Chapter 5: Hit Me with Your Best Shot
Graceful lifted his head with a deep frown when the sound of hurried steps reached his ears. In the cell adjacent, Amdusias remained on his back, still vaguely attempting to recompose himself even as he tilted his head toward the entrance of the dim holding space. "One to ten, how are you?" the pony growled softly, just loud enough for the demon to make out his words.
"I hate that question," Amdusias remarked before adding honestly: "No more than a three, according to your infernal system of estimation. If there is to be a fight, it will not be won on my account."
"It rarely is," Graceful muttered, though concern still tinged his voice. He leaned forward, hunched on the edge of the cot with his eyes trained on the front of his cell. "Hopefully won’t be a fight. But I ain’t plannin’ to die in this goddamned bunker, I’ll tell you that much."
"I would prefer to avoid planning death altogether," the reptile noted, closing his eyes a moment later as a new face barged into the brig.
"Oh, sweet roasted riddlegwok, they ain’t exploded yet!" exclaimed the blood-red chupadore, taking a moment to wipe a wrist across his brow – the motion looked somewhat ridiculous considering the massive shotgun he still clutched in the hand that crossed his features. "Grif, looks like you get to avoid the noose one more day, you lazy varmint!"
"Wow, I’m just so glad to hear it," a sarcastic voice floated down the hallway in response.
Graceful Melody studied the newcomer for a moment as the two named Donut and Simmons filtered in afterward. His immediate assumption was that this soldier was the leader of the small base – his scars told the tales of a battle-worn veteran, and his eyes held more steel than the other three red-armored creatures combined. If things go south, he’s the one I gotta ice first…
The slender pony tightened his grip around the automatic in his coat as the oldest soldier approached his cell, shotgun once more held comfortably in both hands. Graceful’s piercing silver eyes locked with the stocky male’s own dark red irises and the two studied one another wordlessly, neither one offering so much as a flinch as the tension bubbled quietly between them.
The alien’s unwavering gaze brought a new sense of alertness to Sarge, his features hardening as he stared down at the silent equine. Although the blue-hided male looked even smaller in stature than the wolf they’d met outside, something about this particular creature made the veteran wary. There was almost a sense of unspoken kinship – the kind shared between two soldiers that wasn’t quite a distant bond as much as it was a mutual air of caution.
"You got a real cold stare, partner," Sarge remarked as he idly took a step back and shifted the barrel of the shotgun a few inches toward the front of the cell. "You the one that took shots at my boys?"
"Only reason ‘your boys’ still breathin’ is that fancy armor they’re cowerin’ in," Graceful muttered in response. "They ain’t worth the lead I slung at ‘em, and they sure as hell don’t belong on a battlefield."
Sarge narrowed his eyes and squared his shoulders, making Simmons shift uncomfortably – the grey-maned soldier was a hardass, but he rarely saw the sergeant take such a serious stance, especially for such a long time. By now he would have normally flung a quip or two, or at the very least spouted some odd colloquialism. "Well, I mean, he isn’t entirely wrong," Simmons began to interject, only for Sarge to snort disdainfully.
"Yeah, but that ain’t nobody’s job to say ‘cept mine!" the grizzled chupadore insisted, turning slightly toward Simmons. The motion was just enough for Graceful to contemplate a preemptive strike as he pushed himself to his hooves and started to draw his handgun in one fluid motion.
The movement caught Sarge’s eye and he immediately shifted back toward the cell, his oversized weapon swinging toward the slender pony as he let his instincts take control. With a shell already chambered, all he had to do was slip a finger into the trigger ring and aim the barrel a few more inches closer to the advancing male, the telltale flash of gunmetal from inside the alien’s long coat confirming Sarge’s gut feeling.
"Graceful, you’re okay!"
The periwinkle equine stopped in mid-draw, blinking a few times as Riffraff stumbled into the room and rushed toward his cell. His features relaxed despite his best efforts and he dropped his gun-wielding hand a moment later with a sigh to let the large pistol hang by his side. The two wolves were a few steps behind, followed finally by the orange-hued chupadore who sauntered in and almost immediately leaned against the doorway.
"Now what bumble-headed idjit thought it was a good idea NOT to disarm the angry little alien?" Sarge demanded, glaring between Simmons and Grif. "Ya ain’t supposed to let prisoners have weapons! How are we supposed to interrogate ‘em if they shoot themselves?!?"
Considering the relatively calm state of the other "aliens", Graceful Melody assumed that some sort of passable introduction had been made and – for the moment – no one was trying to shoot anyone else. He cagily holstered his handgun under his coat and approached the front of his cell to examine Riffraff. "Looks like you ain’t been shot yet," he commented mildly before glancing past the enormous equine. "Guessin’ those two slickers didn’t make it any easier, though."
"Hey, it’s my favorite knee-high private eye!" Mahihko exclaimed cheerfully with a grin, throwing his arms up.
"Yeah, you’re welcome for keeping the giant baby alive, by the way," Lone grumbled, earning a scowl from the tall equine. "Also, don’t piss him off again, Hiko. He’s only like four inches shorter than you, and you’re basically a midget, yourself."
"That’s what makes it so fantastic," the feminine wolf reasoned before tilting his head. "Where’s that huge walking sex-pot demon-guy butler of yours?"
"I am no one’s butler," Amdusias’s voice seethed from the adjacent cell, drawing everyone’s attention away from Graceful for the moment. Sarge squinted at first, only noticing a shadowy figure sprawled across the cot at the back of the dimly-lit cell, and he leaned forward slightly as Amdusias opened one eye to appraise him silently. Sarge started at the sight of the glowing amber slit…only to stumble back a moment later when the enormous reptile slowly shifted to sit up on the edge of the relatively-tiny mattress.
"Great stampeding garfrogs, is that a got-damn dragon?!?" the sergeant cried out, nearly dropping his shotgun in shock. "You jack-holes didn’t tell me you had a damn mythical beast in my base!"
"I think that is what you mortals refer to as some form of profiling," Amdusias complained tiredly, rubbing at his spike-covered muzzle with a long sigh. "Why does everyone seem to jump to this conclusion? Every dragon I have ever met has wings and I have none, this should be the first clue and yet here we are again, misattributing and making biased assumptions."
"Oh shut yer trap, Dusey," Graceful replied from the other cell, sounding almost as exasperated. "Besides, you used to have wings."
"Yes, my glorious wings that were severed and burnt to piles of ash because of you," the demon mumbled bad-naturedly before eyeing the still-shell-shocked chupadore at the entrance to his cell. "I am no dragon, mortal creature. I am a fallen angel, although I surmise that may not do much to alleviate your shock. Also, since I know Graceful Melody will make precisely no effort to say this: we seek no harm against you and your soldiers. What has happened up to this moment has been the result of surprises, misunderstandings and, yes, brash, idiotic behavior." He glared at the wall with this last line, apparently hoping to shame Graceful Melody in some way. "Although I suppose it is also fair to note that both parties have had their share of asinine decisions," he added with an accusatory scowl in Grif’s direction. "However, there has been no irreversible harm, thus no irreversible foul."
"No foul?" Simmons shot back in frustration. "Your little jerk of a partner shot me! Multiple times!"
"You slung your lead at me first," Graceful’s voice growled from his cell. "Self-defense."
"Yeah, well…you didn’t have to keep shooting me after the first one," Simmons sulked, his tone wilting into defeat.
"Simmons, you know better than to ever let an enemy talk you down!" Sarge chided even as he kept a cautious eye on the enormous reptile. "Now then, to prove you’re the better man, get that little alien out of his cell so you two can finish what you started!"
The dark-red chupadore widened his eyes and took a step backward. "Oh, um…well, maybe we should, uh…wait and make sure that these two aren’t –"
Grif rushed forward like the scheduled food drop had just landed outside, a toothy grin spreading across his muzzle as he pushed past the two wolves and their tall equine companion. "Great idea, Sarge! We definitely gotta help Simmons become a real man!" Donut perked curiously at this as he nimbly moved aside for the orange soldier to barrel past, while Simmons made a horrible face and half-attempted to block Grif’s path.
"You hate all of Sarge’s ideas!" Simmons protested, half-heartedly snatching the back of his compatriot’s chest armor.
"Grif, is that true?!" the veteran soldier barked, finally stepping away from Amdusias’s cell.
"No, no, never, sir!" Grif replied through a smirk as he approached the cell and glanced at the glowering pony within. "Your ideas are fantastic! We should totally let these two fight. It would only be fair to prove the Red Army’s superiority, right?"
Sarge squinted disbelievingly for a moment, but gave a vigorous nod a moment later. "I hate to agree with Grif, so I won’t! How about this instead: Simmons and the alien have a good ol’ fashioned fist-fight to prove the Red Army’s superiority!"
Grif opened his maw to reply, but then simply shrugged and flashed a grin toward Simmons. "Well there ya have it, buddy."
Lone and Mahihko glanced at one another awkwardly. "I guess this is better than more shooting?" Lone commented slowly.
"You say that now," Riffraff mumbled as he looked pointedly at Graceful, who had approached the front of the cell while casually removing the clip from his handgun and unloading the chambered round.
Sarge laughed raucously and stomped over to Simmons to snatch the battle rifle holstered on the soldier’s back. "You make me real proud, Simmons! You’ll be a real inspiration to the new recruit, too! Now get that chest armor off!"
"Oh, yes, this is my favorite lesson!" Donut chimed in, dancing eagerly from paw to paw. "Can we all get our armor off?"
Simmons cleared his throat uncomfortably, clutching at the neck of his armor with both hands. "Sarge, what if he just shoots me?"
As if in response, the powder-blue equine in the cell tossed his emptied pistol to the ground, along with the clip. The oldest soldier almost looked surprised, but he chuckled approvingly and nodded once. "See there, Simmons. Now make me proud, son!"
"Maybe…maybe we should see if the alien-pony agrees, too?" Simmons stammered, doing his damndest to stall as his claws fidgeted with the clasps, glancing around the room anxiously only to have his eyes settle upon Graceful Melody.
The short-statured equine stood squarely at the front of his cell, his periwinkle irises locked onto Simmons. Without a word, Graceful dropped one shoulder and shifted slightly so that his tattered trench coat slipped free from his gaunt frame. He stepped up to the metal bars as the coat puddled down behind him, leaving his bare chest open for the world to see. Simmons stared stupidly at the numerous scars marking the pony’s torso, realizing far too late that he should have let sleeping dogs lie. As Graceful rolled his head slowly on his shoulders, the soldier noticed black text tattooed across the pony’s collarbone and when he silently read the phrase spelled out in disjointed block letters, the color drained from his face: Behold, a pale horse.
"Oh shit…" Simmons mumbled, eyes widening in disbelief.
"I’d say the scary alien-pony agrees," Grif commented, although his own voice cracked with nervousness as his claw hovered above the control panel for the cell.
Lone and Mahihko grimaced slightly while Riffraff only sighed and rubbed slowly at his muzzle, mumbling past his fingers: "Told you…"
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Simmons muttered nervously as he undid the straps for the damaged torso armor, trying his best to not glance fearfully at the stock-still pony staring him down. Okay, just remember the basic training…low center of gravity…legs squared…defenses up…okay, wait and what does Sarge always say…
"Let me out, Tubby," the pony growled as he flexed his fingers at his sides. "Time to get this show on the move."
Grif seemed unable to offer any retort, looking more than a little intimidated as he cleared his throat and then slammed a fist into the panel to disable the protective energy field. "Good, uh…good luck, Simmons," he intoned delicately before hurriedly stepping back from the opening to the cell.
Graceful glowered at the immobile metal bars for a moment and then strode through the intended gap, making a beeline for the wide-eyed chupadore. Behind him, both Grif and Sarge blinked a few times as they tried to make sense of what they realized was a pair of wings furled tightly against the equine’s shoulder blades. "Don’t worry, son, ain’t no way you can lose a fight against a little boy with wings!" Sarge called out, apparently intending to come across as encouraging but doing little to alleviate his soldier’s nervousness.
As Graceful Melody approached, Simmons slowly set down the armor, breathing anxiously through his nostrils as he rubbed awkwardly at the snug black undershirt covering his crimson hide. "So…so how do we, uh…"
"Get your fists up so I don’t feel like I’m punchin’ a pansy," the pony grunted, glaring up at the aloof chupadore defiantly.
"There’s your first problem, Simmons already is a pansy," Grif commented mildly.
"I don’t see you fighting the short alien," Simmons mumbled, raising his fists gamely and looking down at Graceful uneasily. The steely gaze of the slight equine made the hair at the back of Simmons’s neck stand on edge, despite the fact that he had at least a foot and a half over him.
"Go, Simmons, go, I believe in you!" Donut cheered from behind them, even as his eyes were drawn to Graceful’s exposed chest with a mix of excitement and concern.
Graceful Melody bared his teeth, taking a rapid step forward and immediately eliciting a fearful hop back from his opponent. "Think the orange bastard was right," he muttered darkly as he wrinkled his muzzle in disgust.
"Simmons, this is no time to retreat!" Sarge complained, pumping a fist in the air. "Red Army’s honor on the line, son!"
"You know what?" Graceful spat out, throwing his toned arms wide as Simmons flinched automatically. "Hit me, you sad sack! C’mon, free hit, right here!" he snapped as he jabbed a thumb toward his face. "Maybe it’ll get you in a goddamn mood to rumble!"
Simmons blinked a few times, swallowing and glancing around sheepishly. "Uh…really?"
"Take it, friend," Riffraff suggested even as he shook his head slowly. "Go for his jaw, it’s a little weak still. And use everything you got…"
Graceful’s eyes narrowed even as a grin parted his lips. "You goddamn bastard…knew there was a reason I kept your beautiful ass around…" He tilted his head slightly to give Riffraff an amused smile, his periwinkle eyes losing their hard edge for a split second.
Simmons decided there was no better moment than the present and he wound his right arm back, twisting his torso with the exaggerated movement before shoving his entire body into a sloppy haymaker aimed at the small creature’s muzzle. He shouted incoherently with the force of the blow and grit his teeth in the innate fear of immediate retribution as Graceful’s eyes shifted back to him just before his closed fist smashed into the pony’s cheek.
The entire room fell into a hush for a moment, all eyes on Graceful Melody as the powder-blue equine stumbled backward with a grunt. He managed to keep his balance despite the almost-surprising arrival of the punch, fixing his hooves firmly onto the concrete floor and coming to a halt outside of Amdusias’s cell.
Sarge was the first to break the silence with a loud whoop, leaning forward with an excited grin. "That’s right, Simmons! Good use of my patented ambush technique!"
Amdusias was still perched on the edge of the cot when he and Graceful locked eyes through the cell bars, the gaunt pony slowly running a tongue over his lips as he gave his senses a moment to recover. "Please restrain yourself," the demon grumbled. "I wish to be free of this mortal cage sometime this century."
Graceful Melody narrowed his eyes somewhat but smirked amusedly, nodding curtly before he straightened his body and faced Simmons once again. "Not bad, buttercup," he commented, tasting blood inside his cheek and flashing a toothy grin as he cracked his neck, then stomped toward the speechless chupadore.
"What is he made out of?" Lone inquired, his tone only half-playful as he watched Simmons look desperately around for some form of support other than Sarge’s excited shouts.
"Rage, trust issues and an unfortunate libido," Riffraff answered in a mumble.
Simmons winced as Graceful stormed up to him, quickly raising his arms defensively. But the pony’s own limbs were still dropped at his sides even as he planted his hooves less than a foot away from the soldier’s own clawed paws. The chupadore shifted uncomfortably, doing his best to match the intense glare of the short creature before him with little success. He didn’t know if the equine was testing him, or challenging him, and in the heat of the moment, Simmons decided to drop his guard and sling another overpowered punch at the defenseless pony.
There was no satisfying smack of fist against hide this time, however – at least not the way Simmons intended. Halfway through his wild haymaker, Graceful Melody bent his knees to easily avoid the wide blow while slinging a rapid thrust with his left arm into the soldier’s solar plexus. The slender alien’s punch carried enough force to make the crimson chupadore gasp for air, his taller frame doubling over automatically…which unfortunately brought his face directly into the path of a vicious uppercut dealt from the pony’s right fist.
The resulting crack jarred Simmons’s entire skull and he saw just a flash of Grif’s wince over Graceful Melody’s shoulder before he collapsed forward in a boneless heap. Graceful had only a moment to look content before the heavier body of the unconscious soldier toppled across his slight frame and knocked them both to the ground. He had little choice but to yell angrily, flailing beneath Simmons’s half-armored form while attempting to shove the chupadore off.
"Well…so much for Red Army’s glory," Grif remarked, crossing his arms but looking somewhat more relaxed now that the short bout had come to its apparent conclusion.
"What are you yammerin’ about, Grif? Simmons here did great!" Sarge exclaimed as he booted the lanky chupadore a few times in the arm while Grace continued cursing loudly in his struggle to extricate himself. "He went up against impossible odds and went out swingin’! It’s the goldarn best thing a proud Red can hope for! He even managed to take out his enemy in the end!"
"Impossible odds?" Grif scoffed. "That thing’s not even five feet tall, I wouldn’t say impossible odds."
"You and me can go next, fatso, minute I’m back on my hooves," Graceful snarled before grunting a thanks to Riffraff, who had finally been the first to step up and carefully lift Simmons’s limp frame high enough for the light-blue pony to squirm free.
"Whoa, whoa, just a joke," the orange soldier apologized hurriedly as he scooted quickly around to seek refuge behind Donut and the two bemused lupines. "I think we’ve all had enough fighting for one day."
The pink-armored chupadore stepped forward anxiously, tapping his fingers together while looking down at Simmons. "Sarge, oh gosh, Simmons isn’t really…dead is he? He never got a chance to respond to my tea party invite…which I know he was really excited about!"
"This lunkhead ain’t dead," Graceful grumbled as he stood up, brushing idly at his battered trousers and then glancing at Sarge. The grey-maned chupadore tightened his grip around the shotgun but left his off-hand hang free as he met the pony’s cool gaze. "Now, let my goddamn demon out." Graceful Melody squared his jaw while clenching a fist slowly at his side. "Unless you wanna go a couple rounds, too, gramps…"
"Jesus Christ, you are a hot mess," Lone observed, stepping forward to help Riffraff as the muscular horse awkwardly hefted up Simmons and half-clutched him to his side. The wolf nodded once when he was sure the equine had the passed-out soldier secured, then strolled up to place a hand on Graceful’s narrow shoulder. It was almost immediately knocked off with an annoyed slap, but the white-furred lupine smiled slightly all the same. "Stop trying to pick fights with everyone. Let’s get the big guy out before we go punching everything that moves."
Graceful Melody snorted, still staring down the tensed chupadore veteran but finally nodding briskly and turning around to stalk back to his open cell to snatch his coat from the ground. Lone grunted in approval, then turned back to Sarge. The older male’s body slowly relaxed again as he regarded the taller of the two wolves. "So you the leader of these aliens, son?"
Lone laughed despite himself, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly and looking over his shoulder at Mahihko before clearing his throat loudly. "We uh…don’t really have a leader. That…other short guy will punch me if I try to claim otherwise. And well…" He shrugged slightly. "We also aren’t actually…you know, WITH the two horse-guys and their demon. Oh and speaking of which, can we…get him out now?" He leaned forward somewhat, continuing in a loud whisper: "I really don’t like to antagonize Graceful, from what I’ve seen of him in the short time we’ve known each other, it’s…best to avoid his bad side."
Sarge barked out his own laugh even as the aforementioned pony’s voice drifted out from his cell behind them, accompanied with the telltale sound of a clip being inserted into a gun. "I heard that, you grave-robbing asshole…"
"Listen, son, I ain’t about to be intimidated by no one, especially no hard-edged gunslinger who tried puttin’ holes in my men," the sergeant warned. His eyes narrowed somewhat when Graceful emerged from the cell, watching suspiciously as the pale equine slowly holstered the large handgun once more into his coat holster. "But…you aliens ain’t tried to kill us again, and I got me a lazy orange blob your dragon can eat if it gets hungry…" He turned toward Amdusias’s cell and poked a claw into the control panel.
"My gods, how long will I have to endure this mislabeling?" the demon complained as the blue energy field fizzled out of existence. He didn’t rise up from the cot, however, fidgeting a bit and glowering at the curious faces all staring in at him through the metal bars. "Have you no shame?" he spat out bitterly before groaning and gesturing impatiently at the unimpressed pony leaning against the corner of the concrete wall dividing the two cells. "Graceful Melody, come hither. I require…assistance."
The slender equine rolled his eyes with a loud sigh, elbowing past Lone and Sarge to stomp into the dark cell. He fixed the demon with a scowl while searching his pockets for any remaining smokes. "The hell is wrong with you now?" he muttered before jamming a bent cigarette into his muzzle and flicking the dented lighter a few times to produce a small flame.
"It is my clothing," Amdusias hissed, his features taut with concern. "Holes have been torn in certain areas that will make it very difficult to maintain my identity as a non-supernatural entity!"
"Oh my fucking gods, Dusey, you must be pullin’ my leg," Graceful growled, taking a long drag before exhaling a plume of smoke directly over the demon’s features. "We’re on a goddamn alien planet. You’re already somethin’ these simpletons ain’t seen before, the fuck you care if they see you without these rags? We ain’t tryin’ to convince normal folks that you’re just a big fuckin’ dragon in a suit anymore – your glamour ain’t been workin’ since we jumped, anyway…"
"You…you mean…they have all…"
"Seen your horns and all that jazz? Yeah. Yeah they have." Graceful shook his head slowly and then gestured idly at the tattered suit with his smoldering cigarette. "Just get rid of that shit for now. Ain’t like you keep your bits visible for the world to see, anyhow…" He sniffed disdainfully and glanced over his own disheveled outfit. "You and me could both use a wardrobe change. Besides, you can conjure yourself a new get-up when you got your strength back, yeah?"
Amdusias sighed heavily but nodded once, looking miserable as he slowly stood up. His towering frame barely fit despite the ten-foot ceiling and all eyes were once more on him as Graceful ambled back out of the cell ahead of him. "Goddamn pansy," he muttered as he tapped a bit of ash out against the entrance way. "Wasn’t wearin’ no clothes for the first twenty years of my life, but now he’s gonna be sensitive…"
Riffraff was the only one who seemed less than intrigued as he carefully hefted Simmons over one shoulder and waited patiently for the rest of them to stop staring at the massive reptile. The demon muttered something under his breath before his eyes flashed and a moment later, his entire body was surrounded by an intense amber fire.
"Holy mother of Omega, he IS explosive!" Sarge yelled, instinctively spinning away as Grif and Donut both squealed and ducked behind the others.
But the blinding swirls of flame disappeared almost as fast as they’d ignited, leaving only a shower of ash around the gigantic creature. His striking form was now bare for all to see, revealing a patchwork of alternating silver and gold squares of scale covering his chest while rippling musculature rested beneath the tight hide, putting even the overly-masculine form of Riffraff to shame. The demon’s abdomen might as well have been carved from marble, a seemingly endless cascade of tight muscle guiding the eye almost naturally down to his hips and then below…a groin devoid of any discernable sexual characteristics – as smooth and androgynous as a hulking male demon could appear, at least.
Donut peeked past Mahihko as Amdusias ducked through the entrance to the cell, where the somewhat-better lighting caught his lustrous scales and neatly accentuated his powerful frame. The lithe chupadore gasped and leaned forward, his open jaw nearly hitting the top of the small lupine’s head. "Ohmigoooosh," he breathed out excitedly, his long tail whipping to and fro a few times in unbridled excitement. "He’s…he’s…"
"Pretty damn good at making me feel like the second string prom date," Mahihko supplied easily, though his teasing smile betrayed his words. He could barely restrain his own hungry stare, after all – demon or not, seeing Amdusias without his three-piece suit for the first time was…invigorating.
"Oh, would you all close your goddamn mouths and put your dicks back in your pants," Graceful uttered after a few seconds. "Don’t give him too much credit, that’s just how his goddamn supernatural body looks. Ain’t no hard work behind all those pretty muscles you fruitcakes are eyeballin’…"
"Yes, the little one is correct," Amdusias replied daintily as he crossed his enormous arms and attempted to look stoic despite the fact that all eyes remained locked onto his exposed form. "Vanity is a terrible sin. And as perfect as my physical appearance may be, it hardly defines who I am."
"Yeah, but…it probably should," Grif retorted, making a face and shuddering a bit. "Seriously, why couldn’t you be a giant chick. Why is it that we finally get a chance to see some alien tits, and they all belong to dudes. It’s fucked up."
"Life ain’t fair, Grif," Sarge rumbled in response, eyeing Amdusias’s enormous frame apprehensively one more time before focusing his glare on the orange-hued chupadore. "Otherwise the tiny alien woulda shot you instead of Simmons. In the face. Ridding me of your useless carcass once and for all!"
"That can still be arranged," Graceful replied mildly, shoving past the demon and sauntering up to Riffraff. Despite the muscular horse being the second tallest in the room – by far – he still shrank back slightly when the diminutive pony approached. "Fuckin’ hell, I’m…I’m glad to see you," he added gruffly, looking uncomfortable for a moment and then giving a sharp nod to the two wolves as Riffraff blushed despite himself and smiled quietly.
Mahihko shrugged easily. "Hey, we couldn’t just leave his gorgeous booty drifting in…uh. Whatever that was. Transdimensional…goop." He tossed a broad grin between Riffraff and Amdusias. "Plus, now we get two lovely distractions. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!"
"Speak for yourself," his companion grumbled while glancing at the towering reptile for a moment. "Also, that wasn’t…transdimensional anything. I think it was a complex rift in space-time. Made passable by the crystals. That would make sense considering the last piece of the scroll…"
"You sound like Simmons, which makes you a nerd," Grif commented, even as he poked his unconscious compatriot where he was slung gently over Riffraff’s shoulder. "I would have thought I’d get a break from nerd-talk after the angry little pony knocked him the fuck out."
Lone rolled his eyes but refused to rise to the bait, instead scowling at Amdusias. "You realize if you stand around naked, Hiko won’t be able to focus on a damn thing, right? How long ‘til you get your magic back?"
"Oooh, I want to see the big strong dragon do a magic trick!" Donut sang out, dancing from paw to paw as the demon made a horrible face. "I’ll be your lovely assistant! I’m really great at making stuff disappear!"
Mahihko grinned enormously, starting to reply with something that was likely far more intentionally inappropriate, but Amdusias cut him off with a dramatic groan. "Magic? Magic?!? It is as if your only purpose while in my proximity is to test my waning patience with your insolent insults and irritating irreverence!"
The taller wolf sighed and barely resisted rolling his eyes again as he rubbed slowly at the bridge of his muzzle. "My apologies, your highness. I know it isn’t ‘magic’, I’m just trying to avoid a bunch of convoluted bullshit so we can get to the point." He paused and pursed his lips grouchily. "I don’t even know what the point is anymore…I guess it would be good to start figuring out what we do next?"
"Maybe we could take your uh…friend, here," Riffraff ventured, lightly lifting Simmons’s limp form with his broad shoulder, "to a bed or something? Unless you want me to put him on one of these cots in here…?"
"I think Simmons would appreciate that, he loves showing Sarge how tough he is," Grif replied quickly, gesturing toward one of the empty cells.
Sarge looked like he was going to consider the offer despite the chubby soldier’s barely-restrained amusement, but Mahihko stepped forward swiftly with a half-smile. "Hey, how ‘bout we take him up to his room instead? That way we can make sure he’s ready to jump into action if any…er…’Blues’…attack, eh?"
"Those dirty Blues!" Sarge blurted, clearly losing his previous train of thought. "Y’know, for a goldarn alien, you might be alright! Good thinkin’, let’s get him upstairs and see if we can find some spare armor to strap on ‘im, and maybe tape a gun to his arm so he’ll have it if he wakes up in the middle of a fire-fight!" The veteran’s eyes flashed as he rubbed his chin musingly, a slow grin spreading across his features.
"Great job, space-dog, now he’s gonna want guns taped to everyone’s arms," Grif grumbled.
"I know the way, I’d love to show the giant horse guy the bedrooms!" Donut gushed, prancing through the group to lead them all to the stairwell. "C’mon, let’s go!"
Riffraff nodded gratefully and followed the energetic soldier out with a glance behind him to see that Graceful Melody followed. He seemed extremely reluctant to have the stone-faced pony leave his line of sight any time soon…not that anyone else really looked like they would complain about someone who could somewhat restrain the furious little spitfire.
Sarge quickly fell into step behind the two equines, visibly still distrustful of Graceful even as his body reflected a bit more ease, even with the shotgun still clutched in his arms. Behind him, Amdusias attempted to stalk after the eldest soldier, but Mahihko twirled into his path with a toothy grin, neatly falling against the doorway to lean against it, one arm propping up his head as the other hand rested on his cocked hip. "So. You come here often?"
"I have never been here before. Neither have you. Nor have any of us in our miserable band of misfits," the demon replied irritably before attempting to shimmy his enormous frame past the enraptured lupine, who of course gracefully flopped across to the other side of the doorframe with a dreamy sigh. "I do not like you."
"Join the club," Lone grumbled before glancing at the remaining chupadore, whose expression reflected boredom more than anything else at the moment. "I can’t tell who’s more normal between you and your unconscious friend."
Grif snorted, idly watching as Amdusias continued unsuccessfully to try and bypass Mahihko without actually having to touch the unnaturally flexible wolf. "Me, obviously. You ain’t normal if you spend as much time as Simmons does trying to bury his face in Sarge’s ass."
Lone smiled despite himself, tilting his head a bit. "He didn’t seem like that much of a suck-up."
"Just give’im time," the orange soldier reassured before glancing over the taller wolf for a moment. "You aren’t gonna shoot me, right? This armor smells like shit and I really don’t wanna wear it anymore."
"Something tells me you’d end up taking it off either way, regardless of my answer," Lone remarked with a half-smile. "Nah, I think we’re done with all that. I’ve had guns drawn on me from two different armies already today. That’s two more armies than I usually prefer dealing with. You know…ever."
In front of them, Amdusias had finally resigned to physically lifting Mahihko aside and racing past as the flamboyant wolf cackled and chased after him. "Okay, you win. You’re definitely the most normal of all these goddamn weird-ass alien-thingies," Grif muttered as he struggled to remove the armor from his upper torso while trundling toward the stairs. "Come on, you can distract everyone so I can grab some snacks and go find a nap spot."
"I hate to say it, but considering some of the shit I’ve heard your buddies say…those sound like admirable life goals right about now," Lone replied, earning a lazy shrug as he followed the soldier upstairs.
"How many snacks should we bring?"
"Shut up, Caboose, the adults are planning this." A pause before Tucker’s voice drifted up to the roof once more. "Church, how many snacks should we bring?"
Church rubbed his hands slowly over his face, half-wishing he’d tried to leave the base that morning, before his companions were awake. It would have been quieter, at least… He sighed and leaned forward against his bent leg, the other swinging idly over the edge of the concrete platform. It wasn’t that he was ungrateful for the apparent dedication of his teammates…but all the same, it was difficult enough to imagine tracking down Tex and then confronting Tex by himself, let alone having those two there... "Hard enough just confronting breakfast with those two," he mumbled.
The light-blue chupadore winced when a sudden crackle of energy erupted at his side, a deep frown settling on his features. "Oh, come on…" He slowly shoved himself up to his paws with a groan of exertion, idly leaning on his sniper rifle to support himself as he glanced moodily at the shaky portal slowly expanding a few feet away. "Guys, seriously. You’ve already showed us this trick…"
"Sir, I can barely make our your transmission. A portal has opened, though, and I can see some kind of creature through it. It appears to be armed."
Church frowned at the voice – it was unlike any of the trio that had emerged from the earlier gateway. There was a hard edge to it, speaking to a honed discipline that immediately made the chupadore think of the more militant members of the Blue Army. Something about it made his skin crawl and as he warily slipped his finger into the trigger guard of his rifle, listening as a second voice could barely be made out. It was overrun with static, and nearly every other word was lost:
"Permission…use deadly force…if…"
Church’s eyes widened and he took a step back a moment before a figure clad in black became visible at the mouth of the off-green tunnel. The being had smooth skin and no visible muzzle – the flatness of its face immediately made the chupadore blink in confusion. "Sir, did not copy," the stranger muttered into a headset as it slid a hand toward a thigh holster. "Sir? No sign of the targets, but I do have an armed creature and I did not hear your previous instruction."
The radio only issued a burst of static in return, and the grimace that washed over the strange being’s face made Church’s fur stand on end. "Oh, fuck this, nope!" he growled, limping back one step as he slung the sniper rifle up to his shoulder. "Not this time!"
The stranger cursed and swiftly drew a pistol from the holster, but Church pulled his trigger first…and for once, the enormous slug from his weapon made contact. A choked yelp slipped out of the creature’s mouth a moment after the specialized round smashed into its shoulder, the impact exerting enough force to completely sever the alien’s arm. Its face screwed up in a mixture of confusion, pain and fury as it stumbled backward on flat-soled combat boots with no visible tail to help it maintain balance; Church stared stupidly as, despite all that, the smooth-skinned creature still made a vague attempt to draw its pistol with its remaining arm. The chupadore scowled darkly in response and shoved his elongated weapon forward, reaching just far enough for the smoking tip to poke firmly against the intruder’s armored vest.
The eyes of the odd alien widened in horrified denial as it teetered backward, its one arm windmilling almost comically as it shouted a single word: "Fuck!"
"What the shit was tha—oh, shit!" Tucker’s strained yell floated up from the ground as the alien toppled over the edge of the roof, accompanied by the distinct sound of scurrying that he could only assume was Tucker scrambling out of the creature’s path. Church winced at the dull smack of flesh colliding with hard clay before nearly tripping over the severed arm when he approached the lip of the rooftop to peer down. "Holy shit, dude, his neck is broke as fuck!" the turquoise soldier shouted with a glare up to his compatriot before looking back at the strange creature. "The fuck did you…oh FUCKBERRIES, WHERE’S HIS ARM?!?"
"I shot it off," Church grumbled, still clutching his oversized firearm with both hands and eyeing the extreme angle of the neck of the lifeless body below, fairly certain it was considerably dead. The otherworldly portal had vanished into nothing, at least, granting the tall chupadore a moment of relief as he sighed quietly.
"Bullshit," Tucker retorted, lightly kicking at the limp creature before shooting a skeptical glance up to the other soldier. "You couldn’t shoot a new hole in your own ass if you sat on your gun. I bet you ate his arm, you fat werewolf arm-eating bitch."
Church rolled his eyes and then stepped back to hook his foot under the alien’s bloody limb. "Fuck you, Tucker. And your lines suck. Let me give you a hand." He flicked his leg out and flung the arm in a lazy arc, rewarded a second or two later by the lithe chupadore screeching in disgust.
"You fucking asshole, that’s gross, dude! That’s fuckin’ gross!"
The voice of their third companion echoed out from the entrance of the base. "Wow, Tucker, did you join the army? Because it looks like you are extra army today."
"Shut up, Caboose."
Church glanced over the edge once more to see Tucker wiping a splotch of crimson from his armor with a scowl, while Caboose approached and then prodded the severed arm a few times with a small twig. "So yeah, that just happened," Church intoned moodily. "Another goddamn green hole, except instead of the weird animals, that guy came out." He paused and then made a face. "Maybe we should postpone our trip," he muttered. "This is a lot of weird shit to happen in one day."
"Man, fuck all that noise," Tucker protested loudly, giving the dead creature another swift kick to the side. "This shit means we should leave even faster, if you ask me!"
Church grunted, not exactly agreeing but not entirely sure his fellow soldier was wrong, either. He scrubbed at his face for a moment in frustration. "Look…I don’t know what the fuck those other guys did by coming here, but we should at least leave them a note or…something. I dunno, I just don’t want to have this bite me in the ass."
"Not like you don’t have plenty of ass to spare," Tucker fired back before rolling his eyes and sighing loudly, throwing his arms up in resignation. "But whatever, fine. For a bloodthirsty, teammate-killing asshole, you sure are a pussy. Let’s go leave a sticky note on this fucker’s face or whatever. Maybe then your lady-parts will feel at peace or some shit. But I still say we leave before it gets dark. And let’s not forget, thanks to Caboose’s big mouth, those furry guys know about our plans. What if they tell the Reds? They might try to come run us down tonight…"
Church rolled his eyes but nodded once with a grimace. Something told him that their already-ludicrous idea of leaving the base in search of answers wasn’t going to be as straightforward as he’d hoped. Not that I really thought it would be, anyway. He frowned and turned to leave the roof and rejoin the other two. But this shit is just getting ridiculous…
Red vs Blue © Rooster Teeth. Halo © 343 Industries. Concept by Myshu, assisted by The Department of Chupapology.
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