Wake the Blood
The team split up. Wood, Fox, Tan and the bot went one way, Yamamoto, Connor and Karim went the other. This time, Yamamoto allowed Karim to take the lead.
“Don’t lead us right in front of the Husk, rookie,” Connor said.
Karim stalked up the escalator to the second floor and beheld th aftermath of chaos with his mortal eyes. Blood streaked thickly across the floor, pointing to drying reddish-brown puddles. Boxes and goods and instruments lay scattered across the aisles, stomped flat and covered with gore. A baby wailed somewhere in the distance. A red blob appeared on his augmented reality smartglasses.
The turtle, hunting for prey.
Keeping the target to his right in his peripheral vision, Karim cut across the empty aisles, past cooking pots and stationery and appliances and cleaning supplies. He stayed an inch away from the shelves, careful to avoid snagging his gear, and bent over in a half-crouch. Now and then, the turtle swung its massive head this way and that, peering above the high shelves, and as Karim approached he kept the high shelves between him and the creature.
Then a woman dashed out of an aisle.
Karim turned to face her.
“AHH!” she cried, scrambling away from him.
The young woman’s eyes were wide with fright, her dress ripped and bloody. Behind her, a young girl shrieked.
Karim held up a finger.
The girl continued screaming, hiding behind her mother.
“We’re here to—”
The turtle moved.
Karim lunged. Arms outstretched, he grabbed the woman and the child and took them down to the floor.
A searing violet beam passed above Karim’s prone form, so close he felt its impossible heat through his armor. Crawling away, he rolled himself on his back.
“No way…” he muttered.
The beam had carved through the aisles and the floor, obliterating everything it had touched, leaving behind a smoking circular tunnel.
Yamamoto poked his head around a shelf.
“Everybody okay?” he asked.
“Yes, yes,” the woman said, her voice shaking. “Thank you.”
“We’re STS,” Yamamoto said soothingly. “We’re here to help. Come to me, slowly and quietly.”
“Listen, that… that thing, it’s eating people!” she whispered.
“Understood. Thanks for the info. Now we need you to come with me.”
The girl sobbed, her chest heaving. “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go—”
Karim knelt, looking at her in the face. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“I don’t wanna—”
He gripped her shoulders. “C’mon. What’s your name?”
The girl stiffened.
“Ada,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Ada, how old are you?”
“Six. A good age. You’re a big girl, aren’t you?”
“Yes, she is,” her mother said encouragingly.
Ada nodded. “Yes.”
“You don’t want to stay here, do you?’
She sniffled. “No.”
“You just need to go downstairs and you’ll be safe. You’re a big girl, you can do that, right?”
“I… I’ll try.”
“Good girl. But stay quiet. You can be quiet, right?”
She nodded, covering her mouth with her hands.
“Well done. Let’s get you out of here.”
Yamamoto coaxed them over. They crawled to him, steering away from the hole in the floor. Yamamoto whispered instructions to them while Karim kept watch on the Husk. The turtle maintained its vigil, head sweeping back and forth.
“They’re clear,” Yamamoto whispered. “Good work. Come back to us, rookie.”
Karim backed up, staying clear of the holes. Now back on point, he continued his approach down the lane. The monster was just four aisles away. Three aisles. Two.
Karim went still and braced himself. When the turtle looked away, he stepped into the aisle and sidled up against the shelves. The Husk was so close he could hear him breathing, as loud as an elephant.
The three operators steadily crept down the passage, sticking close to the shelf. Karim halted a foot away from the end of the aisle. Right around the corner, the titanic turtle awaited.
Two squelches filled his earpieces. Then two more. Yamamoto was signaling that he was ready.
“Samurai, Farmer,” Wood said. “Copy. Going in on your bang.”
Connor crept around Karim, taking his place at the head of the stack. Karim slowly slid out a flash-bang from a pouch on Connor’s back, carefully held it in front of Connor, then, with a firm tug, pulled the pin.
The turtle twitched upright.
Karim lobbed the stun grenade around the corner and looked away.
The banger exploded. The Husk howled in pain and rage. Connor went low and peeked around the corner, Karim went high and stepped out.
The gigantic turtle covered his eyes with his hands, staggeringly wildly away. Connor went rock-and-roll, hosing down the Husk at point blank with his carbine, so close Karim saw bright sparks flashing across the face of his armored belly. Karim trained his weapon at center mass and flicked the switch to full auto and held down the trigger. The rifle kicked out a burst of three, four, five, six and Karim released. But the turtle was still upright, still stumbling off the line of fire.
Off to the side, Bravo Team caught up with the operators and hammered the turtle’s back. But the penetrators sparked off its shell, and metal fragments ricocheted past Karim’s face, so close he heard a sharp whizzing by his ear. He jerked his head back involuntarily. Connor kept laying down fire, pausing only to lay his gun back on target. Behind Karim, Yamamoto snapped off a burst.
The turtle ignored the gunfire and charged up the travelator, every step shaking the machine with colossal BOOM.
“Coming out coming out coming out!” Connor recited, peeling around the corner.
Karim followed, keeping a half arm’s length away from Connor. The men angled off, rotating to clear the travelator, the turtle pounding away and—
“He’s gone,” Connor said. “Shit.”
The travelator hummed, oblivious to the drama. The turtle had vanished somewhere on the upper floor.
“What happened?” Tan asked, catching up with the duo. “Did you hit him?”
“Yeah, but his armor held against the penetrators.” Connor shook his head. “That’s just bullshit. The only thing that can stop a SLAP round is a goddamn tank.”
“The civilian woman said he was eating humans,” Karim said. “Maybe he was taking their life energy to grow more powerful and harden his armor.”
“I’ve heard of that happening,” Yamamoto confirmed. “But look over there. Blood on the wall.”
Karim blinked. A spray of scarlet droplets—he hesitated to call it blood—sizzled on the far wall.
“I tagged him in the arm,” Yamamoto said. “Maybe his limbs aren’t armored.”
“Even if we shoot his arms and legs off, he’s going to take a long time to bleed out,” Wood said.
“His eyes,” Fox said. “They can’t be armored. We shoot him in the eyes.”
“His eyes? With bullets? No friggin’ way,” Connor said.
She sniffed. “You wanna bet?”
“I’ll take it,” Yamamoto said.
Fox grinned. “You’re on.”
“Enough with the lovefest,” Wood said. “We’ve got a Husk to hunt.”
The operators and the bot headed up the travelator. Wood took the lead, while Yamamoto stayed in the rear and whispered directions to the SWAT team. On the upper floor, the operators separated into half-teams and peeled off to follow the plan.
The turtle was bleeding. A steady dripping of smoking acidic blood betrayed its movements, heading towards the front of the hypermarket. This floor was for consumer goods and clothing and other related necessities, with big bulky items packed so high they would conceal even the turtle from sight. But on the bright side, it wouldn’t be able to peek over the shelves, too.
With Galen’s eyes, Karim spotted the Husk. The turtle lumbered away from the team, taking random Karim through the aisle, clutching his wounded arm. Once again, he led the way, winding through the corridors of toys and electronics and cooking pots.
Slow and steady, that was the way to go. No rush, no pressure, just disciplined stealth. Yamamoto kept up a running whispered update, redeploying Bravo to set up a strongpoint with their drone.
The turtle sat down with a hushed thud. Karim chanced a glance out, and saw that he was hiding behind a series of bookshelves. Not exactly his first choice for cover, but the monster’s armor offered more protection than anything in the store.
“Bravo Team, Samurai. Set up a shot. Fire on my mark,” Yamamoto whispered.
“Acknowledged, Samurai,” Tan replied.
“Guys, no more pussy-footing around,” Yamamoto said. “We get in close and shoot him through the shelves, and finish him when he goes down. And remember: shoot the limbs. Or the eyes.”
There was a wide open space between Alpha Team and the bookshelves. The only scant concealment came in the form of tables bearing stacks of books, and what cover they offered was nonexistent. One by one, the operators crossed the deadly ground, while the other two covered them.
The turtle was close. So close Karim could hear it breathing. Ducking behind a shelf, he lowered his goggles. A bright blue dot appeared over the monster’s silhouette, a laser-straight line tracing back to the bot on the other side of the hall.
Connor patted Karim’s thigh. Karim reached back and did the same, heard Connor tap Yamamoto.
The monster stood.
Opened his mouth.
“DOWN!” Yamamoto shouted.
A blazing violet beam ripped through reality. The shockwave of its passage flung Karim down to his side. His carbine flew from his hands, his helmeted head struck the floor.
For a moment he saw stars. He blinked rapidly and his sight resolved. The turtle howled and flung a set of shelves off the floor. Karim rolled on his side, books bouncing off his armor. He picked himself up and saw the turtle.
He was right in front of him.
The Husk raised a massive hand—
A bullet struck the Husk’s armored forehead. He jerked back a fraction, freezing in mid-air. Karim sprang off the floor, making distance from the floor, and scanned.
The beam had slammed Connor and Yamamoto to the floor. Now it was just Karim against the beast and he needed Galen. Galen, where are—
A wolf howled in his ears.
WAKE THE BLOOD! RISE AND FIGHT!
Throwing back his head, Karim howled.
Ethereal energy surged through him, burning him up from within. His flesh and bone grew heavy and dense. His mouth extruded outwards into a muzzle. His eyes widened and sharpened, and Karim’s eyes became Galen’s eyes.
Now he saw the truth. The interchangeability of mere matter, the false boundaries between the material and the immaterial, the unity of space and time. Galen laughed from the Aether, his voice echoing in Karim’s mind, and whispered to Karim a secret art.
Karim-Galen’s gear melted into his body, cleanly transmuting into flesh and bone and blood and more. He grew taller, stronger, packing on muscle and bone mass, his eyes fully shifting over. Where he once wore clothing, he was now clad only in a thick coat of fur. The real world collided with the Aether, but now he saw and processed both worlds clearly and cleanly. He was no longer a man, he was a wolf. A wolf of Galen’s pack.
The turtle stepped in, swinging an enormous haymaker. He was slow, so slow, Karim-Galen slapped the hand away with his left paw and raked at the turtle’s eyes with his right claws. The turtle ducked, covering its face.
Karim-Galen’s fingers closed around the turtle’s wrist. He hammered his forearm into the crook of the captured arm, bending the limb. Twisting sharply into the Husk, he grabbed his own bicep and trapping the monster’s arm in a figure-four lock. Then the werewolf spun the other way.
Powerful the Husk may be, he was still defenseless against physics. The turtle smashed against the floor, cracking the tiles beneath. Karim-Galen scrabbled over its massive body, capturing its torso between his thighs, opened his jaws and shot for its exposed throat.
A hand smashed the werewolf full in the face, twisting his head to the side. The turtle lashed out again, slamming his palms into the werewolf’s chest. Karim-Galen howled, flowing clockwise with the energy of the palm shot. He balanced himself on the floor with his right paw, and captured the turtle’s right arm with the crook of his left arm.
Karim-Galen hopped his left knee off the floor and grounded it against the turtle’s neck. Wrapping both arms around the Husks’ right arm, Karim-Galen hooked his free leg into the turtle’s bicep and threw his weight down and to the side.
The turtle howled. Its broken arm went limp. Karim-Galen held on, but the arm seemed to be shrinking. He scrabbled for purchase, but the limb slipped out of his grasp like an eel.
The turtle squirmed his massive bulk out from under Karim-Galen, Karim-Galen rolled over on his back, orienting himself towards the Husk, shielding his face with his elbows. The turtle loomed over the werewolf and opened its beak—
His right eye exploded.
His jaw fell open, suddenly slack. He stood there, every nerve scrambled, frozen for an eternity.
Then Yuri Yamamoto sidled up beside the monster.
He lunged in low, his right hand blurring in a smooth, swift arc. Light winked off a blade. Blood fountained through the turtle’s right thigh. Then gravity took over, pulled him down.
Karim-Galen caught the turtle square in the chest with his hindpaws, and in a single explosive motion he tossed the creature over his body. The turtle crashed its head against the floor, and the rest of its body followed. The floor shivered under the double whammy.
Karim-Galen mounted the turtle. This time, the Husk offered no resistance. He locked in on the exposed throat, opened his jaws and bit.
Gallons and gallons of blood, gushing through the air, flowing this throat. He chewed and swallowed and drank from the red fountain, ripping and tearing again with his teeth. His prey was down, dying, and all that was left was to feast.
The werewolf looked up.
Yamamoto stood before him, his posture perfectly balanced, his spine erect, his o-tanto held deceptively low.
“He’s dead,” Yamamoto said. “Stand down now.”
If you like stories that blend sci fi, fantasy, horror and authentic combat, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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