Location: Lost Haven University, Lost Haven
Herald the Strangers
Time: Present Day - Morning
The late morning sun shone through the chemlab windows on the west side of the LHU’s campus, a couple students working on their individual summer projects were minding their own business while one tall lab assistant bobbed around the lab, periodically recording sample readings, preparing bunsen burners for later use. The university’s chemistry labs rather quiet, providing little work for its assistants. Her blonde hair was tied into pigtail braids, clear safety glasses sat on her head and green rubber gloves poked out from her white lab coat pockets. Charlie Croll made her rounds, bored but with plenty to occupy her mind with. The past few days had been full of mysteries and excitement. Returning to the mundane helped to sort her routine back to normal.
She thought of Berenice and Salamander, thought of the risky plan she was hatching with Maddi. It felt like the city itself was simply waiting. Like it was overdue. Terrible news was gracing the headlines everyday, pumping fear with every grim news reporter.
Lost Haven University was hosting it’s orientation for new prospective students, the majority fresh outof high school to check out their respective department buildings and campus dormitories. Having graduated with her master’s, she felt pangs of nostalgia watching teenagers wander through the hallways.
Hassan stood in the back of a procession of his peers as they all trampled off the bus rented by Lost Haven HS. A mixed class of juniors and seniors whose college acceptance test scores were just
good enough to warrant admission and those who scored perfect in every category. Hassan was amongst those who were just good enough to get in. He always hated high school, although he figured college would be worth it if for no other reason than the high school girls who had matured into women. Travelling in the dead middle of the group, he had intentionally situated himself next to his platonic high school sweetheart, Akila. She didn’t care for him of course, but he was too naive to relish in the hint.
She stood in front with Hassan in tow behind her,
“So! College, huh? Pretty dumb if you ask me.” Hassan was smug.
“You think everything is dumb. Maybe college would teach you something!” Akila opined,
“Yeah, well. . .” embarrassment choked the contours of Hassan’s face, “you aren’t that smart yourself.” he muttered,
“What? Oh, nothing! Nothing! I uh… you smell good.”
“GROSS!” Akila weaved amongst the crowd, abandoning Hassan to his woe in the sea of other middling and disinterested members of this visit.
It was apparent to him at that moment that he should probably throw away the balloons with the smiley faces that he was going to use to ask her to the upcoming school dance in the fall; it was an odd gift, creepy even, but Hassan was no artist, nor did he have a mind for design. Maybe he should have taken his sister’s advice and just approached Akila like a normal human being.“Real smooth, kid.”
Pantheon interjected.No one asked you, idiot.“I can hear that too, you know.”
As the group approached the university’s interior, Mr. Kleinschmidt halted the entire group and turned to speak,
“Alright kids, you know the. . .”
Blah, blah, blah, blah. This was such a waste of time.
With Carmine in the hospital the University of Lost Haven found itself one professor short in the Archeology department, so David opted to fill in as his substitute, and after a quick staff briefing and mass e-mail he was now filling in.
Today’s plan was to wait for the orientation groups to come by, and show them what their class was about. To teach and guide the next generation of adults is what many teachers, and professors, would say is their reason for choosing their chosen profession. However, for David, he never thought he would have the patience for teaching, let alone the drive for giving brain draining lectures every day. Today he was only here to replace Carmine, David blamed himself for his injuries, because even with all his power, he still let his best friend get hurt.
Although David had some negative feelings about teaching, he didn’t mind the small task of helping to advertise the Archeology department, it even meant that he could use campus facilities, like a shower. He also appreciated the small reprieve this gave him, doing something simple, and normal was certainly a change from his rough first day in Lost Haven.That harpy woman, Birdneice, was it? Uskriss and his shaman powers, the Moloids underneath the city.
“I just went along with all that?” David mumbled to himself as he went took another sip of his coffee.
“What was that David?” Another staff member in the lounge asked. The lounge itself was mostly quiet, due to the other teachers also enjoying the silent morning in peace while a tv softly played in the background, along with the occasional ruffling of a newspaper. This was what David needed to center himself.
“Oh, uh, nothing.” David quickly blurted as he took another sip, looking out the window an odd sight caught his eye. Several black vans began to drive up awfully close to the campus, the fact that they drove up to block exits was suspicious enough, but there were a good many of them. Far too many to be visitors, especially in the summer, and the orientation kids all came here by bus.
“You guys see this?” David asked outloud, pointing towards the windows.
Hassan and his classmates were divided up into small groups pertaining to their specific interests and majors each would like to take. In groups of four they were tethered off: some met with Chemistry professors, Mathematics professors, Biology professors, Nursing, Business, English, Philosophy, Art, History, Pharmacy, Occupational Therapy, and some even cessated into Geology and Archaeology. Hassan didn’t care who he went with, he doubted he wanted to go to college anyway. So, he decided to feign interest in the less popular Archaeology faculty members whose faces shared the knowing disassociated gleam present in each of the approaching student’s eyes. Who wants to study Archaeology
of all things?
Hassan and James McNair, the resident LHS Chess Club champion for two years straight, followed the Department Chair to his office. As the trio walked, Hassan admired the interior design. It was an old campus garnished with silver busts of the founders and plaques commemorating the service of long retired professors and principals since the University’s inception. Marble floors were finished and waxed, a modern contrast to the elderly walls which drew one’s attention from the walls themselves to the floor and vice versa. Sun smashed against light and dark melanated skin from the clear highrise windows above where one could see the newly built buttresses displaying their dominance over the hapless and finite humans who the buttresses themselves had seen come and go for nearly a century.
Regardless of how much disdain Hassan harbored for this tour, he could appreciate fine artwork when he saw it. Soon enough, they were near the Department Chair’s office and Hassan watched as the white-haired gentlemen rustled his keys into the lock and promptly opened the door.
“Find a seat anywhere, gentlemen.” The trio stepped into the sunlit room littered with growing and withering plants alike.
“This one needs a little water, doesn’t she?” Collins smiled as he withdrew his water cannister from the third top shelf of his bookcase where there were ironically few books. He showcased his stewardship before seating himself in front of the two boys.
James was a little too eager to obey. Hassan teetered to a seat of his own afterward. The Chair, whose golden plated desk tag read Daniel Collins, began his spiel:
“Well, sirs, let’s get right down to it! Here at Lost Haven University, we pride ourselves on innovation, contribution, creation; particularly so for our Archaeology and Geology departments--though between me and you” he whispered, “no one wants to study fucking Geology!” Collins and McNair laughed, Hassan also gave a chuckle. He appreciated when people spoke their mind.
There was an open window situated behind Mr. Collins, Hassan had been staring absent mindedly into the window when he saw the parade of black vans encircling the Eastern section of the school. McNair and Collins were exchanging what they believed to be jokes while Hassan’s eyes followed the growing trail of black vans winding around the building. From what Hassan remembered, black vans meant trouble.”Remember when I said we had much to discuss?”
Pantheon butted in again.
“Yeah, and?” Hassan was getting sick of these intrusions.”Duck.”
Pantheon’s warning couldn’t have come sooner, because that is when Hassan saw them. Six men brandishing assault rifles Hassan had never seen emerged from the sliding doors of a single van. Then another six, and then another six. These men donned all black paramilitary attire--it was clear they hadn’t come to welcome potential freckle faced freshmen. These were the men Hassan had seen on the news.
These were the Hounds of Humanity.
For a split second, everything moved in slow motion. Hassan saw Mr. Collins get his skull destroyed by a 5.56mm round. Reigning chess champion and valedictorian, James McNair’s heart exploded seconds later from another 5.56mm. Hassan tossed himself on the floor as the office was sprayed to oblivion. Then the glass broke, a smoke bomb had infiltrated the small office. Apparently Hassan wasn’t the only one facing peril, the earth seemed to quake as he heard the screams of peers and teachers alike, flesh ripping open, bones mushing against the unheaded blasts of a Kalashnikov--human bodies unseamed and unzipped limb by limb from a storm of weaponized hatred.
A few moments ago David spotted several men leaving the few vans he could see, all carrying gear, guns, and none of them looked police. So he assumed they were the terrorists from the other day, the Hounds of Humanity.
“One of you call the police, I’ll hit a fire alarm!” David shouted as he moved to the doorway, a second later gunfire broke out near the front, and then from all across the first floor. David’s brows furrowed in worry as he ran, he sprinted behind several of the unwatched corners to change. Not stopping for a second David once again borrowed the powers of the earth, becoming Terra Firma.
David was still thinking like a normal human, so he ran out looking for a staircase to descend, but as he rounded a corner he stopped in surprise. A group of the Hounds had just climbed a staircase, their guns already trained on a couple of the other staff members walking around, they had frozen in fear as they stared at the Hound’s gun barrels.“No!”
David shouted as he jumped towards them, his hand reaching out, it wasn’t going to be enough, he wasn’t fast enough to block the bullets. But he
didn’t have to be, with but a thought his body crackled with lightning, electricity swirled around his body. David brought his arms close, electricity gathered in his hands, then he threw out an arm, sending out several thunderbolts towards the Hounds guns, stopping them from firing, or throwing off their aim widely.”Hah, shocking, isn’t it?”
David taunted loudly.
They all shouted out various grunts of pain, or obscenities to help deal with the pain. Not allowing them to recover, David leapt towards them and crashed in the group, sending them down the first floor, or rolling uncontrollably down the stairs. David stood up again and rushed a Hound member, he sent a punch into the man’s gut, throwing him into a wall several meters back, but an explosion to his side sent him flying into another room.
The debris and dust from the wall flew out into the air, landing on the crumpled remains of the classroom wall was uncomfortable, but David ignored it, and dashed into the man that just shot him, forcing him into his allies, and knocking them all down.
Smoke swelled the room, Hassan fell into a spurt of violent coughs. He had involuntarily alerted the Hounds to his presence. Lucky for him the smoke was still thick; Hassan’s head was overcome with aches, the combat boots of what seemed an entire garrison of soldiers thundered through the shattered hole which used to serve as a fine source of daydreaming for Mr. Collins. How quick a simple thing turns horrendous! Never before had he felt such pain. Every sliver of his corporeal knit pinged with sharp episodes of burning distress.
As his body seized up and he heard the clash of the steel toed boots grind against the marble office floor, he could also tell the smoke was beginning to dissipate; he shut his eyes in a vain attempt to shield himself from everything that was happening. Maybe this was just a prolonged vision, he was having more than usual these days--and they typically began with fits of full body throbbing and stabbing aches. But, like every night, they soon converged into one of the visions, whether it be the all white oracle looking figure or Pantheon himself. But this time it was no dream or vision, Pantheon stood right before him. He had freed himself.“Take my hand and live. Reject it, and die.”
Pantheon presented his ultimatums with the requisite poignancy.
Hassan objected not, but as soon as he reached for Pantheon’s hand, the two merged. There was a resounding flash as the two entities joined. When the blinding light had died down and the smoke was clear, there stood Hassan reborn as the mythical titan of his lineage, Pantheon
What proceeded next could only be kindly referred to as a slaughter. The Hounds rippled Pantheon with bullets, but each either crushed against his frame or ricocheted off his body. He slung one into a building adjacent the school; another he backhanded into the bookcase once belonging to Mr. Collins. He grabbed two by the neck and promptly crushed their esophagus’. Tossing these aside, he felt a tinge swing down his spine as one attempted to shoot him with a tranquilizer--its needled had bent inward on itself. Pantheon smacked both hands together to form a thunderclap, the condensed pressure from the clap pushed the remaining eight into the streets and atop some parked cars.
Pantheon stepped over the bodies of the two dead Hounds and set his predatory eyes on his victims. If he did not kill them all, he would make sure they regretted the happenstance of their existence.
Meanwhile on the western side of the campus, over the intercoms the alarm began to sound. An automated voice alerting everyone of a Yellow Alert, cautioning students to find safety. The message replayed twice, finally one of the students spoke up. One of the two male students in the lab with Charlie commented irritably. “It’s the summer, why the hell are they doing a practice drill?”
Charlie shrugged at them, remembering their names were Jordan and Matt, “Don’t know.
The first gun shots rang through the halls making the trio jump, automatically they turned their instruments off then ducked underneath the counter, hissing, “What the fuck!
Charlie ran to the lights darkening the lab as more gunshots drowned out the intercoms. The natural light illuminated the lab regardless, soon the chorus of screams followed the violence. They stared at each other, terror clear in their faces.
Her hands shook with fear fumbling for her cellphone, dialing 9-1-1. As the dial tone rang, the warnings on the intercoms were cut off with a brief tap-tap test on a microphone. A clear, delighted voice spoke.
“Goooood morning, kiddos. My name is Lawrence and if you’re either dead or haven’t figured it out yet the Hounds of Humanity are here to clean up a few things.” The clatter of a desk chair in the background was audible, the speaker making himself comfortable. “We all know, the filthy metas and magic heathens walk among us. Most notably passing for normal in school. Naturally the best place to start cleanup would be the metahuman’s favourite city and favourite school, LH university.”
Charlie’s stomach flopped as the small voice of the 9-1-1 responder pulled her attention, “The hounds are at the university! The school is on lockdown and there’s guns going off!
There was a slight pause and the responder immediately said, “Stay on the line with me-”
Charlie cut the phone call, the other students looked at her like she was insane. It really was rather insane, she would soon find herself later agreeing with that. She texted her mom first. In a quick message she said her love you’s and assuring she was alive, what was happening. She pocketed her phone tearing off the lab coat not giving it a second thought. In her locker outside the lab was her staff and backpack, the gunshots never seemed to cease and as they were - they were sitting ducks waiting to be found. The lab was on the second floor with big bay windows facing east.
Lawrence carried on, his enjoyment warming his chilling message, “Now kiddies, there’s no real way to tell you apart so we’re not going to discriminate. For those who are not meta or magic take some comfort in how your name will be remembered in a fancy plaque for this tragedy. Your blood will serve as a tribute to the greater good, bleach can’t remove that… oh what’s the word? That sacrifice. Anywho, to those who choose to fight we’ll see you at the hostage round up in the courtyard.”
She said in a hurried whisper, chilled to the bone once Lawerence was done talking. “Move when you can, they’re going to make their way to every room. I have to go.
“No!” Jordan snapped, then whispered, “Charlie you’re dead if you leave!”
“I can’t stay here.
” She said, with a firm breath she crawled out from the desk, neither Jordan or Matt brave enough to stop her they weakly begged watching her go. Carefully approaching the door, the gunshots moving closer, terrified steps racing past the laboratory door. She peeked over the window then slipped out looking both ways. She made a dash for her locker, hands shaking as she messed up her combination not once but twice. When she unlocked it she jerked the door open pulling her staff free first with a sigh of relief then her backpack stocked for a trip into the junkyard after her shift.
She had an old Lost Haven University sweater packed away, she pulled it on then immediately brought up the hood. She grabbed her goggles and face mask, tying the mask sloppily pinching some hair then pulling her goggles over her eyes. Her heartbeat in her ears she failed to hear the telltale metallic tink of a smoke grenade rolling down the other end of the hallway to her right. A professor sprinted by her, she pulled on Charlie’s sleeve shouting at her to run. Charlie recognized her seconds before she was shot where she stood, dragging the alchemist down with her in a dead heap. Blood splashed up Charlie’s arm, while the dying professor gurgled her last gasp for life. On the ground Charlie was face down, feeling every twitch from the professor.
Black boots came stomping behind her, while the smoky haze of the grenade filled her vision, she held her breath. She had no urge to fight, fear had frozen her where she lay. While one pair of feet stopped to check if they were dead, satisfied they moved on more gunshots making Charlie flinch. When the boots disappeared it was several heartbeats later the dead professor’s weight ceasing her in a fit of panic, the warmth of her blood soaking into her sweater. She gasped like fish out of water, the material of the mask being sucked against her open mouth. She threw her arms up to shove the body away. When she was free she scrambled across the hall back up against lockers, choking back sobs staring at the body. Charlie coughed against the smoke, the grenade still billowing out the gas. Fumbling, crawling several feet toward the grenade, she reached out covering her hand with the sleeve of her sweater slamming it against the steel, using alchemy to seal it.
Shallow gulps for air, she croaked the periodic table, trying desperately to focus. “Hy-hydrogen… helium, lithium, boron, cuh-
” Charlie gasped, “C-carbon.
” Slowly, she began to calm down as she recited the periodic elements, when she reached tin she forced herself to stand tracking back to her staff. When she stood upright, she saw at the far end of the department building the exit to the courtyard had men stationed at the exit. Panic nearly overwhelmed her once again, only this time clear words reigned her terror in.
Her mother’s words came to her from a familiar memory. “An alchemist is never truly trapped, you think and you act. Do not look for an escape, make one.
” Gingerly her fingers wrapped around the solid sycamore wood, her thumb finding some smoothed gold. Picking it up she convinced herself of one thing.
“I will survive.