Winter Wonderland 18-07

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For once, Pace seemed to be stunned into silence. She hadn’t moved by the time Shiori reached the spot where I was still kneeling and put out a hand to pull me up to my feet. “Are you okay?” the Asian girl asked quickly, her tone and wide-eyed expression making it clear that she couldn’t decide whether to be worried or seriously impressed. Belatedly, she added in a cute little whisper, “That was really badass.

“I’m okay,” I promised while accepting the hand up. Despite my flippant remark while shoving my knife into the wolf, I was actually shaking. My mouth and throat felt dry, and I kept seeing the dead wolf at my feet from the corner of my eyes. Not wolf, I reminded myself. Werewolf. Dead werewolf.

Pace had apparently recovered by that point. Not only mentally, but she’d also physically recovered the weapon that I’d shot out of her hand. She was holding both, staring at the two of us like we were particularly interesting toys that had somehow managed to start moving and talking. “Well… well… well,” the girl muttered audibly in a tone that was more surprised and vaguely curious than it was outraged or grieving. Which, frankly, was a weird reaction to me killing one of her pack-mates. It made me wonder if she even actually cared about them at all, considering how she’d been acting. Hell, she’d even made a holiday joke about Valentine, the first of her supposed pack that I’d ended up killing.

Shiori turned slightly to face the girl, hands tightly clutching her discs. “Oh right, still one left.”

“One?” Pace echoed before giggling with obvious amusement. Which, again, seemed strange given what I had just done. Dancing from one foot to the other almost like a child that really needed to use the bathroom, she remarked with suspicious casualness, “Sooomeone should learn how to count.”

My mouth opened to ask what she meant by that, but before I could say anything, the slightest squeak of movement on the floor somewhere behind us caught my attention. Shiori had obviously heard it too, because she spun that way at the same time that I did, both of us with our weapons raised defensively.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have mattered how many weapons we had. Because as I turned, my eyes took in the sight of six werewolves coming straight at us. Half were in full wolf form while the others were in that large half-wolf shape. And every last one of them were in a blind, frothing-at-the-mouth rage. They weren’t in any mood to capture us. No, going by the looks in those eyes and the bloodcurdling chorus of snarls and howls filling the air, they were going to quite literally rip us apart.

They were almost on top of us. Shiori was reacting already, but she was trying to grab me instead of taking care of herself. My hand snapped up to give her a hard shove out of the way. It wasn’t quite full strength, but it was enough to send her flying several feet and take her out of the wolves’ path. Which left me standing directly in front of the bloodthirsty, enraged beasts as they lunged, spittle flying.

My brain shut off, and I simply reacted. The nearest wolf was basically on top of me as I gave a quick lunge forward while ducking my head away from his jaws as they snapped shut where my throat would have been an instant earlier. Directly past him, one of the wolf-men was swiping down with his massive claws. But at the last second, I pivoted abruptly on my left foot. It was just enough to make him miss tearing a big chunk out of my side. Then the second full wolf was there, trying to grab for my leg to tear me to the ground. Just before its powerful jaws would’ve closed around my throat, I pushed off into a flip that carried me over him. Which brought me directly in front of the second wolf-man.

He was slamming both of his arms together to catch hold of me in a bear hug (wolf hug?) that probably would’ve crushed my ribs into powder if he’d managed to actually get hold of me with it. But even as I landed, my body was dropping into a sudden roll that took me between his legs. Which took me right to the third full wolf, whose blinding rage looked briefly overtaken by surprise at my sudden appearance before he lunged for me, clearly thinking that my position rolling on the floor had left me vulnerable.

He was wrong. Even as the wolf leapt with his mouth open and teeth bared, I managed to somehow get a foot underneath myself. Kicking off with it, I did this side-flip off the floor, barely clearing the wolf.

That side-flip took me directly in front of the last wolf-man, who was just starting to react to the fact that I was there. His claws came for me as I landed, but I twisted first one way, then the other. My body dipped, evading both of his rapid swipes before I dove into a low somersault under his third, even more enraged attempt. There was no skill or thought to his attack, just like there hadn’t been for any of the others. They were attacking blindly, without planning anything they were doing. All they cared about was murdering me as quickly (and preferably painfully) as possible in revenge for their pack-mate.

Even enraged, however, they should have been able to utterly destroy me. Honestly, six of them versus one of me, even in a blind rage they should’ve torn me apart in about two seconds. And yet somehow… somehow I had just basically danced my way through all six of them without even being touched once.

As I rolled to my knees and spun back, only one thought came to mind. How the hell had I done that?

“How the hell did you do that?!” Shiori blurted my own thoughts as she skidded to a stop next to me.

“I… I… I…” My mouth worked a few times while I crouched there before admitting, “I don’t know.”

The wolf I’d killed. That had to be it. Instead of improving the enhanced strength that I’d already gotten from killing Valentine, apparently this one had given me… what, super-enhanced reflexes and agility?

By that point, the half dozen wolves that I had worked my way through had managed to collect themselves and recover. They spun back to us, and I could tell that while they were still furious, their initial uncontrollable rage was ebbing a bit. Which wasn’t good, since it meant that they wouldn’t be blindly attacking next time. And six werewolves plus Pace versus Shiori and me would be a massacre.

“Oh boy, oh boy.” Speaking of Pace, the crazy girl had already worked her way to the front of the pack of furious werewolves. “You really ticked them off there, Present.” Her tone turned to a stage-whisper as she leaned forward, cupping a hand to the side of her mouth. “I think you’re off their Christmas list.”

Somehow, through all of that, Shiori had managed to grab my staff. She passed it back to me while keeping her eyes on the wolves, who were starting to spread out a little bit. “I think we’ll survive.”

“Don’t be so sure.” That was from one of the wolves, rather than Pace. He had shifted back into his human shape, looking remarkably like a mild-mannered accountant. Well, except for the whole naked thing. He wasn’t that tall, and his figure was pale with heavily freckled skin and light brown hair. And he was also glaring at me with a hatred that actually made me shiver. “No,” he added darkly. “I don’t think you’ll survive at all. Which still works. Kill one of us, maybe we let the Heretics play with you. Kill two of us…” His face started to shift back a little as he began to resume his man-wolf form.

“We should really be going,” Pace put in idly, looking like she didn’t particularly care much either way.

The man-wolf’s voice was a rough, gravely growl. “Not yet. It won’t take long to kill these bitches. Monty and the other two are still holding the back door, so we’ve got time. Just enough to finish this.”

Other two? There were three more wolves besides the ones that we had already seen? Three more who were apparently holding the back door. Fantastic, so these guys weren’t even in a rush to leave yet.

Beside me, I felt Shiori set herself with her weapons drawn and ready. Swallowing, I did the same. In front of us, the six wolves had finished spreading out to cover the width of the mall corridor. They weren’t blinded by rage anymore. They were going to work together as a pack to take us down.

The tension was rising. The air was thick with it. Any second, they’d lunge. I just didn’t know which one would make the first move. Whoever it was, Shiori and I had to stay together. We had to watch each other’s backs and just try to last as long as we could. Maybe Asenath or Buddy would show up.

And then, just as I saw one of the wolves bracing himself to spring toward us, something came sailing in from the side. My eyes spotted it, widening at the sight of the mangled, broken form of another werewolf in full wolf form. Its head was twisted around the wrong way, it was bleeding from half a dozen wounds, and most importantly: its chest had been ripped open and its heart was missing. Along with what looked like several other very important organs. The thing had basically been butchered.

Every eye turned that way, only to see a single figure walk out of one of the mall’s staff-only corridors. Seth. The vampire that Asenath knew, the one who was one of the Septs. He was strolling casually into view. And he was dragging two more very dead wolves along the floor with him, one in each hand.

Three werewolves. Three combat prepared and trained werewolves on the attack, working together to guard a single point. And Seth had just—he’d killed all of them. With what seemed to have been ease. Hell, he didn’t seem to have a scratch on him. Which, to be fair, could be the vampire healing. But still.

“I wouldn’t really, ahhh…” the vampire drawled while giving both of the wolves a simple toss that put them in the middle of the floor next to the third one, “… count on that ‘watch the back door’ thing.”

Stopping nearby, he cracked his neck to the side and I heard an audible pop. “Hey, kids. You all right?”

Tiebreaker,” the wolf-man who had been talking before snarled, even as all of them took a step back. When they saw me kill one of them, they’d flown into a blind rage and rushed me. But when they saw the vampire kill three of them, they were intimidated into taking a step back. And then another one.

For his part, Seth just smiled almost sleepily while replying, “And bones… and necks… and don’t forget about the occasional heart here and there. But yeah, I break ties too. You know, when I feel like it.”

Instead of rushing us, or making another threat, the wolf-man turned toward Pace. “Exit,” he ordered.

At first I thought he was just telling her to leave. But Pace flipped her kusarigama up, catching them by the handles. Then she hit something, and the weapons shifted in her grip. Some kind of protective sheathe covered the blades, allowing the girl to slip her hands down to use them as grips. At the same time, the very end of what had already been the handles dropped open, revealing a gun barrel hidden inside each. Pointing the weapons over at the nearby wall, Pace pulled a trigger that had appeared on one, then the other. From the first, a white blast emerged, freezing part of the wall. The red blast from the second weapon blew a hole into the exact spot that the first one had weakened by freezing.

Right, not only could Pace freeze (and apparently burn) things with the chains of her weapons, but they could also turn into guns that did the same. Because that’s what she needed: to be more dangerous.

The wolves and Pace retreated through the new hole, all of them keeping wary eyes on us. Well, okay, that was flattering Shiori and me. Ninety percent of their attention was clearly centered solely on Seth.

Once they were gone, I slumped. Shiori did the same, panting as she looked at the vampire. “You… you…” Her mouth was working, eyes flicking down at the three dead werewolves and then back to him.

Before the other girl could finish whatever she had been trying to say, there was a blur of motion. Asenath came skidding to a stop, blood drenching her front. She was carrying two knives that looked somewhat similar to the one I still had in one hand. “Reathma,” she blurted, looking first to her sister, then to me. “You’re… You’re okay.” Dropping her weapons, she moved to embrace Shiori tightly.

Shiori returned the hug while blushing a little. Her voice was hesitant. “You—you’re okay too? Everything else, the wolves, they’re all gone?”

Smiling a little, Asenath nodded. “Dealt with or gone. The survivors took off. And I’m fine. Wrestled tougher wolves than those before.” Exhaling, she paused before glancing to the dead werewolves. Then she looked to Seth, voice neutral. “Those yours?”

“Eh,” the man shrugged with what was by now patented casualness. “A few. Your Heretic there killed one of them.” He nodded toward me, eyebrows raised. “Pretty impressive for a trainee, by the way.”

My mouth opened, but before I could respond, another thought struck me. “Oh!” Shoving the knife away, my hands fumbled into my pocket until I found my phone. “I’ve gotta call Wyatt before he sends in the entire National Guard.” Quickly hitting the speed dial button, I held the phone up, muttering to myself about what would happen if my half-brother finished rounding up a posse and came charging in right then.

“Wyatt,” I blurted as soon as he answered. “It’s okay. Everything’s okay. We’re fine. We’re good…ish.”

Surprisingly, he answered far more calmly than I thought he’d be, “I know. We’re watching you.”

I blinked at that, then blinked again. “Who—what?” I asked dully. “What do you mean you’re–” My head moved up and I looked to a security camera in the corner, my eyes wide. “You’re watching us?”

“I came to Gaia,” Wyatt explained. “She did something to make the ceiling in her office show the security footage from where you are. So we watched, just in case you needed help. But you didn’t.”

No wonder he was actually calm. If anyone could make Wyatt slow down and breathe, it was Gaia. And if she’d actually taken over the security cameras (probably similar to the way she had taken over the portal machine on the Meregan ship) to let him see what was going on, it obviously helped. Though I wasn’t really sure how the other Septs would feel about that if they found out about it.

A glance toward the other three confirmed that they had most likely heard all of that. Swallowing, I hesitated before murmuring, “Tell Gaia I’ll call and explain everything as soon as we’re done here.”

As I disconnected, Asenath stepped over to embrace me as well. “Sorry I wasn’t here earlier. Wolf might not have been the strongest one I’ve dealt with, but he was tenacious. Glad you’re okay.”

“Me too,” I agreed, before looking at Seth. “But we wouldn’t have been if he hadn’t shown up.”

The two vampires looked at each other in silence for a moment before Senny quietly spoke. “Thank you.”

In response, Seth just gave a shrug of one shoulder. “Eh, it’s like I said. We’re practically family.”

“How–” My voice caught, and I had to swallow hard before pushing on. “How many did they kill? What—what’s going on back there?” I was afraid to look back to see just how many bodies there were and how much damage had been done.

Sobering, Senny straightened. “I haven’t seen everything,” she admitted quietly. “If… if you want to leave before they blame you for what happened, I understand.”

My head shook at that. “No. If we’re going to make an alliance work, we can’t just run away because it gets hard. We need to show them that we’ll be there, that we’ll stick around even when things go bad. It’s the only way to convince them to trust us.”

“She’s right,” Shiori agreed. “They might be mad now, because the wolves attacked while we were here. But if we leave without talking to them, they’ll never listen to us again. They might not even listen to you anymore.”

After looking back and forth between us for a couple seconds, Senny finally nodded, a small smile touching her face. “Okay.” Turning, she started back the other way.

For a second, I hesitated. Despite my words, I was afraid to go back and see everything that the wolves had done. Not only because of how the Septs and the other Alters might react to seeing us after what happened, but also because… well, because I didn’t really relish seeing the kind of damage that a bunch of werewolves could do to innocent civilians.

Then I felt a touch. Glancing down, I saw Shiori slip her hand into mine before squeezing it. When I looked up, she gave me a slight smile. “It’ll be okay, Flick.”

And somehow… I believed her.

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23 comments

  1. Well, I suppose that would’ve gone worse without that interference from Seth, huh? And hey, new power for the Flickster that would seem to go pretty well with her style. So there’s that. And next time, we’ll see how the rest of the Septs react to… well, everything that just happened.

    In any case, thanks for reading, guys. If you would like, clicking here will add or renew a vote for this story on Top Web Fiction. As always, I deeply appreciate every single vote.

    And as mentioned on the previous chapter, there will be another mini-interlude soon. For details, feel free to check out the list of the upcoming bonus chapters on the donations page here

    Finally, of course, the tags for this chapter are: Don’t Be Silly – Flick. The National Guard Doesn’t Have Enough Operational Security For Wyatt To Trust Them To Deliver A Newspaper Let Alone Save You., Felicity Chambers, Flick, Pace, Seth, Shiori Porter, The Takeaway Here Is That Flick Would Suddenly Be An Amazing Football Receiver.

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  2. Well Seth’s a badass. Assuming he took the wolves three on one, WHICH I have no doubt he did. Damn.

    Gaia once again does something scary by hijacking security footage that should really be protected from her.

    And now what’s left of Lemuel’s pack will definitely be back. If I’m counting right, they just lost at least half their guys. Vengeance and all that.

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    1. Well Seth’s a badass. Assuming he took the wolves three on one, WHICH I have no doubt he did. Damn.

      He did. Despite his laid-back attitude, there’s a reason he’s the tiebreaker.

      And now what’s left of Lemuel’s pack will definitely be back. If I’m counting right, they just lost at least half their guys. Vengeance and all that.

      All that and I didn’t end up giving the guy who actually talked a name. Whoops.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. They might just gave up. Twelve entered, only seven made it out. They pissed off an entire community worth of alters, and to top it off, did not get what they come for. This got to be their most rotten operation like, ever.

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  3. Yay! New chapter! Let’s see…

    It seems that Seth has a bit of a reputation if a pack of revenge-crazed werewolves would rather run than tangle with him. Frankly though, they should probably have been a bit more worried about who’d be taking revenge on THEM if they’d actually managed to kill Flick. If they knew enough to be worried that is.

    And Flick got the Agility/Reflexes package as predicted. Was I right in guessing that the form the werewolf was in affected the power distribution or was it just how the dice got rolled, which I think was how you described the process before?

    And now that the life and death battle is over they’ve got a real problem on their hands: Politics/Diplomacy 😦

    By the way, is the next Minilude the Lincoln one? I’m looking forward to that one 🙂

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    1. And Flick got the Agility/Reflexes package as predicted. Was I right in guessing that the form the werewolf was in affected the power distribution or was it just how the dice got rolled, which I think was how you described the process before?

      Generally speaking, there’s always a chance that the Heretic will get a different power rather than improving what they’ve already got. It’s just MORE likely that they’ll get the improvement.

      But yes, being in a different form (regardless of what that is, since many Alters have different forms) tends to reset every available power down to equal chance.

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  4. “Three werewolves. Three combat prepared and trained werewolves on the attack, working together to guard a single point. And Seth had just—he’d killed all of them. With what seemed to have been ease. Hell, he didn’t seem to have a scratch on him. Which, to be fair, could be the vampire healing. But still.”
    Me: Nah, if they had landed hits Seth’s clothing would have shown damage of some kind. He’s just that good.

    “Then I felt a touch. Glancing down, I saw Shiori slip her hand into mine before squeezing it. When I looked up, she gave me a slight smile. “It’ll be okay, Flick.”

    And somehow… I believed her.”
    Me: Ehhh, I am skeptical it’ll all be sunshine and rainbows.

    Anyway, the improved reflexes ability turned out to be a bit of an equalizer, though without Seth’s entrance, I doubt it would have helped out all that much for an under-trained Heretic versus a composed and trained attack group of 6+ werewolves. Looking forward to seeing the aftermath of this.

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    1. Anyway, the improved reflexes ability turned out to be a bit of an equalizer, though without Seth’s entrance, I doubt it would have helped out all that much for an under-trained Heretic versus a composed and trained attack group of 6+ werewolves. Looking forward to seeing the aftermath of this.

      Indeed. The only reason Flick got through that first bit even with the enhanced agility/reflexes was their total blind and uncoordinated rush attack because of how enraged they were. After they started focusing, she wouldn’t have lasted that long.

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  5. Might be a good idea to read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, among other things it has a realistic and detailed description of how to mount a rebellion, it wouldn’t be crippled by a single trator.

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    1. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Joselyn’s rebellion wasn’t crippled by a single traitor, it was exposed by a single traitor back in the early 1920s when it was just a collection of subversive students. Then it went on for the next 70+ years, surviving the loss of its founder and leader in 1964.

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      1. K, sorry, but still, as it’s set up now it could be toppled easealy, they all know everyone else and share it easily.

        To be fair, Flick hasn’t really started ‘setting up a rebellion’ as yet so much as she’s still sort of… reacting to/investigating the last one and agreeing with them. Not that that distinction matters that much to the powers that be.

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  6. Now for the question of how Gaia reacts to seeing Flick and Shiori’s closeness. Does she get angry at Flick for apparently toying with Avalon’s affections? Will she see it as Flick being young and unsure and have a motherly talk with her? Or will Gaia jump on the triad-shipping train and do her best to set the three of them up together?

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    1. Heretics are accustomed to having multiple romantic partners at the same time. They’re not really a purely monogamous society except by individual choice. Which, to be fair, should be shown a bit more. Gaia herself has been around for so long that she won’t really blink that much except to try to get everyone involved on the same page so there aren’t misunderstandings/hurt feelings/drama.

      Basically, “If you want to date multiple people, that’s fine. But make sure everyone you’re involving in it are completely aware and okay with it. And if you don’t, then you should probably make a decision. That decision doesn’t have to last forever. Maybe you’re with one person for twenty or thirty years and then you find someone new. That’s all completely normal. As long as you and everyone involved are up front with each other.”

      Liked by 3 people

  7. So the late, unlamented Werewolf #5 gave Flick super agility & reflexes, which came in really handy in dodging the half-dozen werewolves that went after her in order to avenge their buddy.

    Seth’s a real badass if he could easily take out 3 werewolves by himself & scare the rest away just like that.

    And interesting that Gaia was able to hack into Wonderland’s security cameras just like that- wonder just what all else has she seen that might involve Flick or others of interest.

    Swallowing, I hesitated before murmuring, “Tell Gaia I’ll call and explain everything as soon as we’re done here.”

    Oh, and won’t that be an interesting & awkward conversation to have, even if Gaia would probably be far more understanding than most faculty members & other senior Heretics.

    The Takeaway Here Is That Flick Would Suddenly Be An Amazing Football Receiver.

    Well either that, or she could try out for the Crossroads gymnastics team if they have one & she was so inclined.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regeneration, the first power she got, from the Peridles. Also blood tracking from the Harpy and the ability to shape-shift her face from the Rakshasa. You can also always check the list that Squornshellous Beta keeps up to date right here

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  8. “I don’t think you’ll survive at all. Which still works. Kill one of us, maybe we let the Heretics play with you. Kill two of us…” This line seems ambiguous. Did the Werewolf speaking mean that when it was a case of Flick having killed ONE Werewolf, they were willing to let Pace play with her (In which case the sentence should be “…maybe we let the Heretic (singular) play with you”…Or was the Werewolf referencing that as Flick had killed one of them, they had been intending to “Pull a Roxa” on Flick, and turn her into a Werewolf for the Heretics (plural) to play with?

    I’m not exactly sure what that Werewolf was trying to convey to Flick about the differences in their intentions post-1st Werewolf Kill, as opposed to their obvious intentions post-2nd Werewolf Kill.

    Also, and this is a purely subjective point about the Werewolves. I see controlling those animal instincts/burning impulses effectively being the province of experienced Werewolves (like these), but I would’ve thought that control would manifest in allowing them to keep a lid on such rage-oriented/aggression impulses to begin with, rather than reining them in hard-stop in a couple seconds.

    I’m trying to understand the emotional states of the Werewolves. One minute they seem content to be all Viking Berserkers hitting a coastal community and bathing in the blood of civilians, and the next they’re a tight, smoothly functioning war-unit.

    You mentioned them being intelligent pack-hunters, and I’m wondering if the message is that Werewolves in this Universe really just are that damned scary. That they have rivers of rage to draw on, but can go cold and calculating pretty damned fast when necessary, even under stressful conditions.

    Thought I’d ask, rather than make assumptions about the Werewolves. The root of it is wondering if Lemuel’s orders to take Flick stem from a rage-induced place or its a more cold-blooded line of strategic thinking (Ie: We can’t let some snot-nosed Heretic trainee kill one of us and walk away unscathed. That makes us look weak as Hell to other Alter groups).

    (Trying to assess what Lemuel’s likely to do about sending 12 out and getting 7 back, plus hearing they are continuing to feed their Heretic prey in questionn more of their Powers.)

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