Irongate – Chapter Five

Beat followed thump followed beat followed thump.

On stage a group called The Killer Aqua Bunnies kept up a rapid pace for the floor to keep up with. Their singer screamed – she honestly wasn’t very good, but it didn’t matter. Benji was lost in this moment; in the giddy effervescent dream state the world spun around but didn’t seem to matter.

He was aware there were others in the mostly black hall; some dancing, some waiting, some watching. Sprites of light flew around illuminating them. A pretty blonde in a ruffled dress caught his eye, smiled at him, but kept her distance. She pirouetted to the edge of the dance floor, catching a straw between her green painted lips, then arched back…

Smack!

Something bit Benji’s neck, the sting losing him the moment. When he looked around the pretty smiling blonde had vanished. Moments couldn’t last forever – the mind and body had their limits – as the Bunnies left the stage he decided to sit down by the bar and find her again later.

Beat followed thump followed beat followed thump… and wouldn’t stop. Even at rest his heart kept the same pace as it had done before, and then his panic quickened it further. His chest swelled, burning blood coursed like lava. He had to move. He had to find… someone. He grabbed his coat and pushed himself outside. The bouncers twisted faces growled in annoyance, but he couldn’t stop for them. Had to keep moving – that was the only way. If he stopped moving the blood would burst through his eyes. It was several hours into the night but the cool air did little to ease his boiling skin. He had to run. Where didn’t matter. Just had to run.

But the mind and body had limits, and Benji quickly reached his. He couldn’t stop, but every muscle in him swelled and ached. Couldn’t stop, but couldn’t keep going either. Into an alley he heaved and staggered and fell into some bins as the first furious clap of thunder reached him. But then something far more curious – singing:

“Dance, little baby, dance up high,

Never mind, baby, mother is nigh…”

Lamps in the alley blinked out one by one, but in the flashes of lightning Benji saw a girl slowly prowling in his direction. There was a slim chance she could possibly help, so he began to call out. But then he saw, and he remembered; a little girl in blue with a bob of black hair and black eyes. The same one from then. His voice croaked, “h-how?”

She paused, tilting her head as if considering her answer, then shrugged. “Obviously, your friend didn’t kill me. Unlucky for you.”

It was obvious, wasn’t it? Somehow this little brat had killed Nick, and now she’d come for him. “What have you done to me?” He asked, only to keep her talking as he scanned around for anything to defend himself with.

“Wasn’t me,” she admitted, “I would have preferred beating you down to my size first.”

She was a cocky little – that didn’t matter. Talking was painful, but that and reason were his only chances. “What happened,” he heaved between breaths, “it was an accident. We didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

The girl closed her eyes, turning away from the pitiful sight that was Benji sprawled in the bins. “I never wanted to hurt anyone either,” she said. “Not really. But I guess the universe just doesn’t care what we want.” Benji hadn’t seen where it came from, but some sort of punch dagger glinted in lightning, and when the girl opened her eyes the whites were gone – just a few flecks circling in the darkness like distant galaxies. She hissed, “You did this!”

After an involuntary shudder Benji did see hope – a pipe just within his reach. He figured he still had enough strength left to cave the brat’s skull in if she came too close. With a growl he summoned all he had, jumping up with the pipe in both hands, ready to smash. But the alley was empty. He blinked confusedly – perhaps hoping – that this was all just some freaky guilt fueled illusion. But no – she hadn’t gone. In the second it had taken him to spring to his feet she’d somehow, undetected, moved beside him. He swung, expecting that would be that. What happened then would have been terrifying were it not so strange – this small girl caught and held back the pipe and all of his weight without so much as a grunt of effort. Before he could even process just how abnormal that was, she stepped in and thrust the dagger just below his sternum, the force briefly lifting him before with a splutter the beating and thumping finally stopped.

Tenley fell on the other side of the alley, sitting and watching wide eyed as the glow that had surrounded the man slowly began to fade. She flicked her eyes back to normal, then seeing only a still body sitting in a growing pool of blood, wearing his last expression. He hadn’t been scared or angry; just surprised. She supposed she’d been surprised too when she’d first seen how easy it was for someone to die.

A gasp drew her gaze to the end of the alley. Another man had seen her – must have followed this one from that club. Her jaw hung open as she froze – what could she possibly say that would make sense of all this? He ran, but above her guttering creaked and bent as something hidden took off after him. So that was that. The rules. He wouldn’t get far. Wasn’t her concern.

But she still couldn’t make sense of anything. She had thought her own heart would start to feel lighter, that mother’s spirit would be wearing some crooked little grin. Instead she felt like she’d just lost something else that she’d never get back.

As droplets of rain began to fall, a German man told her, “to take a life is to take away everything that man had,” Klaus appeared, flask in hand and with an umbrella. “Everything he would have ever had. You will carry that weight with you now, always,” he proffered her his flask, “drink?”

Tenley’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “They killed my mother,” she said.

“And now you’ve killed one of them. So now are you even?”

It didn’t feel like it. No – it still felt like she had lost more. Was still losing more. “It’s not fair,” she muttered miserably, “I should…” she couldn’t find the words, but of course Klaus seemed to have plenty.

“You should feel better,” he said, “but you don’t. Like doesn’t always cure like. I was a doctor once – I know.”

“I thought you were a knight.”

“I am and was many things.”

“So why are you trying to make me feel bad?” Tenley glared. “These people killed my mother. They could hurt others as well.”

“Perhaps. We have many gifts – prophecy is not one,” Klaus sighed as Tenley continued. Still miserable, feeling bad. “I believe that you are a truly selfless child, Tenley Tych. That all your life you’ve tried to serve and please others, even when they never thanked you. Even when they’re gone. That is noble. Knightly. But it takes it’s toll. Perhaps now you should start to think more about yourself, hmm?”

Tenley peered, but he was right – she really didn’t have the gift of prophecy. She couldn’t see anything past what she’d already set out to do. This man that was lying dead – he was one of them, but he wasn’t the one. Yes – that had to be it. She had to get them all. That was the only way this weight could be lifted. “I have nothing,” she told Klaus as her brow furrow deepened. “And the murderers are still out there. Still dancing, hearing music, acting like nothing happened. That isn’t right. It isn’t fair. They should be at home, afraid. I’m going to make them afraid.”

She jumped and ran and sprung off into the storm. Nothing human could have caught her. And Klaus, he could do no more than drink, although he found it of no comfort.

*****

Kaya decided not to hang around after performing. Just tired and not in the mood, and besides it was going to be another night in Greenback. She loved her car, but it was going to take a while to get any proper rest. She was sure Sayuri would find some girl to have fun with, and whatever trouble Angela and Ashley got into – that was not her problem.

She’d seen the lightning, heard the thunder, and now tiny droplets were starting to fall as she approached Greenback still parked on top of the hill overlooking the now inky valley beyond. Then she heard the scream. There was often screaming in and around The Mill. If not Angela, then it was usually just drunks arguing and brawling and falling down. But this was close, and unsettling in how it had been cut off so abruptly.

She looked for the source. Where Greenback was, a row of trees marked the edge of road winding up the hill. Someone could have easily slipped and fallen down there. On the other side were the warehouses, mostly empty of people now. A ‘to let’ sign had been hammered into the turf near one, and behind it was a shoe. And then, she believed, a leg. Good detective work – someone had obviously passed out. But they might need help. The night was starting to chill so she wrapped her arms around herself as she padded over.

“Hey?” Kaya cooed, “you okay?” She leaned sideways to peep around the sign, and no – he was definitely not okay. At first he looked like he was on his back staring at the sky, but he couldn’t have been because there were only holes oozing ichor where his eyes presumably once were. Something rose in Kaya’s throat as her skin paled. Shit – no – no time for that. She swallowed and ran for Greenback, where for a moment she sat frozen at the wheel.

Shit, she thought again, it taking that moment for more coherent thoughts to form once more. Should she call someone? Of course she should bloody call someone. Who? Dibbles! Right. That made sense. There was a problem – the screen on her phone was completely black. She thought she’d charged the thing, and pressing buttons didn’t transfer any energy into the damn useless thing. Completely dead. Okay, okay – don’t panic, and don’t think the word ‘dead’. There was a spare charger thing around somewhere – she just had to get the flashlight from her glove box. Which also didn’t work. Great.

It was then she peered through the windshield and noticed that, beyond the now heavy pitter-patter, none of the lamps or streetlights. Was there a power cut? Did someone cut it? That wouldn’t affect her flashlight or her phone, but her next thought would have been returning to The Mill except but was interrupted – the scream could only have been a couple moments ago. The killer had to still be around out there.

Shit.

The rain grew heavier, now a rapid tappity-tap on the roof, but Kaya’s eyes were wide and alert for any other sign of movement. In the far distance trees swayed like they were waving to their sky-god. But closer – closer the rain revealed something else. In the mirror she looked at the branches behind her, where there became an outline – like a clear ice sculpture of someone crouching. Somehow Kaya doubted that this was performance art, jumping when it turned to look straight back through the mirror at her.

Definitely, definitely time to go. Unfortunately Greenback was asleep – she kept turning the key and nothing happened. In between turns she looked to check what that thing was doing. After the third turn she lost sight of it. After the fifth, it was standing right beside her, no longer hiding itself. It was a slender, androgynous thing clad in some chitinous gray-brown armor that had a texture like bark, leaf-like ears protruding either side of the mouth-less helm. It reached down, getting one hand under Greenback then flipping the whole vehicle over and down the hill.

Kaya braced herself as best she could as the world spun over and over, shoe-boxes falling and hitting her from all directions. She gritted and waited until after a jolt it seemed gravity was beneath her again and the tumbling was over. By some miracle Greenback had landed on his wheels, just further down the road. Even more fortuitously the hill now sloped downward in front of them, so Kaya released the hand-brake allowing Greenback to trundle forward while she continued trying to ignite the engine.

“C’mon, come on!” She desperately growled. Just one spark was surely all he needed. A metallic thud and jolt – the creature was kneeling on the bonnet, arm pulling back to punch at Kaya through the windshield. Greenback woke with a roar, Kaya screeching in triumph as she slammed him into reverse. The creature fell back, somersaulting and landing with its feet on the tarmac. But now it was in her sights.

Kaya was well past shock now. She had vaulted through horror, and now focused on running down terror. Tires squealed as they span, then Greenback shot at the target. The creature didn’t flinch – it was impossible to tell if it had any emotions – but at the last second it leapt, like an acrobat leaping over a charging bull.

Kaya kept her foot down, determined now just to get as far away as possible before figuring out her next move. In all the rush she initially didn’t pay attention to where she was going. Seemed to be further into the country, which likely wasn’t the smartest direction. She should turn and head back into town. But her time to think ran out – the roof crumpled slightly as Greenback shook and swerved. Kaya managed to keep him on the road, but she knew – that damn thing was up there holding on somehow. This suspicion when a blade punched through the roof, only just missing her. All she could do was keep swerving and trying to shake it, but it held on tight, the blade coming down a couple more times.

Fine, Kaya thought, making sure her seatbelt was well fastened. If she couldn’t shake it, she would crush it. White stripes on the road whizzed by as she waited for the blade to come down again. The instant it did she spun the wheel. Greenback screeched and slid sideways then over. Over and over to the sound of smashing glass and twisting metal. They skidded off the road, crashed through a fence, but that was when Kaya passed out for a few seconds.

When she came around the world was upside down. But it was cool, quiet, nice. A couple of cows grazed on the other side of a pasture seeming completely unbothered by everything going down where she was. She was still able to open the door and unbuckle her belt, falling onto the broken glass and junk that littered the ground below her head, adding more to the cuts and scrapes she already had. As she turned to wriggle herself out, her hand recoiled having touched something warm and very sharp. Not glass – the creature’s blade. Or at least a piece. Seemed a good idea to take it, so she put on some gloves and slipped it into her jacket.

Once outside she grunted to her feet, then looked forlornly at the wreck that was Greenback. There was no fixing him – he wasn’t supposed to have been on the road, but the piece of junk had served her admirably. “Bye old friend,” she said with a pat, then pushed and staggered toward the road. Then froze, shoulder blades pulling toward each other. Of course that monster was going to be behind her, wasn’t it?

Gritting her jaw she spun about, fist flying, but the creature swatted it aside and kicked back. Kaya doubled over with a whoomph and was thrown back – of course the flipping thing kicked like a horse! It was twisted, limbs popping back into place as it advanced. Kaya rolled over, trying to crawl away but her scalp was pulled tight as she was lifted to her knees, the creature stepping around, taking its time before it finished her.

Kaya struck first, sticking her blade in a gap in it’s plate between the upper and lower arm. She didn’t know what it felt, but it must have been surprised as it let go and stepped back. Spurred on she tackled it, stabbing again and, but despite drawing blood the creature kept squirming. The surprise wouldn’t last – it would surely only be seconds until it remembered its strength and that it could throw her off with ease. She had to kill it – the eye. Go for the eye!

The creature let out a harrowing howl as the blade slid through the socket into its brain. Then finally it was still.

Kaya rolled off, panting. Her body ached. The grass was cool and refreshing. But she couldn’t stay. Even if it was dead, there was no telling what else might have heard that howl. Best she wasn’t here if anything came to investigate.

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