Hunter's Will: A Borderlands Tale Part 3

Chapter 40

Garden of Minos

“Oh, now that’s just great.” Jinx shouted against the deafening roar.

“Oh, shut up and tell me how to kill it.” Gaige snapped.

“And how would I know that, I mean, I don’t even know what’s making it move, let alone how it’s doing it?”

“Some help you are.”

“In that case, why don’t you tell me how to kill it.”

“I’m not the hunter here.”

“Neither am I, I’m retired in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Yeah well, you’re the best we’ve got at the moment, so any ideas?”

“Shoot that glowing ball might work.”

“You shoulda said something before it went in.”

“First, it didn’t go in, it raised the rest around it, and second, I was a little shocked at the moment, plus I didn’t see you doing anything.”

“Yeah, that’s cause I was in shock as well, but your plan has a major flaw in it, namely that I can’t see the ball to shoot it.”

“Well, we’ll just have to do something about that won’t we? Like dropping this thing.”

“And how are we supposed to do that?”

“Kill all the scales, or significant structural damage might do something, but other than that, I’ve got no idea. And before you ask, no, I have no idea how to go about either of those.”

“Damn. Well, back to the old shoot it until it stops moving tactic.”

“And that’ll work on bone?”

“You got a better plan, cause if so, I’d love to hear it?”

She was met with silence as they continued to scramble back and away from the massive creature.

“That’s what I thought, now do something or get outta the way.”

Gaige started firing at the colossal monster, watching her shots strike against the scales that covered it with little effect. Even the fires that started were only burning a few of them and though a few did fall off in charred corpses, it was like trying to take a ship apart one bolt at a time, she’d get there eventually, but not before she ran out of ammo, or got crushed.

For its part the creature surveyed the open area in front of it with hollow eyes. The bandits had seen it rise and had mostly abandoned the Guardians that they had been fighting and were throwing themselves at the monster, which seemed to annoy it more than anything, so it slowly lifted one of its front feet up and slammed it back down, crushing a number of them and throwing a good amount of the rest flying with the shock-wave.

Gaige looked over at them while trying to figure out a plan and spotted McStumpy screaming orders. As if he felt her eyes on him, he suddenly turned and spotted her and even across the distance and over the cacophony, she heard him bellowing obscenities at her.

“I’m gonna goot ye an were yer skan lak ah kilt. En I’m goona tak was lef o’yah an av me way wi it for I eate it yeh bligh spittled cu…”

He never finished the insult due to his head vanishing in a cloud of gore. Gaige blinked and looked over to Artemis who still had her rifle up. Felling the eyes on her she snapped “Oh what? Was I not supposed to kill him this time either? Or did you really want him to finish that disgusting tirade?”

“No, I was just surprised, that’s all.” She turned back to the colossal monster and lamented “Now if only we had some way of doing large amounts of damage to this thing all at once.”

“Yeah, well, not likely, I mean, maybe Deathtrap could do some damage to it, but we’d need to clear off a good amount of those scales for him to have any kind of clean shot.”

“What about the Iron Hammer? Would that work?”

“You know, it just might, but we’d still need to clean off an area first.”

Even as they talked, they felt the air change, like it was tasting off.

“I know my Anarchy does strange things, but does it taste like lightning to you?”

Artemis blinked at her and then took a breath, before flicking the tip of her tongue back out “Yeah, there’s an energy in the air, but not a good kind. Something like ozone, but not.” She quickly turned to the giant creature and took a step back involuntarily. Gaige, puzzled by the reaction, turned and immediately spotted what was wrong.

The creature was opening its mouth wider and wider, almost like it was unhinging it. As it did so, the bright glow inside it was intensifying, seeming to build up in its throat. Even in the few seconds they watched, a ball of light was forming floating in its gaping jaws.

“Everyone, watch out!” Gaige shouted to the troops behind them.

A few turned and instantly spotted what they were being warned about, chaining the cry across the group.

For a few seconds, everyone watched in dreaded anticipation about where the energy would be fired, then the creature lowered its head, tightened its jaw, and let loose.

The beam that appeared seemed detached from the sphere of light, like it was actually being fired by something a few feet in front of it, but the force of the beam shoved the creature’s head back, causing the beam to shake off its target momentarily before it readjusted its head. The bright beam hit the psychos of the Rust Devils, vaporizing those that it hit. The rest attempted to scatter, rushing every which way, but the creature just slid its head around leaving a trail of burning stone in the wake of it’s attack as it chased them down.

The attack went on for no more than ten seconds, but in that time more than half of the remaining Rust Devils were obliterated, along with a fair number of Guardians.

Gaige looked back up at the creature and saw the remains of the burning light flicker like fire up its face as its jaws closed.

“Man, I hope that thing can’t fire that too often.” She muttered. She couldn’t even tell how the thing was standing, let alone what was powering it, so she couldn’t tell if the attack was draining on it or not, but the only thing that gave her hope about that was the fact that it had taken a while to charge up.

“We really need to take that thing down, and quick.” She continued turning to Artemis only to find the other girl wasn’t paying attention but instead was focused on the bandits that were attacking the creature.

Just as Gaige was about to ask what was up, she spotted the leader of the Bloody Gear clan. As she watched she saw the woman waving her buzz-ax around in one hand, directing her troops, but Gaige couldn’t make out what she had in her other, but whatever it was, it had riled Artemis up, since she took off running at the woman while yelling “That’s mine!”

It seemed that the woman heard her since her mask spun to where Artemis was moving and even as Splinterhead cocked her head in either confusion or disbelief, she raised her right arm, showing Gaige what she was carrying and what had ticked off Artemis so much, a heavy pistol without a name, in other words, her backup piece.

Artemis dropped into a slide just as Splinterhead fired the gun, the bullet tearing through the air where she’d just been. The psycho let out a garbled shout of pain and dropped the gun, holding her wrist with her other hand while staggering back. For a second, Gaige wondered what’d happened, she knew the gun kicked extremely hard, but even Artemis, with her skinny arms, had said she’d fired it once and it had cracked her wrist, but it seemed to her that the psycho was acting more like something was broken. Then she realized, when Artemis had fired, she’d known what she was holding and had no doubt braced herself, positioning everything to absorb as much of the impact as she could, while the psycho had been holding the gun loosely, like she would any other pistol, so she hadn’t been prepared for the kick.

She spun in a circle, almost dancing as she held her wrist while letting out a nearly unintelligible string of obscenities and curses. As she did that, Artemis quickly closed the distance, ignoring all the bandits around her until one stepped in front of his boss, blocking her path.

Gaige didn’t recognize this one, a tall bandit missing his right eye, but it seemed that Artemis did since she let out a bellow and charged straight at him. This seemed to please the bandit since a crooked smile broke across his face and he stepped forward to meet her.

The large man took a swing at her as soon as she got in range, causing Artemis to duck and drive her left fist into his ribs, and while her cybernetic didn’t have the strength that Gaige’s did, she knew that it was strong enough, enough so that Gaige thought she could hear the ribs pop even at that distance.

Artemis didn’t bother with the man as he fell to his knees clutching his side and just stepped around him. He didn’t take kindly to that, and tried to grab her as she went, causing her to pause, turn and drive a cyberneticly enhanced kick into the same spot he was attempting to cover. This time he dropped and did little besides writhe on the ground.

“Wonder if that’s the one who she said kicked her?” Gaige muttered to Deathtrap.

“Urur”

By that time, Splinterhead had managed to recover somewhat and fixing Artemis with a glare, she hefted the pair of buzz-axes that she was wielding, though she did keep her right hand a bit closer to her body as she did.

Gaige expected Artemis to make one of those pointless offers, like ‘Give me my stuff back and I’ll let you go’ or something, but instead she wordlessly charged.

Splinterhead leaped forward to meet her, swinging her buzz-axes in a wide arc, causing Artemis to duck under them, but the psycho didn’t stop and kept her spin going, this time bringing the axes down as she came around. Artemis ducked back, trying to create space, but even Gaige could tell that the psycho was much more used to close quarters fighting then her friend.

The psycho finished her downward swing and lunged forward, bringing the axes up as she did, then lunged forward again, bringing the axes in. Each time, Artemis was forced to step back, which seemed to give the psycho more and more confidence as her swings became wilder.

She stepped forward and swung both axes across her chest from her left side, but this time Artemis stepped in and punched, catching the psycho in the right wrist with her left hand. The flat cracking noise made Gaige wince as the arm flopped unnaturally.

The psycho let out a howl of pain as the buzz-ax went sailing from her limp fingers and she staggered back. As she did, Gaige slapped another clip into her SMG and resumed blind firing at the massive creature as it continued its rampage, stomping and taking swipes at the bandits at its feet.

Artemis didn’t allow her opponent any space and dashed forward to try and punch the psycho again, but the psycho, being what it was, let her wrist flop and swung down with her other buzz-ax.

Artemis seemed to realize that she had over committed to her attack, and since it was too late to dodge, swung her left hand up and caught the blade with it. Sparks flew and the high-pitched whine of metal on metal grated at Gaige’s ears, she couldn’t imagine how bad it would be point blank, but Artemis couldn’t care at the moment as she was desperately struggling to keep the blade from getting any closer to her.

Splinterhead tried to use her height and strength advantage to bulldoze her way through, but the cybernetic gave the smaller girl an advantage that she couldn’t overcome, so the psycho was forced to try a different tact and started driving her knee into the other girl’s side.

With each hit, Artemis let out a pained grunt and Gaige could tell her mind was racing even from where she was watching. It was on one of the hits that Artemis acted, pulling her hand back while maintaining her grip on the ax just as her opponent swung her knee forward, pulling her off balance and sending her sprawling across the ground.

Artemis didn’t waste the opportunity and lashed out with a kick, knocking the buzz-ax away. The psycho raged at the loss of her weapons and popped back to her feet, shooting forward from a low stance and driving herself into the girls’ stomach, knocking the wind out of her and lifting her up. With a continuous bellow, she ran with her for a good ways before suddenly stopping and throwing the smaller girl into the wall.

Artemis crashed into the stalactites that dripped down the tiered overhang, shattering them off and landing in a stunned heap. Before she even had a chance to recover, the psycho jumped on her and started swinging, forcing Artemis to throw her arm up to cover her face as she was pummeled.

Gaige wanted to help her, but she hesitated, mostly due to the fact that her accuracy was past the point of being able to hit what she wanted to, as well as the fact that the rest of the psychos and bandits weren’t interfering and she was worried that if she did, it would start a free for all with them being outnumbered. But just as she was debating risking it, she saw Artemis get her legs up and shove the psycho back.

Splinterhead staggered back but grabbed her leg as she did and spun, throwing the smaller girl off the rock shelf and onto the ground.

Artemis rolled and by the time she stopped, the psycho was leaping at her only to be met with a solid kick to the chest, knocking her back. Artemis used the momentum from the kick to roll to her feet and found herself facing the raving psycho as she charged back in, swinging wildly.

She ducked under the first swing and drove her fist into the woman’s ribs, no doubt cracking a few of them, but her opponent didn’t seem to care, instead she just swung her fist back, catching Artemis in the face and spinning her around. She continued the spin and got a few steps away while flexing her jaw, dodging the relentless attacks as she did.

The next time that Splinterhead threw an attack, she lunged in, catching her around the middle and lifting her up before taking a step and trying to throw her, only for her opponent to grab her by the back of her jacket and drag her with.

Splinterhead managed to keep her feet, but had lost her grip on Artemis so she lunged at her. Seeing this, Artemis caught her and managed to throw her, sending her sliding across the ground to come to a stop under the bottom overhang of the wall.

Throwing herself on top of her fallen opponent, Artemis tried to pummel the woman into submission, but the psycho fought back. Unable to stave off the two-fisted attacks with only one working hand, she flailed around till her hand found one of the broken off stalactites and swung it, pointy end first at Artemis’s face, forcing her to jerk back, but not before tearing her cheek open.

Artemis staggered back, shifting off her opponent even as the other woman continued to try and stab her with the rock, pulling the psycho by the front of her jacket and yanked her up, straight into the row of stalactites that hung down, tearing them through her neck before wrenching the body sideways, shearing them off and ripping a gaping hole in her throat. The jet of blood hit her in the face as her opponent died in a bloody gurgle.

Dropping the corpse, she staggered back a few steps before letting out a ragged breath. Stepping forward she unhooked the belt from the dead woman and casually fastened it around her own waist before walking back, picking up the buzz-ax as she went. Stopping to bend over and pick up her back-up piece, she paused and looked at the gathering of the clan, blood still dripping off her face as she gave them a wild-eyed look and repeated while holding the gun up “Mine!”

“Remind me to never touch her stuff.” Alezander said from next to Gaige, looking a bit pale as he watched the girl walk back.

“Are you done now?” Gaige asked as Artemis walked over “Can we get back to the matter at hand, or do you have some other pressing thing you need to take care of?”

“Here.” Artemis said, tossing her something.

Looking down, she saw the grenade mod and muttered “So there was a point to all that, besides getting your stuff back.”

“Nah, I just didn’t want my stuff in the hands of a psycho, this was just a bonus.”

“You know that you look an awful lot like a psycho yourself at the moment, don’t you?”

Artemis shrugged and looked up at the creature and muttered “So how do we take you down?”

“Well, you could try shooting.” Came a cry from their side. Glancing over Gaige saw Alezander firing at it. She surveyed the situation behind her and saw that while she’d been distracted with the psycho fight, another of the Bears had fallen, something that the troops were using to the best of their advantage by using it as cover, firing over and around the downed mechs limbs.

Looking back at the creature in front of her, she tossed an idea over to Artemis “You think you can clear off a few of the scales, up there, where it’s, uh, what would you call that? Behind the shoulder?”

“Not there.” Came the reply “There’s crossbones in that area, you want to punch a hole about, here.” She continued while firing the rest of her cylinder worth into the side, a bit further back from where Gaige had intended, but soon she saw a small opening appear as the scale’s creatures fell off. As they did, Gaige realized that the area had previously been scorched by her SMG fire, meaning that Artemis was using the least amount of shots to clear the biggest area.

Nodding she equipped the grenade and pitched one with all the force she could muster. Unfortunately, her aim was off a little and the creature moved causing the explosive to bounce off the surface and fall to its feet before erupting in a fiery display.

Still the gouts of fire hitting its feet grabbed the creatures attention away from the bandits and the massive head swung around to fix them with a glare from deep within the empty sockets.

Gaige felt a cold shiver run up her spine as the glow within the hollow eyes intensified and the things mouth fell open as it let loose another bone rattling roar that caused the vary air to vibrate.

It didn’t close its mouth, instead, it opened it even wider and the glow started to form in it again. Realizing that she was its target, Gaige felt her knees quake slightly since she had no chance of outrunning it, and no way to deviate it from its course. Still, she wasn’t about to go down without a fight, so she took off running as fast as she could.

“Buddy, I need a hand.” Artemis yelled at Deathtrap as he started to move, whether to try and grab Gaige and fly her as far as he could, to try and intercept the shot himself, or punch the thing in the face he hadn’t decided yet, but hearing the forceful call brought him to a halt and he spun around. Seeing the determination in the younger girl’s eyes, he figured whatever plan she had was better than his lack of one and he dashed over to her.

As soon as he was near her, she grabbed the massive cannon on his back off and staggered under its weight.

“Stay still.” She ordered him, setting the barrel against his shoulder a bit harder than she’d intended and quickly started lining up the shot. Deathtrap glanced over his shoulder at her and saw her bracing the cannon against her shoulder while sliding her legs back as far as she could, seeming to be kept up only by the gun itself and rolled her neck before placing her cheek against the side of the gun and letting out a slow breath.

He wished she would hurry up, the glow was getting brighter by the second and was almost to the point that it had been when it had fired before.

“Oh, this is gonna hurt.” He heard muttered from behind him and a second later, right before the creature was about to fire its beam, a deafening explosion occurred next to him and the cannon jerked hard enough to force him to readjust his position to prevent himself from falling.

The next instant, the shot hit the creature in the face, catching it just below where its eye would have been and demolishing the skull from there. The impact threw its head off to the side and caused the energy to explode out in a shock-wave that threw Gaige from her feet, but otherwise didn’t harm her. Without a backwards glance she hopped to her feet and charged at it.

“Ow. Owowowow.” Came the moan from behind Deathtrap and he felt the cannon slipping off his shoulder, so he caught it while turning around to find Artemis laying on the ground clutching her shoulder.

“What the hell was that?” Alec yelled from inside her Bear.

“Urrgurru” Deathtrap asked, ignoring the question and instead directing his focus on the girl on the ground, after making sure that Gaige was alright.

For her part, Gaige slid to a stop and pitched another grenade at the opening on the side of the creature, this time, maybe because she was closer, or due to sheer luck, it sailed through the opening and landed inside before blooming into a fiery explosion.

As she watched, fire jetted out from between the scale-like creatures, sending burning bits of them falling around its feet.

Deciding to not stick around, she ran back to where the others were as the massive creature let out a bellow of pain, there she found Artemis on her back, with Deathtrap injecting her with an Insta-health vial.

“What happened?”

“That thing, ow, kicks like a, a, I don’t even know what.” Came the gasped out reply.

Gaige looked over at the Iron Hammer, at the gaping hole in the creatures’ head and then back at Artemis before saying “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Seriously though, are you alright?”

“Yeah, I can feel the Insti-health working, give me a hand.”

Gaige grabbed her hand and pulled her up “Gotta ask, how hard did that thing kick?”

“You know what I’ve said about my back-up piece? This thing kicks about the same in proportion to its size.”

“So, you have no shoulder left?”

“That’s what it felt like.” Her voice trailed off and her eyes went wide “RUN!”

Gaige turned to see what she’d seen and found the creature spinning around with its tail held up high. Before she could even react, Deathtrap grabbed her around the waist and flew. From her position looking over his shoulder she could see Artemis carrying the Iron Hammer and running and couldn’t help thinking ‘Huh, she’s stronger than she looks.’

They barely cleared the area when the tail came down, slamming hard enough to shatter the ground. The shock-wave hit her a second later with enough force to blast her pigtails back, even though she was flying the other direction. On the other side of the tail, she watched Artemis get thrown off her feet and sent sprawling, curling around the cannon she was carrying to protect it as she hit the ground.

The creature slammed its tail down a second time, though with a bit less force and then turned back around to face them with its shattered skull. From her new perspective, Gaige could see the full extent of the damage the cannon had done to it. From just under its eye socket and up was gone and fragments of bone were splintering and dropping off as it moved. Through the gaping hole, she could see the empty cavity where a brain should have been and before it raised its head back up, she spotted bits of skull sliding around inside.

“Get me closer babe.” She yelled to Deathtrap who nodded in response and immediately shot forward, getting close enough to the massive creature that she could make out the irregularities in the scale-like creatures covering it. As she passed across one of the gaps in them, she chucked another grenade through, followed by a second at the next gap. Deathtrap pulled away as they started to explode within, electing a cacophony of screeches from the burning scales.

“Yes! More power! More! Meedly-meedly-mowwwww!” She yelled out as Deathtrap flew around and set her down near to where Artemis was hustling back to the troops, still lugging her cannon.

“You good?” She huffed to Gaige.

“I just crossed over into redonculous territory!”

“Uh, what?”

“Anarchy baby!”

“Sure, and that’s gonna help us take this thing down, I hope.”

“What’re you talkin about? We’ve totally got this.”

“Great, so what’s the plan?”

“We smash it!”

“Huh?”

“You said we needed to do significant structural damage and now we can do it.”

Artemis looked at her while her shoulder twitched slightly “Why do I think this is gonna hurt me a lot more than it does you?”

“Cause you know what’s comin.”

“In that case why don’t you shoot? Lace it with anarchy or whatever?”

“No no, it’s Anarchy.”

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you said anarchy, it’s Anarchy.”

“I’m just gonna pretend that made sense.”

“It did, and I can’t do it.”

“Why not?”

“That thing fires too big a shot. Plus, it’s yours. I mean, you’re borrowing it, besides you’re a bitch and it’s a cannon, and bitches love cannons, right?”

“You know, you make about as much sense as a psycho some times.”

“Less talky more shooty.”

“Ugh, and what’re you gonna do while I shatter my shoulder again?”

“I’m gonna kill this bitch.”

“Wait, I thought I was a bitch?”

“Wait, what?” Gaige stopped and turned, seeming to get a little of herself back “Sorry, it’s just that getting that many stacks so quick, especially after so long went right to my head.”

“Uh, I’m gonna pretend that that made sense and move along, so what will you be doing and where should I aim?”

“Stop it from moving if you can, then I’m gonna see if I can kill it.”

“Again, how?”

“No idea, but I’m sure it’ll work out.” She said with a maniacal grin as she ran off.

“I have the worst luck in liking people.” She muttered.

“Urgurr” Deathtrap said, patting her on the shoulder.

“Right, enough time to figure her out when this is done. Can you give me a hand?”

Deathtrap nodded and watched as Artemis laid the gun down before stretching out behind it.

“What are you doing?” Alezander yelled as he ran up to her “Are you crazy?”

“Shut it and keep firing at that thing, this is gonna take a moment.” Came the snippy reply.

“But what are you even trying to do?”

“Quit distracting me and you’ll see.”

With that she shuffled a little and grabbed the gun’s grip, lining up the shot as best she could.

“Buddy, up a little. Little more, that’s good, bit to the left, there, that’s good, now if it could just stand still for a moment…”

Deathtrap thought about it and told her to hold on a second before looking back and started charging up a shot. It didn’t take too long before he was ready and then it was just a matter of timing, waiting for the creature to swing around. Just as he was about satisfied, the creature spotted them and seemed to know what they were doing, since it let out another bone rattling bellow and started stomping forward, no doubt to try and crush them under its massive feet, so even though he wasn’t satisfied with the aim, Deathtrap had no choice but to let the shot go.

It didn’t hit exactly where he was aiming, instead it hit the creature in the mouth, but it was still enough of a surprise to it that it jerked its head back as the red energy slammed into its spine. The subsequent explosion threw its head back, giving Artemis the chance she’d been hoping for.

“Left, left, there, up, good, and brace.” She called out instructions and then with a slight whimper of expectation, squeezed the trigger.

Deathtrap held onto the barrel as hard as he could without damaging it, trying to absorb as much of the force as he could, but even so, he felt himself jerk backwards as the cannon boomed.

An instant later the shell tore through the creatures’ front knee joint, sending splinters of bone and scale flying as the shell kept going, hitting the back leg and sending a deep score through the thigh bone as it skimmed off the side.

The creature slowly tilted off to the side as its rear leg gave a series of low cracking noises as the bone started to give out. Gaige spotted this and shouted for everyone to focus fire on it. Immediately both Bears focused the fire from their heavy guns, which they had been equipped with in addition to the elecro throwers, onto the spot, as did everyone else and after a few moments, shards of bone cracked and splintered as the leg gave out and the creature came crashing down.

Deathtrap threw himself over Artemis, covering her from the flying debris as she groaned, holding her shoulder. Even as the dust flew over him, he made sure that she was injecting herself with another Insti-health vial, even though she was protesting the waste of resources.

He did feel bad for her, he had tried to brace the cannon as best he could, but it seemed that even that wasn’t enough to safely fire it. Maybe if he held it and she aimed? That might work, but it would be a tight squeeze to fit her in the space between the cannon and him, maybe if she was on the outside? As he thought about it, he floated back and helped her up.

“I’ve got a question.” Alezander yelled at her as he ran up “If you’ve had that thing, then why’d you wait to use it?”

A look crossed Jinx’s face, like she wanted nothing more than to ignore him, but she knew that she’d have to answer eventually so she just sighed and turned to him “First, it’s not mine, I’m borrowing it, which means that I can’t use up too much ammo for it. Second, I wanted to save it in case we ran into something that couldn’t be dealt with any other way, at least that I could think of, and last, because it’s a pain to shoot.”

“Uh, OK.” He said, taking a step back as she glared at him, which ended up saving his life since the bullet that slammed into him only caught him in the arm and not the heart. Still, it was enough to knock him down with a shout of pain.

Deathtrap and Jinx glanced back to see where the shot had come from and saw that the remains of the bandit hoard was descending upon them, seeming to have decided that they were the easier target.

Jinx watched as one of the psychos jumped at her as soon as she’d turned only to get caught midair by Deathtrap’s hand, which gave him a quick shake to snap his neck and then chucked the rag-dolling body back into the next one.

“Ururr”

“Fine.” Jinx snapped pulling an Insti-health from her pack and dropping it onto Alezander’s chest. “You heard him, use it and get this mess under control.”

He blinked as he looked at her and one of the other expedition troops replied with a barked “Yes ma’am.” and got to work on that.

Taking the moment to draw her pistol and shoot the nearest bandit, she spared a second to survey the battle. Another Bear was in the process of crashing down, though this one seemed to be out of fuel rather than being taken out through damage. A few troops were busy trying to siphon off some of the remaining fuel from the other two Bears while other troops covered them. Most of the rest were focusing on the bandit threat, or tending to the wounded.

She heard something from the other direction and snapped around just in time to see a chunk of the scales come loose and start swarming up into the air, with a flock of them spiraling down at Gaige, who took off running and made a jump into an opening on the side of the fallen creature, vanishing from sight.

“Buddy!” She yelled at Deathtrap even as she pulled the assault rifle off her back and opened fire on the cloud of flying scales, drawing their attention away from Gaige. As soon as Deathtrap turned to her, she called out “Take these and go help her.”

She pulled the few grenades she had out and dropped them in his hand. Without hesitating he let out a “Urru” and took off, dashing through the cloud of descending creatures without hesitation, slashing through any that got too close and then dove through an opening in the fallen creature on his way to find his mistress.

Gaige found herself sliding down one of the ribs on the inside of the creature. It looked a whole lot different from this perspective, but she figured that any creature would, but this one was unique. She wished she could’ve traded places with Artemis, since this was more her area of expertise, but the instant she got inside, that thought flew out of her mind as she looked around in awe.

Everything was illuminated with a bright whitish-blue light emanating from the glowing ball that floated in the chest, about where she figured a heart would be. It pulsed ever so slightly and its edges were slightly ragged, like a sun or one of the glowing things that came out of a Guardian.

As she stared at it, she became aware of more of the scales had come off and followed her inside, she spun her gun up only to see the nearest one crumple as a giant metal fist crashed into it, sending it flying.

“Babe!” She cried with joy at seeing her robo-bestie coming to her aid.

“Urgurrg” He said, handing over the grenades.

“Yes!” She said, immediately chucking one of them into the swirling mass of creatures “Take that ugly flying scaly things, we really need to come up with a name for these things, I’m thinking that one’s Fred, and that one’s”

“Urgurrr”

“Sorry, you’re right, there’s too many to name.”

“Ur gurgu rrgrur”

“Gah, fine.” Gaige grumbled as she pulled another grenade and chucked it into another clump of the creatures before pulling out her SMG and declaring “I’m gonna try something so back me up and we’ll see if it works.”

Deathtrap shrugged and fired a laser through the flying things. It didn’t do all that much, but every bit helped, plus the caustic beam seemed to drive them back a little.

Gaige turned to the large glowing ball and muttered “Here’s hoping.” And pulled the trigger.

The stream of bullets went everywhere, not one of them going where she had aimed, though she had expected that at this point, but since she was inside the creature, the shots reflected off the ribs and streaked back, hitting the ball and causing it to shudder.

“Yes! In your face reality!”

The next instant, the ground under her shook as the creature tried to get up, seeking to get away from whatever was hurting it, causing Gaige’s feet to fly out from under her and if Deathtrap hadn’t caught her, she would’ve fallen and slid out through one of the increasing number of openings.

“Urgurgg”

“You’re right babe.” She agreed, flipping the switch on the SMG to electrical and letting loose with the rest of the clip. Deathtrap joined in, firing his elcto-laser into the sphere, causing the entire creature to thrash about loosing a deafening bellow as it did.

With the way the ground was shaking, he scooped up Gaige and took off, flying through the cavity as they fired with everything they had into the glowing core, with Gaige occasionally throwing one of her last few grenades at the cloud of flying scales.

In a surprisingly short amount of time, the glow suddenly brightened and exploded, sending fragments of light drifting down.

“Gah, how come something this big still only counts as one.” She bemoaned, only to be cut off by a sudden rumbling and the next thing she knew, Deathtrap was rocketing out of the now collapsing creature.

He flew with her in his arms around the clearing and once the dust had settled, set her down next to Artemis, who was busy waving her hand in front of her face and coughing.

“Well, that wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be.” Gaige happily declared.

No sooner had she said that, then Alezander staggered over and said “Wow, I can’t believe we took that thing down, that had to be one for the records.”

“Not really.” Artemis said “It was surprisingly easy.”

“Easy! That thing nearly killed us a dozen times.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t all that bad. I mean, it was too big to do any real fast attacks, those are a lot worse.” Gaige corrected him “Plus I was afraid that it would send those scale things out earlier, I mean, like a Rakk Hive. You ever fought one?”

“No.” Artemis conceded “But I have taken down a Stagliovore and from what I’ve read it’s pretty similar. And yeah, I was also waiting for the scales to attack.”

“You two are crazy.” Alezander said with a shake of his head. “So, now what?”

As if in response to him there was a large cracking sound that echoed through the area, like stones grinding one each other and breaking loose, which caused them to spin and look at the creature, afraid they’d spoke too soon. But instead of getting up, the spires on its back were tilting together and when they met and formed a large pointed arch, it filled with blue liquid like light.

“Well, that answers that.” Gaige said before turning back “Alright, this is as far as you go.”

“Wait, what?” Alezander said.

“Take your wounded and anything you can salvage and fall back. Get back to the drop point and get up and keep going up. We’re taking it from here.”

“You expect us to just retreat? After all that?”

“Yeah, I do.” Gaige said “Look, the other side of this is gonna be the controls for this place and we’re gonna need to figure them out, which should give you time to get out, cause there’s a chance that once we flip the physical and or metaphorical switch, this place isn’t gonna last long, and we’ve got Deathtrap here to help us make a speedy escape, but that’s at best a ride for two, so we won’t be able to help you.”

“But…but…”

“They are right.” Alec said, walking up, her Bear finally having spent the last of its fuel “We helped with what we could. That…gate? Whatever is on the other side, we cannot help them with, you should know when to fall back, even if you do not want to.”

“But…”

“You think I would want to miss what is on the other side? Of course not, but we have other responsibilities.” She placed her hand on his shoulder and when he looked at her, something in her expression made him concede with a sigh.

“Good luck.” He said and tiredly waved.

“May we see you again.” Alec said with a slight smile.

Gaige nodded and turned to the portal.

Artemis checked her guns and asked “You ready?”

“Sure, why not.” She said with a smile and the three of them climbed onto the back of the fallen creature and through the glowing light.

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Chapter 41

Garden of Minos

They found themselves standing in darkness. Around them Gaige could just make out what appeared to be a narrow hallway that went forward a little way, before being swallowed by darkness. She stood still, waiting for her eyes to adjust and wishing that she had Artemis’s hearing, cause all she could hear was the pounding of her heart as she waited to see if anything jumped out at them.

Slowly her eyes adjusted and she could start to see the area around them a little better. The gate behind her was still giving off light, but she was afraid to look at it knowing that it would blow her night vision, instead she focused on what was ahead of them, which was a narrow corridor, considerably smaller than the size of the gateway, though still wide enough that they could comfortably move forward shoulder to shoulder with room to spare. The walls were dark and hard to make out, but were angled out for a little ways before coming back together, forming something like an inverted coffin and were covered in the markings of the Eridians. At the edges of the hall were shallow troughs that seemed to be filled with water, though she wasn’t about to stick her hand in to find out.

Artemis started moving forward silently, prompting Gaige to follow along, her hands unconsciously tightening their grip on her gun. Soon the corridor ended, widening out into a fair-sized chamber, the walls tilting out as they went up till just over her head height, then angling back in too meet above the center. The room was shaped like a diamond, with them standing at the bottom point, straight across from them was the only area where the walls didn’t slope out, instead, the angle of the ceiling continued down, into the floor. On either side of this were strange statues that looked like Guardians crouching, hands forward like they were offering something, though they were empty. Other than that the room appeared empty.

They stepped in and did a quick once over of it, but the only thing Gaige noted was that the water continued its way around the outside of the room.

“Was your other room like this?” Gaige whispered, fearing any loud noises.

“What room?” Came the equally soft reply.

“You know, on Tartaris?”

“Hmm, similar, but no, definitely not the same. For starters that one entered on a narrow walkway without walls, though this area is similar and those statues look like the one that was holding the artifact, but in that one’s case, there was a large wall with some kind of carving or something on it and the whole thing felt more like you were floating in space, while this one feels like we’re in a cave or something.”

“Yeah, I get that, so see any controls or anything?”

“Nope.”

“Maybe one of the statues?”

“Most likely, we need to go down.”

“Down? And how’re we supposed to do that?”

Artemis just pointed ahead. Gaige followed her direction and looked past the two statues and at the wall that angled down, and then she spotted it, a darker line at the base of the wall. Cautiously she made her way over, glancing at the statues on her way past, some part of her expecting them to come alive the instant she wasn’t looking at them.

Getting to the drop, she looked down. The floor fell away at the same angle as the ceiling, running downward out of sight.

“Do we have to?” Slipped out of her mouth before she realized it.

“Only if we don’t want to be stuck forever.”

“Damn.” She double checked her gun and when she saw Artemis finish the same said “Shall we?”

The other girl nodded and they stepped off the edge, dropping into a slide on the grooved surface. The slide went on for longer than Gaige had expected, and just as she was about to yell something, the ground fell away from under her and she splashed down in a small alcove.

Stretching out in front of her was a large open area covered in a few inches of water. They cautiously stepped out and looked around, the room was large, not quite big enough that the creature they’d fought outside could curl up in and it stretched upward a considerable height. Evenly placed as far up as she could see were small indents in the wall that looked like someone had lopped off the bottom of a circle and knocked it out of the wall. Judging by the closest ones, they appeared to be nearly twice her height and just as she was moving to look closer, they all lit up, emitting the same glow as the portal that had led them here.

The girls dropped into a guarded stance and fell back-to-back with each other and Deathtrap, waiting for something to happen.

Artemis was the first to notice, even though the portal was closer to Gaige’s side, but one of the portals rippled and something stepped through.

It was tall and thin, with back bent legs and a bit of a hunch to its torso. It had a large head that flared out at the back like a crest, though its face was rather flat, trailing down from its one glowing eye, traveling through what looked like tusks or mandibles. It had overly long arms, ending in large hands, one of which was holding what looked like only the handle of a spear and the other was in a large circular device that ended in a ball. Though it was a little hard to tell, due to the light washing over it, but it appeared to be blue and dirty purple and even though it was over twice their height, it looked enough like one of the Guardians for them to immediately tell what it was.

The Guardian looked at them for a second before slamming the handle on the ground, sending ripples through the water. As if that was the cue to start, both girls brought their guns up and fired, but the Guardian merely stepped back through the portal behind it and a second later emerged from across the room. Their shots followed it into the portal, but where it stepped out two floors up and was looking down at them, the bullets emerged from a different portal and were flying back at them, forcing them to duck out of the way.

“What was that?” Gaige shouted as she rolled to her feet, dripping water and tried firing again at the Guardian, only for it to repeat the process, stepping back before she even had the trigger pulled.

Jinx hadn’t fired when it had emerged, testing to see if it would repeat the trick, and as soon as it did, she swung around to fire at it only to have to dodge away from Gaige’s shots. She let loose a curse and threw herself out of the way and as she rolled to her feet, had to throw herself back as the Guardian swung its weapon at her. The instant it did, a bright red beam emerged, broken up with little dark spots. Even though she thought she’d managed to get out of its way, the beam twisted and followed her, like a whip of energy and caught her in the side, throwing her through the water, which sprayed up around her until she came to a stop.

Seeing what had happened, Gaige opened fire at the Guardian, knowing full well what it would do, but not caring. As expected, it stepped back through the portal, so Gaige quickly brought her aim down, letting the bullets find their own targets.

The Guardian emerged from its next portal, to find that the bullets hadn’t gone through the portal after it and had instead bounced everywhere and ended up getting hit by a volley. As it staggered under the surprise attack, Deathtrap swung around and fired off an electrical beam, which hit it square on, forcing it to dive back into the portal.

By the time it had emerged again, Jinx was back on her feet, and joined in, hitting it as it was still emerging from the portal and making it sink back in.

This time, it didn’t emerge immediately which gave them a second to talk as they scanned the room.

“You OK?” Gaige called out.

“Yeah, but stop shooting me.”

“Wasn’t on purpose.”

“I know, but it’s still’s annoying.”

“Fine, I’ll stop shooting, you take it all by yourself.”

“Can you be any more of a brat?”

“Maybe, you wanna find out?”

“No.”

“Then stop being a bitch.”

“But you love it.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll see. Still, how’d you hit that thing as soon as it emerged?”

“Oh, easy. There’s a small ripple right as the portals connect, if you can spot that, you know which ones are connected.”

“Seriously? Why that just solves all our problems then, this should be easy.”

“Sarcasm. Again.”

“Yes sarcasm! You make it sound like that would be easy to spot.”

“Well, yeah. But how about this, you keep shooting the floor, and I’ll try and hit it when I can.”

“Sure, whatever. As long as it comes back that is.”

Right then the Guardian shot through one of the portals at high speed, lashing out with its whip as it did, forcing them to scatter to avoid being torn in half as it sailed through the room and dove into another portal.

“Me and my big mouth.” Gaige sputtered as she lifted herself from the water.

“Well, that was…new.” Jinx said, looking around, trying to spot where the Guardian would be coming from next. It wasn’t as hard as Gaige made it out to be, you just had to look, the hard part was that one person could only see so many portals at one time, so if the ripples started behind you, or even above where you were looking, you might not spot them in time, which was what happened next.

The portal shimmered and the Guardian shot through it, straight at her back, but luckily for her, Deathtrap had seen it and managed to shove her out of the way, though he was hit hard enough to dent his shoulder guard in the process.

“Babe!” Gaige shouted as she rushed over to her robot “You alright?”

“Urru”

“Thank goodness, but that is it! I’ve had it! This thing’s goin down. I’m tired, I haven’t had a drink in the better part of a week, and I still have no idea if I can fix my relationship problems, and then this overblown ancient junk heap hits my bot! Nobody messes with my bot! Nobody!” With that she stormed over to where Jinx was standing up and making sure to use her left hand, yanked her backup piece off her and spun around just as the Guardian dove out of a portal at them.

Jinx felt the other girl shove her over, using her falling body for support as she pushed them down and under the flying opponent. As it flew over them, she pulled the trigger, firing the shot point blank into the Guardian as it passed, too close to deviate. The shell tore into the stomach of the Guardian, throwing it off course and causing it to plow into the water, sending great plumes in its wake till it crashed unceremoniously into the wall.

“Take that!” She bellowed at it even as it started to rise again. Not wanting to waste a golden opportunity, both Jinx and Deathtrap unloaded upon it, causing it to slam the handle of its whip into the ground. A bright light shot up out of it and quickly formed a dome around it, absorbing the last of their shots, though not before they had inflicted considerable damage.

While it was hiding behind its shell, Jinx took the time to reload, only to realize Gaige was giving her an awkward look.

“What?”

“Uh, sorry for borrowing your gun without asking, so, uh, please don’t kill me over it.”

“Huh?”

“You know, like that psycho chick.”

“I’m not gonna kill you over it, just give it back. And as long as you’re at it, give back my grenade mod, you seem to have trouble remembering that one.”

Gaige quickly handed them back and Jinx quickly attached them to her belt while muttering “Though the mod is useless unless I get more ammo.”

“Yeah, I’m out too.” Gaige said, obviously trying to move away from her stealing weapons.

“Speaking of which, how’re we doing on ammo, in general?”

“Uh, almost out of SMG, a bit low on assault rifle, and out of grenades, other than that, I should be good, you?”

“Low on sniper rounds, and almost out on assault rifle and SMG as well, and no grenades. And now that I’m looking, I seem to have used up most of my pistol rounds? When’d that happen?”

“I think you ended up giving them to some of the troops during the fight, but I could be wrong.”

“Dang it, this is why I don’t share, always bits you in the end.”

“But you share with me.”

“Yeah, but that’s different, I was meaning sharing with strangers.”

“And what am I at this point?”

“I donno, but not a stranger.”

“Urggur”

The girls snapped their guns up at Deathtrap’s warning and the shield around the Guardian fell. The instant it was out of the way they opened fire, hitting it a few times before it stepped through a portal.

“That’s getting annoying.” Gaige grumbled.

“Hmm, electrical shots don’t seem to be doing anything, maybe we should try something else?” Jinx muttered looking around for the tell-tale ripple.

By the time she’d noticed it, the Guardian was stepping out far above them and aimed the strange device it was holding and fired a ball of glowing blue energy at them.

They scattered out of the way, but the instant it hit the water, the electricity inside spread and caused them to both fall over twitching.

The pain lasted a few seconds as the energy coursed through them, leaving them drained and it took a few more moments before they could get back up.

“Ow.” Gaige groaned, rubbing her arm and looking over. She watched as Artemis shook her limbs, making sure that nothing was damaged by the sudden surge of electricity. When it seemed that she was alright, she rolled her neck and winced even as Gaige heard the familiar whine of her shield beginning to recharge.

They looked around, trying to find where the Guardian had gone, finally spotting it as it emerged a few levels up. Gaige grabbed onto Deathtrap’s arm, quickly hauling herself out of the water even as he fired off a green caustic beam. The laser sliced across the Guardian leaving bubbling acid in its wake, making the creature stop the attack it had planned and stagger back into the portal.

“So, you were just gonna leave me down here?” She heard shouted from behind her and guiltily turned around to see Artemis glaring at her, one eyebrow twitching menacingly.

“Uh, you coulda grabbed the other arm you know?” She offered.

“And you could’ve said something.” Came the retort.

“Urrrgurg” Deathtrap snapped, electing a pair of “Sorry”s from the girls. Nodding, he turned his attention back to the actual problem at hand and spotted the Guardian emerging again. He fixed his aim and fired another caustic blast, since it had worked last time. But this time the laser slid across the surface of the Guardian without much effect. Puzzled, he cocked his head just as the being raised its weapon again. Not fearing the electrical attack, he remained where he was, aiming another attack at it.

“Dodge!”

The cry from below him caused Deathtrap to reflexively do what he’d been told and he threw himself to the side, just as the ball of green flew out of the Guardian’s weapon and sailed through the space he’d just been to erupt against the water, creating a floating green mess that bubbled sinisterly.

“Urg” He said, looking at it a bit fearfully.

“Yikes.” Gaige said, still dangling from his arm. She dropped down next to Artemis who was busy firing at the retreating Guardian. “Good call. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“How’d you know? That it wasn’t electrical I mean?”

“Uh, not sure really, maybe it was that it didn’t take damage from the electrical attack, then made an electric attack, then it took damage from the caustic, but then it didn’t, so I guess it was kinda a gut feeling or something.”

“Well, thanks, no matter why you yelled it, but what’re we gonna do? If this thing becomes immune to elementals after being hit, what’ll we do?”

“Could always use good old fashioned normal bullets.”

“Boring.”

“But effective.”

“But what about Deathtrap? What’s he supposed to do?”

“I donno, conserve his energy?”

“Urgurrrr”

“I know you wanna help, but what can we do?”

“Well, I suppose we need to find out if it stores the attack element, and if so, for how long.”

“Uh, what?”

“Like my adaptive shield, it only holds the elemental data for a short time.”

“Ah, I get it, so when it next emerges, we see if it still fires caustic.”

“Yeah, though I think it might still have it this time, since it got hit with a second wave. Oops, here it comes.”

Just like she’d predicted, it stepped out and fired another green blast, which they dodged away from, being aware to avoid the still bubbling pool from the last one.

“Huh, that was easy.”

Gaige hung her head and groaned “When’re you gonna learn.”

This time when the Guardian emerged it did so on their level and off to the side of Jinx, who spun to face it in time to see it swing its whip at her despite the distance. She threw herself into a roll as the energy whip extended, crossing over half the room to slice through the air over her head with a crackle. Coming up she fired off a shot, but due to the water in her eyes it went wide, hitting one of the other portals which flashed and absorbed the bullet, almost simultaneously anther portal flashed and the bullet continued unabated from it till it entered a different portal, continuing that way till it struck the wall between two of them.

“Would you watch it!” Gaige shouted, having been forced to duck the shot multiple times.

“Huh.” Jinx said ignoring her “That’s interesting though. Wonder if there’s a pattern to which ones connect where and if they’re stable.”

“You’re seriously wondering that now?” Gaige spat out, eyes trying to take in all of the portals in an attempt to spot the Guardian.

“Yeah. If we could figure it out, might be useful.”

“You know what else might be useful? SHOOTING THIS THING!”

“Ow. You don’t need to yell when I’m standing next to you!”

“You’re right, BUT IT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER!”

Jinx didn’t reply, instead she spun her rifle around and fired it next to Gaige, electing a shout of pain from her as she clutched her ear. “DAMN IT!” She yelled but just as she was continuing her tirade, she spotted the Guardian staggering back into the portal and cut it short with a “Next time warn me!”

“I might have been able to, if you weren’t shouting in my ear.”

“I couldn’t hear your apology over the ringing in my ear.”

“I didn’t apologize.”

“Bitch.”

“Back at ya.”

The Guardian flew out of one of the portals, dashing across the chamber, lashing its whip as it went. They ducked under it again and Gaige muttered “Great, we’re back to this phase again.”

The Guardian continued through the portal and out another one, but this time the whip skimmed across the surface of the water, which surprised them enough that they barely managed to jump in time to avoid it.

It continued this a few more times striking high and low seemingly at random, but eventually it didn’t emerge for a few seconds as they scoured the room for any sign of it.

It emerged suddenly from straight above, slamming down with enough force to throw a wave of water over them. In the brief moment that it was hidden from view, it raised it’s barrier again. They stared at it as it crouched there, seeming to take in some kind of energy that coursed through it and pulsed slightly.

“I really am gettin tired of this whole invulnerability thing.” Gaige growled as they watched it.

Jinx just grunted in acknowledgment as she watched the pulsing light getting stronger, enough so that she could make out different colors in it as it seemed to start washing out from the Guardian and was soon pulsing strong enough to send waves across the water and up the walls.

“Well, that doesn’t look good.” She muttered.

“Shut up. Shut up shut up shut up.” Gaige chanted, her eye twitching slightly.

“What? Is that supposed to be bad luck as well? You know, I don’t think I really get this whole not supposed to say what I’m thinking cause it’s bad luck thing. I mean, I’m starting to think that you don’t either and you’re just using it to shut me up when I make sense.”

“Grrr, that’s not true. I totally get it.”

“Then explain it to me so I know what I’m not supposed to say.”

“Uh, it’s like, um, you just don’t say it, that’s all.”

“Uh, what?”

“Whoops, it’s back.” She said as the shield dropped and the Guardian straightened out. It immediately went on the offensive, lashing out with its whip to strike at them in such a flurry of attacks that they barely had time to fire off any shots of their own.

Gaige had it easier, since she could just hold down the trigger as she rolled and jumped, but Jinx had to plant herself each time she wanted to shoot, meaning that she wound up wasting most of her opportunities to attack.

After a number of strikes, the Guardian stopped with the whip and held its other weapon up and a bolt of red fired down from the ceiling, striking it and sending a nova of fire racing across the water. Both of them managed to jump it, still being on the defensive from the flurry of whip strikes, but immediately after they cleared the nova, the Guardian slammed the weapon down and a dozen orbs of fire flew out evenly spaced around it, forcing them back as they tried to line up with the gaps in between them.

Jinx slid through the water, keeping low to clear the lower curves of the orbs and popped up, opening fire with her rifle and using up the last of its ammo before switching to her pistol. Just when that clicked dry, the Guardian raised slightly from where it had slammed down and brought its whip up, unleashing another flurry of strikes.

“This sucks.” Gaige cried as they both worked on reloading their respective weapons while trying to avoid getting hit.

After a painfully long series of attacks, the Guardian paused again, lifting its weapon, but this time the energy that shot down to it was blue. They both seemed to realize what was coming, but only Gaige was close enough to Deathtrap to grab on his offered arm and fly up, leaving Jinx to try and jump the predicted nova.

Except this time there was no nova, as she tensed to jump, the Guardian slammed its weapon down and released the energy straight into the water.

“Aw crap.” Was all she managed to get out as she tried to jump, but was caught by the wave of electrical energy that hit her before she could get clear. She fell over again, twitching as the current ran through her.

Gaige winced from her vantage point and opened fire on the Guardian, even as it unleashed a set of electrical orbs. But unlike the last set, there were only three of them, but they hurtled towards her as if they wanted revenge.

Deathtrap shot up to avoid them, but they slowly turned and followed, electing a confused “Uru” from him. Gaige spotted this and tried firing at them, only to have her shots go wide, though a few of them did end up hitting the Guardian.

In desperation she yelled out “Babe! Laser them!”

Deathtrap ducked under them and fired a green beam, slicing across the first one and causing it to explode in a mini-nova of electrical energy that almost caught him.

Though he was still immune to it, he still fell back, worried about the girl he was carrying as he fixed his lens on the remaining two.

Suddenly they exploded in rapid succession causing them to both look down, where they found Artemis laying in the water with her pistol up.

She spat out a bit and yelled “Well don’t just float there, do something! And next time, don’t leave me here.”

“Then move faster next time.” Gaige yelled back “And get on your feet, before it starts again.”

Deathtrap shook his head and set Gaige down again. While it would’ve been advantageous to carry her around, it was better to conserve his energy as well as spread out the targets, still he did feel bad for Artemis, getting zapped for a second time.

Gaige helped the other girl to her feet and muttered “Thanks.”

Before she could get a reply, the Guardian fell back into its flurry of whip attacks, forcing them apart as they dodged.

As she rolled and fired, Gaige yelled out “I’m gettin sick of this thing.”

“Yeah, I heard you the first time. So you got any suggestions? Other than shooting it I mean.”

“No, so keep shooting it. It’ll die eventually.”

“Yeah, and so will we.” Artemis said while sliding under one of the strikes before coming up and snapping off a shot.

“Don’t say things like that.” Gaige yelled back slapping another clip in “Damn, I’m almost out over here. You?”

“Same.”

“Man, I wish I’d brought a back-up shotgun. Why, oh why did I leave Cerberus on the ship?”

“What happened to the one you brought?”

“Broke it stopping a buzz-ax.”

“That sucks.”

“Tell me about it.”

As they were dodging and yelling back and forth, the Guardian stopped again, which prompted a “Heads up.”

This time the energy was green, electing a groan from the girls as they prepped to see what kind of attack it would unleash this time. The Guardian slammed its weapon down and a dome of green energy forced them back as it spread outward till it filled almost half the chamber. Gaige tried to fire a shot into it only to watch the bullet disintegrate.

“Well, that’s not good.”

As if waiting for that cue, a wave swept down from the Guardian almost touching the water before firing back up and bursting out of the top of the dome. Once clear from the wall of energy, they could see that it was in fact made up of a multitude of smaller green spikes that flew up halfway through the chamber before splitting and firing out. Some started raining down around the room, but the rest flew into the portals, flashing around before coming out at an angle and striking down at them.

They ran, dodging the projectiles as they rained down, Artemis moving as fast as she could and Gaige right next to her chanting “This sucks.”

As they ran Gaige stopped her litany of pity and asked “Any ideas?”

“Other than keep running till this stops?”

“I mean for after that.” Gaige snapped.

“Shoot it some more.”

“Thought you’d say that.”

“There’s just one problem.”

“Now what?”

“What if it uses ice?”

“It’d get cold.”

“We’re ankle deep in water.”

“So, we jump.”

“And when we land?”

“Aw nuts.”

“So, we better think of something before it comes to that.”

Gaige fell into thought until the smaller girl shoved her out of the way of an incoming attack, taking it with her shield. As she rolled to her feet, she was about to call out the other girl even though she knew that her adaptive shield was better for this when she saw something that gave her an idea.

“How many shots do you have for your backup piece?”

“One.”

“What? How? Where’d they go?”

“Well, the psycho fired one, and you fired one, that should leave one left.”

“What happened to the rest of them?”

“Huh?”

“I mean, you’ve got more than that right?”

“Oh, I left them on the ship.”

“Why would you do that!?”

“Cause I didn’t have the gun! Why would I carry around ammo without a gun?”

“OK, fair point, but are you holding onto it for any reason?”

“Didn’t have a good chance to use it.”

“Well, now might be a good time.”

“Yeah, fair point.”

“Besides, we can’t have Deathtrap using his deathlaser, he needs to save his energy to carry us outta here and all the way back up to the ship.”

“Ah, was wondering why he wasn’t using that.”

“Yeah, so get in there and kill this thing.”

Artemis looked at her for long enough that Gaige started getting uncomfortable.

“What?” She demanded as they continued running, though the barrage was coming to an end.

“Better idea.” She said drawing the gun and slapping it into Gaige’s hand. “You do it.”

“Wha…”

“You’ll do a lot more damage with it than I would.”

“Only if I hit!”

“Then get point blank. Slam it against its head and pull the trigger. Just make sure to use your left hand.”

Gaige goggled at her for a moment, but right then the last of the projectiles hit behind them and the green dome fell.

“Now!” Artemis yelled turning and running straight at the Guardian. Without thinking about it, Gaige followed along as the smaller girl started firing her pistol into the glowing ‘eye’ in the middle of the Guardian’s face.

As she got close, Gaige suddenly felt a pair of familiar hands grab her waist and lift her up as Deathtrap carried her right up to the things face. Just as she got there it started to stand back up, its whip crackling menacingly.

Without thinking, Gaige slammed the heavy gun into its eye and pulled the trigger, feeling the recoil all the way into her chest as the bullet tore through the Guardian’s head. It slowly toppled over backwards to land in a plume of water, dousing Artemis again.

“I TRULY AM THE GOD OF DAMAGE!” Gaige yelled as the Guardian started to dissolve in the strange way that they did.

Artemis lay on her back, rocking gently with the dying waves and gave her a thumbs up.

Deathtrap set Gaige back down next to her and they enjoyed the quiet for a moment before Artemis spoiled it by asking from her position on the floor “So, uh, where’s this control thing?”

As if in response a low groan echoed across the room prompting her to sit up as the waves started again.

“Now what?” She asked, prompting Gaige to bury her face for a second, but then, to her surprise instead of another attack, a pedestal rose out of the water.

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Chapter 42

Garden of Minos

The pedestal appeared to be made up of five parts each rising independently, flush with each other, the outer four were larger and were roughly triangular in shape, while the central one was squarish with an indent in the top. It rose first, stopping just under Jinx’s chest height, while the other four rose a bit further, coming almost to her shoulders. The outer ones were angled, with their highest point being at the back and sloping down to about the height of the central pillar.

They appeared to be made out of some kind of stone and on the sides of the outer pillars were strange markings in a glowing square with another one on the top, on the front of three of them, right below the angle was what appeared to be stone gears, each pillar having a different number and on the fourth and slightly larger one, they were on the angle itself.

“Well, it’s definitely Eridian.” Gaige said, staring at it puzzled.

“You don’t say.”

“Aren’t you the one always going on about sarcasm?”

“Well, when you say something like that, what’d you expect?”

“I was just thinking aloud, no need to be such a bitch about it.”

“Sure, sorry and all that, but why’d it appear? The whatever this thing is, I mean.”

“Hmm, probably because we defeated the Guardian.”

“And why would that make this appear? I mean what kinda logic is that?”

“I donno, but that’s what always seems to happen.”

“Fair enough. So how does it work?”

“You think I know?”

“No, but was kinda hoping you would. Or at the very least, have some kinda insight.”

“Well I don’t, so give me a moment.” Gaige huffed and went to work examining the pedestal. She made a circuit of it, being sure to not touch anything, then had Deathtrap lift her up so she could see into the center.

After that she cautiously touched one of the gears on the side of the nearest one, when nothing happened, she moved on to the different patterns glowing on it.

To her surprise, she found Artemis examining one of them as well and had to ask “What’re you doing?”

“Examining it.”

“Why?” Slipped out before she could think about it.

“Cause if we don’t figure this out, we’re gonna be stuck here and while I might not be as good as you with these kinda things, I’m pretty good with patterns so I figured why not.”

“And?”

“And I don’t have a clue. Not enough to go on at least.”

“Figures.”

“Well, I suppose we’re gonna have to turn these things.” She said giving one of the gears a push.

Even as it turned with a click Gaige let out a high pitched “Are you crazy!” Just before the portals flashed.

“Oh please no.” Gaige muttered looking around “Pleasepleaseplease”

“Huh.” Artemis said looking around “Seems to have cycled the portals, interesting.”

“Gah!” Gaige cried, grabbing her hand before she could do anything else “What’ya think you’re doin?”

“Figuring out how this works.”

“Don’t just start pressing things!”

“How else’ll I figure them out?”

“We look, then think, then choose a course of action before we do. Is this how you hunt?”

“No, I do all that stuff before I hunt and I did them before I turned that, it’s just I did it in my head. Cause you missed the last step, moving forward.”

“And I thought being reckless was my thing.”

“It is, but in this case, I made a call.”

“Well next time discuss it with me before you do anything.”

“Fine. So, which one should we turn next?”

“Oh god.” Gaige groaned burying her face in her hand “Do you ever learn.”

“Yeah, so what would you do?”

“I would’ve wanted to finish examining this thing before I did anything else, but since you’ve already started on that side, step back and let me do this.”

With that she carefully turned the gear and watched the portals shimmer a bit before settling down. Looking at them, she gave the gear another turn and watched them do it again. Then to complete the experiment, she turned the gear back and watched as the portals went back to the way they’d been.

“Alright, that’s what that one does, so what about this?” She said, trying the next gear down. As she turned it, the portals flashed again prompting her to go “Huh?”

But to her side Artemis nodded and went “I see, so that’s it.”

“What’s it?”

“The portals shifted, but where last time they went this way” She gestured with her hands “This time they went this way.”

Gaige nodded and turned the gear again and this time she saw what Artemis was talking about “Ah. You’re right.”

But then her expression darkened and she added “But for what purpose?”

“What?”

“Why would they want to be able to control where the portals connect to around the room? It makes no sense.”

“Not to us anyway, at least right now.”

Gaige nodded and quickly tried the rest of the gears, noting how they affected the portals. She tried putting her hand on the glowing symbols, but it didn’t do anything that any of them could spot, so she moved to the next pillar and after swallowing hard, gave the first gear a turn.

Nothing immediately happened which caused Gaige to examine the pillar closer and she spotted that the glowing symbol was not only different, but seemed to her to look like a button, so she pushed down on it and gave the gear another turn. This time the portals changed and instead of being glowing disks, seemed to show different places.

Surprised she stood and turned, but the instant she let go of the button, they reverted to their glowing form. Trying again, she pressed the button down and again when she rotated the gear the portals lit up with all different places that she’d never seen before.

Continuing to hold down the button, she tried rotating the disk further and the places changed, though now almost all of them were showing what appeared to be blank spots in space. Turning it again brought up even more places, so she tried the next gear which brought up even more space.

Letting go of the button she stared at the pedestal and muttered “What the heck’s this all about?”

“Huh?” Came the confused noise from next to her. She’d almost forgot that she wasn’t alone, so the sudden noise startled her.

“Oh, uh, I was wondering what this place is for, I mean, why show all those places and what were they?”

“No idea. An observation station perhaps? A transport hub? Could even be a prison, since we can’t get out, maybe those were all places where there were Vaults?”

“And what about the views of space?”

“Uh, yeah, I donno.”

“Me either.”

“It’s Eridian, so maybe we shouldn’t think about it too hard, I mean, no one understands most of the stuff they left behind.” Gaige said with a shake of her head and moved around to the last of the three pedestals and tried turning the first gear, but nothing happened, so she tried pushing the symbol on top and the central pillar lit up, projecting a glowing sphere. Looking at it, it looked like a planet with all the different land masses.

“What the…” Artemis said looking at it, and then for some reason at the portals.

“What?”

“I think this is one of the planets that was showing.”

“Really?”

“I mean, I can’t be sure, but I think so. And look, there’s a marking on it.”

She pointed to another complex marking of similar design to the ones on the pedestals.

“Huh, wonder what that means?” Gaige asked “Let’s try this.”

With that she turned the gear and the planet rotated. The next gear rotated it on a different axis, while the third gear zoomed in.

“Hold on a second.” Artemis said, moving back to the first pillar and turning one of the gears, which caused the planet to vanish and be replaced with another one.

“It’s like you can select with this one, and that one.” She pointed to the second pillar “And then examine it with your one.”

“Weird, still don’t know what it’s for though, so let’s try the last one.”

She shrugged and moved to the last pillar, the only one that was completely different and tried turning the gears on it. To her surprise, all of the gears moved together, almost like a switch and as soon as she turned them the central pillar lit up again, though this time it projected a complex shape, far more intricate than any that they’d seen before.

“Uh, OK.” Gaige said and tried to turn the gear again, but nothing happened.

“Lemme try.” Artemis said, pushing the button on the third pillar again. This time the shape changed into another even weirder shape that looked like a stack of the writing.

“Try turning the gear?” Gaige offered and when Artemis did that, the stack flipped to the next one down.

“Right, so that’s what that does, let’s try this.” Artemis muttered moving around to the next button and pressing it. Again, a stack of information that they couldn’t read appeared.

“Hmm.” She said, cocking her head “Wonder what happens if I do this.

She pressed down on both buttons and suddenly the shapes all vanished and in their place was a single non-glowing symbol that didn’t look friendly and was slowly filling with red light from the bottom. As it filled the chamber started to shake, with bits of debris falling, which caused Artemis to yank her hands back. As soon as she did, the shaking stopped and the symbol went back to being black before vanishing.

“Uh, what was that?” She asked looking around.

Gaige walked around behind her and looked over her shoulder before nodding and saying “I think that’s what we’re looking for.”

“Really?” Artemis said looking at it with growing suspicion.

“Yep.” Gaige replied, taking a small step back and closing her eyes for a moment as she gathered her will to continue. She let out a soft breath and threw a punch at the back of Artemis’s head.

Whether she heard something, or had come to the same conclusion, the smaller girl ducked and spun, throwing her own punch at Gaige’s stomach.

Gaige managed to slide back and avoid it before yelling “What’re you doing?”

“I should be asking the same thing, what are you doing?”

“Look, only one of us is getting outta here, someone has to stay and hold down those switches, so you’re getting outta here.”

“No way, that’s my line. Besides, weren’t you the one who told me that sacrificing yourself wasn’t noble, it was greedy?”

“It is, but in this case, it’s doing the right thing.” She replied while circling slowly around.

“The right thing? That would be you leaving.”

“No way, you’re the one that’s leaving.”

“I’ve got nothing out there, so you need to go.”

“What’re you talking about, you’ve got everything out there. A ship. Money.”

“Is that all you think about? Fine, it’s all yours.”

“I don’t want it.”

“But you said that it’s everything and if that’s the case, you take it and go.”

“I refuse to live on your corpse.”

“Well, I feel the same, the difference is that if I stay here, no one will care, that’s what you have that I don’t, people who’ll miss you. You say I’ve got everything? But the truth is that I’ve got nothing. There’s no one out there that will miss me, no one will care if I’m gone, hell, there’s probably quite a few who’ll be glad.”

“That’s not true!”

“Sure it is, off the top of my head there’s the Montamore’s, those Holloway employee’s and no doubt a few of your relatives just to name a few.”

“Yeah well, most of them would be at least as glad if I vanished you know.”

“Maybe, but there’s a lot more that would miss you.”

“No there’s not.”

“Sure there is, your family, your friends, your old Vault hunting buddies. Me? No one.”

“A.I.ngel would miss you. Sir Hammerlock and Wainwright would as well.”

“Alright, maybe, but they’d miss you too, so do they really count?”

“Of course they do, you said no one would miss you, but they would. And so would I. You’re not alone anymore.”

“Would you though? Would you really? Or would some part of you be glad that I’m not around anymore? No more creepy monsters following you around. No more feeling guilty every time you see me. No more having me asking you to make choices. No more having to sacrifice what you really want. No more having to worry about what I might do? You really expect me to believe that no part of you, not even a tiny bit, wouldn’t be glad to be rid of me? Cause I don’t believe it.”

“Of course part of me would be glad to be rid of you! But not the part you’re thinkin on, I’ve told you that some part of me’s self-destructive. The part of me that wants to keep crawling back to the bottle. To give up on what I want. That part of me doesn’t want you around because you make me try to be better than I am. I wanna be the person that you see when you look at me with respect that I don’t deserve, when you stand up to me and try to make me a better person. And I can’t be that person without you around anymore.” She charged in, trying to grab the smaller girl and throw her, only to get tangled up as Artemis grabbed onto her shirt.

“Sure you can. You just need to find someone who’s good for you. Unlike me.” She shouted back, twisting out of Gaige’s grip and trying to grab her from behind.

“Don’t you get it? You are good for me. Before I met you, I was a disaster. You wanna know how bad I was? How disgustingly self-destructive I was? I got so wasted that I asked some of the Vault Hunters to put in a good word for me with Eista! Even though I really knew what kinda man he was, I asked. And you know what’s worse? Even after I sobered up, after I realized what I’d asked them to do and felt nauseous about it, even though I got lucky and they didn’t do it, do you know what I did? I went back to the bottle. That’s who I was before I met you!” Gaige practicality cried as she shoved the smaller girl away.

“And nothing’s changed since then.” Artemis shot back “You still run back to the bottle. So, don’t give me that, we both know that you’ll be better off on your own. You can still find happiness. Me? Not gonna happen. I can’t even say what I like without inviting doom onto myself and those I care about. No, it’s better for everyone if I just die here.”

Gaige grabbed her head in frustration for a moment before letting out a sigh and giving the other girl a look. “I’m not gonna change your mind, am I? You just won’t accept that I don’t wanna live without you, will you?”

“No matter how many times you say it, how can I believe it?”

“I guess you’re right. Words just won’t convey what I think. I really wish there was another way, but you’re right. I hate saying it, but you’re right.” Gaige said with a sad shake of her head, and then charged the other girl, crouching low as she did, trying to catch her off guard as she attempted to slam her shoulder into her stomach, but the other girl seemed to have seen it coming as she threw herself sideways, revealing the control pillar directly behind her, causing Gaige to impact into it instead.

“Ow.” Gaige moaned as her shoulder hit the stone, even though she’d tried to stop before hitting it.

As she bounced back from the impact, Jinx was on top of her, attempting to hold her down so that she could hit her in the back of the head in an attempt to knock her unconscious.

Gaige shoved her arms against the pillar and pushed back, knocking them both off balance and forcing Jinx to back off.

The two girls stared at each other, moving slowly as they sized each other up. Gaige slowly rolled her shoulder, checking the bruise. Once she was sure it would hold up, she nodded to Artemis and said “Pretty sneaky.”

“Says the person that tried a sneak attack. Twice.”

“Touche. But I wouldn’t have to do this if you’d just let Deathtrap carry you outta here. I mean, why won’t you? You’ve already said that you don’t trust me, so why die for me?”

“Knowing that won’t change anything.”

“It might, I mean, what was it you said earlier? Convince me?” As she said it, Gaige lunged forward, throwing a punch at Artemis’s face, which she swatted away and threw one of her own at Gaige’s stomach, forcing her back.

“I’ve already told you, I’ve got nothing out there.”

“Neither do I.”

“Liar. You’ve got plenty.”

“It might seem that way to you, but what do I really have?”

“You’ve got a family.” Jinx said as she ducked low and lunged at Gaige’s legs, grabbing onto them and pulling, managing to drop the other girl into the water. Instantly she was straddling her and trying to punch, only to have her arms grabbed by Gaige, who had crossed her arms so that her cybernetic arm was holding Jinx’s.

“Whom I hadn’t seen in years, but I got to thanks to you, so that’s more than enough.” She wrestled against the squirming girl.

“You’ve got friends.”

“No, I don’t.” Gaige said twisting sideways, managing to throw the lighter girl off.

They both rose to their feet as Gaige continued “Other than Deathtrap, who do I have? Huh? Sir Hammerlock? Other than his wedding I haven’t really seen him in years. B Team? If it hadn’t been for you, it might have been another seven years before I saw them. Don’t you get it? I’m alone out there too, but unlike you, it isn’t as obvious.”

“But you still have people.”

“What about Cranley?”

“What about him?”

“What happens to him if you die?”

“You know what’ll happen, he’ll be in your care.” Gaige took that moment to dash forward. As she expected, Artemis ducked to the side and as she did, Gaige twisted with her and pulled her back. Snaking her left arm around Artemis’s throat she tried to lock it with her other arm to choke her out.

The smaller girl managed to not panic and got her left hand onto Gaige’s wrist in time and was able to pull it down enough to breath.

Gaige was honestly surprised, she knew her cybernetic was stronger than Artemis’s, who had built hers for durability, but here she was pulling hard enough to stop her. It wasn’t like muscles either, where a strong enough will could make a difference, this was cold physics. Still, she had the advantage, both in height and in strength, so she leaned forward, stomping on the back of the other girl’s knee to get her down.

But it didn’t go as easily as that. Artemis stepped forward with her other leg, managing to keep herself from falling over or going to her knees. Giving up on gaining any more ground with her arm, she shot her right hand back, grabbing at Gaige’s head, prompting her to try and swat it away.

As she pushed at it, the hand found a grip and tangled with Gaige’s pigtail. Gripping tightly, she pulled hard, dragging her head off to the side as pain exploded across her scalp and forced her to let go of her throat.

As soon as she was free, Jinx let go of Gaige’s hair and scampered a little ways away, fixing her eyes on the other girl as she staggered around holding the side of her head. Unconsciously, Jinx tried to shake the hairs that were still stuck to her hand off, but the wet clump didn’t go anywhere, so she wiped it against her pants.

“OW!” Gaige cried out, still holding the side of her head while glaring at Jinx with tears in her eyes “Seriously? Pulling my hair? That really hurts you know.”

“You were trying to choke me.”

“I was only trying to put you to sleep.”

“Was that what that was?”

“Yes! I was trying to do this as gently as possible, but that’s it.” Gaige gave her scalp one last rub and fixed her with an open glare. “I wanted this to be easy, but no, you just had to make it hard.”

“You’re the one making it hard. Just grab onto Deathtrap and get outta here, that’s all you have to do.”

“I’m not leaving you behind.”

“Then you’ve got another solution? Cause if so, I’d love to hear it.”

“Sure I do. Leave me behind.” She said before rushing in and throwing a punch aimed at Jinx’s head.

Jinx dodged backwards and shouted back “Not happening.” and threw a punch of her own, aimed at Gaige’s leg.

Gaige managed to pull her leg back and slammed her clasped hands down onto Artemis’s back, knocking her to the floor with a spray of water. Gaige tried to follow her attack up, but the smaller girl rolled to the side while grabbing Gaige’s leg, yanking it out from under her.

Jinx was on her feet first and rushed the prone Gaige, who snapped out a kick at the other girls’ leg, connecting with her left one, which succeeded in knocking it out from under her, but sent a stinging wave up her leg.

“Ow. Damn metal leg.” Gaige muttered, rubbing her ankle as she rolled to a crouch. Artemis pushed up from the water and shook her head, sending droplets flying. The moment she started to stand up, Gaige lunged forward, grabbing her around the waist and lifted her up. She took a step and tried slamming her down, except that she had managed to hook her arm around Gaige’s head, dragging her with and causing them both to splash into the water.

They lay on their backs for a second getting more and more frustrated with their lack of progress.

Gaige rolled over and took a swing at Artemis while yelling “Why’re you being so difficult?”

“Shut it.” Jinx retorted, rolling slightly to avoid the strike but still getting hit by the resulting splash. “I’m getting tired of your greedy whining.”

“Whining?” Gaige spat as she dodged a return strike “If anyone’s whining it’s you. Every time that I try and do something, you whine about something I’ve said or done, you bitch and moan about it and when you’re not doing that, you’re dragging up the worst mistake I’ve made and throwing it in my face and I’m tired of it. I know I screwed up, it makes me sick to think about and I know that you have the right to bring it up, but you lord it over me like uh, uh, big stick”

“Cudgel?”

“Shut up! But yes, a cudgel, now, where was I? Oh yeah, you lord it over me like a cudgel, making me feel like crap every time. I know that things can’t go back, so the least I can do for you is this!”

“I don’t want this, don’t you get that, I never wanted this!”

“Then what do you want, huh?”

“I want you to be happy! That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Well too bad, I’m an ex-Vault Hunter, and we don’t get to be happy. I mean, a third of the ones I knew are already dead, and out of the rest, one’s insane, one’s missing and the rest are broke or wanted. I’m not gonna have a happy life, it’s just not in the cards for me, but you still might have a chance.”

“No, I don’t.”

“And why not?”

“Cause monsters don’t get happy endings!” She shouted back with such force that Gaige took a step back.

“You’re not a monster.”

“Yes, I am! I bring nothing but pain to those who’re close to me. Everyone I care about gets hurt. Everything I touch goes bad. I deserve to be here, not out there, so let me do something good for once.”

“Oh, lay off the self-pity. Everything and everyone? I’m still here.”

“And stuck in this place.”

“That was my choice. I did this to us. Me. Not you.”

“It was only because of me that you wanted to come here.”

“Sure, and it was only because of Marci that I ever left home. And it’s only because my parents met that I was even born. So not everything’s your fault. And if you wanna talk about pain, what about what I’ve inflicted on you?”

“You didn’t”

“Stop lying!”

“I’m not lying! You didn’t do anything to me, everything that’s happened has been my fault, it’s what I deserve for being the way I am.”

This time Gaige slapped her and grabbed her shoulder while screaming in her face “There’s nothing wrong with you! Get that through your head.”

“Then why are you trying to abandon me!”

Gaige stopped and looked into the teary eyes of the other girl and whispered “I’m not. I just, well, someone has to stay here.”

“So why shouldn’t it be me? I’ve got nothing out there if I let my curse consume you too!”

Gaige looked at her and realized that if she did sacrifice herself, Artemis wouldn’t ever be able to move forward again, her belief that she was a monster would grow till that’s all she was, but still, she knew that she couldn’t lose her here either so she said “And if I lose the one good thing in my life, what do you think will happen to me? Will I be any better than you would? Or will I end up the same, loathing myself as a monster?”

The girls looked at each other and slumped down, both of them defeated.

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Chapter 43

Garden of Minos

As they leaned against each other a voice rasped out “You know…I am wondering…why no one is looking for…another option?”

The girls looked over and found themselves staring at a familiar older man.

“Mentes?” Artemis asked in confusion “What’re you doing here?”

“I followed…along. But…more to the point…why are you…not taking in…other options?”

“Wait, followed us?” Gaige said standing up and giving him a suspicious look “How’d you do that?”

“You all…drew the…uh, creatures? Away, so…I followed from…a distance.”

“Huh. So, what’re you doing here?”

“I followed along…wanted to…see, I guess…what was down here…so I entered…heard you two arguing…sorry to listen in, but I couldn’t…figure out…why you were so…intent on dying.”

“It’s not like that.” Artemis said with a sigh “Neither of us wants to die, but there isn’t another option.”

“Sure there is…why not go and…get someone else?”

“Cause by the time we found someone and discussed it, the Guardians would’ve resurrected. It’s an annoying trait they have. Tannis said it was something about them not being alive properly or something. To be honest I didn’t really pay that much attention when she talked. What? It was all science science science, I have no pants, science science whenever she talked. It was too much like being back in school, except she would often be trying to say all that stuff while we were being shot at, so I didn’t really pay attention.”

“Wait, what was that about pants?”

“Nothing, it wasn’t always pants anyway, point being, we’re on a timer here, so we need to get this done before the Guardians come back.”

“Hmm…I see…that does limit you.” Mentes said, putting his chin in his hand.

“So, you see, not really any other options.”

“There is.” Mentes said with a nod.

“Really? What’d we miss?”

“I will do it.”

“Wait, what?” Gaige said spinning to face him completely.

“You can’t do that.” Artemis said “What about your son?”

“If he is still…alive, and still… thinks of me, I would be…surprised. He no doubt thinks…I am already…dead.”

“Then isn’t that all the more reason to get outta here?”

“But someone must…stay. I am old…you are not…it is not a hard…choice to make.”

“But…”

“Should you really…be trying to…talk me out of this?” Mentes said with a soft smile. “Besides, I am…not the person you…think I am.”

Before they could go any further a gunshot rang out and Mentes crumpled, falling sideways.

“She-oot, that guy talks so damn slow.” A familiar voice rang out “And what’s with him trying to be all noble and ■■■■. Diss-gustin.”

“Orion.” Artemis growled as Gaige started forward to help Mentes.

“Ah-ah.” Orion said tauntingly as he leveled his rifle at Gaige “Now now, we can’t have that, now can we? After I went to the trouble of makin it so that he’ll bleed out niiice and slooow. Give us more time to chat. You like that don’t you little cheater, chattin I mean, but this time, well, there’s no bars between us, and I’m armed, so we can have a right proper talk, unlike last time. I mean, do you have any idea how hard it was getting this all set up? Course you wouldn’t, see after our last little talk, soon as you ran away, I get myself outta that cell lickity-split and waltzed on outta that place and who should I run into but some o-your bandit friends, so I thinks to myself, these idiots might be useful. And sure enough, that ol boy Stripe was mighty interested in where you was goin, interested enough in fact to go to his rival clan to get their help. An all I gots to do was follow them down, an let them deal with everything between me and you.”

“So, what do’ya want?” Artemis growled out.

“Now now, that’s not a nice tone to take. You should be more graceful, I mean, I know you’ve got a vo-cab-u-lar-y on you, so why not use them fancy words of yours to make me feel appreciated?”

“Why would I ever want to make you feel appreciated? And you want words from me? Alright, here you go. You. Are. Scum.” Artemis replied flatly “That’s all the words I need for you, you blithering idiot, if I actually used more words you wouldn’t comprehend what I’m trying to impart upon you.”

“I’m not an idiot!

“Of course you are, I mean, do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

“I’ve given us the chance to have a proper contest, one without interruptions or distractions. Just a contest of skill, hunter on hunter in a fight to the death.”

“Didn’t you listen to what I said earlier? Or are you really that dumb? I told you that the Montamore’s wouldn’t get the estate even if I die, so there’s no point in this.”

“What do I care about that? I never said that I was doin this for them old fools, I mean, who cares about that old dump.”

“Wait, if that’s not what this is about, then what the heck are you doing, following me around?”

“Now who’s the idiot? I already told you, I wanna proper fight.”

“Wait, so this has nothing to do with the Montamore’s?”

“Bing-o. We have a winner. Though, to be fair, you could still say it has somethin to do with them, after all, it was the old man’s little contest that started all this.”

“And?”

“And? What?”

“Well, I was wondering what the contest had to do with anything. I mean, why was it so important to chase me all the way out here?”

“Cause if it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have lost!”

“You came in third, you moron. Which means that you would’ve lost no matter what.”

“No, it doesn’t!”

“Yes, it does. And besides, that was a couple of years ago, so why now?”

“Cause I couldn’t keep up with you. Every planet you went to I followed, but by the time I got there, you’d fled, like the scared little prey you are.”

Artemis snorted “How could I be scared of you? I didn’t even know you were following me.”

“Some hunter you are.” Orion snapped “This is exactly what I’m talking about. I’m better than you. I’m the best hunter. Me!”

Artemis just shrugged her shoulders “Says the man who couldn’t keep up with his quarry.”

Orion’s face twitched uncontrollably as he tried to hold in his anger as he continued “Like I said, you ran. And then, after Tartaris, you went into hiding and I lost your trail. I’d nearly given up when I got a call from those fools.”

“Uh, which fools are you talking about, cause I’m having trouble following this rambling mess of a story?”

“Shut it! The Montamores of course.”

“Ah, of course.”

The twitch was getting stronger but he managed to continue “They call me up and say they want me to finish you off, which I was going to do anyway, but they tell me where you were and had followed you to Eden 6. After that, I followed you here. All for this moment.”

“I was right. You were working for the Montamores.”

“No, I wasn’t!”

“You just said that they asked you to do this.”

“But I’m not doing this for them! This is for me! I’m the best! And I’m gonna prove it, right here, right now!”

“And if I say, no?”

“Then I kill this old bastard and then your friend there. Then you’ll have to die to get out of this place. And even if I can’t kill her, I still win, since one of you will have to die here anyway!”

Gaige leaned over and whispered “I think this guy’s lost it.”

“I don’t think he had it to begin with.”

“What are you two whispering about?” Orion shouted, pointing his rifle at Mentes “Try anything and he dies.”

“I was just trying to convince her to take you up on that offer.”

Artemis looked at Gaige for a second before looking back at Orion and sighing “How’s this gonna go down?”

“I’m gonna kill you. Slowly.”

“Uh, no thanks?”

“Yeah, that doesn’t seem like a contest of skills to me either.” Gaige added.

“No one asked you! You, you…who are you anyway?”

“That doesn’t matter.” Artemis said, drawing his attention back to her “What does, is how you want to play this.”

“Fine, you want it to be skill? How about a standard duel? We move over here a bit and then we fight.”

“Not much about that says ‘hunter’ to me.” Artemis flatly stated, but when he pushed his rifle against Mentes’s wound, she quickly added “But it’s fine. We can do it this way.”

“Knew you’d see things my way.” He cackled.

Artemis drew her pistol slowly and popped open the cylinder, dumping the rounds into her hand and fishing out the unspent ones with a sigh.

“What’s the matter? Out of bullets?” Orion asked with faux interest.

“No. Just down to two left.”

“Oh. Maybe I should empty mine down as well, make it even.” He paused before breaking into a hearty laugh, like he’d just told an incredibly amusing joke. Once he’d recovered, he straightened up and looked at her “Moron. As if I’d say that. Bein prepared is part of being a hunter after all.”

Gaige was about to start forward when Artemis nodded “You’re right, it is. Besides, two bullets is plenty to take you out.”

Orion’s face fell for a split second before he laughed again. “False bravado. How fitting for your end. Well, shall we then?”

“One thing.” Artemis demanded, getting a raised eyebrow from her opponent as if telling her to continue “They’ll stay out of this, so let them see to him.”

Orion looked down at the wounded man at his feet, and then back at the girls before weighing his options. He must have known that if he didn’t agree, they would all attack him immediately, so he nodded and circled away from Mentes, allowing Gaige to rush to his aid.

As soon as Gaige got there, she pulled out an Insti-Health vial and injected it. Seeing this, Artemis nodded and turned her full attention to the fight at hand, rolling her neck from side to side, still lamenting internally that she couldn’t get it to crack dramatically.

Orion held his rifle loosely in front of him, angled down slightly, his eyes on her, gleaming with malicious intent. He seemed to be waiting for her to make the first move, confident that he could take the shot, even if she beat him at speed. His outline flickered slightly in the dim room, the only light coming from the shimmering portals and the glowing console.

Still, Artemis waited, hand resting on her pistol. Waiting as the droplet of sweat ran down the side of her face. Gaige held Mentes up as the medicine worked its way through his wound and they watched, no one daring to make a sound. They could all tell that Orion was getting annoyed, his front hand twitching slightly on the grip, but he was still patient, waiting to see what Artemis would do, after all, if she was waiting to tick him off and make him make a mistake, then all he had to do was wait patiently.

Finally she moved, drawing her pistol and firing. He dodged to the side as the gun came up. She fired again, her aim following him as he threw himself to the side as the second shot sliced through the air where he’d just been.

Straightening up, he let out a laugh “Seriously? You missed, at this range?”

As he brought his rifle up Artemis let out a dismissive snort “You failed as a hunter.”

“How’s that?” He sneered.

“A hunter needs to know their environment.” She answered as her bullets exited their portals and slammed into his hands from both directions, knocking the rifle from his grip.

As he danced in a circle shaking his hands, Artemis drew the buzz-ax from her left hip and casually flipped it from her left hand, catching it with her right as she cocked her head.

Seeing the girl holding her ax, Orion quickly tried to draw his pistol. Seeing that, Artemis charged him. The pain in his hands caused Orion to not be able to draw as smoothly as he wanted, and by the time he’d managed to get it leveled, Artemis was able to catch the barrel with her left hand, twisting it out of the way and bringing the ax down on his arm.

He managed to twist his arm back, the ax cutting deeply into the muscles across the back of his arm, which while painful, was much better than having the tendons be cut. Roaring in pain he punched her in the face, sending her sprawling onto the ground and the pistol flying away, before kicking her, sending her rolling through the water.

Rather than chasing her, he fumbled to draw a Insti-Health vial and inject it. He flexed his fingers as the medicine worked on fixing his hands and arm.

While he shook some feeling back into his limbs, Artemis sat up, shaking her head to stop the ringing. She’d managed to twist with the hit as best she could, but he still had rung her bell. But she’d managed to keep her hand on the ax, so she pushed herself to her feet and gave it a spin to limber up her wrist before charging him.

He caught her arm as it came down and pulled it in while twisting, using the momentum to chuck her across the room. Artemis did a partial somersault in midair before splashing down.

Orion drew his own knife and started advancing as Artemis sat up, reminding Gaige of something out of a horror movie.

Not wanting to give his opponent an opening, Orion charged, thrusting the knife at her, forcing her to twist and back up to avoid getting stabbed. With his longer arms he was keeping the fight on his terms, driving her back across the room. A grin spread across his face as he continued forcing her back, occasionally nicking her with the tip, drawing blood.

He went to thrust again, but this time Artemis lunged forward instead of retreating, her left hand grabbing onto the blade and twisting, locking it. As Orion grunted in surprise and tried to tug the blade loose, the girl used her grip as a fulcrum to spin low, lashing out with her buzz-ax, slicing across the front of his leg, just above the knee, tearing through muscle all the way to the bone.

Orion staggered back, his leg buckling beneath him unable to straighten it with the severed muscle. He pushed his hand against it, forcing it straight and swung the knife recklessly to try and create an opening as his left hand dug out another Insti-Health vial.

Not about to let him do that again, Artemis dashed forward, bringing her buzz-ax around to catch the knife and thrusting her left hand forward, popping the blade within to shatter the vial.

As she continued to turn, the locked blades tore out of their hands and went splashing into the water a good ways away. Now unarmed, Orion limped as the smaller girl circled him.

“Not fair, me bein unarmed and you still havin a weapon. Why don’t you just put that away and we’ll settle this properly.”

“Now now, being prepared is part of being a hunter, wasn’t it?”

“Get in here and I’ll choke you, you little condescending, cheating bitch.” He roared while making swings at her.

She could see that he was using the swings as cover to try and draw another vial, so she decided to oblige him and darted in. Dropping to her knees, she slid through the water on her way under his arm and popping her Digi-blade slashed through the front of his other leg, the shock of which caused him to drop the vial.

Finishing her slide, she spun to her feet and gave him a kick in the back, sending him falling uncontrollably forward. His hands hit the water and shot out from under him, sending a wave out.

He tried to push himself up, but as he did so, Artemis danced forward and sliced him across the back of the arm, severing muscles and sending him splashing back down. Before he could recover, she repeated the same cut on the other arm and then dropped herself onto his back.

Sitting there, she casually pushed his face under the shallow water as he flailed and thrashed, trying to get up without any ability to succeed.

As his panic grew, Gaige shouted out “Just finish him already.”

Artemis looked over at her with a bored expression, but popped her blade into the back of his head, killing him instantly.

Standing she walked over to where her buzz-ax had landed and fished around for it while calling out “So, how’s he doing?”

“He’s dead.”

“Wait, what? Weren’t you helping him?”

“Wait, which he are you talking about?”

“Mentes. Which one where you?”

“Orion.”

“Why would I be asking about him? I mean, I literally just killed him.”

“I know, that’s why I thought it was weird.”

“So, how’s he doing? Mentes I mean.”

“I will live.” Came the reply “Though I do not think…for long…given the…circumstances.”

Artemis came over to where they were, having finally fished her ax out of the water. Gaige looked at her with concern written on her face and asked “You alright?”

“Sure, why?”

“Cause you were kinda going full psycho there at the end.”

“What? You didn’t think that he deserved that?”

“No one deserves to go that way. Well, maybe a few people, but it’s still pretty nasty.”

Artemis rolled her eyes and Gaige decided to change topics by asking “Still, you not gonna go get his rifle? Seemed pretty good.”

“I want nothing of his. You want it, feel free to grab it.”

“Eh, maybe later, right now we need to talk.” She said, turning back to where Mentes was sitting.

“I see nothing…to talk about. Nothing…has changed.”

“But why would you do this?” Gaige asked “Surly you also have something to go back to. I’m pretty sure you were talking about a family not that long ago.”

He nodded “I might have…family left…I might not…I do not know. But they will have…moved on. And I have not done…good in my life. I am not…a good man.”

“You were the pirate crew, weren’t you?” Artemis casually said. When Mentes turned to her in shock she continued “What, I knew from the get go. Some of the things you said made it obvious that you weren’t a Jakobs man.”

“I did not mean to…lie. Not at first…but I didn’t think that…others would welcome me…if they knew the truth. So, I lied…told them I was…from the other ship. No one else…survived to…counter me, so I kept saying it.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Artemis said with a shrug.

“Of course it…matters.” Mentes angrily declared “I was a…bad man. I did bad…things.”

“Really? Cause you don’t seem like the kind. Are you just saying that to try and make this easier on us if we let you do this?” Gaige asked.

“Why do both of you…seem so intent…on talking me out…of this?”

“We don’t want anyone to die.” Artemis said.

“I was always going to…die here, this just makes it…worth something.”

The girls looked at each other, looking like they were going to continue arguing so Deathtrap intervened with a “Ugrrgurr”

Everyone looked at him and after a moment, the girls slumped.

“Fine, we’ll let you have your moment.” Gaige said before explaining how the device worked.

“Just make sure to give us as much time as you can before you press the buttons. But don’t wait too long, or else the Guardian will be back.”

Mentes nodded and grabbed onto the console as Deathtrap grabbed a girl in each arm and after making sure they were secure gave the old man a nod.

“Anything you want us to tell anyone?” Gaige asked.

“No. If my family is…alive, let them remember…how I was.”

“But don’t you want them to know that you died a hero?”

“They never knew…about what I really…was. This is…fine, just another…soul lost to the void.”

Seeing them try and say something else he smiled and continued “Go. Now. Don’t…delay any…longer.” Then as if it was an afterthought “I am glad…I saved you.”

Artemis bit back her tears and nodded as Deathtrap flew up the tunnel and out through the portal.

Mentes watched them go. He was truly happy to be doing something right for once in his life. For all these years he’d just hid. Even back when he had joined the pirate crew, it hadn’t been for the riches, or the fame, but because he was too scared to tell them no, so he hadn’t been all that sad to see them die. But then he’d spent the rest of his time here afraid that someone would find out who he really was, not that he was a pirate, there were plenty of others that had similar backgrounds. No, what he was afraid of was that they would find out that he was a coward who’d just let his crew die, so he’d hid.

He had no idea why he’d really rescued the girl, he just knew when he saw her that he couldn’t leave her there. It wasn’t that he’d thought that she might be a kindred spirit, despite the fact that it was clear that she’d fled the creature’s home, he could see that she’d fought it and managed to get away. Nor was it just loneliness. If it had been that, he would’ve long since went to one of the camps.

No, it was a mystery even to himself. But he was glad that he had. He wasn’t afraid of death, or rather, he was probably less afraid than most people, the benefit of having spent decades living in the creature’s shadow. Over the years, in the unending grind of days spent searching for food and books and then eating and reading he had lost himself somewhere along the way and it was only now that he realized that he wasn’t afraid of dying, he’d been afraid of it not meaning anything. That all that time wouldn’t amount to anything. But now he was here, and his journey was at its end.

And to be honest, he was glad. He was tired. So, if this was it, he was good with that.

He had no watch, no way to tell how long it had been since the girls and their robot had left but when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, something he’d learned meant imminent danger, he pushed the buttons.

The room started to shake and dust and debris fell around him, but he didn’t let go. The longer he held, the worse the shaking got, till he had to hold on to keep his footing, but his hands never slipped. It was almost like they couldn’t, like they were being held in place by some other force.

The gauge in front of him filled to the top and suddenly vanished, along with the shaking. For a split second he thought that he’d failed, that this wasn’t the self-destruct that the girls had thought it was. But then the glowing in front of him started to rapidly flash shots of far-flung planets in front of him as the chamber turned white.

He saw them as they flashed by.

A city bustling below.

A psycho chasing a person across a deserted stretch of nowhere.

A temple overgrown by jungle.

An imperious woman shouting in front of a factory floor of robots.

An old man hooked up to an array of machines.

An empty void of space.

A person disintegrating as a girl screamed in fear.

A woman wreathed in fire, who looked straight at him.

And then a family gathered. A man holding a glass in one hand, a baby in the chair next to him being tended to by a woman a bit younger than him. And a picture sitting on the mantel.

In slow motion he saw them lift their glasses to the picture of a young man, grinning wildly next to an exasperated woman as she held a baby.

He couldn’t hear anything, but they silently mouthed out ‘Happy Birthday Dad.’ and Mentes thought to himself as everything around him vanished ‘Ah, that’s right, today was my birthday.’

And then he was gone.

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Chapter 44

Garden of Minos

Deathtrap carried them through the portal and back outside and as they cleared the skeleton he started to rise, only to be stopped by Artemis crying “Wait!”

“What?” Gaige cried in alarm, looking around.

“We need to go back to our original landing point.”

“Why? That’ll take forever and we’re kinda on a tight schedule here.”

“Yeah, but do you know what’s straight above us? Cause I don’t. And what if we’re right under that Silent Death place? We’d go up and be dead before any of us knew it.”

“Urk. Ah, right, let’s go back the way we came.” Gaige said, turning pale.

Deathtrap shook his head, he understood why they had to, but he was already having to race against time and now he was having to add to his trip. He was just grateful that the girls didn’t weigh all that much, contrary to what one of them might have thought.

He took off flying again, skimming just under the clouds as he followed the ravine that they’d come in from till he spotted the familiar debris of their landing battlefield and turned upward, cutting through the clouds and emerging between two of the ships.

He continued up, past the rows of ships that got newer as he went, slowly feeling the girls getting lighter the further away they got.

Right as Gaige was wondering if she should figure out if she needed to ask to be dropped off at a different ship, whether it was just to salvage or not, a shockwave hit them. Looking down she saw the clouds had been blasted clear from the planetoid, which was in the process of collapsing in on itself.

“Uh, we might wanna go faster.” Artemis said from the other shoulder.

Deathtrap agreed, but he was already going almost as fast as he could, any faster and he risked burning something out or running out of power. Still, this wasn’t the time to sit around and think about it, so he sped up as much as he safely could, while starting to angle towards where the Hunter’s Moon was.

Gaige continued looking down, even though she knew it wouldn’t change anything, as the planetoid vanished completely and the lowest level of ships she could see started to fall inward.

The cascade of ships began slowly, but seemed to speed up as it rushed up towards them. Deathtrap didn’t feel any heavier, in fact he felt lighter, as if all the gravity had vanished. And then it hit him, without the planet generating the artificial gravity that they’d been using, there wouldn’t be any gravity at all, which was causing the ships to lose their orbits.

Above him he saw two of the ships start to collide in slow motion, forcing him to change course, diving through the gap that opened up on the other side.

The girls held on for dear life, the only things keeping them from floating away were the two strong arms holding them against the robot’s body and the pressure created by his acceleration through the field of ships.

Deathtrap watched in horror as a massive blockade suddenly appeared in front of him, it seemed that a dozen ships were crashing into each other on all sides. With nowhere to dodge, he gripped the girls a little tighter and dove forward, twisting through the narrow openings as the ships tore apart, at one-point diving into one of the ships itself and flying down the central corridor before exiting as the ship split open.

Gaige held tight, and as she was wondering if the others that had accompanied them had made it to safety, she started to struggle to catch her breath. In a confused panic she looked over to Artemis to find her with her hands over her mouth. Noticing Gaige’s look, she mouthed out ‘No Air’. It took Gaige a second to catch on, but as soon as she did, she realized that without the gravity or the air generation of the planet, all the available air was rushing out into the void of space.

Deathtrap noticed this as well, but it wasn’t affecting him, so he sped up, deciding to risk a little more speed since the girls were in immediate danger.

And then the Hunter’s Moon came into sight.

Dodging around the last few ships, he flew them right up to the hatch and held them in place as Artemis got to work fixing the door.

It didn’t take her long with her practiced motions, but those few seconds seemed to drag on for an eternity. Finally, the door slid open and Deathtrap practically threw them through it.

Not wasting any time, even as the girls lay gasping on the floor, he dove through after and closed the door, before unceremoniously scooping them up and dashing for the bridge.

By the time he got there, they had recovered and throwing their bags aside, dashed up the short flight of stairs and jumped into their seats.

“Get us outta here.” Gaige yelled.

“Working on it.”

“Well, work faster.”

“You wanna do this? Cause I’d be happy to let you.” Artemis bit back.

Gaige thought about it for a moment and then said “Nah, I’ll just navigate and complain.”

“I could do without the latter, but I’ll take what I can get. So which way.”

Gaige looked around, wracking her brains as she tried to remember how they’d arrived. “I think it was, uh, that way.”

“Urgur”

“Glad we have a consensus.” Artemis snapped and put as much power as she could into the engines, pushing them away from the collapsing fleet of ships.

She charted their course around the mess, trying to ignore it each time a ship came too near and before long she heard Gaige let out a small cry.

“We’re being followed.” She sounded happy as she shouted “It looks like at least some of them made it.”

“Great.” Artemis said, not breaking her attention from the task at hand “You wanna stop paying attention to that, and tell me where the exit is? Cause I’d like to get the heck outta here.”

“Sorry, right, I think you just keep going this way and it should be somewhere around here.”

“That’s specific.”

“Well, it’s not like it’s labeled.”

“Whatever. Here’s hoping we can get out the way we came in.”

“Don’t say that. Don’t even think that.”

Artemis chose to ignore the whining coming from her navigator and before long she spotted an abnormality in the clouds, like a slightly darker shape hidden behind them. Either that, or she was seeing things.

Still, she headed for it and as it got closer, she became more sure this was the way out, even though the shape never became clearer. And then they passed through it and all of their instruments came back to life, from the radio to the navigation, it was like the rest of the galaxy had suddenly popped into existence around them.

They all let out a cheer and pulled the ship away from the emergence point, clearing it for the rest of the ships to follow.

It wasn’t long before a small fleet had emerged and Gaige got to work on the radio, contacting them. She would’ve preferred to use the ECHOnet, but she didn’t think that many of them were equipped for it, or even if they had been, whether or not the crew could use it.

After a brief discussion with them, they all agreed to go their separate ways, though a few of the survivors from the Den of Bears followed along after them, since they didn’t really have anywhere else to go, especially since they didn’t want to report back to the corporation after all this time.

A Few Days Later

Eden 6

They called ahead and had set up a meeting with Wainwright so that when they arrived, they were shown in immediately. They found Wainwright and Sir Hammerlock sitting in the same room that they’d been shown to the last time they were there, though it seemed like that had been years ago.

“Now then, what can I do for you?” Wainwright opened the discussion.

“Now now, Winny, all in good time. Let them get seated first.” Sir Hammerlock said before turning to them and asking “Would you care for something to drink? We’ve just cracked open a delightful bottle of aged bourbon that is truly magnificent.”

Artemis watched as Gaige’s tongue flicked across her lips, almost as if she could taste it. But then she swallowed hard and said “No thanks, water’s fine.”

“Really? I mean it is a little oaky, but the caramel undertones are truly superb.”

“I’m, uh, I’m not, uh,”

“My dear Alistair, I do believe she’s on the wagon, so to speak.”

“Oh, dear me, I am dreadfully sorry. I do hope root beer is acceptable. The water here is a bit, well, non-potable.” Sir Hammerlock said, quickly hiding the bottle and pouring out two glasses of root beer.

“Now then,” Wainwright said after looking around “I take it you have some news you wish to share with us?”

Artemis nodded and said “Well long story short, we found the ship.”

“Geez.” Gaige groaned “You really need to work on your story telling.”

“Really? Now?”

“If I don’t do this now, they’ll never get the full story.”

“First, we don’t know how long they’ve got.”

“Fair. How long do you guys have?”

“We have the rest of the day off.” Wainwright answered, swirling his drink “We figured that you would have a story to tell and wanted to give you all the time you needed.”

“See, we’ve got plenty of time.”

“Fine, on to second, do you really want to tell them the whole story?”

Gaige blanched slightly and said “We can tell them the short version for now.”

“Well now I am curious.” Wainwright said.

“Winny.” Sir Hammerlock chastised him “There are things that we shouldn’t pry into.”

“Er, why don’t you tell it.” Gaige said, not wanting to reveal her mistake out loud to the people in front of her, whom she wanted to like her, but at the same time knowing that she needed to own up to it, so unable to decide what to do she tried to pass it off and let Artemis tell it. She knew it was cowardly, that she needed to reinforce to the other girl that she was truly repentant, but in the moment, she couldn’t step forward herself.

“Fine.” Artemis said, giving her a flat look that told her nothing of what she was thinking “I need the practice telling stories anyway. Or at least that’s what everyone tells me.”

So, she told the story as best she could, which meant her going back and adding things here and there, as well as having to consult with Gaige on a few details. But when she got to the point where Gaige had exploded at her, she skimmed past it, making it seem like they’d separated for other reasons and that she’d been scouting in the Orochi’s den when she’d encountered it. She skipped a bit more here and there, but other than that, it was mostly accurate, though Gaige couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t tell them all of what had happened.

“And that’s more or less what happened.” She concluded.

Wainwright sat back, thinking about their story, while Sir Hammerlock excitedly wanted to talk about the Orochi.

“So, you actually saw one? I truly am envious. To think you got to face what might be the last Luring Orochi and lived to tell the tale. Jolly good story.”

“Uh, thanks? Still, it wasn’t fun, that thing smashed me up pretty bad. Plus, I failed once. Wouldn’t have made it without a good bit of help.” Artemis said, looking embarrassed.

“Nonsense. Most of us hunters have lost at least a part of ourselves to some beast or another. You faced your foe and lived to tell the tale, what more could you ask for?”

“A lot.” Artemis muttered so soft that only Gaige could hear.

Wainwright seemed to pick up on the mood and swept in to change the direction of the conversation. “Yes, that is all interestin an I am sure that you hunters will be havin a long discussion about it, but I am more curious about what you found on the Ranger’s Iron.”

“Ah yes.” Gaige said, shaking her head to get her thoughts back in order “Let’s see, I’ve got the assault rifles here.” She said setting them on the desk.

Wainwright picked them up and did a quick check of them “Hmm, yes. I see they were goin in a different direction with these. Still, don’t think we’ll learn much from them.”

Artemis drew the pistol she’d picked up and emptied it of ammo before setting it on the table. Wainwright picked it up and did another quick check before sliding it back “Seems pretty similar to the Peacemaker line, I’ll have Dalton look it over, but I see no reason that you can’t hold onto it.”

“We also found a couple of sniper rifles.” Artemis said unslinging the one off her back and again removed the ammo before setting it down as Gaige followed suit.

“These are interestin, but more as collector items then research.”

It was obvious that he was waiting for the true trophy gun they’d found and after Artemis nodded to him, Deathtrap flew out to where he’d left it and brought it in.

Wainwright ran his hands over the cannon, looking at it from all angles while muttering about the lack of scroll-work on the barrel and the wood choice used on the stock before turning to them and asking “So, you fired it?”

“Yeah, sorry but I felt I had to. Used up two of the shells that were with it.”

“Nothin to be sorry for, I told you you could, I was just wonderin what your take away was?”

“You really wanna know?”

“Wouldn’ta asked otherwise.”

“Alright.” Artemis said shaking her head “I don’t think you should ever put the thing into production. First off, it kicks hard enough that it cracked my shoulder when I fired it. Had to use a Insti-Health just to keep going, and that was even with Deathtrap holding onto it, and I’m meaning after every shot. That I had to use an Inti-Health, I mean. Second, I dread the thought of any opponent with one of these, especially a bandit. This thing’s got enough force to mess up a ship so there’s no telling what harm the wrong person could do with one.”

“Hmm, fair points. Anythin else?”

“Well, there’s also the weight factor and I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two things else, but that about sums it up.”

“I will take that into consideration.” Wainwright said with a nod, indicating that the conversation was finished.

“Oh, one more thing.” Gaige said slapping her fist into her palm before sending Deathtrap back out. He came back shortly with a small crate that he set to the side of the table “All the notes and stuff we found with these things.”

“I thank you. I believe this concludes this issue.”

“Not quite.” Gaige said guiltily “Or rather, we have something else to discuss before we can move on.”

“And what might that be?” Wainwright asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Well, you remember how we told you about the Vladof troops that were stuck there? And how they helped us? Well, a number of them didn’t wanna go back to the corporation, especially most of the younger ones. But with that, they didn’t have anywhere to stay and no money to start up a new life, so we kinda sorta told them that we’d ask you if you had any ideas and whatnot.”

“Hmm.” Wainwright said, giving the girls a cool stare “An how much do you trust em?”

“Well, can’t vouch for all of them, but a number of them are good fighters and scavengers. And Verichenco’s pretty good at maintenance, as is Caz.”

“Very well, I will meet with them, though I will have to have a talk with Clay before I arrange anything.”

“We’ll let them know.” Gaige said with obvious relief.

Wainwright looked at her and then slid his eye over to Artemis before saying “On that note, Alistair, why don’t you accompany our young friend here back to her ship, get yourself a look at them trophies that she’s collected while we set up this meetin?”

Sir Hammerlock looked at his husband and got the subtlest nod “Very good. I for one, would very much enjoy seeing this Orochi head you mentioned, as well as this Keeper of the End, I believe it was called.”

“Um, sure, that’s, uh, sure.” Artemis said, suddenly unsure of how to present her trophies to such an acclaimed hunter.

“What ho.” Sir Hammerlock declared brightly as he led her out.

“Now then.” Wainwright said as soon as they were gone as he turned back to Gaige “I do believe I need to make a call, if you’ll excuse me for a moment.”

He left her to contact Clay, so she sat in the chair and looked around the room till her eyes fell on the decanter of bourbon and felt the old thirst creep up. True to her word, as soon as they had been underway, she’d found an ECHO support group and started sitting in on meetings, even though she felt ridiculous. But to her surprise, they had helped. Or maybe it was just being able to talk to people that understood where she was coming from. The autonomy of the ECHOnet had helped, but no matter what they said, or how much she wanted to be free of it, every time she saw a bottle, she had to fight the compulsion to take a drink. It had only been through force of will and the desire to not screw things up any worse with Artemis that she’d managed for this long, but this bottle was calling to her, and she desperately wanted to give in. Her lips felt as dry as a Pandoran highway as her tongue ran across them and she was on her feet before she knew it.

Behind her, Deathtrap watched. He could’ve forced her back into the chair. He could’ve said something. But this was a fight that she had to do for herself, otherwise, the next time he wasn’t there, she’d give in and fall. So, he needed her to be strong enough to fight through on her own.

Gaige stared at the bottle, the way the light bounced around the cut crystal, making it seem to glow, called out to her. Unconsciously she reached out towards it, but when she did, she saw the red metal of her arm, the black plates, the fine craftsmanship and closed her eyes, grinding her teeth as she turned around and forced herself to sit back down.

She sat there panting as the door opened and Wainwright walked back in, heading straight for the decanter and put it in the cabinet.

“I do apologize for leaving that out.” He drawled as he walked back to his chair “But you did well to resist your temptation.”

“You were watching?” Gaige snapped.

“Of course I was. Wasn’t the only one either. I do believe there are some fights you must face alone if you hope to overcome them.”

Gaige shot him a dirty look, but let it go with a sigh.

“Now then, business is out of the way, so why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Well, it’s obvious that you’ve got somethin you wanna talk about, but you don’t wanna admit to. I’m bettin it’s got to do with that girl that ain’t here right now and whateva it was you didn’t want her to say earlier. Am I right?”

Gaige dropped her head and sighed “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But you desperately want someone’s help with it.”

“How’d you…”

“It’s written clear as day on your face, it’s why I sent Alistair away, figured you’d be more comfortable talkin one on one.”

Gaige mulled it over and finally started talking without looking up “You knew, didn’t you? About Artemis, about what she was?”

“Now that is a cold way of puttin it.”

“It’s how she talks about herself.” Gaige said with a groan “No matter what I say, she doesn’t seem to change her tune. And I can’t blame her.”

Wainwright didn’t say anything, he just gave her a look.

Gaige swallowed hard, resolving to tell him everything. “Have you ever realized that you’re not the person you thought you were? Or at least hoped that you were. No, you wouldn’t, you’re not like me. I…said some things when I found out, things I’m not proud of, things that can’t be taken back, hurtful things, mean and nasty and as painful as I could. I could make excuses for them. I could try and explain my actions away, but none of that will ever change what I’ve done.”

Wainwright stared at her, looking down and clenching her fists so tight that he wouldn’t be surprised if blood started dripping from one of them. He could feel the anguish and self-loathing rolling off of her, could tell that she genuinely regretted it, but he had to press forward and ask “And what exactly did you say to her?”

Gaige winced and told him. To his credit, Wainwright didn’t react, didn’t sneer at her or say anything about it, he simply nodded and said “I see.”

Gaige found herself unable to look at him as she waited for him to continue. After a bit, he finally did “Now, to answer your question, no I have not had anything like that happen to me, but I think we all have a point where we realize that we ain’t who we thought we were, not necessarily to the degree that you have, but we all find ourselves questionin who we really are. Now with that said, as for what you did, I cannot forgive you.”

Gaige nodded, knowing what she did would likely break her relations with just about everyone.

“I cannot forgive you because it wasn’t me that you said it to, so it’s not my place to judge. But I will forget that we ever had this conversation as soon as it is over, that is the best I can offer you.”

Gaige looked up for the first time since the conversation had started and saw that Wainwright wasn’t looking at her with disgust, or anger, not even sadness, just sympathy.

“Thank you.” Gaige managed to get out.

Wainwright waved it off “I wish I could say that I’m doin this entirely out of the goodness of my heart, but the truth is, I am appalled at what you said. Havin said that, I understand that we’ve all said and did things in the heat of the moment that we regret, and seein how you obviously regret what you did, I am willin to overlook it just this once, cause like you said, there were probably circumstances around that you haven’t told me about. Now then, let us continue.”

“Where should we start?”

“Anywhere you wanna.”

Gaige thought about it and let out another in a long string of sighs “Why don’t we start at the beginning. You knew about her liking girls back when you first met her, didn’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Of course you did. So, were you trying to set us up together or something back on Jaka?”

“Not at all. That wasn’t what I meant by any of that, I just thought you needed a friend. Still do in fact.”

“So, if that wasn’t it, then why didn’t you say anything about it?”

“It wasn’t my place. Besides, I had thought that you’d ‘ve figured it out.”

“I think I didn’t want to. I also’ve been wondering about something else you said, back on Jaka, about my dad and the guys I seem to go for.”

“How is your father by the way?”

“He’s good. It was really good to be able to see him again, but that’s what really got me thinking that you might’ve been right. About that relationship stuff I mean.”

“How so.”

“I donno, it’s just that after I got home, I’ve, well, I’ve met a lot of guys that I probably would’ve went for otherwise, but it’s like they weren’t interesting to me anymore or something, at least not as much as they would’ve been. I donno how to describe it, but it was like…like…”

“Like you don’t remember what you saw in them?”

“Exactly. Wait, you’ve had that?”

“Before I met Alistair there were plenty of men I found attractive, but afterwards, well, some of them I still do, but I’m not interested anymore. I have found what makes me happy, the question is, can you do the same?”

“Are you sure you’re not trying to set us up?”

“Why would you presume that? Did I say anything that would imply that? Or do you truly not know what you want?”

“Um, I think it’s the latter. To be honest, I always thought I liked taller men that were older than me, and now I really don’t know how to deal with a short younger girl. I don’t even know what I feel about her, but I do know that I don’t wanna lose her. But it doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because, even if I did like her, she wouldn’t accept it, she’d think that I was just trying to make her happy, that I was conning myself, trying to convince myself just to make her happy.”

“And what are you goin to do about it?”

Gaige shrugged “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be in this spot.”

Wainwright looked at her a minute before slowly saying “For once, I am goin to give you some straight advice. I can’t tell you how you feel, nor can I give you any proper advice on how to figure it out. What I can say is that you need to determine what you want going forward. How you’d feel if she was gone and what you really want from her. I know that you just said you don’t know, but you will need to figure out what you want before you can try and convince her of it. But once you do know, don’t give up on it. If it is that you want her as a friend, then be the kind of friend that you want her to be to you. Don’t shower her with things if you wouldn’t like that reciprocated. But you also need to be the kind of friend that she wants, so if you want to share everything, but she wants to keep things to herself, find a middle ground. Accept her as she is, not as you want her to be. Talk to her. And if you want more than friendship from her, then never, ever do anything to make her sad.”

He stood up, picking up his glass and draining it of the last bit of bourbon and finished with “That’s all I can tell you. Now, Clay should be here momentarily, so let us get your people off their ship and down here so we can have a right proper meetin.”

A Few Hours Later

The meeting had gone well, with a good number of the ex-Vladof troops electing to join the Jakobs family and would soon be heading off to other planets to help out while being kept under a watchful eye till it was determined that they could in fact be trusted. And a number of others had been offered temporary jobs, just till they got used to the outside and had some money in their pockets.

They were now having a grand party behind the mansion with Artemis providing a good amount of the meat that was being cooked, though many of the guests were being advised to go easy on the food since they weren’t used to such fare.

Off to one side Sir Hammerlock was trying to explain the majesty of the trophies he’d seen while his husband desperately feigned interest.

After they’d gotten back from the ship, while they were waiting for the other guests to arrive, they’d had a bit more of a talk. Wainwright had brought Dalton over and after he’d examined the guns, they let Artemis keep the pistol. Afterwards Wainwright presented her with the newest in the line of her old sniper rifle. She’d been taken aback, but he insisted that she keep it as compensation for the one that she’d lost retrieving the Iron Hammer, despite her insisting that she would’ve lost it there anyway.

Clay was wandering around, cheerfully interacting with the guests while keeping an eye out for trouble, while keeping his distance from Artemis, who’d fixed him with an evil eye the instant they’d met again.

For her part, Gaige was trying to keep the other girl company, even as they had to deal with the remnants of the crew occasionally coming over and talking to them.

“So, what will you two be doing now?” Alec said, eying the party suspiciously. It seemed that she wasn’t used to the buildings and the ground not having drop-offs and especially not the sky. But what she kept eying suspiciously were the trees, like she couldn’t trust them yet.

“Hmm.” Gaige thought “Well, we still have to go to Wilina 2.”

Artemis nodded along.

“Why, what’s there?” Alezander asked.

“The reason we went to the Garden of Minos in the first place.” Artemis said unhelpfully.

“What she means to say, is that the person that she got her estate from left her one last request, so we had to go and collect what he wanted and now we need to return it.”

“I don’t need you telling me what I mean.” Artemis grumbled.

“Wait, you have an estate?” Alezander said eyes widening.

“What was thing you need to collect?” Caz asked quietly.

“We needed to reunite a family.” Gaige said with a sad smile “Now they can be buried together.”

“What is buried?”

“Uh, how do I put this, when you die out here, there’s, uh, different rituals and stuff for how you handle them, and in this case they, er, dig in the ground and, uh, put your body into the hole, before they cover it up.”

“Why?”

Gaige shrugged “Cause someone decided it a long time ago, I guess.”

“You have an estate?” Alezander repeated.

“Nothing like this one.” Artemis said with a shrug of her own.

“Who are you? Are you someone important?”

“No way. I won it in a contest.”

“Can we see it?”

“Uh, maybe? Aren’t you joining the Jakobs family though?”

“Nah.” Alezander said “I mean, we might someday, but we wanted to see more of the, uh, what’s it called?”

“Galaxy?”

“Yeah, the galaxy first.”

“Well, I suppose you could stop by if you wanna follow us.” Artemis said with an awkward shrug.

“Do you need engineer there?” Caz asked “Or security. We can do those.”

“I think the place is good on servants, but I suppose you could ask Cranley. He’s in charge of the house, so he’d know better then I would.”

“You should not have servants, that is what the glorious revolution is about.” Alezander said with a terrible impersonation of his father.

“They’re not mine. They came with the place.”

“I was joking.”

“And they are technically yours.” Gaige said tilting her head “Though you can’t really get rid of them without some effort, but they are still yours.”

“Fine, whatever, do you want me to dis-invite you all?”

“Nope, we’ll be good.”

A Few Days Later

Wilina 2

They had said their goodbyes after the party and set course for Wilina 2 with the last of the Vladof crewed ships following along. It wasn’t just the three they’d talked to either, but a number of the expedition troops had come along, as well as Karivona, who had stated that ‘someone had to look after them and keep them from getting into too much fun, er, trouble’.

The girls had arrived first and went down to let Cranley know that they were going to have company and that they’d have questions, which earned a “Very good madam.” from him.

While he was discussing things with Karivona and Alec, most of the rest wanted to go wandering in the woods, but were warned off it due to the roaming creatures that resided there. Still, a few of the expedition troops accompanied Alezander as they went out a ways, making sure to keep the manor in sight at all times.

While they were doing that, the girls and Deathtrap made their way to Sir Montamore’s gravestone and got to work digging next to it, only to be interrupted by a peeved man a few minutes later.

He turned out to be the grounds keeper and he was mad about the lady of the house doing work herself instead of letting him do his job.

As much as Artemis wanted to protest, feeling that this was something that she should do for herself, Gaige reminded her that the staff had all been there under Sir Montamore, so this was as much for them as her.

Artemis wasn’t happy about it, but in the end relented and let the man work while they went back to the manor and let Cranley know that the service would be held that afternoon and he should get together any of the staff that wanted to attend.

When the time came, the girls were surprised to see that all of the staff was there, in addition to a few other faces that they didn’t recognize. The service was short and to the point, much the way that Sir Montamore would’ve wanted it and when the talking was done, Artemis stepped forward and lowered the urns to rest next to the one that was already there.

“There.” She whispered “You’re back with your family. Sorry it took so long.”

Gaige didn’t say anything as she helped her back up and the groundskeeper set to work filling the hole back in.

While he worked, the girls went around and thanked everyone that was there, on Gaige’s insistence. When they got to the faces they didn’t know, they found themselves introduced to the rest of the staff as well as Maleva Montamore, who was a pretty woman with almond shaped eyes that would’ve looked villainous on another face and were hidden behind glasses.

“I thank you.” She said after they were introduced “Not just for reuniting the old man with his family, or for kicking the rest of those insufferable clods out of here. But for allowing me and Flora to have a chance. I wish you the same luck.”

After they dined and everything was done, Cranley had hired a few of the ex-Vladofs as temporary employees and Gaige found Artemis sitting on a glider on the porch.

“Mind if I join you?”

Artemis wordlessly slid over, allowing Gaige to sit next to her. They sat in silence for a while watching the sky slowly change colors.

Eventually Gaige asked “So what’s next?”

“What do you wanna do? And don’t tell me whatever I want, cause that’s not gonna fly.”

Gaige glanced at her in surprise “Does this mean that I can travel with you some more?”

Artemis shrugged and lazily pointed up “Are there any stars left up there?”

Gaige looked up and watched the twinkling lights overhead “Yeah.”

“There you go.”

Gaige smiled slightly in thanks before Artemis asked again “So? What do ya wanna do?”

“Hmm, let’s see, at some point I’d like to go see my parents again. Not right away, but at some point. Other than that, I’ve got nothing.”

“Not what I was meaning.” Artemis sighed “I was meaning between us. Like what’re we gonna do?”

“Oh, sorry. Uh, well, I guess if I had to answer immediately, I’d say that I wanna pay you back.” She held up a hand to forestall any argument “I need to, otherwise I don’t think we can really move forward, cause once I pay you back and we’re square, I think we can start again on even footing and maybe start really fixing things between us, and then we can figure out what we want from each other and if we can get there.”

Artemis nodded slowly. “You might be right. You know I’m, well, not good with this kinda thing, but I don’t want to, well…”

“I don’t wanna lose you either, no matter what this is.” Gaige finished for her “So what do you wanna do next?”

“Well, I kinda wanted to teach A.I.ngel how to shoot. I mean we did kinda promise her that, and we need to get it done before Timothy screws her up too bad. And I was also thinking of trying to look up Mentes, see if I could find his family and let them know what happened to him. But for right now, I wanna sit here and relax as I watch the sunset with my friend.”

“Aw. That sounds nice.”

Artemis smiled slyly and said “I was meaning Deathtrap.”

“Bitch.”

1 Like

As usual, I’d like to leave some of my thoughts, though they might be briefer this time around.

First off, I don’t really see the point in making a spoiler-less in-depth analysis: if you’ve read the first two (Hunter’s Folly and Hunter’s Quarry), this is a must-read, the best of the trilogy, in my opinion. If you haven’t read them, you should! You’ll find the spoiler-free reasoning behind my recommendation in the aforementioned topics. Without further ado, let’s venture into some !SPOILERS!

As I mentioned, my comment may be slightly shorter than usual, as I don’t have as many singular things to point out. This story, though, is one of my favorite sci-fi tales of all time. It’s extremely well constructed, especially in the first half, and has one of the most imaginative and intriguing settings I’ve ever come across. In fact, I’m kind of mad that it’s not canon. If I were in charge of the Borderlands 3 campaigns, I would’ve exchanged three out of four of their initial concepts for this one. In fact, I’d still sacrifice the Krieg DLC in its final product-state in favour of the Garden of Minos.

I was continuously fascinated by this place up to the first Orochi fight: an eery cross between the Handsome Jackpot and the infinite IKEA scp, a truly ingenious environment. The mix of adventure and mystery was just right, and every element ended up being satisfyingly paid off.

I also loved how the Garden functioned as a sort of time capsule for the Borderlands universe, allowing us to take a glimpse into its past (with the old Vladof army and the Mangala Arms corporation in particular). Additionally, I’m glad you addressed quite quickly the matters of atmosphere and gravity, something I wish Gearbox would stop handwaving (as they did with Minos Prime and the Impound Deluxe, for example).

This doesn’t mean I didn’t also love the first chapters, quite the contrary. And the partial shift of focus, from Gaige to Jinx, was well orchestrated, as you intended.

As for other minor appreciations, I really dig this novel’s cover art (with Deathtrap’s crystal well visible); I enjoyed the choice of giving the POV of almost an entire chapter to Deathtrap (tricky but fair, fun and rewarding!) and the final fight between Gaige and Artemis (it reminded me a bit of the cover of Tales from the Borderlands episode 5, where it seemed like Fiona and Rhys were going to confront each other, but ultimately didn’t).

If I were to change one thing, I’d say I was slightly disappointed with the appearance of the beast: I guess I was expecting something slightly more “alien” than the hydra.

As for mistakes/oversights, here are the few I caught:

It’s actually named Jaka 4 in Hunter’s Folly (very small accident, obviously).

You probably meant Sir Hammerlock and Wainwright.

A thousand years is probably a slight longshot: the only canon year reference we have comes from a screen inside the Sanctuary HQ in BL2, where we can see that Roland wrote in some kind of social media profile “homeschooled 2854”. I’m not really sure what it would refer to (the year of his birth, of his first studies, of graduation etc.), but I’d say we’re definitely not beyond the 29th century.

Now, even though I found this story somewhat clearer than Hunter’s Quarry, I would still like to ask you some questions. Of course, you’re totally free to refrain from answering, for any reason.

  • What was the purpose of the planetoid and the vault? where they intended by the Eridians to create a kind of “survivable bubble”?

  • Did the Commandant survive? And, in general, did those that stayed back in the Bear’s Den manage to evacuate?

  • I wonder if you could offer some clarifications on what is perhaps the most mysterious passage:

Okay, so, I guess some are probably not meant to be thought too much about, like the void of space or the wasteland with the psycho. I’m pretty sure the woman engulfed in fire is meant to be Lilith, still alive. Am I missing something?

In the end, as the last time, I’d invite you to share whatever you felt like about your inspiration/creative process/cut ideas/general comments, as well as point out if you think I might’ve missed something. No pressure of course, it’s just that I’d be really glad to have some further insight in this wonderous story and world.

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Again, thank you for reading and enjoying.

Let me start off with “Infinite IKEA”? That sounds like a truly nightmarish scape.

Then to answer your questions first.

The Garden was kind of supposed to be modeled after something like an observation post for their prisons (the Vaults) as well as observing other planets and locations where they had something of note, though with the long years between when the Eridians were actually active, things have changed.

The final Guardian was modeled after a warden, hence the whip to keep things in line, or at least that was the thought process that led to it’s construction.

The Commandant survived and led the old troops that wanted to go back to Vladof, I probably should’ve thrown a line in at the party at the end explaining that. Others went their own way, including Istivan. Most of the expedition troops will be out exploring the galaxy as soon as they know enough about it to not get into immediate danger, but Caz got a job at the Montamore estate and Alec stayed with her, though she still doesn’t trust the trees. There were also survivors from the other base, but what happened to them, I don’t know, especially since I never thought about that place.

As for the images that flashed before Mentes, most of them were just things that popped into my head, like a bustling city, others were meant to be something, either to me, for an idea for the next book, for rejected ideas or for the overall Borderlands universe.

You were right that that was supposed to be Lilith.

One other one, was the person disintegrating as a girl screamed in fear, was a nod to someone inheriting Tyreen’s power, though plenty of other people get disintegrated so it doesn’t need to be that.

And of course, the last one was his family.

As for how long Salvation had been around and the age of the Borderlands universe, I’d always thought of it as a different time, a different place, much like how Start Wars isn’t in our timeline. That said, part of why I made it that long, was so that the planet could develop properly, for the reason why they’d banned homosexuality to be forgotten and turned into common lore.

One thing I’ve always disliked, is how some settings don’t use time realistically, for example, back to Star Wars, Han not believing in the Force doesn’t make sense, cause the fall of the Jedi was only Luke’s age ago (and I know about the prequel trilogy not exactly lining up and that at the time of the first movie, most of that stuff was just kinda vague handwavy ideas). On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of stories go the opposite direction, putting extra zeros into the year, just because they think it sounds neat, but then not progressing things enough, for example, it’s a thousand years into the future, and everything’s just about the same, in that case, why not make it fifty years? With all that said, I could always shorten the time to either 750 or 500 years.

And finally, I will add that I didn’t remember the Roland post, though it’s been a while since I played, but having said that, we also don’t know how they count time in the Borderlands universe. That 2854 could be that many years since they first left their galaxy, or from the first faster then light drive. Or it could be a date, who knows.

As for dropped content and inspiration, there’s quite a bit, though not as much as last time.

Starting with some of the dropped ideas, one of them was that during the time before the final assault on the planetoid, while they were waiting for everyone else to get acclimated to the gravity, Gaige was going to try and get into the strange ships they were on, only to not be able to figure out how they would even be opened. Also on that note, I should’ve described the ships as being so foreign to their sensibilities that they could barely recognize them as ships at all.

Jumping to the beginning of the story, I had intended a line about how the Eden 5 police force had cleaned it’s act up and they were no longer the most corrupt police force in the galaxy, they were now only the second most corrupt, but I couldn’t get it to fit.

During the final confrontation with Splinterhead, I was going to have her try and headbutt Artemis, but I couldn’t figure out how to work it in.

Also on her, her death was inspired by a movie. Over the holidays I re-watched the Die Hard movies and in the second, there’s a scene where our hero gets under the eaves of a shack and ends up breaking off an icicle to stab his opponent with, but while watching it, I suddenly thought, ‘what would happen if he got yanked up suddenly?’ and Splinterhead’s death was born.

Incidentally, that sequence was originally going to happen underground, there was supposed to be caverns and such, but when I got there, everything was happening outside and a cavern didn’t feel right, so I took the logical step of the atmospheric processing having worn the walls down.

A couple of the inspirations for things,

the Orochi: I think in part, it came from thinking about Sirens in the last story. The luring people to their deaths, and the like, so I think I got this mental image of a group sitting around singing as people stumbled towards them, only for them to reveal themselves to be monsters. Why an Orochi? Not entirly sure anymore, but a Hydra had already been mentioned. Plus it was a similar, but different monster. Mostly, it popped into my head fairly well fleshed out. I needed a creature to block off a chunk of the space in the Garden, and then I wanted double walls, so the thought of it ‘singing’ it’s victims to it made all that make sense.

A number of other things about it, like it hibernating, was a way to logically get around things like, how’s it still alive?

I don’t think I described it all that well, but the way it worked was much like a living bagpipe, with a number of heads feeding air into the bladder constantly so that it could make a continuous noise.

Also, at one point, I had Artemis walk right into the neck of the creature to figure out how it worked, but scrapped that before I’d even finished writing it.

The final arena came from either some game or movie that I watched where someone got stuck in a room with each of the doors teleporting them to the one across form it, which I though would be cool to have a massive room filled with them, and the bullets traveling through them.

Either that, or it was a dream.

The Garden of Minos: I’m not entirely sure where the Garden came from, though it might have been some sci-fi movie or show where they came out of warp into a ship graveyard and it stuck in my mind. I think at about the same time I re-watched a movie called ‘Triangle’ and the idea of a ship graveyard where ships get sucked in and can’t get out was born.

Though that leads to another thing that was cut, there were probably more then one entrance to the Garden, since it’s a bit of a stretch to say that that many ships would get sucked into a spot in the middle of nowhere, enough to add four or five (maybe more) layers in just over thirty years.

The name comes from Greek legend. Minos was the king of the island of Crete, and sent sacrifices into the labyrinth of the Minotaur, he also later became a judge in Hades. I felt this was an appropriate name for a place that people got stuck in, and couldn’t find their way out.

Keeping with the Greek mythology, Orion: I’m a fan of Greek myths, but one thing that anyone who reads many of them will quickly realize, is that even the same story can have drastically different versions, though one of them often makes more sense if examined and compared to the rest of the stories about those individuals, so it was with Orion.

In some versions, him and Artemis were lovers, or just in love and she gets tricked into killing him, casting his soul into the stars. But parts of these never made sense to me, the other version makes much more sense, especially with the personality of Artemis. It went that Orion was the son of a Titan, and was an arrogant hunter with a fair amount of skill. He boasted that he was as good as Artemis, and as her equal, the only man worthy of her. When she rejected him, he got so irate that he tried to force himself upon her, but she threw him off and swore to make him suffer, hunting him to the edge of the world (though in some versions, she sends a scorpion after him), where his mother took pity on him and cast him into the stars, where Artemis couldn’t follow. But Artemis, being one of the more vengeful gods, wasn’t about to let him go, so she cast a giant scorpion into the stars to chase him for all of eternity.

This was where I drew my inspiration from, the arrogant hunter who picks a fight he shouldn’t have. I also wanted him to be a villain, someone who wasn’t all that likeable, someone that readers could enjoy disliking.

Also related to him, were Miles and Montford. They didn’t have any real inspiration, I have never personally encountered people like them, but I tried to create each one as a different kind of jerk. With Miles being the over confidant ladies man, I tried to come up with some truly bad pick up lines, especially ones that Artemis could snap back at. For Montford, I was going for the arrogant person who’s family name is the only thing keeping his spinelessness from showing. He’s someone that’s so used to getting his way, he doesn’t know how to handle rejection. And Orion, I wanted a competent arrogance. Someone who’s good, just not as good as he thinks he is, the kind that will talk down to his opponents while acting like he’s helping teach them.

Also a dropped content bit about Orion, at one point his hitting on Artemis was legit, but with Miles already doing that, and Montford lowering himself to marrying her, I decided that one of them should actually like more filled out women, especially since I keep referring to how small and childlike she is and since Miles was hitting on anything that was female and had a pulse, and Montford was clearly taking one for the team, I decided that Orion would just be playing.

One last side note about Orion, I had to look him up to make sure that no one had been introduced by that name in canon, which was when I found the S&S Orion gun, so I had to give it to him, even if he never used it’s special feature.

Speaking of guns, the Iron Hammer came from the question of ‘what would a Jakobs heavy weapon look like?’ The only thing I could come up with was an Anti-material rifle, and this being Borderland, it had to be on steroids. I also wanted it to be something that was terribly impractical, in part because it was a prototype, so I made it kick hard enough to break bone.

Also, Gaige’s comment about it was a reference to Hellsing: Abridged. (Bitches love cannons) which was also the source of the quote on the BL3 Impaler shield.

Which leads to another thing, Insti-Health vials. If these things are so great, then why are there doctors? The solution? They’ve got problems. I started setting this up in the first story, by making taking them draining and continued in the second by showing both Artemis, and Shiva setting their bones before using them. So in this one, when Artemis uses one (or two) she knows the risk and in the end, costs her a few ribs.

What the bed cured her of was in fact based on a real medical emergency where shards of bone or often just a traumatic injury ruptures the intestines. I tried to keep the symptoms accurate and it is supposed to be super painful and extremely dangerous.

That also touches on the things in the Borderlands universe that I wasn’t sure about how much was known. For instance, are fast-travel stations part of the universe, or merely a game courtesy? Since I’d ended up using or mentioning them in both previous books, I kept going with it. Also, the medical bed, I figured it would be something that could exist in the richer parts of the galaxy and even though I’m pretty sure that they haven’t been mentioned, they still felt enough like something that might exist to not break the feel of my canon.

A few more notes on random stuff.

You point out that I addressed the gravity of the Garden, and it’s true, except I also end up handwaving away the debris field. The truth is, if there’s gravity, those bits should’ve fallen a long time ago, but it was a good visual, so I just kinda let it slide.

The Silent Death. I never really figured out what was up with that, I just needed a reason for them to not go in that direction without adding another Bandit camp. If I had to choose a reason for it, I’d go with that the air processing plant was starting to have problems, so there’s no oxygen in that area.

A few things like Gabe wound up being fortuitous. I added him, cause I wanted to show that not every bully stays like that, though a lot do. Then later on, when I was having Gaige realize what she’d done, he naturally came back. There’s a couple of others that I wrote in and then realized they were great for setting up the next story, so I won’t tell what they are here.

The final fight between Gaige and Artemis was a bit of a challenge, it had to carry their emotions and lead up to not only them coming to peace with each other, but laying bare all the things that they were scared to. On top of that, they had to do it while fighting each other.

It was actually harder to tone back their moves then to depict the fight. I kept having to remind myself that these aren’t trained fighters, like Zero, Axton or Roland. Heck, even Maya was probably better trained then them. These are two girls who learned to fight the hard way, so their moves should be functional and not all that flashy.

This also came up, in a slightly different way, during the fight on the planitoid. As I was writing, I had Gaige rally the troops, but most of the way through, I remembered that the girls are, by and large, loners and not the leaders of men, so I gave it over to the real leader, Karavona.

And now for some random rambling about various things.

I enjoyed the opening of this book more then the others, though I did have an extremely hard time figuring out where to start. For a few paragraphs, I tried having it be later and then was going to circle back, but that wasn’t working. I think I tried three or four ways, before I gave up and just started from where the last book left off.

That’s not to say that it didn’t still have problems. One thing that I strongly believe, is that I don’t have the right to name other people’s characters, for example, Mr. Holloway doesn’t have a first name, and I don’t think I should just come up with one since he’s not mine. This made interacting with him in Folly a bit of a challenge, but nothing like having to deal with Gaige’s parents. I couldn’t name them, and not only that, but they didn’t have a last name to fall back on, so it was a lot of dancing around that and trying to make it work with the most natural sounding way I could.

That said, I was happy with the way some of those interactions came out, especially Gaige’s mom when she first gets home.

One of the things I keep trying to do, is expand the universe rather then falling back on what is already there, though I do end up going back to the same places fairly often, I try and make it have a different purpose. I’ve always enjoyed trying to extrapolate things from stories, figuring out how things should progress or go, for example the cults worshiping the Calipso’s came from thinking about what those that had followed them would do next. The other thing is trying to think up new cultural things, like Gaige’s party or the history of Salvation. With that, I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t want something as real world as ‘It’s a sin’, so I came up with a logical reason that a superstition could’ve come about.

This book was hard to write though, and not just cause it got a bit bloated. It just goes to show that each person is different, it might be because I’m the writer and I always see things that should’ve gone better, but I thought this was the weakest of the three, feeling that I didn’t give enough time to things I needed to, like Orion and Mentes, yet bloating the length with other things, but it was your favorite.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t like this book, I did, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have put it up, it’s just that the laws of numbers says that as soon as you add a second one, one of them will be the best, one the worst, after all, 98 is still third out of 100. And it also isn’t to say that I don’t feel that some parts of this are the best out of the three. I feel that this has the best emotional connection between the girls out of all of them, it’s just that I think I had more fun coming up with the villains in the last one, and this one didn’t really have an antagonist in the traditional sense. If anything, Gaige was the closest to the antagonist in this. Others were proper enemies, but Gaige was more of a driving force.

A fun challenge in this one was the different accents and ways people talked, from the Vladof way, to Orion’s, all the way to McStumpy’s crazed incomprehensible ravings (I did enjoy writing him). It wasn’t always easy, and a few of them took multiple passes to get right, but overall, I’m satisfied.

But what really made this book hard to write was the middle section, I knew I needed Gaige to snap, that her reaction would drive the rest of the book, but coming up with a real reason for it, setting it up and then making sure that it was bad enough to break Artemis, but not be bad enough that the audience would hate her for it, was a challenge. It also had to, at least start out, believably, that it would be something that would be the last straw, something to break the simmering rage inside her, the frustration over what was going on, without seeming too much like a ‘Really? She’s gonna get that mad about that?!’

Her alcoholism made a perfect reason for her actions, something that had been touched on in Folly, but to be honest, I’d kinda though that it wasn’t that bad, but thinking about it, it made sense that she’d be having problems with it, so each pass through the story, I added more and more references to it. I hope I did justice to the problems of addiction, since it is a real problem that affects many people and not something that I wanted to use lightly. It will continue to be a problem for Gaige through the next book. I’ve never been a fan of the, ‘and then they were clear’ trope, things like being an alcoholic, or having low self esteem aren’t things that get fixed overnight, they take years of hard work and even then, you’re always in danger of slipping back.

Also I was worried about reception to this story, after all this book had the second highest chance of driving away readers (after the first, of course). I didn’t know how readers would react to Artemis being gay, even though it had been set up since the beginning, nor did I know how people would react to Gaige questioning what kind of relationship she wanted with another girl.

For my part, I’m grateful to have figured out another story to follow this one up, so that some of the questions can breath a bit longer, though I’m still not sure where I want the relationship to go. Do they stay friends? Do they become something more? And if so, how much?

The last story is appropriately titled “Hunts End” and will be done, hopefully, before the end of August, though that might change depending on its length, though it will be shorter then this one.

Also, thank you for commenting on the cover, I think they’ve been getting better, so I have high hopes for the last one.

I hope this answered your questions, if you have any others, or other comments/things you’d like to see expanded upon, feel free to let me know.

A few more notes.

After posting the last batch of thoughts and ramblings, I gave a fair amount of thought to what I was disappointed with in this story, and came to a few conclusions.

The first is that I spent so long in the headspace of the place, that I would never really be satisfied with what I came up with.

Directly related to that, I think it was primarily that no matter what I did, some part of me was always going to be dissatisfied with the end result. I came up with an interesting place where I could do anything, and I’d always feel ’ That’s what I did with it?’ like I would always feel that there could’ve been more, that I could’ve went into more depth here or there. Which brings up another point, that for all the words used, the pages written, that I didn’t feel I gave enough depth to things, that most of it was just pointless wheel spinning. It probably didn’t feel like it to read it, but considering how much time I spent, I feel that there should’ve been more done. Like in the first two books, the characters go to so many places and do things, traveling back and forth, but in this, to me, it just feels like they skim the surface of what could’ve been.

Which I think is the root of my problem, the setting’s used up, that this is what I did with it and I can’t really go back. I feel like there was enough setting here to have done an entire trilogy with the girls trapped there, but I just sped through it.

Having said that, I understand it’s probably just something about being the writer that makes me feel that way, if I read it from the point of a reader, I would no doubt have a different opinion.

Taking a step to the side, a little more background on the Garden and it’s formation in my mind.

In one of the earliest versions, the Garden was more of a ship graveyard, with the ships smashed together into strange clusters, which were connected by narrow bridges and walkways creating a look more in line with a neuron or the like, with tendrils going up and out every which way.

Also, when I was coming up with the place, I considered having the girls meet Captain Scarlet there, that she’d left Pandora after the DLC and took up space pirating, only to get trapped in the Garden, but I quickly scrapped that in favor of having less bizarre ties to the Borderlands games.

Another idea that I (very) briefly considered, was to end the book with the girls going their separate ways, only to be drawn back together by events in the forth book. But I ditched that almost immediately, because I’ve never been a fan of how contrived that often feels.

Something else I don’t think I explained quite right, was about expanding and extrapolating. For me, things like that have to due with world building, how everything should have a logic to it, even if it isn’t entirely clear to the audience, but if the writer knows what it is, the audience will feel that everything makes sense, even if they don’t get it.

Another movie example, the original Ghostbusters had great worldbuilding, you got the impression that if you asked the writers why any of the ghosts looked like they did, they could launch into a rant about exactly what that ghost was and how that related to their appearance, but the 2016 Ghostbuster, I got the impression that if I asked why a ghost looked like it did, the response would’ve been a shrug and a ‘cause it looked cool’. To me that’s the difference in worldbuilding, the internal logic of it all and that’s something I try and work on with things I add. I don’t have to know how it works, but I should understand the why.

Speaking of movies, about half of the movies I reference in the stories are nods to real ones, for example, the one they talk about in this story, while looking at the wall was King Kong, in the previous one ‘It came from the Vault’ was a nod to Alien, or any of it’s multitude of knockoffs (more likely the cheap knock offs) and the reference to the mannequin movies, the romantic comedy was based on a real movie from the 80’s that I read the description of and had about the same reaction as the characters, but the horror movies (and especially the adult one) were created for the scene, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they existed.

Another thing that I inferred from a number of lines in the games, was that Eden 5 was a DAHL planet, with Gaige giving lines about how she knew their tech since she’d been playing with it since she was a child.

I’ve undoubtedly forgotten more stuff, and if I think of it, I’ll add to the post, but if you’ve got any questions, or want me to try and clarify something I’ve rambled about, feel free to ask.