As the first drops of rain began to fall, Nam sprinted into the firelight and leapt across the fire, yelling, “Yours!”
As she rolled, the men turned to face the monstrous form that barreled after her out of the darkness and the strengthening rain.
They fired together into a twelve-foot-tall reptilian nightmare. It braked to a halt in the middle of the breach in the fortress walls, to assess its new opposition. Rogan’s quick calculus of the situation prompted him to order Althem, <Shield the others!>
He’d have to do his own barriers while his invisible companion took care of the others. Nam’s simple flux barrier was light, and her only defense beyond a simple flux wall wasn’t mobile. If she had to use it, she would be out of the fight. And Jack had nothing.
“What the hell is it?” Jack demanded.
While the creature still looked to be making up its mind concerning how to deal with them, Rogan gave Jack the quickest answer that came to mind.
“Does it really matter?”
He had no time to explain that they faced an artificial life-form known as a war beast, which, according to its markings, was one of the Gireidil defenders rather than a weapon of the invaders. Nor had he time to explain that, more importantly, it was acting nothing like how it ought to act. Guided by the equivalent of human intelligence and significant military training, this beast should not have barged into an unscouted position with the manner of a mindless, raging monster. Nor should the metallic scales covering its vaguely saurian body be a disrepaired maze of ancient scars and sores.
It still retained sufficient mind to cloak itself such that he hadn’t sensed it coming, but it ought not be at a range to fight tooth and claw against human targets. Its built-in anti-personnel weapons would be far more effective in this situation. Or could it be the case that its weapons were as deteriorated as its armor?
Stranger yet, as it once again moved forward, it spewed scarlet flame from its crocodilian mouth. He had never heard of a Gireidil war-engine equipping such a weapon. Althem had prepped barriers against the kinetic wave weapons that were almost universally installed in these beasts, not against this, so he hastily cast a flame barrier that would better deflect the fire as he dodged out of its path.
What were you playing at? he demanded of its unknown creator as lightning from the incoming storm flashed, too close for comfort. Trying to build a fire-breathing dragon?
He came up onto his knees and began firing again. The beast was madly insensible to his bullets as it swiveled its head to direct its aim to him. It had to be ignoring the kinetic charge he packed into each round, which had sufficient power to stop an armored vehicle. Each hit gouged a huge divot from its armor. Experts had argued whether the ‘pain’ felt by synthetic minds was pain in the human sense, but the thing should never have utterly ignored such significant damage.
He bade Althem push a mental probe into it to sense whatever flux art it was using, but the beast’s cloak defeated her effort. The power within had an alien element, an extra factor that did not belong in the thing and frustrated her scans.
Jack dove to one side when the beast turned the jet of scarlet flame his way. Back on her feet with her dagger out, Nam spread her own barrier from the fingertips of her free hand, but she looked like she felt very outmatched, and he doubted . He would have to keep the beast off both his companions.
“You two get into the keep!” he yelled. “I’ll take its attention from you!”
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