Silent Nacht (Chapter 3)
A Whateley Christmas Story
by Bek D. Corbin
“Oh, come ON, Katie!” Sunny said as they sped away from the Nancy Reagan Primary School in Camarilla, in Ventura County. “You gotta admit those kids were pageanting their little hearts out!”
“Yeah, I’m sure that they really mastered those all-important ‘pose as a camel’ skills that every employer looks for on a resume.”
Normally, Sunburst simply would have airily dismissed Kate’s crack. Instead, grimly, Sunny said, “Look, it’s important for the kids. They get to be up on stage, doing it for their folks-” she suddenly broke off and said placatingly, “Look, I know that this is way out of your comfort zone, but, really, that’s a GOOD thing! I’m just trying to get you to see life outside that gloomy little monochrome prison that your mo- er, that you grew up in. I know that it’s hard, but really, give it a try! Just… let go, don’t try to be cool and hard and sharp and impervious for a change, okay?
“Yeah, I know… I said that I’d take you bungee jumping and here I’ve been dragging you around to these Christmassy thing and I just want you to know that I’ve got the Callidegha Bridge all lined up for jumps and-” Sunny rattled on like this for a while. Kate wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. Something was bugging Sunny. She seemed… apologetic for some reason. It was so totally unlike Sunny.
There was only ONE THING to do!
Five minutes later, Sunny gave a muffled squeak from the shotgun seat as Kate pulled on a pair of thin leather driving gloves and gunned the motor of the Boxster with a wide grin that boded no good for the poor unsuspecting motorists of Interstate 5.
Kate pulled the Boxster into the parking garage of the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica with a screech. The California Crusaders were gathered there in their ‘Meeting the Public’ outfits, slightly more modest versions of their fighting togs. “You let HER drive the Boxster?” Brujah asked suspiciously.
Sunburst squeaked out a ‘yes’ as she got out on wobbly legs.
Chiller was there, wearing a white suit with an ice-blue shirt and a silver-tone tie, and whited-out sunglasses. “So, exactly what are we supposed to be doing here?”
“WE,” Big Dawg said significantly, indicating the veteran members of the CCs, “are here to help the kids decorate the City Tree, in a way that they’ll remember for years. YOU are here to be seen with us, as a member of the Cee-Cee. When the tree is finished being trimmed, you’ll give it a big spectacular coat of snow and frost with that special ice of yours; make sure that it’ll last until late at night. I’ve alerted the maintenance people, and they’ll replace it with the usual long-lasting goop that they usually use. And SHE,” he indicated Kate, “is here because leaving her unsupervised would constitute Gross, possibly Criminal Negligence, and maybe Reckless Mass Public Endangerment.”
“Wow,” Kate responded dryly, “There’s no place like Home for the Holidays.”
“You, just stay out of trouble,” Brujah said sternly to Kate. “And stay where we can keep an eye on you.”
“And TRY not to emotionally scar anyone,” Big Dawg added.
Kate silently reminded herself that she wouldn’t have wanted to be up there in the spotlight with all the garishly dressed ‘heroes’ anyway as they walked from the garage to the public garden where the Christmas tree was.
The crowd, the sort of eclectic mish-mash of ethnicities and creeds, lifestyles and income brackets that is either Los Angeles’ downfall or redeeming trait, depending on whom you ask, was gathered before the large 60+ foot tall Douglas Fir. For the most part, they looked like they were dressed for church (or temple or ashram or mosque or whatever). At the fore of the crowd was a smaller group, in every way, of children, from the ages of Four to maybe Eight. To a tot, they were dressed for church, or maybe to have their pictures taken (there was no way that any Five-year-old boy would wear a bow tie with that shirt of his own free will), and they each held a Christmas tree ornament in their hands. Their faces were masks of barely contained excitement (oh, and anxiety, boredom, confusion, impatience, and one kid who looked like a three-foot-tall accountant)
Of course, the world being what it is, once the Crusaders got there, they had to stay out of sight as the Mayor of Santa Monica dealt with the inevitable last-minute crisis. They took advantage of the delay to thrash out a matter of vital importance to people with Hollywood-grade egos: namely, who’d go out first, and who’d be the capper. It was decided that Swashbuckler would go out first and take the hit for ‘just being a guy in a suit’. Then Big Dawg would power leap onto stage in his ‘Big’ mode. Then Brujah would levitate over, and then Skyrider would zip up on his board, then Daybreak and Nightfall would ride on their respective ramps of light and dark, and Sunburst would come down from on high, for a constant escalation of the spectacle.
Then the mayor, a chubby man with a round face set off by a close cropped graying beard, bustled up, and everything was Go. The mayor went out, made the obligatory opening remarks, and then Swash swung out and landed with a somersault, and it went off pretty much as planned. The kids gaped with wonder; even the little CPA, who’d looked as though he was expecting an audit, was gobsmacked. The kids were herded into lines for their preferred hero, and Big Dawg lifted one boy up to the tree to place his ornament on a bough. Swashbuckler swung a girl up to a higher spot, and the girl let out a delighted squeal of excitement. Brujah levitated a boy up, and Sunburst, Skyrider, Daybreak and Nightfall all carefully lifted kids, one at a time to place ornaments somewhere on a branch. The crowd was a sparkling field as parents snapped pictures of their children’s big moments.
“Stupid heart-warming moments that will last a lifetime,” Kate grumped.
Faced with a choice of lamenesses, Kate decided to go with the one that didn’t threaten type II diabetes, and headed back to the garage. At least the Boxster had a radio, and if nothing else, she could amuse herself by changing all the channels on the buttons. But when she got to the garage, it seemed that Santa was making an early visit. A curvaceous blonde in a skimpy white-fur trimmed red velvet Santa dress (complete with cap perched on her hair) was standing by the Boxster with a group of four large, buff men in Santa’s helper outfits, and a pair of green pointed shoes was poking out from under the car. “I’ve heard that LA had an Auto-Centric culture, but curbside Santa service?” Kate said.
The ‘Elves’ all reached into a sack and pulled out energy weapons and trained them on Kate. But ‘Santa’ smirked and wiggled over to Kate. “Yeeesss… you’re that little LOSER we saw drive in with Sunboobs, aren’t you?” She copped a pose and imperiously snapped her fingers. “Marty, you can stop with the bomb. Something better’s popped up.”
“What? You’re going to blow up the Boxster? But I only got to drive it ONCE!”
“You should be so lucky, kid,” Dr. Venus smirked. “Boys, put her in a bag, while I think of something to let little miss Sunblock-for-brains know that we’ve got her little buddy. Something that will really hurt.”
“I don’t THINK so,” said a steely voice from the side. There, looking like something out of a blaxploitation revival movie, was Chiller in his white-on-blue power suit (the corporate kind, not the technological kind), his face set and grim. Then he broke into a wide grin. “HEY, C’MON! I know, she’s a pain and all that, but HEY! It’s CHRISTMAS! You got the look - hummm baby, do YOU have the right look, babe - but you don’t got the right ‘tood!”
On a scowling gesture from Dr. Venus the Super-Hunks surrounded Chiller, their energy weapons aimed right at him. Chiller gave them the ‘humph, try to be nice to some people’ glower. “Look,” he said with a very controlled even tone, “I can tell that you’re very proud of how many hours you’ve logged at the gym. And, a month ago, I’d be shitting in my britches. But that was then, this is NOW. Yesterday, I went toe-to-toe with the Big Dawg, and I impressed him so much that he cut me a deal to be his apprentice, dig it? So, put down the phasers before someone - and by ‘someone’ I mean YOU - gets hurt.”
“You’re Big Dawg’s new sidekick?” Dr. Venus asked curiously.
“I’m his apprentice, yeah.”
“Ginchy. Wrap him up boys, we’ll take him too. Two hostages are better than one. He means that we can cap this little bitch, and still have a bargaining chip.”
“I said, I’m Big Dawg’s apprentice,” Chiller said coldly. “Not his sidekick. I don’t do ‘gee whiz’ or ‘golly gee’, and I. DON’T. DO. HOSTAGE.”
Dr. Venus was winding up to make a withering remark, when there was the trill of a cell phone ringing. Chiller held up a restraining hand and took the call. He chattered with someone named ‘Hubie’ for a few minutes, thrashing out the details of some deal or another. Chiller dangled the possibility of personally introducing Hubie to Big Dawg as an incentive for effort, and then took a picture of Dr. Venus and sent it to Hubie. “Isn’t that SICK?” Chiller nearly squealed to Hubie.
Then Dr. V let out a testy, ‘Ahem!’ and Chiller wrapped it up. Chiller tucked his cell away, and then scrunched up his face as though trying to remember something. “Okay, where were we?” he admitted. He glanced around at the Superhunks, hefting energy weapons. “Oh. Right.”
A circle of incredibly slick ice formed around Chiller’s feet. But they were so intent on Chiller that the first that the Superhunks noticed of it was when their feet slipped out from under them. A ‘baseball bat’ of ice immediately formed in Chiller’s hand, and he quickly used it to disarm the Superhunks of their guns (a couple of them, at the expense of their hands). He then broke that bat of ice over the head of one of the beefy ‘elves’. He erected a shield of ice just in time to block a haymaker by one of the Superhunks, though the hunk’s fist shattered the shield. The hunk right behind him got his arm around Chiller’s neck, but Chiller projected two sharp spines of ice back from his elbows and gouged them into the hunk’s sides, just below the ribs. Chiller slipped out of the hunk’s grasp as that one bellowed in pain and clutched his sides. Another one clambered up as best he could over the slick ice (that didn’t seem to be slowing Chiller down in the slightest) and raised his energy gun at Chiller, but Chiller just grabbed him by the face and formed a cap of ice over it. Chiller then formed gloves of ice over his fists and pounded down to the ground those hunks that weren’t unconscious or bleeding. The hunk with the cap of ice over his face (and blocking his breathing) panicked and had the very BAD idea of trying to use the energy gun to blast it off.
As that idiot dropped, Chiller looked at Dr. Venus and said, “You picked THOSE yutzes to do your dirty work? You must be desperate.”
“Actually,” Dr. V said calmly strutting forth, working her cleavage, “they just do the dog work, heavy lifting and sitting around looking pretty. I AM the big gun on this crew.” She held her hands a foot apart and an arc of electricity ran between them. “And y’know what, Snow Cone? All that ice of yours means to ME is that you’re perfectly grounded.”
Chiller and Dr. Venus faced each other intently for a moment. Chiller created a large shield of ice and a matching large mace with jagged spikes over the head. Dr. Venus pointedly reached into her cleavage, produced a bit of tech, and wrapped it around one wrist. Then they mutually tensed and readied, each feeling for the right moment to strike.
“Bored Now,” Kate sniped. She gave an off-handed gesture, and tendrils of darkness erupted up from under Dr. Venus’ feet and coiled around her. Dr. V gave a yip of terror, struggled, and then was completely wrapped up in the tendrils. The bulb of darkness wriggled for a moment, and then dwindled and retreated back down into the ground. Chiller gawped for a moment at where the bulb had disappeared, and then looked at Kate over lowered sunglasses.
“You don’t want to know.”
Chiller looked at where Dr. Venus had been a few seconds before. “True that.” Then Kate kneeled down and sent a tendril of darkness under the Porsche. “Now what are you doin’?”
“Well, Dr. Boobjob’s goon wasn’t checking the oil…” a squarish paper-bag brown packet the size of a hardcover book slid out from under the car. “hmmm… standard ‘look what disappeared from inventory’ demolitions packet with remote detonation rig. Well, Dr. Silicone is just bloody-minded enough to push the trigger out of sheer vindictiveness. IF she thought to carry the remote trigger with her. So…” Kate wrapped the demo pack in darkness, and it disappeared as well.
Chiller had his mouth open to ask something when his cell phone went off again. “Yo! Dawg! My turn’s coming up? I’ll be right there. Oh, and, ah, send a squad of Blues over to the parking garage? A bunch of Dr. Venus’ gym-rat goons were trying to plant a bomb under Sunburst’s ride, and I hadda slap ‘em down. Oh,” he paused giving the guy who was bleeding from his sides a once-over, “and tell them to bring a First Aid kit; I hadda get nasty with one of ‘em.” Chiller tucked his cell away again, adjusted the fit of his suit, and smirked at Kate. “Well? You comin’?”
Kate trudged after Chiller, muttering under her breath, “I’ll bet that Jadis doesn’t have to cope with stupid teenage boys with ice powers and delusions of being slick…”
* * * * * *
True to her word, after Brujah finished off the tree-trimming ceremony by levitating one beaming little girl in a white dress up to the very top of the tree to set the angel there (and Dr. Venus’ superthugs were gotten to the emergency ward), Sunny let Kate drive the Boxster to Callidegha Bridge. They spent an hour or so diving off the bridge. Sunny tried to get at least a ‘Wahoo!’ out of Kate, but the best that she got was a ‘Woo, and maybe Hoo.’
Back at Crusaders’ HQ, Brujah reported, “My contacts with the LA Sheriff’s department said that there was an explosion in a vacant lot some three blocks away from the Heritage Museum. No one was hurt - though there were reports of a rather ragged looking female ‘Santa’ flying away from the scene.”
“And what shape was her sleigh in?” Kate responded.
“People could have been HURT,” Brujah glowered at her.
“What? I didn’t detonate it. Dr. Santa did.”
“You could have just dismantled it.”
“Oh? You mean that all those times when the Police tell us to NOT to fool with found explosives, to leave it to trained professionals with proper equipment, including blast armor, they were Goofing?”
Sunny gave Brujah a knowing smirk, and changed the topic. “So? What’s the word with the DA on that Mirror thingie?”
Brujah broke off, giving Kate a ‘this isn’t over’ parting grump, and said, “Valdez at the DA’s office says that Dr. Brunheim at the Austrian Consulate got in to take a look at the ‘Mirror of Tanith’,”
“With a warrant,” Kate cut in.
“YES, and he says that the mirror tallies exactly in all respects to the relic that the Hofburg Museum called ‘the Aegean Mirror’: diameter, thickness, weight, markings, hardness and the alloy of the bronze. He even says that he found a tell-tale stamp in the metal that the Hofburg put on the Aegean Mirror.”
“Gee, that’s not suspicious. Not at all,” Kate said dryly. “The mirror was stolen during the 1920s. Is it covered by those Post-War treaties that guaranteed the return of art treasures stolen by the Nazis?”
“The Austrian Consulate says it is, but it’s legally arguable. Still, the Aegean Mirror has popped up here and there in various thefts and so on, and the trail is so confused that the last holder with anything even vaguely resembling a legitimate claim is the Hofburg. So, even if those treaties don’t apply, Lycarax is still in possession the stolen property of a foreign government. Valdez is in the process of getting a warrant from the appropriate judge to seize the mirror, and he’s already gotten a court order telling Lycarax to not move the mirror until the issue is settled.”
“So, if he has the brains of a lemming, we should expect this Lycarax to have a burglary or fire at his compound tonight,” Swashbuckler said airily. “The list of stolen or destroyed property should be extensive - and heavily insured - but the ‘Mirror of Tanith’ will probably be the first item listed.”
“The DA will have men watching the compound to prevent Lycarax and his people from moving the mirror,” Daybreak pointed out.
“And Lycarax knows that,” Nightfall continued.
“Which will make it easy to know when Lycarax is about to move the mirror,” Daybreak resumed.
“Because they’ll take out the DA’s men first and blame it on the burglars,” Nightfall finished.
“Okay, I know that I’m the new kid here,” Chiller said with a touch of concern in his voice, “but isn’t this entrapment?” He looked around at the Crusaders. “I mean, we’re setting people up to attack cops! They put you AWAY for that!”
“It’s not technically entrapment,” Brujah stated clinically. “We only assume that they will, in order to avoid a legal court order. And, even beyond keeping that mirror away from Dr. Macabre, there is the simple matter that it’s well past time that someone did something about Lycarax and that scam he’s been running.”
“Why? It’s just another bogus cult.”
“That’s what we thought, until little miss Wednesday Addams told us about that mirror,” Brujah said, jerking a thumb in Kate’s direction. “If that mirror is as powerful as she says it is, then Lycarax may be using it to impress them, which changes things dramatically.”
“How is having a freakin’ mirror so fuh-ah, freaking impressive?”
“Wrong kind of ‘Impression’,” Kate cut in. “Mind if I take it from here?”
“Go for it,” Brujah said, giving Kate a measuring look.
Kate started, “Chiller, have you ever wondered WHY evil, monster-worshipping cults get started in the first place?”
“There are a lot of creeps in the world, and they can’t all have super powers, or run oil companies.”
“Very true. But in this case, it’s more involved. Supernatural beings, spirits especially, have a pronounced effect on the emotions of mortals. The biggies are Awe, Fear and a sort of raw passion that usually gets co-opted by one of the Seven Deadly Sins. When a mortal succumbs to one of these emotions on the prompting of a supernatural being, it can establish a mystic link with the mortal and access the mortal’s life force, luck or magical essence. Many of them feed in this way. Which can be messy, but is still a step up from the old way.”
“Eating people alive or drinking their blood or driving them insane.” Kate gave Chiller’s squicked look a brief frigid glare, and then resumed. “When spirits get sophisticated enough, they form cults that worship them, which give them a steady supply of essence, and mortal instruments to affect the physical world. Oh, and a good boost to the Ego, as well.
“Sorcerers who are starting out sometimes co-opt this mechanism to help them survive that period. You have to understand, a Mage who has just awakened to his power is in a LOT of danger: he has just enough magical power to be a tempting target, but not enough power or magical knowledge to really protect himself. Any protection that he could arrange, from a Mentor or Lodge or Society, would come with more strings and conditions attached than many Mages find tolerable. So, one way to get the power and protection that they need is to form a cult. Not one that worships THEM; that would be ridiculous, especially given the way that some noob sorcerers look. They bind a spirit of some sort, and wrangle people into worshipping IT. Then they tap into the power that their bound spirit gathers, becoming more powerful themselves, and keeping the spirit weak enough to keep bound. Then the Mages use the cult’s members to provide them with all the things that they need or want: Magical power, money, protection from magical predators, information, access to mystic tomes and artifacts, sex…”
“You know a lot about cults?” Brujah asked skeptically.
“When I was Six, I was the focus of a cult that my mother ran in Wisconsin for nine months.”
“A magical vigilante, a self-styled ‘Witch Hunter’ came in and broke it up.”
“YOU?” Chiller scoffed, “Were WORSHIPPED?”
Kate stepped into Chiller’s personal space and looked him in the eye. “I was an adorable child.”
“THE POINT BEING,” Brujah cut in pointedly, “that while all cults are essentially con games played by parasitic sociopaths-”
“Why are you looking at ME?” Kate asked.
“Actually magical cults are even worse!” Brujah snarled at Kate.
“And how IS that fan club of yours these days?”
Big Dawg took over as Brujah sputtered. “The point, Chill, is that plain ordinary, ‘mess-with-your-head’ cults are bad enough. Magical cults are a hundred times WORSE. A chump who gets caught up in a mundane cult can wise up and move on. No such luck when a mystic cults gets their hooks into you. Especially when they’re worshipping some horrible vicious, unholy, inhuman horror-”
“You’re looking at me again.” Kate stated defensively.
“If Lycarax can use magic, then he’s got those people by the balls,” Brujah. “There are any of a hundred ways that he can maintain control over them, starting with some illusion that makes his followers think that they really have turned into werewolves. Reasoning with those people will be almost impossible. And it gets worse; most cults exploit their members by having them work for little if any pay in sweatshops that the cult leader runs, or at bullshit menial labor jobs where the cult takes the lion’s share of the pay, or, if you remember the Hare Krishnas, begging on the street. The Garou don’t do that. No jobs, no sweatshops, no begging, no visible means of support. If Lycarax has actual magic, given the Garou’s ‘werewolf’ theme… that suggests that Lycarax is sending the Garou out to do some pretty heinous stuff. Especially when you consider that they’ve got themselves a very nice little wooded estate up in the Hills, and from what we’ve heard… their meat bill is HUGE. The only reason that the LA County Attorney hasn’t lowered the boom on Lycarax is that there have been no specific charges leveled at him, and, well, the DA has a lot on his plate. But if Lycarax is a Mage, and he’s got that mirror, then he’s actively dangerous, and so are his followers. And if Dr. Macabre is after that mirror, then the ‘Mirror of Tanith’ just gets kicked to the top of the priority list.”
“Yeah,” Chiller said skeptically. “And what if that freaky mirror really does turn Lycarax’s guys into werewolves?”
“Then it’s that much more important that we keep that thing out of Macabre’s hands, no compadre?” Skyrider pointed out.
“Still, I think that there’s more going on here,” Brujah insisted. “My scryings suggest that something dark, something unholy, something horrible-”
“You’re still looking at me.”
* * * * * *
“Y’know, this is NOT how I imagined being a superhero would be,” Chiller said as Big Dawg melded threes.
“Get used to it, Chill,” Skyrider said as he checked his hand. “The best way to be there in the nick of time is to be in the general vicinity when the squat hits the fan. Supervillains only fart around at the scene of the crime in the funny books. In real life, they like to be long gone by the time 911 even knows that anything happened.”
“You mean, like right now?” Kate droned, watching one of the monitors. As the Crusaders turned to see the monitor, Kate switched the images to one of the larger screens. One half of the screen showed a shot from the dashboard cameras of one of the cars parked around the Garou’s compound’s perimeter wall; the two detectives seated in the car slumped over, obviously (and hopefully) unconscious. The other half of the screen showed several dark figures scrambling over the perimeter wall. “Oh, those wacky ninjas.”
“Bru!” Big Dawg snapped, “Get over there and make sure that those men are okay!” Brujah nodded and ran for the door.
“Hold it,” ADA Calderon warned, “YES, we have Due Cause to go in; that is WE, the duly warranted authorizes. There’s nothing that says that these people have superhuman abilities, so SWAT will be going in after them. You guys can stay behind, in case it turns out otherwise, or Lycarax has some weird magical defense that needs dealing with.”
“Besides,” Kate droned, “the Blues always get first crack at anyone who takes out a Cop.”
“You might wanna re-think that amigo,” Skyrider said as he viewed the original surveillance file. “This is Real Time Speed, Dude.” He replayed the scene with the two detectives seated in the car, one of them peering over towards the wall, looking at it with a binocular-like visual aid. Then there were two blurs from either side, and the two detectives went down as fists that the eye could barely follow struck them down. Then as the detectives reeled, figures in black reached in and finished the job with blackjacks. Then the view of the wall showed more figures zipping over the wall, or leaping over it, or tossing others over it, with those last sort of being dragged over the wall, which was the last bit that they’d seen before.
“Think that those are the Ghouls or the Werewolves?” the SWAT captain asked.
“We didn’t see anyone move like that, back at the Warehouse,” Swashbuckler commented, having watched the footage closely. “But the Ghoul-girl did mention things that suggested that there were other groups of transformed monster-teens working for Macabre.”
“They’re not Pros,” Kate commented dryly. “Pros, especially ninjas capable of moves like those, would know about the cameras, and would figure ways around them that wouldn’t blow the whistle the way that these did. That or they’d find better places to enter. Macabre’s monster-kids are the only players that we know of in this mess that can make moves like that.”
Calderon gave Kate a sour look, but nodded. “You’re deputized,” he said curtly. “Go, kick their ass. And, please TRY and keep the collateral damage to a minimum? My name’s on this one!”
“Katie,” Sunny said as she started glowing, “Brujah’s going to have her hands full making sure that those two badges are okay. You’ll have to go in and find the Mirror of Tanith. If Lycarax is trying to remove it, stop him. If those ninjas - whoever they are - try to take it, STALL them. But don’t hurt them, if you can possibly avoid it.”
“Grinch.” Kate wrapped herself in darkness and was away.
* * * * * *
“I don’t see why WE have to do this,” Cubby groaned as they trudged through the dark underbrush toward the main house of the compound.
“Because the Doc told us to,” Shep said gruffly as he stepped under the gate into the warehouse.
“Okay, what I really meant was, why do I have to do the heavy hauling?” Cubby grunted as he shouldered the massive backpack back into place.
“Because you’re the Noob, and I’m the Top Dog,” Top Dawg growled into his face. “And you’re too small and weak and slow to be any good in a fight. And you’re the Noob, and I’m the Top Dog.”
“You said that part about being the Noob twice.”
“It’s worth repeating, in case you didn’t get it the FIRST TIME!”
Top Dawg led them to a ‘meditation garden’ near the main building that was hidden from the rest of the complex by a hedge. “’Kay, this looks as good a place as any to set up.”
“How’re we supposed to find that mirror thing?”
“We grab one of the bozo wannabes and make them tell us where it is,” Raja said with a snarl, and despite himself, Cubby wished that Shep and Lon hadn’t gotten captured. Lon may have been an asshole, an even bigger asshole than Top Dawg or Jake, but at least he understood that you don’t challenge Top Dawg when you’re in the field. And that seemed to be Raja’s big kick. But Top Dawg wouldn’t slap Raja or any of the cats down here in the field, everyone knew that; but that just meant that TD would take it out on Cubby, because Cubby was the Noob. Cubby sort of wished that the Doc would make another werewolf, just so that he wouldn’t be the Noob anymore.
“We don’t have to,” Top Dawg smugly informed Raja. “Not our job.” At Top Dawg’s instruction, they took the sticks that Cubby was carrying, and assembled them in four tripods at the corners of a square formed by more of the sticks, with a triangle of sticks at the very center. The female were-cats (Cubby wondered why there wasn’t a female werewolf; yeah, she’d be a bitch, but at least she wouldn’t give him the ‘tood that these cat-bitches did) placed electronic devices atop the tripods, and then set another one in the center of the triangle of sticks, and switched it on. The dinguses glowed, and then the area within the square grew vague and fuzzy, and then there was a sort of stretching within the very air, as though the fabric of reality itself was clenching and expanding. Then a circle of figures in black appeared, surrounding Icy, Darcy and Stormy in the center. The three ‘witches’ were wearing dark blue sleeveless suits with matching capes and buckles with their initials on them, and they were standing facing each other, holding their staves together at their points.
The three girls lowered their staves and uniformly let out a breath of effort. “What’re YOU puffin’ about,” Shanga sniped. “The Doc’s machine did all the hard work.”
“It still takes effort,” Icy snarled back at her.
“Okay, we don’t have a lot of time,” one of the new guys stepped forward and pulled down his mask, revealing a pale face of nigh-perfect masculine beauty. “You Weres-”
“SHUT IT, ‘Edward’,” Icy snapped, giving Victor a rap on the head with her staff, “WE are in charge here.” Victor snarled at her, baring sharp fangs. Icy just responded by creating a ball of fire at the tip of her staff, which she shoved in Victor’s face, as Darcy and Stormy took positions just behind her.
Victor crouched as though to attack, but Tombstone reached over and grabbed him by the collar. “They’re in charge,” he said stolidly. “Besides, they’re our ride out of here.”
Icy pulled out a cell phone, but Stormy stopped her. “No. It’s not necessary. Victor here just had a testosterone brain fart; he just needed to be reminded who was in charge. It’s a GUY thing, isn’t it, Vic?” she looked significantly over at Victor, who sort of pouted. “There’s no need to call Dr. Macabre and tell him that some ‘Rigorous Discipline’ is in order; now is there, Vic?” she hissed.
The words ‘Rigorous Discipline’ seemed to knock some of the starch out of Victor. “aaahh… NO. No it’s not.” And then he sort of stepped down.
“Good,” Icy said as she tucked away her phone. “Okay, this is for everyone who wasn’t listening during the mission briefing - Cubby. Raja, you and your harem stay here and guard the exit gate. If anyone tries to fuck with it, or even gets near it: MAUL THEM.” Raja and his girls just gave pussycat smiles and nodded smugly.
“Tombstone, you and your ghouls go to the West Building, and break in. Don’t make too much noise, but don’t try to be actually quiet either. Rip off everything that looks like we might be able to sell it. That’s not the doctor’s orders, those are MINE. We might as well get a little walking around money out of this.”
“But that building’s got to be wired! They’ll know that we’re here for sure!” Digger, one of the ghouls, complained.
“They already KNOW that we’re here,” Icy groaned. “They’ve got magic, and our teleporting in probably set off every magical burglar alarm they’ve got. They just don’t know where we are. You guys are gonna give them someplace to look that’s not where the rest of us are. Top Dawg, you and your boys trail after the Graveyard Shift and cover them. When the locals come, you jump them as best you can. Use your own killer instincts, guys; well those you got, anyway.
“Darcy, Stormy and I will find the mirror. Victor, you and the Fang Gang follow us and cover us, like the Junkyard Dogs are for the ghouls. And you’d better do your JOB, Vic, ‘cause I’m not exactly famous for being forgiving, if you get my drift!”
“What’s the matter, Samantha?” Victor jeered, “Feeling a little defensive, because you got everyone’s ass kicked?”
Icy snarled, but Stormy just tapped her on the shoulder and murmured, “Just get ON with it. If we need to, we can fry his ass, later.” She ran a current between her hands.
“Right. Look, we’re going to have to break the group up into three groups. That’s risky. And we can’t afford to waste time texting people or calling them. So, here’s what we’re gonna do.” She held up a whistle that hung around her neck by a chain. “When we get the Mirror and we’re on our way out, I’ll give it one long blast.” She stuck the whistle in her mouth and blew. There seemed to be no noise, but the Weres, both wolf and cat, flinched at the high piercing note they heard. “The first long blast means that we’re on our way out, and you should clear up everything that you’re doing. Raja, you and your cats warm up the gate. The second blast means that we’re out of the building and making tracks to the gate; you should do likewise. The third blast means that we’re at the gate and you have a twenty-count to get your fuzzy ass there, and if you aren’t there by the time that I say ‘Zero’, we are leaving you here! If you get left behind, head straight for your group’s gathering point. You know where it is, and the rest of us don’t need to. Oh, and Vic? You just remember that you need all three of us witches to make this thing work!
“That’s if everything goes as planned. And it never does. If you hear the ‘SOS’-” she blew three short and three long bursts, “We’re in trouble and we need backup. Come running and use the sound of the whistle to guide you. If you hear three-short- one-long,” she blew that combination, “it means that it’s gone totally sour, something that we can’t handle has popped up, don’t ask me WHAT, ‘cause I don’t know. You hear that, and drop everything, forget about the gate, pick a direction and RUN as far and fast as you can. When you’re sure that you’ve lost any follow, head for your gathering point.
“That’s it. Three codes on the whistle, you werewolves tell the ghouls when you hear it, and tell them what to do. Any questions? Not you, Cubby, or we’ll be here all night. Okay crew, you know what you gotta do, so go do it!”
Cubby growled a bit, but Stormy leaned over to him and whispered in his ear, “Hey, look at the bright side: at least you don’t have to watch those stupid cartoons with her!” Then she gave him a playful nip of the teeth on his ear and left, hurrying after Icy and Victor.
“Hey, Romeo,” Top Dawg growled at him, “We got business t’take care of?” But at least he wasn’t sneering at him about being the Noob.
* * * * * *
“Do you even have any idea of where this stupid mirror IS?” Artie asked as he and the other ‘vampires’ followed the Three Witches.
“As a matter of fact, YES,” Icy snarled as she intently watched a small slender brass cylinder swinging from a chain in her hand. “It’s in THAT building,” she pointed at one of the buildings.
“Okay,” Artie said as he ran up to the building and began checking the doors and windows.
“Excuse me,” Darcy said with a sneer, but do you have any idea as to what you’re doing?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I DO,” Artie said, as he started feeling around the frame of one of the windows. “I’m pretty good at it if I do say so - oh, crap.” Even through his ninja mask, you could see the dismay on Artie’s face. He stood very still.
Stormy restrained the others with a raised finger and hurried over to Artie’s side, and asked, “Okay, what happened?”
“I pressed a stud by accident,” Artie hissed as he looked down at the window frame with subdued horror. “From the way it’s giving under my finger, I’m guessing that it’ll set off an alarm if I release it. And it’s set up so that I can’t move the frame either way, without setting it off.”
“OR, I could do THIS,” Stormy passed her hands over the frame and sparkles glittered over the window. “Oh crap.” She looked over her shoulder at the others, who were leaning forward in curiosity. “It’s ‘Good News/ Bad News time’, guys. The Good News is that Mr. Slippery Fingers here hasn’t set off an alarm. The Bad News is that this is a VERY sophisticated alarm. I think that I can get around it, but Icy, this guy is PREPARED.”
“So?” Icy wasn’t that worried. “We just turn off the alarm. The problem with fancy burglar alarms is that people keep setting them off by accident. Lycarax probably has the disarming code written somewhere in there, in case he sets it off. Darcy? See if you can feel it out.”
Darcy went to the window, and waved her hands significantly. “I can feel something… Over by that desk…”
“Is that ALL?” Icy demanded.
“Hey, that’s all I GOT! It’s still enough!” Darcy raised the window sash, and had Artie spot the motion detector. Then she shone a laser-pointer that had been adjusted to match the primary frequencies that most commercial motion detectors use on the detector’s receiver. Darcy cautiously stepped in and tip-toed halfway to the desk. Then she stopped short, slapped herself on the forehead and turned. She stalked over to a box mounted on the way in a corner, opened the door on the box and punched in a code.
“What was that?” Icy demanded when Darcy let them in.
“I realized that I was being stupid,” Darcy said. “I just read the combination off the keys on the pad.”
“Well, THAT wasn’t so hard, now was it?” Icy smirked in Stormy’s direction.
“Icy, I don’t think that you are getting my point,” Stormy said, far more calmly than her namesake. “Look, the entire reason that we’re here is that Lycarax isn’t just a con artist running a bogus cult; he’s a WIZARD, using a special magic mirror, right? But he’s small-time, a real bottom-feeder by magician standards, right? And the mirror’s his POWER FOCUS, his big ace-in-the-hole, the thing that he needs not only to give his spells and stuff punch, but keep his hold over his pigeons, right? So, he’s gotta be hella paranoid about that thing, right? I mean, there have to be people who want that thing, right?”
“AND that’s why we’re HERE?”
Stormy grunted in annoyance. “LOOK, Lycarax hasn’t lasted long enough to get a sweet setup like this by being stupid! The stuff out here is just to keep his followers or other mundanes from setting off his real alarms. He’s got to have something magical waiting for us.”
“He doesn’t know that we’re coming,” Icy said in a cold, flat voice.
“He knows that SOMEONE’S coming!” Stormy insisted. “Someone with MAGIC! Hell, someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Those are the people that he’s worried about! He’s going to set magical traps, and we’ve got to keep an eye out for them! Who knows what kind of insidious, horrible, mind-destroying traps he’s got set?”
“A Schlage dead-bolt lock?” Drac said, holding up a key ring. “I checked out the desk, and found these in the drawer. Look, you said that Lycarax is a bottom-feeder, right? So, he’s not going to be worried about the big boys in the magic scene; he knows that if they ever get wind of him, he’s gone, and there’s nothing that he can do about it. He’s worried about the other hungry, bottom-tier magicians, the one’s who’re LOOKING for stuff like his stash. And they’re gonna be on the same level as he is. So, the best defense he has is to not use magic at all. Good old simple locks and keys. Okay, maybe he hexed them up so that no one could mojo their way past them, but in the end… it’s just locks and keys.” He spun the keys around his finger and looked so smug that Stormy just wanted to smack him one. “Now all we need to do is figure out where the stupid mirror is.”
“Oooohh… Big Mystery…” Bella sneered, “It’s over THERE - in the ‘Mirror Chamber’. DUH!” she pointed at a sign. It was too dark to see it, so Stormy had to use her LED flashlight to see the sign.
Victor let out a hearty laugh and snatched the keys spinning from Drac’s finger. “C’mon crew, let’s get this over and done with, before Hilda, Zelda and Sabrina figure out another way to screw it all up.”
Icy snarled and started at Vic, but Darcy held her back with one hand, and held her finger up to her lips for silence with the other. Vic and his crew strutted arrogantly into the ‘Mirror Chamber’. Darcy had Icy and Stormy wait outside for a moment. Then there was the sound of the ‘Vampires’ loudly complaining. Darcy led the other witches into the room with a smirking strut, and hit the light switch by the door.
In the room were two bookcases and a golden mirror on the wall. The mirror was between a foot-and-a-half and two feet wide, with a hole in its center and a border of twelve boxes. The six Vampires were standing on a diagram of lambent lines on the floor, struggling to free their feet, which were fixed to the floor. Icy stifled a giggle, and Darcy started to say something, but Stormy stopped her. “What’s the matter?” she asked puckishly. “Waiting for, ah, Twilight?”
“I HAVE to get a picture of this,” Darcy said, picking up on Stormy’s jibe, and pulling out a cell phone. “Moments like this only come along once in a New Moon.”
“Now, now, Edward,” Icy chided them, “Did you really think that it would be that easy to Eclipse us?”
“Very FUNNY!” Vic snarled at them, “Now get us OUT of this thing!”
“Are you sure?” Darcy asked facetiously. “After all, we’d just figure out another way to screw it all up.” She finished with an acidulous grin.
Vic slumped over and snarled, “Okay, OKAY, I’m sorry, all right? Now get us out of this!”
“We accept your apology, Vic,” Stormy said as she kneeled down, examining the pattern, “but we’re witches; we get over on pure talent. This? This is Wizardry, stuff that guys who aren’t as talented as we are, but actually KNOW a lot of stuff do. I think that we can break you out of this with raw power, but I can’t promise you that it won’t sting.”
“As a matter of fact, I can promise you that it’ll probably hurt like HELL,” Icy said through a sadistic smirk.
“Just DO it already,” Vic said, hating the fact of admitting that he needed them far more than fearing any pain.
The three consulted for a moment, and decided that their best shot was disrupting the place where the lines all met in the center of the pattern. Placing themselves around the pattern, they reached in with their staves, and placed the tips on top of that center. They began their moaning dirge, and just as Artie was about to make a rather unwise crack, there was a flash of light. Vic and the other vampires were thrown against the walls with terrific force. Fangs got up with effort and said, “Well, Icy, at least you’re as good as your word: that hurt like HELL.”
“Just remember that, the next time that you decide to get snotty with me,” Icy said, well, icily.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Bella said as she got to her feet and reached for the mirror. “Let’s just grab the thing and-yow!” Stormy stopped her by using her staff to rap the knuckles of the hand that Bella was reaching for the mirror with. “What was THAT for? More magic stuff?”
“NO,” Stormy said snidely, “just simple security. Check it out.” She pointed at an inconspicuous black metal plate set into the floor just in front of the mirror. “Metal plate - metal mirror; give you any ideas?”
“You think the mirror’s electrified?” Artie asked, peering at the mirror.
“Go ahead, stand on the plate and touch the mirror and find out.”
“So, witch it off the wall, and let’s get OUT of here!” Fangs snarled.
“Doesn’t matter,” Icy said clinically. “That’s not the mirror we’re here for. It’s probably just a decoy.” She indicated the brass cylinder, that was swinging, but not in the direction of the mirror on the wall, but rather at one of the bookcases. “Let’s see…”
Artie started toward the bookcase, but Stormy held him back with her hand. “Let those who know how do,” she said. She stepped up to the bookcase, and waved her hands, sending sparkles over it. Then she ran one hand under one of the shelves.
“Put. The. Kendle. Beck!” Bella mocked in a stilted faux-German accent. Stormy gave her a ‘very funny’ glower, but then there was a click, and the bookcase parted, sliding in two from the center, revealing a door.
“See?” Icy gloated, “That’s how it’s done!”
Darcy gave Artie another tap on the head, and indicated that he should go through the door first. “Why me?” Artie asked.
“You’re expendable,” Darcy said flatly.
With an annoyed grunt, Artie stuck his head in the door and went, “Whoa,” reverently. “We hit the Jackpot!”
Icy, Darcy and Stormy crowded their heads in through the door and shone a light into the room. They were rewarded by the glint of gold, the sheen of silver, and the glitter of gems. “Whaddya know?” Darcy sniped. “The feeb was actually right!”
Stormy felt around for the light switch and hit it. Straight across from the door was the Mirror of Tanith, and with the witches’ magical sight, they could tell that it had a magic aura, and so they could safely presume that it really was the Mirror of Tanith - or whatever its proper name was. But then, so much else in the room had the same aura of power. “Man, we really DID hit the jackpot!” Icy exulted.
Between them and the mirror was an altar, a table with an embroidered silk cloth with many ritual implements laid out on it. There was a gnarled black wood walking stick with a dark red gem set at the tip, a wide golden chalice that had several gems worked into the stem, a dagger with a gleaming leaf blade and an ornate bejeweled handle, a large amber ‘egg’ on a stand, a bowl heaped high with rock salt, a black wooden box, a golden or gilded oil lamp (of the Aladdin school), a crystal ball on a stand, a silver statuette of a winged woman, and an elaborate device that vaguely resembled a small hand barbell. In front of the altar was a squat gray stone statue of a man laying on his back holding a bowl. To either side of the room, there were shelves stocked with boxes and articles that wouldn’t fit in boxes.
“Stay back!” Stormy warned as she moved into the room, “We can’t be sure what sort of traps they’ve laid. There’s power here, and we can’t be sure where it is, or how it’s set up.”
“What’s this?” Darcy said, looking at the large stone statue.
“It’s an Aztec sacrificial statue,” Drac said from the door. “My parents took me and my brother on vacation in Mexico, and we visited the Pyramid of the Sun, and we saw one like that. It’s called an ch- what was it? - or right, a ‘Chock Mool’. Those are the altars that Aztec priests used to put hearts into, after they ripped them out of sacrificial victim’s chests.”
“Oh Gross!” Darcy moaned, thoroughly squicked. “There’s blood in there!”
“So? It’s old dried-”
“It’s fresh blood!” she ground out through a disgusted grimace. “it’s still clotted!”
“So?” Icy said without any discomfort. “See those rings at the bottom? I’ll bet that Lycarax runs poles or ropes through those, and they haul this out with the mirror for those bozo ceremonies they have, and put chicken’s blood or something in them.”
“Would YOU put chicken’s blood in a magical sacrificial bowl that was designed for human hearts?” Darcy pointed out.
“aaaa…” Icy tried to come up with an answer for that. “Oh well, we weren’t going to take that, anyway…”
Darcy swept that aside and looked at the table. “Okay, the staff, the chalice and the ritual dagger are the traditional tools of the witch. There are three of them and three of us so-”
Icy levitated the black wooden staff into her hand. “MINE.”
Stormy picked up the dagger. “I’ll take this.”
Darcy picked up the chalice with an aggrieved pout. “Okay, then, how about this?” she picked up the box and opened it. Inside, set on black velvet, was a large, square cut ruby set in an ornate gold necklace, a smaller matching gem in a large gold bracelet, and a similar gem set in a ring.
Icy snatched the box from Darcy’s hand. “MINE!”
“Hey!” Darcy objected, “There are three of us, and three pieces! We should each have one!”
“I said MINE!” Icy snarled.
“Hey, there are six of US,” Belle drawled from the door.
“Stay out of this!” Darcy snapped.
“It’s a SET, and I’m the leader!” Icy growled. “You can have the rest of the stuff from the table!”
“Gee thanks, Icy, you’re a brick,” Stormy said as she picked up the lamp and the ‘barbell’.
“Like you’re one to talk,” Darcy pouted as she took the crystal ball and statuette. “I feel like I got the stuff from the junk drawer.”
“At least you GOT something,” Vic sniped from the door.
“Check the shelves, they should be reasonably safe,” Stormy instructed. “Take as much as you can carry. Even if it doesn’t have magical power, there’s stuff in there that we can hock for walking around money.”
Icy took the jewelry from the box and put it on and admired the gems. “Y’know, Icy,” Darcy sniped, “those rubies sort of clash with your whole ‘pale blue’ theme.”
“I’ll make it work,” Icy gloated through a nasty grin.
Fangs pulled the cloth off one bundle and said, “Hey! Check it out! Someone thinks he’s Indiana Jones!” Under the cloth was a long gleaming golden casket that was a near-ringer for the Ark of the Covenant from the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, down to the two kneeling angels on the lid.
“Cover that back up, you pinhead!” Darcy snapped.
“WHY? There’s no chance that this is REAL!”
“It doesn’t HAVE to be real,” Icy snarled. “All it has to be is magical! And it IS, we can TELL! And it’s dangerous!”
“How do you know that?”
“It’s dangerous,” Icy said in the ‘spelling it out for the halfwit’ tone, “because it’s powerful. And we know that it’s powerful, because it’s HERE.” Artie looked at her blankly. “LOOK, there’s no way that Lycarax made this, I doubt that he just found it, and I really doubt that he paid for it. Most likely, he stole it, just like he stole the rest of this junk!” Icy waved an indicative hand at the large leather bound book that was padlocked shut with iron bindings, the leather bag of stones with futhark runes carved on them, the large reddish jade Mesoamerican statuette of a hunched over man with an overlarge face, the sword in a black scabbard, the large labrys (axe) with the two blades of white jade, the large gold mask of a bearded man, the gilded reliquary box, the silver torc, the several African Masks, the Crystal Skull, the Mesoamerican crockery figures, the less impressive reliquary boxes, the gold hand mirror, the athames, pixes, lead Mithraic curse plates, various jewelry in boxes, cups, candlesticks, and other treasures, both mystic and mundane. “But look at it! It weighs hundreds of pounds and it’s bulky as hell! But he not only sent his goons to go and GET it, and lugged it out of wherever they got it, but they hauled it all the way here. He wouldn’t DO that for a knockoff of a movie prop! He’d only do that if it was powerful! Someone probably made that using the descriptions of the Ark in the Bible, and enchanted it.” Fangs gave the ‘ark’ a doubtful look. “Look, it’s too heavy and bulky for us to carry. We’re going to be hauling a lot more than we expected as it is.”
“SO?” Artie gave a wide shrug. “We’re Vampires! We’re hella stronger than normal people! I can just carry it out!” He bent over to pick up the Ark.
“NO!” Icy, Darcy and Stormy all yelled as one.
Too late. Artie picked up the Ark and stiffed. An arc ran the gap between the tips of the two inward pointing wings of the angels atop the lid, and a pulse radiated out from the ark. Artie was thrown back from the Ark, which clattered to the ground. “Oh, this can NOT be good,” Icy groaned softy.
The various items in the room glistened for a moment. A pale purple flame erupted from the bowl of the Chac Mool. Then the agate egg flared and then began to vibrate on its stand. It started to hum, then moan, and then the pitch rose to a shriek. “Okay, spooky,” Drac admitted, covering his ears, “but what does it mean?”
“It means ‘get the mirror and get the fuck OUT of here!’” Stormy said, clambering over the stone sacrificial altar and altar table to get at the mirror. But just as she was about to touch the mirror, the agate egg erupted in a shower of amber energy that sent Stormy flying back.
The energy swirled freely and coalesced into an amber griffin, not a flesh and blood entity, but rather an energy configuration in that form. “Oh, I knew that it couldn’t be good,” Icy grumbled.
The griffin gave a shriek like sheet metal being torn and pounced, sending Icy and Darcy sprawling. “Well?” Icy demanded, scrambling to her feet, “What are you waiting for? DO something, you twits!”
Victor, who had been eyeing that sword covetously since he first saw it, grabbed the sword which was glittering with magic, and drew it dramatically, tossing the scabbard aside. Fangs, the largest of the ‘Vampires’ picked up the two-headed axe and set himself. Belle grabbed two of the ritual knives from the shelves, but Darla, the youngest and smallest of the vampires dragged Artie, who was still reeling from the shock, out of the way. Drac just sort of stood there, and tried to think of what to do. Vic, probably trying to look manly for Belle, cocked the sword and jumped at the griffin, swinging the sword like he’d seen in a bunch of bad fantasy illustrations. The sword went right through the griffin, but it still reacted with a scream, and lashed out with a claw, sending Vic flying. Fangs did his best with the axe, with more or less the same result. “Back off!” Icy growled loudly, her hands arched dramatically over her head, the jewels on her staff, amulet, bracelet and ring all glowing with power. “I’m going to use the Ice Coffin!”
“The Ice Coffin?” Stormy asked incredulously, “But that never works!”
“Oh, gimme a break.”
“COFFIN!” Icy aimed her staff at the griffin and a flurry of snowy flakes emerged, wrapping around the griffin, encasing it in a geode-like arrangement of ice spikes.
“Well shave my head and call me baldy,” Stormy muttered, taken aback.
“HAH!” Icy gloated, “I knew that all it took was someone who wasn’t a total WIMP!”
“Icy, they did their JOB,” Stormy reproved, arms crossed. “You don’t have to bust their chops, when they were giving you breathing room to work.”
“Hey, it’s not MY fault that they’re all LOSERS.” Icy scoffed.
“Y’know, Ice,” Stormy sneered, tapping her foot, “You’re putting WAY too much emphasis on the example set by a cartoon character who gets her ASS handed to her in almost every episode.”
“Not to mention the fact that it’s not exactly the best idea to encase something made of Energy in a block of Ice,” Darcy pointed out.
“Get Real,” Icy drawled, “It’ll take hours for that thing to-” then the block of ice started to groan with stress and crack.
“So, Icy, would you like to eat your crow Original Recipe, or Extra-Spicy?” Stormy jeered.
“Stop Bickering and DO something!” Darcy yelled as she grabbed the bowl of rock salt and threw the crystals at the Griffin as it exploded from the ice coffin.
“Okay, bear with me, I got an IDEA!” Stormy said as she took the ‘magic lamp’ in both hands and rubbed it.
“Oh, are you KIDDING ME?” Icy demanded.
“Yer ordering the jumbo family-sized bucket of crow there, Ice,” Stormy jibed as a wispy silvery translucent figure of energy in the shape of a man whose form tapered down to a trailing vapor (rather reminiscent of the Genie from Disney’s™ Aladdin, without the beard or facial characteristics) emerged from the spout of the lamp and proceeded to grapple with the griffin.
“KEWL!” Darcy exulted, wide-eyed as Icy pouted.
“YEAH!” The vampires cheered from the sideline, “Kick his ass, Stormy!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Icy sulked, arms crossed defensively, shoulders hunched, “Big stinkin’ deal. You’re not really DOING anything, you’re just waltzing around with it, y’know…”
“Actually, she has a point,” Darcy admitted, looking around. Then she spotted the agate egg on the altar table. “But it gives me an idea!” She scrambled over the Chac Mool, being very careful not to step in the sacrificial bowl, and grabbed the egg from its stand.
“What are you doing?” Icy demanded snidely.
“I’m doing something more constructive than standing around yelling ‘somebody DO something’!” Darcy clambered down off the altar and stared intently into the egg, her eyes glowing with power.
“What?” Icy asked disgustedly. “You’re trying to hypnotize an egg?”
“Why not?” Darcy asked breathlessly, never taking her eyes from her task. “According to old myths, griffins laid agate eggs. But that’s ridiculous; flesh-and-blood animals don’t hatch from pieces of mineral. But that thing’s not flesh-and-blood. What if this is like… the battery that that thing’s stored in? They don’t lay the eggs, but they DO hatch from them?”
“Where’d you get all THAT from?”
“Well, I used to play D&D, and-”
“YOU… played dungeons and dragons?” Icy gave Darcy a frosty look of intense disappointment and disapproval.
“Yeah!” Darcy broke off, “I played D&D! What’s the matter with THAT?”
“EYES ON THE PRIZE, Girls!” Stormy shrieked, concentrating furiously on the lamp that controlled the ‘genie’, which was barely holding its own against the griffin.
“Right, right!” Darcy returned her full attention to the egg. Then a look crossed her face. “Oh! Of course!” she screwed up her face in a twist of concentration and then suddenly the griffin sort of melted away in the ‘genie’s’ grip and flowed back into the egg.
“What did you do?” Icy and Stormy demanded as one.
“I just recalled the stupid thing,” Darcy explained with a smirk. “Now it’s back in there, and waiting for orders.”
“Gimme that!” Icy demanded, imperiously holding out her hand.
Darcy held up the egg with a cocky grin. “Do you have even the slightest idea of how to control this thing?”
“Or this?” Stormy said with a smirk as the genie returned to the lamp.
Icy gritted her teeth and her eyes burned with (against character) red-hot rage. Then something snapped inside her, she slumped and said in morose voice, “FINE! Whatever! Let’s just get this crap packed and get the mirror and get OUT of here!”
“Finally,” Belle snarked, “a little common sense. Hey!” she perked up. “Can you call that genie-thing any time you want?”
“I dunno about ‘any time’,” Stormy said, “But I should be able to whistle it up, if necessary.”
“Maybe you can use it to carry the Ark with us, while we lug the rest of this stuff!” Belle suggested.
“Belle,” Stormy said in the ‘gimme a break’ voice. “WHY would I go to all that trouble, when the only one who’ll benefit from it is Dr. Macabre? And, even IF the Doc DID let us keep that thing and sell it, HOW do you hock the ARK OF THE COVENANT?”
“I don’t think that selling any of this crap is gonna be easy,” Artie said as he pulled himself up off the floor. “I’ll lay you odds that these guys sold everything that they stole that could be sold easily, and all the stuff that they stole that they couldn’t sell, they put in here.”
“So?” Icy said, her old hauteur coming back already, “We won’t get top dollar for any of this. So what? It’ll still be better than the peanuts that Dr. Macabre gives us.”
“Let’s just get ON with this already?” Vic demanded. “We’ve already wasted too much time on this bullshit!”
“Says the guy holding the magic sword,” Icy snarked.
Still, they managed to put their bickering aside long enough to load all their carryalls and totes and a few boxes with what they could carry, and Stormy called forth the genie to carry a few extra boxes as well. “Finally,” Icy said as they agreed that they had enough and a little extra to drop if things got hairy. “NOW, at last, we can actually do what we came here to do.” She levitated up onto the altar to get at the mirror.
“Why did you throw that rock salt at the griffin?” Darla asked Darcy, looking at the crystals on the floor.
“Oh, I heard a couple of old superstitions about salt preventing a vampire from crossing a threshold, and needing to count mustard seeds and other small objects when they were thrown in their path; I figured it was worth the shot.”
Darla twitched and snarled, “You just had to say that, didn’t you?” then she was down on her hands and knees, picking up and counting the pieces of salt, and the other vampires were down on their knees doing the same.
Icy stifled a scream of impatience and frustration, but waited until they were done (she didn’t want to lift the mirror without the vampires being available to handle whatever might pop up when she did so). “Are you done YET?”
“Go ahead!” Darla said as she finished up counting the ones in her hand.
“FINALLY!” she lifted the mirror.
All of them were watching Icy closely as she lifted the mirror in case anything happened. Which was, of course, the trap. The Mirror silently exploded in a dazzling show of light, but the light wasn’t harsh and blinding; rather, it was soft, gentle and fascinating. Like a full moon, it seized the eye and the mind and held them in a gentle but inescapable grip that filled them all with a gentle peace that made any kind of resistance unthinkable. The light filled them and they all gawped mindlessly at the mirror, just waiting for someone to come and find them.
All but Darla, who had been still counting her handful of rock salt, a slave to the compulsion. She wasn’t looking at the mirror, and her first reaction was to shield her eyes from the light. Startled, she looked around and asked first Belle, then Vic, then Stormy, then Darcy, and finally even Icy what was going on. Careful not to look into the light of the mirror that flooded the room, the pixie-ish little blonde tried to rouse her friends (or, at least the other vampires; she liked Belle, and thot that Vic was hawt, but she admitted that the rest were complete wastes of space), and managed to figure out what was going on. Okay, but what should she do? Even if she would leave Belle or Vic behind, Dr. Macabre would skin her alive if she came back, not only without the mirror, but alone.
But what could she do? She couldn’t do anything, if she kept her eyes covered like this-
That was it. She looked around as best she could, for something that could cover the mirror, and block the light. But the only cloths at hand were the witches’ capes, and those were really cheesy stuff that they wore ‘cause Icy thought that it looked cool. They were deliberately so flimsy that they’d rip if caught on anything (apparently someone had seen The Incredibles), so she couldn’t trust those to block the rays of the mirror. Wait! There was that thick silk tapestry - tablecloth - sacramental cloth - whatever on the altar table! Okay, Icy was kneeling on it, and Darla would have to push her over to get at the cloth… but it’s not like that snotty witch was any friend of hers.
Icy went over with a gratifying thud, and woke up a little, but she was so groggy that she wouldn’t be any use soon. Not that she was that big a help at the best of times. Darla picked up the edge of the silk and lifted it. She let out a sigh of relief as the thick cloth blocked the light, and she lifted it all the way over mirror, blocking it.
Darla took a short, relieved break, and then tried to rouse Belle. But Belle was too enraptured by the mirror’s charm to snap out of it. Darla raised her hand to slap Belle awake, when a better idea hit her. Darla could barely restrain the grin as she yelled, “HEY! DARCY! WAKE UP!” as she savagely slapped at the bitch’s face.
* * * * * *
“Okay, okay, the runt did okay,” Icy admitted with what grudging grace as she could muster when they were all roused. “Now, somebody get that thing off the wall and let’s get the hell OUT of here!”
“What?” Vic said with a sneer, “You’re not going to get it yourself? Isn’t that, like, your JOB?”
“No, my job is keeping annoying little creeps like YOU in their place!” Icy roared, powering up her hands.
“Hold it, Icy!” Stormy said, cutting off Icy’s tantrum, “LOOK!” she pointed at the cloth covering the mirror. Light was peeking through the stitching, revealing some message. “’All Glory to the Queen to Come/ Be Ready and Worthy for when She Comes’,” she read the message. “What’s THAT supposed to mean?”
Icy started to whine, “STORMY, WHO C-” but she was cut off by a dry female voice from off to the side.
“The ‘Queen to Come’ is a key figure in the mythologies of the various lycanthropic tribes of the world,” the voice said clinically. “A messianic figure that also is a key to the world-view of the various re-emergent Sidhe factions, someone who will, depending on the legend, either destroy the world, or erase the human race from the face of the Earth, or restore the lost city of Gorias and rule the world from there, or maybe open a Celtic cuisine restaurant in New York. This legend has trickled down to one or two more mainstream occult movements in various forms, but so far we’ve managed to avoid a ‘Queen to Come’ fad in the New Age movement. It appears that Lycarax has appropriated the ‘Queen to Come’ for his bogus werewolf cult. I wonder how he heard about her.”
As one, they all turned to follow the sound of the voice, which was coming from a short, slender girl of maybe Darla’s age, with black hair in a braid surrounding an impassive pale face with large dark eyes. She wore black jeans and a T-shirt that was a parody of the classic Farah Fawcett poster, with the poster girl replaced by a skeleton in the bathing suit with a wig on the skull. There was a general impression of a dark cloak draped over her, but there was no real cloth there. “There are several claimants to being the ‘Queen to Come’ running around,” she resumed with all the calm of someone reading off a homework assignment. A boring homework assignment, at that. “There’s even one girl at my school claiming to be the Queen to Come. She’s not bad… if you like the overdone and obvious. Nobody’s really sure who or what the Queen to Come really is, or what she’ll do when she gets here. Hopefully it won’t be the Celtic cuisine restaurant.”
The Witches and Vampires alike turned and gawped. “Who the hell are YOU?” Fangs demanded.
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” droned the girl. “I’m here with the California Crusaders - oh, and the LA County Sheriff’s Department. If you surrender, you won’t be harmed, and we’ll do everything we can to get you back to normal. And, in the meantime, the vampires will be provided with blood, and the werewolves will be given enough meat to keep them going until the effect works its way out of your system. And you don’t have to worry about charges being pressed; it’s so obvious that you’re being coerced by Dr. Macabre, charges won’t even be mentioned. You’ll be expected to testify if we actually catch Cobb, but-” Vic strutted up, fangs bared and glowered down at the girl. “Oh, please, now you’re just being willfully stupid,” Kate sneered. Then she looked straight into his eyes, giving him the treatment.
Victor flinched, but then he snarled and backhanded Kate, knocking her down to the floor. Kate sprawled there on the floor for a second, shocked. But then she collected her cool and growled, “Try to be nice to some people…”
Vic sprang at Kate, bringing the sword down with the arc, but the blade got buried in the wall of darkness that Kate flung up between them. Then Nacht-sized and shaped figures of darkness zipped out from behind the shield, and scrambled all around the chamber, deftly evading the vampire’s attempts to grab them. “I understand completely,” came Kate’s droning voice came from all of them, “you’ve been kidnapped and transformed into barely human monsters, you’re outlaws who might be gunned down on general principles, and you’re more or less unpaid goons for the freak who did this to you - who’d want to give up all THAT?”
“They’re just decoys,” Icy snapped as she blasted the shield of darkness, “she’s still behind that stupid shield!”
The blast knocked the shield down, and there was no sign of Nacht there. “Don’t you ever get tired of being wrong, Icy?” Darcy sneered.
“Just grab one,” Vic yelled as he picked one of the figures and pounced on her, “she’s got to be ONE of them!” Vic’s tactically valid point was rather blunted, however, when, upon his nailing his target, ‘she’ dissolved into darkness that wrapped itself around him like a thick tar. As Vic stumbled about, trying to free himself, Stormy pointed the vajra (the ‘barbell’) at him and gave him a light blast, just to see what would happen. Vic went sprawling, but the ‘tar’ melted right off of him. “Thanks,” Vic panted, “I think…”
Then a tongue of black flame erupted from the sacrificial bowl of the Chac Mool. The Witches and Vampires reflexively pulled away from it. This gave one of the figures her opening and she skipped up to the mirror and pulled the silk cloth from it, flooding the chamber with the mind-dazzling light again. This time, the Witches were ready for it, and shielded their eyes with their capes, while the Vampires recoiled from it covering their eyes as best they could. Taking her best shot, Icy gave the little feeb a blast of ice.
Kate simply held up a hand, and the ice pooled into a chunk of ice in front of her, which fell to the table with a thunk. Darcy pooled some darkness into the chalice that she was holding and threw it like a wave of ink at the mirror. Kate just caught that with her hand and held it like a rag. “You call this darkness? This isn’t darkness. Now THIS is DARKNESS-” she tossed the ‘rag’ back and Darcy tried to block it, but the ‘rag’ grew into a large ghostly sheet of ragged darkness and wrapped itself around her. Darcy felt a piercing cold enter her, and it felt as though hundreds of small hooks were digging into her skin. She struggled to keep from screaming but the clammy feeling and the strange wriggling sensation and the unnerving whispering she felt, just ripped the scream from her lips. She struggled, but the darkness held her as firm as iron, even as it allowed her as much leverage as fog.
“DARCY!” Stormy yelled, and aimed the athame right at Nacht. “Let her GO, bitch!”
“Please,” Nacht tisked. Stormy let fly with the dagger. Kate matter-of-factly caught the dagger with her hand. “And that point of that WAS?”
But Kate’s blasé dismissal didn’t last long. Stormy let off a blast with the vajra, not at Kate, but at the dagger. The bolt homed in on the dagger, ignoring Kate’s shields, and knocked Kate off her pins and on her ass. “I do NOT like how this is shaping up,” Kate admitted to herself. Then, being very, very glad that that annoying little man, Ito, wasn’t there to see that, she wrapped herself in darkness and moved. Unfortunately, Stormy blasted her just as she was departing, and the action wound up throwing her through the tunnel of darkness and spitting her out far short of her projected exit point. Kate popped out and landed with a roll. “Definitely not shaping up well,” Kate muttered.
“GOTCHA!” Fangs grabbed Kate by the arm, and hauling her up off the ground.
“NO, I got YOU,” Kate replied, wrapping him up in tentacles of darkness, and dropping to the floor. Unfortunately, Darla was right on top of her, and while they were roughly the same size, Darla was definitely tougher than Kate. Nacht took a beating before she managed to wrap Darla up in a cocoon of darkness. Belle almost managed to get the jump on her, but Kate danced just out of Belle’s grasp, creating shadow-decoys to confuse her.
Kate was squaring herself to deal with Belle more decisively when she heard from behind her, “ICE!” she snapped a glance around to see Icy gesturing widely with her arms. “COFFIN!” And again an explosion of ice crystals formed where Kate had been, with a small dark form in the center of the crystal. “HAH!” Icy exulted. “NAILED her!”
“YES!” Darcy gloated.
“GOT HER!” Stormy agreed.
“Yep,” agreed a dry flat voice, “Cold as a mackerel.” The three witches looked aghast at Kate behind them. “WHAT? Everyone laughs when Bugs Bunny does it.”
“Who’s? In? The Ice?” Icy flustered.
“DARLA!” Belle shrieked, “Where’s Darla?”
“Exactly how does anyone breathe, locked inside a block of ice?” Kate calmly asked Icy. With a panicked gasp, Stormy lashed out with a bolt of lightning, shattering the ice. Darla spilled out of the broken ice, and Belle hurried forth to try and get her breathing again.
“WHY YOU…” Icy snarled she turned to Nacht-
-who wasn’t there. “What?” Icy gawped, “Where’d she GO?” Nacht was nowhere to be seen. Not that the constantly shifting shadows made it any easier for them to catch sight of her.
Darcy scanned the room for her with her powers as the vampires, the griffin, ‘the genie’ and the other two witches tore the room apart, but all she got for it was a queasy sensation. “Nothin’,” she admitted with a gusty sigh. “I got nuthin’. And you know that she’s just waiting for us to let down our guard.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Stormy said with a definite edge to her voice, as she recalled the genie to the lamp. “Remember Swashbucker, and how he was stringing us along, back at the warehouse? She doesn’t have to fight us; all she really has to do is keep us here. She said that the California Crusaders are here. That’s probably why Lycarax and his stooges haven’t come here yet; they’re busy mixing it up with the Crusaders.” She paused and said with less of an edge, “Man, I hope the Weres and Ghouls were smart enough to head out when the Crusaders showed up.”
“Yeah,” Darcy said, still looking around, “it would suck, having to move AGAIN.”
“So, we don’t play her game, and GET,” Vic said, going for the mirror. But he wasn’t able to avoid the mirror’s mesmerizing light as he tried to take it from its mount on the wall.
Stormy gave a tisk of annoyance, and used her genie to lift that silk tapestry over the mirror. Then she jolted Vic back to awareness. “The execution was off, but the plan was valid,” Stormy said as Vic brought the mirror down. “So, let’s GET, before the California Crusaders finish off Lycarax and his chumps.”
“Why are YOU making noises like the leader?” Icy bitched.
“This is not the TIME for this, Samantha,” Stormy shot back, “and it’s definitely not the PLACE. We can witch this out when we get back to the base.”
“Yeah,” Belle backed Stormy up (largely because while Stormy was a witch, she didn’t make the big thing about being a raging psycho bitch that Icy did), “and those Were-cats won’t be able to keep that teleporting thingie up and running for very long if the California Crusaders find it. Lycarax’s bozos, yeah, but not the CCs.”
“GEE,” Icy snarled, “how considerate of you to mention that out where that little bitch could hear it!”
“Enough drama, Drama Queen!” Vic said as he cautiously climbed off the altar table. “Mission accomplished, just blow the whistle and let’s G-ooohhh!” Vic startled badly as another gout of black flame erupted from the Chac Mool’s sacrificial bowl. His awkward stance made it impossible to keep his footing as the very shadow jerked him off his feet, like a carpet being pulled out from under him. Despite his vampire grace, Vic did a face-plant on the floor, and the mirror went clattering, and the tapestry jerked off the mirror, exposing the fascinating light again. But as they all shielded their eyes, a dark form dashed out from cover, picked up the mirror and headed back for cover.
Unfortunately for Kate, the shadows she wrapped herself in dampened the fascination effect that the mirror was giving, but it didn’t quite block out the light itself. Worse, the light kept her from sliding through shadows. And it wasn’t doing the shadow-decoys that she’d been using a whole lot of good, either. Despite the weight of the mirror, she just barely managed to evade an ice blast. “GET HER!”
Suddenly, the tight quarters turned against her. In her mind’s ear, Kate heard, ‘always think of the step just beyond the next, for surely your enemy is not.’ “Oh, shut up, you stupid Wasabi Junkie,” Kate snarled as she dealt with the very real, uncontrolled melee that was heading right for her. She exploded in a burst of tendrils of darkness, which ensnared most of the vampires in mid-leap. But Vic, the alpha leech wasn’t entangled and came right for her, his hands formed into vicious talons aimed right at her throat. Kate barely managed to put the mirror in the path of Vic’s talon to use it as a shield. Vic reacted to having his fingers almost broken, which gave Kate an opening to wrap him in ribbons of erebeal darkness. Then there was a keening scream, and Kate ducked under the swoop of the griffin. ‘Well,’ Kate thought to herself, ‘I’m not too proud to steal a winning idea - or someone else’s weapon.’ She scampered for cover as best she could, taking full advantage of the room that the Vampires were giving the griffin, and covertly spun a web of erebeal threads.
The griffin came swooping down again, but this time as it passed, Kate expanded the web and entangled the griffin. Then, frantically, she reeled in the griffin and started weaving threads of her magic in with the pattern that formed the griffin. Unfortunately, she was very hurried, so that the Vampires wouldn’t have time to react to the development. She was distracted and she didn’t see the genie coming.
But it didn’t attack Kate.
Instead, it grabbed the mirror and hauled it back to the Witches, who turned the glare on Kate. While she wasn’t affected by the fascination of the mirror’s light, Kate couldn’t see past the glare. She peered past the shining, and saw what the witches were doing. And then the droning keen that they were chanting registered with Kate. Icy was holding aloft her staff, and its ruby cap was glowing with red light, and tendrils of energy crackled from it, leading to Stormy’s upheld athame. Darcy was holding up her chalice, which was also feeding Stormy’s athame energy. Stormy held her athame high with her left hand, but her right hand was full with that vajra, which was building up a huge charge - and aimed right at Kate.
Kate tried to slide through shadow to safety, but the blast caught her just as she was wrapping herself in darkness. The blast shattered her cocoon, and sent Kate flying with enough force to leave a Nacht-shaped dent in the plaster on the wall where she hit. Kate slumped to the floor dazed, just awake enough to hear, but not enough to really do anything.
“Finally!” Icy hissed through a rictus of equal parts frustration and glee. She marched up to Kate, grabbed her by the hair, and bent her head back while Kate was too groggy to fight back. Then she made a literal blade of her other hand, forming razor-sharp ice over it. She cocked her hand to strike and said, “THIS is what you get, when you mess with us!”
“Icy! NO!” Stormy snapped.
Icy ignored her. Her hand came down, but Stormy broke the blade with a bolt of energy. “WHAT?” Icy shrieked, turning on Stormy. “You’re siding with HER? Who do you think you ARE?”
“Apparently,” Stormy hissed, staring down Icy eye-to-eye, “I’m the only one thinking around here! You heard her! The California Crusaders are out there!”
“We don’t KNOW-”
“WHY would she just delay us like that, if she wasn’t setting us up for the Cee-Cees, huh? So, she’s a superhero! Okay, I admit, I dunno who, but she’s a superhero. That’s like being a COP. You don’t just OFF cops, everybody knows that! As it is, we’re low-priority! And that’s a good thing! All the cops are off, chasing after that Headhunter psycho! But if you kill her? That’s like a Cop Killing! It won’t matter how the Cops feel about superheroes, they’ll see us as Cop Killers. ALL OF US. We couldn’t handle Swashbucker! If you kill her, we’ll have ALL of the Crusaders screaming for our hides! And the rest of the superheroes in the Southland wouldn’t try to capture us; they’d just POUND us into paste on general principles! And the Cops would just SHOOT us on sight!
“And even IF we survive all that, if we kill her, then Macabre OWNS us, Body and Soul, FOREVER. PERIOD.”
Icy wound up to say something really nasty, but Vic just let out a disgusted noise. “And chicks talk about Guys… She’s not a threat now, so let’s just GET already! You keep talking about it, but we’re still HERE! So, let’s GO!” He grabbed the mirror from Darcy’s hands and strutted out of the room, leaving the witches behind, with the rest of the vampires gladly following.
Icy glared at Stormy and growled, “We WILL talk about this later.” Then she marched after the Vampires. Darcy gave Stormy an uncertain look and followed.
When Macabre’s minions got to the front door of the building, they found out why only the dark girl had interrupted them: the night was filled with a three-way war, with Macabre’s Werewolves, Werecats and Ghouls dividing their efforts between a group of very athletic young people with a decided taste in Native American-chic buckskins, and the California Crusaders. A middle-aged white guy who was working the ‘Wolverine’ look pretty hard (to middling success) was waving a staff with a wooden wolf’s head at the tip and chanting something that seemed to be involved with keeping Sunburst locked in a cage of magical energy. Big Dawg was slugging it out with a huge figure that seemed to be made of upturned earth, complete with tufts of grass poking out here and there. BD was knocking chunks of it off the turf-thing, but the bits that he knocked off were replenished immediately. The fact that he had ghouls draped all over him, trying to weigh him down, didn’t help any. Skyrider was zipping around furiously, trying to shake the two Werecats that had gotten up on his board and were wrestling with him; then again, the fact that both of them were attractive teenage girls may have been the reason he didn’t simply blast them off his board. Daybreak and Nightfall were trading off coping with a huge animated tree that looked suspiciously like one of the ‘Ents’ from the last ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie. The ‘Tree-Ent’ was waving major boughs around like a ‘Walloping Willow’, which mixed canons rather badly. Swashbuckler was mixing it up with Werecats, ghouls and some of Lycarax’s followers, and holding his own, though not with the grace and surety that he had at the warehouse. Chiller was skating around, trying to help, but two werecats and one of Lycarax’s followers were all over him, keeping him from helping any of the Crusaders. “It looks like something out of one of my Avengers comics,” Artie said wistfully.
“You read comic books?” Icy sneered.
“Gimme that!” Darcy snapped, grabbing the mirror from Victor. Then she gave out a shrill ‘calling a taxi’ whistle. When the combatants paused, (except for the tree and earth giants) and looked to see what the noise was, Darcy yelled, “Lookie what WE got!” and held the mirror up high. Then she pulled off the silk cloth, and the mind-snaring light filled the clearing. Except for Lycarax (the guy with the staff) and his two summoned guardians, the fighters stopped and looked into the light, bespelled.
The ‘Tree-Ent’ swatted first Daybreak and then Nightfall from their slides. The turf-elemental enveloped Big Dawg in its folds, and took several of the ghouls with him. Lycarax broke off maintaining the cage keeping Sunburst trapped, now that she wasn’t fighting the cage. “A clever ploy little girl,” he said with a growling voice, tinged with amusement. “But let me show you how a true Wizard handles things…” He said something that sounded Swedish (maybe Russian, the girls weren’t sure) and sketched out something in the air with the tip of his staff as the eyes in the wolf’s head tip glowed ominously red.
The light coming from the mirror changed slightly, becoming more moon-like. Lycarax’s followers all reacted to the light. First they startled out of their trances. Then they stiffened, and began to twitch and spasm. Then they started to grow and change.
“Oh. Crap.” Darcy started to wrap up the mirror, hoping to undo what Lycarax had done.
“No!” Darla stopped her, “LOOK!” The Witches looked around, and the ‘Junkyard Dogs’ and ‘Alleycats’ were also reacting to the mirror’s transforming light. They grew in size and became more bestial, almost completely ripping out of their clothes, as were a minority of Lycarax’s followers (and the man himself). The two were-cats up on Skyrider’s board finished their transformation; one of them grabbed something that Sky was carrying in the crook of his arm, and the other clobbered him, knocking him off his board. The board crashed, but the two cats landed expertly and dashed off. The others among Macabre’s Weres started mixing it up with Lycarax’s crew
“Nice JOB, Alpo-breath!” Icy jeered, “What are you going to do for an encore, oh ‘True Wizard’? Pull a gilt turd out of your hat?”
Lycarax snarled and pointed his staff at them again and the wolf’s head bared its wooden fangs at them. But as Lycarax was gathering his power to strike, Stormy sent the genie at him. The move took the wizard by surprise, and the genie was able to grapple the staff. Passing the mirror over to Darla, she pulled the agate egg from her pouch. Taking the chance that the creepy emo chick had seriously messed with the griffin, Darcy sent the griffin at Lycarax. The Wolf-wizard blanched visibly at the sight, but he immediately launched a counter-measure. This probably would have put the ‘griffin’ back squarely under his control - IF the genie wasn’t grappling his staff. But it was, and it didn’t, and he lost both the staff and a good chunk of his ear. Lycarax gave a yelp and scrambled away. He reached for his belt and pulled a bull’s horn with a metal cap at the mouth from his belt, and just as he was about to do… something with it, the genie wrestled that from his hands as well and flew it, along with the staff, over to Stormy’s waiting hands. “GOD, I love this Mission!” Stormy gushed.
“Oh? Will you love THIS?” Lycarax snarled something in that ‘maybe Swedish - maybe Russian’ language and made a gesture that looked, to be honest, rather rude. The ‘Tree-Ent’ left off walloping Daybreak and Nightfall, turned, and advanced toward the Witches. The Clod-Golem also turned and would have probably also come thundering that way, but a ham-hock sized fist came punching out of its middle, and it had to concentrate on keeping Big Dawg under wraps.
The Tree-minion thudded towards the Witches, but Icy just sneered, “Oh, Puh-Lease!” She made a production of waving her hands in the air, energy crackling from her jewelry and the tip of her staff. She pointed the staff at the Tree-Ent, and an enormous gout of flame erupted from the staff and engulfed the Tree-thing. “WHOO!” Icy hooted, impressed by her own show.
Indeed, she was far more impressed than the Tree-minion, which lashed out with its burning boughs. “Smooth move, Ex-lax!” Stormy snarled as she parried the bough with a shield of force. “You only made it MORE dangerous!”
“I- I’ll…” Icy paused, choking under pressure, “I’ll wrap it in an Ice Coffin! That’ll stop it AND put out the fire!”
“OR…” Darcy said significantly, taking Lycarax’s staff and making gestures with it, “I could do THIS!” She finished with a grand flourish, and the Tree-thing stood stock still and burned, lighting up the night.
On a barked order from their guru, Lycarax’s cultists broke off pounding Swashbuckler, Skyrider and Chiller and came charging with a blood-chilling howl.
Victor unlimbered his sword and grinned, baring his fangs. “All RIGHT! Time to show Team Jacob who the Big Bads really ARE around here!” Fangs stepped forward with his double-headed axe and readied himself just as blood-thirstily. Artie, Drac and Belle readied themselves not quite so eagerly. For her part, Darla stepped back holding the mirror over her head to keep the light playing on the werewolves and werecats. She wasn’t sure whether it was really helping anything, but it was a lot better than getting dragged into a fight where she’d get mauled. Besides, for all she knew, she was helping more than anyone. That was her story, and she was sticking to it.
Sadly, Darla was concentrating on being ‘helpful’ so much that she didn’t notice it when a pale hand reached up from behind her and traced a glyph on the back of the mirror. However she did notice that the strange light had stopped shining, and she lowered the mirror to check out why. And she really noticed it when something hard came crashing down on her noggin, knocking her cold.
Kate reached down, took the Mirror of Tanith from the perky little vampette’s numb fingers and left the bronze copy in its place. Hopefully the little dingbat wouldn’t see any blood on it when she woke up and realize that it was what Kate had bopped her with. ‘This is what happens when you over-rely on strange powers and exotic weapons to protect you. You forget to WATCH YOUR BACK!’ Ito-soke’s voice said into her mind’s ear.
‘Okay, OKAY, I’ll TAKE BMA II, already, just get out of my head, you Pat Morita wannabe!’ Kate snarled back silently.
Kate wrapped herself and the Mirror of Tanith, which no longer interfered with her Erebeal powers, and moved through the shadow-paths with it. But something on the path tripped her as she slid over it, and she stumbled clumsily back into reality less than a hundred yards away from where she started. She sprawled to the ground on her face, barely managing to hold onto the mirror as she did so. She groaned, and just as she was about to ask, “What happened”, something powdered hit her square in the face. She inhaled some of it on sheer reflex, and her eyes widened as she recognized the acrid reek and the alkaline sting flooded her sinuses. “M-m-moly…” she groaned sickly as she felt her grip on the Erebeal forces slip, and the thick viscous forces began to run amok. She fought to regain control of the forces, even as her digestive tract rose up in rebellion. She barely noticed as a pair of black leather gloved hands reached down and took the mirror from her numb hands, even as she had done so from the little vampiress.
to be continued