Chapter Twenty-Three: Tibo
A Walker in the Lab
Everything in the world didn’t have to mean something sinister.
Still, he hesitated at the door. Even with the hallway lights dimmed to an evening setting, the interior was still too bright. No shadows, no furniture to hide behind. Just open floor. There were doors on either side of the hall, mostly closed, steel ones with little square windows at about Rolly’s eye level. But it was empty and quiet.
Tibo crept in and waved to the others to follow. No alarms went off. No sharp footsteps of patrolling guards reached him. His companions tried to move quietly, but none of them were built for this kind of work. The soft clicks of their shoes and rustles of cloth sounded loud in the deserted hallway.
Each closed door had a number and a designation that probably meant something to the people who worked here. Tibo pointed one of the signs out to his cohorts hoping that one of them had a brilliant insight, but they all shrugged and shook their heads.
The hall took a turn and Tibo held up an arm to halt them. Halfway down the hall, a door stood open a crack. Light spilled out. Low voices disturbed the air. Someone cried out. He jumped at the sharp, shocking sound of breaking glass. Something bad was happening here. What if they tortured people in this lab for whatever dark things they were working on?
He whipped around to find all three of his companions wide-eyed. Ashe waved a hand at him. Go, go.
Not that anyone had to tell Tibo twice. He abandoned attempts at silence and pelted down the corridor to that open door, three sets of boots right behind him. There were several people in the room. He had a confused impression of two large bodies, one small, the scent of something animal and a body on the floor. Shoulder to the door, he shoved it open and froze.
The man on the floor was...changing. His limbs elongated, his hair darkened. There was blood and a knife and a piece of fucking skin on the floor.
“A fucking walker?” he snarled before he thought about what he was doing. “A fucking corroded fucking walker?”
The piece of shit had changed into a human. There wasn’t a registration mark on him, so this was a rogue walker, one of the ones people said wandered around killing humans and Beings to become them. To steal their lives. Tibo had heard the whispers and rumors. Somewhere a human was dead and this piece of filth had been walking around in his skin.
The bastard was getting up from the floor, slowly. His confused frown probably meant that they’d surprised him and his little band of...whatever they were. Tibo didn’t give a flying fuck. Beings like this were the reason people still held ancient prejudices, the reason why humans couldn’t let go of certain things and some beings ended up living in ghettos or being shunned by whole communities.
With a wild cry, he leaped at the walker. Though the scumbag was a good deal taller, that had never stopped Tibo. His momentum slammed them both against the back counter and hurled them to the floor. He got in one good punch before all hell broke loose behind him.
* * * * *
“Tibo, no!” Rolly made a grab for Tibo’s arm and missed. He’d seen what had set his Ti off and it looked bad, but damn it. Damn it. He was going to get killed that way some day.
He lunged after Tibo, only to be brought up short by a wall of muscle when a merman stepped between them. Ashe and Jaxx had crowded in behind him, drawing their own fast conclusions about what was happening here. Corrupted walker, merman, human, wolf...wolf? Maybe. And most damning of all, a dragon ranger, easily identified by his flying jacket.
Before he could make sense of anything or get around the wall of merman, Ashe had lunged for the dragon ranger, a big bruiser of a man, glowering and dangerous. Ashe was yelling something as he took a swing, but Rolly couldn’t make out the words over the hum in his ears. The mer… no.
He shook his head, trying to clear it and shoved at the Being in front of him with both hands. “Back off! Fecking siren!”
The siren’s eyes went wide.
“You heard me. Don’t try that shite with me, boy. I know it all too well.”
He had to get around to help Ashe. Or Tibo. Or someone. Jaxx had rushed to where the dragon ranger was taking a shot at Ashe, the phoenix already glowing in his rage, feathers rising along his arms. Like Rolly, Jaxx was not scrapper, though. He got close enough to grab the dragon ranger’s arm and got clobbered in the wild swings. Possibly by both of them.
Jaxx went down hard. Rolly tried a feint around the siren to get to him, but a strong hand closed over his arm, jerking him up short.
“Don’t make a move, banshee.” The siren glowered at him, somehow managing to loom though they were the same height. “Yes. I know what you are, too.”
The damn wolf bounded between combatants and took a stance by Jaxx’s prone form, hackles raised, lips pulled back in a snarl.
Well, then. That all went tit’s up fecking fast.