Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Soaring Unicorn

As promised, here is the next Dungeons and Dragons short! We decided to mix this game up a little. We're playing D&D 3.5, but we've just replaced all of the magic and spells with futuristic technology, spaceships and aliens. It is so much fun to play, and not surprisingly, to write.
My character in this version is the lovable little assasin Zer0. Yes, I did steal him a bit from Borderlands 2, but who can blame me? The guy is amazing.

And so I present to you, the first installment of ... an as yet unnamed futuristic D&D series!

Rasha Karn growled and opened his gold-yellow eyes. The slitted pupils grew wide in the darkness. He blinked several times as they adjusted. He was having trouble remembering where he was. All he seemed to recall was hefting a huge bucket of something shiny and blue into the cargo bay. They had been exploring the arid moon of some unnamed planet. The air was breathable, but the wildlife incredibly hostile. The creatures were huge and insect-like with segmented bodies and compound eyes. After the crew had slain most of them, the rest had retreated to the entrance of a huge cave. In the cavern, they had found the beginnings of the creatures nest, constructed from a strange blue material they produced. Karn remembering being very excited with this find. He recognized the hard, translucent blue product as a key ingredient in cold welding. He and the crew had been in the process of stuffing as much of it as they could into the ship when there’d been an explosion of angry chittering and scuttling from one of the recesses of the cave. The insects had swarmed around him, crawled onto him and dragged him thrashing to the ground. He could hear Wolfenette screaming nearby. Wolfenette. Where was she? Where was his crew?

Karn struggled to get up. It took his befuddled brain a few seconds to realize that he was stuck in something. He looked down as far as he was able to see that he was stuck vertically to a wall with the same, hard blue amber they’d been collecting. He couldn’t even flex his claws. There was a small moan to his right. He craned his neck around to see Wolfenette stuck similarly to the wall of the dark cave. She groaned again and opened her eyes.
“Wolf? You okay?”
Wolfenette blinked once or twice and tried to move too.
“Not sure, cap’. All I remember is those bugs swarming us…”
“Oh look! They’re alive!”
Karn turned towards the voice. It came from the wall opposite. Also encased in the amber was a willowy figure with blue skin and a large forehead. An Eolith.
“Who are you?” asked Karn.
“Name’s Nieve. Didn’t know there was anyone else sentient on this godsdamned moon. Thank the stars you’re alive. Do you have a ship? Can you get us out of here?”
Karn grunted and struggled against the amber again.
“Yes, I have a ship. My name’s Captain Rasha Karn and this is Wolfenette.” Karn jerked his head at the beguiler.  “But that doesn’t mean we’ll just let you hop on board. What are you doing here?”
“Well, we were on our way to Phsyracuse. It’s said there’s good money in hunting there. But then we ran into an asteroid storm. Our ship crash landed here. We wandered about in the desert for about an Earth-standard week till those bugs pounced on us. Been down here for who knows how long. And for some reason I just can’t get out of or through this stupid blue stuff…” The Eolith trailed off.
“What do you mean we?” asked Karn.
“Oh. This is my associate, Zer0,” said Nieve, indicating the glob of amber to her left with the only finger she had free. A face Karn had not previously noticed popped up. The reason he’d not noticed was that the man wore a helmet. It was a curved piece of black glass, a bit like a fencing mask, and blended well in the darkness.
“He doesn’t talk much,” said Nieve airily.
Zer0 nodded enthusiastically and a bright red holographic symbol lit up in the air in front of his visor.
He then waved excitedly and the symbol changed.
Karn raised an eyebrow.
“Captain, I really can’t move at all. Also, I can’t see 801 down here. If he was, he’d probably be able to bust us out,” Wolfenette said.
Karn nodded. The android had a knack for breaking things. But, as Wolf had just pointed out, he was not here. Karn flexed all of his muscles, searching for any weaknesses in the blue amber shell.

Karn glared at the tiny globs of blue still stuck to his glossy black fur. He’d managed to kick his way out of the goo and then free the others. But getting rid of the bits in his fur would have to wait. They had to get out of here. Zer0 was hopping about on one foot. One of his legs was still encased in the translucent material.
“Here, hold still you idiot,” snapped Nieve. She let the tall man steady himself with a hand on her shoulder. She’d found all their weapons in one corner of the room and thus used the butt of her enormous sniper rifle to crack the coating. Zer0 shook the last of the fragments free and gave her thumbs up and a smile.
Karn suddenly noticed that the helmeted man only had four fingers on each hand. He shrugged and went to collect his weapons. His laser swords were unharmed and still in their sheaths. Zer0 retrieved his own laser sword. It was longer and thinner than Karn’s; more of a sabre than a sword. Wolf picked up her SMG, checked the magazine and nodded to Karn.
“Okay. Let’s go. Quietly now,” said Karn softly, moving to the large, oddly circular doorway.
There was another storeroom to their left. Through it they could see the gut churning images of old white bones trapped in blue amber. To their right, was a corridor lined with tall rock pillars and rough stone walls. There was a skittering sound from behind one of the pillars and a trio of waist-height insects scuttled into view. Their segmented shells were blue and green and spiked with purple ridges. Nieve gave a little squeak and ran to hide behind a pillar. She was too slow however; the guards had spotted them.
“Wolf!” called Karn.
Wolfenette leapt forwards and threw out a hand. A cone of blazing light and colour shot from a small device there, directly at the creatures. They didn’t even pause.
“It didn’t work!” cried Wolfenette, looking worriedly back at Karn.
“Was that a neural-spray cartridge?” asked Nieve, hoisting her rifle and aiming around the pillar.
“Yeah. Like an old flash bang. Scrambles the brain for a few seconds,” replied Wolfenette, backing into the group again.
“Won’t really work on these beasts. They’re hive creatures. A hive mind. They don’t have too many brains to scramble,” said the Eolith.
“Very well then,” said Rasha Karn. He strolled to the fore of the group, brandishing his crackling swords and baring his long, sharp canines. One of the insects chattered menacingly and leapt at him. Karn roared as he slashed at the bug, spraying hissing green blood everywhere. With his second stroke, he sliced the creature in half. Zer0 darted forwards, heading for the great insect on Karn’s right. Zer0’s sabre glowed electric blue in contrast to the rusty orange of Karn’s. Unfortunately, the insect he swung at leapt back, chittering angrily. Karn coiled and sprang at the last guard, bringing both blades down hard onto its shiny carapace, and then dodging out of the way as more acidic green blood spilled forth. The creature skittered and chirped in pain. Karn finished it off with a few quick blows and then turned to help Zer0. The bug was still dancing around him, darting forwards now and then, trying to bite the tall man. Karn came at it from the side, swiping two of its legs off. Wolfenette managed to hit it a few times, the hot bullets tearing through the blue carapace. The now lame creature shrieked as Zer0 leapt on top of it and thrust his sword through its middle. The insect collapsed; dead. Zero stabbed it a few more times, a happy emoticon on his visor. Karn could only stare at him in incredulity.
After a short rest, the group headed towards the end of the corridor. To their left now was a large room with a high ceiling, There were rows upon rows of crystal blue honeycomb structures stacked in it. To the right, a tunnel wound off into pitch darkness. They took the dark tunnel. It curved a lot and soon they were at a junction where the walls began to glow. The light was a strange, pale blue. Up ahead and to the right they heard the chittering of more guards. The sounds advanced rapidly towards them. Karn held up a hand, motioning to everyone to move back. Zer0 twitched a few times, displaying a weird glitched symbol on his visor before shaking his head and complying. Karn pointed to Nieve and gestured for her to shoot the first creature to come down the tunnel. She responded quickly, falling to one knee and sighting down the corridor. The first insect warrior to round the corner exploded in a gooey green mess. Zero twitched again and then seemed to recover, leaping to his feet and racing down the corridor. The first creature he came into contact with was severed from feelered head to spiny abdomen. Wolfenette had a different cartridge loaded this time. She aimed it at the last guard and fired. The bug staggered suddenly, bumping into a wall. It sank slowly to its knees and then lay on the ground fast asleep.  Zer0 leapt cheerfully onto it and stabbed it a few times too.
Karn headed off to the right, carefully avoiding the pools of acidic green blood. The room at the end of the corridor however, was not a pleasant one.  It was like the other storeroom they had passed, the walls covered skeletons of every size and shape imaginable, all trapped in blue amber. They turned back and chose the other fork. This corridor was a long one, and apparently well used. The walls and floor were worn to the point of being polished. There grew a strange sound. At first it sounded like running water, but as one grew closer, they realized that it was more of a humming or a buzzing. The companions’ jaws dropped when they saw what it really was. Their tunnel was one of thousands that emptied out into an immense cavern. The walls crawled with the large blue-green insects, all busy fetching, building or scurrying about. In the middle of the sea of insects sat the biggest bug imaginable. The upper segments of its body and its head were the size of small cars, and its abdomen the length of an Olympic swimming pool. It was very obviously the queen of this enormous hive. Beside the queen sat two insects, much larger than the drones, but not as big as the queen.
After a few moments of staring and just trying to absorb the scene, Karn felt a soft tap on his shoulder. The Jacorith turned to see Zer0 backing away slowly and gesturing for him to come too, a new symbol shining on his visor.
Wolfenette and Nieve however, had begun discussing a plan of attack.
“We should probably get out of here,” Karn told them softly. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to fight that many. We were overcome by only two dozen before, remember? It’s how we ended up stuck in this maze in the first place.”
“Oh. Right,” said Nieve. She began tiptoeing quietly after Zer0 who was still beckoning them anxiously.
“Come one Wolf, let’s just go,” said Karn, turning to follow them.
Wolfenette however, was not convinced.
“Huh. You’re all sissies!” she snapped.
The buzzing stopped abruptly. There was utter silence in the enormous chamber. Wolf’s eyes widened in fear.
“Run!” bellowed Karn.
The noise in the tunnel was like a clap of thunder that just kept rolling. The companions sprinted down the corridor and burst into a room filled with blue honeycomb. To the right, they could see more angry bugs bearing down on them. To the left was a row of honeycomb.
Zer0’s symbol flashed rapidly and he pointed urgently. He’d found a gap in the honeycomb; another tunnel. Everyone piled into the crevice and kept running. Left fork, middle fork, left again and then right. They skidded to a halt in a large room. Poking from the far wall was a pair of large, broken concrete pipes. They chose the right one, scrambling and pulling each other up. At the end of the pipe, there was a rusted valve door. They struggled to close it, trying to shut it on the bugs, but the insects were too fast, squeezing past in a steady flow. The crew fled again. Suddenly they were in a cavern full of red sunlight. Parked not ten yards away was a mid-sized red and silver ship. The hull was emblazoned with the name The Soaring Unicorn. The cargo bay was open and a bulky android hung out, trying to figure out what the incredible noise was.
“MI-801! You’re alive!” shouted Karn.
“Yes captain! I managed to fight the bugs off! However, when I’d killed the last of them, you two were gone!”  801 replied.
“Doesn’t matter now! Get in the ship!” Karn roared.
“Uh, yes captain,” muttered the android, staring in astonishment at the hoard of insects chasing the Jacorith, Zer0 and Wolfenette. The four of them scrambled into the ship. 801 hit the bay door button and then leapt into a gunner’s seat. The laser cannons took a few seconds to warm up, but he was soon blasting away at the swarm of bugs threatening to envelop the ship. Karn strapped himself into the captain’s chair, flipped a few switches, started the engines and punched the throttle. The Soaring Unicorn leapt into the air, throwing Zer0 into Wolfenette.
“Buckle down you lot!” roared the captain as he wrestled the ship through the tiny cave mouth. Zer0 and Wolfenette struggled into the nearest chairs. Then they were out in the open air. Red sunlight streamed through the windows. Wolfenette began cheering. Zer0 clapped gleefully.
“Don’t celebrate just yet,” grumbled Karn.
Through the windows, they could see the swirling red sand below. Something was happening down there. It could have been the vibrations of the ship’s engines, but it appeared that the ground was shaking. Suddenly, a great crack opened in the sand. A waterfall of red cascaded in and then out of the growing hole, came the enormous queen bug. Karn was sure he wasn’t imagining it; she looked totally pissed. Following her, were the two huge soldier drones.
Zer0 waved urgently at Wolfenette.
“Huh?” asked Wolfenette. Zer0 pointed at the empty seat beside him and then mimed shooting and reloading a large rifle.
“Wait. Nieve? Where is she?”
Zer0 shook his head violently.
“Karn!” shouted Wolfenette. “We have to go back! Nieve’s been left behin…” Wolfenette’s words trailed off as she looked again out the window at the giant insect queen. Unfurling from her back was an enormous set of wings. She flapped them slowly and then faster, lifting into the air, her drones behind her, rising on wings of their own. But most alarming of all, was the short blue-skinned figure clinging desperately to the queen’s back. Zer0 pointed happily.
A few minutes ago…
“Run!” bellowed Karn.
Nieve however, froze. She glanced around quickly and then darted into a tiny crevice in the rock wall. The roaring started up almost instantaneously. The insects flooded past her, angry eyes fixed on the others. None of them even noticed her. She was invisible.
When the hoard had passed, the Eolith poked her head out cautiously. The royal chamber was almost entirely empty now. All that was left was the gigantic queen and her hench-drones. Nieve could see the queen insect chittering angrily. After a few minutes, the anger grew and suddenly she reared up and began attacking the ceiling. Red dirt and blue amber began crashing to the ground. The queen continued to claw at the ceiling, digging further and further until a shaft of red sunlight spilled onto the floor. The light grew as the ceiling began to collapse. The queen shrieked and began to unfurl her wings. Nieve could hear another noise above the sound of the collapsing cave. The whining of ship engines. She glimpsed a red and silver hull through the crack in the ceiling. Nieve looked again at the Queen who had slowly begun to flap her wings. An idea began to form in her head. A very stupid idea.
“Oh hell…” she muttered. She slung her rifle strap around her shoulders, took a deep breath and then sprinted towards the queen.
The crew aboard the Soaring Unicorn looked on in amazement as Nieve struggled to stand upright astride the queen. They were distracted only when the soldier drone closest to the ship shivered and spat a long stream of green acid at them.
“Oh no you don’t!” Rasha Karn wrenched the ship around and fired back with the main guns. The soldier drone shrieked and dropped down several yards.
“Get on those canons and take the others out!” shouted Karn. Zer0 and Wolfenette undid their buckles and lurched towards the mounted gunner seats.
Back out on the queen, Nieve had finally managed to find her feet. She swung her rifle into her hands and loaded it. She pointed it straight down at the queen’s back and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The gun had jammed.
The queen now spat a huge line of acid. The Unicorn, under Karn’s deft hand, was able to dodge the sizzling stream. Karn turned again and fired at the first soldier drone. The rail gun pierced both of its wings and it was sent plummeting to the red sand far below. Zer0 and Wolfenette were now taking potshots too. It was difficult to manage, what with the ship darting this way and that to avoid the acid. They were also very concerned that one of them might hit Nieve by accident.
“Sure could use some missiles right about now-” Karn was cut off by a horrid screeching sound. The remaining soldier drone had launched itself at the ship and latched on somehow, claws squealing over the metal.
“Dammit,” growled Karn. “Hold on everyone. I’ve gotta’ shake this monster.”
The Unicorn rocketed upwards. Zer0 found himself clutching his headrest in panic as the g-force pulled him backwards into his seat. They were thrown willy-nilly as Karn rolled and spun, trying to throw the creature off.
Nieve had managed to un-jam her rifle. She re-loaded it, cocked it and checked her balance. She shoved the barrel into a crack in the queen’s shiny carapace and pulled the trigger. The shot was oddly muffled, but was followed by an unearthly shriek. The queen faltered and fell a little, flailing and squealing in pain. There was now an exit chasm on the underside of her belly.
Back on the ship, the soldier drone was still holding tightly to the hull. The ship righted just in time for the crew to see Nieve’s bullet explode out the other side of the queen’s belly. Zer0 clapped gleefully and then gave a thumbs up in approval.
Rasha Karn dived. The crew was suddenly weightless. Zer0’s helmet flashed through a series of shocked and alarmed emoticons before settling on one.
Karn pulled up suddenly and jagged to the right. The soldier drone howled as the sudden turn wrenched its grip free and catapulted it straight towards the queen. The two collided with a sickening crunch, nearly sending Nieve flying. Now the lasers were blazing again. The muzzles of the guns began to glow red hot as the crew peppered the soldier and queen with dozens of shots. The insects tried to spit their acid again, but couldn’t even get close. Zer0 punched the air as one of his shots found a soft spot on the soldier drone’s belly. It was dead before it even crashed in a sticky, horrible mess on the red desert.
“Wolf! Get one of those mining drones out there! If we do manage to shoot this queen down, Nieve will not survive the fall!” shouted Karn, furiously wrestling with the ship’s controls.
“Yes captain!” Wolfenette ran towards a bank of controls in the center of the ship. She hit a few buttons and there was the hiss of pneumatics. A door had opened on the bottom of the ship, releasing a small mining bot. The Soaring Unicorn had once been a mining rig and most of the equipment was still on board – including several pairs of rancid orange overalls stained with all manner of dirt and alien dust. The drilling bot dropped away from the ship, falling fast towards the red sand. Wolfenette stared anxiously at the controls.
“Fly dammit!” she hissed, punching buttons randomly.
Zer0 had nailed the queen several times now, the lasers blasting holes in the queen’s blue carapace. Nieve too had managed another shot after she’d regained her balance. The Unicorn dived again, firing round after round at the giant insect. They were too close though, and the queen shrieked and lashed out with her front claws, grazing the ship with a sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Wolfenette’s drone was now rocketing upwards. She’d figured out the controls just before the little bot had crashed in the red dunes. Karn dodged another blow from the queen’s claws and spun the ship so it was pointing right into her mandibles.
“Eat lead, your highness,” snarled the Jacorith and squeezed the trigger. The railgun spat, shredding the queen’s head. Her wings faltered and then stopped altogether. She began to fall.
“Where’s that bot?” roared Karn.

“I’m not going to make it!” replied Wolfenette still rapidly pressing buttons on the console. Karn growled and sent the Unicorn into yet another gravity-warping dive after the enormous insect. Zer0 threw off his harness and for a second, he was floating in midair. He pushed off the back of the gunner’s chair, sailing through space towards one of the other consoles. There was a second pneumatic hiss as another bot was released. Zer0 was much quicker in figuring out the controls and soon had the little bot racing down after the queen. The robot drew alongside the falling corpse, desperately seeking out Nieve with its onboard camera. Suddenly, she was there, face against the queen’s flesh, hanging on for dear life. Zer0 hit the controls and the bot flew towards Nieve, smacking into her and getting her attention. It bounced away again. The Eolith craned her neck around and her eyes widened as she realized what she had to do. There was no time left. She judged the distance quickly and pushed off. Everything seemed to slow as she back flipped gracefully through the air – landing solidly on the mining bot. The robot pulled away as the ship did too. 801 and Wolfenette cheered and rained hands upon Zer0’s back as he piloted the little robot expertly back into the loading bay. 

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