Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

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.

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.”

45 comments

  1. At last! Muchas gracias. Read the whole thing, mind is thoroughly blown.

    You may wish to fix the typo at paragraph 6, first line. The “f” is missing from Red Shift’s name.

  2. Typo immune to spell check, part 6, paragraph 91, sentence 3. Did you mean, “The small one jumps to his feet” rather than “his feat”?

  3. Re-reading part two, section where the scene shifts to Jenny: second paragraph refers to Liberty as Toby’s grandfather, third paragraph refers to Liberty as “his great-grandfather.” In context, the intent of the second reference could have been “his grandfather” again or “her (Jenny’s) great-grandfather”.

  4. Great to have you back in the harness – so to speak.
    Minor typo: Part Two, Para 5: a ‘d’ is missing in: one arm hangs limply by his sie as the empty sleeve…

  5. Part two, second section (Jenny), second paragraph, last sentence, linguistic quibble: “At the moment he’s laying down” should be “At the moment he’s lying down”. It may be said that in the previous episode when David moved Toby after casting his protective spell, he laid Toby down, but now Toby is lying down. For edification and amusement, you may wish to go to dictionary.com, enter the word “lay” in the definition blank and hit enter, then scroll down to the “Lay vs. Lie” video and enjoy.

  6. Part 9, paragraph beginning “He can see the Chairman”, last sentence: Richter is misspelled “Reichter”. Possibly Freudian slip?

  7. Part 10, first paragraph, second sentence, first word should not contain the apostrophe. (Autocorrect does that to me sometimes, substituting the contraction for the possessive pronoun. Bad autocorrect!)

  8. Part 22:
    – second paragraph, first sentence speaks of “dimly lit florescent lights” but I think you meant “fluorescent” since the dictionary says “florescent” means “flourishing”.
    – fourth paragraph from the end, beginning “There is a low hum”, another “it’s” that should be “its”.

  9. APOLOGIES FOR THE FORMATTING:
    I just finished reading an excellent and enthralling tale (obviously shaving your head did nothing to kerb your style – I was worried a la Samson and Delilah that you might lose your talent).
    Anyhow, the following typos, misspelling(s), and possible misunderstandings, by me, of your choice of words/phrases to this left-pondian, who only lived in the US for 21 years, triggered my antenna – but the story demanded that I keep reading. This resulted in a quick copy and paste (without commentary) and then a quick insert of the Part Number (so that you have a vague clue where to look).

    Part Seven: Haruspex Analytics, Jason Klein’s Suite

    He wouldn’t be the first to abandon a good team in favor of a promising promotion. To become “a suit,” as Billy would to say.

    Part Eight: New York City, Downtown

    David grins in spite of himself. “Because it’s better ‘Doctor Weird, Warlock Supreme.’”

    Part Fourteen: Haruspex Analytics

    Shewatches, calm and remote, and waits.

    She at Justin. Without hesitation, he bolts toward the still glowing tear.

    Part Eighteen: Haruspex Analytics, Ground Floor Lobby

    The torso comes together in a rough outline, and in a matter of seconds he can the pieces of rock fuse together as the golem begins to reform.

    Blue light flares up again, but it’s different this time. It flickers erratically, like a fluorescent light just before it does.

    Part Nineteen: Haruspex Analytics, Upper Floors

    Street Ronin crouches on the landing tile, his rifle trained on the closed door

    Part Twenty Two: Manhattan, Alpha Checkpoint MCV

    “That’s right,” the Senator’s image says. “Remember when I said the first virus—the that didn’t kill

    It’s bad, Captain. Bad in way that, historically, cuts across old boundaries. . . . .. We’re talking genetic plague, Captian.”

    Part Twenty Seven: Metamorphosis

    As the wind rises, so dow the sound, the thummm growing louder, and behind it a second sound.

    Part Twenty Nine: Downtown Manhattan

    Para 2: It can’t move beyond this spot because the buildings surrounding it are too fall.

    Alishia flies closer to the golem, keying up a volley of anti-vehicle missles

    Part Thirty One: Ingress

    No games, Sky Commando. We have a way to take out thegolem.

    Part Thirty Three: Haruspex Analytics Golem, The Labyrinth

    he knocks a new hole in the side dof the building and jumps.

    Part Thirty Four: Aftermath

    David starts looking through the crowd. “Now we round everyone up and go back to the Nautillus.

    HTH

  10. Back again. Just checked the amendment that you made re. Part Nineteen (which is the deja vu all over again and again) and “on the landing tile” appears at least 5 more times – thanks be to Ctrl-F.

  11. Sorry, my misunderstanding, my septuagenarian vocabulary didn’t extend to ‘landing tile’ as a thing, but google.com showed me the error of my ways – since multiple peoples being advertizing them are.

  12. part ten

    not fighting against the other awareness, but fusing to cede what remains of his own identity.

    refusing to cede?

  13. part seventeen

    She twists his arm, and the he cries out in pain as the carbine clatters to the floor.

    then he tries?

  14. part 24 “Where are these thingscoming from?” Jenny keeps

    not sure if missing a space?

  15. And now to see where Regiment was during all this kerfuffle…
    Thanks for coming back!

  16. Part 22, paragraph 43: “Sky Commander” should probably be “Sky Commando” unless the point is that Captain Banks (understandably) is so badly shaken he isn’t even using Sgt. Webb’s proper title. He gets it right two paragraphs later.

    Part 22, paragraphs 39 and 41: not sure about this. 39 refers to “the worst of the group” as a tossup between Crossfire and Overmind. In 41, Sky Commando tells Captain Banks that Haruspex is “much worse than either of those groups could hope to be”, where “either of those groups” seems to be a reference back to Crossfire and Overmind. Am I misreading this, or is she calling Overmind a group?

  17. One of those typos that spellcheck will never catch: Part 26, paragraph 1, last sentence: “standing father back”: s/father/farther.

  18. Part 27, paragraph 15, sentence 4: the word “shifts” is missing an “f”.

  19. Part 29:
    Paragraph 33:
    – sentence 5: need a space here: durabilityconverging. “durability” is in italics in the actual text.
    – next to last sentence: “it’s attention” should be “its attention”.
    Paragraph 44, next to last sentence: “one a little to low” “to” needs another “o”.
    Paragraph 48, last sentence: “She adjusts her position, putting as much of the base of her cable between herself and the ones closing in.” “as much” seems to want another “as” but I’m not sure exactly what you want here.

  20. Part 30:
    Paragraph 11, first sentence, after the second dash: “is throws it”: s/is/it
    Paragraph 31: last sentence: “keeping out of site” out of “sight”?

  21. Beautiful, beautiful work. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Partway through Part Seventeen there appears to be some paragraph-level cleanup needed at the point where the Chairman nearly comes in to check on Artemis, but then changes his mind. Two versions of the same passage? –>

    “Our guest…” Suddenly the Chairman sounds weary. He sighs. “The resources we will need to expend to keep him in check will be… prohibitive. I fear we will be forced to leave him behind.” Phyllis is surprised by the amount of regret in the Chairman’s voice. Who is he talking about?

    “I should, at least, say farewell…”

    Footsteps close in on the door, and when the door handle begins to turn her heart nearly stops. But it stops, then returns to its original position as the hand on the other side lets go.

    “No,” the Chairman says. “We don’t have the time. It galls me to leave him behind

    Ah. Yes.” The Chairman hmmms thoughtfully. “I fear we won’t be able to take him with us. The resources we’d need to expend to keep him in check are best used on other things. Come, the door is here.”

    The group comes to a stop, and for a terror-filled moment Phyllis is convinced they’ve stopped in front of her door. Seconds pass, then something clicks on the other side of the hall, and the footsteps move off carpet, onto stone. The door clicks a second time as it swings shut. The hallway is silent once again.

  22. @cuatroojos: thanks for the extra updates. They’re all fixed. Sidenote: the issue with the two words being crammed together without a space between them is an oddity because it never shows up in my original text — it’s a result of dumping the text into WordPress. So far I haven’t figured out what it is that’s making WordPress remove the spaces. I assume it isn’t random, though it looks that way to me.

    @Christopher Krebs: aaaaaAAAAAAaaaaaAAAaaaaaaaaAAAAaaaaaa fixed now. 😀

  23. You’ve done a terrific job keeping so many different narrative strands going without getting all tangled. Bravo.

    Part Twenty-Eight, paragraph 4, another sentence-level blip: “He grimaces, thrusting his right hand left arm and his side.”

  24. Part 17, third-to-last paragraph, last sentence: “careless” needs to be in its adverbial form, “carelessly”.

  25. Part 6:
    – Paragraph 73 begins “Int he”; “In the”?
    – Paragraph 93, beginning “David doesn’t reply”: in the second sentence, “exends” looks like it wants to be “extends”.
    – Paragraph 11, first sentence, “more than match”, maybe “more than a match”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *