Gunshots, a couple clacks, and a thud. There we go. Miya’s golem pinned the man down, and produced three small ribs from within to pull the gun from the man’s grasp. As she concentrated on this, Nomad flowed by with another man trapped and struggling within. Nomad stopped him next to Miya.
“Gimme a sec,” she managed. I need to carve that golem core. Not only because I can finally focus fully on a different task, but for no other reason than to prove that I can do it again. The golem patted down its man, and Miya pulled out some zip ties.
“Alright.” Nomad forced the man’s hands together and forward. She tied him up, and Nomad spat him out, then returned to human form.
“How are we looking, Delta?” he asked.
“Three more heading your way, should be the last ones besides the dude in the control room. Olivia and Skulker are running around upstairs, I’ll send them once they’re available.”
Gears, pressing against the wall by the door, shotgun at the ready, said, “Moving.”
“To your left,” said Delta.
Gears started moving, gears churning under his armor. What’s that on the back of his leg? “You can’t keep us from the cakes.” Wow. I’ll ask him about it later. Her golem followed, and Nomad gestured for her to go ahead. Ah. What a gentleman. She smirked, tailing the golem.
Ahead of them, a guard rounded a corner, took half a second, then backpedaled, pushing back on the guy behind him. Miya’s golem climbed over Gears as he continued strolling forward, only flinching slightly as a bullet made it through the golem and hit him in the chest. Slabs of metal are bulletproof. That’s convenient. The golem lunged forward, out of her line of sight. She gave it enough autonomy to work without her direction, not that the task of ‘beat up some dudes’ was the hardest to follow.
She felt a small, localized headache. Damn it. Her footsteps faltered for a moment as magic was force feedback into her. Whatever, not like I haven’t dealt with this before. One of the guards had an iron weapon. So far as she could tell, only a few bones were severed, and the golem took advantage of its lack of pain receptors or self-preservation and beat the man into unconsciousness.
“Should be good,” she said. Gear went in, shotgun in one hand, drumming on the wall with the other.
Nomad followed. “You take care of the last guy. We’ll clean-”
A heavy impact shook the building. The hell? “Delta?” she asked.
“There’s a feral upstairs.”
“You mean Olivia?” asked Rob.
“Hey, fuck off,” said Miya. Leave her alone.
“No, another feral, a mantis thing. It was in what we thought was a tiger cage.”
“Do Skulker and Olivia need any help?” asked Nomad.
“Eh, not sure. They’re not talking, and it’s hard to tell from here. Best to be safe.”
“Right,” said Nomad. “I’ll go up. Gears, you finish up here. Miya, get that last guy.”
“What? No. I’m going up there.”
“Gears is needed here, I can’t be torn up by a feral, and I’d rather not have anyone get ambushed by the remaining guard or him finding a way to call for help. Go,” he commanded. Before she could argue the point he burst into liquid form and flowed off.
Bastard. Fuck you and your logic. She hesitated. Fuck.
“Go,” said Gears. “Olivia and Skulker can take care of themselves.”
Fine. With Delta’s directions, she ran behind her loping golem towards the security office and away from the sounds of thuds and crashes. Out of general precaution she looked behind her. For a moment she thought she saw a man behind her, the vision vanishing before she could focus on it. Weird. May as well make sure.
“Delta, anyone behind me?”
“Nope, only ahead. There, twenty feet ahead, door on the right. He’s waiting, send in the golem first,” said Delta.
“Got it.” Golem first. That’s probably for the best, my hands still haven’t fully recovered, so my aim is crap.
The golem stopped in front of the door, forming a blob of bone while Miya ran through the options in her head. Fuck subtlety. Three of the largest bones formed a ram, capped with a cow skull. Mwahahaha. The rest braced against the wall opposite the door. The ram would ram, appropriately enough, and once through the momentum would pull the rest of the golem through to overpower the guard.
One impact, and the door, just an average wooden door, fractured. A second impact, and the wood shattered down the middle. One more. A third impact, and the door gave way completely. The golem forced its way through, snakelike, and Miya followed when particularly bad feedback burst in her head. Goddamn iron. Be better if he just tore it apart with his bare hands. It’d hurt less. She managed to reach the door.
Within, she saw the guard half surrounded by the golem, still in snake form. The guard tucked in his head, deflecting a blow from within the center of the golem with his back. In the meantime he slashed into the center of the golem with a long black blade, severing a particularly important thread. FUCK. Ow. Miya staggered against the door. Don’t do that. Shoot him.
The remaining half of the golem tried to regroup into something useful behind him, but the guard turned and pressed the attack. He shoulder checked aside one length of bone meant to fend him off. Another length with a broken bone on the end jabbed at him, catching a rib. He faltered for a brief second, then swung the knife upwards. It hit a bone, scraped along its length, then hit magic. There went another third of the remaining golem. Gah. Dumb golem. She pulled out her pistol and fired a few wild shots, none of them going anywhere they needed to go.
The golem counterattacked, two bones going for the guard’s head pincer style, another swinging upwards for his groin. He turned his body to the side, ducking his head once again and blocking it with his free arm in case the upcoming bone went for his face instead. It did, even as the bone pincer missed and retracted. He grabbed the bone and made a twirling motion with his knife, severing that particular bone. The building shook again.
I can’t maintain it much longer. It’s already lost too much of its original mass. I have a dumb idea.
She steadied herself as best she could, pistol still shaking. The guard pulled in close to the golem, wrapped an arm around the main mass of it, and stabbed. Miya released the golem. The bones lost all mobility, clattering to the ground. The guard’s swing unexpectedly met no resistance. With him off balance, Miya fired until the magazine was empty. One bullet caught him in the back, the rest missed.
She fumbled with the next magazine as the guard choked and held a hand to the new bullet wound. Come on, in. Go. Headache not helping. The guard managed to turn around right as Miya finally jammed the magazine in.
She cocked it and leveled it at the guard. “Don’t move. Drop the knife.” You’re on your knees, and I’m a good ten feet away. I don’t care how bad my aim is, you’re going to die if you try anything. The guard dropped the knife, breathing ragged. Now what?
After staring at each other for a couple moments, Nomad flowed up. He snapped back to human and said, “Need some help?”
“I’ve got it. You,” he said to the guard. “Hands up.” The guard complied, and Nomad tied him down.
With that done, she leaned over to the side and threw up. Magic overload does not like me.
“Whoa, what’s wrong?” asked Nomad, placing a steadying hand on her shoulder.
“Overloaded. I’m fine, working it out of my system. I’m fine.”
“Yeah,” she managed, nodding her head. Am I the universes chew toy?
“Don’t strain yourself. We’ll be out of here soon. Delta, are they coming?”
“Yeah. Dr. Olin and his guys are about five minutes out,” said Delta to the group at large. Five more minutes, then we can get out of here.
“Take it easy,” said Nomad. With that, she was dismissed. Nomad began applying bandages to the guard’s wounds. It would kind of suck for us to just let him bleed out here.
With nothing to do, Miya asked, “Where are the others?”
“I ran into Skulker and Olivia on the way over here. They should be moving the captives downstairs.”
“You fuckers are gonna pay for this,” growled the guard on his face.
“Be quiet unless you want to bleed out,” said Nomad. “Anyways, they’re moving them down to the lobby.”
“OK. Thanks.” She eyed the scattered bones. I should get those. She reached for magic and nausea hit her again. Abort, abort. Never mind that. They can stay there for all I care. I’ve got some more back at the lair.
She got out of the room, and, with nowhere else to go, walked to where the others were. Inside she found Skulker watching four guys. Boot clomped behind her, and Gears appeared with a guard over each shoulder.
“Guys from the roof. Both are still out,” said Gears.
“Anyone else?” asked Miya.
“Two dead dudes upstairs fulla holes. I kinda fucked up. Oh, a huge feral mantis thing on the other side of the buildin’, Olivia fucked it up pretty bad,” said Skulker.
I want to see the dead feral. “Which way?”
“Tha’ way. Can’t miss it, jus’ look out any window.”
“Need any help here?” she asked.
“Nah,” said Gears, throwing his two guys down. One’s head hit the floor. “Unless Delta’s got somethin’ for us. Delta?”
“Nope, we’re just waiting for PETA to show up,” said Delta over the comms.
“Then I’m going to go see that feral,” said Miya, leaving. The twins laughed.
She tried to jog up a flight of stairs, but the ongoing headache, while better than before, still made her stop for a second. She walked the rest of the way. Now on the other side, she found a window.
Whoa. That one’s on the bigger side. The remains of the feral stretched out, about two people lengths long. Conspicuously absent were various chunks of limbs. Long gouges on the flanks caught Miya’s eyes. Olivia did a number on that thing. Speaking of which, where is Olivia? Well, I’ve got nothing else to do, and I’m basically an invalid right now.
Miya found her in one of the holding areas. A good dozen cages of varying sizes lined the walls. What looked to be veterinary equipment covered a counter on one wall. Bags of food, two or three large plastic needles, and the like. Olivia stood with her head cocked by a few of the larger cages. She had a hand in one of the cages. What the fuck are you…
“Whoa!” said Miya. “What are you doing?”
Olivia jumped a bit. “Oh. Hi Miya. Nothing. Just… looking, I guess.”
“With your hand in a cage?”
“Well, yeah. Kinda.” She sounded more confused than anything else. Right, nigh invincible. Still though.
“What’s in there? Jaguars?” asked Miya, joining her.
“I think so. They’re kind of cute, I guess,” said Olivia. Bwah?
“Did you just call the two hundred pound jungle cats cute? As one gnaws at you finger?” Olivia rubbed at a jaguar’s neck with the back of a finger. The cat lazily bit at it. She’s been doing this for a bit, if a jaguar is just passively letting her do that. Though I think it’s possible to pseudo-domesticate them. Maybe. No confidence on that.
“Um… yeah. I mean, he’s not… not doing anything wrong. Or she.”
“Still though…” Come on. Jaguar mouth equal bad. Olivia withdrew her hand.
“Sorry,” said Olivia. You need to stop saying that at every opportunity. “Don’t you have a jaguar tattoo on you back? Because when we first met, and… you know. With all the… stuff… and you… I saw… and… stuff… maybe.” She trailed off, studying her feet intently. Miya unconsciously shifted her shoulders a bit under the small tattoo, remarkably unscathed from any of the injuries she’d sustained since getting it.
“Yeah.” Yeah, that thing.
Olivia recovered. “So, why? I mean, why did you get that tattoo?”
“I got that on a drunk bet a year or so ago. At least it turned out well, all things considered.”
“Why a jaguar?”
“It’s big in Mexico. I don’t know, that might have had something to do with it.”
“You’re from Mexico, right?”
“My family’s from there, yeah.” Please don’t ask about my family.
“Is it… nice there?”
Miya couldn’t stifle the laugh. “No, sorry, no,” she said, as Olivia turned a little red. “No,” she continued. “Not a nice place at all. Though the part of Arizona I’m from wasn’t much better, from what I’ve heard. Though it’s weird being the token minority here.” Everyone else here is varying levels of white, though I suppose Olivia is half green, but I don’t think that counts.
“Minority? Oh, sorry for all the dumb questions.” Mental sigh. Yes, I did just say that in my head.
“Means not white here. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, no one else seems to care, and I haven’t been called a wetback or a redskin nearly as often here in Colorado.”
“Redskin? You look more tan, at least to me. I mean, redskin doesn’t sound-” OK, let’s stop this.
Miya cut her off. “That’s a bit of a racial slur you’re throwing around there, Olivia.” Olivia’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Seriously? “Do I have to explain the concept of racism to you?”
“Ummm, I think so.” Damn it, why do I have to be the one to corrupt her with this kind of stuff? Crap, if she ever reads about World War Two, there’s no good way to explain that either. “I could just look it up,” said Olivia. She pulled out her phone.
“Hold on. Did Delta just throw you into the morass of the internet without any warning or guidance?”
“She taught me how to search stuff.”
“Yeah,” she said cautiously.
“Hey, they’re here. We’re outta here. Main exit, south side,” said Delta over the comms suddenly.
“Alright, me and Olivia are going,” replied Miya. The two of them left the room, heading in the requested direction. To Olivia she said, “There’s, ah, there’s some things you need to know about the internet. Namely that you shouldn’t trust everything you read on it.” Please don’t ask me about race relations anymore. Or about why you shouldn’t trust people on the internet. Damn it, she’s too nice for her own good.
“OK. Sorry about all the questions.”
“It’s alright, Olivia. And are you feeling alright? There’s a couple ugly looking bruises on your throat.”
“Oh, yeah.” Olivia rubbed her throat. “The mantis thing got me there. I’m OK.”
“Still, I’ll take a look when we get back.”
“OK. Thanks. Are you OK? You smell like…”
“Yeah. Magic overload. I threw up, but I should be fine now.”
They reached the lobby. The others had lined up the captives facing the nearby wall. In the center stood a Mexican man (Dr. Olin, I think) flanked by two others. What is he a doctor of? Ancient biology? Is that a thing? The doctor and Nomad were wrapping up talks, while Gears and Skulker tried to play patty cake (what the fuck?) off to the side, using fists instead of open hands.
What made Miya stop was the velociraptor (or utahraptor, whatever) shadowing the doctor. Its chin cleared the top of the doctor’s chin, not a short man. Eerily similar to Olivia, actually. The leathery, drab brown skin rippled as it slowly paced behind the PETA people.
That… that is a dinosaur next to the doctor. How is it alive? How is it not dead from modern disease? How do they feed it? How? Just how? And this is the kind of stuff Overlord makes. I don’t really know anything about him, now that I think about it. Techies seem to know more about him than anyone else, I’ll ask Gears and Delta later.
Miya recovered, and joined the twins. “The hell are you two doing?” she asked, keeping an eye on the velociraptor, which had stopped and stared at something behind her.
“We’re bored,” said one. Doesn’t really matter which, now does it?
“We can only stare at a phone screen for so long,” said the other.
“Yeah, about that: it’s really weird. You should- wait, where’s Olivia?”
Skulker looked over her shoulder and snickered. “Makin’ a new friend. Or not, can’t tell.”
Miya spun around. Olivia and the velociraptor glared at each other. Fuck. One of the PETA people had noticed and backed up, everyone else remained oblivious. Miya hurried to Olivia’s side.
“Hey, Olivia,” she said, injecting some levity into her voice. No response. Fuck. She nudged Olivia’s hand. “Hey, Olivia,” she repeated.
Olivia looked down to her. “Sorry. What?”
“Let’s go outside, get some fresh air.”
Olivia let Miya lead her outside. “Everything alright?” Delta asked them.
“We’re fine. Just getting outside,” said Miya. I probably shouldn’t ask Olivia about that.
A minute later the others came out.
“You all do need a name at some point,” called out the doctor.
“I’m aware. See ya, doc,” replied Skulker as he waved while walking backwards. “Jus’ lemme know if ya need another buildin’ exploded for ya.”
Dr. Olin smiled. “Don’t worry, I will. Take care of yourself.”
“You too,” said Skulker as the door closed. “Well tha’ was fun,” he said to the the group at large.
“-then Rob comes around the corner and swung his crowbar right into the guy’s dick,” explained Miya to Ben as they pulled into the lair. Rob’s truck rumbled in behind them, carrying Delta and her equipment. A small portable generator, a desktop, two large cases full of complicated looking stuff, a big ball covered in cameras, and another, larger camera on a tripod. The joys of having a techie on your side.
“Jesus.” Ben shivered a bit. Even Chris in the driver’s seat looked slightly queasy. All of them were maskless. “But ya shoulda seen Olivia pick up tha’ other feral an’ jus’ throw it through the fuckin’ floor,” said Ben as they got out of Chris’s car. “Tha’ was fuckin’ awesome. An’ then I got to jump on it an’ ride it like a fuckin’ rodeo. Stabbin’ it, of course. With a knife. Smelled like shit.”
“So you shat yourself?” asked Miya playfully with mock disbelief. She grabbed the guns from the passenger seat next to her.
“Wha? No. Its mouth was all fucked up an’ rottin’,” he said with a grin as he grabbed his rifle she passed to him. “Quite horrifyin’.”
They fully exited the car. Miya passed Chris’s rifle to him, and shut the door behind her.
“Chris, I’ve been holdin’ this in for a while, but I’ve gotta ask,” said Ben as they walked to the lair.
“Why the hell you drivin’ a Focus hybrid?” Thank god I’m not the only one who wondered about that. The man is a full foot taller than I am. Behind them, Amanda and Rob got out of the car, chattering on about something to do with data security.
Chris shrugged. “I save a lot on gas, it gets me to where I need to go, I like the color red, and I save a lot on gas. It’s great. It’s a little cramped but no car is perfect.” He unlocked the lair and held it open for the rest. Olivia landed behind them.
“Yeah, but ya it’s kind of a bitch car.”
“It handles snow well enough, so I don’t see how that matters,” said Chris evenly.
Ben grinned and shrugged. “Right, whatever. How did ya get it so beat up then?”
“I mountain bike.”
After helping Amanda move her stuff back inside, everyone spontaneously gathered around the table. Wow, it’s not even that late.
“Idea!” said Rob. He grabbed a deck of cards. “We just got paid, again. Who wants to waste some of their new disposable income? I don’t plan of fallin’ asleep any time soon, don’t know ‘bout the rest of you lot.” Oooh, fun.
“Fuck yeah,” said Ben and Miya simultaneously.
After a moment, Chris shrugged and said, “Sure. What are we playing?” What? He never wants to do anything with us.
“Texas sound good?” asked Ben. Everyone currently in nodded.
“How ‘bout you two?” asked Rob, pointing to Amanda and Olivia.
“I don’t know how,” said Olivia. “I’ve never played.”
“Neither have I,” said Amanda. Are you just trying to make Olivia feel better? “No, really,” said Amanda when everyone looked at her. “Never had the time before, but I don’t see why not right now. Come on, Olivia, we’ll play once we get out of our armor and whatnot.”
Miya grimaced an hour later. “Fold.” That hand was going nowhere fast.
Rob grinned and nodded, throwing down his cards at Amanda and grabbing the pot. At least I’m pretty sure that’s Rob. Olivia’s the only one that can tell between him and Ben for some reason. Amanda shuffled for the next hand, then stopped.
“We’ve been at this for two hours,” she said as she got up and stretched. “Wanna take a break?”
“Bein’ the dealer suck, don’ it? Much like your poker skills,” said Ben. Wait for it. Rob poked her in the cheek. Resist… urge… to kill. They do that every damn time.
“Screw you,” said Amanda. Chris had cleaned her out about twenty minutes ago, and been using his now far larger stack of money to be a bully ever since. I can’t tell what he’s thinking, which is aggravating. Face doesn’t so much as twitch.
Miya got up too. Everyone else followed suit. Ah, that feels great.
“Do we want to continue?” asked Chris with the faintest trace of a smile.
“Eh, may as well see this through,” said Rob. Ben just smiled, and Olivia said nothing, but didn’t protest.
“Says the guys who are winning,” grumbled Miya.
Chris shrugged. “Hey, I don’t know what you people are doing, just taking advantage of it.”
“OK. Illuminate us, oh poker grandmaster,” said Amanda. Miya glanced at Rob to her right. He hadn’t moved. She glanced the other way to Ben. Nothing. OK, only when one of them says it.
Ben caught her eye and grinned wide. “Somethin’ wrong, Pokey?”
She rolled her eyes, sitting back down. Chris leaned forward against the back of his chair. He pointed to Ben first. “You and Rob rarely if ever play in the same hand. The smile is in no way indicative of what you actually have, so kudos for that, but your bets are generally obvious.” They exchanged glances and grinned. He pointed to Miya. “You start grinding your teeth every time you get something good, then remember you’re not supposed to do that and stop. Also, your knuckles go white on the cards when you bluff sometimes.” Do not. Amanda next. “You’re just not very good, I’m sorry.”
Miya laughed. Ben said, “Yeah, all that probability an’ shit doesn’t help when ya don’ know what a flush is.”
“How did you get that mixed up with a full house?” asked Miya. I thought you were smart.
Amanda threw up her hand. “I’m sorry for trying, alright. I’ve never played before.”
“And you,” said Chris, pointing to Olivia, “don’t play to win so much as to not lose. Which doesn’t help because you spread your wings a bit when you’re trying to bluff, and completely stop moving when you think you have something.” And are intimidated by a big bet, so you haven’t really played too many hands yet. Which is also why you started studying the table the minute everyone looked at you. He looked to Amanda. “There. Illumination completed. You’re welcome.” He sat back down.
Amanda smiled begrudgingly and began to deal once again. After a round of betting, Chris’s phone began to ring. “Fold,” he said. “Excuse me.” He got up and answered the phone as he exited the lair. One hand later, he came back in.
“Good news, everyone,” said Chris.
“Is that so?” said Miya. I’ve seen that show. This news will be awful.
“We got double the pay for having to deal with that feral, so you were saying?”
“Never mind, that actually is good news. I take back my sarcasm.” I have no complaints with that.
They played cards well into the night, until the sun came up and reminded them that sleep was, in fact, a thing.