Nimue?! Athena? What–what–
Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure whether the stammering came from Tabbris or myself. Maybe both. I could feel the other girl’s surprise. She had known that the woman we were looking at was Athena/Auriel, but apparently the Nimue part of it was a surprise even to her. Either it was something that Sariel hadn’t known, or she just hadn’t passed that info on to her daughter.
But I had to say this much. I had completely forgotten about the pain in my gradually healing hand.
“Leave, Duriel,” the woman spoke flatly, her eyes never leaving the other Seosten even as even more soldiers flooded into the room and began to spread out, bringing their weapons up. “Now.”
Head tilting a bit at that, Radueriel gave a slight, humorless smile. I could see the danger behind his calculating eyes. “What’s wrong, old friend? Are you still looking for another decent protege after… wait.” His chin lifted slightly. “Remind me of what happened to the old one, again?”
Even as the man finished speaking, clearly aiming to strike a nerve, his swarm of nanobots finished a long arc around and dove right for the brown-haired woman from above and slightly behind. My mouth opened to blurt a warning, but she was already raising one hand. I saw a small remote clutched in her fingers, and as her thumb pressed the button, a shimmering blue energy field appeared around her. The field expanded outward in every direction, and as it struck the incoming nanobots, they all dropped like flies that had been electrocuted in one of those bug zappers. In seconds, the entire swarm had been destroyed.
Dropping the remote carelessly to the floor, the woman announced flatly, her voice utterly unimpressed. “Your toys grow as tiresome as your plays at civility.”
“Hm. Maybe,” the other Seosten allowed with the slightest incline of his chin. “You are aware, however, that the pinpoint cannons of my ship are capable of–”
“Very little,” she interrupted, “considering it will take even your people at least another hour to undo the damage that I did to them before coming down here.” She arched an eyebrow then. “Did you believe that I took the body of one of your soldiers simply because I enjoyed the uniform?” Her voice turned a little bit darker then. “Do you truly think that I would not have prepared for this? You insult me, Duriel, and yourself. I am taking the girl out of here. If you stand in my way, you will regret it… briefly.”
“That would be an impressive threat, Thena,” Radueriel returned, “if I was standing against you… alone.”
The shock and confusion that I felt about this situation froze then, along with every other thought I had, at what I witnessed next. As Radueriel gave a sharp whistle, his assortment of troops suddenly straightened unnaturally for a brief second. They all shifted simultaneously, making it clear that his implants had taken them over, just like up on the station. This wasn’t a group of random, disparate mooks anymore. Now, it was dozens of bodies all being controlled by one mind, a mind with millennia of experience and apparently a frankly bullshit ability to multitask.
“Miss Felicity,” the woman spoke, making my eyes widen as she extended a hand back toward me. “Possess me.”
“Err, wh-what?” I blurted, staring at her.
“There is no time to debate or discuss,” she replied sharply. “I must know that you are safe. The easiest way for me to be certain of that is if you possess me. I know that you are capable of it.”
My mouth opened and shut. Then I looked to the soldiers who were starting to move. With a quick nod and a blurted curse, I grabbed the woman’s offered hand. Tabbris!
Then I was seeing through the Seosten woman’s eyes. I felt… nothing. She had everything closed off. There was absolutely no chance of me taking over, or even getting to a single thought that she didn’t want me to get to. She was entirely too strong. It would be like me trying to redirect the course of an ocean liner by blowing on it.
Hold on, I heard her voice warn me. We will speak after.
By that point, that unnaturally unified horde of armed and armored soldiers was falling in on the woman (Auriel? Athena? Nimue?) like a tidal wave. And she moved to meet it, giving Tabbris and me front row seats.
There were, at a glance, around thirty soldiers. About half of them raced to attack the woman directly, while the other half stayed back, snapping rifles up into place as they took aim. Without a second of hesitation, they started firing lasers right into the thick of the melee. As a group, they were so unified that the ones who were fighting at range could shoot as much as they wanted to and never worry about actually hitting one of the others any more than the average person worried about smacking their own arms against each other when picking up a plate.
Fifteen lasers coming in from almost every direction, and fifteen more closing to melee. All of them armed with weapons and powers, and so perfectly coordinated that they behaved more like a single body. No one could hope to stand in a fight against something like that, could they?
A hulking, muscular lizard-man about eight feet tall reached her/us first. He had a thick, spiked club tail that he swung up and around like a mace while simultaneously slamming down an almost absurdly enormous sword that was shaped a bit like a meat cleaver, only with a blade part on both sides instead of just one. The double-bladed cleaver was practically the size of a motorcycle, and whistled as it was brought overhead before swinging toward the ground. Clearly the idea there was that his heavy tail knocked his opponents into the path of the blade.
At the same time, a smaller figure with oily black, smooth skin, about six feet tall and very thin, leapt toward the woman from her right-hand side while thrusting out with some kind of laser-spear where the bladed tip was made of glowing blue energy. And from her left-hand side came an armored and masked figure with a stun-baton of some kind that crackled with electricity.
Swinging spiked club tail coming in from the right, with the black figure leaping over that tail, spear outstretched. Massive giant’s cleaver coming down from above. Stun baton clearly powerful enough to put most beings on the ground with a single touch coming from the left. Not to mention the steady stream of incoming lasers. And all of this with no portal, no doorway, no exit. There was nowhere to go. There was no way to retreat.
Athena didn’t even hesitate. Nor did she reach for her weapon. That dragon-hilted sword remained firmly sheathed while she leapt forward. As the spiked club tail passed directly beneath her leaping figure, the woman’s right foot kicked out in mid-air, finding the passing tail just long enough to push off. The motion simultaneously knocked the tail back the other way while she turned in the air right near the big lizard’s face. His massive cleaver slammed into the ground, its sheer size forcing the masked figure with the stun baton to pull back a half step.
Meanwhile, the sleek, black soldier was thrusting that spear through the space that Athena had been in an instant earlier, before she had spun. Still in both mid-air and mid-turn, she smoothly stripped the spear from the man’s grasp as it was thrust right past her face.
With the exact same motion, as her hands snapped up to take that spear, the woman tilted her arm just slightly. An instant later, once the spear was in her hands, there was a distinct shink sound as a blade slid into place from her elbow, pointed outward. The woman’s continued spin then sent the extended elbow-blade right through the big lizard’s throat in a single, smooth slice.
He started to fall backward, collapsing even as Athena’s spin carried her back around to face the figure with the baton. He had only taken a single step back to avoid that descending cleaver. It was barely a second worth of hesitation, if that. But it was enough. The woman’s hand released the spear that she had stolen an instant earlier, sending it through his eye all the way up to the last couple inches of the shaft before that figure started to drop as well.
By that point, the black figure who had lost his spear had stopped, barely avoiding the heavy, double-bladed cleaver, one side of which had literally been driven partway into the floor. He skidded to a halt, his face barely an inch from the upraised part of the weapon.
And then the still-swinging club-tail from the falling lizard-man collided with him, and the soldier was instantly knocked forward to impale himself on the cleaver.
One, two, three, all killed in less time than it took to actually count the numbers aloud. Hell, it was only because of my enhanced reflexes that I could even start to process what was happening. It was beyond insane.
It took me a second to realize that both Tabbris and I had been chanting/ranting those three words over and over again throughout that entire sequence. I resolved to calm down, pay attention, and stop freaking out.
Lasers were incoming that entire time. But if the woman cared, she didn’t show it. She always seemed to just know where to be to avoid every last one of them. As the firepower concentrated on where she landed once the first three figures were dead, Athena dropped into a roll. It carried her under a dozen criss-crossing laser beams before she popped back up next to the stun-baton. Her foot kicked out then, launching the weapon end over end before it collided with the face of one of the soldiers who was shooting. With a cry, the man recoiled, gun swinging wildly just as he pulled the trigger reflexively. Three quick shots came, one of which missed everything. But the other two took out two more of the shooting guards before the effect of taking the stun baton to the face made the man start to collapse limply to the ground.
Three more down, just like that. All she had done was kick an electrified stick, basically, and it had taken out another trio of soldiers. Six of the thirty were down and it seemed like I’d barely had a chance to breathe. Hell, it seemed like I’d barely had time to have blinked.
Whelp, so much for not freaking out.
How?! Tabbris squeaked inside my head. How, how, how?!
I don’t know! I shot back. I’m pretty sure she’s playing with cheat codes, though!
More of the soldiers reached the woman then. The nearest grabbed for her from behind, trying to snatch hold of her arm, while the next one swung a laser-axe from her left side. Athena, meanwhile, smoothly stepped back closer to the man who was trying to grab her while simultaneously turning. Her hand caught his extended wrist, and she yanked him forward while that elbow-blade of hers was driven into his stomach. At the same time, that laser-axe cut clean through the man’s arm, severing it cleanly a few inches down from the shoulder.
Pivoting to let the literally disarmed and disemboweled soldier drop to the floor, Athena swung that severed arm, smacking the axe-wielding guard across the front of his helmet with the stump-end. Blood was smeared across the faceplate, briefly obscuring the man’s vision.
Two more laser shots came in, and Athena’s left arm snapped up even as the armor on it shifted to some kind of mirrored plate. The lasers struck it, rebounding off. One hit the ceiling harmlessly, while the other was ricocheted right back into the face of the soldier who had fired it, pitching him over backward with a quarter-sized hole in the middle of his forehead. An instant later, the woman spun, her other arm lashing out to catch another incoming laser. That one cut through the throat of yet another guard who had been rushing toward her, dropping him.
As he collapsed, his sword fell from his grasp, only to be very briefly caught by Athena. She gave the weapon a casual-looking underhand flick backward without even looking. The sword flew straight into the chest of the man whose helmet had been obscured by blood.
Disemboweled guard, reflected laser to the head, another to the throat, sword to the chest. Four more soldiers were dead. Seven, eight, nine, ten. Maybe that many seconds had passed.
Goddess of War, my ass, I informed Tabbris then. More like Goddess Of Five Hundred Guys Just Shit Themselves Because She Walked Into The Room.
Tabbris disagreed with a half-hysterical, I don’t think they’d have time to!
If possible, Athena moved even faster then. Another laser shot was reflected back into its owner’s eye. As he fell, she caught the arm of a man who was swinging a sword at her before pivoting to drive his weapon into the stomach of another guard who was coming at her from the opposite direction. Then she stepped aside, catching the now-impaled soldier by the back of his helmet before shoving it forward to slam hard into the face of the man who had accidentally skewered him. As that man reeled, she snatched a pistol sidearm from the belt of the impaled man, shooting him through the top of the head before turning it onto the man who was reeling.
Then she pivoted once more, hurling that sidearm an instant before her foot lashed out to kick the handle of the sword that had impaled the previous man. The thrown pistol flew into the helmet of another shooter so hard that the faceplate cracked. He recoiled, gun dropping from his hand. Even as the rifle started to fall, however, the sword that Athena had kicked went through the trigger guard an instant before spearing its way through the man himself. The rifle was caught on the blade, hanging there while the guard started to pitch over backward. As he was started to fall, the Seosten woman leapt that way. Her hand found the rifle that was trapped against his chest by the sword that was impaling him, and she pulled the trigger several times. Three more soldiers, two of them with guns and the other wielding a big hammer, went down.
Guards eleven through eighteen were dealt with, leaving six melee guards and six ranged.
Those six ranged guards had all opened up on the woman, but she was still holding the impaled guard up by the gun that had been trapped against his chest. The incoming lasers were all hitting him instead, as she rotated to use his body as a shield against each shot. Finally, completing her three hundred and sixty degree turn, Athena gave her human (or whatever Alter he was, rather) shield a heave to crash face-first into the next nearest soldier who had been shooting at her. He collapsed backward, crashing to the floor from the force of the body hitting him.
Even as he fell, however, Athena was suddenly there, sidestepping another pair of shots from other troops while her hand caught the falling man’s rifle. She pulled the trigger before it was even fully in her hands, nailing a swordsman who had been running up at her from behind. Then, once the rifle was actually in her grasp, she flipped it around to shoot its owner in the face a second after he finished falling to the floor from having the other body thrown at him.
Ten soldiers left, five of each. And by that point, Tabbris and I were reduced to simply watching what was happening in stunned silence.
One of those who remained was coming at the woman with this massive halberd. Even as he went to thrust it at her, however, Athena sidestepped and spun. The rifle flipped around in her hand until she was holding it by the barrel. A second later, the butt of the rifle slammed into the man’s throat hard enough to collapse it. She held it there, hitting the trigger with a quick snap of her hand to send a shot into the face of another gunman.
As the halberd-wielding soldier fell from the blow to his trachea, the Seosten woman gave his long weapon a kick that sent it through one of the ranged soldiers. The halberd struck the man so hard that he was literally lifted off the floor and sent back a solid twenty feet before being impaled against the wall.
Seven left. Three shooters, four melee.
Two swordsmen came at her together, one from each side. They attacked the woman in perfect unison. But it wasn’t perfect enough. Athena’s arm snapped up, smacking one of the blades aside before she caught the arm of the second man. I heard the snap of his bone breaking as the woman forced his arm to bend the wrong way around. The sword fell from his limp grasp, only to find itself embedded in the second soldier’s eye socket from a quick, contemptuously casual toss from the woman.
As he was collapsing with the sword sticking through his eye and out the back of his head, Athena kept hold of the first man’s now-broken arm. She kept pivoting, avoiding several more shots from the few gunmen that were left before abruptly catching the man whose arm she was holding by the back of his neck. With a slight grunt, she gave him a heave downward… straight toward the man who had the sword through his chest trapping the gun there, the one she had previously thrown at the other man. Now, the sword-impaled man was lying on his stomach, with the sword sticking almost straight up in the air.
With that simple shove, Athena forced the soldier whose arm she had broken down, impaling his throat on that blade that was sticking up. He was stuck there, like a head on a pike with the body still attached.
The three remaining gunmen were all spreading out, sending a continuous stream of laserfire at the woman while the two melee soldiers (one armed with a pair of electrified axes while the other had a shield and sword) tried to hit her from both sides.
It didn’t work. As the swordsman swung, the Seosten woman darted forward, ducking under his blade before popping up inside his guard. She pivoted, catching his other arm while putting her back to his chest. With a simple yank, she forced the man’s shield into position just as two more lasers nailed it. The shots ricocheted off, striking the guy with the axes.
As that man fell, she shoved the swordsman away from her while giving a quick spin-kick that sent one of the falling man’s axes right into the forehead of one of the gunmen. In the same motion, she stripped the shield from the other man’s arm, continuing her spin before nailing him in the throat with the sharp edge of his own shield. Blood sprayed, and the man fell.
Just two gunmen left. Both of them opened fire from either side, but Athena dove into a roll while hurling that shield. As it was flying, she came up to one knee, having stripped another sidearm from one of the fallen guards that she had rolled past. She took aim and fired at the shield itself. The shot rebounded off of it, striking one of the two gunmen in the face an instant before the flung shield severed the head of the other one.
Thirty. Thirty soldiers were dead in the span of I doubted even that many seconds. And from the look of her as she straightened up, Athena hadn’t even broken a sweat doing it.
She hadn’t even drawn her sword.
The woman turned toward Radueriel then, who was standing near the entrance. For a moment, the two of them just stared at one another. No one moved. No one spoke.
And then Athena’s hand moved to her sword. She had just touched it, just barely put her hand on the hilt, when Radueriel hit something on his cybernetic arm. An instant later, he was engulfed by a portal of some kind and disappeared, leaving the two of us alone with the bodies of all those soldiers.
Once it seemed safe, I sent myself out of the woman. Stumbling a little, I spun around to stare at the woman’s back. While I was silent, my shock seemed somehow deafening. Even Tabbris remained quiet, neither of us saying a word.
Slowly, Athena turned. She looked to me. “Felicity Chambers,” she announced.
“We need to talk.”