The rain stopped. Water drained from the roofs, percolating through the muddy streets and the silence. Thunder rumbled far away. The storm responded as if Esmeralda scared it away with her deliberate manipulations.
Darren pulled himself off the wet, muddy road. His clothes were drenched and caked with mud. Marcus strolled over to him. The warrior’s gait had a pronounced limp. His shield was bent inward at the center, where the pillar of flesh had concentrated its strength.
“That was definitely a something,” Marcus said with a swift smack on Darren’s back.
Darren nearly fell over from the friendly pat. His right foot slid in the mud to balance himself.
“I wish to never see such a Thing again,” Darren replied dryly. He stared at the muddy road, it had a similar texture and appearance to the Thing. He shivered with the thought of walking across it. His eyes played tricks on him, making him think that he could see eyes in the road blinking and staring at him. Then, they would sink back into the mud.
Darren shot his glance up at his friend. “It’s not dead, is it?”
A howl filled the street, followed by the murmuration of incomprehensible, but pained, voices.
“It is not.” Esmeralda’s tone was flat, yet menacing. She stared straight down the road ahead, she wouldn’t blink. Her lips curled with the same anger that whitened her knuckles as she gripped her staff.
Marcus hobbled over to her, inured to her foreboding anger. Darren stayed behind, peeking out from behind Marcus, in case the warrior became a target of the blind rage that was boiling in Esmeralda.
“There is something else going on here, isn’t there, Ez?” Marcus asked.
Darren never understood how Marcus couldn’t even be the least intimidated by the woman who just literally brought down the sky.
Esmeralda nodded. “Clair, what did you do?”
Darren raised a finger above Marcus’s shoulder. “Um, who’s Clair?”
Esmeralda would not take her gaze off the road ahead. “She was my roommate at the university in Parburg. She was obsessed with magic that could conjure creatures, maybe even create new creatures. Her thesis covered subjects such as morphing animals into different species and forging living chimeras.”
Darren raised an eyebrow and his hand fell limp on Marcus’s shoulders. “Huh?”
Marcus craned his neck to answer. “Mixing traits of various animals to create wholly new aberrant hybrids.”
“How do you—”
“She was never able to make any such chimera live longer than a month,” Esmeralda continued. “She was determined to correct her failure, even after graduation.” Esmeralda released the grip on her staff and the road ahead with a deep sign. Her eyes looked down on the muddy road. For the first time, she blinked. “It looks like she succeeded, but made herself part of the experiment.”
“Or it made it part of her,” Darren quipped.
Esmeralda spun around quickly. Darren jumped back. This was the moment he was going to be turned into a newt. He always knew it was coming, just not so soon.
“Or that.” Esmeralda turned back to the road and started walking. “What building did you say she came out of?”
Darren maneuvered around Marcus. He pointed a shaking finger toward a two-story building to the left of the street. “That one.”
As he pointed, the wind blew another chorus of wretched pain down the street. Darren dropped his finger quickly. “What good am I going to be for you? That Thing just kept coming.”
“Yeah, but it ain’t invincible,” Marcus said with a spit. “Esmeralda blew chunks of it all over the street.”
Darren turned and saw Marcus fiddling with pieces of the hardened claws the Thing had used to brace itself from Esmeralda’s storm attack with his boots. Esmeralda walked over to her warrior-friend with a glint of curiosity in her eyes.
“I wonder if the lightning hardened it,” she mused. “That might make it easier to wound and certainly less mobile.”
She bent down and picked up a piece of the claw. It crumbled in her hands as if it were made of sand. “Interesting.”
“Well, we have to stop it.” Marcus said with a shrug.
Esmeralda tilted her head toward the house. “If it’s there, it will be in a smaller arena. Perhaps less mobile.” She stood up and brush off the sandy remnants of the Thing from her palm. “Give me your weapons. Darren, you too.”
Darren reluctantly walked over.
Murmuring to herself, Esmeralda brushed her hand along the blades belonging to Marcus and Darren. Faint electricity flashed from her hands to the metal. The metal blades pulsed with electrical energy. She pulled them away from her hands and returned them. Darren gingerly took the hilt of his shortsword and dagger, shutting his eyes. When he wasn’t electrocuted, he opened them, staring at his weapon with awe.
“It won’t last long. The charge in the air from the storm is passing. We have to move now,” Esmeralda said.
“Well then, let’s not waste any time,” Marcus said. He moved forward, cautiously, toward the house.
Esmeralda followed behind, her eyes focused on the building.
That’s when Darren noticed that the front door was busted inward. The front wall buckled near the door and a window hung precariously in the open space. The steps to the door were crushed in a pattern that looked like a great lead boulder rolled out the front door and down the stairs of the porch.
Darren heard whispers behind him. He turned to see a small lantern held out of a door across the street. A woman and two kids peered fearfully at the trio.
He knew their fear. He felt their fear. The only difference between them and Darren was that he now had a nifty sword. That and he was actually going after the ravenous Thing.
We got this handled. He mouthed to them. He was looking to convince himself too.
© 2017 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.