Intermission: Eraser Machine

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

Sergeant Carline Sandany, first echelon Sol Confederation Marines, deflected a blow aimed at her head with her gun hand. The plating of her gauntlet screeched under the translucent blade – not doing damage, but coming far closer than the purely metal weapons occasionally found on this nonsense planet.

It was a bit strange, that she could have her servos stopped dead by malleable magic liquid, yet knives made from its static cousin screeched harmlessly off. Something to do with resistance and pliability, probably, like how a putty-headed hammer could break glass. The cause mattered little in context; the effect was a life saved.

Her pistol deviated by less than ten degrees from fielding the blow, so that when she popped off another shot it still clipped a different enemy in the shoulder.

Meanwhile, her other hand busily filleted her attacker’s arm with a combat knife. It scraped past the woman’s see-through knife, sliced crosswise to cut the manual abductor connections, and got caught between radius and ulna before she ripped it free. The attacker’s cry cut off when she got a knee in the belly. She hit the sparsely grassy dirt synchronously with her own knife.

Just behind her, a quartet of other people had spears jabbing like engine pistons. The nearest of the group fought off the three others, getting badly cut, and his death seemed imminent. More confusing was the fact that all of them wore the sign of the black and blue livery she’d come to equate with this land’s royalty. Presumably, spies or plants had managed to lift some sets of equipment.

The middle of the group quickly shot a glance her way, nervous and manic, and made a half-minded gesture in her direction. He clearly decided halfway through the motion that he and his chums better deal with one issue at a time, and shifted his aim back. His broad blade got through farther than his associates’, relieving the suddenly screaming soldier of several fingers.

Yes, those were hostiles.

That assessment got considerably backed up when some of the triad broke away, swishing their long poles in her direction.

She ducked in with a modified weaving stance, then forced her way past the first’s guard. The lunge of her blade ended in his sternal manubrium. His pained guffaw didn’t last more than a moment after the blade swept up. At the same time, her gun arm crossed over and shot the fellow trying to deal with the friendly spearman.

The final member of the three got the bright idea to grapple with her. A living-water globule flowed out and around her blade-holding fist, cementing it in place. He received a very fast and thoroughly lethal education on his own stupidity, when she deftly reholstered her pistol and got her free glove around most of his neck.

As she shook off the magical goop, she hissed. The inside of her helmet got cleaned of the thin salivary fan before it could interfere with her vision. To the best of her understanding of the palace’s layout, only a tithe of the assault elements were aimed at reaching the royal quarters, but that tithe was what she had to remove.

At this moment, there was actually a person somewhere in the confluence of pattern and medium that was her brain, but it stood far at the back of her mind’s room, letting her body do her work. That distant Sandany had been spinning faster and more chaotically than any cyclone for some time. Volleys of argument for and against turning traitor to her current assignment, and for and against eliminating the people she was now expeditiously killing and maiming.

The invaders turned against the establishment, and now stood tangled in proven and suspected lies about everything from her reward to their core philosophies, part of her said.

The people she was now protecting stood in opposition to those who’d first offered her assistance in this place… opposition to the liars who she still owed her life, part of her said.

Those strange aliens who were supposed to keep her in line most certainly had proven themselves dangerous, and they would object to further assault on Goeyren, part of her said.

Ultimately, she’d retreated into her shell for far simpler reasons: for just now, the ceiling of this palace was the roof over her head.

And she must protect her house.

Several chalk drawings drew themselves across her mental map of the palace’s meandering castle-town. She thought she had an acceptable set of waypoints to follow toward her next objective.

A quick turn showed that her initially selected entryway to the palace was still highly congested from the ongoing conflict. A heavy breath spun around her helmet’s confines, nuzzling the strange artifact strung around her neck. Most of those human-shaped blockades were either bodies or injured fighters in the king’s service, but she still would need to jump over at least four bodies if she tried to get through that way.

Triplicate shouts brought her back to the dregs of the forces assaulting the palace. Very few attackers yet remained outside and intent on breaking in – a combination of success at dispatching enemies and failure to prevent enemies entry.

Ah, Shiva. Time to get inside and go on with the whole protecting schtick.

Gauging the best method to get from awkward posting to advantageous position, she brought an armored fist down on the head of a fool standing between her and the nearest wall. He started lying between her and the nearby wall instead. The momentary break in the action gave her just a second to build up steam, started sprinting, then – in that violation of the conduct manual that every recruit of the Confederation military eventually got around to making – boosted herself with almost the last of the fuel she could eke from her precious suit jets.

The wall that got murdered in plain sight of its wall family was – fortunately enough – layered primarily with wooden boards.

Many kilos of marine sergeant plowed straight through a bestially-haggard man on the far side of the barrier. She wasn’t quite sure of the victim’s allegiance just from looking at him. When he went flying into the opposite wall hard enough to leave a mark, she considered him effectively removed from the theater of conflict, one way or another.

In the hall waited many an alcove, or painted mural, or hanging woven banners with black and blue devices tiling across their breadth. A gaggle of less than ten at the end of the hall took notice of her sudden entrance. Not one of them wore the king’s colors.

When approached at speed by an armored member of the Sol Confederation’s finest, Sandany had heard the experience often described as “extremely unnerving” and “something to be avoided at all costs” by those who found themselves opposite. Perhaps to be expected from a scenario involving roughly the mass of a cow moving faster than the record unaided sprinting speed of a human. Even so, it always got her blood seething.

The nearest of the group had already turned to face her before she started clomping down the hall. He had that sort of mean look about him, the one worn by people who tended to talk to their families with their fists. If she claimed that it wasn’t gratifying to see that look evaporate in favor of gut-evacuating terror, it would be a lie. He shouted a pointless call to arms when she had cut through half the distance.

Her firearms didn’t come into play. She didn’t have much faith that the wall hangings possessed flame retardant qualities. Considering how widespread (if often proportionally little) the palace employed aged wood in its design and structure, she thought there was a chance her warming gun would burn down half a wing the first time she used it indoors. Her pistol didn’t strike her as quite so dangerous, but she could get along without it for now.

Besides, with as much of a run-up as she had, all she needed to do was sprint headlong into the little panicked herd with her arms outstretched. Inertia would take care of the rest.

Half of them got clotheslined by either her limbs or their own comrades. A young fellow started running away, before she waylaid him with a hurled stocky tattooed man. Another went down under a boot.

The last two received the baleful disappointed scowl she’d given wet-behind-the-ears recruits, once upon a time. She was almost surprised they didn’t off each other to escape. They got saved the trouble by swift use of a combat knife.

Thirteen and a half seconds later, a smeared set of armor sprinted around a corner. Halfway down the perpendicular hall, the armor’s owner spotted a familiar odd couple. Under other circumstances, she might have paused to get a sitrep from the both of them.

Under the prevailing conditions, she dodged past the especially peculiar people with the especially peculiar names. She had a principal in need of protecting, and if she was unreasonably lucky he might still be alive.

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