The Face of the Enemy
“What do we do?” Karim asked.
“Develop the situation,” Yamamoto said. “We need more info before we can act.”
Karim returned to the living room, planting himself in an unoccupied corner. Yamamoto’s voice bounced off the walls and floated through his earpieces; the team leader was updating the team and issuing orders. Karim pulled out his earpieces, screwed his eyes shut, and willed his brain to ignore everything around him.
There were definitely three more Husks here. Four streams of eldritch pollution passed through the hallway and gathered in the living room, mingling for a while, then exited the house. Karim took a deep breath and peered at the trails.
The first resolved into the shape of an enormous frog, superimposed over a man, as though the man were wearing the frog as a raincoat. Karim knew that the frog was simply an avatar of whatever foul entity that had nested itself inside the Husk’s mind.
The frog-man sat on a sofa, completely motionless, while the frog’s lips moved. Karim strained his ears, but all he heard was gibberish in an alien tongue.
He cursed. If only he were more experienced, more skilled at drawing upon Galen’s power, he might have filtered useful audio from the Aether. He tried reading the thing’s lips, but the frog’s mouth flapped open and closed in weird ways, utterly disconnected from human speech norms, and he had no idea what the thing was saying.
He forced himself to look at the others.
The Husk next the frog-man was a small, petite woman, her face fused into the torso of a gigantic spider-thing. Easily half again as tall as she was, the spider sprawled its ten tiger-striped legs across the floor. Atop its head was a cluster of large and small eyes, bright and black and beady, and its jaws were so large and powerful they seemed capable of shearing a man’s leg clean in half. Dozens, hundreds, of tiny white glistening eggs were adhered to its back, shifting and roiling with every subtle motion it made.
The third Husk was a man wearing a crocodile. A crocodile with outsized arms and legs, thick as tree trunks, razer teeth jutting from jaws just a little too small to accommodate it. The crocodile swished its tail back and forth, its reptilian eyes glaring straight at Karim. Karim shied away involuntarily, even though he knew the thing couldn’t possibly be staring at him, so many hours into its future.
Or could it? Nobody knew what Dark Powers and their puppets could do.
The last entity was so perfectly melded with its human, for a moment Karim wondered if he were looking at an impossible creature, a fresh nightmare manifest in the world. It was a turtle, if turtles could stand on two thickly muscled legs and sported a pair of clawed hands swollen with muscle. A pair of enormous eyes peered out from its head, swiveling independently in every direction, and for a mouth it had a wickedly hooked beak. Its shell was as thick as trauma plates, covering its front and back.
Karim stared closer at the streams. The quartet had contracted with the same entity. The same shades of otherworldly wrongness had tainted their souls, but found different twists and expressions to suit each of them. A foul stench filled Karim’s nose. The stench of death, of course, blood and iron and waste emanating from the corpse in the corner, but there was something else underneath it. It was wet rot and methane and slow decay packaged in a thick humid soup, reminding Karim of swamps and marshes.
The four of them sat around a table, jawing at each other. Their mouths opened and closed in strange ways, producing stranger sounds that masqueraded as words. Karim couldn’t begin to guess at what they were saying. But their human bodies were all taut and tense, subtly leaning into each other in shared conspiracy. It looked very much like a final planning session.
A few minutes more, and the foursome stood. One by one, their human forms left the apartment, their oversized eldritch hangers-on passing cleanly through solid matter.
“Found anything?” Yamamoto asked.
Karim described his findings.
“I think this isn’t a random Husk going psycho,” he concluded. “This is a coordinated attack.”
“Agreed,” Yamamoto replied. “Husks don’t ever work together like this. Not unless they are all in the service of the same power.”
“We need backup,” Karim said. “We can’t take them all by ourselves.”
Yamamoto shook his head. “I contacted HQ earlier. Every available team has been called out. This job is on us. You’ll have to earn your pay, rookie.”
Karim gulped. “What’s the plan?”
“I’m going to rally the team. You’ll track the Husk closest to us. We’ll intercept him before he does any more damage.”
“And the others?”
Yamamoto pressed his lips into a tight, thin line.
“The BPD will buy us time.”
“These are the big leagues. Now go on, keep looking. I need everything you can see, every last scrap of information.”
Karim shut out the world again and continued scouring the Aether. He saw the four Husks march down the hallway outside in perfect lockstep and enter the elevator. Their faces were blank, their motions completely robotic, and Karim had the unnerving sensation that he wasn’t looking at humans, only meat machines driven by a being born deep within the eldritch dark.
He followed them down to the lobby and out the door. The quartet split up, each walking in a separate direction, paying no heed to the thunderstorm raging around them.
Karim zoomed out, taking the view from a thousand feet. Four venomous streams coursed through the blood veins of Babylon, mingling with the trails of the millions who lived in the city. He ignored the frog-squid and studied the rest.
The spider and the turtle traveled together, taking a winding route north. The crocodile wound his way west, slipping through narrow alleys and sauntering down deserted thoroughfares, and halted on the street six blocks away from the hideout.
Karim glanced at the first two Husks. They were still on the move, still en route to whatever dark destiny they had planned. Meanwhile, the crocodile circled lazily around a block, no doubt making a last-minute recon. He returned to his starting point and entered a building.
“Got anything?” Yamamoto asked.
“The crocodile’s in the Zhonghua District,” Karim replied. “Give me a few moments and I’ll get you an address.”
Connor poked his head into the living room. “No need. BPD Dispatch reports a pair of Elect throwing down in Zhonghua District at the Lotus Palace. One of them is a giant crocodile.”
“That’s our cue,” Yamamoto said. “Let’s roll.”
If you like stories that blend sci fi, fantasy, horror and authentic combat, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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