<== ==> 

Herod left the cave, Anna holding her in silence. The Mater’s grip certainly felt solid, but they were about to move extremely fast. Herod activated her thrusters. Blue flames slammed into the ground and lifted her off, over the cave entrance and into the air.

The dragon riders took notice of her. “Fly away,” Anna murmured. “It’d be a pain if they give chase.” Herod certainly agreed, so she made her way for the open air past the mesa. The g-forces of zipping through the sky at around 400 miles an hour should have knocked Anna off right away, but the Mater didn’t seem to have the slightest trouble hanging on.

As far as Herod knew, the Isis AEGIS didn’t amplify strength. Was Anna simply that athletic of her own accord…?

To her relief, the riders didn’t follow. She flew out until the Mater told her to stop- almost eight miles from the mesa. “Great, now go up,” Anna instructed. “And raise your leg for me if you will.”

Herod kicked upwards, and Anna grabbed the rifle as it swung close. She unhooked it from Herod’s ankle. “Everything seems good,” she said, running her hands along its surface. Like a spider monkey, Anna clambered up Herod’s torso and sat on her shoulders, the Mater’s thighs on either side of her head. “Herod, sweetie, mind sticking your arm out for me? Yeah, just like that.” a tripod rested in Herod’s outstretched palm. “Try not to move.”

“This is stupid,” Herod said. “We’re way out of range.” The best snipers could make shots at about five miles away. Three was a tenuous proposition for all but the absolute best, and that was under ideal circumstances. Sitting on a stranger’s shoulders, using their hand as a tripod, was nowhere near ideal.

“Talking makes you move. Now let’s see. Fail-Not, how fast does this planet spin?”

“Fast,” the Verbena said through their comms. “It has no moon… 1581.04 mph.”

“Mmm. Send me the numbers for wind speed, humidity, barometric pressure, and temperature, please.” Anna was silent for several moments. “Herod, can you move exactly 60 feet to the right, 12 feet forward, and five feet up?”

Herod’s display showed the spot. With a sigh, she floated over from one patch of empty sky to another. “Ohhhh yeah. Much better.” Anna was silent again.

For five straight minutes. Herod could do nothing but stand there with her arm out like an idiot, watching her fuel dwindle and the Romeos drop payload after payload on the tunnels. “Mater,” she said through gritted teeth, “Are we going to shoo-“

“Shh. When you talk you move- and you ruin my concentration. Sniping is about patience, dude. I account for a million things, double and triple check my work, and then I move my finger. And I told you to call me Anna.”

Herod would have liked nothing better than to shake Anna off of her. Instead, like a good soldier, she floated in silence as Anna continued to do nothing.

Then the gun fired.

The shot sounded like thunder striking a tree. A depleted uranium bullet the size of a combat knife skimmed through the air. It missed the outer riders, the ones behind them, the flesh-dragons, every one of the hundred things between it and its mark. Its destiny was the leader, with his cropped ears and dark robes and impressive drake.

The bullet didn’t just hit him. It pierced his sternum, and like an old building robbed of its central support, he crumbled. His top half went forward while his bottom half fell backwards.

All of this happened in less than one second.

True to her word, the shot knocked Anna off of Herod’s shoulders. The Mater fell in complete peace, her arms folded over her stomach and her ankles touching. Herod swore and flew down after her, outpacing the force of gravity with her jetpack and grabbing Anna from out of mid-air.

“That went well,” said Anna cheerfully from between Herod’s arms. “Hey Loose Lucy. I got their boss. You wanna…?”

“What?” Lucifera was silent. “Damn it, of course you did. Okay. While they’re in disarray! 119th Legion, strike with everything you have!”

Hundreds upon hundreds of Gawain-clad legionnaires emerged from the tunnels, raining rockets and machine gun fire upon the Neighbors- who, without their master, looked as helpless as children lost at the mall. Herod veered towards the mesa to join the fight. “That was…” She was silent. “That shouldn’t have been possible. How did you do it?”

“Normally. There’s nothing special about me, Herod,” said Anna. “I’m normal. I’m just a Mater.”

Mater. Not too many letters away from “monster”, was it?

<== ==> 

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