since this was practically the first time she’d seen him wounded in any way.
“I--will be fine. I’m very thirsty,” he grumbled weakly.
“Nonsense. I’ll heal you in a minute. But first, lie down,” Jeanette said.
“This will, of course, not end this thing,” continued Silvertyger. “It will be back. And I suppose we’ll have to leave this place now, to avoid endangering our friends.”
“Well, probably, yes,” said the capybara. “But I know what I’m going to do before that.”
“What?” asked Jeanette.
“I’m going to have a look at that space station.”