Beware, nonscientific evildoers! The forces of rational justice have appeared! - Astro-Man
Boston. (nine months before the events of Wood Pulp & Blood)
Argus had spent the past week diligently attempting to track down those responsible for a string of kidnappings and ritual murders of children; the search had taken her to the tunnels under the city, a section with which she was unfamiliar. The plastic motorcycle idled silently along the narrow passages until she spied a larger chamber some distance ahead, one that appeared to be furnished as a temple with a vaguely Egyptian look to it. Looks like the place.
To the best of her knowledge, they had no current hostage. She turned off the bike's headlight and moved slowly closer, able to see a half dozen people wearing hooded robes in close conversation with a silver-haired man in a business suit, another dozen-plus of the robed folk milling about farther away. Argus had never seen the one man before, and could not make out the faces of the others.
She had not expected there to be so many of them. "Crap."
"What was that, mistress?" Nigel's voice came over her helmet radio.
"Just clearing my throat. We've got a couple dozen people down here."
"That is larger than I predicted. I apologize."
"No apology necessary, the failure is mine." She looked for a way to get closer. The lighting was dim, just braziers and torches, and most of her armor was matte black. She dismounted the bike, detached the gun from its bracket, and trusted herself to the shadows. She ended up no more than fifteen feet from the colloquy, noting the temple decorations in passing; tentacled monstrosities were standard to subterranean temples inhabited by murderous cults, but there were also many wolf heads depicted on the walls.
The silver-haired man appeared to be an emissary; he was also very confident, either a leader in his own right or otherwise powerful enough to be unconcerned in such company. Argus would have been nervous; in fact she was nervous. This was not her preferred method of operation.
"Clearly, now that I have laid all this out, you can understand where all the benefits of the alliance are," Silver-Hair said.
"I'm still not convinced," a cultist replied.
"Nor I," another agreed.
"I do see his point, though. Our... ties with him go back a very, very long time."
Silver-Hair pointed out, "We do ultimately worship the same god."
"Yes, but that god is currently bound here. Not far up north."
"But up north there are opportunities. There is little time for you to think about this. Circumstances are arising now, where my clan makes its current home, that should in a brief span of time enable us to claim control over, if not all of this world, then a significant part of it." He paused for emphasis. "But we need to have a mingling of our bloodlines for that to happen."
"How old is your son again?"
"He is eighteen. He is old enough. And remember, it is not as if your daughter would have... problems." He smiled toothily. "We do of course mate for life."
"We've heard of how you mate for life. Occasionally the mate suffers an unfortunate end," a cultist said sharply.
"Only those mates that are truly human and do nothing to improve the breed," he dismissed. "Your stock as I understand it is perfect."
"We must think on this for a moment." The robed people moved off to hold a private conversation--toward Argus' hiding place. Mother, thought Argus, and in lieu of discovering any latent variance that included being invisible merely tried to be very, very quiet. Silver-Hair stood alone, unconcerned.
"This is the second offer of alliance that we have received recently," a cultist said.
"Since the events of fifteen years ago, our branch of the coven has not been the strongest," another replied. "But we are the only ones who hew to the true path."
"I am more comfortable with this alliance than with ones with those who have broken away," a third said thoughtfully. "I have no desire to bring heresies upon us."
Argus suppressed a sigh. Oh, the difficulties of keeping the Dark Path pure.
"He is correct in that the blood of Xyrgoth flows strongly in the veins of his family."
"All of this does come down to you, Miss St. John," he deferred to one who had hitherto been silent. "It is your decision; you after all would be the one marrying the into the family."
Another said, "The child of the union would be of unified bloodlines, for the first time in some time, and the focus point for this... Twilight overlap. I believe he is correct; if they can actually build the structure that they need to out of the moon wood, and we can tear open the rift at the correct time, just as the child is being born, then I see no reason why we can't rule at least all of New England if not all of the world. And not have to ally ourselves directly with those who have fallen," he added.
"Then our decision is made," St. John said. "We shall go along with this."
"And the followers?"
"They are sheep," another cultist flicked a dismissive hand. "They will follow. I will cast a quick spell, to ensure that everyone here is of the same mind."
No more than two feet away from Argus, the man began chanting and raised his hands. For a moment, she hesitated, easing the Tommy gun to ready position; then decided to take the chance that the spell would not do anything to her. You know, the merger of the two bloodlines would be really good for both groups, she found herself thinking a moment later. A visible wash of energy moved out from the spellcaster, reached the walls, and returned to its source. He straightened for a moment in surprise, and looked directly at Argus.
She cut loose with a spray of plastic bullets. The spellcaster went down, and she scrambled for the tunnel where the bike was hidden, laying down covering fire behind her as cultists milled about in panic. The silver-haired man turned, saw her, gave an exasperated sigh, and turned into a wolf. A wolf the size of a pony.
"Nigel, we need silver bullets!" she yelped.
"I'm sorry, I'm getting some static....?"
The wolf pounced, and his jaws closed on her armor; he shook her like a rat and tossed her aside. If only I had some silver accoutrements. She hit the ground shaken but unhurt, made it back to her feet and ran like hell for the bike.
There was a narrow place in the tunnel that held him up; his jaws snapped short of the bike's front wheel, and he had to spend a few moments widening the passage enough for his shoulders. The cultists behind him were screaming.
"I see your security is not what I had hoped," the wolf snarled at them, pulling his head back beyond the narrows.
In the interests of science, now that she was on her motorcycle, Argus fired a burst from the gun--maybe werewolves were vulnerable to plastic, it's not as if anyone would have had a good chance to find out through most of history....
No such luck. She spun the bike and took off through the tunnels. A smashing sound behind her was the wolf breaking down more of the walls; the shift in stress was causing fractures to run across the temple ceiling. Chunks of debris rained down around her, but she was able to make her way to more familiar reaches of the under-city, free of pursuit.
Of course, there were still the cultists to worry about.... But after the abortive battle, the kidnappings ceased, the murders stopped; the cult appeared to have vanished. She knew that could not be the case, and bent all her efforts toward determining what alliance the werewolf had been there to arrange.
Nine months later, government contacts alerted her to certain events in Millinocket, Maine, leading her to believe that there was a connection there. She sent a few Eyes to infiltrate, under guise of opening a general store for one of her many corporate possessions; the Millinocket cooperative was happy to have someone investing in the area. And then she had only to wait and see. Just in case she had to make a visit herself, she had some of her equipment sent up.
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson