Kora 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 with his arms by his side, smiling 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 pointedly 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. “It’s nearly identical to your old one.”
Wodec stepped forward. “We have merely tasted battle; my appetite is not yet whetted.” He glanced around in mock irritation at the settled battlefield. “We should have come earlier.”
Kora laughed. “Conflict looms, old wizard.”
Wodec smirked. “I was only jesting, my liege. Dissona’s monsters were the least of our concerns.”
Suddenly, 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-APPROVED FACILITIES!”
Sleek, state-of-the-art choppers slowed to a hover, leveling their optics-responsive weaponry at the barbarian troop. Robo-commandos leapt out with no fast-ropes and clunked down in single-kneed crouches. They reached back and unclipped their magnetized rifles from their spinal mounts.
Wodec regarded them with narrowed eyes. “They are naught but machines, correct?”
Kora unsheathed her birth weapon (it had magically morphed from a curved, one-sided saber into a fat-bladed greatsword). “Aye, Wizard. 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 so he could address the troop, while still keeping his gaze on the robots. “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, as I will be casting. 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 strode forward, its head bobbing in time with its predatory gait. Its razor-sharp foreclaws gleamed with streetlight.
“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 cut loose with DARPA-crafted rounds and weaponized light. The munitions sparked off enchanted shields that Wodec had summoned around the barbarians—invisible globes which became partway visible as their fronts were limned by fiery explosions and sizzling lasers.
A second later the Indashi were slicing through drones with axe-swings and sword-thrusts. As Kora threw a rising chop, bisecting a robot into two sparking halves, a barbarian named Skal’Nug ran his raptor up the front of a cruiser, denting its hood with four-clawed talon marks. A trio of police raised their M4 rifles, but—
—the raptor spat purple 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 melt their faces or strip the tissue from their bones, it 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; these goddamn Conan rejects weren’t trying to hurt them.
Kora was glad. Their steel-jacketed rounds had no chance of piercing Wodec’s magic 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 robots on her right, combining 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 machine-formed super-weapon.
“WODEC, LEFT FLANK!” she cried. “MACHINE-SPAWN CATAPULT!”
Her phrasing wasn’t entirely accurate, but Wodec got the picture. He called back: “I’M BUSY CASTING!” he yelled back. “YOU’LL HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF IT!”
Kora swore and pointed her sword at four dino-riders closest to the launcher. “You, you, you, you!” She swung her sword toward the super-weapon. “Raptor spit! NOW!”
The warriors issued curt commands to their saurian mounts, causing them to snap their heads in twitchy jerks and let loose with globules of purple saliva. Just as the cannon lit with backblast, it was ensconced 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 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 more minuts of dino-riding asskicking, and she saw they’d won. They’d immobilized the cops, destroyed the robots, and Wodec had brought the helicopters low with his world-class telekinesis. Once the pilots had fled the craft, he used psychic pressure to crumple them into twists of 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 posting on the edges to ensure no one could sneak up on them. Kora strode back and forth on her mount, eyeing each of them with a steady, fierce gaze.
“Fine work, brothers! DAMN fine work! 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. According to an Akashic entity I have just communed with, there is a locus of evil we must still destroy. It lies to this world’s north.”
Kora straightened up. “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 in front of him. It bounced inward—briefly becoming a vibratory core of eye-searing brilliance—then dilated outward in a swift jerk, settling into a glowing circle lined with pulsing strings of 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. His talons clicked audibly against the pavement below.
Every cop on scene (roughly a dozen of them) had been immobilized from the neck down in magic raptor spit. Now, one of them called, “Wait.”
Kora stopped. So did her soldiers.
“You guys are gonna hit ANOS?”
The cop grunted. “Had some buddies in their Special Response Unit. Awesome on the gun, real good guys. A few months ago, they got scrambled and disappeared. Their families were kept in the fucking dark…no life insurance, not even so much as 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 from side to side, locking eyes with the other cops. “Right guys? Fuck ANOS!”
The trapped policemen expressed their support; their voices came together in a vehement condemnation of the government/corporate super-entity. 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 the earth and salt the remains.”
“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—close to her face, hilt by her sternum, blade pointing toward the sky. “You have my word.” Then she turned and began striding toward the portal, her barbarian troop following close behind. They thumped 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 utter delight, the cops joined in.