Most men would balk at the prospect of being trapped like a rat in a city full of people who hate their guts and would dearly like to separate those guts from them. A city of panicky civilians. Edgy cops. Superheroes itching for a fight. Hephaestus death squads roaming the streets. Faustus mystics throwing the fabric of reality out of whack. Loosed monsters terrorizing the neighborhoods. Fellow villains who blame me for all of the above. Despite my cage, I am still a rat with rage.
Also, I was a rat with a raging hard on a few times these past few days. I swear, it wasn’t my fault! That viscera landed on me, not the other way around.
It was a wonderful time. I started off innocently enough. A few lost squads. Some bodies missing and never found. I literally painted one alley with blood. Not my best mural. It was supposed to be a couple of smiling children skipping under the grinning sun. Since I suck as an artist and only had one color to use, it turned out like two small stick figures with sharp smiles were dancing over a bloody ocean with a bloody skull hanging overhead.
I really didn’t think it was pants-pissingly bad, but that was the opinion of the next patrol that wandered in. I took the magi first. Dropped in behind him, grabbed him by the head, and tore it off. The skin was a little tricky, but I managed to get most of it off and laid it back on his neck stump. The skull I used to bash in the head of the nearest soldier, who was busy firing at a holographic projection of me. The other four ran for the other end of the alley.
From the first batch I had killed, I knew they preferred to fight me at range with their mag-rail rifles. While they retreated and took cracks at my projections, I took to the rooftops. The projections advanced on them and finally the guy closest to the other end of the alley tried to break for it. He turned and got my hand ramming into his gut. Hey, I needed his intestines. I hadn’t brought any rope with me to tie up his comrades. Sure, they disagreed with the idea of being tied up, but that was nothing a few ripped off scrota couldn’t solve. I even went back over and cauterized the wounds with my potato peeler laser. Wasn’t I being nice?
“Now then,” I said, leaning down close to one of them with his own radio in my hand, “isn’t it about time you called in reinforcements?”
Then I killed them and left an explosive surprise under their bodies for whoever responded. I ran into a wendigo as I left the alley, too. He was a big one, at least three heads taller than myself, though he looked like he was all skin and bones. “Give it a bit, until some other guys with guns come through here and you hear a bang, then you’ll have a feast,” I told it. It grinned at me with bloody, ragged scraps of flesh where most people have lips.
As a general rule, the various critters roaming the city didn’t gang up on me. There was no huge karmic “Kick Me” sign on my back. Just easy prey all over the place, and lots of dead bodies left behind by yours truly.
That kind of shit, targeting just their mundane forces, that was how I was getting to them. They wanted to throw supervillains at me. They had picked people generally good at finding and/or fighting me, too, though the competition for the added kill bonus disrupted their own plans somewhat. The supervillains were outsiders to them; expendable and paid far too well. I made sure they kept paying those fees even as their loyal regular employees suddenly found they didn’t want to go into work anymore.
I think it served another psy-ops purpose as well. Those normal people had to go out into a city of monsters, villains, heroes, and mages and were the ones coming back in pieces, if at all. It put quite the exclamation point on the notion that I fit in and they didn’t.
That’s not to say scenes like I earlier mentioned were just to punk them. I had other things in mind, but I’ll come back to that.
The situation around the city wasn’t quite as cozy as I have let on so far. I still had problems when members of the Annihilation Eight found me. They were good at that. At first, I thought it was because of their specialties. Motley Sue had some odd sound-based abilities that could have clued her in. I didn’t think Quick Sand was responsible because, while he could turn into a sand storm, he didn’t do it but a couple of times in the city. The second time, I heard he disturbed someone with the ability to electrocute him and got torn a new glass hole for his trouble. I also found Terrorjaw running around free again, so I figured his electroreception did it.
Well, that’s what I thought until I headed back to the trailer and found Terrorjaw and Motley Sue spying on it. When I saw that, I realized this wasn’t just them running across me. They had a way to track us. I knew that if we were to get away, I would need to distract the pair of them. Why not just sneak up and kill them? The way Terrorjaw whipped his head around once I got close enough, I knew he could tell I was around. It’s the electroreception. Sharks evolved an ability to sense their prey by the electricity their bodies put out. It probably worked better for Terrorjaw when he was underwater, but he still knew enough to turn when I landed on a few roofs over with my stealth systems activated.
I didn’t trust my ability to kill them in a straight up struggle before more enemies could show their ugly mugs, and that’s the sort of situation that made Sun Tzu cry while masturbating.
I needed a distraction. I couldn’t just go up to them and point away going, “Look over there, a distraction!” I needed something living and malevolent that I didn’t care about. Unfortunately, right wing radio hosts don’t like to live in such dark-skinned places as New Orleans, so I had to toss that idea like a baby in some bathwater.
Instead, I went monster hunting. A good choice was found maybe five miles away, outside of a hospital. A blue snake as long as a car taunted onlookers at the Emergency Room entrance as it devoured a screaming kid. I didn’t know the specifics and I didn’t necessarily care. It was small enough to carry, and that was good enough for me.
It tried to turn on me and crush me when I grabbed it, though. The boy in its mouth fell silent, then tried to reach out and pull me into the mouth. Up close like that, I could notice the kid wasn’t quite right. Its proportions were off and it bulged in the wrong places. The eyes weren’t real, just pale bumps. The snake’s eyes, though, were unable to stand up to the might of the potato peeler laser and I blinded it in one of them long enough to escape its deadly coils and drag it behind me by the very end of its tail.
After a little bit of digging, I’ve learned this odd beastie was called a Biscione. It beat carrying a Florida Skunk Ape any day.
To add to all the mindfuckery going on, I needed to distract Terrorjaw long enough to distract both of them. Why did the chicken grenade cross the road and explode? To make a shark look to the other side.
From there, it was a matter of tapping Motley Sue on the shoulder, pointing at Terrorjaw, and yelling, “Look, a distraction!” She turned her head to look just a little before realizing what she was doing. By the time she turned to look at me once more, I had slapped her in the face with a giant blue snake and its child-decoy tongue.
Terrorjaw leapt at me. I dropped onto my back and swung at him, the big viper wrapping around Terrorjaw’s body like it tried to do to me. I left the three of them to their fun and got in the trailer to haul ass out of there.
Only after I put half the city between myself and the hunting members of the Eight did I check on whoever was in the trailer. Hopefully they weren’t busy trying to defuse a bomb with a house of cards.
Moai greeted me as I opened the door. I had left him behind because some of my attacks didn’t need him to accompany me. I was a bit more surprised to see Sam and Holly. They were supposed to be out with Max, adding something special to the city’s dwindling water supply. Holly’s hair was wet, but Sam was so dry she smelled like a fire.
“Where’s Max?” I asked.
Holly answered me. “They captured him.”
I stepped in and shut the door. “You’re sure?”
“They didn’t kill him,” Sam spoke up, “They plan on using him as a hostage.” She was very, very focused on her spray gun, checking it over. I could see small scabs on her lower lip, too, from where she’d bitten it earlier.
I slid into the seat by the miniature table. “You’d think by now someone would realize that doesn’t work very well.”
“Either way, we still can’t get him on our own,” Holly said as she and Sam plopped onto the couch. Holly kept flicking her eyes over to the door, fingers digging into the couch just slightly.
“You’re right. That’s why we need to finish this little army I’ve been working on.”
“Army?” queried Sam. She began to nibble on her lip again. All the tension in there, I needed to distract them now.
“I’m just looking for a few good boogeymen.”
“We know you have a plan to save Max; we just want to make sure you’re not losing focus again,” Sam added. She looked down the gun as she finished checking it over, pointing it around until it came to rest aimed at me.
Under my helmet, I grinned. “Sometimes the best plans look like you have no plan.”
After moving our base of operations some more and keeping the car’s signal jammers up to try and keep our enemies in the dark, the rest of the gang split off to get the final ingredients. I headed over to the site of the ritual to get things set up.
It used to be a grocery store, but at some point it was shut down and everything was removed from it. That left me a nice big empty building to exploit when New Orleans got dumped in the crapper. Even the sign with the grinning pig was gone from out front. The doors were rigged to drop knives and fiberglass insulation on anyone attempting unauthorized entry, at least until I pulled out a keychain and pressed the unlock button. The grocery store lit up briefly as I did so.
Inside was a clear flat space occupied by several dead bodies with buckets underneath to catch the blood. A lot of it had spilled onto the floor, and I had left footprints in it, but I didn’t anticipate that being a problem. I still had more than enough to draw the necessary symbols and characters. I needed to adjust the lighting and PA system, though.
Soon, Holly and Sam let themselves in with a small pile of polyester leisure suits. “Sorry, this is all we could find on such short notice. Will it be enough?” Holly asked. You know, the dark circles under her eyes almost made me feel sorry for her, if I were capable of such. I’m not saying I did, because that would be ridiculous and a potentially exploitable weakness.
“Relax, this will be perfect. Less than I hoped for, but this is still the largest gathering of these outfits the city has seen since the ‘70s. Now, we just need a good song to go with our intended purpose…”
Holly dropped off her load of suits. I dismissed her, said she could go find somewhere clean enough for a nap. She told us she would watch the doors while Sam helped me with the lights and the music selection. “I never knew you did magic,” she said to me when we were alone.
“Stage magicians and I have a lot in common in how we operate, though they draw the line at actually cutting people in half. As far as real mystic powers go…yeah, my body doesn’t channel that stuff real well.”
She stopped and looked at me then. I think she would have hit me had we been in less violent times and had I not pushed Holly in front of a truck last month. “Then what are we doing here?”
“Relax. Rituals aren’t necessarily the same as spells. This right here is one that requires no real magical mumbo jumbo from the person setting it all up.”
“How do you know that?”
“That’s what it said in ‘Arcane Rituals For Dumbasses’.”
Sam pulled her spray gun on me. “You better know what you’re doing.” She tried to find my eyes and hold them through the visor of my helmet, to no effect. “Holly’s been through too much lately for you to fuck this up for her too. She can’t even sleep. She’s too worried something else is after us, and it always is with you around.”
“Easy, she-bear. A guy might feel he’s being threatened if you say all that with a weapon pointed at me. Max knew what he was getting into and he trusts me enough about this. You should too. I’m pretty good about getting what I want.”
“Even you fuck up, Gecko, you just make it look like it worked out for you. Everyone makes mistakes.”
“Yeah, I do. The thing about me is that I don’t let a little thing like failure keep me from doing something. You know how far I’m willing to go. If I don’t get what I want here, I’ll take it out on everyone hiding Max from us. You got me?”
Sam lowered her spray gun and let out a deep breath. We got back to work and finished up our end of things right about the time Holly called out that Moai had arrived. Good. He had the key to the entire ritual. The big, shiny, reflective disco ball.
It was a simple matter to hang it.
“Alright, everyone. This might get a little hairy and it might sound like a banshee getting a root canal in here. Careful you don’t get polyester poisoning too. I guess I should have mentioned that before you were carrying the suits. Aside from all that, are we ready?”
Holly started to speak up, “Maybe I should g-“
“Too bad!” I yelled and laughed as I flipped a switch.
The store came alive with multicolored lights reflecting off the disco ball to flash around the room as Gloria Gaynor’s rich voice declared that first she was afraid. She was petrified.
That was a good start as shadows gathered in the room. Not just regular shadows. Moving shadows. Inky shadows. Whispering shadows. They grew darker as they passed over the blood, then they congregated toward the leisure suits. They whirled about one another before some of them filled in the suits and stood up, shadow men with black voids for mouths and eyes. Similar faces looked on from walls lit up by spinning lights.
Boogeymen. Dark, ancient beings of fear that hid in the shadows of man’s world and fed off fear. They weren’t the most powerful of beings or the smartest, but there were a lot of them and they could do one thing better than any other magical critter I’d ever encountered. They could get funky.
Some got a little close for Holly’s taste. I saw her tense as she crossed her arms. She was ready to lose her wits and come out swinging if they imposed on her too much, but Moai was able to shoo the shadowy stalkers away, to Sam’s gratitude.
After a lively disco, a large boogeyman with spiky-looking shoulder tentacles approached. Though he stayed out of reach, the tentacles reached vainly in my direction.
“You enjoy the party?” I asked.
He hissed in laughter.
“Good. Now, I have a job for you folks. Something to put a little boogey in some hard cases who have been trying to keep me down. You guys are going to help me put the fear into some big, bad power dealers. While we’re at it, I’m going to rescue my buddy Max. I know, I know. If you’ve been following the internet, he gets kidnapped or arrested all the time when I’m fighting someone. If I kissed him, he’d probably wind up dead in a refrigerator somewhere. Which is just what I wanted them to think, seeing as he and I implanted a small beacon into him.”
Holly’s mouth dropped and then she facepalmed. Sam scoffed. “They put up a barrier that is holding a whole city hostage. They have stuff hidden deep underground. Is your signal going to get out?”
“One moment,” I told the boogeyman, then jumped on top of Moai to address Sam and Holly. “Thou shalt not question the lord thy Gecko! At least not about this, ok? Yeah, I’ve been checking out their radio systems lately, but I made this beacon where it would send out a signal that would definitely get to me with Max’s location every time I checked for it. It circumvents all their defenses by transmitting data to another dimension. Then, next time I communicate with the same dimension, I can retrieve the information about where he is.”
“When?” Holly asked, tapping her toe impatiently.
“About midnight when I provide that dimension with an update about my activities.”
Thanks for the help, folks.