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Chapter III

Brine Hydra

Jack opened his eyes and sat up. His head was pounding and his entire body throbbed. It took him a long moment to process the scene before him.

What had once been his house was now a burning inferno. Even from his position sitting in the middle of the street, he could feel the heat of the blaze.

Jack got to his feet, wobbling for a moment. Then, all of his senses suddenly slammed back into him, and he dashed towards the house. Even he wasn't dumb enough to get too close, so Jack ran around the border of his burning house.

"Walt!" he started yelling at the top of his lungs. "Walt!"

He continued calling his brother's name until he had run the perimeter of the house twice. When he was halfway through his third round, he ran smack-dab into him.

"Jack! Thank God!" Walt cried. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Jack said, seeing that his brother was also unmarked, save for a few scratches and a large bruise on his left cheek. "What happened?"

Walt's eyes became distant. "I…I don't know," he murmured. "It was like…"

"Well, whatever," Jack said, realizing the extent of the possible damage. "Do you have your cell?"

"A phone won't help. Not in your case."

Walt and Jack whirled around at the smooth voice. Standing astonishingly close to the fire was Teddy. He seemed perfectly comfortable standing so close to the blaze. In fact, he had his hands in his pant pockets, seemingly ignorant to the heat.

"Teddy?" Jack shouted over the noise of the fire. "What are you-"

In three long strides, Teddy was standing only inches away from him. He stared into Jack's eyes for a long moment before doing the same with Walt. Then he turned away. "Come on," he said. "We need to get out of here. I already got you friends."

"What?" Jack asked, flabbergasted.

"Jack, who is this?" Walt questioned, bulling up to stand in front of him.

Suddenly, a huge roar echoed from the inferno that used to be Jack's house. It was incredibly loud, echoing through the air and all but vibrating the ground. Both Walt and Jack flinched to the side, staring fearfully into the flames. Teddy, on the other hand, simply looked to the side, calmly standing with his hands still in his pockets. Then he shifted his head even further to the side so he could look at Jack and Walt out of the corner of his eye.

"Let's go."

Without waiting for a response, Teddy walked forward, back toward the street. Jack and Walt glanced at each other before following him. The blazing house gave the trio enough light to walk through the pitch-black night.

Soon, without any sense of how he had gotten there, Jack found himself once again standing on the street. Except this time, his friends were there. Out of them all, Sara seemed to be taking in the sight of Jack's blazing house the best. Katy, on the other hand, had tired eyes and disheveled hair, as if she had been yanked out of bed to come here.

Another roar echoed from Jack's burning house just as he started to hear sirens in the distance. Teddy looked backward at the inferno before he started walking down the sidewalk.

"Come on," he said without looking to see if they were following him. "We can fix your house later. For now, we just need to get out of here."

Jack took a step forward to grab his shoulder, to stop him, to ask what was going on; but just at that moment, a huge flaming mass exploded out of the roof of Jack's house, sending out a spray of fiery splinters.

The thing spread flaming wings in the air before zooming straight for Jack and his friends. With a shout, Teddy shoved Jack to the ground and cried, "Scatter!"

There was a huge explosion as the object slammed into the pavement right in front of them, and Jack was blown off the ground. He tumbled through the air before landing and skidding on his back on the pavement.

Jack lifted himself onto his elbows, pain lancing through his bruised spine. Heat washed over him in waves, making him wince. He looked to see the source of the heat, and what met his eyes was an impossible sight.

Crouching only a few hundred feet away from was what looked to be an enormous green-scaled lizard with wings. But instead of a normal reptilian head, five long necks protruded from between the creature's shoulders. Growing from each of the neck was a spiked lizard head. Each head had green-yellow glowing eyes and razor sharp teeth protruding from its mouth. The thing's skin smoldered with heat and flames spouted from each head's mouth and nostrils.

"Teddy!" Jack yelled, seeing the older boy laying a few feet to his left. "What is that thing?"

"A Brine Hydra," he heard Teddy murmur fearfully as he stared at the thing. The boy hurriedly clambered to his feet and helped Jack up as quickly as he could. He gazed at the snarling heads of the creature standing before them.

"Thex," Jack barely heard him say. "I should've known it would be a fifth-head. No first-head can make an explosion like that."

"What?" Jack asked.

The creature turned its five pairs of eyes on them and hissed, fire spurting from its mouth. Then all five heads opened their jaws wide, teeth gleaming.

"Move!" Teddy yelled, shoving Jack to the side as a huge stream of fire shot towards them. Jack rolled on the ground and came to his feet, staring at the spot of burnt pavement where he had just been standing.

Then, a body barreled into Jack, knocking him aside. Walt landed on top of Jack and the two went rolling across the pavement as the spot Jack had been occupying a moment ago was scorched with more fire.

Walt rolled off of him and Jack leaped to his feet, darting sideways as the monster shot another stream of orange flames at him. Jack skid to a stop beside Teddy, who had ushered Walt, Sara, Quinton, Tyler, and Katy over already.

"This makes no sense," Jack heard Teddy mutter as they all stared at the creature before them. "I thought- Scatter!"

He was cut off when the thing opened it's jaws again, flames flickering at the back of its tongue. Teddy, Jack, and his friends broke up like a flock of startled sheep. A black spot replaced them on the pavement a moment later.

"Follow me!" Teddy cried to them. "We have to get out of here before the police show up!"

Without hesitation, Sara charged after the boy. She was soon followed by Walt, then Jack, then his three other friends. As the group sprinted after Teddy, the boy started weaving right to left on the pavement, shouting at the rest of them to do the same. The monster roared from all five of its heads, spouting a cloud of smoke. Then it scuttled after them on its four reptilian legs.

"Move, Jack!" Walt cried, grabbing Jack's collar and yanking him to the side.

A stream of fire bathed the place he had just been standing. Side-by-side the two brothers picked up the pace until they were nearly level with Teddy.

They continued to run, periodically dodging bursts of fire from the five heads of the monster trailing them. As they ran, Jack's breath started to come in quick, short gasps. His legs started burning. Quinton and Walt kept level with Jack, but Katy and Tyler were starting to fall behind. Amazingly, Sara seemed to think this was a daily jog around the block. She seemed to be in even better shape than Teddy.

Just as Jack began to think he would be forced to stop, Teddy yelled, "In here!"

He darted left, into the Redwood Community Church. Jack and his friends followed.

In a small town such as Redwood, there was only room and population enough for one church, just as it was with elementary, middle, and high school. No matter how much they liked or disliked it, the people of Redwood were stuck together, forever gazing at the faces and activities of their neighbors.

As the seven of them dashed into the church, a loud boom echoed outside, shaking the entire building. The rumbling was accompanied with an ear-shattering roar of fury. The monster outside was angry.

Teddy plopped down on the nearest dais, heaving as he tried to catch his breath. The others did the same.

"It can't…get us…in here," Teddy gasped.

For a long moment, the only sound that filled the quiet church was the heaving of the group's breath. Every now and then, a loud roar would erupt from just outside the closed doors, and orange light would appear and sputter out behind the mosaic windows. Finally, the silence was broken.

"What is going on?!" Jack yelled as soon as he could muster the breath for it.

Teddy had also regained much of his breath by now. He turned slightly towards Jack. "Shortly speaking?"

"Just tell me!"

"That thing outside is a Brine Hydra," Teddy said.

"What exactly is a…Brine Hydra?" Sara asked when he said nothing else.

"A monster," Teddy answered. "Straight from Tartarus. Maybe sent by the Dark Queen; probably just sensed your Chii and decided it was hungry. But I'm not so sure which one of you it's after. We thought-"

"Tartarus," Quinton interrupted. "As in Typhon Tartarus? The Greek Tartarus?"

As soon as Quinton said 'Typhon', Teddy swore.

"We're in a church," Sara scolded him.

"And it's a good thing we are too," Teddy said, opening his eyes and glaring at Quinton. "Or we'd probably just been mobbed by demons."

"Back to the subject," Jack interjected. "Why exactly is that thing outside after us?"

Teddy looked at him gravely. "At first I thought it was because it sensed Walt's Chii signature," he said, glancing at the floor as he spoke. "But now I'm not so sure. The hydra is aiming for you. It makes no sense, though. Our scanners-"

"Chii?" Tyler asked to one side, finally catching his breath. "Isn't Chii that weird stuff that those superhuman martial artist dudes from China use to rip the other guy's head off or something?"

Teddy chuckled. "You could say that," he said with a slight smile. "Though we try to refrain from ripping off our enemy's head."

"But China and Greece aren't exactly intertwined are they?" Katy asked.

"Tartarus isn't just from Greece," Quinton corrected. "It's from Ancient Greek mythology."

"Mythology," Teddy snorted quietly, shaking his head ever so slightly.

"Mythology my foot," Tyler agreed. "Did you see the size of that things teeth?"

"You're scared," Sara said.

"What do you think?" Tyler asked, almost laughing. "And you aren't."

"I'm not," Quinton made sure to say.

"Yes you are," Tyler argued.

"No, I'm not," Quinton insisted.

This started a feisty argument between the two. Their hushed voices quickly escalated until they were all but yelling. It was just the usual playful dispute that popped up here and there in their friendship.

"This is ridiculous," Jack muttered, almost to himself.

Beside him, Walt rolled his eyes as if he could not believe they were doing such trivial things at a time like this. Jack agreed, but he also knew this was how the two handled pressure.

Soon, Katy had joined in as well.

Jack noticed Sara hadn't made a peep since her last comment on Quinton's courage. He glanced to the side to see her sitting quietly, facing the front of the church. Her head was bowed, her short blonde hair shadowing her face.

"Oh, that's good," Teddy commented when he saw her, making the other squabbling three go silent. "Pray to whatever crazy god got us into this mess."

Walt, who was sitting in the pew just behind him, socked him upside the head. Hard. Jack decided to try the same, and ended up making the boy swear again. A couple seconds later, Sara finished her prayer and scooted up beside him, repeating Jack and Walt's action.

"Sorry, sorry," Teddy said, rubbing the back of his head. "Geez, give me a break, I'm an Atheist."

"That doesn't give you right to disrespect my religion," Sara snarled.

Jack nodded in agreement and turned to the front of the church as well. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, sending up a long prayer up to the heavens.

As he turned back, he saw Teddy watching him with calculating eyes. "Are you Christian?" he asked very suddenly.

Jack nodded.

"You-"

Another roar echoed outside, the first one in several minutes.

Teddy sighed. "I don't know what's taking my back-up so long, but we can't wait much longer or the police will show up. It may be concealed by it's inner magic, but even the dimwittest of people can spot the mess it's probably making outside. I wish we could wait it out, but it doesn't sound like it's going anywhere anytime soon."

"What do you want us to do?" Walt asked solemnly.

"I spotted a baseball store across the street," Teddy said, jerking a thumb towards the door. "There will be some baseball bats in there. That's the closest thing to a sword that they'll have in there. I've got my emergency gun and my dagger on me, but I either have to shoot all of its heads or slash its underbelly. I'll need a distraction."

Jack's friends exchanged a very long glance. Simultaneously, they all stood up.

"Good," Teddy said, grinning. He stood as well and walked to the closed doors. He held up a hand to tell Jack and his friends to be quiet. He turned slightly toward them and whispered, "When I say go, I need you to run out at the same time. But you spread out as soon as you can. It'll confuse it. Jack, I'm still not completely sure why, but it'll probably go after you first. Be ready."

Jack nodded and the older boy turned back to the door. He slipped a hand inside each of his pockets. From his right pocket he pulled a shiny black pistol, and from the left the left he yanked out a gleaming silver knife. Jack and his friends gasped at the deadly sight.

Pure silence took over the church as they all froze. Even the monster outside seemed to sense the change in the atmosphere. Everything was still.

"Go!"

Jack burst out the door with the rest of his friends, right behind Teddy. They dashed across the street before the monster even knew what was happening. Jack dashed into the store and grabbed a black baseball bat, pulling it out of the rack hanging off the wall. The man at the cash register shouted at him as he darted out of the store with it.

Hefting it with both hands, Jack skid to a stop when he spotted Teddy, dancing around spurts of fire like he was born for it. He dodged the heated streams with a calm that almost terrified Jack. Every now and then, he would take a shot at the thing's heads, but so far, he had only hit one. The head was now limp, dragging along the pavement like a forgotten toy.

Then the hydra focused on him.

Seeing the monster turning towards him, Jack charge forward with a yell. He swung the bat as hard as he could and heard the satisfying sound of heavy metal hitting flesh. The creature roared and Jack was knocked to the side, bat flying from his hand.

Jack once more fell hard onto the pavement. He lifted his eyes to see the hydra, its four remaining jaws gaping open. Orange fire burned at the back of each head's mouth. The hydra aimed straight for him.

Then, before he knew what was happening, everything changed.

Jack felt somebody dragging him to his feet as the hydra roared. But it was no longer focused on him. It was too busy trying to shake off the four men and women who had suddenly appeared surrounding it. Two wielded long shiny…swords while the other two hefted huge buckets of water.

Jack glanced behind him to see a woman with dark curly hair and brown eyes so light they were nearly orange. She only seemed to be in her late twenties or so. She flashed him an encouraging smile before walking over to Teddy.

Jack returned his gaze to the battle before him. It was one-sided. As Jack watched, the two with the swords cut off the hydra's four remaining heads with ease. As soon as a head came off, the two with the buckets of water would splash them over the stump that remained. The end of the neck steamed and sizzled a bit, then went limp.

Soon, all the heads were gone with only stumps of necks and one extra head with a bullet hole in its eye. The hydra collapsed to the ground. Then the corpse started sizzling and steaming. As Jack watched, the entire thing turned black and dissolved into a cloud of black bubbles. The remains sunk into the ground, leaving nothing but scorched pavement behind.

"Little bugger," he barely heard the woman with the sword say, spitting on the ground. "That's not the kind of welcome I would've wanted."

"Whoa."

Jack turned to see his friends stare at the scene before them. He had gotten out here a lot sooner than the rest of them, and they had apparently seen nothing of it.

"What took you so long?" Teddy cried to the woman who had helped Jack, throwing up his arms before letting them fall back to his side.

"Sorry," she apologized, seemingly genuinely regretful. "I really got here as soon as I could. But you know two people isn't enough to take care of a five-head without a paladin."

"I know," Teddy sighed. He nodded at Jack and his friends. The two of them strolled over to them. The four other newcomers came over as well. The two with the swords were a tough-looking woman and a dark-haired bearded man. The two with the water were two lithe men, both blonde and both with grins that made Jack jealous.

"So," the dark-haired women said, propping her hands on her hips as she surveyed them. "How do you feel?"

There was silence.

"Nice shot Jack," Teddy said, grinning and winking at him. "Sounded like you got a pretty good hit."

Jack shrugged.

The woman's eyes widened slightly when she spotted Sara among the group. Her eyes seemed to shine for a moment before he chuckled and muttered something to herself, shaking her head slightly as if to clear it. Jack seemed to be the only one who noticed. Then she looked up at them.

"Come closer."

They did so.

"This will feel a bit weird," she warned. "But I don't think anyone is ever prepared for their first time."

She pulled a perfectly round golden sphere from the pocket of her jeans and held it before her. She muttered something and the sphere glowed turquoise for a long moment. Then it sent out a wave of the turquoise cloud, the color exploding outwards from it. It passed through Jack and he felt it rattle his very insides, as if he were a saltshaker that had been used as a toy for a little kid.

Then something very strange happened. There was a golden flash, blinding him. Jack felt his body pulling itself apart. The sensation was not painful, but it was certainly not pleasant. It seemed as though his very atoms and molecules were separating. His body seemed to literally spread out in space, pulling apart, but never completely separating.

Just as the tugging became painful, it all stopped.

Jack's body abruptly came back together again. The blinding golden light suddenly disappeared and Jack blinked a few times before he managed to completely recover from the strange experience.

He found himself standing in a cool metal room. There were no windows and no furniture. The only people in the room were the ones who had been standing around Jack on the street. The only exit was a metal panel in one wall that Jack assumed was a door.

Teddy cleared his throat. "Well, it's not the most beautiful room around here," he said dryly. "But it's one of the most useful. Follow me."

He walked to the metal panel and put a palm in the center. He then moved his hand to the right, and the door slid right into the wall. He stepped through and the others of the new group followed. The woman with the dark hair beckoned to them to follow, and Jack and his friends hesitantly did so.

Jack stepped out and sucked a sharp breath in.

He had emerged into a huge cavern. The roof towered five stories above him. The walls themselves seemed to be glowing with some inner light, so the enormous cave was dimly lit from all angles. Cliffs of varying sizes jutted from the walls. Some ran the length of the entire cavern while others only took up twenty feet or so. Stairs were perfectly carved into the sides of the cavern, leading from one cliff to another. Alcoves lay behind the cliffs. There seemed to be shops of varying uses, with clothes hanging within or…were those…axes?

A huge fountain spouted water in the center of the cavern. The water sprayed a story up and splashed back down in a huge fan of water. There were a few metal doors on the ground floor leading to rooms identical to the one Jack had just emerged from. More metal doors were situated on the top cliff, which ran nearly the entire length of the cavern.

People milled about the cavern. From time to time, they would walk out of an alcove with a huge smile on their face, a purchase in hand. Others chatted with fellow shopkeepers nearby. People of varying ages, from children to elders, talked and played around the fountain, throwing in strange coins from time to time. Several went into the ground-level metal rooms and didn't emerge again, and numerous people came out of them. No one went into the metal doors on the top cliff.

"Pretty impressive, huh?" Teddy said when he saw Jack gaping. "On a good year, the shopkeepers move outside. More fresh air and all that, y'know?"

"What…what is this place?" Sara asked in a hushed voice.

Teddy grinned widely, spreading his arms out to encompass the entire cavern "Welcome to the Fourteenth Cohort."


Next Time...

"My name is Draice."

"I think it's about time you know what this is all about."

"Forget everything you know about science."

"There's much more to it than that."

"This is a lot to take in."


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This has been a word of wisdom from the Praetor of the First Legion of Jelly Crabs.