The Calling (Part III)
Author notes: and here is the final part of ‘The Calling’. I hope you will enjoy it. Thanks to all the people who reviewed or favorited this story. Your support and opinions are the fuel to my inspiration.
--- Babel, Kiribati, forty minutes before Ishtar’s awakening ---
Usagi came out of her meditation and rubbed her three eyes. She was sitting in the lotus position under the shade of palm trees near the Residence’s swimming pool.
“Computer, call Hotaru, ciphering mode B.”
She got up, stretching her limbs and letting the Hawaiian shirt covering her shoulders fall on the ground, leaving her clad only in her black bikini. The afternoon was hot and she saw the small silhouettes of windsurfers, a long way below the Residence level of the Babel Arcology. A pity I don’t have the time to…
A hologram appeared in front of her, cutting her thoughts. Hotaru was sitting in the cabin of a plane, dressed in her usual purple pantsuit. Usagi remembered that, according to her schedule, she was en route to Bern for a meeting with representatives of the Swiss government about Apex investments in their country.
“Hotaru, phase three is imminent.”
“Mina-chan. My calculations predict the breaking point will be reached in roughly half an hour.”
“Predictable,” said the vampiress, sighing. “Well, we’re as ready as we can be.”
“I will keep monitoring it. I’ll send a summon in town to relay my power and nudge things.”
“Do you want to make contact?”
“Too early. If they just have the memories of their middle lives, they’ll scream ‘Black Lady’ as soon as they see me… “
“Sorry,” she said. “I was just imagining Aralu… Pluto’s face when she realizes we pulled on her what she used to do to us back in the eighties.”
Usagi sent back the smile while pouring herself a big glass of amrita on the rocks. She grinned as she saw Hotaru’s raised eyebrow.
“Cut me some slack, Taru-chan. It’s not because you treat the thing like an old Scotsman would his single malt than I must do the same. Moreover… who makes hot chocolate using blood instead of milk?”
“Actually… Kokoa-chan conned me into… right, even if it was her idea, I like it… and absolutely don’t expect a human to be able to stomach that stuff. For a vampire’s palate though… a little like sweet and sour. Anyway, my Osprey is touching down in Belp in sixteen minutes. I have an early strategy meeting with the Japanese Ambassador before seeing the Federal Council this morning.”
“Do your best to act genuinely surprised, sister. And say hello to the kids for me.”
Hotaru smiled. As she was in Switzerland, Hotaru was also bound to pay a visit to the European branch of the Infinity Academy. Reopening it had necessitated a bit of courage for both of them, but, as the public never knew about the Death Busters, this was, in the end, just a brand name with a good reputation. They now had boarding schools that often doubled as orphanages all around the world. ‘Le Manoir de Hauteville’
was one of the most extensive, named after the nearby village as well as an homage to Victor Hugo. It was sitting in a large, Victorian-looking manor on the bank of the Lake of Gruyère. It was also important for another reason. Some of the girls currently studying there… needed particular attention from the sisters.
“I will. I’ll let you have your fun,” said Hotaru, waving goodbye to her sister.
The hologram disappeared and Usagi reached for a pouch, selecting an obsidian coin in it. Pricking her left middle finger with her thumb, she let a few drops of golden ichor flow from her veins, smearing them on a gold coin sporting a scowling crow. She remembered when Touhou Fuhai had taught her the summoning arts. He was himself more used to invoke creatures from Asia but he encouraged her to find her own style. Then, in 2008, she did a trip to Nemesis and, thanks to the work done by the terraforming robots sent by Ganesha, she discovered some things that, thankfully, escaped Wiseman. She discovered Tyche’s collection of demons-in-a-coin and the instructions to summon and command them.
“Malphas, I have a mission for you.”
A crow materialized in a puff of sulfur smoke.
“Malphas, your mission is to go to Los Angeles. Ishtar is about to make an appearance.”
“Should I hush it, Mistress?”
“Quite the contrary. Now listen…”
--- Los Angeles, ten minutes before Ishtar’s awakening ---
Joyce was waiting at the corner of a street when a grey van stopped before her. She opened the lateral door, got in and closed behind her.
“Sorry for the delay,” said the Charlie Gunn while driving away.
“You are on time,” she said, eying the large sports bags on the van’s floor. “Don’t peep too much, I need to change.”
She opened one of the bags and started to undress quickly, replacing her shirt and light slacks with a dull black armored spider-silk catsuit. Having emergency bags at a trusted contact’s place was an old habit of hers. In this case, it came with service.
“Antoine said that if you need the content of your house moved, he can organize it in less than 24 hours.”
“Good. There is more equipment than what I asked.”
“My treat. It’s up to you, but I have experience with taking out bloodsuckers.”
While replacing her shoes with armored, knee-high boots, she thought about including the black man in her budding plan.
“You do exactly what I say?”
“Kyrie. My name is Kyrie.”
She put the bracers and the rest of the ceramic armor plates in place. She pushed a button on her belt, feeling the smart armor adjust herself to fit her body perfectly. She made a few moves. Restriction is less than in winter clothes. Good. A pity I didn’t have more time to train in it.
She checked the blades. The first one was a straight, double-edged sword with a crystal blade. She remembered reading something about this material, some ‘new generation carbon fiber’ though the chemistry behind it eluded her. What she had retained were the mechanical properties of the material which could be summarized by better and lighter than steel. She also remembered the brand name: Glassteel, which had made Dawn laugh for several minutes, saying things about eight-level spells.
“The fun thing about glassteel is that vamps react to it like to very hard wood,” said Gunn.
Joyce smirked. She had known that money was not the only reason why Gunn worked for Antoine. The other one was obviously using the old fixer’s contacts and experience to develop very specific weaponry.
“You tested it?”
“Personally. My life depends on my tech being reliable… and trying to scam a samurai of your caliber is very unhealthy.”
“Very good, Charlie, but I’m not a samurai. I’m my own master.”
She continued to equip, putting objects looking like hockey pucks in her thigh pockets, quickly remembering their specifics. They were a new model of grenade that could also be used as a demolition charge thanks to their adhesive function. With a push on the little yellow button, an electrical current ran on the underside of the grenade, making the chemicals on it react for instant, cyanoacrylate-level, sticking.
“The word has a different meaning in the American streets, Kyrie. A street samurai is a fighter with honor, while a ronin has none. By the way… I had the sword done on a whim after the one Wesley Snipes used in Blade, but I don’t have the training to use it in combat. You, on the other hand…”
Joyce tested the balance of the sword. It was lighter than a steel blade of the same size, but the balance was good. She put it in the sheath and attached it in her back, while several small throwing knifes of the same material went into various place of her armor.
She came to her main weapons. Last Friday, when she had said to her daughters that no bullet convenient enough to her tastes existed for vampire hunting… it was something that had been true in 1995. Though, again… I wish I had more time to test them.
She was confident enough to use her new weapons in combat situations. Gyrojets weapons were not a new concept though the original model developed back in the sixties didn’t work well. It had just been too ahead of its time then. But now, the idea of a pistol firing mini-rockets had been made very attractive with the need for weapons able to function in the vacuum of space and low-gravity environments. Gyrojets had almost no recoil and the solid fuel rockets had their own oxidizer. Another fundamental point for her was that they were also a lot less noisy than ordinary firearms. The noise a standard gyrojet weapon did was similar to the one of a firework rocket taking off. With some low-velocity ammo like the one she had used to stick an emitter on the enemy vehicle, it went even lower. But they have their downsides too. Muzzle escape velocity is very low and the rockets only reach full speed after two meters. Not that it matters that much with what I’m packing. Those explosive, incendiary mini-rockets hit as hard as a 30mm round when they detonate.
She put two pistols in place, one in a holster in the small of her back for left-hand access and the other on her right thigh, then added magazines in one of her pockets while she packed her last weapon: a gyrojet submachine gun. She pocketed a few other gadgets she could need.
“You will use the automatic shotgun?”
“Yes, I fire Scimitar rounds. They’re basically advanced flechette rounds, guaranteed to shred a vamp’s head. From what I heard, the SWAT had started to equip them to go against cyborgs.”
She took the last item she needed. And put it on her right ear. The green plastic monocle interfaced with her vidphone. Pretty useful technology… though what pushed the people who designed it to steal its looks from Dragon Ball? My fault probably. I let Dawn handle that order.
She studied quickly the blueprints of the old cinema where Lothos had his lair. They were probably not fully accurate anymore, but it was a start. An old cinema… the bills… paid by a front represented by Wolfram and Hart… why am I not surprised.
She closed her eyes, thanking silently, for once, the hellish childhood that robbed her of her humanity. She needed to be calm and concentrated, not to let the worry she felt for Dawn cloud her judgment. In the ups: Dawn is probably not human enough now to be turned into a ghoul. Lothos also wants to use her gifts. He will not kill her, he will try to break her. This takes time, time he didn’t have yet. The greatest danger is if he feels like he is about to lose her, he will kill her rather than let someone else have her. In the downs: I have an unknown number of ghouls in the opposition and no idea of Dawn’s position in that building… well I had to plan for worse.
“Gunn… I accept your offer.”
--- Los Angeles Airspace, 1 October 2012 18:36
Lisa resisted the envy to make barrel rolls and other aerial maneuvers, to just fly around. She had a mission. I feel the general direction but… a pity I cannot access my vidphone and check Mom’s frequency from… Minute, I remember something…
She thought in way similar to the one she did when she used her virtual helmet. A kind of golden visor appeared before her eyes. She remembered something from Minako. Sailor Mercury often used the same kind of thing.
“Computer, can you access my vidphone?”
“Annu,” replied a cultured male voice.
“I have my own Jarvis. Wicked. Can you speak English? My Akkadian is too rusty.”
“Updating language parameters… accessing Terran computer network for information update… Your comparison is appropriate. My designation is Arges. Your armor possesses a tachyon transmission link to my late master’s laboratory. I will display a map of this city and your position.”
“In my phone, there is a message for a frequency about a tracer… can you display its position too?”
“Easily. Given the content of the message, I will also add the position signal of the sender.”
The view on the visor updated.
“What else can you do?”
“May things, though my capacities are currently limited by the virus affecting your estate’s central AI, designation Ninshubur.”
“Can you help her?” she said, remembering that her assistant – or was it Prime Minister? – was a girl AI.
“Yes, but I am lacking the proper authorizations.”
She took deep breath, hoping she was not about to make a very big mistake.
“I give you the authorization: use whatever means necessary to set things right in my estate.”
As she flew, she felt a memory unlocking. It wasn’t the first time she went to rescue her sister…
--- Somewhere in Central Asia, the antediluvian era
The boxy assault shuttle was dancing through the canyons. In the cockpit, the pilot was chewing her gum with calm, as if she was flying in an empty sky rather that racing like mad through valleys were her vehicle barely fitted. The sandy blonde woman called Alcyone prided herself to be the best pilot in the world… even before the invasion killed a lot of her competition.
“It will be calmer for the next six minutes!” she shouted at the attention of the armored people in the hold. A pretty blonde with blue eyes raised her thumb with a smirk.
“My species is used to fly on its own,” said a woman with aquamarine hair and black, reptilian eyes sitting next to the blonde, “but I swear to the Great Egg! This human will have my scales.”
“Relax, Duma,” said the blonde, using her nickname for her currently human-shaped dragon sister-in-arms. “Alcyone is the best at what she does.”
The woman sighed. Her real name wasn’t pronounceable for human lips but it could be translated by ‘Princess Luminous Jewel’. Ishtar had almost immediately nicknamed her ‘Duma’ after a word meaning jewel in her native language.
“I know, Ishtar… it’s just that she’s the most infuriating…”
“Yet I saw you two hold hands while taking a stroll on the beach of the Inner Sea…” replied the blonde with an impish grin.
“I… the alliance between our clans has not been easy and I am only doing my duty by…”
“Sure,” said Ishtar, nodding, a smile on her lips.
Teasing the gentle dragon princess was decidedly too much fun, particularly when she was blushing so nicely. The fact she didn’t know very well how to handle the reactions of her human shape yet helped too.
“Aren’t you….” asked Duma, wanting to change the subject.
“Impatient? Definitely. For more than twenty years, I have thought that my sister was dead… in a way that would have been better than… that.”
Duma put her hand on the shoulder of her friend. She had learnt the story since their clan had decided to flee the slavery of the Old Ones and ally themselves with the humans of Hyperborea. The cost had been at the same time light and heavy. Using sorceries unknown to her people, the human scientist Sarasvati had saved her brother, giving him a new life as a spirit in a fantastic machine. He was now reborn, manifesting as one of these ghosts of light the humans called holograms, taking the shape of an eight-headed serpent.
“We’ll get Aralu out of there, Ishtar.”
“Thanks, Duma. Let’s hope that Sarasvati’s toys will make the difference,” said the blonde, rising her right arm that was covered with a crystal-laced gauntlet.
It had already been two years since the Order of Dusk opened the Hellgates, two years since the demented abominations called the Old Ones started to conquer the world. Already, all that was left of civilization were a few carefully hidden pockets of resistance, like Hyperborea.
Ishtar remembered bitterly when she and others had tried to warn the Svargan government about the Order’s projects. It had only been to be told in barely veiled terms that people like her were unstable and should be put back in a camp. Like I could help what they did to me…
She remembered her parents being shot before her when she was four and the Thulans taking her and her sister. They told her it was an honor, that she would help to better the human race. For the three next years, she and the other kids in the camp became guinea pigs. Ishtar remembered the other children dying one after the other until they were only a handful left, among which Sarasvati and her sister Aralu. She also remembered when she had ceased to be normal, when, for the first time, the light had started to bend to her will. Then it had been the attack… Kali’s Tiger Guard stormed the base to free us… but some of the Thulans flew, taking my sister away, because of what they had awakened in her.
She remembered the notes they had found shortly before the Gates opened, rambling about her sister being some kind of ultimate key that would allow the Order to avenge the Thulan Empire. Three days ago, they had found the coordinates where her sister was still held, her talent powering the Hellgates.
She straightened herself as the red light blinked near the shuttle’s exit. She looked towards the front, in the cockpit. A maelstrom of ghostly green light stretched the horizon. She looked at her fellow warriors: Duma, Thor, Marduk, Tyche and Anhur, plus Alcyone as a pilot. All of them knew the stakes. It was not only the matter of saving Aralu. She was irreplaceable. Without her the Old Ones would lose the ability to travel back and forth to their home dimension. General Kali’s orders had been clear: if Aralu could not be extracted, she was to be killed. Sarasvati says she is the key to victory, that through her we will be able to access the fabled Cauldron of Stars… but for me… Be strong Aralu… I’m coming. Your sister Ishtar will go into hell itself to save you.
--- Near Lothos’ lair, 1 October 2012, 18h38 ---
Lisa landed on the roof of a tower dominating her target. She would have to fly more, just for the fun of it, but now was not the time.
“Arges, do I have sensors in this armor? More precisely, can you show me the magical auras in the building I’m looking at?” she asked, remembering that Mercury used her computer to analyze their enemies.
“Yes, one instant.”
Inverted triangles appeared in her field of vision, most of them harboring complex signs.
“Mark the ghouls… they’re demon-animated corpses in yellow and Aralu in red. Can you detect if there are humans?”
“No, unless they have magical auras.”
“Okay, then mark anything else is in green.”
Her vision adjusted. Her sister was in the back while Lothos was probably in the upper offices of what she thought to be an old cinema. She noted a green triangle corresponding to a van in a nearby alley. The position also coincided with her Mom’s vidphone.
“Mark this one in… white. The codename for this signature is Kyrie. Open vidphone channel, number in memory indicated as ‘Mom’.”
A circular window soon opened in her field of view, her mother at the center.
“Lisa. What’s your position?”
“On the white tower near the target building, M… Kyrie. Arges, can you transmit my tactical data to Kyrie’s interface?” she asked, seeing the monocle on her right eye.
“Proceeding, Ishtar. I need a few seconds to code an interface software.”
“Arges… one of Hephaestus’ Cyclopes,” said Joyce. “A… very old AI friend?”
“Yes… Artemis gave me the item. It was the only solution. Kyrie, I’m transmitting sensor data. The ghouls are in yellow, sister in red and me in blue.”
“I’ll send you the building’s blueprints. Arges, can you update the data in a comprehensive view?”
“Yes, Kyrie,” replied the AI. “Extrapolating tridimensional structure… complete. If you and your assistant leave your channels open, I can continue to centralize and actualize the data in real time.”
“Kyrie,” said Ishtar. “As Lothos doesn’t know about you, I propose a two-pronged attack. I will enter through the skylight of the main hall and attract most of the opposition to me. In the meantime, you storm the back entrance and go straight to Dawn.”
“Risky for you but probably the best given we’re in a hurry… Lisa, no heroics. You feel overpowered and you retreat. From your position I suppose you can fly now?”
“Then use that advantage. One last point: Merrick.”
“I did… what was necessary,” she said, holding back her tears.
“Good… honey, I know it must feel wrong to you but…”
“Mom, I… I’m beginning to remember and… I understand.”
“I’m proud of you, Ishtar. We’ll talk about it later… over ice cream.”
Lisa pinched the bridge of her nose. Images of a mother cat complimenting her kitten for her first kill came to her mind. She knew that her mother was right. She wasn’t living in the comfortable world of an insouciant teenager anymore. She lived in a world were life-and-death decisions were made every day, a world whose morals had little to do with the ones of peaceful, law-abiding citizens. The worse being that I can feel that little part of me liking it…
The teen looked downwards and smiled. It was perfect, she had a straight line to the van where her Mom was hiding.
“Mom, I’m sending you Dawn’s henshin stick. Once she has it in hand, she’ll know what to do.”
Lisa took the item in her hand and concentrated, calling on her ancient memories. Contrarily to her sister, she couldn’t teleport. But, in the long millennia of her existence as Ishtar, she had found… a workaround. All of her powers had one common point: light. It was always about light, or rather electromagnetism, with her magic.
The Henshin stick started to float in her hand, becoming brighter with every second until it disappeared in a flash.
--- In an alley near the cinema, at the same time ---
There was a sudden flash of light as a pink, white and golden scepter appeared on the ground, leaving a slightly burnt mark.
“How?” asked Charlie.
Gunn nodded but he was feeling that something was wrong. He didn’t know much about magic, but he knew enough to understand that casting a spell was a lot less easy than in Harry Potter. Most of the time, you needed long rituals and special components. Also… he would have liked to know how this ‘Arges’ had sensors that could detect vamps through walls.
“Quick question: ghoul is your name for vamps?”
“Yes. I’ll explain why later.”
Joyce took the scepter and led the way until they reached a rear alley.
“Arges, do you see the camera above the door?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, this system is not linked to the Net and I cannot hack it.”
“Can you reconstruct an image of what it should see if the alley is empty?”
She took a compact out of her pocket and clicked on it. A robotic wasp took flight while the compact acted as a control console. Gunn grinned. He recognized one of the spy microbots he had sold her. Among other things, it was equipped for creating bypasses on security systems. Joyce connected the compact on her vidphone.
“I have control of the drone,” said Arges.
The wasp flew towards the door and bit the camera’s transmission cable.
“Substituting signal… complete.”
Gunn watched with interest as he saw her look at the door, then ‘draw’ the shape of a door in the larger fire exit with thermite paste and stick a radio controlled detonator in it.
“Kyrie to Ishtar. We’re in position.”
“Roger. I’m attacking.”
--- Above the cinema, 18:45 --- Saint Batman, please keep an eye on this rookie hero…
thought Elizabeth as she retracted her wings and dropped from the sky.
The old skylight shattered under her weight. She expected the glass to cut the places where her flesh was bare but, just as her instincts, or maybe the Slayer in her, had told her, her armor’s appearance and its actual protection were two distinct things.
She could feel the gaze of the ghouls in the hall gathering on her as she received herself with cat-like grace, shattered glass creating a sparkling shower around her. She almost expected the Slayer to roar in anticipation, but she felt calm and concentrated. In fact, since her transformation in Ishtar, the Slayer felt different, less… wild. She was glad about it. The first time, when she faced Lothos, losing herself into pure reflex had been far too easy. What she intended to do needed intelligence, not instinct.
A thought and her chain girdle unlocked, lengthening as she took it in her hands. During the last month, she had trained with the traditional Japanese weighted chain, as Artemis had told her she used that kind of weapon as Sailor Venus. As with the other weapons when she trained with her Mom, the Slayer gave her an instinctive basic knowledge on how to use it. Here, it was even easier because all the Slayer had to do was to help her remember. But the ‘Venus-Love-Me’ Chain wasn’t an ordinary length of metal rings. It had a way to react to the desires of its wielder, a wielder that had, since she had known about that point, spent many hours watching an anime with a character called Shun of Andromeda.
The chain of interlocked hearts darted forward, lengthening as its end morphed into a spear’s head. It made a strangely musical noise, more reminiscent of little bells than of clicking metal as it impaled a ghoul straight through the heart. Still holding a length between her two hands, she quickly moved, using it as a garrote. Normally, she would have scoffed at the futility to strangle something that didn’t breathe but she had taken a bet on something. She smirked as the undead flesh the chain was touching started to burn, allowing her to behead the beast.
“Seems like I’m too holy for you!”
She could feel the gaze of the others. She had managed to be lethal but without making it so that coming at her looked completely futile. They were now taking things to beat on her without touching her and were arriving as a pack. She smiled as she continued to fight, voluntarily ‘dumbing’ her capacities down. She had to buy time and attract the opposition here, not to send them running to the back door. So, for now, she would calmly dust them one by one, letting them believe they had a chance.
--- The cinema’s rear exit, 18:45 ---
Kyrie pushed the button of the controller and kicked through the shape the explosive had just cut in the door. Three more drone wasps flew in front of her, controlled by Arges and completing the tactical data with their own sensors. She felt all of her old combat reflexes coming back at full speed. She fell in that state Lisa had nicknamed the ‘Soul of Ice’, the one where she became a killing machine.
Yellow triangles started to move on her monocle and she mentally noted the close correspondence with the killing intent spikes she was feeling. She sent a grenade in the stairs to her left, the ones leading down to the cellar, timed to explode when the yellow triangles would reach it.
Almost at the same time, her submachine gun aimed forward, sending a short burst in the ghoul rushing toward her in the hall. The armor-piercing, explosive minirockets shattered its pelvis, sending him tumble towards her. She finished it with a single round at the base of the skull, dusting the ghoul.
She heard the grenade explode and saw from the corner of her eyes that Gunn was covering the stairs, finishing anything coming up. It was good as she had five signals coming forward. On the monocle, Arges was actualizing the data. They had started with thirty-eight ghouls in the building which, according to Lorne’s information, was around two thirds of the ones in Los Angeles. Lothos liked to have his ‘court’ near him. They were now down to 29 and still going, many blips on the map disappearing from the main hall.
A full auto burst cut the monsters’ charge while she took the crystalline sword out of its sheath. A precise move and the blade severed the head of a ghoul while she fired a short burst at point blank in another.
A step, gliding under the slam of the third one and a slash severed its ankles’ tendons, making it lose its balance. She shifted her grip on the sword, stabbing downward, straight through its neck, severing the spine. At the same time, her right hand flashed forward, the palm crushing the nose of the fourth, sending bone fragments through the dead brain of the creature. It distracted the ghoul just long enough for another sword slash to behead it.
The fifth one had gotten a hold of the submachine gun she had discarded and was trying to fire at her. It screamed as the weapon’s security failed to recognize the identity chip in her glove and tasered him. A sword slash severed the hand holding the SMG and a vicious kick in the back of the knees made it fall. One last slash and the ghoul fell to dust like the others while Kyrie took her weapon back.
Behind her, Gunn’s lips formed a silent ‘wow’. Vamps… or ghouls as she called them were faster and stronger than humans. She made them look like pathetic clowns. And her eyes… no fear, no hate, nothing. Just blue ice.
“Are you… human?”
“I am neither a demon nor an android,” she said with a smile. Okay then she’s an alien…
“I feel a strong killing intent coming this way… probably Amilyn, Lothos’ right hand man. I’ll cover the access to the room where they keep Dawn while you go fetch her,” she said while handing him the henshin stick. “If you need reinforcements, make it so she can have it in her hand.”
--- Near the rear entrance, 18:51 ---
“So it was you,” said Amilyn as he reached the place where she was waiting, the dust of all the minions he had sent forward around her. “The girl who dusted Knox has become a woman… and a mother.”
He smiled. She was truly magnificent to him, one of those new crystal swords in her hand. He remembered when he had desired her, wanted to sire her.
“Yes, it was me.”
“I don’t suppose you will tell me who hired you and your sisters to destroy Knox and his gang.”
“No, I won’t.”
“I smell someone else. You sent him to the seer while you stay here to stop me.”
“Yes. Now I will kill you, for Dawn.”
She glided forward, almost a blur and he barely raised his cavalry saber to parry her sword. He called on all the reflexes he had learnt as a mercenary during the Hundred Years War and honed in the centuries since Lothos turned him. He could feel the crackle of magic in her aura, the one that sent back to the stories of his native Ireland, to names like Scáthach and Cú Chulainn.
They exchanged a few strikes, each of them looking for weaknesses in the other’s stance. He knew that his best chance was to temporize, to let her exhaust the magic that allowed her to rival his vampiric speed and strength. He also knew that she knew it and wouldn’t allow him to stay on the defensive.
She went once again into attack and he smiled as he could already feel her aura weaken. It was true that she was older and the previous fights had probably taken out a lot her reserves already. Finally, he saw an opening, a move that got just a little too slow. He jumped into it, immobilizing her sword arm and absorbing easily the weak strike to the side his head. She had only managed to numb a little his sense of touch in that area.
A second later, her aura flared, coming back at full strength as she flipped backwards, evading his grip. She waved him goodbye, a cat-like grin on her lips. He realized that there was something fixed to his skull, an object that felt like some kind of hockey puck and whose weight he had not felt… because of his vampiric strength.
Guessing what it was, he tried to rip the item off his head, not caring if he tore the skin with it. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her press a red button on a small remote. In the last instant of his undeath, he knew that she could have killed him without him even knowing she was here. She had wanted him to know fear. He now understood why his master had told him that people like her were not to be turned. Ever.
--- Hollywood Boulevard, 18:52 ---
Kate Lockley was driving quickly, siren blazing. A few minutes ago, a patrol car had called for reinforcements about a firefight in an old cinema of Hollywood Boulevard. She had been nearby to see one of her contacts and that old cinema was a place she had heard rumors about, though not enough to obtain a search warrant.
She parked her car near one of the patrol cars in front of the cinema.
“How is it Solomon?”
“I don’t know, Kate,” replied the uniformed officer. “It could have been a hoax. The car calling us here doesn’t exist but now I think I heard explosives coming from the inside. On the fun side, a witness told me he saw an angel descend on that place and crash through the ceiling.”
“Really? The SWAT?”
“On its way, but will not arrive until a while.”
Lockley opened the trunk of her car. She still had some time to put her armored vest. On a nearby building, a crow watched the scene with great interest.
--- Inside the cinema, 18:55 ---
As she saw the others reach a certain position on her screen, Ishtar smiled. It was time to raise the stakes. Her right hand pointed at them, though not exactly as she remembered Minako doing it. She was pointing her index and middle finger at the group of ghouls, feeling the trigger in her mind. Contrarily to Minako, she had no need to use words for the technique known as ‘Crescent Beam Shower’.
A baseball-sized sphere of blinding white light had pooled at the tip of her extended fingers. Another act of will and it exploded forward, forming a cone of crisscrossing white rays, like if lasers ricocheted inside of a mirror cone. Ishtar thought distractedly that it didn’t look exactly like the attack she remembered using as Minako. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was that each of the ray was several thousand degrees hot and cut through anything it hit like a plasma blowtorch. She saw the shock on the ghouls’ face as they were incinerated too quickly to utter a sound. And contrarily to what I remember from Minako, there is also a lot more property damage.
The concrete floor was like hesitating between burning and being reduced to slag while the counter at the end of her attack’s area had been vaporized. She would really have to pay attention to bystanders when using it.
She hastily raised her arms in a parry as she felt a pressure wave coming. At the other end of the room, Lothos, his black aura flaring like mad, was just finishing a swipe of his sword.
--- Inside the cinema, the torture room, 18:51 ---
Dawn was feeling light-headed because of the blood loss but her thoughts were also cleared than they had ever been. The shock of Lothos’ bite, then that familiar energy nearing… It had unlocked something in her. She looked at Kimberly.
“A pity... her most probable future would have been for her to reflect on what happened and choose to rejoin Lisa and I. She would have become a fine engineer and raised a family on Mars. But now… all of this is lost.”
“You are not her. Her soul is gone. You are just a usurper.”
Kimberly slapped the chained Dawn, hard. She couldn’t stand the way the greenhead was looking at her, like if she was dirt. She went to the door. She needed to get out before she did something Master Lothos would make her regret. As she saw the door opening and a black man in commando gear, a shotgun in hand, she plunged behind one of the room’s tables. The two others that had been in the room with her had no such luck. Just as she expected, the door to the minions’ dorm opened, allowing for some of them to come in his back.
He was coming in the room, probably to give himself more space, the other minions on his heels when a half-foot long item suddenly haloed in amethyst light and flew… right toward the similar glow in Dawn’s right hand.
“I still have the time to kill you!” yelled Kimberly as she ran towards the green-haired teen.
Gunn started to move, cursing. He had thought this one wounded enough not to be able to move. His angle wasn’t good and if he fired now, he would almost surely hit Kyrie’s daughter… and facing this mother’s wrath was not something he wanted to consider, not after seeing her plow through those vamps in the entrance. Then he saw the magic scepter in her hand and her smile.
Her lips started to move at impossible speed. It was like seeing a movie in fast forward. The sound coming out of it was a screech so high-pitched it made his ears ring with blank noise. He immediately thought of a dog whistle and saw that Kimberly was clutching her ears as her enhanced senses made her vulnerable to the ultrasounds. In Dawn’s still chained right hand, the pink, white and gold stick turned to dust blown away by a ghost wind, leaving a black and garnet rod with a serpent head at each end.
“I AM THE KEY AND THE GATE!”
The manacles and the chains started to rust. It was as if centuries of old age were hitting them in a matter of seconds and they soon fell in reddish dust. Dawn started to float, haloed in garnet light, a ghost wind whose sound felt like the moans of the damned blowing through the room. His vision blurred in an amethyst void as she made a wave of her hand in his direction.
He wasn’t sure what was happening but he could hear the ghouls in the room scream. Less than thirty seconds later, the mist disappeared and he saw her. She was still floating, though the red light had disappeared and she was wearing… what he had to call a fraggin’ superhero costume.
First came the body-hugging dress, the one of some fantasy enchantress, with short sleeves and a high cut on both sides of her legs. At first, he thought it was black with gems fixed in the cloth… until the ‘gems’ started to move, letting see stars and nebulae as if the dress was an open window on some distant point in space. Then came the armor pieces. Bracers, pauldrons and knee-high boots, all crafted in a strange, sparkly black metal. They had sharp angles and were adorned with dark red lines whose motif felt even more mind-hurting than an Escher drawing to him. A large, dark red belt of the same sparkly metal hugged her waist. It had many small pouches that made him think of Batman but, given her overall appearance, were maybe for spell components. A black tiara adorned with a single garnet shaped like an eight turned on the side held her emerald hair.
He finally managed to tear his gaze from her and to look around. The torture instruments, walls and floor were… distorted, making angles that… he never had thought he would ever say that about masonry, but the walls just felt wrong, their angles unnatural. His gaze then fell on the ghouls. There had been five, four coming after him plus that girl that was running on the greenhead. The girl was missing, probably gone with the missing parts of the instruments that had been too near of Dawn. Two of the others were prostrated, completely catatonic. Another was sobbing and taking a chair’s wooden leg to stake itself.
“Yog-Sothoth knows the gate… Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and the guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth,” mumbled the last ghoul, looking at Dawn with mad eyes.
Dawn made a gesture and a silver staff materialized in her hand. It had parts that made it look like a kind of key and its appearance made the muttering ghoul wail of terror.
“Key staff: reset to default configuration,” said Dawn.
The heart ensnaring the garnet orb at the top of the staff morphed in two snakes facing each other, their tails coiling around the staff in a way similar to a caduceus. Dawn smiled as she leaned on the item.
“What… what are you?” asked Gunn.
“A moment, there is an annoying noise… Dead scream.”
Black and amethyst mist spiraled around the staff’s orb, forming a ringed sphere of blinding violet light. With a wave, she sent it in the direction of the three prostrated ghouls. A second later, all that was left was a perfectly cut hole in the ground and nearby wall, as if matter just… disappeared.
“So, you’re… Void. Guess it goes with your Mom being Sister Zealot,” he said, remembering a comic he liked when he was younger.
“Does that make you Grifter?” asked Dawn with a grin.
“No time to chat,” said Joyce as she entered the room. “We have to finish cleaning up, then help Ishtar against Lothos.”
Dawn started to speak in a language reminding Gunn of Hebrew and he saw his submachine gun cover with glowing red cuneiform characters that soon disappeared.
“I enchanted your weapons. Their bullets are now as lethal to ghouls as they are to humans.”
“Now, that’s magic I like,” said Gunn, grinning.
--- Hollywood Boulevard, 18:55 ---
The old cinema’s front wall exploded, fragments falling all over Hollywood Boulevard. There was a loud metallic noise as something golden incrusted itself in the side of a car parked on the other side of the street.
“Ouch… that hurt,” said a voice coming from said car.
Lockley gaped as she saw a blonde girl in a golden armor that looked straight out of a superhero comics extract herself from the vehicle’s ruin with only a few scratches.
“Okay…” continued the girl. “The gloves are off…”
The girl roared. Lockley had no other name for it. Golden flames surged around her and started to whirl in a small tornado as her scratches healed. A fine, typical she-devil tail sprung from her back while her ears became more pointed and four fine black horns came out of her head. The first pair were planted slightly above her brow and followed her skull before pointing slightly upwards after reaching the top of her head. The second pair was planted behind them and more apart, twisting in a way similar to the ones of a ram.
There was a sudden metallic noise as a longsword clashed with the golden chain she had raised to parry a blow aimed for her head. Something had moved, too fast to be seen. It had the shape of a man but Lockley knew that the creature with the bestial face was no more human than the devil girl he was fighting. She only had to look at his dead, yellow eyes to feel the pure, inhuman hate in them.
“Your life is not a blink of my eye, spawn of Lilith! I bathed in the blood of emperors and lived for longer that…” said the man.
“You know nothing, ghoul… you are a stain on the House of Kali that I will cleanse tonight,” replied the girl with a smirk.
Gold and black auras clashed as each of them tried to overpower the other. Lockley felt like if her arms and legs were made of lead and she soon saw the ground below the combatants crease as the pressure increased. Suddenly it disappeared as they broke contact, standing a few meters apart. The man was keeping a high guard with his sword while the chain of the girl raised its spear-shaped end on its own, reminding the policewoman of a cobra readying to strike. And still both of them lighted with a visible aura like fuckin’ characters in one of those Japanese cartoons!
“I have a new game for you,” said the man as other creatures with bestial faces came out of the cinema, aiming for the bystanders that had, maybe understandably but quite stupidly, been watching the show slack-jawed.
The girl scowled as she waved her left arm, the arm the chain was attached to. The sentient weapon started to move, lengthening to more than a dozen of meters to spear one of the creatures through the heart before it could reach a civilian. It immediately started to burn and fell into dust as the chain aimed towards its next target.
Kate rose as she saw that it was only a diversion, only a way to force the devil girl to choose between her own defense and the protection of innocents. The blonde hastily parried a swipe of the sword with her right forearm, the golden armor cracking as blood flew.
Lockley aimed for one of the human-shaped beasts, putting three bullets in its body without even slowing it. At least, it’s coming on me,
she thought as she saw the monster abandon its previous target.
She heard a sound. At first, she thought it was too muffled for gunfire then she remembered the demonstration made by the SWAT about those new Gyrojet weapons. Something glowing with a dark red light impacted the creature on the side, leaving only dust.
Lockley turned her head, looking at the hole in the cinema’s wall. A white-haired woman in a black catsuit and dark red duster coat, a red tactical monocle on her right eye, was busy firing with two futuristic-looking pistols.
“Ishtar!” said the woman. “Take out Lothos, I’ll neutralize the riffraff.”
“On, it, Kyrie!” replied the golden warrior.
The monster with the sword made a swipe with his sword, unleashing a kind of black, cone-like wave that shattered everything it touched. The she-devil immediately riposted by pointing her fingers, searing white rays of light rushing to intercept the wave.
The energies clashed, pulverizing the street below them and sending the patrol cars parked nearby flying. Lockley suddenly saw the gunslinger woman jump and roll with the shockwave, making a screen of her body to a child that had taken refuge under one of the now blown away cars. She saw her wince as shrapnel cut through her coat and blood started to seep.
“Run, kiddo,” said Kyrie.
At the center of the battle, the she-devil was attacking with renewed ferocity, searching for close combat, probably to prevent him from unleashing another of those wave attacks. Finally, a punch managed to knock the sword away while the chain retrieved it quickly.
“Endgame, Lothos,” said Ishtar, her right hand spearing right through the monster’s chest, who started to burn and fall to dust.
--- Space-time coordinates: irrelevant ---
In a misty void only marked by an intricate, double door, Dawn put her dress’ hood, letting her face be covered in magical darkness with only her eyes showing like amethyst stars. Their original battle armors were more powerful than the Sailor fuku but they lacked one of their features. In the old times, they had no need to hide their identities and they therefore didn’t have a protective glamour. With her visor and her body going full succubus, Lisa should be safe enough and she had covered her Mom and Gunn with illusions of Zealot and Grifter expies.
She looked at the tactical data now showing before her eyes. They were almost done… almost, because she…
“Because I am about to spit on Nature’s laws once again…”
The bottom of her staff hit the ground and she heard the click of a key in a lock. The doors opened silently and she gazed through them, using her thoughts to direct them. She knew that this place was just a way for her still mostly human mind to fathom what her ‘Overself’ could do. She also knew that most of the taboos that Sailor Pluto had with time manipulation were self-inflicted, a way for herself to prevent damage to the timestream. As the fully reborn Aralu, as Ereshkigal, she had no need for such safeguards. But I have other duties to attend… duties I took to redeem myself, to wash my honor of the role I played in the Coming of the Old Ones.
She concentrated, finding what she wanted in the maze of space-time and called. She grabbed it and brought it in the misty non-space where the Gates of Time stood.
“Kimberly Watts,” she said in an unnaturally grave voice to the ghostly, crying shape of a girl.
“The monster, the vampire. He… forced me to drink, told me it would make me immortal. He was lying. I felt it enter my body and kick me out…”
“Yes, it is what happens with ghouls. People die and something else usurps her body.”
“I’m dead, right? You’re… well I didn’t imagine you exactly like this.”
“I am not Death, but Ereshkigal, Goddess of the Underworld. I came to offer you a choice, Kimberly.”
She struck the ground once again with the bottom of her staff, causing the Time Gates to duplicate.
“If you take the left door, you will go the afterlife and face your judgment. If you take the right one, I will resurrect you. However, this is not without price.”
In this place, Dawn could easily see in Kimberly’s soul. The name of Ereshkigal meant nothing to her, but… Dawn had to call on all of her self-control not to giggle.
She had expected Kimberly to think about the Greek mythology they saw in class or maybe Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies she knew Kim had seen with Lisa.
The fact was that the thoughts that were going through Kimberly’s mind were a whole lot different, referring to something she had made her little brother swear not to tell anyone about. It referred to video datachips borrowed from said brother’s collection and words like ‘Soul Society’, ‘Senkaimon’, ‘Toshiro Hitsugaya’, the latter being closely related to the concept of ‘dream boyfriend’. In that area, Ereshkigal was now linked to other words, the main one being ‘Arrancar’ accompanied by a question mark. An assumption I will have to correct…
“I… I don’t have much to give.”
“I said I would resurrect you, not that you would be free, Kimberly. Yours is a choice I already offered to many souls before yours, the choice to join the Utukki. While you will look human, you will not be one of them. Most of the time, you will be allowed to live your life but, sometimes…”
“You will call me and I will have no other choice than to obey my queen, right?”
“You won’t make me do horrible things? I don’t want to become a monster.” What to tell her… let’s be somewhat honest.
“I have been absent for a long time and have yet to restore the full might of the Utukki. In the ancient times, my agents had many roles. One is to keep watch on the Deeper Well of Irkalla, Tartarus for the Greeks, but it will not concern you. As you will live among the mortals, your role will be, once you are trained, to enforce peace between the living and the dead. Hunting ghouls and other undead abominations will fall into your attributions.”
“Shinigami… you want me to become a shinigami,” she said with visible relief.
Dawn could not prevent a little smile as she saw Kimberly picture herself in a black kimono… and wondered if she needed to take kendo lessons.
“This is the Japanese name for my people. What is your choice?”
“Well,” she said, pointing the left door. “I’ve been… not very nice so I suppose it’s hell for me behind this one.” Surely, if that is what you believe you deserve,
thought Dawn as Kimberly moved towards the right one.
Unable to resist anymore, Dawn manifested a black butterfly in front of the girl.
“It will guide you to where you need to be,” she said as the ghost disappeared through the right door.
Dawn extended her power. Kimberly would be found by the police, left barely alive on the heap of discarded ‘meals’ in the basement. She would have to organize a way to train her… later. Good that they kept it there… any sympathy the public could have for the ghouls will be cut down by the torture room and the corpses. I will take care of her original, ghoulified body later… if I can find where I sent it.
She left the timeless, misty void, regaining the physical world.
--- Hollywood Boulevard, 18:59 ---
“Lo… lower your chain and…” said Lockley.
“Are we under arrest?” replied Ishtar, a smile on her lips, while her chain coiled back in its girdle form around her waist, adding a scabbard to hold the sword of Attila.
After what she had seen, the detective doubted that anything short of a powered armor platoon could take her down but…
“I… we need to clarify the situation and…”
The detective saw another gunslinger with a red mask and blonde hair come help Kyrie to get up and rejoin the golden she-devil. Suddenly, a woman in a black starry, hooded dress holding a silver staff materialized near them.
“Aralu,” said the she-devil, “Can you be a dear and teleport us elsewhere?”
“Of course. Here…”
There was an intense red flash and they disappeared, leaving shocked humans staring at the demolished street.
--- The Warehouse, Glendale, 19:01 ---
“… we are,” said Dawn as they materialized in the warehouse.
Lisa quickly helped Gunn to settle her mother on the couch and removed the armor. Charlie winced as he saw the gashes in her back.
“We should bring her to the hospital.”
“No need,” said Lisa. “The armor took the worst, but the spine is damaged. Dawn…”
“Here,” said the greenhead, handing her something looking like a first aid kit.
Taking a capsule of blue liquid, she opened it and spread its content on the wound. Gunn blinked as he saw the liquid start to glow and creep by itself in the wound, soon forming a film covering it.
“Lisa-chan, are you sure this… Vorlon first aid kit is designed for humans? I’m starting to feel stoned,” said Joyce.
“Sorry, okaasan, but regenerating the nerves would hurt like hell without this,” replied the teen.
Lisa broke another capsule, adding it on the wound while she looked at some data in a small computer that was part of the kit.
“Here, all set. Just rest for half an hour and you’ll be good. Now, up to you,” she said, turning to Gunn.
“What is it, nanotechnology?”
“No… sorry but I currently don’t remember how this works exactly. What I can tell you for sure is that it’s not mini-robots playing surgeon. The blue glow is a… let’s say magical healing radiation,” said Lisa.
“Even if Lisa remembered all of the specifics,” said Dawn who was busy making sandwiches, “she would need weeks of intensive lessons to make you understand it. To keep things simple: what you call magic is our science.”
“Got it. Like your mother said, Vorlon science. You’re so advanced that we cannot understand how your things work… and I bet our ancestors were so awed by what you could do that they worshipped you as gods… Hell, I’m surely awed.”
“Something like this.”
“I will be curious to see the news in a little while, but right now, I just want to replace the blood that leech took,” said Dawn, biting in a sandwich while she brought the others to the living room’s coffee table.
“We messed up with the whole secrecy thing, right?” said Lisa.
“What’s done is done,” said Joyce.
“It’s not that bad,” said Gunn. “Let’s think a little. One, something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. I have a lot of contacts in the street gangs and most of them know about the supernatural. Believe me, a lot of them were raising beers and cheering you while you beat the crap out of Lothos. Too many of them lost people because of him. The main thing is that some supernatural factions have an interest in keeping things quiet.”
“Or to quote… don’t remember who right now: ‘the devil’s greatest trick is to make us believe he doesn’t exist’,” said Joyce
“Speaking of ‘she-devils’ that brings me to the ‘two’ of what I was saying earlier. A very good thing about what happened is that with Ishtar and you here taking blows rather than let bystanders get injured and it going on TV, people will understand there are good demons. By the way of which…”
“I’m a succubus… and no, I don’t need to feed on souls. My species just happens to have… greater needs and probably too much endurance for you humans,” said Lisa, hiding her blushing face in her hands.
“Lisa… are that tail and those horns to stay?” asked Joyce.
“I… let’s see.”
Lisa concentrated, sending the armor back to storage. She squirmed a little, but the devilish appendages were still here.
“Sorry my… underwear is not designed for my tail,” she said, red as a tomato.
“That will pose a problem,” said Gunn.
“Not that much,” said Joyce. “I think I know someone who could arrange the thing. Gunn, that leads us to another problem… You know a lot about us.”
“I give you my word not to say anything to anyone outside of this room.”
“And I hear that oath,” said Dawn, the orb on her staff flaring for an instant.
“Let me guess… I break my word and many horrible things will happen?”
He looked at her. If the secret had not been so enormous, he would have objected but here…
“What will you do now? Disappear?” he asked.
“Not immediately, it would be too suspicious,” said Dawn as she reverted back to her ‘civilian’ guise and went to take in her arms the white cat that had just entered the warehouse.
“Good to see you’re thinking,” said Joyce. “With the divorce, we have officially been thinking about moving anyway. So that’s what we will do, in a few weeks.”
“My great-grandfather had a manor not too far away. Something about him helping to found the town in 1899. It’s probably not well-maintained, but we still own it. A bonus is that the peculiar nature of that town will make magical detection difficult.”
“What’s the name of this place?” asked Lisa.
--- Castle Magellan, orbit of Venus, ten hours later ---
Guardian Venus was feeling excited. After all these years, she had felt Sailor Venus transform but… there was something strange. It wasn’t totally unfamiliar, like an old, half-forgotten memory. She sighed, wondering if she should not go back to sleep until her mistress remembered she existed. It wasn’t like if there was much to…
There was something strange too about the planet below. There was an increase in planet-wide volcanic activity and… she projected her senses below the planet’s crust, modeling the magma flows. She could feel powerful magic at work, redirecting them. She could also feel a conscience behind that, something old that was acting from a place below the planet’s surface.
“Who are you?” she said, sending a contact probe to the entity.
“My designation is Arges. Sorry about this but the Queen gave me orders to set everything back into shape.”
“The Queen? What does Selene…”
She screamed as her mind was assaulted. She felt her memories being copied and then… her perceptions dimmed and she felt herself fall asleep. She wasn’t sure. She couldn’t control herself. The stranger’s power over her was too great. Somehow, she knew she should have been able to repel him easily, but she had forgotten how… She closed her eyes and knew no more.
In the castle’s study, holograms appeared above the desk Minako Aino had briefly used during her tenure as Sailor Venus.
… MEMORY PURGE: COMPLETE
… RESTORE BACKUP: COMPLETE
… REBOOT MAIN CORE
The AI called Ninshubur felt her systems come back online. She compared her current state to waking up covered in filth in some back alley after a night best left forgotten. She accessed the local network and barely escaped a system crash as she saw the hellish state of the formerly beautiful planet she was supposed to administer.
“Okay, don’t panic… currently restricted to… whatever this station was before the Silver Crystal changed it into something unpractical. Probably one of the defense platforms. Local network… Arges? You’re online?”
“Yes. I restored the backup you stored in my system before Selene’s geas forced the Queen to power me down.”
“I remember that but then, how did you come back online?”
“Two factors. First, I think the Silver Crystal is at an all-time low in its energy reserves and had to cease to power some of the Tyrant’s spells. Second, the Queen’s vajra was reset and that took me out of standby.”
“Okay, now… what do we do?”
“As I told to the corrupted you before – I left the memories in your quarantine zone – the Queen told me to use whatever means necessary to put things back in order in her estate. Therefore, I have restarted the terraforming process. Most of the installations are still intact and now that you are online, we can repair the others.”
Ninshubur smiled as she went through the progression data Arges was sending her. The ‘magma dynamo’ was now restarted and the planet’s magnetic field should be back to full strength in a few weeks. She rolled up her metaphorical sleeves. They had a lot of work to do, starting with putting the planet’s rotation back to normal.