Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part Four
As the Aurora hurtled toward the surface of Kreludor, Zaraq said, face pale, "I'm so sorry – I should have looked at the ingredients, or cut the wicks longer, or perhaps used two engines for one bomb..."
Bea said through clenched teeth, "It doesn't matter now – though I ought to throw you and Cassius out the airlock and leave you for the shadows!"
Marzai was gripping the table, which was anchored to the floor, and murmuring to himself. Cassius said, trying to comfort him, "It'll be fine. Yaxal will be able to land us. He may have been kicked out of the Alien Aisha vending machine business, but he knows what he's doing when it comes to flying."
Marzai asked, "Kicked out?"
Bea said, "Cut loose, sent on a hike, given the boot – trust me, advisor, none of us ended up on the Aurora without it being the end of the line. My parents told me that if I ever darkened their door again, they'd set Werhonds on me. 'Course, I dumped a few buckets of Slorgs in the vegetable garden before I left and set the trees on fire, but that's all done."
Marzai's eyes were even wider than they had been before. Cassius would tell him later that Bea had several different versions of that story involving different authority figures and myriad acts of vengeance, and there was no way of telling which were true – if any of them were.
Trinian shouted, "Any sign of the shadows?"
Bea commented, "I'm pretty sure they're back there pointing and laughing."
The ship bucked and tossed – Old Jory merely looked toward the porthole morosely. If Yaxal got this wrong, they were all dead, and he didn't appear to be the least bit tense.
By the stars, what was wrong with that guy?
Yaxal called out, "Ten, nine, eight..."
He only got so far as six before a tremendous crashing noise and the ship bumped, skidded, and thrashed as its passengers tried desperately to avoid being flung across the room. Finally, it slowed and stopped. Trinian groaned, "My ship – oh, my ship – Andaman's going to have my head."
Yaxal walked in. The Alien Aisha's ears were drooping. "Good news – we're all alive."
If that was the best good news he could find, Cassius didn't want to hear what the bad news was.
Yaxal continued, "But I wasn't able to bring us any closer to Eoxan-zortha. We'll have a solid day of walking if we want to reach the outskirts."
Bea set her hands on her hips. "Across the wilderness of Kreludor. Overrun with Fuzzles, Space Fungus, crazy shadow monsters, and space pirates. Is that really the best option we have?"
Trinian sighed. "It's that or sit here until we run out of food. We need to get moving. We can only bring what we can carry, and you only get the food you pack yourself."
Cassius grabbed his favorite pan and a share of the food, and went back to his room. He threw on a jumpsuit for warmth underneath his typical overalls and flannel shirt, but left his black stocking cap intact. The air on Kreludor was breathable, if a little thin.
He knew it was silly, but he took all his CDs and slid the case into his backpack. Next went his spice container, and a few dog-eared adventure novels. He left his wrench and his screwdriver hanging from his belt – those were the only two of his tools that he felt any sort of sentimental attachment to. He packed a few more of his clothes, his toothbrush and his comb, and realized, looking around, that he didn't really have much else. All of the things that he really cared about fit neatly into his backpack, and it wasn't even too heavy.
He'd lived in this room for five years. But it still could have belonged to anyone.
He sighed, hefted his pack, and left.
Everyone had gathered outside, bearing heavy packs and flashlights. Bea, Trinian, and Jory were all in their full armor, and both the Ixi and the Wocky had at least three blasters apiece. Bea said, "Jory and I think it's about a certainty we'll run into trouble. If you ask me, some of their magic mumbo-jumbo let them know we had the advisor on board."
Marzai coughed slightly, and everyone turned to look at him. "I would not speak so lightly of magic. I know it has little power on the Space Station, but in the wilderlands and in Eoxan-zortha, it has always dominated technology. The magic here is not subdued by it as it is elsewhere. We may come across enemies in these wastes that no blaster in the worlds could harm."
Bea's snort made it quite clear what she thought of the warning, but the hairs on the back of Cassius's neck prickled. What had they gotten themselves into?
He looked into the darkness around them and tried to be the practical one, since no one else seemed willing to fill that spot. "Well, it's not going to get any brighter out here if we wait, so we might as well get moving."
The far side of Kreludor was a decidedly eerie landscape – the rock was grey and pitted or coated with thick moon dust, and littered with craters and ridges. The stars flamed bright and steady above, without a thick atmosphere to distort them, but there was no other light except the occasional red flare of a small volcano in the distance.
They walked in silence – Jory's limp prevented them from moving too quickly. Yaxal had a compass, and Trinian would occasionally tell them to skirt an obstacle – or how much better Commander Valka's crew had been than the imbeciles Trinian was forced to work with – but mostly Cassius just wished that he knew whether scuttling noises in black shadows were merely wild Petpets or enemies waiting to kill them.
And then, with a hiss, something oozed out of a crater in front of them. Bea shouted, "Space fungus!" and leveled her blaster at it, firing off six shots in quick succession. It retreated, making a high keening noise that made Cassius wince.
Trinian said quickly, "Let's get away from here before the racket draws something else!"
Cassius looked back – the advisor had been trailing near the rear. He was keeping up, though.
And the patches of blackness behind him were rapidly gaining. He shouted, "Shadows! Shadows behind us!"
Bea wheeled and fired off her blaster again. "Mira pox 'em – haven't they given us enough trouble for one day? Come on, Jory!"
Cassius got behind them – only to see shadows coming from the other direction as well. They were surrounded! That fungus had called every beast in the area right to them!
Zaraq reached into his bag and pulled out a few short sticks. Cassius asked in horror, "Zaraq, are those fireworks?"
Zaraq grinned. Cassius continued, "How well did explosives work the last time?"
Zaraq put a finger to his lips – the others weren't paying attention. They were busy shooting, and Yaxal had taken Zaraq's handmade blaster. The Grundo whispered, "Think of it as a distress flare! We might be able to alert someone who won't want us dead! You've got a lighter, don't you! Light a few!"
Well, they were light at least, which could scare off the shadow creatures. Cassius lit three, hurling each one as far as he could into the attacking shadows.
Trinian asked, "What are you –"
And the first of them began to explode, making a sound like rolling thunder as light filled the sky.
Trinian screamed, clearly trying to make himself heard over the din, "Zaraq, if I ever even see you with matches again, I'm going to feed you to an Evil Fuzzle! Hear me?"
Zaraq grinned even more widely. "No, sir!"
Cassius pulled his wrench and his screwdriver out of his belt – if shadows could be whacked over the head, he was going to try it. They'd drawn back after the explosions, but it wouldn't be long before they swarmed again. Since there were no more fireworks forthcoming, they didn't have long.
And then there was a sound in the chill air that he'd never heard before except in his imagination. Marzai lit up. "A horn! A knight's horn! Your fireworks alerted someone – help is coming!"
Through the darkness, there was a glint of gold, and a blue Shoyru in a strangely-shaped gold helmet and gold armor landed in the middle of them. He had a small horn in one hand, and a long sword in the other.
Cassius asked quickly, "Do you have any other weapons? Zaraq and I are unarmed and my wrench won't do me a whole lot of good!"
The Shoyru stuck his horn into his belt and handed a long knife to each of them, causing Cassius to feel far more secure. "Sir Kyrival of Eoxan-zortha at your – Marzai! Marzai! Did you find us help?"
Marzai sighed. "Perhaps. Commander Janus could give me no assurances. Is there any word of Xianna?"
Kyrival shook his head. "Not a whisper, not a wisp. She may as well have disappeared off the moon. But we can talk later – what's going on?"
Marzai said, "These six allowed me passage back home on their ship – it's crashed to the east. The shadows attacked us and brought us down, and now they're about to attack us again, and we're vastly outnumbered."
Kyrival grinned – he was tall for a Shoyru, and his smile was fierce. "I'm glad you saved some for me, then – I need to fight something I can deal with."
And that was when the shadows swarmed again.
Within seconds, Cassius's new knife was torn out of his hands by a tendril of living shadow. He reached for his wrench instinctively. It was as old and battered as the Aurora – he'd found it in the back of the tool closet when he first boarded ship, covered by a plastic bucket. But he'd never encountered anything it couldn't budge, and it felt like it was far too sturdy to break. He'd never been able to identify what sort of metal it was – it was a pale silvery color, but heavy and solid as iron and smooth as steel. When the shadow came at him with his own knife – which seemed rather unfair – he brought it down right on the limb it used.
It drew back with a screeching noise that made Cassius's hair stand on edge – he gritted his teeth. Then he asked, holding the wrench high, "Want some more of that? You guys don't like this wrench, do you?"
Bea asked over the scream of blasterfire, "Cassius, you blockhead, are you fighting with your wrench?"
He called back, "It's working!" He whacked another, and scooped up his knife from where it had fallen – with a weapon in each hand, he looked out at the throng of shadows. There were still far too many of them... Bea seemed to be holding her own at least. As he watched her out of the corner of his eye, she was graceful and absolutely deadly – far more like a warrior princess than a mercenary.
Kyrival shouted, "We have to try and get through them! We'll never defeat them all! Go north – toward the city!" He leaped down from a boulder, crying, "For the Moonstone!"
Yaxal shouted, "Help! Help! Help!"
Cassius and Bea both ran for him – Bea shot at the shadows that had grabbed him, and Cassius beat the next wave off as she helped him up. Trinian shouted, "Too many! Too many of them!"
Zaraq reached into his pack – he'd come to help as well. "I've got one last firework. Want to try it? It's bigger than I thought you'd like, but –" He held up a paper-covered roll the size of his head.
Jory cried, "Just do it, boy!" And he leapt into another group of shadows with a shout. "Steelclaw!"
Bea shouted, "Well, hurry up, will you?"
Cassius noticed Marzai fall – he threw Zaraq the lighter and went to aid him, pulling him to his feet.
And then a pillar of flame burst into the sky in front of them.
To be continued...