Next Royal Road Patreon u/KieveKRS
providing the Trash certification of quality! (with help from u/coldfireknight
cuz this one needed it.)
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Nalah affixed the massive shield to her back, the rectangular form large enough for him to fit behind while only needing to crouch slightly. It was mostly ironwood, but the sides and front were metal-plated, so it still weighed a considerable amount. Despite that, the thing’s bulk hardly seemed to be noticed by the blonde-furred female, likely due to the constant construction work she involved herself in. It paired oddly with the long pike she insisted on using, but he couldn’t deny that poking at things while hiding behind a mobile wall sounded like a good idea.
Jax was wearing his new armour, the bulky chest-piece a mirror of his blond-furred pack mate’s. Though he forwent the protection a buckler or likewise would offer, he doubled up on gear. Gauntlets, vambraces, pauldrons, and anything else he could wear to compliment the massive axe he had taken a liking to.
Where Nalah was fitted to look like an apocalypse survivor—her protections limited to her torso, forearms, and shield—the black-furred male resembled a giant, if underfunded, paladin. All he needed now was some religious imagery and a penchant for exalting the qualities of their god. Joseph almost nudged the guy to suggest it for kicks.
On second thought, he decided that Jax absolutely did not
need a reason to start yelling about the Human-turned-religious-figure, because there was no way in hell he wouldn’t. There was no telling what he would choose to say, and the Grand Hunter was perfectly happy never knowing.
Having been with the male as long as he had, it would probably involve ‘taming’ females or something else that would leave him groaning for weeks, if not just contemplating another high-dive from the cliff.
Joseph fixed his own equipment, the ‘Wraith armour’ worn over his own thin iron breastplate. He wasn’t thrilled to wear the extra weight, but it beat being mauled by the thing they were heading out to kill. The trips so far had been tolerable, fog and overcast skies keeping the temperature in check, but he didn’t want to go out in this on a hotter day as Summer really kicked back in. He was sweaty enough without baking inside all this crap.
He adjusted the wolf-skull mask, the rest of the hunting party having gotten over the worst of the unease it gave them. Though they’d needed to rotate people out for the sake of fairness, this would be their eighth consecutive scouting. Using the information that Raine and Faye provided, they narrowed down a likely stomping grounds for the creature and were systematically clearing sectors. It might have been discouraging to keep looking after so long, but the occasional marking on trees and the odd moss-wolf corpse tipped them off that they were getting close. There was still another week’s worth of searching left if today wasn’t the day, but somehow he doubted they wouldn’t need that long.
All in all, they numbered six; larger parties were attempted, but their efforts at stealth quickly became pointless between so many trudging through the forest and stopping for breaks. There was a bit of a scare where one of Mi’low’s pack went missing, but the guy had just stopped to relieve himself. Since the discovery was made by someone else knocking him over in the process by mistake, they decided that keeping the number smaller made communication easier. And lowered the amount of grumbling about needing a bath.
Jax, Nalah, two security members, one of the hunters, and him. Sure, grabbing Tel or the Wraiths would have been a bit more useful for cohesion, but they were all busy with things, and he didn’t want to grind everything in the settlement to a halt for nothing if the search turned up empty again. They were more suited to taking out their fellow Lilhun than some monster in the woods, as much as he disliked the thought.
Scarlet was spending a lot of time with Violet and the new Atmo, Faye was spending much of her recovery with the moss-wolves and moss-pup, and Tel was in the process of helping Harrow shore up the few security members that were slated to become snipers. Kaslin was still learning chemistry with Toril, and Raine was helping whoever needed a hand, so that marked off all of his usual accompaniment. He could have taken more of his direct pack, but they all had important things to take care of as well.
Sahari was managing the pack and putting people where people needed to be put, Pan was working with Idee and Heralt to make a line of armour for the whole pack, and Mi’low was...well, Mi’low
. He was pretty sure she was unofficially the master of the hunter’s lodge and spent most of her time keeping track of what came in and out of it, while also making sure that everyone got their fair share. It needed to be done with the settlement growing as much as it had, and it kept Mi’low busy enough to stymie the flow of complaints, so he wasn’t about to complain.
They double checked that they had everything that was needed; food, water, arrows, bolts, and some bags to store anything that the snares had caught on the way back. Four ranged and two melee weapons meant that they would be mostly using Jax and Nalah to soak hits if it came down to it, the others peppering it with projectiles. Given that Harrow was insistent on the bear-thing being resistant to anything they could use at a distance, they also carried spare weapons for the ranged users, just in case. Nodding, Joseph gestured to the group finishing up their preparations for the day’s trip.
“A moment, sir?” Scarlet called to him as she approached the gate, the Wraith flanked by Rose and Cobalt. The two Atmo were decked-out in their own armour, which appeared to be almost entirely metal, save for the palm lining the inside for comfort. Each of their six legs were adorned with broad shields, their bases capped off with a flat storage carriage. They looked like someone had a little too much fun testing how much the insects could effortlessly carry and had ended up with sapient hexapedal tanks.
“Only if you explain why those two would look more at home if they had cannons installed on their backs,” he quipped, an expression somewhere between surprised, amused, and plain dumbfounded plastered on his face. The blackish red-furred female smirked for a split-second before resuming her usual servile presentation.
“The young mistress had extended her request for these two to accompany you.”
Joseph tilted his head incredulously. “Violet told you to send them?”
Scarlet nodded, gesturing to the outfitted Atmo. “They have been under her tutelage for some time now, and wish to be of assistance.”
The Grand Hunter snapped his mouth closed when he was about to ask why
his daughter would teach them anything that might be useful for fighting a deadly beast. Of course she did; It was one of the first things he did for her. It would have been weirder for her not
to pass on what she knew after all the hours she spent either seeing him coach the others, or being coached herself. With the time she had under her belt, she was the local Atmo Close Quarters Combat specialist, and no one else understood how the modified boxing she learned worked with their bodies like she did.
He wore a hesitant expression, shifting his weight to his other leg. “Well, they’ve certainly geared up.”
“It is a product our smith is rather proud of,” the Wraith affirmed confidently.
He exhaled slowly. “Seems a bit much.”
She seemed to be expecting the remark, barely pausing to register what he said before responding. “Your kit wishes you safe, yet understands you would not allow her to accompany you. These two wish to be of assistance.”
To punctuate her point, the two nodded in agreement, walking forward and slinging some of the backpacks onto their carriages. It seemed ‘no’ wasn’t something they were going to accept after Violet had said her piece. He sighed, conceding that they wouldn’t slow the party down with everyone carrying so much weight in equipment, regardless of the bags. They took breaks frequently enough to accommodate the Atmo, so that wouldn’t hinder anything either.
“Fine,” he relented with a wave of his hand. “We’ll take them. Not like they’d hurt anyway. But–” He put a warning into his tone. “–they’re not playing the hero and getting themselves killed. This isn’t going to work if they think any of us dying is still a net positive, got it?”
The two Atmo mimed their understanding, Scarlet replying with a victorious smile. Joseph couldn’t help but bemusedly roll his eyes. The female had taken rather well to baby-sitting, and that seems to have extended to humouring the young Queen’s schemes now. It wasn’t an unwelcome addition to their little sojourn. At least they could haul back any larger game without it tacking hours onto the return trip.
He thanked Scarlet for her trouble before dismissing her, confirming with the group that everything was accounted for, and set off before it grew too late. He wasn’t looking to get caught out in the woods during the night. The Lilhuns might be fine, but he was pretty well blind unless the moon felt generous.
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Jax watched the two Atmo quietly follow on the sides of the group, their heavily armoured forms posing no issues with their naturally soundless movements in the forest. In the den, they would make moderate clacks and clicks as their chitinous legs contacted the ground, but the soft dirt and foliage stifled all but the smallest report of their travel. With Scarlet supervising alongside Violet, he wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the former Blade had influenced their movement with the goal in mind, though he had never paid much attention to how they walked before to compare.
He had to admit, having them carry the additional equipment was exceedingly useful. He had proposed having the group use the newly acquired platforms on their more arachnid-like abdomen to rest in shifts, but Joseph was quick to insist that the insects were of lesser stamina than even Lilhuns. The phrasing seemed like a comparative insult, but Jax had more than enough experience with the Human to know that he had simply spoken his mind. To him, everyone had sub-par stamina. Training had gone some way to remedy the discrepancy, but the Grand Hunter could still continue for longer than even the most well-conditioned of them.
The black-furred male rolled his shoulders, feeling the heft of his axe shift with the movement. It was an impressive size, the weight well-balanced and its edge sharp. He had once laid it to the ground out of curiosity and confirmed that it was about as tall as Pan from head to haft, though only if she stood to her full height. Regardless of its size, it was still lighter than the armour he chose to don.
Having only really worn leathers or a few sets of ironwood protections, the encumbering prominence of the iron equipment took getting used to. It wasn’t entirely restrictive, but did put a damper on any chances he had of sprinting from danger. That was fine, he supposed, since he was wearing it against a beast he had no experience with. It could very well outrun him regardless, and he would rather have the defences in either case.
Nalah seemed to be doing fine, the large barrier she kept on her back swaying slightly as she walked. She was unhindered by it, her movements barely affected by the bulk, which was reassuring. Joseph, however, seemed to be panting more than usual, the rolling cloud coverage easing as the sun progressively warmed the environment. The fog from earlier meant that it was rather humid, and that seemed to bore no well wishes for the male encased in dark leathers and thick plates. He had even flipped down his hood, the sweat beading on his skin adding a sheen to his visage.
“I liked this better when the sun didn’t exist,” the Human lamented quietly, just loud enough for Jax to hear. The black-furred male chuckled.
“It would be rather dark.”
Joseph glared at him for a moment before rolling his eyes. “I just don’t rank ‘heavily armoured hike through the woods’ high up on my list of things I want to do regularly.”
“I believe that list would be occupied by your mates, no?” he ribbed playfully, a smirk arising when the Grand Hunter shunted his eyes closed in a grimace.
“I hate you.”
“I can see your smile underneath your displeasure, Joseph,” Jax quipped, nudging the male with his elbow, then giving an apologetic smile when his friend almost fell. Joseph sighed, waving Cobalt over and fetching a water-skin from the luggage that the insect was ferrying without breaking stride—though he needed to be careful not to get stepped on.
The Atmo always amused Jax. Be it their passive demeanour hidden by their towering stature, or his interactions with the den-kit, they never failed to be curious people. Having the two that accompanied Volta with them was an unexpected development, but he couldn’t claim to disapprove. If they had been imparted the methods of combat that Violet had cultivated, then there was little worry of them being harmed by naught but perhaps their current target. At least not until there was a better reference of its strength than the single encounter the first-years had so long ago.
At the time, it had smashed pillars and pierced flesh effortlessly, claws proving to be little more than tempting ministrations of tender touch to the thick hide. Jax only had some of the pack’s recount to base the experience off of, but was content to take their word for it. He was, ashamedly, preoccupied taking care of baser needs when the event transpired, so he was woefully unprepared for the eventual encounter. Still, he was afforded the best the settlement had to offer so that he might serve his duty of protecting the Grand Hunter. Harrow would never forgive him if only he returned.
His thoughts were disturbed by Joseph calling for a rest, Jax’s legs thankful for the break from supporting the unusual weight for so long. The Human dispensed rations and water for the pack, the Atmo waiting until everyone else was supplied before accepting their portion. They rested on their base directly, instead of curling their legs beneath them like Jax had become accustomed. Perhaps the armour impeded such, or they wished to remain mobile in the event such was required. Regardless, they blocked what little breeze there was, forcing the Grand Hunter to walk beyond them to enjoy it in the shade. It was short-lived however, as Rose quickly repositioned to stay between the pack and whatever lay beyond their protections.
It was a futile effort, it seemed, because it repeated again twice before Joseph groaned loudly and threw himself atop the carriage to lay back, his legs dangling at the knee. He seemed perfectly content with the unorthodox arrangement, snorting his amusement along with a muttered comment about a ‘taxi.’
The entertaining sight was marred by a distant yelp, snapping the group to attention. Jax and Joseph traded looks, subtle nods and gestures given to move out while remaining quiet. Ignoring his earlier complaints, the Grand Hunter flicked his hood up and donned the mask, drawing his crossbow and readying a bolt. The hunter of the pack mimicked the preparation, the two security members loosely nocking their arrows while Rose, Cobalt, Jax, and Nalah took point.
They proceeded quietly for far longer than the proximity of the noise would have suggested, but marks and gashes upon the trees implied a moving conflict. Thoughts of it being a lost cause quickly became moot as a closer growl and bark shattered the careful silence they had been maintaining.
Motioning for the pack to stop, Joseph waved Jax forward, Nalah approaching the other side. Using the large shield as additional cover, they peered around a particularly thick tree. Locked in combat were two moss-wolves, both attacking a truly massive grey creature.
Twice the Human’s height, half that in width. Four pillars as legs—the muscular trunks sinewy and defined—supported the disturbing hunched figure, the wide base tapering slightly into a thick and extended torso. A singular eye-stalk replaced the head, the ocular organ atop it pitch black and free of any indication of its focus. Four arms with deadly claws parried and sliced the two yellow beasts as they attempted to drive off the predator, a sickeningly large maw gaping to catch any attempts at a lunge. The mouth of the creature almost occupied the entirety of the available surface area upon its front, the jagged bone tools of manduction undulating with the promise of sustenance.
Joseph pulled them back, cursing under his breath as he tried to fight off the tension. From Nalah’s worried expression, it seemed his caution was rather potent, the other members of the group smelling his reaction as well.
“So, what’s the plan, Jax?” the Human whispered, his grip on the crossbow alternating with his fingers stretching across the trigger lest his fidgeting cause a misfire.
“I thought that, with your record, you would wish to tame it for the settlement,” Jax replied while thinking through a plan of action. He was glad that his friend trusted him, but he wished he had known the true scale of the beast prior. Joseph grit his teeth, turning to glance past the tree again with sarcasm pouring out of his response.
“Can’t quite see Winnie-the-woodchipper there playing great with kids.”
“You say that after adopting an Atmo as kit, Grand Hunter,” he returned, nodding to himself when a plan formed. The Human smiled, the banter easing the tension somewhat. “Rose, Cobalt, you two are the most well defended of us. Circle around and drive the beast this way. You should be capable of such without noise, yes?”
The two insects nodded, emptying their luggage behind a tree so as not to lose any of it before disappearing into the trees. The slight glimmer of their iron armour was the only indication of their position through the dense forest. Jax hoped that the beast was not particularly curious about the dimly pulsing glare, nor finished with its current altercation in time to impede the pair.
Satisfied with their progress, he motioned for the two security members to scale a tree and gain a superior vantage point. Their weapons would be able to maintain a more rapid pace of sustained fire at longer ranges. Joseph and the hunter were instructed to hide behind trees nearby, though the Human would need to remain grounded as his lack of claws made scaling the large flora difficult with his equipment.
Finally, Nalah and he positioned themselves much closer, in order to flank the creature as it fled the Atmo and occupy it long enough for the others to bleed it out, if not outright dispose of it.
With the forms of the Atmo peeking through the brush opposite them, Jax raised his axe to signal the start.
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Joseph felt the hammering in his chest, his heart preparing him to fight for his life against the walking abomination that easily outclassed the only other predator that he had experience with. Sure, the moss-wolves were easy to take down once you had equipment and a plan, but that thing screamed
He watched Jax and Nalah set up behind thick trees, their goal being for Jax to hopefully disable a leg or two with the war-axe while Nalah occupied it with the shield. As the two strongest members of his little family, he trusted both to do their job.
As a clusterfuck of animal and torture device, he had no faith in the creature playing along.
Swallowing his hesitation, he adjusted his grip on the crossbow again, mentally tallying his shots and cursing himself for not researching explosives. Sure, Toril didn’t want to be involved in that kind of weapon, but at the moment, the tailless white-furred male could suck it up and make one anyway. Joseph would give his left nut to see how quickly the chemist would make weapons of mass destruction just to annihilate whatever that thing called home.
Jax raised his axe, glinting the sunlight of it towards the Atmo. Receiving the start signal, the two clicked and loosed a deafening screech, the Human’s ears ringing even from this distance.
The beast seemed unperturbed by the noise, though the lack of visible ears may have had something to do with the lacklustre effect. Regardless, it did
notice the two armour-clad insects charging at it, and smartly decided to extradite itself from the area. The moss-wolves, however, didn’t quite get the memo, mistaking the advancing assistance as yet another foe to defend themselves from.
He had to say, Violet taught the two well. They flashed their blades out in the same flicker jab that he had shown his daughter, and with an unceremonious squelch, the two bisected canines landed in four pieces, a vibrant green ichor now staining the weapon-like appendages of the Atmo. Undeterred by their first act of violence—as far as he was aware, anyway—they continued herding the beast.
It wasn’t as fast as they might have feared, its quadrupedal gait hindered by its proportions, but it was still quick enough to be damn intimidating. Its arms acted as a counter balance, constantly adjusting this way and that just to keep it stable. That thing was clearly never meant for sprinting, all its mobility being given to the overactive maw that pulsated with the exertion.
He readied his crossbow, the shaking in his hands not ruining his aim against such a large target. He eyeballed the distance between the creature and the ambush point, forcibly moving his finger off the trigger so that he didn’t fire early.
Closer. Come on. Almost.
Jax wound up like a particularly enthusiastic lumberjack, putting his full body into the rotation. The massive axe swung like a horizontal pendulum striking home with all the finality of a clock tolling midnight. It bit into the front leg of the beast, only sinking a few inches before momentum nearly wretched the weapon from the black-furred male. Luckily, the force and timing was enough to trip it, the creature crashing to the forest floor with a deafening roar of pain.
They could hurt it. That made him feel better.
His relief evaporated as the beast swiftly recovered, hauling itself from the ground faster than he thought possible, but his archers took it for an unspoken signal. Arrows and bolts peppered its thick hide, to no effect—it shrugged off the projectiles like they were nothing more than pine needles, none sinking far enough to gain notable purchase.
Jax hefted his axe for another strike, careful not to over-commit this time. Nalah prodded the beast wherever she could with her pike, the melee weapon sliced and skewered just past the surface of the hide, though not enough to do more than marr. It was, however, enough to gain the attention of the target, the creature swinging two of its four arms to rake across the shield that the blond-furred female held. The iron plating across the front let out an unearthly shriek as claws ripped and crumpled the metal. Well, fuck
Nalah was quick to react, treating the shield less as an immovable barrier and more like a slight distance buffer, dodging in and out of range to steal jabs with the polearm. The security members nocked another volley, picking different targets than before. An arrow bounced harmlessly off the black orb of an eye, another finding purchase in what passed for gums in its mouth.
The hint was received; aim for the mouth. Thankfully, that was a large target. Less thankfully, it realized that flashing its teeth was detrimental to its health, slamming the maw closed.
Jax managed another swing, this time into one of the rear legs. It wasn’t as effective as the first strike, but it did warrant a sweeping double back-fist from the creature, scoring Jax’s armour with shallow claw marks as he jumped backwards. Joseph let out a breath as he fired his second shot, only just narrowly missing the sliver of a gap between razor teeth that the enraged attack afforded. It couldn’t keep its mouth shut forever, each frenzied swipe pulling its form enough for glimpses of softer flesh within to appear. The hunter dropped from their tree, darting across to reposition for a wider angle to capitalize on. The creature noticed, lunging forward to eviscerate the easier target.
Joseph blinked as two armoured figures jumped in front of the Lilhun, raising their blades in a tight guard to block the four arms grabbing for a quick meal. The beast recoiled with a thunderous screech, two of its appendages sporting deep gashes that fountained blood, while the others managed to impact above the edged outside of the blades. Rose and Cobalt pressed forward, buying time and space for the hunter to collect themselves and scale up another perch. Taking advantage of its pain, two new arrows ripped through the air, smacking into exposed inner flesh. Two new protrusions joined the first in the mouth, one landing next to the existing projectile, while the other cleared the gateway of serration, driving deeply inside of it.
More flicker jabs and extended straights pushed and cut the beast as it tried to gain distance from the two that wounded it, every retaliatory strike earning it another gash in its grey hide.. Unencumbered by the constant barrage, Nalah thrust into its legs more vigorously, her body leaning into each attack to gain every inch of penetration she could into the muscle and thick hide.
Jax used the chance to score another chopping blow, doubling down on a previous wound to a back leg—striking bone this time, based on the unholy wail the beast uttered. Joseph raised his crossbow to land another shot into its mouth, but the beast flailed wildly to fend off the ambush.
Rose managed to block, Jax lunged backwards, Nalah deflected most of it with what remained of her shield, but Cobalt was caught by a strike, taking the hit to its torso. The Atmo flew backwards, rolling when it landed, the carriage and assorted armoured plates trailing behind it. Rose shifted instantly, covering the direction that their companion had been sent while Jax and Nalah focused on pulling the beast away from the downed combatant.
Joseph’s eyes flicked to the Atmo, waging an internal battle on whether helping the insect would be better or worse for the situation as a whole. He didn’t want to lighten up their assault if it would just mean more injuries, but Cobalt could be in dire need for a patch job. It was hard to tell from where he was.
Cursing, he bolted from his spot, firing off one last round into the gaping maw before clipping the crossbow onto his armour and sliding on his knees in front of Cobalt, healroot hastily retrieved from his pocket.
He paused, sighing in relief when none of the armour bore more than deep gashes, the carapace underneath unblemished by the attack. Cobalt clicked lightly, dazed, but otherwise seeming unhurt. Unlearned in the physiology relevant, he ushered the Atmo to remain out of the fight for fear of concussion or something similar. They could look at the insect back at the base to be sure later.
His head spun around at both Jax and Nalah screaming his name, a massive clawed hand sweeping at him—the monster's approach unnoticed while he focused on Cobalt. Lacking a better option, he lunged forward towards the underside of the beast to dodge the swipe, crashing to his shoulder on the dirt below.
The creature raised a leg above Joseph, pounding the earth scant inches from his head as he rolled sideways. Ignoring the kicked up dirt, he brought his fist to the underside of the beast, flicking the release on his bracer.
Blood spouted from the newly formed wound, the blade breaking at the mechanism as the massive animal lurched in pain, Joseph rolling out of the way of another attempted trampling. He scrambled to his feet, feeling the wind of another strike narrowly missing him.
Yeah, that would probably kill him.
Luckily, the injuries renewed the desire to flee in the monstrosity, the group of attackers proving too dangerous to continue challenging. It stumbled away from them, sparing Cobalt from its panicked trudging. Jax and Nalah started to run towards him, worry evident in their eyes, but he barked for them to finish it, redirecting the two to keep the pressure going. He didn’t want to mention the pain in the arm from where the bracer hitched. It didn’t feel broken, and thus was irrelevant.
Pressure applied, the grey beast picked a random direction free of opponents to escape, ignorant of the waiting security. When it was too close for them to shoot into its mouth at a decent angle, they slung the bows over their shoulders and drew the swords they had been afforded, patiently waiting with the blades turned down.
It passed below them, the two Lilhuns dropping from the branches to put their full weight into the plunging blades. Both landed on the large target, one sword sinking deep into a shoulder, while the other managed to pierce one of its hip joints. The beast spun haphazardly to dislodge the ‘new’ threats, both security members kicking off and finding new trees to set up in.
Whatever damage was actually done, it had lost the use of an arm, and its gait shifted awkwardly as the blade lodged in its hip worked more harm with each shambling step.. Emboldened, Jax picked up the pace, struggling to position himself with the amount of metal he wore. Ducking another swipe of its claws, he saw his chance and swung, pivoting with his axe as a counter weight. For the third time, his axe blade found the wound in its leg, adding a sickening crunch as the bone snapped from the impact.
The creature swung wildly, forced to favour its two remaining good legs, and the only other leg that could still support at least some
of its weight. It was unstable now, the hunched figure swaying while unmoving. Unable to run, it decided to go down with as many of them as it could.
Rose caught up with the attack, drawing attention from the comparatively squishy Nalah as the blond-furred female deflected a wayward swing with her shield. The once iron-plated ironwood now sporting little more than jagged scraps of metal atop its silver wooden structure, a series of deep gouges marring the surface. Two lunging thrusts with the pike bit flesh, drawing new blood from the beast.
Joseph loaded his crossbow, getting off two bolts, but not managing to keep it steady enough to hit anything of use, his arm faltering under the weight of the weapon. Cursing, he decided to flank the beast and try his luck with the other bracer. If nothing else, the force in which the blade deployed was enough to pierce the thick hide, and the others were doing a good job of distracting it.
The red armoured Atmo let loose a series of directed swings, the fifth severing an arm in motion, the flying appendage forcing Nalah to raise her shield to block the unorthodox projectile. The female was sent sprawling from the weight of the impact, but the beast was too busy voicing its agony to take advantage of it. Jax worked another two chops into the broad legs, but neither managed to incapacitate it any more, and the prolonged exertion was slowing his reflexes.
As if cued into his waning energy, the beast flung Jax with another strike, the hunter of the group sinking a bolt deep into the cavernous flesh of its mouth to prevent an attempt at following up.
Joseph roared, desperate to finish it off before the creature could do the same to his downed pack. He sprinted at the monster's back and slid underneath it with as much speed as he could muster. Throwing his fist into the passing undercarriage, he let the deployed blade leave a long gash in its wake.
The grey monster lost its ability to stand, torn tendons, blood loss, and inflicted injuries taking their toll. The Grand Hunter kicked off his knees to fling himself out of the way of the collapsing figure, grimacing as the remaining bracer proved unable to support the abuse he had put it through. He looked back at the beast, the flailing body failing to right itself as teeth did little more than gouge dirt, its back exposed. Rose approached, raising their blades together and plunging it through the body over and over until it stopped moving.
Exhausted, the Atmo dropped where it was, breathing heavily. Joseph’s instinct to yell their victory was delayed as he hurried over to Jax and Nalah to confirm he didn't need to bring back bad news. Nalah seemed fine, if a bit sore from hitting the dirt and rolling, while Jax just asked to lay down when he heard that everything was over. Cobalt came over to the group, the armour that had come off collected atop the carriage it had managed to loosely affix to its base.
It was light, a chuckle originating from the Human as he slumped to the ground against a tree, but soon the entire group was roaring with laughter as victory settled in their minds. The two security members helped the hunter begin disassembling the beast, their contribution to the fight leaving them with more energy than the rest. They hadn’t been slacking off, that much was certain. The number of arrows jammed into the maw of the thing would have guaranteed a few extra seconds of survival and chances to escape if one of them had been forcibly tossed into there, and it had caused enough pause for the rest of them to get in a few hits up close.
Joseph rested across from Jax and Nalah, letting his heart rate slow from the rapid pace it had been pinned to since the start of the conflict. His arm continued its protests, but from the amount of movement he still had, he guessed that he had just strained the elbow. A few days taking it easy should straighten that right up.
Once the active members were about half way through processing the creature for hide and meat, Cobalt approached him, a mimed request for assistance putting their armour back on being redirected to Nalah since he doubted he could lift the damn pieces without hurting himself at the moment. She obliged, getting the blue Atmo back in full attire, though it took a while.
Rose stood first, stopping over to allow the hunter to place collected bits and pieces onto the carriage before securing it with whatever they could make due. A security member gathered the moss-wolf corpses for a similar treatment. Waste not, want not, he supposed.
Rose ended up carrying most of their spoils. When he was about to ask why, he, Jax, and Nalah were dragged to Cobalt and hefted onto the carriage. A series of confused questions revealed that the rest wanted to head back before it started getting dark, and it was pretty obvious who was the most exhausted of them. Lacking the will or energy to argue it, he flopped back on the Atmo as the trees passed them by, Nalah resting her legs across him as her head sat on Jax’s lap. The black-furred male didn’t so much as smirk, so it was clear he had pushed himself too far to quip about the arrangement as he laid down.
“The next time you wish to exhaust me this much, Joseph,” the Head of Security started after a long while of silence, tiredness in his voice, “I would prefer it to involve my mate and a bed.”
The Human snorted, closing his eyes and enjoying the lack of walking as the surprisingly stable Atmo carried the three of them. “Fuck off, Jax.”
“Of course, Grand Hunter.”
Next A/N: Patreon is fixed!... aka new one cuz problems with the last. Check it out to support the story, get AI character art every now and then, or even preview sections of chapters as i write them! (aka, before kieve gets to fix them :D)