A Court For Crows (Part 36)

With a single flick of the beast’s massive arms, the door bent in. And then another hit, hard enough to shatter all the bones in my arms, and the door erupted out; lock spraying apart in a mire of bent metal and twisted pins.

“Come,” The beast demanded, giving me a long look. Red eyes flicked in the beast’s head.

I took a step back. Suddenly, the old room seemed like a better place to wait it out. Where the beast had been smug before, the tongue flicking across the teeth ran red with blood, dripping from lips snapped open in the creature’s flashing.

“Come?” I asked.

“Godling,” The creature said, exasperated. “We’ll have better luck getting my revenge if there are two of us. Don’t be stupid.”

I took a deep breath and slid next to them. “What’s your name?”

“Names?” The creature asked. “One hardly needs to give a name to someone who might die at any moment.”

“I’ll need something to put on your tombstone,” I retorted. There. Indignation rather than paralyzing fear. I could work with that.

“Boss,” they said. “And I’m a girl. I understand godlings have trouble asking that.”

Boss.

“Title or name?”

She barked out a laugh and picked up the heavy metal door. Gave it a few swings. I kept far behind her. The alarm continued to blare.

With a growl, she carved out the ceiling with a swipe, tearing the speaker and blaring klaxon out in a spray of wires and electricity. She grinned.

“Both,” Boss said, baring teeth like daggers. “And yours, Godling?”

“Jess,” I said, staring at the carnage wrought out of the old world ceiling. Seemed like the gloves were off for her.

“A delicious name. I’ll remember it when you’re worthy of consumption.”

I breathed out. “Let’s just worry about getting out of here.”

Boss shook her head. “They threw you in without your weapon. As did they with mine. We will retrieve both, and then we will leave.”

I let my breath whistle out of my teeth. “Did you bring in a Crow, perchance?”

“Hardly worth eating,” Boss dismissed. Then paused. “Unless you mean to save her?”

“It’d do a lot towards earning my good will,” I replied.

“I have to earn your good will?” The creature growled, stalking down the hallway. “My muscles ache, and I bleed, godling. Your plan may have worked, but your good will I will earn through these tasks.”

“Good.” I said. Not in control here. Boss was in control.

But fine. She was several hundred pounds of towering behemoth, she could call all the shots if she wanted to.

Without the chirp of the Omoi, I entered the next room behind Boss, totally and utterly blind.

We didn’t need the chirp to tell us the drones were there, they opened fire as soon as Boss slammed the door open.

“Careful-” I started.

Boss slammed ahead with a press of her legs, and the brief glimpse I had of teenagers, eyes a thousand complex layers and teeth made of chitin vanished as the monster took up the rest of the room herself.

Small arms ricocheted hellishly off of Boss’s shield, a metallic symphony that abruptly ended when she brought it down on their heads.

Crackling bone, burst chitin, the noises were interchangeable, ultimately.

“Drones,” Boss scowled.

“Also not good hunting?” I asked, trying not to stare at the spreading green stains on either side of us.

“Mindless. Brainless. No stories from their deaths. No family to mourn them. No gallant tales of vengeance after their demise. Disposable,” Boss sneered, looking over the front of the heavy metal door.

Just dents and the occasional pockmark.

The air smelled like blood and antiseptic, rising from the corpses. I didn’t look at them.

All I could think of were the skeletons back in the cryopods. Had they dreamed the world might be like this?

Boss reached out of the ceiling and tore out the speaker, tossing it to the side.

“Where are we going?”

“Where else?” Boss asked. “The Armory is where they store anything that could need.”

I swallowed and crept behind her, then stopped. Grit my teeth, and carefully plucked the least mangled pistol off of one of the corpses. Scavenged for ammo, half remembered tutorials reminding me to make sure I had enough. Indeterminate number of bullets left in each clip.

Not something I could count on. Each had to matter.

Take your shot before your enemy knows you’re there.

Tane’s voice whispered in my head. Was she alright? Had she made it out?

Had Jay been taken yet? How long had I been missing?

“Stop worrying,” Boss said. “I’m here,”

“Is that supposed to be reassuring?”

“Your worry stench fills the air,” she replied. “It annoys me that there’s more of it NOW than when we were fighting.”

“That’s not-”

The distant play of pins on the ground. The far window exploded out in a spray of glass, and then small spheres played through.

“Annoying,” Boss growled, then slammed her door down on the side. “Down, Godling!”

“Jess!” I hissed, starting to crouch.

Then a massive paw slammed me down against the floor, just in time for the grenades to go off, turning the hallway into a deathtrap of shrapnel and smoke.

Boss laughed and grabbed me in her paw, plucking me up onto her shoulders so I could barely see over her silver golden fluff, and charged at the far wall.

In the smoke, the drones were already trying to breach. The occasional gunshot whipped past, too close for my tastes.

Then they died as a metal door occupied the same space they were in, brittle bodies fracturing, lymph spilling on the floor. I didn’t get to take a shot.

I didn’t need to.

“How many drones do they even have?”

“A queen is never at a loss for slaves,” Boss growled. “Not even their masters care. Pathetic.” Her massive ears perked up. “Behind, Jess.”

“It’s-” Right, she said Jess.

I spun around and stared at the far door. A drone poked their head through. Some vague abomination with brown hair. My eyes fuzzed over trying to read the face. Not Omoi’s doing.

I just didn’t want to see those awful eyes embedded into a human skull. Did they inhabit the corpses of the dead? Or were they some convergent evolution, some eldritch influence whispering of the lands lost masters?

The pistol shook in my hand, and it didn’t help that each thump of Boss’s gait shook me.

“Take the shot,” Boss growled.

My finger squeezed the trigger and the round went wide, hitting the doorframe opposite of that infernal head. Another shoot, and another miss. The gun smouldered, hot smoke and gunpowder.

Another shot, another shot, another shot, another shot, then click click click click.

Boss picked up a corpse from the path she was carving and threw it behind her. The body caught the drone keeping watch on us and sent it tumbling back out of sight.

“Your aim is terrible. Improve it,” Boss barked.

Chastised, my hands shaking, I slid off of the great beast’s back. “Where is the armory?”

“Across the cafeteria,” Boss grinned, showing all of her teeth at once. “Godlings aren’t scared of running, right?”

The next room was too wide. Too wide to be tolerated. Ancient tables held up by spite, interspersed with the occasional newer accompaniment; some vague almost human touch taken on my human invaders.

And the drones moving in from the far door; no easy escape at all.

“Halt!”

Prince sat at the far end of the room, a book in his hands. “A shame. Trellis mentioned you might be a problem… Do you shirk your duties to humanity so thoroughly, Jess?”

“Imitators to the end. Clinging to the coat tails of vanished gods.” Boss clicked her tongue. “YOU MADE YOUR GRAVE!”

The only response Boss received was the noise of many, many, many guns turning to face the two of us.

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