“Pale, he’s pretty much on our heels! We have to surrender!”
The man known as Palechuck turned to look at his companions. Only three were left of his group, him included. They’d once been fifteen. Fifteen awakened souls. Just an hour ago, they’d all gathered in their hideout, to plan their next strike against the Tyrant’s regime.
He’d lost twelve good men and women, without even seeing their enemy. They’d known that the Tyrant had some real monsters under her control, but this was just ridiculous.
What was even worse was that they were clearly being played with. He wasn’t taking them seriously, at all. He stalked them, hidden, of course. But he made sounds. Growled, snarled, giggled, laughed. And many others. Always announcing his presence. Worst of all was the clicking. Clicking his tongue, despite the normalcy of the sound, was the most unnerving part of the cacophony he produced. It was nerve-wracking. And humiliating.
So he couldn’t quite blame the young woman – who was bearing the unassuming name Canary – for considering surrender. It was the quick, easy way out.
But their group hadn’t been formed to take that path. It had been formed to fight the Tyrant and her creatures. And he’d rather die than betray that purpose.
Besides, they might manage to get rid of one of her favourite pets, if they played their cards right.
“No way. We can’t give up now – we have to do our best to take him down!” he replied, trying to sound confident. When Canary and Redrocker, the oldest member of their group, gave him unbelieving looks, he took them around a corner of the complex they were running through – an old military bunker that they’d fled into – and into a safe room. The door was thicker than a man and made of solid steel, as it had been built during the Kangaroo Wars to withstand the Kangoroo King’s crazed monster hordes. He and Redrocker turned the wheel on the inside with some difficulty, locking the door.
Then they leaned against it, catching their breath. Palechuck took stock of the room and his teammembers as he did so.
The room was rather small, the walls old but clean – it had been sealed until recently. There was a single lamp illuminating the place, and one exit opposite of the entry. It all smelled rather unpleasant, stale.
His teammates looked worse than the room smelled. Redrocker was already nearly fifty years old, a veteran of fifteen different wars, a man who had faced the Tyrant in her early days and got away – and Palechuck did not think he would survive the next hour. His clothes, a haphazard combination of travel clothes and military fatigues, where torn and bloody, his left arm smashed and mending far too slowly. The man’s face was drawn and tired, his gnarled features twisted even more by pain. A knit cap was hiding his stark white hair, a remnant of being heard by Blackheart. Despite it all, though, there was a determined light in his eyes.
Canary was as much an opposite of him as she could be while still be on the same side. She was young, not even twenty years old, with soft yellow hair – not blonde, real bright yellow – impossibly soft, smooth skin and eyes that were bright yellow all over, no pupils, no white. Some make up turned her eye-lids and lips yellow, too, making her seem even warmer and a little more alien. Her hair fell down to the small of her back, with two thick tresses falling over her front, just barely covering her bare breasts. Her only piece of clothing was a pair of military pants cut off at the knee and a pair of yellow sneakers. The only pieces left, actually. Dustcone’s power had caught her, accidentily, and dissolved her clothing above the waist. Now she was hugging herself, trying to hide her nakedness.
“We have to surrender, Pale,” she whimpered, tears running down her cheeks. Her soft soprano voice only made her seem even younger and more vulnerable now.
“No,” he replied. “No, we need to fight. There’s only one of them, if we can just get the drop-“
“Two,” corrected Redrocker. “They never operate alone. Always two, three, five or all seven at once.”
“So there’s another one out there!?” Canary gasped, falling down to her knees as she hugged herself. “Th-th-that one was enough to kill everyone but us!”
“No, no,” Palechuck tried to reassure her, to regain the momentum here. He threw Redrocker a glare – they didn’t need facts now, they needed hope. “That explains how so many of us got killed – one of them must have been hiding in the shadows, supporting Totemiac.”
“Which one? Not Tick-Tock. We’d know it if she was here – she rarely kills,” Redrocker said, leaning against the nearest wall. “Prospero wouldn’t act subtly and-“
“What does it matter!?” shouted Canary. “We’ve lost! There were fifteen of us, maybe two of them. Less than an hour and there’s three of us left. Please, just… just make it stop, I can’t take it anymore…” She began to sob, bending over.
Palechuck looked down at her, feeling both pity and disgust. She’d been such a promising new recruit, but she was broken now. Even if she could recover, it wouldn’t happen quickly enough.
“Heh-heh, heeeeee,” wheezed a mocking voice. “The girl is smart, smart, smaaaaaart. Listen to her!” The voice almost broke, screaming the last sentence, before it broke out into wheezing laughter. Palechuck couldn’t tell where exactly it came from, it seemed to bounce off of every surface of the room.
“The Coyote…” whispered Redrocker. “That explains why we didn’t see anyone befo-“
He was cut off when the wall behind him twisted, swirled, and a lance of concrete almost pierced his chest – it was only thanks to his supernatural senses that he managed to evade, rolling away from the attack.
“He’s only vulnerable when h-” Redrocker tried to say, but was cut off when another lance emerged from beneath, almost penetrating his throat as he was still on his arm and legs.
“Don’t be a sniiiiiiitch!” mocked the Coyote, as a widely grinning mouth formed in the floor right next to Canary. She shrieked, scrambling away from it. “Now, listen to the pretty boo- I mean, girl, and sur-“
He flicked his hand out and a spear emerged out of the ceiling, made of concrete, and pierced the mouth. “Shut the fuck up, you traitor!” Palechuck snarled.
Another mouth formed next to the previous one, frowning. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to in-” Another spear transfixed it.
“Redrocker, get t-“
A loud noise drowned out his order. He screamed, but didn’t hear as his hands flew to his ears in reflex, covering them even as he threw himself forward and over Canary’s prone form, rolling to get back up on his feet.
Looking back, he saw that his instincts hadn’t disappointed – the screaming noise had been the massive steel door bending violently, a mass of lances filling the space where he’d just stood.
We can’t fight them here, he thought. We need an open space. “Run!” he shouted, pointing towards the other door in case the others didn’t hear him, and he hauled towards it, too.
“Oh no you don’t!” their enemy shouted, and Palechuck thought he saw a kind of transparent shadow glide over the floor, towards the door.
Canary was already moving, almost crawling towards the door, while Redrocker was back on his feet, spending another charge of his power to launch himself towards the door and slam through it. The slimmer steel door shattered as he past through, moments before the shadow on the floor reached it.
Is that where his body is? Palechuck asked himself. They’d never been able to find out how exactly the Coyote’s power worked, but smarter people than him had suggested that he was vulnerable to physical attacks in some way. Provided one could hit him. One way to find out… He flicked his hand, and three spears emerged from the wall to the side, flying towards the barely visible shadow on the ground.
It twisted, evading them by contorting itself into an utterly inhuman shape.
He had to evade! He’s vulnerable! He was just about to tell the others to attack when the Coyote lunged towards Redrocker, who’d just landed on his feet again.
“Redrocker, he’s right under you!” Palechuck shouted, but it was too late. Before Redrocker could recover the use of his power, lances thrust up from the floor below, impaling his legs, transfixing them.
The man screamed breathlessly and Canary gasped, stopping her dash to flee, grabbing his arm as if to pull him away.
“No! Run, Canary!”, the older man shouted, trying to push her away.
Before the Coyote could take her down, too, Palechuck grabbed her arm in turn and tore her away from him. “I’ll avenge you, Redrocker!” Palechuck shouted over his shoulder as he ran into the darker hallway and around a corner.
Canary sobbed, moving mindlessly after him as they heard Redrocker scream in pain behind them.
If only she’d use her power! Palechuck thought, but he knew it was futile. She’d tried to, but Totemiac had blocked her and then proceeded to scare her beyond reason. And her power required concentration and time.
“Canary, listen to me!” he told her as he took a stairway downwards. “This bunker should open to a small dock in a cavern, with a boat for escaping! If we can get there, we can flee – the Coyote’s power doesn’t work on water!”
He didn’t look behind him at her – he couldn’t risk it – but he heard her mouth an affirmation, and took that as his cue to let go of her arm.
They ran down the stairs, several flights, and if he was quite sure that he’d be completely out of breath by now if it wasn’t for his awakened physique. Canary didn’t sound like she was holding up so well – for all her superhuman beauty, her body wasn’t exactly blessed with superhuman endurance.
And yet he had to get away from here with her. She was the last God Tier metahuman left in the rebellion, doubtlessly the reason why the Queensguard was bothering to attack them in person instead of sending in their rank and file.
They never actually attacked her, he realized. Neither Totemiac before, nor the Coyote just now, even though she’d been an easy target. They want her alive.
Which meant they wanted to take her to the tyrant herself, to be turned.
Finally, as they neared the last flight of stairs – the air had gotten noticably colder – he threw a glance back at her. She wasn’t even bothering to cover her chest up anymore – he idly thought that she was lucky not to have the usual endowment that went with superhuman beauty, because that would be quite painful right about now – and her face was a mess, her cheeks read and her eyes streaming tears.
I’ll have to kill her if I can’t get her out of here. Her power would be a catastrophe in the hands of the tyrant, he realized with a sick feeling in his stomach. But the cause was more important than one life, even one as young as hers.
He looked forward again, so she wouldn’t read his facial expression – not that she was likely to in her current state.
They reached another door and he forced it open, and beyond there was the dock…
And Totemiac, standing at the end of it, guarding the boat.
They knew of this place. How? he thought, and then another thought hit him. The Coyote was just distracting us, to give him time to get here!
Dropping into a fighting stance, Palechuck advanced slowly towards their enemy, the frightened Canary right behind him.
Totemiac was… weird was not the right word. Utterly demented in appearance and mind both was better. He looked like nothing but a man-sized brown-golden fur ball, with four two-meter-long gnarled arms emerging from folds of the fur, ending in nine-jointed fingers with wicked claws the length of daggers at the tips. His fur was in constant motion, half-seen faces of… things moving in the shadows, never quite distinguishable, never quite possible to ignore. It looked like he was flowing out of and back into himself, for lack of a better word.
And the noise. It was the worst part. Like countless animals of all kinds, barking, wheezing, chattering, whistling, singing, shouting, laughing, panting and so much noise. It never stopped, never took on a pattern that might make it bearable, it only built on itself to get worse and worse.
“You’re not getting past me,” Palechuck threatened the tyrant’s pet, but it only shook in place, as if laughing. It was hard to tell, with all the noise it made.
Then, something like a warthog’s head, only gnarled and twisted and covered in spikes instead of coarse hair emerged from the front. Its beady black eyes focused on him, it opened its mouth and…
“REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!” It charged at him with the speed of a racing car, and he just barely evaded to the side, rolling out of the way.
Canary was not as successful; she jumped to the side, but a split-second too late. Its “shoulder” hit her side, spinning her around in an almost graceful movement before she dropped to the floor.
Totemiac smashed into the door they’d come in through, making the whole stairway collapse on top of himself. He shouted again like a warthog, only for it to be cut off suddenly.
This is our chance.
He looked at Canary – she was still conscious, amazingly enough, and looking at him with a desperate look, her eyes begging for help.
The rumbling of the collapsing stairway cut off suddenly, and he heard an annoyed voice complain about having to pick up after incompetent co-workers before he heard rubble begin to shift.
I can’t get her out in time, he thought. If he ran to her and picked her up, the Coyote would surely come after them immediately, maybe even attack the boat, if Totemiac hadn’t disabled it beforehand.
If. But Totemiac wasn’t exactly widely known for his intelligence, and he still had a chance to get away and warn the others.
Swallowing, cursing the tyrant for forcing such choices on him, he looked Canary straight in the eye with a resolute expression. “I’m sorry, Canary. I promise, your death will not have been in vain.”
She opened her mouth, breathless, unable to talk, as he flicked his hand and a spear shot out from the cavern ceiling above, straight at her heart.
It stopped, the tip already between her breasts but not touching her skin.
A gnarled, clawed hand faded into sight, holding the spear. It extended to a spherical body with three more limbs and the tattoo-covered head of a chamaeleon with a wide, demonic grin and staring eyes.
Canary looked at him with a broken, betrayed look and fainted.
Totemiac – was it a clone? Had the other one been an illusion? – clicked his tongue, grinning even wider.
Oh no. They’d been herding him, right. Towards this decision. I have to warn the others. Can’t do any more here.
He turned and ran, jumping onto the boat and driving away.
At least we know that Totemiac can clone himself, now.
* * *
“Finally. Took long enough,” the man known by the world as the Coyote said as he shifted the last rubble away from Totemiac’s body, and his compatriot burst out of what remained.
“Yeah, yeah, calm down. We had to draw it out, you know that,” he replied, leaving the mouth he’d just formed behind to glide towards the unconscious girl.
He flowed into her half-naked body, exploring it, taking up residence within. Carefully, so as not to cause any damage before he got used to it, he sat up, brushing some unnaturally soft hair out of her face. Of course, the first thing he saw was the leering face of Totemiac, before it turned around and walked lazily towards the other body. The two met up, walking into each other, merging. The two animal heads vanished and the cacophony of sounds was reduced to mere background noise as it shifted, twisted, the sound of breaking bones briefly breaking the silence as he reconfigured himself to a more elongated, bipedal form.
He turned towards him, his fur extending into a floor-length robe that covered his ‘feet’, the top forming a cowl with eerie lights flickering within. A clucking noise emerged from it.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be sure to tell her that you did most of the work. Now let’s get the girl back to the palace before she wakes up. Her Majesty will be pleased to work her mojo on her,” he spoke with the extremely pleasant voice of the girl. He really hoped she could sing, like her name suggested.
Totemiac nodded, and they left through another hidden exit. He jumped onto his back, so the girl’s body wouldn’t have ot bear the strain of walking up all the way to the extraction point.
Up above, they exited into the bright sun of the Australian South coast, just a few hours away from Sydney. The Queen’s castle could be seen in the distance, floating in the air. Despite its location, it could always be seen, from every point within her realm, always at the same distance. A constant reminder of her presence. It would have looked like a fairy tale palace, if it wasn’t for the foreboding impression it made.
“You think Tick-Tock is actually going to praise our good work?” he asked idly, as they saw the jet approach.
Totemiac clucked and chattered.
“Nah, I don’t think so, either.”