The explosion happened closer to him than he was expecting. In fact, it probably happened the moment the RPG armed, or the millisecond after. Shrapnel pelted his armor, but not much. The blast of an RPG is designed to go in the same direction as the explosive was going. Still, the shockwave thudded in his chest and made it hard for Daniel to breathe for a few seconds.
The dragon, on the other hand, shrieked. Its body began to flail about. Daniel wondered if it was in its death throes, but the cloud of fire retardant chemicals still made it more difficult to see everything. All he saw was the vague shape of the dragon moving about erratically.
Suddenly, he found it difficult to breathe again. It wasn’t the shockwave or the chemicals that did it this time, although they didn’t help. It was the dragon leg that hit him squarely in the chest. He went flying backwards out of the cloud until he slammed into the armored vehicle. Stars appeared in his vision as he landed in a sitting position and he hoped he wouldn’t black out.
Beside him, he saw Kennedy begin to stir. That wasn’t what he needed at that moment. He was having enough trouble trying to fight the dragon. Adding Kennedy back into the mix wouldn’t do him any good. His hand reached over and grabbed a handful of Kennedy’s hair. Daniel pulled her closer to him, positioned her head under his armpit, and fell with all the weight he could muster to land on her face.
Since he was already sitting, there wasn’t much force behind it, but in her already injured state, the move knocked her loopy again. Daniel rolled over onto his back. He lined his arm up with the back of Kennedy’s head. Bending at the elbow, he repeatedly brought his closed fist down on top of her. There wasn’t much force behind each of these individual blows either, but, collectively, they were adding up.
As soon as he was sure that she wouldn’t cause any more trouble, for the moment at least, he sat up and looked back to where he had left the dragon. A very large, very angry, face filled up his entire vision. The irate beast’s face was only ten feet away from him. Its mouth opened, revealing its deadly row of teeth. Daniel saw the teeth shoot toward him and thought that, while he knew that dying in the line of duty was a possibility, he never imagined that his cause of death would be listed as ‘eaten by dragon’.
A blinding flash of light went off to his left side. Reflexively, he fell away from it. He couldn’t see what was happening, but he felt a crushing weight fall on top of him. Breathing was impossible. He’d been trapped under cars that didn’t feel this heavy upon him. Then, the weight began moving and he knew that some part of the dragon was crushing him. One of his ribs popped and he braced himself as best as he could from the pain, while also preparing himself for more of them to do the same.
The weight lifted off of him and he could breathe again. Daniel gulped huge lungfuls of air, causing his broken rib to scream pain to his brain. He tried to tell his body that the pain was necessary because breathing was somewhat important if continued living was the objective. His body didn’t seem to care for that argument. Then he realized that he was having an internal conversation between himself and his body. On most days, that would make him crazy. Since he had just gone an unknown amount of time without breathing, he decided to blame it on the lack of oxygen.
Daniel saw that the dragon was backing away from him now. There was a gaping wound in its chest. He assumed that was where the RPG hit it. Both Emmeline and Robbie were next to him, firing their laser weapons into the wound. Without the thick scales to protect the area, the weapons were doing some good damage to the beast as it tried to slink away from them.
Robbie stopped firing long enough to offer his hand to help Daniel to his feet. Daniel could see Robbie’s lips moving, but he only understood about half of what was being said. It all sounded garbled. That’s when he noticed that all of the sounds around him were like that. Robbie continued to talk even after Daniel shrugged in response to his earlier speech. One word came in clear this time: Flashbang.
That explains the bright light and the hearing difficulties, Daniel thought. Slowly, his hearing returned to normal enough that he heard the plan. “Wait,” he stopped his fellow Protector. “You two are going to distract it with the laser weapons while I get closer to it and throw a grenade in its mouth?”
“No,” Robbie said. “That’s absurd.”
“Yeah,” Emmeline echoed. “We wouldn’t put you in a position that dangerous.”
“That’s good to know,” Daniel said.
She fired off a couple more shots before turning back to him with a smile, “You’re too old and slow to be the one who goes in with the grenade. You’re going to be one of the ones providing covering fire while I use the grenade.”
“This is still my area, remember?”
“Yeah, but you’re also the one who just had a dragon sitting on their head.”
“Wait, what? That was its ass on top of me?”
Without answering, Emmeline tossed her laser weapon to Daniel and started running toward the dragon. Daniel caught it and immediately fired a burst of shots at the beast. Robbie joined his fire with Daniel’s with practiced expertise. The dragon brought its damaged wing in front of its chest wound to absorb the attacks. Its eyes tracked Emmeline’s progress, not worried one bit about the covering fire. Daniel had a bad feeling about this.
He cried out for her to abort, but it was too late. She jumped high into the air and flung the grenade as fast as her enhanced strength allowed. Despite being injured, the dragon still had some fight in it. Its head snapped to the side to avoid the grenade while it dropped its wing down from its defensive position. As soon as the wing was out of the way, the dragon’s front leg shot forward and swatted Emmeline out of the air.
Daniel could only watch as she went flying over their heads. He had survived being hit like that, so he knew she would too. All he could do at the moment was keep up the laser barrage on the beast until he could think of a new plan. His weapon clicked, indicating that his battery pack had reached the end of its life. He pulled a spare out of his armor and snapped it into place. To his dismay, he noticed that Robbie hadn’t fired while he was reloading.
He risked a quick glance. Robbie was on the ground, clutching a wound in his side, in one of the seams of his Protector armor. Kennedy stood above him with a bloody knife in her hand. The ground beneath his feet shook a little, indicating that the dragon was fairly close to him. So, now he had to save a fellow Protector from a fellow Protector while avoiding being killed by a dragon.
“I’m getting too old for this shit.”