Chapter 3, Part 2
They call her broken doll,
soulless monster …
…all she wants is to be a real girl.
Chapter 3, Part 2
~ Dare ~
The eatery must have been packed when the destruction hit. Tables and chairs lay knocked over, and piles of bones, the clothing still attached and untorn, litter the floor.
Gristle, another hybrid on my flight — half dragon, half chimera — hunches over some of the skeletons near the tables, his feathered crest flattened in concentration, his scales glistening in the light streaming through the windows.
“Gristle, what’s your take on what happened here?”
He startles at the sound of my voice, and his feathered crest frills out. Darting an embarrassed glance my way, he turns away and smooths the crest back down. “I’m not the medic. But I think you’re right about this being another Wyld plague. Near as I can tell, the plague started at this table. It attacked the Elven lady here. Death was quick, but not immediate. She jumped up –” He points at the overturned chair. “— before collapsing onto the table, flipping it. The plague then spread to her tablemate. From there, it spread out, downing multiple victims at the same time, causing mass panic.”
“Wizard Jinx?” I turn to the Elf.
“I concur.” His silver-blue is cut short, unlike most people of his race who vainly primp and pamper their long locks. His sticks up at all angles – not as if he styled it that way, but more as if he couldn’t be bothered to tame it. “This looks like what we saw in that Wyld Fae village near the magical wastes. The Flesh-Eating Plague, or at least a mutated version of it. I find it distressing that it is no longer just devouring their flesh but also seems to have eaten the magic right out of every magical spell in the settlement. That will make it harder to destroy.”
Tundra leans against one of the counters, fiddling with her machine again. “Yeah, we ran into a small plague creature on our patrol. It ate one of your containment globes; then it drank down everything else we threw at it. Doesn’t seem to like fire. But it can gobble down the magical variety.”
“All right,” I say, “let’s gather up and prepare for a burn.”
A spike of fear and pain screams through my mind. I nearly stumble to my knees before I realize it’s not my own. Heart in my throat, I’m out the door and headed toward the source, my crew chasing behind me.
My mind races through the possibilities, planning my action before we even get there. The thought came from Greatfang across the village. One of my people is hurt. My responsibility. My job to keep them safe.
We pound across the cobblestone, the sound echoing through the silence. I can’t get there fast enough.
In the distance, I can see the tower, sense my people inside, feel their agony and fear. I push myself harder, my muscles burning as I pump my arms and legs.
On the second tier, two blobs of protoplasm and half-digested flesh undulate in front of Ember. Sweating and straining, he holds his head, a look of concentration carved into his face, his eyes focused on the blob before him. Earlier, I could hear its thoughts, sense its hunger. But if he can hold it with his mind, that means it’s sentient. We can fight it. A burst of hope bubbles up inside me.
There’s a chance we can beat this thing.
Another blob engulfs Greatfang’s ax and his right arm, up to his elbow. It oozes up his arm, and the flesh and muscle dissolve in front of my eyes. I scream in frustration, battle rage surges up to take its place.
I get there first, tossing a powerful alchemical grenade into the main mass of the blob on Greatfang. Once inside, the grenade ignites burning a hole through it. A furious shriek of pain escapes the thing, and it splits in two. One continues to attack Greatfang; the other launches itself at me.
I hold a second grenade ready to shove it into the flesh eater. “Come on, you piece of moldy shit.” I charge it, grinning, leaping to face it. I’ll destroy it or die trying.
The blob shifts, twisting in midair to avoid my lunge. Overextended, my body is vulnerable. From below me, the flesh eater whips its mass around to wrap my body. Nothing I can do would get me out of the way in time.
Jade tackles me, shoving me to the side. The flesh-eater hits her square in the face. Oh Creator, no! She tries to scream, but the blob flows into her mouth and nose leaving a trail of sizzling, dissolving flesh in its path. I can hear her screaming in my mind. The pain is horrendous. Then she’s gone.
Something bursts inside me, consuming me like a raging inferno.
Jade. My friend. Ally. It should’ve been me.
Moments ago, she shared her darkest secrets with me.
She died because we were tired and got sloppy. Because I got sloppy.
No one else on my team was supposed to get hurt. It was supposed to be me.
Why did I let the Emperor push the team so hard? I knew that someone could die, but I always figured I could protect them.
I grab the mind of the flesh-eater that had killed her and squeeze, enjoying its pain as its mind shreds under the pressure. Its shrieks only increase my rage. Finally, it snaps, the blob falling limp on Jade’s destroyed body, spreading around her like blood.
Behind me, I hear the bone-cracking sound of someone shifting. “Stand down. You’ll crush the rest of us if you continue. This building is too small. Everyone, behind me.”
Scales line my throat; my fingers grow to claws; my mouth elongates into a dragon’s snout. No full-blooded dragon can do a partial transformation, since they have little attachment to their other forms, and dang few hybrids have learned this trick either. I face the two flesh-eaters in front of Ember as he dives out of the way, and I unleash my dragon fire and all my rage.
Their screeches intensify with pain even as they try to escape, but I grab them with my mind and hold them still. Too soon, the heat of the flames burns it apart. I wanted their pain to last longer.
I turn to the last one on Greatfang. It flings itself away and scurries toward the underbrush, but my fire scorches everything in the vicinity: brush, flowers, and flesh-eating-blob all gone.
Greatfang lost his hand; he’ll survive. But Jade is gone, and nothing I can do will bring her back. I roar in rage, breathing out fire until my throat is raw. The ashes tumble down around us.
“Take to the sky,” I say, my voice gruff. “I want a containment burn around this place. Burn it down, all of it.”
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