Cleo was already awake when the first explosion hit.
As I walked out into the family room, I found her at her post in the front window like always … except that instead of trying to tear through the window like she would when an enemy squirrel was discovered within a hundred feet of the house, this time she was eerily calm.
Looking out the window across the dark red sky as flames from above lit up the night, I instantly knew why the change in her demeanor.
We were being activated.
There was no time to explain to my wife on our way out the door. “Whatever you do, just stay in the house. You’re safe here – trust us…” I called back as we ran out the door, myself in little more than the t-shirt and boxers that I slept in and Cleo without her leash, which in any other situation was something she probably knew that I would never do. As we rounded the corner of the block, I just hoped that we’d live so that I’d have the chance to explain to her who we really were…
Off in the distance, the source of our alert was unquestionable – a large, rock-like creature towered several hundred feet tall maybe five miles from where we stood. Occasionally it would throw something through the sky and the night would explode into a bright burst of flame as destruction rained down on our neighboring suburbs. What stood between us and it then was our immediate issue – a small faction of monsters that appeared to be working their way up the street from the front gate, shattering our neighbor’s houses as they went.
They didn’t know where we were yet, but they were coming for us. We still had the upper hand…
As I looked back in the direction of our own house in worry for my wife, a large fireball suddenly soared through the air in its vicinity, though just before it was to come crashing down and lay my humble home to waste, a thick, blue shell iced over the house as I had planned and absorbed the blast in a bright flash of light. The shield had worked and it could hopefully withstand another dozen or so blasts without being directly targeted, but we needed to stop the storm at its source sooner than later.
Neighbors at our end of the subdivision looked on in horror from their front lawns as they watched these ghastly beasts approaching from the distance while Cleo and I walked defiantly down the center of the street in their direction. Before long, she took off running ahead of me – something that would normally have caused me great concern – but this was very different and only a moment later she would validate that she could certainly handle herself. Each beat of her paws against the asphalt seemed to grow louder as she rapidly approached the intruders, but her thunderous approach wasn’t all that changed about her presence.
By the time she had reached her first victims at the end of the street, she had returned to her normal size – several times larger than even the largest lionesses that the world knew. The first beneath her paws didn’t even know what hit them as she plowed through them with full force, rendering them unconscious before they even hit the ground. Her claws now the size of daggers sliced through the beasts like a hot knife through butter as she savagely and vehemently defended her neighborhood from the unwelcome guests. She was just finishing ripping the last one in two from a nearby home when a much larger rock beast that was clearly their leader crashed through the front gate and stood towering over her, causing her to crouch down into a defensive position as she continued to growl menacingly at its entrance.
It took two swings at her, which she expertly dodged, though the house nearby wasn’t nearly as lucky. Just as it was about to take its third was when it noticed me for the first time, the blinding flash of my broadsword left us little time for conversation as it sliced through the air and removed one of the beasts massive arms without the least bit of resistance.
Cleo took this opportunity and charged at the beast’s legs, her teeth burying into the hard rock and causing it to topple over just before I delivered the final deathblow by sheering it clean in half at the chest, splinters of rock fracturing off from its body as it collapsed but bounced off of the imposing, heavy plates that now protected my own body like pebbles thrown by a child. Though our neighbors were in a grateful state of shock as they looked at the two of us, nearly unrecognizable as we stood tall amid the pile of foul corpses, there was little we could do to explain what was taking place as the fires continued to soar overhead, so without a word, I simply nodded to Cleo before jumping into the hefty saddle that appeared on her back, and we took off into the rubble as we left the subdivision behind us.
Trampling down the empty road, we thankfully saw little resistance as Cleo continued to work up speed. We were still early – that was a good thing. As her footfalls thundered more ominous, her leaps grew in bounds as the ground began to disappear from beneath us, her velocity so great that it pushed us further into the sky with each step as her massive paws crashed through the air with the larger beast in our sights.
“There!” I pointed as we grew close enough to begin to make out the monster’s features, with glowing, yellow eyes buried within mountains of rock as it towered over our poor, undeserving city. “Get us to the head,” I prompted her as I looked down in woe at the fires that already covered the landscape beneath us.
It wasn’t long from there that the beast finally keyed in on our presence and a few moments later, we found ourselves the target of an onslaught of rocks and flame as it tried in vain to prevent our hasty approach. Despite dancing through the air, Cleo expertly dodged each boulder that it threw in our direction, even gaining yet more momentum as she sprung off of them towards our target while I deflected the blasts of flame with a shield similar to the one that had protected our home back on the ground.
We couldn’t begin to imagine what those down below were thinking as they watched this epic battle unfold, though with any luck hopefully our new found presence was enough to keep the beast occupied to give our friends and neighbors a chance to take refuge. As we made our final approach and we stared into the beast’s piercing eyes that were nearly as big as we were, I raised my sword up into the air and a crash of bright light seemingly cut a hole through the fiery sky around us, reaching the legendary blade and a moment later scattering down around us like the rails of a cage made entirely of white light.
As the beast flailed wildly beneath us, its movements now restricted by the magical light, I brought my blade down deep within its skull as Cleo landed with full force, eliciting a deafening cry as the monster shrieked out in agony. Struggling to hold the sword in place as Cleo balanced atop the shaking beast, the light slowly began to close in around it until in one final shock wave, its life essence was sucked from its gargantuous body, leaving behind nothing more than a smoking mountain of rock, now frozen in time in the center of our suburban landscape.
Climbing off of Cleo’s back and using both hands now to pull my sword from the grey rock beneath us, I looked over the neighborhoods beneath us with relief as the sky began to return to its normal color, only then raising my eyes off to the distance as I noted my companion had already focused her own attention. Just off the horizon in seemingly all directions stood more of these same ominous rock creatures, that familiar, red hue blazing above them as screams of panic echoed quietly into the night.
“Do you think the others have been activated yet?” I spoke out loud as I looked to Cleo scanning for any glimmer of hope akin to what we had just accomplished amid the chaos, though the frown through her own teeth confirmed that my worst of suspicions.
Breathing a deep sigh, we both looked down at our own neighborhood to where our house still stood among others that weren’t fortunate with the same protections. We both wanted nothing more than to go back and stand guard in silence like we had for the last three years, but that’s not what we were there for. She was safe … for now … but the rest still needed us, whether our brothers were able to rise alongside us or should we be forced to fight alone. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it was up to us that we ensure that it wasn’t the last, either…
“Let’s go,” I solemnly prompted my loyal companion with resolution as the glowing sword slid back into its sheath behind me before I took my place in the saddle upon her back. Looking to the closest monster that was maybe 15 miles off at best, she crouched down and paused to lick at her paw for a brief moment, then sprung off the rock tower as we raced away into the fiery night sky to finish what we’d been brought here to prevent.