Authors: Christopher De Sousa
In shock, Katherine tripped and stumbled backward. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“Brother, there's little doubt she's the one who we've been searching for,” said this horned woman, her beady black eyes locked upon Katherine. “You may release her from your illusion. I shall take it from here.”
“Why have you been searching for me? What do you want with me?” Katherine questioned, her breathing laboured.
She helplessly peered up at the masked figure; his ghostlike arms were now outstretched and reaching toward her. She wanted to scream, but all she mustered was the sputtering of warm air. As her gaze briefly deviated away from the ghastly figure, she could see her shadow within the scope of the porch light, stretched and weaving across the yard. She let out a gasp of horror, as her shadow appeared to retract back toward the base of the apple tree as if it were a coil of tape. Bewildered, she watched as this masked figure, this creature that looked like death, severs her shadow into fine strips within his gloved hands. Upon the shadows cutting, the Gryphon, which moments earlier had laid upon the grass, crying out in pain, instantly vanished before her eyes. Swiftly, her trembling had grown more uncontrollable and intense, and she felt as though her body was on fire.
The masked figure grasped her chin. “Now that I've stolen your shadow, your celestial energy has weakened, and it is now within my discretion to do with as I see fit.”
A sudden sharp and jabbing sensation crept down her neck; it felt as if her very soul was being sucked out into the vacuum of space. She clasped her face, her eyes had sunken and swollen, and the skin on her fingers had turned a ghostly pale.
“Brother,” cried the horned woman. “Do not steal all the spoils; I said that I'd take it from here.”
Katherine whimpered before them, curling up into a ball and barely able to move a muscle. “What are you doing to me?”
“Only what needs to be done my dear,” said the masked figure. “Your suffering shall be at an end very soon, I promise you this much.”
As these words were uttered, Katherine sensed that despite the horror of this masked figure's curse, she'd yet to experience the worst of what these creatures had in store. For she could only look on as an array of insects spawned from the horned woman's flesh, and encircled this ghoulish woman's body like a vortex of sand. Thereafter, they dispersed and swarmed upon Katherine, gnashing their little teeth and unsheathing their pointed stingers. Cowering before the horned abomination, Katherine screamed out in agony, tears streaming down her cheeks.
I am going to die here
, she thought, her mind flashing with images of what had come to pass throughout her life, and of that which she was to miss out on in the future.
She had grown remorseful as this went on, fighting over the guilt and rationalising this as punishment for those she'd wronged in some way during her life. She dwelt on her own sense of weakness and insecurity. For she was helpless, unable to fight back as her father had often urged might one day be required.
But any struggle would only prove pointless
, she surmised,
how can I expect to fight such creatures? I am only human
She soon felt herself start to drift, numb to the pain, and thereafter dead to the world.
“Do you want to live,” abruptly questioned a warm, and yet familiar voice.
“Yes,” she cried. “I don't want to die.”
The horned woman looked to the masked figure, “Who is she talking to?”
, Katherine thought to herself,
I've heard it before. It nearly brought me to the brink of insanity, but this time I feel warm and comforted by it.
She could feel a strong breeze brush up against her face, pushing back the fringe of black hair from her eyes. The swarm of insects too had ceased their assault, blown off and away by the vigorous winds. She sensed her strength return; her muscles no longer ached and her wounds had healed. But there was something more, as if someone else had joined with her and she was now capable of the impossible. She opened her eyes, the body of a winged lion stood between her and the plague. This creature extended its wings and thrashed with them throughout the air; with each movement this creature made, it felt to Katherine as though it were an extension of her own body.
But just when it seemed her senses had been restored, she felt her sight grow momentarily hazy, and soon awoke to find herself in what appeared to be a classroom. She saw a copy of herself, at least a girl who looked like her, standing up before the whiteboard and panicking. To her right, there were all her English classmates seated at their desks, gawking up at the girl who'd frozen before delivering a single line.
She glanced downward, to the coat of golden fur about her chest and to the coarse concrete pavement a couple of flights below. She had become the Gryphon, or at least she was reviewing past events from the creature's own perspective. As she peered into the classroom, her eyes zoomed about with incredible precision, capturing every aspect of her surroundings down to the most minute of detail.
She soon felt herself peel away from the window. From below, the horned woman stood still and glared up at her, engulfed in a cloud of insects. The demon waved her arms about as though she were conducting the swarm's very movements, and the insects promptly rushed toward Katherine in a frenzy. She could feel herself fly off in the distance, attempting to lose them in their relentless pursuit.
“Please, clear your mind of all troubling thoughts,” this voice asked of her, a voice that filled her with confidence and belief. “I need you to focus on the here and now if I am to save you.”
Once more, awoken by these words, Katherine found herself standing in her own skin and gazing out through her own blue eyes.
“So wind spirit, you yet live,” said the horned woman, before conjuring up another swarm of insects. “To think, I believed my children had successfully disposed of you.”
“You were sloppy sister,” the masked figure grumbled. “Your children only weakened him.”
Katherine looked down at the gryphon; his breathing had grown heavy, and he was painted with gashes and cuts all about his rough and bulky exterior.
The horned woman reached out, now entirely coated within insects. “He has little energy left. He may as well have saved us the trouble, and just keeled over and died.”
“If he is as weak as you claim, it is only appropriate that you bring his misery to an end post-haste,” said the masked figure.
The insects fluttered and crawled forth from the female demon's flesh, and converged upon her open palms. With the fierce stroking of her arms, she released of this new swarm upon Katherine and the fatigued Gryphon.
Unsure of how she should respond, or what she could do, the sound of a bomb going off had oddly brought her comfort. With her eyes widened, she glanced up in dismay, for a cloud of fire and flame had engulfed the swarm whole.
The horned woman angrily glared back at her masked brother. “Unbelievable. I thought you claimed you'd rid us of the father.”
Katherine looked toward the porch; badly wounded and with blood pooling about the chest of his green jacket, Duncan crawled forth while he clutched at a pin.
“Impressive,” said the masked figure. “I was certain he'd been lost to the shadows.”
She saw Duncan crawl forward, reaching for his revolver. “Your kind should be well aware by now. You should never take humankind so lightly.”
But despite his best efforts, firing each round with rapid succession, the bullets merely crashed directly through the masked figure's cloak.
The horned woman cackled and proceeded to form a new and much more expansive swarm of her insects. “Well isn't this rich? How many times over the centuries have we heard these words so easily roll from the tongues of babes? And yet the result is always the same.”
With her eyes now fixed on Duncan, Katherine became rooted once more in fear. For her father, having failed to fend the fiends off, and with blood dripping down the side of his mouth, clutched at his chest and crashed forward against the front porch with a sickening thud. She gazed back at him, her bottom lip atremble. Her head was also spinning, her heartbeat rigorous, and she felt clammy all over. But this time, her fear felt somehow different. This time she wasn't necessarily fearful for her own life, but for whom she might lose, and this fear quickly turned to anger. With teeth firmly clenched and her eyes wide open with a brazen fury about them, she glared back at the two demons and could feel her very being ignite. Within an instant there is a flicker of light, and then a burst of flame.
“My skin, my beautiful skin,” the horned woman shrieked, as the flames rose up and about her body.
“Most impressiveâ¦she has bonded with the guardian,” murmured the hoarse voice of the masked figure.
As for the gryphon, and somehow sharing in Katherine's anguish, it sprang forth while shrouded in a ball of fire. Katherine looked on as the gryphon dashed forward, slashing with its talons about the cloak of this porcelain masked spectre.
“Sister, I won't be able to contain them for much longer.”
The horned woman was snarling, convulsing before the sight of her burnt arms and hands. “Then get us out of here brother.”
She could feel her senses grow impaired as the masked figure raised his gloved hands high up into the air, his actions blurring and distorting both vision and clarity of mind. She took a step forward; her surroundings were now nothing more than a pitch black and empty void. Eleven Delphi Crescent: her sight of the apple tree that had stood firm within the front yard, the smell of recently trimmed grass, the sound of crickets and other insects in the foliage, she found all were gone.
Devoid of even the light afforded by the stars in the night sky, Katherine felt the cold swell up inside. But she soon caught sight of a lone ember, and this lone ember eventually expanded, taking both the gryphon's size and shape. Standing next to her, the gryphon beamed brightly, immersed within a fiery tempest, and before long the void had cleared. With her senses returned, she scoured the yard for the demonic pair. But they were gone; they had vanished without a trace.
A few moments had passed as Katherine sought to collect herself. She looked for Duncan. Her father lay there in the dirt and was coughing up blood.
Sobbing, she knelt at his side and sought to seal his wounds “Dad, pleaseâ¦ you can't. I'll get you help, wait for me to,”-
-“You needn't worry,” he said, reaching out and grasping her arm. “There isn't much time to tell you.”
“No, you mustn't,” she mumbled, tears running down her cheeks. “I need to find you help. You can tell me what you need to once we get you to a hospital.”
“It's no use Kat, I'm already too far gone,” said Duncan, tightly gripping her arm with his blood soaked fingers. “They will be here soon enough, and you must know...”
She saw her father shed a tear, something which she had believed impossible, and what he said next tore at the very fabric of her being. “I'm so proud of you Kat; you are the best thing to ever happen in my life. I took you in when you were but an infant, to care for you, to keep you safe.”
The tears continued to roll down her cheeks, and came to rest on her father's blood smeared jacket. With her head hung low, and clutching firmly at his sleeve, she struggled to comprehend what he was trying to say. She couldn't avert her gaze from his injuries, from the sight of his blood, and in a strange way she found it easier to focus on that than his words. Such words made little sense to her anyway, but those she could understand hurt her deeply.
“I wanted for the longest time to tell you, but I couldn't find the words,” he said. “An organisation shall soon arrive, and you needn't be afraid. They will be the ones to help you from here on out. You must go with them. I love you Kat.”
These were the last words she heard him utter before he quietly died. Her father, like her mother before him, had died in the defence of one whom he loved most dear. But this organisation, she had thought, has a lot to answer for. As of right now, she could only think about how to move forward, and whether it was even worth it. Soon after, numerous armed operatives arrived on the scene and a fair number hustled over to her father's aid.
Sadly, he was already gone, and once more she felt entirely useless. It was only seconds before that she'd experienced such indescribable energy bubble from within. But she knew deep down that all the power in the world could not bring her father back.
Officer's armed to the hilt and dressed in blue special force attire, scoured the property of eleven Delphi Crescent, searching for anything the corrupted pairing may or may not have left behind in their wake. Amongst them, Blake and Kulullu found themselves trudging across the yard, disoriented and blind to the circumstances as they'd evolved. Before they reached the front door of the property, a black van pulled up past them, and a couple of other operatives ran over to open its back hatch. A ramp then swiftly descended, and out rolled Walter in his wheelchair.
Kulullu looked to Blake. “Have you any idea how we are to approach this?”
“We've little choice but to report only what we know,” he responded, speculating on the likely reaction they'd receive from Walter. “Unfortunately, we know very little, so make sure you brace yourself for his routine scolding.”
He glanced over at Walter; the organisation's leader was amidst evaluating the surrounding environment. While adjusting the pair of spectacles that loosely hung on the end of his nose, he slowly steered his mobile wheelchair toward the property's porch, and engaged a lone soldier who stood attentive before its front door. Once Walter arrived, Lance removed his black combat mask, and addressed him with a formal salute.
“Sir, we've successfully secured the perimeter,” he said. “But we were unable to track-”