I am being dragged from my sleep, rather abruptly. I remember the pain, the battle against Shana Miarre and Glang the Inquisitor. Metalie de Brankl, I remember killing him with my Tanto.
"Good morning Matawasa of Camelot II, I am Tawnis. I hope you slept well? I have replaced Glang as the Inquisitor. Your wounds have been healed and your deadly swords removed for now. Our Queen thanks you, both for an excellent battle and removing her abusive husband. She sent Shana home, alive, as repayment. Although the original purpose of our games has changed the outcome remains almost the same, there shall, in the end, be one winner."
I had managed to clear my head and grasp his conversation. I recognized the voice. He had been the one on the microphone! "Well, nothing else I seem to have gotten you a promotion."
"Yes, such are the fortunes of war, here is your next opponent's info sheet, and it is a little different this round. We have special caves and a trail you must follow. A series of tasks must be accomplished to continue. First to complete them wins. You need battle no one or you may if you wish." He smiled.
"That's it? Run an obstacle course and finish first?" I just knew there had to be more, far to simple.
"Seriously that's it. Well, all the obstacles will kill you if you fail them of course."
"Of course. So obvious." I said in my most sarcastic voice. "What type of obstacles are we referring to?"
"Aaa, that is the challenge. I can't tell you, some may be seen and not heard, some heard and never seen, some live or dead. Could be interesting or could be the end, all up to you."
"Somehow I see little comfort in that."
He snickered, "Get ready, you will be transported in two hours and this time we will select what you take or not.
Caves, yuck, I hate caves. Full of creepy crawly things.
As vision cleared and senses rebalanced themselves I found I was naked in a small cage. At least it was warm. Sitting on a small bench were several items. A new, proper Amazon dress, my Obi and Katana and Tanto and boots. No bow, no wrist shield. Green frilled panties? What the hell?
I hate them! They chaff after awhile. Oh, for my husband Jake they, along with a slight bend to the head, a coy look with but a finger to my lips, and a few bats of my eyelashes would cause him to explode in laughter, but it always would get the desired results I wanted. Here was not the desired results nor the proper place for them. Grrrr, I think I shall have to speak to my jailers again, I do not find it funny.
I dressed quickly. The dress actually fit! The sheer 2 inch straps crossed the back and again over the front and across the breasts to the small pleated waist. True, when fighting males we often wore nothing but our panties. While the men drooled we'd remove their heads. Well that was the theory anyway. I did find they tended to get distracted enough to give me an edge at times. My current opponent was an undead, so I suspected little reaction from him.
Tawnis, the new Inquisitor, appeared in a puff of smoke outside the cage. Smaller than real life. A holograph, neither was it anything new, nor awe inspiring.
"Matawasa, before you is a tunnel, you will navigate through it defeating anything you find and solving each gates puzzle. You may assist your opponent or not as you wish. The object is to complete the course first. If there is ever a choice between left and right you must go left. Any questions?" His shimmering apparition seemed to dare me.
"Yes, one. Who do I kill at the end for these awful panties? You or the Queen?" I asked.
"I find them quite attractive on you my dear. King Jake has a discerning eye." He seemed to bow and I did not know if I should be mad or flattered so I spit at him as he disappeared, "One word of advice, look to your adversary for puzzle clues." and the cage opened.
I was in a deep gorge with tight high cliffs on both sides and behind, only the gaping maw of the black hole looming ahead gave me an avenue of movement. I found myself shuddering, 'creepy crawly things'.
I moved into its entrance and stood in the shadows a few seconds while my eyes accustomed themselves to the gloom. I touched the rough rock surface and found it wasn't. It was some form of plasticized steel and warm to the touch. They made this whole thing from scratch. Well, maybe the creepy crawlies didn't exist then. I breathed a little easier.
I finally moved forward, it didn't take long to find my first adversary. Shit, a big creepy crawly. If it wasn't metal as well, it was a four foot high, eight legged, hairy as hell tarantula type spider, but this one had not only mandibles at its mouth it had four of the legs with pincers.
I drew both the Katana and wakizashi, I went over what I wished to do. I think a happo giri, or a cut in eight directions might work if I can get in close and it is alive. I went through the moves in my mind but I decided I needed to do as my sensei had taught so many lifetimes before. Drop the extraneous thought, focus the mind to task, and expand the senses to live. I shut off the Japanese to English conversions, I had no students and it did slow down the thoughts.
The monster was against a wall, there was no way out other than behind me so I waited as it turned in my direction. I felt, rather than heard, vibrations as it opened and closed those mandibles. I saw what almost looked like saliva dripping from it's mouth. Anticipated delights maybe? We'd see.
I went stance, wakizashi low and outside, Katana high and back, it would have the most energy at the first cut. I planted my feet as solidly as I could, it was coming to me. Always better that way. I saw two of the front legs come up and around as it came almost ontop of me. When its mandibles were about a foot away I moved bringing the Katana down, in, and across while bringing the wakizashi up almost straight. Both met resistance. The wakizashi took off the left leg with the pincer at a joint as it had slid along it. The Katana slashed through one of its four eyes and down through the mouth opening and bounced of what I guess was the jaw.
I spun hard putting energy back into both blades as I abandoned my first plan, always go with opportunity. The thing was screaming with pain, but at a pitch I couldn't hear, just feel, and it had ceased the attack which was all I needed. I brought the wakizashi down and across as it came back into visual contact. I had to try a low level thrust with the Katana as I couldn't get the blade reset for a cut move. Not recommended for Katana but effective if successful. I was. The wakizashi took off the other leg pincer and the Katana pierced another of its eyes and into its head almost half its length. The creature reacted so violently I had to let the Katana go. I went two-handed stance with the wakizashi and closed, removing both front legs and I backpedaled as it fell forward. I still shrieked and thrashed. Somewhere in there a leg or pincer left a nasty gash across my upper arm and along my back. Now that the fight was effectively over the pain begin to register.
I moved in as the beast tried to bring its rear pincer legs forward. I started slicing it apart at the head and head to body junction and soon it was no longer a threat. I removed, cleaned and sheathed both the swords.
Inspection of my wounds found they were slight and shallow but burned like a paper cut does. I carefully inspected the dead creatures pincer arms. It was the hair, it was stiff and thin like a razor. Very brittle but if it had raked me, yuck.
I recovered my breath after a minute of calming exercise and approached the wall. It was a puzzle. There were eight brick size ends sticking out and they formed a circle. Inside and lower toward the bottom were two bricks. I could see you pushed them but in want order?
It took a few seconds; the circle was the spider, each brick a leg and the two inside the mandibles. Problem was the order. The front pincers came into play first then the mandibles then the rear then the normal legs. Did it matter?
I chose the order of battle. I slid in the front two pincer legs. Nothing. I slid in the two mandible bricks, nothing. I slid the rear pincer legs, nothing. I came back to the bottom front and pushed in the remaining four leg bricks. Nothing.
I was getting pissed. I wound up kicking the wall. The circle defined by the bricks collapsed and a hole awaited. I stepped through and found the entire back of the wall was wired. Not sure, but I suspect the other bricks are some sort of explosives. I checked, nothing usable. Even the bricks had some sort of cables running through them to stop me taking a few for chucking.
I went down the tunnel and it turned to the left and became totally dark. I stopped a bit to see if my eyes adjusted. No. Just like in the movies I had my hands straight out grouping in the dark as I moved forward. I found the wall and followed it until I heard something. A growl in the total darkness. I froze and listened.
I wished Aawasa was here, her night vision was phenomenal, she had sat for an hour once waiting to get a kill shot at a Saber tooth tiger in total darkness. It made her a king, that shot.
I heard movement to my left, I was following the left wall so there was a room ahead. I slipped my Tanto out of its scabbard and held the tip, ready to throw. I slowly turned my back to the wall and moved the right hand as far left as I could.
Side hand shots were not considered accurate but all of us wives practiced many years of many lifetimes perfecting as many skills as we could. We'd all died from a failure of one or another before, and we learned. Humm, Wives. Yes, I guess, we so loved him dearly and every life we bore him children if we were allowed by circumstance, but our real function was to be his army of demons led by first wife Aawasa. When the Godmother called us forth to do battle, planets shivered and enemies quaked. We'd use anything from daggers to Neutron missiles with out compassion. It really was fun being barbarian Amazon Samurai warriors as long as Jake was around to warm our souls.
Shit! I was drifting again. I realized I felt hot. I felt, ummm, weak damn it. I never drift that far. I had a thing in the dark and I think of home and love, sheez. Of course, the spider. I felt the cut on my arm and along the back. Hot as hell, poisoned. Those hairs were poisoned.
I went quickly to my brook in my mind, I focused my energy and calmed myself. I willed my body to ignore, to reject, and felt a bit better. Merlin's amulet vibrated a bit. Yes, I was using some of my own djed life energy.
I was brought back to focus as I heard the growl again, a little closer but I'd heard nothing move. Then, in the total darkness I saw eyes, yellow pools slowly open and blink. Cat eyes. If so this thing was big, the eyes were two feet off the ground. Next I knew I heard it roar as I guess it picked up my sent or blood smell from the cuts. I let fly the tanto and at the last second I drew the Katana and did as hard a head cut as I could, it would be close. I felt the sword hit resistance and I felt it slide and slice. I didn't know where it hit, but the eyes were almost to my face as I sidestepped and it crashed into the wall and I heard no more.
All over in a few seconds. I squatted in the dark and felt the beast. It was a Saber Tooth Tiger. I found the Tanto deep in its throat and the cut had started above it's shoulder and came down across it's neck where I had severed its artery, I felt the blood spurting. I suspect my dress was no longer a pretty green. The metallic smell of the hot blood finishing its final pumps was strong. I recovered the Tanto and I pulled back its eye lid, the eye was just as bright a yellow as when I first saw it. Phosphorescent maybe? Then I smeared blood on my wounds from the spider, no idea why, but I now knew where the monsters were coming from. They were out of my own ID!
First creepy crawly things then the Saber Tooth Aawasa had hunted. Hummm, I thought of a cute little bunny rabbit, we'd see.
I finally felt along the wall, one side to the other, nothing, two small holes in the center. Still couldn't see shit. Humm, I wonder. I took the Tanto and dug out the eyeballs of the tiger and stuck one in each hole, eerie looking but nothing happened. Hummm two holes, think. Look to the adversary for clues he'd said.
Finally it dawned on me, surly they weren't THAT depraved. I went back and checked the tiger, yup, it was a male. I removed the only male parts that would fit in two holes and waited. Nothing! It wasn't its nuts.
I sat and thought, well, only one thing more a Saber has two of. I found one, pictured it in my mind and struck as hard as I could. I felt the bone snap. I rolled the beast over and snapped off the other tooth. I too them and slammed one in each hole and the wall separated. It was a sliding door. I stepped through and was in the light. Shit, I looked a mess. Blood head to toe. I heard a voice, "You really thought we are that depraved, Matawasa?" He laughed and I knew was gone.
I turned a corner and and sure enough a little bunny was there with fangs! Took a few seconds to dispatch it.
I noticed I was right, the blood on the cut eased the fever, maybe neutralized the poison.
The rabbit door puzzle was easy, I hopped around on all four on the little dais and a door opened.
What I found next was not what I expected at all. First, a guy stood leaning against a wall dripping blood from where three of his fingers had been. I think I found my opponent, umm, Seth, the undead. He looked to be about six foot, cute, tan skin and clearly a Greek nose if I ever saw one. He had an Ivory wand in his belt and I saw a dead falcon on the ground near him. He held a Kris loosely in his good hand.
Standing against the back wall were to giants. 12 feet if an inch. Took me a few minutes, I'd seen them before. Guardians! Metal monsters. Mars built ones like these to be the ultimate fighting machines. Humans need not fight again, Guardians could do it for them. Mechanical marvels. One arm was a multi-hand, the left. It could be any of a dozen different attachments from swords to rocket launchers with a few clicks. The right was a metal hand that could crush a human into peanut butter with little effort.
Mars found out it replaced nothing and was actually useless against real combat troops trained against them. Problem was I wasn't. Oh I knew how to stop them in theory. They were slow to react and dumb. If you stayed out of their range for ten seconds or so they forgot you and went back to guard. I think that happened here.
I moved along the back wall toward Seth. "Other than a few fingers, you're not bad looking for a dead guy." I smiled. "Friend or foe?"
"Friend, not much choice really." He smiled.
"True, I know a little about these Guardians. I see they got your familiar. Sorry." I tore off a strip from my pleats and he gave me a funny look. "We normally run around naked but panties. I am way overdressed; besides, you need something for that hand. You look terrible." I handed him the semi clean bandage.
"Not sure about me, but I suspect you might wish to try a new hairspray." He coughed a little and doubled with a bit of pain as I realized my hair was a fright. I had nothing to secure it in a topknot and had let it hang. Now it was covered in blood and various pieces of used beast parts.
"I suspect I may look as bad as you, but I have all my fingers." I had to smile as I wiggled them.
"Nagash the first said there would be days like this. You do not fear us?" He asked.
"Nagash was the first Necromancer? No I don't fear you, but incase you haven't noticed the Guardians don't either. No brains, machines, so most of your spells are useless on them," I told him.
"I know, I tried a couple conjured dead to distract it and sent my Falcon against its eyes. As you see it died and I failed, damn thing shot a Shuriken at me, took the fingers." He half laughed. "I read of Mars building these but never saw one on Earth. Can they be defeated?"
"Yes, not easily I am afraid. How wide is your Kris across the waves at the hilt?" I asked.
"Two and three-quarters maybe." I saw him stand and I felt the amulet tingle.
"We fought a few true necromancers, the undead kind, years ago on Remaris IV, they worked with the Cannibal witches there. " I told him.
"Aaa, Witch Kalie, yes, heard of the fight you had. She died first round, some Elk puckered her butt with an antler I heard." He laughed.
I saw him drink a little bottle of something. He noticed. "It will heal a bit. Only had one and I have no idea how far it is to the end. I was ahead of you almost an hour you know."
"Yes, but now we are equal and I have an advantage, I know how to kill them. But it will have to be a joint effort or we go no further." I saw him look at me.
"If I had died before here?" He asked.
"I might have thought of something, but don't you see. They aren't testing our skills, they actually know them. They are testing our will, or resolve, and our willingness to sacrifice. I suspect they are afraid of any race that is willing to sacrifice for the good of the race rather than only try to survive at all costs. Speculation at this point, if so they will truly fear humanity."
Seth seemed to come back to a semblance of health, his fingers stopped dripping.
"Are you able to function? If you know how you can borrow a bit of my Djed, you really look weak." I told him.
"No I am fine, but thank you, the health potion is all I need for now. I truly thank you for the offer." He bowed as Regally as even Jake ever did. I found I liked him. He stood straight and proud.
"Ok, how we kill these things?" He asked.
"One at a time. With your kris and my Tanto.
"Turn around." I told him. He gave me a questioning look. "Hell, if I wanted ya dead you'd be dead, turn around damn it."
He turned his back to me. I took my hand and poked him in the back, even with the shoulder blades, "Right here should be a slot. Horizontal, not vertical. They used it originally to charge them up and kick start the reactor. It also is the failsafe and diagnostic control hookup.
"Your kris should push both buttons inside and deactivate it, leave it in. If nothing else it will short it out. My tanto is long enough to short it as well.
"Seth, this is part is supposed to be a two person test, it is the only one with two adversaries. If I go down, do earth proud and give them the finger for me." I smiled.
"How we do this?" He asked.
"You distract the left one, get it to chase you back to the corner. As soon as it comes by, I will jump on its back. It has no feelings or sensors. I can use the waist weapons belt to stand on and reach the hole. It will be close, but we can't risk activating them both at the same time. You game?"
"Let's do it."
He moved against the wall on the left and went forward. The Guardian sensed the movement and thumped forward, the whole cave shook. It never sensed me as I jumped on its back and got my feet planted on its belt. I was right. I found the hole and shoved the tanto in as hard as I could. The sparks flew and the voltage shocked my nerves and I feel off the back. I think I knocked myself dizzy.
I smelled smoldering wires. "You all right?" a voice said. Jake? No, I shook my head. The necromancer.
"Yes, that tickled," I laughed.
"Well, I guess your right, he/it is dead. If I'd only known when my familiar was alive, so easy." He smiled and helped me up. I recovered my Tanto, few burnt spots along the edge, shame.
"Okay, I see where it is now. Let me know when your ready." He said, kris in his good hand.
We slid along the wall to the right corner then he moved back toward the center and nodded, he was ready. I drew both swords and ran straight at the remaining guardian. I leapt as high as I could and struck steel on steel with both swords and kicked off into a back flip. It decided I was a fly needed swatting and advanced. I maneuvered toward center than back to the corner as far as I could go, I saw Seth run behind it. It closed on me and I saw it reach with that giant hand. I jammed the Wakashi sideways in it, preventing it from closing on me. Our swords were strong, almost godly, but this thing was Nuke Powered, with massive geared motors. I was in it's grasp but it couldn't close, I saw the hand straining, I saw the wakashi start to flex, I remember thinking if Seth just waited he'd win easily. I heard the loud twang of steel snap, I thought of peanut butter, but the Guardian stopped. I had to wiggle out of the almost closed hand.
He smiled at me. "Sorry, had the kris in my good hand and when I jumped on the belt and grabbed hold I couldn't, no fingers. I fell off and had to do it again. By then you where in dire straights.
"Anyone ever tell you that you have a wonderful wiggle?" He laughed.
"I think my husband has mentioned something along that line, yes." I had to grin.
He started to to remove his kris and I asked him if he got sparks or shocked.
"No, does it matter?" he asked.
"Yes, means you shut it down off the switches, not shorted it. You pull it; it will reactivate," I told him.
"Oh," was all he said. I handed him my Tanto since I still had my Katana.
"Thank you kind lady." And he bowed.
We tackled the door problem together, turns out it also required two people. One side had three evenly spaced round disks, the other side had five.
"Hummm, they push in," he said.
"We probably need to activate them all at the same time," I said.
"Logical, I think your right, requires two people to finish this, most interesting." He just smiled. "I'll take the five; you get the three. Wonder why they are different?"
Hadn't dawned on me until he mentioned it. The center was head height and if I stretched my arms the side ones matched as well.
His were the same idea, but he had to throw in his knees on the last two. "In case one lost an arm or leg, or legs to the Guardians they could finish anyway?" I asked.
"Well, I wouldn't think they really cared, but as good a reason as any I guess. Ready?" He asked. I nodded.
"Ok, on two." He looked at me and saw my question. "Well, everyone uses three, I like to be different." He grinned so big I think it had to hurt.
"And aa one and aa two!" We pushed and the wall fell down, as in big blocks of rock! I was hit by several and I think I passed out.
I came too. Seth was carrying me out, I felt him limping and noticed we had went down the left tunnel against orders. He smiled at me. "Guess we weren't as smart as we thought. Blocks went all the way up, wasn't prepared to jump back. One broke my leg. Afraid you’re a bit worse for ware as well."
I felt blood oozing from my side, ribs sticking out through the skin and I tasted blood in my mouth. I think I was almost dead. "Remember, a finger for me?"
He laughed, "Can't that one is missing."
"Other hand stupid." I smiled as I started seeing nothing but red.
"Oh yes." The last I heard was him snort.
I don't know if we won or lost. I remember nothing more until I opened my eyes in my bed, at my home. Jake and the others were there. I smiled. Was it all a dream?