The iron-lord was still grasping around for us. Why? It didn’t make any sense. It should have abandoned us for easier prey within minutes. Instead, it had stuck around for over an hour.
I kept hearing explosions outside, which just made it even stranger. If people were attacking the thing, it would return the favor. Unless everyone was focusing their fire on the blind-rammer, which was possible, but unlikely.
I needed to get out there. I had to figure out what was going on, and sitting here wouldn’t help. I pulled off my daygoggles and started inching forward across the suddenly bright room.
“Jelena!” Pam hissed from behind me. “What are you doing?”
“I’m gonna see if I can help,” I called back. “Stay here with the others.”
“But you can’t! You’re—” She suddenly stopped talking, and I had to glance back to assure myself she hadn’t been crushed.
She was still alive and well, but she looked like she had tasted something horrible in her mouth—so about her default expression, only more so. She had been about to say something. Something important.
Well, if she thought it could wait, I guess I agreed. I turned back to the task at hand, absently scratching at my neck.
My entire spine had been itching ever since the fey released me. Glasya had looked me over personally, and had assured me that nothing was wrong, so I suppose I got off light. A little bit of phantom pain was nothing compared to what Fevered Day could have done to me.
It was slow going, getting past the gargant, since I had to stop every few feet to wait for its thrashing hand to sweep past. My hands and knees were bleeding by the time I reached the entrance, the shattered glass from the doors having cut deeply into my flesh. I glanced at the wounds briefly, then resolved to ignore them. They were clotted with concrete dust and the glass fragments were still embedded in some places, but I had enough buffs so that the pain was minimal and I didn’t have to worry too much about bleeding out.
The iron-lord’s hand lunged towards me, and I dove out of the way again, out the shattered front doors. I landed on more glass, scraping up my side and tearing my clothes.
Bloody night…I wasn’t built for this. I was a secretary with a sharp ear, that’s all. The closest thing to combat I had seen was that time my orphanage managed to score tickets to laser tag. I was on the losing team.
But I had to do something. No one else was. Especially not the whore, Yolanda. Last I had seen her, she had been huddled in Simon’s embrace, trembling like a leaf. Maybe her queen would save her.
I heard voices nearby. Not from inside the store, where the gargant was still rooting around, but from somewhere down the street. One of them, soft as down feathers, drifted through the clamor of injured and dying civilians.
“I told you we should have stayed on the roof.”
“No, Seena, it would have just climbed up and killed us, and we wouldn’t have had anywhere to run.”
Adam and the others. They had found something, then. Some sort of weapon.
“Aim for the knees,” another, somewhat familiar voice suggested. It was…Steve? Simon’s roommate? What was he doing here? “That’ll do the trick.”
“I know killing,” Adam grunted. “I know what to do.”
“Frost and—God dammit, just hurry up. The blind-rammer looks like it’s coming this way.”
The fourth voice sounded familiar as well, but I couldn’t place it. Male, definitely, but other than that I couldn’t tell. ‘Frost and fire’ was a Jotuun curse, so he was probably one of the Nifs.
The Nifs weren’t supposed to be in the area, but it wasn’t all that surprising. The cultures spied on each other as much as possible, both for defensive and offensive reasons. I was more interested in what Joel and Nathan, the local feuding warlords, would do when they found out. Would they leave them alone, or retaliate? Both canes had a reputation for being warmongers, but they had to know better than to piss off Niflheim.
That wasn’t important now; Seena’s group was talking again, though I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I crept towards the voices, trying to get a better look, maybe let them know I was here, but I winced at my wounds. Buffs or no, having little pebbles of glass embedded in your flesh, slicing through skin and muscle, etching bone…
Stop it, I told myself. That kind of thinking was hardly productive. Pushing the pain to the back of my mind, I turned the corner and found…
Steve and Kevin, Simon’s roommates. And Seena, Veda, and Adam, of course. The green-haired baseline was nowhere to be found.
I glanced around as I scrambled to my feet. “Where’s the Nif?”
Adam turned to me, frowning. “You are…”
“Jelena, my roommate,” Veda supplied. “She was trapped with the others.” A look of apprehension crossed her face, and she cursed. “Fangs and—it didn’t destroy the building, did it?”
“No, it was still just trying to grab people last time I checked.” I shifted on my feet and winced as my wounds were pulled.
Seena stepped forward and looked at my side. “You look like you ran through all nine hells. What happened?”
I started to shrug, but immediately stopped from the pain. “Had some trouble.”
The Mal glanced back at the others. “You need to take down that gargant right away,” she said firmly. “It’s not going to be distracted forever.”
“There’s still the blind-rammer,” Kevin noted. I blinked when he spoke; I recognized his voice as the one I hadn’t been able to identify from before. Why was he using Jotuun curses? He wasn’t a giant.
It was probably just some stupid thing. Simon and Seena used demon curses because their orphan patron had been one, so maybe it was something like that. It really wasn’t important right now, anyway.
“The rammer is secondary, right?” I asked a little hesitantly. Yeah, as a Glasyan I knew a bit more about monsters and such than the average person, but I’ve always found personal applications of the toy maker more interesting than the whole creating monsters part.
The fact that everyone else just kind of looked at each other didn’t help my anxiety.
“I’ve never seen one of those things,” Adam said, as he hefted what looked like a missile launcher covered in tubes over his shoulder. “Monsters aren’t quite my area of expertise…”
“I…think it’s relatively safe,” Veda muttered haltingly. “I mean, it doesn’t seem to be doing anything all that dangerous. It doesn’t even have eyes.” She glanced at Steve.
The big baseline raised his hands in front of himself to ward off her attentions. “Hey, don’t look at me, I’m a bike messenger. I don’t know the first thing about monsters.”
“I think…” a voice like warm honey said haltingly from behind me. “I think it might be looking for someone.”
Surprised, we all turned to see Elizabeth Greene, of all people, leaning against the building dejectedly. She was wearing a long, flowing dark blue skirt and a short-sleeved white shift with a black corset over the top. The corset turned her already somewhat impressive bust into something truly marvelous. To my surprise, she also had a fake flower in her golden hair, behind her ear. It was the same deep, royal blue of Akane Akiyama’s hair ribbon.
But while her outfit was still perfect, her entire stance and bearing spoke of someone who had taken on the world and lost. Her face lacked her usual smile, and her glittering golden eyes seemed on the verge of tears.
“Miss Greene,” Steve said in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
She smiled, just the tiniest bit, but at least it meant she wasn’t completely defeated. “Mister Gillespie…I need you to deliver another message for me, I think.”
The large man nodded, as Kevin and I moved forward to catch the girl before she fell. “Of course, of course. Whatever you need.”
But Kevin frowned. “Wait, she said the blind-rammer was looking for someone. What—”
Seena punched him in the arm. “Let her talk. She’ll get to it.”
Chastised, he shut his mouth and nodded.
Lizzy smiled again in his direction. “It’s fine, I understand…” she shook her head. “I need to sit down. It’s…been a long day.”
We guided her carefully to the ground, trying to ignore the sounds of gunfire nearby, and the still-roaring iron-lord. We didn’t have much time, but we still had to be careful with her.
The girl took a deep breath, and when she spoke there was some strength in her voice. “Gillespie, I need you to find Nabassu. He should be at his apartments. Tell him what’s going on here, leave nothing out. He’ll be able to organize everything.”
“At once,” Steve said, and immediately ran off at top speed around the corner. I turned to watch him go, surprised that such a big guy could run so fast.
“About the one over there…” Lizzy began weakly, and I was forced to turn my attention back to her. “The big metal thing is just a distraction. I don’t think the fey want to cause too much damage, they just want it to look like they do.”
My spine was itching like crazy, and I reached back to scratch it as subtly as possible.
But Adam was the one who spoke. “So…ignore the iron-lord for now? After all the trouble we went to to get a weapon?”
The girl on the ground nodded. “It’s the other one…the blind one—”
“Blind-rammer,” Seena supplied.
“Right, that one. Nabassu told me the fey use them to track people sometimes. Like, when they just need to find them, and don’t have to worry about subtlety.”
Adam nodded. “I think I heard Simon or Yolanda mention that…something about them having extra nostrils?”
Lizzy shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know that the fey want something here.”
I shook my head. “But this isn’t their style. Why send something like this when a couple dogs would work just as well?”
“I don’t know,” Adam muttered, rubbing his forehead. “Laura might be able to figure it out, but I just…this isn’t anything any of us are good at.” He shook his head suddenly. “It doesn’t matter. Once it finds its target, bad things will happen. So we need to kill it first.”
I indicated the weapon in his arms. “You were going to use that on the iron-lord, right? How many shots do you have?”
“Not many,” Veda cut in. “I didn’t have a lot to work with. I can’t be sure, but no more than five. Absolute max.”
Oh, that’s right, she was a mechanic or an engineer or whatever. I had completely forgotten. I guess…she had made the weapon? How the hell did she cobble together a missile launcher out of spare parts?
Adam saw where I was going. “It should work just as well on the rammer, if not better. And we should just need one or two for the iron-lord.”
Kevin raised an eyebrow. “So, what, just shoot it in the face and hope it works?”
The bland baseline shrugged. “I guess so.”
“The belly,” I said suddenly. “Aim for the belly. That’s the weak spot.”
Everyone stared at me. “What?” Seena asked weakly.
Where had that come from? But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. “The belly drags on the ground—it can’t be armored as much.”
“That makes sense…” Adam said slowly. “But I’m not gonna just dive under it.”
“Explosions will scare it and make it rear up. But it has to be a big one.”
“A grenade wouldn’t be enough?”
“Not nearly. Maybe a…” an image flashed into my mind, a dull metal barrel with a white label saying ’55 gallons.’ “An oil drum would work. There should be one in this building here.”
Seena looked disturbed and was avoiding my eyes, but I couldn’t understand why. I spent a lot of time paying attention to important people; I had probably just heard about this on some forum or whatever and forgotten until now.
Kevin broke down the door pretty easily (the security gate wasn’t even up), and in a few moments he and Adam were wrestling an oil drum, exactly like the image I had in my head, out onto the sidewalk.
Lizzy wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, oil. I hate that stuff.”
“Well, don’t go in there, then. The place is full of the stuff.” Adam frowned. “Why the hell is there so much, anyway?”
“There are three offshore oil platforms owned by the city,” I found myself saying, as I suddenly remembered. “Two are owned by Yamatoto Silver Rush, while the third is the property of Fillian Andrews Enterprises, which is a front for—”
“I think he meant why is it here,” Kevin interrupted hastily. “The outer city would be more logical.”
Again, I knew the answer. “Money laundering.”
It was odd. Usually I kept an ear out for all the dirty rumors, of course, but this was more than that. I knew the barrels would be there, I knew where they had come from. But I didn’t remember hearing anything about it before right this moment.
Ugh, there I went, getting distracted again. Delphie and the others inside were counting on us, and I was letting my mind wander. “Roll it over at the gargant,” I instructed. “The smell should make it curious. Anyone have incendiary rounds?”
The boys had the barrel on its side, but hadn’t started rolling it yet. Adam put his foot on it to keep it from moving, and fished a shotgun shell out of one of his ammo pouches. “I have a few, but I’m not sure they can penetrate the drum.”
“My Raaze is incendiary,” Kevin said, pulling out the strange pistol in question. It was…a revolver, except it didn’t revolve, and fired all the chambers at once. “It should work.”
Adam shrugged. “Sounds good to me.” He picked up the missile launcher again from where he had placed it on the ground. “You ready?”
The small Southern-American baseline checked his gun and nodded. “Ready.” Together, they kicked the barrel forward, where it slowly rolled towards the blind-rammer.
The gargant was facing the other way, but its strong sense of smell caused it to notice the oil quickly, just as I had anticipated. It turned as the barrel rolled down the street, sniffing the air and edging towards the item that had piqued its curiosity.
“Now,” I hissed.
I don’t know if Kevin heard me or if he just came to the same conclusion I had. But the gargant was in the perfect position now, its face just a few feet from the barrel, so this was the perfect opportunity. He raised his gun, sighted carefully, and fired.
His aim was dead on, which was good since he only had the one shot. There was a slight ding as the rounds hit the metal barrel, then the dull whumph of the explosion. I dived out of the way quickly; while we were far enough so that we didn’t even feel the heat, I had completely forgotten about the explosion. Shrapnel flew by, and a piece even clipped my shoulder.
Luckily, the others were fine, though there was one large piece of red-hot metal embedded in the wall behind Lizzy. It was probably a miracle she was still alive.
While I was glancing around, making sure everyone was okay, Adam was all business. My prediction had proven correct; the blind-rammer was rearing up on its hind legs, its instinctive response to a loud noise exposing its unprotected underbelly. Adam didn’t waste any time. He went down on one knee, aimed, and fired.
The missile sped off with a small boom, leaving a cloud of foul-smelling exhaust behind Adam. He didn’t lower the launcher, but watched as the projectile crawled a path through the air towards the beast.
And, just as the gargant began to bring itself down from its precarious position, the missile hit.
The explosion was very strange, but I should have expected that. I don’t know what Veda did to it, but instead of exploding in fire, it burst into a cloud of a dark blue gas that seemed to freeze the gargant’s scales where it touched. Not that it mattered. The force of the missile itself had torn open a huge hole in the beast’s flesh, and now blood and guts were beginning to spill.
The blind-rammer began to wobble, clearly in pain but unable to scream in torment. It smashed sideways into the nearest building, causing the ‘scraper to groan, then smashed into the opposite side of the street, leaving massive puddles of gore underneath it.
It tried to smash the other side again, perhaps in an attempt to shake off whatever it thought was damaging it, but at this point it had lost too much blood.
The gargant fell to the ground, shaking the entire street so much that I almost lost my footing. It shuddered once, and died with a wet gurgle.
Just as I thought everything was going to work out, there was a great roar from behind me, and I turned to see the iron-lord had finally given up on our friends in the clothing shop, and had decided that we were the more important targets. Was this the fey’s doing? I had no idea how much control they had over their beasts.
Adam cursed and dodged behind the building where Lizzy was cowering, dropping the launcher in the process. But the gargant just smashed a fist into the building, raining down some glass and plaster but otherwise leaving us unharmed.
Everyone was scattered, in no position to fight back. But I…I hadn’t moved. I had stayed rooted to the spot for reasons I couldn’t comprehend. Despite my terror, I was only a few feet away from the bulky missile launcher.
I couldn’t possibly…could I?
I found myself running towards the weapon, as if something else was controlling my limbs. Then it was in my hands.
I didn’t know how to use a missile launcher. I had never used anything more complicated than a revolver.
But my hands flew across the metal tube as if possessed, flipping switches, reconnecting wires, and checking valves. The gargant was still roaring, and the falling glass was slicing into my skin, but I was unhurried. I could do this. I knew I could do this.
In just a few moments, I was done. The weapon began to hum as whatever power source Veda added began to work again; something had been knocked loose when Adam dropped it, but I had fixed it. How, though? I didn’t know anything about fixing anything, much less a jury-rigged missile launcher built out of what looked like an old air conditioner.
But while my mind was still asking questions, my body was moving like a well-oiled machine. I went down on one knee, just like Adam had earlier, ignoring the glass pebbles getting embedded into my leg. I raised the weapon carefully, sighted through the large, bulky scope, and…
Waited. The gargant was at a bad angle; I couldn’t hit its legs from this position. I didn’t have enough shots—I needed to get the knees. I briefly considered repositioning myself, but then the iron-lord took a few steps forward, exposing its weak points perfectly.
Even as the missile flew through the air, I was already aiming at the second knee, checking that the launcher was still working through nothing but touch. Without removing it from my shoulder, I was able to confirm that everything was still in place.
The missile hit, exploding once again into a cloud of blue gas. The iron-lord bellowed in pain as it tried to move and its knee shattered, bringing it thudding to the street in a lopsided position. It struggled to grab hold of the nearby buildings and prop itself up, but it ended up just clawing off more glass and plaster. I didn’t give it a chance to find a better hold.
I fired again.
The second shot was also dead-on, and the beast fell flat on it’s face without any leg to stand on.
But it wasn’t dead, not yet. The ‘blood’ used by the creature was more like oil than anything else, and it would take too long to let it bleed out. It was moaning now, a deep and dejected song that made my teeth shiver. It was like it was begging for death.
I checked the launcher one last time, this time taking it off my shoulder and inspecting it visually. Despite my unfamiliarity with weapons, I knew to be very careful. Jury-rigged weapons had a tendency to explode if something came loose at the wrong moment, so I didn’t rush.
Finally, I was as certain as I could be that it wouldn’t kill me on the next shot. I raised the launcher to my shoulder again, took aim, and waited. Slowly, the gargant raised its head and looked at me, as if intentionally giving me exactly the opportunity I had been waiting for.
I didn’t hesitate. I fired, the targeting reticule centered on the monster’s face.
Right before the missile hit, the iron-lord gargant gave one last pitiful moan.
Then the projectile exploded in that dull whumph, and the head was suddenly covered in frost.
The beast wobbled for a moment, some last signal from its frozen brain telling its arms to keep it upright, until its elbows went limp and let its face smash into the concrete. Frozen metal and shattered asphalt flew everywhere.
I put the missile launcher down slowly and settled down on my rear, suddenly very, very tired. Wherever those reserves of strength had come from, they were gone now. Was this what they called an adrenaline crash?
I turned to the others, smiling a bit weakly, hoping they would be willing to help me limp back to my room and take a very long shower.
But all I saw was Seena, staring at me in horror.
Behind the Scenes (scene 95)
Yes, it is an odd coincidence that all these people who knew each other were within about two blocks of each other all at the same time. It is not a coincidence that this is the moment the fey chose to attack.
Also, I was originally going to do a fake ending for April Fool’s, but the site problems this weekend meant I didn’t have time to write it, and wouldn’t have felt comfortable posting it anyway.