“I repeat, this is not a drill. We are under attack.”
Alarms clanged noisily in the background, red klaxons flashing at every entrance and corner, warning him of the impending doom spilling out from the base’s underground cavern.
Palin jogged through the base’s tunnel system, moving mostly against the flow of personnel. Scientists and noncombatants spilled around him like fast-flowing water parting around a rock. He towered over most of them, and outmassed any that matched his height by a solid fifty or more pounds, all of which was solid muscle.
“Watch it,” he snarled as one of the noncombatants rebounded off his leg. In his panic the man didn’t even acknowledge Palin, and simply slipped back into the stream of people fleeing the base.
Finally he got to the cavernous shaft that led from the surface down to the underground cavern where apparently everything had gone to shit. It was still open, which meant the fight wasn’t declared lost just yet. They must be waiting for more people to evacuate, he surmised. Then they would unleash the huge steel plugs that would slide down the shaft and block access to anyone going down, but more importantly, stop any of the nightmares from reaching the surface.
The flow of humans had effectively disappeared by this point, much to his relief. Palin couldn’t stand most of them. They were weak, and had no spines. They were under attack; why did they not stand and fight? Any self-respecting dragon would sooner see themselves dead than not defend themselves and their honor.
He turned, glancing over his shoulder as the tunnel shook slightly. Down the tunnel came six half-ton combat suits. The metal armor, piloted by a human inside, rumbled past, not even acknowledging his presence.
Perhaps some of the humans do have a spine.
Palin could respect that. They were heading toward the fight. Not away from it. It was time he did the same. The alarms died away thankfully, though his eyes were still assaulted every fifty feet or so by the quick-spinning emergency lights. Leave it to humans to make things as obnoxious as possible. His long legs and preternaturally quick movement soon deposited him on the cavern floor.
And right into the midst of a ferocious battle. It was the most intense combat he’d ever seen, and for a moment Palin was frozen in shock. Everywhere humans frantically fired their weapons, grappled, and died. They were trying desperately to stem a horde of nightmarish creatures emerging from some sort of energy portal in the middle of the room.
Though he had been warned of what to expect, Palin was still stunned by not only the ferocity of the matte-black attackers, but the ease with which they killed. He watched one of them, battered and leaking purple fluids, simply fall upon a human soldier, whose death scream was abruptly cut off, much to everyone’s relief. A blue light played over the pair, moving from the human to the attacker before it was swiftly absorbed. Then the creature stood up, its ant-like chitinous armor already healing.
Palin snarled as the lives of more humans were snuffed out in hideous fashion. The battlesuits were giving as good as they got, but even as he watched a mob of the creatures swarmed over one, tearing it limb from limb. Its lifeforce, the blue energy cloud he’d witnessed, was sucked from it too. Without a pilot the mass of metal toppled over.
He was jolted back to reality as a metal battlesuit shouldered him out of the way. More human reinforcements joined the desperate fray. The tide was stemmed for a moment as a full dozen of the amazing units added their firepower and mechanical strength, but it wasn’t going to be enough. The portal was still disgorging more units with every second.
“Heavy reinforcements are on the way! We need to hold for ten more minutes!” one of the new suits shouted.
Ten minutes? They weren’t likely to last for one. Unless someone did something.
Palin snarled. Despicable as most humans might be, even he had to respect their willingness to lay down their lives for their fellows, whether those others were worthy of it or not. The cavern was too filled with bodies for him to use his most powerful form, but that didn’t mean he was limited in what he could do.
“Looks like we need to stop the flow,” he muttered.
He gripped his hands as he’d been shown, and they filled with a greenish cloud. He squeezed his hand muscles harder, without actually closing them. The green cloud grew darker, the mists within his hand swirling faster and faster.
“Chew on this,” he growled, and hurled both of the balls of green gas at the portal. Half a dozen more swiftly followed. They exploded in rapid succession, engulfing the creatures as they poured through. Now, instead of being pristine, the black armor of those that emerged from the clouds was melted and leaking the purplish substance that he’d been told was their version of blood.
“Take that, you pieces of shit,” he crowed.
Crossing his arms over his chest, he beat on his muscles twice. In response green armor rose up from under his skin, covering him in a layer of protective scales.
He spun to see a pair of battlesuits under attack by half a dozen of the creatures. Palin charged without thinking, leaping into the fray, a berserker from the past. He picked up one creature and whirled it around like a bat, using it to club one and then another off the suits. He inhaled deeply and blew a stream of corrosive gas into the faces of the others.
One of them clutched at itself, a high-pitched shriek filling the cavern until its head simply melted away. Stunned by his ferocity, the creatures—the Outsiders as humans called them—fell back, allowing the battlesuits to regain their footing. One thrust both palms forward, and blasts of some sort slammed into the chest of a creature. They stuck, and Palin watched as they glowed, becoming superheated before exploding, driving their charges deep into the creature’s chest. It toppled over, dead.
He had no time to spare. If he was to help stem the tide, Palin needed to be in a dozen places at once. Taking a second to look over the battlefield, he spied the fiercest fighting where a full eight battlesuits were engaged with what appeared to be five or seven times their number. They were holding out through teamwork and ranged firepower, but it wouldn’t last. For every Outsider they downed, two more stumbled from the gas in front of the portal to take their place.
It wasn’t enough.
Palin ran at them. Crouching low, he exploded upward, leaping over the line of suits and landing in the middle of the smaller creatures. They were about half his size, but they fought up a weight class or two. As he steadied himself he clasped his hands together, one on top of the other. A green staff extended outward from both ends of his hands.
Whirling, he took the fight to the enemy. Faceless heads exploded and creatures fell dead, slashed open from torso to shoulder as the corrosive pole ripped through them.
These aren’t that tough.
He scoffed out loud as dozens fell away under his attack. His instructors had told him that they were stronger than he, and to be feared. This was nothing. Why, if he’d been here in time he could hold this attack by himself. In fact, he was holding it by himself.
He extended a hand, gas pouring from his palm, descending over a particularly stubborn pile of attackers. Most of them fell away, their armor cracking open, though a few stumbled forward only to meet their ends on his staff or from the humans’ guns.
“Is that all you’ve got!” he shouted triumphantly as the flow of humans entering the cavern went from ones and twos to a dozen, then a score, and then it became a flood. Interspersed among them were battlesuits, including the heavy-weapons versions.
Then the entire ground shook. Rock rained down from the cavern’s ceiling, forcing the unarmored humans to scramble for cover.
Palin spun. The tide of tiny creatures had stopped. Now all that he could see coming from the portal was a leg nearly twice as tall as he was. It moved forward quickly.
“WALKER!” one of the humans shouted as the four-legged apparition emerged completely.
Below it came hordes of warriors, the full-sized versions he’d been warned about. Rockets and other powerful projectiles began to slam into the walker, stunning it. Palin didn’t have time to worry about that, however. He moved to engage the first of the warrior Outsiders, a grim smile upon his face. If he couldn’t defeat them, then it didn’t matter what happened with the walker.
His staff lashed out at the first creature. It was almost as big as he was, roughly six feet tall and equally as thick, though it didn’t have muscles in the traditional sense. Before his blow hit it Palin was already spinning to attack the next one.
So when his staff didn’t implode the armored head, but instead simply disfigured it and slipped off, he didn’t know what to do. Standing there in complete shock, he could do nothing as the Outsider loomed up and over him.
A moment later everything went dark.