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Published in Italy
Fiction - Fantasy, Thriller

Date of Publication: 30 Nov -0001
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Flavio Verna Santonocito

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for Pnaramakhia


Two knights track down a dangerous monster lurking beneath Pnarakon, the City of Masks.
As they prepare themselves to spring their ambush on the beast, little they know that they are about to be dragged in the middle of an insidious conspiracy which threatens to shake the entirety of the Structure.
In a claustrophobic world where food and space are precious commodities and sunlight is only a distant memory, a Warrior, a Scion, and a Scholar will struggle through the echoes of fear and desperation resonating in the rusted-out corridors of an endless labyrinth.
Pulled into a vortex of political machinations, war, and madness, these lost souls will attempt to find a way out of the dreaded maze of steel and paranoid delusions upon which the Structure is built, as their sanity is constantly tested by vile betrayals, twisted sorcery, and eldritch horrors of forgotten times...

Chapter Two: Ambush in the Vrake's lair

“You can’t let him finish!” desperately complained the Pnarakonian. “He might blow up the entire layer!”

Callirienne had yet to understand what he was talking about, but his sudden, hysterical tone was starting to really worry her.

“Keep quiet!” she scolded him. “You’ll blow our trap! First I shoot the Vrake, then I’ll shoot the Trawler. If you’re so concerned, then shoot him yourself.”

Me? I can’t do that!” The young man sounded appalled at her suggestion. “But he must be stopped immediately,” he kept complaining. “I don’t think he knows what he’s doing. Maybe if I warn him...”

Hearing him moving away, Callirienne was forced to free one arm from the rifle to grab the Pnarakonian from his coat and drag him back to her side.

“You’re going nowhere and doing squat,” she hissed, holding him against the machine with her forearm while still trying to keep her eyes on the platform. A quick glance at him made her realize that he was wearing a strange set of goggles with multiple lenses and held a strange contraption in his hand.

What if there really is something wrong? she found herself thinking. He was an emissary of Pnarakon after all, and the Zakhai knew more about Tsamarkan than any other living person.

But if he’s wrong, I could ruin the trap! Bast could die!

She could feel the heart of the Pnarakonian thumping madly over her forearm.

“Just…give me a second,” she finally told him. “And be quiet.”

She had no way of warning Bast from where she was—not without alerting the Vrake and the Trawler as well. And the Vrake was not turning; whatever the Trawler was doing, it had the monster’s complete attention.

If he does not turn until the Trawler has done whatever he’s doing...But what is he doing?

She suddenly felt like there was no time to lose anymore; she had to make up her mind and act immediately.

Keeping one hand firmly on the rifle’s trigger and her eyes on the monster, Callirienne carefully moved her left hand to her belt, taking one of her pistols and balancing it over the barrel of the larger weapon.

Alright she reasoned to herself, I shoot the Trawler with the pistol. That will make the damned thing turn for sure, even if I miss. At that point, no matter what, I use the big exalist for the Vrake.

She took another few seconds to better aim with the pistol, targeting the man’s back, and considered her decision one last time, praying it to be the right choice.

Callirienne pressed the trigger. The pistol’s spring went off with a loud click, followed swiftly by the hissing of the bolt.

Callirienne saw the Trawler shudder and groan.

The Vrake turned its head almost immediately towards the origin of the noise. In that split second, she saw the green eyes of the beast looking straight into her own, and she felt her heart stop as primordial fear gripped her soul once more.

She hastily threw the pistol aside to better hold the rifle, but during her motion, the stress made her right hand clench too soon. A second, louder click followed the first; the projectile flew into the monster’s face, but missed the eye, bouncing over the Vrake’s beak without even leaving a mark.

She saw the monster’s legs contracting, ready to charge forward, but a third shot stopped its attack on start, reaching the creature from the opposite side of the platform. The Vrake twisted its neck and let out an incoherent screech that sent a cold shiver down Callirienne’s spine.

Hoping that Sebastophian’s shot had done more damage than hers, she left her post, already reaching for the second pistol, and recovered her spear left near the machinery.

Fear and anxiety did not allow her to form coherent thoughts; she heard the Pnarakonian screaming something at her side, but she was too agitated to understand his words. She only knew that she had to go on the platform and help Bast flank the monster.

She almost stumbled on one of the pipes on her way there and cursed herself for her clumsiness.

Callirienne reached the platform and passed by the Trawler’s body, who had crumbled over the control panel on the wall. The Vrake had already moved away; she could see its shadow closer to the hedge of the abyss. It was so fast that it was a blur. The monster kept hunched over itself, rapidly slashing with its long, straight foreclaws in quick, violent bursts. Callirienne could only imagine what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of the assault.

Sebastophian had to use his spear with both hands to deflect the incoming attacks, and even then, Callirienne could see that he was being forced into a desperate defense.

Her vision was limited. She still couldn’t see how much damage Bast’s first attack had caused, but she knew it had been done to the creature’s left eye. She needed to place herself on the Vrake’s right flank and try to unload her second pistol at point blank on its right eye.

The Vrake suddenly leaped forward, forcing Bast to throw himself to the side.

Knowing Sebastophian would need a few precious seconds to get back up, Callirienne charged the creature from her position, pinning her spear in the joint of its back leg.

Her bones ached on impact; she felt the spear bend and vibrate in her hand while the monster did not flinch. When she retracted the weapon, she could see a smudge of dark blood on its tip—a meager reward for her effort.

It barely even scratched it, she thought, a new surge of hopelessness gripping her mind.

The Vrake started to turn towards her, and Callirienne quickly stretched her other arm to aim at its face with the exalist.

The Vrake reacted faster; its claws rasped over the armor’s flutings in a spray of sparkles accompanied by an ear-piercing screech, then they cut through her right arm’s flesh, tossing her away.

Callirienne lost hold of her spear and let out a muffled scream as she rolled on the ground. For a few moments she was overcome by pain, her mind blurring and her limbs refusing to answer. She was terrified more than she had ever been during any other hunt. Desperately, she tried not to lose consciousness, praying for the Vrake not to come upon her to finish her off while she was lying there, completely defenseless.

When she finally managed to flinch and roll on her side to take a breath, the Pnarakonian’s voice reached her. The young man was still screaming for some reason.

“I can’t fix it!” he was shouting, standing next to the control panel where the Trawler had been only a few minutes before.

“We need to leave now!”

Callirienne barely had time to ask herself what the boy was doing up there in the open when the Vrake came upon her with a cold swish. She instinctively curled on herself, covering her head, but the monster was not after her. It leaped over her body, running towards the wall and the Pnarakonian.

Callirienne forced herself up and jumped behind the creature; she had still her last exalist and her sword, but she doubted she could do much damage with the blade.

It’s so fast, she thought, unable to keep up with the monster’s charge. The Pnarakonian let out a scream, trying to get away from the Vrake and stumbling on the Trawler’s corpse.

With little time to think, Callirienne reached the Vrake as it was turning around; she quickly lowered herself to avoid being wiped away by the monster’s tail. She stuck the exalist in its thigh, as close as possible to the scratch already made with the spear, and pulled the trigger shortly after.

The monster’s pained growl gave her only fleeting solace; the Vrake’s paw closed around her chest and over her arms, lifting her from the ground. Callirienne struggled, letting out a moan when the monster’s fingers pressed harder around the recent wound on her arm.

She saw the hateful, large eyes of the Vrake looking down on her through the slit of her helmet. One of them was half-closed and bleeding; its green iris still glimmered in the dark, piercing through the coat of black blood.

The monster brought the other paw up and moved it closer to wrap around her head.

Callirienne was completely terrified, paralyzed by fear and pain, unable to either think or move.

She heard somebody screaming, but the voice was distorted by the roaring of the monster and she couldn’t understand who it was or what was being said. The realization of being about to die completely overwhelmed her. She didn’t know if it was the Vrake’s magic sapping her resolve, or if maybe she’d never truly considered herself in mortal danger before.

It doesn’t matter anymore.

She closed her eyes. The pressure around her chest increased, followed by a surge of cold. The monster was still roaring; even as her senses grew dim, Callirienne could hear the overwhelming, thundering rumble echoing in her head.

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