The chimera was, frankly, pretty damn massive from up close. Not as big as it used to be when it was in its gorilla-guise, but it was still damn big. It lost some of its bulk due to the lost limb (as far as I could tell from a glance it still had about the biomass of a human in it before it was torn off), but considering how honking huge it was before; the difference in size was only academic.
More importantly though, this was the first time I could observe its transformation happening in real time. Its hind-legs were growing both longer and more muscular, its torso was elongating, its shoulders moved to allow its head to take a forward-looking position and the front legs were forming into digitigrade limbs with clawed paws right in front of my eyes. In less than fifteen seconds the creature began to resemble a giant feline with a misshapen dinosaur-head and a thick lizard’s tail.
I kept staring at the metamorphosis in a daze until my higher brain functions finally got a handle on the situation and asked a very simple yet profound question: ‘Why are you standing still and gawking like a slack-jawed idiot instead of running as far as your legs can carry you?!’
I… had no good comeback to that. So I roused myself and followed my own advice, dashing around the corner of the building like the devil himself was on my tail. Normally this would have been the time when I thought something snappy about how ‘it might not have been the devil, but definitely the next worst thing,’ but considering my track-record when it came to taunting the narrative, I decided to think of more immediately life-saving things instead. Not to mention, considering the company I kept I wasn’t entirely certain there wasn’t an actual devil in this world, and he might just find the irony delicious enough to show up just to spite me. At this point it would have only mildly surprised me.
Now, where was I? Oh, right. Running for my life while screaming from the top of my lungs. The latter was something that my lower monkey-brain decided on without asking my higher functions first, so I promptly put an end to it. It was embarrassing and wholly counterproductive, as my lungs could have been put to much better use by pumping delicious, life-saving oxygen to my leg muscles.
Speaking of which, I winced as my feet slapped painfully against the pavement with every adrenaline-fueled step. I was a good thirty meters from the stairs leading up to the entrance, and while it came from a gut-level instead of a more sophisticated logical response, I had no better idea at the time than to get inside. It carried the threat of being cornered indoors, but I doubted it would have been any worse than trying to wrestle the Chimera in the open and without a weapon.
I dashed towards the doors with all my might, only allowing myself a quick peek backward. I nearly stumbled when I realized the creature was literally behind my back, and my instincts kicked in a split-second later, forcing me to dive to the side as the creature’s meaty paw sliced through the space my torso was situated in just a moment ago. It must not have been used to its quadrupedal form yet, as the miss threw it off-balance. It stumbled and rolled on its back, the spear making a painful scraping noise as it hit the pavement, but a moment later the Chimera was back on its feet again.
I let out a groan and concentrated forwards again while trying to ignore how quickly the distance I gained was decreasing once again. Speaking of forwards, I absently noted that the area of the stairs was littered with shards of safety-glass. The source of said shards also became obvious as I came a little closer; the main doors of the building were broken into smithereens. At the time I considered that a good thing, as it meant an easier entry. In retrospect, I concluded it was probably caused by the girls. The last time I was in the Purple Zone, the automatic doors wouldn’t open on their own, so I figured they must have taken a more direct approach.
Then I glanced back and my stomach sunk into a dark pit. The Chimera was upon me again, and this time its gait told me it wasn’t going to comically stumble on the last leap. Time slowed to a crawl as I was trying to figure out a way to avoid my steadily approaching and seemingly inevitable fate as monster-chowder. I glanced forwards again and saw that the now busted entrance was only about ten meters from where I felt I was frozen in place mid-dash. It might have been on the other side of the moon for all the good it did to me though, as I wasn’t going to reach it anyway.
And then it happened. It was another of those head-slapping, self-berating, utterly embarrassing moments when the blatantly obvious hit me like a runaway tow-truck. It was the doors that did the trick. Or the lack thereof. It reminded me once again of the first time I ran into them and how astoundingly stupid I had to be not to remember it until now.
“I can teleport!” I cried defiantly as the creature lunged at me. I swiftly recalled the feeling and it came to me with laughable ease. It started with a moment of violent nausea, my vision dissolving like an oil-painting under a torrent of paint-thinner. I pictured the hall just on the other side of those broken doors that seemed so far away just a few seconds ago, and my senses were assailed by a prickling sensation all over my skin followed by a solid tug, like I was falling from a great height, except sideways.
Then, at last, there was a faint ‘pop’ as my surroundings abruptly snapped into place and I was in the hall just like that. There was already a triumphant cry in my throat that my stupid monkey-brain authorized without my consent; one which abruptly turned into one of panic as I noticed the quickly approaching shoe-locker in my way. I had no way to stop, so I twisted my upper body so that I would hit it with my shoulder instead of my head, and hitting it I did. So hard in fact, that the large metal cabinet lurched back from the impact, standing precariously on two legs for a moment before it ultimately tipped over and I fell right on top of it.
For a long second I lay splayed out on top of the locker. At last I shook my head and got onto my feet which, if I might add, refused to stop pretending to be made of jello.
My hopes for catching my breath were promptly dashed as the Chimera, alerted to my presence by the noise of falling furniture, barreled in through the blasted open entrance with a blood-curdling roar of pure, primal anger... which a moment later turned into a surprised whimper as its paws landed on the shattered glass and it just... kind of slid past me like it was on an ice-skating ring. I couldn’t tell if it really rolled past on the glass shards (safety glass tends to break into small fragments one ‘could’ theoretically slip on after all) or only its pained flailing created the illusion. Either way, I ducked to the side as the large creature tumbled over the other row of shoe lockers and came to a stumbling halt, one of its massive forearms clearly embedded in the metal of the locker that finally stopped its tumble.
It looked around uncertainly, its three pairs of eyes scanning the hall with jerky motions until it found me, still sprawled on the floor where I landed after I got out of its way. It let out a low growl that sounded decidedly exasperated, a surprising emotion to detect in a half-ton shape-changing monstrosity. I was getting ready to jump onto my feet when the realization hit me again and I mumbled to myself, “Blink, you idiot.”
I promptly did so, this time aiming at the faculty office by the stairwell, and fortunately I got to my destination without any more embarrassing hijinks. I threw my back against one of the teachers’ desks and quieted my ragged breathing. In the meantime, the creature on the other side of the wall let out a frustrated howl and began doing something, which by the sounds of it either involved a scrapping the lockers or the world’s worst string quartet. Not that I cared. I was more interested in the fact that this intermezzo finally allowed me to breathe. Also, and arguably more importantly, to think. I wasn’t doing much of that lately, was I?
All the more reason to rectify it, I concluded silently before I took a deep breath.
Okay, what was the situation? I was chased by a shapeshifting beast. That was already established, I think. The news was just how ridiculously resilient that thing was. I supposed I should have figured it would come with being a shapeshifter, but then again, I wasn’t doing much quality thinking until this moment.
I decided to imagine the worst case scenario and presume that the thing was functionally immune to physical harm due to high-speed regeneration. Kind of like the Thing, or Wolverine. How was I supposed to deal with something like that?
That wasn’t just a rhetorical question, by the way. I needed to come up with something fast, and so I reached for my vast treasure trove of tropes that I collected during research. How did people in stories deal with creatures with high-speed regeneration? ... Fire would be a good start, I supposed. I was a little short on flamethrowers, but maybe the girls could improvise something. The class rep, in particular, was a mage, I was sure she should have some level one firebolts or even a fireball in her spellbook. But then again, didn’t they say that Chimeras were resistant to magic?
“Okay, so let’s relegate magical fire to the backup plan,” I whispered while glancing over the desk. The creature was still busy tearing apart the shoe lockers outside. It might have thought I was hiding in one of them, which was good news for me. But back to the issue at hand: What options did I have for non-magical fire?
I needed a source of fuel. My first candidate was the home economics classroom, but then I vaguely recalled that the princess once complained about the electric ovens during a lunch break. That didn’t mean the classroom had no gas, but I was not going to gamble on that.
There was a place I was fairly certain had gas though, and it was the basement. The school’s heating system was using gas boilers, and they were housed there. I learned this tidbit from the class rep, and I had no reason to doubt her. I could most certainly get down there, but I had no idea how I could set up a trap for the creature using the propane landline. Speaking of which, would there even be gas there? Purple Zones had definitive borders as far as I knew, with the inside being a copy of the real world and the outside being just a dark void. Would that mean that the gas-lines were connected to nothing? Not to mention, I was supposed to head for the roof as soon as possible. Going to the basement first would have been a wee bit counter-intuitive.
“Okay, let’s call that plan B…” I murmured while rubbing my forehead.
The more I thought about it, the more I had to realize propane wouldn’t work anyways. It would just explode, and while the shockwave would probably pulverize me, it would likely only mildly inconvenience the Chimera.
“Scratch that, let’s make it plan D instead. Now to fill out plans A to C…”
What other flammable materials were there? I could go outside and look for cars to get gasoline, but I didn’t know how big the Purple Zone was, so that was a long shot at best. Still, it should do for plan C, I concluded. What other flammable materials were out there? Oil, paint-thinner, alcohol… Alcohol?
“The burners in the science classroom!” I muttered with a smile.
Yes, that should work, I decided. The chemistry supplies were kept in a secure cabinet at the back of the room, but I was confident I could break it down with some effort, and I once saw Mrs. Applebottom refill one of the alcohol burners from a large metal flask. As far as flammable materials were concerned, I was sure that much was enough to immolate the chimera, granted I could douse it and then light it without setting myself on fire in the process.
I was ready to declare that plan A when I remembered something else. In roleplaying games the second most common way of dealing with trolls and other nasty regenerators was acid. Or rather, any corrosives, as bases could be just as caustic. Chemistry 101 aside, while I doubted I could get something as floor-meltingly potent as most fictional acids were, I could definitely get my hands on some rather nasty stuff nonetheless, and luckily they were kept around the same place as the burner fuel.
Considering that sprinkling acid on something was easier and comparatively safer than lighting it on fire, I decided that it should be plan A, and I relegated the burner fuel to plan B. It was about time I started moving though, as the Chimera has stopped making a ruckus outside and I was worried I would get discovered.
I made a mental floor-plan of the school in my head. The science classroom was on the first floor. I needed some prep-time, so I wanted to get there unnoticed. With my newly christened ‘Blinking’ ability, that should not have been hard. While I wasn’t sure about the limits and mechanics of this new power of mine, I have already discovered through my duel with the Faun that it had a relatively short range and that I didn’t need line of sight to teleport (though it did help when it came to avoiding collisions). I could blink up to the next floor through the ceiling, at least in theory, grab the stuff from the supply closet and then return and ruin the day of the creature growling outside the door. It was a decent plan, considering the circumstances. It might have even worked. But then there was a guitar solo…
“Oh for the love of…!” I exclaimed as my fingers sloppily groped at my phone. “What?!”
“Chief, we are in trouble…” My assistant began before her voice was drowned out by a deafening roar as the Chimera tore off the faculty office’s door.
“So am I!” I roared back while the creature leaped towards me. My mind vaguely noted that its face was deformed by a pair of huge, bat-like nostrils, but then I Blinked right to the classroom above so I had no time to marvel at its weirdness as it dissolved along with the rest of the world… and then my vision was suddenly filled with stars as I materialized about two meters above the floor, fell on the edge of a desk, tumbled down from said desk, hit my shoulder on the way down on the back-rest of a chair and then hit the ground head-first for good measure.
For the next couple of seconds I glared at a random point on the ceiling with all my might in order to keep myself from slipping into unconsciousness. After the first wave of sudden exhaustion abated I carefully untangled myself from the furniture and rose to a pair of shaky feet. I must have received a concussion just now; my sluggish brain concluded after the world stopped spinning. I tried to shake my head, but it only made it worse.
It was only then that I remembered the phone. I looked around in the empty classroom dimly lit by only the small violet cracks on the walls. I was vaguely aware of the ruckus coming from downstairs. The Chimera was no doubt in the process of tearing apart the faculty office looking for me. Good riddance. It bought me some time at the very least.
I felt around the floor near where I landed, and after some fumbling I found my phone under a desk two rows away. It took way more effort than expected, but I managed to reach it while crawling. For a moment I was a little disoriented by the brightness of the screen, though I noted with some satisfaction that there wasn’t even a scratch on the glass. Then I remembered why I picked up the phone in the first place and raised it to my ear.
“Are you okay?”
“No?” I answered the obvious question. “But I am safe for the time being. Why did you call?”
There was a short pause in the conversation. It could have been caused by my assistant still being worried or them having a discussion on the other end of the line which I couldn’t hear over all the noise the monster was making downstairs. Either way, Judy finally spoke up in a voice that was no less worried than a few seconds ago.
“The fence posts are warded.”
“What?” I asked back reflectively.
“They are warded. That’s what Amelia said.”
“Can’t you just break them down?”
“They are on the inside. We can’t even touch them.”
“What should we do? Eleanor and Angeline are holding the faun at the door, but they cannot do that forever.” There was a commotion in the background loud enough I could hear it even though the ambient office-destruction noises, and Judy added, “Eleanor asks where you are.”
“I don’t know... Which classroom is right above the faculty office?”
“Then that’s where I am. Why?”
“She says you should stay there and she will get you.”
“No, she won’t,” I stated defiantly. “Tell her to guard the entrance. I’ll go up.”
“But there is nothing to do up here. I told you the...”
“I’ve heard it the first time. I will figure something out by the time I get there. See you later.”
Saying so I cut the line and hastily put away my phone. There was silence. That meant the Chimera already got bored with trashing the room below and was likely on the prowl again. I had to move quickly. If I was indeed at 2-C; that meant the science classroom was on the diametrically opposite end of the floor. I quickly limbered up and checked myself for injuries first. Aside from the bump on my head I had a scratched thigh, a bruised shoulder, and a torn coat. I considered taking off the latter, as its flaps could restrict my movements in close-quarters, but in the end I left it on for the time being. As flimsy an excuse as it was for armor, it could potentially still offer some protection and the padded shoulder already proved itself useful during my tumbles.
With that done I headed towards the door and opened it... only to jerk back as I found myself staring into three sets of glowing eyes framed by a large, fleshy snout and a pair of huge ears that made the face in front of me look decidedly batlike. My moment of surprise was then shattered by a close-proximity roar that rattled the bones under my skin.
“Motherfucker!” I roared in response and swung my fist in a mixture of surprise, terror and exasperation.
I hit the Chimera right on the snout. The impact was soft and meaty and made a muffled ‘plop’ sound that might have been silly under other circumstances, but I wasn’t in the right mindset to appreciate the comical nuances of the situation. The creature let out a surprised yelp in response and shrunk back from the strike like a dog that was hit by a rolled up newspaper, but once the initial shock passed its eyes opened wide and its covering pose smoothly shifted into preparation to lunge forwards.
“Shit,” I stated with only a minor tinge of absolute, blood-curling panic as I tried to slam the door on the monster... only to realize I couldn’t. “SHIT!”
Sliding doors. I knew they were going to be my death one day. I didn’t foresee the circumstances, but still...
Thankfully, my legs were not fans of ironic echoes, as they propelled me to the side even as the Chimera barreled through the half-open door, tearing the flimsy construction off its rails like it was made of paper. It landed with a feline grace only mildly spoiled by the desks sent flying behind its back. It took a sharp, whistling sniff and immediately turned its head towards me. It was the moment I was waiting for. I raised the chair I bumped into during my dive and threw it at its ugly face. It raised one of its enormous paws and contemptuously swept the chair out of the air. Or at least I think that’s what it did. I wasn’t there to see.
I stood in the corridor just outside the classroom. My previous experiences with Blinking made me cautious enough to refrain from trying to reach the science classroom in one jump. I don’t think anyone would blame me for it, considering it somehow managed to already hurt me more than the giant murderous monster I was running away from. Speaking of which, the Chimera let out another window-shaking roar of frustration. While I was getting a little tired of its howls, this time I didn’t really mind, as it gave me a couple of seconds of head start.
I capitalized on that by rushing down the hallways at full speed. There was no point in trying to be stealthy anymore; I have already seen how the creature modified itself for tracking me down, so I had to make sure I was a step ahead of it. I allowed myself a short Blink to the end of the hallway, which I could actually see, and I found myself practically in front of the science classroom. Since it had a lot of sensitive (and expensive) equipment inside, this room was always locked. It was also a proper door instead of a sliding one, though thankfully it was only secured with a single cylinder lock. I could hear the Chimera overcoming its confusion and already on the hallways, so I didn’t hesitate to kick down the door.
Here’s a little secret: it’s not as easy as in the movies. It took me five tries before the damn thing budged, and by the time I pried the stubborn thing apart, I could practically feel the creature breathing down my neck. I dashed through the door and a second later there was a loud thud that shook the ground under my feet. I fell forwards by surprise but managed to roll onto my feet and promptly faced the doorway, which revealed the reason behind the impact; the chimera’s massive shoulders were wedged between the doorframes as its left paw fruitlessly clawed the air in an effort to reach me.
For a moment I almost felt safe. Then I remembered that the thing could shapeshift and that it could probably reduce the width of its shoulders to squeeze through, so I ran to the rows of large glass-doored cabinets at the back of the room. As I got there, I met with an unexpected setback: Since the only light source in the Purple Zone came from the luminescent cracks and the violet moonlight, it was too dark for me to read the text on the containers. I switched tactics then, focusing on the warning labels instead of the names of the materials.
Once I got a handful of the more dangerous looking stuff I turned around and found that the Chimera has already squeezed most of its upper body through the doorway. I raised one of the glass bottles, the one I was fairly sure contained sulfuric acid, and lobbed it at the shrieking monstrosity with an angry growl of my own.
The Chimera saw it coming and swiped at the bottle. Unfortunately (for it) the container broke on impact and sprayed the creature with a loud splash. For a moment it didn’t react, but then it began howling in pain and struggling even harder against the door.
I roared as well as I threw another bottle at it. This one had thicker plastic, so even though I hit it right in the middle of its face, it didn’t break. “No matter! There is more where that came from!” I yelled and continued pelting the creature with whatever I could get my hands on, each impact accentuated by a new howl of pained rage.
Soon the air was filled with a dangerous mix of chemicals that made my eyes itch. That was supposed to be my cue to leave the area, but the Chimera thought otherwise. With one last heave, it cracked the doorframe and landed inside the classroom with a thud that once again shook the floor beneath me. It shivered for a moment, its motions clumsy and groggy like it was drunk. Even in the weak lighting (or maybe exactly because of it), I saw that two of its glowing eyes were closed on one side and its skin on its nose was, for the lack of better words, melting. Not literally, but kind of like a wax-statue that was exposed to heat, drooping and elongating as gravity pulled on it. At last it leveled its eyes on me and lunged.
I might have gotten a little light-headed from the exposure to the fumes, as I once again completely forgot that I could bloody teleport. Instead, I let out a roar as well and in a moment of desperation I grabbed hold of the cabinet next to me and pulled with all my might. The heavy wooden furniture rose onto two of its peg-legs, wobbled for a moment and then it toppled right on top of the charging Chimera. Maybe it was the missing eyes, but it apparently didn’t see it coming, as it let out a surprised squeak as its legs slipped out from under it.
Then something utterly ridiculous happened: the thing burst into flames. I had no idea why. Maybe it was a combination of the chemicals or the fumes or the burner fuel in the cabinet catching a spark, but all of the sudden the dark classroom was filled with a warm orange light. Then came the scream, the positively heart-wrenching howl of pain that made me want to cover my ears for a second.
The chimera rolled out from under the cabinet, trailing flames where it went as it struggled, wiggled and rolled on the ground while sending the desks and chairs flying in its wake. At last, it let out a final howl and, to my utter bafflement, it bolted right through the large window and into the night outside.
For a solid five seconds I could only stare after it in a daze, but another whiff of the painful (and burning) air made me remember that I was supposed to get the hell out of there. So I did just that. I jumped over the puddle of burning chemicals in front of the door and out into the hallway, then I Blinked down the corridor right next to the stairwell. It was only then that I started breathing again.
My eyes still itched and I sincerely hoped I didn’t just poison myself in my mad haste to hurt the chimera. Overall, I felt all right for the time being. Well, as right as I could be under the circumstances at least. Even the previous nausea from hitting my head was mostly gone.
Now that there was a moment of quiet without a monster howling in my ears, I could hear a commotion from upstairs. It must have been the others, I figured.
“Right… I was supposed to go up there…” I murmured between heaving breaths. I absently got my phone out and dialed my assistant.
After only a single ring she picked up with a surprised, “Chief?”
“I’m done with the Chimera and on my way to you. What’s the situation up there?”
“You are ‘done’ with the Chimera?”
There was a brief pause.
“Eleanor and Amelie insisted that you had no chance. How did you do it?”
“Doused it in acid,” I answered with mock flippancy.
“I want to hear that story.”
“Later. For now, we should meet up. You still haven’t told me…”
At this point there were a number of things happening pretty much at the same time. First off, there was the sound of glass breaking. Then I was spinning around so hard I nearly strained my neck. Then there was cursing. Lots of colorful, visceral cursing that no ink would bear, so let’s just say it was impulsive and leave it at that. It ended the following way:
“… Just how bloody tough are you?!” I yelled in exasperation as a familiar lump of muscle and burnt skin squeezed its way through the window and landed on the floor with a hard thud.
The creature shook itself like a dog that just got out of the water and, predictably, roared in response to my voice. There was something weird about the sound, like there were two roars of different pitches being overlaid. On closer look a quickly realized the reason. The chimera’s head only had two sets of eyes now. The last pair was softly glowing like a pair of dying embers on a brand new head protruding from its left shoulder. It was smaller than the first one and as far as I could tell in the twilight of the hallway it was covered in small black scales. If nothing else, it made the monster look more like its namesake.
Unfortunately, my observations were rudely interrupted at this point by the Chimera leaping at me with a low growl. I instinctively Blinked behind it and rolled forwards, though the latter was fairly unnecessary and nearly got me landing on the sharp remains of the shattered window. I rose to my feet and whirled around just in time to catch something striking at me diagonally from the left. I ducked and almost rolled again by reflex, but I restrained the urge.
“What was that?” I uttered with some disconcerting detachment from the situation. I squinted just as another lash had me jumping backward a moment later. I did catch a glimpse of it though, and once I added two and two together it was easy to figure out what was trying to hit me.
The chimera was still in the process of turning one-eighty in the hallway. Its elongated body was getting in the way, so its front paws were climbing on the wall and raking deep furrows in the plaster in the process. More importantly though, its tail was flailing around like... well, a flail, really. It also went through a form of metamorphosis. Gone was the thick lizard-like appendage, instead it was replaced by a comparatively thin tentacle-thing with a large, fleshy bulb the size of my head at its end. I wondered why that was. Maybe it helped the Chimera climb the wall to the second floor, like a monkey’s tail? It looked prehensile enough. Or maybe it was a weapon?
“Chief, are you there?”
I was startled for a moment before I realized that the voice was coming from my phone. I forgot to cut the line, and I imagined my assistant was quite vexed with all the roaring coming from this end.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I told her just as the Chimera finished turning around... so I Blinked behind it and continued, “It seems like I haven’t finished yet after all.”
I ended my sentence in a tired growl and sent a glare at the chimera. Just how was I supposed to get rid of this thing? Should I get into the basement after all? But that would take time. I have already wasted too much time on this thing. Maybe I could lure it back into the science classroom. I could maybe barricade it inside and let the fire and the chemicals do it in, but it might just escape through the window like the first time, and…
And once again the blindingly obvious hit me in the face. The Chimera escaped through the window. It came back in through a window too. The windows were warded. That meant it came through the barrier. I could recall Angie saying that the barrier was keyed for Abyssals. Now put all of those details together...
“Change of plans!” I all but shouted into my phone, no doubt startling my assistant. “I am heading up! Make sure you get out of the way when you hear me coming!”
“Chief, I might not have stressed it enough before, but the exit is swarming with angry goat-men.”
“Let me worry about that. Also, tell the class rep to summon her golem thingie. Make it big. I need it to throw something for me.”
I didn’t wait for affirmation, as the Chimera managed to turn around way faster this time and was already preparing to run me down. I looked the creature in the eye (or at least one set of eyes) and shouted; “Come on you oversized horror-movie reject! Catch me if you can!”
I had no idea if it could understand me, or if it was sentient to begin with, but the Chimera let out a defiant growl in response all the same and lunged at me. Of course, by then I wasn’t there anymore. In fact, I was running up the stairs with all my might, three steps at a time. Even so, the Chimera was right on my heel, so I abused the hell out of my mobility advantage and Blinked away whenever it got close to filleting me.
I reached the third floor in record time, and from there I could already see the Faun ineffectually crowding in front of the door leading to the roof, seven or eight of them packed on the stairs like sardines in a box. They were big, though not as big as Brang or the Chimera, and they had the same kind of goat-ish appearance save for one of them. He looked more wolf-like than anything, and he was one of the first that noticed my charge up the stairs. He let out a barking growl that roughly translated to “Attention!” and a couple of the goat-heads turned towards me. All their faces turned slack when they noticed the chimera charging behind me.
“Out of my way, you miserable nincompoops!” I roared in Faunish, and the unusual sight combined with the command in their own language must have triggered something, as they stumbled all over themselves to comply, even forcing two of their numbers over the handrails around the stairwell. This opened a gap that was just wide enough for me to slip through, and while normally I would have considered entering into the arm’s reach of half a dozen angry human-animal hybrids built like brick houses a bad idea, the angry double-howl behind me reminded me that it was still the better alternative.
I held my head low and dashed through the opening at full speed. I could hear the Faun behind me getting trampled or worse by the Chimera, but by then I was through the door and facing a very surprised pair of blue eyes. The princess blinked at me as I threw my arms open, embraced her and pulled her onto the ground into a sideways roll just as the monster behind me burst through the narrow doorway and leaped over us, sending the door and a couple of bricks flying as it broke through.
It landed with a screech as its claws found purchase on the concrete and it quavered briefly, disoriented after the impact.
I jumped to my feet, leaving the still shocked princess on the ground, and scanned the rooftop. Judy was standing near the fence with the phone still in her hand. Angie was a few meters to my left aiming her bow at the creature with an uncertain look in her eyes. Finally I found the class rep as well. She was crouching by the wrecked roof-access, her hat missing and in the process of rubbing something out of her eyes. More importantly though, there was something big and made of stone missing from her side.
“Where’s the golem!?” I yelled at her frantically.
She only looked at me blankly for a second. Then the light of understanding returned to her eyes and she said; “I… I was just summoning it when you got here. I think I hit my head when…”
“Sorry about that,” I interrupted, “but we need it ASAP. I am going to get the attention of the Chimera and lure it to the edge of the roof. I want you to use your golem to break the fence with it.”
“But… how?” The class rep spoke as she rose to her feet in a mild daze.
“Ram it, grab it and throw it, I don’t care, just do it quick!” In the meantime the princess also got up, so I quickly said to her, “Keep the Faun out just a little longer if you can,” and then turned around and dashed after the monster I was trying to run away from all this time.
While we were talking Angie kept the creature busy by some strategically placed arrows. They only seemed to annoy it, but that was more than enough for now. I circled around the flailing Chimera and came to a stop by the Celestial girl’s side.
“Good job,” I told her with a smile she weakly returned. “We need to lure it towards the fence. Can you help?”
“Sure,” She said after firing another arrow just as the Chimera was about to find its footing and charge us. I am not going to lie, her nonchalance was kind of cool. “What do you want me to do?”
“I need you to keep hitting it from afar while I keep it busy. Try to pin it when it’s swiping at me to keep it off-balance.”
“I can do that.”
“Good,” I nodded and turned to my assistant still standing by the fence. “Judy, get to the class rep! See if you can help with anything. If you can’t, lay low!”
“Affirmative,” She answered and then scampered out of the way.
With that last obstacle out of the way I turned to the Chimera with a bold smile and yelled, “Hey! Over here, you oversized mutt!”
I have to stress again that I had absolutely no idea whether the creature could even understand human speech. It did seem to find my voice annoying though (or maybe it just got reminded of all the pain I caused to it) and both of its heads turned towards me at once. I waved my hands just to make sure I got its full attention.
A second later it bounded at me and I deftly rolled out of the way, making sure I was moving towards the fence facing the track field.
“Come on, you have to do better than that!” I yelled again as I picked up a piece of broken brick and threw it at the creature’s head. It actually staggered for a moment before it roared at me and got ready for another charge.
While my inexplicable dodging-instincts took care of most of the fight, if you could even call it that, I had ample time to take a better look at the Chimera under the light of the violet moon in the sky. I was too busy being terrified of it before to notice, but my little jaunt at the science-classroom must have hurt it more than I first thought. Its muscles were noticeably less bulky, probably due to the biomass being redirected to fix its injuries, and two of its eyes were still hidden under a flap of melted flesh. Not only that, it seemed like it didn’t bother to regrow its burned and melted skin, leaving large patches of its neck and arms covered in a thin layer of dark mucus with the muscles clearly outlined underneath. If this was a normal animal I would have been shocked it was still alive. Since it wasn’t, I could already see it healing. I was sure that in a couple of minutes it would have been back in shape again. We had to end it before that happened.
“Class rep!” I yelled during a slightly less frantic moment when the creature was distracted by an arrow to the knee. “We could sure use a golem right about now!”
“I am working on it!” She yelled back. I noted in relief that her voice was no longer shaky. My relief then quickly turned to alarm as I looked back and saw Angie flying over the Chimera with her bow drawn.
“Don’t get so close!” I yelled frantically, but it was already too late. The Chimera’s long tail lashed out and the bulb at the end hit her on the hip, throwing her off-course and careening into the ground. She landed gracelessly on her butt and rolled, which probably lessened the impact a bit. Either way, it must have hurt. Not only that, but the Chimera was already ready to pounce at her prone form.
“Oh no, you don’t!” I yelled from the top of my lungs as I sprinted at the creature and, to my own horror, jumped onto its back. After suppressing a silent ‘Why do I keep doing this?!’ I grabbed hold of the spear-shaft still protruding from the thing’s back and twisted it with all my might. The chimera let out an ear-piercing shriek and tried to shake me off, but its front legs couldn’t reach me and its wriggling only made the spear in its back mess around its insides even more.
Then it stopped. For a moment I thought it realized it wouldn’t get me off that way and was about to roll on its back and crush me. Instead it wobbled. Then it let out a surprised whine, and as I peeked down I found a sight for sore eyes.
“Finally!” I yelled as the dark-grey stone familiar raised the creature with me on its back into the air as a weightlifter would do to a calf.
“Leo! Get off!” The class rep yelled while frantically waving a staff I wasn’t 100% certain she even had on her just a few minutes ago.
“Don’t worry about me! Just throw this thing!”
She didn’t hesitate for long before she forcefully pointed her staff at the fence. The golem underneath us let out a low rumbling sound and heaved the Chimera. I figured that was my cue to jump, so I let go of the spear and kicked off the back of the creature just as the golem tossed it in the opposite direction. Because of that, my footing was bad and I spun as I fell, giving me a prime view of the lump of charred flesh hitting the fence.
There was a cacophony of sounds, the roar of the beast mixing with the rumbling of the golem and the screeching noise of the twisting, bending metal of the fencepost. All of that was promptly overpowered by a loud crackle reminiscent of distant thunder as the barrier’s wards fell apart and the field popped like a giant, murderous soap-bubble.
I was about to let out a triumphant ‘Wooo-hoo!’ at the sight of the Chimera crashing through and plummeting to the ground below like a ragdoll… but it quickly turned into a loud “FUCK!” as I felt a powerful pull on my left leg and found myself looking at the ruined fence from the wrong side.
Time, as it tended to do lately, slowed to a crawl as my brain tried to make sense of the situation. I concluded, with a defeatist detachment, that I was plummeting to my doom. To my own surprise, I found that sad fact unable to dampen my curiosity. Why was I falling from the roof? I glanced at my leg and it took me an infinitely long moment to recognize the fleshy bulb clamped down on it. No one could have blamed me, as at this point it had a glowing eye and a mouth on it. A mouth that was biting down on my leg.
Right, chimeras were supposed to have a snake for a tail; I mused remotely as my body tumbled towards the cold, hard ground. I supposed this was the time I should have had my life flash before my eyes, but considering I couldn’t remember anything past the last two months, it would have been a very short movie. Instead, the Chimera came into view, sprawled out and most of its limbs bent in unnatural angles, its snake-head still spitefully clamped onto my leg. It made me a little pissed off to be honest.
Here I was, trying to rescue my friends, and this bloody shape-shifting thing that had nothing to do with me until now just kept getting in my way. It made me angry. Angry enough to shake me out of my stupor. Angry enough to turn me totally irrational as I decided to Blink one more time. Not towards the roof. Not towards the building. Not even towards the ground, but right at the Chimera so that I could punch him right in its huge, smug monster-dog-crocodile-bat-gorilla face. As I said, irrational.
After the now-familiar moment of nauseous twist of space I suddenly found myself on top of the creature again. Maybe it was the smell of charred meat or the sudden return of the plummeting feeling after the Blink, but my higher brain functions caught hold of the rein again and after a brief moment of ‘What the hell am I doing?!’ I grabbed hold of the first thing in sight, which happened to be the spear-shaft inexplicably still sticking out of the chimera’s back. I pulled myself closer to the creature against the centrifugal force created by the two of us spinning through the air.
One revolution. Two revolutions. By the time of the third revolution I had my leg set against the Chimera’s back. I was sure I would throw up by the fourth revolution. I never got around to find out, as the world momentarily got died in black and the colors of the rainbow at the same time as the G-forces on impact threatened to squeeze my lungs into my abdomen.
Surprisingly enough, I was still thinking at this point. That was a good sign; my recovering brain surmised. That meant that I wasn’t dead. Possibly broken beyond repair, but not dead. Silver linings!
I couldn’t see anything though. For a long instant I was afraid I went blind, then I realized I just had my eyelids down. I carefully opened one eye, then the other. I was on the ground, inexplicably standing. My legs hurt like hell and my palms clasped around the spear-shaft in my hand felt sore, but otherwise I seemed surprisingly un-pulverized. I glanced down and I found that the Chimera was less fortunate, much to my relief. In fact, I was standing on its broken back, its body flattened like a clay figurine under my feet, as if turned into jelly just before the impact. Maybe it was some kind of defense mechanism? Either way, it probably saved my life.
I could feel the defiant smile creep onto my face again. Finally! The Chimera was out of the way, the barrier was down, the Faun on the stairs were scattered… things seemed to look up for us.
And then there was a blinding white light in front of me. My eyes stung as I looked at it, but I strained to do so anyway. It was huge, swirling and…
“Shit, the gate…” I muttered and got ready to step off the back of the pulverized monstrosity. My legs froze a moment later as my eyes adjusted to the light and my brain noted how large the portal seemed. I squinted to see better and the realization slowly dawned on me. It wasn’t that the portal was huge. It was an oval shaped hole, only about three meters tall and two meters wide. How did I know that? Well, I had a couple of handy measuring sticks close to it in the form of Snowy and company. Oh, and before I forget: I was only a couple of steps away from them.
“You…” Came a low, burning hiss from the tallest of the three silhouettes I only began to properly make out as my eyes adapted. For a moment I was frozen in place, unsure what to do. Then I remembered my mantra. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and when I opened them I had already forced the previously withered daring smile onto my lips as the words ‘refuge in audacity’ echoed in my ears.
“Hello there Crowey. It’s been a while.”