Chapter 7

"No," Daniel said, "no. These are all miles away."

He was perched on a bench outside the mall, poring through the Yellow Pages of the phone book. Kelly, who had been pacing behind the bench, leaned over his shoulder to look.

"Is there a Sears at this mall?" she asked, peering at the tiny print.

"Um, I'm not sure. I don't remember one." He flipped back to the business listings, paged a bit, and located the listing. "Let's see... service... here they are, retail stores. Looks like there's one at Crossroads, one at Oak View... nope, none at this mall."

She turned her face toward him. Her hair brushed across his neck. His finger paused on its way down the page. Her face was inches away from his. "What about --" she started, then turned away and stood up, and began pacing again, moving a little more quickly than before. "Um... what about 'auto parts'?" she said. "That might be a good category."

He shook himself. "Um. Yeah, that's a good idea." He flipped back to the yellow pages and started scanning.

Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "There's a car dealership just half a mile down the road. I should have remembered it was there. I drive past it all the time, every time I go to the bank." He looked up, tapping the listing. "They're listed under 'new parts', so I'll bet their service area has a pretty good stock of batteries."

"Cool," she said. "Let's go. I want to see if your sword really works on these damn things." A cold smile played across her face. "If it does, I may have a go at it, too."

He looked over at her, and she met his gaze for an instant, then dropped her smile and turned away.

The air was cool and crisp, the sunlight muted. Leaves were scattered across the ground, some dry and curled, others still damp and brightly colored.

"I've always loved this time of year," Daniel said, half to himself, as they walked down a side street. "I've never really had a reason why, I just like it. It makes me feel a little more alive, somehow."

"Yeah," Kelly said. "I think I know what you mean. The colors are a little brighter, and when it's a little bit cold outside, home feels a little more like home." She laughed, then was quiet for a long while. Finally, she said softly, "I'm starting to wonder if I'll see home again."

"You're not from here?" he said.

She shook her head. "Minnesota. Medium-sized town about like any other. You?"

"Iowa," he said. "Cedar Rapids. Second-largest metro area in the state, which isn't saying much." He shook his head. "I miss it. I miss my folks, I miss my old neighborhood. Omaha isn't bad, but it's not quite home."

Kelly nodded, and scuffed through a pile of leaves that had blown into the gutter. "I think it was this time of year the first time I fell in love," she said. A breeze blew her hair across her face. She brushed it away. "God, that seems like a long time ago."

"Hell, I don't even remember the first time I fell in love," he said. "There have been too many to keep track of."

"Oh, a ladies' man, huh?" Kelly said with a smile, letting more leaves crunch under her feet.

Daniel paused and knelt to pick up a brilliantly orange leaf. "I don't know if you could call it that," he said, twirling the leaf slowly and then letting it flitter to the ground. "I didn't actually manage to get a date until my sophomore year in college. And I'm not actually sure she realized I was asking her out on a date, since it turned out she already had a boyfriend."

They walked along in silence for a few minutes. Then they rounded a corner and saw a shiny new car lying upside-down in the middle of the road.

Daniel studied it for a moment. "No license plates," he said.

"So we're almost to the dealership?" Kelly said.

Daniel shook his head. "We're still a good two blocks away."

It turned out to be three blocks.

They looked out over the ruin of the car lot. Cars had been flipped over, scattered, and crushed. In one spot, an area about forty feet square, all the cars had been swept aside, and only patches of broken glass remained. They had passed two other cars that had been thrown out of the lot entirely.

"Do you really think the raptors did this?" Kelly said, her eyes wide.

Daniel shook his head slowly. "I think the hoods may have been them, but no, I don't think they did all of this." Many of the hoods were, indeed, stripped away.

"Look," he said, pointing. The cars had been heaped into piles surrounding the clear area, and at one point, a raptor had been crushed between two of those stacked cars.

"You know," Kelly said slowly, "that big clear area almost looks like a giant nest."

Daniel frowned. "What?"

Then the sound of flapping wings reached their ears. They spun to see three raptors descending toward a corner of the car lot.

"Let's go!" Daniel called, and they began to run. Daniel was having some trouble holding onto the sword as he ran, and he shifted his grip several times, then gave up, holding it at the ready and trying not to let its weight throw off his stride.

As they approached, one of the raptors sunk its claws into a car's hood. There was a flash of light as its claws connected with the metal, but then it gave an enormous flap with its wings and the hood peeled away. Another raptor started to dive in, but the first snapped at it and drove it back, then dropped in and pulled the battery out. There were more flashes of light as it touched the metal frame. Then the battery wires snapped and the raptor landed in a clear spot a few feet away, and bent down over its "kill".

The second raptor attacked another car, and again there was a flash of light as its claws met the hood. Then the third raptor tried to dive in to get the battery, knocking the second one down onto the hood. The second let out a screech as it rolled across the metal and fell in a heap to the ground.

As Daniel and Kelly approached, the first raptor hunched over its battery and hissed. The third was still straining against the battery wires.

But the second was still on the ground, struggling to get up.

Daniel stepped forward, took the hilt of the sword in both hands, and brought it down. There was a flash, a fresh whiff of sulfur. The raptor fell heavily back to the ground, the sword still embedded in its arm. A thin stream of smoke rose from the point of contact.

The raptor suddenly jerked backward, pulling the sword loose -- and pulling it right out of Daniel's hands. The raptor rose to its haunches, panting visibly, but standing between Daniel and the sword.

"Oh, shit," he said.

Kelly flung the lump of metal toward the raptor. She missed, and the metal skittered across the ground and slid under a car. The raptor turned to look at it.

Daniel dove for the sword, his shoulder ramming into the raptor. Both of them went sprawling, and he felt fire spreading through his side as the raptor's claws dug into him, trying to push him away.

Then he was tumbling across the parking lot, his side in searing agony. The pain seemed to bring everything into sharp focus, and he somehow managed to regain his feet, caught sight of the sword, and darted forward.

The raptor screeched and began to dart forward. It's got me, he thought, surprised at how calm he was.

But the raptor stumbled and fell to the ground, and Daniel had covered the last few feet. His hands closed on the sword.

He turned to see Kelly, clinging to the raptor's tail, and trying to swipe her away. Stumbling back up onto his feet, he swung the sword through the air as he ran.

It connected with the raptor's side just as it swung for Kelly again. Another screech, and the raptor rolled frantically away. Kelly went tumbling backward. Daniel advanced slowly, weighing the sword in his hands.

The raptor hissed up at him, opened its jaw to reveal rows of sharp black teeth, and reached up with its long, clawed arm.

Daniel braced his feet and swung hard. The impact jarred both of his hands to the bone. The raptor's arm was completely severed, and fell limply to the ground.

The raptor let out a last screech and fell limply to the ground. The smell of sulfur was heavy in the air, and the puffs of smoke that had accompanied each strike were spreading slowly into the air and making everything hazy.

Daniel turned slowly to the other two raptors. The one that was still in the air gave up on trying to get its battery loose and took to the air. The one still on the ground let out another hiss, its claws digging into the sides of the battery.

"Okay, birdie," Daniel said between ragged breaths, "lunchtime's over. Time to play."

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