The Empress's Ace - Part 5 - Advances
It felt good to be able to wear their weapons again as a sign of trust between Phenat and Misfit Squadron. The various guards found the pistols the pilots wore odd, Sphinx had denied all requests for demonstrations. Ammunition was a precious commodity and he had no idea when they might need every bullet they had.
Sphinx was touring the city, Dimitri and Webster were accompanying him, Renard and Tex were guarding the planes. They needed to either move closer to the aircraft or move the aircraft closer to them if they ever needed to get to them quickly. For now the planes remained where they were, in addition to Tex and Renard the Phenat guards kept a detachment to stand watch.
Remembering his own time serving in desert countries Sphinx had demanded all manner of precautions against sand, it just wouldn’t do to have their engines fouled up when the P36’s were needed most.
Tyriq and Kebalt and three more guards were accompanying the three Misfits as they toured the markets and canals.
“I say, it is some impressive engineering,” Webster stated, noting a few things down on his yellowed notepad. “Almost everything I’ve seen out here astounds me. All made with no industrialization.”
Webster was something of the Misfit’s own chronicler, and he and Sanga’s father had had a few conversations already.
Their guides were more than happy to show off for them.
“The canal flows directly through the city and is divided into channels for drink, wash, and cooking. From there the channels merge into two, one for clean water and the other for soiled, and both flow down into the farmlands below the cliff. The eptoroc people are charged with maintaining those channels.”
“As I said before, such fine engineering! And what crops do you grow down there in those farms?” Webster inquired.
“Assorted grains, lentils, many gourds and a few vegetables, and many reeds for silks. Some livestock is grown there. Herds of horned elphyti for milk and cheese, ilubest--that’s a cousin of the wild yulebest mind you--for much the same, and they can be fattened and killed for special occasions. Isn’t that right captain? Tell them about the day you slaughtered two yulebest with your bare hands!”
Tryiq, the jackal captain groaned uncomfortably.
Webster chuckled, taking the claim as a tease. “Please remind me to ask about the zoology of this place too!”
Sphinx looked down from admiring the spinning fans of some kind of mill which was catching a high desert breeze against the deep blue sky, lit again by three suns.
“Who among you are the ‘Eptoroc,’ if I may know?” Sphinx inquired.
“If you see anyone standing almost twice your height, with reptilian leathery skin and a maw of many sharp teeth, those are the eptoroc. Aside from running the flow of canals, they are the city’s fishermen.”
Dimitri asked a question to one of the guides. Sphinx heard him speaking fluent Russian, and yet the guide replied to his question in what Sphinx heard as perfect English.
“Oh the river flows from several great lakes. Two in the far North where it snows, and another from the Irki sea itself. They merge into one channel North of Phenat city, which gave the river its old name, the adder’s tongue of Phenat.”
Dimitri asked something in Russian again, and Sphinx sensed concern from his squad mate.
The feline guide nodded and spoke quietly, “There’s little need to fear Ikris could cut off all our water. But we are anticipating some amount of flow will be hindered.”
Sphinx nodded, and stopped a while to see a house where water was being used to dye silks. Several young men and women were gathering water from a pool in large clay jugs. Despite being far from home he was fascinated with the sights and sounds, he compared what he saw to what he’d seen on Earth in his travels, and the various ancient civilizations he found so fascinating.
Upon hearing the guide’s concerns he chanced to look into the water flowing in a side canal, noting its rapids and the mix of clean shimmering stone on the curved floor of the waterway. As he did so, something swam upstream.
It looked to be a large grey fish the size of man--he hadn’t been able to get a good enough look at it. But for its size, it moved like a dart through the water. He tried following with his eyes, but he lost sight of its fleeting shape.
Their guide went on, “The city of Phenat was built and rebuilt several times over hundreds of dynasties,” one of the guides, a feline male, spoke with a toothy proud grin. “Three hundred and ninety-eight dynasties before Sanga rose to power. The city is in its prime now under her rule.”
Webster added these specificis to his notes.
Pondering what Sphinx had seen, he looked up and called Tyriq over. “Captain?” he asked. “Do eptorocs swim?”
Tyriq turned his head and Webster, Dimitri and the other guards were headed for what appeared to be an armory near a training ground. “They do,” the jackal answered. “You’ll see them from time to time cleaning the canal floor down there.”
Sphinx rubbed his chin. He remembered seeing one of the epotorc cleaning the floors the day they first entered into the palace. “How fast do they swim?”
Tyriq stuttered, as though trying to think a way to measure their speed. “Faster than they can walk,” he said at last, walking back to where Sphinx stood at the water’s edge.
Sphinx took a second glance inside the water, trying to express his suspicions carefully to the canine guard. “Do they...dart fleetingly?” he asked. “Could one swim from here upstream in maybe two eye-blinks?”
At this, Tryiq’s ears shot up and his eyes widened, and the other guards stood in collective alarm.
Tyriq turned to one of the guards as he drew his sword, “Sound the alarm! Lock the city down!”
Sphinx frowned as the guard sprinted away, “I take it that wasn’t an eptoroc I saw then?”
Tyriq nodded, “Not at all, an Ikris scout! Come on we must find it!” Sphinx and his Misfits drew their pistols and followed after Tyriq and the other guards as an alarm bell began to toll across the city, the alarm was taken up by the sounding of shofar like horns.
As the group ran alongside the canals Webster spoke, “I say. Can’t he just swim out of the city?”
Tyrig replied. “No, we have gates we can lower into the canals, he’ll have to surface to get around them and back into the water.”
As the city became alerted there were screams coming from the market places, the group drew up as they came upon a most curious scene.
“What the bloody hell is that?” Webster exclaimed.
A humanoid figure stood in the open, it was made entirely of water and a smaller figure floated within the chest. The fishlike being within the center of the water golem regarded the scene with cold fish eyes.
Over a dozen guards had surrounded the water battle suit, spears and bows pointed, but the display of pointy weapons didn’t seem to phase the Ikris in the suit as he suddenly went on the attack swatting aside two jackal guards as if they were nothing.
“Strike from all sides!” Tyriq shouted as the guards charged the watersuit charged through most of them.
Sphinx took a shot with his pistol but the bullet just impacted against the water suit with a small splash. The golem bashed through a merchants kiosk sending fruit and wood scattering across the sands as it suddenly plucked something from the ground.
A screaming young feline girl was held up by her ankle and dangled tauntingly before the guards weapons.
“This is dishonorable! The Ikris have never acted so basely before!” Tyriq fumed his ears flattening as his teeth bared.
“HELP!” The hostage shouted.
Guards tried to flank the monstrosity but to no avail.
Through it all Sphinx’s mind clicked, “This is a distraction.”
Tyriq regarded him, “Go, I’ll handle this.”
Sphinx gave a respectful nod as he and the other Misfits sprinted away from the chaotic scene and down along the canals.
“There’s got to be other scouts in this city while that brute keeps the guard distracted.”
“Because that’s exactly what you would do, right?” Webster asked.
“Correct,” Sphinx replied.
As they ran Dimitri drew his Kindjal in the hand opposite his Luger. The short saber could fit in a cockpit easily, and was more intimidating than the field knives Sphinx and Webster carried. As they moved Sphinx heard a voice, a voice he had become quite accustomed to hearing by now.
“Allies of Phenat, there are two Ikris less than a mile from your position, hurry!”
“You heard her.” Sphinx grunted.
The three men came upon a boat dock where two Ikris floated above the ground in perfectly smooth spheres of water.
“Halt!” Sphinx ordered.
The Ikris exchanged glances and then they opened fire. High pressurized streams of water sailed past the misfits barely missing the men as they returned fire with their pistols and dove for cover.
The bullets didn’t penetrate the spheres, there were small splashes and the spheres moved back a bit, but the occupants weren’t even phased. Behind a shipping crate Sphinx and Webster crouched as bolts of water splashed against the wood drenching the men taking cover.
Sphinx popped out and fired his M1911 twice at the closest Ikris before ducking back just as a stream of water grazed his side.
Sphinx shouted in pain as he looked down where he’d been hit, a hole was torn in the side of his shirt and the skin beneath was already welting with a nasty bruise. Webster fired a round from his Webley revolver before ducking down as a stream of water tore a chunk out of the crate.
“I think they can adjust the pressure of their weapons.” Sphinx groaned.
“Damn, fiendishly clever.” Webster noted.
One of the Ikris kept firing water bursts, the rate of fire comparable to a semi automatic weapon while the second floated away further into the city. From behind a boat that had been pulled up Dimitri suddenly detached himself as he gave chase.
Sphinx and Webster exchanged nods as they knew they had to cover Dimitri, both sprung up and fired their sidearms at the other Ikris, they knew it was useless but that wasn’t the point. The point was to keep Dimitri from being observed.
With shortsword and Luger in hand the Russian pilot followed just a bit behind the Ikris scout.
“Where are you going Ryba?” Dimitri asked.
The Ikris came to an area of the city that looked like it was a place meant for festivities with the banners and such stored carefully, there was already a company of guards in position.
“Halt, intruder!” The guard sergeant ordered as he began to step forward with his spear.
There was the now familiar sound of a water jet spraying, the plume of water impacted the jackal’s head followed by the sound of something snapping. The guard fell straight down his head at an odd angle.
Dimitri shook his head, the poor soul had been hit with the force of a piledriver it seemed.
In quick succession the Ikris took out a second, a third, and fourth, before the surviving guards broke and retreated. The Ikris seemed to be surveying the area as if taking the entire area into its memory as Dimitri decided to do something…. Crazy.
Putting away his weapons the aviator slowly crept behind the enemy scout hoping that his reflection didn’t show on the bubble. He’d seen that high velocity objects like bullets bounced off, but what of a slow moving object?
Carefully and meticulously Dimitri stuck his hand against the bubble feeling the water run along his hand like a stream, next he did the same with his other hand before taking a deep breath and putting his head through. The sensation was surreal. His top portion felt like it was underwater while he could feel the lower half of his body in the desert heat.
Committed now Dimitri pushed off with his legs propelling himself forward as he jumped. The Ikris didn’t know what hit him as he was suddenly being tackled through and out of the bubble. Man and fishman fell against the stone hewed street in a pile, Dimitri’s full weight bearing down on the Ikris. There was the sound of bones and cartilage breaking.
Dimitri quickly got off of the Ikris as the bubble dissipated into a giant puddle of water already being evaporated by the sun. The Ikris flopped around its limbs bent and gills flaring. Dimitri realized the Ikris was essentially a fish out of water.
While Dimitri had been dealing with the Ikris another scene was playing out. Tyriq and the rest of his guards were still dealing with the water golem, and the hostage it held. They were making no progress until Tyriq sudden;y had enough of it and charged the golem. Dodging the swipe meant for him, the enraged Captain of the guard clambered up the leg of the aqua battlesuit before managing to force an arm through the chest much like Dimitri had done with the bubble. Claws grasping the slimy scaled hyde within the guard ripped the Ikris out of the suit and sent him sprawling against the ground with so much force the frail creature died on impact.
The suit deformed into a puddle quickly as the hostage fell with a yelp only to land in Tyriq’s arms. A young and impressionable cat she blushed beneath her fur.
“Oh, you saved me… Thank you!” “No thanks necessary, miss,” Tyriq noted setting her down gently.
In his spot in the city, Dimitri looked around for something to keep the subdued scout from dying, he well knew how valuable interrogating the Ikris would be. Spying a large vase full of water Dimitri picked the thrashing Ikris up and tossed him into the vase.
“Enjoy your new aquarium.” Dimitri grunted.
Reinforcements had arrived and they all closed in on the captured Ikris while congratulating Dimitri.
The Ikris in the vase regarded the audience he now had and in a raspy voice addressed them.
"A pestilence and plague on Phenat! May your 'Heaven's Eye' be closed forever! Eternal suffering to your queen in your own dark netherworld! Her name cursed with pride in every age!"
With that the Ikris made a simple gesture and he suddenly convulsed as he deliberately collapsed his swim bladder, killing the piscine like a deepwater fish brought to the surface too quickly.
The moment the other scout died the last Ikris Sphinx and Webster were fighting paused as if he felt a severed connection. Ignoring Webster and Sphinx the Ikris leapt back into the canal and shot downstream.
“Come on!” Sphinx grunted his backup .38 now in hand having emptied the magazine of his larger .45.
The two gave chase but the scout was too fast and managed to slip out past one of the gates and to the rivers beyond.
“Damn, now they know we’re here,” Sphinx grunted.
The Empress's Ace - Part 7 - Preparations
They sure seem organised with their water supply... drinking, cooking, washing... keeping the soiled water separated...
If only it Victorian ancestors had been that smart about water supplies, instead of dumping it all in the Thames... boy, we were dumb... 😅
Wow, those Ikris are crazy fanatics... rather suicide themselves than be captured! 😯
Indeed... considering how we used to think the best way of avoiding Plague was by killing the cats and dogs, rubbing our sores with chicken-butts and crouching in a sewer... it's a wonder we survived the Middle Ages... 😅
Wonder how they do that thing with the water-bending...
Ah, Ikris among the Phenatians. These spies certainly are swift. Explains why the Ikris weren't so keen on fighting with a scorching hot desert and all. Make me wonder if the battle suits evaporate over time when exposed to the sun.
And alas, some more details regarding the layout of the city and its architecture.