It was a cold and dark afternoon in Mongolia.
Swollen grey clouds hung low in the sky, casting ominous shadows over the wide expanse of snow-coated grassland below. The wind hardly blew so they sailed slowly through the air, only occasionally allowing the sun to shine its light upon the empty fields. Not a soul stirred here, not when it was minus 23 degrees Celsius and the chilly air threatened to freeze you to death.
Bataar stood atop a hill overlooking the white plain, a grim look on his face. The large man wore his traditional Mongolian garb – a coarse wool deel, thick trousers and leather boots – and his long black hair was tied back into a single braid. His yellow eyes were narrowed into slits scrutinising the landscape before him whilst he stroked his gruff beard with his right hand.
Right behind him, a large black mare wearing a saddle whinnied and pawed at the ground, clearly getting restless from waiting in the cold. Bataar responded by exhaling a thick cloud of steam from his nostrils.
“Patience, my friend,” said the Mongolian warrior, continuously playing his fingers along his facial hair, “I’m still looking.”
But looking for what, he thought to himself. It had been several days since he first got the gut feeling that a foreign presence – ‘presence’ was the best term he could find – was lurking within his territory. It first came as the impression that he was being watched during his daily patrols and quickly grew into a nagging certainty that kept him awake at night, even within the safety of his yurt. He couldn’t see anyone, or anything, nor could he hear anything other than the crunch of snow underfoot, but he was sure something was out there.
Bataar sighed a second time, before turning to grab his horse’s reins and leap up onto its saddle. Seated with his back held straight in the strong and defiant manner typical of Mongolian horse riders, he clucked his mare into a trot down the hill and onto the field.
She supposed it was the Russian in her, that even after four days of searching, she had yet to freeze to death. In some ways that was little relief; if she were dead, at least she would not have to be there any longer—but it was doubtful that even in death would her mission be deemed a failure and she reassigned. He would not let such a thing as her death slow her progress. Not when the One Spoken of in the Prophesies (she imagined it in italics in her mind) remained at large. Whose prophesies they were, how valid were they believed to be, and whatever they might speak of, she was not permitted to know. Only that he counted them an unacceptable margin for error.
So there Yelena was, just shy of the yearly half-way mark to her thirty-third birthday, and bundled in white winter clothing, following the spectroscopy readings fed to her through the Heads Up Display in her goggles. Her face was covered by a scarf and otherwise blocked from view by the fur liner of her down jacket. Her hands were freezing; she could not afford the lack of dexterity afflicted upon her by proper winter gloves, and so she wore only a thin leather driving glove, and kept each of her hands inside of her jacket pockets, buried under a set of iron-based chemical hand warmers.
It was in no way her preferred choice in winter holiday destinations. She might have been Russian by heritage, but she had lived far too long in the tropics. She would probably have frost bite on her nose before her body remembered its genes.
But in the meantime, a job was a job, and she left no evidence of her foot falls as she navigated the thick snow, and did not break a single one of the numerous shoots of grass pinned beneath the winter covering, and left nothing of her own behind to give her away. She suspected the target would be able to track her anyway, and in fact was actually hoping for it—the sooner they met, the sooner she would be able to take care of him and relocate to more comfortable latitudes.
But all the same she was a professional, and stealth had its place in professionalism. And it would not do to risk happenstance passersby stumble upon her at an inopportune moment.
Spikey Dokey: In Russia, when you become the admin of an internet forum, you do it until you die.
Spikey Dokey: Wether you want to or not.
AKA Clockwork, Original viper, Sariel, Grandleon
Several hours had passed since Bataar had resumed his search and still he found no foreign signs of life. There were some animal tracks here and there, mostly left by lone wolves, but nothing he didn’t immediately recognize. The sky had begun to darken yet he remained determined and continued to look, preferring to listen to his instincts than to believe that he was wandering aimlessly through frozen fields of bleak snow.
He narrowed his eyes and swept the horizon with his keen sight, but saw nothing. He stopped his horse and pricked his ears up, but heard nothing. He flared his nostrils and snorted a chestful of frigid air… And smelt the faintest trace of human breath.
The corners of his mouth raised into a micro-smile that reflected the satisfaction he felt at knowing that his hunch turned out to be true. Bataar could recognize the smell of a man out of a thousand and this was one fragrance he had never whiffed before. With a squeeze of his stirrups, Bataar launched his mare forwards into a gallop along the smell’s trail, sure to find the foreigner and put an end to the paranoia.
Surely enough, a lone walking figure came into Bataar’s view, barely standing out from its surroundings. As the Mongolian drew nearer, the silhouette’s outline became clearer and he soon realised that he was seeing the person from behind. He steadily slowed his horse down and drew to a halt a dozen metres away from the person dressed in white.
In a deep and commanding tone, Bataar asked the stranger, "Where are you going?"
She stopped and went still when she heard his voice. Yelena pulled her hands out of her pockets. The cold was bitter and struck her at once, but it was a necessary show of intent as she held her arms out and slowly begun to turn to face him. The Heads Up Display in her goggles traced the outline of the man on his horse, and flashed as it confirmed that he matched the profile of her assigned subject. There was just one problem—he was speaking Mongolian. Yelena did not know a word of Mongolian.
She rolled her eyes—it was just like him to fuck around with her like this—and began to enunciate slowly and with as much precision as she could muster in the extreme cold.
“Je ne comprends pas. Parlez-vous Français?”
Her proficiency at reading human body language was passable, if still leaving something to be desired for, but even at her distance—and the ability of her goggles to zoom in made it still easier—she could clearly determine that there was no recognition. He had no idea what she was saying, and probably did not even recognize the language that she was speaking.
“Izvini te, ja ne ponimaju. Govorite li vy po russki?”
Again there was no recognition, though the black mare upon which he was mounted shifted its head to the left in a fashion that almost looked as if it were acknowledgment. But no, that was certainly just a coincidence—why would a Mongolian horse speak Russian?
“Wakarimasen. Nihongo o hanasemasuka?”
She was reaching now, she knew. Her target possessing a passable knowledge of Russian had at least been plausible, but he clearly was not well traveled or well read enough to have picked up a less common language.
“I didn't understand you. Do you speak any English?”
Having exhausted her meager language skills she shook her head and sighed with a slight huff. Then shrugging out of her disappointment—most of them talked too much anyway—she pulled a Glock 33 Subcompact across the quantum barrier and materialized it into the gloved palm of her right hand. Less than fifteen meters—it was easier than a bottle shot—and being mounted on a stationary horse made it even easier as she leveled her weapon at her target and took the shot.
Bataar was strong.
Bataar was tough.
Bataar was a fearless warrior and a ferocious fighter.
But – and there’s always a ‘but’ – Bataar was uneducated in the ways of the world.
He had never travelled beyond the Mongolian border because he never felt comfortable going that far from his village, lest he not be able to get back in time to protect it. His village did not adhere to the modern ways of television sets, automobiles and hunting rifles because the elders believed such commodities interfered with their communion with the grassland and their god, Tengger. No external influence had been able to change his village’s traditions in the past millennia and up until now, no one there saw a need for change.
Yelena, dressed in white, speaking foreign tongues and wielding foreign weapons would change that.
The initial surprise Bataar felt at seeing the pistol materialize from thin air was quickly ousted by the rush of battle fever that surged through his body as Yelena’s bullet hit him square in the chest. The gunshot’s loud bang startled Bataar’s horse and it whinnied fearfully as it rose up on its haunches, toppling its rider backwards onto the snow. The large man landed heavily on his back as the beast broke into a gallop and ran for its life.
Bataar’s shield, previously hitched onto his horse’s saddle, now lied flat on the snow besides Bataar. Ignoring the lancing pain in his chest, the warrior reached for the bambai and rolled sideways towards it, picking it and himself up in one deft motion. His free hand disappeared within his deel’s front flap before reappearing with a bagh nakh, a studded glove with blades affixed on its knuckles. As he did so, Yelena’s flattened bullet dropped from the weapon's central blade – it had saved his life yet bore no scratch, nor mark to show for it.
With his shield held high to protect his torso and the lower half of his face from frontal attacks and his curved claws poised in the other hand, the Mongolian warrior was now on guard and ready for action. He wouldn’t let the woman get the jump on him again, not if he could help it. His face took on a snarling look as his eyes became thin slits, his jaw tensed and his lips parted to show clenched teeth. His mind was focused on the gun more than the lady holding it – he needed to disarm her if he was to have a fighting chance.
In response to Bataar’s thought, two Mongolian wolves popped out of thin air besides Yelena and immediately set upon her arms, claws and fangs bared. Their jaws were more than strong enough to shred a man to bloody bits and the ferocity of their sudden attack left no doubt as to their murderous intent.
It was like dancing across the surface of a murky lake. Sometimes she floated across the surface, and other times she skipped across it, like a stone thrown from the shore. Her hand whispered across the ripples of the surface, and her feet braced against it, but she never sank beneath—unless she wanted to. She could dive, and cut through the water, if she wanted; but it was too dark, and she could see only her own reflection—and not what was behind the restless curtain.
Yelena stood, cold in the snow, her breath freezing like cold wool in her lungs. The pair of Tibetan wolves, their coats and ash gray color and their legs shorter compared to timber wolves, were not so encumbered. Their feet barely touched the surface as they glided across, facing off against Yelena on opposite sides. They were silent as they hunted her, growling only as they lunged, each through the air, and each snapping for her hands as she outstretched her arms.
And Yelena stood, still in the heavy snow, letting herself begin to sink into it as she planted her weight against the firmness of the ground. And as she stood there, she danced in place, and in the lake in her thoughts. She pressed her dominant right hand against the surface of the gloomy water, just hard enough against the pressure of surface tension for her gun to sink beneath the surface and into the unknown void that lay beyond. And then, as her hand was wet, she let go, and her weapon sank beneath the surface, and sank out of reality.
She reached both hands across the quantum barrier again, and when she was done had retrieved a pair bulky alien weapons. Over her thin leather gloves, she had obtained what looked like a heavier, segmented bracer made from thick armored metal plates. It covered her forearms and the back of her hands, bulky, and nearly two full inches thick of excess mass. She clenched both of her hands as the wolves prepared to bite into her, and her fingers wrapped around the trigger mechanisms of her new weapons: a pair of thin horizontal bars in the palm of her hands, activated by squeezing them together through the act of making a fist.
There was a sharp whining whistle, like the sound a bullet that was not propelled by an explosion might make, as her bracers opened up and fired. Eight six inch metal darts burst out of each of her wrist-launchers as the jaws of the wolves first began to close around her hands. Their flesh stretched and ripped as their jaws were blown apart and their bodies ripped opened. The sixteen darts melted through the snow impacted deep into the ground and kept going until they found bedrock and shook the earth, and the red blood of the wolves stained Yelena's white winter clothes—and as the rest of the bits of the wolves scattered somewhere in between.
Yelena let her weapons sink across the infinite darkness between universes and realities and, once again, was left unarmed—until a millisecond later. Once again she held a simple semiautomatic pistol in her right hand and ,as she shifted into a firing stance and took aim at Bataar, she once again fired a .357 caliber bullet right at the center of his chest.
Blood, guts, gibs and gore; by Yelena’s hand, two wolves were no more.
Her hands moved swiftly and when she was done, in her grip appeared a gun.
Oh so calm, oh so steady, she raised her firearm, finally ready.
The gunshot did nothing to change the rhythm of Bataar’s rapid footfall; he charged Yelena with his shield held high and her bullet pinged harmlessly off of its bronze surface. Now within melee range, having closed the gap between him and her during his dash, the Mongolian pulled back his shielded arm and swung it forwards in a fierce backhanded strike.
The snarling wolf’s head engraved on his bambai slammed into Yelena’s gun-toting arm with the full force of a sprinting giant throwing its weight into the mightiest of shield bashes. The pistol flew from its owner’s hand, batted sky high before landing far off in a puff of powdery snow. Thrown off balance by the impact of the blow, Yelena staggered as her arm went wide.
His yellow eyes locked onto Yelena’s, Bataar quickly followed up with a savage swipe at her chest with his bladed fist weapon. It fell in a diagonal slash, aiming to slice her to ribbons from her shoulder down to her hip.
Yelena bit back through the pain, and through the gasp that was threatening to form (and that would probably have frozen her throat in the cold Mongolian air) as Bataar struck her. Her Glock pistol went flying—she would have to retrieve it later. Thankfully the programming in her goggles had already plotted that trajectory, and set it aside for her, otherwise it may have been difficult to find in the snow.
She pulled two new firearms, of two different makes and configurations, into her hands as her enemy sent her reeling on her feet. The first, in her left hand, was a dark green weapon with cobalt trim: an unusually rounded—nearly egg-shaped except for the grip—pistol whose barrel looked more like the convex lens aperture on a motion detector. As her sky blue eyes met Bataar's grimacing yellow, through the obscuring tint of her goggles, she was happy for the somewhat awkward girth of her new weapon.
It had materialized just in place to catch Bataar's knuckle duster, the top of her weapon wedged between his knuckles their outcropping foot long blades, locking his weapon against hers. She had no time for it at the moment, trapped in a life and death situation, but her goggles were busy. They were scanning his glove weapon—bagh nakh—and the bronze shield that he carried strapped to his other arm—bambai.
She would have to look at it later, when she was not fighting to stay alive.
The second gun had emerged from the other side of the quantum barrier and into her right hand, which had been sent flailing for a near-deadly second by the crashing impact of Bataar's shield. It looked more like a toy than a real firearm: or like a weapon belonging to a technology themed supervillain. More than anything, it had a vaguely insectoid, but also a sterile, laboratory, quality to its design. It looked almost like an old video camera—or a police radar gun—with the handle and trigger fixture of a pistol. Predominantly black, it was covered above the grip and at the end of the barrel (where there was also a three pronged grasping claw) with a multi segmented pearl-white shell. Bataar's blow had twisted her in place, and less than two seconds after his initial strike, her arm was nearly pointed behind her as she fired. Her strange new weapon flashed with blue light as she clicked the trigger.
She grimaced slightly as he bore down upon her with his superior mass and leverage; she was definitely not strong enough to shake him off, at least not in such heavy snow. But she had an advantage that superior strength could not buy, and as she pulled the trigger of her blue gun, he was thrown off of her by a pulsating, rippling, shock front of rapidly pressurized atmosphere. She whirled her torso back across her center-line as fast as she could, reorienting herself, as she rapidly centered her strange pearl-and-black weapon and fired it for a second time.
There was no projectile, no burst of force, no stream of cohesive light as the odd gun fired. There was only a strange disconnect with the space immediately behind Bataar, from the rest of his surroundings. It was like there was a flat, body sized mirror behind him, backed in a thin halo of light the color of Yelena's eyes, and reflecting not the world in front of it but rather his enemy's unguarded back. And as he passed through it, Yelena spun on her body's vertical axis as best the snow would let her: and she fired the cobalt gun in her left hand a second time.
Another burst of concussive force struck Bataar as he exited the orange glowing portal that had formed behind her. He was caught painfully upright between the two neutralizing shock fronts, and Yelena had already burst into motion before he could touch the ground again.
She dropped the cobalt gun across the quantum barrier, immediately, as she broke into a run, and shoved her portal generating gun over the barrier and instantly into her other hand. Her right arm felt like it might have a fracture from Bataar's shield, the cold was only making it worse, and the weight of carrying a weapon even more so.
She stepped on her fallen Glock and used her foot to push it beneath the surface of reality, and back to wherever her weapons went when she had no need of them. She fired the portal gun once into the distance and once more into the ground a few meters in front of her, before dropping it too out of local reality.
Before she dove through the new portal Yelena pulled a large silver gun, about eight or nine inches long and about as heavy as a chunk of lead, into her left hand. The red, magnetic field generation, rings on the inside of the barrel flashed five times as she strafed bursts of overcharged blasts of superheated plasma at the rapidly recovering nomad. And then she was gone.
As she was deposited close to two hundred meters away, the portal had closed behind her, and she took stock of her situation. She was lucky that the CPSF gun's design prevented recoil or opposing shock fronts, otherwise that first trick would have more likely have killed her than injured her enemy. She had burned all twenty of the P-66's charges in just five shots. She pulled the magazine—G-cap, she remembered, though she could not say from where that knowledge came—out of the diagonal slot in the top of the energy pistol's rear fixture. She discarded it across quantum barrier without delay, and quickly inserted a new one.
The HUD of her goggles fed Bataar's new relative position vector to her, for her to either track, or to anticipate his own continued hunt against her. She pulled up the scans that her goggles had taken during her brief exchange: quick summaries of the elemental composition of the Mongolian's bagh nakh and bambai, their crystalline structure and temper, predicted strength to weight ratios, and position of significant grain boundaries and fracture points, along with quick graphical renderings.
But she had nothing useful on his physiology yet. Their exchange had been too brief, and mapping and categorizing genetic and phenotypical anomalies took more time than scanning a few pieces of metal. She needed more information in order to ensure that she would be able to kill him and successfully complete her mission assignment. She needed to know his bodies tolerances for damage and strain. Unless she just got lucky and found a chance to snipe him from a distance, she would have to engage him again.
What the fuck… Was that sorcery?
Bewildered, shocked, dazed and confused, Bataar lay flat on his face in the snow. The force of the blast had blown out his deel, leaving only ripped tatters to dangle from his large frame. The leather cuirass he wore underneath, however, was intact – you couldn’t tell it just endured two blasts from alien firearms.
The warrior swore he’d later tell the elders from the village that the legends are true – that his armour really is indestructible – but for now he felt too winded and nauseated to rejoice. Bataar had never been teleported against his will before nor had he ever been knocked around by concussive blasts of invisible energy. He was hurt and disoriented; not only did he feel like his ribcage had been squeezed to breaking point, he also felt the kind of sickening dizziness you get when you spin quickly on the spot for too long.
Bataar winced as he took in a deep breath and exhaled a large cloud of steam. Then his arms pushed his body off the floor and he propped himself up into a half-kneeling, half-crouching squat just in time to see Yelena fire off five plasma bolts at him.
The instant Bataar’s mind registered this new attack, five wolves burst from the snow in front of him and hurled themselves towards the incoming plasma projectiles. Unlike the previous wolves, these ones’ eyes were coal black whilst their fur was as white as the snow from which they came. Their open jaws revealed black gums and tongues and immaculate white fangs. There was nothing natural about their appearance or their behavior, for these weren’t natural Mongolian wolves.
Thank Tengger the Sky Father for the blessings he sends my way…!
Tengger, god of wolves and the Mongolian grassland, cared much for the survival of his champion, Bataar. So much so, in fact, that he would readily sacrifice other minions to preserve his strongest follower; each of Tengger’s wolf spirits caught an energy bolt in their mouths and instantly flashed out of existence, taking the plasma threats far from their intended victim. Their departure was as sudden as their arrival, here and gone in the blink of an eye.
Bataar remained hunkered on the snow for a second longer before rising to his feet, his eyebrows scrunched into a frown and his yellow eyes staring coldly at the bleak horizon line. Despite the poor weather conditions and darkening sky, Bataar had no trouble pinpointing Yelena’s exact location using senses other than sight; his nostrils twitched as he picked up her scent and he quickly turned to face her, shield held high for defense.
Battle fever once again crept its way over Bataar’s mind as he lunged into another full on dash towards his opponent. This time, large white wolf spirits phased into reality beside him, leaving thick tracks in the snow where their massive paws ploughed through. First one wolf came, then two more, then three more… Within seconds a dozen snarling beasts were either side of the Mongolian fighter, all charging towards the Russian lady.
One wolf, noticeably larger than its counterparts, moved to run in front of Bataar. In response, the warrior leapt onto its back and leaned forward to keep his head low and his armoured chest as close to the wolf as possible, riding it like a wild horse. As soon as he did so, the pack picked up speed; no longer obliged to run as slow as a human, the wolves took longer strides and kicked harder against the ground.
The spirit’s white fur already made them hard to distinguish from the environment without them moving at such speed. Now, running together in such a tightly knit formation, the group of wolves really seemed like one large white mass with many black eyes and snapping fangs. Several of the wolves even began leaping up, over and in front of the pack, kicking up large puffs of powdery snow in the process to camouflage Bataar and his mount.
The wolves’ charge began as a beeline towards Yelena then suddenly swerved to the left before swinging to the right. Just as they leapt, they meant to throw off the gun-toting enemy’s aim by moving in an erratic pattern while closing the gap between them. Moving as one, Bataar and the wolves bore down upon their prey to tear it apart.
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