The Thing That Eats moved with all of Andronicus’ power to punch her again. In training with supers, you learn to recognize powerful punches, the ones that move with tons of force behind them.
The Thing’s punch had all of that. Its arm blurred in the dark, the whole of its body moving with it.
Amy knew it too—because somehow, even though physically she wasn’t in its league, she moved enough that the blow only grazed her lower chest.
The problem was, of course, that with tons of force behind your punch, it didn’t matter whether you hit a vital spot or not. Your punch was a hand grenade, turning anything it hit to jelly and anything next to it into slightly less jellylike broken stuff.
Amy spun off to the side, losing her spear in the process and falling on to the grass.
I took comfort in the fact that her armor didn’t seem to be dented and that she had the same number of limbs. Then I tapped my palm, powering up the laser.
Well, I tried to. The HUD said “Communication Error. Repair in process.”
Had I missed that? Or, had something new gone wrong? I had no time to figure that out.
I activated the killbots.
“Communication Error. Repair in process.”
“Communication Error. Repair in process.”
The Thing That Eats jumped, landing next to the rock. It raised Andronicus’ right arm, getting ready to smash the rock with all the force a member of the Cabal’s elite soldiers could muster.
I started to run even though I wouldn’t reach it in time. I had to try though because I was the only chance we had of keeping the vampires out.
Except I was wrong about that.
As Andronicus’ arm reached the height of its windup, lightning filled my vision. I saw almost nothing else, hearing stuttering cracks of thunder.
Electricity arced across The Thing That Eats’ body without hitting the rock and outlined the shapes of the vampires on the other side of the ward.
Vampires, it turned out, did not handle lightning well. Whether or not it killed them permanently like fire or sunlight in the classic vampire stories, it wasn’t good for them. Their skins blackened and turned to dust, leaving only charred skeletons.
A few tried to run, but Vaughn had made a circle of burning vampire death that was too wide for the vampires to escape before they too became charred bone bits.
“Gonna see if I can make it to Bloodmaiden,” Vaughn said over the comm. He was breathing heavily as if he’d run a marathon. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him drop from the roof, slowed by, but not flying on the wind.
He stumbled toward her. I said, “Good, but if anyone’s listening, I think she needs medical help. Badly.”
Kayla’s voice came over the comm. “How badly?”
Vaughn said, “Like, intensive care in a hospital bad.”
They said more, but I’d stopped listening. I was running toward The Thing That Eats. Lee’s essence had melded with the ward Amy made. I could punch it. Maybe I could pull on the power more deliberately and my punches would do more with it.
The bloodgem felt warm against my skin inside the suit. I wasn’t sure if it was warmer than normal or even if it would be a good thing if it were, but I kept trying anyway.
The Thing That Eats saw me coming. It stood next to the rock, not even trying to destroy it. Andronicus’ jeans had been charred, but his flesh looked new and pink.
It turned to face me, eyes widening as it noticed (at about the same time I did) that the red glow that covered me when it attacked me covered me now. Moving slowly, as if it were sore, it began to run toward me, hands held at chest level and open.
I pulled a flash grenade from my utility belt and threw it to the ground in front of The Thing when I was about twenty feet away.
The Thing tried to cover its eyes as the grenade exploded, but didn’t entirely succeed. Even after the light disappeared, it blinked, holding out its arms in a defensive position to block my blows.
That would have worked if The Thing hadn’t been nearly blind and had a smaller head.
I stepped to the side of its arms and punched it in the nose. That rocked it backward. It didn’t fall over, but that was only barely true.
Plus, I drew blood. The Thing’s nose had snapped when I hit it, and bled from both nostrils.
My second punch hit it in the side of the head, leaving a long red line on its cheek. That did knock it over, but not for very long.
It pulled itself up, growling, and staring at me. The nose had stopped bleeding and it muttered in some harsh sounding language I didn’t recognize or understand.
After all this, had I finally made it angry?
Its punch came so quickly that I never saw it, just felt it as I flew backward into the grass, landing away from the trees and in a yard between the two nearest houses. My HUD showed me that at least twenty people were watching from nearby windows.
Meanwhile, an error message said, “Damage 20% irreparable.”
I wasn’t going to take it down like this. At this rate, it would destroy my armor first. I’d pulled on the bloodgem already, getting more out of it than I’d have expected. I tried for more, concentrating on my hands.
I knew I should be getting up, but at the same time, I could feel something shifting and I knew somehow that it wasn’t in my body.
The Thing leaped for me, mouth open, rows of white teeth visible. I managed to push myself sideways, almost losing whatever I was doing with the bloodgem, but not quite.
It didn’t hit me, landing a few feet to my left. I, in turn, made it halfway to my feet as it stepped toward me, pulling its right arm backward as it prepared to punch me.
It was an easy tell to read and I should have been moving away, but I could feel that whatever I’d started was about to fall into place.
I decided to take the punch and hope my armor held.
It hurt, and I flew backward again, this time into the street in front of the houses, but whatever had been about to happen did. Overpowering the pain in my gut, a warm feeling flooded my body, running through my arm and ending in my hand.
I was holding something. I pushed myself to my feet, ignoring the, “Damage 40% irreparable,” message in my HUD, and looking at my hand.
I held a sword. Four and a half feet long with a charcoal gray straight blade, it looked like something from the cover of a fantasy novel.
It made sense, though. How many times had I seen Lee pull blades out of nowhere?
Oh, and one more important detail. The blade was on fire.