Out of the Ash (The Oxide Serpents Part 2)

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The three jet bikes raced across the ash dunes at blistering speeds; ash and debris kicked up behind their wake.  The three riders wore brown leather dusters that flapped in the wind as their vehicles sped across the ash-covered tundra.

It had been a grueling ride from Hive Caelfall on jet bikes, but Albus Gaboon wanted him and his two companions, Creighton Saber and Duncan Thorne, to to be within the protective walls of Hive Rorhuin sooner rather than later.  Gaboon had preferred for his trio to rely on their own means of transportation rather than purchase a seat on a nomad tribe’s caravan.  That would have likely resulted in sitting in the cramped passenger compartment of a half-track pinched between cases of beans and tins of bullets with only a ragged tarpaulin to protect them from the elements.  The personal hygiene of the nomads who lived in the Ash Wastes was often distasteful in the extreme as well.  Besides, the jet bikes were considerably faster than a caravan vehicle.  No, it was better to take their own rides and deal with the Wastes’ elements and dangers in exchange for the potential of a faster arrival time.

Normally the trip took fourteen days to travel the distance between the two Hive Cities.  On their ninth day of travel, it appeared they were going to arrive in just under eleven days and that was counting a two-day layover in a shanty town’s excuse of an inn due to a severe Ash Storm.

It seemed that the closer they traveled to civilization, the more predators they encountered, human and animal alike.  The three jet bikes crested an ash dune and once on the other side of it, they had to take evasive action to keep from being caught in the closing maw of sharp, pointed teeth.  As they raced past the wall of grey hide, they again had to swerve to avoid the hammer-like tail that crashed down into the ground next to them.  The Ash Wyrm turned his considerable bulk around in a faster manner than one would think a creature its size was capable of.

Gaboon was about to give the hand signal to his two companions to throttle their jet bikes into overdrive to outrun the massive predator, but after he looked over his right shoulder, he saw Duncan Thorne’s jet bike scrape the ground and embed itself into an ash dune.  The jet bike had stalled out, but it appeared its rider was alright other than being shaken up.  That would not soon be the case if the Ash Wyrm had his way.

The other two riders banked around to the right and raced to their companion’s location.  Gaboon spoke into the vox bead of his rebreather, ‘Saber, ride over to Thorne and help him get his bike out of that dune.  Leave the Wyrm to me.’

Creighton Saber gave a thumbs-up signal to show he understood the order and raced ahead to Duncan Thorne’s position.

As Saber and Thorne pulled the jet bike from the compacted ash of the dune, Albus Gaboon brought his ride to a stop and swung his right leg over the vehicle’s saddle.  Once both feet were planted atop the ground, he unslung his power sword from where it was attached across his broad back.  It was an older model of blade that had power cables that attached it to a backpack that served as the weapon’s power source.  He autofocused his left bionic eye and scanned the beast for weaknesses as it charged toward his position.  He was looking for places where scales might be missing in the creature’s protective hide.  Despite the fact that he was armed with a power sword, he knew the weapon might have trouble melting through the Wyrm’s thick scales before the creature managed to kill and devour him.

While his two companions still struggled to remove the jet bike from the dune, the green lens of his bionic eye focused in on what he was looking for.  A spot on the left side of the animal’s chest.  He kept his sights on the Ash Wyrm and rolled his shoulders, ‘Hurry up, you two.  Now would be a good time to get our hides out of here.’

As the creature advanced, Gaboon drew his sword over his right shoulder, ready to swing true.  The Ash Wyrm again opened its jaws exposing rows of massive, deadly teeth.  The Wyrm bit down and Gaboon pivoted on his right foot and swung the power sword in one motion.  The blade scrapped across the scales on the left side of the Wyrm’s jaw and cut through four of his teeth.  As the beast galloped forward he brought his tail around to smash the human as he raced past.  Gaboon stepped back onto his left foot and ducked under the massive tail.

The Wyrm turned back around for another pass and again raced down upon his prey.  Gaboon sprinted a fast as his heavy carapace armor would allow him as he raised his sword over his head.  Just then he heard gunfire and looked past the charging creature.  His companions had managed to dislodge the jet bike from the dune and were firing their autoguns at the Ash Wyrm.  Most of Saber’s and Thorne’s 5.56mm and 7.62mm projectiles, respectively, bounced off the beast’s hide, but some of them managed to make their way between scales and penetrate into his muscles.  It only managed to infuriate the Wyrm, though, and the animal roared in pain and turned away from his target.

Since his companions had managed to remove the jet bike from its entrapment and get it started again, Gaboon lowered his sword and planned to sprint toward his own vehicle.  That would be easier considered than accomplished since the Ash Wyrm was between himself and his ride.

Gaboon knew this fight was going to end in one of two ways.  Either he or the Wyrm was going to have to die.  He did not relish the killing of the Wyrm.  The beast was just trying to secure his next meal.  It was nothing personal, but Gaboon wanted to end this particular dance for good.

The Wyrm advanced one more time in a sprint toward Albus Gaboon.  The man positioned himself into an on guard position with his weight resting on his left leg.  He held the sword ready as the Wyrm drew closer.  He planned to roll under the beast’s bite attempt and thrust his weapon into the Wyrm’s exposed chest were the scales were missing.  Gaboon, slightly winded from the ongoing conflict, was a fraction of a second too slow to avoid the creature’s massive head.  Instead of biting down, he rammed his head into Gaboon.  He flew backward at the terrific impact and crashed down onto the ground about seventeen meters from where he had been standing.

Gaboon’s body did not move.  The Ash Wyrm advanced upon his hapless prey.  The creature strode up to the motionless human and sniffed the body.  Satisfied that Gaboon was defenseless, he opened his maw, ready to partake of his well-earned meal.

The Wyrm’s mouth was centimeters from Gaboon’s body when his organic eye opened and he rolled under the Wyrm’s throat.  He rolled onto his back and pushed into the ground under the ash with his armored boots until he was under the beast’s chest.

The Wyrm’s initial confusion gave way to anger as he began to step backward to reposition himself to have access to his prey.  Gaboon, realizing it was time to strike or die, thrust his power sword’s blade deep into the exposed muscles.  It bit into the Wyrm’s massive heart and as Gaboon worked the blade back and forth, cut it in half.

The Wyrm’s eyes widened, his body shook and his knees buckled and Gaboon quickly rolled out from under the beast mere seconds before it collapsed upon him.

To be continued . . .

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