Copyright © 2016 by D'Artagnon
To Die Will Be an Awfully Big Adventure.
Andy had a front row seat for the Rage show. As three heartbeats passed, and Sammy didn't get up, move or even twitch where he fell in the open trailer loaded with cut logs, and the boys began to realize just how strong their opponents truly were, Andy heard a growing growl from Tom. Turning, he saw the oldest of his companions rising from a crouch, his whole body trembling with fury, with Rage.
Tom let out a long keening howl, dropping pitch twice as he sang his frustration and anger and sadness. The Hound in front of Tom surged while the werewolf sang, landing three punches to the wolf boy's chest that seemed to have no effect other than to push his feet back a few inches in the dirt-pale scattering of trodden leaves covering the last grasses of fall. A fourth punch sailed in from the Hound, but the Wolf had had enough. His werewolf paw shot out, wrapping the incoming fist and gripping it like a baseball.
Tom felt his Rage, felt his power and felt no fear. And he let it all out.
He wrenched hard on the Hound's fist, twisting the arm around so his wrist was up, raised that arm and with a surge of motion almost too fast to see, spun in place, his left claw reaching out to rake the Hound's face from the crown of his head to his collarbone, werewolf claws digging into ceramic plate, metallic mesh and the flesh and bone underneath. The impact sent the Hound sprawling, his head covering flying off in a ripped, ragged mess. But Tom kept hold on the fist in his other paw, wrenching it hard back up as the Hound fell, a loud, sickening crunching sound indicating that Tom had snapped both the forearm bones in the Hound's arm.
Incredibly, the Hound made no sound other than a muffled whoosh of air as it impacted the ground. No cry of pain, no grunt of exertion. Just the sound of air and impact and the snap-crackle-pop of a radius and ulna making right angles of their normal straight lines.
Mindlessly, lost in the Rage, Tom dove at the downed Hound and sat on the creature's knees. He slashed repeatedly with both clawed paws at the Hound's midsection, ripping and clawing the armor away, digging into the soft squishy parts in the center. Gore flew as Tom, acting on instinct and Rage, eviscerated the Hound under him, even going so deep into the blood lust as to bite into the Hound's chest and ripping out its left lung, shaking his head to rip the organ further.
The Hound under Tom, though, had a partner. And the partner quickly dismissed Andy as a dangerous target, opting to try to attack Tom from behind. A spring loaded blade, wide and about as long as the Hound's forearm locked into place with an evil sliding hiss and snap. The Hound moved in to spear Tom through the back while he was busy making the insides of the Hound under him come out.
Andy wasn't about to allow that to happen. He reached into his jeans, found his hidden knife and pulled it out into the open, flicking the tactical blade open with a snap of the wrist. He rushed at the Hound and lunged in with the knife, looking to bury the point into the Hound's armpit, rending that arm and its weapon useless.
But the Hound had other plans, and it spun backwards to the left as Andy closed in and hammered a backfist punch to the side of the Fox's head. Andy barely managed to roll with the impact, but the blow knocked him to his knees, dazed. He fell forward on both hands, trying to shake off the dizziness of the blow, but his body was slow to recover. And somewhere along the way down, he'd dropped his knife.
He'd never been struck so hard. His vision clouded with dark, splotchy shapes as he tried to force himself to stand, his balance still wonky at best. Looking around, Andy saw the Hound stare down at him, obviously assessing Andy's threat level, before it took two rapid steps in his direction and launched a boot at Andy's head.
The Fox wasn't fully recovered from the hit to his head, but he wasn't slowed enough that he couldn't avoid the kick. He rolled backwards, ass over teakettle, and pushed up to his feet in a gymnastic move he'd practiced since he was ten, and a she. This gave Andy enough distance to bend his legs and bunch his weight for a leap clear over the advancing Hound's head. The creature tried to reach for him, but the Fox managed to pull a twisting move in the air, coming to land behind the Hound by a good four feet.
A quick glance at the place he'd started from showed where the knife was. It lay on the ground, partly obscured by grass, closer to the Hound than to the Fox's position. But the Hound was still turned. He had an opportunity. Andy took it. Diving forward, he reached for the knife and instantly curled over his shoulder, performing a parkour roll. The knife handle slipped into his hands in a backwards grip, the blade tucked along Andy's wrist as he came out of the roll. On instinct, the Fox immediately dove behind a nearby bush, feeling the swish of the Hound's forearm blade pass where his neck had been just seconds before. As he came up behind the bush, he could see the Hound was confused. He'd lost visual contact with Andy and his head swiveled around to try to locate him.
Andy was no fool. Directly confronting this beast of technology and muscle was not going to work. He needed to be stealthy, he needed to be sly. Out think it as well as out fight it. Going against the creature's brute strength wasn't going to get him anything but another rung bell.
He faded into the underbrush, trying to circle around the Hound, planning his next move. As he padded around the bush, careful not to step on twigs, he caught sight of the scene across from him. Tom was still savaging the Hound under him, despite the creature still struggling. Josh was on his back, holding his legs in pain. Kyle was rushing at the Hound that had booted Sammy like a field goal kicker splitting the uprights. And Sammy…
Still no motion from the Kat where he lay, in the back of the trailer.
Josh felt the heavy, metered tread of the Hound he'd attacked coming near. It was impossible not to, even with the aching in his legs and hips. He turned to look at the creature and realized, it had ejected a blade of some kind from his forearm coverings. Josh felt a panic come over him. Seeing the weapon and the Hound's ominous approach was enough to force him to use his fear as motivation.
"Don't let them catch you on the ground," Andy had warned him. His strength and power were in the air. Josh gathered his wits and pushed, feeling his power manifest. With a burst of dust rising around him, Josh shot into the air, a heartbeat ahead of the Hound's large stomping feet.
But not out of the range of the Hound's grasping hand. It snagged a meaty grip around Josh's ankle. He screamed in pain as the creature tried to haul him back down, but Josh resisted. Briefly. The pain spiked, and the creature twisted his grip, shifting its hips and shoulders to haul Josh back out of the air. With a surge of strength, the Hound threw Josh to the ground, hard, eliciting a grunt of agony from the boy. His flight power faltered, spraying random puffs of dirt as he tried to wrench himself free.
"Leggo!" Josh screamed. He kicked at the Hound's gloved hand. It was like kicking a rock. The Hound rolled his grip in the other direction, trying to flip Josh onto his stomach, rearing back the weapon arm for a strike to the Hawk's back. Josh cried out in pain, his voice screeching high like a girl's. He put his foot directly on the gloved grip holding his ankle, feeling the grip grow suddenly stronger, squeezing with vice-like force.
Concentrate! Josh thought to himself and pushed again with his power, focusing it through his foot. With a burst of loose sand and leaves flying up, Josh felt more pain through his leg. The resistance from the Hound's grip put strain on his already aching foot. He heard and felt something in his ankle crack, loudly. Pain flooded his senses and he screamed.
But it also forced a surge of power through his body. The blast of energy poured through Josh's feet and pushed the Hound back, completely breaking its grip. Josh shot into the sky, still screaming in agony. His ankle throbbed as he gained altitude. His hands reached to his shoe and he found his ankle at an odd angle. As he circled over the fight, he felt his ankle physically pop back into alignment. He gasped as the pain dissipated to a dull ache. Looking down, he saw the foot back in the right position.
And beyond that, he saw down into the field. He saw the Hound that attacked him keeping eyes on him. Well, at least keeping its head pointed in his direction. He saw Tom going absolutely agro on one Hound, and Andy avoiding getting tagged by another Hound.
And he saw Sammy, lying so still, his tiger body laying unnaturally in the trailer. From this angle, he couldn't see any movement, any breathing. He couldn't be sure if he saw blood or not.
Kyle entered the fray like a boy possessed. He charged at the Hound that had booted Sammy and swung the ax in his hand, blade edge first, for the center of the Hound's back. It hit and skittered off some kind of plate hidden in the Hound's dark body suit. There was a distinct clink sound and the sense that something had broken under the ax, but the blade didn't penetrate. The Hound, however, became fully aware of Kyle and turned to confront him. Its hand snatched out with impossible speed and knocked the ax completely out of Kyle's grasp. The swing had stung his hand, but Kyle was used to taking impacts. He shrugged it off and went body-on to the Hound, hoping to use his speed and wide stance to leverage the thing off its feet.
The Hound had other ideas. Kyle and the Hound grappled, and Kyle became quite suddenly aware that the thing probably had forty pounds on him, and apparently it was all hard, dense, packed on muscle. The thing planted a foot far behind itself and was able to resist Kyle trying to wrestle it to one side or the other. Kyle used a hockey move and stepped in close to the Hound, twisting with his hip, shoulders, arm and knees, trying to trip the creature over.
It wasn't budging. In fact, it shoved hard and Kyle felt himself sliding in the loose leaves and dying grass scattered about the clearing. Kyle switched tactics, trying to pull the thing his way to get it off balance. It surged backwards against his attempt, and then the Hound made its own move. With a flash of movement, it pulled its right arm back for a clubbing punch. Kyle saw the move, registered a change in the thing's balance and struck. He raised his knee into the Hound's crotch, hard.
The Hound didn't react. Kyle's eyes flew open in surprise when his knee contacted soft flesh but didn't seem to do any damage at all. Then the punch fell. Then Kyle fell.
He sat down, almost in slow motion, it seemed. The blow landed on his shoulder, right were the trapezius muscle slides into the neck. His vision burst with black and red splotches as he sat down, the air rushing from his lungs. Kyle's body felt like he'd been hit by a Zamboni instead of just a punch, and he struggled to keep from laying full out as his butt contacted the soft, cold ground beneath him. He looked up to see the Hound swinging its left arm back to duplicate the punch the right had landed. He watched it move in slow motion and realized that he often saw things happen this way on the ice during games.
And then it happened. He knew exactly what the Hound was going to do next. It would bring that left fist down on the opposing shoulder, trying to break his collarbones, and then it would launch a kick to his face. He wasn't sure how he knew this, but it suddenly seemed so perfectly real, logical, to him. He knew what it was going to do, and he knew what he could do to stop it.
With a quickness even he didn't know he had, Kyle spun in place off his butt, his legs spearing out to either side of the Hound's left leg. As he twisted, his feet locked behind the Hound's knee, putting his weight and sudden motion behind the move. The Hound, still balanced upright to bring down its attack to his shoulder, was completely surprised. Its knee collapsed and it tumbled to the ground. Kyle kept his rotation and managed to roll up behind the Hound, keeping its knee bent and locked between his ankles. Glancing around he saw the axe was only a few feet away. Far enough he wouldn't be able to use it any time soon, but close enough to want it desperately.
The Hound shifted under Kyle, trying to budge him off. He struggled to keep his hold on the creature's leg, but it was not easy. The Hound planted both its gloved hands on the ground and pushed up, to full arm extension. Kyle no longer had the ground under him helping to pin the Hound's leg in place and was shrugged off. And not in the direction of the axe. Without thinking, Kyle sprang from his feet and landed on the Hound's back, his arms trying to grapple around the thing's head gear. The head covering seemed to come off like a ski mask under Kyle's hands. He got a good look at what was underneath.
And he nearly puked on the spot. Kyle backed away, taking several steps before realizing what he was seeing. It shook him to the core. As the Hound stood, Kyle's horror mounted. What he saw simply could not be possible.
"Brad?!" Kyle exclaimed, recognizing the mangled face that turned his way. "Brad Gilbert? But.. but you were hurt in that car crash three years ago... I played against you in the Y league when we were kids. You had some kinda spinal cord injury. How?"
But "Brad" showed no expression. His head was devoid of hair of any kind, even eyebrows. His exposed skin had a waxy, reddish look, like it was sunburned or had been too close to a roaring fire. In fact, Kyle wondered if he'd been burned in the accident that had supposedly crippled him. But that was years ago. If this was Brad, Kyle reasoned, he'd not only grown tremendously, he'd somehow healed up a broken spine.
But the look of Brad's flesh wasn't just waxy and red and angry looking. There was a deadness to the skin, something Kyle couldn't put his finger on. It was like the skin hadn't seen daylight in a long time. Almost a grayish undertone to the redness. Odd bulges in the skin popped out as well, like box shapes, tubes and things that looked like wiring just beneath the surface.
But the thing that chilled Kyle the most was the eyes. The red glow that seemed to come from with the eyes, the way there was almost no color to the irises, like they were bleached. And the fixed stare, locked in place. Steady, unwavering, unblinking. Cold. Bloodshot. Predatory.
"Brad" made a quick up and down motion with his right arm and a shaft of edged steel popped out of the forearm plate over his right fist. The edge caught the light and glinted with silver menace, the point almost quivering as the blade reached full extension. With a determined gait, Brad took off towards Kyle, bringing the arm with the blade around in a tight, spearing arc.
Kyle was used to having to deal with opponents with long objects in their hands, however, and he stepped back out of the blade's first pass. He had to quickly duck as "Brad" made a return slash, wildly swinging for Kyle's throat. Time seemed to slow again for Kyle and he felt certain that the Hound that had been Brad would try to grab him with the free hand. Kyle anticipated the attack, and leapt, going a lot further up than he'd thought possible. And then he came down behind Brad, landing lightly.
Kyle suddenly knew what Brad was going to do again. It was like he could read the movements in Brad's body, sense the way energy flowed inside him. And Kyle knew where not to be. Brad spun, slashing out with the forearm blade. Kyle stepped back and then stepped back in close as Brad pivoted to follow his own sweeping attack. Kyle launched a punch direct to Brad's jaw. Without the armor plates in the head gear, it was just like punching a normal person. Except that when Kyle hit Brad's face, full force, it didn't feel like a normal person's jaw under his knuckles. The punch dislocated the jaw, and the skin felt slimy. Loose.
And though the jaw was obviously out of position, in a way that would normally have made Kyle cringe, "Brad" didn't seem to register it. No pain reaction, no breathing change, not even a snap of the neck with the impact. Kyle stared in horror as he saw that his punch, while causing some damage, hadn't made an impact to "Brad" at all.
"What the hell are you?" Kyle breathed out, shocked. Brad's only response was to reach up and grab Kyle by the throat, lifting the hockey boy off his feet in one smooth move. Kyle's hands shot to the Hound's wrist, trying to simultaneously get his own weight off the Hound's grasping glove and break the thing's inhuman grip on his windpipe. The thing that was once Brad Gilbert brought its right arm out to the side, low and just away from its hip, preparing to spear Kyle through the belly.
Kyle kicked and struggled, but to no avail. The Hound's strength was vastly superior to his own, it seemed, and it felt no pain. None of Kyle's attacks on the wrist and forearm holding him up had any noticeable effect. He struggled on, seeing the Hound preparing to gut him like a fish.
The Hound shot its blade forward and Kyle managed to get a foot up to block the strike, the bottom of his shoe landing squarely on the inside of the Hound's wrist, kicking the attack aside. The Hound tried again, bringing Kyle closer, this time. But Kyle managed to get both feet on the Hound's wrist and used that leverage to push away from the gripping left hand. But only for a moment. Kyle gulped air in that fraction of a second and felt the Hound shake him by the throat, trying to disorient him. Kyle tried to swing his feet against the Hound's chest, but couldn't get a purchase.
Then the blade struck true. It speared up into Kyle's gut, just below the line of his ribcage, sinking into soft supple muscle and tender, warm skin, driving into the tissues and organs that lay under his ab muscles. The point of the blade stuck out through the back of his shirt, the fabric soaking in red. His body sagged on the spike of metal, hanging in agony, not quite limp, tension and pain and the realization of his own death written on his face, in his body positioning, even in the wind lifting his hair back.
And then Kyle snapped back to the present. The image stayed in his mind, but he realized it hadn't happened yet. Somehow, he was seeing things just moments before they happened. Like he had his whole life with hockey. But the sense of the immediacy of his visions was never as potent, as visceral as he felt it in the Hound's shaking grip on his throat. With this sudden intuitive understanding, Kyle chose to make this "soon-to-be" never happen.
The blade arm moved, Kyle recognizing the same pull back and thrust from his precognitive flash. He saw it, and reacted. His hands wrapped around the grasping glove and the forearm underneath, going for a leverage grip instead of trying to wrench the hand loose. He surged through his abdominal muscles, tucking his legs up and wrapping them around the Hound's upper arm, pulling himself up and out of the blade's path.
The Hound had to take a step back, widening its stance at the sudden shift of mass. The blade arm went out wide in an effort to maintain balance. That's when Kyle struck.
"Sorry, Brad," Kyle whispered, wrenching his body weight around and back under the Hound's arm. His leg shot out and crashed heel first into the already dislocated jaw, forcing the Hound's head to snap up and back. The creature pitched forwards and Kyle tucked as he hit the ground. Using the curve of his back and his legs to surge up and pitch the Hound, Kyle finally managed to get his throat free of the Hound's grip. It sailed ten feet from Kyle, fetching up short against a thick tree stump.
The Hound sagged awkwardly against the stump and remained in place. Kyle rested a moment, his chest heaving for air. Something in his neck felt like it was switching around, moving into a more normal position. From his back, Kyle could see Joshua flying around, preparing to make a run on the other Hound. Kyle looked around from the ground, trying to remember where the ax was.
"Gamma to Alpha, I've lost control of unit three. It's not responding to my commands. And unit four is showing total failure on the spinal stimulator control."
"What does that mean?" Johnson asked, changing his aim to the werewolf, the closest of the boys to his own position guarding the doctor. He risked a look over his shoulder to see the doctor was inching his way towards the trailer, where the tiger-changed boy landed. "Doc!" Johnson called out, moving to keep the crazy scientist nearby.
"What does what mean?" the old man said, peering over the edge of the trailer. Inside, Sammy's tiger form lay sprawled out, his limbs unnaturally canted, parts of his body elevated by the piles of logs underneath him.
"Unit three isn't responding to commands. Four reports total spinal stimulator failure. What does that mean? What is our mission situation?"
"In chess terms, we are down a knight and a bishop," the old man said, chuckling softly. He reached in to put his gnarled hand on Sammy's limp tail. "This is amazing! I wonder what tissues altered to create this adaptation. I cannot wait to get this specimen to the lab." His eyes shown with sadistic glee.
"Hey! Focus!" Johnson called out. "We are about to be outnumbered! Your Hounds are failing!"
"Bah! The stimulator has multiple backups. It should be back online soon. As for number three not responding, it has internal protocols. It will not change its mission until it has accomplished it." He looked around at Johnson, who was keeping an eye on where Tom was still pulling internal organs out of Hound two. As he watched, the Hound's right arm suddenly shot straight up and its weapon speared into the werewolf's chest, slipping right under the rib-cage. The werewolf suddenly stopped as the weapon pierced him, his back arching.
"Ha!" the old man barked. "You see? Even their greatest strength is no match for my science!"
And then, with a surge of anger, forcing himself past the pain, Tom sank on the blade, leaning forward, and bit the Hound's head off at the neck with one loud, snapping chomp. The head bounced high, skittered across the ground and rolled to a stop halfway between Tom and the doctor, staring up at his creator as fluids dripped out of its severed neck.
"You were saying?" Johnson deadpanned. Tom rocked backward, rolling to one side and fell flat on his back. The blade slid out of the werewolf boy's body with a sickening, sucking sound. Stamos kept his eyes on the Hound head staring at him from behind its sensor mesh head gear, as if transfixed.
Burning pain seared through Tom with every breath. He strained to inhale, frothy red sputum dribbling on the side of his muzzle as he struggled to breathe. His elbows dug into the ground under him, his chest heaving with agony. Something about that blade was almost melting his insides. He couldn't feel the healing starting. The previous wounds he'd taken had healed almost instantly, but this stab wound wasn't. He ground his fangs in frustration, feeling more blood slip out of the gash.
Tom rolled to his belly, seeking to protect his own soft underbelly with his ribs, legs and arms, hoping the healing would kick in. He tried to lift his head to look around and felt his vision swim. With a loud exhalation, he collapsed onto his chest, unable to move, feeling suddenly so very, very weak.
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