Chapter Thirteen

Chapter 13

Irian turned to the water.  It all made sense.  He had noticed nothing was nibbling at him, and normally even with him smacking the water his friends caught more fish than a single hypostomus…

“Let me see your fish.  I have an idea.”   Irian looked at the skewered fish.   There were no odontodes of any kind, and it was impossible to tell the sex of the fish.  It was a juvenile, and then he saw the thing that made his blood stop, freeze and run backwards.   Underneath it, instead of a full belly, there were the remains of a yolk sac.  The bait in its mouth had been its first meal.   “It would appear we have a giant pleco on our hands.  You know, that bow is going to be of little use underwater…”

“Why else did you think I asked if you wanted to fish?  I’m sure we can find you a more suitable pole…”  He spoke into his com.  “Arsenal, this is Sticks.  Do we have any toys for the kids out here to play with?  Preferably something with a sharp point.  Remind me to speak with this one’s advisor later…”  His voice trailed off into the com, speaking in a short, clipped code.   He then shouted to a fellow Redemptor in a thick, multisyllabic language that was less words than letter bouillabaise.  The new Redemptor produced a pair of short explosive charges.  Each had a waterproof fuse and was weighted to fall as fast as possible.  Once dropped, their point was to scare up the fish in hiding at the bottom.  Afterwards, when the creature had been analyzed, the team would come back and drop targeted neurotoxins into the water, killing its spawn and (hopefully) leaving the native life alone.  If not, well Sanctuary could use a facelift, Irian thought.

Arsenal, as he was called, brought Sticks a few cases.  Inside were blades of all shapes and sizes.  Sticks motioned for him to choose something he was comfortable with.  Irian studied the contents, then walked over to his clothes, picked up his shirt, and ripped it in a spiral.  The arms he tore off, leaving him with a long strip of cloth, which he tied around his waist as an obi.  Into this obi he thrust a pair of short punching daggers, and across his back he strapped a long spear he had assembled from the parts in the cases.  Lastly, he thrust a damascus blade into his makeshift obi and checked the chainwork holding it in place.  The pin system was completely unfamiliar to him, and he noticed his friends watching as he fought with it.  Sticks finally undid the clever little clasp, and removed the chains entirely.  As he did, he handed Irian a small, azure-bladed weapon.

“Aether blade.  Cuts anything.  Be careful it doesn’t  cut you.  We can’t heal these cuts. “  Sticks returned to fitting a reel system to the front of his bow.     When he finished, a few more unintelligible words, and the Redemptor with the charges lit them and tossed them toward the center of the lake.   Irian drew the blade and stepped into the blood-warm water.  He could hold his breath three minutes, which meant that he had to work fast to get this if he didn’t want to have to surface and chance losing it in the mud.  He began to hyperventilate, saturating his bloodstream with oxygen.  As he did so, Sticks nocked an arrow, a gossamer line connecting it to the gear reduction reel on the end of the bow.  Irian breathed in one last time and slipped under the surface, dropping the stones from his pocket as he did so.  Replacing them was the aether blade.  His eyes quickly focused underwater as he got his bearings.  He watched the twinkle of the fuse as it guttered out, and then felt the hard, flat shockwave as it pushed the mud straight down.   He pushed off and kicked toward the bulge in the mud left after the explosion, half hoping it had done the job.

There was no such luck, for out of the mud burst a plecostomus fully twelve feet long, poison glands at the base of its fins bulging, and with a long, wicked stinger in its tail.  Looked like the Harvest had done more than seed this lake.  Irian realized for the first time that he was in a situation where he could die very quickly, and instead of dwelling on it pushed toward the fish.  He was hoping to take it by surprise.  He did, too, if taking it by surprise meant being surprised that a damascus blade bounced off the armor plates on its back.  Before it could turn on him, he quickly thrust the blade at the underbelly, only to be rebuffed by tough, leathery skin.   By his internal clock, he had been down thirty seconds.  The activity wasn’t helping those times either.  In anger, he lashed out, scrapng the side of the fish, and catching a pectoral fin and breaking the spine.  Crippled in this way, the fish flashed its tail in Irian’s direction.  Irian felt a burning in his lungs, and chalked it up to the exertion in twenty feet of water.  He ducked under the creature and thrust up.  All he succeeded in doing was pushing it upwards.

A minute ten.  Irian began driving the fish upwards, battering it with the now dull blade.  In fear it rose, broken fins trailing, tail beatting out a tattoo against the foam of its passing.  He thrust the sword back into the obi, and grasped a dagger in each hand.  With long, powerful blows he beat at it, battering it underneath the head, close to the throat, trying to damage its gills.  He finally succeeded in getting a dagger into a gill plate, and he hammered it home, shutting the plate and rendering its gills on that side useless.  A minute forty-five.  He was leveraging science into play here.  If he could close the other, it would have to surface.  They had limited air-breathing capability, and there Sticks could keep it from diving again.

He drove into the other side.  When the dagger got purchase, he hammered at it with both hands, wedging it into the giant skull of the fish.   His lungs were screaming.  Two minutes ten seconds.  His hand brushed past the pocket with the aether blade, and he pulled it out.  He raked it across the armored side of the fish.  Crimson stole out into the water as armor cleaved like clay, separating the membrane from the dorsal fin.   That was all the coaxing it needed, and it broke the surface, followed shortly by Irian.  He was breathing heavily, as though he was a drowning man (and how close that was to true, he thought) and he steeled himself.  The expected attack didn’t come, as the fish simply thrashed on the surface.  As Irian moved to give Sticks a shot, though, the tail he hadn’t been paying attention to came out of nowhere, striking Irian in the side, puncturing a lung and impaling his arm on the poisonous stinger.  In reaction, Irian slashed across with the aether blade.  Instantly, the tail parted with the body, the stinger pumping impotently into the water as the barb stayed lodged in his arm.

On shore, Sticks was watching in amazement.   He had heard much about this young man, but it was unbelieveable what he was seeing.   He was only a student, but he could best a Harvest creature singlehandedly.  He pulled the arrow back.  Even the best hunter, he thought, needed a bit of help.

As the enraged fish turned on Irian to rasp at him with its spoon-shaped teeth, the arrow from Sticks’ bow exploded in the side of the creature.  Vitreous humor flew in an arc as the eyeball exploded and slid onto the shaft, and the line pulled taut and began hauling.  Sticks looped the line around a winch Arsenal had set up, and the line, thin as it was, was pulling the twelve-foot abomination against its will toward the shoreline, where the awestruck friends began to panic.

As the fish breached the shoreline, Sticks fitted another arrow, attached a line to it, and fired once more.   It caught Irian in the trapezoid muscle, and he began pulling him, hand over hand as fast as he could.  Blood crisscrossed his palms as the thin line dug into him, exacting a payment for the rapid removal of the young man from the water that wished to consume him.  Irian’s head was buzzing with pain, and the last thing he saw before his head brushed pebbles on the shoreline and the pounding in his head won was the one that had thrown the explosives pulled out what looked like a sword-sized aether blade and dispatched the creature.  Sticks was already beginning first aid.  He knew he would be fine, if sore and limited for a time.  Sticks was telling him something about his sister and smiling, as he gave him something to knock him out for the barb removal.  As Irian relaxed and let the Redemptor healer take over, his mind seized on one thing.

A sword-sized aether blade wasn’t possible, was it?

Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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