With Derek still injured, it fell to me to manage our missions alone. Ling was busy; she had class. But I managed to collect Adam and the retinue, which would be enough to put down one crazy gargant.
Adam was prepared this time, with his full assortment of weapons holstered to his hips and back. He didn’t have any real body armor, which I thought was odd, but then I didn’t have any either, so maybe I shouldn’t talk. It would probably be a better idea to worry about his obviously still injured arm. Was he going to be all right for this?
I had been a little worried the retinue wouldn’t be available, but it turned out they all had that Insomniac buff that came out a few years ago, so they didn’t need to sleep. That went a long way to explaining why they were always fighting fit no matter the hour, at any rate.
“Sorry,” I apologized quietly. I was getting used to them, but I still didn’t talk more than necessary. “Derek needs rest.”
Kelly looked up from checking her pistol, her eyes covered by daygoggles. “No worries. He’s had a rough day.” She turned to her crew. “Everyone ready?”
Everyone nodded, and we headed forward.
We were at a large square-shaped park, nestled in the shadow of three skyscrapers, with the fourth side open to the street. A large concrete wall separated the park abruptly from the street, but there was no gate, just an opening hidden behind a smaller wall. The purpose wasn’t to keep people out, but simply to make sure no one tried to drive a car around the well-kept lawns.
The wall currently had a very large hole in it, maybe ten feet wide, from where the gargant crashed through.
It wasn’t hard to follow. It had left a trail of destruction in its wake, ripping massive scars in the lush green carpet and scattering trees aside like toothpicks. The gardener would probably weep at the sight. Thankfully, the trail was not littered with bodies; the gargant had been rampaging since last night, but it wasn’t specifically hunting down victims or even doing all that much damage to the environment. That was why Derek had been able to delay so long.
For our part, we just followed the concrete path. The park wasn’t so big that we risked losing sight of the trail. In a few moments, even that became moot, since we spotted the creature bathing in the small artificial lake.
Gargants, as the name implies, are giant monsters, ranging from the size of a car to the size of a bus. They are the twisted and mutated result of fey experimentation, and are the monstrous equivalent of tanks—with all the same implications.
Luckily, making such a huge creature is by no means easy, never mind all the extra modifications such as durability and strength. Making such a beast capable of actually breeding new gargants is simply impossible. Each gargant is individually tailored by the fey, thus greatly limiting how fast they can be produced.
This one was on the middle end of the scale, about the size of a pickup truck. It was a four-legged creature, coated in thick, dark brown fur, almost indistinguishable from black. It’s face, however, was completely covered with white bone plating, making it seem as though it’s skull was poking out at us. If I was any judge, that armor would be able to take a rocket without cracking.
It hooted softly in contentment, splashing around the lake without a care in the world. At that, Jarasax looked uncertain.
“Do…do we really have to kill it?” he said quietly. “I mean, what’s the harm in just locking it up?”
“Killed a bus already,” I said. “Bus was full.”
Sax blinked. “But…”
He nodded, holding up his hand to keep me from continuing. “Got it, got it. Right, need to kill it.”
“Soon,” I admitted. But first, I held up my phone and carefully took a few pictures of the beast. They were decent quality, though my camera wasn’t good enough to do anything professional. I wouldn’t get paid extra for them, but Obould would appreciate it.
“So what’s this thing called?” Adam asked. “I didn’t see it in that gargant book Derek lent me.”
Jarasax clapped him on the back. “This one’s brand-new. The fey are field testing it. If it does well, they’ll make more. And since they don’t really care about names, that means we get to name it.” He scratched his chin. “Something with ‘skull’ in it, obviously. Hmm…hairy hardskull?”
I snorted in derision. “Works.” I headed forward before anyone could suggest any more stupid names.
They followed, but it didn’t stop them from talking. Kelly was the one who answered the changeling’s suggestion. “I don’t know, traditionally gargants always have ‘gargant’ in there somewhere. How about just hardskull gargant?”
The changeling drummed his fingers on his gun as he contemplated. “Hm, I’m not sure…”
“We can discuss this later,” Adam pointed out. “Right now, we just need to kill the thing.” He pulled out his shotgun with obvious enthusiasm. “I’ve got a god slayer right here. If the anti-armor doesn’t work, that will.” He regained his composure a little. “Akane, if you would do the honors?”
It wasn’t quite an order, but it still smacked of one, and I was tempted to ignore him just to be contrary. But I was planning to draw the gargant’s attention anyway, so refusing wouldn’t solve anything.
I drew my sword and ran forward. When I reached the pond—which was shallow enough to walk in easily enough—the monster looked up, startled by the sound of splashing water. Its beady little eyes, protected under those massive ridges of bone, stared at me with a mild curiosity balanced with indifference.
I activated my speed, ran in front of its head, and stabbed it as far as I could in the eye.
Right as I withdrew my blade, my reservoir ran out, and the gargant bellowed in pain, blasting me in the face with its horrific breath. It reared up on its hind legs, still howling. I quickly fell back, and the others opened up with gunfire. Their bullets mostly bounced off its thick hide; looking closer, I was beginning to think the thing was armored with steel plates bolted to the skin. The ‘hair’ seemed to actually be metal bristles, like on a brush. What were those for?
It wasn’t important. The point was that the beast was armored like a tank, and angry. It finally came back down to all fours, crashing with all its weight behind its hind legs. I was well out of danger by that point, though I did get splashed in the face with a wave of water.
My reservoir was only partly replenished, but it was enough to get me out of the water, back to Adam and the retinue, a little faster.
Adam cursed as he struggled to his feet. It seemed he still wasn’t quite used to the massive recoil of that shotgun. “It seems bulletproof.”
I nodded. “Metal plates.”
George raised an eyebrow. I hadn’t heard him fire yet; the roar of his minigun was distinctive, to say the least. “Then the skull’s the weak point?”
I frowned. That couldn’t be right. The fey were crazy enough, sure, but it would have knocked itself unconscious just trying to break through the wall if that was the case.
No, that wasn’t necessarily true. Just because the skull was the weak point didn’t mean that it was weak.
Kelly was a bit more pragmatic. “I guess we’ll find out. George, let her rip.”
The ogre grinned, revealing his sharp teeth, and lifted the massive minigun. I’ll never know why the named one of the largest portable weapons in existence the minigun.
The thing weighed at least fifty pounds, probably more, but the eight-foot tall giant hefted it with ease. He flipped a switch—presumably the safety—braced himself, and depressed the trigger as the gargant finally discerned our location and charged.
The beast ran straight into a hail of bullets thicker than a rainstorm, heralded by a thunder I can’t properly describe. Think of a marching band, playing their hearts out. Then replace every single instrument with a drum, and remove the rhythm.
Thirty 7.62 millimeter rounds per second tore through the air like screaming banshees…and bounced off the gargant’s skull with a sound like tin roof in a hailstorm. It had about as much effect, too. That is, the gargant was annoyed, but not actually harmed.
Kelly yelled something unprintable. “Scatter!”
Everyone jumped in different directions, under the assumption that such a large creature wouldn’t be able to turn fast enough to catch us. George moved a little bit too slowly, however, and got clipped as the monster ran past. He cried out as he was thrown a few feet, the minigun rolling out of his hands.
And the gargant was coming around for another pass.
“Alex,” I said quickly, indicating the fallen ogre. The angel nodded, and moved to check on his friend. Besides, dayknives were sharp and everything, but they couldn’t cut through whatever the gargant was armored with.
I gestured to Adam, and he nodded, readying another round—hopefully that ‘god slayer’ he had mentioned earlier, whatever that was.
Farther away, from a place where George was not between her and the beast, Kelly started firing at the gargant, attracting its attention. It wasn’t injured, of course, but its tiny brain was annoyed, and it bellowed as it charged forward.
I used that opportunity to slip forward at super speed and stab upwards into the roof of its mouth. I wasn’t able to cut very deep; the depth of my reservoir was increasing every day, but it was still limited, and I just didn’t have the time or the angle to get a good strike in.
As I slipped away, however, I noticed that George’s bullets had chipped away the white on the gargant’s face, revealing steel underneath. It was paint, nothing more, paint over steel shaped to look like bone. No wonder it was bulletproof.
Adam wasn’t quite in position yet, so I danced back to where the monster could see me with it’s remaining eye, hoping it would charge at me instead of the others.
It worked, of course. The beast focused on me as best it could, bellowed loud enough to wake the dead, and rushed forward as fast as its tree-trunk legs would carry it, tearing up the grass beneath its feet.
I was only about ten feet away. The gargant couldn’t build up very much speed, but with its weight that didn’t mean much. Thankfully, I had enough power left in my reservoir to dodge out of the way without too much difficulty. If I didn’t have super speed, I probably would have been killed.
The creature ended up in the water again, and made a long, wide turn, coming back around for another pass, aiming straight for me.
It was only when it started to pick up speed again that I realized I had lost track of myself. I was between George and the monster. If I dodged, it would crush him.
I cursed. If I didn’t dodge, it would crush us both. I dodged out of the way a bit early, in the hope that it would decide to chase after me again.
Adam, however, had a better plan.
Before the gargant came out of the water, he jumped from the shore onto its side, grasping the metal bristles attached to its plates for purchase. He slowly crawled over to the face, scrambling for a grip on the ridges molded into its skull-armor. He finally managed to get himself on the skull, between the eyes, and while the beast bucked, he held on tightly, holding his shotgun in his right hand.
I was…stunned. This wasn’t the first time I had seen someone pull a stunt like this. I had once seen Derek jump into a gargant’s mouth just so he could throw a grenade down its gullet. But that was with years of practice and training. Adam had been fighting for what? Two weeks? Is this what Butler meant when he called him a ‘natural-born killer?’
The gargant was even more confused than before, and its deadly charge turned into a wild, erratic stampede. It missed George and Alex by a couple feet. They got showered in grass and dirt, but that was better than getting stomped by a ten-ton behemoth.
It took me a minute to realize what Adam was trying to do. At first, I had just thought he was trying to distract the thing from the injured ogre, but it quickly became clear that he was struggling to bring the shotgun around to use it.
Well, he better do it quick. The gargant was coming back around, perhaps thinking the water of the pond could help it shake this mite off somehow.
I rushed forward, starting on its blind side, then leaping into its vision as quickly as I could. As expected, the animal’s primitive brain reacted much the same as the last time I had appeared so suddenly, and it reared up, bellowing a warning.
Adam didn’t waste the chance. With the gargant on its hind legs, he suddenly found it much easier to stay in position, and he let go with his hands, cocked his shotgun, placed it in the beast’s dead right eye and fired.
From the name ‘god slayer,’ I was expecting a pretty big bang. Instead, there was just a loud, dull thump and the wet sound of gore and gristle bursting out of the gargant’s eyes and mouth. The creature fell to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut, not even whimpering as its life fled. It made a pretty big splash as it hit, though. Water, mud, and the red sluice that had recently been the contents of the creature’s skull flew everywhere.
Adam fell to his knees, breathing heavily and clutching the arm he had dislocated early this morning. I ran up to him, but it was hard to tell where he was bleeding, and where he was just covered in gore.
“Idiot,” I muttered. “You’re still not healed from earlier.” We’d need to get a doctor to look at his arm. If he hadn’t dislocated it again, he had probably torn a few tendons. I was a bit surprised when I realized his hands and arms were torn up pretty badly; apparently using those bristles as handholds was a bad idea.
“Lay down,” I instructed, forcing him onto his back. He would be fine, probably. He just needed rest and bandages.
Kelly tossed me some as she jogged up, and I started binding his wounds.
“That was pretty impressive,” she said, nodding in approval. “Stupid, but impressive.”
Adam grunted in pain and didn’t say anything. Hopefully, this little adventure had taught him to be more cautious in the future.
“I wonder if the fey consider this a success,” the vampire muttered, scratching her chin.
“Probably,” Jarasax admitted, walking forward with a limp. “The fey usually call it a success if the monster manages to escape their labs. Anything after that isn’t relevant.”
I frowned. Where had he been?
The changeling seemed to read the look on my face. “I tripped up during the first charge, hit my head. If it had noticed me, I’d be dead.”
I sighed. Well, everyone makes mistakes. Speaking of which, Alex was walking over, leaving George alone on the grass some ten feet away.
“He’s fine,” the angel reported, noticing my gaze. “Bad bruises and some fractures, but he’ll be right as rain soon enough. The gargant could have done worse.”
Kelly kicked the beast a little, as if to make sure it was dead, then snapped her fingers. “Steel-plated gargant! Of course!”
I sighed. Of course.
Behind the Scenes (scene 48)
Akane calls the park “large.” It is not. It’s maybe medium sized, according to any standards from anywhere other than Domina. You can see from one side of the park to the other easily—well, if there aren’t trees in the way. Of course, most parks in the city are located on top of or inside of skyscrapers, so that is indeed quite large, as far as she’s concerned.