Kora flowed into a roll, hitting the stretch of housing just north of Fort Funston with her sword and shield firmly in hand. Dissona’s bug-spawn instantly swarmed her. She responded by transforming into a deadly whirl of enchanted metal. Monstrosities were hissing and spitting one moment, lying dead on the asphalt the next. In between stabs and slashes she would twist through the air like a professional gymnast, casting magic spells as fiercely as she could, filling the balmy night air with crackling bursts of weaponized color. Bolts of light and ghostly phantoms came to her aid, cutting apart her enemies in spectacular fashion. Some of them exploded or burned, others were lifted in the air by invisible hands. They struggled and mewled as their limbs were stretched and pinned, then let loose with a horrendous death cry as their segmented thoraxes cracked, split, and fountained open in a disgusting blast of guts and gore. Whenever she laid one of the insect-creatures low, she’d throw a handful of mushrooms at its corpse. The fungi would absorb into the hell-fiend tissue, then transform it back into its human host. All around her, dazed San Franciscans were crawling out of the remains of nasty-ass bug-soldiers, looking super confused and scared as hell. When Bitefighter had told her to feed them zen zaps, she’d thought back to the Timekeeper’s words: Mushrooms. They’re the key to your salvation, and your world’s as well. Heed their wisdom and emulate their unity.
Apparently, that meant that psilocybin mushrooms could restore humanity to Dissona’s monster-folk.
Peter’s gonna be over the moon, she thought. She riddled a spiny-legged horror with slices and punctures, then flicked some crumbled mushrooms at it by opening her shield-hand (she could keep the disc affixed to her forearm due to its loops and still hold the zen zaps, which she was unable to do with her sword-hand, as it was gripping the pommel of her enchanted blade). Magic mushrooms restoring sanity to the masses. He’d probably punch the air and say something stupid.
“Run!” she shouted at the freed humans as she launched her body into a spinning, no-hands cartwheel. “Head north!”
The people around her, despite having just emerged from an infernal puddle of slime and chitin, still had enough presence of mind to heed her instructions. A few of them (and from their carriage she could tell they were former or present military or first responders) started herding the rest, grouping them together and piling them into cars. Keys turned, engines revved, and soon, a fleet of cars was heading north, toward downtown San Francisco.
Kora gritted her teeth as she hit the equivalent of a warrior’s triple lutz. Her sword and shield cut a glittering perimeter around her body as she leapt into the air and slashed half a dozen bug-monsters across the face. She landed in an almost-crouch—leaning over her bent left leg, her right leg extended behind her—her weapons swept back and ready to cut. She threw the last baggie of zen zaps into the air, and whirled into a spinning hook kick, hitting dead center with her battle-suited heel. As the mushrooms burst apart, she flexed her will and dispersed them as widely as she could through a brief shot of telekinesis. The monsters she’d cut began to writhe on the ground as they reverted back to human beings.
[Peter, I’m out!] she projected. She parried a wickedly hooked foreleg, then put her shoulder behind a shield-strike, smashing a bug-creature in its mandibled face. [I need more zen zaps!]
[There aren’t any!] She could detect a hint of panic behind his telepathy. [Hang in there—we’re coming back for you right now!] Through their mind-to-mind link, she could feel him turn the Bite Mobile around and start heading back.
She slid onto a knee, ducking a slash and cutting a leg out from one of her attackers. [No, you’ve gotta stop Dissona!] She squirted to her feet and punched her sword up through a mantis-monster’s skull. Blue-black blood leaked from its multifaceted eyes.
Wild desperation. [Kora, I can’t just leave you to di—]
[You have to!] she snapped. [Stop Dissona, or everything you know—everything you love—will be tortured and eaten! You HAVE TO STOP HER!]
Kora shrieked as a barbed pincer cut a chunk of meat off the top of her leg, ripping a sparking hole in her diode-rich battle-suit. She crouched beneath a follow-on slash and responded with a vicious, graceful combo that made her attacker—a grotesque, eight-foot tall cricket—skitter back on its jointed limbs. Her sword and shield went high-low high-low left-right left-right, coming in from a dozen angles before she feinted low with her blade and brought it around in a glittering arc, plunging it into the middle of the cricket’s shell. She gave her weapon a savage twist before she wrenched it from her enemy’s body.
The rest of the creatures formed a circle around her. She looked from side to side, her blood-smeared face lit by the glow of burning houses. They began to creep inward, shrinking the circle bit by bit, their hissing chitters rising in anticipatory delight. She turned, spat, and set her jaw, rooting her weight in a come-and-get-some fuck-you stance.
[Kora!] Peter again. [We can’t just leave you to fucking die!]
[You’re not getting it.] Kora’s smile widened a notch further. Still savage, but undeniably joyful. [I was designed to perish in the service of something greater. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve alongside you; we have both given our lives and our spirits for the betterment of others. Now the circle comes to a close.]
Peter tried again. [No, Kora, that’s not true, it can’t end like this! It can’t—]
[Have faith, Peter.] Kora’s eyes took on a dangerous glimmer. The monsters around her coiled in place, ready to swamp her with claws, fangs, and stingers.
Then Wodec’s voice rang through the air; loud, strong, and fair:
“LOOK TO YOUR FRONT, WARRIORS—LET NONE OF THESE FIENDS ESCAPE OUR FURY!”
He was followed by forty-four Indashi barbarians, all mounted on snarling velociraptors; they were pouring out from a gleaming rip in the smoke-dampened night. Their voices combined into a full-throated roar.
Kora swung her sword into guard and charged her attackers, screaming in joy along with her comrades.