Relic Knights: Calamity Comes, Chapter 3
Golden Vance stalked through the coach section of the starliner like a butcher through a slaughterhouse, his practiced eye searching for the choicest cuts. He was in foul spirits. Kate had struck this tub because a princess was on board and he had been assigned to coach—to the scraps. His cybernetic eye glowed malevolently and placed a red dot wherever he cast his gaze. He enjoyed watching the passengers scramble to escape the thin beam of light. Of course, a little red light was a stupid thing to be scared of. His cybernetic arm lashed out. The crude machine arm was a monstrosity of wheezing pistons, hydraulics, and pitted metal, ending in a grasping claw. The claw held his current target’s head in its grasp. Vance pulled the struggling woman close, his eyes appraising her hungrily. She clutched futilely at the arm, its rough edges cutting her flesh. His real arm grasped her neck as if to choke her. The woman’s eyes bulged. He winked and tore the string of silver Theslian pearls from her neck. With a ruthless grin, he hauled back and threw her into a pocket of passengers cowering in the corner.
“What a waste,” he growled. “Minnow, get your lazy tail over here and tell me if there’s anything of real value on this tub.” Nothing happened. Vance cast a glance to Squall, the ex-Doctrine witch Kate had sent to babysit him. “Witch,” he bawled, “where’d that worthless excuse of a cypher get to?” The red-haired codifier remained silent, appraising him with barely contained contempt. Vance threw up his hands. “Why do I bother?”
“I am here, my Captain,” a trembling voice responded. Vance looked about, spying Minnow, his mermaid cypher, beside the woman he had just cast aside. He could see green creation esper flow across her hands as she tended to the woman’s wounds.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Vance asked, sneering. “Stop wasting your time. I need your sight. Is there anything of true value here?” The cypher’s eyes looked sad and for a moment he thought she might try to refuse again, but with a small sigh her eyes clouded and she began to search the cabin. Squall perked up behind them, studying the cypher intensely. Slowly the cypher’s eyes swept across the room. Vance knew the cypher could view the whole ship in this trance; walls, bulkheads, even distance concealed nothing. Suddenly her methodical search ceased, her eyes blazing with orange intensity. “What have you got there?” Vance questioned as he strode towards the cypher.
The cypher shook her head and attempted to avert her gaze. “It...it is nothing, my Captain.” But it was no use, whatever it was drew her sight again and she continued to stare. Transfixed, her eyes blazed and her breath quickened. Vance closed the distance between them and his cybernetic arm reached out to touch the cypher. Esper shot into him with the force of a lightning bolt. He gasped from the sensation and fought to contain the raw energy the cypher channeled into him.
“Minnow,” he called out, “control yourself.” He felt the cypher shudder at his command and the flow of esper slowly lessened. His vision focused and he used the connection to see through the cypher’s eyes. He did not have to search to find what had captivated her attention. The being blazed—a pyre of pure esper, brilliant and white. “What is that?” he murmured under his breath. He tried to find the form within the blaze. Slowly his vision improved as his will filtered out the burning aura. As the form took shape in his mind’s eye an incredulous smile crept to his face. “You’ve got to be kidding me, it’s a bleeding robot maid.”
“No, my Knight,” Minnow’s voice responded with a strength and surety Vance did not know she possessed, “it is the Source. The Calamity has come.”
At Minnow’s words Squall turned and fled.
Rin had been picking off pirates for a good five minutes now. She enjoyed watching them panic as she sniped them from her position behind the giant neon sign of the food court’s bar. Aside from the ship’s hold, the multi-story food court was the most open area on the Tranquil Wind, and it was proving a perfect battleground for Rin’s skill set. A brown-and-black striped marmod was bringing the corsairs under control with choice bits of cursing and the occasional smack from his giant two-handed frying pan. His other two arms waved directions as he tried to move them to cover. Rin had heard of this particular marmod before. If the frying pan hadn’t given him away, the neatly starched chef’s hat and apron would have. He was Iron Chef, and where he went, Calico Kate was sure to follow. As the corsairs scrambled for cover, a death-headed Broadside cannon floated onto the ship. The Broadside’s shield generator flickered to life, casting a shimmering orange barrier around the surrounding pirates. Iron Chef looked up at the sign where Rin was hiding and smiled a broad toothy grin. Rin swore.
In a blur of pink and blue energy, Malya joined the party. Sedaris barrelled into the marmod. Despite the four-armed creature being nearly as large as the relic, the impact easily threw him through the wall of one of the food court’s restaurants. Within moments, Malya was inside the Broadside’s shield, Sedaris’s blade slashing anything that came into reach. Rin watched the ballet of destruction with appreciation. She had seen this dance of death before and knew to only pick off those well away from the destruction. Malya moved faster than even her eye could follow and she dare not risk injuring her employer and friend. After a few long seconds, the corsairs had been dispatched and Iron Chef bound, still groggy from his impact with the wall.
Rin came down from her perch. “Good timing, princess. That furry devil was about to turn the cannon on me.”
Malya smiled and inspected the interior of the small boarding craft this group of corsairs had used to breach the ship’s exterior. “Think we need to clean it out?”
“That will not be necessary,” announced a voice from behind them. “Corsairs never stay on board, lest they lose their share of the spoils.” Malya and Rin whirled around, weapons ready. Before them stood a pirate of regal bearing. On his shoulder was an ancient looking parrot. To his right stood a haughty woman with a rapier held loosely in one hand, eyeing the two with casual disinterest. To his left was a tall, red-skinned Noh, one of Nozuki’s grotesque demons. Instinctively, both turned their weapons to this greater threat. “Stay your weapons,” the nobleman calmed, “I assure you that Kenobo here means you no harm, he is an exile. Indeed, the Noh of the dragon fleets are as much his enemy as yours.” The giant Noh bowed his head towards them in acknowledgment.
“Introductions are in order. I am Captain Harker.” He raised his arm, forming a perch. “This is my cypher, Caeser.” The parrot hopped to his forearm with a squawk and repeated its name. “We have come here to enlist your aid in stopping the Calamity.”
Malya’s jaw dropped. “You attacked this ship to get me to help you?”
“Not precisely. Calico Kate is attacking this ship because you are here and she is convinced a princess and reigning Cerci Prime champion must travel in opulence to rival kings.” He smiled a flat emotionless smile. “She is, of course, mistaken, but I did not seek to dissuade her, since it also gives me the opportunity I need to recruit you and one other to my cause.”
Malya looked to Rin. “One other?”
“Ah, not the lovely sniper. Though I’m sure she will be quite useful on our journey. No, the other of whom I speak should be arriving now.” As if on cue, a sleek platinum and blue capital ship slipped into space, the bold heraldry on its sides proclaiming it The Sword of Roland, flagship of the Order of the Shattered Sword—paladins sworn to the protection and safety of the space lanes.
As the capital ship translated into real space, layers of launch bays across the whole of its surface launched their deadly payloads. Heavily armored assault craft, castellan mecha, and nimble power armored paragons shot from the bays on incandescent trails of blue fire. Simultaneously, batteries of pulse and rail cannons began hammering into the smaller corsair vessels.
“Not even Kate can withstand a paladin capital ship for long,” Harker continued, “we must retreat. The paladins, and more importantly, Sebastian Cross will follow us when he realizes you have been taken.” Malya started to protest, but Harker raised his hand to stop her. “I realize you have a great many questions, all of which I will be happy to answer in time. Now, however, is the time for action. Will you join me?”
Malya looked for Mr. Tomn. The small, rabbit-like cypher was between her and Harker, closely examining the impassive Noh warrior-monk. After a brief moment of silence, the cypher turned to her. “This is our path.”
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