Something was wrong. Aylen knew that the moment she stepped foot on the sidewalk in front of Koren Fellows’ house. The chill that crept over her skin, the tingling in her spine, the heavy taste of rust in her mouth. All of it added up to terrible things, and none of it could be ignored. It wasn’t exactly the (often unreliable) ‘death-sense’ her mother had told her about. At least, it didn’t feel the way Mother had described it. She wasn’t being guided anywhere. She was just… here. Standing in front of Koren’s house while knowing deep in her gut that something was wrong.
This was supposed to be a simple, fun visit to her roommate’s home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Aylen hadn’t expected to make friends so easily with the other girl, particularly after that little situation in front of the Pathmaker building where Koren had ‘joked’ about pushing Vanessa Moon over the security line. From that moment alone, she had assumed there would be issues.
Yet, despite a tendency to act and speak without thinking, Koren actually wasn’t that bad. When that mind-controlling kid showed up at the school, ordering everyone to hurt Flick Chambers, Aylen ended up using far too much of her energy attempting to do just that. Which left her Reaper side hungry, so she’d really needed to go out hunting. But with the intense search going on across the grounds and all the security people incredibly active, there was no way she could get out without attracting attention. Which led to Aylen feeling worse and worse while she tried to wait out the heightened security, until Koren had finally declared that she was going to go get one of the teachers. Aylen’s only choice had been to tell her what she needed, and promise to explain afterward. Just a mouse, a snake, a small bird, anything that was alive. She’d needed something alive, and Koren, to her credit, managed to snare one and brought it to her. Then she waited for the explanation once Aylen had… consumed the thing’s death.
Koren was freaked out, of course. But she listened to the explanation. She listened and, after a bit of back-and-forth, understood. Aylen hadn’t told her everything, of course. Only that her mother was half-Reaper and that Crossroads was wrong about every non-human being evil. Which was a lot all by itself, of course. But Koren accepted it. She accepted it and agreed to keep Aylen’s secret. Plus, she told Aylen about her own situation with the thing that had been in her house years back fucking with her memory. Koren kept her secret, and Aylen promised to help her figure out what monster had messed with her family’s memories. Honestly, there were several options, none of them good.
All of which led to them being much closer friends, and thus this invitation to visit Koren’s family for Thanksgiving. Actually, Koren had said something about having other very important things to talk to her about, but wanted to wait until after the meal itself. Which made the other girl more than a bit curious about what super important secret things her friend could possibly need to share that were anywhere near the level of the secrets that the two of them had already shared. But, despite her curiosity, Koren had been adamant. She wouldn’t talk about it until after the meal.
It was the first of more than one meal she was supposed to eat that night, actually, given Aylen had promised Grandfather that she would be home later to experience his feast. Which was a lot of food for one night, and she would have to leave Koren’s a bit earlier than expected. But how could she possibly have risked disappointing him? Imagining the look on the old Fomorian’s face if she refused to come after all the work he’d put into it, knowing how much he adored every holiday, was awful. He loved Thanksgiving, because it gave him an excuse to putter around the kitchen all day long and spoil everyone with a metric ton of food. No way would Aylen spoil that for him.
And yet right now, all thoughts of how happy the holiday and being around family made Grandfather were far from her mind. Standing there, staring at the house that seemed to loom up in front of Aylen, all she could focus on was that terrible feeling that had welled up inside her.
There was something awful in that house. No question about it. And Aylen was equally certain that her friend and roommate was also in there, along with her family. Did this have anything to do with the important secret things Koren had wanted to talk to her about tonight? Was she letting her uncertainty and curiosity over that fuel some sort of paranoia right now?
No, it was more than that. Aylen knew that much for certain. Whatever was making her feel this way, it was not paranoia or a figment of her imagination. Something very horrible was going on. Did it have to do with whatever had happened inside that house years ago?
Whatever the problem was, she had no intention of trying to solve it herself. Aylen had had the intense dangers of the world drilled into her for far too long to be that stupid. Of course, she'd also had appreciation of the joys and wonders of the world instilled in her. But that was somewhat less relevant right now.
She knew better than to try to go in there alone. But that still left the question of who she should contact. Should she call Crossroads for help? Or should she call her family? The latter could deal with whatever was in there, but it would also mean revealing them to whatever it was. Not to mention to Koren herself. Actually, the other girl already knew Aylen’s mother was part-Reaper, so--
No, if she let her family intercede, it had to be bad enough to call them. If this was a Crossroads sort of problem and they found out someone else had come to deal with it? It would raise a lot of questions and put focus on Aylen. Focus that she definitely didn't want to have on her, and which would probably make her mother pull the plug on her entire schooling career. Even if it was the best chance they’d ever had at getting Bastet’s father out of there.
With all that in mind, the girl looked upward to where Sovereign was gliding along. She’d look through his eyes and see if she could tell what was happening in that house through a window or something. Getting a better idea of the situation would help Aylen figure out who she needed to ca--
Abruptly, there was a schlurping sound from nearby. Aylen’s attention was snapped away from putting her vision into Sovereign, eyes opening to look at the grass in front of her. Or rather, at the tentacle that had just forced its way out of said-grass. Her mouth opened to blurt something, just as the tentacle lashed out to wrap around her waist. The words that would have come turned to a blurted curse as the thing yanked backward and bodily hurled her toward the nearest window of the house. The window itself opened, and Aylen was released by the tentacle to fly through, crashing down onto what turned out to be the wooden floor of a dining room.
“Welcome,” announced a faux-casual voice as she picked herself up. One which, even from that single, simple word, dripped with the sort of menace and danger that made the chill that had been running down Aylen’s spine turn ice-cold. It was the voice of evil, of that she had no doubt.
Slowly, she raised her gaze to take in the dining room around her. The first thing she saw, the source of the voice, was a man sitting at the end of a long table. At least, he sort of looked like a man. He even appeared to have been an athletic and handsome one at one point. But now his skin was peeling and bunching up in various places. The effect made him look like a half-melted candle, and there seemed to be a second person’s face behind the partially dissolved one of the man-suit he was wearing.
It got worse from there, as an actual umbilical cord led from the man’s stomach to a series of other umbilical cords, which themselves all led to a bunch of different human infants in incubators sitting on most of the other chairs along the table. Most of the other chairs, that was, aside from the one directly beside the monstrous figure, where a woman sat. Aylen immediately recognized her from pictures as being Koren’s mother, Abigail. That identification was helped by the fact that Koren herself stood directly behind her, with both hands literally buried inside her mother’s back, clearly pumping her heart. Koren herself looked up from her mostly-unconscious mother, eyes wide with terror and wet from the desperate, horrible tears that had flooded them. The look in those eyes was horrific. Seeing that, and realizing what her friend had gone through in order to put that look there, was enough to take the dread that had been spreading through Aylen’s body since the moment she looked upon the house from the outside, and turn it into anger. More than anger. Rage. The sort of rage that would be sated by only one thing.
Heedless of the actual reaction he had caused, the figure reached up a bit to move the remains of the half-melted face he had been wearing. Which, of course, revealed exactly what Aylen had already known would be there. “Well then,” the Fomorian drawled, “what have we here?”
He obviously expected terror, revulsion, perhaps even desperate and panicked attempts to flee. He expected the sort of reaction he got from everyone else in this house, and from most people on the planet. He was ready to soak it up, ready to take in the shock and horror that was clearly coming, almost like the way she herself soaked in the energy put off by something’s death. He was practically licking his lips for it.
What he was clearly not expecting, as his bulbous eyes eagerly watched the girl who stood across the table from him, was a slow smile.
“Dude,” came Aylen’s own slow voice, sounding all-too casual for the situation, “you done fucked up.”
The incredulous reaction to her words came not only from the Fomorian himself, but from Koren as well. Aylen was pretty sure that even the mostly-unconscious Abigail raised her gaze just a little bit from the confusion that stemmed from that unexpected response. All three living non-infant figures stared at her for about two seconds of joint-uncertainty. It might have been longer than three seconds, of course, save for the voice that spoke up just then from behind the monster who sat right at the end of the kitchen table. A voice that Aylen had heard from the moment of her first living memory as a toddler who wanted to go see the ice cream man.
“Now, now, language, dear.” With those words, Grandfather himself loomed up behind his fellow (yet incredibly different) Fomorian. Before the monster could react to his presence, the much older figure snapped on hand down with astonishing speed to catch him by the throat. At the same time, his other hand reached down toward the creature’s stomach. A series of reddish claws emerged from Grandfather’s hand before they stabbed into the flesh surrounding the umbilical cord. Aylen caught a brief glimpse of some kind of fluid flowing from the good Fomorian’s arm and into the stomach of the other before he simply ripped the umbilical cord out. A slit in his own arm opened up, producing a small, pulsing flesh sack the size of a grapefruit. As it dropped to the table, Grandfather shoved the end of the umbilical into it, and the thing closed around the fleshy cord.
With that done, and the infants sufficiently saved from whatever intention the monster had for them, Grandfather continued to address Aylen. “After all, it is Thanksgiving and you happen to be a guest in someone’s home. We don’t want them to think we’re rude, now do we?” His words, as ever, were bright and cheerful. Yet there was far more to them in that moment. It would probably take someone who knew the men very well to hear the rage behind his casual tone, but it was there. It may have seemed strange to think, given how normal the words he was saying happened to be, but Aylen was certain she had never seen Grandfather as furious as he was right then.
By that point, the sitting Fomorian had managed to twist just enough to gurgle out the single word of, “Traitor.” It was a word filled with hate and disgust, as Aylen and everyone else in the room were entirely forgotten in that moment. The thing who had set up this entire situation was now focused on only one thing, which was killing the single member of his species who wasn’t an omnicidal monster.
Of course, he wasn't having much initial luck at that. Grandfather gave a slight twist of his grip on the other Fomorian’s throat, literally shoving his hand through the skin and muscle there before using that grip to lift the other creature not only out of the chair, but out of the human skin-suit he’d been using. The monster gave a weak, gurgling squeal, just as Grandfather’s other hand moved to his back. He did something Aylen couldn’t see, which involved more claws being stabbed into the other Fomorian’s spine to pump different liquids into him. Then he gave what looked like a casual toss. A casual toss that sent the monster sailing across the room to slam hard into the wall before slumping to the floor. Whatever those claws had done, the thing couldn’t move. It fell into a heap, twitching a bit before rolling over with a hiss of fury.
Grandfather, meanwhile, simply turned to where Koren still stood with her arms in her mother’s back. His voice was gentle. “Apologies for the intrusion, Miss Fellows. I know we were hardly invited. I promise, the interruption will be over soon.”
Koren, of course, was trying to lean away from him while keeping her hands where they were in order to keep her mother alive. It looked as though she was attempting to scream, but the only thing that came out was a low, terrible animalistic whining sound deep in the girl’s throat.
“Aylen, dear, a little help if you would?” Grandfather added, beckoning with one hand. “Never mind the intruder, he’ll be quite busy momentarily.” He waited until Aylen darted closer before passing what looked like a coconut shell to her. “Crack it, put the seed that comes out into the dear injured woman, then hold the wound shut and spread the cream over the injury.”
With a quick nod, Aylen took the coconut thing. As soon as she had, Grandfather moved around the table, toward the fallen heap in the corner that was still ranting about him being a traitor.
“A-Ay-Aylen?” Koren stammered, terror and confusion making her voice almost unrecognizable. “Wha--no! Get away!” she reflexively stepped closer to her own mother to block her as Aylen held up the thing she’d been given.
Aylen understood, she truly did. Seeing things from the other girl’s point of view, she would have reacted the same way, most likely. Or possibly even worse. The fact that Koren was still conscious, still coherent enough to try to protect her mother, said a lot about how strong she really was. She just hoped it would be enough now for Koren to do the right thing.
“I’ll explain later, I promise,” Aylen quickly informed the other girl. “Right now, only one thing matters. This--” She slammed the coconut-thing against the table, making it crack in half as her roommate jumped and made a noise of distress. “--is going to save your mother's life.” Reaching into the remains of the thing, her fingers found what looked and felt like an oversized walnut, and she held it up. “Please, Koren. Let me do it. I swear it’ll help. It’ll save her. Please, just trust me. I’m your friend. Let me save your mother, okay?” Even as she said those words, Aylen was reaching out to gently, yet firmly push Koren’s hands out of her mother’s back.
The girl made a slight noise of protest and started to push back in once her mother groaned, but Aylen was firm. She was also much stronger than Koren, easily able to pull her arms out of her mother’s back before slipping the seed into Abigail through the wound there. It wasn’t actually the first time she’d had her hands inside a living thing. Growing up with someone like Grandfather ensured she had plenty of experience in that. But still, she didn’t particularly enjoy the experience.
Once the seed was in, Aylen gestured with her blood-covered hands. “Help me, Koren. Push your mother’s back together and hold it. Hold it!”
To her credit, Koren moved to do just that, even as tears continued to stream down her face. She helped hold her mother’s wound closed while Aylen dug her bloodied hand into the cream that made up the rest of the coconut-thing’s contents. Carefully, she spread the stuff over the wound, and both girls immediately noticed results. The cream was holding the wound closed, healing it until there wasn’t even a scar left once the stuff was wiped away.
By that point, Grandfather had already dismantled every defense his fellow Fomorian attempted to wield. As a last-ditch effort, the monster snarled out some hateful, nasty words in their own language before a thick, noxious-smelling gray cloud began to emit from his mouth, ears, nose, and the tips of his fingers. Gurgling and coughing, the monster managed to force more words out, spitting them from hate and rage. “Traitor-die--you will… die. Have--have had so long to--to make death for you. All--all prepared--ready to kill traitor.”
Before the rapidly-growing gas cloud could fill the room, however, Grandfather slid a single claw along one of his shoulders to open up a small wound there. As he did so, a stream of blueish-green liquid shot out. When the liquid hit one part of the cloud, it instantly combusted in a bright flash before the liquid and the cloud both vanished.
With that, the ancient figure crouched in front of the crumpled heap of his fellow (yet incredibly different) Fomorian. Even then, however, he never acknowledged him directly. He never spoke to him, never addressed him or verbally responded to the monster’s words. That would have shown entirely too much dignity and respect for his own people. Instead, he simply reached one hand out, a short blade extending from his wrist. While the crumpled form tried to react, tried to mount some form of defense, Grandfather drove the blade into his chest, slicing deep and carving a hole. Then he withdrew it back into his arm before shoving his hand into the wound before moving it around a bit. There was a snarl, a curse, a threat, and then… nothing, as Grandfather withdrew his arm with some sort of organ tight in his grip, which he dismissively tossed onto the motionless, dead body. Dead for certain, because Aylen could feel it. She could sense the death wafting off of the figure.
“Don’t eat that,” Grandfather chided with a wag of his long finger as he saw Aylen reacting to the death energy. “It’s very bad for you. Yucky.” Then he rose to his full height, wiping his hands off. “Your mothers are outside, why don’t you go tell them it’s safe to come in?”
Aylen hesitated, looking to Koren, then to the girl’s mother. Abigail’s eyes were opening. She sat up a bit, blinking around the room. “What…” That was as far as she got before slumping once more. But she was still breathing steadily, even as Koren lunged that way to check on her. The wound was fully closed and sealed, and most of the cream had been absorbed. The only indication that there had been a gaping hole in her back was a very faint line of paler skin.
“She’ll be alright,” the Fomorian man gently insisted. “Just needs a little rest. Aylen, bring your mothers in here. I think it’s time for proper introductions before we return these human infants to where they belong.
“And then I would love to get your recipe for Duchess Baked Potatoes, because I passed that tray in the kitchen on the way in here, and they smell positively divine.”
At What Point Do You Think The NOT AS PLANNED NOT AS PLANNED Alarms Started Ringing For The Hiding Man?
Duchess Baked Potatoes? I Wasn't Expecting To Be Hungry At The End Of A Chapter Involving Two Fomorians, But Here We Are