A Court For Crows (Part 35)

“You, I’ll remember,” The beast growled, as long nerve impulses made limbs click, made joints crack. “Do you think that’s enough for you?”

Felt the lead weight in my hand. Did a few run of the mill calculations, difficult without a calculator installed in my head, but I had gone through college without Omoi.

I could at least calculate the force I could theoretically exert here.

Then I cut 20% off of that estimate, staring at the creature. Because I needed to not break my arms like little twigs.

“No,” I said. Teeth bit into the corner of my lip, staring down the beast like a bull. “That’s not enough.”

The beast bared long canine teeth. Was this a wolf?

Was this what the Crows encountered to the north, a savage wolf?

“Then fight me, godling,” The beast roared.

This time the approach was slower, methodical, a glint in her eye. Hunger, or awareness? Had I passed some quiet test?

Or was she taking me more seriously now that I’d found a weapon? The side of my head trickled blood. It’d trickle infection too, if I weren’t careful, if I didn’t get out of here soon. A hot searing pain in my thoughts, disjointed, long ordered around Omoi.

But that didn’t matter here. It didn’t matter what sort of Jess I was.

This was a fight, and the creature on the other side of the room and closing was more than willing to make this the last one I’d crawl into.

Halfway between the edge of the room and my position, their bestial platform of legs slammed into the ground, and they lunged forward.

I spun, lead weight in my arms, and hoped, dearly hoped that this would work, that I’d have more than a few seconds to think, a second to breath.

The creature’s eyes met mine halfway through, and the weight sailed towards them. Red eyes, slightly wide. Amused. How strange a creature, to see my efforts to hurt them and find only pleasure in the act.

What a strange creature, the scientist, who fails a thousand times and pretends to find useful material. Pretends the process itself isn’t a torture of a thousand points and failures, theories evaporating like hot smoke.

But I wasn’t theorizing based on logic alone. Intuition.

The weight sailed through the air, and the creature bucked back on one leg, then punched the ground, sending them tumbling out of the way of the projectile. The lead tore at the ground, thumping through long decaying equipment and scattering a rack of bikes into pieces.

A camera shattered from the beast’s long trailing arms, wrenched out of the ceiling by a simple flick. Anger. Outrage.

I threw myself to the ground and grabbed at the bench the wolf had shredded through earlier. Long metal spikes were left behind. Not a lot of structure to them. All points and shredding flesh.

But it’d do.

The beast skidded to the side of the room, where rubble and decay had taken out part of the ceiling, and the collar went off, a heated whirr that sent the beast scattering back into the makeshift arena.

Back into the view of the other camera.

Evidence to my hypothesis. Couldn’t voice the whole idea yet; my brain hurt too much, too many holes, but I knew it’d work.

Or I’d die.

The beast righted itself, baring teeth. “Moving from club to sword,” The wolf grimaced. “Much like the godlings of old; always looking for better and better weapons.”

My hands shook, staring at the great creature. This was a gamble.

I didn’t like gambling; it was heavily favored against you no matter what you did, and this came from someone with an advanced study of mathematics. There was no such thing as an easy bet.

And this was a wild animal hidden beneath a thin veneer of civility; an apology clutched in the maw of a bear. A wild dog pretending to kowtow to authority for the honor of being fed.

Nothing here worth trusting.

But I’d do it anyway.

“As opposed to?” I asked.

“Keep to what you know and grow strong,” The beast grunted. “Sword and claw, gun and lead. Mankind fell when their weapons became greater than a man could carry. When their weapons could no longer be stopped by logic or common sense.”

The point of the rusted dagger cut into the palm of my hand. Tetanus might take me.

That wouldn’t be a problem if the hunter took me first.

“I’m not prey,” I declared.

“I am the predator,” The creature said. “And you are here with me. And I am hungry. I rather think that means you don’t get to decide if you’re prey or not, Godling.”

My eyes flicked down to the dagger, then up at the beast’s neck. If I could just figure out how to do this… maybe this might work.

And if it didn’t, the neck probably had just enough blood in it to finish the hunter (though it shook me to think of it like that. Tane’s lesson. Take the first blow. I’d already ruined that. Jay’s lesson, to not hesitate, to learn and fight, to take what was mine and protect it… Omoi was gone. There was no voice, no perfect recall, had those been his words? Or his actions) and in the worst case…

“You figured it out?” The beast asked.

“W-what?”

The beast took a few steps, her eyes flicking about, delighting in the mixture of carnage around us. Strewn broken metal, the steady drip of blood from my head smeared on the floor. Dust in the air.

“How to kill me?”

I swallowed. “You’ll bleed like anything else,” I said.

“You’re right,” The creature said, slowly nodding. “So will you.”

There was only one moment when the beast was defenceless, watching them Constantly flicking their eyes around, constantly a weapon of destruction.

When the collar went off, they jerked, lost control of their limbs.

I just had to figure out how to get the collar to go off on my command.

Fine. I’d been apart of a problem solving team.

This was just another problem. (if I kept telling myself that I could pretend I wasn’t holding a dagger and advancing on the wolf)

“Don’t you get it?” I said, slowly walking towards them. The creature looked curious, watching me approach. A languid energy in their muscles, the quiet strength of a creature full of repose, thoughts, feelings.

The quiet energy of a murderer looking forward to the next kill.

“There’s nothing much to get, Godling,” The beast said. “Two creatures are here. There will be one soon.”

I took a few steps to the side. There would only be two logical reasons to activate the collar.

One, when the beast hesitated.

The other, when the beast broke the rules.

I swallowed, squared my shoulders. Then waited a few seconds. “I’m not helpless.”

The beast stared at me, thinking for a long moment. Then the tremors started. That low metallic whir, that deep noise.

The hesitation to figure out my stupid plan; They were smart enough to not approach someone up to something, but the collar disagreed.

Then came the muscle spasms, the pain froth flecked across those massive lips. Did the beast’s heart tremor with each pulse?

Savagery replaced civility. Reason was killed by the need for survival.

This wasn’t about me, or them, or philosophy, this was about extinguishing the source of torture. I would’ve done the same.

It was in the nature of the living to repel and fight against that which caused them pain. To adapt and learn behaviors that shifted away from the source.

Diminishing returns shaping behavior with punishment. In another world, I’d gone with my first instinct into psychology. Perhaps would’ve even been useful in this world.

The beast fought against it for heavy seconds; better nature pursued by agony, twitching like a maddened dog. Ears pinned against their silvergold head, teeth bared. Eyes narrowed into little pinpricks.

It took a step forward, and the collar stopped the torture.

I swallowed. This was it.

The beast came in hot and fast. Too fast. Far faster than it had moved before, legs slamming into the ground hard enough to crack tile, hard enough to send slivers of floor into the air.

The knife trembled in my hand, staring at the beast as it came in hot, too hot.

Dove to the side. Gripped the crumbling lockers to put more space between me and the creature. Was it trying to kill me now, or simply make the pain stop?

Did it matter?

The beast’s savage form slammed into the door they’d thrown us in through; the only way out of the exercise room.

It took me a scattering of seconds to turn around, to stop my momentum.

The whirr of the collar confirmed my hypothesis.

Rules of the collar;

To keep the beast on task.

To prevent them from breaking out.

The beast’s form was wracked with convulsions, joint popping, flecks of drool from a mouth that was too wide with teeth. My heart throbbed. Was it adrenaline or sympathy?

The rust dagger in my hand felt too heavy as I slid closer and closer; the creature bit their tongue, fat drops of blood smearing from the seizure. Eyes flicked about the room unfocused.

We were straight in the view of the camera, the sole remaining camera. I stared at it, inches from the beast.

And popped the knife under the collar.

The beast’s eyes met mine as I looked back. Knowledge. Smug. Monstrous strength.

Despite the pain, despite the voltage coursing through them, the beast jerked away from the knife.

And the collar snapped off.

Alarms sounded.

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