I wondered how she intended to distract him. I had ideas, but I couldn’t know for sure till she tried something. We’d have to watch outside for a chance to escape–preferably without looking Artaxus in the eye. Amy had agreed that that was a bad idea back in the hallway behind the store–and we were already under her protection spell then.
Standing next to the hatch that was normally on the mech’s roof, and currently on its side, Haley rested the particle accelerator rifle on her shoulder. “What did Rachel say?”
“That she’s going to try something, and we should run if we get the chance. Do you think you’ll be able to tell without–“
“Looking him in the eye?” Haley finished. “I don’t know. I can tell how close he is, but not where he’s looking.”
I thought about it. “Maybe I can watch him with the sonics. The picture’s blurry enough that it might not count.”
“That sounds good to me,” Haley said, frowning, “but I don’t know much about dragons except what I saw in The Hobbit.”
“That’s about where I am except I read the book, and it might not be right. Um… I’m going to open the hatch a little.”
I pushed the button next the hatch, and it began to slide open. I let go before it had even moved an inch, placing my arm and one of the speakers next to the opening. That would be enough.
It was unexpected though. Was the mech already fully repaired? I glanced over at the dashboard as one of the screens turned on. From the series of red alerts, it was obvious that the gravitics panels were still partially destroyed. It wasn’t the power connection this time.
We were staying on the ground for a while. It looked like the main laser might work though–once the targeting system was fixed.
I turned on the sonar, focusing on the left speaker. The picture resolved the nearest object instantly. The dragon stood generally on the hatch’s side of the mech, but a little to the right, probably because it could watch the front of the mech from there.
Background objects took longer to resolve. Wispy gray shapes turned into slightly more focused gray shapes. Behind the dragon stood a three story house, a garden full of bushes, and a number of evergreen trees. It wasn’t completely clear from the sonar, but I knew more houses stood in a line behind it.
He’d blocked our best route to escape, or at least Haley’s. I could still fly, but I’d have to do it alone.
And that wasn’t going to happen. Well, not unless I charged him, distracting him so Haley could run. Judging from what he’d done to the mech though, he’d probably cook me in my armor.
Rachel’s voice came over the comm and this time it was over the League’s general frequency. “Now!”
Nothing happened, and then she said, “Ow!”
At that moment, the dragon’s head whipped around in a grayish blurry mess, snapping at something in the air behind it.
Then something weird happened. Explosions of white appeared all over the dragon’s head, including its eyes. It thrashed around, and maybe we could have escaped then, but it was spraying flame from its mouth. I could see the flame because of the roar of white noise that went along with it and it covered half the sky above us.
It stumbled backward, tail thrashing, backing away from the mech. Crashing noises came from the direction of the house.
However much it hurt, there was a method to its madness. If Rachel weren’t out of phase, Artaxus’ flames would have burnt her badly, who knows what would have happened to Haley and I?
Over the comm, Amy said, “Get back here! You’re never going to hurt a greater dragon by phasing a bullet through it. They exist in too many dimensions.”
Rachel’s breath came over the connection as she spoke. “It was worth a try. Did the Mystic wake anybody up yet? I’m going to need a doctor.”
Samita’s voice rose. “He didn’t bite or scratch you, did he? Dragon venom’s terrifying.”
The wind almost drowned out Rachel’s reply. “He smashed into me with his neck after I shot him. I don’t think he knew I was there. If he’d bitten me, I’d be missing a leg.”
Not giving anyone else a chance to speak, she added, “Sorry, Rocket. Sorry, Night Cat. We’ll think of something.”
“I’m going down there,” Amy said, her voice getting louder. “It should have been me from the beginning.”
Samita said, “No, you’re already too tired–”
Travis broke in. “We should get Storm King and Captain Commando back out here and use them for cover. Then Bloodmaiden, Accelerondo, and I should–”
A new name appeared on my HUD’s contact list. It said, “Immortal.”
“Stand down, Night Wolf,” Lee said. “I’m practically there, and I’m going to take care of this. Get back into the complex. There are still goblins to fight.”
“But–” Travis and Amy both said at once.
“No. Get back there immediately.”
Amy, Samita, Rachel, and Travis’ connections winked out on my HUD–most likely as they disappeared into the rock.
As they’d talked, Artaxus had pulled himself back together. When Rachel shot him, he’d backed away from the mech, but he’d come back as they talked, stepping more lightly than many creatures that large.
“Give me a second,” Lee said. “I’m almost there.”
I would have replied, but Artaxus wasn’t giving me a second. He leaned down, taking the mech in its foreclaws, but not picking it up. The ceramic hull made cracking noises, but didn’t break.
“Come out,” he said, voice taking on an unnatural, almost hypnotic, tone, “or I will rip open your machine and then you.
“You remember about the Bloodmaiden’s protection? I’ll be able to break it soon now. She’s not close anymore, and she’s all that’s keeping me out of your head. You’re only moments away from going after each other–”
In one movement, Haley pointed the particle accelerator rifle out the crack in the hatch and fired. Better, she must have hit something sensitive because he yowled. As he screamed, I fired off a killbot. I’d been holding off because I only had three on me, and I couldn’t aim them accurately when I couldn’t look at the target with anything but sonar.
In that moment, I decided to take a chance, aiming at what I thought might be the head.
I followed the bot on sonar as it went inside something, and then exploded. It wasn’t the head. It was a bend in the neck that somehow l mistook for the head. From the scream that erupted, it had hurt the dragon though.
So naturally it flamed the mech again. From the temperature readings of the flame that my suit gave me, the fire wasn’t as hot as it had been at the beginning. That was small comfort though, because this time we had the hatch open, however small the opening.
Flame came through, melting the rifle barrel, and burning the seat in its path. Haley jumped backward, avoiding the fire.
It caught my left hand as I pulled my arm back, hurting like nothing I’d ever felt.