121: Jack

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Jack understood that warbeasts had been the principal weapons in this world’s final war and that the monsters they had encountered were intelligent beings, soldiers as much as weapon systems.

According to Rogan, the beasts weren’t artificial intelligence systems like the ones he had seen during his last years in the Army, tools that could emulate human thought in their specific roles. These beings were artificial people. The beast he had killed, before it became a mindless juggernaut, had been a citizen of Chald, with full membership in one of its clans. And although two-legged monsters like Rogan and Nam might take on two or three such beasts, the dozen or more that Nam’s specters were now seeing could overwhelm them. If possible, they desperately needed to avoid the confrontation.

“Jack,” Rogan interrupted his thoughts as they hurried down the cobble stone road, “reflect on how you released my lock against that girl. I’m not sure how you managed it, but you might have need to do it again.”

Jack glanced at the lock pattern on the back of his hand, and admitted, “I’m not sure I did. The ethen came awake on its own, just as she struck.”

Nam had been talking with her birds, with one perched on each. It looked very unnatural to see a dove and a hawk acting like Long John Silver’s parrot. She now sent them flying again.

“We have only one human opponent this time, but she’s with the beast party. It’s that girl again,” she reported.

A now familiar presence appeared on his shoulder, heavy and sudden, and he froze in his tracks.

The abrupt appearance of the gray-scale cat had been heart-stopping, and its attitude appalled him, a bestial fury rolling into his mind from the thing.

Nam whirled and froze as well. Her dagger had appeared in her hand in the move.

Rogan turned to see the animal and snorted. “Your pet’s back!”

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“It was just… there,” Jack frowned. “It feels angry.”

The cat arched its back, hissed loudly, and launched itself from Jack’s shoulders. The force of the launch actually made him stagger.

Nam turned to look into the gaping doorway of a nearby building, shouting toward it, “Mord! Follow!”

The beast materialized out of the shadows in the doorway already running after the cat, with Nam following behind.

Rogan yelled at him, “Let’s go!” and began running.

“Are we sure we want to stay with that thing?” Jack wondered out loud as he struggled to catch up. “We still don’t know what it is!”

“Nam is going anyway, so we’d best keep close to her. Use your senses, Jack. Tell me what that cat is chasing.”

Jack tried… and stumbled as a new image of the world superimposed itself on his vision. Rogan stopped to grab him.

In his mind’s eye, his now-familiar perception of the space around him, the ‘minimap’ in the FPS of his new reality, had dissolved along with his normal vision as an image of enormous reptilian beasts loomed up, like a scene from a dinosaur documentary. The strange girl from before riding one of the larger creatures.

The world came back to a single image around him, and his flux sense ‘map’ reasserted itself as Rogan helped him back on his feet.  “The cat already found warbeasts! I… was seeing through its eyes…”

He had managed something that wasn’t even remotely what he had tried to do, and it shook him badly. He had no idea how he’d done it.

After paying attention to his flux sense again for a moment, and discovering the hidden creatures closing on their location, he added. “They’re doing that stealth thing. I didn’t sense them at all until now. They must be the lead group.”

Rogan wore an odd expression, as if he were trying to read something inside Jack’s head. He shook his head, shrugged with a grim scowl. “Best we catch up to Nam. She’ll be needing back up.”

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