Apocalypso: Part 5

Piecing the Puzzle

by Samy Merchi

 

 


* DISCLAIMER * This is a non-profit work of fan-fiction involving characters created and owned by Marvel Comics Group. This story contains EXPLICIT VIOLENCE. If this bothers you, please do not read the story.

* WRITTEN BY * Samy samerc@mash.yok.utu.fi  Merchi

* ARCHIVED AT * http://mash.yok.utu.fi/corona.html

* CONTINUITY * This story takes place in my Shadows of the Future timeline http://mash.yok.utu.fi/corona/xforce/index.html  in year +3 (three years in the future), on the 4th of July, about half a year after FIRST AND TEN, shortly after YOUR WAY, about half a year before WHO DARES WINS.


In Southeastern Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, there is a town called Palenque. It derives its name from an ancient Maya city of the same name which is now abandoned, save for scientists researching it and tourists visiting it. Both the town of Palenque, and the Maya city of Palenque are high in the mountains reaching up to almost ten thousand feet. Despite the altitude, the terrain is largely covered in a thick jungle which has the highest average rainfall in all of Mexico, due to the proximity of the Gulf of Mexico in the north and the Pacific Ocean in the south -- the mountains collecting the clouds coming from both directions, and bleeding the water vapor down in tears of rain.

The town of Palenque had just gotten two very unique visitors. Alerted by the international espionage agency SHIELD, the mutant strikeforce called X-Force, consisting of Mirage, Cannonball, Rictor, Meltdown and Shatterstar, as well as their allies Sunspot and Douglock, had come down here to stop a possible impending invasion of deadly extradimensional aliens called the N'garai. Two of these mutants, the chocolate-skinned, arrogant Brazilian heart-throb Sunspot and the long-haired, temperamental Mexican headbanger Rictor, were now in Palenque, in search of information.

"Cantinero! Los tragos van por mi!" Roberto called out in Spanish, as he absently tossed a few hundred-dollar bills onto the counter. "Traigame una botella de su vino mas caro."

"Te das cuenta que al estar mostrando tu dinero en esa manera, amigo, solo estas pidiendo que te roben?" Rictor pointed out after ordering a tequila.

"Si", Roberto smiled.

"Bien", Rictor smiled.

*** IN ENGLISH, IF MY TRANSLATOR DIDN'T JERK ME AROUND ***

"<Bartender! Drinks are on me!>" "<And bring me a bottle of the most expensive wine you have.>"

"<You realize, that by waving your money around like that, my friend, you are just calling out for muggers?>"

"<Yes.>"

"<Cool.>"

*** MAYAN RUINS ***

"I am unfamiliar with Mayan orthography and culture", Shatterstar said grimly and flatly as he ran a hand over the inscription-filled stone wall of the room he and Danielle Moonstar were in. "I can not interpret these images."

Dani gave a brief and unworried nod in response as she placed her hands on her hips and slowly turned 360 degrees in the middle of the small room. Only a few minutes ago, they had been in the middle of the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque. They were still there, only now inside a building. More precisely, in the room/hut atop the ziggurat shape of the Temple of Inscriptions, one of the most important buildings in the ruins.

It never ceased to amaze Dani how much quicker night and day interchanged the closer to the equator one got. In Nova Roma, the transition from day to night and vice versa felt like an eyeblink compared to Colorado. The Yucatan was something in-between, but the change from the US was noticeable, especially to someone as perceptive as she was.

And with nightfall came the familiar changes in nature, as everything started turning in for the night. Silence had overtaken the ancient city ruins as the teeming jungle around it started waiting for the sunrise and another day.

If X-Force didn't manage to do their job quickly and properly, there might not *be* a jungle left in the morning for several miles around the ruins. If there even *were* any ruins left then. "Don't worry", Dani said after spending long moments listening to the nature's silence, letting her instincts tell her everything was all right -- for the moment. "We've got someone who can."

"What would you guys do without me?" Douglock smiled as he landed atop the ziggurat building, right at the doorway into the hut, having finished his aerial recon of the area. "Lemme take a look at those, Shatterstar..." he said as the symbiosis of human and Technarch entered the hut and started striding towards the wall where Shatterstar was.

"Selves have meticulously charted area designate: Palenque ruins, SelFriendChiefDaniMirage", Douglock spoke while walking over towards the wall. "Selves have detected no traces of SelFoesN'garai. Query: Suggested course of action?"

Dani didn't answer immediately, instead slowly drifting over to the sacrificial altar in the middle of the hut and running her fingers lightly over the surface. "So much the Whites have destroyed", she mumbled quietly under her breath, a sad expression taking over her face and remaining there for a long while, before she took a deep breath and looked over to Douglock who had reached the wall and was studying it silently. "We explore, Warlock. See if Doug can figure out where in this city we could find an entrance to the crypts below..."

"How about right here?" Douglock asked and turned his head around to look at Dani with a broad grin. "OPEN SESAME", he said in a booming voice, and then pressed down a knob on the stone wall.

Suddenly, loud grating of heavy stone against heavy stone echoed in the room as the sacrificial altar Dani was standing beside suddenly started moving, and sliding to the side, beginning to reveal a tunnel underneath. Then, just as suddenly, the movement stopped when the altar had moved aside by its width -- four feet or so -- and silence prevailed once more.

Douglock grinned widely. "You could say I have *altared* the layout of the room", he said as he let his hand fall from the knob on the wall and motioned with a hand towards the tunnel, with steps starting to lead down from the other end of the hollow space revealed from underneath the altar.

"That's it, no more Star Trek for you", Dani smiled at Douglock, shaking her head, then moving around the altar to peer into the darkness of the tunnel leading down.

"I suggest extreme caution", Shatterstar pointed out. "The mechanism caused a great deal of noise, and may have been detected by others in vicinity."

"Hey, how was I supposed to know they haven't oiled the hinges of poor Pa Kal's tomb for a few centuries??" Douglock commented, shrugging with a smile, and then looking to Dani for instructions with a more serious expression.

"Mmm", Dani mused thoughtfully, and then looked to Douglock with a voracious smile. "You weren't", she said, and then held a slight pause before smiling even wider. "You go first."

*** THE JUNGLE AROUND THE RUINS ***

"Stupid flashlight."

"*Now* what?" Manoli Wetherell sighed as she stepped over a fallen tree trunk and glanced over her shoulder at her fellow reporter Neal Conan, his flashlight giving occasional flickers, and going dimmer and brighter every now and then, as if dying out.

"I think the batteries are running low", Neal frowned as he hit the flashlight a few times against his thigh, getting it to brighten up a bit and then pointing it at the jungle in front of them again, feeling the sweat run down his forehead and getting his clothes all wet after a couple of miles of forcing one's way thru a thick jungle. The sun had set, fortunately, by the time they had set out, but the heat of the day still lingered in the air.

"I'd ask if you thought of getting a spare pair out of the van when we left, but I know the answer to that question", Manoli mumbled as she adjusted the twenty-three pounds of M-60 machine gun in her hands, keeping it pointed forward as her eyes searched out the darkness in front of the two reporters. Then, she just shook her head. "Turn it off."

"Huh??" Neal blinked confusedly, lowering the hand holding the still-on flashlight while his other hand held the camera on his shoulder. "Off?"

"Mm-hm", Manoli nodded slowly. "We might need whatever light the batteries have left in them if we come by anything important, like, I dunno, roadsigns or something. Or an area boobytrapped with tripwires. We don't really need the light now. Our eyes will get used to the darkness pretty quickly, and the light will just serve to telegraph a 'we're here' message if there are most of those insect-man critters lurking around. Besides, I'm pretty sure we're pretty close to the ruins by now -- only a question of a couple hundred yards by now, I think."

"If we haven't passed it by or gone in a wrong direction or something", Neal pointed out. "I haven't heard any more of that drumming since the first time we heard it..."

"Oh, stop worrying", Manoli said as she started moving forward again, passing underneath a tree branch and carefully watching her step as she inched forward, hunched over slightly, and keeping close to trees and bushes, avoiding clear areas. "There's just a hundred miles or so of empty jungle in every direction if we miss Palenque. We're bound to find something sooner or later." She didn't bother to restrain her smile, knowing Neal wouldn't be able to see it in the darkness.

"A hundred miles --??" Neal blinked and started moving himself, stumbling a bit over a large root as he followed Manoli. "Maybe this wasn't such a bright idea..."

*** MEANWHILE... ***

"Are we there yet?" Moses Magnum asked as he followed Calypso, walking in front of him, a torch held high in her hand as she led the pair down dank and musty-smelling corridors gradually descending downwards, deep into the heart of the earth beneath the ruins of Palenque.

"Patience, Magnum", Calypso said. "What you are about to see in a few moments has not been witnessed by human eyes other than mine in several centuries. I expect you to pay the proper respect to the dead. Is that understood?" Unseen by him, her lips drew into a slight grin.

"If you say so", Magnum snorted a bit. He didn't believe in spirits, of the dead or otherwise, but one thing he knew is that Calypso had succeeded somehow in bringing out creatures that would serve as her army. And that...made her useful. For the moment.

A few minutes passed as they traveled down the corridors, taking stairs down, rounding corners, climbing down shafts, until finally, she paused at one corner. "Now", she smiled, glancing over her shoulder at Magnum as she rounded the corner, and waved a hand at the chamber opening up in front of her. "Here we are. The Hall of Life and Death."

Magnum rounded the corner and his jaw fell slack, his eyes widening. "&%$", he murmured slowly, staring at the vast hall, several dozen feet high, and at least twice that long and wide, dominated by a pool of red liquid in the center, and on the other side of it, a huge statue on the far wall, arms crossed over its chest, reaching almost the ceiling.

The statue seemed almost hauntingly familiar for some reason he couldn't decipher, and it took him several moments to pry his gaze away from the huge golden eyes, and notice the skinned human bodies hanging upside down on the walls, their faces red from the blood that had run from their cut throats and flowed down their heads, dripping to the grooves engraved on the floor, carrying the red liquid down to the center of the room like miniature channels. They radiated to the pool from all sides of the room, forming a sun-like pattern with the pool the sun itself, and the grooves sunrays radiating in every direction from the center.

"The sun has set. The pool is full of the blood of innocents", Calypso stated as she walked over to the pool. She stood there for a few moments, and then cast her arms towards the ceiling. "It is time for the ritual to begin!"

*** ABOVE THE RUINS ***

"See anything?" Tabitha Smith glanced to Sam Guthrie as she was held in his arms, several dozen yards up in the sky above the Mayan ruins.

"Uh-uh", Sam shook his head without moving his eyes to Tabitha, just keeping scanning the ruins down below. Since Dani, Douglock and Shatterstar had entered the ziggurat, it had been dead without any movement anywhere...and that, "makes me nervous", he mumbled. "The N'garai're supposed ta be somewhere. If we can't see 'em, it means they're *hidin'*. Which ain't no good news for us."

"Joy", Tabitha mumbled, moving her stare away from Sam's eyes and instead looking downwards. Instantly, she tensed up, gripping tighter the plasma rifle in her hands. "I saw something! I saw something!"

"Where?" Sam's eyes snapped to the direction where Tabitha was looking. His blast field dulled down its power slightly, descending a bit downwards to get a better view. "What was it?"

"Over there! Over there!" Tabitha gasped, nodding frantically towards some movement on the ground and pointing the plasma rifle at the figures, her finger tensing on the trigger.

"Hold it", Sam commanded, and with a soft thrumming sound zoomed down towards the disturbance, his eyes focusing on it. Like a meteorite, he came down from the sky. Unlike one, he stopped a few feet above ground, hovering in place as he stared at the figures just coming out of the jungle. "Who th' heck are you people?"

"Uh, Neal Conan, NPR-TV?" Neal blinked in confusion as he stepped over a tree root, his camera whirring softly as it filmed the two mutants hovering in the air before him. "And you're --" he glanced at the 'X' symbol on Cannonball and Meltdown's shoulders. "X-Men?"

"Not 'zactly", Sam answered as he landed and let his blast field fade away, putting Tabitha down from his arms. "We're X-Force. A more proactive version o' the X-Men. We go after trouble instead'a waitin' for it ta show up."

"Usually", Tabitha added, and then smiled. "We're also younger, cooler and hipper. Most of the X-Men like Elton John."

"*I* like Elton John, Tab", Sam glanced to his teammate.

"Hate to interrupt comparing notes about music tastes", Manoli Wetherell interjected, "but I think there's something freaky going around these parts, and I don't really believe in coincidence. Are you 'X-Force' people in league with those insect man critters, or against them?"

"Insect man?" Tabitha blinked.

"N'garai", Sam frowned thoughtfully and glanced at Manoli. "They're called th' N'garai. Y'both'a seen 'em?"

"Seen them?" Neal smiled and patted his camera. "We've got them on film, assuming they show up on it. Our van ran into one of them and got trashed, but Manoli here took care of it." His expression turned more serious. "I take it there's more of them around? What's the story with them?"

SKRREEEEEEE

All four heads snapped towards the ziggurat into which part of X-Force had disappeared, to see a large, spindly-limbed creature, silhouetted against the moon rising behind it, rearing its head and letting out an unearthly screech, sustaining it for several heartbeats. Flocks of birds fluttered into the air from the jungle at the monstrous sound which ended a few moments later. It turned around slowly, to face the four humans near the foot of the ziggurat, and stared.

SKRREEEEE

"NO!" Sam shouted as two more creatures leaped out of the jungle right behind Manoli and Neal, their maws gaping open, their claws raking at the air as they reached for the two reporters.

*** UNDERGROUND ***

"Self can detect signs of recent usage, SelFriendChiefDaniMirage", Douglock glanced around as he, Mirage and Shatterstar reached a plus-sign-shaped intersection in the tunnels. "Temperature readings, non-standard, uneven distribution."

"He's right", Douglock nodded and kneeled down at the intersection, placing a hand against the smooth stone floor. "This tunnel going across our path's been used", he said, and motioned to the exits at his sides. "Infrared registers two pairs of footsteps heading that way", he said, pointing to the right, "less than fifteen minutes ago."

"Magnum and Calypso, probably", Mirage narrowed her eyes in thought. "Do we know if the N'garai are warm-blooded? Would they leave temperature traces?"

"Unknown", Douglock shook his head as he stood back up. "SHIELD files incomplete in that regard. Self suggests following tracks. Proverb: All roads lead to Rome -- conclusion: SelFriends will find *something*."

"Right", Mirage nodded. "Let's go. *Quietly*."

***

THWAMM

"GET BACK!" Cannonball shouted as he enveloped his three companions in his flaming orange thermokinetic field a few fractions of a second before the two N'garai slammed right into the blast field and ricocheted backwards, crashing onto the ground.

Sam stared unwaveringly at the two N'garai as they stumbled back onto their feet, locking his eyes with theirs and trying to see any signs of intelligence. "D'you think they know what they're doing, Meltdown?" he asked as the two reporters moved out of his way and to his sides, Neal filming the N'garai wide-eyed thru the blast field. "Or are they just animals?"

"Who cares?" Meltdown snapped and glanced around frantically. "The one atop the pyramid --"

"It's called a 'ziggurat'", Neal pointed out.

"What*ever*!" Tabitha growled. "It's coming down too! Sam, you can keep us all snug and safe inside your blast field, but what're we gonna do then, just sit here?"

"No, it's too easy", Cannonball replied, holding up the blast field as the two N'garai slashed their claws at it to little effect. He retaliated, raising his arms at them.

THWOOOOM

The blast field exploded outwards, smashing into the N'garai and the jungle behind them with the force of an eighteen-wheeler, a good couple of hundred feet long path into the jungle razed clear from the force of the blast and the N'garai lying unmoving in the pile of vegetation debris at the far end.

"Heads up!" Manoli shouted as a group of close to a dozen N'garai streamed past the ziggurat, coming over it, from the left of it, from the right of it. "There are more of the little suckers!" she aimed the M-60 machine gun in her arms at the lead one which had made it halfway down the ziggurat. "Does this force field of yours keep stuff in, too, or is it just one-way?"

"Goes both ways, ma'am, sorry", Sam answered and frowned as he turned towards the approaching horde. "They might be sentient. Don't use lethal force, Meltdown."

"WHAT?" Tabitha stared at Sam incredulously. "What're you, *nuts*, Sam? Are you gonna leave these things out here? They *kill*, Sam! They've gotta be wiped *out*!"

"Ah don't take lives, Meltdown. You know better'n that", Cannonball hissed and waited until the lead N'garai was off the ziggurat, before unleashing his blast field explosively towards it, smashing it backwards, grooving it backwards along the ground until it came to a halt and lay still. "If Ah knew for sure they were animals, it'd --"

"Oh, and it's okay to kill animals, Sam?" Meltdown snapped.

"Ain't no different'n when mah Pa had to get'is shotgun an' take down old man Angers' rabid dog when Ah was fourteen", Cannonball tightened his face as he considered the options of fighting and fleeing. "Animals don't got no minds, they gotta be taken down if they turn killers, but intelligent creatures deserve better'n that!"

"Joy", Meltdown growled as two of the N'garai leaped onto the blast field, clawing at it furiously and trying to get thru, only to be rewarded by an explosive release that sent them hurtling into the air and crashing into the jungle.

"How do you know animals aren't sentient?"

"Whu?" Sam glanced over his shoulder at Neal.

"Animals", Neal repeated as his camera filmed Sam's face. "Humans' assumption that they're not sentient is largely based on the fact that we can't communicate with them. It's all right to kill a rogue bear in self-defense when it's turned a killer."

"That's not the same thing, though", Sam answered, turning his attention back in front of him as the N'garai slowed down and instead of charging, started forming a circle around the four humans inside the blast field, moving cautiously, watching their prey. "We *can't* communicate with bears. They don't have a language. We don't *know* if the N'garai have a language. We *might* be able to communicate with them."

"And how do you *know* bears don't have a language?" Neal asked. "Isn't it possible that we *might* be able to communicate with them, too? What factual evidence proves that it's completely impossible to communicate with them? In fact", he continued in an interviewing voice, "isn't the only difference between bears and N'garai the fact that the latter are not covered in biology classes? There's no difference between the *behavior* of bears and N'garai. If the latter were only covered in biology books, would you have any problem dealing with them the same as you would with bears or rabid dogs?"

Sam's forehead furrowed in thought, and after a few moments, he gave a reluctant nod. "Ah guess Ah see your point, Mr Conan", he murmured, turning his head from side to side and watching the N'garai circling the blast field. "Ah guess Ah just don't wanna be prejudgmental and want t' give the unknown a chance."

"As opposed to mutant prejudice", Neal smiled and started emphasizing his words more as he got to the meat of the interview. "Is your reluctance to use lethal force a direct result of being engaged in a societal war for tolerance? Having witnessed a great number of xenophobic anti-mutant activities that are only too ready to give the unknown -- mutants, in that case -- *no* chance, isn't it possible that you have been influenced so much that you give the unknown -- the N'garai, in this case -- *too much* of a chance? Are you *overreacting*?"

"I...don't --" Sam started with a frown.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"What's that -- drumming?" Manoli blinked, and then glanced in alarm at the blast field as it flickered.

"Can't -- concentrate!" Cannonball gritted his teeth, clutching his hands over his ears in an attempt to ward off the haunting, hollow stringy sound mixed with shaking noises. "Can't... maintain field --!"

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

SKREEEEEE

"EAT THIS!" Manoli shouted at the N'garai leaping at her as soon as the blast field winked completely out. Taking a step backwards, she braced herself, and squeezed down the trigger of her machine gun.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"It's shrugging them off!" Manoli's eyes widened as the bullets ricocheted off the chitinous black skin. "YEARGHH!" she screamed, dodging to the side just enough that the claws merely tore open her side instead of severing her in two at the waist.

"MANOLI!" Neal shouted, gripping his camera tighter as he filmed his wife going down, the N'garai standing over her and raising its claws, then slashing downwards.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

THOOM

With a squeal, the N'garai's head exploded and it stumbled backwards before it could complete its blow, crashing onto its back and spasming violently on the ground.

"They're attacking!" Neal yelled as all the N'garai suddenly rushed towards the little group at their center, and pulled closer to the others, kneeling beside Manoli.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"Here, Sam!" Meltdown shouted, tossing the smoking plasma rifle over towards Cannonball, then ducking underneath the slash of another attacking N'garai, and with a wave of her hand, throwing a glowing orb into the wide open mouth. "My powers don't depend on being able to maintain concentration --!"

BOOM!

Cannonball snatched the rifle from the air, another N'garai head exploding messily as the glowing orb detonated. "Thanks, Tab!" he pointed the weapon towards a pair rushing towards him.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

THOOM THOOM

With two trigger-pulls, the N'garai were knocked backwards, their chests wet chitinous black and green messes. "Get to that building!" Sam shouted, pointing at a low one-story building nearby as he ran over to Neal and Manoli. Snatching up the M-60 from the ground beside Manoli, he whirled around and squeezed down the triggers, opening fire with both of his weapons towards the N'garai. "Ah'll hold'em back! Go! Go!"

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"Sam --" Meltdown bit her lip hard, and swallowed as she saw another contingent, at least a dozen creatures showing up at the treeline of he jungle. "Sam!"

"GO!" Cannonball shouted. "I know what I'm doing! Go!"

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"&%$", Meltdown growled, and cast out two glowing orbs into the midst of the closer by group of N'garai, the explosions scattering them momentarily. Then, she ran over and grabbed Manoli's other arm, helping her up with Neal on the other side of her, and the three started making their way towards the building as fast as they could.

"Now I'm...glad stayin' with X-Force's...kept me in shape..." Sam mumbled as his arms strained to hold up the weight of the two weapons while fighting off the recoil trying to send him stumbling backwards as he kept firing. "I feel like Cable...soon mah arms're gonna be thicker'n mah waist..."

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"One more thing --" Meltdown shoved the two reporters in thru the doorway, then opened up her palm, and a beach-ball-sized glowing orb winked into existence. She pulled her arm back, and then hurled it towards the night sky, watching as it rocketed upwards, leaving behind a glowing trail.

***

The image of Meltdown rushing into the building wavered on a canvas of still red liquid, and gradually faded to that of Cannonball, outside the building, his guns blazing as he backed slowly down towards it.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"This pool is the portal you pull those creatures thru?" Moses Magnum stared at the pool of red from behind Calypso, his arms crossed over his chest as a frown lingered on his face.

"Yes. The fuller the pool is, the more N'garai will fit thru", Calypso smiled as she stood in front of the pool, drumming a curved stick against the other end of the hourglass-shaped drum hanging at her waist by a strap going over her shoulder. "And more, I can use it to view our intruders and channel the concentration-destroying sound of the Yoruba spirit drum thru it. In a few moments, they will be dead, and we can add their blood to the pool, opening the door wider..."

***

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"GANGWAY!" Cannonball shouted as he ran thru the doorway into the building, his guns dropped as soon as they had run out of ammunition. As soon as he was inside, he whirled around, slammed the door shut behind him, and leaned his back against it to keep it shut, gasping for breath.

CRASHHHH

"Ulp", Sam's eyes widened as black claws exploded thru the wall beside him, and tore horizontally across the yellow stone wall as easily as if it were paper, bringing down the entire wall, rocks crumbling from the ceiling as it sagged when the wall supporting it was brought down. "Agh!" Sam wheezed as one of the rocks impacted onto the side of his head, sending him stumbling dizzily.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

BOOM BOOM

The first glowing orb hit the N'garai's shoulder as it stood amidst the ruins of the wall, ready to enter the building. The explosion tore off its arm, the limb falling to the floor with a clatter even as the second orb impacted onto the creature's chest and smashed it into a pulp, a wet spluttery squeal erupting from the N'garai's throat as it crashed backwards to the ground outside.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"Sam!" Meltdown rushed over to Cannonball's side, supporting him as he tried to regain his bearings, putting an arm around his waist and holding him up. "Sam, we've got to run, there's too many of --"

"No", Cannonball sighed with a deep frown. "We ain't gonna be able ta run fast 'nuff to get away from 'em. We've only got one chance." He gritted his teeth. "You gotta blow up time bombs inside my ears."

"SAM!" Meltdown gasped wide-eyed. "Are you NUTS? I -- you'll go DEAF! You could DIE! I don't -- I could KILL you!" she squealed. "I can't do that!!"

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"If you don't", Sam grabbed Tabitha's shoulders firmly, looking sharply into her eyes, "we're gonna die *anyway*! This way, we have a shot! Y' *have* to make me deaf, so Ah can't hear the drums no more! It's the *only way*!"

"I -- I --" Tabitha stared slack-jawed at Sam.

"Do it", Sam said, taking her wrists in his hands and lifting her hands over to his ears. "Do it, or we all die."

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"Sam, I --" Tabitha breathed shallowly, and then saw past Sam's shoulder two N'garai step over their fallen comrade to perch on the rubble of the destroyed wall. "Sam --" she stared desperately into his eyes.

"Do it", he whispered, looking pleadingly into her eyes. "Please, for the love o' God, do it, Tabitha."

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

Tears welled up in her eyes, as she created two pinhead-sized glows from her hands, and gently floated them into his ear canals. "Sam..." she bit her lip with a terrified expression, and then spoke rapidly, knowing time was running out. "I -- I know you're with Rahne now, but...but I've got to say this...might be the last time I can ever tell you so you'll hear it... I love you, Sam!" she cried, tears running down her cheeks.

BOOM BOOM

"YEARRRGHHH!" Cannonball shouted as wracking agony ripped thru him, his back arching, his hands going to clasp over his ears as he crashed to the floor limply and lay there unmoving.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"My god", Neal whispered behind his camera, and then turned towards the N'garai, filming their entrance into the building as they ripped apart the roof that was too low for them, to make space for themselves. "Think this is it, Manoli?" he whispered to his partner without taking his eyes or the camera off the creatures.

"If it is, I'm not going without a fight", Manoli replied, and snatched her Magnum .44 from the holster at Neal's hip where it had been hanging since they'd left the van. She held the gun with both arms, narrowed her eyes, aiming carefully, taking her time, and then pulled the trigger.

BOOM

One of the N'garai squealed wildly as its eye exploded, stumbling backwards and lashing out frantically with its long limbs, gouging up everything in reach, including deep gashes in its companion's side. The other one screamed from the gashes, and turned to retaliate, ripping into the first injured one, the two starting to tear each other apart animalistically.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

BOOM BOOM

"Let's get out of here!" Meltdown shouted as two glowing orbs blew up one of the remaining walls. "They're gonna get in here sooner or later, let's at least *try* to find something sturdier to hide inside of!" she wheezed as she lifted Sam over her shoulder, and stumbled towards the self-provided exit with him.

"Check", Manoli nodded and quickly reloaded her gun, then with a wince stood up, her side still bleeding and moving around not helping it any. "I'll take point."

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

"I think the point just became moot", Neal commented as three N'garai stepped into the exit that had been provided by Meltdown's explosions.

"You two, get out through the other downed wall", Manoli said as she pointed her gun at one of the N'garai. "I'll hold them."

SKREEEEEEEE

One of the N'garai leaped towards Meltdown.

She never had a chance to scream.

BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM BRUM

***

"The drumming is close by", Shatterstar said, grasping the hilt of his double-bladed sword firmer. "Behind the next corner. I suggest extreme caution."

Mirage gave a quiet nod, and then tapped Douglock on the shoulder. "Can you do that invisibility trick?" she asked as he glanced over his shoulder. "Check out what's behind the corner, then report back."

"Affirmative, SelFriendChiefDaniMirage", Douglock nodded.

"You can count on us, Dani", Douglock added, and then started turning first translucent, then transparent, and finally fully invisible. Then, unable to see him anymore, Mirage and Shatterstar simply waited.

SCCHHHHLIKT!

A scythe-blade slashed horizontally thru the empty corner in the corridor. A heartbeat later, there was a faint thud, and then Douglock's body started turning visible again in the very spot the scythe had slashed thru. His body was standing in place. As his head faded back into view, it was lying on the stone floor.

***

THWACK!

"Wha --?" Meltdown blinked as the N'garai smashed into the flaming orange field springing into existence around her, and fell to the floor, dazed. "SAM!"

Cannonball didn't reply. Instead, he stumbled off Meltdown's shoulder onto his shaky feet, and gritted his teeth, shooting an angry glare from underneath his brows at the remaining two N'garai.

BWA-THOOOM

The earth shook as Cannonball's blast field erupted forward in a massive explosion. And then, there was nothing but charred, barren, scorched ground in front of him for a narrow, few yards wide strip all the way to the horizon.

"SAM!" Tabitha squealed and threw her arms around Sam, hugging him tightly against her. "Oh my god, you're *alive*, I thought I'd killed you, I --"

He silenced her by placing a fingertip over her lips. With a shake of his head, he said, "Ah cain't hear you." He took a deep breath to steady himself as he felt a bit dizzy, before going on. "Ah dunno what you're sayin', but this ain't over yet. There's still some'a those critters out there, ain't there? We're still in the same buildin', so Ah couldn't'a been out f'r that long... An' Ah --" He stumbled a bit on his feet, then tightened his face as he forced himself to regain his balance. "Ah dunno if'n Ah have the strength t' go up against more..."

"The drumming's stopped", Neal looked around warily.

***

"More of them!" Moses Magnum whirled around at the sound of Douglock's head falling. Then, he watched in disbelief as the techno-organic humanoid kneeled down, picked up its head, and placed it back into its place.

"It's safe, Dani", Douglock said as his eyes narrowed at Magnum. "I'm still standing on the pressure plate that triggered the trap. It's not rearming until I get off the plate." He patted his fist into his palm. "Let's go kick some Magnum ass."

"Agreed!" Shatterstar growled, and rounded the corner, running into the Hall of Life and Death, tensing his legs and leaping high, flipping in midair and landing gracefully in a crouch, continuing without missing a beat into a roll along the floor.

THOOM THOOM THOOM

Energy blasts lanced out of Magnum's hand as he cast it towards Shatterstar, the Mojoworlder's acrobatic maneuvers saving him from being hit, the blasts instead pulverizing the wall behind him into clouds of stone dust. "Idiots!" Magnum growled as he kept blasting at Shatterstar. "You've signed your death warrant. Don't you know who I am? I'm *pow*--" Then, his eyes widened. "Gkk!"

"You are the final ingredient", Calypso smiled as she let go of the serpent-headed handle of the dagger embedded deep in Magnum's back.

"Wh--?" Magnum turned his head, glancing over his shoulder at Calypso, before his eyes rolled back. His knees buckling, he collapsed backwards, and with a huge splash of the red liquid, disappared into the pool.

"What --?" Mirage blinked in confusion at Calypso as she stood in the doorway from the corridor beside Douglock.

"The pool!" Douglock pointed at the liquids settling back into their still state. "It's starting to *glow*!"

"What'd you do to Magnum, Calypso?" Mirage hissed, manifesting her psionic energy bow in her hands, an arrow of seething blue psionic energy pointed straight at the Caribbean sorceress' forehead.

"I was hoping to collect some more blood before having to do this", Calypso grinned as she turned to face the three intruders, the pool's glow quickly growing behind her and backlighting her. "But Magnum is the key. His power will return to one whom I need and revive him."

"ALARM!" Douglock screamed as his eyes fixated onto the several dozen feet high statue on the far wall. "Humanoid construction breaking up!"

"It's *cracking*!" Douglock gasped. "That's not a *statue*...it's a gigantic *sarcophagus*!"

"By the Great Bear", Mirage whispered hoarsely as the lid of the sarcophagus swung open with a massive creak, revealing the huge form within. "The tomb of Pa Kal?" she glanced to Douglock before looking back at the form inside the sarcophagus. "Pa Kal -- ypse??"

"Apocalypse", Shatterstar hissed as his eyes narrowed at the blue-lipped face of the giant.

"I've a feeling this day just took a turn for the worse", Mirage gasped.


Part 6

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