Blonde hair tumbling over her black cloak, the girl I’d seen when I was running from the Shadow Court stood outside the glass doors to the police station. Beside her, a shadow lurked in beastial form with four legs and a body that was taller at its shoulder than the top of her head. If it was the creature from before it had grown, a lot.
The girl was gazing intently towards me but not making eye contact. She was clearly looking for something, but when I met her sweeping gaze she didn’t react. Sort of like she couldn’t see me at all.
“Hello?” I tried thinking to her, the way I’d ‘talked’ with Pen.
It had seemed like a silly idea but as I formed the word in my mind the girl’s eyes flew wide in shock and locked on mine. I hadn’t expected it to work and the intensity of her gaze startled me enough that I flinched back half a step. I couldn’t really have superpowers, could I?
“Thank you for earlier.” I added quickly, thinking how the giant beast at her side had probably saved me from being captured by the mistmen.
The girl’s froze for a moment and then her surprise melted away into an unreadable expression. She dropped her gaze from mine at last and looked down at a point on the ground between us.
“I’m here to destroy you. You should run.” the girl said, her voice soft and sad and weighed down by incredible fatigue.
For a moment, I didn’t process the words, didn’t convert them into meaning. I just marveled at the sense of them. The girl was at least a dozen feet away from me and on the other side of a pair of glass doors.
When I’d been talking to Pen, it hadn’t seemed like magic. At least not on my part. I’d thought things and he’d spoken back to me. It had felt like he was doing all the work there.
This girl was though far enough away that I knew I couldn’t be ‘hearing’ what she was saying. Her ‘voice’ was too soft to carry across the distance. I was hearing her projected thoughts the same way she was hearing mine. Between that and the return of my ‘meta-awareness’, it was getting harder to deny that I had some kind of superpower.
That meant my life was going to get a lot more complicated, and probably deadly, from everything I’d ever read. Most heroes didn’t seem to mind that but being able to project my thoughts didn’t seem like a superpower that would do much to keep me from getting killed.
If I was even halfway sane at that point, I would have taken the mere fact that she was speaking to me as a sign to bolt as fast as my feet would carry me. Instead I took a step towards her to…I don’t know…comfort her?
Speaking with our thoughts, the meaning of her words didn’t have as much impact as the sadness that was projected with them. I’d felt empty like that when my Dad had died. It hurt encountering it again, even in someone else.
The momentary insanity that was moving me towards her passed before I took another step. My return to clarity was helped in part by the growling from the beast beside her. Also, the words she’d spoken finally translated in my mind. She wanted to kill me?
“Why?” was all I could manage to put together.
“Sorry. It’s what I am.” she said, lifting her eyes back to meet mine. There wasn’t any anger in her expression. No malice or cruelty. Just emptiness.
Before I could ask her anything else, the glass doors shattered inwards and the giant beast leapt at me.
There wasn’t time to think so I reacted. Pure instinct. Primal fear. All I knew was something impossible to fight was rushing at me.
I could lie and say that I thought about James and the clerk. That I fled to draw the beast away from them, but at that moment they simply didn’t exist for me.
I got two steps away from the desk before the beast crashed into it, crushing the wood into kindling. The shadow mass of the beast lost its definition as a four legged entity and it rose up like a wobbly starfish. Random limbs punched through the remainder of the desk as the beast tried to free itself from the wreckage.
I made it another three steps before the beast recovered its balance and lunged again. The corner of the nearest hallway shielded me from that leap and I was off, racing down the hall as fast as I could move.
Even in its more amorphous form, the beast was too huge to fit down the narrow hall but that barely slowed it down. It followed me, destroying the walls on either side as it simply rammed its way through them.
The interrogation rooms whizzed by me to the left and right before I reached the end of the hallways. Heavy fire doors barred my exit but in my panic I slammed the one on the right open like it was made out of tinfoil.
Night air hit my face as I paused for a second to see where to run. I was on the top landing of a short flight of concrete stairs. A railing bordered the stairs and the landing beyond which lay the parking lot for police station.
I jumped over the railing without a thought. I had to get away and it was a only short drop to the parking lot. As I landed I felt my awareness flood with a number of unpleasant facts.
First, there were no corners or hallways here to slow down the thing that was chasing me. My meta-awareness couldn’t sense on the beast or the girl but I didn’t need that to know I was in danger still.
The Shadow Court on the other hand? I could sense them very easily. I knew they were waiting in the pools of darkness just outside the lights of the parking lot. They had found me and ringed the building waiting for me to leave.
They’d planned to follow me, to study the mortal that had destroyed their servants with iron. When I was unguarded and alone, they would come for me. They weren’t directly interested in me though. The damage I’d done, the loss of their minions, was an insult that would be paid for in agony, but it was inconsequential compared to what had happened to them afterwards. They wanted to learn about the beast.
I was unguarded as I started to run again. Alone for just an instant. So they swooped in, quicker than any human could move.
The things that came out of the darkness were a blur of dead arms, rotting razor teeth and chitinous eyes. They were fast and merciless, sinking claws into my arms and legs like a thousand fish hooks. Any other night that would have stopped me. The touch of one of the Shadow Court was more than a human could bear without screaming and I had at least a half dozen cutting into me.
Unfortunately for them, there were two other factors at work. First, I had momentum. The horror of their touch didn’t paralyze me, it just made me struggle harder to get away. That alone wouldn’t have amounted to much. The Shadow Court was used to victims that struggle. What saved me was that there was something much worse after me than them.
The fire doors didn’t slam open for the beast. It didn’t give them time to. Instead the doors exploded outward to announce the beast’s arrival.
Bricks and concrete, torn metal and shattered wood, the pieces of the door flew everywhere. As the dust swirled away the Shadow Court faeries saw the hungry beast staring at them from the top of the stairs. There was a quiet second while all of the parties took each other in.
Then came the inhuman screaming.
The beast had moved too fast for my eyes to follow and snatched up the luckless Shadow Courtier than was closest to it. The rest of the Shadow Court was just a little distracted by the beast ripping the Shadow Courtier into screaming pieces. That was enough of an opening that I was able to pull free from their hold. Tearing myself loose hurt worse than anything I could remember, but the freedom to run again was worth every ounce pain it took.
A fire escape at the far end of the parking lot caught my awareness and I was off for it like a shot. Behind me, I knew the Shadow Courtiers were fleeing as well. I couldn’t see the beast directly with my awareness but I could see its effect on the Shadow Court. It was totally outside their understanding, and for immortal predators that was an experience they’d never had before.
Nothing before this had hunted them. Nothing before this had scared them, horrified them. More so than the beast, that sensation of horror threatened to destroy them. They literally were not capable of feeling fear like this, and yet this thing, this beast was instilling it in them. As creatures of magic, their identities weren’t bound into flesh the way it was for a human. Fear had never been a part of them and now that it was it was corroding the very essence of who and what they were.
If there’d been any room in my mind for an emotion other than terror, I probably would have felt a wicked, righteous joy at their misfortune but I only had room for one thought; I had to reach that fire escape.
I’d made it a little over half way across the parking lot when the screams of the Shadow Courtier came to a sudden and terrible end. My meta-awareness rebelled at the notion. It was as though a hole had been punched in the script. The Shadow Courtier hadn’t been killed, or destroyed, or even consumed. He simply wasn’t.
Wasn’t alive. Wasn’t dead. Wasn’t anything. Had never even been anything. It was like he’d been erased from his beginnings to his end and whatever had been part of him was lost to the world. All his yesterdays, all his tomorrows, gone.
I didn’t have time to dwell on that. Survival was all that mattered, the only goal I had to run towards.
I made it past another few police cars before I heard the one nearest to the beast being torn in half. It had been in the beast’s way and it was simpler to go through it than go around it. It shredded two more car before it gave up on the mayhem and bounded over them to save time.
The destruction had bought me another few precious seconds. Just enough time to reach the fire escape. I jumped impossibly high and managed to snag the bottom rung of the ladder that formed the base of it. The metal had frozen in place, but desperation gave me the strength to pull myself up and over onto the first landing.
When I got to my feet, I didn’t pause for an instant before racing up the rickety narrow stairs to the next level. I left the first landing an instant before the beast crumpled it into a twisted gnarl of scrap metal. The beast’s next blow threatened to knock the entire fire escape off the building but somehow the bolts held on. Frustrated, the beast ripped the crumpled metal of the first landing completely off the wall and dropped back to the ground.
I ran up and up, not sure how far I needed to get to escape the monster below me. I’d reached the fourth landing before the beast leapt up again. I’d barely gotten far enough.
The great shadowy body of the beast crushed the stairs and landings below me. With it’s enormous claws it held on to the wreckage and reared back for another blow.
I screamed, knowing it wasn’t going to do any good but unable to stop myself. If I hadn’t been in motion the fear that was surging through me would have ripped away my strength and left me paralyzed and helpless. I couldn’t run any faster but I did keep going, reaching the stairs up to the fifth level just before the beast tore a huge section of them out from in front of me.
I choked on another scream. I couldn’t stop that thing. It was too close. I couldn’t even get away.
A tearing metal sound from below me was met with an unearthly growl as the beast’s sheer weight ripped the fire escape away from wall and tore the crushed lower floors loose sending the beast falling to the ground again.
My heart skipped a beat. I wasn’t dead yet. The roof might even be safe if I could cross the gap the beast had ripped in the stairs.
Before the beast could jump again, or start scaling the wall, I leapt into the gap it had made in the stairs. I would have fallen forty feet onto pavement if I’d missed but even that had seemed better than letting the beast do to me what it had done to the Shadow Courtier.
I don’t know if I could have made that jump normally but under the circumstances I was extremely motivated. I managed reach the first undamaged stair on the far side of the gap and grab the steps farther up with my hands before I tumbled backwards.
I felt a glimmer of hope at having gotten higher. If the beast could have reached me on the fourth floor landing it probably would have jumped there first. Maybe it had a maximum height it could reach? If I could get higher than it could follow I might be able to get away or at least stay safe until someone else could deal with it. Someone with an orbital kill satellite maybe, or a platoon of super heroes.
I pulled myself to my feet and dashed up the last few stairs to the roof level. I was two steps from the top when a gold blur flashed past me traveling up the side of the building. My awareness didn’t key on it being anything dangerous so I didn’t spare the blur any brain cycles. That was an almost fatal mistake.
I was caught in midstep, just about to reach the rooftop, when I saw the girl who commanded the beast standing above me. The scythe she held was wreathed in flames the color of an empty night sky and she was poised to strike. The blur had been her. She was that fast. No matter how I ran, I couldn’t escape.
So I fell. I wasn’t graceful or quick enough to avoid the scythe in any other way. Surrendering to gravity, I toppled backwards, plummeting head first towards the pavement below.
I was so far beyond panic at that point that the sensation of falling came as a warm relief. It wasn’t much of a choice but at least I’d been able to decide how things would end. At least I wouldn’t suffer the same fate as the Shadow Courtier. Somehow that made a difference.
I thought that my heart felt light at first; that the terror that had filled it was finally receding as one last bit of mercy in my life. A moment later I noticed it wasn’t just my heart that was light though. My whole body was buoyant, floating through the air like a feather. The terror the had consumed me drained away, replaced by an unexpected joy. I felt myself first rising gently, then soaring upwards.
I was flying!