I took the sword in both hands, holding it ready in front of me.
As I’d come to my feet, sword in hand, The Thing That Eats jumped from the grass between the houses toward me. I jumped sideways, landing twenty feet to the side of where I’d been. The Thing That Eats landed a few feet past where I’d been standing. The street cracked under its feet and bits flew through the air.
It had been aiming for me, hoping to hit and then kill me while I was disoriented.
At least that was my guess. Given how hard it hit the street, it might have been hoping to kill me outright.
If that were true, he didn’t follow up. He could have charged me as soon as he hit the ground, but instead he stared at the sword.
I held it between the two of us, beginning to suspect that if he wasn’t going to charge me, I needed to charge him.
Its mouth twisted. “Where did you get that? You aren’t him.”
I didn’t bother to reply. If The Thing had recognized Lee’s essence in the sword, it knew where Lee was, and that could lead to the literal end of the world. It had to die or everyone and everything I cared about would be destroyed.
Swords were Lee’s favorite weapons and he’d trained me in the basics even though they were irrelevant to being the Rocket.
Between that and the Rocket suit’s strength, I closed the gap between us in one step and the slash of a sword.
It cut into The Thing’s chin, slowed, but not stopped by the bone. The Thing made a low grunt combined with a sob as the tip slashed all the way through.
On another level, maybe whatever level Lee had been talking about when he’d told me about the Live or Destroy factions and how his people could sense my connection to him, I felt something too. As the sword bit into its face, I knew the sword had hurt it.
Blood seeped down its chin, and the air felt thicker, as if it carried something more. I wasn’t sure what to call it, but the words “soul” and “essence” felt right.
Not that that mattered. Whatever damage I caused at levels of reality that I could only barely sense, I needed to get in closer if I hoped to end it.
It didn’t cooperate, turning, it leapt off the street and back toward the rock—which also meant that it would land near Amy and Vaughn.
I pressed the button that activated the rockets and found myself in the air before I had time to remember that they no longer worked—except they did now. I’d missed that message.
I shot after The Thing, landing less than twenty feet away from it on the grass and another twenty feet away from Amy and Vaughn.
It pulled itself up to its full height, and said, “Wait,” as best it could.
I didn’t listen, remembering that it lied all the time. I rushed at it, the sword’s flame burning, and The Thing backed away.
I didn’t let it, jumping forward while slashing at it, the blade sticking a good four inches into its cheek and sinking into a thicker or tougher section of jaw.
It slowed, or maybe even stuck for only a moment, but The Thing twisted, throwing me sideways. I fell to the ground hitting the grass in front of the small wood where the rock sat.
The sword lay on the ground next to me.
I felt more of its being loosed into the air, but The Thing didn’t hesitate. Weaker, but still dangerous, it stepped over the sword and stomped on me, pushing me into the ground. The fact that the soil had some give saved me. Despite the strength in Andronicus’ legs, The Thing only managed bring the suit to “Damage 55% irreparable.”
I pushed myself partway up—out of the hole, but on my hands and knees, a terrible defensive position.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see it pulling back it’s leg to kick or stomp me again. I reached out to grab the sword, hoping I’d be able to, fearing that a kick might shatter my armor or my arm.
The Thing roared, but the kick never came.
More of the creature’s essence escaped its body. I grabbed the sword from the ground and stood, finding Amy standing to the side of The Thing on my right. She’d jabbed into the creature’s mouth with her spear, and appeared to be ready to stab it in the eye.
Amy didn’t appear to be in the greatest shape herself. The red, gemlike accents on her armor glowed less than usual, and she wasn’t standing straight up. Either the limp wouldn’t let her or whatever damage she’d taken to her chest made it difficult.
“I know what threatens your family back in your home universe,” it began, continuing even as she said, “What?” Not answering, it glanced over at me, “and I’ll keep the traitor’s location secret—just let me live!”