Kora hugged her fellow barbarians. “My brothers! It is good to see you!”
Krul’Dar grinned broadly at his king and comrade. “You have found your purpose, it seems.”
“I have, old friend.” Kora grinned back. “But I must still reclaim my old self.” She looked down at her female body. “As you can see.” She looked at Krul’Dar again. “Until I have done so, I ask that you call me by my new name: Kora.”
“Should not be hard,” Krul’Dar said. “ ’Tis nearly identical to your old one.”
Wodec stepped forward. “We have but tasted combat; my appetite is not yet whetted.” He glanced around, irritated, at the settled battlefield. “We should have come earlier.”
Kora laughed. “Conflict yet looms, old wizard.”
Wodec smirked. “I was only jesting. Dissona’s monsters were the least of our concerns.”
As if on cue, lights and sirens crested the hill. A fleet of choppers followed in their wake, bathing the street with their mounted floodlights.
“SURRENDER YOUR WEAPONS!” a megaphoned blared. “YOU ARE VIOLATING SECTION 3A OF THE BILDERBERG-RUMSFELD ACT! EXTRADIMENSIONAL ENTITIES ARE STRICTLY FORBIDDEN FROM GATHERING OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT FACILITIES!”
State-of-the-art choppers slowed to a hover, leveling optics-responsive weaponry at the barbarian troop. Robo-commandos leapt from their doors—no fast-ropes—and clunked down in single-kneed crouches. As they rose, they reached behind them and unclipped rifles from their spinal mounts.
Wodec regarded them with narrowed eyes. “They are naught but machines, yes?”
Kora unsheathed her birth weapon (it had magically morphed from a one-sided saber into a fat-bladed greatsword). “Aye. 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. His fingers tightened around his axe. “The term ‘Peacekeeper’ lands fairer on my ears.”
Wodec turned his head slightly to the side so he could address the troop from over his shoulder. “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 asked, “Have you brought me a mount?”
Wodec gave a curt nod. “Take mine, for I will be busy casting. His name is YigThantir.” The mage clucked his tongue and jerked his head. “Ho! Saurian! Lend your back to the rightful king! Also, your sword is fully charged. Worry not; for I have imbued it with magic.”
An eight-foot raptor strode forward, head bobbing in time with its gait. Its razor-sharp foreclaws shone with streetlight.
“SURRENDER NOW!” ANOS’s representative blared.
“BARBARIANS!” Kora screamed. “CHARGE!”
As they surged around Wodec (he’d closed his eyes, wrapped his hands around his staff and begun to chant) Kora leapt on the back of her newly appointed raptor. ANOS’s robots cut loose: DARPA-crafted rounds and weaponized light sparked off enchanted shields that Wodec had summoned around the barbarians—invisible globes which became partway visible as their fronts were limned by explosions and lasers.
As Kora threw a rising chop, bisecting a robot into sparking halves, a warrior named Skal’Nug ran his raptor up the front of a cruiser, denting its hood with a pair of four-clawed talons. A trio of police raised their M4 rifles, but—
—the raptor spat a purple fan of mucus at them. One moment they were squared up in strong shooting stances, the next they were screaming in terror, throwing out eighties movie references—holy shit it’s gonna burn our skin off like in motherfucking Aliens—but luckily for them, the magic raptor-loogie didn’t strip the tissue from their bones, it immobilized them in a solid honeycomb of violet fibers. A salty sergeant hollered at his troopers to shut the fuck up and stop being pussies; these goddamn Conan rejects weren’t trying to hurt them.
Kora was glad. Their nine-mil couldn’t pierce Wodec’s shields, but it was good to know the loogie-bound officers knew the score. The robo-commandos, however, were a different matter.
She spotted four machine-men on her right, combining together into a tread-mounted launcher. She pulled back on YigThantir’s reigns, causing the raptor to rear up as high as it could, and pointed her giant-ass sword at the robot-formed super-weapon.
“WODEC, LEFT FLANK!” she cried. “MACHINE-SPAWN CATAPULT!”
“I’M BUSY CASTING!” he yelled back.
Kora swore and pointed her blade at four dino-riders. “You, you, you, you!” She swung her sword back at the super-weapon. “Raptor spit! NOW!”
The raptors snapped their heads in twitchy jerks and let fly with purple saliva. Just as the cannon lit with backblast, it was clogged in a 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 detonated in its cradle.
Kora leaned right. decapitating a laser-toting commando with a heavy swipe. A few more minutes of dino-riding asskicking, and she saw they’d won. They’d immobilized the cops and destroyed the robots. Wodec had brought the choppers low with some world-class telekinesis. Once the pilots had fled the craft, he crumpled them into metal twists.
“Circle up!” Kora lifted her sword high into the sky. Crackling fires cast red-tinged shadows across her face. Barbarians drew inward. Kora strode back and forth on her mount, eyeing them all with a steady, fierce gaze.
“Fine work, brothers! DAMN fine work! Akanax smiles, and so do I!”
“RAH!” They 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. There is a locus of evil we must still destroy. It lies to this world’s north.”
Kora grimaced. “ANOS. 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 orb appeared in the air ten yards before him. It bounced inward, then dilated outward in a swift jerk, settling into a glowing circle lined with violet glyphs.
Kora turned and addressed her troop. “Let us carve our names in the annals of history.” She urged YigThantir into a steady walk. Every cop (roughly two dozen police) had been immobilized in raptor spit. Now, one of them called, “Wait.”
Kora stopped. So did her soldiers.
“You’re gonna hit ANOS?”
The cop grunted. “Had a friend in their Special Response Unit. Awesome on the gun, real good guy. Few months ago, he gets scrambled and disappears. His family was kept in the fucking dark…no life insurance, not even a goddamn phone call.” He turned his head and spat in disgust. “If you’re gonna hit ’em, then you got my blessing, along with my bros’ .” He turned his head to either side, locking eyes with the other cops. “Right guys? Fuck ANOS!”
The trapped policemen shouted vehement condemnations of the government/corporate super-entity. They weren’t as eloquent as Kora and her warriors, but in their own way, just as poetic: they threw in a bunch of salty-ass curses straight from the heart.
Earthling pride, all the way. Kora smiled.
“You guys are awesome.” She knew that this moment, despite the outward informality, was momentous in its own right. She curled her hair with a lift of her fingers, and flashed the cops a pretty smile. “Don’t worry—we’re gonna raze the earth and salt the remains.”
“Fuckin’ A.” The cop who’d spoken (Kora saw by his nametag that his last name was DECKER) gave her a solid nod. “Give ’em extra hell, just for us.”
Kora saluted with her sword—hilt by her sternum, blade toward the sky. “You have my word.” She turned and strode toward the portal, her barbarian troop following close behind. They thumped their chests with their weapon-free hands, chanting a 300-style a-WHOO, a-WHOO with each slap of their gnarled fists.
And much to Kora’s utter delight, the police joined in.