With the stupid glove on my hand, I charged through the dark portal. Suddenly, I was back in the underground lair, with the dark stony hallways and dim lanternlight I had grown to hate over the past three years. But the thing I despised the most turned to face me with a curious look on his face—and then I punched him in it.
And, to my complete and utter surprise, it worked.
It felt like punching a trash bag full of milk. Hendricks’ face crumpled around my fist, and then he was blasted backwards like I’d fired him from a cannon. All the way down the fifty foot long tunnel he flew, until he smashed into the wall at the end, leaving a thick, tarry black stain behind. Like a bug on a windshield.
Dex fell to his knees, grasping his throat and coughing.
“Are you all right?” I asked, kneeling next to him.
He turned to look at me, short of breath but wide eyed all the same. “You…You came for me!”
I frowned, but nodded. “Call me an idiot, but yeah. I did.”
“What changed your mind?”
“You did.” I leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “You’re the biggest liar I’ve ever met, and I’m still not convinced this is a good idea, but…dadgum it, Dex, I love you!”
He smiled. “I love you too.”
“I haven’t felt love in so long,” came the cold, cruel voice at the end of the tunnel, “that I don’t even remember what it feels like.”
The big black splat rippled, and Hendricks’ face emerged from it like he was rising from the depths of a dark, bottomless well. He was vibrating again, copies of himself flashing in and out of existence on either side of him almost fast enough to give me a seizure.
Gritting my teeth, I stood up and stepped forward so that I was between Dex and Hendricks.
“That was a very poor decision, Amber,” he said, pulling himself the rest of the way out of his splat mark. “You picked the wrong time to regrow your spine.”
“Dex,” I said softly, “get out of here while you—”
“Oh, I don’t think so!” Hendricks snapped. There was a hissing sound, and I didn’t have to turn around to know that he’d closed the shadow portal, leaving us both trapped in here with him. For better or worse…most likely worse…there was no going back now.
I held up the gauntlet for him to see. “Stay right there. If you come one step closer, I swear I’ll pound you into slime!”
“Because you did so well in bringing back the gauntlet, Amber,” said Hendricks, “I’ll forgive you for this. Back down now, and we can both forget this ever happened.”
“And Dex?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Dexter betrayed me. Nobody betrays me, Amber. Ever. Step aside, let him get what he deserves, and you can continue living this pathetic little thing you call a life.”
My whole body was shaking by now. I’d known what I was getting into the minute I put on the stupid glove, but now the full reality of it was finally crashing down on me.
“It’s not like really you care about him anyway, is it?”
I looked down at the glove, glowing bright in the darkness. Now that I was actually here, facing him down, this entire plan felt incredibly stupid.
Black lightning crackled in Hendricks’ cane. “What will you do, Amber?”
I closed my eyes. Dove deep into the dark corners of my memory. The parts that I avoided thinking about, shoved down into the recesses of my mind whenever they tried to surface. And, as clearly as if I were watching tv, I saw it.
“Step aside, girl!”
That night, three years ago. A gaping hole in Stark’s cabin’s wall. Blood all over the floor. And there in the middle of that blood…
“I’m beginning to lose patience!”
…was Kimberly. Her life quickly fading. One arm ripped free of her shoulder, raw meat and shattered bone exposed for the world to see.
Because of me.
“I’ll give you to the count of three, Amber.”
But not all because of me. I had only changed because of Becky. And Becky only existed because she had been Rebecca. And Rebecca had only been there because of…
…the filthy…slimy… demented thing at the other end of this tunnel.
Hendricks. He was the real culprit behind Kimberly’s death. He was behind everything. And that made me very, very…
My eyes shot open just as the gauntlet lit up brighter than I’d ever seen it before. The scarlet runes exploded with light, turning the entire mineshaft the color of blood. Its power surged through me like fire and lightning. Even Hendricks seemed surprised by this, going so far as to take a step backwards.
That was all I needed to see.
“You will never,” I growled, “hurt either of us again!”
And with that, I threw myself onto all fours. In less than a second, I grew to my full Silverblood size. My head hit the top of the tunnel, but I barely felt it. The stone crumbled like chalk against my newfound strength.
And, to my surprise, the gauntlet changed with me.
It didn’t miss a beat. As soon as I began to transform, the glove grew as well. As my hand reshaped itself, so did the glove, so that when I slammed my gigantic Silverblood paw back onto the ground, it would never have fit any definition of a human hand. I was a giant wolf, wearing a giant wolf glove—and I couldn’t wait to use it!
I charged at Hendricks, every footstep shaking the mineshaft and raining pebbles down on our heads. Hendricks didn’t look the least bit concerned. As I drew nearer, he calmly raised his cane, aimed it at my head, and—
I swiped at him with my claws, shattering it like a dry twig.
For the first time that I could remember, Hendricks actually looked surprised. That made this all worth it. Even if I died, I would treasure the look on his face with all my other most precious memories. But this wasn’t over yet. Growling with savage bloodlust, I swiped at him again, striking him full across the torso. The paw-shaped gauntlet flashed bright red, and Hendricks grunted in pain as he went flying backwards into the same wall I’d thrown him into before.
He glared at me, his black eyes growing unnaturally wide, and growled, “Amberrrr—”
So I headbutted him through the wall.
The wall gave way, and suddenly we were in Hendricks’ sitting cavern. His favorite armchair was immediately crushed under my feet, the grand piano that somehow played itself was reduced to splinters, and the bar where he’d made me mix drinks for him was smashed into a pile of broken wood and glass.
Snarling even more beastially than me, Hendricks dug his claws into my snout, opened his mouth, and bit me. Pain flashed through me, way more pain than a few tiny pinpricks should have caused, and I shook my head wildly until he was thrown free. His black coat fluttered in the air as he gracefully descended, making him look like a giant bat.
He didn’t have his cane. That was good. No cane meant no black lightning. But I wasn’t stupid enough to think that made him harmless. So, rather than wait to find out what other nasty tricks he had up his sleeves, I attacked first.
A hint of fear showed in Hendricks’ eyes as I swung the gauntlet at him yet again. My claws raked across him, cutting through his clothes and skin as easily as if he were made of water. This time, he actually screamed, which was all the incentive I needed to do it again. The motion was awkward for me. Wolves are built to bite, not scratch like cats. But if that was what it took to kill this monster, then I’d start licking myself and saying meow right now!
“Amber!” he gasped as my claws tore through him a third time, and then a fourth. “Stop!”
No. I would never stop. Not until he was good and dead.
“I’m begging you!” he wailed.
Was it just me, or was he getting thinner? Not in size, but in depth. It was hard to see, since he blended in with the dark caverns so well, but I swore I was able to see through him a little bit!
“I’ll give you…” He paused when I clawed his face off. It took several precious seconds to reform itself. “I’ll give you anything!”
No dice. I already had the only thing I wanted. Dex. Call me a fool for forgiving him so quickly, but that’s what love can do to a person.
“You don’t…know what…you’re doing!” He was definitely getting weaker now. Even his scent was less powerful than it had been before. Almost like I was wiping him from existence itself.
He fell flat on his face. I stepped back, growling, half convinced that this was all just a trick. After everything he’d put me through, everything I’d seen him do, this couldn’t be that easy. He would get back up, and turn into some kind of monstrous hellbeast or something. Then we’d fight again, for real this time. Only…
He didn’t. He just lay there, face down on the ground, moaning like a middle schooler who’d just been kicked in the nuts for the first time. He didn’t move except to tremble a little bit.
I growled again. This wasn’t possible! Or was it? I remembered what Dex had said earlier, about the combined power of a Silverblood and the Gauntlet of Malleus. How, with those two things, even an immortal demon like Hendricks could die.
Slowly, I raised my paw one last time.
“Am…ber…” Hendricks whispered. “Pl…Please…Don’t!”
Too little, too late. I brought my paw down so hard that the ground beneath me cracked. Hendricks let out one final whine, like a balloon squeaking out its last gasp of air, and thick black smoke curled around my paw. I felt him through the metal, flattening, and then evaporating entirely. The foul smelling smoke rose up to the ceiling, pooled there for a minute, and then faded from existence.
I took a step back. There was nothing left of Hendricks except a black, slimy stain on the floor. I stared at that stain for a long, tense minute. Waiting. It didn’t move. Hendricks was…
I blinked, barely able to believe it.
Hendricks was dead!
I immediately changed back, my howl of victory turning into a cry of joy. As soon as I was back on two legs, I ran back the way I’d come. I had to tell Dex! I climbed through the hole we had made, back to the tunnel where I’d left him. He was going to be so…
I stopped dead in my tracks, all the joy evaporating like a glass of lemonade in hell.
“Very good, Amber,” Hendricks crooned sarcastically. “Now, let’s discuss business!”