Bloodsong Ch. 04byAschermer©
I have no idea whether this thing is going to post on the same day as Chapter III, so if it's been a while since then, hey there again, my pretties. I've already started on the next part, and you can check my profile for more information on how it's progressing. I'll try to update it at least every monday from now on. Other than that...well, you know the drill. *points* Story. Read.
Finding her way back in the dark was just as maddening as Valerie had feared, and having a hapless companion to guide didn't help matters. The man who was ambling clumsily behind her didn't strike her as the sort that would usually be found in a cellblock reserved for the stubborn and dangerous. He was tall and wiry, like someone had put him in a stretcher for days on end, and mousy-looking in general. Probably he also wore glasses that had been broken or taken away when he was captured, because he kept looking around and acting lost. Of course, it could be the lack of light that was causing that. Her eyes had adjusted enough to allow her to walk easily, but that wasn't the case with him. She kept having to prevent him from walking into walls, and he kept apologizing for it even though she had already told him they needed to be quiet.
"I'm Michael, by the way. Michael Horton. My friends call me Mike. If you care to know. Not that it's that important. I mean, I'm sure you have other things..." He trailed off. She had just whirled around and grabbed him by his collar, and smashed him in the nearest wall with only the slightest crunching sound, because she remembered at the last moment that the annoying thing wasn't her enemy. Just a pain, and a large one. She didn't know if he was the only one in the room who knew computers or the only one who had wanted to volunteer, but felt sorely tempted to go back and find out. "Sorry, sorry, sorry, please don't eat me!"
She dropped him with a sigh.
"Look. It's nothing personal. It's just that if you keep talking, someone will hear us. And then we will have to fight, which comes with a very significant risk of you dying, and if you die before we get this done a lot of people are screwed. So next time you open your mouth, think about how many lives rest on your shoulders and just...shut...up." She fumed for a second before adding: "Also, my kind does not eat people."
"Sorry," he mumbled again. This time she didn't bother to tell him to shut up. She was starting to smell something. Burned rubber and plastic. They had to be close, so she pulled the man back and motioned him to proceed with care. It didn't look as if there were other people around, which was a relief. The only noise she could hear was her and him breathing.
She tried to think about what she would be doing if she were on the other side, because two in three times, that ended up being similar or close enough to what Jack would do, and he would still be giving out the orders even if Nicolai was acting as leader in his stead. Hostile escaped prisoners on the lower floors. No lights. If she tried to predict their actions – she didn't need to, since she was them, but did it for the sake of being as accurate as possible – they would be trying to move to the upper floors and get out. Sending her forces down came with a huge probability of them getting lost and killed, since the enemy would want to eliminate as much of them as it could in order to gain advantage. So the logical thing to do was telling everyone on the upper floors to move above ground and surround the brothel, and everyone too far down to get there to wait out and only engage if necessary.
If she wasn't wrong, they'd be fine unless they made much of a ruckus.
The smell was the strongest in the part of the corridor she had just entered, so she made Mike halt and searched around with her foot. Sure enough, it took her only a few seconds to find the laptop.
"Here," she whispered. "All you need to do is crack the password."
He nodded, took the thing from her, turned it on and groaned. She shot him a sharp, alarmed look.
"Vista! These guys really are the worst!" Valerie's face turned blank. "IT technician's in-joke. Sorry."
"Can you crack it or not?" she demanded, feeling more impatient by the minute. He mumbled some words that she guessed to be another apology, which still didn't answer her question. "So?"
"Just gimme a minute," he pleaded. She swallowed another exasperated sigh and leaned against the nearest wall while he typed strings of data. Sure, it was a long shot - she wasn't certain they had wireless that far down – but at the moment, it was the best chance they had. Santos and the others had gone ahead to try to find the girls. She had seen no sense stalling them. Santos hadn't said it in so many words, but she guessed his wife would be down there too. Locked in the female equivalent of that floor's troublemaker ward, if she knew her well. They'd regroup as soon as the most vital task was out of the way, and plot a way of escaping. For a second, she entertained the idea of freeing the other slaves as well. The only thing that made her balk at the idea was the certainty that if it came to a fight, the majority of them would end up being cannon-fodder. "Can I ask you a question?"
They already had the laptop now. They had time. Why not? Because he was ungodly annoying, that was why, but it could be that he had a legitimate doubt. "Does it relate to the situation at hand?"
"Sorta." He looked up at her with clear nervousness, his face lightened up by the faded glow of the screen. His fingers kept typing, though. If nothing else, she had to admire his dedication. "Are you related to Cthulhu?"
"I mean, just...what are you people? Are you even people?" It was her turn to groan. For gods' sake. She had at least expected that Santos and the others would have used a measure of common sense, and briefed their cellmates on what they were dealing with. "You look like people, and then...not."
"We have two faces. Doesn't everyone?" To his credit, he actually seemed to make an effort to mull that one over, and didn't stop typing while he did so. "As for whether we count as people, I'd say it depends. We reason, and we crave and we create. And yet, our only goal on this world or any other is to ravage and enslave, so for those looking from the outside, calling us soulless monsters would be...fair." For a while after she stopped talking, the only sound was the rattle of keys being hammered down. At last, she said: "But some of us try. To be better. To not give others reason to see us that way."
"It's that why you ended up here? Because they didn't like you trying to not being like them?"
"I ended up here because I would kill them if given the chance, something they are understandably set on not allowing to happen." And because one of them happened to have more than a passing obsession with her, but that wasn't the sort of thing she would feel compelled to tell to someone she barely knew. "My personal life choices only concern them because they concern their survival. And since we are on the subject, what got you sent to the troublemakers cell?
He swallowed loudly.
"I, ah...I was driving to work when these...things started appearing. Like...you know, when you try to look directly at the sun, and then have to look away, but before you do you see colors? Like, dots and blots and such? It was like that, only right in front of me, and I couldn't hit the brakes in time."
"...you ran over the worldgate?"
"I think one of the guys back in the cell – one of yours, I guess – said that was what it was, yeah. And that those monsters, I mean, well, them, the invaders, had to delay things for minutes to get another going before they started to round us up, and that was important or something? Your guys patted me on the back a lot when I told them, anyway." As well as they should. Accident or not, time was time, and he had gained them some. Not much, granted, but she had seen what her group could do with only a few seconds at its disposal. She wondered if she ought to tell him exactly how significant his actions had been, but in the end, decided to keep silent until a better, safer occasion presented itself. "I dunno. I blacked out when I hit it and woke up down there. Aaaaaaaand I'm in."
"Good. Can you get internet connection on that thing?" Apparently yes, so she shuffled over. "Okay, open Skype. Username vrtalxj92, password swordfish2t. See if jrwcray129 is online." Noises, in the distance. She whirled around and drew the rapier, causing Mike to jump and nearly drop the laptop. "Don't panic, keep doing what you are doing. If someone answers and I'm busy, just say my name."
"Ahhhh....right." She was about to express reservations about him being able to remember it, when a call sounded on the other end of the corridor, followed by a flash of light. She looked at Mike, who seemed to have frozen where he sat, and leaned over to shake him out of it. "What...is that?"
"Somebody to whom trying to be better is an alien concept," she whispered, inching away from him so that the light of the screen wouldn't give her presence away and slinking back in the shadows. It was unlikely that the approaching figure had seen her before she did, otherwise he would be moving a whole lot faster. From where she stood, Valerie could only see the green tentacles that coiled around and in front of him like seaweed in a current. Twelve, so he was going for impressive rather than practical – further proof that he hadn't spotted her yet.
He turned the corner, holding a flashlight in front of him, and grinned horribly when his eyes fell on the terrified human on the other end of the corridor. The laptop beeped as he slowly made his way forward - slowly because that was bound to increase anticipation and fear, she assumed, shaking her head inwardly. Byron has always been one for theatrics. She tensed, prepared to make her move.
"Hello?" The sudden eruption of high pitched vocals startled both men more than her. "I'm Johanna. Who the fuck are you?" Mike looked down at the laptop like a deer caught in the headlights.
"Ahhhh...." he stammered, his eyes shifting wildly between the screen and the approaching Tsikalayan. "I, well...Val! Val Redmont!" Byron halted at once and frowned at him. Valerie facepalmed and rushed forward, determined to not start chewing the idiot out before she had him safely out of the way. And all the while, Johanna kept talking shrilly, though whatever she said was lost in the haze of red that filled her mind. Byron, who still seemed more confused than anything else – good – tried to strike at her head. His fighting style was a little different from Jack's, who mostly avoided close-range and used whatever was available in the surrounding environment as projectiles until his opponent was sufficiently tired out, and Nicolai's, who like her made the most out of his speed. After failing to get her with his first attack, he simply ran at her, determined to throw her down.
"Hi Byron!" Almost on top of her, he was almost on top of her, and then not. She jumped, somersaulting over his head and landing behind him. He turned at once, but his enormous bulk hindered the task, giving her more than ample opportunity to get him into a chokehold and seize his head. "Goodbye Byron!"
She was back at Mike's side even before the Tsikalayan hit the wall on the opposite end of the corridor like the world's most interestingly-formed bowling ball, and ducked to look at the screen.
Johanna Rivers was a short, blonde woman in her mid-thirties with a fondness for sunglasses, country music, cheap jewelry and blowing stuff up. Her not having been captured wasn't too surprising. Even if she didn't have her brother's magic to protect her, her expertise in getting the hell out of dodge before some building she had previously been in went up in flames would have served her well in getting away from her kind. Right now, she seemed to be standing on the edge of a roof. The sky behind her was pink and orange, the sun rising in the east. Nearly morning, then. Either she had lost days, or not much time at all.
"Jo? It's Valerie. Listen very carefully, because this is important. The spell-network that controls Centrarc is located on the rooftop of city hall. Get your brother, get whoever you can get your hands on, and take it down." The screen went temporarily black, something she had no time to focus on because Byron had gotten up and was charging at her again, fuming like an enraged bull. It was of no consequence, however. The message had been sent. Whatever happened now, whatever they did to her and the others, there was still hope out there.
On the other hand, that didn't mean she wasn't about to pass the opportunity to turn his true form into macramé.
"Ah, miss? She picked up again!" Mike helpfully remarked, sounding abnormally put together. Valerie guessed he was so far beyond fear that he'd reached something resembling a Zen state.
"I'm kind of busy right now, sweetie," she yelled, and immediately cringed. It wasn't as if she meant to sound patronizing. The gods knew she did her best to keep the impulse in check. It was a surefire way to falling back into thinking herself better than humans, and thinking herself better than humans would lead to becoming what every other Tsikalayan was. She looked back at Byron, who had just had the unpleasant experience of having two of his tentacles twisted into a square knot, and sighed in relief. No, ending up like that was still the most unpleasant fate she could imagine. Her moral code was safe for now. "What's she saying?"
"That she's passed the message to the others!" he shouted.
"Tell her good job!" Mumble, mumble, dodge, strike, full hitch, kick, again the shouting.
"And that she's waiting for the Iction Industries building to explode, and will get on it as soon as..." He did a double take and looked up from the screen like someone who had just swallowed a particularly untasty frog. "Wait a minute. That's where I work!"
"Congrats. Now give me that thing!" He threw the laptop at her, open and all. Instead of catching it, she did a save and directed it towards Byron's head. The image of Johanna's face spun around, and the last thing she heard before it crashed in the Tsikalayan's face was her wild, cackling laugher.
Valerie used Byron's moment of confusion to grab Mike's arm and break into a run. Steps, heavy steps, were rapidly approaching down the hallway, and she had no intention of staying to see what was coming now that their task was complete. If she were better armed and without a civilian to look out for, she would have perhaps entertained the idea of facing her pursuers. As it was...
"And I couldn't even finish my beehive pattern," she lamented. Mike gave her an odd look. "Don't judge. Cranky old ladies like me need to have some relaxing hobbies to stay sane."
"You mean you aren't..." He never got to finish the sentence. A shot rang out, and then another, and though she couldn't make out his face in the dark, she knew by the hitching of his breath that he'd been hit. As if on cue, the lights above her head were turned on, and then she could see it. Red on white, quickly spreading. She grabbed Mike by the shoulders and shoved him against the wall, pinning him between it and her back so that he wouldn't take any more hits. They were coming through the intersection she hadn't expected to be there, and she was sure that the first team of pursuers plus Byron wouldn't be too far away either.
Unless she wanted to be caught in a crossfire, she needed to get them both out of there fast. His blood was already starting to seep through her jacket, so he also didn't have much time left. She spoke to him, fast, while he was still capable of understanding her fully. Her idea had the potential to go so very wrong, but she needed to try.
"Can you hold on to my neck? Yes, that's it, now legs around my waist, and try not to fall off." She was suddenly glad that he weighed next to nothing, otherwise she'd never succeed in what she intended to do. They were shooting again – were the idiots never going to get that bullets just didn't work? – and seemed to not be equipped with the new enhanced weapons, which was encouraging. Valerie turned around and ran in the direction from whence they had come. Byron was running ahead of the others, which she had counted on. Behind her, Mike let out a wheezy squeal.
"Whatareyou..." he mumbled, gripping her harder in fright when she gave no signs of being about to stop. If he pees down my back, she thought, I'll kill him myself. "No, nononono! Don't play chicken with the monster, don't play chicken with the monster!"
She paid him no mind and jumped, meeting Byron in mid-air and tackling him down. She was sure the impact had shaken the building to its foundation. The shockwave produced when Byron's back hit the floor slammed in her chest and reverberated in her ears, leaving her momentarily deaf. At the same time, the floor gave away and they sank through it, freefalling in a whirlwind of punches and screams and growls. They hit the floor below with a dull thud. She shook Mike off, got up before her opponent had even started to recover, and rammed a heel in his throat to keep him down before turning and assessing the situation. They had lost most of their pursuers in the fall, but it wouldn't take long for them to come down, especially now that the lights were back up. Mike was wounded, and since he still lied where she had left him and wasn't talking at all, she could only assume it was serious.
And she still had to take care of Byron before coming to his aid. He had twice the bulk of the other Tsikalayans she regularly fought, and was therefore able to sustain damage without taking too long to recover. So was already afoot and launching himself at her, and all she had time to do was dodge.
She would have to dispatch him permanently.
The fact that she had to make a conscious decision to do so instead of acting by instinct stunned her a little, but she supposed it made some sense. He was someone she saw a lot and didn't especially hate, seeing as he was barely above a mook in the grand scheme of things. Removing such a familiar figure from the landscape of her life was bound to give her pause, if only for a second or two. And then he used those seconds to get close and slam his fist in her nose, and all bets were off. She hoped that Mike was too out of it to have more than a vague idea of what was going on, or else he'd be more scarred for life than he already was.
She was about to go old school.
It happened so fast. She was barely up, and suddenly blood was gushing from a cut throat. Valeriana rushed forward, to do what she didn't know, but bounced back when she hit an invisible barrier. She tried to yell out a warning when she saw Marabeth start advancing on the other woman, and though it did distract her from her original target, it had the unpleasant side effect of focusing her attention on her. Marabeth smiled a sly little smile and threw her blood gushing victim in her direction.
"There, dear. You can have it now. It's broken anyway." Valeriana scrambled forward to catch her and tried frantically to close her hands around the wound to stop the blood from flowing, but it just wouldn't. Rachel was still alive, she knew, and that knowledge edged her on, made her keep trying. Using her teeth, she ripped the sleeve of her dress and pressed the delicate fabric on her throat, but it was soaked in no time at all. She could feel the girl slipping away, and she didn't know what had happened to Marabeth's sister. The woman wasn't making a sound, and she couldn't take her eyes off Rachel because she was too afraid that she would die if she turned away, so she couldn't check on her. And all the while, Marabeth kept circling her like a predator and talking. The talking was the worst part. "Such a stupid, pointless thing to do, Valeriana. It would have been more than happy sucking some lord's cock for the rest of its life, if you had given it time. And now look at what happened."