Chapter One

First Fight, First Failure


It had been a clear day in Wichita on the 24th of February. Flo had already been in the circle of stones for some time, gathering up energy and preparing for the meeting. She spent much of her time sitting cross-legged in the center. James mostly kept an eye on things throughout the afternoon. Yet another in a string of afternoons lasting most of the week. Flo had been trying to find her father through her ‘magic’. He didn’t know if he believed in ‘magic’ but after Dark Day, he was willing to believe.

She’d found someone, she said, that could help. That was who she was going to pinpoint, tonight. She said she had found others to help them, they would be there around 8 that night. More panthers.

The sun went down and then, around 8pm, the first of the others appeared…

By Friday evening Corb was torn between anticipation and exhaustion. Work at Beech field had come to a halt for the moment, but he’d spent the rest of the week helping to put higher fences up at the Anderson’s feed lot. They’d had nothing strange happen on Dark Day, but all the same were worried about the security of their animals.
Was the whole world just being paranoid, or had more people had odd experiences or visions than wanted to share them?

And after work out at the farm, he’d catch a ride back to the Rockwell library branch to hit the books and free wifi for a while, then catch the bus down to the East Town Mall to use the wifi at the Starbucks there until 9pm, bus home to clean up and get some sleep and repeat.

The Starbucks at the Dillon’s had re-opened, and was closer, but he couldn’t bring himself to go there.

Today he’d skipped the after work research, so had managed to shower and get something resembling a proper meal into him. Then he’d missed the bus, thrown a small internal fit that the police still weren’t talking about releasing his truck. He was about to use Uber to get a ride, then remembered that so far he’d only replaced his lost smart phone with a dirt cheap prepaid flip-phone. Maybe the police would release his phone and his truck soon?

He hurried back to the rooming house where they still had a six year old phone book in the living room, looked up a taxi company, and called them. He couldn’t believe he was calling a freaking taxi, who did that anymore?

On the way to the park he finally sat back and thought. He should have arranged to meet up with TJ first. They’d talked on the phone a couple of times during the week, briefly, but he hadn’t thought of meeting up first. And he should have skipped some of his other research, and gone to the park another evening and scout it out some. In in the dark of the night he could even have flown there for a literal bird’s eye view.

Basically, he should have actually thought ahead, instead of avoiding thinking about that note and what it meant. Yeah, that would have been good. But too late now.

He normally thought of himself as reasonably intelligent and quite disciplined, but this week really hadn’t been his best.

He had the cab drop him off at Murdock and Waco, and from there jogged into the park and towards the meeting spot. Now he was a bit early without having to deal with the bus transfer downtown, and the baggy overalls flopped around a lot when jogging — that was something he’d have to think about how to fix — but at this point he was too impatient to walk. Something was finally happening, and he couldn’t wait any longer.

Almost as soon as he saw the stones, he knew that another like him was already there. He couldn’t make much out in the dark, at least not in this form, so as he approached he called out “TJ, that you?"

Abby had spent much of the week since Tuesday just like every other day. At the garage by 0800, leave the garage at 1700 , be at work at the club by 1900, and go off the clock at 2400. The insurance work authorization had come through and Abby is putting in most of her hours at the garage working on Tim’s poor car. As for Tim, he sort of just went his own way, apparently not interested in Abby at all. She had driven him home on Tuesday after closing out her shift at the club and he had called only once since then to inquire about the car. She had confirmed with him at that time that he would be going with her to the meeting and that she could pick him up at about 1900.

Beyond working on the car, Abby had spoken twice with Elizabeth and Stan and things seemed to be going great in that relationship. She had been a bit tense when the subject of her work came up, thinking that maybe they would require her to quit her job at the club and her outings as an escort. They had both been surprisingly ambivalent about her second job and told her that she was free to pursue her life. There had been some discussion about when Stan would come out again and it seemed that a month would be the earliest he would be able to get away and come back out to Wichita.

Lots of progress has been made on Sin’s habitat and it is actually looking like some sort of piece of the South American jungle that is home to this specific type of python. A small waterfall-fed stream meanders through part of the room, flowing into a pond and then being re-circulated. The humidity was set much higher in that room than for the rest of the house, with additional lights and heating elements used to simulate the jungle. Special plants and vines were brought in and some tree branches were set up so as to provide places where Sin could hide and strike at his prey. Mike has done a lot of work and is quite proud of the remodel. He has had sex with Abby three times to satisfy his urges and to allow her to work off some of the costs, but on Thursday he had told Abby that he would have to stop having sex with her because his wife was getting suspicious.

So now it is Friday evening and she motors the bike up to the park and secures it to a steel stanchion put there for that purpose. She nods to Tim. “You ready to see if this is someone like us? I am pretty jazzed, actually. Still, it is a bit mysterious and I think I might want to allow my Loa to come out for a bit. Remember that the ground is soft here and you might have problems if you transform.”

As she walks, she summons the Loa and lets her become the primary form for a while. One of the benefits of this form is the ability to see a good distance in the dark of night and she takes advantage of that now, scanning the ground around her as the pair walks to the standing stones. Approaching the meeting place, Abby sees three people already present. Two men are standing and a woman is sitting on the ground at the center of the stones. Something tugs at Abby and she recognizes the same feeling she had had when Tim had showed up at the garage. Then she frowns, only the men are like her; the woman does not give off the same vibe. After allowing Abby to observe the stones and the three people there, the Loa allows Abby’s other form to regain control of the body as she and Tim walk up to the stones.

“Hello, the stones. We were invited to a meeting here at eight. I think that we are just on time. My name is Abby Stern and I am excited to meet others like me. Tim, here, is another of us.”

Abby is dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and is wearing a biker jacket that is unzipped halfway down. She is carrying a motorcycle helmet in the crook of her left arm. She stands about 5’7" and has what many people would consider a very nice body. Her face is clearly an African American and Oriental mix and her dark hair fall in waves to just below the shoulders.

TJ arrives shortly behind Abby, apprehensive about the situation. He looks with interest on everyone that is already there, each for being recognized as ‘like him’ and then the woman who is not… an interesting development in its own right.

The woman sat quietly, her eyes closed. Abby took a moment to read her aura. It was… muted somehow. Abby still wasn’t sure how to read the aura’s, she had spent some time practicing. Excitement and arousal she could pinpoint in an instant, common states of being at the club.

Other, stronger emotions that were usually visible were easy to spot as well, she had made the connections and could see it in an aura even if the person was trying to hide it.

This, though, this wasn’t an emotion or expression she’d seen before. The woman’s aura wasn’t… dim. It was even, calm. Nothing registered.

Looking at the others, she could see the tint in their aura that she knew she shared.

The red-haired man spoke up, quietly, “I’m James. This is Flo.” He nods towards the woman sitting there. “She’s… in a trance or something.”

Each of them shared their names.

“She’s the one that left the note?” Tim asked.

James nods.

“Well, we’re here… I guess.”

After several awkward moments, Flo’s eyes open. Abby can see that her aura comes to life.

“Ah,” Flo says, looking to James with a smile, then back to the others. “The Panthers are all here.”

Abby nods at TJ, James, and Flo before turning to the other man, who has not introduced himself yet. Then, looking back at the woman, she says, “So, do you know what is happening and why we are different from what we were a few days ago? I do not understand the reference to panthers and that is certainly not the form that either Tim or myself are paired with. I will say that I am excited at the change and would dearly love to explore the new me more.”

“Panthers does not refer to your change, it is your tribe,” Flo says. “Of course, you don’t understand, but I will help, by telling you a story.”

“I am an Osage, trained to be a medicine woman. My father was a medicine man and he shared with me this tale. I thought it was just myth, until last week when the sky went out.

“When the world began, the Little Ones, spirits who would become man, live in the Above World. with the help of a great Eagle and a Great Elk, they made for themselves a place on the world. And they became three peoples: the Wah-zhá-zhi, the Hon´-ga, and the Tsi-zhu.

“Wandering the earth, they found the U-tah-non-dsi, who lived in the badlands. A dark place wth blood and excrement, filth and death. It took much bravery but the Chief of the Wah-zhá-zhi spoke with the U-tah-non-dsi and convinced many of them to go with the people from the badlands.

“Now, that was a time of myth and the people live scattered in America and the U-tah-non-dsi are forgotten… but those who staye din the badlands never forgot and one day they would come from the badlands to take their place in our lands.

“That’s what happened on Dark Day. The U-tah-non-dsi from the badlands have come to take our world. And the U-tah-non-dsi who came with the people, who joined the Puma Tribe, a Tribe of Warriors… they must stand and fight against the darkness.

“That’s why I call you Panthers. Dark Warriors of the Puma Tribe. what you become…” she shrugs.

She pauses to let that sink in.

Corb had been surprised briefly that the ‘like him’ presence he’d felt hadn’t been TJ but another — and then more had arrived. Briefly he’d wondered if there was going to a throng of them before long, but it seemed there was just five.

After the Flo had told her story, Corb burst out “Seriously? I’ve read every myth of the sun going out, dark worlds, and so on that I could find this week – and believe me, mythology experts have dug them all up and put them on the net, and that has to be one of the lamest explanations that I’ve heard.”

But he doesn’t stalk away, no matter how much he wants to. He looks at the others, the ‘like-him’ others. “Look lady, you obviously know something, to have gathered us here. And something strange happened, I’ll admit that. But ‘panthers’ and ‘Puma Tribe’ aren’t cutting it as an explanation. I mean, you just said that the other tribes, the Honkas and See-jews and Wah-whatchamacallits, they were people, even if they were called Puma.”

He hesitates before saying this next part aloud, but he’s pretty sure that these others will understand. “So I don’t get how this explains why I turned into a freaky-ass crow monster. A human-sized crow monster that can fly . Fly! Do you know how impossible that is? I looked it up on the internet, in theory I’d need wings over twenty feet long, and probably about forty pounds of chest muscles, maybe more. I didn’t understand all the science, but there is no way I should be able to fly, even if I accept turning into a crow monster.”

He pauses, nostrils flaring, and pleads “Telling me that I’m a panther, or puma, whatever you decide on — that still isn’t making sense out of this. I want to understand what is happening to me!”

Abby listens to the one named Corb talk and nods her head when he is done. “I agree with some of what Corb has said. What happened to me does not seem to fit with any Native American myths. On Dark Day, my body was occupied by a Voodoo Loa who has decided that she does not wish to leave just yet. Which thrills me, actually. I love the way she looks and she can cast some badass spells that I am learning. I think there is a lot more about her and her spells that she can share if she stays around, so I am hoping that she does. Sometimes she wants to be out and in control of our body and I let her but most of the time she stays inside because, well, most people would just freak out to see her.”

She turns to the woman. “So, Flo, are there more of us or are we it? It seems a bit much for five people with really very little knowledge of what we can do to be expected to save the world.”

Flo shrugs, “Used to non-natives rolling their eyes when presented with stories of the people. Guess magic man from the sky that’s executed by his own people makes a better story.”

“What ‘happened’ to you is going to fit whatever narrative you tell yourself to make you feel better, without anything to guide you otherwise. I am telling you that before this day came, we had our own stories. Of men and women who became fantastic beings, fused with the spirits, with the things of dreams and of their dark hearts.

“I am not telling you that you come from the ‘People’, but that you come from the U-tah-non-dsi, who dwelled in the darkness of the badlands and that some came with the people, crossed over to our world. They came with the people and were powerful warriors of darkness. Puma, Panther… this doesn’t mean you are cats. These are totems. The Pumas were warriors… what are Panthers but dark coated Pumas?”

She frowns.

“In any case, I do not know how many others there are. Certainly there must be… especially if the others have begun their war from the badlands.”

Corb snorted at the ‘magic man from the sky’ comment, and when Flo is done he adds “I haven’t had a lot of use for faith recently. Seen holes in the one I grew up in, don’t see as anyone else’s stories are any better. But I guess I have to admit there is stuff going on I don’t understand. I won’t say I believe you, but how about I accept your story as ‘better than anything else I’ve heard.’ But don’t think I’m drinking the kool-aid.”

He stands there for a moment, shoulders tense, hands balled into fists, then he visibly forces himself under better control. Once he has he continues in a less belligerent tone. “We were attacked, all of us by the sound of it. The ones that attacked me had shredded jeans, kind of like mine became after I changed. They looked human enough though. Does that mean they’d changed back and forth? Does that mean that these, these, You-taniski or whatever you called them, that they can pass for people, be anyone, then attack us?”

Abby shakes her head. “Not all of them changed. The two men that attacked me were my foster brothers several years ago. They took to raping me for fun while I was living there so I ran away. Twice. Somehow they found me again and they were going to try raping me…..again. That is when the Loa came to me and killed them. As for me and faith, I am a firm believer in the power of the Voodoo.gods and Loa.”

“I, too, am interested in what Corb asked. How do we tell the bad guys from the good guys?”

Corb frowns at the young woman ‘panther.’ What sort of flake believed in voodoo? Granted that weird shit was happening, but there had to be a more sensible explanation than that sort of mumbo-jumbo. Besides which she looked like the sort of pretty girl who knew she was pretty and knew how to use it to get her way. That sort of thing always rubbed him the wrong way. He knew it was probably mostly envy — looks were never going to get him ahead, and pretty things generally stayed well away from him unless they wanted something from him – but that didn’t change that life was generally better when he kept his distance from that sort.

Well, best way to deal with that was to not give her much attention, make it clear that he wasn’t going to be hanging on her every word just because she was pretty. He wanted an answer to her question too, but it could wait for a bit.

He turned from her and asked “What about you, TJ, what do you make of all of this?” While he was at it he might as well be inclusive, so he moved to include the two taller men, the one who had been here with Flo, who he’d mistaken for TJ at first just because of that sense of ‘like me’, and the one who had better be a football player or he’d missed out an opportunity. “What about you guys, you buying either the native story or the voodoo angle?”

James stands there listening to those who have came to the meeting. He is sure of what Flo has been saying and that those who have arrived are like him in some way but is still skeptical. James has always been a little skeptical of new people. He continues to size them up as they speak. Focusing on their thought patterns as they progress through a series of questions.

Tim shrugs, a movement that Abby is beginning to think defines his character. Noncommittal. “It all makes as much sense as any of it, doesn’t it?” he asks. “Which is to say that none of it makes sense. If Abby says it’s Voodoo, then that’s that. She’s got the heads to prove it. What I do know, is that last week, I wouldn’t have believed any of this and now here we are.”

TJ nods. “This woman, Flo, she found us somehow, without being what we are. So maybe we should hear her out?”

Flo nods. "It’s not a perfect story, it’s a myth… myths were made to explain the things we didn’t know or understand. Break it down. There are people and there are… whatever you are. You came from somewhere and have, obviously, been living alongside people all this time.

“Last week, something happened, and you were revealed to yourselves. Meanwhile, something else has been revealed. An enemy. They’ve taken my dad and most other shamans I know of have disappeared. It looks like anyone with true spirit power was targeted. I was targeted and if it weren’t for James, I wouldn’t be here as well.”

James remembers the hollow expressions and dark eyes of the men that had attacked her. They certainly weren’t normal.

Flo continues, “I think that’s the answer. ‘They’, whoever they are, are afraid of anyone with power. And when I say power… before Dark Day it was all theory, really. The idea of spiritual power and energy. But now…”

She closes her eyes and holds her left hand to her chest while extending her right hand to the sky. A moment later, a sudden clap of thunder reverberates throughout the park. The force of the thunder staggers the group, James flinches and nearly rolls for cover.

The thunder echoes away gradually and Flo brings her hands back to her side.

“You did that?” Tim demands. He looks up at the sky, still clear, no sign of lightning.

“It isn’t something that could have been done before Dark Day, that day, the energies rushed into lines of power. Right now, we stand at a nexus of two of those lines, small as they are.”

Abby is used to people making fun of her beliefs and she lets Corb’s comments roll off her back without saying anything. She is a bit uncertain when Tim comes to her defense as he had not seemed that interested in her, but she gives him a warm smile in thanks.

Abby is as surprised as anyone when Flo does her thunderclap spell, and might just be the first to recover. Her eyes glow with excitement and she leans forward just a bit. “That was amazing. Can you teach me how to do that? I have been learning how to read auras and I can cast a fear spell. My Loa counterpart can grab and hold people at a distance but I have not learned that yet. I am sure that there is much more to magic than I know and I would love to learn more.”

She calms down a bit than frowns. “But you have not answered our questions about identifying the bad people and how are the five of us and you supposed to save the world.”

Flo shrugs, “I don’t know how to ‘save the world.’”

She looks down. “I don’t know how to identify the bad people. Except through their actions. I know the myths, but really, this is all new to me, too.”

Silence settles over the group for a moment, then she takes a deep breath and speaks again. “But what we don’t do is sit around. We can act, and the first thing to do is to find the medicine men and women who have been taken. They are a source of strength that we need to have with us.”

“Well, how do we find them?” Tim asked.

“I have been searching for my father, but he is closed off to me, so I thought to seek out the other shamans I know. One of them is… someone I can find. She was a medicine women when she was younger but…”

Flo pauses for a moment, “She lost her way. So maybe her magic wasn’t detected by the kidnappers. Or maybe she doesn’t have the magic anymore. But, it’s a chance. She was a friend of my dad’s and maybe she knows more.”

Abby pauses then says, “Hey, I wonder if Mama Lini is one of those shaman types? Mama Lini is my mentor and mother figure. She saved my life after some… friends… had left me to die from a heroin overdose.” She makes a sign and touches her amulets. That was five years ago but she still remembers it.

“I have been clean for about five years now, thanks to her. She took me into her home after I got out of the hospital and rehab and taught me a lot about life and about her Voodoo magic. She was at her altar when I got home from work early in the morning of Dark Day and she told me that something bad was coming. She was still at it when I woke up after a few hours of sleep. I asked her if the evil was still coming and she said the oddest thing. Well, it was odd at the time but now, not so much, I guess.

“Anyway, she said that the evil was already here. I went into the kitchen to make coffee and her prayers stopped. When I went to look for her, she was gone. Just gone. Didn’t make a sound. No evidence of anything. I waited a couple of days then filed a missing person report, but the cops are way too busy trying to figure out all the crap that happened that day. I got the feeling that my report might see some action sometime in the next decade. Anyway, is it possible that Mama Lini is one of these shaman sorts and got taken?”

She pauses a bit to think of her spiritual mother. “I got nothing on my plate for tonight and the weekend is mine. I was going camping.” She looks at Tim, but he is looking just about anywhere else but at her. “Alone, I guess. So I am available all weekend. Especially if we can find out anything that will help me get Mama Lini back. So, what do we do first?”

“Hey, Flo, sorry for being so wound up earlier, I guess we are all trying to make sense out of all of this. At least you have some sort of plan for figuring stuff out, and know about some of the dangers, which is about 100% more than I had ten minutes ago. I’m willing to help track someone down, but a few things I should get out there, and probably everyone else needs to do the same – basically I’m guessing from the look of all us that none of us is Bruce frikking Wayne, so while maybe jobs are minor compared to getting killed or the world being taken over, we still have to eat.”

He rubs the back of his neck nervously, and dives into maybe the harder part “And look, on Dark Day, I guess I killed a couple of these, these whatever we call them, the bogey-men or whatever. It was that shooting at the Dillons. I bumped into one of them, next thing I know he pulls out a shotgun and almost hits me. That first shot missed and I got behind my truck, but then he and another guy open up on other people. I got in my truck and tried to get out of there to where it would be safe to call 911, but they shot out a tire and were coming after me. I pulled out my gopher gun for whatever that was worth, but the guy with the shotgun flanked me and hit me. I was dying. Then stuff got weird, and I don’t really remember what happened for about 24 hours. But they ended up dead, and I survived, so …” He shrugged.

“The thing is, it’s a crime scene, you know? The police found my truck, my gun, my frikking boots! And then I show up over 24 hours later with no good explanation for what happened – and I swear the boots are the hardest part to explain. So I’m a ‘person of interest’ in a mass shooting, and they’re still holding my truck, and the other stuff. So I want to help, but I really don’t want more police attention, and I’ve got no wheels, and I can’t afford to turn down much work. So if the plan is you do some spell, and I turn into a flock of crows and go watch some house until the rest of you get there tonight, hey that’s cool. If the plan is we take off on a cross-country road trip for however long, then I have problems. Not saying ‘no,’ just that I’d have problems to figure out.”

He looks around “What about the rest of you, any of you a millionaire playboy? Or playgirl, or whatever the right word for that is. And I guess none of you turn into a giant bat? That would actually be kind of cool, literally being a bat-man, you know? I guess a crow monster is still kind of radical, but I grew up with Batman, not Crowman.”

Abby chuckles than looks at Corb and nods. “Those are very good points, Corb. Thank you for bringing them up. As for myself, I have two jobs.” Abby looks around and continues, "I am usually working from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon Monday through Friday and then seven to midnight Monday through Thursday and a couple of Friday and Saturday night gigs a month. Dropping any of these would make it harder to pay the mortgage and utilities or buy groceries or go camping or drive my bike. I guess you get the meaning.”

She motions back to the parking lot. “I have a Harley that seats two. Tim has a car in the garage I work at that I am repairing for him, which is how we met, by the way. But there are still a few days of work to go on that. I can put my hands on a bit over six grand I have been saving and I know a couple of guys that can get us a decent used van for about that much. I could toss that into the pot if it helps. After all, based on what Flo is saying, I may not need it for that new roof any time soon. Oh, and I said van for a reason. I have a seven foot python at home and if I have to give up my house, Sin is coming with me.”

“I don’t know if you have to give up your house or anything,” Flo says. “I mean, if we can just get to her tonight, that would work. And if you can actually fly,” she looks to Corb, “that would be helpful, I can get the rest of us there in the truck. The bench in the cab is roomy enough.”

“We can get there in about two hours, I think, it’s down in Medicine Lodge… the town, southwest of here. Corb, was it? The address is 1881 Mill Road if you want to check it out.”

Corb chuckles, then explains “Any of you got a smart phone that can pull up a map, or do you have a state highway map in your truck? Far as I can tell, my phone fell out of my pockets somewhere on Dark Day, probably while I was flying. Cops didn’t find it at Dillons, it wasn’t in the field where I woke up the next day. Anyway, I’m just using a cheap flip-phone for now until I’ve made sure I’ve got the cash set aside for rent, food, my contributions to the mortgage on the farm, truck insurance … you know how it goes.”

“I’m a decent navigator, not perfect or anything but I’ve done some flying lessons and my first solos so I know what it is like looking down from the air, but I need to have a route and some landmarks to memorize first.”

While they pull up a map, Corb says “I’ll need somewhere hidden to change, and to give you some of my stuff first. I think I can keep the bib-overalls on and in OK shape, but this will be my first test of them. Pretty sure it will look so ridiculous that if any of these bogey-men show up they’ll die laughing. Forget scarecrows, I’ll be a laugh-crow. But at least if I have to go back to human I won’t look quite totally insane.” After a pause he adds “Unless I go into flock of crows form, then everything falls off, but hopefully I don’t have to do that one tonight. It is … kind of weird.”

In the end he just uses the cab of the truck, leaving his hoodie, wallet, and shoes there in his backpack. He takes off his thin t-shirt and wads it into one hip pocket, and puts his socks in the other one. In the bib pocket he sticks a twenty dollar bill, a few quarters, his flip-phone, and absolutely no ID. Finally he undoes the three buttons on each side and lengthens the straps a bit, steps out into the shadow of the truck.

He repeats the directions one more time “South the 400, follow it West, second town of any size once I’m out of the city is Pratt, turn south and pick up the 281 and follow it south and south-west and the first thing of any size it hits is Medicine Lodge. National Gypsum should stand out at night, Mill Road heads west along the south edge of the plant, follow that until there is a loop at the end, and there it is. There are some trees right near the track just to the west of it, I’ll come down in those. Man Google Earth is awesome and I’ve got to get a new smart phone!”

“Once I’m landed, I’ll text TJ to let you know I got there, find out where you are, and stuff. Text me if something happens before then.”

Without waiting to see reactions from the rest, he transforms and launches himself into the air and quickly beats hard to climb up above the city lights, then circles the park a few times to make sure that he’s going to be OK with the overalls. Then he heads for the bright lights of the expressway, trying not to caw with the sheer joy of flying on his own.

It is only a few minutes into the flight that he thinks about how this is going to be far longer of a flight than he’s done so far. He knows that he is in good shape, but he’s not sure how well the endurance from daily runs and the strength from physical labor will translate to flying endurance.

Corb’s change is shocking to everyone. It’s one thing to know that you can shift into something fearsome and powerful, it’s another to watch someone change before your eyes. The large birthmark on the side of his face darkens and sprouts feathers… from there, the mark spreads quickly to envelop his body, the feathers following the line as it expands. His chest is a bloody mass, remnants of the shotgun wound he sustained to trigger his first change.


The vision is horrific and the others are taken aback. They quickly recover as he flies into the air.

“That was… crazy,” TJ says. “I never actually saw that when we met.”

The rest quickly move out. Flo hops into the truck with James taking the front passenger seat. TJ hops in the back.

The two vehicles pull out and head south to 400 before heading west and taking the 235 to 42 south.

As the crow flies, it’s about 3/4s of the driving distance and Corb makes that in about the same time as the drivers. He gets there first and, with a thought, bursts into a murder of crows. The individual birds take roost in a nearby tree and watch the road for the arrival of the others.

The rest get there around 10pm. Flo stops the truck and heads to the door, knocking.

Abby follows the truck and pulls in behind it as Flo steps out. She locks the bike but there is no steel beam here to use the chain on so she leaves it in the rear cargo bin. She removes her phone from the dash and follows Flo, helmet in the crook of an arm. As she walks to the door behind the other woman, Abby looks around at the neighborhood.The town of Medicine lodge is northeast of the Medicine Lodge River, if you could call it a river. The house itself it outside of the town, to the west and just a hundred yards or so from the river to the south.

North of the house are open fields of grass and some relatively unkept roads. Between the house and river are trees, fed by the nutrients brought by the moving water and the moisture directly provided by the river.

The group had appraoched the house from the east after driving past some large industrial area, probably the source of the towns livelihood. The address was actually only half a mile after that. If anything happened out there, at this time of night… no one would be around to know.

Flo knocks on the door, “Trish?” she calls out. “Trish, are you home? It’s Flo. Flo Williams? Jack’s daughter?”

As Flo approaches the house, Corb settles himself around the eaves. At some level it feels wrong, almost dangerous, to be on something so solid rather than a branch, but at least this way he’s off the ground but able to watch all around the house.

At a different level it deeply, deeply, weird to be a flock of crows but to somehow still be him. He really can’t think about it, in fact it is hard to think of anything the way that he normally would, but somehow he still seems to be able to function rationally even if he isn’t fully aware of his thoughts … it all gets to be too much to think about and spills out in words.


Abby looks around as she waits on the sidewalk behind Flo as the other woman knocks on the door. “Crap-ass bunch of crows at this house, Flo. Anything we should be worried about? I think I will ask my Loa to come forward for a bit. She can see in the dark much better than I can.”

Abby asks the Loa to take over her body and practices with the quick change. The Loa appears but since she is wearing her jeans and biker’s jacket and gloves, the only real visible changes are the rotting heads that are swinging on chains from a belt at her waist and her face, which seems to be a continually shifting series of Day of the Dead skull forms, each with dead black eyes and fangs for teeth.

After changing, Abby looks about to see if she can spot anything hidden in the darkness then casts a spell to hopefully detect any magic in the area besides her new companions.

Flo starts as Abby changes. She shakes her head and exhales slowly. “It is hard to get used to this… please move away though. I do not know that Trish knows or will understand. At least not until I tell her.”

Abby backs away and then slips into the shadows. Her senses come alive with the power of the spell. The house itself seems to have a slight glow of power, not surprising if the woman inside had any magical talent at all. Flo was also pulsing with magical energy, as if she was surrounded by some manner of shield.

James walked up to the door and waited with Flo. A few moments later the door opens.

“Flo?” an older woman asks. Her hair is mostly grey with streaks of black and her skin is weather worn. She looks at least sixty years old and might be older. “You have visitors?”

“Can we come in, Trish?” Flo asks. “I am sure you felt the change since last week. We have to talk.”

Trish nods and invites the group in. Abby stays out, reveling in the darkness, feeling like she is part of it, unwilling for the moment to step back into the light. The crows watch her, but rather than being unnerving, she feels a sense of relief at their presence. No ordinary crows, she assumes they are related at least in some way to Corb.

She scans the forest and then across the open field. Nothing at the moment. Two sibilant voices begin to bicker with one another as she stalks the grounds.

One of the crows flaps over to stay nearer Abby, but then flies back to the roof. In that weird not-thinking that he does in flock form Corb realizes that it hurts when any part of him flies too far from the flock. He doesn’t want to think what it would be like to have a part pulled far away.

Abby looks down to the heads at her hips and picks one up in each hand, turning them so she can see the faces. The horrified expressions are still there, as if they could still not fathom what had happened to them in the final moments of their lives. The words they are saying are gibberish to Abby but she smiles at them anyway. “Ooooh, don’t the two of you make just the best conversation pieces. You and I are going to be friends for a long time. I don’t know about you two, but that just fascinates and thrills me to no end. Come on, let’s make a tour of this place.”

Abby lets the heads drop back down to her side and smiles. Yes, life is good.

The others step inside the house. Trish welcomes them into the living room where a worn couch and loveseat set are positioned advantageously near the television. A recliner sits opposite the loveseat.

James follows Flo in and then TJ and Tim enter.

“Sodas in the fridge,” Trish offers. TJ meanders to the kitchen and pulls a soda out, holding up a Coca-Cola can. Tim nods and TJ tosses it his way before grabbing another one.

“So, Trish, are you—”

Trish waves a hand dismissively. “Yes, Flo. Yes, yes. Well, part ways, at least. After ‘Dark Day’, what they call it on the news. I have have the medicine again. It’s not much, but I can feel it.”

Flo nods.

“So I figure you were coming to see about that.”

“Well,” Flo responds, “partly. I also came by because they got dad.”


“The U-tah-non-dsi.”

Trish’s face crinkles. “That’s just a myth,” she sits on the recliner.

“No, Trish, it’s not. These men here with me, and the woman outside, they are Panthers. They are from the U-tah-non-dsi that came with the people from the badlands.”

“Just legends, Flo!”

Flo sighs. “You have magic in your hands but can’t believe that the legends are true?” She turns to James. “Show her, James?”

James frowns a moment, then nods, rising from the spot on the loveseat he had taken for himself. He moves to the middle of the room.

“This is why I’m wearing shorts and a tank,” he mutters.

He lowers his chin to his chest, then rolls his head around.

The room is quiet for a moment and then he jerks back once… twice… blood begins to well up from under his shirt. His skin greys, his features becoming gaunt and his eyes film up.

His arms suddenly change, first to stumps, then to hooks, then plastic and rubber prosthetics. his legs seem to become wooden, then rubbery as well. Suddenly, metal and wires erupt from his limbs and spread.

The whole transformation takes fifteen seconds and in the end he has the appearance of a zombie with cyborg limbs. He looks over to Flo and then to Trish. The bleeding has lessened to oozing black dribbles.

Tim realizes he has backed himself up over the top of the couch. TJ had dropped his drink.

It’s a moment before they realize that Trish is screaming, having stumbled back and away onto the floor. Flo rushes to her side.

“It’s alright, Trish, he isn’t going to hurt you!”

“That,” remarks TJ, bending to pick up his drink before more of it spills, “is not right, man.”

James lifts his arm, there is a whirring of gears and servos.

Outside, Corb and Abby can hear the screams. Abby considers going in, when the crows begin to caw raucously.

She turns to see what has them agitated and notices faint lights coming down the road quickly.

Cars with their headlights off, moving far too fast for this old country road. There are four of them. Hell, in the dark, she normally wouldn’t have even seen them, but with her enhanced nightvision, they are as plain as day.

Abby looks up at the crows on the eaves and shakes her head, they are definitely not normal but seem to be friendly. “Thanks for the warning.”

She walks quickly to the front porch and knocks loudly as she calls out. “Everyone OK in there? We got company coming. Four dark cars and I don’t think they are tourists.”

After Abby seems to have picked up the warning, Corb gathers himself on the back part of the roof, out of sight of the approaching vehicles. He tries to ingather without too much noise or commotion, but he isn’t at all sure that all of him manages it especially well.

Once he’s together he changes back to Crow-Monster form. He gratefully thinks that it is good to be himself again, then after a couple of seconds he shudders as realizes what form he is in. But no time for worrying about that, he throws himself off the roof, flies back amongst the trees, then starts beating for altitude so that he can keep an eye on the approaching vehicles.

Flo looks to James, who nods.

“Tim,” James says. “Take Trish out back and keep her safe. TJ, you want to greet these folks coming in?”

“Uh… not really, no,” TJ replies.

“We have you covered,” James presses. “Just keep them busy long enough for the rest of us to position.”

“Position!?” TJ exclaims. “What are we about to do here?”

“We can’t let them have Trish,” Flo says.

“And they’ll take Flo, if they find her,” James adds.

“Fine. Fine I’ll go out and chat em up.”

Tim gathers up Trish and moves out the back door of the house and heads towards the wood line. A shuffle above and he sees a dark shape move from the roof to the woods. Hope that’s that Corb fellow, he thinks.

Abby hides against the side of the house as the door opens and TJ steps out.

The first of the vehicles rolls up. Doors open immediately and several men step out. They are dressed in suits and, even nearing midnight, wear sunglasses.

TJ lifts a joint to his lips and takes a draw. On the exhale, he coughs once, lightly, “Gentlemen, what can I do for you this evening?”

One of the men walks up to him and then gut punches him. TJ drops the joint and falls to his knees.

“Go inside and get the woman,” the man orders, then he grabs TJs hair and holds his head back. “Who are you?”

Abby steps around the corner of the house and into the light.

“Hello, boys. Are you here to play with me?”

If she wanted to have an effect on the men with her countenance, she was not disappointed. Several of them took a step back. A few raised their weapons, but none fired… they seemed… unsure.

Abby grinned and then exerted her will, pouring an aura of palpable fear into the area.

Corb had gained enough height to see the sunglasses-at-night man hit TJ. Abby apparently has magic, and Tim and James looked like they could take care of themselves well enough, but with multiple cars full to deal with it seemed like a good time to buy them some time.

It seemed to take forever compared to how fast some of the action was going below, but he banked wide around the house and behind the vehicles, before coming down for a hard landing behind a small shed on the north side of the loop around the house.

Then, hoping that it worked as well on these strange sunglasses men as it had the cows he’d tested it on, Corb let loose with loud cawwing, pouring all the energy he could into it.

The volume of sound that came out was shocking even to him — as was how draining it felt. He staggered into the shed wall as the world seemed to teeter beneath him briefly. As he straightened everything seemed shockingly quiet, and he wasn’t sure if he had deafened himself or just quieted everything else for the moment.

To the rest, it did not sound like a single creature emitted that horrid, horrifying sound. It was the sound of hundreds of crows, cawing in a raucous cacophony, disorienting and exceedingly frightening. The men stepping from their cars reeled in confusion.

The man standing in front of TJ turned to the sound and noticed Corb standing beside the shed, holding it. He raised his gun and pulled the trigger four times. The first bullet hits him in the arm, but the rest fly wide as Corb rolls out of the way. The fleshwound barely registers as Corb quickly decides his next move.

Behind the agent, TJ rises to his feet whilst simultaneously changing. He grows in height, his slender skin tinting green and then darkening. Thorns burst through his skin, seeping a dark saplike ooze, and several pods blossom across his body.

The door to the house flies open. The cat’s out of the bag, James thought to himself. No sense in holding back.

He barrels through the yard and the agent in front of TJ turns in time to see James about to barrel into him. James leaps at the last instant, driving his knee into the agents gut. The sound of a shotgun blast is heard and the agent staggers backward, a hole blown in his gut. The agent looks down and then back at James.

By all rights, the man should just be dead, nothing could stand up with it’s guts hanging out. Except that there were no guts hanging out. Just a black, gaping hole surrounded by the tattered suit…

Abby steps back at the furious cawing of the crows, but then the man on the porch fires at Corb and that just will not do. She is picking the spell to cast when James comes through the door all changed and she has to pause again. “Holy fuck! Just who are we?” The thought goes through her mind as she watches what Should be James dive to the man and she hears the roar of a shotgun blast at close range. That the man is still standing causes her to think. “And just who ARE these guys?”

Still, most of the men seem to be focused on James or Corb so she takes the opportunity to grasp the lead man in a telekinetic hold as she takes a step backwards to put herself at the corner of the house in case she needs to run or dodge her own fusillade of bullets.

All of the men near the vehicles are physically staggered by the intensity of Corb’s cawing. Though he is no longer emitting the noise, they stand, disoriented, shaking the cobwebs out.

The one man who had stepped away and hit TJ was now levitated inches from the ground, his limbs awkwardly posed as though some gargantuan fist held him in its grasp.

James clasped two hands together and swung them mightily, crushing the man’s head. Instead of blood and gore, the head simply crumbled in, as if made of clay. The body stopped struggling against the force holding it.

“What the fuck?” TJ uttered, in disbelief.

James shrugged. “Yeah, it’s like that.”

Corb takes a run at the man who had shot him, but the agent manages to roll aside at the last moment.

Then he reverses direction with a sharpness that he wished he could have matched in his days as a junior varsity punt returner, and heads back for the cars, looking to smash one of the agents standing near them. If he has to bring fists, knees, and wings to a gun fight, he at least wants to be near the opportunity for cover.

He charges at the man, but at the last minute extends his wings to catch him in the gut with momentum behind the blow The agent was surprised by the hit from the wing and failed to move with it.

Corb uses the blow to pivot around, lands his feet against the car, whips the other wing around to clock the still flat footed agent with a solid blow to the back of the head, then throws himself back over the car.

Abby steps back towards the steps so James and TJ can get a look at her. “Nice move there. You might want to cut the head off that thing of you have the ability on that body of yours. Maybe just fire a shotgun blast through its neck?” She focus her attention on one of the men near a car and crushes him in a telekinetic vise.

The man Abby grabbed jerks awkwardly, unable to recover from the shock of the sonic attack.

Corb ducks behind the car, not seeing what damage he has wrought, but the others can see the man’s arm hanging loosely at his side, hanging by threads of his cheap suit. The man wobbles unsteadily.

The others begin to recover while Abby drops the telekinetic stranglehold on the first man, the one who punched TJ and is now relatively headless. He slumps to the ground, unmoving.

James dashes forward to wade in amongst the remaining agents, smashing one against a car and then extending his arm and firing an extended burst from his hand. The sound of gunfire pierces the night and the man staggers back in that herky-jerky motion from action films before he staggers to the ground.

Abby grins as she notes that she was able to grab a new target while still holding the first. She does not want to stretch this too far, but apparently two targets is doable. She reaches out and exerts her will, enabling her talent and grabbing another of the shotgun wielding men, even as she wonders if it is possible to somehow use it in an area-effect manner and grab several at once. She will have to look into this when she has time. As it is, she has to be a bit careful as she has already cast one read aura, one fear, and now three grab spells tonight. Based on her experimentation earlier in the week, she will need to rest a bit to get the power back that she is expending.

Corb landed behind the car and stayed down for a moment to catch his breath, but the world didn’t wait for him, some of the agents were already shaking off their shock.

The agent that he’d smacked around didn’t follow Corb over the roof of the car, but instead calmly stepped around the trunk end. While Corb tried to close the distance the agent calmly fired at Corb from point-blank range.

“When did I start charging into bullets?” passes through Corb’s mind, to soon be replaced with “Ewww” as he followed some instinct to gouge the agent with his beak. He managed to tear away part of the agents face, but that still didn’t drop the creepy thing.

As the men recover from their shock and notice that the leader among them is down, they all take aim at various locations. If they are shocked at being attacked by a group of… well… *monsters*… they don’t show it.

“It’s about to get messy,” James announces as he wheels around a vehicle and stands back to back with Corb.

TJ lowers his head, his eyes forward as he gazes at the agents.

“They aren’t… people!” he yells out. “They’re something else…”

Two of the agents move towards him and he plants one foot behind him, bracing for their attack. Vines extend from his back like slender tentacles, waving in the air.

Abby takes a step back into the shadows cast by the house and stretches out her power to try to pick up a third man, while continuing to squeeze the others already in her grip. She is prepared to stop if it appears that her grip on the first two will be weakened.

The two men rushing TJ pull the triggers on their weapons. Unlike the others, TJ isn’t ready for a fight and as he turns to run from them, the bullets rip through his flesh.

Another one of the agents lines up his shotgun with Corb. Feeling brazen, he stands there as the slug rips through his flesh. He’s mindful of the sting, but his fear of bullets seems to be vanishing. This slug hurts far worse than the small caliber rounds from before and he briefly considers abandoning the ‘stand and take it’ tactic, at least for shotguns…

James is a slaughterhouse machine. A shotgun in his left knee and the assault rifle in his arm are in a fierce debate and another agent tumbles.

Meanwhile, three of the agents break off and run towards the corner of the house where Abby is hiding in the darkness.

Abby keeps hold of two of the shotgun guys near the cars and reaches out to grab two of the men running her way.

Two of the men stop dead in their tracks, held tight by Abby’s talent, but the third man begins shooting. Abby tries to duck behind the corner of the house, but the bullet hits her in the arm.

She stumbles at the shock of it and the agent fires twice more, each bullet careening into Abby, the third one knocking her back.

Meanwhile, two of the Agents break away from the group, looking to move around behind the house.

The agent with the shotgun chambers another round and levels it at Corb.

The Loa’s scream is more of a sibilant hiss than words as she stumbles back a couple of feet from the force of the blow. She has to let one of the two shotgun men near the car go but resets her grip on the other and shifts her second attack to the man who shot her, temporarily controlling all three of the men near her. After making the grab, she yells out. “Tim! Two men coming your way. It’s clobbering time.”

Hunkered down behind the house in a copse of trees, Tim is hiding with Trish. When he hears Abby call out, he raises his head to see out towards the house. Sure enough, two of the agents are fast approaching them.

“Oh, man,” he says, “this ain’t good.”

In the front of the house, Flo rushes out, holding a double barrel shotgun of her own. She stands next to TJ who has grabbed one of the men with his vines and places the shotgun to his chest and pulls the trigger fully, giving him both barrels.

Another of the agents raises his own gun and fires at her. There are sparks, flashes of light and it appears the bullets are deflected. She snarls and opens the breach, reaching for two more shells at the same time.

The men held by Abby twist and the one with the shotgun pulls free from her grasp. His face without expression he advances on her, pulling the trigger on the shotgun. She ducks back behind the house, watching as the corner of the building gets chewed up by the slug meant for her. The movement breaks her concentration.

James and Corbin work on the men near the cars. Their forms seem far better suited to battle than Abby and TJs and they are making short work of the men they face.

Corbin finds no guns blasting away at him for a moment, and he looks up to see that James has blasted away their nearest foes — and the battlefield seems short of the agents in general. He doesn’t know where they’ve all gone, but he’s pretty sure it isn’t to pick up burgers and fries for everyone.

He yells to James “I’m leaving these ones to you!” Ducking past another agent he accelerates for a few steps, leaps onto the trunk of one of the cars, keeps running up onto the roof, then throws himself into the air.

As he beats his wings hard for height and a view on where the missing agents have gone he thinks “I may have brought a beak to a James fight, but this I can do.” A moment later it occurs to him “Weren’t shotguns created for shooting ducks out of the sky?”

Abby gives a frustrated hiss and does what she hopes is the unexpected by stepping back around the corner and using her grab talent to take control of one of the shotguns and twisting it to point at one of the other men as it fires.

Corb takes to the air. In the darkness, he is near impossible to see from the ground and most of the agents appear busy in any case. He can see that a pair of agents are moving on… is that… Tim?

The man was big, but now he’s a behemoth, roughly chiseled from stone. A huge fist crushes one of the agents in the face, knocking him back several feet and to the ground.

The other agents fires, but it doesn’t seem as if the bullets connect with him.

Abby is having a difficult time with the three agents that are chasing her. She keeps maneuvering back, which unfortunately has the side effect of bringing those three behind the house and closer to the presumed target, Trish.

In the front, James seems to have things well in hand and Flo and TJ are handling a pair of agents as well.

Abby and her Loa are having a hard time controlling the action against all three of the men facing her. She takes another two steps back and realizes that she is inadvertently leading the men to the woman they are supposed to be protecting. She takes a deep breath and grabs at two of the men and stands her ground against the third. Her plan is to grab the third guy and regrab one of the others facing her next round then keep swapping out so as to keep all three tangled up until someone comes to help her or she runs out of power.

She calls out. “I could use some help here.”

Corb hears Abby’s cry, and banks towards her. Seeing the situation he targets one of the shotgun wielding enemies with a focused cawing; not as deafening as what he sent out earlier but still powerful — however it is not enough and the agent continues to advance on Abby.

In frustration Corb swoops down to strike the man with a wing, getting in a solid hit, and the agent fails to roll with the surprise blow, one shoulder slumping from the force of the attack.

One of the three men continues to advance on Abby, firing his pistol. She easily snaps back, simultaneously marveling that her previous bullet wounds are already healed, leaving no mark that she was even shot.

The man with the shotgun points it at Corb. The avian-hybrid figures that it’s best to avoid the large calibre and tries to side step, but the blast tears through him regardless.

The man with the pistol fires at Corb, but in his rage he simply accepts the bullet.

Tim has pounced on the man who fell, smashing him in the chest. Green goo splashes out. The man with the shotgun fires again and Tim realizes it’s not at him!

Abby grabs the guy with the shotgun and one of the pistol guys, which should give her control of all three of the gunmen near her.

The agent who had just blasted Corb with a shotgun apparently didn’t think that Corb’s response would be to charge and grab the gun. Or maybe these agents didn’t really think for themselves? Certainly smashing open their heads didn’t seem to stop them, which did raise the question of where their thinking happened.

Whatever the case, Corb was able to get to the side of the barrel, slap a wing against the agent’s face for leverage, grab the gun with his wing hands, and twist it away from his hapless foe. The agent immediately tried to slam a fist into Corb’s guts, but Corb was already spinning away, reducing the damage.

Corb stopped and reversed his spin with one foot and one wing, driving the butt of the gun back at the agent. The agent had started to throw itself backward — the blow still thumped into his chest, but the flesh seemed to almost absorb the blow in way that ribs simply don’t.

Realizing Abby’s abilities are hemming them up, the agents note the tell tale sign of her use of the talent and each of them quickly duck out of the way. That doesn’t save them from Corb’s attack and suddenly, one of them find themselves without a weapon.

Realizing he is defenseless, he turns and runs quickly away. The other two fire upon Corb, the obvious threat. Feeling as if they have the upper hand, Corb stands fast, the bullets striking him even as the wounds from the shotgun blast are closing up.

Abby is about to try again with a grab, when she hears Tim cry out, “Abby, help!!!”

She turns and sees the rough hewn form of Tim standing over a fallen form…

Abby yells out as she is turning. “HEY, anyone in the front! Trish is down! I need some medical support in the back!” She runs over to where Tim is, calling out as she goes. “Tim, help take care of the two with Corb. I will do my best here.” Abby puts herself between the men behind her and Trish and looks at the wound, seizing on the only thing she can think of as she reaches out to grab Trish around her wound and puts pressure on her to try to stem the bleeding.

Tim nods and rushes off to assist Corb, trying to barrel into the back of one of the remaining agents. The man simply sidesteps and Tim smashes into the house, nearly crashing inside. Corb pulls the trigger again on the shotgun and the agent tries to move out of the way. A grazing hit leaves the man whole. Corb snarls and swings out with his wing, the bladed limb catching the man fully across the chest.

James rushes over to Abby, who is desperately trying to staunch the bleeding, but with no real knowledge of how, besides an idea of what she’s seen on TV, she isn’t doing well. James shoves her out of the way with urgency, wiping away the blood to see where the wounds actually are. He grimaces and replaces his hands with a shake of his head.

“It’s real bad,” he says. “Flo got hit too, but Tim is doing… something… to her…”

Abby lets James in and releases her grip on Trish so he can examine her. “Is it all done out front then? I know almost nothing about first aid, but this looks a lot worse that anything first aid can take care of. We need some help. Try to keep her conscious and work on the bleeding and I will go try to get someone from out front to come back while Tim and Corb deal with the last of the guys here.”

Abby turns and runs for the front of the house, going wide past where Tim and Corb are fighting the agents at the side of the house.

People were hurt, people he could be helping — but running to their aid while leaving the agents behind wasn’t actually going to help them survive. They needed to finish this, but the darn things would just NOT go down easily.

Those thoughts ran through the back of his mind as he flung himself up and forward at the agent he was fighting, coming down to tear at it with his beak. The agent tried to leap out of the way but was too slow. Tearing into these things with his beak was gross, but it sure seemed to do some decent damage..

Missing one eye now, the agent still lined Corb up for a nice knee to the gut, catching Corb off guard enough that he didn’t roll with it.

Ignoring the punch, Corb went for another wing bash, but perhaps his balance was off from the shotgun he was still clutching, or maybe it was a slippery bit of footing from material torn from the agent, but whatever the cause he stumbled, not striking with any force.

As Corb regained his footing, Tim rushed in and grabbed each of the agents by their heads in his massive hands. With a yell, he smashed their heads together and they crumbled like pottery. There was no gore, no blood. The bodies dropped stiffly to the ground.

As Abby runs around the house, she sees TJ kneeling over the fallen form of Flo, amongst some of the agent bodies. She watches as TJ lays hands on her and then, he slumps over, unmoving.

She begins to move forward when she hears a car door slam. Looking to her left, she sees on of the agent vehicles pull forward and then around an obstacle, into the grass and then back on the dirt road, roaring away, tires kicking gravel behind them.

Realizing there is little she can do about that, she rushes to TJ and Flo. Flo is sitting up, rubbing her head, then clutching at her gut. Abby can easily see that her shirt is shredded there, and blood soaked… but her flesh is whole. Turing to TJ, he lays with his eyes closed, bleeding from a gaping hole in his belly.

Even as she watches, the hole begins to fill and heal.

“That was… weird,” Flo managed.

Abby watches in amazement. “That is fucking amazing. I sure hope that you can do it again. Two of the gunmen got past me and one shot Trish. She is hurt very bad and I think she is bleeding out. Can you come see if you can heal her, too?”

Flo blinks at Abby, then looks over at TJ. She shakes him, but he doesn’t move. “TJ?”

She looks back at Abby. “I didn’t do it, he did. The spirits protected me but not enough and I was shot…” Her fingers push through the holes in her shredded shirt. “I think I was dying and… TJ just reached down and then—” She points at the wounds TJ bears, quickly healing as he breathes slowly.

“I think he somehow took my wounds into himself.”

The two women hear shouting from behind the house, but can’t quite make out James’ words.

Hearing one of the cars take off, Corb yells to the others “I’m going to see how far I can track it from the air – probably can’t keep up with it, but I can cut a few corners, maybe see where it is headed.”

Turning to Tim he asks “Help me with a toss skyward?” The ensuing casual grab and toss shows an intimidating degree of strength, and Corb is grateful that the guy is on his side.

As he beats hard to get the height needs to see the car heading down the gravel road a thought occurs to him “Aside from these weird clay-like dudes, does the other side have monsters of their own, and how strong are they?”

Corb sails easily in the sky, following the car as it moves east towards the center of the town of Medicine Lodge.

Abby looks a bit worried. “Well I hope that he recovers soon. When he does send him around back of the house as quick as you can. I am going back to see what James needs.”

She nods at Flo and runs back around the house to where James and Trish are.

As Abby runs over, James looks over his shoulder, “She’s bleeding out fast.”

He continues to hold pressure down on her as he watches Abby approach.

Tim lumbers over as well, “Shit, anything we can do?” he rumbles.

James shakes his head. Trish shudders and gasps once, then her breath catches in short jerks.

“I’ve seen this before,” James murmurs, grimly. “There’s nothing we can do…”

Abby blanches at the sight of the wound and looks over her shoulder, hoping to see TJ and Flo running around the corner, but sees no one coming. She turns back to the stricken woman and tries to reach deep into the Loa’s consciousness, looking for any sort of healing spell that might help here, something the Loa was going to teach her in the future. She murmurs a prayer to the Loa to help her.

Unfortunately, there are no answers and the three of them watch as Trish dies. Flo rounds the corner of the house and then rushes towards them. "TJ won’t wake—

“Oh, no, Trish…”

The group stands quietly around her, everyone except Corb and TJ.

James gets up a few moments later “We can’t stay here. We need to go.”

Abby stands up and looks around at her companions, “James and Tim, you guys did a good job of dealing with these guys. I am sorry that I was not as much help and will try to get better. I think I have a good idea of my abilities now and am sad that it cost us Trish to find out. Do you think that you two can move TJ from the ground to Flo’s truck bed? I don’t think we have a lot of time as those guys that got away are probably calling in help and we could see more company out here, including real policemen that we do not want to hurt. Flo, while they are doing that, can you take a quick look around the house to see if there is anything that Trish had written down somewhere that might help us?”

“If we are leaving for somewhere, I have a few thousand dollars buried back at my house and a snake I am not leaving behind. I also have a good selection of camping gear we can pick up if we are leaving town. I can wait somewhere not too far away for Corb to come back. He will see we are not here and call us to find out where we are and we can guide him to my location and meet you guys somewhere else. You have my cell number. What do you guys think?”

Flo looks at Trish a moment longer, then nods and hustles back to the house.

James stands up. “That’ll work, Abby. Tim, let’s grab TJ. Abby, we’ll be at the Lowe’s parking lot. The one on South Ridge Road. We’ll meet you there.”

Abby nods as she looks down at Trish with a sense of loss. Even though she had never even met the woman, her death was tragic in that she would now never be able to share whatever she had known about what was happening. She crosses herself and sends a prayer to the LOAs to watch out for this soul and to care for it.

She looks back up at James and smiles grimly. “Lowes. South Ridge Road. I will wait a short distance from here, but not too close. See you guys there.” She notices when James looks at her and follows his eyes and swears as she notices that most of her torso, to include the entirety of her left breast, is now exposed through the rents in her shirt caused by the shotgun blasts. Whatever is left is badly stained with her blood, even though the wounds have closed. She tries to use the remains of her shirt to cover herself, but there is not enough of her material remaining to make that work. “Fuck, they shot some big-ass holes in my clothes, didn’t they? I guess that is another reason to stop at my place. I will see if Trish has anything that might fit me before leaving.”

Abby runs into the house and heads to Trish’s bedroom, rifling the closet for some sweatshirts. She notices that Trish must have been of a similar size and grabs a couple pairs of pants that she can change into later as hers are splattered with her blood. She grabs a couple of trash can liners from the kitchen before racing from the house. She bends over the couple of dead agents at the rear of the house and rifles their bodies for anything useful, such as money, ID, guns, bullet-proof vests, and anything like earbud communicators or cell phones and all goes into the bag before she runs to her bike and climbs on it, driving off to a convenient place to wait for Corb to return. Once in place, she changes out of her pants and the shot-up sweatshirt she had been wearing and puts on Trish’s clothes, placing hers in the other trash bag and stuffing it into one of her cargo bins. She thanks her Loa for the street contacts she has made as she flicks open the compartment at the side of her dash and activates the police scanner one of her black market contacts had put in for her. She again thanks her Loa for saving her life tonight then retakes control of her body and examines whatever she was able to find on the bodies as she waits for Corb.

Meanwhile, Corb sees the car pull into the Medicine Lodge police building, a small house with a signpost out front. He watches as the man gets out and goes inside, perhaps to call for reinforcements?

It did not appear that law enforcement would be pouring like ants out of the Medicine Lodge Police Station. They probably only had a dispatcher inside anyway, with one patrol out. Likely the agent was calling for reinforcements from elsewhere.

Corb decided to head back to the others.

Once he is well clear of sight range of the police station, Corb swoops down to land atop a shed, and fumbles for the cell phone he’d put in the bib of his overalls.

It is only then that it sinks in how much gunfire had hit him, yet here here he is. A few blood encrusted holes from pistol bullets, and the cloth was mostly just missing in a couple of areas where short range shotgun blasts had hit.

And the phone was destroyed. Second phone in just days! At least this had been just a cheap flip phone, but even so he couldn’t afford to keep replacing phones. Or clothes.

His curse came out as a caw, and in frustration he threw himself harshly off the shed roof, almost daring himself to crash into the ground. His wings did their job and he was soon circling over the recent battlefield, looking for signs of the others.

He widens his search twice before he notices the motorbike, and carefully swoops to a landing a little distance away, not wanting to startle the snake-witch-woman.

Abby’s look through the things she had collected from the two agents in the back is a bit disappointing. No wallets and no IDs; just a couple of guns and flip phones. She laughs to herself. “What sort of agents are these guys anyway? Everyone knows that the bodies of the bad guys are supposed to have some sort of clue as to who they are.” Chuckling about the sad differences between real life and TV, she opens the phones and scrolls through the received and sent calls files to see if there is any sort of information she can glean from them. She does not even touch the guns except to wipe her prints form them and put them back in the trash bag.

Abby stretches and takes a look around, alerted by the noise of Corb landing nearby. She misses the night vision the Loa has when she is in charge of the body, but it is probably for the best that her Abby form be in charge for now. She waves Corb over and hands him the passenger helmet. “The others are waiting for us at the Lowe’s parking lot. You are wireless for the intercom and the radio, so should be good to go. If you try to talk while I am talking, we will just get some loud noise, so it is best to use the word “over” when done talking and wait to hear that before starting. If you need to interrupt, you can touch me on the shoulder. I picked up some items from two of the agents, but all they had of interest was a phone. No wallets, no money, and no IDs. I was trying to see if they have any information in their call logs when you came up. Do we want to take them with us or risk them tracking us with them? I know that is possible on TV but I don’t know if they can do that is real life.”

Abby instructs Corb to put his arms around her and hold on. “Try to lean into the turns with me. I know it is counter-intuitive to do that, but it works, trust me. Hold me about the waist just like that and don’t squeeze too hard. Ready?”

Abby calls up the others and tells them that she has Corb. “Hey, on the way to Lowe’s now. Should be there shortly. I will still want to go by my place and get some things, including my snake.”

Abby and Corb get to the Lowe’s parking lot and almost immediately spot Flo’s truck parked off to one end. She drives up to it and sees that the others have all changed back and are standing about with TJ sitting up in the cargo bed. For a few moments all six of them look at each other, almost in disbelief of what has happened then Abby turns to look at Flo and breaks the silence. “Alright, I don’t think there is anyone here that doubts you any more. Were you able to find anything in Trish’s house that could be useful or are we back to wondering what the heck is happening and what is our part in all of this? I have been monitoring the police scanner since I got back to my bike and nothing so far. Corb says the agent’s car went to a police station but they did not apparently send anyone out to the house. So what is our next step?”

Flo looks at Abby and the rest and nods as she takes a deep breath. “Trish was just about the only person that I was pretty sure would be able to help us. I can’t think of anyone else…” She shudders.

Tim echoes her comments. “Those guys really creeped me out. Not too sure I can do too much more of this shit.” He holds his hands up as Flo turns to him. “I know, I know. You said it was save the world stuff and I believe you…..mostly, anyway. But I just don’t know if I am cut out to be a hero. Those guys were trying to kill us and I………………..”

His voice falls off and Abby steps up a little closer. “Yeah, they tried to kill us and fucking failed, didn’t they.” She reaches down and pulls her, well, Trish’s, sweatshirt up to expose her torso. She had had to get rid of the wreckage of her bra and Trish had definitely not been of a similar size in that department. Letting the guys get a good look, she then lowers the sweatshirt. “Any of you got any marks to even prove you were hurt? I took a couple of shotgun blasts to my chest but no marks, no scars, not even a trace of a wound. So no, we aren’t invulnerable and there may be weapons they can use that WILL hurt us, but this crap tonight? It was nothing but a thang, you know. We need to stick together. There may be others like us out there that can help us and are just so fucking lost that they do not understand anything that is happening. And there might just be someone who knows a lot about it and can really help us out. But we will not know unless we stay the course and keep going.”

James and Tim do not look totally convinced but TJ pipes up in support. “I agree with Flo and Abby; we need to keep going. What about you guys?”

Abby leans in and places a hand on the edge of the truck bed. “I’m in.”

TJ grins as he leans forward a bit from where he is sitting and puts a hand on top of Abby’s. “I’m in.”

Flo chuckles and adds a hand to the other two. “I am in.”

Corb hesitates just a second before stepping up and joining them. “Me, too. Let’s do this and kick some agent ass.”

Tim and James still hesitate and look at each other then the group with their hands stacked on top of each other on the edge of the truck, apparently still undecided.

TJ looks at James and Tim and motions to them with his free hand. “Come on, you two, how else are you gonna find out more about what happened to you. None of us were born to be heroes, but here we are. Only thing is, we have not done much that is heroic yet. We have to give Flo a chance to figure something out.”

Tim looks over at James and shrugs his shoulders. James nods and steps forward to place a hand on the pile. “OK, I am in. For now, at least. Mind is still not made up, though.”

Tim nods, too, and also steps in. “Me too.”

Everyone smiles at each other and then the moment is gone and everyone moves their hands. Flo has TJ hand her a backpack from the bed of the truck and she takes a small notebook from it. Holding it up, she says, “Right now, this is my best…..my only shot to finding someone to help us. Dad kept a few notes in here, but he used some sort of code that I am only partially familiar with. I need some time to try to figure out what he says here. I think that we need to find a place to lay low for a bit. My guess is that it might take those agent guys a couple of hours to start figuring out who we are and go looking for us. If you guys have anything at your houses that you want or need, now is the time to go there and get it.”

Abby nods. “And I know some people we might be able to hide among. I met some guys in a black market pipeline once. Rude and crude, but we might be able to work a deal to stay with them for a couple of days. I have some stuff at my house I need to go get. Do we meet back here in say three hours or so?”

Flo nods. “Right. I have nothing at my place but I can take a couple of people around to get stuff. Corb, you OK staying with Abby for now?”

Corb nods and smiles. “Yeah, it’s hard to wrap my arms around her and sit right behind her but I might be able to suffer through it. For the team, you know.”

Everyone laughs and the mood does lighten a bit now that they have decided on a course of action. Abby looks at Corb and grins. “OK, wise guy. My place first then yours? I hope that you like riding with a seven foot python.”

Corb blanches a bit then nods and moves off to the bike. TJ taps the side of the truck to get Abby’s attention and motions for her to come closer. When she does, he leans over to whisper, “Hey, those are some really nice boobs you got. Can I ask if they’re real?”

Abby laughs and nods. “One hundred percent me.” She shakes her head and walks over to the bike, still chuckling. When Corb asks what is so funny, she tells him and he shoots TJ a glance. The two mount the bike and Abby gets all set before Corb puts his arms around her and she drives off.


JaydeMoon JaydeMoon

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