8FOLD: Mancers/Daylighters: Brave New World (2/3)
joltcity at gmail.com
Fri Jul 10 06:42:22 PDT 2020
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|___/ |___/ [8F-206] [PW-50]
BRAVE NEW WORLD
II. WITH SALT AND BLOOD
The crack of thunder opens Kate's eyes, and she groans. It's the
middle of the night. She's dead tired, and just wants to go back to
sleep. Fat chance; the rain is pounding quick and heavy against the
window. She rolls over anyway, closing her eyes.
And then, in the same way that one might suddenly remember an
appointment after sleeping in, Kate remembers. An exhilarating jolt of
panic accompanies the sudden jumbled rush of stolen memory. Everything
that Claire thought she'd need is there. Kate can remember parts of it
in isolation when she focuses on them specifically, but her
understanding of the whole is vague and hazy. It's like trying to play
a piece from memory after hearing it once: she remembers bits and she
has a general idea of how it's supposed to sound, but there are gaps
and imperfections. Unless you're Mozart.
"And I'm no Mozart," she mutters to herself. "I need sheet music."
Sheet music, and sleep. If Claire was telling the truth, she was
awake for a couple of years before her little nap, and that nap
probably wasn't more than a couple of hours. It was enough to get word
to Beth Collins.
That was only part of Claire's plan. Kate has more on her to-do
list, but she's crashing real hard. Hard to think, let alone stand.
Maybe if she drank a couple hundred cups of coffee she might be able
to keep her eyes open long enough to do the next part.
Failing that, though, there was a spell she had skimmed during the
world's weirdest cram session that might do the trick. Some of the
trickier rituals take hours or even days to perform, and in
preparation for that the caster might cast this small enchantment to
defer the limitations of the human mind and body for the duration.
Being that she couldn't sleep on that side of the mirror, she didn't
bother trying that one out. And unfortunately, just as she's no
Mozart, she's also no Claire Belden: she needs the notes in front of
her to play the music, and she needs the book to cast the spell.
From out of the mirror the grimoire gingerly tosses itself onto the
bed. Kate snaps her fingers and the book opens, turning its own pages.
It's a simple spell indeed, simple enough and useful enough to be
worth permanently remembering. After casting it, a fully alert and
mildly buzzed Kate tears out the page and eats it. It dries up her
mouth and throat like a heap of cinnamon, making it difficult to
breathe and swallow. Once she forces it back, it slides hot and liquid
into her belly.
Kate looks at the door connecting Claire's bedroom to the rest of
the apartment. She closes the door, takes a breath, and opens it
again, stepping out into the Cradle Tech facility hallway.
David and Bethany take up positions under a tree a few yards from the
wall. The bare branches don't provide any respite from the rain. It
comes down in cold, blinding sheets. David thinks it's not so much a
question of whether or not the bad guys will see them, but whether or
not they'll be able to see the bad guys. His clothes are completely
soaked through; even the tiny girl hanging out in his shirt pocket is
getting deluged. Involuntarily, David remembers the time a few hundred
years back when he was a lady pirate and her ship was destroyed in a
violent storm. A flash of the necromancer's red teeth brings him back
to the present.
Bethany doesn't seem to mind the rain as much. The domino mask has
clear lenses, keeping the water out of her eyes if not her field of
vision. And whatever material her skintight costume is made of - it's
not actually spandex - doesn't seem to get soaked through in the same
It's more than that, though. It's the way she carries herself, the
quiet confidence that David will never have, the stoic
professionalism, the steely resolve. He feels like she could be in the
path of a hurricane and she would still stand her ground. He feels
like maybe she's done it, like maybe the hurricane took one look at
her and had second thoughts.
"Would you mind not staring?" she asks.
"Sorry," he blurts out, suddenly panicked and awkward. "I've just
never, uh. I didn't mean to."
"Chill," she commands. "I don't think you're a perv or anything.
People stare at us a lot. Comes with the costume. Doesn't mean you
ever get used to it." She smiles to herself. "I still remember when I
used to stare at them. But I need you focused on the job, okay?"
"Okay." David wants to explain, wants to tell her that it's not
about being in awe of her or anything. It's just knowing that
everything she is, he's not; it's being acutely aware of his own
inadequacy and indecisiveness. But that's hardly going to inspire
confidence, and so he leaves all that unsaid, and waits for the
Rain is as easy as breathing, and thunder as natural as the blood
pulsing in her veins, but wind: wind is something else entirely,
something Maile cannot control. She can barely create it, not
consciously anyway. It's something that comes with the rain, and the
bigger her storm, the more violent its whirling temper. She needs it
good and angry.
With the lightning, she can call her shots when she wants to: hit
that spot, there, exactly, and that's exactly where it will strike.
With the wind, all she can do is plead and cajole and cross her
She crosses them now.
It's moving in the right direction, whipping the rain so fast that
it almost comes down horizontal against the stone walls surrounding
the building. It's fast enough to pull the blinking stoplight from its
wire. Improbably, it lands on Bethany's windshield, cracking it (Klutz
winces, looking guilty).
And it's fast enough to wrench the old gate free from its hinges.
Maile rushes in, using a few well-placed thunderclaps to scatter
the guards. If she was sure that these were Company men, she'd have
cooked their brains with direct strikes to the head. Since she can't
be sure, she opts for side flashes and step voltage. Some of the
guards scramble out of the way, and others are knocked out. Assuming
they're reasonably healthy, the chance of heart attack or respiratory
failure from being electrocuted by these indirect strikes is pretty
The guards that managed to jump clear know this is way above their
pay grade, and don't even bother trying to put up a fight. They do,
however, call for backup, and backup comes running out of the building
"Five to three," says Pill. She sets Maile up: "Hardly seems fair."
Maile takes the bait. "For them." Though if Caracalla has any kind
of brain for tactics, this is just the first wave. "Anybody you
Klutz squints. "Dust Devil. She flies, spins around like a cyclone."
"Any other fliers?" With the wind to their backs and the blinding
rain flying in the faces of their opponents, Maile's squad has a
tactical advantage for as long as they can keep the Hotspurs in front
of them. The minute one of the Hotspurs circles around to their rear,
they'll have to turn into the wind and rain to defend themselves.
Holding that advantage for as long as possible is key here, and fliers
especially threaten that.
"I don't think so," says Klutz, "but I only know three of the five.
Head Cannon, shoots beams out of his forehead. And that's Vampiro,
he's a vampire." 
They're getting closer now. Maile starts laying down some lightning
blasts, breaking up their formation. Dust Devil pirouettes into the
sky, pulling the rain into her spiral.
"A vampire?" says Pill, taking aim with a wand. Something cold and
blue leaps into the air, but her target darts out of its path. "And
he's a good guy?"
"Well, not right now, he isn't," says Klutz.
One of the figures stops running toward them - Head Cannon. A
narrow burst of orange light stretches through the rain, turning each
drop into a prism, before it pounds into the stone wall behind them
with a heavy crash. Maile throws a glance over her shoulder: yep,
punched right through it, definitely don't want to be on the receiving
end of that.
So of course he's looking right at her. She scrambles out of the
way, throwing down a couple quick bolts of lightning to distract him.
She's about to tell Pill to take him out, but Pill's already got her
hands full with Vampiro.
Pill throws some blinding powder in his eyes, then scurries away.
"Spoiler alert," she says, almost out of breath, "none of my
anti-vampire stuff is working."
Maile's about to say something pithy when one of the unknown heroes
runs toward her carrying a huge flipping hammer in both of his brawny
hands. When he's only about ten feet away, he screams something
appropriately Shakespearean and leaps toward her.
But he doesn't quite get there, slipping on the muddy grass face
first. His hammer flies out of his grip, landing a few feet away. Pill
is quick to capitalize on this, knocking him out with a quick blast of
the wand. (Maile wonders for a moment what saved her bacon here:
catastrophic probability, or just the fact that the ground gets muddy
in a storm.)
There's a sudden gust of wind which feeds into Dust Devil's
miniature cyclone. It picks up the hammer, which quickly climbs up the
twister and conks her on the head. She wavers and wobbles in the air,
herky-jerky, and then quickly spirals down to the ground landing on
top of Head Cannon.
(Well, thinks Maile, that answers that question.)
That would be three down, two to go, only Maile can see four more
costumed figures exiting the building. Now's as good a time as any,
she supposes, and so she gives the signal.
When the storm becomes a blizzard, David knows it's time. He makes his
way to the stone wall. Bethany follows, and he gives her a leg up. She
pulls herself over the top, and then disappears.
David takes a few steps back, and then digs into the memories of
one of his ancestors. He doesn't focus on any one single moment, but
rather a lifetime of training, practice, and muscle memory. He holds
onto it, holds his breath along with it, and then runs toward and up
the side of the wall, catching the top of it with his hands before
gravity does its work.
Unfortunately the ancestor who did this was about a hundred pounds
lighter, and in much better shape. With some straining, David manages
to pull himself up onto the wall as far as his elbows.
"Are you alright?" Bethany whispers.
"Yes," wheezes David, throwing his leg up onto the wall.
"Be careful," hisses Cal in his pocket.
Half a minute later he's managed to land more-or-less on his feet.
"Alright," says Bethany, throwing a quick and uneasy glance toward
the battle raging off in the distance. "Let's do this thing."
As Kate rounds the corner, she hears a scream and a whimper somewhere
in the distance, faint and terrible like a whisper. She isn't quite
sure where, or how to get there.
She steps back into the previous corridor, and allows herself to
become scared and apprehensive. This identifies her as an enemy, and
so when she rounds the corner again, she steps into a different
hallway, and when she turns back around, that hallway is different
too. Doors don't lead into rooms but into the halls she just stepped
With each disorienting shift the sounds get quieter or louder,
until they're loud enough that Kate figures she can find her way. At
that point, she turns off the fear, and the building stops changing
the floor plan on her.
When she gets to the door, she recognizes the voice: it's Derek.
She phases through to the other side.
Anders Cradle is there. (Caracalla.) He's watching from afar,
standing against the wall, his face red and flush. In the center of
the room, Derek is tied to a chair, sobbing. Standing next to him is
Darkhorse. Only it's not really Melody behind the mask: the body
doesn't stand like her, doesn't move like her. Hotspur with
super-speed. Kate shudders.
Anders notices her out of the corner of his eye. "Claire," he says.
"I thought you didn't want to watch the show."
Kate walks into the room, mimicking Claire's stiffness and cool,
icy formality. (And her high school drama teacher said she couldn't
act.) "I changed my mind," she says casually.
Anders smiles, obscenely pleased. His face makes her stomach churn,
but she tries to hide it.
"Derek," he singsongs, "Derek, look. Look who came to see you."
Derek looks up. He looks groggy and exhausted. Curiously, there
aren't really any marks on him. "Kate?" His voice is hoarse.
"No," says Kate. "Claire."
That twist of the knife sends him into jagged sobs.
"Now, none of that," says Anders. "Darkhorse, let's try, oh, his
Darkhorse vibrates her hand into Derek's leg amid his panicked
protestations. She solidifies the tips of her fingers inside his
muscle and sinew, and he screams again. After she pulls it out, he's
Anders revels in it with wild delight. It occurs to Kate that she
could phase her own fingers into his skull and kill him on the spot.
It would only take a moment. The thought of taking a life has always
been abhorrent, but not this life. She thinks that she could kill him
and sleep like a baby.
Only she wouldn't get that chance. By the time she pulled her
fingers out of his head, Darkhorse would have done the same to Derek
and Kate. She still has work to do, and she needs Derek alive in order
to do it.
"Who are the idiots out on the lawn?" says Anders. "Secret Daylighters?"
"I don't know," says Derek. "I wish I did. I, I would tell you if I
"Let's move up the thigh a little," smirks Anders. "Get a little
"Stop," says Kate.
Both Darkhorse and Anders look at her quizzically. Kate curls her
finger, and Anders comes near.
"You want to hurt him, don't you?" says Kate lasciviously.
"That's what I'm doing," says Anders.
"What you're doing is embarrassing yourself," she says. "A
worthless worm like that, you need to let him twist on the hook a bit.
Give him time. Time to hope. Time to despair. Time to wonder if it's
his fault. If he deserves it. Maybe," she presses her wet mouth
against his ear, "maybe he'll think it's happening because he wants it
to." It's not Claire's memory she's drawing on here, but her own.
(Thanks a lot, mom.) 
"Then I give him what he wants?"
"Yes. And then he doesn't hate you. He loves you, and hates himself
for wanting it." She pulls back, looking at his red and breathless
face. "Now, wouldn't that be exquisite? Just give him an hour to
He nods feverishly. "I'm going upstairs, take a quick shower.
Freshen up. Here." He hands Kate a computer tablet. "Keep an eye on
the lawn situation. I trust you to respond accordingly. And the minute
the non-essential Hotspurs come back online, flip the kill switch." He
frowns. "It'd be better if they had all killed each other, or if their
governments had to do it. But Maddocks wants dead Daylighters, so I
suppose at this point it doesn't matter how they die. The minute we
get control back from Raidne, get it done." 
This desperate fight for your life stuff is exhausting, Maile decides
as the second wave of Hotspurs bleeds into the third. Her muscles are
aching and sluggish, her pulse quickening. Being wet and cold doesn't
One of the new combatants has so many flame designs on his costume
that Maile figures either he has fire powers or is really into car
decals. If it's the former, her heavy snow and howling wind seems to
have neutralized it. All that's left, then, is a guy whose muscles
have muscles. 
He manages to get in close while Maile's throwing a bolt near a gal
with wings, sending her into a tailspin. Maile tries to put some
distance between herself and the fire guy - the air around him is warm
like a blow dryer, so definitely a fire guy - but her legs won't move
fast enough. He's throwing a punch at her, and she twists to dodge it,
but again it's too slow.
His massive fist catches her in the stomach, hot like a fever. It
knocks the air right out of her with a groan. More than that, it
knocks her clear off her feet.
He punched me so hard I'm flying though the air, she realizes: like
I've been hit by a car. Going to land any second now. Go loose, go
loose. If you tense up you're just going to screw up your back and
your everything else. If you go loose, maybe it won't hurt so much.
She lands, and if this is it not hurting so much, she'd hate to
find out what it would've felt like if she had tensed up. Tears are
blistering from her eyes, and she's still struggling to gulp air into
her lungs when she sees the fire guy running at her, ready to finish
She kicks at the ground, scrambling back to her feet over the
protestations of her screaming lower back. And still she's too slow:
he's right on top of her, about to perform an encore.
This time when she tries to back-pedal and squirm out of his way,
she slips. And, unfortunately, this time she tenses up. Welp, going to
be feeling that the rest of her life.
Which might not be too much longer if this guy has anything to say
about it. He's picked up a rock (where the heck did he get a rock
from?) and is hoisting it over his head with both hands, ready to dash
her brains out.
"Maile!" says Pill, swinging the two-handed hammer right into his
breadbasket. "Roll!" The creep doubles over, dropping the rock. Maile
rolls out of the way before it can strike her arm. Another swing of
the mallet, and he hits the ground.
Pill helps her up. "You okay?"
"I don't know if I can keep this up," Maile whispers, still
wheezing. "But they've gotta run out of new dudes eventually."
"Unfortunately, one of the old dudes just got up," says Pill as
Dust Devil spirals up into the air again.
Klutz meanwhile is trading blows with Century Man, narrowly
avoiding getting skewered by the Destiny Spear. Before Maile can
react, Dust Devil points her mechanical arms at them. The arms spin
like drills. From each arm shoots out a gust of high-velocity wind.
Both of them hit Century Man, knocking him several meters across the
yard, smashing him into the wall. Because he's still holding the
Destiny Spear, he's impervious to all harm, but not apparently to
being knocked unconscious. 
"Maile!" Dust Devil cries out as she lowers herself to the ground. "It's me!"
"Raidne?" says Maile.
Dust Devil suddenly faints, and now Century Man is brushing himself
off. "Azabeth," she booms in a voice deep and stentorian.
"I didn't know you could do that," says Maile.
"I can't," says Beth. "Something to do with the Hotspurs, I suspect."
It doesn't take long for said Hotspurs to realize that none of that
is from Shakespeare, and one of them - Mimas - runs toward her. He
gets larger with every step, growing from nearly six feet to over
twenty. Beth stabs him in the leg with the Destiny Spear, and suddenly
all of him is on fire. 
He screams, booming like thunder, and rapidly shrinks down to
normal size, collapsing into the snow. A quick flurry snuffs out the
flames. Some of the burns are pretty nasty, but the unconscious hero
seems to be okay.
Klutz points at the spear. "All that is wicked burns at its touch."
"I did not know that," says Beth. She lets Century Man fall limp,
and rises as Vampiro before rushing back into the fray.
Kate frowns at the tablet. The way the fight on the lawn is going,
whoever is outside is going to be inside sooner rather than later. In
and of itself, that's a good thing - that's why she reached out to
them in the first place - but then there's Darkhorse. There could be
an army out there, and in the time it takes for someone to count to
ten, Melody could calmly and methodically tear each and every one of
them in two.
Before Beth's people breach the perimeter, Kate needs to take out
the most dangerous person on the planet. Who also happens to be one of
her top five favorite people and the one person who never gave up on
her when everyone else was sure Kate was dead. The one that figured
out how to bring her back.
But when she looks at Melody now, that's not who she sees. The
expression is cold, the eyes are empty, and the body moves like a
bird, jittery and curious.
People have tried to take Melody out before. Flintlock's come the
closest. (There's something about Flintlock hiding in Claire's
memories, something important, but it's fuzzy and distant.) He tried
to match Darkhorse speed for speed, but that's not an option here. He
also tried to slow her down, to immobilize her. Tie her to one spot
and you negate that speed. 
Kate shifts her eyes away from Melody, past Derek, to a table where
Anders keeps the basic arcane accoutrement. Candles. Powders. Salt.
Even without a book, even a novice like Kate can make a simple
binding circle with salt. The problem is that even an insane robot
like Hotspur will know what she's doing the second she starts
But the salt doesn't really need to touch the ground, she reminds
herself. She can carry a handful and simply walk the circle. If she
makes it wide enough, the Hotspur might not realize what's happening.
It's still going to be suspicious, though, unless Kate utilizes that
most important trick in the magician's repertoire: misdirection.
On her way to the table, she lets a finger glide over Derek's
cheek. He shudders. "Don't you touch me," he says, half snarling and
half afraid. "Traitor." Kate looks to Hotspur and rolls her eyes: can
you believe this guy?
With exaggerated casualness, she continues to the table, pretending
to absent-mindedly inspect its contents. "Traitor? That's awfully
dramatic, don't you think?" She pretends to hold a dish of sleepless
powder to her nose. (She knows better than to actually sniff it.) As
she sets it down, she sees for the first time the small curved knife,
and that's when she remembers that she still needs some way to mark
the four points of the circle. Blood will do, she muses darkly. (She's
getting tired of that part.)
"Besides," she continues, "I never lied to you." She sucks her
teeth as she slices open her left palm. "I hid things, but I never
lied and I always said exactly what I meant. I was true to myself. How
can that be treason?"
"I trusted you," says Derek.
"That's really your own fault, isn't it?" says Kate dismissively.
She grabs the salt with her right hand. She crosses the room, putting
Derek outside of the circle, and then squeezes her left fist, marking
the first point: North.
"I hate you," whispers Derek.
"No, you don't," scolds Kate, beginning her circuit. The sharp pain
in her left palm is matched by a mild burning in her right. That means
the salt is working. "You love me. You still love me. This doesn't
change any of that."
He scoffs. "Listen to yourself, Claire."
"What happens now doesn't change what happened then," says Kate.
"All that we had, all that we did, it all happened. It was all true.
We had good times, didn't we?" She marks the second point: East. She
turns and looks at Derek from afar, waiting for an answer. Hotspur
looks at Derek too, its interest piqued.
"Yes, Claire," says Derek. His voice is quiet, hoarse. "We did."
Kate nods, then turns away, pressing on. "I made you happy."
"Yes. Were you? Ever happy?"
Kate takes a few steps while trying to fabricate an answer, but
finds that she doesn't need to. It's there in her head, in Claire's
memories. Not a specific event, but the feeling. "I don't know what
that feels like," she says quietly. "Sometimes I think I might be, but
I don't know if it's real."
She marks South. By now the salt in her right hand burns like oil
in a pan, bright and blistering. She tries not to wince, but she can't
help it. Hotspur pivots, gazing at her intently.
Kate tries to keep her own eyes on Derek, but they shift nervously
and automatically to Hotspur. She quickly darts her eyes to the ground
in front of her and walks on. "But, those times when I wondered, when
I thought 'maybe this is what happy feels like'? Often, those times
were with you."
When she reaches the fourth point, she doesn't stop. If she stops,
she feels like she'll have to scream, and she still needs to close the
circle without Hotspur twisting her head off her neck. Instead she
keeps walking, letting the blood dribble out between her fingers.
She can feel the blistering kiss of salt in both hands now. Out of
the corner of her eye, she sees Hotspur watching her, tensing up
Melody's body. Does it know? Every inch of Kate wants to make a run
for it, but if Hotspur doesn't know, that'll be a surefire way to tip
it off. And if it does know, it doesn't matter how fast Kate moves.
She can barely think. It takes all her focus to keep a steady pace
as she rounds the final curve. So she lets Claire do the talking.
"Derek," she says. "If it means anything. You made me want to be
good enough for you. You made me the best version of myself." 
North again. She stumbles backward, and the salt at last drops from
her hand. She looks at the palm, expecting it to be red and bubbling.
But it's smooth and soft, like a baby.
"With salt and blood, I bind you." The circle glows red, and
Hotspur rushes at her. When it reaches the edge of the circle however,
it bounces back, like it had run into a wall. It immediately flings
itself toward it again, and again is thrown back. It vibrates Melody's
molecules, making her intangible, but even then it cannot pass. It
screams, pinging like mad against the barrier. After a minute, it
stops, wobbles, and faints.
Kate expected as much. Melody's speedster metabolism requires about
twenty thousand calories a day. Exerting that much energy on an empty
stomach would tucker her out something fierce.
Kate is almost as exhausted. "Thank God it worked," she says,
struggling to catch her breath.
"Kate," she says. "Pretending to be Claire pretending to be Kate.
"Are you here to rescue me?"
"Sort of," says Kate. "Can you walk?"
"No," he says, mumbling softly. "I don't think I can."
"Then we wait," says Kate. "Help is on the way. Part of Claire's plan."
"Then Claire is with us?"
She frowns. "It's complicated."
COPYRIGHT 2020 TOM RUSSELL.
Medusa created by Drew Nilium and Tom Russell.
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