Something was walking towards them through the wreckage of the building, dragging one foot as it came. It almost looked human, and female, but even through the curtain of water pouring down, skewing and obscuring its shape, there were too many things sickeningly wrong. One arm dangled from its shoulder as if useless, dark silver-iron instead of flesh and the wrong shape. The clothes and skin were stained with spreading patches of red. And two points of light, glowing chalk-pale, wavered as it drew closer.

Water drops spattering on her bare feet, Kaire stepped through the curtain of water and stood for a moment, as if deep in thought. Then she turned to face Dax and Athellus, and Dax very nearly screamed. There was a splinter of metal the length of a baseball bat embedded in her body, driven diagonally down through her shoulder and protruding from her sternum, almost cutting her in half. And it had done even more damage going in. The side of Kaire’s head was a rough red-and-white, blinking horror.

The explosion, it…

“One… more…” murmured Kaire, as if to herself. Blood foamed and dripped from the corner of her mouth. “One more like that…” She raised her head to the spray, almost curiously. “Rain? Again?”

“God,” croaked Dax. His mouth was absolutely dry. “How… is she walking? Why isn’t she—”

“Because she can’t.” Athellus had gone white.

“What?” Dax wanted to know. “She can’t what?”

Kaire lurched forward again and raised an unsteady hand toward the water thundering down. Rivulets of watery red were running down her body, and being borne away down the gushing stream. Even from here Dax could smell it, the thick iodine smell he knew. As he watched the iron colour was spreading now, Kaire’s skin darkening to that living armour. Her body was beginning to sprout spines and feathers, haphazardly, like an organism instinctively protecting itself.

Athellus watched his partner with… not shock, no. A kind of horrible compassion. “Even like that. She— can’t die.”

Kaire threw her head back and screamed again. Blood misted from her torn lungs in a long high howl of rage.

* * *

Binoculars on, Adree stared at the thing with the same question as Dax: how the hell was it still going? She’d planned to have at least an hour’s grace to get the two men out of there. Even as she stared, her battle plan was being frantically rewritten in one compartment of her mind.

Down below, the man in the ragged Evinthei uniform, long stolen, with that white streak in his hair, seemed to fill the world. Adree shivered at how close he was to the creature. If only she was closer—she’d cut the damned thing’s throat herself to get him and Athellus safe.

Then again, she’d seen even human soldiers struggle to their feet with terrible injuries, only to drop dead once the fighting was over. Maybe she was closer to victory than she thought.

Adree spoke into her radio. “Position two. Position four. Do you have a line of fire?”

* * *

Kaire’s voice was eerie and small now, as if she was speaking from the bottom of a deep, deep well. “Whhh… ater. Water. I saw? Saw it?”

Dax desperately wanted to tell her it was all right, comfort her, anything, but he was rooted to the spot. He was deeply and absurdly afraid of getting her attention, of her coming closer and actually touching him.

“I saw it!” With the triumphant words more blood dripped from her mouth. “Water! Concrete! Steel! Glass!”

From behind him, Dax heard a gasp and: “Oh shit. Shit.”

“Water. Concrete. Steel. Saw it. I was right.” Kaire stared up as the water pooled in her upturned hand and ran down her arm, then suddenly choked and coughed. The heavy splinter through her body bobbed too much as she retched; she looked down at it with a frown. It was the same expression Dax’s friend Rita had when she noticed there was something under her nails.

A shot pinged off the remains of the wall beside her and her head snapped up again.

“Remember nnn…now. Librais reminded me. ‘nough of this.”

The water rippled around her, and Kaire’s body began to dissolve into the air.

 

Dax was never entirely sure of what he saw next because it happened far too quickly. It was only much later, when he had something to compare the sight to, that he was able to piece things together again. But for all intents and purposes, it was as if the dark iron sheen lifted off Kaire’s body in a cloud, taking her skin with it—only the rest of her was dissolving apart too, and the whole thing was expanding until there was silver-reddish mist filling the street from one side to another. Then further; expanding up and out until it was just a sheen on the air—

Spines stiffened suddenly out of thin air, metres long, barbed and wickedly sharp. There was a steely rustle, and feathers suddenly sprouted and ran down the underside of a long sinuous neck. An armoured tail smashed down from nowhere to crush the remains of the bombed-out building’s facade into powder. Two white eyes opened, and then the street was full of it, a creature that rivalled the buildings, winged, mailed and spined like a lionfish. Its body was sinuous living metal, every inch of it razor-sharpened so its movements sounded like whispering silk.

Blood was pattering down from it, too, down the long head and over its body, but through the horror Dax could see its—her—wounds skinning over even as he watched. Only the head still seemed ruined, blood shading the brilliant white eye and blinding it. And now he could see… he could see the scars that Kaire wore on her neck and face, twisted out of true along the creature’s head and throat but making more sense in this shape.

The final inch smoothed into place, and Kaire was gone. Only the creature remained. It screamed, and windows rained glass down.

 

 

 

previous | archive | next