Episode 4: Monster
It was agreed that it was too late to go to the warehouse that night, and everyone felt a good night's rest was needed before they confronted whatever waited for them there. It was early the next morning, shortly after sunrise, when there was a loud banging on the door to the bar downstairs. Snow bolted upright in her cot, and very nearly screamed when she was startled by the large cheetah curled up at her feet, purring in his sleep. It took a moment for her waking mind to remember it was Guy, but she still held her breath as she carefully slid her feet out from under the large cat. The cheetah stirred, stretching out and pawing the air, but remained asleep.
Snow shook her head and went downstairs.
Lina was already awake and making coffee and tea, everyone's mugs lined up on the counter. She gave Snow a nod and filled her cup with coffee before sliding it and the cream and sugar towards her. "Good morning, sunshine. Sleep well?"
The banging on the door again.
"Who the hell comes here at this hour?" Parker grumbled as he came into the bar next. He glanced at the door, but didn't answer, instead sitting down and resting his head on the counter. Lina fixed his coffee and brought it over to him. "It's the ass-crack of dawn..."
"Don't know," Alistair drawled, rubbing the bridge of his nose before taking the tea kettle and his mug as he walked by Lina, who held them out to him as he passed. "But if that banging doesn't stop soon, I may snap."
"Lazybones," Lina said with a laugh, hopping over the counter to finally answer the door.
The man stopped mid-knock when she opened the door, and sighed dramatically with obvious relief. "Oh! At last!"
"Oh no..." Parker lifted his head to look up as soon as he heard the man's voice and groaned. "Not one of them."
"Can I help you?" Lina asked, eyebrow raised as she looked him up and down. He was tall and thin, very well-groomed and extremely effeminate. He held his hands like he might ruin his manicure if he didn't keep them poised just so, and the bowling shirt and shoes he wore looked like they'd been meticulously pressed and cleaned before he put them on. He gave Lina a dazzling (if not desperate) smile when she spoke to him.
"I hope so. Is Nathan here? I've been looking for him all night and all morning and I can't find him anywhere."
"Who? What?" Lina waved her hands and shook her head. "Okay, back up a bit. Who are you? And who is this Nathan person? You do know we're closed today, right?"
He blew a raspberry at her and waved her off. "Mr. Williams," he introduced himself. "Nathan's my boyfriend. And I know you're closed," he added with a dramatic head roll. "But I thought you might have seen him."
"I think I'm going to need an Irish coffee," Parker growled into the counter before standing to fix himself one.
"Do you know what time it is? And why are you looking for him here anyway?" Lina rubbed her temples and shook her head. "Never mind. Just... tell me what happened." She clenched her jaw. Politeness was not her forte, and she really wanted to just slam the door in his face.
"Okay." Mr. Williams bounced in place. "So, last night, Nathan and I had just finished bowling a few games and were ready for a nice little romantic evening at home. We had a few drinks but ran out, so he offered to go out and get more. I fell asleep before he got back, and when I woke up, he still wasn't there! Something terrible has to have happened! It's not like him not to come back to bed."
"Strike that," Parker mumbled to himself. "A double Irish coffee..."
"And what does Nathan look like?" Lina asked, hoping that she at least seemed vaguely concerned.
"Well, he's quite handsome," Mr. Williams said with a smile. "Long, flowing, golden blonde hair, rippling muscles..." His eyes became glossy. "He left without his shirt, and..."
"Nope," Lina cut him off. "Haven't seen any shirtless male models lately. Check another bar."
"Oh, well shoot." Mr. Williams pouted. "If you see him, can you tell him I was looking for him?"
The man smiled, then left with a little more bounce in his step. Lina didn't hesitate to shut and lock the door again. "Parker, if you ever start acting like that..."
"If I ever act that gay," he cut in after a large gulp of his coffee. "I will personally gouge out my own eyes, then shoot myself. Ugh, I can't stand men like that."
The stairs creaked, and Guy (still in cheetah form) wandered into the bar. The large cat meandered over to Snow and rubbed up affectionately against her stool, almost knocking her over. She caught the edge of the bar before she tumbled, and shot him a glare as he moved to another stool and took on his human form. He was completely naked.
"Oh dear God!" Snow gasped, covering her eyes while everyone else averted theirs. "Put some damn clothing on, Guy!"
The were-cheetah pouted, and one could easily imagine (if they'd been looking at him) his ears folding back if he were still in feline form. "But clothes are so restricting..."
Everyone groaned. "Guy!"
"Okay, okay. I'll go change..."
They all waited until they heard him go upstairs before they dared to look again. Alistair fixed himself his tea.
"So, since we're all awake," he said, looking at the others. "What are our plans for the day? I mean besides investigating this bird-thing for our Warden friend. Did that map I brought help you, Snow?"
"Yep, got us a specific location: a warehouse just outside New Detrick's fences. Shouldn't take us too long to get there on foot." She smiled a bit. "Since it's not like we can all pile on my motorcycle."
"Or ride Guy in cheetah form," Lina suggested, rolling her eyes. "As funny as that might be. Do I have time to make a few of my herbal concoctions for this mission?"
"Lacking magic and a viable ranged weapon," Parker explained. "Lina uses her knowledge of plants to make what Alistair likes to call herbal infusions. Think... alchemy, without the magic. They're pretty damn effective too."
Lina grinned proudly. "But before that, Parker: you want to join me for some yoga? Warm up and all that jazz?"
He smiled back, finishing his coffee. "I'd be glad to. Just let me change."
"Can I join you?" Snow asked. "It's been a while since I've done yoga."
The medium shrugged but nodded, then turned to Alistair. "You joining this time too?"
"Thanks, but no." He bowed his head to her. "I think I'll simply run through a few martial exercises with my sword. After all, we don't know what we might find when we get to that warehouse." He smirked deviously. "We'll all need to be prepared."
After warming up and gearing up, the five of them set out for the warehouse. Guy was happily in cheetah form again, but this time wore a pack that contained a spare pair of clothes, should he need to change back into human while they were out. No one spoke at first, until the silence made the journey all the more tense and Alistair decided to start chatting about Snow's tattoo. He'd noticed while she was doing yoga that she had some sort of design on her back and asked what it was, since he presumed it was in color and he couldn't distinguish the patterns. She told him it was faerie wings, with an icy motif. It covered most of her mid-back and spine. It was to commemorate the grandmother she never knew. Out of courtesy, Snow in turn asked about the scorpion she'd noticed tattooed on his shoulder, to which Alistair grinned and explained it was something he got when he joined a raider gang, after he crash landed in the States and before they abandoned him here. Each member had chosen a different animal, and he felt the scorpion was fitting for him. It just seemed right. All in black ink, of course. Between their discussion, Parker felt the need to mention that he too had tattoos, though where he wouldn't say. He did smirk, however, and Snow said she just didn't want to know.
They arrived at the warehouse late in the morning and were somewhat confused to see it had no windows and no apparent doors. Parker propped his hands on his hips.
"Funny thing, but an easy nut to crack. Bricks are made of clay, after all."
He held up his hand towards the wall they faced, trying to will the bricks to fold back and open a doorway. It was a trick he'd done before, but for some reason, nothing happened. There was an unnatural resistance to his spell, and the bartender wrinkled his nose. "It's warded."
"Let me take a look." Snow drew a deep breath and carefully peered at the building with her Sight, trying to find a hidden entrance. It didn't take her too long. "There's an opening on the roof. We'll have to get up there. Somehow."
Alistair chuckled, popping his fingers. "Piece of cake." He dashed towards the wall, taking a running leap and propelling himself up, using a nearby dumpster for leverage and catching a few holds in the brick to pull himself quickly to the top. With a growl, Guy did the same, though much more swiftly as a cheetah should be able to do.
Parker laughed and took Lina's hand, waving his other to generate a small, dusty swirl of air to lift them. "See you at the top," he teased Snow, levitating onto the roof.
Snow rolled her eyes as she pulled out her wand, waving it and conjuring a large bubble to float her to the top. When she landed, Lina gave her a look that seemed as if she was trying really hard not to laugh.
"A bubble?" she asked, snorting. "Really? What are you, Glinda the Good?"
"It worked, didn't it?" Snow quipped back. She looked around and then down at the only entrance: an enormous cut out space on top of the roof. "Huh. Not much for shelter if it rains..."
"I don't think it was meant for shelter." Parker knelt at the ledge and look into the building. Beneath them, clearly lit up by the climbing sun, was what appeared to be an abandoned space re-purposed for some sort of ritual. Scattered throughout were large stone cages, all surrounding an elaborate magical circle drawn in the center of the room. Thankfully, it was inactive.
Of course, there was still the minotaur wandering around, looking as if it had been left as a guard.
"Well," Lina said, twirling her butterfly knives before tucking them away. "Let's get this show rolling, shall we?" Without waiting for an answer, she leapt from the roof down onto one of the cages, drawing out one of her herbal pouches as she landed. Her eyes narrowed and she grimaced as a pungent stench hit her nose. "Fresh blood. God damn whoever did this..."
The minotaur spotted her immediately and roared, bringing a whistle to its lips and sounding the alarm. "Intruders!"
"I need to check that circle," Snow said while Guy leapt after Lina, landing somewhat gracelessly on the ground near the minotaur. "It might not be so inactive."
"Do it, and do it quickly." Parker drew his bow, priming an arrow. "I'll cover you from here."
"I'll help the others with the brute," Alistair told them, following the others into the warehouse.
Snow conjured another bubble to float herself down. Alistair landed opposite Guy, drawing his sword just as the minotaur took a swing at the cheetah, landing a solid blow to the feline's skull. Parker fired his bow and struck the creature, and Lina threw one of her incendiary packs. It burst in a shower of fire behind the minotaur, but Guy, back on his feet, tackled the monster back onto the flames, tearing at him with his claws and fangs.
Then they all heard that horrible, raspy growl.
"Fuck! Vultures!" Snow put her wand away and drew her gun. With the Warden on her case, and half a chance these things were still partly human, she was taking no chances. She fired at one of the two that appeared as it landed near Parker on the roof, but missed. The other wizard had no such qualms about using his magic, and fired one of his lightning arrows at it, landing a solid hit with a shower of sparks. The other bird swooped in on Lina, forcing the medium to roll off her perch on the cage and onto the floor, drawing her knives.
Meanwhile, the minotaur had thrown Guy off and gotten out of the fire, but Alistair was ready with his sword. "Animals trapped behind bars in the zoo need to rampant and free," he sang. "Predators live by the prey the pursue..." There was a maniacal glint in his eye as he slashed viciously across the beast's chest. "This time, the predator's me!"
The minotaur roared and fled, Guy in hot pursuit and Alistair following after. On the roof, the one vulture, infuriated, rushed Parker and tore across his chest with its talons. Too close to shoot it, the wizard screamed in its face, eyes turning pure black as he held his hand up in the air. "Eclairtio!" A bolt of lightning shot down from the blue sky, striking the vulture with a loud crack. On the ground below, Snow jumped, seeing what the other spellcaster had done.
"Parker! They may be human!" She tried desperately to shoot it again, but still missed. Parker growled.
"I don't care!" he shouted back, getting ready for another spell. "I'm done playing nice!"
While he continued exchanges with the bird attacking him, the one that had gone after Lina was met by a nasty surprise when she whipped out her knives, dancing past its attacks and cutting through its flesh with deadly precision. At the same time, Guy had pounced on the minotaur and torn up its back with his claws. The monster threw him off again, only to be caught by Alistair's blade, backed into a corner and caught under the chin by the sword at his throat. To everyone's surprise, it suddenly called out in fear. "Save me, Randy!"
That dark look was still in Alistair's eye, and this time he didn't resist. "I'm happy to inform you that you are relieved of your duties, sir." He slowly began pushing the blade into his neck. "All of them!" With a final thrust, he jammed his sword straight through, only pulling back to let the body fall to the floor.
The vultures were all that remained, and they were gaining ground. The one fighting Lina slashed her arm, and was still going strong after she returned the favor. But Guy ran to her aid, pouncing and grabbing the bird by the throat, tearing it apart with feral fury once he'd pinned it to the ground. On the roof, however, Parker was less fortunate as his vulture tore its talons across his chest again, this time landing a much deep blow. The wizard gasped and staggered away, hand clutched over his wound. He stepped too far, his foot slipping off the edge of the roof, sending him tumbling backwards. It was by pure chance that he landed in the dumpster and not flat on the ground below.
"PARKER!" Snow screamed, firing her gun for a third time and finally landing a hit. She had the vulture's attention now, and realization that she wasn't going to be able to defend herself with her gun if it swooped in on her hit her hard. As it took flight, however, it spotted a different target, and flying in made a dive for Alistair. The conman had just wiped the blood from his sword and only barely dodged the talons that came his way.
"Bloody hell!" he screamed. "Not again!"
Ears turning towards the noise, Guy lifted his head and spotted the new target. With a growl, the cheetah raced across the warehouse again, intending to pounce, but this time missed his quarry. Lina had gone to inspect the body of the minotaur as the flesh began to dissolved, but was distracted by the continuing fight and had to join in.
Snow didn't know what to do. "It could be human," she mumbled to herself, then squinted her eyes closed. She could check it with her Sight. She had to. She had to know for sure. Opening her eyes and focusing, she looked at the vulture again. The twisted, malformed creature was even more hideous than the one she could normally see. If that poor, tortured soul had ever been human, it certainly wasn't now. She could use her spells against it without worry. She sighed with relief and glanced towards Alistair...
She'd forgotten to close her Sight.
Any relief she had gained from before was immediately destroyed and replaced by horror when she saw the conman through her third eye. Alistair looked like a character pulled straight from a penny dreadful, every inch of him dripping with blood. The colors of his hair and eyes were much more vibrant, practically glowing, perhaps a reflection of his fae heritage, but most disturbing was his smile. That deranged, too-wide grin was lined with sharp, needle-like teeth, and he look far too happy to be part of the slaughter. Snow shut her third eye quickly, the image still lingering and haunting her in the back of her mind, but the message was clear. She realized that what Zacharriah had warned them about was horrifyingly true, and Alistair's own remark about being a sociopath was far, far from a jest. "Oh dear God..."
Oblivious to what the wizard had seen, Alistair continued his fight with the vulture. It was much more resilient than the others they'd fought, and had already dodged attacks from Lina and Guy. He tried to cut across the bird's chest, but missed, leaving him vulnerable. The vulture rasped loudly and caught him across the stomach, raking through his flesh. He screamed while the other two tried again. Lina still missed, but this time Guy caught it across the face with a swipe of his paw. Still, the vulture didn't fall.
Recovering from her shock, Snow remembered there were others besides the sociopath still in danger. Now, unhindered by the Law stopping her from killing a human with magic, she drew her wand. "Lina!" she shouted at the medium, charging her spell. "Get this one! Kryomorsus!"
The icy blast turned the vulture into a frozen statue, and Lina wasted no time landing a solid kick against its chest, sending it sliding across the floor and into one of the stone cages, shattering it. Guy trotted over to the frozen remains and began licking them, much to Snow's disgust, but at least the creature was dead. Alistair almost dropped his sword as he slump to the ground in relief, covering his wound with his arm. It wasn't as deep as he had thought it was, but it still seared with pain. "I fucking hate those bloody birds..."
All distractions gone, Lina hurried back to the minotaur corpse, which by now had entirely dissolved, leaving behind a completely human body. The medium bit her lip and braced herself, watching the spirit of the half-naked blonde raise up and look around him, bewildered. It took a moment for him to realize he was dead, and he let out an anguished cry when he saw his body beneath him, but that soon faded to quiet sobs, his shoulders slumping. "I died too young... but I regret nothing..."
"Nathan." Lina wasn't surprised when the name got his attention. "Tell me what happened to you." She knew she didn't have much time to speak with him. The ghost sighed.
"Last night, I left my lover's side to get more drinks. On the way to the bar, this demon bird came down, like this." He made a swopping motion with his arms. "And carried me off into sky. At first, the feeling was wonderful. I must have still been a little drunk. Then it dropped me into a cage." He looked over at one of the stone cages, then back. "Suddenly, there was this man there, but he wasn't a man... I don't know. He was wearing... this outfit. Looked like an ancient tribesman with a helmet with horns and this amazing staff. He moved my cage over some strange circle and cast spell, I think. Stuff came up, invading mind." He smiled cheekily, hair falling into his face. "Normally, I'm not opposed to men invading me..."
Lina groaned. "Just get on with it," she said through her teeth. God, she thought, the dead are just as bad as the living.
"Right, right." Nathan's form was already starting to fade. "Anyway... I felt like a child under the iron rule of a parent or school master. I felt compelled to obey his every command." He sighed and bowed his head. "I don't remember much else after that."
"Then rest, Nathan." Despite her annoyance with the spirit, she wanted him to have peace in death. "Your lover was looking for you. He truly cared."
"Oh Randy," the ghost sobbed, burying his face in his hands. "He was a truly giving lover..."
And then he vanished.
Lina took a deep breath to center herself again, then looked over at the other three. "His soul's at rest now. At least we can tell what's-his-name we found him."
"I don't see why we should bother," Alistair drawled, wincing when speaking aggravated his injuries. "Unless he shows up at the bar again. Not like he gave us an address to reach him at."
Lina shrugged, standing and brushing herself off. "Guess that all depends on... hey, wait." She looked up towards the roof, then back at the others. "Where's Parker?"