He was sticky when he came to. It wasn’t awakening. It was… coming out of a sort of fugue state. He was still eating.
He stopped, dropped the chunk of meat he’d been gorging on and shoved himself away towards the door.
Cody Jensen didn’t even remotely look like a person anymore. As Ethan had torn into his chest, Jensen had looked into his killer’s face and his expression had frozen, staring at his murderer. As Ethan regained some limited control over his own body, he’d torn Jensen’s face off – it came off pretty easily. He hadn’t intended to eat the slab of muscle, skin and tendons, but the control he’d believed he gained, had been nothing more than an illusion born of his rage and disgust.
Still, the eyes had continued to stare at him so he’d broken the skull apart entirely, with just the reaction you would expect from his manipulator.
Ethan shuttered as shattered memories fluttered through his head. Not memories of deconstructing and devouring an adult human being in God only knew how little time, those were waiting to come back in his nightmares. No, these memories were Jensen’s, torn from his mind as Ethan torn into his body.
Most people can’t defend their minds at all, Jensen had some training, but defending against a mental assault requires concentration and the distraction of being eaten alive makes it nearly impossible for even the most well trained. Thus, when his life flashed before his eyes, Ethan was watching too and he remember a lot of it. Jensen really hadn’t been that great of a guy – there was a reason he was working as a mercenary in an underground bunker owned by a megalomaniac.
Ethan shuttered again as he remembered the sensation of his torso being torn open and teeth tearing into his organs. He wondered momentarily why his father would force the memory of that sensation on him, but that wasn’t really a mystery: the demon was just fucking with him.
That, and he now knew everything about the complex. At least the general layout, where the other soldiers would be waiting, expecting him to come. Where they had left traps and who was actually dangerous to him. Most important though, he knew where the exit was and what the quickest route to it was.
Yet, he was coated in human blood and entrails and he knew the location of the showers. That seemed more critical than leaving, as he caught himself enjoying the taste of blood dripping into his mouth.
Standing up, Ethan considered the remains for a moment. No one had expected Jensen to succeed in getting the power working again, they might not realize he was missing for hours. Leaving him here would be acceptable. It wasn’t like they could identify him without a DNA test.
Ethan braced himself for a wave of nausea which didn’t come. Maybe he was a sociopath. He was covered in blood and standing in a room with a savaged corpse that was mostly broken bones and clumps of raw flesh yet he felt no sense of physical illness. His feelings of disgust, he had to admit, were purely psychological.
Technically, he wasn’t even human, so why would be be disgusted?
He turned and left the maintenance room, padding silently through the desolate shafts and passages towards the barracks. He realized he was leaving a trail of blood, first clear footprints that faded until he was only leaving splashes of congealing blood. They’d lead directly to the barracks. Potentially, they’d lead straight to him. He didn’t particularly care. If he died there he wouldn’t have to face what he’d just done.
He turned around a back hallway to get straight to the showers. The quiet was disturbing, as stolen memories echoed how lively the place usually was. But he was far from the exits and where he’d originally escaped. The men wouldn’t be looking for him here making it the safest place for him to hide out.
It was a large communal shower with no privacy. Not that he was particularly worried about after walking through most of the compound naked anyway. He turned the lever to activate the shower and stepped into the indoor rain.
Jensen’s memories of showering with twenty four men at once had made the room seem unpleasant and awkward, but alone in the warm water it was like standing outside in a summer rain. The blood dripped off as Ethan found soap and did his best to clean himself properly. He lost track of time, enjoying the solitude in the large room where he could even stretch out his wings to their furthest length. He’d forgotten he’d had them out until the water hit them. Just as well, he didn’t know how to clean the pockets they pulled into. He realized eventually the water would never lose temperature and it was long past time to go. He shut off the water, wandering into the barracks themselves, this time remembering to tuck in his wings.
He knew where to find a spare towel to dry off. Next was the more difficult part, finding clothing. There was a man in the section who was small and there might be something of his that would fit Ethan close enough. As much as his recent growth spurt had been heralded, he’d wished it had been a bit greater.
The trouble was be he was using borrowed memories. Jensen had never had a reason to find this guy’s room or personal belongings, but if he’d had to he wouldn’t have had much trouble. He’d recall who’d he seen him hang out with or what direct he’d come from. Ethan didn’t have that. All he had was ‘short dude’ and ‘also in unit’.
He wracked his brain to try to get something else out of Jensen’s memories. Name started with a ‘D’. Drab? Drain? ‘D-r’ was stuck in his brain. Maybe that was it.
He wandered the halls looking for something that look familiar. He paused at one of the beds, Jensen’s. It was more helpful than he’d expected. From there he could tell which direction he needed to go. He found the room, not particularly neat, and tore off the lock on the trunk.
As he expected, they were still too large on him, but it was better than nothing. It was just clothing, tactical pants and a black shirt. No armor was apparent and it wouldn’t have fit him if it had been there. He noticed some boots in the corner, they were too far from that bed to be the short guy’s but they fit reasonably well. He wouldn’t be walking around barefoot any longer.
He returned through the barracks, heading to the main entrance. He paused at the door. The gun locker was open. He stepped inside. A few weapons remained. He grabbed an assault rifle and a couple magazines. They’d never expect him to come at them with a gun.
He wasn’t in any hurry to escape. It seemed like he had everything under control, though he expected that by now they’d have the exits blocked off.
There were only a few entrances to the complex and in case of an attack all were locked down, save for two: the main entrance and the emergency exit that was rumored to be somewhere in case a VIP was visiting when they were attacked. Everyone assumed it was in the commander’s office, but the office’s location in the complex made that seem unlikely.
Either way, Jensen had had no idea of where it really was or how to go through it. Ethan would have to use the main entrance and hope his inherent stealth allowed him to pass through undetected just like it allowed him to escape his room before.
An twang shuttered throughout the complex, shuttering through him and setting him on edge. With a flicker the lights turn back on and machinery around him began returning to life, emphasising how quiet it had been for the last few hours.
Well, there goes stealth, he thought to himself.
Another lurch of energy shook the foundations of the building and the lights flickered again.
A cold dread filled him. He wasn’t sure what was happening, but he had enough sense to tell it was coming from the direction he was headed.
“They’re not responding to our attempts to contact.” the SWAT captain reported, “either they have orders to run out the back or they don’t have power and don’t know we’re calling. Since they reported in to their bosses, I’m doubting the latter.”
The entrance to the bunker was an uncomfortably hot underground ‘garage’. It was definitely untrustworthy, and the SWAT team had set up above ground. Not just because they thought it was going to collapse on them, but because most electronics failed almost as soon as they stepped foot into it.
DA Edgerton was still onsite, only because so many people wanted up to the minute information about the situation. As long as she was there, Matt was demanding to be present, declaring he has just as much right as anyone else. The result was he was being teased fairly mercilessly by Ethan’s soon to be bodyguards.
Matt was taking it well, Jacob was not. The sixteen year old certainly did not want his lord and master present, but he was definitely filling his own duty as bodyguard, refusing to stray more than a foot away from his charge.
“Can’t we just tell them their god is here and they’ll open the door?” one of them joked.
Jacob flashed him a dirty look, “These aren’t the faithful. They’re mercenaries. They might not even know they work for my liege.”
The other officer shrugged, “This is why I became a cop after leaving the military. Never know when you might end up working for a mad twelve year old who thinks he’s god.”
“I’m thirteen, thank you very much,” Matt answered without rising to the bait.
The SWAT Captain gave the officers disapproving looks, but they had seemingly reverted to active duty attitudes in record time. The second officer, Haynes, seemed to realize it needed to stop and at least stopped slouching.
The captain didn’t get the real joke – at least for the time being, Matt was their commanding officer, lacking any other.
“Anyway, it’s time to breach.” he said, “It’ll be tricky though since not even our lights are working consistently when we approach.”
“I can break it.” Rob said calmly, “The enchantment. I can break it.”
Thomas looked at him concerned, “Are you sure?”
Rob nodded, “I can. I’m probably the only person here that can.”
“How did it even get up?” Asked the captain.
Helena raised her hand, “Ethan’s father. He probably lost control while he was being sedated. He threw this up to screw with them.”
Thomas glanced at the captain, “That should be a reminder that we need to subdue Ethan, not kill him, even though he’s likely hostile at the moment.”
He nodded and replied, “That’s what the Norse guys are for right?”
They’d already had the tense discussion on how to bring Ethan down. The SWAT guys were pretty much at a lost once they were told he’d shrug off tranqs quickly if not instantly. A gunshot to the leg might be more effective, but most powerful sorcerers could repair damage to extremities in moments.
“Get into position,” Rob said, “Once I open the door, we need to get him quick.”
“I thought you were breaking the enchantment?” the captain asked.
“I’m doing both.” he said, his eyes unfocused as he concentrated.
Haynes noticed it first, “Are you on fire?”
Rob blinked, “Just a bit.” he turned towards to the bunker, “I’m going to head over there now.”
It wasn’t particularly noticeable until they walked into the garage. It was barely the smallest bit of witchlight fluttering over his entire body, but in the intense unnatural darkness, it seems to give him an unearthly glow.
He calmly walked down to the entrance and stood before the closed door waiting for the others and the SWAT team to set up, using him as a light source.
The entire time, he appeared distracted. He watched them to see where they were in the preparations, but he was also considering something else.
They were nearly in position when he turned to the door, “No.” he said forcefully and the most terrible thud echoed through the chamber. Later, most would describe it as if he’d pulled their souls out of their bodies for a moment
The effect, was exactly as promised though. Immediately the lights in the chamber turned on and a silent aftershock struck the door and it fell apart as if it was made of paper.
Rob took a knee as the SWAT team rushed into the bunker.
Helena walked over to him and knelt down beside him, “Are you okay?”
He looked at her, his eyes were bright, almost fevered, “Do you feel them?”
She turned to the broken door as Haynes came up to them, “The doormen are all dead. Slaughtered by something.” He said.
Rob was shaking, “Not an enchantment. It was just them. Just them. Just them.” he muttered incoherently, he placed a hand on Helena’s shoulder, “Your turn.”
She’d gone pale, staring ahead into the bunker.
“What’s wrong?” Haynes asked.
Her mouth gaped slightly as she searched for the words, “Tell them to stay out of any shadows. There’s something in the room with them.” Without missing a beat she stood back up and walked straight into danger.
Thomas came up to his son and knelt down next to him, “Come on, Rob. You did your part. Let’s get you out of here.”
Rob shook his head. “Can’t. Blocking door.”
Thomas snatched back his hand, which was faintly smoking. He turned to the bodyguards, who had been told to wait for Ethan to be sighted, “Go, help them now. He can’t do this forever.”
The entrance hall was designed to be magnificent and to be a killing field. You could fit a great number of people in it assuming you didn’t mind them being a bit cramped making a place you could have functions, give speeches and when your enemies arrived, they might run in and get massacred from the various places someone could hide in the room.
There was no cover and at least one hundred feet of open space to the next most obvious door.
The SWAT Team was now arrayed near the entrance after searching and discovering the forces that were intended to protect the area. With report of a threat, they were hesitant to lose access to the exit.
Helena walked out to the center of the group and looks around the room. THe captain joined her.
“Where is it?”
She shook her head, “I feel it. I just can’t see it.”
The einharjar both stepped forward and pointed towards the ceiling.
Helena didn’t hesitate. She made a sweeping gesture hammering downward and something crashed to the ground hard enough to crack the foundations.
And then it had form.
For whatever reason it decided that being unseeable was no longer useful. It was amorphous and black, or maybe it was just shadowy, hiding it’s true form behind the same tricks it had earlier used against the entire compound. The last possibility, the one that was most terrifying, what reality was bending itself around the creature, hiding it from the fragile mortal minds that could not comprehend it’s existence.
The SWAT Team opened fire. It wasn’t as useless as it might have seemed. There was a trick for forcing aetherium into bullets as you fired them. It was a trick every SWAT member had to learn these days for when they were called in to kill something that was only normally killable with strange materials. Even the slightest bit of sorcery could put down most things.
What they actually needed to kill this creature wasn’t clear, but the bullets did surprise it when they struck.
But only until it struck back.
A pseudopod flailed out, either deflecting the bullets back or returning the one which struck home. Still, this was something the team was prepared for and most of them were able to get their defenses up.
The pseudopod reached for Helena, but reeled back when nearing her made it vanish, the gateway to its home dimension was being crafted between them, protecting her from it.
Enraged, it grabbed a hapless SWAT member and tossed it at her, but instead he vanished into the same portal.
The einharjar attacked directly, blades of ephemeral energy slicing through the clumps of black energy, but doing nothing but to enrage it more, thought it prevented it from attacking the SWAT team.
“You need to get it in the Gate.” Helena called to the captain.
He nodded in understanding, though it wasn’t clear if he had a plan.
Then the creature shifted it’s focus towards the doors behind it. It crashed into them vainly before shrieking and smashing against them again.
The doors opened and it tumbled away, beginning to fall into the Gate. It seemed to be scrambling to remain, but another shove of force and it vanished completely.
Helena relaxed immediately.
“It’s gone?” the captain confirmed,
“Yes,” Helena said rushing across the room, “Ethan?”
He appeared from the door, shaking. He wore military style clothing that didn’t quite fit him and he looked like he was about to puke. He tossed aside a spent assault rifle.
She rushed up to him, “Are you okay?”
He nodded, “I think so. I just feel nauseous.”
“Not surprising,” She said feeling his forehead, “You’ve been through a lot today.”
“I ate someone, but this made me feel nauseous.” he said, barely making it quiet enough only she could hear. His honor guard was approaching.
She stared at him in they eye, “We’ll talk about it, but right now you should meet your new bodyguards who are going to prevent this from happening again”
Both Haynes and Cavazos had gotten up to them and the two einharjar were coming slower.
Ethan focused on them and glanced at Helena, “What did Rob do?”
“No Rob,” she replied, with a slightly hurt tone, “It was all Matt and myself.”
He seemed to realize how many people were in the room, “How many people know about me now?”
She shrugged, “A lot.” She leaned closer, “The President now knows your name.”