Snakes in Space
rating: +7+x

“Hand over the Tome.”

I kept my revolver steady and aimed at these new figures before us. It was obvious they weren’t any ally of the Diamondbacks or the Library. If I had to guess, they were probably friends of the Bookburners in Sarvil, come to collect their prize. For a moment I thought about calling out to them, but Gildhel beat me to it.

“Unless you want me to blow your fucking brain out that cardboard box you call a skull, I suggest you step back.”

There wasn’t a hint of fear in his voice and nor did I expect there to be any. Gildhel held the seat of Second in the Diamondbacks for a reason, he was a man of little words and tremendous actions. Marlowe, on the other hand, I could feel was just as nervous as I was. Still, we all kept our guns aimed forward at our respective figures in the darkened cavern. The figure that had demanded the Tome took another step, as if to egg on Gildhel.

”No need for such hostilities. Here, how about some light?” he said as he snapped his fingers.

Suddenly, a series of metallic clicks would resonate through the cavern. In quick succession, a series of bright lights shone down on all of us in attendance. The area now illuminated, we could finally see our assailants.

The man in the lead, who had ordered us to hand over the tome, wore the uniform we’d seen dozens of times over in our encounters with the Bookburners. Likewise, the others who hand encircled us wore similar uniforms and carried matching rifles. Marlowe and I stayed silent, letting Gildhel take the lead in the discussions.

“How about y’all fuck off back to whichver Earth you crawled your way out of and let us get back to our mission?“

Well, so much for negotiations. Thanks Gildhel. I gave a silent prayer to the Creator that Gildhel had something up his sleeve and wasn’t just being his usual grumpy old self.

”You won’t be completing your mission, servant of the Serpent. Now if you’re quite done stalling, either hand over the Tome or we will be forced to open fire.” The man replied as he took aim with his pistol. I could feel the stares of all his soldiers on us, each ready to open fire given the command. The only thing stopping them was the possibility of accidentally hitting the book.

“Gildhel, tell me you got something.” Marlowe asked.

“Yea, I got something alright.” Gildhel replied with a chuckle that I didn’t like in the slightest.

Before I could ask Gildhel what he meant, we’d suddenly be falling down. Looking up and seeing the Bookburners staring down at us through a circular hole, I’d immediately realize what Gildhel had done and how. His weapon, made using a shard of the Creator, allowed him the ability to open Way portals nearly anywhere. However, if he didn’t concentrate first, him and anyone else taken would find themselves in a random destination. In fact, it was a random destination we found ourselves in as our trio fell into a deep snowbank.

Marlowe was the one that grabbed my arm first, hoisting me to my feet. Giving a quick glance at our surroundings, it appeared that we’d been taken to some arctic planet. The Way portal that had taken us to this frozen tundra was still open and would remain so for quite awhile. Just enough time for a Bookburner-

Sure enough, one of the soldiers from before suddenly fell from the Way portal, landing only a few feet away. However, before he could raise his weapon a bullet whizzed between Marlow and myself, making contact with his chest and blowing a sizable hole through him. The snowbank behind him was immediately stained a crimson red as what were once his insides splattered across them.

“Keep moving! Next portal’s up!” Gildhel roared in our ears, pushing us towards a newly made Way directly behind us. As we jumped through it, we could see more soldiers arriving in the frozen tundra. While they’d open fire on us, none would hit their mark as we found ourselves descending into another new landscape.

This world was a stark contrast to the previous one, instead a scorching desert devoid of nearly any flora. In the distance, gigantic humanoids the size of skyscrapers shambled their way across the arid landscape with their heads above the clouds. One of the faster soldiers had managed to enter the Way only a few moments after us and I turned to see him jumping out of the Way. However, his feet would never make contact with this world as I raised my own revolver and fanned the hammer, sending three bullets dead center into his chest. Pushed back by the force of the gunfire, the man’s body was sent careening back into the Way and into the path of his incoming comrades.

“Good fucking shot!” Marlowe commented as he clapped me on the shoulder.

“Don’t fucking dawdle. Next way is open! We gotta shake them!” Gildhel yelled at us both as he grabbed us by the shoulders and pushed us into the next Way.

“Gildhel, please tell me you know what you’re doing!” I yelled as we traversed through the open Way.


Why hadn’t we hit the ground yet?

Looking back from the Way we’d entered, all I could see was clouds as we were sent hurtling downwards. We were falling, we were falling fast.

“Gildhel, another Way would be great about now!” Marlowe screamed from above me. I glanced back just in time to see a trio of Bookburners fall out of the Way. From their screams, it was pretty obvious they were just as surprised as we are.

“Heads up! We got more!” I called out to Marlowe and Gildhel. With the swift precision given to us by the Creator, we spun in the air to face our pursuers. Our guns rang out in unison and each of the Bookburners were granted matching holes in their heads.

“Alright, Way coming up! Get ready!” Gildhel yelled over the roaring wind.

The distinct feeling of entering yet another Way washed over me as we fell into the next portal. This was quickly followed by a more painful sensation, that of drowning. The Way had opened into somewhere underwater. Desperately, I swam upwards, hoping for some slight reprieve. I was idly aware that both Gildhel and Marlowe were beside me, also desperately trying to swim upwards and reach the surface.

It was just too far away, though. We weren’t going to reach the surface in time. We were going to die here, buried under the tumultuous waters of an ocean on a random planet. These thoughts filled my mind and just as I felt myself lose any hope of escape, a series of elongated arms shot down from above and wrapped themselves around us. Carefully, they brought us up to the surface and out of harm’s way.

The creature that had hoisted out of danger was a squat and fat figure who sat in a boat half his size. Still holding onto us, he gave us a curious look as if we were some strange sort of fish. Perhaps, in his eyes, we were just that.

“Hey, big guy! Mind letting us down?!” Gildhel called out to the creature. It seemed to be startled by his sudden vocalization and dropped us down into the water. Either out of fear or a desire for no further trouble, the creature began to paddle away using it’s series of long arms.

“Alright, Gildhel. I think we lost them. Mind taking us to the Library, now?” I asked, completely exhausted after the whole cat and mouse chase we just went through.

“One more jump, just to make sure we’ve lost them. Plus it’d be a bad idea to open a Way in the middle of an ocean that leads to the Library, don’t you think?”

He wasn’t wrong, that’d probably cause quite the uproar. I wasn’t really keen on incurring the Archivists’ wrath anytime soon.

Gildhel opened another Way and I gave a silent prayer to the Creator that this one would lead to somewhere half-way decent. Knowing our luck as of late through, that wasn’t going to happen.

We swam through the water and into the opened Way, Gildhel in the lead and me taking up the rear. Once again, for what was hopefully the second to last time, we were sent hurtling through Todash space and towards the next world. I threw a glance backwards and wasn’t the least bit surprised to see a squad of Bookburners on our heels. These guys were going to do anything to get their hands on the Tome and had enough people that they could just keep throwing men at us.

When we exited the Way, we immediately found ourselves in what could only be described as a primitive camp in the middle of a prairie of some sort. Tall and lanky figures wrapped in extravagant robes had once been meandering nearby, but upon our arrival spun to face us with spears and curved swords. No doubt they considered us possible intruders that came to either attack their camp or steal from them. They shouted at us in a language unheard by any of us until that point.

A moment later, the squad of Bookburners came out of the portal and aimed their weapons towards us. Our situation had turned into a mexican standoff of sorts, with us pointing at each other and the robed aliens pointing their weapon at us. Amidst the chorus of alien voices shouting at us, Gildhel would be the first to speak in the common tongue.

“Let’s all come down, now! We aren’t here to hurt any of y’all! These guys over here are the bad guys.” He lowered his weapon and signalled to both Marlowe and I to follow. We did so with some hesitation, but lowered our revolvers to show the natives we indeed meant no harm.

However, the Bookburners had no such plans. One of the natives that had strayed too close to one of the soldiers was shot in the head nearly immediately, a spray of bluish blood splattering across what was most likely one of his comrades. The other natives were advancing before his body hit the floor, thrusting their spears towards the soldiers. Despite the vast difference in weaponry, they stood no chance as dozens of spears ripped through them.

Meanwhile, we had kept our weapons down and out of the way of any of the aliens, making sure to be as least threatening as possible. The tallest of the aliens, who I presumed to be their leader, approached Gildhel. He pointed at the Bookburner corpses then at us.


What was he trying to say? Was he asking if we were comrades of the dead soldiers? Gildhel gave him a glance before drawing his revolver and shooting one of the corpses in the head.

“That answer your question, bud?”

The alien let out a throaty chuckle, or what I presumed to be a chuckle and clapped Gildhel on the shoulder. It seemed that he understood the soldiers were not allied with us.

“Alright, Gildhel. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Marlowe said as he threw an uneasy glance at the natives that had once again encircled us.

‘Yea, sure thing. Just one…Oh. Ah, shit.”

“What? What happened?”

Gildhel gave us both a shrug as he holstered his weapon. “Out of juice. We’re gonna be here awhile.”

The aliens were actually quite hospitable and offered us no small amount of food and water. To them, who had never seen weapons or powers like ours, we were no doubt some kind of otherworldly figures to them of great interest. It was probably that reason that their elder came to us with a proposition.

Through much trial and error and quite a bit of drawing, they communicated to us that they were in need of help repelling an enemy force. This was a war camp, set on the edge of their territory. The enemy, a neighboring tribe, were planning on marching through this area to their central city. According to them, we could turn the entire tide of the battle in their favor.

“What’s the plan, Gildhel? We just wait out your revolver and leave or are we staying to help?” I asked as I took a sip from one of the wooden cups offered to us.

Gildhel furrowed his brow as he silently looked over the drawings layed out for us from the natives. “We can’t leave, not after they took out those Bookburners for us. You remember the Creator’s Oath.”

Of course we knew it, it was pretty much a requirement to memorize it to become a Diamondback. Part of the Oath was to never leave any debt unpaid, even if it was to a complete stranger.

“It’s been a hell of a day. First a gunfight through dimensions and now we’re fighting alien natives in some backwater planet.” Marlowe said with a chuckle. He was right, it’d certainly been an interesting day, even by our standards.

“Let’s all get some shuteye, attack is starting first thing in the morning.” Gildhel replied, laying down on one of the blankets provided by the natives.

The natives, whom we had come to learn were named the Tukati, provided all three of us with mounts to ride into the battle. They were large creatures, resembling some strange offspring of a boar and a bear. We were in the vanguard, at the forefront of the battle against these would-be invaders. The enemy, who we saw across the prairie, wore much the same garb as our Tukati friends, except were much more squat and compact. However, they had among them individuals we had not expected to find in the midst of this alien civil war.

Off-world mercenaries.

A dozen or so alien mercenaries rode in the forefront of the battle, armed to the teeth with laser rifles and even more dangerous looking weaponry. They'd probably been paid quite handsomely by the other side in the form of minerals and fuel for their ships. From what I remembered Gildhel telling me in my first few years working as a Diamondback, mercenaries from off world were known to take part in small scale battles on primitive planets in exchange for goods. There was usually little risk involved in such battles considering the difference in weapons. It wasn't going to be like that this time, however.

Our armies met in the middle of the prairie with a thunderous clash. It wasn’t my first time on a battlefield, but you never quite got used to such a place where death made its home so readily. With the mercenaries ahead of us, we focused our efforts first on taking them out before they became an issue. While Gildhel had already shown off his power granted to him by his shard, I hadn’t yet shown off my own trump card. I felt Varm, my revolver, begin to hum in my hand. One moment I was in front of them and the next moment I was behind. That was the power granted to me by my shard of the Creator, short range teleportation. I took aim at the closest merc and fired, my bullet exploding what had once been his skull. Gildhel and Marlowe would follow suit, taking out two others with ease.

Seeing one of the mercenaries just behind Marlowe, I fired another bullet that would just barely graze his cheek before striking the merc’s throat, killing him instantly.

“Watch where you’re shooting man!” Marlowe called out, holding his hand up to the scratch on his cheek.

“Sorry about that!”

In all, the battle lasted another two hours before the enemy was driven away. Most of the mercenaries had fled halfway through the battle, probably because they realized the risk outweighed the gain. The Tukati were extremely grateful for our help and even offered to host a feast for us, but Gildhel decline on our behalf. We still had a mission to do and we couldn't sit around and wait for the Bookburners to catch up. Just as the leader of the Tukati finished handing over our rewards, one of his scouts arrived in a frantic state. It took a few minutes for him to explain what he'd saw, but eventually we came to learn that the Bookburners had been spotted close by and apparently had an entire platoon in tow. We were good at fighting, but we couldn't win against that many. After instructing the elder to take his forces and leave the area, we took our leave of the planet.

We quickly returned to the Library and the Tome of Sarcavo was handed back to the High Archivist, completing our mission. Atleast, that’s how it should have gone. Instead we found ourselves in the midst of a burning Library and beset on all sides by Bookburner forces. Patrons lay scattered across the hall we'd arrived in, many either on death's door or already gone. Ahead of us a group of Wordsmiths was keeping an armored mech unit belonging to the Bookburners at bay using stasis magic, but only just barely. Two Bookburners rounded the corner and took aim at us, but before they could fire an insectoid tail suddenly plunged down from high above the bookcases, wrapping around both of them and squeezing with horrific force. One moment they were soldiers, the next they were Bookburner paste. The High Archivist descended down only a few seconds later, his hundred or so eyes coming to rest on the bag holding the Tome of Sarcavo.

"So, you were able to retrieve it. Good, we'll need it for what's to come."

Marlowe took a step-forward, narrowly avoiding stepping in the viscera and gore on the ground. "For what, High Archivist?"

"For taking back the Library, of course."

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