Posted on January 13, 2006 by Monica Valentinelli
Annihilation : Triad Part Three
Fiction Series Written By: Monica Valentinelli
Written For: Obsidian: the Age of Judgement Setting
Daniel spat carefully. Damn the Law. Sure, the crisp uniforms were a necessary evil—they needed him just as much as he needed them. The Law’d get into a nasty situation that involved daemons or some other supernatural creature (even though “officially” there’s no such thing as monsters), and then they’d hire him, Daniel Wayward, to clean it up. Sometimes things were good, real good. One time he managed to keep the acrid blood spatter to a minimum and kill the thing with no casualties. In his line of work, that was a miracle. Being a beastkeeper had its ups and downs. Most times he was lucky to have a day that was in between.
Today was not one of those days.
Someone higher up in the Law called him on his vidphone just the other day. The call was made the usual way—encrypted—so all’s he got was some address with a Law insignia emblazoned at the bottom of the message. He thought it was a bit odd they asked him to “hold a meeting.” Daniel cursed under his breath. The Law was weak—all they had to stand behind was their ordnance and their Unity declarations. They were nothing compared to the Mystics. When it came to Mystics? Daniel Wayward was better than all of them and those mindless uniforms combined.
“Mr. Wayward. Do you accept the offer?” they had asked him.
“Sure, sure.” He told them. “But it’s going to take me a week or two to get a team assembled, that’s a lot of Beastkeepers.”
”No time for that, Mr. Wayward.” A serious-looking uniform plopped down a datapad in front of him. “Your team’s assembled.”
They allowed him to inspect his team members before accepting the “mission.” As it turned out, the ragtag bunch was much better than he expected-scarred flesh and daemonhide trenchcoats marked men (and some women) who’ve seen brutal battle. Some of them he recognized; some he had hoped to forget. Didn’t matter much, as soon as the action started they were all on their own as far as he was concerned. He was the only Alter there, anyway.
“Oh, and…bring your, um, object.”
He remembered hoping they weren’t planning on confiscating his powerful amulet on this mission. Daniel may be able to do a lot of things, but he couldn’t overpower a room full of his own kind. He fingered the small, ruby-colored pendant that hung around his neck on a leather strap. Yep, with this little object the daemons were going to run home to their masters.
“You ready, sir?” one of the junior officers turned back toward him.
Daniel looked out into the black, gaping maw just ahead of him. He knew some of the others were already in there, plying their Beastkeeping skills to try to calm whatever mess the Law unleashed through its grandiose mining plans. But…if they were already in there and couldn’t handle things on their own…well, that meant there had to be at least fourteen daemons in the rotting place. Daniel put a hand up to his face. He smelled something nasty, like the part of somebody’s garbage that couldn’t be recycled.
Screams erupted from the darkness, throwing stringy bits of pain everywhere.
“I need light,” he told the waiting kid. “I have to see what’s going on in there.”
“Don’t you just want to go in there and rescue them?”
“Son, if I can’t see what I’m facing, I won’t know what to do.”
Daniel had a reputation for being cold and indifferent. May he lie in the deepest circle of hell if that was the truth. All he was trying to do was protect innocent Zone citizens—any way he could—from the true threat to their survival. Daemons.
“Give the man some light,” the boy called to his team. “Light!”
Six pairs of gloved hands cracked several Neon Sticks and threw them unceremoniously into the vast shadow before them. Daniel stepped forward into a yellow circle of light, his boots clicking against cold, hard stone. A red-clawed hand scraped at his face.
“What the—” Daniel quickly swallowed his words and jumped back into the shadows. The only words he should be speaking were the chants controlling the force of his medallion.
A commanding voice shouted behind him. “Alright! This is it, team! Justice will be served.”
Daniel yelled back at the ill-equipped enforcers, “Do NOT move or you will die. Do. Not. Move.”
The team ignored Daniel; one of them took a step forward into another puddle of yellow light. Rows and rows of teeth reached out and snatched at the parts of the youth that were unarmored. The youth kicked the light away from him, and cried as the teeth connected. They heard a loud crunch; the daemon was having himself a snack.
The Law team backed up against the cave’s opening, shielded by the light from the way to freedom. The leader called to Daniel, he sounded annoyed. “These aren’t your average type of daemons. What are these and why are they here?”
Daniel snarled. “I don’t know why. They’re just some ugly Carnivorian daemons trying to ruin my day. Now take out your ordnance and cover me. If this thing doesn’t work,” Daniel pawed at his medallion, “then blow us all up. Blow them back to their Circle.”
“Yes, Sir.” This time, there was no mistake. They’d listen to him now. They had to.
“Wait for my signal. You got that? Mine.”
Daniel smoothed his hair, adjusted his trenchcoat, and planted his feet wide. He shook his arms out (more for special effect than anything) and gently rolled his neck around in a large circle. Soon, his voice flowed from a peaceful place deep inside of him, melting into liquid steel with every word he chanted.
“O sanctus custodis tribuo is res ops reservo obscurum…O sanctus custodis…”
The medallion around his neck glowed with a ruby light as old words merged and unmerged. When the light grew stronger, Daniel pulled himself toward a fading, yellow light illuminating the cave maw. More screams echoed off the cave’s walls, but this time he thought they weren’t quite human. Daniel continued chanting, motioning the Law team behind him to move in. They filtered slowly, carefully picking their way among human corpses and sharp rocks with their blue-black Davidson Arms Defender Rifles gleaming, their barrels pointed toward the cave wall.
Daniel moved softly toward the back of the cave. Deeply entrenched in the chanted words, he almost stepped into the wide hole that stretched out before him in the cave’s floor. Sidestepping cracks in the floor his voice altered slightly, forcing the ruby light to waver for a brief moment. He edged his feet forward and started to walk around the perimeter of the hole.
Lucky. He was so lucky that he didn’t forget to chant.
The ruby light swelled, flowing through him, around him, in him. Bathed in warm light, Daniel chanted louder, pushing the light away from him against a section of the demon limb-encrusted wall. Claws, fists, horns, teeth stopped wriggling where the light touched them. Behind him, the Defenders’ barrels poured bullets shredding daemon flesh, burning the air all around them. Daniel shifted slightly, walking fearless through the spray of bullets, holding the light like a beacon to push the threat back into dirt and stone. He could feel his mouth still speaking the blessed words; his hearing died from the bullets screeching past his sensitive ears. Satisfied that another section of the wall was “cleaned” he continued around the cave while the other Beastkeepers finished their exhausting work. They knew they were nothing, just pawns for the real power—an ancient relic that even Daniel didn’t know the name or true origin of—but they did their work anyway.
A voice grated against the darkness, clicking and chirping commands. Wings, heads, talons retreated into the dirt toward an unseen portal. Daniel continued roaming the cave with his powerful amulet, so deep in his concentration he was unaware the enemy was retreating. When he reached full circle, he stopped his chant and took stock of his surroundings.
Smoke filled his nostrils, burning his face with the smell of burnt demon flesh and acrid blood. A small cheer went up from the uniformed group; Daniel turned quickly to exit the cave. Why should he stay and clean up the mess? He did his job, he’ll get paid. He wanted out of there. Even the Zone’s recycled air was better than the musty stench of the cave. There were too many dead people, too many casualties.
A loud smack sounded, bouncing around the cave like a renegade bullet. Something or someone was still there. Fire erupted in the center of the cave, filling the air with more smoke, more unbelievable smells. Stomach bile forced its way up into Daniel’s mouth. He forced it back down and swallowed hard.
Unable to see, Daniel opened his mouth to repeat the words—just in case. Smoke caught in his throat and invaded his lungs. If he wanted to join this fight, it would be without his relic…at least for a little while. He heard loud laughter. Hot breath caressed his tender face. A claw scraped against his shoulder, drawing a thin line of blood. An inhuman voice gurgled—
Daniel turned and saw—what was it—part man, part bull, part winged snake?
The blood-red pile of scales and teeth turned to him, waiting. One of the Law team experimentally hoisted her teammate on her shoulders and started carrying him out. The daemon ignored the fleshbag and blew stale air up Daniel’s nose, instead. Other team members hauled out the dead, exiting quickly and quietly with the Beastkeepers. Lucky for them, the daemon only wanted Daniel.
Fire erupted again, this time toward the front of the cave. A rockslide forced Daniel and the daemon to jump back. Gently, they danced around a Neon Stick’s fading light, exploring each other for any sign of weakness. The daemon stopped, bowing to Daniel and pointed a sinewy finger at his corded-muscled breast.
Daniel laughed nervously. “Daniel,” he said as he bowed gracefully. Well, there was a first for everything, wasn’t there?
The daemon called “Pool” stretched his black-veined wings as a warning. Daniel couldn’t help but smile. He still had a few tricks up his sleeve. There were a lot of credits at stake and after all, he wasn’t going to let some thick daemon hide with rocks-for-brains kill him. No, sir this would not be his last stand.
“Pool? You are one ugly daemon. Bet your momma ran away screaming when you was born.”
Pool grunted. This was going to be fun.