76 Gnoll Tenacity
"Be careful, that's an Alpha Gnoll!"
Athena's warning prepared Zoey just in time for the Alpha Gnoll's attack. It leaped forward with incredible speed, slashing its claws at Zoey. She managed to activate her Dark Star Vision barely in time, and even with that she narrowly avoided the claws tearing through the air as the creature lunged at her. She managed to dodge and recover as Athena wielded her staff at the Alpha with several quick strikes to draw its attention.
There was a series of impacts and to their surprise, the Alpha Gnoll managed to actually defend and block Athena's strikes! Realizing that this Alpha was not to be messed with, Zoey sent her knife whistling through the air at the creature's back. Her Dark Star Control however had no way to activate her arrays on the knife, making it harmlessly bounce off the thick fur and into the air.
Zoey recalled her knife as she strafed around the Gnoll while Athena kept it busy. She would have to get in close if she wanted to use her knife to cause damage, or she could use her 9mm Custom. It was loaded and ready in her inventory with the Mk1 Prototype Armament applied as well, all she needed to do was pull it out. She had only avoided using it to stop people from asking questions, and for fear of drawing too much attention, but why did she have to care about that? Why should she care what others thought about her? If she wanted to control her own fate, she could not afford to hold back.
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With her resolve strengthened, she brought out her hand gun and started feeding her magic into the boost array as she yelled out to her friend, "Athena! Get some distance!"
Athena was quick on the response, sending a powerful strike at the Alpha Gnoll with her staff that threw it off balance and leaping away after she did.
Now that Zoey didn't have to worry about her friend getting hurt, she took aim and fired. A boom rocked the area as Zoey fired off a fully charged shot from her 9mm Custom. The round impacted the back of the Gnoll's head with a loud smack, and the creature toppled over onto the ground.
As Athena stared at her in shock, Zoey grinned and twirled her handgun around, stopping the flourish by blowing the magic vapor away from the barrel with style.
"What was that?!" Athena asked, still stunned from what she had just witnessed.
"This little thing? Its a type of magic tool called a gun," Zoey replied nonchalantly as she walked over. "I uses magic to fire projectiles at a target, to put it simply."
"Right... I suppose you made that thing too?" Athena asked, raising her eyebrows in disbelief.
Zoey nodded, getting a snort from Athena. "You sure are full of secrets hun... I have seen artifacts that that do the same thing you just described. They call them magic cannons, but they are the size of a horse, and cost a small city to maintain and fire. Only nobles can even hope to use one, and here you are holding one in your hand that is clearly superior to that in every way... Who are you really?"
Athena had a sincere, look on her face as she asked Zoey that question. Zoey looked back at her for a moment then said, "It's a long story, but if you are willing to listen to it, I would love to share it with you."
Athena's face showed genuine happiness when she heard that, but before anything else was said, something happened. The body of the Alpha Gnoll lying face down nearby twitched. It instantly drew Athena and Zoey's attention. As they looked on in confusion then shock, the Alpha Gnoll actually stood back to its feet and roared at them with fury.
Zoey had no idea how this monster was still standing after taking a boosted slug to the back of the head, but she did not have time to think about it. The Gnoll attacked them almost instantly, and for some reason, it was faster than before! Athena was fast enough to dodge it, but Zoey was not. She was still trying to get out of the way when the beast reached her and swung its claws in a ruthless arc directly at her head.
Zoey was about to put every ounce of magic power she had into her shield array when a blueish-silver spear intercepted the Gnoll's strike and pushed it wide of Zoey. As Zoey recovered herself, Athena came in to the rescue, planting a straight-leg kick to the Alpha Gnoll's gut and sending it flying several meters away. The kick had so much force that Zoey even felt the impact from behind Athena.
But she couldn't afford to waste time. Zoey quickly set her sights on the Alpha Gnoll's head and fired two Ice Venom slugs as Athena made a fast lunging approach with her spear. The shots impacted the head of the Alpha, with one scoring a direct hit on the beast's left eye and the other taking off a chunk of the left ear. Right as the Alpha Gnoll was impacted by the rounds, Athena's spear came in like a gleaming comet directly to the creature's chest.
There was the sound of flesh being ripped apart as Athena thrust her spear into the Alpha Gnoll's heart, twisted, and pulled her spear out again as she leapt back. Zoey quickly fired four Ice Venom rounds into the gaping wound Athena left behind, the boom of the 9mm Custom echoing through the dungeon as she fired in quick succession.
As Athena was about to rush in again, Zoey stopped her, and motioned her to wait. At least five Ice Venom slugs had made it into the Alpha Gnoll's bloodstream. Getting up after a slug to the brain was strange enough, but if it could still move with its blood frozen by Ice Venom, then something was definitely wrong.
As they watched, the Gnoll recovered from the staggered state it had been in and attempted to charge at them, but its movement was already sluggish and slow. The Ice Venom was clearly working on it. However, as they watched, a strange phenomenon started to manifest itself around the Gnoll. A haze of strange energy seemed to form around it, warping the very air as it coiled into the open wounds and into the creature's orifices. Zoey had a strange feeling deep down in her gut as she witnessed this event. Something here was very wrong!
"Zoey, stand back a little."
Athena's voice brought Zoey back to her senses. Athena had a serious look on her face that Zoey had never seen before. This Alpha Gnoll they were facing was definitely a new kind of threat!