Slowly, campers start to arrive at the crater. A lot of them. I guess no-one really knows what time it’s meant to be happening. I’m surprised enough of them even know where this place is. Makes me wonder what Wolfe and co are seeing with those trackers. A whole army gathered on the other side of the island? What are they going to do when they notice?
Then I have a new thought. What exactly can they do?
Dolphin is sitting on the side of the bank, staring at the ground. He hasn’t said much since reading the newspaper article about his father. Mouse tried to talk to him, and so did I, but he’s rebuffed us all. I just hope he can keep his head in the fight.
It’s about noon (of course) when Jackhammer and the others show up. By that time, there’s a crowd of at least a hundred at the crater. Jackhammer comes walking straight across the arena towards where I’m sitting with my friends.
“Or-right, Square?” Jackhammer says, nodding at me.
“Hey,” I say, standing to meet him. “I’m or-right.”
“Thought you might run off, ya git.” He looks around at the crowd, and I can tell he’s loving this. Maybe that’s why he fights. To make a name for himself. Standing in the middle, I sort of get it. There’s a lot of guys, watching. Admiring. I even see a few girls.
“Nope,” I say. “Still here.”
He seems a little disappointed with my lack of reaction. “Okay.” He steps back towards the middle and brings up his hands—not in fisticuffs, but posed, like a guy in a kung fu movie or something. I recognize the form: karate. The one they went through before I arrived. Even as I’m watching, his eyes flicker to red, and I see his hands harden to granite.
There’s an oooh from the crowd. Behind him, Jackhammer’s friends line up, also posed, eyes also glowing red. It looks pretty cool … or it would if I weren’t the target. Jackhammer smirks at me. “Or-right. Enough gasbagging, then.”
“Right,” I say. “Quick question: is the memorial off limits, or can w—”
His hand chops into my neck with terrible weight. I fall back, but even through the haze of pain I’m ducking left, left, because while the moves are unfamiliar, there’s still only so many ways to attack.
And also, to line him up with Bally.
The edge of Jackhammer’s hand strikes my shoulder instead of my head, but it hits with the force of a pile driver, and the sheer force of it slams me back down to the ice. My jaw slams against it, too. Instantly, the whole lower half of my face feels like the bone is glowing red-hot metal. My whole chest hurts, too, and I feel like I’m being stabbed through the heart.
No time. I can’t let this paralyze me. I roll right and hear Jackhammer’s fist strike the ground. I roll again. Ordinarily, I’d put one leg under me. Instead, I keep rolling as I tuck my legs together. I can already hear Ball Buster’s feet pounding toward us.
I roll around. I come up on my back, my legs folded and facing Jackhammer. He looks pleased but confused—he doesn’t seem to recognize the move.
My legs spring out like a catapult, straight into his chest. This knocks him backwards and up a bit. This means he’s unable to dodge as Ball Buster leaps past me and rockets up straight at him. Jackhammer has just the barest of moments to prepare before Bally’s substantial weight slams into him, and the two of them are carried up into the air. I whip my legs up, using the momentum to carry me to my feet. I jump after them. I have just the faintest awareness of my friends below, fighting the others desperately.
We knew we needed to take them down fast. We knew we needed to take down Jackhammer and Sidewinder first. And we were pretty sure Jackhammer was going to go straight for me.
I crash into deep snow, sending it exploding upwards like an artillery shell. We’re about fifty yards from the fight zone, just a little bit outside the crowd. Already, they’re turning around to watch. With luck, Jackhammer’s crew will think he can handle himself. Hopefully, they won’t realize how much practice Ball Buster and I have with running in deep snow.
Jackhammer is floundering, trying to wade through the waist-deep snow. Ball Buster is leap-running back in and out of his reach. Jackhammer turns when I crash into the ground. His glowing eyes seem to shine brighter—or at least they do before Bally jumps into the air and kicks him into the ground.
I almost feel bad about this. But ganging up on Jackhammer was the only way we could think to take him down quickly. And back in the ring, three of my friends are taking on four of his. This needs to be sorted fast.
So, as Jackhammer struggles to his feet, I jump in again and land, feet first, on his midsection. He crashes back down with me on top of him. Air explodes out of his lungs. But his glittering red eyes are wide and furious, and one stone-covered hand chops straight into my legs.
Pain vibrates up and down my shins. I fall backwards into the snow. The deep powder works against me, too. I flounder as I hear Ball Buster attack him from the right.
A crash in the snow behind us. A newcomer. Now we definitely need to sort this out fast.
I give up floundering. I leap up with my feet again, just in time to see Jackhammer send a rock-covered fist to Bally’s jaw. Bally shouts aloud, stumbles back, and falls over. It’ll take him a couple minutes to recover.
Jackhammer’s already turning to face me as I strike him once, twice, in the face. His eyes travel past me. His friend must be getting closer. I take advantage of the distraction and whirl around in a roundhouse kick.
Jackhammer’s rocky fist comes up to block, and I can tell what’s going to happen a second before my leg makes contact.
That’s a textbook move. He did it automatically, because ordinarily you want your hand there to cushion or block whatever blow your opponent’s sending at you.
But my leg’s got too much momentum to block, and his hand, hardened into granite, is no cushion.
Leg slams into stone fist. Stone fist slams into Jack’s skull. His eyes lose their glitter as they go wide and roll up. He crashes into the white snow.
While I wonder if he’s badly hurt, someone kicks me in the center of the back.
The ground flies up to meet my face. The impact rings through my skull. Above me, Ball Buster knocks the newcomer a few steps back. It gives me just enough space to jump up. “Go!” he shouts at me. “Help the others!”
It’s Icepick he’s battling. Good. In deep snow, he should be able to handle him solo.
I leap up and out. I get just a second to survey the battlefield as I’m coming down. Dolphin’s laying into Viper with surprising effectiveness. Sue’s driving Sidewinder back with a series of whirling kicks. Mouse is … well, I don’t know quite how he’s doing it, but Fluffmuffin looks nervous as he trades blows with him.
Okay. We can do this.
I crash into the ground not-so-gracefully, missing the spiky memorial by inches. I roll around, gather my legs under me, and leap. In the time it takes me to do that, Sidewinder’s somehow knocked Sue flat on his back.
Well, okay. This just got harder.
I run and do a flying kick at Sidewinder. He ducks under it (that’s what Jackhammer should have done), then under the follow-up kick as I land and whip around. So I let my body move with the motion and turn the failed kick into a powerup for the roundhouse that I aim at his midsection. I come at Sidewinder’s torso full-force. And he blocks it.
It’s hard to describe the sensation. I mean, I can feel that I’m coming at him with a tremendous amount of force—enough to blow an object his size about a hundred yards out backwards. But he blocks it! It’s like two hammers, slamming into each other and just barely canceling each other …
Sidewinder punches me in the stomach.
I get about ten seconds of flying up through the air to decide that I really should be focused on the fight and not on poetic metaphors. I sail clear out of the ring towards the hills behind. Then my foot catches the ground and yanks me into the tundra. I plow into the snow for about twenty feet before I stop.
When I look up, I see Doc Schaefer. He’s in an olive-green parka with a leather suitcase and some old-fashioned snowshoes. He raises an eyebrow above his green eyeglasses. “So this is why you wanted to know about the memorial.”
“Um,” I say.
Then I realize Sidewinder isn’t coming after me. I jump out of the trough and look back towards the platform. Shit. He’s already attacking Mouse.
I start running, glancing at Doc as I pass him. “Please don’t report usokaybye!” I launch myself into the air. The wind is roaring in my ears. I can’t hear if he responds or not, because now I’m flying towards the platform and oh I think I misjudged the distance I’m going to hit that guy …
I get my arms in front of my face just before I slam into the guy’s back. He doesn’t go flying. We both just crash to the dirt and slide a couple feet.
I stand up to see Dolphin give me a look. “Dude, I had him.” His eyes almost seem to flame.
“Wa …wasn’t on purpose,” I say. Huh. So that’s what people mean when they say ‘woozy’. Pretty spot-on. The ground seems to be moving on its own.
Dolphin and I run (well, I stagger) at Fluffmuffin and Sidewinder. Sidewinder has Sue in a deadman’s grip, and Fluffmuffin is punching away at Mouse’s chest. Mouse’s teeth are tight and bared. Dolphin hits Sidewinder on the neck with a karate chop, and I manage to give Fluffmuffin a lopsided punch. Let’s call it a punch-drunk fist.
Fluffmuffin’s turning on me now. I think I just pissed him off with that one. Then Mouse jumps onto his back, and his eyes go wide. Damn, it’s hard to get Mouse out of a fight.
Something crashes into the snow behind me. Mouse’s glittering eyes flicker up. “Jackhammer.” he says.
No way. I whirl around. Sure enough, Jackhammer. He’s back after that? And where’s Ball Buster?
No time to ponder. Jackhammer comes back at me with … something. Krav Maga, maybe? I don’t actually know what that’s like, but holy shit, this is scary. He’s angry, but his eyes don’t glow: they’re flickering in and out. That hit clearly left an impact. Also, he’s no longer using his rock-fists.
I stick with my tae kwon do, but I still need to use my arms to block most of the hits. All I can do with legs for defense is keep him at a distance.
So I attack. Left leg, right leg. I charge at him with a progression of rapid-fire kicks. My legs touch the ground just long enough to move me forward for the next kick. His forearms flash madly, blocking them all. My legs throb with pain—I can only imagine how his arms must feel—but blood is throbbing in my veins.
Damn, but cutting loose feels good.
He jumps to avoid a low sweep I do, and my leg smashes into the boulder just behind him. The stone breaks apart on my leg like a jawbreaker. But when I swing back and kick straight at his face, both his hands flash up and seize my foot in mid-kick.
I see his mouth curl before I’m flinging around in a wide arc over his head and slamming against the dirt. I’m getting pretty familiar with that dirt. The rock underneath it, too.
Still, I got my arms up just in time, which allows me to watch Jackhammer drop my leg, turn toward my prone body, step forward.
My legs flash outwards as I spring upwards on my hands, planting a two-legged kick straight to Jackhammer’s midsection. That doesn’t send him flying, but it makes him double over in pain. It’s enough time for me to leap to my feet and deliver a full roundhouse kick right in his ugly face. He drops like a sack of wet cement.
I’m just panting from that. Mouse steps up beside me. “All … g … good?” he pants. His eyes are back to their normal brown. There’s blood on his hands.
“… Yeah,” I say.
“G … good. I … think I was … at my limit.”
Limit or not, I feel good. My whole body is crackling with energy; everything around me seems to have a bizarre clarity. Jackhammer’s down. Viper’s down. Fluffmuffin’s down. Presumably, Icepick’s also down.
This is what Wolfe’s been afraid of. This is what all our teachers have been telling us. This sort of thing right here is who we are.
Someone coughs. I look back to see Dolphin collapse against the Memorial. That’s definitely blood on his mouth. And all over his arms. And judging by the way he slumps and slides down the very spiky thing, I think he’s down for the fight.
Sidewinder’s standing there, a good five feet away from him, also panting, but with a peculiar smile on his face. The shine in his eyes is piercing, like an incandescent bulb.
Mouse is already facing him. It’s weird though. Mouse doesn’t get into a fighting pose or anything: he’s just in a watchful sort of standing. He could be waiting at a bus stop, except all his muscles are tensed.
I get into a fighting pose. “Two on one, Sidewinder,” I say. “Jack’s already down. Don’t you think that’s enough?”
Sidewinder’s still smiling. “Now … what kind … of friend … would I be … if I thought that?” he says, as he slowly moves to the left.
“The uninjured kind,” says Mouse. He’s getting his breath back, but his eyes are dark—he’s clearly not in Active mode. And I’m trying not to trigger mine. Saving my time for when Sidewinder charges. Unless he is planning to run—he’s sort of working around to the edge of the ring.
“Doesn’t sound so great,” Sidewinder says. “Only guy who gets away from a fight without a scratch is either a coward or Superman.”
“Or maybe just the smartest one,” says Mouse. “Look, man, we can—”
And suddenly Mouse is screaming.
His arms fly out, his whole body goes rigid, and he screams as lightning stabs straight through his body, forking outward from Sidewinder’s palm. I blink myself free from my horrified fascination of the sight—Mouse needs help! I charge at Sidewinder.
He raises his other hand.
There’s no time, no way to dodge. My whole body is on fire. My every muscle is burning, frozen, seized, and fully convulsing. I mean, I thought those electric shock joke pens that J’son would pass out were bad. This pain is a thousand times worse, and like the pen, it’s pain that flashes straight to the most inner part of you.
My body’s crumpled itself into a ball. I’m rocking back and forth, and my mouth’s wide open in a yell.
And just like that, the pain’s gone, and I collapse to the ground with exhaustion. My arms feel like wet noodles; I’m not sure I have any legs at all.
Sidewinder remains where he is, eyes shining. “Didn’t think about that trick with the lightbulbs much, did you?”
Around us are the startled oohs and gasps of the spectators. A part of me can’t help feeling betrayed. C’mon, guys.
Another part of me is wondering something. Why isn’t Sidewinder moving?
“Jack, you okay” he calls out.
“S … S’all right.”
Damnit! What does that guy need to stay down? He sounds like he’s still too wobbly to get up, but once he does, things will get bad. But still Sidewinder isn’t moving. Actually, he doesn’t look too good either.… He’s sweating, gasping for breath.
I’m flat on my back, and that’s the only reason I see Ball Buster as he comes hurtling down to pile-drive Sidewinder.
The force drives Sidewinder into the ground, and the muddy stone cracks.
“Hold … on, guys!” Ball Buster starts to stand, groans, and collapses. The light in his eyes is fading. “Hold on…”
Sidewinder stumbles upright. He raises his hand towards Ball Buster.
Somehow, I get my feet under me. They’re pounding the ground. The land rushes past me. I charge into Sidewinder, head-first, knocking him back to the edge of the ring.
Mouse’s face looks confused. I know what he’s wondering. But I don’t have any good answers. I should be past my limit. I should be twitching with half-seized muscles. I don’t know why I’m not.
Sidewinder’s gotten away from me. I should stop thinking so much.
He’s only a few paces away, on the edge of the ring, just like me. He puts one foot forward, then raises his hands (Huh. Hand-piercings. Didn’t realize those were a thing.) in a standard grappling motion, slightly crouched. It’s a kung fu pose.
Back to martial arts, hey? What happened to the lightning shit? Well, I’m not complaining.
I charge in for the attack, legs flashing. I see what Dolphin means: kung fu really isn’t a good match for tae kwon do. Left leg, right leg. I try for a leg sweep, but Sidewinder sees it coming and jumps over it. I brace for a follow-up attack—but it doesn’t come. He just resumes his pose.
Then I notice that Sidewinder’s eyes are dark. He’s not Active.
Active mode speeds us up, enhances our reflexes, our strength. But even out of it, we know the moves. Sidewinder is using the knowledge without the speed, dodging around my blows. He’s buying himself time, getting his timer reset. Pretty wicked impressive.
Still, seems like he could have knocked me down in a second with that lightning power of his. But I can’t let him get recharged. I rear up and put all my power behind a hard right hook, aimed at Sidewinder’s jaw.
He dodges it. I don’t know why I thought punching harder would solve this.
But he dodges it by dropping down, sliding to the left, pressing himself between me and the snowbank. Just as I’m coming back from my punch, ready to follow up with a left jab … he raises his hand.
Aaaaand my muscles are seizing up with fire and I’m crashing onto the rock again and why the hell didn’t he just do that at the start and get this over with?
Oh. He’s collapsing too. Maybe that’s why.
Nope. He’s getting up again. How can he stand through that pain? I remember the burning knife of agony that hit Ball-Buster and I. His eyes are dim, but there’s still a red tinge to them. That’s bad.
He’s stumbling towards me when Ball Buster comes lurching at him from the left and Sidewinder has to whirl around. Guess Bally managed to fit in a little recharging of his own. Pretty clearly, though, neither one of them has much left in them. They’re stumbling backwards and forwards with exhaustion. Sidewinder’s not even punching, just fumbling under Ball-Buster’s drunken blows.
Sidewinder ducks under a punch Ball Buster throws and half-falls backwards, to the edge of the ring. As Ball Buster turns towards him, Sidewinder raises his hand (there’s those piercings again). Again, lightning shoots from it.
It strikes Ball Buster straight in the chest, and his whole body freezes up. Before he can even double over, Sidewinder lurches forward and slams a palm into his chest, sending him flying backwards, straight into the memorial. The crowd lets out a sympathetic ooh! as Bally crashes into the spiky object, then slides down to collapse underneath it, right next to Dolphin.
I’m really wondering about Sidewinder’s timing. He could have done that any time. His whole fight with Bally was just maneuvering around before he did that. Why?
Not that it makes much difference anymore. We’re pretty well screwed. Sidewinder’s practically doubled over; he’s definitely at his limit, but he’s in a lot better shape than Ball Buster. “Any … last words … Porkchop?” Sidewinder says, lurching forward.
Ball Buster snorts, weakly, eyes flickering. “Screw you, man,” he says, batting feebly at the memorial.
Or at least, I’d say it was feeble if the memorial didn’t rise a few feet into the air when he did that.
There’s a collective gasp from the crowd that almost overwhelms Ball Buster’s “Holy shit!” comment. Sidewinder recoils, then flings his hand forward.
But the shock misses! It arcs out—and zaps the floating memorial. Not Bally.
“Bally!” I all but scream. Shit knows what he’s going to do, but I need to let him know. Ball Buster’s face rolls over to look at me, and I yell again. “He’s making a circuit!”
He looks at me, the memorial, Sidewinder, and I see things are clicking for him.
Sidewinder can create a charge, but he needs two conductive points for the charge to jump through, or, in this case, the piercings in his hand and the giant metal memorial star sitting in the middle of the platform. Probably why they chose this spot in the first place.
Though Bally’s muscles are probably all seized up with pain right now, like mine are. I doubt he could move if …
Bally reaches up, grabs the floating monument, and flings it at Sidewinder, who’s in the middle of raising his hand. The alarm flashes in his face just a second too late, and the memorial crashes into him the exact second lightning shoots out.
Sidewinder flies backward, convulsing with the shock, until he crashes into the opposite snowbank. He doesn’t even collapse. He just lies there, twitching.
But the memorial is still floating in the air.
“Bally’s got magic powers,’ I hear Mouse laugh.
Then Ball-Buster collapses backwards, and the spiky memorial finally crashes down on Sidewinder. That looks painful.
There’s deafening silence for a minute or two. Some idiot starts clapping, and a few join in. Before I know it, the whole crowd’s cheering.
I’m not sure who they’re cheering. I mean, we’re all knocked out here. Maybe it’s sort of general applause? For a fight well done?
I hear something. Cheering. “House Spider! House Spider!”
Seriously? Now they care about the bullshit Houses?
Feeling’s returning to my legs. I manage to lurch upright but nearly fall over. You know what? I’m fine with crawling. Dolphin’s still lying out cold, but Ball Buster’s awake. Just panting like his life depends on it. He looks at me. His eyes are dark.
“When … did you … get to be a wizard?” I ask him.
“About … thirty seconds ago,” he says, staring at his hands. “Maybe. Not sure.”
The cheers are quietening down. Maybe the crowd will go home, now that the fight’s over. Not exciting anymore, I guess.
Actually … it’s getting weirdly quiet back there.
I stagger upright, turning around just as Doc Schaefer emerges from the crowd.
I nearly fall over again. “Um,” I say. “Hi, Doc.”
“Oh, shit,” says Sue.
The crowd is split apart, allowing Doc plenty of space to pass into the ring. Everyone’s eyeing him nervously. I hear whispers: “Shit!”, “We’re in it now!”, “What’s he from?”, “He’s my History teach, dude. Shut up!”
Doc nods at me. “Doing all right, Mr. Dickson?”
“Um. Fine, thanks.”
“Very good.” Doc walks over and leans over Ball Buster. “Think you can stand, Mr. Dikehouse?” he asks, hoisting Ball Buster to his feet.
“Uh … yeah. Yeah, I think so,” Ball Buster says, looking warily at him.
Doc just nods and moves on to Viper. There’s muttering in the crowd, but a few other guys are coming forward to help. It’s a bit tricky, because the ground is all chewed up: a thin mixture of slush and mud over volcanic rock. But a couple guys are bracing Sue up into a sitting position, while Doc checks his eyes.
“Should be all right,” Doc says. He glances over Jackhammer. “Cracked rib, but it should heal.” He then looks over Fluffmuffin. “Mm. Nasty job on that one.” He reaches into a bag and pulls out some bandages and gauze.
Okay. No way he just happened to be carrying that with him.
We all watch him. Despite how chewed-up Fluffmuffin is (Holy shit, remind me never to piss off Mouse), he only spends a few moments on him before he’s examining the memorial and Sidewinder’s broken body under it.
“This … does not look good.” He frowns at the body, getting down close to it. “Very enthusiastic, weren’t you, Mr. Dikehouse?”
Ball Buster, who’s over by Dolphin and me, remains silent.
“We’ll need to be careful about how we move him,” Doc mutters, running his fingers along the memorial.
“Get away from him,” Icepick says, stumbling out of the crowd.
Everyone freezes. Icepick’s on the other side of Doc from us. We couldn’t possibly get to him in time. He’s looming over Doc, bruised and angry.
Doc doesn’t so much as look up. “Mr. Volpe, please give me room to work,” he says.
“Get away from him.” Icepick grabs Doc by the collar. “You’re going to leave him, and you’re going to come away with us. You’re not telling anyone back at the camp about this.”
There’s murmurs of agreement, and I understand that there are now a lot of unfriendly eyes on Doc. Not just Jackhammer’s goons. The whole crowd of Nephilim looks curiously hostile.
“We have to help,” I whisper.
“Why?” Dolphin asks. I stare at him in disbelief.
“Do you see your friend, right here?” Doc says very calmly to Icepick. “Do you see where the memorial landed?”
Icepick looks. So do the rest of us. The memorial, like I said, is like a large, spiky metal pyramid. It’s not really sharp, but it is pointy. And one of those points is buried deep into Sidewinder. His coat is soaking up the blood. But it’s a lot of blood.
“At that angle, the spike is lodged somewhere close to his spine,” Doc says. “Nephilim heal, but it will be painful, and unless you allow me to help, his bones are going to re-heal in strange and damaging ways.” He gathers his legs under him and stands up, and I realize that Doc is really pretty tall, when he’s not hunched over. Icepick looks almost ridiculous next to him. “If you want to help me, lift this monument off him and find something long and hard to lay him on. But if you don’t want to help me, then you need to step aside and let me work.”
“Suppose I don’t want you near my fucking friend?” Icepick hisses.
“He’s under my care.” Doc’s eyes are surprisingly sharp. “If you interfere with his care, then I will need to remove you.”
There’s a pregnant pause. I feel like I should step forward to show Doc that at least someone here supports him. But Ball Buster, Dolphin, and the others are just standing there watching, and it doesn’t seem cool to be the first one to make a move. But … shit. Is everyone really just going to let Icepick do this?
After a moment, Doc kneels back down, and takes some needles out of his suitcase. Icepick’s hold on his neck seems to be looser.
“Need to take care of the bleeding first,” Doc mutters, bending lower over the body. “Hopefully, none of the spinal fluid.… Hold this, would you?” He hands Icepick a bottle of something. Icepick takes it, then slowly lets go of Doc entirely. Finally, he steps away.
A collective sigh ripples through the crowd. I’m not sure if it’s a sigh of relief or disappointment. But it seems to have broken some sort of spell, because slowly, the crowd starts to disperse. Jackhammer’s gang is sticking around—and so are we, obviously—but the rest of the crowd seem to have decided that the show’s over. Time to go “home.”
It feels sort of weird, just standing there. I cast my eyes about awkwardly and see something…
Well, hey, it’s better than just standing around. I walk over, pick up some sort of makeshift sign. Painted on a rough-torn board are the words “Go House Anaconda!” I imagine it was thrown away in disgust. It’s long and straight, though not terribly strong. I could probably snap it in half if I wanted.
I walk up to Doc. Icepick notices me a second after I’m too close to do anything about it. His muscles tense, and he glares.
“Hey, Doc,” I say. “Um … I got … um …” I gesture with the board. “Will this help?”
His bushy eyebrows take it all in. “Well, it’ll be better than nothing. Let me see it.” Pulling off his parka, he drapes it over the board before laying it down next to Sidewinder’s body. “The larger problem is still this monument, though,” he says, indicating the spiky pyramid. “I think I’ve controlled the bleeding for now, so we should be ready to lift it.”
“I can probably … ” I say, turning to look at the board.
“Not by yourself. It needs to be lifted away smoothly, not pulled every which way. Mr. Volpe, you’ll have to help.”
“So Square’s friends can jump me?” Icepick growls.
“Dude, the fight’s over,” I say. “What would be the point in jumping you now?”
“Move over, mate.” Jackhammer pushes Icepick out of the way. “I’ll do it.”
“Very well,” Doc says. “Mr. Dickson, you stand there. Mr. Cooper, there. Hands like so. You’ll need to make sure you’re lifting together, so lift slowly. Now, Mr. Enclosure,” he says, and I see Sidewinder’s eyes move around to look at him. “Mr. Enclosure, we’re going to remove the spike. The painkillers ought to be kicking in now, but it is going to hurt. I need you to hold yourself as still as you can.”
“All right,” says Doc.“1, 2, 3 lift.”
I didn’t think it would be hard to lift slowly. Usually with something heavy, you figure it’ll be difficult to move, but with two Nephilim … heck, it’s a struggle not to throw the thing up into the air. Watching each other, we carefully inch the spike out (while Sidewinder grunts furiously between his teeth). Blood bubbles out as the spike’s raised, and Doc sponges it away.
We’ve almost got it clear when Jackhammer makes a move I don’t anticipate. There’s a snap.
“Get it clear. Get it clear now.” Doc pushes the spike out of the way and leans over Sidewinder. “Damnit. The end broke off. Thank you, gentlemen. Set it down now.” His free hand digs in the bag and brings out a forceps and a thin rod.
“What’s that for?” I ask.
“Not now, Mr. Dickson. Please hold Mr. Enclosure’s arms. Mr. Cooper, his legs.”
I barely have time to comply before Doc’s reaching in with the forceps (he uses the rod to nudge aside the flesh, and holy crap, does Sidewinder struggle when he does that!)
“There.” The forceps come out with a glittering piece of metal the length of a candy bar. Doc drops it to the ground. “All right. I need you to keep holding him while I stitch him up.”
“He’s going to heal. Who gives a crap?” Icepick asks.
“Shut up,” Jackhammer tells him.
“He would heal after bleeding a profound amount and might not fully recover for a week,” Doc says, coming back with some thread. “May I assume you wish to avoid that?”
They do. So Jackhammer and I hold Sidewinder down while Doc stitches him up. Sidewinder’s pretty exhausted by this point anyway, so it’s not too hard. I mostly watch Doc. When he said “stitch up”, he meant more than just the skin: he also re-arranges a few arteries and internal organs. That spike really did a number on Sidewinder.
“He’s passed out,” Ball Buster says. I’d honestly forgotten Bally was still there.
“From blood loss, yes,” Doc says. He’s taking the board I brought over, sliding it under Sidewinder. “But with the dressing, he should recover consciousness by tomorrow morning. I would still recommend he stay in bed for the day.”
“He all right, then?” Jackhammer asks. “He’s not like to be messed up or nothing, yeah?”
“No, he should heal properly now.”
“Are you going to report us, sir?” I say, and immediately realize that’s a stupid question to ask, with five of Jackhammer’s goons right there.
Dr. Schaefer just snorts. “Wolfe is not an idiot. I imagine she’s already aware of this incident.” He frowns at us, still kneeling beside the stretcher. “What I will say to all of you involved is that this sort of behavior was reckless, foolhardy, and dangerous in the extreme. What, may I ask, was supposed to be accomplished here? You’re still here, you’re still trapped. Who were the better fighters hardly makes a difference in regard to that.”
“You knew about it, and you still let it happen,” Ball Buster says.
Doc shakes his head, looking back down at Sidewinder. “It’s not my business to interfere. Only to help.”
That seems odd. And not totally consistent. But I honestly don’t care. Because from where I’m standing, I can see Doc’s eyes without the sunglasses in the way.
And they’re glowing.
The full text of The Nephilim Protocol is available on Amazon for 0.99. The sequel, The Hospitaller Oath, is also up on Amazon for 2.99!