One hundred sixty-five

One hundred sixty-five

Rhea stepped forward, and all her paleness turned to fire. Her pale robes spread out and into the air, and turned shades of red. Her hands were blinding white. The immense dark Deep Chaos beast began to distort, waver and flicker like a flame, and light started to come from its interior.

Rhea matched the distorting shape with her arms flinging the tapered pennons of her clothing, darkening to red as the thing began to brighten, growing as it shrank, until there were two twin blazes at each end of the bowl.

Maybe fifty of the exiles rose into the air, hands raised above their heads towards the chaos darkness. They formed an arc like a crescent moon, with the fiery shape of Rhea at the center, and every raised hands caught fire.

The Chaos monster writhed as if in agony, then burst apart into an actual bonfire over a heap of burning matter. A hundred fires in the obscure mass behind it also erupted, erect shapes turning into low heaps.

Rhea sank slowly to the lip of the bowl, turning back to her original pale green and blue. But on either side, two shapes strode forward, growing with each step, in shaggy tunics and breeches, heavily bearded, and carrying longbows three stories high.

They stopped before the pyre. Each of them took out a heavy-shafted arrow and dipped its head indo the flames. Then, heads afire, they let them fly kilometers until they hit another misshapen mass of monsters headed their way.

Smoke began to rise in the distance, and the giants kept firing until  the smoke became fire.

“We’ve discovered,” Rhea said to Jeanette, as cool as if they’d been just distracted for a moment, “that the best weapon against Chaos is its own instability.”

“Do you think someone from the Main Fleet will come to your aid?” Jeanette asked.

Rhea smiled. “Since we are in the same universe, there is such a thing as the speed of light. It will take months for them to become aware of our plight, I’m afraid. And there are no portals on board the main fleet. So we have to do the best we can.”

“Um--what were you before the Exile? Do you remember?” Jeanette asked, wondering more than ever just who this person was.

“Oh, I was the wicked queen! It was so much fun being evil and scary! Not morally compromised evil--it wasn’t that sort of show. But I was very good at it--so much so that I got a spinoff of me as a young girl. I don’t remember any of that, so that there’s a good chance that there’s another me running around. But I’m afraid we have to stop, Jeanette.”

This creature was different. Just about every monster of Deep Chaos she had come across was lumpy and asymmetrical, a twisted mass of something, even if it had been fast and tough. This one, while at least as huge as the others attacking, seemed like a walking skeleton, if with additional bones stuck in arbitrary and meaningless places. The skull, set a third of the way down into the ribcage, was grotesquely distorted. The flame-headed arrows from the giants seemed to have no effect.

Rhea got taller, and reached up and behind her--like, Jeanette saw, the reach she herself used when breaking the sixth wall to get a weapon, but more straight up. What she came down with was a handful of glittering dust. She let it fall in front of her--and some of the bones of the monster crumbled. The monster collapsed a bit, but reassembled itself in a more awkward but still mobile configuration. It had reached the lip of the bowl.

She reached and dropped again--put instead of another collapse, the thing extended itself higher and narrower, and from the ground rushed up a spout of dirty water, clothing the bones and thickening into a whirling fluid mass.

At that point all hell broke loose, with the organized formation of the exiles rushing the new monster with a variety of weapons, from hammers and axes to beams of light and gouts of flame. The thing was hit by the impacts, but it was now very close to Jennifer and her friends.

“She got suckered!” Senhor Capoeira Capybara shouted over the clamor. “By the time she comes up with a defense we’ll be dead!” He pulled his wallet off his shoulder, opened it, and rummaged around in it until he found a metal box. “This is something we know works!”

He slipped off his regular gloves and put on a pair of Nemesis Gloves. He threw another pair to O Tse. “I’ll bet you that thing is two entities, so it may take both of us!”

The capybara and the weasel-bear were lifting off on the platform, with O Tse dodging the beams and projectiles and the sweeping limbs of the creature. His pike fell to the ground as he pulled this way and that.

The monster may have sensed the energies the platform was carrying, because it twisted away, deforming its shape. For a minute it looked like it was going to evade contact--then a large bone in its skeleton dissolved into dust.

The thing lurched directly at the platform, and Senhor Capoeira raised both fists to plunge into the filthy water. Lightning branched all through the fluid tower. Then O Tse let go of the railing of the platform, extended himself as far as he could  and grabbed a bone.

The tower of bone and liquid exploded in a ragged fireball of energy as Jennifer screamed “NO1 NO!”

As the wave of fire and water fell down towards their heads, Lord Elphinstone shielded a sobbing Jeanette, picked up the Capybara’s wallet, and dove through the nearest Decision Tree portal.

The wailing cry of a little girl’s horror and despair disappeared out of the universe.


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