There was only one medallion left that showed Dare anything but darkness as he scryed. He focused intensely on it, willing it to show him more than a fuzzy image of a road in the desert. He sank deeper into his trance state, not noticing as the sounds from the truck he rode in faded away.
The picture swam into focus. There was a backpack sitting on the side of the road, and nearby, a gaping hole in the earth. Dare could hear faint sounds of gunfire, the first sound he had picked up through the medallion.
He poured more of himself through the connection, driven to see more. Where were his friends? He floated in midair, disembodied, and drifted away from the medallion.
Dare felt fear nipping at him. What he was doing was very dangerous, and it left him vulnerable. If something happened to his body, he would not be able to react. And there were worse dangers as well.
Nevertheless, he willed himself toward the hole in the ground. It was as if he was a tiny cloud with eyes in all directions, drifting in the wind. Trying to take it all in, to make sense of all the strange sensory input, made his head pound.
He drifted over the hole and tried to block out all other vision. Below, he saw his friends. Johnson, lying on his side. Two others, injured, but firing at something from behind a makeshift barrier. As he watched, one of the soldiers threw a grenade.
Curious, he drifted farther, trying to get the right angle to see inside the hole. A few seconds later, he could.
If he could’ve gasped, he would have. But he could no longer feel his body. His friends were shooting at a humongous, six-limbed amalgamation of flesh and bone. It sat on four thick legs, human legs, if humans were fifteen feet tall. The legs were arrayed equidistant around the body, all connected to a crimson torso, topped with a huge horned skull. The skull’s eyes blazed red in the shadows.
Arms the size of tree trunks held an enormous bow, but it was not firing. Instead, the creature was urging on smaller minions. Dog-size abominations skittered past and through its legs at the men, who mowed them down as quickly as they appeared. Several man-size, desiccated creatures—like mummies without their wrappings, Dare thought—tried to sneak through the shadows to flank the men, but the rifleman spotted them and threw grenades to blow them to pieces.
Dare was desperate to help. He knew the men could never kill the beast they faced alone. He tried to anchor part of his mind in place, while reaching back to his body in the truck.
He gasped and opened his eyes. He was back in the truck. His head was splitting, but he could also still see the scene through the hole in the road, miles away.
He was vaguely aware of people talking to him, but he ignored them, focusing all his energy on maintaining the link.
Gritting his teeth from the pain, Dare reached toward the rear wall of the vehicle and grasped the AT4 mounted there. He closed his eyes, and pulled hard at the part of himself he had anchored back with his friends.
It’s toying with us again, Lucas thought. He had just thrown his last grenade, and started picking off the bugs trying to crawl past the giant man-spider-minotaur-thing.
“The barrel’s about to melt on this thing!” Farro shouted, pausing his fire. Lucas had set him up with all of the linked 5.56mm ammunition they had in a continuous belt, and Farro had had to keep the gun running damn near cyclic for several minutes.
Glancing over, Lucas saw the barrel was just starting to glow in the dim light.
“Shit,” he said. They didn’t have a spare barrel. “You got any frags?” he asked, as Farro let the SAW rest and awkwardly picked up his carbine one-handed.
“No,” he heard Farro yell over his own shooting.
Lucas yelled, “Forget the rifle, dump the last of the water on that barrel!” The flood of bugs was starting to gain on them without the firepower of the SAW. He shortly heard the wild hiss of steam that told him Farro had done what he’d suggested, and was cooling the barrel with the last half-liter of water they had. It would have to do.
He fired short bursts into several bugs, trying to hold them back until Farro could get the SAW running again, then noticed a creeping figure on the right wall. Without thinking, he snapped his sight reticle on the mummy-thing’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
Lucas cursed even as he pulled the trigger, knowing it was a wasted shot, but rather than continuing on toward him, the mummy-thing exploded like a stick of dynamite had gone off in its chest. One moment it was there, and the next it disintegrated into a cloud of dust and bone.
Farro got the SAW running again, and pushed the bugs back into a pile of dead mammal-insect meat. Free to watch their flanks again, Lucas spotted another mummy-thing and repeated his earlier feat. It, too, exploded when he shot it in the head.
“Guess I wasted all those frags,” he muttered, bitterly.
“I think that’s all of them!” Farro said loudly. And sure enough, as Lucas scanned the room, he saw there was nothing else coming. Just the giant crimson monster.
The monster raised its bow, and nocked an arrow the size of a broomstick. “You’ve done well,” the creature said. “But the game is over.”
Dare fell to the road in a clatter. He’d materialized two feet above the surface, and almost knocked himself out as he jammed the barrel of his carbine in the dirt and hit himself under the chin with the stock.
Yet he was elated. It had worked! His head was splitting, but he’d managed to teleport with no magical aid without killing himself.
He squashed the feeling of joy and climbed to his feet, grabbing the AT4 from where it had fallen. He was looking straight into the hole at the monster, which had just raised his bow.
“Fuck that,” Dare said. He dredged up the memory of the training class he’d once taken and prepared the rocket to fire, aiming right at the base of the creature’s torso. He didn’t want the rocket to only blow the thing’s arm off.
Nothing happened when he depressed the firing stud. Cursing, he looked at he launcher and saw he’d missed a step. Cocking the launcher, he aimed again, just in time to see the monster release his arrow and lower its bow to nock another from the huge quiver at its side.
Shrugging slightly, Dare adjusted his aim to the center of the monstrous chest and fired.