This is part of an ongoing steampunk fantasy story. See the introduction to get at the story from the beginning.
In my hands, the serpentine clicked and jostled. Noticing its bottom half was gone, the daemon sprouted five short legs. It wrapped around my forearm and powered down. A small sense of pride grew in my chest. My personal companion.
Just as I was collecting what was left of my equipment, a soft high-pitched whistle broke into the soundscape. Not a bird or the wind; more of a hiss. Like steam and metal and –
I dove to my left.
A scraper missile barely missed me. Another blast, this one in the trees, rained smoldering bits of wood like shrapnel. The rebels had me zeroed.
I tore into the forest.
They followed, shouting from the jungle, getting closer. Several bullets whizzed past my ear.
Again, my training flared to life. I needed to find some place to hide. Seek cover and wait for them to pass, then make my way west until I found an Ilsan patrol.
But this time, instincts fought my training. I wanted to turn and fight, though I didn’t have a weapon.
I barreled into another clearing, this one much smaller. Straight ahead of me was a sinkhole filled with fetid, brown water. A bullet struck me. Pain pierced my shoulder, sharp and unforgiving. Fire burned down my arm. I gritted my teeth and clenched my shoulder. But I fought to stay on my feet.
Without warning, the pain from the gunshot wound vanished. The ruckus from the closing rebels disappeared.
My teeth set on edge. The sour, corrosive smell that accompanied wild, dark majick filled the air. I realized what must have been happening a split second before the monster leapt from the water. He was easily three times my weight but short and stocky. Only a few feet high but more than seven feet long, like a fat snake that had grown four powerful legs. Solid muscles moved under his too-tight, paper-white skin. Two piercing, yellow eyes fixed on me.
We stared at each other for a breath.
In a fluid, lithe movement, he attacked.
I instinctively round house kicked, smacking him in the jaw. He swiped my legs out from under me, but I shifted so I fell forward and landed on his back.
He howled and flailed.
I grabbed on tight. He craned his neck around and snapped at me. He barked and swiped again, now rising onto his hind legs. I locked my left arm around its body. He dragged me to my feet with him. I pulled a short blade from the sheath at my side. When he bit me again, I stabbed him in the throat. Off center, but a good hit into meaty flesh. Black, oily blood covered my knife and hand. The creature shrieked and bucked. I fell off, the blood loosening my grip.
I caught my feet this time. The knife was still in his throat.
He backed a few paces and squirmed to get the knife free. I took the moment to breathe and think. My shoulder was fine. There were obviously no rebels. This whole thing must have been some trick of majick. I knew that dumb beasts in this cursed jungle could use majick by instinct, the way some animals evolved camouflage, but I never guessed it could be something this powerful.
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