"Hey, Aeryn, we're here to save you!"
Her head felt groggy and her eyes wouldn't focus. "Whu--"
"Uh, who the hezmana is this fapoota?"
Chiana was standing in the entrance to the antechamber, aiming a large pulse rifle in the general direction of the Empress. She loomed over Aeryn, from which she deduced that she was probably sprawled on the floor in a manner not befitting her dignity. The micron she moved she felt a splitting headache and a wave of nausea overcome her, but she straightened to a stand nonetheless.
"Hey, they have a Pilot, too!" said Chiana, cheerfully and all too loudly.
"Astute observation, stranger," said the Empress. "Are you always so keenly perceptive, not to mention respectful of your obvious betters?"
"Listen, tralk," said Chiana, drawing spirals with the barrel of her gun, "I got a pulse rifle and you got a weed-pitcher, so maybe you should be more respectful."
"Is it just you, then?" asked Aeryn, bracing herself against the wall and pressing a hand to her critical skull.
Chiana snorted and rolled her eyes. "That's it? Not even a, thanks for saving my eema, Chiana. Some people just can't--"
"Would you two like some privacy to resolve your issues?" asked the Empress. To Chiana she added, "I thought we were going to fight."
"What, like, a one-on-one, thing? Nah, I don't do that sort of dren." Chiana was half-smirking.
"Good," said the Empress, and without turning around issued what was obviously an order. "Kill her."
"What, that poor bastard?" said Chiana, now grinning ear-to-ear. "He's chained to the wall! What can he do that you can't with your pitcher?"
The Empress angrily leveled the three sharp prongs of her fork at Chiana, who did not look impressed.
"If you're looking for someone to cower from you," said Aeryn, "you're in the wrong sector."
"It's true," Chiana agreed. "No one here has any respect for their betters."
"That just means I have to teach you," snarled the Empress through gritted teeth, as she advanced on Chiana and Aeryn, heedless of the pulse rifle scope still trained on her.
Aeryn wondered if those things even worked in such tight quarters.
"Desce," cried the Helmsman from behind her, his voice grown noticeably weaker. "Desce, let it go, it's over. Everyone is dead."
"Nothing is over until I decree it so," said the Empress, unshaken.
"I'm afraid it's out of your hands."
Oh, good, another unexpected visitor. Bracing herself on one hand, Aeryn pushed away from the wall and turned to see a troll woman standing in the doorway, holding a pair of long needles, of all things.
"Demoness!" cried the Empress, turning her weapon towards the newcomer. "Come to die at my hand at last?"
"No," said the stranger idly.
Chiana turned to Aeryn, her rifle point wavering between the two aliens. "This is getting a little too strange," she hissed, "even by our standards."
Aeryn half-shrugged, then winced with pain. "Whatever war they're trying to start, it's not our problem. We're leaving the first chance we get."
Chiana nodded, but her attention was devoted to the unfolding events.
The woman called the Demoness glanced about her, unconcerned. "If this is what the end of trollkind looks like, it's not very impressive."
"Why are you here?" demanded the Empress.
"Testing out my new powers," said the Demoness, and grinned, revealing a mouth full of wickedly sharp teeth. "I wanted to see if I could really go to any time and place, no matter how distant. This is the last point in time I can reach. Which means, my beloved empress, that you will soon get your wish and kill me. Well, a future version of me."
"You don't seem too bothered by that," offered Chiana.
The Demoness spared a first glance for the two of them. "Not that it's any of your concern, but there are times when death is inevitable, and times when it is preferable. This is, or will be soon, both of those times. For me, and for that man over there."
"I extended the Helmsman's life," said the Empress dryly. "He will survive indefinitely, as he was meant to."
The Demoness laughed. "Imperial blood or no, you are no more able to defy destiny than I." She crossed her needles and pointed them at the Empress. "Will you attack, or allow these two strangers to leave?"
They stood and stared at each other for what seemed like hours. Aeryn grabbed Chiana's neck, and Chiana put one arm around her waist to support her, holding up a token resistance with the other. The air was tense and silent, but for the Helmsman's eery giggle breaking up in the background.
"I will come to die another day," said the Demoness, "and bequeath you the bonds and power that were mine."
"So dramatic!" whispered Chiana excitedly.
"No bonds will hold me!" exclaimed the Empress.
"That is yours to believe, if you choose," said the Demoness coolly.
"Very well," said the Empress, and leveled her culling fork. "Helmsman, set a course for Alternia. You two, get out of my sight. As for you, Demoness..."
She smiled sharply. "We shall meet again, soon for you, sweeps in the future for me." She took two steps to the side, unblocking the doorway.
Without looking back, Aeryn and Chiana walked away. When they were sure that they could not be heard, they broke into a run, Chiana propping up Aeryn with one arm and clutching the pulse rifle with the other. Once they were safely in the pod, they exchanged a look.
"Where do you find these people?" asked Chiana breathlessly.
Aeryn just laughed.
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