“DARK BEAST OF THE NETHER!!”
A barrage of wind blew against the beast with such might its claws were ripped off the ground, hitting the side of the entrance instead, to the Hunter’s left, as the body itself skidded across the floor.
The voice boomed further.
“BACK WITH YOU!”
A big piece of rock hit it, successfully pushing it aside and out of view. It took the Hunter a full second to fully realize what had happened.
She stepped forward towards the door, trying to think how she would leave into the corridor if it were under a barrage of magical force. Before she reached the door, however, he appeared.
Clad in a red cape, hood out before the tumultuous wind he was commanding, part of a black sleeveless shirt. His baggy shorts flapped as he advanced, his feet stretched down an inch from the ground.
“Scratch at the ground all you want, you wretched bugger!”
He was older than he should be, wearing what he was wearing. The Hunter judged that he was around the same age as Eliza, his hair overly gray except for the tips that were still black and dancing around his chin. And the state of his body…if it weren’t for the floating, Zaniyah would easily mistake him for a member of the Wild Felids instead.
He was in very good shape.
“Don’t just stand there like some hapless sheep, lass! Get a move on!”
Zaniyah wasn’t about to deny the world its first handout in days. She put more pressure on her shoulder wound and ran.
She left from behind the Warlock, so turning right. The Beast had turned to face them and had its claws deep in the ground. Its limbs flexed in anticipation.
It leaped, making her flinch and the Warlock stress.
Wind flared, and a piece of the ceiling fell to intercept the beast, all successfully stopping its jump at half the distance it would have reached.
The Warlock brushed his nose in a fast arm swipe that he shook away, spraying blood to the wall at his right.
“What are you still doing here?? Go, lass, GO!”
The Hunter stepped back, watching the beast shaking off its frustration as it stood up against the bewildering wind.
She turned and ran, near limping, out the corridor.
Turning a corner, she was met with the remains of two members of the Tech Guild who had seemingly made the mistake to challenge the Warlock. The shocked expressions of what was left of their torso told the whole story of how that turned out.
I hate magic.
Gadgets were trickery beyond her understanding, but it followed rules and expectations. You saw a gun worked, every gun looking like it would work the same. The Beasts and the casters of the world, however, followed no such things. Hence the term supernatural, the nightmare she wished didn’t exist.
Even if it had just saved her life.
She continued to find a flight of stairs, hoping she was successfully retracing the path he had made so she could avoid further resistance.
A bellow surged which left her uncertain as to whether it was of death.
She was sure not even the Warlock could defeat a beast, but a man like that? She wouldn’t put it beyond him to try. What he should do is back off and simply delay and encumber the beast’s ability to chase. But she wasn’t him, Zaniyah could only do what the Hunter should do, and hope to know what that was.
Unfortunately, climbing the floor only led her to meet with more opposition. One of the three LBA members the Circus Freak had engaged was running opposite her.
“There she is!”
His heavy metallic boots crashed against the ground to stop his advance. He pointed at her threateningly.
“Surrender what you’ve stolen and I’ll allow you to leave!”
The Hunter looked over the new foe whilst attempting to relax her breathing. He was heavily armored. There wasn’t an opening she could shove a knife through other than in the very small crevices that appeared over his natural joints, but to do that, he would have to be a really bad warrior. His stance heavily contradicted such an expectation.
The Hunter thought about what she could do.
“The Warlock is right downstairs.”
“Ah,” his piston-like mechanisms started doing their thing, vapor exited off his shoulder chimneys. Blades protruded out the arms and his gauntlets produced spikes. “Three seconds, then.”
The Hunter shook her head and took a breath, drawing her bloodied and already rusting daggers. Letting her shoulder go hurt.
“Alright. Let’s see now, I’m willin’ to bet you’re a quick little bugger, ain’tcha? Like your clown chap, so…” his armor stepped forward. “Let’s be cautious, yeah?”
If he lunged, she could dodge and try to run. She would try to run either way but maybe if he expected her to actually hurt him, it would give her some advantage.
She stepped back to gain some precious seconds but then held her ground and waited for him to strike, all while trying to imagine a way to parry that wouldn’t end with her immediately skewered.
He punched before she could think of any so she jumped back again, to give the matter some further thought. The man’s boots blew out steam and provided propulsion to the armor, pushing it into a lunge that successfully reached her.
She crossed knives against the base of the spike, pushed back by the momentum of his movement against which she did not have the force to stop. Her feet slid across the ground, and her back hit a wall. His spike pressured her left side, neck-height, so she immediately tensed to escape through the right, but his other arm crushed the wall with its spike, the side blades more than ready to swipe across her.
Her shot shoulder coughed up blood in her effort to keep the spike from reaching her face. She winced in pain.
Her hands trembled in the effort to stave away death, but it was meaningless. The spike crept in inch by shivering inch, as the chimneys emitted steam intermittently. And that wasn’t even what would kill her, it would be the bladed arm to her right, which simply needed to swipe.
Tears followed sweat, not due to sadness or fear, but mainly due to the strain to handle the exhaustion, the pain, and a force that was far greater than she could contend with.
I hate gadgets.
Magic, gadgets, means through which weak people cheated the strong. It made her furious.
“I-I…am the Hunter,” she managed to stutter. “I…do not surrender…my prey.”
The man gave her a courteous nod.
“Well, fair enough, miss. ‘ve been taught to respect other cultures, even if they are a tad silly. I’ll grant you…what’d you people call it? Honorable death?”
She looked up at him murderously, the rare but visible tears now of rage.
“No? Well, whatever it—”
The man was interrupted by a growl. Her own.
She used the back as support and raised the feet, kicking and abruptly pushing both-legged against his armor. He swung the bladed arm in a reactive spasm, cutting above her as the armor slid back noisily. She fell on the ground, her back and leg wounds painfully throbbing.
Zaniyah stood up and realized they might already have opened. They were, after all, only two days old. If even that.
“Well, that was unexpected, jolly good effort on your part.”
Being patronized was horrible, however. Even her body was reacting to it.
That’s alright, Zaniyah, it seemed to be saying, I’ll dull the pain so you can shut this idiot up.
The Hunter snorted and charged. She dropped down into a slide, dodging a half-hearted punch, and hit one of his legs with the full weight and force of her body.
It scratched the floor an inch.
She looked up at him as his helmet looked down at her, perplexed and unconcerned.
The armor bent and crashed down with a punch, but she rolled to the side and avoided it. Mostly, something cut on her arm. She hopped up and gained some room.
What can I do?! Damn it!
The armor, however, fixed firmly on the floor she had been on.
“Bloody murder, look at all this blood.”
She noticed it too, she had bloodied the floor with all her movement. She was indeed bleeding. The helmet looked up at her with shocked concern.
“You’re bleedin’ out, lassie. Lemme put an end to your misery, now.”
“I…am the Hunter…” she threatened. Her body wobbled, her good arm instinctively holding on to a wall, but she let go in an instant and stood. Strong. “There is no misery…I cannot endure…”
Mother Superior told her that. She had endured worse than a few bleeding wounds, she had endured far worse at the hands of the tribesmen.
“Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that,” the pistons whirred, and the spikes started vibrating. She wouldn’t be able to block them in any way now.
If she were going to die, then she would. But the Hunter would not perish crying about her miseries, she would perish fighting them.
To the very last.
She noticed one of the daggers had slipped off her left hand. A small stream of blood was there instead, the arm now mostly unresponsive even if adrenaline didn’t let her feel why.
The armor’s propulsions rocketed. The Hunter crouched with the good arm pulling the knife into a defensive position, planning to roll out of the way and make a run for it. When she crouched, however, her leg decided it didn’t hate the man that much and failed her. It wavered. As did her back.
She watched as the armor was hit with some kind of body to the sound of a roar.
Surprised she had not watched the armor colliding into her as a prelude to the darkness that would come with death, she instead took an involuntary knee on the ground.
She looked over to find the armored man with his face and front on the ground, with a huge wild cat on its back. A male one. Its fur was deeply orange, its mane flowed wide and bloodied, and with gray streaks.
She recognized the cat that was trying to claw its way through the armor.
She turned to see a…sight that was hard to explain. Thunuk was running towards her, that itself was surprising but more than that, there was the Zoo Keeper. He was walking forward surrounded by a party of animals, all different. There was a large snake, slithering. A big lizard, missing a tail. A wild dog, missing an eye, he was almost as old as the cat. Three different kinds of birds of prey were circling around him. Finally, a monkey and an ape were walking with him.
It was ridiculous, it all filled the entire width of the corridor.
“Zaniyah, by the earth, look at you!”
The Zoo Keeper did not show her the same attention, not least of which concern, that Thunuk was showing. As he walked by her, on his way to the armor, he spared her a glance.
“Do you have it?”
“We need to leave,” Thunuk both pleaded and demanded, somehow. He looked at her at a loss of how to get her up without killing her.
The Hunter was doing her best just to not collapse.
The Zoo Keeper simply continued. The wild cat winced as the armored man fought against its weight, accidentally cutting it with one of his bladed arms. In reaction, the wild cat bit down on the blade and savagely tried to take it off.
The wild cat stopped and let go, looking back at its keeper. He nodded at the right and it immediately switched its body to hold down the armor’s left arm and leg, using his jaws to bite down the blade and make sure it didn’t hurt him. Almost immediately, the wild dog lunged and bit at the other arm blades, keeping that down, and the ape jumped and stepped on the man’s leg.
“Ahh! Help! Bloody murder! HELP!”
“You have chosen your enemies poorly,” the Zoo Keeper said, without much hint of compassion.
“What now? Who’re you?!”
She saw that he had retrieved a spider from somewhere in his person, it waited in his hand, looking up at him expectantly. He whispered calmly and gestured to the armor before throwing it. The spider landed and crawled up the body.
“Help! Release me! Unhand me! Beasts!”
“You have chosen your allies worse,” the Zoo Keeper added, as the spider crawled around the helmet.
“What is…ptu! Pt-GAHK!!!”
The Zoo Keeper stepped next to the armor and whistled. The animals that had been holding the man down let go and retreated behind him while he crouched and held his hand.
The spider crawled back down the armor onto his hand, all while the body shivered and moaned in terse pain.
“Your nerves will not work again. Your physical nerves,” he added as an explanation, receiving the spider. “You will survive if someone cares enough to force-feed you, but your life is over.”
There was no response other than a very troubled whine.
“You cannot even speak.”
He turned around while returning the spider to a pocket in his top garments. The Hunter would have wondered what else he was keeping, or about what other creatures he had trained, but she was too busy losing grasp of her mental faculties.