The deep rumble and the rustle of the trees died down as the tremors weakened. Distant splashes continued to reverberate around the cavern.
“What was that?” Sebastian Blood asked, still gripping onto the nearest tree.
Ross Mental was looking up through the foliage towards the cavern’s glowing ceiling. “Something fuckin’ huge!” He said as the tremors faded completely.
Dragon Snarl was squatting nearby. He stood up and followed the foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s gaze. “The palace may have been destroyed.”
Ross Mental glared at the lesser bounty hunter. “If so then that’s even more motivation to get that fuckin’ traitor!”
Ahead the agonising screams of Sadie Stick could be heard once more.
“Come on!” Ross Mental said.
Sadie Stick ran up the hill, every step an excruciating round of torture as the splits in her deeply charred skin lengthened and widened. Blood was running freely down her legs. Thankfully there was little pain from the cauterised wound on her left shoulder where her arm used to be. Still, she was weakening fast, and she knew her life would soon give out, but something deep in her mind was motivating her to make this one last huge effort.
Reaching a stream she leapt up, jumping over the gurgling water with ease. She landed hard, screaming as the deep weeping wounds on her buttocks and thighs tore open even more. She gasped as she continued up what she believed to be the final slope. The agony of her injuries reached yet another height of intensity. The trees were beginning to thin out.
A voice called out from behind her. It was much closer than before. “You must surrender and submit yourself to confinement and examination.”
Sadie Stick did not respond. She did not even look back. She did not care. She was consumed with the desire to complete her final task. Nothing else, not even her pain, mattered anymore.
She reached the top of the slope. There they were, lined up in their thick steel cylinders on a wide plateau of polished stone. They were looking at her, their purple eyes glowing behind slits of thick tinted glass. Yet again the bounty hunter gasped.
With barely a pause, Sadie Stick leapt onto the stone plateau. As she ran she pulled on the release mechanism of her bodysuit. The remains of the suit fell away. She then drew a small blade from the remains of its sheath on her hip and without a conscious though began slicing through her own abdomen. She screamed as the scorched skin on her belly split open revealing the soft knot of organs beneath. She reached inside and screamed again as she began pulling out her own bloody intestines. She felt along the organ, searching for the hard spherical forms of the micro-grenades she had swallowed half a day before. She found them quickly at the top of her small intestine. She sliced it open, screaming once again as she squeezed out the grenades. She dropped the blade and held both grenades in her remaining right hand. She attempted to arm them.
The ‘Armed’ symbol failed to appear on either of the grenades’ tiny screens.
Sadie Stick was confused. As she approached to within twenty metres of the Superior Beings she attempted to arm the grenades again. Something grabbed hold of her right thigh and pulled fast. She heard a tearing sound. And then a second later she slammed into the stone floor, snapping several ribs. The grenades flew out of her hand and rolled across the smooth floor. Struggling to draw breath she watched them for a moment and then looked back. Standing behind her was the tall and slender form of THROB. He was holding on to her severed leg. She could see three others approaching behind him. “Traitor!” She shouted, turning back round. She noticed that the Superior Beings’ cylinders were approaching silently, gliding a few millimetres above the surface of the plateau. With a final desperate sense of purpose she began pulling herself towards her grenades.
Several voices spoke in unison. “YoUr DeViCeS wIlL nOt FuNcTiOn In OuR pReSeNcE.”
Sadie Stick screamed. She managed to grab one of the grenades. Awkwardly she attempted to arm it once again. When it failed to arm she threw it at one of the Superior Beings. It clanged off its cylinder and fell harmlessly to the floor. “You must die!” She yelled pathetically. “It is the only way!”
Weakening fast, the bounty hunter’s head slumped back onto the floor. Slowly, feebly, she rolled over and pulled herself across the smooth stone surface towards the Superior Beings, leaving a thick smear of blood in her wake.
Ross Mental stood next to THROB, who was still holding on to Sadie Stick’s leg, and watched as the treacherous bounty hunter continued her astonishingly dismal advance on the Superior Beings. Sebastian Blood and Dragon Snarl were standing just behind him.
As Sadie Stick inched her way forwards the foul-mouthed bounty hunter decided it was time to put an end to her attack. He stepped forwards.
“Do NoT ApPrOaCh.”
Ross Mental stopped.
“We WiLl EnD hEr ToRmEnT.”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter bowed. “Of course.”
The Superior Beings began to move. “AlL eXcEpT tHe MeChAnOiD mUsT tUrN aWaY.”
Realising immediately what was about to happen, Ross Mental turned. He looked at the two lesser bounty hunters, who were both still staring at the Superior Beings and Sadie Stick. “Turn around, you stupid fuckers!”
The two bounty hunters turned. A throbbing sound began to rise in volume. Dragon Snarl tried to sneak a look back.
Ross Mental frowned. “Try and look again and I’ll snap your fuckin’ arse bone!”
As the throbbing sound deepened Sadie Stick looked up. She blinked away tears to clear her vision. The Superior Beings had positioned themselves all around her, and their thick cylindrical steel cases were rotating slowly.
The cylinders started to rise.
With her mind almost overwhelmed with pain the bounty hunter was confused at first. The base of each cylinder remained near the ground, and as the rest of each cylinder rose up Sadie Stick could clearly see the bulging knotted form of what looked like a single dark purple foot revealed on each base.
As the cylinders rose gnarled and folded torsos were revealed. Sadie Stick was no longer confused. She felt a surge of terror join the pain in her mind as she realised what was happening. She knew that she should look away but an overwhelming sense of compulsion to watch the horrific unveiling took over. She could not resist.
Screaming, she watched as the jutting folds of the Superior Beings repulsive chins became visible. Thick cloudy saliva oozed over each one. Intense nausea grew within her as her attention flicked from one Superior Being to another. When the Superior Being’s wide concave noses were revealed she felt her stomach tighten violently. She vomited, sending bile and blood spraying across the polished floor. She gasped and then coughed, and then, without the chance to take a breath, she vomited again. She slumped onto her back, exhausted.
And then the purple eyes of the Superior Beings were revealed. With their cylinders hovering just above their heads, the four now naked and exposed Superior Beings stared down at the bounty hunter, their large wide eyes locked onto hers. Revulsion and fear triggered another intense contraction of the bounty hunter’s stomach. She vomited yet another mass of bile and blood, this time almost straight up. Her face and eyes were now covered in bloodied sick, but even though she could no longer see the Superior Beings an image of their horrifically nauseating forms remained fixed and sharp in her mind. Despite her weakness she wretched and vomited again and again and again.
She could not breathe.
She could not think.
With her mind overwhelmed by agony and terror, Sadie Stick fell into blackness.
The deep throbbing faded. The only sound was now the rush of the distant waterfalls.
Ross Mental found the urge to turn around almost uncontrollable. The fidgeting of the two lesser bounty hunters in front of him showed that he was not the only one.
Without delay Ross Mental turned. The four Superior Beings were back in their cylinders and were lined up a few metres away. In front of them, soaked in a mass of bloody vomit, was the legless, armless and severely burnt body of Sadie Stick. Her mouth was hung open, and the expression on her now unrecognisable scorched face was one of petrified astonishment.
After a few seconds Ross Mental looked up at the Superior Beings. He grinned. “Fuckin’ nice!”