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Not absolutely sure if this is right form or not. My apologies if this isn't. This is a little original fiction I wore a while ago, for some definition of original at least. Kind of liked it, even if it is silly, and was hoping for any constructive criticism/ see what anyone else thought of it. Full warning this is a a Conan the Barbarian type adolescent fantasy with beautiful women, fearless heroes and monsters. Oh, the rating is mostly me being cautious. Nothing really risque happens through their is a devoted focus on the women characters breasts that appealed to my inner fifteen year old. “Once a lush, garden world the slow heat-death of its star plunged Jhera into chaos. Faith in Imperial rule faltered as petty despots rose squabbling over dwindling resources. Scarring the already damaged lands in their turmoil. Dangerous minds delved into long forgotten catacombs for the portents of dark knowledge they might learn. Resurrecting the sorcerer cults of the previous age, the most powerful individuals becoming kings in their own rights. Corrupting the people, beasts even their very domains into twisted caricatures…“ Excerpt taken from the book of Skelos. Weathered, incomplete bones of steel and iron protruding from beneath skeins of broken glass the stunted remnants of a city whose name had been swallowed up by the ages rose eclipsing the starry canvas. Mangled relics of groundcars overturned on the cracked tarmac of roads slowly submerging beneath the crawling desert sands. A groundcar flattened beneath it a squat, boxy shaped tank rested at an angle. Side busted open and scorched from a rocket attack. The shriveled husk of the vehicle’s commander, leather helmet still perched on his emaciated skull, laying draped across the cupula. The broken shaft of an arrow wedged between his ribs. The coarse grains of sand of the encroaching desert blackening and melting into glass around the blistering edges of a large bonfire set up in an open space in the demolished city. Shadows writhing in its flickering light. This close you could see the bones of past offerings piled in the fire’s hearth. Charred skulls, some of them cracked open, staring up through the wreaths of flames with vacant sockets. Oily streamers of smoke billowing up through them. Ribs, showing gnawed marks, scattered over the burning bed of embers as well other as other, less recognizable, bones. Nearly a dozen people standing around the fire in a half circle. Many of them Raza slaves and runaways dressed in the loose, billowing fabric of the desert. Greenskin pirates captured and sold at auction to cover the expense their piracy caused. The blistered, bubbling mark of their indenture scarred across the cheek of their lush green skin. Which, as was their way, the slaves had incorporated into intricate, face obscuring tattoos. Permanently inking their eyes a fiery red or filing their teeth into dagger tips in fearsome defiance to their captors. Then there was the obese, dumpy body of a merchant or shopkeeper hidden beneath a loose fitting, hooded robe. His face bathed in obscuring darkness. The bestial forms of ape-men. Slouched, inhuman things whose evolution had regressed backwards. The product of radiogenic mutation and worse. They wore armor of boiled leather and sand encrusted chainmail. Longish daggers and short swords prominently displayed from across their backs and against the side of each leg. A Skaros Automata stood off to the side watching the proceedings impartially. Its skeletal, iron body covered with painted runes and feathers of desert fowl draped from off it with twine. A single, cyclopean glass eye set into its boxy, square head cracked and covered with a fine layer of grime and dirt. Beside him, watching the machine-man wearily, was a dusky-skinned Stygian in the red and white uniform of the Imperial Garrison. His head shaved and what remained pulled tightly back in a knotted tail which rested against his shoulder. Yet these were mere apparatuses, distinct components of the whole. The heart and soul, the very animating figure, the giant who each of the others watched. He wore the modified armor of a gladiator. His naked back covered with old scars of whip marks and scolding irons from his former captivity. Sunbaked skin bronzed by the wind and the elements to a reddish-brown, creased leather. Lanky, black hair falling behind his shoulders framing an oblong, scar-pitted face with spoke with a deep, echoing cadence. Perhaps he hailed from the steamy jungle world of Attila? Or perhaps a gene-enhanced mutant. One of the multitudes churned out from the great crucibles to fight on the behalf of the squabbling Satraps who clamored for ever greater power. What would have been a shortish sword to any other clenched in one mammoth hand. He spoke addressing his faithful flock as he walked around the blistering fire to the final, if unwilling, member of the gathering. Heavy chain from the iron collar fastened around her neck hammered into the ground keeping her in place. The crude links coiling around her as she knelt futilely trying to uproot the steel spike which pinned through the chain holding it transfixed. Silky, raven hair falling in a slight, natural wave over her the shoulders of the ruined, pink, ballroom gown she wore. Side split up to her waist revealing long, cream colored legs folded beneath her. The front of the dress torn as well pushed apart by the rather ample, tit-flesh squeezed inside a lacy black and white bra. The constrictive fabric of the far too small apparel pressed sinking into each large globe squishing it. Boobies rising like dough spilling out over the white lace of the over brimming cups or pushing out beneath. No doubt intended for her lover and betrothed, an amiable if imbecilic princeling, for the evening after the party. A frilled gossamer of black spider-silk just barely covering her womanly mound beneath the tattered hoop of her dress. Pink fabric smeared in places with the dried, rusty blood of the bodyguards who’d died trying to protect her after her returning sand-skiff had been set upon by bandits. Cutpurses and flesh-peddlers who’d only been too happy to sell her to this loathsome cult. She was Princess Kamila, one of the daughters of the besotted Osiric the nominal ruler of the dingy city Obrac. A tiny outpost of stone and iron in the hellish wasteland the locals called the sea of stone. She’d been placed in front of a carved idol, sitting reclined on a pedestal, of the cult’s loathsome deity. A winged thing, tattered membranes folded behind its back, a bulbous head framed by large, fanning ears sat on a nearly invisible neck. Rings of gold were stamped through the torn, outer edges. In the center of its face were two red eyes, febrile and clouded, and beneath a large proboscis curled rising upwards. A golden ball tipping the right tusk which emerged jutting from the drooling maw. The left cracked and broken off ending in a jagged stub. The body of similar proportions, vaguely simian, with pebbly, gray skin. The artist, driven by vision or madness, incorporating scabrous legions and burns into the texture. Clawed hands like scimitars gripped either end of the throne it had been sculpted on. Raising his dagger the giant stepped in front of Kamila his loud voice speaking to his eagerly watching followers. “As the Atlantean race bled into history, the glory of Ix crumbled to dust and even the eternal-lived Nobles embraced the darkness of night so shall it be for the reign of Man. We, His faithful servants, know this and wait. Spreading word for the time He shall return and tending to his many children. Bred from the same darkness from which He emerged and all shall return.” He said reaching a massive hand and pulling her to her feet.” It is to these, His spawn, we make this offering.” Snorting derisively the woman stared up coolly at her impending death with a smirking expression. “I’m afraid fella you’re a bit late for me to play the virgin sacrifice. So how about you just let me go?” She asked lifting a link of chain. “Silence! For you, it soon will be over.” He answered her annoyed at the interruption. Stiffening and turning to look behind him with his diabolical flock at the unexpected sound of voice calling out to them. A look of relief on his creased face when he saw it was only one man. Walking towards the gathering into the light of the fire where they could see him. A muscular, head-strong youth. A square-cut mane of rich, blonde hair visible from beneath the wide brim of his sun blocking hat. The gold and gem studded pommel of a sword, wrist guard extending out forming an ornate cross, rising out from behind his broad shoulders vanishing inside the collar of his unbuttoned black duster. A fresh layer of grime collecting to the end as it dragged through the soft sand. The bulbous head of a matchstick bobbing as he chewed the end as an inadequate substitute for his usual nicotine. A short stocked rifle, shoulder strap hanging down past his arm, in his left hand pointed towards the ground. Behind him, still on the horse, a curvy blonde watched with the unfolding gathering with interest. Letting the blanket wrapped around her spectacular body to ward off the desert night’s chill fall away. Revealing a very short, red dress riding up as she gently squeezed her long, silky legs against the horse’s sides calming it. Fitting tightly in the chest, fabric stretching to contain her soft marshmallows. White flesh visible pushing out through the window cut across the front of her dress. A hint of pink appearing along the edges of her pale, creamy flesh as the material squished compacting down her globes trying to escape. Gently rising and falling with every sensual breath she took it was perfectly clear from the outline impressed upon the fabric she hadn’t bothered with anything as trivial as a bra. And if she had, he doubted she’d still have it this late into the evening. Not unless he seriously started to slip Her name was Dawn. Dawn Chambers. And that was the only thing he allowed other men to call her, in her presence or otherwise. Those that didn’t had a nasty tendency to lose their tongues or worse. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” He asked with a disarming grin stopping and kicking a rock towards the fire with his toe.” I’m with the city watch, saw the fire and thought I’d see if you folks have all your permits.” The crowd of worshippers gathering around him. From the folds of their loose, billowing clothes the sharp-toothed Raza slipped out antediluvian daggers of chipped stone or sharpened metal hafted with rolled sheets of coarse fabric for a handle. Others of their number had crude, iron sickles favored for fighting in the narrow, canted streets of Obrac. Undoing the clasp the garrison soldier lifted the leather flap of his holster from the chipped handle of his service revolver. Resting the weight of his hand on the worn grip as he studied the unexpected intruder in their midst. Growling the Apes drew their own well-used blades. Each nicked and worn in the manner of a long, colorful service. Reaching over its shoulder the robotic drone removed an unfolding steel saber from a compartment in its back. The underside of its right wrist splitting open an autopistol popping out into the machine’s waiting, skeletal fingers of iron. The chassis to his arm closing shut as he swung it around towards the smirking, blonde man. “Declaration: Invalid. Probability: One or more additional conspirators.” Its voice like electronic nails dragged across a chalkboard. Cracked lenses swiveling from the intruder to the Cult Leader with an audible whine of the grit caked servos. “Recommendation: Capture. Interrogate. Eliminate.” It said with a fiendish giddiness as the giant held up one gnarled hand. Nodding his head with a toothy grin towards Dawn only barely visible in the shadows. “More conspirators like that? Are we to be frightened of mere babes in the wilderness?” The Cult Leader laughed stepping forward. His dagger held at his side in his brawny fist. The three feet of steel looking almost inadequate and dainty compared to his immense dimensions. Yet he moved with a coiled litheness of a man much smaller as many of the blackened bones sizzling in the fire had found out. “I am called Khagan, of the Ecord tribe. And you? A bandit? Thief? Maybe a flesh peddler?” The brute grinned looking once more to the seated blonde woman.” We’d pay a handsome price, if so. Well worth your trouble.” Looking up at the giant he removed the well gnawed on matchstick putting just the right amount of charm and condescension in his smile. “Brad Hunter. Loved by women.” He said with a glance at the Raven-haired woman.” Bane of evil." Kamila having to fight to keep from giggling at his delivery, a niggling remark on the tip of her tongue. Realizing he was to get no cooperation, Khagan frowned lifting his gaze to the sprawling, dark desert that lay beyond the city ruins. “Take care of your words, little one. This is our business. You have no concern here. Begone if you value your miserable neck. Or die.” He growled at the smirking Hunter. “Is that how it is, huh?” The Blonde asked, smile never leaving his face.” Funny, I was going to tell you something similar.” Returning the matchstick to his mouth. At the last moment, his thumb dug into the head, he scraped it across. Tossing the brief, wafting flame flaring up towards the giant’s face as he swung his rifle up. Grimacing, peering through his thick fingers as he clasped brushing the burning matchstick from his eyes, Khagan heard two gunshots. Through blurry vision he saw Hunter flicker in motion materializing to the side of where he’d stood. His body contorting bending from the path of the passing bullet. Letting his smoking end of his rifle drop, its purpose done as the distinct electronic squeal of the automata reached his ears. Seeing from the corner of his clearing vision as the machine fell forward on rusty knees, a hole neatly punched through the front of its chassis. A gray column of smoke wafting out along with an acidic, burning smell. Moaning in a drawn out, warbling tone the machine fell forward shattering its grimy covered eyepiece against the sand covered pavement. Admiring the results of his handiwork Hunter reached over his shoulder grabbing his sword as he sprung forward. Sweeping up the barrel of his rifle as it caught and deflected Khagan’s slashing dagger. Damn thing feeling like an anvil had dropped on him. The tremors reverberating down the length of his arm and shoulder as he twisted and turned the edged weapon away raising his own which he cleaved into the Cult Leader’s face. Punctuating his war cry and shout to attack with a ragged, blubbery scream of pain. Twisting away, Khagan stumbled and fell sprawled clutching at his ruined face. One hand missing two fingers from its end. Those laying at Hunter’s feet as he leapt over them in a shimmering pool of their own blood. His mind wheeling through all who stilled remained of the cultist rotating through their faces and playing it out. The trick of course was never to give them chance to recover, to regroup. Against man, alien or monster shock could at time be your greatest, and only, ally. He leapt towards a knot of Raza sending them scattering clumsily away as he selected one out. Ruby blood slinging out through the air, reflected in the firelight, he tucked to the side avoiding the desperate stab of its crude dagger as he swung his sword across. Burying its sharp edge through the alien’s shoulder and throat with the sound of tearing gristle and snapping bone. A wet noise working its way up through what remained of its trachea. Propelled by the strength in his sword arm the dying body lurched forward, sword slipping free with stringy gore, from out in front of him on buckling knees. A sagging head tilting sideways revealing a moist, severed spinal cord. Clearing the way towards his intended target. Revolver raised shakily in both hands, the garrison soldier turned following the trail of vengeance. His eyes locking with Hunters as the latter drew his sword back from the collapsing body. His rifle held tucked underneath his swordarm as another gunshot split the night shattering the soldier’s jaw and ripping open his throat in a crimson spray. His revolver barking once wildly as his body contorted slammed by the impact and drunkenly spun before collapsing. Sensing movement Hunter twirled his sword arcing it behind his shoulder ahead of the screeching cry of the attacking Ape. His sword clanging as it connected with the mutants driving it aside. Snarling the Ape-man’s barred yellowed fangs, fetid breath wafting over Hunter, in a spiteful grimace which turned to a look of surprise as the Blonde turned pointing his rifle up into its face. A crack of thunder transforming it into a fine mist of brain and cranial fragments. Hunter already moving leaping towards one of the Raza, the headless thing slumping away, clumsily batting the alien’s curved sword aside before ramming the hilt of his pommel into its green face. Feeling hot blood spurt out and the crunch of bone as the Raza was knocked back. The shadows of his kin circling around Hunter in the corners of his vision. Lunging towards him. Four of them coming from all sides. Plus the one he’d struck who’d stepped back, spitting an inhuman colored blood, reaching behind him to draw a stone tapered dagger. Plunging it towards Hunter’s eye as the Blonde spun to block the swing of another attacker. Pushing that one away, driving his elbow into the Raza’s side, he snapped his head aside to dodge the knife attack barely able to twist bending his waist and abdomen up out of the way of the slashing sickle which followed. The wielder’s frenzied shriek ending in a broken maw of flying teeth as he smashed the edge of his rifle’s butt into its face knocking it back again. His sword already flashing in a different direction looping under the bladed edge of a third attacker and turning it away before leaping to stop a fourth. This time at least his blade tasting blood as it tore a gash across his opponent’s sleeve. The man leaping away drawing his arm back to clutch opening a gash for Hunter to follow through escaping the descending maelstrom of stabbing knives. If only for that moment. Sand skidding from beneath his feet he wheeled facing his opponents. His face, panting with a slight exerted breath, smiling as he scanned across the crackling flames to see who else remained. There was Khagan still of course. The giant was rising up off of his knees fumbling half blind as he made his way across the opened space towards his hideous idol. Making his way towards an immense war ax resting reclined against the broken spar of concrete and iron which had fallen from a building. Its massive doubled edge head planted partially submerged beneath the blanketing, tawny sands. From the corner of his eye he spied the fat merchant, ashen and sweat covered face revealed in the fire’s light, as he fretfully back away turning towards where the cult’s horses and pack animals had been hitched. An idea shared by the two remaining Ape-men, content for the indentured Raza to keep him preoccupied, who outpaced the merchant. Dropping into a stooped, inhuman gait as they ran extending a hairy arm out to the ground to help propel them. In their case animated not by flight but by the desire to reach their own rifles. Simple bolt action types, pitted and worn as the rest of their equipment, sticking out from the rolled packs hung to either side of their draft animals. Yet what drew his attention was one of the Raza, sensing easier prey, who retreated from the fight circling around towards Dawn as she clamored down from their steed’s side. Grabbing her wrist in a meaty hand he tugged pulling her the rest of the way down as the horse trotted away with a snort. A whizzing curved slab of steel coming for his head, Hunter ducked beneath the passing scythe. His hat, severed in two halves, wafting past his shoulders along with stray strands of blonde hair. Stabbing reflexively he buried the length of his sword’s steel into the chest of his attacker. Bone and gristle splitting noisily sawed apart against the sinking blade. A sticky patch of discolor seeping through the front of the Raza’s robes. Listening to the wheezing gasps of its death rattle escape between the remaining fistful of broken glass like teeth protruding from the jaw he’d mangled. Imprint of his rifle’s stock preserved already forming purple bruise across the side of the alien’s face. A match for his crushed, bleeding nose starting to swell. A small jerk of Hunter’s wrist extracting the weapon clear his smile at last faltering into a pursed frown. Sidestepping the shadow which materialized from the corner of his eye, the shiv of obsidian and rags glancing dragging across the front of his coat tearing an open gash above his left breast. And perhaps more, blood welling up. The attacker grunting in surprise as Hunter curled an arm across pinning the former’s against him as he raised and drove the pommel of his sword down against the limb. Midway, right at the joint. Bone snapping like kindling. Louder even than the Raza’s anguished cry before Hunter silenced him driving the butt of the hit around into his face. “I don’t got the time for this.” He hissed releasing the man shoving him aside. Fretfully looking back towards Dawn as she gave a small cry as she stumbled, pulled off her feet, against her Raza captor. Her expressive blue eyes looking with concern to the bent, serrated-tooth edge of the curved blade he pressed threateningly against her throat. The alien’s cracked, peeling lips peeling back in a ghastly smile showing off a row of file-sharpened fangs. Running his tongue along the outer edge as he looked down into her mouthwatering cleavage cupping a boob in his rough, abrasive palm. Kneading it through the fabric his spreading fingers wrapped around over the top of it. Creamy, white flesh seeping out between his massaging fingers. Suddenly stopping, his eyes opening in surprise, he tilted his head to see the cold, foreign object she’d wedged against his chest. Her compact, pink purse falling beside her open to the desert floor, its contents spilling out across the tawny sand. She tightly gripped an ornate, curved autopistol. The skull and crossbones mark of the Phantom Corps partially visible beneath her hand on the dark, red wood of the handle’s grip. Flinching she squeezed the trigger. A hand coming up pressing against her ear as the Raza slumped back from her. A green tinted hand clutching at the torn vest of his robe stained with a grown splotch of his race’s dark blood. Looking down at the weapon she clutched with obvious distaste, the sultry Dawn did her best attempt at a grimace as she lowered her cupped hand from her ear. “Stupid, loud things. Why can’t I, like, just use my crossbow again?” She asked, the ridge of her nose crinkling in an endearing pout, as relieved Brad flashed her a grin. Her “crossbow” a little, ostensibly low tech something a certain blue-haired pixie genius had whipped up for the curvy blonde for a present. Unfolding stock, gas-cartridge powered with a revolving drum. And she’d added her own day-glo stickers plastered all over the sleek, instrument of death. “It’s a bit harder to conceal a foot long shaft of wood and steel, for starters Babe.” Hunter laughed. Looking to see the look of surprise on the nearest two Raza vanish beneath an oily, dark cloud. Dawn walking towards them her autopistol held out in her two hands pausing each time to draw a bead and fire. Each shot momentarily depressing and reshaping those large, milky globes of hers. Her flawless mountains rising further from beneath the window in her dress before subsiding. Undulating waves rippling through the creamy flesh as they sprung back into their natural shape. Which wasn’t a bad sight to leave this world on, Hunter supposed with a lewd grin. Staring at one of the best pair of breasts this side of the Reticuli system. Even if he doubted it was one either man had properly appreciated in their final moments. Bloody bone chips raining down over him as his friends fell to either side of him on the ground, clutching the arm he’d shattered, the last remaining Raza glared up at Hunter with its red tinged eyes. Guttural alien speech cut short as he walked past, sword bending low to cleave the alien’s head from his shoulders. Rolling forward to fall into his lap, protruding neck of bone neatly severed. Clearing the obsidian blood from his sword’s edge with a flick of his wrist Hunter tilted his rifle up tucked underneath his arm. His finger lightly tapping the trigger a single shot splitting through the night’s air. Across the opening an ape raised up from his baying horse clutching at his back. A ragged, red-tinged wound punched through the rusty links of mail and leather. Bullet wedged into his spine the ape fell forward unceremoniously as its partner wheeled around from his own saddle hastily working the bolt on his rifle. Two muzzle flashes passing each other. Hunter skidding kicking sand into the blistering flames as he leaned shifting directions. Bending away from the passing bullet. A fresh gash torn across his sleeve, frayed edges fluttering. A small look of satisfaction on his face as he saw the remaining ape stagger backwards, smoking end of his rifle drooping, against his horse which shook its mane moving out of the way letting him to plummet to the ground. A hole torn through his chest. The merchant, unspooling his horse’s reins from the hitching post hammered into the sand covered asphalt, letting it fall from his fat hands as he held them up as Hunter trained the rifle towards him. “I can offer you money, swordsman. Chests of it. And women, I have a zenana that-“ His pleading offer ended with a grating cracking sound as Khagan’s massive hand slipped around the merchant’s face. Effortlessly twisting it around backwards with a breaking snap. A vague, glassy look of surprise on his swollen face as he fell sideways from the barbarian. Hefting his ax over his shoulder he raised a leathery palm out towards Dawn as she shifted her aim towards him. “Stay your female dog’s hand.” He barked.” If I am to die, let it be like an Ecordian. In battle. Not picked off at the distance like a lame cur.” Ruby streamers seeping down in crimson tears from his missing right eye and torn face. Curling down to the edge of his split lip, pink stained teeth showing through. Turning his head he spat out a congealed glob with a deep retching sound, phlegm and saliva sizzling in the flames. Smiling a bloody grimace when Brad motioned for Dawn to lower her weapon. Looking confused she reluctantly complied unsure of what to make of it. Nor did Kamila who frowned running a hand along the inside of her collar. ” Hello, woman chained in front of an evil idol here. Could either of you just kill the bastard and release me?” She asked to no avail. Lowering his rifle, strap falling off his shoulder, Hunter tossed it aside with a grim nod. Wrapping the fingers of his hand around his sword’s pommel as he brandished it against the giant. “Just from what tribe do you hail, Brad the Hunter?” Khagan chuckled amiably.” You are no weak-boned civilized man, that I know.” Lifting his remaining eye towards the twinkling fields of stars wreathed across the inky sky he casually brought his ax forward into his waiting, calloused palm. Thick, muscular fingers curling around the handle just beneath the weapon’s large, iron head. “There is the glint of the deadlights about you, battles on nameless worlds circling in the eternal darkness.” He said almost whimsically, bearing bloodstained teeth in a grin.” Will that be what I tell my ancestors when I meet them upon the proving grounds? A Freebooter and Pirate?” “Each true enough in their own way, I suppose.” Hunter admitted with a shrug.” What we have done defines us more than any accident of birth.” Looking somewhat disappointed that he hadn’t elaborated, the barbarian nodded slipping into a more fighting-stance informing Hunter the time for conversation was over. Despite his earlier words their was an ugly confidence on Khagan’s ruined face for the coming competition. One no doubt borne out of decades of bloody experience in the gladiator arena killing for sport. And before that their would have been the short, brutish tribal wars of his northern climes. A savage, mountainous region where the Ecord tribe clung to a bare existence fighting between their fellow tribesmen and the encroaching civilization retreating across a dying planet. So it was with wary caution Hunter stepped towards the larger man. One well appointed as the giant exploded forward with no further preamble or hesitation in a flurry of motion. The glint of steel shimmering in the sky above him Hunter’s only warning where the impending blow would land. Gimlets of red-hot sparks shooting off from where Hunter quickly wedged his sword between him and the falling ax. Partially bending beneath it tremors of bone shattering pain rippled down his forearms. Noting the large notch now embedded in the edge of his finely tempered weapon as Khagan drew the ax back with a barking laugh moving with a litheness of a man half his size. An incredibly agile, swift man at that. The as head returning with a whistling shriek from the opposing direction as Hunter rolled his head tilting away underneath and jabbed at the evading giant. Piercing air, rising his head back, Hunter hopped circling around favoring the giant’s ruined right side dodging the skull shattering blow as Khagan dexterously twisted dragging the ax’s handle in an upper cutting stroke which would have ripped his chin away. Hunter taking a clumsily chop towards the giant face, extending himself stretching to reach beyond the mammoth weapon, when he saw Khagan extend his leg out. The trunk of the red wood tree of Old Earth slamming into his leg wrenching it sideways as he stumbled and fell beneath his smiling opponent. Retracting his leg as he stepped forward towering over Hunter. It was all over in another second. The giant’s body bending as he heaved swinging the ax down to split Hunter in two. His triumphant cry dying in his throat as Hunter rolled out from beneath the descending iron blade and turned to one of anguish as he rose, his leg threatening to give out from under him, and turned scooping up a handful of the coarse, gritty sand. Throwing it against the giant’s face. Ducking beneath the staggering Khagan’s blind swipe of his leathery palm, sword in hand, Hunter circled behind him leaping onto the larger man’s back. Hanging on there as the giant bucked rearing back trying to dislodge this unwelcome passenger. Dropping his ax to the ground he reached behind him, mouth twisted in a spiteful grimace now, to grab and squeeze Hunter’s head like a grape. The Blonde clamoring up to grab a fistful of greasy, black hair which he pulled back as he pressed and dragged his sword across the other man’s throat. Turning the barbarian’s howls to a sputtering choke, shimmering tendrils of scarlet pulsating through the grubby fingers which he clamped over the wound. Hunter dropping down beside him, fresh splinters of pain coursing up through his leg, circling away with a hobble gait slashing at the back of the giant’s knee sending him toppling into the flames of the bonfire with a gurgled scream. Becoming a thrashing bed of limbs which rolled over scattering glowing embers into the dark night. Flailing trying to douse itself against the sands the blackened, mewling things which had been Khagan finally subsided resting his smoking head face down into the sandy earth. Clumps of which sticking to his raw, hairless scalp. Standing over the burned husk Hunter planted the boot of his heel down against the giant’s back then stabbed downward piercing the skull at the nape of the neck. Just to make sure. “Should have taken the bullet.” He advised jerking the blade free. Glancing over as he did to Dawn rushing towards him. “Maybe if you’d showed her the proper respect, I’d have granted you it anyway.” He said taking his foot off the dead bastard. Wincing slightly as the curvy blonde threw her arms around her in delight to see him victorious. Not that the outcome was ever in doubt. Not for her. That was why he loved her. That was why he felt the cold, gnawing fear that there would be a day when it wouldn’t prove true. That there would prove an obstacle he couldn’t overcome. Her arms around him, holding him tight, she looked with concern to his bloody front grabbing and pulling the front of his coat to see the wound beneath. Tugging attempting to roll up the bottom of his shirt when he stopped her gently but firmly. “Just a scratch, Babe.” He told with a small laugh her when she looked at him.” I’ve cut myself worse shaving.” “And what about this, huh?” Dawn asked fingering the blood tinged slit torn in his sleeve.” Cause from here it totally looks like a gunshot.” Lifting the folds of fabric to reveal the thin, red line carved along the upper half of his arm. Bits of unburnt propellant clinging to it and the surrounding skin. “Maybe you can kiss it later and make it better?” He asked mischievously with a backward glance as he stepped away. Disguising the pain in his face as he put fresh pressure on his leg feeling it start to swell. What he couldn’t hide was the slight limp walking towards the expectant princess. Kamila glancing down as he stepped in front of her. “What?” He asked sticking his sword point down into the ground, penetrating through several inches of sand before stopping against something more solid, and resting his weight against it. Noticing her quizzical expression as she raised her head back up to greet him. “Not thrilled I take it by being rescued by a ruffian and pirate?” He asked her with a disarming grin to put her at ease. Not that it seemed to be needed. There was no hesitancy in her answer as she shook her head with a sway of her long, black mane rippling over her shoulders. “Not at all. Just trying to figure out if you’re that good or too stupid to know better.” She said, an affectionate twinkle in her eyes.” But I suppose you have to be for my father to have hired you.” “He didn’t have much choice. The last guy he sent out after you returned minus his skin.” Hunter answered her. Lifting his sword from the ground cleanly cutting through the first link connecting Kamila’s collar to the iron chain before she’d even had a chance to realize it. Coiled links dropping with a clanking sound at her feet as the Blonde swept his sword back behind his shoulder with a proud smirk. “Weren’t a lot brave or stupid enough to apply for job after that got out.” Putting his arm around Dawn as she joined them. Standing up Kamila brushed off her ruined finery as best she could. Pulling up the sleeve of her white glove, the other lost somewhere between her travails across the pitiless desert, and adjusting the tattered remains of her top. Squeezing her wobbling, white mounds back inside as she pulled the soiled, pink fabric over them. “Except you apparently.” She said with a smirk. A slight sheen of blush appearing on Brad’s face. At his side Dawn giggled. Her head reclined against his shoulder the blonde smiled up at him as she felt Hunter’s arm give her soft squeeze to “shush” her. Settling on a self-effacing grin he reached rubbing the back of his head with his other hand in a sheepish gesture. “I did have the extra incentive that otherwise I’d stay locked in a dungeon cell for the rest your father’s reign at least.” He said with a small laugh.” This seemed easier than wasting time trying to break out.” “And you want to know why he was imprisoned?” Dawn interrupted, impatient with how he was telling the story.” Because he stole your father’s favorite dancing girl right out from under the palace’s nose. Along with some really pretty jewelry but he didn’t really care about that.” “It isn’t like it sounds.” Brad hastily explained to a snickering Kamila. His face turning a lovely shade of crimson. “We were hired to go get her.” He insisted unconvincingly. The girl part of a troop gifted to the Satrap by a neighboring lord to do with as he willed as part of the opening dalliance which would see the two cities join to fight some mutual rival. Such was time passed among the nobility in Jhera. And through he was advanced in years and slowed both in body and wit by fermented spirits, the gray-haired Osiric’s more carnal appetites had never quite been sated. So much so it was a small wonder he’d not, publicly, produced even more offspring than he already had through his byzantine array of wives and concubines. Not wanting this for his only daughter her father, a bearded merchant out of favor with his city’s lord, had paid handsomely for her spirited escape from the Satrap and Obrac itself. What occurred after they’d scaled those palace walls with Hunter taking her to the Maul, a thieving ghetto of taverns and fleshpots, to hide her father most certainly wouldn’t have approved of. Where, beneath the gaudy twinkle of the light of pool houses and tattoo parlors which seeped in from the smoky street, Brad had helped make the girl into a woman. “Of course you were.” Kamila said with a knowing smile. Tucking a silky, black strand of hair behind her ear. Walking past them Brad turned with Dawn to keep up. The raven-haired princess looking back with a catty, little grin. “Tell me, is this a habit with you? Meeting women by saving them from peril?” She asked a little mischievously.” Or is it a service reserved only for lost princesses and comely dancing girls?” Slowing to walk along side of him as the pirate and mercenary shrugged at how frequently that indeed was the case. “Well there was that redhead not that long ago. What was her name?” He prompted looking at Dawn.” You remember, we ran into her in that nightclub. She had on that tiny microskirt that showed off her tight, little bum.” “You mean, like, the one with the little boobies?” She raised a hand to indicate her own well-endowed bosom. Her palm slightly sinking into the material, white-flesh pushing up out through her top giving a slight shake as she released it springing back into shape. “Wasn’t it…Tara something?” She finally pronounced, scrunching the ridges of her nose up in thought. Ahead their horse pawed impatiently at the ground where it had bolted, searching in vain for any green shoots to turn up, raising his head towards them with a shake of his mane. Charcoal gray with black spots the eyes were shining rubies in the night glowing with their own faint, pulsating light showing its artificial nature. A graft job fusing vat grown flesh with a cybernetic endoskeleton that was all too common across Jhera and vast multitude of humanities imperium. Draft animals easier to train and control when their brains had implanted chips. Seeing them it begin to trot towards them obediently only to stop and skittishly back away from a haunting, melodious cackle of laughter from behind them. Hunter, arm reaching behind him for his sword, turning to face the stone idol which, still maddeningly laughing, moved rising up from its throne. The grotesque thing dropping with a whispered silence to the ground, tenebrous wings unfurling as a cloak from behind its simian like body, but for the accursed, intermittent laughter. “Uh-oh…”Dawn said rather appropriately. Watching the thing approach still continuing to cackle. Any glimmer of intelligence, of comprehension, in which it might have possessed absent from its febrile, glassy eyes. Replaced with the malevolent glee of the insane. Body riddled with long healed scars. Burns by radiogenic weapons, gunfire and more exotic fare Hunter couldn’t begin to speculate at. A soiled looking loincloth loosely tied around the creature’s waist. Cold-gray manacles fitting loosely on withered yet still strong looking forearms. The metal scratched and dented, tarnished by the elements. Broken chunks of iron links hanging from each cuff. “Time for Daddy to go to work.” Hunter said with a lunge drawing his sword and taking a swipe at the thing’s head. With contemptuous ease the creature raised a forearm to block his attack. The sword piercing through the side of the gauntlet a quarter inch into its iron like flesh. A thin trickle of brackish blood leaking out through the sliver like crack. His eyes widening, Brad looked with concern towards Dawn and Kamila. The expression they saw on his face not filling either of them with hope. “This…may be bad.” He rather understated pulling the blade free only for the creature to snatch it with its other hand. Claws like scimitars closing around the sword’s edge as it was wrenched painfully from his grasp, his arm nearly taken with it as the elephant like monster tossed the weapon aside. Its trunk bending pressing its fleshy, three-lobed tip against its arm running it over the wound inspecting it. Strands of blood attached to its flat, frond like fingers when it lifted it away. The ends curling inward in rhythmic pulses like the perverse petals of a flower. Turning its arm at the wrist, wings curling behind its back, the thing’s narrow mouth twisted in a crude simulacrum of a smile. Continuing its perverse chain of laughter. Raising it other hand back, scythe like claws spreading apart across an ebony sky. Muscles rippling beneath its coarse, gray skin it propelled the forearm raking it through the air towards him. Its insane tittering ending mid-note in surprise as Hunter’s image blurred dropping beneath the outstretched paw. His duster billowing behind him matching the creature’s own wings he seemed to vanish in a raising cloud of dust reappearing directly beneath the winged horror. A fist rising up into its midsection. Only to discover he’d punched cement which was softer. The thing’s abdomen like a single, fused block of steel. Its muscles like granite feeling them flex beneath his bruised knuckles as the thing made a smirking noise. Trunk bending up from its grinning mouth as it curled back a hand and swiped at him with the back of a palm hitting like a runaway train. Shimmering beads of scarlet shooting out from his lip as his head swerved, his body struggling to follow to stay attached as he spun and stumbled over. His head feeling like he’d head-butted a shuttle head on he looked up with swimming vision at Dawn as she appeared over him yanking her gun out and jamming it against the thing’s chest. Those spiteful, diseased eyes flicking from him to her in genuine surprise. Its ghastly inhuman features pulling into a very human expression. “Back away you big buzzard!” She shouted at it over the crack of the falling hammer. A screaming hot sliver of lead vomiting from the barrel to pierce through the monster’s chest. Even as it did and the success shot rang out Hunter commanded his legs to move. His hand sweeping out alongside him feeling for a rock, a dropped dragger or god damn piece of glass. Anything. Swinging himself back up onto his legs his fingers brushed against something. His fingers running along it identifying it even as they closed around it. His vision still burry, fading into graying mists along the edges, he glanced towards Kamila worriedly moving to help him up. Her previous composure broken in alarm he tamped down on his own swirling fears peeling back copper tasting lips into what he hoped was a reassuring smile. Brushing aside her attempted aid. “Some fun, ain’t it Babe?” He laughed, punch drunk words only slightly slurred, no doubt shocking her as he bounded back to his feet. Despite the bravado of his words through he felt that familiar sense of fear, that stomach-churning icy-coldness, return with its hungry gnawing at his entrails. Propelling him onwards endowing his limbs with added strength. Drawing back his weapon clenched hand over his shoulder as he charged the creature. At that same moment Dawn, confused, lowered her weapon from the creature’s bleeding chest. A nestled clump of bullets stuck protruding halfway through the armor like skin as he’d known it would. Denied her customary crossbow the curvy blonde had selected her weapon as much as for its lack of recoil as concealment. At close range none of it would make that much of a difference, a .22 rim fire splitting a man’s skull just as easily as heavier fare. The keyword being “man”. Whatever cosmos or pit the creature before them had crawled out from however, it was obviously made of sterner stuff. Making a trumpeting cry that could have been rage or annoyance it swiped a hand across its chest brushing the bullets away. Claw-tipped fingers of his other hand spreading apart it reached out to crush her skull. Her empty magazine falling to her feet Dawn greeted it with a tight, defiant smile. Never doubting he’d be there to save her. A shouted cry stopping the creature, bulbous head tilting towards him as swung up burying the serrated edge of the Raza’s scythe underneath the upper rim of the creature’s eye socket with a burst of rotten pus. Confirming his theory. The skin may have been like iron but its eyes, those were just soft tissue like any other. “I got this, Babe.” He assured Dawn ducking underneath the swing of the creature’s arm as it bellowed and slung its head. Pawing at the bleeding wound trying to wrenched the hooked blade free with a taloned hand and only making a worse mess of it. Those damn claws of its apparently able to slash through its rocky skin with ease. Giggling at its misfortune, cheering him on, Dawn hopped happily in place, doing copious things to her anatomy, before an exasperated Kamila roughly pulled her away nearly toppling the rather top heavy blonde onto her as they sprinted away. Putting some distance between the two combatants. The growling thing finally twisting the curved blade pulling it free from its socket, bit of flesh clinging to the serrated tip, Hunter darted in close boxing either side of the thing’s large, palm like ears. Gladdened to see they were as sensitive as he hoped, the thing shrieking out again as it pressed its bloody clawed hands up to protect them. Stepping back he spared two the two women, flashing them a grim but confident smile, and turned back dropping into a boxer’s stance. The creature lowering its hands from the sides of its head with another growl, trunk whipping angrily through the air. Hatred and contempt glistening in its sole remaining eye. Bowing its head the creature charged him like an angry bull. Bone tipped fingers, like dagger points, raking low across his belly to disembowel him. The movement sure, precise and swift. Not for the first time Hunter breathed a quick, thankful prayer to his stiff greatcoat as he contorted out of the way. Claws glancing off his leathery second skin ripping long strides through the heavy fabric and maybe a little more. Pain flaring in his side beneath it, faint trace of blood appearing around the holes’ edges adding to the grisly total he’d collected over his nefarious life. But it was shallow at best, the pain already starting to fade as an ebony wing eclipsed the starry sky above him. Nearly not seeing the ivory, hooked thumb protruding from the wing’s tip until it was too late as the creature attempted to repay his wounding it in kind. Reminded, looking up to see the glint in the thing’s malevolent eye, that he fought no mere beast for all its savage ferocity but a thinking being. The previous wound mere distraction, a feint. Missing only now due the litheness of his neck as he tilted and stretched his head out of reach raising up a couched arm to block the descending wing. Wedging the side of his arm up aiming squarely for the reedy stem in the center of the leathery membrane. Only to have his arm crumple beneath hard, sinewy muscle which rippled like steel struggling to arrest the deceptively frail looking appendage. Hooked thumb flailing inching closer outstretched to his eye as it pressed down on his arm. Straining his neck to keep it out of reach the thing made a gurgling laughing sound, drool appearing from beneath its writhing proboscis from the slitted gash of a mouth. Inhuman lips crinkling into a smile when Hunter’s other fist rocketed into the side of its face squarely in its ruined eye. Feeling something wet and slimy pop beneath his knuckles inside the oozing cavity. Rewarded with another pained shriek from the recoiling creature as he withdrew repeating the trick with Khagan sidestepping on the creature’s blind side still ready to make a fight of it. But he was fooling himself and he knew it. A punch as hard as he could muster doing less than nothing buried in the creature’s flank, scarcely weaving out ahead of its backhanded swiped to knock his head off. But that’s the way it was. You go looking for trouble as he’d had done time and time again and you usually found it. And either you could deal with it or you couldn’t. Which, smiling at the glowering monster, was why it was so important to have friends. Glancing once more to confirm where Dawn and Kamila had rushed off too, he surprised his opponent by shouting a single word to the heavens and dropping to his knees beneath it. The creature’s puzzlement as short-lived as its remaining life, both brutally perforated by the high caliber shot of a certain pink-haired woman waiting half a mile out in the desert tearing open its gullet from back to front. Its bewildered cry a soft, soggy sound. Clawed hand tenderly reaching up to the raggedly splayed folds of its bleeding throat as a second bullet struck the back of its head. Emerging in a vile shower through the elephantine creature’s remaining, right eye ahead of a rancid streamer of jellified gray matter and bone fragments. Still a third bullet exploding through what remained of its head before it could finish falling, Hunter rising out of the way of the alien corpse. Feeling giddy, laughing, as his heart pounding inside his laboring chest Brad looked up from it to out across the featureless void of the desert. Knowing she was out there laying across the desert’s floor. Stealth netting pulled around her shoulders perfectly matching her to the terrain. Knowing she was looking back at him through her rifle’s telescopic lenses. Waving to her, well imagining that smug smirk of hers as she returned it. “This is starting to be a habit with you. Me having to play hero to your damsel” A sexy voice whispered from the miniature com-bead nestled firmly in his ear. The latest military-gen. It and a couple thousand of its brothers and sisters turning up missing from the fortress world of Korax along with a few other spare crates supplies when the primary dock yard had “mysteriously” exploded some months back. The voice on the other end belonging to the lovely Jessica, the younger Masters sister, a perky girl next door type with a fondness for scoped rifles. The two of them inseparable since childhood, the Pinkette was his not so silent guardian watching over him on the battlefield. Having more than once saved him like she’d just done. Something she wasn’t above lightly teasing him about. “That time in the tavern with the Venge Trader doesn’t count. Bastard was so drunk he couldn’t see straight.” He insisted, face darkened to an embarrassed shade, hearing her giggle. The Pinkette no doubt taking her rifle apart to put back into her satchel. A large canvas duffle bag in which she carried spare magazines, cleaning supplies and even spare parts for her gun. “And I seem to recall saving that perky ass of yours plenty of times too back on Primus. Remember that Arachnid death-bot?” Materializing at his side an interrupting Dawn threw her arms around him. Her soft marshmallows compress against him as he wrapped his own arm around her slender shoulders. Globes rising like fresh baked dough up through the window in her dress rubbing against him as the blonde woman stretched to give the still arguing Hunter a victory kiss. And suddenly the toying argument didn’t seem so important. Looking a little left out Kamila rejoined the couple presenting Brad with his sword, slightly the worse for wear, after the embrace ended. Accepting he turned sliding it back through the sheath across his back. Making a note to have the armorer tend to it once all of them returned back to the ship sleeping in orbit unseen somewhere between this world and those twinkling points of light above. Brushing another strand of silky, black hair behind her ear again Kamila smiled warmly at him. Moving closer than etiquette, let alone her father, would have approved of. “So…” She said seductively leaning up to give her own kiss. More tame than Dawn’s, currently frowning at her, through not quite chaste either. Merely a taste of her…gratitude. Running her fingers along the breadth of his broad shoulders, feeling the firm hardness there, and comparing them favorably to her betrothed. A sweet enough man she supposed with title and lands worthy of being joined with her family but, despite his relative youth, he was nearly as musty as the books he treasured and amassed. And, she noted giving Hunter another peck on the lips, he didn’t blush nearly as cute as Brad whose face turned a shining red at the unexpected attention. “What do we do from here?”