I ran forward. The massive creatures lay motionless. The hissing of the rod had stopped.
"Vengeance," I gasped, dropping to my knees by his side. I lifted his wing aside to reveal his head. His jaws had slackened their hold on the other beast's neck, and his eyes were closed.
"You're alive. You're alive, right?" I said, running my fingers over the bloody mats of fur on his face.
He couldn't be dead. He couldn't.
"You're a survivor," I said, my voice growing quieter. "You're alive."
But he wasn't moving. He didn't seem to be breathing.
Exhausted, I slumped against his massive form, clutching his enormous head in both arms.
"You're alive," I whispered faintly into his neck. I felt numb and empty. How was I still alive with all this death around me? I didn't feel alive either. I could only survive so much. I closed my eyes and lay still for several minutes.
Then, suddenly, I started shaking. At first, I thought it must be an earthquake, that the whole place must be coming down on top of me, but I was so tired I couldn't even make myself move. And then I realized it wasn't the ground that was rumbling, it was Vengeance.
I struggled upright and saw that Vengeance's eyes had flickered open. He was growling softly.
"You're alive!" I cried.
Vengeance lifted his head and gingerly disentangled himself from the crumpled forms beneath him.
"Wayne," he grunted. "Is he dead?"
"Yes," I said. "Are you okay?"
Vengeance nodded, although he didn't look it. Wayne's creation had left vicious wounds all over his body. But Vengeance had gotten to his feet, and though his breathing seemed somewhat laborious, he seemed alert.
"We need to get out of here," I said.
Vengeance growled his assent. We left the cold, blue light of the reactor room and plunged into the snaking tunnels of Wayne's hideout. As we walked, I tried to fill Vengeance in on everything that had happened since Kris and I had escaped. In return, he told me what had happened after the fight. How, on hearing of my escape, Wayne had begun to torture Vengeance to try to extract any information he might know. How Wayne had unveiled his second attempt building a monster, the "Mark II." And how he had begun growing an army down here in test tubes, ready to stage a coup on Alarbor's government.
"An army?" I said, incredulous.
"They'll die now, with Wayne gone," said Vengeance. "They are lucky."
We had made it to the ventilation shaft. I stared into the dark cavern above. From here, I could scarcely even make out the minuscule patch of gray that I knew was the hole at the top of the shaft.
I grabbed the trailing strand of nanofiber and tested it doubtfully. Would it hold Vengeance? Would I have the strength to climb to the top?
Vengeance seemed to read my thoughts. He snorted, then grasped me about the middle with his enormous hands. He lifted me easily into the shaft then clambered after me.
"Hold on tight, Gavin Ryder," he said. I only had an instant to panic before he picked me up and unfurled his tentlike wings. There was barely room for them to open, but he beat them powerfully, forcing us upward while he dug his razor-sharp claws right into the sheet metal of the shaft to climb higher. I closed my eyes and clung to Vengeance's mane like a man clinging to a palm tree in a hurricane. I was juddered around violently with each downthrust of Vengeance's wings, with each echoing slash of his claws.
It seemed to last an eternity, and each moment I thought surely I would be thrown from Vengeance's frame and plummet to my death. But suddenly it all stopped, and I felt Vengeance groaning and breathing heavily beneath me. I felt gravity return and rolled off of him, relishing the feeling of the concrete floor beneath my back.