Cassandra’s hand snatched mine out of the air. My eyes snapped open to see a helicopter branded with the Cuban Patrol’s regalia cutting through the air, inches from my face. Cassandra was half leaned out, half wrapped around a support pole, her stomach heavily bandaged.
“How the actual fuck?!” I spat. My shoulder ached as she tugged me inside.
“Got a call on a channel I saved for Mads alone,” Cassandra said. “Something about needing more air support.”
The radio laughed like a madman. “SHOULDN’T’VE LEFT ME ALIVE, PATRICKSON!”
The squad greeted him with a flurry of voices.
“Give them a radio,” One said, and then one was shoved against me. I took it, falling to the ground. The helicopter swam through the air.
While I fumbled with the controls, I looked at my rescuers. A full squad. One or two were dead, I could just tell by the way their skin showed, but the rest were still alive.
“Gale,” Rutherford’s voice greeted me from the other side.
“Commander,” I greeted. “How the actual fuck is there a helicopter here?”
“You’re not the only one who’s allowed to breach protocol,” Rutherford said. “This is personal, and you needed the air support.”
“You gotta get to the heart,” I said.
“This isn’t my first time,” Rutherford said. “They know how to do this.”
My stomach swam as the helicopter pitched once more, and through the open door of the attack craft I saw the monstrous behemoth attempting to break Excelsior in half with fists, swords, roots, and green things that grew out of the blood. Excelsior swept through as a whirling dervish.
Everyone here was experienced at this. I lost all doubt that Excelsior wasn’t willing to spend the rest of time fighting, if the sword allowed.
The gun on the side of the helicopter opened fire, hard and hot enough to send the helicopter pitching in the opposite direction. Cassandra caught hold of me, but it didn’t stop the bile building up from the buckled armor from spewing out the side. My eyes watered.
“You holding up,” Cassandra asked.
“I feel like I got kicked by a mule,” I whined.
“That armor’s won’t be good for much longer,” the infiltrator said, and pushed me to the side to help removed the destroyed parts.
“Saved my life,” I wheezed through my compressed lungs.
“That’s what it’s good for,” Cassandra said. She pulled the radio up. “All troops, collaborate with the Renegades down below. Yes, even the ones that look dead, they intend on staying that way, so all orders about executing them on sight are abated under my authority!”
“Ready?” Mads asked. “I don’t have that many bullets left.”
Rutherford buzzed in through the com. Through the open windows off the helicopter I saw the others swarming in like flies. Great roots grew out of the ground, rippling like water, to swat them off, but the gatling guns collapse their structure before they could reach it.
“What sort of bombs do these things have?”
“Mostly fire,” Cassandra said. “We don’t exactly have that much real steel left over.”
“Mostly?” I asked.
“We got one bomb with us,” She jerked her thumb towards the back. I stared at it, at symbols I had never even seen before. “That should do about the same thing Excelsior’s sword does.”
“One shot?” I asked.
“Ready?” Mads shouted through the com.
I punched in Excelsior’s code. “Mads is going to take his shot. Prepare to move in.”
“Move in?!” Excelsior hissed. “I’m having trouble even getting close! Glad to see you’re not dead.”
“We can celebrate later. Get ready, you’re the closest there.”
“AIM!” Rutherford demanded.
“Fine,” Excelsior said, and the light of his sword reflected the monsters far above.
A helicopter detonated as Gunze started to descend.
Mads took the shot.
But something else was in the way.
Gunze took the shot.
The great woven beast finally bled. Real dark thick ichor, human blood. The aged Fafnir bled, and the concept of cloth withered in my head, a bizarre twist on reality.
“That’s a miss,” Mads reported.
Then Patrickson reached up and grabbed Gunze out of the air.
“That’s bad,” Cassandra said. “Get the bomb ready, I don’t like this.”
Green Towassa whispered into my head as concepts blurred together.
There’s a surprising amount of intersections between the precipice of death and cloth. Funeral garbs, doctor’s robes, blankets.
Patrickson wore Gunze like a cape, and their concepts blurred together.
“That’s… not good,” Excelsior trailed off.
The screams of anarchy broke the terror filled silence that bad been there. Before, only the ticking of machine guns kept back the silence, the hiss of firebombs and the potshots by opportunistic soldiers.
Now there was Guinevere, shrieking from the heavens like a meteor, landing on the opposite side of the clearing.
Excelsior hopped up her scales and landed on her head.
“Guinevere reporting,” The dragon’s voice crackled through the radio. “Enemy Fafnir down.”
“That’s a fucking dragon,” Rutherford swore. “Is it on our side?”
“She is,” I said. “It’s still two on two.”
“Alright,” Rutherford said, catching his breath. “Mission’s the same as before, people. Bare Patrickson’s heart, rip it out, and drop the Real bomb on it.”
“Got it,” Cassandra reported. A few voices in spanish reported in as well.
The thing that had once been Patrickson and Gunze screeches, and spores filled with air like thread.
Abruptly, the engines in the helicopters started to chug.
“Abandon all helicopters,” Cassandra said.
“What about air support?!” I hissed. “How are we going to deliver the bomb?”
Cassandra and the squad grabbed parachutes. I stared at the one she put into my arms and started to work it.
“We deliver it the old fashioned way,” Cassandra said, grabbing it. She set it up so it would rest securely in the helicopter.
“Take us high!” She shouted at the pilot, and despite the growing engine troubles, the helicopters ascended. Choked with ash from burning pollen, I could hear them chugging, the floor of the cargo bay shaking underfoot.
Cassandra smirked, placing a helmet firmly over my head. “Gasmasks on, everyone. We kill it before the filters give out, and we’ll probably be fine.”
A time limit. Fucking great. The helmet connected to the armor with a hiss of air.
With the gas mask strapped on, the parachutes securely attached, and the helicopter emitting smoke, the squad approached the door. I hauled myself to my feet.
“Don’t pull the string until you’re clear of the blades!” Cassandra chirped happily.
This was her element.
The dragon laughed as it punched the behemoth of wood in the face, crackling reality across her fist. Excelsior remained on her head, watching the battlefield.
Two fafnirs versus Excelsior and a fafnir.
I didn’t know the odds. I wanted them to be good.
But to hell with it, we’d brought our satan’s bargain with us, we could use it.
“CLEAR!” Cassandra shouted, and hurled herself out the open door. Her squad followed. The pilot didn’t, I stared at her.
She saluted, slapped the console one more time, and the helicopter started to pitch towards the behemoth below.
“You can’t be serious,” I hissed.
“Serious as can be,” She said, donning her helmet.
Then she approached the portal, holding out her hand. I took it.
We threaded fingers together, and then we jumped off the edge. The helicopter whirred behind us like an atomic bomb, losing altitude fast. The blades passed within yards of us, whipping the air into a froth.
My heart swam. Air stole out of my lungs into the mask, and my eyes shut again.
I heard the dragon shrieking and lightning danced, sending after images through the thin lens of the mask and my own eye lids.
Explosions in the distance wracked the entire world. Another helicopter burst into flames and fell off of target as the airborne threadules took them out.
Death had to be watching. I could hear people dying like flies as things intercepted them. Parachutes deployed in a mess of drum beats.
Two. My hands found the cord. Now or never.
Dad, if you’re watching, I hope you teach me how to fly after I die.
My eyes snapped open. Our helicopter was flying on course, fire burning in the engines. It was screaming as it flew towards the behemoth below.
I pulled the cord, and the parachute deployed, jarring my limbs back, crackling muscles and jarring tendons.
That’s what my life had become since becoming a hero.
We fell like hot embers from the roaring fires of the helicopters. Our air support broke apart in mid air. A few were destroyed by razor lances from below. A few parachutes burst like bags of blood from anti air attacks. My group?
I threw them to the side when the attacks came. This far up there was only the roaring wind, and by god, it was mine to control. Our helicopter swam in, sinking like a missile as the fire engulfed it.
“Please,” I said. “Please work.”
The first helicopter struck the warring beasts below. Fire burst across the side of the plant god, setting fire to the stupid vines. The next struck home as well.
“Taking aim,” Mads said.
“How many bullets do you have left?” Cassandra asked.
“One,” Mads laughed. “Was hoping to save this one for me.”
“I’ll kill you myself, you fucking bastard,” Cassandra snarked. “Make this one count, alright?”
“When the heart’s bare, I’ll take the shot. Taking aim.” Mads reported.
Rutherford’s voice came in distorted. “High command won’t like the loss of most of our air support, but I’ll figure something out.”
“Got it boss,” Cassanda laughed.
Then the helicopter carrying our precious payload hit Patrickson across the head, and reality shook.
It struck us falling out of the heavens in a tumble of limbs, images, timelines, twisted desires and hopes and dreams. The parachute rippled.
Patrickson screamed, a harsh twisted thing. But he wasn’t dead. Not yet.
Then the dream took shape again. A last moment addition to the new hell.
The world was his, after all. A mere mortal wound couldn’t change that. Not yet.