rapax – 2.4

Content Warnings

Severed limbs

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The Silico opened fire.

Sabot-rounds from the heavyweight cyclic coilgun tore into the black metal with a deafening roar, whipping up clouds of shrapnel, sending chips and chunks flying through the air. The zombie swept the weapon back and forth, raking any scrap of cover where revenant girls sheltered and screamed. The anti-material rifle on the opposite arm slammed out rounds to catch anybody who broke cover. Limbs exploded into gore, bodies crumpled against walls, armour buckled and broke. The cyborg killing machine showed no emotion as it worked; it couldn’t, not with a face made of sensory equipment, lenses and intake tubes and scanner-heads. It stood tall where it had stopped, right in the middle of the clearing, and drowned the world in firepower.

Elpida threw herself back down behind the wall. Pira slipped away, diving out of cover and around a corner. Elpida let her go.

Coilgun rounds thunked into the wall, chewing up the metal.

Amina was screaming into her ballistic shield. Kagami yelped as if surprised. Vicky flinched and let out a gasp, clutching her machine gun in white-knuckled hands. Atyle just stared. Ilyusha was cackling with laughter, grey eyes burning bright, lips peeled back to show her teeth.

Elpida realised with relief that the Silico’s heavyweight cyclic coilgun traded away penetration in return for portability, rate of fire, and speed of target acquisition. Her coilgun used solid slug rounds fed from the receiver; the zombie’s weapon was probably shaving slivers off an ammunition block.

“Everyone stay down!” she screamed over the noise. “Heads down! It can’t shoot through the metal!”

Other shouts rang out over the clearing, in strange accents, from buzzing voice-boxes, muffled by helmets and scarves and metal jaws.

“Fucking run! Leave it, it’s fucking gone!”

“Annie! Annie!”

“This shit ain’t nothing, who’s got high-ex?! Somebody throw me the—”

“It’s standing in the fucking way! Look at it, bastard knows what it’s doing, this is necromancer bullshit, necro—”


“Throw the header corpses at it, one of them was strapped with a vest—”

“Necromancer bullshit—”

“Leave it, it’s after the freshies! Get gone, get—”

Sporadic return fire plinked and crunched off the metal around the cyborg construct. A machine gun opened up with a clatter-clatter-clatter of bullets. A heavy hissss scorched the air with the invisible beam of a microwave weapon. The crump of a fragmentation grenade went off nearby. No single source of fire lasted long, each one silenced by the zombie’s unrelenting assault

Elpida risked a split-second glance around the edge of her cover, an in-out jerk, her head wrapped in armoured hood.

The construct was undeterred: feet planted, head tracking targets with stop-motion jerks, weapons flicking back and forth. The barrels of the cyclic sliver-gun blurred as they spun. The anti-material rifle self-loaded with rapid clunk-clunks of the mechanism. It didn’t need its other four limbs, the close-combat weapons or the blades or the area-denial chemical and biological dispersal pouches. Bullets bounced off bionic limbs. A few rounds had torn papery wounds in the stretched skin, leaking white circulatory fluid; any vital internal structures would be heavily armoured, and hardened against electromagnetic attack.

Elpida whipped her head back into cover. An anti-material round punched through the air a split-second later. It sailed past and blew a crater in a distant wall, showering the ground with black metal shrapnel.

Vicky was almost hyperventilating, eyes gone huge in a face gone grey. “Elpi? Elpi, what now?”

Ilyusha whooped at the top of her lungs. Elpida realised the heavily augmented girl was enjoying this. “It’s just a fucking zombie!” she called up into the air, over their cover. “Hit it in the fucking head, yeah?”

Kagami whispered: “Should have drowned you all in nuclear fire. This is an obscenity.”

Vicky grabbed Elpida’s shoulder. “Elpi! What do we do!?”

Elpida didn’t have a plan.

She knew there was no escape. The zombie was opening fire on anybody who broke cover. The gap in the outer curtain wall was about a hundred meters away. Even if they could duck and dive from position to position while the murder-machine was occupied with other targets, traversing the exit itself would leave them exposed for perhaps twenty seconds. Elpida could sprint it in ten, alone. But she would not go alone.

The zombie was standing right in the middle of the clearing, exposed in what should have been a killing ground; that position gave it a clear shot at anybody who reached the exit. It was blocking the only escape.

Elpida suspected it was doing that on purpose.

Kagami was hissing: “There must be another way out, there must be!”

Vicky nodded. “Yeah! Right! Pira had the right idea. We fucking run. Right, Elpi? Let’s go!”

Elpida shook her head. “No. If it follows, we could get trapped.”

Kagami was right: there must be other exits from the tomb-fortifications. Some of the other girls were probably making for them now; that’s why Pira had fled. But Elpida did not know where those exits might be. The tangle of black metal walls and bunkers and trenches was just as complex as any undergrowth out in the green — and just as full of unknown dangers. She had no known route and no way to scout ahead. Running now would risk getting lost, or backed into a dead end if the zombie pursued.

Vicky shouted in Elpida’s face. “We’re sitting and waiting to die! Elpida!”

Atyle was murmuring to herself, bionic eye whirring as she stared through their cover and right at the zombie. Elpida caught words beneath the noise of gunfire and shrapnel: “God machine— littlest joint of the littlest finger— take me to the source—”

Elpida raised her voice. She could barely hear herself over the rapid-fire slam of sabot rounds. “Nobody is going to die here. We—”

Two options.

Option one: wait for the construct to pursue another group, then slip away.

Elpida’s heart rebelled at the notion of sacrificing others to aid her own escape, but it wasn’t to save her skin alone; she couldn’t rescue everybody. If they could reach the exit while the zombie’s attention was on another target, they might be able to sprint through the gap. Elpida could shed the coilgun and lift Kagami over her shoulder. Vicky could probably carry Amina. Atyle would have to pick her feet up for once.

But Elpida had a suspicion that the murder-machine would not move until it was finished. They couldn’t hide from it either; that sensory set-up could likely see through matter. The zombie would cover that entrance, mow down anybody who tried to flee, murder everyone it could reach, kill everything in range, and only then move on.

We are not prisoners in our city, Old Lady Nunnus had told her once. That thought is the refuge of fools. Their ‘solemn vow and covenant’ is nothing but projection. They think of you girls as an affront against the cage they have constructed in their own minds. Telokopolis is not a cage or a mausoleum. Reaching beyond it is not a sin. Your existence is not a sin, because you are one of us.

Nunnus would have thought her a fool for such a passive strategy.

Option two: kill the Silico.

The construct in the clearing was the lowest form of Silico life — a corpse-drone made from re-purposed parts. It possessed none of the alien elegance and haunting beauty that Elpida and the cadre had witnessed out in the deep green, nor the brutal power and awe-inspiring horror of the dead monsters on display in the public museums, and it lacked the terrible symmetry and imitative humanity of the live specimens sealed in Legion archives.

Relatively speaking, this zombie should have been easy to kill.

But Elpida was not armed for Silico, and not for this situation. The construct knew exactly what it was doing: standing in the open, overwhelming any response with weight of firepower. Even with a hardshell and a monoedge blade, Elpida had no hope of getting close enough to breach the construct’s reactor, or cut off the head, or just hack it to pieces. She needed a shaped charge, a heavy-duty laser — or a combat frame. A combat frame could have crushed this drone with one footfall.

All she had was the coilgun. The Silico drone might have magnetic countermeasures — but those kinds of countermeasures would draw a huge amount of power and require an early warning.

She needed to catch it off guard.

“We can take it out, we can do it!” she yelled over the noise. She took Vicky’s hand from her shoulder and pressed it back to Vicky’s machine gun. “Hold onto that, I might need you to cover me.” Then, quickly, before the others could doubt: “Kagami! You can see it through the wall, right? It should have a miniature fusion reactor, maybe two. I need a location.”

Vicky said, “Fucking hell, Elpi.”

Kagami squinted through her readout visor, shaking and flinching at every impact, her tiny pale face framed by lank black hair. “Two … yes! Fuck, this thing is pouring out radiation, let’s hope we’re all immune.”

“Concentrate. Power sources, where are they?”

“Base of the neck, bottom of the spine. Looks like it’s drawing from both? I can’t tell!”

“That’s great. Kagami, thank you. Keep your head down.” Elpida clapped her on the shoulder, then looked left and right, to see if she could spot any other groups without leaving cover.

She couldn’t just shout the plan out loud and hope somebody followed along; most Silico understood human speech perfectly well. She didn’t want it alerted. She needed it looking away long enough for her to take a shot.

Elpida spotted the sniper.

Far up on a walkway to the right was the sniper she had seen earlier. The woman was wrapped in loose black from head to toe, except a metal jaw-mask and a strip of mushroom-pale skin around dark red eyes. A dozen arms stuck out from her bundle of robes; half cradled a long rifle, aimed directly at the zombie, while the other half gripped the black metal around her, braced for recoil.

She was perfectly still. She was also the only thing the construct wasn’t shooting at.

Elpida raised a fist and rocked it back and forth, but the woman didn’t look. “Heeeey!” she shouted over the unrelenting firepower, but the noise was too loud. Elpida hissed: “We need a distraction. I’ve got to communicate with her, the sniper up there. If we can coordinate—”

Ilyusha barked: “Bait time!”

The heavily augmented girl hopped up into a squat and shrugged out of her backpack — the backpack which contained shotgun shells and the cannisters of blue nanomachine slime, taken from the tomb armoury. She pressed the backpack into Amina’s shaking arms. “Don’t drop it!”

Amina stammered, wet with tears. “W-why me—”

Elpida snapped: “Ilyusha, no! Stay down!”

She grabbed for Ilyusha, but the heavily augmented girl whipped her bionic tail between them, then grinned at Elpida over the black bio-plastic. Her eyes burned like molten lead.

“I’m faster than any bitch!” She made her rotary shotgun go ka-clunk — then cocked her head, grin frozen, tail wagging. The sound of the zombie’s cyclic coilgun raked the opposite side of the clearing. Elpida heard it pause on a target; the noise of the sabot-impacts rang out as clanging ricochets as the zombie pummelled sustained fire into an immovable object. A familiar voice screamed in fear and panic.

Ilyusha screeched: “There! Take the shot, beanpole! Fuckin’ love you all!”

Ilyusha exploded from a squat, kicked out with one red-clawed bionic leg, and leapt onto the wall.

Elpida had no choice; no member of the cadre ever fought alone. Except her, at the very end. She would not allow it.

She rose with Ilyusha.

Out in the middle of the clearing, the murder-machine jerked its anti-material rifle around to draw a bead on Ilyusha.

But the heavily augmented girl was already sprinting down the length of the wall, claws clicking, tail lashing, pumping out rounds from her rotary shotgun to irritate and distract the zombie. She was shrieking with laughter at the top of her lungs. Two consecutive anti-material rounds hit the lip of the wall, chasing the black-and-red cyborg berserker. Black metal shrapnel plinked off Ilyusha’s bionic limbs and pattered against Elpida’s armoured coat and hood. Elpida had to turn her head to avoid getting her face torn to ribbons.

Ilyusha howled, “Too slow, robot fuck!”

Ilyusha had picked her moment with expert timing; the six-armed zombie monster of stretched skin and chrome limbs was pointing the cyclic coilgun at the other side of the clearing, barrels spinning red-hot, sabots hammering at the one target it couldn’t break: Lianna. The spider-girl from inside the tomb was out of cover, half-exposed, her orange shield-limbs raised in a wall to shelter the diminutive form of Inaya. Sabot-rounds bounced off the shielding in their hundreds, chewing at the black metal ground and whizzing into the air. Lianna was screaming. Inaya was oblivious, staring up at the empty sky; Zeltzin was a red slash at the edge of the shield-wall, waiting for a chance to — what? Rush the zombie? Several more figures were gathering in Lianna’s wake, but nobody seemed prepared to push forward.

Elpida shouldered the coilgun — and held her fire.

Ilyusha was sprinting away to the left; the Silico’s sensor equipment tracked her, attention focused. But Elpida needed to be outside its direct sensory cone to have any chance of beating magnetic countermeasures. She would only get one shot before the construct would prioritize her as a threat.

She breathed out, emptied her lungs, made her hands go still.

A sudden burst of firepower joined in from deeper in the tangle of black metal fortifications: a heavy machine gun opened up with a rattle, buffeting the zombie with a torrent of lead. Elpida risked a glance around the edge of her hood. It was the dirty-white armoured suit from earlier. The pilot inside had raised an arm-mounted machine gun, lightweight, meant for infantry support. No hope of penetrating the Silico’s body — but it was helping the gambit.

Elpida sighted down the coilgun receiver, at the base of the zombie’s spine. One shot would blow the reactor apart.

The Silico’s head was turning, following Ilyusha. She needed one more second.

Ilyusha whooped and leapt, anti-material rounds exploding inches from her bionic claws. In the corner of Elpida’s vision she was haloed by shrapnel — and then a six-inch shard of black metal went through the meat of her back.

Ilyusha yowled, tumbling forward, momentum lost. Next to Elpida a tiny voice screamed: “Illy!”

The zombie’s anti-material rifle flicked forward, covering the heavily augmented girl as she crashed into the floor. Ilyusha lurched up onto her claws, swaying and reeling, streaming with blood, spitting and screaming.

Elpida was still within the construct’s direct visual cone.

If she pulled the trigger now, the gambit might fail and they would all die. If she didn’t pull the trigger the Silico would kill Ilyusha.

She wouldn’t have hesitated for Howl. She wouldn’t have hesitated for any of her cadre.

Her finger tightened.


A shot rang out and snapped the Silico’s head sideways by ninety degrees. In Elpida’s peripheral vision, white arms worked the bolt on a sniper rifle, up on a lonely walkway. A second shot slammed into the zombie’s head again, then a third, then a fourth. Pin-point accuracy. Perfect shooting.

A cheer went up — then died.

The zombie jerked its head upright, twisted around to lock onto the many-armed sniper, and raised both its main weapons. The sniper scurried away like a spider as the Silico opened fire; sabot-rounds and anti-material bullets turned her vantage point into a nest of torn metal.

On the far side of the clearing Zeltzin broke from behind Lianna’s shield-wall and sprinted toward the construct; her twin swords flashed free from inside her red robes. The zombie turned toward her, weapons clicking down flicker-fast.

Elpida squeezed the trigger. Magnetic coils discharged with a stomach-pounding thump.

Zeltzin’s foolish bravery had ruined the shot; Elpida’s round missed the base of the zombie’s spine and tore through a bionic weapon-arm, pulverising the joint in a cloud of metal and polymer and milky white artificial blood. The anti-material rifle fell with a wet crunch.

The Silico didn’t respond to the damage. It didn’t even adjust its footing. It opened up with the cyclic sliver-gun and turned Zeltzin’s midsection into bloody mist.

The red-clad swordswoman fell face-down in a puddle of meat. Her twin swords clattered to the ground.

Elpida’s moment of hesitation had cost everything.

The cyclic coilgun swung for her next, barrels spinning. She hurled herself down behind cover.

Vicky shouted: “Amina, no!”

Amina had stood up and stepped out from behind the wall, tears running down her face as she stumbled forward, backpack hanging from one arm, bulletproof ballistic shield clutched in both hands. She was trying to reach Ilyusha; the heavily augmented girl had collapsed into the next stretch of cover, slumped and bloody.

The Silico opened fire.

Sabot-rounds chewed across the low wall as Elpida ducked. She saw an impact blow a chunk out of Amina’s ballistic shield. The girl screamed and went down. Elpida couldn’t see her from that angle.

Vicky was paralysed, staring out at where Amina had fallen. Kagami was panting, shaking, covered in a sheen of visible sweat; her visor fed her too much information. Atyle was entranced by the Silico, lost in a world of her own. Sabot-rounds slammed against their cover; now the zombie knew she was a genuine threat. She could hear terrible wailing from the other side of the clearing.

Elpida raised her voice: “Amina, keep low! Stay still! Stay down behind the shield, stay low! Can you hear me?”

Amina replied with mad screaming. Elpida prayed she wasn’t injured.

“Vicky!” Elpida said. “Vicky!” She had to grab the front of Vicky’s clothes and shake her. “Amina’s just knocked down, we need to get her into cover.”

Vicky stammered: “Ze—Zeltzin, I saw— I saw her— she was just—”

“Vicky, concentrate. I need you to follow my orders. Amina needs your help. You can do this.”

Vicky swallowed hard, sweat beading on her brow. “What do we do? Tell me what to do, please—”

“Dump your machine gun. Empty hands. Break cover, run for Amina, pick her up and haul yourself into cover next to Ilyusha.”


“The Silico can’t target the coilgun as fast—”

“The— the what?”

“The zombie. It can’t target the coilgun as fast as it could with the rifle, and now I’m the priority target because I might actually be able to damage it. You break for Amina, I’ll stand up and draw its fire. It will shoot at me. I will get us out, Vicky. I will get us out. You and everyone else.”

Vicky nodded, jerky with adrenaline and fear. She left the machine gun on the ground and shuffled to the end of the wall.

Kagami was shaking like a leaf. She hissed: “You two are fucking crazy. I’m among crazy people. We’re all going to fucking die.”

“No, we’re not,” Elpida said, bracing the coilgun receiver. “Vicky, you go on one. Then I rise on zero. Ready? Three, two — one!”

Vicky shot toward Amina’s crumpled form. Elpida heard the coilgun rounds tracking across the wall. Then she rose — her own coilgun hard against her shoulder, power-tank heavy on her back, finger hot on the trigger. A clear threat, impossible to deny.

The zombie ignored her.

It swept that cyclic sliver-gun along the wall, right toward Vicky, as if Elpida was not aiming at its reactor. Fine with her; she squeezed the trigger.

And the zombie dodged.

The murder-machine jinked sideways, as if propelled by a magnetic field response. Elpida had never seen anything like it before. Her shot sailed past a bionic hip and blew apart a wall on the other side of the black metal clearing. All she’d done was foul the zombie’s aim by a few inches.

Cyclic sliver-rounds hit Vicky in the upper right arm and the side of her chest, tearing through armoured coat and underlayers and flesh and bone. The limb flew off in an explosion of blood, leaving behind a ragged stump. Vicky’s side blew open, flesh torn back in great strips across exposed ribs. She gurgled a scream and went down, not far from Amina.

Elpida had ordered her out there. Elpida had taken the shot. Elpida had failed her.

She was losing her cadre all over again.

I love every single one of you, she had once told Howl, in private, in the dark, just the two of them. I never want to lose any of us. I can’t take this. I wasn’t born for this. They tell us we were, but we weren’t.

None of us were born for this, stupid.

The spinning barrels of the cyclic sliver-gun moved back toward Elpida; the zombie’s face of sensory equipment locked onto her. She felt a fresh sabot clunk into the barrel of her own weapon. Aimed. Pulled the trigger. Magnetic coils discharged with a thump — and the sabot-round bounced off an invisible barrier, whizzing off into the sky and slamming into the side of the tomb pyramid towering over them; traditional magnetic countermeasures. The zombie knew she was a threat now. It knew to put her down.

Elpida’s trigger finger slackened. She was not fit to lead and everyone who followed her was doomed to die. She was dead; the cadre was dead; Howl was dead.

And then the clouds opened.

Red light spilled from the black heavens: a glimpse of the revenant sun in gravid glory. In the centre of that cloud-break was a speck of pure white, burning through the atmosphere.

A falling star.

Everyone looked up. Even the Silico’s sensor suite swivelled up and around.

Details grew as the speck fell: massive, angular, made of white plates, shaped for atmospheric re-entry; fins and wings, ramjets and thrusters, arms and legs, and a shielded cockpit like a silver eye. One arm resolved into a white lance, glowing, pointed downward at the dead planet.

The Silico tilted its body backward and began to deploy the chemical laser from its hollow chest cavity, to shoot down this apparition from the skies.

Elpida had no idea what she was looking at; the falling star looked more like a combat frame, built on principles foreign to Telokopolis.

But it was heavenly deliverance.

Elpida ripped the coilgun’s aim-assist rig free from her hips and let the weapon fall. She leapt the low wall and burst into the black metal clearing. The red light from the sky painted the world a rusty blood red: the Silico, distracted by this higher-priority target; the armoured form of Lianna, trying to scoop Inaya onto her back as the shrivelled woman stared in awe at the falling star; Vicky, howling in pain on the ground next to the shield-covered form of Amina; Zeltzin’s corpse, lying on her front in a puddle of blood and viscera.

And Zeltzin’s swords.

Elpida sprinted for the blades.

She’d almost made it when the zombie woke up. Cyclic coilgun snapped around, spitting slivers at her ankles. Metal shrapnel bounced off her armoured coat. Elpida dived for one of the swords. She closed her hand around the grip, rolled, bounced to her feet, and sprinted right at the zombie — right toward the spinning barrels pointed at her face.

She was too far away to reach the construct before it opened fire. All this was futile. She had failed, again and again.

A sudden roar of bullets slammed into the construct’s side from close range — small calibre, high rate of fire, not enough to penetrate, but just enough to make the monster twitch.

A flash of flame-red leapt back into cover, in Elpida’s peripheral vision.

The Silico pointed the spinning barrels at Elpida again — but she’d covered the ground. She was dead; but she wouldn’t lose another cadre.

Howl roared inside her mind. Howl approved. Howl would have done the same.

The zombie tried to fend her off with its close-combat weapons. A brass-and-chrome hand belched fire from a miniature flame-thrower, drenching the air with napalm, but Elpida was already past, the edge of her coat catching fire behind her. Scything blade-arms tried to cut her down, but she stepped inside the zombie’s guard. Structures on its flanks belched a cloud of nerve gas and flooded the air with neurotoxins, but Elpida’s body was hardened against biological and chemical warfare by all the hard-won knowledge of the greatest city ever built.

The corpse-drone took a step back.

Elpida hit the Silico just as the cyclic coilgun opened fire; she decapitated the construct in one swing. Head severed and falling, trailing artificial white blood, it still shot her through the chest. Two slivers went in through the front of her coat, breaking ribs, puncturing lungs, and punching out through her back. The third sliver tore her heart to pieces. She stayed on her feet for another second, kept there by all the genetic engineering of Telokopolis and the pain-blockers in her bloodstream and twenty three years of unbroken training — or by Howl, roaring in her memories. Elpida rammed the sword through the zombie’s abdomen; she felt it bite through metal; the tip found part of the reactor and did enough damage to break something vital.

The Silico toppled before she did, crashing over in a twitching tangle of bionic limbs and white blood.

Elpida crumpled. Flat on her back. The sky burned red. A white meteor was falling to the dead earth, far from the tomb.

The others would live. Somebody needed to cauterise Vicky’s stump and spray sealant on her ribs and check on Amina. Ilyusha’s wound needed tending, that shrapnel needed extracting. But they would both live. Her cadre would live.

Love you too, said Howl.

Elpida closed her eyes. Her flesh grew quiet. The spark went out.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

And there she goes, the eternal soldier of the last city. Or does she? How cheap is death, really, when everybody’s already dead?

Wow, that was the longest, most detailed fight scene I’ve ever written, unpublished attempts included. That was so intense, I was sweating! I hope you all enjoyed it too, because this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bizarre cyborg violence in the future of this story. Ilyusha was right – this little construct? Just a zombie. There’s so much worse lurking out there in the dark at the end of the world.

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 writing as much as I can, every week! (For those of you interested in my future plans for this story, and my other story – Katalepsis – I made a new year’s day post about my plans for the upcoming year, here, it’s very long though, so you don’t have to read it or anything! No secrets are buried within.)

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see the story!

Thank you all so much for reading! More soon! More Elpida? Well. Perhaps.

rapax – 2.3

Content Warnings


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Fresh from the swarming tomb, on the periphery of open warfare between a dozen different carrion-eaters; coilgun power-tank humming on her shoulders, receiver heavy in her hands; and the disembodied voice of the grave worm chuckling a warning of fast-approaching doom.

“—down, behind the walls! Down!” Elpida shouted.

She took one hand off the coilgun receiver and grabbed a fistful of Ilyusha’s thermal t-shirt, then threw herself down behind one of the low walls of black metal, pulling the heavily augmented girl after her. Ilyusha squawked in surprise and clattered when she landed, but she didn’t lash out — she stuck to Elpida’s side. Vicky slammed after them, shoulder-to-shoulder in the tight scrap of cover, hugging the machine gun to her chest. Amina and Kagami stumbled and tripped as they followed, clutching each other, trying to shelter behind Amina’s ballistic shield. Amina was grey with fear, wide-eyed and crying.

“Amina, stay down!” Elpida said. “Stay behind the wall, hold onto that shield! Stay put, stay down! Kagami, hold onto her!”

Atyle stood tall: a dark statue, unafraid and unbowed, framed by the open gate of the tomb, watching the firefights. The lenses inside her peat-green bionic eye whirred and flexed. Stray bullets cracked and chipped the black metal at her feet.

Elpida roared, “If you get shot I will sling you over my shoulder! Get down! Now!”

Atyle didn’t move.

Elpida locked the coilgun receiver to the aim-assist rig around her hips, then shot to her feet and tackled Atyle to the ground. She dragged Atyle back into cover and shoved her against the wall.

“Stay put.”

Atyle blinked rapidly, offended and speechless, mouth hanging open.

Kagami spat: “Fucking throwback doesn’t understand bullets! Fucking hell, fuck!”

Atyle replied, “I understand perfectly well, you squinting scribe. I cower and scrape for no threat, no sling or arrow or barbed word alike.”

“Then stand up and get domed!”

“I choose not to.”

Elpida looked toward the black sky and said out loud: “Grave worm?” But the voice in her neural lace had gone quiet. Vicky looked at her like she was going mad. “The grave worm communicated again, a few moments ago. It warned me that something’s approaching.”

Kagami said, “Oh, you fucking think?!”

Vicky’s voice wavered. “Elpi? Stay with us, please.”

“I’m fine. Keep your heads down.”

Elpida pulled up her armoured hood and looked over the wall.

She had imagined the exit of the tomb would be grand, akin to the great door of Telokopolis, opened once at the city’s birth and then closed for eternity, with all humanity safe inside the last home it would ever need. The gate of the tomb was more like an open wound.

A ramp led down from a wide opening in the side of the pyramid, then terminated amid the tangle of black metal which Elpida had seen earlier from the high window: bridges and funnels and curtain walls, ditches and bunkers and walkways, all studded with firing slits and low cover. Directly opposite the ramp was a wide clearing. Matte black metal reflected the suffocated sky. On the far side of the clearing was a gap in the exterior curtain wall, too narrow for anything but single file. Beyond that gap lay the ring of bare grey earth which surrounded the tomb, and beyond that was the city.

Elpida recognised the logic: a perfect breakout position for a well-organised team. The layout was designed to guide anybody leaving the tomb around the edge of the clearing, sheltered by low walls and ditches for cover, toward the exit. The clearing in the middle would act as a killing ground, isolating and exposing any group that pushed in through the gap in the curtain wall. A team trying to leave without getting bogged down in combat should be able to leapfrog from position to position, covering each other at every step, all the way to freedom.

Her cadre could have run that gauntlet in their sleep. They’d done worse against the Covenanters, in the final weeks before the end.

But the reluctant dead had already overrun the ragged edge of this open tomb.

Corpses littered the ramp. Some wore pieces of body armour and grey-black camo, others were naked or dressed in rags; some possessed extra limbs, or heads which opened like flowers of flesh, or eyes on stalks, or exposed cybernetic spinal structures, or segmented metal tentacles lying limp and dead; there were dozens more bionic modifications and flesh-made mutations which Elpida did not have the time to catalogue. One of the nearest corpses was more machine than flesh, a stretched-out figure with long fluted limbs in chrome and brass — but still unmistakably human, even dead.

A dozen firefights were playing out beyond the ramp, amid the black walkways and bridges and ditches.

Figures in combat gear and body armour clustered behind cover, exchanging pot-shots and insults, opening up with automatic weapons, leaping the low walls and going hand-to-hand with blades and axes and bionic limbs. The snap-crack of strange energy weapons made the air crackle. There was no uniformity in dress or design or armament — or in bodies. With a quick glance, Elpida estimated that most of the girls she could see were human-scale, but many were shaped oddly, with extra limbs or strange additions. Some were taller or bulkier, encased in armour or plugged into large-scale bionics. Some had more than two legs. Some scuttled. Some had worse.

Elpida’s mind was trained to absorb information and respond with coherent plans, but she was overwhelmed by the details.

A sniper, kneeling on a walkway, up and to the right: a tall woman wrapped all in loose black, the bottom half of her face obscured by a metal mask, spindly pale limbs sticking out of her mobile camouflage. Four arms stabilized a long rifle, two more arms braced her against the ground, while another two worked the trigger and the bolt-action on her gun, snapping off shots down the walkway at unseen foes.

A bionic suit, far to the left, amid the tangle of low walls: a rare splash of dirty white amid the black and grey, a mobile armour rig with plates swinging around on articulated arms. Elpida spotted a snatch of strained face and long brown hair, white helmet-visor raised to shout an order. Other girls followed in the suit’s wake, pushing toward a group who scattered before them.

A blood-streaked nightmare, feeding in the open: a girl — and it was a girl, naked and bristling with quills — was perched atop one of the walls far to the right, clawed feet buried in the throat of another girl she’d brought down, like a bird of prey with a small mammal. She tore chunks of flesh from bleeding meat, then stuck her head up as if to watch for scavengers who might steal her kill.

A rallying point: a flag fluttered over a distant section of the curtain wall, stitched together from pale leather, daubed with a black and grinning skull.

The angle of the walls hid whoever was flying that flag, but Elpida could hear an intense firefight up there.

She spotted the trio from within the tomb: Lianna, Inaya riding on her back, and Zeltzin, dismounted once more. They were on the right-hand edge of the clearing, half-sheltered behind one of the most sturdy walls. Lianna, the bionic spider-woman, had her orange armour plates raised to fend off a hail of gunfire. Zeltzin was spitting something at their attackers — a gaggle of identically dressed, diminutive figures, all in blocky grey armour and silvery helmets.

Beyond the black metal, beyond the curtain walls, the corpse of the city loomed overhead — and past that lurked the distant line of the grave worm.

And down on the left, pinned by gunfire, was Pira.

Her flame-red hair stood out against the black metal like a tear-drop of molten steel. Down on her knees, her back against a low wall at the edge of the clearing, clutching her submachine gun. Her face was streaked with blood, her grey-black camo gear was torn and dirty. Two corpses lay at her feet. A few meters further on, a group of other girls were peppering her position with bullets, shouting at her, trying to flank her position. As Elpida watched, one of the other girls rounded a wall and got a good angle on Pira — but the red-headed girl whirled around, gun tucked tight to her shoulder, and felled her ambusher with a tight burst of bullets.

Elpida ducked back into cover.

Furtive shapes were moving just inside the wide doorway of the tomb, gathering to rush if Elpida and the others didn’t move soon. Distant calls rang out over the sounds of combat: “Freshies!”, “Fresh meat spotted!”, the rarer sentiment of, “Good luck, bitches!”, or more bizarre statements like, “Grist for God’s mill!” and “More souls broken on the wheel of fate!”

Elpida grabbed Vicky’s shoulder. “Vicky, concentrate. Did you see Pira? Over on the left?”

Vicky panted for a moment, wide-eyed, then nodded. “S-she’s in trouble.”

Ilyusha barked: “Reptile fuck finding out! Ha!”

Elpida spoke as clearly as possible. “We need to get to her. Here’s the plan: we skirt the clearing, leapfrogging from position to position. You take Amina and Kagami ahead first, I’ll cover with the coilgun. Then we swap. Atyle follows me as you cover us. Ilyusha can take my rear, she’s mobile.”

Ilyusha cackled. “Your arse is mine!”

“Good enough,” Elpida said.

Vicky frowned and glanced down the line at Kagami.

“Her?” Kagami spat in agreement with Vicky’s doubt. “We’re rushing to the rescue of some bitch who abandoned us?”

Elpida interrupted before mutiny could form up. “Nobody gets left behind. Nobody. Not her, not you. And she’s got the right idea. The quickest way to the exit is around the edge of the clearing, through the good cover. We pick her up, then push to the exit. Shoot anybody and anything in the way.”

Kagami hissed through her teeth. “Fine. I agree with the shooting part.” She blinked and squinted behind the readout visor over her eyes. “I’ve got short-wave and auspex and bloody everything on this thing, and I can’t see anybody between us and her. Unless there’s a bionic abomination invisible on infra-red and radar and rotational-reflective symmetry. Doubt that, but what do I know?”

Elpida nodded. “Kagami, thank you and well done. Keep me informed. Shout my name if you have to. Amina, hold onto her.” The younger girl nodded, still terrified, but better with a responsibility under her belt. “Vicky, you saw the way out as well? The break in the wall?”

Vicky nodded. She was breathing too hard. Her knuckles were white around her machine gun.

Elpida explained. “That’s our target. We leapfrog and cover each other. I know you can do this. I’ve got your back, Vicky.” She glanced around at the others. Amina looked too terrified to take in any information, but Vicky would herd her along. Atyle didn’t seem to care; Elpida would hamstring the woman and carry her if she had to. “That goes for all of you. Everyone stick together and follow my orders, I’ll get us—”


The electric squeal of a loudspeaker howled over the noise of combat, from somewhere up on the curtain wall, below the skull-flag.

Those who are fresh from the mercy of oblivion, come to us and be freed of this unwelcome burden. Fear not this hell, for it is not meant for you. Your bodies are arisen from the stinking primordial ooze to which you long to return. It is meant for us, the descendants of angels. We will give you mercy and justice in this after—”

Ilyusha shot to her feet, screaming, “Shut the fuck up!”

She discharged her rotary shotgun three times in quick succession, pumping fresh rounds into the chamber. The loudspeaker roared back at her: “You torture yourself by continuing to exist! Subhuman and—”

The loudspeaker died in a hail of gunfire and a deafening screech from an augmented throat, just as Elpida yanked Ilyusha back down into cover. Ilyusha was unharmed but her face was twisted with rage. She spat at the ground and cycled another shell into her shotgun. The sounds of combat intensified up on the curtain wall. Elpida risked a look just in time to see a bionically-altered girl leap through the air and tear down that skull-flag. A ragged cheer went up.

Ilyusha joined in, shouting over the top of the wall: “Yeeeah!”

Vicky let out a shaking laugh. “You got shooters out there, huh?”

Ilyusha wagged her bionic tail. “Always!”

Elpida raised her voice: “We’re going for Pira. Two teams.”

Reaching Pira was the most difficult twenty meters of ground Elpida had ever crossed. This was not her cadre, these were not trained soldiers. Vicky knew what to do: stay low, move fast, wait for the next shouted order, and then stick her machine gun up to spray bullets at the other side of the killing ground, at anybody who might be trying to take aim. Ilyusha didn’t need orders; she shadowed Elpida’s back, shotgun muzzle sweeping the ramp when they moved on, as figures spilled from the mouth of the tomb. But Amina was paralysed with fear, tripping over her own boots, clutching her ballistic shield, tears and snot running down her face; Elpida had to shove her forward, almost picking her up. The two-team plan collapsed instantly. Kagami could barely walk; the stress of an open combat situation was aggravating the nerve-connection issues with her augmetic legs. She crashed into cover, howling with pain. Elpida thought she’d been hit. Atyle stood up and walked, head high, as if bulletproof. Elpida shouted at her, but that made no difference.

They reached Pira just in time. She was blind-firing over her cramped lip of cover, with the opposing group of girls flanking her from two directions at once, howling insults at her as bullets bounced off the black metal: “We’re gonna eat your guts, you midget!”, “She killed Suz, she killed Suz!”, “Fresh meat’s gonna get fucked and eaten! Step up and out!”

She was about to be overwhelmed.

Elpida and the others slammed into cover next to her, uncoordinated and messy, Amina’s shield clattering, Ilyusha jerking her shotgun up and firing at nothing. Atyle just stood there for two or three seconds, exposed in the open; Elpida suspected her lack of care shocked several of the opposing group into ceasing fire for a moment. But then Elpida kicked her in the shin. Atyle hunkered down with a dark expression on her face.

Pira didn’t acknowledge them until Elpida said, “Hey.”

Sky-blue eyes swivelled round in a blood-stained face.

Pira was bruised and battered. She had a huge gash across her forehead and back over one ear, already clotted with wet and sticky blood, matting her hair. She frowned. The expression looked painful.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Helping you.”

Kagami hissed through her pain: “Not like you deserve it.”

Ilyusha barked, “Proved you wrong, bitch!”

Vicky said, “We’re pinned here, we’re gonna get hit!”

Elpida unlocked the coilgun receiver from the aim-assist rig. “No we’re not. Vicky, follow my lead.”

She waited for a tell-tale break in the nearby gunfire, then for the pounding of boots. Elpida rose from cover, shouldered the coilgun, and shouted: “Clear!”

She banked on intimidation over firepower; the gambit paid off as camo-clad figures froze and scattered. One of them — a tall woman in a red chest-plate, with night-black fur all over her face — was brave or stupid enough to raise her weapon instead of fleeing. Elpida squeezed the trigger. Magnetic coils discharged with an electric crack. A sabot-round blew a chunk of wall apart in an explosion of black metal shards, sending the brave black-furred woman howling toward her comrades, bleeding from a dozen shrapnel wounds. Vicky followed up with a hail of bullets — but she aimed over the heads of the fleeing figures, more sound and fury than lethal intent. Ilyusha pumped a couple of shotgun rounds after them as well, cackling and whooping.

Elpida thumped back down next to Pira. Vicky followed. Ilyusha ducked back in, her face split by a grin.

“Kagami,” Elpida said. “On the auspex, do we have a clear shot for the exit?”

Kagami squinted, teeth gritted with pain. “No! There’s too much bullshit in the way, too many people. Another fight. Fuck, what is that thing? Glowing like a fusion reactor.”

Pira was still frowning at Elpida. “How are you dragging this lot behind you? You won’t survive five minutes in the open with all this.”

Elpida said, “Nobody gets left behind. Not even you.”

Pira let out a single puff of breath. Elpida wasn’t sure if that was meant to be a laugh. “You’re serious.”

Vicky was panting on the edge of hyperventilating. “Elpi knows what she’s doing.”

Ilyusha agreed. “Fuck yeah!”

Elpida checked over the lip of cover again. The attackers she had driven off were regrouping over on their left. The exit was about a hundred meters away. And the black sky was churning.

She ducked back down. “Kagami, talk to me. How many people between us and that gap in the wall?”

But the doll-like girl was frowning at her private visor readouts. She swept her long black hair out of her face. “That’s too fast and it’s glowing red hot. Ambulatory reactor? What am I looking at here?”

“Kagami. People. How many?”

“Uh, six … seven … eight? One of them is more polymer than flesh, total obscenity. But, look, there’s something beyond the walls, moving too fast for a person.”

Pira shot forward and grabbed Kagami’s shoulder. Her voice was suddenly focused and tight: “How fast?”

“I don’t know what I’m looking at! Get off me!”

“Describe it.”

“A small signal, that’s all! Let go!”

A voice rang out across the metal clearing: Inaya, the blind woman, shouting from Lianna’s back. “A star! A star is falling! Oh, clean star, bless us!”

Elpida said, “Pira, what does that mean?”

Pira snapped, “I have no idea. But—”


A loudspeaker squeal split the air for a second time, from up on the curtain wall. A new voice screamed, not the preaching from earlier.

Zombie! Coming in the front door! Zombie!

The scream terminated in a jarring crunch as the loudspeaker hit the floor. Pira froze, wide-eyed.

All around them the tone of the fighting changed instantly. Armoured forms broke cover and fled deeper into the tangle of black metal. Predatory shapes scattered, throwing each other to the ground. The most organised groups withdrew in good order as best they could. One voice started howling with doomed laughter. Another was screaming: “You get what you deserve! You get what you deserve!” A third was shouting, “Why now? Why here? What’s it coming here for!?”

Some groups refused to break away. The one that Elpida had driven off was trapped by another group behind them. Elpida peered out across the clearing and saw the spider-trio from the tomb were pinned in place as well: Inaya had dismounted from Lianna’s back, blind eyes and clumsy hands raised to the sky in supplication, toward the roiling darkness. Lianna was tapping her massive bionic legs in place, desperate to run. Zeltzin looked like she was pleading with Inaya.

Up on one of the walkways the sniper Elpida had seen earlier unfolded herself like a spider, revealing even more pairs of arms. She aimed her weapon at the gap in the wall.

Trapped. Whatever was coming, it was coming in through their way out; Elpida knew their best bet was to wait and slip out behind it.

“Pira, what’s happening? Talk to me.”

Pira didn’t answer. Elpida looked round and found Pira with a hunted expression. Her cold blue eyes flickered over each of the others, a quick assessment.

“Pira,” Elpida repeated. “Whatever is coming, I will get us past it, but I need intel. What’s happening?”

Ilyusha laughed with the same mad laughter which had gripped her when she was fresh from the resurrection coffin. She lashed the ground with her tail-spike. “Zombie!”

Pira wouldn’t look at Elpida; she looked the other way, deeper into the tangle of black metal.

Kagami was snapping, “What does that mean? ‘Zombie’? What does that mean? You cryptic bitches, explain!”

Vicky said, “Elpi, Elpi! Everyone is running! What do we do!?”

Elpida grabbed the front of Pira’s bulletproof vest. “What’s happening?”

Pira finally met Elpida’s eyes; blue sky, haunted and empty. She whispered: “I can’t do this again.”

Then she pulled free from Elpida’s grip, lurched into a crouch, and scurried away, making for the edge of the wall, to flee deeper into the tangle of black metal.

Elpida grabbed for her, half-rising from cover. “Pira!”

A sardonic voice crackled across Elpida’s neural lace.

Too late, soldier-girl. What a shame. Better luck next time, if you even try.

The zombie arrived with a crack of air pressure.

Elpida heard it rip through the gap in the curtain wall at sixty miles an hour, exactly as the grave worm had promised, pushing a plug of air ahead of itself in an explosive exhalation of grey dust and powdered bone. A blur of clay-brown and gunmetal-grey slammed to a stop dead centre of the killing ground.

The new arrival stood stock-still, feet planted, head clicking left and right to acquire targets.

Tall, gangly, rail-thin, and naked; papery skin the colour of raw sewage, stretched over an artificial skeleton; no face, just a bristle of sensory equipment embedded in the front of an armoured skull, with no mouth or nose or ears or hair or eyeballs, only scar tissue and scabs and inflamed flesh; two bionic legs, digitigrade for speed and balance. Six arms, two with six-fingered, double-thumbed, chrome hands, studded with micro-weapons, close-range flame-throwers, contact-acids, and miniaturized cutting tools; another two arms were functional blades, without artistry or elegance; the final two hooked into bionic attachments for a heavyweight cyclic coilgun and an anti-material rifle; the chest was hollowed out for a deployable chemical laser; bionic structures on the flanks served for manufacture of nerve gas, biological agents, and nanomachine infiltration swarms.

A human form with nothing human inside.

They called it a zombie?

Even Lianna’s spider-body moved and expressed itself like a living creature, no matter how exotic the form. Pira had called them all ‘the reluctant dead’; Vicky had discovered they did not need to breathe; Kagami had confirmed they were made of nanomachines; but everyone Elpida had met here on the far side of death seemed full of life.

But not this thing. This was an animated corpse.

Elpida knew exactly what she was looking at. The form was nothing like the ones she had known, but the violation was identical.


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

There are zombies, and there are zombies. And then there’s Elpida with a coilgun. 

Gosh, turns out there will be a chapter 4 in this arc! But only a chapter 4, not a chapter 5. Then we’ll be on to arc 3, whatever happens next. Let’s all hope Elpida is quick on that trigger. And I hope you’re all enjoying this, because I am having so much fun with this story!

No Patreon link this week. Why? Well, it’s almost the end of the month. Seems unfair to encourage anybody to subscribe!

But there’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see the story!

Thank you so much for reading. More very soon. And hey, happy new year!

rapax – 2.2

Content Warnings

Gore, blood and guts, violence.
Again, this is genre-typical and I’m not going to warn for it every chapter; I think this is the final time I’ll include it up here.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

A maze of grey metal corridors, punctuated by abandoned rooms, empty niches, and broken medical equipment; steep stairs with matching metal handrails, the stairways divided in two, with helpful yellow arrows on the floor to indicate which side was for going up and which was for going down; semi-circles of uncomfortable chairs, the fossils of forgotten meetings; atria with glass ceilings looking out on the dead sky, reception desks with broken computer terminals, locker rooms with nothing left inside. Every surface was perfectly free of dust, spotless and clean.

There was no trail to follow. If Pira had passed this way then she had left nothing behind.

The lower floors of the tomb pyramid were undeniably human, but they were just as impossible to navigate as the top floors. They lacked the seamless surfaces, the capillary tunnels, and the rooms full of inexplicable machinery, but the same logic lay just beneath the skin of this man-made environment.

Elpida ignored the implications of that. She kept her mind on the task: she kept the coilgun pointed at Lianna’s spider-abdomen rear.

Without their guides-slash-hostages, Elpida’s group could have wandered each floor for hours before locating the stairs down. The tomb lacked a central stairwell or a main bank of lifts, which made no sense to Elpida. Telokopolis was in many ways a vertical society; the body of the city was riddled with lift platforms, inter-floor railways, and foot-traffic access tunnels, on every scale from private one-person chutes to the tens of millions who moved through the public systems every day. Elpida had internalised the city’s geographical logic.

Old Lady Nunnus had once explained to her: We’re too used to verticality. Any child of the city always has in mind what is above and below oneself. Half the Legion recruits suffer agoraphobia and panic attacks the first time they step out onto the plateau. We’ve become like fish, we don’t know water is wet. You girls are no exception, you’ll become acclimated to it regardless, your subconscious minds will expect up and down to work in certain ways. But none of that will apply out in the green.

Elpida had spent months on end in the green. She thought she knew water was wet. But the layout of the tomb offended her; it wasn’t human, it was just pretending, and it kept almost fooling her.

Lianna — the giant spider-centaur — was human, whatever she looked like; Elpida realised very early that the spider-woman did not understand the tomb either. She was merely retracing her own steps from stairway to stairway, through the jumble of corridors and rooms, and she was having some difficulty. More than once she had to pause, her eight armoured bionic legs tipping and tapping in place, as she peered down the grey metal corridors.

The first time this happened, Elpida ordered her group to halt as well. She tried to ensure at least eight feet of clearance between them and Lianna’s rear, but that didn’t go as planned: Atyle kept wandering forward, and Ilyusha wouldn’t stay in place.

Elpida called out: “What’s the hold up?”

Ilyusha barked, “Spidey’s fuckin’ stuck!”

Lianna grumbled under her breath. Zeltzin reached out with one red-gloved hand and patted the spider-girl’s flank. “Boss,” she said.

Inaya stirred within her blanket nest up on Lianna’s back and dragged her eyes down from the ceiling. She grunted, gestured, and said, “That way. Hurry up now.”

They set off again.

Elpida’s hands were clammy on the coilgun controls. Her arms ached despite the aim-assist rig around her hips. The weight of the power-tank cut into her shoulders. At least she was dressed now, in close-fitting grey underlayers, the heavy armoured coat, and warm boots. She’d never been uncomfortable with nudity — none of the cadre had been — but she did not want to step outside with nothing between her skin and the dead world beyond.

Keeping a consistent distance from Lianna’s rear became difficult when descending stairs; the spider-girl scuttled down six at a time. Elpida also tried to keep an eye on Zeltzin, the red-clad swordswoman; she walked as if every joint was a perfectly oiled ball-and-socket, though her red bodysuit showed normal human hips and knees and ankles. She kept touching Lianna’s dun-brown armoured flank. Elpida couldn’t tell if she was tapping her fingers to communicate in secret.

Elpida’s group stayed close.

Amina and Kagami stuck to the rear, a light tread and an erratic stumble at Elpida’s back. The younger girl supported the older one, and Kagami did not complain beyond the occasional sharp intake of breath. Atyle flanked them with a steady, confident stride, sometimes lagging by a few paces to stare with her bionic eye at a broken object or empty corner.

Elpida called out every now and then: “Amina, are you doing okay?”, “Kagami, holding up?”, “Atyle, what do you see? Speak to me.”

Ilyusha made herself a mobile asset.

The heavily augmented girl swung around the group in a loose circle as they moved: sometimes at the front, several paces ahead of Elpida, covering Zeltzin at closer range with the rotary shotgun; then dropping back and looping behind, watching side corridors or empty doorways; she guarded the rear, head swivelling, stalking Elpida’s blind spots, before returning to the front again and pointing her shotgun at Zeltzin’s shoulder blades. Her clawed feet clicked with every step; her tail swished back and forth, razor-red tip cutting the air. Elpida would have called anybody else back into formation — the risk of fouling her aim with the coilgun was too great. But Ilyusha knew exactly what she was doing. She never stepped into Elpida’s line of fire. Her coordination was perfect. She didn’t need orders. Perhaps she was trying to make up for earlier.

Elpida was impressed. She made a mental note, following long habits of command: when they got out of here and found safety, Ilyusha deserved praise and encouragement, and Elpida would give it.

Vicky stayed glued to Elpida’s right, shadowing her paces, covering the swordswoman with her machine gun. She was breathing too hard.

The two groups did not speak. Up on Lianna’s back, Inaya barely paid attention. Nobody called out except Elpida.

Sounds of combat from outdoors — from down below — had dribbled off to a trickle. Sporadic gunfire. A lull in the fighting. Elpida hoped it would die away completely, but she prepared mentally for the worst.

After about twenty minutes of downward progress, Vicky wet her lips and whispered: “Elpi?”

Elpida replied in a quick murmur, without looking away from the trio in front. “Vicky. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing’s wrong. I just … Can I ask you a question?”

Elpida knew that tone of voice, even in a whisper, from a woman she’d known for less than six hours, who hailed from a culture she couldn’t imagine. Vicky was cracking under the tension; she needed to talk. Ilyusha was mobile, Atyle was detached, Amina and Kagami were focused on the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other — but Vicky had to keep her weapon pointed and her concentration sharp. Elpida reminded herself that Vicky was not a sister of the cadre. She was not born for this. She was like any other citizen of Telokopolis, like a raw Legion recruit. Elpida had a duty to her.

Elpida replied in a whisper. “Keep your concentration on Zeltzin. But yes. Go ahead. Ask.”

Vicky forced herself to exhale, slowly, then murmured: “Why do you think it’s all women?”

“I don’t understand the question.”

“All women. Us, Pira, the … cannibal, these three. Even the gravekeeper’s corpse interface thing. Earlier, before Pira left, when you asked her who was outside, she said ‘girls like us’. It’s all women. Why?”

Elpida hadn’t stopped to consider this; her mind was focused on matters of survival. The cadre had been all female by design, but that was for a dozen conflicting reasons, the internal politics of the project, the pre-existing work of the genetic engineers, and something Nunnus had let slip once: One half believe an all-woman cadre will be more lethal. The other half believed it would make you easier to train.

What do you believe? Elpida had asked her.

Neither. Don’t be a fool. You already proved the second half incorrect.

“I don’t know why,” Elpida whispered back. “Maybe the resurrection systems have a reason. Or maybe there’s men somewhere and we haven’t seen them yet.”

“Maybe,” Vicky replied. She sounded uncomfortable, but then she attempted to cover it with a tiny laugh. “Maybe the gravekeeper’s just a sicko.”

Elpida didn’t really understand that comment.

But before she could ask what that meant, Vicky hissed: “Elpi, I’m really fucking scared.”

“Of what? Talk to me.”

“Everything. All of this. I didn’t have time to think about it, but now we’re following these three and I can’t stop. We’re going to walk right into a firefight, aren’t we? If Kaga’s right, all those people out there want to eat us. They’re fighting over us, over the nanomachines inside us — are us. Shit, I can’t even think about that, it’s too weird. And I can’t … I can’t … ” She was breathing too fast, shaking with each inhalation.

Keep it practical, keep her grounded. “Vicky, focus on my voice. Have you been in a firefight before?”

Vicky laughed, but it was not funny. “Died in one, didn’t I?”

“Before that.”

“A couple of times. I was with the irregulars when the GLR stormed Houseman Square. I was outside, didn’t go room-to-room, but … I did shoot a guard. Three of us did, I mean. Wasn’t just me.” Her voice was shaking. “You don’t even know what that is, though, right? Bet that’s all forgotten, nobody even remembers what Houseman Square was about.”

“You remember. And you can tell me about it later. Any other firefights?”

Elpida saw Vicky nod in her peripheral vision, dark face bobbing. “Couple of other times, couple of other battles. I was never any good at it though. Never tip of the spear or anything. I’m so fucking scared.”

Elpida spoke without looking away from Lianna’s hindquarters. “Vicky, I am going to get us to safety. All of us. I commanded a cadre of two dozen through over three hundred engagements, and I never lost a single comrade.”

Except at the very end. Lost them all. Elpida’s throat closed up.

Vicky said: “You serious?”

Elpida forced her throat open. “Yes. I will do my best to keep you safe. Just follow my orders. The others too. Nobody gets left behind. Nobody ever gets left behind.”

Vicky fell silent. The grey corridor marched past. Lianna’s limbs clacked and Ilyusha’s claws clicked. Kagami was breathing hard with the pain of her augmetic legs. Elpida flexed her hands around the grips of the coilgun receiver. Her fingers were getting stiff.

Eventually Vicky whispered: “Thanks, Elpi. Even if we don’t make it.”

“We will.”

Four floors down and fifteen minutes later, they found the first corpse.

Both groups stopped to inspect the body. Lianna and Zeltzin stepped over the crumpled figure, then turned around. Inaya ignored it, staring upward with her blind, machine-encrusted eyes. Elpida and the others drew to a halt.

An armoured corpse lay face-down in a pool of fresh blood, surrounded by spent casings; a crescent of bullet holes pockmarked a nearby wall. The corpse’s body armour was dark green, bulky plates, nothing like what they’d found in the gravekeeper’s armoury. Ilyusha rolled the corpse over with a taloned foot. The face was a chewed mass of bullet wounds; several more wounds punctured the legs and arms. Scraps of dark brown hair spilled from a metal helmet.

Zeltzin said: “This wasn’t here when we came through.”

“Pira’s work?” Vicky asked.

Elpida nodded. “Casings match. We might catch up with her. Another early arrival?”

Zeltzin snorted behind her featureless mask. “First of many. We’re taking too long. The lower floors will be full of opportunists. Not all of them are like us.”

Kagami hissed between her teeth, “Yes, yes, we fucking know that part.” Then, more quietly, to Amina: “Stay put, for fuck’s sake, she’s dead.”

Atyle stepped forward, bionic eye whirring inside her socket. “Alive with a million artifices. Will this one really walk again?”

Elpida raised her voice. “Everyone watch the corners and doorways. Do not walk into an ambush. You see anything, you shout. Ilyusha, eyes on our rear, got it?”

Ilyusha bounced on her claws, grinning at being called upon. “Got it!”

Zeltzin said, “If we get attacked, we’re not staying to help you.”

“I still have a coilgun. Just keep moving, take us to the way out.”

Lianna puffed up her cheeks, staring at the corpse. “I’m hungry.”

Zeltzin said, “Li, there’s no time. Do what she says. Keep going.”

The second corpse was much messier: she was crumpled at a corner, a mashed ruin of bone spars and pulped flesh amid a crazed smear of blood up the walls and across the floor, punctuated by hand-marks and dented metal.

She had too many limbs, too many of which ended in sharp structures which were not hands; some still clutched scraps of grey clothing torn from her escaped prey. Parts of her body were plated with black scales, hard enough to turn aside a knife — or perhaps a bullet? Pira must have been forced to cut open her belly and stab her throat to ribbons, up close. She was a girl, no older than fourteen or fifteen by Elpida’s estimate of her face. That face was serene and amused in death, as if she’d just lost a game of tag.

Bloody bootprints led away from the close-quarters fight.

“Your friend got ambushed,” Zeltzin said.

Ilyusha spat, “Yeah, and won!”

“Elpi, Elpi,” Vicky was saying. The muzzle of her machine gun was wavering, her head twitching at the grey metal walls, eyes growing wide. “Elpi, you hear that?”

Amina whined, “We’re not alone. Are we?”

Kagami hissed: “Shut up. Be quiet.”

“Hungryyyyyyy,” Lianna moaned.


Elpida said, “I hear it too, Vicky. Focus. Everyone focus and keep moving. We all hear those noises. Keep moving. Stay together.”

Ilyusha made her shotgun go clunk. She shouted down the corridor, into the empty rooms, at the furtive sounds gathering beyond line of sight. “Come out come out, reptiles!”

The fighting outdoors had picked up again, with sustained gunfire and weaponry noises that Elpida couldn’t identify — strange crackles, deep thumps, hard snaps.

But noises had climbed into the tomb as well.

The shuffle and scuff of inexpert stalkers, the footfalls of people moving in adjacent corridors; distant voices, harsh laughter, hushed whispers.

Elpida’s group drew tighter, shoulder to shoulder. She felt Amina’s hand on her back, clutching her armoured coat. Ilyusha abandoned her forward position and walked backwards, covering their rear. Elpida kept the coilgun steady in her aching arms, but both groups sped up by silent agreement. Zeltzin kept one hand on Lianna’s flank, as if ready to leap on her back and speed away.

A ragged shape bolted across the corridor in front of the trio, vanishing into a side passage. Far behind them somebody was laughing in a high-pitched cackle, which made Amina whimper and sob. Elpida heard a fight breaking out in the distance, muffled by the dividing walls, gunshots and bodies alike hitting the floor. Something screeched with a noise more Silico than human. They passed several more corpses — one half-eaten, another dragged into a dark side-corridor by something which fled from the barrel of Ilyusha’s shotgun.

Vicky was ready to bolt; Elpida could feel it. Kagami was hissing, “Oh fuck, oh fuck, fuck, fuck.” Ilyusha kept banging the floor with the tip of her tail, a warning signal to anybody who might think of ambushing them.

“Stay together,” Elpida said. Her voice was steady as a rock. “Stay calm. Eyes up. Keep moving.”

They hit another staircase. Zeltzin called back as they descended: “Last stairwell! Gates of the tomb are on the right, no more than thirty feet away. We need to run, freshie!”

“Fast-fast!” Lianna said.

“Keep going,” Elpida said. “Keep—”

A shotgun blast split the air: Ilyusha, discharging her weapon at something behind them, further up the stairs, shouting: “Fuck right off!” Amina screamed. So did Kagami. Ilyusha shouted again: “Fuck you! Get out of that fucking tin can!”

Elpida dared not look round; the trio might flee and leave them stranded. She had no idea if the exit really was that close. Ilyusha fired again, cycling the cylinder for a fresh round. The noise ripped up the stairwell. Lianna’s bionic spider legs were skittering across the metal, desperate to pick up speed. Amina was screaming in terror. Vicky was shouting her name.

Zeltzin looked back over her shoulder and shouted, “Death’s head!”

Inaya stirred, sat up, and gasped. Lianna — several tons of bionic spider-woman — shrieked with fear.

Elpida lowered the coilgun muzzle. “Go!”

Zeltzin did exactly as Elpida expected: she vaulted onto the back of the bionic spider-girl. Lianna shot forward, scuttling to the foot of the stairs and around a ninety-degree corner to the right, carrying her companions on her back.

Elpida turned around and raised the coilgun. “Clear!” she shouted.

Ilyusha bundled Amina and Kagami out of the line of fire, ducking her head and tucking her tail. Atyle watched with detached curiosity, but she was pressed against a wall. Vicky turned too, raising her gun, but she was slower on the draw.

Shadowy figures scuttled away from the threat of Elpida’s coilgun, vanishing over the top of the stairs. But one did not.

Nine feet of powered armour stood barely a dozen steps behind them; humanoid and grey, heavy and dark, filthy with dirt and tar and bloodstains. The helmet showed nothing but red eye-slits. The figure wore a necklace of severed heads. Black paint on the chest-plate formed a grinning skull.

One gauntlet held a spiked mace. The other was raised to point at Elpida. The power-armoured nightmare squawked from an external speaker: “ZZZZ-OMMM—”

Elpida squeezed the trigger on the coilgun.

The sound was deafening: the discharge of magnetic power, the crack of the sound barrier, the sabot-round blowing a fist-sized hole through the suit of power armour, the meaty explosion of organs and spine and viscera punched out of its back. The suit of powered armour crashed backward against the stairs in a waterfall of blood and guts.

Ilyusha whooped at the top of her lungs. “Get fucked!”

Nothing else came down the stairs.

“Vicky,” Elpida snapped, loud and quick to force the others past the shock. Her ears were ringing. “Cover our front. Everybody to that corner, around to the right, now! With me! Stay close!”

Now that she wasn’t covering their hostages, Elpida kept her head turning and her weapon moving. Amina was whimpering, struggling to hold her ballistic shield and help Kagami at the same time. Atyle didn’t seem to care, detached and distant even as she stayed close. Ilyusha kept spitting and hissing. Vicky was shaking all over.

The gates of the tomb came upon them all at once; the grave disgorged them through a wide mouth, onto a ramp studded with low walls and firing slits and littered with corpses; the dead black sky blossomed over the rotten teeth of the broken skyline.

Elpida stepped out into a dozen overlapping firefights between vultures and scavengers and worse.

“Everyone down! Into cover, heads down, down—”

An amused voice crackled inside her head, directly from her neural lace.

Too much heat for you, soldier girl? Don’t stop now. There’s something sprinting your way at sixty miles an hour, and it’s so much worse than some overgrown thanatophiliac.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Carrion-eaters and death-lovers. And something wicked this way comes? Good thing Elpida is quick on that trigger.

This arc is accelerating about three times faster than I expected; the next chapter might actually be the last before arc 3! I am so excited about where this is all going and I am really hoping to be able to write 2 chapters per week of this. We’ll see how things go! Hope you’re all enjoying it!

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 aiming to add more as soon as I can make more time.

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see the story!

Thank you for reading! And hey, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! Happy Hanukkah too. Seeya next week for more desperate zombie-girls with big sci-fi guns and cool body armour.

rapax – 2.1

Content Warnings

Suicidal ideation/encouragement

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Pointing a gun and making a threat was easy, even if that gun weighed fifty kilograms and required a stabilisation rig strapped around the user’s hips. Pulling the trigger would be easy too; Elpida’s mind had already calculated the firefight which would ensue, and she knew it would not be much of a fight. One round from the coilgun would slam a plate-sized hole through the middle of Lianna’s bionic spider body. The same round, angled correctly, would also catch Inaya — the crumpled, shrunken, metal-encrusted woman riding on Lianna’s back — and smear her across the wall.

Zeltzin — the red-clad swordswoman whose face was concealed behind a black ballistic mask — might be hiding any variety of augmentations beneath her red bodysuit and loose robes. Elpida did not like the way the woman moved, doubled-jointed and loose. But she wouldn’t live through Vicky and Ilyusha opening fire, not this close.

They could win, quickly and cleanly. But Elpida didn’t want to pull the trigger.

The spire-cell back in Telokopolis felt like only yesterday. She had died, yesterday. Howl had slept in her arms three days ago — three hundred million years ago. Howl would have pulled the trigger to protect the cadre, damn the consequences. And that was why Howl had not been in command.

Elpida’s hands were steady on the coilgun. Zeltzin was saying: “Lead you to the gates of the tomb? You don’t even know what you’re asking for, freshie. Better to stay here and take the loss, make the decision over again, down in the black rain and—”

“You’re going to lead us out,” Elpida said.

From up on the spider-girl’s back, Inaya spoke for her trio, wheezy and rasping: “Let them follow, Zeltzin. Seeds fall where they may, on stone as well as soil.”

“Thank you,” said Elpida.

Logistics was the hard part: organising an extraction, making sure everybody was ready, all while holding this trio at gunpoint, and making sure the situation did not erupt into an unintentional execution. This wasn’t the kind of operation the cadre had trained for.

Elpida kept the coilgun pointed at Lianna — the spider-centaur — while calling out orders. She had Amina fetch Ilyusha’s backpack from the gravekeeper’s chamber: the backpack full of shotgun shells and cannisters of blue nanomachine slime. She instructed Atyle to grab more backpacks and fill them with whatever she could.

“Kagami, supervise,” she added.

“What? Supervise what? Putting things in bags?”

Atyle started to say: “I will not be herded and—” But Elpida spoke over her.

“Because you’re free and you understand what you’re looking at, but you can’t move quickly on those legs. Atyle and Amina don’t understand; Atyle, there’s no shame in that, just do it. We need survival equipment. See if there’s any MREs, bottles for water, compact tents. Things like that. Quickly now.”

Zeltzin snorted behind her featureless black mask. “Fresh and clueless.”

Ilyusha laughed. “Shut up, bitch-sticks!”

Elpida said, “Explain.”

“There’s only one kind of food in a tomb.”

Kagami spat, “Told you they were here to fucking eat us.”

Vicky and Ilyusha couldn’t help; they had to keep their weapons pointed at the red-clad swordswoman. But that was a distraction, no matter how steady Vicky’s hands or how much Ilyusha cackled and barked. The coilgun was their ace; without that, the trio of intruders could retreat at their leisure, behind Lianna’s bullet-proof armour plates. Elpida could not allow her aim or her attention to waver.

Lianna made it easy. The spider-woman kept her armour plates and pincer-blades lowered and out of the way. Her human upper half raised her hands and wore a comedic grimace. Inaya, riding on her back in a nest of blankets, blinded by the coral-reef of bionics on her face, regarded all this with a craggy frown.

She said: “The star is getting ready to fall. You cannot mean to hold us here for long. I will not allow this, I will not. You may follow, but we must hurry. Zeltzin, they must move!”

Zeltzin said, “Boss, they have a coilgun. We don’t have a choice. We made a bad gamble.”

Inaya’s blind, metal-encrusted gaze wavered down to Zeltzin, then returned to staring at the ceiling. “I cannot allow … cannot … we cannot miss the falling star. Not again. Lianna, I have seen you at your best, at your peak, you are still there, can you not—”

“Guns!” Lianna squeaked. “Big-big gun! No-no.”

“You,” Zeltzin snapped. “White-hair. Leader.”

“Commander,” Elpida said. “You address me as Commander.”

Commander, Howl snorted in her memory. You like that, Elps?

The Legion expects us to have a hierarchy. You don’t have to use it in private. Howl, you follow my orders anyway, even when you argue. What’s the problem?

I follow you, not your orders.

The rank was a lie, the authority was a lie; Howl was dead along with the rest of the cadre; Commander Elpida had not been able to protect anybody at the end. The word tasted like poison. But it was a useful tool.

Zeltzin was saying: “My boss has a point. The longer we wait the worse it will be. You can’t expect us to lead you to the gates of the tomb and then kill us anyway, you—”

A muffled boom reverberated through the armoury and laboratory, a distant explosion beyond the tomb.

Vicky said, voice quivering: “Third time we’ve heard one of those. What the hell is going on out there?”

Inaya answered, dreamy and drifting. “Animals at a watering hole.”

“What does that mean?” Vicky said. “Hey, what does that mean?”

Kagami laughed bitterly and broke off from helping Atyle. “It means we’re the only food around and all the monsters are fighting over us.”

Lianna giggled and said, “Yum-yum!”

Elpida said: “You lead us to the way out and then we’ll let you go. Nobody has to die. You have my word.”

Lianna’s goofy grimace got worse. Zeltzin stared from behind her mask. Inaya said nothing, eyes on her falling star.

Vicky was breathing too heavily. Elpida didn’t dare take her hands off the coilgun receiver, but she spoke without moving her eyes. “Vicky, don’t look at me. Keep Zeltzin covered. You’re doing great.”

“If … ” Vicky said. Elpida heard a dry swallow. “If you— thanks.”

“You’re doing great. Keep her covered. If she moves toward me, shoot her.”

“Got it. Right. Got it.”

“Ha!” Ilyusha barked. “Stupid bitch fuck. Sword bullshit. Fuck you.”

Zeltzin stayed perfectly still, but Elpida saw motion behind her eye-slits. “I would win a duel,” she said. “You know that.”

Ilyusha stuck her tongue out and laughed. She clicked her claws against the rotary shotgun. “And I’ve got a gun!”

Zeltzin said, “Toss it and see what happens.”

From up on Lianna’s back, Inaya sighed. “Zeltzin, pride.”

Lianna giggled. “Yeah, Zel!”

Elpida said, “I can’t control Ilyusha. If she thinks you’re assaulting me, she’ll engage without hesitation. I wouldn’t irritate her if I were you.”

Ilyusha barked, “Yeah, don’t piss me off, cunt-face!”

Her tail was wagging. Elpida wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad one.

The search for supplies was a waste of time; the armoury racks did not contain any MREs, sleeping bags, flashlights, bottles of water, or other survival equipment. Kagami and Atyle found some emergency thermal blankets made of heat-reflective plastic, but that was all. They crammed those into a backpack along with several spare coats and as many grey underlayers as they could fit. A second backpack was filled with ammunition and a few extra side-arms. At Elpida’s instruction they strapped a ballistic shield to Vicky’s back so she didn’t have to look away from their hostages.

Ilyusha laughed at that. “Tortoise!”

Vicky took it well. “I’ve been called worse.”

“Good tortoise.”

Getting into the lift was the moment of most danger. Elpida said it out loud, to Zeltzin’s blank mask.

“If they’re going to try to overwhelm us, they’ll do it in the lift, when one of us is distracted or looks away. If they’re smart, they will have left a fourth member of their group at the top of the lift shaft. Be prepared for that.”

Zeltzin said: “Only what you see here.”

Elpida ignored that. She had been watching for covert hand signals or coded communication between the trio; if she and the cadre had been held at gunpoint, that’s what they would have done: set up a reverse surprise, get ready to overpower their captors, make certain everybody knew their roles for when an opening presented itself. But this strange trio from a dead world weren’t doing any of that, unless they were all communicating via neural lace. The conversation with the grave worm made Elpida doubt that.

“Vicky,” she carried on, “you stay glued on Zeltzin, whatever happens. Kagami, cover her too, if you can. Safety off. Atyle, don’t lag behind. Amina, you stay in the rear, you stay behind me. Understand?”

Amina squeaked an affirmative — but she stayed behind Ilyusha, not Elpida. That was good enough.

Elpida allowed Lianna to back into the lift. All that bionic muscle and plate was quite impressive to see in motion. Zeltzin followed, slowly, covered by Vicky and Ilyusha. Amina hurried after them, then Atyle ambled inside, head held high, a backpack over one shoulder. Kagami wobbled and stumbled, but she got there, leaning against the inside of the lift. Elpida waited until all the others had gone first, so as not to foul her aim.

First in, last out; Elpida wasn’t going to let anybody die before her, not this time.

When she stepped over the threshold of the lift, a cold and mechanical voice spoke from the depths of the tomb.

“Want not,” said the gravekeeper’s interface corpse.

The others flinched, turned to look, craned their necks, broke their concentration. Even Vicky jerked with surprise, though she held her aim. But Elpida stayed steady, coilgun levelled. Zeltzin and Inaya and Lianna stared too. This was no trick.

The gravekeeper did not speak on.

Zeltzin said: “I hate it when the gods do that.”

“It’s not God,” Amina said. “It’s sad.” But Zeltzin didn’t look at her.

Inside the lift, Elpida kept a safe distance from Lianna’s spider-body. The floor of the lift was covered with scraps and twists of torn metal from where Lianna had punched through the roof; the ceiling was a gaping hole showing the dark of the lift shaft. She had Atyle close the lift doors and told Amina to press the button for ‘up’. A little red light came on inside the panel and the lift began to rise. It seemed much slower going up.

The two groups stared at each other across a few feet of metal floor and shredded debris. Ilyusha kept shifting her clawed feet back and forth, clicking and scraping. Inaya’s breathing was laboured and rough. Lianna kept that cringing grin plastered across her face.

Elpida said, “Everybody just take a deep breath. We’re not going to fight. Take us to the way out and you can leave.”

Zeltzin made a show of taking that deep breath. Inaya wasn’t paying attention; she appeared to have fallen into a doze, staring upward. Lianna said: “What’cha gonna do at the doors, fresh-fresh?”

Atyle spoke from behind Elpida, voice filled with admiration: “Lianna. You are a thing of exquisite beauty, spider.”

Lianna’s face lit up. “Thank you! Sweet-sweets! Name?”

“Atyle. Would that I could come with you, but I would not willingly step into a web, even for beauty.”

Lianna giggled. “Smart one!”

“Why—” Amina started, then hesitated, then carried on. “Miss, why are you a giant spider?”

“Because it’s cool! Fun-fun! Sexy! Why are you so small and weak? Wanna get gobbled up?”

Ilyusha stamped forward with one clawed foot. “Off, bitch!”

Lianna giggled again.

“Easy now,” said Elpida. “Nobody is eating anybody.”

Elpida approved of the banter. The more they talked the more difficult it would be for either side to pull the trigger. She wasn’t lying about letting the strange trio go unharmed. Once they reached the entrance, they were welcome to go their own way. From what she’d seen so far — Pira, the cannibal, this trio — mutual respect and mercy were not common currency in this dead world.

But Elpida wasn’t from here. She was from Telokopolis.

Vicky hissed her name: “Elpi.”


“Can I ask them a question?”

“Go ahead. Keep Zeltzin covered.”

Vicky raised her voice, “When are you all from?”

Inaya’s blind face rotated down to her. “When?”

“Yeah,” Vicky said. “Time and place. Where’d you come from?”

“The cradle of the gods,” Inaya answered, and then looked upward again, conversation over.

Zeltzin’s answer was muffled by her mask: “We all came from the black and the rain and to the black and the rain we will return. All else is illusion and sunbeams. There was nothing before this.”

Lianna laughed like her companions were joking. She said, “I’m from a hole in the ground!”

Elpida could not see Vicky’s response, but she could hear her swallow. Those were not the kinds of answers she had wanted.

Four minutes and thirty-six seconds. Elpida counted. The ride up was longer than the descent.

The doors at the top of the lift shaft hung from their hinges, ripped open when Lianna had entered. Elpida made the trio exit first, then ordered her forward group, then she followed last, stepping out of the lift and into the raised antechamber which overlooked the single corridor that led back to the atrium.

Muffled sounds of combat were unmistakable now, coming from somewhere beyond the walls: gunfire, sometimes sporadic, occasionally sustained; rare explosions, small and contained; voices, shouting and laughing, some of them not quite right for human throats, words impossible to make out. But Silico didn’t speak. Silico didn’t laugh. Those were human beings out there — other revenants.

Elpida’s hands were sticky on the coilgun grips but the assist-rig took most of the weight. She kept the weapon levelled at Lianna while the others clustered around her.

Zeltzin asked: “What now, Commander?”

Vicky said, “Yeah Elpi, what’s the plan?”

Elpida explained. “You three are going to take the lead, up front. We’re going to follow behind. Take us to the exit.”

Zeltzin snorted. “Front gate’s going to be swarming by the time we get there.”

Ilyusha cackled and made her shotgun go clack. “Good!”

Kagami hissed under her breath, sagging in Elpida’s peripheral vision, struggling to make her knees lock. “No, actually, not good. Come on, Commander.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “We need more than that. Tell me you know what you’re doing, tell me you’re not just making it up as you go along. Fucking hell.”

Vicky said, “I trust Elpi. She’s gotten us this far.”

Kagami spat, “We’re chicks barely out of our shells, moron!”

Elpida spoke with confidence: “Zeltzin, how long do we have before the tomb is overrun? I was led to believe we had a couple of hours.”

Zeltzin answered. “It’ll take an hour just to walk to the front gate, at your speed.”

“Our speed?”

Lianna giggled. “I’m fast as fuck!”

Zeltzin said, “We rode her here. You won’t all fit.”

Inaya was still staring at the ceiling. “The star is unlatching. I feel it preparing, readying for the journey, burning fuel in awakening. Zeltzin, we must witness it. We must see where it falls.”

Elpida said, “Lianna here is a source of intimidation. We’re going let this trio go out the front doors first, then we follow. Anything tries to stop us, we punch through with the coilgun. It’s a big enough threat to buy us breathing room. We cross the cleared ground between the base of the pyramid and the ruins as quickly and as directly as possible. I’ll get us clear.”

Lies, but good for morale.

Elpida couldn’t make a plan until she knew what the front entrance was like, or what lay beyond it; from the window they’d seen earlier, the base of the pyramid was a jumble of overlapping walls, bridges, and choke-points. She needed to know exactly what she was stepping into. She could ask Zeltzin, but she was confident that Zeltzin would lie. Specific plans had to wait until she had more information.

She could think and react fast enough to make that work, but she needed the others to stay together and stay calm. She needed them to follow her orders.

Elpida stared at the eye-slits of Zeltzin’s mask. She asked, “You’ve seen the entrance to the tomb. What do you think of that plan?”

Zeltzin shrugged. The gesture didn’t look right; too many bones moved in her shoulders. “You might make it.”

Elpida decided that was a lie. Zeltzin knew she was bluffing.

“Cool,” said Vicky. Her voice betrayed her nerves. “Cool. We can do this. We can do it. Elpi, I trust you, just tell us what to do.”

Kagami said, “What’s it like out there?” Her voice lacked its usual acid.

“Like black rain,” Zeltzin said. “But forever and ever.”

“Cut the poetry,” Kagami spat. “What is it like, you overdressed peacock?”

Elpida raised her voice before Kagami could spook herself further. “Follow my orders and we’ll be fine. I will get us out of this and I will not forget any of you, I will not leave you behind. Let these three go first, let them lead. Stick close but let them stay in front. Eyes peeled, tell me if you see anything. If you fall behind, call out. Amina, I need you to help Kagami walk. Kagami, just accept it.”

Amina squeaked. “Y-yes!”

Kagami sighed. “Fine. Put your shoulder here, your hand there— no, there. Like that. Yes. Hold steady, you— you— nun.”

Ilyusha snorted. Elpida couldn’t see the exchange, but she approved of the result.

“Everybody ready to move?” Elpida received a muttered round of affirmatives. She nodded to Zeltzin and Lianna. “Lead on.”

Lianna flashed her teeth, winked broadly, and then turned around, scuttling on eight massive bionic legs. She trotted off with Inaya hunkered down on her back, descending the ramp into the corridor which led back toward the atrium.

Zeltzin lingered, eyes hidden behind her mask.

“The star isn’t falling for nothing,” she said. “Inaya won’t say so, but it will be bad. You’d be better off trying again. Turn those guns on yourselves, go back into the black rain, make the decision over, sleep or rebirth.”

Ilyusha jerked her shotgun forward. “Shut the fuck up!”

Elpida said, “Don’t tell my cadre to hurt themselves. Lead on, now.”

Zeltzin sighed, then turned and followed the giant spider-woman. Elpida led the others forward, coilgun raised. Her arms were growing tired.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Coilguns and cyborg arachnids and eternal black rain. Can’t make plans without good intel. Elpida better think fast, when the moment arrives.

I am enjoying this story so very much. I hope you are too! We’re really getting into it now, I’m seriously looking forward to the next couple of arcs.

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 aiming to add more as soon as I can make more time.

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see the story!

Thank you all for reading! Onward at speed, more soon!