David breathed deeply as he sat inside of the dropship, the enormous spacecraft rumbling as it entered the planet's atmosphere. Across from him was a burly guard clad in the usual red armor and black gasmask. He stared at the beast, trying to determine if the creature was alien or human like he was. To his left were two more guards standing near the cockpit, which was shut and locked. To his right were Ralousha and Reeve, both aliens clad in their red and bright yellow armor respectively. Ralousha kept turning his head around in the spaceship, letting his nostrils widen while Reeve impatiently tapped his left footpaw on the floor, waiting for the dropship to arrive.
"We gonna be there soon or what?!" the Rottweiler snarled.
"Refrain from talking, prisoner," growled the guard sitting across from David.
"Why? You gonna…"
David turned and glowered at the dog. Reeve flicked his eyes over at the human being before noticing that Ralousha turned his head so he was pointing his muzzle at him, as if he were staring. Reeve rolled his tongue around his mouth before nodding and leaning back in his seat. The trio sat in silence for another five minutes before the ship stopped rumbling.
"Helmets on," the same guard ordered.
David and Reeve set their helmets on and started breathing deeply inside of them, while Ralousha still refused to have one so it wouldn't obstruct his senses. As the prisoners waited inside the dropship, a speaker dangling from the ceiling crackled.
"Crawlox here. You've now arrived on planet Sabulo. Conditions are harsh, but your armor will provide enough support against the elements. Target's in an abandoned facility. You'll see it on your holo-map. You've been provided with enough explosives to destroy said facility. Once the target's been eliminated, a dropship will pick you up and a month will be subtracted from your prison sentence."
"Tch! Last tournament was two months," Reeve murmured.
"Health and armor crates will be supplied."
"Wait, what are we—"
The speaker crackled as Crawlox's announcement ended, causing David to grumble. Immediately afterwards, one of the guards unlocked the prisoners' metal restraints before pushing a button that opened up the spaceship's cargo bay door. He pointed outside, revealing a dark world that constantly had wind blowing. Already bits of sand and dust were being blown into the spaceship, and the din made it difficult to hear anything else. Knowing what they had to do, the prisoners stood up and jogged towards the exit. Ralousha and David both leaped out, dropping a few yards to the ground before landing with a heavy thud into a sandy dune. Reeve, however, crouched down and flipped as he exited, spinning his body around in the air.
And face-planting right next to David.
Dumbass, the human said inwardly.
The dropship's cargo bay doors closed as the ship began to fly away, while Reeve grunted as he quickly got back up onto his feet, wiping sand from his armor.
"Y'all see that?" Reeve asked.
"The sack of potatoes that plummeted from the sky? No, we missed that," David sassed.
David grunted as he felt his armor powering up, the neon lights shining green between the plates in his suit.
"Armor capacity: one hundred percent. Body capacity: one hundred percent. Weapons activated."
"'Bout goddamn time!" Reeve shouted.
The Rottweiler chuckled as he grabbed the whips from his armor and started swinging them around in the sand, listening to the electric weapon crackling as it zapped some of the sand.
"Calm your ass down; we haven't even seen anything yet!" David shouted.
"That's the problem, human," Ralousha pointed out as he removed his twin laser blades. "No bugs, no birds, no insects, no animals of any kind. Either something scared 'em off or something's hiding and stalking us. Get your laser blade out."
Reeve glared at David and exhaled deeply into his helmet. "See? I know what I'm doing."
"Reeve, don't slam your whips against the ground. There could be lindworms here, amongst other sand-dwelling predators. They'll pick up on the vibrations."
David removed his laser blade and activated the weapon, whilst Reeve lowered the setting of his electric whips so they would make less noise. The trio walked around the sandy plains slowly, with Ralousha leading the way. David examined Sabulo and grimaced, taking note of the lack of sun, yet still baffled by how hot and humid it was. There were several moons in the alien sky—one of which shined yellowish-green, bathing the planet in a glowing hue that illuminated the scenery. Most of the land was covered in sand, albeit the sand in question was mixed with reddish hues here and there. Several miles to the west were a volcano that appeared to be active, judging by the smoke that was emerging from the peak. David stared at the volcano and gulped.
"Um. So that volcano…"
"Oh, it's fine. That happens all the time. The borlaegor is simply releasing its breath into the atmosphere. Those volcanos are all over Sabulo; that's why it's so humid."
"You've been here before?"
"Not here, but this isn't my first visit to Sabulo."
"What does a borlaegor look like?"
"That alien we fought—Dumoscos? He was a daemunus."
"An adult daemunus is the size of a borlaegor's eyeball."
"And that is all I need to know," David said, his voice rising uneasily for a moment.
The trio continued to walk, making their way over a sturdy sandy path with a pit on both sides of it. When Reeve looked down into the pit on the left, he spotted something with a hardened shell skittering around underneath the sand. The beast slowly rose from the pit, revealing an armored head encased with brown shelling. Seven eyeballs sprouted from the center of its face, and a mouth with four mandibles split apart, revealing dozens of teeth and strands of drool. Reeve had no idea what the creature was—or how big it was. But he took note of the discarded skeletons and pieces of chewed-up armor lying around in the pit and decided it was best if he didn't seek out all the answers. The trio heard rhythmic beeping in the sky and spotted a few tiny machines hovering around, some of which looked like they had floating camera lenses attached to them. David scoffed at the machines while Reeve waved at one of them and flexed in front of the other.
"This is not a talent show, Reeve. And nobody can see your muscles beneath all that armor," David pointed out.
"Pfft! Damn humans—y'all lack imagination! Can't even pond—"
"REEVE, BEHIND YOU!"
Reeve shouted as an alien crawled out the sand and slashed his back. Reeve stumbled and nearly fell to the ground just as more aliens began to emerge from the sand like groundhogs. When they fully revealed their bodies, David thought he was looking at some queer type of reptile. There were no orifices on their heads except for their mouths; David couldn't even see nostrils or a set of gills. It looked like the creatures' heads were just long, wide snouts connected to a body. The aliens had two humanoid arms covered in a sandy exoskeleton and three fingers tipped with sharp claws. Everything below their midriff, shockingly, was serpentine. The lower half of the aliens' bodies was shaped like a snake's body and tail, complete with a stinger on the end of them. David swore as six of the aliens wiggled their way from the ground, snarling and brandishing their clawed fingers.
"Damn it—snarcors!" Ralousha shouted.
Ralousha grunted as he started fighting off two of the aliens simultaneously. "Just shut up and fight! And don't let 'em sting you!"
The other two gladiators didn't need to be told twice. As soon as they were able, they started attacking the other four snarcors. Reeve bellowed as he swung his whips around and turned up the weapons' voltage, causing electricity to pop from the deadly weapon. He slashed his whips around the ground multiple times, gradually getting frustrated as two of the snarcors leaped from the sand and dodged his whips. Timing it properly, Reeve swung one whip against the ground and witnessed the snarcors leap into the air. Using the other whip, he lashed his weapon against a snarcor's head so fast that the electrified weapon tore the head in half. As the second snarcor fell down, it hissed and scurried underground. David, meanwhile, used his laser blade against the beasts, blocking the creatures' serrated claws until one of the snarcors flipped around in the air over David's body. Its tail snap at David's helmet, and the young man yelped as he swiped his blade through the air and cut the beast's stinger off. The second snarcor tried to lunge at David while he was distracted, but David swiftly brought his laser blade forward, thrusting the laser energy into the snarcor's abdomen. As David kicked the snarcor away, the alien that scurried underground popped up just long enough to slash at David's back twice before disappearing into the sand again.
"Armor capacity: ninety-five percent. Body capacity: one hundred percent."
"Armor capacity: ninety percent. Body capacity: one hundred percent."
David huffed as he looked around the ground for the burrowed beast, while Reeve stomped towards the snarcor with no stinger, watching as it slithered around the sand. Reeve grinned as he swung his whips around, waiting for the snarcor to attack, only to grunt when Ralousha blocked his view as he kept fighting off his two aliens.
"Fu—GET OUT THE WAY!"
Ralousha grunted as he decapitated one snarcor, then ducked as another one leaped for him. The snarcor missed and landed in the sand—right in front of Reeve. Wasting no time, Reeve lashed his whips at the alien's head three times in rapid succession, tearing off its jaw. The alien without a stinger hissed deeply as it spread its arms apart. Part of the beast's lower body crackled and began to harden. David saw what was happening and rushed towards it, while Ralousha threw one of his laser blades at the beast. Before either of them could kill it, the upper half of its body crackled as an impenetrable beige shell covered its whole body. David slashed at the snarcor five times, but his laser blade only chipped some of the armor. The snarcor retaliated by snapping its jaws forward and latching onto David's helmet.
"Armor capacity: eighty percent and dropping."
Neither Reeve nor Ralousha could help the human, as the sixth snarcor that was underground reappeared just beneath Reeve. It slashed at the anthro's pelvic region, causing him to yelp as he stumbled backwards onto the ground. Before he could raise his head, the snarcor reemerged, locking its jaws around Reeve's helmet and pulling his head beneath the sand. Ralousha moved his head as he analyzed David and Reeve's predicaments. David was struggling to pry off his snarcor's jaws while Reeve was completely defenseless. Using his senses, Ralousha examined Reeve's body and noticed a strong, wiggly heat source beneath the ground. Murmuring and crouching down, Ralousha used one laser blade and stuck it into the sand. As meticulously as possible, he slowly moved it forward, letting the heated weapon penetrate the snarcor's cranium and melt through its brain without hitting Reeve's head. The snarcor stopped moving. As Reeve started to wiggle himself free, David raised his own laser blade in his right hand. Hot breath and saliva blasted against his visor, fogging up his vision. Realizing that the snarcor's teeth and mouth were the only parts of its body unprotected, David grunted as he slowly ran his blade against some of the teeth on the right side of the mouth, slicing through them with ease. The snarcor howled in agony and let go on David's head as blood gushed from its gums. The human silenced the beast as he jammed his weapon through the alien's open maw.
"Shit," David said, removing his blade and watching the body slump to the ground. "Everyone all right?"
"THAT THING TRIED TO CASTRATE ME!" Reeve shouted.
"We're fine," Ralousha answered.
"Armor capacity: seventy percent. Body capacity: ninety percent."
"Damn. We gotta find one of those armor crates—and fast," David warned.
"S'just a few scratches! As long as they don't attack my dick again, we should be fine!" Reeve boasted.
"Scornaks aren't pushovers, and they're three times the size of a human," Ralousha advised.
"Thought so," David huffed. "C'mon—best we don't run into more monsters 'til we reach our target."
The three gladiators jogged up one of the sandy dunes before sliding their way down the slope on the other side, kicking up sand and spraying the components all around their armor. David looked up in the sky and noticed some of the robots with camera lenses still aimed at them. He was very tempted to give them all the finger, but the tightness around his neck suggested otherwise; something told him the collar would shock him or even detonate if he didn't obey the rules properly. The trio continued to jog around the sandy fields when Ralousha hacked and spat onto the ground. He slowed down and gestured for the other two to wait.
"David," Ralousha coughed. "Bring-bring up the map. You're gonna have to guide us; the sand and heat keeps messin' with my senses."
"Okay, uh…um…" David murmured to himself as he looked at the panel on his right arm. After popping it open, he pushed a button just above his wrist. The armor beeped, and a greenish-blue holographic map appeared in front of David's face. Three green dots displayed his, Reeve, and Ralousha's positions, with a yellow arrow pointing towards the target.
"Least they made it easy for us. Right—there's three bridge-like installations here…some brambly-lookin' shit there. Once we pass it, there's a factory near a cliff."
"Which direction is it?"
When David deactivated his map, he and the other two gladiators took a sharp left and began to jog up a steep dune. They stopped when they heard deep rumbling and felt the ground shaking beneath them. Seconds later, one of the volcanos in the distance shook as it began to spew more smoke and fumes into the air. The trio looked at the volcano as tons of ash plagued the atmosphere, with Ralousha grimacing and covering his snout.
"Ohhhhh, son of a bitch."
"What? Did one of them borlaegor thingies just blast ass?" Reeve asked, before nudging Ralousha.
Reeve stared at the eyeless alien. "Bruh. I'm joking."
David looked at the ash cloud forming in the distance and took note of the yellowish hue the cloud had, as if it contained several traces of sulfur and methane in it.
"We gotta reach the factory now; I'm gonna be damn-near blind once that cloud hits us."
Not wanting to waste any more time, David led the group as the trio jogged down the sandy dune. A few miles up ahead, the gladiators could see the factory, a huge jet black facility that seemed to look like a colossal shadow with a few spires and smokestacks on it. As the team reached the bottom of the dune, they came across three arch bridges composed entirely of sand. Reeve started to jog over the center one when David exclaimed.
The canine snarled and turned around. "What?! We don't got time—"
"Just shut up…and walk slowly," David said as he advanced towards the right bridge. "Ralou, take the left bridge. Do not run."
As Ralousha walked over towards the left bridge, David slowly walked across the right one, huffing and looking over the sides of the sandy arch that had no ledges or other barriers to lean against. Reeve was about to say something when he looked down and heard something clack twice, like scorpion pincers that were snapping at their prey. The Rottweiler swallowed hard and followed David's advice, traversing over the bridge slowly and surreptitiously. The trio made it across the bridge without any further interruptions, just in time for Reeve to yelp when a robot dropped a red crate on the ground. The robot beeped twice and flew away, while Reeve stomped towards the crate and kicked it open. He stuffed his paws into the crate and laughed evilly as he pulled out a railgun with twin barrels that was radiating in a greenish hue.
"Fuck yeah…hah, now this is what I'm talking about!"
"What is that?" David asked.
"An NDC-57 Rail Blaster! This the one with a plasma grenade launcher built into it!"
"How much ammo's it got?"
"Five slugs. Three grenades."
"Use it sparingly. We don't know what else is out here," Ralousha warned.
"Blah, blah, blah—stop all the chatter and keep moving! Less y'all wanna get trapped in that fart cloud!"
Reeve led the way this time, jogging at a slower pace as he carried the heavy assault weapon in his paws. David brought up his holo-map a second time and noticed that he and his teammates were near the field of brambles. When David lowered the map, he looked up ahead and saw a massive crater in the ground. And scattered about the crater were humongous insectoid creatures that looked like bloated red or beige leeches. Some of them had hairy legs sprouting from underneath their bulky bodies, while others had wings that were slowly fluttering on their own. From what David could tell, all the creatures had four eyes arranged in a square formation in the center of their head, and a fifth one bulged from the upper portion of the cranium. David was about to divert the team's attention to a way around the giant beasts when he saw that the path to the left was covered with snarcors, and the one on the right was blocked by one of the fat aliens.
"Shit! More snarcors. Ralou, what are those giant bugs on the ground?"
"Seem like poknoks to me. Lazy, but violent."
"Eight…nine…there's eleven of them bitches," Reeve said.
"And about a dozen snarcors. And the gas cloud's gonna be here any minute," Ralousha snarled.
"I got a railgun! Lemme distract the snarcors and lead 'em to the poknok pit! Poknoks can munch on 'em and we'll swing around and run away so the poknoks don't spot us!"
"That's…not a bad idea," David said.
"Poknoks are cannibals too. We get lucky enough and they'll eat each other," Ralousha added.
"I know just what to do," Reeve said, grinning beneath his helmet.
Ralousha and David followed Reeve from behind and stopped at the edge of the crater. Reeve, meanwhile, walked right up to the crowd of snarcors and switched to the railgun's secondary weapon. He gripped the weapon tightly before pulling the trigger, launching a glowing purplish-blue sphere against the snarcors. The ball rolled against the ground and beeped three times. Just as one snarcor pointed its head at the object, it exploded, blowing nearly half of the snarcors away and sending their mutilated limbs in multiple directions. The remaining six snarcors all hissed and roared, slithering around on their lower bodies as they tried to find the source of the explosion. Reeve, meanwhile, sprinted back towards the rim of the poknok pit and switched back to the primary gun. He slid down the hill leading into the pit, with the snarcors not far behind. Breathing deeply, Reeve pointed his new gun at one of the sleeping poknoks, making sure to aim for its fifth eye that was shut. He pulled the trigger, releasing a humongous stream of bluish-purple laser energy that emitted a piercing zapping noise, as if it was slicing through the air itself.
Needless to say, all the snoozing poknoks heard the noise, and the snarcors were immediately drawn towards the sound. As they slithered their way down the hill, Reeve began to jog through the pit, huffing as the other poknoks woke up and lazily started to slide or flop their bodies around the sand to eliminate the unknown entity. David and Ralousha stared at the snarcors as they chased after Reeve, only to be cut off when one of the poknoks rolled in front of their path. Some of them went underground to chase after the canine, while others climbed over the poknok. The human and alien watched as a mysterious circular jaw hidden on the poknok's back opened up, releasing a serpentine tongue. It latched onto the snarcor and sucked the alien inside, where it messily chewed on the body and sprayed blood and bits of the exoskeleton in the air. The other five snarcors weren't fairing any better, as the poknoks were paying more attention to them opposed to the armored dog jogging around towards the end of the pit.
Seeing both monsters were distracted, Ralousha and David jogged their way through the east side of the pit, while all of the other aliens crowded the western and center portion. The only encounter they had was with another snarcor, which was slurped up by a poknok after it rolled around and ejected its tongue like a frog or toad. After another two minutes of jogging, the partners arrived at the other side of the pit and climbed up, while Reeve was standing at the top leaning against his giant railgun.
"Took y'all long enough," Reeve chuckled.
"Yes," Ralousha exhaled, before looking at the yellowish cloud advancing their way and saying, "it did. Is the factory nearby?"
"We're close; I can see it now," David explained as he stared at the foreboding building in the distance. "Maybe half a mile out?"
"Let's go!" Reeve shouted.
The trio sprinted towards the factory as the gaseous cloud advanced upon them, carrying sand and dirt with it. The closer the group got to the building, the more features of it the trio could make out. At some point, the factory had various smokestacks on the top of the building, judging by the broken cylindrical columns they saw, along with the smokestack that was laying on the ground in the sand. Dust and dirt had blown against the walls, peeling off the paint and making it seem like the black and gray building had various sandy blotches on it. There was a giant hole in the eastern side of the foundation; David considered sneaking into the factory through there, up until he saw a giant worm-like extraterrestrial slither outside of it. A set of stairs in the front of the building led up to the main door that had been left ajar. As the trio sprinted up the stairs, David spotted a corpse sticking out of the building that had been wedged between the two doors. The human grunted as he pushed the body away, surprised to see that it was coated in armor like he was.
"The hell's this guy?" David inquired.
"Probably another prisoner," Ralousha explained, shutting the door after everyone entered. "Not uncommon for other gladiators to be sent on the same tournament."
Once the gladiators were inside of the factory, they noticed that they had just walked into an abandoned assembly line. All of them were stuck inside of a wide-open corridor that led to multiple smaller hallways and passages in other parts of the facility. A set of roller conveyors were lined up against the middle of the corridor, but they had long since been inactive. The conveyor itself looked like it had been torn into multiple parts, and dusty, mangled machinery had flattened portions of the machine. Reeve walked over to a set of spherical engines hanging from hooks on the left wall, only to yelp when one of them fell onto the floor and released battery acid. David looked up at the ceiling, taking note of the colossal claws connected to the ceiling that looked like pincers, some of which were still clutching spare parts for a spaceship. Ralousha growled as his senses flared, and he noticed faint heat signatures coming from outside and near the left hallways.
"Stay alert. Could be wrong, but some scornaks might show up."
Reeve was about to defuse his theory, up until he saw another gladiator's body that had been torn in half. He kicked the upper half of the body over and noticed that it was wearing the same armor and helmet as them.
"Davie, where we settin' those bombs?" Reeve asked.
David brought up his holo-map again and noticed that the device had automatically updated itself. Now it displayed himself and his two allies, along with three blinking red dots located on three different floors of the building.
"One's right here with the main assembly line. We just gotta find a pylon or something; that should make all this collapse. Other two are in the basement and the third floor. They're all in the center of the building so everything should crumble once all the explosives go off."
"I say we hit the basement first. Anything goes wrong, we don't wanna be trapped down there making our escape," Ralousha advised.
"We each got a charge. We could split up—"
"Hell no," David said, interrupting Reeve. "Every time someone goes like 'hey gang, let's split up!' a buncha shit goes wrong. 'Sides, we don't have a giant railgun."
Somehow, David could almost see Reeve smirking beneath his helmet.
"That is your problem."
David groaned and rolled his eyes as he led the group into one of the nearby staircases. The trio quickly headed down the stairs, their metal boots clomping down against the steps as they gradually came upon the depths of the factory. When they arrived on the basement floor, they pushed open a set of double doors leading into another spacious corridor. Unlike the assembly line, the basement looked like it had been used for storage, judging by the assortment of metal crates and boxes that had been left behind. Little light occupied the basement; Reeve and David kept wincing as they tried to make their way through the area without bumping into the crates. Reeve turned around after hearing faint skittering across the ground, while Ralousha noticed heat signatures and detected vibrations within the walls.
"David, we near the target yet?"
The human being let hot breath flow from his mouth as he came upon a metal pylon that looked like it had been dented. "It's here. Watch my back; this shouldn't take long."
The railgun clicked and beeped as Reeve switched over to the gun's secondary weapon. Meanwhile, David panted as he pressed down on a button near his right leg, which caused a piece of armor to hiss as it slid off. He removed the armor and looked at the underside, exposing a set of explosives. Murmuring to himself, David pressed the sticky explosives against the pylon and switched on the arming device.
Something skittered across the floor and snarled. Before anyone could say anything, a set of stones clattered to the floor and four of the crates tumbled over. Ralousha and David looked around the side of the pylon and saw a six-legged scorpion-like beast. The lower half of its body resembled a traditional scorpion—long red tail, hairy legs, exoskeleton covering its body, and a stinger on the end of the tail. But the upper half was partially humanoid; it had a broad chest and belly, along with a scaly neck and skull. But the arms were coated with pieces of hard shell, its hands were nothing but massive pincers, and the head looked more insectoid than human. The mouth in particular was split into two chelicerae, and the eyes were beady and black. Part of the scorpion's armor stretched all the way up its nape and covered most of the head, making it seem like it was wearing a red helmet. The only fleshy part of the body was the face, which looked wrinkled and coated in slime.
"CONTACT!" Ralousha shouted.
Reeve turned around and grinned as the scorpion-like extraterrestrial hissed and skittered across the floor. He launched a grenade near the scorpion's legs, watching as it exploded and kicked up tons of sand and debris. The alien continued to run, the explosion not even causing it to fumble.
"It's a scornak! GO FOR THE HEAD!"
The trio backed up towards the staircase as the scornak continued to stomp across the floor, gaining more speed and clacking its colossal pincers. Reeve panted as he switched back to the railgun's normal setting and aimed for the head. He fired again, the giant laser beam slicing through the air and turning the scornak's brain into melted paste. It flopped down onto the floor, rolling around and banging into some of the crates. Panting, the trio rushed up the stairs, only to shout when a giant beam of yellow energy was fired their way, blasting a hole into the wall and causing chunks of stone and mortar to fall down.
"More gladiators!" someone hissed from the top of the stairs. "What fun!"
Everyone looked up and spotted another scornak with a sandy exoskeleton and a white belly and chest holding a halberd-like weapon with static crackling from the end of it. The gladiators all retreated as the scornak raised the halberd and shouted, releasing a ball of yellowish-blue lightning that zoomed through the air, narrowly missing Reeve's head. It collided with the wall again, causing another explosion and releasing more debris onto the staircase.
"Reeve! Hit the—"
"Shit, there's another one!" Reeve announced.
Reeve looked at the bottom of the staircase and saw another red scornak hissing as it skittered up the stairwell. But unlike a humanoid creature, it had the ability to climb up the stairs much faster, even going as far as latching onto the railing with its pincers and tails and climbing in a vertical motion.
"Get the bottom; we'll get the top!" David shouted.
Reeve nodded and fired another shot from the railgun. He hit the red scornak in its chest, but the railgun only succeeded in putting a dent in the armor around the chest, exposing the creature's heart and part of the organs. Meanwhile, David and Ralousha both rushed up the stairs as the sand-colored scornak leaped forward, lashing its tail at David and knocking him down some of the stairs. Ralousha, meanwhile, snarled as he ducked and sliced at two of the scornak's front legs. The alien stumbled, but was still able to smash its halberd against Ralousha's skull, knocking him into the wall. It raised its pincers and hissed, spitting out drool, while Ralousha zipped forward and slashed both laser blades against the alien's exoskeleton. The scornak howled as some of the armor was penetrated, seconds before Ralousha swung his laser blade upwards, cutting against the throat. The laser blade didn't go all the way through, but the armor around the neck was weak; it sliced through the trachea and esophagus. As the sand-colored scornak began to wheeze and grasped its throat, Reeve quickly switched to the secondary weapon and fired a grenade, watching as it latched onto the exposed chest.
The plasma grenade exploded, blowing apart the heart and part of the scornak's abdomen. It gave a gurgled cry before slouching against the railing and clumsily flopping down some of the stairs. David could hear his suit alerting him that his body capacity was dropping. He immediately popped open his panel on his left arm and looked at his four valve handles. After twisting it a couple of times, he heard his suit's voice speaking again.
"Poison in bloodstream detected. Repelling."
David let out a couple of pants as he listened to the suit's mechanisms slowly repel the poison flowing through his veins. Something pricked his skin, and he took a long breath as he felt cold sludge shooting through his body, seconds before the chilling substance warmed up and made him feel calmer. His body felt like all the energy was draining from it; whatever the poison did, it made him tired and weak, like he was suffering from a serious migraine as his body decayed. But with the poison gone, David got back to his feet and huffed.
"You good?" Ralousha asked.
"Yeah," said David, huffing and looking down at his armor, taking note of the hole that drilled right through the plating. "Shit, that was from one stab?"
"Damn straight," said Reeve, pushing his way past Ralousha and David and walking up the stairs. "I'm bettin' there's more of 'em! C'mon—let's get this shit done and get the fuck outta here!"
Not wanting to waste time, David and Ralousha took the canine's advice and stormed up the stairs. Ralousha took a few breaths as he rubbed his temple and grimaced, feeling a huge scar on his face as blood trickled down to his neck. Nevertheless, the group pressed on and entered the central assembly line, where they saw another group of scornaks gathering around all clad in reddish-orange exoskeletons. One of them was crowding around the central pylon when Reeve aimed his railgun at the scornak and immediately fired. The laser beam soared right through the skull, dropping the arachnoid alien to the floor while the other three snarled and turned their attention to the gladiators.
"Damn it, Reeve—we coulda done this quietly!" David shouted.
"Stop your whining! I still got…"
Reeve looked at the ammo meter on the side of the railgun. His grenades were out, and he only had one shot left with the primary laser fire.
"…Fuck," he whispered.
The scornak with a partially black tail curled his tail upwards as he approached the gladiators.
"Another team? This is getting aggravating," the alien hissed.
"HEY! Suspulakk! The one in yellow killed Terrs'vynn! Lemme take him!"
Suspulakk nodded and spread his mandibles as drool left his mouth. "Fair's fair. I believe we should each take one—"
"HRSSLYLYN CALLS HUMAN!"
The scornak on the left sprinted across the floor so fast that he went as far as skittering against the walls before slamming onto the floor and charging after David. Suspulakk went for Ralousha, and the third scornak went after Reeve. Hrsslylyn roared as he spread his huge pincers and lunged forward, trying to tear David in half. The human slid against the floor underneath the huge scornak before rolling around and looking up at his underside. David was just about to pull out his laser blade when Hrsslylyn splayed his legs and let himself flop to the floor abdomen first, causing the whole factory to shake. While David was getting flattened, the third scornak aimed her halberd at Reeve and let the electric energy charge. It crackled for a few seconds and began to increase its power, while Reeve just smirked and aimed for the scornak's head. Just as he was about to fire, a metal pole smacked the railgun from his paws. Reeve shouted and looked to his left, taking note of how Suspulakk stopped attacking Ralousha so he could knock his weapon away.
Reeve screamed as the third scornak fired her electric blast of energy, blasting him backwards into one of the columns. Ralousha observed Suspulakk, watching as the alien raised his halberd multiple times and clacked his left pincers. The beast slurped and drooled for several seconds before twirling his weapon around in the air. Ralousha charged forward, raising one laser blade and slashing against the left pincer when Suspulakk tried to grab him. With surprising swiftness, Suspulakk jumped up into the air and curled his tail underneath his body, lashing out against Ralousha before he hit the floor. The eyeless alien sensed what happened to David and immediately slashed at the scornak's tail, cutting off the stinger as he looked up and waited for Suspulakk to come down. But he never did. He grabbed one of the mechanical claws attached to the ceiling and dangled like a monkey hanging from a tree.
The scornak that attacked Reeve pointed her weapon at Ralousha and let the energy charge before firing another burst. Ralousha screamed and blocked the shot by holding his laser blades together in a cross formation. At the same time, Suspulakk pointed his pole at the subdued Reeve, where he observed the Rottweiler struggling to get back up. He fired off another burst that was aimed right for Reeve. The heated blast of energy slammed into the dog, nearly tearing a hole through his armor. During the confusion, Hrsslylyn rose from the floor, giving David time to weakly roll out from underneath his bulk. He stood and activated his laser blade, only for the human to scream when the beast's tail wrapped around his body. Hrsslylyn raised David up to his mouth, laughing and drooling as he tightened his constriction.
"C'mon human…c'mon! Wanna see that skull pop right off!"
David said nothing, and was surprised that Hrsslylyn hadn't just stabbed him with his stinger or tore him in half. Legs flailing and body weakening, David waited until Hrsslylyn brought him so close to his head that his breath fogged up his visor.
"Been such a long time—"
David used what energy he could muster to shove his laser blade into the scornak's face, plunging it right through the nasal cavity and into his brain. Hrsslylyn gurgled before his tail's grip loosened, and his body collapsed to the floor. As David fell to the floor, he inhaled sharply and coughed, his armor constricting his body from how hard the alien squeezed. Limping, David looked at the other two scornaks and saw one of them—Narrsoss—sprinting for Reeve's battered body. Huffing, David sprinted for the female scornak while Suspulakk fell from the ceiling and continued to duel with Ralousha. Narrsoss leaped into the air with her metal pole aimed for Reeve's vulnerable body, but before she could crush him, David shouted and leaped forward, holding the laser blade just beneath the pole. Reeve rolled out of the way as David screamed and nearly dropped his weapon, his arms rattling from the impact. Narrsoss lifted her tail and struck at David with lightning speed, but he was prepared this time. He blocked two strikes and side-stepped the third one, raising his weapon and slicing through the tip of her stinger.
Using her free set of pincers, Narrsoss wrapped them around David's neck and squeezed. David shrieked as he felt the pincers closing; he passed his laser blade off to his left hand and struck it into the scornak's giant limb. Maybe her outer shell wasn't as strong as David thought, or perhaps he struck around a nerve or where someone's wrist would be. But the blade's laser energy was strong enough to penetrate the shell, and it slowly burned a hole into her soft, fragile body. David exhaled as Narrsoss let go, while Narrsoss gripped her halberd with two pincers and slammed it against the floor three times vertically. David rolled out of the way before Narrsoss performed a sweeping attack, swinging the halberd against the floor and again in mid-air. David hopped up, ducked, and jumped again when Narrsoss lashed out with her pincers again, latching them right around the human being's neck. David didn't even have time to scream as the pincers quickly compressed, and David thought he heard something crack within his neck. His vision started to fade, and the human being was crudely reminded of what happened between Jamie and Dumoscos in the Qualification Tournament.
Bluish-purple energy soared through the air, along with the sound of flesh and shell burning and squelching. David noticed Narrsoss' grip loosening, and he fell to the floor and found he could breathe again. Narrsoss, however, fell down at an awkward angle, with a steaming hole in her head big enough to jam someone's arm through. As David lied on the floor coughing and catching his breath, he heard boots clomping and saw a yellow-armored anthro holding a railgun.
"Saved yer ass again, human," Reeve said haughtily.
"After…after I saved yours," David pointed out.
"Eh. Tomato, to-mah-to."
David grunted as he gradually got himself off the floor. Meanwhile, Reeve tossed his railgun down since it was out of ammo, yelping when the weapon's self-destruction feature activated and exploded. He took out his electric whips and walked towards Ralousha and Suspulakk, the latter of whom had Ralousha pinned on the floor. Suspulakk lifted his halberd and prepared to deliver the killing blow when one of Reeve's whips shot forward, latching itself around the scornak's right arm. Suspulakk yelped as Reeve charged his whip and released thousands of volts of electricity, the sparks flowing from the whip and burning through portions of Suspulakk's armored body. At the same time, David jogged forward with his laser blade, panting as he crouched down and got beneath the scornak. He shouted as he swung his laser weapon against all six of the creature's legs, tearing through them all with little effort. Suspulakk shouted as his lower body failed to support his weight, and he fell down onto his side. The stinger on his tail had already been sliced off from earlier, and the armor on his right arm was nearly gone. Reeve let off another electric burst before roaring as he yanked hard on the whip. Having charred the exoskeleton, the whip tore right through the arachnid's limb, causing the right pincers to fall from the arm and flop onto the floor.
Ralousha coughed as he rose to his feet, while Suspulakk hissed and roared as he flopped around on the floor, his tail and right arm useless to him. The scornak whimpered and panted as he tried to snatch his halberd from the floor, but David slashed at his left pincers, while Ralousha walked forward and sliced off Suspulakk's chelicerae. The jawless arachnoid alien still was defiant enough to roar in the klakroshan's face, up until Ralousha shoved both blades into the scornak's eyes and waited for him to go quiet. Once Suspulakk was dead, Ralousha let out a long breath and limped his way towards one of the pylons.
"Dave," Ralousha huffed. "Is it this one?"
"Third one down the assembly line," David said, before taking off his helmet and rubbing his throat. "Then that'll just leave upstairs."
As Ralousha made his way towards the pylon, David shut his eyes and sat on the floor, retracting his laser blade as he massaged his neck. Reeve walked over to the human being and kicked him in his ribcage.
"Put your helmet back on. What happens if a rock falls and cracks your fragile little skull?"
"It's not fragile," David said, coughing as he checked to see if he was bleeding. "And where's the goddamn health and armor crates? Crawlox said we'd get some!"
After resting for a moment, David sighed and stood back up. "There's other gladiator corpses here. You don't find that a tad bit odd?"
Reeve shrugged. David looked up in the corners of the ceiling and could've sworn he saw tiny lights blinking, as if more cameras had been secretly installed to record everything that had happened.
"Why the hell would Crawlox make different gladiators take the same damn challenge if it was too difficult?"
"Maybe they weren't here for a tournament. Maybe those bodies we found were people who pissed off Crawlox and were sent to be executed."
"It's that easy? If Crawlox—"
"All's I know is that I'm stuck in the GDF for seven years. I'd prefer if it went down to one or two. Don't got time for all these questions."
David shut his mouth and stopped contemplating for a moment. Instead, he listened to Reeve's advice, and looked back at the sheer amount of months he had been sentenced to be in the Gladiator Detention Facility. He tried to predict how many tournaments and matches he'd have to win, barring a few incidents that could potentially elongate his prison sentence. As he murmured and counted to himself, Ralousha limped back over to the duo and exhaled.
"Second charge down."
"You find any health or armor crates?"
David brought up the status of his armor and health.
"Armor capacity: thirty percent. Body capacity: sixty percent."
"You guys got sufficient health?"
"My armor and body readings are both at fifty," Ralousha said.
"Body's seventy. Armor's thirty-five," Reeve responded.
David scowled as he swore quietly. He put his helmet back on and sighed. "We're gonna have to go straight for the last pylon. Can't risk fighting more scornaks at this rate."
Guiding the group again, David headed for another corridor leading into a stairwell. Only this time around, he went upstairs, traveling all the way until he was on the third floor. Reeve stepped in front of the sliding doors leading into the assembly line and gripped the middle of the door. Grunting and straining, Reeve slowly slid open the slabs of metal, sighing once they were open far enough for David and Ralousha to move in. Reeve stepped forward and let go of the doors, both of which slammed shut with the three of them inside.
"More prey, I see. How fortunate," hissed a scornak.
Hanging from the ceiling was a heavily-armored arachnoid alien. She looked far bulkier and wider than the aliens the gladiators fought prior, and she even had a set of twin tails, each lined with multiple stingers. The scornak fell from the ceiling and landed on the floor, causing a rusted pile of machinery to fall over and clatter onto a conveyor belt. The trio stared at the immense scornak as she approached the gladiators, not even bothering to attack.
"Well now. I'm guessing you're the big bad scornak leading the ones we killed downstairs?" David asked.
"I am. The Great Priestess Lyrassli!"
"And we're supposed to be pissing our pants right now, yes?"
"And I guess now is the time where you give your long-ass speech about how you'll pick the flesh from our bones and beat us to death with our own severed arms?"
"Am I not supposed to do that?"
David turned his head so he was glaring directly at the pylon. The giant scornak turned her head around and looked at the sturdy cylindrical structure before scoffing and moving backwards.
"I see. You were sent to blow up the factory, yes?"
David slyly began to walk towards the left side of the assembly line. He took note of the four windows equally spread about in the corridor and could see that a gaseous sandstorm was roaring outside. Instead of moving towards the pylon, the human being lowered his laser blade and shrugged.
"Of course we are. And you're going to stop us, just like those other gladiators before you."
"THAT'S…right," the scornak said softly.
Reeve and Ralousha kept pointing their muzzles at each other with confusion as David made his way to the window.
"Ah well…suppose I may as well accept it. I, uh…I do have one request though."
"What are you doing, human?" the scornak asked.
"Yeah man, the fuck you playin' at? We don't got time for this shit!" Reeve shouted.
"Course we do! You blew ass when we got up here. I'll be damned if I die knowing the last thing I smell is your dog farts."
Ralousha could visibly feel David winking at him, while Reeve and Lyrassli were still bewildered. The klakroshan immediately covered his muzzle as David raised his laser blade.
"Mind if I crack a window?"
David swung the blade at the glass, and the window exploded immediately afterwards. In only a matter of seconds, the gas and sand from outside swarmed the assembly line, spreading around the area and fogging it up in only a short amount of time. Priestess Lyrassli roared in frustration as she sprinted away from the pylon towards the gladiators, but the sand and gaseous fumes were already getting in her eyes and mouth. David instinctively sprinted away from the wall after hearing the scornak's footsteps clacking against the floor. Ralousha continued to hold his breathe as he walked over to another window and shattered it with one of his laser blades. With both windows busted, the assembly line was fogged in only a matter of seconds. Ralousha kept his mouth and nostrils shut as Reeve sprinted towards the pylon, huffing and panting as he saw glimpses of the priestess scornak flailing her tails and swiping her pincers at the floors. But everyone could hear the giant arachnoid retching and gagging, almost like she was choking on acidic fumes. Reeve quickly removed the panel containing the explosives and fitted it onto the pylon.
"We're clear!" Reeve shouted.
"WHAT?!" David shouted.
"THE EXPLOSIVES ARE SET!" the anthro roared.
All three gladiators didn't risk running all the way back downstairs, and they had no idea where any of the other exits were. With no other option, all of them jogged back towards the first window David broke open and leaped forward. The group screamed as they fell several meters towards the ground, landing on the western side of the facility. Thankfully, their armor suits broke their fall and protected all the bones in their bodies. Still lying on the ground, David panted as he took out his detonator and activated the charges. At first, the gladiators couldn't see anything but yellowish gas and reddish-brown sand blowing all over their visors (and in Ralousha's case, swarming his face and head). But as soon as the bombs were activated, the factory was set ablaze in only a few seconds. The bomb planted on the ground floor took out the pylon immediately, along with the bomb down in the basement. The entire first and third floors sent fire and smoke out of the windows, creating colossal fireballs that littered the building in flames. For a brief moment, the prisoners could see Lyrassli attempting to flee, only for one of the explosions to blast her out of an open window.
The trio saw a charred body soaring through the air, watching as a couple of limbs broke off and landed in the sand still on fire. Lyrassli wasn't screaming or flailing her body around—if the explosion hadn't killed her, the gang knew that she'd either burn to death or die during the gassy sandstorm. Some of the sand quickly snuffed out the fires, and the group huffed as they stood up and limped backwards when they felt the ground rumbling. With the primary pylons taken out, there was nothing to hold up the building's upper floors. The factory groaned a few times as a section of it listed over and began to crumble. Not long after, the rest of the decrepit building followed, releasing a cloud of ash, sand, smoke, and metal into the air.
"SHIT! LOOKS LIKE WE DID IT!" Reeve shouted.
"WHAT?!" David screamed.
"GET THAT SAND OUT YER DAMN EARS, HUMAN!"
The trio remained in the middle of the sandstorm, all while Ralousha struggled to maintain his respiratory system amidst the storm. David could hear a confirmation tone ringing in his ear, followed by an announcement that a shuttle was on its way. The sky rumbled as some kind of ship's engine seemed to roar just above their heads. Before any of them could figure out what was happening, a tractor beam activated and latched onto David, Reeve, and Ralousha's bodies. It sucked them up very slowly, the gladiators hovering in mid-air until they were transported all the way into the spaceship. Once inside, the circular door built on the underside of the ship closed, and the tractor beam shut off. Everyone shouted as they fell onto the floor, with Ralousha coughing so heavily that phlegm and saliva was gushing from his mouth.
"Targets onboard," said one of the guards. "We're clear."
Wordlessly, David and Reeve took off their helmets so they could relish in the fresh air. After breathing in clean oxygen for a few seconds, the guards hoisted the gladiators from the floor and sat them all down, locking them into place with over-the-shoulder restraints. David leaned his head against the wall and shut his eyes, already feeling like he was going to pass out.
"'Mind if I crack a window'?" Reeve said, before chuckling.
"I saw an opportunity. I took it," David explained.
"You seem rather fond of that, if what just happened and the Qualification Tournament are anything to come by," Ralousha concluded.
"S'why I'm still here."
"Dunno about that, David. You got poisoned by that one scornak. Almost got flattened and had your neck wrung by two others," Reeve pointed out.
"Yeah, well. Saved your ass a couple times. Ralou saved ours a few times. And vice versa for him."
"That's the problem," Ralousha grimly said. "I ain't sure what'll happen if we end up stuck in a tournament alone."
"We'll worry about that when the time comes," David said, after a long pause.
The human being sat still as he thought about what his future would hold. Perhaps he would be sent back to Sabulo to take on scornaks all by himself. Perhaps he'd have to turn on his fellow partners to gain his freedom. David didn't know. He didn't want to know. Still exhausted and battered from the fight, David let his body rest until they arrived at the GDF again.
Later, David…worry later.