Randos Ovalamech ran faster than he had ever run before. He ran faster than any Ovalamech had ever run in fact. He just didn’t run fast enough.
Not fast enough to reach the escape shuttle that was always prepared to rocket him off the planet. (The bridge leading to it collapsed while he was still a hundred yards away or more.) Not fast enough to reach the communications control room where he could send a call for help. (It exploded when he was a dozen yards away, flinging him to the ground and allowing the invisible beasts that pursued him to gain precious ground.)
He didn’t even run fast enough to make it to grand arch that lead from the Ovalamech estate to the rest of the Ovlopoli, the family’s ancestral capital city. Dark fire roared across the connecting span and drove Randos and his body guards back from the last open path of escape.
“What are these things!” one of the bodyguards screamed.
Randos made a mental note to fire the coward, or better yet, use him as some form of expandable bait. Death benefits could be revoked in the case of gross incompetence on the part of the deceased and as far as Randos was concerned all of his security forces were grossly incompetent for letting an attacking force get the upper hand on them.
“Back to the mansion,” Randos said and waited for his men to proceed him. Leadership was about making decisions. Risk taking maneuvers like venturing first into dangerous territory were for lesser men who could be easily replaced.
“The armory would be more defensible sir,” one of the senior bodyguards pointed out.
Randos made a note to fire him as well. He wasn’t paying the guards to think. Not when he was in command. They were meant to listen and obey. Anything other than that caused delays.
“Back to the mansion,” Randos said, the words issuing from a jaw set tight enough to grind out sparks of rage.
The bodyguards fell into position around him and made haste towards the temporary safety of the mansion. None of them believed they could withstand the attacking force there but even putting up a decent fight might count for something.
“Why has our surveillance not identified the intruders?” Randos asked.
“We can’t pierce their invisibility spells sir,” a bodyguard said.
“And our surveillance was the first area they hit,” another said.
“How is that possible!” Randos clenched his hands and looked to be desperate need of a throat to crush. “Central surveillance is in the heart of the estate.”
“If we can’t see them, maybe they’re fighting us from the inside out?” one of the body guards on the left flank said.
“That would mean going into the mansion would be a really stupid move,” one of the rearguards said.
Randos whipped around, ready to shoot the idiot who dared defy his commands at a time like this. The two men behind him were looking behind themselves. Covering the rear quadrant of the squad as they were supposed too. Except there were supposed to be three men acting as rearguards.
“Who said that?” Randos asked.
“Symmans sir,” one of the rearguard said.
“Where is he?” Random asked.
“I don’t know, he was here a second ago,” the guard said.
“They’re here. Run. Now,” Randos said.
He spared a glance to his left and saw two men running beside him. There were supposed to be three there as well.
“Shields!” he said.
The bodyguard directly ahead of him raised a bubble shield. He was clearly spooked though. The guards were supposed to raise one large shield together, not smaller, individual shields.
In the end it didn’t matter however. One moment Randos watched as a glittering silver bubble sparkled around the lead bodyguard. The next the bubble was wrapped in a shroud of billowing nightsky that seemed to swallow it like a giant maw.
A single scream penetrated the dark cloak and then everything vanished, cloak, shield bubble and the bodyguard.
The bodyguards started firing but that didn’t improve their conditions at all. In the wake of the bolt caster fire, a high, horrific laughter sounded, echoing from around and even within them. Randos flinched when the laughter came from a spot just an inch behind his left ear and he felt a cold hand brush down his spine.
Ovalamech’s don’t scream, they are not unmanned by terror, and they do not beg for mercy. If any of Randos bodyguards tried to deny that, he would have them executed to silence their lying tongues. It was thanks to the courage of the Ovalamech’s in fact, that Randos was able to reach the mansion well ahead of his more fit bodyguards.
Doors, Randos decided, are a convenience accessory for a house. It is perfectly reasonable to forego their use and instead crash directly through the large stained glass windows to the side of a door. The stained glass was, after all, clearly out of fashion and in need of replacement. Also opening the door would take a precious fraction of a second which Randos was not sure he had to spare.
Glass windows are a funny thing though. On the entertainment holos, heroes crash through them all the time and continue pursuing their quarry with nary a pause. From the depictions in the videos, no particular shielding was required to do so safely. Glass, from everything Randos knew, was a mostly harmless substance, meant for decoration and some of the more obscure forms of casting support that the Ovalamech corporation specialized in.
In that sense the stained glass window was an excellent instructor. Its primary lesson was on the difference between “candy glass” and “real glass”. Candy glass, as seen in the holos, breaks into highly photogenic chunks with reasonably blunt edges. Real glass, on the other hand, breaks into a shower of razor sharp spikes that thirst for the blood of the fool who shattered them.
Randos had expected to burst through the window and finally win a race by making it to the hidden room that lead to the subterranean safehold his family had prepared generations before. Instead of that happy day dream though, he found himself faced with the nightmare of skidding across the floor on his face as his legs mysteriously gave out on him.
The mystery was explained a split second later when his body’s pain blockers failed and he was hit by the agony of all the cuts he’d suffered going through the window.
He waited for a pair of breaths for his guards to catch up with him. The prospect of running any further was beyond imagining but they could carry him. He could still be safe!
When his guards arrived.
They would carry him away from this insanity.
And then he would fire them all. Or execute them. Or both. No Ovalamech should ever experience this sort of suffering and it clearly had to be their fault.
But his guards didn’t seem to be coming.
There weren’t any screams.
But there wasn’t any other noise either.
No sound of men running. No sound of weapon fire. No sound of anything except the wind blowing and insects chirping their night calls, unconcerned with the calamity that was befalling Randos Ovalamech.
The door wasn’t far away. It was hidden in the paneling at the other side of the entrance hall that Randos lay in. He’d found it as a child, when he played there with his brother and sister. He wished they were with him still. Mostly so that they could be the ones laying on the floor, shredded by broken glass. But his brother had been too ambitious and too much of a threat not to sell to a cult willing to pay top dollar for royal blood and body parts.
Randos wished he could have done the same with his sister but she was ambitious and intelligent. She had taken over control of the Overmaster Cult the Ovalamechs had used to build their shadow empire. With her power base, Randos couldn’t afford to move against her and with the arrangements they had for sharing power, he had little reason to wish to, aside from ego (so, of course, doing so was always a priority in his mind).
Since she was unfortunately off-world and had been for the better part of the last ten years, Randos decided that hoping to swap places with her wasn’t going to accomplish anything.
Crawling on his hands and knees through the broken glass wasn’t accomplishing much either, but in slow, agonizing increments he drew closer to the wall. As he came within arms reach of the wall, hope surged within him.
He was going to make it.
And then he was going to plot his revenge.
He laughed as a thought occurred to him. He’d never known how horrible broken glass was. He could draw on this experience to punish those who defied him more properly in the future.
As he reached the hidden door, Randos found himself tensing, not in pain, but in anticipation. His guards were removed. Every other avenue of escape had been denied him. It seemed impossible that he would escape at this point.
But then the door opened, its security spells confirming his identity with ease. And he was inside. Safe at last!
“I thought you might have a hidey hole like this,” a woman he’d never seen before said as she literally stepped out of a shadow.
Randos didn’t scream. He definitely did not scream till his was out of breath.
“Are you done?” the woman asked.
Randos nodded. Defiantly. He wouldn’t let this woman make him talk.
“Good,” she said. “Because you’re going to answer some questions for me. Starting with the names of all your sister’s little followers.”
“You want my sister?” Randos asked. “Is she responsible for this?”
“You’re both responsible for this,” the woman said. “She’s been assaulting Abyz and you’ve been supplying her with the weapons and personnel to do so. I want to know why.”
“It was all her idea!” Randos said.
“That doesn’t tell me what I want to know,” Bo said.
“I don’t know why she wanted to do that!” Randos said. “She’s a loose cannon, a pariah, we haven’t met in years!”
“Then why is she using Ovalamech supplies and casters in her assaults,” Bo asked.
“She must have been stealing them!” Randos said.
“Stealing them? From you?” Bo asked. “Ovalamech, do you have any idea how thoroughly we’ve penetrated your operation? We’ve read your entire spell web.”
“That’s impossible!” Randos said. “And…and unimportant. All of our operations are completely above board. We have nothing to hide!”
“Ovalamech, you have Ghost Bombs on these premises with only your bio-signature set for command access. Those alone are so illegal that I can have you arrested and put away for multiple life times and your trial would take roughly ten minutes to complete,” Bo said. “And we both know that ghost bombs are the least of your crimes.”
“You can’t prove that!” Randos said. “I have people who will testify that you must have falsified the controls! I have lawyers who will eat you for lunch! You can’t touch me!”
Dark mist rose around him, not as a cloud but as dozens of wispy, curling tendrils. The mist didn’t make contact with him but whenever it drew near Randos felt a soul searing cold as his anima was teased out from his control.
“You mistake me Ovalamech,” Bo said. “I could take you to the Imperial courts, but I’m not going to do that. You assaulted my world. You’re never going to get to do that again.”
“You can’t kill me!” Randos said. “I have powerful allies. They’ll destroy you! They’re destroy your whole planet.”
“Oh, I’m not going to kill you either Ovalamech,” Bo said. “I’m going to leave you just like this. Very much alive. Very much in control of your organization. After all this devastation, after being reduced to this state, you’re going to make a full recovery and be left with all the power you had before.”
“What? Why?” Randos asked.
“Because I want your sister to wonder,” Bo said. “I want her to question why someone would go to this much trouble, and then leave you be. I want her thinking about that as we take her cult apart piece by piece, just like we did here.”
“You’ll never manage that!” Randos said.
Nalasi appeared at Bo’s side holding a scroll from deep with the safehold.
“Looks like we’ve got all their names here,” Nalasi said. “Great that this guy showed us where their best bolt hole was.”
“You tricked me!” Randos said. “All of this destruction, it was all so I would come here!”
“Not all of it,” Bo said. “Some of it was to convince your sister that you really had your back up against the wall and had no other choices open to you.”
“She’s going to think I turned on her,” Randos said, horror dawning slowly across his face.
“Not just her,” Bo said. “Everyone in her cult. From the groundling fanatics to your cronies in the inner circle who reap all the rewards from the murder and mayhem you cause. Unless I miss my guess, that scroll has all of their names doesn’t it?”
Randos saw his doom played out clearly before his eyes. The only question in his mind was who would be the one to take him down. No one in the Overmasters would let him live for a betrayal like that, but he had to guess it would be his sister who did the deed. She always preferred the personal touch. Made it easier to be sure the target was eliminated properly.
“You can’t leave me like this!” Randos said. “What can I do?”
“Well, we’re certainly not going to protect you,” Bo said. “But you might try turning yourself into the Imperials. Anyone you provide evidence against will be someone they can arrest for you.”
“But that would destroy my entire organization!” Randos said.
“Or you can let your entire organization destroy you,” Bo said. “Have fun making that choice!”