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Posted on December 31, 2017 at 11:50:05 PM by Merlin
Umbarra II, Present Day
It was snowing hard and the fresh fall crunched underfoot. Guy trudged on. The dark flurry made it almost impossible to see. He threw up his arm against the wind, pressing his vambrace against his forehead to defend his eyes from the onslaught of snowflakes. It was impossible not to breathe them in; they tasted bitter, like liquorice doused in whiskey. When they hit the back of his throat it made him gag. With gloved hands Guy fumbled clumsily at his throat, lifting his scarf up to cover his frozen lips.The wool caught his breath and held it fast, warming his mouth and chin with a damp heat which might otherwise have been unwelcome. The missing portions of his fingers itched in the empty spaces inside his gloves, and nagged at his mind with the ghost of a half-remembered pain. He paused, adjusted his course and pressed on, scowling into the wind.
The line of trees marched steadily into view; a black wall on the approaching horizon. One of the planet’s three dull moons managed to force its way through the snowfall and the gloom long enough to lend a cold glow to the upper branches. They shimmered purple for a heartbeat and then returned to an indistinct mass of darkness. His radio crackled.
“You still with us, kid?” a familiar voice asked, barely audible over the wind. Guy fumbled for the black box clipped to the leather straps transecting his torso. Holding it in the palm of his hand he pressed down on the largest button with his one good index finger.
“I hear you, Scout,” he replied. “We ‘bout ready?”
“Hold onto yer hats ladies and gentlemen,” Scout replied. He cut off, his voice replaced by static. Guy sighed, clipped the box back into place, and started to jog the rest of the way to the wood.
Guy found the ruins of an old tree stump. It had started to crumble away as the damp and rot had set in, but there was surface enough for it to suffice as a makeshift seat. He dusted away the layer of black snow which had already accumulated and perched himself on the edge, his long legs stretched out in front of him. His hood was heavy with damp and clung uncomfortably to his cheeks, but the snow had started to ease a little. Thank Christ for small mercies. He drew his rosary from his pocket with his right hand and ran the beads through his fingers, counting them off. “Actiones nostras, quaesumus Domine, aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere: ut cuncta nosta oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat et per ta coepta finiatur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.”Go before us, O Lord, we beseech Thee, in all our doings with Thy gracious inspiration, and further us with Thy continual help, that every prayer and work of ours may begin from Thee, and by Thee be duly ended. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Oi, Choirboy,” Scout’s voice crackled from the box at his chest. “You done prayin’ yet?” Guy smiled, pressing down the button on his radio again. He pushed his beads back into his pocket.
“No prayin’ here, boss” he replied, “this snowy forest is a veritable den of iniquity.”
“What have I told you about your posh-boy talk on my missions?” the radio laughed, “stop being a smart arse and get ready to run, kid.” Guy stood up, dusted the snow from his trousers, and wandered back to the edge of the forest. He stopped at the foot of a tall tree, its trunk a dark charcoal grey, its leaves a deep purple. Folding his arms across his chest Guy leaned against the bark, crossed one leg over the other and waited, eyes on the horizon.
The howling started as it always did. It was too low to hear, but started to reverberate around inside his chest. The sensation rose through his body, until his throat felt full of the buzzing of bees and a shiver ran down his spine. The first audible sound cut through the quiet of the night, like whale song corrupted by the sound of nails being dragged down a chalkboard. Guy cupped his hands over his ears as his eardrums added their protests to his discomfort. The Obsagor appeared like smoke, curling their way through the darkness towards the nearest settlement. As they travelled, they grew in size, in thickness, coiling together like tornados. The night grew heavier, but never so black as the Howling Dark. Guy reached for his radio.
“They’re coming for you, Scout,” he said, lifting it to his lips, “begin countdown.”
As the first of the Obsagor reached the village, a small light spluttered into life in the distance. Guy pushed himself away from the tree with his foot, watching closely. A second light appeared, followed by a third, a fourth, a fifth, until the whole village seemed to glow. The howling changed, shrill with outrage it seemed to crackle and hiss as the first Obsagor was devoured by the light. The others changed direction, making for the temple at the foot of the hill. As if sensing the thread, the temple turned to gold, illuminated by the sacred flame within, coaxed to monstrous size by the priests within. Bellowing furiously, the Obsagor adjusted their course again. They turned back on themselves and streamed towards the darkness of the forest, straight towards the spot where Guy was standing. He turned on his heel and ran.
Guy leapt over a fallen log, slipping a little in the snow. They were gaining on him. The howling grew louder, echoing in his ears as his boots struck the ground. He pushed on, his breathing echoing in his ears as he lengthened his strides, following the trail through the trees. The Obsagor were entirely untroubled by the uneven forest floor and they didn’t need to adjust their course to avoid the tree trunks as Guy did. It was a relief when he finally set eyes on the cliff-edge at the edge of the woodland. His legs were starting to burn, his feet felt heavy, his cheeks warm. Almost there. His first goal in sight, Guy found a final reserve of energy and sprinted straight towards the edge. The sole of his boot crunched against rock, sending chunks of stone cascading down into the canyon below. Taking a deep breath, Guy bent his knees and propelled himself out into nothingness.
He dropped like a stone.
The cold air slapped against his cheeks and the wind screamed horror stories, warning him of the drop and what waited for him at the end of it. Guy’s heart pounded violently against his ribs, as if determined to remind him that he was alive just before everything ended.
Talons closed around his torso, pinning his arms to his side, and plucked him from his descent. His thunderbird’s calling drowned out even the howling of the Obsagor. Ambrose threw him back into the air, up into the dark sky, and twisted back on himself, his long tail feathers trailing after him. Guy landed on Ambrose’s back with a soft thump. He curled his fingers into a layer of black feathers as he leaned forwards against the thunderbird’s neck. With the Obsagor back on their trail, they continued on into the night.
They approached the canyon from the south. It stretched out beneath them, the obsidian dark and shining even in the blackness. Ambrose started his descent, each flap of his great wings bringing them closer to the ground. Guy opened his bag again and pulled out his lantern. Slipping the handle over his wrist he climbed off Ambrose’s back, wrapping his arms around the bird’s neck Guy dropped back into his friend’s awaiting talons. They were passing over a small lake and the tips of the thunderbird’s toes sprayed water over Guy’s face. Land approached, getting closer and closer. At the last moment, he flicked the lantern into life, hooked it over one of Ambrose’s claws and jumped free onto the polished stone beneath them. The Obsagor bellowed, the thunderbird screeched, and Guy started running again.
“I’m about a mile off,” he panted into his radio. There was no reply, just static. Guy repeated himself, pressing and releasing the button with greater purpose. Still nothing. Damn planet. He reached out for his familiar instead, feeling his way along their psychic connection until something clicked into place. Comms are down, Alt, he thought, trying not to get too distracted from the task of putting one foot firmly in front of the other.
‘I’ve got Scout,’ Altair reassured him, ‘we saw Ambrose too, we’re on your tail.’ A loud howl from behind cut through the connection, more Obsagor had joined the hunt, driven towards the one warm body unprotected by the light.
Guy felt like his side was about to burst.
Something silver glinted in the undergrowth ahead, cold and mechanical. “That had better be you, Calli,” he told the radio.
“I gotcha, boss” a woman’s voice replied, “three...two…”
Guy dived between the two pylons. As soon as his feet had passed through the gap a high-pitched buzzing sound echoed through the quarry, and a field of pink light appeared between the posts. The first Obsagor hit it square on and it’s howl cut-out mid scream. The others wheeled away, repelled by the crackling glow.
“Take that, fugly!” Barnabus cheered, leaping out of a nearby push. He punched the air in triumph. “Try and take me on wouldya?”
Guy fixed him with a look.
“Sorry, man,” Barnabus shrugged, grinning sheepishly. He turned back to the Obsagor. “Try and take on my mate, Guy wouldya?”
“Fascinating…” Kyan enthused, appearing from the thicket. He tapped away on the flat screen in his hands. “You have got to see this, Calli. These readings are sexy…”
Calli, tall blonde and bespectacled peered over his shoulder. “Oh Rhaegar!” she breathed, “they’re mutating!”
Guy let them talk and sat down on the floor. He ignored the dampness of the snow and focused on the important task of getting oxygen to his lungs. The science team went to work, apparently oblivious to his presence now his job was done. Would a thank you have killed them?
A light passed over his head. Guy looked up just in time to see Altair fly past. The lynx landed gracefully on the ground a few metres away, and Scout’s sledge bumped in behind him. He was looking a little green around the edges.
“I hate flying!” Scout cursed, clambering clumsily over the rail, eager to put his feet on something solid, and stationary. Guy grinned at him.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he teased, “sitting on your arse was difficult, was it?”
“Can it, choir boy,” Scout replied, “or I’ll…”
A siren sounded suddenly, cutting him off.
They turned to the science team in unison.
“What the hell is that racket about?” Scout demanded, “cut it out.” Kyan scurried over, his eyebrows knitted together in obvious concern.
“The field’s malfunctioning,” he told them, tapping away at his screen again, “eighty percent integrity and falling.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Guy said, looking over Kyan’s head at Calli and Barnabus. The pair were already all over the transmitters, playing with wires and pressing buttons.
“It’s messing with the integrity of the inner mechanisms!” Barnabus announced, pulling open another compartment to reveal more coloured wires.
“Sixty percent integrity…” Kyan called, hurrying into the middle of the path. The Obsagor in the trap was writhing violently, working itself into a frantic, pulsating mass. Scout and Guy exchanged looks.
“It’s overriding me…” Calli said shaking her head incredulously, “No, no, no…”
“Lanterns, now!” Scount barked at Guy. He obeyed, hurrying towards the sledge. He grabbed the two pumpkin lanterns from the footwell and jogged back. He handed one to Scout and the other to Barnabus.
“Twenty-nine percent…” Kyan announced, biting his lip. “This is incredible…”
“Not the word I’d have chosen, Ky,” Guy put in. Calli was still faffing around with the wires on the main console. Her frown told him everything he needed to know. “Get that lantern lit, Barney.”
The pumpkin began to glow. Then the humming cut out, and the barrier shorted, sending out a shower of sparks. The Obsagor’s howl filled the air and it careered forwards, straight towards Kyan. The force of its escape snuffed out the lanterns.
Guy jumped forwards and pushed Kyan out of the road. He grunted when he hit the ground, the air knocked out of him.
“GET THOSE DAMN LANTERNS BACK ON, NOW!” Scout bellowed.
It was the last sound Guy heard. The Obsagor passed straight through his chest, sending an icy chill through his body. His heart had stopped.
Guy fell backwards into the snow, his pale eyes, open and glassy, staring lifelessly at the night’s sky.
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