Boss punched the Crow in the face. It exploded, sending confused birds across the floor. They landed hard, and Boss swept through them before they could reform. The rest turned their rifles on her, and she leaned forward, blind, but protected entirely by her armor, and barreled forward.
She struck things she couldn’t see, and the bone crushing force tossed them to the side and they hit the ground, dispersing. Tiny bones shattered in her wake. Her destiny awaited her. She slid past the first floor of the apartment building, and then launched herself up into the ceiling, burrowing through floor after floor of the half rotted building, then pulled herself on the floor that was rank with spent gunpowder and pools of wrongness.
It was time.
Trellis’s rifle called out and struck Boss across the other arm, shattering the long bones there. Then she just barely managed to duck out of the way of Prin’s knife. Boss grinned.
“Your fancy powers don’t work on him.”
Trellis’s eyes closed, but they gleamed under the thin doll skin. She drew her hands across, and abruptly, a rapier joined the frenzy. Boss placed her hand on her armor, grit her teeth, and forced it back into alignment. The healing was slower still, slower than it had ever needed to be, but it would work for now.
Then she dove forward. Trellis brought her rapier to the side, and it gleamed, an afterimage as it dove through the air, splitting the atmosphere into ozone and other exotic compounds that tickled Boss’s nose, and then she ducked as Prin barely managed to get to the side, dodging past Boss’s swipe at the same instant.
Prin’s knife split through the air and Trellis leaned back, the knife slicing too close to her skin, enough that Boss could smell the potential blood, and Boss brought her right arm down to follow it up.
Gunshots bounced off of Boss’s armor, and her arm just barely missed cleaving into the Guard’s paper thin skin, and then Trellis melted through the floor.
Boss scowled, and turned to face the gunshots. Crows. The last of the possessed Crows were in their way. “Prin?” Boss asked.
Prin had already dove into the mess below. Boss leapt forward and smashed into the first Crow. His name might’ve been Garn, but she couldn’t remember it, and he scattered, and three bullets bounced off of her shoulder plate and one found its way into her her bare right arm and she howled in pain, blood running down her fur, and she still lurched her right arm, rapidly losing strength, into his throat and tore it out, scattering more clueless birds across the room.
She caught a shotgun blast across the chest, and that knocked her back just far enough to give her room to charge forward again, and she caught the Crow against the window. Bones shattered inside of his form and he scattered.
The room was covered in squawking confused birds. She hated fighting Crows. There was nothing satisfying about them, and their puzzle pieces did nothing for the gnawing hunger in her gut. They weren’t children of the Mountain anymore than the Fey were.
When she looked at the Warden, that hunger was there, and ever present. But that would be plucking a fruit before it was ripe.
Boss’s ears perked, and she turned, confused, and caught the window exploding across her heavy armor. Rubble scattered across her, shards of glass decorated her like the snows of her homelands, and then the Wasp struck her across the face.
A dozen bladed limbs dug into the exposed flesh of her right arm and she struck with her broken left, the bones grinding against each other, and she struck again and again and again until the tough outer skin ruptured and the internal stomachs and then disgorged their payload into the room, half confused and startled Fey and Boss punched the Wasp off into the ground and she felt it leave, but she was half blind with fluid drooling into her armor but she leapt forward, bashing through a set of rib cages and pulping the first Fey and they opened fire on her.
Her armor dented and she howled, turning. Red ran into her eyes and it stang, like the universe had decided that she would hurt and the finger of the Mountain rested directly in her nerves. She felt the bruises dappling her form and struck out once more, and a head sailed off of a drone’s shoulders.
The heavier calibre of the rifle cut into the armor of her leg and she could feel the armor break and things sink into her meat but it didn’t stop her from plowing on and ripping the skull open between her numb fingers. The lust poured off of her body, her desperate aching body, and the bones and blood knit together slower and slower.
And then she blinked blood out of her eyes and the room was silent. She limped forward, listening for sounds of battle, and heard it distantly.
Outside, it was turning into night. Outside, the Crows didn’t know she’d been hurt, and they were still fighting on.
Boss breathed in. Felt the pain. It wasn’t a good pain. She’d been shot, a lot, and they were moving to keep her down.
Boss didn’t feel fear. Not in anyway that mattered; she’d made the latter half of her life trying to ignore fear as best she could. Fear would get her nowhere. She could rely on common sense.
She dug her fingers into the etching of her leg armor and grunted, prying it loose. Her muscles bulged in her iron carapace, and bullets and metal ached and ran read across her form. Her heart pumped out blood faster than her body could manufacture it, though her marrow still sang with the mountain’s blessings.
The armor popped off, and her golden thigh glistened with blood. She ran her fingers along it. Prin could wait a bit longer. She couldn’t fight like this. She ran her fingers along it, grabbed a dead fey, ripped out it’s femur and bit down.
And started to dig the bullets out. Her fingers were large, and her meat was soft and painful, and she dug in even as the edges of the wounds blurred with fresh skin, fresh fur, pouring in like foam.
She needed her goddamn legs to work, and she didn’t have the Warden to help this time.
Prin danced and swam as the rapier moved near him. It sang an opposing tune to the dark knife, some rank disease of happiness and joy and hope, and he brought his dagger up and parried it, slinging the tip away from him. The fractal futures sang and screamed at each other, conflicting predictions of how the next twenty minutes would play.
He was blind.
He’d just been enlightened, and now it hurt to be so blind.
Trellis sprang back and Prin tried to read the shadows. Her light kept them away. She breathed, heavily, and it hissed through her lunges like a leaking sieve.
“You’re not going to end me,” Trellis said.
Prin eyed her, taking a step to the right. She took a step to the left. She had the advantage of length. He had the advantage of not guiding the entire army while fighting off an enraged Crow and his bestial companion.
She took a stab and he slid to the side and followed up, not with his dagger, but by punching her across the face. She backpedaled, clutching her nose with her off hand, and glared at him.
“You’ve spent your entire life just dancing through it all,” Prin marveled. “You’re just swimming. Is that what it means to be a warden?”
“Fuck you,” Trellis spat, and there was blood across her face, and blood decorated Prin’s hands, and it glistened and was rank with iron and strange other compounds that had kept her preserved, as pretty as a picture. She dove in with the rapier and he deflected it, and she caught his fist, digging her claws into his skin.
So he kicked her. Trellis took to the hit, and her eyes flickered back and forth. She was bony and awkward and very much like the Warden herself, and her skin tore and bled freely.
She threw Prin’s fist back at him and turned and ran across the room, and Prin followed, a languid self assured pace. Her main advantage was gone, and he’d been training for a long time without foresight.
The battle would be easy, and it’d be simple and it’d be-
She darted forward, and he slid to the side, tasting the smoke in the air, the bloom of the moon across his back, and victory across his beak.
Then Trellis smiled despite the blood across her face.
“I can’t play with you,” Trellis said. “So this is over,” her voice bore the trailing edge of some panic, some indecision, some frantic notes, and Prin’s emotions had been plunged too far deep to feel it as anything other than a warning.
Then the window behind him shattered, and abruptly Prin remembered that Trellis wasn’t a fighter, she was more of a dancer, and his back had somehow managed to be in front of a window in the middle of the fight, and then the bullet struck him and tore across his chest.
The dagger kept him upright. The dagger kept him from scattering. He lunged at Trellis and her rapier hissed at him, crackling with each play of the dagger against her blade, and his mind flowed like jello, hot and thick, but he had to keep going going going.
More and more leaked out through the hole in his chest, but he was so cool and cold already. He scored a hit with the knife; two of Trelli’s fingers flew off on her hand, and she darted back and flicked the rapier to her other hand and rejoined the battle. She bled, and she bled, and the floor was marked with the blood of angels. He was winning.
He was losing.
He was winning.
Then he struck her again, and she recoiled, the light of the moon flickering in front of his eyes. He stepped forward to end it and
Her eyes flashed with victory and
Tane always worked in a team. His eyes went wide, and the first glimmering of a real emotion struck him and as he staggered forward, trying to get into cover, the second came through and struck him through the head.
His knife fell and bounced on the floor.
Trellis cried out.
Then there was a peculiar silence.