“Can you tell what they’re chanting behind that door?” Rachel points straight ahead toward the end of the basement corridor.
“Not yet,” I shake my head.
The closer we get to the steel reinforced door underneath this huge office building in downtown Madrid, the louder and clearer the chanting becomes: it sounds like many voices, all chanting what sounds like “L’reek…L’reek…”
I don’t know what or who “L’reek” is, but it doesn’t sound like a Spanish word. It doesn’t sound like a friendly chant, either. The voices sound almost dazed, like they’re under a spell or something.
I spin my head around.
Rachel and our forces all nod.
I hunch down and slam my shoulder against the center of the door. The reinforced steel bows inward like putty. The hinges burst apart and the door falls into the room.
No human could have popped that door off the wall like that—but I’m not human, I’m a Seduman. That means I’m half-human, and half-Sedu. A Sedu is a being from a parallel universe entirely composed of spirit. They longed to experience physical existence, so they manifested bodies which resemble demons from human folklore and mythology. My dual parentage lets me pass myself off as Alexandra Gold, a typical nineteen-year-old, pale, blue-eyed, brunette, and then reach into my “Sedu self” and become Firebird Alex, the “demon” warrior with flaming hair, eyes, and really sharp teeth.
After the door crashes to the ground, scores of startled people sitting on thin metal folding chairs in the center of the room turn and stop chanting. There’s got to be at least fifty people staring at me, looking confused and scared.
I spring through the open doorway. Inside the room stand two Nephilim armed guards on each side of the door, two at the back of the room, and probably a dozen of them at the front. Nephilim aren’t fully human, either. They have four eyes on stubby eyestalks, nostrils but no nose, and nasty razor-sharp teeth. The Nephilim don’t openly display their features—they cover their heads with masks and hide their eyes in oversized, steampunky goggles.
The Nephilim right next to me aims his pistol at me, but I’m not concerned. My trench coat protects against VATS, which stands for Viscous and Terrible Solution—yeah, I know, sucky name, but hey, we didn’t come up with it. It’s basically a super-corrosive substance that the Nephilim use inside of their shotgun rounds to eat away our tougher-than-human skin.
I grab the Nephilim by the throat. I pull him closer to me and breathe fire on his head. His ski mask erupts in flames. I smash him into the wall hard enough to crack his skull. He falls limp to the floor as my thirteen-year-old niece and soul-sister, Rachel—known to the world as my shield maiden, Stinger —steps into the room and fires two bolts from her double crossbow at the Nephilim at the back of the room. I don’t need to turn toward them to know they’re dead. Stinger doesn’t miss.
Stinger’s also a Seduman, wearing the same Team Firebird uniform I am: long, red, hooded, leather-like trench coat with my firebird insignia, black pants made of the same protective material, black boots, and fingerless gloves. Whereas I’m from a Sedu line that fashioned themselves as demons out of Western mythology, Rachel’s father, my adoptive Sedu brother Vetis, is from a line of insect Sedim. That’s why under her hood Rachel has huge, oversized glowing red eyes, and her skin consists of hard, shiny, dark-green tinged insect-like plates.
I focus on the front of the room and realize who the cult members were chanting to. There is a grotesque-looking monster at the front of the room holding in its four gray, clawed arms a screaming, horrified young woman. He’s holding her tiny body off the ground and up to his head. As he inhales, tiny rivulets of flesh and blood are being visibly sucked off of her body and into his open, sharp-toothed mouth.
This creature looks something like a Rishon, a spirit being from another part of the spirit universe known as The Firstlands. Like the Sedim, the Rishonim were spirits from the spirit universe who wanted to experience what it would be like to have physical forms, and manifested physical bodies. Since those spirits formed their realm and bodies long before the human race evolved, their forms were inspired by far older, huger, creepier eldritch horrors from other worlds. But the Rishonim made a fatal mistake—they made their forms too large, their realm too big, for their spirits to maintain, and The Firstlands crumbled. All the Rishonim decayed and disintegrated or went insane.
That’s what we thought, at least. Turns out, a couple of the Rishonim escaped to Earth God-knows-how-many millennia ago. H’ythiis, a huge, twelve-foot-tall, four-armed, two-legged, winged Rishon with tons of eyes on eyestalks and her mate escaped, and they started the Cult of the Watchers.
The being in front of me seems like a Rishon, but kinda looks…different. Small. He’s bigger than a human, but for a Rishon he’s downright scrawny, maybe even less than seven feet tall. Taller than the maybe five-foot-tall woman he’s holding, but way smaller than other Rishonim I’ve seen. There aren’t the traditional Rishonim tentacles around his mouth, either. He’s only got four eyes on tiny eyestalks, unlike the other Rishonim I’ve seen that have dozens of eyes on longer eyestalks.
“L’reek!” I shout. “Put her down!”
The monster turns to me. I unsheath my curved Sedu blade and will it to ignite with blue flames, a special power only my Sedu blade has. The look of surprise in L’reek’s eyes tells me that even if another Rishonim told him about me, seeing me up close and personal freaks him out.
Good. I can use that.
He throws the girl against the wall and howls, then shoves the Nephilim standing with him at me.
The Nephilim swing what look like submachine guns around from their backs and start shooting. When they start firing, the cultists snap out of their reverie and start shrieking. Some people dive to the ground; others get up and are cut down by the Nephilim’s bullets. See, that’s the kind of bastards these Nephilim are. They don’t care how loyal their worshipers have been; they’ll kill them too.
Rachel and I didn’t come alone. With loud battle cries, six of our Mazzikim charge into the room toward the Nephilim. Mazzikim are quite a fearsome sight: they are spirit warriors from Sediin that aren’t as large and powerful as Sedim, but still really fierce. Some are four-legged creatures with horse legs and rhinoceros heads, others two-legged beings with gorilla bodies and crocodile heads, but all have solid red eyes and wear leather-like armor with the symbol of the House of Keroz that protects them from the VATS bullets the way our uniforms protect us. Those Mazzikim with arms wield shields and swords.
Racing into the room but stopping next to me is the beloved Mazzik captain of my guard, Zaebos. He’s shaped like a dog the size of a small bear. He has rust-colored fur under a canine-shaped, red Team Firebird coat, and two rows of shark-like teeth inside his long muzzle. He loves me dearly and fights with me against all enemies, but he is even more invested in destroying the Nephilim. They murdered one of his young puppies, the brave Zaev, who died protecting me. Zaebos crouches and growls next to me, his red irises blazing, his razor-sharp teeth exposed.
I sprint toward the closest Nephilim. My jacket is pummeled with small-caliber bullets, but they don’t even slow me down. The Nephilim starts to draw a knife when I close on him, but it’s too late. I slice him from shoulder to hip with my Sedu blade and kick his body out of the way. The Nephilim next to him is already on the ground, his throat ripped open by Zaebos.
Another Nephilim sticks a knife into Zaebos’s shoulder. Zaebos rears and howls, spinning toward the attacker. I inhale deeply and breathe a jet of flames on the Nephilim’s head. While he does the “holy shit, I’m on fire” panic dance, Zaebos takes him down.
As the Nephilim drops, L’reek unfurls his wings and glides over the Nephilim corpses. I inhale to breathe fire on him too, but he kicks me in the head first, knocking me backward. L’reek lands next to me and slashes at me with his dagger-like claws. I jump backward, but not before he slices the left sleeve of my coat.
With two of his four arms, he pulls long knives out of his belt. I stab at him, but he twists sideways and I miss him. He grabs my arm with one hand and stabs me with one of his knives. With my heavy coat and hard skin it only sinks a couple inches into my side—not fatal, but it stings like nobody’s business.
With a battle cry as fierce as a thirteen-year-old girl can muster, Stinger, a blade in each hand, leaps a good twenty feet across the Nephilim corpses, throws both blades into L’reek’s chest, and lands on top of L’reek, having drawn two new blades. She plunges both of them into his back. She may only be five-foot-three, but her momentum is enough to knock him into the wall. He winces from the pain but effortlessly bats Rachel off of him. The two blades didn’t seem to do much damage, and he flicks them out. Rachel shakes herself off and spits an acid stinger at him. It hits his arm and his flesh begins to sizzle. That makes him grimace and wince.
I take the opportunity to stab again, this time piercing his stomach. As with Rachel’s weapon, mine doesn’t pierce very deeply; it feels as if something is trying to push my blade out of his body, fighting against me. The blue flames are clearly making him uncomfortable, at least. I breathe fire on his chest—that affects him. As with Rachel’s acid, I can see his skin begin to burn and blister from my spirit fire.
He screams. With two arms he slices at Stinger, with two other arms he slashes at me, and then he flies up to the top of the twenty-foot ceiling and crashes through a window into the darkness outside.