Dex and I didn’t move as one of the men walked across the room to cut off our exit, and the other kicked the grate back into the floor.
“Dex, what’s going on?” I asked in a low voice.
“Gargoyles,” he answered, frowning. “Skin made of stone. Strong as seven humans.”
I looked at one of them, and he pounded his fist into his palm with a loud, very inhuman, CRACK. Like beating two rocks against each other.
“Gentlemen,” Dex said, raising his hands in surrender. “We’re not here to fight.”
“I’d say you are,” said the one by the door. “Otherwise this won’t take long at all.”
“We’re just looking for someone who came through that grate either late last night or early this morning,” he insisted. “Maybe you can help—”
“She was here about four in the mornin’,” the one nearest to me answered. “Her and the big pile of money she gave us to keep you from followin’ her anymore.”
I looked at him and frowned. Whether or not he’d meant to, he had just given us a clue. She had been here. We were chasing a woman.
Now we just had to get out of here alive.
“Whatever she’s paying you,” Dex said slowly, “I can pay double.”
The two gargoyles shared a look, scowled, and shook their heads.
“We don’t like to go ‘round breakin’ our promises,” said the one by the door.
Dex sighed. “Then maybe this will convince you!”
With that, he whipped out his scepter, the yellow gem glowing as bright as the sun. The gargoyles shied back a couple of steps when they saw it, but if Dex had been hoping they’d run for the hills he must have been pretty disappointed. Instead it only seemed to make them even angrier, baring their long, sharp teeth and snarling at us.
“Amber,” Dex said quietly, “get back in the pipe while I take these idiots out.”
I snorted. “Yeah, right.”
“I’m serious, Amber! These guys are—”
Before he could finish, they both charged at us. Dex whipped around and blasted a bolt of energy at the one by the door, hitting him in the knee. He fell with a scream of pain and toppled over onto a table, breaking it in half.
The other one came for me. Spinning around to face him, I ducked underneath his outstretched arms as he tried to wrap me in a bear hug. Grabbing a nearby chair in both hands, I swung it as I stood back up, bashing it against his head. The chair shattered and the gargoyle staggered away from me, disoriented. I grunted in disappointment. A hit like that should have taken his head clean off.
Behind me, the first gargoyle growled as he stood back up, raising the table he’d broken over his head. “Property damage will not be tolerated!”
He hurled the table at Dex, who blasted it with his scepter, obliterating it.
“I do not,” he said, “have a witty comeback for that.”
Then he shot him in the face.
I looked at my enemy just as he shook off the blow I’d given him. Reaching down, he grabbed one of the metal barstools and yanked it out of the floor. He swung it at my head like a club, and I barely managed to duck out of the way in time. I could feel the force behind his swing just from the wind that blasted from it. One hit from that thing, and my head would pop like a rotten watermelon.
He raised it over his head and swung again, and I jumped back as fast as I could, kicking one of the tables at him in the process. The stool smashed it to pieces, and while those splinters flew through the air I ducked behind another table.
This wasn’t good, I realized as the gargoyle chased after me. Dex had been right, these guys had skin as hard as stone. Even if I’d been in wolf form, my teeth and claws would have been useless. Not even my superhuman strength would do me any good here. If I didn’t want these two to serve me up as an Amburger tonight, I was going to have to find a different way to beat them.
Behind us, I watched the other gargoyle pick up a chair and sling it at Dex. He blasted that one out of the air as well, but while he was distracted the gargoyle came charging at him. Grabbing him around the middle, he lifted the scrawny blonde wizard up off the floor and slammed him so hard into the bar that I’m surprised Dex’s spine didn’t immediately break. A chill went down my spine, though, when I saw his scepter clatter to the floor.
Oh, shoot! I thought. He can’t fight without that. I have to help him!
I tried to dodge around my gargoyle, only for him to slam his rock-hard fist into my chest and send me flying backwards. Pain flashed through my entire body as I collided with the wall, and I collapsed as stars danced in front of my eyes.
On the other side of the restaurant, Dex desperately reached back and grabbed one of the heavy glass mugs, and then slammed it against the gargoyle’s head with all his strength. It shattered, leaving him holding the handle with a jagged shard of glass jutting out from it, but the gargoyle just gave him a funny look.
“You didn’t really expect that to work, did you?” he asked with a chuckle.
“No,” Dex admitted. “But I think this will!”
He lunged forward with the mug’s handle before the gargoyle could react, ramming it into his eye. The gargoyle recoiled in agony, a hand clasped over his face. Dex, gasping for breath, immediately dove for his scepter. Growling in rage, the gargoyle fell on him, wrapping him in a chokehold.
Pushing back the pain, I rolled out of the way just as the second gargoyle threw another savage punch at me. His fist crashed through the wall like it was made of paint. I scrambled back to my feet and gave him an experimental kick in the crotch…
When Dex had said these guys were hard as rock, I hadn’t known he’d mean everywhere! My foot ached, and I backed away from the gargoyle with a new limp. He laughed, pushing another table over to get to me. Now I was on the complete other side of the bar from Dex. He wouldn’t have been able to help me anyway, since he was still grappling with his own gargoyle.
WEAK. USELESS, my wolf side growled inside my head. LET ME OUT. I KILL. I WIN FIGHT!
“Yeah, not likely,” I whispered back to it. Instead, I looked around. I would have to use my head to win this fight. I needed a plan…
An old Pacman machine sat in the corner next to the door the gargoyles had come out of, flashing bright colors and humming its cheerful tune. Right behind me was the bar, and a glance over my shoulder showed me beer taps. Nothing surprising, but an idea began to come to me anyway…
I leapfrogged over the bar just as my gargoyle came rushing toward me. He crashed into it, cracking the wood but not breaking through, and growled in annoyance. That gave me a few seconds, and I hurried to make use of them.
Every bar has a cooler underneath it to store the beer kegs in. I know this because Hendricks has made me serve him drinks more than once at his personal underground bar. I got to my knees as fast as I could, opening the cabinet doors, and bingo! Half a dozen metal barrels sat there, waiting for me. Not caring which one I got, I grabbed one just as the gargoyle climbed over the bar after me. I tore the keg from its hose as I stood up, raised it over my head, and threw it at him as hard as I could. With my werewolf strength, it flew across the distance between us, and split entirely in half when it hit the gargoyle, drenching him in beer.
“Why you little—” he yelled, lunging for me, but I had already hopped over the bar again. These brutes may have been stronger than me, but they were slower and less agile. I needed to use that, because this would be the hard part.
The gargoyle roared as I rounded the restaurant again to stand in front of the Pacman machine. Still wiping beer out of his eyes, he clambered over the bar to give chase. My heart was pounding in my chest, urging me to run, but I stood my ground. Just…another…couple…seconds…
Now! Just as he came within arm’s reach, I ducked out of his way and dropped down to wrap my arms around his leg. I knew I wasn’t a match for them in a fistfight, but I was still stronger than your average human, and I used that to my advantage. He tumbled forward with a yelp—and his head crashed straight through the Pacman machine’s screen.
Sparks flew from the machine, and the gargoyle began to scream. Releasing him, I backed away while he kicked and struggled to get free. Smoke rose from the ruined screen, and the last few musical notes distorted into an ugly mess as the machine died. Wrenching himself free, the gargoyle shrieked in agony while fire eagerly devoured every drop of alcohol on his body. I don’t know if fire can kill something with stone for skin, but it could obviously hurt them, and that was good enough for me. He almost made it to the door before he tripped over Dex and the other gargoyle’s wrestling match.
“What the?” said the first gargoyle, finally noticing his partner. “What the hell did she do to—”
There was a yellow flash, and chunks of gravel went flying across the restaurant. Picking myself up, still limping from my badly thought out kick, I looked over the bar to see Dex pulling himself free from a headless stone corpse.
“Are you all right?” he asked, massaging his neck.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “How are you?”
Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out another of his yellow vials and drank it in one gulp.
“Come on,” he said, rushing through the back door as fast as his shaking legs could carry him. “We don’t have much time!”