“Get up, boy.” His voice was rough, like a heavy smoker, husky with a slight country twang. “Get up, we have to go now. Where is your father?”
“He didn’t make it. Who the hell are you?” I tried to sound tougher than I was. Then I threw up. He moved.
“It will burn all night. The Light makes for fine kindling. Gives us cover.” He wore a black trenchcoat made from some strangely slick matte-black leather. It was thick, coarse and had a weird animal smell. His clothes were hard to make out as if they defied my ability to focus on them. His shoes were a serviceable boot with hard metal studs all the way to the kneecap. “Get it out, because in two minutes we will be in the wind.” The firefighters gathered around the fire were not having any luck putting out the fires.
“They have my governess. My father said I had to find her.” I started to feel a bit better.
“I don’t care two bits about your nanny. Your father called me and told me to come and get you. I got you. My job is to keep you alive. You are my priority now.”
I did not appreciate his tone. I grabbed his jacket and pulled myself to my feet. I leaned in close. “She is the closest thing I have to a family. I don’t know you and couldn’t give a damn about what your job is. So you help me or I will do this by myself.” My chest hurt but I could feel this strange power trying to gather itself.
“Alright, there is no need for that kind of talk. Do you have anything that belongs to her?” I thought about it and reached into the holster on my hip.
“This was hers.” He took off his jacket and threw it to the ground.
“Give me that.” He snatched the gun from my hand and released the clip. Then he threw the gun on the jacket. I watched him move his hands and with a ritual movement he touched his jacket. It became dark, shrouded in shadow and then the shadow stood. It had the shape of an alligator or crocodile, low to the ground long and masked completely in shadow. Except for its exceptionally white teeth. The gun was in front of it and it was sniffing the gun. It turned as if to smile, showing off its teeth floating in a shadow body, then it shot off into the dark. “If she’s still here, he will find her.”
“What do we do in the meantime?”
“We hope they don’t find us first. How much do you know?”
“The Life, boy. How much did your father tell you?”
“Nothing he didn’t have to. Which was basically nothing at all.”
“Did you get any schooling at all?”
“Yes, I got plenty of education, can speak a dozen languages, can use basic magic signs and sigils. I can fly anything, drive anything, fix anything and shoot anything.”
“Okay, so you’re not a complete idiot.”
“Are you going to tell me what is going on?”
“Eventually, but now is not the time. I reloaded your gun. Do not shoot unless I tell you so. Do you understand?”
“Let’s go. He’s found something.”
“Yeah, kid, my jacket.”
We ran out of the alley away from the fire and the only home I would ever likely care about. Once we got to the street we didn’t run but maintained a brisk pace as we headed toward the local boulevard. I could feel the tension draining out of me and I felt suddenly tired.
“You know, I don’t even know your name.”
“Umbra, kid. Keep up, pay attention. If you see anything out of the corner of your eye, you tell me, right quick.”
“Okay, Mister Umbra.” He pulled up short and turned toward me. He towered over me and looked me in the eyes. His eyes, previously hidden under his hat were suddenly visible. There was nothing but darkness in them. No iris, no sclera, just an sense of a never-ending night with tiny glimmerings of light.
“Umbra, no mister, no title. Just Umbra. I know you are working with a lot of stress and handicaps right now but I need you to focus. You are a man now, and you are one of us. We don’t take titles, we don’t use ’em. We have our name and that is the most important thing about us. Your father was Equinox. And now, that is your name. Whatever he used to call you is not important.”
He turned and kept walking up the street, focused on something far away. “He didn’t used to call me anything but Boy. I think I may have had a name we used when we introduced ourselves but it changed every time we changed towns.”
I was about to say something else when I saw it. There was a flickering in the corner of my eye. When I turned my head, I couldn’t see anything, but as soon as I stopped looking at it, I felt a distinct awareness of something on the side of my vision. The boulevard was almost completely quiet, with only a few people coming home from their night jobs, heads down, focused on getting home.
“Good, you saw them. Get ready, they are surrounding us. She is up ahead and still fighting.” In this section of the Bronx there was an overhead train system and there were pillars of steel holding the train above the city streets. I was able to ride the trains a few times. It was noisy but fun. There was a station ahead and she was still alive fighting there, but I could not see her, directly, only sense her. No one else seem to see or hear her either.
“You can’t see them can you?” He stared at me and then grabbed my head. He turned it left, than right, looking into my eyes. “You have not had it long enough.” He turned and bent over to pick up his alligator-cum-jacket. “Put this on. Its the only way you will be of any use to me. Don’t take it off for any reason.”
I gripped the jacket like I expected it to come to live in my hands, but it seemed to have returned to its jacket state, inert and still creepy. As I slid into it, I noticed its coldness, its seemed to suck away my heat and sweat and re-sized itself to fit my much smaller proportions. It was only then I noticed how big Umbra was. I was also aware, I could no longer see anyone on the street. Okay, that wasn’t true. I couldn’t easily see anyone on the street. It was if I was seeing them through a gossamer veil.
“Stop gawking. Get your head in the game.” With just a few more seconds. I became aware of them. Then I wondered how I could have missed them. They were massive, much bigger than the things that attacked the house. They had that same alien feeling about them, but they did not have wings. They made up for that by having two sets of arms. They were also surprisingly fast, much faster than their size would have you think. Their bodies had that same luminescent mother-of-pearl look to them and they did not have any kind of clothing, armor or weapons, save their wickedly clawed arms; all four of them.
Then I saw her; Ms. Hart. She was beautiful. And she was still fought with the creatures. She wore a silver body suit, similar to the one she trained me in. While she had it on, she was faster and stronger than she had any right to be. I had never seen her as fast and as deadly as she was tonight. I realized she was always taking her time with me. She could have destroyed me, at any time during out training
She looked tired. She was covered in blood, some bright red, some black. The blood of the creatures splashed on a nearby shadow person and they dissolved into a green and gaseous cloud, accompanied by a baleful scream of sheer terror.
She was using a metal shod spear made of the same shiny silver, with a blade at the tip and whipped it around her slicing away the limbs of the much larger creatures. But the loss of an arm did not seem to incapacitate them as well as I thought it should. But they were not asking me. I would have suggested rolling around on the ground.
She saw us approaching and instead of looking relieved she appeared to be far more angry. Her rage cost three of the glowing giants their heads. She vaulted over their bodies she strode toward us as the creatures used her break to completely surround us.
“What do you think you are doing?” Her voice was sharp like a knife.
“Rescuing you,” I began.
“You stupid boy, I lead them away so you could escape.” Her emphasis seemed to focus her will. Her words cut me. Literally. A slash opened on my cheek. Using my sleeve, I wiped away my blood and her rage. Where Umbra’s jacket touched, the injury was just as easily healed. But it hurt.
“And you, you ought to know better.” Her gaze fell on Umbra, who lit a cigarette and apparently ignored her.
The circle closed around us. The giants began to move toward us, a light in their eyes. The streets were clear, and a chill wind blew past me. I drew my pistol.
“Feel free to shoot any time, kid.” He blew out his match.
Equinox © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]