Loud music crashed
out of the boys apartment. Boudiccea moved slowly down the hall from
the elevator. Her ankles were swollen and she was miserable and hot.
Spring had come early to New York, and even though it was only mid May,
temperatures were already in the high eighties. She set the bag of
soda and chips down and pounded on the door.
After a second knock, the peephole darkened. Then the door opened quickly, and TJ grabbed the bags and held out an arm to her as well.
“Why didn't you use the phone in the lobby?” He chided. “One of us could have come down and helped you.”
She snorted under her breath.
“I'm only pregnant, for Gaia's sake, I'm not a cripple.” She said tersely.
TJ carried the bags into the kitchen while Boudiccea turned toward the small living room. The boys had decided that today would be a great day for a party of some sorts, and so all of the city's Garou and most of the outliers as well were here, all pressed into the small three bedroom apartment.
And as she waddled through the door, her sister dropped her eyes.
I wish just once you'd talk to me, Boudiccea thought, and then turned her head as well. Sappho would leave the room in a minute, and then they'd both be able to stop pretending.
Tor and the rest of his band was there, listening to one of their CD’s playing loudly on the boys state-of-the-art stereo system. Bruce noticed his mother standing in the doorway and quickly turned down the sound. Tor stood and offered her the seat he'd been sitting in.
Sappho, as usual, quietly left the room.
Boudiccea accepted the chair gratefully. Her legs were throbbing from the walk up the stairs. She couldn't stand the small, cage-like elevator, and therefore never used it.
“How are you feeling, mom?” Bruce asked. He was only back home this morning from the big Pentex U.K. plant, where heed been working support systems for the past month. It was good to see him again.
Boudiccea reached out and hugged his neck. He was getting so big … they were all getting so big, she thought.
“Never better,” she smiled, and even though Bruce thought she looked tired and pale, he nodded. “How was England?”
“Cold, wet, damp, rainy… “ Bruce rolled his eyes. “No wonder the Wyrm finds it so very homey.”
The assembled Garou laughed at this. Jeremy came over and rubbed his mother's back and neck. She purred more like a cat than a wolf.
TJ handed her a glass of ice water.
“Here. Drink this. It'll make you feel better,” he said with a raised eyebrow.
She sniffed it cautiously.
“What's in it?” she asked.
The mage smiled. Mom always knew.
“Nothing bad. I could tell you what it is, but you probably wouldn't want to drink it. Some herbs, mostly. Some quintessence. Eye of newt and toe of toad.”
“I just hope the toads and newts aren't anybody I used to know..” she said, then sipped slowly.
“I haven't done that in at least a week,” he said, and everybody laughed again.
Tor was interested in playing his new music, and everyone listened to that for a while, as the afternoon wore on. Jeremy talked with Boudiccea about the trip to Grandpa's house, Bruce called Lisa twice, and TJ laughed and joked with Tor and Eva.
And so the day wore along into night.
Going out into the kitchen, Boudiccea noticed she'd forgotten the rum. Normally she would not have considered buying alcohol, but this was a special night, a party night, and Tommie would be here soon.
And Tommie liked rum. Run and coke was his favorite, and she didn't want him to have to concern himself with going out and getting it.
Besides, the apartment had gotten too stuffy for her liking. It was probably the heat. She grabbed her purse and went back to the living room.
“Hey, guys, I'm gonna pop down to the package store and pick up a bottle for your dad.” She fished her car keys out and shook them.
“Do you want me to drive, Mom?” Bruce asked. He was holding a hand over the receiver, talking again to Lisa, probably. She shook her head.
“No, baby, I’ll just be a minute,” she said, pointing at the phone. “You're busy.”
“I'm never too busy for you.”
She smiled. He was a good son. They were all good sons.
The hallway was cooler than the apartment, and it lifted her spirits somewhat. She even used the elevator on the way down. She waved at the doorman as he opened the door, and quickly found the jeep in the underground parking lot. She whistled a tune as she pulled out into the early evening traffic of W. 32nd street.
The traffic was relatively light, she thought, as she made her way through mid-town. New York was a nice city, as far as cities go, but she longed for the green hills again. Even though she could no longer change – she had stopped doing that about a month ago – she could still walk in the woods and drink in the smells of nature. She shuffled through her purse while she sat at a light, looking for the carefully concealed pack of cigarettes she had in there. Tommie knew she was still smoking, which was bad even though she had cut back quite a bit, but he wouldn't say anything to her about it. He trusted her to know herself.
She was suddenly filled with a sudden flush of love for her husband. A warm feeling swept over her and tears welled in her eyes.
He's just so good to me … how could I have ever left him … how could I have thought he'd betrayed us … thank Gaia I have another chance …
The honk of a horn behind her made her glance sharply up, to see that the light had turned green. She startled at the honk, though, and dropped the pack of cigarettes on the floorboard of the jeep.
She pulled out into the intersection, made the left turn, then leaned over to retrieve the slippery cellophane wrapped pack. They skittered out of her grasp, so she unhooked her seat belt to grab them, glancing up out the windshield before making a long stretch for them.
She retrieved them, then sat straight up.
And caught the flash of eyes in the rearview mirror.
She instinctively rolled her shoulders away from the right, as a huge, clawed hand came crashing down, around the headrest of her seat. Its filthy claws dug into the upholstery. She slammed on the brakes, groped for the door handle.
She still had no idea what had found its way into her jeep.
The thing ripped the back of her seat in half, and then began to claw its huge bulk between the seats.
She caught her fingernail on the door handle, ripping it down into the quick. Its hot fetid breath fogged the inside of the windshield. She turned to face it.
And someone rammed the back of her car.
The man driving
home in the Lincoln had been talking on his cell phone, trying to give
orders to his broker to sell, for God's sake, sell, when the jeep in front
of him had stopped dead in traffic.
He'd had only a brief second to try to react.
The Lincoln plowed into the back of the jeep at about thirty. There was a thudding noise, and then his radiator hissed and bubbled and spewed steam onto his windshield.
“Dammit!” he shouted, then wrenched his door open and stepped out.
More cars, with more alert drivers, stopped behind him, and the nightly traffic symphony began.
Boudiccea's head whipped
forward and thumped against the steering wheel. Stars exploded into
her sight. But it was nothing compared with what was now unfolding
itself from the back seat of her jeep.
The thing had tough skin, looking more like a burned hog than anything else. Except it also had arms, or legs, long spindly wiry legs that were now stretching out, reaching for her.
And it had a mouth, vertical instead of horizontal, and lined with a foot of the sharpest jagged teeth Boudiccea had ever seen.
And above all that, were the eyes. The eyes froze her in place. They were – or had once been – human eyes. And now they looked at her with a combination of hate, wariness, and hunger. That was the worst part. They roved across her body, finally settling to stare at her round belly.
The implication was undeniable … it was hungry.
For her, and for her child.
And then it reached for her, and she launched herself backwards from the jeep, ripping through the canvas door, and falling into the street. She landed flat on her back, and even though the pain told her she'd shattered her elbows, she crawled backwards, grinding over the dirty tarmac trying to escape the thing.
Then it exploded from the top of the jeep, and all around her she heard car horns and humans screaming.
She glanced up, at it and at the tall building rising around her, and she saw the last rays of the sun creep from the tops of the skyline.
Twilight. Time of monsters. Time of banes.
And she knew what this thing was. It was a bane. And it was probably her death. She didn’t know exactly what kind of bane it was, but she had a good guess as to its purpose.
It was a good ten feet tall, with rippling muscles underneath squamous skin, and as her eyes focused on it, she realized with dawning horror it was male, and it was erect. If that word could be used about an organ fully the size of her leg, with barbs and thorns spiraling up both sides of it.
She began to shake uncontrollably at the fear aura rolling off the thing. It held in one twisted hand a spike, dripping with black slime.
Immobilize the woman, it’s master had said, and with this it planned to do so. It leaned forward to her.
She skittered back further, almost underneath the car stopped next to her jeep. The thing stood, more like a spider than a two legged creature, atop her jeep. She began to scream.
The man from the Lincoln had gotten out his door. He froze at the front of his car, seeing but not believing the thing exploding from the jeep in front of him. His jaw dropped, and he fell to his knees. The thing snapped at him, stretching its long neck out to close.
Boudiccea saw her only chance, and took it. She pulled herself underneath the car. One shoe slipped off into the street. The muffler was hot, and it burned her cheek as she squeezed by it. A fog seemed to cloud around her, and her sight began to dim.
Do not change, she told herself. The child will DIE. Get away get away get away …
The bane roared at the man, then snapped it’s mouth around his head and tore off his face. People on the street, drawn by the accident and the car horns, began to scream and run everywhere. Confusion erupted.
The bane looked about, calmly, searching for the one it had been sent to kill. She had disappeared from its sight for just a moment, but it would find her. It could smell her fear.
She held her breath, frozen stark still under the car. She heard the driver run from the vehicle.
Well, at least he won’t be driving off with me under here … she thought.
Then the car tore upwards, away from her, as the thing lifted it up. It angled its neck toward her as it held the car on two wheels, snapping at her. It’s slobber dripped on her face.
Boudiccea screamed and covered her belly with her hands as the thing swung down at her. She felt a searing pain as something raked across her neck. Warm blood rolled down her breasts.
Then, suddenly, she was shaking. The air had turned from a warm spring night into a howling arctic blizzard. She could barely breath for the chattering of her teeth, and she began to shake even harder.
Tommie help me I’m lost its so cold Tommie help me
It tore into her thigh with hot tearing teeth, and she felt like a thousand knives had rammed their way into her. Its head pulled back, and she could see the fabric of her jeans disappearing into its maw, along with some pink flesh.
Oh Gaia now I’m gonna die … it wasn’t supposed to be this way … she had time to think, and then Tommie I love you …
It unfurled long black talons, drove them into her shoulders, cutting her to the bone, and prepared to drag her off. It could finish her later, at its own leisure. If its masters let it keep her.
Boudiccea’s head whirled with a symphony of pain.
Then, suddenly, something more.
Was that … birds …?
And the bane looked up as well, the look of slavering glee on its face transformed into puzzlement, because it was the sound of birds, and not just any birds.
It was the rushing, metallic sound of Corax on the wing.
They hit the bane as a unit; all circling around it while each one tore off a piece of flesh or muscle. They moved as one, with one mind and one goal. It howled, it struck out at them, but they were just too good. Its outstretched talons hit not a single Corax.
And there were twelve of them. And only one bane.
Boudiccea closed her eyes. She was so cold, and so tired, so very tired. If she could just collect her thoughts… maybe she could be of some use in this fight after all … just a few minutes …
The Corax deftly pounded the bane, tearing it to shreds within seconds. Then they circled the plaza, awaiting the ambulances and policemen. They did not realize whose life they had just saved, nor would it have concerned them if they had.
After all, she wasn’t a Corax, you know…
They kept the city clean for Pinkerton-san. Banes would dirty Pinkerton-san’s fine city. It was their job to watch the city while Pinkerton-san slept. They had watched, they had seen a bane; they had dealt with the problem.
And, as the scream of sirens began to wail, they took to the sky as one, and flew off, soon to meet their master when he woke and needed them again.
Bruce sighed. Poor
Lisa was up to her elbows in work, Pentex work, but couldn’t she just take
an hour and meet him for dinner? She had tried to access her date
planner, through her computer, but Lisa had no idea how computers worked,
exactly, so Bruce had to explain step by step which buttons she should
push. He was in the middle of explaining this when Jeremy tapped
him on the shoulder.
“She’s free tomorrow night at nine,” he said, pointing to his laptop, which was now displaying the hacked computer files of Pentex Inc. Bruce rolled his eyes accordingly. Placing his hand over the phone, he hissed at his brother.
“You will NOT hack into my friends personal computer space,” he threatened, shaking his fist in Jeremy’s direction.
Jeremy shrugged and went back to playing with the laptop. Bruce had a sneaking feeling that he could order pizza or Armageddon from there, just as easily.
After he hung up the phone, he went back into the living room. From there, to the kitchen. He thought he’d heard his mother come back, but she was nowhere in the paartment. He rummaged through the cupboard, but there was no bottle for his father there either, and so she just hadn’t gotten back yet.
He didn’t know why he felt worried, so he dismissed it and went back to the living room, where everyone else was having a good time.
But he didn’t.
Tommie usually didn’t
dream. Not since his embrace, anyway. Before then, he’d had
normal dreams, like normal men. Now, however, he no longer had the
need to dream. Or perhaps it was just that the dead don’t dream,
and he did not sleep. He died.
The only dreams he could remember having since he became, always involved Boudiccea, and were always portents of something coming.
So when he began to dream, he paid attention.
However, this dream was short, and to the point.
He heard his wife’s voice, calling him. But he couldn’t answer back. He seemed to be engulfed in some sort of fog, and couldn’t even begin to guess where she was.
Tommie help me I’m lost its so cold Tommie help me
He tried to call back, but he could not. Then she shouted something that chilled him to the bone.
Oh Gaia now I’m gonna die … it wasn’t supposed to be this way … Tommie I love you …
He awoke, quickly, violently, to find himself in his chair, in his vault, with the sun going down. He couldn’t move around yet, the sun still held him immobile, but the scanner he left on all day was within reach of his chair, and with an extreme push of effort, he reached out and switched it on.
“ … personnel within a five square block area of thirty second street and Times’ square … accidents with multiple injuries reported … life flight requests secured LZ … traffic coordinate with life flight …”
He lay, listening, and knew with a sudden, sick certainty, that something had happened, that whatever this radio traffic was about, it concerned him, or the boys
…or her …
Or her, and he would have to find out, as soon as he could move.
So he lay, in the soft chair, and wondered, and hoped. And even prayed. And he waited for the night.