Small Worlds Part 39

The rock Athena had taken shelter behind initially had adopted the structural integrity of a wooden statue of swiss cheese that had become nest to termites, and the lindworm’s acid continued to cause it to break down. Before the rock had been eaten away, she’d managed pluck a block of ice out of the ground and shape it into a thick shield of ice to catch the acid with. Although she kept having to replenish it, that was just a matter of sucking water out of the air – and the acid that splashed away was somewhat diluted.

While the shield provided some comfort, having to evade acidic spray from the monster and gunfire from Bast was taking up all of her concentration, and while she still held her sword, she could not get into position to counterattack. She had managed to weave a couple spells to protect herself – a barrier of air to somewhat deflect both bullets and acid and a lessening of aether around her feet to free her movements. Well, technically she had created a vortex of wind around herself with a variable center that stayed focused on herself and reduced gravity’s pull on herself with maintaining her normal weight when it came to resisting non-gravitational forces, but she still saw it as she saw it.

Athena banished the useless thoughts from her mind as she leapt again over the acid spray, shield angled down for when the lindworm swung the spray upwards to meet her ascent. It did, and she let the force of the spray carry her a bit higher in the air. Bast took the opportunity to fire a couple shots, but Athena was able to twist out of the way again.

“Damn, Athena, you really don’t know when you’ve lost,” Bast said, reloading her pistols. “I mean, really, at this point – how long do you think you can dodge for?” Athena had to roll as she hit the ground, the Lindworm already spraying another green line her way. “Another ten minutes? Fifteen? Either way you’re dead as soon as you slip up.”

Bast fired a couple more rounds. One of them tugged on Athena’s sleeve, the other sent a few strands of hair falling. Too close. Bast was right, to a point. Athena couldn’t attack right now, could only dodge and weave. Eventually she would slip up, and then she would die. Bast would crush her nanoverse, and that would be the end.

Assuming I don’t have a plan. Which, thankfully, I do.

She let another leap take her airborne, but letting herself pause to pat herself on the back for being so clever had been a mistake. The shield didn’t come up quite in time for the next blast of acid, some of it splashing over the edge and onto her shoulders. She let out a hiss of pain, hearing her own flesh sizzle under the spray, but maintained her course. Almost there…

Bast raised her guns to fire again. The pain from the acid slowed her, and she felt one of the bullets crease her arm. Any closer and it would have punched a hole in her, instead of drawing a line of blood. She fumbled with the leap, and found herself landing in a heap at Bast’s feet.

Bast started raising the guns. “Finally.”

Athena brought up her sword with every ounce of speed she could muster, driving it through Bast’s foot and pinning her to the ground. “Agreed.” As Bast hissed in pain, Athena counted in her head one-one thousand and rolled again.

The other goddess saw what was happening right before it hit. Athena’s one second pause meant that the lindworm’s next acid spray was headed right towards Bast. Although Bast had enough time to protect herself from the worst of it with a gust of wind, she couldn’t avoid also getting sprayed some. The acid pelted her outstretched arm, and her skin joined Athena’s in merrily sizzling. It sounded like bacon, and Athena resolved not to touch the stuff for at least a decade.

“You stupid shitty dragon! Stop trying to spray her and just bite her in half!” Bast screamed through the pain. The lindworm, obedient to her will, stopped the spray of acid and began to slither across the ground towards Athena.

Athena rose to meet it, pulling a new sword out of her nanoverse. The weight surprised her for a moment – apparently they’d abandoned iron blades and constructed new ones out of depleted uranium. She made a mental note to check back on them after the battle, but at the moment she was thankful for the added heft, even though it made the cut in her arm and acid burn on her shoulder groan in greater pain.

The lindworm reared up like a cobra for a moment, then lunged down with jaws spread wide. She met the bite with the heavy blade, drawing a line of blood from the roof of its mouth. It reared back, hissing in agony, and then blinked at her with a comically confused expression. Every instinct it had told it to avoid another bite, but its mistress had commanded it to bite.

Athena took advantage of the lindworm’s confusion to slice a chunk out of its scaled hide. More of the bright red blood spilled out, steam rising from the heat in the winter air. Pain from the dual cuts seemed to bring the lindworm clarity – it had been forbidden from using the acid, but not from clawing at Athena, which seemed far safer to its reptilian brain at the moment.

Out of the corner of her eye, Athena saw Bast pull something out and lob it towards the ocean, but that was an irrelevant background detail. She had claws to evade, and now the weight of the sword worked against her – she couldn’t move it quite fast enough to block both blows, and the Lindworm batted her away. She hit a rock hard and felt a rib crack.

Get up, Athena. Get up or you’re dead.

The lindworm saw it too and raced across the ground towards her, ready to finally take its meal – and then suddenly stopped, pinned to the ground by an invisible force.

Athena glanced around, afraid to hope, and let out a shout of excitement (followed immediately by a groan of pain from her broken rib at the stupidity of shouting) when she saw Crystal and Ryan standing there. They were both badly injured and leaning on each other for support, but their hands were outstretched – each one had massively increased gravity on a part of the beast, pinning it in place.

“Are you serious!?” Bast shouted, nearly shrieking in pain and rage. “Enki didn’t manage to kill even one of you!?

“So it would seem,” Athena said, rising to her feet. She blocked out the pain as best she could. Crystal and Ryan both looked ready to pass out from the effort of saving her, which meant she had to keep Bast focused on her while they kept the lindworm pinned.

Bast was reaching into her nanoverse, and Athena hurled the depleted Uranium sword at her. It stuck in her good leg and drug her to the ground. Athena kept stalking towards her.

“Athena…we need to get back…” Ryan gasped out.

Athena shook her head. “Not yet, Ryan.” Athena held out her hand, and the lighter sword that had been impaled into Bast’s foot came flying out (getting another groan of pain out of Bast) and landing in Athena’s hand. Athena bent over Bast, who was grimacing.

“Get it over with, Athena. I killed your man, you kill me, right?”

Athena, again, shook her head. “You get to fight another day, Bast. If you send the lindworm and varcolac back. Call them off, and I’ll spare you for now.”

Bast studied Athena’s face and sighed. “Fine.” She reached into her nanoverse – causing Athena to tense up – and slowly pulled out a horn. She sounded it, and the sound was repeated by the varcolac army ahead. “Hey, you stupid lizard!” Bast shouted, after the sound of the horn died down. “Back to the castle, now.”

Crystal and Ryan released the gravity bonds, and it slithered back to where it came from.

“Okay, Athena, I guess we’ll meet – URK!”

Athena’s blade came down, driving through Bast’s gut and spine. “And now,” she whispered through gritted teeth, her face inches from Bast’s. Blood was starting to pour from the other woman’s mouth, “I’ve shown you the same faith you showed me.” Bast tried to say something, some retort, but she could only let out a wet rattle before she died.

Ryan and Crystal said nothing. Athena began to pat Bast’s pockets and swore. “Her nanoverse…she threw it into the ocean. We have to get it back! We have to…” She saw the look on her companions’ faces. Ryan was barely standing, his face a swollen mess. Crystal was covered in lightning burns and her clothing was half melted to her body. For that matter, Athena had acid burns, a bullet wound, and broken ribs.

None of them were in any shape to head into the ocean right now. Athena sighed. “Let’s…let’s get back.”

“Good call, love.” Crystal’s speech was slurred, but had her usual oddly cheerful note, although it sounded forced. “After all, we’ve got round two tomorrow, yeah?”

Athena could only nod, feeling the exhaustion settle into her bones.

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