Life Thief

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Chapter 11

Quincy pushed the door of the car open and slipped out, the auto-injector of naloxone in one hand. He didn’t stop to look around. There wasn’t time. He passed Streamline; a quick look at her face blown open by an explosive bullet told him he had no need to stop there. Next was Sparky. Quincy bent down and pulled the tranquilizer dart from the animal’s neck. He flung it away and injected the naloxone. That was one.

He saw Nova, where she had tumbled away across the street. Leaping over Sparky, he ran over and gave the drugged female raptor the same treatment. Only then did he look up.

The roiling smoke darkened the sky, flecked with glowing bits of ash. The ground was shaking, as if with huge, deliberate footsteps. Far up above, a distant flock of those birds was squalling as it fled the smoke cloud. Quincy felt his body cringe and shake at the sight and sound of the tiny flyers. But they were leaving in the face of a greater threat—a small consolation. The Tyrannosaurus was coming closer.

Quincy turned and ran back towards the car. He saw Sparky’s limbs twitching as he passed; the raptor’s eyes rolled in his head. “Hold that thing off, Sparky,” he shouted, “cover us.” Then he dived into the open car door. “Let’s get out of here,” he cried, slamming the door shut. “Now!”

The driver revved the coughing diesel engine, the car spinning around in a wobbly U-turn back the way it had come. Speeding up, it swung onto the road that climbed into the mountains.

The woman in the front seat reached out with the first aid kit as they bounced along. “Those bites—“ she said, worriedly.

“Not now. There’s not time.” Quincy wiped the sweat from his brow. Yes, the bites stung. He didn’t care.

He turned to look out the back as the ruins quickly dropped into the distance behind them. He saw his raptors get to their feet and circle towards each other, then bolt in the direction of the mountains. He felt a flutter of relief. But the flutter froze as trees broke from their roots and crashed down around the electric railway, and a huge creature, towering over the buildings on the street, emerged from the smoke cloud. The dark scales appeared ruptured all along the long back and tail, the long spines of fiery feathers that covered its head, neck, and body rippling as if—no, they actually were on fire. Small glowing eyes oriented on the departing car and the massive head, longer than a railcar, lifted upwards, swinging to the side. The jaws full of wicked teeth snapped open, and another terrifying roar blasted from its throat—and then heat, awful, searing heat, igniting the air around its head in great gouts of fire.

“Domine, miserere nobis,” the priest muttered, staring out the back window.

The car was making good time; the animal and its flames were far in the distance now. “Can it close the distance?” the other man in the backseat, smaller and darker with round glasses, asked.

“Yes,” Quincy said. “Don’t slow down.”

“I’m not,” the driver said. “Not even thinking about it.”

The tyrannosaur stood still for an instant, as the echoes of its roar dispersed, and then it sprang forward on huge, powerful legs, charging straight up the road after them.

Quincy closed his eyes. “Jesus,” he muttered.

“I don’t think I want to lead it back to the monastery,” the driver said, gritting his teeth.

“We could outrun it, maybe, if we get off of the road,” the woman said.

“We’d have to get off anyway to get back there—oops, hang on.” The car leveled up as it barreled up the mountain slope, then careened sideways off of the smooth highway, tearing through the woods. Quincy’s eyes flew open.

“The trees… they’re on fire,” the priest murmured. He held a string of beads in his fingers, and knelt rigid next to the unfortunate Authority man on the floor. Quincy saw it was true—all down the mountain slope, a blazing inferno had caught the trees alongside the highway, throwing up a nightmarish fanfare to the terrifying locomotive of a dinosaur hurtling along the road.

“How do you even kill a thing like that?” the man in the backseat murmured. The car bounced and crashed, the foliage of the woods around them obscuring the vision of the dinosaur, though the smoke and flames billowing above the trees could not be obscured.

“I don’t know,” Quincy said. “I don’t think anyone ever has.”

“Can it be knocked out?” the woman asked. “We’ve got plenty of etropine, but…”

“I don’t know.”

“It might be worth a shot, if it’s still following us when we hit the mountain road,” the man in the backseat said. He leaned into the storage area in the back, bracing himself against the hefty jolts of the vehicle, his fingers fumbling for another case of darts.

“If it is,” the priest said, “we can lead it around the mountain to the midway compound, were St. Vito’s is. The Authority stashes high-powered explosives in one of the buildings there. With all that heat…”

Another roar blasted through the air, stunning them all into momentary silence. Quincy swore. The driver jerked the wheel of the car, and then they were up, out of the woods, back on the mountain road that ran up to the Pious Valley. He swerved, turning the car to take the road around the mountain. Behind them, the entire forest was ablaze. The angry cries and roars of all the other animals that lived there echoed a cacophony to the desperate gunning of the diesel engine as the driver pushed the car as fast as it would go.

The tyrannosaur hurtled out of the burning jungle, swinging its head around to orient on the distant car. The burning feathers that ridged its body puffed out, standing erect, and a sizzling crackle ran along its coat, small arcs of static charge that clouded a force field around the animal as it charged after the car.

Quincy felt his limbs go numb, felt the sizzle of static as the car jerked and bounced, then swerved and plunged off the road, as the driver lost control. Quincy couldn’t even turn his head—the crackle burned in his ears as even his vision dimmed. What was going on? The car hurtled down a gulley and slammed into a sandbank, the people inside jerked forward violently, and yet none of them had the faculty to catch themselves. Quincy heard a sickening crunch, smelled the sour sweet scent of blood, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

He heard the tyrannosaur roar again, and he still couldn’t move, or see. Far away bellows answered the roar, but Quincy could not make sense of space or time. Sooner rather than later, though, he lost consciousness.

~*~*~

“The whole forest is on fire,” Brother Augustine said. He stared up at the columns of smoke as the heat of the conflagration billowed even up the mountain and into the valley. The kentrosaurs ran in circles, swinging their tails, bellowing in alarm.

“What is it?” Lyric was crying.

“Just get down!” Oscar shouted. He had jumped off the stairs, and, grabbing Lyric, pulled her behind the bunker. Brother Augustine stayed where he was on the balustrade, as if transfixed.

And then they heard the roar. Brother Augustine flung his hands over his ears as the howling fury of it got loud—too loud. It was the most terrifying sound any of them had ever heard. It was close. Way too close.

A crackle filled the air, sizzling in the smoke clouds. The kentrosaurs bellowed as one, as if suddenly enraged, and the whole herd began to stampede—straight across the Pious Valley, out to the road, and down the mountain. The thunder of their galloping tread seemed to shake the whole mountain.

Brother Augustine still had his hands over his ears as the monastery doors gently swung open, and Father Columba stepped out. He glanced up at the smoke, across the the way at the fire, and soft wrinkles crossed his forehead. He looked at the stampeding kentrosaurs. “Where are they going?” he asked.

“I… I don’t know, Father.” Brother Augustine took his hands off of his ears. Lyric was crying from somewhere down below; Oscar had her held down behind the bunker. “That sort of behavior makes it seem,” Brother Augustine continued, “like someone lit off a strong electrical charge.”

“What started that fire, then? Is a Tyrannosaurus ignirugiens that close?”

“Yes—didn’t you hear it roar?”

Father Columba smiled wanly. “I suppose I did. I’ve never heard one before. Quite the impressive sound.”

Brother Augustine shuddered.

“Don’t mind the door now, my son,” Father Columba said. “Come inside. We’ll take everyone down into the crypt.”

“Oscar,” Brother Augustine called. “Come inside.”

As the last of the kentrosaurs thundered out of sight, Oscar warily stood, holding Lyric tightly. Still staring at the smoke, the line of his mouth tight and grim, he dragged her over to the stairs and followed the monks inside.

“I will latch this, but not lock it,” Father Columba said.

“I don’t think they’re going to come back,” Oscar said. “Not through that.”

“Someone else may need refuge.” Father Columba pushed the door closed.

“Father,” Brother Augustine said, “I don’t feel like there is cause yet not to hope that they may have survived. I’d like to stay and watch the door…”

Father Columba looked at him, and nodded. “If you wish,” he said. “Join us if it becomes dangerous—and alert us if you see any sign of them.”

Lyric struggled away from Oscar’s grip, hiccuping sobs shaking her small frame. “Did they die?”

“We don’t know,” Father Columba said. “Commend them to God, Lyric. And come with us. We’re going down to the crypt.”

Wordlessly, she followed them down the hall. The tramp of Oscar’s boots sounded impatiently behind her, but even in such an emergency the monks still seemed to her to move awfully slowly. The roars and the smoke still filled the skies outside, but the thick stone walls made it all seem farther away than it was. Lyric glanced at the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe as they passed it, and she felt her steps slowing to match the monks’. Several other people, both monks in habits and the few of the team that had come in the car, joined them in the hallway, all of them grave and quiet. The group turned down a small corridor that descended a flight of stairs, and what light was left under the smoke and fire disappeared as they left the surface.

Several of the monks produced candles and lanterns, lighting them swiftly with matches. Father Columba pulled a torch from the cold stone wall. A stick of wood wrapped in pitch-soaked cloth, it lit easily when he touched it to one of the candles. The cold chill of the underground stillness was pushed back a bit with the bright, flickering heat, and slowly, Father Columba led the way down the stairs, until they ended, the way continuing through a low tunnel.

The tunnel opened up into a large crypt, arched with buttresses, burial alcoves cut into all the walls. Straight ahead, as they wound around the supporting pillars, Lyric saw a tiny chapel in its own tall alcove, complete with an altar and tabernacle. A nine-day candle glowed softly to them in greeting behind its red glass.

Down here, there was no sound. No fire, no roars. No light, except that of the candles and torch. There were benches interspersed along the walls near the chapel alcove, and most everyone, slowly, hesitantly, took a seat, except for a great number of the monks, who stood as if in watchful vigil around the group, holding their lamps and candles. Some of them were murmuring Aves, and slowly, one by one, every monk joined in, until a slow rhythmic chorus was intoning the prayers. Their voices echoed eerily throughout the crypt.

Lyric squinted in the candle and torch light. Were those BONES in the alcoves? She shivered, and looked around for someone to sit next to. She saw Oscar sitting with Edward, and Jathan sitting by himself.

She sat down next to Jathan. He looked over at her, his hands resting on his knees, his arms shaking slightly. “You okay?” he asked quietly.

Lyric frowned, wrapping her arms around herself. “I’m okay,” she said, “it’s just… everyone who was out there probably isn’t.”

“Yeah.” Jathan’s voice caught. “I think… well… it’s unfortunate. De Vries was a really solid guy. He didn’t deserve to die like that.”

“Quincy didn’t either. But maybe they aren’t dead.”

“Did you see those flames?”

“I saw them,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they’re dead.”

“Well,” Jathan said. “It’s a pretty slim chance, don’t you think?”

Lyric looked upwards thoughtfully, towards the still, rounded ceiling of the crypt. She thought higher, to the soaring arches of the monastery cloister and their protective silence. The statue of Our Lady, its hands folded, its quiet peace and vigilance a bulwark against the death and chaos that tried to force its hand outside the walls.

The monks were still praying together in their quiet recto tono. “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus te cum…

“No,” Lyric said, loudly. “No, because she’s watching over them.”

Jathan looked at her skeptically. “Who is?” he asked.

“Our Lady,” Lyric said, in that childish way that indicated it should be obvious.

“Oh,” Jathan said. “All right.”

Brother Paphnutius, standing near them, smiled. “Ipsa conteret caput tuum,” he said.

~*~*~

Far down the mountain, two stiff-tailed, bird-like shapes perched on a rocky outcropping, silhouetted against the leaping flames of the forest behind them. They hooted and called, a safe distance from the huge bulk of the flaming Tyrannosaurus ignirugiens as it paused in its charge. The gleaming eyes turned to regard the shrieking figures of the raptors, but it was not interested in them. Its huge, leering head swung back towards its primary prey—the car that had careened off the road, some distance ahead, and now lay crumpled and smoking in the gully.

As if in answer to the raptors’ shrieks, loud bellows sounded from above, up the mountain. Tyrannosaurus’ nostrils flared as it again accepted a distraction from its object. An angry growl rumbled in its throat, and sparks flew from the heat of its breath, its feathers still crackling from the static burst it had flung at its prey.

Pouring over the crest of the mountain from the valley, small black shapes, armored with rows of spikes, barrelled roaring and bellowing down the road towards the huge flaming dinosaur. Kentrosaurus.

Ignirugiens started in fury, and roared—the blast of sound shuddering against the mountain peak. The herd of Kentrosaurus bellowed in reply, seeming immune to any fear in their furious charge. Heat poured from the Tyrannosaurus’ mouth, and the air ignited. The kentrosaurs plowed through the flames, and a sudden static pulse shook the tyrannosaur. It stumbled, its flaming head feathers standing straight up as if amazed. Furious, it gained its feet and leapt at the nearest kentrosaur, gouts of flame spewing from its jaws as it sunk its teeth into the much smaller animal.

The kentrosaur went down with a cry of distress, and the rest of the herd closed in. Waves of electrical pulse sparked across the tyrannosaur’s body, and the feathers burst, the ruptured scales igniting along its back in terrible, charring burns. The tyrannosaur let go of its prey to let out a scream.

The heat in the air became almost unbearable, until even the raptors perched up on their rock away from the action were panting in it. They lifted first one foot, then the other, then looked at each other and flattened themselves down low as a plume of smoke wafted in their direction.

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