equinox – the last scion (part 2)
Umbra took off his hat and threw it at one of the Light. Halfway there, it changed its shape and became a hawk made of shadow. Its razor sharp wings sliced off the heads of two of them with its wide wingspan. It had a keening cry, mournful, the kind of sound a hawk might make past its prime. It flew past them and wheeled about slashing low through a half a dozen of them before returning to Umbra and landing on his head as a hat.
Ms. Hart followed behind the hawk, an engine of destruction swirling her spear and clearing a path through their ranks. “Keep up, we’re not staying.” She was everywhere and nowhere. My father used to called the spear, the king of weapons, because of its reach, speed and power in a fight with sufficient room. I used to laugh when he said it because I never saw him use one. It would seem I might owe the bastard an apology. Every move, whether it be forward or backward allowed her spear to smash, slice, pound the enemy. They began to realize she was not the target to be attacked. Which directed their attention toward me. Lucky me.
Not to be outdone, I planted bullets anywhere a target presented itself, that Ms. Hart didn’t already claim with lightning speed. Umbra came behind me and though he appeared to be unarmed his boots which I thought were just shod in metal, seemed to shoot shards of shrapnel with ever step he took in nearly every direction. He directed the shards with his hands, each slicing into the creatures of the Light. With so much carnage going on, I did not understand why we were not running out of enemies. Then I saw it. A portal of light just around the corner. My darkness adapted sight could not focus on the portal, it was simply too bright. But I could see waves of creatures of the Light pouring out of it, every few seconds.
“Call Mr. Black, Umbra. We are not going to be able to get away without some help. Somehow they know he is the last scion and have decided whatever risk they take of being discovered is worth killing him for.”
“Are you sure, Mr. Black does not work for free. He will want something for his troubles. As a matter of fact, he will insist. I just as soon stay here and see if we can work this out.” Umbra was starting to sound tired, his shrapnel boot were releasing their shards of razor darkness with less frequency. I was already on my second clip.
“Look around you. Do you really think we can make it? If the Equinox were awake, maybe, but he does not have the skill to control it and we dare not wake it until he has learned how.” She had been holding the creatures at bay but had stopped advancing as a new wave landed in front of us, leaping directly over us to land in front. Three dropped dead as I targeted them mid-flight. “Nice shooting, you are down to your last six. Hold them. Can you remember the black sword spell I taught you last month?”
I had to think about it. She had shown me the rune forms and I was able to manifest a sword but after three minutes it fell apart. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that close to them when that happened. “Yes, I remember.”
“Good, cast it now.”
I could hear Umbra starting to breathe heavy and he threw his cigarette at one of the Light. The creature burst into flame when the cigarette hit it. I drew the rune in my mind’s eye. It came to me easily and I extended my hand as the sword manifested there. It wasn’t like before. This was easy. I slashed at a one of the Light as it rushed at Umbra from a blind spot. The blade was sharp, and the slice was effortless, like the blade was made of air.
“Take a load off, old timer. I got this for a minute.”
And for about sixty seconds I was the best I had ever been. My foot work was perfect, it was like a dance where I knew all the steps. I got hit a couple of times but each hit was absorbed by the jacket, which fought from my back as well. I was grabbed by one of the creatures and the jacket created a mouth and chewed through it. It was incredible. I turned toward the portal and began to approach it trying to stop the flow of the Light at the source.
I could hear Ms. Hart shouting at me, but I couldn’t understand her any more. The creatures were pouring out of the gate now five and six at a time and I killed them in waves, my sword strokes becoming longer, reaching farther, they died and they died and they died. And the closer I got to the portal, the more powerful my blade became, each stroke caused the ground to shake and buildings nearby to tremble. The Light rushed me trying to bring their mass to bear but it did not matter, nothing mattered anymore. They had killed my Father. I hated him, I feared him, I missed him. And they were going to pay.
My blade sang a song of terrible destruction shearing away cars, buildings, the Light, everything in sight. When I reached the portal, the creatures stood there blocking it and my last stroke cut them down and slashed across the portal. As the blade crossed the Light of the Portal, I saw a man inside. He was watching me. The last thing I remembered hearing was “Magnificent.” Then my blade reached the center of the portal and an explosion was unleashed. That was the last thing I remembered.
When I woke up, Umbra was wearing his jacket and his hat. He was smoking a cigarette and looking at me with his strange dark eyes. Ms. Hart had a look on her face that reminded me of her when I was a kid, a moment of softness, then she hardened again. “Never approach a portal of Light again.”
“Why?” I was as weak as a kitten. My arms felt like lead.
“You lost control. Look around you. This is why you can never lose control. If you do, people die.” She pointed to the area where the portal stood. The creatures of the Light were scattered everywhere, sliced neatly in half. I expanded my vision and noticed buildings nearby also had huge slices through them, sidewalks were slashed, with waves of concrete broken up, chucks thrown everywhere. The pillar of the train platform sliced neatly in several places. There were also two bodies of homeless men who were nearly twenty feet away from the conflict, but my dark blade swept in a wide, long swath. I felt terrible. I didn’t mean for anyone but these monsters to get hurt. She reached down to help me to my feet. I could hear the car’s metallic frame reluctantly releasing me.
“It’s a good thing that car broke your fall. I really wanted to catch you, but I saw you were going to land on a Volvo and knew you would be okay.” Umbra looked at me, a wry smile on his face, his cigarette lighting the space between his hat and jacket collar.
“We have to go. The authorities will be here in a moment and we want them to think a bomb went off here.”
“Umbra, handle that.”
“Yes, your Highness. You know I just lit this one, right?”
“I don’t care.”
“It’s my last one.”
She turned, gave him a withering look and waited.
Umbra took one long, last drag on his cigarette as she pulled me toward her. Planting her spear into the ground in front of us, we watched Umbra flick his cigarette toward the location of the former portal. I watched him clench his fist and then release it. A fireball erupted and swept over us. Storefronts were destroyed. Car alarms went off. Her spear, protected us from the fireball while Umbra stood, apparently unaffected by the flames.
The flames and shockwaves seemed to go on forever. Then slowly, the night and the darkness was restored. Burning embers, chunks of debris, everything seemed to return to what would have been expected, if a bomb had gone off here. The Light were gone, the bodies of the two old men were also gone. Somehow, that made me even more sad.
We were half a block away before the police and fire engines began to approach.
Ms. Hart grabbed her spear and collapsed it into a small truncheon and strapped it to her hip. It disappeared as well as her armor did returning her to a conservative business suit. Umbra appeared to be little more than a derelict in a dark hat and coat. Ms. Hart touched my clothing and it returned to the appearance of clean and undamaged urban chic. We slid from the Veil and returned completely to the Human world. She was waiting for us when we did. She was a fierce looking woman, diminutive but radiating immense power. Her face and sari said she was Indian and her physical presence was a blow to my weakened body. I fell to my knees. Then I noticed Umbra and Ms. Hart also fell to one knee.
Ms. Hart spoke first. “Kali Bodhisattva, Mother of Mankind, Slayer of Monsters, Queen of Darkness, how may we serve you?”
Her gaze turned toward Umbra, who took off his hat, and stroking it absentmindedly, he muttered. “Uh, what she said.”
“Is this the Last Scion?”
“You have already drawn too much attention to yourselves. Now you are coming with me.”
“Is anyone going to tell me what this is all about?”
“Speak when spoken to, boy. Now is not the time for questions,” Umbra hissed.
Kali looked at me, and I looked at them. Ms. Hart on one knee? She was the fiercest warrior I knew outside of my father. Umbra, while I did not know him well, he was quite capable in a fight and in his own way a master of magic. Who was Kali that she had them both on one knee? And why did I have this feeling I should be wetting myself right about now?
She waved her hand and everything went black.
* * *
I was going to try to describe what I saw but I am not sure I have words for it. Put on a blindfold, cover your eyes, turn out the lights, and then head out to sea on a cloudy night. That is the kind of darkness we are talking about. I have never known darkness in my entire life. I have always seen in the night like it was, at worst, a kind of dusk. And its not like the kind of stuff where when you close your eyes, you see those lights from your optic nerve firing. Your optic nerve wouldn’t dare to illuminate this darkness.
Then there was a point, far away and we seemed to be falling toward it, and as we approached, that feeling of falling came to me, that unbalanced feeling you get as you start flailing about and realize you are about to come to an uncomfortable, sudden stop. I started waving my arms about, and screaming as I, since I did not see anyone else but me, I thought I was about to become a bug on a glowing windshield. I slammed into the ground face down and made a tiny bounce before settling to a painful and unpleasant landing.
“Get up.” A hobnailed boot punctuated that command by further traumatizing my rib cage.
“Ow. And I was just starting to get comfortable down here. Was that first class?”
Then I noticed the feet standing in front of my head as I started looking up. They were connected to very powerful legs and each thigh looked like it would be comfortable on a body builder. Then I found myself being lifted by the back of my collar into the air. “Is this it? This is the savior of the Six? I thought it would be bigger.”
“It is a he, Shango. Put the boy down.” Kali’s voice had a completely different tone. Warm, gentle. Was this the woman that made me question my very existence a few seconds ago? Shango. Why was that name familiar? Shango, the Thunderer? Shango, Thundergod of the continent of Africa?
“Why is it, that I can’t see the boy, then?” What is this black matter covering him?” Shango took a finger the size of my hand and wiped it across my forehead. A sticky swath of darkness followed his finger before disintegrating in a crackle of lightning.
Umbra raised his head and put his hat back on. “Begging your pardon, Thunderer, the Equinox has determined that you are a threat and is attempting to protect the boy. I think we can fix that.”
“Is that what you call protection, Dark One? He would be better naked.”
Ms. Hart glared at Shango and reached out to take me from him. “Do not mistake his apparent lack of control for weakness, Great One. His power may not rival yours, but among his kind, it is not to be trifled with.”
“Do not mind my rude husband. I half expect he was hoping the Equinox would arrive and be attacking him to alleviate his boredom at watching the Nexus. Please come into the tower so we can talk in comfort.”
Ms. Hart gently placed me on the ground and brushed off some of the strange particles which were clinging to me. Then she and Umbra took my hands and the Equinox retreated into my body but remained hot in my chest. I also noticed all of my injuries of our recent travails were slowly diminishing. We walked around Shango who appeared to be looking out into the darkness and seemed to lose interest in us. He was a giant, easily seven feet tall and in his belt was a huge double headed axe, that bristled with electrical energy. As I walked by, I kept staring at it and a bolt of static electricity shot out to me, as if to tell me to mind my business. I promptly did. I think I saw Shango smiling.
We went into what she called the Tower, but it was not like any tower I had ever seen. It was made from some kind of shiny stone like onyx, and when I touched it in passing, I immediately felt at home and welcomed. We walked to the center of the main floor and there was a sigil at the center. I did not recognize it immediately but everyone else walked toward it and got inside the lines. Trying to look like I knew what I was doing I joined them.
The inside of the tower was lit and showed a collection of unusual objects, many looked like armor or art objects. The closest thing I could think of was a museum, except nothing was under glass, and many of the weapons looked very functional. The place was swimming in sigils of power, they floated through the air, and many of them when they passed me, sang out to me, telling me of their puissance, and the danger one would be in if one was to be so foolish as to touch anything here. No need to threaten me, I wasn’t going to touch a thing.
With less than a second of apparent time, we appeared in what looked like a modern apartment. The kind my father never seemed to want to stay in for more than a few days. Lots of room, lights and windows. But it was the windows that were the most fascinating. Each looked out onto a different place. I recognized more than half of them as places we had lived. I found Paris, New York, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and I found myself running off to see where each of them went. When I was done, I came back to the coffee table that was in the center of the space and the others were already having coffee and talking.
“Finished sight-seeing? Umbra was graciously accepting a cigar from Kali. “You might want to come over here. This concerns you.” Kali proffered the cigars to me, and I looked at Ms. Hart. She shook her head and I politely said no.
“He is a man, now, Hart. You will be asking him to risk his life. He should at least have all of the pleasures a man could know.” As Kali said this she was looking at me in a manner that immediately made me uncomfortable.
“He is not ready for the particular pleasure of any gifts of yours, Lady Kali. He does not understand the obligation it would place on him. His knowledge of the Second World is still incomplete.”
“Then you had better complete that education, because where he has to go, he must represent all of the missing clans and understand the obligations he current holds. He stands here completely unaware of his already considerable debt.”
I had enough of not knowing what they were talking about. “Someone needs to tell me what you are talking about. Especially this risking my life thing. I did not agree to risk my life for anyone. All I know is my father is dead, my governess is a superhero, she has friends who can make shadows come to life, and parties with mythical beings who are living in a tower with windows that look out over two dozen cities in real time. Did I sum that up right?”
Ms. Hart looked at me and smiled, the first genuine smile I had seen in quite some time. “In reverse order, those are not windows, those are doors. You can walk through any of them and go to the places seen in them. In addition they can be changed so while there are two dozen current settings, they can actually be set to go anywhere on Earth, depending on the willpower of the person using them. Lady Kali and Lord Shango are not myths. They are people who currently embody the mythological energies of the mythical beings. They were once normal people like you or I who were changed by a divine decree. If they want to tell you more, it is up to them. Suffice it to say, their power, dwarfs anything you or I can do. But their limitations are also as interesting as their powers. Your governess is not a superhero, but the difference to you may not matter much. And Umbra is much like you, part of his powers are derived from the Darkness, a primal force in our universe. And as much as I hate to admit it, your father is dead. He died protecting you. He spent his life trying to see that you would not have to become the Equinox. He did not want this for you. But he prepared you in case it came to this. Did I miss anything? Do you want that drink now?
I sat down and tried to organize my thoughts. “Why did they kill him? And who or what is The Light?
Umbra looked up from his contemplation, tipped his hat back and said, “I guess, since we just entered storytelling time, I better go first.”
Nothing I heard this evening up to this point prepared me for what he said next. Not even close.
Equinox: The Last Scion © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]