Lights crackled on in that strange room. Ancient radioactive things, course alight with electricity; noble gases arcing with energy.
Where did the fucking things even get that much power? Did they find working generators? Make them fresh in some fucking hole in the ground? Blue prints. Were there bug scientists?
Slowly rising to my feet I already knew the answer. The Fey had gotten them the same way they were planning on getting me; they had Wardens to help them with that. Or old world humans. Old world technology. If the Crows could jury rig metal production from old buildings, surely the bugs could figure out how to generate power.
Ideas swam through my head, kept at bay normally by the Omoi coursing through my thoughts, filtering out neurotic impulses.
But now wasn’t the time to get lost in a debate on post apocalyptic societies because something else was moving.
The room itself was an old barracks exercise room- ancient lines painted beneath floors, still reeking of the dust they’d pried off of the surfaces- lockers rusted into encrusted niceties.
The remnants of some aerobics equipment interspersed among jagged rusted iron. A fitness room.
And across, far illuminated in the crackling lights overhead, something moved. Larger than a man, coarse fur, a mouth filled with too many teeth, dagger long, with red eyes. A deep tawny gold silver, a flash of claws long enough to gore and disembowel.
The creature Irri had seen in the darkness, something inside of me shouted. But I couldn’t latch onto the joy that’d bring.
Because it turned and snarled at me, eyes larger than my mouth.
No point in trying to harvest me if I couldn’t prove myself. If I couldn’t beat out a trial.
Well then, Jess, meet your trial.
The beast loped on two massive arms that doubled as feet, and two long legs, a contorted spine. Strafed to the side to watch me, to see where I’d move.
I joined it, walking the opposite direction. Heart fluttered like my first kiss, nerves tingled. Here was the monster that had taken Teri. Where was she now?
How was Jay in his cell? Had Tane managed to get back together? Were they looking for me, even now, even now I stood facing down a monster?
A metallic whirr went off, and the beast twitched, gnashing dagger teeth, heated drool dripping from lips. Then it spat onto the ground.
“My apologies,” The beast said, a bizarre accent slurring words together, and then it charged.
In the old world, I’d kept myself entertained by watching crime serials and dramas. That wasn’t the only thing I did; when I used to live with my brother, we’d watch monster movies and horror; slaughter fests filled with forgettable characters since they blew all the budget on the special effects.
A loping werebeast, bounding forward with all of the raw power of a wolf; this creature wouldn’t’ve looked out of place there.
But I wasn’t a dashing sheriff with a shotgun, nor was I a teenager filled with bravado, so I’m afraid the noise I made wasn’t a shout of victory, or a cry of pain, but rather a shriek, and I froze, staring straight ahead.
The beast kept right on going; clearing the distance in between us in a matter of seconds.
It was only when I could smell the strange matted fur the beast that my mind kicked in, took over where Omoi would’ve entire seconds before, and forced me to dive to the side in defiance of tense muscles or the growing concussion bubbling from the side of my head.
The beast kept right on going, plowing into a bench that’d long ago turned into more dust and memories than structural integral, and skidded to a halt, staring at me. Red eyes glinted with something. Frustration?
“You know, this isn’t terribly fun if you don’t fight back,” The beast annunciated this time, drawing a massive tongue across sharp teeth. “And I’ve been told that Godlings are far more of a prey to fight than Crows.”
“Did your Fey masters tell you that?” I asked. My legs were quivering. False bravado. Eyes desperately roved across the old exercise room. What could I do? I wasn’t a fighter. I wasn’t even good enough to save Tane.
“Not masters,” The beast disagreed. “Nobody is my master. Merely happenstance places me here.”
“In a pit, with a helpless woman?” I asked. Hands ran down my sides. Anything in my pockets…? No, they’d been emptied. Of course they’d been emptied.
Think clearly, Jess, come on. They wouldn’t test you if there weren’t any solutions. Not when they wanted you to prove yourself.
“There are no helpless things,” The creature said. “There are only creatures that haven’t figured out how to kill you, and creatures that have.” A shrug of massive shoulders. “I know three dozen ways to kill you at the moment. Have you figured out a method in return?”
“I-” I swallowed, breath catching in my throat. Mind racing, moving too fast, things were slurred and blurring together. Panic attack? Hadn’t had one of those in years, Omoi would-
She’d play music but that wasn’t an option, so hope to god that maybe
Count backwards, what could I see, keep from being deprived, I-
“I don’t want to kill you,” I said.
“A shame,” The creature said. “But I value my life more than I value yours.”
My eyes went wide; the beast slammed into the ground in a lunge and flew towards me.
Backpedaled as the creature sped up, accelerating from a standing place. Where was my center? Where was hope, where was-
My hand hit something heavy, something harsh, something hard, and I tripped backwards over it. Creature sailed smoothly over top of me, her eyes flicking down. For a moment, time stopped, mind playing back images out of order from the moment, flashed together.
An amused twist of the creature’s lips.
Then I hit the ground and the beast was on the other side of the room.
Water leaked from above; a pool perhaps, or some subterranean fluid. How barbaric would the practices me to drown me here?
My hand brought the heavy lead weight up to my face. Muscles strained against the effort. Brain sung. Forty pounds could cave a skull in.
The beast laughed. “You’ve found a club,” it sneered. “How like the idiot gods to find a weapon in the stupidest of places. Look around you; Merill is filled with old weapons, and you found the most primitive.”
Merill? The military base Isaac had gone to.
I’d come here anyway, despite being warned.
“The idiot gods who died and left behind wretches like you. How ignoble to be forced to take the life of whining pup. I was promised a fight with gods!”
“Then stop fighting.” I said. The weight was heavy in my hands.
“Not as easy as that,” The beast called out. With a grin, it picked up an entire bench, ripping ancient rust and decay into razor shreds. Locked eyes with me.
A metallic whir, and the beast’s muscles twitched. Then the beast’s head snapped to the one side with a nauseating crack, and then the other.
There. A strip of black in the beast’s gold-silver fur.
A collar. They were torturing them. We were being forced to fight. The weight in my hand somehow became even heavier.
How strange it was that they became a them in that second.
How strange it was that they became a potential savior.
How strange it was that I was going to find a way to save the creature.
After all, I could hardly get out of the compound by myself.