He’d cut through another two of the artifacts. But now things were getting a heck of a lot harder. It seemed the King wasn’t satisfied to let Joseph just have his way. The floor had now completely disappeared. While that wasn’t much of a thing to a spacer, the ceiling kept raining down in chunks. It didn’t make sense. The ceiling hadn’t been that thick to begin with. As the King carved off massive sections of it, you’d think it would disappear until there was nothing but a gaping hole above it. But the stone kept coming, and it did so fast, covered in blasts of crackling energy.
Joseph had to bring up his arms and produce fields to keep the hailing stones back. Once or twice, he just tried to take the attacks, but he wouldn’t do that again. Maybe it was their crippling energy, the fact they were being sent by the King, but they could do more than strike him. They could cut through his skin as easily as a knife through an overripe strawberry. These great gushing gashes were gouged down the side of his face now. Blood spurted out of them, trailed over his cheeks, and splashed over his collar. Sorry, what was left of his collar. He didn’t think a Coalition uniform had ever been forced to put up with as much damage as this. It was a miracle it was still holding on to his body in some fashion.
But it would be the last miracle he would get.
He desperately tried to attack the fourth artifact, but suddenly a huge chunk of stone came shooting toward him. It was far bigger than the entire ceiling combined. He had no clue where it had come from. All that mattered was the fact that if it struck him, he’d be dragged away from the artifacts. And maybe that was the point.
It was clear the King wanted to force Joseph down into whatever strange shaft was below him. Joseph certainly hadn’t found the time to investigate it. But even from here, his senses could tell him that waves of disruptive energetic force blasted through it continually. They were the very energy that ripped chunks out of the wall only to see them flee to another section.
He had no clue what it was. It might’ve been a driveshaft. He doubted that. It didn’t look as if it was involved in propulsion. Then he had to remind himself exploring the universe hadn’t been the Hendari’s ultimate goal. They’d already traveled the stars. They didn’t need technology to be able to take them to the furthest reaches of space. This shaft would have something to do with the King’s mind. Maybe it was there to bolster his psychic forces.
And maybe if Joseph was stupid enough to allow himself to fall into it, those very same psychic forces would grow until they’d squish him like an ant.
He screamed again, porting to the side, trying desperately to get away from that chunk of stone. It was the size of the entire room. While it managed to phase right through the King, no matter what Joseph did, he couldn’t phase through it. It was as if his ability to interact with matter as he saw fit was momentarily removed. So his only option was to fight his way through it.
He had to abandon the artifact he was working on, create the largest sword he ever had, and slash it above him as wildly as he possibly could. It wasn’t clear how thick this piece of stone was – wasn’t even clear whether the stone had decided how thick it would become. Because Joseph swore it started to grow, fattening up like a duck fed bread and butter for years.
He slashed at it wildly, but all the while, it pinned him, forcing him toward the driveshaft below.
Out of the corner of his eye, Joseph always paid attention to the King. Right now, he could see those greedy groping hands clutching toward his falling form. One or two mouths appeared, and they instantly snapped wide in snarling, satisfied smiles.
The King clearly thought Joseph was down. But the King was wrong.
Joseph didn’t know who was controlling this chunk of ceiling. He assumed it was the King, but maybe it had something to do with the artifacts, too. He could certainly see the eerie light emanating off them and playing over the falling ceiling.
He tried to slash his way out of the stone one last time, but he was dragged down to the mouth of the shaft.
This eerie, terrifying scream met his ears. He hadn’t heard it before. It seemed to only inhabit the shaft like a spider that would never leave its web. As he was forced to listen to it, it felt like a monster trying to rip right through his ears to get to his brain like a hammer to a nut.
Just as a debilitating blast of force struck him, something happened to one of the artifacts.
For a fraction of a second, the afterimages of the Observers came back. Not all of them – the ones Joseph had killed couldn’t return. But the rest of them suddenly shrieked. They all had to yank one of their hands off their artifacts and lock them on their throats. It was almost as if something or someone was attacking them.
It couldn’t be the King, and it sure as heck wasn’t Joseph, but it gave him the momentary advantage he required, and he finally cut through the descending ceiling. He blasted right through it, and nothing could stop him. The stone erupted out, turning to atomized rock dust and eddying smoke.
He floated there in the middle of the room for a fraction of a second as he caught his breath, or at least his chest punched out hard, further ripping the sides of his uniform. Then he shot toward the next artifact.
The afterimage of the Observers couldn’t remain. They were all distracted, too. Most of them had their heads yanked to the side as if they were all staring at something that gathered behind them. They grabbed their throats again. Finally he heard one let out a throaty, fear-filled screen. “You’re too weak to win against us, Queen. Too weak. The strong—” The guy didn’t even get a chance to finish his favorite saying. They all screamed again.
“Sally?” Joseph roared as he realized what was happening. Wherever she was, she was fighting the Observers off. She was alive.
And she was helping him.
So it was time to help her.
He knew what to do. He ported over to the closest artifact, and he started to attack it, letting all of the energy he possibly had blast up over his body then crackle into his sword.
The King continued to writhe in the middle of the room, but those gaping mouths didn’t shoot toward Joseph anymore. They didn’t curl into satisfied, cruel smiles. Instead, their screams combined to fill this cavern. Joseph just ignored it and concentrated on the artifact.
The Observers kept trying to throw sections of ceiling at him, but they were clearly distracted.
“Sally, wherever you are,” Joseph screamed at the top of his lungs, “just keep fighting. We’ve got this. Come on, Sally. I believe in you and always have.”