The world exploded in a savage fury when as Thorias collided into Moira! Water hammered into them, spraying electricity in all directions. The high-pressure stream of liquid bashed into the doctor, slapping him aside like a discarded rag doll. He struck the ground, sliding over the grass, electricity clawing his body. Dimly he heard screams of pain. A part of his mind realized one scream was Moira’s, the other his own.
Every nerve, every fiber of his being was on fire; his body trembled while darkness tried to swallow him. Thorias clawed his way to consciousness with a mad panic. He blinked, vision blurred. Between crackling fire, gunshots, screams of the wounded, and a horrid persistent ringing, he could hear nothing clearly. Trembling, he hauled his arms under him and shoved upright. Everything around him was devastation.
Bodies were strewn about the hillside, Moira among them, laying like discarded toys of a giant child. Fires burned freely; smoke was as thick as fog, blocking the view of anything beyond a few feet. The doctor dragged a tattered sleeve across his eyes, desperate to clear his eyes. Suddenly a familiar sharp cry of grief latched onto his attention.
“Angela!” Thorias called out. Through the smoke, he could make out a werewolf-shaped figure.
“Doctor!” came the muffled reply, “Moira won’t move! She won’t move!”
“Coming!” he called back. He gripped his bandaged ribs under his shirt, then took a deep breath to steady his nerves. Suddenly, a monstrous shape lumbered out of the smoke and darkness: the Arachnae Ironclad! In a few steps it would be on top of them!
“Angela! Behind you!” the doctor cried out. Oblivious, the girl remained where she was.
Thorias, however, did not.
With a furious determination, he forced himself to his feet. Despite his throbbing head and cracked ribs, he ran. He raced through the hellish terrain as if possessed, stumbling through the smoke and flames. Bullets snapped around him while his eyes remained riveted on one goal: reaching Moira and Angela.
He collapsed to his knees next to Moira, heart clenched tight in his chest at what he saw. Burns laced along Moira’s right arm and side; her clothes smoked as though they had been boiled. He glanced over his shoulder towards the Ironclad. The war machine had stopped advancing to turn and fire skyward. Thorias said a silent prayer of thanks for Anthony Hunter’s good timing at being a distraction, then focused on Moira.
Quickly, he reached forward to check her pulse. Angela watched him intently.
“She’s alive,” Thorias said quickly, “but she needs those burns treated.” He glanced over his shoulder again. The Ironclad had not moved, but was no longer firing. Their time was running out. He wanted them out of harm’s way, but Moira could not be moved. Not like this.
The ground shook with a deadly rattle of gears, followed by the angry sound of boiling water under high pressure. Angela shrieked in alarm, then started to charge the war machine to defend Moira and the doctor. Thorias caught her quickly by the shoulders, and promptly grunted in pain that burned white hot in his chest.
“No!” he said sharply. “This one’s mine, young lady. Get me a medical bag, now!”
Angela’s face was twisted into a mask of worry. “But it’s a machine, and you’re a doctor!” she blurted out.
Thorias snatched up one of Moira’s revolvers – fortunately it had survived intact so far – then expertly checked the ammunition. He shoved the revolver into his empty holster with a determined look.
“I wasn’t born one,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Now, get me that bag! Meanwhile, I have a bug to exterminate!”
“Yes, Doctor! I think I left at least one with Mother,” Angela said with a quick nod before she bolted off across the hellish landscape.
Thorias ignored the pain in his ribs while he reached out to drag the damaged, sparking lightning pack closer to him. He turned it over until he found a maintenance panel on the side. He glanced up nervously when the Ironclad took another step forward.
“Bloody Fomorians and their ruddy plans.” He looked down at the pack, yanked the panel open and rapidly analyzed the wiring inside. He turned over the image of the Ironclad in his mind, specifically where its tube and insulation connected the twin barrels to the machine’s main generator. The doctor then shoved a hand into the rat’s net of wires in the pack, quickly pulling wires free and establishing new connections.
“Time to close the patient,” he muttered aloud. Satisfied, he slammed the panel shut, flipped a power switch, then forced himself to his feet, facing the Arachnae Ironclad. Thorias took a deep breath, then bolted towards the war machine, carrying the altered pack!
Immediately, the cannons turned toward Thorias, as if the device or its pilots sensed the doctor’s approach. Power hummed; electricity crackled greedily while the capacitors charged. Thorias ran faster, hob-nail boots hammering the grass, heart pounding in his ears; an eerie whine arose from the pack as its generator powered up out of control.
If that continues towards the others, the doctor mused, then shoved the useless thought from his mind. I can’t miss, the doctor’s mouth set in a hard line, not today!
The Ironclad tracked the small figure running towards it, crouched on its spider-like legs, and fired! At the last moment, Thorias changed course. He hurled himself forward, tossing the pack up into the air! The pack sailed up in a graceful arc, glowing with a blue electric aura while he dove face-first onto the wet grass beneath the war machine! Thorias slid forward into a roll, tumbling out from under the Ironclad until he emerged behind it, clutching his sore mid-section.
Lightning crackled around the Ironclad’s twin cannons just as the pack reached them. The pack’s batteries exploded as its generator shoved more energy into them than they could ever hold! Fire and smoke engulfed the cannons as a blood-chilling shriek of metal filled the air. The explosion dissipated, leaving behind a twisted dent in one of the large cannons atop the Ironclad.
Sparks raced wild along the barrel; water sprayed out of a dozen cracks. Denied its usual exit, the torrent exploded into the interior of the Ironclad itself! Muffled shouts of the crew could be heard in between the shrieks of abused metal. As Thorias got to his feet, the vehicle shuddered violently. Lightning played over its convulsing surface. Metal screamed as rivets exploded out like gunfire!
Electrified water gushed out of the broken machine, vomiting the two Fomorians onto the grass. Behind them, the boiler erupted skyward, spraying its contents like a fountain. The boiling hot water rained down through the smoke, turning quickly to steam.
Thorias sighed, exhaustion weighing on him heavily. He closed his eyes, then started to rise; abruptly he doubled over in agony. The doctor’s accumulated bruises and wounds from the past days lanced pain through his chest as the adrenaline and excitement bled away.
“Now they have a chance,” Dr. Llwellyn said under his breath. “Among this madness, at least they have a chance.” He grimaced as the stabbing pain in his ribs tried to steal his breath once more. “Now to see about Moira. Too many lives have been lost today, I won’t lose hers.”
The doctor glanced skyward, “Moira won’t get bandaged with me lollygagging here all day,” he growled, then took a slow deep breath. Slowly, finally, Thorias forced himself to his feet. He heard a knife being slid from its sheath behind him.
A feeling of pure ice ran through his veins.