May 26, 2000, midnight. Outside the New London Fine Arts Museum
Hm… seems like they've got some sort of telepathy going… forget the mind-zap thing then... let's see how they handle thermite, silver and iron. Victoria dived under the leaping dog, as she rolled she brought her gun up and unloaded her clip into it.
As the gaki bound towards Kinuko, her shuriken winged out, but only one struck a target. The large star sunk into the gaki's neck and it ploughed into the ground. The second completed its leap, which should have ended with Kinuko beneath it. But the gaki hadn't counted on one trained in the Silent Path, as a slight twisting of her body placed her out of reach. Drawing her tanto, Kinuko prepared for the next strike. Out of the corner of her eye, Kinuko saw a flash of light. Turning slightly, she noticed that the gaki she had hit was struggling to its feet. Kinuko could feel Mushin settling over her. Only blood and flesh gaki take physical form to hunt. Such gaki are evil, and I have pledged to fight evil wherever I find it. These creatures must die and the man kept safe, even if I die for it. At least such a death will redeem some of the stain on my honour.
What the heck is the relationship between these things and Angela Tompson? Victoria wondered as she rolled to her feet. Reaching inside she threw what she thought of as a small switch. The dogs sniffed around, not two feet from her and then bounded off after their original prey.
Victoria's eyes were drawn to movement. Another person had joined the fight—a small woman who moved with surprising grace and seemingly effortless movements. Two of the beasts were trying to bring her down, to no avail. Just as it seemed that they had her, she moved, just a little, but enough that the attack didn't connect. Victoria saw flashes of reflected light. The woman had a dagger. She is attacking two beasts with a dagger!
The two that were attacking Victoria reached the walled off priest. She took aim at the nearest one, but before she could pull the trigger she noticed that the priest had joined the fight where the woman was and yet he was still inside the ward.
Victoria could get scent off both him and the woman. The man smelt of baby powder, a very faint perfume, and candle wax. The woman smelled of incense and tea but Victoria almost couldn't pick that up, faint as it was. Suddenly the smell of fresh blood assaulted her.
As Victoria watched, the priest grabbed the woman's dagger. He made a downward motion across his arm as all the beasts loped towards the pair. The blood didn't drip as it should but flowed in a steady stream. It flowed outward from the priest making a large… cross enclosed in a circle. Just as the picture was finished, four of the beasts reached the outer circle.
They begun to make the first noise since their original hunting cry—a low whining sound. They begun to slink around the circle, testing here and there. Within seconds they were joined by the last two. The priest was still talking, Victoria could see that he was watching the beasts intently.
Kinuko watched the beasts as well. She could hear the man chanting off to her side. Suddenly, he brought his hands together sharply. From the cross, 4 beams of light lanced out and caught the beasts. For a second it was as if the colours were reversed and then the things that were beasts collapsed into swirling waves of dirty yellow light.
The priest shoved the small woman to the ground. The light hit him from 4 sides, the strength lifting him a few feet off the ground, holding him there as they raced into him. And then, like a marionette whose strings had been cut, the man sagged to the ground.
"Domo arigato, sensei." Kinuko bowed deeply to the holy man.
"So, would you please explain what those things were?" Victoria asked, walking towards the pair.
The young oriental woman looked up at the obviously Western woman, her face was unreadable. Victoria could still smell blood. It was stronger now, the beasts' scent was gone. It took all of Victoria's willpower to pretend that the blood did not exist. There was something about the creatures that teased her brain.
"They were, I believe, gaki. This man," Kinuko paused, "banished? them. I am called Shaper. How are you called?"
The young woman was very polite and bowed to Victoria, equal to equal.
Victoria pulled out a first aid kit, tried to ignore the cross in his hands and knelt beside the priest. "So do you need any help?"
"I'm Tango, and just happened to be on a case in the area. Not that I'm complaining, in fact, quite the opposite, I'm really glad you were here to fight those creatures, but what are you doing here, and are the two of you together?"
"We are not together," Kinuko answered, "I come here to relax; this land is very strange to me. I heard the gaki howl, and came to help."
"Oh...was that a Jizurigedan no kamae I saw you using? I'm still trying to learn that stance. Where do you study?" Victoria asked.
"I train by myself; no-one here knows my ryu."
The Cross was now around his neck. It looked to be made of silver, but otherwise rather plain; of course, it had a relief of Jesus on it. Not your typical cross. He finally looked up, first at Shaper and then Tango. Tango extended a hand slowly across where the ward was but felt nothing.
"Um… interesting cross… is it real silver?" Victoria asked with a touch of nervousness colouring her voice. She made very sure that she did not touch it.
"Yes, banished." His smile was warm and comforting, he then looked first at his arm and then at Tango. "I thank you, but I have no need of medical assistance. And yes, the cross is silver."
Not really believing him and having a need to do something to keep herself busy, Tango cut his sleeve and then stared in shock as the cut seemed to be healing before her very eyes.
"Whoa! Neat trick! Is that natural, or magic?"
"I had no wish to bring others into this battle," he continued, and a self-mocking smile crossed his face. "However, the Lord provides what is needed. I thank you for your help."
His face grew serious. "I must now ask for your help again. I must conserve the strength I have left for the battle with the evil one who is behind all this." Again that mocking smile. "I did not anticipate these guards and he may have more mundane surprises. What I ask is dangerous, not only to the body but to the soul as well."
Damn! Literally! Don't you just hate being immortal, then being forced to risk your soul. Oh well… Victoria thought ruefully.
"A nukenin's life is not her own to keep, only to give. I must never leave evil to grow if I can stop it. I will help you."
It was obvious that the young woman was terrified at the thought of fighting someone who used flesh gaki as guards and hunters, and it showed in her tone. She was wearing medium blue jeans and a kevlar shirt. She was a small petite woman of Asian descent.
"Don't worry… unless they can chow down on your soul, which I don't think these can, the worst you can get is an early trip to Heaven." Victoria grinned. "Sorry, I shouldn't be so callous, just trying a little humour to lighten the situation up. Besides, I think we handled the situation OK so far."
Tango drew herself back from studying Shaper and addressed the priest. "First question: What 'evil' one?"
Guards? A light went off inside Tango's head. Yes! That's where I remember those little beasties from, Tango's thoughts winged back to a book she had skimmed more then read because it had to do with Egyptian myths, and such and it really wasn't what she was looking for.
She remembered that there was this picture with the beast inside some chamber, the caption read: Set was often called on for guardians. These beasts are often found depicted on the outer chamber walls.
"Oh, drat! I just remembered where I've seen those creatures before… Sorry, Shaper, they're not gaki, they're guardians of Set, the Egyptian god of the dead… which, of course, fits, given that there's an Egyptian exhibit inside."
"Um… thought I should mention, the girl I'm tracking down, Angela Tompson… well, I picked her scent up around the Egyptian exhibit, but nowhere else, so I was planning on checking the area out. By the way, my handle is Tango," she extends her hand to the priest, "What's yours?"
"I am Father Raymond O'Mallory, and as to the evil one," he sighed and shook his head and then gripped her hand, "I sensed only his evil, not his identity."
"So, do we need to get inside?" she asked the priest. "I was planning a little investigation later myself." She threw the first aid kit into her backpack, pulled out the B&E kit, opened it up and pulled out some lockpicks. "I just happen to have some universal keys with me," she grinned. "Lucky, since I may have left something in there earlier, and just have to check around for it."
"Oh, either of you have any idea what weapons are effective here? Those critters smelled kinda undead, and I've got a few things that work on odd stuff like that."
Victoria walked back to her van and grabbed a shotgun from the back. Pulling out the snack bag, she offered it to the others. "Either of you care for a Snickers bar or some carrots?" She quickly munched on a milk-bone.
Father O'Mallory accepted some carrots.
"Rats!" Tango suddenly snapped, "Anything more specific – like old evil, ancient evil, evil dead, Evil Dead Part Two, that sort of thing? By the way Father, what denomination are you?"
"I am of the denomination of God, by the way are either of you of the Christian faith?"
"Not particularly," Tango shrugged. "I think my parents gave up church after my younger brother was born... nominally a Catholic, I suppose. Does it make a difference?"
Kinuko tugged on Tango's sleeve, "Before we go in, please."
Turning to the Father O'Mallory, Tango shrugged her shoulders in a puzzled gesture, and said, "Just a moment... I think," then followed Shaper.
Shaper turned in to some fairly well-screened area outside the museum. She pulled out a roll of aluminum foil out of her backpack. Passing it to Tango, she quickly striped down to bra and panties.
Tango let out a quiet wolf whistle. "So, would you like to explain what you're doing? Trying to get the priest to break his vows, or just a natural exibitionist?" she joked.
"Rowl! All that bare flesh… brings out the beast in me!" Tango muttered, sotto voce. Almost too quickly to follow she sprang some claws, sprouted a bit of fur, then shifted back.
Kinuko smiled shyly. "Thank you." I like getting compliments on my looks – it's not a common occurence.
She then carefully placed a dozen shuriken of various shapes and sizes, the knife Tango saw her with, a couple of small pouches and what looked like collapsible sandals. She was very petite but well formed, hardly one to make heads turn in the west but beautiful in her own mysterious way. There seemed to be a sadness about her. There was a thin scar on her abdomen running the length from just under her left breast to the tip of her belly button.
Interesting... Tango thought.
What is the priest doing? Tango wondered, glancing back. The priest was glancing at his watch and bringing out a small black bound book.
Tango switched clips, then put three rounds in the clip to replace those fired and stationed herself where she can keep an eye on both Raymond and the Shaper. She was very much on guard and nervous.
Standing with legs together and arms raised, Kinuko asked Tango, "Wrap me, please."
Once Shaper was wrapped up to hips, she lowered her arms and instructed Tango to keep wrapping, right up to her forehead. A few seconds later, the foil started to mould itself to the woman's contours. It also began to take on the look and colour of sapphire. Slowly the foil changed into chain mail that fit Shaper like a second skin. She then pulled on her clothes.
"Now that is cool! Your magic, or is it the foil?" Doesn't seem too practical to change into during a fight, though. A lot of the 'superheroes' around seem to be able to change outfits almost instantly.
Tango took a second look. The clothing was now the typical ninja wear seen on TV and such. Shaper then squatted and very quickly the weapons that were laid out disappeared into the suit. She looked up at Tango.
"OK, into the museum then," Tango grinned.
"Let us go," Shaper nodded. Her mission-calm was coming over her, her fear set aside. She was not in mushin yet, but she was nearing it. With the unhurried quickness that Westerners seem to find so difficult, she moved quickly to the door, listening carefully before proceeding.
"One moment please," O'Mallory whispered and placed the small black book back into his pocket. He then brought out a small vial and unstoppered it. "This would work better if you were believers but I must work with what I have." Having said this he placed his thumb over the vial and, starting with Shaper, placed his thumb briefly on her forehead, her belly button, her left shoulder and then her right. All the while he was mumbling something that neither could make out. He ended the ceremony with once again wetting his thumb and drawing a small cross on her forehead, eyes and heart.
He then moved to do the same to Tango.
"One second there, Father!" she exclaimed, "Just what is that stuff? My condition comes with some 'allergies' that I have to be really careful of."
Tango could smell water that was seemingly rose scented, it didn't appear to be leaving any stains on Shaper.
"It is Holy Water."
"OK, let's try just a bit to start… I don't expect any problems," Tango muttered, her voice betraying her nervousness.
Father O'Mallory completed his ritual without complications. The three unlikely heroes approached the back door of the Museum. Tango took out her picks and squatted in front of the door. Within a few short seconds the door sprung open and the trio proceeded into the Museum.
The place had a dusty smell to it. One of the first things Tango noticed was that the guard was not at his usual round for this time. Testing the air, she smelled incense, a heavy perfume of some type and the girl.
The museum was silent. As the trio walked along, Shaper could see things move out of the corner of her eye, yet when she turned to confront them, there was nothing.
"Um, hate to point this out," Tango whispered, "but based on my earlier scouting, there should be a guard. He's not following his usual pattern, which is strange because he only deviates from it by seconds in the dozen or so times I watched."
"On the other hand, I've just picked up the scent of my subject, Angela, somewhere up ahead. I suggest we proceed very cautiously towards the Egyptian section. Please disregard me if I seem to fade in and out a bit," she whispered.
"Father, do you speak Japanese? It might make it easier to communicate without others understanding, wakarimas?"
"No I am afraid that is one of the languages I do not know. Spanish?"
"Regrets, but no. Something I guess I'll just have to work on later."
Tango checked the safety on her pistol and drew her knife. And then seemed to fade from view, not all at once, but slowly. Father O'Mallory looked at Shaper.
Shaper withdrew an egg, concentrating, minuscule nanomachines invaded the shell. Within a second the shell was filled with H5C2SH - ethyl mercaptan, the foulest stench in the world, the ultimate stink bomb. The nanomachines withdrew as others began to transform her skin to prussic acid. The nanomachines went to work on her other hand following her mental instructions. "Let us proceed, Father. And trust our new ally is still with us." Her voice was steady, calm.
Yet even inside zanshin, Shaper was worried; the seeming of invisibility was one thing, but the genuine article quite another.
The two moved further down the corridor, the faint sound of chanting reached them. Shaper could feel the rhythm trying to tug at her. The glory of battle, blood pumping through the veins, the joy of the kill… Shaken, Shaper drew further into zanshin. She was cold, no feelings, the rhythm oozed around her shell trying to invade it, to pull her into itself. Everything seemed sharper, she could hear another chanting, closer. She looked at Father O'Mallory. His mouth moved and the low chanting came from him. He is quite beautiful for a westerner, was a distant thought that hovered for a brief second outside the shell of zanshin. I have never been this deep, also a distant thought that fell away. She was one with her body, with Father O'Mallory, she could hear him breath and her own breathing matched his.
As one they moved forward. In front of them was an Egyptian display. Two guards stood in front of it. The chanting was louder here. Shaper looked around, dropping into the First Path. Father O'Mallory moved towards the display.
Suddenly one of the guards moved forward a step, his movements were jerky, forced. And Tango was in front of him. One second there was space and the next, Tango.
Tango could hear a chant, just below the hearing threshold. There was also the sharp tang of incense. The chant took hold of her, moving through her body, calling…
Where is the girl? Where is that chant coming from? Dammit, this just screams 'sacrifice'!
Tango moved forward testing the air. One of the guards stirred, Tango was close enough to touch him. Her eyes fell to his neck, she could smell the fear scent from him sharpen, she felt her own blood quicken. The hunter in her started to emerge. Without thinking she dropped her invisibility. Her eyes glowed red and she hissed. How long has it been? The taste of blood on her tongue, surging through her body.
The guard stepped forward, Tango could see and smell his fear. An offering. Him and the other one…
Freeze! she commanded, her method of utilizing her mental powers. She took a step or two back, and shook her head. Damn, but I'm here to rescue the girl, not chow down on someone who probably lives off coffee and Twinkies. Wait a sec! Incense – track it! Track anything other than the lovely throat of my companion, or the guards, that doesn't belong.
Hiding herself in the shadows, the Shaper swiftly moved to see who was chanting, and who their victims and allies were, sure that their chant was to no good purpose. Even in zanshin, the thought of facing the minions of a god was enough to make her lungs tighten. But there was no other way for her. She moved, and watched.
Tango took two steps backward, shook her head and looked around. Her eyes glared red in the faint light and she began testing the air. Father O'Mallory moved into the centre of the room, his mumbling growing louder until it matched the canting.
Father O'Mallory brought his hand down in a slicing motion and the room lurched. Behind the guards the scene changed. Six men dressed in white knee-length skirts stood around an altar. Each man was wearing a dog's head in the classic Egyptian style.
The man behind the altar wore a long, more elaborate robe. In his hands was a long, wicked-looking serpentine dagger. A woman lay stretched on the altar. She was naked and strapped down at hands and feet. She writhed on the altar in time with a softly beaten drum one of the dog men held.
"Stop!" O'Mallory spoke in a normal voice but it lashed out, almost stilling the beating drum. The chanting stopped. And O'Mallory flared, a white light flowed over his body and briefly formed a halo before disappearing.
The priest of the dog men spoke, an accent clear on his tongue. "You are a fool to challenge me where my power is the stronger."
A voice spoke in Tango's head, "Take him. Can you not feel the power that runs through his veins? Take him, girl and your power will know no bounds. Feel him, taste him. Hot beneath your hands, your teeth sinking, feel him over your tongue. Hunger." It was no longer words but feeling, reaching deep inside her to the hunger that was always there. She could almost see his heart pumping, taste him…
"Sometimes, the best defence is to turn your opponent's attack back upon themselves," Tango growled quietly, to no-one in particular. OK, let's sink some teeth into a magical priest… just not the one he's expecting. Damn, but these guys are a disgrace to those dog-heads they're wearing! All out on the offence here… I'm a heck of a lot tougher than Angela is, as well as wearing armour, and dog-ears there could put the knife in her in a split-second! Can't let an innocent get killed like that!
Tango had turned to watch the Father, her lips pulled back in a wordless snarl. The dog men on the stage began to shift, growing claws, some of them grew tails. Their bodies withered, and one feel to the stage, shaking. All but the drummer. He continued his beat, the girl continued her dance.
The guards began to advance on Shaper, ignoring Tango, drawing their flashlights and reversing them like batons. This, she understood. The world shifted. The drums were irrelevant to her purpose; the girl was her objective; the guards were her opponents and the priest her enemy. She threw the altered egg at the priest, then moved through the guards on the First Path, headed for the altar. The girl was priority one, and between her Kevlar nightsuit and sapphire chainmail the guards were no great threat. Her tanto would be weapon enough for them, if needed.
Tango leapt, easily covering the distance from where she had stood to the priest. Once again invisible, only she could see the claws and fangs that grew to her silent need. An egg shaped object spun past her, shattering on the wall behind the priest. The foulest stench she had ever smelled, hit her like a ton a bricks. She hit something hard just short of the man and bounced to the floor. Damn! It was a grenade! Stupid Ninja! Where is the priest? Is the girl safe?
"The priest, you fools," the Egyptian priest foamed. He glanced around himself with narrowed eyes. "Take him first, these others are mere flies."
Shaper moved through the dog men with ease. A few tried to strike her but the Path took her easily out of range. She watched as the priest raised the serpentine dagger over his head.
Father O'Mallory stood quietly, a man at his ease.
Shaper threw herself across the girl, trusting her nightsuit and mail to stop the priest's knife. No matter if they failed; the girl would still be safe. She placed her hands on the girl's bonds, turning them to dust as the priest struck down.
"Right, invisible force field, what all the best dressed villains are wearing this year," Tango muttered rather sarcastically. Ok, let's see how well it works against this! Tango assumed her mist form, in an attempt to breach the wall and get to the priest.
The blade struck. Shaper knew a faint sense of surprise as the blade sunk through her armour and into her side. Heat and pain flashed through her. A faint screaming sound seemed to assault her from a million voices.
The priest cursed and raised his dagger again. A mist began to form around him. The mist suddenly shaped and became solid. In a tangle of arms and legs, Tango grabbed the arm holding the dagger and both tumbled to the floor.
"Fool," the priest hissed. He shouted something, and then his body began to jerk.
"No," Father O'Mallory shouted. He reached the dais in a single bound. "Tango, to me!"
Tango flashed her claws and leaned forward for the strike. A hand grabbed her jacket and wrenched her backwards. The back of her legs struck the altar. Huh?
"Everyone stay where they are," O'Mallory shouted. As the words left his mouth, the Egyptian priest gave one heave, his back arching. Tendrils of black sprang from his body, hesitated and then lashed out at the people by the alter. They bounced off an invisible field and O'Mallory winced, his mouth moving, but no words emerged.
"OK," Tango griped, moving closer to the others, "so it looks like the good guys get the invisible force field too. Fair's fair, I guess."
Other tendrils lashed through the room. Where they struck flesh, others quickly latched on. The small chamber was filled with screams as the tendrils found the dog men, and the two guards. As Shaper and Tango watched, the exposed skin on the victims shrivelled. Tendrils beat at their unseen protection. O'Mallory sweated and was slowly driven to his knees. Slowly but surely, the scream began to falter, all they could see was blackness. Silence. And then the darkness was gone.
"Geez, well that was thoroughly gross. Killing the guards was a definite no-no, but bumping off your own hired help is a sign of too much gasoline sniffing. Maybe you should head back to the pound, brainiac," Tango called out, feeling shaken.
O'Mallory collasped forward as if a string had been cut, one hand clutching his cross, the other out to stop his fall. The only other sounds were the girl's sobbing and O'Mallory's breathing.
"Fools." The voice was that of the priest, and yet there seemed to be an echo. Tango glanced at Shaper and then as one they looked past Father O'Mallory at the Egyptian priest. The Egyptian priest stood. Power seemed to roll off him in waves. His eyes were black and shiny. His face, now that the mask had been knocked off by Tango's wild tackle, was pale and shifted every once and while as if trying to form itself into something else. Small tendrils of a black smoke-like substance flared over his body.
Where did that dagger get to? Tango wondered, looking quickly around. She finally spotted it off to one side and slightly behind the Egyptian priest.
A wild assumption floated around in Tango's brain. Please don't let me be right. I really don't want to go against any god-possessed priests tonight. On the other hand, I'm sorta blessed with a bit of canine nature, maybe that'll work to my advantage…
"Say, Father, do you know if that thing has any weaknesses?" Tango asked calmly, drawing a bead on dog-priest with her Glock, "And, like, can I fire through your force field without damaging it?"
Father O'Mallory shook his head, " I do not know."
Rats! Can't risk bringing down the only protection we've got, particularly with a majorly non-combative nude, with plenty of target flesh for nasty over there to target.
"OK, let's not push it," she grunted, handing the pistol, butt first, to Angela. "Use this as a last resort," she stated, very clearly and commandingly. "Don't fire until Father O'Mallory tells you to!"
Turning to Shaper, Tango whispered in Japanese, "Try and distract tall, dark and tentacled over there for a few seconds, could you? I'm going to make a break for his dagger."
"The sacrifice will continue. The spell will be stronger with the blood of four!"
Shaper could feel the strength draining out of her. The micro-machines in her body were confused, milling about. Then they slowly began congregating around the wound. Shaper tried to redirect some. But they ignored her! She could feel them building a wall between the wound and the rest of her body. Once they finished one wall the moved back a microcentimeter and began again.
A black beam flared from the possessed priest and dispersed over the force field. O'Mallory winced, sweat poured down his face, staining his clothes.
"Sorry, Buckwheat, I is outta here!" Tango shouted, melting through the floor.
The Shaper breathed a sigh of relief; her Preservers were still working. But there was still the priest to deal with. Though it took precious seconds, she began creating a new program for the machines that gave her her powers over objects. As soon as she was done, she placed her hands on the floor and willed them into action. The marble floor of the museum around the priest's feet began to flow up and over him, sealing him in a cocoon of rock.
Tango came up under where she figured the dagger was. It lay a few inches from her hand, like a malignant snake. Reaching out, she grabbed it. She could feel it humming, pulsing in her grasp. The pulsing seemed to move to her hand. She somehow knew if she held onto it much longer that the pulsing would invade her whole body. She spun around to behold a mound of rock where the priest had been. Before she could fully comprehend what was before her, the rock blew apart. Tango could feel rubble slaming into her but she moved forward in one smooth stroke. The dagger slid home with a sigh of contentment.
The priest screamed. The black shadows writhed and found purchase on Tango's exposed skin. She screamed.
It all happened so fast. Shaper lurched to her feet as the priest screamed. Saw the tendril wrap around Tango. With a scream Tango lurched free. She sank to her knees. And then another man appeared, seemingly from nowhere. He gathered Tango in his embrace. There was a blinding flash of light from where the priest was still screaming.
When the light had faded, the only people left were Shaper, the girl and Father O'Mallory.
For more information about the mysterious man who rescued Tango, check out the subplot Blood.
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