The air wall, which had been plenty strong to hold back glass dust, proved to be insufficient to hold back a mass of bone of this magnitude. The skeletal creature rushed through it like it wasn’t there and swung its massive club at Athena. She rolled aside, not wasting the effort blocking such an immense blow. That proved to be a wise decision – the stone floor where she had been standing cratered under the blow, kicking up a cloud of dust and causing the walls to shudder.
“Scatter!” Crystal shouted as it raised its club again. The next blow was aimed at Dianmu, while at the same time it brought one of those massive feet around for a kick aimed at Ryan. Ryan hit the floor to let the foot carry over his head, and Dianmu leaped up so the mace would go flying through the space she had been occupying.
Damn, this thing is fast, Ryan thought as the foot he had just dodged came back down to stomp on him, an impossible motion if the limb hadn’t had so many joints. He rolled away from the strike that once again cracked stone and sent a tremor through the whole labyrinth. The cloud of dust it kicked up engulfed him, and he had to continue to roll to both clear the cloud and make sure he could see where the next strike was coming from.
“Crap, Anansi, look out!” Isabel shouted through the drone’s speakers. Ryan cleared the obscuration to see that spider-god was running towards the wall as the mace came in a sideways sweep, too hard and fast for him to dodge.
Instead of dodging, without breaking stride, Anansi turned his personal gravity to the side and starting running up the wall. The blow to the wall caused him to stumble, but no more than a blow to the floor would have normally.
Crystal darted in as the skeleton began to pull back, hopping onto the mace and starting to run down its haft, then up the skeleton’s arm. It bucked, trying to shake her, which distracted it long enough for Ryan and Athena to get back to their feet. Dianmu was dodging a fresh kick, and Anansi was turning around on the wall to face the monstrosity. Crystal had her swords held low, and almost reached the shoulder before the skulls started snapping at her. She brought up the blade to block the strikes, but whatever her plan had been fell apart as she was forced onto the defensive.
Think Ryan, think. Anansi had drawn his bow and arrow, which struck Ryan as profoundly useless, but he was safe for now. With the skeleton’s mace arm occupied, the biggest danger was to Athena, Dianmu, and himself from those kicks and stomps, one of which was aimed at Dianmu right now, the kind of high stomp one would reserve for a cockroach or particularly annoying ant.
Instead of dodging, she crouched low and brought her glaive straight up into one of the bones. Her strength combined with the downward force of the blow was more than enough to sever straight through the bone. The creature recoiled, and at that moment Anansi let loose his arrow.
Ryan didn’t see what changes Anansi had made to the arrow, but when the arrowhead met one of the skulls, it detonated, shattering two of them and distracting it enough for Crystal to sever two more before being thrown off as it thrashed. She landed gracefully on her feet, and Anansi drew another arrow.
“Wait! Look,” Isabel said. The luxury of not needing to focus on protecting her own life allowed her to be the first to see what was happening. The severed phalange was flying off the ground to reconnect to the foot. The skulls Crystal had severed quickly joined in, followed by the fragments of bone Anansi had scattered with his arrow.
“That’s just not sodding fair,” Crystal groaned as it moved in for another attack. “Any bright ideas?”
If anyone had them, they didn’t get a chance to voice them to the group. They were forced to dodge and weave again as the creature renewed its attacks with vigor, blows coming at a rate that kept them all focused on avoiding. It was a stalemate, of a sort. The gods were too fast to be hit by the creature’s blows, but they had no way to injury it. Except, Ryan noted to himself as he used a quick burst of wind to clear another dust cloud, just in time to slide under a low punch, eventually you’ll wear down. It won’t.
The hand that he’d just ducked under went scraping back, sweeping Ryan up into the skeleton’s grasp. It started to clench that fist around him, right before a sawblade of air thrown by Athena severed it at the wrist. Ryan increased his gravity as he fell, shattering the hand underneath him.
The fragments began to reform, but Ryan took comfort in knowing that age had rendered these bones more fragile and brittle than his own.
“I’ve got it!” Isabel crowed through the speakers. “If you guys can pull it off. Can any of you up the air pressure to about five atmospheres?”
“Yes,” Dianmu said, stealing Anansi’s trick and running up the wall. She turned around and began to twist the air. The skeleton’s movements began to slow like it was moving in molasses.
“Great. Now we need to up the heat to at least fifteen thousand degrees. Two thousand would be better.”
Anansi didn’t respond with words, instead firing arrows into the pressurized air that began to glow like miniature suns once they were in.
“Awesome. Now keep it busy and in there.”
Ryan nodded to Athena and Crystal, “Enki tactics?”
“Sounds good to me, love,” Crystal said as she took the right and Athena took the left. Not wanting to run into the pressure-cooker they’d created around the skeleton, Ryan gathered up a ball of dust with a simple twist of air and hurled it at the skeleton with the force of a cannonball. The particulate matter detonated upon heating up, drawing the monsters attention and sending it stumbling backwards. Chunks of bone flew off, although they began to reattach almost instantly.
Athena went next, and as she was closest to the glass dust, she struck with that, a spear of glass flying towards the skeleton and hitting directly on one of its spines. It turned red-hot as it travelled through the bubble of pressurized air around the skeleton, and she provided another twist to fuse it to the bones.
The skeleton whirled to face her, but Crystal was going now, a swift motion tearing off a chunk of the Labyrinth wall and striking it. She accelerated the stone to supersonic speeds, and the sonic boom shattered chunks off the creature. This time, as the skeleton turned, its movements were even slower, Dianmu and Anansi pouring on pressure and heat. Some of the shards of bone Crystal had broken off began to reattach, but others continued to drift away.
It tried to rise again, but collapsed back on itself. All five gods began to throw more dust into the pressurized heat field. The more mundane dust from their end of the hallway exploded like flour tossed onto a flame, while the glass dust from the other end coagulated into white-hot droplets that splattered inside as fast as they could propel it.
They stopped their assault, waiting for the air to clear. When it did, the skeletal monster was nothing more than a cloud of hot cinders on a bed of red-hot stone.
“We…disintegrated it?” Crystal asked. Dianmu and Anansi began to dismantle the heat and pressure field before it turned the stone floor into lava.
“Kinda,” Isabel said, Ryan recognizing a note of pride in her voice. “The heat and pressure made sure that as the bone burned, it underwent all kinds of neat chemical reactions. The way power works, from what you guys told me, was manipulating natural laws, so I figured if we made sure the bone wasn’t in any way bone anymore, just a random collection of elements…”
“…then whatever bloody thing was animating the skeleton wouldn’t work anymore!” Crystal exclaimed, her confused frown turning into a smile. “Isabel, you’re bloody brilliant!”
“Aww, you’re making me blush.” Isabel responded.
“Still, we should get moving,” Athena said, “Unless all of you are positive that construct used every bone that was in the hallway?”
None of them were, so needing no further encouragement, the group turned towards the intersection. “So…which way do we go?” Ryan asked. “We always turn the same direction, right?”
Athena shook her head. “The Labyrinth throws up worse traps if you try that method. It might be more sure fire, but it’s infinitely more dangerous.”
“Great.” Ryan rubbed his hands together as he looked both ways, “Then let’s pick right.”
“Any reason right?” Anansi asked.
Ryan pointed down it. “It goes a longer distance before turning. I figure the less we have to turn, the less horrible traps we’ll stumble into.”
“The logic is sound enough,” Dianmu said, peering into the distance before turning to the group and shrugging. “At least, it’s better than random choices. Shall we?”
Together, they headed down the passage, Ryan hoping that he hadn’t just pointed the group in the completely wrong direction. Athena said it takes about a week. But does that account for getting utterly lost?
He hoped they wouldn’t have to find out.