A black van drove along an old, neglected and otherwise empty highway that had seen much better days before the far more impressive freeway a few miles away had been constructed a decade and a half earlier. On the side of the van was the picture of a cross, with a small white lamb tended to by a shepherd. It was the logo for the Church of the Lamb. That was what these people called themselves, the name their leader had given his group at the same time that he had declared his own name to be Jesus. Yes, that Jesus. He was, by his own claim, the reincarnation of the original and these were his chosen people, the ones who would help him usher the world into a new age.
It was a cult. A cult built around a religious fanatic and housed in a compound that the van itself was heading to at that very moment. The compound was only another mile or so away, and its occupants (an older male driver, equally elderly woman beside him, and younger male in the back) were looking forward to being home after several days spent preaching and working toward gaining new converts in Detroit, fifty miles away. They were ready to be back among their family, not stuck with the nonbelievers who mocked them, the sinners who would burn once Jesus finally decided that he had given them enough time to turn from their evil ways.
Unfortunately for the trio, their music (a collection of hymns played over the van’s ancient and somewhat warbly cassette deck) was interrupted when lightning abruptly struck the ground ahead of them, blowing a three-foot-wide hole in the pavement in the process. With a squeal of tires, the van came to a screeching halt barely a foot from the hole. For a moment, the three stared through the front windshield at the damage that had been done to the road before nearly simultaneously tilting their heads up and leaning forward to see the perfectly clear sky. In the background, the chorus of singers continued to proclaim their love for their shepherd and light, until the younger passenger in the backseat leaned forward to press the stop button. Through the sudden silence that ensued, he asked in a somewhat shaken voice, “Wh-what was that?”
“It is a sign,” the woman (her name was Sister Freya) insisted. “We must take news of what we have seen to our lord, so he may come and witness. The time has come for all humanity to--”
That was as far as she managed to get, before the van suddenly and violently jerked backward. The three were tossed forward as the van was hauled back several feet almost instantly, before screaming out as it was subsequently spun around to face the other direction, with the sound of metal tearing as something incredibly strong simply gripped the vehicle by the rear and gave it a hard shove. After completing a full one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn, the van’s spin was stopped by a hand that came down on the hood, denting it inward dramatically.
Finally, as the skidding stopped and the trio within the van jerked upright once more, they had their first real glimpse of the figure responsible not only for the lightning bolt that had originally brought them to a halt, but also for the subsequent manhandling of their vehicle. And as they saw him, all three immediately began to pray, tears streaming from their eyes as they beheld the monster from hell who had clearly been sent to drag their souls to that eternal abyss. For who else could it be but a demon who stood before them? He towered over their vehicle, standing fifteen feet tall, with leathery purple-blue skin, a bladed tail, and bat-like wings. Truly, this was the devil himself. He or one of his minions, manifested upon the Earth to damn their souls.
Beholding the obvious evil in front of them, the trio knew nothing but terror. Attempting to flee never entered their minds, for how could one run from a horror such as this? No, their only hope was that they had been worthy and righteous enough to be saved at this moment. Their voices rose in a panicked fervor as they alternately recited memorized bible verses and desperately begged their supposedly risen savior to save them from the satanic fires.
In the midst of that, Cuélebre rolled his eyes so hard they very nearly fell out of his head while demanding in a flat, clearly put-upon voice, “Oh, shut the fuck up.”
With that, he reached out, tall enough that all he had to do was lean over slightly from his position at the front of the van, and tore the door off the driver’s side. “Get out,” he ordered. When this demand was met with more useless praying, the Touched-man brought his left fist down against the hood with enough force to not only cave it in, but also literally knock the engine out, making it fall to the ground. The entire van itself might have flipped over, had he not used his other hand to grab the top of it so that it only jerked upward a bit, drawing a renewed yelp from those inside. His voice rose to a bellow, “Get out of the fucking van!”
Needless to say, the trio got out of the van. The driver was first, literally falling out through the hole on his side, but the others were right behind him as they threw their own doors open. All three had gone from reciting bible verses to simply stammering and pleading for their lives.
Once the trio were out, Cuélebre raised his foot and kicked out hard to send the van flying backward and tumbling end over end before it ended up in a crumpled and completely unusable heap a good fifty feet away. A moment later, a new bolt of lightning tore its way out of the sky and ensured that the van would never be used for anything again.
“It’s okay,” he informed the group who cowered below him, “whole thing was only worth about thirty bucks and a stick of gum.”
Somehow, Sister Freya found her voice and managed to stammer out, “A hu-hundred copies of the word of our lord, and the new testimony of his flock were in that van, beast!”
“Ah,” Cuélebre corrected, “Twenty bucks and half a stick of gum then.” His eyes narrowed, as he added, “You belong to that cult down the street, yeah?”
The elderly driver, a man who went by the name Brother Harris, rose a bit more (though he continued shaking violently). “W-we are emissaries of the Lord Jesus, returned to this planet to bring eternal paradise and to return y-you and your master to the damnation you have--”
“Shut up,” the towering figure interrupted flatly. His booming voice, despite the fact that he had done nothing outwardly violent to punctuate the demand, made Brother Harris’s mouth snap closed so fast there was an audible sound of his teeth clacking together.
“Laia and Austen Deleon,” Cuélebre abruptly snapped, filling the silence that had ensued. “They’re in your compound right now?”
His words made the group exchange confused looks, before Sister Freya offered a very weak, “Sister Laia should be tending to the gardens. Her daughter is being punished for blasphemy.”
A deep growl escaped the massive figure, before his hand snapped down to point a clawed finger at the woman. “Punished?” he echoed, in a tone that made his implied threat and anger quite clear.
It was the younger male, Brother Kyle, who found his voice first in the wake of that. “Y-you shall not have her, demon. She has faltered. Your plans to claim her soul by sending the MP3 player and its sinful music has deepened your hold. But she will be saved. Through the blood and sweat, she will be saved from your grasp and returned to eternal paradise with all our flock!”
He might have said more, but the man’s words were suddenly cut off as Cuélebre’s hand wrapped around him and lifted him up to be face to face. In a very low, very dangerous voice, the massive, demonic-looking figure snarled, “Tell me… about the blood… and sweat.”
A few minutes later, Cuélebre launched himself back into the air, leaving the trio of religious nutjobs back where they were. His massive wings beat once, then again, sending him hurtling quickly toward the compound where Austen was apparently being held in a torture sweat box for the horrific sin of listening to music that wasn’t religious.
Austen. His daughter. In the wake of gaining his powers (and his massively altered form) very recently, the man, whose real name was Danilo Taca, had considered whether or not to seek out the woman he had once loved, Laia, and the daughter they’d had together. Back when Austen was born, he had originally planned on getting himself clean of his drug habit and being there for the two of them. But, inevitably, he had fallen back into old habits and ended up abandoning them.
Now, after fleeing from cops raiding the crackhouse he had been hiding out in and becoming Touched when he found a floating orb, things were different. Along with his massive, incredibly altered form, Danilo had found that his body had been purged of its reliance on those old drugs. His addictions were gone entirely.
With that lack of addiction came the urge to find the people he had abandoned. Laia and their daughter. For a short time, Danilo had resisted the impulse, thinking that the two would be better off not being dragged back into his life (especially given he was incapable of transforming back into his human form, and thus any such life would not be normal at all). But, eventually, he rejected that thought and decided that he could at least offer the two the choice. Besides, he wanted to know what had ever happened to that kid he had out in the world.
A bit of searching and digging (it was easy to interrogate people when one looked the way he did, though he had to send others to look for information in public) had eventually revealed that his old girlfriend had ended up taking their daughter out to this nutjob commune with this Jesus freak. And that was something the man now calling himself Cuélebre could not look away from. He wasn’t leaving the woman he had once cared about enough to want to settle down with, and the daughter they’d had together, in a goddamn cult. Whatever else he may have been, he wasn’t the kind of person who could ignore something like that.
Quite soon, his flight brought him above the compound in question. The support buildings, barracks, and the like were arranged in two horizontal lines, with various gardens scattered around the outer edges. In the middle, there was a courtyard, with a pathway leading to the crown jewel of the compound: the large church. That last building was very clearly where all the money and effort had gone, as it looked much better than the ramshackle structures around it.
Not being certain where his daughter and her mother actually were in this place, Cuélebre realized he couldn’t just rush in and immediately start tearing everything apart, or summon a lightning bolt to turn one of those buildings into a crater. Tempting as that might have been.
On the other hand, there was obviously something going on down there. Flying above the compound, he could see a lot of figures running around chaotically. For a moment, Cuélebre thought that the trio he’d just left behind had managed to call ahead a warning despite the fact that he'd made them throw their phones down so he could step on them. But no, this wasn't about him. For one thing, none of the people down there was looking up. All of their attention seemed to be focused on the church itself. And, looking a bit closer, he could see a couple people already lying or kneeling on the ground, apparently injured from… something.
Well, this was curious. Hovering there for a moment, he considered what to do next. If there was some kind of problem, his kid could be hurt. On the other hand, before he'd gotten his powers, rushing into things without knowing what was going on had gotten him in plenty of trouble.
Was it ironic that he was far more cautious and less likely to rush into things now, when he was so much stronger, than he had been as a normal, very flimsy and vulnerable, human?
A thing to think about later. For the moment, cautious as he might have been, his daughter was down there somewhere. He’d already abandoned her for years thanks to his vices. Now that he was right here and clear-headed, he wasn’t about to let whatever was down there hurt her. Or worse.
So, with a grunt of decision, Cuélebre gave a hard flap of his wings to send himself downward. The people who had been gathering around the front of the church looked up at the last second, just before the massive figure landed directly in front of them. From there, he could now see that the doors of the building before him had been blown off and lay some distance into the main foyer.
Most of the gathered people immediately fell to the ground, sobbing and praying. A few fled with loud sobs. Others brandished crosses or improvised weapons, reciting various bible verses at him, some in Latin. One man, holding a cross that shook violently in his hand, stammered, “T-take your whore and be gone, de-devil!”
Given no other context, Cuélebre might have ignored that. It might not have stuck out at all. Except, on the heels of those words, the woman next to the man spoke from the ground where she had fallen. “Yes, the g-girl, Austen has sold herself to you, none of us have!”
Austen. Slowly, his head turned and he stared at the man with his cross. “I’m sorry, take my what?”
“Th-the girl, the girl, she fornicated with you and your spawn to gain her unholy powers,” the man stammered while holding that cross up a bit higher. Apparently the fact that Cuélebre hadn’t made a move toward him yet managed to reassure him of its power. “Take her soul and leave this righteous place, you shall have none of us! When our lord is--”
A single, casual swipe of Cuélebre’s tail took the man’s head from his neck. As the head fell and rolled along the ground, the demonic-figure remarked, “That’s someone’s daughter you’re talking about. Show some respect.”
It took the group surrounding the church, those who had remained through his arrival anyway, exactly as long as it took the head to stop rolling before they all simultaneously came to a decision. And that decision was to get the hell away from that place. Alternately screaming, sobbing, or just shaking in shocked silence, they pivoted and fled, scattering to the winds.
Which left Cuélebre standing alone next to the headless body when a figure came rushing out of the open doorway. A small figure with long, dark hair and big brown eyes, surrounded by hovering books and pages that seemed to follow her like obedient guard dogs.
She came to a sudden stop, the books and pages forming up in front of her like a defensive screen. Those already wide eyes seemed to get even larger as she stammered, “O-oh, what--what--no--”
“Austen Deleon?” Seeing her, seeing those pages, it finally struck Cuélebre what the man had said. Unholy powers. Touched. His kid was Touched. Just recently, from the sound of things.
The girl, in response, stumbled backward a step. “Get away from me!” she blurted out loud, the pages folding and forming themselves into a large sword even as the books became a wall to protect her.
“Wait.” Holding up one massive hand, Cuélebre tried to think of something to do. In the end, he simply sat down. There was little else that could show he wasn’t there to fight her. “You… you’re Austen Deleon. Laia’s daughter.”
Swallowing audibly, the girl stared at him. “And you… you’re… you’re…”
“No,” he corrected her assumption. “I mean, I’m not… that. I’m Touched, like you. Well, maybe a little different than you. Same idea. I ahhh, I came to this place to find my daughter. Heard she was here.”
“You have a daughter?” the thirteen-year-old managed in a weak little voice. “But--wait.” Remembering that the man had known her name and that of her mother, Austen worked her mouth a few times before giving a sharp gasp of realization. That was followed by a sudden shout as the books formed themselves into a solid line, like a battering ram, and slammed into the man’s chest hard enough to make him reel backward. “You left!”
She was on her feet then, lunging to land against his chest as she slammed her fist against him again and again, blindly punching him to no effect while the papers and books flew agitatedly around as if they were drawn by a tornado. “You left! You ran away! You left Mom and she--she brought us here, because you were--you were--”
“A piece of shit,” Cuélebre finished. “Yeah. I know. Trust me, kid, I know.” He straightened a bit, though he did nothing to stop her from punching him. “I’ve been a huge, drugged up piece of shit. But that’s ahhh… that’s gone now. When I found out you were stuck here, I had to come see about getting you out. But ahhh… it looks like you did that well enough on your own.”
The girl’s face twisted up briefly, as she started, “You’re only here because… because…” She trailed off. “No. No, you couldn’t be here that fast. You didn’t know I had powers.” Swallowing hard once more, she took a quick step away from him, as if he had burned her. “You came before I had powers.” The tone was almost accusatory despite the actual words.
“Like I said,” he replied, “I didn’t want my kid stuck in this place. Sounds like they did a real number on your mom. Speaking of whom…”
“She left,” Austen informed him in a dull voice. “There’s.. tunnels, they go all over the hills out here. She ran away from me, into the tunnels. I was… I was going to chase her, but I heard something out here. I heard those people scream, and…” Trailing off, she glanced toward the dead body on the ground, giving a soft, choked gasp. “Brother Tim?”
“Friend of yours?” Cuélebre asked with a slight wince.
There was a brief pause before she shook her head. “No.” There was clearly a lot more behind those words, a vehemence that made it clear Cuélebre’s only regret if he knew the context would be that he hadn’t made the man suffer more.
Clearing his throat, the man watched her as he declared, “Listen, kid, I don’t know what your mom said--I don’t know much of anything. But it couldn’t be that hard to go find these tunnels and track her down.”
“No.” Quickly, Austen shook her head. “Let her go. I’ll talk to her later. I--I’ll find her. She’ll just come back here once everyone else does. Once… once we leave.”
“We?” Cuélebre echoed, raising an eyebrow.
She met his gaze. “You came to find me, right? Was it just to say goodbye again?”
His head shook. “No. No, I was gonna ask if you and your mom would give me another chance.”
“Mom isn’t ready.” Austen’s voice was certain. “But I… I’ll go with you. You can teach me more about my powers.”
Shrugging, Cuélebre offered a hand to her while spreading his wings out. “Or find someone else to teach both of us. I’m pretty new to this too. Either way, pretty sure we’ll get further together than we would all by ourselves.”
Austen, in turn, didn’t accept the massive hand or the implied offer of a lift. Instead, she raised her foot, stepping up onto a large platform of books that formed underneath her, before the platform rose into the air with the girl standing on it. “But if you look at any drugs again, I’ll cut your head off.” That was stated with a pointed look toward the fallen body below them.
“Fair enough,” Cuélebre replied, rising into the air beside her. As the two began to fly away from the compound, he with his wings and her perched on her book platform, he asked, “Wait, hold on. What about that Jesus guy?”
“He… I killed him. He’s dead.”
“Heh. That’s my girl.”
Aww, Isn't Fathers And Daughters Bonding Over Murdering Cultist Whackjobs Adorable?
Honestly Only Killing One Guy Is Less Of A Body Count Than I Expected From 'Cuelebre Rescues His Daughter From The Cult.'