About a week had gone by. Cypress had been gone for the last two nights.
The Madonna could hear the sharp rapping of what sounded like a steel bludgeoning device against the front door of her room. In truth, Cypress was using his knuckles, but his urgency was such that he applied every shred of natural and unnatural strength he had at his disposal. Although he relied primarily on speed to kill his enemies, he was at least as physically powerful as an average unliving warrior--he was simply much, much faster.
This became evident when the rapping began to accelerate in pitch and frequency for a few seconds.
Then there was just silence and nothing beyond that. An ominous quiet as he attempted to gather hold of his frayed sense of control. He was so very fucking angry. He was somewhat concerned what would happen when she actually opened her door.
The creaking of old wood, she pulled the door open. Though loathe to admit it she had missed him, so the fact that he had returned brought a faint smile to her lips, however, there was something wrong.
Something very wrong indeed.
His urgency had alarmed her. What could unnerve a man over a hundred years old? She suddenly wasn't sure she wanted the answer to that question.
Amber eyes peered at him, then behind him, and back to his face.
"What is it?"
She stepped aside easily, allowing him access to their room.
He looked down at her as she opened the door. At first, everything which had taken place over the last two nights was forgotten. The feeling was blissful, although Cypress looked anything but.
His black T-shirt was tattered, singed. The left knee of his jeans had been torn out and the frayed edges were stained with blood. From what she could make out of the skin on his knee, however, he was just fine.
His right hand was pressed to his side, a small but double-edged blade held in a relaxed grip. The steel weapon was tinted red, as if dipped in blood that coagulated but did not dry and turn to a rusty brown.
He looked over his shoulders, as if just checking to make sure that whatever enemy he'd armed himself against wasn't going to suddenly appear out of the darkness. Satisfied, Cypress stepped inside.
Extending his free hand, he reached around her waist, pulling her along with him, and then pushed the door shut with his shoulder.
"We need to leave, before they discover where your home is. I don't want you involved in this."
As if that explained anything, much less everything.
Cheek muscles tensed as she took in the sight of him, disheveled but essentially unharmed. She considered the implications, perhaps he was over reacting. Pursing her lips, she decided finally that though she knew little of him, the Dreadslay was not prone to theatrics. If anything, she considered that he may potentially be downplaying the issue.
That thought made her blood run cold.
She nodded finally, allowing the single sheet that she had wrapped around her to fall to the floor. Moving to the dresser with fluid grace, she pulled free a fresh black skirt, and red blouse. She dressed in silence, as quickly as she could.
She scooped the remainder of her things haphazardly into a black suitcase. Clothes, Makeup, bible. She zipped and latched it shut, slinging it over her shoulder, and moved to take his hand.
She was horribly confused, but no sense trying to pry answers from him in this agitated state.
He did not at all expect her to simply... trust him.
The sight of Marissa turning to the dresser gave him chills. Not simply due to the image of her unclad body, but the way she moved--not a word, not a sound. Compliance. Trust.
Such things were rare in this world of theirs, even if it only manifested once--for a single sequence of events.
Cypress took a step away from the door and leaned against the wall, observing her as she dressed without words and then packed her things in a hasty but ordered manner.
"I'll explain in the car," he finally told her. "I acquired one they won't immediately match me with, I think."
Her hand was extended and he took it. His chill fingers encompassing her own, careful not to squeeze. His instincts were on fire. His first encounter with opposing predators since awakening from the death-sleep had changed him, invoking a side of him that hadn't been fully present since before the lights went out.
After that, he opened her door and led her out of the Court. The vehicle parked outside was yet another stolen car--though he was intelligent enough to steal from individuals who wouldn't likely report the theft. Hardened criminals who were yet mortal, whom he had no compunctions about draining and robbing.
He let her put her things in the back seat and then opened the passenger's side door for her.
She climbed in gingerly. There was something about those moving hunks of metal that didn't sit quite right with her, but this was not the time to be protesting. She reached over, slipping the belt over her hips and clipping it shut, turning her attention towards the drivers’ side as he climbed in. The sight of him brought all those emotions flooding back, but she steeled herself, quelling even momentarily the surge as it threatened to pull her out to sea. Pursing her pale lips, fingers clutching the arm rest, anxiety seeping in.
Eyes slid closed, she took a few full breaths, trying to calm herself. When she opened her eyes, she leaned into him, murmuring softly.
"I don't understand...."
She did trust him. Fully and completely. Though she would be lying to say there hadn't been a hint of doubt that first night, even the second... The doubt had evaporated quickly.
"I'll explain. Promise." He spoke quickly, but his voice was soft and relaxed. Not necessarily gentle. He was simply in control now, operating in a way that had long become second nature. In any given bad situation, it was always vital not to freak out. Panic spawned disaster.
He stared straight ahead, delaying that promised explanation until they were cruising northbound on an old state highway. He didn't trust the Interstate tonight. As he had no clue as to which vampiric faction, if any, was currently held sway over the region--he'd much prefer to face off against a lone pursuer that happened upon him on this aged road than risk being ensnared in the proverbial net.
Once they were in the hills that shrouded the Vampire Court in makeshift seclusion from the nearby cityscape, reducing the luminescent towers of Meridian to an eerie glow above the treetops, Cypress finally relinquished hold of that red knife he'd been holding like a good luck charm--even as he drove.
"Don't touch that." He said, putting it on the dash. "It's poisoned."
Cypress checked his rearview, but more to the point he relied upon his instinctive sense of approaching threats. This sublime ability had saved his unlife more than his more overt or destructive powers ever had.
He felt nothing directly related to him, although there was strangeness in the air. Something he neither understood, nor related to.
For Marissa, it became far more evident as the minutes ticked away. She'd see things that Cypress couldn't. Shapes in the trees. Faces in the clouds. The towers of smoke from a food packaging plant somewhere in the hills appeared to twist and writhe like ephemeral tornados.
"Okay," he started to come clean--but paused. How much should he tell her? How should he spin it? Cypress shook his head. Only two nights away and already he was unconsciously urging himself to manipulate her. "I was approached two nights ago. Vampires. Five of them. They proved themselves to be of my...group, sharing the same allegiance. That means nothing, however."
He paused again, waiting for something.
She nodded as he spoke, eyes traveling to the knife, eying it as it balanced precariously on the dashboard.
Her attention shifted as she glanced out the windows. Brows furrowing as she watched the chimera bend and swirl in the distance. As he spoke however, her attention drifted back to him.
Her head cocked.
"I'm afraid I don't really understand the politics of the children of Lilith."
Her hands folded in her lap; she waited for him to continue. She would have liked elaboration, but this wasn't really the time to be picking his brain. Her nostrils flared, the way he chose his words, set her slightly on edge.
"Just tell me the truth, Dreadslay. Do not try to sugarcoat it."
Cypress observed her from the corner of his vision as he drove. The way her nostrils flared and her mood revealed itself to be sharper was incredibly attractive. Though perhaps now was not the best time to dwell on it.
He gave her a quick look when she told him, in a very straight-forward manner, to come out with it. Somehow, this prompted a smile to appear on his lips for the first time that evening.
"They told me to sacrifice you."
He reached forward, taking the knife off the dashboard, slid it back into the sheath on his belt. His lean frame shifted to accommodate the movement. Although he decided to put the blade away completely, just in case she might be tempted to worry about it, he realized that even reaching for it after those words was likely a very savage thing to do.
Cypress gave her an apologetic glance, and then focused back on the drive. He continued his explanation.
"One of them was very adept in the arts of reading others' thoughts. He pierced even mine. Not sure what the extent of his vision was, but he perceived that you are valuable to me. As a 'show of fidelity', he demanded your blood for himself and his pack. Said that I had been gone a while, which is true, but that is not the point.
"I am confident in my ability to destroy him. It's what I do.
"Unfortunately, that was neither the time nor the place to remove him. He knew my answer even before I gave it.
"I could tell, by subtle nuances in their behavior, that this individual was giving his command to immobilize me via stake. So I struck first. Killed two of his pack mates.
"I escaped. But we're a vindictive race. He will seek your blood. And mine."
Lips pursed as she mulled over his words. She was torn in two directions. One, she was strangely lifted by the fact that they perceived her to be, and at his own admission, valuable to him.
That being said, his life was now on the line, for her.
She nodded with a small frown she chewed absently at her nails, eyes gazing at the glass.
"For now, we are safe? Where are we going?"
Leaning her head back on the seat, fingers drumming against the armrest.
"And when the 5 are dead, what then? Will more turn against you?"
"We're safe for the moment," he replied to her initial question. Cypress hesitated. He did not know what exactly this Cainite priest had seen when he glimpsed traces of his soul, but one thing was certain. He had chided Cypress for 'behavior abominable to the race' before offering him a chance for contrition. Although he truly felt nothing for the broader ideology of the sect, its indoctrination practices were truly frightening. He questioned, if even for a second, if he hadn't been in the wrong. If he hadn't put his own self-indulgence before the good of his brethren...
Cypress was as trapped in the sect as was the lowliest expendable pawn. He hated it at times, accepted it at others, but there were certain lines he'd never cross. After what Marissa had given to him, how could he even question his course of action?
"I apologize..." presumably for the lapse in his answers, "Was thinking. We're going to a place that I know to be safe. I found it on my second night awake, prepared it as a refuge. Didn't think I'd need it so soon," he shrugged. That was unlife. "I believe I may have utilized it as a hiding spot in the past, which means that I would have kept it secret. My memory, however, is still sketchy in some places. The sleep does that to you."
Was he even making a shred of sense? He hoped she could piece together some meaning from his hastily-presented explanations.
"When the five are dead? I hope to settle the matter simply by killing the priest...um, the one who looked into my head. I can challenge him, but it requires another priest to sanction the match. Finding one might take some time. So until then, we must use caution."
She nodded sullenly. Her thoughts skipped like rocks on the surface of a lake, galloping ahead. Amber eyes flashed with interest as he mentioned the word priest.
She turned toward him, pondering. She had known and killed many priests in her lifetime, but she was fairly certain none of them had been children of Lilith.
Her thoughts drifted. She remembered the screams of the last priest she killed like it was yesterday. It had been her father, after all.
She shook her head, bringing her attention back to the present.
He folded her arms over modest breasts, wondering where they were going, but found it best not to riddle him with questions for the time being.
His gaze slid in her direction once again, that sharp and intrigued look in her eyes distracting him. Barely-felt the chills drifted along his shoulders. That familiar sensation of an advancing threat crept up on him and, before he could steady itself, he felt as if their vehicle was being followed by an invisible pursuer.
Cypress accelerated slightly. His fingers gripped the wheel more tightly. Something was coming. Its nature and the methods with which it would threaten them was a complete mystery. His sense of danger wasn't as convenient as precognition. He didn't see what form a threat would take when it emerged. All he could do was feel it begin as a blood-chilling inception and grow into a consuming drumbeat in his subconscious mind.
The speedometer passed seventy-five, going on eighty. Cypress was an efficient driver, but by no means an expert. He'd never been fully comfortable with automobiles. Hadn't had them as a mortal. The first mechanized land vehicles he ever saw had been-
"Son of a bitch."
Their seat-belts went taut.
They almost swerved right off the road as another vehicle merged onto the state highway from a smaller road, its headlights off. If she looked at all, Marissa would see the pairs of glowing red eyes in the shadowy confines of the vehicle.
The pursuer kept moderately close, stalking Cypress' car patiently as they continued on.
Cypress grew increasingly nervous, wondering when the pursuers would make their next attempt to drive him off the road.
"Marissa? Listen to me. We. will. be okay. I've been in this situation plenty of times."
He tried to smile, tried to quietly laugh it off. Although he was confident, he wasn't as self-sure as he'd once been.
She writhed in the seat, eyes darting back and forth. She nodded as he spoke grateful for his reassurances, yet blaming herself.
Neither of them would be in this position right this moment if not for her.
Her palm slipped over his thigh, face steeling against the unseen threat. It simply wasn't in her nature to show fear, but there were clues, nuances for those who paid enough attention. Though her face was blank, void of emotion, her fingertips clutched at him desperately.
One always had to read between the lines with Mad Marissa.
Gazing at the red eyes in the mirror, she wondered what tricks she had up her sleeve that might help. Skipping through a mental inventory before she started squandering glamour.
After careful consideration, The Black Madonna closed her eyes and mumbled something under her breath. Her concentration is demanded for a moment or two, and when she finally opens her eyes, she glances out the car window to her right. Alongside them is an exact, sentient duplicate of both them and the car.
Though it will not likely fool their attackers for long, she silently hopes it will buy them some time.
The sensation of her fingers clutching his thigh, sharp impressions through the denim, both exhilarated him and increased his nervousness. There was no denying or concealing the fact that Cypress took very real pleasure in having his unlife at risk. The slightly upward shift at the corners of his mouth betrayed the rush he felt as the waiting game continued.
And ended. At first, he though another pursuant vehicle had appeared on his flank--straight out of nowhere. His keen perceptions, however, quickly caused his mind to register the fact that the car looked exactly like his own.
"Fuck. Did you just do that?" He wondered what else she was capable of.
Playing off her move, Cypress made his own. His right hand reached out to the side and his muscles constricted to the point that it ached. He gritted his teeth, inhaled needlessly through his nostrils, and pushed his right foot down upon the accelerator.
Their pursuers gave chase, gunning it. Red eyes blazed with predatory glee.
The needle of Cypress' speedometer passed 80 miles per hour. He began to lean forward. The look on his face was akin to a man on the verge of motion sickness. He was clearly uncomfortable in a high speed chase. He sincerely hoped that duplicate vehicle would do something decisive before they rounded a sharp curve. He truly did not know if they would make it.
"Here they come," This is fucking it. He didn't say it but for those nerve-eroding seconds he believed it. Keeping his mind on the matter at hand, Cypress spoke breathlessly, his words rapid. "If you can make that car do what you want, move it between us and them."
He didn't know if that was possible, but he didn't really have time to ask first, and then make the request.
The red eyes behind them vanished suddenly as the pursuant vehicle's headlights flared into existence, bright-lighting Cypress with disorienting effect as they roared forward.
Up ahead, cautionary orange signs foretold another curve.
Further ahead, beyond the cure, there lurked a watery, flickering sequence of cold, bluish light.
Akin to lightning striking out of nowhere, with no hint of a thunderstorm overhead. No rain. No wind to speak of.
Nothing but that slashing radiance, its source obscured by the twists and turns coming up on the highway.
She nodded, at his question, her lips curling up almost proudly at his question. She ground her teeth as the picked up speed, and signaled at the chimera.
The pseudo-Cypress saluted and obediently tapped his breaks, coasting in behind them.
There were many other tricks she had up her sleeve, but resources were scarce at this point, and she had no reason to squander it for the time being. She'd wait to see how her little illusion played out, and pull another rabbit from her had when the time came.
Her eyes flickered to the windshield and she winced, her breath caught in her throat. She saw something up ahead, brow furrowing and eyes squinting, she tried to decipher what it was.
The pseudo-Cypress took to swerving.
Their pursuers were forced to hit the brakes. Hard. The screeching of tires could be heard in the distance behind them. If not for the fact that they were clearly veteran highway predators, there would have been a devastating collision.
They coasted around the curve at about 70 miles an hour, Cypress releasing his foot off the accelerator enough to prevent a potential disaster.
Cypress' right arm drifted back to his side, away from Marissa's body as he returned both hands to the wheel--somewhat more comfortable driving at high speeds now that the harassment tactics had currently been brought to a standstill.
As the pseudo-Cypress swerved back and forth, it blocked the pursuers from simply gunning it around him and continuing the chase.
"Heh." He laughed a little, looking in his rear view quickly, then back at Marissa. His lips curved into a crooked smile as his gaze shifted back to the highway. He sped up; wanting to make good use of every straight stretch that fortune threw their way. "That was pretty fucking good, you know that?"
There were still those lights to consider. What the hell was going on up ahead?
It didn't start to rain, it simply was raining. The weather changed in an instant, from mild and calm outside their car to a torrential downpour that reduced their visibility to mere yards--and only then because Cypress' eyes were preternaturally sharp.
Cypress looked confused, but likely did not begin to comprehend the gravity of what the shift in weather meant for them. He did know that he had to slow down or they were screwed. Thankfully, the same applied to their pursuers--if they were even still back there.
"What the hell is this?" He asked, more to himself than to Marissa, as he quickly turned on the wipers.
"I guess I'm useful for something other than blowjobs."
There was a hint of sincerity in her voice. Her lips curled up, she offered him a flash of smile. She wasn't one for jokes, but she felt it best to lighten the mood as best she could, while she could.
She frowned lightly in confusion, as bewildered as he at the sudden shift. She gave his thigh a gentle squeeze before returning her hand to her own lap. She didn't like this, not one bit.
Eyes in the rearview, she made the decision to channel more energy into the second vehicle. So far, it was proving to be a reliable decoy, might as well keep the charade going a little longer.
He grinned back at her. "Hell yeah you are."
The expression grew more subdued, a slightly edged smile and nothing more.
This had suddenly become fun, in his mind. They'd just completely smoked those idiots and were unscathed. It felt wonderful to see this side of her come out. A truly dangerous side, perfectly capable going toe to toe with aggressors.
Then came the rain.
Their speed ground to a painfully slow speed. No more than 15 miles per hour at time from that point on. Wind sheered across the highway, sending violent reverberations throughout Cypress' car.
A vehicle far behind them honked at their decoy--but it sounded more like a fog horn than anything else, bellowing through the air out of the nothingness behind the slashing rain.
A very large truck could be seen on the opposite side of the yellow line, passing both the decoy and their own car. The interior of Cypress' vehicle filled with a baleful, pallid illumination--cast by the flood lights mounted on the machine behind them.
"The fuck is going on?" His voice was icy, barely a whisper. Paranoid thoughts began to trickle into his psyche from a subconscious still somewhat damage and thoroughly haunted by the dreams he'd entertained while in the death-sleep.
The fog horn sounded again, warning anyone on the road ahead that they'd better watch out for the machine or be laid to waste.
After it passed them, they'd both see that the bed of the huge truck was packed with silhouettes. They were hunched and broad-shouldered, appearing as though armored. Many of them watched Cypress and Marissa and their small car as the truck continued on.
Gazing distrustfully at the truck as it passed, Mad Marissa mumbled under her breath.
"I don't like this one bit.."
She shifted in her seat, bracing herself. She wasn't sure what she was bracing herself against, but she knew it was coming.
Her amber eyes slid closed. Agile mind leapt again. Picking at the strings of the loom of fate, and following them along the path. She could never see far, she was not as adept at soothsaying as her sister Kahlan, but she could perceive what would come to pass within a 10 minute marker.
The next few moments played fast forward in her head before they actually came to pass.
She saw them continuing on down the highway.
She saw that the heavy truck was stopped in the middle of the road, its path halted by the fact that a large bridge that linked two hills together had collapsed into a swirling, violent flood that had overtaken every trace of land in the area that was not of raised elevation.
She witnessed the apparently armored figures getting out of the strange machine and 'fueling up' by feeding a smaller silhouette into a mouth-like orifice located on the bed of the truck. The orifice was lined with shredding, grinding spikes, turning at a steady pace--mashing up its sentient fuel and presumably converting it into some type of unwholesome energy that gave the giant truck its power. Power to do...something. The armored ones were completely unmoved, stoic.
Her vision zeroed in on the being they were feeding into 'fuel chamber' of their giant vehicle.
It was a childling satyr, who shrieked and writhed helplessly as it was shoved inside the fatal chamber.
After the feeding, the truck's massive wheels would literally stick to the eroding hillside as the driver circumvented the collapsed bridge and scaled down into the violent waters, disappearing.
Cypress continued to drive. Slowly, relaxed.
He had no idea that just up ahead, there was both a collapsed bridge and a grisly sacrifice, which the two of them were definitely not meant to witness.
He even tried to make conversation with her as they crept along, occasionally reaching out and touching her shoulder--unsure of why she seemed so suddenly withdrawn.
Their surroundings were eerie, weird. That was true, but it was best to keep talking, keep their mind's sharp and warded against apprehension.
"This is... not happening..."
A sharp inhalation. Her mind raced, she spun her mind through available courses of action. Regardless of what option she chose, what was occurring was beyond even her own comprehension.
Teeth ground as she wove her glamour, slowing down the speed of everything around her. Him, their car, and the various participants on the road to give her more time to think it through.
A single thought leapt into her head.
Now this was the precipice of an interesting ledge for her. Would she allow the Dreadslay to witness those horrific chimerical beings? She certainly couldn't shield them from his view should she call on them. Had she any other options?
She didn't believe she did.
Relaxing her grip on the flow of time slightly, she spoke quickly, struggling to keep her voice calm.
'There is something very nasty up ahead, Dreadslay, something I don't like one bit. I'm going to do something I -really- don't like doing, but trust me when I say it’s the only way...."
Cypress gave her a perplexed but accepting look. At Marissa's behest, the flow of time was altered, buying precious seconds for both themselves and the small changeling scheduled for extermination up ahead. Cypress was, for the time being, unaware that she was behind the fact that the rain seemed to be falling in slow, almost hypnotic waves against his car.
Or that the sharp gusts of wind had transformed into groaning, prolonged currents that were more noisome than capable of being felt.
He looked back to the road and nodded.
"I trust you."
He finally returned that gesture of placing his fate in her hands. She had shown with great clarity that she trusted him.
It was time for him to do the same for her.
"Do what you have to do, Marissa. Just tell me what you need me to do, if anything."
Her left hand moved back to his thigh, gripping precariously. Her right went for the armrest of the door. She closed her eyes, and hated herself for what she was doing, but she had precious little options, and even less time left.
She breathed deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth, preparing herself for the moments ahead.
She spoke, under her breath. A litany, guttural consonants, hushed vowels. Hardly English but no other discernible language. She spoke their names, conjuring images of the 'Children' in her mind, she remembered each of them. Lovingly crafted in the throes of a murderous depression. She'd trained them, sculpted them, and bred them for one purpose only.
The ground beneath them shuddered. Rubber tires on the tarmac shimmied. Her nostrils flared as the scent of rot assailed her. Further ahead, to the sides of the road, if one was watching carefully they would see cracks starting to form, as if something was breaking through the crust.
The beings packed into the bed of the large truck shifted uneasily as cracks began to form along the sides of the road. They moved silently. With a will not entirely their own, readying their weapons. Automatons.
The childling they had been preparing to shove into that spiked, grinding orifice at the 'mouth' of the fuel chamber squirmed, but was held fast by a hand encased in steel.
The armored beings used weapons that were oddly mundane, out of place among their otherworldly host. Everything from shotguns to vintage Soviet-era assault rifles to high caliber revolvers.
Cypress glanced down at her hand on his thigh. He looked up at the road ahead. He could see shapes in the distance. Had that fucking truck parked in the middle of the highway?
He remembered Marissa's words. She'd foreseen something truly horrific happening and he was approaching it. His foot let off the accelerator even more. It was barely even discernible that the car was moving at all at that point. He shut off his headlights, although he figured he might have been too late.
He reached between the seats, withdrawing a small handgun. It was all he had to show for a once impressive arsenal. But times change, especially when torpor was involved in the equation.
He also drew his knife, that red-tinted blade he'd warned Marissa not to touch.
He glanced at her gravely, waiting for her word on what she needed from him at this point.
The cracks widened and became craters. The beasts clambered out. Two, Three, Five, Eight. The flow seemed to stem, and then there were fifteen, eighteen, and finally Twenty three.
Twenty three deformed, broken corpses milled around, waiting for word from their mistress. No monstrosity was left unthought. Reeha stood closest to the car. As Cypress looked out, he would see one tiny arm, fingers protruding from where the elbow joint of any normal being would be. The other arm was freakishly long, knuckles dragging across the ground as it, (He... she?) advanced on the truck. Anya looked at her mistress, that one had a gaping maw where a stomach would be, and a sewn up wound where the mouth once was.
Each of them, bearing no clothing, were pallid and pale. Chunks of gangrenous flesh clung to them precariously, pieces falling off in their wake. The horrific beasts advanced on the Truck, and party, seemingly unconcerned at what weapons they may possess.
As they came to a halt, Mad Marissa pried open the door, and hissed a command under her breath.
The Bygones began to pick up speed.
Alistair never thought he would be back in this town, but his employers weren't the type who would actually care what he thought of the matter. It was a simple call on his cell and he was on his way. The information he had gotten alarmed him and he was raking his brain to try and imagine what he would be up against.
Well.. up against wasn't the right definition, what he would be reporting on was more like it.
His car was getting nearer the collapsed bridge and he tried to mentally prepare himself of what he would be seeing around the corner.
Cypress watched in abject...fascination at what Marissa had wrought into existence.
He leaned against the wheel, arms crossed, weapons gripped casually. Though there was nothing casual about his gaze. He sharpened his vision, trying with mixed results to see what was happening.
He saw Marissa crack the passenger's side door and reached over to do the same, thinking she might actually be getting out to approach the giant truck herself.
The armored silhouettes opened fire. Rifles, shotguns, pistols, sub machine guns. They blazed with a spectacular aurora of stark white illumination. The muzzle flashes didn't do much to cast light on any details about their forms, however, due to the thick, heavy smoke produced by so much gunpowder being burned up at once.
The monstrosities pulled together, forming a combat line one would only expect of cannon fodder. Traditional weapons had little effect on them. The seemed confused but only momentarily. They looked to The Black Madonna, and she simply nodded. They continued their advance, pieces of flesh falling with every bullet wound, though none seeming to slow their pace.
The gunfire Alistair suddenly hears as he's almost reaching the reported "interference" sounds a lot more mundane than he had expected. He's not close enough yet to confirm a visual but decides that he would draw less attention to himself by foot than if he would arrive at the scene in a car. He parks his car at the side of the road and gets out.
He checks his pockets for his gun, cellphone and id, than pushes the door shut and under cover of darkness moves towards the ruckus in the distance.
Cypress saw the eruption of gunfire mere yards away. The reports of automatic fire, blasting shotguns, thundering revolvers--they reverberated right through his car.
He was grateful that Marissa had the good tactical sense to bring forth her helpers on either side of the road, rather than directly in front of them. His stolen car would've been riddled in seconds by the silhouettes' violent response.
All the same, he undid his seat belt quickly and sat down his pistol. He'd rather keep the knife handy. Cypress reached over and readied himself to pull Marissa out of the car in the blink of an eye.
"We're gonna get clear away from those trajectories, alright?"
The Bygones continued, slow and steady, approaching their targets. Bits of flesh rained down on Marissa and her lover. She nodded as he spoke, bracing herself to move with him on his mark. She glanced towards her children and winced, bits of blood and bone flying. They shooters by this point were likely getting nervous at the perseverance of the children.
Finally Alistair reaches a bend in the road from where he can get his first visual on the scene. He stops in his tracks when his mind compiles the first images. Nothing headquarters could have said would have prepared him for the scene ahead. His whole body screams signals of fleeing to him but he stays where he is.
Slowly he takes a deep breath, convincing himself that he is far enough away to not be noticed or harmed. His hand goes over the gun and the cellphone, than he crouches down for a moment at the side of the road and touches the dirt.
The armored silhouettes began pouring out of the bed of the monstrous truck, all fifteen of them. They fought like mindless drones, not a SWAT team. Their purpose was clearly to be expendable pawns, which meant that they were either cheaply created or drawn from such a vast recruitment pool as to be so expendable.
The minions charged the Marissa's creations, firing wildly. The epic muzzle flashes could be seen for miles in the dark, rain swept night in this flooded, twisted reflection of northern California.
Marissa's Bygones would inevitably reach their targets. Once they did, whom ever was superior in fighting with claws, teeth, fists, and boots would prevail.
Fragments of bone clicked against the hood. Slivers and chunks of dermis and sinew had been cast across his windshield, which abruptly shattered a second later as a stray round finally caught Cypress' car.
Thankfully, whether or not it would have hit one of them never had to be answered.
Marissa would find herself pulled against Cypress in a split second. Only an almost painful blur of wind, darkness, flashing gunfire, and rain followed.
He sat her down a bit further back, near the tree line--except the forest was gone.
It had been replaced by gnarled, ruined husks of what had once been a thriving wood. Still provided some concealment, if not outright cover.
He kept his taller frame in front of hers, instinctively protective. There was still a lot of metal being sent flying madly through the air over there...
The silhouettes were heavily armed, but outnumbered. Her children got to work, tearing down the creatures with guns. A few of them were lost in the process, though not as frail and weak as a human body, there was only so much to protect against being turn into Swiss cheese. Marissa made note of those who fell, as she would weep for them later.
Casualties on both sides, this became a war of attrition.
As she moved with him, and he set her down, the Mother of Sorrow noticed movement on their flank. She clutched at Cypress's arm, and pointed to where Alistair crouched.
"He's not one of them..."
She spoke with caution, more a question, than a statement.
Alistair, from his vantage point on higher ground, would see a tiny shape beginning to crawl on its belly away from the monstrous truck. He might not be able to discern for sure, due to poor visibility, but he might swear this diminutive creature had horns.
He stands up again, more calm than when the first images registered. The sounds of gunfire hurt his ears and just to be sure he grabs his cellphone from his pocket. Slowly he starts to move closer along the side of the road.
A sudden movement ahead makes him stop again. For a second he's not sure what he had seen, but now he clearly sees a man standing in front of a woman at the side of the road, near the tree line.
Not taking any chances he opens his cellphone and seems to make a call. Though in truth he only diminishes the chance he'll be hit by bullets.
Cypress looked down at her, keeping his frame, and hers, pressed against the husk of what used to be a large tree. Reminded him of something he saw almost a hundred years ago. No longer troubled his conscious mind, although the alterations those distant memories left on his personality and instincts left him suitable for the blood he now had in his veins.
He nodded to Marissa and glanced in the direction she indicated.
Everything was happening so quickly. He had to get better, had to get his reaction, his reflexes built up again. It was a matter of practice, but-
A bullet whisks by overhead. Another sends tiny particles of dirt into the air, as one of the silhouettes empties the final vestiges of a drum clip at Marissa's children--who subsequently tear through its Armour and expose it as a flesh and blood, mortal entity.
He looked down at Marissa.
"Where... where did those things come from? Did you-"
He shook his head.
"Never mind. Time for that conversation later."
Outnumbered and faced with superior foes, the armored silhouettes began to fall left and right. As reloading their firearms became impossible with the close-quarters fighting reaching its peak, they were savagely beaten. Destroyed to the last man.
Discouraged by the failure of the minions, the massive truck's engines roared. Black smoke belched forth from the exhaust pipes and smoke stacks situated upon its hulking steel frame. Huge wheels turned, as it slowly attempted to back up and go back the way it came.
The sacrificial childling had apparently escaped, leaving the monstrous truck bereft of the energy it needed to scale the almost sheer surface of the eroded hillside, down into the water.
Her mouth fell slack at his question, and she promptly shut it as he moved on. Certainly it was a conversation for a later date, but one she would dread no less. She cast a glance over her shoulder, wincing as the children slaughtered the silhouettes. Four or Five of her own had fallen, and thought it was certainly a wise tactical decision, she regretted it no less.
Her eyes flickered back to the approaching stranger, Alistair, trepidation looming in those amber orbs.
It was clear to Alistair that he was spotted by the duo in the tree line. Still holding his cellphone to his ear with his left hand, not wanting to break its effect on him and his surroundings he slowly and carefully came walking closer.
The falling bodies and fighting seemed to unnerve him quite a bit but he tried not to let it get to him too much.
Cypress definitely had a bloodthirsty nature, and it had not been sated this time around. He regretted the fact that he had not yet destroyed an adversary in front of Marissa, since she had now orchestrated the demise of an entire host of enemies.
It was a very basic, instinctive desire. To prove that he was not weak. Perhaps he had no reason to have those thoughts, but it had long been ingrained into his psyche.
That being said, what he had just witnessed had increased his fascination and attraction to Marissa many times over.
He glanced down at the poisoned blade in his right hand, turned downward. He tentatively sheathed it, and then glanced at the departing truck and the creeping figure who lurked further up the hillside.
Cypress waited, wanting the truck GONE before he returned to his car and decided whether or not it was still drivable.
He remained quiet, content to allow Alistair to close the distance before he said anything.
Alistair stops still a fair distance away, making sure there is no reason for a sudden attack. He notices the truck driving off and feels relieve fill him, putting him a bit more at ease again. He looks down at the duo, wondering if they'll do anything to clean up this mess. He doesn't count on it and resigns in the fact that this is going to be a long long night for him before he can report back to his superiors.
His actions were eerily in-congruent to the situation. Chatting on a cell phone, while monsters and people ripped each other to bits? It set her ill at ease. He might as well be wearing a party hat and playing a trombone. There was something, plucking at the strings of her distrust.
Nostrils flared, trying to get a scent from him.
Her attention turned to her lover, and she flashed him a soft smile, before averting her eyes. And catching her breath.
The remaining Bygones mulled around, and started picking up the pieces of their fallen brethren, as well as the bodies of the enemy, happily chewing on bones.
The girl had definitely noticed him. Alistair shut his cellphone and the shimmer of magic, undetectable by any mortal but maybe noticed by other super naturals collapsed. He puts the phone in his pocket and stays where he is.
The sight of the things picking up the remains and starting to eat them turns his stomach. He tries to hide it but is having a really hard time doing so. Throwing up would not be wise at this moment so he fights it but visibly has trouble.
Cypress stole one more glance at the aftermath of the bloodbath. He'd been through many vicious fights in his unlife, but this was different. His more aggressive, inhuman aspects might have been lamenting the fact that he hadn't killed anything yet, he was very glad that Marissa had been able to handle the situation through her intriguing proxies.
He placed his left hand at the middle of her back, idly guiding her with him as he moved to approach Alistair. Very carefully.
At closer glance, Cypress could see he did look very much out of place. Or did he? Maybe he was a cop. Or a journalist covering whatever nightmarish thing was happening. Surely a completely uninvolved bystander would have fled as far away from the battle, as quickly as possible.
"Excuse me," Cypress spoke, adopting an intentionally passive tone. He flashed Alistair a smile designed to look nervous. "Do you have any idea what's going on down there? It's crazy. That truck almost ran us off the road and then... this. I can't believe what we just saw."
Fae eyes follow his gaze to her children, and then back to him. She notices the shimmer, brow furrowing in confusion, this is no chicanery that she recognizes. However, much like a magpie is distracted with something shiny; the Madonna notices his discomfort and smiles, playing with it like a jewel.
The truck's roaring engine could be heard, even miles away. As could its fog horn, blaring to warn other travelers to get out of the way or be smashed to bits. Its multiple floodlights created a glow among the immediate hills as it picked up speed--heading back toward Meridian.
Or where Meridian ought to have been, anyways.
Down by the collapsed bridge, the mangled remains of the 'silhouettes' were revealed to be human-like, although their body types had been a bit shorter and broader than the average grown man. Any discernible facial features or other qualities would soon be erased by the hungry bygones.
She offered no resistance as Cypress ushered her quietly to the strange man. She stood in uncomfortable silence, strange yellow eyes piercing Alistair's. She gazed between the two as they spoke, content to let Cypress handle this one.
Finally Alistair successfully fights off the feeling of having to throw up. He tries to compose himself a bit better when the man addresses him. It's a supernatural alight, same with the girl. He tenses visibly his mind racing to find the right approach for this and getting out of here unharmed.
The guy was good though, his act was quite convincing. If it hadn't been for his training he would have believed it.
He smiles slightly nervous at the man, trying to not let his eyes wander to the eating "things".
"I.. I have no idea..
You.. probably are in shock from almost having crashed... "
The 18 remaining bygones, having feasted to their hearts content, drag themselves towards their mistress. They click and coo, offering no discernible language skills. They creep closer still, and hesitate about 10 feet away.
Marissa murmurs something, excusing herself, figuring it would be the lesser of two evils to leave this men to chat, rather than beckoning the children into their midst.
Sometimes they can be too much for her to handle, let alone someone who'd never encountered them before.
Madonna crouched on the ground, the children milled around. She cast sidelong glances at Cypress and the stranger. She cooed softly, petting and placating the deadly beasts.
Cypress nodded to the answer, too psychologically strained to keep up his act for much longer. He thought maybe the man might have some immediate answers about a massive flood in the area--although that didn't make any sense. Even the fastest of flash floods didn't just...happen in a few seconds, right?
The entire rainstorm had started from nothing in less than a second. Cypress hadn't driven into it, it drove into him.
Then there was the fact that he didn't remember that bridge even being there before, when he drove this road a couple weeks earlier.
He was confused, but understood that whatever had occurred had gravely supernatural roots.
Cypress smiled at Alistair politely.
"Well, we're going to get out vehicle fixed... Probably head back to Meridian... I guess... as that bridge," which shouldn't exist, he thought. "No longer exists..."
He looked extremely uncomfortable at the idea of letting Marissa wander even a short distance away, although rationally he understood that her Bygones would protect her. Still...
He looked back to Alistair after seeing the bygones gather around Marissa, clearly a matron-figure to them.
"Well, I guess it's time to drop the charades," Cypress suggested. "Seriously. What is going on? I just wanted to leave the city for a bit. I mean you no harm."
A tight smile tugged at her lip as he dropped the facade.
Her attention on the children, eyes slip closed. Using the final reserves of expendable glamour she has left, she sets to work on knitting the flesh of those gathered around. One at a time, she mends them, heals their wounds, and murmurs a purring thank you. They respond in kind, strange grunts and growls but obviously appreciative. She stands, and the bygones waddle to the cracks from which they came, seeping back into the earth.
The words of the man seem to put Alistair a little more at ease. He takes the cellphone out of his pocket again but doesn't open it, just letting his fingers go over the smooth top. He frowns as he looks at the girl and her.. Things.. Than looks back at the man who's talking to him.
"To be honest sir.. I have no idea. We.. I got a message to check out what's happening here. Maybe better if you and your.. ehm... girlfriend.. and her ehm... things.. Be on your way..
Unless you have more information?"
The Madonna saw a pair of bright emerald eyes staring at her from behind a decrepit, shattered tree trunk. Upon a direct glance, she could make out the features of a young girl, Less than ten years of age. While others would only see ragged clothing of a very young street urchin, her dress looked very regal--but for the mud that now streaked and coated it.
A pair of small horns protruded from her scalp of curly dark red hair.
She moved over to Cypress, glancing at the phone and back to the Child of Lilith. She shook her head imperceptibly, and met Cypress's eyes.
Something was very, -very- wrong with that phone.
She shifted her weight, squeezing against Cypress, Amber eyes furrowed.
Her attention piqued.
Amber eyes met Green. Her brow twitched, but she kept her face a pale mask. She glanced, sidelong at the satyr childling pondering a course of action.
Should she draw attention to the child? Or let her escape unharmed....
Alistair had noticed the child thing before but it seemed as if only now it popped back into his consciousness. He made a mental note of it, but at this time just seemed to keep his attention to the man who is talking to him, barely glancing at his girlfriend.
"Oh we will be on our way. I promise. No plan what so ever on staying put. I'm thinking in a little while, this place will be crawling with...with whatever the hell those things were."
Cypress saw movement out of his peripheral vision, turned for a second and witnessed the bygones creeping back into the crevices in the rain soaked earth along the highway.
"No. No information. Just a maniac in a giant armored truck with more maniacs in armor with guns and...honestly I don't know..."
Marissa's sudden approach brought his attention back toward her. He returned her gaze, right back into her own eyes, saw her seriousness. She was worried about something but what?
Marissa kept looking at the phone. Something about the device unnerved her but he couldn't fathom what it was. Still, he'd learned tonight that it was wise to trust her.
"You're not here to kill us, are you?" He asked Alistair, his voice straight forward and detached, not offering aggression but eerily cold.
The small satyr crept back behind the tree-husk it had peeked out from behind. She was quite terrified, but being what she was, she was no helpless child. Determined to make her way back to her friends, hoping the iron men hadn't snatched them up as well, the childling creeps further into the desolated woods covering the hills.
If she ever encountered Marissa again, her face would be remembered and she would be counted as a friend. For now, she would tell the story of what had happened here to the others.
No words escaped her lips, but she kept her eyes lock on his phone. She shifted, lips pursed.
Her eyes lifted finally and scanned the face. She sniffed audibly, no scent of death. He certainly wasn't kithain. Brows knit, and finally she spoke.
At first Alistair seems more at ease with the man's words. Despite the big clean-up this would probably not turn messy. When the guy asks his question he can't help but tense up. The hand in which he keeps his cellphone trembles slightly. He knows it's crucial he does not set the duo off and forces himself to remain calm.
"No.. I’m not. Worst case.. I’m here to clean up. "
It dawns at him that he could have picked those words better and he fidgets for a second and quickly adds.
"The mess the truck made... "
He looks at the woman after her words. Those amber eyes clearly unnerve him a bit. He frowns, trying to understand what she means with her words, not really considering himself as something that's hidden from somewhere.
"Well in that case," Cypress said. "We'll just be on our way and let you do your job."
Clean up? It was a weird concept, but this was a reality full of weird shit. So it truly didn't perplex him as much as it would have if this had been a 'normal' confrontation.
"Come on," he avoids calling Marissa by her name. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"
Cypress guided her away from Alistair, unsure of what she meant by Hidden One. At this point, there were plenty of questions to be posed between them. Vampire priests asking for her blood. Evocation of a horde of frenzied killers. The term 'Hidden One'. It went on and on.
Plenty of time for that later. He hoped.
"I'll be right back," he said quietly to her once they reached the car. "Keys are still in the ignition. If you could try to start it up..."
Cypress seemed in a hurry. Something was making him apprehensive on an instinctive level.
In the distance, in the direction of the nearby (and apparently horribly overflowing) Pacific Ocean, a series of spotlights could be seen, emanating from the whirling cloud formations that had spawned the massive rainfall.
Cypress walked over to the site of the carnage, gaze shifting between all the fallen weaponry. He had to get something heavier than the pistol in his car. Much heavier.
He decided on an old favorite from nights past. He knelt down, picked up an empty Kalashnikov rifle. Clip was empty, but there were full magazines still littering the asphalt and mud, as one of the minions' great failings had been their inability to reload their weaponry fast enough before they were overrun.
Alistair nods at the man, glances at the woman than looks back at the man. He followed his gaze at the lights.
This time he doesn't hesitate. He opens his cellphone, puts it to his ear. Oddly enough he doesn't talk into it but looks straight at the man in front of him.
The words didn't leave any doubt. It was as if Alistair had finally slipped into the shell they had trained him so hard for. He couldn't care less about the woman and just hoped the man would get out of the way before the thing with the lights got here.
She nodded, watching him carefully. She didn't relish the thought of leaving the Hidden one to clean up the mess, but thankfully the bygones had devoured most of the debris. She climbed into the car at his instruction, leaning over the passenger side and revving the engine to life.
The forces at work here perplexed and unnerved her. The childling, the hidden one. The faceless horrors. They all pointed to something bigger and more foreboding than she had the power to imagine.
She rubbed her arms, arching to peer out the window at him, licking pale lips.
Cypress heard that single-worded, impulse driving command. He abandoned his scavenger hunt for a better weapon. That would have to be taken care of. The rifle was left where it lay, never picked up.
He got into the driver's side of his car. It still ran, although the front windshield had been partially destroyed. That was okay. His main purpose at this point in time was getting himself and Marissa as far away from this place as possible. It seemed that they would have to brave the streets of Meridian after all.
He put the vehicle into drive and took off, hoping the rain would stop eventually or at least become more sporadic.
It never did.
Finally Alistair was getting grip on the situation. Less factors on his list to deal with, less dangers, more focus.
He was glad the man and his girlfriend left and the creepy things returning to the ground.
Now there were only 4 more things to do... the lights, the girl, the driver.. And collapsing this reality.
It would be a long night.
She leaned against him, shaking with the exertion of the evening. Her mind raced in silence, as it was prone to do. She tried in vain to assimilate the information she'd acquired, but regardless of how she attempted, the pieces simply didn't fit together. Amber eyes drooped, half lidded with fatigue. She leaned her head against the passenger side door and stifled a yaw, there was plenty of time to consider the implications and consequences in the morning.