“An amarok!?” Sean’s voice blurted out, his voice filled with disbelief as he stared up at the enormous creature standing over us. “They want us to fight a fucking amarok?! Who okayed this shit?!”
“No way,” Sands’ voice came through the pin. “They wouldn’t. They couldn’t. Something’s wrong.”
The wolf, or amarok apparently, responded by lunging down with its massive mouth wide open. I yelped out a warning, but Sean was already reacting. He gave that huge gun of his a heave, and Vulcan transformed back into his dog form just in time to crash into the much larger beast’s descending snout. In spite of the size difference, the mechanical canine was able to knock the monster’s lunge off target. The amarok stumbled off to one side, the ground practically shaking beneath its staggering paws as it proceeded to knock over one of the nearby trees that happened to be in its path.
Grabbing my hand to haul me back to my feet, Sean shouted, “We could use some help over here!”
“Scout, covering fire. Buy them a few seconds.” Avalon’s voice was calm and collected, with just a hint of concentration. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have said that she was sitting at home doing the crossword puzzle. Yet through the corner of my eyes, I could see the girl dealing with one of the chamrosh. The thing had knocked Columbus to the ground and had been about to take a bite out of his shoulder before Avalon got its attention, dancing back a bit while it lashed out at her. “Gerardo, Chambers, get into the woods and head back around the lake. Use the trees to slow it down, not the open ground. Mason, meet them halfway. We’ll finish this and catch up.”
By that point, the pants-wettingly huge wolf had recovered from its stumble. Spinning around, it focused on me, and in that second, I could have sworn that the thing smiled.
Then one of Scout’s bullets hit it right in the snout, and the monster’s head jerked a bit to the side. Before it could recover, I spun around the way that Avalon had directed. “Go, go, go!”
Sean whistled while we ran, and Vulcan caught up quickly. The three of us sprinted into the woods, while Scout kept up her shots against the massive wolf. Unfortunately, the thing seemed to have adjusted to the incoming fire, and it didn’t seem to be having much of an effect aside from annoying it.
While running, I held the button to charge my staff. As the sound of trees collapsing under the charging monster drew closer with each passing step, I waited until the staff was as charged as it could be before touching it to the ground near one of the trees that the beast was going to have to crash through.
A handful of seconds later, the whoomph sound of the concussive mine detonating filled the forest, and the giant wolf gave a loud yelp that was followed by a howl of anger. Not enough to really put it down, but I had its attention at least. Somehow, I managed to contain my exultation at that thought.
Sean and I continued to run. I kept charging the staff and leaving various invisible traps for our pursuer, which had actually backed off just a little. The thing managed to avoid a good number of the mines that I was creating, but at least the fact that it was being more cautious meant that we had more of a lead.
Strangely, it was kind of easy to keep running full out. Though I’d been sprinting as hard as I could, through a forest no less, which involved a lot of weaving and jumping, it still felt like an easy jog. I was in better shape than I’d ever been in my life, but this was something different. This was new.
The chamrosh that I had killed. I’d taken regeneration from the poodle-roach back at the school, and this time, whatever I’d gained from this monster was letting me keep running as hard as I could much longer than I should have been capable of without even getting winded.
“Flick, Sean, turn right and jump through the hole in ten seconds.” Sands’ voice spoke in my ear.
I had no idea what hole she was talking about, but followed her instructions anyway. After counting down in my head, I pivoted alongside Sean. We hit a clearing right at that moment, and I saw a large metal wall directly ahead of us. There was a circular hole in the middle, like a big window.
The two of us leapt through the opening, landing on the other side together just before our pursuer reached the same clearing, bare seconds behind us. With a snarl, the bus-sized wolf lunged forward, teeth bared as it came for the same hole that we had gone through.
And then, just as the thing’s head shoved through the hole with its sword-like teeth bared and snapping, Sands appeared at the corner. She pushed her mace against the wall she had created. At a touch from it, the hole closed up instantly, locking the wolf’s head in place before it knew what was happening.
The amarok was trapped, snarling and twisting as it fought to free itself. Sands made a gesture with her construction mace, and a two metal posts rose out of the ground on either side of the thing. They twisted to form an arch together, then clamped down to hold the monster more firmly. “Down, puppy!”
Unfortunately, the wolf wasn’t in the mood to listen to commands. It gave a mighty heave, and I saw the wall trapping it start to bend a little bit, the metal giving a sharp screech of protest.
“I’ll try to hold it as much as I can,” Sands called out while working to form another pillar to bend around the monster. “But you might wanna hit it with everything while you’ve got the chance!”
As if in response to her words, Two of Scout’s shots hit the thing in rapid succession, both aimed for its eyes. Even that much damage wasn’t enough to blind it fully, but did make it scream in pain.
Meanwhile, Sean hoisted Vulcan back into his gun form, opening up with a hail of fire on the monster’s exposed side. The sound of the weapon’s roar joined with that of the amarok itself, both terrifyingly deafening, a rolling explosion of noise that shook me to my core and left me briefly paralyzed.
Shaking it off at the sight of the first metal wall cracking apart while Sands struggled to form more walls around and over the monster, I gripped my staff and started charging it again before lunging forward. With a cry, I swung my weapon up and around as hard as I could. As the end smacked into the amarok’s nose, I triggered the detonation. The concussive force snapped the monster’s head sideways.
It still wasn’t enough. With a snarl, the monster gave a massive heave. The metal that had been holding its shoulders down snapped apart, and the thing whirled, jaws opening wide as it went for Sands.
Sean and I both yelped out warnings, just before a blast of blueish-silver light slammed into the side of the monster’s head, knocking it off course so that its open jaws crashed into the ground to the girl’s left.
“Move!” Columbus called from the opening of the clearing. He was standing there, panting from running. A second later, another blast of concussive force shot from his goggles before slamming into the giant beast like a runaway truck, sending it staggering a couple steps to the side.
Taking advantage of the opening, Sands sprang backwards, giving a hard swipe with her mace. A metal pillar rose up with a sharp spike on the end, aimed for the monster’s underbelly. The spike struck home, but failed to do much more than briefly annoy the thing. There was the sound of tearing, bending metal as it smacked into the beast, but the amarok’s hide was too tough. The spike couldn’t penetrate it.
“This is ridiculous!” Sean called out. “Get Deveron in here, or the staff! We need help with this thing!”
Even Sands, who had been so excited for this chance, seemed to agree. “We can’t beat an amarok, it’s impossible! This can’t be right, they wouldn’t throw us at one of these things!”
“Stop complaining about what you can’t do,” Avalon instructed while sprinting into the clearing. She leapt up, lashing out with her right gauntlet while creating an energy blade as long and wide as a massive sword. “And focus,” she continued as the blade was driven into the monster’s eye. “On what you can.” The giant wolf reeled backwards, bellowing in pain before lashing out with a paw that smacked into Avalon and sent her to the ground hard enough to make me flinch in sympathy.
Yet she was back on her feet immediately, rolling backwards before coming up in a crouch with her arms raised defensively. “Mason, walls around it. Thick ones. Chambers, mine the inside of it. As many as you can. Stick them over every wall she makes. Gerardo, Porter, covering fire. Hit it with everything you’ve got, all of it. I don’t care if you run out, just keep it occupied until they finish. Scout, keep punching that eye, the same one I hit. Focus your shots there until it breaks, then hit the other one.”
Sands focused, standing with her feet apart while pointing with the mace, which she was gripping onto with both hands. Steadily, she made a heaving gesture as if lifting something heavy, grunting with effort as a wall several feet thick was steadily hauled up and into position to the monster’s left side.
It took so much time and focus that Sands would have been torn apart by the beast long before finishing that single wall if she’d been by herself. But she wasn’t. Even as the amarok tried to orient back toward her, Sean and Columbus both opened up on the thing. Their joint fire staggered it once more, and it tried to move back that way just as another shot from Scout’s rifle slammed into its eye.
Sands had the first wall finished by that point, and I forced myself to ignore my terror and trust my team. Sprinting forward, I ran straight at the horrifying beast that could have eaten me in a single gulp.
It spotted me, and started to turn my way. But before it could lunge, Avalon leapt up and landed on its snout. Lashing out with both gauntlets, she drove the energy blades hard into its other eye.
With a terrible scream, the amarok tossed its head to the side, sending the other girl flying once more. But by that point, I had finished my run, laying as many mines as I could against the inside of the wall that Sands had created while the monster was still recovering. It gave a roar of displeasure, head snapping from side to side as though trying to clear its damaged vision just before yet another shot from Scout into the first eye made things worse for it, driving a pained yelp from the thing.
Once Avalon and I were both clear, Columbus and Sean opened up on it again. The hail of bullets and blasts of bright silver and blue energy tore into the damn thing, but it barely seemed to be acknowledging the damage by that point. The amarok roared and tried to lunge for Sands, only stopped at the last second by a particularly powerful shot from Columbus’s goggles that snapped its head back.
“Almost out of shots here!” Sean called out in warning. “Vulcan packs a lot, but he’s running low!”
“Put the second wall up,” Avalon ordered. I saw the pain on her face briefly as she rolled over, but the other girl forced herself back to her feet without complaint. “Mine it. Then bend the walls down around the thing. Enclose the explosion, trap the force in there with the amarok. Everyone else, buy them time to finish the other wall. Hit it with everything you can, everything you have. Use it all.”
Sands and I looked at each other, nodded, and then set to work. While the others put everything they had into maintaining the wolf’s attention, keeping it pinned in place, we did our part. Sands heaved a second thick wall high and into position while I ran along it. Thrusting my staff against the wall while it was still lifting into place, I created as many mines as I could, positioning them all along the thing.
Just as I reached the end to position the last mine, the sound of Vulcan’s ongoing fire faded, leaving with just a few sad sounding clicking noises. Sean shouted a warning, but the monster took instant advantage. It spun, lashing down with its jaws wide while I desperately hurled myself out of the way.
It wasn’t quite enough. One of the monster’s massive teeth clamped down into my arm, sending a blinding flash of pain through me even as an awful scream tore its way out of my throat. The agony was unbearable, and I had only a distant impression of something hard slamming into me from the opposite side with enough force to knock me away from the amarok’s jaws.
I hit the ground with a weight on top of me, realizing belatedly that it was Vulcan. Sean had transformed his gun into its other form and sent it sprinting forward to knock me away from the wolf.
Blood was everywhere. The agony was fresh with every motion of my arm, and I stared down at what looked an awful lot like exposed bone and muscle through the haze of pained disbelief. It was already starting to close before my eyes, the muscle and skin gradually knitting itself together. But it still hurt.
It should have been worse, I realized. The damage to my arm, it should have left me incapable of functioning or even thinking straight. Instead, though it definitely sucked, I could still at least somewhat pay attention to what was going on. The pain was dulled somehow, probably another result of absorbing the power of that cockroach-poodle. Or possibly the bird-wolf. I wasn’t sure which.
“Close it!” Avalon called across the clearing toward Sands. “Trap it now!”
Quickly following the other girl’s instructions, Sands made a heaving gesture with her mace once more. The two thick walls on either side of the monster caved in and down, practically collapsing on it while the ends twisted around to meet one another. They linked, forming a dome over the giant wolf.
“Mines!” Avalon’s focus was on me then. “Trigger the mines now, Chambers! Do it!”
Forcing myself to ignore the still very present pain in my mangled arm, I caught hold of my staff with my other hand and triggered the manual release of the concussive mines that I had planted.
The sound of the explosion, trapped under the thick metal walls, was deafening as it rang through the forest. Small bits of metal went flying, torn free from the force of the focused blast.
“Did it work?” Sands asked after a second of silence that followed the explosion. “Did we kill–”
She was interrupted. Not by the amarok, but by me. My body arched and I screamed again. This time, however, it wasn’t agony but mind-blowing, indescribable pleasure. It felt so good that my brain literally shut down for a few seconds, leaving me a mumbling wreck on the ground.
Okay, that really had to fucking stop. Seriously, what the hell?
“I… uhh, I think that means it’s dead.” Columbus was standing over me, staring down through his goggles.
“You okay down there, Flick?” Sean piped up. “Or do you need a cigarette after that?”
“Oh shut up,” I managed, flushing at his implication. My tone was light though. Mostly I was just glad we weren’t dead.
Columbus crouched down, wincing a bit. “Seriously, are you all right? Your arm…”
I glanced that way, finding the wound about halfway closed. “It was… ugnn, worse a minute ago, believe me. Doesn’t even hurt as much as it should. I mean it did at first, but then the pain kind of dulled after a couple seconds.”
Sands was there then, head shaking. “You absorbed the amarok. That’s gonna… whatever it gives you, it’ll be a big boost.”
“She’ll need it,” Avalon said flatly while stepping into view. “Something’s wrong. None of the staff are answering calls. They should have stepped in.”
“They never should’ve left us to fight a fucking amarok to begin with!” Sean blurted. “None of this makes sense.”
“Let’s ask our team mentor,” I suggested with bright and obvious sarcasm before letting my expression darken. “Oh, right. Never mind.”
“Scout, is Deveron with you?” Avalon addressed the last member of our team through the pin communicator. She paused at the resulting silence, then tried again. “Scout, is Deveron–”
“Oh, they were a little busy.” A new voice spoke up from the edge of the clearing, and the five of us twisted around to see a handful of figures standing in the shadows. “But don’t worry,” the voice continued. “We brought them to you.”
Scout and Deveron were shoved forward into view before collapsing to the ground. They were both unconscious and lay unmoving in the dirt.
“Scout!” Sands shouted, starting to scramble forward.
Before she could get there, Avalon caught her by the arm to stop her. “Trice,” the other girl snarled the name, hate heavy in her voice.
The figure who had spoken stepped a bit more into the light. It was a slightly older boy, tall and muscular with dark green hair that was cut short and spiked up. He wore a brown trenchcoat and held a heavy looking pike in both hands. “That’s right, you stupid cunt. Did you really think you could run away after you killed my fucking brother? You really think we’d just let you go?
“Time to put you down like the bitch you are.”