At the same time, lights came on in nearby houses. Hovering above the fog, I noticed something that I hadn’t before. The bigger houses that stood next to the four-lane road were all different from each other. On the narrower streets behind them stood identical, white two-story houses that didn’t quite look Western though I was at a loss as to why.
Thanks to the light, I could see that they were white boxes with green shingled roofs. Even if I couldn’t imagine them in Michigan, there wasn’t anything especially unusual about them.
Pushing aside speculations about the manufacturing process that led to them and what it might say about Turkmenistan’s culture and economy, I concentrated on the glowing, red ward I’d pulled out of my pouch.
Wishing Amy hadn’t nixed my idea for “wardbots,” I lowered myself into the rapidly expanding circle of fog around The Thing That Eats. Its legs were already visibly healing.
As it began to push itself up, Cassie shot it again, a red beam lancing out of the fog to burn through one thigh and then another.
The Thing screamed, trying to dodge the beam, but only succeeding in falling.
Cassie didn’t stop with simply shooting through the legs, she cut them nearly off. At the speed that they were healing, I couldn’t blame her. I might even thank her except that the charred, blackened cuts were disturbing to look at and even more disturbing when specks of pink began to appear on the Thing’s burnt flesh.
Ignoring it, I landed near the Thing and dropped my spare ward in front of me. At about the same time Rod stepped out of the fog, a two-story nightmare in black and red. He dropped his spare ward off to the side of mine.
The Thing That Eats flinched.
At about that moment Izzy, Jaclyn, Amy and Cassie appeared, walking out of the fog, or in the case of Izzy and Amy, landing near us and dropping their wards in a rough circle around The Thing.
It seemed to recognize what was happening, and tried to get away, pulling itself up with its arms and across the grass toward the edge of the circle.
Amy said words in a language I didn’t recognize except that it sounded almost like English, but not quite, and a red wall appeared around the circle. She glanced over at the rest of us. “It’s going to take a few more minutes for me to pull its essence out of the man. It’s going to have time to talk. Remember what I told you. Don’t listen to it.”
Its eyes swept over the group of us, and it nodded slowly. “I’m sure she’s correct. The Bloodmaiden can always be trusted in these matters even one as young as this one. How did she come to be here, I wonder? Did something go wrong back home? Is your kingdom in danger, or perhaps destroyed? If that’s true, remember, I’ve been here for hundreds of years now. It’s not my fault. It’s yours.”
Amy didn’t say anything even if the muscles around her mouth tightened. She kept on muttering in the language I’d heard earlier, sometimes making hand motions.
The Thing smiled. On a head that was wider than most people’s bodies, it felt disquieting to watch that smile slowly expand, hinting at normal human teeth, but many, many more of them.
Vaughn’s voice came over the comm. “What’s up with Bloodmaiden? She switched off her comm.”
I spoke over the line. “Remember the briefing? The wards worked, and she’s doing the final spell that separates the Thing from its host.”
“No shit?” Tension left his voice. “That’s great. I was worried. She’s got a little time, but not much. I’ve surrounded the jet with a cloud and covered the ground around you with the thickest fog I can manage for miles. Cops are coming, but they’re traveling at, like, two miles per hour, but it’s a straight road, you know? I can’t slow them down completely. Gravity Star and the Mystic will do their best, but someone saw you guys. They’ve got tanks and a few guys in what the jet tagged as leftover Soviet powered armor. Those guys might be able to see through fog.”
I glanced over at Amy. She was still gesturing and muttering. I didn’t see any sign that she’d be done soon.
“Got it,” I said. “We’ll do what we have to.”
Izzy, meanwhile, was slowly turning around. When she stopped, she said, “He’s right. They’re coming, and it’s going to be close. The men in powered armor aren’t coming any faster than the tanks, though, and I don’t think theirs is in as good shape as yours.” She gave me a nod. “I think we’ve got a good shot at getting out of here without a fight.”
The Thing turned toward her. “Are you willing to take that chance. For all that they’re trained fighters, in this instance they’re innocents. Any of you could kill them easily and accidentally. Are you willing to murder to catch me?”
Izzy eyed the creature. “It wouldn’t be murder.” Her fist clenched.
If Izzy broke the circle, it would get out. I wasn’t sure what tack to take, but I had to say something…
Jaclyn put her hand on Izzy’s shoulder. “You’re going to have to do better than that. We’re not going to listen to you.”
Izzy looked over her shoulder at Jaclyn and nodded.
I let out a breath, grateful that Jaclyn hadn’t been sucked in. She was wrong about one thing though—we were all listening.