The Bonfire Ball (End-Remix)
I once asked Greyscale how I would ever recognize him in his Great-Form. His exact words were: look for the big ass lizard that blots out the sun. Those very words could be applied now, just exchange sun for moon. Slate-colored skin… I make a note of it. To me, it seems like a natural defense against detection.
He hangs in the air and I wonder how big he is. As big as an airplane? He dives down while my estimate goes up. He’s atleast as big as the Hangar, if actually not bigger. Greyscale opens his mouth and I can feel this second roar in my very bones. The cube of water that holds me wobbles, losing its cohesion and I fall down on the ground, almost impaled by nasty root.
I look up in time to spot an errant claw sweeping Helena Gravsten across the tree-tops, while his other claw deposits something and before I know it, he is gone. Nevena gives me a wink and then she blasts Cordelia Holm with a heatwave so powerful that I can feel it from ten metres away, in the middle of a chilly November night.
I get up and…. what? I can’t fight. The very magic that gives me an edge is gone right now. And without it… I look as Helena Gravsten grows as big as Greyscale. Greyscale punches her, and she absently sends a pine as tall as my villa hurtling.
In front of me Nevena keeps a heat-barrier as a defense against the water-bullets that Cordelia Holm summons with practised ease.
I turn to my sister. “Will they make it?” I continue in the same vein. “And what will happen with Elena? Is she even alive?” Alexandra sighs, like older sisters tend do. “I can’t tell. Not because I won’t, but because nobody knows. Each of their fates is uncertain, and only time will tell.”
Nevena watches as Cordelia Holm narrowly avoids a heatwave by slipping through a water-portal. What she can’t figure out is why Holm just doesn’t sneak away. Nevena tries to close the distance between the two of them with a running charge, but before she taken more than four steps, Holm moves away. Either she has been ordered to remain, or she doesn’t have the oomph left to portal away. It doesn’t matter– they’ve reached a stalmate.
“Which is it”, she calls out.
Cordelia Holm stops abruptly at the sound of her voice, her midsection halfway through a water-portal, her lower body somewhere else. “Which is what”, she asks, suspicious of the sudden pause.
“Why do you fight me? Why do we have to fight at all? My beef is with Helena Gravsten. She raised the dead. She killed a bunch of people. But you?”
Nevena walks half a lap and the water-portal twists around the air, following her. She continues. “You, you’re just a slave. A higher form of undead. I bet that we could get some leniency for you.”
Holm frowns. “I am not a slave”, she says in a weak voice. ” I am Helena’s friend. Her most important friend”, she says, more resolute, stronger in her convictions. “Did she order you to remain here?” Nevena’s question is delivered with a quicksilver infliction; smooth and unyielding.
Nevena taps a manicured nail against her mouth. “Doesn’t that strike you as weird? Friends ask. You come for friends on your own volition”, she says and points a thumb in Rune’s direction, “but you were ordered to be here. Not asked. Ordered.”
Holm’s face spams at the word ‘ordered’, an action that doesn’t pass Nevena by. “And tell me, Cordelia Holm, how is that you came to be undead? Were you offered the opportunity? No”, she stops, and adds a sliver of sarcasm,” you wanted this, didn’t you?”
The spasms increases. Her eyes widen, as if realizing something. And then she screams. And screams. And screams. Salty droplets flow down her face, granting her a puffy appearance. Great sobs wrack her upper body.
“You… you’re right. She poisoned me, and then she brought me back. Oh God, she killed-” Nevena doesn’t interprete magic in the same way as Rune does. She feels magic, like forms of energy. And that’s why she is a bit startled when she experiences the ugly feel of necromancy around Cordelia. The water-portal that Holm is halfway in begins to close on its ends.
“Help me!” Nevena reabsorbs her heat-barrier and runs up to Holm. Midstride she wonders if this is some kind of plot, but the feel of necromancy can’t be mimicked, she argues to herself, inside her head.
She grabs Holm’s stretched out hand and tries to pull her back. Cordelia won’t budge. She turns towards Rune and his sister. “Well don’t just stand there! Come and help!” She ignores Rune’s nudity and Alexandra pugnant sense of undeath and they pull.
They manage to draw her out some five centimeters, only to have her sucked in twice the distance. They gain six centimeters, but lose twelve. An additional five centimeters are lost no matter how hard they try to pull back. Nevena watches as the expressions on Holm’s face flit, from despair to being afraid, from being afraid to acceptance, and in the end, she looks stoic.
It becomes apparent; the more effort they sink into extracting Cordelia, the greater the suction. Sweat pours down Nevena’s face. It doesn’t strain her imagination to think of what would happen if they don’t get her out of time.
Holm fixes her eyes on Nevena. She utters a set of strange numbers. And then she makes her final decision. “No”, Nevena starts, but the edges of the portal seals before she has time to say more. There is a ‘flop’ and she, Rune and Alexandra fall now that there is no counter-force to pull them in the opposite direction.
Nevena looks down on Cordelia Holm, or what’s left of her. “Will… you… be… my.. friend ..now”, she asks. “I will”, Nevena answers, and pats her head. Cordelia Holm smiles. And then she dies.
Greyscale headbutts the now gargantuan barrowman into the mountainside. He grabs it, flaps his wings, and with a burst of speed they ascend high into the air. This is what he has been missing. The unrestrained power. That hateful feeling of being human, of squeezing your body into an familiar yet unfamiliar form. Mid-air he flips around and they slam into the mountain itself, shattering its peak.
Ouch, that one is going to be hard to cover up.
The barrowman gets up and launches itself at him. It clinches Greyscale’s armpits and for a moment he sees blue sky as he is being thrown, thrown like a sack of potatoes. He could break the grip, but he won’t. This is too much fun.
Greyscale lashes out with his tail, slipping it around one of the barrowman’s knees, and pulls him down in the mud-covered landscape their fight has given rise to. He leaps like a puppy and they tumble around.
“…those numbers”, Rune mutters.
“What about them”, Nevena asks.
“I think”, he starts,”that they’re cordinates.”
The sudden chock of killing-intent fills the cafeteria. The wood of the discarded tables groan and warps. The younger supernaturals cry their dismay and search for the source. The normals, sleeping, stir uneasily. Perenelle swallows slowly- she knows who it is that radiates this intent, and she can guess why. Merith prepares to suck the magic out of anything living with a nearby radius. Gomagog coils his shoulders. Andrej, the young Russian webmage curses in Russian and extends a phone in a warding gesture. Morpheus smiles sourly, for he too recognizes this particular intent.
From the broken gates of the cafeteria, Hermann Schwartz enter. He is covered in red. Blood. Guts. Intenstines. Something that looks like fur. But the worst part is his eyes. Brown eyes are supposed to look accessible. Cows have brown eyes. Sweet, sweet ponies have brown eyes. Bunnies have brown eyes. It’s the kind of eye-color that often seems inviting. But not on Hermann Schwartz.
In the calm of the storm he asks: “Where is Rune?”
The barrowman slams Greyscale’s head into the bedrock several times; on the seventh slam Greyscale brings his head back in a arc, headbutting the barrowman a second time. The barrowman rears back with a bloody nose and constricted expression on his face. That expression is what Greyscale has been waiting for.
The correlation between magic and mass is complicated, but the more you want to change mass, the steeper the price will be in magic. Members of the Flight, or most of them, pay this price in the reverse, giving up their serpentine forms for more human ones. Conversely, attaining a bigger body costs. And Greyscale has been counting the minutes since the barrowman grew big enough to fight him. Eventually he’ll run of out magic and then…..
Nevena puts one hand in her bra and fishes out her phone. “Good idea”, Rune comments. “Are you going to try to get a gps-track of where we are?” “No”, she says. “You said that it sounded like cordinates, right?”
“I might not be able to get us out of here, but I can tell someone, someone like Hermann about those cordinates, and he can fix whatever it is.”
“Wait”, Rune says, “you have Hermann’s number?”
“No, but I thought you might remember it?” He nods and she hands him the phone and he dials the number.
“Hey– it’s me, Rune. No, I am fine. Yes I turned into a great lizard. Yes, I shouldn’t have done that. No, I am fine. Geez, let me get a word in, would you?” Rune pauses. He mouths off the cordinates. “Me and Nevena thinks there is something there. Come and get us?” He looks around. In the background Greyscale roars and supplexes Helena Gravsten with a wrestling move.
“I don’t have a idea as to where we are… and besides, do you honestly think Helena Gravsten could take Greyscale?” “Mm yes”, he continues, sparing his sister a glance, ” Helena Gravsten has taken control of the barrowman’s body. Ashfire?” Whatever it is that Hermann says, Rune’s eyes widen. He ends the call and stands up.
“We need to move.”
The barrowman shrinks, becoming slightly smaller, in that sense how a thirty-floor skyskraper is smaller than forty-floor one. Greyscale isn’t certain if it notices this. He punches it hard in the jaw, and it shrinks further. Now it notices.
It makes a move as to flee, but not before Greyscale manages put a cross arm hold on it. The barrowman twists and coils, and they roll around in the mud and the broken trees that dot their battefield. Midroll the barrowman shrinks further, and escapes Greyscale’s hold.
Greyscale looks with his raptor-eyes across the horizon, and judges the distance between him, Rune and the others sufficient and prepares himself to kill the barrowman. Each member of the Flight have their own individual gifts. Hebimaru can outfly a military jet. His father can create a unique metal while simultaneously holding mastery of all lesser ores. His mother can grow extra organs and substitute them to others in need.
But Greyscale gift is martial, and ever so dangerous. He takes a deep breath, and flames tinted in grey escapes his mouth. He takes a second breath, filling his lungs with air. On his third breath he lets loose a wide arc of flaming, killing everything.
Bugs die. The oxygen in the air is devoured. The ground turns white and ashen. The barrowman turns his head around at the sound of the flames escaping Greyscale’s mouth, and between blinks of the eye, is immolated without sound nor mercy. Trees that were in the vicinity of the ashfire turns white and wither.
Ashfire, as his father termed it, is dangerous. It burns things to death. But that’s not the end of it. People, even supernaturals with regenerative powers will develop cancers when standing too close to it, a lesson Greyscale learned the hard way. Greyscale surveys the grey arc of destruction; nothing will ever grow in the soil now….
Helena Gravsten finds herself in her own body, gasping for breath. “What the fuck was that?” But nobody answers. Cordelia died, she felt it. “I will have to create new friends. Yes, new friends.”
“And this time-” Pling. She startles. The house she appropiated with a little help from Cordelia lies in the middle of nowhere. She walks down a stair, and sidles up to the door. She leans her head against the peephole, expecting some poor soul that has been lost in the woods. What she gets is nothing. No person, nothing in view. A sense of unease fills her.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere.” She repeats that sentence like a mantra. After some time spent trying to calm herself down, she enters the kitchen and opens the fridge. When she closes the fridge a person stands next to it. She jumps and takes a step back.
“You!” “But… you are supposed to be at the cafeteria, I saw you-” The blade is slammed through her chest and pins her to the fridge. A second blade slits her throat, and blood sprays across the wooden floor.
“That was for Elena.” As the light leaves Helena Gravsten’s eyes, a phone rings.
“Yes?” “Hmm.” “Yes, she is dead.” The speaker reacts to whatever is being said. “Calling the Thirteen Branch-Leaders? You don’t think that is too much?” Demurals. “No, you were right. It’ll be as you say, oh Lightkeeper. And my mission?”
The agent of Pier 7 empties a jug of gasoline onto Helena Gravsten’s rapidly cooling body. A match is lit. “I understand. And Rune Fallowfell? Shall I continue my survey of him?”
“I see….” The match falls.