Sword of the Shapeshifter: Part Six
Art by sarahleeadvent
The Lupe’s patronizing attitude dissolved, and his snowy fangs glittered as a wicked grin spread across his face and his unnatural wings rustled behind him. “I knew you’d be back,” he said, and Tenultra’s eyes narrowed in response.
“Just as I knew that you’d know. Your decision to state the obvious was also rather predictable. So now that we’ve mutually lost the element of surprise, I think it’s time to get this over with,” Tenultra retorted, her eyes hard and her tone icy as she struggled to overcome the lingering dizziness from her ride on the Gelert-go-round.
“I could hardly agree more,” Miaglo replied, his tone bordering on laughter as he raised a gleaming set of claws. Lances of green light stabbed out of them, leaping across the space between himself and Lord Darigan in a flash. With a hiss of anger and alarm the Kougra erected a forcefield around herself and leapt into the path of the lethal emerald fire. The blow sent her reeling backward through the air to collide with Darigan, and the laughter detached itself from Miaglo’s voice and came out alone in a scathing gale as he fired off another shot. Tenultra recovered her balance just in time, and once again she placed herself between the laser beams and her friend, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth as she braced herself against the impact.
“Darigan,” she hissed as she took the blow and unleashed a volley of her own, “you have to get out of here!”
The Korbat was aghast. “I can’t just leave you to-”
He was interrupted by another shot, which was deflected by Tenultra’s shoulder. “As long as you’re here he’ll keep shooting at you, and I won’t be able to dodge the shots. This forcefield won’t hold forever!”
Every cell in his body screamed at him to stay and fight, but he knew Tenultra was right. His presence was only putting both of them in danger. Darigan sprinted off down the corridor, and with a barely-visible sigh of relief Tenultra spun out of the way of a blast of green energy.
Miaglo narrowed his eyes. “Just you and me, then.”
A small, hard smile touched Tenultra’s face. “Just as it’s been all the other times I’ve beaten you.”
A mutual shot and dodge resulted in two black-edged holes being stabbed in the walls at opposite ends of the hallway. As he fired, dodged, spun and fired again, Miaglo growled back, “Yes, it is almost exactly the same. Except this time... I’ll win.”
“Brace yourselves! Something’s coming!” Torshac yelled, turning his head to project his voice into the dungeons. Beside him, Jeran clenched his fists, wishing with everything in him that he had his sword. Fists, claws and fangs would be of little use against the beast that was becoming visible around the corner, and Jeran’s eyes widened as more and more of the creature slithered into view. Its red eyes glowing, its green scales shimmering wetly, and its yellowed fangs poised at the ready, the giant Reptillior paused to study the Lupe and the Shoyru who stood between it and the other prisoners. Its huge mouth opened in a sibilant hiss, and Jeran braced himself for a hopeless and probably very brief fight.
The massive creature reared its head back to strike; then suddenly it froze, twisting around in an attempt to look behind it. A moment later a hissing reptilian shriek of agony tore through the air, and Jeran raised a triumphant fist as a black-and-gray shape came tumbling into view, accompanied by the glitter of a myriad of metal objects. But the Lupe’s delight did not last long, for no sooner had he recognized the first figure than others came sprinting into his line of vision- and unlike the first one, they were not encouraging.
Instinct sent Darigan skipping to the side an instant before a blast of green energy went zinging past his head, narrowly missing his ear. Ahead of him, the laser beam slammed into the door of what looked like some sort of storage closet, blasting a gaping hole in the metal. Darigan would have ignored it, but the next beam to race past him revealed the glitter of polished metal in the darkness of the small room, and ducking into the closet Darigan was delighted to discover dozens of swords and lasers lining the walls. Glancing behind him frequently to ensure that he was not about to be vaporized, Darigan quickly gathered up as many of the weapons as he could carry, then resumed his race toward the dungeons.
He had almost reached the entrance when harsh voices filled the air behind him, and glancing backward he saw a side door open to allow more than two dozen mutant Grundos to spill into the hall. Darigan redoubled his pace, the sullen grey of the corridor sliding past him and the shouts of the Grundos ricocheting around him like invisible goblins laughing at his rising alarm. A blast of green zinged past his head, but Darigan had reached full speed and try as he might his legs could be urged to no greater swiftness. The dungeon... he had to get to the dungeon and pass his armload of weapons around, because if his pursuers caught the prisoners unarmed, the battle would be lost before it began. Flaring his wings to prevent him from crashing into the wall, Darigan careened around the last corner, only to skitter to a halt as his eyes fell upon a mass of slime and scales that was issuing from another side door. Beyond it, he could just catch a glimpse of the horrified faces of Jeran and Torshac, who grimly held their ground in the face of the approaching monster.
Armed Grundos behind and a huge mutant ahead... for a moment, panic threatened to take hold; then years of battling experience came rushing to the fore, and leaping forward, Darigan ignored the floor, choosing instead to use the creature’s back as a ramp. Shifting the weapons in his arms as he ran, Darigan took a firm grip on the sword Tenultra had given him; then, as he reached the base of the Reptillior’s skull, he dropped the extra weapons and drove the remaining blade into the monster’s neck, drawing a high-pitched scream of anguish. Darigan lost his balance and went tumbling to the floor along with the swords and lasers he had dropped, miraculously landing unharmed, then scrambled to his feet and watched as the Reptillior crashed to the floor, its crimson eyes lifeless.
“It’s the Korbat! The one who escaped! Get him!”
The exclamation that rang through the air in response to the apparently slow-witted speaker’s delayed revelation caused Darigan to twist around as the mutant Grundos came thundering around the bend, swords and lasers at the ready. Snatching up a sword, Darigan danced out of the way of a speeding blaze of emerald light; then with a single deft swing he clove the offending laser in half. A movement in the corner of his eye told him Jeran and Torshac had leapt into the fray, the Lupe seizing a sword and rushing to combat the Grundos while the Shoyru raced back to the other prisoners and started handing out his newly acquired armload of weapons.
But watching the actions of his comrades-in-arms was a luxury Darigan could not afford, and avoiding another laser beam he struck down one Grundo and was tackled by another. The two adversaries tumbled to the floor, the Grundo yelping as it landed on one of the scattered swords. Darigan took advantage of the distraction, dropping his sword, snatching up a laser rifle, and making an unpleasant discovery which the Grundo was quick to voice: “You haven’t a clue how to use that, do you?”
“Not a clue how to use it right,” Darigan corrected it, dodging a blow and bringing the heavy laser smashing down on his antagonist’s head. The unconscious Grundo crumpled to the floor and Darigan abandoned the laser, ignoring the other blades and springing onto the fallen Reptillior’s head to retrieve his own sword. A Grundo swordsman followed him, and the two of them launched into a frenzied dance of death, their feet slipping and skittering on the slimy surface while their swords described patterns of fell beauty in the noise-ridden air. Time seemed to slow down, every aspect of Darigan’s surroundings separating itself from the others. A scream of pain on his left... his feet losing their purchase on the giant Reptillior’s scales before finding it again... a ringing clink as his sword met the blade of his enemy... the metallic shing as they slid apart... another anguished scream... and above it all, angry voices howling at each other in the heat of desperate conflict...
For Tenultra and Miaglo, the entire universe had contracted into a miniature maelstrom of claws and fangs and blasts of deadly green fire. Every inkling of consciousness was focused on how to best evade and deliver blows, on finding the one place in the reachable vicinity that was not occupied by a claw or a laser beam and then making certain that the enemy could not do the same.
Miaglo’s head snapped back as Tenultra’s hindpaw drove him into the wall, leaving a dent that was filled and surrounded by a Spyderweb of cracks; then a wild moment later it was the Kougra who flew through the air, crashing to the floor. Miaglo tried to pounce on her and Tenultra morphed into a Yurble at the last instant, her newly-formed spikes stabbing into the Lupe. Miaglo responded with a yowl of pain and a barrage of laser beams, pummeling Tenultra’s body and weakening the forcefield that stood between her and death. Tenultra resumed her Kougra form and twisted around, driving her claws into the back of Miaglo’s paw and pouring a surge of energy directly into the Lupe’s body. Miaglo screamed and retaliated, digging his own claws into Tenultra’s side and unleashing a torrent of laser beams. Tenultra jerked and twitched, then with a mutual swing of the claws their paws met, fiery crackles of energy arcing between them. Both combatants screamed, then staggered away from each other and raised their claws for another attack.
When no barrage of laser beams responded to his silent command, Miaglo cursed, glancing at the implants in his claws. Tenultra, too, discovered that the exchange of energy had temporarily damaged her implants; but unlike Miaglo she wasted no time in dwelling on this. Launching herself at her enemy, she slammed him against the wall and slashed at him with her claws. Miaglo growled and retaliated, swinging at the smaller Neopet furiously as she darted out of the way. Spinning, snarling and slashing, the two shapeshifters fell upon each other like clashing thunderstorms. After a brief but wild struggle they broke apart for a moment, cheating time to glare at each other in a silent, motionless expression of the hatred which the years had bred between them. Tenultra’s sword, which had rested forgotten in its scabbard until now, shot into her paw as she prepared to engage her enemy, but she made no other move, rallying her strength while waiting for Miaglo to initiate the continuation of the battle.
For another long moment they faced each other in silence, the only motion being the rapid movement of their chests as they fought to catch their breath, and the growth of a darkly shining ebony blade which extended from Miaglo’s right paw. Then Tenultra narrowed her eyes, taking a firmer grip on her own sword as she said coldly, her voice low, hard, and grim with determination, “I’ve had enough of you to last me a lifetime, and after today I had better not see you again. As amusing as you and your obsession with clichés have been, it’s time to end this.”
To be continued...