Gwiazdy od...szatni
Gwiezdna Eskadra / Space: Above and Beyond

Blind Shrike Page 20

"Shrike, get away from the railing," Lulu said.

Spyder turned to see what had caught Lulu's attention. The Seraphic Brotherhood's great burning heart was slowly opening, like the doors of a hangar. There was a burst of light and angels (or angel-shaped things) poured from the opening, flaming swords out before them. They scattered across the sky, some coming toward their ship, some toward the scorpion, while others headed for the more distant ships. The sound of cannon fire erupted across the sky as several of the more distant airships began to shoot at the angels and the Brotherhood's heart.

Something scraped against Spyder's side, and he remembered Apollyon's knife. Pulling it from its scabbard, Spyder swung it down. The blade split the claw and sliced through the railing so easily that, at first, Spyder thought he'd missed. A thick black fluid pumped from the claw's wrist as it and its tether fell away. The scorpion ship shuddered, perhaps in pain or perhaps in response to the angels slashing it with their burning blades.

Lulu was crouched with her back to the wall of the cabin, yelling "Shit, shit, shit…," over and over. Shrike was at the far railing, slashing any angel that dared fly too low. Finally free of the claw, Primo had more control of the ship, but the angels overhead slashed at the steering lines. The deck swayed as the little man had less and less influence over the vessel. Spyder held onto the railing to keep from being thrown overboard. In the distance, a crystal skull was burning and a jeweled Garuda was sliced nearly in half before exploding.

The prince's scorpion ship wasn't faring much better. One of its enormous claws was falling away, on fire. At least they're shooting back, Spyder thought, as something streaked across the sky between the ship and the scorpion. Angels fled from the flying thing. The ones that didn't see it coming were sliced to pieces in its wake. Then the thing dived and was gone, only to emerge from under the far side of the deck, near Shrike. It flew right at and through the sacred heart, before circling back through the angel swarms, killing and maiming dozens as it swung back toward their ship.

Their seahorse was losing altitude fast. Spyder went forward to where Primo was struggling with the ship. Control lines and splintered sections of rigging lay at the little man's feet. As Spyder reached him, he was wrestling with the few lines that still worked.

"Please take this," Primo said. Spyder grabbed the line and was almost lifted off his feet by the weight. Primo had been holding it with one arm.

"Can you get us out of here?" Spyder asked.

"It's doubtful. I'm just trying to make our crash as easy as possible."

"What can I do?"

"Don't let go of that line." But it went slack in Spyder's hand as more angels swooped down and slashed at the ropes. Shrike jumped to the base of the rigging and slashed the heads from two angels. Too late. The deck trembled and the whole vessel dropped thirty feet in a second, then seemed to catch itself. Primo strained against the remaining lines.

"It's dead! Leave it," someone shouted.

Hovering off the starboard bow was a small, flat black flier. Its tapered body was curved like a wasp's, and its veined quadruple wings were streaked with angel blood. The pilot had pushed back the canopy and was gesturing to them. "Get on board! You can't stay aloft much longer!"

"Don't have to tell me twice," said Spyder.

"I'll keep us steady and join you in a moment," Primo said.

Angels, debris and flames were thick overhead. Spyder kept his head down as he ran. He grabbed Lulu by the arm and yelled, "Shrike, we're leaving," then pulled her to the flier at the bow of the ship. The tall pilot leaned from the cabin as Spyder helped Shrike over the rail. Taking her hand, the pilot pulled her inside. Lulu followed.

"Primo!" Spyder yelled. "Come on!" An angelic sword slashed at Spyder. He fell back, his arm scorched, his vision blurred by the flaming sword. When he could see straight again, Spyder saw Primo, swollen to his fighting size, spikes slick with blood. He was burned and bleeding; dead angels lay all around him. An angel in Primo's grip fought weakly as he strangled it. Another angel dropped down from the overhead lines, slicing off Primo's right arm. The little man screamed. Spyder, Apollyon's knife out, felt the blade nick a rib as he buried it in the chest of the angel who'd cut Primo. The little man picked up his severed arm, then with Spyder's help, they stumbled to the black flier, grabbing on as the seahorse groaned and slid toward the ocean in flames.

Spyder pushed into the flier's cramped cabin, but Primo, in his exaggerated fighting form, was too big to fit through the opening. He crouched on the wing and held onto the canopy with his good arm as the flier dropped below the battle. And kept dropping.

"We're too heavy," said the pilot.

"There's land ahead," Primo yelled.

Through the breaking clouds, an island was spread out in the cold sea. The pilot struggled with the controls, circling toward a stretch of open beach. Spyder held onto Primo as best he could, while Lulu huddled against Shrike. The pilot yelled something, but all Spyder could hear was the white noise hiss of the wind as it shrieked into the cabin. The beach came up fast. The pilot pulled back on the wheel. They bounced once and there was a snapping sound as the wings came off, taking Primo with them. The flier nosed down and dug into the sand and that was the last thing Spyder remembered for what felt like a very long time.

Twenty Six

My Enemy's Enemy

"Shit," said Spyder.

"A quote from Pere Ubu," Lulu said. "Guess you're all right, cowboy."

Spyder opened his eyes. He couldn't sit up or quite focus on any one object. He recognized Lulu's blur because he'd seem that before in plenty of bars. A blur that might have been Shrike left what was probably a campfire and came to where Spyder lay.

"How are you feeling?" asked Shrike.

"Alive. Gangbanged by gorillas."

"It was a hard landing."

"A soft crash is more like it," said Lulu.

"But everyone made it," Shrike said.

"It's hard to breathe," said Spyder.

"You may have broken some ribs," said Shrike. "Count Non did a healing spell on you, but it's still going to hurt for a few days."

"Count who?"

"Count Non," said Lulu. "The flyboy who saved us. He's the coolest. Wait till you see his weapons collection. I already almost cut off a finger playing with his shit."

"How about Primo? He fell off the wing."

"See for yourself," said Shrike. "Can you sit up?"

With Shrike and Lulu's help, Spyder managed to sit upright in the sand. Every breath was an adventure in pain. He gasped and took shallow breaths. That helped. Over by the fire, Primo sat, his injured shoulder wrapped in a clean bandage. He was drinking with a tall man dressed in leather and chainmail. The stranger had a scarred but darkly handsome face and eyes that shone intensely in the fire light. He nodded at Spyder. Primo turned and smiled when he saw Spyder awake.

"Good to see you up, sir! Thank you for your help off the ship!"

Spyder tried to shout back, but his ribs spasmed and he couldn't get the breath to shout. He gave Primo a pained smile and little wave. The stranger, Count Non, raised his glass at Spyder.

"I've seen that guy before," said Spyder.

"Yes, he said he knew you, too," said Shrike.

"He doesn't know me. We just saw each other at the weird market with the Sphinx. How did he end up near our ship?"

"He was coming to knock us out of the sky."

"Nice guy. He said that?"

"Yes."

"A snappy dresser and honest as a preacher. Sexy," said Lulu. "Why can't I find a girl like that?"

"Why is he still here if he came to bury us?" asked Spyder.

"Because I changed my mind," said Count Non.

Spyder's senses clearly weren't hitting on all cylinders yet. He hadn't even seen the Count coming over.

"You need to move around or those muscles will stiffen up. Let me help you," Count Non said, reaching down and effortlessly lifting Spyder to his feet. It hurt like hell to be upright, but Spyder swallowed the pain. He didn't dare let go of the Count's shoulder as the man walked him slowly to the fire.

"How's the arm, Primo?" asked Spyder. "Or, well, you know what I mean."

The little man smiled and turned to let Spyder see his empty sleeve. "Like you, I'm a bit sore, but the Count has an extensive knowledge of healing magic. And it's hard to kill us Gytrash."

"Lucky for us," said the Count. Spyder watched the little man smile broadly. It was weird, but the Count had that kind of air about him. Spyder wasn't sure what it was, but the man's title fit him. Somehow, he seemed regal. There was a weight to his presence that was oddly compelling. Spyder turned back to him.

"You look better without the make-up," he said.

Count Non chuckled. "You think so? If I'd known I wasn't flying right back to civilization, I would have packed it. My scars bother some people."

"I think they're cool," said Lulu.

"Thank you."

"What do you do, Count. When you aren't trying to kill us?" asked Spyder.

"Don't be rude," whispered Shrike.

"It's all right," said Count Non. "He's right to feel uneasy, being saved by his executioner. I was all set to kill you, especially when I saw you dealing with that pig prince of the Erragal clan. Then I saw the Brotherhood attack your ship and knew that we were on the same side."

"What side is that?" asked Spyder. "I didn't even know there were sides."

"The Brotherhood is scared enough of your expedition to try and stop you, and that's good enough for me," said Count Non. "`On mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise.'"

"I'll drink to that," said Lulu, picking up a glass.

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