Jaclyn and Izzy went first, followed by Amy (flying), Cassie, who jumped in after her, and finally me.
The Thing leapt as Rod closed with him, aiming for Rod’s abdomen, knocking Rod backward for all his bulk, and throwing him to the floor.
For me at least, this instantly confirmed the “Cabal Reserves” theory about The Thing’s host.
The concrete around Rod shattered, throwing bits of floor into the air. To my gratification, Rod’s costume stayed together—mostly. The small rips around where the creature’s fist hit him mended themselves.
Surprisingly agile for a being so lopsided, The Thing rolled across Rod’s chest and landing on it’s feet next to his shoulder.
Opening its freakishly wide mouth, it bent towards his head. Though it easily could have fit Rod’s head inside, it never got the chance to bite down.
Between the low light of the basement and my position behind everyone else, I didn’t see what happened as it happened, but my HUD tracked Jaclyn’s change of position as she moved from the hole Rod had broken through almost instantly to where The Thing That Eats stood over Rod, punching The Thing in the head.
She must have concluded that the host had been part of Cabal’s reserves too because she didn’t hold back. Her fist hit him with a thudding noise that I could feel through my armor.
The blow threw him across the basement. He hit the far wall with his head, turning the concrete into dangerously large flying chunks and a cloud of gray dust.
Even though I knew better, part of me hoped he was dead. We weren’t that lucky.
Consistent with how we’d practiced, Izzy was already nearly on him. If she and Jaclyn could hold him, we might get a chance to surround him with wards. Unfortunately, we hadn’t practiced with a Cabal soldier in mind.
Before Izzy could reach him, he jumped upward, crashing through the wall and the floor above us.
He was outside.
Daniel’s mind touched mine. He’s out.
I sent the spybots to fly after him. Daniel pointed out the right spot in the fog.
Jaclyn followed Izzy out. Amy flew after them. Cassie appeared to be slowing as she neared Rod, but didn’t end up stopping. He rolled over as she closed, and sprinted toward the hole, smashing through it in an explosion of concrete.
Cassie glanced back at me before she jumped out. “What are you waiting for?”
Not having an answer, I turned on the rocket pack, and flew out after her, shooting upward, above the fog. I hung in the air, using the spybots to point me in the right direction, and then the HUD to get me detail.
Over the comm, Izzy said, “I see him. He’s going toward the next house. If he gets any closer I’m going in.”
Vaughn’s fog covered the entire lawn except for maybe ten feet around the house. My HUD’s composite image showed The Thing stumbling through the fog, moving toward the next house.
I tapped my palm, allowing me to talk on our group channel. “No one get close. I’m going to take a shot.”
Then I activated the laser, pointing my arm toward the creature and firing. A beam of white laser light showed up against the fog, burning through the creature’s cheek.
The Thing shrieked, but it wasn’t a simple shriek. This one cut through the night. It didn’t hurt my ears, but it felt like it passed through the Rocket suit’s filters much like a cold winter wind passed through a coat.
This brought to mind images of snow, of shivering alone in the cold, and the feeling of an unsatisfied hunger.
Then came strange warmth and the feeling stopped. At the same time I realized that the Rocket suit glowed red. I could see it in my HUD thanks to the spybots, and I wasn’t the only one. We all glowed.
This wasn’t a good thing.
The Thing sank toward the ground and then it jumped, flying through the air toward me. If I’d had time to reason it out, I probably would have opened up the rockets full blast and shot away, knowing that the worst thing I could do would be to let it grab me.
No matter how quickly the suit tried to repair itself, it could probably rip it off, or damage the suit to the point that repairs were impossible.
That’s not what I did.
I opened up with bots I’d packed full of explosives that I’d taken to calling boombots. I sent more than twenty at it, and The Thing disappeared in fire.
I knew it wouldn’t be enough to kill it, but by sheer luck it was enough to alter the creature’s course through the air. It spun leftward, end over end, and it would have passed me altogether—except it never got the chance.
Izzy caught up with it from behind, spiking its head like a volleyball, driving it toward the ground.
Amy’s voice came over the comm. “Storm King dissolve the fog around—”
The Thing hit the ground with a thud and a wail of rage that was good news in the sense that we hadn’t killed it, forcing it to choose a new and unpredictable body, but bad in the sense that this meant it could keep up the magical attacks.
Except… Izzy didn’t let it. She screamed. Her scream wasn’t magical, but it could shatter stone. It drowned out the Thing’s wail or shocked it so deeply that it stopped, pushing away the fog around it.
It pushed itself off the ground, then began to crouch, ready to jump again.
This time though, I targeted its right leg, white light burning a hole into it. At almost the same time another beam came out of the fog, this one red, hitting its left leg.
Now we just had to get the wards around it before its legs healed. I grabbed my secondary ward from a pouch on the suit, wondering what the new noise I’d begun to hear in the background meant.
Then I recognized it. It was sirens.