Holland isn’t aware enough to sense my falling body, or fast enough to move out of the way if he did. I collide with his back, and we sprawl to the floor, pursued by a billowing flame that falls short, rolls up, and sets the ceiling ablaze.
Holland drags himself out from under me, frantically looking around the flame-lit basement. There are cube-shaped devices I don’t recognize. Boxes of supplies. Old furniture. Debris from years of animals using the space as a den.
“There!” Holland says, pointing to a stack of wood and a barrel full of strange tools. “Behind the mess!”
When I spot the door, I throw myself into helping him. Shua and Dyer make the job go even more quickly. When it’s all cleared away, I pull open the door to reveal a staircase leading up to a sheet of metal. “It’s blocked!”
Holland shakes his head in a way that makes me want to punch him in the face. Then he heads up the stairs, slides a lock clear, and shoves. The metal door grinds open.
The home above our heads shakes from another impact.
The ceiling buckles.
“Go!” I shout, shoving Salem first. “Get to the woods!”
I help each of them out, and then I chase Shua up the steps. We sprint to the forest just thirty feet away. I should keep running. Run all damn night. But I can’t help myself. I stop just inside the trees and turn around for a look.
The house is on fire. Black smoke billows into the night sky, lit by an angry swarm of embers.
Then, the roar.
The house splits. Opens up like a clam. The Golyat steps through, crushing the basement underfoot.
It doesn’t know we escaped.
I glare at it, wondering what ancient secrets we might find capable of destroying the thing.
Lit by orange firelight, the Golyat stands tall, flexing its body. A roar rises again, but its mouth is closed. Sheets of metal grit fall from its shoulders.
It’s not a roar…it’s a grinding joint.
The Golyat towers. The creature’s hunched body looks almost human now. The spines on its back tilt toward the ground, limp and useless. Then they fall away, taking a sheet of earth with them, including its tendril hair…which isn’t hair at all. The spines were trees. The hair was roots. Before we arrived, the Golyat had been stationary long enough for the forest to grow atop its back.
The fire flares to life as the building’s inside, laid bare, ignites. The Golyat’s angular, emaciated body is revealed.
It’s not a monster.
It’s not even alive.
It’s a robot…
“Hello,” the Golyat says, its voice electric. Then it waves at me.
I’m hallucinating. I have to be.
“Will. I know that’s you. I know you can hear me.”
I look left and right, hoping someone else lingered and can tell me I’m crazy. But I’m alone in the woods.
“Will!” The Golyat shouts, startling my attention back to the metal face. “This isn’t real. None of this is real. And I need you to wake up. But you have to want to.”
“What…” I stagger back a step. “Who are you?”
“My name is Capria.”
The Golyat can talk… The Golyat has a name… A feminine name…
“You call me ‘Cap.’”
“I don’t know you,” I whisper.
“We’re friends,” she says. “And I need your help. I need you to wake up before—”
“What the hell are you doing, Vee?” Shua grabs hold of my arm. “We need to go! Now!”
I resist his pull. “Can you see it? Did you hear it?”
He gets in close, whispers through grinding teeth. “All I see is the god-damned Golyat, and you trying to have a one-sided conversation with it.”
“You didn’t hear it talking?”
“Talking?” He looks concerned. “We’ll have Holland check you over once we’re—”
“Will!” The Golyat shouts. “Don’t pretend you can’t hear me.”
“C’mon,” Shua says, tugging again, but I’m stronger than he is, and I’m rooted in place. He stands between the Golyat and me, gazing into my eyes. “Look at me, Vee.” He shakes my arms. “Look at me!”
When I do, he says, “I’ve known you my whole life. Back when you were two feet shorter, and I was ‘Bear.’”
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