Kora flitted from barbarian to barbarian, giving each one a firm hug. “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.”
“Shouldn’t be hard,” Krul’Dar said. “ ’Tis nearly identical to your old one.”
Wodec stepped forward. “My appetite for combat 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 in harsh 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!”
The state-of-the-art aircraft slowed to a hover, leveling optics-responsive weaponry at the outlaw barbarians. Robo-commandos leapt from the chopper skids 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, which morphed from a single-edged 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 addressed 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, 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!” He turned back to Kora. “Also, your sword is fully charged. Worry not; for I have imbued it with magic.”
An eight-foot raptor strode forward, bobbing in time with its twitchy gait. Its razor-sharp claws shone with streetlight.
“SURRENDER NOW!” the chopper blared.
“BARBARIANS!” Kora screamed. “CHARGE!”
As they surged around Wodec (he’d wrapped his hands around his staff and begun to chant) Kora leapt on the back of her new war-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 that became partway visible as their fronts deflected explosions and lasers.
As Kora threw a rising chop, bisecting a robot into sparking halves, a warrior named Skal’Nug ran his dino up the front of a cruiser, denting the hood with its four-clawed talons. A trio of police raised their M4 rifles, but—
—the raptor spat a purple mucus at them. One moment they were squared up in strong shooting stances, the next they were screaming in terror. Luckily for them, the magic raptor-loogie didn’t strip the tissue from their bones, it trapped them in a solid web 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 ammo wasn’t effective against Wodec’s shields, but it was good to know the troopers 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, and pointed her sword at the robot-formed super-weapon.
“WODEC, LEFT FLANK!” she cried. “MACHINE-SPAWN CATAPULT!”
“I’M BUSY CASTING!” he yelled back.
Kora pointed at four dino-riders. “You, you, you, you!” She swung her sword at the super-weapon. “Raptor spit! NOW!”
The raptors snapped forward in twitchy jerks and let fly with purple saliva. As the barrel of the cannon lit with backblast, it was clogged by a wad of enchanted goo. Kora had time to whisper a prayer before—
—the launcher exploded in a spectacular burst of smoke and flame. Instead of shooting its deadly payload, the rocket detonated inside its cradle.
Kora resumed her charge, decapitating a 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, meanwhile, had brought down the choppers with his world-class telekinesis. Once the pilots had fled the craft, he crumpled them into metal twists.
“Circle up!” Kora lifted her sword high overhead. Crackling fires cast red-tinged shadows across her face. As the Indashi drew closer, Kora strode back and forth atop her mount, eyeing them all with a steady 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. “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?”
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 the troop: “Let us carve our names in the annals of history.” She urged YigThantir into a steady walk.
Every cop on scene had been immobilized in magic raptor spit. Now one of them called, “Wait.”
Kora stopped. So did her soldiers.
“You’re gonna hit ANOS?”
The cop grunted. “I had a friend in their Special Response Unit. Awesome on the gun, real good guy. A few months ago, he gets scrambled for a call. He up and vanishes; no one’s heard from him since. They kept his family in the fucking dark…no life insurance, not even a goddamn phone call.” He turned his head, spat in disgust. “If you’re gonna hit ’em, then you got my blessing, along with my bros’ .” He looked to either side, locking eyes with dozens of cops. “Right guys? Fuck ANOS!”
The trapped police 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 yelled some 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 significant nonetheless. She curled her hair with a lift of her fingers, flashing the cops a pretty smile. “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 some 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 began thumping 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 cops joined in.