The Snake and the Mirror

Babylon Uprising

 

“We should have heard the signal by now,” Hazif hissed. “Something’s gone wrong.”

“Not yet,” Eli said, his voice as steady as he could keep it. “It’s still only a minute after. Give them time.”

“How much time?” Hazif was pacing nervously back and forth, arms folded in front of him. “Before this plan turns back on us and gets us all-“

“Stop,” Eli said, and Hazif did, though more out of surprise at Eli’s tone than anything else. “What’s gotten into you?”

“I get you’re cynical, trust me I really do,” Eli said. “But right now, more than ever we need to have faith in them, in all of them.”

Eli’s hand was clutched tight around an old walkie-talkie they’d gotten back into working order. The channel it was tuned to was silent, as they’d all agreed. They didn’t know how much URIEL was tracking local channels and they needed to keep themselves hidden until the last possible moment.

Hazif was carrying a set of electrical equipment that looked like half an old car battery and a set of jumper cables. It didn’t look like much, but every team throughout the city had one such device, and they might just be what liberated the city.

Most teams had four to five people and were scattered to all corners of Babylon, areas where they could easily blend in. Eli and Hazif were alone at the moment, and they were hoping that would be enough.

“It’s easy to have faith,” Hazif said impatiently. “When your ass isn’t on the line. You can just come back after being shot after all.”

Eli scowled. “Yes, and if I am shot, do you think URIEL is just going to let the incredible resurrecting man go? I barely managed to escape the second time and let me tell you…resurrecting after being devoured by a monster was not a pleasant experience.”

“Mmm…” Hazif seemed about to retort but decided against it, letting the pair fall into silence. After only a few moments, however, the silence was broken by a voice broken by static and a voice calling over the walkie-talkie.

“This is Lab Rat. Brain Freeze is go. I repeat. Brain Freeze is Go. Over.”

It was Varia’s voice. She’d colorfully chosen the call sign “Lab Rat” for herself. The name “Operation Brain Freeze” though had been Asha’s idea.

Eli and Hazif both exchanged a brief nervous glance. If the operation was go it meant Varia’s ad-hoc devices worked. They could be hooked up to the signal towers to overload their signal and drive the monsters under Shadiya’s control into a panic.

It was good news. It meant their plan would work and the mission to liberate the city was underway. It also meant Babylon was about to fall into absolute chaos.

Before they could say a word, another voice came over the channel.

“Copy Lab Rat. This is Blue Angel, beginning our descent.”

That was Asha. They were on a timeline now.

“Let’s go,” was all Hazif said as the two of them hurried from the alley where they’d been huddled into the street. It was night, and most of the population were in their homes in observance of the curfew. All the better, Eli thought, because while they had ideas of how the monsters would react, none of them knew for sure.

Ahead of them, down the street, was a tall signal tower. It looked like a radio tower, a thin spire of strutted black metal with antennae and several dishes midway up its length. At the top, however, was a large covered dome of black metal sealed tight by metal rivets. Whatever was in that dome was the source of the signal.

Hazif passed the equipment to Eli as he took the lead. While he might have been more assured in the mission, Eli was still the pacifist, which meant Hazif had to take point.

The base of the tower was surrounded by a tall fence topped by barbed wire. The only gate was attended by two armed guards who were standing by a small gatehouse. Both of them were listening to something within the gatehouse, likely a radio broadcast. Both had swords at their belt, and rifles slung over their backs, and their backs were thankfully turned as Hazif approached with impressive silence.

Eli didn’t even see the curved silver dagger that Hazif drew from his belt until it had stabbed into the closest guard’s back. The guard screamed, and Hazif struggled with the knife as it was caught in some type of body armor.

Eli rushed forward as the tow of them fell onto the ground, Hazif grappling with the man as he tried to draw his sword while the other quickly worked to pull out his rifle. Without thinking, Eli tackled the second guard to the ground, doing all he could not to strike him as he instead wrestled for the man’s gun.

Hazif eventually got the upper hand, pulling his knife free and driving it into the man’s neck before getting to his feet and finishing the man on top of Eli, blood now covering much of the front of his tunic.

Eli was still in shock, staring as Hazif picked up the gear Eli had dropped and thrust it back into his hands.

Without a word, Hazif went into the gatehouse and flipped a switch, the gate sliding open as Eli hurried through to the ladder that rose to the top of the tower. He didn’t look down as he climbed, eyes fixed on the steps ahead as he moved as quickly as he could rung by rung. Hazif meanwhile hid the bodies of the guards in the gatehouse after relieving them of their swords and guns, disabling one of the rifles and keeping the other for himself as he slung the other two at his waist.

Hazif heard a low growling from the street, and when he turned he saw a monster staring him down as it came around the corner, teeth bared as it moved on four massive legs towards him. Judging by the collar it was one of URIEL’s tamed beasts, likely the one belonging to the guards that had been ptralloing, and now it saw that its erstwhile masters were dead, their blood now covering Hazif.

Hazif swore and ran into the fence surrounding the tower as the monster charged, he managed to slide it shut just as the monster’s claws rammed against the fence, but the thin metal chain and barbed wire wasn’t going to hold it back for long.

The monster was easily the size of a large tiger. Its mouth was far too wide for its head and filled with razor-sharp canine teeth. Its claws were long black sickles that curved through the holes in the fence, metal straining as it began to give. Its ‘fur’ was made of thousands of sharp quills poking out of diseased-looking skin that formed a wild mane and a line of spikes running down its back to its serpentine tail.

Hazif glanced up and saw Eli was only about halfway up. Not nearly enough time. He unslung the rifle from his shoulder before reconsidering. Bullets barely affected even smaller monsters, and the sounds of gunfire would bring every URIEL patrolman within earshot, as well as curious civilians who could get caught outdoors.

Hazif tossed the rifle to the ground and drew one of the guard’s swords. As he did, the gate of the fence finally gave way as the monster pushed through, a growl escaping its heavy lungs as it stared at him with glowing yellow eyes.

“Come on,” Hazif hissed. “Let’s see if you’re just teeth on the inside too.”

With a roar, the monster lunged and Hazif dodged quickly to the side, trying to take a swing with the sword but hitting only empty air. He wasn’t a fencer, he wasn’t cut out for this kind of monster killing. The beast landed before rounding on him again, long claws sinking into the dirt.

Hazif held the sword in front of him, shifting his weight from one leg to the other as he prepared to strike back. He had no idea where to even aim on the thing, and he couldn’t dodge the beast forever.

A feeling like cold water running down his back moved through him as he heard a second louder growl behind him. Hazif turned himself, sideways to keep the first monster in view, only to see a second, larger one crawling over the fence, sharp teeth ripping through the barbed wire like string.

This one moved on all fours as well but was more lopsided, its right forepaw was much bulkier, and ended in several tentacle-like appendages rather than a claw. It had a scorpion’s tail curled behind itself, and while it had the head of a jaguar, its eyes were disturbingly human.

“Shit…” Hazif swore, backing off as the second monster humped down off the fence, both of them moving to pounce from different angles. Hazif didn’t like his odds against one monster. Two of them…

More than ever, Hazif regretted saving Asha in that marketplace. It had brought him nothing but trouble. Except…well…

There was a flash of light, like metal catching moonlight as a sound of ripping flesh flew past his ears. Hazif stared, and where the second monster had been was now the sundered remains of the beast, a massive sword with a saw-like edge embedded in the earth where its torso had been.

Without a noise, a figure landed on the pommel of the sword, claw-like feet catching onto it easily as she looked down at Hazif.

“You’re getting into trouble again, darling,” There was no affection in Freny’s voice, but Hazif smiled in relief. That’s just how she operated.

“Blame Asha…though there’s another thing I need help with,” He said, eyeing the first monster, which was staring at the ruined remains of its companion, the spines on its back rising in fury.

“Oh…right,” Without missing a beat Freny hopped down off her sword, wrenching it free from the ground with her clawed hand just as the monster leapt at her. With a single mighty swing she cleaved it in two through the midsection, letting both halves fall to the ground as a shower of gore spread across the base of the tower.

Hazif walked over to her and, gently taking her horns in his hands, pulled her in to kiss her on the lips. He noticed she kept her eyes open when kissing, but then again so did he. She didn’t react, but that was her way of telling him she didn’t mind. Progress was slow, but it was there.

“Thanks, beautiful,” He smiled.

“You are welcome, darling.” Honestly, Hazif wasn’t sure if Freny thought ‘Darling’ was some kind of code name for him. She might not fully understand terms of affection yet. But when Asha told her that’s what girlfriend’s called their boyfriends, she hadn’t stopped calling him that since. He wondered if she remembered his name was Hazif at all.

As they spoke, Eli finally reached the top of the tower. He glanced down, and was relieved to see Freny was there along with the remains of two monsters. Freny was…disturbing at times, but she’d more than proven her loyalty.

He pulled the heavy box of equipment onto the narrow lip surrounding the dome. Nearby, he could see an access panel hidden under a lid secured with a lock. Pulling a pair of simple bolt cutters from his belt, he removed the lock, casting it aside as he pulled open the panel. Varia had taken two hours to explain to them every part and function on the panel, a dizzying assortment of wires, gauges, and dials. Most of it had been Greek to Eli, but at the end, she had laid out the instructions as simply as she could. Eli took the jumper cables, attaching one end to the device he carried.

Taking a deep breath, he took the cables and attached them to a pair of connection points along the side of the access panel exactly as Varia had told him.

“Well…Here goes nothing,” Eli said as he flipped his switch on the machine. There was a brief flash of sparks from the connection points that nearly caused Eli to lose his grip, but after that there was only silence.

As his heart began to pound, wondering if he had forgotten some step in the instructions, a sound began to rise from the city like a wave. A series of howls and roars in clear pain and distress rose from the streets around them and then spread further still. More and more as the towers overloaded their signals, the wild howls of monsters came. Soon Eli could see them in the streets and rooftops, all of them running or galloping, or flapping wildly away from the closest towers and towards the perimeter of the city.

“Aaaaugh!!”

On the ground, Hazif could only watch as Freny slammed her hands over her ears, shuddering as her eyes went wide, pupils dilated as she stooped over as if in pain, her mouth hanging open as her breath came in ragged pants.

Hazif swore as he took hold of her, hands on her shoulders as he leaned down beside her.

“Freny! Freny can you hear me!?”

“Stop! Make it stop!!” She all but screamed at him, rocking back and forth as she struggled to keep her footing.

“Freny, I need you to-“

“Hazif please! Make it stop! It hurts! Everything hurts!”

Hazif had never seen her give a response like this. Her entire body was clearly racked with pain, struggling to hold it together.

Hazif tightened his hold trying to keep her steady.

“Freny, please listen I need to-“

Her fist slammed into his chest, and Hazif felt several of his ribs crack as he was thrown bodily across the ground.

“Ow…” Hazif’s chest burned as he sucked in air, struggling back to his feet.

Freny’s expression had turned wild, almost feral. Her eyes were glowing red, long hair rising slightly as she stooped into a stance showing clear hostility, claws and teeth bared as she stared him down, like a cat preparing to strike.

“Freny…beautiful…” Hazif edged closer to her. “It’s me, Hazif…it’s darling…remember.”

Freny’s breathing was heavy, her unblinking eyes moving erratically as she struggled to keep focus.

“D-dar-“ She began to breathe, a low growl in her voice.

Hazif focused himself. Since he had turned thirteen, he had done everything in his power to suppress his incubus heritage. Now, though, he needed Freny’s attention and she needed his help.

An incubus was as spiritual as it was physical. Certain movements, unconsciously picked up by the human mind, can link the eyes directly to the release of pleasure chemicals to the brain. In other words, a succubus or incubus could literally make a person want them just from seeing them. More than that, they were spiritual chameleons. Able to tell every instinct a person had that they are to be trusted and kept close. It’s an insidious charm, against which most people had no defense.

Freny’s movements became slightly less erratic, her eyes staying focused on him now. Gently, he reached a hand out towards hers, as slowly as he could manage. He needed to be non-threatening, no offensive gesture that could be construed as a threat. In a lot of ways, it was like their first meeting.

Though her eyes never left his hand, she didn’t pull her arm away as his skin gently pressed against hers. This was where the real power was. At touch alone an incubus could suffuse a target with both a magically entrancing charm as well as a flush of dopamine into the system. With prolonged exposure, he could be as addictive as any drug to a person.

Even as Freny began to calm, her posture growing less hostile as his hand edged up her arm, he felt wretched. It was like manipulating her, enforcing the emotion he wanted to keep her in control. The only reason he allowed himself to do it was to override the conditioning and control already in her mind.

“Stay with me, beautiful,” Hazif said, edging closer, now both hands on her exposed skin as the other slid against her cheek. “You’re not controlled like the others, just push all those voices to the back.”

“It’s so loud…” She said quietly. “It hurts…”

“I know, but I can drown it out until we can shut all this down. Understand?”

Slowly Freny nodded.

Hazif smiled, embracing her as he made sure not to push too much of his own control over her. “Good. It won’t be long now. Soon the only voice in there will be your own.”

 

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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