He yanked the trigger as he shouted, rocking back on his heels as the rocket leapt from the tube. Jaheira grunted and staggered under the backblast from her rocket. Mazzy screamed to Avoreen over the whine of her multibarrel’s impeller. Both Minsc and Lilarcor shouted various barely coherent defiances as the mad field disruptor and its eccentric gunner unleashed a torrent of coherent energy.
All of these destructive forces met in a maelstrom of destruction centered on the chest of the walking terror. The air roared with the terrific explosion, shaking the whole compartment. Lights flickered and consoles exploded in fountains of sparks as the blast wave overwhelmed ancient circuit breakers. The main Engineering console simply disintegrated into so many fragments of metal and plastic. The gantries surrounding the reactors twisted as the shockwave struck home.
The blast slammed into the crew, bowling them over and scattering them along the twisted gantry. Bran found himself suddenly on his back, head spinning and faceplate dark from the flash. His vision and his faceplate cleared, and he forced himself into a seated position. A loud splat startled him, and he looked to his left to see a chunk of unidentifiable -something- smoking on his shoulder. Around him, bits of burnt flesh and plastic rained, splattering across the walls, floors and his crewmates.
He blinked as an armored hamfist thrust itself into view. Grinning broadly, he grabbed the outstretched hand and found himself yanked to his feet by his equally grinning gunner. “Ya hey!” Minsc laughed. “Evil got its naughty bottom kicked today!”
“You know, Minsc,” Bran chuckled as he looked over the twisted rail. The entire middle of the compartment smoldered from the heat. The ruins of the main control console burned merrily, its frame shattered by the explosion. Of the Beast, only the smoking stumps of its limbs remained. “I think you’re right.” Still smiling, he switched to the main guard channel. “Valygar. Target eliminated. Get your butts in gear, we’ll be right behind you.”
The deck bucked like an angry Tamorian nearhorse under their feet. The doctor stumbled, and only Valygar’s quick reflexes saved her from pitching into a rail. Righting the pale faced doctor, Valygar flashed Imoen a grin as the Captain’s victorious words washed over them. “I told you. His crazy plans always work.”
“Well, we’re still not off this damn ship,” Imoen groused, her mouth twitching between smile and frown as relief and annoyance warred within her.
“Another reason he sent us ahead,” Valygar replied with aplomb. “We can only go one at a time. We’ll just lead the way.
“Still didn’t need to yell at me.”
“You were disobeying him.”
“I’m his sister. He needs me to keep him out of trouble!” Imoen grumped.
“Somehow I can’t believe that statement,” Valygar said with a chuckle.
“What do you know?”
“History,” he quipped as they reached the broken conduit. “Well, we’re here. Shall I or do you want the honor?” Valygar said, waving towards the gaping opening with all the dignity of the most formal butler.
“You. I don’t want you staring at my ass the whole time,” Imoen said with a hint of a grin.
“As you wish,” Valygar bowed obsequiously. Switching back to the guard channel, he reported, “Captain. We are at the conduit. Ready to proceed.”
“Roger that, Valygar. Proceed with de-assing the vessel.” Still grinning, Bran turned to help Jaheira up. “See dear, I told you there wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be solved with the excessive firepower,” he chuckled. “We just needed to actually -use- excessive force.”
She flicked a piece of charred flesh off her shoulder and arched an eyebrow speculatively. “Indeed.”
Minsc, who’d gone to help out Mazzy, shouted from where the Yolandan still laid on the deck, “Captain Bran, Fierce Mazzy has been wounded!”
Jaheira’s eyebrow arched further as she gave Bran a flat look. “Can excessive firepower solve this problem?”
“Well, yes…” Bran started then stopped, seeing the look in her eyes.
“Indeed.” With that, she turned and hustled to Mazzy’s side with Bran right behind her.
The Yolandan woman lay on her back, her head cradled in Minsc’s arms. Both of her hands gripped her left leg. Rivulets of pink flowed through her fingers and dripped onto and through the catwalk grates. Her face was locked in a grimace, her brow furrowed and her jaw set. Yet, she had not cried out despite the obvious pain. More proof of the diminutive female’s toughness.
Jaheira kneeled down next to her, unpacking her medkit. “It appears to be a shrapnel injury. How is the pain?”
“It is… bearable,” Mazzy replied, her tone even more clipped than usual.
Jaheira waved her med scanner over Mazzy’s leg while Bran looked on. Grimacing himself, Bran said, “Sorry Mazzy. With rockets… shrapnel has a bad tendency to happen.”
“Better flying pieces of metal than death at the claws of that beast,” Mazzy said matter of factly.
“Another few centimeters, death likely would have been an option,” Jaheira interjected. Placing the scanner down, she removed some of the tools from the kit. “There is a 3 cm piece of processing crystal buried in your leg. A few more centimeters to the left and it would have severed the prime artery in your leg.”
“It seems that Avoreen still has uses for me then,” Mazzy replied with a poor attempt at a grin.
“So it appears,” Jaheira nodded, pulling an injector from her medkit. “Now, I assure you this is going to hurt. The shrapnel is deep. And while I can numb the pain somewhat, we do not have time to properly anesthetize if we’re going to get you out of here.”
Jaheira injected the Yolandan’s leg with a combo of local painkiller and short acting coagulant, slowing the bloodflow enough to work. As she lifted away the Yolandan’s hands, a gout of pink blood rushed out but quickly slowed to a trickle. With practiced efficiency, Jaheira ripped the tear in her pants open further, exposing a nasty looking wound. She pulled a long set of tweezers from the kit and paused. “Brace yourself.”
The Yolandan gritted her teeth and nodded. She grunted but did not scream as Jaheira began digging through wounded muscle to remove the piece of shrapnel.
Valygar scaled the catwalk rail and dropped onto the breached conduit. The breach gaped at him, its edges melted smooth by escaping plasma. Darkness reined beyond the gap, so Valygar switched on all of his suit lamps. The gloom grudgingly gave way, revealing a long tunnel of defunct magnetic restriction coils just tall enough to walk through in a crouch.
Checking his sensor readings, for whatever good as they were now, and finding the tunnel supposedly clear, he flipped the safeties off his Katanas and dropped into the gap. He landed silently in a crouch, Katanas facing each end of the tunnels. He checked both directions, both appeared clear. He just had to hope it stayed that way.
Turning to face their exit, he commed, “Conduit appears clear if cramped. I’m moving forward. Doctor, you will be next. Then, you Imoen.”
“Acknowledged, bufflehead. Let’s blow this margarita stand,” Imoen replied. “Doc, you’re up.”
When Aerie didn’t reply, she turned to face the doctor. The woman was standing stock still, staring back towards the fore of the compartment where smoke still billowed.
“Aerie?” Imoen called. “Aerie?” Concern growing, she hurried to her side and turned the slim Avarielian to face her. Aerie’s usually pale skin was white as a sheet and her blue eyes stared wide with terror back towards the other part of the compartment. Imoen squeezed Aerie’s shoulders. “I know it’s a little cramped Aerie, but it’s the best way out. It’s nothing to worry about and I’ll be right behind you the whole way, okay?”
“No time…” she whispered, her voice trembling.
“What? We’ve still got plenty of time, Aerie.”
Imoen’s eyebrows arched in confusion. “What’s coming?”
Aerie suddenly clutched Imoen’s biceps. Her hands closed around them like vises, squeezing so hard that Imoen’s knees buckled from the pain. “Aerie… Aerie! Stop! Calm down!”
“NO TIME! NO TIME! IT’S COMING!!!”
Bran watched Jaheira lift the pink stained twisted corkscrew of crystal up in triumph. The piece of shrapnel had buried itself well in Mazzy’s thigh, but with a little patience and effort, she’d worked it free. She dropped it into Mazzy’s open hand and fished for the dermal bonder. “A tricky extraction, but it is free now.”
“My thanks, Jaheira,” Mazzy said, staring that wicked chunk of what had been part of the engineering console before tossing it away.
Jaheira nodded and aimed the dermal bonder at the still wicked looking wound in Mazzy’s thigh. A gentle hum and a warm red glow suffused the tissue as muscle and skin knitted back together. The wound now mostly closed, Jaheira grabbed the dermal sealer from her kit and applied a liberal amount of bonding foam and quickheal. Smiling, she started putting away her tools. “It will be stiff and somewhat painful, but you will be able to walk now.”
“Come Fierce Mazzy! It is time for us to go, before our Traps of Goodness wipe out Evil! Good should not be smote like Evil! Ya hey!”
“Again, my thanks to all…” Mazzy started, but cut off by Aerie’s fearful scream reverberating through the commnet.
The panic in her voice froze all of them to the spot. Something was attacking the others from the rear. There must have been a breach in one of the other doors. Bran gripped his Bladesinger and looked towards where he thought safety had been. “Valygar! Imoen! Aerie! Someone, report! What the hell is going on back there!?”
A scream full of anger and hate split the air, drowning out any reply. A scream from behind them.
Bran spun on his heels only to be greeted by a huge mass of grey-black flesh hurtling towards them. The sudden shock froze him in place, froze them all in place. It was just a moment’s hesitation, but a moment that even the finest honed reflexes didn’t have.
Long, twisted, curving talons of bone slashed out, seeking to rend and tear living flesh. Bran threw himself backwards, the long tips of the talons tearing into the armor on his chest and tossing him into the gantry floor. The other sought Jaheira. The lithe woman tried to leap out of the way, but the claws found flesh.
A terrible scream filled the air as the Beast connected. The sheer force of the blow lifted Jaheira off her feet. Her body twisted in mid-air as the claws tore through armor and flesh and spraying blood like a fountain. Her scream cut off with a sickening crunch as she slammed face first into the reactor housing and fell bonelessly to the decking below.
Bran staggered to his knees and opened fire. Bolts of angry red, blood red, flew from his Bladesinger to bury themselves in grey-black flesh. Boiling ultramarine and a sleet of nickel iron joined, tearing into the body of the Beast. Overburdened by the shock of the counterattack, the Beast crashed through the twisted safety railing, falling to the decks below.
The Bladesinger didn’t have time to hit the deck before Bran began scrabbling, half crawling, to where Jaheira had fallen. She lay there unmoving, body twisted in a heap. Blood poured from the cruel ruin of her left side in a steaming flood. It was everywhere, on the decking, the reactor casing. On her.
There was just so much blood.
So much blood.