Kora slid her sword into the scabbard hanging off her hip, looped her arms through her shield so it sat on her back and exchanged hugs with her fellow barbarians. “My brothers!” Her face was marked by an ear-to-ear grin. “It is good to see you!”
Krul’Dar was last. He stood there with his arms by his side, smiling broadly at his king and comrade. “It is good to see you, Kor. It seems you have found your purpose.”
“I have, old friend.” Kora grinned at him. “But I must still reclaim my old self.” She looked pointedly down at her female body. “As you can see.” She met Krul’Dar’s gaze. “Until I have, I ask that you call me by my new name: Kora.”
“Shouldn’t be hard,” Krul’Dar said. “It’s nearly identical to the one I used to call you by.”
Wodec stepped forward. “We have merely tasted battle; my appetite is not yet whetted.” He looked around in mock irritation. “We should have come earlier.”
Kora laughed. “With your emergence into this world, I felt a rush of magic throughout my being. Conflict looms, old wizard.”
Wodec grinned. “Oh it is coming, my liege. Dissona’s monsters were the least of our concerns.”
Suddenly, a legion of lights and sirens appeared down the road. A fleet of choppers crested the horizon, bathing the streets with their mounted floodlights.
“SURRENDER YOUR WEAPONS!” a megaphoned voice declared. “YOU ARE VIOLATING SECTION 3A OF THE BILDERBERG-RUMSFELD ACT! EXTRADIMENSIONAL ENTITIES ARE STRICTLY FORBIDDEN FROM GATHERING OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT-APPROVED FACILITIES!”
The sleek, state-of-the-art choppers slowed to a hover, leveling their optics-responsive cannons onto the barbarian troop. Robo-commandos leapt from the gunships without fast-ropes, clunking down in single-kneed crouches. They reached behind them and unclipped magnetically affixed rifles from their spinal mounts.
Wodec regarded them with narrowed eyes. “These are naught but machines, correct?”
Kora unsheathed her sword (it had changed in accordance with her mood; now that she was ready to dole out some serious whoop-ass, it had turned into a double-edged, fat-bladed monster of a weapon). “Aye, Wizard. They are clockwork daemons, born from the equivalent of a corporate anus. Spare the humans in the metal carts—they are this world’s version of our borderland peacekeepers. Police folk.”
“Police,” Krul’Dar rumbled, fingers tightening around his battle-axe. “The term ‘Peacekeeper’ lands fairer on my ears.”
Wodec turned his head slightly to the side, keeping his war-fired gaze on the gun-toting robots. “You hear that, brothers? Show these machines no mercy; they are born from this world’s equivalent of a sullied asshole! Spare the humans, for they are misguided puppets!”
The mage was answered by a unified roar: “AYE!”
Kora glanced at him. “Have you brought me a mount?”
Wodec gave a curt nod. “You may have mine. His name is YigThantir.” The mage clucked his tongue and jerked his head. “Ho! Saurian! Lend your back to the rightful king!”
An eight-foot raptor broke from the line and strode forward, its head bobbing in time with its predatory gait. His razor-sharp foreclaws gleamed with reflected streetlight, and his scales shone healthy and green.
“By the True,” Kora breathed. “A magnificent steed.”
“SURRENDER NOW!” ANOS’s representative blared.
“BARBARIANS!” Kora screamed. “CHARGE!”
They broke into a gallop. As they surged around Wodec—he’d closed his eyes, wrapped his hands around his staff and begun to chant—Kora leapt onto the back of her newly appointed war-raptor.
ANOS’s robots let loose with DARPA-crafted rounds and weaponized light. The munitions sparked off enchanted shields: invisible globes which became partway visible as their fronts were limned by fiery explosions and sizzling lasers.
A second later the barbarians were slicing apart drones with axe-swings and sword-thrusts. At the same time Kora cut through a nearby commando—she threw a rising chop, bisecting the robot into two sparking halves—a barbarian named Skal’Nug ran his raptor up the front of a police cruiser, denting its hood with four-clawed talon marks. The dino stared at a trio of human policemen who were leveling their M4 rifles, and—
—spat a giant gunk of purple mucus at them. One moment they were squared up in strong shooting stances, the next they were screaming in terror. In the grip of panic, they began throwing around eighties movie references—holy shit it’s gonna burn our skin off like in motherfucking Aliens—but luckily for them, the magic raptor-loogie was nonlethal. It didn’t melt their faces off or strip the tissue from their bones, it simply immobilized them in a solid honeycomb of violet fibers. A seasoned police sergeant named Casey Decker hollered at his troopers to shut the fuck up and stop being pussies, the goddamn Conan rejects weren’t trying to hurt them.
Kora was glad. Even though their steel-jacketed rounds had no chance of piercing Wodec’s shields, it was good to know the loogie-bound officers had figured out she wasn’t trying to hurt them. The robo-commandos, however, were a different matter.
She spotted four of them on her right, morphing together into a tread-mounted missile launcher. She pulled back on YigThantir’s reigns, causing the raptor to rear up as tall as it could, and pointed her giant-ass sword at the robot-formed super-weapon.
“WODEC, LEFT FLANK!” she cried. “MACHINE-SPAWN CATAPULT!”
Her phrasing wasn’t exactly accurate. but Wodec got the picture. His snowy-browed eyes rose with alarm, and he called back: “I’M BUSY CASTING!” he yelled back. “YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF IT!”
Kora swore and pointed her sword at four dino-riders closest to the launcher. “You, you, you, you!” They stopped whatever they were doing—charging, flanking, whatever—and turned toward her, weapons at the ready. She swung her sword toward the super-weapon. “Raptor spit! NOW!”
The warriors obeyed without hesitation. They each issued curt commands to their saurian mounts, causing them to snap their heads forward and let loose with globules of purple saliva. Four big-ass blobs of dino spit shot toward the cannon. Just as the missile lit with backblast, it was ensconced in a hardened wad of enchanted goo. Kora had time to whisper a prayer before—
—the launcher exploded in a spectacular burst of flame and smoke. Her quick thinking had paid off; instead of shooting its deadly payload, the rocket had gone off in its cradle.
A triumphant roar echoed through the warriors’ ranks. “PRAISE AKANAX! PRAISE THE TRUE!”
Kora leaned to the right. decapitating a laser-toting commando with a heavy swipe. A few seconds later she saw they’d won. They’d immobilized the cops, destroyed the robots, and Wodec had brought the helicopters low through some world-class telekinesis. Once the pilots had fled the craft, he used psychic pressure to bend them into crumpled twists of wrinkled metal.
“Circle up!” Kora lifted her sword high into the sky. The crackling fire cast red-tinged shadows across her face. “Post guards and circle up!”
The barbarians drew inward, a few pairs remaining on the outside to ensure that no one would sneak up on them. Kora strode back and forth on her mount, looking each of them in the eye with a steady, fierce gaze.
“Fine work, brothers! Akanax smiles on you, and so do I!”
“RAH!” As one, the barbarians thumped their chests with their weapon-free hands.
Her voice lowered: “Wodec.”
The mage stepped forward. “My liege?”
“My heart tells me we have more to do.”
He nodded. “Your heart speaks true, Kor’Thank. I have been informed by an Akashic entity of a locus of evil we must destroy. It lies to this world’s north.”
Kora straightened up. “ANOS. You’re talking about their central facility. ’Tis an evil structure filled with demons and unholy machines.”
“Yes,” Wodec said. “Exactly.”
“Very well.” Kora’s eyes flickered with firelight. “Can you portal us?”
“I can.” Wodec closed his eyes and muttered something shaky. As he finished speaking, a luminous circle appeared in the air ten yards in front of him. It bounced inward and became a vibratory core of eye-searing brilliance, then dilated outward in a swift jerk, settling into a glowing circle once again, now lined with pulsing strings of violet glyphs.
“Forward, warriors.” Kora turned and addressed her barbarian troop. “Let us carve our names in the annals of history.” She urged YigThantir into a steady walk. His talons clicked audibly against the pavement below.
Every cop on scene (roughly a dozen of them) had settled down after being immobilized from the neck down in magic raptor spit. Now, one of them called, “Wait.”
Kora stopped. The rest of the Indashi followed suit.
The cop’s voice was steady and firm. “You guys are hitting ANOS?”
The cop grunted. “Had some buddies in their Special Response Unit. Awesome on the gun, real good dudes. One day they get a call-up and fucking vanish. Their families…no life insurance, not even a goddamn phone call. There’s other stories too—I’ve heard from compound staff…” he turned his head and spat in disgust. “If you’re gonna burn ’em down, then you got my blessing, along with my bros’ .” He turned his head from side to side, locking eyes with the other cops. “Right guys? Fuck ANOS!”
The trapped policemen expressed their support, their voices coming together in a vehement condemnation of the foul government/corporate super-entity. Maybe they weren’t as eloquent as Kora and her warriors, but in their own way, they were just as poetic: they threw in a bunch of salty-ass insults straight from the heart.
Earthling pride, all the way. Kora smiled.
“You guys are awesome.” She knew that this moment, despite being outwardly informal, was momentous in its own right. She curled her hair with a lift of her fingers, and flashed the cops a bright, pretty smile. “Don’t worry—we’re gonna raze and salt the goddamn earth. Those cockstains won’t know what fucking hit them.”
“Fuckin’ A.” The cop (Kora saw by his nametag that his last name was DECKER) gave her a solid nod. “Give ’em some extra hell just for us.”
Kora saluted with her sword; she held it close to her face, hilt by her sternum, blade pointing straight up. “You have my word.” Then she turned and began striding toward the portal, her barbarian troop following close behind. They started thumping their chests with their weaponless off-hands, chanting a 300-style a-WHOO, a-WHOO with each slap of their gnarled fists.
And much to Kora’s delight, the cops joined in.