Loki moved slowly, cautiously. He held the rivet gun in his left hand, locked and loaded with his last four projectiles. He edged along the street with his back pressed against the wall of a building, clinging to the long shadows it cast in the early morning.
Having a solid wall at his back was usually reassuring, but he could see through this one. It gave him the unnerving sensation that there was no protection behind him at all, that anyone or anything could sneak up on him.
What’s it made of? Loki pressed a hand to the wall. Its surface was perfectly smooth and cool to the touch. The first thing that came to mind was transparent steel. He rapped a knuckle against it but heard hardly any sound; he might as well be knocking on concrete. This stuff seemed to be thick and strong.
Like Teddy. He laughed softly to himself, half just to hear something alive and human in this too-still city.
This was like having freaking x-ray vision (finally!), handy for checking for hostiles inside without having to enter the building. But he assumed that the view went both ways, which left him feeling even more exposed than he already did in unknown territory.
Rows of tall metal shelves near the wall were stuffed with gray cases with faded white labels. Bookstore? he thought. Library?
As he edged along the wall, more of the room came into view. Desks and chairs, layered in dust. Perhaps it was an office.
Maybe it’s a school. He shuddered.
He passed by the double doors at the entrance without trying them. They were probably locked, and he didn’t have time to take a closer look right now. Maybe later, if it was safe for them to stay in the city.
For now, Loki moved along, scanning the street around him and darting his eyes upward to take in the broken windows of the buildings he passed. He seemed to be the only thing moving here. He was heading deeper into the city, toward the gleaming skyscraper in the center that they had seen from miles away.
Calling it a skyscraper seemed insufficient. It was taller than any building he’d seen on his class trip to see The Phantom of the Opera in New York. It dwarfed the Freedom Tower, the tallest building in the world. He was pretty sure it was the tallest. One of them, definitely.
He missed Wikipedia.
Dammit, he missed Wesley. The kid had been obnoxious, but his bad jokes and random trivia had helped the group’s morale, sort of. I bet he was making all those facts up just to sound important. Loki realized he and Wesley might have had something in common after all.
From here, the top of the building disappeared into the cloudless sky. It didn’t scrape the sky, it punched right through it. Like a boss.
For all he knew, that skypuncher even reached space, like the beanstalk that had brought him and the other teens to this planet from the station in orbit.
It was all the more impressive because it was in pristine condition, while most of the buildings here, on the edge of the city, were shells of their former selves. The landscape was littered with their wreckage. This place had been shattered by some catastrophe, or ravaged by the most destructive force known to mankind (other than mankind itself, of course): time.
Something flitted in the corner of Loki’s eye. Ten o’clock. He snapped his attention in that direction, bringing the gun to aim at the same time and tracking the motion of . . . a bird?
No, not a bird. Nor a plane, though it was about the size of a one-person glider. It was an animal, but it wasn’t any flying animal he’d seen before at home or in a zoo or a nature documentary.
As it rose from the crumbling roof of an ancient cathedral, he took note of its flat head that came to a beaked snout; broad, leathery wings; a long, tufted tail. Talons. Dark green, shimmery feathers. It was a bizarre video-game creation brought to life.
A dinosaur? No.
That’s a flipping dragon.
Loki’s pulse raced and his finger twitched on the gun’s trigger, but he held his fire.
In a multiplayer game, you and your teammates counted on one another. Since shooting the caretaker on the train, though, when his quick reaction had threatened all of their lives, Loki had been working to rein in his gamer’s instincts. He’d acted on his own without thinking and endangered them all.
Right now he wasn’t at immediate risk, and hitting the not-a-bird was a long shot in every sense of the word. If he missed, he might draw that thing’s attention and anger—shortly followed by its wicked-sharp claws and beak. No, thanks.
Even as Loki hesitated, the creature flapped higher above the street and out of range. It banked around the corner of a building and disappeared from view. It was surprisingly graceful for a hideous nightmare beast.
Not seeing it anymore made Loki even more anxious. He kept his eyes on the sky. That monster was a lot bigger than the sabertooth tiger they had taken down near their first camp. And it flew.
In fact, it seemed to be flying on the same...