Mors Funebris Ch. 3 P. 7

Mors Funebris Chapter 3 Part 7

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“Gods Speed.” Arawn said as he turned and exited the room.

Three days later, Mara was on her way to meet with one of Boto’s Nightcub’s minders, when Huey did something out of the ordinary.

He touched her on her shoulder.

“….?” She thought as she stopped in pleasant surprise and looked at his scarlet red fingertips.

“Lady Mara.” Huey began, smiling slightly.

“My apologies.” He continued as he looked left and right, then dropped his hand from her shoulder.

“Yes?” she breathed quietly, confused by his sudden boldness.

“About that offer to get a drink,….?” He began, and then paused nervously to look around once more.

“MMmmm?” she smiled encouragingly, interested in where this was headed.

“Is it still good?” he asked her quietly.

“Oh I don’t know,…” she said coyly, as she began to lightly touch one of her thighs with the spade end of her tail.

“I do have an awful lot to do this morning, and not a lot of time to do it.” She continued as she looked up at him through half-lidded eyes. Her heart began to pound with a rising lust. It almost matched the lust she sensed from Huey.

“Well, I understand you like Hot Chocolate, and I just became aware that the motor pool recently acquired a batch of Godiva,…” he began.

“Really?” she replied, as she leaned up against him, and allowed one of her hands to stray down near the end of his tie.  Reaching up to his head with the other, she guided one of his pointed ears close to her mouth.

“Perhaps first, you should show me what you’ve got.” She purred as her first hand grabbed ahold at the ever-enlarging bulge of his crotch.

As Huey shuddered with pleasure, his resistance evaporated as Mara led him into the entranceway to a nearby stairwell.

Mara didn’t waste any time as the door began to close. She immediately grabbed his head and pulled his lips towards hers, then wrapped the rest of herself around him.

‘FINALLY!’ she thought as their lips and tongues intertwined, enough for her to absorb some of his flavorful, yet strange-tasting male demonic-energy.

Huey, utterly surprised by her enthusiasm, allowed a moment or two….ok several moments,.. To pass before he managed to pull her lips away from his. Long enough for him to get some air.

“Aaaaah!” he breathed in. “Not here please!” he gasped.

“Where then?!” she hissed fiercely, angry with the interruption.

“I know where there’s plenty of space down in the motor pool.” He said hoarsely as he started trying to maneuver her down the stairs. Mara resisted at first.

“It’ll take forever to get there!” she complained, determined to continue the festivities right there and then.  Huey continued to tug at her, despite his every instinct telling him not to.

“Trust me!” he breathed, “It’ll be worth the wait!” he cajoled.

“FINE!” she relented after giving him a teeth-clenching glare. “But if you don’t hurry, I can’t guarantee we’ll make it!” she warned as she began to race him down the stairs.

Several times during their trip down to the main floor. Huey had to ‘persuade’ Mara to let go of him to allow them both to proceed. Every time he did, Mara got a trifle more impatient.

“Dammit Huey,….!” She began as they tumbled into the ground floor’s connecting hallway. Then she stopped as she felt a deep rumbling and then heard an explosion in the distance. Instantly, she tensed up.

“What the,…?” she began, but was interrupted by the sound of alarm klaxons buzzing loudly.

 “EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! THE FOUNDATION IS UNDER ATTACK! ALL PERSONEL PROCEED TO THEIR DESIGNATED SAFETY AREAS! EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!,…” came the sound of an automated voice over the sound of klaxons.

“Come on!” Huey shouted at her then, as he began pulling her down the hallway in the direction of the motor pool.

“But, but, but,…!” she began, shocked at the sudden turn of events. ‘Dammit!’ she thought in frustration. ‘Why now of all times?’ she demanded, as she allowed Huey to drag her down the hall towards the Motorpool. Unfortunately, not for the original reason.

Several seconds later she became confused when Huey hurried her past the door to her designated reporting point.

“Huey!” she cried out as she planted her feet in an effort to resist him. Huey just gave her a dirty look. Then he yanked her off her feet, as he continued dragging her forcibly onwards.

‘Damnit Huey!’ Mara shrieked. “What are you,…?” she began to demand. Right then she received a telepathic contact from Boto.

‘MAM–,…!’ Boto screamed desperately, then she was cut off when another, closer explosion occurred. It was loud enough to make Mara’s ears ring with the shock. As it did, the stairwell she was in shuddered violently enough to knock her off her feet, and Huey’s as well.

“DETONATION IN MAIN ATRIUM! ALL PERSONNEL EVACUATE CENTRAL BUILDING, REPEAT, DETONATION IN,….’ came the sound of the automated voice once more amidst the klaxons.

“BOTO!” Mara screamed aloud then, not sure, if Boto was receiving her or not, “I’M COMING!” she wailed as she began to stumble back towards the main Atrium.

She found it difficult to do so as a cloud of dust began billow down the hallway She got maybe two or three steps before she had to stop. That was because someone had grabbed ahold of her tail. Turning indignantly, she saw who it was: Huey.

“Mara NO!” he cried, ‘I’ve got to get you,..!” he yelled up at her. Mara’s response was intense and immediate.
“NO!” she cried loudly as she backhanded Huey hard enough to knock him off his feet. Causing his head to bounce off a drainpipe. He then collapsed to the floor, stunned. 

Mara ignored him as she continued on her self-appointed task to save her adopted daughter.

Between coughing out lungful’s of hall-dust and fighting through tears of desperation, Mara managed to locate the correct directional signpost on the hallway wall.

She forcibly shoved her way through the closed emergency doors. Then she continued running down the hall. The Emergency klaxons continued to assault her ears with every pounding step.

After several heart-thumping minutes, she stumbled to a halt in a connecting corridor.

Looking around herself, she observed a number of people, both human and Nightbreed, running and limping towards the exits. Noting the injuries, she chose to run against the flow. When she came out into the floor of the Main Atrium, she didn’t recognize it at first.

“What the?” she asked, confused, as she witnessed a massive amount of twisted steel and connecting pipes hanging in shreds from the upper floors of the Atrium. Small chunks of debris intermittently fell, causing the occasional clattering sound as they impacted upon the floor’s surface.

 Looking up, she observed some light through the remains of the shattered skylights. Thankfully, that light penetrated through several small columns of black smoke that had begun rising up from the rubble strewn floor. If it weren’t for the sun’s rays streaming through the ever-increasing smoke, she’d not have recognized her location.

After a moment’s hesitation, she oriented herself enough to pinpoint the remains of Night-Cubs. The sight of the now hollowed out cavity that had been the facility, caused her to fall to her knees in horror. All she could manage was to stare at its desolate emptiness in shock.

‘Boto?’ she sent desperately.

As the seconds ticked by without a response, Mara’s horror mounted. Tears formed in her eyes and a growing despair grew in her core, as she extended a shaking hand towards the ruin that had once been the Night-Cubs daycare.

‘Mama?!’ finally came a reply.  Mara began breathing again as she ran forward, heedless of danger.

‘Mama!” once more came the sound of Boto’s relieved mind/voice, just as Mara felt a pair of tiny arms embrace her legs in the semi-darkness. Automatically, she magically shifted her sight to compensate.

Gasping, she saw that Boto wasn’t alone.  Hovering protectively nearby, was her friend- Cosette. Dust, soot, and various other unidentifiable substances covered the pair in an equal measure.

Mara was about to say something more when the distinctive sound of metal ripping began overhead, along with a dull rumbling of crackling concrete.

‘Collapse!’ Mara realized. Without thinking, she swept both Boto and Cosette into her arms, then pitched herself forwards out of the way.

Barely in time! As indicated by the impact of screeching metal and other debris pounded the tiles behind them, which quickly ceased. After a second, Mara stood up in the semi-darkness of the main play area and looked around.

She felt a tug at her blouse. Looking down, she observed that it was Cosette. She held Boto in one arm and maintained a fierce grip of Mara’s blouse with the other.

“I’m sorry Ms. Mara,” Cossette sobbed, then panted as she sustained her iron-like grip on Mara’s dress, “I tried to keep her,… from leaving us, but,…but,…”  then she stopped as she began to shiver uncontrollably.

“It’s all right Cosette.” Mara began as she knelt down and embraced the young Rougarou, “You did well.” She said honestly.  Then she realized something.

“Wait! What do you mean,…US?” she asked, suddenly concerned. Cossette didn’t reply, she reluctantly let go of Mara’s blouse and pointed deeper into the Daycare’s depths. Mara’s eyes followed the line of Cossette’s pointing finger.

“Oh Great Maou!” she uttered in shock. Deep inside, were huddled many other Cubs hiding in the kitchen. Most of them under tables or in the counter spaces. A quick search indicated something that shocked her even more.

She couldn’t find any trace of their attendants.

“What happened to all of your Minders? They shouldn’t have abandoned you!” she shouted, outraged by such behavior.

“They were taken away.” Piped up a violently shivering Pukwudgie kit. “After the shadows came,…before the big noise.” He stopped and then began to cry.

“I want my MOMMY!” he screamed! Which set off an echoing chorus from the other Cubs.

“What shadows?! What do you mean?!” Mara demanded over the din of the Cubs’ crying.

The Pukwudgie cub didn’t reply, Instead, another one who looked just like him, came over and silently lifted a trembling grey-streaked hand. The he pointed to something behind her. It was at that moment that Mara felt a prickling sensation running up her back.

Turning in the gloom, Mara saw what caused that prickle.

 It was a large hulking figure, silhouetted in black. Beyond a pair of large red eyes gleaming in the darkness, Mara couldn’t make out any other details.

Even though she was born into darkness, Mara instinctively knew that there was something,…’wrong’ with this unfamiliar version. It felt more akin to the caries on a white tooth, or a cancerous mole on a person’s skin.

‘Shadow-Kith?!’ she realized when she identified its aura. She then tried to shift her sight to compensate. Which proved difficult.

After a couple of tries, she managed to adjust her sight just enough to see that it wasn’t a true Kith. Instead, it was someone who had managed to emulate one. That was when she saw a pair of curved horns protruding from atop the stranger’s skull.

‘Nightbreed?’ she wondered in shock.

“Who are you?!” she demanded of the stranger, which finally garnered his attention. He did nothing more than look over at her for a moment and then raise a hand to one ear. He appeared to be listening to something or someone.

“I said!” Mara began again indignantly, then she stopped when the stranger leaned his head over and spoke.

“…Control One,…Primary Target located.” He hissed in a gruff voice. “Main Atrium,…Daycare,… request instructions,…over.”

“What?!” Mara demanded again, “What are you talking about?” she shouted as the shadow-stranger continued to ignore her. Then, when Mara had had enough of this person ignoring her, she grabbed ahold of the idiot’s sable arm to get his attention.

“Now See HERE!” she began.

The stranger, instead of being cowed by her authority, reacted by slipping his hand over her forearm and placing her into a wristlock.

“HEY!” she shouted in alarm. Then she screamed when he twisted her forearm painfully. Which forced her to her knees. Despite her best efforts, all Mara could do then was splutter impotently as she tried to vent her rage at her captor.

Then, she heard something that made her pause.

“Golf November Eight, Control One, Report.” Came a grating voice that crackled near the Shadow-Being’s shoulder.

‘Control One, Golf November Eight. Target subdued.” Said the stranger.

‘Wait! I’m the target?’ she realized.

“Golf November Eight, relay Target to rendezvous point-one. Await extraction team.” Came that grating voice again.

“Why am,…?” she began to demand, then stopped as her assailant pulled her roughly to her feet and began dragging her along behind him.

“Control One, Copy.” He said as he started walking towards the entrance of the now ruined Daycare. 

Though she stumbled against him as hard as she could manage. He didn’t seem to be inconvenienced in the slightest, as he continued slogging out into now heavily littered atrium floor.

‘NO!’ Boto wailed then. Stealing a glance behind her, Mara saw Boto running towards her with Cossette in fast pursuit. Behind that pair followed the remaining gaggle of Night-Cubs, unsure of what else to do.

As soon as Boto connected with Mara’s legs. Mara had to stop, what with the extra weight of the hysterical child entwining them. This resulted in Mara’s captor to stumble.

Muttering a curse, he then did something that would prove to be a mistake.

He pulled out a firearm, cocked it one-handed and then pointed it at Boto. Time seemed to come to standstill, as Mara realized his intent.

“NOOOO!” she howled deafeningly, as one of her Tendrils automatically erupted from her back. Then it swiftly extended itself towards Boto’s attacker.

With one mighty ‘snap’ of her right tendril, the head of Boto’s attacker jerked backwards with a loud ‘pop’, and he collapsed to the floor.

‘I killed him!’ Mara realized as she swept Boto up into the safety of her arms. Then she backed away from his body. She was somewhat relieved when she observed him stir, as he tried to raise a hand to his head.

Without a thought, a tendril snapped once more, harder. Much Harder. She came to stand over his prone body. Patiently, she waited for a half-minute for any other sign of life, other than his breathing. She was satisfied when none came.

Turning around, Mara saw that the remaining Cubs had decided to congregate themselves near her. She noted that they seemed stunned at the sight of something near her.

 Once her eyes followed theirs, she realized that she still held one of her Tendrils out in plain view. She quickly retracted it with a thought.

Glancing back, she noticed that they weren’t stunned anymore. Instead they seemed to be in awe of her. In the ensuing silence, a memory stirred. Of Arawn speaking to her concerning leadership.

‘In times of peril, like the needle to the lodestone, obedience, regardless of rank, generally flows to him who is best fitted to Command.’ As she recalled those words, she came to a decision.

“Children!” she commanded then, getting their collective attention. “Come here!” she ordered. Some of them did, most did not. Those who didn’t, kept looking at her fearfully.

‘No time!’ Mara gritted her teeth, as she stole a glance over her shoulder.

“Cossette!” she shouted forcefully, getting the young Rougarou’s attention. “Are all of the children here?” she demanded.

Blinking in surprise and nervousness, Cossette looked around herself, checking and counting.

“Yes, they’re all here!” she shouted back at Mara, her voice shaking.

“Good, now round them all up and follow me. You, and You!” Mara shouted then at two of the older Night-Cubs at the far edges. “Take up the rear and make sure no one gets left behind!” Mara commanded. They nodded.

“All of you! Follow me! I will take ALL of you to your Mothers!” she continued, then walked forward several steps. After she did, she looked over her shoulder and was pleased to see that every one of the Cubs followed.

“Boto!” she said as she set her adopted child down onto the ground. Boto looked back at her, but she didn’t reply. Mara crouched down then looked at her directly into her eyes.

“Boto!” she said firmly. “I need you to be brave. I want you to stay with Cossette. She’ll take care of you. I need to make sure that everyone, and I mean everyone, else makes it to safety, I can’t do that properly if I’m carrying you. Do you understand?” Boto didn’t reply at first, she just stared back at Mara apprehensively, tears flowing down her soot stained face. Finally, she nodded once.

“Good!” Mara said, as she stood up. She then took a moment to look around to pick a way out through the smoldering remains of the Atrium

Then, through the ever-increasing smoke and falling dust, she heard something that made her eyes rise.

‘help…” she detected, barely.

“Cossette!” Mara said, turning to look at the Rougarou. “Stay Here! I’ll be back in a second.” Mara then determinedly went out in search of the one who had cried out.

 It didn’t take her long, as that one was just a few feet from the entrance of the daycare. He was prone, but not covered by much debris. Swiftly she knelt by and touched him. He jerked slightly when she did and moaned.

“Aaah.” Came the strained sound of a man’s voice. “help me…’ he groaned,…”please,…”

“My name is Mara and I’m here to help. What’s wrong?” Mara said, remembering her first aid training classes. Suddenly, she was glad that Arawn had been so damned insistent that she attend them.

“…shot,..” that person wheezed.

“Shot? What?!” Mara gasped in shock. Adjusting her eyes once more, she began to examine the victim. Her eyes widened in shock when she recognized the outfit he was wearing.

It was the togs the Night-Cub minders wore. Then she recognized its wearer.

“Baucus!” she cried. He paused for a second and peered painfully up at her.

“Lady Mara.” He wheezed, as he began to shake.

‘Shock, he’s in shock.’ She thought as she began to examine him as best she could.

“I can’t tell for sure, but I think you can be moved. I can’t do anything for you here.” She began. Baucus looked up at her and nodded his head.

“Carry?” he asked weakly.

“Yes, I’ll have to carry you.” She said as she tried her best to get him to stand up. Baucus grimaced every step of the way. He did his best to not scream out in pain, then he collapsed. Her long-pointed ears twitched when she heard a voice in two places. A voice that grated on her nerves.

“Damn it!” Mara muttered, as she looked up and listened through the gloom of the Atrium.

One of them came from a point at the far side of the atrium, while simultaneously it came from the radio of the nearby prone Shadow-kith she’d clobbered.

“Golf November Eight, Report your Twenty.”

‘No time!’ Mara thought fearfully. Summoning every ounce of her strength, Mara reached out and then slowly lifted Baucus into a firefighter’s carry. Once he was there, she staggered back to the waiting Night-Cubs and motioned them all to follow her.

“Cossette?” she whispered. “Are they,…?” she began.

“They’re all here!” Cossette interrupted, still holding Boto with one arm. Mara smiled down at her as best she could. Panting, she paused for a second to try to shift some of Baucus’ bulk to a more tenable position.

‘Damn he’s fat.’ She griped.

“Golf November Eight located. All Units Reacquire Target.” Came that grating voice once more, this time it was in the darkness behind them all.

‘No, no, no, NO!’ Mara thought fearfully, as a surge of strength rushed through her. She hurried her pace through the gloom, doing her best to avoid both the debris and the searching Shadow-kith.

Somehow, she never figured out how after. She did.

Eventually, she stumbled to a halt as her exhaustion caught up with her. That was when a wave of stinging hot metal and cinders began to rain down onto her from above.

‘Not now!’ she quavered, as she did the only thing left to her. She did her best to shield Baucus’ body with hers.

Then she noticed the Cubs. All of them were doing their best to dodge the increasing rain of burning debris.

An idea formed in her mind.

While she hated the necessity of it. She knew that as a Demon, she could handle far more damage than any of the Cubs could.

“Children! Come to me!” she shouted, heedless of the noise, while she raised both of her wings in invitation.

The Cubs ran to her and instinctively huddled underneath. Mara wrapped her wings around them all, like a mother hen protecting her brood.

Mara painfully ground her teeth together as wave after wave of burning hot rubble began to pound themselves into her back, neck, wings and tail. For just a moment, her wings retracted in response.

‘NO!’ she silently screamed when she remembered her duty. She forced herself to shield all of the cubs once more. As she did, the floor-tiles gripped by her fingers began to crumble.

‘IT HURTS! Great Maou help,…’ Mara halted mid-silent shriek with tears streaming out of her eyes.

 ‘NO! Never again will I call upon you!’ she vowed, spitting bitterly. Then, the flow of cinders became an avalanche.

“AAAAAHHHH!” she howled aloud. Her control started to slip as the pain of the burning increased exponentially. Somehow, she held onto her resolve.

‘Never give up!’ she panted,…’Never,…SURRENDER!’ she ordered herself, forcing herself to focus on protecting her Cubs! But the avalanche just kept coming, and coming, and coming,…!

By the time her fingers had dug into concrete, that she realized that she’d passed what even a Baphomet-demon could’ve borne.

Then, suddenly the burning downpour ceased.

Panting, Mara’s mind swirled with relief. Blinking, she raised her head, and then, she wobbily stood up.

Surrounding her and the children was a small lake of cinders and ash. As she watched, their collective glow began to fade en masse.

‘It’s stopped.’ She blinked in confusion. ‘Oh.’ She sniffed and wrinkled her nose at the nearby scent of burned flesh. ‘The snack bar must’ve caught fire.’ She decided. Then her eyes went wide in realization.

“Children.” She gasped, “Are you alright?” she asked as one by one, they slowly began to raise their heads. Mara was relieved to see that everyone was alive and still reasonably intact. Then, one of them stood up and pointed at her, her mouth opening in shock.

‘What?’ Mara thought, as followed the direction of the cub’s pointing finger. Mara’s eyes caught the sight of a plume of smoke rising. She followed it back down to the back of her right wing.

When she shifted her wing forward to get a better look, she finally saw that there was a red-hot bolt sticking out of her wing wrist.

‘Shouldn’t that hurt?’ She wondered dully, as she became fascinated with the sight of her flesh bubbling and popping at the base of the bolt.

That was the moment that she was distracted by a most welcome telepathic voice.

‘Mara!’ came the sound of Arawn’s mind-voice. ‘Location! (A)’ he demanded. It took her a second to focus, but she managed it.

‘Arawn.’ She replied slowly, ‘I’m on the floor of the Main Atrium! Where are you? (M)”

‘Main Atrium?’ he said in shock, ‘Get out of there, NOW! (A)’

‘I can’t, I think I’m hurt. I have Night-Cubs,…need rescue. (M)’ she replied, as she did her best to reengage her mind. Arawn didn’t reply at first.

‘Understood!’ he shot back. ‘I am directing a rescue team towards,…(A)’ he began, but Mara interrupted him when she remembered something else.

‘Coming!,…Attackers!….Many! (M)’ she thought/screamed back at him. She could sense his alarm then.

‘STANDBY! Triangulating! (A)’.

“What?” Mara began, and then felt a series of Mana surges in multiple locations around her. Blinking, she soon saw why.

Where before there wasn’t a soul, there now stood a score of Humans and Nightbreed. All were dressed in various forms of armor. They were all holding weapons both esoteric and mundane. All standing vigilant around her and the Night-Cubs.

At the center of them, stood one unarmed medium sized human. He was balefully surveying his surroundings with his fists at his sides.

“Ara,…”Mara began. But she was cut off when he glared at her. Then quickly raised a finger to his lips; demanding silence. She stopped, and then swallowed.

Arawn then looked over to one incredibly skinny individual who was standing at the edge of the group. He was peering out into the gloom of the Atrium, with one hand holding an imaginary ball in front of him.

Report! (A)’ Mara heard Arawn’s thought-speech then. She was surprised that he wasn’t directing at her for once. The skinny one dropped his hand as he turned to Arawn and shook his head.

‘Negative detection. (??)’ came the sound of an unknown mental voice. All around her, the other members of Arawn’s squad relaxed. Alarmed, Mara spoke up.

‘Arawn wait! I think I encountered a Shadow-Kith! He’s not alone. (M)’ Mara said, as she transferred the recent memory of her assailant. Both Arawn and the skinny one looked at each other for a moment. Arawn nodded.

‘Shadow-kith?’ the stranger asked, then paused. ‘Attempting to Compensate. (??)’ He said as he raised his hand once more. He flinched suddenly as he started jerking his head and hand in unison left to right, stopping for half a second in between.

‘MULTIPLE BOGIES DETECTED!! ALL HEAVILY ARMED!! (??) He reported as he reached out with his other hand. Then he spread that hand’s fingers-five times in an arc in front of him. With last outspreading, he used only three.

Arawn ‘replied’, by raising a hand above his head and bunching it into a fist. Then he turned and pointed at two of his closer comrades.

As they looked back at him, he pointed to the Night-Cubs and made a circling motion around them all. He then pointed to a third person, and pointed at Baucus.

Arawn then raised his arm again, flattened his hand and pointed with it once towards where Mara assumed was the way out.

Swiftly and silently, the three he indicated, moved. One picked up Baucus effortlessly, and the other two gently began herding the shivering Night-Cubs. Only Cossette, with Boto clinging to her arm, resisted

Automatically Mara motioned to Cossette that she should join the rest of the Cubs. Cossette hesitated tearfully. Then she reluctantly obeyed. Mara refused to meet Boto’s eyes.

As they left, Mara turned to follow, but was prevented by Arawn. He seemed excited about something, as he placed a hand on her shoulder. She felt a jerk, when he yanked s from her wing. She looked back at him quizzically, not comprehending.

He held onto her, as he directed two more of his team to take up a rear-guard position; To protect the retreating Night-Cubs. Mara tried to follow them again, but that was when Arawn’s grip on her shoulder tightened.

‘Do not follow. You apparently are the target. (A)’ He stated. Mara’s eyes widened in remembrance.

‘Get Down. (A)’ he ordered. Automatically she obeyed and crouched. 

Silently, he motioned to the remaining members of the squad.

 Arawn then looked behind them all and waited for the last of the sounds of the retreating Night-Cubs to fade away. Once they did, he turned back to the front, and raised his left-hand palm out.

As he did, Mara saw the glowing pattern that indicated he was preparing his Shield-Buckler.

‘Form Ranks! (A)’ she heard. She then observed the squad members silently moving out along either side of him, facing themselves towards the now smoke obscured Atrium.

 ‘Make Ready! (A)’ he commanded once more, as he raised his right hand out. The Squad crouched, readied their firearms, and loosened their melee weapons.

“Zephyris Spirantibus!” he spoke aloud while he gestured with his right hand. The effect was immediate.

A slight breeze sprung up out of nowhere. Then it increased rapidly as it pushed back the curtain of dust and smoke. A number of smoldering debris piles caught fire and then sprang up into blazing dangerous ones. Which helpfully increased the ambient light.

Within a few seconds, everyone now saw that there were twenty-three individual Shadow-Kith. All now standing in stark relief in the sudden illumination. One particularly large individual stood in their center.

“ATTACK!” Arawn bellowed then, as he expelled his Blast-Punch at that one. When the Punch-connected, it caused him to spin about, then he fell to the ground unharmed. He then began crawling over to a downed support column to use as cover.

Simultaneously, every other member of his squad attacked with Fireballs, Tracer-rounds, and even some D&D inspired Magic-missiles. All of them streaked towards the now surprised remaining Shadow-kith. 

Within a few seconds, that number was cut in half. Then it was halved again. As their numbers dropped, a pair deliberately rolled forward, took cover, and began returning fire.

Such did little good, as Arawn’s shield buckler repelled every shot. His own forces concentrated their firepower on the remaining intruders.

Four, two, then only one remained unshot. That overly large one.

It was at that point that Mara heard that grating voice once more.

“DAMN,…. YOU!” he screeched/snarled deafeningly, as he low-crawled his way backwards. Just then, Mara noticed him reaching into a side pocket of his backpack.

He pulled out an ovoid object just as he disappeared from view.

“Cease fire!” Arawn commanded. After a moment, all was quiet. Arawn remained where he was, keeping his left hand out, his Shield-Buckler active.

“That. Was too easy.” He said warily, as he locked his Buckler-Shield into place on the ground between. Then his eyes widened when he observed the ovoid object hurtling up and towards him from behind a pile of debris.

That ovoid bounced harmlessly then it rolled to a stop just beyond Arawn’s fixed shield. It sat there innocuously for a moment.

Then it began to expand, taking on mass from nowhere until it swelled into,…something…impossibly large!

Mara’s eyes crossed as her mind refused to accept what she saw. It, for it was definitely an ‘IT”, was sitting just outside Arawn’s Shield-line. Finally, she managed to force herself to see it.

It appeared to be a beastly massive head.  A head similar in appearance to that orangutan she’d seen at the LA zoo a couple of weeks prior.

There the resemblance ended, as the Zoo’s simian had a body. This ‘thing’s head was its body!  Sweat stained pallid skin hung in flaps from some parts. While on other sections, that skin seemed ready to break it was so taut.

Erupting in several points around its jaw, were strange seeming arms or legs. All of them ending in claw tipped prehensile paws. Most of which, were digging into the floor-tiles underneath. It pushed itself upright with the help of one remaining intact support column.

 ‘It’s massive!’ she realized, as she craned her head to look up at it. Automatically, Mara extended her empathy outwards, wondering what it was. Just then, every squad member there began firing his or her respective weapons at it. To little avail.

It didn’t seem to notice any of the projectiles impacting it. Instead, it just sneered back.

“CEASE FIRE” Arawn yelled when he finally identified the creature, and his men obeyed, awestruck.

“GAKKANATH!!!” Arawn bellowed fearfully then, “FALL BACK!!!” he continued as he began shoving at his squad to move. Most of them stood frozen in shock, but they came to themselves as Arawn became more forceful.

“Gakkanath? What’s a Gakka,..?: Mara began to ask, but was interrupted by the sound of a bellowing so loud that it reverberated into the core of her being.

Automatically she looked up and over at the creature. Then her thoughts stopped when the thing’s tongue erupted out of its misshapen mouth. It was a grey looking piece of flesh, studded with boney protrusions.

That tongue snatched ahold of one of the wounded, yet still-living Shadow-Kith. Who then began screaming hysterically as he was lifted up into the air

Then, casually, the Gakkanath stuffed him into its fang-filled maw.

As it closed its mouth, that screaming came to an abrupt end. It didn’t so much as ‘chew’ its victim, as it melted that person’s mass into the whole.

“No.” Mara croaked in shock, when she saw that unfortunate person’s head sticking out of the side of the thing’s face.

She fell back a pair of steps when she saw that the head was mouthing silently for help; fully aware of its fate.

Then Mara’s mind went blank, when the Gakkanath’s attention shifted and focused on her. It let go its hold on the remaining support column, and began slowly stumbling itself towards her.

Mara was shocked into immobility, as it passed through Arawn’s Shield as if it weren’t there!

“FEMALE!” it croaked. Mara blinked at the sound. “Yuuuuuummmmm!” it grinned a snaggle toothed grin as it began to reach out for her with its tongue. As much as Mara enjoyed Oral sex, she knew that she didn’t want that things’ tongue anywhere near her.

‘Get up, get up, get up!’ she told herself repeatedly. Yet for some reason, all she could manage was to stare back at it. She was mesmerized, like a bird before a snake.

Her eyes focused on the tip of the thing’s tongue, as it extended towards her. Just for a second she could make out the individual papillae, it was so close.

Right then a member of Arawn’s team, pushed her out of the tongue’s path, and knocked her over. Snapping her out of her trance.

Unfortunately, this left him vulnerable. He jerked fearfully when the tongue connected and contracted around him. He began struggling furiously as it began to drag him towards its mouth.

“NO!” Mara screamed as she shot to her feet, as both of her Demonic-Energy tendrils manifested. She then flexed and snapped them in unison directly at the Gakkanath’s face.

They came together and connected directly onto its misshapen nose, with an audible snapping of bone.

That pain was enough for her rescuer to shake himself out of the now loosened tongue. He then quickly crawled away.  Blinking in surprise, the Gakkanath stumbled backwards several steps.

“Eeerrrggg?” It groaned in shock and puzzlement as it examined its now heavily damaged nose with its tongue. Mara began to retreat.

 “Mara, Hold!” Arawn said as he touched her arm to restrain her.

“What?” she cried frantically.

“Where is Huey?” Arawn demanded tersley.

“I don’t know!” she screamed. “He was leading me down to the motor pool when all of this started! We don’t have much time!” she yelled as she tried to look back towards the Gakkanath. Arawn forced her to look at him.

“I am well aware of that! Huey still bears the Extremus Gun. I have need of it now.”  Beyond them both, the Gakkanath bellowed out its rage and hunger as it began searching for its now lost prey.

Arawn closed his eyes and concentrated for a second. He opened them with an annoyed look crossing his face.

“He is still down there. That blasted coward!” He hissed angrily. “I have ordered him to proceed here forthwith!” Mara made to go again. Arawn stopped her once more.

“What?!” she demanded desperately as she slapped his hand away.

“We cannot let that thing attack anyone else! What you just did with your Tendrils! Can you do that again?” He yelled at her rapidly.

“Possibly, I’ve just about shot my wad.” She shook her head, “But I think I can manage it one more time!”

‘That should be sufficient for what I have in mind. (A)’ Arawn replied telepathically, as he looked quickly at the now warily approaching Fell-Demon. As quick as thought, he relayed his plan to her. Mara’s eyes widened in recognition.

“Yes.” She said shakily, “I think I can do that.” She continued as she moved off to one side, and then started shouting to get the Gakkanath’s attention.

“Over here!” she shouted, waving her arms and wings. It soon saw her and as soon as it recognized her, its face began to burn with a lustful fury.

It began to lumber its way towards her, determined to make her pay for the pain she’d caused it. In ways most obscene. 

Several of Arawn’s retreating squad mates stopped and stood in awe as Mara stood her ground, heedless of the danger. She raised her arms to prepare for Arawn’s gambit.

‘Now! (A)’ Arawn mind-called out. Immediately, Mara let loose with the remaining shreds of Tendrils. As they shot out, she deftly wrapped them around the Jagganath’s central leg/arms. Concentrating with all of her might, she bunched her two fists and then smashed them together.

Those Tendrils mirrored the actions of her fists, and drew the creature’s knees together tightly. This had the immediate effect of halting the creature’s advance.

Mara almost laughed at the sight of the creature’s dumbfounded look, as it realized its predicament. It began to wobble, poised atop its swollen legs, unable to move without falling.

That was when Arawn stepped forward, and concentrated his power fiercely, focusing his eyes onto his right fist.

Mara turned and looked at him in surprise, as she felt the sheer volume of the Mana he was channeling into his fist. Just for an instant, she could see the bones in his hand shadowed against the eldritch radiance building within. Then she noticed that his eyes were blazing with the same brilliance.

“Ferrum,…!” he began as he turned and faced the fell-creature.

 “INSPIRA!” he yelled as hi ‘Blast-punch’ spewed forth in a punctuated blast, directly at the Gakkanath’s nose.

Mara had to turn away from the coruscant flare that filled every corner of the Atrium.  Almost simultaneously, she heard the Gakkanath scream in rage as it arced up and backwards away from them both. That arc ended at the far wall of the Atrium many yards away.

What little remained intact of that wall, was smashed beyond recognition as the creature impacted into it. Then it fell with a resounding ‘plop’ to the unyielding tiled floor. It didn’t move as more debris began to rain down upon it.

As she tried blinking away the photo-blotches in her eyes, Mara looked for Arawn. She noticed that he was crouched onto one knee, panting in exhaustion.

“Arawn, are you all right?” she asked in the sudden silence. Slowly he raised his head and shook his head.

“Negative. I have utilized an extraordinary amount of stored Mana for that. Hopefully it will prove sufficient,…’ he began, but then stopped as the Gakkanath began to move its jaw, which caused a small amount of debris to shift itself off of it.

“Damnitus!” Arawn cried in dismay as Mara gaped incredulously. Arawn closed his eyes and concentrated.

“HUEY!” he shouted then, “GET OVER HERE NOW!” he shouted both physically and in mind-speech. Mara added her own thoughts.

‘Get out of the Motor poll you gods-be-damned coward!’ she thought in dismay. ‘Get over here now you fucking asshole! (M)’ she ordered him. Then her mouth hung open in dismay at his reply.

“He refuses?” Arawn gaped in anger and astonishment. He and Mara shared a look then, as the Gakkanath moved itself some more. It then began pushing at a support pylon that had fallen onto it, out of the way.

“Without the Extremus Gun, we are out of options.” Arawn said as he did his best to raise himself to his feet. He staggered and then fell to his hands and feet. Mara reached out a supporting hand and giggled.

“What?” Arawn asked, puzzled. Mara looked at him significantly and spoke.

“I have an idea.” She said aloud, and then thought at him, ‘We may not have enough individual Mana on our own, but together,….’ (M)’. Arawn looked at her a second, ready to refuse. But he was distracted by the Gakkanath finally getting to its feet. It started looking around for its prey.

“Irrumabo!” he spat in fury. Mara smiled as she couldn’t resist the temptation.

‘Language! (M)’ Mara thought at him. Arawn gave her a dirty look. Sighing once in resignation, he took her hand. Instantly, they allowed their respective energies to mix and meld. It wasn’t much, but it proved to be enough.

Together, the pair of them invoked the same incantation, “Lanuae Magicae!” they spoke in unison.

Almost instantly, a severely annoying Red Oni appeared between them in a momentary flash of sparks. Sparks, which also managed to gain the attention of the Gakkanath.

“GRAAAAAHHH!” it grumbled eagerly, happy for new prey to absorb.

Huey, distracted by his newfound predicament, turned and beheld what was approaching. Mara made a face at the sound of his defecating in his pants.

Both Arawn and Mara did something more constructive. She grabbed ahold of Huey’s arms and pulled them backwards. While Arawn reached into Huey’s jacket and quickly retrieved the Extremus gun from its holster.

Mara let go of the now struggling Red-Oni and tried to step back. That was when she caught his flailing left hand with her face.

Arawn ignored them both as he twirled himself around in a long practiced move. He crouched himself down into a shooting stance then rested his left elbow on his left knee.

He placed the Extremus Gun into the crook of his left elbow, chambered a round, and slipped the safety off.

“GAKKANATH!! STAND DOWN!!” He roared at the still lumbering creature. Who by then was a mere three steps away.

The creature ignored him as it extended its tongue, then it took another step.

Arawn set his face into a solid mask, and squeezed the trigger of the Gun.

The sound of the gun’s firing was almost inconsequential in the din of the Gakkanath’s rage, Huey’s gibbering, and Mara’s cries of alarm.

A small white glow erupted from the end of the Gun’s barrel. Which leapt across the intervening distance, to land itself between the disjointed eyes of the eldritch monstrosity. In that instant, IT was so close that Mara was certain that Arawn had waited too long.

Then, the Gakkanath’s tongue halted its advance. It quivered in place for a second, then it fell to the floor limply.

“Errrggg?” The Gakkanath groaned in confusion as it came to a halt.

Much to Mara’s surprise, she saw what appeared to be a yellowish glow begin sparking inside of the creature, illuminating its skull like a giant jack-o-lantern.

Still confused by its change in status, the Gakkanath stumbled back a step. Shaking furiously, it weakly collapsed to a sitting position upon the floor.

Everything went quiet then, as Arawn wobbled to his feet and allowed the Extremus Gun to hang by his side, ready to use again if need be. He slowly approached the now dying Fell-demon.

What happened next was something Mara would never forget to her dying day.

Silently, scattered points on the Gakkanath’s skin began to glow ember-like. Most of them appeared near the Extremus-Gun’s entry point on its face.

Like the ashes of a fire, those embers multiplied and fanned out.

Then, one by one, then twos, and threes, those embers detached and floated upwards. Then at some unknowable point, they winked out without a trace.

Then, those embers rose like an ocean wave from the whole as the Berzerker began to discorporate in its entirety. As it did, Mara thought she saw in the sheet of fire, the form of the Gakkanath’s most recent victim, stand up.

‘It’s a soul!’ she realized, as she felt her empathy activate. She stood in awe when she sensed its joyous relief. That soul began to float upwards into the air, only to disappear as its embers faded.

Beyond that one soul, Mara sensed that other souls were achieving a long overdue liberation. There were dozens, no! Hundreds!

Mara staggered under the weight of her Empathy. Her heart rang as she felt the rejoicing of thousands of souls finally liberated from an endless torment.

Yet, underneath them all, one remained in place, unmoving.

It was a pitiful soul, unnaturally bent and twisted. Mara wondered why it didn’t flee its confinement.

Mara’s eyes widened when she heard the soul of the Gakkanath speak through the creature’s lips.

“Whhhaattt?” she heard it trill in a confused human-like voice. A voice akin to a frightened puppy. It whimpered in confusion, as its eyes looked helplessly all around itself.

Arawn moved to stand in front of the remains of the Gakkanath, as it weakly reached out the remains of its tongue towards him.

He didn’t try avoiding it.

“Heeelp,..” It began.

“Meeee,…” it sobbed.

”Pleeeease,….?” It begged desperately as the last of its face and tongue dissolved.

“I am sorry.” Mara heard Arawn whisper sadly, as he reached out a hand and made contact with the last final plume of the dying creature’s embers.

Then, those remaining embers winked out into nothingness into the air above them both.

Nothing remained of the Gakkanath, save Mara’s memories, and the destruction it had caused. Mara looked at Arawn and saw that there were tears streaming down his face.

“Why?” she wondered, “Why did you apologize to it?” she asked, curious as to his regret. He looked back at her.

“It was human once.” He explained, as he looked over the empty spot where the creature had been.

“Long ago.”

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