duellum – 4.2

Content Warnings

None this chapter.

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That word again, screeching out from between the rotten tooth-stubs of this city-corpse, half-drowned in the steady static hiss of greasy, gritty raindrops, pattering on asphalt and pooling in concrete and drumming on the hood of Elpida’s armoured coat.


Echoes faded; static filled the silence.

The mysterious revenant — the sniper up in a building on the other side of the ancient road — had nothing more to say.

Elpida put her eye to the scope of her rifle again, to watch the buildings across the road for any sign of motion. Twisted steel and slick-wet brick were blurred by a veil of water. Rain dripped from the rim of her hood. Droplets plinked on the barrel of the gun.

This was the second time Elpida had been accused of Necromancy. Was this a goad, a bluff, an insult intended to draw her out? Or was it simply a mistake? Had the sniper seen her turn and whisper to the distant mountain range of the graveworm? If she could see through walls, why not flesh?

Or did the revenant sniper know something Elpida did not?

Elpida looked over her right shoulder, back toward the open door of the bunker. Ilyusha squatted just inside the doorway, sheltering from the rain, bionic limbs all sharp red angles. She cradled her rotary shotgun close to her chest, barrel pointing across the concrete basin to cover Elpida’s back. The heavily augmented girl pulled a grit-toothed sneer of disapproval; she could hear every word shouted back and forth across the road. Elpida signalled with one hand: hold steady. Ilyusha huffed and tossed her head, but she stayed put.

Elpida hissed, “Ask Kagami: is she moving?”

Ilyusha ducked back into the doorway, then reappeared a moment later. She shook her head. Elpida mouthed: “Thank you.”

Back to the concrete slope, the shattered road, and the buildings like broken fingers. Elpida called out again, projecting her voice through the rain: “What do you mean, ‘sport’? Are you hunting us?”

No reply. Just the rain.

Elpida coughed once, tasted blood, and took another shot: “Why do you think I’m a Necromancer?”

Still nothing.

Elpida carried on. “If I was a Necromancer, I could just walk through your bullets, right? Why would I hide from you?”

Raindrops drummed. Filthy fluid flowed down concrete gutters. Petrochemical stench filled Elpida’s aching lungs. Grit gathered on her exposed hands. Water sluiced from her hood. She thought once again of Asp, most willowy and delicate of her cadre. Asp was able to still herself like a pool of dark water; Asp was — no, Elpida reminded herself with a throb of pain in her chest: Asp was dead.

Asp had been an expert at striking from stillness. Asp could go from nothing to everything all at once, from a standing start to an explosion of violence. Asp had not been the most skilled at close quarters combat, nor the most feared on the sparring floor mats, and Elpida knew a few of her more intimate weaknesses; but if Elpida had needed somebody to sit and endure the tension of waiting, of stillness and silence, without surrender to any unplanned reaction, without the lure of whim or wit, she would have chosen Asp.

The taciturn sniper was not Asp; nor was she Velvet, or Dusk. Elpida could never have bested Asp in long-distance single combat. None of her tricks would have worked. But as raindrops drummed and no answer came, Elpida asked herself what Asp would do.

Asp would stay still.

Elpida took one hand off her rifle and pressed her fingers against the bunker’s exterior wall; the concrete was cold and wet. She estimated the angles and distances. Then, very quickly, she reached up and tapped the highest point she could touch without rising from a crouch.


The sniper’s bullet slammed into the concrete in a shower of cold grit; Elpida had already whipped her hand back down. The sniper’s aim was perfect; the bullet would have shattered the bones of Elpida’s palm.

She whispered to herself: “Thank you, sister. Thank you, Asp. I love you.”

Then she put her eye to the rifle’s scope, aimed at a piece of brick two floors above the revenant’s position, and squeezed the trigger. Her shot rang out with a high-pitched crack; a puff of pulverised brick-dust was swallowed by the rain.

Before the echoes of the shot faded away, without raising her eye from the scope, while her hands worked the bolt to load another round, Elpida called out.

“You know something we don’t, zombie?”

She took another shot. Her second bullet hit a spear of steel rebar poking from a piece of ancient concrete. Crack-ping went the distant ricochet.

Elpida shouted across the road: “How many of us do you see, zombie? Three plus one Necromancer? Or is it four? Or six? Are you certain you see all of us?”

She squeezed the trigger again, aiming between the buildings, shooting at open air. The gunshot echoed off into the rain storm.

“Don’t play dumb with me, zombie,” Elpida called. “I said I would hunt you. You just wait right where you are.”

Another shot; another crack off the concrete; another clack-clack of the bolt in her hands.

A reply finally screeched back, like metal on rock: “Stand up, then!”

Elpida raised her eye from the scope. “Why?”

“Prove you’re no bone fucker! I’ll put one in your leg!”

Elpida suppressed a sigh, then coughed hard, three times; all that shouting made her lungs burn, still healing from the Silico’s coilgun rounds. It felt like shards of molten glass were working their way into her bloodstream by way of her alveoli. She whispered: “Nice try.”

“Ehhhh?” the revenant screeched. “What’s that? Too chicken-shit? Afraid to be proved wrong? Where’s all your big talk about hunting me? Ha! Come on! Come out! Prove you’re one of us and not some corpse-raping blob! Come ooooooon! Come ouuuuut!”

Elpida said nothing as the shout trailed off. She waited. She counted the seconds inside her head.

At thirty seven seconds, Ilyusha hissed for Elpida’s attention: “Bitch is moving!” She ducked back into the doorway again, then reappeared quickly. “Going up!”

Elpida smiled. Thirty seven seconds; this sniper was no Asp.

She lowered her own rifle, slipped around the corner of the bunker, and hurried back to the doorway. Ilyusha waited with a sour frown on her pale little face, grey eyes flat like cold lead. Elpida squatted just inside the door frame and shook her hood off, coat dripping water onto the concrete steps. Kagami was sitting a few steps further down, half in the darkness, frowning up at the concrete walls through the auspex visor. Vicky was keeping Amina company in the far corner. The air beyond the bunker was a wall of rain.

Kagami snapped, “So?”

Elpida asked: “Where’s she going?”

“Along to the right.” Kagami raised a hand, tracing lines only she could see. “Slowly. Not far. Oh, there she goes, up one floor. That’s a metal railing. Must be some intact stairs. There, she stopped. Halfway to another floor. A stairwell or something. I see glass, brick, a crack in the wall. Nice hidey hole. Clever. Do we have a plan, then, or are we just flailing?”

Ilyusha hissed, “Blow her the fuck up!”

Elpida spoke quickly. She made sure to glance down at Vicky and Amina too. “She was trying to goad me into taking a risky shot, but she’s too impatient to do it properly. That works in our favour, we can use that. But we’re still in a very bad position. She can see through walls, which neutralises all the usual tactics for this kind of engagement. She will see me coming, no matter how well I conceal myself or how slowly I move into position. She can even see us having this conversation. She will know we’re planning something. She’s also a very quick and accurate shot. I’m going to have to surprise her.”

Kagami said, “Itchy trigger finger, right, right. Get her to, what, jump the gun? Ha.”

From down in the bunker room, Vicky said: “We’re in really big trouble, aren’t we?”

Elpida refused to confirm that. She said, “There’s a way to deal with this, but it’s extremely risky. We have one attempt and we have to get it right.”

Kagami huffed. “Why not just blow her up with the coilgun?” She gestured down at the receiver and power-tank on the floor of the bunker room, bulky and angular in the glow-stick light. “Who cares what cover she has when you’re pointing that at her?”

“She’ll see it the moment we activate the power-tank.”

“And? So?”

“Kagami,” Elpida said, firmly. “We don’t want to provoke her into using that gravitic weapon against this bunker. If we threaten her life then she may decide the nanomachines are not worth the trouble; she may pull the trigger. We need to corner her without her realising. We need to present her with a close-range threat to occupy her attention.”

Elpida did not voice her other suspicion, because she didn’t want to spook her comrades: it was possible the mysterious revenant really was playing with them, for sport. Using the coilgun might break the rules of her private game.

Kagami hissed in frustration. “Great. Frozen conflict bullshit. Oh, there are so many fucking ways this can go wrong. Can’t we just make her leave?”

Ilyusha grunted, “Called us necromancers. Cunt fuck shit-eater.”

Elpida said, “She doesn’t really believe that. It’s bait, to make us angry. Ilyusha, don’t let it get to you. That’s what she wants.”

Ilyusha snorted and looked out into the rain. Her exposed red claws clicked against the metal of her shotgun. Her black-and-red bionic tail tapped at the wall.

“Ilyusha,” Elpida said. “I can’t dislodge this sniper by myself. This is a two person job. It’s incredibly dangerous, one of us is likely to get shot; in fact, I’m counting on that. With any luck the armour in these coats will stop a round or two, but I don’t know what kind of firearm she’s using. You’re the only one fast enough to cross that road in the opening I can make — but I am asking you, not ordering you. Will you help me?”

Ilyusha turned her eyes back to Elpida, head tilting sideways, mouth a funny smirk. She nudged Elpida on the shoulder, a playful little shove. Elpida’s heart lurched at that gesture. She swallowed a cough.

Ilyusha said: “In!”

Elpida nodded. “Ilyusha — Illy, thank you. Pira mentioned that you’re currently regenerating more rapidly than the rest of us, because of the nanomachines you drank back in the tomb. Is that still correct?”

Ilyusha shrugged.

Elpida continued. “Okay, I want you to take two spare coats and drape them over yourself. Take a ballistic shield, too.” Ilyusha opened her mouth to complain, so Elpida quickly said: “No arguments. If I get shot and I can’t walk, it doesn’t matter. If you get shot and downed, the plan is over. I need you mobile. I need you across that road. It’s very likely that the kill will be yours.”

Vicky’s voice floated up from the cramped gloom: “Kill?”

“We have to,” said Elpida. She looked down into the bunker and met Vicky’s eyes: a dark frown in the anemic glow-stick illumination. Amina was up on her feet now, draped with a coat, clutching Vicky’s good hand in her own small, brown fist. Elpida added: “Unless she backs down and leaves. The threat to Pira and Atyle as they return is too much. We may have to kill her, yes.” Elpida turned back to Ilyusha, reached out, and took Ilyusha’s black-red bionic shoulder. “The plan is simple — you go to where I was, to the corner of the bunker. You stay low, beneath her line of sight. Crawl forward up the slope. Get as close to the road as you can. Then you wait. I’ll go to the opposite corner and set up the shot.”

Vicky said: “Hey, Elpi—”

“I know, it’s not a good angle for a shot. It’s not meant to be good.”

Vicky sighed. She sounded almost angry. “You’re going to use yourself as bait. I don’t like that. I really don’t like that.”

“We don’t have a choice. And the coat will probably stop a bullet—”

“Probably?” Vicky scoffed. “And what if she shoots you in the face, Elpi? Isn’t that how to kill one of us? Destroy enough brain matter? Boom, head-shot, and you’re gone.”

Amina was wide-eyed with incomprehension and fear. Kagami cleared her throat and said, “Knuckle-dragger has a point.”

Elpida said, “That’s what I’m counting on.”

Vicky opened her mouth to argue, but then she stopped and frowned.

“Trust me,” said Elpida. “We have to mislead her with an irresistible target.” Then she turned back to Ilyusha. “Illy, when you hear a shot — from either me or her, it doesn’t matter which — you cross that street as fast as possible, get into the building with her. Don’t look back for me, don’t turn around if I’m hit, just sprint. If she shouts anything, ignore her. Once you’re in there … ”

Elpida trailed off. Ilyusha knew what to do. The heavily augmented girl grinned wide, clicked her tongue, and made her rotary shotgun go cluck-clunk.

“Get her fucked,” Ilyusha growled.

“Right.” Elpida squeezed her shoulder. “If everything goes to plan, I’ll be right behind you, once she’s distracted. If I’m not, then be careful in there. She may have set up traps, tripwires, mines, something to cover her rear. Kagami?”

Kagami went, “Pffft,” still staring through her auspex visor at the opposite wall. “Nothing I can pick out against the background of the ruins. Fucking hell. You’re really going to do this, you pair of berserker stim-heads. You’re both going to get shot doing this. Fuck, fuck me.”

Ilyusha barked with laughter.

Elpida said, “Likely, yes. It’s the only way. Let’s prep.”

Ilyusha sprang out of a crouch and hopped down the concrete steps, first to the backpacks. She placed her shotgun on the floor as she draped a couple of spare armoured coats over herself, then filled the pockets of her makeshift shorts with spare shells. Amina hovered nearby, as if nervous to say anything, but then Ilyusha turned to her and closed the gap. The two girls shared whispers. Hands touched, brief in parting. Ilyusha head-bumped Amina’s shoulder. Amina sniffed and wiped her eyes.

Vicky brought Elpida fresh rounds for the rifle, and her submachine gun, which Elpida slung over her other shoulder. Elpida thanked her, but Vicky just nodded, face creased with worry; she walked back over to the weapons laid out on the floor.

Kagami clicked her fingers for attention, without looking away from the view through her visor. “Are you taking the auspex with you? I can’t shout that far if she moves, and I can’t bloody well follow you. I can’t. I just can’t!”

“No, you keep it,” Elpida said. “Wouldn’t be any use to me in combat, I can’t read the intel. But I should check her location one more time. This has to be perfect.”

Kagami swallowed. “What am I supposed to do, hm? Shout to you if she … ”

Vicky selected a handgun from the floor, the only gun she could use with her reattached arm curled up against her side. She came back to the foot of the steps.

“Kaga,” she said, “you get as close to the door as you can, in case you need to shout. I’ll watch your back. I got you, okay?”

“Good idea,” Elpida said. “Vicky, thank you.”

Elpida did not like the look in Vicky’s eyes, but she knew it came from a place of concern.

Thirty seconds later, Elpida and Ilyusha stepped out of the little metal door and into the pouring rain, side by side. Ilyusha bumped her head against Elpida’s shoulder, then went right; Elpida watched her go. She was perfect: Ilyusha’s petite figure, wrapped in coats, sheltered behind the rectangle of a ballistic shield, presented a tiny target compared with Elpida’s height and muscle mass. Ilyusha scurried along the side of the bunker, splashing through the puddles, claws clicking on concrete. She dropped into a crouch, slid onto her belly, and shimmied around the corner, careless of the cold, foul-smelling water. Her tail scraped a mark on the ground. Bare bionic claws scrabbled at the concrete.

From the open doorway, over Kagami’s shivering head, Vicky hissed: “Elpi, don’t get shot.”

“It’ll work,” said Elpida.

She turned and hurried to the other corner of the bunker, raindrops pummelling her hood and shoulders. Elpida dropped to a crouch and copied the same position she’d used earlier; she unshouldered the sniper rifle and peered around the corner, so the unseen revenant’s vantage point was still below the lip of the concrete slope. She put her eye to the scope, found the right building, then shuffled out of cover and edged a few inches up the slope.

Elpida called out, “Still there, zombie? Still watching?”

She drew a bead on a random corner of brick and pulled the trigger. Millennia-old masonry shattered and joined the rainfall. She worked the bolt.

She kept shouting. “I told you we’d hunt you, zombie.” She inched forward again, crouching lower as she ascended the concrete slope. Rainwater swirled around her boots. “Last chance to back out. You wanted sport, I’m giving you a sporting chance.”

She pulled the trigger again; across the road, a shard of glass exploded into fragments.

“I’m going to count to three,” Elpida yelled.

She shuffled her boots up the concrete slope. Shoulders low, chest aching with her death-wounds, head scrunched down. Almost there. Elpida would only have to raise her head another six inches to bring the sniper’s vantage point into view of her scope — and to put her own skull in the sniper’s line of fire.

“One,” Elpida shouted. She worked the bolt on the rifle.

A screech carried on the rain: “You call this a pincer movement? You think I’m an idiot? I can see you right there!”

“Two.” Elpida willed Ilyusha not to respond.

The screech again: “You’re not much sport, are you! Come on, you can do better than this!”


Elpida stood up.

All the way up, straight to her full height, rain streaming from shoulders and hood; no edging her skull over the lip of the slope to hunt for a trick shot. Rifle butt firm against her shoulder, eye to the sight, she tracked the revenant’s estimated position all the way up. A glint of scope greeted her efforts, winking from between two twisted masses of rusted steel and ancient brick. Elpida’s finger tightened on the trigger.


But the revenant shot first — several feet too low, reacting instead of thinking, aimed at where Elpida’s face should have been.

The bullet hit Elpida in the stomach, knocked the wind out of her, and ruined her own shot. Adrenaline and pain-blockers flooded her bloodstream; genetically engineered balance and strengthened muscles kept her on her feet long enough to collapse into an unsteady crouch. One foot went out from beneath her, slipping in the rainwater; she almost slid down the concrete slope, raindrops pattering on her face and filling her mouth with acidic chemical gunk. Her body tried to vomit as waves of pain radiated up from her stomach, forcing her to cough, hacking blood into her mouth. But she didn’t have time for pain.

Ilyusha’s footsteps were already sprinting across the ancient asphalt.

Elpida jammed the rifle to her shoulder and rocketed back to her feet. This time there was no bullet — the sniper was too busy trying to take aim at Ilyusha. The heavily augmented girl was flying across the road, whooping and cackling, tail lashing the air, double coats flapping out around her like bat-wings, hiding the ballistic shield clutched in one hand. Perfect to catch any bullets.

A second gunshot rang out, but Elpida didn’t see Ilyusha stumble; Asp could have made that shot. This sniper wasn’t one tenth of Asp.

Elpida took aim at the sliver of darkness between twists of metal and piles of old brick. She pumped the trigger, peppering the concealed position.

She didn’t see if the sniper retreated, but there was no return fire. Ilyusha reached the other side of the road and slipped inside the building, raindrops pattering off her rotary shotgun as she poked it out from under the coats, pushing on inside, vanishing into the tangle of ruins.

Elpida dropped to a crouch, panting with the pain in her gut. She slid a hand across her belly, across the slick wet surface of the coat, allowing herself a hard grunt at the spike of pain, and—

A little flattened disk of lead peeled off in her fingers. Chemical propellant bullet, caught by the coat. It fell from her hand into the running rainwater with a dull clink.

She’d have a bruise like a mule’s kick. But the trick had worked.

“How’s that for sport?” she called out. Then she had to spit bile and blood into the rainwater.

Steady static hiss filled the air. No reply.

Elpida had to keep talking, keep the sniper distracted, to increase Ilyusha’s chances. “How’s that—”

Crump-thoom went something on the other side of the road, muffled inside the ruins: a small-scale explosive detonation. A grenade or a mine. Exactly as Elpida had warned.

“Hahaha!” a screeching metallic laugh rang out through the wall of rain. “Come on in, fresh meat! Come right in!”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

The gambit worked, x-ray vision or otherwise; Elpida catches on quick, and she can play head-games as well as any seasoned revenant. But what’s the sniper got for back up? And was this really a bluff, or is she loaded for necromancer after all? Hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am! This arc is a blast so far, a nice slice of action, but it might not be a long one! We’ll see how quickly this all resolves.

If you want more Necroepilogos right away, there is a tier for it on my patreon:


Right now this only offers a single chapter ahead, about 3k words.  Please, do feel free to wait until there’s plenty more to read! I’m still trying to somehow put out more chapters ahead, maybe soon!

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Voting makes the story go up the rankings, which helps more people see it!

Thank you all so much for reading my little story! I’m loving where this is going. More soon! Lots more to come!

7 thoughts on “duellum – 4.2

  1. It’s like a staring contest. Just. You know. Violent. Also, damn right you can’t strike faster than the woman named for a snake. Regardless, thanks for the chapter!


  2. Standing up right in the line of fire – yikes.
    But then, by now Elpida has already died twice.
    How long before it becomes, just, whatever?


    • She does seem to be developing some unhealthy attitudes about her body, her duty, the things she can do. Not a good sign for Elpi, even if it does work.


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