Grendelkin fell from the rafters of the vault, but the three Scions fled into the waiting elevator. Sweat rolled down their faces as Patron pounded on the door close button. They waited, staring at the onrushing tide. The air was still but for the sound of smooth jazz that filtered down from the speakers above.
Claws scrabbled on concrete, and a howl of rage and anguish echoed in the narrow elevator as the first creature reached them. With careful deliberation, the doors began to close. It was too late.
As the creature leaped into the slowly closing gap, Alia reacted in a blur. She seized the sides of the elevator and thrust her legs out in a savage kick that rocked the creature’s head back with an audible crack of shattering bone. The limp beast flew back into the leading wave of its compatriots, knocking them into a sprawling pile.
Alia had gained them a momentary respite, but it wouldn’t last. Fiends leaped over their fallen brothers, claws tearing into flesh for added purchase, and bounded through the air towards the Scions in their metal box.
Edward shouted for his teammates to clear the door as he pulled free his shotgun and let loose with both barrels. Devastation roared forth from the weapon and blasted through hide and bone with equal ease. Grendelkin screams filled the chamber.
A saxophone crooned from the speakers while the band watched in horror as more twisted creatures ripped past their dead bretheren, intent on their prey.
Patron, thumb still jamming the close button with increasing desperation, yanked Pierce backward as the next grendelkin’s claws lashed out. Cloth shredded as the razor sharp points slid through Pierce’s vest, narrowly missing his flesh.
Alia snarled at the still-crooning speakers and ripped one from the ceiling. She gave it a little toss with one hand, then hurled the offending hunk of electronics into the face of the oncoming grendelkin. Its fangs shattered and the creature shrieked. Alia allowed herself a small smile.
Edward grinned as he finished reloading his shotgun. With a glance at Patron, Edward snatched the man’s silk tophat and flung it out the slowly closing door of the elevator. He raised his shotgun. As the hat’s brim made contact with the grendelkin’s snout, Pierce pulled the trigger. Grey silk and buckshot shredded through the beast’s throat and face, effectively silencing its last wail of pain.
The elevator doors continued their inexorable progress. Glancing at the pool of gore beneath her feet, Nazir’s eyes followed the trail of ichor across the floor. One of the grendelkin corpses lay sprawled across the doorway. Should the doors make contact with the obstruction, they would reopen and the girl had no illusions as to their chances of surviving until it decided to close again. With one smooth motion, she whipped free one of her daggers and slashed the blade across the eyes of the grendelkin that hurtled through the air towards them. The fiend fell back in anguish, blood and fluid gushing down its face. Alia clenched her teeth and slammed the heel of her boot into the corpse that blocked the doors. The mound of muscle and viscera slid across the floor on a slick of its own blood.
The doors closed with a lopsided ping. The remaining speaker haltingly bleated its half of the smooth jazz as the gore spattered trio slouched against the elevator walls and rode up in silence.
Another ping alerted them that they had reached the lobby. With a glance at each other, the team decided to eschew stealth and bolted out of the elevator towards the lobby doors. Patron glanced over his shoulder and stumbled as he saw the gleam of hundreds of eyes. The beasts packed the hallway behind them, boiled free of the elevator shafts, and hung like rotten fruit from the paneled ceiling.
Yet the beasts remained still even as Patron regained his balance and took off behind his friends. The three scions slammed through the glass doors and ran across the street to their waiting getaway vehicle.
Alia pulled the Jag into the sparse late night traffic and pointed its nose towards the highway. A moment passed as the three allowed the leather to enfold their weary bodies.
Despite their lethargy, Nazir and Pierce both sense something and glance sharply at each other. Their ears caught a faint whistling noise. A flicker of shadow passed over them as the car sped past a streetlight. Her eyes wide, Alia slammed on the gas, but it came a moment too late. The car shuddered as something collided with the back of the vehicle. Steel shrieked beneath claws that tore into the trunk. Alia stared at the rearview as a massive creature pulled itself onto the rear of the Jag.
Muscle rippled beneath matted fur as the creature’s arms bunched beneath it, pulling its legs off the speeding pavement and onto the car’s bumper. Fangs glistened in its distended mouth and its bat-like ears tilted forward in anticipation.
Alia’s face tightened as she wrestled with the wheel. The Jag lurched across its lane, but the young woman managed to right the vehicle before it collided with the center barrier. Having regained control, she yanked savagely on the wheel. The vehicle bucked and twisted under her careful hands, but the titanspawn’s sinews only tightened and held fast to the Jag’s frame.
“That must be one of Solviegg’s purebred children,” Edward said. He glanced back at Patron for confirmation. The man nodded. “Grendel,” he replied, his voice clipped as he ducked against the back seat.
“Hold it steady!” Edward yelled at Nazir as he popped the sunroof. Pushing his torso out into the whipping air, Edward aimed the muzzle of his shotgun at their attacker and emptied both barrels. Buckshot flailed through the air and tore through the creature’s rubbery hide. Tarry black fluid welled from the shredded flesh, but quickly oozed back into the thing’s skin as its wounds writhed shut.
The thing’s mouth grinned wider, strings of saliva whipping behind it on the rush of speeding air. One at a time, it pulled its claws free of the steel body and crept forward along the car.
Pierce dropped his empty shotgun through the sunroof with a curse. His face grim, Edward slipped his golden coin from an inside pocket as his eyes tracked the creature’s progress. He rubbed his thumb along the edge of the coin and waited until the grendel had regained the roof.
“I don’t know what this will do,” he muttered to himself, “but here’s a mouthful of Chaos, big guy.” The fiend opened its mouth in a silent snarl. Pierce snapped his hand forward and loosed the coin. Gold flashed through the air and lodged into the beast’s gullet. The grendel gulped, its beady eyes wide in surprise.
Pierce grinned back at the ugly creature and reached for the pistol beneath his coat. The look of shock on the grendel’s face turned to rage. It gathered itself on its rear legs and surged forward across the rear of the vehicle. Glistening claws sliced through the air and into Pierce before he could get the pistol free of its holster.
Pain erupted in the thief’s arm and chest. Blood welled from the torn flesh as Pierce collapsed back into the car. He pressed his uninjured hand across his chest and gritted his teeth to fight off the darkness that threatened to engulf him.
Patron, slouched in the back seat to keep clear of the claws that continued to puncture the roof, took a deep breath and lurched forward. He reached around the front passenger seat and pressed one hand against the flood of blood that drenched Pierce’s chest. The words came unbidden to his lips in an ancient language he hadn’t realized he knew. He peered intently at his friend and the lens in his eye came to life. Aztec symbols twisted around in his vision and he focused on Edward’s ravaged chest. Finally, he closed his eyes and fell back.
Pierce pulled aside his shredded shirt and stared at his chest. Giant welts left his skin marbled a vivid black and purple, but the gashes were sealed. He glanced out the window to gain his bearings as his mind spun for a plan.
“The highway!” Pierce yelled, pointing at the approaching onramp.
Nazir gave him a terse nod and yanked the wheel over while her foot slammed the gas pedal to the floor. The Jag lurched beneath them and shuddered as the beast slipped off the roof. Paint and steel flaked off the car’s sides as claws lashed for purchase. The trunk lid crumpled as the weight of the creature hit the rear of the car and came to a halt.
The fiend’s maw twisted in a snarl, but no sound came from its throat. The grendel’s powerful arms reached forward and it once more began to clamor towards its prey.
Patron stared out the spiderwebbed rear window as the creature’s claws made short work of the roof. He frowned as his mind stretched back to the stories he remembered about Grendel and Beowulf from high school. He recalled that the creature attacked Hrothgar’s hall, furious over the carousing of the men within. The noise had been so raucous the beast had been pained by it even far away in its marshy home.
Patron catches Alia’s gaze in the rearview mirror. “Noise,” he yelled, “We need noise. Hit the horn!”
Nazir’s forehead creased, but with a shrug she jerked the wheel hard to the left as the car rocketed onto the highway. As the vehicle careened into traffic, she slammed the heel of her hand down on the horn.
A high pitched, piercing wail ripped free from the grendel’s throat as the Jag roared its defiance. The beast tore its hands free of the car and clutched them to its throbbing ears.
The Jag’s passengers lurched as the car slapped into a station wagon in the next lane. Glass shattered as the grendel was hurled from the car and smashed into the other vehicle’s roof. Alia shook off the impact and twisted the Jag away from the collision.
In the next lane, the woman at the helm of the crumpled station wagon fought with her steering wheel, but had nothing close to Alia’s reaction speed. The wagon slipped sideways from the impact and plowed sidelong into the semi on the far side. The crunch of steel and plastic came too fast for the grendel, which flew through the air with the vehicle’s momentum. Aluminum crumpled beneath its weight as it hit the side of the semi’s trailer. Claws scrabbled against the metal, tearing large rents along the trailer’s side.
The truck fishtailed across its lane, but this time the grendel didn’t wait to see if the trucker could regain control. It buckled the truck’s siding as the beast kicked off and flew over two lanes towards the fleeing Jag. Alia, only half aware of the creature as it hurtled through the air, once again hammered the horn as her foot tried to grind the gas pedal through the floor.
The scions winced as the grendel’s piercing wail assaulted their ears. Alia didn’t flinch as claws raked at the back quarter of the Jag. She kept her foot on the gas as one hand slammed repeatedly on the horn. The car bucked and hurtled forward as the claws slipped free. Nazir grinned as the ball of muscle and fur rebounded off the pavement and grew ever smaller in her rearview.
She didn’t let up on the gas until the injured vehicle limped its way into Los Angeles. The Jag lurched into the parking garage of Oracle and the team quickly took their hard won prize within.
Marlowe examined the Birthing Runes the team had retrieved and verified they were authentic before sending them to be secured in the vault. After hearing their report, Marlowe told the band he suspected that Solviegg was in the process of packing up her operation. She wasn’t stupid, and wouldn’t stick around after her operation had been uncovered. They were lucky they had retrieved the runes when they did, as they would surely have been gone the next day.
“Knowing Solviegg and her brood,” Marlowe said, “this isn’t over.” He let out a thick cloud of cigar smoke which circled about his head before it was sucked into the overhead ventilation. “She’ll lay low for a while and lick her wounds, but then she’ll want her toys back. Make no mistake. We’ll be seeing that bitch and her misbegotten brood again.”
Alia and Patron smiled, happy to be alive and unable to concern themselves with whatever Solviegg might plan for their future.
Pierce winced at the pain in his chest, and sighed. However glad he was to have retrieved the Birthing Runes, he couldn’t shake the image of the dancer from his club laying gravid with an unknown abomination in her belly, helpless on Solviegg’s table. He knew they’d done all that was possible, but he wished there had been a chance to go back for her. It seemed now the only thing he could hope for was that she had met a swift and painless death. He gritted his teeth. Solviegg had much to answer for, but that was one death he meant to see she paid for personally.
-From the archives of the Moirai Vigil Chorus