Gunmetal Black 3
Chapter 7 - Pyromance
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

On a green, isolated planet, he watched the two stars fall from his vantage point in the ruined temple. His green eyes narrowing behind them.

Visitors, he thought. As the centuries had ground on they had grown fewer and fewer. Either his jailers were unable to find suitable candidates, or the rest of the universe had truly forgot him and his order.

Jaevin found it hard to determine which of the two was worse. What he had done, he had done to ensure the growth and survival of the universe, to make sure there was a future, despite the other races' willingness to happily destroy themselves and take the galaxy with them.

They never understood, he thought. How pitifully limited of them. And now they seek to erase me from this world. He held his staff in his hands, pondering his options.

Oh well, he thought. At the very least the company's welcome. For while, in any event. A welcome diversion from eternal exile.

He raised the staff above his head. Complicated circuitry within tapped into powers long since denied him. Below him, the earth shook and turned. Finally, machinery shuddered to life, forming itself into a roughly humanoid shape. Then another and another.

Hmm, he thought. The pickings were slim since I had them almost destroy each other a few years ago. But a few machine golems should be all I need to dispose of them.

The golems shambled forward and Jaevin pointed them towards the two fallen stars. The ones that actually had heads and eyes followed his directives a bit easier, the rest slowly got the idea. Jaevin leaned on his staff as he watched them march through the lush greenery.

Centuries, he thought. Centuries spent alone, imprisoned for daring to take an active role in the affairs of the people we served. And now, every few years they send someone down to kill me for it.

Was it so long ago I was revered among them? Where did the time go?

Where did my life go?


Kienan ran through the streets of Axanar. Late afternoon was turning into a steadily darkening twilight. As the fires had spread he had gotten somewhat turned around in his search for Toriares. He found himself at the end of a blind street, surrounded by walls of fire in what he guessed was some sort of open-air market.

Above him, a shadow moved, silhouetted in flame. The scaffolding above him clacked as whatever it was shifted with his movements. Gradually, he flipped down with near preternatural acrobatic skill, and stepped into view, walking out of the fire.

In a superficial way it resembled most of the Sekhmet he had seen before -- the same basic shape of the armored suits they all wore, the same silver mask framed by two black horns. But he seemed more aggressive somehow. Maybe it was the red color of his armor, or the way he seemed to be radiating a kind of heat-haze.

In the back of Kienan's mind however, it echoed another creature he had seen in the dark a long time ago.

"A human," the Sekhmet said. He raised his arm and pointed a glowing-orange claw at him. "Do you know how many people I've butchered in the last five minutes alone? Have you come to be burned alongside them?"

Kienan raised his pistols. "I don’t much care about them," he said. "But you’re in my way, Sekhmet. My advice to you, then, is to move. Now."

"I am no mere Sekhmet, meat," he sneered. "I am Toran."

"Good for you," Kienan said. He pivoted off his foot and leapt to the side, spraying Toran with gunfire. Toran raised his shield over his face, stepping forward a couple of steps. Kienan's bullets ricocheted off his armor like rain, leaving not even a mark on his armor.

Toran stepped back and gestured forward with his shield arm as if he were throwing a pinch. His heat-whip snaked out of the housing on his shield, hissing as it rocketed through the air. Kienan rolled out of the way, cartwheeled, and leapt high into the air, grabbing one of the scaffold's bars and flipping up as the blade at the end of the whip struck one of the columns, cracking it nearly clean through.

Toran retracted his heat-whip and threw it again, this time, snagging one of the poles and swinging up to the scaffolds himself, just below Kienan. Kienan aimed and fired at him as he got to his feet. Toran glared at him as the bullets sparked off him.

Kienan got the message, holstered his pistols and leapt down, thrusting his legs out to kick Toran with full-force. Toran grabbed his legs at the last minute and Kienan gasped as burning pain shot through him. Toran's claws, heated to thousands of the degrees melted through his body armor, burning his flesh and causing him to fall to the ground below.

Kienan fell on his knees, gasping with the pain of his burns. His hands jostled two jugs of water and one splashed on his hand. He tried to clear his mind, but the pain was incredible, like a noise that sliced through every coherent thought.

Toran landed behind him.

"On your feet, human," he said, throwing his heat-whip above Kienan's head. "I give you credit for actually trying to fight me, unlike the worthless meat in this village. Get on your feet and die with some small honor."

Kienan looked up at the jugs of water, remembering something he'd been taught some time ago.

Something about how water could protect you from fire.

He rose to his knees, sticking his hands into the jugs.

"Good," Toran said, throwing another taunting strike of his heat-whip at him. He walked forward. "I was right about you. You are a worthy foe."

Kienan said nothing. He was busy soaking his hands in the water and counting to fifty.

"Now you die, human!" Toran cried, raising his heat-whip above his head.

Kienan looked over his shoulder, flicked his hair from his eyes, saw his chance and turned and attacked, raining punch after punch on Toran, his hands hissing as the water evaporated against Toran's burning armor.

Toran stumbled, shocked that anyone would dare to strike him. This was against what he'd been taught. No human was supposed to be this willing to fight.

He snaked his heat-whip around Kienan's neck, attempting to strangle him. Kienan held the flail in his hands, keeping it mere inches from burning clean through his neck. None of his skills would help him now, only his determination to win.

To survive.

To live.

Kienan threw Toran against one of the poles holding up the scaffold, slipping out of Toran's improvised garrote. He threw a hard kick into the softer, flexible part of Toran's armor and sent him into the dirt.

Toran threw his heat-whip at Kienan but only succeeded in nearly shattering the pole behind him. Kienan stood on a scaffold above him, gesturing for Toran to join him.

"Come on," Kienan said. "You said something about killing me, didn't you? Come on and try!"

"With pleasure!" Toran spat, throwing his heat-whip in Kienan's direction. Kienan saw his chance and seized the burning weapon in his hands. The last of the water was gone and the whip was burning through his glove, but Kienan ignored the growing pain spreading through his hand, drew his knife and slashed through the whip.

"Your weapon won’t do you any good," Kienan said. "You want me dead you'll have to do it yourself, insect."

Toran was livid. He leapt to where Kienan was perched, hoping to topple him from his perch and crush him, but Kienan was too fast and leapt to another scaffold and repeated it as Toran tried to catch him. Finally they stood at the very top of the scaffold.

Kienan spared a glance at the view. From here he could see the whole town, and it was burning. Toran had done his job well. He couldn’t see any sign of anyone, certainly no sign of Toriares.

I have to find him, he thought. He looked down at Toran. And so, I can’t waste time playing with you anymore, firebug.

He dove off the top of the scaffold, gracefully spreading his arms wide and sailing over Toran. Toran has just enough time to recognize the now-cooled links of his heat-whip snaking around his neck before they were pulled taut around his throat and Kienan used his momentum to throw Toran over his shoulders.

Toran flew through the air, much less gracefully and snapped scaffold after scaffold as a child might shatter a toothpick bridge, finally landing on his head in the dirt. He rolled to his feet, his armor now beginning to glow brighter now.

"Well?" Kienan said, sheathing his knife and gesturing to Toran. "I'm still alive."

"Not ... for ... long," Toran sneered, clawing his way straight up the support poles. He finally stood with Kienan on the top of the scaffolding, getting his balance for his final strike. Kienan kept his eyes on Toran.

Slowly, he smiled.

One last play, he thought.

He brought the heat-whip from behind his back, flicking his wrist and sending the bladed tip into Toran's faceplate. The shock caused Toran to lose his balance and crash through another section of scaffolding. Under their combined weight the structure was starting to groan.

"You ... will ... die," Toran repeated, his voice generator obviously damaged.

Kienan drew his pistols and aimed downward.

"I can’t die yet," he said. "I haven’t been to Earth."

BLAM!

BLAM!

Two shots struck the supports Toran had damaged. The entire structure began to crack and creak and Kienan stared Toran in the eye, emerald eyes blazing with fury.

"Go to hell, Toran."

Kienan kicked out against the supports with his foot, and the scaffold groaned and collapsed. Kienan flipped backward, grabbing a loose pole, rebounding off a falling support pole and spiraling towards Toran, who was busy falling backwards, flailing out desperately as he fell back to earth.

Kienan slammed the pole against Toran's throat, crushing the last of the bio- mechanoid's machinery as they hit the ground. Kienan rolled away as, to his shock, Toran rose to his feet. His head lolled to one side, lacking any supports his neck. He reached for Kienan out of instinct, more than anything else.

Kienan bashed him over and over again with the pole. He didn’t expect to do any more damage than he already had, he was more interested in turning the machine around.

Finally, Toran's body spun around. Kienan drew his knife again and slashed through the armor plates on Toran's back, reaching in and tearing loose the tube with the actual Sekhmet inside.

Kienan threw it against the broken stump of the poll. The clear casing shattered and a foot-long green grub soaked in brown fluid undulated in the dirt. It made some quiet squealing noises, its lungs burning as it tried to breathe air alien to it.

Kienan watched it for as long as he could stand it and ended its squealing, it's flailing and its life by stomping it with his boot. It left a bright green smear in the dirt while behind Kienan the armor it had occupied slumped on to one knee, looking defeated.

Kienan closed his eyes and sighed, reaching into one of the pockets on his belt for his regen gel. The adrenaline from the fight had ebbed quicker than expected, and the pain had made itself known with a vengeance. Between this and the fight with Sinclaire he was at his limit.

And there were how many Sekhmet still around? Kienan mused, rubbing the gel into his burns and biting back the sting as the chemical began to work. Worse yet, bullets don’t do much good against them. I sure as hell can’t expect them to hold still while I stab them to death, can I?

I need heavier artillery.

Kienan adjusted one of the buttons on his vent, activating a transmitter and a homing beacon. Five minutes, ten at the outside, he thought.

He wrapped a length of bandages over the worst of his burns and started walking back the way he came, trying to retrace his steps, determined to find his friend before the fire consumed the town and everyone in it.


"So tell me again why we couldn’t have Conscience target this guy from orbit?" Mirage said. She was on point, walking through the well-worn path on the verdant world. Like a black tower, the fortress where they knew Jaevin awaited them loomed in the distance, the ever-present end-point.

"With the suppression fields the Haxan have over the planet, Conscience can't get through to target Jaevin," Vain said. "At the moment all we could do is bombard the planet from orbit and hope we get him. And we can’t risk destroying this Soulcaster they want so bad."

"Could always get Conscience to focus her attack," Mirage said. "Destroy the temple he's holed up in."

"Do you want to dig through piles of rubble only to find out we missed?" Vain said. "Even if we relied on Conscience's ability to hit him, we'd still have to pinpoint the target for her. And we'd be down here all the same, sister."

Mirage sighed. "I know," she said. "Remind me again why we have to do this?"

"We're doing it for Kienan," Vain said, smiling.

"Thanks," Mirage smiled. "I knew, but it felt good to hear again."

Vain leveled her fusion cannon ahead of her as they stepped into a courtyard. Before them, the ancient temple of the Ghram stood like an old tombstone. Her eyes searched the skies and Mirage did the same.

"I don’t like this," Mirage said. "Too wide open. Perfect place for an ambush."

Vain looked down at her feet. Her boot was resting on an oddly shaped skull. Not far away were the remains of its owner. She frowned.

Clearly we're not the first people to fall for their sales pitch , she thought.

"VAIN!" Mirage said, ducking to the side. Vain sidestepped just in time to miss a shambling machine falling on her from one of the statues that ringed the courtyard. It slammed to the ground; it's body shifting, almost reconstructing itself so it could stand upright.

Vain watched as it rose to its feet again and blew it to smithereens with the fusion cannon.

"No powers, huh?" Mirage sneered.

There was a low rumble, and suddenly, Machine Golem after Machine Golem began pouring from the ground, the statues, anywhere and everywhere. Vain fired at them over and over again, but for every one she obliterated with the fusion cannon, two more rose up to take it's place.

Mirage sprayed the Golems that came after her with steady fire from her submachine guns, shredding their antique circuitry with every salvo.

"Get OFF!" Vain said as one of the Golems bit the barrel of her fusion cannon. She shook him off, severing its head, watching in shock because it seemed to be absorbing into the weapon.

Vain slipped free of the fusion cannon's shoulder strap, set the clip to "overload" and flung it into the throng of Golems. She drew her backup guns and shielded her eyes as the cannon exploded, annihilating a third of the Golems.

"Don't let them touch you, Mirage," Vain said, blasting one of the Golems with her grenade launcher. "They’re some sort of mechanical plague."

"Remind you of anyone we know?" Mirage said, kicking one aside and cutting it to pieces with her machine guns. "Vain, we're fighting a defensive war here. We need to get past them and settle things with their master."

"Any ideas?" Vain asked, firing more grenades into the wave of Golems. So long as we keep up the attack at this level we're winning, Vain thought. But sooner or later we'll run out of heavy artillery and they'll regenerate.

"Now that you mention it, yes," Mirage said, shrugging off a pouch. She withdrew a disc-shaped device and gestured to Vain. "Take hold of the other end and pull."

Vain grabbed the end of the device, and ran away from Mirage, firing the last of her grenades into the swarm of Golems. Like a chain of paper dolls, the disc shaped device unfolded into many more disc shapes. Once it was extended Vain and Mirage dropped it and backpedaled, ducking and covering as the strings on either end began to retract and the Golems not regenerating themselves walked towards it.

There was a terrific explosion and the first wave of Golems, and five feet of earth and stone in any direction, vaporized in an instant. A cloud of dust enveloped everything, including Vain and Mirage, who were still ducking and covering, reloading their weapons for whatever could have survived the attack.

The dust settled. The shambling sounds of the Machine Golems were gone. The only sound was a steady rhythmic sound. Vain stood up, raising her remaining weapon in the direction of the sound.

The man standing on the steps looked much like his fellow Haxan, save for the fact he was a feline. He smiled, quietly applauding. His green eyes regarded them coldly, his face contorted in a sly smirk.

"Magnificent!" He said in an oddly cultured purr. "Most people don’t make it past the Golems, you know. They usually end up stripped clean and their machines consumed by them. That you made it through them is remarkable. I'm impressed. I really am."

"How nice for you," Mirage said. "We're here for the Soulcaster, Jaevin -- give it to us and we'll spare your life."

Jaevin looked at her as through Mirage had lost her mind. "You're sure of yourself, machine," he said. "But the Soulcaster is mine. For as long as I live. And my life is not for any machine to give or take."

"That's easy enough to fix," Vain said, raising her gun and firing. Jaevin moved impossibly fast and with his staff swatted the bullet out of the air and back at her. Vain barely had time to dodge it.

He can move faster than we can, Vain thought.

Jaevin grinned, glaring at Vain through his spectacles. "You didn’t honestly think I'd make it that easy for you, do you? I've never seen your sort before, but I think you machines need a lesson in who your master is."

Jaevin raised the Soulcaster. The bits and pieces of the Machine Golems began flying towards a spot before him and merging into a sphere.

"This is a Legion Spell," Jaevin said. "I've spent the last century perfecting it, in case I ever encountered someone strong enough to best my Machine Golems."

"He loves to talk, doesn’t he?" Mirage said.

"I think it comes from being alone a lot," Vain said, gesturing to her sister.

They broke and ran in opposite directions, spraying fire at Jaevin. Jaevin blocked the shots with his free hand, but it had an effect on the integrity of his Legion Spell. Bits and pieces distended from the sphere and fell to the ground.

Finally he was struck in the arm by a stray shot. The Legion forming before him began to fall apart. He concentrated and redoubled his will, forcing the Legion together.

The Legion began to expand and become more solid. Vain and Mirage exchanged uneasy looks. Most of their heavy artillery was already spent destroying the Machine Golems.

The Legion turned towards them, its outer skin beginning to undulate. Two crystalline eyes began to form. As they moved into the light of day, energy began to crackle within them. Vain flicked Mirage a look and nodded to her.

Twin columns of energy shot from the "eyes" of the Legion, fusing the ground to glass as Vain and Mirage leapt away. Mirage disappeared into thin air, activating her optic prism generator and fading from view.

Fighting the Legion itself would be a waste of time, style='font-family: Arial'>Vain thought. It's only an obstacle, Jaevin's the key.


Toriares dodged the blast at the last second, flattening himself against the wall and feeling it tremble. Uragenax's aim suffered dramatically with the loss of his primary optic sensors. Toriares had managed to stay ahead of him, but just barely.

Worse yet, the fire was closing in.

Don’t have too many tricks left, Toriares thought. Power's almost gone in the cane, shotgun's spent, and that leaves only a few jammers and the explosives I keep as a last resort.

Toriares took one out and hefted it in his hand. Not enough to do much damage against that armor, Toriares thought. Not unless I get up close and if I try that even with his lousy vision all he has to do is hold me and blow me up with him.

Urganeax was flailing about, looking for Toriares. The bio-mechanoid's hand passed just an inch from Toriares' face. Toriares held still and waited for him to turn around. He flicked his sweat-matted white hair out of his eyes and his hand closed around the explosive in his hand.

Toriares broke the fuse on the explosive and dropped it against the wall, breaking into a run while counting to five under his breath. Uragenax had just enough time to catch Toriares running away before the explosive went off, doing little damage to him, but bringing the wall down behind him. Uragenax roared in anger as the wall tumbled down, burying him under a ton of brick and mortar.

A shadow passed over him. Toriares raised his cane.

The flying one, he thought. My ticket out.

Volaran soared overhead, his wings humming as he surveyed the damage and added to it whenever possible. Toriares' magnet beam locked into the thruster on the back of Volaran's leg and he was snatched up in the wake of the Sekhmet's flight.

Toriares held on for dear life as he muscles screamed in protest at the sudden acceleration. He suddenly found himself far above the town, dragged behind Volaran like the tail of a kite.

His magnet beam was taking the last of the power from his cane, but Toriares used what he could to draw him closer to Volaran. The closer he got the more Volaran began to notice the drag pulling him to the left.

Volaran turned behind him and fired his arm cannons at Toriares. Toriares would have been fatally struck, were it not for the oddly convenient occurrence of his cane running out of power and dropping him out of the line of fire.

This only left Toriares with one problem -- what to do about falling to his death.

Before he knew what was happening someone snatched him out of the air, a red and blue blur in the fiery darkness.

They rolled together, landing on the thatched roof of one of the towns buildings as yet untouched by the fire.

"Thanks Kienan," Toriares said, rolling to his feet.

"Think nothing of it," Kienan said, dusting himself off. Like Toriares he was dirty, bleeding and sweating. "I was bound to save your ass at least once. But this is the last time you pick where we go on vacation."

"And to think, you always believed I knew the right play," Toriares said. "I take it you settled things with Sinclaire?"

"You could say that," Kienan said neutrally. "I've called in some help. I've had my fill of these super-bugs. Now we just have to buy some time until it gets here."

"Glad you thought of that," Toriares said. "Now if you've any ideas about what to do about that particular super-bug while we wait, let me know."

Volaran was turned to attack, guns blazing. Toriares dodged to the side, but Kienan leapt at Volaran, grabbing him around the neck and burring his knife in the Sekhmet's armor.

Volaran tried to shake him and they flew off out of sight, leaving Toriares behind, stunned.

That boy ... is crazy, he thought.


"This is not going well," Khitan said. Though Sekhmet rarely showed anger or fear, to Reficul his voice had traces of both. The homing beacons for Zularax and Toran had both gone dead, and Urgaenax's kept fading in and out.

"Perhaps next time you'd be better served sending me actual soldiers and not your expendable aberrations," Reficul said.

"Given the tactical programming you gave their battle armors, Reficul, they should be more than a match for any human," Khitan said. "How can these two men equal that?"

"Being a superior warrior is more than programming, Khitan," Reficul said. "Those men are superior combatants due to training and instinct. Fighting is something you Sekhmet do. Killing is what they are. Against that, a handful of aberrant Sekhmet in weapon-equipped battlesuits are overmatched."

"Instinct," Khitan sneered. "Instinct is an individualist fallacy."

"It is a law of nature Khitan," Reficul said. "You ignore it at your peril."

"Perhaps we should prepare the sixth armor," Khitan said. "With my leadership, I could rally our remaining forces and crush the resistance."

"The sixth armor is optimized for space combat, Khitan," Reficul said, bored. He turned to a nearby console, studying scanner reports from local space. "You'd be more of a hindrance than a help to them."

"The advanced weaponry on the sixth armor -- "

" -- is, as I said, optimized for use in space," Reficul said. "In a planetary atmosphere. Your weapons would operate at best at 40% efficiency."

Khitan turned back to the displays. "Do as instructed."

"You don’t command me, Khitan."

"IMMEDIATELY."

Reficul pondered it for a moment, keeping one eye on the scanner. A red blip showed up then faded out again. A coded signal was relayed from the sensor buoy to his terminal.

09-K1-M1.

Reficul smiled and turned to Khitan. "Upon further consideration, I've decided to do as you ask. I'll make the necessary preparations to transfer you now."


Sinclaire walked gingerly out of the remains of the bar, using one of his swords as a cane. He still felt torn up but grateful at least for being able to breathe without coughing up blood. Dazed he wondered how he'd failed to notice the fires and the growing darkness.

He surveyed the damage. The fires had consumed most everything in this area, almost as if things had passed him by. Burnt wood, smoke and crumbling buildings replaced the town he had just today found so idyllic.

His blue-green eyes narrowed on the burned remains of a sidewalk store. He'd passed by it this morning. And old man cheerfully sold paper pinwheels to children. He seemed to delight in making the children who patronized his stand happy. Even Sinclaire had felt a little of it.

That was then, this was now:

The cart was half-tilted, some of its wares still stood in holes carefully drilled. A half-burnt pinwheel tried to turn in the hot winds of the burning town but it seemed to have given up.

Sinclaire walked over to it, noticing a hand protruding from the wreckage, a child's.

He threw the sword aside, his own injuries forgotten. Maybe they’re still alive but trapped, he thought frantically, throwing rubble aside. Maybe ...

Oh God.

No.

Ariana lay among the pile of rubble, her face misshapen and crushed by the falling rubble. Her eyes, framed by her blood-soaked and dust-covered face, stared stupidly into the afterlife.

She must have tried to come back for me, he thought, cradling her in his arms. Trying to stop Kienan from killing me.

"You ... stupid ... kid," Sinclaire whispered, wishing more than anything that Ariana had his ability to heal rather than he. He closed his eyes and sighed, tears spilling from his eyes.

Sinclaire held Ariana's body for a long time, ignoring the fires, the explosions, and the silent shadow moving on its own behind him.


One of the Marionettes greatest gifts beyond their strength and speed was the ability of all three to have instant contact with one another. If they were human it could have been called telepathy, but it was more than that. With sufficient concentration, Vain could almost see through Mirage's eyes as she moved invisibly past the Legion and in range of Jaevin.

Waiting for the right moment.

The Legion grew another eye and fired all three in a sustained volley of fire. Vain ducked and weaved through them, all the whole concentrating. She rolled awkwardly onto her back, playing possum as the Legion's eyes locked on her.

Now, Mirage!

Mirage, still invisible, tossed a small capsule into Jaevin's face, which burst into a ball of brilliant light. Jaevin raised his eyes to shield himself and cried out.

Mirage materialized again and ran back to Vain, snatching her out of the way of the rapidly disintegrating Legion. The ball of what had once been Machine Golems crashed to the ground, turning black as ashes.

"You ... cursed ... machines," Jaevin said. "This was an amusing diversion, but I've had just about enough of your tricks."

"Funny," Mirage said, firing at Jaevin. "We were about to say the same about you."

"Hmph," Jaevin responded, creating a shield and stopping the bullets.

Vain reached behind her, drawing her two combat knives. "Doesn't have to be this way, Jaevin," she said. "Give us the Soulcaster."

"Why don’t you take it from me in a fair contest?" Jaevin sneered. "Two on two."

"That's what we've been doing, isn’t it?" Mirage asked. “You and your Machine Golems and the Legion."

"In a sense," Jaevin said. "But my Machine Golems and the Legion are merely tools. Tricks. My second is much more, and will equalize things in my favor."

"There's more than one of you here?" Vain asked. "They never told us ... "

"Not exactly," Jaevin said. "Some might consider him my pet. But he's certainly your equal."

"You said the same thing about the Legion," Vain said. "I think it's plain we can take whatever you dish out.

He snapped his fingers.

"Rise, Cerberus!"

The earth rumbled as something gigantic began to make its way down the temple steps. As it came into view it looked like a nightmare in daylight. It had the torso of a man, two wolves heads and the body of a spider. And it was roughly three times the size of the Legion.

Jaevin smiled and leapt high into the air. He stood on the broad back of the beast, balancing on his cane and looking arrogantly superior.

"Well, then," he said, brushing his black mane from his face. Vain rolled her eyes at Jaevin's theatrics as she pondered just how overmatched they were.

"You've made the challenge, and we accept," he said, glaring through his spectacles at the marionettes from his lofty perch.