“Nice shot!” the golden monkey said, patting the larger one on the shoulder as they stood.
“Shoulda aimed lower,” The bigger one muttered, sliding backwards. “Shooting downhill threw me off.”
“Good enough for me. We’ll deliver the second half of your fee to tomorrow morning, Mr. Ben.” The two monkeys turned away and began creeping back down the side of the hill.
Ben grunted, using his spyglass to watch the collapsed figure. Whoever it was had gotten nailed right in the center of his chest. There was no surviving that. Was the boy just being modest? Or had he actually been aiming at the boy’s crotch?
The teen monkeys that were with him, crowded around their fellow monkey, most likely making their wailing danger-noises. They should be scavenging his pockets and moving on. It wasn’t exactly safe there anyway.
Humans are so weak.
Ben was peeking through the spyglass when he spotted a wave of green mana coalesce around the corpse an instant before the three other monkeys went limp, collapsing into a boneless pile around it.
A stream of green mana snaked up the side of the hill in a fraction of a second, brilliant enough to bring tears to Ben’s eyes. Someone was sending mana to trace the shot back.
“Shit!” Ben shouted, leaping from his stony perch. No one told me there’d be other magic users!
He was much too late. The desert floor around him exploded with grasping vines. Chips of stone flew everywhere, making shallow cuts in Ben’s thick skin. The vine wrapped around his limbs as he tried to run, thickening and turning to incredibly dense wood.
Ben tore his knife out of his belt with his free hand and brought it down with full force on the vines curling around his other arm.
The blade bit half a centimeter into the wood before it snapped off at the handle, the wood regaining its shape through some miraculous elasticity.
“Fuck!” Ben cursed, struggling in the grasp of the vines. They started to wind around his other hand, rendering him powerless.
This was a worst case scenario. If he was caught he’d have to answer for the deaths of dozens of monkeys. Death would most likely not be swift.
“Children, release me!” Ben shouted at the two monkeys who’d turned to gawk at him from outside the range of the grasping vines.
“Huh. Looks like it didn’t take.” The bigger one said. “Plan B?”
“We can’t just leave him there.” the golden one said. It should have relieved him, but something in the way she said it made Ben’s blood run cold. They wouldn’t dare!
A tiny voice whispered to him that they would dare, that he’d already seen what they could do.
“You’re right about that.” The bigger one said, reloading his crossbow.
“No!” Ben shouted. “Just set me free. I can work for the Dentons! You don’t have to do this!”
“People of all races grovel alike, have you noticed that, Kyle?”
“Eh.” The bigger one said, aiming his crossbow. “You might feel a little pinch.”
In a panic, Ben thrashed in the restraints as hard as he could, and a bolt whizzed by his face, taking a large portion of his ear with it.
The pain calmed Ben down. This is it. I’m most likely going to die.
“Damn, stop wiggling.”
A surge of anger rose up as the bigger one started reloading the crossbow again.
If I’m going to die, I’ll take as many of you with me as I can. Ben thought, reaching out with his senses and mentally poking the evil thing at the center of the valley with every ounce of hopelessness he was experiencing right now. Shock the thing into a rampage.
Maybe it will buy me time to escape in the confusion-
Ben’s thoughts were cut off when the smaller monkey drew her sword and ran forward, jamming it into his throat.
Searing pain enveloped Ben’s consciousness as the golden monkey gave the sword a twist and a jerk, severing his spinal column and his major veins.
“We don’t have time for target practice,” he heard her say, turning away from him without a second glance and grabbing the bigger one’s elbow. The last thing Ben saw was the two of them sprinting away, their superhuman strength seeing them cross the desert in tremendous leaps.
The last sensation Ben had was a strange sliding sensation, as the thing in the center of the valley latched onto his mind and began shucking it like an oyster.
“Edward, what happened!?”
“Are you okay?”
Better than I look.
The teens crowded around Garth, making an already highly uncomfortable situation claustrophobic as well.
I can’t let them see what happens next. Garth filled the air with soporifics, and the three children practically headbutted him, teetering over and slamming their foreheads into his already wounded chest, forcing a groan out of him.
Garth searched his memory, focusing on the instant of trajectory he’d seen before being shot, then figuring out its origin by running the bolt back along its flight path.
Top of that hill, huh?
Garth sent a burst of mana up the hill, intending to catch whoever was up there.
Once that was done, Garth took another look at the bolt in his chest.
“Gah,” Garth coughed up a mouthful of blood as he sat up, ignoring the strange tugging sensation as the bolt came out of the ground.
The damn thing went right through his heart, and clipped his diaphragm, making it hard to breath.
Garth’s backup heart had already kicked into gear, and his secondary oxygenators were working, albeit poorly in the low light.
Thank Beladia for turning this shit down, Garth thought as he inspected the wound. He felt like he got kicked in the chest by a donkey, but he should be in mind-numbing, PTSD-causing, blackout levels of pain.
Grunting, Garth reached an arm behind himself and touched a finger to the bolt head sticking out. It was covered in blood and dirty, dirty, dirt. Garth stripped a rag off of his sleeve and wiped the bolt down as best as he could before yanking it out.
Having a solid object pass through his heart felt wrong, on a whole bunch of levels, but Garth managed to get it out without losing his lunch. Can’t believe all those practice sessions with Cass are actually paying off.
Hmm, Garth thought as he studied the fortune in his hands. Someone was nice enough to send me two pounds of adamantium, express. It’ll definitely help building the lab. I should see if they’re willing to part with any more.
He stood up, coughing the rest of the blood out of his throat as he studied the hill the shot had come from. The rocky hilltop was covered with writhing vines. When Garth squinted his eyes, he thought he could see some kind of figure caught in the spell.
Write that one down as Grasping Vines. It’s a classic.
Garth grunted, momentarily distracted as his ribs began to snap back into place.
He was blinking tears out of his eyes when he noticed a long, thin strand of reddish mana coming from the hilltop, heading to the East, disappearing into the center of the valley.
Some kind of alarm, or S.O.S signal? Garth thought to himself, squinting at the thin stream of mana. In any case, it was probably better to get up there before…
The mana dimmed for a moment, before there was a flash of light.
A cord of mana traced the S.O.S. back to the source, and something about it gave Garth the gut feeling that he should either stand very still, or run very fast…preferably both.
That doesn’t look good. Garth thought as a thin black stream was drawn back through the mana cord like a straw. His gaze followed the mana-straw all the way back to where it disappeared into the ground in the center of the valley.
A monsterous Wiretap about fifteen feet across pulled itself out of the dusty soil, shaking the dirt off itself in a cascade of dust. It seemed to be coming from the biggest mirage, in the very center of the valley, the one Garth had pointed to earlier in the night.
Oh, oh my. A mother’s comforting voice resounded in Garth’s mind as the gigantic Wiretap did a leisurely spin to observe the entire valley. I was wondering what the commotion was about. It’s really quite the infestation, isn’t it?
Crap, Garth thought, sneaking closer to the rest of his group. Giant monsters referring to humans as an infestation was never a good thing. If the thing in the center of the valley saw him move, it didn’t react. There were plenty of other young men and women screaming and running with a lot more vigor, anyway.
Let’s see If we can clean this up a bit. The spider said, its abdomen flipping up. Garth made out a waist-thick cord of solid webbing connected to it before a brilliant beam of white, concentrated starlight began to sweep across the west side of the valley, where most of the students were trying to reach the camp on the other side.
Garth couldn’t see exactly what was happening because the glare was too bright, but wherever the light touched a student, when it moved on, there was no student. A white-hot, molten picture was being scribbled on the side of the hill in liquid glass.
“Welp, that’s bad.” Garth muttered, crouching down and summoning some cover before sending his mana deep into the earth. Can’t let it keep murdering kids.
The creature’s strength biggest strength was its light-beams. No reason not to quash that where he could.
Garth’s cover was a mirrored wood satellite dish covered in bark. In the creature’s lair, Garth’s mana rose from the earth, forcing the growth of firemoss along its walls and ceilings.
“Let’s see what happens,” Garth muttered, glancing at the adamantium bolt in his hands. “It’s been awhile.” Garth set the bolt in the ground beside him and rubbed his hands together, dusting off one of his long-neglected original spells.
Garth caused a stiff wind to rush in from behind him, carrying his spores forward at maybe thirty miles an hour. He limited the scope of the spell, creating less missiles in exchange for making them much bigger.
A dozen ten-foot long wooden arrows grew in thin air, creating a puff of ash as they shed their bark, before orienting on the gigantic spider. The magic propulsion kicked in, and the arrows took off, wanting nothing more than to nestle themselves inside the creature.
It would be really nice if these hit, Garth thought, watching the spider who was humming a meaningless tune as she scoured the people off the side of her valley. But I don’t think it’s gonna happen. These spiders moved fast. Possibly fast enough to dodge his arrows.
As he’d feared, the spider’s eyesight was practically a hundred and eighty degrees. It was humming an aimless tune one second, and the next it was a hundred feet away from where the greatspear-sized arrows had embedded themselves.
Garth adjusted the dish.
“Hey web-breath, why don’t you vaporize someone your own size, magically speaking!” Garth shouted at the top of his lungs.
The spider turned to face him specifically, bringing him into the center of its field of view, until all eight bulbous eyes had an excellent view of him.
A wizard. Came the cheery mom-voice. I haven’t seen one of you in decades, barring that morsel I just ate. You wouldn’t by any chance be willing to jump in my mind-mouth like the other one did, would you?”
“Nah, I’m good,” Garth said, waving his hand dismissively.
The towering spider flipped its abdomen up, and Garth jumped for his shallow satellite dish shaped cover.
The beam of light followed Garth to his cover and burned through the bark surrounding the mirror-wood.
For an instant, the spideress got a taste of her own medicine, the reflected light burning out an eye in the fraction of a second it took her to turn it off.
A howl of rage sounded from the other side of the satellite.
The creature’s lair caught fire as the firemoss self-ignited, and the screech of anger redoubled. The intense heat spread through the entire lair, ruining every inch of the spider’s solar collector and rendering its beam useless.
Or, it should have.
A beam of white light bored through Garth’s mirrorwood and took his right arm off at the shoulder, turning it to ash before he could feel pain. Garth lunged to the side before the rest of him was ashed.
How the hell?
Garth risked a quick glance out and saw the spider holding her legs wide behind her, with a sheet of light-collecting fabric held between them. Two other legs scratched her butt, detaching several eight-inch long hairs. Eight inch long hairs that would emit a terrifying amount of light and heat.
Oh. That’s not fair, Garth thought as she prepared to shoot another laser at him.