The sun had risen on an overcast day, and shadows in the alley were heavy. Inside their darkened hollows glowed several pairs of yellow eyes, hovering above bared fangs that gleamed in the darkness. A low rumble echoed across the bare brick walls, beastly growls from multiple throats.
Four huge shapes moved in the shadows, materializing from the pools of darkness and moving into the center of the alley. They were hulking, doglike creatures, bristling with tufts of stiff fur, their limbs and backs thick with overlapping mounds of muscle. Their snouts were a little too wide, their teeth too large and long, and their eyes held a mindless hunger, radiating with a thirst for blood and death.
Alice and Royce moved together, and he kept a protective hand on her arm. Miriam stepped forward placing herself between them and the creatures, sparks of blue energy beginning to gather around her fingertips.
“Stay back.” She instructed.
As if they needed any encouragement to keep their distance from the dog-monsters.
“What the heck are those things, Miriam,” Alice said. “Did the Vetala send them?”
“No.” Miriam’s jaw clenched and Alice saw anger flashing in her eyes that had nothing to do with the monsters standing in front of them. “These are something else. From someone I should’ve known better than to trust. You to stay behind me. No matter what happens do not try to help.”
The dog-monsters moved slowly forward, tension gathering in their steps as they prepare to attack. Miriam’s hands began to glow with cold blue-white energy. Three of the beasts came at her in a rush. As they leaped towards her, a flash of lightning shot from her hands and flung the creatures away. They skidded along the concrete, bouncing off the brick walls on either side, then righting themselves and finding their feet again in movements far too agile for a canine. They charged Miriam again, jaws snapping and snarling their bloodlust.
Alice clung to Royce’s arm. She glanced in his direction, expecting some surprise at Miriam’s display of power, or at least a faint reflection of the terror that gripped her in its frigid fingers. But all she saw on his face was an odd expression of excitement. An eagerness, even. Flashes of light danced in his eyes as they stayed locked on the battle raging up and down the alley. She turned back towards the death-match as a concussive sound echoed through the alley just in time to watch Miriam’s fist connect with the head of one of the dog monsters in a blinding flash of white.
That was when Alice noticed the fourth beast edging around the fight with its murderous eyes fixed on her and Royce.
“Shoot! Um... Miriam?” She tried.
But Miriam was a little too busy being locked in an epic battle-to-the death with the Pound Puppies from hell. Over and over the beast came at her, taking turns diving from various angles just as fast as she could blast them away. She fought like she was born for it, feet shuffling across the asphalt to position her body where the monster’s attacks would miss her by mere inches, arms moving in perfect precision to counterstrike, blue-white energy erupting with every strike. Miriam’s midnight-black hair flew around her like a living thing, whipping its anger at the air around her head. The darkness in her eyes deepened and spread, somehow glowing with an incandescent light at the same time. She was like a wild thing. Like a force of nature, dangerous and strange, but too stunning to run away from. Alice stood rooted in place, too terrified to look away.
The dog-thing continued to stalk its way along the ally wall, red eyes locked like laser sights on Alice and Royce. Alice crowded her brother, rational thought abandoning her and leaving a roiling panic to claw at the frayed edges of her sanity. Too late she realized that they should be running away. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference, anyway. Alice wasn’t much of a runner and these beasts looked fast. It would probably have caught up to her in a couple of strides, but at least that would have given Royce a chance to escape. He was always much more athletic than Alice. Maybe while the nasty dog-monster was eating Alice, Royce could have found somewhere to hide. But no, he would never have left her behind. Probably would have just got himself eaten right alongside her, a Tomkins family meal-deal: two for the price of one. At least this way they could hold onto each other and look death in the face as it came for them.
And this death had one hell of an ugly face.
The dog-monster edged its way past Miriam and closed on Alice and Royce. Alice gripped Royce’s arm harder, glancing at his face. Again, she was surprised to find not fear but excitement written across his features, but she was out of time to wonder about it. The creature was only a few feet away now, teeth bared in pale deadly rows with lines of wet drool snaking to the ground. It crouched, preparing to pounce. Alice’s brain was to overwhelmed by her terror to even mumble a final goodbye to her brother as she closed her eyes and waited for death. She felt wind on her face and heard the concussive snap of over-large jaws. Cracking her eyes open, Alice found herself staring into bloodthirsty eyes of the dog-monster. Its bared teeth hovered in front of her face, hot breath steaming her hair and clothing. She wasn’t sure what had stopped the beast from biting into her like a chewy candy bar until she caught a glimmer in the corner of her eye and risked a glance downward.
Her hands were glowing.
Blue-white light surrounded both hands, traveling up her arms and casting itself softly in every direction to kiss the darkness of the ally with a gentle glow. It almost looked like the light she’d first seen blazing from Jacob’s hands and eyes when he saved her from the shadow monster. Like the light that shot from Miriam’s fingers as she continued to battle the dog monsters, using her mysterious power to protect Alice and Royce. Now a similar radiance, smaller and softer, but just as real, rose from her skin as though it was lit from the inside like a gaslight streetlamp. Alice was so surprised by the discovery that she forgot to be afraid for just a brief moment, and in that space of a heartbeat, as her fear receded, she felt an inner warmth spreading through her chest to match the glow from her hands.
Returning her wide-eyed gaze to the dog-monster, she felt that warmth stir inside her and the creature in front of her began to change. It was similar to one of her death-visions, but without the pain in her head or the panic that usually accompanied them, and what she saw this time was not some gruesome mask of death and decay. It was a puppy.
The dog-monster faded away, receding into itself, its grotesquely muscled form shrinking gradually until in the place of that hulking monstrosity sat a perfectly normal puppy. Some kind of Labrador mutt, Alice guessed. It was adorable. Alice found herself smiling at the cuteness, and had to force herself not to reach out to the puppy and run her hands along its soft fur. She blinked, then widened her gaze, the dog-monster coming back into view until she could see both creatures at the same time, the beast and the pup.
“So that’s what you used to be,” she said to the monster. “No. That’s what you really are. Isn’t it?”
“Alice, what are doing.” Royce pawed at her arm, his voice tense with uncertainty. She ignored him.
“You’re not a monster at all, are you?” Alice continued, speaking to the dog-monster in calm measured tones. “Someone hurt you. Twisted you into something you weren’t supposed to be.”
She extended on hand slowly, reaching out to the creature in front of her.
“But that’s not really you. You don’t have to be that.”
Her hand rested against a cold, rough snout. The creature sat, lowering its haunches slowly to the ground with a small whimper.
Miriam’s strong hand gripped her arm, pulling her away from the dog-monster and ending the vision.
“We have to go. Now.”
Alice returned to herself. The ally was destroyed, trash cans and street debris mingled with scorched hunks of brick from the ally walls. Two of the dog-things were down, and a third was disappearing around the corner at the end of the ally as it fled. Alice’s attacker still sat where she left it, its gaze fixed on her. The creature’s eyes no longer glowed red, but instead were the dark brown of a normal dog, overflowing with wells of deep sadness.
“What the hell did you do to it?” Miriam asked, her voice tight with disbelief.
“I don’t know.”
Miriam shook her head, moving away, back the way they had come.
“Come on. We need to find somewhere to lay low.” She glanced over her shoulder at Alice with suspicious eyes. “Then we can talk about that freaking animal-taming act you just put on.”
Alice was still too much in shock to be nervous about that conversion. She only had room in her for a single thought: maybe her death-visions weren’t really about death after all.
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