There was quite a reaction when Morganna led Cameron, Lila and their wolf into the school’s basement shelter.
Everyone got to their feet and stared. Some gasped. Some held onto their children as they tried to go pet the new “dog” in the camp.
“It’s okay everyone,” Morganna said. “This is Cameron and his wife, Lila. Cameron can talk to animals. The Wolf is named Ghost and he will help protect us.”
“Welcome,” Cesar said with a warm smile. He went up and shook Cameron’s hand then patted Ghost on the head.
Cesar noticed Lila’s eyes widen at the sight of all the dried food and water stacked on tables in the middle of the room–peanut butter, crackers, canned fruit. It was a sight for sore eyes and empty bellies.
“Please,” Cesar said. Help yourselves.”
“You have clean water?” Lila said with a giddy tone.
“Yes,” Cesar replied. “We collect bottled water as we find it and from some of the lakes in the forest and mountains we’ve filtered by hand.”
“Amazing,” she basked.
Morganna left them all to get acquainted and started to the back of the room. She passed by a brick wall and stopped. She looked back. “Very good, Kyle.”
The brick in the wall shimmered and took shape, Kyle stepped away from it and came into view. He gave Morganna a grin. “Better?”
“It was almost perfect. I almost couldn’t sense you at all. I had to stop and look again.”
“Morganna,” Orchid walked up to the two of them. “You promised.”
“Yes, Orchid. Kyle, I’ll teach you more later. Orchid and I need to talk.”
“Okay.” Kyle walked away, blending into the shadows of the room.
Orchid sat down in a private room with Morganna. “What exactly is going on? I know you aren’t who you appear to be.”
“You are right. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I couldn’t risk you not becoming a part of us. You are too important.”
“Why? Why am I so important?”
“You still don’t see? This is going to be hard for you to believe. But it’s time you knew it all. You are the amplifier to all of their powers. You have all the powers of the group in you. Fire, water, camouflage, telekensis, weather control…but you increase everyone’s. When they are with you their powers combine. It is a force to be reckoned with. It’s the only thing that can stop them.”
“The Eldritch.” Morganna grew solemn, her tone was very serious. The innocence of her persona dropped away. “They are creatures of another dimension. They’ve been watching your world for a long time…growing jealous, wanting its magic and energy. When the calamities struck, they saw their chance. The disaster has created rifts in the doorways between dimensions or worlds. They can now enter and take over your world. Now that your people are three quarters gone, they think now is the time.
But they can’t just come in and take it. Something happened they didn’t expect. Your world gave some of you gifts to protect yourselves and survive the new landscape. It sped up your evolution. Your powers are a threat. The Eldritch are physically weak but mentally strong. Like you. So they summoned a champion to do their killing. A monstrous creation they’ve poured all of their power into. It will not stop until all of you gifted with powers are dead.”
Orchid sat mute for the longest time. A thousand things ran through her mind. Finally she shook herself awake “So, you’re one of them?”
Morganna shook her head. “No. I am a different being, from another realm. In my realm we are just energy. I have no body. I took one that was no longer being used but my soul cannot exist in your flesh. My spirit is kept in this gemstone and I travel and speak through this child. My mind can occupy your flesh but my soul cannot. The two must never be separated. Like a symbiotic being.
We saw what the Eldritch were doing and I was sent to help. To guide your people. There is someone like me in every country…as well as a killer from the Eldritch in every one.”
“This is all so unbelievable,” Orchid said, having trouble looking directly at Morganna, her gaze tracing the tiles on the floor.
“Is it any more unbelievable then what you’ve already been through? The powers, the fights, the mutants, the end of your world?”
“I guess not.”
“You and Cesar are the only ones who know. Please don’t tell anyone else. We feel it would divide the group. People wouldn’t understand. We all need to work together to rebuild your world country by country.”
“It will eventually get out. You two can’t keep this a secret forever.”
“For now we have to, please Orchid. You have other worlds counting on you. If the Eldritch get your world they won’t stop here….they’ll move onto others…the doorways are opened.”
“Alright… I’ll do my best.”
“Thank you. Now, we need to get some rest. Tomorrow morning someone will need our help. I see another with powers. A young girl.”
“How is it you can do this but none of us can?”
“Our minds are much further along. We see beyond time and space”
“Then don’t you know how this will all end.”
“Of course not. The immediate future is easy. The long term is changeable. There are too many variable, too many destinies, too many decisions that may or may not get made. No soul could know the end of all things.”
“You are still a puzzle Morganna…or whoever you are…still a puzzle.”
The two of them laughed, breaking the tension in the air around them.
Moonlight poured in on Luana. She sat in her quarters staring out of the window. She’d recruited more men and women into her growing army. Street gangs abandoned their scavenging and joined her ranks, donning uniforms and carrying uzis.
She offered security, food and protection. Of course the appearance of her street punk cyborg was also very persuasive.
Her arms were growing more scales every day. She was having trouble hiding it. She pulled her boots off. Both feet itched continuously. Actually, she hadn’t seen her feet in weeks.
Luana gasped as bare right foot slid from the boot. Her toes had grown clawed with long nails. All of the flesh had become reptilian scales now. Even more horrifying, she discovered in between each toe had formed webbing. She had webbed feet.
Horror washed through her. What was she becoming? What would her followers say? They could never know.
How much time do I have? Eventually it may become impossible to hide.
She pulled the boots back on and headed for the main command center. Luana stormed over to her cyborg warrior. “Prepare to head out. We need to find that masked man as soon as possible. You’re taking him down so I can get to those othersssssss…”
A hiss escaped Luana and she covered her mouth.
The cyborg stared at her with confusion and fear. She ran off and checked herself in a mirror. Opening her mouth she discovered that her tongue had become forked.
Orchid and the others sat around the breakfast table sharing canned fruit, crackers, peanut butter, some bread slices and water. It didn’t seem like much, but these days to Orchid it tasted like heaven.
Jack looked around the table then stuffed some fruit into his mouth. He made sure Justin was eating all that was offered. “I wonder what happened to the white house?” Jack said between bites.
The others looked up at him, Cameron and Lila, Cesar, Morganna, and Derek.
“I’m sure if there was any way out, the President was probably the first to safety,” Cameron said.
“I hear that,” Jack replied. “I’ll bet the White House isn’t even standing anymore.”
“Why not,” Kyle said. “I’ve been in some rich fancy houses in the city, they’re still standing. The White House is much bigger and armed with security.”
“Don’t you think we would have heard something?” Jack continued. “Wouldn’t they want people to know? Send a message of hope? Show us there’s still someone in charge?”
“We’re in charge now,” Cesar said. “We have to rely on ourselves and each other to spread hope and rebuild.”
“Oh sure,” Jack said. “A bunch of people with freaky powers and women and children. That’s so inspiring.”
“It’s a start, Jack.” Cesar stood up. “That brings me to another outing. We need volunteers. Morganna has made contact with another soul that needs our help. I need those with powers to step up.”
“I’ll go,” Kyle stood too. “You’ve all been so nice. I want to help.”
“I’d like to go too,” Cameron said. His wife took hold of his arm.
“It’s ok, honey. Ghost will be with me. We need to pull our weight here.”
Orchid stood up next to Cesar. “Count me in,” She said, then eyed Jack.
He shook his head. “Alright, alright.”
“You have a great power,” Orchid said. “You saw what we did last time. There’s always a chance the masked man could attack us again.”
“It’s settled then,” Cesar said. “Let’s head out as soon as possible. This young girl is in danger.”
Orchid watched Kyle sharpening a tree branch into a spear as the group ascended a steep hill. The trail around them was surrounded by surviving trees with grand, ancient branches, appearing more like sheltering arms in Orchid’s mind.
Ahead of her Cameron walked with the white wolf beside him. What a beautiful animal it was. A shadow caught her attention and she looked up. Something fluttered across the sky.
Cameron noticed it too. He looked up and held out his arm. “Hawk!” he called.
The group froze as a majestic hawk with auburn feathers dove down to Cameron’s arm. Its wing span was incredible and the sight of the bird was awe-inspiring. It perched on Cameron’s arm and silently eyed the group.
“That’s incredible,” Orchid said. “Before long you’ll have an army of animals at your disposal.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with it,” Cameron chuckled.
“Guys,” Kyle called. “I found someone.”
Orchid ran to the sound of the young man’s voice. Morganna and Cesar were right on her heels.
They came upon the prone form of a young, blonde-haired woman. She lay unmoving, lifeless.
“I think we’re too late,” Cesar said, disappointment in his voice.
Morganna got on her knees and set her hand on the girl’s forehead.
“Anything?” Orchid asked.
“There’s no spirit here,” she replied.
“That’s because I’m over here.” Cesar’s eye glazed over. His pupils vanished and his voice was not his own. “I had to be sure you weren’t mutants.”
Orchid couldn’t believe it. “Cesar?”
“No, not right now. My name is Samantha. But you can call me Sam. Everyone does. Well, at lease they used to.”
“Sam,” Orchid continued. “What have you done to my friend?”
“I’ve taken possession of him. Don’t worry it’s only temporary. I left my body and jumped into his when you came into view. I can astral project at will. Visit far off lands, take possession of other’s bodies and read their thoughts, control their actions. To others I appear dead and they leave me alone.”
“We’re not here to hurt you, honey. We want to help. We have food and shelter.”
“I know that now. I just had to be sure. I’ll get out of him now.”
Cesar’s eyes fluttered. He lost his balance momentarily before regaining his consciousness. Orchid took hold of his arm. “You ok?”
“I-I think so.”
Samantha got up off the ground, brushed herself off and smiled. “Hi guys. Nice to me you. How did you know I was here?”
“Morganna saw you, thought you were in danger.” Orchid gestured to the little girl.
“Maybe I was wrong,” Morganna said. “Must have been your astral projection. I had a vision that something was after you.”
“You mean something like that.” Sam pointed behind them.
In the shadows of the trees, at the top of the trail, the Masked Assassin stood. He stared silently at them.
Kyle jumped backwards and blended into the tree trunks. Jack widened his fingers and flames crackled around them.
The killer raced toward the groupl. Cesar pulled Sam out of the way, pushing her and himself into a thicket of brush and trees.
Orchid grabbed hold of Jack and Cameron. The hawk screeched and fluttered its wings. Ghost the wolf snarled, all hair on his back stood up on end. “Focus your powers with mine,” Orchid screamed.
The killer roared to a stop in the middle of the group. Suddenly Kyle appeared out of hiding and drove his makeshift spear right through the killer.
“Kyle no!” Orchid yelled.
The killer ripped the spear all the way through his body, black pus drooling to the ground. He took the spear in both hand, turned and smashed Kyle across the face, sending him flying.
The young man hit a tree, bounced off it and rolled to the ground.
“Kyle!” rage filled Orchid. She turned to her comrades. “All of our powers, now!”
Ghost grew in size, to nearly the size of a bear and launched himself at the masked killer.
The two crashed to the ground, the wolf mauling his chest, attempting to rip the flesh to ribbons. The killer connected a fist to the beast’s ribs, startling it and throwing it off.
The hawk flew into the air and glowed with fire. Orchid watched as it became a phoenix straight out of legends. The bird soared down on the killer’s head, talons ripping at the mask and setting it on fire.
Orchid concentrated on the unconscious Kyle and lifted him into the air. She floated him over to the group where Cesar and Sam gently collected him. She set her gaze back on the killer and willed the thorn patch nearby to wrap around him like barbed wire. The hawk continued to ravage his face as he fell, convulsing, into the thorns.
“Run, now!” Orchid called. “While he’s down.”
The masked killer obeyed, ripping the thorn bushes up by the roots.
You’ve let too many of them band together. They’re getting strong. Seek out the one they call Orchid in the polka dot dress. Kill her first and you will weaken the rest. Without her their powers are no match for yours.
He groaned and stomped off through the trees.
“We should move on,” Jack said, keeping Justin by his side. “That thing is getting closer.”
“We’re underground,” Cesar said. “All we have to do is lay low for a few days.”
“Jack may be right,” Orchid said. “How long before he sniffs us out?”
Their discussion was cut short by a bellow from above.
All eyes looked up. The ceiling cracked and split. A loud thunderous crash rocked the room and the entire ceiling caved in, beams and plaster raining down.
Some in the group were killed instantly. Dust clouded the air. Morganna pulled Justin with her into the shadows and the masked killed dropped into the room.
Before Kyle could camouflage the killer tossed him into the breakfast table, crushing it and rendering him unconscious.
The killer turned sharply and grabbed Orchid by her pale blond hair. She felt her neck crick as he yanked her to him with full force. She swung a fist at him but he caught her arm and snapped it.
She felt bone crack and wailed with agony. He wrapped both hands around her throat silencing her scream. Orchid felt all air escape her lungs. Her sight blurred.
Suddenly Ghost flung himself at the killer, a ball of claws and teeth. Orchid fell to the floor and crawled across it. She looked up to see Sam go prone. A white, misty form eased out of the girl’s body and entered Kyle’s.
Kyle stood up and walked away from the action. Orchid realized that Sam had possessed Kyle and moved him to safety. Growling filled the room. Orchid turned back to see the killer lift the wolf by the head. The two continued to struggle until the killer clamped his hands around the beast’s jaws, intending to end its life.
“No!” Cameron raced at the killer and smashed him in the head with an iron rod. The killer dropped the wolf and seized Cameron by the throat, driving him into the brick wall behind him. His head cracked against it.
“Cameron!” Lila screamed.
The killer ripped the rod from Cameron’s grip and forced it through his gut. Crimson pooled down the wall. Lila screamed as if her very soul had split in two.
Orchid cried with her, pulling herself to her feet. A ceiling beam lifted at her command and soared at the killer.
He caught it in mid-flight and flipped it back at her. The beam collapsed Orchid into a wall. Dull pain washed down her spine, her head bounced off the wall, she tasted something salty in her mouth. Through blurred vision she saw Lila cradling her husband in her arms.
“Don’t leave me…” Lila wept. “I can’t make it in this world without you.”
“S-s-sure you c-c-can…” he coughed. “D-Don’t w-w-orry. I’ve told Ghost to protect you and our baby. He’ll listen t-t-to you…n-n-ow.” He cupped her cheek with his hand. Her face glowed with amber light. Cameron’s eyes went still.
Orchid then saw the killer raging toward her like a freight train. Cesar tried to attack him but was shoved out of the way.
Jack stepped in and aimed both his hands at the killer. A funnel of fire exploded, hitting the unstoppable force and sending him crashing into the furnace room. He struck the electrical box and the room exploded in vivid flashes of light and sparks.
Jack’s face twisted with rage, he started toward the flickering room, both of his hands ignited with flames.
“Jack no!” Orchid called. “You’ll set the entire place on fire and kill us all. Get everyone out of here.”
He bent down and pushed the beam off her. “What about you…”
“Just go, now, you and Cesar. Ill be right behind you.”
Cesar picked up the unconscious Kyle with some help from Sam. Jack ushered Morganna and Justin out as he reached for Lila.
“No!” She cried. “I’m not leaving him! Get away from me!” Ghost came to her side and licked her hand with a whimper.
In the furnace room the killer stirred.
“Lila, he’s gone,” Orchid said. “Let Jack and Ghost get you to safety. For your baby’s sake.”
Lila said nothing as she got to her feet and let Jack take her by the arm.
Orchid watched the others head for the stairs to the school’s main floor. She rubbed her broken arm, spit blood onto the floor and wiped her head of debris. She watched the furnace room. “C’mon you son of a bitch…”
As the killer reached the threshold, Orchid looked up at the broken ceiling and brought down the rest of it. It tumbled into the room, filling it with a cloud of debris and dust.
She backed herself to the stairs and tore the rest of the support beams, then the upper roof, then the walls. She raced up the stairs and through the halls–ceiling, floors and walls falling around her until she burst through a set of double doors and out into the sunlight.
Luana stood at the outskirts of the school watching it crumble in on itself. She watched the survivors run off into the wilderness, Orchid trailing last.
She turned to the cyborg standing at her side. “Hmmm, looks like they’ve done the work for us.”
She waited for a few moments, the others having vanished from sight and turned to leave when something caught her attention.
Rumbling echoed. Brick and wood shimmied. A loud crack pealed through the air and the Killer fought his way out of the wreckage.
“Looks like I spoke to soon.” Luana grinned. “He’s all yours my friend. Take him.”
The cyborg clanked his way across the parking lot. His laser cannon whizzed into position. His eye scope zoomed in. “Target acquired.”