For a moment the strawberry wobbled, each set of eyes staring down at it as I held my breath. Everyone was still, save for the twitching in Sentient’s chest and Esuri’s face, causing the shadows to dance on the walls, and for a slight shift in weight of Airomem’s posture.
Then Esuri lifted his foot and brought it down on the strawberry, pressing until it was flat against the metal, juice and pulp oozing out from underneath his tattered shoe. And Sitient raised his eyes, his mouth opening to whisper a single word.
Together they lunged, covering the distance between us in an instant as Airomem’s arms shot out, sending each careening against opposite walls. And as they bounced away and recovered, I felt a thick hand grip my collar as Segni dragged me in front of his own body. Behind us Nean shrieked and sprinted away, his footsteps echoing in slow motion in my mind as Esuri and Sitient attacked again.
Esuri’s knife was in his hand this time as he lept forward, slashing downward from above as Segni’s grip tightened on my collar, his fingers wrapping around the fabric until it cut off my breathing and I saw black in the corners of my vision. I kicked backwards as the knife came down, Segni twisting me to his left to meet the silver edge that was nicked dozens of times along its length, the short handle stained red where it was clasped in Esuri’s fingers. His enraged face was reflected in the blade as is neared my throat, spittle flying from his mouth as he twisted, the blade mere inches away from my skin as it exploded in a shower of sparks.
Reaching around mine and Segni’s shoulders, Tom’s knife had met Ensuri’s, his own arm absorbing the blow as if it he were catching a moderate weight in the heavy room. Then Segni squealed, a high pitched sound that flooded directly into my ear as his hand loosened and I bucked away, turning to see Sitient at his right, his eyes alight with fury.
And twisting the knife that had just plunged deep into Segni’s exposed side as blood spurted onto his hands, and Esuri reared backwards to attack once again.
But then there were two flashes of bright blue light as Airomem stepped forward, an arm extended towards both Esuri and Setient with one of the peculiar black rectangles in each hand, the blue light buzzing between two sharp metal prongs on the end. With a jabbing motion she simultaneously jammed one into each of their torsos and they were thrown backwards, screaming as their muscles locked tight and they shook on the ground, their jaws bulging and necks bent.
“Run!” Airomem shouted, pointing towards the door, “They won’t be down long! More will surely be coming!”
And as soon as the words left her throat bodies began pouring through the door at the end of the hall. Dozens of them, screeching as they pushed off each other with too thin arms, and ran on too thin legs, and fought amongst themselves to be first with flashes of blue light and the brandishing of knives.
I turned, slamming into Segni’s stomach as he continued to howl,clutching at his side where the knife handle still protruded, his face white and fingers red.
“Segni, run!” I shouted, pushing him, but he barely stumbled backwards. Behind us, the mass of limbs advanced as Ensuri and Stitient started to rise, each now holding a knife in one hand and one of the black rectangles in the other.
“I can’t!” Segni shouted, “Your chief is wounded! Stand, stand and defend me, your chief! Avenge me!, teach them who their true leader is!”
The horde was a third of the way now, and picking up speed, their calls more frantic, their movements more fluid.
“Go!” Shouted Airomem, strobing the blue light devices, “Go! Now! They will have no mercy!”
“Then we shall have no mercy!” Shouted Segni, “Defend me, fight for your chief! In front, get in front of me!”
Behind Segni Tom stooped down, lowering his shoulder underneath Segni’s arm and pulling him into the air as he began to kick. Then Tom started to run with Segni, clearing the way for us to pass as Segni struggled, then eventually reached a hand down to his side and pulled the crimson knife free a quarter of the way to the door.
“Cowards! This ship belongs to *me*! It is *mine*!” Segni shouted, and slashed downwards, cutting deep into Tom’s tricep. With a started yelp Tom dropped Segni to the ground where he writhed in drops of his own blood as Airomem and I jumped over him, and then he struggled to his feet.
The horde was now half of the way, with Ensuri and Sitient leading them by several lengths. Segni turned a full circle, his eyes wide, then his face growing even paler than I thought possible as he saw the advancing horde again as we fled, and then started to hobble after us. Airomem took the rear of the small group, holding the blue lights in front of her, somehow making them buzz louder and glow brighter as Segni struggled to catch up.
“Wait!” Pleaded Segni as his breaths came in puffs and he struggled to keep pace, slowing from a jog to a walk with his right hand up. Tom stopped, preparing to turn back, but I took his arm and shouted at him until he budged.
“Tom, no! It’s too late!”
And it was.
Segni screamed as the fastest members reached him, their momentum so great that they ran over him as he toppled, but turning back as soon as they saw the blue flash of Airomem. The first dozen knives flashed as he fell to his knees, moving in and out of the skin as he screamed, and then his screams turned to gurgles. And out of his shirt pocket fell another strawberry, coming to a halt ten feet away from him in our direction as we reached the door, just as Sitient reached the center of the mass and buried his open mouth into Segni’s throat, cutting off all sound.
We watched as they ripped him apart, a frenzied mass of butchering on all sides. And in front of the spectacle Ensuri stepped forward, a strip of Segni in his hand, and walked ten feet towards us. Then he bent down to the ground and picked up a small object, the strawberry Segni had dropped moments before.
“A feast!” He cried out, his teeth already red before they bit into the fruit and he threw the stem towards us, “A feast fit for a king!”
And taking the door into both her hands, Aeromem slammed it shut, cutting us off from the celebration.