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Chapter 6: Judgmental (Prequel Story)
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KitKaramak
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Out Of The Frying Pan... (Chapter7 - Prequel)

Planning Period (Chapter8 - Prequel)
chapter7.doc
Keywords male 688046, female 567061, human 52015, kitsune 10037, fire 6415, death 5438, succubus 2491, creature 2457, zombie 1582, combat 759, shyness 433, zombies 325, manning up 1
Out of the Frying Pan…


June 21st, 1999, 2:50pm
Marseille, France…

“You going to let me cut loose, or hog all the fun again?” Mike glanced at Karla with a smirk.  “I mean, seriously.  You were hyper and went overboard against those guys in Lyon.”  

Karla eyed him for a moment then shook her head.  “Oh, geeze, fine.  Go have your fun.”  She stepped in front of Chance, protectively, arms folded.  “Go on.”  

Michael rolled his sleeves up and approached the creature.  “Wow, you are a creepy looking bastard, ja?  Let’s get this ball rolling, as they say.”  He drew his hands up and balled them into fists.  “Your move, ugly.”  

The lumbering creature took a swung at him.  Mike jerked his head back and kept his stance open for balance.  Moving defensively, he buried a fist in the creature’s stomach.  The flesh gave way and bodily fluids spilled down over the being’s waistline, groin and thighs.  

“Are you serious?” he exclaimed, eyes wide.  The creature took another swing but with his subconscious ability, he was ready.  Mike lifted his arm to block the strike.  

The pure power behind its swing immediately broke his left wrist and knocked him back several feet.  He scrambled away, feet slipping in the gooey mess of body fluids. Mike made his way back to a pillar where there was a fire hose, axe and extinguisher mounted in a glass case.  “I got this!” he called back to Chance and Karla.  

Mike gripped the bottom of the case and pulled himself up, careful not to slip again.  He elbowed the glass case only to find it was plastic, which shattered due to a perforated cut in the front.  He reached in, took the axe in his right hand then turned back to the creature.  

“You sure?” asked Karla.  “Cause it looks to me like you’re struggling.  It’s not age, is it?” she teased.  

“I’m not a minute man, I like to take my time, warm up, then I bring on the show.”  He gingerly lifted his left hand and gripped the axe handle beneath his right hand.  “That thing hits pretty hard, though.”  He took two steps forward then swung.  

The axe disappeared into the creature’s shoulder to the point where the handle appeared to jut straight out of the center of its chest.  More bodily fluid ran down its arm and chest, pooling on the floor.  It reached forward, unable to lift one of its arms as high as the other, due to the gash in its left shoulder.  

“Damn that thing is resilient,” he said.  “Where’s a necromancer when you need one?”  Again, the creature took a swing at him with its right arm.  

Michael ducked it, careful not to slip on the floor.  “Scheisse,” he muttered beneath his breath.  He reached up and took the handle of the axe and jerked on it.  He stumbled back, slipped in the goo on the floor and went to his backside.  The handle was still in his hand but the head of the axe was missing.  “Scheiss!  Es ist defekt!”  

Karla yawned.  She unfolded her arms, then put her hands on her hips.  “What’s that?  What’re you shitting about?”  

“I said it’s busted!” he exclaimed.  The creature brought its right hand down.  He held the handle horizontally, using it to deflect the attack.  The fiberglas pole began to crack.  The creature closed its talons around the handle.  Mike put his foot into the being’s lower gut, then rolled backwards.  

It took the axe handle from his grip and flew through the air then slid to a halt adjacent to the broken stasis chamber.

“They’re not your average zombie!” he said.  “That thing gripped the pole.  Certainly not a dumb Hollywood zombie, that’s for sure.”  He got to his feet then brought his right fingers to his left forearm, checking his injury.  “I might have broken my wrist.  Or it could be a bad sprain.”  

“Oh, great,” Karla said with a chiding tone.  “Es ist defekt,” she said, repeating what he’d uttered moments ago.  “You ready for me to handle this thing yet?”

“No!  I’ll handle it!”  He withdrew a handgun, pointed it at the creature as it got back to its feet.  

Chance and Karla quickly brought their hands up to their ears. The pistol discharged followed by a cacophony of echoes throughout the building.  

The boy watched in horror.  “It didn’t work!” The creature got back to its feet then reached towards Michael upon approach.  He fired the weapon four more times, putting all of five bullets into the being's head.  Slowly, the creature dropped to its knees then flopped onto its side.  “It's not dead,” he said. “How can anything live through that?”

Michael moved behind it and put a round into the base of its spine.  It stilled but continued to make freakishly raspy noises and move its mouth.  “Well, it’s paralyzed.  Damn.  Should have brought a bigger gun.  If I had another axe I could take the head off.”  

Karla approached it and held her hand out, palm down.  The head of the axe appeared on the floor adjacent to Michael’s feet, covered in discolored goo.  “You want me to try and fuse it back to the handle?  I can teleport them together.”  

“Handle is cracked.  I hope that’s the only one of these things.”

Chance sighed.  “Obviously it won’t be, especially now that you’ve said that.”  

“You’re a real optimist, young man.  Know that?”  Michael opened and closed his left hand several times then tried to arch his hand at the wrist, doing so gingerly.  “The break isn’t at the joint.  It’s further up the forearm.  I’ll be fine.”

“Can I fight the next one?” Chance smiled weakly, but his joke appeared to amuse both Karla and Michael.  “I mean, it is my turn, now, right?  Anyone have a shotgun?” He paused then, withq an incredulous expression, exclaimed, “Doom?!  Come on, you guys had to have played Doom, right?”

Karla smiled sheepishly.  “Yeah.  But a little while later the third Duke Nukem came out, you know… the 3D one… and I never looked back.”

“Why, because of the control scheme, or because the risqué humor?”

Karla began walking in a random direction, looking to explore the rest of the compound.  “Because of Jon St. John’s voice.  The rest was a bonus.  You kidding?  I used the codes; I suck at video games.  But they amuse me and I really like technology, so I play’em every now and then.”

Chance looked back at Michael.  The older man shook his head.  “I stopped after pong, kid.”  

“Actually,” Chance said, “I was going to say, ‘let’s go,’ and follow her.  But, uh… Pong is cool if you have two players.”  He hurried after Karla, adding, “I remember Doom and Duke Nukem.  They only came out a few years ago.  I remember playing them.  I think I’m starting to get some of my marbles back.”  

“Good!  It’s about time!  I need to know what to call you if your name turns out to be something other than Chance.”  She led the group through the large room full of various computers.  Some of the equipment was comprised of standard desktops piled together and running as a network.  Other pieces of computer equipment looked as though it had been built specifically for the compound based on design and the way it was fit in between stasis tubes.  

At the far end was an office.  Karla reached into her handbag and withdrew a handkerchief.  She paused and looked back at Chance and Mike.  “Call me old fashion; I used to drop these to get boys.  Great ice breaker back in the day.”  She wrapped the cloth over the handle and turned the knob then frowned.  “Locked.  Nuts.”  

She waved her hand at the door.  It ripped off its hinges, taking part of the modular wall with it.  She stepped into the office and tucked the hankie back into her purse.  

“Really, Karla?  You go from being all dainty, opening the door with that thing, then you suddenly rip it all down?  There’s no middle of the road for you.”  

“I don’t care how it opens, sweetheart.  So long as it gets out of my way and I don’t leave fingerprints.” Then she added, matter-of-factly, “It was in my way.”  The succubus sat down at a chair behind a desk and waved her hands like a symphony conductor.  Drawers opened, file folders opened then closed.  A Rolodex opened on the desktop, and it slowly began to rotate through various paper slips.  A few had numbers, including local emergency services and a few eateries with delivery service.  

Chance leaned down and picked up an Ethernet cable on the floor.  “I guess they plug in with a laptop when someone is in?”

“Don’t touch things with your fingers,” she murmured.  “Wipe it off with your shirt.”  She smiled at the Rolodex then said, “I think I might have something, gang.  There’s a number here with a name – A. Sokolov.  I knew a man named Aris Sokolov, once.  He worked with Jonathan Parker for a while but it was short-lived.  Guy was pretty smart.  A scientist, actually.  Into genetics and eugenics and all that stuff.”  

“What is eugenics?” asked Chance.

Michael frowned.  “Remember how the Nazis were obsessing about blond hair and blue eyes?”  

“Right.  Thee, uh, Aryan race thing, right?”  He paused then smiled.  “See?  I didn’t fail Social Studies after all.”  

“Good for you. You must be proud to know something about one of the darkest moments in human history.”  Michael rubbed his left forearm.  “Eugenics is all about selective breeding.”  

“I can’t think of why anyone would want to…”

Karla looked up from the Rolodex again.  “I can.  If this guy is Aris Sokolov, he was studying supernatural-only breeding.  At the time, the EC was interested in his research.  They were saying how mundane human DNA added ‘junk code’ to people with abilities, making it so that some children or their descendants might not have abilities.  Not sure what they concluded in the study but… I think it’s safe to say that everyone has a little bit of everything in their gene pool by this point.  It’s the 90’s, baby!”  

“It’s ultra rare for a person to manifest abilities in Africa, the poor sections of China, South America…”

Karla cut Michael off with a gesture of her hand.  “Or it goes unreported, or their ability isn’t anything extremely noteworthy.  I get what you’re implying.  But you’re being a sauerkraut.  You think that there might have been a ‘first people’ with abilities from thousands of years before Christ.  And they mixed, mingled and diluted their genes with everyone else on the planet, but mostly with people above the commoners.  And now Esoteric people are spread out and rare.  But I don’t buy that shit without proof.  Conjecture and rumors. Myths.  After all, Aboriginal people are said to have come from Africa, back far enough, and there are several noteworthy supernaturals from that part of the world.  So… Let’s not talk racial genetics.  It’s as annoying as talking about politics.”  

Chance fidgeted.  “And we all know what happens when people mix politics and racial genetics.  You get hate groups.  Again, didn’t fail Social Studies…”

Karla smirked.  “Not that you remember, sweetheart.”  She plucked the contact card from the Rolodex and put it into her purse.  “These things are about to go the way of the dinosaur.  I keep all my numbers in my Handspring Visor.  And before long, I’m pretty sure they’re going to mix PDAs with cellphones.  I’m surprised it hasn’t happened by now, because it seems like the next obvious choice.  Like I said, it’s the 90’s!  We’re supposed to have flying cars by next year, according to the 60’s and 70’s pop culture.”  

“You’re going off on a tangent,” Chance said with a weak smile.  “Let’s check the rest of this place.  Half a million dollars, remember?”

The succubus offered a genuine smile.  “You’re right.  I keep you on your toes, and now you’re keeping me on mine.  Thank you, sweetie.  Let’s go find this damn mirror.”  She stood up from the chair and waved her hand.  The desk went flying out of her way, knocking down the rest of the modular wall.  She looked back at the wide-eyed gaze of Michael and Chance then said, “What?  It was in my way,” with a smile.

Michael blinked then tilted his head and looked back over his shoulder.  “That freak thing… I think it's trying to get up and start more trouble.  My ‘Spidey Senses’ are tingling, children.”  

“I thought it was paralyzed?” asked Karla.  

Chance shook his head.  “I… don’t think it is anymore.”  He cleared his throat then said, “I know you’re looking to fight, so I’ll take one for the team and pass on my turn to throw punches.  You’re welcome.”  He gave a forced smile then looked back in the darkness of the complex, towards where they’d fought the creature earlier.  “But the feeling of hunger is gone.  I’m feeling frustrated… agitated… angry.”

“Anger… that’s not a good thing,” Michael said.  In the distance, they could hear something dragging on the floor.  “That thing looked like it had already seen more action than we put it through. Like someone stuck it in a microwave until it blasted apart, then kept going.  God only knows, maybe it heals.”  

“I love microwaves.  After almost four hundred years, I’m finally cooking.”  

The noise continued, but they couldn’t see the creature yet.  Michael frowned.  “You don’t cook?  Is there anything feminine about you?”

“Hey…!” She pursed her lips together then reached over and flicked her finger against his left forearm.  She smiled, watching Michael recoil in horror.  “Meaniehead.  Christ, I swear, I’ll be glad when chauvinism dies.  And yes, I like microwaving stuff.  I wait until the counter gets down to one second, then I open the door before it reaches zero.  Makes me feel like MacGyver.”  

“Are you seriously kidding me?” Michael grumbled.  He checked the rounds in his gun then pointed it into the darkness.  “Are you for real, Karla?”

Chance licked his lips and frowned.  “I…uh… I’m the same way.  It’s like being a bomb defusing expert in an action movie.”  

Karla reached over, used her telekinesis to lift Chance’s hand, and high-fived him.  “That’s what I’m talking about.  And put that gun away, Mikey-boy.  You’re going to make me deaf in here.  I’ll handle that thing when it finally lumbers its way over here.  If it ever gets to that point.”  She turned her head and shouted into the darkness. “Hey!  Creepin’ Moses!  What’re you waiting for?!  Christmas??”  

Chance frowned. “I don’t think it was going slow out of necessity.  I think it was trying to figure out what direction we’re in… thanks, uh, for giving it a head’s up, Karla.”  

“My pleasure.”  She put her hands on her hips and stepped in front of the two, with a devious smirk on her face.  The strange dragging noise stopped.  Everything became silent.  “Well?  Did it get bored?”  

A creature came into view in the dim illumination hanging above the cubical she’d destroyed.  It ran on the balls of its feet, silently, approaching at an incredible speed.  Michael lifted the handgun.  Karla reached over, and guided it downwards.  “No.  Just… watch a pro.”  

It continued its rapid approach, causing both Michael and Chance to appear nervous.  “Just stop, guys.  You’re distracting.  Enjoy the show.”  

The creature crossed twenty feet at unbelievable speed.  Karla watched it carefully, judging distance.  She put her hands behind her back, and slid her shoes off then scooted them to the side.  Her fists began to glow.  To amuse her peers, and mostly herself, she held her hands out and stood on one foot, with her other one elevated.  “Almost,” she whispered.  

Michael and Chance backed away from her, slowly.  The creature continued a straight-line charge towards Karla.  She opened her hands, pointing her fingers towards, still balancing on just one foot.  

The creature came at her like a freight train.  Karla kicked her other foot up and her upper body flashed in a brief yet bright carnation glow.  Her foot came up and met the creature, launching it straight up into the air.  “Crane kick!  Mister Miyagi style!”  

The abomination struck the roof of the building, tearing a gash into the ceiling.  It careened through the rafters, striking several, then came down and slammed into the ground.  Momentum carried it over into a roll.  It stopped fifteen feet from where it landed, motionless.  

Karla turned to her shoes, slid her feet back into them, then mock-bowed to Michael, then pivoted towards Chance and bowed again.  “That is how you do it… I suddenly feel the need to prune Bonsai trees or buy Arnold's Diner.”  She walked away from the others and approached the creature on the ground.  Karla waved a hand, telekinetically flipping it onto its back.  She tilted her head then frowned.  “Huh.  It’s still alive.  And it’s mending, albeit slowly.”

“Seriously?!” Chance exclaimed.  “After all that punishment, it’s still coming back for more?”

Michael picked up a section of the broken modular wall, carried it over and lifted it up, then he brought it down hard.  The head separated from the shoulders.  “See, girlie? Ya just gotta remove the head from the body,” he told the demoness.  

She waved her hands, putting three feet of distance between the head and the rest of the creature.  “That was sudden and anticlimactic.”  

“The sooner we leave, the sooner you collect your cash.  I want ten grand for helping you.”  

Karla nodded with a shrug.  “Smart.  You won’t have to pay any taxes on a gift of ten grand or less.”  

“Exactly.  Let’s find that thing.”  The trio regrouped and began exploring the warehouse again, but further into the building, the entire floor angled downwards at a slight slope.  

Chance asked, “Why is the floor sloped like this?”  

“I assume the grade of incline is befitting for forklift use.”  He pointed to two light gouges that stretched about eighteen inches.  “Looks like someone didn’t have their forks all the way up, there.  It brushed the ground, then they put them up. Could have done that after dropping a skid, or angling the forks while picking up something like… maybe one of those tubes, who knows.”  

The group continued down for several minutes.  The floor leveled out into an enormous underground complex that defied belief.  Michael looked around, astonished.  “How can all of this be down here, beneath Marseille?  Surely the Government would have to know about something this large, this deep.  It would interfere with subterranean infrastructure if they didn’t know to avoid it.”  

“How deep you think we went?”  Karla looked up at the high ceiling then back at Michael.  “I'm surprised we're not beneath the water table.”

“Quite a few stories, but I don’t know the math.  I’d have to know how long the ramp is and its angle.  But if I had to guess, I’d say almost a half-mile.  Adrenaline is starting to thin out.  Forearm is starting to hurt now, actually.  You’re a healer, right?”

Karla smirked. “Yeah.  But I don’t heal broken bones as fast as that creature apparently does.  Takes two or three days.  It’s actually a succubae defense.”

“Oh?  How’s that work?”  

“If we’re marred, we’re not attractive.  If we can’t be attractive, we can’t have sex, and we die.  We evolved that ability after people used to mark our faces.  Not many people know we can heal, now, though.  People still try to mark our faces, hoping it will cause us to starve to death.  Some demon hunters will kill us and still mark our faces.”  

“Jesus.  Just because you like sex, huh?”

“Ever heard of Elizabeth Short?  She was marked at death.  Her killer thought she was a succubus because of the fact she was promiscuous.  They left her in an empty lot in Los Angeles.”  

“Jesus,” Michael said, eyes wide.  “And she wasn’t a sex demon?  When did this happen?”

“Nope.   Just an aspiring actress.  Uhm… 1947, I think?”

Chance looked at Michael then back to Karla.  “Why would we know about a single murder from the forties?”

“You’ve never heard of the Black Dahlia murder?  It was a pop culture sensation, and it's still open.”  

Michael rubbed his chin. “Okay, yeah I think I’ve heard it by that name.”  

“Not me,” Chance murmured.  He held his hands out, stopping his peers suddenly.  “Wait,” he hissed softly.  “Someone is up ahead.  Don’t look at me, I can’t control it yet.  No, I didn’t telepathically know about the Black whatever-murders, but I’m telling you that there is someone here and they’re up ahead and they know we’re here.  They are expecting us.  They’re a little nervous but over-all confident and ready.”  

“Well… let’s not keep them waiting,” Karla said.  “Mike, do they have powers?”

Michael tilted his head.  “If they do… they’re too far away from me to sense it.  My reach is pretty shallow.  Maybe a hundred and fifty feet.  Two hundred if it’s quiet and there’s no one else around.  I’ve got nothing at this point.”

“I’m going to wager a guess,” Chance said.  “My money is on someone with an ability.  They’re alone and they’re confident.  Wait… no, they’re not alone, but… wait, I think they’re fighting something already.”

“You really need to start practicing, Chance.  C’mon.”  Karla upped her pace.  The trio hurried through the large underground section.  The lighting was significantly brighter, although still somewhat dim, letting them see distant walls hundreds of feet away on the left and right, but there was no obvious end in sight up ahead.  From what they could see, the distant walls were lined with shelving that went to the ceiling.  Occasional forklifts were parked every so often.  The center sections had pillars but they were spread far enough apart that the area seemed structurally impossible.  

A spark of light came from up ahead.  The group hurried towards a fight up ahead.  Karla began to breathe hard.  “I jog and this is still too far to go.  Hold on, you two…”  They all disappeared.  A hundred feet later, they reappeared, only to disappear once more.  They crossed another hundred foot gap then continued in the next series of teleportation blips, moving across the large gap several more times.  

The group reappeared a thousand feet from where they started.  Karla slumped into Chance, panting softly.  “That’s a rush, huh?  I’ve never had an open enough area to try that.  Damn.”  

Up ahead, a woman with long red hair was facing off against four attackers, all of which appeared to be using supernatural abilities.  “I sense something from everyone,” Michael confirmed.  “Except the redhead throwing fire.  She’s like… a void.”  

Karla blinked.  “I’ll be damned!  That’s JC’s wife!  I didn’t know she could throw fire!”  Karla inhaled deeply to catch her breath, then shouted, “HEY!  You jackasses leave her alone!” With a fresh burst of adrenaline, Karla disappeared and reappeared closer to the woman.  “Sinopa, right?  I’m Karla – I used to work with your hubby.  You want some help?”

“Hai, your assistance is appreciated, but these people are quite impressive.”  She held a Japanese combat sword in one hand, with a fireball hovering above her other.  A wisp of steam rose above the katana.  

The four attackers ceased their advance, glanced at one another, then appeared to look over Karla and her friends.  

Michael approached the two women.  “They’re assessing us to determine our threat level.”  

Chance hurried over, not wanting to be left alone.  “They can’t be much worse than that zombie creature thing upstairs.”  

One of the men ground his teeth together and clenched his hands into fists.  “You morons freed one of those creatures?!  God help us all.”  

“We cut its head off,” Karla snapped.  “And it was already free when we came in here.  Pretty big place to have just one dumb guard out front.”

“You dumb girl, those things cannot be killed.  If you separated the head from the body, we now have two of them lurking around up there.”  

Another man said, “The head will regenerate a body, the body will regenerate a head.  He’s right, now there are two of them up there.  It was in stasis because that’s the only way to keep them from harming anyone.  If you didn’t release them, then who did?!”  

Chance, not liking the way they raised their tone towards Karla, stepped up, moving in front of her, and said, “Don’t yell at her!  It broke out, there was glass on the floor on the outside of the tube.  Maybe you morons freed it, then.  We came for a mirror so we can take it to a safe place.  Where’s the mirror?”  

“You’ve come a long way,” said the redhead to Chance.  “And in only a month.  Very impressive.  I, too, am here for the mirror.  We cannot let Sokolov’s people have it, nor can we let the Esoteric Council take possession of it.  The mirror must be earned by someone worthy of it.  It requires a keeper so it is not abused.”  

One of the men pointed at Parker.  “Shut up and go home, fox-bitch. You’re not allowed here.  There’s a treaty banning you people.  Get the fuck off of our planet.”  

“I am a three-tail.  I’m not breaking treaty until my fifth tail.”  

“That’s up for debate.  We don’t want you freaks here.  So if you don’t leave, we’re going to kill you and your friends.”  

Chance blinked, offended at how they spoke to the woman.  He approached her, glared at them, then looked back at her.  His eyes met hers… and all at once, he remembered her face from the night of the car accident seven months ago.  “…You.  Sinopa Crevan-Parker.”  

“Oh dear.  Tamamo’s attempt to block your memories didn’t hold.  You must have a strong mind and a strong will.”  

“You pulled me from the car that day.  I looked up and saw your face… why would someone block my memories?”  

Sinopa frowned thoughtfully.  “You read me.  You saw everything.”  

One of the attackers snorted disdainfully.  “You aren’t allowed to know what gods know, kid.  So they wiped your memories.  But if you’re telepathic… the council doesn’t allow you people walking around either.  So you’re not going to get it any easier from us.”  He turned back to the other three. “No choice, here. We kill them all.”

Sinopa lifted her sword again.  The blade ignited in glowing flame.  “You will stay away from him.  He is under my protection.  They all are.”  

“You’re pregnant, freak!  You can’t stop all of us, you dumb fox-bitch.”

She launched an orb of pure fire towards the one running his mouth.  He reached towards the incoming fireball and turned it into a gaseous form, extinguishing the projectile.  “I already told you that won’t work on me.”  

Chance approached the nearest of four and made a fist.  

“Kid, you don’t want to tangle with me.”  He held his hands out.  The air re-ignited into a burst of fire, throwing Chance backwards, eyebrows singed.  

“Hey!” Karla stormed towards the four men.  “You wanna swing on him?  You go through me first!”  She reached up, plucked her earrings out of her ears, shoved them into Chance's hands, along with her purse, then pushed her already-short sleeves up. “Hold my earrings; I'm about to bring the 'Hood to France when I straight-up ghetto-stomp these punks.”

Michael moved towards Karla, ready to provide support.  The man in front of the pack laughed.  “Seriously?  A pregnant fox-bitch, two children and an old man?  Perhaps it’s better to just leave you four to the fate of that creature… creatures.  They’ll not stop until they devour you idiots.”  He turned back to the other three.  “Get the mirror and move it.  I’ll cover you.”  He ignited a flat field of air between himself and Karla, creating a wall of controlled fire.  

“Why is he calling you that name?” Chance asked of Sinopa.  

The woman’s sword sputtered out with a sizzling sound.  She used the hot blade to edge up her lengthy sundress, displaying three large red-furred foxtails.  “I am a kitsune. A Shinto messenger in service of Inari-Tenno.  Deities are banned from earth due to a treaty from long ago.  Some gods have messengers that they send to Earth in their stead.  If we become too powerful, we are recalled.  The supernatural community upholds the treaty.  These men are racist against my kind, but that mirror cannot be in their hands.  It would allow the Esoteric Council access to communicate with my kind.  It is to be left with a responsible keeper, because it was documented in the treaty that the head of the council would be allowed to use it to ask an audience with our people, incase it is necessary.  The mirror cannot be broken, so that is not an option.”  

“Wait,” Karla asked, “If the treaty says the head of the council can have it… why are you upset the EC has possession of it?”  

“That man was killed centuries ago.  We deem who is or is not responsible enough to have it.  The current Esoteric Council is not worthy of possession.”  

“I’ve been hired to take it to a woman named,” she trailed off, looked back at the wall of fire, then, in a quieter voice, said, “Natalia Kincade, so that she can hide it from the EC.  Is, uh…” Karla offered a weak smile.  “Is she worthy?”

“The vampire?  Hai, she is worthy to be a keeper of the mirror.  But she cannot know it’s true purpose.  However, she has the resources to keep it safe.”

Karla jerked her fist down and hissed the word, “Yes!”  Followed by, “I’m gunna be rich.”  She cleared her throat and pointed at the wall of fire.  “Let’s get these assholes!  I’ll teleport something over there then back and we’ll see how deep his wall goes.”  She withdrew the handkerchief from her purse then it disappeared.  A moment later it reappeared, on fire.  Karla swatted at it.  It fell to the ground then she stomped on it.  “Dammit!  That was fifty feet back, maybe more!  We need a way through this!”  She snagged her purse back from Chance and shouldered it.

“They’re getting away,” Chance said with a frown.  “They’re getting further and further from me.”  He looked back at Sinopa and swallowed.  “Please don’t erase my memories again.  I don’t want to forget meeting Karla and who I’ve become.”  

“Then do not read my mind and start spouting my memories aloud the way you did when I pulled you from the car accident.  Those things cannot be shared, please.”  

“I …I think it was just manifesting or… whatever the term is.  I vaguely remember I was being taken to the hospital because I had a headache beyond belief.  And we hit… or… maybe.. we were hit by… something.  And you pulled me out of the car.  It was burning.  You somehow made the fire recede a little.  Then you pulled me from the back of the car.  And I looked up at you and just… started saying the first things that came to my mind.  I didn’t mean any of it.”  

“I see.  You were suffering from a serious head injury.  Jonathan owned a mobile phone in his car.  He called for an ambulance.  My sensei, Tamamo-no-Mae, who watches over me from her permanent resident in the Celestial Realm, wiped your memories.  She said you’d remember some things, eventually, but the memories of what you saw when you gazed into my mind… that, she was confident, has been permanently removed.  Unfortunately, Tamamo cannot come to this realm because her physical form was slain here.  We need to fall back and find out where this building goes and see if we cannot determine their escape path.  At the very least, we need to determine where they’re taking the mirror next so I can reclaim it and hide it properly.  Those are my orders from the Celestial Realm.  Please do not stand in my way.”  

“If you say Natalia can be its keeper, then we’re going to help you,” Karla said.  “I’ve been hired to do a job.  I’m going to do it.  Where is your husband, will he be helping us?”  

“Iie, he is in Rome.  His task is of great import.  Nearly as important as our own.”  She glanced at Michael and Chance.  “Are you with Karla in support of me?”  

“I’m supposed to be Karla’s boyfriend,” Chance said with a wan grin.  “That’s what she told me after we surrendered her rental car to the police.  That’s been my role ever since.”  

Sinopa turned to Karla with a soft smile.  “He’s a sweet boy.  Treat your beau well.”  

“I do,” Karla replied with a grin, thinking back on how she’d gone down on him in his sleep the night before.  

Chance turned white.  “K-Karla…!”

“Oh, you saw that, huh?”  

Michael approached Sinopa and offered his right hand.  Parker moved her sword to her left hand, then used her right one to receive his right.  “Ah, a handshake.  How… European.”  She smiled.  “You are one of Nathanial’s friends, hai?  The four horsemen?”  

“I’ve not been called that in a long time, Mrs. Parker.  So… you’re the legendary goddess friend he mentioned.  All these years, I thought he was lying about being friends with a legitimate goddess.”  

Karla grinned. “Nathanial wouldn’t ‘bullshit’ – to use his favorite word – about something like that.”  

“Apparently not,” Michael said.  He drew his hand back then reached to his left forearm, favoring it.  “So… now what?  Fire wall in front of us… zombie creature things back the other way.”  

“Uh, guys…”  Everyone turned to face Chance.  He replied with a weak smile, which turned to a frown then he pointed back across the enormous underground complex, back in the direction of the ramp.  “I think we now have to deal with the fire wall and the creatures at the same time.  Here they come… and those guys were right… it’s two, now.”  

Karla grinned towards Sinopa.  “We’ve been taking turns fighting.  You’re the newest member to our gang, Mrs. Parker.  That means it’s your turn.”  Her grin broadened.  “You can pass, if you want, though.  That would make it Mike’s turn.  I kind of want to see him fight those things with a broken forearm and whatnot.  He thinks he’s badass, so it’s funny to watch him try and prove he’s not old.”  

“That’s not fair,” Michael said.  “I’m not immortal like you, I just age slowly.  But just because I don't have my good looks anymore doesn't mean nothing. I'm a sugar daddy, when I gotta be... and I’m still quite capable.”  

“Let us have quiet, kudasai.  We need to consider our options against these unnatural beings.  They were genetic enhancement program that failed.  They are not to be trifled with.  I’ve removed the head of one, earlier, but as those men pointed out… it creates two.”  

“Wait…” Michael blinked, looked over at Karla and Chance, then back at Sinopa. “If you cut its head off… then there were two.  And we decapitated one… so that means there are now three.”  

“We only saw the one, earlier,” Chance said.  “However many there are… they’re on the bottom of the ramp, now.  And they’re on their way.”  

“They stay down while they regenerate,” Karla said, cracking her knuckles.  “Let’s tear them apart and get that mirror back.”  

Sinopa gave her sword a twirl.  It whooshed through the air.  “It is my turn, is it not?  Allow me the honor, by all means.  But know this… they’re quite immune to fire, and become exceedingly more dangerous when they attack while fully ablaze.  We should try to keep them away from this wall of fire behind us.  

All at once, the wall of fire began to move forward to the group.  Chance balled his hands into fists.  “Aw, man, are you serious?!  I don’t even think that guy is still on the other side, anymore.  I think he ran off with his buddies.  How is it moving towards us??”  

“You might be wrong, and he might be listening,” said Michael.  “Or his range of control over this wall… it could be pretty impressive.”  He backed away from the wall, as did the rest of them.  “Under consideration of the fact this wall is moving towards us, combined with the creature-things that are coming for us from the other way… Karla… I’m thinking two separate payments of ten grand.  I’ll bank one and put the rest in a mattress.”  

She folded her arms, walking at a steady pace with the rest of the group away from the wall of flames.  “God, fine.  You did break your arm.  I guess I can loosen up with a few extra bucks, but… stop nickel-and-diming me.”

“Not trying to Jew you out of another ten grand, but this is legitimate danger pay.”

Karla groaned.  “Don’t use racist terms.  That’s down right tacky.  You don’t have to be like the other Jerries, you know.”  

“Yeah, this from a woman who called me a sauerkraut, earlier.”  He smirked.  She smirked back.  “Fine, you’re right.  I surrender.”  

“Counting today, that’s the third time I’ve heard your country say those words.”  Again, they both smirked at one another.

“Okay, okay!” Chance erupted. “Can we worry about being boxed in by a wall of fire and a bunch of super… freaks?”  

“Hai.  The young man makes a point.”  

“Chance,” he said, licking his lips.  He looked back at the slowly moving wall of controlled flames as it continued towards them at a walking pace.  

“Well met, Chance-san. I wish I could cause these flames to recede the way I controlled the ones engulfing the car in which I found you.  But… I fear that man’s control over ignited gas in the air is quite impressive.  Perhaps when I earn my fourth tail.”  

Chance looked back towards the distant end of the large room.  He passed one of the pillars that dotted the area every so often.  “Those things are getting close.  And… yeah, I think it might actually be three of them.  Figures.”  

“Look on the bright side,” said Karla.  “Sinopa, here, will cut their heads off.  It apparently takes a few minutes for them to regenerate or whatever.  They’ll lay there, the flame wall passes over them… then there will be six of them; they’ll go in the direction of our new pals, the ‘super jerks.’  There won’t be any more to deal with upstairs, which means we’ll be in the clear.”  

“Nothing is ever that easy for us,” Chance said.  

“Yeah… true.”  

Sinopa lifted her sword as the four continued to move forward, staying ahead of the wall of flame.  “I see something moving up ahead.  They’re coming this way… Prepare yourselves.”  

Michael ground his molars together.  “Yeah, they have abilities alright.  They’re beyond my normal range but… all of them have abilities.  It’s like a bigger magnet to my natural compass.”  

Chance blinked.  “Wait… I think that other guy is still behind us.  He’s walking the wall towards us.  And he knows about those creatures.  He knows exactly what they are.”  He looked back at the approaching wall of fire then back at the approaching creatures.  “They were humans.  Soldiers that were part of a super soldier program.”

“How goddamn cliché is that,” Karla groused.  “The Red Skull trying to copy Steve Rodgers.  Art is supposed to imitate life, not the other-damn-way around.”  

“Yeah, uh… well, apparently these things are the failures.  Someone tried to imbue them with abilities and those things… that’s the results of the first batch.  But they’re all regenerated versions of the same test subject.”

“Jesus,” Michael muttered. “There were tons of those pods upstairs.  Just imagine how many times they tried to kill it to create all those copies ...before they decided to just freeze them all.”  He glanced back at the approaching wall of flame.  “That guy behind us.  I think he must have frozen them so the science team could have put them into stasis.  It makes sense.  He could change the molecular properties in the air and freeze an entire room of attackers if he had the help of Alan Ridgefield.”  

“Who?” asked Karla.  “Oh… wait, you mean that guy who could amp up the abilities of people near him?  He’s dead, Mike.”  

“Maybe someone else has that ability.  Look, I’m grasping at straws here… We’re about to be torn apart by an angry freak who can clone himself on the spot.  How is that even possible?  Are they all controlled by a main host?  Are they all independent of one another?  How does brain tissue grow instantly like that?”  

“Maybe that’s why they’re all stupid,” Karla said.  “I’m getting tired of you guys whining.  Let me show you what’s up.”  She quickened her pace then waved her hands and threw the three approaching creatures up into the ceiling then dropped them hard onto the floor.  “Cut their heads off, quick!”  

Sinopa lifted her katana and brought it down over the neck of the one nearest to her.  The creature’s head rolled away from its body but minimal blood gushed out.  It appeared to scab over at the throat of both pieces, taking only seconds to cease the bleeding.  

“It didn’t do that before,” Michael said.  “Maybe it’s evolving with every death?”

“God I hope not,” Karla said.  “They’d be the perfect predator before long.”  

Sinopa lifted her sword and brought it down on the next creature’s neck.  However, the sword stopped against the spinal column and didn’t separate the head.  

“What’s wrong?” asked Michael.  

“This one… seems to have additional fortitude against head removal.  If the evolution theory is correct, then this might have been the one I killed before, with a new defense against my blade.”  She tugged on the sword, dislodging it from the spine.  She turned to the other on the ground and tried to decapitate it but, like the second creature, it seemed immune to a neck strike.  “This must be the other half to grow out of my initial attack.”  

“Look at the bright side,” said Karla.  “Now we’re dealing with four instead of six.  We should go before they…Fuck.”  The creatures with the shallow gashes in their necks got to their feet.  “Figures.”  

The other one on the floor, with a missing head, began to create bioorganic matter from beneath the head and above the body.  The fire approached it and engulfed the legs of the body.  Karla kicked the head into the flames.  “We need to go!”

She turned away from the flame wall but one of the creatures reached up and closed its talon-like figures around her leg.  She went straight to the ground, landing on her handbag with a grunt, which knocked the wind out of her.  

Chance gasped, feeling a momentary pang in his solar plexus.  Michael, who was closest to Karla, scooped her up in his right arm, her feet dragging on the tiles.  “C’mon, girlie.  We’ve gotta move, now.”  

“O…one sec,” Karla gasped, winded from the way she’d fallen onto the purse.  

Sinopa ignited her sword and took another swing at the creatures.  The sword, now hot with flames flickering off of its surface, diced through a creature, at the waist.  The lower half fell away and was soon consumed by the approaching wall of fire.  The upper half began to pull itself along the floor with its arms, trying to pursue at a slow rate.  

The other creature caught Sinopa off guard by knocking her into Chance by swinging its arms.  They both went to the floor.  The creature then waved its arms and bowled over both Michael and Karla.  The wall of flames continued its steady approach.  

The creature stood over Michael and pounded its talon-fingered hands against its chest, celebrating its victory.  It then lifted its hands above Michael and drove the talon fingernails right into his torso with ease.  

Chance gasped, feeling an ice-cold metallic sensation in his torso.  He clutched at his chest, feeling what Michael felt, watching helplessly as the scythe-like digits diced into him.  Chance tried to shout in fear but his breath left him.  

A gunshot erupted from Michael’s pistol, blasting through the forehead of the creature.  It flinched, giving everyone a moment of repose, and giving Michael a moment to feel semi-accomplished before accepting his face.  He felt his life beginning to drain out of his body.  Chance felt it too.  

The boy gasped for breath, his lower lip trembling.  He felt Michael die, organs shutting down, unable to breathe from having his lungs punctured… his mind too in shock to accept it… Chance mouthed the word, ‘no,’ unable to accept what he saw.  

The creature stumbled a bit.  Sinopa got to her feet, lifted her sword and swung it.  The creature’s fingernails came up, acting like multiple daggers.  It used one hand to block her sword then lifted its other, above Karla, ready to stab her with each finger the way it had just done to Michael.  

Everything felt slow to Chance.  As if time began to crawl suddenly.  He saw Michael’s blood dripping from the talon fingers… above Karla’s body.  She looked up just in time to see the creature that would become her own undoing.  She was only just taking her first breath for the first time in what felt like ages… Her bright green eyes widened and her pupils shrank to pinholes.  

“NO!” Chance shouted at the top of his lungs.  Time exploded forward all at once resuming normal speed.  The creature stumbled backwards into the wall of fire.  Karla gasped in pain then her eyes rolled up into her head.  Michael flopped over and dropped his gun.  It clattered across the tiled floor.  The wall of flame dissipated and its puppeteer crumbled to the ground, unconscious.  

Sinopa brought her free hand to her forehead, blinked a few times then winced, as though experiencing an ‘ice cream headache.’  She looked back at the motionless creature.  Her amber gaze shifted over to the unconscious man who had been controlling the wall of flame, twenty-five feet back.  She looked towards Karla and Michael then she turned her eyes to Chance.  

For the first time, he was able to see that her pupils were vertical slits, much like a cat or other creature with natural night vision.  They both scrambled over towards Michael to check his wounds.  

The man, appearing in his early fifties, was bleeding profusely.  His skin was rapidly growing pale and it was obvious that he had only another moment or two… He was unresponsive, as was Karla.  

“What just happened?”  

Sinopa looked around again.  The creatures were not moving.  Even the one with the severed head… its rate of regrowth appeared temporarily disrupted.  The Esoteric Council member was face down on the floor but breathing.  She turned back to Chance and sheathed her sword.  “I believe you projected a telepathic… attack of some kind.  I just experienced an intense pain in my head… what I believe humans call a ‘migraine.’  It seems to be passing, now.  Nathanial’s friend will not make it, but Jonathan’s friend, the succubus… Karla was it?  She will need us to help her leave.”  

“Dammit… how did I…?  Nevermind.  Should we take that other guy prisoner or something?”  

“Iie, I would not know of a proper way to contain him unless we could strip him of his ability.  And I do not know of a way to do that.  We should take your friend, Karla, and go.  Michael Richter received an honorable death in combat, as he’s always wished.  They all said that was how they wished to die… in combat, doing what they loved.  We have no way to carry him and mundane humans would take notice.”  

Michael drew his last ragged breath then grew still, lying adjacent to Karla.  Chance crawled over to him and put his ear near to the man’s mouth.  He was completely silent.  The boy got to his feet and worked to get Karla up onto her knees but couldn’t figure out how to get her off the ground.  

Sinopa moved around to her other side and took her by the legs.  She helped Chance get Karla up, then assisted with getting her body up into Chance’s arms.  He held the succubus’ unconscious body the way a man would carry a newly wed wife across a threshold.   He arched his back a bit to keep her centered and aloft in his arms.  “We have a long way to go.  But I don’t think my shoulders are wide enough to carry her there.  We should go while we still can.  I don’t know how far I can carry her.”  

“She is certainly not that heavy,” Sinopa said.  

He began walking with Karla in his arms.  “Hi.  I’m Chance.  I’ve been in a coma for six months and haven’t used my muscles during that time.  I’m carrying a buck-fifteen in deadweight.  I'm a wimp and my arms are going to give out If we don't hurry.”  

They made their way towards the ramp.  Chance looked up the seemingly endless incline and swallowed.  “I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” he muttered, trying not to stumble while carrying Karla.  Sinopa walked alongside of him in silence.  

He glanced over at the kitsune, breathless, and said, “I see your ears in your hair, now.  I can’t begin to tell you…” he trailed off to pant then continued. “…How happy I am that my …outburst, or whatever it was… didn’t knock you out.  Because then I’d have to carry you both out of here.  Which… would have basically been... me dragging you both by your hands or feet… a really long way.  This place is big.”  He began panting again.  “So… the mirror is gone, now what?”  

“They’ve covered it with a tarp, or I would have had Tamamo help me find it with relative ease.  I’m afraid it is my priority, despite my advanced stage of pregnancy.”  

“Look, if you promise not to let my memories get wiped again… I’ll promise to find it for you.  I’m not about…” he trailed off again to catch his breath.  “…Not about to let a woman in her third trimester go fighting people who can freeze and burn stuff like that guy.  Who the crap was that guy anyhow?”

“His name is Paul Foster.  He lives in Chicago.  He and his wife have been trying to have a baby.  I know this because I serve Inari-Tenno.  You may think of him as the god of agriculture and reproduction if it’s easier to understand.”  

“Tell you what, if he leaves us alone after today… you give him that baby.  Maybe that’ll tie him down for a while and keep him off our butts.  I don’t want to deal with fire and ice or having my …molecules get… messed up.  That doesn’t sound,” again he took a deep breath, trying to keep himself moving forward up the hill. “That doesn’t sound very agreeable, you know?”

“You are assuming he survives those creatures.  Focus your strength on getting outside.  Did you bring a vehicle?”

“A van.  Keys are in Karla’s purse.”  

“Hai.  Jonathan, my husband, has taught me how to drive a stick shift.  I can get us back to the hotel if you remember where it is.”  

“The envelope for the key-card has an address.  Also… in the purse… god my legs are tight.”  

“Push through it, Chance-san.  You’re doing well.  You are an impressive boy.  I see great things ahead if you remain true to yourself as you are, now.  Come, it’s not much further.”  

“Wish I could drive one of those fork lifts.”  He paused for a moment, caught his breath again, then continued up the ramp.  “I’d better get another kiss after all this trouble.”  He smiled weakly.  

“Knowing Karla’s kind, she would be happy to oblige with far more.”  

“One thing at a time,” he said, panting again.  “I’m uh… shy.”  They both fell into silence.

Sinopa and Chance continued up the ramp, through the compound, and headed back towards the main entrance.  Chance took the time to reflect on all that he’d been through in the last month.  He thought back to earlier. It was heartbreaking to see Michael killed but... When that thing stood over her... That was a game changer.

The boy came to the realization that his life was now even more complicated than he could have ever imagined a month ago.  Despite Methos’ warning… he was falling head-over-heels in love with Karla.  There was no point in fighting his feelings, he actually liked the way it felt.  It gave him the inner resolve to mush forward on the steep ramp and in the face of this crazy new world playing out all around him.  It gave him a purpose.  And, most importantly, it made him feel… well, manly.

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Out of the Frying Pan…

June 21st, 1999, 2:50pm  Marseille, France…

“You going to let me cut loose, or hog all the fun again?”  Mike glanced at Karla with a smirk.  “I mean, seriously.  You were hyper and went overboard against those guys in Lyon.”  

Karla eyed him for a moment then shook her head.  “Oh, geeze, fine.  Go have your fun.”  She stepped in front of Chance, protectively, arms folded.  “Go on.”  

Michael rolled his sleeves up and approached the creature.  “Wow, you are a creepy looking bastard, ja?  Let’s get this ball rolling, as they say.”  He drew his hands up and balled them into fists.  “Your move, ugly.”  

The lumbering creature took a swung at him.  Mike jerked his head back and kept his stance open for balance.  Moving defensively, he buried a fist in the creature’s stomach.  The flesh gave way and bodily fluids spilled down over the being’s waistline, groin and thighs.  

“Are you serious?” he exclaimed, eyes wide.  The creature took another swing but with his subconscious ability, he was ready.  Mike lifted his arm to block the strike.  

The pure power behind its swing immediately broke his left wrist and knocked him back several feet.  He scrambled away, feet slipping in the gooey mess of body fluids. Mike made his way back to a pillar where there was a fire hose, axe and extinguisher mounted in a glass case.  “I got this!” he called back to Chance and Karla.  

Mike gripped the bottom of the case and pulled himself up, careful not to slip again.  He elbowed the glass case only to find it was plastic, which shattered due to a perforated cut in the front.  He reached in, took the axe in his right hand then turned back to the creature.  

“You sure?” asked Karla.  “Cause it looks to me like you’re struggling.  It’s not age, is it?” she teased.  

“I’m not a minute man, I like to take my time, warm up, then I bring on the show.”  He gingerly lifted his left hand and gripped the axe handle beneath his right hand.  “That thing hits pretty hard, though.”  He took two steps forward then swung.  

The axe disappeared into the creature’s shoulder to the point where the handle appeared to jut straight out of the center of its chest.  More bodily fluid ran down its arm and chest, pooling on the floor.  It reached forward, unable to lift one of its arms as high as the other, due to the gash in its left shoulder.  

“Damn that thing is resilient,” he said.  “Where’s a necromancer when you need one?”  Again, the creature took a swing at him with its right arm.  

Michael ducked it, careful not to slip on the floor.  “Scheisse,” he muttered beneath his breath.  He reached up and took the handle of the axe and jerked on it.  He stumbled back, slipped in the goo on the floor and went to his backside.  The handle was still in his hand but the head of the axe was missing.  “Scheiss!  Es ist defekt!”  

Karla yawned.  She unfolded her arms, then put her hands on her hips.  “What’s that?  What’re you shitting about?”  

“I said it’s busted!” he exclaimed.  The creature brought its right hand down.  He held the handle horizontally, using it to deflect the attack.  The fiberglas pole began to crack.  The creature closed its talons around the handle.  Mike put his foot into the being’s lower gut, then rolled backwards.  

It took the axe handle from his grip and flew through the air then slid to a halt adjacent to the broken stasis chamber.

“They’re not your average zombie!” he said.  “That thing gripped the pole.  Certainly not a dumb Hollywood zombie, that’s for sure.”  He got to his feet then brought his right fingers to his left forearm, checking his injury.  “I might have broken my wrist.  Or it could be a bad sprain.”  

“Oh, great,” Karla said with a chiding tone.  “Es ist defekt,” she said, repeating what he’d uttered moments ago.  “You ready for me to handle this thing yet?”

“No!  I’ll handle it!”  He withdrew a handgun, pointed it at the creature as it got back to its feet.  

Chance and Karla quickly brought their hands up to their ears. The pistol discharged followed by a cacophony of echoes throughout the building.  

The boy watched in horror.  “It didn’t work!” The creature got back to its feet then reached towards Michael upon approach.  He fired the weapon four more times, putting all of five bullets into the being's head.  Slowly, the creature dropped to its knees then flopped onto its side.  “It's not dead,” he said. “How can anything live through that?”

Michael moved behind it and put a round into the base of its spine.  It stilled but continued to make freakishly raspy noises and move its mouth.  “Well, it’s paralyzed.  Damn.  Should have brought a bigger gun.  If I had another axe I could take the head off.”  

Karla approached it and held her hand out, palm down.  The head of the axe appeared on the floor adjacent to Michael’s feet, covered in discolored goo.  “You want me to try and fuse it back to the handle?  I can teleport them together.”  

“Handle is cracked.  I hope that’s the only one of these things.”

Chance sighed.  “Obviously it won’t be, especially now that you’ve said that.”  

“You’re a real optimist, young man.  Know that?”  Michael opened and closed his left hand several times then tried to arch his hand at the wrist, doing so gingerly.  “The break isn’t at the joint.  It’s further up the forearm.  I’ll be fine.”

“Can I fight the next one?” Chance smiled weakly, but his joke appeared to amuse both Karla and Michael.  “I mean, it is my turn, now, right?  Anyone have a shotgun?” He paused then, withq an incredulous expression, exclaimed, “Doom?!  Come on, you guys had to have played Doom, right?”

Karla smiled sheepishly.  “Yeah.  But a little while later the third Duke Nukem came out, you know… the 3D one… and I never looked back.”

“Why, because of the control scheme, or because the risqué humor?”

Karla began walking in a random direction, looking to explore the rest of the compound.  “Because of Jon St. John’s voice.  The rest was a bonus.  You kidding?  I used the codes; I suck at video games.  But they amuse me and I really like technology, so I play’em every now and then.”

Chance looked back at Michael.  The older man shook his head.  “I stopped after pong, kid.”  

“Actually,” Chance said, “I was going to say, ‘let’s go,’ and follow her.  But, uh… Pong is cool if you have two players.”  He hurried after Karla, adding, “I remember Doom and Duke Nukem.  They only came out a few years ago.  I remember playing them.  I think I’m starting to get some of my marbles back.”  

“Good!  It’s about time!  I need to know what to call you if your name turns out to be something other than Chance.”  She led the group through the large room full of various computers.  Some of the equipment was comprised of standard desktops piled together and running as a network.  Other pieces of computer equipment looked as though it had been built specifically for the compound based on design and the way it was fit in between stasis tubes.  

At the far end was an office.  Karla reached into her handbag and withdrew a handkerchief.  She paused and looked back at Chance and Mike.  “Call me old fashion; I used to drop these to get boys.  Great ice breaker back in the day.”  She wrapped the cloth over the handle and turned the knob then frowned.  “Locked.  Nuts.”  

She waved her hand at the door.  It ripped off its hinges, taking part of the modular wall with it.  She stepped into the office and tucked the hankie back into her purse.  

“Really, Karla?  You go from being all dainty, opening the door with that thing, then you suddenly rip it all down?  There’s no middle of the road for you.”  

“I don’t care how it opens, sweetheart.  So long as it gets out of my way and I don’t leave fingerprints.” Then she added, matter-of-factly, “It was in my way.”  The succubus sat down at a chair behind a desk and waved her hands like a symphony conductor.  Drawers opened, file folders opened then closed.  A Rolodex opened on the desktop, and it slowly began to rotate through various paper slips.  A few had numbers, including local emergency services and a few eateries with delivery service.  

Chance leaned down and picked up an Ethernet cable on the floor.  “I guess they plug in with a laptop when someone is in?”

“Don’t touch things with your fingers,” she murmured.  “Wipe it off with your shirt.”  She smiled at the Rolodex then said, “I think I might have something, gang.  There’s a number here with a name – A. Sokolov.  I knew a man named Aris Sokolov, once.  He worked with Jonathan Parker for a while but it was short-lived.  Guy was pretty smart.  A scientist, actually.  Into genetics and eugenics and all that stuff.”  

“What is eugenics?” asked Chance.

Michael frowned.  “Remember how the Nazis were obsessing about blond hair and blue eyes?”  

“Right.  Thee, uh, Aryan race thing, right?”  He paused then smiled.  “See?  I didn’t fail Social Studies after all.”  

“Good for you. You must be proud to know something about one of the darkest moments in human history.”  Michael rubbed his left forearm.  “Eugenics is all about selective breeding.”  

“I can’t think of why anyone would want to…”

Karla looked up from the Rolodex again.  “I can.  If this guy is Aris Sokolov, he was studying supernatural-only breeding.  At the time, the EC was interested in his research.  They were saying how mundane human DNA added ‘junk code’ to people with abilities, making it so that some children or their descendants might not have abilities.  Not sure what they concluded in the study but… I think it’s safe to say that everyone has a little bit of everything in their gene pool by this point.  It’s the 90’s, baby!”  

“It’s ultra rare for a person to manifest abilities in Africa, the poor sections of China, South America…”

Karla cut Michael off with a gesture of her hand.  “Or it goes unreported, or their ability isn’t anything extremely noteworthy.  I get what you’re implying.  But you’re being a sauerkraut.  You think that there might have been a ‘first people’ with abilities from thousands of years before Christ.  And they mixed, mingled and diluted their genes with everyone else on the planet, but mostly with people above the commoners.  And now Esoteric people are spread out and rare.  But I don’t buy that shit without proof.  Conjecture and rumors. Myths.  After all, Aboriginal people are said to have come from Africa, back far enough, and there are several noteworthy supernaturals from that part of the world.  So… Let’s not talk racial genetics.  It’s as annoying as talking about politics.”  

Chance fidgeted.  “And we all know what happens when people mix politics and racial genetics.  You get hate groups.  Again, didn’t fail Social Studies…”

Karla smirked.  “Not that you remember, sweetheart.”  She plucked the contact card from the Rolodex and put it into her purse.  “These things are about to go the way of the dinosaur.  I keep all my numbers in my Handspring Visor.  And before long, I’m pretty sure they’re going to mix PDAs with cellphones.  I’m surprised it hasn’t happened by now, because it seems like the next obvious choice.  Like I said, it’s the 90’s!  We’re supposed to have flying cars by next year, according to the 60’s and 70’s pop culture.”  

“You’re going off on a tangent,” Chance said with a weak smile.  “Let’s check the rest of this place.  Half a million dollars, remember?”

The succubus offered a genuine smile.  “You’re right.  I keep you on your toes, and now you’re keeping me on mine.  Thank you, sweetie.  Let’s go find this damn mirror.”  She stood up from the chair and waved her hand.  The desk went flying out of her way, knocking down the rest of the modular wall.  She looked back at the wide-eyed gaze of Michael and Chance then said, “What?  It was in my way,” with a smile.

Michael blinked then tilted his head and looked back over his shoulder.  “That freak thing… I think it's trying to get up and start more trouble.  My ‘Spidey Senses’ are tingling, children.”  

“I thought it was paralyzed?” asked Karla.  

Chance shook his head.  “I… don’t think it is anymore.”  He cleared his throat then said, “I know you’re looking to fight, so I’ll take one for the team and pass on my turn to throw punches.  You’re welcome.”  He gave a forced smile then looked back in the darkness of the complex, towards where they’d fought the creature earlier.  “But the feeling of hunger is gone.  I’m feeling frustrated… agitated… angry.”

“Anger… that’s not a good thing,” Michael said.  In the distance, they could hear something dragging on the floor.  “That thing looked like it had already seen more action than we put it through. Like someone stuck it in a microwave until it blasted apart, then kept going.  God only knows, maybe it heals.”  

“I love microwaves.  After almost four hundred years, I’m finally cooking.”  

The noise continued, but they couldn’t see the creature yet.  Michael frowned.  “You don’t cook?  Is there anything feminine about you?”

“Hey…!” She pursed her lips together then reached over and flicked her finger against his left forearm.  She smiled, watching Michael recoil in horror.  “Meaniehead.  Christ, I swear, I’ll be glad when chauvinism dies.  And yes, I like microwaving stuff.  I wait until the counter gets down to one second, then I open the door before it reaches zero.  Makes me feel like MacGyver.”  

“Are you seriously kidding me?” Michael grumbled.  He checked the rounds in his gun then pointed it into the darkness.  “Are you for real, Karla?”

Chance licked his lips and frowned.  “I…uh… I’m the same way.  It’s like being a bomb defusing expert in an action movie.”  

Karla reached over, used her telekinesis to lift Chance’s hand, and high-fived him.  “That’s what I’m talking about.  And put that gun away, Mikey-boy.  You’re going to make me deaf in here.  I’ll handle that thing when it finally lumbers its way over here.  If it ever gets to that point.”  She turned her head and shouted into the darkness. “Hey!  Creepin’ Moses!  What’re you waiting for?!  Christmas??”  

Chance frowned. “I don’t think it was going slow out of necessity.  I think it was trying to figure out what direction we’re in… thanks, uh, for giving it a head’s up, Karla.”  

“My pleasure.”  She put her hands on her hips and stepped in front of the two, with a devious smirk on her face.  The strange dragging noise stopped.  Everything became silent.  “Well?  Did it get bored?”  

A creature came into view in the dim illumination hanging above the cubical she’d destroyed.  It ran on the balls of its feet, silently, approaching at an incredible speed.  Michael lifted the handgun.  Karla reached over, and guided it downwards.  “No.  Just… watch a pro.”  

It continued its rapid approach, causing both Michael and Chance to appear nervous.  “Just stop, guys.  You’re distracting.  Enjoy the show.”  

The creature crossed twenty feet at unbelievable speed.  Karla watched it carefully, judging distance.  She put her hands behind her back, and slid her shoes off then scooted them to the side.  Her fists began to glow.  To amuse her peers, and mostly herself, she held her hands out and stood on one foot, with her other one elevated.  “Almost,” she whispered.  

Michael and Chance backed away from her, slowly.  The creature continued a straight-line charge towards Karla.  She opened her hands, pointing her fingers towards, still balancing on just one foot.  

The creature came at her like a freight train.  Karla kicked her other foot up and her upper body flashed in a brief yet bright carnation glow.  Her foot came up and met the creature, launching it straight up into the air.  “Crane kick!  Mister Miyagi style!”  

The abomination struck the roof of the building, tearing a gash into the ceiling.  It careened through the rafters, striking several, then came down and slammed into the ground.  Momentum carried it over into a roll.  It stopped fifteen feet from where it landed, motionless.  

Karla turned to her shoes, slid her feet back into them, then mock-bowed to Michael, then pivoted towards Chance and bowed again.  “That is how you do it… I suddenly feel the need to prune Bonsai trees or buy Arnold's Diner.”  She walked away from the others and approached the creature on the ground.  Karla waved a hand, telekinetically flipping it onto its back.  She tilted her head then frowned.  “Huh.  It’s still alive.  And it’s mending, albeit slowly.”

“Seriously?!” Chance exclaimed.  “After all that punishment, it’s still coming back for more?”

Michael picked up a section of the broken modular wall, carried it over and lifted it up, then he brought it down hard.  The head separated from the shoulders.  “See, girlie? Ya just gotta remove the head from the body,” he told the demoness.  

She waved her hands, putting three feet of distance between the head and the rest of the creature.  “That was sudden and anticlimactic.”  

“The sooner we leave, the sooner you collect your cash.  I want ten grand for helping you.”  

Karla nodded with a shrug.  “Smart.  You won’t have to pay any taxes on a gift of ten grand or less.”  

“Exactly.  Let’s find that thing.”  The trio regrouped and began exploring the warehouse again, but further into the building, the entire floor angled downwards at a slight slope.  

Chance asked, “Why is the floor sloped like this?”  

“I assume the grade of incline is befitting for forklift use.”  He pointed to two light gouges that stretched about eighteen inches.  “Looks like someone didn’t have their forks all the way up, there.  It brushed the ground, then they put them up. Could have done that after dropping a skid, or angling the forks while picking up something like… maybe one of those tubes, who knows.”  

The group continued down for several minutes.  The floor leveled out into an enormous underground complex that defied belief.  Michael looked around, astonished.  “How can all of this be down here, beneath Marseille?  Surely the Government would have to know about something this large, this deep.  It would interfere with subterranean infrastructure if they didn’t know to avoid it.”  

“How deep you think we went?”  Karla looked up at the high ceiling then back at Michael.  “I'm surprised we're not beneath the water table.”

“Quite a few stories, but I don’t know the math.  I’d have to know how long the ramp is and its angle.  But if I had to guess, I’d say almost a half-mile.  Adrenaline is starting to thin out.  Forearm is starting to hurt now, actually.  You’re a healer, right?”

Karla smirked. “Yeah.  But I don’t heal broken bones as fast as that creature apparently does.  Takes two or three days.  It’s actually a succubae defense.”

“Oh?  How’s that work?”  

“If we’re marred, we’re not attractive.  If we can’t be attractive, we can’t have sex, and we die.  We evolved that ability after people used to mark our faces.  Not many people know we can heal, now, though.  People still try to mark our faces, hoping it will cause us to starve to death.  Some demon hunters will kill us and still mark our faces.”  

“Jesus.  Just because you like sex, huh?”

“Ever heard of Elizabeth Short?  She was marked at death.  Her killer thought she was a succubus because of the fact she was promiscuous.  They left her in an empty lot in Los Angeles.”  

“Jesus,” Michael said, eyes wide.  “And she wasn’t a sex demon?  When did this happen?”

“Nope.   Just an aspiring actress.  Uhm… 1947, I think?”

Chance looked at Michael then back to Karla.  “Why would we know about a single murder from the forties?”

“You’ve never heard of the Black Dahlia murder?  It was a pop culture sensation, and it's still open.”  

Michael rubbed his chin. “Okay, yeah I think I’ve heard it by that name.”  

“Not me,” Chance murmured.  He held his hands out, stopping his peers suddenly.  “Wait,” he hissed softly.  “Someone is up ahead.  Don’t look at me, I can’t control it yet.  No, I didn’t telepathically know about the Black whatever-murders, but I’m telling you that there is someone here and they’re up ahead and they know we’re here.  They are expecting us.  They’re a little nervous but over-all confident and ready.”  

“Well… let’s not keep them waiting,” Karla said.  “Mike, do they have powers?”

Michael tilted his head.  “If they do… they’re too far away from me to sense it.  My reach is pretty shallow.  Maybe a hundred and fifty feet.  Two hundred if it’s quiet and there’s no one else around.  I’ve got nothing at this point.”

“I’m going to wager a guess,” Chance said.  “My money is on someone with an ability.  They’re alone and they’re confident.  Wait… no, they’re not alone, but… wait, I think they’re fighting something already.”

“You really need to start practicing, Chance.  C’mon.”  Karla upped her pace.  The trio hurried through the large underground section.  The lighting was significantly brighter, although still somewhat dim, letting them see distant walls hundreds of feet away on the left and right, but there was no obvious end in sight up ahead.  From what they could see, the distant walls were lined with shelving that went to the ceiling.  Occasional forklifts were parked every so often.  The center sections had pillars but they were spread far enough apart that the area seemed structurally impossible.  

A spark of light came from up ahead.  The group hurried towards a fight up ahead.  Karla began to breathe hard.  “I jog and this is still too far to go.  Hold on, you two…”  They all disappeared.  A hundred feet later, they reappeared, only to disappear once more.  They crossed another hundred foot gap then continued in the next series of teleportation blips, moving across the large gap several more times.  

The group reappeared a thousand feet from where they started.  Karla slumped into Chance, panting softly.  “That’s a rush, huh?  I’ve never had an open enough area to try that.  Damn.”  

Up ahead, a woman with long red hair was facing off against four attackers, all of which appeared to be using supernatural abilities.  “I sense something from everyone,” Michael confirmed.  “Except the redhead throwing fire.  She’s like… a void.”  

Karla blinked.  “I’ll be damned!  That’s JC’s wife!  I didn’t know she could throw fire!”  Karla inhaled deeply to catch her breath, then shouted, “HEY!  You jackasses leave her alone!” With a fresh burst of adrenaline, Karla disappeared and reappeared closer to the woman.  “Sinopa, right?  I’m Karla – I used to work with your hubby.  You want some help?”

“Hai, your assistance is appreciated, but these people are quite impressive.”  She held a Japanese combat sword in one hand, with a fireball hovering above her other.  A wisp of steam rose above the katana.  

The four attackers ceased their advance, glanced at one another, then appeared to look over Karla and her friends.  

Michael approached the two women.  “They’re assessing us to determine our threat level.”  

Chance hurried over, not wanting to be left alone.  “They can’t be much worse than that zombie creature thing upstairs.”  

One of the men ground his teeth together and clenched his hands into fists.  “You morons freed one of those creatures?!  God help us all.”  

“We cut its head off,” Karla snapped.  “And it was already free when we came in here.  Pretty big place to have just one dumb guard out front.”

“You dumb girl, those things cannot be killed.  If you separated the head from the body, we now have two of them lurking around up there.”  

Another man said, “The head will regenerate a body, the body will regenerate a head.  He’s right, now there are two of them up there.  It was in stasis because that’s the only way to keep them from harming anyone.  If you didn’t release them, then who did?!”  

Chance, not liking the way they raised their tone towards Karla, stepped up, moving in front of her, and said, “Don’t yell at her!  It broke out, there was glass on the floor on the outside of the tube.  Maybe you morons freed it, then.  We came for a mirror so we can take it to a safe place.  Where’s the mirror?”  

“You’ve come a long way,” said the redhead to Chance.  “And in only a month.  Very impressive.  I, too, am here for the mirror.  We cannot let Sokolov’s people have it, nor can we let the Esoteric Council take possession of it.  The mirror must be earned by someone worthy of it.  It requires a keeper so it is not abused.”  

One of the men pointed at Parker.  “Shut up and go home, fox-bitch. You’re not allowed here.  There’s a treaty banning you people.  Get the fuck off of our planet.”  

“I am a three-tail.  I’m not breaking treaty until my fifth tail.”  

“That’s up for debate.  We don’t want you freaks here.  So if you don’t leave, we’re going to kill you and your friends.”  

Chance blinked, offended at how they spoke to the woman.  He approached her, glared at them, then looked back at her.  His eyes met hers… and all at once, he remembered her face from the night of the car accident seven months ago.  “…You.  Sinopa Crevan-Parker.”  

“Oh dear.  Tamamo’s attempt to block your memories didn’t hold.  You must have a strong mind and a strong will.”  

“You pulled me from the car that day.  I looked up and saw your face… why would someone block my memories?”  

Sinopa frowned thoughtfully.  “You read me.  You saw everything.”  

One of the attackers snorted disdainfully.  “You aren’t allowed to know what gods know, kid.  So they wiped your memories.  But if you’re telepathic… the council doesn’t allow you people walking around either.  So you’re not going to get it any easier from us.”  He turned back to the other three. “No choice, here. We kill them all.”

Sinopa lifted her sword again.  The blade ignited in glowing flame.  “You will stay away from him.  He is under my protection.  They all are.”  

“You’re pregnant, freak!  You can’t stop all of us, you dumb fox-bitch.”

She launched an orb of pure fire towards the one running his mouth.  He reached towards the incoming fireball and turned it into a gaseous form, extinguishing the projectile.  “I already told you that won’t work on me.”  

Chance approached the nearest of four and made a fist.  

“Kid, you don’t want to tangle with me.”  He held his hands out.  The air re-ignited into a burst of fire, throwing Chance backwards, eyebrows singed.  

“Hey!” Karla stormed towards the four men.  “You wanna swing on him?  You go through me first!”  She reached up, plucked her earrings out of her ears, shoved them into Chance's hands, along with her purse, then pushed her already-short sleeves up. “Hold my earrings; I'm about to bring the 'Hood to France when I straight-up ghetto-stomp these punks.”

Michael moved towards Karla, ready to provide support.  The man in front of the pack laughed.  “Seriously?  A pregnant fox-bitch, two children and an old man?  Perhaps it’s better to just leave you four to the fate of that creature… creatures.  They’ll not stop until they devour you idiots.”  He turned back to the other three.  “Get the mirror and move it.  I’ll cover you.”  He ignited a flat field of air between himself and Karla, creating a wall of controlled fire.  

“Why is he calling you that name?” Chance asked of Sinopa.  

The woman’s sword sputtered out with a sizzling sound.  She used the hot blade to edge up her lengthy sundress, displaying three large red-furred foxtails.  “I am a kitsune. A Shinto messenger in service of Inari-Tenno.  Deities are banned from earth due to a treaty from long ago.  Some gods have messengers that they send to Earth in their stead.  If we become too powerful, we are recalled.  The supernatural community upholds the treaty.  These men are racist against my kind, but that mirror cannot be in their hands.  It would allow the Esoteric Council access to communicate with my kind.  It is to be left with a responsible keeper, because it was documented in the treaty that the head of the council would be allowed to use it to ask an audience with our people, incase it is necessary.  The mirror cannot be broken, so that is not an option.”  

“Wait,” Karla asked, “If the treaty says the head of the council can have it… why are you upset the EC has possession of it?”  

“That man was killed centuries ago.  We deem who is or is not responsible enough to have it.  The current Esoteric Council is not worthy of possession.”  

“I’ve been hired to take it to a woman named,” she trailed off, looked back at the wall of fire, then, in a quieter voice, said, “Natalia Kincade, so that she can hide it from the EC.  Is, uh…” Karla offered a weak smile.  “Is she worthy?”

“The vampire?  Hai, she is worthy to be a keeper of the mirror.  But she cannot know it’s true purpose.  However, she has the resources to keep it safe.”

Karla jerked her fist down and hissed the word, “Yes!”  Followed by, “I’m gunna be rich.”  She cleared her throat and pointed at the wall of fire.  “Let’s get these assholes!  I’ll teleport something over there then back and we’ll see how deep his wall goes.”  She withdrew the handkerchief from her purse then it disappeared.  A moment later it reappeared, on fire.  Karla swatted at it.  It fell to the ground then she stomped on it.  “Dammit!  That was fifty feet back, maybe more!  We need a way through this!”  She snagged her purse back from Chance and shouldered it.

“They’re getting away,” Chance said with a frown.  “They’re getting further and further from me.”  He looked back at Sinopa and swallowed.  “Please don’t erase my memories again.  I don’t want to forget meeting Karla and who I’ve become.”  

“Then do not read my mind and start spouting my memories aloud the way you did when I pulled you from the car accident.  Those things cannot be shared, please.”  

“I …I think it was just manifesting or… whatever the term is.  I vaguely remember I was being taken to the hospital because I had a headache beyond belief.  And we hit… or… maybe.. we were hit by… something.  And you pulled me out of the car.  It was burning.  You somehow made the fire recede a little.  Then you pulled me from the back of the car.  And I looked up at you and just… started saying the first things that came to my mind.  I didn’t mean any of it.”  

“I see.  You were suffering from a serious head injury.  Jonathan owned a mobile phone in his car.  He called for an ambulance.  My sensei, Tamamo-no-Mae, who watches over me from her permanent resident in the Celestial Realm, wiped your memories.  She said you’d remember some things, eventually, but the memories of what you saw when you gazed into my mind… that, she was confident, has been permanently removed.  Unfortunately, Tamamo cannot come to this realm because her physical form was slain here.  We need to fall back and find out where this building goes and see if we cannot determine their escape path.  At the very least, we need to determine where they’re taking the mirror next so I can reclaim it and hide it properly.  Those are my orders from the Celestial Realm.  Please do not stand in my way.”  

“If you say Natalia can be its keeper, then we’re going to help you,” Karla said.  “I’ve been hired to do a job.  I’m going to do it.  Where is your husband, will he be helping us?”  

“Iie, he is in Rome.  His task is of great import.  Nearly as important as our own.”  She glanced at Michael and Chance.  “Are you with Karla in support of me?”  

“I’m supposed to be Karla’s boyfriend,” Chance said with a wan grin.  “That’s what she told me after we surrendered her rental car to the police.  That’s been my role ever since.”  

Sinopa turned to Karla with a soft smile.  “He’s a sweet boy.  Treat your beau well.”  

“I do,” Karla replied with a grin, thinking back on how she’d gone down on him in his sleep the night before.  

Chance turned white.  “K-Karla…!”

“Oh, you saw that, huh?”  

Michael approached Sinopa and offered his right hand.  Parker moved her sword to her left hand, then used her right one to receive his right.  “Ah, a handshake.  How… European.”  She smiled.  “You are one of Nathanial’s friends, hai?  The four horsemen?”  

“I’ve not been called that in a long time, Mrs. Parker.  So… you’re the legendary goddess friend he mentioned.  All these years, I thought he was lying about being friends with a legitimate goddess.”  

Karla grinned. “Nathanial wouldn’t ‘bullshit’ – to use his favorite word – about something like that.”  

“Apparently not,” Michael said.  He drew his hand back then reached to his left forearm, favoring it.  “So… now what?  Fire wall in front of us… zombie creature things back the other way.”  

“Uh, guys…”  Everyone turned to face Chance.  He replied with a weak smile, which turned to a frown then he pointed back across the enormous underground complex, back in the direction of the ramp.  “I think we now have to deal with the fire wall and the creatures at the same time.  Here they come… and those guys were right… it’s two, now.”  

Karla grinned towards Sinopa.  “We’ve been taking turns fighting.  You’re the newest member to our gang, Mrs. Parker.  That means it’s your turn.”  Her grin broadened.  “You can pass, if you want, though.  That would make it Mike’s turn.  I kind of want to see him fight those things with a broken forearm and whatnot.  He thinks he’s badass, so it’s funny to watch him try and prove he’s not old.”  

“That’s not fair,” Michael said.  “I’m not immortal like you, I just age slowly.  But just because I don't have my good looks anymore doesn't mean nothing. I'm a sugar daddy, when I gotta be... and I’m still quite capable.”  

“Let us have quiet, kudasai.  We need to consider our options against these unnatural beings.  They were genetic enhancement program that failed.  They are not to be trifled with.  I’ve removed the head of one, earlier, but as those men pointed out… it creates two.”  

“Wait…” Michael blinked, looked over at Karla and Chance, then back at Sinopa. “If you cut its head off… then there were two.  And we decapitated one… so that means there are now three.”  

“We only saw the one, earlier,” Chance said.  “However many there are… they’re on the bottom of the ramp, now.  And they’re on their way.”  

“They stay down while they regenerate,” Karla said, cracking her knuckles.  “Let’s tear them apart and get that mirror back.”  

Sinopa gave her sword a twirl.  It whooshed through the air.  “It is my turn, is it not?  Allow me the honor, by all means.  But know this… they’re quite immune to fire, and become exceedingly more dangerous when they attack while fully ablaze.  We should try to keep them away from this wall of fire behind us.  

All at once, the wall of fire began to move forward to the group.  Chance balled his hands into fists.  “Aw, man, are you serious?!  I don’t even think that guy is still on the other side, anymore.  I think he ran off with his buddies.  How is it moving towards us??”  

“You might be wrong, and he might be listening,” said Michael.  “Or his range of control over this wall… it could be pretty impressive.”  He backed away from the wall, as did the rest of them.  “Under consideration of the fact this wall is moving towards us, combined with the creature-things that are coming for us from the other way… Karla… I’m thinking two separate payments of ten grand.  I’ll bank one and put the rest in a mattress.”  

She folded her arms, walking at a steady pace with the rest of the group away from the wall of flames.  “God, fine.  You did break your arm.  I guess I can loosen up with a few extra bucks, but… stop nickel-and-diming me.”

“Not trying to Jew you out of another ten grand, but this is legitimate danger pay.”

Karla groaned.  “Don’t use racist terms.  That’s down right tacky.  You don’t have to be like the other Jerries, you know.”  

“Yeah, this from a woman who called me a sauerkraut, earlier.”  He smirked.  She smirked back.  “Fine, you’re right.  I surrender.”  

“Counting today, that’s the third time I’ve heard your country say those words.”  Again, they both smirked at one another.

“Okay, okay!” Chance erupted. “Can we worry about being boxed in by a wall of fire and a bunch of super… freaks?”  

“Hai.  The young man makes a point.”  

“Chance,” he said, licking his lips.  He looked back at the slowly moving wall of controlled flames as it continued towards them at a walking pace.  

“Well met, Chance-san. I wish I could cause these flames to recede the way I controlled the ones engulfing the car in which I found you.  But… I fear that man’s control over ignited gas in the air is quite impressive.  Perhaps when I earn my fourth tail.”  

Chance looked back towards the distant end of the large room.  He passed one of the pillars that dotted the area every so often.  “Those things are getting close.  And… yeah, I think it might actually be three of them.  Figures.”  

“Look on the bright side,” said Karla.  “Sinopa, here, will cut their heads off.  It apparently takes a few minutes for them to regenerate or whatever.  They’ll lay there, the flame wall passes over them… then there will be six of them; they’ll go in the direction of our new pals, the ‘super jerks.’  There won’t be any more to deal with upstairs, which means we’ll be in the clear.”  

“Nothing is ever that easy for us,” Chance said.  

“Yeah… true.”  

Sinopa lifted her sword as the four continued to move forward, staying ahead of the wall of flame.  “I see something moving up ahead.  They’re coming this way… Prepare yourselves.”  

Michael ground his molars together.  “Yeah, they have abilities alright.  They’re beyond my normal range but… all of them have abilities.  It’s like a bigger magnet to my natural compass.”  

Chance blinked.  “Wait… I think that other guy is still behind us.  He’s walking the wall towards us.  And he knows about those creatures.  He knows exactly what they are.”  He looked back at the approaching wall of fire then back at the approaching creatures.  “They were humans.  Soldiers that were part of a super soldier program.”

“How goddamn cliché is that,” Karla groused.  “The Red Skull trying to copy Steve Rodgers.  Art is supposed to imitate life, not the other-damn-way around.”  

“Yeah, uh… well, apparently these things are the failures.  Someone tried to imbue them with abilities and those things… that’s the results of the first batch.  But they’re all regenerated versions of the same test subject.”

“Jesus,” Michael muttered. “There were tons of those pods upstairs.  Just imagine how many times they tried to kill it to create all those copies ...before they decided to just freeze them all.”  He glanced back at the approaching wall of flame.  “That guy behind us.  I think he must have frozen them so the science team could have put them into stasis.  It makes sense.  He could change the molecular properties in the air and freeze an entire room of attackers if he had the help of Alan Ridgefield.”  

“Who?” asked Karla.  “Oh… wait, you mean that guy who could amp up the abilities of people near him?  He’s dead, Mike.”  

“Maybe someone else has that ability.  Look, I’m grasping at straws here… We’re about to be torn apart by an angry freak who can clone himself on the spot.  How is that even possible?  Are they all controlled by a main host?  Are they all independent of one another?  How does brain tissue grow instantly like that?”  

“Maybe that’s why they’re all stupid,” Karla said.  “I’m getting tired of you guys whining.  Let me show you what’s up.”  She quickened her pace then waved her hands and threw the three approaching creatures up into the ceiling then dropped them hard onto the floor.  “Cut their heads off, quick!”  

Sinopa lifted her katana and brought it down over the neck of the one nearest to her.  The creature’s head rolled away from its body but minimal blood gushed out.  It appeared to scab over at the throat of both pieces, taking only seconds to cease the bleeding.  

“It didn’t do that before,” Michael said.  “Maybe it’s evolving with every death?”

“God I hope not,” Karla said.  “They’d be the perfect predator before long.”  

Sinopa lifted her sword and brought it down on the next creature’s neck.  However, the sword stopped against the spinal column and didn’t separate the head.  

“What’s wrong?” asked Michael.  

“This one… seems to have additional fortitude against head removal.  If the evolution theory is correct, then this might have been the one I killed before, with a new defense against my blade.”  She tugged on the sword, dislodging it from the spine.  She turned to the other on the ground and tried to decapitate it but, like the second creature, it seemed immune to a neck strike.  “This must be the other half to grow out of my initial attack.”  

“Look at the bright side,” said Karla.  “Now we’re dealing with four instead of six.  We should go before they…Fuck.”  The creatures with the shallow gashes in their necks got to their feet.  “Figures.”  

The other one on the floor, with a missing head, began to create bioorganic matter from beneath the head and above the body.  The fire approached it and engulfed the legs of the body.  Karla kicked the head into the flames.  “We need to go!”

She turned away from the flame wall but one of the creatures reached up and closed its talon-like figures around her leg.  She went straight to the ground, landing on her handbag with a grunt, which knocked the wind out of her.  

Chance gasped, feeling a momentary pang in his solar plexus.  Michael, who was closest to Karla, scooped her up in his right arm, her feet dragging on the tiles.  “C’mon, girlie.  We’ve gotta move, now.”  

“O…one sec,” Karla gasped, winded from the way she’d fallen onto the purse.  

Sinopa ignited her sword and took another swing at the creatures.  The sword, now hot with flames flickering off of its surface, diced through a creature, at the waist.  The lower half fell away and was soon consumed by the approaching wall of fire.  The upper half began to pull itself along the floor with its arms, trying to pursue at a slow rate.  

The other creature caught Sinopa off guard by knocking her into Chance by swinging its arms.  They both went to the floor.  The creature then waved its arms and bowled over both Michael and Karla.  The wall of flames continued its steady approach.  

The creature stood over Michael and pounded its talon-fingered hands against its chest, celebrating its victory.  It then lifted its hands above Michael and drove the talon fingernails right into his torso with ease.  

Chance gasped, feeling an ice-cold metallic sensation in his torso.  He clutched at his chest, feeling what Michael felt, watching helplessly as the scythe-like digits diced into him.  Chance tried to shout in fear but his breath left him.  

A gunshot erupted from Michael’s pistol, blasting through the forehead of the creature.  It flinched, giving everyone a moment of repose, and giving Michael a moment to feel semi-accomplished before accepting his face.  He felt his life beginning to drain out of his body.  Chance felt it too.  

The boy gasped for breath, his lower lip trembling.  He felt Michael die, organs shutting down, unable to breathe from having his lungs punctured… his mind too in shock to accept it… Chance mouthed the word, ‘no,’ unable to accept what he saw.  

The creature stumbled a bit.  Sinopa got to her feet, lifted her sword and swung it.  The creature’s fingernails came up, acting like multiple daggers.  It used one hand to block her sword then lifted its other, above Karla, ready to stab her with each finger the way it had just done to Michael.  

Everything felt slow to Chance.  As if time began to crawl suddenly.  He saw Michael’s blood dripping from the talon fingers… above Karla’s body.  She looked up just in time to see the creature that would become her own undoing.  She was only just taking her first breath for the first time in what felt like ages… Her bright green eyes widened and her pupils shrank to pinholes.  

“NO!” Chance shouted at the top of his lungs.  Time exploded forward all at once resuming normal speed.  The creature stumbled backwards into the wall of fire.  Karla gasped in pain then her eyes rolled up into her head.  Michael flopped over and dropped his gun.  It clattered across the tiled floor.  The wall of flame dissipated and its puppeteer crumbled to the ground, unconscious.  

Sinopa brought her free hand to her forehead, blinked a few times then winced, as though experiencing an ‘ice cream headache.’  She looked back at the motionless creature.  Her amber gaze shifted over to the unconscious man who had been controlling the wall of flame, twenty-five feet back.  She looked towards Karla and Michael then she turned her eyes to Chance.  

For the first time, he was able to see that her pupils were vertical slits, much like a cat or other creature with natural night vision.  They both scrambled over towards Michael to check his wounds.  

The man, appearing in his early fifties, was bleeding profusely.  His skin was rapidly growing pale and it was obvious that he had only another moment or two… He was unresponsive, as was Karla.  

“What just happened?”  

Sinopa looked around again.  The creatures were not moving.  Even the one with the severed head… its rate of regrowth appeared temporarily disrupted.  The Esoteric Council member was face down on the floor but breathing.  She turned back to Chance and sheathed her sword.  “I believe you projected a telepathic… attack of some kind.  I just experienced an intense pain in my head… what I believe humans call a ‘migraine.’  It seems to be passing, now.  Nathanial’s friend will not make it, but Jonathan’s friend, the succubus… Karla was it?  She will need us to help her leave.”  

“Dammit… how did I…?  Nevermind.  Should we take that other guy prisoner or something?”  

“Iie, I would not know of a proper way to contain him unless we could strip him of his ability.  And I do not know of a way to do that.  We should take your friend, Karla, and go.  Michael Richter received an honorable death in combat, as he’s always wished.  They all said that was how they wished to die… in combat, doing what they loved.  We have no way to carry him and mundane humans would take notice.”  

Michael drew his last ragged breath then grew still, lying adjacent to Karla.  Chance crawled over to him and put his ear near to the man’s mouth.  He was completely silent.  The boy got to his feet and worked to get Karla up onto her knees but couldn’t figure out how to get her off the ground.  

Sinopa moved around to her other side and took her by the legs.  She helped Chance get Karla up, then assisted with getting her body up into Chance’s arms.  He held the succubus’ unconscious body the way a man would carry a newly wed wife across a threshold.   He arched his back a bit to keep her centered and aloft in his arms.  “We have a long way to go.  But I don’t think my shoulders are wide enough to carry her there.  We should go while we still can.  I don’t know how far I can carry her.”  

“She is certainly not that heavy,” Sinopa said.  

He began walking with Karla in his arms.  “Hi.  I’m Chance.  I’ve been in a coma for six months and haven’t used my muscles during that time.  I’m carrying a buck-fifteen in deadweight.  I'm a wimp and my arms are going to give out If we don't hurry.”  

They made their way towards the ramp.  Chance looked up the seemingly endless incline and swallowed.  “I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” he muttered, trying not to stumble while carrying Karla.  Sinopa walked alongside of him in silence.  

He glanced over at the kitsune, breathless, and said, “I see your ears in your hair, now.  I can’t begin to tell you…” he trailed off to pant then continued. “…How happy I am that my …outburst, or whatever it was… didn’t knock you out.  Because then I’d have to carry you both out of here.  Which… would have basically been... me dragging you both by your hands or feet… a really long way.  This place is big.”  He began panting again.  “So… the mirror is gone, now what?”  

“They’ve covered it with a tarp, or I would have had Tamamo help me find it with relative ease.  I’m afraid it is my priority, despite my advanced stage of pregnancy.”  

“Look, if you promise not to let my memories get wiped again… I’ll promise to find it for you.  I’m not about…” he trailed off again to catch his breath.  “…Not about to let a woman in her third trimester go fighting people who can freeze and burn stuff like that guy.  Who the crap was that guy anyhow?”

“His name is Paul Foster.  He lives in Chicago.  He and his wife have been trying to have a baby.  I know this because I serve Inari-Tenno.  You may think of him as the god of agriculture and reproduction if it’s easier to understand.”  

“Tell you what, if he leaves us alone after today… you give him that baby.  Maybe that’ll tie him down for a while and keep him off our butts.  I don’t want to deal with fire and ice or having my …molecules get… messed up.  That doesn’t sound,” again he took a deep breath, trying to keep himself moving forward up the hill. “That doesn’t sound very agreeable, you know?”

“You are assuming he survives those creatures.  Focus your strength on getting outside.  Did you bring a vehicle?”

“A van.  Keys are in Karla’s purse.”  

“Hai.  Jonathan, my husband, has taught me how to drive a stick shift.  I can get us back to the hotel if you remember where it is.”  

“The envelope for the key-card has an address.  Also… in the purse… god my legs are tight.”  

“Push through it, Chance-san.  You’re doing well.  You are an impressive boy.  I see great things ahead if you remain true to yourself as you are, now.  Come, it’s not much further.”  

“Wish I could drive one of those fork lifts.”  He paused for a moment, caught his breath again, then continued up the ramp.  “I’d better get another kiss after all this trouble.”  He smiled weakly.  

“Knowing Karla’s kind, she would be happy to oblige with far more.”  

“One thing at a time,” he said, panting again.  “I’m uh… shy.”  They both fell into silence.

Sinopa and Chance continued up the ramp, through the compound, and headed back towards the main entrance.  Chance took the time to reflect on all that he’d been through in the last month.  He thought back to earlier. It was heartbreaking to see Michael killed but... When that thing stood over her... That was a game changer.

The boy came to the realization that his life was now even more complicated than he could have ever imagined a month ago.  Despite Methos’ warning… he was falling head-over-heels in love with Karla.  There was no point in fighting his feelings, he actually liked the way it felt.  It gave him the inner resolve to mush forward on the steep ramp and in the face of this crazy new world playing out all around him.  It gave him a purpose.  And, most importantly, it made him feel… well, manly.

Keywords
male 688,046, female 567,061, human 52,015, kitsune 10,037, fire 6,415, death 5,438, succubus 2,491, creature 2,457, zombie 1,582, combat 759, shyness 433, zombies 325, manning up 1
Details
Type: Writing - Document
Published: 5 years, 11 months ago
Rating: Mature

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