Part Twenty One: The Swarm
The stairwell door bursts outward as shadow pours out from behind it like currents of angry, blackened steam. The shadow is cold, and CB is suddenly overcome with despair, filled with the urge to do nothing but wallow in it.
He recognizes the attack for what it is and shakes it off. The others do as well, fighting back the deadly malaise by leaning into their more defiant traits. Hu’s flames flare up, annihilating the shadows around her. Sister Sentinel shouts wordlessly, equal parts defiance and taunt. Red Shift does a lap around the room, shaking off the tendrils of darkness that can’t keep up with his speed, and when he returns to his original position he’s vibrating in place, that weird force field he projects when he moves keeping the darkness at bay. David mutters some kind of spell, causing a brief flare of purple-white light to surround him like a halo, Brother Judgment contemptuously brushes imaginary dust off his shoulder… and Jack just shifts his stance, ever so slightly.
The only person who doesn’t seem to react is Derecho. CB worries the mist may have affected her, but then a stiff breeze kicks up and the mist is blown into an empty corner of the room.
The creatures come.
They are human-shaped, men and women, dressed mostly in business casual khakis and button-ups, plastic badges swinging wildly from lanyards hung about their necks as they rush the room. But above the neck it changes: the creatures have no heads. Where a head should be is a roaring font of darkness, bursting forth like purple-black flame.
And each creature is screaming that strange, rasping shriek.
The world swirls around him, and CB steps smoothly to one side as the first wave of rush past, going straight for Scrapper Jack and Sister Sentinel. They never reach their targets: a boom fills the air as a red blur cuts across their advance. They appear to explode into clouds of black mist; something wet sprays across CB’s face. He wipes his face with one arm while he reaches into a trenchcoat pocket with another, pulling out a long length of weighted chain.
A roar erupts from the ceiling as Agent Hu sends a stream of liquid flame directly into the stairwell door, prompting howls of anguish from the creatures trying to force their way into the room. Almost immediately the fire stops—she’s trying not to burn the place down—but even the short burst has done impressive work. Shadow creatures are burning, staggering blindly into the room where they are struck by rapid bursts of lightning from Derecho. The few who manage to get through are lifted into the air by invisible force as Brother Judgment slams them into the wall so hard they crack the stone.
But Hu is trying to keep the building from burning down, so the stream of fire isn’t constant. When the stairwell door isn’t on fire, more creatures barrel through. And more. And more.
CB crouches, lashes out with the chain, and pulls. The end wraps around a leg and a creature falls to the rubble-strewn floor, bringing down two others with it. Not bothering to stop, CB launches himself at a fourth, kicking hard at its neck. He feels bone break beneath his heel, then the chain—still wrapped around the first creatures leg—tightens. He pulls on it sharply, causing him to twist in midair and land in a crouch as the fourth creature falls backward, still. He pulls on the chain again, and it releases its grip on the leg, arcing into what would have been another creature’s head.
Only it doesn’t have a head. CB curses as the chain passes through the shadowy mass of flame, apparently doing nothing at all.
The creature turns toward him, only to be knocked down by a second. CB glances at Jack, who lifts one by its tennis shirt and throws it into two more. Sister Sentinel stands just to Jack’s right, laying into three at once, her face a mask of grim determination. Two more creatures rise into the air and smash into the far wall, leaving two more cracked indentations.
Then David casts a spell: the air hums with energy, and a purple-white wave washes over the room. Half of the creatures in the room fall on the spot, but all of the ones still standing abandon what they were doing and immediately turn on him, charging with murderous abandon. David’s eyes widen in surprise, then he kneels, crosses his arms across his chest, and is suddenly surrounded by a purple-white sphere. The first creature strikes the sphere, bounces off, then springs back to its feet to charge again. That’s when more liquid flame rains from the ceiling, making a circle of fire around David, and lightning falls around the flame, jumping from creature to creature, leaving blackened spots at their feet.
They fall, but the stairwell is unwatched, and more creatures are pouring through.
CB’s attention is diverted, momentarily, by the sudden appearance of Blink. He teleports next to the hole Red Shift punched through the outer wall—a good choice, since it’s out of the general melee and gives him a chance to take in the situation. He sees David lower his force field, notices him swaying on his feet, and in an instant he’s right next to him, placing his hands on the weary man’s shoulders, and saying something CB can’t hear. They both disappear in a flash of light.
CB twists to avoid the outstretched hands of a shadow-creature. He flicks his chain out, and the end wraps around a wrist. He leans back, pulling sharply, and the creature stumbles into the one next to it. He jerks again, releasing the chain, and drops low to kick at a third’s legs. Three down, and the ones behind it are forced to route around, giving him time to put distance between them. Then the light around him flashes, and Blink is placing his hands on CB’s shoulders.
“Here we go!”
The entire world tips violently to his right, as if someone were throwing him across the room, but before he hits anything he is suddenly falling, landing awkwardly on his hands and knees as he strikes a concrete floor. He grunts in pain.
“Sorry,” Blink says, then disappears in a flash.
He hears the sound of someone quietly retching beside him.
“I gotta admit, it’s a neat trick.” Agent Grant’s voice comes from somewhere above him, not too far away. “But it doesn’t look like it’s a smooth ride for passengers.”
“The first time…” David Bernard’s voice is very raw, and he coughs and spits before trying again. “The first time I ever did this I had a massive concussion. I assumed that was the reason I threw up.”
He laughs ruefully. “Apparently not.”