Previously: “Searching for the secrets of the Sky Spiders in the Twisted Forests, I was snatched away from my companions by the eerie forest dwellers and presented to EON-5: the Iron Queen. But she spoke only in gibberish, and her intentions were less than friendly, arming the forest dwellers for some unknown purpose. Ultimately, I found myself staring down the barrels of two rifles...”
Part 14: Gasping for Air
Two gunshots, close together, and the two forest dwellers collapsed, blood spurting from their shattered skulls. Glass tinkled from one of the factory windows. As stunned as I was, I thought immediately of Sigrid somewhere outside with her telescopic rifle sight. At least she was still alive, if not the others.
I dropped to my knees, expecting more shots that didn't come. The Iron Queen waved her arms, gesturing to the forest dwellers throughout the factory and emitting harsh, metallic barks. The workers started grabbing brand new guns from the conveyor belts and heading for the exits. I saw my chance and sprung to my feet, kicking the EON unit hard in her metal stomach. She staggered backwards, her rigid skirt scraping the floor.
I ran, awkwardly, my hands still tied behind my back.
The Iron Queen called out behind me. “Keep this salmon from the waterfall!”
A forest dweller appeared before me, welding mask pushed up against its stubby horns. I lashed out in the only way I could, kicking at its stomach as I had with the Iron Queen. Big mistake. The creature caught my foot in its hands and pulled my ankle upwards, throwing me backwards. I slammed into a stack of rifles. Something sharp – a bayonet, I assumed – stabbed up into my jacket, cutting through the fabric.
The forest dweller studied me warily with its strangely soulful black eyes. I noticed now that it held something in its hands. A squat black gun of some kind, unlike anything I'd ever seen before.
The Iron Queen strode towards me, her feet clanging against the cracked concrete floor. “You should breathe brine,” she told me, her voice low, almost angry. “It's not safe outside the shoal, though not even there for long. Be happy in the current. It is brief-lived but warm.”
I looked straight into her single eye. “I am not a fish.”
She came to a halt close to me. I could feel the coldness of her metal skin. Her face featureless but for that single eye, she still somehow managed to give me a condescending, almost pitying look as she said, “Glub, glub.”
She lifted her hand and closed her fingers around my throat. I cried out in surprise, the sound cut off as she constricted my windpipe.
I lifted my arms behind me, painfully, trying to press my bonds against the bayonet.
Her metal fingers closed still tighter. “I know his face.”
I felt my vision closing in. My body seemed increasingly distant, its urgent need for air growing easier to ignore, my actions with the bayonet more mechanical, more abstract. And then the ropes slipped from my wrists and I felt a sudden surge of adrenaline.
I brought my fists flying forward, knocking the Iron Queen backwards, into the forest dweller with the strange weapon. I spun round and grabbed at the rifle behind me. Looking back, I know that it would not have been loaded. But the thought never occurred to me at the time. I acted purely as a cornered animal. I gripped the thing by the stock and swung it like a club. My first blow merely dented the Iron Queen's head as she grabbed at the factory machinery to steady herself. With my second, I sliced right through her neck with the bayonet. Her head hit the floor and bounced.
The forest dweller let out a guttural bleat of terror and dropped its gun with a heavy clatter. It backed away from me - the whites of its eyes showing - feeling its way through the machinery, afraid to take its eyes from me to look where it was going.
I drew deep nourishing breaths. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears. I set the rifle down carefully and stepped towards the Iron Queen's head, grasping it firmly. It was lighter than I might have expected. I lifted it with ease.
“Foolish shark,” it said. “Slippery eel.”
The forest dweller stopped dead in its tracks, staring at the talking head. I looked around. We were alone in the factory. I suddenly noticed the staccato hammering of machinegun fire from outside.
I looked at the forest dweller and patted the Iron Queen's head. “I'll be taking this, if you don't mind.”
The creature said nothing.
Now it was my turn to back away, moving much more slowly than I would have liked, bumping into factory machinery and kicking discarded tools. At the final stretch, beneath the faded green letters labelling the exit, I turned to dash away to freedom and danger in the Twisted Forests.
Standing in the doorway, between me and the cool wooded air, were three forest dwellers, their rifles raised and hairy fingers on the triggers. I tightened my grip on the Iron Queen's head.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Will Peregrine escape the factory and reunite with his companions? Or will he pay the terrible price for dismembering the forest dwellers' revered leader? Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!