Bonus little short story for you to enjoy today. I decided to practice some dialogue since I haven’t written much in a while, and threw in some mythology I was looking at on a whimsy—Krampus and elves!. I put it in the superhero genre, which I have zero emotional attachment to thus leaving me free to simply write. Didn’t turn out great, but I’m happy with the practice; C+ as an exercise for me personally—the ideas just wanted to keep expanding, I did not go into the exercise clear what perspective I wanted to write from which led to a neat blend that was sloppy, and I didn’t do much world-building in the prewriting moments, so it lost a lot of points as a short story and reads more like a chapter from a larger work.
Leave a comment if you liked or were curious about one particular bit over another—maybe I’ll do a follow-up!
“The Wild Hunt is coming.” The officer at the desk jumped with a decidedly unprofessional yelp. She blinked and straightened in her chair: The man who had appeared on the other side of the security glass was small, quiet, and wore a blank expression on his Asiatic face. As she opened her mouth to speak his quick, low, gently-accented voice cut through: “The Cavalcade is coming. I must speak with the chief of police immediately.”
“Sir, it is past midnight and the chief of police went home hours ago. I–”
“He is here. Without informing him, it is certain that everyone in this building will die in three hours and seventeen minutes.” The man leaned forward slightly. “I am doing this as charity. I have no concern for my own safety. Please understand.”
She sat back and watched as he walked calmly and silently to one of the chairs, waved his hand in a circle over it, and sat. His flattened affect and silent motion unnerved her, but he hadn’t done anything wrong. Technically, what he said wasn’t even a threat either. Delusional? Mental break that happened to come with serious, catlike grace? He appeared unarmed.
She tapped the mute filter on the glass, and pushed her radio’s transmit button. “Front desk to Admin. Cap, is the chief here?”
“Why do you ask?” The sound was scratchy, and she pursed her lips to help her frame her next statement.
“I have a…concerned citizen talking about serious danger to the city, saying he needs to speak to the chief as soon as possible. Also says the chief is definitely here right now, and the section of the wall he waved his hand over is now glowing in blue letters.”
“One sec, I’ll be right there.” Sure enough he was, and her supervisor looked through the glass. The man was placid, eyes closed and hands resting on his thighs like a zen master. His khaki business suit was wrinkled only a little.
“Tell me about it, he just ghosted in and surprised me.”
“Oh, he’s powered. Look.” The Captain pointed at the man. “No water on his shoes or jacket, no moisture. It has rained for the last three hours, front walk is soaked. No wet footprints on the carpet either from him. Even without the glowing lightshow there, this one makes me nervous.”
“So do we get the chief out of bed?”
“What did our guest tell you, again?” The captain sipped his coffee and leaned back against the cabinet.
“He mentioned the Wild Hunt. I think he called it the Cavalcade?”
“And that means nothing to you?” The Captain studied her face. She shook her head, a feeling of dread rising. “How about the Night Knights? You heard of them?”
“Oh God, are you serious? That’s what he’s talking about? Are they coming here?”
“Above my pay grade and out of my control. I already informed the chief though, he was just going into a meeting in the basement when you radioed.” Another sip of coffee, and the Captain tapped the glass controls again. “Sumimasen. Sir, the Chief will be available shortly. Are you ready to come into a meeting room now?”
The strange man’s eyes opened, and he rose and replaced his glasses with a precise speed. Pausing only to wave his hand once more over the glowing letters on the floor and wall, he quick-stepped to the door.
“Guess that means yes.” The Captain whispered to her as he moved toward the entry point.
Captain Hargrave was a man of some wisdom, and had worn a badge since before the powereds began to Awaken. He knew better than to piss off a powered man of unknown but polite disposition—a foreign one at that—and if one of them thought walking in and announcing his intention was the easiest way to off the Chief, well, he couldn’t be so powerful that the City’s Finest couldn’t handle him. Hargrave’s stolid disposition and unflappable nature kept the thought that a more powerful freak would just waltz in and kill whoever he wanted dead from interfering with his thought process. He slid his card into the door, and cycled it open.
“This way, sir. My name is Captain Hargrave. May I get you something to drink while you wait?” Hargrave led at a brisk walk down the bleak corridor, and the man followed close behind.
“Coffee, black. I have traveled a long way to find this opportunity to protect people, but ultimately it would not make me feel bad if I have to wait long. I will not be here when the Cavalcade comes, but you and your city will be Captain Hargrave. I assure you that you are only wasting your time with such pleasantnesses.” They arrived and Hargrave opened the door to usher the visitor inside and then returning with the coffee. The man was sitting just as he had in the lobby, runes glowering around him. When the coffee was set before him he came to life again, tilting his chin up. “By this time tomorrow, this city will likely be unrecognizable. Still, I am grateful for the offered drink. It is very civilized of you.”
“I am a public servant. Our guests must be served. Careful, the coffee’s hot.”
“Hai. I understand service, though this is the first time in my life I have been a part of it.” The man gulped down half the cup in a moment, unbothered, and Hargrave began to sweat; he sucked a tooth, then:
“Does your recent service involve the opportunity to warn us of the Night Knights tonight?” A nod. “Who do you work for? The government?”
“Ah, no. I apologize for the implication.” The man downed the rest of the coffee in a second gulp. “You may call me the Writer. I spent the first twenty-eight years of my life pursuing my own goals, and have voluntarily decided to spend the next several in service to others. This is the first time I have been in the way of something truly horrific with the means to stop it from happening. It is the sort of opportunity I first imagined, but they are fortunately rare.” He smiled, the humanity remaining razor-sharp, as though any emotions were a practiced mask.
The door opened, and the Chief walked in past the Captain and plunked himself in the seat, blowing like a steamship. “Well,” he wheezed, “I am Edgar Simms, Chief of Police, and I hope you have something worth postponing a meeting that was already at an inconvenient time and hustling up two flights of stairs.”
“Chief, this is the Writer. He believes the city will be attacked by the Night Knights in less than three hours.”
“No, Captain. Three hours and two minutes from now they will begin.” The Japanese man bowed his head slightly. “Forgive me, Mister Simms, but if you would like to save the city or at least spare what you can, it would be best that you run back down the stairs and bring the Ad Astra for me to brief. Grimm and Pinocchio should be sent to collect those you referred to as ‘the heavy hitters’ as quickly as possible.”
The Chief’s brow furrowed. “How do you know who from Galt’s Finest is here right now?”
“On the much-vaunted Powered Ranking System your department uses, I would be a Category 5-P, Mister Simms.” The Captain made a choking sound, and the Chief straightened up. “Still, the story I am Writing cannot have me die beneath the hooves of the Wild Hunt—my deeper duties lie elsewhere, but I came to warn you so that many might live and not perish.”
The Chief pulled back his sleeve, and tapped a fancy digital watch surface in a complex rhythm before returning his attention to the Writer. “So, you know who the Night Knights are and what they do to cities they visit, but you are both not going to be here to actually help and being cryptic in what we can do to stop them?”
“I have already helped, giving you several hours to organize that you would not have had otherwise. I did not need to come out of my way to save your city.”
“But that’s what heroes do!” The Chief exclaimed, pounding a fist on the table. “Come on man, a category five is an incredible gifting. What better thing could you be doing than saving lives?”
“I have traveled far. Your city means nothing to me, as do my errands. I am not a hero.” The tension remained, the Chief trying to stare down the Writer until the door opened and Ad Astra strode in as though the floor was starlight, her blonde waves playing down past her red belt. Her masquerade mask revealed her smile as she took in the diminutive man skewered by the Chief’s stare.
“Oh, now that’s neat.”
“Ad Astra, this is—”
“Shush.” She waved away any explanation, leaning to inspect the runes. “‘Here no hoof may pass nor bray be heard no horn shall call nor stone be stirred.’ It even rhymes.” She straightened, hands on her hips. “Your power at work?”
“Yes. If you wish to save the city—”
She slashed her hand through the air, voice ringing with ice. “Don’t tell me what to do, tell me the situation. I will do what I decide.”
The man’s head bowed deferentially. “Of course. In just under three hours, the Cavalcade will begin their assault on the city. Those heroes who are willing to drive them away will need the support of Gladiator and Amygdala, possibly more, to avoid being wiped out. If this aid is not received, the city may be completely destroyed.”
Ad Astra was slow to speak. “And how would we get two prime freelancers like that to come within the next three hours?”
The man’s glasses caught the light as he stood and waved his hand to erase his runes. “It is in your hands. My part in this story is complete.” The masked heroine blocked his way as he turned toward the door, agitation in her twitching lips.
“Wait a moment, what if you are wrong, or something else happens?”
“I am not wrong.”
“Why are you here?”
He paused. “You once gave a helpful piece of information to a young child. That child grew to become someone I admire. I give back to you only your due—information that will help you with Your goals.”
Her brow furrowed. “I am not very old.”
“Growing does not take long to do.”
“I want to speak with you, after. For the reports.” She gave away her nervousness with a tapping of her fingers.
“Then tear this in half.” He proffered a card. “It will do nothing until three days from now, after your primary concerns are sorted.” The three locals each did their best to inspect it: Silvery paper, the size of a credit card yet thin and free from text or mark. With a frown, Ad Astra stepped aside and the man left the building as quickly and mysteriously as he had come. The Chief stood with a huff, slapping at his various pockets.
“Pretty unnerving, but I guess OpSec is worth less when psychics are reading reality like a book. Anyone have a cig I can bum? I’m going to go smoke and make a few calls.” Hargrave passed him a pair of tobacco-laden rolls and he bustled out. The captain considered the powered woman, who was chewing her lower lip.
“Any way I can help you out? I’m guessing that you have more knowledge of how to hire those mercs than you let on. The situation seems pretty serious.”
“More so for me than you—do you know what the Cavalcade does?”
“I heard they hit Marsten and half the city burned. Lots of refugees.”
“It’s worse.” She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair. “Their leader, Ruprecht is also called the Krampus. His sworn goal for the Hunt is to kill all powereds, ‘to put the world into balance’ but he has no intention of offing himself anytime soon, unfortunately. He is very, very dangerous.”
“More dangerous than this Writer fellow? He claimed to be a 5-P. You believe him?”
She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. He is not a part of this next few days. You are a VFW, right? Last time I was in I saw you wearing a cap.”
“Yeah. Two tours. Saw some serious action, fortunately from a safe distance through a scope.” He opened the door with an exaggerated flourish, and they stepped into the hall. “Coffee? I’m going to be making a fresh pot.”
“Yes please. I need to make a phone call, I’ll meet you in the break room.” Thirty minutes later began the planning session, and another two hours saw the small team welcoming a succession of helicopters punctuated by a hellish green globe at the pad on the station’s roof. In the clear night below the full moon, the all stood along the northern railing knowing there were just minutes. None knew what form the Hunt would come in, or where they would strike first, whether it would be a dozen or a hundred even was knowledge they did not have. It was interesting, Hargrave reflected as he absently polished the top of his shotgun on his sleeve: It did not really matter what form it took. Something about the visitation by the Writer gave him immense peace—after all, six of Bambino’s crew had come in from Vegas, drawn by the same mysterious pull that Ad Astra used to bring Gladiator with his seven-foot-two muscular frame dominating the Easternmost edge of their group and Amygdala’s psychadelic purple glow near the fiber-optic blue and yellow of Ad Astra. It was a pregnant, holy sort of silence for a long moment, before an unnatural wail grew on a strengthening, sudden wind as clouds began to gather.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, this looks like it. Our guests must be served, and if there’s enough of Galt left to support it I can promise a reward for each powered head you take tonight—or save.”
“Legends cannot truly be killed, but we will put this to rest tonight, Mister Simms.” Amygdala intoned, her violet eyes brightening and dimming in a hypnotic throb. She patted the man’s forearm.
“Through difficulty…” mused Ad Astra, flicking the switch to light up her costume fully. The night was full dark now, and the city lights painted the roiling clouds orange. The wailing was now clearly human, terrified souls crying out in sorrow and pain, the breeze crescendoing to a whistling wind that blew garbage and whipped power lines and tree branches and made the north-facing line squint.
Then a single break in the clouds, a teardrop of living silver dropped down in the hellish orange boil, and slammed into Midtown with a shake of the earth. Power went out in a huge swathe, and the screaming began. Dozens of shapes spiraled through the hole torn in the curtain of cloud, haphazardly wandering then slamming into the city with devastating force. Captain Hargrave swallowed hard as one landed less than half a mile off, down at the base of the hill, and he checked his shotgun rather than look at the wave of fires that flared up around the low-income housing. Hell has marched against us, and it’s my job to enforce the ‘No Entry’ sign.
“Powereds, my team of officers will take that close impact, split out and cover the more distant ones. Godspeed to us all.” He felt like a ghost, the wail he heard singing in his ears his own, and he hummed a tune from some forgotten past as he moved down the stairwell and out onto the street towards the blaze. Downhill, feet first, destination God-knows-what to engage some overly-enthusiastic reveler in a philosophical discussion about power. “Well, if anyone bet on my living forever, you can go ahead and collect after tonight. One way or another I’m committed to buying a farm—cities are too noisy!” He bawled out, and he heard his men whoop and laugh. Six against one. Hopefully only one, and hopefully the fires were something chemical or incendiary instead of innate.
At the bottom of the hill, demons cavorted. Twisting, mannish shapes danced around a dark central spike: A traffic pole, with three limp bodies stapled to it, limbs still swinging. More came to join them, coming from street and window in staggering, limp steps with tears and moans and cries. So lurid were the flames that nobody would have faulted him for missing two key details, but he caught them anyway: First, all the dancing shapes were in pajamas or dishabille, citizens drawn from their beds, and second, in the dim and smoky glow at the top of the pole was a shape with wings.
A sharp hand sign, then a knife hand pointed at the orchestrator balancing above the growing crowd. Guns raised, and Hargrave barked the command that brought a new hell to the scene as lead poured up at the powered balancing up above. A yelp and it fell in a twisting mass, and the dance paused, hiccuped, and broke, the people falling and dropping to vomit on the pavement. The Captain moved in, flanked and covered by his officers as the figure started to rise. He leveled his shotgun and blasted, pumped, blasted, and saw the thing’s wing deflect the peppering without damage. They were close, and as it regained its feet, he saw the thin snakey tail and the horns and sulfurous eyes, complete with fangs on the woman’s thin, monstrous frame. She bobbed and dashed, rolling away from some follow-up shots by his squad, ending behind a trash can with the grace of a cat and a hiss like a snake, her clawed hand snapping out as if to grab them up and crush them.
The crowd convulsed as one, and like puppets they rose and turned on the policemen with a stuttering and inhuman fury, moaning in disbelief and pain and incomprehension. Sidearms were drawn, naked forms were butchered point blank and ruptured with knife and bullet, and when the squad regained some semblance of cohesion again half of them were broken and had to be hauled to the entrance of a brick bookstore, where their backs were secure. Several officers kept oncoming staggerers dropped with single, well-placed shots, and Hargrave shook his head to clear a growing concussion—the helmet that had saved him from the flower vase had come off when the over-the-hill woman had clawed at his face and dragged him down to the sidewalk. He scanned the rooftops, and saw the tailed devil climbing up a building further down the street in apparent retreat. He sighted in and blasted her from the wall, though he was certain her wing blocked the bulk of the damage.
“Catch the imp, blaze a trail. Martin, Cavanaugh, Reese: You three stay with the wounded. If your finger works and you’ve got two legs under you, on me. Don’t let up on her!” They hustled up, the occasional shot snapped off at the winged form to keep her scrambling instead of running, dodging from bench to mailbox. Hargrave pulled up and lined his 12-gauge up where he knew she’d be and cut loose, her dash around the corner of the next street foiled and knocked sprawling into the gutter. The squad sprinted forward as he bawled, loading three of his solid slugs in as he brought up the rear of the hit team.
He looked up and caught her wrathful expression, naked form bleeding from small scrapes and a bullet through the meat of her calf, lips curled as her taloned hands thrust out fingers first and together towards them with a feral scream, as a gout of fire bloomed and engulfed the slowest and closest.
Hargrave hit the deck and felt his scalp bake as he kept her in view, wrenching his gun downrange. When did this goddamn gun get so goddamn heavy? He pointed blindly toward the area where the air boiled hottest and emptied his goose-gun as fast as his awkward posture allowed.
The fire stopped, and a single collective scream sounded in the night air from the throats of the possessed townsfolk as the first Night Knight, Vivien the Willo’Wisp, fell. As the fires blazed the night only deepened, for the Wild Hunt had come to Galt.