Ill Winds (Part 6)
Ill Winds VI
With assists from the usual suspects, as always
Thursday December 6th
Mediwhila Were Reservation: Central Square
Their backs were, quite literally, to the wall. The defending weres had been pressed back from the perimeter of the town grudgingly, and slowly, but they were now at the end of possible withdrawals. There was nowhere else to pull back to.
Eloise Donner spared a look at the defenders -- her friends, family, and tribe with a mix of grief and pride. A surprising number had survived the continuous assaults from the enemy, but the number of wounded weres still stubbornly standing in the defensive ring was shocking.
“We won’t hold against another rush like that last one.” She quietly told Ben, her mate and battle companion. “The damned Voodoo Weres will overwhelm us like a tidal wave over a barrier of twigs unless some miracle comes to our rescue.”
“You got one ready to pull out?” Ben questioned tiredly taking advantage of the lull in the fighting to wrap a strip of cloth around a gash in one massive forearm.
“One.” Eli nodded grimly as she prepared herself for the coming ordeal that wasn’t a danger from their attackers. “I’m going to call it up, Ben.”
“Imalris?!!” He shook his head in disbelief. “No, Eli. We’ll manage to fight these things off somehow. Don’t pay that price for something that might not work at all.”
“My bloodline descends directly from Garrand.” She answered stonily while speaking of the near mythical chief of the original tribe that had settled the area they called home. “I’m the chief here, and have the right by that alone. The blood will make the calling even more compelling.”
“Eli, there has to be another way!” He protested.
Letting out a weary sigh, followed by a humorless chuckle, she gestured at the others around them. “We’re all at the point of exhaustion, my love. If you can find a viable alternative, tell me what it is now. These monsters will be able to break into the bunkers and even our children will be lost if we don’t stop them on this next attack.”
“I love you, too Ben.” Eloise smiled as one clawed hand gently ran down his cheek. “Now stand back and let me do what I have to here.”
Ben reluctantly did as his mate told him and watched with visible grief as Eloise made a cut in her own wrist and let the blood droplets be caught in the wind.
“Imalris!” Eloise shouted into the wind-blown snow. “By right of rule and blood I summon THEE! Garrand’s deadly fang and greedy claw, I pull you from the void! Answer my call with all Thy terrible might and majesty! Succor my people and take your price willingly given!”
Ben shuddered as one legend of his race, a bright and dark thing from the far distant past, was being called by his wife and lover.
“I command Thee, Imalris, claw, fang, and unbearable light!” Eloise continued as the snow roiled even more than mere wind could account for. “Honor the Covenent and answer my summons!”
“Eloise.” Ben sobbed as the air around her began to distort.
“I love you, Ben.” She softly replied with a sad smile. “Good bye. Gods be with you and our people. Tell them I love them, too.”
“They’ll know, my darling.” Ben answered in a choked voice. “They’ll always know.
Deadeye watched close to a ton of snow, and the heavy door leading to the tunnels out to Range Four erupt in a burst of scintillating green, blue, and gold. The snow actually melted for a moment even in the cold, but the massive door floated gently down and came to rest several feet away from the opening it covered.
“Magic users!” He shook his head then briefly watched as the group known to security as The Wild Bunch exploded out of the now open entry to the tunnel to assist the overwhelmed security detachment in the area and literally tore the attacking creatures to shreds . A small red headed figure looked around, nodded then shouted something to the others while moving her hands and shouting something into the air.
A wavering in the air, like a heat shimmer appeared in the air and The Wild Bunch, including his friends Bunker and Mule disappeared.
“What the Hell?” They had simply vanished along with that weird shimmer in the air. There were still plenty of targets, though. The pressure wasn’t nearly so strong as it had been, but there was work to do.
Deadeye let out a small sigh of worry for his friends, and the odd kids they’d attached themselves to, and started picking and killing targets.
Caitlin was far too busy to note the sudden appearance and just as sudden disappearance of the Wild bunch. Creatures that would even have made her metallic skin crawl had overrun her position and she was reduced to using her priceless sniper rifle as a club. The thirty pound weapon did impact the enemy with most satisfying effect. Claws, teeth, and hand held blades glanced off her hard flesh as the runes in her eyes blazed with the fury of combat… And something else.
Surrounded, with no way to retreat even had she felt the urge – which she didn’t, Caitlin continued clubbing, kicking, and snarling.
Bardue watched as the redheaded girl he was so concerned about opened some kind of portal in the air and urged the rest of The Wild Bunch into it. She spared him a glance before entering it herself, and her violet eyes were filled with fear. Not to mention a rage that would have daunted the Devil himself.
“We still have bad guys to fight!” He shouted to the rescued security people. “Worry about what you just saw later!”
He put emphasis to that by blasting one of the far less numerous monsters with a shot from his Mauser ten gauge shotgun. “Come on you worthless pieces of crap! You were rescued once, don’t make that something that has to happen again. Shoot the bastards!”
They listened, and the battle was rejoined, but this time they were firing at targets trying to fade into the storm.
An ancient entity bound to a form it had come to like, even glory in felt a half familiar tugging at its consciousness. Someone had called, and was willingly offering to pay the price. That wouldn’t be enough, the entity known as Imalris had not fed in millennia and was incredibly hungry. It answered the call joyfully in anticipation of a feeding like it had never taken before.
“IMALRIS!!” Eli screamed into the wind, her defiance and need so very clear to anyone close by. “I PAY THE PRICE!”
In answer a longsword cut with runes that flamed and coruscated with power appeared in her extended hand, along with sickly violet glow that enveloped her as she shouted. “Ben! Take the sword! Pick it up when I drop it!”
“Eli!” Ben screamed as his mate’s eyes rolled upwards and the clan chief crumpled to the ground in a lifeless heap.
“Use Imalris, Ben.” She gasped out as her eyes fluttered open and the light left them. “Don’t waste what I’ve given here.
In a rage of grief and loss the were bear took up the weapon his love had acquired at such a horrible cost, raised it defiantly in his hand and knew what to do. “Imalris! Scour the hellspawn from my sight! Leave none of them to trouble my people here!”
The sword in his upraised hand quivered, then with a sound that was nearly a sigh of satisfaction, exploded in an expanding sphere of blinding light that ate the voodoo were’s substance like an expanding pool of acid consuming anything around it.
As the attackers dissolved, or started to flee, Ben felt no triumph, only a choking grief.
“Oh, gods no!” Nikki screamed as an almost unbearable flash of light lit the wind driven snow to the point of being like the sun to look directly into. “MOVE all of you! Keep killing any of the Voodoo Wolves you see. I have something else to take care of!”
Sara nodded, aware that a POWER had been called and used. “GO! We’ll take care of the stragglers!”
Any Voodoo Wolf that got in Nikki’s way after that was simply consumed by the girl’s determination to reach the place that flash had come from. None could stand before an enraged Aunghadahail, and a terrified Nikki.
Malichim’s Feather dripping the noxious substance the voodoo wolves used for blood, Nikki fought her way to the center of the Were town to find a distraught Ben holding a sword in a hand that was losing its grasp. “Ben! How long ago did Imalris take her?!!”
“A few minutes ago, an hour, I don’t know.” The were answered with a shake of his head. “SHE told me to use IT, not to waste what she’d done.”
“You did use it, Ben. Her sacrifice wasn’t wasted. It saved your people.” Nikki gently told him as the hulking were bear broke into sobs. “Now you have to give Imalris to me.”
“Give – Imalris – to you?” Ben echoed with a question in his voice, then shook his head in denial. “NO. Eli gave her life for this thing, I won’t just hand it to you.”
“She gave her soul, Ben.” Nikki responded quietly but with a force that was far beyond a teen aged girl to possess. “Give the sword to me, and I may be able to get her back.”
“What Imalris takes, is never given back.” He answered while holding the sword away from her.
“It took too MUCH this time.” Aunghadhail answered as Nikki’s small form changed into the daunting Sidhe form she had shown the weres another time. “Give me the Sword, Ben. Or she will be eternally lost!”
“Power.” Ben shook his head while still keeping the blade out of her reach. Then sobbed. “And I feel her when I hold it. I won’t give that up!”
“Would you have her gone forever?” Aunghadhail questioned almost gently. “Imalris will consume her if you don’t do as I ask. Power is one thing, but at the expense of your beloved’s soul? Is it worth that? I may be able to save her, bring her back. BUT I NEED TO HOLD THE DAMNED SWORD TO DO THAT! Please, Ben. Give it to me. I ask this of you. Do you know what it costs one such as me to ask, to beg?”
Ben felt the exultant POWER in his hand. Imralis promised him an end to the threat of the Bastard’s minions, even to the Bastard himself. That certainty was reinforced by the pure power the sword held and could throw out. “I won’t waste what she did, Lady.”
“The waste would be in not allowing me to release your beloved’s soul, Ben.” Nikki answered softly. “Give me the sword. It will consume you too if you continue to wield it. It has no limits, no fears, no weaknesses. Save for ME.”
“I forged Imalris, and imbued it with its power.” A voice that held far more certainty than Nikki’s did, answered as the Sidhe woman the girl had become gave him an almost pitying look. “It is her only chance, Ben. Give me the sword.”
“Take it, why don’t you?” Ben asked with a little defiance in his voice while raising the sword to threaten her.
“You must GIVE it up, my friend.” Nikki answered in a voice that was so soft only he could hear it. “No one can take Imalris from you. But your love’s continued existence depends on whether you do or not. I can bring her back, Ben! Just give me the sword!”
Ben knew he could kill the imposing form that Nikki had taken in front of him. Imalris knew no limits, or respect for anyone but itself. But he sensed a quiver of uncertainty in the blade’s determination.
“Give me the blade, Ben.” She urged. “I can bring her back but time is short. Imalris devours souls. Give me the sword.”
Hesitant, still feeling the urge to make use of the weapon that had saved them at such a terrible cost, Ben finally tore his mind away from the seductive promises filling it with a wrench that nearly tore his own soul. The approaching madness faded from his eyes and he reversed the sword, offering its plain, leather wrapped hilt to the Sidhe standing before him. “Take it. Just... Just get her back, Lady.”
Nikki gave way to Aunghadhail as she reached to gently take Imalris from Ben's hands without a word. She immediately felt the blade's resistance to her touch and mental presence as the thing tried twisting out of her hand.
When that failed, images of power even she hadn't dreamed of flitted through her mind. Brushing those aside, she grimly held the thing at arm's length and set her will to the task at hand. “Imalris, you go beyond what you were made for. I forbade your taking an entire soul when you were forged in blood and fire. Return the one you've taken, I command it!”
Imalris fought the command, attempted to escape her grasp again, and sent a barrage of promises, threats, and finally pleas to a mind that paid attention to none of them.
“I made you.” She quietly told the thing. “To be a weapon meant to save the Weres, not subsume them. Return what you have wrongly taken or face the consequences, ancient one.”
It still resisted and Nikki added her own force of will to the confrontation. “I am your maker, Imalris. Do you think I cannot unmake you? Return the female or I will do just that. I swear it on my own true name!”
A gathering of weres and the remaining wild bunch formed a circle around the nearly silent conflict, warding the Sidhe from the still present Voodoo Weres, but no longer in danger of being overwhelmed. A pulsing blue-violet glow enveloped Nikki and the sword as the contest of powerful, ancient wills escalated.
In a place that wasn't a place in any sane sense of the word, Nikki found herself standing in front of the ravenous spirit that was the true power of Imalris. The amorphous shape solidified into the form of an imposing Sidhe Male and glared at the intruder. “You have no business here.”
“I do have business here, Imalris. You know why I've come.” She quietly answered. “Give up what you've wrongly taken.”
“I took my price, One time Queen.” The being responded with an unpleasant smile. “My needs have grown over time, as I have. I am beyond you now, leave me or I will prove it to you.”
“Are you?” Aunghadhail questioned with a lift of one eyebrow and a subtle gesture that invited her adversary to show her what he was talking about. “If that is so, why don't you simply eliminate me like the annoyance you are suggesting I am?”
“You are my creator.” Imalris responded. “Thus you deserve more respect than being given a negligent swat as if you were a mere insect.”
“I will not leave without what I came for.” Her own response was calm, but her violet eyes blazed with restrained power. “So either give the woman up, or swat me.”
“I have hungered for a long time, O Queen.” The being reformed into a shape that harked back to THE OLD ENEMY. “The tidbit I took already has barely whetted my appetite. Your soul would be sweet, little Sidhe. Very sweet, and filling, I think.”
“I ask you a third and last time, creature.” Aunghadhail lifted her chin and began weaving a spell. “Give up what you have wrongfully taken.”
“I take what I am given.” The thing growled. “And never give it back. You were foolish to come here over a mere were, the days of your power are gone. The days of mine are just beginning.”
What light there was in the not-place winked out and the thing chuckled evilly. “I have no need of sight to subsume you, faded queen. I can smell, and taste your presence.”
Light flared in response to the darkness with a booming concussion of noise that had the small pocket of a dimension shaking to its core and at its center stood Aunghadhail revealed in all her considerable power. She gave her erstwhile adversary a thin smile. “You have gained masterful control of this small reality, I will give you that. But do you forget that I also made this place when I made you? Do you really think parlor tricks will overawe me?”
The creature, construct, thing that was Imalris reared with a roar and battered at his creator with heavy, clawed hands that should have shredded her magics and her soul. He howled in triumph as the blows struck home, rending his target and pulling some of HER into himself.
“You have grown far beyond what you should have been.” Aunghadhail stood unmoved as the wounds on her face and body closed then faded without even a trace of ever having been there. “Yes, you have grown, Imalris. Into a ravening thing that is evil as what it was made to fight. Your greed is your downfall, child of my mind and soul. Now feel my true power.”
Imalris stopped another strike at her face in mid-swing though obviously trying to complete that action. Its roars of frustration and fear shook the small pocket of reality they were in.
She allowed it to struggle for a few moments then almost sadly shook her head. “You should never have been made. Or left in this place once Garrand passed from the world. I was remiss in that and apologize to the once noble spirit you were. But as makings have their time, so do unmakings.”
In a whisper that still managed to be thunderous, the Queen of the West and paramount of The Nine commanded. “Imalris. I, by my true name command thee! Give up what you have wrongfully taken! I who made thee demand obedience.”
Tendrils of mist began to hesitantly leave the creature's body, becoming firmer and rushing like a mountain stream on a downhill slope. The mist formed into a cohesive sphere that glowed weakly with life before taking the oddly translucent form of a woman staring in bewilderment at what she was seeing.
“Eloise Donner.” Aunghadhail greeted the still wavering form. “Come to me, dear. This is over now. It is time to return to your people.”
“I made the bargain.” Eli vaguely recalled that, and the searing agony that came once it had been struck. “I am the price of saving my people. I can't come with you, Lady.”
“The Price was a tiny portion of your soul that would renew in time, child.” Aunghadhail answered softly with a shake of her head. “Not your entire being and self. Come, this place is not meant for your kind. I'll take you back to where you belong.”
“I can't.” Eli started to cry softly, with grief and pain. “Imalris won't give me up. I can't leave now, or ever.”
“Imalris has given you up, Eli.” Aunghadhail answered quietly as she turned to watch the diminished specter that had earlier tried to threaten and terrify her then to devour her spirit and soul.
“Begone, Imalris.” She spoke clearly, with no little sorrow in her voice. “I release you to return from whence you were called. In time, perhaps, your wounds will heal as well. Go with my blessings, and my remorse for what was done to you, child of my soul. I won't ask you to forgive what I did when I made you, nor will I ever forgive myself. Rest now. It is time for that.”
The creature shuddered, slowly dissolving into a mist shot with motes of brilliant light and color. The mist faded and finally, slowly, as if reluctant to leave, so did the whirling mass of pinpoint lights.
“Be at peace, Imalris.” Aunghadhail watched the now empty air where her berserk creation had been then sighed as she held out a hand to the other left in what had once been home and prison for the being just released. “Come, Eloise. It's over and your loved ones, your people, await your return to them. You did save them, and gave me opportunity to save another who did not deserve what had been done to them. Come home with me child. This is no fit place for either one of us.”
Their hands joined, and the pair vanished. Once they had, the pocket of stability within pure chaos shrank into itself until nothing at all was left.
Nikki came back to the reality of the were town to see a circle of faces watching, and others watching outwards. A small stuttering gasp, followed by a raggedly loud exhalation caught Ben's attention and he whirled towards the source of the sounds. “Eli!”
A gasp of surprised joy was the general reaction when the other weres turned to see Ben cradling the still unmoving, but breathing form of his mate. The big were bear looked up at Aunghadhail, still in her Sidhe form, and bowed his head in respect though that served to also hide the tears brimming in his eyes for a moment. “You brought her back, Lady.”
“Yes, and don't worry, she'll be fine in week or so, just tired and a little weak for a time as her soul regenerates what it has lost.” The Sidhe Queen of times past looked at Ben, then to Eli. “What she did took more courage than most could have shown.”
“Desperation tends to breed courage, Lady.” Ben answered quietly.
“True enough.” Aunghadhail nodded then quietly went on. “Trust me when I say I know that from long and bitter experience. Things were made during the ancient war your forbears helped fight born out of sheer desperation. Things that shouldn't have been created at all, or allowed to continue existing once their purpose was served. Imalris was one of those things, an unformed spirit melded with a blade to give it shape and focus its power.
“You saw what that blade was capable of, in two ways.” The Elven woman let out a weary sigh. “Though it was meant to only sip at its caller, and wielder's soul for the power required to do what it was made for. I erred in its making, and a soul devouring THING was the end result of my own arrogance and desperation in those times. Great Souled Garrand was able to control it, curb its worst excesses and appetites. Eons in isolation since Garrand's passing made the thing truly insane. I ask your forgiveness, Ben, for loosing such a thing on the world.”
“Forgiveness for something done in a war that was so long ago only a very few beings even remember anything about it other than it involved forces, powers, and beings that most people living today couldn't imagine or comprehend if they did?” Ben shook his head. “No matter what Imalris is, the weapon you forged so long ago has done what it was meant to – saved our people. I have no right to judge you, Lady, or the times that caused you to make such a thing. No one alive has that right.”
“Except me.” She nodded with a halfway wistful smile then looked at the sword still in her right hand. Reversing it so the hilt was offered, she nodded at him. “Take it. You've earned the right to use it.”
“I want nothing to do with that thing, Lady.” Ben shook his head. “You may have tamed it for now, but how long will that last? No better you took it well away from the sight of the living.”
“That, Ben, was the biggest mistake I made with Imalris.” Aunghadhail shook her head and again offered the thing to him. “But Imalris is gone, I set that one free when I recovered Eloise. It will not return.
This.” She shrugged while examining the blade. “Is nothing more than a sword. Albeit one that is magically imbued to be more than a mere blade. It is not sentient any longer. Simply a weapon I forged long ago for a well loved friend. It will never again show the power it did earlier today. That kind of power and its cost is far too perilous for this world as it is now. It does have a fine edge, and is nearly without equal as a blade alone in the present. Please, honor me by agreeing to carry it. On my True Name, there is no more harm in this weapon for anyone beyond what a well made blade can give.”
'All right.” Ben carefully accepted the sword then closed his eyes for a moment realizing that the seductive promises of power he had barely fought off earlier were gone. He offered a smile, and nodded. “I will be honored to have such a fine weapon from your hand, Lady, thank you.”
She only nodded with a smile in response as her form shrank back to what was normal for Nikki, and the girl let out a long breath as she looked around. “Now that was something I'd rather not do again.”
“Nikki?” Toni questioned while giving her friend a careful looking over. “You've been kind of weird lately, but that one tops anything else I've ever seen. Are you okay?”
“Tired.” The elf girl grinned and widened her eyes a bit. “But yes, I'm okay.”
Grinning at Ben, and a lightly stirring Eloise she affirmed what her alter ego had said earlier. “She'll be fine, Ben. A little rest, some time for her soul to heal is all that would be, and she'll be good as new, or maybe better. Aunghadhail gave something of herself, and me, to her in that place we went to bring her back from.”
“You let that Ghost give part of you away?” Toni almost screeched once she'd heard that.
“She isn't a ghost, Toni, you know that. And I didn't let her, I helped her do it.” Nikki countered.
“Elves.” Toni muttered. “What can you do with 'em?”
“Love them.” Sara shrugged then grinned at Nikki. “At least this one.”
Rolling her eyes, Nikki surveyed the surroundings, and shook her head. “Imalris was powerful. I don't sense another Voodoo Were within miles of here now.”
“Umm, Nikki, much as I hate to mention this...” Toni put in quietly. “You were in such a hurry to get here from where we showed up that you just kind of plowed a huge swath through the ones that were left around.”
“Yes!” almost everyone in the Wild Bunch chorused.
“Aunghadhail helped.” She grumped then turned to peer in the direction of Whateley. “Crap, there's still some pretty heavy fighting at the campus.”
“Could you maybe provide some sick bags for the trip back?” Jericho questioned innocently. “Some of us almost turned ourselves inside out on that last little jaunt.”
“Use your pockets.” Nikki shot back with a smirk then waved another portal into being before turning to Ben and the remaining weres. “I'm really sorry for your losses today, but more people I care about are losing people they care for right now. Sorry about the abrupt exit, all.”
With that, the portal actually moved forwardto engulf the Whateley kids without more than tickling and ruffling the fur of the weres in the vicinity.
“A selective portal.” A weak voice said in wonder as the kids winked out of sight. “You know, that girl is getting to be very, very scary.”
Ben looked down at an awakened Eloise and grinned his joy, then nodded. “At least she's on our side.”
“There is that.” Eloise agreed, let Ben kiss her, then fell back into sleep.
No longer under siege, the weres began the grim business of counting their dead, caring for the wounded, and dispatching any of the Bastard's minions showing the least sign of life.
Caitlin had long ago given up trying to count the enemies she had faced. Even her reserves were flagging under the onslaught of creatures. Something at the back of her mind, in memories that weren't actually hers was screaming about abominations and drove her to fight even harder. The shotgun was emptied out, all her ammunition expended, and the stock had broken against one of the skulls she'd slammed with it. She used the jagged remnants of it as an improvised spear to impale another attacker.
Her prized, and deadly sniper rifle had degenerated into a thirty pound club she used with the other hand to crush skulls, limbs and torsos.
On the other hand, the attackers were having no luck at all against her. Their claws and teeth broke on Caitlin's metallic flesh, their venom couldn't penetrate that skin, and their strength was shrugged aside by this opponent who was demonstrably more insane than they were.
When Caitlin reduced herself to biting the things back, they broke and ran.
Deadeye had long ago run through the sizable selection of rounds for his sniper rifle, and still had more targets to shoot at. Shrugging, he aimed the grenade launcher loaded with incendiary loads, and started cutting loose with that.
Bardue blinked then looked again as The Wild Bunch reappeared scant seconds after they'd disappeared. The redhead, Nikki Reilly looked tired, but far from out of it as she shrugged and shouted. “Sorry, had an emergency to deal with there. It's fixed. Now let's kick some Voodoo Wolf ass!”
With the exception of the demon girl, Sara Waite, the rest of the group appeared a little disoriented for a few seconds, shook their heads, universally gave the elf girl a look of both amazement and fear, then readied themselves to help repel a new attack mounted by the invaders.
“What was that all about?” Bardue questioned no one in particular, then decided the answer would wait as the next wave of the things the Reilly girl had called Voodoo Wolves began to break over the rock that was his people's defensive emplacement.
There would be time enough for speculations and questions later. Provided he and his troops, including the startlingly effective Wild Bunch, survived the present battle.
“I KNOW we were gone longer than a few seconds!” Jericho tried to get his very capable mind around the idea that they had gone through almost two hours since they had first erupted from the tunnel, and that a Voodoo Wolf he had shot just before they had been pulled into Nikki's portal to help the weres was still falling when they returned.
“It's Nikki!” The black martial artist Chaka, Toni, answered as she centered herself for more fighting and held her gleaming Khukri in a two handed grip at shoulder level. “Give up trying to figure it out. I've been trying since I met her at the start of school and still haven't managed to do it! Just go with it and don't ask questions that'll only give you a headache.”
Sighing, Jericho nodded as he recharged his weapon. “Yeah, I'm beginning to see that. Figuratively, of course.”
“Hah!” Toni countered as she lunged to meet the charge of a Voodoo Wolf in the enemy vanguard. “I got you figured out, blind boy. You see better than most norms or mutants!”
“Just don't spread it around, okay?” Jericho pleaded as he targeted and obliterated four of the attackers. “It would really mess with my rep as a klutz, you know.”
“Don't – worry – your – secret – is – safe – with – me!” Toni replied between lunges, dives, twists and other moves that were nearly impossible to describe. “Wow! I wonder how much more damage I could do to these things with my mithril blade instead of this one!”
Sam Everhart emerged from the tunnels into a chaos that was unnervingly uncharacteristic for Whately's security forces. The comm center was a jumble of dismantled consoles, wiring, and techs furiously working to get equipment that was supposed to be tamper and jamming proof to function at all.
That one. Hive indicated a still intact piece of equipment. Get me in contact with that one and I can reopen communications with the outside world.
Sam moved forward, bowling over an unfortunate tech who was heading for the same console, and set her hands on its surface.
Booting emergency communications protocols. Hive intoned as tendrils of the nanite driven mind inhabiting Sam penetrated the security firewalls of the console and then the entire center. Sending distress calls to ARC, Darpa, and the MCO.
That had taken an entire five seconds for Hive to manage. Which meant that something had royally screwed with Whateley's communications.
Responses incoming. Hive informed its host. ARC, and DARPA are dispatching relief forces. MCO is not committing as of yet.
“Oh, BIIG surprise on that last one.” Sam muttered then called out. “Let Delarose know that help is on the way! I got in contact with ARC and DARPA and they're sending in fast response teams now. ETA, ten minutes!”
“There you are.” Sir Wallace Westmont unconsciously showed his teeth in a feral grin as his probes found the knot or whirling wrongness that was driving a natural snowstorm to unnatural levels of ferocity. He reflexively recoiled with a gasped out. “Gods!”
Instead of daunting him, the intensity of evil he felt, the sheer malevolence in that contact drove him to more effort, and greater strength than he had ever managed before.
Ignoring the revulsion and hind brain bred animal terrors the knot of intense blackness roused he fought off mental tendrils seeking to ensnare his mind – and soul – to find the center of the horrific knot. Once he had, a lance of brightness more pure in its essence than anything he'd managed before parted the one binding knot that held all that malice and evil together.
“Someone is going to die over this.” Westmont shook his head as the darkness recoiled from his surgical strike at its heart and rebounded to where it came from with enough force to knock him back from the simple backwash. What happened where it originated didn't bear thinking about at all.
The back blast from the collapse of the driving force making this particular storm into a blizzard that would become known as one of the worst in a century knocked Westmont to the floor in a slight daze.
But the storm returned to being a normal meteorological event.
Satisfied in a way he'd never quite experienced before in a long, difficult life filled with hazards, Westmont allowed himself to smile. “Keep your bloody chin up after that one, you bastard.”
Spent, he finally gave in to the demand of his abused body and mind slipping gratefully into unconsciousness.
Sara was busy watching Nikki's back. It was clear that whatever had happened with that peculiar sword, Imalris, had drained her blood sister's strength dangerously. Or at least enough that Sara could see how the young Shide was hesitating just that fraction of a second that could make the difference between standing and being a casualty of this particular dustup.
Chou, as usual in a fight of any kind lately, was flitting around different parts of the battle and adding her strategic bits to those, moved up long enough to part several tentacles reaching for Nikki's back from some of the Voodoo Wolves that Sara had somehow missed. The Asian girl gave the elf a critical look with narrowed eyes, then nodded to Sara before flitting away to yet another part of the fight.
Somehow, Sara knew Chou had seen Nikki’s potential weakness, and that Sara was taking care that the bad guys didn’t exploit it – all within the few seconds her gaze rested on the pair. Ripping another of the bad guys into small pieces and absorbing it she muttered “Going to have to really watch that one. She’s growing a lot stronger in using the TAO, it seems.”
Putting that out of her mind for the time being, she continued her self imposed task of being Nikki’s bodyguard.
Mule and Bunker had gone into their usual fire and support routine, this time being very sure that they allowed none of the Voodoo Wolves to get close enough to use either their claws or teeth.
“Didn’t we get back here just a second or so after we left?” Bunker asked as she fired another incendiary grenade at a clump of the nasties.
“Looks that way to me.” Mule answered while taking the head off an attacker that was getting too close with a blast of his shotgun before switching back to his beloved automatic weapon and hosing down another clump of the enemy.
“Should I ask how that happened?” Bunker questioned while targeting and firing at another bunch of the bad guys.
“Probably better not to do that just now, Andi.” Mule responded while changing a spent magazine. “Nikki cleaned up that mess we left the first time we ran into these things with a few waves of her hand. Then did whatever it was to get that were woman back. I don’t think she could really explain how she does it to anyone, let alone a pair of grunts who’re just getting used to working alongside magic.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to working alongside magic if that’s the kind of thing it can do all the time.” Bunker grunted while firing at another group of the enemy that was getting much too close for comfort.
The attackers slowly started to falter, then finally withdrew from the school’s perimeter grudgingly, and in good order. But they were pulling back, that was clear enough after a few more minutes to everyone among the hastily assembled defense force that had been fighting to protect the school and everyone in it.
Bardue watched the forest beyond his own position for a few minutes then nodded. “I think it’s over for now.”
“They’ll be back.” Nikki Reilly, appearing to be very tired and almost in danger of losing her balance enough to fall to the snow covered ground answered quietly. “They really hurt the Weres today, enough so that our neighbors will have plenty to handle simply defending what they have left. Whateley is the last really dangerous point in this part of the country for the Bastard’s slaves to take out.”
“Then we’ll have to make sure they don’t succeed.” Bardue responded with a tired sigh of his own and a muttered. “Sometimes I think I’m getting too old for this kind of crap.”
“I know what you mean.” The Sidhe girl nodded wearily then sank to the ground in an exhausted heap. “But we don’t have a lot of choices here, Gunny.”
“No, we don’t.” He grimly replied then glared at the girl and her companions. “And I want to know just what in Hell all of you were thinking when you charged into a fire zone without warning everyone else! We could have killed you. Are you aware of that? All of you? Bunker, Mule! You’re supposed to know better! Ms. Reilly you’d better learn to know better really fast, you aren’t impervious to friendly fire no matter how powerful you are. Got that all of you?”
“Sir! Yes, SIR!” Bunker and Mule caroled out. Nikki nodded slowly and blushed. “Yes, Gunny, I understand.”
“Then learn from this, girl.” Bardue quietly told her. “Don’t make that mistake again. It could get you and your friends killed by people who are on your side.”
The others in the wild bunch, shuffled feet, looked down and the blood spattered snow, and quietly responded in a ragged chorus. “Yes, sir, Gunny.”
“On another note, kids.” Bardue grinned. “Well done, all of you. I’ve rarely seen a small unit attack that walloped a larger force so effectively, and thanks for pulling our asses out of the fire there. But I expect to see every one of you in the Sims at 0500 tomorrow morning for some real combat tactical training. That’s five A.M. to you non-military types, by the way, and we’ll be doing that for the foreseeable future until you knuckleheads get it right. Got that? Absences, without an excuse like death, will result in detention like none of you ever imagined and that includes you two, Bunker and Mule.”
There were groans in response, but no protests or arguments about that from the Wild Bunch.
Bardue nodded with an evil grin. “Good. Now go get warmed up, cleaned up, fed, and get some sleep. You’re going to need it, trust me.”
Somewhere in the Sierra Madres
The being now known as The Bastard, was pleased with his latest foray against the intransigent easterners. Those troublesome weres had been pretty much eliminated as a really effective fighting force for the time being, and the defenses of that Old One’s accursed school had been pushed to near breaking before the attack had been withdrawn. The dual attack had largely been successful in its aim to keep those two allies from joining and the cost, though high against both the weres and the school, had been bearable.
And now, for all practical purposes, Whateley stood alone.
“Breathe now, little mortals.” He grinned ferally while setting a black claw against the small red circle in New Hampshire that represented that school filled with troublesome, but potentially helpful sports from the Humans now controlling most of the world. “Rest. Relax. Once you have…”
The wickedly sharp, venom crusted claw tore the tiny circle out of the map. “You will be mine, or dead.”
“And I have such fine plans for you.” He hissed as a wave of one misshapen hand brought up an image of the emergent Sidhe Queen. “All you love will be devoured or corrupted beyond recognition, and I promise that you will live to see the coming of my masters. They will feed off your anguish for eternity, little queen.”
The attackers had broken off the assault, and were quickly vanishing through darkly seething portals. Delarose activated his comm once he was certain the danger was past. “All units, stand down. Repeat, Stand Down. Move to Yellow alert and keep your eyes open all.”
Damn! First that Halloween fiasco, now this. He thought while consciously pushing down the pure rage that both events kindled in his mind and spirit. I don’t care what those mofos are, or who is behind them, there is no way I’m going to allow them to hurt these kids if I have to die to make sure of that.
The people he had with him, security all, mirrored his shocked and grim determination in their own individual ways. Franklin Delarose was proud of his People for that, and knew that this monster called The Bastard would pay dearly for any more encroachments on HIS school.
Manmade thunder reverberated through the air as he looked up to see at least twenty dropships, and a myriad of individual drop capsules arcing towards the school. Shaking his head with a grimace that could have been interpreted as a bitter smile, he said. “Now you show up!”
Susannah Haggerty, shaking off the few combats she’d had with the attackers during the storm, entered Sir Wallace Westmont’s office with a heavy sigh. That was cut short when she saw the man prone on the floor. It took a careful examination to find that he was still breathing.
“Wallace!” She yelled, trying to wake him and when that didn’t work, she grabbed the phone – working by then, and called local emergency services then wondered what the man had done to get himself into this state.
Circe forcefully shook herself out of the fugue she had been in after working to shore up the magical shields around the school. Whatever had hit them was powerful beyond almost anything she recalled from a long, interesting life.
“I’ll have to talk to Fey about this one.” She whispered, knowing that Nikki Reilly wasn’t the one she wished to question and wondering if that formidable spirit would be forthcoming with any useful information.
Miss Grimes, it seemed that only a few people on Earth actually knew her first name let alone dared use it, collected her bruised and scattered wits once the attack ceased and started to refurbish, and even rebuild some of the magical shields around Whateley.
“You won’t have such an easy time of it when you come back, you bastards.” She whispered while adding more than a few nasty little additions to the shields she was putting back up.
Amanda Chulkris, aka Earth Mother, shuddered at the things she’d felt during the attack, and swore to herself that the Earth she was in such intimate contact with would fight the things when they returned. The Earth answered her requests and for once didn’t balk at her demands.
No one among the Whateley staff, or students privy to things most of the classes weren’t allowed to know, was at all uncertain that there would be another attack on the school, and that it would happen soon.
Mediwhila Were Reservation
“Eli.” Ben gently shook Eloise awake from her healing sleep with regret clear in his eyes, but excitement just as clear in his expression.
“What, dear one?” Still very tired from nearly losing her soul, Eli gave her mate a weak smile and a questioning lift of her eyebrows.
“Our scouts from out west have come back.” Ben answered almost gleefully. “With over a thousand survivors of the tribes from the west they led through Canada to get here. They all want to see you, my love.”
“How many?” Eli questioned, not believing what she’d heard. “And all veterans of fighting The Bastard?”
“Over a thousand.” Ben told her again and grinned. “And yes, every one of them from elder to cub, has survived fighting The Bastard’s minions.”
“Make them welcome, my love.” Eli grinned, full of an energy she had wondered if she would ever feel again. “I’ll be out to greet them formally once I get cleaned up and presentable.”
“Need some help with that?”
“Get your furry ass out there, Ben.” Eloise grinned. “I can shower and change clothes without help for this.”
Whateley, somewhere between Poe and Hawthorn Cottages
The door to the Lovecraft Room actually came when she called it this time instead of making her search for it. Nikki repressed a shudder about what that meant, while being pleased at the results she had with a lot of things since doing the Blood Oath with Sara.
It even opened without her knocking or telling it who she was.
“Hi sis.” Sara’s voice floated out of the semi-darkness beyond the doorway. “Come on in and talk. I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Then you know what I need to talk about, don’t you?” Nikki questioned without really thinking she needed to answer that as she easily walked into a room that would usually daunt the most intrepid of adventurers.
“Of, course, hon.” Sara answered. “Come on in and get comfortable before we start, it’s been a rough day.”
“That’s an understatement.” Nikki returned with a sigh. “Not only do I have to work on turning back an attack by the Bastard’s misbegotten spawn, I have to destroy an artifact that Aunghadhail made to fight that kind of thing.”
“You saved Eloise when you did that.” Sara pointed out.
“But part of me made that thing in the first place.” The young Sidhe sighed. “How can I justify making such a horrible thing with being a legitimate opposition to the Bastard when Imalris seems almost as bad as the enemy?”
“Perspective, Nikki.” Sara gently held her blood sister and gave her a soft hug. “Desperate times, desperate measures. And evidently, Garrand had the personal force and strength of soul to keep the thing from getting out of hand.”
“It should have been destroyed when Garrand died.” Nikki countered. “The thing was sentient for the god’s sake, and hungering for souls to feed it. Isolating a sentient being, no matter what it was, in a pocket universe without contact with any kind of reality is almost as much of a crime as what the Bastard does.”
“It took some time, sis.” Sara answered softly while running a hand through Nikki’s thick red hair. “But when the ability was finally present, you remedied that problem. You set that tortured being free and let it go home.”
“But all those years, those eons! Nikki closed her eyes as if to avoid the horror and pain of seeing that. “How could Aunghadhail have even made such a thing in the first place?”
“What does she tell you about that?” The Sidhe/Daemon Princess questioned softly.
“Nothing!” Nikki spat out. “Aung won’t talk about it at all.”
“Dad tells me things back then were hard, and cruel.” Sara told her sister and gave her another hug. “Both sides created weapons that would have been better left not made at all, and used them. The Sundering was one of those, Imalris another. Those weren’t the only ones, either, hon. Some of those are still out there waiting for some fool to try and use them. Imalris was tame compared to a lot of the other things that are still out there waiting to be found.”
“Stop, dear.” Sara stroked Nikki’s tense, quivering back. “You did what was needed, freed two souls, and Imalris did save the weres. Maybe that’s what it was made for in the beginning. Shidhe mages often took a view so long that other races rose from savagery and died out before the ultimate aim was reached.”
“I won’t argue that.” Nikki answered in a small voice. “I’ll get that handled pretty soon, I suppose, I’ll have to. But for now… Just hold me, okay?”
“Sure, sis.” Sara smiled and wrapped her arms, and numerous tentacles, gently around her improbable sister and just held the shaking girl. “I’ll be here for as long as you need me.”
A fastness in the Sierra Madres
The troublesome weres in the northeast, though still formidable if attacked, were no longer an issue given the casualties they had taken during the last attack. They would be in no position to bulwark that thrice damned school if another push was made soon.
The Bastard marshaled his forces, stared into the crystal globe that gave him at least a murky view of one particular spot in the Presidential Mountains of New Hampshire, and let his gathered commanders know the planned strategy and tactics for the next attack.
This time, he was certain he would eliminate the embarrassment of a bunch of children balking his plans.
Events were set in motion. Soon, he thought, Whateley Academy would cease to be anything other than a haunted ruin among so many other such places in that area.
Continued in Ill Winds part VII