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For a moment, Dee lay motionless. Then she exhaled, releasing a breath that she didn't even know she was holding.
She lay propped up on her elbows for a few seconds, listing to the pings and pops of the wrecked SUV settling into place atop the creature's corpse. Then she sat up.
What was that sound?
Treach walked up to her, tail wagging. The pit bull that had saved her life several times in the past few minutes began sniffing at her chest and stomach... at the cold ooze that had splattered her when the... thing... died.
But the sound she'd heard wasn't Treach.
A low hissing sound seemed to be coming from all around her. It increased in volume, and was joined by a crackling, as if someone were stepping on popcorn. Or crushing bugs. Lots of bugs. While the hissing was omnipresent, the latter sound definitely had an origin-
Dee watched as the creature's body began to crumble in on itself. The squat segments fell apart; the motionless legs either snapping off or receding into the desiccating flesh. The creature wasn't rotting; it looked more like a rapid weathering... like stone begin worn away by eons of rain and wind. But the creature wasn't stone, and whatever was happening to it was on the scale of minutes, not millennia.
Dee yelped as something solid struck the stone floor a few yards to her right. Treach spun and barked once... then fell silent.
It was one of the mummified corpses... one of the things that Dee had previously mistaken for giant fruit. The vine bearing it had snapped, and the grotesque object had fallen to the ground and split open, revealing a pulpy, fibrous mass. Dee saw a human head and shoulder among the folds. The eyes were open... but there was no red glow. The thing didn't move, even as its fleshy sarcophagus crumbed to nothing. The corpse was not dissolving, but everything else was.
Dee looked up, and saw where the hissing sound was coming from. The vines were moving again... breaking apart and raining down on the stone floor below. There weren't very many corpses; most of them must have been used in the attack on the soldiers. But the few that remained were falling like the rotten fruit that they were.
"What kind of hell is this?" Dee gasped. She stood and noticed that her shirt was dry. It had been soaked with eye-goo a few seconds ago, but now.... nothing. "What the hell is going on? Am I waking up? Was any of this... real?" Dee felt the bruises from where the rocks had dug into her flesh when she'd fallen. The bruises were definitely real. Maybe everything else was, too.
Dee looked around for her stun baton. She spotted it, and went to pick it up.
Treach went another direction.
Dee picked up the baton and examined the surface for cracks. There weren't any, and she wondered if she would need to use it again. What had the man said when she'd bought it? A few good zaps? How many was a few... three or four? So maybe she had one or two left. The battery was rechargeable, but-
Dee realized that Treach wasn't beside her, and turned around. There was more light now... the sun was definitely rising fast. But there was no dog.
"Treach?" She said, softly... not calling out. Things were still too crazy to risk shouting. "Come here, boy..."
She heard the dog make a series of short growls.
There was a ripping sound. Then Treach re-appeared from the far side of the SUV. The trotted toward her, and Dee saw that he had something in his mouth.
"Treach! NoNoNo!" Dee waved the animal back, but the dog trotted happily toward her. He lay down beside her and began to lick the evaporating goo off of his shining prize... a dark red oval about the size of her foot. "Leave that alone! Don't eat that!" Dee nudged the thing away with her shoe. It slid across the stone with loud scrape. It was solid, whatever it was.
Treach got up, retrieved the eye, and brought it back. He deposited it at Dee's feet and waited for her to kick it again. Dee reached down and picked it up instead.
At first she thought it was a rock. It was certainly solid... but the surface was smooth, and it had almost no weight at all. Was this the eye? It didn't feel organic, and it looked more like a giant polished ruby. But it was too light. A ruby this size would weigh... what? Dee had no idea, but the thing she held in her hands didn't even weigh half a pound. It was almost like holding a soap bubble.
Dee looked at... and then through the curved surface. There were no imperfections within the remarkable gem, just a seemingly endless... red...
The eye began to glow.
Dee didn't see it. She was holding it in her hands and looking directly into it... but she did not see the red light begin to pulse its way outward, not from the center of the object, but from somewhere else... somewhere much further away. She didn't see it. But she felt it. Her thoughts spiraled into the glow like water down a drain... down into that faraway place where the red light was born. Her heart and the gem both pulsed with the same rhythm, though it was impossible to tell which had altered to copy the other. Warmth spread throughout her body, pulsing down from her mind the same way that the light pulsed out from the heart of the gem.
Dee's bruises throbbed. Dee noticed the throbbing... but did nothing. Seconds later, the throbbing disappeared, along with the bruises.
Treach was growling. Dee heard the dog, and in her mind she told him to be quiet. But her lips didn't move.
Energy flowed into her, and it felt... Good.
No... great. No...fantastic. Stronger than she'd ever felt before. The energy pulsed down her limbs and out through her fingers and toes, taking her awareness with it. She could feel the stone floor through her shoes. She could feel the rocks and the rubble. The columns rising up around her. The bodies on the floor, the vines crumbling away above her, the dust in the air. She felt it all. She could almost touch it. In fact... if she just pushed a little, she COULD touch it. Dee couldn't say why she knew that... but she did. She decided to try-
Treach was barking now. The insignificant sound was almost lost in Dee's new awareness... but part of her was still inside herself. Part of her was still hearing with her own ears, and seeing with her own eyes. But that part was too distracted to realize that the dog was not barking at her or the red gem that pulsed wickedly in her hands.
Treach wasn't even looking at her. He was looking past her, at the snarling shape that had torn itself free of the insect-creature's crumbling corpse and was dragging itself across the floor toward Dee.