My voice merely served to act as a catalyst, for as my cry echoed wildly throughout the cavern violence exploded on all sides. Flashes lit the area as gunfire roared forth; Scar shoved me hard to the side, and I went down in a rough, ungraceful heap. Rolling onto my knees, clutching the spear, I watched as Scale smashed into the men, vibrant green gore spraying forth as the fire from at least three separate weapons tore into his body. The subsequent collision scattered the men; I had just gained my feet only to be thrown back as one of Reed's lackeys came staggering into me.
Instead of dealing with the larger, deadlier threat of the predators the man decided to turn his attention to me. His expression as I scrambled up to confront him was one of utter anxiety; whatever Reed had told his team apparently hadn't prepared them for encountering the hunters head on. He viciously shoved the barrel of his assault rifle into my midsection and I doubled over as my breath left me in a painful torrent. He's going to shoot you! my brain screamed but the man suddenly let out a strangled shout, and I managed to straighten enough to see Scar's wrist blades protruding from his abdomen. As Scar ripped them free in a savage vertical arc blood and chunks of thicker gore spattered my face and body, and the man toppled over to land face first at my side.
Scar nudged at the dropped assault rifle with his foot, growling at me, before turning and rushing for the battle, a roiling mass of ferocity in his own right. Stunned and a trifle horrified I stared for a long moment at the still twitching corpse of the man before the shouts and roars of the combatants mingled simultaneously to a booming crescendo. Attaching my spear quickly to my belt I scooped up the rifle and brought it to my shoulder; it was heavy and unwieldy, but with my finger against the trigger I felt much, much safer than I had before.
I took aim then, squinting and trying to steady the trembling of my hands. The crosshairs in my vision danced from predator to human; the men had learned the hard way just what a predator could do to their defenses when guns were no longer an option. I couldn't get a clear shot and was about to through my newly acquired weapon down in frustration when movement caught my attention from the corner of my eye. Reed had managed to escape the brunt of the current brawl and was crouched behind some stalagmites, fumbling with something at his waist in frantic haste. I realized an instant later what it was he held and felt my blood run cold; between one breath and the next I sighted on him and pulled the trigger.
I'd never wielded an assault rifle before; the kickback sent me stumbling into the wall behind me as my shot went wide, biting into the ground a mere few feet from Reed and sending up a shower of debris. It was enough to distract him, however, and he whipped around, dropping the grenade to focus on me. I steadied myself and brought the rifle up again, my intent to finish the task, to end his miserable life when a blast of abrupt brilliant, vivid blue blinded me—Tank's cannon had fired. And when I blinked away the haze resulting from the bright assault I discovered two things almost simultaneously—Reed had taken the diversion as an opportunity to flee from where he'd been hiding, and Scale lay prostrate on the ground, limbs out flung. Was he dead? I had no time to wonder, because Tank's cannon erupted again, and I was too late in closing my eyes. This time it took longer for my vision to clear, and when I could make some sense of my surroundings I found myself face to face with Reed.
Too late I saw his fist coming toward my face. I tried to dodge, but still it connected, jolted my teeth and rattled my brain. I staggered back into a stalagmite column, head spinning. He advanced, backhanding me with the same arm. This time, I stumbled to the side and fell to my knees. "Lex, Lex," he sneered, "You don't look so well."
I tried to lift the rifle, to get a shot off, but he kicked it out of my grasp and sent it skittering across the stone floor. I had managed to get myself up on one knee when he caught me by the collar and hefted me upright; his breath on my face, his fierce and savage smile were combined revolting, and so I spit at him, enjoying the way my mingled blood and spittle struck his face. Immediately his expression soured, and when he spoke next he lowered his head until his lips hovered over my own.
"I gave you every chance, Lex, and now it's too late." His hand tightened, cutting off my air. "You would have been worth the aggravation."
I tried to choke something out, to verbally defy him though I was awash in both terror and fury. He was going to kill me without hesitation, and here I was helpless … I lashed out as best I could with one leg but it was a weak blow, and Reed's breath left him then in a soft chuckle.
And then he was ripped away with a violence that had me sprawled unceremoniously on the ground. Twisting around, I looked up just in time to see Scar raise Reed's squirming form to eye level with one hand around the neck; a roar that shuddered the stone beneath me left him then, and in one seamless, effortless, powerful movement the hunter hurled Reed away. My eyes were torn from the man's flight as a haggard scream replaced Scar's bellow; standing swiftly I turned to see Tank holding his own against the last two remaining men. I started forwards unthinking, wanting to assist somehow; Scar caught me by the shoulder with a shake of his head. And so I watched as Tank neatly beheaded one of the men with a backwards thrust of one arm blade; deftly whirling about he impaled the other and hoisted him high into the air with a triumphant scream.
The noise I made then was one of thankful relief; we'd survived-
And then Scar made an urgent noise, and his hands were on me, pushing me away. And as I tottered off balance, I turned as best I could to see what was wrong, why he'd done this. And in the instants that slowed infinitesimally before I hit the ground, my eyes found Reed standing where he'd obviously landed, and then they focused on the object hurtling through the air towards Scar and I …
"NO!" I screamed, and had just raised my arms to shield my face when a deafening noise rushed over me followed by excruciating heat and a blast that lifted me and brutally tossed me further. And then I struck the ground, still screaming, and had a moment to realize that the cavern, rocked by the explosion, was no longer stable. Stones and rubble rained down all around me; I scrambled to all fours and tried to stand up, tried to run—
Agony erupted in my head and my vision darkened, and before I collapsed I desperately prayed for a miracle.
A/N: And now this story is complete. This ending was short, yes, but there's a reason; it leads into the third installment, after all …
On to the topic of the third story—it shall be entitled Subtle Threat (Oooh are you sensing a theme?) And I'm estimating the first chapter will be up in the near future, possibly next week; Chocobo Goddess and I have to coordinate our schedules. It will be posted under my account, but it's very much going to be a collaboration.
And on to the Thank You's … Huge, tremendous and utterly heartfelt thanks to everyone who reviewed me, who emailed me, who contacted me over instant messenger to talk with me about this story. You've made my writing that much more enjoyable, and I do hope you come along for the next ride. Thanks and hugs also go out to CassieKnight and Shitzo for their artistic renditions of Scar and Tank; if you're interested in seeing the pictures I hope to have them up on my website for display soon.
P.S. Because I adore Tank so much (he's really grown on me) I've decided to incorporate him into Lateralus, my fic about Adele Rousseau from the movie.
Thank again, everyone!