equinox – the last scion (part 1)
Did I mention that I hated my father?
No, I probably didn’t. Lying face down in an alley would not give me much time to explain that. Since we have a minute, I think I can give you the Reader’s Digest version.
Okay to be fair, until today, I knew almost nothing about him. Not really. For the longest time, I thought my father was a demon or something. He did not explain what he was. Okay, he didn’t explain anything. I learned to accept the impossible as a lifestyle choice.
He and I had not always had the best relationship, most would barely classify it as a relationship at all. Unless you consider pain a relationship. That was something we had in common. From as far back as I can remember, we did painful things together. I learned to walk in a week, and I remember it vividly. The whole time, he was right there pushing me. Things did not get easier as I got older. He was constantly there drilling me in everything. I didn’t get to learn one language when three was better. I spoke six well by the time I was ten.
I worked out physically every single day of my life. Every day. I could do a hundred push-ups at a sitting, by the time I was six and did nearly five hundred a day by the time I was fifteen. Once he decided I was really fit, he began teaching me to fight, dance, sing and kill.
On days when he was not home, he left me in the capable hands of my governess, Ms. Hart. Don’t let the name fool you, she did not have one. She was even more cruel than he was. She would enhance my fighting skills, endurance training, rock climbing, mountain biking, from sunrise to sunset. When he came home, battered, and bruised, she would bandage him, talk with him and once he was covered in bandages, he would see how much I had learned. By the time I was thirteen, I had broken nearly every useful bone in my body.
Here is where it got strange. We never went to the hospital. They would take me into the basement, put me on a table covered with cuniforms. They would wrap my wounds and leave me there during the night. Come the dawn, I was whole again. He had no problem breaking me again the next day and would leave me with my pain until sunset. We would fight while I was broken, punishing me, pushing me until sometimes I think my mind would break as well. The Slab did nothing for that.
We trained, he broke me, he left, she trained me, she homeschooled me. He came home, broke me, repeat. I never went to a real school and rarely met the neighbors anywhere we ever lived. We would move every two years, so it was just as well I never met anyone.
When I turned eighteen which was only a few days ago, we had been settled in New York City in the Bronx, hidden away in the poorer neighborhoods, where we were seen but not noticed. People avoided us and we avoided them. But not for the same reasons. I did not know what my father did for a living, but I began to realize it was more dangerous than I knew.
I always imagined he was a secret agent or something but I never gave it much thought since we seemed to have everything we needed and while Ms. Hart was not my mother, she was the closest, scariest thing I had to one. She would occasionally even talk to me, when she was not trying to kill me or teach me to read Erdu. Life was relatively good and while my father and I rarely had long conversations, I did not think anything was out of the norm.
He came into the house and locked the door. But when you lock our doors, we had a variety of mechanisms that needed to be activated. Deadbolts that covered all four corners of the door. Steel reinforced doors, covered in sigils. Each window was also able to be sealed with lightproof, bulletproof and layered glass.
He was hurt bad. I had never seen the kind of injuries he had today before. Once he locked the door, he turned around and looked at Ms. Hart and she grabbed me and pulled me into the safe room below the primary household structure. This room also doubled as our weapons room and the walls were festooned with a variety of hand to hand and ranged weapons. A Special Forces operative would think he had died and gone to Heaven.
“Take this.” She handed me a beautiful handgun, covered in silver except for the black metallic handgrip. She pulled the clip and I saw the silver bullets, all fourteen gleaming in the clip. Driving the clip back, she pulled the slide and armed the weapon. “Take your time. Make every bullet count.”
“You were my best student. Don’t you dare die.”
She closed the door behind her and I could hear the muffled sounds of combat, bullets flying, explosions, and the sounds of something I have never heard before, a scream of unnatural proportions, it filled the room despite the fact it was outside of the locked space. The battle lasted for several minutes. Then it was quiet, but only for a moment.
Then the door was being shaken. I could see the sealing sigils on my side of the door glowing brightly. And then one by one, they went out. When the last one died, I could hear the door being ripped off of its hinges by a hideous strength. I heard the footfall of something touching each step. And with each step, a flare of a sigil would flash and the creature would release a terrible sound, but it did not stop coming. As it approached I was less than fifteen feet from it. I could see it had been injured and I remember the first rule of fighting. If you can injure, you can kill it. So I waited.
As it came down the stairs, and more of it came into view, the room grew brighter. I had always noticed, night had never been a hindrance to me. I never had a problem with darkness of any kind. When this thing came into the room, it was as if my vision was being blocked by its brightness. Would not stop me from putting a bullet in it.
The creature saw me, turned its head as if it were surprised, roared and rushed toward me, with its strange wings flashing light, its wicked claws outstretched, its muscular but strangely proportioned body causing the ground beneath its feet to crumple with its weight.
To me: it appeared to be moving in slow motion.
Each shot was perfect. One in each eye. two in what ever passed for a brain, two in both sides of the chest, two in each knee. The gun was a thing of beauty, the shell casings flew through the air, hanging there as each bullet struck home. I dove to the side at the last second, holding my last six rounds. Each bullet struck the creature and when it hit, a black blood stood out against its radiant body and rained around the room. Where each drop of that blood struck, the object simply disappeared into a cloud of dust. The creature struck the wall on the other side of the room and lay still.
Not dropping my guard or my weapon, I backed out of the stairwell and climbed to the top of the stairs. At least two dozen of these things were all over the building, ripped to shreds by bullets, or weapons or magick. I did not feel anything for them. Even dead, they caused revulsion but they reminded me of something. I just wasn’t sure what. When I got to my father’s study, I found him barely alive with six of the creatures lying around him.
“You have to go. They weren’t here for me. They were here for you.” His breathing was ragged. His chest was ripped by the claws of these creatures down to the rib cage. I could feel his body’s heat, he was like a furnace. “They were here for this.” He points at his chest.
“What?” I didn’t see anything.
“Equinox.” He spits up blood. “You have to find her. She is still alive. They can’t kill her.”
“What is Equinox? Ms. Hart? I don’t understand.”
“I thought we would have more time… Please forgive me. This will hurt.” He reaches into his chest, ripping past his ribcage with both hands. His scream fills me with more terror than anything I had heard this evening. Until today, I had never heard him make a sound related to pain. He pulls out a blob of darkness from his chest where his heart should have been; it felt sinister, terrible and alive.
He grabs my neck with one hand and with the other presses the darkness against my chest. No pain I had ever felt even came close to this. It was as if everything I had ever lived though was happening at the same time. Every injury flared with renewed trauma, every break screamed a vigorous shout as if to say, “I’m back!'” I wanted to run, to push away, but there was nothing that could be done. I screamed until my voice broke and nothing but my whimpering filled the room. The last thing I remember was his warning. “Stay away from the Light.”
And that was the last thing I remembered until I woke up in this alley. The building I was in was still within my line of sight and was currently burning down. In my hand was a small black stone covered in cuneiform. It felt heavy as hell.
* * *
“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 our 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 start shooting any time, kid.” He blew out his match.
Equinox: The Last Scion © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]
(Jump to Dancing in the Dark, part 2)